Chapter XXX. The Greengrocer's Cart
 

Spurge led Copplestone a little way up the narrow alley from the mouth of which they had observed the recent proceedings, suddenly turned off into a still narrower passage, and emerged at the rear of an ancient building of wood and stones which looked as if a stout shove or a strong wind would bring it down in dust and ruin.

"Back o' that old sail-loft what looks out on this cut," he whispered, glancing over his shoulder at Copplestone. "Now, guv'nor, we're going in here. As I said before, I've worked in this place--did a spell here when I was once lying low for a month or two. I know every inch of it, and if that lot are under this roof I know where they'll be."

"They'll show fight, you know," remarked Copplestone.

"Well, but ain't we got something to show fight with, too?" answered Spurge, with a knowing wink. "I've got my revolver handy, what Mr. Vickers give me, and I reckon you can handle yours. However, it ain't come to no revolver yet. What I want is to see and hear, guv'nor--follow me."

He had opened a ramshackle door in the rear of the premises as he spoke and he now beckoned his companion to follow him down a passage which evidently led to the front. There was no more than a dim light within, but Copplestone could see that the whole place was falling to pieces. And it was all wrapped in a dead silence. Away out on the quay was the rattle of chains, the creaking of a windlass, the voices of men and shrill laughter of women, but in there no sound existed. And Spurge suddenly stopped his stealthy creeping forward and looked at Copplestone suspiciously.

"Queer, ain't it?" he whispered. "I don't hear a voice, nor yet the ghost of one! You'd think that if they was in here they'd be talking. But we'll soon see."

Clambering up a pile of fallen timber which lay in the passage and beckoning Copplestone to follow his example, Spurge looked through a broken slat in the wooden partition into an open shed which fronted the Cut. The shed was empty. Folk were passing to and fro in front of it; the North Sea tug still lay at the wharf beyond; a man who was evidently its skipper sat on a tub on its deck placidly smoking his short pipe--but of Addie Chatfield or of Andrius there was no sign. And the silence in that crumbling, rat-haunted house was deeper than ever.

"Guv'nor!" muttered Spurge, "How long is it since you see--her?"

"Almost as soon as you'd gone," answered Copplestone.

"Ten minutes ago!" sighed Spurge. "Guv'nor--they've done us! They're off! I see it--she must ha' caught sight o' me, nosing round, and she came here and gave the others the office, and they bucked out at the back. The back, Guv'nor! and Lord bless you, at the back o' this shanty there's a perfect rabbit-warren o' places--more by token, they call it the Warren. If they've got in there, why, all the police in Norcaster'll never find 'em--leastways, I mean, to speak truthful, not without a deal o' trouble."

"What about upstairs?" asked Copplestone.

"Upstairs, now?" said Spurge with a doubtful glance at the ramshackle stairway. "Lord, mister!--I don't believe nobody could get up them stairs! No--they've hooked it through the back here, into the Warren. And once in there--"

He ended with an eloquent gesture, and dismounting from his perch made his way along the passage to a door which opened into the shed. Thence he looked out on the quay, and along the crowded maze of Scarvell's Cut.

"Here's some of 'em, anyway, guv'nor," he announced. "I see Mr. Vickers and t'other London gentleman, and the old Admiral, at all events. There they are--getting out of a motor at the end. But go to meet 'em, Mr. Copplestone, while I keep my eye on this here tug and its skipper."

Copplestone elbowed his way through the crowd until he met Sir Cresswell and his two companions. All three were eager and excited: Copplestone could only respond to their inquiries with a gloomy shake of the head.

"We seem to have the devil's own luck!" he growled dismally. "Spurge and I spotted Andrius by sheer accident. He was on a North Sea tug, or trawler, along the quay here. Then Spurge ran off to summon you. While he was away Miss Chatfield appeared--"

"Addie Chatfield!" exclaimed Vickers.

"Exactly. And that of course," continued Copplestone, glancing at Gilling, "that without doubt--in my opinion, anyway--explains those elegant footprints up at the tower. Addie Chatfield, I tell you! She passed me as I was hiding at the entrance to an alley down the Cut here, and she went into an old sail-loft, outside which the tug I spoke of is moored, and into which Andrius had strolled a minute or two previously. But--neither she nor Andrius are there now. They've gone! And Spurge says that at the back of this quay there's a perfect rabbit-warren of courts and alleys, and if--or, rather as they've escaped into that--eh?"

The detectives who had accompanied Sir Cresswell on the interrupted expedition to the old tower and who had now followed him and his companions in a second car and arrived in time to hear Copplestone's story, looked at each other.

"That's right enough--comparatively speaking," said one. "But if they're in the Warren we shall get 'em out. The first thing to do, gentlemen, is to take a look at that tug."

"Exactly!" exclaimed Sir Cresswell. "Just what I was thinking. Let us find out what its people have to say."

The man who smoked his pipe in placid contentment on the deck of the tug looked up in astonishment as the posse of eight crossed the plank which connected him with the quay. Nevertheless he preserved an undaunted front, kept his pipe in his tightly closed lips, and cocked a defiant eye at everybody.

"Skipper o' this craft?" asked the principal detective laconically. "Right? Where are you from, then, and when did you come in here?"

The skipper removed his pipe and spat over the rail. He put the pipe back, folded his arms and glared.

"And what the dickens may that be to do with you?" he inquired. "And who may you be to walk aboard my vessel without leave?"

"None of that, now!" said the detective. "Come on--we're police officers. There's something wrong round here. We've got warrants for two men that we believe to have been on your tug--one of 'em was seen here not so many minutes ago. You'd far better tell us what you know. If you don't tell now, you'll have to tell later. And--I expect you've been paid already. Come on--out with it!"

The skipper, whose gnarled countenance had undergone several changes during this address, smote one red fist on top of the other.

"Darned if I don't know as there was something on the crook in this here affair!" he said, almost cheerily. "Well, well--but I ain't got nothing to do with it. Warrants?--you say? Ah! And what might be the partiklar' natur' o' them warrants?"

"Murder!" answered the detective. "That's one charge, anyhow--for one of 'em, at any rate. There's others."

"Murder's enough," responded the skipper. "Well, of course, nobody can tell a man to be a murderer by merely looking at his mug. Not at all!--nobody! However, this here is how it is. Last night it were--evening, to be c'rect--dark. I was on the edge o' the fleet, out there off the Dogger. A yacht comes up--smart 'un--very fast sailer--and hails me. Was I going into Norcaster or anywheres about? Being a Northborough tug, this, I wasn't. Would I go for a consideration--then and there? Whereupon I asked what consideration? Then we bargains. Eventual, we struck it at thirty pounds--cash down, which was paid, prompt. I was to take two men straight and slick into Norcaster, to this here very slip, Scarvell's Cut, to wait while they put a bit of a cargo on board, and then to run 'em back to the same spot where I took 'em up. Done! they come aboard--the yacht goes off east--I come careenin' west. That's all! That part of it anyway."

"And the men?" suggested the detective. "What sort were they, and where are they?"

"The men, now!" said the skipper. "Ah! Two on 'em--both done up in what you might call deep-sea-style. But hadn't never done no deep-sea nor yet any other sort o' sea work in their mortial days--hands as white and soft as a lady's. One, an old chap with a dial like a full moon on him--sly old chap, him! T'other a younger man, looked as if he'd something about him--dangerous chap to cross. Where are they? Darned if I know. What I knows, certain, is this--we gets in here about eight o'clock this morning, and makes fast here, and ever since then them two's been as it were on the fret and the fidge, allers lookin' out, so to speak, for summun as ain't come yet. The old chap, he went across into that there sail-maker's loft an hour ago, and t'other, he followed of him, recent. I ain't seen 'em since. Try there. And I say?"

"Well?" asked the detective.

"Shall I be wanted?" asked the skipper. "'Cause if not, I'm off and away as soon as the tide serves. Ain't no good me waitin' here for them chaps if you're goin' to take and hang 'em!"

"Got to catch 'em first," said the detective, with a glance at his two professional companions. "And while we're not doubting your word at all, we'll just take a look round your vessel--they might have slipped on board again, you see, while your back was turned."

But there was no sign of Peter Chatfield, nor of his daughter, nor of the captain of the Pike on that tug, nor anywhere in the sailmaker's loft and its purlieus. And presently the detectives looked at one another and their leader turned to Sir Cresswell.

"If these people--as seems certain--have escaped into this quarter of the town," he said, "there'll have to be a regular hunt for them! I've known a man who was badly wanted stow himself away here for weeks. If Chatfield has accomplices down here in the Warren, he can hide himself and whoever's with him for a long time--successfully. We'll have to get a lot of men to work."

"But I say!" exclaimed Gilling. "You don't mean to tell me that three people--one a woman--could get away through these courts and alleys, packed as they are, without being seen? Come now!"

The detectives smiled indulgently.

"You don't know these folks," said one of them, inclining his head towards a squalid street at the end of which they had all gathered. "But they know us. It's a point of honour with them never to tell the truth to a policeman or a detective. If they saw those three, they'd never admit it to us--until it's made worth their while."

"Get it made worth their while, then!" exclaimed Gilling, impatiently.

"All in due course, sir," said the official voice. "Leave it to us."

The amateur searchers after the iniquitous recognized the futility of their own endeavours in that moment, and went away to discuss matters amongst themselves, while the detectives proceeded leisurely, after their fashion, into the Warren as if they were out for a quiet constitutional in its salubrious byways. And Sir Cresswell Oliver remarked on the difficulty of knowing exactly what to do once you had red-tape on one side and unusual craftiness on the other.

"You think there's no doubt that gold was removed this morning by Chatfield's daughter?" he said to Copplestone as they went back to the centre of the town together, Gilling and Vickers having turned aside elsewhere and Spurge gone to the hospital to ask for news of his cousin. "You think she was the woman whose footprints you saw up there at the Beaver's Glen?"

"Seeing that she's here in Norcaster and in touch with those two, what else can I think?" replied Copplestone. "It seems to me that they got in touch with her by wireless and that she removed the gold in readiness for her father and Andrius coming in here by that North Sea tug. If we could only find out where she's put those boxes, or where she got the car from in which she brought it down from the tower--"

"Vickers has already started some inquiries about cars," said Sir Cresswell. "She must have hired a car somewhere in the town. Certainly, if we could hear of that gold we should be in the way of getting on their track."

But they heard nothing of gold or of fugitives or of what the police and detectives were doing until the middle of the afternoon. And then Mr. Elkin, the manager of the bank from which Chatfield had withdrawn the estate and the private balance, came hurrying to the "Angel" and to Mrs. Greyle, his usually rubicund face pale with emotion, his hand waving a scrap of crumpled paper. Mrs. Greyle and Audrey were at that moment in consultation with Sir Cresswell Oliver and Copplestone--the bank manager burst in on them without ceremony.

"I say, I say!" he exclaimed excitedly. "Will you believe it!--the gold's come back! It's all safe--every penny. Bless me!--I scarcely know whether I'm dreaming or not. But--we've got it!"

"What's all this?" demanded Sir Cresswell. "You've got--that gold?"

"Less than an hour ago," replied the bank manager, dropping into a chair and slapping his hand on his knees in his excitement, "a man who turned out to be a greengrocer came with his cart to the bank and said he'd been sent with nine boxes for delivery to us. Asked who had sent him he replied that early this morning a lady whom he didn't know had asked him to put the boxes in his shed until she called for them--she brought them in a motor-car. This afternoon she called again at two o'clock, paid him for the storage and for what he was to do, and instructed him to put the boxes on his cart and bring them to us. Which," continued Mr. Elkin, gleefully rubbing his hands together, "he did! With--this! And that, my dear ladies and good gentlemen, is the most extraordinary document which, in all my forty years' experience of banking matters, I have ever seen!"

He laid a dirty, crumpled half-sheet of cheap note-paper on the table at which they were all sitting, and Copplestone, bending over it, read aloud what was there written.

"MR. ELKIN--Please place the contents of the nine cases sent herewith to the credit of the Greyle Estate.

"PETER CHATFIELD, Agent."

Amidst a chorus of exclamations Sir Cresswell asked a sharp question.

"Is that really Chatfield's signature?"

"Oh, undoubtedly!" replied Mr. Elkin. "Not a doubt of it. Of course, as soon as I saw it, I closely questioned the greengrocer. But he knew nothing. He said the lady was what he called wrapped up about her face--veiled, of course--on both her visits, and that as soon as she'd seen him set off with his load of boxes she disappeared. He lives, this greengrocer, on the edge of the town--I've got his address. But I'm sure he knows no more."

"And the cases have been examined?" asked Copplestone.

"Every one, my dear sir," answered the bank manager with a satisfied smirk. "Every penny is there! Glorious!"

"This is most extraordinary!" said Sir Cresswell. "What on earth does it all mean? If we could only trace that woman from the greengrocer's place--"

But nothing came of an attempt to carry out this proposal, and no news arrived from the police, and the evening had grown far advanced, and Mrs. Greyle and Audrey, with Sir Cresswell, Mr. Petherton and Vickers, Copplestone, and Gilling, were all in a private parlour together at a late hour, when the door suddenly opened and a woman entered, who threw back a heavy veil and revealed herself as Addie Chatfield.