Authors: Rohan O'Grady,Rohan O’Grady
THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP
by Joyce Dennys
Henrietta Sees It Through
by Joyce Dennys
The Brontës Went to Woolworths
by Rachel Ferguson
by Frank Baker
by Ada Leverson
A Kid for Two Farthings
by Wolf Mankowitz
Mrs Tim of the Regiment
by D.E. Stevenson
by E.F. Benson
Mrs Harris Goes to Paris and Mrs Harris Goes to New York
by Paul Gallico
A NOTE ON THE AUTHOR
is the pseudonym for June Margaret O’Grady, who was born in Vancouver in 1922. O’Grady began writing poetry and stories as a young child and ventured into full length fiction in her late thirties after her marriage to newspaper editor Frederick Skinner. By 1963, O’Grady had published three novels in three years,
in 1962, and
Let’s Kill Uncle
in 1963. The latter two books were illustrated by Edward Gorey. In 1966, William Castle directed the Hollywood horror movie
Let’s Kill Uncle
starring Nigel Green and Mary Badham (the young star of
To Kill a Mockingbird
). Several unproduced screenplays and two novels followed:
in 1970 and
in 1981. June Skinner has resided in West Vancouver since 1959.
First published in Great Britain by Longmans, Green and Co., 1964
This electronic edition published in 2010 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Copyright © June Skinner 1963
The moral right of the author has been asserted
Ex libris illustration © Penelope Beech 2010
Illustration on p.v © Edward Gorey
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 36 Soho Square, London W1D 3QY
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
All rights reserved
You may not copy, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this publication (or any part of it) in any form, or by any means (including without limitation electronic, digital, optical, mechanical, photocopying, printing, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages
ISBN 9 781 4088 1380 5 (ebook)
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
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IAR! LIAR! LIAR
Even the pounding of the engines couldn’t drown out the sound.
The first mate, leaning against the deck rail of the S.S.
, winced. That shrill little voice had been bouncing on his eardrums for three hours.
‘Cheer up, this is their stop.’
The purser joined him, and they stood watching a sea gull waddle along the deck rail.
‘It’s a beautiful place,’ the first mate pointed to the Island. ‘Well, it won’t be for long. Not after they land. This is your first trip on this run, isn’t it?’
The purser nodded.
‘It isn’t always this bad, you know.’
The seagull gave a hoarse shriek of delight, cocked a reptilian-bright eye past his feathered shoulder, then rose to the air, skimming over the choppy waters to the Island.
‘I’ve shipped all over the world,’ said the first mate, ‘and this is my favorite. Someday I’m going to retire to one of
these islands. I’ll get myself a cottage on the beach, and a nice little sloop. Maybe on Benares - it has a beer parlour. The best salmon fishing on the coast is here.’
The deck steward, an ex–fighter with sloping, powerful shoulders, approached them.
‘Excuse me, sir,’ he said. ‘Do you know anything that will dissolve chewing gum? Something that won’t dissolve a dog?’
The first mate and the purser exchanged glances.
?’ asked the first mate.
‘Yes, sir. One of the border collies in the hold. Its muzzle is glued together. They just thought he’d like a wad of gum, the little bastards.’
‘Try rubbing alcohol,’ suggested the purser.
‘And keep them off the bridge!’ said the first mate, his ears still burning from the captain’s salty expletives.
He turned to the purser.
‘When I’ve got my master’s papers and run my own line, there’ll be an iron-clad rule: no kids on board unless accompanied by their jailers, and even then they’ll be confined to the hold.’
They stood gazing at the Island as the ship plowed nearer the dock.
‘You can’t beat these islands,’ he continued. ‘Get yourself a couple of acres, keep a small vegetable garden, with maybe a dozen fruit trees. A man can live well on next to nothing. Driftwood for fuel, fish in the water, crabs, clams, oysters on the beach, and venison when the Mountie’s back is turned.’
‘Are you really going to settle on one?’
‘Yes, but not this one.’
‘Why not?’ The purser laughed. ‘Oh, those kids.’
‘No,’ said the first mate, ‘not because of them. This island is the most beautiful of the lot, but it’s cursed.’
‘Who are you kidding?’
‘I mean it,’ said the first mate. ‘It’s hexed. Any of the others, but not this one. And I’m not kidding. You can check the records if you want. In two world wars thirty-three men have left it to fight for their country. Only one has come back alive. See that Mountie on the dock? He’s the fellow. All the rest killed, down to the last man. If there’s such a thing as a dead island, this is it.’
They turned their eyes to the curly arbutus trees crowning the sloping, moss-covered rocks, down to the white sand, with the ocean wind fanning softly and smelling like perfume to an old sailor.
‘I don’t care how beautiful it is. I’ve been at sea too long not to be superstitious, and you couldn’t pay me to live on this island. Well, I’d better check the cargo.’
As the first mate went down the companionway, he stopped to remove a fire axe which had been lifted from its wall bracket and left temptingly, blade up, on the stairs. He replaced it and continued, only to glance to the upper deck where a lifeboat was swinging crazily on its davit.
‘Good God!’ he said, and bumped into the dining steward.
‘They left a piece of blueberry pie on a sofa in the lounge!’ said the steward. ‘Admiral Featherstonehaugh, Retired, Royal Navy, sat on it. He was wearing white flannels. He says he’s going to sue the company.’
‘I know, I know,’ said the first mate. ‘They have also spilled ink on the captain’s charts.’
‘Forty-two years at sea, I signed on as a boy of twelve,’ said the steward, ‘and never, never an afternoon like this. I wish you could see the dining saloon. Why, I’ve been through typhoons in the Orient with less damage. Then the girl threw a salt cellar at the boy and hit him on the head,
so he threw a plate of salad at her and hit that lady missionary. You remember the one, she gave us tracts and said we were all going to die on the fields of Armageddon.’
‘If we live through this afternoon,’ said the first mate. ‘Well, don’t tell me your troubles. I’ve got enough of my own. I’m not a nursemaid. Kids shouldn’t be allowed on board alone!’
Sergeant Coulter of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police watched the S.S.
docking. Like a tourist’s snapshot brought to life, he was a shining symbol of impassive and impartial justice. His shoulders bulged through his immaculate shirt, his Sam Browne belt hugged his narrow waist, the leather polished to the same gleaming russet as his riding boots. His steel spurs flashed in the sun, as hard and cold as his blue eyes, and his broad-brimmed hat was set squarely and stubbornly on his head.
Others might wilt in the summer heat, but not Sergeant Albert Edward George Coulter. He stood as though guarding the Khyber Pass, his back as solid as his royal names and his brick-red neck immovable in his tight collar.
Mr Brooks, the elderly keeper of the post office and general store, approached the police officer, the top of his silvery head barely reaching the august shoulders of Sergeant Coulter.
‘Good afternoon, Sergeant.’
Mr Brooks was waving an open letter in his hand.
The Mountie’s face relaxed and he nodded.
‘I’ve just received some rather upsetting news, Sergeant.’ Mr Brooks looked up at the policeman. ‘Our cottage was leased for the summer by a Major Gaunt, no, let me see, Major Murchison-Gaunt. His lawyers wrote he would be here to open the place on July 2nd.’
He paused and gazed up at Sergeant Coulter again.
‘It is now July 4th, Sergeant, and Major Murchison-Gaunt has not yet arrived,’ he announced.
The officer stared down at him.
‘Well,’ said Mr Brooks, ‘I’ve just received another letter from Major Murchison-Gaunt’s lawyer saying he has been unavoidably detained and he may not be able to get here for several weeks.’
‘Yes, Mr Brooks?’
‘Oh, I forgot to tell you. Major Murchison-Gaunt’s young nephew is being sent here from his private school, to join his uncle for the summer. The boy is an orphan. He’s on the
‘I suppose he’ll have to be sent back to Vancouver,’ said the Mountie. ‘If that’s where he’s from, of course.’
‘But that’s impossible! The school is closed and the child has no relatives except his uncle, who is in Europe now.’
Mr Brooks’s nose twitched nervously, but Sergeant Coulter, who quelled riots single-handed, was not upset by the untimely arrival of a small boy.
‘I imagine Major Murchison’s lawyer will look after the situation.’
Mr Brooks nibbled the edge of the letter as though it were a piece of lettuce.
‘But that’s just it! Murchison-Gaunt, by the way. The lawyer writes that Major Murchison-Gaunt is the boy’s legal guardian, and that he, the lawyer, wants no part of the boy whatsoever. As a matter of fact, he seems very explicit on that point.’