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15 Complete Works of J. S. FletcherDead Men's MoneyIn the Days of DrakeIn the Mayor's ParlourRavensdene CourtScarhaven KeepThe Borough TreasurerThe Chestermarke InstinctThe Herapath PropertyThe Middle of ThingsThe Middle Temple MurderThe Orange-Yellow DiamondThe Paradise MysteryThe Rayner-Slade AmalgamationThe Root of All EvilThe Talleyrand Maxim
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The Complete Collection of J. S. Fletcher
Dead Men's Money
In the Days of Drake
In the Mayor'sParlour
The Borough Treasurer
The Middle of Things
The Middle Temple Murder
The Orange-Yellow Diamond
The Paradise Mystery
The Root of All Evil
The Talleyrand Maxim
Dead Men's Money, by J. S. Fletcher
DEAD MEN'S MONEY
BY J.S. FLETCHER
I THE ONE-EYED MAN
II THE MIDNIGHT MISSION
III THE RED STAIN
IV THE MURDERED MAN
V THE BRASS-BOUND CHEST
VI MR. JOHN PHILLIPS
VII THE INQUEST ON JOHN PHILLIPS
VIII THE PARISH REGISTERS
IX THE MARINE-STORE DEALER
X THE OTHER WITNESS
XI SIGNATURES TO THE WILL
XII THE SALMON GAFT
XIII SIR GILBERT CARSTAIRS
XIV DEAD MAN'S MONEY
XV FIVE HUNDRED A YEAR
XVI THE MAN IN THE CELL
XVII THE IRISH HOUSEKEEPER
XVIII THE ICE AX
XIX MY TURN
XX THE SAMARITAN SKIPPER
XXI MR. GAVIN SMEATON
XXII I READ MY OWN OBITUARY
XXIII FAMILY HISTORY
XXIV THE SUIT OF CLOTHES
XXV THE SECOND DISAPPEARANCE
XXVI MRS. RALSTON OF CRAIG
XXVII THE BANK BALANCE
XXVIII THE HATHERCLEUGH BUTLER
XXIX ALL IN ORDER
XXX THE CARSTAIRS MOTTO
XXXI NO TRACE
XXXII THE LINK
XXXIII THE OLD TOWER
XXXIV THE BARGAIN
XXXV THE SWAG
XXXVII THE DARK POOL
THE ONE-EYED MAN
The very beginning of this affair, which involved me, before I was aware of it, in as much villainy and wickedness as ever man heard of, was, of course, that spring evening, now ten years ago, whereon I looked out of my mother's front parlour window in the main street of Berwick-upon-Tweed and saw, standing right before the house, a man who had a black patch over his left eye, an old plaid thrown loosely round his shoulders, and in his right hand a stout stick and an old-fashioned carpet-bag. He caught sight of me as I caught sight of him, and he stirred, and made at once for our door. If I had possessed the power of seeing more than the obvious, I should have seen robbery, and murder, and the very devil himself coming in close attendance upon him as he crossed the pavement. But as it was, I saw nothing but a stranger, and I threw open the window and asked the man what he might be wanting.
"Lodgings!" he answered, jerking a thickly made thumb at a paper which my mother had that day set in the transom above the door. "Lodgings! You've lodgings to let for a single gentleman. I'm a single gentleman, and I want lodgings. For a month--maybe more. Money no object. Thorough respectability--on my part. Few needs and modest requirements. Not likely to give trouble. Open the door!"
I went into the passage and opened the door to him. He strode in without as much as a word, and, not waiting for my invitation, lurched heavily--he was a big, heavy-moving fellow--into the parlour, where he set down his bag, his plaid, and his stick, and dropping into an easy chair, gave a sort of groan as he looked at me.
"And what's your name?" he demanded, as if he had all the right in the world to walk into folks' houses and ask his questions. "Whatever it is, you're a likely-looking youngster!"
"My name's Hugh Moneylaws," I answered, thinking it no harm to humour him. "If you want to know about lodgings you must wait till my mother comes in. Just now she's away up the street--she'll be back presently."
"No hurry, my lad," he replied. "None whatever. This is a comfortable anchorage. Quiet. Your mother'll be a widow woman, now?"
"Yes," said I shortly.
"Any more of you--brothers and sisters?" he asked. "Any--aye, of course!--any young children in the house? Because young children is what I cannot abide--except at a distance."
"There's nobody but me and my mother, and a servant lass," I said. "This is a quiet enough house, if that's what you mean."
"Quiet is the word," said he. "Nice, quiet, respectable lodgings. In this town of Berwick. For a month. If not more. As I say, a comfortable anchorage. And time, too!--when you've seen as many queer places as I have in my day, young fellow, you'll know that peace and quiet is meat and drink to an ageing man."
It struck me as I looked at him that he was just the sort of man that you would expect to hear of as having been in queer places--a sort of gnarled and stubbly man, with a wealth of seams and wrinkles about his face and what could be seen of his neck, and much grizzled hair, and an eye--only one being visible--that looked as if it had been on the watch ever since he was born. He was a fellow of evident great strength and stout muscle, and his hands, which he had clasped in front of him as he sat talking to me, were big enough to go round another man's throat, or to fell a bullock. And as for the rest of his appearance, he had gold rings in his ears, and he wore a great, heavy gold chain across his waistcoat, and was dressed in a new suit of blue serge, somewhat large for him, that he had evidently purchased at a ready-made-clothing shop, not so long before.
My mother came quietly in upon us before I could reply to the stranger's last remark, and I saw at once that he was a man of some politeness and manners, for he got himself up out of his chair and made her a sort of bow, in an old-fashioned way. And without waiting for me, he let his tongue loose on her.
"Servant, ma'am," said he. "You'll be the lady of the house--Mrs. Moneylaws. I'm seeking lodgings, Mrs. Moneylaws, and seeing your paper at the door-light, and your son's face at the window, I came in. Nice, quiet lodgings for a few weeks is what I'm wanting--a bit of plain cooking--no fal-lals. And as for money--no object! Charge me what you like, and I'll pay beforehand, any hand, whatever's convenient."
My mother, a shrewd little woman, who had had a good deal to do since my father died, smiled at the corners of her mouth as she looked the would-be lodger up and down.
"Why, sir," said she. "I like to know who I'm taking in. You're a stranger in the place, I'm thinking."
"Fifty years since I last clapped eyes on it, ma'am," he answered. "And I was then a youngster of no more than twelve years or so. But as to who and what I am--name of James Gilverthwaite. Late master of as good a ship as ever a man sailed. A quiet, respectable man. No swearer. No drinker--saving in reason and sobriety. And as I say--money no object, and cash down whenever it's wanted. Look here!"
He plunged one of the big hands into a trousers' pocket, and pulled it out again running over with gold. And opening his fingers he extended the gold-laden palm towards us. We were poor folk at that time, and it was a strange sight to us, all that money lying in the man's hand, and he apparently thinking no more of it than if it had been a heap of six-penny pieces.
"Help yourself to whatever'll pay you for a month," he exclaimed. "And don't be afraid--there's a lot more where that came from."
But my mother laughed, and motioned him to put up his money.
"Nay, nay, sir!" said she. "There's no need. And all I'm asking at you is just to know who it is I'm taking in. You'll be having business in the town for a while?"
"Not business in the ordinary sense, ma'am," he answered. "But there's kin of mine lying in more than one graveyard just by, and it's a fancy of my own to take a look at their resting-places, d'ye see, and to wander round the old quarters where they lived. And while I'm doing that, it's a quiet, and respectable, and a comfortable lodging I'm wanting."
I could see that the sentiment in his speech touched my mother, who was fond of visiting graveyards herself, and she turned to Mr. James Gilverthwaite with a nod of acquiescence.
"Well, now, what might you be wanting in the way of accommodation?" she asked, and she began to tell him that he could have that parlour in which they were talking, and the bedchamber immediately above it. I left them arranging their affairs, and went into another room to attend to some of my own, and after a while my mother came there to me. "I've let him the rooms, Hugh," she said, with a note of satisfaction in her voice which told me that the big man was going to pay well for them. "He's a great bear of a man to look at," she went on, "but he seems quiet and civil-spoken. And here's a ticket for a chest of his that he's left up at the railway station, and as he's tired, maybe you'll get somebody yourself to fetch it down for him?"
I went out to a man who lived close by and had a light cart, and sent him up to the station with the ticket for the chest; he was back with it before long, and I had to help him carry it up to Mr. Gilverthwaite's room. And never had I felt or seen a chest like that before, nor had the man who had fetched it, either. It was made of some very hard and dark wood, and clamped at all the corners with brass, and underneath it there were a couple of bars of iron, and though it was no more than two and a half feet square, it took us all our time to lift it. And when, under Mr. Gilverthwaite's orders, we set it down on a stout stand at the side of his bed, there it remained until--but to say until when would be anticipating.
Now that he was established in our house, the new lodger proved himself all that he had said. He was a quiet, respectable, sober sort of man, giving no trouble and paying down his money without question or murmur every Saturday morning at his breakfast-time. All his days were passed in pretty much the same fashion. After breakfast he would go out--you might see him on the pier, or on the old town walls, or taking a walk across the Border Bridge; now and then we heard of his longer excursions into the country, one side or other of the Tweed. He took his dinner in the evenings, having made a special arrangement with my mother to that effect, and a very hearty eater he was, and fond of good things, which he provided generously for himself; and when that episode of the day's events was over, he would spend an hour or two over the newspapers, of which he was a great reader, in company with his cigar and his glass. And I'll say for him that from first to last he never put anything out, and was always civil and polite, and there was never a Saturday that he did not give the servant-maid a half-crown to buy herself a present.
All the same--we said it to ourselves afterwards, though not at the time--there was an atmosphere of mystery about Mr. Gilverthwaite. He made no acquaintance in the town. He was never seen in even brief conversation with any of the men that hung about the pier, on the walls, or by the shipping. He never visited the inns, nor brought anybody in to drink and smoke with him. And until the last days of his lodging with us he never received a letter.
A letter and the end of things came all at once. His stay had lengthened beyond the month he had first spoken of. It was in the seventh week of his coming that he came home to his dinner one June evening, complaining to my mother of having got a great wetting in a sudden storm that had come on that afternoon while he was away out in the country, and next morning he was in bed with a bad pain in his chest, and not over well able to talk. My mother kept him in his bed and began to doctor him; that day, about noon, came for him the first and only letter he ever had while he was with us--a letter that came in a registered envelope. The servant-maid took it up to him when it was delivered, and she said later that he started a bit when he saw it. But he said nothing about it to my mother during that afternoon, nor indeed to me, specifically, when, later on, he sent for me to go up to his room. All the same, having heard of what he had got, I felt sure that it was because of it that, when I went in to him, he beckoned me first to close the door on us and then to come close to his side as he lay propped on his pillow.
"Private, my lad!" he whispered hoarsely. "There's a word I have for you in private!"
THE MIDNIGHT MISSION
Before he said a word more, I knew that Mr. Gilverthwaite was very ill--much worse, I fancied, than my mother had any notion of. It was evidently hard work for him to get his breath, and the veins in his temples and forehead swelled out, big and black, with the effort of talking. He motioned to me to hand him a bottle of some stuff which he had sent for from the chemist, and he took a swig of its contents from the bottle neck before he spoke again. Then he pointed to a chair at the bed-head, close to his pillow.
"My lungs!" he said, a bit more easily. "Mortal bad! Queer thing, a great man like me, but I was always delicate in that way, ever since I was a nipper--strong as a bull in all else. But this word is private. Look here, you're a lawyer's clerk?"
He had known that, of course, for some time--known that I was clerk to a solicitor of the town, and hoping to get my articles, and in due course become a solicitor myself. So there was no need for me to do more than nod in silence.
"And being so," he went on, "you'll be a good hand at keeping a secret very well. Can you keep one for me, now?"
He had put out one of his big hands as he spoke, and had gripped my wrist with it--ill as he was, the grip of his fingers was like steel, and yet I could see that he had no idea that he was doing more than laying his hand on me with the appeal of a sick man.
"It depends what it is, Mr. Gilverthwaite," I answered. "I should like to do anything I can for you."
"You wouldn't do it for nothing," he put in sharply. "Ill make it well worth your while. See here!"
He took his hand away from my wrist, put it under his pillow, and drew out a bank-note, which he unfolded before me.
"Ten pound!" he said. "It's yours, if you'll do a bit of a job for me--in private. Ten pound'll be useful to you. What do you say, now?"
"That it depends on what it is," said I. "I'd be as glad of ten pounds as anybody, but I must know first what I'm expected to do for it."
"It's an easy enough thing to do," he replied. "Only it's got to be done this very night, and I'm laid here, and can't do it. You can do it, without danger, and at little trouble--only--it must be done private."
"You want me to do something that nobody's to know about?" I asked.
"Precisely!" said he. "Nobody! Not even your mother--for even the best of women have tongues."
I hesitated a little--something warned me that there was more in all this than I saw or understood at the moment.
"I'll promise this, Mr. Gilverthwaite," I said presently. "If you'll tell me now what it is you want, I'll keep that a dead secret from anybody for ever. Whether I'll do it or not'll depend on the nature of your communication."
"Well spoken, lad!" he answered, with a feeble laugh. "You've the makings of a good lawyer, anyway. Well, now, it's this--do you know this neighbourhood well?"
"I've never known any other," said I.
"Do you know where Till meets Tweed?" he asked.
"As well as I know my own mother's door!" I answered.
"You know where that old--what do they call it?--chapel, cell, something of that nature, is?" he asked again.
"Aye!--well enough, Mr. Gilverthwaite," I answered him. "Ever since I was in breeches!"
"Well," said he, "if I was my own man, I ought to meet another man near there this very night. And--here I am!"
"You want me to meet this other man?" I asked.
"I'm offering you ten pound if you will," he answered, with a quick look. "Aye, that is what I'm wanting!"
"To do--what?" I inquired.
"Simple enough," he said. "Nothing to do but to meet him, to give him a word that'll establish what they term your bony fides, and a message from me that I'll have you learn by heart before you go. No more!"
"There's no danger in it?" I asked.
"Not a spice of danger!" he asserted. "Not half as much as you'd find in serving a writ."
"You seem inclined to pay very handsomely for it, all the same," I remarked, still feeling a bit suspicious.
"And for a simple reason," he retorted. "I must have some one to do the job--aye, if it costs twenty pound! Somebody must meet this friend o' mine, and tonight--and why shouldn't you have ten pound as well as another?"
"There's nothing to do but what you say?" I asked.
"Nothing--not a thing!" he affirmed.
"And the time?" I said. "And the word--for surety?"
"Eleven o'clock is the time," he answered. "Eleven--an hour before midnight. And as for the word--get you to the place and wait about a bit, and if you see nobody there, say out loud, 'From James Gilverthwaite as is sick and can't come himself'; and when the man appears, as he will, say--aye!--say 'Panama,' my lad, and he'll understand in a jiffy!"
"Eleven o'clock--Panama," said I. "And--the message?"
"Aye!" he answered, "the message. Just this, then: 'James Gilverthwaite is laid by for a day or two, and you'll bide quiet in the place you know of till you hear from him.' That's all. And--how will you get out there, now?--it's a goodish way."
"I have a bicycle," I answered, and at his question a thought struck me. "How did you intend to get out there yourself, Mr. Gilverthwaite?" I asked. "That far--and at that time of night?"
"Aye!" he said. "Just so--but I'd ha' done it easy enough, my lad--if I hadn't been laid here. I'd ha' gone out by the last train to the nighest station, and it being summer I'd ha' shifted for myself somehow during the rest of the night--I'm used to night work. But--that's neither here nor there. You'll go? And--private?"
"I'll go--and privately," I answered him. "Make yourself easy."
"And not a word to your mother?" he asked anxiously.
"Just so," I replied. "Leave it to me."
He looked vastly relieved at that, and after assuring him that I had the message by heart I left his chamber and went downstairs. After all, it was no great task that he had put on me. I had often stayed until very late at the office, where I had the privilege of reading law-books at nights, and it was an easy business to mention to my mother that I wouldn't be in that night so very early. That part of my contract with the sick man upstairs I could keep well enough, in letter and spirit--all the same, I was not going out along Tweed-side at that hour of the night without some safeguard, and though I would tell no one of what my business for Mr. Gilverthwaite precisely amounted to, I would tell one person where it would take me, in case anything untoward happened and I had to be looked for. That person was the proper one for a lad to go to under the circumstances--my sweetheart, Maisie Dunlop.
And here I'll take you into confidence and say that at that time Maisie and I had been sweethearting a good two years, and were as certain of each other as if the two had been twelve. I doubt if there was such another old-fashioned couple as we were anywhere else in the British Islands, for already we were as much bound up in each other as if we had been married half a lifetime, and there was not an affair of mine that I did not tell her of, nor had she a secret that she did not share with me. But then, to be sure, we had been neighbours all our lives, for her father, Andrew Dunlop, kept a grocer's shop not fifty yards from our house, and she and I had been playmates ever since our school-days, and had fallen to sober and serious love as soon as we arrived at what we at any rate called years of discretion--which means that I was nineteen, and she seventeen, when we first spoke definitely about getting married. And two years had gone by since then, and one reason why I had no objection to earning Mr. Gilverthwaite's ten pounds was that Maisie and I meant to wed as soon as my salary was lifted to three pounds a week, as it soon was to be, and we were saving money for our furnishing--and ten pounds, of course, would be a nice help.
So presently I went along the street to Dunlop's and called Maisie out, and we went down to the walls by the river mouth, which was a regular evening performance of ours. And in a quiet corner, where there was a seat on which we often sat whispering together of our future, I told her that I had to do a piece of business for our lodger that night and that the precise nature of it was a secret which I must not let out even to her.
"But here's this much in it, Maisie," I went on, taking care that there was no one near us that could catch a word of what I was saying; "I can tell you where the spot is that I'm to do the business at, for a fine lonely spot it is to be in at the time of night I'm to be there--an hour before midnight, and the place is that old ruin that's close by where Till meets Tweed--you know it well enough yourself."
I felt her shiver a bit at that, and I knew what it was that was in her mind, for Maisie was a girl of imagination, and the mention of a lonely place like that, to be visited at such an hour, set it working.
"Yon's a queer man, that lodger of your mother's, Hughie," she said. "And it's a strange time and place you're talking of. I hope nothing'll come to you in the way of mischance."
"Oh, it's nothing, nothing at all!" I hastened to say. "If you knew it all, you'd see it's a very ordinary business that this man can't do himself, being kept to his bed. But all the same, there's naught like taking precautions beforehand, and so I'll tell you what we'll do. I should be back in town soon after twelve, and I'll give a tap at your window as I pass it, and then you'll know all's right."
That would be an easy enough thing to manage, for Maisie's room, where she slept with a younger sister, was on the ground floor of her father's house in a wing that butted on to the street, and I could knock at the pane as I passed by. Yet still she seemed uneasy, and I hastened to say what--not even then knowing her quite as well as I did later--I thought would comfort her in any fears she had. "It's a very easy job, Maisie," I said; "and the ten pounds'll go a long way in buying that furniture we're always talking about."
She started worse than before when I said that and gripped the hand that I had round her waist.
"Hughie!" she exclaimed. "He'll not be giving you ten pounds for a bit of a ride like that! Oh, now I'm sure there's danger in it! What would a man be paying ten pounds for to anybody just to take a message? Don't go, Hughie! What do you know of yon man except that he's a stranger that never speaks to a soul in the place, and wanders about like he was spying things? And I would liefer go without chair or table, pot or pan, than that you should be running risks in a lonesome place like that, and at that time, with nobody near if you should be needing help. Don't go!"
"You're misunderstanding," said I. "It's a plain and easy thing--I've nothing to do but ride there and back. And as for the ten pounds, it's just this way: yon Mr. Gilverthwaite has more money than he knows what to do with. He carries sovereigns in his pockets like they were sixpenny pieces! Ten pounds is no more to him that ten pennies to us. And we've had the man in our house seven weeks now, and there's nobody could say an ill word of him."
"It's not so much him," she answered. "It's what you may meet--there! For you've got to meet--somebody. You're going, then?"
"I've given my word, Maisie," I said. "And you'll see there'll be no harm, and I'll give you a tap at the window as I pass your house coming back. And we'll do grand things with that ten pounds, too."
"I'll never close my eyes till I hear you, then," she replied. "And I'll not be satisfied with any tap, neither. If you give one, I'll draw the blind an inch, and make sure it's yourself, Hughie."
We settled it at that, with a kiss that was meant on my part to be one of reassurance, and presently we parted, and I went off to get my bicycle in readiness for the ride.
THE RED STAIN
It was just half-past nine by the town clocks when I rode out across the old Border Bridge and turned up the first climb of the road that runs alongside the railway in the direction of Tillmouth Park, which was, of course, my first objective. A hot, close night it was--there had been thunder hanging about all day, and folk had expected it to break at any minute, but up to this it had not come, and the air was thick and oppressive. I was running with sweat before I had ridden two miles along the road, and my head ached with the heaviness of the air, that seemed to press on me till I was like to be stifled. Under ordinary circumstances nothing would have taken me out on such a night. But the circumstances were not ordinary, for it was the first time I had ever had the chance of earning ten pounds by doing what appeared to be a very simple errand; and though I was well enough inclined to be neighbourly to Mr. Gilverthwaite, it was certainly his money that was my chief inducement in going on his business at a time when all decent folk should be in their beds. And for this first part of my journey my thoughts ran on that money, and on what Maisie and I would do with it when it was safely in my pocket. We had already bought the beginnings of our furnishing, and had them stored in an unused warehouse at the back of her father's premises; with Mr. Gilverthwaite's bank-note, lying there snugly in waiting for me, we should be able to make considerable additions to our stock, and the wedding-day would come nearer.
But from these anticipations I presently began to think about the undertaking on which I was now fairly engaged. When I came to consider it, it seemed a queer affair. As I understood it, it amounted to this:--Here was Mr. Gilverthwaite, a man that was a stranger in Berwick, and who appeared to have plenty of money and no business, suddenly getting a letter which asked him to meet a man, near midnight, and in about as lonely a spot as you could select out of the whole district. Why at such a place, and at such an hour? And why was this meeting of so much importance that Mr. Gilverthwaite, being unable to keep the appointment himself, must pay as much as ten pounds to another person to keep it for him? What I had said to Maisie about Mr. Gilverthwaite having so much money that ten pounds was no more to him than ten pence to me was, of course, all nonsense, said just to quieten her fears and suspicions--I knew well enough, having seen a bit of the world in a solicitor's office for the past six years, that even millionaires don't throw their money about as if pounds were empty peascods. No! Mr. Gilverthwaite was giving me that money because he thought that I, as a lawyer's clerk, would see the thing in its right light as a secret and an important business, and hold my tongue about it. And see it as a secret business I did--for what else could it be that would make two men meet near an old ruin at midnight, when in a town where, at any rate, one of them was a stranger, and the other probably just as much so, they could have met by broad day at a more convenient trysting-place without anybody having the least concern in their doings? There was strange and subtle mystery in all this, and the thinking and pondering it over led me before long to wondering about its first natural consequence--who and what was the man I was now on my way to meet, and where on earth could he be coming from to keep a tryst at a place like that, and at that hour?
However, before I had covered three parts of that outward journey, I was to meet another man who, all unknown to me, was to come into this truly extraordinary series of events in which I, with no will of my own, was just beginning--all unawares--to be mixed up. Taking it roughly, and as the crow flies, it is a distance of some nine or ten miles from Berwick town to Twizel Bridge on the Till, whereat I was to turn off from the main road and take another, a by-lane, that would lead me down by the old ruin, close by which Till and Tweed meet. Hot as the night was, and unpleasant for riding, I had plenty and to spare of time in hand, and when I came to the cross-ways between Norham and Grindon, I got off my machine and sat down on the bank at the roadside to rest a bit before going further. It was a quiet and a very lonely spot that; for three miles or more I had not met a soul along the road, and there being next to nothing in the way of village or farmstead between me and Cornhill, I did not expect to meet one in the next stages of my journey. But as I sat there on the bank, under a thick hedge, my bicycle lying at my side, I heard steps coming along the road in the gloom--swift, sure steps, as of a man who walks fast, and puts his feet firmly down as with determination to get somewhere as soon as he may. And hearing that--and to this day I have often wondered what made me do it--I off with my cap, and laid it over the bicycle-lamp, and myself sat as still as any of the wee creatures that were doubtless lying behind me in the hedge.
The steps came from the direction in which I was bound. There was a bit of a dip in the road just there: they came steadily, strongly, up it. And presently--for this was the height of June, when the nights are never really dark--the figure of a man came over the ridge of the dip, and showed itself plain against a piece of grey sky that was framed by the fingers of the pines and firs on either side of the way. A strongly-built figure it was, and, as I said before, the man put his feet, evidently well shod, firmly and swiftly down, and with this alternate sound came the steady and equally swift tapping of an iron-shod stick. Whoever this night-traveller was, it was certain he was making his way somewhere without losing any time in the business.
The man came close by me and my cover, seeing nothing, and at a few yards' distance stopped dead. I knew why. He had come to the cross-roads, and it was evident from his movements that he was puzzled and uncertain. He went to the corners of each way: it seemed to me that he was seeking for a guide-post. But, as I knew very well, there was no guide-post at any corner, and presently he came to the middle of the roads again and stood, looking this way and that, as if still in a dubious mood. And then I heard a crackling and rustling as of stiff paper--he was never more than a dozen yards from me all the time,--and in another minute there was a spurt up of bluish flame, and I saw that the man had turned on the light of an electric pocket-torch and was shining it on a map which he had unfolded and shaken out, and was holding in his right hand.
At this point I profited by a lesson which had been dinned into my ears a good many times since boyhood. Andrew Dunlop, Maisie's father, was one of those men who are uncommonly fond of lecturing young folk in season and out of season. He would get a lot of us, boys and girls, together in his parlour at such times as he was not behind the counter and give us admonitions on what he called the practical things of life. And one of his favourite precepts--especially addressed to us boys--was "Cultivate your powers of observation." This advice fitted in very well with the affairs of the career I had mapped out for myself--a solicitor should naturally be an observant man, and I had made steady effort to do as Andrew Dunlop counselled. Therefore it was with a keenly observant eye that I, all unseen, watched the man with his electric torch and his map, and it did not escape my notice that the hand which held the map was short of the two middle fingers. But of the rest of him, except that he was a tallish, well-made man, dressed in--as far as I could see things--a gentlemanlike fashion in grey tweeds, I could see nothing. I never caught one glimpse of his face, for all the time that he stood there it was in shadow.
He did not stay there long either. The light of the electric torch was suddenly switched off; I heard the crackling of the map again as he folded it up and pocketed it. And just as suddenly he was once more on the move, taking the by-way up to the north, which, as I knew well, led to Norham, and--if he was going far--over the Tweed to Ladykirk. He went away at the same quick pace; but the surface in that by-way was not as hard and ringing as that of the main road, and before long the sound of his steps died away into silence, and the hot, oppressive night became as still as ever.
I presently mounted my bicycle again and rode forward on my last stage, and having crossed Twizel Bridge, turned down the lane to the old ruin close by where Till runs into Tweed. It was now as dark as ever it would be that night, and the thunderclouds which hung all over the valley deepened the gloom. Gloomy and dark the spot indeed was where I was to meet the man of whom Mr. Gilverthwaite had spoken. By the light of my bicycle lamp I saw that it was just turned eleven when I reached the spot; but so far as I could judge there was no man there to meet anybody. And remembering what I had been bidden to do, I spoke out loud.
"From James Gilverthwaite, who is sick, and can't come himself," I repeated. And then, getting no immediate response, I spoke the password in just as loud a voice. But there was no response to that either, and for the instant I thought how ridiculous it was to stand there and say Panama to nobody.
I made it out that the man had not yet come, and I was wheeling my bicycle to the side of the lane, there to place it against the hedge and to sit down myself, when the glancing light of the lamp fell on a great red stain that had spread itself, and was still spreading, over the sandy ground in front of me. And I knew on the instant that this was the stain of blood, and I do not think I was surprised when, advancing a step or two further, I saw, lying in the roadside grass at my feet, the still figure and white face of a man who, I knew with a sure and certain instinct, was not only dead but had been cruelly murdered.
THE MURDERED MAN
There may be folk in the world to whom the finding of a dead man, lying grim and stark by the roadside, with the blood freshly run from it and making ugly patches of crimson on the grass and the gravel, would be an ordinary thing; but to me that had never seen blood let in violence, except in such matters as a bout of fisticuffs at school, it was the biggest thing that had ever happened, and I stood staring down at the white face as if I should never look at anything else as long as I lived. I remember all about that scene and that moment as freshly now as if the affair had happened last night. The dead man lying in the crushed grass--his arms thrown out helplessly on either side of him--the gloom of the trees all around--the murmuring of the waters, where Till was pouring its sluggish flood into the more active swirl and rush of the Tweed--the hot, oppressive air of the night--and the blood on the dry road--all that was what, at Mr. Gilverthwaite's bidding, I had ridden out from Berwick to find in that lonely spot.
But I knew, of course, that James Gilverthwaite himself had not foreseen this affair, nor thought that I should find a murdered man. And as I at last drew breath, and lifted myself up a little from staring at the corpse, a great many thoughts rushed into my head, and began to tumble about over each other. Was this the man Mr. Gilverthwaite meant me to meet? Would Mr. Gilverthwaite have been murdered, too, if he had come there in person? And had the man been murdered for the sake of robbery? But I answered that last question as soon as I asked it, and in the negative, for the light of my lamp showed a fine, heavy gold watch-chain festooned across the man's waistcoat--if murderously inclined thieves had been at him, they were not like to have left that. Then I wondered if I had disturbed the murderers--it was fixed in me from the beginning that there must have been more than one in at this dreadful game--and if they were still lurking about and watching me from the brushwood; and I made an effort, and bent down and touched one of the nerveless hands. It was stiffened already, and I knew then that the man had been dead some time.
And I knew another thing in that moment: poor Maisie, lying awake to listen for the tap at her window, so that she might get up and peep round the corner of her blind to assure herself that her Hughie was alive and safe, would have to lie quaking and speculating through the dark hours of that night, for here was work that was going to keep me busied till day broke. I set to it there and then, leaving the man just as I had found him, and hastening back in the direction of the main road. As luck would have it, I heard voices of men on Twizel Bridge, and ran right on the local police-sergeant and a constable, who had met there in the course of their night rounds. I knew them both, the sergeant being one Chisholm, and the constable a man named Turndale, and they knew me well enough from having seen me in the court at Berwick; and it was with open-mouthed surprise that they listened to what I had to tell them. Presently we were all three round the dead man, and this time there was the light of three lamps on his face and on the gouts of blood that were all about him, and Chisholm clicked his tongue sharply at what he saw.
"Here's a sore sight for honest folk!" he said in a low voice, as he bent down and touched one of the hands. "Aye, and he's been dead a good hour, I should say, by the feel of him! You heard nothing as you came down yon lane, Mr. Hugh?"
"Not a sound!" I answered.
"And saw nothing?" he questioned.
"Nothing and nobody!" I said.
"Well," said he, "we'll have to get him away from this. You'll have to get help," he went on, turning to the constable. "Fetch some men to help us carry him. He'll have to be taken to the nearest inn for the inquest--that's how the law is. I wasn't going to ask it while yon man was about, Mr. Hugh," he continued, when Turndale had gone hurrying towards the village; "but you'll not mind me asking it now--what were you doing here yourself, at this hour?"
"You've a good right, Chisholm," said I; "and I'll tell you, for by all I can see, there'll be no way of keeping it back, and it's no concern of mine to keep it back, and I don't care who knows all about it--not me! The truth is, we've a lodger at our house, one Mr. James Gilverthwaite, that's a mysterious sort of man, and he's at present in his bed with a chill or something that's like to keep him there; and tonight he got me to ride out here to meet a man whom he ought to have met himself--and that's why I'm here and all that I have to do with it."
"You don't mean to say that--that!" he exclaimed, jerking his thumb at the dead man; "that--that's the man you were to meet?"
"Who else?" said I. "Can you think of any other that it would be? And I'm wondering if whoever killed this fellow, whoever he may be, wouldn't have killed Mr. Gilverthwaite, too, if he'd come? This is no by-chance murder, Chisholm, as you'll be finding out."
"Well, well, I never knew its like!" he remarked, staring from me to the body, and from it to me. "You saw nobody about close by--nor in the neighbourhood--no strangers on the road?"
I was ready for that question. Ever since finding the body, I had been wondering what I should say when authority, either in the shape of a coroner or a policeman, asked me about my own adventures that night. To be sure, I had seen a stranger, and I had observed that he had lost a couple of fingers, the first and second, of his right hand; and it was certainly a queer thing that he should be in that immediate neighbourhood about the time when this unfortunate man met his death. But it had been borne in on my mind pretty strongly that the man I had seen looking at his map was some gentleman-tourist who was walking the district, and had as like as not been tramping it over Plodden Field and that historic corner of the country, and had become benighted ere he could reach wherever his headquarters were. And I was not going to bring suspicion on what was in all probability an innocent stranger, so I answered Chisholm's question as I meant to answer any similar one--unless, indeed, I had reason to alter my mind.
"I saw nobody and heard nothing--about here," said I. "It's not likely there'd be strangers in this spot at midnight."
"For that matter, the poor fellow is a stranger himself," said he, once more turning his lamp on the dead face. "Anyway, he's not known to me, and I've been in these parts twenty years. And altogether it's a fine mystery you've hit on, Mr. Hugh, and there'll be strange doings before we're at the bottom of it, I'm thinking."
That there was mystery in this affair was surer than ever when, having got the man to the nearest inn, and brought more help, including a doctor, they began to examine him and his clothing. And now that I saw him in a stronger light, I found that he was a strongly built, well-made man of about Mr. Gilverthwaite's age--say, just over sixty years or so,--dressed in a gentlemanlike fashion, and wearing good boots and linen and a tweed suit of the sort affected by tourists. There was a good deal of money in his pockets--bank-notes, gold, and silver--and an expensive watch and chain, and other such things that a gentleman would carry; and it seemed very evident that robbery had not been the motive of the murderers. But of papers that could identify the man there was nothing--in the shape of paper or its like there was not one scrap in all the clothing, except the return half of a railway ticket between Peebles and Coldstream, and a bit of a torn bill-head giving the name and address of a tradesman in Dundee.
"There's something to go on, anyway," remarked Chisholm, as he carefully put these things aside after pointing out to us that the ticket was dated on what was now the previous day (for it was already well past midnight, and the time was creeping on to morning), and that the dead man must accordingly have come to Coldstream not many hours before his death; "and we'll likely find something about him from either Dundee or Peebles. But I'm inclined to think, Mr. Hugh," he continued, drawing me aside, "that even though they didn't rob the man of his money and valuables, they took something else from him that may have been of much more value than either."
"What?" I asked.
"Papers!" said he. "Look at the general appearance of the man! He's no common or ordinary sort. Is it likely, now, such a man would be without letters and that sort of thing in his pockets? Like as not he'd carry his pocket-book, and it may have been this pocket-book with what was in it they were after, and not troubling about his purse at all."
"They made sure of him, anyway," said I, and went out of the room where they had laid the body, not caring to stay longer. For I had heard what the doctor said--that the man had been killed on the spot by a single blow from a knife or dagger which had been thrust into his heart from behind with tremendous force, and the thought of it was sickening me. "What are you going to do now?" I asked of Chisholm, who had followed me. "And do you want me any more, sergeant?--for, if not, I'm anxious to get back to Berwick."
"That's just where I'm coming with you," he answered. "I've my bicycle close by, and we'll ride into the town together at once. For, do you see, Mr. Hugh, there's just one man hereabouts that can give us some light on this affair straightaway--if he will--and that the lodger you were telling me of. And I must get in and see the superintendent, and we must get speech with this Mr. Gilverthwaite of yours--for, if he knows no more, he'll know who yon man is!"
I made no answer to that. I had no certain answer to make. I was already wondering about a lot of conjectures. Would Mr. Gilverthwaite know who the man was? Was he the man I ought to have met? Or had that man been there, witnessed the murder, and gone away, frightened to stop where the murder had been done? Or--yet again--was this some man who had come upon Mr. Gilverthwaite's correspondent, and, for some reason, been murdered by him? It was, however, all beyond me just then, and presently the sergeant and I were on our machines and making for Berwick. But we had not been set out half an hour, and were only just where we could see the town's lights before us in the night, when two folk came riding bicycles through the mist that lay thick in a dip of the road, and, calling to me, let me know that they were Maisie Dunlop and her brother Tom that she had made to come with her, and in another minute Maisie and I were whispering together.
"It's all right now that I know you're safe, Hugh," she said breathlessly. "But you must get back with me quickly. Yon lodger of yours is dead, and your mother in a fine way, wondering where you are!"
THE BRASS-BOUND CHEST
The police-sergeant had got off his bicycle at the same time that I jumped from mine, and he was close behind me when Maisie and I met, and I heard him give a sharp whistle at her news. And as for me, I was dumbfounded, for though I had seen well enough that Mr. Gilverthwaite was very ill when I left him, I was certainly a long way from thinking him like to die. Indeed, I was so astonished that all I could do was to stand staring at Maisie in the grey light which was just coming between the midnight and the morning. But the sergeant found his tongue more readily.
"I suppose he died in his bed, miss?" he asked softly. "Mr. Hugh here said he was ill; it would be a turn for the worse, no doubt, after Mr. Hugh left him?"
"He died suddenly just after eleven o'clock," answered Maisie; "and your mother sought you at Mr. Lindsey's office, Hugh, and when she found you weren't there, she came down to our house, and I had to tell her that you'd come out this way on an errand for Mr. Gilverthwaite. And I told her, too, what I wasn't so sure of myself, that there'd no harm come to you of it, and that you'd be back soon after twelve, and I went down to your house and waited with her; and when you didn't come, and didn't come, why, I got Tom here to get our bicycles out and we came to seek you. And let's be getting back, for your mother's anxious about you, and the man's death has upset her--he went all at once, she said, while she was with him."
We all got on our bicycles again and set off homewards, and Chisholm wheeled alongside me and we dropped behind a little.
"This is a strange affair," said he, in a low voice; "and it's like to be made stranger by this man's sudden death. I'd been looking to him to get news of this other man. What do you know of Mr. Gilverthwaite, now?"
"Nothing!" said I.
"But he's lodged with you seven weeks?" said he.
"If you'd known him, sergeant," I answered, "you'd know that he was this sort of man--you'd know no more of him at the end of seven months than you would at the end of seven weeks, and no more at the end of seven years than at the end of seven months. We knew nothing, my mother and I, except that he was a decent, well-spoken man, free with his money and having plenty of it, and that his name was what he called it, and that he said he'd been a master mariner. But who he was, or where he came from, I know no more than you do."
"Well, he'll have papers, letters, something or other that'll throw some light on matters, no doubt?" he suggested. "Can you say as to that?"
"I can tell you that he's got a chest in his chamber that's nigh as heavy as if it were made of solid lead," I answered. "And doubtless he'll have a key on him or about him that'll unlock it. But what might be in it, I can't say, never having seen him open it at any time."
"Well," he said, "I'll have to bring the superintendent down, and we must trouble your mother to let us take a look at this Mr. Gilverthwaite's effects. Had he a doctor to him since he was taken ill?"
"Dr. Watson--this--I mean yesterday--afternoon," I answered.
"Then there'll be no inquest in his case," said the sergeant, "for the doctor'll be able to certify. But there'll be a searching inquiry in this murder affair, and as Gilverthwaite sent you to meet the man that's been murdered--"
"Wait a bit!" said I. "You don't know, and I don't, that the man who's been murdered is the man I was sent to meet. The man I was to meet may have been the murderer; you don't know who the murdered man is. So you'd better put it this way: since Gilverthwaite sent me to meet some man at the place where this murder's been committed--well?"
"That'll be one of your lawyer's quibbles," said he calmly. "My meaning's plain enough--we'll want to find out, if we can, who it was that Gilverthwaite sent you to meet. And--for what reason? And--where it was that the man was to wait for him? And I'll get the superintendent to come down presently."
"Make it in, say, half an hour," said I. "This is a queer business altogether, sergeant, and I'm so much in it that I'm not going to do things on my own responsibility. I'll call Mr. Lindsey up from his bed, and get him to come down to talk over what's to be done."
"Aye, you're in the right of it there," he said. "Mr. Lindsey'll know all the law on such matters. Half an hour or so, then."
He made off to the county police-station, and Maisie and Tom and I went on to our house, and were presently inside. My mother was so relieved at the sight of me that she forbore to scold me at that time for going off on such an errand without telling her of my business; but she grew white as her cap when I told her of what I had chanced on, and she glanced at the stair and shook her head.
"And indeed I wish that poor man had never come here, if it's this sort of dreadfulness follows him!" she said. "And though I was slow to say it, Hugh, I always had a feeling of mystery about him. However, he's gone now--and died that suddenly and quietly!--and we've laid him out in his bed; and--and--what's to be done now?" she exclaimed. "We don't know who he is!"
"Don't trouble yourself, mother," said I. "You've done your duty by him. And now that you've seen I'm safe, I'm away to bring Mr. Lindsey down and he'll tell us all that should be done."
I left Maisie and Tom Dunlop keeping my mother company and made haste to Mr. Lindsey's house, and after a little trouble roused him out of his bed and got him down to me. It was nearly daylight by that time, and the grey morning was breaking over the sea and the river as he and I walked back through the empty streets--I telling him of all the events of the night, and he listening with an occasional word of surprise. He was not a native of our parts, but a Yorkshireman that had bought a practice in the town some years before, and had gained a great character for shrewdness and ability, and I knew that he was the very man to turn to in an affair of this sort.
"There's a lot more in this than's on the surface, Hugh, my lad," he remarked when I had made an end of my tale. "And it'll be a nice job to find out all the meaning of it, and if the man that's been murdered was the man Gilverthwaite sent you to meet, or if he's some other that got there before you, and was got rid of for some extraordinary reason that we know nothing about. But one thing's certain: we've got to get some light on your late lodger. That's step number one--and a most important one."
The superintendent of police, Mr. Murray, a big, bustling man, was outside our house with Chisholm when we got there, and after a word or two between us, we went in, and were presently upstairs in Gilverthwaite's room. He lay there in his bed, the sheet drawn about him and a napkin over his face; and though the police took a look at him, I kept away, being too much upset by the doings of the night to stand any more just then. What I was anxious about was to get some inkling of what all this meant, and I waited impatiently to see what Mr. Lindsey would do. He was looking about the room, and when the others turned away from the dead man he pointed to Gilverthwaite's clothes, that were laid tidily folded on a chair.
"The first thing to do is to search for his papers and his keys," he said. "Go carefully through his pockets, sergeant, and let's see what there is."
But there was as little in the way of papers there, as there had been in the case of the murdered man. There were no letters. There was a map of the district, and under the names of several of the villages and places on either side of the Tweed, between Berwick and Kelso, heavy marks in blue pencil had been made. I, who knew something of Gilverthwaite's habits, took it that these were the places he had visited during his seven weeks' stay with us. And folded in the map were scraps of newspaper cuttings, every one of them about some antiquity or other in the neighbourhood, as if such things had an interest for him. And in another pocket was a guide-book, much thumbed, and between two of the leaves, slipped as if to mark a place, was a registered envelope.
"That'll be what he got yesterday afternoon!" I exclaimed. "I'm certain it was whatever there was in it that made him send me out last night, and maybe the letter in it'll tell us something."
However, there was no letter in the envelope--there was nothing. But on the envelope itself was a postmark, at which Chisholm instantly pointed.
"Peebles!" said he. "Yon man that you found murdered--his half-ticket's for Peebles. There's something of a clue, anyway."
They went on searching the clothing, only to find money--plenty of it, notes in an old pocket-book, and gold in a wash-leather bag--and the man's watch and chain, and his pocket-knife and the like, and a bunch of keys. And with the keys in his hand Mr. Lindsey turned to the chest.
"If we're going to find anything that'll throw any light on the question of this man's identity, it'll be in this box," he said. "I'll take the responsibility of opening it, in Mrs. Moneylaws' interest, anyway. Lift it on to that table, and let's see if one of these keys'll fit the lock."
There was no difficulty about finding the key--there were but a few on the bunch, and he hit on the right one straightaway, and we all crowded round him as he threw back the heavy lid. There was a curious aromatic smell came from within, a sort of mingling of cedar and camphor and spices--a smell that made you think of foreign parts and queer, far-off places. And it was indeed a strange collection of things and objects that Mr. Lindsey took out of the chest and set down on the table. There was an old cigar-box, tied about with twine, full to the brim with money--over two thousand pounds in bank-notes and gold, as we found on counting it up later on,--and there were others filled with cigars, and yet others in which the man had packed all manner of curiosities such as three of us at any rate had never seen in our lives before. But Mr. Lindsey, who was something of a curiosity collector himself, nodded his head at the sight of some of them.
"Wherever else this man may have been in his roving life," he said, "here's one thing certain--he's spent a lot of time in Mexico and Central America. And--what was the name he told you to use as a password once you met his man, Hugh--wasn't it Panama?"
"Panama!" I answered. "Just that--Panama."
"Well, and he's picked up lots of these things in those parts--Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico," he said. "And very interesting matters they are. But--you see, superintendent?--there's not a paper nor anything in this chest to tell us who this man is, nor where he came from when he came here, nor where his relations are to be found, if he has any. There's literally nothing whatever of that sort."
The police officials nodded in silence.
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