Chapter XXIX. Scarvell's Cut
 

The quiet place was a narrow alley, which opening out of the Market Square in which the car had come to a halt, suddenly twisted away into a labyrinth of ancient buildings that lay between the centre of the town and the river. Not until Spurge had conducted Copplestone quite away from their late companions did he turn and speak; when he spoke his words were accompanied by a glance which suggested mystery as well as confidence.

"Guv'nor!" he said. "What's going to be done?"

"Have you pulled me down here to ask that?" exclaimed Copplestone, a little impatiently. "Good heavens, man, with all these complications arising--the gold gone, the Squire dead--why, there'll have to be a pretty deep consultation, of course. We'd better get back to it."

But Spurge shook his head.

"Not me, guv'nor!" he said resolutely. "I ain't no opinion o' consultations with lawyers and policemen--plain clothes or otherwise. They ain't no mortal good whatever, guv'nor, when it comes to horse sense! 'Cause why? 'Tain't their fault--it's the system. They can't do nothing, start nothing, suggest nothing!--they can only do things in the official, cut-and-dried, red-tape way, Guv'nor--you and me can do better."

"Well?" asked Copplestone.

"Listen!" continued Spurge. "There ain't no doubt that that gold was carried off early this morning--must ha' been between the time I left Jim and sun-up, 'cause they'd want to do the job in darkness. Ain't no reasonable doubt, neither, that the motor-car what they used came here into Norcaster. Now, guv'nor, I ask you--where is it possible they'd make for? Not a railway station, 'cause them boxes 'ud be conspicuous and easy traced when inquiry was made. And yet they'd want to get 'em away--as soon as possible. Very well--what's the other way o' getting any stuff out o' Norcaster? What? Why--that!"

He jerked his thumb in the direction of a patch of grey water which shone dully at the end of the alley and while his thumb jerked his eye winked.

"The river!" he went on. "The river, guv'nor! Don't this here river, running into the free and bounding ocean six miles away, offer the best chance? What we want to do is to take a look round these here docks and quays and wharves--keeping our eyes open--and our ears as well. Come on with me, guv'nor--I know places all along this riverside where you could hide the Bank of England till it was wanted--so to speak."

"But the others?" suggested Copplestone. "Hadn't we better fetch them?"

"No!" retorted Spurge, assertively. "Two on us is enough. You trust to me, guv'nor--I'll find out something. I know these docks--and all that's alongside 'em. I'd do the job myself, now--but it'll be better to have somebody along of me, in case we want a message sending for help or anything of that nature. Come on--and if I don't find out before noon if there's any queer craft gone out o' this since morning--why, then, I ain't what I believe myself to be."

Copplestone, who had considerable faith in the poacher's shrewdness, allowed himself to be led into the lowest part of the town--low in more than one sense of the word. Norcaster itself, as regards its ancient and time-hallowed portions, its church, its castle, its official buildings and highly-respectable houses, stood on the top of a low hill; its docks and wharves and the mean streets which intersected them had been made on a stretch of marshland that lay between the foot of that hill and the river. And down there was the smell of tar and of merchandise, and narrow alleys full of sea-going men and raucous-voiced women, and queer nooks and corners, and ships being laden and ships being stripped of their cargoes and such noise and confusion and inextricable mingling and elbowing that Copplestone thought it was as likely to find a needle in a haystack as to make anything out relating to the quest they were engaged in.

But Zachary Spurge, leading him in and out of the throngs on the wharves, now taking a look into a dock, now inspecting a quay, now stopping to exchange a word or two with taciturn gentlemen who sucked their pipes at the corners of narrow streets, now going into shady-looking public houses by one door and coming out at another, seemed to be remarkably well satisfied with his doings and kept remarking to his companion that they would hear something yet. Nevertheless, by noon they had heard nothing, and Copplestone, who considered casual search of this sort utterly purposeless, announced that he was going to more savoury neighborhoods.

"Give it another turn, guv'nor," urged Spurge. "Have a bit o' faith in me, now! You see, guv'nor, I've an idea, a theory, as you might term it, of my very own, only time's too short to go into details, like. Trust me a bit longer, guv'nor--there's a spot or two down here that I'm fair keen on taking a look at--come on, guv'nor, once more!--this is Scarvell's Cut."

He drew his unwilling companion round a corner of the wharf which they were just then patrolling and showed him a narrow creek which, hemmed in by ancient buildings, some of them half-ruinous, sail-lofts, and sheds full of odds and ends of merchandise, cut into the land at an irregular angle and was at that moment affording harbourage to a mass of small vessels, just then lying high and dry on the banks from which the tide had retreated. Along the side of this creek there was just as much crowding and confusion as on the wider quays; men were going in and out of the sheds and lofts; men were busy about the sides of the small craft. And again the feeling of uselessness came over Copplestone.

"What's the good of all this, Spurge!" he exclaimed testily. "You'll never--"

Spurge suddenly laid a grip on his companion's elbow and twisted him aside into a narrow entry between the sheds.

"That's the good!" he answered in an exulting voice. "Look there, guv'nor! Look at that North Sea tug--that one, lying out there! Whose face is, now a-peeping out o' that hatch? Come, now?"

Copplestone looked in the direction which Spurge indicated. There, lying moored to the wharf, at a point exactly opposite a tumble-down sail-loft, was one of those strongly-built tugs which ply between the fishing fleets and the ports. It was an eminently business-looking craft, rakish for its class, and it bore marks of much recent sea usage. But Copplestone gave no more than a passing glance at it--what attracted and fascinated his eyes was the face of a man who had come up from her depths and was looking out of a hatchway on the top deck--looking expectantly at the sail-loft. There was grime and oil on that face, and the neck which supported the unkempt head rose out of a rough jersey, but Copplestone recognized his man smartly enough. In spite of the attempt to look like a tug deck-hand there was no mistaking the skipper of the Pike.

"Good heavens!" he muttered, as he stared across the crowded quay. "Andrius!"

"Right you are, guv'nor," whispered Spurge. "It's that very same, and no mistake! And now you'll perhaps see how I put things together, like. No doubt those folk as sent Sir Cresswell that message did see the Pike going east last evening--just so, but there wasn't no reason, considering what that chap and his lot had at stake why they shouldn't put him and one or two more, very likely, on one of the many tugs that's to be met with out there off the fishing grounds. What I conclude they did, guv'nor, was to charter one o' them tugs and run her in here. And I expect they've got the stuff on board her, now, and when the tide comes up, out they'll go, and be off into the free and open again, to pick the Pike up somewhere 'twixt here and the Dogger Bank. Ah!--smart 'uns they are, no doubt. But--we've got 'em!"

"Not yet," said Copplestone. "What are we to do. Better go back and get help, eh?"

He was keenly watching Andrius, and as the skipper of the Pike suddenly moved, he drew Spurge further into the alley.

"He's coming out of that hatchway!" whispered Copplestone. "If he comes ashore he'll see us, and then--"

"No matter, guv'nor," said Spurge reassuringly. "They can't get out o' Scarvell's Cut into the river till the tide serves. Yes, that's Cap'n Andrius right enough--and he's coming ashore."

Andrius had by that time drawn himself out of the hatchway and now revealed himself in the jersey, the thick leg-wear, and short sea-boots of an oceangoing man. Copplestone's recollection of him as he showed himself on board the Pike was of a very smartly attired, rather dandified person--only some deep scheme, he knew, would have caused him to assume this disguise, and he watched him with interest as he rolled ashore and disappeared within the lower story of the sail-loft. Spurge, too, watched with all his eyes, and he turned to Copplestone with a gleam of excitement.

"Guv'nor!" he said. "We've trapped 'em beautiful! I know that place--I've worked in there in my time. I know a way into it, from the back--we'll get in that way and see what's being done. 'Tain't worked no longer, that sail-loft--it's all falling to pieces. But first--help!"

"How are we to get that?" asked Copplestone, eagerly.

"I'll go it," replied Spurge. "I know a man just aback of here that'll run up to the town with a message--chap that can be trusted, sure and faithful. 'Bide here five minutes, sir--I'll send a message to Mr. Vickers--this chap'll know him and'll find him. He can come down with the rest--and the police, too, if he likes. Keep your eyes skinned, guv'nor."

He twisted away like an eel into the crowd of workers and idlers, and left Copplestone at the entrance to the alley, watching. And he had not been so left more than a couple of minutes when a woman slipped past the mouth of the alley, swiftly, quietly, looking neither to right nor left, of whose veiled head and face he caught one glance. And in that glance he recognized her--Addie Chatfield!

But in the moment of that glance Copplestone also recognized something vastly more important. Here was the explanation of the mystery of the early-morning doings at the old tower. The footprints of a woman who wore fashionable and elegant boots? Addie Chatfield, of course! Was she not old Peter's daughter, a chip of the old block, even though a feminine chip? And did not he and Gilling know that she had been mixed up with Peter at the Bristol affair? Great Scott!--why, of course. Addie was an accomplice in all these things!

If Copplestone had the least shadow of doubt remaining in his mind as to this conclusion, it was utterly dissipated when, peering cautiously round the corner of his hiding-place, he saw Addie disappear within the old sail-loft into which Andrius had betaken himself. Of course, she had gone to join her fellow-conspirators. He began to fume and fret, cursing himself for allowing Spurge to bring him down there alone--if only they had had Gilling and Vickers with them, armed as they were--

"All right, guv'nor!" Spurge suddenly whispered at his shoulder. "They'll be here in a quarter of an hour--I telephoned to 'em."

"Do you know what?" exclaimed Copplestone, excitedly. "Old Chatfield's daughter's gone in there, where Andrius went. Just now!"

"What--the play-actress!" said Spurge. "You don't say, guv'nor? Ha!--that explains everything--that's the missing link! Ha! But we'll soon know what they're after, Mr. Copplestone. Follow me--quiet as a mouse."

Once more submitting to be led, Copplestone followed his queer guide along the alley.