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Dead Men's Money(Chapter18)

2006-08-28 23:37

  Chapter XVIII. The Ice Ax

  The police put Carter in the dock before a full bench of magistrates next morning, and the court was so crowded that it was all Mr. Lindsey and I could do to force our way to the solicitors' table. Several minor cases came on before Carter was brought up from the cells, and during this hearing I had leisure to look round the court and see who was there. And almost at once I saw Sir Gilbert Carstairs, who, though not yet a justice of the peace——his commission to that honourable office arrived a few days later, oddly enough,——had been given a seat on the bench, in company with one or two other local dignitaries, one of whom, I observed with some curiosity, was that Reverend Mr. Ridley who had given evidence at the inquest on Phillips. All these folk, it was easy to see, were in a high state of inquisitiveness about Crone's murder; and from certain whispers that I overheard, I gathered that the chief cause of this interest lay in a generally accepted opinion that it was, as Mr. Lindsey had declared to me more than once, all of a piece with the crime of the previous week. And it was very easy to observe that they were not so curious to see Carter as to hear what might be alleged against him.

  There appeared to be some general surprise when Mr. Lindsey quietly announced that he was there on behalf of the prisoner. You would have thought from the demeanour of the police that, in their opinion, there was nothing for the bench to do but hear a bit of evidence and commit Carter straight away to the Assizes to take his trial for wilful murder. What evidence they did bring forward was, of course, plain and straightforward enough. Crone had been found lying in a deep pool in the River Till; but the medical testimony showed that he had met his fate by a blow from some sharp instrument, the point of which had penetrated the skull and the frontal part of the brain in such a fashion as to cause instantaneous death. The man in the dock had been apprehended with Crone's purse in his possession——therefore, said the police, he had murdered and robbed Crone. As I say, Mr. Murray and all of them——as you could see——were quite of the opinion that this was sufficient; and I am pretty sure that the magistrates were of the same way of thinking. And the police were not over well pleased, and the rest of the folk in court were, to say the least, a little mystified, when Mr. Lindsey asked a few questions of two witnesses——of whom Chisholm was one, and the doctor who had been fetched to Crone's body the other. And before setting down what questions they were that Mr. Lindsey asked, I will remark here that there was a certain something, a sort of mysterious hinting in his manner of asking them, that suggested a lot more than the mere questions themselves, and made people begin to whisper amongst each other that Lawyer Lindsey knew things that he was not just then minded to let out.

  It was to Chisholm that he put his first questions——casually, as if they were very ordinary ones, and yet with an atmosphere of meaning behind them that excited curiosity.

  "You made a very exhaustive search of the neighbourhood of the spot where Crone's body was found, didn't you?" he inquired.

  "A thorough search," answered Chisholm.

  "You found the exact spot where the man had been struck down?"

  "Judging by the marks of blood——yes."

  "On the river-bank——between the river and a coppice, wasn't it?"

  "Just so——between the bank and the coppice."

  "How far had the body been dragged before it was thrown into the river?"

  "Ten yards," replied Chisholm promptly.

  "Did you notice any footprints?" asked Mr. Lindsey.

  "It would be difficult to trace any," explained Chisholm. "The grass is very thick in some places, and where it isn't thick it's that close and wiry in texture that a boot wouldn't make any impression."

  "One more question," said Mr. Lindsey, leaning forward and looking Chisholm full in the face. "When you charged the man there in the dock with the murder of Abel Crone, didn't he at once——instantly!——show the greatest surprise? Come, now, on your oath——yes or no?"

  "Yes!" admitted Chisholm; "he did."

  "But he just as readily admitted he was in possession of Crone's purse? Again——yes or no?"

  "Yes," said Chisholm. "Yes——that's so."

  That was all Mr. Lindsey asked Chisholm. It was not much more that he asked the doctor. But there was more excitement about what he did ask him——arising out of something that he did in asking it.

  "There's been talk, doctor, as to what the precise weapon was which caused the fatal injury to this man Crone," he said. "It's been suggested that the wound which occasioned his death might have been——and probably was——caused by a blow from a salmon gaff. What is your opinion?"

  "It might have been," said the doctor cautiously.

  "It was certainly caused by a pointed weapon——some sort of a spiked weapon?" suggested Mr. Lindsey.

  "A sharp, pointed weapon, most certainly," affirmed the doctor.

  "There are other things than a salmon gaff that, in your opinion, could have caused it?"

  "Oh, of course!" said the doctor.

  Mr. Lindsey paused a moment, and looked round the court as if he were thinking over his next question. Then he suddenly plunged his hand under the table at which he was standing, and amidst a dead silence drew out a long, narrow brown-paper parcel which I had seen him bring to the office that morning. Quietly, while the silence grew deeper and the interest stronger, he produced from this an object such as I had never seen before——an implement or weapon about three feet in length, its shaft made of some tough but evidently elastic wood, furnished at one end with a strong iron ferrule, and at the other with a steel head, one extremity of which was shaped like a carpenter's adze, while the other tapered off to a fine point. He balanced this across his open palms for a moment, so that the court might see it——then he passed it over to the witness-box.

  "Now, doctor," he said, "look at that——which is one of the latest forms of the ice-ax. Could that wound have been caused by that——or something very similar to it?"

  The witness put a forefinger on the sharp point of the head.

  "Certainly!" he answered. "It is much more likely to have been caused by such an implement as this than by a salmon gaff."

  Mr. Lindsey reached out his hand for the ice-ax, and, repossessing himself of it, passed it and its brown-paper wrapping to me.

  "Thank you, doctor," he said; "that's all I wanted to know." He turned to the bench. "I wish to ask your worships, if it is your intention, on the evidence you have heard, to commit the prisoner on the capital charge today?" he asked. "If it is, I shall oppose such a course. What I do ask, knowing what I do, is that you should adjourn this case for a week——when I shall have some evidence to put before you which, I think, will prove that this man did not kill Abel Crone."

  There was some discussion. I paid little attention to it, being considerably amazed at the sudden turn which things had taken, and astonished altogether by Mr. Lindsey's production of the ice-ax. But the discussion ended in Mr. Lindsey having his own way, and Carter was remanded in custody, to be brought up again a week later; and presently we were all out in the streets, in groups, everybody talking excitedly about what had just taken place, and speculating on what it was that Lawyer Lindsey was after. Mr. Lindsey himself, however, was more imperturbable and, if anything, cooler than usual. He tapped me on the arm as we went out of court, and at the same time took the parcel containing the ice-ax from me.

  "Hugh," he said; "there's nothing more to do today, and I'm going out of town at once, until tomorrow. You can lock up the office now, and you and the other two can take a holiday. I'm going straight home and then to the station."

  He turned hurriedly away in the direction of his house, and I went off to the office to carry out his instructions. There was nothing strange in his giving us a holiday——it was a thing he often did in summer, on fine days when we had nothing much to do, and this was a gloriously fine day and the proceedings in court had been so short that it was not yet noon. So I packed off the two junior clerks and the office lad, and locked up, and went away myself——and in the street outside I met Sir Gilbert Carstairs. He was coming along in our direction, evidently deep in thought, and he started a little as he looked up and saw me.

  "Hullo, Moneylaws!" he said in his off-hand fashion. "I was just wanting to see you. I say!" he went on, laying a hand on my arm, "you're dead certain that you've never mentioned to a soul but myself anything about that affair of yours and Crone's——you know what I mean?"

  "Absolutely certain, Sir Gilbert!" I answered. "There's no living being knows——but yourself."

  "That's all right," he said, and I could see he was relieved. "I don't want mixing up with these matters——I should very much dislike it. What's Lindsey trying to get at in his defence of this man Carter?"

  "I can't think," I replied. "Unless it is that he's now inclining to the theory of the police that Phillips was murdered by some man or men who followed him from Peebles, and that the same man or men murdered Crone. I think that must be it: there were some men——tourists——about, who haven't been found yet."

  He hesitated a moment, and then glanced at our office door.

  "Lindsey in?" he asked.

  "No, Sir Gilbert," I replied. "He's gone out of town and given us a holiday."

  "Oh!" he said, looking at me with a sudden smile. "You've got a holiday, have you, Moneylaws? Look here——I'm going for a run in my bit of a yacht——come with me! How soon can you be ready?"

  "As soon as I've taken my dinner, Sir Gilbert," I answered, pleased enough at the invitation. "Would an hour do?"

  "You needn't bother about your dinner," he said. "I'm having a lunch basket packed now at the hotel, and I'll step in and tell them to put in enough for two. Go and get a good thick coat, and meet me down at the front in half an hour."

  I ran off home, told my mother where I was going, and hurried away to the river-side. The Tweed was like a mirror flashing back the sunlight that day, and out beyond its mouth the open sea was bright and blue as the sky above. How could I foresee that out there, in those far-off dancing waters, there was that awaiting me of which I can only think now, when it is long past, with fear and horror?

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