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Dead Men's Money(Chapter35)

2006-08-28 23:42

  Chapter XXXV. The Swag

  I shrank back against the mouldy wall of that old stairway shivering as if I had been suddenly stricken with the ague. I had trembled in every limb before ever I heard the sound of the sudden scuffle, and from a variety of reasons——the relief of having Hollins's revolver withdrawn from my nose; the knowledge that Maisie was close by; the gradual wearing-down of my nerves during a whole day of heart-sickening suspense,——but now the trembling had deepened into utter shaking: I heard my own teeth chattering, and my heart going like a pump, as I stood there, staring at the man's face, over which a grey pallor was quickly spreading itself. And though I knew that he was as dead as ever a man can be, I called to him, and the sound of my own voice frightened me.

  "Mr. Hollins!" I cried. "Mr. Hollins!"

  And then I was frightened still more, for, as if in answer to my summons, but, of course, because of some muscular contraction following on death, the dead lips slightly parted, and they looked as if they were grinning at me. At that I lost what nerve I had left, and let out a cry, and turned to run back into the room where we had talked. But as I turned there were sounds at the foot of the stair, and the flash of a bull's-eye lamp, and I heard Chisholm's voice down in the gateway below.

  "Hullo, up there!" he was demanding. "Is there anybody above?"

  It seemed as if I was bursting my chest when I got an answer out to him.

  "Oh, man!" I shouted, "come up! There's me here——and there's murder!"

  I heard him exclaim in a dismayed and surprised fashion, and mutter some words to somebody that was evidently with him, and then there was heavy tramping below, and presently Chisholm's face appeared round the corner; and as he held his bull's-eye before him, its light fell full on Hollins, and he jumped back a step or two.

  "Mercy on us!" he let out. "What's all this? The man's lying dead!"

  "Dead enough, Chisholm!" said I, gradually getting the better of my fright. "And murdered, too! But who murdered him, God knows——I don't! He trapped me in here, not ten minutes ago, and had me at the end of a revolver, and we came to terms, and he left me——and he was no sooner down the stairs here than I heard a bit of a scuffle, and him fall and groan, and I ran out to find——that! And somebody was off and away——have you seen nobody outside there?"

  "You can't see an inch before your eyes——the night's that black," he answered, bending over the dead man. "We've only just come——round from the house. But whatever were you doing here, yourself?"

  "I came to see if I could find any trace of Miss Dunlop in this old part," I answered, "and he told me——just before this happened——she's in the tower above, and safe. And I'll go up there now, Chisholm; for if she's heard aught of all this——"

  There was another policeman with him, and they stepped past the body and followed me into the little room and looked round curiously. I left them whispering, and opened the door that Hollins had pointed out. There was a stair there, as he had said, set deep in the thick wall, and I went a long way up it before I came to another door, in which there was a key set in the lock. And in a moment I had it turned, and there was Maisie, and I had her in my arms and was flooding her with questions and holding the light to her face to see if she was safe, all at once.

  "You've come to no harm?——you're all right?——you've not been frightened out of your senses?——how did it all come about?" I rapped out at her. "Oh, Maisie, I've been seeking for you all day long, and——"

  And then, being utterly overwrought, I was giving out, and I suddenly felt a queer giddiness coming over me; and if it had not been for her, I should have fallen and maybe fainted, and she saw it, and got me to a couch from which she had started when I turned the key, and was holding a glass of water to my lips that she snatched up from a table, and encouraging me, who should have been consoling her——all within the minute of my setting eyes on her, and me so weak, as it seemed, that I could only cling on to her hand, making sure that I had really got her.

  "There, there, it's all right, Hugh!" she murmured, patting my arm as if I had been some child that had just started awake from a bad dream. "There's no harm come to me at all, barring the weary waiting in this black hole of a place!——I've had food and drink and a light, as you see——they promised me I should have no harm when they locked me in. But oh, it's seemed like it was ages since then!"

  "They? Who?" I demanded. "Who locked you in?"

  "Sir Gilbert and that butler of his——Hollins," she answered. "I took the short cut through the grounds here last night, and I ran upon the two of them at the corner of the ruins, and they stopped me, and wouldn't let me go, and locked me up here, promising I'd be let out later on."

  "Sir Gilbert!" I exclaimed. "You're sure it was Sir Gilbert?"

  "Of course I'm sure!" she replied. "Who else? And I made out they were afraid of my letting out that I'd seen them——it was Sir Gilbert himself said they could run no risks."

  "You've seen him since?" I asked. "He's been in here?"

  "No——not since last night," she answered. "And Hollins not since this morning when he brought me some food——I've not wanted for that," she went on, with a laugh, pointing to things that had been set on the table. "And he said, then, that about midnight, tonight, I'd hear the key turned, and after that I was free to go, but I'd have to make my way home on foot, for he wasn't wanting me to be in Berwick again too soon."

  "Aye!" I said, shaking my head. "I'm beginning to see through some of it! But, Maisie, you'll be a good girl, and just do what I tell you?——and that's to stay where you are until I fetch you down. For there's more dreadfulness below——where Sir Gilbert may be, Heaven knows, but Hollins is lying murdered on the stair; and if I didn't see him murdered, I saw him take his last breath!"

  She, too, shook a bit at that, and she gripped me tighter.

  "You're not by yourself, Hugh?" she asked anxiously. "You're in no danger?"

  But just then Chisholm called up the stair of the turret, asking was Miss Dunlop safe, and I bade Maisie speak to him.

  "That's good news!" said he. "But will you tell Mr. Hugh to come down to us?——and you'd best stop where you are yourself, Miss Dunlop——there's no very pleasant sight down this way. Have you no idea at all who did this?" he asked, as I went down to him. "You were with him?"

  "Man alive, I've no more idea than you have!" I exclaimed. "He was making off somewhere in yon car that's below——he threatened me with the loss of my life if I didn't agree to let him get away in peace, and he was going down the stairs to the car when it happened. But I'll tell you this: Miss Dunlop says Sir Gilbert was here last night!——and it was he and Hollins imprisoned her above there——frightened she'd let out on them if she got away."

  "Then the Glasgow tale was all lies?" he exclaimed. "It came from this man, too, that's lying dead——it's been a put-up thing, d'ye think, Mr. Hugh?"

  "It's all part of a put-up thing, Chisholm," said I. "Hadn't we better get the man in here, and see what's on him? And what made you come here yourselves?——and are there any more of you about?"

  "We came asking some information at the house," he answered, "and we were passing round here, under the wall, on our way to the road, when we heard that car throbbing, and then saw your bit of a light. And that's a good idea of yours, and we'll bring him into this place and see if there's aught to give us a clue. Slip down," he went on, turning to the other man, "and bring the headlights off the car, so that we can see what we're doing. Do you think this is some of Sir Gilbert's work, Mr. Hugh?" he whispered when we were alone. "If he was about here, and this Hollins was in some of his secrets——?"

  "Oh, don't ask me!" I exclaimed. "It seems like there was nothing but murder on every hand of us! And whoever did this can't be far away——only the night's that black, and there's so many holes and corners hereabouts that it would be like searching a rabbit-warren——you'll have to get help from the town."

  "Aye, to be sure!" he agreed. "But we'll take a view of things ourselves, first. There may be effects on him that'll suggest something."

  We carried the body into the room when the policeman came up with the lamps from the car, and stretched it out on the table at which Hollins and I had sat not so long before; though that time, indeed, now seemed to me to belong to some other life! And Chisholm made a hasty examination of what there was in the man's pockets, and there was little that had any significance, except that in a purse which he carried in an inner pocket of his waistcoat there was a considerable sum of money in notes and gold.

  The other policeman, who held one of the lamps over the table while Chisholm was making this search, waited silently until it was over, and then he nodded his head at the stair.

  "There's some boxes, or cases, down in yon car," he remarked. "All fastened up and labelled——it might be worth while to take a look into them, sergeant. What's more, there's tools lying in the car that looks like they'd been used to fasten them up."

  "We'll have them up here, then," said Chisholm. "Stop you here, Mr. Hugh, while we fetch them——and don't let your young lady come down while that's lying here. You might cover him up," he went on, with a significant nod. "It's an ill sight for even a man's eyes, that!"

  There were some old, moth-eaten hangings about the walls here and there, and I took one down and laid it over Hollins, wondering while I did this office for him what strange secret it was that he had carried away into death, and why that queer and puzzled expression had crossed his face in death's very moment. And that done, I ran up to Maisie again, bidding her be patient awhile, and we talked quietly a bit until Chisholm called me down to look at the boxes. There were four of them——stout, new-made wooden cases, clamped with iron at the corners, and securely screwed down; and when the policemen invited me to feel the weight, I was put in mind, in a lesser degree, of Gilverthwaite's oak-chest.

  "What do you think's like to be in there, now, Mr. Hugh?" asked Chisholm. "Do you know what I think? There's various heavy metals in the world——aye, and isn't gold one of the heaviest?——it'll not be lead that's in here! And look you at that!"

  He pointed to some neatly addressed labels tacked strongly to each lid——the writing done in firm, bold, print-like characters:

  John Harrison, passenger, by S.S. Aerolite. Newcastle to Hamburg.

  I was looking from one label to the other and finding them all alike, when we heard voices at the foot of the stair, and from out of them came Superintendent Murray's, demanding loudly who was above.

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