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Pearl Of Pearl Island Part 44

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"I don't believe he will, and it'll be a bit hard to refuse him any help, if he really is on his beam ends."

"He wouldn't have written to you if he could have done without, you may count upon that."

"Is he as safe there as he seems to think?" asked Charles.

"Yes, I think so. Safer probably than in Cherbourg. It's an out-of-the-way place, from all accounts."

Discuss it as they would, they could not get beyond Graeme's proposal, and so at last they went back home, decided on the visit to Alderney on the morrow, but all feeling doubtful, and some of them distinctly nervous, as to the outcome of it.



IX

The little party that lay in wait for the Alderney steamer in old Jack Guille's boat off the Eperquerie, next morning, was eminently lacking in the vivacity that usually distinguishes such parties when the sea is smooth and the sky is blue. In fact, when they got on board, the Captain decided in his own mind that they must all have quarrelled before starting. There was no sign of anything of the kind about them now, it is true, but that might just be their good manners. For English people are not like the Sark and Guernsey folk, who, when they do quarrel, let all the world know about it.

These four had apparently little to say to one another and less to anyone else. If they had been going to a funeral they could hardly have been more reserved.

And to something very like a funeral they were going, with the added anxiety of very grave doubts as to the result of their visit.

They had had no difficulty in persuading the elder ladies that Alderney was not for them. The steep path down to the Eperquerie landing, and the tumbling about in a small boat until the steamer came, did not greatly appeal to them. Moreover, Lady Elspeth's clear eyes had noticed the signs of their clouding, in spite of their efforts after naturalness, for to experienced eyes there is nothing so unnatural as the attempt to be natural. If Mrs. Pixley noticed nothing it was probably because her faculties had not yet fully recovered from the shock to which they had been subjected. If she noticed she said nothing, having no desire, perhaps, to add to the weight of her already heavy burden.

"Now, my boy, what is it?" Lady Elspeth asked, when she had persuaded Graeme to take her for a stroll in the evening, under plea of cramp through overmuch sitting.

"Jeremiah Pixley is in Alderney and has written to Charles begging his help to get on his way."

"Ah! And what are you going to do about it?".

Graeme outlined their ideas on the matter.

"He's an old rascal," said Lady Elspeth softly. "I doubt very much if you'll get anything out of him."

"Can you suggest any better way of dealing with the matter?"

"I don't know that I can at the moment, but I doubt if you'll get any satisfaction out of him. He'll stick to all he can, and his promise of restitution is all bunkum, I should fear."

"And would you help him to get away in any case?"

"Personally, I think a course of penal servitude would be of the greatest service to him. But, for Charles's sake and his mother's, the sooner the whole matter is buried the better, and so I should be sorry to hear of him being taken. It would only revive the scandal."

"That's just what we all feel;" and he saw that the problem of Jeremiah Pixley was too much even for Lady Elspeth.

And so the party of four on the _Courier_ lacked vivacity, and found no enjoyment in the lonely austerity of the Casquets or Ortach; and the frowning southern cliffs of Alderney itself, as the steamer raced up the Swinge to Braye Harbour, seemed to them but a poor copy of their own little isle of Sark, lacking its gem-like qualities. But then their minds were intent upon the business ahead and their outlook was darkened.

X

"Would you like me to come up with you, Charles?" Graeme asked, as the steamer rounded the breakwater.

"Yes, I'd like it," said Charles gloomily. "But I think I'd better go alone. I don't believe anything's going to come of it."

"I'm afraid not--as far as we're concerned. You'll just have to keep a stiff upper lip and stick to what you believe the right thing to do."

To which Charles replied only with a grim nod, and they went ashore.

"We'll walk up to the town with you," said Graeme, when they got outside the harbour precincts. "When you've got as far as you can with him, come down to the shore due West. You'll find us by that old fort we saw from the boat;" and presently they branched off towards the sea, while Charles went doggedly on into St. Anne on as miserable an errand as ever son had.

He tramped on along the hot white road, till he found himself in the sleepy little town, where the grass grew between the granite sets in the roadways and a dreamy listlessness pervaded all things. He sought out No. 99A High Street and knocked on the door.

It was opened by an elderly woman who seemed surprised at sight of a visitor.

"Mr. Peace?" asked Charles, feeling thereby _particeps criminis_.

"He's inside. Will you come in?"

She opened a door off the passage, said, "A gentleman to see you;" and Charles went in and closed the door behind him.

His father had started up from a couch where he had been lying. There was a startled look in his eyes and his face was pale and worn, but a touch of colour came back into his cheeks when he saw who his visitor was.

He had shaved off his bit of side whisker. His face was grayer and thinner and his body somewhat shrunken, even in these few days. He wore a white tie, and his coat and waistcoat were of clerical cut. On the table was a pair of gold spectacles and on the sideboard a soft billycock hat. He looked the not-too-well-off country parson to the life. The only outward and visible sign of the old Jeremiah was the heavy gold pince-nez which lay between the top buttons of his waistcoat, which he hauled out and fingered as of old the moment he began to speak.

"Ah, Charles! This is good of you. I hardly expected a personal visit.

I was beginning to fear you had not got my letter, or that you had decided not to answer it."

"It followed me to Sark."

"Ah! you are back in Sark?"

"I thought it well to take my mother there, to be out of things for a time."

"Quite so, quite so! That was very thoughtful of you. This is a terrible calamity that has befallen us. But, as I said in my letter, I have every hope of being able to redeem matters if I can only get to where that is possible."

"Where's that?"

"Well, in the first place to Spain--"

"And afterwards?"

Mr. Pixley hesitated. "Perhaps--for your own sake--it would be as well you should not know--for the present, at all events. You may be asked questions. If you don't know, you can truthfully say so."

"I gather that you have funds put away somewhere."

"If I can get to where I want to go, I can at all events make a fresh start. And I am prepared to devote the rest of my life to the one object I have named.... The last few years have been very wearying. I have had trouble with my heart at times;" and he put his hand to his side to emphasise it. "But if I can get quietly away I shall soon pull round and be ready for work again, now that the strain is over."

"You know you're asking me to do what I've no right to do?" said Charles gloomily.

"I know, my boy, and it is very bitter for me to have to ask it. But I can't get away without your help, and the alternative is not pleasant to think of--for either of us.... I do not ask more than I would willingly have done for you if the positions were reversed.... On the whole, I do not think I have been a bad father to you. Circumstances, indeed, have been too strong for me at the end, but--"

"I am willing to do what you want--and more, on one condition."

"What is that? Anything in reason--"

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Pearl Of Pearl Island Part 44 summary

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