Thomas W. Hanshew.

The Riddle of the Spinning Wheel online

. (page 1 of 17)
Online LibraryThomas W. HanshewThe Riddle of the Spinning Wheel → online text (page 1 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by Annie McGuire








THE RIDDLE OF THE
SPINNING WHEEL

* * * * *

By MARY E. and THOMAS W.
HANSHEW

* * * * *

AUTHORS OF

"Cleek, the Man of Forty Faces," "Cleek's Government
Cases," "The Riddle of the Frozen Flame," "The
Riddle of the Night," "The Riddle of the
Purple Emperor," "The Riddle of
the Mysterious Light," etc.

[Illustration]

A. L. BURT COMPANY
Publishers
New York
Published by arrangement with Doubleday, Page & Company


COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY




CONTENTS


CHAPTER PAGE
I. The Girl from Scotland 1
II. Cleek to the Rescue 13
III. The Castle o' Dreams 21
IV. The Morning Call 38
V. A Startling Discovery 57
VI. When the Sword Fell 65
VII. The Summons 76
VIII. When the Blow Fell 85
IX. A Double Tragedy 95
X. The Woman in the Case 108
XI. A New Clue 117
XII. Cleek Makes a Startling Assertion 128
XIII. Mr. Narkom Voices an Opinion 142
XIV. In Which Rhea Takes a Hand 149
XV. Another Fly in the Web 159
XVI. "Tens!" 170
XVII. A Pair of Boots 180
XVIII. Enter Cyril 192
XIX. Dollops Makes a Discovery 202
XX. "Pins and Needles" 212
XXI. "A Lunnon Gentleman" 221
XXII. Damning Evidence 226
XXIII. A Startling DĂ©nouement 233
XXIV. Hare and Hounds 239
XXV. The Man in the Black Mask 247
XXVI. The End in Sight 265
XXVII. What Happened in the Library 278
XXVIII. The Secret of the Singing Wheel 284
XXIX. "As a Tale That Was Told" 297




THE RIDDLE OF THE
SPINNING WHEEL




CHAPTER I

THE GIRL FROM SCOTLAND


Mr. Maverick Narkom, Superintendent of Scotland Yard, looked up from the
letter he was perusing, a wrinkle in his brow and one hand spread out
over the sheet to keep it open, as the sound of a soft knock broke
through the stillness, and with an exasperation born of the knotty
problem upon which he was at work, called out an irritable "Come in."

Inspector Petrie's head appeared in the aperture, stiff hand at the
salute.

"I know you wasn't to be disturbed, sir," he began apologetically, "but
there's a leddy come to see you. Seemed distressed, and said it was
urgent, and begged me for the love of 'even to let her in."

"And, being a religious man, you succumbed, of course," rapped out Mr.
Narkom in a tone of exasperation. "Oh, well, where's her card? What with
one thing and another, this morning's work has practically gone to
blazes. Not a minute's peace, by James! What's the lady's name, Petrie?"

Inspector Petrie came forward, a strip of pasteboard in his hand upon
which was engraved a name and something written in a woman's hand
underneath.

"_Miss Maud Duggan._ H'm. Scotch, I take it. And what's this! _School
friend of Miss Ailsa Lorne._ - Ailsa Lorne, eh? Haven't heard from her in
a month of Sundays. Said her business was important - eh, Petrie?"

"Very important, sir."

"Oh, well, then, show her up. This cipher business requires entire
quiet, and so long as I can't seem to enforce that, I might as well
attend to the matter in hand."

"Very good, sir." Bowing, Petrie withdrew. Meanwhile Mr. Narkom slipped
his arms into his coat - it was June, and the heat-wave had London in its
grip, and allied with an equally warm problem he had thought himself
fully justified in shedding it - and sat at his desk, drumming his
fingers upon the top of it to the tune of "God Save the King."

A moment later "Miss Maud Duggan" was standing before him - a slim,
pale-faced woman with dark-ringed eyes and a twitching, nervous mouth.
She came toward him, hands clasped over heaving breast, entire body
aflame with the intensity of her quest. Mr. Narkom, waving her to a seat
with none too much cordiality, mentally labelled her "highly strung,"
and seated himself with an effort to interest himself in what she had to
say.

"Miss Duggan, I believe?" he began, with a creditable attempt at
cordiality. "Friend of Miss Lorne's?"

"That's right," she said in a hesitating voice, with just a trace of
Scotch accent that told of the part of the British Isles which gave her
birth. "I _am_ a friend of Ailsa's - an old school friend - although we
haven't seen each other for a matter of five years. But I wrote to
her - when the trouble began - and she told me to come to you. Here is her
letter, if you care to see it."

"I prefer to listen to your version of the story first, my dear young
lady," returned Mr. Narkom, with a reassuring smile. She was palpably
nervous. "You are in trouble, of course? No one ever visits these
offices for any other reason. Now just set yourself at ease and tell me
all about it. Is it a family matter, or what?"

"Yes, it is a family matter. And a very serious one at that, Mr.
Narkom," returned Miss Duggan in her rapid voice. "And I am so worried I
don't know which way to turn - and so, in desperation, I came down - all
the way from Scotland - to consult you. You will help me, I know. It is
about my father. His life is in danger, in very grave danger, and I am
afraid that even now, while I am away, something may happen to him, and
that woman practise her cunning successfully at last."

"In danger?" Mr. Narkom sat forward in his chair, his professional
instincts awake at the word. "Who is the woman of whom you speak, Miss
Duggan, and why should she have designs on your father's life? Begin at
the beginning and tell me where you live, and all about it. There's
plenty of time, you know. Things don't happen so rapidly as a lot of you
young people imagine. You are Scotch, are you not?"

"I am. And my father is Sir Andrew Duggan, of whom you have no doubt
heard. He - he has large possessions in Scotland. A big landowner, you
know - - "

"And a hard one," said Mr. Narkom mentally, recalling certain paragraphs
about the gentleman which appeared from time to time in the Scotch
papers.

"Our home is at Aygon - Aygon Castle, in Argyllshire. And there are two
of us by our father's first marriage - my brother Ross and me. Ross, as
you know, is heir to the estates, of course, as eldest son of the line
(that part of them which is entailed); but some seventeen years ago my
father married again, an Italian woman whom he met upon one of his
periodical journeys abroad."

"And this is the woman in question?"

"It is!" Her voice ran up a tiny scale of excitement. She shut her
hands together and breathed hard, and leaning forward in her seat, let
her big dark eyes dwell a moment upon his face. "That woman is a
would-be murderer, a fiend incarnate, prompted to heaven knows what
awful action by her ambitions for her son Cyril!"

"Your father's child?"

"My father's child. Cyril is sixteen this birthday - a nice lad, but with
all the Latin traits of his mother's race - those traits which mix so
badly with our Scotch character, Mr. Narkom. Paula has planned this
thing from the beginning - slowly, secretly, steadily. She has planned to
wrest the estates from Ross, to turn his own father against him, so that
at the last he will remake his will and leave all that he possesses to
Cyril - and rob Ross of his rightful inheritance!"

"My dear lady, have you any foundation for believing this?" put in Mr.
Narkom at this juncture, as she paused. "An ambitious woman is not
necessarily a potential murderess, you know."

"But this one is. One can see it in her eyes when she looks at Ross, and
one can read it in every gesture - every thought that passes across her
face. She is a dangerous woman, Mr. Narkom, who will stop at nothing.
Her own father, I believe, had a career that was shrouded in mystery, so
far as we can trace, but there was theft in it, and crime, too - that
much I have ascertained. His daughter is the fitting descendant of the
family. I repeat, there is nothing she will stop at - nothing! - and now
that Ross has taken up with this electricity installation - he has been
mad on engineering ever since he was big enough to toddle, but Father
would not permit him to go in for it - Lady Paula has used it to her own
desperate plans, and has practically succeeded in turning Father against
Ross, so that the two hardly speak when they meet, and avoid each other
as much as possible in the daily round of life."

"And what, my dear young lady, makes you think that - er - Lady Paula
would wish to murder your father?"

"My eyes - and my ears, too. Both of which are sharper than one might
imagine. When Paula mixes my father's food - he is an old man and full of
whims and cranks, Mr. Narkom, and he has been much attached to his
second wife and trusts her absolutely - and at night he takes
bread-and-milk for supper, nothing else. And no one but Paula must make
it. She has a little sitting-room of her own just off my father's study,
where there is a little gas-stove and all the necessary paraphernalia
for mixing an invalid's food, and last week I made a point of going in
to watch her - found an excuse to get some note-paper and stepped into
the room quietly. She was stirring the milk in the saucepan, and in her
hand was a little phial of some whitish powder which she was just about
to empty into it when the sound of my step startled her. Instantly she
swung round, went as pale as death, and clapped her hand to her heart.
'How you startled me!' she exclaimed. 'You should not enter the room so
softly, Maud. It is dangerous.' 'Not more dangerous than what you are at
present doing,' I wanted to answer, but I dared not. I had no proof, and
to accuse her without it might only make Father turn entirely from Ross
and me in his quick-tempered, irascible fashion. But she slipped the
phial into her pocket and finished making the bread-and-milk while I
fumbled in the stand where the house paper is kept, all the time
watching her from the tail of my eye. And I could see how her hands
trembled, Mr. Narkom, so that she slopped the milk over into the saucer
from the cup. It's poisoning she is practising upon him - I know it,
intuitively!" She clenched her hand, and sent an agonized look into the
Superintendent's face. "And all because she is determined to get the
estates for Cyril, and then kill poor Father, and take _everything_, and
turn us all out of our rightful home!"

Mr. Narkom took out his handkerchief and wiped the beads of perspiration
from his brow. The day was warm, and this excitable and evidently very
much upset young woman only made matters warmer.

"Come, come," he said in his paternal way. "Isn't that going a little
too far - to accuse a woman of poisoning upon such slight evidence? How
is your father's health?"

"Failing every day. Every day he grows weaker, but he will see no
doctor - does not believe in them and will never let one enter his house
if it can be avoided. But he is weakening steadily. And it is not
because of his seventy-six years, either, for a haler and heartier man
never lived - until Paula started this wicked thing upon him, and began
making him bread-and-milk for supper. She says he eats too heavily; that
it is not good for him. And Father takes every word as law."

"A somewhat unwise course with any woman - begging your pardon," put in
Mr. Narkom with a smile. "And now tell me what arrangements your father
has made for the future of his second wife and her son. Or don't you
know?"

"As it happens, I do. Father is a great stickler for inheritance - or was
until Paula got hold of him - and upon his marriage with her, when my
brother and I were only children (I am twenty-seven and Ross is
twenty-nine), he made this point quite clear to her, I understood,
assuring her upon the birth of Cyril of a sufficient income for her own
and Cyril's needs when death should claim him for its own.

"Paula, however, has always wanted Aygon Castle; always envied us as its
rightful owners; always said what _she_ would do with it if it belonged
to _her_. And now that Ross has taken up with this electrical hobby (an
extravagant one, as you no doubt know), he has installed a complete
lighting plant in the Castle instead of the musty old lamps which we
used to use, and has thereby frightened all the old tenants of the place
nearly out of their wits. For they have never seen such a thing before!"

"And yet we live in modern times, and in the year of grace
Nineteen-Twenty-Two," said Mr. Narkom quietly.

"But you must remember that our village is miles away from anywhere,"
she returned quickly. "It is a sort of rock-bound fortress which is
almost as impenetrable as the fortresses of old. Miles of
heather-covered hills and crags surround us, and the nearest
town - Cragnorth - is a three hours' journey away. Many of the villagers
have never even seen a train, so that this modern installation of
electricity into the old castle is like some witchcraft that terrifies
them. Paula has made a tremendous fuss, too, saying that the place is
ruined, that it is vandalism, and has so inflamed Father that quarrels
take place all the time between him and Ross, and he has threatened to
disinherit him if he continues in such mad practices."

Mr. Narkom nodded vigorously several times.

"Aha! now we have come to the root of the affair altogether," he said
with some satisfaction. "That was the point I was waiting for. Your
father has actually volunteered that statement, Miss Duggan?"

"He has. And in my presence."

"And how does your brother Ross take it?"

"Ross has the family temper, Mr. Narkom. Ross said hot words which he
should never have uttered, and then dashed off to his fiancée's house,
three miles distant - a sweet girl, whom we all love - and did not come
back until the next afternoon."

"I see, I see. A very unpleasant affair altogether. And you, naturally
loving your brother, Miss Duggan, have pieced things together, and have
now come to me to see what I can do for you? I must have a few minutes
to think this over." A finger touched the bell at his side. Almost
immediately a head appeared and Mr. Narkom gave his orders. "Tell Mr.
Deland to come here, Petrie. I want to speak to him."

"Very good, sir."

"And now, to look the thing straight in the face. You can bring me no
actual proof of guilt upon your stepmother's part but your own love for
your brother and your woman's intuition, added to what you have seen.
One can bank upon a woman's intuition very often - but not in a case of
this sort. That you will readily understand. However, something is
obviously wrong and wants looking into. So I've sent for one of my best
men, Miss Duggan, and if he thinks enough of the case to take it up, I
will entrust the matter entirely to him. He happens to have looked in
this morning, luckily, and - here he is!"

Even as he spoke, the door opened, and Mr. Deland came in. He was a
tallish, well-set-up man, with eyes neither green nor gray, but with
that something in the bearing of him which mutely stands sponsor for the
thing called Birth. And he was dressed in the trappings of the average
young-man-about-town. Anything more unlike a police officer or a private
detective would be difficult to imagine.

Mr. Narkom crossed over to him and, drawing him aside, with a muttered
apology to the anxious-faced girl who watched him, spoke a few words in
a low tone into his ear. Mr. Deland's expression changed from feigned
interest to the real thing. The two men spoke again for a few moments in
the same low-toned voices, and then Mr. Narkom addressed her.

"Miss Duggan," he said, rather pompously, she thought - "Mr. Deland has
promised his interest in the case. I have given him but the barest
outlines. It is for you to fill in the story in the manner that you have
filled it in for me. Sit down, Mr. Deland. Now, Miss Duggan, please
begin all over again."

She looked into this strange man's eyes with her own anguished ones, and
bit her lip a moment to keep back the tears that had been impending
since the beginning of her story. Her lips trembled. But the eyes were
kind - and understanding. Something in the face spoke to her as lips can
never do. She leaned forward in her seat, shutting her hands together
one upon another in her distress.

"Mr. Deland," she said brokenly, "help me, please - _please_! I am in
despair; every moment that passes! I am terribly afraid for Father's
life, even as I have told Mr. Narkom here. But there are some things
which a woman cannot tell. Those things which she feels in her
heart - and has no concrete facts with which to explain them. Father will
die if you do not come to my rescue immediately. He will die, and by no
natural means. I tell you, my father is being poisoned slowly, and
because of his very taciturnity none of us can save him! Even now, as I
sit here, something tells me that things are not right with him, or with
Ross, my brother! All my life long I have had these premonitions. There
must be gipsy blood in me, I think. But there it is. Oh, help me to save
him, to save my brother Ross's inheritance. And my blessing will go with
you to the end of your days!"




CHAPTER II

CLEEK TO THE RESCUE


She stopped speaking suddenly and choked back a sob, covering her face
with her gloved hands, and for a moment Deland sat looking at her, eyes
narrowed, and the curious little one-sided smile so characteristic of
the man travelling up his face. Here was very evident distress indeed.
And real, too, if he knew anything of women. And yet - where was the
evidence, the intention to murder, as she had suggested? There was
absolutely nothing to go upon but a woman's intuition - and that,
strangely enough, very rarely went wrong. He'd bank a good deal upon a
woman's intuition every time, and feel he'd get good credit.

"Listen, Miss Duggan," he said, leaning forward in his seat and
surveying her with keen, critical eyes. "You are very grieved, I know,
but, as Mr. Narkom has just told me, you have nothing to go upon
but - _actually_ - your own intuition. My friend here does not always bank
on that. I do. A woman's intuition is often a great deal safer than a
whole chain of circumstantial evidence. That is where Mr. Narkom and I
differ - eh, old friend? At any rate, as there is another case besides
yours up in Argyllshire awaiting my investigation, I'll tell you what
I'll do. I'll come up to Scotland to-morrow - to-night, in fact, by the
midnight train - and look into both cases at once. And if I can find
anything requiring my assistance I'll gladly give it. How will that do?"

Mr. Narkom stifled an exclamation of surprise. Here was an interest
which he had never dreamed of awakening. Cleek (for such was the
admirable gentleman in his admirably cut clothes) rarely, if ever,
showed such immediate interest unless there was more in the thing than
met the eye in the first place. And although this Miss Duggan was
obviously in earnest, he himself would be inclined to put the thing down
to a woman's natural jealousy for her rightful possessions, and a
natural love for the man who was beloved to her by all the ties of flesh
and blood and for whom she would fight, if necessary, to the bitter end.
He had seen this sort of thing before - and paid very little attention to
it. The poison story was weak - undeniably weak - though no doubt Miss
Duggan firmly believed in it. A thousand things might have been
contained in the phial other than the poison to which her jealous mind
had instantly leapt. Powdered aspirin, perhaps, or whatnot. And for
Cleek to take such an immediate interest - _Cleek_!

He sucked in his breath noiselessly.

"Gad!" thought he, "there _is_ more in this than meets the eye; of that
I'm sure, or he'd never take such an interest in it. Of course, there's
those illicit stills in the same county, but ... well, anyhow, I was
right in sending for him, by James! It was worth taking a chance over."

Then he turned his eyes to where Miss Duggan had leaned forward
suddenly, her wet eyes alight with gratitude and face instantly
transfigured.

"Oh, will you? - will you? How good of you, how very, very good!" she
ejaculated with a little half-sigh of utter relief. "That is all I ask,
Mr. Deland. Someone will come and _see_ - see for themselves how things
stand at Aygon Castle. I tell you my intuition is very rarely wrong, and
if harm does not come to my poor father before this week is out, then I
have made the first mistake in all my life. But I'm not mistaken. Of
that I am positively, absolutely _sure_!"

"Well, let's hope you are, my dear young lady," said Mr. Narkom, in his
practical fashion, getting to his feet at a sign from Cleek, to show
that the interview was over at last. "You are lucky to have the help of
Mr. Deland, I must say. Personally I never thought for an instant that
your case would interest him, but as it _has_, you'll no doubt meet on
the midnight express - eh, Deland? - and travel up together? And now, as I
have a lot of business on hand, I'll wish you a very good morning and
good luck."

"Thank you." She got to her feet and put her gloved hand into his. "You
have been very, very kind. And I hope, too, that you are right
concerning my intuition. But I am afraid not. Thank you so much
for - everything. And you, too, Mr. Deland. Shall I expect you to-night,
then, by the midnight express, or would you prefer to travel alone?"

Cleek bowed.

"Certainly not. I shall be glad of your company, if you will permit me
to travel with you, Miss Duggan," he responded gallantly - feeling,
however that he would have preferred to travel alone, if politeness
permitted him to say so. "There will be a good deal of reading that I
shall have to do, but if you'll pardon that.... To-night, then, by the
midnight express. I shall look for you outside the Third booking-office,
at 11:40. And I shall already have secured two corner seats. Back to the
engine, or not?"

"Back, please," she made answer, giving his hand a grateful squeeze on
parting. "How kind you are! I feel hopeful already! Somehow, you inspire
me with confidence, Mr. Deland. In your hands I know things will not go
amiss. If we can only get there in time - - "

She shrugged her shoulders, and let the rest of the sentence go by
default, and then, bowing slightly to each in turn, took her departure,
a graceful, elegant figure, bearing in every line and look the mark of
the noble ancestors of one of Scotland's noblest families.

As the door closed behind her, Cleek wheeled round, and striding over to
Mr. Narkom set a hand upon each of his podgy shoulders, and stood a
moment looking down into his face. Then he gave a short, sharp laugh,
and let his hands drop.

"A dollar to a ducat but there's more in that than meets the eye," he
said, with a lift of the shoulders and a twitch of the lip. "There's a
woman who has sincerity written upon her soul, but hasn't a jot or
tittle of actual evidence to offer us. Your method would be to send her
home again, until she brought you the poison bottle or the cork of it,
or the bread-and-milk into which the stuff had been poured - eh, old
chap?... And mine - what?" He spread out his hands, and shrugged his
shoulders, and swung upon his heel with a laugh for the rueful
expression upon Mr. Narkom's face.

"Oh, I say, old fellow - - " began the Superintendent excitedly; but
Cleek's uplifted hand silenced him.

"Familiarity breeds - the best of comradeship! - my friend. And a little
dig in the ribs now and then should never be read amiss. I owe all I
have to you, Mr. Narkom. You know the deeps of my gratitude. And if I


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryThomas W. HanshewThe Riddle of the Spinning Wheel → online text (page 1 of 17)