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Title: The Deadly Tiger-Snake Author: Arthur Gask * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 2000901h.html Language: English Date first posted: Sep 2020 Most recent update: Sep 2020 This eBook was produced by Maurie Mulcahy, Colin Choat and Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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FOR five and fifty years old Mrs. Bevan had lived at Milton Grange, just outside the little village of High Roding, in Essex. She had come there when, as a young girl just out of her teens, she had married Mark Bevan, only a few years older, and every nook and cranny of the old house was hallowed to her in rapturous memories of those first wedded days. The Grange had belonged to the Bevan family for many generations, and stood in extensive high-walled grounds, containing beautiful old-world gardens, lawns whose velvet softness it was a delight to tread, and a large lake, whose reeds and rushes were a sanctuary for wild birds.
She had been a very lovely bride, and her husband a very handsome groom. All the joys which life can hold seemed to stretch before the young couple, for they had good health, ample means and were devoted to each other.
It was in the days before the world had come to her dreadful travail with Progress and New Orders. There were no telephones, no electric lights, no motor cars, and no Dictators. Flying was a madman's dream, and the bomber in the skies had never entered into men's minds, even as a nightmare. The country-side of England was all peace and rest. The squire was still the benign godfather in the countless little villages scattered throughout the length and breadth of the land, and the old ivy-covered church still gave its benediction to the births, deaths, and marriages of those whose destiny it was to live beneath its shadow.
Margaret Bevan and her husband had been supremely happy, experiencing only one great sorrow. No babies had come to Milton Grange, and the laughter of little children had not echoed in its many spacious rooms. For many years it had been a great grief to them, but gradually time had softened their disappointment, and they had become content with each others' love and respect.
When Margaret was 60 her husband died, and then commenced long years of lonely widowhood for her. She was not a woman who had ever made many friends, and she had no relatives of her own. Also, the only one of her husband was his nephew, a young doctor, recently qualified and practising in London. She was very fond of the latter, and told him frankly that one day he would come into all she possessed. "But I don't want you to look forward to my death," she smiled, "and so I am going to make you an allowance, straightaway, of £1,000 a year. That will make you quite independent of your profession, and you will be able to go in for research, as you've always wanted to." Dr. Bevan was most grateful, and he and his young wife were frequent guests at the Grange.
"But why do you go on living here, Aunt Margaret?" he pleaded. "What good to you is this large and lonely house, with all these servants? You would be much happier if you came to town and had a cosy little flat, with only two maids to look after."
But Mrs. Bevan had smilingly shaken her head. "For nearly two hundred years, Robert, there's always been a Bevan here, and I shan't leave it until I die. Everything reminds me of my dear husband, and I am sure it would have been his wish that I should remain on. Don't forget, I have my tenants in the village to look after. They depend so much upon me."
So she continued on at the Grange, keeping three maids, a butler and a gardener, living as closely as possible the same life she had lived when her husband had been alive. Every night she dined in state, eating very little, but waited upon in solemn silence by the butler and the parlormaid. The only day she went out was upon Sunday, and then in the morning, at a quarter to eleven precisely, she was driven by the gardener, attired in the grey Bevan livery, in an old-fashioned landau to the village church. There, in the Bevan family pew, she sat a dignified and sad old lady, with her eyes fixed for the greater part of the service upon a brass plate upon the wall, commemorating the passing of one, Mark Bevan, justice of the peace for the County of Essex, in the sixty-second year of his life.
The years rolled on and then, when she was nearly seventy-five, she developed heart trouble, and Dr. Bevan insisted she must always have some-one by her in case she was taken with a sudden attack. He wanted her to have a properly-qualified nurse, but always of a most determined disposition, she engaged one only semi-trained, whom the vicar of the village recommended and who happened to be a relation of one of her tenants.
Nurse Bateman—she called herself "Nurse" because she had had a few months' experience in a cottage hospital—gave her age as thirty. Undoubtedly, she had been quite good-looking once, but now her prettiness was a decidedly faded character. She was shrewd and intelligent, with sense enough not to attempt to dominate the old lady. She gave herself no airs and got on well with the servants, particularly so with the butler.
So things went on uneventfully for some six months, and then the shadow of a dreadful terror fell upon Milton Grange, for it came to be believed a deadly poisonous snake had somehow found its way into the house, one of those which had escaped when, a few weeks previously, a fire had taken place in a travelling circus and menagerie, visiting Great Dunmow, a small town only a few miles distant.
It was Martha, the cook, who suspected its presence, first. One night, when the last to be going to bed, she was in the kitchen by herself except for Sloper, the big black cat, who was asleep upon a chair. She had lit her candle to go upstairs and just turned out the hanging lamp. Mrs. Bevan still clung to the old ways and there was neither gas nor electricity in the house.
Then suddenly she heard a hiss, a long fierce hiss which lasted, she thought, for quite three seconds. She could not tell with any certainty from where the sound came, but she believed it was from the direction of the long kitchen dresser. Very astonished, but not frightened, for somehow for the moment she did not associate the sound with any living creature, she lifted the candlestick high above her head to spread the light round.
Seeing nothing upon the floor or anywhere about, and the hiss not being repeated, she would have thought she had been mistaken in the nature of the sound if her eyes had not suddenly happened to fall upon the cat. The big black Tom, no longer in restful slumber, was now upon his feet, his back arched, his fur ruffled and with all appearance of being badly frightened. He was holding his head stiffly and his eyes were strained and staring.
The next morning, when telling the others what had happened, she admitted that then she did begin to feel a little bit afraid and not quite so certain she had been imagining everything. However, the hiss did not come again, the cat sank down once more upon the chair and, very puzzled, she took herself off to bed. But it was a long time before she got off to sleep.
At breakfast she told the two girls and Mr. Snap, the butler, all about having heard the hiss, and they thought it a good joke, Mr. Snap asking jocularly if she'd been at the old lady's port. Later, Nurse Bateman thought it very amusing, too.
Cook did not mind their joking, but the laugh was upon her side when that same night Jane, the housemaid, came running into the kitchen with a very white face and called out chokingly that something had just hissed at her in the passage.
All the others were in the kitchen at the time, waiting for the nurse to come into supper and, accordingly, headed by Mr. Snap with his electric torch and the cook with the poker, they all ran out together and made a thorough search of the passage and adjoining rooms. Nurse Bateman, appearing at that moment, joined with them in the search.
But they found nothing and, returning to the kitchen, sat down to their meal. The girls were certainly feeling rather scared, but Mr. Snap would still not believe any hiss had really been heard. Very tactlessly, he made things worse for them by recalling to their recollections the recent fire at the travelling menagerie.
"Don't forget they've never been at all certain," he went on, "how many of the snakes were burnt up or got away, it will always be a mystery." His eyes twinkled. "So it's quite possible one of the deadly tiger ones escaped and has travelled all this distance and made his home here. I've heard that in India snakes prefer old houses."
Cook and the girls shuddered, but the nurse spoke very sharply to him. "You shouldn't have said that, Mr. Snap. You've no business to have put the idea into their heads. It's very silly of you."
The butler took the reproof meekly and, indeed, looked rather crestfallen. He was stout, amorous and fifty, and known to be very sweet on the nurse. It was supposed he had saved money, and everyone was curious as to whether he would induce her to marry him.
"It was only a joke, Nurse," he said apologetically, "and, of course I didn't mean anything."
"But if the mistress came to hear of it," went on Nurse sternly, "with her weak heart it would be very dangerous. It might frighten her into leaving the house."
"Then you don't understand Mrs. Bevan," scoffed Cook instantly. "Nothing on earth would induce her to leave here. She'd think it her duty to die rather than to go away. Why, she's not slept one single night away from the house since poor Master died!"
"Well, at any rate," nodded the nurse, "none of us must mention anything about it to her. I won't have it."
"But I don't suppose we shall hear the hissing again," grinned the butler. "In my opinion we've heard the last of it."
It was destined, however, that Mr. Snap should speedily learn of what little worth his opinion was, for that very night he heard the hiss himself and was quite as frightened as the girls had been. He had just come out of his pantry, he said, and there came a loud and long hiss from the direction of the kitchen dresser. He didn't mind admitting that he'd instantly grabbed up the poker and rushed for the door as quickly as he could. Then he had stood waiting for quite five minutes but, seeing nothing and hearing no more hisses, he had at length ventured back into the room to put out the lamp before going off to bed.
The next morning he apologised most contritely to both the cook and Jane for having misbelieved them. He was convinced now that it was some living creature which had frightened them. "But we'll find out what it is," he added fiercely. "We'll move out that old dresser at once and see if there are any snake-holes behind."
The dresser, of solid oak, was huge and heavy. It had not been disturbed for many years, never in the cook's time, and she had been at the Grange since she was twenty and she now admitted to being forty-two. With some effort it was moved away from the wall and, sure enough, a big hole in the wainscoting was at once seen.
"Large enough for a dozen snakes to jump through at a time," announced the perspiring Mr. Snap. "Well, we'll nail a piece of board over it and see what that does." He smiled a sickly smile. "Then snake, owl, or whistling rat, whatever he is, he'll have to do his hissing where it's less likely to be heard. You see," he went on in explanation, "snakes are nocturnal like rabbits, which means they mostly come out to feed at nights. So, if we nail him up now, we've probably caught him when he's at home, and there he'll have to stay until he starves to death."
Accordingly the hole was nailed over and the dresser put back. Unhappily, however it did not bring the result anticipated, for the hissing continued, and soon everyone in the house had heard it, except Mrs. Bevan. Cook heard it again, in the scullery this time; Elsie, the housemaid, heard it twice in the hall; Mr. Snap heard it three times in his pantry; Jane heard it when she was coming down the stairs, and Nurse Bateman, the last to be converted, heard it most distinctly in the library. They all came to hear it, too, not only when by themselves but also when in company with the others. The horror of it began to get on their nerves. Cook moved her bed into the girls' room, Mr. Snap nightly blocked up the crack under his bedroom door with thick wads of newspapers, and Nurse Bateman banked up strong disinfectants, sprinkled generously about.
Still no one had ever seen anything. There had only been that fierce, dreadful hissing, now, seemingly, coming from all directions. To the credit of them all they determined Mrs. Bevan should learn nothing. Neither did they discuss the matter with anyone outside the house, except the gardener.
So things went on for just a week from the day when cook had first heard the hissing, and then a happening took place which made it impossible to keep things any longer from Mrs. Bevan.
One morning, Sloper, the big Tom cat, was found dead in the kitchen, stretched out stiff and arched, and there was no doubt he had died from snake bite. Thomson, the gardener, was sure of it. Years ago he had made a voyage to Australia upon a sailing-boat, and during a short stay in the Commonwealth had once seen the body of a dog who had been bitten by a snake, and it had looked just as the body of the cat looked now. Besides, there were those two small bite marks upon the leg, plain for everyone to see.
They held a conclave in the kitchen and very reluctantly decided Mrs. Bevan must be told at once. Sloper had been her pet, always partaking of his midday meal with her. He never missed a day, always being upon the spot the exact minute when her lunch was served. So, if he did not arrive now at the usual hour, she would start to worry dreadfully, wondering what could have become of him and if he had been caught in some trap. It was considered the suspense would be far worse for the old lady than learning what had actually happened.
The business of telling the dreadful story was entrusted to the cook, Mr. Snap and the nurse being present to corroborate all she said. Mrs. Bevan received the news bravely, although, at first, with absolute incredulity.
"But it's impossible!" she exclaimed. "No snake would have come all that way from Great Dunmow. It can't be a snake at all."
"But it must be, Mum," said Mr. Snap firmly, but respectfully. "There are two fang marks upon one of poor Sloper's legs and that is how poisonous snakes bite." He spoke very sadly. "Should I bring him to you to let you see them."
"No, no," replied the old lady shudderingly, "I don't want to see anything." She shed a few tears over the passing of her favorite, and then sat down to write a letter to Dr. Bevan, telling him everything that had happened. She sent Snap straightaway into the village to post it, knowing that if it caught the eleven o'clock post her nephew would receive it that same afternoon. She expected he would come down that night.
But there was no appearance of the doctor, as so confidently hoped for, and then, when being assisted by Nurse Bateman to get ready for bed, the old lady received such a truly terrible shock that no one could have been really surprised if it had proved fatal.
Both she and the nurse heard the hissing of the snake, loud, fierce and reverberating. Also, the latter actually saw the reptile, this time.
Mrs. Bevan's knees gave way under her and she fell back into an arm chair which was, providently, just behind her. She was paralysed and inarticulate in her fright.
The snake hissed three times, but it was not the hissing which so affected the old lady. It was the blood curdling screams which Nurse Bateman emitted, one after the other. They rang out like sirens, so Cook declared afterwards. Cook had been right away at the other end of the house at the time and, hearing the cries and thinking more of her loved mistress than of any danger to herself, she raced upstairs with no thought in her mind that any second she might be treading upon a deadly reptile.
She found both her mistress and the nurse in dead faints, but gave her attention only to the former, lifting her upon the bed and forcing brandy between her lips. Mrs. Bevan soon revived and whispered shakingly what had taken place. The nurse, too, had by then recovered, feeling very ashamed that she had screamed so loudly. She said, however, that she had seen, most distinctly, a long black snake slither across the floor and pass through the mercifully partly-opened door.
"Never you mind, mistress," said Cook bravely. "I promise you you shan't go through it again. I'll bring my mattress in here and make up a bed for myself upon the floor. Then there'll be three of us if the snake comes again." She affected a bravery she did not feel. "It seems that snakes don't frighten me as much as they do some people. I am not at all afraid."
Dr. Bevan arrived the next day, before eleven o'clock. He had only received the letter that morning and was very concerned when he learnt what had taken place the previous night.
"But the whole thing's nonsense, Aunt Margaret," he said angrily. "It's impossible there could be any poisonous snake here. It's mass hysteria among you all. The cook imagined things, first, and then scared all the others into imagining they had heard the hissing when, in reality, they had heard nothing at all. It's been all imagination, nothing more and nothing less."
"But it isn't imagination, Robert," insisted his aunt tearfully. "I heard the hisses as plainly as I am hearing you now." Her voice choked. "And think of my dear Sloper. He wasn't bitten to death by imagining it."
"Ah, the cat!" exclaimed Dr. Bevan instantly. "I'll go and look at him. I'll be able to tell at once if he's died of a snake bite."
But to the doctor's intense annoyance the cat's body had been burnt. It appeared Mr. Snap thought that because the animal had died of snake-bite the body would be dangerous for anyone to touch. So he had made a big bonfire in the garden, and, carrying the body out in the kitchen tongs, had thrown it into the middle of the flames, taking great care that every particle of it should be consumed.
"You're a fool!" exclaimed the doctor angrily. "You've spoilt the only chance I had of convincing you all how silly you've been. Well, now I'm going to talk to you all, perfectly plainly."
But the talk brought no satisfaction to him; indeed, rather the reverse, for, instead of convincing the servants that their imaginations had been running riot, he himself was left with the uneasy feeling that, after all, there might be something in what they said. They all stuck to their stories, and he could not make them contradict themselves. So, his mind made up what he would do, he returned to Mrs. Bevan.
"Well, Aunt," he said, "I suppose there's no chance of getting you to come away for a week or two until things blow over. No, no, I won't argue with you, but this is what I'll do. Professor James, of the Zoological Gardens is a friend of mine, and I'll go straight back to town to see him. He'll tell me at once if it is possible for an escaped snake to have made his way here. In the meantime, from the first moment when it begins to get dark you're to have cook with you, as well as nurse. Now, don't worry. I'll do the best I can."
And certainly he was as good as his word, for he returned that afternoon, bringing the head keeper of the snake house of the zoo with him.
"Professor James couldn't manage to get away, or he'd have come himself," he explained, "but he's sent this gentleman, who knows all about snakes. He's brought a tame Indian mongoose with him, and we'll soon know if there's any snake hiding in the house."
"If there's one here, mum," corroborated the keeper reassuringly, "Rikky will nose him out at once." He shook his head doubtfully. "But I don't think there can be one. If any snake did escape from that menagerie it'd be almost a miracle if he'd found his way as far as here."
He produced the mongoose from a box for Mrs. Bevan's inspection. Slender and about 18 inches long, it was covered with a greyish fur and had a long sweeping tail. The old lady thought it looked very fierce.
"But where will you put it to find the snake?" she asked. "The snake only comes out at night."
"Behind the wainscoting, mum," replied the keeper. "That'll be the best place, so that he can get under the foundations of the house. That's where the snake'll be if he's anywhere."
So a piece of the wainscoting in the passage by the kitchen was prized away, and the mongoose put through. "Now, if he comes upon any reptile," the keeper informed those standing round, "we shall know it at once, for he'll get excited and make a noise like the humming of a hive of bees. There'll be no mistaking the sound."
But no noise came to gladden their hearts. Five, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour passed, and then the mongoose reappeared, looking disinterested in everything. He was taken into the kitchen and, in turn, to every room and place where the hissing of the snake had been heard, but nothing happened, and, in the end, he wanted to curl up and go to sleep.
"No snake here," announced the keeper decisively. "He'd have smelt him if there was."
There was general disappointment, and Dr. Bevan returned to town in a very worried frame of mind. He had left strict orders that the cook was to continue to sleep in his aunt's room, and the butler to report to him every night and morning from the telephone in the village.
The following morning the report was a negative one. No more hissing had been heard, and Mrs. Bevan had passed an undisturbed, if rather anxious night. Still the doctor was by no means easy in his mind. Although quite convinced now that there was no snake in the house, that something of the nature of hissing had been heard he was equally certain, and until he found out what it was there could be no peace or freedom from anxiety for his aunt.
So it was in that frame of mind he went out to lunch that day with another medical man, an old hospital friend of his who practised in Norfolk, but who was now up in town upon holiday for a few days. They sat at a table by themselves in the fashionable Semiris restaurant, and during the course of the meal, told his friend about the mysterious happenings at the Grange. The other was most interested, but could suggest no explanation for what had taken place.
Then suddenly the latter whistled. "But I say, I say," he exclaimed with animation, "there's a chap over there who could probably hazard a good guess. That man at the table by the window, who's just lighting a cigarette. He lives not far from me, and I know him pretty well. He's Gilbert Larose, and used to be a famous detective once, but he married the wealthy Lady Ardane and, of course, has retired from Scotland Yard."
"By Jove, I've heard of him!" exclaimed Dr. Bevan interestedly. "The man who never failed! Introduce him, George. Perhaps he'll help us. Be quick. He's getting up to go!"
So a well-dressed, smiling-looking man in the middle thirties was brought up to the table and the introduction took place. "Look here, Mr. Larose," said Dr. Bevan's friend laughingly, "we've got a little problem which would just suit your subtle mind. Now can you spare a few minutes for us to tell you about it?"
"Certainly," replied Larose, "but let's go out into the foyer. We can talk better there."
Dr. Bevan told his tale, and Larose listened with increasing interest as he proceeded. "And do any ideas come to you, sir?" asked the doctor when he had finished.
Larose nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, some do." He considered for a few moments. "Now you say the anxiety is likely to have a serious effect upon your aunt?"
"A very serious one. In fact, another such a shock as she had the night before last may easily prove fatal to her."
"And then who would benefit by her death?" asked Larose.
Dr. Bevan frowned. "Oh, a lot of people. I, for one, all the servants, except the nurse, and a number of her tenants in the village. She is a well-to-do woman and her estate will be quite a big one."
"Do you know to what extent the servants will benefit?"
"The cook and the butler get £500 each, and the two maids £100."
"And they know that?" frowned Larose.
"Certainly, not," replied the doctor quickly. "My aunt is always reticent about her affairs and is not likely to have told them anything." He spoke warmly. "You're on the wrong tack there, sir, for even if they did know it they'd be the last people to wish her harm. The cook has been with her for more than twenty years and the butler for nearly as long. The girls are above suspicion, too. They are both the daughters of former servants. They are all devoted to her." He looked incredulous. "You don't for a moment imagine they have been making those hisses?"
Larose smiled. "Well, on the face of it, it doesn't seem probable, does it?" He hesitated. "Still, you never can——"
"Then, goodness gracious, they must all be in the conspiracy," broke in the doctor testily, "for not only have they, one by one, heard the hissing, but it has been heard when they have all been together."
A short silence followed, and then Larose said briskly, "Well, look here. If you like you can run me down and I'll see what I can make of it. No, no, you needn't thank me. It's quite an interesting case and will amuse me. Yes, I can come straight away. I'm quite free this afternoon."
So, little more than an hour and a half later Larose had arrived at the Grange and was listening to the stories as told by Mrs. Bevan and Nurse Bateman. It had been his express wish that they should be together when he started to question them in the drawing-room.
His questions over, he left them and was taken into the library. There, one by one, and commencing with the butler, he interviewed the other servants, with Dr. Bevan being present all the time. Half an hour and longer went by, and then the doctor returned to the drawing-room and said Larose wanted to speak to the nurse again.
Another half-hour passed and Larose came into the drawing-room once more. He was by himself this time and holding a piece of paper in his hand.
"Have they helped you at all?" asked Mrs. Bevan nervously. "Have you any news?"
Larose nodded very solemnly, "Yes, both good and bad. We've found out about——"
But the old lady interrupted him suddenly. Through the window, she had caught sight of her nephew's car going down the drive, with him at the wheel. "But what does that mean?" she cried plaintively. "Why's Robert, why's my nephew going off without seeing me?"
"Oh, it's quite all right," replied Larose reassuringly. "He'll be back again in a few minutes." He laughed. "He's only gone off to give the snakes a lift to the railway station."
"The snakes!" ejaculated Mrs. Bevan. "Then you've found them and there were more than one?"
"Yes, we found them," nodded Larose, "and there were two of them." He spoke in a grave tone. "I'm sorry to tell you that your butler and the nurse were the snakes. It was they who had been doing the hissing all along, and Dr. Bevan insisted they should leave instantly. We stood over them while they packed and now he's driven them away."
The old lady's face was the very picture of horror and distress. In her emotion, she could hardly get her breath, and Larose went on quickly to distract her attention from herself, "Yes, of course, it's terribly upsetting for you to learn it, but it's only the old, old story of an elderly man's infatuation for a much younger woman goading him on to commit any kind of wickedness." He held up the paper in his hand. "Here's his signed confession. The nurse was at the bottom of everything. One night about a month ago, she looked into your desk and read the draft of your new will. She saw the butler was to get £500 at your death, and the dreadful idea came to her of giving you a fatal shock, so that he would receive the money at once. Snap was horrified when she first suggested it to him, but in the end she won him over by promising to marry him directly he got the money. They were going to take a public-house in Saffren Walden, and the matter had to be settled soon."
"How awful, how awful!" wailed Mrs. Bevan. "I've always tried to be so kind to Snap, and he's seemed to be so grateful."
Larose took a little folded piece of tin out of his pocket. "She showed him how to make the loud hissing with this. It's like a plaything schoolboys used to startle one another."
"But how did you come to find this all out?" asked the old lady, shakily, and now beginning to get over her amazement. "What made you suspect them at all?"
Larose laughed. "Well, directly Dr. Bateman told me about your having left money to the servants my thoughts turned to them, but when I saw Snap as he opened the door to us I felt sure he would not have had the imagination to think of such an idea. He looked much too simple. That, however, was not my opinion of the nurse, and directly I saw her she gave me a rather bad impression. For one thing, she struck me as one of the last kind of women to lose her head and shriek as she had done when, as she said, she had both heard the hissing and seen the snake. Later, too, I knew she was lying to me when she declared the snake had been hissing as it glided away. I've killed lots of wild snakes in Australia, and they don't hiss when they're on the run. They can't, for to hiss they have to have their heads up, which means they must be standing still. So, I suspected her at once of something—I didn't know exactly what—as I could not see then how she stood to benefit if anything happened to you. However, things became clearer when I got out of cook that Snap was paying court to the nurse and was completely under her thumb."
He paused for a moment and then went on. "But I really worked out everything by means of a pencil and piece of paper. I put down every time the hissing had been heard and who had been on the spot to hear it. All the servants had heard it, not only when they were alone, but also and quite a number of times, when they had been in company with some of the others. Then, when I had questioned everyone and put down what they told me upon a piece of paper, the significant fact emerged that never once had the hissing been heard when both the butler and the nurse had been present among them at the same time."
"You mean that they had taken it in turn to do the hissing?" quavered the old lady.
"Yes, and when they wanted to frighten anyone they used to get the steps and hiss through the ventilator of one of the adjoining rooms. That's what Snap did when you heard the hissing in your bedroom the other night."
"Oh, how wicked!" exclaimed poor Mrs. Bevan. She started up suddenly. "But if there was no real snake, how did poor Sloper come to die?"
"Nurse Bateman poisoned him with strychnine,"replied Larose very solemnly. "She put mouse poison in his saucer of milk and made bite marks afterwards on his leg with a pair of scissors. She put them there in case you wanted to see the body, and then she made Snap burn the body before the doctor had had time to get here. That letter you wrote your nephew was, purposely, not posted until the evening."
Larose nodded. "Yes, I bluffed him into it. After I had finished with the others I had him in the library again. I could see that he was frightened at being called back, for his forehead was perspiring and his hands were twitching. So I looked at him furiously and asked him why he had been lying to us and telling a different tale from that of Nurse Bateman. He thought at once, as I had intended him to, that we had found out something, and he began to breathe hard and stammer. Then I thundered at him that the game was up, and he'd better make a clean breast of it and confess. He started to whimper and then blurted out everything. He blamed the nurse for it all, and produced the piece of tin she had made from his pocket."
"And did nurse confess, too?" choked Mrs. Bevan.
"Not she!" scoffed Larose. "She confessed nothing, but you should have seen the look she gave Snap when, as she was being brought back into the library, I made him hiss through the piece of tin to show me how he'd done it. She went white to the lips, and I thought she was going to faint. No, she didn't confess, but she never denied anything. She just flung her clothes into her box, too, as if she didn't care what happened. Oh, she was guilty right enough! She didn't even ask for the money due to her."
"Poor Snap!" sighed the tender-hearted old lady. "Both my husband and I thought such a lot of him. I expect he's very sorry now."
"Oh, he is," agreed Larose instantly. "He cried like a little child, and implored us to let him come to ask your forgiveness. When we refused he said that would be his greatest punishment. Yes, I'm sure his remorse was quite real." He nodded, "Well, he's got his deserts and is certainly well punished."
But life is not always just, and the butler's punishment was by no means as great as it should have been, for the excitement of the day proving too much for Mrs. Bevan, she passed away that night in another heart attack, having had no time to alter her will.
So Snap got his £500 after all. Still, he did not marry Nurse Bateman, although she tried her hardest to make him, even to threatening an action for breach of promise. However, he would have nothing at all to do with her, and started a pig farm instead.
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