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Dead Men's Money(Chapter34)

2006-08-28 23:41

  Chapter XXXIV. The Bargain

  It may be that when one is placed in such a predicament as that in which I then found myself, one's wits are suddenly sharpened, and a new sense is given to one. Whether that is so or not, I was as certain as if I actually saw him that my assailant was the butler, Hollins. And I should have been infinitely surprised if any other voice than his had spoken——as he did speak when the last grumble of the thunder died out in a sulky, reluctant murmur.

  "In at that door, and straight up the stairs, Moneylaws!" he commanded. "And quick, if you don't want your brains scattering. Lively, now!"

  He trailed the muzzle of the revolver round from my temple to the back of my head as he spoke, pressing it into my hair in its course in a fashion that was anything but reassuring. I have often thought since of how I expected the thing to go off at any second, and how I was——for it's a fact——more curious than frightened about it. But the sense of self-preservation was on me, self-assertive enough, and I obliged him, stumbling in at the door under the pressure of his strong arm and of the revolver, and beginning to boggle at the first steps——old and much worn ones, which were deeply hollowed in the middle. He shoved me forward.

  "Up you go," he said, "straight ahead! Put your arms up and out——in front of you till you feel a door——push it open."

  He kept one hand on the scruff of my neck——too tightly for comfort——and with the other pressed the revolver into the cavity just above it, and in this fashion we went up. And even in that predicament I must have had my wits about me, for I counted two-and-twenty steps. Then came the door——a heavy, iron-studded piece of strong oak, and it was slightly open, and as I pushed it wider in the darkness, a musty, close smell came from whatever was within.

  "No steps," said he, "straight on! Now then, halt——and keep halting! If you move one finger, Moneylaws, out fly your brains! No great loss to the community, my lad——but I've some use for them yet."

  He took his hand away from my neck, but the revolver was still pressed into my hair, and the pressure never relaxed. And suddenly I heard a snap behind me, and the place in which we stood was lighted up——feebly, but enough to show me a cell-like sort of room, stone-walled, of course, and destitute of everything in the furnishing way but a bit of a cranky old table and a couple of three-legged stools on either side of it. With the released hand he had snapped the catch of an electric pocket-lamp, and in its blue glare he drew the revolver away from my head, and stepping aside, but always covering me with his weapon, motioned me to the further stool. I obeyed him mechanically, and he pulled the table a little towards him, sat down on the other stool, and, resting his elbow on the table ledge, poked the revolver within a few inches of my nose.

  "Now, we'll talk for a few minutes, Moneylaws," he said quietly, "Storm or no storm, I'm bound to be away on my business, and I'd have been off now if it hadn't been for your cursed peeping and prying. But I don't want to kill you, unless I'm obliged to, so you'll just serve your own interests best if you answer a question or two and tell no lies. Are there more of you outside or about?"

  "Not to my knowledge!" said I.

  "You came alone?" he asked.

  "Absolutely alone," I replied.

  "And why?" he demanded.

  "To see if I could get any news of Miss Dunlop," I answered.

  "Why should you think to find Miss Dunlop here——in this old ruin?" he argued; and I could see he was genuinely curious. "Come now——straight talk, Moneylaws!——and it'll be all the better for you."

  "She's missing since last night," I replied. "It came to me that she likely took a short cut across these grounds, and that in doing so she fell in with Sir Gilbert——or with you——and was kept, lest she should let out what she'd seen. That's the plain truth, Mr. Hollins."

  He was keeping his eyes on me just as steadily as he kept the revolver, and I saw from the look in them that he believed me.

  "Aye!" he said. "I see you can draw conclusions, if it comes to it. But——did you keep that idea of yours strictly to yourself, now?"

  "Absolutely!" I repeated.

  "You didn't mention it to a soul?" he asked searchingly.

  "Not to a soul!" said I. "There isn't man, woman, or child knows I'm here."

  I thought he might have dropped the muzzle of the revolver at that, but he still kept it in a line with my nose and made no sign of relaxing his vigilance. But, as he was silent for the moment, I let out a question at him.

  "It'll do you no harm to tell me the truth, Mr. Hollins," I said. "Do you know anything about Miss Dunlop? Is she safe? You've maybe had a young lady yourself one time or another——you'll understand what I'm feeling about it?"

  He nodded solemnly at that and in quite a friendly way.

  "Aye!" he answered. "I understand your feelings well enough, Moneylaws——and I'm a man of sentiment, so I'll tell you at once that the lass is safe enough, and there's not as much harm come to her as you could put on a sixpence——so there! But——I'm not sure yet that you're safe yourself," he went on, still eyeing me consideringly. "I'm a soft-hearted man, Moneylaws——or else you wouldn't have your brains in their place at this present minute!"

  "There's a mighty lot of chance of my harming you, anyway!" said I, with a laugh that surprised myself. "Not so much as a penknife on me, and you with that thing at my head."

  "Aye!——but you've got a tongue in that head," said he. "And you might be using it! But come, now——I'm loth to harm you, and you'd best tell me a bit more. What's the police doing?"

  "What police do you mean?" I inquired.

  "Here, there, everywhere, anywhere!" he exclaimed. "No quibbles, now!——you'll have had plenty of information."

  "They're acting on yours," I retorted. "Searching about Glasgow for Sir Gilbert and Lady Carstairs——you put us on to that, Mr. Hollins."

  "I had to," he answered. "Aye, I put Lindsey on to it, to be sure——and he took it all in like it was gospel, and so did all of you! It gained time, do you see, Moneylaws——it had to be done."

  "Then——they aren't in Glasgow?" I asked.

  He shook his big head solemnly at that, and something like a smile came about the corners of his lips.

  "They're not in Glasgow, nor near it," he answered readily, "but where all the police in England——and in Scotland, too, for that matter——'ll find it hard to get speech with them. Out of hand, Moneylaws!——out of hand, d'ye see——for the police!"

  He gave a sort of chuckle when he said this, and it emboldened me to come to grips with him——as far as words went.

  "Then what harm can I do you, Mr. Hollins?" I asked. "You're not in any danger that I know of."

  He looked at me as if wondering whether I wasn't trying a joke on him, and after staring a while he shook his head.

  "I'm leaving this part——finally," he answered. "That's Sir Gilbert's brand-new car that's all ready for me down the stairs; and as I say, whether it's storm or no storm, I must be away. And there's just two things I can do, Moneylaws——I can lay you out on the floor here, with your brains running over your face, or I can——trust to your honour!"

  We looked at each other for a full minute in silence——our eyes meeting in the queer, bluish light of the electric pocket-lamp which he had set on the table before us. Between us, too, was that revolver——always pointing at me out of its one black eye.

  "If it's all the same to you, Mr. Hollins," said I at length, "I'd prefer you to trust to my honour. Whatever quality my brains may have, I'd rather they were used than misused in the way you're suggesting! If it's just this——that you want me to hold my tongue——"

  "I'll make a bargain with you," he broke in on me. "You'd be fine and glad to see your sweetheart, Moneylaws, and assure yourself that she's come to no harm, and is safe and well?"

  "Aye! I would that!" I exclaimed. "Give me the chance, Mr. Hollins!"

  "Then give me your word that whatever happens, whatever comes, you'll not mention to the police that you've seen me tonight, and that whenever you're questioned you'll know nothing about me!" he said eagerly. "Twelve hours' start——aye, six!——means safety to me, Moneylaws. Will you keep silence?"

  "Where's Miss Dunlop?" asked I.

  "You can be with her in three minutes," he answered, "if you'll give me your word——and you're a truthful lad, I think——that you'll both bide where you are till morning, and that after that you'll keep your tongue quiet. Will you do that?"

  "She's close by?" I demanded.

  "Over our heads," he said calmly. "And you've only to say the word——"

  "It's said, Mr. Hollins!" I exclaimed. "Go your ways! I'll never breathe a syllable of it to a soul! Neither in six, nor twelve, nor a thousand hours!——your secret's safe enough with me——so long as you keep your word about her——and just now!"

  He drew his free hand off the table, still watching me, and still keeping up the revolver, and from a drawer in the table between us pulled out a key and pushed it over.

  "There's a door behind you in yon corner," he said. "And you'll find a lantern at its foot——you've matches on you, no doubt. And beyond the door there's another stair that leads up to the turret, and you'll find her there——and safe——and so——go your ways, now, Moneylaws, and I'll go mine!"

  He dropped the revolver into a side pocket of his waterproof coat as he spoke, and, pointing me to the door in the corner, turned to that by which he had entered. And as he turned he snapped off the light of his electric lamp, while I myself, having fumbled for a box of matches, struck one and looked around me for this lantern he had mentioned. In its spluttering light I saw his big figure round the corner——then, just as I made for the lantern, the match went out and all was darkness again. As I felt for another match, I heard him pounding the stair——and suddenly there was a sort of scuffle and he cried out loudly once, and there was the sound of a fall, and then of lighter steps hurrying away, and then a heavy, rattling groan. And with my heart in my mouth and fingers trembling so that I could scarcely hold the match, I made shift to light the candle in the lantern, and went fearfully after him. There, in an angle of the stairway, he was lying, with the blood running in dark streams from a gap in his throat; while his hands, which he had instinctively put up to it, were feebly dropping away and relaxing on his broad chest. And as I put the lantern closer to him he looked up at me in a queer, puzzled fashion, and died before my very eyes.

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