“I feel that I can smell the sea already,” he remarked.
Mr. Stobell put down his paper and sniffed; then he resumed it again and, meeting Mr. Tredgold’s eye over the top of it, sniffed more loudly than before.
“Have you told Edward that you are going to sea?” inquired Mr. Chalk, leaning over to Tredgold.
“Certainly not,” was the reply; “I don’t want anybody to know till the last possible moment. You haven’t given your wife any hint as to why you are going to Biddlecombe to-day, have you?”
Mr. Chalk shook his head. “I told her that you had got business there, and that I was going with you just for the outing,” he said. “What she’ll say when she finds out—”
His imagination failed him and, a prey to forebodings, he tried to divert his mind by looking out of window. His countenance cleared as they neared Biddlecombe, and, the line running for some distance by the side of the river, he amused himself by gazing at various small craft left high and dry by the tide.
A short walk from the station brought them to the mouth of the river which constitutes the harbour of Biddlecombe. For a small port there was a goodly array of shipping, and Mr. Chalk’s pulse beat faster as his gaze wandered impartially from a stately barque in all the pride of fresh paint to dingy, sea-worn ketches and tiny yachts.
Uncertain how to commence operations, they walked thoughtfully up and down the quay. If any of the craft were for sale there was nothing to announce the fact, and the various suggestions which Mr. Chalk threw off from time to time as to the course they should pursue were hardly noticed.
“One o’clock,” said Mr. Stobell, extracting a huge silver timepiece from his pocket, after a couple of wasted hours.
“Let’s have something to eat before we do any more,” said Mr. Tredgold. “After that we’ll ferry over and look at the other side.”
They made their way to the “King of Hanover,” an old inn, perched on the side of the harbour, and, mounting the stairs, entered the coffee-room, where Mr. Stobell, after hesitating for some time between the rival claims of roast beef and grilled chops, solved the difficulty by ordering both.
The only other occupant of the room, a short, wiry man, with a close-shaven, hard-bitten face, sat smoking, with a glass of whisky before him, in a bay window at the end of the room, which looked out on the harbour. There was a maritime flavour about him which at once enlisted Mr. Chalk’s sympathies and made him overlook the small, steely-grey eyes and large and somewhat brutal mouth.
“Fine day, gentlemen,” said the stranger, nodding affably to Mr. Chalk as he raised his glass. Mr. Chalk assented, and began a somewhat minute discussion upon the weather, which lasted until the waiter appeared with the lunch.
[Illustration: “‘Fine day, gentlemen,’ said the stranger, as he raised his glass.”]