On a fine afternoon towards the end of the following month Captain Brisket and Mr. Duckett sat outside the Swan and Bottle Inn, Holemouth, a small port forty miles distant from Biddlecombe. The day was fine, with just a touch of crispness in the air to indicate the waning of the year, and, despite a position regarded by the gloomy Mr. Duckett as teeming with perils, the captain turned a bright and confident eye on the Fair Emily, anchored in the harbour.
"We ought to have gone straight to Biddlecombe," said Mr. Duckett, following his glance; "it would have looked better. Not that anything'll make much difference."
"And everybody in a flutter of excitement telegraphing off to the owners," commented the captain. "No, we'll tell our story first; quiet and comfortable-like. Say it over again."
"I've said it three times," objected Mr. Duckett; "and each time it sounds more unreal than ever."
"It'll be all right," said Brisket, puffing at his cigar. "Besides, we've got no choice. It's that or ruin, and there's nobody within thousands of miles to contradict us. We bring both the ship and the map back to 'em. What more can they ask?"
"You'll soon know," said the pessimistic Mr. Duckett. "I wonder whether they'll have another shot for the treasure when they get that map back?" "I should like to send that Captain Bowers out searching for it," said Brisket, scowling, "and keep him out there till he finds it. It's all his fault. If it hadn't been for his cock-and-bull story we shouldn't ha' done what we did. Hanging's too good for him."
"I suppose it's best for them not to know that there's no such island?" hazarded Mr. Duckett.
"O' course," snapped his companion. "Looks better for us, don't it, giving them back a map worth half a million. Now go through the yarn again and I'll see whether I can pick any holes in it. The train goes in half an hour."
Mr. Duckett sighed and, first emptying his mug, began a monotonous recital. Brisket listened attentively.
"We were down below asleep when the men came running down and overpowered us. They weighed anchor at night, and following morning made you, by threats, promise to steer them to the island. You told me on the quiet that you'd die before you betrayed the owners' trust. How did they know that the island the gentlemen were on wasn't the right one? Because Sam Betts was standing by when you told me you'd made a mistake in your reckoning and said we'd better go ashore and tell them."
"That's all right so far, I think," said Brisket, nodding.
"We sailed about and tried island after island just to satisfy the men and seize our opportunity," continued Mr. Duckett, with a weary air. "At last, one day, when they were all drunk ashore, we took the map, shipped these natives, and sailed back to the island to rescue the owners. Found they'd gone when we got there. Mr. Stobell's boot and an old pair of braces produced in proof."
"Better wrap it up in a piece o' newspaper," said Brisket, stooping and producing the relic in question from under the table.
"Shipped four white men at Viti Levu and sailed for home," continued Mr. Duckett. "Could have had more, but wanted to save owners' pockets, and worked like A.B.'s ourselves to do so."
"Let'em upset that if they can," said Brisket, with a confident smile. "The crew are scattered, and if they happened to get one of them it's only his word against ours. Wait a bit. How did the crew know of the treasure?"
"Chalk told you," responded the obedient Duckett. "And if he told you—and he can't deny it—why not them?"
Captain Briskett nodded approval. "It's all right as far as I can see," he said, cautiously. "But mind. Leave the telling of it to me. You can just chip in with little bits here and there. Now let's get under way."
He threw away the stump of his cigar and rose, turning as he reached the corner for a lingering glance at the Fair Emily.
"Scrape her and clean her and she'd be as good as ever," he said, with a sigh. "She's just the sort o' little craft you and me could ha' done with, Peter."
They had to change twice on the way to Binchester, and at each stopping-place Mr. Duckett, a prey to nervousness, suggested the wisdom of disappearing while they had the opportunity.
"Disappear and starve, I suppose?" grunted the scornful Brisket. "What about my certificate? and yours, too? I tell you it's our only chance."
He walked up the path to Mr. Chalk's house with a swagger which the mate endeavoured in vain to imitate. Mr. Chalk was out, but the captain, learning that he was probably to be found at Dialstone Lane, decided to follow him there rather than first take his tidings to Stobell or Tredgold. With the idea of putting Mr. Duckett at his ease he talked on various matters as they walked, and, arrived at Dialstone Lane, even stopped to point out the picturesque appearance its old houses made in the moonlight.
"This is where the old pirate who made the map lives," he whispered, as he reached the door. "If he's got anything to say I'll tackle him about that. Now, pull yourself together!"
He knocked loudly on the door with his fist. A murmur of voices stopped suddenly, and, in response to a gruff command from within, he opened the door and stood staring at all three of his victims, who were seated at the table playing whist with Captain Bowers.
The three gentlemen stared back in return. Tredgold and Chalk had half risen from their seats; Mr. Stobell, with both arms on the table, leaned forward, and regarded him open-mouthed.
"Good evening, gentlemen all," said Captain Brisket, in a hearty voice.
He stepped forward, and seizing Mr. Chalk's hand wrung it fervently.
"It's good for sore eyes to see you again, sir," he said. "Look at him, Peter!"
Mr. Duckett, ignoring this reflection on his personal appearance, stepped quietly inside the door, and stood smiling nervously at the company.
"It's him," said the staring Mr. Stobell, drawing a deep breath. "It's Brisket."
He pushed his chair back and, rising slowly from the table, confronted him. Captain Brisket, red-faced and confident, stared up at him composedly.
"It's Brisket," said Mr. Stobell again, in a voice of deep content. "Turn the key in that door, Chalk."
Mr. Chalk hesitated, but Brisket, stepping to the door, turned the key and, placing it on the table, returned to his place by the side of the mate. Except for a hard glint in his eye his face still retained its smiling composure.
"And now," said Stobell, "you and me have got a word or two to say to each other. I haven't had the pleasure of seeing your ugly face since—"
"Since the disaster," interrupted Tredgold, loudly and hastily.
Mr. Stobell suddenly remembered. For a few moments he stood irresolute, and then, with an extraordinary contortion of visage, dropped into his chair again and sat gazing blankly before him.
"Me and Peter Duckett only landed to-day," said Brisket, "and we came on to see you by the first train we could—"
"I know," said Tredgold, starting up and taking his hand, "and we're delighted to see you are safe. And Mr. Duckett?—"
He found Mr. Duckett's hand after a little trouble—the owner seeming to think that he wanted it for some unlawful purpose—and shook that. Captain Brisket, considerably taken aback by this performance, gazed at him with suspicion.
"You didn't go down with your ship, then, after all," said Captain Bowers, who had been looking on with much interest.
Amazement held Brisket dumb. He turned and eyed Duckett inquiringly. Then Tredgold, with his back to the others, caught his eye and frowned significantly.
"If Captain Brisket didn't go down with it I am sure that he was the last man to leave it," he said, kindly; "and Mr. Duckett last but one."
Mr. Duckett, distrustful of these compliments, cast an agonized glance at the door.
"Stobell was a bit rough just now," said Tredgold, with another warning glance at Brisket, "but he didn't like being shipwrecked."
Brisket gazed at the door in his turn. He had an uncomfortable feeling that he was being played with.
"It's nothing much to like," he said, at last, "but—"
"Tell us how you escaped," said Tredgold; "or, perhaps," he continued, hastily, as Brisket was about to speak—"perhaps you would like first to hear how we did."
"Perhaps that would be better," said the perplexed Brisket.
He nudged the mate with his elbow, and Mr. Tredgold, still keeping him under the spell of his eye, began with great rapidity to narrate the circumstances attending the loss of the Fair Emily. After one irrepressible grunt of surprise Captain Brisket listened without moving a muscle, but the changes on Mr. Duckett's face were so extraordinary that on several occasions the narrator faltered and lost the thread of his discourse. At such times Mr. Chalk took up the story, and once, when both seemed at a loss, a growling contribution came from Mr. Stobell.
"Of course, you got away in the other boat," said Tredgold, nervously, when he had finished.
Brisket looked round shrewdly, his wits hard at work. Already the advantages of adopting a story which he supposed to have been concocted for the benefit of Captain Bowers were beginning to multiply in his ready brain.
"And didn't see us owing to the darkness," prompted Tredgold, with a glance at Mr. Joseph Tasker, who was lingering by the door after bringing in some whisky.
"You're quite right, sir," said Brisket, after a trying pause. "I didn't see you."
Unasked he took a chair, and with crossed legs and folded arms surveyed the company with a broad smile.
"You're a fine sort of shipmaster," exclaimed the indignant Captain Bowers. "First you throw away your ship, and then you let your passengers shift for themselves."
"I am responsible to my owners," said Brisket. "Have you any fault to find with me, gentlemen?" he demanded, turning on them with a frown.
Tredgold and Chalk hastened to reassure him.
"In the confusion the boat got adrift," said Brisket. "You've got their own word for it. Not that they didn't behave well for landsmen: Mr. Chalk's pluck was wonderful, and Mr. Tredgold was all right."
Mr. Stobell turned a dull but ferocious eye upon him.
"And you all got off in the other boat," said Tredgold. "I'm very glad."
Captain Brisket looked at him, but made no reply. The problem of how to make the best of the situation was occupying all his attention.
"Me and Peter Duckett would be glad of some of our pay," he said, at last.
"Pay?" repeated Tredgold, in a dazed voice.
Brisket looked at him again, and then gave a significant glance in the direction of Captain Bowers. "We'd like twenty pounds on account—now," he said, calmly.
Tredgold looked hastily at his friends. "Come and see me to-morrow," he said, nervously, "and we'll settle things."
"You can send us the rest," said Brisket, "but we want that now. We're off to-night."
"But we must see you again," said Tredgold, who was anxious to make arrangements about the schooner. "We—we've got a lot of things to talk about. The—the ship, for instance."
"I'll talk about her now if you want me to," said Brisket, with unpleasant readiness. "Meantime, we'd like that money."
Fortunately—or unfortunately—Tredgold had been to his bank that morning, and, turning a deaf ear to the expostulations of Captain Bowers, he produced his pocketbook, and after a consultation with Mr. Chalk, and an attempt at one with the raging Stobell, counted out the money and handed it over.
"And there is an I.O.U. for the remainder," he said, with an attempt at a smile, as he wrote on a slip of paper.
Brisket took it with pleased surprise, and the mate, leaning against his shoulder, read the contents: "Where is the 'Fair Emily'?"
"You might as well give me a receipt," said Tredgold, significantly, as he passed over pencil and paper.
Captain Brisket thanked him and, sucking the pencil, eyed him thoughtfully. Then he bent to the table and wrote.
"You sign here, Peter," he said.
Mr. Tredgold smiled at the precaution, but the smile faded when he took the paper. It was a correctly worded receipt for twenty pounds. He began to think that he had rated the captain's intelligence somewhat too highly.
"Ah, we've had a hard time of it," said Brisket, putting the notes into his breast-pocket and staring hard at Captain Bowers. "When that little craft went down, of course I went down with her. How I got up I don't know, but when I did there was Peter hanging over the side of the boat and pulling me in by the hair."
He paused to pat the mate on the shoulder.
"Unfortunately for us we took a different direction to you, sir," he continued, turning to Tredgold, "and we were pulling for six days before we were picked up by a barque bound for Melbourne. By the time she sighted us we were reduced to half a biscuit a day each and two teaspoonfuls o' water, and not a man grumbled. Did they, Peter?"
"Not a man," said Mr. Duckett.
"At Melbourne," said the captain, who was in a hurry to be off, "we all separated, and Duckett and me worked our way home on a cargo-boat. We always stick together, Peter and me."
"And always will," said Mr. Duckett, with a little emotion as he gazed meaningly at the captain's breast-pocket.
"When I think o' that little craft lying all those fathoms down," continued the captain, staring full at Mr. Tredgold, "it hurts me. The nicest little craft of her kind I ever handled. Well—so long, gentlemen."
"We shall see you to-morrow," said Tredgold, hastily, as the captain rose.
Brisket shook his head.
"Me and Peter are very busy," he said, softly. "We've been putting our little bit o' savings together to buy a schooner, and we want to settle things as soon as possible."
"A schooner?" exclaimed Mr. Tredgold, with an odd look.
Captain Brisket nodded indulgently.
"One o' the prettiest little craft you ever saw, gentlemen," he said," "and, if you've got no objection, me and Peter Duckett thought o' calling her the Fair Emily, in memory of old times. Peter's a bit sentimental at times, but I don't know as I can blame him for it. Good night."
He opened the door slowly, and the sentimental Mr. Duckett, still holding fast to the parcel containing Mr. Stobell's old boot, slipped thankfully outside. Calmly and deliberately Captain Brisket followed, and the door was closing behind him when it suddenly stopped, and his red face was thrust into the room again.
"One thing is," he said, eyeing the speechless Tredgold with sly relish, "she's uncommonly like the Fair Emily we lost. Good night."
The door closed with a snap, but Tredgold and Chalk made no move. Glued to their seats, they stared blankly at the door, until the rigidity of their pose and the strangeness of their gaze began to affect the slower-witted Mr. Stobell.
"Anything wrong?" inquired the astonished Captain Bowers, looking from one to the other.
There was no reply. Mr. Stobell rose and, after steadying himself for a moment with his hands on the table, blundered heavily towards the door. As though magnetized, Tredgold and Chalk followed and, standing beside him on the footpath, stared solemnly up Dialstone Lane.
Captain Brisket and his faithful mate had disappeared.