The Kingom of the Blind

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 32


Granet emerged from the Tregarten Hotel at St. Mary's on the following morning, about half-past eight, and strolled down the narrow strip of lawn which bordered the village street. A couple of boatmen advanced at once to meet him. Granet greeted them cheerily.

"Yes, I want a boat," he admitted. "I'd like to do a bit of sailing. A friend of mine was here and had a chap named Rowsell--Job Rowsell. Either of you answer to that name, by chance?"

The elder of the two shook his head.

"My name's Matthew Nichols," he announced, "and this is my brother-in-law, Joe Lethbridge. We've both of us got stout sailing craft and all the recommendations a man need have. As for Job Rowsell, well, he ain't here--not just at this moment, so to speak."

Granet considered the matter briefly.

"Well," he decided, "it seems to me I must talk to this chap Rowsell before I do anything. I'm under a sort of promise."

The two boatmen looked at one another. The one who had addressed him first turned a little away.

"Just as you like, sir," he announced. "No doubt Rowsell will be up this way towards afternoon."

"Afternoon? But I want to go out at once," Granet protested.

Matthew Nichols removed his pipe from his mouth and spat upon the ground thoughtfully.

"I doubt whether you'll get Job Rowsell to shift before mid-day. I'm none so sure he'll go out at all with this nor-wester blowing."

"What's the matter with him?" Granet asked. "Is he lazy?"

The man who as yet had scarcely spoken, swung round on his heel.

"He's no lazy, sir," he said. "That's not the right word. But he's come into money some way or other, Job Rowsell has. There's none of us knows how, and it ain't our business, but he spends most of his time in the public-house and he seems to have taken a fancy for night sailing alone, which to my mind, and there are others of us as say the same, ain't none too healthy an occupation. And that's all there is to be said of Job Rowsell, as I knows of."

"It's a good deal, too," Granet remarked thoughtfully. "Where does he live?"

"Fourth house on the left in yonder street," Matthew Nichols replied, pointing with his pipe. "Maybe he'll come if you send for him, maybe he won't."

"I must try to keep my word to my friend," Granet decided. "If I don't find him, I'll come back and look for you fellows again."

He turned back to the little writing-room, scribbled a note and sent it down by the boots. In about half an hour he was called once more out into the garden. A huge, loose-jointed man was standing there, unshaven, untidily dressed, and with the look in his eyes of a man who has been drinking heavily.

"Are you Job Rowsell?" Granet inquired.

"That's my name," the man admitted. "Is there anything wrong with it?"

"Not that I know of," Granet replied. "I want you to take me out sailing. Is your boat ready?"

The man glanced up at the sky.

"I don't know as I want to go," he grumbled. "There's dirty weather about."

"I think you'd better," Granet urged. "I'm not a bad payer and I can help with the boat. Let's go and look at her any way."

They walked together down to the harbour. Granet said very little, his companion nothing at all. They stood on the jetty and gazed across to where the sailing boats were anchored.

"That's the Saucy Jane," Job Rowsell indicated, stretching out a forefinger.

Granet scrambled down into a small dinghy which was tied to the side of the stone wall.

"We'd better be getting on board," he suggested.

Rowsell stared at him for a moment but acquiesced. They pulled across and boarded the Saucy Jane. A boy whom they found on the deck took the boat back. Rowsell set his sails slowly but with precision. The moment he stepped on board he seemed to become an altered man.

"Where might you be wanting to go?" he asked. "You'll need them oilskins, sure."

"I want to run out to the Bishop Lighthouse," Granet announced.

Rowsell shook his head.

It's no sort of a day to face the Atlantic, sir," he declared. "We'll try a spin round St. Mary and White Island, if you like."

Granet fastened his oilskins and stooped for a moment to alter one of the sails.

"Look here," he said, taking his seat at the tiller, "this is my show, Job Rowsell. There's a five pound note for you at the end of the day, if you go where I tell you and nowhere else."

The man eyed him sullenly. A few minutes later they were rushing out of the harbour.

"It's a poor job, sailing a pleasure boat," he muttered. "Not many of us as wouldn't sell his soul for five pounds."

They reached St. Agnes before they came round on the first tack. Then, with the spray beating in their faces, they swung around and made for the opening between the two islands. For a time the business of sailing kept them both occupied. In two hours' time they were standing out towards Bishop Lighthouse. Job Rowsell took a long breath and filled a pipe with tobacco. He was looking more himself now.

"I'll bring her round the point there," he said, "and we'll come up the Channel and home by Bryher."

"You'll do nothing of the sort," Granet ordered. "Keep her head out for the open sea till I tell you to swing round."

Rowsell looked at his passenger with troubled face.

"Are you another of 'em?" he asked abruptly.

"Don't you mind who I am," Granet answered. "I'm on a job I'm going to see through. If a fiver isn't enough for you, make it a tenner, but keep her going where I put her."

Rowsell obeyed but his face grew darker. He leaned towards his passenger.

"What's your game?" he demanded hoarsely. "There's some of them on the island'd have me by the throat if they only knew the things I could tell 'em. What's your game here, eh? Are you on the cross?"

"I am not," Granet replied, "or I shouldn't have needed to bring you to sea. I know all about you, Job Rowsell. You're doing very well and you may do a bit better by and by. Now sit tight and keep a still tongue in your head."

They were in a queer part of the broken, rocky island group. There was a great indenture in the rocks up which the sea came hissing; to the left, round the corner, the lighthouse. Granet drew what looked to be a large pocket-handkerchief from the inner pocket of his coat, pulled down their pennant with nimble fingers, tied on another and hauled it up. Job Rowsell stared at him.

"What's that?"

"It's the German flag, you fool," Granet answered.

"I'll have none of that on my boat," the man declared surlily. "An odd fiver for a kindness--"

"Shut up!" Granet snapped, drawing his revolver from his pocket. "You run the boat and mind your own business, Rowsell. I'm not out here to be fooled with. . . .My God!"

Almost at their side the periscope of a submarine had suddenly appeared. Slowly it rose to the surface. An officer in German naval uniform struggled up and called out. Granet spoke to him rapidly in German. Job Rowsell started at them both, then he drew a flask from his pocket and took a long pull. The submarine grew nearer and Granet tossed a small roll of paper across the chasm of waters. All that passed between the two men was to Job Rowsell unintelligible. The last few words, however, the German repeated in English.

"The Princess Hilda from Southampton, tomorrow at midnight," he repeated thoughtfully. "Well, it's a big business."

"It's worth it," Granet assured him. "They may call it a hospital ship but it isn't. I am convinced that the one man who is more dangerous to us than any other Englishman, will be on board."

"It shall then be done," the other promised. "So!"

He looked upward to the flag and saluted Granet. A great sea bore them a little apart. Granet pulled down the German flag, tied up a stone inside it and threw it into the next wave.

"You can take me back now," he told the boatman.

They were four hours making the harbour. Three times they failed to get round the last point, met at each time by clouds of hissing spray. When at last they sailed in, there was a little crowd to watch them. Nichols and Lethbridge stood on one side with gloomy faces.

"It's a queer day for pleasure sailing," Nicholas remarked to Job Rowsell, as he came up the wet steps of the pier.

"It's all I want of it for a bit, any way," Rowsell muttered, pushing his way along the quay. "If there's any of you for a drink, I'm your man. What-ho, Nichols?--Lethbridge?"

Lethbridge muttered something and turned away. Nichols, too, declined.

"I am not sure, Job Rowsell," the latter declared, "that I like your money nor the way you earn it."

Job Rowsell stopped for a minute. There was an ugly look in his sullen face.

"If you weren't my own bother-in-law, Matthew Nichols," he said, "I'd shove those words down your throat."

"And if you weren't my sister's husband," Nichols retorted, turning away, "I'd take a little trip over to Penzance and say a few words at the Police Station there."

Granet laughed good-humouredly.

"You fellows don't need to get bad-tempered with one another," he observed. "Look here, I shall have three days here. I'll take one of you each day--make a fair thing of it, eh? You to-morrow, Nichols, and you the next day Lethbridge. I'm not particular about the weather, as Job Rowsell can tell you, and I've sailed a boat since I was a boy. I'm no land-lubber, am I, Rowsell?"

"No, you can sail the boat all right," Rowsell admitted, looking back over his shoulder. "You'd sail it into Hell itself, if one'd let you. Come on, you boys, if there's any one of you as fancies to drink. I'm wet to the skin."

Nichols' boat was duly prepared at nine o'clock on the following morning. Lethbridge shouted to him from the rails.

"Gentleman's changed his mind, I reckon. He went off on the eight o'clock boat for Penzance."

Nichols commenced stolidly to furl his sails again.

"It's my thinking Lethbridge," he said, as he clambered into the dinghy, "that there's things going on in this island which you and me don't understand. I'm for a few plain words with Job Rowsell, though he's my own sister's husband."

"Plain words is more than you'll get from Job," Lethbridge replied gloomily. "He slept last night on the floor at the 'Blue Crown,' and he's there this morning, clamouring for brandy and pawing the air. He's got the blue devils, that's what he's got."

"There's money," Nichols declared solemnly, "some money, that is, that does no one any good."