Chapter XXXI. Ambassadress Extraordinary
 

If Copplestone had never seen Addie Chatfield before, if he had not known that she was an actress of some acknowledged ability, her entrance into that suddenly silent room would have convinced him that here was a woman whom nature had undoubtedly gifted with the dramatic instinct. Addie's presentation of herself to the small and select audience was eminently dramatic, without being theatrical. She filled the stage. It was as if the lights had suddenly gone down in the auditorium and up in the proscenium, as if a hush fell, as if every ear opened wide to catch a first accent. And Addie's first accents were soft and liquid--and accompanied by a smile which was calculated to soften the seven hearts which had begun to beat a little quicker at her coming. With the smile and the soft accent came a highly successful attempt at a shy and modest blush which mounted to her cheek as she moved towards the centre table and bowed to the startled and inquisitive eyes.

"I have come to ask--mercy!"

There was a faint sigh of surprise from somebody. Sir Cresswell Oliver, only realizing that a pretty woman, had entered the room, made haste to place a chair for her. But before Addie could respond to his old-fashioned bow, Mr. Petherton was on his legs.

"Er!--I take it that this is the young wom--the Miss Chatfield of whom we have had occasion to speak a good deal today," he said very stiffly. "I think, Sir Cresswell--eh?"

"Yes," said Sir Cresswell, glancing from the visitor to the old lawyer. "You think, Petherton--yes?"

"The situation is decidedly unpleasant," said Mr. Petherton, more icily than ever. "Mr. Vickers will agree with me that it is most unpleasant--and very unusual. The fact is--the police are now searching for this--er, young lady."

"But I am here!" exclaimed Addie. "Doesn't that show that I'm not afraid of the police. I came of my own free will--to explain. And--to ask you all to be merciful."

"To whom?" demanded Mr. Petherton.

"Well--to my father, if you want to know," replied Addie, with another softening glance. "Come now, all of you, what's the good of being so down on an old man who, after all hasn't got so very long to live? There are two of you here who are getting on, you know--it doesn't become old men to be so hard. Good doctrine, that, anyway--isn't it, Sir Cresswell?"

Sir Cresswell turned away, obviously disconcerted; when he looked round again, he avoided the eyes of the young men and glanced a little sheepishly at Mr. Petherton.

"It seems to me, Petherton," he said, "that we ought to hear what Miss Chatfield has to say. Evidently she comes to tell us--of her own free will--something. I should like to know what that something is. I think Mrs. Greyle would like to know, too."

"Decidedly!" exclaimed Mrs. Greyle, who was watching the central figure with great curiosity. "I should indeed, like to know--especially if Miss Chatfield proposes to tell us something about her father."

Mr. Petherton, who frowned very much and appeared to be greatly disturbed by these irregularities, twisted sharply round on the visitor.

"Where is your father?" he demanded.

"Where you can't find him!" retorted Addie, with a flash of the eye that lit up her whole face. "So's Andrius. They're off, my good sir!--both of 'em. Neither you nor the police can lay hands on 'em now. And you'll do no good by laying hands on me. Come now," she went on, "I said I'd come to ask for mercy. But I came for more. This game's all over! It's--up. The curtain's down--at least it's going down. Why don't you let me tell you all about it and then we can be friends?"

Mr. Petherton gazed at Addie for a moment as if she were some extraordinary specimen of a new race. Then he took off his glasses, waved them at Sir Cresswell and dropped into a chair with a snort.

"I wash my hands of the whole thing!" he exclaimed. "Do what you like--all of you. Irregular--most irregular!"

Vickers gave Addie a sly look.

"Don't incriminate yourself, Miss Chatfield," he said. "There's no need for you to tell anything against yourself, you know."

"Me!" exclaimed Addie. "Why, I've been playing good angel all day long--me incriminate myself, indeed! If Miss Greyle there only knew what I'd done for her!--look here," she continued, suddenly turning to Sir Cresswell. "I've come to tell all about it. And first of all--every penny of that money that my father drew from the bank has been restored this afternoon."

"We know that," said Sir Cresswell.

"Well, that was me!--I engineered that," continued Addie. "And second--the Pike will be back at Scarhaven during the night, to unload everything that was being carried away. My doing, again! Because, I'm no fool, and I know when a game's up."

"So--there was a game?" suggested Vickers.

Addie leaned forward from the chair which Sir Cresswell had given her at the end of the table and planting her elbows on the table edge began to check off her points on the tips of her slender fingers. She was well aware that she had the stage to herself by that time and she showed her consciousness of it.

"You have it," she answered. "There was a game--and perhaps I know more of it than anybody. I'll tell now. It began at Bristol. I was playing there. One morning my father fetched me out from rehearsal to tell me that he'd been down to Falmouth to meet the new Squire of Scarhaven, Marston Greyle, and that he found him so ill that they'd had to go to a doctor, who forbade Greyle to travel far at a time. They'd got to Bristol--there, Greyle was so much worse that my father didn't know what to do with him. He knew that I was in the town, so he came to me. I got Greyle a quiet room at my lodgings. A doctor saw him--he said he was very bad, but he didn't say that he was in immediate danger. However, he died that very night."

Addie paused for a moment, and Copplestone and Gilling exchanged glances. So far, this was all known to them--but what was coming?

"Now, I was alone with Greyle for awhile that evening," continued Addie. "It was while my father was getting some food downstairs. Greyle said to me that he knew he was dying, and he gave me a pocket-book in which he said all his papers were: he said I could give it to my father. I believe he became unconscious soon after that; anyway, he never mentioned that pocket-book to my father. Neither did I. But after Greyle was dead I examined its contents carefully. And when I was in London at the end of the week, I showed them to--my husband."

Addie again paused, and at least two of the men glanced at each other with a look of surmise. Her--husband! "Who the--"

"The fact is," she went on suddenly, "Captain Andrius is my husband. But nobody knew that--not even my own father. We've been married three years--I met him when I was crossing over to America once. We got married--we kept the marriage secret for reasons of our own. Well, he met me in London the Sunday after Greyle's death, and I showed him the papers which were in Greyle's pocket-book. And--now this, of course, was where it was very wicked in me--and him--though we've tried to make up for it today, anyhow--we fixed up what I suppose you two gentlemen would call a conspiracy. My husband had a brother, an actor--not up to much, nor of much experience--who had been brought up in the States and who was then in town, doing nothing. We took him into confidence, coached him up in everything, furnished him with all the papers in the pocket-book, and resolved to pass him off as the real Marston Greyle."

Mr. Petherton stirred angrily in his chair and turned a protesting face on Sir Cresswell.

"Apart from being irregular," he exclaimed, "this is altogether outrageous! This woman is openly boasting of conspiracy and--"

"You're wrong!" said Addie. "I'm not boasting--I'm explaining. You ought to be obliged to me. And--"

"If Mrs. Andrius--to give the lady her real name--cares to unburden her secrets to us, I really don't see why we shouldn't listen to them, Mr. Petherton," observed Vickers. "It simplifies matters greatly."

"That's what I say," agreed Addie. "I'm done with all this and I want to clear things up, whatever comes of it. Well--I say we fixed that up with my brother-in-law."

"His name--his real name, if you please," inquired Vickers.

"Oh--ah!--well, his real name was Martin Andrius, but he'd another name for the stage," replied Addie. "We gave him the papers and arranged for him to go down to Scarhaven to my father. Now I want to assure you all, right here, that my father never did really know that Martin was an imposter. He began to suspect something at the end, but he didn't know for a fact. Martin went down to him at Scarhaven, just a week after the real Marston Greyle had died. He claimed to be Marston Greyle, he produced his papers. My father told about the Marston Greyle he'd buried. Martin pooh-poohed that--he said that that man must be a secretary of his, Mark Grey, who, after stealing some documents had left him in New York and slipped across here, no doubt meaning to pass himself off as the real man until he could get something substantial out of the estate, when he'd have vanished. I tell you my father accepted that story--why? Because he knew that if Miss Greyle there came into the estate, she and her mother would have bundled Peter Chatfield out of his stewardship quick."

"Proceed, if you please," said Sir Cresswell. "There are other details about which I am anxious to hear."

"Meaning about your own brother," remarked Addie. "I'm coming to that. Well, on his story and on his production of those papers--birth certificates, Greyle papers of their life in America and so on--everybody accepted Martin as the real man, and things seemed to go on smoothly till that Sunday when Bassett Oliver had the bad luck to go to Scarhaven. And now, Sir Cresswell, I'll tell you the plain and absolute truth about your brother's death! It's the absolute truth, mind--nobody knows it better than I do. On that Sunday I was at Scarhaven. I wanted to speak privately to Martin. I arranged to meet him in the grounds of the Keep during the afternoon. I did meet him there. We hadn't been talking many minutes when Bassett Oliver came in through the door in the wall, which one of us had carelessly left open. He didn't see us. But we saw him. And we were afraid! Why? Because Bassett Oliver knew both of us. He'd met Martin several times, in London and in New York--and, of course, he knew that Martin was no more Marston Greyle than he himself was. Well!--we both shrank behind some shrubs that we were standing amongst, and we gave each other one look, and Martin went white as death. But Bassett Oliver went on across the lawn, never seeing us, and he entered the turret tower and went up. Martin just said to me 'If Bassett Oliver sees me, there's an end to all this--what's to be done?' But before I could speak or think, we saw Bassett at the top of the tower, making his way round the inside parapet. And suddenly--he disappeared!"

Addie's voice had become low and grave during the last few minutes and she kept her eyes on the table at the end. But she looked up readily enough when Sir Cresswell seized her arm and rapped out a question almost in her ear.

"Is that the truth--the real truth?"

"It's the absolute truth!" she answered, regarding him steadily. "I'm not altogether a good sort, nor a very bad sort, but I'm telling you the real truth in that. It was a sheer accident--he stepped off the parapet and fell. Martin went into the base of the tower and came back saying he was dead. We were both dazed--we separated. He went off to the house--I went to my father by a roundabout way. We decided to let things take their course. You all know a great deal of what happened. But--later--my husband and Martin began to take certain things into their own hands. They put me on one side. To this minute, I don't quite know how much my father got into their secrets or how little, but I do know that they determined to make what you might call a purse for themselves out of Scarhaven. Martin left certain powers in his brother's hands and went off to London. He was there, hidden, until Andrius got all ready for a flight on the Pike. Then he set off to Scarhaven, to join her. But he didn't join her, and none of us knew what had become of him until today, when we heard of what had been found at Scarhaven. That explained it--he had taken that short cut from the Northborough road through the woods behind the Keep, and fallen over the cliff at the Hermit's steps. But that very night, you, Mr. Vickers, and Mr. Copplestone and Miss Greyle, nearly stopped everything, and if Andrius and Chatfield hadn't carried you off, the scheme would have come to nothing. Well--you know what happened after that--"

"But," interjected Vickers, quickly, "not your share in the last development."

"My share's been to see that the thing was up, and that if I wanted to save them all, I'd best put a stop to it," rejoined Addie, with a grim smile. "I tell you, I didn't know what they'd been up to until today. I was in England--never mind where--wondering what was going on. Yesterday I got a code message from my husband. When he fetched my father away from you, he forced him to tell where that gold was--then he wired to me--by wireless--full instructions to recover it during last night. I did--never you mind the exact means I took nor who it was that I got to help--I got it--and I took good care to put it where I knew it would be safe. Then this morning I went to meet the two of them at Scarvell's Cut. And I took the upper hand then! I got them away from that sail-loft--safely. I made my husband give me a code message for the man in charge of the Pike, telling him to return at once to Scarhaven; I made my father write a note to Elkin at the bank, telling him to place the gold which I sent with it to the credit of the Greyle Estate. And when all that was done--I got them away--they're gone!"

Vickers, who had never taken his eyes off Addie during her lengthy explanation, gave her a whimsical smile.

"Safely?" he asked.

"I'll defy the police to find 'em, anyway," replied Addie with a quick response of lip and eye. "I don't do things by halves. I say--they're gone! But--I'm here. Come, now--I've made a clean breast of it all. The thing's over and done with. There's nothing to prevent Miss Greyle there coming into her rights--I can prove 'em--my father can prove them. So--is it any use doing what that old gentleman's just worrying to do? You can all see what he wants--he's dying to hand me over to the police."

Sir Cresswell Oliver rose, glanced at Audrey and her mother, received some telepathic communication from them, and assumed his old quarter-deck manner.

"Not tonight, I think, Petherton," he said authoritatively. "No--certainly not tonight!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Some months later, when Audrey Greyle had come into possession of Scarhaven, and had married Copplestone in the little church behind her mother's cottage, she and her husband, to satisfy a mutual and long-cherished desire, visited a certain romantic and retired part of the country. And in the course of their wanderings they came across a very pretty village, and in it a charmingly situated retreat, which looked so attractive from the road along which they were walking that they halted and peered at it through its trimly-kept boundary hedge. And there, seated in the easiest of chairs on the smoothest of lawns, roses about him, a cigar in his mouth, the newspaper in his hand, a glass at his elbow, they saw Peter Chatfield. They looked at him for a long moment; then they looked at each other and smiled delightedly, as children might smile at a pleasure-giving picture, and they passed on in silence. But when that village lay behind them, Copplestone gave his wife a sly glance, and permitted himself to make an epigram.

"Chatfield!" he said musingly. "Chatfield! sublimely ungrateful that he isn't in Dartmoor."

THE END