Dialstone Lane by W.W. Jacobs
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.
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 her wardrobe.
"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 get back."
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.
"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 companion-ladder.
"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 amazement.
"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 father.
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 come back----"
"I shall contest the certificate," said his father, with unwonted frivolity.
"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 about them."
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. "The men!"
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 ours either."
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. "Already?"
"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 affair."
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 bewilderment.
"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 man."
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 in stupefaction.
"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 outside.
"You run up the road on to them cliffs and wave to'em," he said, slowly. "Wave 'ard."
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.