Chapter XXIV. The Torpedo-Boat Destroyer
 

Before Vickers and his companions had recovered from the surprise which this extraordinary cool message had given them, the men had bundled Chatfield across the beach and into the boat and were pulling quickly back to the Pike.

Audrey broke the silence with a ringing laugh.

"Captain Andrius is certainly the perfection of polite pirates," she exclaimed. "More food--more wraps--and books and papers! Was any marooned mariner ever one-half so well treated?"

"What's the fellow mean about no vessel passing here for two more days?" growled Copplestone, who was glaring angrily at the yacht. "What's he so meticulously correct for?"

"I should say that he's referring to some weekly or bi-weekly steamer which runs between Kirkwall and the mainland," replied Vickers. "Well--it's good to know that, anyhow. But wait until the Pike's vamoosed again, and we'll make up such a column of smoke that it'll be seen for many a mile. In fact, I'll go and gather a lot of dried stuff now--you two can drag those boxes and things up the beach and see what our gaolers have been good enough to send us."

He went away up the cliffs, and Audrey and Copplestone, once more left alone, looked at each other and laughed.

"That's right," said Copplestone. "What I like about you is that you take things that way."

"Is it any use taking them any other way?" she asked. "Besides I've never been at all frightened nor particularly concerned. I've always felt that we were only put here so that we should be out of the way while our captors got safely away with their booty, and as regards my mother, I know her well enough to feel sure that she quickly sized things up, and that she'll have taken measures of her own. Don't be surprised if we're rescued through her means or if she has set somebody to work to catch the predatory Pike."

"Good!" said Copplestone. "But as regards the Pike, I wonder if you observed something during the few minutes she was here. I'm sure Vickers didn't--he was too busy, watching Chatfield."

"So was I," replied Audrey. "What was it?"

"I believe I'm unusually observant," answered Copplestone. "I seem to see things--all at once, don't you know. I saw that since we made her acquaintance--and were unceremoniously bundled off her--the Pike has got a new and quite different coat of paint. And I daresay she's changed her name, too. From all of which I argue that when they got rid of us here, the people who are working all this slipped quietly back to some cove or creek on the Scotch coast, did a stiff turn at repainting, and meant to be off to the other side of the world under new colours. And while this was going on, Andrius, or his co-villain, found time to examine those chests that Chatfield told us of, and when they found that Chatfield had done them, they came back here quick. Now they're off to make him reveal the whereabouts of the real chests."

"Won't they be rather running their necks into a noose?" suggested Audrey. "I'm dead certain that my mother will have raised a hue and cry after them."

"They're cute enough," said Copplestone. "Anyway, they'll run a good many risks for the sake of fifty thousand pounds. What they may do is to run into some very quiet inlet--there are hundreds on these northern coasts--and take Chatfield to his hiding-place. Chatfield's like all scoundrels of his type--a horrible coward if a pistol's held to his head. Now they've got him, they'll force him to disgorge. Hang this compulsory inactivity!--my nerves are all a-tingle to get going at things!"

"Let's occupy ourselves with the things our generous gaolers have been kind enough to send us, then," suggested Audrey. "We'd better carry them up to our shelter."

Copplestone went down to the things which the boat's crew had deposited on the beach--a couple of small packing-cases, a bundle of wraps and cushions, and some books, magazines and newspapers. He picked up a paper with a cry which suggested a discovery of importance.

"Look at that!" he exclaimed. "Do you see? A Scotsman! Today's date! And here--Aberdeen Free Press--same date!"

"Well?" asked Audrey. "And what then?"

"What then?" demanded Copplestone. "Where are your powers of deduction? Why, that shows that the Pike was somewhere this morning where she could get the morning papers from Aberdeen and Edinburgh--therefore, she's been, as I suggested, somewhere on the Scotch coast all night. It's now noon--she's a fast sailer--I guess she's been within sixty miles of us ever since she left us."

"Isn't it more pertinent to speculate on where she'll be when we want to find her?" asked Audrey.

"More pertinent still to wonder when somebody will come to find us," answered Copplestone as he shouldered one of the cases. "However, there's a certain joy in uncertainty, so they say--we're tasting it."

The joys of uncertainty, however, were not to endure. They had scarcely completed the task of carrying up the newly-arrived stores to the shelter which they had made in an angle of the rocks when Vickers hailed them from a spur of the cliffs and waved his arms excitedly.

"I say, you two!" he shouted. "There's a craft coming--from the south-west. Come up! There!" he added, a few minutes later, when they arrived, breathless, at his side. "Out yonder--a mere black blot--but unmistakable! Do you know what that is, either of you? You don't? All right, I do--ought to, because I'm a R.N.V.R. man myself. That's a T.B.D., my friends!--torpedo-boat destroyer. What's more, far off as she is, my experienced eye and sure knowledge tell me exactly what she is. She's a class H. boat built last year--oil fuel--turbines--runs up to thirty knots--and she's doing 'em, too, just now! Come on, Copplestone--more stuff on this fire!"

"I don't think we need be uneasy," said Copplestone. "Miss Greyle thinks that her mother will have raised a hue and cry after the Pike. This torpedo thing is probably looking round for us. She--what's that?"

The sudden sharp crack of a gun came across the calm surface of the sea, and the watchers turning from their fire towards the black object in the distance saw a cloud of white smoke drifting away from it.

"Hooray!" shouted Vickers. "She's seen our smoke-pillar! Shove more on, just to let her know we understand. Saved!--this time, anyway."

Half-an-hour later, a spick and span and eminently youthful-looking naval lieutenant raised his cap to the three folk who stood eagerly awaiting his approach at the edge of the surf.

"Miss Greyle? Mr. Vickers? Mr. Copplestone?" he asked as he sprang from his boat and came up. "Right!--we're searching for you--had wireless messages this morning. Where's the pirate, or whatever he is?"

"Somewhere away to the southward," answered Vickers, pointing into the haze. "He was here two hours ago--but he's about as fast as they make 'em, and he's good reason to show a clean pair of heels. However, we've ample grounds for believing him to have gone due south again. Where are you from?"

"Got the message off Dunnett Head, and we'll run you to Thurso," replied the rescuer, motioning them to enter the boat. "Come on--our commander's got some word or other for you. What's all this been?" he went on, gazing at Audrey with youthful assurance as they moved away from the shore. "You don't mean to say you've actually been kidnapped?"

"Kidnapped and marooned," replied Vickers. "And I hope you'll catch our kidnapper--he's got a tremendous amount of property on him which belongs to this lady, and hell make tracks for the other side of the Atlantic as soon as he gets hold of some more which he's gone to collect."

The lieutenant regarded Audrey with still more interest. "Oh, all right," he said confidently. "He'll not get away. I guess they've wirelessed all over the place--our message was from the Admiralty!"

"That's Sir Cresswell's doing," said Copplestone, turning to Audrey. "Your mother must have wired to him. I wonder what the message is?" he asked, facing the lieutenant. "Do you know?"

"Something about if you're found to tell you to get south as fast as possible," he answered. "And we've worked that out for you. You can get on by train from Thurso to Inverness, and from Inverness, of course, you'll get the southern express. Well put you off at Thurso by two o'clock--just time to give you such lunch as our table affords--bit rough, you know. So you've really been all night on that island?" he went on with unaffected curiosity. "What a lark!"

"You'd have had an opportunity of studying character if you'd been with us," replied Vickers. "We lost a fine specimen of humanity two hours ago."

"Tell about it aboard," said the lieutenant. "We'll be thankful--we've been round this end-of-everywhere coast for a month and we're tired. It's quite a Godsend to have a little adventure."

Copplestone had been right in surmising that Sir Cresswell Oliver had bestirred himself to find him and his companions. They were presently shown his message. They were to get to Norcaster as quickly as possible, and to wire their whereabouts as soon as they were found. If, as seemed likely, they were picked up on the north coast of Scotland, they were to ask at Inverness railway station for telegrams. And to Inverness after being landed at Thurso they betook themselves, while the torpedo-boat destroyer set off to nose round for the Pike, in case she came that way back from wherever she had gone to.

Copplestone came out of the station-master's office at Inverness with a couple of telegrams and read their contents over to his companions in the dining-room to which they adjourned.

"This is from Mrs. Greyle," he said. "'All right and much relieved by wire from Thurso. Bring Audrey home as quick as possible.' That's good! And this--Great Scott! This is from Gilling! Listen!--'Just heard from Petherton of your rescue. Come straight and sharp Norcaster. Meet me at the "Angel." Big things afoot. Spurge most anxious see you. Important news. Gilling.' So things have been going on," he concluded, turning the second telegram over to Vickers. "I suppose we'll have to travel all night?"

"Night express in an hour," replied Vickers. "We shall make Norcaster about five-thirty tomorrow morning."

"Then let us wire the time of our arrival to Gilling. I'm anxious to know what has brought him up there," said Copplestone. "And well wire to Mrs. Greyle, too," he added, turning to Audrey. "She'll know then that you're absolutely on the way."

"I wonder what we're on the way to?" remarked Vickers with a grim smile. "It strikes me that our recent alarms and excursions will have been as nothing to what awaits us at Norcaster."

What did await them on a cold, dismal morning at Norcaster was Gilling, stamping up and down a windswept platform. And Gilling seized on Copplestone almost before he could alight from the train.

"Come to the 'Angel' straight off!" he said. "Mrs. Greyle's there awaiting her daughter. I've work for you and Vickers at once--that chap Spurge is somewhere about the 'Angel,' too--been hanging round there since yesterday, heavy with news that he'll give to nobody but you."