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Dead Men's Money(Chapter22)

2006-08-28 23:38

  Chapter XXII. I Read My Own Obituary

  It was my turn to stare again——and stare I did, from one to the other in silence, and being far too much amazed to find ready speech. And before I could get my tongue once more, my mother, who was always remarkably sharp of eye, got her word in.

  "What're you doing in that new suit of clothes?" she demanded. "And where's your own good clothes that you went away in yesterday noon? I misdoubt this stewardship's leading you into some strange ways!"

  "My own good clothes, mother, are somewhere in the North Sea," retorted I. "Top or bottom, sunk or afloat, it's there you'll find them, if you're more anxious about them than me! Do you tell me that Carstairs has never been home?" I went on, turning to Mr. Lindsey, "Then I don't know where he is, nor his yacht either. All I know is that he left me to drown last night, a good twenty miles from land, and that it's only by a special mercy of Providence that I'm here. Wherever he is, yon man's a murderer——I've settled that, Mr. Lindsey!"

  The women began to tremble and to exclaim at this news, and to ask one question after another, and Mr. Lindsey shook his head impatiently.

  "We can't stand talking our affairs in the station all night," said he. "Let's get to an hotel, my lad——we're all wanting our suppers. You don't seem as if you were in very bad spirits, yourself."

  "I'm all right, Mr. Lindsey," I answered cheerfully. "I've been down to Jericho, it's true, and to worse, but I chanced across a good Samaritan or two. And I've looked out a clean and comfortable hotel for you, and we'll go there now."

  I led them away to a good hotel that I had noticed in my walks, and while they took their suppers I sat by and told them all my adventure, to the accompaniment of many exclamations from my mother and Maisie. But Mr. Lindsey made none, and I was quick to notice that what most interested him was that I had been to see Mr. Gavin Smeaton.

  "But what for did you not come straight home when you were safely on shore again?" asked my mother, who was thinking of the expense I was putting her to. "What's the reason of fetching us all this way when you're alive and well?"

  I looked at Mr. Lindsey——knowingly, I suppose.

  "Because, mother," I answered her, "I believed yon Carstairs would go back to Berwick and tell that there'd been a sad accident, and I was dead——drowned——and I wanted to let him go on thinking that I was dead——and so I decided to keep away. And if he is alive, it'll be the best thing to let the man still go on thinking I was drowned——as I'll prove to Mr. Lindsey there. If Carstairs is alive, I say, it's the right policy for me to keep out of his sight and our neighbourhood."

  "Aye!" agreed Mr. Lindsey, who was a quick hand at taking up things. "There's something in that, Hugh."

  "Well, it's beyond me, all this," observed my mother, "and it all comes of me taking yon Gilverthwaite into the house! But me and Maisie'll away to our beds, and maybe you and Mr. Lindsey'll get more light out of the matter than I can, and glad I'll be when all this mystery's cleared up and we'll be able to live as honest folk should, without all this flying about the country and spending good money."

  I contrived to get a few minutes with Maisie, however, before she and my mother retired, and I found then that, had I known it, I need not have been so anxious and disturbed. For they had attached no particular importance to the fact that I had not returned the night before; they had thought that Sir Gilbert had sailed his yacht in elsewhere, and that I would be turning up later, and there had been no great to-do after me until my own telegram had arrived, when, of course, there was consternation and alarm, and nothing but hurry to catch the next train north. But Mr. Lindsey had contrived to find out that nothing had been seen of Sir Gilbert Carstairs and his yacht at Berwick; and to that point he and I at once turned when the women had gone to bed and I went with him into the smoking-room while he had his pipe and his drop of whisky. By that time I had told him of the secret about the meeting at the cross-roads, and about my interview with Crone at his shop, and Sir Gilbert Carstairs at Hathercleugh, when he offered me the stewardship; and I was greatly relieved when Mr. Lindsey let me down lightly and said no more than that if I'd told him these things, at first, there might have been a great difference.

  "But we're on the beginning of something," he concluded. "That Sir Gilbert Carstairs has some connection with these murders, I'm now convinced——but what it is, I'm not yet certain. What I am certain about is that he took fright yesterday morning in our court, when I produced that ice-ax and asked the doctor those questions about it."

  "And I'm sure of that, too, Mr. Lindsey," said I. "And I've been wondering what there was about yon ice-ax that frightened him. You'll know that yourself, of course?"

  "Aye, but I'm not going to tell you!" he answered. "You'll have to await developments on that point, my man. And now we'll be getting to bed, and in the morning we'll see this Mr. Gavin Smeaton. It would be a queer thing now, wouldn't it, if we got some clue to all this through him? But I'm keenly interested in hearing that he comes from the other side of the Atlantic, Hugh, for I've been of opinion that it's across there that the secret of the whole thing will be found."

  They had brought me a supply of clothes and money with them, and first thing in the morning I went off to the docks and found my Samaritan skipper, and gave him back his sovereign and his blue serge suit, with my heartiest thanks and a promise to keep him fully posted up in the development of what he called the case. And then I went back to breakfast with the rest of them, and at once there was the question of what was to be done. My mother was all for going homeward as quickly as possible, and it ended up in our seeing her and Maisie away by the next train; Mr. Lindsey having made both swear solemnly that they would not divulge one word of what had happened, nor reveal the fact that I was alive, to any living soul but Andrew Dunlop, who, of course, could be trusted. And my mother agreed, though the proposal was anything but pleasant or proper to her.

  "You're putting on me more than any woman ought to be asked to bear, Mr. Lindsey," said she, as we saw them into the train. "You're asking me to go home and behave as if we didn't know whether the lad was alive or dead. I'm not good at the playacting, and I'm far from sure that it's either truthful or honest to be professing things that isn't so. And I'll be much obliged to you if you'll get all this cleared up, and let Hugh there settle down to his work in the proper way, instead of wandering about on business that's no concern of his."

  We shook our heads at each other as the train went off, Maisie waving good-bye to us, and my mother sitting very stiff and stern and disapproving in her corner of the compartment.

  "No concern of yours, d'ye hear, my lad?" laughed Mr. Lindsey. "Aye, but your mother forgets that in affairs of this sort a lot of people are drawn in where they aren't concerned! It's like being on the edge of a whirlpool——you're dragged into it before you're aware. And now we'll go and see this Mr. Smeaton; but first, where's the telegraph office in this station? I want to wire to Murray, to ask him to keep me posted up during today if any news comes in about the yacht."

  When Mr. Lindsey was in the telegraph office, I bought that morning's Dundee Advertiser, more to fill up a few spare moments than from any particular desire to get the news, for I was not a great newspaper reader. I had scarcely opened it when I saw my own name. And there I stood, in the middle of the bustling railway station, enjoying the sensation of reading my own obituary notice.

  "Our Berwick-on-Tweed correspondent, telegraphing late last night, says:——Considerable anxiety is being felt in the town respecting the fate of Sir Gilbert Carstairs, Bart., of Hathercleugh House, and Mr. Hugh Moneylaws, who are feared to have suffered a disaster at sea. At noon yesterday, Sir Gilbert, accompanied by Mr. Moneylaws, went out in the former's yacht (a small vessel of light weight) for a sail which, according to certain fishermen who were about when the yacht left, was to be one of a few hours only. The yacht had not returned last night, nor has it been seen or heard of since its departure. Various Berwick fishing craft have been out well off the coast during today, but no tidings of the missing gentlemen have come to hand. Nothing has been heard of, or from, Sir Gilbert at Hathercleugh up to nine o'clock this evening, and the only ray of hope lies in the fact that Mr. Moneylaws' mother left the town hurriedly this afternoon——possibly having received some news of her son. It is believed here, however, that the light vessel was capsized in a sudden squall, and that both occupants have lost their lives. Sir Gilbert Carstairs, who was the seventh baronet, had only recently come to the neighbourhood on succeeding to the title and estates. Mr. Moneylaws, who was senior clerk to Mr. Lindsey, solicitor, of Berwick, was a very promising young man of great ability, and had recently been much before the public eye as a witness in connection with the mysterious murders of John Phillips and Abel Crone, which are still attracting so much attention."

  I shoved the newspaper into Mr. Lindsey's hand as he came out of the telegraph office. He read the paragraph in silence, smiling as he read.

  "Aye!" he said at last, "you have to leave home to get the home news. Well——they're welcome to be thinking that for the present. I've just wired Murray that I'll be here till at any rate this evening, and that he's to telegraph at once if there's tidings of that yacht or of Carstairs. Meanwhile, well go and see this Mr. Smeaton."

  Mr. Smeaton was expecting us——he, too, was reading about me in the Advertiser when we entered, and he made some joking remark about it only being great men that were sometimes treated to death-notices before they were dead. And then he turned to Mr. Lindsey, who I noticed had been taking close stock of him.

  "I've been thinking out things since Mr. Moneylaws was in here last night," he remarked. "Bringing my mind to bear, do you see, on certain points that I hadn't thought of before. And maybe there's something more than appears at first sight in yon man John Phillips having my name and address on him."

  "Aye?" asked Mr. Lindsey, quietly. "How, now?"

  "Well," replied Mr. Smeaton, "there may be something in it, and there may be nothing——just nothing at all. But it's the fact that my father hailed from Tweedside——and from some place not so far from Berwick."

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