Chapter XXVI. The Reaver's Glen
 

Zachary Spurge, presently ushered in by Gilling, who carefully closed the door behind himself and his companion, looked as if his recent lodging had been of an even rougher nature than that in which Copplestone had found him at their first meeting. The rough horseman's cloak in which he was buttoned to the edge of a red neckerchief and a stubbly chin was liberally ornamented with bits of straw, scraps of furze and other odds and ends picked up in woods and hedge-rows. Spurge, indeed, bore unmistakable evidence of having slept out in wild places for some nights and his general atmosphere was little more respectable than that of a scarecrow. But he grinned cheerfully at Copplestone--and then frowned at Vickers.

"I didn't count for to meet no lawyers, gentlemen," he said, pausing on the outer boundaries of the parlour, "I ain't a-goin' to talk before 'em, neither!"

"He's a grudge against me--I've had to appear against him once or twice," whispered Vickers to Copplestone. "You'd better soothe him down--I want to know what he's got to tell."

"It's all right, Spurge," said Copplestone. "Come--Mr. Vickers is on our side this time; he's one of us. You can say anything you like before him--or Mr. Gilling either. We're all in it. Pull your chair up--here, alongside of me, and tell us what you've been doing."

"Well, of course, if you puts it that way, Mr. Copplestone," replied Spurge, coming to the table a little doubtfully. "Though I hadn't meant to tell nobody but you what I've got to tell. However, I can see that things is in such a pretty pass that this here ain't no one-man job--it's a job as'll want a lot o' men! And I daresay lawyers and such-like is as useful men in that way as you can lay hands on--no offence to you, Mr. Vickers, only you see I've had experience o' your sort before. But if you are taking a hand in this here--well, all right. But now, gentlemen," he continued dropping into a chair at the table and laying his fur cap on its polished surface, "afore ever I says a word, d'ye think that I could be provided with a cup o' hot coffee, or tea, with a stiff dose o' rum in it? I'm that cold and starved--ah, if you'd been where I been this last twelve hours or so, you'd be perished."

The sleepy waiter was summoned to attend to Spurge's wants--until they were satisfied the poacher sat staring fixedly at his cap and occasionally shaking his head. But after a first hearty gulp of strongly fortified coffee the colour came back into his face, he sighed with relief, and signalled to the three watchful young men to draw their chairs close to his.

"Ah!" he said, setting down his cup. "And nobody never wanted aught more badly than I wanted that! And now then--the door being shut on us quite safe, ain't it, gentlemen?--no eavesdroppers?--well, this here it is. I don't know what you've been a-doing of these last few days, nor what may have happened to each and all--but I've news. Serious news--as I reckons it to be. Of--Chatfield!"

Copplestone kicked Vickers under the table and gave him a look.

"Chatfield again!" he murmured. "Well, go on, Spurge."

"There's a lot to go on with, too, guv'nor," said Spurge, after taking another evidently welcome drink. "And I'll try to put it all in order, as it were--same as if I was in a witness-box," he added, with a sly glance at Vickers. "You remember that day of the inquest on the actor gentleman, guv'nor? Well, of course, when I went to give evidence at Scarhaven, at that there inquest, I never expected but what the police 'ud collar me at the end of it. However, I didn't mean that they should, if I could help it, so I watched things pretty close, intending to slip off when I saw a chance. Well, now, you'll bear in mind that there was a bit of a dust-up when the thing was over--some on 'em cheering the Squire and some on 'em grousing about the verdict, and between one and t'other I popped out and off, and you yourself saw me making for the moors. Of course, me, knowing them moors back o' Scarhaven as I do, it was easy work to make myself scarce on 'em in ten minutes--not all the police north o' the Tees could ha' found me a quarter of an hour after I'd hooked it out o' that schoolroom! Well, but the thing then was--where to go next? 'Twasn't no good going to Hobkin's Hole again--now that them chaps knew I was in the neighbourhood they'd soon ha' smoked me out o' there. Once I thought of making for Norcaster here, and going into hiding down by the docks--I've one or two harbours o' refuge there. But I had reasons for wishing to stop in my own country--for a bit at any rate. And so, after reckoning things up, I made for a spot as Mr. Vickers there'll know by name of the Reaver's Glen."

"Good place, too, for hiding," remarked Vickers with a nod.

"Best place on this coast--seashore and inland," said Spurge. "And as you two London gentlemen doesn't know it, I'll tell you about it. If you was to go out o' Scarhaven harbour and turn north, you'd sail along our coast line up here to the mouth of Norcaster Bay and you'd think there was never an inlet between 'em. But there is. About half-way between Scarhaven and Norcaster there's a very narrow opening in the cliffs that you'd never notice unless you were close in shore, and inside that opening there's a cove that's big enough to take a thousand-ton vessel--aye, and half-a-dozen of 'em! It was a favourite place for smugglers in the old days, and they call it Darkman's Dene to this day in memory of a famous old smuggler that used it a good deal. Well, now, at the land end of that cove there's a narrow valley that runs up to the moorland and the hills, full o' rocks and crags and precipices and such like--something o' the same sort as Hobkin's Hole but a deal wilder, and that's known as the Reaver's Glen, because in other days the cattle-lifters used to bring their stolen goods, cattle and sheep, down there where they could pen 'em in, as it were. There's piles o' places in that glen where a man can hide--I picked out one right at the top, at the edge of the moors, where there's the ruins of an old peel tower. I could get shelter in that old tower, and at the same time slip out of it if need be into one of fifty likely hiding places amongst the rocks. I got into touch with my cousin Jim Spurge--the one-eyed chap at the 'Admiral's Arms,' Mr. Copplestone, that night--and I got in a supply of meat and drink, and there I was. And--as things turned out, Chatfield had got his eye on the very same spot!"

Spurge paused for a minute, and picking out a match from a stand which stood on the table, began to trace imaginary lines on the mahogany.

"This is how things is there," he said, inviting his companions' attention. "Here, like, is where this peel tower stands--that's a thick wood as comes close up to its walls--that there is a road as crosses the moors and the wood about, maybe, a hundred yards or so behind the tower on the land side. Now, there, one afternoon as I was in that there tower, a-reading of a newspaper that Jim had brought me the night before, I hears wheels on that moorland road, and I looked out through a convenient loophole, and who should I see but Peter Chatfield in that old pony trap of his. He was coming along from the direction of Scarhaven, and when he got abreast of the tower he pulled up, got out, left his pony to crop the grass and came strolling over in my direction. Of course, I wasn't afraid of him--there's so many ways in and out of that old peel as there is out of a rabbit-warren--besides, I felt certain he was there on some job of his own. Well, he comes up to the edge of the glen, and he looks into it and round it, and up and down at the tower, and he wanders about the heaps of fallen masonry that there is there, and finally he puts thumbs in his armhole and went slowly back to his trap. 'But you'll be coming back, my old swindler!' says I to myself. 'You'll be back again I doubt not at all!' And back he did come--that very night. Oh, yes!"

"Alone?" asked Copplestone.

"A-lone!" replied Spurge. "It had got to be dark, and I was thinking of going to sleep, having nought else to do and not expecting cousin Jim that night, when I heard the sound of horses' feet and of wheels. So I cleared out of my hole to where I could see better. Of course, it was Chatfield--same old trap and pony--but this time he came from Norcaster way. Well, he gets out, just where he'd got out before, and he leads the pony and trap across the moor to close by the tower. I could tell by the way that trap went over the grass that there was some sort of a load in it and it wouldn't have surprised me, gentlemen, if the old reptile had brought a dead body out of it. After a bit, I hear him taking something out, something which he bumped down on the ground with a thump--I counted nine o' them thumps. And then after a bit I heard him begin a moving of some of the loose masonry what lies in such heaps at the foot o' the peel tower--dark though it was there was light enough in the sky for him to see to do that. But after he'd been at it some time, puffing and groaning and grunting, he evidently wanted to see better, and he suddenly flashed a light on things from one o' them electric torches. And then I see--me being not so many yards away from him--nine small white wood boxes, all clamped with metal bands, lying in a row on the grass, and I see, too, that Chatfield had been making a place for 'em amongst the stones. Yes--that was it--nine small white wood boxes--so small, considering, that I wondered what made 'em so heavy."

Copplestone favoured Vickers with another quiet kick. They were, without doubt, hearing the story of the hidden gold, and it was becoming exciting.

"Well," continued Spurge. "Into the place he'd cleared out them boxes went, and once they were all in he heaped the stones over 'em as natural as they were before, and he kicked a lot o' small loose stones round about and over the place where he'd been standing. And then the old sinner let out a great groan as if something troubled him, and he fetched a bottle out of his pocket and took a good pull at whatever was in it, after which, gentlemen, he wiped his forehead with his handkerchief and groaned again. He'd had his bit of light on all that time, but he doused it then, and after that he led the old pony away across the bit of moor to the road, and presently in he gets and drives slowly away towards Scarhaven. And so there was I, d'ye see, Mr. Copplestone, left, as it were, sold guardian of--what?"

The three young men exchanged glances with each other while Spurge refreshed himself with his fortified coffee, and their eyes asked similar questions.

"Ah!" observed Copplestone at last. "You don't know what, Spurge? You haven't examined one of those boxes?"

Spurge set his cup down and gave his questioner a knowing look.

"I'll tell you my line o' conduct, guv'nor," he said. "So certain sure have I been that something 'ud come o' this business of hiding them boxes and that something valuable is in 'em that I've taken partiklar care ever since Chatfield planted 'em there that night never to set foot within a dozen yards of 'em. Why? 'Cause I know he'll ha' left footprints of his own there, and them footprints may be useful. No, sir!--them boxes has been guarded careful ever since Chatfield placed 'em where he did. For--Chatfield's never been back!"

"Never back, eh?" said Copplestone, winking at the other two.

"Never been back--self nor spirit, substance nor shadow!--since that night," replied Spurge. "Unless, indeed, he's been back since four o'clock this morning, when I left there. However, if he's been 'twixt then and now, my cousin Jim Spurge, he was there. Jim's been helping me to watch. When I first came in here to see if I could hear anything about you--Jim having told me that some London gentlemen was up here again--I left him in charge. And there he is now. And now you know all I can tell you, gentlemen, and as I understand there's some mystery about Chatfield and that he's disappeared, happen you'll know how to put two and two together. And if I'm of any use--"

"Spurge," said Gilling. "How far is it to this Reaver's Glen--or, rather to that peel tower?"

"Matter of eight or nine miles, guv'nor, over the moors," replied Spurge.

"How did you come in then?" asked Gilling.

"Cousin Jim Spurge's bike--down in the stable-yard, now," answered Spurge. "Did it comfortable in under the hour."

"I think we ought to go out there--some of us," said Gilling. "We ought--"

At that moment the door opened and Sir Cresswell Oliver came in, holding a bit of flimsy paper in his hand. He glanced at Spurge and then beckoned the three young men to join him.

"I've had a wireless message from the North Sea--and it puzzles me," he said. "One of our ships up there has had news of what is surely the Pike from a fishing vessel. She was seen late yesterday afternoon going due east--due east, mind you! If that was she--and I'm sure of it!--our quarry's escaping us."