W.W. Jacobs.

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Produced by David Widger




DIALSTONE LANE

By W.W. Jacobs

Part V.



CHAPTER XVIII

Month by month the _Fair Emily_ crept down south. The Great Bear and
other constellations gave way to the stars of the southern skies, and Mr.
Chalk tried hard not to feel disappointed with the arrangement of those
in the Southern Cross. Pressed by the triumphant Brisket, to whom he
voiced his views, he had to admit that it was at least as much like a
cross as the other was a bear.

As they got farther south he had doffed his jersey and sea boots in
favour of a drill suit and bare feet. In this costume, surmounted by a
Panama hat, he was the only thing aboard that afforded the slightest
amusement to Mr. Stobell, whose temper was suffering severely under a
long spell of monotonous idleness, and whose remarks concerning the sea
and everything in connection with it were so strangely out of keeping
with the idea of a pleasure cruise that Mr. Tredgold lectured him
severely on his indiscretion.

"Stobell is no more doing this for pleasure than I am," said Captain
Brisket to Mr. Duckett. "It's something big that's brought him all this
way, you mark my words."

The mate nodded acquiescence. "What about Mr. Chalk?" he said, in a low
voice. "Can't you get it out of him?"

[Illustration: The "Fair Emily"]

"Shuts up like an oyster directly I get anywhere near it," replied the
captain; "sticks to it that it is a yachting trip and that Tredgold is
studying the formations of islands. Says he has got a list of them he is
going to visit."

"Mr. Tredgold was talking the same way to me," said the mate. "He says
he's going to write a book about them when he goes back. He asked me
what I thought'ud be a good title."

"I know what would be a good title for him," growled Brisket, as Mr.
Stobell came on deck and gazed despondently over the side. "We're
getting towards the end of our journey, sir."

"End?" said Mr. Stobell. "End? I don't believe there is an end. I
believe you've lost your way and we shall go sailing on and on for ever."

He walked aft and, placing himself in a deckchair, gazed listlessly at
the stolid figure of the helmsman. The heat was intense, and both
Tredgold and Chalk had declined to proceed with a conversation limited
almost entirely on his side to personal abuse. He tried the helmsman,
and made that unfortunate thirsty for a week by discussing the rival
merits of bitter ale in a pewter and stout in a china mug. The helmsman,
a man of liberal ideas, said, with some emotion, that he could drink
either of them out of a flower-pot.

Mr. Chalk became strangely restless as they neared their goal. He had
come thousands of miles and had seen nothing fresh with the exception of
a few flying-fish, an albatross, and a whale blowing in the distance.
Pacing the deck late one night with Captain Brisket he expressed mild
yearnings for a little excitement.

"You want adventure," said the captain, shaking his head at him. "I know
you. Ah, what a sailorman you'd ha' made. With a crew o' six like
yourself I'd take this little craft anywhere. The way you pick up
seamanship is astonishing. Peter Duckett swears you must ha' been at sea
as a boy, and all I can do I can't persuade him otherwise."

"I always had a feeling that I should like it," said Mr. Chalk, modestly.

"Like it!" repeated the captain. "O' course you do; you've got the salt
in your blood, but this peaceful cruising is beginning to tell on you.
There's a touch o' wildness in you, sir, that's always struggling to come
to the front. Peter Duckett was saying the same thing only the other
day. He's very uneasy about it."

"Uneasy!" repeated Mr. Chalk.

"Aye," said the captain, drawing a deep breath. "And if I tell you that
I am too, it wouldn't be outside the truth."

"But why?" inquired Mr. Chalk, after they had paced once up and down the
deck in silence.

"It's the mystery we don't like," said Brisket, at last. "How are we to
know what desperate venture you are going to let us in for? Follow you
faithful we will, but we don't like going in the dark; it ain't quite
fair to us."

"There's not the slightest danger in the world," said Mr. Chalk, with
impressive earnestness.

"But there's a mystery; you can't deny that," said the captain.

Mr. Chalk cleared his throat. "It's a secret," he said, slowly.

"From me?" inquired the captain, in reproachful accents.

"It isn't my secret," said Mr. Chalk. "So far as I'm concerned I'd tell
you with pleasure."

The captain slowly withdrew his arm from Mr. Chalk's, and moving to the
side leaned over it with his shoulders hunched. Somewhat moved by this
display of feeling, Mr. Chalk for some time hesitated to disturb him, and
when at last he did steal up and lay a friendly hand on the captain's
shoulder it was gently shaken off.

"Secrets!" said Brisket, in a hollow voice. "From me! I ain't to be
trusted?"

"It isn't my doing," said Mr. Chalk.

"Well, well, it don't matter, sir," said the captain. "Bill Brisket must
put up with it. It's the first time in his life he's been suspected, and
it's doubly hard coming from you. You've hurt me, sir, and there's no
other man living could do that."

Mr. Chalk stood by in sorrowful perplexity.

"And I put my life in your hands," continued the captain, with a low,
hard laugh. "You're the, only man in the world that knows who killed
Smiling Peter in San Francisco, and I told you. Well, well!"

"But you did it in self-defence," said the other, eagerly.

"What does that matter?" said the captain, turning and walking forward,
followed by the anxious Mr. Chalk. "I've got no proof of it. Open your
mouth - once - and I swing for it. That's the extent of my trust in you."

Mr. Chalk, much affected, swore a few sailorly oaths as to what he wished
might happen to him if he ever betrayed the other's confidence.

"Yes," said the captain, mournfully, "that's all very well; but you can't
trust me in a smaller matter, however much I swear to keep it secret.
And it's weighing on me in another way: I believe the crew have got an
inkling of something, and here am I, master of the ship, responsible for
all your lives, kept in ignorance."

"The crew!" ejaculated the startled Mr. Chalk.

Captain Brisket hesitated and lowered his voice. "The other night I came
on deck for a look round and saw one of them peeping down through your
skylight," he said, slowly. "I sent him below, and after he'd gone I
looked down and saw you and Mr. Tredgold and Stobell all bending over a
paper."

Mr. Chalk, deep in thought, paced up and down in silence.

"That's a secret," said Brisket. "I don't want them to think that I was
spying. I told you because you understand. A shipmaster has to keep his
eyes open, for everybody's sake."

"It's your duty," said Mr. Chalk, firmly.

Captain Brisket, with a little display of emotion, thanked him, and,
leaning against the side, drew his attention to the beauty of the stars
and sea. Impelled by the occasion and the charm of the night he waxed
sentimental, and with a strange mixture of bluffness and shyness spoke of
his aged mother, of the loneliness of a seafarer's life, and the
inestimable boon of real friendship. He bared his inmost soul to his
sympathetic listener, and then, affecting to think from a remark of Mr.
Chalk's that he was going to relate the secret of the voyage, declined to
hear it on the ground that he was only a rough sailorman and not to be
trusted. Mr. Chalk, contesting this hotly, convinced him at last that he
was in error, and then found that, bewildered by the argument, the
captain had consented to be informed of a secret which he had not
intended to impart.

"But, mind," said Brisket, holding up a warning finger, "I'm not going
to tell Peter Duckett. There's no need for him to know."

Mr. Chalk said "Certainly not," and, seeing no way for escape, led the
reluctant man as far from the helmsman as possible and whispered the
information. By the time they parted for the night Captain Brisket knew
as much as the members of the expedition themselves, and, with a rare
thoughtfulness, quieted Mr. Chalk's conscience by telling him that he had
practically guessed the whole affair from the beginning.

[Illustration: "He led the reluctant man as far from the helmsman as
possible and whispered the information."]

He listened with great interest a few days later when Mr. Tredgold, after
considering audibly which island he should visit first, gave him the
position of Bowers's Island and began to discuss coral reefs and volcanic
action. They were now well in among the islands. Two they passed at a
distance, and went so close to a third - a mere reef with a few palms upon
it - that Mr. Chalk, after a lengthy inspection through his binoculars,
was able to declare it uninhabited.

A fourth came into sight a couple of days later: a small grey bank on the
starboard bow. Captain Brisket, who had been regarding it for some time
with great care, closed his glass with a bang and stepped up to Mr.
Tredgold.

"There she is, sir," he said, in satisfied tones.

Mr. Tredgold, who was drinking tea, put down his cup, and rose with an
appearance of mild interest. Mr. Stobell followed suit, and both gazed
in strong indignation at the undisguised excitement of Mr. Chalk as he
raced up the rigging for a better view. Tredgold with the captain's
glass, and Stobell with an old pair of field-glasses in which he had
great faith, gazed from the deck. Tredgold was the first to speak.

"Are you sure this is the one, Brisket?" he inquired, carelessly.

"Certainly, sir," said the captain, in some surprise. "At least, it's
the one you told me to steer for."

"Don't look much like the map," said Stobell, in a low aside. "Where's
the mountain?"

Tredgold looked again. "I fancy it's a bit higher towards the middle,"
he said, after a prolonged inspection; "and, besides, it's 'mount,' not
'mountain.'"

Captain Brisket, who had with great delicacy drawn a little apart in
recognition of their whispers, stepped towards them again.

"I don't know that I've ever seen this particular island before," he
said, frankly; "likely not; but it's the one you told me to find.
There's over a couple of hundred of them, large and small, knocking
about. If you think you've made a mistake we might try some of the
others."

"No," said Tredgold, after a pause and a prolonged inspection; "this must
be right."

Mr. Chalk came down from aloft, his eyes shining with pure joy, and
joined them.

"How long before we're alongside?" he inquired.

"Two hours," replied the captain; "perhaps three," he added, considering.

Mr. Chalk glanced aloft and, after a knowing question or two as to the
wind, began in a low voice to converse with his friends. Mr. Tredgold's
misgivings as to the identity of the island he dismissed at once as
baseless. The mount satisfied him, and when, as they approached nearer,
discrepancies in shape between the island and the map were pointed out to
him he easily explained them by speaking of the difficulties of
cartography to an amateur.

"There's our point," he said, indicating it with a forefinger, which the
incensed Stobell at once struck down. "We couldn't have managed it
better so far as time is concerned. We'll sleep ashore tonight in the
tent and start the search at daybreak."

Captain Brisket approached the island cautiously. To the eyes of the
voyagers it seemed to change shape as they neared it, until finally, the
_Fair Emily_ anchoring off the reef which guarded it, it revealed itself
as a small island about three-quarters of a mile long and two or three
hundred yards wide. A beach of coral sand shelved steeply to the sea,
and a background of cocoa-nut trees and other vegetation completed a
picture on which Mr. Chalk gazed with the rapture of a devotee at a
shrine.

He went below as the anchor ran out, and after a short absence reappeared
on deck bedizened with weapons. A small tent, with blankets and
provisions, and a long deal box containing a couple of spades and a pick,
were put into one of the boats, and the three friends, after giving
minute instructions to the captain, followed. Mr. Duckett took the helm,
and after a short pull along the edge of the reef discovered an opening
which gave access to the smooth water inside.

[Illustration: "Mr. Duckett took the helm." ]

"A pretty spot, gentlemen," he said, scanning the island closely. "I
don't think that there is anybody on it."

"We'll go over it first and make sure," said Stobell, as the boat's nose
ran into the beach. "Come along, Chalk."

He sprang out and, taking one of the guns, led the way along the beach,
followed by Mr. Chalk. The men looked after them longingly, and then, in
obedience to the mate, took the stores out of the boat and pitched the
tent. By the time Chalk and Stobell returned they were seated in the
boat and ready to depart.

A feeling of loneliness came over Mr. Chalk as he watched the receding
boat. The schooner, riding at anchor half a mile outside the reef, had
taken in her sails and presented a singularly naked and desolate
appearance. He wondered how long it would take the devoted Brisket to
send assistance in case of need, and blamed himself severely for not
having brought some rockets for signalling purposes. Long before night
came the prospect of sleeping ashore had lost all its charm.

"One of us ought to keep watch," he said, as Stobell, after a heavy
supper followed by a satisfying pipe, rolled himself in a blanket and
composed himself for slumber.

Mr. Stobell grunted, and in a few minutes was fast asleep. Mr. Tredgold,
first blowing out the candle, followed suit, while Mr. Chalk, a prey to
vague fears, sat up nursing a huge revolver.

The novelty of the position, the melancholy beat of the surge on the
farther beach, and faint, uncertain noises all around kept him awake. He
fancied that he heard stealthy footsteps on the beach, and low, guttural
voices calling among the palms. Twice he aroused his friends and twice
they sat up and reviled him.

"If you put your bony finger into my ribs again," growled Mr. Stobell,
tenderly rubbing the afflicted part, "you and me won't talk alike. Like
a bar of iron it was."

"I thought I heard something," said Mr. Chalk. "I should have fired,
only I was afraid of scaring you."

"_Fired?_" repeated Mr. Stobell, thoughtfully. "_Fired?_ Was it the
barrel of that infernal pistol you shoved into my ribs just now?"

"I just touched you with it," admitted the other. "I'm sorry if I hurt
you."

Mr. Stobell, feeling in his pocket, struck a match and held it up.
"Full cock," he said, in a broken voice; "and he stirred me up with it.
And then _he_ talks of savages!"

He struck another match and lit the candle, and then, before Mr. Chalk
could guess his intentions, pressed him backwards and took the pistol
away. He raised the canvas and threw it out into the night, and then,
remembering the guns, threw them after it. This done he blew out the
candle, and in two minutes was fast asleep again.

An hour passed and Mr. Chalk, despite his fears, began to nod. Half
asleep, he lay down and drew his blanket about him, and then he sat up
suddenly wide awake as an unmistakable footstep sounded outside.

For a few seconds he sat unable to move; then he stretched out his hand
and began to shake Stobell. He could have sworn that hands were fumbling
at the tent.

"Eh?" said Stobell, sleepily.

Chalk shook him again. Stobell sat up angrily, but before he could speak
a wild yell rent the air, the tent collapsed suddenly, and they struggled
half suffocated in the folds of the canvas.




CHAPTER XIX

Mr. Stobell was the first to emerge, and, seizing the canvas, dragged it
free of the writhing bodies of his companions. Mr. Chalk gained his feet
and, catching sight of some dim figures standing a few yards away on the
beach, gave a frantic shout and plunged into the interior, followed by
the others. A shower of pieces of coral whizzing by their heads and
another terrible yell accelerated their flight.

Mr. Chalk gained the farther beach unmolested and, half crazy with fear,
ran along blindly. Footsteps, which he hoped were those of his friends,
pounded away behind him, and presently Stobell, panting heavily, called
to him to stop. Mr. Chalk, looking over his shoulder, slackened his pace
and allowed him to overtake him.

"Wait - for - Tredgold," said Stobell, breathlessly, as he laid a heavy
hand on his shoulder.

Mr. Chalk struggled to free himself. "Where is he?" He gasped.

Stobell, still holding him, stood trying to regain his breath. "They -
they must - have got him," he said, at last. "Have you got any of your
pistols on you?"

"You threw them all away," quavered Mr. Chalk. "I've only got a knife."

He fumbled with trembling fingers at his belt; Stobell brushing his hand
aside drew a sailor's knife from its sheath, and started to run back in
the direction of the tent. Mr. Chalk, after a moment's hesitation,
followed a little way behind.

"Look out!" he screamed, and stopped suddenly, as a figure burst out of
the trees on to the beach a score of yards ahead. Stobell, with a hoarse
cry, raised his hand and dashed at it.

"Stobell!" cried a voice.

"It's Tredgold," cried Stobell. He waited for him to reach them, and
then, turning, all three ran stumbling along the beach.

They ran in silence until they reached the other end of the island. So
far there were no signs of pursuit, and Stobell, breathing hard from his
unwonted exercise, collected a few lumps of coral and piled them on the
beach.

"They had me over - twice," said Tredgold, jerkily; "they tore the clothes
from my back. How I got away I don't know. I fought - kicked - then
suddenly I broke loose and ran."

He threw himself on the beach and drew his breath in long, sobbing gasps.
Stobell, going a few paces forward, peered into the darkness and listened
intently.

"I suppose they're waiting for daylight," he said at last.

He sat down on the beach and, after making a few disparaging remarks
about coral as a weapon, lapsed into silence.

To Mr. Chalk it seemed as though the night would never end. A dozen
times he sprang to his feet and gazed fearfully into the darkness, and a
dozen times at least he reminded the silent Stobell of the folly of
throwing other people's guns away. Day broke at last and showed him
Tredgold in a tattered shirt and a pair of trousers, and Stobell sitting
close by sound asleep.

"We must try and signal to the ship," he said, in a hoarse whisper.
"It's our only chance."

Tredgold nodded assent and shook Stobell quietly. The silence was
oppressive. They rose and peered out to sea, and a loud exclamation
broke from all three. The "_Fair Emily_" had disappeared.

[Illustration: "The 'Fair Emily' had disappeared."]

Stobell rubbed his eyes and swore softly; Tredgold and Chalk stood gazing
in blank dismay at the unbroken expanse of shining sea.

"The savages must have surprised them," said the latter, in trembling
tones. "That's why they left us alone."

"Or else they heard the noise ashore and put to sea," said Tredgold.

They stood gazing at each other in consternation. Then Stobell, who had
been looking about him, gave vent to an astonished grunt and pointed to a
boat drawn upon the beach nearly abreast of where their tent had been.

"Some of the crew have escaped ashore," said Mr. Chalk.

Striking inland, so as to get the shelter of the trees, they made their
way cautiously towards the boat. Colour was lent to Mr. Chalk's surmise
by the fact that it was fairly well laden with stores. As they got near
they saw a couple of small casks which he thought contained water, an
untidy pile of tinned provisions, and two or three bags of biscuit. The
closest search failed to reveal any signs of men, and plucking up courage
they walked boldly down to the boat and stood gazing stupidly at its
contents.

The firearms which Stobell had pitched out of the tent the night before
lay in the bottom, together with boxes of cartridges from the cabin, a
couple of axes, and a pile of clothing, from the top of which Mr.
Tredgold, with a sharp exclamation, snatched a somewhat torn coat and
waistcoat. From the former he drew out a bulky pocketbook, and, opening
it with trembling fingers, hastily inspected the contents.

"The map has gone!" he shouted.

The others stared at him.

"Brisket has gone off with the ship," he continued, with desperate
calmness. "It was the crew of our own schooner that frightened us off
last night."

Mr. Stobell, still staring in a stony fashion, nodded slowly; Mr. Chalk
after an effort found his voice.

"They've gone off with the treasure," he said, slowly.

"Also," continued Tredgold, "this is not Bowers's Island. I can see it
all now. They've only taken the map, and now they're off to the real
island to get the treasure. It's as clear as daylight."

"Broad daylight," said Stobell, huskily. "But how did they know?"

"Somebody has been talking," said Tredgold, in a hard voice. "Somebody
has been confiding in that honest, open-hearted sailor, Captain Brisket."

He turned as he spoke and gazed fixedly at the open-mouthed Chalk. In a
slower fashion, but with no less venom, Mr. Stobell also bent his regards
upon that amiable but erring man.

Mr. Chalk returned their gaze with something like defiance. Half an hour
before he had expected to have been killed and eaten. He had passed a
night of horror, expecting death every minute. Now he exulted in the
blue sky, the line of white breakers crashing on the reef, and the sea
sparkling in the sunshine; and he had not spent twenty-five years with
Mrs. Chalk without acquiring some skill in the noble art of self-defence.

"Ah, Brisket was trying to pump me a week ago," he said, confidentially.
"I see it all now."

The others glared at him luridly.

"He said that he had seen us through the skylight studying a paper,"
continued Mr. Chalk, shaking his head. "I thought at the time you were
rather rash, Tredgold."

Mr. Tredgold choked and, meeting the fault-finding eye of Mr. Stobell,
began to protest.

"The thing Brisket couldn't understand," said Chalk, gaining confidence
as he proceeded, "was Stobell's behaviour. He said that he couldn't
believe that a man who grumbled at the sea so much as he did could be
sailing for pleasure."

Mr. Stobell glowered fiercely. "Why didn't you tell us before?" he
demanded.

"I didn't attach any importance to it," said Mr. Chalk, truthfully.
"I thought that it was just curiosity on Brisket's part. It surprised me
that he had been observing you and Tredgold so closely; that was all."

"Pity you didn't tell us," exclaimed Tredgold, harshly. "We might have
been prepared, then."

"You ought to have told us at once," said Stobell.

Mr. Chalk agreed. "I ought to have done so, perhaps," he said, slowly;
"only I was afraid of hurting your feelings. As it is, we must make the
best of it. It is no good grumbling at each other.

"If I had had the map instead of Tredgold, perhaps this wouldn't have
happened."

"It was a crazy idea to keep it in your coat-pocket," said Stobell,
scowling at Tredgold. "No doubt Brisket saw you put it back there the
other night, guessed what it was, and laid his plans according."

"If it hadn't been for your grumbling it wouldn't have happened,"
retorted Tredgold, hotly. "That's what roused his suspicions in the
first instance."

Mr. Chalk interposed. "It is no good you two quarrelling about it," he
said, with kindly severity. "The mischief is done. Bear a hand with
these stores, and then help me to fix the tent up again."

The others hesitated, and then without a word Mr. Stobell worked one of
the casks out of the boat and began to roll it up the beach. The tent
still lay where it had fallen, but the case of spades had disappeared.
They raised the tent again and carried in the stores, after which Mr.
Chalk, with the air of an old campaigner, made a small fire and prepared
breakfast.

[Illustration: "Mr. Chalk, with the air of an old campaigner, made a
small fire and prepared breakfast."]


Day by day they scanned the sea for any signs of a sail, but in vain.
Cocoa-nuts and a few birds shot by Mr. Stobell - who had been an expert at
pigeon-shooting in his youth - together with a species of fish which Mr.
Chalk pronounced to be edible a few hours after the others had partaken
of it, furnished them with a welcome change of diet. In the smooth water


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