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Dead Men's Money(Chapter28)

2006-08-28 23:40

  Chapter XXVIII. The Hathercleugh Butler

  The three of us went away from the bank manager's house struggling with the various moods peculiar to our individual characters——Mr. Portlethorpe, being naturally a nervous man, given to despondency, was greatly upset, and manifested his emotions in sundry ejaculations of a dark nature; I, being young, was full of amazement at the news just given us and of the excitement of hunting down the man we knew as Sir Gilbert Carstairs. But I am not sure that Mr. Lindsey struggled much with anything——he was cool and phlegmatic as usual, and immediately began to think of practical measures.

  "Look here, Portlethorpe," he said, as soon as we were in the motor car which we had chartered from Newcastle station, "we've got to get going in this matter at once——straight away! We must be in Edinburgh as early as possible in the morning. Be guided by me——come straight back to Berwick, stop the night with me at my house, and we'll be on our way to Edinburgh by the very first train——we can get there early, by the time the banks are open. There's another reason why I want you to come——I've some documents that I wish you to see——documents that may have a very important bearing on this affair. There's one in my pocket-book now, and you'll be astonished when you hear how it came into my possession. But it's not one-half so astonishing as another that I've got at my house."

  I remembered then that we had been so busily engaged since our return from the North that morning that we had had no time to go into the matter of the letter which Mr. Gavin Smeaton had entrusted to Mr. Lindsey——here, again, was going to be more work of the ferreting-out sort. But Mr. Portlethorpe, it was clear, had no taste for mysteries, and no great desire to forsake his own bed, even for Mr. Lindsey's hospitality, and it needed insistence before he consented to go back to Berwick with us. Go back, however, he did; and before midnight we were in our own town again, and passing the deserted streets towards Mr. Lindsey's home, I going with the others because Mr. Lindsey insisted that it was now too late for me to go home, and I should be nearer the station if I slept at his place. And just before we got to the house, which was a quiet villa standing in its own grounds, a little north of the top end of the town, a man who was sauntering ahead of us, suddenly turned and came up to Mr. Lindsey, and in the light of a street lamp I recognized in him the Hathercleugh butler.

  Mr. Lindsey recognized the man, too——so also did Mr. Portlethorpe; and they both came to a dead halt, staring. And both rapped out the same inquiry, in identical words:

  "Some news?"

  I looked as eagerly at the butler as they did. He had been sour enough and pompous enough in his manner and attitude to me that night of my call on his master, and it surprised me now to see how polite and suave and——in a fashion——insinuating he was in his behaviour to the two solicitors. He was a big, fleshy, strongly-built fellow, with a rather flabby, deeply-lined face and a pallid complexion, rendered all the paler by his black overcoat and top hat; and as he stood there, rubbing his hands, glancing from Mr. Lindsey to Mr. Portlethorpe, and speaking in soft, oily, suggestive accents, I felt that I disliked him even more than when he had addressed me in such supercilious accents at the doors of Hathercleugh.

  "Well——er——not precisely news, gentlemen," he replied. "The fact is, I wanted to see you privately, Mr. Lindsey, sir——but, of course, I've no objections to speaking before Mr. Portlethorpe, as he's Sir Gilbert's solicitor. Perhaps I can come in with you, Mr. Lindsey?——the truth is, I've been waiting about, sir——they said you'd gone to Newcastle, and might be coming back by this last train. And——it's——possibly——of importance."

  "Come in," said Mr. Lindsey. He let us all into his house with his latch-key, and led us to his study, where he closed the door. "Now," he went on, turning to the butler. "What is it? You can speak freely——we are all three——Mr. Portlethorpe, Mr. Moneylaws, and myself——pretty well acquainted with all that is going on, by this time. And——I'm perhaps not far wrong when I suggest that you know something?"

  The butler, who had taken the chair which Mr. Lindsey had pointed out, rubbed his hands, and looked at us with an undeniable expression of cunning and slyness.

  "Well, sir!" he said in a low, suggesting tone of voice. "A man in my position naturally gets to know things——whether he wants to or not, sometimes. I have had ideas, gentlemen, for some time."

  "That something was wrong?" asked Mr. Portlethorpe.

  "Approaching to something of that nature, sir," replied the butler. "Of course, you will bear in mind that I am, as it were, a stranger——I have only been in Sir Gilbert's Carstairs' employ nine months. But——I have eyes. And ears. And the long and short of it is, gentlemen, I believe Sir Gilbert——and Lady Carstairs——have gone!"

  "Absolutely gone?" exclaimed Mr. Portlethorpe. "Good gracious, Hollins!——you don't mean that!"

  "I shall be much surprised if it is not found to be the case, sir," answered Hollins, whose name I now heard for the first time. "And——incidentally, as it were——I may mention that I think it will be discovered that a good deal has gone with them!"

  "What——property?" demanded Mr. Portlethorpe. "Impossible!——they couldn't carry property away——going as they seem to have done——or are said to have done!"

  Hollins coughed behind one of his big, fat hands, and glanced knowingly at Mr. Lindsey, who was listening silently but with deep attention.

  "I'm not so sure about that, sir," he said. "You're aware that there were certain small matters at Hathercleugh of what we may term the heirloom nature, though whether they were heirlooms or not I can't say——the miniature of himself set in diamonds, given by George the Third to the second baronet; the necklace, also diamonds, which belonged to a Queen of Spain; the small picture, priceless, given to the fifth baronet by a Czar of Russia; and similar things, Mr. Portlethorpe. And, gentlemen, the family jewels!——all of which had been reset. They've got all those!"

  "You mean to say——of your own knowledge——they're not at Hathercleugh?" suddenly inquired Mr. Lindsey.

  "I mean to say they positively are not, sir," replied the butler. "They were kept in a certain safe in a small room used by Lady Carstairs as her boudoir. Her ladyship left very hastily and secretly yesterday, as I understand the police have told you, and, in her haste, she forgot to lock up that safe——which she had no doubt unlocked before her departure. That safe, sir, is empty——of those things, at any rate."

  "God bless my soul!" exclaimed Mr. Portlethorpe, greatly agitated. "This is really terrible!"

  "Could she carry those things——all of them——on her bicycle——by which I hear she left?" asked Mr. Lindsey.

  "Easily, sir," replied Hollins. "She had a small luggage-carrier on her bicycle——it would hold all those things. They were not bulky, of course."

  "You've no idea where she went on that bicycle?" inquired Mr. Lindsey.

  Hollins smiled cunningly, and drew his chair a little nearer to us.

  "I hadn't——when I went to Mr. Murray, at the police-station, this morning," he answered. "But——I've an idea, now. That's precisely why I came in to see you, Mr. Lindsey."

  He put his hand inside his overcoat and produced a pocket-book, from which he presently drew out a scrap of paper.

  "After I'd seen Mr. Murray this morning," he continued, "I went back to Hathercleugh, and took it upon myself to have a look round. I didn't find anything of a remarkably suspicious nature until this afternoon, pretty late, when I made the discovery about the safe in the boudoir——that all the articles I'd mentioned had disappeared. Then I began to examine a waste-paper basket in the boudoir——I'd personally seen Lady Carstairs tear up some letters which she received yesterday morning by the first post, and throw the scraps into that basket, which hadn't been emptied since. And I found this, gentlemen——and you can, perhaps, draw some conclusion from it——I've had no difficulty in drawing one myself."

  He laid on the table a torn scrap of paper, over which all three of us at once bent. There was no more on it than the terminations of lines——but the wording was certainly suggestive:——

  "…… at once, quietly …… best time would be before lunch …… at Kelso …… usual place in Glasgow."

  Mr. Portlethorpe started at sight of the handwriting.

  "That's Sir Gilbert's!" he exclaimed. "No doubt of that. What are we to understand by it, Lindsey?"

  "What do you make of this?" asked Mr. Lindsey, turning to Hollins. "You say you've drawn a deduction?"

  "I make this out, sir," answered the butler, quietly. "Yesterday morning there were only four letters for Lady Carstairs. Two were from London——in the handwriting of ladies. One was a tradesman's letter——from Newcastle. The fourth was in a registered envelope——and the address was typewritten——and the post-mark Edinburgh. I'm convinced, Mr. Lindsey, that the registered one contained——that! A letter, you understand, from Sir Gilbert——I found other scraps of it, but so small that it's impossible to piece them together, though I have them here. And I conclude that he gave Lady Carstairs orders to cycle to Kelso——an easy ride for her,——and to take the train to Glasgow, where he'd meet her. Glasgow, sir, is a highly convenient city, I believe, for people who wish to disappear. And——I should suggest that Glasgow should be communicated with."

  "Have you ever known Sir Gilbert Carstairs visit Glasgow recently?" asked Mr. Lindsey, who had listened attentively to all this.

  "He was there three weeks ago," replied Hollins.

  "And——Edinburgh?" suggested Mr. Lindsey.

  "He went regularly to Edinburgh——at one time——twice a week," said the butler. And then, Mr. Lindsey not making any further remark, he glanced at him and at Mr. Portlethorpe. "Of course, gentlemen," he continued, "this is all between ourselves. I feel it my duty, you know."

  Mr. Lindsey answered that we all understood the situation, and presently he let the man out, after a whispered sentence or two between them in the hall. Then he came back to us, and without a word as to what had just transpired, drew the Smeaton letter from his pocket.

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