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Dead Men's Money(Chapter17)

2006-08-28 23:37

  Chapter XVII. The Irish Housekeeper

  I was a good deal surprised that Mr. Lindsey should be——apparently——so anxious to interview Crone's housekeeper, and I said as much. He turned on me sharply, with a knowing look.

  "Didn't you hear what the woman was saying when we came across her there outside the police-station?" he exclaimed. "She was saying that Crone had said to her that there was some man who would give his two eyes to be seeing his corpse! Crone's been telling her something. And I'm so convinced that that man in the cells yonder has told us the truth, as regards himself, that I'm going to find out what Crone did tell her. Who is there——who could there be that wanted to see Crone's dead body? Let's try to find that out."

  I made no answer——but I was beginning to think; and to wonder, too, in a vague, not very pleasant fashion. Was this——was Crone's death, murder, whatever it was——at all connected with the previous affair of Phillips? Had Crone told me the truth that night I went to buy the stuff for Tom Dunlop's rabbit-hutches? or had he kept something back? And while I was reflecting on these points, Mr. Lindsey began talking again.

  "I watched that man closely when he was giving me his account of what happened," he said, "and, as I said just now, I believe he told us the truth. Whoever it was that did Crone to death, he's not in that cell, Hugh, my lad; and, unless I'm much mistaken, all this is of a piece with Phillips's murder. But let's hear what this Irishwoman has to say."

  Crone's cottage was a mean, miserable shanty sort of place down a narrow alley in a poor part of the town. When we reached its door there was a group of women and children round it, all agog with excitement. But the door itself was closed, and it was not opened to us until Nance Maguire's face had appeared at the bit of a window, and Nance had assured herself of the identity of her visitors. And when she had let us in, she shut the door once more and slipped a bolt into its socket.

  "I an't said a word, your honour," said she, "since your honour told me not to, though them outside is sharp on me to tell 'em this and that. And I wouldn't have said what I did up yonder had I known your honour would be for supporting me. I was feeling there wasn't a soul in the place would see justice done for him that's gone——the poor, good man!"

  "If you want justice, my good woman," remarked Mr. Lindsey, "keep your tongue quiet, and don't talk to your neighbours, nor to the police——just keep anything you know till I tell you to let it out. Now, then, what's this you were saying?——that Crone told you there was a man in the place would give his two eyes to see him a corpse?"

  "Them very words, your honour; and not once nor twice, but a good many times did he say it," replied the woman. "It was a sort of hint he was giving me, your honour——he had that way of speaking."

  "Since when did he give you such hints?" asked Mr. Lindsey. "Was it only lately?"

  "It was since that other bloody murder, your honour," said Nance Maguire. "Only since then. He would talk of it as we sat over the fire there at nights. 'There's murder in the air,' says he. 'Bloody murder is all around us!' he says. 'And it's myself will have to pick my steps careful,' he says, 'for there's him about would give his two eyes to see me a stark and staring corpse,' he says. 'Me knowing,' he says, 'more than you'd give me credit for,' says he. And not another word than them could I get out of him, your honour."

  "He never told you who the man was that he had his fears of?" inquired Mr. Lindsey.

  "He did not, then, your honour," replied Nance. "He was a close man, and you wouldn't be getting more out of him than he liked to tell."

  "Now, then, just tell me the truth about a thing or two," said Mr. Lindsey. "Crone used to be out at nights now and then, didn't he?"

  "Indeed, then, he did so, your honour," she answered readily. "'Tis true, he would be out at nights, now and again."

  "Poaching, as a matter of fact," suggested Mr. Lindsey.

  "And that's the truth, your honour," she assented. "He was a clever hand with the rabbits."

  "Aye; but did he never bring home a salmon, now?" asked Mr. Lindsey. "Come, out with it."

  "I'll not deny that, neither, your honour," admitted the woman. "He was clever at that too."

  "Well, now, about that night when he was supposed to be killed," continued Mr. Lindsey; "that's Tuesday last——this being Thursday. Did he ever come home that evening from his shop?"

  I had been listening silently all this time, and I listened with redoubled attention for the woman's answer to the last question. It was on the Tuesday evening, about nine o'clock, that I had had my talk with Crone, and I was anxious to know what happened after that. And Nance Maguire replied readily enough——it was evident her memory was clear on these events.

  "He did not, then," she said. "He was in here having his tea at six o'clock that evening, and he went away to the shop when he'd had it, and I never put my eyes on him again, alive, your honour. He was never home that night, and he didn't come to his breakfast next morning, and he wasn't at the shop——and I never heard this or that of him till they come and tell me the bad news."

  I knew then what must have happened. After I had left him, Crone had gone away up the river towards Tillmouth——he had a crazy old bicycle that he rode about on. And most people, having heard Nance Maguire's admissions, would have said that he had gone poaching. But I was not so sure of that. I was beginning to suspect that Crone had played some game with me, and had not told me anything like the truth during our conversation. There had been more within his knowledge than he had let out——but what was it? And I could not help feeling that his object in setting off in that direction, immediately after I had left him, might have been, not poaching, but somebody to whom he wished to communicate the result of his talk with me. And, in that case, who was the somebody?

  But just then I had to leave my own thoughts and speculations alone, and to attend to what was going on between my principal and Nance Maguire. Mr. Lindsey, however, appeared to be satisfied with what he had heard. He gave the woman some further advice about keeping her tongue still, told her what to do as regards Crone's effects, and left the cottage. And when we were out in the main street again on our way back to the office he turned to me with a look of decision.

  "I've come to a definite theory about this affair, Hugh," he said. "And I'll lay a fiver to a farthing that it's the right one!"

  "Yes, Mr. Lindsey?" said I, keenly interested at hearing that.

  "Crone knew who killed Phillips," he said. "And the man who killed Phillips killed Crone, too, because Crone knew! That's been the way of it, my lad! And now, then, who's the man?"

  I could make no reply to such a question, and presently he went on——talking as much to himself, I think, as to me.

  "I wish I knew certain things!" he muttered. "I wish I knew what Phillips and Gilverthwaite came here for. I wish I knew if Gilverthwaite ever had any secret dealings with Crone. I wish——I do wish!——I knew if there has been——if there is——a third man in this Phillips-Gilverthwaite affair who has managed, and is managing, to keep himself in the background. But——I'll stake my professional reputation on one thing——whoever killed Phillips, killed Abel Crone! It's all of a piece."

  Now, of course I know now——have known for many a year——that it was at this exact juncture that I made a fatal, a reprehensible mistake in my share of all this business. It was there, at that exact point, that I ought to have made a clean breast to Mr. Lindsey of everything that I knew. I ought to have told him, there and then, of what I had seen at the cross-roads that night of the murder of Phillips; and of my conversation about that with Abel Crone at his shop; and of my visit to Sir Gilbert Carstairs at Hathercleugh House. Had I done so, matters would have become simplified, and much more horror and trouble avoided, for Mr. Lindsey was just then at the beginning of a straight track and my silence turned him away from it, to get into more twisted and obscure ones. But——I said nothing. And why? The answer is simple, and there's the excuse of human nature in it——I was so much filled with the grand prospects of my stewardship, and of all it would bring me, and was so highly pleased with Sir Gilbert Carstairs for his advancement of my fortunes, that——here's the plain truth——I could not bring myself to think of, or bother with, anything else. Up to then, of course, I had not said a word to my mother or to Maisie Dunlop of the stewardship——I was impatient to tell both. So I held my peace and said nothing to Mr. Lindsey——and presently the office work for the day was over and I was free to race home with my grand news. Is it likely that with such news as that I would be troubling my head any longer about other folks' lives and deaths?

  That, I suppose, was the most important evening I had ever spent in my life. To begin with, I felt as if I had suddenly become older, and bigger, and much more important. I became inclined to adopt magisterial airs to my mother and my sweetheart, laying down the law to them as to the future in a fashion which made Maisie poke fun at me for a crowing cockerel. It was only natural that I should suffer a little from swelled head that night——I should not have been human otherwise. But Andrew Dunlop took the conceit out of me with a vengeance when Maisie and I told him the news, and I explained everything to him in his back-parlour. He was at times a man of many words, and at times a man of few words——and when he said little, he meant most.

  "Aye!" said he. "Well, that's a fine prospect, Hugh, my man, and I wish you well in it. But there'll be no talk of any wedding for two years——so get that notion out of your heads, both of you! In two years you'll just have got settled to your new job, and you'll be finding out how you suit your master and how he suits you——we'll get the preliminaries over, and see how things promise in that time. And we'll see, too, how much money you've saved out of your salary, my man——so you'll just not hear the wedding-bells calling for a couple of twelvemonths, and'll behave yourselves like good children in the meanwhile. There's a deal of things may happen in two years, I'm thinking."

  He might have added that a deal of things may happen in two weeks——and, indeed, he would have had good reason for adding it, could he have looked a few days ahead.

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