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Cleek: the Man of the Forty Faces By Thomas W. Hanshew Characters: 7213

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

"Of course the family was horribly shocked and upset by this sudden and mysterious interruption to the dream of peace," went on the Captain; "but nothing was left but to accept the verdict of 'Death from unknown causes,' and to believe it the will of God. The body was buried a few days later, and, comforting each other as best they could, the sorrowing uncle and heart-broken nieces and nephews settled down to living their lives without the one who had been the sunshine of the home, and whose loss seemed the greatest blow that could have been dealt them. A month passed and they were just beginning to forget details of the tragedy when a second and equally mysterious and horrifying one occurred, and the eldest son of the dead woman-Philip-was stricken down precisely as his mother had been, and, as his horrified brother, sisters, and uncle now recalled, like her, on the tenth day of the month!"

"Hum-m-m!" said Cleek, reflectively. "Rather significant, that. It was, I assume, that circumstance which first suggested the idea of something more than mere chance being at the back of these sudden and mysterious deaths?"

"That and one other circumstance. The condition of the bedclothing, Mr. Cleek, showed that in Philip's case there had been something in the nature of a struggle before he had succumbed to the Power which had assailed him. In other words, he had not been, as doubtless the poor mother had, so infinitely inferior in point of strength to the murderer as to be absolutely powerless in the wretch's grip from the very first instant of the attack. He had fought for his life, poor fellow, but it must have been a brief fight and death itself almost instantaneous; for although the bedclothing was tangled round his feet in a manner which could only have occurred in a struggle, he did not live long enough to get off the bed itself or slide so much as one foot to the floor. He died as his mother had died, and the verdict of the doctors and of the coroner's jury was the same: 'Death from unknown causes'!"

"Hm-m-m!" said Cleek again. "And were all the symptoms-or, rather, the absence of symptoms-the same?"

"Precisely. All the organs were discovered to be in a normal condition, the blood was untainted by any suggestion of either mineral or animal poison, the heart was sound, the lungs healthy-there was neither an internal disturbance nor an external wound, unless one could call a 'wound' a slight, a very slight, swelling upon the left side of the neck; a small thing, not so big as a sixpence."

"And appearing very much like the inflammation resulting from the bite of a gnat or a spider, Captain?"

"Exactly like it, Mr. Cleek. In fact, the doctors fancied at first that it was the result of his having been bitten by some poisonous insect, and were for accounting for his death that way. But, of course, the entire absence of poison in the blood soon put an end to that idea, so it was certain that whatever he died from, it was not from a bite or a sting of any sort."

"Clever chaps, those doctors," commented Cleek with a curious one-sided smile. "However, they were quite correct in that, I imagine, poison, either animal, vegetable, or mineral, was not the means of destruction. Still, I should have thought that at this second post-mortem the likeness of the son's case to that of the mother's would have impelled them to extra vigilance, and resulted in a much more careful searching, and minute examination of the viscera. If my theory is correct, I do not suppose they would have found anything in the contents of the thorax or the abdomen, bu

t it is just possible that analysis of the matter removed from the cranial cavity might have revealed a small blood-clot in the brain."

The Captain twitched up his eyebrows and stared at him in open-mouthed amazement.

"Of all the-By Jove! you know, this beats me! To think of your guessing that!" he said. "As a matter of fact, that's precisely what they did do, Mr. Cleek. But as they couldn't arrive at any conclusion nor trace a probable cause of its origin they were more in the dark than ever. Selwin, the local practitioner, was for putting it down as a case of apoplexy on the strength of that small blood-clot, but as there was an entire absence of every other symptom of apoplectic conditions the other doctors scouted the suggestion as preposterous-pointed out the generally healthy state of the brain and of the heart, lungs, arterial walls, et cetera, as utterly refuting such a theory-and in the end the verdict on the son was the verdict given on the mother: 'Death from unknown causes'; and he was buried as she had been buried, with the secret of the murder undiscovered."

"And then what, Captain?"

"What I have already told you, Mr. Cleek. Nothing under God's heaven would or could persuade Mr. Harmstead to let his nieces and their two surviving brothers remain another hour in that house of disaster. He removed them from it instantly-fled the very neighbourhood, hired a house down here-at Dalehampton; a dozen miles or so on the other side of the Tor, yonder-and carried them there to live. The family now consisted of Miriam and Flora, the two girls, Paul, a boy of thirteen-old Mr. Harmstead's special pride and pet-and Ronald, a little chap of eleven. In this new home they hoped and prayed to be free from the horrible visitant who had made the memory of the old one a nightmare to them, but-they couldn't forget, Mr. Cleek, what the Tenth of each month had taken from them, and grew sick with dread at the steady approach of the Tenth of this one."

"And as this is the Twelfth," said Cleek, "the day before yesterday was the Tenth. Did anything happen?"

"Yes," replied the Captain, his voice dropping until it was little more than a whisper. "I tried to cheer them; Miss Lorne tried to cheer them. We sat with them, tried to make them think that our presence there would act as a shield and a guard-and tried to think so ourselves. But old Mr. Harmstead took even stronger measures. 'Nothing shall touch Paul-nothing that lives and breathes,' he said, desperately. 'I'll take him into my room; I'll sit up with him in my arms all night!'"

"And did so?"

"Yes. At twelve o'clock, Miss Lorne, Miss Comstock, and I went in to say good-night to him. He was sitting in a deep chair with the boy fast asleep in his arms-sitting and looking all about him with the dumb agony of a trapped mouse. I'll never forget how he clutched the boy to him nor the cry he gave when the door opened to admit us, the sob of relief when he saw it was only us. His cry and his movement awoke the boy, but he dropped off to sleep again before I left, and was breathing healthily and peacefully. The last look I had at the picture as I went out, Mr. Cleek, the dear old chap was holding his pet in his arms and smiling down into his boyish face. So he was still sitting, Miss Comstock tells me, when she came down this morning. 'Look,' he said to her, 'I watched him-I held him-the tenth day is past and the death didn't get him, my bonnie!' Then called her to his side and shook the little fellow to awaken him. It was then only that he discovered the truth. The boy was stone-dead!"

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