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Dead Men's Money(Chapter9)

2006-08-28 23:35

  Chapter IX. The Marine-Store Dealer

  Mr. Lindsey was standing just within his own room when Maisie and the strange woman came into the office, and hearing what was said, he called us all three to go into him. And, like myself, he looked at the woman with a good deal of curiosity, wanting——as I did——to see some likeness to the dead man. But there was no likeness to be seen, for whereas Gilverthwaite was a big and stalwart fellow, this was a small and spare woman, whose rusty black clothes made her look thinner and more meagre than she really was. All the same, when she spoke I knew there was a likeness between them, for her speech was like his, different altogether from ours of the Border.

  "So you believe you're the sister of this man James Gilverthwaite, ma'am?" began Mr. Lindsey, motioning the visitor to sit down, and beckoning Maisie to stop with us. "What might your name be, now?"

  "I believe this man that's talked about in the newspapers is my brother, sir," answered the woman. "Else I shouldn't have taken the trouble to come all this way. My name's Hanson——Mrs. Hanson. I come from Garston, near Liverpool."

  "Aye——just so——a Lancashire woman," said Mr. Lindsey, nodding. "Your name would be Gilverthwaite, then, before you were married?"

  "To be sure, sir——same as James's," she replied. "Him and me was the only two there was. I've brought papers with me that'll prove what I say. I went to a lawyer before ever I came, and he told me to come at once, and to bring my marriage lines, and a copy of James's birth certificate, and one or two other things of that sort. There's no doubt that this man we've read about in the newspapers was my brother, and of course I would like to put in my claim to what he's left——if he's left it to nobody else."

  "Just so," agreed Mr. Lindsey. "Aye——and how long is it since you last saw your brother, now?"

  The woman shook her head as if this question presented difficulties.

  "I couldn't rightly say to a year or two, no, not even to a few years," she answered. "And to the best of my belief, sir, it'll be a good thirty years, at the least. It was just after I was married to Hanson, and that was when I was about three-and-twenty, and I was fifty-six last birthday. James came——once——to see me and Hanson soon after we was settled down, and I've never set eyes on him from that day to this. But——I should know him now."

  "He was buried yesterday," remarked Mr. Lindsey. "It's a pity you didn't telegraph to some of us."

  "The lawyer I went to, sir, said, 'Go yourself!'" replied Mrs. Hanson. "So I set off——first thing this morning."

  "Let me have a look at those papers," said Mr. Lindsey.

  He motioned me to his side, and together we looked through two or three documents which the woman produced.

  The most important was a certified copy of James Gilverthwaite's birth certificate, which went to prove that this man had been born in Liverpool about sixty-two years previously; that, as Mr. Lindsey was quick to point out, fitted in with what Gilverthwaite had told my mother and myself about his age.

  "Well," he said, turning to Mrs. Hanson, "you can answer some questions, no doubt, about your brother, and about matters in relation to him. First of all, do you know if any of your folks hailed from this part?"

  "Not that I ever heard of, sir," she replied. "No, I'm sure they wouldn't. They were all Lancashire folks, on both sides. I know all about them as far back as my great-grandfather's and great-grandmother's."

  "Do you know if your brother ever came to Berwick as a lad?" asked Mr. Lindsey, with a glance at me.

  "He might ha' done that, sir," said Mrs. Hanson. "He was a great, masterful, strong lad, and he'd run off to sea by the time he was ten years old——there'd been no doing aught with him for a couple of years before that. I knew that when he was about twelve or thirteen he was on a coasting steamer that used to go in and out of Sunderland and Newcastle, and he might have put in here."

  "To be sure," said Mr. Lindsey. "But what's more important is to get on to his later history. You say you've never seen him for thirty years, or more? But have you never heard of him?"

  She nodded her head with decision at that question.

  "Yes," she replied, "I have heard of him——just once. There was a man, a neighbour of ours, came home from Central America, maybe five years ago, and he told us he'd seen our James out there, and that he was working as a sub-contractor, or something of that sort, on that Panama Canal there was so much talk about in them days."

  Mr. Lindsey and I looked at each other. Panama!——that was the password which James Gilverthwaite had given me. So——here, at any rate, was something, however little, that had the makings of a clue in it.

  "Aye!" he said, "Panama, now? He was there? And that's the last you ever heard?"

  "That's the very last we ever heard, sir," she answered. "Till, of course, we saw these pieces in the papers this last day or two."

  Mr. Lindsey twisted round on her with a sharp look.

  "Do you know aught of that man, John Phillips, whose name's in the papers too?" he asked.

  "No, sir, nothing!" she replied promptly. "Never heard tell of him!"

  "And you've never heard of your brother's having been seen in Liverpool of late?" he went on. "Never heard that he called to see any old friends at all? For we know, as you have seen in the papers, Mrs. Hanson, that he was certainly in Liverpool, and bought clothes and linen there, within this last three months."

  "He never came near me, sir," she said. "And I never heard word of his being there from anybody."

  There was a bit of a silence then, and at last the woman put the question which, it was evident, she was anxious to have answered definitely.

  "Do you think there's a will, mister?" she asked. "For, if not, the lawyer I went to said what there was would come to me——and I could do with it."

  "We've seen nothing of any will," answered Mr. Lindsey. "And I should say there is none, and on satisfactory proof of your being next-of-kin, you'll get all he left. I've no doubt you're his sister, and I'll take the responsibility of going through his effects with you. You'll be stopping in the town a day or two? Maybe your mother, Hugh, can find Mrs. Hanson a lodging?"

  I answered that my mother would no doubt do what she could to look after Mrs. Hanson; and presently the woman went away with Maisie, leaving her papers with Mr. Lindsey. He turned to me when we were alone.

  "Some folks would think that was a bit of help to me in solving the mystery, Hugh," said he; "but hang me if I don't think it makes the whole thing more mysterious than ever! And do you know, my lad, where, in my opinion, the very beginning of it may have to be sought for?"

  "I can't put a word to that, Mr. Lindsey," I answered. "Where, sir?"

  "Panama!" he exclaimed, with a jerk of his head. "Panama! just that! It began a long way off——Panama, as far as I see it. And what did begin, and what was going on? The two men that knew, and could have told, are dead as door-nails——and both buried, for that matter."

  So, in spite of Mrs. Hanson's coming and her revelations as to some, at any rate, of James Gilverthwaite's history, we were just as wise as ever at the end of the first week after the murder of John Phillips. And it was just the eighth night after my finding of the body that I got into the hands of Abel Crone.

  Abel Crone was a man that had come to Berwick about three years before this, from heaven only knows where, and had set himself up in business as a marine-store dealer, in a back street which ran down to the shore of the Tweed. He was a little red-haired, pale-eyed rat of a man, with ferrety eyes and a goatee beard, quiet and peaceable in his ways and inoffensive enough, but a rare hand at gossiping about the beach and the walls——you might find him at all odd hours either in these public places or in the door of his shop, talking away with any idler like himself. And how I came to get into talk with him on that particular night was here: Tom Dunlop, Maisie's young brother, was for keeping tame rabbits just then, and I was helping him to build hutches for the beasts in his father's back-yard, and we were wanting some bits of stuff, iron and wire and the like, and knowing I would pick it up for a few pence at Crone's shop, I went round there alone. Before I knew how it came about, Crone was deep into the murder business.

  "They'll not have found much out by this time, yon police fellows, no doubt, Mr. Moneylaws?" he said, eyeing me inquisitively in the light of the one naphtha lamp that was spurting and jumping in his untidy shop. "They're a slow unoriginal lot, the police——there's no imagination in their brains and no ingenuity in their minds. What's wanted in an affair like this is one of those geniuses you read about in the storybooks——the men that can trace a murder from the way a man turns out his toes, or by the fashion he's bitten into a bit of bread that he's left on his plate, or the like of that——something more than by ordinary, you'll understand me to mean, Mr. Moneylaws?"

  "Maybe you'll be for taking a hand in this game yourself, Mr. Crone?" said I, thinking to joke with him. "You seem to have the right instinct for it, anyway."

  "Aye, well," he answered, "and I might be doing as well as anybody else, and no worse. You haven't thought of following anything up yourself, Mr. Moneylaws, I suppose?"

  "Me!" I exclaimed. "What should I be following up, man? I know no more than the mere surface facts of the affair."

  He gave a sharp glance at his open door when I thus answered him, and the next instant he was close to me in the gloom and looking sharply in my face.

  "Are you so sure of that, now?" he whispered cunningly. "Come now, I'll put a question to yourself, Mr. Moneylaws. What for did you not let on in your evidence that you saw Sir Gilbert Carstairs at yon cross-roads just before you found the dead man? Come!"

  You could have knocked me down with a feather, as the saying is, when he said that. And before I could recover from the surprise of it, he had a hand on my arm.

  "Come this way," he said. "I'll have a word with you in private."

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