The Yellow Claw by Sax Rohmer - HTML preview
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Dr. Cumberly walked slowly upstairs to his own flat, a picture etched indelibly upon his mind, of Henry Leroux, with a face of despair, sitting below in his dining-room and listening to the ominous sounds proceeding from the study, where the police were now busily engaged. In the lobby he met his daughter Helen, who was waiting for him in a state of nervous suspense.
"Father!" she began, whilst rebuke died upon the doctor's lips-- "tell me quickly what has happened."
Perceiving that an explanation was unavoidable, Dr. Cumberly outlined the story of the night's gruesome happenings, whilst Big Ben began to chime the hour of one.
Helen, eager-eyed, and with her charming face rather pale, hung upon every word of the narrative.
"And now," concluded her father, "you must go to bed. I insist."
"But father!" cried the girl--"there is some thing" . . .
She hesitated, uneasily.
"Well, Helen, go on," said the doctor.
"I am afraid you will refuse."
"At least give me the opportunity."
"Well--in the glimpse, the half-glimpse, which I had of her, I seemed" . . .
Dr. Cumberly rested his hands upon his daughter's shoulders characteristically, looking into the troubled gray eyes.
"You don't mean," he began . . .
"I thought I recognized her!" whispered the girl.
"Good God! can it be possible?"
"I have been trying, ever since, to recall where we had met, but without result. It might mean so much" . . .
Dr. Cumberly regarded her, fixedly.
"It might mean so much to--Mr. Leroux. But I suppose you will say it is impossible?"
"It IS impossible," said Dr. Cumberly firmly; "dismiss the idea, Helen." "But father," pleaded the girl, placing her hands over his own, "consider what is at stake" . . .
"I am anxious that you should not become involved in this morbid business."
"But you surely know me better than to expect me to faint or become hysterical, or anything silly like that! I was certainly shocked when I came down to-night, because-well, it was all so frightfully unexpected" . . .
Dr. Cumberly shook his head. Helen put her arms about his neck and raised her eyes to his.
"You have no right to refuse," she said, softly: "don't you see that?"
Dr. Cumberly frowned. Then:--
"You are right, Helen," he agreed. "I should know your pluck well enough. But if Inspector Dunbar is gone, the police may refuse to admit us" . . .
"Then let us hurry!" cried Helen. "I am afraid they will take away" . . .
Side by side they descended to Henry Leroux's flat, ringing the bell, which, an hour earlier, the lady of the civet furs had rung.
A sergeant in uniform opened the door.
"Is Detective-Inspector Dunbar here?" inquired the physician.
"Say that Dr. Cumberly wishes to speak to him. And"--as the man was about to depart-"request him not to arouse Mr. Leroux."
Almost immediately the inspector appeared, a look of surprise upon his face, which increased on perceiving the girl beside her father.
"This is my daughter, Inspector," explained Cumberly; "she is a contributor to the Planet, and to various magazines, and in this journalistic capacity, meets many people in many walks of life. She thinks she may be of use to you in preparing your case."
Dunbar bowed rather awkwardly.
"Glad to meet you, Miss Cumberly," came the inevitable formula. "Entirely at your service."
"I had an idea, Inspector," said the girl, laying her hand confidentially upon Dunbar's arm, "that I recognized, when I entered Mr. Leroux's study, tonight"--Dunbar nodded-"that I recognized--the--the victim!"
"Good!" said the inspector, rubbing his palms briskly together. His tawny eyes sparkled. "And you would wish to see her again before we take her away. Very plucky of you, Miss Cumberly! But then, you are a doctor's daughter."
They entered, and the inspector closed the door behind them.
"Don't arouse poor Leroux," whispered Cumberly to the detective. "I left him on a couch in the dining-room." . . .
"He is still there," replied Dunbar; "poor chap! It is" . . .
He met Helen's glance, and broke off shortly.
In the study two uniformed constables, and an officer in plain clothes, were apparently engaged in making an inventory--or such was the impression conveyed. The clock ticked merrily on; its ticking a desecration, where all else was hushed in deference to the grim visitor. The body of the murdered woman had been laid upon the chesterfield, and a little, dark, bearded man was conducting an elaborate examination; when, seeing the trio enter, he hastily threw the coat of civet fur over the body, and stood up, facing the intruders.
"It's all right, doctor," said the inspector; "and we shan't detain you a moment." He glanced over his shoulder. "Mr. Hilton, M. R. C. S." he said, indicating the dark man-"Dr. Cumberly and Miss Cumberly."
The divisional surgeon bowed to Helen and eagerly grasped the hand of the celebrated physician.
"I am fortunate in being able to ask your opinion," he began. . . .
Dr. Cumberly nodded shortly, and with upraised hand, cut him short.
"I shall willingly give you any assistance in my power," he said; "but my daughter has voluntarily committed herself to a rather painful ordeal, and I am anxious to get it over."
He stooped and raised the fur from the ghastly face.
Helen, her hand resting upon her father's shoulder, ventured one rapid glance and then looked away, shuddering slightly. Dr. Cumberly replaced the coat and gazed anxiously at his daughter. But Helen, with admirable courage, having closed her eyes for a moment, reopened them, and smiled at her father's anxiety. She was pale, but perfectly composed.
"Well, Miss Cumberly?" inquired the inspector, eagerly; whilst all in the room watched this slim girl in her charming deshabille, this dainty figure so utterly out of place in that scene of morbid crime.
She raised her gray eyes to the detective.
"I still believe that I have seen the face, somewhere, before. But I shall have to reflect a while--I meet so many folks, you know, in a casual way--before I can commit myself to any statement."
In the leonine eyes looking into hers gleamed the light of admiration and approval. The canny Scotsman admired this girl for her beauty, as a matter of course, for her courage, because courage was a quality standing high in his estimation, but, above all, for her admirable discretion.
"Very proper, Miss Cumberly," he said; "very proper and wise on your part. I don't wish to hurry you in any way, but"--he hesitated, glancing at the man in plain clothes, who had now resumed a careful perusal of a newspaper--"but her name doesn't happen to be Vernon--"
"Vernon!" cried the girl, her eyes lighting up at sound of the name. "Mrs. Vernon! it is! it is! She was pointed out to me at the last Arts Ball--where she appeared in a most monstrous Chinese costume--"
"Chinese?" inquired Dunbar, producing the bulky notebook.
"Yes. Oh! poor, poor soul!"
"You know nothing further about her, Miss Cumberly?"
"Nothing, Inspector. She was merely pointed out to me as one of the strangest figures in the hall. Her husband, I understand, is an art expert--"
"He WAS!" said Dunbar, closing the book sharply. "He died this afternoon; and a paragraph announcing his death appears in the newspaper which we found in the victim's fur coat!"
"It was the only paragraph on the half-page folded outwards which was in any sense PERSONAL. I am greatly indebted to you, Miss Cumberly; every hour wasted on a case like this means a fresh plait in the rope around the neck of the wrong man!"
Helen Cumberly grew slowly quite pallid.
"Good night," she said; and bowing to the detective and to the surgeon, she prepared to depart.
Mr. Hilton touched Dr. Cumberly's arm, as he, too, was about to retire.
"May I hope," he whispered, "that you will return and give me the benefit of your opinion in making out my report?"
Dr. Cumberly glanced at his daughter; and seeing her to be perfectly composed:--"For the moment, I have formed no opinion, Mr. Hilton," he said, quietly, "not having had an opportunity to conduct a proper examination."
Hilton bent and whispered, confidentially, in the other's ear:-
"She was drugged!" The innuendo underlying the words struck Dr. Cumberly forcibly, and he started back with his brows drawn together in a frown.
"Do you mean that she was addicted to the use of drugs?" he asked, sharply; "or that the drugging took place to-night."
"The drugging DID take place to-night!" whispered the other. "An injection was made in the left shoulder with a hypodermic syringe; the mark is quite fresh."
Dr. Cumberly glared at his fellow practitioner, angrily.
"Are there no other marks of injection?" he asked.
"On the left forearm, yes. Obviously self-administered. Oh, I don't deny the habit! But my point is this: the injection in the shoulder was NOT self-administered."
"Come, Helen," said Cumberly, taking his daughter's arm; for she had drawn near, during the colloquy--"you must get to bed."
His face was very stern when he turned again to Mr. Hilton. "I shall return in a few minutes," he said, and escorted his daughter from the room.