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Dead Men's Money(Chapter32)

2006-08-28 23:41

  Chapter XXXII. The Link

  I knew by one glance at Mr. Lindsey's face that he had news for us; but there was only one sort of news I was wanting at that moment, and I was just as quick to see that, whatever news he had, it was not for me. And as soon as I heard him say that nothing had been heard of Maisie Dunlop during our absence, I was for going away, meaning to start inquiries of my own in the town, there and then, dead-beat though I was. But before I could reach the door he had a hand on me.

  "You'll just come in, my lad, and sit you down to a hot supper that's waiting you and Mr. Smeaton there," he said, in that masterful way he had which took no denial from anybody. "You can do no more good just now——I've made every arrangement possible with the police, and they're scouring the countryside. So into that chair with you, and eat and drink——you'll be all the better for it. Mr. Smeaton," he went on, as he had us both to the supper-table and began to help us to food, "here's news for you——for such news as it is affects you, I'm thinking, more than any man that it has to do with. Mr. Ridley here has found out something relating to Michael Carstairs that'll change the whole course of events!——especially if we prove, as I've no doubt we shall, that Michael Carstairs was no other than your father, whom you knew as Martin Smeaton."

  Smeaton turned in his chair and looked at Mr. Ridley, who——he and Mr. Lindsey having taken their supper before we got in——was sitting in a corner by the fire, eyeing the stranger from Dundee with evident and curious interest.

  "I've heard of you, sir," said he. "You gave some evidence at the inquest on Phillips about Gilverthwaite's searching of your registers, I think?"

  "Aye; and it's a fortunate thing——and shows how one thing leads to another——that Gilverthwaite did go to Mr. Ridley!" explained Mr. Lindsey. "It set Mr. Ridley on a track, and he's been following it up, and——to cut matters short——he's found particulars of the marriage of Michael Carstairs, who was said to have died unmarried. And I wish Portlethorpe hadn't gone home to Newcastle before Mr. Ridley came to me with the news."

  Tired as I was, and utterly heart-sick about Maisie, I pricked up my ears at that. For at intervals Mr. Lindsey and I had discussed the probabilities of this affair, and I knew that there was a strong likelihood of its being found out that the mysterious Martin Smeaton was no other than the Michael Carstairs who had left Hathercleugh for good as a young man. And if it were established that he was married, and that Gavin Smeaton was his lawful son, why, then——but Mr. Ridley was speaking, and I broke off my own speculations to listen to him.

  "You've scarcely got me to thank for this, Mr. Smeaton," he said. "There was naturally a good deal of talk in the neighbourhood after that inquest on Phillips——people began wondering what that man Gilverthwaite wanted to find in the parish registers, of which, I now know, he examined a good many, on both sides the Tweed. And in the ordinary course of things——and if some one had made a definite search with a definite object——what has been found now could have been found at once. But I'll tell you how it was. Up to some thirty years ago there was an old parish church away in the loneliest part of the Cheviots which had served a village that gradually went out of existence——though it's still got a name, Walholm, there's but a house or two in it now; and as there was next to no congregation, and the church itself was becoming ruinous, the old parish was abolished, and merged in the neighbouring parish of Felside, whose rector, my friend Mr. Longfield, has the old Walholm registers in his possession. When he read of the Phillips inquest, and what I'd said then, he thought of those registers and turned them up, out of a chest where they'd lain for thirty years anyway; and he at once found the entry of the marriage of one Michael Carstairs with a Mary Smeaton, which was by licence, and performed by the last vicar of Walholm——it was, as a matter of fact, the very last marriage which ever took place in the old church. And I should say," concluded Mr. Ridley, "that it was what one would call a secret wedding——secret, at any rate, in so far as this: as it was by licence, and as the old church was a most lonely and isolated place, far away from anywhere, even then there'd be no one to know of it beyond the officiating clergyman and the witnesses, who could, of course, be asked to hold their tongues about the matter, as they probably were. But there's the copy of the entry in the old register."

  Smeaton and I looked eagerly over the slip of paper which Mr. Ridley handed across. And he, to whom it meant such a vast deal, asked but one question:

  "I wonder if I can find out anything about Mary Smeaton!"

  "Mr. Longfield has already made some quiet inquiries amongst two or three old people of the neighbourhood on that point," remarked Mr. Ridley. "The two witnesses to the marriage are both dead——years ago. But there are folk living in the neighbourhood who remember Mary Smeaton. The facts are these: she was a very handsome young woman, not a native of the district, who came in service to one of the farms on the Cheviots, and who, by a comparison of dates, left her place somewhat suddenly very soon after that marriage."

  Smeaton turned to Mr. Lindsey in the same quiet fashion.

  "What do you make of all this?" he asked.

  "Plain as a pikestaff," answered Mr. Lindsey in his most confident manner. "Michael Carstairs fell in love with this girl and married her, quietly——as Mr. Ridley says, seeing that the marriage was by licence, it's probable, nay, certain, that nobody but the parson and the witnesses ever knew anything about it. I take it that immediately after the marriage Michael Carstairs and his wife went off to America, and that he, for reasons of his own, dropped his own proper patronymic and adopted hers. And," he ended, slapping his knee, "I've no doubt that you're the child of that marriage, that your real name is Gavin Carstairs, and that you're the successor to the baronetcy, and——the real owner of Hathercleugh,——as I shall have pleasure in proving."

  "We shall see," said Smeaton, quietly as ever. "But——there's a good deal to do before we get to that, Mr. Lindsey! The present holder, or claimant, for example? What of him?"

  "I've insisted on the police setting every bit of available machinery to work in an effort to lay hands on him," replied Mr. Lindsey. "Murray not only communicated all that Hollins told us last night to the Glasgow police this morning, first thing, but he's sent a man over there with the fullest news; he's wired the London authorities, and he's asked for special detective help. He's got a couple of detectives from Newcastle——all's being done that can be done. And for you too, Hugh, my lad!" he added, turning suddenly to me. "Whatever the police are doing in the other direction, they're doing in yours. For, ugly as it may sound and seem, there's nothing like facing facts, and I'm afraid, I'm very much afraid, that this disappearance of Maisie Dunlop is all of a piece with the rest of the villainy that's been going on——I am indeed!"

  I pushed my plate away at that, and got on my feet. I had been dreading as much myself, all day, but I had never dared put it into words.

  "You mean, Mr. Lindsey, that she's somehow got into the hands of——what?——who?" I asked him.

  "Something and somebody that's at the bottom of all this!" he answered, shaking his head. "I'm afraid, lad, I'm afraid!"

  I went away from all of them then, and nobody made any attempt to stop me, that time——maybe they saw in my face that it was useless. I left the house, and went——unconsciously, I think——away through the town to my mother's, driving my nails into the palms of my hands, and cursing Sir Gilbert Carstairs——if that was the devil's name!——between my teeth. And from cursing him, I fell to cursing myself, that I hadn't told at once of my seeing him at those crossroads on the night I went the errand for Gilverthwaite.

  It had been late when Smeaton and I had got to Mr. Lindsey's, and the night was now fallen on the town——a black, sultry night, with great clouds overhead that threatened a thunderstorm. Our house was in a badly-lighted part of the street, and it was gloomy enough about it as I drew near, debating in myself what further I could do——sleep I knew I should not until I had news of Maisie. And in the middle of my speculations a man came out of the corner of a narrow lane that ran from the angle of our house, and touched me on the elbow. There was a shaft of light just there from a neighbour's window; in it I recognized the man as a fellow named Scott that did odd gardening jobs here and there in the neighbourhood.

  "Wisht, Mr. Hugh!" said he, drawing me into the shadows of the lane; "I've been waiting your coming; there's a word I have for you——between ourselves."

  "Well?" said I.

  "I hear you're promising ten pounds——cash on the spot——to the man that can give you some news of your young lady?" he went on eagerly. "Is it right, now?"

  "Can you?" I asked. "For if you can, you'll soon see that it's right."

  "You'd be reasonable about it?" he urged, again taking the liberty to grip my arm. "If I couldn't just exactly give what you'd call exact and definite news, you'd consider it the same thing if I made a suggestion, wouldn't you, now, Mr. Hugh?——a suggestion that would lead to something?"

  "Aye, would I!" I exclaimed. "And if you've got any suggestions, Scott, out with them, and don't beat about! Tell me anything that'll lead to discovery, and you'll see your ten pound quickly."

  "Well," he answered, "I have to be certain, for I'm a poor man, as you know, with a young family, and it would be a poor thing for me to hint at aught that would take the bread out of their mouths——and my own. And I have the chance of a fine, regular job now at Hathercleugh yonder, and I wouldn't like to be putting it in peril."

  "It's Hathercleugh you're talking of, then?" I asked him eagerly. "For God's sake, man, out with it! What is it you can tell me?"

  "Not a word to a soul of what I say, then, at any time, present or future, Mr. Hugh?" he urged.

  "Oh, man, not a word!" I cried impatiently. "I'll never let on that I had speech of you in the matter!"

  "Well, then," he whispered, getting himself still closer: "mind you, I can't say anything for certain——it's only a hint I'm giving you; but if I were in your shoes, I'd take a quiet look round yon old part of Hathercleugh House——I would so! It's never used, as you'll know——nobody ever goes near it; but, Mr. Hugh, whoever and however it is, there's somebody in it now!"

  "The old part!" I exclaimed. "The Tower part?"

  "Aye, surely!" he answered. "If you could get quietly to it——"

  I gave his arm a grip that might have told him volumes.

  "I'll see you privately tomorrow, Scott," I said. "And if your news is any good——man! there'll be your ten pound in your hand as soon as I set eyes on you!"

  And therewith I darted away from him and headlong into our house doorway.

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