The Ghost of Downhill – Chapter 8 – The Last
Margot Panton never knew the story of her uncle’s past. She simply heard that he had gone abroad, and did not even know that wreckage of his motor boat had been picked up in the Channel four days later. To her John Stuart is still that pleasant memory of a pleasant and eccentric old man who left England hurriedly and unexpectedly on a wild winter night, and has not returned.
Jeremiah saved her from the knowledge, and when he sold his house at Arthorton, and without authority disposed of James Stuart’s property, handing the proceeds to the girl, she never dreamt but that he was acting under Mr. Stuart’s directions.
Even when they married, as they were three months later, Jeremiah never showed her the letter which Inspector Leverett sent to him a week after the girl had been whisked off to town.
“DEAR MR. JOWLETT,” the letter began.
“I feel that I owe you an apology and an explanation beyond the few incoherent remarks I made on the night when you undoubtedly saved me from death, for I should have been frozen by the morning.
You probably know as much about the Flack gang as I do. The gang was organized by one of the cleverest crooks in the world; his real name was James Stuart. Stuart had been in the hands of the police many times, but always under the name of John Flack. He was a clever bank smasher and for his crimes he served three terms of penal servitude. His long absences from home, when he was supposed to be engaged in tours of Brazil and South America generally, are explained by the fact that he was serving terms of penal servitude during these periods.
Nobody knew that the white bearded gentleman who lived at Arthurton was Flack, and I had no suspicion of the circumstances until some six months ago. Flack, or Stuart’s last job, was the burgling of the strong room of a liner. He and his two companions got away with nearly a million dollars in paper currency, with the police hot on their track. The third man of the gang was drowned in an attempt to swim a river, but Flack and the man named Sibby Carter went their several ways, agreeing to meet in London at a certain rendezvous. The police picked up Sibby Carter, and from him learnt the direction Flack had taken, and started off in pursuit of the leader of the gang. Flack or Stuart, must have known what was happening, for he made a bee-line to the country he knew best, namely the country about Arthurton where he lived, respected by his neighbours, who had not the slightest idea that they were harbouring one of the greatest crooks in the world.
He dare not go home, however. His biggest asset was his identity as Stuart, and he had a shrewd suspicion that the police would not be shaken off. He arrived at Arthurton in the night, and his first step was to bury his plunder. He chose a spot on the top of a hill, the site of an old monastery which was supposed to be haunted. There, deep in the ground, he buried a steel box containing his loot.
After carefully marking the place, he went on to London, hoping to baffle his pursuers, but was arrested at Charing Cross station, two days later. He swore that the money was lost, and was sent to a term of penal servitude for seven years, as also was his confederate, Carter. The two men were released within a few days of one another, but unfortunately Flack was released first. Carter, who wanted his share of the loot, and who knew that his chief had hidden it, began a search to discover the hiding place of his former leader.
He must have known something about Stuart’s identity, for the man appeared in Arthurton a short time after his release. It was his arrival at Arthurton which brought me, for I was trailing Sibby Carter in the hopes that it would bring me to the stolen property which had been hidden. Carter was anxious to get the money, but he was also in some fear of Stuart, for I have no evidence that he had evern spoken to the man, except on that night when he lost his life. But here I anticipate.
Stuart, released from gaol, came back home and discovered to his horror that a bungalow had been erected on the very spot where his money was hidden. His first suspicion was that the builder, or the Clerk of the Works must have found the money and said nothing about it. He paid a visit to the Clerk of the Works, who by this time had an appointment with the municipality of Eastbourne, and holding the man up at the point of a pistol, he examined his pass books, his object being to discover whether any large sum had been paid into the account at the time the building was in course of erection. Failing to make this discovery he next called upon the builder, a man named Staines, and submitted him to the same search. When these had failed, he was certain that the money was still under the house, and began his carefully considered plan of frightening the occupant away so that he could pursue his search without hindrance.
Unfortunately for him, I had already arrived at Arthurton and knowing that Sibby Carter was in the neighbourhood, and more than suspecting that James Stuart and Flack were one and the same person, I had contrived to be taken into your employment as a butler – in which capacity I trust I have given you no cause for complaint.
I shaved off my beard and moustache, and it was fortunate for me that I did so, otherwise Stuart would have recognized me.
On the night that Sibby Carter was killed I was watching the house with a pair of powerful night glasses, and I saw the two men I n conversation. They must have walked to the porch, and there undoubtedly James Stuart, who was a tremendously powerful old man, had broken the neck of his erstwhile companion in crime, in order to silence him. Possibly Carter had threatened to expose Stuart. The motive for the murder is not at all obscure; there were many reasons why it was necessary that Carter should be put out of the way.
The rest of the story needs no telling. Stuart, posing as a spiritualist, got admission to your house. On the night he dug deep into your cellar and unearthed the tin box, I was watching him. I followed him down the hill road through the storm, hanging on to the back of the car, knowing that he was making his final getaway, and that the tin box on the seat by his side contained the money he had stolen from the liner.
When we reached the road I thought it was time to reveal myself, and jumping on to the step, I put a revolver under his nose and demanded his surrender. At the same time I gripped the steel box and jerked it from the car. Before I knew what had happened he had shot me down – that is the story.
The money is now recovered, and I should not think it is necessary that Miss Panton should know any more than she already knows.
One thing I think you can tell her – it is that her uncle, definitely and finally, has laid the Ghost of Down Hill.
Yours very sincerely,
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END OF CHAPTER VII
END OF THE GHOST OF DOWNHILL