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The Last Tenant By B. L. Farjeon Characters: 9800

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

"The evidence, then, you gave at the inquest," continued Rivers, "whether false or true (you see I am not disposed to be hard on you), was conclusive, and doubtless you were well paid for it. In the eyes of the law Mr. Nisbet's stepdaughter was dead, and he came into her fortune. The simplicity of the whole thing would be amusing if it were not tragic. But his task was not yet finished. He had committed an error of judgment in killing the wrong woman; the lady whom he had robbed of her fortune still lived, and it was imperative that he should get rid of her. He must have been in fear of detection, or he would have adopted some violent and summary measures to compass his objects. Being fearful of consequences he determined to kill her slowly, and it was also necessary that he should destroy her memory, that he should make her mind a blank, for if by any chance the news of the tragedy which had taken place in Lamb's Terrace reached her knowledge the game would be lost. According to the way I reason it out he hoped that the drugs he administered to her would cause her to die a presumably natural death, but the lady was obstinate, and refused to die as he wished. At length, weary of waiting, he calls you in to assist him."

"You are on the wrong track," said Dr. Cooper. "I have never seen the lady."

"You are in your right senses, I presume," said Rivers. "The lady happens to be in this house."

"In this house?"

"Do you wish us to believe you have not seen her?"

"On my honor, I have not seen her." At this reference to his honor a queer smile crossed Rivers' lips. "There is a female here, as I was given to understand by Mr. Nisbet, one of his domestics, who was indisposed. But I have seen no one except Mr. Nisbet and an old woman who cooks for him, and with whom I have not exchanged a single word. Mr. Nisbet informed me that he wanted my assistance in certain chemical experiments he intended to make in Switzerland, and I consented to accompany him. It was a sudden proposition, and I had to make up my mind on the spur of the moment. When I first made his acquaintance he promised to assist me and set me up in a good way of business, but after the inquest I lost sight of him, and his promises were not fulfilled. Coming upon me suddenly a week ago in London, he said if I would assist him that he would fulfill his old promises. I would have come with him without this assurance. I was doing no business in London, and I was in debt; I have always been in debt everywhere; I am the most unfortunate wretch in existence. Now you have the truth of it."

"What were you and Mr. Nisbet doing to-night before you went to bed?"

"What do you mean?"

"It is a plain question. You and he were together in this room. You poured some drops from a vial into a glass. Mr. Nisbet took the glass from you, dipped his finger into it, and tasted the stuff; then he threw the contents of the glass out of the window."

"You know everything," gasped Dr. Cooper, falling back in his chair in consternation.

"You are not far out. What were you doing? What was in the vial?"

"A deadly poison. The drops I poured into the glass would put an end to a man's life in a few seconds, and it would be next to impossible to discover the cause of death."

"An interesting experiment. If it would put an end to a man's life it would put an end to a woman's. Are you a double-dyed knave, or an egregious fool? Do you not see the crime your accomplice was meditating?"

"I am not his accomplice," cried Dr. Cooper in a violent tone. "He told me he wanted to try it upon some animals."

"A likely story. This deadly poison was to be administered to his stepdaughter. He paved the way by informing the old woman in this house that the young lady is sinking fast. He is caught in his own trap. Where is the vial?"

"Mr. Nisbet has it."

At this moment I saw confirmed the fancy I had entertained of a movement in the wall between the bedrooms. A panel was softly and noiselessly pushed, and Mr. Nisbet's face appeared. It was of an ashen whiteness; he must have overheard every word of the conversation. As his eyes met mine he swiftly retreated; the panel closed, and then came the sound of the snap of a lock.

"What was that?" cried Rivers, starting up.

I told him hurriedly what I had seen, and he went to the wall and examined it.

"It is a cunning contrivance," he said, "and is hidden somewhere in these wide headings." He pushed against the wall without effect. "You, too," he added grimly to Dr. Cooper, "might never have left the house alive. Let us finish the night's work. You will come out with us. Leave the door open, and set that chair against it, in case he slips in here, and tries to make his escape. We will take the law into our own hands. I never travel without the darbies."

He took a pair of handcuffs from his pocket, and put them bac

k with a satisfied smile.

We joined Ronald and Bob in the passage, and questioned them. Mr. Nisbet had made no attempt to open his door, but Bob had peeped through the keyhole a few minutes after he had taken up his station, being attracted by the glimmering of a light in the room, which he accepted as a proof that Mr. Nisbet was awake. By means of this light he had obtained a partial view of the room, but before he could catch sight of Mr. Nisbet the keyhole was masked from within, and he could see nothing more.

"Mr. Nisbet!" Rivers called out as he rapped smartly at the door.

We listened for an answer, but received none, and Rivers repeated his summons several times in vain. No movement within the room reached our ears. We did not make more noise than was absolutely necessary, but it brought Mme. Bernstein out, to whom Ronald explained what we were doing, and hoped we were not alarming Beatrice.

"Oh, no," said Mme. Bernstein, "she is sleeping like an angel."

Did she know her lover was near her, I thought, and that she was saved from the dread peril with which she had been threatened? The mysterious adventure which had led up to the present strange scene in a foreign land warranted such a thought. Little, indeed, do we know of the unseen world by which we are surrounded, little do we understand of the occult influences which direct the most pregnant actions of our lives. Often during the past twenty-four hours had I looked toward the ground in the anticipation of seeing the spectral figure which had prompted every step I had taken in this mystery, but I had seen nothing of it, and I was tempted to believe, its mission being accomplished, that it had left me forever. Though a more fitting place might be found to mention it, I may state here that my impression was correct. From that day to this, when in my London home I am engaged in writing the particulars of the mysterious crime which, through the agency of the supernatural visitation, I was the means of bringing to light, I have never set eyes on the supernatural apparition.

I return now to my companions, who, in the silence of Mr. Nisbet, were debating what it was best to do. If we burst open the door of his bedroom we should awake Beatrice, and the shock might produce serious consequences.

"He may have escaped by the window," suggested Bob.

Rivers shook his head. "He could not do so without breaking his limbs. This floor is some distance from the ground, and a dead straight wall stretches down the back of the house."

"There may be other panels in the walls of his room opening in other directions."

"That is more likely. It is stupid to wait here and do nothing. I have picked a lock before to-night. Here goes."

Down he plumped on his knees, and set to work with his own knife and ours which we handed him. One or another of us held a candle to the keyhole while he worked. It was a long job and a tough job, and he was at it for thirty or forty minutes, but he managed it at last.

"Be prepared for a rush," he said, in a tone of warning, as he slowly pushed the door open.

No such experience awaited us. The door was wide open, and we stood together on the threshold.

"He has left the candle alight, at all events," said Rivers. "Follow me, and look out."

We entered the room close upon each other's heels.

Leaning back in an armchair by the table was Mr. Nisbet. His eyes were closed, and we were face to face with the murderer. His features were perfectly calm and composed.

"How can he sleep so peacefully at such a moment as this?" whispered Bob.

"Yes," said Rivers, stepping forward, "he sleeps peacefully."

Dr. Cooper also stepped forward, and put his ear to Mr. Nisbet's mouth, and his hand to his heart.

"Dead?" asked Rivers.

"Dead," replied Dr. Cooper.

Rivers lifted from the carpet an empty vial which had fallen from the dead man's hand, and held it up to the doctor with a questioning look. Dr. Cooper nodded.

* * * * * * *

But little more remains to be told.

Beatrice was taken back to England, and under medical care recovered her memory. But she recollects very little of the years she passed in peril of her life. The chief part of her fortune was saved, and she and Ronald are married. Barbara is in their service. The poor child suffered much when the truth was revealed to her, but time healed her sorrow, and she has a happy home.

Dr. Cooper disappeared from London, and none of us knew, or cared to know, what became of him. Ronald provided for Mme. Bernstein.

My good wife and I live in our old home. We never intend to move. Nothing in the world could tempt Maria to enter an empty house. Between ourselves and Mr. and Mrs. Elsdale exists a firm friendship, and we, seldom without Bob, are frequently together; but we never refer to the strange incidents which have ended so happily.


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