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Dead Men's Money(Chapter16)

2006-08-28 23:37

  Chapter XVI. The Man in the Cell

  Before I could reply to Chisholm's inquiry, Mr. Lindsey put his head out of his door and seeing the police-sergeant there asked what he was after. And when Chisholm had repeated his inquiry, both looked at me.

  "I did see Crone's purse that night," I answered, "an old thing that he kept tied up with a boot-lace. And he'd a lot of money in it, too."

  "Come round, then, and see if you can identify this that we found on the man," requested Chisholm. "And," he added, turning to Mr. Lindsey, "there's another thing. The man's sober enough, now that we've got him——it's given him a bit of a pull-together, being arrested. And he's demanding a lawyer. Perhaps you'll come to him, Mr. Lindsey."

  "Who is he?" asked Mr. Lindsey. "A Berwick man?"

  "He isn't," replied Chisholm. "He's a stranger——a fellow that says he was seeking work, and had been stopping at a common lodging-house in the town. He vows and declares that he'd nothing to do with killing Crone, and he's shouting for a lawyer."

  Mr. Lindsey put on his hat, and he and I went off with Chisholm to the police-station. And as we got in sight of it, we became aware that there was a fine to-do in the street before its door. The news of the arrest had spread quickly, and folk had come running to get more particulars. And amongst the women and children and loafers that were crowding around was Crone's housekeeper, a great, heavy, rough-haired Irishwoman called Nance Maguire, and she was waving her big arms and shaking her fists at a couple of policemen, whom she was adjuring to bring out the murderer, so that she might do justice on him then and there——all this being mingled with encomiums on the victim.

  "The best man that ever lived!" she was screaming at the top of her voice. "The best and kindest creature ever set foot in your murdering town! And didn't I know he was to be done to death by some of ye? Didn't he tell me himself that there was one would give his two eyes to be seeing his corpse? And if ye've laid hands on him that did it, bring him out to me, so, and I'll——"

  Mr. Lindsey laid a quiet hand on the woman's arm and twisted her round in the direction of her cottage.

  "Hold your wisht, good wife, and go home!" he whispered to her. "And if you know anything, keep your tongue still till I come to see you. Be away, now, and leave it to me."

  I don't know how it was, but Nance Maguire, after a sharp look at Mr. Lindsey, turned away as meekly as a lamb, and went off, tearful enough, but quiet, down the street, followed by half the rabble, while Mr. Lindsey, Chisholm, and myself turned into the police-station. And there we met Mr. Murray, who wagged his head at us as if he were very well satisfied with something.

  "Not much doubt about this last affair, anyhow," said he, as he took us into his office. "You might say the man was caught red-handed! All the same, Mr. Lindsey, he's in his rights to ask for a lawyer, and you can see him whenever you like."

  "What are the facts?" asked Mr. Lindsey. "Let me know that much first."

  Mr. Murray jerked his thumb at Chisholm.

  "The sergeant there knows them," he answered. "He took the man."

  "It was this way, d'ye see, Mr. Lindsey," said Chisholm, who was becoming an adept at putting statements before people. "You know that bit of a public there is along the river yonder, outside the wall——the Cod and Lobster? Well, James Macfarlane, that keeps it, he came to me, maybe an hour or so ago, and said there was a fellow, a stranger, had been in and out there all day since morning, drinking; and though he wouldn't say the man was what you'd rightly call drunk, still he'd had a skinful, and he was in there again, and they wouldn't serve him, and he was getting quarrelsome and abusive, and in the middle of it had pulled out a purse that another man who was in there vowed and declared, aside, to Macfarlane, was Abel Crone's. So I got a couple of constables and went back with Macfarlane, and there was the man vowing he'd be served, and with a handful of money to prove that he could pay for whatever he called for. And as he began to turn ugly, and show fight, we just clapped the bracelets on him and brought him along, and there he is in the cells——and, of course, it's sobered him down, and he's demanding his rights to see a lawyer."

  "Who is he?" asked Mr. Lindsey.

  "A stranger to the town," replied Chisholm. "And he'll neither give name nor address but to a lawyer, he declares. But we know he was staying at one of the common lodging-houses——Watson's——three nights ago, and that the last two nights he wasn't in there at all."

  "Well——where's that purse?" demanded Mr. Lindsey. "Mr. Moneylaws here says he can identify it, if it's Crone's."

  Chisholm opened a drawer and took out what I at once knew to be Abel Crone's purse——which was in reality a sort of old pocket-book or wallet, of some sort of skin, with a good deal of the original hair left on it, and tied about with a bit of old bootlace. There were both gold and silver in it——just as I had seen when Crone pulled it out to find me some change for a five-shilling piece I had given him——and more by token, there was the five-shilling piece itself!

  "That's Crone's purse!" I exclaimed. "I've no doubt about that. And that's a crown piece I gave him myself; I've no doubt about that either!"

  "Let us see the man," said Mr. Lindsey.

  Chisholm led us down a corridor to the cells, and unlocked a door. He stepped within the cell behind it, motioning us to follow. And there, on the one stool which the place contained, sat a big, hulking fellow that looked like a navvy, whose rough clothes bore evidence of his having slept out in them, and whose boots were stained with the mud and clay which they would be likely to collect along the riverside. He was sitting nursing his head in his hands, growling to himself, and he looked up at us as I have seen wild beasts look out through the bars of cages. And somehow, there was that in the man's eyes which made me think, there and then, that he was not reflecting on any murder that he had done, but was sullenly and stupidly angry with himself.

  "Now, then, here's a lawyer for you," said Chisholm. "Mr. Lindsey, solicitor."

  "Well, my man!" began Mr. Lindsey, taking a careful look at this queer client. "What have you got to say to me?"

  The prisoner gave Chisholm a disapproving look.

  "Not going to say a word before the likes of him!" he growled. "I know my rights, guv'nor! What I say, I'll say private to you."

  "Better leave us, sergeant," said Mr. Lindsey. He waited till Chisholm, a bit unwilling, had left the cell and closed the door, and then he turned to the man. "Now, then," he continued, "you know what they charge you with? You've been drinking hard——are you sober enough to talk sense? Very well, then——what's this you want me for?"

  "To defend me, of course!" growled the prisoner. He twisted a hand round to the back of his trousers as if to find something. "I've money of my own——a bit put away in a belt," he said; "I'll pay you."

  "Never mind that now," answered Mr. Lindsey. "Who are you?——and what do you want to say?"

  "Name of John Carter," replied the man. "General labourer——navvy work——anything of that sort. On tramp——seeking a job. Came here, going north, night before last. And——no more to do with the murder of yon man than you have!"

  "They found his purse on you, anyway," remarked Mr. Lindsey bluntly. "What have you got to say to that?"

  "What I say is that I'm a damned fool!" answered Carter surlily. "It's all against me, I know, but I'll tell you——you can tell lawyers anything. Who's that young fellow?" he demanded suddenly, glaring at me. "I'm not going to talk before no detectives."

  "My clerk," replied Mr. Lindsey. "Now, then——tell your tale. And just remember what a dangerous position you're in."

  "Know that as well as you do," muttered the prisoner. "But I'm sober enough, now! It's this way——I stopped here in the town three nights since, and looked about for a job next day, and then I heard of something likely up the river and went after it and didn't get it, so I started back here——late at night it was. And after crossing that bridge at a place called Twizel, I turned down to the river-bank, thinking to take a short cut. And——it was well after dark, then, mind you, guv'nor——in coming along through the woods, just before where the little river runs into the big one, I come across this man's body——stumbled on it. That's the truth!"

  "Well!" said Mr. Lindsey.

  "He was lying——I could show you the place, easy——between the edge of the wood and the river-bank," continued Carter. "And though he was dead enough when I found him, guv'nor, he hadn't been dead so long. But dead he was——and not from aught of my doing."

  "What time was this?" asked Mr. Lindsey.

  "It would be past eleven o'clock," replied Carter. "It was ten when I called by Cornhill station. I went the way I did——down through the woods to the river-bank——because I'd noticed a hut there in the morning that I could sleep in——I was making for that when I found the body."

  "Well——about the purse?" demanded Mr. Lindsey shortly. "No lies, now!"

  The prisoner shook his head at that, and growled——but it was evident he was growling at himself.

  "That's right enough," he confessed. "I felt in his pockets, and I did take the purse. But——I didn't put him in the water. True as I'm here, guv'nor. I did no more than take the purse! I left him there——just as he was——and the next day I got drinking, and last night I stopped in that hut again, and today I was drinking, pretty heavy——and I sort of lost my head and pulled the purse out, and——that's the truth, anyway, whether you believe it or not. But I didn't kill yon man, though I'll admit I robbed his body——like the fool I am!"

  "Well, you see where it's landed you," remarked Mr. Lindsey. "All right——hold your tongue now, and I'll see what I can do. I'll appear for you when you come before the magistrate tomorrow."

  He tapped at the door of the cell, and Chisholm, who had evidently waited in the corridor, let us out. Mr. Lindsey said nothing to him, nor to the superintendent——he led me away into the street. And there he clapped me on the arm.

  "I believe every word that man said!" he murmured. "Come on, now——we'll see this Nance Maguire."

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