Scarhaven Keep by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter XVIII. The Lie on the Tombstone
Gilling's glance at his companion was quiet enough, but it spoke volumes. Here, by sheer chance, was such a revelation as they had never dreamed of hearing!--here was the probable explanation of at least half the mystery. He turned composedly to the landlady.
"I've already told you who and what I am," he said, pointing to the card which he had handed to her. "There are certain mysterious circumstances about this affair which I want to get at. What you've said just now is abundant evidence that you can help. If you do and will help, you'll be well paid for your trouble. Now, you speak of sickness--death--a funeral. Will you tell us all about it?"
"I never knew there was any mystery about it," answered the landlady, as she motioned her visitors to seat themselves. "It was all above-board as far as I knew. Of course, I've always been sore about it--I'd a great deal of trouble, and as I say, I never got anything for it--that is, anything extra. And me doing it really to oblige her and her father!"
"They brought a sick man here?" suggested Gilling.
"I'll tell you how it was," said Mrs. Salmon, seating herself and showing signs of a disposition to confidence. "Miss Chatfield, she'd been here, I think, three days that time--I'd had her once before a year or two previous. One morning--I'm sure it was about the third day that the Swayne Necklace Company was here--she came in from rehearsal in a regular take-on. She said that her father had just called on her at the theatre. She said he'd been to Falmouth to meet a relation of theirs who'd come from America and had found him to be very ill on landing--so ill that a Falmouth doctor had given strict orders that he mustn't travel any further than Bristol, on his way wherever he wanted to go. They'd got to Bristol and the young man was so done up that Mr. Chatfield had had to drive him to another doctor--one close by here--Dr. Valdey--as soon as they arrived. Dr. Valdey said he must go to bed at once and have at least two days' complete rest in bed, and he advised Mr. Chatfield to get quiet rooms instead of going to a hotel. So Mr. Chatfield, knowing that his daughter was here, do you see, sought her out and told her all about it. She came to me and asked me if I knew where they could get rooms. Well now, I had my drawing-room floor empty that week, and as it was only for two or three days that they wanted rooms I offered to take Mr. Chatfield and the young man in. Of course, if I'd known how ill he was, I shouldn't. What I understood--and mind you, I don't say they wilfully deceived me, for I don't think they did--what I understood was that the young man simply wanted a real good rest. But he was evidently a deal worse than what even Dr. Valdey thought. He'd stopped at Dr. Valdey's surgery while Mr. Chatfield went to see about rooms, and they moved him from there straight in here. And as I say, he was a deal worse than they thought, much worse, and the doctor had to be fetched to him more than once during the afternoon. Still Dr. Valdey himself never said to me that there was any immediate danger. But that's neither here nor there--the young fellow died that night."
"That night!" exclaimed Gilling, "the night he came here?"
"Very same night," assented Mrs. Salmon. "Brought in here about two in the afternoon and died just before midnight--soon after Miss Chatfield came in from the theatre. Went very suddenly at the end."
"Were you present?" asked Copplestone.
"I wasn't. Nobody was with him but Mr. Chatfield--Miss Chatfield was getting her supper down here," replied Mrs. Salmon. "And I was busy elsewhere."
"Was there an inquest then, inquired Gilling?"
"Oh, no!" said Mrs. Salmon, shaking her head. "Oh, no!--there was no need for that--the doctor, ye see, had been seeing him all day. Oh, no--the cause of death was evident enough, in a way of speaking. Heart."
"Did they bury him here, then?" asked Gilling.
"Two days after," replied Mrs. Salmon. "Kept everything very quiet, they did. I don't believe Miss Chatfield told any of the theatre people--she went to her work just the same, of course. The old gentleman saw to everything--funeral and all. I'll say this for them.--they gave me no unnecessary trouble, but still, there's trouble that is necessary when you've death in a house and a funeral at the door, and they ought to have given me something for what I did. But they didn't, so I considered it very mean. Mr. Chatfield, he stayed two days after the funeral, and when he left he just said that his daughter would settle up with me. But when she came to pay she added nothing to my bill, and she walked out remarking that if her father hadn't given me anything extra she was sure she shouldn't. Shabby!"
"Very shabby!" agreed Gilling. "Well, you won't find my clients quite so mean, ma'am. But just a word--don't mention this matter to anybody until you hear from me. And as I like to give some earnest of payment here's a bank-note which you can slip into your purse--on account, you understand. Now, just a question or two:--Did you hear the young man's name?"
The landlady, whose spirits rose visibly on receipt of the bank-note, appeared to reflect on hearing this question, and she shook her head as if surprised at her own inability to answer it satisfactorily.
"Well, now," she said, "it may seem a queer thing to say, but I don't recollect that I ever did! You see, I didn't see much of him after he once got here. I was never in his room with them, and they didn't mention his name--that I can remember--when they spoke about him before me. I understood he was a relative--cousin or something of that sort."
"Didn't you see any name on the coffin?" asked Gilling.
"I didn't," replied Mrs. Salmon. "You see, the undertaker fetched him away when him and his men brought the coffin--the next day. He took charge of the coffin for the second night, and the funeral took place from there. But I'll tell you what--the undertaker'll know the name, and of course the doctor does. They're both close by."
Gilling took names and addresses and once more pledging the landlady to secrecy, led Copplestone away.
"That's the end of another chapter," he said when they were clear of that place. "We know now that Marston Greyle died there--in that very house, Copplestone!--and that Peter Chatfield was with him. That's fact!"
"And it's fact, too, that the daughter knows," observed Copplestone in a low voice.
"Fact, too, that Addie Chatfield was in it," agreed Gilling. "Well--but what happened next? However, before we go on to that, there are three things to do in the morning. We must see this Dr. Valdey, and the undertaker--and Marston Greyle's grave."
"And then?" asked Copplestone.
"Stiff, big question," sighed Gilling. "Go back to town and report, I think--and find out if Swallow has discovered anything. And egad! there's a lot to discover! For you see we're already certain that at the stage at which we've arrived a conspiracy began--conspiracy between Chatfield, his daughter, and the man who's been passing himself off as Marston Greyle. Now, who is the man? Where did they get hold of him? Is he some relation of theirs? All that's got to be found out. Of course, their object is very clear, Marston Greyle, the real Simon Pure, was dead on their hands. His legal successor was his cousin, Miss Audrey. Chatfield knew that when Miss Audrey came into power his own reign as steward of Scarhaven would be brief. And so--but the thing is so plain that one needn't waste breath on it. And I tell you what's plain too, Copplestone--Miss Audrey Greyle is the lady of Scarhaven! Good luck to her! You'll no doubt be glad to communicate the glad tidings!"
Copplestone made no answer. He was utterly confounded by the recent revelations and was wondering what the mother and daughter in the little cottage so far away in the grey north would say when all these things were told them.
"Let's make dead certain of everything," he said after a long pause. "Don't let's leave any loophole."
"Oh, we'll leave nothing--here at any rate," replied Gilling, confidently. "But you'll find in the morning that we already know almost everything."
In this he was right. The doctor's story was a plain one. The young man was very ill indeed when brought to him, and though he did not anticipate so early or sudden an end, he was not surprised when death came, and had of course, no difficulty about giving the necessary certificate. Just as plain was the undertaker's account of his connection with the affair--a very ordinary transaction in his eyes. And having heard both stories, there was nothing to do but to visit one of the adjacent cemeteries and find a certain grave the number of which they had ascertained from the undertaker's books. It was easily found--and Copplestone and Gilling found themselves standing at a new tombstone, whereon the monumental mason had carved four lines:--
BORN APRIL 12TH, 1884
DIED OCTOBER 6TH, 1912
AGED 28 TEARS.
"Short, simple, eminently suited to the purpose," murmured Gilling as the two turned away. "Somebody thought things out quickly and well, Copplestone, when this poor fellow died. Do you know I've been thinking as we walked up here that if Bassett Oliver had never taken it into his head to visit Scarhaven that Sunday this fraud would never have been found out! The chances were all against its ever being found out. Consider them! A young man who is an absolute stranger in England comes to take up an inheritance, having on him no doubt, the necessary proofs of identification. He's met by one person only--his agent. He dies next day. The agent buries him, under a false name, takes his effects and papers, gets some accomplice to personate him, introduces that accomplice to everybody as the real man--and there you are! Oh, Chatfield knew what he was doing! Who on earth, wandering in this cemetery, would ever connect Mark Grey with Marston Greyle?"
"Just so--but there was one danger-spot which must have given Chatfield and his accomplices a good many uneasy hours," answered Copplestone. "You know that Marston Greyle actually registered in his own name at Falmouth and was known to the land lord and the doctor there."
"Yes--and Falmouth is three hundred miles from London and five hundred from Scarhaven," replied Gilling dryly. "And do you suppose that whoever saw Marston Greyle at Falmouth cared two pins--comparatively--what became of him after he left there? No--Chatfield was almost safe from detection as soon as he'd got that unfortunate young fellow laid away in that grave. However we know now--what we do know. And the next thing, now that we know Marston Greyle lies behind us there, is to get back to town and catch the chap who took his place. We'll wire to Swallow and to Petherton and get the next express."
Sir Cresswell Oliver and Petherton were in conference with Swallow at the solicitor's office when Gilling and Copplestone arrived there in the early afternoon. Gilling interrupted their conversation to tell the result of his investigations. Copplestone, watching the effect, saw that neither Sir Cresswell nor Petherton showed surprise. Petherton indeed, smiled as if he had anticipated all that Gilling had to say.
"I told you that I knew the Greyle family solicitors," he observed. "I find that they have only once seen the man whom we will call the Squire. Chatfield brought him there. He produced proofs of identification--papers which Chatfield no doubt took from the dead man. Of course, the solicitors never doubted for a moment that he was the real Marston Greyle!--never dreamed of fraud: Well--the next step. We must concentrate on finding this man. And Swallow has nothing to tell--yet. He has never seen anything more of him. You'd better turn all your attention to that, Gilling--you and Swallow. As for Chatfield and his daughter, I suppose we shall have to approach the police."
Copplestone presently went home to his rooms in Jermyn Street, puzzled and wondering; And there, lying on top of a pile of letters, he found a telegram--from Audrey Greyle. It had been dispatched from Scarhaven at an early hour of the previous day, and it contained but three words--Can yon come?