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Dead Men's Money(Chapter27)

2006-08-28 23:40

  Chapter XXVII. The Bank Balance

  It was now Mr. Portlethorpe and I who looked at each other——with a mutual questioning. What was Mr. Lindsey hinting, suggesting? And Mr. Portlethorpe suddenly turned on him with a direct inquiry.

  "What is it you are after, Lindsey?" he asked. "There's something in your mind."

  "A lot," answered Mr. Lindsey. "And before I let it out, I think we'd better fully inform Mrs. Ralston of everything that's happened, and of how things stand, up to and including this moment. This is the position, Mrs. Ralston, and the facts"——and he went on to give his caller a brief but complete summary of all that he and Mr. Portlethorpe had just talked over. "You now see how matters are," he concluded, at the end of his epitome, during his delivery of which the lady had gradually grown more and more portentous of countenance. "Now,——what do you say?"

  Mrs. Ralston spoke sharply and decisively.

  "Precisely what I have felt inclined to say more than once of late!" she answered. "I'm beginning to suspect that the man who calls himself Sir Gilbert Carstairs is not Sir Gilbert Carstairs at all! He's an impostor!"

  In spite of my subordinate position as a privileged but inferior member of the conference, I could not help letting out a hasty exclamation of astonishment at that. I was thoroughly and genuinely astounded——such a notion as that had never once occurred to me. An impostor!——not the real man? The idea was amazing——and Mr. Portlethorpe found it amazing, too, and he seconded my exclamation with another, and emphasized it with an incredulous laugh.

  "My dear madam!" he said deprecatingly. "Really! That's impossible!"

  But Mr. Lindsey, calmer than ever, nodded his head confidently.

  "I'm absolutely of Mrs. Ralston's opinion," he declared. "What she suggests I believe to be true. An impostor!"

  Mr. Portlethorpe flushed and began to look very uneasy.

  "Really!" he repeated. "Really, Lindsey!——you forget that I examined into the whole thing! I saw all the papers——letters, documents——Oh, the suggestion is——you'll pardon me, Mrs. Ralston——ridiculous! No man could have been in possession of those documents unless he'd been the real man——the absolute Simon Pure! Why, my dear lady, he produced letters written by yourself, when you were a little girl——and——and all sorts of little private matters. It's impossible that there has been any imposture——a——a reflection on me!"

  "Cleverer men than you have been taken in, Portlethorpe," remarked Mr. Lindsey. "And the matters you speak of might have been stolen. But let Mrs. Ralston give us her reasons for suspecting this man——she has some strong ones, I'll be bound."

  Mr. Portlethorpe showed signs of irritation, but Mrs. Ralston promptly took up Mr. Lindsey's challenge.

  "Sufficiently strong to have made me very uneasy of late, at any rate," she answered. She turned to Mr. Portlethorpe. "You remember," she went on, "that my first meeting with this man, when he came to claim the title and estates, was at your office in Newcastle, a few days after he first presented himself to you. He said then that he had not yet been down to Hathercleugh; but I have since found out that he had——or, rather, that he had been in the neighbourhood, incognito. That's a suspicious circumstance, Mr. Portlethorpe."

  "Excuse me, ma'am——I don't see it," retorted Mr. Portlethorpe. "I don't see it at all."

  "I do, then!" said Mrs. Ralston. "Suspicious, because I, his sister, and only living relation, was close by. Why didn't he come straight to me? He was here——he took a quiet look around before he let any one know who he was. That's one thing I have against him——whatever you say, it was very suspicious conduct; and he lied about it, in saying he had not been here, when he certainly had been here! But that's far from all. The real Gilbert Carstairs, Mr. Lindsey, as Mr. Portlethorpe knows, lived at Hathercleugh House until he was twenty-two years old. He was always at Hathercleugh, except when he was at Edinburgh University studying medicine. He knew the whole of the district thoroughly. But, as I have found out for myself, this man does not know the district! I have discovered, on visiting him——though I have not gone there much, as I don't like either him or his wife——that this is a strange country to him. He knows next to nothing——though he has done his best to learn——of its features, its history, its people. Is it likely that a man who had lived on the Border until he was two-and-twenty could forget all about it, simply because he was away from it for thirty years? Although I was only seven or eight when my brother Gilbert left home, I was then a very sharp child, and I remember that he knew every mile of the country round Hathercleugh. But——this man doesn't."

  Mr. Portlethorpe muttered something about it being very possible for a man to forget a tremendous lot in thirty years, but Mrs. Ralston and Mr. Lindsey shook their heads at his dissent from their opinion. As for me, I was thinking of the undoubted fact that the supposed Sir Gilbert Carstairs had been obliged in my presence to use a map in order to find his exact whereabouts when he was, literally, within two miles of his own house.

  "Another thing," continued Mrs. Ralston: "in my few visits to Hathercleugh since he came, I have found out that while he is very well posted up in certain details of our family history, he is unaccountably ignorant of others with which he ought to have been perfectly familiar. I found out, too, that he is exceedingly clever in avoiding subjects in which his ignorance might be detected. But, clever as he is, he has more than once given me grounds for suspicion. And I tell you plainly, Mr. Portlethorpe, that since he has been selling property to the extent you report, you ought, at this juncture, and as things are, to find out how money matters stand. He must have realized vast amounts in cash! Where is it!"

  "At his bankers'——in Newcastle, my dear madam!" replied Mr. Portlethorpe. "Where else should it be? He has not yet made the purchase he contemplated, so of course the necessary funds are waiting until he does. I cannot but think that you and Mr. Lindsey are mistaken, and that there will be some proper and adequate explanation of all this, and——"

  "Portlethorpe!" exclaimed Mr. Lindsey, "that's no good. Things have gone too far. Whether this man's Sir Gilbert Carstairs or an impostor, he did his best to murder my clerk, and we suspect him of the murder of Crone, and he's going to be brought to justice——that's flat! And your duty at present is to fall in with us to this extent——you must adopt Mrs. Ralston's suggestion, and ascertain how money matters stand. As Mrs. Ralston rightly says, by the sale of these properties a vast amount of ready money must have been accumulated, and at this man's disposal, Portlethorpe!——we must know if it's true!"

  "How can I tell you that?" demanded Mr. Portlethorpe, who was growing more and more nervous and peevish. "I've nothing to do with Sir Gilbert Carstairs' private banking account. I can't go and ask, point blank, of his bankers how much money he has in their hands!"

  "Then I will!" exclaimed Mr. Lindsey. "I know where he banks in Newcastle, and I know the manager. I shall go this very night to the manager's private house, and tell him exactly everything that's transpired——I shall tell him Mrs. Ralston's and my own suspicions, and I shall ask him where the money is. Do you understand that?"

  "The proper course to adopt!" said Mrs. Ralston. "The one thing to do. It must be done!"

  "Oh, very well——then in that case I suppose I'd better go with you," said Mr. Portlethorpe. "Of course, it's no use going to the bank——they'll be closed; but we can, as you say, go privately to the manager. And we shall be placed in a very unenviable position if Sir Gilbert Carstairs turns up with a perfectly good explanation of all this mystery."

  Mr. Lindsey pointed a finger at me.

  "He can't explain that!" he exclaimed. "He left that lad to drown! Is that attempted murder, or isn't it? I tell you, I'll have that man in the dock——never mind who he is! Hugh, pass me the railway guide."

  It was presently settled that Mr. Portlethorpe and Mr. Lindsey should go off to Newcastle by the next train to see the bank manager. Mr. Lindsey insisted that I should go with them——he would have no hole-and-corner work, he said, and I should tell my own story to the man we were going to see, so that he would know some of the ground of our suspicion. Mrs. Ralston supported that; and when Mr. Portlethorpe remarked that we were going too fast, and were working up all the elements of a fine scandal, she tartly remarked that if more care had been taken at the beginning, all this would not have happened.

  We found the bank manager at his private house, outside Newcastle, that evening. He knew both my companions personally, and he listened with great attention to all that Mr. Lindsey, as spokesman, had to tell; he also heard my story of the yacht affair. He was an astute, elderly man, evidently quick at sizing things up, and I knew by the way he turned to Mr. Portlethorpe and by the glance he gave him, after hearing everything, that his conclusions were those of Mr. Lindsey and Mrs. Ralston.

  "I'm afraid there's something wrong, Portlethorpe," he remarked quietly. "The truth is, I've had suspicions myself lately."

  "Good God! you don't mean it!" exclaimed Mr. Portlethorpe. "How, then?"

  "Since Sir Gilbert began selling property," continued the bank manager, "very large sums have been paid in to his credit at our bank, where, previous to that, he already had a very considerable balance. But at the present moment we hold very little——that is, comparatively little——money of his."

  "What?" said Mr. Portlethorpe. "What? You don't mean that?"

  "During the past three or four months," said the bank manager, "Sir Gilbert has regularly drawn very large cheques in favour of a Mr. John Paley. They have been presented to us through the Scottish-American Bank at Edinburgh. And," he added, with a significant look at Mr. Lindsey, "I think you'd better go to Edinburgh——and find out who Mr. John Paley is."

  Mr. Portlethorpe got up, looking very white and frightened.

  "How much of all that money is there left in your hands?" he asked, hoarsely.

  "Not more than a couple of thousand," answered the bank manager with promptitude.

  "Then he's paid out——in the way you state——what?" demanded Mr. Portlethorpe.

  "Quite two hundred thousand pounds! And," concluded our informant, with another knowing look, "now that I'm in possession of the facts you've just put before me, I should advise you to go and find out if Sir Gilbert Carstairs and John Paley are not one and the same person!"

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