Douchard’s Island - Aidan de Brune - ebook

Douchard’s Island ebook

Aidan de Brune

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Opis

Not all buried treasure is found in a pirate’s chest... A chill-packed mystery from the master of suspense. This is what Aidan de Brune is all about, a complex, old fashioned mystery, with a highly unlikely solution. De Brune’s novel „Douchard’s Island” was published in 1931. Other novels by De Brune were reputedly published in the USA under various pseudonyms, but these have not been traced. Aidan de Brune was a Canadian-born writer who settled in Australia. In the 1920s and 1930s a number of his novels appeared in Australian newspapers as serials, and he also appears to have written serials specifically for publication in newspapers.

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Liczba stron: 149

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER I

“THAT chart’s been altered!”

Matthew Bowman, master of the barque Lilith, spoke with certainty.

“For what reason?” The girl, seated in the steamer chair, under the awning, asked curiously. She glanced, as she spoke, at the third member of the party, a tall, lean, athletic-looking man, aged about twenty-five years.

“Can’t say, missie.” Bowman turned again to a perusal of the chart. “It’s a rough thing, anyhow, but there’s no doubt of the alterations. Two hands have been engaged on this.”

“Then we may take it that the chart is not authentic?” the girl, Grace Dormer, asked regretfully. Her large grey eyes were staring out over the wide harbour in which the barque swung on to the tail of a lazy tide. Away to the south, on a high promontory, stood a long, low stone building, of some age, surrounded by a mass of greenery, amid which showed carefully tended lawns. A little sigh escaped her lips.

“I’m not saying that, Miss Grace.” The old sailor looked up, with a smile on his bearded lips. “There’s many a chart comes into the hands of landsmen that’s been through three or four hands, all of them adding something to it. Then it has been cast on one side and been lost. Yet, it was...”

“The experiences of several people,” Frank Dormer spoke languidly.

Three years senior to his sister, there was still a remarkable resemblance between them. He glanced at her quizzically. “In spite of what Captain Bowman says, Grace, I think we’ll have to say goodbye to our hopes.”

“Hopes?” The seaman rose from his seat and placed the chart on the girl’s knees. “Hopes of what, young feller? You said nothing when you came on board except that you had found that piece of paper among your uncle’s things, and wondered what it was.”

“There we were wrong, captain,” the girl answered, regretfully. “But we...we had hopes...and...were afraid.”

“Afraid of what?” Bowman turned swiftly. A short, squat man with a long, lean body and thighs and legs of enormous thickness, he yet moved with panther-like smoothness. His arms were long, reaching well towards his knees when he let them hang loose. For that reason he usually stood with his thumbs hooked in his belt. His head was round, set on a short, thick neck, mostly covered with grey hair, worn rather long. What could be seen of his complexion was baked almost black from long exposure to southern seas. From above a thin, well-hooked nose, a pair of eyes, surprising in their keenness, stared.

The girl blushed and looked down at the chart resting on her knees, where the seaman had placed it. For a moment she hesitated, but before she could speak, Frank interposed.

“Grace is right, Captain Bowman. We should have told you. There’s evidence–not much of it, true, but it’s straight evidence–that there’s–”

“Treasure?”

A light lit in the strange blue eyes of the seaman.

“Treasure, yes; of some nature,” the young man answered gravely. “Exactly what it is we can’t guess. But that chart means something.”

Again the swift cat-like movement of the man. He caught up the chart from the girl’s knees, peering at it closely for some seconds.

“There’s nothing on it indicating treasure.” he observed after a time. “Except–”

He paused, turning the paper in his hand. “Where’s the letter that was attached to it?”

“Here, captain.” Grace spoke. She opened her handbag and handed the man a piece of notepaper, yellow and torn. “You will notice that the pin that bound letter and chart is still in the paper.”

“And that’s all you’ve to go on?”

“Plenty, isn’t, it, captain?” Frank smiled.

“Plenty!” Bowman snorted, disdainfully. “What do you call that for a clue? There ain’t one in all that jumble of words. What’s more this ain’t been written by a sailor.”

“Nor the chart drawn by one,” Grace laughed, “We are children of the sea, captain, although we live on land. You know us well; you have known our family since you were a child. Do you think that chart puzzled us for 24 hours?”

“I don’t, Miss Grace.” The keen blue eyes twinkled. “You’ve sat on my knees when your legs showed longer than the rest of you, and learned to splice your first rope, held in my old fingers. I knew your uncle, Major Dormer–and a fine old fellow he was, in spite of the fact that he chose to fight on land instead of on the Dormers’ natural element. I knew your father–a sailor–as fine a man as ever trod board; and your mother, a real sweet sailor’s lady. That chart didn’t puzzle you one moment–nor your brother. If it had, I’d have keel-hauled the pair of you.”

“An old threat, captain.” Frank laughed.

“Pity I never carried it out.” The bearded lips broke into a rumble of laughter. “I’ve threatened it often enough–and only got saucy looks in exchange. Well, come on, what’s the story? I’m safe, you know that.”

“We found that chart among uncle’s things.” Grace spoke after a moment’s hesitation. “Of course, we knew that it was not a seaman’s chart, but we wondered. It certainly is a chart of an island, but there’s not a mark on it to show where that island is situated We–we think–”

She stopped, undecided, and then continued, with a glance at her brother. “We think it belonged to dad.”

“And that your uncle obtained it from your father?” the seaman asked.

“We think so,” Grace answered.

“Well?”

“The chart was in uncle’s desk.”

Frank took up the tale. “You know dad left everything he possessed to Grace and me, under Uncle Robert’s trusteeship. When uncle died he left a similar will. He left Grace and me all his property. Our father’s trust had expired, and I came into my share of the joint inheritances. For the time, Grace is under my trusteeship–that is, until next March, when she becomes twenty-one.”

“What’s that got to do with the chart?” Bowman asked brusquely.

“Quite a lot,” Frank smiled quietly. He was used to the old seaman’s manner. “I was trying to explain how we found the chart and believed that it had belonged to dad. You know, he was always in touch with sailors from an over the world. They used to come to him–”

“Begging.”

“What of that?” Grace chimed in. “Dad was a rich man and a sailor, and he loved sailors.”

“If he was rich, then why are you worrying your pretty head about that scrap of paper? Do you want more money?”

“No.” The brother and sister exchanged glances. “We want adventure.”

“And you think you’ll get it through that?”

“Frank thinks so.”

“And you?”

“I hope so.”

“Yet you have only the drawing of an island, without even a point of the compass, a latitude or longitude, to identify it.”

“There’s the mystery.”

The girl swung her legs down to the deck and stood up, a tall, lithe figure in a short, straight frock that revealed slim legs up to the knees. She clasped her bare arms at the back of her neck and stretched.

Bowman looked up at her, a strange expression in his eyes. Here was the girl he had taken from her mother’s arms, a mite a few days old. Again and again, as he returned to port from his wanderings over the waters of the world, he had resumed his comradeship with her, watching her grow from a toddler, through adolescent school-days, to a really beautiful young woman. Always he had concealed his feelings–his adoration of this beautiful young creature he had watched grow to womanhood. He had thought of her as his child–the child of a wanderer who had never settled to the home life, but continually dreamed of.

“Well, what of the mystery?” The captain spoke shortly.

“That.” She pointed to the chart, now in the seaman’s hand. “And this letter.”

“The letter–a lot of gibberish,” Bowman snorted. “Thought you had more sense than to be taken in by that sort of thing.”

“Uncle Matt! Did you read that letter?”

“Course I did. You gave it me for that purpose.” Bowman faced the girl angrily. “Do you think I’d cut you off anything that’d benefit you two? Not on your life, Missie Grace. I’d go off this deck and rake the bottom of this harbour if I thought it’d do you any good...”

“Of course you would, old dear.” The girl linked her arm in the old seaman’s. “I haven’t forgotten my first sweetheart to that extent. Now, sit down there and listen. I’m going to read that letter to you. If you don’t listen–that’s mutiny.”

“On board me own ship!” Bowman grinned. “All right, me girl, fire away.”

Grace held out her hand for the letter, which her brother held. Standing before the two men she read it slowly and gravely:

“"Dear friend,

“There is not much hope of getting away alive. Been here eleven weeks and tucker’s gone. Water is drying up. Someone’ll find this one day and send it to you. Can hang on until November 5th. You count from there and you will know when I passed out. Not chancing things. All I write is for you to take the trip and put me away respectable. Remember, I don’t ask much that ain’t reasonable. It’ll pay you all, that trip. Don’t you fail. Come here and gather what I place today. It’s not much, perhaps, but it’s yours.

“Louis”.

“There!” The girl looked up from the paper. “What do you make of that?”

“Nothing. Just nothing.” Captain Bowman laughed shortly. “I know what you’re thinking. That someone found buried treasure and left that note for your father, as a guide.”

“What else can it be?” The girl spoke, impatiently.

“He writes he’s short of water and food–‘tucker’ he calls if, and no seaman ever used that word, to my knowledge. I guess be was crazy for water and began seeing things. Anyhow, take an old salt’s tip and let it fade out.”

The girl stamped impatiently and walked to the side of the vessel. For a moment she looked down at the rippling water, then turned and faced the men. “Tell him the rest, Frank.” She spoke more quietly now, yet a little pucker still showed between her brows.

“It isn’t much.” The young man spoke with a short laugh. “We found that note on Saturday–Sis and I. Sunday, someone got in at the library window and searched the place. Funny thing, didn’t take a thing, although there are quite a number of valuable articles around the room. Monday, a seafaring man came and asked for a packet of papers Uncle Robert was taking care of for him. He couldn’t describe the packet and we advised him to go to Mr. Kempton, our solicitor. He didn’t. Grace had the curiosity to ring Kempton up, and he said he hadn’t seen any seafaring man. Wednesday night, the house was entered again. It was then that Sis told me that she had had a feeling all that day that she was being followed–and when I came to think of it, I remember seeing a strange-looking fellow continually throughout the day. Then...”

“That’s to-day,” Grace interrupted. “I saw the man at the back door, talking to our cook. She said he had called to beg tucker, but added that he had asked quite a lot of questions about Frank and me. Frank said that he saw a man hanging about the road outside the gate, and...” She paused, glancing at a nearby lifeboat on the deck.

Frank followed the direction of her glance. He hesitated a moment, then sprang towards the boat.

A man rose to his feet from the far side of the boat, hesitating. Frank sprang forward, and the man turned and dived into the harbour.

Captain Bowman uttered a bellow of rage. In a couple of jumps he was at the chart-room door. He emerged, armed with a formidable revolver and ran to the side of the ship, shooting at the black head bobbing in the water. The man dived. When he came to the surface again he was some distance from the ship–out of range of the captain’s weapon.

“What the hell!” The seaman was spluttering with anger. “And on my ship! I’ll ...” He caught Grace’s laughing eyes and subsided. “Beg pardon, missie. Shouldn’t have sworn before you.” Then, as if anxious to change the subject. “Say, where’s that letter and chart?”

The girl held them up. Bowman took them and for some time studied them in silence; the girl and young man watched him.

“Make anything of them, captain?” Frank asked.

“Not a line. But, I’m going to.” He hesitated. “You bet your sweet life. After what’s happened, Captain Bowman’s going to find out all about Douchard’s Island.”

“Douchard’s Island?” The girl questioned, excitedly. “Where do you get that name, Uncle Matt?”

“‘Cause it’s there.” The stubby forefinger stabbed at the letter. “And call me a fool for not remembering. But your talk sort of put me off. I never thought of that man.”

“What man?” Grace shook the seaman’s arm, impatiently, in her excitement. “What man are you talking about?”

“Louis Douchard.”

Bowman laughed. “Of course, Louis Douchard! Why didn’t I think of him before? But it’s years since your father came to me with Douchard–more years than I care to remember.”

“Who was Louis Douchard?” Grace questioned.

“Hanged if I know.” Bowman scratched his head. “S’far as I remember he was a tall, thin, loose-shanked fellow with a mop of red hair, turning grey. Seemed to think a lot of your father; couldn’t keep his eyes off him and...”

He paused and took a few turns along the deck. At length, he came back to where the young people were impatiently awaiting him. “You’ll have to give me time to think this out, missie,” he said, patting the hand Grace laid on his arm. “There’s quite a number of years intervening and I’ve get to search back. Give me time. That’s all I ask. Time, and I’ll tell yon all I know.”

“But...” Grace hesitated. Then: “Who was Louis Douchard?”

“I’ve told you; I can’t remember. All I know is–that he wasn’t a sailor.”

CHAPTER II

GRACE could not shift Captain Bowman from his determination. He would take time to think over past days; the days when Arthur Dormer frequented his ship when in port, bringing with him men be thought would appeal to the old seaman.

At the ship’s gangway lay the Fairy, a speedy, outboard motorboat.

Grace ran down to it and almost before Frank could jump aboard had it speeding for the jetty at the bottom of the big garden under the bluff. Almost in silence she ran the boat beside the jetty and waited while her brother secured it. Then, she linked her arm in his, as they ascended the steep grade to the terrace that ran along the harbour side of the house.

“What do you think, Frank?” She stopped at the foot of the last flight of steps. “Douchard’s Island! I like the name. You are older than I. Do you remember Louis Douchard?”

The young man shook his head thoughtfully. “I don’t know,” he paused. “Now I have heard Captain Bowman I begin to believe I remember him coming to see dad; but it’s a long while ago. I’ve got to think...”

“Like Uncle Matt.” the girl laughed. “Oh, you men! Listen–‘Tall, thin, loose-shanked, mop of red hair, turning grey!’ There you are. Can’t you remember? Why, if a woman had seen a man like that she would have remembered him to the end of her life.”

“Well, I’m not a woman.” Frank grinned.

“No-o-” Then the girl laughed. “Frank, everyone says that we are alike. What sort of a girl do you think you would have made?”

“That would have been a question better asked of my best boy.” A mock frown came on the young man’s brow. “No girl understands herself until she has had at least two serious flirtations.”

“Are flirtations serious?” Grace raised her eyebrows. Then, with a little laugh, “Psychology is out of order and...”

“Tea is in order.” Frank nodded to the table spread beneath the overhanging trees at the edge of the lawn. “Why didn’t you bring Captain Matt, back with you, Grace?”

“I for–no, I didn’t. For the time I wanted him to stay aboard and think. Tea would be a disturbing element with him. Now he is alone he will go into the chart room and mix a stiff glass of grog. That will excite his brain. Years will turn back and in the fumes of the ardent spirit...”

“He will recite poetry–like my sister–in flights of fancy to...”

“Douchard’s Island.” The girl had reached the tea-table and was busy with the equipage. Frank took his cup and helped himself liberally, to the sugar. For a moment he devoted himself to an obstinate lump which refused to melt. Then:

“Why are you so anxious about Douchard’s Island, Grace?”

“I want to find it.”

“What for?”

Again the girl hesitated. She frowned and bit her lip. “I hardly know,” she said at length. “I was intrigued, at first. Then came the inexplicable happenings of the nights...”

“The lure of gold?”

“It may be that, to other people. To me it is...is just...”

“Feminine curiosity?”

“More than that, Frank. Why are these men so anxious to find Douchard’s Island? This house is getting haunted...” She shivered slightly. „...two burglaries and a strange caller–I’m leaving out cookie’s visitor–in a week. Sonny boy, there’s something up.”

“There will be, if you call me that again,” Frank threatened, drawing the sugar-bowl towards him.

“You don’t want more sugar in that tea, surely.”

“No, but blessed be the man who invented lump-sugar–when sisters go to see sob-sister films.”

Grace nodded, and laughed. “That doesn’t answer my proposition,” she countered.

“And, you haven’t answered mine.” The young man stretched his legs before him. “I want to know why you are so anxious about this island business. Do you propose that we go and settle there–in respect to the late lamented Douchard?”

“Absurd!” Grace laughed again. “No, but I’m intrigued.”

“By the thoughts of an enormous treasure?”

“By the thought that the map and letter are of especial interest to one, or several persons.”

“Then...”

“If Uncle Matt discovers anything I am going through to the end of this.’

“By going to Douchard Island? I hope you don’t count me in on the journey?”

The girl nodded; then rose and went to the house. Frank watched her curiously.

Grace was certainly intrigued with the letter they had discovered in their uncle’s desk. But was she more intrigued with the papers than with the circumstances surrounding them?

They had found the map in one of the drawers, pinned to the letter and both of them enclosed in an unmarked foolscap envelope. They had been curious, for the moment–but, their curiosity had soon died. Then it had been revived by the burglary–an abortive one, true–followed by the seafaring man’s strange call. The caller had not followed the advice given him–to see the solicitor for the estate–but had disappeared. His call had been followed by another burglary, equally abortive.

They had wondered what the intruder had sought. In the library, the scene of the midnight raid, had been plenty of plunder for the ordinary burglar. But, he had disdained old silver and a wonderful collection of old coins. He had attacked the safe and thrown out the contents. A strong-box containing jewellery worth many thousands of pounds had been forced. The jewels had been left, scattered over the library desk.

It had been Grace who had first thought of the letter and map. The burglar had missed the map by a fluke. During the afternoon Grace had chanced on it again and had taken it to her room to study. She had insisted that her unconscious act had foiled the burglar. She had insisted that the two pieces of paper be safely hidden.

Frank was lost in speculation regarding Douchard’s Island when a low, penetrating whistle brought him alert.

He looked up, to see Grace standing on the terrace of the house, waving to him. “Quick, boy!” The girl called to him, excitedly. “Someone wants to see you.”

She took his arm and guided him to the library. Close by the desk stood a small man, clad in correct morning attire, somewhat faded. In his hand he held a soft straw hat, gloves and a thin cane. At their entrance he turned to face them, showing a long, thin face, decorated with a rather large moustache and a neat beard cut to an imperial. He bowed from the hips, in a rather theatrical manner.

“This is my brother, M. Latour.” Grace spoke coldly. She crossed the room and seated herself in a lounge chair with her back to the window. Something in her attitude showed that she intended to be present through the interview. The man showed embarrassment.

“If ma’amselle will excuse us,” he hinted.

“Ma’amselle is interested.” Grace spoke quickly. “My brother and I have no secrets and if this is a matter of our father’s, or uncle’s estates, I am as much interested as he.”

The man bowed again, yet seemed still disturbed. “It is a matter of the estate. May I say that I am a solicitor of this city...”

“Then you represent a client in this matter?” the girl interjected.

“Certainly, ma’amselle. I have a client.”

“And a claim against one or the estates?”

“One could hardly call it a claim. Shall I say, a withdrawal of a trust?”

“Against my father or my uncle?” Frank asked.

“I believe your uncle, the lamented Major Robert Dormer, was executor and trustee for the estate of your esteemed father, Mr. Arthur Dormer. He was guardian, under the will of your respected father for you–“ Grace had a suspicion that the man had intended to finish his sentence with the word “children.” She flushed slightly, and, as the man paused, suggested, “Heirs.”

“Thank you ma’amselle.” The man bowed again. “He, your greatly respected uncle, was guardian for your lamented father’s heir and heiress.”

“What has that to do with the matter?” Frank had taken a dislike to the man and wished to bring the interview to a head.

“A small matter.” Latour turned to the young man, as if seeking to ignore the girl. “My client has a claim-”

“Has your client a name?” Grace asked with suspicious sweetness.

“Again I ask pardon.” The man flushed. “I should have introduced him–Mr. Samuel Partridge–a gentleman who for many years has followed the calling of the sea...”

“A sailor?”

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