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Dead Men's Money(Chapter8)

2006-08-28 23:35

  Chapter VIII. The Parish Registers

  I had noticed the Reverend Mr. Ridley sitting in the room with some other gentlemen of the neighbourhood, and had wondered what had brought him, a clergyman, there. I knew him well enough by sight. He was a vicar of a lonely parish away up in the hills——a tall, thin, student-looking man that you might occasionally see in the Berwick streets, walking very fast with his eyes on the ground, as if, as the youngsters say, he was seeking sixpences; and I should not have thought him likely to be attracted to an affair of that sort by mere curiosity. And, whatever he might be in his pulpit, he looked very nervous and shy as he stood up between the coroner and the jury to give his evidence.

  "Whatever are we going to hear now?" whispered Mr. Lindsey in my ear. "Didn't I tell you there'd be revelations about Gilverthwaite, Hugh, my lad? Well, there's something coming out! But what can this parson know?"

  As it soon appeared, Mr. Ridley knew a good deal. After a bit of preliminary questioning, making things right in the proper legal fashion as to who he was, and so on, the coroner put a plain inquiry to him. "Mr. Ridley, you have had some recent dealings with this man James Gilverthwaite, who has just been mentioned in connection with this inquiry?" he asked.

  "Some dealings recently——yes," answered the clergyman.

  "Just tell us, in your own way, what they were," said the coroner. "And, of course, when they took place."

  "Gilverthwaite," said Mr. Ridley, "came to me, at my vicarage, about a month or five weeks ago. I had previously seen him about the church and churchyard. He told me he was interested in parish registers, and in antiquities generally, and asked if he could see our registers, offering to pay whatever fee was charged. I allowed him to look at the registers, but I soon discovered that his interest was confined to a particular period. The fact was, he wished to examine the various entries made between 1870 and 1880. That became very plain; but as he did not express his wish in so many words, I humoured him. Still, as I was with him during the whole of the time he was looking at the books, I saw what it was that he examined."

  Here Mr. Ridley paused, glancing at the coroner.

  "That is really about all that I can tell," he said. "He only came to me on that one occasion."

  "Perhaps I can get a little more out of you, Mr. Ridley," remarked the coroner with a smile. "A question or two, now. What particular registers did this man examine? Births, deaths, marriages——which?"

  "All three, between the dates I have mentioned——1870 to 1880," replied Mr. Ridley.

  "Did you think that he was searching for some particular entry?"

  "I certainly did think so."

  "Did he seem to find it?" asked the coroner, with a shrewd glance.

  "If he did find such an entry," replied Mr. Ridley slowly, "he gave no sign of it; he did not copy or make a note of it, and he did not ask any copy of it from me. My impression——whatever it is worth——is that he did not find what he wanted in our registers. I am all the more convinced of that because——"

  Here Mr. Ridley paused, as if uncertain whether to proceed or not; but at an encouraging nod from the coroner he went on.

  "I was merely going to say——and I don't suppose it is evidence——" he added, "that I understand this man visited several of my brother clergymen in the neighbourhood on the same errand. It was talked of at the last meeting of our rural deanery."

  "Ah!" remarked the coroner significantly. "He appears, then, to have been going round examining the parish registers——we must get more evidence of that later, for I'm convinced it has a bearing on the subject of this present inquiry. But a question or two more, Mr. Ridley. There are stipulated fees for searching the registers, I believe. Did Gilverthwaite pay them in your case?"

  Mr. Ridley smiled.

  "He not only paid the fees," he answered, "but he forced me to accept something for the poor box. He struck me as being a man who was inclined to be free with his money."

  The coroner looked at the solicitor who was representing the police.

  "I don't know if you want to ask this witness any questions?" he inquired.

  "Yes," said the solicitor. He turned to Mr. Ridley. "You heard what the witness Hugh Moneylaws said?——that Gilverthwaite mentioned on his coming to Berwick that he had kinsfolk buried in the neighbourhood? You did? Well, Mr. Ridley, do you know if there are people of that name buried in your churchyard?"

  "There are not," replied Mr. Ridley promptly. "What is more, the name Gilverthwaite does not occur in our parish registers. I have a complete index of the registers from 1580, when they began to be kept, and there is no such name in it. I can also tell you this," he added, "I am, I think I may say, something of an authority on the parish registers of this district——I have prepared and edited several of them for publication, and I am familiar with most of them. I do not think that name, Gilverthwaite, occurs in any of them."

  "What do you deduce from that, now?" asked the solicitor.

  "That whatever it was that the man was searching for——and I am sure he was searching——it was not for particulars of his father's family," answered Mr. Ridley. "That is, of course, if his name really was what he gave it out to be——Gilverthwaite."

  "Precisely!" said the coroner. "It may have been an assumed name."

  "The man may have been searching for particulars of his mother's family," remarked the solicitor.

  "That line of thought would carry us too far afield just now," said the coroner. He turned to the jury. "I've allowed this evidence about the man Gilverthwaite, gentlemen," he said, "because it's very evident that Gilverthwaite came to this neighbourhood for some special purpose and wanted to get some particular information; and it's more than probable that the man into the circumstances of whose death we're inquiring was concerned with him in his purpose. But we cannot go any further today," he concluded, "and I shall adjourn the inquiry for a fortnight, when, no doubt, there'll be more evidence to put before you."

  I think that the folk who had crowded into that room, all agog to hear whatever could be told, went out of it more puzzled than when they came in. They split up into groups outside the inn, and began to discuss matters amongst themselves. And presently two sharp-looking young fellows, whom I had seen taking notes at the end of the big table whereat the coroner and the officials sat, came up to me, and telling me that they were reporters, specially sent over, one from Edinburgh, the other from Newcastle, begged me to give them a faithful and detailed account of my doings and experiences on the night of the murder——there was already vast interest in this affair all over the country, they affirmed, and whatever I could or would tell them would make splendid reading and be printed in big type in their journals. But Mr. Lindsey, who was close by, seized my arm and steered me away from these persistent seekers after copy.

  "Not just now, my lads!" said he good-humouredly. "You've got plenty enough to go on with——you've heard plenty in there this morning to keep your readers going for a bit. Not a word, Hugh! And as for you, gentlemen, if you want to do something towards clearing up this mystery, and assisting justice, there's something you can do——and nobody can do it better."

  "What's that?" asked one of them eagerly.

  "Ask through your columns for the relations, friends, acquaintances, anybody who knows them or aught about them, of these two men, James Gilverthwaite and John Phillips," replied Mr. Lindsey. "Noise it abroad as much as you like and can! If they've folk belonging to them, let them come forward. For," he went on, giving them a knowing look, "there's a bigger mystery in this affair than any one of us has any conception of, and the more we can find out the sooner it'll be solved. And I'll say this to you young fellows: the press can do more than the police. There's a hint for you!"

  Then he led me off, and we got into the trap in which he and I had driven out from Berwick, and as soon as we had started homeward he fell into a brown study and continued in it until we were in sight of the town.

  "Hugh, my lad!" he suddenly exclaimed, at last starting out of his reverie. "I'd give a good deal if I could see daylight in this affair! I've had two-and-twenty years' experience of the law, and I've known some queer matters, and some dark matters, and some ugly matters in my time; but hang me if I ever knew one that promises to be as ugly and as dark and as queer as this does——that's a fact!"

  "You're thinking it's all that, Mr. Lindsey?" I asked, knowing him as I did to be an uncommonly sharp man.

  "I'm thinking there's more than meets the eye," he answered. "Bloody murder we know there is——maybe there'll be more, or maybe there has been more already. What was that deep old fish Gilverthwaite after? What took place between Phillips's walking out of that inn at Coldstream Bridge and your finding of his body? Who met Phillips? Who did him to his death? And what were the two of 'em after in this corner of the country? Black mystery, my lad, on all hands!"

  I made no answer just then. I was thinking, wondering if I should tell him about my meeting with Sir Gilbert Carstairs at the cross-roads. Mr. Lindsey was just the man you could and would tell anything to, and it would maybe have been best if I had told him of that matter there and then. But there's a curious run of caution and reserve in our family. I got it from both father and mother, and deepened it on my own account, and I could not bring myself to be incriminating and suspicioning a man whose presence so near the place of the murder might be innocent enough. So I held my tongue.

  "I wonder will all the stuff in the newspapers bring any one forward?" he said, presently. "It ought to!——if there is anybody."

  Nothing, however, was heard by the police or by ourselves for the next three or four days; and then——I think it was the fourth day after the inquest——I looked up from my desk in Mr. Lindsey's outer office one afternoon to see Maisie Dunlop coming in at the door, followed by an elderly woman, poorly but respectably dressed, a stranger.

  "Hugh," said Maisie, coming up to my side, "your mother asked me to bring this woman up to see Mr. Lindsey. She's just come in from the south, and she says she's yon James Gilverthwaite's sister."

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