The Steam Yacht

Copplestone had seen and learned enough of Audrey Greyle during his brief stay at Scarhaven to make him assured that she would not have sent for him save for very good and grave reasons. It had been with manifest reluctance that she had given him her promise to do so: her entire behaviour during the conference with Mr. Dennie and Gilling had convinced him that she had an inherent distaste for publicity and an instinctive repugnance to calling in the aid of strangers. He had never expected that she would send for him⁠—he himself knew that he should go back to her, but the return would be on his own initiative. There, however, was her summons, definite as it was brief. He was wanted⁠—and by her. And without opening one of his letters, he snatched up the whole pile, thrust it into his pocket, hurriedly made some preparation for his journey and raced off to King’s Cross.

He fumed and fretted with impatience during the six hours’ journey down to Norcaster. It was ten o’clock when he arrived there, and as he knew that the last train to Scarhaven left at half past nine he hurried to get a fast motorcar that would take him over the last twenty miles of his journey. He had wired to Audrey from Peterborough, telling her that he was on his way and should motor out from Norcaster, and when he had found a car to his liking he ordered its driver to go straight to Mrs. Greyle’s cottage, close by Scarhaven church. And just then he heard a voice calling his name, and turning saw, running out of the station, a young, athletic-looking man, much wrapped and cloaked, who waved a hand at him and whose face he had some dim notion of having seen before.

Mr. Copplestone?” panted the new arrival, coming up hurriedly. “I almost missed you⁠—I got on the wrong platform to meet your train. You don’t know me, though you may have seen me at the inquest on Mr. Bassett Oliver the other day⁠—my name’s Vickers⁠—Guy Vickers.”

“Yes?” said Copplestone. “And⁠—”

“I’m a solicitor, here in Norcaster,” answered Vickers. “I⁠—at least, my firm, you know⁠—we sometimes act for Mrs. Greyle at Scarhaven. I got a wire from Miss Greyle late this evening, asking me to meet you here when the London train got in and to go on to Scarhaven with you at once. She added the words urgent business so⁠—”

“Then in heaven’s name, let’s be off!” exclaimed Copplestone. “It’ll take us a good hour and a quarter as it is. Of course,” he went on, as they moved away through the Norcaster streets, “of course, you haven’t any notion of what this urgent business is?”

“None whatever!” replied Vickers. “But I’m quite sure that it is urgent, or Miss Greyle wouldn’t have said so. No⁠—I don’t know what her exact meaning was, but of course, I know there’s something wrong about the whole thing at Scarhaven⁠—seriously wrong!”

“You do, eh?” exclaimed Copplestone. “What now?”

“Ah, that I don’t know!” replied Vickers, with a dry laugh. “I wish I did. But⁠—you know how people talk in these provincial places⁠—ever since that inquest there have been all sorts of rumours. Every club and public place in Norcaster has been full of talk⁠—gossip, surmise, speculation. Naturally!”

“But⁠—about what?” asked Copplestone.

“Squire Greyle, of course,” said the young solicitor; “that inquest was enough to set the whole country talking. Everybody thinks⁠—they couldn’t think otherwise⁠—that something is being hushed up. Everybody’s agog to know if Sir Cresswell Oliver and Mr. Petherton are applying for a reopening of the inquest. You’ve just come from town, I believe! Did you hear anything?”

Copplestone was wondering whether he ought to tell his companion of his own recent discoveries. Like all laymen, he had an idea that you can tell anything to a lawyer, and he was half-minded to pour out the whole story to Vickers, especially as he was Mrs. Greyle’s solicitor. But on second thoughts he decided to wait until he had ascertained the state of affairs at Scarhaven.

“I didn’t hear anything about that,” he replied. “Of course, that inquest was a mere travesty of what such an inquiry should have been.”

“Oh, an utter farce!” agreed Vickers. “However, it produced just the opposite effect to that which the wire-pullers wanted. Of course, Chatfield had squared that jury! But he forgot the press⁠—and the local reporters were so glad to get hold of what was really spicy news that all the Norcaster and Northborough papers have been full of it. Everybody’s talking of it, as I said⁠—people are asking what this evidence from America is; why was there such mystery about the whole thing, and so on. And, since then, everybody knows that Squire Greyle has left Scarhaven.”

“Have you seen Mrs. or Miss Greyle since the inquest?” asked Copplestone, who was anxious to keep off subjects on which he might be supposed to possess information. “Have you been over there?”

“No⁠—not since that day,” replied Vickers. “And I don’t care how soon we do see them, for I’m a bit anxious about this telegram. Something must have happened.”

Copplestone looked out of the window on his side of the car. Already they were clear of the Norcaster streets and on the road which led to Scarhaven. That road ran all along the coast, often at the very edge of the high, precipitous cliffs, with no more between it and the rocks far beneath than a low wall. It was a road of dangerous curves and corners which needed careful negotiation even in broad daylight, and this was a black, moonless and starless night. But Copplestone had impressed upon his driver that he must get to Scarhaven as quickly as possible, and he and his companion were both so full of their purpose that they paid no heed to the perpetual danger which they ran as the car tore round propections and down deep cuts at a speed which at other times they would have considered suicidal. And at just under the hour they ran on the level stretch by the Admiral’s Arms and looking down at the harbour saw the lighted portholes of some ship which lay against the south quay, and on the quay itself men moving about in the glare of lamps.

“What’s going on there?” said Vickers. “Late for a vessel to be loading at a place like this where time’s of no great importance.”

Copplestone offered no suggestion. He was hotly impatient to reach the cottage, and as soon as the car drew up at its gate he burst out, bade the driver wait, and ran eagerly up to the path to Audrey, who opened the door as he advanced. In another second he had both her hands in his own⁠—and kept them there.

“You’re all right?” he demanded in tones which made clear to the girl how anxious he had been. “There’s nothing wrong⁠—with you or your mother⁠—personally, I mean? You see, I didn’t get your wire until this afternoon, and then I raced off as quick⁠—”

“I know,” she said, responding a little to the pressure of his hands. “I understand. You may be sure I shouldn’t have wired if I hadn’t felt it absolutely necessary. Somebody was wanted⁠—and you’d made me promise, and so⁠—Yes,” she continued, drawing back as Vickers came up, “we are all right, personally, but⁠—there’s something very wrong indeed somewhere. Will you both come in and see mother?”

Mrs. Greyle, looking worn and ill, appeared just then in the hall, and called to them to come in. She preceded them into the parlour and turned to the young men as soon as Audrey closed the door.

“I’m more thankful to see you gentlemen than I’ve ever been in my life⁠—for anything!” she said. “Something is happening here which needs the attention of men⁠—we women can’t do anything. Let me tell you what it is. Yesterday morning, very early the Squire’s steam yacht, the Pike, was brought into the inner harbour and moored against the quay just opposite the park gates. We, of course, could see it, and as we knew he had gone away we wondered why it was brought in there. After it had been moored, we saw that preparations of some sort were being made. Then men⁠—estate labourers⁠—began coming down from the house, carrying packing cases, which were taken on board. And while this was going on, Mrs. Peller, the housekeeper, came hurrying here, in a state of great consternation. She said that a number of men, sailors and estate men, were packing up and removing all the most valuable things in the house⁠—the finest pictures, the old silver, the famous collection of china which Stephen John Greyle made⁠—and spent thousands upon thousands of pounds in making!⁠—the rarest and most valuable books out of the library⁠—all sorts of things of real and great value. Everything was being taken down to the Pike⁠—and the estate carpenter, who was in charge of all this, said it was by the Squire’s orders, and produced to Mrs. Peller his written authority. Of course, Mrs. Peller could do nothing against that, but she came hurrying to tell us, because she, like everybody else, is much exercised by these recent events. And so Audrey and I pocketed our pride, and went to see Peter Chatfield. But Peter Chatfield, like his master, had gone! He had left home the previous evening, and his house was locked up.”

Copplestone and Vickers exchanged glances, and the young solicitor signed Mrs. Greyle to proceed.

“Then,” she added, “to add to that, as we came away from Chatfield’s house, we met Mr. Elkin, the bank manager from Norcaster. He had come over in a motorcar, to see me⁠—privately. He wanted to tell me⁠—in relation to all these things⁠—that within the last few days, the Squire and Peter Chatfield had withdrawn from the bank the very large balances of two separate accounts. One was the Squire’s own account, in his name⁠—the other was an estate account, on which Chatfield could draw. In both cases the balances withdrawn were of very large amount. Of course, as Mr. Elkin pointed out, it was all in order, and no objection could be raised. But it was unusual, for a large balance had always existed on both these accounts. And, Mr. Elkin added, so many strange rumours are going about Norcaster and the district, that he felt seriously uneasy, and thought it his duty to see me at once. And now⁠—what is to be done? The house is being stripped of the best part of its valuables, and in my opinion when that yacht sails it will be for some foreign port. What other object can there be in taking these things away? Of course, as nothing is entailed, and there are no heirlooms, everything is absolutely the Squire’s property, so⁠—”

Copplestone, who had been realizing the serious significance of these statements, saw that it was time to speak, if energetic methods were to be taken at once.

“I’d better tell you the truth,” he said interrupting Mrs. Greyle. “I might have told you, Vickers, as we came along, but I decided to wait, until we got here and found out how things were. Mrs. Greyle, the man you speak of as the Squire, is no more the owner of Scarhaven than I am! He is not Marston Greyle at all. The real Marston Greyle who came over from America, died the day after he landed, in lodgings at Bristol to which Peter Chatfield and his daughter had taken him, and he is buried in a Bristol cemetery under the name of Mark Grey; Gilling and I found that out during these last few days. It’s an absolute fact. So the man who has been posing here as the rightful owner is⁠—an impostor!”

A dead silence followed this declaration. The mother and daughter after one long look at Copplestone turned and looked at each other. But Vickers, quick to realize the situation, started from his seat, with evident intention of doing something.

“That’s⁠—the truth?” he exclaimed, turning to Copplestone. “No possible flaw in it?”

“None,” replied Copplestone. “It’s sheer fact.”

“Then in that case,” said Vickers, “Miss Greyle is the owner of Scarhaven, of everything in the house, of every stick, stone and pebble, about the place! And we must act at once. Miss Greyle, you will have to assert yourself. You must do what I tell you to do. You must get ready at once⁠—this minute!⁠—and come down with me and Mrs. Greyle to that yacht and stop all these proceedings. In our presence you must lay claim to everything that’s been taken from the house⁠—yes, and to the yacht itself. Come, let’s hurry!”

Audrey hesitated and looked at Mrs. Greyle.

“Very well,” she said quietly. “But⁠—not my mother.”

“No need!” said Vickers. “You will have us with you.”

Audrey hurried from the room, and Mrs. Greyle turned anxiously to Vickers.

“What shall you do?” she asked.

“Warn all concerned,” answered Vickers, with a snap of the jaw which showed Copplestone that he was a man of determination. “Warn them, if necessary, that the man they have known as Marston Greyle is an impostor, and that everything they are handling belongs to Miss Greyle. The Scarhaven people know me, of course⁠—there ought not to be any great difficulty with them⁠—and as regards the yacht people⁠—”

“You know,” interrupted Mrs. Greyle, “that this man⁠—the impostor⁠—has made himself very popular with the people here? You saw how they cheered him after the inquest? You don’t think there is danger in Audrey going down there?”

“Wouldn’t it be enough if you and I went?” suggested Copplestone. “It’s very late to drag Miss Greyle out.”

“I’m sorry, but it’s absolutely necessary,” said Vickers. “If your story is true⁠—I mean, of course, since it is true⁠—Miss Greyle is owner and mistress, and she must be on the spot. It’s all we can do, anyway,” he continued, as Audrey, wrapped in a big ulster, came back to the parlour. “Even now we may be too late. And if that yacht once sails away from here⁠—”

There were signs that the yacht’s departure was imminent when they went down to the south quay and came abreast of her. The lights on the shore were being extinguished; the estate labourers were gone; only two or three sailors were busy with ropes and gear. And Vickers hurried his little party up a gangway and on to the deck. A hard-faced, keen-eyed, man, evidently in authority, came forward.

“Are you the captain of this vessel?” demanded Vickers in tones of authority. “You are? I am Mr. Vickers, solicitor, of Norcaster. I give you formal warning that the man you have known as Marston Greyle is not Marston Greyle at all, but an impostor. All the property which you have removed from the house, and now have on this vessel, belongs to this lady, Miss Audrey Greyle, Lady of the Manor of Scarhaven. It is at your peril that you move it, or that you cause this vessel to leave this harbour. I claim the vessel and all that is on it on behalf of Miss Greyle.”

The man addressed listened in silent attention, and showed no sign of any surprise. As soon as Vickers had finished he turned, hurried down a stairway, remained below for a few minutes, and came up again.

“Will you kindly step this way, Miss Greyle and gentlemen?” he said politely. “You must remember that I am only a servant. If you will come down⁠—”

He led them down the stairs, along a thickly-carpeted passage, and opened the door of a lighted saloon. All unthinking, the three stepped in⁠—to hear the door closed and locked behind them.