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Dead Men's Money(Chapter14)

2006-08-28 23:36

  Chapter XIV. Dead Man's Money

  I was so much amazed by this extraordinary suggestion, that for the moment I could only stand staring at him, and before I could find my tongue he threw a quick question at me.

  "Lindsey wouldn't stand in your way, would he?" he asked. "Such jobs don't go begging, you know."

  "Mr. Lindsey wouldn't stand in my way, Sir Gilbert," I answered. "But——"

  "But what?" said he, seeing me hesitate. "Is it a post you wouldn't care about, then? There's five hundred a year with it——and a permanency."

  Strange as it may seem, considering all the circumstances, it never occurred to me for one moment that the man was buying my silence, buying me. There wasn't the ghost of such a thought in my head——I let out what was there in my next words.

  "I'd like such a post fine, Sir Gilbert," I said. "What I'm thinking of——could I give satisfaction?"

  He laughed at that, as if my answer amused him.

  "Well, there's nothing like a spice of modesty, Moneylaws," said he. "If you can do all we've just talked of, you'll satisfy me well enough. I like the looks of you, and I'm sure you're the sort that'll do the thing thoroughly. The post's at your disposal, if you like to take it."

  I was still struggling with my amazement. Five hundred pounds a year!——and a permanency! It seemed a fortune to a lad of my age. And I was trying to find the right words in which to say all that I felt, when he spoke again.

  "Look here!" he said. "Don't let us arrange this as if we'd done it behind your present employer's back——I wouldn't like Mr. Lindsey to think I'd gone behind him to get you. Let it be done this way: I'll call on Mr. Lindsey myself, and tell him I'm wanting a steward for the property, and that I've heard good reports of his clerk, and that I'll engage you on his recommendation. He's the sort that would give you a strong word by way of reference, eh?"

  "Oh, he'll do that, Sir Gilbert!" I exclaimed. "Anything that'll help me on——"

  "Then let's leave it at that," said he. "I'll drop in on him at his office——perhaps to-morrow. In the meantime, keep your own counsel. But——you'll take my offer?"

  "I'd be proud and glad to, Sir Gilbert," said I. "And if you'll make allowance for a bit of inexperience——"

  "You'll do your best, eh?" he laughed. "That's all right, Moneylaws."

  He walked out with me to the door, and on to the terrace. And as I wheeled my bicycle away from the porch, he took a step or two alongside me, his hands in his pockets, his lips humming a careless tune. And suddenly he turned on me.

  "Have you heard any more about that affair last night?" he asked. "I mean about Crone?"

  "Nothing, Sir Gilbert," I answered.

  "I hear that the opinion is that the man was struck down by a gaff," he remarked. "And perhaps killed before he was thrown into the Till."

  "So the doctor seemed to think," I said. "And the police, too, I believe."

  "Aye, well," said he, "I don't know if the police are aware of it, but I'm very sure there's night-poaching of salmon going on hereabouts, Moneylaws. I've fancied it for some time, and I've had thoughts of talking to the police about it. But you see, my land doesn't touch either Till or Tweed, so I haven't cared to interfere. But I'm sure that it is so, and it wouldn't surprise me if both these men, Crone and Phillips, met their deaths at the hands of the gang I'm thinking of. It's a notion that's worth following up, anyway, and I'll have a word with Murray about it when I'm in the town tomorrow."

  Then, with a brief good night, he left me and went into the house, and I got outside Hathercleugh and rode home in a whirl of thoughts. And I'll confess readily that those thoughts had little to do with what Sir Gilbert Carstairs had last talked about——they were not so much of Phillips, nor of Crone, nor of his suggestion of a possible gang of night-poachers, as about myself and this sudden chance of a great change in my fortunes. For, when all is said and done, we must needs look after ourselves, and when a young man of the age I was then arrived at is asked if he would like to exchange a clerkship of a hundred and twenty a year for a stewardship at more than four times as much——as a permanency——you must agree that his mind will fix itself on what such an exchange means to him, to the exclusion of all other affairs. Five hundred a year to me meant all sorts of fine things——independence, and a house of my own, and, not least by a long way, marriage with Maisie Dunlop. And it was a wonder that I managed to keep cool, and to hold my tongue when I got home——but hold it I did, and to some purpose, and more than once. During the half hour which I managed to get with Maisie last thing that night, she asked me why I was so silent, and, hard though it was to keep from doing so, I let nothing out.

  The truth was, Sir Gilbert Carstairs had fascinated me, not only with his grand offer, but with his pleasant, off-hand, companionable manners. He had put me at my ease at once; he had spoken so frankly and with such evident sincerity about his doings on that eventful night, that I accepted every word he said. And——in the little that I had thought of it——I was very ready to accept his theory as to how those two men had come by their deaths——and it was one that was certainly feasible, and worth following up. Some years before, I remembered, something of the same sort had gone on, and had resulted in an affray between salmon-poachers and river-watchers——why should it not have cropped up again? The more I thought of it, the more I felt Sir Gilbert's suggestion to have reason in it. And in that case all the mystery would be knocked clean out of these affairs——the murder of Phillips, the death of Crone, might prove to be the outcome of some vulgar encounter between them and desperadoes who had subsequently scuttled to safety and were doubtless quaking near at hand, in fear of their misdeeds coming to light; what appeared to be a perfect tangle might be the simplest matter in the world. So I judged——and next morning there came news that seemed to indicate that matters were going to be explained on the lines which Sir Gilbert had suggested.

  Chisholm brought that news to our office, just after Mr. Lindsey had come in. He told it to both of us; and from his manner of telling it, we both saw——I, perhaps, not so clearly as Mr. Lindsey——that the police were already at their favourite trick of going for what seemed to them the obvious line of pursuit.

  "I'm thinking we've got on the right clue at last, as regards the murder of yon man Phillips," announced Chisholm, with an air of satisfaction. "And if it is the right clue, as it seems to be, Mr. Lindsey, there'll be no great mystery in the matter, after all. Just a plain case of murder for the sake of robbery——that's it!"

  "What's your clue?" asked Mr. Lindsey quietly.

  "Well," answered Chisholm, with a sort of sly wink, "you'll understand, Mr. Lindsey, that we haven't been doing nothing these last few days, since yon inquest on Phillips, you know. As a matter of fact, we've been making inquiries wherever there seemed a chance of finding anything out. And we've found something out——through one of the banks yonder at Peebles."

  He looked at us as if to see if we were impressed; seeing, at any rate, that we were deeply interested, he went on.

  "It appears——I'll tell you the story in order, as it were," he said——"it appears that about eight months ago the agent of the British Linen Bank at Peebles got a letter from one John Phillips, written from a place called Colon, in Panama——that's Central America, as you'll be aware——enclosing a draft for three thousand pounds on the International Banking Corporation of New York. The letter instructed the Peebles agent to collect this sum and to place it in his bank to the writer's credit. Furthermore, it stated that the money was to be there until Phillips came home to Scotland, in a few months' time from the date of writing. This, of course, was all done in due course——there was the three thousand pounds in Phillips's name. There was a bit of correspondence between him at Colon and the bank at Peebles——then, at last, he wrote that he was leaving Panama for Scotland, and would call on the bank soon after his arrival. And on the morning of the day on which he was murdered, Phillips did call at the bank and established his identity, and so on, and he then drew out five hundred pounds of his money——two hundred pounds in gold, and the rest in small notes; and, Mr. Lindsey, he carried that sum away with him in a little handbag that he had with him."

  Mr. Lindsey, who had been listening with great attention, nodded.

  "Aye!" he said. "Carried five hundred pounds away with him. Go on, then."

  "Now," continued Chisholm, evidently very well satisfied with himself for the way he was marshalling his facts, "we——that is, to put it plainly, I myself——have been making more searching inquiries about Cornhill and Coldstream. There's two of the men at Cornhill station will swear that when Phillips got out of the train there, that evening of the murder, he was carrying a little handbag such as the bank cashier remembers——a small, new, brown leather bag. They're certain of it——the ticket-collector remembers him putting it under his arm while he searched his pocket for his ticket. And what's more, the landlord of the inn across the bridge there at Coldstream he remembers the bag, clearly enough, and that Phillips never had his hand off it while he was in his house. And of course, Mr. Lindsey, the probability is that in that bag was the money——just as he had drawn it out of the bank."

  "You've more to tell," remarked Mr. Lindsey.

  "Just so," replied Chisholm. "And there's two items. First of all——we've found that bag! Empty, you may be sure. In the woods near that old ruin on Till side. Thrown away under a lot of stuff——dead stuff, you'll understand, where it might have lain till Doomsday if I hadn't had a most particular search made. But——that's not all. The second item is here——the railway folk at Cornhill are unanimous in declaring that by that same train which brought Phillips there, two men, strangers, that looked like tourist gentlemen, came as well, whose tickets were from——where d'ye think, then, Mr. Lindsey?"

  "Peebles, of course," answered Mr. Lindsey.

  "And you've guessed right!" exclaimed Chisholm, triumphantly; "Peebles it was——and now, how do you think this affair looks? There's so many tourists on Tweedside this time of the year that nobody paid any great attention that night to these men, nor where they went. But what could be plainer, d'ye think?——of course, those two had tracked Phillips from the bank, and they followed him till they had him in yon place where he was found, and they murdered him——to rob him!"

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