The Old Hand

Half an hour later, when Vickers regained the top of the cliff and once more looked across the island towards the far-off point, the figure which he had previously seen making for it had turned back, and was plodding steadily across the coarse grass and rock-strewn moorland in his own direction. Chatfield had evidently taken a bird’s eye view of the situation from the vantage point of the slope and had come to the conclusion that the higher part of the island was the most likely point from which to attract attention. He came steadily forward, a big, lumbering figure in the light mist, and Vickers as he went on to meet him eyed him with a lively curiosity, wondering what secrets lay carefully locked up in the man’s heart and what happened on the Pike that made its captain or its owner bundle Chatfield out of it like a box of bad goods for which there was no more use. And as he speculated, they met, and Vickers saw at once that the old fellow’s mood had changed during the night. An atmosphere of smug oiliness sat upon Chatfield in the freshness of the morning, and he greeted the young solicitor in tones which were suggestive of a chastened spirit.

“Morning, Mr. Vickers,” he said. “A sweetly pretty spot it is that we find ourselves in, sir⁠—nevertheless, one’s affairs sometimes makes us long to quit the side of beauty, however much we would tarry by it! In plain words, Mr. Vickers, I want to get out o’ this. And I’ve been looking round, and my opinion is that the best thing we can do is to start as big a fire as we can find stuff for on yon bluff and keep a-feeding on it. In the meantime, while you’re considering of that, I’ll burn something of my own⁠—I’m weary.”

He dropped down on a convenient boulder of limestone, settled his big frame comfortably, and producing a pipe and a tobacco pouch, proceeded to smoke. Vickers himself took another boulder and looked inquisitively at his strange companion. He felt sure that Chatfield was up to something.

“You say ‘we’ now,” he remarked suddenly. “Last night you said you didn’t want to have anything to do with us. We were to keep to ourselves, and⁠—”

“Well, well, Mr. Vickers,” broke in Chatfield. “One says things at one time that one wouldn’t say at another, you know. Facts is facts, sir, and Providence has made us companions in distress. I’ve naught against you⁠—nor against the girl⁠—as for t’other young man, he’s of a interfering nature⁠—but I forgive him⁠—he’s young. I don’t bear no ill will⁠—things being as they are. I’ve had time to reflect since last night⁠—and I don’t see no reason why Miss Greyle and me shouldn’t come to terms⁠—through you.”

Vickers lighted his own pipe, and took some time over it.

“What are you after, Chatfield?” he asked at length. “Something, of course. You say you want to come to terms with Miss Greyle. That, of course, is because you know very well that Miss Greyle is the legal owner of Scarhaven, and that⁠—”

Chatfield waved his pipe.

“I don’t!” he answered, with what seemed genuine eagerness. “I don’t know naught of the sort. I tell you, Mr. Vickers, I do not know that the man what we’ve known as the Squire of Scarhaven for a year gone by is not the rightful Squire⁠—I do not! Fact, sir! But”⁠—he lowered his voice, and his sly eyes became slyer and craftier⁠—“but I won’t deny that during this last week or two I may have had my suspicions aroused, that there was something wrong⁠—I don’t deny that, Mr. Vickers.”

Vickers heard this with amazement. Young as he was, he had had various dealings with Peter Chatfield, and he had an idea that he knew something of him, subtle old fellow though he was, and he believed that Chatfield was now speaking the truth. But, in that case, what of Copplestone’s revelation about the Falmouth and Bristol affair and the dead man? He thought rapidly, and then determined to take a strong line.

“Chatfield!” he said. “You’re trying to bluff me. It won’t do. Things are known. I know ’em! I’ll be candid with you⁠—the time’s come for that. I’ll tell you what I know⁠—it’ll all have to come out. You know very well that the real Marston Greyle’s dead. You were with him when he died. What’s more, you buried him at Bristol under the name of Mark Grey. Hang it all, man, what’s the use of lying about it?⁠—you know that’s all true!”

He was watching Chatfield’s big face keenly, and he was astonished to see that his dramatic impeachment produced no more effect than a slightly superior smile. Instead of being floored, Chatfield was distinctly unimpressed.

“Aye!” he said, reflectively. “Aye, I expected to hear that. That’s Copplestone’s work, of course⁠—I knew he was some sort of detective as soon as I got speech with him. His work and that there Sir Cresswell Oliver’s as is making a mountain out of a molehill about his brother, who, of course, broke his neck quite accidental, poor man, and of that London lawyer⁠—Petherton. Aye⁠—aye⁠—but all the same, Mr. Vickers, it don’t alter matters⁠—nohow!”

“Good heavens, man, what do you mean?” exclaimed Vickers, who was becoming more and more mystified. “Do you mean to tell me⁠—come, come, Chatfield, I’m not a fool! Why⁠—Copplestone has found it all out⁠—there’s no need to keep it secret, now. You were with Marston Greyle when he died⁠—you registered his death as Marston Greyle⁠—and⁠—”

Chatfield laughed softly and gave his companion a swift glance out of one corner of his right eye.

“And put another name on a bit of a tombstone⁠—six months afterwards, what?” he said quietly. “Mr. Vickers, when you’re as old as I am, you’ll know that this here world is as full o’ puzzles as yon sea’s full o’fish!”

Vickers could only stare at his companion in speechless silence after that. He felt that there was some mystery about which Chatfield evidently knew a great deal while he knew nothing. The old fellow’s coolness, his ready acceptance of the Bristol facts, his almost contemptuous brushing aside of them, reduced Vickers to a feeling of helplessness. And Chatfield saw it, and laughed, and drawing a pocket flask out of his garments, helped himself to a tot of spirits⁠—after which he good-naturedly offered like refreshment to Vickers. But Vickers shook his head.

“No, thanks,” he said. He continued to stare at Chatfield much as he might have, stared at the Sphinx if she had been present⁠—and in the end he could only think of one word. “Well?” he asked lamely. “Well?”

“As to what, now?” inquired Chatfield with a sly smile.

“About what you said,” replied Vickers. “Miss Greyle, you know. I’m about thoroughly tied up with all this. You evidently know a lot. Of course you won’t tell! You’re devilish deep, Chatfield. But, between you and me⁠—what do you mean when you say that you don’t see why you and Miss Greyle shouldn’t come to terms?”

“Didn’t I say that during this last week or two I’d had my suspicions about the Squire?” answered Chatfield. “I did. I have had them suspicions⁠—got ’em stronger than ever since last night. So⁠—what I say is this. If things should turn out that Miss Greyle’s the rightful owner of Scarhaven, and if I help her to establish her claim, and if I help, too, to recover them valuables that are on the Pike⁠—there’s a good sixty to eighty thousand pounds worth of stuff, silver, china, paintings, books, tapestry, on that there craft, Mr. Vickers!⁠—if, I say, I do all that, what will Miss Greyle give me? That’s it⁠—in a plain way of speaking.”

“I thought it was,” said Vickers dryly. “Of course! Very well⁠—you’d better come and talk to Miss Greyle. Come on⁠—now!”

Copplestone and Audrey, having made a breakfast from the box of provisions which Andrius had been good enough to send ashore with them, had climbed to the head of the cliff after Vickers, and they were presently astonished beyond measure to see him returning with Chatfield under outward signs which suggested amity if not friendship. They paused by a convenient nook in the rocks and silently awaited the approach of these two strangely assorted companions. Vickers, coming near, gave them a queer and a knowing look.

Mr. Chatfield,” he said gravely, “has had the night in which to reflect. Mr. Chatfield desires peaceable relations. Mr. Chatfield doesn’t see⁠—now, having reflected⁠—why he and Miss Greyle shouldn’t be on good terms. Mr. Chatfield desires to discuss these terms. Is that right, Chatfield?”

“Quite right, sir,” assented the agent. He had been regarding the couple who faced him benevolently and indulgently, and he now raised his hat to them. “Servant, ma’am,” he said with a bow to Audrey. “Servant, sir,” he continued, with another bow to Copplestone. “Ah⁠—it’s far better to be at peace one with another than to let misunderstandings exist forever. Mr. Copplestone, sir, you and me’s had words in times past⁠—I brush ’em away, sir, like that there⁠—the memory’s departed! I desire naught but better feelings. Happen Mr. Vickers’ll repeat what’s passed between him and me.”

Copplestone stood rooted to the spot with amazement while Vickers hastily epitomized the recent conversation; his mouth opened and his speech failed him. But Audrey laughed and looked at Vickers as if Chatfield were a new sort of entertainment.

“What do you say to this, Mr. Vickers?” she asked.

“Well, if you want to know,” replied Vickers, “I believe Chatfield when he says that he does not know that the Squire is not the Squire. May seem strange, but I do! As a solicitor, I do.”

“Great Scott!” exclaimed Copplestone, finding his tongue. “You⁠—believe that!”

“I’ve said so,” retorted Vickers.

“Thank you, sir,” said Chatfield. “I’m obliged to you. Mr. Copplestone, sir, doesn’t yet understand that there’s a deal of conundrum in life. He’ll know better⁠—some day. He’ll know, too, that the poet spoke truthful when he said that things isn’t what they seem.”

Copplestone turned angrily on Vickers.

“Is this a farce?” he demanded. “Good heavens, man! You know what I told you!”

Mr. Chatfield has a version,” answered Vickers. “Why not hear it?”

“On terms, Mr. Vickers,” remarked Chatfield. “On terms, sir.”

“What terms?” asked Audrey. “To Mr. Chatfield’s personal advantage, of course.”

Chatfield, who was still the most unconcerned of the group, seated himself on the rocks and looked at his audience.

“I’ve said to Mr. Vickers here that if I help Miss Greyle to the estate, I ought to be rewarded⁠—handsome,” he said. “Mind you, I don’t know that I can, for as I say, I do not know, as a matter of strict fact, that this man as we’ve called the Squire, isn’t the Squire. But recent events⁠—very recent events!⁠—has made me suspicious that he isn’t, and happen I can do a good bit⁠—a very good bit⁠—to turning him out. Now, if I help in that there work, will Miss Greyle continue me in my post of estate agent at Scarhaven?”

“Not for any longer than it will take to turn you out of it, Mr. Chatfield,” replied Audrey with an energy and promptitude which surprised her companions. “So we need not discuss that. You will never be my agent!”

“Very good, ma’am⁠—that’s quite according to my expectations,” said Chatfield, meekly. “I was always a misunderstood man. However, this here proposition will perhaps be more welcome. It’s always been understood that I was to have a retiring pension of five hundred pounds per annum. The family has always promised it⁠—I’ve letters to prove it. Will Miss Greyle stand to that if she comes in? I’ve been a faithful servant for nigh on to fifty years, Mr. Vickers, as all the neighbourhood is aware.”

“If I come in, as you call it, you shall have your pension,” said Audrey. Chatfield slowly felt in a capacious inner pocket and produced a large notebook and a fountain pen. He passed them to Vickers.

“We’ll have that there in writing, signed and witnessed,” he said. “Put, if you please, Mr. Vickers, ‘I agree that if I come into the Scarhaven estate, Peter Chatfield shall at once be pensioned off with five hundred pounds a year, to be paid quarterly. Same to be properly assured to him for his life.’ And then if Miss Greyle’ll sign that document, and you gentlemen’ll witness it, I shall consider that henceforth I’m in Miss Greyle’s service. And,” he added, with a significant glance all round, “I shall be a deal more use as a friend nor what I should be as what you might term an enemy⁠—Mr. Vickers knows that.”

Vickers held a short consultation with Audrey, the result of which was that the paper was duly signed, witnessed, and deposited in Chatfield’s pocket. And Chatfield nodded his satisfaction.

“All right,” he said. “Now then, ma’am, and gentlemen, the next thing is to get away out o’ this, and get on the track of them as put us here. We’d better start a big fire out o’ this dry stuff⁠—”

“But what about these revelations you were going to make?” said Vickers. “I understood you were to tell us⁠—”

“Sir,” replied Chatfield, “I’ll tell and I’ll reveal in due course, and in good order. Events, sir, is the thing! Let me get to the nearest telegraph office, and we’ll have some events, right smart. Let me attract attention. I’ve sailed in these seas before. There’s steamers goes out of Kirkwall yonder frequent⁠—we must get hold of one. A telegraph office!⁠—that’s what I want. I’m a-going to set up a blaze⁠—and I’ll set up a blaze elsewhere as soon as I can lay hands on a bundle o’ telegraph forms!”

He leisurely took off his shawl and overcoat, laid them on a shelf of rock, and moved away to collect the dry stuff which lay to hand. The three young people exchanged glances.

“What’s this new mystery?” asked Audrey.

“All bluff!⁠—some deep game of his own,” growled Copplestone. “He’s the most consummate old liar I ever⁠—”

“You’re wrong this time, old chap!” interrupted Vickers. “He’s a bad ’un⁠—but he’s on our side now⁠—I’m convinced. It is a game he’s playing, and a deep one, and I don’t know what it is, but it’s for our benefit⁠—Chatfield’s simply transferred his interest and influence to us⁠—that’s all. For his own purposes, of course. And”⁠—he suddenly paused, gazed seaward, and then jumped to his feet. “Chatfield!” he called quietly. “You needn’t light any fire. Here’s a steamer!”