The Courteous Captain

Vickers sprang back at that door as the sharp click of the turning key caught his ear, and Copplestone, preceding him and following Audrey, who had advanced fearlessly into the cabin, pulled himself up with a sudden, sickening sense of treachery. The two young men looked at each other, and a dead silence fell on them and the girl. Then Vickers laid his hand on the door and shook it.

“Locked in!” he muttered with a queer glance at his companions. “What does that mean?”

“Nothing good!” growled Copplestone who was secretly cursing his own folly in allowing Audrey to leave the quay. “We’re trapped!⁠—that’s what it means. Why we’re trapped isn’t a question that matters very much under the circumstances⁠—the serious thing is that we certainly are trapped.”

Vickers turned to Audrey.

“My fault!” he said contritely. “All my fault! But I meant it for the best⁠—it was the thing to do⁠—and who on earth could have foreseen this. Look here!⁠—we’ve got to think pretty quick, Copplestone, that captain, now? Has he done this on his own hook, or⁠—is there somebody on board who’s at the top of things?”

“I don’t see any good in thinking quick, or asking one’s self questions,” replied Copplestone. “We’re locked in here. We’ve got Miss Greyle into this mess⁠—and her mother will be anxious and alarmed. I wish we’d let this confounded yacht go where it liked before ever we’d⁠—”

“Don’t!” broke in Audrey. “That’s no good. Mr. Vickers certainly did what he felt to be best⁠—and who could foresee this? And I’m not afraid⁠—and as for my mother, if we don’t return very soon, why, she knows where we are and there are police in Scarhaven, and⁠—”

“How long are we going to be where we are?” asked Copplestone, grimly. “The thing’s moving!”

There was no doubt of that very pertinent fact. Somewhere beneath them, machinery began to work; above them there was hurry and scurry as ropes and stays were thrown off. But so beautifully built was that yacht, and so almost soundproof the luxurious cabin in which they were prisoners, that little of the noise of departure came to them. However, there was no mistaking the increasing throb of the engines nor the fact that the vessel was moving, and Vickers suddenly sprang on a lounge seat and moved away a silken screen which curtained a porthole window.

“There’s no doubt of that!” he exclaimed.

“We’re going through the outer harbour⁠—we’ve passed the light at the end of the quay. What do these people mean by carrying us out to sea? Copplestone!⁠—with all submission to you⁠—whether it’s relevant or not, I wish we knew more of that captain chap!”

“I know him,” remarked Audrey. “I have been on this yacht before. His name is Andrius. He’s an American⁠—or American-Norwegian, or something like that.”

“And the crew?” asked Vickers. “Are they Scarhaven men?”

“No,” replied Audrey. “There isn’t a Scarhaven man amongst them. My cousin⁠—I mean⁠—you know whom I mean⁠—bought this yacht just as it stood, from an American millionaire early this spring, and he took over the captain, crew, and everything.”

“So⁠—we’re in the hands of strangers!” exclaimed Vickers, while Copplestone dug his hands into his pockets and began to stamp about. “I wish I’d known all that before we came on board.”

“But what harm can they do us?” said Audrey, incredulous of danger. “You don’t suppose they’ll want to murder us, surely! My own belief is that we never should have been locked up here if you hadn’t let them know how much we know, Mr. Vickers.”

“Let them⁠—I don’t understand,” said Vickers, turning a puzzled glance on her.

“Why,” replied Audrey with a laugh which convinced both men of her fearlessness, “you let the captain see that we know a great deal and he thereupon ran downstairs⁠—presumably to tell somebody of what you said. And⁠—here’s the result!”

“You think, then⁠—” suggested Vickers. “You think that⁠—”

“I think the somebody⁠—whoever he is⁠—wants to know exactly how much we do know,” answered Audrey with another laugh. “And so we’re being carried off to be cross-examined⁠—at somebody’s leisure. Let’s hope they won’t use thumbscrews and that sort of thing. And anyway,” she continued, looking from one to the other, “hadn’t we better make the best of it? We’re going out to sea, that’s certain⁠—here’s the bar!”

A sudden lifting of the thickly-carpeted floor, a dip to the left, another to the right, a plunge forward, a drop back, then a settling down to a steady persistent roll, showed her companions that Audrey was right⁠—the yacht was crossing the bar which lay at the mouth of Scarhaven Bay. Outside that lay the North Sea, and Copplestone suddenly wondered which course the vessel was going to take, north, east, or south. But before he could put his thoughts into words, the door was suddenly unlocked, and Captain Andrius, suave, polite, deprecating, walked into the cabin.

“A thousands pardons⁠—and two words of explanation!” he exclaimed, as he executed a deep bow to his lady prisoner. “First⁠—Miss Greyle, I have sent a message to your mother that you are quite safe and will join her in due course. Second⁠—this is merely a temporary detention⁠—you shall all be landed⁠—all in good time.”

Vickers as a legal man, assumed his most professional air.

“Do you know what you are rendering yourself liable to, sir, by detaining us at all?” he demanded. “An action⁠—”

Captain Andrius bowed again; again assumed his deprecating smile. He waved the two men to seats and himself took a chair with his back to the door by which he entered.

“My dear sir!” he said courteously. “You forget that I am but a servant. I am under orders. However, I give my word that no harm shall come to you, that you shall be treated with every polite attention, and that you shall be landed.”

“When⁠—and where?” asked Vickers.

“Tomorrow, certainly,” replied Andrius. “As to where, I cannot exactly say. But⁠—where you will be in touch with⁠—shall we say civilization?”

He showed a set of fine white teeth in such a curious fashion as he spoke the last word that Copplestone and Vickers instinctively glanced at each other, with a mutual instinct of distrust.

“Won’t do!” said Vickers. “I insist that you put about and go into Scarhaven again.”

Andrius spread out his open palms and shook his head “Impossible!” he answered. “We are already en voyage. Time presses. Be placable⁠—tomorrow you shall be released.”

Vickers was about to answer this appeal with an angry refusal to be either placable or tractable, but he suddenly stopped the words which rose to his tongue. There was something in all this⁠—some mystery, some queer game, and it might be worth while to find it out.

“Where are you taking this yacht?” he demanded brusquely. “Come, now!”

“I am under⁠—orders,” said Andrius, with another smile.

“Whose orders?” persisted Vickers. “Look here⁠—it’s no use trying to burke facts. Who’s on board this vessel? You know what I mean. Is the man who calls himself Squire of Scarhaven here?”

Andrius shook his head quietly and gave his questioner a shrewd glance.

Mr. Vickers,” he said meaningly, “I know you! You are a lawyer⁠—though a young one. Lawyers are guarded in their speech. Now⁠—we are alone⁠—we four. No one can hear anything we say. Tell me⁠—is that right what you said to me on deck, that the man who has called himself Marston Greyle is not so at all?”

“Absolutely right,” replied Vickers.

“An impostor?” demanded Andrius.

“He is!”

“And never had any right to⁠—anything?”

“No right whatever!”

“Then,” said Andrius, with a polite inclination of his head and shoulders to Audrey, “the truth is that everything of the Scarhaven property belongs to this lady?”

“Everything!” exclaimed Vickers. “Land, houses, furniture, valuables⁠—everything. All the property which you have on this yacht⁠—pictures, china, silver, books, objects of art, as I am instructed, removed from the house⁠—are Miss Greyle’s sole property. Once more I warn you of what you are doing, and I demand that you immediately return to Scarhaven. This very yacht belongs to Miss Greyle!”

Andrius nodded, looked fixedly at the young solicitor for a moment, and then rose.

“I am obliged to you,” he said. “That, of course, is your claim. But⁠—the other one, eh? It seems to me there might be something to be said for that, you know? So, all I can do is to renew my assurance of polite attention, offer you our best accommodation⁠—which is luxurious⁠—and promise to land you⁠—somewhere⁠—tomorrow. Miss Greyle, we have two women servants on board⁠—I shall send them to you at once and they will attend to you⁠—please consider them your own. You, gentlemen, will perhaps join me in my quarters?⁠—I have two spare cabins close to my own which are at your service.”

Copplestone and Vickers looked at each other and at Audrey⁠—undecided and vaguely suspicious. But Audrey was evidently neither alarmed nor uneasy⁠—she nodded a ready assent to the Captain’s proposal.

“Thank you, Captain Andrius,” she said coolly. “I know the two women. You may send one of them. Do what he suggests,” she murmured, turning to Copplestone, who had moved close to her, “I’m not one scrap afraid of anything⁠—and it’s only until tomorrow. He’ll land us⁠—I’m sure of it.”

There was nothing for it, then, but to follow Andrius to his own comfortable quarters. There, utterly ignoring the strange circumstances under which they met, he played the part of host with genuine desire to make his guests feel at ease, and when he showed them to their berths, a little later, he emphasized his assurance of their absolute safety and liberty.

“You see, gentlemen, your movements are untrammelled,” he said. “You can go in and out of your quarters as you like. You can go where you like on the yacht tomorrow morning. There is no restriction on you. Sleep well⁠—and tomorrow you are all free again, eh?”

Copplestone got a word or two with Vickers⁠—alone.

“What do you think?” he muttered. “Shall you sleep?”

“My impression⁠—for I know what you’re thinking about,” said Vickers, “is that Miss Greyle’s as safe as if she were in her mother’s house! She’s no fear, herself, anyway. There’s some mystery, somewhere, and I can’t make this Andrius man out at all, but I believe all’s right as regards personal safety. There’s Miss Greyle’s cabin, anyhow, right opposite ours⁠—and I can keep an eye and an ear open even when I’m asleep!”

But in spite of these assurances, Copplestone slept little. He was up, dressed, and on deck by sunrise, staring around him in a fresh autumn morning to get some notion of the yacht’s whereabouts, and he had just managed to make out a mere filmy line of land far to the westward when Audrey appeared at his elbow. There was no one of any importance near them and Copplestone impulsively seized her hands.

“I’ve scarcely slept!” he blurted out, gazing intently at her. “Couldn’t! Blaming myself for letting you get into this confounded mess! You’re all right?”

Audrey responded a little to the pressure of his hands before she disengaged her own.

“It wasn’t your fault,” she said. “It’s nobody’s fault. Don’t blame Mr. Vickers⁠—he couldn’t foresee this. Yes, I’m all right⁠—and I slept like a top. What’s the use of worrying? Do you know,” she went on, lowering her voice and drawing nearer to him, “I believe something’s going to come of all this⁠—something that’ll clear matters up once and for all.”

“Why?” asked Copplestone, wonderingly. “What makes you think that?”

“Don’t know⁠—instinct, intuitiveness, perhaps,” she answered. “Besides⁠—I’m dead certain we’re not the only people⁠—I don’t mean crew and Captain⁠—aboard the Pike. I believe there’s somebody else. There’s some mystery, anyway. Keep that to yourself,” she said as Andrius and Vickers appeared from below. “Don’t show any sign⁠—wait to see how things turn out.”

She turned away from him to greet the other two as unconcernedly as if there were nothing unusual in the situation, and Copplestone marvelled at her coolness. He himself, not so well equipped with patience, was feverishly anxious to know how things would turn out, and when. But the day went by and nothing happened, except that Captain Andrius was very polite to his guests and that the yacht, a particularly fast sailer, continued to make headway through the grey seas, sometimes in bare sight of land and sometimes out of it. To one or two inquiries as to the fulfilment of his promise Andrius made no more answer than a reassuring nod; once when Vickers pressed him, he replied curtly that the day was not yet over. Vickers drew Copplestone aside on hearing that.

“Look here!” he said. “I’ve been reckoning things up as near as I can. I make out that we’ve been running due north, or northeast ever since we left Scarhaven last night. I reckon, too, that this vessel makes quite twenty-two or three, knots an hour. We must be off the extreme northeast coast of Scotland. And night’s coming on!”

“There are ports there that he can put into,” said Copplestone. “The thing is⁠—will he keep his promise? Remember!⁠—he must know very well that if we once land anywhere within reach of a telegraph office, we can wire particulars about him to every port in the world if we like⁠—and he’s got to go somewhere, eventually, you know.”

Vickers shook his head as if this were a problem he would give up. It was beyond him, he said, to even guess at what Andrius was after, or what was going to happen. And nothing did happen until, as the three prisoners sat at dinner with their polite gaoler, the Pike came to a sudden stop and hung gently on a quiet sea. Andrius looked up and smiled.

“A pleasant night for your landing,” he remarked. “Don’t hurry⁠—but there will be a boat ready for you as soon as dinner is over.”

“And where are we?” asked Vickers.

“That, my dear sir, you will see when you land,” replied Andrius. “You will, at any rate, be quite comfortable for the night, and in the morning, I think, you will be able to journey⁠—wherever you wish to go to.”

There was something in the smile which accompanied the last words which made Copplestone uneasy. But the prospect of regaining their liberty was too good⁠—he kept his own counsel. And half an hour later, he, Audrey and Vickers, stood on deck, looking down on a boat alongside, in which were two or three of the crew and a man holding a lantern. In front was the dark sea, and ahead a darker mass which they took to be land.

“You won’t tell us what this place is?” said Vickers as he was about to follow the others into the boat. “It’s on the mainland, of course?”

“The morning light, my good sir, will show you everything,” replied Andrius. “Be content that I have kept my promise⁠—you have come off luckily,” he added with a significant look.

Vickers felt a strange sense of alarm as the boat left the yacht. He noticed two or three suspicious circumstances. As soon as they got away, he saw that all the yacht’s lights had been or were being darkened or entirely obscured; at a dozen boat lengths they could see her no more. Then a boat, swiftly pulled, passed them in the darkness, evidently coming from the shore to which they were being taken: it, too, carried no light. Nor were there any lights on the shore itself; all there was in utter blackness. They were on the shingle within a quarter of an hour; within a minute or two the yachtsmen had helped all three on to the beach, had carried up certain boxes and packages which had been placed in the boat, had set down the lighted lantern, jumped into the boat again and vanished in the darkness. And in the silence, broken only by the drip of water from the retreating oars, and by the scarcely-noticed ripple of the waves, Audrey voiced exactly what her two companions felt.

“Andrius has kept his word⁠—and cheated us! We’re stranded!”

From somewhere out of the darkness came a groan⁠—deep and heartfelt, as if in entire agreement with Audrey’s declaration. That it proceeded from a human being was evident enough, and Vickers hastily snatched up the lantern and strode in the direction from which it came. And there, seated on the shingle, his whole attitude one of utter dejection and misery, the three castaways found a sharer of their sorrows⁠—Peter Chatfield!