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on my guard.

“Mr. Crone,” said I, gazing straight at him, “what’s this you have to say to me?”

“Sit you down,” he answered, pointing at a chair that was shoved under one side of the little table. “Pull that out and sit you down. What we shall have to say to each other’ll not be said in five minutes. Let’s confer in the proper and comfortable fashion.”

I did what he asked, and he took another chair himself and sat down opposite me, propping his elbow on the table and leaning across it, so that, the table being but narrow, his sharp eyes and questioning lips were closer to mine than I cared for. And while he leaned forward in his chair I sat back in mine, keeping as far from him as I could, and just staring at him–perhaps as if I had been some trapped animal that couldn’t get itself away from the eyes of another that meant presently to kill it. Once again I asked him what he wanted.

“You didn’t answer my question,” he said. “I’ll put it again, and you needn’t be afraid that anybody’ll overhear us in this place, it’s safe! I say once more, what for did you not tell in your evidence at that inquest that you saw Sir Gilbert Carstairs at the cross-roads on the night of the murder! Um?”

“That’s my business!” said I

“Just so,” said he. “And I’ll agree with you in that. It is your business. But if by that you mean that it’s yours alone, and nobody else’s, then I don’t agree. Neither would the police.”

We stared at each other across the table for a minute of silence, and then I put the question directly to him that I had been wanting to put ever since he had first spoken. And I put it crudely enough.

“How did you know?” I asked.

He laughed at that–sneeringly, of course.

“Aye, that’s plain enough,” said he. “No fencing about that! How did I know? Because when you saw Sir Gilbert I wasn’t five feet away from you, and what you saw, I saw. I saw you both!”

“You were there?” I exclaimed.

“Snug behind the hedge in front of which you planted yourself,” he answered. “And if you want to know what I was doing there, I’ll tell you. I was doing–or had been doing–a bit of poaching. And, as I say, what you saw, I saw!”

“Then I’ll ask you a question, Mr. Crone,” I said. “Why haven’t you told, yourself?”

“Aye!” he said. “You may well ask me that. But I wasn’t called as a witness at yon inquest.”

“You could have come forward,” I suggested.

“I didn’t choose,” he retorted.

We both looked at each other again, and while we looked he swigged off his drink and helped himself, just as generously, to more. And, as I was getting bolder by that time, I set to work at questioning him.

“You’ll be attaching some importance to what you saw?” said I.

“Well,” he replied slowly, “it’s not a pleasant thing–for a man’s safety–to be as near as what he was to a place where another man’s just been done to his death.”

“You and I were near enough, anyway,” I remarked.

“We know what we were there for,” he flung back at me. “We don’t know what he was there for.”

“Put your tongue to it, Mr. Crone,” I said boldly. “The fact is, you suspicion him?”

“I suspicion a good deal, maybe,” he admitted. “After all, even a man of that degree’s only a man, when all’s said and done, and there might be reasons that you and me knows nothing about. Let me ask you a question,” he went on, edging nearer at me across the table. “Have you mentioned it to a soul?”

I made a mistake at that, but he was on me so sharp, and his manner was so insistent, that I had the word out of my lips before I thought.

“No!” I replied. “I haven’t.”

“Nor me,” he said. “Nor me. So–you and me are the only two folk that know.”

“Well?” I asked.

He took another pull at his liquor and for a moment or two sat silent, tapping his finger-nails against the rim of the glass.

“It’s a queer business, Moneylaws,” he said at last. “Look at it anyway you like, it’s a queer business! Here’s one man, yon lodger of your mother’s, comes into the town and goes round the neighbourhood reading the old parish registers and asking questions at the parson’s–aye, and he was at it both sides of the Tweed–I’ve found that much out for myself! For what purpose? Is there money at the back of it–property–something of that sort, dependent on this Gilverthwaite unearthing some facts or other out of those old books? And then comes another man, a stranger, that’s as mysterious in his movements as Gilverthwaite was, and he’s to meet Gilverthwaite at a certain lonely spot, and at a very strange hour, and Gilverthwaite can’t go, and he gets you to go, and you find the man–murdered! And–close by–you’ve seen this other man, who, between you and me–though it’s no secret–is as much a stranger to the neighbourhood as ever Gilverthwaite was or Phillips was!”

“I don’t follow you at that,” I said.

“No?” said he. “Then I’ll make it plainer to you. Do you know that until yon Sir Gilbert Carstairs came here, not so long since, to take up his title and his house and the estate, he’d never set foot in the place, never been near the place, this thirty year? Man! his own father, old Sir Alec, and his own sister, Mrs. Ralston of Craig, had never clapped Eyes on him since he went away from Hathercleugh a youngster of one-and-twenty!”

“Do you tell me that, Mr. Crone?” I exclaimed, much surprised at his words. “I didn’t know so much. Where had he been, then?”

“God knows!” said he. “And himself. It was said he was a doctor in London, and in foreign parts. Him and his brother–elder brother, you’re aware, Mr. Michael–they both quarrelled with the old baronet when they were little more than lads, and out they cleared, going their own ways. And news of Michael’s death, and the proofs of it, came home not so long before old Sir Alec died, and as Michael had never married, of course the younger brother succeeded when his father came to his end last winter. And, as I say, who knows anything about his past doings when he was away more than thirty years, nor what company he kept, nor what secrets he has? Do you follow me?”

“Aye, I’m following you, Mr. Crone,” I answered. “It comes to this–you suspect Sir Gilbert?”

“What I say,” he answered, “is this: he may have had something to do with the affair. You cannot tell. But you and me knows he was near the place–coming from its direction–at the time the murder would be in the doing. And–there is nobody knows but you–and me!”

“What are you going to do about it?” I asked.

He had another period of reflection before he replied, and when he spoke it was to the accompaniment of a warning look.

“It’s an ill-advised thing to talk about rich men,” said he. “Yon man not only has money of his own, in what you might call considerable quantity, but his wife he brought with him is a woman of vast wealth, they tell me. It would be no very wise action on your part to set rumours going, Moneylaws, unless you could substantiate them.”

“What about yourself?” I asked. “You know as much as I do.”

“Aye, and there’s one word that sums all up,” said he. “And it’s a short one. Wait! There’ll be more coming out. Keep your counsel a bit. And when the moment comes, and if the moment comes–why, you know there’s me behind you to corroborate. And–that’s all!”

He got up then, with a nod, as if to show that the interview was over, and I was that glad to get away from him that I walked off without another word.

CHAPTER XI

SIGNATURES TO THE WILL

I was so knocked out of the usual run of things by this conversation with Crone that I went away forgetting the bits of stuff I had bought for Tom Dunlop’s rabbit-hutches and Tom himself, and, for that matter, Maisie as well; and, instead of going back to Dunlop’s, I turned down the riverside, thinking. It was beyond me at that moment to get a clear understanding of the new situation. I could not make out what Crone was at. Clearly, he had strong suspicions that Sir Gilbert Carstairs had something to do with, or some knowledge of, the murder of Phillips, and he knew now that there were two of us to bear out each other’s testimony that Sir Gilbert was near the scene of the murder at the time it was committed. Why, then, should he counsel waiting? Why should not the two of us go to the police and tell what we knew? What was it that Crone advised we should wait for? Was something going on, some inquiry being made in the background of things, of which he knew and would not tell me. And–this, I think, was what was chiefly in my thoughts–was Crone playing some game of his own and designing to use me as a puppet in it? For there was a general atmosphere of subtlety and slyness about the man that forced itself upon me, young as I was; and the way he kept eyeing me as we talked made me feel that I had to do with one that would be hard to circumvent if it came to a matter of craftiness. And at last, after a lot of thinking, as I walked about in the dusk, it struck me that Crone might be for taking a hand in the game of which I had heard, but had never seen played–blackmail.

The more I thought over that idea, the more I felt certain of it. His hints about Sir Gilbert’s money and his wealthy wife, his advice to wait until we knew more, all seemed to point to this–that evidence might come out which would but require our joint testimony, Crone’s and mine, to make it complete. If that were so, then, of course, Crone or I, or–as he probably designed–the two of us, would be in a position to go to Sir Gilbert Carstairs and tell him what we knew, and ask him how much he would give us to hold our tongues. I saw all the theory of it at last, clear enough, and it was just what I would have expected of Abel Crone, knowing him even as little as I did. Wait until we were sure–and then strike! That was his game. And I was not going to have anything to do with it.

I went home to my bed resolved on that. I had heard of blackmailing, and had a good notion of its wickedness–and of its danger–and I was not taking shares with Crone in any venture of that sort. But there Crone was, an actual, concrete fact that I had got to deal with, and to come to some terms with, simply because he knew that I was in possession of knowledge which, to be sure, I ought to have communicated to the police at once. And I was awake much during the night, thinking matters over, and by the time I rose in the morning I had come to a decision. I would see Crone at once, and give him a sort of an ultimatum. Let him come, there and then, with me to Mr. Murray, and let the two of us tell what we knew and be done with it: if not, then I myself would go straight to Mr. Lindsey and tell him.

I set out for the office earlier than usual that morning, and went round by way of the back street at the bottom of which Crone’s store stood facing the river. I sometimes walked round that way of a morning, and I knew that Crone was as a rule at his place very early, amongst his old rubbish, or at his favourite game of gossiping with the fishermen that had their boats drawn up there. But when I reached it, the shop was still shut, and though I waited as long as I could, Crone did not come. I knew where he lived, at the top end of the town, and I thought to meet him as I walked up to Mr. Lindsey’s; but I had seen nothing of him by the time I reached our office door, so I laid the matter aside until noon, meaning to get a word with him when I went home to my dinner. And though I could have done so there and then, I determined not to say anything to Mr. Lindsey until I had given Crone the chance of saying it with me–to him, or to the police. I expected, of course, that Crone would fly into a rage at my suggestion–if so, then I would tell him, straight out, that I would just take my own way, and take it at once.

But before noon there was another development in this affair. In the course of the morning Mr. Lindsey bade me go with him down to my mother’s house, where Mrs. Hanson had been lodged for the night–we would go through Gilverthwaite’s effects with her, he said, with a view to doing what we could to put her in possession. It might–probably would–be a lengthy and a difficult business that, he remarked, seeing that there was so much that was dark about her brother’s recent movements; and as the woman was obviously poor, we had best be stirring on her behalf. So down we went, and in my mother’s front parlour, the same that Gilverthwaite had taken as his sitting-room, Mr. Lindsey opened the heavy box for the second time, in Mrs. Hanson’s presence, and I began to make a list of its contents. At the sight of the money it contained, the woman began to tremble.

“Eh, mister!” she exclaimed, almost tearfully, “but that’s a sight of money to be lying there, doing naught! I hope there’ll be some way of bringing it to me and mine–we could do with it, I promise you!”

“We’ll do our best, ma’am,” said Mr. Lindsey. “As you’re next of kin there oughtn’t to be much difficulty, and I’ll hurry matters up for you as quickly as possible. What I want this morning is for you to see all there is in this chest; he seems to have had no other belongings than this and his clothes–here at Mrs. Moneylaws’, at any rate. And as you see, beyond the money, there’s little else in the chest but cigars, and box after box of curiosities that he’s evidently picked up in his travels–coins, shells, ornaments, all sorts of queer things–some of ’em no doubt of value. But no papers–no letters–no documents of any sort.”

A notion suddenly occurred to me.

“Mr. Lindsey,” said I, “you never turned out the contents of any of these smaller boxes the other night. There might be papers in one or other of them.”

“Good notion, Hugh, my lad!” he exclaimed. “True–there might. Here goes, then–we’ll look through them systematically.”

In addition to the half-dozen boxes full of prime Havana cigars, which lay at the top of the chest, there were quite a dozen of similar boxes, emptied of cigars and literally packed full of the curiosities of which Mr. Lindsey had just spoken. He had turned out, and carefully replaced, the contents of three or four of these, when, at the bottom of one, filled with old coins, which, he said, were Mexican and Peruvian, and probably of great interest to collectors, he came across a paper, folded and endorsed in bold letters. And he let out an exclamation as he took this paper out and pointed us to the endorsement.

“Do you see that?” said he. “It’s the man’s will!”

The endorsement was plain enough–My will: _James Gilverthwaite_. And beneath it was a date, 27-8-1904.

There was a dead silence amongst the four of us–my mother had been with us all the time–as Mr. Lindsey unfolded the paper–a thick, half-sheet of foolscap, and read what was written on it.

“This is the last will and testament of me, James Gilverthwaite, a British subject, born at Liverpool, and formerly of Garston, in Lancashire, England, now residing temporarily at Colon, in the Republic of Panama. I devise and bequeath all my estate and effects, real and personal, which I may be possessed of or entitled to, unto my sister, Sarah Ellen Hanson, the wife of Matthew Hanson, of 37 Preston Street, Garston, Lancashire, England, absolutely, and failing her to any children she may have had by her marriage with Matthew Hanson, in equal shares. And I appoint the said Sarah Ellen Hanson, or in the case of her death, her eldest child, the executor of this my will; and I revoke all former wills. Dated this twenty-seventh day of August, 1904. _James Gilverthwaite_. Signed by the testator in the presence of us–“

Mr. Lindsey suddenly broke off. And I, looking at him, saw his eyes screw themselves up with sheer wonder at something he saw. Without another word he folded up the paper, put it in his pocket, and turning to Mrs. Hanson, clapped her op the shoulder.

“That’s all right, ma’am!” he said heartily. “That’s a good will, duly signed and attested, and there’ll be no difficulty about getting it admitted to probate; leave it to me, and I’ll see to it, and get it through for you as soon as ever I can. And we must do what’s possible to find out if this brother of yours has left any other property; and meanwhile we’ll just lock everything up again that we’ve taken out of this chest.”

It was close on my dinner hour when we had finished, but Mr. Lindsey, at his going, motioned me out into the street with him. In a quiet corner, he turned to me and pulled the will from his pocket.

“Hugh!” he said. “Do you know who’s one of the witnesses to this will? Aye, who are the two witnesses? Man!–you could have knocked me down with a feather when I saw the names! Look for yourself!”

He handed me the paper and pointed to the attestation clause with which it ended. And I saw the two names at once–John Phillips, Michael Carstairs–and I let out a cry of astonishment.

“Aye, you may well exclaim!” said he, taking the will back. “John Phillips!–that’s the man was murdered the other night! Michael Carstairs–that’s the elder brother of Sir Gilbert yonder at Hathercleugh, the man that would have succeeded to the title and estates if he hadn’t predeceased old Sir Alexander. What would he be doing now, a friend of Gilverthwaite’s?”

“I’ve heard that this Mr. Michael Carstairs went abroad as a young man, Mr. Lindsey, and never came home again,” I remarked. “Likely he foregathered with Gilverthwaite out yonder.”

“Just that,” he agreed. “That would be the way of it, no doubt. To be sure! He’s set down in this attestation clause as Michael Carstairs, engineer, American Quarter, Colon; and John Phillips is described as sub-contractor, of the same address. The three of ’em’ll have been working in connection with the Panama Canal. But–God bless us!–there’s some queer facts coming out, my lad! Michael Carstairs knows Gilverthwaite and Phillips in yon corner of the world–Phillips and Gilverthwaite, when Michael Carstairs is dead, come home to the corner of the world that Michael Carstairs sprang from. And Phillips is murdered as soon as he gets here–and Gilverthwaite dies that suddenly that he can’t tell us a word of what it’s all about! What is it all about–and who’s going to piece it all together? Man!–there’s more than murder at the bottom of all this!”

It’s a wonder that I didn’t let out everything that I knew at that minute. And it may have been on the tip of my tongue, but just then he gave me a push towards our door.

“I heard your mother say your dinner was waiting you,” he said. “Go in, now; we’ll talk more this afternoon.”

He strode off up the street, and I turned back and made haste with my dinner. I wanted to drop in at Crone’s before I went again to the office: what had just happened, had made me resolved that Crone and I should speak out; and if he wouldn’t, then I would. And presently I was hurrying away to his place, and as I turned into the back lane that led to it I ran up against Sergeant Chisholm.

“Here’s another fine to-do, Mr. Moneylaws!” said he. “You’ll know yon Abel Crone, the marine-store dealer? Aye, well, he’s been found drowned, not an hour ago, and by this and that, there’s queer marks, that looks like violence, on him!”

CHAPTER XII

THE SALMON GAFF

I gave such a jump on hearing this that Chisholm himself started, and he stared at me with a question in his eyes. But I was quick enough to let him know that he was giving me news that I hadn’t heard until he opened his lips.

“You don’t tell me that!” I exclaimed. “What!–more of it?”

“Aye!” he said. “You’ll be thinking that this is all of a piece with the other affair. And to be sure, they found Crone’s body close by where you found yon other man–Phillips.”

“Where, then?” I asked. “And when?”

“I tell you, not an hour ago,” he replied. “The news just came in. I was going down here to see if any of the neighbours at the shop saw Crone in any strange company last night.”

I hesitated for a second or two, and then spoke out.

“I saw him myself last night,” said I. “I went to his shop–maybe it was nine o’clock–to buy same bits of stuff to make Tom Dunlop a door to his rabbit-hutch, and I was there talking to him ten minutes or so. He was all right then–and I saw nobody else with him.”

“Aye, well, he never went home to his house last night,” observed Chisholm. “I called in there on my way down–he lived, you know, in a cottage by the police-station, and I dropped in and asked the woman that keeps house for him had she seen him this morning, and she said he never came home last night at all. And no wonder–as things are!”

“But you were saying where it happened,” I said.

“Where he was found?” said he. “Well, and it was where Till runs into Tweed–leastways, a bit up the Till. Do you know John McIlwraith’s lad–yon youngster that they’ve had such a bother with about the school–always running away to his play, and stopping out at nights, and the like–there was the question of sending him to a reformatory, you’ll remember? Aye, well, it turns out the young waster was out last night in those woods below Twizel, and early this morning–though he didn’t let on at it till some time after–he saw the body of a man lying in one of them deep pools in Till. And when he himself was caught by Turndale, who was on the look out for him, he told of what he’d seen, and Turndale and some other men went there, and they found–Crone!”

“You were saying there were marks of violence,” said I.

“I haven’t seen them myself,” he answered. “But by Turndale’s account–it was him brought in the news–there is queer marks on the body. Like as if–as near as Turndale could describe it–as if the man had been struck down before he was drowned. Bruises, you understand.”

“Where is he?” I asked.

“He’s where they took Phillips,” replied Chisholm. “Dod!–that’s two of ’em that’s been taken there within–aye, nearly within the week!”

“What are you going to do, now?” I inquired.

“I was just going, as I said, to ask a question or two down here–did anybody hear Crone say anything last night about going out that way?” he answered. “But, there, I don’t see the good of it. Between you and me, Crone was a bit of a night-bird–I’ve suspected him of poaching, time and again. Well, he’ll do no more of that! You’ll be on your way to the office, likely?”

“Straight there,” said I. “I’ll tell Mr. Lindsey of this.”

But when I reached the office, Mr. Lindsey, who had been out to get his lunch, knew all about it. He was standing outside the door, talking to Mr. Murray, and as I went up the superintendent turned away to the police station, and Mr. Lindsey took a step or two towards me.

“Have you heard this about that man Crone?” he asked.

“I’ve heard just now,” I answered. “Chisholm told me.”

He looked at me, and I at him; there were questions in the eyes of both of us. But between parting from the police-sergeant and meeting Mr. Lindsey, I had made up my mind, by a bit of sharp thinking and reflection, on what my own plan of action was going to be about all this, once and for all, and I spoke before he could ask anything.

“Chisholm,” said I, “was down that way, wondering could he hear word of Crone’s being seen with anybody last night. I saw Crone last night. I went to his shop, buying some bits of old stuff. He was all right then–I saw nothing. Chisholm–he says Crone was a poacher. That would account, likely, for his being out there.”

“Aye!” said Mr. Lindsey. “But–they say there’s marks of violence on the body. And–the long and short of it is, my lad!” he went on, first interrupting himself, and then giving me an odd look; “the long and short of it is, it’s a queer thing that Crone should have come by his death close to the spot where you found yon man Phillips! There may be nothing but coincidence in it–but there’s no denying it’s a queer thing. Go and order a conveyance, and we’ll drive out yonder.”

In pursuance of the determination I had come to, I said no more about Crone to Mr. Lindsey. I had made up my mind on a certain course, and until it was taken I could not let out a word of what was by that time nobody’s secret but mine to him, nor to any one–not even to Maisie Dunlop, to whom, purposely, I had not as yet said anything about my seeing Sir Gilbert Carstairs on the night of Phillips’s murder. And all the way out to the inn there was silence between Mr. Lindsey and me, and the event of the morning, about Gilverthwaite’s will, and the odd circumstance of its attestation by Michael Carstairs, was not once mentioned. We kept silence, indeed, until we were in the place to which they had carried Crone’s dead body. Mr. Murray and Sergeant Chisholm had got there before us, and with them was a doctor–the same that had been fetched to Phillips–and they were all talking together quietly when we went in. The superintendent came up to Mr. Lindsey.

“According to what the doctor here says,” he whispered, jerking his head at the body, which lay on a table with a sheet thrown over it, “there’s a question as to whether the man met his death by drowning. Look here!”

He led us up to the table, drew back the sheet from the head and face, and motioning the doctor to come up, pointed to a mark that was just between the left temple and the top of the ear, where the hair was wearing thin.

“D’ye see that, now?” he murmured. “You’ll notice there’s some sort of a weapon penetrated there–penetrated! But the doctor can say more than I can on that point.”

“The man was struck–felled–by some sort of a weapon,” said the doctor. “It’s penetrated, I should say from mere superficial examination, to the brain. You’ll observe there’s a bruise outwardly–aye, but this has been a sharp weapon as well, something with a point, and there’s the puncture–how far it may extend I can’t tell yet. But on the surface of things, Mr. Lindsey, I should incline to the opinion that the poor fellow was dead, or dying, when he was thrown into yon pool. Anyway, after a blow like that, he’d be unconscious. But I’m thinking he was dead before the water closed on him.”

Mr. Lindsey looked closer at the mark, and at the hole in the centre of it.

“Has it struck any of you how that could be caused?” he asked suddenly. “It hasn’t? Then I’ll suggest something to you. There’s an implement in pretty constant use hereabouts that would do just that–a salmon gaff!”

The two police officials started–the doctor nodded his head.

“Aye, and that’s a sensible remark,” said he. “A salmon gaff would just do it.” He turned to Chisholm with a sharp look. “You were saying this man was suspected of poaching?” he asked. “Likely it’ll have been some poaching affair he was after last night–him and others. And they may have quarrelled and come to blows–and there you are!”

“Were there any signs of an affray close by–or near, on the bank?” asked Mr. Lindsey.

“We’re going down there now ourselves to have a look round,” answered Mr. Murray. “But according to Turndale, the body was lying in a deep pool in the Till, under the trees on the bank–it might have lain there for many a month if it hadn’t been for yon young McIlwraith that has a turn for prying into dark and out-of-the-way corners. Well, here’s more matter for the coroner.”

Mr. Lindsey and I went back to Berwick after that. And, once more, he said little on the journey, except that it would be well if it came out that this was but a poaching affair in which Crone had got across with some companion of his; and for the rest of the afternoon he made no further remark to me about the matter, nor about the discovery of the morning. But as I was leaving the office at night, he gave me a word.

“Say nothing about that will, to anybody,” said he. “I’ll think that matter over to-night, and see what’ll come of my thinking. It’s as I said before, Hugh–to get at the bottom of all this, we’ll have to go back–maybe a far way.”

I said nothing and went home. For now I had work of my own–I was going to what I had resolved on after Chisholm told me the news about Crone. I would not tell my secret to Mr. Lindsey, nor to the police, nor even to Maisie. I would go straight and tell it to the one man whom it concerned–Sir Gilbert Carstairs. I would speak plainly to him, and be done with it. And as soon as I had eaten my supper, I mounted my bicycle, and, as the dusk was coming on, rode off to Hathercleugh House.

CHAPTER XIII

SIR GILBERT CARSTAIRS

It was probably with a notion of justifying my present course of procedure to myself that during that ride I went over the reasons which had kept my tongue quiet up to that time, and now led me to go to Sir Gilbert Carstairs. Why I had not told the police nor Mr. Lindsey of what I had seen, I have already explained–my own natural caution and reserve made me afraid of saying anything that might cast suspicion on an innocent man; and also I wanted to await developments. I was not concerned much with that feature of the matter. But I had undergone some qualms because I had not told Maisie Dunlop, for ever since the time at which she and I had come to a serious and sober understanding, it had been a settled thing between us that we would never have any secrets from each other. Why, then, had I not told her of this? That took a lot of explaining afterwards, when things so turned out that it would have been the best thing ever I did in my life if I only had confided in her; but this explanation was, after all, to my credit–I did not tell Maisie because I knew that, taking all the circumstances into consideration, she would fill herself with doubts and fears for me, and would for ever be living in an atmosphere of dread lest I, like Phillips, should be found with a knife-thrust in me. So much for that–it was in Maisie’s own interest. And why, after keeping silence to everybody, did I decide to break it to Sir Gilbert Carstairs? There, Andrew Dunlop came in–of course, unawares to himself. For in those lecturings that he was so fond of giving us young folk, there was a moral precept of his kept cropping up which he seemed to set great store by–“If you’ve anything against a man, or reason to mistrust him,” he would say, “don’t keep it to yourself, or hint it to other people behind his back, but go straight to him and tell him to his face, and have it out with him.” He was a wise man, Andrew Dunlop, as all his acquaintance knew, and I felt that I could do no better than take a lesson from him in this matter. So I would go straight to Sir Gilbert Carstairs, and tell him what was in my mind–let the consequences be what they might.

It was well after sunset, and the gloaming was over the hills and the river, when I turned into the grounds of Hathercleugh and looked round me at a place which, though I had lived close to it ever since I was born, I had never set foot in before. The house stood on a plateau of ground high above Tweed, with a deep shawl of wood behind it and a fringe of plantations on either side; house and pleasure-grounds were enclosed by a high ivied wall on all sides–you could see little of either until you were within the gates. It looked, in that evening light, a romantic and picturesque old spot and one in which you might well expect to see ghosts, or fairies, or the like. The house itself was something between an eighteenth-century mansion and an old Border fortress; its centre part was very high in the roof, and had turrets, with outer stairs to them, at the corners; the parapets were embattled, and in the turrets were arrow-slits. But romantic as the place was, there was nothing gloomy about it, and as I passed to the front, between the grey walls and a sunk balustered garden that lay at the foot of a terrace, I heard through the open windows of one brilliantly lighted room the click of billiard balls and the sound of men’s light-hearted laughter, and through another the notes of a piano.

There was a grand butler man met me at the hall door, and looked sourly at me as I leaned my bicycle against one of the pillars and made up to him. He was sourer still when I asked to see his master, and he shook his head at me, looking me up and down as if I were some undesirable.

“You can’t see Sir Gilbert at this time of the evening,” said he. “What do you want?”

“Will you tell Sir Gilbert that Mr. Moneylaws, clerk to Mr. Lindsey, solicitor, wishes to see him on important business?” I answered, looking him hard in the face. “I think he’ll be quick to see me when you give him that message.”

He stared and growled at me a second or two before he went off with an ill grace, leaving me on the steps. But, as I had expected, he was back almost at once, and beckoning me to enter and follow him. And follow him I did, past more flunkeys who stared at me as if I had come to steal the silver, and through soft-carpeted passages, to a room into which he led me with small politeness.

“You’re to sit down and wait,” he said gruffly. “Sir Gilbert will attend to you presently.”

He closed the door on me, and I sat down and looked around. I was in a small room that was filled with books from floor to ceiling–big books and little, in fine leather bindings, and the gilt of their letterings and labels shining in the rays of a tall lamp that stood on a big desk in the centre. It was a fine room that, with everything luxurious in the way of furnishing and appointments; you could have sunk your feet in the warmth of the carpets and rugs, and there were things in it for comfort and convenience that I had never heard tell of. I had never been in a rich man’s house before, and the grandeur of it, and the idea that it gave one of wealth, made me feel that there’s a vast gulf fixed between them that have and them that have not. And in the middle of these philosophies the door suddenly opened, and in walked Sir Gilbert Carstairs, and I stood up and made my politest bow to him. He nodded affably enough, and he laughed as he nodded.

“Oh!” said he. “Mr. Moneylaws! I’ve seen you before–at that inquest the other day, I think. Didn’t I?”

“That is so, Sir Gilbert,” I answered. “I was there, with Mr. Lindsey.”

“Why, of course, and you gave evidence,” he said. “I remember. Well, and what did you want to see me about, Mr. Moneylaws? Will you smoke a cigar?” he went on, picking up a box from the table and holding it out to me. “Help yourself.”

“Thank you, Sir Gilbert,” I answered, “but I haven’t started that yet.”

“Well, then, I will,” he laughed, and he picked out a cigar, lighted it, and flinging himself into an easy chair, motioned me to take another exactly opposite to him. “Now, then, fire away!” he said. “Nobody’ll interrupt us, and my time’s yours. You’ve some message for me?”

I took a good look at him before I spoke. He was a big, fine, handsome man, some five-and-fifty years of age, I should have said, but uncommonly well preserved–a clean-shaven, powerful-faced man, with quick eyes and a very alert glance; maybe, if there was anything struck me particularly about him, it was the rapidity and watchfulness of his glances, the determination in his square jaw, and the extraordinary strength and whiteness of his teeth. He was quick at smiling, and quick, too, in the use of his hands, which were always moving as he spoke, as if to emphasize whatever he said. And he made a very fine and elegant figure as he sat there in his grand evening clothes, and I was puzzled to know which struck me most–the fact that he was what he was, the seventh baronet and head of an old family, or the familiar, easy, good-natured fashion which he treated me, and talked to me, as if I had been a man of his own rank.

I had determined what to do as I sat waiting him; and now that he had bidden me to speak, I told him the whole story from start to finish, beginning with Gilverthwaite and ending with Crone, and sparing no detail or explanation of my own conduct. He listened in silence, and with more intentness and watchfulness than I had ever seen a man show in my life, and now and then he nodded and sometimes smiled; and when I had made an end he put a sharp question.

“So–beyond Crone–who, I hear, is dead–you’ve never told a living soul of this?” he asked, eyeing me closely.

“Not one, Sir Gilbert,” I assured him. “Not even–“

“Not even–who?” he inquired quickly.

“Not even my own sweetheart,” I said. “And it’s the first secret ever I kept from her.”

He smiled at that, and gave me a quick look as if he were trying to get a fuller idea of me.

“Well,” he said, “and you did right. Not that I should care two pins, Mr. Moneylaws, if you’d told all this out at the inquest. But suspicion is easily aroused, and it spreads–aye, like wildfire! And I’m a stranger, as it were, in this country, so far, and there’s people might think things that I wouldn’t have them think, and–in short, I’m much obliged to you. And I’ll tell you frankly, as you’ve been frank with me, how I came to be at those cross-roads at that particular time and on that particular night. It’s a simple explanation, and could be easily corroborated, if need be. I suffer from a disturbing form of insomnia–sleeplessness–it’s a custom of mine to go long walks late at night. Since I came here, I’ve been out that way almost every night, as my servants could assure you. I walk, as a rule, from nine o’clock to twelve–to induce sleep. And on that night I’d been miles and miles out towards Yetholm, and back; and when you saw me with my map and electric torch, I was looking for the nearest turn home–I’m not too well acquainted with the Border yet,” he concluded, with a flash of his white teeth, “and I have to carry a map with me. And–that’s how it was; and that’s all.”

I rose out of my chair at that. He spoke so readily and ingenuously that I had no more doubt of the truth of what he was saying than I had of my own existence.

“Then it’s all for me, too, Sir Gilbert,” said I. “I shan’t say a word more of the matter to anybody. It’s–as if it never existed. I was thinking all the time there’d be an explanation of it. So I’ll be bidding you good-night.”

“Sit you down again a minute,” said he, pointing to the easy-chair. “No need for hurry. You’re a clerk to Mr. Lindsey, the solicitor?”

“I am that,” I answered.

“Are you articled to him?” he asked.

“No,” said I. “I’m an ordinary clerk–of seven years’ standing.”

“Plenty of experience of office work and routine?” he inquired.

“Aye!” I replied. “No end of that, Sir Gilbert!”

“Are you good at figures and accounts?” he asked.

“I’ve kept all Mr. Lindsey’s–and a good many trust accounts–for the last five years,” I answered, wondering what all this was about.

“In fact, you’re thoroughly well up in all clerical matters?” he suggested. “Keeping books, writing letters, all that sort of thing?”

“I can honestly say I’m a past master in everything of that sort,” I affirmed.

He gave me a quick glance, as if he were sizing me up altogether.

“Well, I’ll tell you what, Mr. Moneylaws,” he said. “The fact is, I’m wanting a sort of steward, and it strikes me that you’re just the man I’m looking for!”

CHAPTER XIV

DEAD MAN’S MONEY

I was so much amazed by this extraordinary suggestion, that for the moment I could only stand staring at him, and before I could find my tongue he threw a quick question at me.

“Lindsey wouldn’t stand in your way, would he?” he asked. “Such jobs don’t go begging, you know.”

“Mr. Lindsey wouldn’t stand in my way, Sir Gilbert,” I answered. “But–“

“But what?” said he, seeing me hesitate. “Is it a post you wouldn’t care about, then? There’s five hundred a year with it–and a permanency.”

Strange as it may seem, considering all the circumstances, it never occurred to me for one moment that the man was buying my silence, buying me. There wasn’t the ghost of such a thought in my head–I let out what was there in my next words.

“I’d like such a post fine, Sir Gilbert,” I said. “What I’m thinking of–could I give satisfaction?”

He laughed at that, as if my answer amused him.

“Well, there’s nothing like a spice of modesty, Moneylaws,” said he. “If you can do all we’ve just talked of, you’ll satisfy me well enough. I like the looks of you, and I’m sure you’re the sort that’ll do the thing thoroughly. The post’s at your disposal, if you like to take it.”

I was still struggling with my amazement. Five hundred pounds a year!–and a permanency! It seemed a fortune to a lad of my age. And I was trying to find the right words in which to say all that I felt, when he spoke again.

“Look here!” he said. “Don’t let us arrange this as if we’d done it behind your present employer’s back–I wouldn’t like Mr. Lindsey to think I’d gone behind him to get you. Let it be done this way: I’ll call on Mr. Lindsey myself, and tell him I’m wanting a steward for the property, and that I’ve heard good reports of his clerk, and that I’ll engage you on his recommendation. He’s the sort that would give you a strong word by way of reference, eh?”

“Oh, he’ll do that, Sir Gilbert!” I exclaimed. “Anything that’ll help me on–“

“Then let’s leave it at that,” said he. “I’ll drop in on him at his office–perhaps to-morrow. In the meantime, keep your own counsel. But–you’ll take my offer?”

“I’d be proud and glad to, Sir Gilbert,” said I. “And if you’ll make allowance for a bit of inexperience–“

“You’ll do your best, eh?” he laughed. “That’s all right, Moneylaws.”

He walked out with me to the door, and on to the terrace. And as I wheeled my bicycle away from the porch, he took a step or two alongside me, his hands in his pockets, his lips humming a careless tune. And suddenly he turned on me.

“Have you heard any more about that affair last night?” he asked. “I mean about Crone?”

“Nothing, Sir Gilbert,” I answered.

“I hear that the opinion is that the man was struck down by a gaff,” he remarked. “And perhaps killed before he was thrown into the Till.”

“So the doctor seemed to think,” I said. “And the police, too, I believe.”

“Aye, well,” said he, “I don’t know if the police are aware of it, but I’m very sure there’s night-poaching of salmon going on hereabouts, Moneylaws. I’ve fancied it for some time, and I’ve had thoughts of talking to the police about it. But you see, my land doesn’t touch either Till or Tweed, so I haven’t cared to interfere. But I’m sure that it is so, and it wouldn’t surprise me if both these men, Crone and Phillips, met their deaths at the hands of the gang I’m thinking of. It’s a notion that’s worth following up, anyway, and I’ll have a word with Murray about it when I’m in the town tomorrow.”

Then, with a brief good night, he left me and went into the house, and I got outside Hathercleugh and rode home in a whirl of thoughts. And I’ll confess readily that those thoughts had little to do with what Sir Gilbert Carstairs had last talked about–they were not so much of Phillips, nor of Crone, nor of his suggestion of a possible gang of night-poachers, as about myself and this sudden chance of a great change in my fortunes. For, when all is said and done, we must needs look after ourselves, and when a young man of the age I was then arrived at is asked if he would like to exchange a clerkship of a hundred and twenty a year for a stewardship at more than four times as much–as a permanency–you must agree that his mind will fix itself on what such an exchange means to him, to the exclusion of all other affairs. Five hundred a year to me meant all sorts of fine things–independence, and a house of my own, and, not least by a long way, marriage with Maisie Dunlop. And it was a wonder that I managed to keep cool, and to hold my tongue when I got home–but hold it I did, and to some purpose, and more than once. During the half hour which I managed to get with Maisie last thing that night, she asked me why I was so silent, and, hard though it was to keep from doing so, I let nothing out.

The truth was, Sir Gilbert Carstairs had fascinated me, not only with his grand offer, but with his pleasant, off-hand, companionable manners. He had put me at my ease at once; he had spoken so frankly and with such evident sincerity about his doings on that eventful night, that I accepted every word he said. And–in the little that I had thought of it–I was very ready to accept his theory as to how those two men had come by their deaths–and it was one that was certainly feasible, and worth following up. Some years before, I remembered, something of the same sort had gone on, and had resulted in an affray between salmon-poachers and river-watchers–why should it not have cropped up again? The more I thought of it, the more I felt Sir Gilbert’s suggestion to have reason in it. And in that case all the mystery would be knocked clean out of these affairs–the murder of Phillips, the death of Crone, might prove to be the outcome of some vulgar encounter between them and desperadoes who had subsequently scuttled to safety and were doubtless quaking near at hand, in fear of their misdeeds coming to light; what appeared to be a perfect tangle might be the simplest matter in the world. So I judged–and next morning there came news that seemed to indicate that matters were going to be explained on the lines which Sir Gilbert had suggested.

Chisholm brought that news to our office, just after Mr. Lindsey had come in. He told it to both of us; and from his manner of telling it, we both saw–I, perhaps, not so clearly as Mr. Lindsey–that the police were already at their favourite trick of going for what seemed to them the obvious line of pursuit.

“I’m thinking we’ve got on the right clue at last, as regards the murder of yon man Phillips,” announced Chisholm, with an air of satisfaction. “And if it is the right clue, as it seems to be, Mr. Lindsey, there’ll be no great mystery in the matter, after all. Just a plain case of murder for the sake of robbery–that’s it!”

“What’s your clue?” asked Mr. Lindsey quietly.

“Well,” answered Chisholm, with a sort of sly wink, “you’ll understand, Mr. Lindsey, that we haven’t been doing nothing these last few days, since yon inquest on Phillips, you know. As a matter of fact, we’ve been making inquiries wherever there seemed a chance of finding anything out. And we’ve found something out–through one of the banks yonder at Peebles.”

He looked at us as if to see if we were impressed; seeing, at any rate, that we were deeply interested, he went on.

“It appears–I’ll tell you the story in order, as it were,” he said–“it appears that about eight months ago the agent of the British Linen Bank at Peebles got a letter from one John Phillips, written from a place called Colon, in Panama–that’s Central America, as you’ll be aware–enclosing a draft for three thousand pounds on the International Banking Corporation of New York. The letter instructed the Peebles agent to collect this sum and to place it in his bank to the writer’s credit. Furthermore, it stated that the money was to be there until Phillips came home to Scotland, in a few months’ time from the date of writing. This, of course, was all done in due course–there was the three thousand pounds in Phillips’s name. There was a bit of correspondence between him at Colon and the bank at Peebles–then, at last, he wrote that he was leaving Panama for Scotland, and would call on the bank soon after his arrival. And on the morning of the day on which he was murdered, Phillips did call at the bank and established his identity, and so on, and he then drew out five hundred pounds of his money–two hundred pounds in gold, and the rest in small notes; and, Mr. Lindsey, he carried that sum away with him in a little handbag that he had with him.”

Mr. Lindsey, who had been listening with great attention, nodded.

“Aye!” he said. “Carried five hundred pounds away with him. Go on, then.”

“Now,” continued Chisholm, evidently very well satisfied with himself for the way he was marshalling his facts, “we–that is, to put it plainly, I myself–have been making more searching inquiries about Cornhill and Coldstream. There’s two of the men at Cornhill station will swear that when Phillips got out of the train there, that evening of the murder, he was carrying a little handbag such as the bank cashier remembers–a small, new, brown leather bag. They’re certain of it–the ticket-collector remembers him putting it under his arm while he searched his pocket for his ticket. And what’s more, the landlord of the inn across the bridge there at Coldstream he remembers the bag, clearly enough, and that Phillips never had his hand off it while he was in his house. And of course, Mr. Lindsey, the probability is that in that bag was the money–just as he had drawn it out of the bank.”

“You’ve more to tell,” remarked Mr. Lindsey.

“Just so,” replied Chisholm. “And there’s two items. First of all–we’ve found that bag! Empty, you may be sure. In the woods near that old ruin on Till side. Thrown away under a lot of stuff–dead stuff, you’ll understand, where it might have lain till Doomsday if I hadn’t had a most particular search made. But–that’s not all. The second item is here–the railway folk at Cornhill are unanimous in declaring that by that same train which brought Phillips there, two men, strangers, that looked like tourist gentlemen, came as well, whose tickets were from–where d’ye think, then, Mr. Lindsey?”

“Peebles, of course,” answered Mr. Lindsey.

“And you’ve guessed right!” exclaimed Chisholm, triumphantly; “Peebles it was–and now, how do you think this affair looks? There’s so many tourists on Tweedside this time of the year that nobody paid any great attention that night to these men, nor where they went. But what could be plainer, d’ye think?–of course, those two had tracked Phillips from the bank, and they followed him till they had him in yon place where he was found, and they murdered him–to rob him!”

CHAPTER XV

FIVE HUNDRED A YEAR

It was very evident that Chisholm was in a state of gleeful assurance about his theory, and I don’t think he was very well pleased when Mr. Lindsey, instead of enthusiastically acclaiming it as a promising one, began to ask him questions.

“You found a pretty considerable sum on Phillips as it was when you searched his body, didn’t you?” he asked.

“Aye–a good lot!” assented Chisholm. “But it was in a pocket-book in an inner pocket of his coat, and in his purse.”

“If it was robbery, why didn’t they take everything?” inquired Mr. Lindsey.

“Aye, I knew you’d ask that,” replied Chisholm. “But the thing is that they were interrupted. The bag they could carry off–but it’s probable that they heard Mr. Moneylaws here coming down the lane before they could search the man’s pockets.”

“Umph!” said Mr. Lindsey. “And how do you account for two men getting away from the neighbourhood without attracting attention?”

“Easy enough,” declared Chisholm. “As I said just now, there’s numbers of strangers comes about Tweedside at this time of the year, and who’d think anything of seeing them? What was easier than for these two to separate, to keep close during the rest of the night, and to get away by train from some wayside station or other next morning? They could manage it easily–and we’re making inquiries at all the stations in the district on both sides the Tweed, with that idea.”

“Well–you’ll have a lot of people to follow up, then,” remarked Mr. Lindsey drily. “If you’re going to follow every tourist that got on a train next morning between Berwick and Wooler, and Berwick and Kelso, and Berwick and Burnmouth, and Berwick and Blyth, you’ll have your work set, I’m thinking!”

“All the same,” said Chisholm doggedly, “that’s how it’s been. And the bank at Peebles has the numbers of the notes that Phillips carried off in his little bag–and I’ll trace those fellows yet, Mr. Lindsey.”

“Good luck to you, sergeant!” answered Mr. Lindsey. He turned to me when Chisholm had gone. “That’s the police all over, Hugh,” he remarked. “And you might talk till you were black in the face to yon man, and he’d stick to his story.”

“You don’t believe it, then?” I asked him, somewhat surprised.

“He may be right,” he replied. “I’m not saying. Let him attend to his business–and now we’ll be seeing to ours.”

It was a busy day with us in the office that, being the day before court day, and we had no time to talk of anything but our own affairs. But during the afternoon, at a time when I had left the office for an hour or two on business, Sir Gilbert Carstairs called, and he was closeted with Mr. Lindsey when I returned. And after they had been together some time Mr. Lindsey came out to me and beckoned me into a little waiting-room that we had and shut the door on us, and I saw at once from the expression on his face that he had no idea that Sir Gilbert and I had met the night before, or that I had any notion of what he was going to say to me.

“Hugh, my lad!” said he, clapping me on the shoulder; “you’re evidently one of those that are born lucky. What’s the old saying–‘Some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them!’–eh? Here’s greatness–in a degree–thrusting itself on you!”

“What’s this you’re talking about, Mr. Lindsey?” I asked. “There’s not much greatness about me, I’m thinking!”

“Well, it’s not what you’re thinking in this case,” he answered; “it’s what other folks are thinking of you. Here’s Sir Gilbert Carstairs in my room yonder. He’s wanting a steward–somebody that can keep accounts, and letters, and look after the estate, and he’s been looking round for a likely man, and he’s heard that Lindsey’s clerk, Hugh Moneylaws, is just the sort he wants–and, in short, the job’s yours, if you like to take it. And, my lad, it’s worth five hundred a year–and a permanency, too! A fine chance for a young fellow of your age!”

“Do you advise me to take it, Mr. Lindsey?” I asked, endeavouring to combine surprise with a proper respect for the value of his counsel. “It’s a serious job that for, as you say, a young fellow.”

“Not if he’s got your headpiece on him,” he replied, giving me another clap on the shoulder. “I do advise you to take it. I’ve given you the strongest recommendations to him. Go into my office now and talk it over with Sir Gilbert by yourself. But when it comes to settling details, call me in–I’ll see you’re done right to.”

I thanked him warmly, and went into his room, where Sir Gilbert was sitting in an easy-chair. He motioned me to shut the door, and, once that was done, he gave a quick, inquiring look.

“You didn’t let him know that you and I had talked last night?” he asked at once.

“No,” said I.

“That’s right–and I didn’t either,” he went on. “I don’t want him to know I spoke to you before speaking to him–it would look as if I were trying to get his clerk away from him. Well, it’s settled, then, Moneylaws? You’ll take the post?”

“I shall be very glad to, Sir Gilbert,” said I. “And I’ll serve you to the best of my ability, if you’ll have a bit of patience with me at the beginning. There’ll be some difference between my present job and this you’re giving me, but I’m a quick learner, and–“

“Oh, that’s all right, man!” he interrupted carelessly. “You’ll do all that I want. I hate accounts, and letter-writing, and all that sort of thing–take all that off my hands, and you’ll do. Of course, whenever you’re in a fix about anything, come to me–but I can explain all there is to do in an hour’s talk with you at the beginning. All right!–ask Mr. Lindsey to step in to me, and we’ll put the matter on a business footing.”

Mr. Lindsey came in and took over the job of settling matters on my behalf. And the affair was quickly arranged. I was to stay with Mr. Lindsey another month, so as to give him the opportunity of getting a new head clerk, then I was to enter on my new duties at Hathercleugh. I was to have five hundred pounds a year salary, with six months’ notice on either side; at the end of five years, if I was still in the situation, the terms were to be revised with a view to an increase–and all this was to be duly set down in black and white. These propositions, of course, were Mr. Lindsey’s, and Sir Gilbert assented to all of them readily and promptly. He appeared to be the sort of man who is inclined to accept anything put before him rather than have a lot of talk about it. And presently, remarking that that was all right, and he’d leave Mr. Lindsey to see to it, he rose to go, but at the door paused and came back.

“I’m thinking of dropping in at the police-station and telling Murray my ideas about that Crone affair,” he remarked. “It’s my opinion, Mr. Lindsey, that there’s salmon-poaching going on hereabouts, and if my land adjoined either Tweed or Till I’d have spoken about it before. There are queer characters about along both rivers at nights–I know, because I go out a good deal, very late, walking, to try and cure myself of insomnia; and I know what I’ve seen. It’s my impression that Crone was probably mixed up with some gang, and that his death arose out of an affray between them.”

“That’s probable,” answered Mr. Lindsey. “There was trouble of that sort some years ago, but I haven’t heard of it lately. Certainly, it would be a good thing to start the idea in Murray’s mind; he might follow it up and find something out.”

“That other business–the Phillips murder–might have sprung out of the same cause,” suggested Sir Gilbert. “If those chaps caught a stranger in a lonely place–“

“The police have a theory already about Phillips,” remarked Mr. Lindsey. “They think he was followed from Peebles, and murdered for the sake of money that he was carrying in a bag he had with him. And my experience,” he added with a laugh, “is that if the police once get a theory of their own, it’s no use suggesting any other to them–they’ll ride theirs, either till it drops or they get home with it.”

Sir Gilbert nodded his head, as if he agreed with that, and he suddenly gave Mr. Lindsey an inquiring look.

“What’s your own opinion?” he asked.

But Mr. Lindsey was not to be drawn. He laughed and shrugged his shoulders, as if to indicate that the affair was none of his.

“I wouldn’t say that I have an opinion, Sir Gilbert,” he answered. “It’s much too soon to form one, and I haven’t the details, and I’m not a detective. But all these matters are very simple–when you get to the bottom of them. The police think this is going to be a very simple affair–mere vulgar murder for the sake of mere vulgar robbery. We shall see!”

Then Sir Gilbert went away, and Mr. Lindsey looked at me, who stood a little apart, and he saw that I was thinking.

“Well, my lad,” he said; “a bit dazed by your new opening? It’s a fine chance for you, too! Now, I suppose, you’ll be wanting to get married. Is it that you’re thinking about?”

“Well, I was not, Mr. Lindsey,” said I. “I was just wondering–if you must know–how it was that, as he was here, you didn’t tell Sir Gilbert about that signature of his brother’s that you found on Gilverthwaite’s will.”

He shared a sharp look between me and the door–but the door was safely shut.

“No!” he said. “Neither to him nor to anybody, yet a while! And don’t you mention that, my lad. Keep it dark till I give the word. I’ll find out about that in my own way. You understand–on that point, absolute silence.”

I replied that, of course, I would not say a word; and presently I went into the office to resume my duties. But I had not been long at that before the door opened, and Chisholm put his face within and looked at me.

“I’m wanting you, Mr. Moneylaws,” he said. “You said you were with Crone, buying something, that night before his body was found. You’d be paying him money–and he might be giving you change. Did you happen to see his purse, now?”

“Aye!” answered I. “What for do you ask that?”

“Because,” said he, “we’ve taken a fellow at one of those riverside publics that’s been drinking heavily, and, of course, spending money freely. And he has a queer-looking purse on him, and one or two men that’s seen it vows and declares it was Abel Crone’s.”

CHAPTER XVI

THE MAN IN THE CELL

Before I could reply to Chisholm’s inquiry, Mr. Lindsey put his head out of his door and seeing the police-sergeant there asked what he was after. And when Chisholm had repeated his inquiry, both looked at me.

“I did see Crone’s purse that night,” I answered, “an old thing that he kept tied up with a boot-lace. And he’d a lot of money in it, too.”

“Come round, then, and see if you can identify this that we found on the man,” requested Chisholm. “And,” he added, turning to Mr. Lindsey, “there’s another thing. The man’s sober enough, now that we’ve got him–it’s given him a bit of a pull-together, being arrested. And he’s demanding a lawyer. Perhaps you’ll come to him, Mr. Lindsey.”

“Who is he?” asked Mr. Lindsey. “A Berwick man?”

“He isn’t,” replied Chisholm. “He’s a stranger–a fellow that says he was seeking work, and had been stopping at a common lodging-house in the town. He vows and declares that he’d nothing to do with killing Crone, and he’s shouting for a lawyer.”

Mr. Lindsey put on his hat, and he and I went off with Chisholm to the police-station. And as we got in sight of it, we became aware that there was a fine to-do in the street before its door. The news of the arrest had spread quickly, and folk had come running to get more particulars. And amongst the women and children and loafers that were crowding around was Crone’s housekeeper, a great, heavy, rough-haired Irishwoman called Nance Maguire, and she was waving her big arms and shaking her fists at a couple of policemen, whom she was adjuring to bring out the murderer, so that she might do justice on him then and there–all this being mingled with encomiums on the victim.

“The best man that ever lived!” she was screaming at the top of her voice. “The best and kindest creature ever set foot in your murdering town! And didn’t I know he was to be done to death by some of ye? Didn’t he tell me himself that there was one would give his two eyes to be seeing his corpse? And if ye’ve laid hands on him that did it, bring him out to me, so, and I’ll–“

Mr. Lindsey laid a quiet hand on the woman’s arm and twisted her round in the direction of her cottage.

“Hold your wisht, good wife, and go home!” he whispered to her. “And if you know anything, keep your tongue still till I come to see you. Be away, now, and leave it to me.”

I don’t know how it was, but Nance Maguire, after a sharp look at Mr. Lindsey, turned away as meekly as a lamb, and went off, tearful enough, but quiet, down the street, followed by half the rabble, while Mr. Lindsey, Chisholm, and myself turned into the police-station. And there we met Mr. Murray, who wagged his head at us as if he were very well satisfied with something.

“Not much doubt about this last affair, anyhow,” said he, as he took us into his office. “You might say the man was caught red-handed! All the same, Mr. Lindsey, he’s in his rights to ask for a lawyer, and you can see him whenever you like.”

“What are the facts?” asked Mr. Lindsey. “Let me know that much first.”

Mr. Murray jerked his thumb at Chisholm.

“The sergeant there knows them,” he answered. “He took the man.”

“It was this way, d’ye see, Mr. Lindsey,” said Chisholm, who was becoming an adept at putting statements before people. “You know that bit of a public there is along the river yonder, outside the wall–the Cod and Lobster? Well, James Macfarlane, that keeps it, he came to me, maybe an hour or so ago, and said there was a fellow, a stranger, had been in and out there all day since morning, drinking; and though he wouldn’t say the man was what you’d rightly call drunk, still he’d had a skinful, and he was in there again, and they wouldn’t serve him, and he was getting quarrelsome and abusive, and in the middle of it had pulled out a purse that another man who was in there vowed and declared, aside, to Macfarlane, was Abel Crone’s. So I got a couple of constables and went back with Macfarlane, and there was the man vowing he’d be served, and with a handful of money to prove that he could pay for whatever he called for. And as he began to turn ugly, and show fight, we just clapped the bracelets on him and brought him along, and there he is in the cells–and, of course, it’s sobered him down, and he’s demanding his rights to see a lawyer.”

“Who is he?” asked Mr. Lindsey.

“A stranger to the town,” replied Chisholm. “And he’ll neither give name nor address but to a lawyer, he declares. But we know he was staying at one of the common lodging-houses–Watson’s–three nights ago, and that the last two nights he wasn’t in there at all.”

“Well–where’s that purse?” demanded Mr. Lindsey. “Mr. Moneylaws here says he can identify it, if it’s Crone’s.”

Chisholm opened a drawer and took out what I at once knew to be Abel Crone’s purse–which was in reality a sort of old pocket-book or wallet, of some sort of skin, with a good deal of the original hair left on it, and tied about with a bit of old bootlace. There were both gold and silver in it–just as I had seen when Crone pulled it out to find me some change for a five-shilling piece I had given him–and more by token, there was the five-shilling piece itself!

“That’s Crone’s purse!” I exclaimed. “I’ve no doubt about that. And that’s a crown piece I gave him myself; I’ve no doubt about that either!”

“Let us see the man,” said Mr. Lindsey.

Chisholm led us down a corridor to the cells, and unlocked a door. He stepped within the cell behind it, motioning us to follow. And there, on the one stool which the place contained, sat a big, hulking fellow that looked like a navvy, whose rough clothes bore evidence of his having slept out in them, and whose boots were stained with the mud and clay which they would be likely to collect along the riverside. He was sitting nursing his head in his hands, growling to himself, and he looked up at us as I have seen wild beasts look out through the bars of cages. And somehow, there was that in the man’s eyes which made me think, there and then, that he was not reflecting on any murder that he had done, but was sullenly and stupidly angry with himself.

“Now, then, here’s a lawyer for you,” said Chisholm. “Mr. Lindsey, solicitor.”

“Well, my man!” began Mr. Lindsey, taking a careful look at this queer client. “What have you got to say to me?”

The prisoner gave Chisholm a disapproving look.

“Not going to say a word before the likes of him!” he growled. “I know my rights, guv’nor! What I say, I’ll say private to you.”

“Better leave us, sergeant,” said Mr. Lindsey. He waited till Chisholm, a bit unwilling, had left the cell and closed the door, and then he turned to the man. “Now, then,” he continued, “you know what they charge you with? You’ve been drinking hard–are you sober enough to talk sense? Very well, then–what’s this you want me for?”

“To defend me, of course!” growled the prisoner. He twisted a hand round to the back of his trousers as if to find something. “I’ve money of my own–a bit put away in a belt,” he said; “I’ll pay you.”

“Never mind that now,” answered Mr. Lindsey. “Who are you?–and what do you want to say?”

“Name of John Carter,” replied the man. “General labourer–navvy work–anything of that sort. On tramp–seeking a job. Came here, going north, night before last. And–no more to do with the murder of yon man than you have!”

“They found his purse on you, anyway,” remarked Mr. Lindsey bluntly. “What have you got to say to that?”

“What I say is that I’m a damned fool!” answered Carter surlily. “It’s all against me, I know, but I’ll tell you–you can tell lawyers anything. Who’s that young fellow?” he demanded suddenly, glaring at me. “I’m not going to talk before no detectives.”

“My clerk,” replied Mr. Lindsey. “Now, then–tell your tale. And just remember what a dangerous position you’re in.”

“Know that as well as you do,” muttered the prisoner. “But I’m sober enough, now! It’s this way–I stopped here in the town three nights since, and looked about for a job next day, and then I heard of something likely up the river and went after it and didn’t get it, so I started back here–late at night it was. And after crossing that bridge at a place called Twizel, I turned down to the river-bank, thinking to take a short cut. And–it was well after dark, then, mind you, guv’nor–in coming along through the woods, just before where the little river runs into the big one, I come across this man’s body–stumbled on it. That’s the truth!”

“Well!” said Mr. Lindsey.

“He was lying–I could show you the place, easy–between the edge of the wood and the river-bank,” continued Carter. “And though he was dead enough when I found him, guv’nor, he hadn’t been dead so long. But dead he was–and not from aught of my doing.”

“What time was this?” asked Mr. Lindsey.

“It would be past eleven o’clock,” replied Carter. “It was ten when I called by Cornhill station. I went the way I did–down through the woods to the river-bank–because I’d noticed a hut there in the morning that I could sleep in–I was making for that when I found the body.”

“Well–about the purse?” demanded Mr. Lindsey shortly. “No lies, now!”

The prisoner shook his head at that, and growled–but it was evident he was growling at himself.

“That’s right enough,” he confessed. “I felt in his pockets, and I did take the purse. But–I didn’t put him in the water. True as I’m here, guv’nor. I did no more than take the purse! I left him there–just as he was–and the next day I got drinking, and last night I stopped in that hut again, and today I was drinking, pretty heavy–and I sort of lost my head and pulled the purse out, and–that’s the truth, anyway, whether you believe it or not. But I didn’t kill yon man, though I’ll admit I robbed his body–like the fool I am!”

“Well, you see where it’s landed you,” remarked Mr. Lindsey. “All right–hold your tongue now, and I’ll see what I can do. I’ll appear for you when you come before the magistrate tomorrow.”

He tapped at the door of the cell, and Chisholm, who had evidently waited in the corridor, let us out. Mr. Lindsey said nothing to him, nor to the superintendent–he led me away into the street. And there he clapped me on the arm.

“I believe every word that man said!” he murmured. “Come on, now–we’ll see this Nance Maguire.”

CHAPTER XVII

THE IRISH HOUSEKEEPER

I was a good deal surprised that Mr. Lindsey should be–apparently–so anxious to interview Crone’s housekeeper, and I said as much. He turned on me sharply, with a knowing look.

“Didn’t you hear what the woman was saying when we came across her there outside the police-station?” he exclaimed. “She was saying that Crone had said to her that there was some man who would give his two eyes to be seeing his corpse! Crone’s been telling her something. And I’m so convinced that that man in the cells yonder has told us the truth, as regards himself, that I’m going to find out what Crone did tell her. Who is there–who could there be that wanted to see Crone’s dead body? Let’s try to find that out.”

I made no answer–but I was beginning to think; and to wonder, too, in a vague, not very pleasant fashion. Was this–was Crone’s death, murder, whatever it was–at all connected with the previous affair of Phillips? Had Crone told me the truth that night I went to buy the stuff for Tom Dunlop’s rabbit-hutches? or had he kept something back? And while I was reflecting on these points, Mr. Lindsey began talking again.

“I watched that man closely when he was giving me his account of what happened,” he said, “and, as I said just now, I believe he told us the truth. Whoever it was that did Crone to death, he’s not in that cell, Hugh, my lad; and, unless I’m much mistaken, all this is of a piece with Phillips’s murder. But let’s hear what this Irishwoman has to say.”

Crone’s cottage was a mean, miserable shanty sort of place down a narrow alley in a poor part of the town. When we reached its door there was a group of women and children round it, all agog with excitement. But the door itself was closed, and it was not opened to us until Nance Maguire’s face had appeared at the bit of a window, and Nance had assured herself of the identity of her visitors. And when she had let us in, she shut the door once more and slipped a bolt into its socket.

“I an’t said a word, your honour,” said she, “since your honour told me not to, though them outside is sharp on me to tell ’em this and that. And I wouldn’t have said what I did up yonder had I known your honour would be for supporting me. I was feeling there wasn’t a soul in the place would see justice done for him that’s gone–the poor, good man!”

“If you want justice, my good woman,” remarked Mr. Lindsey, “keep your tongue quiet, and don’t talk to your neighbours, nor to the police–just keep anything you know till I tell you to let it out. Now, then, what’s this you were saying?–that Crone told you there was a man in the place would give his two eyes to see him a corpse?”

“Them very words, your honour; and not once nor twice, but a good many times did he say it,” replied the woman. “It was a sort of hint he was giving me, your honour–he had that way of speaking.”

“Since when did he give you such hints?” asked Mr. Lindsey. “Was it only lately?”

“It was since that other bloody murder, your honour,” said Nance Maguire. “Only since then. He would talk of it as we sat over the fire there at nights. ‘There’s murder in the air,’ says he. ‘Bloody murder is all around us!’ he says. ‘And it’s myself will have to pick my steps careful,’ he says, ‘for there’s him about would give his two eyes to see me a stark and staring corpse,’ he says. ‘Me knowing,’ he says, ‘more than you’d give me credit for,’ says he. And not another word than them could I get out of him, your honour.”

“He never told you who the man was that he had his fears of?” inquired Mr. Lindsey.

“He did not, then, your honour,” replied Nance. “He was a close man, and you wouldn’t be getting more out of him than he liked to tell.”

“Now, then, just tell me the truth about a thing or two,” said Mr. Lindsey. “Crone used to be out at nights now and then, didn’t he?”

“Indeed, then, he did so, your honour,” she answered readily. “‘Tis true, he would be out at nights, now and again.”

“Poaching, as a matter of fact,” suggested Mr. Lindsey.

“And that’s the truth, your honour,” she assented. “He was a clever hand with the rabbits.”

“Aye; but did he never bring home a salmon, now?” asked Mr. Lindsey. “Come, out with it.”

“I’ll not deny that, neither, your honour,” admitted the woman. “He was clever at that too.”

“Well, now, about that night when he was supposed to be killed,” continued Mr. Lindsey; “that’s Tuesday last–this being Thursday. Did he ever come home that evening from his shop?”

I had been listening silently all this time, and I listened with redoubled attention for the woman’s answer to the last question. It was on the Tuesday evening, about nine o’clock, that I had had my talk with Crone, and I was anxious to know what happened after that. And Nance Maguire replied readily enough–it was evident her memory was clear on these events.

“He did not, then,” she said. “He was in here having his tea at six o’clock that evening, and he went away to the shop when he’d had it, and I never put my eyes on him again, alive, your honour. He was never home that night, and he didn’t come to his breakfast next morning, and he wasn’t at the shop–and I never heard this or that of him till they come and tell me the bad news.”

I knew then what must have happened. After I had left him, Crone had gone away up the river towards Tillmouth–he had a crazy old bicycle that he rode about on. And most people, having heard Nance Maguire’s admissions, would have said that he had gone poaching. But I was not so sure of that. I was beginning to suspect that Crone had played some game with me, and had not told me anything like the truth during our conversation. There had been more within his knowledge than he had let out–but what was it? And I could not help feeling that his object in setting off in that direction, immediately after I had left him, might have been, not poaching, but somebody to whom he wished to communicate the result of his talk with me. And, in that case, who was the somebody?

But just then I had to leave my own thoughts and speculations alone, and to attend to what was going on between my principal and Nance Maguire. Mr. Lindsey, however, appeared to be satisfied with what he had heard. He gave the woman some further advice about keeping her tongue still, told her what to do as regards Crone’s effects, and left the cottage. And when we were out in the main street again on our way back to the office he turned to me with a look of decision.

“I’ve come to a definite theory about this affair, Hugh,” he said. “And I’ll lay a fiver to a farthing that it’s the right one!”

“Yes, Mr. Lindsey?” said I, keenly interested at hearing that.

“Crone knew who killed Phillips,” he said. “And the man who killed Phillips killed Crone, too, because Crone knew! That’s been the way of it, my lad! And now, then, who’s the man?”

I could make no reply to such a question, and presently he went on–talking as much to himself, I think, as to me.

“I wish I knew certain things!” he muttered. “I wish I knew what Phillips and Gilverthwaite came here for. I wish I knew if Gilverthwaite ever had any secret dealings with Crone. I wish–I do wish!–I knew if there has been–if there is–a third man in this Phillips-Gilverthwaite affair who has managed, and is managing, to keep himself in the background. But–I’ll stake my professional reputation on one thing–whoever killed Phillips, killed Abel Crone! It’s all of a piece.”

Now, of course I know now–have known for many a year–that it was at this exact juncture that I made a fatal, a reprehensible mistake in my share of all this business. It was there, at that exact point, that I ought to have made a clean breast to Mr. Lindsey of everything that I knew. I ought to have told him, there and then, of what I had seen at the cross-roads that night of the murder of Phillips; and of my conversation about that with Abel Crone at his shop; and of my visit to Sir Gilbert Carstairs at Hathercleugh House. Had I done so, matters would have become simplified, and much more horror and trouble avoided, for Mr. Lindsey was just then at the beginning of a straight track and my silence turned him away from it, to get into more twisted and obscure ones. But–I said nothing. And why? The answer is simple, and there’s the excuse of human nature in it–I was so much filled with the grand prospects of my stewardship, and of all it would bring me, and was so highly pleased with Sir Gilbert Carstairs for his advancement of my fortunes, that–here’s the plain truth–I could not bring myself to think of, or bother with, anything else. Up to then, of course, I had not said a word to my mother or to Maisie Dunlop of the stewardship–I was impatient to tell both. So I held my peace and said nothing to Mr. Lindsey–and presently the office work for the day was over and I was free to race home with my grand news. Is it likely that with such news as that I would be troubling my head any longer about other folks’ lives and deaths?

That, I suppose, was the most important evening I had ever spent in my life. To begin with, I felt as if I had suddenly become older, and bigger, and much more important. I became inclined to adopt magisterial airs to my mother and my sweetheart, laying down the law to them as to the future in a fashion which made Maisie poke fun at me for a crowing cockerel. It was only natural that I should suffer a little from swelled head that night–I should not have been human otherwise. But Andrew Dunlop took the conceit out of me with a vengeance when Maisie and I told him the news, and I explained everything to him in his back-parlour. He was at times a man of many words, and at times a man of few words–and when he said little, he meant most.

“Aye!” said he. “Well, that’s a fine prospect, Hugh, my man, and I wish you well in it. But there’ll be no talk of any wedding for two years–so get that notion out of your heads, both of you! In two years you’ll just have got settled to your new job, and you’ll be finding out how you suit your master and how he suits you–we’ll get the preliminaries over, and see how things promise in that time. And we’ll see, too, how much money you’ve saved out of your salary, my man–so you’ll just not hear the wedding-bells calling for a couple of twelvemonths, and’ll behave yourselves like good children in the meanwhile. There’s a deal of things may happen in two years, I’m thinking.”

He might have added that a deal of things may happen in two weeks–and, indeed, he would have had good reason for adding it, could he have looked a few days ahead.

CHAPTER XVIII

THE ICE AX

The police put Carter in the dock before a full bench of magistrates next morning, and the court was so crowded that it was all Mr. Lindsey and I could do to force our way to the solicitors’ table. Several minor cases came on before Carter was brought up from the cells, and during this hearing I had leisure to look round the court and see who was there. And almost at once I saw Sir Gilbert Carstairs, who, though not yet a justice of the peace–his commission to that honourable office arrived a few days later, oddly enough,–had been given a seat on the bench, in company with one or two other local dignitaries, one of whom, I observed with some curiosity, was that Reverend Mr. Ridley who had given evidence at the inquest on Phillips. All these folk, it was easy to see, were in a high state of inquisitiveness about Crone’s murder; and from certain whispers that I overheard, I gathered that the chief cause of this interest lay in a generally accepted opinion that it was, as Mr. Lindsey had declared to me more than once, all of a piece with the crime of the previous week. And it was very easy to observe that they were not so curious to see Carter as to hear what might be alleged against him.

There appeared to be some general surprise when Mr. Lindsey quietly announced that he was there on behalf of the prisoner. You would have thought from the demeanour of the police that, in their opinion, there was nothing for the bench to do but hear a bit of evidence and commit Carter straight away to the Assizes to take his trial for wilful murder. What evidence they did bring forward was, of course, plain and straightforward enough. Crone had been found lying in a deep pool in the River Till; but the medical testimony showed that he had met his fate by a blow from some sharp instrument, the point of which had penetrated the skull and the frontal part of the brain in such a fashion as to cause instantaneous death. The man in the dock had been apprehended with Crone’s purse in his possession–therefore, said the police, he had murdered and robbed Crone. As I say, Mr. Murray and all of them–as you could see–were quite of the opinion that this was sufficient; and I am pretty sure that the magistrates were of the same way of thinking. And the police were not over well pleased, and the rest of the folk in court were, to say the least, a little mystified, when Mr. Lindsey asked a few questions of two witnesses–of whom Chisholm was one, and the doctor who had been fetched to Crone’s body the other. And before setting down what questions they were that Mr. Lindsey asked, I will remark here that there was a certain something, a sort of mysterious hinting in his manner of asking them, that suggested a lot more than the mere questions themselves, and made people begin to whisper amongst each other that Lawyer Lindsey knew things that he was not just then minded to let out.

It was to Chisholm that he put his first questions–casually, as if they were very ordinary ones, and yet with an atmosphere of meaning behind them that excited curiosity.

“You made a very exhaustive search of the neighbourhood of the spot where Crone’s body was found, didn’t you?” he inquired.

“A thorough search,” answered Chisholm.

“You found the exact spot where the man had been struck down?”

“Judging by the marks of blood–yes.”

“On the river-bank–between the river and a coppice, wasn’t it?”

“Just so–between the bank and the coppice.”

“How far had the body been dragged before it was thrown into the river?”

“Ten yards,” replied Chisholm promptly.

“Did you notice any footprints?” asked Mr. Lindsey.

“It would be difficult to trace any,” explained Chisholm. “The grass is very thick in some places, and where it isn’t thick it’s that close and wiry in texture that a boot wouldn’t make any impression.”

“One more question,” said Mr. Lindsey, leaning forward and looking Chisholm full in the face. “When you charged the man there in the dock with the murder of Abel Crone, didn’t he at once–instantly!–show the greatest surprise? Come, now, on your oath–yes or no?”

“Yes!” admitted Chisholm; “he did.”

“But he just as readily admitted he was in possession of Crone’s purse? Again–yes or no?”

“Yes,” said Chisholm. “Yes–that’s so.”

That was all Mr. Lindsey asked Chisholm. It was not much more that he asked the doctor. But there was more excitement about what he did ask him–arising out of something that he did in asking it.

“There’s been talk, doctor, as to what the precise weapon was which caused the fatal injury to this man Crone,” he said. “It’s been suggested that the wound which occasioned his death might have been–and probably was–caused by a blow from a salmon gaff. What is your opinion?”

“It might have been,” said the doctor cautiously.

“It was certainly caused by a pointed weapon–some sort of a spiked weapon?” suggested Mr. Lindsey.

“A sharp, pointed weapon, most certainly,” affirmed the doctor.

“There are other things than a salmon gaff that, in your opinion, could have caused it?”

“Oh, of course!” said the doctor.

Mr. Lindsey paused a moment, and looked round the court as if he were thinking over his next question. Then he suddenly plunged his hand under the table at which he was standing, and amidst a dead silence drew out a long, narrow brown-paper parcel which I had seen him bring to the office that morning. Quietly, while the silence grew deeper and the interest stronger, he produced from this an object such as I had never seen before–an implement or weapon about three feet in length, its shaft made of some tough but evidently elastic wood, furnished at one end with a strong iron ferrule, and at the other with a steel head, one extremity of which was shaped like a carpenter’s adze, while the other tapered off to a fine point. He balanced this across his open palms for a moment, so that the court might see it–then he passed it over to the witness-box.

“Now, doctor,” he said, “look at that–which is one of the latest forms of the ice-ax. Could that wound have been caused by that–or something very similar to it?”

The witness put a forefinger on the sharp point of the head.

“Certainly!” he answered. “It is much more likely to have been caused by such an implement as this than by a salmon gaff.”

Mr. Lindsey reached out his hand for the ice-ax, and, repossessing himself of it, passed it and its brown-paper wrapping to me.

“Thank you, doctor,” he said; “that’s all I wanted to know.” He turned to the bench. “I wish to ask your worships, if it is your intention, on the evidence you have heard, to commit the prisoner on the capital charge today?” he asked. “If it is, I shall oppose such a course. What I do ask, knowing what I do, is that you should adjourn this case for a week–when I shall have some evidence to put before you which, I think, will prove that this man did not kill Abel Crone.”

There was some discussion. I paid little attention to it, being considerably amazed at the sudden turn which things had taken, and astonished altogether by Mr. Lindsey’s production of the ice-ax. But the discussion ended in Mr. Lindsey having his own way, and Carter was remanded in custody, to be brought up again a week later; and presently we were all out in the streets, in groups, everybody talking excitedly about what had just taken place, and speculating on what it was that Lawyer Lindsey was after. Mr. Lindsey himself, however, was more imperturbable and, if anything, cooler than usual. He tapped me on the arm as we went out of court, and at the same time took the parcel containing the ice-ax from me.

“Hugh,” he said; “there’s nothing more to do today, and I’m going out of town at once, until tomorrow. You can lock up the office now, and you and the other two can take a holiday. I’m going straight home and then to the station.”

He turned hurriedly away in the direction of his house, and I went off to the office to carry out his instructions. There was nothing strange in his giving us a holiday–it was a thing he often did in summer, on fine days when we had nothing much to do, and this was a gloriously fine day and the proceedings in court had been so short that it was not yet noon. So I packed off the two junior clerks and the office lad, and locked up, and went away myself–and in the street outside I met Sir Gilbert Carstairs. He was coming along in our direction, evidently deep in thought, and he started a little as he looked up and saw me.

“Hullo, Moneylaws!” he said in his off-hand fashion. “I was just wanting to see you. I say!” he went on, laying a hand on my arm, “you’re dead certain that you’ve never mentioned to a soul but myself anything about that affair of yours and Crone’s–you know what I mean?”

“Absolutely certain, Sir Gilbert!” I answered. “There’s no living being knows–but yourself.”

“That’s all right,” he said, and I could see he was relieved. “I don’t want mixing up with these matters–I should very much dislike it. What’s Lindsey trying to get at in his defence of this man Carter?”

“I can’t think,” I replied. “Unless it is that he’s now inclining to the theory of the police that Phillips was murdered by some man or men who followed him from Peebles, and that the same man or men murdered Crone. I think that must be it: there were some men–tourists–about, who haven’t been found yet.”

He hesitated a moment, and then glanced at our office door.

“Lindsey in?” he asked.

“No, Sir Gilbert,” I replied. “He’s gone out of town and given us a holiday.”

“Oh!” he said, looking at me with a sudden smile. “You’ve got a holiday, have you, Moneylaws? Look here–I’m going for a run in my bit of a yacht–come with me! How soon can you be ready?”

“As soon as I’ve taken my dinner, Sir Gilbert,” I answered, pleased enough at the invitation. “Would an hour do?”

“You needn’t bother about your dinner,” he said. “I’m having a lunch basket packed now at the hotel, and I’ll step in and tell them to put in enough for two. Go and get a good thick coat, and meet me down at the front in half an hour.”

I ran off home, told my mother where I was going, and hurried away to the river-side. The Tweed was like a mirror flashing back the sunlight that day, and out beyond its mouth the open sea was bright and blue as the sky above. How could I foresee that out there, in those far-off dancing waters, there was that awaiting me of which I can only think now, when it is long past, with fear and horror?

CHAPTER XIX

MY TURN

I had known for some time that Sir Gilbert Carstairs had a small yacht lying at one of the boathouses on the riverside; indeed, I had seen her before ever I saw him. She was a trim, graceful thing, with all the appearance of an excellent sea-boat, and though she looked like a craft that could stand a lot of heavy weather, she had the advantage of being so light in draught–something under three feet–that it was possible for her to enter the shallowest harbour. I had heard that Sir Gilbert was constantly sailing her up and down the coast, and sometimes going well out to sea in her. On these occasions he was usually accompanied by a fisherlad whom he had picked up somehow or other: this lad, Wattie Mason, was down by the yacht when I reached her, and he gave me a glowering look when he found that I was to put his nose out for this time at any rate. He hung around us until we got off, as a hungry dog hangs around a table on the chance of a bone being thrown to him; but he got no recognition from Sir Gilbert, who, though the lad had been useful enough to him before, took no more notice of him that day than of one of the pebbles on the beach. And if I had been more of a student of human nature, I should have gained some idea of my future employer’s character from that small circumstance, and have seen that he had no feeling or consideration for anybody unless it happened to be serving and suiting his purpose.

But at that moment I was thinking of nothing but the pleasure of taking a cruise in the yacht, in the company of a man in whom I was naturally interested. I was passionately fond of the sea, and had already learned from the Berwick sea-going folk how to handle small craft, and the management of a three-oar vessel like this was an easy matter to me, as I soon let Sir Gilbert know. Once outside the river mouth, with a nice light breeze blowing off the land, we set squaresail, mainsail, and foresail and stood directly out to sea on as grand a day and under as fair conditions as a yachtsman could desire; and when we were gaily bowling along Sir Gilbert bade me unpack the basket which had been put aboard from the hotel–it was a long time, he said, since his breakfast, and we would eat and drink at the outset of things. If I had not been hungry myself, the sight of the provisions in that basket would have made me so–there was everything in there that a man could desire, from cold salmon and cold chicken to solid roast beef, and there was plenty of claret and whisky to wash it down with. And, considering how readily and healthily Sir Gilbert Carstairs ate and drank, and how he talked and laughed while we lunched side by side under that glorious sky, gliding away over a smooth, innocent-looking sea, I have often wondered since if what was to come before nightfall came of deliberate intention on his part, or from a sudden yielding to temptation when the chance of it arose–and for the life of me I cannot decide! But if the man had murder in his heart, while he sat there at my side, eating his good food and drinking his fine liquor, and sharing both with me and pressing me to help myself to his generous provision–if it was so, I say, then he was of an indescribable cruelty which it makes me cringe to think of, and I would prefer to believe that the impulse to bring about my death came from a sudden temptation springing from a sudden chance. And yet–God knows it is a difficult problem to settle!

For this was what it came to, and before sunset was reddening the western skies behind the Cheviots. We went a long, long way out–far beyond the thirty-fathom line, which is, as all sailors acquainted with those waters know, a good seven miles from shore; indeed, as I afterwards reckoned, we were more than twice that distance from Berwick pier-end when the affair happened–perhaps still further. We had been tacking about all the afternoon, first south, then north, not with any particular purpose, but aimlessly. We scarcely set eyes on another sail, and at a little after seven o’clock in the evening, when there was some talk of going about and catching the wind, which had changed a good deal since noon and was now coming more from the southeast, we were in the midst of a great waste of sea in which I could not make out a sign of any craft but ours–not even a trail of smoke on the horizon. The flat of the land had long since disappeared: the upper slopes of the Cheviots on one side of Tweed and of the Lammermoor Hills on the other, only just showed above the line of the sea. There was, I say, nothing visible on all that level of scarcely stirred water but our own sails, set to catch whatever breeze there was, when that happened which not only brought me to the very gates of death, but, in the mere doing of it, gave me the greatest horror of any that I have ever known.

I was standing up at the moment, one foot on the gunwale, the other on the planking behind me, carelessly balancing myself while I stared across the sea in search of some object which he–this man that I trusted so thoroughly and in whose company I had spent so many pleasant hours that afternoon, and who was standing behind me at the moment–professed to see in the distance, when he suddenly lurched against me, as if he had slipped and lost his footing. That was what I believed in that startling moment–but as I went head first overboard I was aware that his fall was confined to a sprawl into the scuppers. Overboard I went!–but he remained where he was. And my weight–I was weighing a good thirteen stone at that time, being a big and hefty youngster–carried me down and down into the green water, for I had been shot over the side with considerable impetus. And when I came up, a couple of boat’s-lengths from the yacht, expecting to find that he was bringing her up so that I could scramble aboard, I saw with amazed and incredulous affright that he was doing nothing of the sort; instead, working at it as hard as he could go, he was letting out a couple of reefs which he had taken up in the mainsail an hour before–in another minute they were out, the yacht moved more swiftly, and, springing to the tiller, he deliberately steered her clear away from me.

I suppose I saw his purpose all at once. Perhaps it drove me wild, mad, frenzied. The yacht was going away from me fast–faster; good swimmer though I was, it was impossible for me to catch up to her–she was making her own length to every stroke I took, and as she drew away he stood there, one hand on the tiller, the other in his pocket (I have often wondered if it was fingering a revolver in there!), his eyes turned steadily on me. And I began first to beg and entreat him to save me, and then to shout out and curse him–and at that, and seeing that we were becoming further and further separated, he deliberately put the yacht still more before the freshening wind, and went swiftly away, and looked at me no more.

So he left me to drown.

We had been talking a lot about swimming during the afternoon, and I had told him that though I had been a swimmer ever since boyhood, I had never done more than a mile at a stretch, and then only in the river. He knew, therefore, that he was leaving me a good fourteen miles from land with not a sail in sight, not a chance of being picked up. Was it likely that I could make land?–was there ever a probability of anything coming along that would sight me? There was small likelihood, anyway; the likelihood was that long before the darkness had come on I should be exhausted, give up, and go down.

You may conceive with what anger, and with what fierce resentment, I watched this man and his yacht going fast away from me–and with what despair too. But even in that moment I was conscious of two facts–I now knew that yonder was the probable murderer of both Phillips and Crone, and that he was leaving me to die because I was the one person living who could throw some light on those matters, and, though I had kept silence up to then, might be tempted, or induced, or obliged to do so–he would silence me while he had so good a chance. And the other was, that although there seemed about as much likelihood of my ever seeing Berwick again as of being made King of England, I must do my utmost to save my strength and my life. I had a wealth of incentives–Maisie, my mother, Mr. Lindsey, youth, the desire to live; and now there was another added to them–the desire to circumvent that cold-hearted, cruel devil, who, I was now sure, had all along been up to some desperate game, and to have my revenge and see justice done on him. I was not going to give in without making a fight for it.

But it was a poor chance that I had–and I was well aware of it. There was small prospect of fishing boats or the like coming out that evening; small likelihood of any coasting steamer sighting a bit of a speck like me. All the same, I was going to keep my chin up as long as possible, and the first thing to do was to take care of my strength. I made shift to divest myself of a heavy pea-jacket that I was wearing and of the unnecessary clothing beneath it; I got rid, too, of my boots. And after resting a bit on my back and considering matters, I decided to make a try for land–I might perhaps meet some boat coming out. I lifted my head well up and took a glance at what I could see–and my heart sank at what I did see! The yacht was a speck in the distance by that time, and far beyond it the Cheviots and the Lammermoors were mere bits of grey outline against the gold and crimson of the sky. One thought instantly filled and depressed me–I was further from land than I had believed.

At this distance from it I have but confused and vague recollections of that night. Sometimes I dream of it–even now–and wake sweating with fear. In those dreams I am toiling and toiling through a smooth sea–it is always a smooth, oily, slippery sea–towards something to which I make no great headway. Sometimes I give up toiling through sheer and desperate aching of body and limbs, and let myself lie drifting into helplessness and a growing sleep. And then–in my dream–I start to find myself going down into strange cavernous depths of shining green, and I wake–in my dream–to begin fighting and toiling again against my compelling desire to give up.