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Dead Men's Money(Chapter5)

2006-08-28 23:34

  Chapter V. The Brass-Bound Chest

  The police-sergeant had got off his bicycle at the same time that I jumped from mine, and he was close behind me when Maisie and I met, and I heard him give a sharp whistle at her news. And as for me, I was dumbfounded, for though I had seen well enough that Mr. Gilverthwaite was very ill when I left him, I was certainly a long way from thinking him like to die. Indeed, I was so astonished that all I could do was to stand staring at Maisie in the grey light which was just coming between the midnight and the morning. But the sergeant found his tongue more readily.

  "I suppose he died in his bed, miss?" he asked softly. "Mr. Hugh here said he was ill; it would be a turn for the worse, no doubt, after Mr. Hugh left him?"

  "He died suddenly just after eleven o'clock," answered Maisie; "and your mother sought you at Mr. Lindsey's office, Hugh, and when she found you weren't there, she came down to our house, and I had to tell her that you'd come out this way on an errand for Mr. Gilverthwaite. And I told her, too, what I wasn't so sure of myself, that there'd no harm come to you of it, and that you'd be back soon after twelve, and I went down to your house and waited with her; and when you didn't come, and didn't come, why, I got Tom here to get our bicycles out and we came to seek you. And let's be getting back, for your mother's anxious about you, and the man's death has upset her——he went all at once, she said, while she was with him."

  We all got on our bicycles again and set off homewards, and Chisholm wheeled alongside me and we dropped behind a little.

  "This is a strange affair," said he, in a low voice; "and it's like to be made stranger by this man's sudden death. I'd been looking to him to get news of this other man. What do you know of Mr. Gilverthwaite, now?"

  "Nothing!" said I.

  "But he's lodged with you seven weeks?" said he.

  "If you'd known him, sergeant," I answered, "you'd know that he was this sort of man——you'd know no more of him at the end of seven months than you would at the end of seven weeks, and no more at the end of seven years than at the end of seven months. We knew nothing, my mother and I, except that he was a decent, well-spoken man, free with his money and having plenty of it, and that his name was what he called it, and that he said he'd been a master mariner. But who he was, or where he came from, I know no more than you do."

  "Well, he'll have papers, letters, something or other that'll throw some light on matters, no doubt?" he suggested. "Can you say as to that?"

  "I can tell you that he's got a chest in his chamber that's nigh as heavy as if it were made of solid lead," I answered. "And doubtless he'll have a key on him or about him that'll unlock it. But what might be in it, I can't say, never having seen him open it at any time."

  "Well," he said, "I'll have to bring the superintendent down, and we must trouble your mother to let us take a look at this Mr. Gilverthwaite's effects. Had he a doctor to him since he was taken ill?"

  "Dr. Watson——this——I mean yesterday——afternoon," I answered.

  "Then there'll be no inquest in his case," said the sergeant, "for the doctor'll be able to certify. But there'll be a searching inquiry in this murder affair, and as Gilverthwaite sent you to meet the man that's been murdered——"

  "Wait a bit!" said I. "You don't know, and I don't, that the man who's been murdered is the man I was sent to meet. The man I was to meet may have been the murderer; you don't know who the murdered man is. So you'd better put it this way: since Gilverthwaite sent me to meet some man at the place where this murder's been committed——well?"

  "That'll be one of your lawyer's quibbles," said he calmly. "My meaning's plain enough——we'll want to find out, if we can, who it was that Gilverthwaite sent you to meet. And——for what reason? And——where it was that the man was to wait for him? And I'll get the superintendent to come down presently."

  "Make it in, say, half an hour," said I. "This is a queer business altogether, sergeant, and I'm so much in it that I'm not going to do things on my own responsibility. I'll call Mr. Lindsey up from his bed, and get him to come down to talk over what's to be done."

  "Aye, you're in the right of it there," he said. "Mr. Lindsey'll know all the law on such matters. Half an hour or so, then."

  He made off to the county police-station, and Maisie and Tom and I went on to our house, and were presently inside. My mother was so relieved at the sight of me that she forbore to scold me at that time for going off on such an errand without telling her of my business; but she grew white as her cap when I told her of what I had chanced on, and she glanced at the stair and shook her head.

  "And indeed I wish that poor man had never come here, if it's this sort of dreadfulness follows him!" she said. "And though I was slow to say it, Hugh, I always had a feeling of mystery about him. However, he's gone now——and died that suddenly and quietly!——and we've laid him out in his bed; and——and——what's to be done now?" she exclaimed. "We don't know who he is!"

  "Don't trouble yourself, mother," said I. "You've done your duty by him. And now that you've seen I'm safe, I'm away to bring Mr. Lindsey down and he'll tell us all that should be done."

  I left Maisie and Tom Dunlop keeping my mother company and made haste to Mr. Lindsey's house, and after a little trouble roused him out of his bed and got him down to me. It was nearly daylight by that time, and the grey morning was breaking over the sea and the river as he and I walked back through the empty streets——I telling him of all the events of the night, and he listening with an occasional word of surprise. He was not a native of our parts, but a Yorkshireman that had bought a practice in the town some years before, and had gained a great character for shrewdness and ability, and I knew that he was the very man to turn to in an affair of this sort.

  "There's a lot more in this than's on the surface, Hugh, my lad," he remarked when I had made an end of my tale. "And it'll be a nice job to find out all the meaning of it, and if the man that's been murdered was the man Gilverthwaite sent you to meet, or if he's some other that got there before you, and was got rid of for some extraordinary reason that we know nothing about. But one thing's certain: we've got to get some light on your late lodger. That's step number one——and a most important one."

  The superintendent of police, Mr. Murray, a big, bustling man, was outside our house with Chisholm when we got there, and after a word or two between us, we went in, and were presently upstairs in Gilverthwaite's room. He lay there in his bed, the sheet drawn about him and a napkin over his face; and though the police took a look at him, I kept away, being too much upset by the doings of the night to stand any more just then. What I was anxious about was to get some inkling of what all this meant, and I waited impatiently to see what Mr. Lindsey would do. He was looking about the room, and when the others turned away from the dead man he pointed to Gilverthwaite's clothes, that were laid tidily folded on a chair.

  "The first thing to do is to search for his papers and his keys," he said. "Go carefully through his pockets, sergeant, and let's see what there is."

  But there was as little in the way of papers there, as there had been in the case of the murdered man. There were no letters. There was a map of the district, and under the names of several of the villages and places on either side of the Tweed, between Berwick and Kelso, heavy marks in blue pencil had been made. I, who knew something of Gilverthwaite's habits, took it that these were the places he had visited during his seven weeks' stay with us. And folded in the map were scraps of newspaper cuttings, every one of them about some antiquity or other in the neighbourhood, as if such things had an interest for him. And in another pocket was a guide-book, much thumbed, and between two of the leaves, slipped as if to mark a place, was a registered envelope.

  "That'll be what he got yesterday afternoon!" I exclaimed. "I'm certain it was whatever there was in it that made him send me out last night, and maybe the letter in it'll tell us something."

  However, there was no letter in the envelope——there was nothing. But on the envelope itself was a postmark, at which Chisholm instantly pointed.

  "Peebles!" said he. "Yon man that you found murdered——his half-ticket's for Peebles. There's something of a clue, anyway."

  They went on searching the clothing, only to find money——plenty of it, notes in an old pocket-book, and gold in a wash-leather bag——and the man's watch and chain, and his pocket-knife and the like, and a bunch of keys. And with the keys in his hand Mr. Lindsey turned to the chest.

  "If we're going to find anything that'll throw any light on the question of this man's identity, it'll be in this box," he said. "I'll take the responsibility of opening it, in Mrs. Moneylaws' interest, anyway. Lift it on to that table, and let's see if one of these keys'll fit the lock."

  There was no difficulty about finding the key——there were but a few on the bunch, and he hit on the right one straightaway, and we all crowded round him as he threw back the heavy lid. There was a curious aromatic smell came from within, a sort of mingling of cedar and camphor and spices——a smell that made you think of foreign parts and queer, far-off places. And it was indeed a strange collection of things and objects that Mr. Lindsey took out of the chest and set down on the table. There was an old cigar-box, tied about with twine, full to the brim with money——over two thousand pounds in bank-notes and gold, as we found on counting it up later on,——and there were others filled with cigars, and yet others in which the man had packed all manner of curiosities such as three of us at any rate had never seen in our lives before. But Mr. Lindsey, who was something of a curiosity collector himself, nodded his head at the sight of some of them.

  "Wherever else this man may have been in his roving life," he said, "here's one thing certain——he's spent a lot of time in Mexico and Central America. And——what was the name he told you to use as a password once you met his man, Hugh——wasn't it Panama?"

  "Panama!" I answered. "Just that——Panama."

  "Well, and he's picked up lots of these things in those parts——Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico," he said. "And very interesting matters they are. But——you see, superintendent?——there's not a paper nor anything in this chest to tell us who this man is, nor where he came from when he came here, nor where his relations are to be found, if he has any. There's literally nothing whatever of that sort."

  The police officials nodded in silence.

  "And so——there's where things are," concluded Mr. Lindsey. "You've two dead men on your hands, and you know nothing whatever about either of them!"

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