«Published: 1897 Categorie(s): Fiction, Mystery & Detective Source: About Allen: Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen ...»
They rowed us round to the far side, where is the easiest landing-place. It struck me as odd at the moment that they seemed to know it. Then young Granton jumped lightly ashore; Mrs. Granton skipped after him. I confess it made me feel rather ashamed to see how clumsily Charles and I followed them, treading gingerly on the thwarts for fear of upsetting the boat, while the artless young thing just flew over the gunwale. So like White Heather! However, we got ashore at last in safety, and began to climb the rocks as well as we were able in search of the valerian.
Judge of our astonishment when next moment those two young people bounded back into the boat, pushed off with a peal of merry laughter, and left us there staring at them!
They rowed away, about twenty yards, into deep water.
Then the man turned, and waved his hand at us gracefully.
"Good-bye!" he said, "good-bye! Hope you'll pick a nice bunch! We're off to London!" "Off!" Charles exclaimed, turning pale. "Off! What do you mean? Y don't surely mean to say you're going to leave ou us here?" The young man raised his cap with perfect politeness, while Mrs. Granton smiled, nodded, and kissed her pretty hand to us. "Y es," he answered; "for the present. We retire from the game. The fact of it is, it's a trifle too thin: this is a coup manqué."
"A what?" Charles exclaimed, perspiring visibly.
"A coup manqué," the young man replied, with a compassionate smile. "A failure, don't you know; a bad shot; a fiasco. I learn from my scouts that you sent a telegram by special messenger to Lord Craig-Ellachie this morning. That shows you suspect me. Now, it is a principle of my system never to go on for one move with a game when I find myself suspected. The slightest symptom of distrust, and—I back out immediately. My plans can only be worked to satisfaction when there is perfect confidence on the part of my patient. It is a well-known rule of the medical profession. I never try to bleed a man who struggles. So now we're off. Ta-ta! Good luck to you!" He was not much more than twenty yards away, and could talk to us quite easily. But the water was deep; the islet rose sheer from I'm sure I don't know how many fathoms of sea; and we could neither of us swim. Charles stretched out his arms imploringly. "For Heaven's sake," he cried, "don't tell me you really mean to leave us here."
He looked so comical in his distress and terror that Mrs.
Granton—Madame Picardet—whatever I am to call her— laughed melodiously in her prettiest way at the sight of him.
"Dear Sir Charles," she called out, "pray don't be afraid! It's only a short and temporary imprisonment. We will send men to take you off. Dear David and I only need just time enough to get well ashore and make—oh!—a few slight alterations in our personal appearance." And she indicated with her hand, laughing, dear David's red wig and false sandy whiskers, as we felt convinced they must be now.
She looked at them and tittered. Her manner at this moment was anything but shy. In fact, I will venture to say, it was that of a bold and brazen-faced hoyden.
"Then you are Colonel Clay!" Sir Charles cried, mopping his brow with his handkerchief.
"If you choose to call me so," the young man answered politely. "I'm sure it's most kind of you to supply me with a commission in Her Majesty's service. However, time presses, and we want to push off. Don't alarm yourselves unnecessarily. I will send a boat to take you away from this rock at the earliest possible moment consistent with my personal safety and my dear companion's." He laid his hand on his heart and struck a sentimental attitude. "I have received too many unwilling kindnesses at your hands, Sir Charles," he continued, "not to feel how wrong it would be of me to inconvenience you for nothing. Rest assured that you shall be rescued by midnight at latest. Fortunately, the weather just at present is warm, and I see no chance of rain; so you will suffer, if at all, from nothing worse than the pangs of temporary hunger."
Mrs. Granton, no longer squinting—'twas a mere trick she had assumed—rose up in the boat and stretched out a rug to us. "Catch!" she cried, in a merry voice, and flung it at us, doubled. It fell at our feet; she was a capital thrower.
"Now, you dear Sir Charles," she went on, "take that to keep you warm! Y know I am really quite fond of you.
ou You're not half a bad old boy when one takes you the right way. Y have a human side to you. Why, I often wear that ou sweetly pretty brooch you gave me at Nice, when I was Madame Picardet! And I'm sure your goodness to me at Lucerne, when I was the little curate's wife, is a thing to remember. We're so glad to have seen you in your lovely Scotch home you were always so proud of! Don't be frightened, please. We wouldn't hurt you for worlds.
We are so sorry we have to take this inhospitable means of evading you. But dear David—Imust call him dear David still—instinctively felt that you were beginning to suspect us;
and he can't bear mistrust. He is so sensitive! The moment people mistrust him, he must break off with them at once.
This was the only way to get you both off our hands while we make the needful little arrangements to depart; and we've been driven to avail ourselves of it. However, I will give you my word of honour, as a lady, you shall be fetched away to-night. If dear David doesn't do it, why, I'll do it myself." And she blew another kiss to us.
Charles was half beside himself, divided between alternate terror and anger. "Oh, we shall die here!" he exclaimed. "Nobody'd ever dream of coming to this rock to search for me."
"What a pity you didn't let me teach you to swim!" Colonel Clay interposed. "It is a noble exercise, and very useful indeed in such special emergencies! Well, ta-ta! I'm off! Y nearly scored one this time; but, by putting you here ou for the moment, and keeping you till we're gone, I venture to say I've redressed the board, and I think we may count it a drawn game, mayn't we? The match stands at three, love— with some thousands in pocket?" "You're a murderer, sir!" Charles shrieked out. "We shall starve or die here!" Colonel Clay on his side was all sweet reasonableness.
"Now, my dear sir," he expostulated, one hand held palm outward, "Doyou think it probable I would kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, with so little compunction? No, no, Sir Charles Vandrift; I know too well how much you are worth to me. I return you on my income-tax paper as five thousand a year, clear profit of my profession. Suppose you were to die! I might be compelled to find some new and far less lucrative source of plunder. Y our heirs, executors, or assignees might not suit my purpose. The fact of it is, sir, your temperament and mine are exactly adapted one to the other. Iunderstand you; and you do not understand me— which is often the basis of the firmest friendships. I can catch you just where you are trying to catch other people.
Y very smartness assists me; for I admit you are smart.
our As a regular financier, I allow, I couldn't hold a candle to you. But in my humbler walk of life I know just how to utilise you. I lead you on, where you think you are going to gain some advantage over others; and by dexterously playing upon your love of a good bargain, your innate desire to best somebody else—I succeed in besting you. There, sir, you have the philosophy of our mutual relations."
He bowed and raised his cap. Charles looked at him and cowered. Y genius as he is, he positively cowered. "And es, do you mean to say," he burst out, "you intend to go on so bleeding me?" The Colonel smiled a bland smile. "Sir Charles Vandrift," he answered, "I called you just now the goose that lays the golden eggs. Y may have thought the metaphor a rude ou one. But you are a goose, you know, in certain relations.
Smartest man on the Stock Exchange, I readily admit;
easiest fool to bamboozle in the open country that ever I met with. Y fail in one thing—the perspicacity of ou simplicity. For that reason, among others, I have chosen to fasten upon you. Regard me, my dear sir, as a microbe of millionaires, a parasite upon capitalists. Y know the old ou
Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em, And these again have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum!
Well, that's just how I view myself. You are a capitalist and a millionaire. In your large way you prey upon society. YOU deal in Corners, Options, Concessions, Syndicates. Y ou drain the world dry of its blood and its money. Y possess, ou like the mosquito, a beautiful instrument of suction— Founders' Shares—with which you absorb the surplus wealth of the community. In my smaller way, again, I relieve you in turn of a portion of the plunder. I am a Robin Hood of my age; and, looking upon you as an exceptionally bad form of millionaire—as well as an exceptionally easy form of pigeon for a man of my type and talents to pluck—I have, so to speak, taken up my abode upon you."
Charles looked at him and groaned.
The young man continued, in a tone of gentle badinage.
"I love the plot-interest of the game," he said, "and so does dear Jessie here. We both of us adore it. As long as I find such good pickings upon you, I certainly am not going to turn away from so valuable a carcass, in order to batten myself, at considerable trouble, upon minor capitalists, out of whom it is difficult to extract a few hundreds. It may have puzzled you to guess why I fix upon you so persistently. Now you know, and understand. When a fluke finds a sheep that suits him, that fluke lives upon him. Y are my host: I am ou your parasite. This coup has failed. But don't flatter yourself for a moment it will be the last one."
"Why do you insult me by telling me all this?" Sir Charles cried, writhing.
The Colonel waved his hand. It was small and white.
"Because I love the game," he answered, with a relish;
"and also, because the more prepared you are beforehand, the greater credit and amusement is there in besting you.
Well, now, ta-ta once more! I am wasting valuable time. I might be cheating somebody. I must be off at once….
Take care of yourself, Wentworth. But I know you will. Y ou always do. Ten per cent is more usual!" He rowed away and left us. As the boat began to disappear round the corner of the island, White Heather— so she looked—stood up in the stern and shouted aloud through her pretty hands to us. "By-bye, dear Sir Charles!" she cried. "Do wrap the rug around you! I'll send the men to fetch you as soon as ever I possibly can. And thank you so much for those lovely flowers!" The boat rounded the crags. We were alone on the island. Charles flung himself on the bare rock in a wild access of despondency. He is accustomed to luxury, and cannot get on without his padded cushions. As for myself, I climbed with some difficulty to the top of the cliff, landward, and tried to make signals of distress with my handkerchief to some passer-by on the mainland. All in vain. Charles had dismissed the crofters on the estate; and, as the shootingparty that day was in an opposite direction, not a soul was near to whom we could call for succour.
I climbed down again to Charles. The evening came on slowly. Cries of sea-birds rang weird upon the water.
Puffins and cormorants circled round our heads in the gray of twilight. Charles suggested that they might even swoop down upon us and bite us. They did not, however, but their flapping wings added none the less a painful touch of eeriness to our hunger and solitude. Charles was horribly depressed. For myself, I will confess I felt so much relieved at the fact that Colonel Clay had not openly betrayed me in the matter of the commission, as to be comparatively comfortable.
We crouched on the hard crag. About eleven o'clock we heard human voices. "Boat ahoy!" I shouted. An answering shout aroused us to action. We rushed down to the landingplace and cooee'd for the men, to show them where we were. They came up at once in Sir Charles's own boat.
They were fishermen from Niggarey, on the shore of the Firth opposite.
A lady and gentleman had sent them, they said, to return the boat and call for us on the island; their description corresponded to the two supposed Grantons. They rowed us home almost in silence to Seldon. It was half-past twelve by the gatehouse clock when we reached the castle. Men had been sent along the coast each way to seek us. Amelia had gone to bed, much alarmed for our safety. Isabel was sitting up. It was too late, of course, to do much that night in the way of apprehending the miscreants, though Charles insisted upon dispatching a groom, with a telegram for the police at Inverness, to Fowlis.
Nothing came of it all. A message awaited us from Lord Craig-Ellachie, to be sure, saying that his son had not left Glen-Ellachie Lodge; while research the next day and later showed that our correspondent had never even received our letter. An empty envelope alone had arrived at the house, and the postal authorities had been engaged meanwhile, with their usual lightning speed, in "investigating the matter." Césarine had posted the letter herself at Fowlis, and brought back the receipt; so the only conclusion we could draw was this—Colonel Clay must be in league with somebody at the post-office. As for Lord Craig-Ellachie's reply, that was a simple forgery; though, oddly enough, it was written on Glen-Ellachie paper.
However, by the time Charles had eaten a couple of grouse, and drunk a bottle of his excellent Rudesheimer, his spirits and valour revived exceedingly. Doubtless he inherits from his Boer ancestry a tendency towards courage of the Batavian description. He was in capital feather.
"After all, Sey," he said, leaning back in his chair, "this time we score one. He has not done us brown; we have at least detected him. To detect him in time is half-way to catching him. Only the remoteness of our position at Seldon Castle saved him from capture. Next set-to, I feel sure, we will not merely spot him, we will also nab him. I only wish he would try on such a rig in London."
But the oddest part of it all was this, that from the moment those two people landed at Niggarey, and told the fishermen there were some gentlemen stranded on the Seamew's island, all trace of them vanished. At no station along the line could we gain any news of them. Their maid had left the inn the same morning with their luggage, and we tracked her to Inverness; but there the trail stopped short, no spoor lay farther. It was a most singular and insoluble mystery.
Charles lived in hopes of catching his man in London.
But for my part, I felt there was a show of reason in one last taunt which the rascal flung back at us as the boat receded: "Sir Charles Vandrift, we are a pair of rogues.
The law protects you. It persecutes me. That's all the difference."
THE EPISODE OF THE
GERMAN PROFESSORThat winter in town my respected brother-in-law had little time on his hands to bother himself about trifles like Colonel Clay. A thunderclap burst upon him. He saw his chief interest in South Africa threatened by a serious, an unexpected, and a crushing danger.
Charles does a little in gold, and a little in land; but his principal operations have always lain in the direction of diamonds. Only once in my life, indeed, have I seen him pay the slightest attention to poetry, and that was when I happened one day to recite the lines:— Full many a gem of purest ray serene The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear.
He rubbed his hands at once and murmured enthusiastically, "I never thought of that. We might get up an Atlantic Exploration Syndicate, Limited." So attached is he to diamonds. Y may gather, therefore, what a shock it ou was to that gigantic brain to learn that science was rapidly reaching a point where his favourite gems might become all at once a mere drug in the market. Depreciation is the one bugbear that perpetually torments Sir Charles's soul;
that winter he stood within measurable distance of so appalling a calamity.
It happened after this manner.