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Dead Men's Money(Chapter30)

2006-08-28 23:40

  Chapter XXX. The Carstairs Motto

  Mr. Lindsey reflected a moment after getting that precise answer, and he glanced at me as if trying to recollect something.

  "That would be the very morning after the affair of the yacht?" he asked of me.

  But before I could speak, Mr. Paley took the words out of my mouth.

  "Quite right." he said quietly. "I knew nothing of it at the time, of course, but I have read a good deal in the newspapers since. It was the morning after Sir Gilbert left Berwick in his yacht."

  "Did he mention anything about the yacht to you?" inquired Mr. Lindsey.

  "Not a word! I took it that he had come in to see me in the ordinary way," replied the stockbroker. "He wasn't here ten minutes. I had no idea whatever that anything had happened."

  "Before we go any further," said Mr. Lindsey, "may I ask you to tell us what he came for? You know that Mr. Portlethorpe is his solicitor?——I am asking the question on his behalf as well as my own."

  "I don't know why I shouldn't tell you," answered Mr. Paley. "He came on perfectly legitimate business. It was to call for some scrip which I held——scrip of his own, of course."

  "Which he took away with him?" suggested Mr. Lindsey.

  "Naturally!" replied the stockbroker. "That was what he came for."

  "Did he give you any hint as to where he was going?" asked Mr. Lindsey. "Did he, for instance, happen to mention that he was leaving home for a time?"

  "Not at all," answered Mr. Paley. "He spoke of nothing but the business that had brought him. As I said just now, he wasn't here ten minutes."

  It was evident to me that Mr. Lindsey was still more taken aback. What we had learned during the last half-hour seemed to surprise him. And Mr. Portlethorpe, who was sharp enough of observation, saw this, and made haste to step into the arena.

  "Mr. Lindsey," he said, "has been much upset by the apparently extraordinary circumstances of Sir Gilbert Carstairs' disappearance——and so, I may say, has Sir Gilbert's sister, Mrs. Ralston. I have pointed out that Sir Gilbert himself may have——probably has——a quite proper explanation of his movements. Wait a minute, Lindsey!" he went on, as Mr. Lindsey showed signs of restiveness. "It's my turn, I think." He looked at Mr. Paley again. "Your transactions with Sir Gilbert have been quite in order, all through, I suppose——and quite ordinary?"

  "Quite in order, and quite ordinary," answered the stockbroker readily. "He was sent to me by the manager of the Scottish-American Bank, who knows that I do a considerable business in first-class American securities and investments. Sir Gilbert told me that he was disposing of a great deal of his property in England and wished to re-invest the proceeds in American stock. He gave me to understand that he wished to spend most of his time over there in future, as neither he nor his wife cared about Hathercleugh, though they meant to keep it up as the family estate and headquarters. He placed considerable sums of money in my hands from time to time, and I invested them in accordance with his instructions, handing him the securities as each transaction was concluded. And——that's really all I know."

  Mr. Lindsey got in his word before Mr. Portlethorpe could speak again.

  "There are just two questions I should like to ask——to which nobody can take exception, I think," he said. "One is——I gather that you've invested all the money which Sir Gilbert placed in your hands?"

  "Yes——about all," replied Mr. Paley. "I have a balance——a small balance."

  "And the other is this," continued Mr. Lindsey: "I suppose all these American securities which he now has are of such a nature that they could be turned into cash at any time, on any market?"

  "That is so——certainly," assented Mr. Paley. "Yes, certainly so."

  "Then that's enough for me!" exclaimed Mr. Lindsey, rising and beckoning me to follow. "Much obliged to you, sir."

  Without further ceremony he stumped out into the street, with me at his heels, to be followed a few minutes later by Mr. Portlethorpe. And thereupon began a warm altercation between them which continued until all three of us were stowed away in a quiet corner of the smoking-room in the hotel at which it had been arranged Mr. Gavin Smeaton was to seek us on his arrival——and there it was renewed with equal vigour; at least, with equal vigour on Mr. Lindsey's part. As for me, I sat before the two disputants, my hands in my pockets, listening, as if I were judge and jury all in one, to what each had to urge.

  They were, of course, at absolutely opposite poles of thought. One man was approaching the matter from one standpoint; the other from one diametrically opposed to it. Mr. Portlethorpe was all for minimizing things, Mr. Lindsey all for taking the maximum attitude. Mr. Portlethorpe said that even if we had not come to Edinburgh on a fool's errand——which appeared to be his secret and private notion——we had at any rate got the information which Mr. Lindsey wanted, and had far better go home now and attend to our proper business, which, he added, was not to pry and peep into other folks' affairs. He was convinced that Sir Gilbert Carstairs was Sir Gilbert Carstairs, and that Mrs. Ralston's and Mr. Lindsey's suspicions were all wrong. He failed to see any connection between Sir Gilbert and the Berwick mysteries and murders; it was ridiculous to suppose it. As for the yacht incident, he admitted it looked at least strange; but, he added, with a half-apologetic glance at me, he would like to hear Sir Gilbert's version of that affair before he himself made up his mind about it.

  "If we can lay hands on him, you'll be hearing his version from the dock!" retorted Mr. Lindsey. "Your natural love of letting things go smoothly, Portlethorpe, is leading you into strange courses! Man alive!——take a look at the whole thing from a dispassionate attitude! Since the fellow got hold of the Hathercleugh property, he's sold everything, practically, but Hathercleugh itself; he's lost no time in converting the proceeds——a couple of hundred thousand pounds!——into foreign securities, which, says yon man Paley, are convertible into cash at any moment in any market! Something occurs——we don't know what, yet——to make him insecure in his position; without doubt, it's mixed up with Phillips and Gilverthwaite, and no doubt, afterwards, with Crone. This lad here accidentally knows something which might be fatal——Carstairs tries, having, as I believe, murdered Crone, to drown Moneylaws! And what then? It's every evident that, after leaving Moneylaws, he ran his yacht in somewhere on the Scottish coast, and turned her adrift; or, which is more likely, fell in with that fisher-fellow Robertson at Largo, and bribed him to tell a cock-and-bull tale about the whole thing——made his way to Edinburgh next morning, and possessed himself of the rest of his securities, after which, he clears out, to be joined somewhere by his wife, who, if what Hollins told us last night is true——and it no doubt is,——carried certain valuables off with her! What does it look like but that he's an impostor, who's just made all he can out of the property while he'd the chance, and is now away to enjoy his ill-gotten gains? That's what I'm saying, Portlethorpe——and I insist on my common-sense view of it!"

  "And I say it's just as common-sense to insist, as I do, that it's all capable of proper and reasonable explanation!" retorted Mr. Portlethorpe. "You're a good hand at drawing deductions, Lindsey, but you're bad in your premises! You start off by asking me to take something for granted, and I'm not fond of mental gymnastics. If you'd be strictly logical——"

  They went on arguing like that, one against the other, for a good hour, and it seemed to me that the talk they were having would have gone on for ever, indefinitely, if, on the stroke of noon, Mr. Gavin Smeaton had not walked in on us. At sight of him they stopped, and presently they were deep in the matter of the similarity of the handwritings, Mr. Lindsey having brought the letter and the will with him. Deep, at any rate, Mr. Lindsey and Mr. Portlethorpe were; as for Mr. Gavin Smeaton, he appeared to be utterly amazed at the suggestion which Mr. Lindsey threw out to him——that the father of whom he knew so little was, in reality, Michael Carstairs.

  "Do you know what it is you're suggesting, Lindsey?" demanded Mr. Portlethorpe, suddenly. "You've got the idea into your head now that this young man's father, whom he's always heard of as one Martin Smeaton, was in strict truth the late Michael Carstairs, elder son of the late Sir Alexander——in fact, being the wilful and headstrong man that you are, you're already positive of it?"

  "I am so!" declared Mr. Lindsey. "That's a fact, Portlethorpe."

  "Then what follows?" asked Mr. Portlethorpe. "If Mr. Smeaton there is the true and lawful son of the late Michael Carstairs, his name is not Smeaton at all, but Carstairs, and he's the true holder of the baronetcy, and, as his grandfather died intestate, the legal owner of the property! D'you follow that?"

  "I should be a fool if I didn't!" retorted Mr. Lindsey. "I've been thinking of it for thirty-six hours."

  "Well——it'll have to be proved," muttered Mr. Portlethorpe. He had been staring hard at Mr. Gavin Smeaton ever since he came in, and suddenly he let out a frank exclamation. "There's no denying you've a strong Carstairs look on you!" said he. "Bless and save me!——this is the strangest affair!"

  Smeaton put his hand into his pocket, and drew out a little package which he began to unwrap.

  "I wonder if this has anything to do with it," he said. "I remembered, thinking things over last night, that I had something which, so the Watsons used to tell me, was round my neck when I first came to them. It's a bit of gold ornament, with a motto on it. I've had it carefully locked away for many a long year!"

  He took out of his package a heart-shaped pendant, with a much-worn gold chain attached to it, and turned it over to show an engraved inscription on the reverse side.

  "There's the motto," he said. "You see——Who Will, Shall. Whose is it?"

  "God bless us!" exclaimed Mr. Portlethorpe. "The Carstairs motto! Aye!——their motto for many a hundred years! Lindsey, this is an extraordinary thing!——I'm inclined to think you may have some right in your notions. We must——"

  But before Mr. Portlethorpe could say what they must do, there was a diversion in our proceedings which took all interest in them clean away from me, and made me forget whatever mystery there was about Carstairs, Smeaton, or anybody else. A page lad came along with a telegram in his hand asking was there any gentleman there of the name of Moneylaws? I took the envelope from him in a whirl of wonder, and tore it open, feeling an unaccountable sense of coming trouble. And in another minute the room was spinning round me; but the wording of the telegram was clear enough:

  "Come home first train Maisie Dunlop been unaccountably missing since last evening and no trace of her. Murray."

  I flung the bit of paper on the table before the other three, and, feeling like my head was on fire, was out of the room and the hotel, and in the street and racing into the station, before one of them could find a word to put on his tongue.

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