Chapter XVII. The Old Playbill
 

Gilling's cheerful optimism was the sort of desirable quality that is a good thing to have, but all the optimism in the world is valueless in face of impregnable difficulty. And the difficulty of tracing Chatfield and his sick companion in a city the size of Bristol did indeed seem impregnable when Gilling and Copplestone had been attacking it for twenty-four hours. They had spent a whole day in endeavouring to get news; they had gone in and out of hotels until they were sick of the sight of one; they had made exhaustive inquiries at the railway station and of the cabmen who congregated there; nobody remembered anything at all about a big, heavy-faced man and a man in his company who seemed to be very ill. And on the second night Copplestone intimated plainly that in his opinion they were wasting their time.

"How do we even know that they ever came to Bristol?" he asked, as he and Gilling refreshed themselves with a much needed dinner. "The Falmouth landlord saw Chatfield take tickets for Bristol! That's nothing to go on! Put it to yourself in this way. Greyle may have found even that journey too much for him. They may, in that case, have left the train at Plymouth--or at Exeter--or at Taunton: it would stop at each place. Seems to me we're wasting time here--far better get nearer more tangible things. Chatfield, for instance. Or, go back to town and find out what your friend Swallow has done."

"Swallow," replied Gilling, "has done nothing so far, or I should have heard. Swallow knows exactly where I am, and where I shall be until I give him further notice. Don't be discouraged, my friend--one is often on the very edge of a discovery when one seems to be miles away from it. Give me another day--and if we haven't found out something by tomorrow evening I'll consult with you as to our next step. But I've a plan for tomorrow morning which ought to yield some result."

"What?" demanded Copplestone, doubtfully.

"This! There is in every centre of population an official who registers births, marriages, and deaths. Now we believe the real Marston Greyle to be dead. Let us suppose, for argument's sake, that he did die here, in Bristol, whither he and Chatfield certainly set off when they left Falmouth. What would happen? Notice of his death would have to be given to the Registrar--by the nearest relative or by the person in attendance on the deceased. That person would, in this case, be Chatfield. If the death occurred suddenly, and without medical attendance, an inquest would have to be held. If a doctor had been in attendance he would give a signed certificate of the cause of death, which he would hand to the relatives or friends in attendance, who, in their turn, would have to hand it to the Registrar. Do you see the value of these points? What we must do tomorrow morning is to see the Registrar--or, as there will be more than one in a place this size--each of them in turn, in the endeavour to find out if, early in October, 1912, Peter Chatfield registered the death of Marston Greyle here. But remember--he may not have registered it under that name. He may, indeed, not have used his own name--he's deep enough for anything. That however, is our next best chance--search of the registers. Let's try it, anyway, first thing in the morning. And as we've had a stiff day, I propose we dismiss all thought of this affair for the rest of the evening and betake ourselves to some place of amusement--theatre, eh?"

Copplestone made no objection to that, and when dinner was over, they walked round to the principal theatre in time for the first act of a play which having been highly successful in London had just started on a round of the leading provincial theatres. Between the second and third acts of this production there was a long interval, and the two companions repaired to the foyer to recuperate their energies with a drink and a cigarette. While thus engaged, Copplestone encountered an old school friend with whom he exchanged a few words: Gilling, meanwhile strolled about, inspecting the pictures, photographs and old playbills on the walls of the saloon and its adjacent apartments. And suddenly, he turned back, waited until Copplestone's acquaintance had gone away, and then hurried up and smacked his co-searcher on the shoulder.

"Didn't I tell you that one's often close to a thing when one seems furthest off it!" he exclaimed triumphantly. "Come here, my son, and look at what I've just found."

He drew Copplestone away to a quiet corner and pointed out an old playbill, framed and hung on the wall. Copplestone stared at it and saw nothing but the title of a well-known comedy, the names of one or two fairly celebrated actors and actresses and the usual particulars which appear on all similar announcements.

"Well?" he asked. "What of this?"

"That!" replied Gilling, flicking the tip of his finger on a line in the bill. "That my boy!"

Copplestone looked again. He started at what he read.

Margaret Sayers.......MISS ADELA CHATFIELD.

"And now look at that!" continued Gilling, with an accentuation of his triumphal note. "See! These people were here for a fortnight--from October 3rd to 17th--1912. Therefore--if Peter Chatfield brought Marston Greyle to Bristol on October 6th, Peter Chatfield's daughter would also be in the town!"

Copplestone looked over the bill again, rapidly realizing possibilities.

"Would Chatfield know that?" he asked reflectively.

"It's only likely that he would," replied Gilling. "Even if father and daughter don't quite hit things off in their tastes, it's only reasonable to suppose that Peter would usually know his daughter's whereabouts. And if he brought Greyle here, ill, and they had to stop, it's only likely that Peter would turn to his daughter for help. Anyway, Copplestone, here are two undoubted facts:--Chatfield and Greyle booked from Falmouth for Bristol on October 6th, 1912, and may therefore be supposed to have come here. That's one fact. The other is--Addie Chatfield was certainly in Bristol on that date and for eleven days after it."

"Well--what next?" asked Copplestone.

"I've been thinking that over while you stared at the bill," answered Gilling. "I think the best thing will be to find out where Addie Chatfield put herself up during her stay. I daresay you know that in most of these towns there are lodgings which are almost exclusively devoted to the theatrical profession. Actors and actresses go to them year after year; their owners lay themselves out for their patrons--what's more, your theatrical landlady always remembers names and faces, and has her favourites. Now, in my stage experience, I never struck Bristol, so I don't know much about it, but I know where we can get information--the stage door-keeper. He'll tell us where the recognized lodgings are--and then we must begin a round of inquiry. When? Just now, my boy!--and a good time, too, as you'll see."

"Why?" asked Copplestone.

"Best hour of the evening," replied Gilling with glib assurance. "Landladies enjoying an hour of ease before beginning to cook supper for their lodgers, now busy on the stage. Always ready to talk, theatrical landladies, when they've nothing to do. Trust me for knowing the ropes!--come round to the stage door and let's ask the keeper a question or two."

But before they had quitted the foyer an interruption came in the shape of a shrewd-looking gentleman in evening dress, who wore his opera hat at a rakish angle and seemed to be very much at home as he strolled about, hands in pockets, looking around him at all and sundry. He suddenly caught sight of Gilling, smiled surprisedly and expansively, and came forward with outstretched hand.

"Bless our hearts, is it really yourself, dear boy!" exclaimed this apparition. "Really, now? And what brings you here--God bless my soul and eyes--why I haven't seen you this--how long is it, dear boy!"

"Three years," answered Gilling, promptly clasping the outstretched hand. "But what are you doing here--boss, eh?"

"Lessee's manager, dear boy--nice job, too," whispered the other. "Been here two years--good berth." He deftly steered Gilling towards the refreshment bar, and glanced out of his eye corner at Copplestone. "Friend of yours?" he suggested hospitably. "Introduce us, dear boy--my name is the same as before, you know!"

"Mr. Copplestone, Mr. Montmorency," said Gilling. "Mr. Montmorency, Mr. Copplestone."

"Servant, sir," said Mr. Montmorency. "Pleased to meet any friend of my friend! And what will you take, dear boys, and how are things with you, Gilling, old man--now who on earth would have thought of seeing you here?"

Copplestone held his peace while Gilling and Mr. Montmorency held interesting converse. He was sure that his companion would turn this unexpected meeting to account, and he therefore felt no surprise when Gilling, after giving him a private nudge, plumped the manager with a direct question.

"Did you see Addie Chatfield when she was here about a year ago?" he asked. "You remember--she was here in Mrs. Swayne's Necklace--here a fortnight."

"I remember very well, dear boy," responded Mr. Montmorency, with a judicial sip at the contents of his tumbler. "I saw the lady several times. More by token, I accidentally witnessed a curious little scene between Miss Addie and a gentleman whom Nature appeared to have specially manufactured for the part of heavy parent--you know the type. One morning when that company was here, I happened to be standing in the vestibule, talking to the box-office man, when a large, solemn-faced individual, Quakerish in attire, and evidently not accustomed to the theatre walked in and peered about him at our rich carpets and expensive fittings--pretty much as if he was appraising their value. At the same time, I observed that he was in what one calls a state--a little, perhaps a good deal, upset about something. Wherefore I addressed myself to him in my politest manner and inquired if I could serve him. Thereupon he asked if he could see Miss Adela Chatfield on very important business. Now, I wasn't going to let him see Miss Addie, for I took him to be a man who might have a writ about him, or something nasty of that sort. But at that very moment, Miss Addie, who had been rehearsing, and had come out by the house instead of going through the stage door, came tripping into the vestibule and let off a sharp note of exclamation. After which she and old wooden-face stepped into the street together, and immediately exchanged a few words. And that the old man told her something very serious was abundantly evident from the expression of their respective countenances. But, of course, I never knew what it was, nor who he was, dear boy--not my business, don't you know."

"They went away together, those two?" asked Gilling, favouring Copplestone with another nudge.

"Up the street together, certainly, talking most earnestly," replied Mr. Montmorency.

"Ever see that old chap again?" asked Gilling.

"I never did, dear boy,--once was sufficient," said Mr. Montmorency, lightly. "But," he continued, dropping his bantering tone, "are these questions pertinent?--has this to do with this new profession of yours, dear boy? If so--mum's the word, you know."

"I'll tell you what, Monty," answered Gilling. "I wish you'd find out for me where Addie Chatfield lodged when she was here that time. Can it be done? Between you and me, I do want to know about that, old chap. Never mind why, now--I will tell you later. But it's serious."

Mr. Montmorency tapped the side of his handsome nose.

"All right, my boy!" he said. "I understand--wicked, wicked world! Done? Dear boy, it shall be done! Come down to the stage door--our man knows every landlady in the town!"

By various winding ways and devious passages he led the two young men down to the stage door. Its keeper, not being particularly busy at that time, was reading the evening newspaper in his glass-walled box, and glanced inquiringly at the strangers as Mr. Montmorency pulled them up before him.

"Prickett," said Mr. Montmorency, leaning into the sanctum over its half-door and speaking confidentially. "You keep a sort of register of lodgings don't you, Prickett? Now I wonder if you could tell me where Miss Adela Chatfield, of the Mrs. Swayne's Necklace Company stopped when she was last here?--that's a year ago or about it. Prickett," he went on, turning to Gilling, "puts all this sort of thing down, methodically, so that he can send callers on, or send up urgent letters or parcels during the day--isn't that it, Prickett?"

"That's about it, sir," answered the door-keeper. He had taken down a sort of ledger as the manager spoke, and was now turning over its leaves. He suddenly ran his finger down a page and stopped its course at a particular line.

"Mrs. Salmon, 5, Montargis Crescent--second to the right outside," he announced briefly. "Very good lodgings, too, are those."

Gilling promised Mr. Montmorency that he would look him up later on, and went away with Copplestone to Montargis Crescent. Within five minutes they were standing in a comfortably furnished, old-fashioned sitting-room, liberally ornamented with the photographs of actors and actresses and confronting a stout, sharp-eyed little woman who listened intently to all that Gilling said and sniffed loudly when he had finished.

"Remember Miss Chatfield being here!" she exclaimed. "I should think I do remember! I ought to! Bringing mortal sickness into my house--and then death--and then a funeral--and her and her father going away never giving me an extra penny for the trouble!"