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   Chapter 23 MR. NISBET VISITS LAMB'S TERRACE.

The Last Tenant By B. L. Farjeon Characters: 15428

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


I had no doubt whatever that this person was Mr. Oliver Nisbet, who must have in his possession the means of access to the house. This being the case, the question of motive arose. It could not have been the value of the garments, which, to a man of fortune, was of small importance. The care which in the first instance had been taken to conceal them became now in my judgment of extreme significance; still more so the stealthy manner in which they had been removed. Mr. Nisbet had been in London comparatively but a few hours before he carried out a design the probable intention of which was to remove and destroy evidence which might in some way place him in peril. Likely enough he had come to London for this special purpose, fearing, as he was no longer the tenant, that the house would be let to strangers, into whose hands the clothing would naturally fall. Surely he would not have paid his stealthy visit to Lamb's Terrace if he had not cause to dread exposure!

Bob, who presented himself punctually at the time he named, agreed with me in this view, and when I told him of my coming by chance upon Mr. Nisbet, and spoke of the impression he produced upon me, he looked disturbed. I asked the reason, and he answered:

"Well, Ned, I don't mind confessing to you that I have a secret horror of Mr. Nisbet, and an unreasonable dread of him. I hardly think we two would be a match for him."

I could not help smiling as I remarked, "There is not much chance of a personal encounter, Bob."

"I am not so sure of that," he said. "I am not so sure that he is not at this moment concealed in the house, the ins and outs of which he must be much better acquainted with than we are."

"Concealed for the purpose of doing us an injury?" I inquired.

"Concealed," he replied, "first to ascertain if any persons were in occupation and had any suspicions of the last tenant--in which case he would in all probability endeavor to get rid of those persons as he got rid of his unfortunate stepdaughter."

"You forget, Bob, the gas is cut off."

"Ned," said Bob impressively, "my firm belief is that the young lady did not meet her death by asphyxiation caused by an escape of gas. True, we have no evidence of a crime having been committed; our suspicions go for nothing; your apparition of the cat goes for nothing; a third-rate lawyer would laugh them to scorn; but none the less do I believe that the lady my nephew loved was murdered by her stepfather. Your interview with Dr. Cooper strengthens these suspicions, the removal of the women's clothing confirms them in my mind. And still, legally, we are no further advanced. Everything in this house belongs to the last tenant. He paid the rent regularly while he held the lease, and if he chose to leave his property here unprotected, it was his affair; and if, after a long absence from England, he returns and pays an early visit to the house, which is still practically without a tenant, for the purpose of taking possession of part of his property, he is still fairly within his right. Even supposing that there were a law to touch him--which there is not--he could easily explain the matter, and his explanation would be accepted without question."

"Unless," I interposed, "we stepped forward with what we know."

"We know nothing, Ned, absolutely nothing. We should only bring ourselves into trouble, lay ourselves open to a criminal action for defamation, which the most skillful lawyer in the land could not successfully defend. What do you think I have done to-day?"

"I have not the least idea."

"I asked my employer for a holiday, and I have got it. I have been slaving in his office for years without a single week's vacation. He gave me the holiday, three or four weeks, at my option, and I intend to employ the time in remaining with you and assisting in the elucidation of this mystery, if it is ever to be arrived at."

"You are a real friend; but, Bob, that is a nice idea of a holiday, after years of hard work."

"Never mind. The mystery has got tight hold of me, and I don't mean to leave it unless I am compelled by circumstances to do so. You have no objection to company and assistance, I suppose?"

"I am truly grateful for it."

"You see," said Bob earnestly, "I happen to be more closely connected with it than you are. You have no human relation with the parties in the affair, who, until quite lately, were complete strangers to you. I have some sort of connection with them through my nephew Ronald, whom I have seen to-day, and who, I may tell you, is troubled by the inquiries you have made of him. He has no notion of their tendency, but he felt that something is being concealed from him which he has a right to know. It is in his interests, and for his satisfaction, that I enter into a direct partnership with you. Have you succeeded in persuading your good wife to go to the seaside?"

"I have, and she will be away for at least for a fortnight; if necessary I shall insist upon her remaining at Brighton for a longer time."

"So that we are free to set actively to work without interruption."

"Yes, Bob. How about Barbara?"

"My landlady takes her upon trial. There will be no charge for board and lodging, and if she gives satisfaction she will get a shilling a week to commence with."

"I am glad to hear it. And now to get back to your suspicions that Mr. Nisbet may be concealed in the house even while we are talking. He might endeavor to get rid of us, you said. When, and how?"

"When? In the dead of night, when we are sound asleep. How? Well, I put together these facts: Mr. Nisbet's knowledge of dangerous chemicals, the narcotic which Ronald informed you he gave to his stepdaughter, and the significant conclusions which can be drawn from your conversation with Dr. Cooper. I propose, not this evening, to-morrow morning, that you, or we together, pay a visit to Dr. Cooper, and have an interview with him. He has a grievance against Mr. Nisbet; it might be turned to effect."

"You suspect him of being an accomplice?"

"In a certain sense. What do they call it in law? Accessory after the fact. He might have known nothing at the time; the belief that his knowledge of poisonous narcotics--bear in mind his boast--had been used to a bad end may have come afterward."

"But if he makes any admission it could be used against himself."

"It could, but he may be able to prove his innocence of a guilty intention. However, that is a point for future consideration. A visit can do no harm. He is desperately poor, and a little bribe may tempt him; if we cannot worm anything out of him, we may out of his wife. Now, Ned, before I consent to sleep in this house I intend to search it thoroughly from roof to cellar."

We carried out this proposal; we thoroughly examined every room, we made fast every door when we closed it behind us; and we discovered nothing. Our search over, we were quite convinced that we were the only persons in the house.

The following two hours were devoted to preparing supper, and while we were thus employed we discussed our movements for to-morrow. Bob insisted that Ronald Elsdale should be made acquainted with all that had transpired, and I consented. Our first visit in the morning was to be paid to the inquiry agent, our second to Dr. Cooper, our third to Ronald. Bob was thoroughly in earnest, and I perceived that his interest in the matter was now no less than my own.

I have already stated that the room we had selected was on the second floor, and that its windows faced the back garden. There were Venetian blinds to the window, and some of the slats were awry and loose from long neglect. For a reason which h

e did not explain Bob shaded the one candle which we had lighted, so that the fact of the apartment being occupied could not be quite clearly established from without. Several times Bob went to the window and cautiously peeped through the crooked slats.

"What for, Bob?" I asked.

"Just a fancy of mine," he replied. "Is your apparition present?"

"It is not."

The weather had suddenly changed, in fit accordance with the extraordinary vagaries of our beautiful climate. A fine night had set in, and there was a full bright moon. In the middle of a game of cribbage Bob rose once more, and stepped to the window and remained there.

"Don't touch the candle, Ned," he said, "and move cautiously. Come here quietly, so as not to give an observer outside any indication that human beings are in the room."

I obeyed him, and presently was standing motionless by his side, peeping through the slats.

The garden was bathed in light. Standing in full view I saw a man facing our window, his eyes intently fixed in our direction in the endeavor to discover whether the apartment was inhabited.

"Can you see him plainly?'

"Quite plainly, Bob."

"Who is it?"

"Mr. Oliver Nisbet."

"Ah!"

And now a strange incident occurred, visible to me, but not to Bob. In the clear moonlight I saw the skeleton cat creeping toward the man who was watching. Slowly it advanced and fastened itself upon him, and climbed upward till it reached his shoulder. And there it squatted, its yellow eyes resting ominously on Mr. Nisbet's face. He seemed to be perfectly unconscious of the presence of the apparition, but to me it was an unmistakable sign, more powerful than the strongest human proof, that the man had been guilty of a horrible crime. In silence we stood at the window for several minutes, and then Mr. Nisbet slunk away to the rear of the garden. He climbed the crumbling wall which encompassed it, and was gone.

"What do you say to that, Ned?" asked Bob.

I could not answer, so enthralled was I by the spiritual evidence of guilt of which I had been a witness. Bob looked at me inquiringly.

"Your face is as white as death," he said. "Are you ill?"

"A moment, Bob," I replied; and when I was sufficiently recovered I explained to him what I had seen. It stirred him as deeply as it had stirred me.

"If a shadow of doubt was in my mind," he said, "it is dispelled. The villain must be brought to justice."

"He shall be, if human effort can accomplish it. I will not rest till his guilt is brought home to him."

We slept but little that night, and did not take our rest together. Fearful of consequences to which we could give no name, we slept and watched in turn, Bob's pistol being handy for any emergency. Nothing further, however, occurred to disturb us. Early in the morning we breakfasted, and took our way to Mr. Dickson's office.

"You received my message, then?" were his first words to me.

"What message?" I inquired.

"The one I sent to your house an hour ago. I knew it was safe to leave it, because your wife was in the country. Oh, we find out things without being told. It belongs to our business."

"I did not sleep at home last night; I received no message."

"It does not matter, now you are here. I have news for you. Yesterday Mr. Oliver Nisbet paid two visits to the house in Lamb's Terrace."

"You discovered that, did you?"

"I should be a bungler if I had not. We have never left him, and I will stake all I am worth that he had not the slightest suspicion that he was being watched. His first visit was made at two o'clock. He let himself into the house with a key, and remained there about an hour. He went in with his hands empty; he came out with his hands full. He carried a large parcel with him wrapped in brown paper, and this evidently was the motive for his first visit. We do not know what was in the parcel; he took it to his room in the Métropole, and left it there. His second visit was paid in the night, at half-past nine. He did not enter by the front door; indeed, he did not enter at all. He climbed over the back wall of the garden, and stood there, watching the back windows, for half an hour or so. Then he returned the same way as he came. From Lamb's Terrace he went to Theobald's Row, South Lambeth, and had an interview with a disreputable apothecary there of the name of Cooper. He calls himself a doctor, but I doubt whether he has a diploma. From Theobald's Row, Mr. Nisbet returned to the Métropole, and left instructions to be called early. If you went to the hotel now you would not find him there."

"He has fled!" I exclaimed.

"I do not know about that," said Mr. Dickson, with a smile. "We will call it a departure. He has taken his departure."

"Gone to another hotel?"

"Not in this country. He left for the Continent this morning by the early train."

I stamped my foot impatiently. "Then he has escaped us!" I cried.

"He has not gone alone," said Mr. Dickson calmly. "One of my officers went by the same train. I am right in my understanding that you do not mind a little extra expense?"

"Quite right."

"The question of expense is frequently a puzzling matter with us, movements requiring an unauthorized expenditure of money sometimes occurring suddenly, when there is not time to consult our clients. If I had allowed Mr. Nisbet to leave the country unaccompanied he might have slipped through your fingers; in any event it would have been a great trouble, and have necessitated the expenditure of much more money, to pick up the broken threads. Many a good case has been spoiled by parsimony."

"I understand that. Where has Mr. Nisbet gone to?"

"I cannot inform you yet. As far as Paris, certainly; but my impression is he goes farther. My officer will telegraph me from Paris, and will not leave him till he has reached his destination."

I considered a moment, and then took Bob aside. "Will you accompany me to Paris?" I asked.

"With pleasure."

I turned to Mr. Dickson. "Your officer will telegraph to you from Paris?"

"Yes."

"If I wait here for information I shall lose a day. You could telegraph to me in Paris the address you receive from your officer?"

"There is no difficulty. You intend to follow?"

"I do. Give me the name of some central hotel in Paris where I can put up till I receive your telegram."

"H?tel de Bade, Boulevard des Italiens."

"That will do. I have something to do here in London before I can start. I can get through my business in about an hour, perhaps a few minutes more. Bob, run out and bring two hansoms with smart horses." Bob vanished. "Now, the best train, Mr. Dickson?"

"Let me see. It is not yet nine. Your business say an hour and twenty minutes. A train from Victoria, another from Charing Cross, at eleven. Could you catch one of these, whichever is the nearest for you?"

"Yes."

"You arrive in Paris at seven this evening. Our man will reach there two hours and a half earlier. You may get a telegram from me at the H?tel de Bade within an hour or so of your arrival."

"Capital. Good-morning."

The cabs were at the door, and I told Bob to drive with speed to my house, to pack up a bag for both of us expeditiously, and to meet me at Ronald Elsdale's house at a little after ten. The cab was to remain there, and he was to detain his nephew till I joined him there. Pending my arrival he was to tell Ronald everything. I gave him a line to my servant, authorizing him to take what clothes were necessary for the journey.

"Double fare," I said to both the cabmen, "if you drive at your fullest speed."

The next moment Bob was driving to my house and I was on my way to Dr. Cooper.

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