The Ghost of Downhill – Chapter 5
MINTER THE SERVANT
There was no doubt about it. The man was dead. Jeremiah had only to look at him for a second to see that. Gently he shepherded the girl back to the drawing room. She was white but very calk, and when she spoke her voice did not so much as tremble.
“Is he dead?” she asked quietly, and marveling at her self-possession, Jeremiah nodded.
“How dreadful! What do you think happened?”
“My mind is in a whirl,” said Jeremiah, shaking his head helplessly. “I know no more than you.”
“I am sure he is the man whose name was Sibby Carter,” she said, and he looked at her in astonishment, for he had not heard her half whispered words when the body had been found.
“Do you know him?” he asked incredulously.
She shook her head.
“I only met him today,” she said and she told him again of her meeting with the tramp.
“That mean?” he said in surprise; “what an extraordinary coincidence!”
It was an hour before the police came, and nearly two hours before the ambulance arrived from Eastbourne to carry away the victim of the tragedy.
The fact that Jeremiah had been pressed in the house relieved Mr. Stuart from the cross-examination of the detective officer, who came in haste with the ambulance.
“It was very fortunate you were here,” said James Stuart gravely. “I can’t understand it. Why did the man come here, and who but the Ghost of Downhill could have slain him?”
In other circumstances Jeremiah would have laughed.
“The Ghost of Downhill?” he repeated; “but surely, Mr. Stuart, a ghost is not a material thing with material strength in its substantial fingures?”
James Stuart shook his head.
“There are more things in this world than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” he said simply, and with these words in his ears Jeremiah made his way back to his bungalow, a greatly perturbed man.
Althought the hour of late, the stout and placid Minter was waiting for him; a little fire burnt in the grate of his comfortable sitting room, and Minter, who never seemed to be tired, listened to the story of the “exciting night” which that air of polite interest which invariably annoyed Jeremiah.
He was a large, stout, calm man with a clean-shaven face and deep-set eyes, the very model of a perfect valet-butler, but there were times when he irritated Jeremiah beyond endurance. The man had been in his service for five months, and in every way had been satisfactory, and now Jeremiah had a particular reason for being grateful to him. He had that morning saved the girl from the unpleasant attentions of the dead Sibby Carter.
“One would imagine, Minter,” he said irritably, “that I was telling you the story of a tea-fight. Don’t you realize that there has been a murder committed under your very nose?”
“Oh yes, sir,” said Minter respectfully. “What time would you like your breakfast in the morning?”
“Pah!” said Jeremiah.
He dismissed his servant, and went to bed. But his mind was too active to sleep. Again and again he turned over in his mind the extraordinary circumstances of that evening, and somehow the adventure of the surveyor of Eastbourne, and Mr. Staine’s curious experience, insisted upon obtruding into his mind and mixing themselves up until, with a groan, he shut his eyes tight and attempted to dismiss entirely from his thoughts both the Ghost of Downhill and the mystery man who held up inoffensive people and examined their pass-books.
He was nearly asleep when he thought he heard a stealthy movement outside his door, and was instantly awake. He listened. Again it came, a faint creak of sound, and carefully pulling back the clothes, he got out of bed as noiselessly as possible, crept to the door and listened.
The clock of Arthurton church struck three.
“This is getting on my nerves,” he muttered to himself and would have gone back to bed, but for the unexpected repetition of the sound. This time it was outside the house. He walked across the room to the window and gently drew aside the curtain. The cloud wrack had for a moment covered the moon, but he could see a figure walking quickly down the snow-covered path to the gate, and there was no mistaking its identity, for the bulk of the man could not be distinguished. It was Minter!
He pulled on his trousers over his pyjamas, slipped his feet into long mosquito boots, and bundling on an over coat, he went out into the passage through the door which was open, along the covered passage way, and out of the side door, which also was ajar.
When he got outside the man had reached the gate.
“Minter,” he called sharply, and at the sound of his voice Minter turned. He was carrying something in his hand; something that glittered and gleamed in a fitful ray of moonlight.
“Minter,” called Jeremiah again.
“Yes, sir.” Was the answer, and the man came slowly back.
Before he could slip the thing he carried into his pocket, Jeremiah had seen the revolver, and gasped. He did not link the mild Minter with lethal weapons.
“What the devil are you doing crawling about in the middle of the night with a pistol in your hand,” he demanded.
“I was following the Ghost of Downhill, sir,” was the cool reply.
“The Ghost of Downhill,” repeated Jeremiah, “what do you mean?”
Minter did not reply immediately, and Jeremiah, scrutinizing him keenly, saw that he was considerably perturbed by the unexpected interruption to him quest.
“I thought I saw a figure moving through the gardens here and I followed it.”
Jeremiah looked at him.
“But you’re fully dressed, Minter,” he said quietly. “Did you happen to be fully dressed when you saw the ghost?”
“Yes sir,” was the surprising reply.
Jeremiah led the way back to the sitting room and turned on the light, and this time his examination of his servant was more thorough.
“And did you happen to have changed your clothes before you went to bed.” He asked pointedly, for the suit the man wore was not the butler’s uniform that had encased his portly figure when Jeremiah had said good night to him.
Minter did not make any reply.
“I will see you about this in the morning,” said Jeremiah, and with a curt nod dismissed his servant.
The more he thought the matter over, the more puzzled he became. A faint glow was showing in the east before he eventually fell into a troubled sleep, to be awakened by the correct Minter, who came into the room with a preliminary knock, carrying the usual morning tea service.
The man filled Jeremiah’s bath and put his clothes ready before he spoke.
“I, daresay, sir” he said, after a moment’s hesitation, “that you think my conduct last night was rather strange,”
“I think it was extremely strange,” said Jeremiah, “and I tell you this frankly, Minter, that unless you explain what you were doing out in the middle of the night, and explain it to my satisfaction, I shall dispense with your services.”
Minter’s heavy head nodded.
“That I can quite understand, sir,” he said politely, “but if I tell you, sir, that I have seen the Ghost of Downhill three nights in succession, and that I was waiting last night to follow him, you will understand that there is nothing mysterious about my having changed my clothes for garments more suitable for an out-of-door chase.
This argument was unanswerable, Jeremiah, did not for one moment doubt the big man’s word. He also had seen the Ghost of Downhill, and it was quite possible that the man was speaking the truth.”
“Ghosts, sir,” the man went on, “do not as a rule impress me because I come from a long line of Wesleyan Methodists, who are not great believers in spiritual manifestations. But a ghost with a theodolite and a measurers-rod seems to me to be little outside of the usual run of ghosts.”
“What do you mean Minter?” asked Jeremiah quickly, as he sat on the edge of the bed staring at the man.
“Two nights ago, sir, I saw the ghost, and he carried over his shoulder a small theodolite – I saw it in use later. He was making elaborate measurements, evidently starting from the big rock in the sunken garden below the house, for I saw the rod as distinctly as I see you. Before I could dress and ge out he was gone.”
Jeremiah whistled. All doubt as to his servant’s story was now dissipated. He knew that the man was speaking the truth.
“You must have found his footprints?”
“I found them immediately after, sir, but was unable to make a very careful observation in the morning because another fall of snow fell during the night,” said Minter, shaking hs head, and Jeremiah had to laugh at the matter-of-fact tone of his servant.
“Aren’t you a bit scared, Minter?”
“No, sir, I am not very scared,” said the man with a smile. “Not so scared as the ghost would be if he knew that I took the revolver prize at Bisley for three years in succession.”
END OF CHAPTER V