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I do not know how long I made a fight of it in reality; it must have been for hours–alternately swimming, alternately resting myself by floating. I had queer thoughts. It was then about the time that some men were attempting to swim the Channel. I remember laughing grimly, wishing them joy of their job–they were welcome to mine! I remember, too, that at last in the darkness I felt that I must give up, and said my prayers; and it was about that time, when I was beginning to feel a certain numbness of mind as well as weariness of body, that as I struck out in the mechanical and weakening fashion which I kept up from what little determination I had left, I came across my salvation–in the shape of a piece of wreckage that shoved itself against me in the blackness, as if it had been some faithful dog, pushing its nose into my hand to let me know it was there. It was no more than a square of grating, but it was heavy and substantial; and as I clung to and climbed on to it, I knew that it made all the difference to me between life and death.

CHAPTER XX

THE SAMARITAN SKIPPER

I clung to that heaven-sent bit of wreckage, exhausted and weary, until the light began to break in the east. I was numbed and shivering with cold–but I was alive and safe. That square yard of good and solid wood was as much to me as if it had been a floating island. And as the light grew and grew, and the sun at last came up, a ball of fire out of the far horizon, I looked across the sea on all sides, hoping to catch sight of a sail, or of a wisp of smoke–of anything that would tell me of the near presence of human beings. And one fact I realized at once–I was further away from land than when I had begun my battle with death. There was no sign of land in the west. The sky was now clear and bright on all sides, but there was nothing to break the line where it met the sea. Before the fading of the light on the previous evening, I had easily made out the well-known outlines of the Cheviots on one hand and of Says Law on the other–now there was not a vestige of either. I knew from that fact that I had somehow drifted further and further away from the coast. There was accordingly nothing to do but wait the chance of being sighted and picked up, and I set to work, as well as I could on my tiny raft, to chafe my limbs and get some warmth into my body. And never in my life did I bless the sun as I did that morning, for when he sprang out of bed in the northeast skies, it was with his full and hearty vigour of high springtide, and his heat warmed my chilled blood and sent a new glow of hope to my heart. But that heat was not an unmixed blessing–and I was already parched with thirst; and as the sun mounted higher and higher, pouring his rays full upon me, the thirst became almost intolerable, and my tongue felt as if my mouth could no longer contain it.

It was, perhaps, one hour after sunrise, when my agony was becoming almost insupportable, that I first noticed a wisp of smoke on the southern rim of the circle of sea which just then was all my world. I never strained my eyes for anything as I did for that patch of grey against the cloudless blue! It grew bigger and bigger–I knew, of course, that it was some steamer, gradually approaching. But it seemed ages before I could make out her funnels; ages before I saw the first bit of her black bulk show up above the level of the dancing waves. Yet there she was at last–coming bows on, straight in my direction. My nerves must have given out at the sight–I remember the tears rolling down my cheeks; I remember hearing myself make strange sounds, which I suppose were those of relief and thankfulness. And then the horror of being unseen, of being left to endure more tortures of thirst, of the steamer changing her course, fell on me, and long before she was anywhere near me I was trying to balance myself on the grating, so that I could stand erect and attract her attention.

She was a very slow-going craft that–not able to do more than nine or ten knots at best–and another hour passed before she was anywhere near me. But, thank God! she came within a mile of me, and I made shift to stand up on my raft and to wave to her. And thereon she altered her course and lumbered over in my direction. She was one of the ugliest vessels that ever left a shipyard, but I thought I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life as she looked in those moments, and I had certainly never been so thankful for anything as for her solid and dirty deck when willing and kindly hands helped me up on it.

Half an hour after that, with dry clothes on me, and hot coffee and rum inside me, I was closeted with the skipper in his cabin, telling him, under a strict pledge of secrecy, as much of my tale as I felt inclined to share with him. He was a sympathetic and an understanding man, and he swore warmly and plentifully when he heard how treacherously I had been treated, intimating it as the–just then–dearest wish of his heart to have the handling of the man who had played me the trick.

“But you’ll be dealing with him yourself!” said he. “Man!–you’ll not spare him–promise me you’ll not spare him! And you’ll send me a newspaper with the full account of all that’s done to him when you’ve set the law to work–dod! I hope they’ll quarter him! Them was grand days when there was more licence and liberty in punishing malefactors–oh! I’d like fine to see this man put into boiling oil, or something of that sort, the cold-hearted, murdering villain! You’ll be sure to send me the newspaper?”

I laughed–for the first time since–when? It seemed years since I had laughed–and yet it was only a few hours, after all.

“Before I can set the law to work on him, I must get on dry land, captain,” I answered. “Where are you going?”

“Dundee,” he replied. “Dundee–and we’re just between sixty and seventy miles away now, and it’s near seven o’clock. We’ll be in Dundee early in the afternoon, anyway. And what’ll you do there? You’ll be for getting the next train to Berwick?”

“I’m not so sure, captain,” I answered. “I don’t want that man to know I’m alive–yet. It’ll be a nice surprise for him–later. But there are those that I must let know as soon as possible–so the first thing I’ll do, I’ll wire. And in the meantime, let me have a sleep.”

The steamer that had picked me up was nothing but a tramp, plodding along with a general cargo from London to Dundee, and its accommodation was as rough as its skipper was homely. But it was a veritable palace of delight and luxury to me after that terrible night, and I was soon hard and fast asleep in the skipper’s own bunk–and was still asleep when he laid a hand on me at three o’clock that afternoon.

“We’re in the Tay,” he said, “and we’ll dock in half an hour. And now–you can’t go ashore in your underclothing, man! And where’s your purse?”

He had rightly sized up the situation. I had got rid of everything but my singlet and drawers in the attempt to keep going; as for my purse, that was where the rest of my possessions were–sunk or floating.

“You and me’s about of a build,” he remarked. “I’ll fit you up with a good suit that I have, and lend you what money you want. But what is it you’re going to do?”

“How long are you going to stop here in Dundee, captain?” I asked.

“Four days,” he answered. “I’ll be discharging tomorrow, and loading the next two days, and then I’ll be away again.”

“Lend me the clothes and a sovereign,” said I. “I’ll wire to my principal, the gentleman I told you about, to come here at once with clothes and money, so I’ll repay you and hand your suit back first thing tomorrow morning, when I’ll bring him to see you.”

He immediately pulled a sovereign out of his pocket, and, turning to a locker, produced a new suit of blue serge and some necessary linen.

“Aye?” he remarked, a bit wonderingly. “You’ll be for fetching him along here, then? And for what purpose?”

“I want him to take your evidence about picking me up,” I answered. “That’s one thing–and–there’s other reasons that we’ll tell you about afterwards. And–don’t tell anybody here of what’s happened, and pass the word for silence to your crew. It’ll be something in their pockets when my friend comes along.”

He was a cute man, and he understood that my object was to keep the news of my escape from Sir Gilbert Carstairs, and he promised to do what I asked. And before long–he and I being, as he had observed, very much of a size, and the serge suit fitting me very well–I was in the streets of Dundee, where I had never been before, seeking out a telegraph office, and twiddling the skipper’s sovereign between thumb and finger while I worked out a problem that needed some little thought.

I must let my mother and Maisie know of my safety–at once. I must let Mr. Lindsey know, too. I knew what must have happened there at Berwick. That monstrous villain would sneak home and say that a sad accident had happened me. It made me grind my teeth and long to get my hands at his lying tongue when I thought of what Maisie and my mother must have suffered after hearing his tales and excuses. But I did not want him to know I was safe–I did not want the town to know. Should I telephone to Mr. Lindsey’s office, it was almost certain one of my fellow-clerks there would answer the ring, and recognize my voice. Then everything would be noised around. And after thinking it all over I sent Mr. Lindsey a telegram in the following words, hoping that he would fully understand:–

“Keep this secret from everybody. Bring suit of clothes, linen, money, mother, and Maisie by next train to Dundee. Give post-office people orders not to let this out, most important. H.M.”

I read that over half a dozen times before I finally dispatched it. It seemed all wrong, somehow–and all right in another way. And, however badly put it was, it expressed my meaning. So I handed it in, and my borrowed sovereign with it, and jingling the change which was given back to me, I went out of the telegraph office to stare around me.

It was a queer thing, but I was now as light-hearted as could be–I caught myself laughing from a curious feeling of pleasure. The truth was–if you want to analyse the sources–I was vastly relieved to be able to get in touch with my own people. Within an hour, perhaps sooner, they would have the news, and I knew well that they would lose no time in setting off to me. And finding myself just then in the neighbourhood of the North British Railway Station, I went in and managed to make out that if Mr. Lindsey was at the office when my wire arrived, and acted promptly in accordance with it, he and they could reach Dundee by a late train that evening. That knowledge, of course, made me in a still more light-hearted mood. But there was another source of my satisfaction and complaisance: things were in a grand way now for my revenge on Sir Gilbert Carstairs, and what had been a mystery was one no longer.

I went back to the dock where I had left the tramp-steamer, and told its good-natured skipper what I had done, for he was as much interested in the affair as if he had been my own brother. And that accomplished, I left him again and went sight-seeing, having been wonderfully freshened up and restored by my good sleep of the morning. I wandered up and down and about Dundee till I was leg-weary, and it was nearly six o’clock of the afternoon. And at that time, being in Bank Street, and looking about me for some place where I could get a cup of tea and a bite of food, I chanced by sheer accident to see a name on a brass plate, fixed amongst more of the same sort, on the outer door of a suite of offices. That name was Gavin Smeaton. I recalled it at once–and, moved by a sudden impulse, I went climbing up a lot of steps to Mr. Gavin Smeaton’s office.

CHAPTER XXI

MR. GAVIN SMEATON

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

“Yes?” he said.

“Mr. Gavin Smeaton?” asked I.

“That’s my name,” he answered. “What can I do for you?”

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

“My business hours are over for the day,” he said. “If it’s business–“

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

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

“You aren’t a detective?” he inquired.

“No–I’m a solicitor’s clerk,” I replied. “From Berwick–my principal, Mr. Lindsey, has to do with that case.”

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

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

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

“Then–have you come purposely to see me about it?” he asked.

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

“Oh!” he said, looking at me rather blankly. “You’re staying in Dundee–taking a holiday?”

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

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

“What riddle’s all this?” he asked. “It sounds like a piece out of a story-book–one of those tales of adventure.”

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

“Every word–seeing that I was mentioned,” he answered.

“Then I’ll give you the latest chapter,” I continued. “You’ll know my name when you hear it–Hugh Moneylaws. It was I discovered Phillips’s dead body.”

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

“Help yourself, Mr. Moneylaws–and go ahead,” he said. “I’m willing to hear as many chapters as you like of this story.”

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

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

“They will that, Mr. Smeaton,” I said. “I’m much obliged to you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I did,” he replied. “And it interested me, because I’m from those parts myself–I was born there.”

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

“Do you tell me that!” said I. “Where, now, if it’s a fair question?”

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

“But–you’re a Scotsman?” I made bold to ask him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Aye!” said he, “what’s the meaning of it, young man? We’ve done your bidding and more–but–why?”

I found my tongue at that.

“What!” I exclaimed. “Haven’t you seen Sir Gilbert Carstairs? Didn’t you hear from him that–“

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

CHAPTER XXII

I READ MY OWN OBITUARY

It was my turn to stare again–and stare I did, from one to the other in silence, and being far too much amazed to find ready speech. And before I could get my tongue once more, my mother, who was always remarkably sharp of eye, got her word in.

“What’re you doing in that new suit of clothes?” she demanded. “And where’s your own good clothes that you went away in yesterday noon? I misdoubt this stewardship’s leading you into some strange ways!”

“My own good clothes, mother, are somewhere in the North Sea,” retorted I. “Top or bottom, sunk or afloat, it’s there you’ll find them, if you’re more anxious about them than me! Do you tell me that Carstairs has never been home?” I went on, turning to Mr. Lindsey, “Then I don’t know where he is, nor his yacht either. All I know is that he left me to drown last night, a good twenty miles from land, and that it’s only by a special mercy of Providence that I’m here. Wherever he is, yon man’s a murderer–I’ve settled that, Mr. Lindsey!”

The women began to tremble and to exclaim at this news, and to ask one question after another, and Mr. Lindsey shook his head impatiently.

“We can’t stand talking our affairs in the station all night,” said he. “Let’s get to an hotel, my lad–we’re all wanting our suppers. You don’t seem as if you were in very bad spirits, yourself.”

“I’m all right, Mr. Lindsey,” I answered cheerfully. “I’ve been down to Jericho, it’s true, and to worse, but I chanced across a good Samaritan or two. And I’ve looked out a clean and comfortable hotel for you, and we’ll go there now.”

I led them away to a good hotel that I had noticed in my walks, and while they took their suppers I sat by and told them all my adventure, to the accompaniment of many exclamations from my mother and Maisie. But Mr. Lindsey made none, and I was quick to notice that what most interested him was that I had been to see Mr. Gavin Smeaton.

“But what for did you not come straight home when you were safely on shore again?” asked my mother, who was thinking of the expense I was putting her to. “What’s the reason of fetching us all this way when you’re alive and well?”

I looked at Mr. Lindsey–knowingly, I suppose.

“Because, mother,” I answered her, “I believed yon Carstairs would go back to Berwick and tell that there’d been a sad accident, and I was dead–drowned–and I wanted to let him go on thinking that I was dead–and so I decided to keep away. And if he is alive, it’ll be the best thing to let the man still go on thinking I was drowned–as I’ll prove to Mr. Lindsey there. If Carstairs is alive, I say, it’s the right policy for me to keep out of his sight and our neighbourhood.”

“Aye!” agreed Mr. Lindsey, who was a quick hand at taking up things. “There’s something in that, Hugh.”

“Well, it’s beyond me, all this,” observed my mother, “and it all comes of me taking yon Gilverthwaite into the house! But me and Maisie’ll away to our beds, and maybe you and Mr. Lindsey’ll get more light out of the matter than I can, and glad I’ll be when all this mystery’s cleared up and we’ll be able to live as honest folk should, without all this flying about the country and spending good money.”

I contrived to get a few minutes with Maisie, however, before she and my mother retired, and I found then that, had I known it, I need not have been so anxious and disturbed. For they had attached no particular importance to the fact that I had not returned the night before; they had thought that Sir Gilbert had sailed his yacht in elsewhere, and that I would be turning up later, and there had been no great to-do after me until my own telegram had arrived, when, of course, there was consternation and alarm, and nothing but hurry to catch the next train north. But Mr. Lindsey had contrived to find out that nothing had been seen of Sir Gilbert Carstairs and his yacht at Berwick; and to that point he and I at once turned when the women had gone to bed and I went with him into the smoking-room while he had his pipe and his drop of whisky. By that time I had told him of the secret about the meeting at the cross-roads, and about my interview with Crone at his shop, and Sir Gilbert Carstairs at Hathercleugh, when he offered me the stewardship; and I was greatly relieved when Mr. Lindsey let me down lightly and said no more than that if I’d told him these things, at first, there might have been a great difference.

“But we’re on the beginning of something,” he concluded. “That Sir Gilbert Carstairs has some connection with these murders, I’m now convinced–but what it is, I’m not yet certain. What I am certain about is that he took fright yesterday morning in our court, when I produced that ice-ax and asked the doctor those questions about it.”

“And I’m sure of that, too, Mr. Lindsey,” said I. “And I’ve been wondering what there was about yon ice-ax that frightened him. You’ll know that yourself, of course?”

“Aye, but I’m not going to tell you!” he answered. “You’ll have to await developments on that point, my man. And now we’ll be getting to bed, and in the morning we’ll see this Mr. Gavin Smeaton. It would be a queer thing now, wouldn’t it, if we got some clue to all this through him? But I’m keenly interested in hearing that he comes from the other side of the Atlantic, Hugh, for I’ve been of opinion that it’s across there that the secret of the whole thing will be found.”

They had brought me a supply of clothes and money with them, and first thing in the morning I went off to the docks and found my Samaritan skipper, and gave him back his sovereign and his blue serge suit, with my heartiest thanks and a promise to keep him fully posted up in the development of what he called the case. And then I went back to breakfast with the rest of them, and at once there was the question of what was to be done. My mother was all for going homeward as quickly as possible, and it ended up in our seeing her and Maisie away by the next train; Mr. Lindsey having made both swear solemnly that they would not divulge one word of what had happened, nor reveal the fact that I was alive, to any living soul but Andrew Dunlop, who, of course, could be trusted. And my mother agreed, though the proposal was anything but pleasant or proper to her.

“You’re putting on me more than any woman ought to be asked to bear, Mr. Lindsey,” said she, as we saw them into the train. “You’re asking me to go home and behave as if we didn’t know whether the lad was alive or dead. I’m not good at the playacting, and I’m far from sure that it’s either truthful or honest to be professing things that isn’t so. And I’ll be much obliged to you if you’ll get all this cleared up, and let Hugh there settle down to his work in the proper way, instead of wandering about on business that’s no concern of his.”

We shook our heads at each other as the train went off, Maisie waving good-bye to us, and my mother sitting very stiff and stern and disapproving in her corner of the compartment.

“No concern of yours, d’ye hear, my lad?” laughed Mr. Lindsey. “Aye, but your mother forgets that in affairs of this sort a lot of people are drawn in where they aren’t concerned! It’s like being on the edge of a whirlpool–you’re dragged into it before you’re aware. And now we’ll go and see this Mr. Smeaton; but first, where’s the telegraph office in this station? I want to wire to Murray, to ask him to keep me posted up during today if any news comes in about the yacht.”

When Mr. Lindsey was in the telegraph office, I bought that morning’s _Dundee Advertiser_, more to fill up a few spare moments than from any particular desire to get the news, for I was not a great newspaper reader. I had scarcely opened it when I saw my own name. And there I stood, in the middle of the bustling railway station, enjoying the sensation of reading my own obituary notice.

“Our Berwick-on-Tweed correspondent, telegraphing late last night, says:–Considerable anxiety is being felt in the town respecting the fate of Sir Gilbert Carstairs, Bart., of Hathercleugh House, and Mr. Hugh Moneylaws, who are feared to have suffered a disaster at sea. At noon yesterday, Sir Gilbert, accompanied by Mr. Moneylaws, went out in the former’s yacht (a small vessel of light weight) for a sail which, according to certain fishermen who were about when the yacht left, was to be one of a few hours only. The yacht had not returned last night, nor has it been seen or heard of since its departure. Various Berwick fishing craft have been out well off the coast during today, but no tidings of the missing gentlemen have come to hand. Nothing has been heard of, or from, Sir Gilbert at Hathercleugh up to nine o’clock this evening, and the only ray of hope lies in the fact that Mr. Moneylaws’ mother left the town hurriedly this afternoon–possibly having received some news of her son. It is believed here, however, that the light vessel was capsized in a sudden squall, and that both occupants have lost their lives. Sir Gilbert Carstairs, who was the seventh baronet, had only recently come to the neighbourhood on succeeding to the title and estates. Mr. Moneylaws, who was senior clerk to Mr. Lindsey, solicitor, of Berwick, was a very promising young man of great ability, and had recently been much before the public eye as a witness in connection with the mysterious murders of John Phillips and Abel Crone, which are still attracting so much attention.”

I shoved the newspaper into Mr. Lindsey’s hand as he came out of the telegraph office. He read the paragraph in silence, smiling as he read.

“Aye!” he said at last, “you have to leave home to get the home news. Well–they’re welcome to be thinking that for the present. I’ve just wired Murray that I’ll be here till at any rate this evening, and that he’s to telegraph at once if there’s tidings of that yacht or of Carstairs. Meanwhile, well go and see this Mr. Smeaton.”

Mr. Smeaton was expecting us–he, too, was reading about me in the _Advertiser_ when we entered, and he made some joking remark about it only being great men that were sometimes treated to death-notices before they were dead. And then he turned to Mr. Lindsey, who I noticed had been taking close stock of him.

“I’ve been thinking out things since Mr. Moneylaws was in here last night,” he remarked. “Bringing my mind to bear, do you see, on certain points that I hadn’t thought of before. And maybe there’s something more than appears at first sight in yon man John Phillips having my name and address on him.”

“Aye?” asked Mr. Lindsey, quietly. “How, now?”

“Well,” replied Mr. Smeaton, “there may be something in it, and there may be nothing–just nothing at all. But it’s the fact that my father hailed from Tweedside–and from some place not so far from Berwick.”

CHAPTER XXIII

FAMILY HISTORY

I was watching Mr. Lindsey pretty closely, being desirous of seeing how he took to Mr. Gavin Smeaton, and what he made of him, and I saw him prick his ears at this announcement; clearly, it seemed to suggest something of interest to him.

“Aye?” he exclaimed. “Your father hailed from Berwick, or thereabouts? You don’t know exactly from where, Mr. Smeaton?”

“No, I don’t,” replied Smeaton, promptly. “The truth is, strange as it may seem, Mr. Lindsey, I know precious little about my father, and what I do know is mostly from hearsay. I’ve no recollection of having ever seen him. And–more wondrous still, you’ll say–I don’t know whether he’s alive or dead!”

Here, indeed, was something that bordered on the mysterious; and Mr. Lindsey and myself, who had been dealing in that commodity to some considerable degree of late, exchanged glances. And Smeaton saw us look at each other, and he smiled and went on.

“I was thinking all this out last night,” he said, “and it came to me–I wonder if that man, John Phillips, who had, as I hear, my name and address in his pocket, could have been some man who was coming to see me on my father’s behalf, or–it’s an odd thing to fancy, and, considering what’s happened him, not a pleasant one!–could have been my father himself?”

There was silence amongst us for a moment. This was a new vista down which we were looking, and it was full of thick shadow. As for me, I began to recollect things. According to the evidence which Chisholm had got from the British Linen Bank at Peebles, John Phillips had certainly come from Panama. Just as certainly he had made for Tweedside. And–with equal certainty–nobody at all had come forward to claim him, to assert kinship with him, though there had been the widest publicity given to the circumstances of his murder. In Gilverthwaite’s instance, his sister had quickly turned up–to see what there was for her. Phillips had been just as freely mentioned in the newspapers as Gilverthwaite; but no one had made inquiries after him, though there was a tidy sum of money of his in the Peebles bank for his next-of-kin to claim. Who was he, then?

Mr. Lindsey was evidently deep in thought, or, I should perhaps say, in surmise. And he seemed to arrive where I did–at a question; which was, of course, just that which Smeaton had suggested.

“I might answer that better if I knew what you could tell me about your father, Mr. Smeaton,” he said. “And–about yourself.”

“I’ll tell you all I can, with pleasure,” answered Smeaton. “To tell you the truth, I never attached much importance to this matter, in spite of my name and address being found on Phillips, until Mr. Moneylaws there came in last night–and then, after what he told me, I did begin to think pretty deeply over it, and I’m coming to the opinion that there’s a lot more in all this than appears on the surface.”

“You can affirm that with confidence!” remarked Mr. Lindsey, drily. “There is!”

“Well–about my father,” continued Smeaton. “All I know is this–and I got it from hearsay: His name–the name given to me, anyway–was Martin Smeaton. He hailed from somewhere about Berwick. Whether it was on the English side or the Scottish side of the Tweed I don’t know. But he went to America as a young man, with a young wife, and they were in New Orleans when I was born. And when I was born, my mother died. So I never saw her.”

“Do you know her maiden name?” asked Mr. Lindsey.

“No more than that her Christian name was Mary,” replied Smeaton. “You’ll find out as I go on that it’s very little I do know of anything–definitely. Well, when my mother died, my father evidently left New Orleans and went off travelling. I’ve made out that he must have been a regular rolling stone at all times–a man that couldn’t rest long in one place. But he didn’t take me with him. There was a Scotsman and his wife in New Orleans that my father had forgathered with–some people of the name of Watson,–and he left me with them, and in their care in New Orleans I remained till I was ten years old. From my recollection he evidently paid them well for looking after me–there was never, at any time, any need of money on my account. And of course, never having known any other, I came to look on the Watsons as father and mother. When I was ten years old they returned to Scotland–here to Dundee, and I came with them. I have a letter or two that my father wrote at that time giving instructions as to what was to be done with me. I was to have the best education–as much as I liked and was capable of–and, though I didn’t then, and don’t now, know all the details, it’s evident he furnished Watson with plenty of funds on my behalf. We came here to Dundee, and I was put to the High School, and there I stopped till I was eighteen, and then I had two years at University College. Now, the odd thing was that all that time, though I knew that regular and handsome remittances came to the Watsons on my behalf from my father, he never expressed any wishes, or made any suggestions, as to what I should do with myself. But I was all for commercial life; and when I left college, I went into an office here in the town and began to study the ins and outs of foreign trade. Then, when I was just twenty-one, my father sent me a considerable sum–two thousand pounds, as a matter of fact–saying it was for me to start business with. And, do you know, Mr. Lindsey, from that day–now ten years ago–to this, I’ve never heard a word of him.”

Mr. Lindsey was always an attentive man in a business interview, but I had never seen him listen to anybody so closely as he listened to Mr. Smeaton. And after his usual fashion, he at once began to ask questions.

“Those Watsons, now,” he said. “They’re living?”

“No,” replied Smeaton. “Both dead–a few years ago.”

“That’s a pity,” remarked Mr. Lindsey. “But you’ll have recollections of what they told you about your father from their own remembrance of him?”

“They’d little to tell,” said Smeaton. “I made out they knew very little indeed of him, except that he was a tall, fine-looking fellow, evidently of a superior class and education. Of my mother they knew less.”

“You’ll have letters of your father’s?” suggested Mr. Lindsey.

“Just a few mere scraps–he was never a man who did more than write down what he wanted doing, and as briefly as possible,” replied Smeaton. “In fact,” he added, with a laugh, “his letters to me were what you might call odd. When the money came that I mentioned just now, be wrote me the shortest note–I can repeat every word of it: ‘I’ve sent Watson two thousand pounds for you,’ he wrote. ‘You can start yourself in business with it, as I hear you’re inclined that way, and some day I’ll come over and see how you’re getting along.’ That was all!”

“And you’ve never heard of or from him since?” exclaimed Mr. Lindsey. “That’s a strange thing, now. But–where was he then? Where did he send the money from?”

“New York,” replied Smeaton. “The other letters I have from him are from places in both North and South America. It always seemed to me and the Watsons that he was never in any place for long–always going about.”

“I should like to see those letters, Mr. Smeaton,” said Mr. Lindsey. “Especially the last one.”

“They’re at my house,” answered Smeaton. “I’ll bring them down here this afternoon, and show them to you if you’ll call in. But now–do you think this man Phillips may have been my father?”

“Well,” replied Mr. Lindsey, reflectively, “it’s an odd thing that Phillips, whoever he was, drew five hundred pounds in cash out of the British Linen Bank at Peebles, and carried it straight away to Tweedside–where you believe your father came from. It looks as if Phillips had meant to do something with that cash–to give it to somebody, you know.”

“I read the description of Phillips in the newspapers,” remarked Smeaton. “But, of course, it conveyed nothing to me.”

“You’ve no photograph of your father?” asked Mr. Lindsey.

“No–none–never had,” answered Smeaton. “Nor any papers of his–except those bits of letters.”

Mr. Lindsey sat in silence for a time, tapping the point of his stick on the floor and staring at the carpet.

“I wish we knew what that man Gilverthwaite was wanting at Berwick and in the district!” he said at last.

“But isn’t that evident?” suggested Smeaton. “He was looking in the parish registers. I’ve a good mind to have a search made in those quarters for particulars of my father.”

Mr. Lindsey gave him a sharp look.

“Aye!” he said, in a rather sly fashion. “But–you don’t know if your father’s real name was Smeaton!”

Both Smeaton and myself started at that–it was a new idea. And I saw that it struck Smeaton with great force.

“True!” he replied, after a pause. “I don’t! It might have been. And in that case–how could one find out what it was?”

Mr. Lindsey got up, shaking his head.

“A big job!” he answered. “A stiff job! You’d have to work back a long way. But–it could be done. What time can I look in this afternoon, Mr. Smeaton, to get a glance at those letters?”

“Three o’clock,” replied Smeaton. He walked to the door of his office with us, and he gave me a smile. “You’re none the worse for your adventure, I see,” he remarked. “Well, what about this man Carstairs–what news of him?”

“We’ll maybe be able to tell you some later in the day,” replied Mr. Lindsey. “There’ll be lots of news about him, one way or another, before we’re through with all this.”

We went out into the street then, and at his request I took Mr. Lindsey to the docks, to see the friendly skipper, who was greatly delighted to tell the story of my rescue. We stopped on his ship talking with him for a good part of the morning, and it was well past noon when we went back to the hotel for lunch. And the first thing we saw there was a telegram for Mr. Lindsey. He tore the envelope open as we stood in the hall, and I made no apology for looking over his shoulder and reading the message with him.

“Just heard by wire from Largo police that small yacht answering description of Carstairs’ has been brought in there by fishermen who found it early this morning in Largo Bay, empty.”

We looked at each other. And Mr. Lindsey suddenly laughed.

“Empty!” he exclaimed. “Aye!–but that doesn’t prove that the man’s dead!”

CHAPTER XXIV

THE SUIT OF CLOTHES

Mr. Lindsey made no further remark until we were half through our lunch–and it was not to me that he then spoke, but to a waiter who was just at his elbow.

“There’s three things you can get me,” he said. “Our bill–a railway guide–a map of Scotland. Bring the map first.”

The man went away, and Mr. Lindsey bent across the table.

“Largo is in Fife,” said he. “We’ll go there. I’m going to see that yacht with my own eyes, and hear with my own ears what the man who found it has got to say. For, as I remarked just now, my lad, the mere fact that the yacht was found empty doesn’t prove that Carstairs has been drowned! And well just settle up here, and go round and see Smeaton to get a look at those letters, and then we’ll take train to Largo and make a bit of inquiry.”

Mr. Smeaton had the letters spread out on his desk when we went in, and Mr. Lindsey looked them over. There were not more than half a dozen altogether, and they were mere scraps, as he had said–usually a few lines on half-sheets of paper. Mr. Lindsey appeared to take no great notice of any of them but the last–the one that Smeaton had quoted to us in the morning. But over that he bent for some time, examining it closely, in silence.

“I wish you’d lend me this for a day or two,” he said at last. “I’ll take the greatest care of it; it shan’t go out of my own personal possession, and I’ll return it by registered post. The fact is, Mr. Smeaton, I want to compare that writing with some other writing.”

“Certainly,” agreed Smeaton, handing the letter over. “I’ll do anything I can to help. I’m beginning, you know, Mr. Lindsey, to fear I’m mixed up in this. You’ll keep me informed?”

“I can give you some information now,” answered Mr. Lindsey, pulling out the telegram. “There’s more mystery, do you see? And Moneylaws and I are off to Largo now–we’ll take it on our way home. For by this and that, I’m going to know what’s become of Sir Gilbert Carstairs!”

We presently left Mr. Gavin Smeaton, with a promise to keep him posted up, and a promise on his part that he’d come to Berwick, if that seemed necessary; and then we set out on our journey. It was not such an easy business to get quickly to Largo, and the afternoon was wearing well into evening when we reached it, and found the police official who had wired to Berwick. There was not much that he could tell us, of his own knowledge. The yacht, he said, was now lying in the harbour at Lower Largo, where it had been brought in by a fisherman named Andrew Robertson, to whom he offered to take us. Him we found at a little inn, near the harbour–a taciturn, somewhat sour-faced fellow who showed no great desire to talk, and would probably have given us scant information if we had not been accompanied by the police official, though he brightened up when Mr. Lindsey hinted at the possibility of reward.

“When did you come across this yacht?” asked Mr. Lindsey.

“Between eight and nine o’clock this morning,” replied Robertson.

“And where?”

“About seven miles out–a bit outside the bay.”

“Empty?” demanded Mr. Lindsey, looking keenly at the man. “Not a soul in her?”

“Not a soul!” answered Robertson. “Neither alive nor dead!”

“Were her sails set at all?” asked Mr. Lindsey.

“They were not. She was just drifting–anywhere,” replied the man. “And I put a line to her and brought her in.”

“Any other craft than yours about at the time?” inquired Mr. Lindsey.

“Not within a few miles,” said Robertson.

We went off to the yacht then. She had been towed into a quiet corner of the harbour, and an old fellow who was keeping guard over her assured us that nobody but the police had been aboard her since Robertson brought her in. We, of course, went aboard, Mr. Lindsey, after being assured by me that this really was Sir Gilbert Carstairs’ yacht, remarking that he didn’t know we could do much good by doing so. But I speedily made a discovery of singular and significant importance. Small as she was, the yacht possessed a cabin–there was no great amount of head-room in it, it’s true, and a tall man could not stand upright in it, but it was spacious for a craft of that size, and amply furnished with shelving and lockers. And on these lockers lay the clothes–a Norfolk suit of grey tweed–in which Sir Gilbert Carstairs had set out with me from Berwick.

I let out a fine exclamation when I saw that, and the other three turned and stared at me.

“Mr. Lindsey!” said I, “look here! Those are the clothes he was wearing when I saw the last of him. And there’s the shirt he had on, too, and the shoes. Wherever he is, and whatever happened to him, he made a complete change of linen and clothing before he quitted the yacht! That’s a plain fact, Mr. Lindsey!”

A fact it was–and one that made me think, however it affected the others. It disposed, for instance, of any notion or theory of suicide. A man doesn’t change his clothes if he’s going to drown himself. And it looked as if this had been part of some premeditated plan: at the very least of it, it was a curious thing.

“You’re sure of that?” inquired Mr. Lindsey, eyeing the things that had been thrown aside.

“Dead sure of it!” said I. “I couldn’t be mistaken.”

“Did he bring a portmanteau or anything aboard with him, then?” asked he.

“He didn’t; but he could have kept clothes and linen and the like in these lockers,” I pointed out, beginning to lift the lids. “See here!–here’s brushes and combs and the like. I tell you before ever he left this yacht, or fell out of it, or whatever’s happened him, he’d changed everything from his toe to his top–there’s the very cap he was wearing.”

They all looked at each other, and Mr. Lindsey’s gaze finally fastened itself on Andrew Robertson.

“I suppose you don’t know anything about this, my friend?” he asked.

“What should I know?” answered Robertson, a bit surlily. “The yacht’s just as I found it–not a thing’s been touched.”

There was the luncheon basket lying on the cabin table–just as I had last seen it, except that Carstairs had evidently finished the provisions which he and I had left. And I think the same thought occurred to Mr. Lindsey and myself at the same moment–how long had he stopped on board that yacht after his cruel abandoning of me? For forty-eight hours had elapsed since that episode, and in forty-eight hours a man may do a great deal in the way of making himself scarce–which now seemed to me to be precisely what Sir Gilbert Carstairs had done, though in what particular fashion, and exactly why, it was beyond either of us to surmise.

“I suppose no one has heard anything of this yacht having been seen drifting about yesterday, or during last night?” asked Mr. Lindsey, putting his question to both men. “No talk of it hereabouts?”

But neither the police nor Andrew Robertson had heard a murmur of that nature, and there was evidently nothing to be got out of them more than we had already got. Nor had the police heard of any stranger being seen about there–though, as the man who was with us observed, there was no great likelihood of anybody noticing a stranger, for Largo was nowadays a somewhat popular seaside resort, and down there on the beach there were many strangers, it being summer, and holiday time, so that a strange man more or less would pass unobserved.

“Supposing a man landed about the coast, here,” asked Mr. Lindsey–“I’m just putting a case to you–and didn’t go into the town, but walked along the beach–where would he strike a railway station, now?”

The police official replied that there were railway stations to the right and left of the bay–a man could easily make Edinburgh in one direction, and St. Andrews in the other; and then, not unnaturally, he was wanting to know if Mr. Lindsey was suggesting that Sir Gilbert Carstairs had sailed his yacht ashore, left it, and that it had drifted out to sea again?

“I’m not suggesting anything,” answered Mr. Lindsey. “I’m only speculating on possibilities. And that’s about as idle work as standing here talking. What will be practical will be to arrange about this yacht being locked up in some boat-house, and we’d best see to that at once.”

We made arrangements with the owner of a boat-house to pull the yacht in there, and to keep her under lock and key, and, after settling matters with the police to have an eye on her, and see that her contents were untouched until further instructions reached them from Berwick, we went off to continue our journey. But we had stayed so long in Largo that when we got to Edinburgh the last train for Berwick had gone, and we were obliged to turn into an hotel for the night. Naturally, all our talk was of what had just transpired–the events of the last two days, said Mr. Lindsey, only made these mysteries deeper than they were before, and why Sir Gilbert Carstairs should have abandoned his yacht, as he doubtless had, was a still further addition to the growing problem.

“And I’m not certain, my lad, that I believe yon man Robertson’s tale,” he remarked, as we were discussing matters from every imaginable point of view just before going to bed. “He may have brought the yacht in, but we don’t know that he didn’t bring Carstairs aboard her. Why was that change of clothes made? Probably because he knew that he’d be described as wearing certain things, and he wanted to come ashore in other things. For aught we know, he came safely ashore, boarded a train somewhere in the neighbourhood, or at Largo itself–why not?–and went off, likely here, to Edinburgh–where he’d mingle with a few thousand of folk, unnoticed.”

“Then–in that case, you think he’s–what, Mr. Lindsey?” I asked. “Do you mean he’s running away?”

“Between you and me, that’s not far from what I do think,” he replied. “And I think I know what he’s running away from, too! But we’ll hear a lot more before many hours are over, or I’m mistaken.”

We were in Berwick at an early hour next morning, and we went straight to the police station and into the superintendent’s office. Chisholm was with Mr. Murray when we walked in, and both men turned to us with eagerness.

“Here’s more mystery about this affair, Mr. Lindsey!” exclaimed Murray. “It’s enough to make a man’s wits go wool-gathering. There’s no news of Sir Gilbert, and Lady Carstairs has been missing since twelve o’clock noon yesterday!”

CHAPTER XXV

THE SECOND DISAPPEARANCE

Mr. Lindsey was always one of the coolest of hands at receiving news of a startling nature, and now, instead of breaking out into exclamations, he just nodded his head, and dropped into the nearest chair.

“Aye?” he remarked quietly. “So her ladyship’s disappeared, too, has she? And when did you get to hear that, now?”

“Half an hour ago,” replied Murray. “The butler at Hathercleugh House has just been in–driven over in a hurry–to tell us. What do you make of it at all?”

“Before I answer that, I want to know what’s been happening here while I’ve been away,” replied Mr. Lindsey. “What’s happened within your own province–officially, I mean?”

“Not much,” answered Murray. “There began to be talk evening before last, amongst the fishermen, about Sir Gilbert’s yacht. He’d been seen, of course, to go out with Moneylaws there, two days ago, at noon. And–there is Moneylaws! Doesn’t he know anything? Where’s Sir Gilbert, Moneylaws?”

“He’ll tell all that–when I tell him to,” said Mr. Lindsey, with a glance at me. “Go on with your story, first.”

The superintendent shook his head, as if all these things were beyond his comprehension.

“Oh, well!” he continued. “I tell you there was talk–you know how they gossip down yonder on the beach. It was said the yacht had never come in, and, though many of them had been out, they’d never set eyes on her, and rumours of her soon began to spread. So I sent Chisholm there out to Hathercleugh to make some inquiry–tell Mr. Lindsey what you heard,” he went on, turning to the sergeant. “Not much, I think.”

“Next to nothing,” replied Chisholm. “I saw Lady Carstairs. She laughed at me. She said Sir Gilbert was not likely to come to harm–he’d been sailing yachts, big and little, for many a year, and he’d no doubt gone further on this occasion than he’d first intended. I pointed out that he’d Mr. Moneylaws with him, and that he’d been due at his business early that morning. She laughed again at that, and said she’d no doubt Sir Gilbert and Mr. Moneylaws had settled that matter between them, and that, as she’d no anxieties, she was sure Berwick folk needn’t have any. And so I came away.”

“And we heard no more until we got your wire yesterday from Dundee, Mr. Lindsey,” said Murray; “and that was followed not so very long after by one from the police at Largo, which I reported to you.”

“Now, here’s an important question,” put in Mr. Lindsey, a bit hurriedly, as if something had just struck him. “Did you communicate the news from Largo to Hathercleugh?”

“We did, at once,” answered Murray. “I telephoned immediately to Lady Carstairs–I spoke to her over the wire myself, telling her what the Largo police reported.”

“What time would that be?” asked Mr. Lindsey, sharply.

“Half-past eleven,” replied Murray.

“Then, according to what you tell me, she left Hathercleugh soon after you telephoned to her?” said Mr. Lindsey.

“According to what the butler told us this morning,” answered Murray, “Lady Carstairs went out on her bicycle at exactly noon yesterday–and she’s never been seen or heard of since.”

“She left no message at the house?” asked Mr. Lindsey.

“None! And,” added the superintendent, significantly, “she didn’t mention to the butler that I’d just telephoned to her. It’s a queer business, this, I’m thinking, Mr. Lindsey. But–what’s your own news?–and what’s Moneylaws got to tell about Sir Gilbert?”

Mr. Lindsey took no notice of the last question. He sat in silence for a while, evidently thinking. And in the end he pointed to some telegram forms that lay on the superintendent’s desk.

“There’s one thing must be done at once, Murray,” he said; “and I’ll take the responsibility of doing it myself. We must communicate with the Carstairs family solicitors.”

“I’d have done it, as soon as the butler brought me the news about Lady Carstairs,” remarked Murray, “but I don’t know who they are.”

“I do!” answered Mr. Lindsey. “Holmshaw and Portlethorpe of Newcastle. Here,” he went on, passing a telegram form to me. “Write out this message: ‘Sir Gilbert and Lady Carstairs are both missing from Hathercleugh under strange circumstances please send some authorized person here at once.’ Sign that with my name, Hugh–and take it to the post-office, and come back here.”

When I got back, Mr. Lindsey had evidently told Murray and Chisholm all about my adventures with Sir Gilbert, and the two men regarded me with a new interest as if I had suddenly become a person of the first importance. And the superintendent at once fell upon me for my reticence.

“You made a bad mistake, young man, in keeping back what you ought to have told at the inquest on Phillips!” he said, reprovingly. “Indeed, you ought to have told it before that–you should have told us.”

“Aye!–if I’d only known as much as that,” began Chisholm, “I’d have–“

“You’d probably have done just what he did!” broke in Mr. Lindsey–“held your tongue till you knew more!–so let that pass–the lad did what he thought was for the best. You never suspected Sir Gilbert of any share in these affairs, either of you–so come, now!”

“Why, as to that, Mr. Lindsey,” remarked Murray, who looked somewhat nettled by this last passage, “you didn’t suspect him yourself–or, if you did, you kept it uncommonly quiet!”

“Does Mr. Lindsey suspect him now?” asked Chisholm, a bit maliciously. “For if he does, maybe he’ll give us a hand.”

Mr. Lindsey looked at both of them in a way that he had of looking at people of whose abilities he had no very great idea–but there was some indulgence in the look on this occasion.

“Well, now that things have come to this pass,” he said, “and after Sir Gilbert’s deliberate attempt to get rid of Moneylaws–to murder him, in fact–I don’t mind telling you the truth. I do suspect Sir Gilbert of the murder of Crone–and that’s why I produced that ice-ax in court the other day. And–when he saw that ice-ax, he knew that I suspected him, and that’s why he took Moneylaws out with him, intending to rid himself of a man that could give evidence against him. If I’d known that Moneylaws was going with him, I’d have likely charged Sir Gilbert there and then!–anyway, I wouldn’t have let Moneylaws go.”

“Aye!–you know something, then?” exclaimed Murray. “You’re in possession of some evidence that we know nothing about?”

“I know this–and I’ll make you a present of it, now,” answered Mr. Lindsey. “As you’re aware, I’m a bit of a mountaineer–you know that I’ve spent a good many of my holidays in Switzerland, climbing. Consequently, I know what alpenstocks and ice-axes are. And when I came to reflect on the circumstances of Crone’s murder, I remember that not so long since, happening to be out along the riverside, I chanced across Sir Gilbert Carstairs using a very late type of ice-ax as a walking-stick–as he well could do, and might have picked up in his hall as some men’ll pick up a golf-stick to go walking with, and I’ve done that myself, hundred of times. And I knew that I had an ice-ax of that very pattern at home–and so I just shoved it under the doctor’s nose in court, and asked him if that hole in Crone’s head couldn’t have been made by the spike of it. Why? Because I knew that Carstairs would be present in court, and I wanted to see if he would catch what I was after!”

“And–you think he did?” asked the superintendent, eagerly.

“I kept the corner of an eye on him,” answered Mr. Lindsey, knowingly. “He saw what I was after! He’s a clever fellow, that–but he took the mask off his face for the thousandth part of a second. I saw!”

The two listeners were so amazed by this that they sat in silence for a while, staring at Mr. Lindsey with open-mouthed amazement.

“It’s a dark, dark business!” sighed Murray at last. “What’s the true meaning of it, do you think, Mr. Lindsey?”

“Some secret that’s being gradually got at,” replied Mr. Lindsey, promptly. “That’s what it is. And there’s nothing to do, just now, but wait until somebody comes from Holmshaw and Portlethorpe’s. Holmshaw is an old man–probably Portlethorpe himself will come along. He may know something–they’ve been family solicitors to the Carstairs lot for many a year. But it’s my impression that Sir Gilbert Carstairs is away!–and that his wife’s after him. And if you want to be doing something, try to find out where she went on her bicycle yesterday–likely, she rode to some station in the neighbourhood, and then took train.”

Mr. Lindsey and I then went to the office, and we had not been there long when a telegram arrived from Newcastle. Mr. Portlethorpe himself was coming on to Berwick immediately. And in the middle of the afternoon he arrived–a middle-aged, somewhat nervous-mannered man, whom I had seen two or three times when we had business at the Assizes, and whom Mr. Lindsey evidently knew pretty well, judging by their familiar manner of greeting each other.

“What’s all this, Lindsey?” asked Mr. Portlethorpe, as soon as he walked in, and without any preliminaries. “Your wire says Sir Gilbert and Lady Carstairs have disappeared. Does that mean–“

“Did you read your newspaper yesterday?” interrupted Mr. Lindsey, who knew that what we had read in the _Dundee Advertiser_ had also appeared in the _Newcastle Daily Chronicle_. “Evidently not, Portlethorpe, or you’d have known, in part at any rate, what my wire meant. But I’ll tell you in a hundred words–and then I’ll ask you a couple of questions before we go any further.”

He gave Mr. Portlethorpe an epitomized account of the situation, and Mr. Portlethorpe listened attentively to the end. And without making any comment he said three words:

“Well–your questions?”

“The first,” answered Mr. Lindsey, “is this–How long is it since you saw or heard from Sir Gilbert Carstairs?”

“A week–by letter,” replied Mr. Portlethorpe.

“The second,” continued Mr. Lindsey, “is much more important–much! What, Portlethorpe, do you know of Sir Gilbert Carstairs?”

Mr. Portlethorpe hesitated a moment. Then he replied, frankly and with evident candour.

“To tell you the truth, Lindsey,” he said, “beyond knowing that he is Sir Gilbert Carstairs–nothing!”

CHAPTER XXVI

MRS. RALSTON OF CRAIG

Mr. Lindsey made no remark on this answer, and for a minute or two he and Mr. Portlethorpe sat looking at each other. Then Mr. Portlethorpe bent forward a little, his hands on his knees, and gave Mr. Lindsey a sort of quizzical but earnest glance.

“Now, why do you ask that last question?” he said quietly. “You’ve some object?”

“It’s like this,” answered Mr. Lindsey. “Here’s a man comes into these parts to take up a title and estates, who certainly had been out of them for thirty years. His recent conduct is something more than suspicious–no one can deny that he left my clerk there to drown, without possibility of help! That’s intended murder! And so I ask, What do you, his solicitor, know of him–his character, his doings during the thirty years he was away? And you answer–nothing!”

“Just so!” assented Mr. Portlethorpe. “And nobody does hereabouts. Except that he is Sir Gilbert Carstairs, nobody in these parts knows anything about him–how should they? We, I suppose, know more than anybody–and we know just a few bare facts.”

“I think you’ll have to let me know what these bare facts are,” remarked Mr. Lindsey. “And Moneylaws, too. Moneylaws has a definite charge to bring against this man–and he’ll bring it, if I’ve anything to do with it! He shall press it!–if he can find Carstairs. And I think you’d better tell us what you know, Portlethorpe. Things have got to come out.”

“I’ve no objection to telling you and Mr. Moneylaws what we know,” answered Mr. Portlethorpe. “After all, it is, in a way, common knowledge–to some people, at any rate. And to begin with, you are probably aware that the recent history of this Carstairs family is a queer one. You know that old Sir Alexander had two sons and one daughter–the daughter being very much younger than her brothers. When the two sons, Michael and Gilbert, were about from twenty-one to twenty-three, both quarrelled with their father, and cleared out of this neighbourhood altogether; it’s always believed that Sir Alexander gave Michael a fair lot of money to go and do for himself, each hating the other’s society, and that Michael went off to America. As to Gilbert, he got money at that time, too, and went south, and was understood to be first a medical student and then a doctor, in London and abroad. There is no doubt at all that both sons did get money–considerable amounts,–because from the time they went away, no allowance was ever paid to them, nor did Sir Alexander ever have any relations with them. What the cause of the quarrel was, nobody knows; but the quarrel itself, and the ensuing separation, were final–father and sons never resumed relations. And when the daughter, now Mrs. Ralston of Craig, near here, grew up and married, old Sir Alexander pursued a similar money policy towards her–he presented her with thirty thousand pounds the day she was married, and told her she’d never have another penny from him. I tell you, he was a queer man.”

“Queer lot altogether!” muttered Mr. Lindsey. “And interesting!”

“Oh, it’s interesting enough!” agreed Mr. Portlethorpe, with a chuckle. “Deeply so. Well, that’s how things were until about a year before old Sir Alexander died–which, as you know, is fourteen months since. As I say, about six years before his death, formal notice came of the death of Michael Carstairs, who, of course, was next in succession to the title. It came from a solicitor in Havana, where Michael had died–there were all the formal proofs. He had died unmarried and intestate, and his estate amounted to about a thousand pounds. Sir Alexander put the affair in our hands; and of course, as he was next-of-kin to his eldest son, what there was came to him. And we then pointed out to him that now that Mr. Michael Carstairs was dead, Mr. Gilbert came next–he would get the title, in any case–and we earnestly pressed Sir Alexander to make a will. And he was always going to, and he never did–and he died intestate, as you know. And at that, of course, Sir Gilbert Carstairs came forward, and–“

“A moment,” interrupted Mr. Lindsey. “Did anybody know where he was at the time of his father’s death?”

“Nobody hereabouts, at any rate,” replied Mr. Portlethorpe. “Neither his father, nor his sister, nor ourselves had heard of him for many a long year. But he called on us within twenty-four hours of his father’s death.”

“With proof, of course, that he was the man he represented himself to be?” asked Mr. Lindsey.

“Oh, of course–full proof!” answered Mr. Portlethorpe. “Papers, letters, all that sort of thing–all in order. He had been living in London for a year or two at that time; but, according to his own account, he had gone pretty well all over the world during the thirty years’ absence. He’d been a ship’s surgeon–he’d been attached to the medical staff of more than one foreign army, and had seen service–he’d been on one or two voyages of discovery–he’d lived in every continent–in fact, he’d had a very adventurous life, and lately he’d married a rich American heiress.”

“Oh, Lady Carstairs is an American, is she?” remarked Mr. Lindsey.

“Just so–haven’t you met her?” asked Mr. Portlethorpe.

“Never set eyes on her that I know of,” replied Mr. Lindsey. “But go on.”

“Well, of course, there was no doubt of Sir Gilbert’s identity,” continued Mr. Portlethorpe; “and as there was also no doubt that Sir Alexander had died intestate, we at once began to put matters right. Sir Gilbert, of course, came into the whole of the real estate, and he and Mrs. Ralston shared the personalty–which, by-the-by, was considerable: they both got nearly a hundred thousand each, in cash. And–there you are!”

“That all?” asked Mr. Lindsey.

Mr. Portlethorpe hesitated a moment–then he glanced at me.

“Moneylaws is safe at a secret,” said Mr. Lindsey. “If it is a secret.”

“Well, then,” answered Mr. Portlethorpe, “it’s not quite all. There is a circumstance which has–I can’t exactly say bothered–but has somewhat disturbed me. Sir Gilbert Carstairs has now been in possession of his estates for a little over a year, and during that time he has sold nearly every yard of them except Hathercleugh!”

Mr. Lindsey whistled. It was the first symptom of astonishment that he had manifested, and I glanced quickly at him and saw a look of indescribable intelligence and almost undeniable cunning cross his face. But it went as swiftly as it came, and he merely nodded, as if in surprise.

“Aye!” he exclaimed. “Quick work, Portlethorpe.”

“Oh, he gave good reasons!” answered Mr. Portlethorpe. “He said, from the first, that he meant to do it–he wanted, and his wife wanted too, to get rid of these small and detached Northern properties, and buy a really fine one in the South of England, keeping Hathercleugh as a sort of holiday seat. He’d no intention of selling that, at any time. But–there’s the fact!–he’s sold pretty nearly everything else.”

“I never heard of these sales of land,” remarked Mr. Lindsey.

“Oh, they’ve all been sold by private treaty,” replied Mr. Portlethorpe. “The Carstairs property was in parcels, here and there–the last two baronets before this one had bought considerably in other parts. It was all valuable–there was no difficulty in selling to adjacent owners.”

“Then, if he’s been selling to that extent, Sir Gilbert must have large sums of money at command–unless he’s bought that new estate you’re talking of,” said Mr. Lindsey.

“He has not bought anything–that I know of,” answered Mr. Portlethorpe. “And he must have a considerable–a very large–sum of money at his bankers’. All of which,” he continued, looking keenly at Mr. Lindsey, “makes me absolutely amazed to hear what you’ve just told me. It’s very serious, this charge you’re implying against him, Lindsey! Why should he want to take men’s lives in this fashion! A man of his position, his great wealth–“

“Portlethorpe!” broke in Mr. Lindsey, “didn’t you tell me just now that this man, according to his own account, has lived a most adventurous life, in all parts of the world? What more likely than that in the course of such a life he made acquaintance with queer characters, and–possibly–did some queer things himself? Isn’t it a significant thing that, within a year of his coming into the title and estates, two highly mysterious individuals turn up here, and that all this foul play ensues? It’s impossible, now, to doubt that Gilverthwaite and Phillips came into these parts because this man was already here! If you’ve read all the stuff that’s been in the papers, and add to it just what we’ve told you about this last adventure with the yacht, you can’t doubt it, either.”

“It’s very, very strange–all of it,” agreed Mr. Portlethorpe. “Have you no theory, Lindsey?”

“I’ve a sort of one,” answered Mr. Lindsey. “I think Gilverthwaite and Phillips probably were in possession of some secret about Sir Gilbert Carstairs, and that Crone may have somehow got an inkling of it. Now, as we know, Gilverthwaite died, suddenly–and it’s possible that Carstairs killed both Phillips and Crone, as he certainly meant to kill this lad. And what does it all look like?”

Before Mr. Portlethorpe could reply to that last question, and while he was shaking his head over it, one of our junior clerks brought in Mrs. Ralston of Craig, at the mention of whose name Mr. Lindsey immediately bustled forward. She was a shrewd, clever-looking woman, well under middle age, who had been a widow for the last four or five years, and was celebrated in our parts for being a very managing and interfering sort of body who chiefly occupied herself with works of charity and philanthropy and was prominent on committees and boards. And she looked over the two solicitors as if they were candidates for examination, and she the examiner.

“I have been to the police, to find out what all this talk is about Sir Gilbert Carstairs,” she began at once. “They tell me you know more than they do, Mr. Lindsey. Well, what have you to say? And what have you to say, Mr. Portlethorpe? You ought to know more than anybody. What does it all amount to!”

Mr. Portlethorpe, whose face had become very dismal at the sight of Mrs. Ralston, turned, as if seeking help, to Mr. Lindsey. He was obviously taken aback by Mrs. Ralston’s questions, and a little afraid of her; but Mr. Lindsey was never afraid of anybody, and he at once turned on his visitor.

“Before we answer your questions, Mrs. Ralston,” he said, “there’s one I’ll take leave to ask you. When Sir Gilbert came back at your father’s death, did you recognize him?”

Mrs. Ralston tossed her head with obvious impatience.

“Now, what ridiculous nonsense, Mr. Lindsey!” she exclaimed. “How on earth do you suppose that I could recognize a man whom I hadn’t seen since I was a child of seven–and certainly not for at least thirty years? Of course I didn’t!–impossible!”

CHAPTER XXVII

THE BANK BALANCE

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

“What is it you are after, Lindsey?” he asked. “There’s something in your mind.”

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

Mrs. Ralston spoke sharply and decisively.

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

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

“My dear madam!” he said deprecatingly. “Really! That’s impossible!”

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

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

Mr. Portlethorpe flushed and began to look very uneasy.

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

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

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

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

“Excuse me, ma’am–I don’t see it,” retorted Mr. Portlethorpe. “I don’t see it at all.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Lindsey pointed a finger at me.

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

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

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

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

“Good God! you don’t mean it!” exclaimed Mr. Portlethorpe. “How, then?”

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

“What?” said Mr. Portlethorpe. “What? You don’t mean that?”

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

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

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

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

“Then he’s paid out–in the way you state–what?” demanded Mr. Portlethorpe.

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

CHAPTER XXVIII

THE HATHERCLEUGH BUTLER

The three of us went away from the bank manager’s house struggling with the various moods peculiar to our individual characters–Mr. Portlethorpe, being naturally a nervous man, given to despondency, was greatly upset, and manifested his emotions in sundry ejaculations of a dark nature; I, being young, was full of amazement at the news just given us and of the excitement of hunting down the man we knew as Sir Gilbert Carstairs. But I am not sure that Mr. Lindsey struggled much with anything–he was cool and phlegmatic as usual, and immediately began to think of practical measures.

“Look here, Portlethorpe,” he said, as soon as we were in the motor car which we had chartered from Newcastle station, “we’ve got to get going in this matter at once–straight away! We must be in Edinburgh as early as possible in the morning. Be guided by me–come straight back to Berwick, stop the night with me at my house, and we’ll be on our way to Edinburgh by the very first train–we can get there early, by the time the banks are open. There’s another reason why I want you to come–I’ve some documents that I wish you to see–documents that may have a very important bearing on this affair. There’s one in my pocket-book now, and you’ll be astonished when you hear how it came into my possession. But it’s not one-half so astonishing as another that I’ve got at my house.”

I remembered then that we had been so busily engaged since our return from the North that morning that we had had no time to go into the matter of the letter which Mr. Gavin Smeaton had entrusted to Mr. Lindsey–here, again, was going to be more work of the ferreting-out sort. But Mr. Portlethorpe, it was clear, had no taste for mysteries, and no great desire to forsake his own bed, even for Mr. Lindsey’s hospitality, and it needed insistence before he consented to go back to Berwick with us. Go back, however, he did; and before midnight we were in our own town again, and passing the deserted streets towards Mr. Lindsey’s home, I going with the others because Mr. Lindsey insisted that it was now too late for me to go home, and I should be nearer the station if I slept at his place. And just before we got to the house, which was a quiet villa standing in its own grounds, a little north of the top end of the town, a man who was sauntering ahead of us, suddenly turned and came up to Mr. Lindsey, and in the light of a street lamp I recognized in him the Hathercleugh butler.

Mr. Lindsey recognized the man, too–so also did Mr. Portlethorpe; and they both came to a dead halt, staring. And both rapped out the same inquiry, in identical words:

“Some news?”

I looked as eagerly at the butler as they did. He had been sour enough and pompous enough in his manner and attitude to me that night of my call on his master, and it surprised me now to see how polite and suave and–in a fashion–insinuating he was in his behaviour to the two solicitors. He was a big, fleshy, strongly-built fellow, with a rather flabby, deeply-lined face and a pallid complexion, rendered all the paler by his black overcoat and top hat; and as he stood there, rubbing his hands, glancing from Mr. Lindsey to Mr. Portlethorpe, and speaking in soft, oily, suggestive accents, I felt that I disliked him even more than when he had addressed me in such supercilious accents at the doors of Hathercleugh.

“Well–er–not precisely news, gentlemen,” he replied. “The fact is, I wanted to see you privately, Mr. Lindsey, sir–but, of course, I’ve no objections to speaking before Mr. Portlethorpe, as he’s Sir Gilbert’s solicitor. Perhaps I can come in with you, Mr. Lindsey?–the truth is, I’ve been waiting about, sir–they said you’d gone to Newcastle, and might be coming back by this last train. And–it’s–possibly–of importance.”

“Come in,” said Mr. Lindsey. He let us all into his house with his latch-key, and led us to his study, where he closed the door. “Now,” he went on, turning to the butler. “What is it? You can speak freely–we are all three–Mr. Portlethorpe, Mr. Moneylaws, and myself–pretty well acquainted with all that is going on, by this time. And–I’m perhaps not far wrong when I suggest that you know something?”

The butler, who had taken the chair which Mr. Lindsey had pointed out, rubbed his hands, and looked at us with an undeniable expression of cunning and slyness.

“Well, sir!” he said in a low, suggesting tone of voice. “A man in my position naturally gets to know things–whether he wants to or not, sometimes. I have had ideas, gentlemen, for some time.”

“That something was wrong?” asked Mr. Portlethorpe.

“Approaching to something of that nature, sir,” replied the butler. “Of course, you will bear in mind that I am, as it were, a stranger–I have only been in Sir Gilbert’s Carstairs’ employ nine months. But–I have eyes. And ears. And the long and short of it is, gentlemen, I believe Sir Gilbert–and Lady Carstairs–have gone!”

“Absolutely gone?” exclaimed Mr. Portlethorpe. “Good gracious, Hollins!–you don’t mean that!”

“I shall be much surprised if it is not found to be the case, sir,” answered Hollins, whose name I now heard for the first time. “And–incidentally, as it were–I may mention that I think it will be discovered that a good deal has gone with them!”

“What–property?” demanded Mr. Portlethorpe. “Impossible!–they couldn’t carry property away–going as they seem to have done–or are said to have done!”

Hollins coughed behind one of his big, fat hands, and glanced knowingly at Mr. Lindsey, who was listening silently but with deep attention.

“I’m not so sure about that, sir,” he said. “You’re aware that there were certain small matters at Hathercleugh of what we may term the heirloom nature, though whether they were heirlooms or not I can’t say–the miniature of himself set in diamonds, given by George the Third to the second baronet; the necklace, also diamonds, which belonged to a Queen of Spain; the small picture, priceless, given to the fifth baronet by a Czar of Russia; and similar things, Mr. Portlethorpe. And, gentlemen, the family jewels!–all of which had been reset. They’ve got all those!”

“You mean to say–of your own knowledge–they’re not at Hathercleugh?” suddenly inquired Mr. Lindsey.

“I mean to say they positively are not, sir,” replied the butler. “They were kept in a certain safe in a small room used by Lady Carstairs as her boudoir. Her ladyship left very hastily and secretly yesterday, as I understand the police have told you, and, in her haste, she forgot to lock up that safe–which she had no doubt unlocked before her departure. That safe, sir, is empty–of those things, at any rate.”

“God bless my soul!” exclaimed Mr. Portlethorpe, greatly agitated. “This is really terrible!”

“Could she carry those things–all of them–on her bicycle–by which I hear she left?” asked Mr. Lindsey.

“Easily, sir,” replied Hollins. “She had a small luggage-carrier on her bicycle–it would hold all those things. They were not bulky, of course.”

“You’ve no idea where she went on that bicycle?” inquired Mr. Lindsey.

Hollins smiled cunningly, and drew his chair a little nearer to us.

“I hadn’t–when I went to Mr. Murray, at the police-station, this morning,” he answered. “But–I’ve an idea, now. That’s precisely why I came in to see you, Mr. Lindsey.”

He put his hand inside his overcoat and produced a pocket-book, from which he presently drew out a scrap of paper.

“After I’d seen Mr. Murray this morning,” he continued, “I went back to Hathercleugh, and took it upon myself to have a look round. I didn’t find anything of a remarkably suspicious nature until this afternoon, pretty late, when I made the discovery about the safe in the boudoir–that all the articles I’d mentioned had disappeared. Then I began to examine a waste-paper basket in the boudoir–I’d personally seen Lady Carstairs tear up some letters which she received yesterday morning by the first post, and throw the scraps into that basket, which hadn’t been emptied since. And I found this, gentlemen–and you can, perhaps, draw some conclusion from it–I’ve had no difficulty in drawing one myself.”

He laid on the table a torn scrap of paper, over which all three of us at once bent. There was no more on it than the terminations of lines–but the wording was certainly suggestive:–

“…. at once, quietly
…. best time would be before lunch …. at Kelso
…. usual place in Glasgow.”

Mr. Portlethorpe started at sight of the handwriting.

“That’s Sir Gilbert’s!” he exclaimed. “No doubt of that. What are we to understand by it, Lindsey?”

“What do you make of this?” asked Mr. Lindsey, turning to Hollins. “You say you’ve drawn a deduction?”

“I make this out, sir,” answered the butler, quietly. “Yesterday morning there were only four letters for Lady Carstairs. Two were from London–in the handwriting of ladies. One was a tradesman’s letter–from Newcastle. The fourth was in a registered envelope–and the address was typewritten–and the post-mark Edinburgh. I’m convinced, Mr. Lindsey, that the registered one contained–that! A letter, you understand, from Sir Gilbert–I found other scraps of it, but so small that it’s impossible to piece them together, though I have them here. And I conclude that he gave Lady Carstairs orders to cycle to Kelso–an easy ride for her,–and to take the train to Glasgow, where he’d meet her. Glasgow, sir, is a highly convenient city, I believe, for people who wish to disappear. And–I should suggest that Glasgow should be communicated with.”

“Have you ever known Sir Gilbert Carstairs visit Glasgow recently?” asked Mr. Lindsey, who had listened attentively to all this.

“He was there three weeks ago,” replied Hollins.

“And–Edinburgh?” suggested Mr. Lindsey.

“He went regularly to Edinburgh–at one time–twice a week,” said the butler. And then, Mr. Lindsey not making any further remark, he glanced at him and at Mr. Portlethorpe. “Of course, gentlemen,” he continued, “this is all between ourselves. I feel it my duty, you know.”

Mr. Lindsey answered that we all understood the situation, and presently he let the man out, after a whispered sentence or two between them in the hall. Then he came back to us, and without a word as to what had just transpired, drew the Smeaton letter from his pocket.

CHAPTER XXIX

ALL IN ORDER

So that we might have it to ourselves, we had returned from Newcastle to Berwick in a first-class compartment, and in its privacy Mr. Lindsey had told Mr. Portlethorpe the whole of the Smeaton story. Mr. Portlethorpe had listened–so it seemed to me–with a good deal of irritation and impatience; he was clearly one of those people who do not like interference with what they regard as an established order of things, and it evidently irked him to have any questions raised as to the Carstairs affairs–which, of course, he himself had done much to settle when Sir Gilbert succeeded to the title. In his opinion, the whole thing was cut, dried, and done with, and he was still impatient and restive when Mr. Lindsey laid before him the letter which Mr. Gavin Smeaton had lent us, and invited him to look carefully at the handwriting. He made no proper response to that invitation; what he did was to give a peevish glance at the letter, and then push it aside, with an equally peevish exclamation.

“What of it?” he said. “It conveys nothing to me!”

“Take your time, Portlethorpe,” remonstrated Mr. Lindsey, who was unlocking a drawer in his desk. “It’ll perhaps convey something to you when you compare that writing with a certain signature which I shall now show you. This,” he continued, as he produced Gilverthwaite’s will, and laid it before his visitor, “is the will of the man whose coming to Berwick ushered in all these mysteries. Now, then–do you see who was one of the witnesses to the will? Look, man!”

Mr. Portlethorpe looked–and was startled out of his peevishness.

“God bless me!” he exclaimed. “Michael Carstairs!”

“Just that,” said Mr. Lindsey. “Now then, compare Michael Carstairs’ handwriting with the handwriting of that letter. Come here, Hugh!–you, too, have a look. And–there’s no need for any very close or careful looking, either!–no need for expert calligraphic evidence, or for the use of microscopes. I’ll stake all I’m worth that that signature and that letter are the work of the same hand!”

Now that I saw the Smeaton letter and the signature of the first witness to Gilverthwaite’s will, side by side, I had no hesitation in thinking as Mr. Lindsey did. It was an exceptionally curious, not to say eccentric, handwriting–some of the letters were oddly formed, other letters were indicated rather than formed at all. It seemed impossible that two different individuals could write in that style; it was rather the style developed for himself by a man who scorned all conventional matters, and was as self-distinct in his penmanship as he probably was in his life and thoughts. Anyway, there was an undeniable, an extraordinary similarity, and even Mr. Portlethorpe had to admit that it was–undoubtedly–there. He threw off his impatience and irritability, and became interested–and grave.

“That’s very strange, and uncommonly important, Lindsey!” he said. “I–yes, I am certainly inclined to agree with you. Now, what do you make of it?”

“If you want to know my precise idea,” replied Mr. Lindsey, “it’s just this–Michael Carstairs and Martin Smeaton are one and the same man–or, I should say, were! That’s about it, Portlethorpe.”

“Then in that case–that young fellow at Dundee is Michael Carstairs’ son?” exclaimed Mr. Portlethorpe.

“And, in my opinion, that’s not far off the truth,” said Mr. Lindsey. “You’ve hit it!”

“But–Michael Carstairs was never married!” declared Mr. Portlethorpe.

Mr. Lindsey picked up Gilverthwaite’s will and the Smeaton letter, and carefully locked them away in his drawer.

“I’m not so sure about that,” he remarked, drily. “Michael Carstairs was very evidently a queer man who did a lot of things in a peculiar fashion of his own, and–“

“The solicitor who sent us formal proof of his death, from Havana, previous to Sir Alexander’s death, said distinctly that Michael had never been married,” interrupted Mr. Portlethorpe. “And surely he would know!”

“And I say just as surely that from all I’ve heard of Michael Carstairs