Last time Bill and Horace were marched out of their shack and ended up below deck on a boat.
The next morning, Anatoly, Bentley and Thompson packed up and boarded their boat again. They had decided on their next island already and Bentley steered the boat out of the cove and into deeper waters while Anatoly took the binoculars and scanned the seas for any signs of the children, the boat and Bill.
They were relieved to leave ‘Wreckage Island’ as they had named it, but were now wary of what they may find out there. The next few islands were small, and apart from a few bits of flotsam and jetsam which appeared to have the same source as the wreckage they’d found the day before, they found nothing of interest. After lunch they approached their first large island of the day, and with still a good half-mile to sail they began spotting black and white birds bobbing and diving in the water around them.
“Puffins,” Anatoly said aloud.
“Puffins,” Thompson agreed, lifting the field-glasses and gazing through them with a fresh intensity.
“Wasn’t one of the boys that Cunningham brought with obsessed with birds?” asked Bentley as they neared the island. “This could be a likely place for them to have made camp, then.”
“Jack, yes,” Anatoly agreed, leaning out over to get a better look at one of the curious striped-beaked birds. One or two gazed solemnly back, ruffling their wings as the wake of the boat disturbed their position in the water. “He was very keen to see puffins on this trip.”
“Any further forward and you will fall in yourself!” laughed Thompson. “Keep on course, Bentley, maybe we are getting closer to finding them all.”
Bentley steered the boat around the fringes of the island, as he had done with so many islands before. On the south side they pointed out a sheltered cove which would make a good landing spot, but then after going at least two thirds of the way around they saw a natural channel in the eastern cliffs, a natural harbour of sorts.
“I’ll just take a quick look,” Bentley said, even though they hadn’t completed their circle of the island. “Might be nothing, you know, no way on to the island itself.”
The boat nosed carefully between the rocky walls, and drew up alongside a handy ledge, perfect for stepping off the boat. And there, on a jutting out rock, was a length of knotted rope, ragged and torn at one end.
“Newish,” Thompson said, reaching out to take a hold of it. “Good quality. The sort of stuff we’ve got on board.”
“Could it be from the smashed up boat we found?” Anatoly said keenly. “Should we moor here and get searching? The children and Bill might be stuck here without supplies!”
“It could be,” Bentley said. “I don’t want to leave the boat here, though. If something happened to the last one here… I’d rather head around to that sheltered cove and start from there.”
Anatoly tried not to grumble and merely submitted to Bentley’s authority. The boat was piloted out of the bay and round to the better, ‘safer’ bay that Bentley preferred to moor in. He jumped out of the boat as it pulled into the cove and went to tie the mooring rope, hoping that their search may soon be over.
While previously they had split up to cover the ground better, today they had chosen to search in a tighter formation. They all felt like they were getting closer to their quarry, and the boat wreckage had unsettled them. Before long they had spotted their first signs that someone had been here recently. Some of the sea-pinks and heather had been trampled by heavier feet than any sea-bird had, and it was almost possible to follow a path from the cove which indicated that it had been walked several times. Perhaps by someone unloading a boat in order to set up camp.
In fact they didn’t have to search too much for clues. There were patches of flattened ground where tents must have been pitched, and Thompson even found a few scraps of sweet papers, blown by the wind and caught on the heather. “I think we are on the right track, gents,” Thompson proclaimed.
Bentley was bending down to examine the ground where two tents had once been. He could just make out a few small holes where the tent pegs had once been. He thought of the tent that had blown miles away onto another island completely, and wondered just what had happened. Further over he spotted a slightly rusted tin can poking out of a hole.
“Someone’s definitely camped here within the past few days,” he said. “I wish we could say for sure that it was Bill and his lot. It’s likely, very likely, but I wish we could turn up something concrete. Let’s keep looking.”
The search began in earnest, the three men spreading out to cover as much ground as possible without losing sight of each other. Anatoly was checking under some bushes when there was a yell of shock from Bentley.
Anatoly sprang up, looking over to where Bentley had been the last time he looked. He had been searching a heathery area across to his left, but now there was no sign of him. Was it possible that there there someone else on the island, and that person had harmed Bentley?
Thompson appeared looking rushed and confused. “Where’s Bentley?” he demanded of Anatoly. “What happened?”
“I have no idea! He was there one minute,” Anatoly gestured towards where he had last seen Bentley, “and then he was gone!”
They gazed over the flattish ground that Bentley had been in the middle of. There was nowhere for him to hide – no rocks, no bushes, no trees. Even if he had been shot and was lying on the ground they should have been able to see him.
Then, from apparently nowhere, came Bentley’s voice. It was swearing profusely.
“Where are you?” Thompson called after exchanging puzzled and surprised looks with Anatoly as they started to move towards the source of the foul language.
“I’m down here. Watch your footing!” Bentley shouted back, his voice coming from low down, so low he appeared to be under the heather.
Thompson and Anatoly got to their knees and started pushing aside the heather, searching for Bentley. It didn’t take long for them to come across Bentley in a hole under the heather. “What on earth…?” Thompson asked, trying not to laugh at Bentley sprawling under him in a hole.
After a few more choice expletives Bentley growled something about the ground just disappearing beneath his feet. “I’m not hurt. Much,” he assured them, carefully getting up. His head broke free of the heather for a moment before he ducked back down. The next time he came up he was holding a scrap of paper, the sort that came out of a notebook. “Looks like someone else has been down here.”
To be continued…