It was presently settled that Mr. Portlethorpe and Mr. Lindsey should go off to Newcastle by the next train to see the bank manager. Mr. Lindsey insisted that I should go with them—he would have no hole-and-corner work, he said, and I should tell my own story to the man we were going to see, so that he would know some of the ground of our suspicion. Mrs. Ralston supported that; and when Mr. Portlethorpe remarked that we were going too fast, and were working up all the elements of a fine scandal, she tartly remarked that if more care had been taken at the beginning, all this would not have happened.
We found the bank manager at his private house, outside Newcastle, that evening. He knew both my companions personally, and he listened with great attention to all that Mr. Lindsey, as spokesman, had to tell; he also heard my story of the yacht affair. He was an astute, elderly man, evidently quick at sizing things up, and I knew by the way he turned to Mr. Portlethorpe and by the glance he gave him, after hearing everything, that his conclusions were those of Mr. Lindsey and Mrs. Ralston.
“I’m afraid there’s something wrong, Portlethorpe,” he remarked quietly. “The truth is, I’ve had suspicions myself lately.”
“Good God! you don’t mean it!” exclaimed Mr. Portlethorpe. “How, then?”
“Since Sir Gilbert began selling property,” continued the bank manager, “very large sums have been paid in to his credit at our bank, where, previous to that, he already had a very considerable balance. But at the present moment we hold very little—that is, comparatively little—money of his.”
“What?” said Mr. Portlethorpe. “What? You don’t mean that?”
“During the past three or four months,” said the bank manager, “Sir Gilbert has regularly drawn very large cheques in favour of a Mr. John Paley. They have been presented to us through the Scottish-American Bank at Edinburgh. And,” he added, with a significant look at Mr. Lindsey, “I think you’d better go to Edinburgh—and find out who Mr. John Paley is.”
Mr. Portlethorpe got up, looking very white and frightened.
“How much of all that money is there left in your hands?” he asked, hoarsely.
“Not more than a couple of thousand,” answered the bank manager with promptitude.
“Then he’s paid out—in the way you state—what?” demanded Mr. Portlethorpe.
“Quite two hundred thousand pounds! And,” concluded our informant, with another knowing look, “now that I’m in possession of the facts you’ve just put before me, I should advise you to go and find out if Sir Gilbert Carstairs and John Paley are not one and the same person!”
THE HATHERCLEUGH BUTLER