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The Last Tenant By B. L. Farjeon Characters: 8265

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Bob and I conversed in whispers; but Barbara was sleeping so soundly that we might have spoken in our natural voices without fear of awaking her.

"What do you think of it, Bob?" I asked.

"I don't know what to think," he replied. "I only know one thing--that the child has spoken the truth."

"Of that there is no doubt," I said; "but what does it point to?"

He conveyed his answer in two words, "Foul play!"

I nodded.

"My own opinion, not newly formed, for I have had it all along; but what we have been told gives a new turn to it. And still," I added fretfully, "we are in the dark. Where can we look for direction as to the next step to be taken?"

"Has it not occurred to you," said Bob, "that it was singular that Mr. Nisbet should have had the body of his stepdaughter cremated instead of buried in the usual manner?"

"He may be an enthusiast on the subject of cremation," I observed. "Many eminent men advocate such a disposal of the dead."

"There is another answer to the question. We are both agreed that there has been foul play. If we are right, Mr. Nisbet, by having the body cremated, has effectually destroyed the most important evidence that could be sought against him."

"The doctor testified at the inquest to the cause of the young lady's death."

"Ah, the doctor. The inquiry agent gave you his name, I believe?"

"He did. It is Cooper."

"Might not something be gained from him?"

I caught at the suggestion.

"A good thought, Bob."

"We do not know," continued my shrewd adviser, "who this Dr. Cooper is, whether he is a practitioner of repute, and whether any relations of a confidential nature existed between him and Mr. Nisbet."

"You are letting in light," I said. "Go on."

"So far as you have gone you are ignorant of this doctor's standing. If he holds a good position, if he has an extensive practice, we shall obtain no assistance from him. No respectable medical man would run a risk for the sake of a bribe. As a rule, doctors are the kindest men in the world; but here and there you may meet with a backslider, or with one who has been careless in such a matter as this, or with one whose necessities lay him open to temptation. That is the extent of my suggestion; but it appears to me to be worth following up--on the off-chance, as sporting men say."

"It shall be followed up," I said. "To-morrow I will make inquiries concerning him. And now we will get a little sleep. It is not likely we shall be disturbed again."

We lay down in our clothes, and were awake betimes. But Barbara was up before us; and when we rose we found the room nicely tidied up, a bright fire burning, the kettle singing on the hob, and the table ready spread for breakfast.

"Bravo, Barbara," I said. "You are a handy little girl."

"I thought you'd like it done, sir," she said; "and I moved about very quiet so as not to wake yer. I slep' like a top, and I feel ever so much better than I did last night. But yer did give me a start, yer did, when yer come upon me in the kitching."

"You are not sorry for it now?"

"I'm glad, sir. It was a reg'lar slice of luck."

"You shall find it so. Any more shadows, Barbara?"

"No, sir. I never feel 'em in the daytime; it's only at night that I'm afeerd."

"We'll put a stop to all that, my girl. Let us get breakfast over; I dare say you're ready for it."

"That I am, sir. I'm allus ready to tuck in."

Despite the seriousness of our situation, we were quite a cheerful party. We had provided liberally, and we made a hearty meal, Barbara, to our mingled pity and admiration, proving herself a champion in that line. Had she been of colossal proportions instead of an attenuated mortal, literally all skin and bone, she could scarcely have eaten more. A full meal was a delightful novelty to her, and she greatly distinguished herself.

"I wouldn't call the queen my aunt," she declared, when we rose from the table, which we considered a very original remark, although its application was not exactly clear.

While she was clearing away the things and washing up, Bob and I had a consultation. It was

decided that he should remain indoors with Barbara, and that I should go out to make inquiries for Dr. Cooper. During my absence it was his intention to thoroughly examine the house from top to bottom. He had the idea that he might light upon something that would furnish a clew; and as he had greater experience than I in untenanted houses, he was the better fitted for such a search.

It being Sunday, the facilities for seeking information were limited; but in the by-streets I found a common cigar shop open here and there, and I laid out a great many pennies without satisfactory result.

At length, however, I entered a poor little shop, which I was told had been established for several years. An elderly woman answered to my raps on the counter; and after spending sixpence with her, I led up to the important subject, and soon discovered that I was on the track. Dr. Cooper had lived in the neighborhood, not very far from her shop; but he had removed two or three years ago to another part of London. Was he a doctor in good practice? She could not say as to that. He was a poor man's doctor, and gave advice and medicine for a shilling. He had a large family, and did not pay his way. Then his business could not have been a flourishing one? Not at all; he had run away in debt to everybody--to her among the number. But by accident she found out his new place of business, and had served him with a county court summons. He had run up a bill of twenty-five shillings with her, and he pleaded that he was not in a position to pay it. Judgment was given for her, and he was ordered to pay half a crown a month, which, he said, was the utmost he could afford. The trouble she had to get her money! She had to threaten him over and over again, and at last succeeded in obtaining what was due to her.

"A bad lot, sir," she said. "Always drinking on the sly, and as fit to attend to sick people as my old cat there. If I was dying, and there was not another doctor in London, I wouldn't call him in."

Had she any objection to give me his address? Not the least objection. She ought to know it, as she had been there twenty times to get her money. It was in Theobald's Row, South Lambeth, when she saw him last; she did not remember the number, but there were not many houses in the Row, and I should have no difficulty in finding it; "if he hasn't run away again," she added.

I left the shop, thanking the chance that had led me to it. In the information I had gained there was pregnant matter for thought. That a wealthy gentleman like Mr. Oliver Nisbet should call in such a man in a case of life and death was something more than strange; it was in the highest degree suspicious, and I felt confident that some information of importance to my mission was to be elicited from one whose necessities, as Bob had observed, might lay him open to the temptation of a bribe. South Lambeth was a long way from the north of London; but so anxious was I to lose no time, that I determined to proceed there at once.

With this intention I walked into the wider thoroughfares to look for a cab, and was about to hail one when a man walking quickly toward me, stopped as we came close to each other, and accosted me.

"Why, Mr. Emery," he said, "I heard you were in Brighton."

It was Mr. Dickson, the private inquiry agent.

"I am in London, as you see," I replied. "Who told you I was in Brighton?"

"I learned it at your house two hours ago."

I groaned inwardly, thinking of what was in store for me if my good wife discovered that I was deceiving her.

"Did you see my wife?"

"No, a servant answered the bell, and said you had run down to the seaside for the day."

"I wished the business between us," I said rather severely, "to be kept secret. What took you to my house, Mr. Dickson?"

"Oh, there was no fear of my saying anything about the commission you gave me. I did not even leave my name." I breathed more freely. "I went to see you because I had something to tell you which I thought you would like to know immediately."

"What is it?"

"Mr. Nisbet is in London," replied Mr. Dickson.

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