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Dead Men's Money(Chapter31)

2006-08-28 23:40

  Chapter XXXI. No Trace

  That telegram had swept all the doings of the morning clear away from me. Little I cared about the Carstairs affairs and all the mystery that was wrapping round them in comparison with the news which Murray had sent along in that peculiarly distressing fashion! I would cheerfully have given all I ever hoped to be worth if he had only added more news; but he had just said enough to make me feel as if I should go mad unless I could get home there and then. I had not seen Maisie since she and my mother had left Mr. Lindsey and me at Dundee——I had been so fully engaged since then, what with the police, and Mrs. Ralston, and Mr. Portlethorpe, and the hurried journeys, first to Newcastle and then to Edinburgh, that I had never had a minute to run down and see how things were going on. What, of course, drove me into an agony of apprehension was Murray's use of that one word "unaccountably." Why should Maisie be "unaccountably" missing? What had happened to take her out of her father's house?——where had she gone, that no trace of her could be got?——what had led to this utterly startling development?——what——

  But it was no use speculating on these things——the need was for action. And I had seized on the first porter I met, and was asking him for the next train to Berwick, when Mr. Gavin Smeaton gripped my arm.

  "There's a train in ten minutes, Moneylaws," said he quietly. "Come away to it——I'll go with you——we're all going. Mr. Lindsey thinks we'll do as much there as here, now."

  Looking round I saw the two solicitors hurrying in our direction, Mr. Lindsey carrying Murray's telegram in his hand. He pulled me aside as we all walked towards the train.

  "What do you make of this, Hugh?" he asked. "Can you account for any reason why the girl should be missing?"

  "I haven't an idea," said I. "But if it's anything to do with all the rest of this business, Mr. Lindsey, let somebody look out! I'll have no mercy on anybody that's interfered with her——and what else can it be? I wish I'd never left the town!"

  "Aye, well, we'll soon be back in it," he said, consolingly. "And we'll hope to find better news. I wish Murray had said more; it's a mistake to frighten folk in that way——he's said just too much and just too little."

  It was a fast express that we caught for Berwick, and we were not long in covering the distance, but it seemed like ages to me, and the rest of them failed to get a word out of my lips during the whole time. And my heart was in my mouth when, as we ran into Berwick station, I saw Chisholm and Andrew Dunlop on the platform waiting us. Folk that have had bad news are always in a state of fearing to receive worse, and I dreaded what they might have come to the station to tell us. And Mr. Lindsey saw how I was feeling, and he was on the two of them with an instant question.

  "Do you know any more about the girl than was in Murray's wire?" he demanded. "If so, what? The lad here's mad for news!"

  Chisholm shook his head, and Andrew Dunlop looked searchingly at me.

  "We know nothing more," he answered. "You don't know anything yourself, my lad?" he went on, staring at me still harder.

  "I, Mr. Dunlop!" I exclaimed. "What do you think, now, asking me a question like yon! What should I know?"

  "How should I know that?" said he. "You dragged your mother and my lass all the way to Dundee for nothing——so far as I could learn; and——"

  "He'd good reason," interrupted Mr. Lindsey. "He did quite right. Now what is this about your daughter, Mr. Dunlop? Just let's have the plain tale of it, and then we'll know where we are."

  I had already seen that Andrew Dunlop was not over well pleased with me——and now I saw why. He was a terrible hand at economy, saving every penny he could lay hands on, and as nothing particular seemed to have come of it, and——so far as he could see——there had been no great reason for it, he was sore at my sending for his daughter to Dundee, and all the sorer because——though I, of course, was utterly innocent of it——Maisie had gone off on that journey without as much as a by-your-leave to him. And he was not over ready or over civil to Mr. Lindsey.

  "Aye, well!" said he. "There's strange doings afoot, and it's not my will that my lass should be at all mixed up in them, Mr. Lindsey! All this running up and down, hither and thither, on business that doesn't concern——"

  Mr. Lindsey had the shortest of tempers on occasion, and I saw that he was already impatient. He suddenly turned away with a growl and collared Chisholm.

  "You're a fool, Dunlop," he exclaimed over his shoulder; "it's your tongue that wants to go running! Now then, sergeant!——what is all this about Miss Dunlop? Come on!"

  My future father-in-law drew off in high displeasure, but Chisholm hurriedly explained matters.

  "He's in a huffy state, Mr. Lindsey," he said, nodding at Andrew's retreating figure. "Until you came in, he was under the firm belief that you and Mr. Hugh had got the young lady away again on some of this mystery business——he wouldn't have it any other way. And truth to tell, I was wondering if you had, myself! But since you haven't, it's here——and I hope nothing's befallen the poor young thing, for——"

  "For God's sake, man, get it out!" said I. "We've had preface enough——come to your tale!"

  "I'm only explaining to you, Mr. Hugh," he answered, calmly. "And I understand your impatience. It's like this, d'ye see?——Andrew Dunlop yonder has a sister that's married to a man, a sheep-farmer, whose place is near Coldsmouth Hill, between Mindrum and Kirk Yetholm——"

  "I know!" I said. "You mean Mrs. Heselton. Well, man?"

  "Mrs. Heselton, of course," said he. "You're right there. And last night——about seven or so in the evening——a telegram came to the Dunlops saying Mrs. Heselton was taken very ill, and would Miss Dunlop go over? And away she went there and then, on her bicycle, and alone——and she never reached the place!"

  "How do you know that?" demanded Mr. Lindsey.

  "Because," answered Chisholm, "about nine o'clock this morning in comes one of the Heselton lads to Dunlop to tell him his mother had died during the night; and then, of course, they asked did Miss Dunlop get there in time, and the lad said they'd never set eyes on her. And——that's all there is to tell, Mr. Lindsey."

  I was for starting off, with, I think, the idea of instantly mounting my bicycle and setting out for Heselton's farm, when Mr. Lindsey seized my elbow.

  "Take your time, lad," said he. "Let's think what we're doing. Now then, how far is it to this place where the girl was going?"

  "Seventeen miles," said I, promptly.

  "You know it?" he asked. "And the road?"

  "I've been there with her——many a time, Mr. Lindsey," I answered. "I know every inch of the road."

  "Now then!" he said, "get the best motor car there is in the town, and be off! Make inquiries all the way along; it'll be a queer thing if you can't trace something——it would be broad daylight all the time she'd be on her journey. Make a thorough search and full inquiry——she must have been seen." He turned to Mr. Smeaton, who had stood near, listening. "Go with him!" he said. "It'll be a good turn to do him——he wants company."

  Mr. Smeaton and I hurried outside the station——a car or two stood in the yard, and we picked out the best. As we got in, Chisholm came up to us.

  "You'd better have a word or two with our men along the road, Mr. Hugh," said he. "There's not many between here and the part you're going to, but you'd do no harm to give them an idea of what it is you're after, and tell them to keep their eyes open——and their ears, for that matter."

  "Aye, we'll do that, Chisholm," I answered. "And do you keep eyes and ears open here in Berwick! I'll give ten pounds, and cash in his hand, to the first man that gives me news; and you can let that be known as much as you like, and at once——whether Andrew Dunlop thinks it's throwing money away or not!"

  And then we were off; and maybe that he might draw me away from over much apprehension, Mr. Smeaton began to ask me about the road which Maisie would take to get to the Heseltons' farm——the road which we, of course, were taking ourselves. And I explained to him that it was just the ordinary high-road that ran between Berwick and Kelso that Maisie would follow, until she came to Cornhill, where she would turn south by way of Mindrum Mill, where——if that fact had anything to do with her disappearance——she would come into a wildish stretch of country at the northern edge of the Cheviots.

  "There'll be places——villages and the like——all along, I expect?" he asked.

  "It's a lonely road, Mr. Smeaton," I answered. "I know it well——what places there are, are more off than on it, but there's no stretch of it that's out of what you might term human reach. And how anybody could happen aught along it of a summer's evening is beyond me!——unless indeed we're going back to the old kidnapping times. And if you knew Maisie Dunlop, you'd know that she's the sort that would put up a fight if she was interfered with! I'm wondering if this has aught to do with all yon Carstairs affair? There's been such blackness about that, and such villainy, that I wish I'd never heard the name!"

  "Aye!" he answered. "I understand you. But——it's coming to an end. And in queer ways——queer ways, indeed!"

  I made no reply to him——and I was sick of the Carstairs matters; it seemed to me I had been eating and drinking and living and sleeping with murder and fraud till I was choked with the thought of them. Let me only find Maisie, said I to myself, and I would wash my hands of any further to-do with the whole vile business.

  But we were not to find Maisie during the long hours of that weary afternoon and the evening that followed it. Mr. Lindsey had bade me keep the car and spare no expense, and we journeyed hither and thither all round the district, seeking news and getting none. She had been seen just once, at East Ord, just outside Berwick, by a man that was working in his cottage garden by the roadside——no other tidings could we get. We searched all along the road that runs by the side of Bowmont Water, between Mindrum and the Yetholms, devoting ourselves particularly to that stretch as being the loneliest, and without result. And as the twilight came on, and both of us were dead weary, we turned homeward, myself feeling much more desperate than even I did when I was swimming for my very life in the North Sea.

  "And I'm pretty well sure of what it is, now, Mr. Smeaton!" I exclaimed as we gave up the search for that time. "There's been foul play! And I'll have all the police in Northumberland on this business, or——"

  "Aye!" he said, "it's a police matter, this, without doubt, Moneylaws. We'd best get back to Berwick, and insist on Murray setting his men thoroughly to work."

  We went first to Mr. Lindsey's when we got back, his house being on our way. And at sight of us he hurried out and had us in his study. There was a gentleman with him there——Mr. Ridley, the clergyman who had given evidence about Gilverthwaite at the opening of the inquest on Phillips.

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