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Dead Men's Money(Chapter21)

2006-08-28 23:38

  Chapter XXI. Mr. Gavin Smeaton

  I walked into a room right at the top of the building, wherein a young man of thirty or thereabouts was sitting at a desk, putting together a quantity of letters which a lad, standing at his side, was evidently about to carry to the post. He was a good-looking, alert, businesslike sort of young man this, of a superior type of countenance, very well dressed, and altogether a noticeable person. What first struck me about him was, that though he gave me a quick glance when, having first tapped at his door and walked inside his office, I stood there confronting him, he finished his immediate concern before giving me any further attention. It was not until he had given all the letters to the lad and bade him hurry off to the post, that he turned to me with another sharp look and one word of interrogation.

  "Yes?" he said.

  "Mr. Gavin Smeaton?" asked I.

  "That's my name," he answered. "What can I do for you?"

  Up to that moment I had not the least idea as to the exact reasons which had led me to climb those stairs. The truth was I had acted on impulse. And now that I was actually in the presence of a man who was obviously a very businesslike and matter-of-fact sort of person, I felt awkward and tongue-tied. He was looking me over all the time as if there was a wonder in his mind about me, and when I was slow in answering he stirred a bit impatiently in his chair.

  "My business hours are over for the day," he said. "If it's business——"

  "It's not business in the ordinary sense, Mr. Smeaton," I made shift to get out. "But it is business for all that. The fact is——you'll remember that the Berwick police sent you a telegram some days ago asking did you know anything about a man named John Phillips?"

  He showed a sudden interest at that, and he regarded me with a slight smile.

  "You aren't a detective?" he inquired.

  "No——I'm a solicitor's clerk," I replied. "From Berwick——my principal, Mr. Lindsey, has to do with that case."

  He nodded at a pile of newspapers, which stood, with a heavy book on top of it, on a side table near his desk.

  "So I see from these papers," he remarked. "I've read all I could about the affairs of both Phillips and Crone, ever since I heard that my name and address had been found on Phillips. Has any further light been thrown on that? Of course, there was nothing much in my name and address being found on the man, nor would there be if they were found on any man. As you see, I'm a general agent for various sorts of foreign merchandise, and this man had likely been recommended to me——especially if he was from America."

  "There's been no further light on that matter, Mr. Smeaton," I answered. He had pointed me to a chair at his desk side by that time, and we were mutually inspecting each other. "Nothing more has been heard on that point."

  "Then——have you come purposely to see me about it?" he asked.

  "Not at all!" said I. "I was passing along this street below, and I saw your name on the door, and I remembered it——and so I just came up."

  "Oh!" he said, looking at me rather blankly. "You're staying in Dundee——taking a holiday?"

  "I came to Dundee in a fashion I'd not like to follow on any other occasion!" said I. "If a man hadn't lent me this suit of clothes and a sovereign, I'd have come ashore in my undergarments and without a penny."

  He stared at me more blankly than ever when I let this out on him, and suddenly he laughed.

  "What riddle's all this?" he asked. "It sounds like a piece out of a story-book——one of those tales of adventure."

  "Aye, does it?" said I. "Only, in my case, Mr. Smeaton, fact's been a lot stranger than fiction! You've read all about this Berwick mystery in the newspapers?"

  "Every word——seeing that I was mentioned," he answered.

  "Then I'll give you the latest chapter," I continued. "You'll know my name when you hear it——Hugh Moneylaws. It was I discovered Phillips's dead body."

  I saw that he had been getting more and more interested as we talked——at the mention of my name his interest obviously increased. And suddenly he pulled a box of cigars towards him, took one out, and pushed the box to me.

  "Help yourself, Mr. Moneylaws——and go ahead," he said. "I'm willing to hear as many chapters as you like of this story."

  I shook my head at the cigars and went on to tell him of all that had happened since the murder of Crone. He was a good listener——he took in every detail, every point, quietly smoking while I talked, and never interrupting me. And when I had made an end, he threw up his head with a significant gesture that implied much.

  "That beats all the story-books!" he exclaimed. "I'm glad to see you're safe, anyway, Mr. Moneylaws——and your mother and your young lady'll be glad too."

  "They will that, Mr. Smeaton," I said. "I'm much obliged to you."

  "You think that man really meant you to drown?" he asked.

  "What would you think yourself, Mr. Smeaton?" I replied. "Besides——didn't I see his face as he got himself and his yacht away from me? Yon man is a murderer!"

  "It's a queer, strange business," he remarked, nodding his head. "You'll be thinking now, of course, that it was he murdered both Phillips and Crone——eh?"

  "Aye, I do think that!" said I. "What else? And he wanted to silence me because I'm the only living person that could let out about seeing him at the cross-roads that night and could prove that Crone saw him too. My own impression is that Crone went straight to him after his talk with me——and paid the penalty."

  "That's likely," he assented. "But what do you think made him turn on you so suddenly, yesterday, when things looked like going smoothly about everything, and he'd given you that stewardship——which was, of course, to stop your mouth?"

  "I'll tell you," I said. "It was Mr. Lindsey's fault——he let out too much at the police-court. Carstairs was there——he'd a seat on the bench——and Mr. Lindsey frightened him. Maybe it was yon ice-ax. Mr. Lindsey's got some powerful card up his sleeve about that——what it is I don't know. But I'm certain now——now!——that Carstairs took a fear into his head at those proceedings yesterday morning, and he thought he'd settle me once and for all before I could be drawn into it and forced to say things that would be against him."

  "I daresay you're right," he agreed. "Well!——it is indeed a strange affair, and there'll be some stranger revelations yet. I'd like to see this Mr. Lindsey——you're sure he'll come to you here?"

  "Aye!——unless there's been an earthquake between here and Tweed!" I declared. "He'll be here, right enough, Mr. Smeaton, before many hours are over. And he'll like to see you. You can't think, now, of how, or why, yon Phillips man could have got that bit of letter paper of yours on him? It was like that," I added, pointing to a block of memorandum forms that stood in his stationery case at the desk before him. "Just the same!"

  "I can't," said he. "But——there's nothing unusual in that; some correspondent of mine might have handed it to him——torn it off one of my letters, do you see? I've correspondents in a great many seaports and mercantile centres——both here and in America."

  "These men will appear to have come from Central America," I remarked. "They'd seem to have been employed, one way or another, on that Panama Canal affair that there's been so much in the papers about these last few years. You'd notice that in the accounts, Mr. Smeaton?"

  "I did," he replied. "And it interested me, because I'm from those parts myself——I was born there."

  He said that as if this fact was of no significance. But the news made me prick up my ears.

  "Do you tell me that!" said I. "Where, now, if it's a fair question?"

  "New Orleans——near enough, anyway, to those parts," he answered. "But I was sent across here when I was ten years old, to be educated and brought up, and here I've been ever since."

  "But——you're a Scotsman?" I made bold to ask him.

  "Aye——on both sides——though I was born out of Scotland," he answered with a laugh. And then he got out of his chair. "It's mighty interesting, all this," he went on. "But I'm a married man, and my wife'll be wanting dinner for me. Now, will you bring Mr. Lindsey to see me in the morning——if he comes?"

  "He'll come——and I'll bring him," I answered. "He'll be right glad to see you, too——for it may be, Mr. Smeaton, that there is something to be traced out of that bit of letter paper of yours, yet."

  "It may be," he agreed. "And if there's any help I can give, it's at your disposal. But you'll be finding this——you're in a dark lane, with some queer turnings in it, before you come to the plain outcome of all this business!"

  We went down into the street together, and after he had asked if there was anything he could do for me that night, and I had assured him there was not, we parted with an agreement that Mr. Lindsey and I should call at his office early next morning. When he had left me, I sought out a place where I could get some supper, and, that over, I idled about the town until it was time for the train from the south to get in. And I was on the platform when it came, and there was my mother and Maisie and Mr. Lindsey, and I saw at a glance that all that was filling each was sheer and infinite surprise. My mother gripped me on the instant.

  "Hugh!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here, and what does all this mean? Such a fright as you've given us! What's the meaning of it?"

  I was so taken aback, having been certain that Carstairs would have gone home and told them I was accidentally drowned, that all I could do was to stare from one to the other. As for Maisie, she only looked wonderingly at me; as for Mr. Lindsey, he gazed at me as scrutinizingly as my mother was doing.

  "Aye!" said he, "what's the meaning of it, young man? We've done your bidding and more——but——why?"

  I found my tongue at that.

  "What!" I exclaimed. "Haven't you seen Sir Gilbert Carstairs? Didn't you hear from him that——"

  "We know nothing about Sir Gilbert Carstairs," he interrupted. "The fact is, my lad, that until your wire arrived this afternoon, nobody had even heard of you and Sir Gilbert Carstairs since you went off in his yacht yesterday. Neither he nor the yacht have ever returned to Berwick. Where are they?"

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