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   Chapter 30 DR. COOPER IS IMPRESSED.

The Last Tenant By B. L. Farjeon Characters: 14123

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


These startling words caused us to throw aside the restraint we had placed upon our movements. We darted forward to the gate, from which spot we could just catch the faint sounds of music. The truth burst upon me like a flash of light. The mystery of Beatrice's supposed death was made clear to me, and the unspeakable villainy of which Mr. Nisbet was guilty was revealed. But alas for poor Barbara, who was eagerly waiting to embrace her sister Molly!

Mme. Bernstein joined us at the gate, and cautioned us to be careful not to speak aloud. We removed to a safe distance, and were about to discuss our plans and decide upon our course of action when Ronald settled the matter for us.

"Mme. Bernstein," he said, addressing her, "the lady is a dear friend of mine; she was to have been my wife. A foul wrong has been done to her, and Providence has directed our steps here to save her. We must enter that ill-fated house to-night."

"To-night!" she exclaimed.

"Now--this moment," said Ronald, with decision.

"But the danger----"

"We are four men to two," said Ronald. "If I place my hands on one of the monsters I will account for him, blind as I am. We are armed, and no danger threatens us. An innocent lady's life is in peril; she lies at the mercy of wretches who have no heart or conscience, and a moment's delay may be fatal. You shall be well paid for the service, madame----"

"It is not that I shall be well paid," she interrupted. "I have a heart, I have a conscience. It is because the master is a dangerous man. But you shall have your way; the Just God will help you. Tread softly; make no noise."

"Mr. Elsdale is right," whispered Rivers to me as we followed Mme. Bernstein. "Strike the iron while it's hot. There's a surprise in store for two scoundrels to-night."

We succeeded in making our entrance without awaking the enemy.

"What now shall be done?" asked Mme. Bernstein.

Ronald answered her. "Mlle. Mersac--it is not her name, but that matters little--has no aversion to you, madame?"

"None, none," she replied eagerly.

"You will go to her room, and remain with her till you hear from us. If she is awake, encourage her to sleep. She must know nothing till daylight. Should it be needed call to us for assistance."

"Yes, yes."

"You will show us the rooms in which your master and his friend from London sleep, and you will then leave us." Ronald turned to us. "I and my uncle will keep watch outside Mr. Nisbet's door; if he comes out to us I shall know how to deal with him. You, Mr. Rivers and Mr. Emery, will introduce yourselves to Dr. Cooper, and endeavor to force a confession from him. If he will not speak--well, you are a match for him. Bind him, so that he shall be unable to move; then join us, and we will make Mr. Nisbet secure. He must administer no more stupefying drugs to his stepdaughter; his power over her is at an end. Have you any objection to my plan, Mr. Rivers?"

"None. It is the best that can be adopted. Let us set about it."

With noiseless footsteps we ascended the stairs to the sleeping apartments, Mme. Bernstein leading the way. She pointed out the rooms to us. "That is the master's; that is his friend's." Then she left us, and went to Beatrice's room. Bob and Ronald took their station outside Mr. Nisbet's door and I observed that Bob held his revolver in his hand. No indication reached us that we had disturbed the inmates.

"It is our turn, now," Rivers whispered to me. "I think I know how to manage our customer."

He tried the door, and finding it locked, smiled as he said, "Locks himself in. Doesn't trust his host. A good sign." He did not knock, but kept fumbling at the handle, in order to attract Dr. Cooper's attention. Presently succeeding, we heard the doctor get out of bed.

"Who is there?" he asked softly, his ear at the door.

"Let me in," Rivers replied, in a whisper. "I have something to say to you. Why do you lock your door?"

Had Rivers spoken above a whisper Dr. Cooper would have detected him, but whispers are very much alike, and it is not easy to distinguish a man's voice by them.

"Wait a moment," said Dr. Cooper from within. "I will strike a light."

This accomplished, he opened the door, which, as we glided in, Rivers quickly closed and locked. Dr. Cooper had retreated from the door, and stood, holding the candle above his head. With an exclamation of alarm he let the candle slip from his hand, and we were in darkness.

"What a clumsy fellow you are!" exclaimed Rivers in a jocose tone. "Light it again, Mr. Emery. I have got Dr. Cooper quite safe."

And I saw, when I had picked up the candle and lighted it, Dr. Cooper standing quite still, with his arms pinned to his sides from behind by Rivers. I placed the candle out of the doctor's reach, and Rivers released him.

Dr. Cooper was in his nightshirt, and presented anything but a pleasant picture. Rivers, on the contrary, had an airy lightness about him which was new to me. His eyes shone, and he rubbed his hands together, as if he were taking part in a peculiarly agreeable function. On a table by the bedside were a glass and a bottle of whisky, half empty. Rivers put the bottle to his nose.

"Scotch," he said. "I always drink Scotch myself."

"Who are you?" Dr. Cooper managed to say. "What do you want?"

"All in good time, doctor," replied Rivers. "It's no good commencing in the middle of the game. You haven't the pleasure of my acquaintance yet, but you know this gentleman."

"I have seen him once before," said Dr. Cooper, with a troubled glance at me.

"And I am positive you must have enjoyed his society. He proves that he enjoyed yours by his anxiety to renew the intimacy. He is a private gentleman, I am a private detective, and we have come a long way to see you. But you will catch cold standing there with only your shirt on. Will you get into your clothes or into bed before we have our chat. You would like to dress? You shall. Softly, softly. I will hand you your clothes, taking the precaution to empty your pockets first."

"By what right----"

"Steady does it, doctor. If you talk of rights we shall talk of wrongs. That's a sensible man. On go the trousers, on goes the waistcoat, on goes the coat, and we're ready for business. Now, how shall it be? Friends or foes? You don't answer. Very good. We'll give you time. Take a chair, and make yourself comfortable. No, doctor, no; don't take your whisky neat; as an experienced toper myself I insist upon putting a little water into it. And we'll pour half the spirit back into the bottle. Moderation and economy--that's the order of the day. You can't make up your mind to speak. Very well; we'll see if we can loosen your tongue. I intend to make a clean breast of it, and you may feel disposed presently to follow a good example. Give me your best attention, I am going to open the case, and if I make mistakes I'm open to correction. Some few years ago there lived in the north of London a gentleman--we'll be polite, if nothing else--a gentle

man and his stepdaughter, name of the gentleman Nisbet, name of the stepdaughter Beatrice. The house they inhabited was in Lamb's Terrace, and a gentleman of means could not have selected a more desolate locality to reside in. Miss Beatrice's mother was dead, and in her will she appointed her second husband--she couldn't very well appoint her first, doctor--guardian to her child, with a handsome provision for the maintenance and education of the young lady. The bulk of her fortune she left to her daughter, who was to come into possession of it when she was of age. It was a large fortune, some fifty or sixty thousand pounds, I believe, and I wish such a bit of luck had fallen to my share, but we can't all be born with silver spoons in our mouths, can we, doctor? That this fortune should have been left to the lady instead of the gentleman annoyed and angered him, and he determined to have the fingering of it. Now, how could that be managed? There was only one way, according to his thinking, and that was, to get rid of the lady, because it was set down in the will that, in the event of the young lady's death before she came of age, the money should revert to him. He laid his plans artfully, but there was a flaw in them, as you will presently confess. I don't pretend to understand how it was that he set about compassing his desire in the crooked way he did. Perhaps he found the young lady hard to manage; because he had some sort of sneaking feeling for her, perhaps he thought it would not be half so bad if he got rid of someone else in her place; and so contrived that it should be believed it was his own stepdaughter who was dead, instead of a poor, friendless young girl of her own age and build."

Dr. Cooper shifted uneasily in his chair, and an expression of amazement stole into his face.

"I see that I am interesting you. This poor friendless girl was in his service in Lamb's Terrace at the time, her name, Molly. So what did this Nisbet do but send his stepdaughter from the house, and take a ticket for her to some part of the Continent, precise place unknown, but doubtless where she was pretty well out of the world. He was to follow her, and they were to live in foreign parts. Meanwhile the poor girl Molly was left in the London house, and on the morning of his intended departure was found dead, not in her own bed, but in the young lady's, with the young lady's clothes on and about her. The cause of death was said to be asphyxiation by an escape of gas in the young lady's bedroom. The Nisbets kept no society in London, and had no friends or acquaintances, so there was no one to dispute his statement that it was his stepdaughter who was dead. Now, he knew, that an inquest would have to be held, and that a certificate of the cause of death would have to be produced, so what does he do but go to a miserable wretch of a doctor or apothecary living or starving--the latter, I suspect--in the neighborhood of Lamb's Terrace, and by plausible words and bribe induce him to give this necessary death certificate. Name of doctor, Cooper. Fire away, doctor, if you've anything to say."

"It has been done again and again," said Dr. Cooper, sucking his parched lips. "But I can't speak till I've had a drink."

"Here it is," said Rivers, mixing a glass, sparing with the whisky and liberal with the water, and handing it to the wretched man. "Don't swallow it all at once; moisten your lips with it now and then."

"It has been done again and again," repeated Dr. Cooper. "A doctor is called in who has not attended the patient; he sees that the cause of death is unmistakable, and he gives the certificate. It is not a crime."

"I am not so sure of that," said Rivers, in a dry tone. "Anyway it is too late now to prove the true cause of poor Molly's, death, for the body has been cremated."

"It was not a case of illness," continued Dr. Cooper; "no doctor had been in the house to see the girl before that morning, and I only did what any other doctor would have done."

"You did," corrected Rivers, "what no respectable doctor would dream of doing."

"I was in debt," pursued Dr. Cooper, "I was in trouble on all sides, I had a large family to support, and no food to give them. He came to me, and I was glad to earn a pound or two. I had never seen him before that morning, I had never even heard of him. What is this story you are telling me of another girl being put into his daughter's bed? It is false; I do not believe it."

"It is true," I said, "and it can be proved, for the young lady lives."

"May I drop dead off this chair if I knew it!" cried Dr. Cooper, with trembling outstretched hands. "How was I to know it when I had never seen the lady, when I had never seen the girl, when I had never seen him before that morning?"

Notwithstanding the feeling of loathing with which he inspired me, I had no doubt that he was speaking the truth, and that he was not implicated in the conspiracy. He presented a pitiable and degrading spectacle as he sat trembling and writhing in his chair.

"I will go on to the end," said Rivers, "and you will find that you have something else to explain. The inquest was held, and you gave false evidence at it."

"You can't prove that it was false," said Dr. Cooper. "There is no body to exhume, and there is no one to give evidence against me. You may be right in the other parts of the story, but you will never be able to prove yourself right in this. I know sufficient of the law to know that no crime can be brought home to me for which I can be made to suffer."

"Perhaps you do know the law," said Rivers dryly, and I fancied that he felt himself at a disadvantage here, "and perhaps you don't. One thing is certain. You may escape, but there is no possibility of escape for the infernal scoundrel you have served, and who has brought you over from London to assist him in some other diabolical scheme."

"Stop a minute," exclaimed Dr. Cooper, bending forward and fixing his bloodshot eyes on Rivers' face. "Didn't I see you on the boat?"

"It is more than probable," answered Rivers, with a sly chuckle, "for I was there."

"You followed us?"

"Every step of the way. If you had looked for me you would have seen me on the train. What do you say now? Are we friends or foes?"

"Friends," cried Dr. Cooper eagerly. "Friends. I am on your side. I will conceal nothing."

Was it my fancy that there was a movement in the wall between the room we were in and that occupied by Mr. Nisbet? It must have been, I thought, for upon looking more closely I saw nothing to confirm the fancy, and I ascribed it to the fever and excitement of the scene of which I was a witness.

"You are wise," said Rivers, "though I take it upon myself to declare that, with or without your assistance, we can bring his guilt home to him. There are others in the house as well as ourselves. Two of our friends are at this moment stationed outside Mr. Nisbet's door. He is doomed, if ever man was. If he knows a prayer it is time for him to say it."

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