Dialstone Lane, Complete
Part 2 out of 5
"No," he said, brusquely.
Mr. Chalk looked hurt. "I'm very sorry," he said, in surprise at the
captain's tone. "You showed it to us the other day, and I didn't
"The fact is," said the captain, in a more gentle voice--"the fact is, I
"Can't?" repeated the other.
"It is not very pleasant to keep on refusing friends," said the captain,
making amends for his harshness by pouring a serious overdose of whisky
into Mr. Chalk's glass," and it's only natural for you to be anxious
about it, so I removed the temptation out of my way."
"Removed the temptation?" repeated Mr. Chalk.
"I burnt the map," said the captain, with a smile.
"Burnt it?" gasped Mr. Chalk. "BURNT it?"
"Burnt it to ashes," said the captain, jovially.
"It's a load off my mind. I ought to have done it before. In fact,
I never ought to have made the map at all."
Mr. Chalk stared at him in speechless dismay.
"Try that," said the captain, handing Mr. Stobell his glass.
Mr. Stobell took it from mere force of habit, and sat holding it in his
hand as though he had forgotten what to do with it.
"I did it yesterday morning," said the captain, noticing their
consternation. "I had just lit my pipe after breakfast, and I suppose
the match put me in mind of it. I took out the map and set light to it
at Cape Silvio. The flame ran half-way round the coast and then popped
through the middle of the paper and converted Mount Lonesome into a
He gave a boisterous laugh and, raising his glass, nodded to Mr. Stobell.
Mr. Stobell, who was just about to drink, lowered his glass again and
"I don't see anything to laugh at," he said, deliberately.
"He can't have been listening," said Mr. Tredgold, in a low voice, to
"Well, it's done now," said the captain, genially. "You--you're not
"Yes, I am," said Mr. Stobell.
He bade them good-night, and then pausing at the door stood and surveyed
them; even Mr. Tasker, who was gliding in unobtrusively with a jug of
water, shared in his regards.
"When I think of the orphans and widows," he said, bitterly, "I----"
He opened the door suddenly and, closing it behind him, breathed the rest
to Dialstone Lane. An aged woman sitting in a doorway said, "_Hush!_"
Miss Drewitt sat for some time in her room after the visitors had
departed, eyeing with some disfavour the genuine antiques which she owed
to the enterprise, not to say officiousness, of Edward Tredgold. That
they were in excellent taste was undeniable, but there was a flavour of
age and a suspicion of decay about them which did not make for
She rose at last, and taking off her watch went through the nightly task
of wondering where she had put the key after using it last. It was not
until she had twice made a fruitless tour of the room with the candle
that she remembered that she had left it on the mantelpiece downstairs.
The captain was still below, and after a moment's hesitation she opened
her door and went softly down the steep winding stairs.
The door at the foot stood open, and revealed the captain standing by the
table. There was an air of perplexity and anxiety about him such as she
had never seen before, and as she waited he crossed to the bureau, which
stood open, and searched feverishly among the papers which littered it.
Apparently dissatisfied with the result, he moved it out bodily and
looked behind and beneath it. Coming to an erect position again he
suddenly became aware of the presence of his niece.
[Illustration: "He moved it out bodily and looked behind and beneath
"It's gone," he said, in an amazed voice.
"Gone?" repeated Prudence. "What has gone?"
"The map," said the captain, tumbling his beard. "I put it in this end
pigeon-hole the other night after showing it and I haven't touched it
since; and it's gone."
"But you burnt it!" said Prudence, with an astonished laugh.
The captain started. "No; I was going to," he said, eyeing her in
"But you said that you had," persisted his niece.
"Yes," stammered the captain, "I know I did, but I hadn't. I was just
looking ahead a bit, that was all. I went to the bureau just now to do
Miss Drewitt eyed him with mild reproach. "You even described how you
did it," she said, slowly. "You said that Mount Lonesome turned into a
volcano. Wasn't it true?"
"Figure o' speech, my dear," said the unhappy captain; "I've got a
talent for description that runs away with me at times."
His niece gazed at him in perplexity.
"You know what Chalk is," said Captain Bowers, appealingly. "I was going
to do it yesterday, only I forgot it, and he would have gone down on his
knees for another sight of it. I don't like to seem disobliging to
friends, and it seemed to me a good way out of it. Chalk is so eager--
it's like refusing a child, and I hurt his feelings only the other day."
"Perhaps you burnt it after all and forgot it?" said Prudence.
For the first time in her knowledge of him the captain got irritable with
her. "I've not burnt it," he said, sharply. "Where's that Joseph? He
must know something about it!"
He moved to the foot of the staircase, but Miss Drewitt laid a detaining
hand on his arm.
"Joseph was in the room when you said that you had burnt it," she
exclaimed. "You can't contradict yourself like that before him.
Besides, I'm sure he has had nothing to do with it."
"Somebody's got it," grumbled her uncle, pausing.
He dropped into his chair and looked at her in consternation. "Good
heavens! Suppose they go after it," he said, in a choking voice.
"Well, it won't be your fault," said Prudence. You haven't broken your
But the captain paid no heed. He was staring wild-eyed into vacancy and
rumpling his grey hair until it stood at all angles. His face reflected
"Somebody has got it," he said again.
"Whoever it is will get no good by it," said Miss Drewitt, who had had a
"And if they've got the map they'll go after the island," said the
captain, pursuing his train of thought.
"Perhaps they won't find it after all," said Prudence.
"Perhaps they won't," said the captain, gruffly.
He got up and paced the room restlessly. Prudence, watching him with
much sympathy, had a sudden idea.
"Edward Tredgold was in here alone this afternoon," she said,
"No, no," said the captain, warmly. "Whoever has got it, it isn't Edward
Tredgold. I expect the talk about it has leaked out and somebody has
slipped in and taken it. I ought to have been more careful."
"He started when you said that you had burnt it," persisted Miss Drewitt,
unwilling to give up a theory so much to her liking. "You mark my words
if his father and Mr. Chalk and that Mr. Stobell don't go away for a
holiday soon. Good-night."
She kissed him affectionately under the left eye--a place overlooked by
his beard--and went upstairs again. The captain filled his pipe and,
resuming his chair, sat in a brown study until the clock of the
neighbouring church struck two.
It was about the same time that Mr. Chalk fell asleep, thoroughly worn
out by the events of the evening and a conversation with Mr. Stobell and
Mr. Tredgold, whom he had met on the way home waiting for him.
The opinion of Mr. Tredgold senior, an opinion in which Mr. Stobell fully
acquiesced, was that Mr. Chalk had ruined everything by displaying all
along a youthful impetuosity sadly out of place in one of his years and
standing. The offender's plea that he had thought it best to strike
while the iron was hot only exposed him to further contumely.
"Well, it's no good talking about it," said Mr. Tredgold, impatiently.
"It's all over now and done with."
"Half a million clean chucked away," said Mr. Stobell.
Mr. Chalk shook his head and, finding that his friends had by no means
exhausted the subject, suddenly bethought himself of an engagement and
Miss Vickers, who heard the news from Mr. Joseph Tasker, received it with
an amount of amazement highly gratifying to his powers as a narrator.
Her strongly expressed opinion afterwards that he had misunderstood what
he had heard was not so agreeable.
"I suppose I can believe my own ears?" he said, in an injured voice.
"He must have been making fun of them all," said Selina. "He couldn't
have burnt it--he couldn't."
"Why not?" inquired the other, surprised at her vehemence.
Miss Vickers hesitated. "Because it would be such a silly thing to do,"
she said, at last. "Now, tell me what you heard all over again--slow."
Mr. Tasker complied.
"I can't make head or tail of it," said Miss Vickers when he had
"Seems simple enough to me," said Joseph, staring at her.
"All things seem simple when you don't know them," said Miss Vickers,
She walked home in a thoughtful mood, and for a day or two went about the
house with an air of preoccupation which was a source of much speculation
to the family. George Vickers, aged six, was driven to the verge of
madness by being washed. Three times in succession one morning; a gag of
well-soaped flannel being applied with mechanical regularity each time
that he strove to point out the unwashed condition of Martha and Charles.
His turn came when the exultant couple, charged with having made
themselves dirty in the shortest time on record, were deprived of their
breakfast. Mr. Vickers, having committed one or two minor misdemeanours
unchallenged, attributed his daughter's condition to love, and began to
speak of that passion with more indulgence than he had done since his
Miss Vickers's' abstraction, however, lasted but three days. On the
fourth she was herself again, and, having spent the day in hard work,
dressed herself with unusual care in the evening and went out.
The evening was fine and the air, to one who had been at work indoors all
day, delightful. Miss Vickers walked briskly along with the smile of a
person who has solved a difficult problem, but as she drew near the Horse
and Groom, a hostelry of retiring habits, standing well back from the
road, the smile faded and she stood face to face with the stern realities
[Illustration: "She stood face to face with the stern realities of
A few yards from the side-door Mr. Vickers stood smoking a contemplative
pipe; the side-door itself had just closed behind a tall man in
corduroys, who bore in his right hand a large mug made of pewter.
"Ho!" said Selina," so this is how you go on the moment my back is
turned, is it?"
"What d'ye mean?" demanded Mr. Vickers, blustering.
"You know what I mean," said his daughter, "standing outside and sending
Bill Russell in to get you beer. That's what I mean."
Mr. Vickers turned, and with a little dramatic start intimated that he
had caught sight of Mr. Russell for the first time that evening. Mr.
Russell himself sought to improve the occasion.
"Wish I may die--" he began, solemnly.
"Like a policeman," continued Selina, regarding her father indignantly.
"I wish I _was_ a policeman," muttered Mr. Vickers. "I'd show some of
"What have you got to say for yourself?" demanded Miss Vickers, shortly.
"Nothing," said the culprit. "I s'pose I can stand where I like?
There's no law agin it."
"Do you mean to say that you didn't send Bill in to get you some beer?"
said his daughter.
"Certainly not," said Mr. Vickers, with great indignation. "I shouldn't
think of such a thing."
"I shouldn't get it if 'e did," said Mr. Russell, virtuously.
"Whose beer is it, then?" said Selina.
"Why, Bill's, I s'pose; how should I know?" replied Mr. Vickers.
"Yes, it's mine," said Mr. Russell.
"Drink it up, then," commanded Miss Vickers, sternly.
Both men started, and then Mr. Russell, bestowing a look of infinite
compassion upon his unfortunate friend, raised the mug obediently to his
sensitive lips. Always a kind-hearted man, he was glad when the gradual
tilting necessary to the occasion had blotted out the picture of
indignation which raged helplessly before him.
"I 'ope you're satisfied now," he said severely to the girl, as he turned
a triumphant glance on Mr. Vickers, which that gentleman met with a cold
Miss Vickers paid no heed. "You get off home," she said to her father;
"I'll see to the Horse and Groom to-morrow."
Mr. Vickers muttered something under his breath, and then, with a forlorn
attempt at dignity, departed.
Miss Vickers, ignoring the remarks of one or two fathers of families who
were volunteering information as to what they would do if she were their
daughter, watched him out of sight and resumed her walk. She turned once
or twice as though to make sure that she was not observed, and then,
making her way in the direction of Mr. Chalk's house, approached it
cautiously from the back.
Mr. Chalk, who was in the garden engaged in the useful and healthful
occupation of digging, became aware after a time of a low whistle
proceeding from the farther end. He glanced almost mechanically in that
direction, and then nearly dropped his spade as he made out a girl's head
surmounted by a large hat. The light was getting dim, but the hat had an
odd appearance of familiarity. A stealthy glance in the other direction
showed him the figure of Mrs. Chalk standing to attention just inside the
open French windows of the drawing-room.
[Illustration: "He made out a girl's head surmounted by a large hat."]
The whistle came again, slightly increased in volume. Mr. Chalk, pausing
merely to wipe his brow, which had suddenly become very damp, bent to his
work with renewed vigour. It is an old idea that whistling aids manual
labour; Mr. Chalk, moistening his lips with a tongue grown all too
feverish for the task, began to whistle a popular air with much
The idea was ingenious, but hopeless from the start. The whistle at the
end of the garden became piercing in its endeavour to attract attention,
and, what was worse, developed an odd note of entreaty. Mr. Chalk, pale
with apprehension, could bear no more.
"Well, I think I've done enough for one night," he observed, cheerfully
and loudly, as he thrust his spade into the ground and took his coat from
a neighbouring bush.
He turned to go indoors and, knowing his wife's objection to dirty boots,
made for the door near the kitchen. As he passed the drawing-room
window, however, a low but imperative voice pronounced his name.
"Yes, my dear," said Mr. Chalk.
"There's a friend of yours whistling for you," said his wife, with forced
"Whistling? "said Mr. Chalk, with as much surprise as a man could assume
in face of the noise from the bottom of the garden.
"Do you mean to tell me you can't hear it?" demanded his wife, in a
Mr. Chalk lost his presence of mind. "I thought it was a bird," he said,
assuming a listening attitude.
"_Bird?_" gasped the indignant Mrs. Chalk. "Look down there. Do you
call that a bird?"
Mr. Chalk looked and uttered a little cry of astonishment.
"I suppose she wants to see one of the servants," he said, at last;" but
why doesn't she go round to the side entrance? I shall have to speak to
them about it."
Mrs. Chalk drew herself up and eyed him with superb disdain.
"Go down and speak to her," she commanded. "Certainly not," said Mr.
Chalk, braving her, although his voice trembled.
"Because if I did you would ask me what she said, and when I told you you
wouldn't believe me," said Mr. Chalk.
"You--you decline to go down?" said his wife, in a voice shaking with
"I do," said Mr. Chalk, firmly. "Why don't you go yourself?"
Mrs. Chalk eyed him for a moment in scornful silence, and then stepped to
the window and sailed majestically down the garden. Mr. Chalk watched
her, with parted lips, and then he began to breathe more freely as the
whistle ceased and the head suddenly disappeared. Still a little
nervous, he watched his wife to the end of the garden and saw her crane
her head over the fence. By the time she returned he was sitting in an
attitude of careless ease, with his back to the window.
"Well?" he said, with assurance.
Mrs. Chalk stood stock-still, and the intensity of her gaze drew Mr.
Chalk's eyes to her face despite his will. For a few seconds she gazed
at him in silence, and then, drawing her skirts together, swept violently
out of the room.
Mr. Chalk made but a poor breakfast next morning, the effort to display a
feeling of proper sympathy with Mrs. Chalk, who was presiding in gloomy
silence at the coffee-pot, and at the same time to maintain an air of
cheerful innocence as to the cause of her behaviour, being almost beyond
his powers. He chipped his egg with a painstaking attempt to avoid
noise, and swallowed each mouthful with a feeble pretence of not knowing
that she was watching him as he ate. Her glance conveyed a scornful
reproach that he could eat at all in such circumstances, and, that there
might be no mistake as to her own feelings, she ostentatiously pushed the
toast-rack and egg-stand away from her.
"You--you're not eating, my dear," said Mr. Chalk.
"If I ate anything it would choke me," was the reply.
Mr. Chalk affected surprise, but his voice quavered. To cover his
discomfiture he passed his cup up for more coffee, shivering despite
himself, as he noticed the elaborate care which Mrs. Chalk displayed in
rinsing out the cup and filling it to the very brim. Beyond raising her
eyes to the ceiling when he took another piece of toast, she made no
[Illustration: "He passed his cup up for more coffee."]
"You're not looking yourself," ventured Mr. Chalk, after a time.
His wife received the information silence.
"I've noticed it for some time," said the thoughtful husband, making
another effort. "It's worried me."
"I'm not getting younger, I know," assented Mrs. Chalk. "But if you
think that that's any excuse for your goings on, you're mistaken."
Mr. Chalk murmured something to the effect that he did not understand
"You understand well enough," was the reply. "When that girl came
whistling over the fence last night you said you thought it was a bird."
"I did," said Mr. Chalk, hastily taking a spoonful of egg.
Mrs. Chalk's face flamed. "What sort of bird?" she demanded.
"Singin' bird," replied her husband, with nervous glibness.
Mrs. Chalk left the room.
Mr. Chalk finished his breakfast with an effort, and then, moving to the
window, lit his pipe and sat for some time in moody thought. A little
natural curiosity as to the identity of the fair whistler would, however,
not be denied, and the names of Binchester's fairest daughters passed in
review before him. Almost unconsciously he got up and surveyed himself
in the glass.
"There's no accounting for tastes," he said to himself, in modest
His mind still dwelt on the subject as he stood in the hall later on in
the morning, brushing his hat, preparatory to taking his usual walk.
Mrs. Chalk, upstairs listening, thought that he would never have
finished, and drew her own conclusions.
With the air of a man whose time hangs upon his hands Mr. Chalk sauntered
slowly through the narrow by-ways of Binchester. He read all the notices
pasted on the door of the Town Hall and bought some stamps at the
post-office, but the morning dragged slowly, and he bent his steps at
last in the direction of Tredgold's office, in the faint hope of a little
To his surprise, Mr. Tredgold senior was in an unusually affable mood.
He pushed his papers aside at once, and, motioning his visitor to a
chair, greeted him with much heartiness.
"Just the man I wanted to see," he said, cheerfully. "I want you to come
round to my place at eight o'clock to-night. I've just seen Stobell, and
he's coming too."
"I will if I can," said Mr. Chalk.
"You must come," said the other, seriously. "It's business."
"Business!" said Mr. Chalk. "I don't see--"
"You will to-night," said Mr. Tredgold, with a mysterious smile. "I've
sent Edward off to town on business, and we sha'n't be interrupted.
Goodbye. I'm busy."
He shook hands with his visitor and led him to the door; Chalk, after a
vain attempt to obtain particulars, walked slowly home.
Despite his curiosity it was nearly half-past eight when he arrived at
Mr. Tredgold's that evening, and was admitted by his host. The latter,
with a somewhat trite remark about the virtues of punctuality, led the
way upstairs and threw open the door of his study.
"Here he is," he announced.
A slender figure sitting bolt upright in a large grandfather-chair turned
at their entrance, and revealed to the astonished Mr. Chalk the
expressive features of Miss Selina Vickers; facing her at the opposite
side of the room Mr. Stobell, palpably ruffled, eyed her balefully.
"This is a new client of mine," said Tredgold, indicating Miss Vickers.
[Illustration: "'This is a new client of mine,' said Tredgold."]
Mr. Chalk said "Good evening."
"I tried to get a word with you last night," said Miss Vickers. "I was
down at the bottom of your garden whistling for over ten minutes as hard
as I could whistle. I wonder you didn't hear me."
"Hear you!" cried Mr. Chalk, guiltily conscious of a feeling of
disappointment quite beyond his control. "What do you mean by coming and
whistling for me, eh? What do you mean by it?"
"I wanted to see you private," said Miss Vickers, calmly, "but it's just
as well. I went and saw Mr. Tredgold this morning instead."
"On a matter of business," said Mr. Tredgold, looking at her. "She came
to me, as one of the ordinary public, about some--ha--land she's
"An island," corroborated Miss Vickers.
Mr. Chalk took a chair and looked round in amazement. "What, another?"
he said, faintly.
Mr. Tredgold coughed. "My client is not a rich woman," he began.
"Chalk knows that," interrupted Mr. Stobell. "The airs and graces that
girl will give herself if you go on like that----"
"But she has some property there which she is anxious to obtain,"
continued Mr. Tredgold, with a warning glance at the speaker. "That
"Make him wish he may die first," interposed Miss Vickers, briskly.
"Yes, yes; that's all right," said Tredgold, meeting Mr. Chalk's startled
"It will be when he's done it," retorted the determined Miss Vickers.
"It's a secret," explained Mr. Tredgold, addressing his staring friend.
"And you must swear to keep it if it's told you. That's what she means.
I've had to and so has Stobell."
A fierce grunt from Mr. Stobell, who was still suffering from the
remembrance of an indignity against which he had protested in vain, came
as confirmation. Then the marvelling Mr. Chalk rose, and instructed by
Miss Vickers took an oath, the efficacy of which consisted in a fervent
hope that he might die if he broke it.
"But what's it all about?" he inquired, plaintively.
Mr. Tredgold conferred with Miss Vickers, and that lady, after a moment's
hesitation, drew a folded paper from her bosom and beckoned to Mr. Chalk.
With a cry of amazement he recognised the identical map of Bowers's
Island, which he had last seen in the hands of its namesake. It was
impossible to mistake it, although an attempt to take it in his hand was
promptly frustrated by the owner.
"But Captain Bowers said that he had burnt it," he cried.
Mr. Tredgold eyed him coldly. "Burnt what?" he inquired.
"The map," was the reply.
"Just so," said Tredgold. "You told me he had burnt a map."
"Is this another, then?" inquired Mr. Chalk.
"P'r'aps," said Miss Vickers, briefly.
"As the captain said he had burnt his, this must be another," said
"Didn't he burn it, then?" inquired Mr. Chalk.
"I should be sorry to disbelieve Captain Bowers," said Tredgold.
"Couldn't be done," said the brooding Stobell, "not if you tried."
Mr. Chalk sat still and eyed them in perplexity.
"There is no doubt that this map refers to the same treasure as the one
Captain Bowers had," said Tredgold, with the air of one making a generous
admission. "My client has not volunteered any statement as to how it
came into her possession--"
"And she's not going to," put in Miss Vickers, dispassionately.
"It is enough for me that we have got it," resumed Mr. Tredgold. "Now,
we want you to join us in fitting out a ship and recovering the treasure.
Equal expenses; equal shares."
"What about Captain Bowers?" inquired Mr. Chalk.
"He is to have an equal share without any of the expense," said Tredgold.
"You know he gave us permission to find it if we could, so we are not
"He told us to go and find it, if you remember," said Stobell," and we're
"He'll have a fortune handed to him without any trouble or being
responsible in any way," said Tredgold, impressively. "I should like to
think there was somebody working to put a fortune like that into my lap.
We shall have a fifth each."
"That'll be five-thousand-pounds for you, Selina," said Mr. Stobell, with
a would-be benevolent smile.
Miss Vickers turned a composed little face upon him and languidly closed
"I had two prizes for arithmetic when I was at school," she remarked;
"and don't you call me Selina, unless you want to be called Bobbie."
A sharp exclamation from Mr. Tredgold stopped all but the first three
words of Mr. Stobell's retort, but he said the rest under his breath with
"Don't mind him," said Miss Vickers. "I'm half sorry I let him join,
now. A man that used to work for him once told me that he was only half
a gentleman, but he'd never seen that half."
Mr. Stobell, afraid to trust himself, got up and leaned out of the
"Well, we're all agreed, then," said Tredgold, looking round.
"Half a second," said Miss Vickers. "Before I part with this map you've
all got to sign a paper promising me my proper share, and to give me
twenty pounds down."
Mr. Tredgold hesitated and looked serious. Mr. Chalk, somewhat dazed by
the events of the evening, blinked at him solemnly. Mr. Stobell withdrew
his head from the window and spoke.
"TWENTY-POUNDS!" he growled.
"Twenty pounds," repeated Miss Vickers," or four hundred shillings, if
you like it better. If you wait a moment I'll make it pennies."
She leaned back in her chair and, screwing her eyes tight, began the
calculation. "Twelve noughts are nought," she said, in a gabbling
whisper;" twelve noughts are nought, twelve fours are forty--"
"All right," said Mr. Tredgold, who had been regarding this performance
with astonished disapproval. "You shall have the twenty pounds, but
there is no necessity for us to sign any paper."
"No, there's no necessity," said Miss Vickers, opening her small, sharp
eyes again, "only, if you don't do it, I'll find somebody that will."
Mr. Tredgold argued with her, but in vain; Mr. Chalk, taking up the
argument and expanding it, fared no better; and Mr. Stobell, opening his
mouth to contribute his mite, was quelled before he could get a word out.
"Them's my terms," said Miss Vickers; "take'em or leave'em, just as you
please. I give you five minutes by the clock to make up your minds; Mr.
Stobell can have six, because thinking takes him longer. And if you
agree to do what's right--and I'm letting you off easy--Mr. Tredgold is
to keep the map and never to let it go out of his sight for a single
She put her head round the side of the chair to make a note of the time,
and then, sitting upright with her arms folded, awaited their decision.
Before the time was up the terms were accepted, and Mr. Tredgold, drawing
his chair to the table, prepared to draw up the required agreement.
[Illustration: "Mr. Tredgold prepared to draw up the required
He composed several, but none which seemed to give general satisfaction.
At the seventh attempt, however, he produced an agreement which, alluding
in vague terms to a treasure quest in the Southern Seas on the strength
of a map provided by Miss Vickers, promised one-fifth of the sum
recovered to that lady, and was considered to meet the exigencies of the
case. Miss Vickers herself, without being enthusiastic, said that she
supposed it would have to do.
Another copy was avoided, but only with great difficulty, owing to her
criticism of Mr. Stobell's signature. It took the united and verbose
efforts of Messrs. Chalk and Tredgold to assure her that it was in his
usual style, and rather a good signature for him than otherwise. Miss
Vickers, viewing it with her head on one side, asked whether he couldn't
make his mark instead; a question which Mr. Stobell, at the pressing
instance of his friends, left unanswered. Then Tredgold left the room to
pay a visit to his safe, and, the other two gentlemen turning out their
pockets, the required sum was made up, and with the agreement handed to
Miss Vickers in exchange for the map.
She bade them good-night, and then, opening the door, paused with her
hand on the knob and stood irresolute.
"I hope I've done right," she said, somewhat nervously. "It was no good
to anybody laying idle and being wasted. I haven't stolen anything."
"No, no," said Tredgold, hastily.
"It seems ridiculous for all that money to be wasted," continued Miss
Vickers, musingly. "It doesn't belong to anybody, so nobody can be hurt
by our taking it, and we can do a lot of good with it, if we like. I
shall give some of mine away to the poor. We all will. I'll have it put
in this paper."
She fumbled in her bodice for the document, and walked towards them.
"We can't alter it now," said Mr. Tredgold, decidedly.
"We'll do what's right," said Mr. Chalk, reassuringly.
Miss Vickers smiled at him. "Yes, I know you will," she said,
graciously," and I think Mr. Tredgold will, but--"
"You're leaving that door open," said Mr. Stobell, coldly," and the
draught's blowing my head off, pretty near."
Miss Vickers eyed him scornfully, but in the absence of a crushing reply
disdained one at all. She contented herself instead by going outside and
closing the door after her with a sharpness which stirred every hair on
"It's a most extraordinary thing," said Mr. Chalk, as the three bent
exultingly over the map. "I could ha' sworn to this map in a court of
"Don't you worry your head about it," advised Mr. Stobell.
"You've got your way at last," said Tredgold, with some severity. "We're
going for a cruise with you, and here you are raising objections."
"Not objections," remonstrated the other;" and, talking about the voyage,
what about Mrs. Chalk? She'll want to come."
"So will Mrs. Stobell," said that lady's proprietor," but she won't."
"She mustn't hear of it till the last moment," said Tredgold,
dictatorially; "the quieter we keep the whole thing the better. You're
not to divulge a word of the cruise to anybody. When it does leak out it
must be understood we are just going for a little pleasure jaunt. Mind,
you've sworn to keep the whole affair secret."
Mr. Chalk screwed up his features in anxious perplexity, but made no
"The weather's fine," continued Tredgold," and there's nothing gained by
delay. On Wednesday we'll take the train to Biddlecombe and have a look
round. My idea is to buy a small, stout sailing-craft second-hand; ship
a crew ostensibly for a pleasure trip, and sail as soon as possible."
Mr. Chalk's face brightened. "And we'll take some beads, and guns, and
looking-glasses, and trade with the natives in the different islands we
pass," he said, cheerfully. "We may as well see something of the world
while we're about it."
Mr. Tredgold smiled indulgently and said they would see. Messrs.
Stobell and Chalk, after a final glance at the map and a final perusal of
the instructions at the back, took their departure.
"It's like a dream," said the latter gentleman, as they walked down the
"That Vickers girl ud like more dreams o' the same sort," said Mr.
Stobell, as he thrust his hand in his empty pocket.
"It's all very well for you," continued Mr. Chalk, uneasily. "But my
wife is sure to insist upon coming."
Mr. Stobell sniffed. "I've got a wife too," he remarked.
"Yes," said Mr. Chalk, in a burst of unwonted frankness, "but it ain't
quite the same thing. I've got a wife and Mrs. Stobell has got a
husband--that's the difference."
Mr. Stobell pondered this remark for the rest of the way home. He came
to the conclusion that the events of the evening had made Mr. Chalk a
Until he stood on the platform on Wednesday morning with his brother
adventurers Mr. Chalk passed the time in a state of nervous excitement,
which only tended to confirm his wife in her suspicions of his behaviour.
Without any preliminaries he would burst out suddenly into snatches of
sea-songs, the "Bay of Biscay" being an especial favourite, until Mrs.
Chalk thought fit to observe that, "if the thunder did roar like that she
should not be afraid of it." Ever sensitive to a fault, Mr. Chalk fell
back upon "Tom Bowling," which he thought free from openings of that
sort, until Mrs. Chalk, after commenting upon the inability of the late
Mr. Bowling to hear the tempest's howling, indulged in idle speculations
as to what he would have thought of Mr. Chalk's. Tredgold and Stobell
bought papers on the station, but Mr. Chalk was in too exalted a mood for
reading. The bustle and life as the train became due were admirably
attuned to his feelings, and when it drew up and they embarked, to the
clatter of milk-cans and the rumbling of trolleys, he was beaming with
"I feel that I can smell the sea already," he remarked.
Mr. Stobell put down his paper and sniffed; then he resumed it again and,
meeting Mr. Tredgold's eye over the top of it, sniffed more loudly than
"Have you told Edward that you are going to sea?" inquired Mr. Chalk,
leaning over to Tredgold.
"Certainly not," was the reply; "I don't want anybody to know till the
last possible moment. You haven't given your wife any hint as to why you
are going to Biddlecombe to-day, have you?"
Mr. Chalk shook his head. "I told her that you had got business there,
and that I was going with you just for the outing," he said. "What
she'll say when she finds out--"
His imagination failed him and, a prey to forebodings, he tried to divert
his mind by looking out of window. His countenance cleared as they
neared Biddlecombe, and, the line running for some distance by the side
of the river, he amused himself by gazing at various small craft left
high and dry by the tide.
A short walk from the station brought them to the mouth of the river
which constitutes the harbour of Biddlecombe. For a small port there was
a goodly array of shipping, and Mr. Chalk's pulse beat faster as his gaze
wandered impartially from a stately barque in all the pride of fresh
paint to dingy, sea-worn ketches and tiny yachts.
Uncertain how to commence operations, they walked thoughtfully up and
down the quay. If any of the craft were for sale there was nothing to
announce the fact, and the various suggestions which Mr. Chalk threw off
from time to time as to the course they should pursue were hardly
"One o'clock," said Mr. Stobell, extracting a huge silver timepiece from
his pocket, after a couple of wasted hours.
"Let's have something to eat before we do any more," said Mr. Tredgold.
"After that we'll ferry over and look at the other side."
They made their way to the "King of Hanover," an old inn, perched on the
side of the harbour, and, mounting the stairs, entered the coffee-room,
where Mr. Stobell, after hesitating for some time between the rival
claims of roast beef and grilled chops, solved the difficulty by ordering
The only other occupant of the room, a short, wiry man, with a
close-shaven, hard-bitten face, sat smoking, with a glass of whisky
before him, in a bay window at the end of the room, which looked out on
the harbour. There was a maritime flavour about him which at once
enlisted Mr. Chalk's sympathies and made him overlook the small, steely-
grey eyes and large and somewhat brutal mouth.
"Fine day, gentlemen," said the stranger, nodding affably to Mr. Chalk as
he raised his glass. Mr. Chalk assented, and began a somewhat minute
discussion upon the weather, which lasted until the waiter appeared with
[Illustration: "'Fine day, gentlemen,' said the stranger, as he raised
"Bring me another drop o' whisky, George," said the stranger, as the
latter was about to leave the room," and a little stronger, d'ye hear?
A man might drink this and still be in the Band of Hope."
"We thought it wouldn't do for you to get the chuck out of it after all
these years, Cap'n Brisket," said George, calmly. "It's a whisky that's
kept special for teetotalers like you."
Captain Brisket gave a hoarse laugh and winked at Mr. Stobell; that
gentleman, merely pausing to empty his mouth and drink half a glass of
beer, winked back.
"Been here before, sir?" inquired the captain.
Mr. Stobell, who was busy again, left the reply to Mr. Chalk.
"Several times," said the latter. "I'm very fond of the sea."
Captain Brisket nodded, and, taking up his glass, moved to the end of
their table, with the air of a man disposed to conversation.
"There's not much doing in Biddlecombe nowadays," he remarked, shaking
his head. "Trade ain't what it used to be; ships are more than half
their time looking for freights. And even when they get them they're
hardly worth having."
Mr. Chalk started and, leaning over, whispered to Mr. Tredgold.
"No harm in it," said the latter. "Better leave it to me. Shipping's
dull, then?" he inquired, turning to Captain Brisket.
"Dull?" was the reply. "Dull ain't no name for it."
Mr. Tredgold played with a salt-spoon and frowned thoughtfully.
"We've been looking round for a ship this morning," he said, slowly.
"As passengers?" inquired the captain, staring.
"As owners," put in Mr. Chalk.
Captain Brisket, greatly interested, drew first his glass and then his
chair a yard nearer. "Do you mean that you want to buy one?" he
"Well, we might if we could get one cheap," admitted Tredgold,
cautiously. "We had some sort of an idea of a cruise to the South
Pacific; pleasure, with perhaps a little trading mixed up with it. I
suppose some of these old schooners can be picked up for the price of an
The captain, grating his chair along the floor, came nearer still; so
near that Mr. Stobell instinctively put out his right elbow.
"You've met just the right man," said Captain Brisket, with a boisterous
laugh. "I know a schooner, two hundred and forty tons, that is just the
identical article you're looking for, good as new and sound as a bell.
Are you going to sail her yourself?"
"No," said Mr. Stobell, without looking up, "he ain't."
"Got a master?" demanded Captain Brisket, with growing excitement.
"Don't tell me you've got a master."
"Why not?" growled Mr. Stobell, who, having by this time arrived at the
cheese, felt that he had more leisure for conversation.
"Because," shouted the other, hitting the table a thump with his fist
that upset half his whisky--"because if you haven't Bill Brisket's your
The three gentlemen received this startling intelligence with such a lack
of enthusiasm that Captain Brisket was fain to cover what in any other
man might have been regarded as confusion by ringing the bell for George
and inquiring with great sternness of manner why he had not brought him a
"We can't do things in five minutes," said Mr. Tredgold, after a long and
somewhat trying pause. "First of all we've got to get a ship."
"The craft you want is over the other side of the harbour waiting for
you," said the captain, confidently. "We'll ferry over now if you like,
or, if you prefer to go by yourselves, do; Bill Brisket is not the man to
stand in anyone's way, whether he gets anything out of it or not."
"Hold hard," said Mr. Stobell, putting up his hand.
Captain Brisket regarded him with a beaming smile; Mr. Stobell's two
friends waited patiently.
"What ud a schooner like that fetch?" inquired Mr. Stobell.
"It all depends," said Brisket. "Of course, if I buy--"
Mr. Stobell held up his hand again. "All depends whether you buy it for
us or sell it for the man it belongs to, I s'pose?" he said, slowly.
Captain Brisket jumped up, and to Mr. Chalk's horror smote the speaker
heavily on the back. Mr. Stobell, clenching a fist the size of a leg of
mutton, pushed his chair back and prepared to rise.
"You're a trump," said Captain Brisket, in tones of unmistakable
respect," that's what you are. Lord, if I'd got the head for business
you have I should be a man of fortune by now."
Mr. Stobell, who had half risen, sat down again, and, for the first time
since his last contract but one, a smile played lightly about the corners
of his mouth. He took another drink and, shaking his head slightly as he
put the glass down, smiled again with the air of a man who has been
reproached for making a pun.
"Let me do it for you," said Captain Brisket, impressively. "I'll tell
you where to go without being seen in the matter or letting old Todd know
that I'm in it. Ask him a price and bate him down; when you've got his
lowest, come to me and give me one pound in every ten I save you."
Mr. Tredgold looked at his friends. "If we do that," he said, turning to
the captain," it would be to your interest to buy the ship in any case.
How are we to be sure she is seaworthy?"
"Ah, there you are!" said Brisket, with an expansive smile. "You let me
buy for you and promise me the master's berth, provided you are satisfied
with my credentials. Common sense'll tell you I wouldn't risk my own
carcass in a rotten ship."
Mr. Stobell nodded approval and, Captain Brisket with unexpected delicacy
withdrawing to the window and becoming interested in the harbour,
conferred for some time with his friends. The captain's offer being
accepted, subject to certain conditions, they settled their bill and made
their way to the ferry.
"There's the schooner," said the captain, pointing, as they neared the
opposite shore;" the _Fair Emily,_ and the place she is lying at is
called Todd's Wharf. Ask for Mr. Todd, or, better still, walk straight
on to the wharf and have a look at her. The old man'll see you fast
He sprang nimbly ashore as the boat's head touched the stairs, and after
extending a hand to Mr. Chalk, which was coldly ignored, led the way up
the steps to the quay.
"There's the wharf just along there," he said, pointing up the road.
"I'll wait for you at the Jack Ashore here. Don't offer him too much to
"I thought of offering a hundred pounds," said Mr. Tredgold. "If the
ship's sound we can't be very much out over that sum."
Captain Brisket stared at him. "No; don't do that," he said, recovering,
and speaking with great gravity. "Offer him seventy. Good luck."
He watched them up the road and then, with a mysterious grin, turned into
the Jack Ashore, and taking a seat in the bar waited patiently for their
Half an hour passed. The captain had smoked one pipe and was half
through another. He glanced at the clock over the bar and fidgeted as an
unpleasant idea that the bargain, despite Mr. Tredgold's ideas as to the
value of schooners, might have been completed without his assistance
occurred to him. He took a sip from his glass, and then his face
softened as the faint sounds of a distant uproar broke upon his ear.
"What's that? "said a customer.
The landlord, who was glancing at the paper, put it down and listened.
"Sounds like old Todd at it again," he said, coming round to the front of
The noise came closer. "It is old Todd," said another customer, and
hastily finishing his beer moved with the others to the door. Captain
Brisket, with a fine air of indifference, lounged after them, and peering
over their shoulders obtained a good view of the approaching disturbance.
His three patrons, with a hopeless attempt to appear unconcerned, were
coming down the road, while close behind a respectable-looking old
gentleman with a long, white beard and a voice like a foghorn almost
danced with excitement. They quickened their pace as they neared the
inn, and Mr. Chalk, throwing appearances to the winds, almost dived
through the group at the door. He was at once followed by Mr. Tredgold,
but Mr. Stobell, black with wrath, paused in the doorway.
[Illustration: "His three patrons, with a hopeless attempt to appear
unconcerned, were coming down the road"]
"FETCH'EM OUT," vociferated the old gentleman as the landlord barred the
doorway with his arms. "Fetch that red-whiskered one out and I'll eat
"What's the matter, Mr. Todd? "inquired the landlord, with a glance at
his friends. "What's he done?"
"_Done?_" repeated the excitable Mr. Todd.
"Done? They come walking on to my wharf as if the place--FETCH HIM OUT,"
he bawled, breaking off suddenly. "Fetch him out and I'll skin him
Captain Brisket took Mr. Stobell by the cuff and after a slight
altercation drew him inside.
"Tell that red-whiskered man to come outside," bawled Mr. Todd. "What's
he afraid of?"
"What have you been doing to him?" inquired Captain Brisket, turning to
the pallid Mr. Chalk.
"Nothing," was the reply.
"Is he coming out?" demanded the terrible voice, "or have I got to wait
here all night? Why don't he come outside, and I'll break every bone in
Mr. Stobell scratched his head in gloomy perplexity; then, as his gaze
fell upon the smiling countenances of Mr. Todd's fellow-townsmen, his
"He's an old man," he said, slowly, "but if any of you would like to step
outside with me for five minutes, you've only got to say the word, you
Nobody manifesting any signs of accepting this offer, he turned away and
took a seat by the side of the indignant Tredgold. Mr. Todd, after a
final outburst, began to feel exhausted, and forsaking his prey with much
reluctance allowed himself to be led away. Snatches of a strong and
copious benediction, only partly mellowed by distance, fell upon the ears
of the listeners.
"Did you offer him the seventy?" inquired Captain Brisket, turning to Mr.
"I did," said Mr. Chalk, plaintively.
"Ah," said the captain, regarding him thoughtfully; "perhaps you ought to
ha' made it eighty. He's asking eight hundred for it, I understand."
Mr. Tredgold turned sharply. "Eight hundred?" he gasped.
The captain nodded. "And I'm not saying it's not worth it," he said,
"but I might be able to get it for you for six. You'd better leave it to
[Illustration: "Captain Brisket waving farewells from the quay as they
Mr. Tredgold at first said he would have nothing more to do with it, but
under the softening influence of a pipe and a glass was induced to
reconsider his decision. Captain Brisket, waving farewells from the quay
as they embarked on the ferryboat later on in the afternoon, bore in his
pocket the cards of all three gentlemen, together with a commission
entrusting him with the preliminary negotiations for the purchase of the
The church bells were ringing for morning service as Mr. Vickers, who had
been for a stroll with Mr. William Russell and a couple of ferrets,
returned home to breakfast. Contrary to custom, the small front room and
the kitchen were both empty, and breakfast, with the exception of a cold
herring and the bitter remains of a pot of tea, had been cleared away.
[Illustration: "Mr. Vickers had been for a stroll with Mr. William
"I've known men afore now," murmured Mr. Vickers, eyeing the herring
disdainfully," as would take it by the tail and smack'em acrost the face
He cut himself a slice of bread, and, pouring out a cup of cold tea,
began his meal, ever and anon stopping to listen, with a puzzled face, to
a continuous squeaking overhead. It sounded like several pairs of new
boots all squeaking at once, but Mr. Vickers, who was a reasonable man
and past the age of self-deception, sought for a more probable cause.
A particularly aggressive squeak detached itself from the others and
sounded on the stairs. The resemblance to the noise made by new boots
was stronger than ever. It was new boots. The door opened, and Mr.
Vickers, with a slice of bread arrested half-way to his mouth, sat gazing
in astonishment at Charles Vickers, clad for the first time in his life
in new raiment from top to toe. Ere he could voice inquiries, an
avalanche of squeaks descended the stairs, and the rest of the children,
all smartly clad, with Selina bringing up the rear, burst into the room.
"What is it?" demanded Mr. Vickers, in a voice husky with astonishment;
Miss Vickers, who was doing up a glove which possessed more buttons than
his own waistcoat, looked up and eyed him calmly. "New clothes--and not
before they wanted'em," she replied, tartly.
"New clothes?" repeated her father, in a scandalized voice. "Where'd
"Shop," said his daughter, briefly.
Mr. Vickers rose and, approaching his offspring, inspected them with the
same interest that he would have bestowed upon a wax-works. A certain
stiffness of pose combined with the glassy stare which met his gaze
helped to favour the illusion.
"For once in their lives they're respectable," said Selina, regarding
them with moist eyes. "Soap and water they've always had, bless'em, but
you've never seen'em dressed like this before."
Before Mr. Vickers could frame a reply a squeaking which put all the
others in the shade sounded from above. It crossed the floor on hurried
excursions to different parts of the room, and then, hesitating for a
moment at the head of the stairs, came slowly and ponderously down until
Mrs. Vickers, looking somewhat nervous, stood revealed before her
expectant husband. In scornful surprise he gazed at a blue cloth dress,
a black velvet cape trimmed with bugles, and a bonnet so aggressively new
that it had not yet accommodated itself to Mrs. Vickers's style of
"Go on!" he breathed. "Go on! Don't mind me. What, you--you--you're
not going to church?"
Mrs. Vickers glanced at the books in her hand--also new--and trembled.
"And why not?" demanded Selina. "Why shouldn't we?"
Mr. Vickers took another amazed glance round and his brow darkened.
"Where did you get the money?" he inquired.
"Saved it," said his daughter, reddening despite herself.
"Saved it?" repeated the justly-astonished Mr. Vickers. "Saved it? Ah!
out of my money; out of the money I toil and moil for--out of the money
that ought to be spent on food. No wonder you're always complaining that
it ain't enough. I won't 'ave it, d'ye hear? I'll have my rights;
"Don't make so much noise," said his daughter, who was stooping down to
ease one of Mrs. Vickers's boots. "You would have fours, mother, and I
told you what it would be."
"He said that I ought to wear threes by rights," said Mrs. Vickers;
"I used to."
"And I s'pose," said Mr. Vickers, who had been listening to these remarks
with considerable impatience--"I s'pose there's a bran' new suit o'
clothes, and a pair o' boots, and 'arf-a-dozen shirts, and a new hat hid
upstairs for me?"
"Yes, they're hid all right," retorted the dutiful Miss Vickers. "You go
upstairs and amuse yourself looking for'em. Go and have a game of 'hot
boiled beans' all by yourself."
"Why, you must have been stinting me for years," continued Mr. Vickers,
examining the various costumes in detail. "This is what comes o' keeping
quiet and trusting you--not but what I've 'ad my suspicions. My own kids
taking the bread out o' my mouth and buying boots with it; my own wife
going about in a bonnet that's took me weeks and weeks to earn."
[Illustration:"'Why, you must have been stinting me for years,' continued
His words fell on deaf ears. No adjutant getting his regiment ready for
a march-past could have taken more trouble than Miss Vickers was taking
at this moment over her small company. Caps were set straight and
sleeves pulled down. Her face shone with pride and her eyes glistened as
the small fry, discoursing in excited whispers, filed stiffly out.
A sudden cessation of gossip in neighbouring doorways testified to the
impression made by their appearance. Past little startled groups the
procession picked its way in squeaking pride, with Mrs. Vickers and
Selina bringing up the rear. The children went by with little set,
important faces; but Miss Vickers's little bows and pleased smiles of
recognition to acquaintances were so lady-like that several untidy
matrons retired inside their houses to wrestle grimly with feelings too
strong for outside display.
"Pack o' prancing peacocks," said the unnatural Mr. Vickers, as the
procession wound round the corner.
He stood looking vacantly up the street until the gathering excitement of
his neighbours aroused new feelings. Vanity stirred within him, and
leaning casually against the door-post he yawned and looked at the
chimney-pots opposite. A neighbour in a pair of corduroy trousers,
supported by one brace worn diagonally, shambled across the road.
"What's up?" he inquired, with a jerk of the thumb in the direction of
Mr. Vickers's vanished family.
"Up?" repeated Mr. Vickers, with an air of languid surprise.
"Somebody died and left you a fortin?" inquired the other.
"Not as I knows of," replied Mr. Vickers, staring. "Why?"
"Why?" exclaimed the other. "Why, new clothes all over. I never see
such a turn-out."
Mr. Vickers regarded him with an air of lofty disdain. "Kids must 'ave
new clothes sometimes, I s'pose?" he said, slowly. "You wouldn't 'ave'em
going about of a Sunday in a ragged shirt and a pair of trowsis, would
The shaft passed harmlessly. "Why not?" said the other. "They gin'rally
Mr. Vickers's denial died away on his lips. In twos and threes his
neighbours had drawn gradually near and now stood by listening
expectantly. The idea of a fortune was common to all of them, and
they were anxious for particulars.
[Illustration: "They were anxious for particulars."]
"Some people have all the luck," said a stout matron. "I've 'ad thirteen
and buried seven, and never 'ad so much as a chiney tea-pot left me. One
thing is, I never could make up to people for the sake of what I could
get out of them. I couldn't not if I tried. I must speak my mind free
"Ah! that's how you get yourself disliked," said another lady, shaking
her head sympathetically.
"Disliked?" said the stout matron, turning on her fiercely. "What d'ye
mean? You don't know what you're talking about. Who's getting
"A lot o' good a chiney tea-pot would be to you," said the other, with a
ready change of front," or any other kind o' tea-pot."
Surprise and indignation deprived the stout matron of utterance.
"Or a milk-jug either," pursued her opponent, following up her advantage.
"Or a coffee-pot, or--"
The stout matron advanced upon her, and her mien was so terrible that the
other, retreating to her house, slammed the door behind her and continued
the discussion from a first-floor window. Mint Street, with the
conviction that Mr. Vickers's tidings could wait, swarmed across the road
Mr. Vickers himself listened for a little while to such fragments as came
his way, and then, going indoors, sat down amid the remains of his
breakfast to endeavour to solve the mystery of the new clothes.
He took a short clay pipe from his pocket, and, igniting a little piece
of tobacco which remained in the bowl, endeavoured to form an estimate of
the cost of each person's wardrobe. The sum soon becoming too large to
work in his head, he had recourse to pencil and paper, and after five
minutes' hard labour sat gazing at a total which made his brain reel.
The fact that immediately afterwards he was unable to find even a few
grains of tobacco at the bottom of his box furnished a contrast which
almost made him maudlin.
He sat sucking at his cold pipe and indulging in hopeless conjectures as
to the source of so much wealth, and, with a sudden quickening of the
pulse, wondered whether it had all been spent. His mind wandered from
Selina to Mr. Joseph Tasker, and almost imperceptibly the absurdities of
which young men in love could be capable occurred to him. He remembered
the extravagances of his own youth, and bethinking himself of the sums he
had squandered on the future Mrs. Vickers--sums which increased with the
compound interest of repetition--came to the conclusion that Mr. Tasker
had been more foolish still.
It seemed the only possible explanation. His eye brightened, and,
knocking the ashes out of his pipe, he crossed to the tap and washed his
"If he can't lend a trifle to the man what's going to be his
father-in-law," he said, cheerfully, as he polished his face on a
roller-towel, "I shall tell 'im he can't have Selina, that's all. I'll
go and see 'im afore she gets any more out of him."
He walked blithely up the road, and, after shaking off one or two
inquirers whose curiosity was almost proof against insult, made his way
to Dialstone Lane. In an unobtrusive fashion he glided round to the
back, and, opening the kitchen door, bestowed a beaming smile upon the
"Busy, my lad?" he inquired.
"What d'ye want?" asked Mr. Tasker, whose face was flushed with cooking.
Mr. Vickers opened the door a little wider, and, stepping inside, closed
it softly behind him and dropped into a chair.
"Don't be alarmed, my lad," he said, benevolently. "Selina's all right."
"What d'ye want?" repeated Mr. Tasker. "Who told you to come round
Mr. Vickers looked at him in reproachful surprise.
"I suppose a father can come round to see his future son-in-law?" he
said, with some dignity. "I don't want to do no interrupting of your
work, Joseph, but I couldn't 'elp just stepping round to tell you how
nice they all looked. Where you got the money from I can't think."
"Have you gone dotty, or what?" demanded Mr. Tasker, who was busy wiping
out a saucepan. "Who looked nice?"
Mr. Vickers shook his head at him and smiled waggishly.
"Ah! who? "he said, with much enjoyment. "I tell you it did my
father's 'art good to see 'em all dressed up like that; and when I
thought of its all being owing to you, sit down at home in comfort with a
pipe instead of coming to thank you for it I could not. Not if you was
to have paid me I couldn't."
"Look 'ere," said Mr. Tasker, putting the saucepan down with a bang, "if
you can't talk plain, common English you'd better get out. I don't want
you 'ere at all as a matter o' fact, but to have you sitting there
shaking your silly 'ead and talking a pack o' nonsense is more than I can
Mr. Vickers gazed at him in perplexity. "Do you mean to tell me you
haven't been giving my Selina money to buy new clothes for the
young'uns?" he demanded, sharply. "Do you mean to tell me that Selina
didn't get money out of you to buy herself and 'er mother and all of 'em--
except me--a new rig-out from top to toe?"
"D'ye think I've gone mad, or what?" inquired the amazed Mr. Tasker.
"What d'ye think I should want to buy clothes for your young'uns for?
That's your duty. And Selina, too; I haven't given 'er anything except a
ring, and she lent me the money for that. D'ye think I'm made o' money?"
"All right, Joseph," said Mr. Vickers, secretly incensed at this
unforeseen display of caution on Mr. Tasker's part. "I s'pose the
fairies come and put'em on while they was asleep. But it's dry work
walking; 'ave you got such a thing as a glass o' water you could give
The other took a glass from the dresser and, ignoring the eye of his
prospective father-in-law, which was glued to a comfortable-looking
barrel in the corner, filled it to the brim with fair water and handed it
to him. Mr. Vickers, giving him a surly nod, took a couple of dainty
sips and placed it on the table.
"It's very nice water," he said, sarcastically.
"Is it?" said Mr. Tasker. "We don't drink it ourselves, except in tea or
coffee; the cap'n says it ain't safe."
Mr. Vickers brought his eye from the barrel and glared at him.
"I s'pose, Joseph," he said, after a long pause, during which Mr. Tasker
was busy making up the fire--"I s'pose Selina didn't tell you you wasn't
to tell me about the money?"
"I don't know what you're driving at," said the other, confronting him
angrily. "I haven't got no money."
Mr. Vickers coughed. "Don't say that, Joseph," he urged, softly; "don't
say that, my lad. As a matter o' fact, I come round to you, interrupting
of you in your work, and I'm sorry for it--knowing how fond of it you
are--to see whether I couldn't borrow a trifle for a day or two."
"Ho, did you?" commented Mr. Tasker, who had opened the oven door and was
using his hand as a thermometer.
His visitor hesitated. It was no use asking for too much; on the other
hand, to ask for less than he could get would be unpardonable folly.
"If I could lay my hand on a couple o' quid," he said, in a mysterious
whisper, "I could make it five in a week."
"Well, why don't you?" inquired Mr. Tasker, who was tenderly sucking the
bulb of the thermometer after contact with the side of the oven.
"It's the two quid that's the trouble, Joseph," replied Mr. Vickers,
keeping his temper with difficulty. "A little thing like that wouldn't
be much trouble to you, I know, but to a pore man with a large family
like me it's a'most impossible."
Mr. Tasker went outside to the larder, and returning with a small joint
knelt down and thrust it carefully into the oven.
"A'most impossible," repeated Mr. Vickers, with a sigh.
"What is?" inquired the other, who had not been listening.
The half-choking Mr. Vickers explained.
"Yes, o' course it is," assented Mr. Tasker.
"People what's got money," said the offended Mr. Vickers, regarding him
fiercely, "stick to it like leeches. Now, suppose I was a young man
keeping company with a gal and her father wanted to borrow a couple o'
quid--a paltry couple o' thick'uns--what d'ye think I should do?"
"If you was a young man--keeping company with a gal--and 'er father
wanted--to borrow a couple of quid off o' you--what would you do?"
repeated Mr. Tasker, mechanically, as he bustled to and fro.
Mr. Vickers nodded and smiled. "What should I do?" he inquired again,
"I don't know, I'm sure," said the other, opening the oven door and
peering in. "How should I?"
At the imminent risk of something inside giving way under the strain, Mr.
Vickers restrained himself. He breathed hard, and glancing out of window
sought to regain his equilibrium by becoming interested in a blackbird
"What I mean to say is," he said at length, in a trembling voice--"what I
mean to say is, without no round-aboutedness, will you lend a 'ard-working
man, what's going to be your future father-in-law, a couple o' pounds?"
Mr. Tasker laughed. It was not a loud laugh, nor yet a musical one.
It was merely a laugh designed to convey to the incensed Mr. Vickers a
strong sense of the absurdity of his request.
"I asked you a question," said the latter gentleman, glaring at him.
"I haven't got a couple o' pounds," replied Mr. Tasker; "and if I 'ad,
there's nine hundred and ninety-nine things I would sooner do with it
than lend it to you."
Mr. Vickers rose and stood regarding the ignoble creature with profound
contempt. His features worked and a host of adjectives crowded to his
[Illustration: "Mr. Vickers rose and stood regarding the ignoble creature
with profound contempt."]
"Is that your last word, Joseph?" he inquired, with solemn dignity.
"I'll say it all over again if you like," said the obliging Mr. Tasker.
"If you want money, go and earn it, same as I have to; don't come round
'ere cadging on me, because it's no good."
Mr. Vickers laughed; a dry, contemptuous laugh, terrible to hear.
"And that's the man that's going to marry my daughter," he said, slowly;
"that's the man that's going to marry into my family. Don't you expect
me to take you up and point you out as my son-in-law, cos I won't do it.
If there's anything I can't abide it's stinginess. And there's my gal
--my pore gal don't know your real character. Wait till I've told 'er
about this morning and opened 'er eyes! Wait till--"
He stopped abruptly as the door leading to the front room opened and
revealed the inquiring face of Captain Bowers.
"What's all this noise about, Joseph?" demanded the captain, harshly.
Mr. Tasker attempted to explain, but his explanation involving a
character for Mr. Vickers which that gentleman declined to accept on any
terms, he broke in and began to give his own version of the affair. Much
to Joseph's surprise the captain listened patiently.
"Did you buy all those things, Joseph?" he inquired, carelessly, as Mr.
Vickers paused for breath.
"Cert'nly not, sir," replied Mr. Tasker. "Where should I get the money
The captain eyed him without replying, and a sudden suspicion occurred to
him. The strange disappearance of the map, followed by the sudden
cessation of Mr. Chalk's visits, began to link themselves to this tale of
unexpected wealth. He bestowed another searching glance upon the
agitated Mr. Tasker.
"You haven't sold anything lately, have you?" he inquired, with
"I haven't 'ad nothing to sell, sir," replied the other, in astonishment.
"And I dare say Mr. Vickers here saw a new pair o' boots on one o' the
young'uns and dreamt all the rest."
Mr. Vickers intervened with passion.
"That'll do," said the captain, sharply. "How dare you make that noise
in my house? I think that the tale about the clothes is all right," he
added, turning to Joseph. "I saw them go into church looking very smart.
And you know nothing about it?"
Mr. Tasker's astonishment was too genuine to be mistaken, and the
captain, watching him closely, transferred his suspicions to a more
deserving object. Mr. Vickers caught his eye and essayed a smile.
"Dry work talking, sir," he said, gently.
Captain Bowers eyed him steadily. "Have we got any beer, Joseph?" he
"Plenty in the cask, sir," said Mr. Tasker, reluctantly.
"Well, keep your eye on it," said the captain. "Good morning, Mr.
But disappointment and indignation got the better of Mr. Vickers's
"Penny for your thoughts, uncle," said Miss Drewitt, as they sat at
dinner an hour or two after the departure of Mr. Vickers.
"_H'm?_" said the captain, with a guilty start. "You've been scowling
and smiling by turns for the last five minutes," said his niece.
"I was thinking about that man that was here this morning," said the
captain, slowly; "trying to figure it out. If I thought that that girl
He took a draught of ale and shook his head solemnly.
"You know my ideas about that," said Prudence.
"Your poor mother was obstinate," commented the captain, regarding her
tolerantly. "Once she got an idea into her head it stuck there, and
nothing made her more angry than proving to her that she was wrong.
Trying to prove to her, I should have said."
Miss Drewitt smiled amiably. "Well, you've earned half the sum," she
said. "Now, what were you smiling about?"
"Didn't know I was smiling," declared the captain.
With marvellous tact he turned the conversation to lighthouses, a subject
upon which he discoursed with considerable fluency until the meal was
finished. Miss Drewitt, who had a long memory and at least her fair
share of curiosity, returned to the charge as he smoked half a pipe
preparatory to accompanying her for a walk.
"You're looking very cheerful," she remarked.
The captain's face fell several points. "Am I?" he said, ruefully. "I
didn't mean to."
"Why not?" inquired his niece.
"I mean I didn't know I was," he replied, "more than usual, I mean. I
always do look fairly cheerful--at least, I hope I do. There's nothing
to make me look the opposite."
Miss Drewitt eyed him carefully and then passed upstairs to put on her
hat. Relieved of her presence the captain walked to the small glass over
the mantelpiece and, regarding his tell-tale features with gloomy
dissatisfaction, acquired, after one or two attempts, an expression which
he flattered himself defied analysis.
He tapped the barometer which hung by the door as they went out, and,
checking a remark which rose to his lips, stole a satisfied glance at the
face by his side.
"Clark's farm by the footpaths would be a nice walk," said Miss Drewitt,
as they reached the end of the lane.
The captain started. "I was thinking of Dutton Priors," he said, slowly.
"We could go there by Hanger's Lane and home by the road."
"The footpaths would be nice to-day," urged his niece.
"You try my way," said the captain, jovially.
"Have you got any particular reason for wanting to go to Dutton Priors
this afternoon?" inquired the girl.
"Reason?" said the captain. "Good gracious, no. What reason should I
have? My leg is a trifle stiff to-day for stiles, but still--"
Miss Drewitt gave way at once, and, taking his arm, begged him to lean on
her, questioning him anxiously as to his fitness for a walk in any
"Walking'll do it good," was the reply, as they proceeded slowly down the
He took his watch from his pocket, and, after comparing it with the town
clock, peered furtively right and left, gradually slackening his pace
until Miss Drewitt's fears for his leg became almost contagious. At the
old stone bridge, spanning the river at the bottom of the High Street, he
paused, and, resting his arms on the parapet, became intent on a derelict
punt. On the subject of sitting in a craft of that description in
mid-stream catching fish he discoursed at such length that the girl eyed
him in amazement.
[Illustration: "He became intent on a derelict punt."]
"Shall we go on?" she said, at length.
The captain turned and, merely pausing to point out the difference
between the lines of a punt and a dinghy, with a digression to sampans
which included a criticism of the Chinese as boat-builders, prepared to
depart. He cast a swift glance up the road as he did so, and Miss
Drewitt's cheek flamed with sudden wrath as she saw Mr. Edward Tredgold
hastening towards them. In a somewhat pointed manner she called her
uncle's attention to the fact.
"Lor' bless my soul," said that startled mariner," so it is. Well!
If Mr. Tredgold had been advancing on his head he could not have
exhibited more surprise.
"I'm afraid I'm late," said Tredgold, as he came up and shook hands. "I
hope you haven't been waiting long."
The hapless captain coughed loud and long. He emerged from a large red
pocket-handkerchief to find the eye of Miss Drewitt seeking his.
"That's all right, my lad," he said, huskily. "I'd forgotten about our
arrangement. Did I say this Sunday or next?"
"This," said Mr. Tredgold, bluntly.
The captain coughed again, and with some pathos referred to the tricks
which old age plays with memory. As they walked on he regaled them with
"Don't forget your leg, uncle," said Miss Drewitt, softly.
Captain Bowers gazed at her suspiciously.
"Don't forget that it's stiff and put too much strain on it," explained
The captain eyed her uneasily, but she was talking and laughing with
Edward Tredgold in a most reassuring fashion. A choice portion of his
programme, which, owing to the events of the afternoon, he had almost
resolved to omit, clamoured for production. He stole another glance at
his niece and resolved to risk it.
"Hah! "he said, suddenly, stopping short and feeling in his pockets.
"There's my memory again. Well, of all the--"
"What's the matter, uncle?" inquired Miss Drewitt.
"I've left my pipe at home," said the captain, in a desperate voice.
"I've got some cigars," suggested Tredgold.
The captain shook his head. "No, I must have my pipe," he said,
decidedly. "If you two will walk on slowly, I'll soon catch you up."
"You're not going all the way back for it?" exclaimed Miss Drewitt.
"Let me go," said Tredgold.
The captain favoured him with an inscrutable glance. "I'll go," he said,
firmly. "I'm not quite sure where I left it. You go by Hanger's Lane;
I'll soon catch you up."
He set off at a pace which rendered protest unavailing. Mr. Tredgold
turned, and, making a mental note of the fact that Miss Drewitt had
suddenly added inches to her stature, walked on by her side.
"Captain Bowers is very fond of his pipe," he said, after they had walked
a little way in silence.
Miss Drewitt assented. "Nasty things," she said, calmly.
"So they are," said Mr. Tredgold.
"But you smoke," said the girl.
Mr. Tredgold sighed. "I have often thought of giving it up," he said,
softly," and then I was afraid that it would look rather presumptuous."
"Presumptuous?" repeated Miss Drewitt.
"So many better and wiser men than myself smoke," exclaimed Mr.
Tredgold," including even bishops. If it is good enough for them, it
ought to be good enough for me; that's the way I look at it. Who am I
that I should be too proud to smoke? Who am I that I should try and set
my poor ideas above those of my superiors? Do you see my point of view?"
Miss Drewitt made no reply.
"Of course, it is a thing that grows on one," continued Mr. Tredgold,
with the air of making a concession. "It is the first smoke that does
the mischief; it is a fatal precedent. Unless, perhaps--How pretty that
field is over there."
Miss Drewitt looked in the direction indicated. "Very nice," she said,
briefly. "But what were you going to say?"
Mr. Tredgold made an elaborate attempt to appear confused. "I was going
to say," he murmured, gently, "unless, perhaps, one begins on coarse-cut
Cavendish rolled in a piece of the margin of the Sunday newspaper."
Miss Drewitt suppressed an exclamation. "I wanted to see where the
fascination was," she indignantly.
"And did you?" inquired Mr. Tredgold, smoothly.
The girl turned her head and looked at him. "I have no doubt my uncle
gave you full particulars," she said, bitterly. "It seems to me that men
can gossip as much as women."
"I tried to stop him," said the virtuous Mr. Tredgold.
"You need not have troubled," said Miss Drewitt, loftily. "It is not a
matter of any consequence. I am surprised that my uncle should have
thought it worth mentioning."
She walked on slowly with head erect, pausing occasionally to look round
for the captain. Edward Tredgold looked too, and a feeling of annoyance
at the childish stratagems of his well-meaning friend began to possess
"We had better hurry a little, I think," he said, glancing at the sky.
"The sooner we get to Dutton Priors the better."
"Why?" inquired his companion.
"Rain," said the other, briefly.
"It won't rain before evening," said Miss Drewitt, confidently; "uncle
"Perhaps we had better walk faster, though," urged Mr. Tredgold.
Miss Drewitt slackened her pace deliberately. "There is no fear of its
raining," she declared. "And uncle will not catch us up if we walk
A sudden glimpse into the immediate future was vouchsafed to Mr.
Tredgold; for a fraction of a second the veil was lifted. "Don't blame
me if you get wet through," he said, with some anxiety.
They walked on at a pace which gave the captain every opportunity of
overtaking them. The feat would not have been beyond the powers of an
athletic tortoise, but the most careful scrutiny failed to reveal any
signs of him.
"I'm afraid that he is not well," said Miss Drewitt, after a long,
searching glance along the way they had come. "Perhaps we had better go
back. It does begin to look rather dark."
"Just as you please," said Edward Tredgold, with unwonted caution;" but
the nearest shelter is Dutton Priors."
He pointed to a lurid, ragged cloud right ahead of them. As if in
response, a low, growling rumble sounded overhead.
"Was--was that thunder?" said Miss Drewitt, drawing a little nearer to
"Sounded something like it," was the reply.
A flash of lightning and a crashing peal that rent the skies put the
matter beyond a doubt. Miss Drewitt, turning very pale, began to walk at
a rapid pace in the direction of the village.
The other looked round in search of some nearer shelter. Already the
pattering of heavy drops sounded in the lane, and before they had gone a
dozen paces the rain came down in torrents. Two or three fields away a
small shed offered the only shelter. Mr. Tredgold, taking his companion
by the arm, started to run towards it.
Before they had gone a hundred yards they were wet through, but Miss
Drewitt, holding her skirts in one hand and shivering at every flash, ran
until they brought up at a tall gate, ornamented with barbed wire, behind
which stood the shed.
The gate was locked, and the wire had been put on by a farmer who
combined with great ingenuity a fervent hatred of his fellow-men. To
Miss Drewitt it seemed insurmountable, but, aided by Mr. Tredgold and a
peal of thunder which came to his assistance at a critical moment, she
managed to clamber over and reach the shed. Mr. Tredgold followed at his
leisure with a strip of braid torn from the bottom of her dress.
[Illustration: "Aided by Mr. Tredgold and a peal of thunder, she managed
to clamber over."]
The roof leaked in twenty places and the floor was a puddle, but it had
certain redeeming features in Mr. Tredgold's eyes of which the girl knew
nothing. He stood at the doorway watching the rain.
"Come inside," said Miss Drewitt, in a trembling voice. "You might be
Mr. Tredgold experienced a sudden sense of solemn pleasure in this
unexpected concern for his safety. He turned and eyed her.
"I'm not afraid," he said, with great gentleness.
"No, but I am," said Miss Drewitt, petulantly, "and I can never get over
that gate alone."
Mr. Tredgold came inside, and for some time neither of them spoke. The
rattle of rain on the roof became less deafening and began to drip
through instead of forming little jets. A patch of blue sky showed.
"It isn't much," said Tredgold, going to the door again.
Miss Drewitt, checking a sharp retort, returned to the door and looked
out. The patch of blue increased in size; the rain ceased and the sun
came out; birds exchanged congratulations from every tree. The girl,
gathering up her wet skirts, walked to the gate, leaving her companion to
Approached calmly and under a fair sky the climb was much easier.
"I believe that I could have got over by myself after all," said Miss
Drewitt, as she stood on the other side. "I suppose that you were in too
much of a hurry the last time. My dress is ruined."
She spoke calmly, but her face was clouded. From her manner during the
rapid walk home Mr. Tredgold was enabled to see clearly that she was
holding him responsible for the captain's awkward behaviour; the rain;
her spoiled clothes; and a severe cold in the immediate future. He
glanced at her ruined hat and the wet, straight locks of hair hanging
about her face, and held his peace.
Never before on a Sunday afternoon had Miss Drewitt known the streets of
Binchester to be so full of people. She hurried on with bent head,
looking straight before her, trying to imagine what she looked like.
There was no sign of the captain, but as they turned into Dialstone Lane
they both saw a huge, shaggy, grey head protruding from the small window
of his bedroom. It disappeared with a suddenness almost startling.
"Thank you," said Miss Drewitt, holding out her hand as she reached the
Mr. Tredgold said "Good-bye," and with a furtive glance at the window
above departed. Miss Drewitt, opening the door, looked round an empty
room. Then the kitchen door opened and the face of Mr. Tasker, full of
"Did you get wet, miss?" he inquired.
Miss Drewitt ignored the question. "Where is Captain Bowers?" she asked,
in a clear, penetrating voice.
The face of Mr. Tasker fell. "He's gone to bed with a headache, miss,"
"Headache?" repeated the astonished Miss Drewitt. "When did he go?"
"About 'arf an hour ago," said Mr. Tasker; "just after the storm. I
suppose that's what caused it, though it seems funny, considering what a
lot he must ha' seen at sea. He said he'd go straight to bed and try and
sleep it off. And I was to ask you to please not to make a noise."
Miss Drewitt swept past him and mounted the stairs. At the captain's
door she paused, but the loud snoring of a determined man made her
resolve to postpone her demands for an explanation to a more fitting
opportunity. Tired, wet, and angry she gained her own room, and threw
herself thoughtlessly into that famous old Chippendale chair which, in
accordance with Mr. Tredgold's instructions, had been placed against the
The captain started in his sleep.
[Illustration: "She threw herself thoughtlessly into that famous old
Mr. Chalk's anxiety during the negotiations for the purchase of the _Fair
Emily_ kept him oscillating between Tredgold and Stobell until those
gentlemen fled at his approach and instructed their retainers to make
untruthful statements as to their whereabouts. Daily letters from
Captain Brisket stated that he was still haggling with Mr. Todd over the
price, and Mr. Chalk quailed as he tried to picture the scene with that
[Illustration: "Instructed their retainers to make untruthful statements
as to their whereabouts."]
Three times at the earnest instigation of his friends, who pointed out
the necessity of keeping up appearances, had he set out to pay a visit
to Dialstone Lane, and three times had he turned back half-way as he
realized the difficult nature of his task. As well ask a poacher to call
on a gamekeeper the morning after a raid.
Captain Bowers, anxious to see him and sound him with a few carefully-
prepared questions, noted his continued absence with regret. Despairing
at last of a visit from Mr. Chalk, he resolved to pay one himself.
Mr. Chalk, who was listening to his wife, rose hastily at his entrance,
and in great confusion invited him to a chair which was already occupied
by Mrs. Chalk's work-basket. The captain took another and, after
listening to an incoherent statement about the weather, shook his head
reproachfully at Mr. Chalk.
"I thought something must have happened to you," he said. "Why, it must
be weeks since I've seen you."
"Weeks?" said Mrs. Chalk, suddenly alert.
"Why, he went out the day before yesterday to call on you."
"Yes," said Mr. Chalk, with an effort," so I did, but half-way to yours I
got a nail in my shoe and had to come home."
"Home!" exclaimed his wife. "Why, you were gone two hours and
"It was very painful," said Mr. Chalk, as the captain stared in open-eyed
astonishment at this exact time-keeping. "One time I thought that I
should hardly have got back."
"But you didn't say anything about it," persisted his wife.
"I didn't want to alarm you, my dear," said Mr. Chalk.
Mrs. Chalk looked at him, but, except for a long, shivering sigh which
the visitor took for sympathy, made no comment.
"I often think that I must have missed a great deal by keeping single,"
said the latter. "It must be very pleasant when you're away to know that
there is somebody at home counting the minutes until your return."
Mr. Chalk permitted himself one brief wondering glance in the speaker's
direction, and then gazed out of window.
"There's no companion like a wife," continued the captain. "Nobody else
can quite share your joys and sorrows as she can. I've often thought how
pleasant it must be to come home from a journey and tell your wife all
about it: where you've been, what you've done, and what you're going to
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