“Mr. Tredgold!” she said, in a stifled voice.
Undismayed by his accident the indefatigable captain was at it again, and in face of the bustle upstairs Prudence Drewitt was afraid to trust herself to say more. She sat silent with her head resolutely averted, but Edward took comfort in the fact that she had forgotten to withdraw her hand.
“Bless him!” he said, fervently, a little later, as the captain’s foot was heard heavily on the stair. “Does he think we are deaf?”
Much to the surprise of their friends, who had not expected them home until November or December, telegrams were received from the adventurers, one day towards the end of September, announcing that they had landed at the Albert Docks and were on their way home by the earliest train. The most agreeable explanation of so short a voyage was that, having found the treasure, they had resolved to return home by steamer, leaving the Fair Emily to return at her leisure. But Captain Bowers, to whom Mrs. Chalk propounded this solution, suggested several others.
He walked down to the station in the evening to see the train come in, his curiosity as to the bearing and general state of mind of the travellers refusing to be denied. He had intended to witness the arrival from a remote corner of the platform, but to his surprise it was so thronged with sightseers that the precaution was unnecessary. The news of the return had spread like wildfire, and half Binchester had congregated to welcome their fellow-townsmen and congratulate them upon their romantically acquired wealth.
[Illustration: “Half Binchester had congregated to welcome their fellow-townsmen.”]
Despite the crowd the captain involuntarily shrank back as the train rattled into the station. The carriage containing the travellers stopped almost in front of him, and their consternation and annoyance at the extent of their reception were plainly visible. Bronzed and healthy-looking, they stepped out on to the platform, and after a brief greeting to Mrs. Chalk and Mrs. Stobell led the way in some haste to the exit. The crowd pressed close behind, and inquiries as to the treasure and its approximate value broke clamorously upon the ears of the maddened Mr. Stobell. Friends of many years who sought for particulars were shouldered aside, and it was left to Mr. Chalk, who struggled along in the rear with his wife, to announce that they had been shipwrecked.
Captain Bowers, who had just caught the word, heard the full particulars from him next day. For once the positions were reversed, and Mr. Chalk, who had so often sat in that room listening to the captain’s yarns, swelled with pride as he noted the rapt fashion in which the captain listened to his. The tale of the shipwreck he regarded as a disagreeable necessity: a piece of paste flaunting itself among gems. In a few words he told how the Fair Emily crashed on to a reef in the middle of the night, and how, owing to the darkness and confusion, the boat into which he had got with Stobell and Tredgold was cast adrift; how a voice raised to a shriek cried to them to pull away, and how a minute afterwards the schooner disappeared with all hands.