Scarhaven Keep by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter X. The Invalid Curate
Spurge and his visitor sat staring at each other in silence for a few minutes; the silence was eventually broken by Copplestone.
"Of course," he said reflectively, "if Mr. Oliver was looking round those ruins he could easily spend half an hour there."
"Just so," agreed Spurge. "He could spend an hour. If so be as he was one of these here antiquarian-minded gents, as loves to potter about old places like that, he could spend two hours, three hours, profitable-like. But he'd have come out in the end, and the evidence is, guv'nor, that he never did come out! Even if I am just now lying up, as it were, I'm fully what they term o-fay with matters, and, by all accounts, after Bassett Oliver went up that there path, subsequent to his bit of talk with Ewbank, he was never seen no more 'cepting by me, and possibly by Squire Greyle. Them as lives a good deal alone, like me guv'nor, develops what you may call logical faculties--they thinks--and thinks deep. I've thought. B.O.--that's Oliver--didn't go back by the way he'd come, or he'd ha' been seen. B.O. didn't go forward or through the woods to the headlands, or he'd ha' been seen, B.O. didn't go down to the shore, or he'd ha' been seen. 'Twixt you and me, guv'nor, B.O.'s dead body is in that there Keep!"
"Are you suggesting anything?" asked Copplestone.
"Nothing, guv'nor--no more than that," answered Spurge. "I'm making no suggestion and no accusation against nobody. I've seen a bit too much of life to do that. I've known more than one innocent man hanged there at Norcaster Gaol in my time all through what they call circumstantial evidence. Appearances is all very well--but appearances may be against a man to the very last degree, and yet him be as innocent as a new born baby! No--I make no suggestions. 'Cepting this here--which has no doubt occurred to you, or to B.O.'s brother. If I were the missing gentleman's friends I should want to know a lot! I should want to know precisely what he meant when he said to Dan'l Ewbank as how he'd known a man called Marston Greyle in America. 'Taint a common name, that, guv'nor."
Copplestone made no answer to these observations. His own train of thought was somewhat similar to his host's. And presently he turned to a different track.
"You saw no one else about there that afternoon?" he asked.
"No one, guv'nor," replied Spurge.
"And where did you go when you left the place?" inquired Copplestone.
"To tell you the truth, guv'nor, I was waiting there for that cousin o' mine--him as carried you the letter," answered Spurge. "It was a fixture between us--he was to meet me there about three o'clock that day. If he wasn't there, or in sight, by a quarter-past three I was to know he wasn't able to get away. So as he didn't come, I slipped back into the woods, and made my way back here, round by the moors."
"Are you going to stay in this place?" asked Copplestone.
"For a bit, guv'nor--till I see how things are," replied Spurge. "As I say, I'm wanted for poaching, and Chatfield's been watching to get his knife into me this long while. All the same, if more serious things drew his attention off, he might let it slide. What do you ask for, guv'nor?"
"I wanted to know where you could be found in case you were required to give evidence about seeing Mr. Oliver," replied Copplestone. "That evidence may be wanted."
"I've thought of that," observed Spurge. "And you can always find that much out from my cousin at the 'Admiral.' He keeps in touch with me--if it got too hot for me here, I should clear out to Norcaster--there's a spot there where I've laid low many a time. You can trust my cousin--Jim Spurge, that's his name. One eye, no mistaking of him--he's always about the yard there at Mrs. Wooler's."
"All right," said Copplestone. "If I want you, I'll tell him. By-the-bye, have you told this to anybody?"
"Not to a soul, guv'nor," replied Spurge. "Not even to Jim. No--I kept it dark till I could see you. Considering, of course, that you are left in charge of things, like."
Copplestone presently went away and returned slowly to Scarhaven, meditating deeply on what he had heard. He saw no reason to doubt the truth of Zachary Spurge's tale--it bore the marks of credibility. But what did it amount to? That Spurge saw Bassett Oliver enter the ruins of the Keep, by the one point of ingress; that a few moments later he saw Marston Greyle come away from the same place, evidently considerably upset, and sneak off in a manner which showed that he dreaded observation. That was all very suspicious, to say the least of it, taken in relation to Oliver's undoubted disappearance--but it was only suspicion; it afforded no direct proof. However, it gave material for a report to Sir Cresswell Oliver, and he determined to write out an account of his dealings with Spurge that afternoon, and to send it off at once by registered letter.
He was busily engaged in this task when Mrs. Wooler came into his sitting-room to lay the table for his lunch. Copplestone saw at once that she was full of news.
"Never rains but it pours!" she said with a smile. "Though, to be sure, it isn't a very heavy shower. I've got another visitor now, Mr. Copplestone."
"Oh?" responded Copplestone, not particularly interested. "Indeed!"
"A young clergyman from London--the Reverend Gilling," continued the landlady. "Been ill for some time, and his doctor has recommended him to try the north coast air. So he came down here, and he's going to stop awhile to see how it suits him."
"I should have thought the air of the north coast was a bit strong for an invalid," remarked Copplestone. "I'm not delicate, but I find it quite strong enough for me."
"I daresay it's a case of kill or cure," replied Mrs. Wooler. "Chest complaint, I should think. Not that the young gentleman looks particularly delicate, either, and he tells me that he's a very good appetite and that his doctor says he's to live well and to eat as much as ever he can."
Copplestone got a view of his fellow-visitor that afternoon in the hall of the inn, and agreed with the landlady that he showed no evident signs of delicacy of health. He was a good type of the conventional curate, with a rather pale, good-humoured face set between his round collar and wide brimmed hat, and he glanced at Copplestone with friendly curiosity and something of a question in his eyes. And Copplestone, out of good neighbourliness, stopped and spoke to him.
"Mrs. Wooler tells me you're come here to pick up," he remarked. "Pretty strong air round this quarter of the globe!"
"Oh, that's all right!" said the new arrival. "The air of Scarhaven will do me good--it's full of just what I want." He gave Copplestone another look and then glanced at the letters which he held in his hand. "Are you going to the post-office?" he asked. "May I come?--I want to go there, too."
The two young men walked out of the inn, and Copplestone led the way down the road towards the northern quay. And once they were well out of earshot of the "Admiral's Arms," and the two or three men who lounged near the wall in front of it, the curate turned to his companion with a sly look.
"Of course you're Mr. Copplestone?" he remarked. "You can't be anybody else--besides, I heard the landlady call you so."
"Yes," replied Copplestone, distinctly puzzled by the other's manner. "What then?"
The curate laughed quietly, and putting his fingers inside his heavy overcoat, produced a card which he handed over.
"My credentials!" he said.
Copplestone glanced at the card and read "Sir Cresswell Oliver," He turned wonderingly to his companion, who laughed again.
"Sir Cresswell told me to give you that as soon as I conveniently could," he said. "The fact is, I'm not a clergyman at all--not I! I'm a private detective, sent down here by him and Petherton. See?"
Copplestone stared for a moment at the wide-brimmed hat, the round collar, the eminently clerical countenance. Then he burst into laughter. "I congratulate you on your make-up, anyway!" he exclaimed. "Capital!"
"Oh, I've been on the stage in my time," responded the private detective. "I'm a good hand at fitting myself to various parts; besides I've played the conventional curate a score of times. Yes, I don't think anybody would see through me, and I'm very particular to avoid the clergy."
"And you left the stage--for this?" asked Copplestone. "Why, now?"
"Pays better--heaps better," replied the other calmly. "Also, it's more exciting--there's much more variety in it. Well, now you know who I am--my name, by-the-bye is Gilling, though I'm not the Reverend Gilling, as Mrs. Wooler will call me. And so--as I've made things plain--how's this matter going so far?"
Copplestone shook his head.
"My orders," he said, with a significant look, "are--to say nothing to any one."
"Except to me," responded Gilling. "Sir Cresswell Oliver's card is my passport. You can tell me anything."
"Tell me something first," replied Copplestone. "Precisely what are you here for? If I'm to talk confidentially to you, you must talk in the same fashion to me."
He stopped at a deserted stretch of the quay, and leaning against the wall which separated it from the sand, signed to Gilling to stop also.
"If we're going to have a quiet talk," he went on, "we'd better have it now--no one's about, and if any one sees us from a distance they'll only think we're, what we look to be--casual acquaintances. Now--what is your job?"
Gilling looked about him and then perched himself on the wall.
"To watch Marston Greyle," he replied.
"They suspect him?" asked Copplestone.
"Sir Cresswell Oliver said as much to me--but no more. Have they said more to you?"
"The suspicion seemed to have originated with Petherton. Petherton, in spite of his meek old-fashioned manners, is as sharp an old bird as you'll find in London! He fastened at once on what Bassett Oliver said to that fisherman, Ewbank. A keen nose for a scent, Petherton's! And he 's determined to find out who it was that Bassett Oliver met in the United States under the name of Marston Greyle. He's already set the machinery in motion. And in the meantime, I'm to keep my eye on this Squire--as I shall!"
"Why watch him particularly?"
"To see that he doesn't depart for unknown regions--or, if he does, to follow in his track. He's not to be lost sight of until this mystery is cleared. Because--something is wrong."
Copplestone considered matters in silence for a few moments, and decided not to reveal the story of Zachary Spurge to Gilling--yet awhile at any rate. However, he had news which there was no harm in communicating.
"Marston Greyle," he said, presently, "or his agent, Peter Chatfield, or both, in common agreement, are already doing something to solve the mystery--so far as Greyle's property is concerned. They've closed the Keep and its surrounding ruins to the people who used to be permitted to go in, and they're conducting an exhaustive search--for Bassett Oliver, of course."
Gilling made a grimace.
"Of course!" he said, cynically. "Just so! I expected something of that sort. That's all part of a clever scheme."
"I don't understand you," remarked Copplestone. "How--a clever scheme?"
"Whitewash!" answered Gilling. "Sheer whitewash! You don't suppose that either Greyle or Chatfield are fools?--I should say they're far from it, from what little I've heard of 'em. Well--don't they know very well that Marston Greyle is under suspicion? All right--they want to clear him. So they close their ruins and make a search--a private search, mind you--and at the end they announce that nothing's been found--and there you are! And--supposing they did find something--supposing they found Bassett Oliver's body--What is it?" he asked suddenly, seeing Copplestone staring hard across the sands at the opposite quay. "Something happened?"
"By Gad!--I believe something has happened!" exclaimed Copplestone. "Look there--men running down the hillside from the Keep. And listen--they're shouting to those fellows on the other quay. Come on across! Will it be out of keeping with your invalid pose if you run?"
Gilling answered that question by lightly vaulting the wall and dropping to the sands beneath.
"I'm not an invalid in my legs, anyhow," he answered, as they began to splash across the pools left by the recently retreated tide. "By George!--I believe something has happened, too! Look at those people, running out of their cottages!"
All along the south quay the fisher-folk, men, women, and children, were crowding eagerly towards the gate of the path by which Bassett Oliver had gone up towards the Keep. When Copplestone and his companion gained the quay and climbed up its wall they were pouring in at this gate, and swarming up to the woods, all talking at the top of their voices. Copplestone suddenly recognized Ewbank on the fringe of the crowd and called to him.
"What is it?" he demanded. "What's happened?"
Ewbank, a man of leisurely movement, paused and waited for the two young men to come up. At their approach he took his pipe out of his mouth, and inclined his head towards the Keep.
"They're saying something's been found up there." he replied. "I don't know what. But Chatfield, he's sent two men down here to the village. One of 'em's gone for the police and the doctor, and t'other's gone to the 'Admiral,' looking for you. You're wanted up there--partiklar!"