Scarhaven Keep by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter XV. The Cablegram From New York
The two younger men received this announcement with no more than looks of astonished inquiry, but the elder one coughed significantly, had further recourse to his snuff-box and turned to Mrs. Greyle with a knowing glance.
"My dear lady!" he said impressively. "Now this is a matter in which I believe I can be of service--real service! You may have forgotten the fact--it is all so long ago--and perhaps I never mentioned it in the old days--but the truth is that before I went on the stage, I was in the law. The fact is, I am a duly and fully qualified solicitor--though," he added, with a dry chuckle, "it is a good five and twenty years since I paid the six pounds for the necessary annual certificate. But I have not forgotten my law--or some of it--and no doubt I can furbish up a little more, if necessary. You say that Mr. Marston Greyle, the present owner of Scarhaven, has offered to sell his estate to Lord Altmore? But--is not the estate entailed?"
"No!" replied Mrs. Greyle. "It is not."
Mr. Dennie's face fell--unmistakably. He took another pinch of snuff and shook his head.
"Then in that case," he said dryly, "all the lawyers in the world can't help. It's his--absolutely--and he can do what he pleases with it. Five hundred years, you say? Remarkable!--that a man should want to sell land his forefathers have walked over for half a thousand years! Extraordinary!"
"Did Lord Altmore say if any reason had been given him as to why Mr. Greyle wished to sell?" asked Gilling.
"Yes," replied Mrs. Greyle, who was obviously greatly upset by the recent news. "He did. Mr. Greyle gave as his reason that the north does not suit him, and that he wishes to buy an estate in the south of England. He approached Lord Altmore first because it is well-known that the Altmores have always been anxious to extend their own borders to the coast."
"Does Lord Altmore want to buy?" asked Gilling.
"It is very evident that he would be quite willing to buy," said Mrs. Greyle.
"What made him come to you," continued Gilling. "He must have had some reason?"
"He had a reason," Mrs. Greyle answered, with a glance at Audrey. "He knows the family history, of course--he is very well aware that my daughter is at present the heir apparent. He therefore thought we ought to know of this offer. But that is not quite all. Lord Altmore has, of course, read the accounts of the inquest in this morning's paper. Also his steward was present at the inquest. And from what he has read, and from what his steward told him, Lord Altmore thinks there is something wrong--he thinks, for instance, that Marston Greyle should explain this mystery about the meeting with Bassett Oliver in America. At any rate, he will go no further in any negotiations until that mystery is properly cleared up. Shall I tell you what Lord Altmore said on that point? He said--"
"Is it worth while, mother?" interrupted Audrey. "It was only his opinion."
"It is worth while--amongst ourselves--" insisted Mrs. Greyle. "Why not? Lord Altmore said--in so many words--'I have a sort of uneasy feeling, after reading the evidence at that inquest, and hearing what my steward's impressions were, that this man calling himself Marston Greyle may not be Marston Greyle at all and I shall want good proof that he is before I even consider the proposal he has made to me.' There! So--what's to be done?"
"The law, ma'am," observed Mr. Dennie, solemnly, "the law must step in. You must get an injunction, ma'am, to prevent Mr. Marston Greyle from dealing with the property until his own title to it has been established. That, at any rate, is my opinion."
"May I ask a question?" said Copplestone who had been listening and thinking intently. "Did Lord Altmore say when this offer was made to him?"
"Yes," replied Mrs. Greyle. "A week ago."
"A week ago!" exclaimed Copplestone. "That is, before last Sunday--before the Bassett Oliver episode. Then--the offer to sell is quite independent of that affair!"
"Strange--and significant!" muttered Gilling.
He rose from his chair and looked at his watch.
"Well," he went on, "I am going off to London. Will you give me leave, Mrs. Greyle, to report all this to Sir Cresswell Oliver and Mr. Petherton? They ought to know."
"I'm going, too," declared Copplestone, also rising. "Mrs. Greyle, I'm sure will entrust the whole matter to us. And Mr. Dennie will trust us with those papers."
"Oh, certainly, certainly!" asserted Mr. Dennie, pushing his packet across the table. "Take care of 'em, my boy!--ye don't know how important they may turn out to be."
"And--Mrs. Greyle?" asked Copplestone.
"Tell whatever you think it best to tell," replied Mrs. Greyle. "My own opinion is that a lot will have to be told--and to come out, yet."
"We can catch a train in three-quarters of an hour, Copplestone," said Gilling. "Let's get back and settle up with Mrs. Wooler and be off."
Copplestone contrived to draw Audrey aside.
"This isn't good-bye," he whispered, with a meaning look. "You'll see me back here before many days are over. But listen--if anything happens here, if you want anybody's help--in any way--you know what I mean--promise you'll wire to me at this address. Promise!--or I won't go."
"Very well," said Audrey, "I promise. But--why shall you come back?"
"Tell you when I come," replied Copplestone with another look. "But--I shall come--and soon. I'm only going because I want to be of use--to you."
An hour later he and Gilling were on their way to London, and from opposite corners of a compartment which they had contrived to get to themselves, they exchanged looks.
"This is a queer business, Copplestone!" said Gilling. "It strikes me it's going to be a big one, too. And--it's coming to a point round Squire Greyle."
"Do you think your man will have tracked him?" asked Copplestone.
"It will be the first time Swallow's ever lost sight of anybody if he hasn't," answered Gilling. "He's a human ferret! However, I wired to him just before we left, telling him to meet me at King's Cross, so we'll get his report. Oh, he'll have followed him all right--I don't imagine for a moment that Greyle is trying to evade anybody, at this juncture, at any rate."
But when--four hours later--the train drew into King's Cross--and Gilling's partner, a young and sharp-looking man, presented himself, it was with a long and downcast face and a lugubrious shake of the head.
"Done!--for the first time in my life!" he growled in answer to Gilling's eager inquiry. "Lost him! Never failed before--as you know. Well, it had to come, I suppose--can't go on without an occasional defeat. But--I'm a bit licked as to the whole thing--unless your man is dodging somebody. Is he?"
"Tell your tale," commanded Gilling, motioning Copplestone to follow him and Swallow aside.
"I was up here in good time this afternoon to meet his train," reported Swallow. "I spotted him and his man at once; no difficulty, as your description of both was so full. They were together while the luggage was got out; then he, Greyle, gave some instructions to the man and left him. He himself got into a taxi-cab; I got into another close behind and gave its driver certain orders. Greyle drove straight to the Fragonard Club--you know."
"Ah!" exclaimed Gilling. "Did he, now? That's worth knowing."
"What's the Fragonard Club?" asked Copplestone. "Never heard of it."
"Club of folk connected with the stage and the music-halls," answered Gilling, testily. "In a side street, off Shaftesbury Avenue--tell you more of it, later. Go on, Swallow."
"He paid off his driver there, and went in," continued Swallow. "I paid mine and hung about--there's only one entrance and exit to that spot, as you know. He came out again within five minutes, stuffing some letters into his pocket. He walked away across Shaftesbury Avenue into Wardour Street--there he went into a tobacconist's shop. Of course, I hung about again. But this time he didn't come. So at last I walked in--to buy something. He wasn't there!"
"Pooh!--he'd slipped out--walked out--when you weren't looking!" said Gilling. "Why didn't you keep your eye on the ball, man?--you!"
"You be hanged!" retorted Swallow. "Never had an eyelash off that shop door from the time he entered until I, too, entered."
"Then there's a side-door to that shop--into some alley or passage," said Gilling.
"Not that I could find," answered Swallow. "Might be at the rear of the premises perhaps, but I couldn't ascertain, of course. Remember!--there's another thing. He may have stopped on the premises. There's that in it. However, I know the shop and the name."
"Why didn't you bring somebody else with you, to follow the man and the luggage?" demanded Gilling, half-petulantly.
Swallow shook his head.
"There I made a mess of it, I confess," he admitted. "But it never struck me they'd separate. I thought, of course, they'd drive straight to some hotel, and--"
"And the long and the short of it is, Greyle's slipped you," said Gilling. "Well--there's no more to be done tonight. The only thing of value is that Greyle called at the Fragonard. What's a country squire--only recently come to England, too!--to do with the Fragonard? That is worth something. Well--Copplestone, we'd better meet in the morning at Petherton's. You be there at ten o'clock, and I'll get Sir Cresswell Oliver to be there, too."
Copplestone betook himself to his rooms in Jermyn Street; it seemed an age--several ages--since he had last seen the familiar things in them. During the few days which had elapsed since his hurried setting-off to meet Bassett Oliver so many things had happened that he felt as if he had lived a week in a totally different world. He had met death, and mystery, and what appeared to be sure evidence of deceit and cunning and perhaps worse--fraud and crime blacker than fraud. But he had also met Audrey Greyle. And it was only natural that he thought more about her than of the strange atmosphere of mystery which wrapped itself around Scarhaven. She, at any rate, was good to think upon, and he thought much as he looked over the letters that had accumulated, changed his clothes, and made ready to go and dine at his club, Already he was counting the hours which must elapse before he would go back to her.
Nevertheless, Copplestone's mind was not entirely absorbed by this pleasant subject; the events of the day and of the arrival in London kept presenting themselves. And coming across a fellow club-member whom he knew for a thorough man about town, he suddenly plumped him with a question.
"I say!" he said. "Do you know the Fragonard Club?"
"Of course!" replied the other man. "Don't you?"
"Never even heard of it till this evening," said Copplestone. "What is it?"
"Mixed lot!" answered his companion. "Theatrical and music-hall folk--men and women--both. Lively spot--sometimes. Like to have a look in when they have one of their nights?"
"Very much," assented Copplestone. "Are you a member?"
"No, but I know several men who are members," said the other. "I'll fix it all right. Worth going to when they've what they call a house-dinner--Sunday night, of course."
"Thanks," said Copplestone. "I suppose membership of that's confined to the profession, eh?"
"Strictly," replied his friend. "But they ain't at all particular about their guests--you'll meet all sorts of people there, from judges to jockeys, and millionairesses to milliners."
Copplestone was still wondering what the Squire of Scarhaven could have to do with the Fragonard Club when he went to Mr. Petherton's office the next morning. He was late for the appointment which Gilling had made, and when he arrived Gilling had already reported all that had taken place the day before to the solicitor and to Sir Cresswell Oliver. And on that Copplestone produced the papers entrusted to him by Mr. Dennie and they all compared the handwritings afresh.
"There is certainly something wrong, somewhere," remarked Petherton, after a time. "However, we are in a position to begin a systematic inquiry. Here," he went on, drawing a paper from his desk, "is a cablegram which arrived first thing this morning from New York--from an agent who has been making a search for me in the shipping lists. This is what he says: 'Marston Greyle, St. Louis, Missouri, booked first-class passenger from New York to Falmouth, England, by S.S. Araconda, September 28th, 1912.' There--that's something definite. And the next thing," concluded the old lawyer, with a shrewd glance at Sir Cresswell, "is to find out if the Marston Greyle who landed at Falmouth is the same man whom we have recently seen!"