The Riddle of the Spinning Wheel - Thomas W. Hanshew - ebook

The Riddle of the Spinning Wheel ebook

Thomas W. Hanshew

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Hamilton Cleek is a renaissance man for the ages: an intellectual giant with the brawn of ten men, he serves as a consulting detective, often helping Scotland Yard with particularly challenging cases. With the power to distort and transform his visage and mimic any mannerism he desires, Cleek, with the assistance of his cockney assistant „Dollops”, makes a super natural detective! In „The Riddle of the Spinning Wheel”, a young woman concerned that the turmoil in her family could lead to her father’s murder seeks help from Mr. Cleek of Scotland Yard. Her fear comes to pass when a room is pitched into darkness and the strange sound of a spinning wheel is the omen of death. Cleek finds himself at the center of a confounding whodunit. Will this be the mystery that finally pushes him over the edge?

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Liczba stron: 344

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Contents

I. THE GIRL FROM SCOTLAND

II. CLEEK TO THE RESCUE

III. THE CASTLE O' DREAMS

IV. THE MORNING CALL

V. A STARTLING DISCOVERY

VI. WHEN THE SWORD FELL

VII. THE SUMMONS

VIII. WHEN THE BLOW FELL

IX. A DOUBLE TRAGEDY

X. THE WOMAN IN THE CASE?

XI. A NEW CLUE

XII. CLEEK MAKES A STARTLING ASSERTION

XIII. MR. NARKOM VOICES AN OPINION

XIV. IN WHICH RHEA TAKES A HAND

XV. ANOTHER FLY IN THE WEB

XVI. "TENS!"

XVII. A PAIR OF BOOTS

XVIII. ENTER CYRIL

XIX. DOLLOPS MAKES A DISCOVERY

XX. "PINS AND NEEDLES"

XXI. "A LUNNON GENTLEMAN"

XXII. DAMNING EVIDENCE

XXIII. A STARTLING DéNOUEMENT

XXIV. HARE AND HOUNDS

XXV. THE MAN IN THE BLACK MASK

XXVI. THE END IN SIGHT

XXVII. WHAT HAPPENED IN THE LIBRARY

XXVIII. THE SECRET OF THE SINGING WHEEL

XXIX. "AS A TALE THAT WAS TOLD"

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.”

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