Chapter III. The Man Who Knew Something
 

It was not from any idle curiosity that Copplestone made up his mind to await the girl's nearer approach. There was no other human being in view, and he was anxious to get some information about the rocks whose grim outlines were rapidly becoming faint and indistinct in the gathering darkness. And so as the girl came towards him, picking her way across the pools which lay amidst the brown ribs of sand, he went forward, throwing away all formality and reserve in his eagerness.

"Forgive me for speaking so unceremoniously," he said as they met. "I'm looking for a friend who has disappeared--mysteriously. Can you tell me if, any time yesterday, afternoon or evening, you saw anywhere about here a tall, distinguished-looking man--the actor type. In fact, he is an actor--perhaps you've heard of him? Mr. Bassett Oliver."

He was looking narrowly at the girl as he spoke, and she, too, looked narrowly at him out of a pair of grey eyes of more than ordinary intelligence and perception. And at the famous actor's name she started a little and a faint colour stole over her cheeks.

"Mr. Bassett Oliver!" she exclaimed in a clear, cultured voice. "My mother and I saw Mr. Oliver at the Northborough Theatre on Friday evening. Do you mean that he--"

"I mean--to put it bluntly--that Bassett Oliver is lost," answered Copplestone. "He came to this place yesterday, Sunday, morning, to look round; he lunched at the 'Admiral's Arms,' he went out, after a chat with the landlady, and he's never been seen since. He should have turned up at the 'Angel' at Norcaster last night, and at a rehearsal at the Theatre Royal there today at noon--but he didn't. His manager and I have tracked him here--and so far I can't hear of him. I've asked people all through the village--this side, anyway--nobody knows anything."

He and the girl still looked attentively at each other; Copplestone, indeed, was quietly inspecting her while he talked. He judged her to be twenty-one or two; she was a little above medium height, slim, graceful, pretty, and he was quick to notice that her entire air and appearance suggested their present surroundings. Her fair hair escaped from a knitted cap such as fisher-folk wear; her slender figure was shown to advantage by a rough blue jersey; her skirt of blue serge was short and practical; she was shod in brogues which showed more acquaintance with sand and salt water than with polish. And her face was tanned with the strong northern winds, and the ungloved hands, small and shapely as they were, were brown as the beach across which she had come.

"I have not seen--nor heard--of Mr. Bassett Oliver--here," she answered. "I was out and about all yesterday afternoon and evening, too--not on this side of the bay, though. Have you been to the police-station?"

"The manager may have been there," replied Copplestone. "He's gone along the other shore. But--I don't think he'll get any help there. I'm afraid Mr. Oliver must have met with an accident. I wanted to ask you a question--I saw you coming from the direction of those rocks just now. Could he have got out there across those sands, yesterday afternoon?"

"Between three o'clock and evening--yes," said the girl.

"And--is it dangerous out there?"

"Very dangerous indeed--to any one who doesn't know them."

"There's something there called the Devil's Spout?"

"Yes--a deep fissure up which the sea boils. Oh! it seems dreadful to think of--I hope he didn't fall in there. If he did--"

"Well?" asked Copplestone bluntly, "what if he did?"

"Nothing ever came out that once went in," she answered. "It's a sort of whirlpool that's sucked right away into the sea. The people hereabouts say it's bottomless."

Copplestone turned his face towards the village.

"Oh, well," he said, with an accent of hopelessness. "I can't do any more down here, it's growing dusk. I must go back and meet the manager."

The girl walked along at his side as he turned towards the village.

"I suppose you are one of Mr. Oliver's company?" she observed presently. "You must all be much concerned."

"They're all greatly concerned," answered Copplestone. "But I don't belong to the company. No--I came to Norcaster this morning to meet Mr. Oliver--he's going--I hope I oughtn't to say was going!--to produce a play of mine next month, and he wanted to talk about the rehearsals. Everything, of course, was at a standstill when I reached Norcaster at one o 'clock, so I came with Stafford, the business manager, to see what we could do about tracking Mr. Oliver. And I'm afraid, I'm very much afraid--"

He paused, as a gate, set in the thick hedge of a garden at this point of the village, suddenly opened to let out a man, who at sight of the girl stopped, hesitated, and then waited for her approach. He was a tall, well-built man of apparently thirty years, dressed in a rough tweed knickerbocker suit, but the dusk had now so much increased that Copplestone could only gather an impression of ordinary good-lookingness from the face that was turned inquiringly on his companion. The girl turned to him and spoke hurriedly.

"This is my cousin, Mr. Greyle, of Scarhaven Keep," she murmured. "He may be able to help. Marston!" she went on, raising her voice, "can you give any help here? This gentleman--" she paused, looking at Copplestone.

"My name is Richard Copplestone," he said.

"Mr. Copplestone is looking for Mr. Bassett Oliver, the famous actor," she continued, as the three met. "Mr. Oliver has mysteriously disappeared. Mr. Copplestone has traced him here, to Scarhaven--he was here yesterday, lunching at the inn--but he can't get any further news. Did you see anything, or hear anything of him?"

Marston Greyle, who had been inspecting the stranger narrowly in the fading light, shook his head.

"Bassett Oliver, the actor," he said. "Oh, yes, I saw his name on the bills in Norcaster the other day. Came here, and has disappeared, you say? Under what circumstances?"

Copplestone had listened carefully to the newcomer's voice; more particularly to his accent. He had already gathered sufficient knowledge of Scarhaven to know that this man was the Squire, the master of the old house and grey ruin in the wood above the cliff; he also happened to know, being something of an archaeologist and well acquainted with family histories, that there had been Greyles of Scarhaven for many hundred years. And he wondered how it was that though this Greyle's voice was pleasant and cultured enough, its accent was decidedly American.

"Perhaps I'd better explain," said Copplestone. "I've already told most of it to this lady, but you will both understand more fully if I tell you more. It's this way--" and he went on to tell everything that had happened and come to light since one o'clock that day. "So you see, it's here," he concluded; "we're absolutely certain that Oliver went out of the 'Admiral's Arms' up there about half-past two yesterday, but--where? From that moment, no one seems to have seen him. Yet how he could come along this village street, this quay, without being seen--"

"He need not have come along the quayside," interrupted the girl. "There is a cliff path just below the inn which leads up to the Keep."

"Also, he mayn't have taken this side of the bay, either." remarked Greyle. "He may have chosen the other. You didn't see or hear of him on your side, Audrey?"

"Nothing!" replied the girl. "Nothing!"

Marston Greyle had fallen into line with the other two, and they were now walking along the quay in the direction of the "Admiral's Arms." And presently Stafford, accompanied by a policeman, came hurriedly round a corner and quickened his steps at sight of Copplestone. The policeman, evidently much puzzled and interested, saluted the Squire obsequiously as the two groups met.

"No news at all!" exclaimed Stafford, glancing at Copplestone's companions. "You got any?"

"None," replied Copplestone. "Not a word. This is Mr. Greyle, of the Keep--he has heard nothing. This lady--Miss Greyle?--was out a good deal yesterday afternoon; she knows Oliver quite well by sight, but she did not see him. So if you've no news--"

Marston Greyle interrupted, turning to the policeman.

"What ought to be done, Haskett?" he asked. "You've had cases of disappearance to deal with before, eh?"

"Can't say as I have, sir, in my time," answered the policeman. "Leastways, not of this sort. Of course, we can get search parties together, and one of 'em can go along the coast north'ards, and the other can go south'ards, and we might have a look round the rocks out yonder, tomorrow, as soon as it's light. But if the gentleman went out there, and had the bad luck to fall into that Devil's Spout, why, then, sir, I'm afraid all the searching in the world'll do no good. And the queer thing is, gentlemen, if I may express an opinion, that nobody ever saw the gentleman after he had left Mrs. Wooler's! That seems--"

A fisherman came lounging across the quay from the shadow of one of the neighbouring cottages. He touched his cap to Marston Greyle, and looked inquiringly at the two strangers.

"Are you the gentlemen as is asking after another gentleman?" he said. "'Cause if so, I make no doubt as how I had a word or two with him yesterday afternoon."

Stafford and Copplestone turned sharply on the newcomer--an elderly man of plain and homely aspect who responded frankly to their questioning glances. He went on at once, before they could put their questions into words.

"It 'ud be about half-past two, or maybe a bit nearer three o'clock," he said. "Up yonder it was, about a hundred yards this side of the 'Admiral's Arms.' I was sitting on a baulk o' timber there, doing nothing, when he comes along--a tall, fine-looking man. He gives me a pleasant sort o' nod, and said it was a grand day, and we got talking a bit, about the scenery and such-like, and he said he'd never been here before. Then he pointed up to the big house and the old Keep yonder, and asked whose place that might be, and I said that was the Squire's. 'And who may the Squire be?' says he. 'Mr. Marston Greyle,' says I, 'Recent come into the property.' 'Marston Greyle!' he says, sharp-like. 'Why, I used to know a young man of that very name in America!' he says. 'Very like,' says I, 'I have heard as how the Squire had been in them parts before he came here.' 'Bless me!' he says, 'I've a good mind to call on him. How do you get up there?' he says. So I showed him that side path that runs up through the plantation to near the top, and I told him that if he followed that till he came to the Keep, he'd find another path there as would take him to the door of the house. And he gave me a shilling to drink his health, and off he went, the way as I'd pointed out. D'ye think that'll be the same gentleman, now?"

Nobody answered this question. Everybody there was looking at Marston Greyle. The little group had drawn near to the light of one of the three gas-lamps which feebly illuminated the quay; it seemed to Copplestone that the Squire's face had paled when the fisherman arrived at the middle of his story. But it flushed as his companion turned to him, and he laughed, a little uneasily.

"Said he knew me--in America?" he exclaimed. "I don't remember meeting Mr. Bassett Oliver out there. But then I met so many Englishmen in one place or another that I may have been introduced to him somewhere, at some time, and--forgotten all about it."

Stafford spoke--with unnecessary abruptness, in Copplestone's opinion.

"I don't think it very likely that any one would forget Bassett Oliver," he said. "He isn't--or wasn't--the sort of man anybody could forget, once they'd met him. Anyhow--did he come to your house yesterday afternoon as this man suggests?"

Marston Greyle drew himself up. He looked Stafford up and down. Then he made a slight gesture to the girl, whose face had already assumed a troubled expression.

"If I had seen Mr. Bassett Oliver yesterday, sir, we should not be discussing his possible whereabouts now," said Greyle, icily. "Are you coming, Audrey?"

The girl hesitated, glanced at Copplestone, and then walked away with her cousin. Stafford sniffed contemptuously.

"Ass!" he muttered. "Couldn't he see that what I meant was that Oliver must either have been mistaken, or have referred to some other Greyle whom he met? Hang his pride! Well, now," he went on, turning to the fisherman, "you're dead certain about what you've told us?"

"As certain as mortal man can be of aught there is!" answered the informant. "Sure certain, mister."

"Make a note of it, constable," said Stafford. "Mr. Oliver was last seen going up the path to the Keep, having said he meant to call on Mr. Marston Greyle. I'll call on you again tomorrow morning. Copplestone!" he went on, drawing his companion away, "I'm off to Norcaster--I shall see the police there and get detectives. There's something seriously wrong here--and by heaven, we've got to get to the bottom of it! Now, look here--will you stay here for the night, so as to be on the spot? I'll come back first thing in the morning and bring your luggage--I can't come sooner, for there are heaps of business matters to deal with. You will--good! Now I can just catch a train. Copplestone!--keep your eyes and ears open. It's my firm belief--I don't know why--that there's been foul play. Foul play!"

Stafford hurried away up hill to the station, and Copplestone, after waiting a minute or two, turned along the quay on the north of the bay--following Audrey Greyle, who was in front, alone.