Louis Tracy.

The Message





CHAPTER I
DERELICTS

Its fine! said Arthur Warden, lowering his binoculars so as to glut his eyes with the full spectacle. In fact, its more than fine, its glorious!

He spoke aloud in his enthusiasm. A stout, elderly man who stood near a man with retired tradesman writ large on face and figure believed that the tall, sparebuilt yachtsman was praising the weather.

Yes, sir, he chortled pompously, this is a reel August day. I knew it. Fust thing this morning I tole my missus we was in for a scorcher.

Warden gradually became aware that these ineptitudes were by way of comment. He turned and read the weatherprophets label at a glance. But life was too gracious at that moment, and he was far too welldisposed toward all men, that he should dream of inflicting a snub.

That was rather clever of you, he agreed genially. Now, though the barometer stood high, I personally was dreading a fog three hours ago.

The portly one gurgled.

Ive got a glass, he announced. Gev three pun ten for it, but theres a barrowmeter in my bones thats worth a dozen o them things. Ill back rheumatiz an a side o bacon any day to beat the best glass ever invented.

All unknowing, here was the touch of genius that makes men listen. Warden showed his interest.

A side of bacon! he repeated.

Yes, sir. Nothing to ekal it. I was in the trade, so I know wot Im talkin about. And, when you come to think of it, why not? Pig skin an salt one of em wont have any truck wi damp doesnt want it an shows it an tother sucks it up like a calf drinkin milk. Ive handled bacon in tons, every brand in the market, an you cant smoke any of em on a muggy day.

Does your theory account for the oldfashioned notion that pigs can see the wind?

The stout man considered the point. It was new to him, and he was a Conservative.

Im better acquent wi bacon, he said stubbornly.

So I gather. I was only developing your very original idea, on the principle that


You may break, you may shatter, the vase if you will,
But the scent of the roses will hang round it still.

The exbaconfactor rapped an emphatic stick on the pavement. Though he hoped some of his friends would see him hobnobbing with a swell, he refused to be made game of.

Wot as scent got to do with it? he demanded wrathfully.

Everything. Believe me, pigs have been used as pointers. And consider the porcine love of flowers. Why, there once was a pig named Maud because it would come into the garden.

Had Warden laughed he might have given the cue that was lacking. But his cleancut, somewhat sallow face did not relax, and an angry man puffed away from him in a red temper.

He caught scraps of soliloquy.

A pig named Maud!.. Did anybody ever hear the like?..

An becos it kem into a garden Might just as well ave called it Maria.

Then Warden, left at peace with the world, devoted himself again to the exquisite panorama of Cowes on a sunlit Monday of the towns great week. In front sparkled the waters of the Solent, the Bond Street of ocean highways. A breath of air from the west rippled over a strong current sweeping eastward. It merely kissed the emerald plain into tiny facets. It was so light a breeze that any ordinary sailing craft would have failed to make headway against the tide, and the gay flags and bunting of an innumerable pleasure fleet hung sleepily from their staffs and halyards. Yet it sufficed to bring a covey of whitewinged yachts flying back to Cowes after rounding the East Lepe buoy. Jackyard topsails and bowsprit spinnakers preened before it. Though almost imperceptible on shore, it awoke these gorgeous butterflies of the sea into life and motion. Huge 23meter cutters, such as White Heather II, Brynhild and Nyria, splendid cruisers like Maoona, errymaid, Shima, Creole, and Britomart, swooped grandly into the midst of the anchored craft as though bent on selfdestruction. To the unskilled eye it seemed a sheer miracle that any of them should emerge from the chaos of yachts, redwings, launches, motorboats, excursion steamers, and smaller fry that beset their path. But Cowes is nothing if not nautical. Those who understood knew that bowsprits and dinghies of moored yachts would be cleared magically, and even spinnaker booms topped to avoid lesser obstruction. Those who did not understand who heard no syllable of the full and free language that greeted an inane rowboat essaying an adventurous crossing of the course gazed breathlessly at these wondrous argosies, and marveled at their escape from disaster. Then the white fleet swept past the mouth of the river, and vanished behind Old Castle Point on the way to far distant buoy or lightship that marked the beginning of the homeward run. And that was all a brief flight of fairy ships and Cowes forthwith settled down to decorous junketing.

Away to the northwest a gathering of grayhulled monsters had thundered a royal salute of twentyone guns, and the smokecloud still lay in a blue film on the Hampshire coast. The Dreadnought was hauling at her anchors before taking a king and an emperor to witness the prowess of her gunners. The emperors private yacht, a halffledged manowar, was creeping in the wake of the competing yachts. Perchance her officers might see more of British gunnery practice than of the racing.

Close at hand a swarm of launches and ships boats buzzed round the landing slip of the Royal Yacht Club. The beautiful lawn and gardens were living parterres of color, for the Castle is a famous rendezvous of welldressed women. Parties were assembling for luncheon either in the clubhouse or on board the palatial vessels in the roads. To the multitude, yachting at Cowes consists of the blare of a startinggun, the brief vision of a cluster of yachts careening under an amazing press of canvas, and, for the rest, gossip, eating, bridge with a picnic or a dance to eke out the afternoon and evening.

Arthur Warden soon turned his back on the social Paradise he was not privileged to enter. He was resigned to the fact that the breeze which sent the competitors in the various matches spinning merrily to Spithead would not move his hired cutter a yard against the tide. So, having nothing better to do, he sauntered along the promenade toward the main street. On the way he passed the onetime purveyor of bacon sitting beside a lady who by long association had grown to resemble him.

Now I wonder if her name is Maria, he mused.

Drifting with the holiday crowd, he bought some picture postcards, a box of cigarettes, and a basket of hothouse peaches. Being a dilettante in some respects, he admired and became the prospective owner of the fruit before he learned the price. There were four peaches in the basket, and they cost him ten shillings.

Ah, he said, as the shopkeeper threw the half sovereign carelessly into the till, I see you have catered for Lucullus?

I dont think so, sir, said the greengrocer affably. Where does he live?

He had villas at Tusculum and Neapolis.

Theres no such places in the Isle of Wight, sir.

Strange! Has not the gamedealer across the street supplied him with peacocks tongues?

The man grinned.

Somebodys bin gettin at you, sir, he cried.

True, very true. Yet, according to Horace, I sup with Lucullus tonight.

Horace said that, did he?

The greengrocer suddenly turned and peered down a stairway.

Horace! he yelled, whos this here Lucullus youve bin gassin about?

A shockheaded boy appeared.

Loo who? said he.

Warden departed swiftly.

My humor does not appeal to Cowes, he reflected. I have scored two failures. Having conjured Horace from a coalcellar let me now confer with Diogenes in his tub.

Applied to Peter Evans, and his phenomenally small dinghy, the phrase was a happy enough description of the expilot who owned the Nancy. Evans and his craft had gone out of commission together. Both were famous in the annals of Channel pilotage, but an accident had deprived Peter of his left leg, so he earned a livelihood by summer cruising round the coast, and he was now awaiting his present employer at a quay in the river Medina.

But Wardens pace slackened again, once he was clear of the fruiterers shop. Sailing was out of the question until the breeze freshened. It was in his mind to bid Peter meet him again at four oclock. Meanwhile, he would go to Newport by train, and ramble in Parkhurst Forest for a couple of hours. Recalling that happygolucky mood in later days of storm and stress, he tried to piece together the trivial incidents that were even then conspiring to bring about the great climax of his life. A pace to left or right, a classical quip at his extravagance in the matter of the peaches, a slight hampering of free movement because the Portsmouth ferryboat happened to be disgorging some hundreds of sightseers into the main street of West Cowes each of these things, so insignificant, so commonplace, helped to bring him to the one spot on earth where fate, the enchantress, had set her snare in the guise of a pretty girl.

For it was undeniably a pretty face that was lifted to his when a young lady, detaching herself from the living torrent that delayed him for a few seconds on the pavement, appealed for information.

Will you please tell me how I can ascertain the berth of the yacht Sans Souci? she asked.

It has been seen that he was glib enough of speech, yet now he was tonguetied. In the very instant that the girl put forward her simple request, his eyes were fixed on the swarthy features of a Portuguese freebooter known to him as the greatest among the many scoundrels infesting the hinterland of Nigeria. There was no mistaking the man. The Panama hat, spotless linen, fashionable suit and glossy boots of a typical visitor to Cowes certainly offered strong contrast to the soiled garb of the balked slavetrader whom he had driven out of a burning and bloodbespattered African village a brief year earlier. But, on that occasion, Arthur Warden had gazed steadily at Miguel Figuero along the barrel of a revolver; under such circumstances one does not forget.

For a little space, then, the Englishmans imagination wandered far afield. Instinctively he raised his hat as he turned to the girl and repeated her concluding words.

The Sans Souci, did you say?

Yes, a steamyacht Mr. Baumgartners.

She paused. Though Warden was listening now, his wits were still woolgathering. His subconscious judgment was weighing Figueros motives in coming to England, and, of all places, to Cowes. Of the many men he had encountered during an active life this inland pirate was absolutely the last he would expect to meet during Regatta Week in the Isle of Wight.

The girl, half aware of his obsession, became confused even a trifle resentful.

I am sorry to trouble you, she went on nervously. I had no idea there would be such a crowd, and I spoke to you because because you looked as if you might know

Then he recovered his selfpossession, and proceeded to surprise her.

I do know, he broke in hurriedly. Pray allow me to apologize. The sun was in my eyes, and he permits no competition. Against him, even you would dazzle in vain. To make amends, let me take you to the Sans Souci. She is moored quite close to my cutter, and my dinghy is not fifty yards distant.

The girl drew back a little. This offer of service was rather too prompt, while its wording was peculiar, to say the least. She was so goodlooking that young men were apt to place themselves unreservedly at her disposal without reference to sun, moon, or stars.

I think I would prefer to hire a boat, she said coldly. I should explain that an officer on board the steamer told me I ought to discover the whereabouts of the yacht before starting, or the boatman would take me out of my way and overcharge.

Exactly. That officers name was Solomon. Now, I propose to take you straight there for nothing. Come with me as far as the quay. One glance at Peter will restore the confidence you have lost in me.

Then he smiled, and a woman can interpret a mans smile with almost uncanny prescience. The whiff of pique blew away, and she temporized.

Is the Sans Souci a long way out?

Nearly a mile. And look! We can eat these while Peter toils.

He opened the paper bag and showed her the peaches. She laughed lightly. Were she a Frenchwoman she would have said, But, sir, you are droll. Being English, she came to the point.

Where is the quay you speak of?

Here. Close at hand.

As they walked off together she discovered out of the corner of her eye that his glance was searching the thinning mob of her fellow passengers. She guessed that he had recognized some person unexpectedly.

Are you sure I am not trespassing on your time? she demanded.

Quite sure. When I said the sun was in my eyes I used poetic license. I meant the West African sun. A man who arrived on your steamer reminded me of Nigeria where we er became acquainted.

There! You want to speak to him, of course, and she halted suddenly.

He smiled again, and held out the bag.

He is a Portuguese gintrader and worse. And he is gone. Would you have me run after him and offer peaches that were meant for you?

But that is ridiculous.

Most certainly.

I dont mean that. How could you possibly have provided peaches for me?

I dont know. Ask the fairies who arrange these things. Ten minutes ago I had no more notion of buying fruit than of buying an aeroplane. Ten minutes ago you and I had never met. Yet here we are, you and I and the luscious four. And there is Peter, sailing master, cook, and general factotem of the Nancy cutter. Dont you think Peters wooden leg induces trust? He calls it a prop, which suggests both moral and physical support. By the way, have you ever noticed that woodenlegged men are invariably fat? And C?sar vouched for the integrity of fat men.

Though the girl began to find his chatter agreeable, she was secretly dismayed when she compared the gigantic Peter with the diminutive dinghy. She had never before seen so broad a man or so small a boat. But she had grit, and was unwilling to voice her doubt.

Will it hold us? she inquired with apparent unconcern.

Oh, yes. When Peter was a pilot that little craft carried him and his two mates through many a heavy sea. Dont be afraid. We will put you safely on board the Sans Souci. Now, you sit there and hold the bag. Ill take my two at once, please, as I find room forrard.

Not much of a breeze for cruisin, Mr. Warden, grinned Peter, casting an appreciative eye over the latest addition to the Nancys musterroll.

Were not bound for a cruise, Peter, worse luck, said Warden. The young lady wishes to reach that big yacht moored abreast of the cutter. So give way, O heart of oak! Thou wert christened stone, yet a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.

Peter winked solemnly at the fair unknown.

He do go on, dont he, miss? he said.

The girl nodded, for ripe peach is an engrossing fruit. She was enjoying her little adventure. It savored of romance. Already her slight feeling of nervousness had vanished. In her heart of hearts she hoped that Mr. Warden might prove to be a friend of the Baumgartners.

Under Peters powerful strokes the dinghy sped rapidly into the open waters of the Solent. At that hour there was but slight stir in the roadstead. Everybody afloat seemed to be eating. Each launch and yacht they passed held a luncheon party beneath awnings or in a deck saloon. Through the golden stillness came the pleasant notes of a band playing in the grounds of the clubhouse. A bugle sounded faint and shrill from the deck of a distant warship. Sitting in this cockleshell of a craft, so near the glistening water that one might trail both hands in it, was vastly agreeable after a long journey by rail and steamer. From sea level the girl obtained an entirely different picture of Cowes and the Solent from that glimpsed from the throbbing ferryboat. The sea appeared to have risen, the wooded hills and clusters of houses to have sunk bodily. Already the shore was curiously remote. A sense of brooding peace fell on her like a mantle. She sighed, and wondered why she was so content.

Peters airy summary of his masters habits seemed to have cast a spell on their tongues. For fully five minutes no one spoke. The wondrous silence was broken only by the rhythmical clank of the oars, the light plash of the boats movement, the strains of a waltz from the Castle lawn, and the musical laughter of women from the yachts.

Owing to the shortness of the dinghy, and the fact that the girl faced Warden, with Peter intervening, the two younger people were compelled to look at each other occasionally. The man saw a sweetly pretty face dowered with a rare conjunction of myosotis blue eyes and purple eyelashes, and crowned with a mass of dark brown hair. Accent, manner, and attire bespoke good breeding. She was dressed well, though simply, in blue canvas. Being somewhat of an artist, he did not fail to note that her hat, blouse, gloves and boots, though probably inexpensive, harmonized in brown tints. She was young, perhaps twentytwo. Guessing at random, he imagined her the daughter of some country rector, and, from recent observation of the Baumgartners, eked out by their public repute, he admitted a certain sentiment of surprise that such blatant parvenus should be on her visiting list.

For her part, the girl had long since discovered that her selfappointed guide was an army man. West Africa gave a hint of foreign service that was borne out by a paleness beneath the tan of the yachtsman. A regimental mess, too, is a university in itself, conferring a welldefined tone, a subtle distinctiveness. Each line of his sinewy frame told of drill, and his rather stern face was eloquent of one accustomed to command.

These professional hallmarks were not lost on her. She had mixed in circles where they were recognized. And she was prepared to like him. In her womans phrase, she thought it was nice of him not to question her. She was quite sure that if they met again ashore that afternoon he would leave her the option of renewing or dropping their acquaintance as she thought fit. Yet, for one so ready of speech after the first awkward moment outside the steamer pier, it was surprising that he should now be so taciturn.

When he did address her, he kept strictly to the purpose of their expedition.

That is the San Souci, he said, pointing to a large white yacht in the distance. A splendid vessel. Built on the Clyde, I believe?

Ay, three hunnerd tons, an good for ten knots in any ornary sea, put in Peter.

You know her, of course? went on Warden.

No. I have never before set eyes on her.

Well, you will enjoy your visit all the more, perhaps. From last nights indications, you should have plenty of amusement on board.

Are there many people there, then?

I am not sure. The owners gave a big dinner party yesterday. The launch was coming and going at all hours.

What is that? she asked inconsequently, indicating with a glance a small round object bobbing merrily westward some few yards away.

It is difficult to say. Looks like a float broken loose from a fishing net, said Warden.

No, sir, it aint that, pronounced Peter. Nets have corks an buoys, an that aint neether.

You may think it absurd, cried the girl, yet I fancied just now that I caught a resemblance to a face, a distorted black face; but it has turned round.

The boatman lay on his oars, and they all looked at the dancing yellow ball hurrying to the open sea.

At first sight it suggests a piratical pumpkin, said Warden.

But I have been watching it quite a long time, and I am certain it is black on the other side. There! Surely I am not mistaken. And the people on that yacht have seen it, too.

The girls face flushed with excitement. The thing had really startled her, and the two men were ready to agree that it now presented a masklike visage, more than half submerged, as it swirled about in a chance eddy. That some loungers on a yacht close at hand had also noticed it was made evident by their haste to run down a gangway into a boat fastened alongside.

After it, Peter! cried Warden. It is the ladys trover by the law of the high seas. Bend your back for the honor of the Nancy. Port a bit port. Steady all. Keep her there.

In her eagerness, the girl tried to rise to her feet.

Sit still, miss, growled Peter, laboring mightily. Judging by the position of that other craft, an from wot I know of Mr. Warden, therell be a devil of a bump in arf a tick.

Starboard a point, cooed Warden, on his knees in the bows. Steady as she goes.

Suddenly he sprang upright.

Hard astarboard! he shouted, and leaped overboard.

A yell from the opposing boat, a scream from the girl, a sharp crack as an oarblade snapped against the sturdy ribs of the dinghy, and the two boats shot past each other, Peters prompt obedience to orders having averted a collision.





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