Produced by David Widger
By W.W. Jacobs
The church bells were ringing for morning service as Mr. Vickers, who had
been for a stroll with Mr. William Russell and a couple of ferrets,
returned home to breakfast. Contrary to custom, the small front room and
the kitchen were both empty, and breakfast, with the exception of a cold
herring and the bitter remains of a pot of tea, had been cleared away.
[Illustration: "Mr. Vickers had been for a stroll with Mr. William
"I've known men afore now," murmured Mr. Vickers, eyeing the herring
disdainfully, "as would take it by the tail and smack'em acrost the face
He cut himself a slice of bread, and, pouring out a cup of cold tea,
began his meal, ever and anon stopping to listen, with a puzzled face, to
a continuous squeaking overhead. It sounded like several pairs of new
boots all squeaking at once, but Mr. Vickers, who was a reasonable man
and past the age of self-deception, sought for a more probable cause.
A particularly aggressive squeak detached itself from the others and
sounded on the stairs. The resemblance to the noise made by new boots
was stronger than ever. It was new boots. The door opened, and Mr.
Vickers, with a slice of bread arrested half-way to his mouth, sat gazing
in astonishment at Charles Vickers, clad for the first time in his life
in new raiment from top to toe. Ere he could voice inquiries, an
avalanche of squeaks descended the stairs, and the rest of the children,
all smartly clad, with Selina bringing up the rear, burst into the room.
"What is it?" demanded Mr. Vickers, in a voice husky with astonishment;
Miss Vickers, who was doing up a glove which possessed more buttons than
his own waistcoat, looked up and eyed him calmly. "New clothes--and not
before they wanted'em," she replied, tartly.
"New clothes?" repeated her father, in a scandalized voice. "Where'd
"Shop," said his daughter, briefly.
Mr. Vickers rose and, approaching his offspring, inspected them with the
same interest that he would have bestowed upon a wax-works. A certain
stiffness of pose combined with the glassy stare which met his gaze
helped to favour the illusion.
"For once in their lives they're respectable," said Selina, regarding
them with moist eyes. "Soap and water they've always had, bless'em, but
you've never seen'em dressed like this before."
Before Mr. Vickers could frame a reply a squeaking which put all the
others in the shade sounded from above. It crossed the floor on hurried
excursions to different parts of the room, and then, hesitating for a
moment at the head of the stairs, came slowly and ponderously down until
Mrs. Vickers, looking somewhat nervous, stood revealed before her
expectant husband. In scornful surprise he gazed at a blue cloth dress,
a black velvet cape trimmed with bugles, and a bonnet so aggressively new
that it had not yet accommodated itself to Mrs. Vickers's style of
"Go on!" he breathed. "Go on! Don't mind me. What, you--you--you're
not going to church?"
Mrs. Vickers glanced at the books in her hand--also new--and trembled.
"And why not?" demanded Selina. "Why shouldn't we?"
Mr. Vickers took another amazed glance round and his brow darkened.
"Where did you get the money?" he inquired.
"Saved it," said his daughter, reddening despite herself.
"Saved it?" repeated the justly-astonished Mr. Vickers. "Saved it? Ah!
out of my money; out of the money I toil and moil for--out of the money
that ought to be spent on food. No wonder you're always complaining that
it ain't enough. I won't 'ave it, d'ye hear? I'll have my rights;
"Don't make so much noise," said his daughter, who was stooping down to
ease one of Mrs. Vickers's boots. "You would have fours, mother, and I
told you what it would be."
"He said that I ought to wear threes by rights," said Mrs. Vickers;
"I used to."
"And I s'pose," said Mr. Vickers, who had been listening to these remarks
with considerable impatience--"I s'pose there's a bran' new suit o'
clothes, and a pair o' boots, and 'arf-a-dozen shirts, and a new hat hid
upstairs for me?"
"Yes, they're hid all right," retorted the dutiful Miss Vickers. "You go
upstairs and amuse yourself looking for'em. Go and have a game of 'hot
boiled beans' all by yourself."
"Why, you must have been stinting me for years," continued Mr. Vickers,
examining the various costumes in detail. "This is what comes o' keeping
quiet and trusting you--not but what I've 'ad my suspicions. My own kids
taking the bread out o' my mouth and buying boots with it; my own wife
going about in a bonnet that's took me weeks and weeks to earn."
[Illustration:"'Why, you must have been stinting me for years,' continued
His words fell on deaf ears. No adjutant getting his regiment ready for
a march-past could have taken more trouble than Miss Vickers was taking
at this moment over her small company. Caps were set straight and
sleeves pulled down. Her face shone with pride and her eyes glistened as
the small fry, discoursing in excited whispers, filed stiffly out.
A sudden cessation of gossip in neighbouring doorways testified to the
impression made by their appearance. Past little startled groups the
procession picked its way in squeaking pride, with Mrs. Vickers and
Selina bringing up the rear. The children went by with little set,
important faces; but Miss Vickers's little bows and pleased smiles of
recognition to acquaintances were so lady-like that several untidy
matrons retired inside their houses to wrestle grimly with feelings too
strong for outside display.
"Pack o' prancing peacocks," said the unnatural Mr. Vickers, as the
procession wound round the corner.
He stood looking vacantly up the street until the gathering excitement of
his neighbours aroused new feelings. Vanity stirred within him, and
leaning casually against the door-post he yawned and looked at the
chimney-pots opposite. A neighbour in a pair of corduroy trousers,
supported by one brace worn diagonally, shambled across the road.
"What's up?" he inquired, with a jerk of the thumb in the direction of
Mr. Vickers's vanished family.
"Up?" repeated Mr. Vickers, with an air of languid surprise.
"Somebody died and left you a fortin?" inquired the other.
"Not as I knows of," replied Mr. Vickers, staring. "Why?"
"Why?" exclaimed the other. "Why, new clothes all over. I never see
such a turn-out."
Mr. Vickers regarded him with an air of lofty disdain. "Kids must 'ave
new clothes sometimes, I s'pose?" he said, slowly. "You wouldn't 'ave'em
going about of a Sunday in a ragged shirt and a pair of trowsis, would
The shaft passed harmlessly. "Why not?" said the other. "They gin'rally
Mr. Vickers's denial died away on his lips. In twos and threes his
neighbours had drawn gradually near and now stood by listening
expectantly. The idea of a fortune was common to all of them, and
they were anxious for particulars.
[Illustration: "They were anxious for particulars."]
"Some people have all the luck," said a stout matron. "I've 'ad thirteen
and buried seven, and never 'ad so much as a chiney tea-pot left me. One
thing is, I never could make up to people for the sake of what I could
get out of them. I couldn't not if I tried. I must speak my mind free
"Ah! that's how you get yourself disliked," said another lady, shaking
her head sympathetically.
"Disliked?" said the stout matron, turning on her fiercely. "What d'ye
mean? You don't know what you're talking about. Who's getting
"A lot o' good a chiney tea-pot would be to you," said the other, with a
ready change of front, "or any other kind o' tea-pot."
Surprise and indignation deprived the stout matron of utterance.
"Or a milk-jug either," pursued her opponent, following up her advantage.
"Or a coffee-pot, or--"
The stout matron advanced upon her, and her mien was so terrible that the
other, retreating to her house, slammed the door behind her and continued
the discussion from a first-floor window. Mint Street, with the
conviction that Mr. Vickers's tidings could wait, swarmed across the road
Mr. Vickers himself listened for a little while to such fragments as came
his way, and then, going indoors, sat down amid the remains of his
breakfast to endeavour to solve the mystery of the new clothes.
He took a short clay pipe from his pocket, and, igniting a little piece
of tobacco which remained in the bowl, endeavoured to form an estimate of
the cost of each person's wardrobe. The sum soon becoming too large to
work in his head, he had recourse to pencil and paper, and after five
minutes' hard labour sat gazing at a total which made his brain reel.
The fact that immediately afterwards he was unable to find even a few
grains of tobacco at the bottom of his box furnished a contrast which
almost made him maudlin.
He sat sucking at his cold pipe and indulging in hopeless conjectures as
to the source of so much wealth, and, with a sudden quickening of the
pulse, wondered whether it had all been spent. His mind wandered from
Selina to Mr. Joseph Tasker, and almost imperceptibly the absurdities of
which young men in love could be capable occurred to him. He remembered
the extravagances of his own youth, and bethinking himself of the sums he
had squandered on the future Mrs. Vickers--sums which increased with the
compound interest of repetition--came to the conclusion that Mr. Tasker
had been more foolish still.
It seemed the only possible explanation. His eye brightened, and,
knocking the ashes out of his pipe, he crossed to the tap and washed his
"If he can't lend a trifle to the man what's going to be his
father-in-law," he said, cheerfully, as he polished his face on a
roller-towel, "I shall tell 'im he can't have Selina, that's all. I'll
go and see 'im afore she gets any more out of him."
He walked blithely up the road, and, after shaking off one or two
inquirers whose curiosity was almost proof against insult, made his way
to Dialstone Lane. In an unobtrusive fashion he glided round to the
back, and, opening the kitchen door, bestowed a beaming smile upon the
"Busy, my lad?" he inquired.
"What d'ye want?" asked Mr. Tasker, whose face was flushed with cooking.
Mr. Vickers opened the door a little wider, and, stepping inside, closed
it softly behind him and dropped into a chair.
"Don't be alarmed, my lad," he said, benevolently. "Selina's all right."
"What d'ye want?" repeated Mr. Tasker. "Who told you to come round
Mr. Vickers looked at him in reproachful surprise.
"I suppose a father can come round to see his future son-in-law?" he
said, with some dignity. "I don't want to do no interrupting of your
work, Joseph, but I couldn't 'elp just stepping round to tell you how
nice they all looked. Where you got the money from I can't think."
"Have you gone dotty, or what?" demanded Mr. Tasker, who was busy wiping
out a saucepan. "Who looked nice?"
Mr. Vickers shook his head at him and smiled waggishly.
"Ah! who?" he said, with much enjoyment. "I tell you it did my
father's 'art good to see 'em all dressed up like that; and when I
thought of its all being owing to you, sit down at home in comfort with a
pipe instead of coming to thank you for it I could not. Not if you was
to have paid me I couldn't."
"Look 'ere," said Mr. Tasker, putting the saucepan down with a bang, "if
you can't talk plain, common English you'd better get out. I don't want
you 'ere at all as a matter o' fact, but to have you sitting there
shaking your silly 'ead and talking a pack o' nonsense is more than I can
Mr. Vickers gazed at him in perplexity. "Do you mean to tell me you
haven't been giving my Selina money to buy new clothes for the
young'uns?" he demanded, sharply. "Do you mean to tell me that Selina
didn't get money out of you to buy herself and 'er mother and all of 'em--
except me--a new rig-out from top to toe?"
"D'ye think I've gone mad, or what?" inquired the amazed Mr. Tasker.
"What d'ye think I should want to buy clothes for your young'uns for?
That's your duty. And Selina, too; I haven't given 'er anything except a
ring, and she lent me the money for that. D'ye think I'm made o' money?"
"All right, Joseph," said Mr. Vickers, secretly incensed at this
unforeseen display of caution on Mr. Tasker's part. "I s'pose the
fairies come and put'em on while they was asleep. But it's dry work
walking; 'ave you got such a thing as a glass o' water you could give
The other took a glass from the dresser and, ignoring the eye of his
prospective father-in-law, which was glued to a comfortable-looking
barrel in the corner, filled it to the brim with fair water and handed it
to him. Mr. Vickers, giving him a surly nod, took a couple of dainty
sips and placed it on the table.
"It's very nice water," he said, sarcastically.
"Is it?" said Mr. Tasker. "We don't drink it ourselves, except in tea or
coffee; the cap'n says it ain't safe."
Mr. Vickers brought his eye from the barrel and glared at him.
"I s'pose, Joseph," he said, after a long pause, during which Mr. Tasker
was busy making up the fire--"I s'pose Selina didn't tell you you wasn't
to tell me about the money?"
"I don't know what you're driving at," said the other, confronting him
angrily. "I haven't got no money."
Mr. Vickers coughed. "Don't say that, Joseph," he urged, softly; "don't
say that, my lad. As a matter o' fact, I come round to you, interrupting
of you in your work, and I'm sorry for it--knowing how fond of it you
are--to see whether I couldn't borrow a trifle for a day or two."
"Ho, did you?" commented Mr. Tasker, who had opened the oven door and was
using his hand as a thermometer.
His visitor hesitated. It was no use asking for too much; on the other
hand, to ask for less than he could get would be unpardonable folly.
"If I could lay my hand on a couple o' quid," he said, in a mysterious
whisper, "I could make it five in a week."
"Well, why don't you?" inquired Mr. Tasker, who was tenderly sucking the
bulb of the thermometer after contact with the side of the oven.
"It's the two quid that's the trouble, Joseph," replied Mr. Vickers,
keeping his temper with difficulty. "A little thing like that wouldn't
be much trouble to you, I know, but to a pore man with a large family
like me it's a'most impossible."
Mr. Tasker went outside to the larder, and returning with a small joint
knelt down and thrust it carefully into the oven.
"A'most impossible," repeated Mr. Vickers, with a sigh.
"What is?" inquired the other, who had not been listening.
The half-choking Mr. Vickers explained.
"Yes, o' course it is," assented Mr. Tasker.
"People what's got money," said the offended Mr. Vickers, regarding him
fiercely, "stick to it like leeches. Now, suppose I was a young man
keeping company with a gal and her father wanted to borrow a couple o'
quid--a paltry couple o' thick'uns--what d'ye think I should do?"
"If you was a young man--keeping company with a gal--and 'er father
wanted--to borrow a couple of quid off o' you--what would you do?"
repeated Mr. Tasker, mechanically, as he bustled to and fro.
Mr. Vickers nodded and smiled. "What should I do?" he inquired again,
"I don't know, I'm sure," said the other, opening the oven door and
peering in. "How should I?"
At the imminent risk of something inside giving way under the strain, Mr.
Vickers restrained himself. He breathed hard, and glancing out of window
sought to regain his equilibrium by becoming interested in a blackbird
"What I mean to say is," he said at length, in a trembling voice--"what I
mean to say is, without no round-aboutedness, will you lend a 'ard-working
man, what's going to be your future father-in-law, a couple o' pounds?"
Mr. Tasker laughed. It was not a loud laugh, nor yet a musical one.
It was merely a laugh designed to convey to the incensed Mr. Vickers a
strong sense of the absurdity of his request.
"I asked you a question," said the latter gentleman, glaring at him.
"I haven't got a couple o' pounds," replied Mr. Tasker; "and if I 'ad,
there's nine hundred and ninety-nine things I would sooner do with it
than lend it to you."
Mr. Vickers rose and stood regarding the ignoble creature with profound
contempt. His features worked and a host of adjectives crowded to his
[Illustration: "Mr. Vickers rose and stood regarding the ignoble creature
with profound contempt."]
"Is that your last word, Joseph?" he inquired, with solemn dignity.
"I'll say it all over again if you like," said the obliging Mr. Tasker.
"If you want money, go and earn it, same as I have to; don't come round
'ere cadging on me, because it's no good."
Mr. Vickers laughed; a dry, contemptuous laugh, terrible to hear.
"And that's the man that's going to marry my daughter," he said, slowly;
"that's the man that's going to marry into my family. Don't you expect
me to take you up and point you out as my son-in-law, cos I won't do it.
If there's anything I can't abide it's stinginess. And there's my gal
--my pore gal don't know your real character. Wait till I've told 'er
about this morning and opened 'er eyes! Wait till--"
He stopped abruptly as the door leading to the front room opened and
revealed the inquiring face of Captain Bowers.
"What's all this noise about, Joseph?" demanded the captain, harshly.
Mr. Tasker attempted to explain, but his explanation involving a
character for Mr. Vickers which that gentleman declined to accept on any
terms, he broke in and began to give his own version of the affair. Much
to Joseph's surprise the captain listened patiently.
"Did you buy all those things, Joseph?" he inquired, carelessly, as Mr.
Vickers paused for breath.
"Cert'nly not, sir," replied Mr. Tasker. "Where should I get the money
The captain eyed him without replying, and a sudden suspicion occurred to
him. The strange disappearance of the map, followed by the sudden
cessation of Mr. Chalk's visits, began to link themselves to this tale of
unexpected wealth. He bestowed another searching glance upon the
agitated Mr. Tasker.
"You haven't sold anything lately, have you?" he inquired, with
"I haven't 'ad nothing to sell, sir," replied the other, in astonishment.
"And I dare say Mr. Vickers here saw a new pair o' boots on one o' the
young'uns and dreamt all the rest."
Mr. Vickers intervened with passion.
"That'll do," said the captain, sharply. "How dare you make that noise
in my house? I think that the tale about the clothes is all right," he
added, turning to Joseph. "I saw them go into church looking very smart.
And you know nothing about it?"
Mr. Tasker's astonishment was too genuine to be mistaken, and the
captain, watching him closely, transferred his suspicions to a more
deserving object. Mr. Vickers caught his eye and essayed a smile.
"Dry work talking, sir," he said, gently.
Captain Bowers eyed him steadily. "Have we got any beer, Joseph?" he
"Plenty in the cask, sir," said Mr. Tasker, reluctantly.
"Well, keep your eye on it," said the captain. "Good morning, Mr.
But disappointment and indignation got the better of Mr. Vickers's
"Penny for your thoughts, uncle," said Miss Drewitt, as they sat at
dinner an hour or two after the departure of Mr. Vickers.
"_H'm?_" said the captain, with a guilty start. "You've been scowling
and smiling by turns for the last five minutes," said his niece.
"I was thinking about that man that was here this morning," said the
captain, slowly; "trying to figure it out. If I thought that that girl
He took a draught of ale and shook his head solemnly.
"You know my ideas about that," said Prudence.
"Your poor mother was obstinate," commented the captain, regarding her
tolerantly. "Once she got an idea into her head it stuck there, and
nothing made her more angry than proving to her that she was wrong.
Trying to prove to her, I should have said."
Miss Drewitt smiled amiably. "Well, you've earned half the sum," she
said. "Now, what were you smiling about?"
"Didn't know I was smiling," declared the captain.
With marvellous tact he turned the conversation to lighthouses, a subject
upon which he discoursed with considerable fluency until the meal was
finished. Miss Drewitt, who had a long memory and at least her fair
share of curiosity, returned to the charge as he smoked half a pipe
preparatory to accompanying her for a walk.
"You're looking very cheerful," she remarked.
The captain's face fell several points. "Am I?" he said, ruefully. "I
didn't mean to."
"Why not?" inquired his niece.
"I mean I didn't know I was," he replied, "more than usual, I mean. I
always do look fairly cheerful--at least, I hope I do. There's nothing
to make me look the opposite."
Miss Drewitt eyed him carefully and then passed upstairs to put on her
hat. Relieved of her presence the captain walked to the small glass over
the mantelpiece and, regarding his tell-tale features with gloomy
dissatisfaction, acquired, after one or two attempts, an expression which
he flattered himself defied analysis.
He tapped the barometer which hung by the door as they went out, and,
checking a remark which rose to his lips, stole a satisfied glance at the
face by his side.
"Clark's farm by the footpaths would be a nice walk," said Miss Drewitt,
as they reached the end of the lane.
The captain started. "I was thinking of Dutton Priors," he said, slowly.
"We could go there by Hanger's Lane and home by the road."
"The footpaths would be nice to-day," urged his niece.
"You try my way," said the captain, jovially.
"Have you got any particular reason for wanting to go to Dutton Priors
this afternoon?" inquired the girl.
"Reason?" said the captain. "Good gracious, no. What reason should I
have? My leg is a trifle stiff to-day for stiles, but still--"
Miss Drewitt gave way at once, and, taking his arm, begged him to lean on
her, questioning him anxiously as to his fitness for a walk in any
"Walking'll do it good," was the reply, as they proceeded slowly down the
He took his watch from his pocket, and, after comparing it with the town
clock, peered furtively right and left, gradually slackening his pace
until Miss Drewitt's fears for his leg became almost contagious. At the
old stone bridge, spanning the river at the bottom of the High Street, he
paused, and, resting his arms on the parapet, became intent on a derelict
punt. On the subject of sitting in a craft of that description in
mid-stream catching fish he discoursed at such length that the girl eyed
him in amazement.
[Illustration: "He became intent on a derelict punt."]
"Shall we go on?" she said, at length.
The captain turned and, merely pausing to point out the difference
between the lines of a punt and a dinghy, with a digression to sampans
which included a criticism of the Chinese as boat-builders, prepared to
depart. He cast a swift glance up the road as he did so, and Miss
Drewitt's cheek flamed with sudden wrath as she saw Mr. Edward Tredgold
hastening towards them. In a somewhat pointed manner she called her
uncle's attention to the fact.
"Lor' bless my soul," said that startled mariner, "so it is. Well!
If Mr. Tredgold had been advancing on his head he could not have
exhibited more surprise.
"I'm afraid I'm late," said Tredgold, as he came up and shook hands. "I
hope you haven't been waiting long."
The hapless captain coughed loud and long. He emerged from a large red
pocket-handkerchief to find the eye of Miss Drewitt seeking his.
"That's all right, my lad," he said, huskily. "I'd forgotten about our
arrangement. Did I say this Sunday or next?"
"This," said Mr. Tredgold, bluntly.
The captain coughed again, and with some pathos referred to the tricks
which old age plays with memory. As they walked on he regaled them with
"Don't forget your leg, uncle," said Miss Drewitt, softly.
Captain Bowers gazed at her suspiciously.
"Don't forget that it's stiff and put too much strain on it," explained
The captain eyed her uneasily, but she was talking and laughing with
Edward Tredgold in a most reassuring fashion. A choice portion of his
programme, which, owing to the events of the afternoon, he had almost
resolved to omit, clamoured for production. He stole another glance at
his niece and resolved to risk it.
"Hah!" he said, suddenly, stopping short and feeling in his pockets.
"There's my memory again. Well, of all the--"
"What's the matter, uncle?" inquired Miss Drewitt.
"I've left my pipe at home," said the captain, in a desperate voice.
"I've got some cigars," suggested Tredgold.
The captain shook his head. "No, I must have my pipe," he said,
decidedly. "If you two will walk on slowly, I'll soon catch you up."
"You're not going all the way back for it?" exclaimed Miss Drewitt.
"Let me go," said Tredgold.
The captain favoured him with an inscrutable glance. "I'll go," he said,
firmly. "I'm not quite sure where I left it. You go by Hanger's Lane;
I'll soon catch you up."
He set off at a pace which rendered protest unavailing. Mr. Tredgold
turned, and, making a mental note of the fact that Miss Drewitt had
suddenly added inches to her stature, walked on by her side.
"Captain Bowers is very fond of his pipe," he said, after they had walked
a little way in silence.
Miss Drewitt assented. "Nasty things," she said, calmly.
"So they are," said Mr. Tredgold.
"But you smoke," said the girl.
Mr. Tredgold sighed. "I have often thought of giving it up," he said,
softly, "and then I was afraid that it would look rather presumptuous."
"Presumptuous?" repeated Miss Drewitt.
"So many better and wiser men than myself smoke," exclaimed Mr.
Tredgold, "including even bishops. If it is good enough for them, it
ought to be good enough for me; that's the way I look at it. Who am I
that I should be too proud to smoke? Who am I that I should try and set
my poor ideas above those of my superiors? Do you see my point of view?"
Miss Drewitt made no reply.
"Of course, it is a thing that grows on one," continued Mr. Tredgold,
with the air of making a concession. "It is the first smoke that does
the mischief; it is a fatal precedent. Unless, perhaps--How pretty that
field is over there."
Miss Drewitt looked in the direction indicated. "Very nice," she said,
briefly. "But what were you going to say?"
Mr. Tredgold made an elaborate attempt to appear confused. "I was going
to say," he murmured, gently, "unless, perhaps, one begins on coarse-cut
Cavendish rolled in a piece of the margin of the Sunday newspaper."
Miss Drewitt suppressed an exclamation. "I wanted to see where the
fascination was," she indignantly.
"And did you?" inquired Mr. Tredgold, smoothly.
The girl turned her head and looked at him. "I have no doubt my uncle
gave you full particulars," she said, bitterly. "It seems to me that men
can gossip as much as women."
"I tried to stop him," said the virtuous Mr. Tredgold.
"You need not have troubled," said Miss Drewitt, loftily. "It is not a
matter of any consequence. I am surprised that my uncle should have
thought it worth mentioning."
She walked on slowly with head erect, pausing occasionally to look round
for the captain. Edward Tredgold looked too, and a feeling of annoyance
at the childish stratagems of his well-meaning friend began to possess
"We had better hurry a little, I think," he said, glancing at the sky.
"The sooner we get to Dutton Priors the better."
"Why?" inquired his companion.
"Rain," said the other, briefly.
"It won't rain before evening," said Miss Drewitt, confidently; "uncle
"Perhaps we had better walk faster, though," urged Mr. Tredgold.
Miss Drewitt slackened her pace deliberately. "There is no fear of its
raining," she declared. "And uncle will not catch us up if we walk
A sudden glimpse into the immediate future was vouchsafed to Mr.
Tredgold; for a fraction of a second the veil was lifted. "Don't blame
me if you get wet through," he said, with some anxiety.
They walked on at a pace which gave the captain every opportunity of
overtaking them. The feat would not have been beyond the powers of an
athletic tortoise, but the most careful scrutiny failed to reveal any
signs of him.
"I'm afraid that he is not well," said Miss Drewitt, after a long,
searching glance along the way they had come. "Perhaps we had better go
back. It does begin to look rather dark."
"Just as you please," said Edward Tredgold, with unwonted caution;
"but the nearest shelter is Dutton Priors."
He pointed to a lurid, ragged cloud right ahead of them. As if in
response, a low, growling rumble sounded overhead.
"Was--was that thunder?" said Miss Drewitt, drawing a little nearer to
"Sounded something like it," was the reply.
A flash of lightning and a crashing peal that rent the skies put the
matter beyond a doubt. Miss Drewitt, turning very pale, began to walk at
a rapid pace in the direction of the village.
The other looked round in search of some nearer shelter. Already the
pattering of heavy drops sounded in the lane, and before they had gone a
dozen paces the rain came down in torrents. Two or three fields away a
small shed offered the only shelter. Mr. Tredgold, taking his companion
by the arm, started to run towards it.
Before they had gone a hundred yards they were wet through, but Miss
Drewitt, holding her skirts in one hand and shivering at every flash, ran
until they brought up at a tall gate, ornamented with barbed wire, behind
which stood the shed.
The gate was locked, and the wire had been put on by a farmer who
combined with great ingenuity a fervent hatred of his fellow-men. To
Miss Drewitt it seemed insurmountable, but, aided by Mr. Tredgold and a
peal of thunder which came to his assistance at a critical moment, she
managed to clamber over and reach the shed. Mr. Tredgold followed at his
leisure with a strip of braid torn from the bottom of her dress.
[Illustration: "Aided by Mr. Tredgold and a peal of thunder, she managed
to clamber over."]
The roof leaked in twenty places and the floor was a puddle, but it had
certain redeeming features in Mr. Tredgold's eyes of which the girl knew
nothing. He stood at the doorway watching the rain.
"Come inside," said Miss Drewitt, in a trembling voice. "You might be
Mr. Tredgold experienced a sudden sense of solemn pleasure in this
unexpected concern for his safety. He turned and eyed her.
"I'm not afraid," he said, with great gentleness.
"No, but I am," said Miss Drewitt, petulantly, "and I can never get over
that gate alone."
Mr. Tredgold came inside, and for some time neither of them spoke. The
rattle of rain on the roof became less deafening and began to drip
through instead of forming little jets. A patch of blue sky showed.
"It isn't much," said Tredgold, going to the door again.
Miss Drewitt, checking a sharp retort, returned to the door and looked
out. The patch of blue increased in size; the rain ceased and the sun
came out; birds exchanged congratulations from every tree. The girl,
gathering up her wet skirts, walked to the gate, leaving her companion to
Approached calmly and under a fair sky the climb was much easier.
"I believe that I could have got over by myself after all," said Miss
Drewitt, as she stood on the other side. "I suppose that you were in too
much of a hurry the last time. My dress is ruined."
She spoke calmly, but her face was clouded. From her manner during the
rapid walk home Mr. Tredgold was enabled to see clearly that she was
holding him responsible for the captain's awkward behaviour; the rain;
her spoiled clothes; and a severe cold in the immediate future. He
glanced at her ruined hat and the wet, straight locks of hair hanging
about her face, and held his peace.
Never before on a Sunday afternoon had Miss Drewitt known the streets of
Binchester to be so full of people. She hurried on with bent head,
looking straight before her, trying to imagine what she looked like.
There was no sign of the captain, but as they turned into Dialstone Lane
they both saw a huge, shaggy, grey head protruding from the small window
of his bedroom. It disappeared with a suddenness almost startling.
"Thank you," said Miss Drewitt, holding out her hand as she reached the
Mr. Tredgold said "Good-bye," and with a furtive glance at the window
above departed. Miss Drewitt, opening the door, looked round an empty
room. Then the kitchen door opened and the face of Mr. Tasker, full of
"Did you get wet, miss?" he inquired.
Miss Drewitt ignored the question. "Where is Captain Bowers?" she asked,
in a clear, penetrating voice.
The face of Mr. Tasker fell. "He's gone to bed with a headache, miss,"
"Headache?" repeated the astonished Miss Drewitt. "When did he go?"
"About 'arf an hour ago," said Mr. Tasker; "just after the storm. I
suppose that's what caused it, though it seems funny, considering what a
lot he must ha' seen at sea. He said he'd go straight to bed and try and
sleep it off. And I was to ask you to please not to make a noise."
Miss Drewitt swept past him and mounted the stairs. At the captain's
door she paused, but the loud snoring of a determined man made her
resolve to postpone her demands for an explanation to a more fitting
opportunity. Tired, wet, and angry she gained her own room, and threw
herself thoughtlessly into that famous old Chippendale chair which, in
accordance with Mr. Tredgold's instructions, had been placed against the
The captain started in his sleep.
[Illustration: "She threw herself thoughtlessly into that famous old
Mr. Chalk's anxiety during the negotiations for the purchase of the _Fair
Emily_ kept him oscillating between Tredgold and Stobell until those
gentlemen fled at his approach and instructed their retainers to make
untruthful statements as to their whereabouts. Daily letters from
Captain Brisket stated that he was still haggling with Mr. Todd over the
price, and Mr. Chalk quailed as he tried to picture the scene with that
[Illustration: "Instructed their retainers to make untruthful statements
as to their whereabouts."]
Three times at the earnest instigation of his friends, who pointed out
the necessity of keeping up appearances, had he set out to pay a visit
to Dialstone Lane, and three times had he turned back half-way as he
realized the difficult nature of his task. As well ask a poacher to call
on a gamekeeper the morning after a raid.
Captain Bowers, anxious to see him and sound him with a few carefully-
prepared questions, noted his continued absence with regret. Despairing
at last of a visit from Mr. Chalk, he resolved to pay one himself.
Mr. Chalk, who was listening to his wife, rose hastily at his entrance,
and in great confusion invited him to a chair which was already occupied
by Mrs. Chalk's work-basket. The captain took another and, after
listening to an incoherent statement about the weather, shook his head
reproachfully at Mr. Chalk.
"I thought something must have happened to you," he said. "Why, it must
be weeks since I've seen you."
"Weeks?" said Mrs. Chalk, suddenly alert.
"Why, he went out the day before yesterday to call on you."
"Yes," said Mr. Chalk, with an effort, "so I did, but half-way to yours I
got a nail in my shoe and had to come home."
"Home!" exclaimed his wife. "Why, you were gone two hours and
"It was very painful," said Mr. Chalk, as the captain stared in open-eyed
astonishment at this exact time-keeping. "One time I thought that I
should hardly have got back."
"But you didn't say anything about it," persisted his wife.
"I didn't want to alarm you, my dear," said Mr. Chalk.
Mrs. Chalk looked at him, but, except for a long, shivering sigh which
the visitor took for sympathy, made no comment.
"I often think that I must have missed a great deal by keeping single,"
said the latter. "It must be very pleasant when you're away to know that
there is somebody at home counting the minutes until your return."
Mr. Chalk permitted himself one brief wondering glance in the speaker's
direction, and then gazed out of window.
"There's no companion like a wife," continued the captain. "Nobody else
can quite share your joys and sorrows as she can. I've often thought how
pleasant it must be to come home from a journey and tell your wife all
about it: where you've been, what you've done, and what you're going to
Mr. Chalk stole another look at him; Mrs. Chalk, somewhat suspicious,
followed his example.
"It's a pity you never married, Captain Bowers," she said, at length;
"most men seem to do all they can to keep things from their wives. But
one of these days----"
She finished the sentence by an expressive glance at her husband.
Captain Bowers, suddenly enlightened, hastened to change the subject.
"I haven't seen Tredgold or Stobell either," he said, gazing fixedly at
"They--they were talking about you only the other day," said that
gentleman, nervously. "Is Miss Drewitt well?"
"Quite well," said the captain, briefly. "I was beginning to think you
had all left Binchester," he continued; "gone for a sea voyage or
Mr. Chalk laughed uneasily. "I thought that Joseph wasn't looking very
well the last time I saw you," he said, with an imploring glance at the
captain to remind him of the presence of Mrs. Chalk.
"Joseph's all right," replied the other, "so is the parrot."
Mr. Chalk started and said that he was glad to hear it, and sat trying to
think of a safe subject for conversation.
"Joseph's a nice parrot," he said at last. "The parrot's a nice lad, I
"Thomas!" said Mrs. Chalk.
"Joseph-is-a-nice-lad," said Mr. Chalk, recovering himself. "I have
The sentence was never completed, being interrupted by a thundering
rat-tat-tat at the front door, followed by a pealing at the bell, which
indicated that the visitor was manfully following the printed injunction
to "Ring also." The door was opened and a man's voice was heard in the
hall-a loud, confident voice, at the sound of which Mr. Chalk, with one
horrified glance in the direction of Captain Bowers, sank back in his
chair and held his breath.
"Captain Brisket," said the maid, opening the door.
The captain came in with a light, bustling step, and, having shaken Mr.
Chalk's hand with great fervour and acknowledged the presence of Captain
Bowers and Mrs. Chalk by two spasmodic jerks of the head, sat
bolt-upright on the edge of a chair and beamed brightly upon the
"I've got news," he said, hoarsely.
"News?" said the unfortunate Mr. Chalk, faintly.
"Ah!" said Brisket, nodding. "News! I've got her at last."
Mrs. Chalk started.
"I've got her," continued Captain Brisket, with an air of great
enjoyment; "and a fine job I had of it, I can tell you. Old Todd said he
couldn't bear parting with her. Once or twice I thought he meant it."
Mr. Chalk made a desperate effort to catch his eye, but in vain. It was
fixed in reminiscent joy on the ceiling.
"We haggled about her for days," continued Brisket; "but at last I won.
The _Fair Emily_ is yours, sir."
"The fair who?" cried Mrs. Chalk, in a terrible voice. "Emily who?
Captain Brisket turned and regarded her in amazement.
"Emily who?" repeated Mrs. Chalk.
"Why, it's--" began Brisket.
"H'sh!" said Mr. Chalk, desperately. "It's a secret."
"It's a secret," said Captain Brisket, nodding calmly at Mrs. Chalk.
Wrath and astonishment held her for the moment breathless. Mr. Chalk,
caught between his wife and Captain Bowers, fortified himself with
memories of the early martyrs and gave another warning glance at Brisket.
For nearly two minutes that undaunted mariner met the gaze of Mrs. Chalk
"A--a secret?" gasped the indignant woman at last, as she turned to her
husband. "You sit there and dare to tell me that?"
"It isn't my secret," said Mr. Chalk, "else I should tell you at once."
"It isn't his secret," said the complaisant Brisket.
Mrs. Chalk controlled herself by a great effort and, turning to Captain
Brisket, addressed him almost calmly. "Was it Emily that came whistling
over the garden-wall the other night?" she inquired.
"Whis---?" said the hapless Brisket, making a noble effort. He finished
the word with a cough and gazed with protruding eyes at Mr. Chalk. The
appearance of that gentleman sobered him at once.
"No," he said, slowly.
"How do you know?" inquired Mrs. Chalk.
"Because she can't whistle," replied Captain Brisket, feeling his way
carefully. "And what's more, she wouldn't if she could. She's been too
well brought up for that."
He gave a cunning smile at Mr. Chalk, to which that gentleman, having
decided at all hazards to keep the secret from Captain Bowers, made a
ghastly response, and nodded to him to proceed.
"What's she got to do with my husband?" demanded Mrs. Chalk, her voice
rising despite herself.
"I'm coming to that," said Brisket, thoughtfully, as he gazed at the
floor in all the agonies of composition; "Mr. Chalk is trying to get her
a new place."
"New place?" said Mrs. Chalk, in a choking voice.
Captain Brisket nodded. "She ain't happy where she is," he explained,
"and Mr. Chalk--out o' pure good-nature and kindness of heart--is trying
to get her another, and I honour him for it."
He looked round triumphantly. Mr. Chalk, sitting open-mouthed,
was regarding him with the fascinated gaze of a rabbit before a
boa-constrictor. Captain Bowers was listening with an appearance of
interest which in more favourable circumstances would have been very
"You said," cried Mrs. Chalk--"you said to my husband: 'The fair Emily is
[Illustration: "You said to my husband:'The fair Emily is yours.'"]
"So I did," said Brisket, anxiously--"so I did. And what I say I stick
to. When I said that the--that Emily was his, I meant it. I don't say
things I don't mean. That isn't Bill Brisket's way."
"And you said just now that he was getting her a place," Mrs. Chalk
reminded him, grimly.
"Mr. Chalk understands what I mean," said Captain Brisket, with dignity.
"When I said 'She is yours,' I meant that she is coming here."
"O-oh!" said Mrs. Chalk, breathlessly. "Oh, indeed! Oh, is she?"
"That is, if her mother'll let her come," pursued the enterprising
Brisket, with a look of great artfulness at Mr. Chalk, to call his
attention to the bridge he was building for him; "but the old woman's
been laid up lately and talks about not being able to spare her."
Mrs. Chalk sat back helplessly in her chair and gazed from her husband to
Captain Brisket, and from Captain Brisket back to her husband. Captain
Brisket, red-faced and confident, sat upright on the edge of his chair as
though inviting inspection; Mr. Chalk plucked nervously at his fingers.
Captain Bowers suddenly broke silence.
"What's her tonnage?" he inquired abruptly, turning to Brisket.
"Two hundred and for----"
Captain Brisket stopped dead and, rubbing his nose hard with his
forefinger, gazed thoughtfully at Captain Bowers.
"The _Fair Emily_ is a ship," said the latter to Mrs. Chalk.
"A ship!" cried the bewildered woman. "A ship living with her invalid
mother and coming to my husband to get her a place! Are you trying to
screen him, too?"
"It's a ship," repeated Captain Bowers, sternly, as he sought in vain to
meet the eye of Mr. Chalk; "a craft of two hundred and something tons.
For some reason--best known to himself--Mr. Chalk wants the matter kept
"It--it isn't my secret," faltered Mr. Chalk.
"Where's she lying?" said Captain Bowers.
Mr. Chalk hesitated. "Biddlecombe," he said, at last.
Captain Brisket laughed noisily and, smacking his leg with his open hand,
smiled broadly upon the company. No response being forthcoming, he
laughed again for his own edification, and sat good-humouredly waiting
"Is this true, Thomas?" demanded Mrs. Chalk.
"Yes, my dear," was the reply.
"Then why didn't you tell me, instead of sitting there listening to a
string of falsehoods?"
"I--I wanted to give you a surprise--a pleasant little surprise," said
Mr. Chalk, with a timid glance at Captain Bowers. "I have bought a share
in a schooner, to go for a little cruise. Just a jaunt for pleasure."
"Tredgold, Stobell, and Chalk," said Captain Bowers, very distinctly.
"I wanted to keep it secret until it had been repainted and done up,"
continued Mr. Chalk, watching his wife's face anxiously, "and then
Captain Brisket came in and spoilt it."
"That's me, ma'am," said the gentleman mentioned, shaking his head
despairingly. "That's Bill Brisket all over. I come blundering in, and
the first thing I do is to blurt out secrets; then, when I try to smooth
Mrs. Chalk paid no heed. Alluding to the schooner as "our yacht," she at
once began to discuss the subject of the voyage, the dresses she would
require, and the rival merits of shutting the house up or putting the
servants on board wages. Under her skilful hands, aided by a few
suggestions of Captain Brisket's, the _Fair Emily_ was in the short space
of twenty minutes transformed into one of the most luxurious yachts that
ever sailed the seas. Mr. Chalk's heart failed him as he listened. His
thoughts were with his partners in the enterprise, and he trembled as he
thought of their comments.
"It will do Mrs. Stobell a lot of good," said his wife, suddenly.
Mr. Chalk, about to speak, checked himself and blew his nose instead.
The romance of the affair was beginning to evaporate. He sat in a state
of great dejection, until Captain Bowers, having learned far more than he
had anticipated, shook hands with impressive gravity and took his
The captain walked home deep in thought, with a prolonged stare at the
windows of Tredgold's office as he passed. The present whereabouts of
the map was now quite clear, and at the top of Dialstone Lane he stopped
and put his hand to his brow in consternation, as he thought of the
elaborate expedition that was being fitted out for the recovery of the
[Illustration: "The captain walked home deep in thought."]
Prudence, who was sitting in the window reading, looked up at his
entrance and smiled.
"Edward Tredgold has been in to see you," she remarked.
The captain nodded. "Couldn't he stop?" he inquired.
"I don't know," said his niece; "I didn't see him. I was upstairs when
Captain Bowers looked perturbed. "Didn't you come down?" he inquired.
"I sent down word that I had a headache," said Miss Drewitt, carelessly.
Despite his sixty odd years the captain turned a little bit pink.
"I hope you are better now," he said, at last.
"Oh, yes," said his niece; "it wasn't very bad. It's strange that I
should have a headache so soon after you; looks as though they're in the
family, doesn't it?"
Somewhat to the captain's relief she took up her book again without
waiting for a reply, and sat reading until Mr. Tasker brought in the tea.
The captain, who was in a very thoughtful mood, drank cup after cup in
silence, and it was not until the meal was cleared away and he had had a
few soothing whiffs at his pipe that he narrated the events of the
"There!" said Prudence, her eyes sparkling with indignation. "What did I
say? Didn't I tell you that those three people would be taking a holiday
soon? The idea of Mr. Tredgold venturing to come round here this
"He knows nothing about it," protested the captain.
Miss Drewitt shook her head obstinately. "We shall see," she remarked.
"The idea of those men going after your treasure after you had said it
wasn't to be touched! Why, it's perfectly dishonest!"
The captain blew a cloud of smoke from his mouth and watched it disperse.
"Perhaps they won't find it," he murmured.
"They'll find it," said his niece, confidently. "Why shouldn't they?
This Captain Brisket will find the island, and the rest will be easy."
"They might not find the island," said the captain, blowing a cloud so
dense that his face was almost hidden. "Some of these little islands
have been known to disappear quite suddenly. Volcanic action, you know.
What are you smiling at?" he added, sharply.
"Thoughts," said Miss Drewitt, clasping her hands round her knee and
smiling again. "I was thinking how odd it would be if the island sank
just as they landed upon it."
Mr. Chalk, when half-awake next morning, tried to remember Mr. Stobell's
remarks of the night before; fully awake, he tried to forget them. He
remembered, too, with a pang that Tredgold had been content to enact the
part of a listener, and had made no attempt to check the somewhat unusual
fluency of the aggrieved Mr. Stobell. The latter's last instructions
were that Mrs. Chalk was to be told, without loss of time, that her
presence on the schooner was not to be thought of.
With all this on his mind Mr. Chalk made but a poor breakfast, and his
appetite was not improved by his wife's enthusiastic remarks concerning
the voyage. Breakfast over, she dispatched a note to Mrs. Stobell by the
housemaid, with instructions to wait for a reply. Altogether six notes
passed during the morning, and Mr. Chalk, who hazarded a fair notion as
to their contents, became correspondingly gloomy.
"We're to go up there at five," said his wife, after reading the last
note. "Mr. Stobell will be at tea at that time, and we're to drop in as
though by accident."
"What for?" inquired Mr. Chalk, affecting surprise. "Go up where?"
"To talk to Mr. Stobell," said his wife, grimly. "Fancy, poor Mrs.
Stobell says that she is sure he won't let her come. I wish he was my
husband, that's all."
Mr. Chalk muttered something about "doing a little gardening."
"You can do that another time," said Mrs. Chalk, coldly. "I've noticed
you've been very fond of gardening lately."
The allusion was too indirect to contest, but Mr. Chalk reddened despite
himself, and his wife, after regarding his confusion with a questioning
eye, left him to his own devices and his conscience.
Mr. Stobell and his wife had just sat down to tea when they arrived, and
Mrs. Stobell, rising from behind a huge tea-pot, gave a little cry of
surprise as her friend entered the room, and kissed her affectionately.
[Illustration: "Mrs. Stobell."]
"Well, who would have thought of seeing you?" she cried. "Sit down."
Mrs. Chalk sat down at the large table opposite Mr. Stobell; Mr. Chalk,
without glancing in his wife's direction, seated himself by that
"Well, weren't you surprised?" inquired Mrs. Chalk, loudly, as her
hostess passed her a cup of tea.
"Surprised?" said Mrs. Stobell, curiously.
"Why, hasn't Mr. Stobell told you?" exclaimed Mrs. Chalk.
"Told me?" repeated Mrs. Stobell, glancing indignantly at the wide-open
eyes of Mr. Chalk. "Told me what?"
It was now Mrs. Chalk's turn to appear surprised, and she did it so well
that Mr. Chalk choked in his tea-cup. "About the yachting trip," she
said, with a glance at her husband that made his choking take on a
ventriloquial effect of distance.
"He--he didn't say anything to me about it," said Mrs. Stobell, timidly.
She glanced at her husband, but Mr. Stobell, taking an enormous bite out
of a slice of bread and butter, made no sign.
"It'll do you a world of good," said Mrs. Chalk, affectionately. "It'll
put a little colour in your cheeks."
Mrs. Stobell flushed. She was a faded little woman; faded eyes, faded
hair, faded cheeks. It was even whispered that her love for Mr. Stobell
was beginning to fade.
"And I don't suppose you'll mind the seasickness after you get used to
it," said the considerate Mr. Chalk, "and the storms, and the cyclones,
and fogs, and collisions, and all that sort of thing."
"If you can stand it, she can," said his wife, angrily.
"But I don't understand," said Mrs. Stobell, appealingly. "What yachting
Mrs. Chalk began to explain; Mr. Stobell helped himself to another slice,
and, except for a single glance under his heavy brows at Mr. Chalk,
appeared to be oblivious of his surroundings.
"It sounds very nice," said Mrs. Stobell, after her friend had finished
her explanation. "Perhaps it might do me good. I have tried a great
"Mr. Stobell ought to have taken you for a voyage long before," said Mrs.
Chalk, with conviction. "Still, better late than never."
"The only thing is," said Mr. Chalk, speaking with an air of great
benevolence, "that if the sea didn't suit Mrs. Stobell, she would be
unable to get away from it. And, of course, it might upset her very
Mr. Stobell wiped some crumbs from his moustache and looked up.
"No, it won't," he said, briefly.
"Is she a good sailor?" queried Mr. Chalk, somewhat astonished at such a
remark from that quarter.
"Don't know," said Mr. Stobell, passing his cup up. "But this trip won't
upset her--she ain't going."
Mrs. Chalk exclaimed loudly and exchanged glances of consternation with
Mrs. Stobell; Mr. Stobell, having explained the position, took some more
bread and butter and munched placidly.
"Don't you think it would do her good?" said Mrs. Chalk, at last.
"Might," said Mr. Stobell, slowly, "and then, again, it mightn't."
"But there's no harm in trying," persisted Mrs. Chalk.
Mr. Stobell made no reply. Having reached his fifth slice he was now
encouraging his appetite with apricot jam.
"And it's so cheap," continued Mrs. Chalk.
"That's the way I look at it. If she shuts up the house and gets rid of
the servants, same as I am going to do, it will save a lot of money."
She glanced at Mr. Stobell, whose slowly working jaws and knitted brows
appeared to indicate deep thought, and then gave a slight triumphant nod
at his wife.
"Servants are so expensive," she murmured. "Really, I shouldn't be
surprised if we saved money on the whole affair. And then think of her
health. She has never quite recovered from that attack of bronchitis.
She has never looked the same woman since. Think of your feelings if
anything happened to her. Nothing would bring her back to you if once
"Went where?" inquired Mr. Stobell, who was not attending very much.
"If she died, I mean," said Mrs. Chalk, shortly.
"We've all got to die some day," said the philosophic Mr. Stobell.
Mrs. Stobell interposed. "Not till September, Robert," she said, almost
"It wouldn't be nice to be buried at sea," remarked Mr. Chalk,
contributing his mite to the discussion. "Of course, it's very
impressive; but to be left down there all alone while the ship sails on
must be very hard."
[Illustration: "'It wouldn't be nice to be buried at sea,' remarked Mr.
Mrs. Stobell's eyes began to get large. "I'm feeling quite well," she
"Yes, dear," said Mrs. Chalk, with a threatening glance at her husband.
"Of course, we know that. But a voyage would do you good. You can't
Mrs. Stobell, fumbling for her handkerchief, said in a tremulous voice
that she had no wish to deny it. Mr. Stobell, appealed to by the
energetic Mrs. Chalk, admitted at once that it might do his wife good,
but that it wouldn't him.
"We're going to be three jolly bachelors," he declared, and, first
nudging Mr. Chalk to attract his attention, deliberately winked at him.
"Oh, indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Chalk, drawing herself up; "but you forget
that I am coming."
"Two jolly bachelors, then," said the undaunted Stobell.
"No," said Mrs. Chalk, shaking her head, "I am not going alone; if Mrs.
Stobell can't come I would sooner stay at home."
Mr. Stobell's face cleared; his mouth relaxed and his dull eyes got
almost kindly. With the idea of calling the attention of Mr. Chalk to
the pleasing results of a little firmness he placed his foot upon that
gentleman's toe and bore heavily.
"Best place for you," he said to Mrs. Chalk. "There's no place like home
for ladies. You can have each other to tea every day if you like. In
fact, there's no reason----" he paused and looked at his wife, half
doubtful that he was conceding too much--"there's no reason why you
shouldn't sleep at each other's sometimes."
He helped himself to some cake and, rendered polite by good-nature,
offered some to Mrs. Chalk.
"Mind, I shall not go unless Mrs. Stobell goes," said the latter, waving
the plate away impatiently; "that I am determined upon."
Mr. Chalk, feeling that appearances required it, ventured on a mild--a
"And he," continued Mrs. Chalk, sternly, indicating her husband with a
nod, "doesn't go without me--not a single step, not an inch of the way."
Mr. Chalk collapsed and sat staring at her in dismay. Mr. Stobell,
placing both hands on the table, pushed his chair back and eyed her
"It seems to me----" he began.
"I know," said Mrs. Chalk, speaking with some rapidity--"I know just how
it seems to you. But that's how it is. If you want my husband to go you
have got to have me too, and if you have me you have got to have your
wife, and if----"
"What, is there any more of you coming?" demanded Mr. Stobell, with great
Mrs. Chalk ignored the question. "_My_ husband wouldn't be happy without
_me,_" she said, primly. "Would you, Thomas?"
"No," said Mr. Chalk, with a gulp.
"We--we're going a long way," said Mr. Stobell, after a long pause.
"Longer the better," retorted Mrs. Chalk.
"We're going among savages," continued Mr. Stobell, casting about for
arguments; "cannibal savages."
"They won't eat her," said Mrs. Chalk, with a passing glance at the
scanty proportions of her friend, "not while you're about."
"I don't like to take my wife into danger," said Mr. Stobell, with surly
bashfulness; "I'm--I'm too fond of her for that. And she don't want to
come. Do you, Alice?"
"No," said Mrs. Stobell, dutifully, "but I want to share your dangers,
"Say 'yes' or 'no' without any trimmings," commanded her husband, as he
intercepted a look passing between her and Mrs. Chalk. "Do-you-want-to-
Mrs. Stobell trembled. "I don't want to prevent Mr. Chalk from going,"
"Never mind about him," said Mr. Stobell.
"Yes," said Mrs. Stobell.
Her husband, hardly able to believe his ears, gazed at her in
bewilderment. "Very well, then," he said, in a voice that made the
tea-cups rattle. "COME!"
He sat with bent brows gazing at the table as Mrs. Chalk, her face
wreathed in triumphant smiles, began to discuss yachting costumes and
other necessities of ocean travel with the quivering Mrs. Stobell.
Unable to endure it any longer he rose and, in a voice by no means
alluring, invited Mr. Chalk into the garden to smoke a pipe; Mr. Chalk,
helping himself to two pieces of cake as evidence, said that he had not
yet finished his tea. Owing partly to lack of appetite and partly to the
face which Mr. Stobell pressed to the window every other minute to entice
him out, he made but slow progress.
The matter was discussed next day as they journeyed down to Biddlecombe
with Mr. Tredgold to complete the purchase of the schooner, the views of
the latter gentleman coinciding so exactly with those of Mr. Stobell that
Mr. Chalk was compelled to listen to the same lecture twice.
Under this infliction his spirits began to droop, nor did they revive
until, from the ferry-boat, his eyes fell upon the masts of the _Fair
Emily,_ and the trim figure of Captain Brisket standing at the foot of
the steps awaiting their arrival.
"We've had a stroke of good luck, gentlemen," said Brisket, in a husky
whisper, as they followed him up the steps. "See that man?"
He pointed to a thin, dismal-looking man, standing a yard or two away,
who was trying to appear unconscious of their scrutiny.
[Illustration: "He pointed to a thin, dismal-looking man."]
"Peter Duckett," said Brisket, in the same satisfied whisper.
Mr. Stobell, ever willing for a free show, stared at the dismal man and
groped in the recesses of his memory. The name seemed familiar.
"The man who ate three dozen hard-boiled eggs in four minutes?" he asked,
with a little excitement natural in the circumstances.
Captain Brisket stared at him. "No; Peter Duckett, the finest mate that
ever sailed," he said, with a flourish. "We're lucky to have the chance
of getting him, I can tell you. To see him handle sailormen is a
revelation; to see him handle a ship----"
He broke off and shook his head with the air of a man who despaired of
doing justice to his subject. "These are the gentlemen, Peter," he said,
introducing them with a wave of his hand.
Mr. Duckett raised his cap, and tugging at a small patch of reddish-brown
hair strangely resembling a door-mat in texture, which grew at the base
of his chin, cleared his throat and said it was a fine morning.
"Not much of a talker is Peter," said the genial Brisket. "He's a doer;
that's what he is-a doer. Now, if you're willing--and I hope you are--
he'll come aboard with us and talk the matter over."
This proposition being assented to after a little delay on the part of
Mr. Stobell, who appeared to think Mr. Duckett's lack of connection with
the hard-boiled eggs somewhat suspicious, they proceeded to Todd's Wharf
and made a thorough inspection of the schooner. Mr. Chalk's eyes grew
bright and his step elastic. He roamed from forecastle to cabin and from
cabin to galley, and, his practice with the crow's-nest in Dialstone Lane
standing him in good stead, wound up by ascending to the masthead and
waving to his astonished friends below.
Mr. Todd came on board as he regained the deck, and, stroking his white
beard, regarded him with an air of benevolent interest.
"There's no ill-feeling," he said, as Mr. Chalk eyed his outstretched
hand somewhat dubiously. "You're a hard nut, that's what you are, and I
pity anybody that has the cracking of you. A man that could come and
offer me seventy pounds for a craft like this--seventy pounds, mind you,"
he added, with a rising colour, as he turned to the others "seventy
pounds, and a face like a baby. Why, when I think of it, DAMME IF I
Captain Brisket laid his hand on his arm and with soothing words led him
below. His voice was heard booming in the cabin until at length it ended
in a roar of laughter, and Captain Brisket, appearing at the companion,
beckoned them below, with a whispered injunction to Mr. Chalk to keep as
much in the background as possible.
The business was soon concluded, and Mr. Chalk's eye brightened again as
he looked on his new property. Captain Brisket, in high good-humour,
began to talk of accommodation, and, among other things, suggested a
scheme of cutting through the bulkhead at the foot of the companion-
ladder and building a commodious cabin with three berths in the hold.
"There are two ladies coming," said Mr. Chalk.
Captain Brisket rubbed his chin. "I'd forgotten that," he said, slowly.
"Two, did you say?"
"It doesn't matter," said Mr. Stobell, fixing him with his left eye and
slowly veiling the right. "You go on with them alterations. One of the
ladies can have your state-room and the other the mate's bunk."
"Where are Captain Brisket and the mate to sleep?" inquired Mr. Chalk.
"Anywhere," replied Mr. Stobell. "With the crew if they like."
Captain Brisket, looking suddenly very solemn, shook his head and said
that it was impossible. He spoke in moving terms of the danger to
discipline, and called upon Mr. Duckett to confirm his fears. Meantime,
Mr. Stobell, opening his right eye slowly, winked with the left.
"You go on with them alterations," he repeated.
Captain Brisket started and reflected. A nod from Mr. Tredgold and a
significant gesture in the direction of the unconscious Mr. Chalk decided
him. "Very good, gentlemen," he said, cheerfully. "I'm in your hands,
and Peter Ducket'll do what I do. It's settled he's coming, I suppose?"
Mr. Tredgold, after a long look at the anxious face of Mr. Duckett, said
"Yes," and then at Captain Brisket's suggestion the party adjourned to
the Jack Ashore, where in a little room upstairs, not much larger than
the schooner's cabin, the preparations for the voyage were discussed in
"And mind, Peter," said Captain Brisket to his friend, as the pair
strolled along by the harbour after their principals had departed, "the
less you say about this the better. We don't want any Biddlecombe men in
"Why not?" inquired the other.
"Because," replied Brisket, lowering his voice, "there's more in this
than meets the eye. They're not the sort to go on a cruise to the
islands for pleasure--except Chalk, that is. I've been keeping my ears
open, and there's something afoot. D'ye take me?"
[Illustration: "There's more in this than meets the eye."]
Mr. Duckett nodded shrewdly.
"I'll pick a crew for 'em," said Brisket. "A man here and a man there.
Biddlecombe men ain't tough enough. And now, what about that whisky
you've been talking so much about?"
Further secrecy as to the projected trip being now useless, Mr. Tredgold
made the best of the situation and talked freely concerning it. To the
astonished Edward he spoke feelingly of seeing the world before the
insidious encroachments of age should render it impossible; to Captain
Bowers, whom he met in the High Street, he discussed destinations with
the air of a man whose mind was singularly open on the subject. If he
had any choice it appeared that it was in the direction of North America.
"You might do worse," said the captain, grimly.
"Chalk," said Mr. Tredgold, meditatively "Chalk favours the South. I
think that he got rather excited by your description of the islands
there. He is a very--"
"If you are going to try and find that island I spoke about," interrupted
the captain, impatiently, "I warn you solemnly that you are wasting both
your time and your money. If I had known of this voyage I would have
told you so before. If you take my advice you'll sell your schooner and
stick to business you understand."
Mr. Tredgold laughed easily. "We may look for it if we go that way," he
said. "I believe that Chalk has bought a trowel, in case we run up
against it. He has got a romantic belief in coincidences, you know."
"Very good," said the captain, turning away. "Only don't blame me,
whatever happens. You can't say I have not warned you."
He clutched his stick by the middle and strode off down the road. Mr.
Tredgold, gazing after his retreating figure with a tolerant smile,
wondered whether he would take his share of the treasure when it was
offered to him.
The anxiety of Miss Vickers at this period was intense. Particulars of
the purchase of the schooner were conveyed to her by letter, but the
feminine desire of talking the matter over with somebody became too
strong to be denied. She even waylaid Mr. Stobell one evening, and,
despite every discouragement, insisted upon walking part of the way home
with him. He sat for hours afterwards recalling the tit-bits of a
summary of his personal charms with which she had supplied him.
Mr. Chalk spent the time in preparations for the voyage, purchasing,
among other necessaries, a stock of firearms of all shapes and sizes,
with which he practised in the garden. Most marksmen diminish gradually
the size of their target; but Mr. Chalk, after starting with a
medicine-bottle at a hundred yards, wound up with the greenhouse at
fifteen. Mrs. Chalk, who was inside at the time tending an invalid
geranium, acted as marker, and, although Mr. Chalk proved by actual
measurement that the bullet had not gone within six inches of her, the
range was closed.
[Illustration: "Purchasing firearms, with which he practised in the
By the time the alterations on the _Fair Emily_ were finished the summer
was nearly at an end, and it was not until the 20th of August that the
travellers met on Binchester platform. Mrs. Chalk, in a smart yachting
costume, with a white-peaked cap, stood by a pile of luggage discoursing
to an admiring circle of friends who had come to see her off. She had
shut up her house and paid off her servants, and her pity for Mrs.
Stobell, whose husband had forbidden such a course in her case, provided
a suitable and agreeable subject for conversation. Mrs. Stobell had
economised in quite a different direction, and Mrs. Chalk gazed in
indignant pity at the one small box and the Gladstone bag which contained
[Illustration: "Mrs. Chalk stood by a pile of luggage, discoursing to an
admiring circle of friends."]
"She don't want to dress up on shipboard," said Mr. Stobell.
Mrs. Chalk turned and eyed her friend's costume--a plain tweed coat and
skirt, in which she had first appeared the spring before last.
"If we're away a year," she said, decidedly, "she'll be in rags before we
Mr. Stobell said that fortunately they would be in a warm climate, and
turned to greet the Tredgolds, who had just arrived. Then the train came
in, and Mr. Chalk, appearing suddenly from behind the luggage, where he
had been standing since he had first caught sight of the small, anxious
face of Selina Vickers on the platform, entered the carriage and waved
cheery adieus to Binchester.
To the eyes of Mr. Chalk and his wife Biddlecombe appeared to have put on
holiday attire for the occasion. With smiling satisfaction they led the
way to the ferry, Mrs. Chalk's costume exciting so much attention that
the remainder of the party hung behind to watch Edward Tredgold fasten
his bootlace. It took two boats to convey the luggage to the schooner,
and the cargo of the smaller craft shifting in mid-stream, the boatman
pulled the remainder of the way with a large portion of it in his lap.
Unfortunately, his mouth was free.
Mr. Chalk could not restrain a cry of admiration as he clambered on board
the _Fair Emily_. The deck was as white as that of a man-of-war, and her
brass-work twinkled in the sun. White paint work and the honest and
healthy smell of tar completed his satisfaction. His chest expanded as
he sniffed the breeze, and with a slight nautical roll paced up and down
the spotless deck.
[Illustration: "A slight nautical roll."]
"And now," said Captain Brisket, after a couple of sturdy seamen had
placed the men's luggage in the new cabin, "which of you ladies is going
to have my state-room, and which the mate's bunk?"
Mrs. Chalk started; she had taken it for granted that she was to have the
state-room. She turned and eyed her friend anxiously.
"The bunk seems to get the most air," said Mrs. Stobell. "And it's
nearer the ladder in case of emergencies."
"You have it, dear," said Mrs. Chalk, tenderly. "I'm not nervous."
"But you are so fond of fresh air," said Mrs. Stobell, with a longing
glance at the state-room. "I don't like to be selfish."
"You're not," said Mrs. Chalk, with conviction.
"Chalk and I will toss for it," said Mr. Stobell, who had been listening
with some impatience. He spun a coin in the air, and Mr. Chalk, winning
the bunk for his indignant wife, was at some pains to dilate upon its
manifold advantages. Mrs. Stobell, with a protesting smile, had her
things carried into the state-room, while Mrs. Chalk stood by listening
coldly to plans for putting her heavy luggage in the hold.
"What time do we start?" inquired Tredgold senior, moving towards the
"Four o'clock, sir," replied Brisket.
Mr. Stobell, his heavy features half-lit by an unwonted smile, turned and
surveyed his friends. "I've ordered a little feed at the King of Hanover
at half-past one," he said, awkwardly. "We'll be back on board by
half-past three, captain."
Captain Brisket bowed, and the party were making preparations for
departure when a hitch was caused by the behaviour of Mrs. Chalk, who was
still brooding over the affair of the state-room. In the plainest of
plain terms she declared that she did not want any luncheon and preferred
to stay on board. Her gloom seemed to infect the whole party, Mr.
Stobell in particular being so dejected that his wife eyed him in
"It'll spoil it for all of us if you don't come," he said, with bashful
surliness. "Why, I arranged the lunch more for you than anybody. It'll
be our last meal on shore."
Mrs. Chalk said that she had had so many meals on shore that she could
afford to miss one, and Mr. Stobell, after eyeing her for some time in a
manner strangely at variance with his words, drew his wife to one side
and whispered fiercely in her ear.
"Well, I sha'n't go without her," said Mrs. Stobell, rejoining the group.
"What with losing that nice, airy bunk and getting that nasty, stuffy
stateroom, I don't feel like eating."
Mrs. Chalk's countenance cleared. "Don't you like it, dear?" she said,
affectionately. "Change, by all means, if you don't. Never mind about
their stupid tossing."
Mrs. Stobell changed, and Mr. Tredgold senior, after waiting a decent
interval for the sake of appearances, entreated both ladies to partake of
the luncheon. Unable to resist any longer, Mrs. Chalk gave way, and in
the ship's boat, propelled by the brawny arms of two of the crew, went
ashore with the others.
Luncheon was waiting for them in the coffee-room of the inn, and the
table was brave with flowers and bottles of champagne. Impressed by the
occasion George the waiter attended upon them with unusual decorum, and
the landlady herself entered the room two or three times to see that
things were proceeding properly.
"Here's to our next meal on shore," said Mr. Chalk, raising his glass and
nodding solemnly at Edward.
"That will be tea for me," said the latter. "I shall come back here, I
expect, and take a solitary cup to your memory. Let me have a word as
soon as you can."
"You ought to get a cable from Sydney in about six or seven months," said
His son nodded. "Don't trouble about any expressions of affection," he
urged; "they'd come expensive. If you find me dead of overwork when you
"I shall contest the certificate," said his father, with unwonted
"I wonder how we shall sleep to-night?" said Mrs. Stobell, with a little
shiver. "Fancy, only a few planks between us and the water!"
"That won't keep me awake," said Mrs. Chalk, decidedly; "but I shouldn't
sleep a wink if I had left my girls in the house, the same as you have.
I should lie awake all night wondering what tricks they'd be up to."
"But you've left your house unprotected," said Mrs. Stobell.
"The house won't run away," retorted her friend, "and I've sent all my
valuables to the bank and to friends to take care of, and had all my
carpets taken up and beaten and warehoused. I can't imagine what Mr.
Stobell was thinking of not to let you do the same."
"There's a lot as would like to know what I'm thinking of sometimes,"
remarked Mr. Stobell, with a satisfied air.
Mrs. Chalk glanced at him superciliously, but, remembering that he was
her host, refrained from the only comments she felt to be suitable to the
occasion. Under the tactful guidance of Edward Tredgold the conversation
was led to shipwrecks, fires at sea, and other subjects of the kind
comforting to the landsman, Mr. Chalk favouring them with a tale of a
giant octopus, culled from Captain Bowers's collection, which made Mrs.
Stobell's eyes dilate with horror.
"You won't see any octopuses," said her husband. "You needn't worry
He got up from the table, and crossing to the window stood with his hands
behind his back, smoking one of the "King of Hanover's" cigars.
"Very good smoke this," he said, taking the cigar from his mouth and
inspecting it critically. "I think I'll take a box or two with me."
"Just what I was thinking," said Mr. Jasper Tredgold. "Let's go down and
see the landlord."
Mr. Stobell followed him slowly from the room, leaving Mr. Chalk and
Edward to entertain the ladies. The former gentleman, clad in a neat
serge suit, an open collar, and a knotted necktie, leaned back in his
chair, puffing contentedly at one of the cigars which had excited the
encomiums of his friends. He was just about to help himself to a little,
more champagne when Mr. Stobell, reappearing at the door, requested him
to come and give them the benefit of his opinion in the matter of cigars.
"They don't seem up to sample," he said, with a growl; "and you're a good
judge of a cigar."
Mr. Chalk rose and followed him downstairs, where, to his great
astonishment, he was at once seized by Mr. Tredgold and led outside.
"Anything wrong?" he demanded.
"We must get to the ship at once," said Tredgold, in an excited whisper.
Mr. Chalk, much startled, clapped his hands to his head and spoke of
going back for his hat.
"Never mind about your hat," said Stobell, impatiently; "we haven't got
He took Mr. Chalk's other arm and started off at a rapid pace.
"What is the matter?" inquired Mr. Chalk, looking from one to the other.
"Message from Captain Brisket to go on board at once, or he won't be
answerable for the consequences," replied Tredgold, in a thrilling
whisper; "and, above all, to bring Mr. Chalk to quiet the men."
Mr. Chalk turned a ghastly white. "Is it mutiny?" he faltered.
[Illustration: "'Is it mutiny?' he faltered."]
"Something o' the sort," said Stobell.
Despite his friend's great strength, Mr. Chalk for one moment almost
brought him to a standstill. Then, in a tremulous voice, he spoke of
going to the police.
"We don't want the police," said Tredgold, sharply. "If you're afraid,
Chalk, you'd better go back and stay with the ladies while we settle the
Mr. Chalk flushed, and holding his head erect said no more. Mr. Duckett
and a waterman were waiting for them at the stairs, and, barely giving
them time to jump in, pushed off and pulled with rapid strokes to the
schooner. Mr. Chalk's heart failed him as they drew near and he saw men
moving rapidly about her deck. His last thoughts as he clambered over
the side were of his wife.
In blissful ignorance of his proceedings, Mrs. Chalk, having adjusted her
cap in the glass and drawn on her gloves, sat patiently awaiting his
return. She even drew a good-natured comparison between the time spent
on choosing cigars and bonnets.
"There's plenty of time," she said, in reply to an uneasy remark of Mrs.
Stobell's. "It's only just three, and we don't sail until four. What is
that horrid, clanking noise?"
"Some craft getting up her anchor," said Edward, going to the window and
leaning out. "WHY! HALLOA!"
"What's the matter?" said both ladies.
Edward drew in his head and regarded them with an expression of some
"It's the _Fair Emily,_" he said, slowly, "and she's hoisting her sails."
"Just trying the machinery to see that it's all right, I suppose," said
Mrs. Chalk. "My husband said that Captain Brisket is a very careful
Edward Tredgold made no reply. He glanced first at three hats standing
in a row on the sideboard, and then at the ladies as they came to the
window, and gazed with innocent curiosity at the schooner. Even as they
looked she drew slowly ahead, and a boat piled up with luggage, which had
been lying the other side of her, became visible. Mrs. Chalk gazed at it
"It can't be ours," she gasped. "They--they'd never dare! They--they--"
She stood for a moment staring at the hats on the sideboard, and then,
followed by the others, ran hastily downstairs. There was a hurried
questioning of the astonished landlady, and then, Mrs. Chalk leading,
they made their way to the stairs at a pace remarkable in a woman of her
age and figure. Mrs. Stobell, assisted by Edward Tredgold, did her best
to keep up with her, but she reached the goal some distance ahead, and,
jumping heavily into a boat, pointed to the fast-receding schooner and
bade the boatman overtake it.
"Can't be done, ma'am," said the man, staring, "not without wings."
"Row hard," said Mrs. Chalk, in a voice of sharp encouragement.
The boatman, a man of few words, jerked his thumb in the direction of the
_Fair Emily,_ which was already responding to the motion of the sea
"You run up the road on to them cliffs and wave to'em," he said, slowly.
Mrs. Chalk hesitated, and then, stepping out of the boat, resumed the
pursuit by land. Ten minutes' hurried walking brought them to the
cliffs, and standing boldly on the verge she enacted, to the great
admiration of a small crowd, the part of a human semaphore.
[Illustration: "She enacted, to the great admiration of a small crowd,
the part of a human semaphore."]
The schooner, her bows pointing gradually seawards, for some time made no
sign. Then a little group clustered at the stern and waved farewells.