Chapter XXVII. The Peel Tower
 

Gilling took the message from Sir Cresswell and thoughtfully read it over. Then he handed it back and motioned the old seaman to look at Spurge.

"I think you ought to know what this man has just told us, sir," he said. "We've got a story from him that exactly fits in with what Chatfield told Mr. Vickers when the Pike returned to carry him off yesterday. Chatfield, you'll remember, said that the gold he'd withdrawn from the bank is hidden somewhere--well, there's no doubt that this man Zachary Spurge knows where it is hidden. It's there now--and the presumption is, of course, that these people on the Pike will certainly come in to this coast--somehow!--to get it. So in that case--eh?"

"Gad!--that's valuable!" said Sir Cresswell, glancing again at Spurge, and with awakened interest. "Let me hear this story."

Copplestone epitomized Spurge's account, while the poacher listened admiringly, checking off the main points and adding a word or two where he considered the epitome lacking.

"Very smart of you, my man," remarked Sir Cresswell, nodding benevolently at Spurge when the story was over. "You're in a fair way to find yourself well rewarded. Now gentlemen!" he continued, sitting down at the table, and engaging the attention of the others, "I think we had better have a council of war. Petherton has just gone to speak to the police authorities about those warrants which have been taken out against Chatfield and the impostor, but we can go on in his absence. Now there seems to be no doubt that those chests which Spurge tells us of contain the gold which Chatfield procured from the bank, and concerning which he seems to have played his associates more tricks than one. However, his associates, whoever they are--and mind you, gentlemen, I believe there are more men than Chatfield and the Squire in all this!--have now got a tight grip on Chatfield, and they'll force him to show them where that gold is--they'll certainly not give up the chances of fifty thousand pounds without a stiff try to get it. So--I'm considering all the possibilities and probabilities--we may conclude that sooner or later--sooner, most likely--somebody will visit this old peel tower that Spurge talks of. But--who? For we're faced with this wireless message. I've no doubt the vessel here referred to is the Pike--no doubt at all. Now she was seen making due east, near this side of the Dogger Bank, late last night--so that it would look as if these men were making for Denmark, or Germany, rather than for this coast. But since receiving this message, I have thought that point out. The Pike is, I believe, a very fast vessel?"

"Very," answered Vickers. "She can do twenty-seven or eight knots an hour."

"Exactly," said Sir Cresswell. "Then in that case they may have put in at some Northern port, landed Chatfield and two or three men to keep an eye on him and to accompany him to this old tower, while the Pike herself has gone off till a more fitting opportunity arises of dodging in somewhere to pick up the chests which Chatfield and his party will in the meantime have removed. From what I have seen of it this is such a wild part of the coast that Chatfield and such a small gang as I am imagining, could easily come back here, keep themselves hidden and recover the chests without observation. So our plain duty is to now devise some plan for going to the Reaver's Glen and keeping a watch there until somebody comes. Eh?"

"There's another thing that's possible, sir," said Vickers, who had listened carefully to all that Sir Cresswell had said. "The Pike is fitted for wireless telegraphy."

"Yes?" said Sir Cresswell expectantly. "And you think--?"

"You suggested that there may be more people than Chatfield and the Squire in at this business," continued Vickers. "Just so! We--Copplestone and myself--know very well that the skipper of the Pike, Andrius, is in it: that's undeniable. But there may be others--or one other, or two--on shore here. And as the Pike can communicate by wireless, those on board her may have sent a message to their shore confederates to remove those chests. So--"

"Capital suggestion!" said Sir Cresswell, who saw this point at once. "So we'd better lose no time in arranging our expedition out there. Spurge--you're the man who knows the spot best--what ought we to do about getting there--in force?"

Spurge, obviously flattered at being called upon to advise a great man, entered into the discussion with enthusiasm.

"Your honour mustn't go in force at all!" he said. "What's wanted, gentlemen, is--strategy! Now if you'll let me put it to you, me knowing the lie of the land, this is what had ought to be done. A small party ought to go--with me to lead. We'll follow the road that cuts across the moorland to a certain point; then we'll take a by-track that gets you to High Nick; there we'll take to a thick bit o' wood and coppice that runs right up to the peel tower. Nobody'll track us, nor see us from any point, going that way. Three or four of us--these here young gentlemen, now, and me--'ll be enough for the job--if armed. A revolver apiece your honour--that'll be plenty. And as for the rest--what you might call a reserve force--your honour said something just now about some warrants. Is the police to be in at it, then?"

"The police hold warrants for the two men we've been chiefly talking about," replied Sir Cresswell.

"Well let your honour come on a bit later with not more than three police plain-clothes fellows--as far as High Nick," said Spurge. "The police'll know where that is. Let 'em wait there--don't let 'em come further until I send back a message by my cousin Jim, You see, guv'nor," he added, turning to Copplestone, whom he seemed to regard as his own special associate, "we don't know how things may be. We might have to wait hours. As I view it, me having listened careful to what his honour the Admiral there says--best respects to your honour--them chaps'll never come a-nigh that place till it's night again, or at any rate, dusk, which'll be about seven o'clock this evening. But they may watch, during the day, and it 'ud be a foolish thing to have a lot of men about. A small force such as I can hide in that wood, and another in reserve at High Nick, which, guv'nor, is a deep hole in the hill-top--that's the ticket!"

"Spurge is right," said Sir Cresswell. "You youngsters go with him--get a motor-car--and I'll see about following you over to High Nick with the detectives. Now, what about being armed?"

"I've a supply of service revolvers at my office, down this very street," replied Vickers. "I'll go and get them. Here! Let's apportion our duties. I'll see to that. Gilling, you see about the car. Copplestone, you order some breakfast for us--sharp."

"And I'll go round to the police," said Sir Cresswell. "Now, be careful to take care of yourselves--you don't know what you've got to deal with, remember."

The group separated, and Copplestone went off to find the hotel people and order an immediate breakfast. And passing along a corridor on his way downstairs he encountered Mrs. Greyle, who came out of a room near by and started at sight of him.

"Audrey is asleep," she whispered, pointing to the door she had just left. "Thank you for taking care of her. Of course I was afraid--but that's all over now. And now the thing is--how are things?"

"Coming to a head, in my opinion," answered Copplestone. "But how or in what way, I don't know. Anyway, we know where that gold is--and they'll make an attempt on it--that's sure! So--we shall be there."

"But what fools Peter Chatfield and his associates must be--from their own villainous standpoint--to have encumbered themselves with all that weight of gold!" exclaimed Mrs. Greyle. "The folly of it seems incredible when they could have taken it in some more easily portable form!"

"Ah!" laughed Copplestone. "But that just shows Chatfield's extraordinary deepness and craft! He no doubt persuaded his associates that it was better to have actual bullion where they were going, and tricked them into believing that he'd actually put it aboard the Pike! If it hadn't been that they examined the boxes which he put on the Pike and found they contained lead or bricks, the old scoundrel would have collared the real stuff for himself."

"Take care that he doesn't collar it yet," said Mrs. Greyle with a laugh as she went into her own room. "Chatfield is resourceful enough for--anything. And--take care of yourselves!"

That was the second admonition to be careful, and Copplestone thought of both, as, an hour later, he, Gilling, Vickers and Spurge sped along the desolate, wind-swept moorland on their way to the Reaver's Glen. It was a typically North Country autumnal morning, cold, raw, rainy; the tops of the neighbouring hills were capped with dark clouds; sea-birds called dismally across the heather; the sea, seen in glimpses through vistas of fir and pine, looked angry and threatening.

"A fit morning for a do of this sort!" exclaimed Gilling suddenly. "Is it pretty bare and bleak at this tower of yours, Spurge?"

"You'll be warm enough, guv'nor, where I shall put you," answered Spurge. "One as has knocked about these woods and moors as much as I've had to knows as many places to hide his nose in as a fox does! I'll put you by that tower where you'll be snug enough, and warm enough, too--and where nobody'll see you neither. And here's High Nick and out we get."

Leaving the car in a deep cutting of the hills and instructing the driver to await the return of one or other of them at a wayside farmstead a mile back, the three adventurers followed Spurge into the wood which led to the top of the Beaver's Glen. The poacher guided them onward by narrow and winding tracks through the undergrowth for a good half-mile; then he led them through thickets in which there was no paths at all; finally, after a gradual and cautious advance behind a high hedge of dense evergreen, he halted them at a corner of the wood and motioned them to look out through a loosely-laced network of branches.

"Here we are!" he whispered. "Tower--Reaver's Glen--sea in the distance. Lone spot, ain't it, gentlemen?"

Copplestone and Gilling, who had never seen this part of the coast before, looked out on the scene with lively interest. It was certainly a prospect of romance and of wild, almost savage beauty on which they gazed. Immediately in front of them, at a distance of twenty to thirty yards, stood the old peel tower, a solid square mass of grey stone, intact as to its base and its middle stories, ruinous and crumbling from thence to what was left of its battlements and the turret tower at one angle. The fallen stone lay in irregular heaps on the ground at its foot; all around it were clumps of furze and bramble. From the level plateau on which it stood the Glen fell away in horseshoe formation gradually narrowing and descending until it terminated in a thick covert of fir and pine that ran down to the land end of the cove of which Spurge had told them. And beyond that stretched the wide expanse of sea, with here and there a red-sailed fishing boat tossing restlessly on the white-capped waves, and over that and the land was a chill silence, broken only by the occasional cry of the sea-birds and the bleating of the mountain sheep.

"A lone spot indeed!" said Gilling in a whisper. "Spurge, where is that stuff hidden?"

"Other side of the tower--in an angle of the old courtyard," replied Spurge, "Can't see the spot from here."

"And where's that road you told us about?" asked Copplestone. "The moor road?"

"Top o' the bank yonder--beyond the tower," said Spurge. "Runs round yonder corner o' this wood and goes right round it to High Nick, where we've cut across from. Hush now, all of you, gentlemen--I'm going to signal Jim."

Screwing up his mobile face into a strange contortion, Spurge emitted from his puckered lips a queer cry--a cry as of some trapped animal--so shrill and realistic that his hearers started.

"What on earth's that represent?" asked Gilling. "It's blood-curdling?"

"Hare, with a stoat's teeth in its neck," answered Spurge. "H'sh--I'll call him again."

No answer came to the first nor to the second summons--after a third, equally unproductive, Spurge looked at his companions with a scared face.

"That's a queer thing, guv'nors!" he muttered. "Can't believe as how our Jim 'ud ever desert a post. He promised me faithfully as how he'd stick here like grim death until I came back. I hope he ain't had a fit, nor aught o' that sort--he ain't a strong chap at the best o' times, and--"

"You'd better take a careful look round, Spurge," said Vickers. "Here--shall I come with you?"

But Spurge waved a hand to them to stay where they were. He himself crept along the back of the hedge until he came to a point opposite the nearest angle of the tower. And suddenly he gave a great cry--human enough this time!--and the three young men rushing forward found him standing by the body of a roughly-clad man in whom Copplestone recognized the one-eyed odd-job man of the "Admiral's Arms."