“They’ll not have found much out by this time, yon police fellows, no doubt, Mr. Moneylaws?” he said, eyeing me inquisitively in the light of the one naphtha lamp that was spurting and jumping in his untidy shop. “They’re a slow unoriginal lot, the police—there’s no imagination in their brains and no ingenuity in their minds. What’s wanted in an affair like this is one of those geniuses you read about in the storybooks—the men that can trace a murder from the way a man turns out his toes, or by the fashion he’s bitten into a bit of bread that he’s left on his plate, or the like of that—something more than by ordinary, you’ll understand me to mean, Mr. Moneylaws?”
“Maybe you’ll be for taking a hand in this game yourself, Mr. Crone?” said I, thinking to joke with him. “You seem to have the right instinct for it, anyway.”
“Aye, well,” he answered, “and I might be doing as well as anybody else, and no worse. You haven’t thought of following anything up yourself, Mr. Moneylaws, I suppose?”
“Me!” I exclaimed. “What should I be following up, man? I know no more than the mere surface facts of the affair.”
He gave a sharp glance at his open door when I thus answered him, and the next instant he was close to me in the gloom and looking sharply in my face.
“Are you so sure of that, now?” he whispered cunningly. “Come now, I’ll put a question to yourself, Mr. Moneylaws. What for did you not let on in your evidence that you saw Sir Gilbert Carstairs at yon cross-roads just before you found the dead man? Come!”
You could have knocked me down with a feather, as the saying is, when he said that. And before I could recover from the surprise of it, he had a hand on my arm.
“Come this way,” he said. “I’ll have a word with you in private.”
THE OTHER WITNESS
It was with a thumping heart and nerves all a-tingle that I followed Abel Crone out of his front shop into a sort of office that he had at the back of it—a little, dirty hole of a place, in which there was a ramshackle table, a chair or two, a stand-up desk, a cupboard, and a variety of odds and ends that he had picked up in his trade. The man’s sudden revelation of knowledge had knocked all the confidence out of me. It had never crossed my mind that any living soul had a notion of my secret—for secret, of course, it was, and one that I would not have trusted to Crone, of all men in the world, knowing him as I did to be such a one for gossip. And he had let this challenge out on me so sharply, catching me unawares that I was alone with him, and, as it were, at his mercy, before I could pull my wits together. Everything in me was confused. I was thinking several things all at a time. How did he come to know? Had I been watched? Had some person followed me out of Berwick that night? Was this part of the general mystery? And what was going to come of it, now that Abel Crone was aware that I knew something which, up to then, I had kept back?