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Dead Men's Money(Chapter4)

2006-08-28 23:34

  Chapter IV. 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!"

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