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Chapter 16: Macpherson

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« on: May 27, 2023, 08:54:08 am »

I THINK Trace and myself had an almost infinite belief in Andrew Macpherson’s powers; there was that about him which made you think that he could see deeper into things than most people. But at this announcement we turned incredulous eyes on him, and Trace, after a start of surprise, let out what we were both thinking.

“What!---already?” he exclaimed. “Out of an old man’s tale!”

“Ca’ canny, my lad!” replied Macpherson. “We’ll talk!” He kept silence himself until we were back in Trace’s garden, where he perched on a rustic bench that stood beneath the parlour window and motioned us to seat ourselves on either side of him. “Now, you’ll conceive of me as one of those gentlemen of the wig and gown,” he said, “arguing a case before a judge and jury---I’ve sufficient good conceit of myself to think I’d ha’ made a good figure at that work! Well, we’ve heard what the old gentleman up above had to tell us, and a very clear and concise job he made of it. Now, we’ll recapitulate a little. Daniel Welgrave the younger came back to this village, flashing his money, and communicating the notion that he’d a deal of that about him. He was murdered---for what he had on him. But I opine, from evidence adduced, that the man who murdered him found not only money on his victim, but something else. What, now---in view of what we’ve heard about where Daniel Welgrave the younger had come from?”

“Diamonds!” said Trace.

“Man, ye’re in the right of it!” exclaimed Macpherson. “Diamonds it would be! I’ve heard stories myself, many’s the time, of how these first prospectors that went out to the diamond-fields when the boom arose, in 1870, would come back to England with packets of uncut stones in their pockets. I think this young Dan had diamonds on him when he came back to this village and caroused in yon public tavern. I think that when he was murdered, late that evening, the diamonds were found on him, as well as the money which was the murderer’s first objective. And I think the murderer, perhaps not there and then, but at any rate not so long after, buried those diamonds at the spot over which, only the other day, Chissick built his bit of a shed---without a window, and with a stout lock and a weighty bolt! Aye!”

“Aye!” echoed Trace. “A good theory!”

“Now, then, who murdered young Daniel Welgrave?” continued Macpherson. “ ’Tis forty years ago and more, and we’ve no details except those given us, after all that time, by the old man up the street---Hentidge. There are all sorts of things I would like to know. One is---who was the man that young Dan set out to spend the night with on the other side of the hill?”

“That could be found out, even now,” said Trace.

“And it might be well to find it out,” remarked Macpherson. “And especially if that man’s alive, as he might be, for we’ll consider him as having been at that time of about Dan Welgrave’s age, and Dan was a young man. However---for another thing, the murder may not have been the work of one man. There may have been two of them at it---there may have been a gang. But for the sake of a logical argument, let’s conclude it was the fellow called Flinch---Kit Flinch. Now, what does Flinch do after he’s buried those diamonds?---of the exact value of which, of course, he knows nothing, or, at best, can only guess at. He finds out that he’s being suspected, and one night he makes off, quietly, and effects a complete and successful disappearance. No doubt he went to sea; we’ll assume that he did. At some time or other, he made that rough map, or chart, or drawing, that’s figured so largely in this affair---or, he got some mate of his, better equipped for the job than himself, to make it for him. And, no doubt, on occasion, as sailor-men will, he talked, boastingly perhaps, of his buried treasure to those about him, without, of course, giving details, and Kest on one hand, and Trawlerson on another, got to hear of it. Eventually, Kest got hold of the map---in quite recent times. We know how Kest got it. He found it in the sailor’s ditty-box that he bought of Silvermore, the jeweller-pawnbroker, at Portsmouth. That’s established! But there are three questions I’d like answering about that. When Kest found, when he first saw, that map in the ditty-box at Silvermore’s, did he recognise it? That’s one. Did the recognition come from having actually seen it before? That’s two. Or---did he recognise it from having heard talk of it? That’s three!”

“You can’t answer any of them,” remarked Trace. “Or get answers to them!”

“You can’t! But you can form your own opinions,” said Macpherson. “I opine that Kest knew that map! I think he bought the ditty-box because the map was in it. Anyway, he got it. And from the testimony of Tom here, Kest had that map in his possession when he came to the mill up yonder. Now, two days before Kest was seen at the mill by Tom, he’d bought, or agreed to buy, from Chissick the particular bit of land on the hill-side on which we conclude the diamonds had been buried. What does that prove? That Kest had already found out where the exact spot was! He wanted to get that land into his own hands so that he could dig in peace. Well, Kest was murdered, and the map was stolen from him at the time of the murder, either just before he woke from his sleep in the mill, or after the murder during the half-hour or so that elapsed between Tom finding Kest dead and coming back with you, Captain, to the dead man’s side. The map disappeared---and nothing’s heard of it until it’s found in Chissick’s safe, after the murder of Chissick.”

“In company with the bank-notes which Kest undoubtedly handed to Chissick!” murmured Trace. “Which is----”

“Extraordinarily strange!” said Macpherson. “But we’ll leave the bank-notes alone---we know how and why Chissick got them. But we don’t know how Chissick got the map! Did he murder Kest? Did he rob Kest’s dead body? Was it somebody else, somebody we know nothing whatever about, who knifed Kest, and made off in the morning sea fog? Did Chissick, who might be out for an early walk, or up there on some of his prospecting business, emerge from that sea fog, when Tom had run down the hill, find Kest lying dead, and go through his pockets? That may have been the way of it. Tom can’t say definitely, for he doesn’t know at all whether Kest was robbed before or after he was dead.”

“No!” said I, reflecting on that misty morning and its horrors. “And that’s a fact, Mr. Macpherson.”

“Aye, it’s a fact, my man, and a deplorable one!” he answered. “However, Chissick came into possession of that map. Now, then, here’s the greatest question of the lot that crowds upon my mind, Captain! When did Chissick master the secret of that map? He’d agreed to sell the patch of land to Kest, and Kest had paid him a deposit to clinch the bargain. Kest was dead; nobody knew of the transaction; no papers had been made out and delivered; Chissick decided to say nothing. He had the map---how soon after Kest’s death we don’t know. But---when---when!---when did he find out what the map signified?”

He looked from one to the other of us as if seeking an answer from either or both, though I am sure he expected none; the look was merely a forensic trick. He answered his question himself---with an air of triumph.

“I’ll tell you!---that is, in my opinion,” he exclaimed. “He found it out when Trawlerson was in the witness-box at the opening of the inquest on Kest! You’ll remember, both of ye, that there was a rare to-do between Trawlerson and the coroner over the question of why Trawlerson wanted to find the mill, and the map came into the arguments. Now, Chissick was on the jury and heard all that, and no doubt he saw, as most other folk of any perception saw, that there was a particular secret about this mill and its vicinity, and that the secret was confined in the map. But had he the map then---at the time of the inquest? If he had, I think he either murdered Kest or robbed Kest after the murder. If he hadn’t, then I think somebody else did the murdering and robbing, and sold the map to Chissick.”

“That’s a new idea,” remarked Trace. “I don’t like it, Macpherson. Nobody could sell Chissick the map but the actual murderer and thief. Do you think he’d give himself away by letting Chissick know that he had the map?”

“Aye, man, but I don’t see that way at all!” said Macpherson. “We’re well aware, we three, that whoever got the map in the first instance took it out of its wrappings in yon wood at the top of the hill, and threw the wrappings away---that is, we’re well aware of the seemingness of that, on surface facts. But is that right? It mayn’t be!”

“We found the wrappings, Mr. Macpherson,” I reminded him.

“Aye, surely we did, my lad,” he answered. “But we don’t know that the map had been taken out of them by the murderer. Now, put it to yourselves this way. The murderer, after knifing Kest, gets away into those woods. He’s either robbed Kest before or after the murder---of everything that he had on him. Let’s take it that what he was after was valuables---money and the like. Well, in the wood he examines what he’s got. He finds the map---that’s no use to him! He throws it away, with the wrappings. It’s picked up later by some man passing through the wood---perhaps after the inquest, at which the map’s freely enquired after. That man, the man who picked it up, sells it to Chissick. He’d say nothing. Chissick did say nothing!”

“What was Chissick murdered for?” said Trace, after a short pause.

“Aye, do you ask me that?” answered Macpherson. “Man!---for what he’d dug out of that hole in the hill-side, the night before! Man!---Chissick had been watched!”

“Then it’s Trawlerson!” I exclaimed. “It’s Trawlerson! Trawlerson did nothing but watch from the moment Chissick began operations on those bungalows! And I’m sure it must have been Trawlerson I saw prowling around the shed that night.”

“Aweel!” said Macpherson, in his driest manner and relapsing into his native manner of speech. “The man’s no here to answer for himself, and I canna say. Ye’ll no get a reply from him either, Tom, my man, if they catch him.”

“Did Trawlerson murder both of them?” said Trace musingly. “I don’t mean did he actually murder Kest, for we know he was in bed, miles away, at the exact hour of Kest’s murder. But---had he an accomplice? Was Trawlerson an accessory? He professed utter ignorance, but Trawlerson, in my opinion, is a good actor, or an expert at dissimulation. Nobody’s gone into that accomplice idea!”

“Barring my own self!” remarked Macpherson. “And what I think about that, my lads, I’m not going to tell to anybody---yet! I’m engaged in serious cogitations about that, and I’ll walk now under your apple-trees, Captain, and cogitate some more.”

He left us then, and we saw no more of him until it was time for tea, over which meal he was unusually silent. And as soon as it was over, he took up his stick and went out into the road. Out of inquisitiveness, I got into the window-place and watched him. He made for Hentidge’s farm, and I saw him turn in at the garden gate.

It was growing dusk when he came back and joined us again in Trace’s parlour. He gave us glances that had something of sly triumph in them.

“I ha’ found out more about yon matter o’ two-and-forty years ago!” he announced. “He’s a more than by-ordinary memory, yon Hentidge, and improves with acquaintance. Now, I’ll tell you still more about what happened to young Dan Welgrave---man! I’m now doubtful if the fellow Kit Flinch should ha’ been suspected at all, though I think he knew things that he never told. It just shows how things that didn’t occur to people at the time occur to impartial listeners a long time after.”

“You’ve got further information on that affair?” asked Trace.

“And weighty information too, bearing on later things than it,” said Macpherson. “I daundered up the road there while you were still finishing your teas and dropped in on Hentidge and his daughter at theirs, and I ha’ had more talk with the old man, and got him---small effort on his part, for, as I say, he’s a fine hand at recalling things---to tell me still more about that Dan Welgrave affair. Now, you’ll recollect that when Dan Welgrave left the inn down here after his evening’s carouse, it was to go over the hill to spend the night with an old friend? That friend was a young farmer, a bachelor-man, of about his own age, which, Hentidge thinks, was about four-and-twenty years. His name was Ralph Charlesworth, and the farmstead he had is still there, and its name is Blackponds---ye’ll maybe acquaint with it, Captain? Very well---now this Ralph Charlesworth was of the same kidney as Dan Welgrave and his lot, wild, rackety, fond of his glass, and given to spending a deal of his time at inns. He was in this inn down the village here when Dan Welgrave turned up that night; he was one of the gang with whom Dan caroused. But---he didn’t stay to the end! He settled with Dan that Dan should stay the night with him, but he himself left the inn at nine o’clock, saying he’d got to see another farmer on his way home, on business. Dan wouldn’t go with him then; they arranged that he was to go on to Blackponds later. Now, this Ralph Charlesworth said, when the discovery of Dan’s dead body was made next day, that he sat up for Dan for a good two hours, till past midnight. When Dan never came, he concluded that Dan had either become too drunk to walk over the hill, or that he had decided to stop where he was for the night, or had gone home with some man who lived in the village. Nobody questioned him, or suspected him, this Ralph Charlesworth. But I do!---from two very significant facts remembered by old Hentidge. The stile by which Dan’s body was found was between two meadows on Charlesworth’s farm, in a very lonely place; a man well knowing the district could easily have lain in wait there. That’s one. The other is, that, after this happened, Charlesworth took to drinking hard, at home, and whereas he’d been a great hand for raking out at nights, could never be persuaded to go out again after dark! And not so long after Kit Flinch disappeared, Charlesworth disappeared too---and they found that, financially, he was in a bad way and there was nothing much for his creditors. Man!---I think Charlesworth murdered Dan Welgrave, and I think Flinch knew it!”

Before Trace could find words to comment on this, and while I sat, open-mouthed, wondering at this story of the past, a knock came at the door, and I went to answer it. There, in the porch, stood a man whom, from his blue pea-jacket and blue jersey, I knew to be a sailor.

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