Mr. Dennie

Amongst the little group of actors and actresses who had come over from Norcaster to hear all that was to be told concerning their late manager, sat an old gentleman who, hands folded on the head of his walking cane, and chin settled on his hands, watched the proceedings with silent and concentrated attention. He was a striking figure of an old gentleman⁠—tall, distinguished-looking, handsome, with a face full of character, the strong lines and features of which were further accentuated by his silvery hair. He was a smart old gentleman, too, well and scrupulously attired and groomed, and his blue bird’s-eye necktie, worn at a rakish angle, gave him the air of something of a sporting man rather than of a follower of Thespis. His fellow members of the Oliver company seemed to pay him great attention, and at various points of the proceedings whispered questions to him as to an acknowledged authority.

This old gentleman, when the inquest came to its extraordinary end and the crowd went out murmuring and disputing, separated himself from his companions and made his way towards Mrs. Greyle and her daughter, who were quietly setting out homewards. To Audrey’s surprise the two elders shook hands in silence, and inspected each other with a palpable wistfulness of look.

“And yet it’s twenty-five years since we met, isn’t it?” said the old gentleman, almost as if he were talking to himself. “But I knew you at once⁠—I was wondering if you remembered me?”

“Why, of course,” responded Mrs. Greyle. “Besides, I’ve had an advantage over you. I’ve seen you, you know, several times⁠—at Norcaster. We go to the theatre now and then. Audrey⁠—this is Mr. Dennie⁠—you’ve seen him, too.”

“On the stage⁠—on the stage!” murmured the old actor, as he shook hands with the girl. “Um!⁠—I wonder if any of us are ever really off it! This affair, for instance⁠—there’s a drama for you! By the by⁠—this young Squire⁠—he’s your relation, of course?”

“My nephew-in-law, and Audrey’s cousin,” replied Mrs. Greyle. Mr. Dennie, who had walked along with them towards their cottage, stopped in a quiet stretch of the quay, and looked meditatively at Audrey.

“Then this young lady,” he said, “is next heir to the Greyle estates, eh? For I understand this present Squire isn’t married. Therefore⁠—”

“Oh, that’s something that isn’t worth thinking about,” replied Mrs. Greyle hastily. “Don’t put such notions into the girl’s head, Mr. Dennie. Besides, the Greyle estates are not entailed, you know. The present owner can do what he pleases with them⁠—besides that, he’s sure to marry.”

“All the same,” observed Mr. Dennie, imperturbably, “if this young man had not been in existence, this child would have succeeded, eh?”

“Why, of course,” agreed Mrs. Greyle a little impatiently. “But what’s the use of talking about that, my old friend! The young man is in possession⁠—and there you are!”

“Do you like the young man?” asked Mr. Dennie. “I take an old fellow’s privilege in asking direct questions, you know. And⁠—though we haven’t seen each other for all these years⁠—you can say anything to me.”

“No, we don’t,” replied Mrs. Greyle. “And we don’t know why we don’t⁠—so there’s a woman’s answer for you. Kinsfolk though we are, we see little of each other.”

Mr. Dennie made no remark on this. He walked along at Audrey’s side, apparently in deep thought, and suddenly he looked across at her mother.

“What do you think about this extraordinary story of Bassett Oliver’s having met a Marston Greyle over there in America?” he asked abruptly. “What do people here think about it?”

“We’re not in a position to hear much of what other people think,” answered Mrs. Greyle. “What I think is that if this Marston Greyle ever did meet such a very notable and noticeable man as Bassett Oliver it’s a very, very strange thing that he’s forgotten all about it!”

Mr. Dennie laughed quietly.

“Aye, aye!” he said. “But⁠—don’t you think we folk of the profession are a little bit apt to magnify our own importance? You say ‘Bless me, how could anybody ever forget an introduction to Bassett Oliver!’ But we must remember that to some people even a famous actor is of no more importance than⁠—shall we say a respectable grocer? Marston Greyle may be one of those people⁠—it’s quite possible he may have been introduced, quite casually, to Oliver at some club, or gathering, something or other, over there and have quite forgotten all about it. Quite possible, I think.”

“I agree with you as to the possibility, but certainly not as to the probability,” said Mrs. Greyle, dryly. “Bassett Oliver was the sort of man whom nobody would forget. But here we are at our cottage⁠—you’ll come in, Mr. Dennie?”

“It will only have to be for a little time, my dear lady,” said the old actor, pulling out his watch. “Our people are going back very soon, and I must join them at the station.”

“I’ll give you a glass of good old wine,” said Mrs. Greyle as they went into the cottage. “I have some that belonged to my father-in-law, the old Squire. You must taste it⁠—for old times’ sake.”

Mr. Dennie followed Audrey into the little parlour as Mrs. Greyle disappeared to another part of the house. And the instant they were alone, he tapped the girl’s arm and gave her a curiously warning look.

“Hush, my dear!” he whispered. “Not a word⁠—don’t want your mother to know! Listen⁠—have you a specimen⁠—letter⁠—anything⁠—of your cousin, the Squire’s handwriting? Anything so long as it’s his. You have? Give it to me⁠—say nothing to your mother. Wait until tomorrow morning. I’ll run over to see you again⁠—about noon. It’s important⁠—but silence!”

Audrey, scarcely understanding the old man’s meaning, opened a desk and drew out one or two letters. She selected one and handed it to Mr. Dennie, who made haste to put it away before Mrs. Greyle returned. He gave Audrey another warning look.

“That was what I wanted!” he said mysteriously. “I thought of it during the inquest. Never mind why, just now⁠—you shall know tomorrow.”

He lingered a few minutes, chatting to his hostess about old times as he sipped the old Squire’s famous port; then he went off to the little station, joined Stafford and his fellow actors and actresses, and returned with them to Norcaster. And at Norcaster Mr. Dennie separated himself from the rest and repaired to his quiet lodgings⁠—rooms which he had occupied for many years in succession whenever he went that way on tour⁠—and once safely bestowed in them he pulled out a certain old-fashioned trunk, which he had owned since boyhood and lugged about wherever he went in two continents, and from it, after much methodical unpacking, he disinterred a brown paper parcel, neatly tied up with green ribbon. From this parcel he drew a thin packet of typed matter and a couple of letters⁠—the type script he laid aside, the letters he opened out on his table. Then he took from his pocket the letter which Audrey Greyle had given him and put it side by side with those taken from the parcel. And after one brief glance at all three Mr. Dennie made typescript and letters up again into a neat packet, restored them to his trunk, locked them up, and turned to the two hours’ rest which he always took before going to the theatre for his evening’s work.

He was back at Scarhaven by eleven o’clock the next morning, with his neat packet under his arm and he held it up significantly to Audrey who opened the door of the cottage to him.

“Something to show you,” he said with a quiet smile as he walked in. “To show you and your mother.” He stopped short on the threshold of the little parlour, where Copplestone was just then talking to Mrs. Greyle. “Oh!” he said, a little disappointedly, “I hoped to find you alone⁠—I’ll wait.”

Mrs. Greyle explained who Copplestone was, and Mr. Dennie immediately brightened. “Of course⁠—of course!” he explained. “I know! Glad to meet you, Mr. Copplestone⁠—you don’t know me, but I know you⁠—or your work⁠—well enough. It was I who read and recommended your play to our poor dear friend. It’s a little secret, you know,” continued Mr. Dennie, laying his packet on the table, “but I have acted for a great many years as Bassett Oliver’s literary adviser⁠—taster, you might say. You know, he had a great number of plays sent to him, of course, and he was a very busy man, and he used to hand them over to me in the first place, to take a look at, a taste of, you know, and if I liked the taste, why, then he took a mouthful himself, eh? And that brings me to the very point, my dear ladies and my dear young gentleman, that I have come specially to Scarhaven this morning to discuss. It’s a very, very serious matter indeed,” he went on as he untied his packet of papers, “and I fear that it’s only the beginning of something more serious. Come round me here at this table, all of you, if you please.”

The other three drew up chairs, each wondering what was coming, and the old actor resumed his eyeglasses and gave obvious signs of making a speech.

“Now I want you all to attend to me, very closely,” he said. “I shall have to go into a detailed explanation, and you will very soon see what I am after. As you may be aware, I have been a personal friend of Bassett Oliver for some years, and a member of his company without break for the last eight years. I accompanied Bassett Oliver on his two trips to the United States⁠—therefore, I was with him when he was last there, years ago.

“Now, while we were at Chicago that time, Bassett came to me one day with the typescript of a one-act play and told me that it had been sent to him by a correspondent signing himself Marston Greyle; who in a covering letter, said that he sprang from an old English family, and that the play dealt with a historic, romantic episode in its history. The principal part, he believed, was one which would suit Bassett⁠—therefore he begged him to consider the matter. Bassett asked me to read the play, and I took it away, with the writer’s letter, for that purpose. But we were just then very busy, and I had no opportunity of reading anything for a time. Later on, we went to St. Louis, and there, of course, Bassett, as usual, was much fêted and went out a great deal, lunching with people and so on. One day he came to me, ‘By the by, Dennie!’ he said, ‘I met that Mr. Marston Greyle today who sent me that romantic one-act thing. He wanted to know if I’d read it, and I had to confess that it was in your hands. Have you looked at it?’ I, too, had to confess⁠—I hadn’t. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘read it and let me know what you think⁠—will it suit me?’ I made time to read the little play during the following week, and I told Bassett that I didn’t think it would suit him, but I felt sure it might suit Montagu Gaines, who plays just such parts. Bassett thereupon wrote to the author and said what I, his reader, thought, and kindly offered, as he knew Gaines intimately, to show the little work to him on his return to England. And this Mr. Marston Greyle wrote back, thanking Bassett warmly and accepting his kind offer. Accordingly, I brought the play with me to England. Montagu Gaines, however, had just set off on a two years’ tour to Australia⁠—consequently, the play and the author’s two letters have remained in my possession ever since. And⁠—here they are!”

Mr. Dennie laid his hand dramatically on his packet, looked significantly at his audience, and went on.

“Now, when I heard all that I did hear at that inquest yesterday,” he said, “I naturally remembered that I had in my possession two letters which were undoubtedly written to Bassett Oliver by a young man named Marston Greyle, whom Oliver⁠—just as undoubtedly!⁠—had personally met in St. Louis. And so when the inquest was over, Mr. Copplestone, I recalled myself to Mrs. Greyle here, whom I had known many years ago, and I walked back to this house with her and her charming daughter, and⁠—don’t be angry, Mrs. Greyle⁠—while the mother’s back was turned⁠—on hospitable thoughts intent⁠—I got the daughter to lend me⁠—secretly⁠—a letter written by the present Squire of Scarhaven. Armed with that, I went home to my lodgings in Norcaster, found the letter written by the American Marston Greyle, and compared it with them. And⁠—here is the result!”

The old actor selected the two American letters from his papers, laid them out on the table, and placed the letter which Audrey had given him beside them.

“Now!” he said, as his three companions bent eagerly over these exhibits, “Look at those three letters. All bear the same signature, Marston Greyle⁠—but the handwriting of those two is as different from that of this one as chalk is from cheese!”