Scarhaven Keep by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter V. The Greyle History
If Copplestone had followed his first natural impulse, he would have laughed aloud at this solemnly propounded question: as it was, he found it difficult to content himself with a smile.
"Isn't it a little early to arrive at any conclusion, of any sort, Mr. Chatfield?" he asked. "You haven't made up your own mind, surely?" Chatfield pursed up his long thin lips and shook his head, continuing to stare fixedly at Copplestone.
"Now I may have, and I may not have, mister," he said at last, suddenly relaxing. "What I was asking of was--what might you consider?"
"I don't consider at all--yet," answered Copplestone. "It's too soon. Let me offer you a glass of claret."
"Many thanks to you, sir, but it's too cold for my stomach," responded the visitor. "A drop of gin, now, is more in my line, since you're so kind. Ah, well, in any case, sir, this here is a very unfortunate affair. I'm a deal upset by it--I am indeed!"
Copplestone rang the bell, gave orders for Mr. Chatfield's suitable entertainment with gin and cigars, and making an end of his dinner, drew up a chair to the fire opposite his visitor.
"You are upset, Mr. Chatfield?" he remarked. "Now, why?"
Chatfield sipped his gin and water, and flourished a cigar with a comprehensive wave of his big fat hand.
"Oh, in general, sir!" he said. "Things like this here are not pleasant to have in a quiet, respectable community like ours. There's very wicked people in this world, mister, and they will not control what's termed the unruly member. They will talk. You'll excuse me, but I doubt not that I'm a good deal more than twice your age, and I've learnt experience. My experience, sir, is that a wise man holds his tongue until he's called upon to use it. Now, in my opinion, it was a very unwise thing of yon there sea-going man, Ewbank, to say that this unfortunate play-actor told him that he'd met our Squire in America--very unfortunate!"
Copplestone pricked his ears. Had the estate agent come there to tell him that? And if so, why?
"Oh!" he said. "You've heard that, have you? Now who told you that, Mr. Chatfield? For I don't think that's generally known."
"If you knew this here village, mister, as well as what I do," replied Chatfield coolly, "you'd know that there is known all over the place by this time. The constable told me, and of course yon there man, Ewbank, he'll have told it all round since he had that bit of talk with you and your friend. He'll have been in to every public there is in Scarhaven, repeating of it. And a very, very serious complexion, of course, could be put on them words, sir."
"How?" asked Copplestone.
"Put it to yourself, sir," replied Chatfield. "The unfortunate man comes here, tells Ewbank he knew Mr. Greyle in that far-away land, says he'll call on him, is seen going towards the big house--and is never seen no more! Why, sir, what does human nature--which is wicked--say?"
"What does your human nature--which I'm sure is not wicked, say?" suggested Copplestone. "Come, now!"
"What I say, sir, is neither here nor there," answered the agent. "It's what evil-disposed tongues says."
"But they haven't said anything yet," said Copplestone.
"I should say they've said a deal, sir," responded Chatfield, lugubriously. "I know Scarhaven tongues. They'll have thrown out a deal of suspicious talk about the Squire."
"Have you seen Mr. Greyle?" asked Copplestone. He was already sure that the agent was there with a purpose, and he wanted to know its precise nature. "Is he concerned about this?"
"I have seen Mr. Greyle, mister, and he is concerned about what yon man, Ewbank, related," replied Chatfield. "Mr. Greyle, sir, came straight to me--I reside in a residence within the park. Mr. Greyle, mister, says that he has no recollection whatever of meeting this play-actor person in America--he may have done and he mayn't. But he doesn't remember him, and it isn't likely he should--him, an English landlord and a gentleman wouldn't be very like to remember a play-actor person that's here today and gone tomorrow! I hope I give no offence, sir--maybe you're a play-actor yourself."
"I am not," answered Copplestone. He sat staring at his visitor for awhile, and when he spoke again his voice had lost its cordial tone. "Well," he said, "and what have you called on me about?"
Chatfield looked up sharply, noticing the altered tone.
"To tell you--and them as you no doubt represent--that Mr. Greyle will be glad to help in any possible way towards finding out something in this here affair," he answered. "He'll welcome any inquiry that's opened."
"Oh!" said Copplestone. "I see! But you're making a mistake, Mr. Chatfield. I don't represent anybody. I'm not even a relation of Mr. Bassett Oliver. In fact, I never met Mr. Oliver in my life: never spoke to him. So--I'm not here in any representative or official sense."
Chatfield's small eyes grew smaller with suspicious curiosity.
"Oh?" he said questioningly. "Then--what might you be here for, mister?"
Copplestone stood up and rang the bell.
"That's my business." he answered. "Sorry I can't give you any more time," he went on as Mrs. Wooler opened the door. "I'm engaged now. If you or Mr. Greyle want to see Mr. Oliver's friends I believe his brother, Sir Cresswell Oliver, will be here tomorrow--he's been wired for anyhow."
Chatfield's mouth opened as he picked up his hat. He stared at this self-assured young man as if he were something quite new to him.
"Sir Cresswell Oliver!" he exclaimed. "Did you say, sir?"
"I said Sir Cresswell Oliver--quite plainly," answered Copplestone.
Chatfield's mouth grew wider.
"You don't mean to tell me that a play-actor's own brother to a titled gentleman!" he said.
"Good-night!" replied Copplestone, motioning his visitor towards the door. "I can't give you any more time, really. However, as you seem anxious, Mr. Bassett Oliver is the younger brother of Rear-Admiral Sir Cresswell Oliver, Baronet, and I should imagine that Sir Cresswell will want to know a lot about what's become of him. So you'd better--or Mr. Greyle had better--speak to him. Now once more--good-night."
When Chatfield had gone, Copplestone laughed and flung himself into an easy chair before the fire. Of course, the stupid, ignorant, self-sufficient old fool had come fishing for news--he and his master wanted to know what was going to be done in the way of making inquiry. But why?--why so much anxiety if they knew nothing whatever about Bassett Oliver's strange disappearance? "Why this profession of eager willingness to welcome any inquiry that might be made? Nobody had accused Marston Greyle of having anything to do with Bassett Oliver's strange exit--if it was an exit--why, then--
"But it's useless speculating," he mused. "I can't do anything--and here I am, with nothing to do!"
He had pleaded an engagement, but he had none, of course. There was a shelf of old books in the room, but he did not care to read. And presently, hands in pockets, he lounged out into the hall and saw Mrs. Wooler standing at the door of the little parlour into which she had shown him and Stafford earlier in the day.
"There's nobody in here, sir," she said, invitingly; "if you'd like to smoke your pipe here--"
"Thank you--I will," answered Copplestone. "I got rid of that old fellow," he observed confidentially when he had followed the landlady within, and had dropped into a chair near her own. "I think he had come--fishing."
"That's his usual occupation," said Mrs. Wooler, with a meaning smile. "I told you he was called Peeping Peter. He's the sort of man who will have his nose in everybody's affairs. But," she added, with a shake of the head which seemed to mean a good deal more than the smile, "he doesn't often come here. This is almost the only house in Scarhaven that doesn't belong to the Greyle estate. This house, and the land round it, have belonged to the Wooler family as long as the rest of the place has belonged to the Greyles. And many a Greyle has wanted to buy it, and every Wooler has refused to sell it--and always will!"
"That's very interesting," said Copplestone. "Does the present Greyle want to buy?"
The landlady picked up a piece of sewing and sat down in a chair which seemed to be purposely placed so that she could keep an eye on the adjacent bar-parlour on one side and the hall on the other.
"I don't know much about what the present Squire would like," she said. "Nobody does. He's a newcomer, and nobody knows anything about him. You saw him this afternoon?"
"I met a young lady on the sands who turned out to be his cousin, and he came up while I was talking to her," replied Copplestone. "Yes, I saw him. I'm afraid Mr. Stafford, who came in here with me, you know, offended him," he continued, and gave Mrs. Wooler an account of what had happened. "Is he rather--touchy?" he concluded.
"I don't know that he is," she said. "No one sees much of him. You see he's a stranger: although he's a Greyle, he's not a Scarhaven man. Of course, I know all his family history--I'm Scarhaven born and bred. In my time there have been three generations of Greyles. The first one I knew was this Squire's grandfather, old Mr. Stephen Greyle: he died when I was a girl in my 'teens. He had three sons and no daughters. The three sons were all different in their tastes and ideas; the eldest, Stephen John, who came into the estates on his father's death, was a real home bird--he never left Scarhaven for more than a day or two at a time all his life. And he never married--he was a real old bachelor, almost a woman-hater. The next one, Marcus, went out to America and settled there--he was the father of this present Squire, Mr. Marston Greyle. Then there was the third son, Valentine--he went to live in London. And years after he came back here, very poor, and settled down in a little house near Scarhaven Church with his wife and daughter--that was the daughter you met this afternoon, Miss Audrey. I don't know why, and nobody else knows, either, but the last Squire, Stephen John, never had anything to do with Valentine and his family; what's more, when Valentine died and left the widow and daughter very poorly off, Stephen John did nothing for them. But he himself died very soon after Valentine, and then of course, as Marcus had already died in America, everything came to this Mr. Marston. And, as I said, he's a stranger to Scarhaven folk and Scarhaven ways. Indeed, you might say to England and English ways, for I understand he'd never been in England until he came to take up the family property."
"Is he more friendly with the mother and daughter than the last Squire was?" asked Copplestone, who had been much interested in this chapter of family history.
Mrs. Wooler made several stitches in her sewing before she answered this direct question, and when, she spoke it was in lower tones and with a glance of caution.
"He would be, if he could!" she said. "There are those in the village who say that he wants to marry his cousin. But the truth is--so far as one can see or learn it--that for some reason or other, neither Mrs. Valentine Greyle nor Miss Audrey can bear him! They took some queer dislike to the young man when he first came, and they've kept it up. Of course, they're outwardly friendly, and he occasionally, I believe, goes to the cottage, but they rarely go to the big house, and it's very seldom they're ever seen together. I have heard--one does hear things in villages--that he'd be very glad to do something handsome for them, but they're both as proud as they're poor, and not the sort to accept aught from anybody. I believe they've just enough to live on, but it can't be a great deal, for everybody knows that Valentine Greyle made ducks and drakes of his fortune long before he came back to Scarhaven, and old Stephen John only left them a few hundreds of pounds. However--there it is. However much the new Squire wants to marry his cousin, it's very flat she'll not have anything to say to him. I've once or twice had an opportunity of seeing those two together, and it's my private opinion that Miss Audrey dislikes that young man just about as heartily as she possibly could!"
"What does Mr. Marston Greyle find to do with himself in this place?" asked Copplestone, turning the conversation. "Can't be very lively for him if he's a man of any activity."
"Oh, I don't know," replied Mrs. Wooler. "I think he's a good deal like his uncle, the last squire--he certainly never goes anywhere, except out to sea in his yacht. He shoots a bit, and fishes a bit, and so on, and spends a lot of time with Peeping Peterhe's a widower, is Chatfield, and lives alone, except when his daughter runs down to see him. And that daughter, bye-the-bye, Mr. Copplestone, is on the stage."
"Dear me!" said Copplestone. "That is surprising! Her father made several contemptuous references to play-actors when he was talking to me."
"Oh, he hates them, and all connected with them!" replied Mrs. Wooler, laughing. "All the same, his own daughter has been on the stage for a good five years, and I fancy she's doing well. A fine, handsome girl she is, too--she's been down here a good deal lately, and--"
The landlady suddenly paused, hearing a light step in the hall. She glanced through the window and then turned to Copplestone with an arch smile.
"Talk of the--you know," she exclaimed. "Here's Addie Chatfield herself!"