Scarhaven Keep by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter XXI. Marooned
To each of these three young people this was the most surprising moment which life had yet afforded. It was an astonishing thing to find a fellow mortal there at all, but to find that mortal was the Scarhaven estate agent was literally short of marvellous. What was also astounding was to see Chatfield's only too evident distress. Swathed in a heavy, old-fashioned ulster, with a plaid shawl round his shoulders and a deerstalker hat tied over head and ears with a bandanna handkerchief he sat on the beach nursing his knees, slightly rocking his fleshy figure to and fro and moaning softly with the regularity of a minute bell. His eyes were fixed on the dark expanse of waters at his feet; his lips, when he was not moaning, worked incessantly; as he rocked his body he beat his toes on the shingle. Clearly, Chatfield was in a bad way, mentally. That he was not so badly off materially was made evident by the presence of a half-open kit bag which obviously contained food and a bottle of spirits.
For any notice that he took of them, Audrey, Vickers, and Copplestone might have been no more than the pebbles on which they stood. In spite of the fact that Vickers shone the light on his fat face, and that three inquisitive pairs of eyes were trained on it, Chatfield continued to stare moodily and disgustedly out to sea and to take no notice of his gratuitous company. And so utterly extraordinary was his behaviour and attitude that Audrey suddenly and almost involuntarily stepped forward and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Mr. Chatfield!" she exclaimed. "What 's the matter? Are you ill?"
The emphasis which she gave to the last word roused some quality of Chatfield's subtle intellect. He flashed a swift look at his questioner--a look of mingled contempt and derision, spiced with a dash of sneering humour. And he found his tongue.
"I'll!" he snorted. "I'll! She asks if I'm ill--me, a respectable man what's maltreated and robbed before his own eyes by them as ought to fall in humble gratitude at his feet! I'll!--aye, ill with something that's worse nor any bodily aches and pains--let me tell you that! But not done for, neither!"
"He's all right," said Copplestone. "That's a flash of his old spirit. You're all right, Chatfield, aren't you? And who's robbed and maltreated you--and how and when--especially when--did you come here?"
Chatfield looked up at his old assailant with a glare of dislike.
"You keep your tongue to yourself, young feller!" he growled. "I shouldn't never ha' been here at all if it hadn't been for the likes of you--a pokin' your nose where it isn't wanted. It's 'cause o' you three comin' aboard o' that there yacht last night as I am here--a castaway!"
"Well, we're castaways, too, Mr. Chatfield," said Audrey. "And we can't help believing that it's all your naughty conduct that's made us so. Why don't you tell the truth?"
Chatfield uttered a few grumpy and inarticulate sounds.
"It'll be a bad day for more than one when I do that--as I will," he muttered presently. "Oh aye, I '11 tell the truth--when it suits me! But I'll be out o' this first."
"You'll never get out of this first or last, until you tell us how you got in," said Vickers, assuming a threatening tone. "You'd better tell us all about it, you know. Come now!--you know me and my firm."
Chatfield laughed grimly and shook his much-swathed head.
"I ought to," he said. "I've given 'em more than one nice job and said naught about their bills o' costs, neither, my lad. You keep a civil tongue in your mouth--I ain't done for yet, noways! You let me get off this here place, wherever it is, and within touch of a telegraph office, and I'll make somebody suffer!"
"Andrius, of course," said Copplestone. "Come now, he put you ashore before he sent us off, didn't he? Why don't you own up?"
"Never you mind, young feller," retorted Chat-field. "I was feeling very cast down, but I'm better. I've something that'll keep me going--revenge! I'll show 'em, once I'm off this place--I will so!"
"Look here, Chatfield," said Vickers. "Do you know where this place is? What is it? Is it on the mainland, or is it an island, or where are we? It's all very well talking about getting off, but when and how are we to get off? Why don't you be sensible and tell us what you know?"
The estate agent arose slowly and ponderously, drawing his shawl about him. He looked out seawards. In that black waste the steady beat of the yacht's propellers could be clearly heard, but not a gleam of light came from her, and it was impossible to decide in which direction she was going. And Chatfield suddenly shook his fist at the throbbing sound which came in regular pulsations through the night.
"Never mind!" he said sneeringly. "We aren't at the North Pole neither--I ain't a seafaring man, but I've a good idea of where we are! And perhaps there won't be naught to take me off when it's daylight, and perhaps there won't be no telegraphs near at hand, nor within a hundred miles, and perhaps there ain't such a blessed person as that there Marconi and his wireless in the world--oh, no! Just you wait, my fine fellers--that's all!"
"He's not addressing us, Vickers," said Copplestone. "You're decidedly better, Chatfield--you're quite better. The notion of revenge and of circumvention has come to you like balm. But you'd a lot better tell us who you're referring to, and why you were put ashore. Listen, Chatfield!--there's property of your own on that yacht, eh? That it? Come, now?"
Chatfield gave his questioner a look of indignant scorn. He stooped for the kit-bag, picked it up, and turned away.
"I don't want to have naught to do with you," he remarked over his shoulder. "You keep yourselves to yourselves, and I'll keep myself to myself. If it hadn't been for what you blabbed out last night, them ungrateful devils 'ud never have had such ideas put into their heads!"
As if he knew his way, Chatfield plodded heavily up the beach and was lost in the darkness, and the three left behind stood helplessly staring at each other. For a long time there was silence, broken only by the agent's heavy tread on the shingle--at last Vickers spoke.
"I think I can see through all this," he said. "Chatfield's cryptic utterances were somewhat suggestive. 'Robbed'--'maltreated'--'them as ought to have fallen in humble gratitude at his feet'--'vengeance'-- 'revenge'--'Marconi telegrams'--'ungrateful devils'--ah, I see it! Chatfield had associates on the Pike--probably the impostor himself and Andrius--probably, too, he had property of his own, as you suggested to him, Copplestone. The whole gang was doubtless off with their loot to far quarters of the globe. Very good--the other members have shelved Chatfield. They've done with him. But--not if he knows it! That man will hunt the Pike and her people--whoever they are--relentlessly when he gets off this."
"I wish we knew what it is that we're on!" said Copplestone.
"Impossible till daybreak," replied Vickers. "But I've an idea--this is probably one of the seventy-odd islands of the Orkneys: I've sailed round here before. If I'm right, it's most likely one of the outlying and uninhabited ones. Andrius--or his controlling power--has dropped us--and Chatfield--here, knowing that we may have to spend a few days on this island before we succeed in getting off. Those few days will mean a great deal to the Pike. She can be run into some safe harbourage on this coast, given a new coat of paint and a new name, and be off before we can do anything to stop her. I allow Chatfield to be right in this--that my perhaps too hasty declaration to Andrius revealed to that gentleman how he could make off with other people's property."
"Nothing will make me believe that Andrius is the solely responsible person for this last development," said Copplestone, moodily. "There were other people on board--cleverly concealed. And what are we going to do?"
Audrey had stepped away from the circle of light made by the lanthorn and was gazing steadily in the direction which Chatfield had taken.
"Those are cliffs, surely," she said presently. "Hadn't we better go up the beach and see if we can't find some shelter until morning? Fortunately we're all warmly clad, and Andrius was considerate enough to throw rugs and things into the boat, as well as provisions. Come along!--after all, we're not so badly off. And we have the satisfaction of knowing that we can keep Chatfield under observation. Remember that!"
But in the morning, when the first gleam of light came across the sea, and Vickers, leaving his companions to prepare some breakfast from the store of provisions which had been sent ashore with them, set out to make a first examination of their surroundings, the agent was not to be seen. What was to be seen was a breach of rock, sand, shingle, not a mile in length, lying at the foot of high cliffs, and on the grey sea in front not a sign of a sail, nor a wisp of smoke from a passing steamer. The apparent solitude and isolation of the place was as profound as the silence which overhung everything.
Vickers made his way up the cliffs to their highest point and from its summit took a leisurely view of his surroundings. He saw at once that they were on an island, and that it was but one of many which lay spread out over the sea towards the north and the west. It was a wedge-shaped island this, and the cliffs on which he stood and the beach beneath formed the widest side of it; from thence its lines drew away to a point in the distance which he judged to be two miles off. Between him and that point lay a sloping expanse of rough land, never cultivated since creation, whereon there were vast masses of rock and boulder but no sign of human life. No curling column of smoke went up from hut or cottage; his ears caught neither the bleating of sheep nor the cry of shepherd--all was still as only such places can be still. Nor could he perceive any signs of life on the adjacent islands--which, to be sure, were not very near. From the sea mists which wrapped one of them he saw projecting the cap of a mountainous hill--that hill he recognized as being on one of the principal islands of the group, and he then knew that he and his companions had been set down on one of the outlying islands which, from its position, was not in the immediate way of passing vessels nor likely to be visited by fishermen.
He was turning away from the top of the cliff after a long and careful inspection, when he caught sight of a man's figure crossing the rocky slope between him and this far-off point. That, he said to himself, was Chatfield. Did Chatfield know of any place at that point visited by fishing craft from the other islands? Had Chatfield ever been in the Orkneys before? Was there any method in his wanderings? Or was he, too, merely examining his surroundings--considering which was the likeliest part of the island from which to attract attention? In the midst of these speculation a sudden resolution came to him--one or other of the three must keep an eye on Chatfield. Night or day, Chatfield must be watched. And having already seen that Copplestone and Audrey had an unmistakable liking for each other's society and would certainly not object to being left together, he determined to watch Chatfield himself. Hurrying down the cliffs, he hastily explained the situation to his companions, took some food in his hands, and set out to follow the agent wherever he went.