Dialstone Lane by W.W. Jacobs
Mr. Stobell was the first to emerge, and, seizing the canvas, dragged it free of the writhing bodies of his companions. Mr. Chalk gained his feet and, catching sight of some dim figures standing a few yards away on the beach, gave a frantic shout and plunged into the interior, followed by the others. A shower of pieces of coral whizzing by their heads and another terrible yell accelerated their flight.
Mr. Chalk gained the farther beach unmolested and, half crazy with fear, ran along blindly. Footsteps, which he hoped were those of his friends, pounded away behind him, and presently Stobell, panting heavily, called to him to stop. Mr. Chalk, looking over his shoulder, slackened his pace and allowed him to overtake him.
"Wait--for--Tredgold," said Stobell, breathlessly, as he laid a heavy hand on his shoulder.
Mr. Chalk struggled to free himself. "Where is he?" He gasped.
Stobell, still holding him, stood trying to regain his breath. "They-- they must--have got him," he said, at last. "Have you got any of your pistols on you?"
"You threw them all away," quavered Mr. Chalk. "I've only got a knife."
He fumbled with trembling fingers at his belt; Stobell brushing his hand aside drew a sailor's knife from its sheath, and started to run back in the direction of the tent. Mr. Chalk, after a moment's hesitation, followed a little way behind.
"Look out!" he screamed, and stopped suddenly, as a figure burst out of the trees on to the beach a score of yards ahead. Stobell, with a hoarse cry, raised his hand and dashed at it.
"Stobell!" cried a voice.
"It's Tredgold," cried Stobell. He waited for him to reach them, and then, turning, all three ran stumbling along the beach.
They ran in silence until they reached the other end of the island. So far there were no signs of pursuit, and Stobell, breathing hard from his unwonted exercise, collected a few lumps of coral and piled them on the beach.
"They had me over--twice," said Tredgold, jerkily;" they tore the clothes from my back. How I got away I don't know. I fought--kicked--then suddenly I broke loose and ran."
He threw himself on the beach and drew his breath in long, sobbing gasps. Stobell, going a few paces forward, peered into the darkness and listened intently.
"I suppose they're waiting for daylight," he said at last.
He sat down on the beach and, after making a few disparaging remarks about coral as a weapon, lapsed into silence.
To Mr. Chalk it seemed as though the night would never end. A dozen times he sprang to his feet and gazed fearfully into the darkness, and a dozen times at least he reminded the silent Stobell of the folly of throwing other people's guns away. Day broke at last and showed him Tredgold in a tattered shirt and a pair of trousers, and Stobell sitting close by sound asleep.
"We must try and signal to the ship," he said, in a hoarse whisper. "It's our only chance."
Tredgold nodded assent and shook Stobell quietly. The silence was oppressive. They rose and peered out to sea, and a loud exclamation broke from all three. The "Fair Emily" had disappeared.
Stobell rubbed his eyes and swore softly; Tredgold and Chalk stood gazing in blank dismay at the unbroken expanse of shining sea.
"The savages must have surprised them," said the latter, in trembling tones. "That's why they left us alone."
"Or else they heard the noise ashore and put to sea," said Tredgold.
They stood gazing at each other in consternation. Then Stobell, who had been looking about him, gave vent to an astonished grunt and pointed to a boat drawn upon the beach nearly abreast of where their tent had been.
"Some of the crew have escaped ashore," said Mr. Chalk.
Striking inland, so as to get the shelter of the trees, they made their way cautiously towards the boat. Colour was lent to Mr. Chalk's surmise by the fact that it was fairly well laden with stores. As they got near they saw a couple of small casks which he thought contained water, an untidy pile of tinned provisions, and two or three bags of biscuit. The closest search failed to reveal any signs of men, and plucking up courage they walked boldly down to the boat and stood gazing stupidly at its contents.
The firearms which Stobell had pitched out of the tent the night before lay in the bottom, together with boxes of cartridges from the cabin, a couple of axes, and a pile of clothing, from the top of which Mr. Tredgold, with a sharp exclamation, snatched a somewhat torn coat and waistcoat. From the former he drew out a bulky pocketbook, and, opening it with trembling fingers, hastily inspected the contents.
"The map has gone!" he shouted.
The others stared at him.
"Brisket has gone off with the ship," he continued, with desperate calmness. "It was the crew of our own schooner that frightened us off last night."
Mr. Stobell, still staring in a stony fashion, nodded slowly; Mr. Chalk after an effort found his voice.
"They've gone off with the treasure," he said, slowly.
"Also," continued Tredgold," this is not Bowers's Island. I can see it all now. They've only taken the map, and now they're off to the real island to get the treasure. It's as clear as daylight."
"Broad daylight," said Stobell, huskily. "But how did they know?"
"Somebody has been talking," said Tredgold, in a hard voice. "Somebody has been confiding in that honest, open-hearted sailor, Captain Brisket."
He turned as he spoke and gazed fixedly at the open-mouthed Chalk. In a slower fashion, but with no less venom, Mr. Stobell also bent his regards upon that amiable but erring man.
Mr. Chalk returned their gaze with something like defiance. Half an hour before he had expected to have been killed and eaten. He had passed a night of horror, expecting death every minute. Now he exulted in the blue sky, the line of white breakers crashing on the reef, and the sea sparkling in the sunshine; and he had not spent twenty-five years with Mrs. Chalk without acquiring some skill in the noble art of self-defence.
"Ah, Brisket was trying to pump me a week ago," he said, confidentially. "I see it all now."
The others glared at him luridly.
"He said that he had seen us through the skylight studying a paper," continued Mr. Chalk, shaking his head. "I thought at the time you were rather rash, Tredgold."
Mr. Tredgold choked and, meeting the fault-finding eye of Mr. Stobell, began to protest.
"The thing Brisket couldn't understand," said Chalk, gaining confidence as he proceeded," was Stobell's behaviour. He said that he couldn't believe that a man who grumbled at the sea so much as he did could be sailing for pleasure."
Mr. Stobell glowered fiercely. "Why didn't you tell us before?" he demanded.
"I didn't attach any importance to it," said Mr. Chalk, truthfully. "I thought that it was just curiosity on Brisket's part. It surprised me that he had been observing you and Tredgold so closely; that was all."
"Pity you didn't tell us," exclaimed Tredgold, harshly. "We might have been prepared, then."
"You ought to have told us at once," said Stobell.
Mr. Chalk agreed. "I ought to have done so, perhaps," he said, slowly; "only I was afraid of hurting your feelings. As it is, we must make the best of it. It is no good grumbling at each other.
"If I had had the map instead of Tredgold, perhaps this wouldn't have happened."
"It was a crazy idea to keep it in your coat-pocket," said Stobell, scowling at Tredgold. "No doubt Brisket saw you put it back there the other night, guessed what it was, and laid his plans according."
"If it hadn't been for your grumbling it wouldn't have happened," retorted Tredgold, hotly. "That's what roused his suspicions in the first instance."
Mr. Chalk interposed. "It is no good you two quarrelling about it," he said, with kindly severity. "The mischief is done. Bear a hand with these stores, and then help me to fix the tent up again."
The others hesitated, and then without a word Mr. Stobell worked one of the casks out of the boat and began to roll it up the beach. The tent still lay where it had fallen, but the case of spades had disappeared. They raised the tent again and carried in the stores, after which Mr. Chalk, with the air of an old campaigner, made a small fire and prepared breakfast.
Day by day they scanned the sea for any signs of a sail, but in vain. Cocoa-nuts and a few birds shot by Mr. Stobell--who had been an expert at pigeon-shooting in his youth--together with a species of fish which Mr. Chalk pronounced to be edible a few hours after the others had partaken of it, furnished them with a welcome change of diet. In the smooth water inside the reef they pulled about in the boat, and, becoming bolder and more expert in the management of it, sometimes ventured outside. Mr. Stobell pronounced the life to be more monotonous than that on board ship, and once, in a moment of severe depression, induced by five days' heavy rain, spoke affectionately of Mrs. Stobell. To Mr. Chalk's reminder that the rain had enabled them to replenish their water supply he made a churlish rejoinder.
He passed his time in devising plans for the capture and punishment of Captain Brisket, and caused a serious misunderstanding by expressing his regret that that unscrupulous mariner had not rendered himself liable to the extreme penalty of the law by knocking Mr. Chalk on the head on the night of the attack. His belated explanation that he wished Mr. Chalk no harm was pronounced by that gentleman to be childish.
"We can do nothing to Brisket even if we escape from this place," said Tredgold, peremptorily.
"Do nothing?" roared Stobell. "Why not?"
"In the first place we sha'n't find him," said Tredgold. "After they have got the treasure they will get rid of the ship and disperse all over the world."
Mr. Stobell, with heavy sarcasm, said that once, many years before, he had heard of people called detectives.
"In the second place," continued Tredgold, "we can't explain. It wasn't our map, and, strictly speaking, we had no business with it. Even if we caught Brisket, we should have no legal claim to the treasure. And if you want to blurt out to all Binchester how we were tricked and frightened out of our lives by imitation savages, I don't."
"He stole our ship," growled Stobell, after a long pause. "We could have him for that."
"Mutiny on the high seas," added Chalk, with an important air.
"The whole story would have to come out," said Tredgold, sharply. "Verdict: served them right. Once we had got the treasure we could have given Captain Bowers his share, or more than his share, and it would have been all right. As it is, nobody must know that we went for it."
Mr. Stobell, unable to trust himself with speech, stumped fiercely up and down the beach.
"But it will all have to come out if we are rescued," objected Mr. Chalk.
"We can tell what story we like," said Tredgold. "We can say that the schooner went to pieces on a reef in the night; we got separated from the other boat and made our way here. We have got plenty of time to concoct a story, and there is nobody to contradict it."
Mr. Stobell brought up in front of him and frowned thoughtfully. "I suppose you're right," he said, slowly;" but if we ever get off this chicken-perch, and I run across him, let him look out, that's all."
To pass the time they built themselves a hut on the beach in a situation where it would stand the best chance of being seen by any chance vessel. At one corner stood a mast fashioned from a tree, and a flag, composed for the most part of shirts which Mr. Chalk thought his friends had done with, fluttered bravely in the breeze. It was designed to attract attention, and, so far as the bereaved Mr. Stobell was concerned, it certainly succeeded.