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there’d be a lot of things that no solicitor would know, even if he sat at Michael’s dying bed!” retorted Mr. Lindsey. “But we’ll see. And talking of beds, it’s time I was showing you to yours, and that we were all between the sheets, for it’s one o’clock in the morning, and we’ll have to be stirring again at six sharp. And I’ll tell you what we’ll do, Portlethorpe, to save time–we’ll just take a mere cup of coffee and a mouthful of bread here, and we’ll breakfast in Edinburgh–we’ll be there by eight-thirty. So now come to your beds.”

He marshalled us upstairs–he and Mr. Portlethorpe had already taken their night-caps while they talked,–and when he had bestowed the senior visitor in his room, he came to me in mine, carrying an alarm clock which he set down at my bed-head.

“Hugh, my man!” he said, “you’ll have to stir yourself an hour before Mr. Portlethorpe and me. I’ve set that implement for five o’clock. Get yourself up when it rings, and make yourself ready and go round to Murray at the police-station–rouse him out of his bed. Tell him what we heard from that man Hollins tonight, and bid him communicate with the Glasgow police to look out for Sir Gilbert Carstairs. Tell him, too, that we’re going on to Edinburgh, and why, and that, if need be, I’ll ring him up from the Station Hotel during the morning with any news we have, and I’ll ask for his at the same time. Insist on his getting in touch with Glasgow–it’s there, without doubt, that Lady Carstairs went off, and where Sir Gilbert would meet her; let him start inquiries about the shipping offices and the like. And that’s all–and get your bit of sleep.”

I had Murray out of his bed before half-past five that morning, and I laid it on him heavily about the Glasgow affair, which, as we came to know later, was the biggest mistake we made, and one that involved us in no end of sore trouble; and at a quarter-past six Mr. Lindsey and Mr. Portlethorpe and I were drinking our coffee and blinking at each other over the rims of the cups. But Mr. Lindsey was sharp enough of his wits even at that hour, and before we set off from Berwick he wrote out a telegram to Mr. Gavin Smeaton, asking him to meet us in Edinburgh during the day, so that Mr. Portlethorpe might make his acquaintance. This telegram he left with his housekeeper–to be dispatched as soon as the post-office was open. And then we were off, and by half-past eight were at breakfast in the Waverley Station; and as the last stroke of ten was sounding from the Edinburgh clocks we were walking into the premises of the Scottish-American Bank.

The manager, who presently received us in his private rooms, looked at Mr. Lindsey and Mr. Portlethorpe with evident surprise–it may have been that there was mystery in their countenances. I know that I, on my part, felt as if a purblind man might have seen that I was clothed about with mystery from the crown of my head to the sole of my foot! And he appeared still more surprised when Mr. Lindsey, briefly, but fully, explained why we had called upon him.

“Of course, I’ve read the newspapers about your strange doings at Berwick,” he observed, when Mr. Lindsey–aided by some remarks from Mr. Portlethorpe–had come to the end of his explanation. “And I gather that you now want to know what we, here, know of Sir Gilbert Carstairs and Mr. John Paley. I can reply to that in a sentence–nothing that is to their discredit! They are two thoroughly estimable and trustworthy gentlemen, so far as we are aware.”

“Then there _is_ a Mr. John Paley?” demanded Mr. Lindsey, who was obviously surprised.

The manager, evidently, was also surprised–by the signs of Mr. Lindsey’s surprise.

“Mr. John Paley is a stockbroker in this city,” he replied. “Quite well known! The fact is, we–that is, I–introduced Sir Gilbert Carstairs to him. Perhaps,” he continued, glancing from one gentleman to the other, “I had better tell you all the facts. They’re very simple, and quite of an ordinary nature. Sir Gilbert Carstairs came in here, introducing himself, some months ago. He told me that he was intending to sell off a good deal of the Carstairs property, and that he wanted to reinvest his proceeds in the very best American securities. I gathered that he had spent a lot of time in America, that he preferred America to England, and, in short, that he had a decided intention of going back to the States, keeping Hathercleugh as a place to come to occasionally. He asked me if I could recommend him a broker here in Edinburgh who was thoroughly well acquainted with the very best class of American investments, and I at once recommended Mr. John Paley. And–that’s all I know, gentlemen.”

“Except,” remarked Mr. Lindsey, “that you know that considerable transactions have taken place between Mr. Paley and Sir Gilbert Carstairs. We know that, from what we heard last night in Newcastle.”

“Precisely!–then you know as much as I can tell you,” replied the manager. “But I have no objection to saying that large sums of money, coming from Sir Gilbert Carstairs, have certainly been passed through Mr. Paley’s banking account here, and I suppose Mr. Paley has made the investments which Sir Gilbert desired–in fact, I know he has. And–I should suggest you call on Mr. Paley himself.”

We went away upon that, and it seemed to me that Mr. Lindsey was somewhat taken aback. And we were no sooner clear of the bank than Mr. Portlethorpe, a little triumphantly, a little maliciously, turned on him.

“There! what did I say?” he exclaimed. “Everything is in order, you see, Lindsey! I confess I’m surprised to hear about those American investments; but, after all, Sir Gilbert has a right to do what he likes with his own. I told you we were running our heads against the wall–personally, I don’t see what use there is in seeing this Mr. Paley. We’re only interfering with other people’s business. As I say, Sir Gilbert can make what disposal he pleases of his own property.”

“And what I say, Portlethorpe,” retorted Mr. Lindsey, “is that I’m going to be convinced that it is his own property! I’m going to see Paley whether you do or not–and you’ll be a fool if you don’t come.”

Mr. Portlethorpe protested–but he accompanied us. And we were very soon in Mr. John Paley’s office–a quiet, self-possessed sort of man who showed no surprise at our appearance; indeed, he at once remarked that the bank manager had just telephoned that we were on the way, and why.

“Then I’ll ask you a question at once,” said Mr. Lindsey. “And I’m sure you’ll be good enough to answer it. When did you last see Sir Gilbert Carstairs?”

Mr. Paley immediately turned to a diary which lay on his desk, and gave one glance at it. “Three days ago,” he answered promptly. “Wednesday–eleven o’clock.”

CHAPTER XXX

THE CARSTAIRS MOTTO

Mr. Lindsey reflected a moment after getting that precise answer, and he glanced at me as if trying to recollect something.

“That would be the very morning after the affair of the yacht?” he asked of me.

But before I could speak, Mr. Paley took the words out of my mouth.

“Quite right.” he said quietly. “I knew nothing of it at the time, of course, but I have read a good deal in the newspapers since. It was the morning after Sir Gilbert left Berwick in his yacht.”

“Did he mention anything about the yacht to you?” inquired Mr. Lindsey.

“Not a word! I took it that he had come in to see me in the ordinary way,” replied the stockbroker. “He wasn’t here ten minutes. I had no idea whatever that anything had happened.”

“Before we go any further,” said Mr. Lindsey, “may I ask you to tell us what he came for? You know that Mr. Portlethorpe is his solicitor?–I am asking the question on his behalf as well as my own.”

“I don’t know why I shouldn’t tell you,” answered Mr. Paley. “He came on perfectly legitimate business. It was to call for some scrip which I held–scrip of his own, of course.”

“Which he took away with him?” suggested Mr. Lindsey.

“Naturally!” replied the stockbroker. “That was what he came for.”

“Did he give you any hint as to where he was going?” asked Mr. Lindsey. “Did he, for instance, happen to mention that he was leaving home for a time?”

“Not at all,” answered Mr. Paley. “He spoke of nothing but the business that had brought him. As I said just now, he wasn’t here ten minutes.”

It was evident to me that Mr. Lindsey was still more taken aback. What we had learned during the last half-hour seemed to surprise him. And Mr. Portlethorpe, who was sharp enough of observation, saw this, and made haste to step into the arena.

“Mr. Lindsey,” he said, “has been much upset by the apparently extraordinary circumstances of Sir Gilbert Carstairs’ disappearance–and so, I may say, has Sir Gilbert’s sister, Mrs. Ralston. I have pointed out that Sir Gilbert himself may have–probably has–a quite proper explanation of his movements. Wait a minute, Lindsey!” he went on, as Mr. Lindsey showed signs of restiveness. “It’s my turn, I think.” He looked at Mr. Paley again. “Your transactions with Sir Gilbert have been quite in order, all through, I suppose–and quite ordinary?”

“Quite in order, and quite ordinary,” answered the stockbroker readily. “He was sent to me by the manager of the Scottish-American Bank, who knows that I do a considerable business in first-class American securities and investments. Sir Gilbert told me that he was disposing of a great deal of his property in England and wished to re-invest the proceeds in American stock. He gave me to understand that he wished to spend most of his time over there in future, as neither he nor his wife cared about Hathercleugh, though they meant to keep it up as the family estate and headquarters. He placed considerable sums of money in my hands from time to time, and I invested them in accordance with his instructions, handing him the securities as each transaction was concluded. And–that’s really all I know.”

Mr. Lindsey got in his word before Mr. Portlethorpe could speak again.

“There are just two questions I should like to ask–to which nobody can take exception, I think,” he said. “One is–I gather that you’ve invested all the money which Sir Gilbert placed in your hands?”

“Yes–about all,” replied Mr. Paley. “I have a balance–a small balance.”

“And the other is this,” continued Mr. Lindsey: “I suppose all these American securities which he now has are of such a nature that they could be turned into cash at any time, on any market?”

“That is so–certainly,” assented Mr. Paley. “Yes, certainly so.”

“Then that’s enough for me!” exclaimed Mr. Lindsey, rising and beckoning me to follow. “Much obliged to you, sir.”

Without further ceremony he stumped out into the street, with me at his heels, to be followed a few minutes later by Mr. Portlethorpe. And thereupon began a warm altercation between them which continued until all three of us were stowed away in a quiet corner of the smoking-room in the hotel at which it had been arranged Mr. Gavin Smeaton was to seek us on his arrival–and there it was renewed with equal vigour; at least, with equal vigour on Mr. Lindsey’s part. As for me, I sat before the two disputants, my hands in my pockets, listening, as if I were judge and jury all in one, to what each had to urge.

They were, of course, at absolutely opposite poles of thought. One man was approaching the matter from one standpoint; the other from one diametrically opposed to it. Mr. Portlethorpe was all for minimizing things, Mr. Lindsey all for taking the maximum attitude. Mr. Portlethorpe said that even if we had not come to Edinburgh on a fool’s errand–which appeared to be his secret and private notion–we had at any rate got the information which Mr. Lindsey wanted, and had far better go home now and attend to our proper business, which, he added, was not to pry and peep into other folks’ affairs. He was convinced that Sir Gilbert Carstairs was Sir Gilbert Carstairs, and that Mrs. Ralston’s and Mr. Lindsey’s suspicions were all wrong. He failed to see any connection between Sir Gilbert and the Berwick mysteries and murders; it was ridiculous to suppose it. As for the yacht incident, he admitted it looked at least strange; but, he added, with a half-apologetic glance at me, he would like to hear Sir Gilbert’s version of that affair before he himself made up his mind about it.

“If we can lay hands on him, you’ll be hearing his version from the dock!” retorted Mr. Lindsey. “Your natural love of letting things go smoothly, Portlethorpe, is leading you into strange courses! Man alive!–take a look at the whole thing from a dispassionate attitude! Since the fellow got hold of the Hathercleugh property, he’s sold everything, practically, but Hathercleugh itself; he’s lost no time in converting the proceeds–a couple of hundred thousand pounds!–into foreign securities, which, says yon man Paley, are convertible into cash at any moment in any market! Something occurs–we don’t know what, yet–to make him insecure in his position; without doubt, it’s mixed up with Phillips and Gilverthwaite, and no doubt, afterwards, with Crone. This lad here accidentally knows something which might be fatal–Carstairs tries, having, as I believe, murdered Crone, to drown Moneylaws! And what then? It’s every evident that, after leaving Moneylaws, he ran his yacht in somewhere on the Scottish coast, and turned her adrift; or, which is more likely, fell in with that fisher-fellow Robertson at Largo, and bribed him to tell a cock-and-bull tale about the whole thing–made his way to Edinburgh next morning, and possessed himself of the rest of his securities, after which, he clears out, to be joined somewhere by his wife, who, if what Hollins told us last night is true–and it no doubt is,–carried certain valuables off with her! What does it look like but that he’s an impostor, who’s just made all he can out of the property while he’d the chance, and is now away to enjoy his ill-gotten gains? That’s what I’m saying, Portlethorpe–and I insist on my common-sense view of it!”

“And I say it’s just as common-sense to insist, as I do, that it’s all capable of proper and reasonable explanation!” retorted Mr. Portlethorpe. “You’re a good hand at drawing deductions, Lindsey, but you’re bad in your premises! You start off by asking me to take something for granted, and I’m not fond of mental gymnastics. If you’d be strictly logical–“

They went on arguing like that, one against the other, for a good hour, and it seemed to me that the talk they were having would have gone on for ever, indefinitely, if, on the stroke of noon, Mr. Gavin Smeaton had not walked in on us. At sight of him they stopped, and presently they were deep in the matter of the similarity of the handwritings, Mr. Lindsey having brought the letter and the will with him. Deep, at any rate, Mr. Lindsey and Mr. Portlethorpe were; as for Mr. Gavin Smeaton, he appeared to be utterly amazed at the suggestion which Mr. Lindsey threw out to him–that the father of whom he knew so little was, in reality, Michael Carstairs.

“Do you know what it is you’re suggesting, Lindsey?” demanded Mr. Portlethorpe, suddenly. “You’ve got the idea into your head now that this young man’s father, whom he’s always heard of as one Martin Smeaton, was in strict truth the late Michael Carstairs, elder son of the late Sir Alexander–in fact, being the wilful and headstrong man that you are, you’re already positive of it?”

“I am so!” declared Mr. Lindsey. “That’s a fact, Portlethorpe.”

“Then what follows?” asked Mr. Portlethorpe. “If Mr. Smeaton there is the true and lawful son of the late Michael Carstairs, his name is not Smeaton at all, but Carstairs, and he’s the true holder of the baronetcy, and, as his grandfather died intestate, the legal owner of the property! D’you follow that?”

“I should be a fool if I didn’t!” retorted Mr. Lindsey. “I’ve been thinking of it for thirty-six hours.”

“Well–it’ll have to be proved,” muttered Mr. Portlethorpe. He had been staring hard at Mr. Gavin Smeaton ever since he came in, and suddenly he let out a frank exclamation. “There’s no denying you’ve a strong Carstairs look on you!” said he. “Bless and save me!–this is the strangest affair!”

Smeaton put his hand into his pocket, and drew out a little package which he began to unwrap.

“I wonder if this has anything to do with it,” he said. “I remembered, thinking things over last night, that I had something which, so the Watsons used to tell me, was round my neck when I first came to them. It’s a bit of gold ornament, with a motto on it. I’ve had it carefully locked away for many a long year!”

He took out of his package a heart-shaped pendant, with a much-worn gold chain attached to it, and turned it over to show an engraved inscription on the reverse side.

“There’s the motto,” he said. “You see–_Who Will, Shall_. Whose is it?”

“God bless us!” exclaimed Mr. Portlethorpe. “The Carstairs motto! Aye!–their motto for many a hundred years! Lindsey, this is an extraordinary thing!–I’m inclined to think you may have some right in your notions. We must–“

But before Mr. Portlethorpe could say what they must do, there was a diversion in our proceedings which took all interest in them clean away from me, and made me forget whatever mystery there was about Carstairs, Smeaton, or anybody else. A page lad came along with a telegram in his hand asking was there any gentleman there of the name of Moneylaws? I took the envelope from him in a whirl of wonder, and tore it open, feeling an unaccountable sense of coming trouble. And in another minute the room was spinning round me; but the wording of the telegram was clear enough:

“Come home first train Maisie Dunlop been unaccountably missing since last evening and no trace of her. Murray.”

I flung the bit of paper on the table before the other three, and, feeling like my head was on fire, was out of the room and the hotel, and in the street and racing into the station, before one of them could find a word to put on his tongue.

CHAPTER XXXI

NO TRACE

That telegram had swept all the doings of the morning clear away from me. Little I cared about the Carstairs affairs and all the mystery that was wrapping round them in comparison with the news which Murray had sent along in that peculiarly distressing fashion! I would cheerfully have given all I ever hoped to be worth if he had only added more news; but he had just said enough to make me feel as if I should go mad unless I could get home there and then. I had not seen Maisie since she and my mother had left Mr. Lindsey and me at Dundee–I had been so fully engaged since then, what with the police, and Mrs. Ralston, and Mr. Portlethorpe, and the hurried journeys, first to Newcastle and then to Edinburgh, that I had never had a minute to run down and see how things were going on. What, of course, drove me into an agony of apprehension was Murray’s use of that one word “unaccountably.” Why should Maisie be “unaccountably” missing? What had happened to take her out of her father’s house?–where had she gone, that no trace of her could be got?–what had led to this utterly startling development?–what–

But it was no use speculating on these things–the need was for action. And I had seized on the first porter I met, and was asking him for the next train to Berwick, when Mr. Gavin Smeaton gripped my arm.

“There’s a train in ten minutes, Moneylaws,” said he quietly. “Come away to it–I’ll go with you–we’re all going. Mr. Lindsey thinks we’ll do as much there as here, now.”

Looking round I saw the two solicitors hurrying in our direction, Mr. Lindsey carrying Murray’s telegram in his hand. He pulled me aside as we all walked towards the train.

“What do you make of this, Hugh?” he asked. “Can you account for any reason why the girl should be missing?”

“I haven’t an idea,” said I. “But if it’s anything to do with all the rest of this business, Mr. Lindsey, let somebody look out! I’ll have no mercy on anybody that’s interfered with her–and what else can it be? I wish I’d never left the town!”

“Aye, well, we’ll soon be back in it,” he said, consolingly. “And we’ll hope to find better news. I wish Murray had said more; it’s a mistake to frighten folk in that way–he’s said just too much and just too little.”

It was a fast express that we caught for Berwick, and we were not long in covering the distance, but it seemed like ages to me, and the rest of them failed to get a word out of my lips during the whole time. And my heart was in my mouth when, as we ran into Berwick station, I saw Chisholm and Andrew Dunlop on the platform waiting us. Folk that have had bad news are always in a state of fearing to receive worse, and I dreaded what they might have come to the station to tell us. And Mr. Lindsey saw how I was feeling, and he was on the two of them with an instant question.

“Do you know any more about the girl than was in Murray’s wire?” he demanded. “If so, what? The lad here’s mad for news!”

Chisholm shook his head, and Andrew Dunlop looked searchingly at me.

“We know nothing more,” he answered. “You don’t know anything yourself, my lad?” he went on, staring at me still harder.

“I, Mr. Dunlop!” I exclaimed. “What do you think, now, asking me a question like yon! What should I know?”

“How should I know that?” said he. “You dragged your mother and my lass all the way to Dundee for nothing–so far as I could learn; and–“

“He’d good reason,” interrupted Mr. Lindsey. “He did quite right. Now what is this about your daughter, Mr. Dunlop? Just let’s have the plain tale of it, and then we’ll know where we are.”

I had already seen that Andrew Dunlop was not over well pleased with me–and now I saw why. He was a terrible hand at economy, saving every penny he could lay hands on, and as nothing particular seemed to have come of it, and–so far as he could see–there had been no great reason for it, he was sore at my sending for his daughter to Dundee, and all the sorer because–though I, of course, was utterly innocent of it–Maisie had gone off on that journey without as much as a by-your-leave to him. And he was not over ready or over civil to Mr. Lindsey.

“Aye, well!” said he. “There’s strange doings afoot, and it’s not my will that my lass should be at all mixed up in them, Mr. Lindsey! All this running up and down, hither and thither, on business that doesn’t concern–“

Mr. Lindsey had the shortest of tempers on occasion, and I saw that he was already impatient. He suddenly turned away with a growl and collared Chisholm.

“You’re a fool, Dunlop,” he exclaimed over his shoulder; “it’s your tongue that wants to go running! Now then, sergeant!–what is all this about Miss Dunlop? Come on!”

My future father-in-law drew off in high displeasure, but Chisholm hurriedly explained matters.

“He’s in a huffy state, Mr. Lindsey,” he said, nodding at Andrew’s retreating figure. “Until you came in, he was under the firm belief that you and Mr. Hugh had got the young lady away again on some of this mystery business–he wouldn’t have it any other way. And truth to tell, I was wondering if you had, myself! But since you haven’t, it’s here–and I hope nothing’s befallen the poor young thing, for–“

“For God’s sake, man, get it out!” said I. “We’ve had preface enough–come to your tale!”

“I’m only explaining to you, Mr. Hugh,” he answered, calmly. “And I understand your impatience. It’s like this, d’ye see?–Andrew Dunlop yonder has a sister that’s married to a man, a sheep-farmer, whose place is near Coldsmouth Hill, between Mindrum and Kirk Yetholm–“

“I know!” I said. “You mean Mrs. Heselton. Well, man?”

“Mrs. Heselton, of course,” said he. “You’re right there. And last night–about seven or so in the evening–a telegram came to the Dunlops saying Mrs. Heselton was taken very ill, and would Miss Dunlop go over? And away she went there and then, on her bicycle, and alone–and she never reached the place!”

“How do you know that?” demanded Mr. Lindsey.

“Because,” answered Chisholm, “about nine o’clock this morning in comes one of the Heselton lads to Dunlop to tell him his mother had died during the night; and then, of course, they asked did Miss Dunlop get there in time, and the lad said they’d never set eyes on her. And–that’s all there is to tell, Mr. Lindsey.”

I was for starting off, with, I think, the idea of instantly mounting my bicycle and setting out for Heselton’s farm, when Mr. Lindsey seized my elbow.

“Take your time, lad,” said he. “Let’s think what we’re doing. Now then, how far is it to this place where the girl was going?”

“Seventeen miles,” said I, promptly.

“You know it?” he asked. “And the road?”

“I’ve been there with her–many a time, Mr. Lindsey,” I answered. “I know every inch of the road.”

“Now then!” he said, “get the best motor car there is in the town, and be off! Make inquiries all the way along; it’ll be a queer thing if you can’t trace something–it would be broad daylight all the time she’d be on her journey. Make a thorough search and full inquiry–she must have been seen.” He turned to Mr. Smeaton, who had stood near, listening. “Go with him!” he said. “It’ll be a good turn to do him–he wants company.”

Mr. Smeaton and I hurried outside the station–a car or two stood in the yard, and we picked out the best. As we got in, Chisholm came up to us.

“You’d better have a word or two with our men along the road, Mr. Hugh,” said he. “There’s not many between here and the part you’re going to, but you’d do no harm to give them an idea of what it is you’re after, and tell them to keep their eyes open–and their ears, for that matter.”

“Aye, we’ll do that, Chisholm,” I answered. “And do you keep eyes and ears open here in Berwick! I’ll give ten pounds, and cash in his hand, to the first man that gives me news; and you can let that be known as much as you like, and at once–whether Andrew Dunlop thinks it’s throwing money away or not!”

And then we were off; and maybe that he might draw me away from over much apprehension, Mr. Smeaton began to ask me about the road which Maisie would take to get to the Heseltons’ farm–the road which we, of course, were taking ourselves. And I explained to him that it was just the ordinary high-road that ran between Berwick and Kelso that Maisie would follow, until she came to Cornhill, where she would turn south by way of Mindrum Mill, where–if that fact had anything to do with her disappearance–she would come into a wildish stretch of country at the northern edge of the Cheviots.

“There’ll be places–villages and the like–all along, I expect?” he asked.

“It’s a lonely road, Mr. Smeaton,” I answered. “I know it well–what places there are, are more off than on it, but there’s no stretch of it that’s out of what you might term human reach. And how anybody could happen aught along it of a summer’s evening is beyond me!–unless indeed we’re going back to the old kidnapping times. And if you knew Maisie Dunlop, you’d know that she’s the sort that would put up a fight if she was interfered with! I’m wondering if this has aught to do with all yon Carstairs affair? There’s been such blackness about that, and such villainy, that I wish I’d never heard the name!”

“Aye!” he answered. “I understand you. But–it’s coming to an end. And in queer ways–queer ways, indeed!”

I made no reply to him–and I was sick of the Carstairs matters; it seemed to me I had been eating and drinking and living and sleeping with murder and fraud till I was choked with the thought of them. Let me only find Maisie, said I to myself, and I would wash my hands of any further to-do with the whole vile business.

But we were not to find Maisie during the long hours of that weary afternoon and the evening that followed it. Mr. Lindsey had bade me keep the car and spare no expense, and we journeyed hither and thither all round the district, seeking news and getting none. She had been seen just once, at East Ord, just outside Berwick, by a man that was working in his cottage garden by the roadside–no other tidings could we get. We searched all along the road that runs by the side of Bowmont Water, between Mindrum and the Yetholms, devoting ourselves particularly to that stretch as being the loneliest, and without result. And as the twilight came on, and both of us were dead weary, we turned homeward, myself feeling much more desperate than even I did when I was swimming for my very life in the North Sea.

“And I’m pretty well sure of what it is, now, Mr. Smeaton!” I exclaimed as we gave up the search for that time. “There’s been foul play! And I’ll have all the police in Northumberland on this business, or–“

“Aye!” he said, “it’s a police matter, this, without doubt, Moneylaws. We’d best get back to Berwick, and insist on Murray setting his men thoroughly to work.”

We went first to Mr. Lindsey’s when we got back, his house being on our way. And at sight of us he hurried out and had us in his study. There was a gentleman with him there–Mr. Ridley, the clergyman who had given evidence about Gilverthwaite at the opening of the inquest on Phillips.

CHAPTER XXXII

THE LINK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wonder if I can find out anything about Mary Smeaton!”

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

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

“What do you make of all this?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

“You mean, Mr. Lindsey, that she’s somehow got into the hands of–what?–who?” I asked him.

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

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

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

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

“Well?” said I.

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

“Can you?” I asked. “For if you can, you’ll soon see that it’s right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The old part!” I exclaimed. “The Tower part?”

“Aye, surely!” he answered. “If you could get quietly to it–“

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

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

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

CHAPTER XXXIII

THE OLD TOWER

My mother was at her knitting, in her easy-chair, in her own particular corner of the living-room when I rushed in, and though she started at the sight of me, she went on knitting as methodically as if all the world was regular as her own stitches.

“So you’ve come to your own roof at last, my man!” she said, with a touch of the sharpness that she could put into her tongue on occasion. “There’s them would say you’d forgotten the way to it, judging by experience–why did you not let me know you were not coming home last night, and you in the town, as I hear from other folks?”

“Oh, mother!” I exclaimed. “How can you ask such questions when you know how things are!–it was midnight when Mr. Lindsey and I got in from Newcastle, and he would make me stop with him–and we were away again to Edinburgh first thing in the morning.”

“Aye, well, if Mr. Lindsey likes to spend his money flying about the country, he’s welcome!” she retorted. “But I’ll be thankful when you settle down to peaceful ways again. Where are you going now?” she demanded. “There’s a warm supper for you in the oven!”

“I’ve had my supper at Mr. Lindsey’s, mother,” I said, as I dragged my bicycle out of the back-place. “I’ve just got to go out, whether I will or no, and I don’t know when I’ll be in, either–do you think I can sleep in my bed when I don’t know where Maisie is?”

“You’ll not do much good, Hugh, where the police have failed,” she answered. “There’s yon man Chisholm been here during the evening, and he tells me they haven’t come across a trace of her, so far.”

“Chisholm’s been here, then?” I exclaimed. “For no more than that?”

“Aye, for no more than that,” she replied. “And then this very noon there was that Irishwoman that kept house for Crone, asking at the door for you.”

“What, Nance Maguire!” I said. “What did she want?”

“You!” retorted my mother. “Nice sort of people we have coming to our door in these times! Police, and murderers, and Irish–“

“Did she say why she wanted me?” I interrupted her.

“I gave her no chance,” said my mother. “Do you think I was going to hold talk with a creature like that at my steps?”

“I’d hold talk with the devil himself, mother, if I could get some news of Maisie!” I flung back at her as I made off. “You’re as bad as Andrew Dunlop!”

There was the house door between her and me before she could reply to that, and the next instant I had my bicycle on the road and my leg over the saddle, and was hesitating before I put my foot to the pedal. What did Nance Maguire want of me? Had she any news of Maisie? It was odd that she should come down–had I better not ride up the town and see her? But I reflected that if she had any news–which was highly improbable–she would give it to the police; and so anxious was I to test what Scott had hinted at, that I swung on to my machine without further delay or reflection and went off towards Hathercleugh.

And as I crossed the old bridge, in the opening murmur of a coming storm, I had an illumination which came as suddenly as the first flash of lightning that followed just afterwards. It had been a matter of astonishment to me all day long that nobody, with the exception of the one man at East Ord, had noticed Maisie as she went along the road between Berwick and Mindrum on the previous evening–now I remembered, blaming myself for not having remembered it before, that there was a short cut, over a certain right-of-way, through the grounds of Hathercleugh House, which would save her a good three miles in her journey. She would naturally be anxious to get to her aunt as quickly as possible; she would think of the nearest way–she would take it. And now I began to understand the whole thing: Maisie had gone into the grounds of Hathercleugh, and–she had never left them!

The realization made me sick with fear. The idea of my girl being trapped by such a villain as I firmly believed the man whom we knew as Sir Gilbert Carstairs to be was enough to shake every nerve in my body; but to think that she had been in his power for twenty-four hours, alone, defenceless, brought on me a faintness that was almost beyond sustaining. I felt physically and mentally ill–weak. And yet, God knows! there never was so much as a thought of defeat in me. What I felt was that I must get there, and make some effort that would bring the suspense to an end for both of us. I was beginning to see how things might be–passing through those grounds she might have chanced on something, or somebody, or Sir Gilbert himself, who, naturally, would not let anybody escape him that could tell anything of his whereabouts. But if he was at Hathercleugh, what of the tale which Hollins had told us the night before?–nay, that very morning, for it was after midnight when he sat there in Mr. Lindsey’s parlour. And, suddenly, another idea flashed across me–Was that tale true, or was the man telling us a pack of lies, all for some end? Against that last notion there was, of course, the torn scrap of letter to be set; but–but supposing that was all part of a plot, meant to deceive us while these villains–taking Hollins to be in at the other man’s game–got clear away in some totally different direction? If it was, then it had been successful, for we had taken the bait, and all attention was being directed on Glasgow, and none elsewhere, and–as far as I knew–certainly none at Hathercleugh itself, whither nobody expected Sir Gilbert to come back.

But these were all speculations–the main thing was to get to Hathercleugh, acting on the hint I had just got from Scott, and to take a look round the old part of the big house, as far as I could. There was no difficulty about getting there–although I had small acquaintance with the house and grounds, never having been in them till the night of my visit to Sir Gilbert Carstairs. I knew the surroundings well enough to know how to get in amongst the shrubberies and coppices–I could have got in there unobserved in the daytime, and it was now black night. I had taken care to extinguish my lamp as soon as I got clear of the Border Bridge, and now, riding along in the darkness, I was secure from the observation of any possible enemy. And before I got to the actual boundaries of Hathercleugh, I was off the bicycle, and had hidden it in the undergrowth at the roadside; and instead of going into the grounds by the right-of-way which I was convinced Maisie must have taken, I climbed a fence and went forward through a spinny of young pine in the direction of the house. Presently I had a fine bit of chance guidance to it–as I parted the last of the feathery branches through which I had quietly made my way, and came out on the edge of the open park, a vivid flash of lightning showed me the great building standing on its plateau right before me, a quarter of a mile off, its turrets and gables vividly illuminated in the glare. And when that glare passed, as quickly as it had come, and the heavy blackness fell again, there was a gleam of light, coming from some window or other, and I made for that, going swiftly and silently over the intervening space, not without a fear that if anybody should chance to be on the watch another lightning flash might reveal my advancing figure.

But there had been no more lightning by the time I reached the plateau on which Hathercleugh was built; then, however, came a flash that was more blinding than the last, followed by an immediate crash of thunder right overhead. In that flash I saw that I was now close to the exact spot I wanted–the ancient part of the house. I saw, too, that between where I stood and the actual walls there was no cover of shrubbery or coppice or spinny–there was nothing but a closely cropped lawn to cross. And in the darkness I crossed it, there and then, hastening forward with outstretched hands which presently came against the masonry. In the same moment came the rain in torrents. In the same moment, too, came something else that damped my spirits more than any rains, however fierce and heavy, could damp my skin–the sense of my own utter helplessness. There I was–having acted on impulse–at the foot of a mass of grey stone which had once been impregnable, and was still formidable! I neither knew how to get in, nor how to look in, if that had been possible; and I now saw that in coming at all I ought to have come accompanied by a squad of police with authority to search the whole place, from end to end and top to bottom. And I reflected, with a grim sense of the irony of it, that to do that would have been a fine long job for a dozen men–what, then, was it that I had undertaken single-handed?

It was at this moment, as I clung against the wall, sheltering myself as well as I could from the pouring rain, that I heard through its steady beating an equally steady throb as of some sort of machine. It was a very subdued, scarcely apparent sound, but it was there–it was unmistakable. And suddenly–though in those days we were only just becoming familiar with them–I knew what it was–the engine of some sort of automobile; but not in action; the sound came from the boilers or condensers, or whatever the things were called which they used in the steam-driven cars. And it was near by–near at my right hand, farther along the line of the wall beneath which I was cowering. There was something to set all my curiosity aflame!–what should an automobile be doing there, at that hour–for it was now nearing well on to midnight–and in such close proximity to a half-ruinous place like that? And now, caring no more for the rain than if it had been a springtide shower, I slowly began to creep along the wall in the direction of the sound.

And here you will understand the situation of things better, if I say that the habitable part of Hathercleugh was a long way from the old part to which I had come. The entire mass of building, old and new, was of vast extent, and the old was separated from the new by a broken and utterly ruinous wing, long since covered over with ivy. As for the old itself, there was a great square tower at one corner of it, with walls extending from its two angles; it was along one of these walls that I was now creeping. And presently–the sound of the gentle throbbing growing slightly louder as I made my way along–I came to the tower, and to the deep-set gateway in it, and I knew at once that in that gateway there was an automobile drawn up, all ready for being driven out and away.

Feeling quietly for the corner of the gateway, I looked round, cautiously, lest a headlight on the car should betray my presence. But there was no headlight, and there was no sound beyond the steady throb of the steam and the ceaseless pouring of the rain behind me. And then, as I looked, came a third flash of lightning, and the entire scene was lighted up for me–the deep-set gateway with its groined and arched roof, the grim walls at each side, the dark massive masonry beyond it, and there, within the shelter, a small, brand-new car, evidently of fine and powerful make, which even my inexperienced eyes knew to be ready for departure from that place at any moment. And I saw something more during that flash–a half-open door in the wall to the left of the car, and the first steps of a winding stair.

As the darkness fell again, blacker than ever, and the thunder crashed out above the old tower, I stole along the wall to that door, intending to listen if aught were stirring within, or on the stairs, or in the rooms above. And I had just got my fingers on the rounded pillar of the doorway, and the thunder was just dying to a grumble, when a hand seized the back of my neck as in a vice, and something hard, and round, and cold pressed itself insistingly into my right temple. It was all done in the half of a second; but I knew, just as clearly as if I could see it, that a man of no ordinary strength had gripped me by the neck with one hand, and was holding a revolver to my head with the other.

CHAPTER XXXIV

THE BARGAIN

It may be that when one is placed in such a predicament as that in which I then found myself, one’s wits are suddenly sharpened, and a new sense is given to one. Whether that is so or not, I was as certain as if I actually saw him that my assailant was the butler, Hollins. And I should have been infinitely surprised if any other voice than his had spoken–as he did speak when the last grumble of the thunder died out in a sulky, reluctant murmur.

“In at that door, and straight up the stairs, Moneylaws!” he commanded. “And quick, if you don’t want your brains scattering. Lively, now!”

He trailed the muzzle of the revolver round from my temple to the back of my head as he spoke, pressing it into my hair in its course in a fashion that was anything but reassuring. I have often thought since of how I expected the thing to go off at any second, and how I was–for it’s a fact–more curious than frightened about it. But the sense of self-preservation was on me, self-assertive enough, and I obliged him, stumbling in at the door under the pressure of his strong arm and of the revolver, and beginning to boggle at the first steps–old and much worn ones, which were deeply hollowed in the middle. He shoved me forward.

“Up you go,” he said, “straight ahead! Put your arms up and out–in front of you till you feel a door–push it open.”

He kept one hand on the scruff of my neck–too tightly for comfort–and with the other pressed the revolver into the cavity just above it, and in this fashion we went up. And even in that predicament I must have had my wits about me, for I counted two-and-twenty steps. Then came the door–a heavy, iron-studded piece of strong oak, and it was slightly open, and as I pushed it wider in the darkness, a musty, close smell came from whatever was within.

“No steps,” said he, “straight on! Now then, halt–and keep halting! If you move one finger, Moneylaws, out fly your brains! No great loss to the community, my lad–but I’ve some use for them yet.”

He took his hand away from my neck, but the revolver was still pressed into my hair, and the pressure never relaxed. And suddenly I heard a snap behind me, and the place in which we stood was lighted up–feebly, but enough to show me a cell-like sort of room, stone-walled, of course, and destitute of everything in the furnishing way but a bit of a cranky old table and a couple of three-legged stools on either side of it. With the released hand he had snapped the catch of an electric pocket-lamp, and in its blue glare he drew the revolver away from my head, and stepping aside, but always covering me with his weapon, motioned me to the further stool. I obeyed him mechanically, and he pulled the table a little towards him, sat down on the other stool, and, resting his elbow on the table ledge, poked the revolver within a few inches of my nose.

“Now, we’ll talk for a few minutes, Moneylaws,” he said quietly, “Storm or no storm, I’m bound to be away on my business, and I’d have been off now if it hadn’t been for your cursed peeping and prying. But I don’t want to kill you, unless I’m obliged to, so you’ll just serve your own interests best if you answer a question or two and tell no lies. Are there more of you outside or about?”

“Not to my knowledge!” said I.

“You came alone?” he asked.

“Absolutely alone,” I replied.

“And why?” he demanded.

“To see if I could get any news of Miss Dunlop,” I answered.

“Why should you think to find Miss Dunlop here–in this old ruin?” he argued; and I could see he was genuinely curious. “Come now–straight talk, Moneylaws!–and it’ll be all the better for you.”

“She’s missing since last night,” I replied. “It came to me that she likely took a short cut across these grounds, and that in doing so she fell in with Sir Gilbert–or with you–and was kept, lest she should let out what she’d seen. That’s the plain truth, Mr. Hollins.”

He was keeping his eyes on me just as steadily as he kept the revolver, and I saw from the look in them that he believed me.

“Aye!” he said. “I see you can draw conclusions, if it comes to it. But–did you keep that idea of yours strictly to yourself, now?”

“Absolutely!” I repeated.

“You didn’t mention it to a soul?” he asked searchingly.

“Not to a soul!” said I. “There isn’t man, woman, or child knows I’m here.”

I thought he might have dropped the muzzle of the revolver at that, but he still kept it in a line with my nose and made no sign of relaxing his vigilance. But, as he was silent for the moment, I let out a question at him.

“It’ll do you no harm to tell me the truth, Mr. Hollins,” I said. “Do you know anything about Miss Dunlop? Is she safe? You’ve maybe had a young lady yourself one time or another–you’ll understand what I’m feeling about it?”

He nodded solemnly at that and in quite a friendly way.

“Aye!” he answered. “I understand your feelings well enough, Moneylaws–and I’m a man of sentiment, so I’ll tell you at once that the lass is safe enough, and there’s not as much harm come to her as you could put on a sixpence–so there! But–I’m not sure yet that you’re safe yourself,” he went on, still eyeing me consideringly. “I’m a soft-hearted man, Moneylaws–or else you wouldn’t have your brains in their place at this present minute!”

“There’s a mighty lot of chance of my harming you, anyway!” said I, with a laugh that surprised myself. “Not so much as a penknife on me, and you with that thing at my head.”

“Aye!–but you’ve got a tongue in that head,” said he. “And you might be using it! But come, now–I’m loth to harm you, and you’d best tell me a bit more. What’s the police doing?”

“What police do you mean?” I inquired.

“Here, there, everywhere, anywhere!” he exclaimed. “No quibbles, now!–you’ll have had plenty of information.”

“They’re acting on yours,” I retorted. “Searching about Glasgow for Sir Gilbert and Lady Carstairs–you put us on to that, Mr. Hollins.”

“I had to,” he answered. “Aye, I put Lindsey on to it, to be sure–and he took it all in like it was gospel, and so did all of you! It gained time, do you see, Moneylaws–it had to be done.”

“Then–they aren’t in Glasgow?” I asked.

He shook his big head solemnly at that, and something like a smile came about the corners of his lips.

“They’re not in Glasgow, nor near it,” he answered readily, “but where all the police in England–and in Scotland, too, for that matter–‘ll find it hard to get speech with them. Out of hand, Moneylaws!–out of hand, d’ye see–for the police!”

He gave a sort of chuckle when he said this, and it emboldened me to come to grips with him–as far as words went.

“Then what harm can I do you, Mr. Hollins?” I asked. “You’re not in any danger that I know of.”

He looked at me as if wondering whether I wasn’t trying a joke on him, and after staring a while he shook his head.

“I’m leaving this part–finally,” he answered. “That’s Sir Gilbert’s brand-new car that’s all ready for me down the stairs; and as I say, whether it’s storm or no storm, I must be away. And there’s just two things I can do, Moneylaws–I can lay you out on the floor here, with your brains running over your face, or I can–trust to your honour!”

We looked at each other for a full minute in silence–our eyes meeting in the queer, bluish light of the electric pocket-lamp which he had set on the table before us. Between us, too, was that revolver–always pointing at me out of its one black eye.

“If it’s all the same to you, Mr. Hollins,” said I at length, “I’d prefer you to trust to my honour. Whatever quality my brains may have, I’d rather they were used than misused in the way you’re suggesting! If it’s just this–that you want me to hold my tongue–“

“I’ll make a bargain with you,” he broke in on me. “You’d be fine and glad to see your sweetheart, Moneylaws, and assure yourself that she’s come to no harm, and is safe and well?”

“Aye! I would that!” I exclaimed. “Give me the chance, Mr. Hollins!”

“Then give me your word that whatever happens, whatever comes, you’ll not mention to the police that you’ve seen me tonight, and that whenever you’re questioned you’ll know nothing about me!” he said eagerly. “Twelve hours’ start–aye, six!–means safety to me, Moneylaws. Will you keep silence?”

“Where’s Miss Dunlop?” asked I.

“You can be with her in three minutes,” he answered, “if you’ll give me your word–and you’re a truthful lad, I think–that you’ll both bide where you are till morning, and that after that you’ll keep your tongue quiet. Will you do that?”

“She’s close by?” I demanded.

“Over our heads,” he said calmly. “And you’ve only to say the word–“

“It’s said, Mr. Hollins!” I exclaimed. “Go your ways! I’ll never breathe a syllable of it to a soul! Neither in six, nor twelve, nor a thousand hours!–your secret’s safe enough with me–so long as you keep your word about her–and just now!”

He drew his free hand off the table, still watching me, and still keeping up the revolver, and from a drawer in the table between us pulled out a key and pushed it over.

“There’s a door behind you in yon corner,” he said. “And you’ll find a lantern at its foot–you’ve matches on you, no doubt. And beyond the door there’s another stair that leads up to the turret, and you’ll find her there–and safe–and so–go your ways, now, Moneylaws, and I’ll go mine!”

He dropped the revolver into a side pocket of his waterproof coat as he spoke, and, pointing me to the door in the corner, turned to that by which he had entered. And as he turned he snapped off the light of his electric lamp, while I myself, having fumbled for a box of matches, struck one and looked around me for this lantern he had mentioned. In its spluttering light I saw his big figure round the corner–then, just as I made for the lantern, the match went out and all was darkness again. As I felt for another match, I heard him pounding the stair–and suddenly there was a sort of scuffle and he cried out loudly once, and there was the sound of a fall, and then of lighter steps hurrying away, and then a heavy, rattling groan. And with my heart in my mouth and fingers trembling so that I could scarcely hold the match, I made shift to light the candle in the lantern, and went fearfully after him. There, in an angle of the stairway, he was lying, with the blood running in dark streams from a gap in his throat; while his hands, which he had instinctively put up to it, were feebly dropping away and relaxing on his broad chest. And as I put the lantern closer to him he looked up at me in a queer, puzzled fashion, and died before my very eyes.

CHAPTER XXXV

THE SWAG

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

“Mr. Hollins!” I cried. “Mr. Hollins!”

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

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

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

“Oh, man!” I shouted, “come up! There’s me here–and there’s murder!”

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

“Mercy on us!” he let out. “What’s all this? The man’s lying dead!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They? Who?” I demanded. “Who locked you in?”

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

“Sir Gilbert!” I exclaimed. “You’re sure it was Sir Gilbert?”

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

“You’ve seen him since?” I asked. “He’s been in here?”

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

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

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

“You’re not by yourself, Hugh?” she asked anxiously. “You’re in no danger?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_John Harrison, passenger, by S.S. Aerolite. Newcastle to Hamburg_.

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

CHAPTER XXXVI

GOLD

There was quite a company of men came up the stair with Murray, crowding, all of them, into the room, with eyes full of astonishment at what they saw: Mr. Lindsey and Mr. Gavin Smeaton, and a policeman or two, and–what was of more interest to me–a couple of strangers. But looking at these more closely, I saw that I had seen one of them before–an elderly man, whom I recognized as having been present in court when Carter was brought up before the magistrates; a quiet, noticing sort of man whom I remembered as appearing to take great and intelligent interest in the proceedings. And he and the other man now with him seemed to take just as keen an interest in what Chisholm and I had to tell; but while Murray was full of questions to both of us, they asked none. Only–during that questioning–the man whom I had never seen before quietly lifted the hanging which I had spread over Hollins’s dead body, and took a searching look at his face.

Mr. Lindsey drew me aside and pointed at the elderly man whom I remembered seeing in the police court.

“You see yon gentleman?” he whispered. “That’s a Mr. Elphinstone, that was formerly steward to old Sir Alexander Carstairs. He’s retired–a good many years, now, and lives the other side of Alnwick, in a place of his own. But this affair’s fetched him into the light again–to some purpose!”

“I saw him in the court when Carter was before the bench, Mr. Lindsey,” I remarked.

“Aye!–and I wish he’d told me that day what he could have told!” exclaimed Mr. Lindsey under his breath. “But he’s a cautious, a very cautious man, and he preferred to work quietly, and it wasn’t until very late tonight that he came to Murray and sent for me–an hour, it was, after you’d gone home. The other man with him is a London detective. Man! there’s nice revelations come out!–and pretty much on the lines I was suspecting. We’d have been up here an hour ago if it hadn’t been for yon storm. And–but now that the storm’s over, Hugh, we must get Maisie Dunlop out of this; come up, now, and show me where she is–that first, and the rest after.”

We left the others still grouped around the dead man and the boxes which had been brought up from the car, and I took Mr. Lindsey up the stairs to the room in the turret which had served Maisie for a prison all that weary time. And after a word or two with her about her sore adventures, Mr. Lindsey told her she must be away, and he would get Murray to send one of the policemen with her to see her safe home–I myself being still wanted down below. But at that Maisie began to show signs of distinct dislike and disapproval.

“I’ll not go a yard, Mr. Lindsey,” she declared, “unless you’ll give me your word that you’ll not let Hugh out of your sight again till all this is settled and done with! Twice within this last few days the lad’s been within an inch of his life, and they say the third time pays for all–and how do I know there mightn’t be a third time in his case? And I’d rather stay by him, and we’ll take our chances together–“

“Now, now!” broke in Mr. Lindsey, patting her arm. “There’s a good half-dozen of us with him now, and we’ll take good care no harm comes to him or any of us; so be a good lass and get you home to Andrew–and tell him all about it, for the worthy man’s got a bee in his bonnet that we’ve been in some way responsible for your absence, my girl. You’re sure you never set eyes on Sir Gilbert again after he and Hollins stopped you?” he asked suddenly, as we went down the stair. “Nor heard his voice down here–or anywhere?”

“I never saw him again, nor heard him,” answered Maisie. “And till Hugh came just now, I’d never seen Hollins himself since morning and–Oh!”

She had caught sight of the still figure stretched out in the lower room, and she shrank to me as we hurried her past it and down to the gateway below. Thither Murray followed us, and after a bit more questioning he put her in a car in which he and some of the others had come up, and sent one of his men off with her; but before this Maisie pulled me away into the darkness and gripped me tight by the arm.

“You’ll promise me, Hugh, before ever I go, that you’ll not run yourself into any more dangers?” she asked earnestly. “We’ve been through enough of that, and I’m just more than satisfied with it, and it’s like as if there was something lurking about–“

She began to shiver as she looked into the black night about us–and it was indeed, although in summer time, as black a night as ever I saw–and her hand got a tighter grip on mine.

“How do you know yon bad man isn’t still about?” she whispered. “It was he killed Hollins, of course!–and if he wanted to kill you yon time in the yacht, he’ll want again!”

“It’s small chance he’ll get, then, now!” I said. “There’s no fear of that, Maisie–amongst all yon lot of men above. Away you go, now, and get to your bed, and as sure as sure I’ll be home to eat my breakfast with you. It’s my opinion all this is at an end.”

“Not while yon man’s alive!” she answered. “And I’d have far rather stayed with you–till it’s daylight, anyway.”

However, she let me put her into the car; and when I had charged the policeman who went with her not to take his eyes off her until she was safe in Andrew Dunlop’s house, they went off, and Mr. Lindsey and I turned up the stair again. Murray had preceded us, and under his superintendence Chisholm was beginning to open the screwed-up boxes. The rest of us stood round while this job was going on, waiting in silence. It was no easy or quick job, for the screws had been fastened in after a thoroughly workmanlike fashion, and when he got the first lid off we saw that the boxes themselves had been evidently specially made for this purpose. They were of some very strong, well-seasoned wood, and they were lined, first with zinc, and then with thick felt. And–as we were soon aware–they were filled to the brim with gold. There it lay–roll upon roll, all carefully packed–gold! It shone red and fiery in the light of our lamps, and it seemed to me that in every gleam of it I saw devils’ eyes, full of malice, and mockery, and murder.

But there was one box, lighter than the rest, in which, instead of gold, we found the valuable things of which Hollins had told Mr. Lindsey and Mr. Portlethorpe and myself when he came to us on his lying mission, only the previous midnight. There they all were–the presents that had been given to various of the Carstairs baronets by royal donors–carefully packed and bestowed. And at sight of them, Mr. Lindsey looked significantly at me, and then at Murray.

“He was a wily and a clever man, this fellow that’s lying behind us,” he muttered. “He pulled our hair over our eyes to some purpose with his tale of Lady Carstairs and her bicycle–but I’m forgetting,” he broke off, and drew me aside. “There’s another thing come out since you left me and Smeaton tonight,” he whispered. “The police have found out something for themselves–I’ll give them that credit. That was all lies–lies, nothing but lies!–that Hollins told us,–all done to throw us off the scent. You remember the tale of the registered letter from Edinburgh?–the police found out last evening from the post folks that there never was any registered letter. You remember Hollins said Lady Carstairs went off on her bicycle? The police have found out she never went off on any bicycle–she wasn’t there to go off. She was away early that morning; she took a train south from Beal station before breakfast–at least, a veiled woman answering her description did,–and she’s safe hidden in London, or elsewhere, by now, my lad!”

“But him–the man–Sir Gilbert, or whoever he is?” I whispered. “What of him, Mr. Lindsey?”

“Aye, just so!” he said. “I’m gradually piecing it together, as we go on. It would seem to me that he made his way to Edinburgh after getting rid of you, as he thought and hoped–probably got there the very next morning, through the help of yon fisherman at Largo, Robertson, who, of course, told us and the police a pack of lies!–and when he’d got the last of these securities from Paley, he worked back here, secretly, and with the help of Hollins, and has no doubt kept quiet in this old tower until they could get away with that gold! Of course, Hollins has been in at all this–but now–who’s killed Hollins? And where’s the chief party–the other man?”

“What?” I exclaimed. “You don’t think he killed Hollins, then?”

“I should be a fool if I did, my lad,” he answered. “Bethink yourself!–when all was cut and dried for their getting off, do you think he’d stick a knife in his confederate’s throat? No!–I can see their plan, and it was a good one. Hollins would have run those cases down to Newcastle in a couple of hours; there’d have been no suspicion about them, and no questions which he couldn’t answer–he’d have gone across to Hamburg with them himself. As for the man we know as Sir Gilbert, you’ll be hearing something presently from Mr. Elphinstone yonder; but my impression is, as Maisie never saw or heard of him during the night and day, that he got away after his wife last night–and with those securities on him!”

“Then–who killed Hollins?” I said in sheer amazement. “Are there others in at all this?”

“You may well ask that, lad,” he responded, shaking his head. “Indeed, though we’re nearing it, I think we’re not quite at the end of the lane, and there’ll be a queer turning or two in it, yet, before we get out. But here’s Murray come to an end of the present business.”

Murray had finished his inspection of the cases and was helping Chisholm to replace the lids. He, Chisholm, and the detective were exchanging whispered remarks over this job; Mr. Elphinstone and Mr. Gavin Smeaton were talking together in low voices near the door. Presently Murray turned to us.

“We can do no more here, now, Mr. Lindsey,” he said, “and I’m going to lock this place up until daylight and leave a man in the gateway below, on guard. But as to the next step–you haven’t the least idea in your head, Moneylaws, about Hollins’s assailant?” he went on, turning to me. “You heard and saw–nothing?”

“I’ve told you what I heard, Mr. Murray,” I answered. “As to seeing anything, how could I? The thing happened on the stair there, and I was in this corner unlocking the inner door.”

“It’s as big a mystery as all the rest of it!” he muttered. “And it’s just convincing me there’s more behind all this than we think for. And one thing’s certain–we can’t search these grounds or the neighbourhood until the light comes. But we can go round to the house.”

He marched us all out at that, and himself locked up the room, leaving the dead man with the chests of gold; and having stationed a constable in the gateway of the old tower, he led us off in a body to the habited part of the house. There were lights there in plenty, and a couple of policemen at the door, and behind them a whole troop of servants in the hall, half dressed, and open-mouthed with fright and curiosity.

CHAPTER XXXVII

THE DARK POOL

As I went into that house with the rest of them, I had two sudden impressions. One was that here at my side, in the person of Mr. Gavin Smeaton, was, in all probability, its real owner, the real holder of the ancient title, who was coming to his lawful rights in this strange fashion. The other was of the contrast between my own coming at that moment and the visit which I had paid there, only a few evenings previously, when Hollins had regarded me with some disfavour and the usurper had been so friendly. Now Hollins was lying dead in the old ruin, and the other man was a fugitive–and where was he?

Murray had brought us there to do something towards settling that point, and he began his work at once by assembling every Jack and Jill in the house and, with the help of the London detective, subjecting them to a searching examination as to the recent doings of their master and mistress and the butler. But Mr. Lindsey motioned Mr. Elphinstone, and Mr. Gavin Smeaton, and myself into a side-room and shut the door on us.

“We can leave the police to do their own work,” he remarked, motioning us to be seated at a convenient table. “My impression is that they’ll find little out from the servants. And while that’s afoot, I’d like to have that promised story of yours, Mr. Elphinstone–I only got an idea of it, you know, when you and Murray came to my house. And these two would like to hear it–one of them, at any rate, is more interested in this affair than you’d think or than he knew of himself until recently.”

Now that we were in a properly lighted room, I took a more careful look at the former steward of Hathercleugh. He was a well-preserved, shrewd-looking man of between sixty and seventy: quiet and observant, the sort of man that you could see would think a lot without saying much. He smiled a little as he put his hands together on the table and glanced at our expectant faces–it was just the smile of a man who knows what he is talking about.

“Aye, well, Mr. Lindsey,” he responded, “maybe there’s not so much mystery in this affair as there seems to be once you’ve got at an idea. I’ll tell you how I got at mine and what’s come of it. Of course, you’ll not know, for I think you didn’t come to Berwick yourself until after I’d left the neighbourhood–but I was connected with the Hathercleugh estate from the time I was a lad until fifteen years ago, when I gave up the steward’s job and went to live on a bit of property of my own, near Alnwick. Of course, I knew the two sons–Michael and Gilbert; and I remember well enough when, owing to perpetual quarrelling with their father, he gave them both a good lot of money and they went their several ways. And after that, neither ever came back that I heard of, nor did I ever come across either, except on one occasion–to which I’ll refer in due course. In time, as I’ve just said, I retired; in time, too, Sir Alexander died, and I heard that, Mr. Michael being dead in the West Indies, Sir Gilbert had come into the title and estates. I did think, once or twice, of coming over to see him; but the older a man gets, the fonder he is of his own fireside–and I didn’t come here, nor did I ever hear much of him; he certainly made no attempt to see me. And so we come to the beginning of what we’ll call the present crisis. That beginning came with the man who turned up in Berwick this spring.”

“You mean Gilverthwaite?” asked Mr. Lindsey.

“Aye–but I didn’t know him by that name!” assented Mr. Elphinstone, with a sly smile. “I didn’t know him by any name. What I know is this. It must have been about a week–certainly not more–before Gilverthwaite’s death that he–I’m sure of his identity, because of his description–called on me at my house, and with a good deal of hinting and such-like told me that he was a private inquiry agent, and could I tell him something about the late Michael Carstairs?–and that, it turned out, was: Did I know if Michael was married before he left England, and if so, where, and to whom? Of course, I knew nothing about it, and as the man wouldn’t give me the least information I packed him off pretty sharply. And the next thing I heard was of the murder of John Phillips. I didn’t connect that with the visit of the mysterious man at first; but of course I read the account of the inquest, and Mr. Ridley’s evidence, and then I began to see there was some strange business going on, though I couldn’t even guess at what it could be. And I did nothing, and said nothing–there seemed nothing, then, that I could do or say, though I meant to come forward later–until I saw the affair of Crone in the newspapers, and I knew then that there was more in the matter than was on the surface. So, when I learnt that a man named Carter had been arrested on the charge of murdering Crone, I came to Berwick, and went to the court to hear what was said when Carter was put before the magistrates. I got a quiet seat in the court–and maybe you didn’t see me.”

“I did!” I exclaimed. “I remember you perfectly, Mr. Elphinstone.”

“Aye!” he said with an amused smile. “You’re the lad that’s had his finger in the pie pretty deep–you’re well out of it, my man! Well–there I was, and a man sitting by me that knew everybody, and before ever the case was called this man pointed out Sir Gilbert Carstairs coming in and being given a seat on the bench. And I knew that there was a fine to-do, and perhaps nobody but myself knowing of it, for the man pointed out to me was no Sir Gilbert Carstairs, nor any Carstairs at all–not he! But–I knew him!”

“You knew him!” exclaimed Mr. Lindsey. “Man!–that’s the first direct bit of real illumination we’ve had! And–who is he, then, Mr. Elphinstone?”

“Take your time!” answered Mr. Elphinstone. “We’ll have to go back a bit: you’ll put the police court out of your mind a while. It’s about–I forget rightly how long since, but it was just after I gave up the stewardship that I had occasion to go up to London on business of my own. And there, one morning, as I was sauntering down the lower end of Regent Street, I met Gilbert Carstairs, whom I’d never seen since he left home. He’d his arm in mine in a minute, and he would have me go with him to his rooms in Jermyn Street, close by–there was no denying him. I went, and found his rooms full of trunks, and cases, and the like–he and a friend of his, he said, were just off on a sort of hunting-exploration trip to some part of Central America; I don’t know what they weren’t going to do, but it was to be a big affair, and they were to come back loaded up with natural-history specimens and to make a pile of money out of the venture, too. And he was telling me all about it in his eager, excitable way when the other man came in, and I was introduced to him. And, gentlemen, that’s the man I saw–under the name of Sir Gilbert Carstairs–on the bench at Berwick only the other day! He’s changed, of course–more than I should have thought he would have done in fifteen years, for that’s about the time since I saw him and Gilbert together there in Jermyn Street,–but I knew him as soon as I clapped eyes on him, and whatever doubt I had went as soon as I saw him lift his right hand to his moustache, for there are two fingers missing on that hand–the middle ones–and I remembered that fact about the man Gilbert Carstairs had introduced to me. I knew, I tell you, as I sat in that court, that the fellow there on the bench, listening, was an impostor!”

We were all bending forward across the table, listening eagerly–and there was a question in all our thoughts, which Mr. Lindsey put into words.

“The man’s name?”

“It was given to me, in Jermyn Street that morning, as Meekin–Dr. Meekin,” answered Mr. Elphinstone. “Gilbert Carstairs, as you’re aware, was a medical man himself–he’d qualified, anyway–and this was a friend of his. But that was all I gathered then–they were both up to the eyes in their preparations, for they were off for Southampton that night, and I left them to it–and, of course, never heard of them again. But now to come back to the police court the other day: I tell you, I was–purposely–in a quiet corner, and there I kept till the case was over; but just when everybody was getting away, the man on the bench caught sight of me–“

“Ah!” exclaimed Mr. Lindsey, looking across at me. “Ah! that’s another reason–that supplements the ice-ax one! Aye!–he caught sight of you, Mr. Elphinstone–“

“And,” continued Mr. Elphinstone, “I saw a queer, puzzled look come into his face. He looked again–looked hard. I took no notice of his look, though I continued to watch him, and presently he turned away and went out. But I knew he had recognized me as a man he had seen somewhere. Now remember, when Gilbert Carstairs introduced me to this man, Gilbert did not mention any connection of mine with Hathercleugh–he merely spoke of me as an old friend; so Meekin, when he came into these parts, would have no idea of finding me here. But I saw he was afraid–badly afraid–because of his recognition and doubt about me. And the next question was–what was I to do? I’m not the man to do things in haste, and I could see this was a black, deep business, with maybe two murders in it. I went off and got my lunch–and thought. At the end of it, rather than go to the police, I went to your office, Mr. Lindsey. And your office was locked up, and you were all away for the day. And then an idea struck me: I have a relative–the man outside with Murray–who’s a high-placed officer in the Criminal Investigation Department at New Scotland Yard–I would go to him. So–I went straight off to London by the very next South express. Why? To see if he could trace anything about this Meekin.”

“Aye!” nodded Mr. Lindsey admiringly. “You were in the right of it, there–that was a good notion. And–you did?”

“Not since the Jermyn Street affair,” answered Mr. Elphinstone. “We traced him in the medical register all right up to that point. His name is Francis Meekin–he’s various medical letters to it. He was in one of the London hospitals with Gilbert Carstairs–he shared those rooms in Jermyn Street with Gilbert Carstairs. We found–easily–a man who’d been their valet, and who remembered their setting off on the hunting expedition. They never came back–to Jermyn Street, anyway. Nothing was ever heard or seen of them in their old haunts about that quarter from that time. And when we’d found all that out, we came straight down, last evening, to the police–and that’s all, Mr. Lindsey. And, of course, the thing is plain to me–Gilbert probably died while in this man’s company; this man possessed himself of his letters and papers and so on; and in time, hearing how things were, and when the chance came, he presented himself to the family solicitors as Gilbert Carstairs. Could anything be plainer?”

“Nothing!” exclaimed Mr. Lindsey. “It’s a sure case–and simple when you see it in the light of your knowledge; a case of common personation. But I’m wondering what the connection between the Gilverthwaite and Phillips affair and this Meekin has been–if we could get at it?”

“Shall I give you my theory?” suggested Mr. Elphinstone. “Of course, I’ve read all there’s been in the newspapers, and Murray told me a lot last night before we came to you, and you mentioned Mr. Ridley’s discovery,–well, then, I’ve no doubt whatever that this young gentleman is Michael Carstairs’ son, and therefore the real owner of the title and estates! And I’ll tell you how I explain the whole thing. Michael Carstairs, as I remember him–and I saw plenty of him as a lad and a young man–was what you’d call violently radical in his ideas. He was a queer, eccentric, dour chap in some ways–kindly enough in others. He’d a most extraordinary objection to titles, for one thing; another, he thought that, given a chance, every man ought to make himself. Now, my opinion is that when he secretly married a girl who was much below him in station, he went off to America, intending to put his principles in practice. He evidently wanted his son to owe nothing to his birth; and though he certainly made ample and generous provision for him, and gave him a fine start, he wanted him to make his own life and fortune. That accounts for Mr. Gavin Smeaton’s bringing-up. But now as regards the secret. Michael Carstairs was evidently a rolling stone who came up against some queer characters–Gilverthwaite was one, Phillips–whoever he may have been–another. It’s very evident, from what I’ve heard from you, that the three men were associates at one time. And it may be–it’s probably the case–that in some moment of confidence, Michael let out his secret to these two, and that when he was dead they decided to make more inquiries into it–possibly to blackmail the man who had stepped in, and whom they most likely believed to be the genuine Sir Gilbert Carstairs. Put it this way: once they’d found the documentary evidence they wanted, the particulars of Michael’s marriage, and so on, what had they to do but go to Sir Gilbert–as they thought him to be–and put it to him that, if he didn’t square them to keep silence, they’d reveal the truth to his nephew, whom, it’s evident, they’d already got to know of as Mr. Gavin Smeaton. But as regards the actual murder of Phillips–ah, that’s a mystery that, in my opinion, is not like to be solved! The probability is that a meeting had been arranged with Sir Gilbert–which means, of course, Meekin–that night, and that Phillips was killed by him. As to Crone–it’s my opinion that Crone’s murder came out of Crone’s own greed and foolishness; he probably caught Meekin unawares, told what he knew, and paid the penalty.”

“There’s another possible theory about the Phillips murder,” remarked Mr. Gavin Smeaton. “According to what you know, Mr. Elphinstone, this Meekin is a man who has travelled much abroad–so had Phillips. How do we know that when Meekin and Phillips met that night, Meekin wasn’t recognized by Phillips as Meekin–and that Meekin accordingly had a double incentive to kill him?”

“Good!” exclaimed Mr. Lindsey. “Capital theory!–and probably the right one. But,” he continued, rising and making for the door, “all the theories in the world won’t help us to lay hands on Meekin, and I’m going to see if Murray has made out anything from his search and his questioning.”

Murray had made out nothing. There was nothing whatever in the private rooms of the supposed Sir Gilbert Carstairs and his wife to suggest any clue to their whereabouts: the servants could tell nothing of their movements beyond what the police already knew. Sir Gilbert had never been seen by any of them since the morning on which he went into Berwick to hear the case against Carter: Lady Carstairs had not been seen since her departure from the house secretly, two mornings later. Not one of all the many servants, men or women, could tell anything of their master or mistress, nor of any suspicious doings on the part of Hollins during the past two days, except that he had been away from the house a good deal. Whatever share the butler had taken in these recent events, he had played his part skilfully.

So–as it seemed–there was nothing for it but to look further away, the impression of the police being that Meekin had escaped in one direction and his wife in another, and that it had been their plan that Hollins should foregather with them somewhere on the Continent; and presently we all left Hathercleugh House to go back to Berwick. As we crossed the threshold, Mr. Lindsey turned to Mr. Gavin Smeaton with a shrewd smile.

“The next time you step across here, sir, it’ll be as Sir Gavin Carstairs!” he said. “And we’ll hope that’ll not long be delayed!”

“I’m afraid there’s a good deal to do before you’ll be seeing that, Mr. Lindsey,” answered the prospective owner. “We’re not out of the wood yet, you know.”

We certainly were not out of the wood–so far as I was concerned, those last words might have been prophetic, as, a little later, I was inclined to think Maisie’s had been before she went off in the car. The rest of them, Mr. Lindsey and his group, Murray and his, had driven up from Berwick in the first conveyances they could get at that time of night, and they now went off to where they had been waiting in a neighbouring shed. They wanted me to go with them–but I was anxious about my bicycle, a nearly new machine. I had stowed it away as securely as I could under some thick undergrowth on the edge of the woods, but the downpour of rain had been so heavy that I knew it must have soaked through the foliage, and that I should have a nice lot of rust to face, let alone a saturated saddle. So I went away across the park to where I had left it, and the others drove off to Berwick–and so both Mr. Lindsey and myself broke our solemn words to Maisie. For now I was alone–and I certainly did not anticipate more danger.

But not only danger, but the very threatening of death was on me as I went my way. We had stayed some time in Hathercleugh House, and the dawn had broken before we left. The morning came clear and bright after the storm, and the newly-risen sun–it was just four o’clock, and he was nicely above the horizon–was transforming the clustering raindrops on the firs and pines into glistening diamonds as I plunged into the thick of the woods. I had no other thought at that moment but of getting home and changing my clothes before going to Andrew Dunlop’s to tell the news–when, as I crossed a narrow cut in the undergrowth, I saw, some distance away, a man’s head slowly look out from the trees. I drew back on the instant, watching. Fortunately–or unfortunately–he was not looking in my direction, and did not catch even a momentary glance of me, and when he twisted his neck in my direction I saw that he was the man we had been talking of, and whom I now knew to be Dr. Meekin. And it flashed on me at once that he was hanging about for Hollins–all unconscious that Hollins was lying dead there in the old tower.

So–it was not he who had driven that murderous knife into Hollins’s throat!

I watched him–myself securely hidden. He came out of his shelter, crossed the cut, went through the belt of wood which I had just passed, and looked out across the park to the house–all this I saw by cautiously edging through the trees and bushes behind me. He was a good forty yards away from me at that time, but I could see the strained, anxious expression on his face. Things had gone wrong–Hollins and the car had not met him where he had expected them–and he was trying to find out what had happened. And once he made a movement as if he would skirt the coppices and make for the tower, which lay right opposite, but with an open space between it and us–and then he as suddenly drew back, and began to go away among the trees.

I followed him, cautiously. I had always been a bit proud of what I called my woodcraft, having played much at Red Indians as a youngster, and I took care to walk lightly as I stalked him from one brake to another. He went on and on–a long way, right away from Hathercleugh, and in the direction of where Till meets Tweed. And at last he was out of the Hathercleugh grounds, and close to the Till, and in the end he took to a thin belt of trees that ran down the side of the Till, close by the place where Crone’s body had been found, and almost opposite the very spot, on the other bank, where I had come across Phillips lying dead; and suddenly I saw what he was after. There, right ahead, was an old boat, tied up to the bank–he was making for it, intending doubtless to put himself across the two rivers, to get the north bank of the Tweed, and so to make for safety in other quarters.

It was there that things went wrong. I was following cautiously, from tree to tree, close to the river-bank, when my foot caught in a trail of ground bramble, and I went headlong into the brushwood. Before I was well on my feet, he had turned and was running back at me, his face white with rage and alarm, and a revolver in his hand. And when he saw who it was, he had the revolver at the full length of his arm, covering me.

“Go back!” he said, stopping and steadying himself.

“No!” said I.

“If you come a yard further, Moneylaws, I’ll shoot you dead!” he declared. “I mean it! Go back!”

“I’m not coming a foot nearer,” I retorted, keeping where I was. “But I’m not going back. And whenever you move forward, I’m following. I’m not losing sight of you again, Mr. Meekin!”

He fairly started at that–and then he began looking on all sides of me, as if to find out if I was accompanied. And all of a sudden he plumped me with a question.

“Where is Hollins?” he asked. “I’ll be bound you know!”

“Dead!” I answered him. “Dead, Mr. Meekin! As dead as Phillips, or as Abel Crone. And the police are after you–all round–and you’d better fling that thing into the Till there and come with me. You’ll not get away from me as easily now as you did yon time in your yacht.”