The Island of Sheep, by John Buchan

Chapter 13

Marine Biology

That morning Anna and Peter John had gone off for the day, with sandwiches in their pockets, to explore in kayaks the voes at the south end of the island. They ate their luncheon on a skerry which the tide had just uncovered, and which was their idiotic notion of comfort. The sea was like a pond, and the mist was slowly coming down, but Anna, after sniffing the air, said that it was only a summer darkening and would clear before evening. Then she proposed an adventure. The Tjaldar had returned to its home at Halder, and over the Channel came the sound of its dropping anchor.

‘Let’s pay a call on it,’ said Anna. ‘Perhaps they’ll ask us to tea. Marine biologists are nice people. I’ve been to tea with them before, when the old Moe was here.’

Peter John demurred. No embargo had been laid on their crossing the Channel, but he dimly felt that the trip would be considered out of bounds.

‘That doesn’t matter,’ Anna retorted. ‘We haven’t been forbidden to go. Besides, in this weather they won’t see us from the shore. We’ll be back long before dinner. There’s not a capful of wind, and it’s as safe as crossing a voe. We’re not likely to get such a chance again.’

Peter John said something about currents, but Anna laughed him to scorn. ‘There’s a rip two miles north, but here there’s nothing to trouble about. I’ve been across in the kayak often. You’re a landlubber, you know, and I’m a seadog, and you ought to believe me. I believe you when it’s about birds.’

Peter John felt this to be true. Children have a great respect for each other’s expertise, and Anna had shown an uncanny knowledge of the ways of boats and tides and the whole salt-water world. She bore down his scruples with another argument. ‘My father would send us across any time we wanted, but it would be with Gregarsen and the motor-boat, which wouldn’t be any fun, or in the long-boat, which is as slow as a cow. In these wieldy little kayaks we’ll slip over in no time. If you like, I’ll give you five minutes’ start and race you.’

No boy can resist a ‘dare,’ so Peter John acquiesced, and they got into their kayaks and headed for Halder, Morag the falcon sitting dejectedly on her master’s knee.

The mist came down closer, but it was only a curtain of silk, through which Halder rose like a wraith. They did not race, but presently fell into an exciting conversation, so that the kayaks often rubbed shoulders. For Anna was telling of the whale-hunts, which she had held forth to Peter John as the chief glory of the Norlands. Only once in her memory had the Grind come to the Island of Sheep, for generally they took the wider channels beyond Halder. But that once was stamped for ever on her mind, though she had only been a little girl at the time. She told how the fiery cross was sent through the islands, by means of beacons on every headland; how every man at the signal tumbled into his boat and steered for the rendezvous; how the rendezvous could not be missed, for all the sea-ways were full of people, and the Grind only came in clear weather. She described how the boats guided the school of whales, as dogs headed sheep, trimming their edges and slowly forcing the leader into one of the voes. Once the leader entered the rest followed, and the voe would be churned white with blind and maddened monsters. Then came the killing, which Anna could only imagine, for her nurse had hurried her away from the scene; but all the same she described it as she had heard of it from others, and she made a barbaric tale of it. Peter John listened with interest, and at the end with disapproval.

‘It sounds pretty beastly,’ he said.

‘Perhaps it is,’ said the girl; ‘but a lot of good things are beastly, like killing pigs and using live bait. Anyhow, it puts money in the pockets of our poor people, and gives them food and lighting for the long winter.’

‘All the same, I’m sorry for the whales.’

‘That’s silly,’ she replied. ‘You’re not sorry for haddocks and halibut and sea-trout. Fish are cold-blooded things and don’t feel.’

‘Whales aren’t fish,’ said the student of natural history, but he was overborne.

Their discussion had brought them across the still water into the shadow of Halder, and they looked up to see the Tjaldar above them. The kayak is a noiseless thing, and the fog had helped them to approach it unperceived. It sat at anchor very trim and comfortable, with a thin spire of smoke rising from the galley funnel, and a pleasant odour of food drifting from it. Some one was emptying ashes from the stokehold.

‘Couth little craft,’ said Anna appreciatively. ‘I smell tea. Let’s hail her. Tjaldar ahoy!’

The voice brought a face to the bulwark. It was the face of an elderly man, dark and aquiline and rather puffy. He wore a yachting-cap and a flannel suit, but he did not look any kind of sailor. He seemed puzzled and a little startled.

‘That will be one of the Danish scientists,’ Anna whispered. Then she raised her voice.

‘You’re the marine biologists, aren’t you? We’ve come to call on you from the Island of Sheep across the Channel.’

She spoke in Danish, but the face showed no intelligence. Then she repeated her words in English, and the man seemed to understand.

‘Wait. I will ask,’ he said, and disappeared.

He was back in a minute accompanied by another man, a tall fellow with a sunburnt face, wearing an old Harris tweed jacket, and with a pipe in his teeth.

‘Where did you youngsters spring from?’ the second man asked.

‘I’m Miss Haraldsen from the Island of Sheep — and this is my friend, Peter John. We’re visitors. May we come aboard?’

‘You certainly may,’ said the man with the pipe, and he seemed to wink at his companion. The port ladder was lowered and the children tied up the kayaks to its bottom rung, and carefully transhipped themselves. It takes some skill to get out of a kayak.

When they reached the much-encumbered deck they found that three sailors had joined the party.

‘Just wait here a second, my dears,’ said the man with the pipe, and he and the others went forward, leaving Anna and Peter John with the three sailors. The boy saw nothing but a rather untidy deck, very different from the shipshape vessels of his fancy. There seemed to be uncommonly little free space, and what looked like a gigantic net was clumsily heaped abaft of a stumpy mast. The deck-hands were busy at the vessel’s side. But the girl’s experienced eyes darted about, and saw more.

‘This is a funny place,’ she whispered. ‘I don’t much like it, Peter John. These men aren’t a trawler’s crew — they’ve no sores on their hands. Trawlers’ men are always getting stung and poisoned. They aren’t Danes either — at least, they don’t look like it. What are they doing with our kayaks?’

‘They’re getting them aboard.’

‘Whatever for?’ The girl’s voice had suddenly a startled note in it. ‘Look here, I don’t like this. . . . Just look at the trawl. It’s absurd. It has no otter-boards. . . . There’s something wrong with this ship. Let’s make them launch the kayaks again and get off.’

‘We can’t quite do that,’ said Peter John. ‘I think we must see it through now — wait, anyhow, till these men come back.’ But Anna’s suspicions had infected him, and he looked uneasily at the little kayaks as they were swung up on deck.

He turned in obedience to a smothered squawk from Anna. A woman was coming towards them — a woman in a white serge frock with a fur cape thrown over her shoulders. She was bare-headed and had wonderful red hair. It was now Peter John’s turn to long for the kayaks, for he recognized some one he had seen before, the beautiful Miss Ludlow who, two months ago, had come to tea at Fosse.

The pretty lady advanced smiling. At the sight of her Morag the falcon showed the most lively displeasure. Had Peter John not tightened the lead she would have sought a perch with malevolent purpose on an exquisite red coiffure.

‘What a wicked bird!’ said the lady. ‘You’re sure you’ve got it safe. . . . How nice of you to come to see us! You must be ravenous for tea. Come along, my dears, but I think you’d better leave the bird here.’

So Morag’s lead was fastened to a stanchion, and she was left in a very ill temper ruffling her wings on a spare yard. The children followed the lady to a deck-house, which was half chart-room and half cabin. It was a snug little place, and on an oilskin-covered table tea was set out, an ample meal for which their souls hungered. There were three men sitting there, the dark, sallow one to whom they had first spoken, the sunburnt one with the pipe, and another, a tall, slim man with a thin face, high cheek-bones and a moustache which was going grey at the tips. All three rose politely at their entrance and bowed to Anna.

‘Here are our visitors,’ said the lady; ‘and I’m sure they are hungry. They have come over from the Island. The fog is getting thicker, and I don’t think we can let them go till it clears. What do you think, Joe?’

‘It wouldn’t be safe,’ said the tall man. ‘We must wait anyhow till the Skipper returns. The dory should be back in an hour or so.’

A steward brought in hot water and a big plate of toasted scones. The lady made tea, and much conversation. The sallow man she called Erick, and the sunburnt man Lancie, but most of her remarks were addressed to the tall man called Joe. She prattled of the weather and the Norlands, of London, of Cowes, of ships, and the sea. It was very clear that this company was English, and had nothing to do with marine biology, and Anna’s eyes showed her bewilderment.

When the tall man spoke it was to ask questions about the Island of Sheep. His manners were good, and he showed no intrusive curiosity, but it was plain from the others’ faces that this was a topic that interested them. They talked much as a yacht’s party might have talked who had come into strange latitudes and had suddenly got news of other fellow-countrymen.

‘Your father is at home?’ the man called Lancie asked. ‘He has a wonderful place over there, hasn’t he? We heard about it at Hjalmarshavn. Are you two brother and sister?’

‘We’re no relations. This is my friend, Peter John Hannay. He is English. He is staying with us.’

Four pairs of eyes seemed to open wider.

‘Are you by any chance Sir Richard Hannay’s son?’ the man called Joe asked, with a sudden eagerness in his voice.

Peter John nodded. ‘Yes, and Sir Richard is staying with us,’ added Anna.

‘We must return your call,’ said the lady. ‘I’ve always longed to meet Sir Richard — and your father too, my dear.’

Peter John’s mind had been working furiously, ever since the sight of Miss Ludlow had opened for him the door on a dark world. Anna was bewildered, but only because the Tjaldar was so different from the old Moe, and she had had to revise her marine biology notions, but the boy knew enough to realize that they had blundered into the enemy’s camp. He had heard Sandy’s talk, and I had told him the whole story, and ever since his coming to the Island of Sheep his business had been to be on the watch. Behind all his escapades with Anna had been this serious preoccupation. The sight of Lydia Ludlow had awakened him, and now in this little cabin he was face to face with Haraldsen’s enemies, the sallow Albinus, the stalwart Troth, the lean, restless Barralty. Only one was missing, the most formidable of them all. At any cost he and Anna must get off and carry the fateful news.

‘We should be going,’ he said as he got up, ‘or our people will be anxious.’

‘You can’t go in this weather,’ said Barralty. He too rose and opened the door, and sure enough a solid wall of vapour had built itself beyond the vessel’s side.

‘I’ve got a compass,’ said Peter John, ‘and we can’t miss the way.’

‘We daren’t risk it,’ said the man. ‘We should never be able to face your father if anything went wrong.’

‘They must wait till the Skipper comes back,’ said Troth, and the others agreed.

Peter John was getting desperate. ‘We’re rather grubby,’ he said. ‘Could we wash our hands?’

‘Certainly,’ said the lady. ‘Come down to my cabin, both of you.’ She seemed to Peter John to look meaningly at the others and slightly nod her head. She took Anna’s hand and led her out, and the boy followed. He lingered a little beyond the door, and he heard, or thought he heard, some one of the three exclaim: ‘My God, we have got the trump card now. This will keep the Skipper in order.’

Miss Ludlow took them down a steep companion into a narrow alley lined with cabins. The big one at the end was hers, and she ushered the children into it with the utmost friendliness. ‘You’ll find everything you want there, my dears,’ she said. ‘Towels and hot water. The bathroom is next door. I’ll come down presently to fetch you.’

But as she left them she drew behind her a sliding door at the end of the passage. Peter John darted after her and tried its handle. It was locked from the outside.

Anna proceeded to scrub her hands and use a pocket comb to tidy up her hair. ‘This is a queer ship,’ she said, ‘and queer people. But they’re kind, I think. They’re ordinary yachting folk, but the Tjaldar isn’t much of a yacht. Too much of a grubby trawler for their nice clothes.’

Peter John was looking out of the port-hole into the wall of fog. ‘They aren’t kind,’ he said. ‘They’re our enemies — your father’s and my father’s. They’re the people who tried to catch you at school. They’re the people we were always on the look-out for at Laverlaw. I must tell you all I know, for we’re in an awful hole.’

There and then in that dim cabin he told her the story as he knew it, told her many things which Haraldsen had jealously kept hidden from her, and gave point and shape to suspicions which had long lain at the back of her head. He may have told the story crudely, with a boy’s instinct for drama, but Peter John was also a realist who made no mistake about the fundamentals. She sat quiet as a mouse, but at the end she gave a low cry.

‘They’re going to attack our island? And we’ve let ourselves be made prisoners? Oh, Peter John, it is all my fault! I dragged you on this silly expedition.’

‘It is my fault, for I should have remembered. You see, I knew and you didn’t.’

Two miserable children clung to each other, while the fog thickened without and the cabin darkened.

Meantime, in the deck-house they had left, there was a feverish council. From what I learned later I can reconstruct the scene as if I had been listening outside the door. In an hour’s time the man called the Skipper would arrive, and three men and one woman had much to talk of before then. I can picture their rapid, confused speech, their alternations of eagerness and diffidence, their sudden confidence dashed by sudden fears. Always in the background there must have been this shadow of fear. For the absent Skipper had become to them no longer a colleague but a master. They were people whose plans lay well inside the pale of what we call civilization. They had reputations to lose, ambitions which demanded some respect for the conventions, comfortable lives which they were not inclined to sacrifice. But they had become yoked to one who cared for none of these things, a man from the outlands who had long ago discarded their world. They were like schoolboys playing at pirates who had suddenly found themselves enrolled under the authentic Blackbeard. Barralty, I fancy, was the worst scared. Albinus was the common rogue who had already known the shady side of the law. Troth was a robust fellow, a sportsman accustomed to risks who would not be greatly rattled till he knew the full extent of the trouble. But Barralty was the brittle intellectual, who found himself in a world where his old skill went for nothing, and with him was the woman who had worked with him, and who now saw all their careful schemes on the edge of a fulfilment more disastrous than failure.

Troth must have spoken first, for he had the coolest head.

‘Things are brightening,’ he said. ‘This is a piece of luck for us, for we’ve got our hostages. Now we can deal.’

‘You think so?’ said Barralty, in a voice which he tried to keep calm.

‘Well, we’ve got the girl, and she’s what Haraldsen cares most for in the world. And we’ve got the boy, who’s the apple of Hannay’s eye. There’s only Lombard left, and he doesn’t count for much. There’s no word of Clanroyden.’

‘What has happened to Clanroyden?’

‘God knows! Run out, perhaps. . . . No, he’s not that kind of fellow. The Skipper must have put a spoke in his wheel, for he’s devil enough for anything.’

‘Have you got a line on the Skipper’s plan?’

‘Plain enough. Old-fashioned piracy. He’ll descend on the Island like a marauding Viking and hold ’em up. If they show fight, as they’re likely to, he’ll kill. He’ll get what he wants and he don’t care a damn for bloodshed. When he has got it he’ll disappear, he and his gang, into the outer darkness, as he has done before. I daresay he’ll play fair with us — I don’t know — but we’ll have to disappear with him. Do any of you fancy spending the rest of your lives being hunted up and down the globe, even if your pockets are full? D’Ingraville won’t mind it, for it’s his profession, but what about you, Barralty? What about you, with your big ideas about public life? What about you, Lydia? You like your little comforts. What about you, Erick? No more race-meetings for you, my lad, and flutters at Monte?’

‘My God!’ Barralty groaned. ‘Can’t we bring the man to reason?’

‘We can’t, for all the reason, as he sees it, is on his side. He knows what he wants a little more clearly than we ever have, and he has the power behind him. We’re only passengers — he’s the fighting force. What can we do to stop him? He has his two infernal trusties from South America, Carreras and Martel — the very sight of them gives me the creeps. He has his crew of gunmen. He’s going to implicate us all in his gangster business, so that we’ll all hang together.’

‘But he can’t compel us if we object,’ Albinus groaned.

‘Can’t he? I haven’t got him fully taped, but he’s the biggest size in desperado I’ve ever struck. I know what’s in your mind, Erick. You think that we might make terms on our own account with the people on the Island. I’ve had the same idea myself, but I tell you it won’t do. The Skipper knows that game too well. If we try to double-cross him he’ll shoot.’

I can picture those four scared conspirators sitting for a moment dismally silent, till Troth’s vigour woke them.

‘But now things look better,’ he said. ‘We have got the materials for a civilized deal. Thank heaven for these blessed children! I don’t much like using kids in this business — if you remember, I always stuck out against it before — but needs must when the devil drives. The Skipper can’t be fool enough to neglect such a chance. It gives us a sitter, when the other way is an ugly gamble.’

‘But do we want the same things?’ Barralty asked. ‘We want a good deal, but the Skipper may want everything. And remember that Haraldsen isn’t alone. He has Hannay with him, and Hannay by all accounts is a tough customer.’

‘That will be the moment for the double-crossing if the Skipper plays the fool,’ said Troth grimly. ‘Once we get to bargaining we put the lid on his bloody piracy, and that’s what we most want.’

Then the Skipper arrived.

I picture his coming into the stuffy cabin, his face shining with fog crystals, and his pale eyes dazed by the sudden light.

‘An hour till dinner,’ he said, with a glance at the chronometer. ‘There’s time for a hot rum-and-milk, for it has been perishingly cold in the dory. But I’ve done my job. The reconnaissance is complete, gentlemen. To-morrow is The Day.’

Troth told him about Anna and Peter John. He listened with head lifted, rather like a stag at gaze, a smile wrinkling his lean cheeks.

‘Fortune is kind to us,’ he said. ‘Now we can add point to our first cartel. For one kind of possession we can offer another — and a dearer.’

But there was that in his voice which made Barralty look up anxiously.

‘Surely that alters our whole plan,’ he said. ‘Now we can treat, where before we could only coerce.’

‘I do not think so, my friend.’ D’Ingraville spoke lightly, as if the matter were not of great importance. ‘They will not treat — not on our terms. You want much, no doubt, but I want all, you see, and men will fight for their all.’

‘But — but —’ Barralty stammered. ‘Haraldsen cares for his daughter above everything, and Hannay for his son.’

‘Maybe,’ was the answer. ‘But Haraldsen and Hannay are not all.’

‘Lombard does not count.’

‘I do not think of Lombard. I think of Lord Clanroyden.’

‘But Clanroyden isn’t there.’

‘Not yet. But he will be there tomorrow.’

‘How do you know? Have you any news?’

‘I have no news. I have heard nothing of Clanroyden since we left London. But I know that he will be there, for I have an assignation with him, and he will not fail me. And Clanroyden will never yield.’

‘But what do you mean to do, man?’ Troth asked.

‘I mean to follow the old way, the way of my Norman kinsfolk. Fate has been marvellously good to us. There is no man on the Island except those three — tomorrow they will be four — only dotards and old women. The telephone is cut and they have no boat. The fog will lift, I think, by the morning, but the Island will be in a deeper fog which cuts it off from the world. We shall have peace and leisure to do our will. If they listen to us, so much the pleasanter for everybody. If they fight we shall fight too, and beyond doubt we shall win.’

‘Win!’ Barralty muttered. ‘What do you mean by win?’

‘Everything,’ was the answer. ‘I shall get my will, though I leave a house in ashes and an island of dead men.’

‘And then?’ It was Lydia’s strained voice that spoke.

‘Then we disappear, leaving a riddle in the Norlands which no man will ever expound. Trust me, I have made my plans — for you, my friends, and for you, my fair lady. You may have to face some little adjustments in your lives, but what of that? Le mouvement c’est la vie.’

He lifted his glass and looked towards Lydia, drinking the last mouthful as if it were a toast.

‘And now,’ he said, ‘let me have a look at our hostages. Martel,’ he cried to some one outside the door, ‘fetch the babes.’

Peter John takes up the tale again. . . . The children had sat in a stupor of misery and fright, unable to think, deaf to all sounds except the thumping of their hearts. ‘We must get away,’ the boy had repeated at intervals, and the girl had replied, ‘We must,’; but the words were only a kind of groan, so destitute were they of any hope. What Anna thought I do not know, but Peter John’s mind was fuller of mortification than of fear. He had failed in his trust, and by his folly had given the enemy a crushing vantage.

They lost count of time, and it may have been an hour or two hours before the sliding panel in the alley opened and a face showed in the cabin door. A hand switched on the light. They saw a man slightly over the middle height, wearing sea-boots and a seaman’s jersey — a man who did not look like a sailor, for he had a thin, shaven, pallid face, a scar on his forehead, and eyebrows that made a curious arch over weak, blinking eyes. When he spoke it was with a foreign accent in a hoarse, soft voice. ‘You will come with me, please,’ he said. ‘M. le Capitaine would speak with you.’

The sight of the man sent a spasm of sharp fear through Peter John’s dull misery. For he knew him — knew him at least by hearsay. Sandy at Laverlaw had taken some pains to describe to us the two members of the old Bodyguard of Olifa whom D’Ingraville had with him. This was the Belgian Martel — there could be no mistake about the scar and the horseshoe brows. At the door of the deck-house stood another man, a tall stooping fellow whose hatchet face and black beady eyes were plain in the glow from the cabin. This was beyond doubt the Spaniard Carreras. The wolf pack was complete.

‘Don’t answer anything,’ the boy whispered to Anna. A stubborn silence was the one course left to them.

But there was no inquisition. Peter John had the impression of a company mighty ill at ease. The smooth geniality of tea-time had gone, and the four who had then entertained them seemed to have lost interest in their visitors and to be much concerned with their own thoughts. The pretty lady had become haggard and rather old, while Troth had lost his robustness and sucked his pipe nervously. Barralty had become a wisp of a man, and Albinus a furtive shadow. Only the newcomer radiated confidence and vitality. For a moment Peter John forgot his fear, and looked curiously at the tall man whom at Fosse he had assisted to put into the stream. He was so taut and straight that he had the look of an unsheathed sword. His pale eyes glittered like ice, and his smile had as much warmth in it as an Arctic sun. Magnificent, wonderful, terrible, inhuman, like some devastating force of nature. Yet, strangely enough, the boy feared the reality less than the picture he had made in his head. This was a wild thing, like Morag, and wild things could be tamed, curbed, or destroyed.

The Skipper bowed to Anna and nodded pleasantly to Peter John.

‘You must be our guests for the night, I fear,’ he said. ‘We are not a very commodious ship, so you mustn’t mind rather rough beds. You will want to turn in soon. What about supper?’

It was Anna who replied. ‘We don’t want any supper, thank you. But we’d like to turn in, for we’re both very sleepy.’

‘Right. Show the young lady and gentleman to their quarters, Martel. Mr. Hannay will berth forward, and Miss Haraldsen can have Miss Ludlow’s couch. Good-night and pleasant dreams.’

That was all. The two followed Martel the way they had come, and Anna was left in the big cabin, where a bed had been made up for her on the couch. Martel did the expected thing, for he took the key from the inside of the cabin-door and pocketed it; then he pulled the sliding panel which automatically locked itself. The sight of Anna’s desolate face was the last straw to Peter John’s burden. He followed Martel on deck, feeling as if the end of all things had come.

Suddenly an angry squawk woke him to life. Morag, hungry and drenched with fog, sat on her perch in a bitter ill-temper.

‘May I take my falcon with me?’ he begged.

Martel laughed. ‘I guess you may if you want company. Your ugly bird will be better below deck.’

Peter John found himself in a little cubby-hole of a cabin under the fore-deck. It was empty except for a hammock slung from the ceiling, and a heap of blankets which some one had tossed on the floor. There was a big port-hole which Martel examined carefully, trying the bolts and hinges. ‘Don’t go walking in your sleep and drowning yourself, sonny,’ was his parting admonition. He did not clamp it down, but left it ajar.

Peter John’s first act, when he found himself alone, was to open the port-hole wide. It was on the port side, looking west, and close to where they had embarked on the Tjaldar in the afternoon. The fog was thinning, and a full moon made of what remained a half-luminous, golden haze. The boy had a notion of getting out of the port-hole and trying to swim to the Island, but a moment’s reflection drove it out of his head. He was not a strong swimmer, and he could never manage two miles in those cold Norland waters.

Then a squeak from Morag gave him another idea. There was no light in the cabin except what came from the moon, but he tore a leaf from a little writing-book which he kept for bird notes and printed on it a message. ‘In Tjaldar, which is enemy ship,’ he wrote. ‘Expect immediate attack. Don’t worry about us for we are all right.’ He wrapped the paper in a bit of silk torn from his necktie, and tied it round Morag’s leg. Then he slipped the leash, and cast the bird off through the port-hole. Like a stone from a catapult she shot up into the moonlit fog.

‘An off-chance,’ he told himself, ‘but worth taking. She’s savagely hungry, and if she doesn’t kill soon she’ll go back to the House. If she’s seen there Mr. Haraldsen has a spare lure and knows how to use it. If he gets the message he’ll at least be warned.’

The action he had taken had put sleep out of his head and had cheered him up for the moment. He could make nothing of the hammock, so he sat himself on the heap of blankets and tried to think. But his thoughts did him no good, for he could make no plans. His cabin door was locked and the key in Martel’s pocket. Anna was similarly immured at the other end of the ship. They were prisoners, mere helpless baggage to be towed in the wake of the enemy. Oddly enough, the Skipper did not seem to him the most formidable thing. The boy thought of D’Ingraville as a dreadful impersonal force of nature, like a snow blizzard or an earthquake. His horror was reserved for Carreras and Martel, who were evil human beings. As he remembered Martel’s horse-shoe brows and soft sneering voice he shivered in genuine horror. The one was the hungry lion, but the other was the implacable, cunning serpent.

How long he sat hunched on the blankets he does not know, but he thinks it must have been hours. Slowly sleep came over him, for body and mind and nerves were alike weary. . . . Then that happened which effectually woke him. The disc of light from the porthole was obscured by something passing over it, slowly and very quietly. He looked out, and saw to his amazement that one of the kayaks was now floating on the water beneath him, attached to a rope from above.

As he stared, a second object dropped past his eyes. It was the other kayak, which lightly shouldered the first and came to rest beside it.

His hand felt for one of the lowering ropes and he found it taut. Grasping it, he stuck his feet through the port-hole, wriggled his body through and slid down the rope. Almost before he knew he was sitting in a kayak, looking up at the dim bulk of the vessel.

Then came another miracle. A human figure was sliding down the rope from the Tjaldar’s deck, and he saw that it was Anna, coming down hand over hand as lightly as a squirrel. She saw him, dropped into the second kayak, and reached for the paddle. All was done as noiselessly as in a dream. There was a helper on the deck above, for the taut rope was dropped after her and swished gently into the water.

Anna kissed her hand to the some one above, seized her paddle, and with a slow stealthy stroke sent her kayak out into the golden haze. As Peter John clumsily followed suit, she turned on him fiercely, ‘Quiet, you donkey,’ she whispered. ‘Don’t splash for your life. Hang on to me and I’ll tow you.’

In half a dozen strokes the little craft were out of sight of the Tjaldar.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/buchan/john/sheep/chapter13.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32