Chapter XXIII. The Yacht Comes Back
 

Chatfield, his arms filled with masses of dried bracken and coarse grass, turned sharply on hearing Vickers's call and stared hard and long in the direction which the young solicitor pointed out. His small, crafty eyes became dilated to their full extent--suddenly they contracted again with a look of cunning satisfaction, and throwing away his burdens he drew out a big many-coloured handkerchief and mopped his high forehead as if the perspiration which burst out were the result of intense mental relief.

"Didn't I know we should be rescued from this here imprisonment!" he cried with unctuous joy. "Thought they'd pinned me here for best part of a week, no doubt, while they could get theirselves quietly away--far away! But it's my experience 'ut them as has served the Lord's never deserted, Mr. Vickers, and if you live as long as--"

"Don't be blasphemous, Chatfield!" said Vickers, curtly. "None of that! What we'd better think about is the chance of that steamer sighting us. We'll light that fire, anyway!"

"She's coming straight on for the island," remarked Copplestone, who had been narrowly watching the approaching vessel. "So straight that you'd think she was actually making for it."

"She'll be some craft bound for Kirkwall," said Vickers, pointing northward to the main group of islands. "And in that case she'll probably take this channel on our west; that fire, now! Come on all of you, and let's make as big a smoke as we can get out of this stuff."

The weather being calm and the grass and bracken which they heaped together as dry as tinder, there was little difficulty about raising a thick column of smoke which presently rose high in the sky. But Audrey, turning away from the successful result of their labours, suddenly glanced at Copplestone with a look that challenged an answer to her own thoughts. They were standing a little apart from the others and she lowered her voice.

"I say!" she murmured. "I don't think we need have bothered ourselves to light that fire. That vessel, whatever it is, is making for us. Look!"

Copplestone shaded his eyes and stared out across the sea. The steamer was by that time no more than two or three miles away. But she was coming towards them in a dead straight line, and as she was accordingly bow on, and as her top deck and lamps were obscured by clouds of black smoke, pouring furiously from her funnels, they could make little out of her appearance. Copplestone's first notion was that she was a naval patrol boat, or a torpedo destroyer. Whatever she was it seemed certain that she was heading direct for the island, at that very point on which the fugitives had been landed the previous night. And it was very evident that she was in a great hurry to make her objective.

"I think you're right," he said, turning to Audrey. "But it's strange that any vessel should be making for an uninhabited island like this. What--but you've got some notion in your mind?" he broke off suddenly, seeing her glance at him again. "What is it?"

Audrey shook her head, with a cautious look at Chatfield.

"I was wondering if that's the Pike?--come back!" she whispered. "And if it is--why?"

Copplestone started, and took a longer and keener look at the vessel. Before he could speak again, Vickers called out cheerily across the rocks.

"Come on, you two!" he cried. "She's seen us--she's coming in. They'll have to send off a boat. Let's get down to the beach, so that they'll know where there's a safe landing."

He sprang over the edge of the cliff and hurried down the rough path; Chatfield, picking up his coat and shawl, prepared to follow him; Audrey and Copplestone lingered until he, too, had begun to lumber downward.

"If that is the Pike," said Audrey, "there is something--wrong. Whoever it is that is on the Pike wouldn't come back to take us!"

"You think there is somebody on the Pike--somebody other than Andrius?" suggested Copplestone.

"I believe the man who calls himself Marston Greyle was on the Pike," announced Audrey. "I've always thought so. Whether Chatfield knew that or not, I don't know. My own belief is that Chatfield did know. I believe Chatfield was in with them, as the saying is. I think they were all running away with as much of the Scarhaven property as they could lay hands on and that having got it, they bundled Chatfield out and dumped him down here, having no further use for him. And, if that's the Pike, and they're returning here, it's because they want Chatfield!"

Copplestone suddenly recognized that feminine instinct had solved a problem which masculine reason had so far left unsolved.

"By gad!" he exclaimed softly. "Then, if that is so, this is merely another of Chatfield's games. You don't believe him?"

"I would think myself within approachable distance of lunacy if I believed a word that Peter Chatfield said," she answered calmly. "Of course, he is playing a game of his own all through. He shall have his pension--if I have the power to give it--but believe him--oh, no!"

"Let's follow them," said Copplestone. "Something's going to happen--if that is the Pike."

"Look there, then," exclaimed Audrey as they began to descend the cliff. "Chatfield's already uneasy."

She pointed to the beach below, where Chatfield, now fully overcoated and shawled again, had mounted a ridge of rock, and while gazing intently at the vessel, was exchanging remarks with Vickers, who had evidently said something which had alarmed him. They caught Chatfield's excited ejaculations as they hurried over the sand.

"Don't say that, Mr. Vickers!" he was saying imploringly. "For God's sake, Mr. Vickers, don't suggest them there sort of thoughts. You make me feel right down poorly, Mr. Vickers, to say such! It's worse than a bad dream, Mr. Vickers--no, sir, no, surely you're mistaken!"

"Bet you a fiver to a halfpenny it's the Pike," retorted Vickers. "I know her lines. Besides she's heading straight here. Copplestone!" he cried, turning to the advancing couple. "Do you know, I believe that's the Pike!"

Copplestone gave Audrey's elbow a gentle squeeze.

"Look at old Chatfield!" he whispered. "By gad!--look at him. Yes," he called out loudly, "We know it's the Pike--we saw that from the top of the cliffs. She's coming straight in."

"Oh, yes, it's the Pike," exclaimed Audrey. "Aren't you delighted, Mr. Chatfield."

The agent suddenly turned his big fat face towards the three young people, with such an expression of craven fear on it that the sardonic jest which Copplestone was about to voice died away on his lips. Chatfield's creased cheeks and heavy jowl had become white as chalk; great beads of sweat rolled down them; his mouth opened and shut silently, and suddenly, as he raised his hands and wrung them, his knees began to quiver. It was evident that the man was badly, terribly afraid--and as they watched him in amazed wonder his eyes began to search the shore and the cliffs as if he were some hunted animal seeking any hole or cranny in which to hide. A sudden swelling of the light wind brought the steady throb of the oncoming engines to his ears and he turned on Vickers with a look that made the onlookers start.

"For goodness sake, Mr. Vickers!" he said in a queer, strained voice. "For heaven's sake, let's get ourselves away! Mr. Vickers--it ain't safe for none of us. We'd best to run, sir--let's get to the other side of the island. There's caves there--places--let's hide till something comes from the other islands, or till these folks goes away--I tell you it's dangerous for us to stop here!"

"We're not afraid, Chatfield," replied Vickers. "What ails you! Why man, you couldn't be more afraid if you'd murdered somebody! What do you suppose these people want? You, of course. And you can't escape--if they want you, they'll search the island till they get you. You've been deceiving us, Chatfield--there's something you've kept back. Now, what is it? What have they come back for?"

"Yes, Mr. Chatfield, what has the Pike come back for?" repeated Audrey, coming nearer. "Come now--hadn't you better tell?"

"It is the Pike," remarked Copplestone. "Look there! And they're going to send in a boat. Better be quick, Chatfield."

The agent turned an ashen face towards the yacht. She had swung round and come to a halt, and the rattle of a boat being let down came menacingly to the frightened man's ears. He tittered a deep groan and his eyes again sought the cliffs.

"It's not a bit of good, Chatfield," said Vickers. "You can't get away. Good heavens, man!--what are you so frightened for!"

Chatfield moaned and drew haltingly nearer to the other three, as if he found some comfort in their mere presence.

"It's the money!" he whispered. "The money as was in the Norcaster Bank--two lots of it. He--the Squire--gave me authority to get out his lot what was standing in his name, you know--and the other--the estate lot--that was standing in mine--some fifty thousand pounds in all, Mr. Vickers. I had it all in gold, packed in sealed chests--and they--those on board there--thought I took them chests aboard the Pike with me. I did take chests, d'ye see--but they'd lead in 'em. The real stuff is hidden--buried--never mind where. And I know what they've come back for!--they've opened the chests I took on board, and they've found there's naught but lead. And they want me--me!--me! They'll torture me to make me tell where the real chests, the money is--torture me! Oh, for God's sake, keep 'em away from me--help me to hide--help me to get away--and I'll tell Miss Greyle then where the money's hid, and--oh, Lord, they're coming! Mr. Vickers--Mr. Vickers--"

He cast himself bodily at Vickers, as if to clutch him, but Vickers stepped agilely aside, and Chatfield fell on the sand, where he lay groaning while the others looked from him to each other.

"Ah!" said Vickers at last. "So that's it, is it, Chatfield? Trying to cheat everybody all round, eh? I suppose you'd have told Miss Greyle later that these people had collared all that gold--and then you'd have helped yourself to it? And now I know what you were doing on that yacht when we boarded it--you were one of the gang, and you meant to hook it with them--"

"I didn't--I didn't!" screamed Chatfield, beating the sand with his hands and feet. "I meant to slip away from 'em at a Scotch port we was to call at, and then--"

"Then you'd have gone back to the hidden chests and helped yourself," sneered Vickers. "Chatfield, you're a wicked old scoundrel, and an unmitigated liar! Give me that paper that Miss Greyle signed, this instant!"

"No!" interjected Audrey. "Let him keep it. He'll have trouble enough presently. It's very evident they mean to have him."

Chatfield heard the last few words and looked round at the edge of the surf. The boat had grounded on the shingle, and half a dozen men had leapt from it and were coming rapidly up the beach.

"Armed, by George!" exclaimed Copplestone. "No chance for you, Chatfield!"

The agent suddenly sprang to his feet with a howl of terror. He gave one more glance at the men and then he ran, clumsily, but with a speed made desperate by terror. He made straight for the rocks--and at that, two of the men, at a word from their leader, raised their rifles and fired. And with a shriek that set all the echoes ringing, the sea-birds screaming, and made Audrey clap her hands to her ears, Chatfield threw up his arms and dropped heavily on the sands.

"That's sheer murder!" exclaimed Vickers, as the yachtsmen came running up. "You'll answer for that, you know. Unless you mean to murder all of us."

The leader, a smiling-faced fellow, touched his cap respectfully, and grinned from ear to ear.

"Lor' bless you, sir, we shot twenty feet over his head!" he said. "He's too precious to shoot: they want him badly on board there. Now then, men, pick him up and get him into the boat--hell come round quick enough when he finds he hasn't even a pellet in him. Handy, now! Captain's compliments, sir," he went on, turning again to Vickers, and pointing to certain things which were being unloaded from the boat, "and as he understands that no vessel will pass here for two more days, sir, he's sent you further provisions, some more wraps, and some books and papers."