Monday, 23 January 2017
FEBRUARY 1 1923
AUTHOR OF “THE MIRACLE MAN’’
Illustrated by Dudley Gloyne Summers
In this story a Cockney flower girl becomes a petted doll.
PROLOGUE The Four of Them
THE crash of guns. A Battle. Dismay. Death. A night of chaos. And four men in a thicket.
One of them spoke:
“A bloody Hun prison, that’s us! My Heavens! Where are we?”
Another answered caustically:
“Monsieur, we are lost—and very tired.”
A third man laughed. The laugh was short.
“A Frenchman! Where in hell did you come from?” “Where you and the rest of us came from.” The Frenchman’s voice was polished; his English faultless. “We come from the tickling of the German bayonets.” The first man elaborated the statement gratuitously: “I don’t know about you ’uns; but our crowd was done in good and proper two days ago. Heavens! Ain’t there no end to ’em? Millions! And us running! What I says is let ’em have the blinking Channel Ports, and let us clear out. I wasn’t noways in favor of mussing up in this when the bleeding parliament says up and at ’em in the beginning, leastways nothing except the navy.”
“Drafted, I take it?” observed the third man coolly. There was no answer.
The fourth man said nothing.
There was a whir in the air. . . .closer. . . .closer; a roar that surged at the ear drums; a terrific crash near at hand; a tremble of the earth like a shuddering sob.
The first man echoed the sob:
“Carry on! Carry on! I can't carry on. Not for hours. I’ve been running for two days. I can’t even sleep.”
“No good of carrying on for a bit,” snapped the third man. “There’s no place to carry on to. They seem to be all around us.”
“That’s the first one that’s come near us,” said the Frenchman. “Maybe it’s only—what do you call it?—a straggler.”
“Like us,” said the third man.
A FLARE, afar off, hung and dropped. Nebulous, ghostlike, a faint shimmer lay upon the thicket. It endured for but a moment. Three men, huddled against the tree trunks, torn, ragged and dishevelled men, stared into each others’ faces. A fourth man lay outstretched, motionless, at full length upon the ground, as though he were asleep or dead; his face was hidden because it was pillowed on the earth.
“Well, I’m damned!” said the third man, and whistled softly under his breath.
“Monsieur means by that?” inquired the Frenchman politely.
“Means?” repeated the third man. “Oh, yes! I mean it’s queer. Half an hour ago we were each a separate bit of driftwood tossed about out there, and now here we are blown together from the four winds and linked up as close to each other by a common stake—our lives—as ever men could be. I say it’s queer.”
He lifted his rifle, and, feeling out, prodded once or twice with the butt. It made a dull, thudding sound. “What are you doing?” asked the Frenchman.
“Giving first aid to Number Four,” said the third man grimly. “He’s done in, I guess. I’m not sure but he’s the luckiest one of the lot.”
“You’re bloody well right, he is!” gulped the first man. “I wouldn’t mind being dead, if it was all over, and I was dead. It’s the dying and the thinking about it I can’t stick.”
“I can’t see anything queer about it.” The Frenchman was judicial; he reverted to the third man’s remark as though no interruption had occurred in his train of thought. “We all knew it was coming, this last big— what do you call it?—push of the Boche. It has come. It is gigantic. It is tremendous. A tidal wave. Everything has gone down before it; units all broken up, mingled one with another, a melee. It has been sauve, qui peut for thousands like us who never saw each other before, who did not even know each other existed. I see nothing queer in it that some of us, though knowing nothing of each other, yet having the same single purpose, rest if only for a moment, shelter if only for a moment, should have come together here. To me it is not queer.”
“Well, perhaps, you’re right,” said the third man. “Perhaps adventitious would have been better than queer.”
“Nor adventitious,” dissented the Frenchman. “Since we have been nothing to each other in the past, and since our meeting now offers us collectively no better chance of safety or escape than we individually had before, there is nothing adventitious about it.”
“Perhaps again I am wrong.” There was a curious drawl in the third man’s voice now. “In fact, I will admit it. It is neither queer nor adventitious. It is quite—oh, quite!—beyond that. It can only be due to the considered machinations of the devil on his throne in the pit of hell having his bit of a fling at us—and a laugh!”
“You’re bloody well right!” mumbled the first man.
“Sacre!” said the Frenchman with asperity. “I don’t understand you at all.”
The third man laughed softly.
“Well, I don’t know how else to explain it, then,” he said. “The last time we--”
“The last time!” interrupted the Frenchman. “I did not get a very good look at you when that flare went up, I’ll admit; but enough so that I could swear I had never seen you before.”
“Quite so!” acknowledged the third man.
ALIGHT, lurid, intense for miles around opened the darkness—and died out. An explosion rocked the earth.
“Ammunition dump!” said the Frenchman. “I’m sure of it now. I’ve never seen any of you before.”
The third man sat with his rifle across his knees now. The fourth man had not moved from his origina! position.
“I thought you were officers, blimy if I didn’t, from the
way you talked,” said the first man. “Just a blinking Tommy and a blinking Pi-loo!''
“Monsieur,” said the Frenchman, and there was a challenge in his voice. “I never forget a face.”
“Nor I,” said the third man quietly. “Nor other things; things that happened a bit back—after they put the draft into England, but before they called up the older classes. I don’t know just how they worked it over here—that is, how some of them kept out of it as long as they did.” “Sacre!” snarled the Frenchman. “Monsieur, you go too far! And—monsieur appears to have a sense of humor peculiarly his own—perhaps monsieur wil be good enough to explain what he is laughing at?”
“With pleasure,” said the third man calmly. “I was laughing at the recollection of a night, not like this one, though there’s a certain analogy in it for all that, when an attack was made on—a strong box in a West End residence in London. Lord Seeton’s, to be precise.”
The first man stirred. He seemed to be groping around him where he sat.
“Foolish days! Perverted patriotism!” said the third man. “The fami y jewels, the hereditary treasures, gathered together to be offered on the altar of England’s need! Fancy! But it was being done, you know. Rather! Only in this case the papers got hold of it and played it up a bit as a wonderful example, and that’s how three men, none of whom had anything to do with the otners, got hold of it too—no, I’m wrong there. Lord Seeton’s valet naturally had inside information.”
“Blimy!” rasped the first man suddenly. “A copper in karky! That’s what! A bloody, sneaking swine!”
It was inky black in the thicket. The third man’s voice cut through the blackness like a knife.
“You put that gun down! I'll do all the gun handling there’s going to be done. Drop it!”
A SNARL answered him—a snarl, and the rattle of an YY object falling to the ground.
“There were three of them,” said the third man composedly. “The valet, who hadn’t reached his class in the draft; a Frenchman, who spoke marvellous English, which is perhaps after all the reason why he had not yet, at that time, served in France; and—and some one else.” “Monsieur,” said the Frenchman silkily, “you become interesting.”
“The curious part of it is,” said the third man, “that each of them in turn got the swag, and each of them could have got away with it with hardly any doing at all, if it hadn’t been that in turn each one chivied the other. The Frenchman took it from the valet, as the valet, stuffed like a pouter pigeon with diamonds and brooches and pendants and little odds and ends like that, was on his way to a certain pinch-faced fence named Konitsky in a slimy bit of neighborhood in the East End; the Frenchman, who was an Englishman in France, took the swag to a strange little place in a strange little street, not far from the bank of the Seine, the place of one Pere Mouche, a place that in times of great stress also became the shelter and home of this same Frenchman, wTho—shall I say?—I believe is outstandingly entitled to the honor of having raised his profession to a degree of art unapproached by any of his confreres in France to-day.”
“Sacre nom!” said the Frenchman with a gasp. “There is only one Englishman who knew that, and I thought he was dead. An Englishman beside whom the Frenchman you speak of is not to be compared. You are——’’
‘7 haven't mentioned any names,” said the third man smoothly. “Why should you?”
“You are right,” said the Frenchman. "Perhaps we have already said too much. There is a fourth here.”
'‘No,” said the third man. 'T had not forgotten him.” He toyed with the rifle on his knee. "But I had thought perhaps you would have recognized the valet’s face.” "Strike me pink!” muttered the first man. “So Frenchy’s the blighter that did me in, was he!”
‘Tt is the uniform, and the dirt perhaps, and the very poor light,” said the Frenchman apologetically. “But you — pardon, monsieur, I mean the other of the three—I did not see him: and monsieur will perhaps understand that I am deeply interested in the rest of the story.”
The third man did not answer. A sort of momentary weird and breathless silence had settled on the thicket, on all around, on the night, save only for the whining of some on-coming thing through the air. Whine. . . .whine tc-ksae. The nerves, tautened, loosened, were jangling things. The third man raised his rifle. And somewhere the whining shell burst. And in the thicket a minor crash; a flash, gone on the instant, eye-blinding.
The first man screamed out :
"Great Heavens! What have you done?”
"I think he was done in anyway,” said the third man calmly. "It was as well to make sure.”
The first man whimpered.
"Monsieur," said the Frenchman, “I have always heard that you were incomparable. I salute you! As you said, you had not forgotten. We can speak at ease now. The rest of the story—•”
The third man laughed.
"Come to me in London—after the war,” he said, “and l will tell it to you. And perhaps there will be—other things to talk about.”
"I shall be honored.” said the Frenchman. “We three!
I begin to understand now. A house should not be divided against itself. Is it not so? We should go far! It is fate to-night that—”
“Or the devil,” said the third man.
My Heavens!” The first man began to laugh—a •racked, jarring laugh. “After the war, the blinking war —after hell! There ain’t no end, there ain’t no—”
And then a flare hung again in the heavens, and in the thicket three men sat huddled against the tree trunks, tom. ragged and dishevelled men, but they were net staring into each others’ faces now; ---------------------
they were staring, their eyes magnetically attracted, at a spot on the ground where a man, a man murdered, should be lying.
But the man was not there.
Th» fourth man wa3 gone.
Three Yearn Later
T'HE East End being, as it were, more akin to the technique and the mechanics of the thing, applauded the •’raftsmanship; the West End. a little grimly on the part of the men, and with a loquacity not wholly free from nervousness on the part of the women, wondered who would be next.
“The cove as is runnin’ that show," said the East End, with its tongue delightedly in its cheek, “knows ’is wye abaht. Wish I wa3 ’im!"
“The police are nincompoops!” said the masculine West End. “Absolutely!”
“Yes, of course! It’s quite too impossible for words!” said the female of the West End. “One never knows when one’s own—do let me give you some tea, dear Lady Wintern
From something that had merely been of faint and passing interest, a subject of casual remark, it had grown steadily, insidiously, had become conversationally epidemic. All London talked; the paper's talked—virulently. Alone in that great metropolis, New
Scotland Yard was silent, due, if the journals were to be believed, to the fact that that world-famous institution was come upon a state of hopeless and atrophied senility.
With foreknowledge obtained in some amazing manlier, with ingenuity, with boldness, and invariably with success, a series of crimes, stretching back several years, had been, were being, perpetrated with insistent regularity. These crimes had been confined to the West End of London, save on a few occasions when the perpetrators had gone slightly afield—because certain wealthy WestEnders had for the moment changed their accustomed habitat. The journals at spasmodic intervals printed a summary of the transactions. In jewels, and plate, and cash, the figures had reached an astounding Jotal, not one penny of which had ever been recovered or traced. Secret wall safes, hidden depositories of valuables opened with obliging celerity and disgorged their contents to some apparition which immediately vanished. There was no clu?. It simply happened again and again. Traps had been set with patience and considerable artifice. The traps had never been violated. London was accustomed to crimes, just as any great city was; there were hundreds of crimes committed in London; but these were of a genre all their own, these were distinctive, these were not to be confused with other crimes, or their authors with other criminals.
And so London talked—-and waited.
IT WAS raining—a thin drizzle. The night was uninviting without; cozy within the precincts of a certain well known West End club, the Claremont, to be exact. Two men sat in the lounge,in a little recess by the window. One, a man of perhaps thirty-three, of athletic build, with short-cropped black hair and clean-shaven face, a onetime captain of territorials in the late war, and though once known on the club membership roll as Captain Francis Newcombe was to be found there now as Francis Newcombe, Esquire; the other, a very much older man, with a thin, gray little face and thin, gray hair, would, on recourse to the club roll, have been found to be Sir Harris Greaves, Bart.
The baronet made a gesture with his cigar, indicative of profound disgust.
“Democracy!” he ejaculated. “The world safe for demmocracy! I am nauseated with that phrase. What does it mean? What did it ever mean? We have had three years now since the war which was to work that marvel, and I have seen no signs of it yet. So far as I--”
Captain Francis Newcombe interrupted the Baronet— “And yet,” he said, “I embody in my person one of those signs. You can hardly deny that, Sir Harris. Certainly I would never have had, shall I call it the distinction, of being admitted to this club had it not been for the democratic leaven working through the war. You remember, of course? An officer and a gentleman! We of England were certainly consistent in that respect.While one was an officer one was a gentleman. The clubs were all pretty generally thrown open to officers during the war. Some of them came from the Lord knows where. T. G’s. they were called, you remember—Temporary Gentlemen. Afterward—but of course that’s another story so far as most of them were concerned. Take my own case. I enlisted in the ranks, and toward the latter end of the war I obtained my commission I became a T. G. And as such I enjoyed the privileges of this club. I was eventually, however, one of the fortunate ones. At the close of the war the club took me on its permanent strength and, ergo, I became a—Permanent Gentleman. Democracy! Private Francis Newcombe— Captain Francis Newcombe—Francis Newcombe, Esquire.”
A RATHER thin case!” smiled the baronet. “What I was about to say when you interrupted me was that, so far as I can see, all that the world has been made safe for by the war is the active expression of the predatory instinct in man. I refer to the big interests, the trusts; to the radical outcroppings of certain labor elements; to—yes!”—he tapped the newspaper that lay on the table beside him— “the Simon-pure criminal such as this mysterious gang of desperadoes that has London at its wits’ ends, and those of us who have anything to lose in a state of constant apoplexy.”
Captain Francis Newcombe shook his head.
“I think you’re wrong, sir,” he said judicially. “It isn’t the aftermath of the war, or the result of the war. It is the war, of which the recent struggle was only a phase. It’s been going on since the days of the cave man. You’ve only to reduce the nation to the terms of the individual, and you have it. A nation lusts after something which does not belong to it. It proceeds to take it by force. If it fails it is punished. That is war. The criminal lusts after something. He flings down his challenge. If he is caught he is punished. That is war. What is the difference?” The baronet sipped at his Scotch and soda.
“H’m! Which brings us?” he suggested.
“Nowhere!” said Captain Francis Newcombe promptly. “It’s been going on for ages; it’ll go on for all time. Always the individual predatory; inevitably, in cycles, the cumulative individual running amuck as a nation. Why, you, sir, yourself, ’ a little while ago when somebody here in the room made a remark to the effect that he believed this particular series of crimes was directly attributable to the war because it would seem that some one of ourselves, some one who has the entree everywhere, who, through being contaminated by the filth out there, had lost poise and was probably the guilty one, meaning, I take it, that the chap finding himself in a hole wasn’t so nice or particular in his choice of the way out of it as he would have been but for the war—you, Sir Harris, denied this quite emphatically. It—er —wouldn’t you say, rather bears me out?”
The old baronet smiled grimly.
“Quite possibly!” he said. “But if so, I must confess that my conclusion was based on a very different premise from yours. In fact, for the moment, I was denying the theory that the criminal in question was one of ourselves, quite apart from any bearing the war might have had upon the matter.”
The ex-captain of territorials selected a cigarette with care from his case.
“Yes?” he inquired politely. The old baronet cleared his throat. He glanced a little whimsically at hi? companion.
“It’s been .a hobby, of course, purely a hobby; but in an amateurish sort of way as a criminologist I have spent a great deal of time and money in—”
“By Jove! Really!” exclaimed Captain Newcombe. “I didn’t know, Sir Harrris, that you—He paused suddenly in confusion. “That’s anything but a compliment to your reputation though, I’m afraid, isn’t it? Á bit raw of me! I—I’m sorry, sir.”
“Not at all!” said the old baronet pleasantly; and then, with a wry smile: “You need not feel badly. In certain
quarters much more intimate with the subject than you could be supposed to be, I am equally unrecognized.”
“It’s very good of you to let me down so easily,” said the ex-captain of territorials contritely. “Will you go on, sir? You were saying that you did not believe these crimes were being perpetrated by one in the same sphere of life as those who were being victimized. Why is that, sir? The theory seemed rather logical.”
“Because,” said the old baronet quietly, “I believe I know the man who is guilty.”
The ex-captain of territorials stared.
“Good Heavens, sir!” he gasped out. “You—you can’t mean that?”
“Just that!” A grim brusqueness had crept into the old baronet’s voice. “And one of these days I propose to prove it!”
“But, sir”—the ex-captain of territorials in his amazement was still apparently groping out for his bearings— “in that case, the authorities—surely you—”
“They were very polite at Scotland Yard—very!” The old baronet smiled dryly again. “That was the quarter to which I referred. Soc’ally and criminologically—if I may be permitted the word—I fear that the Yard regards me from widely divergent angles. But damme, sir”—he became suddenly irascible—“they’re too self-sufficient! I am a doddering and interfering old idiot! But nevertheless I am firmly convinced that I am right, and they haven’t heard the end of the matter—if I hrve to devote every penny I’ve got to substantiating my theory and bringing the guilty man to justice!”
Captain Francis Newcombe coughed in an embarrassed way.
The old baronet reached for his tumbler, and drank generously. It appeared to soothe his feelings.
“Tut, tut!” he said self-chidingly. “I mean every word of that—that is, as to my determination to pursue my own investigations to the end; but perhaps I have not been wholly fair to the Yard. So far, I lack proof; I have only theory. And the Yard too has its theory. It is a very common disease. The theory of the Yard is that the man I believe to be guilty of these crimes of to-day died somewhere around the middle stages of the war.”
“By Jove!” Captain Francis Newcombe leaned sharply forward on the arms of his chair. “You don’t say!”
npHE old baronet wrinkled his brows, and was silent for a moment.
“It’s quite extraordinary!” he said at last, with a puzzled smile. “I can’t for the life of me understand how I got on this subject, for I think we were discussing democracy—but you appear to be interested.”
“That is expressing it mildly,” said the ex-captain of territorials earnestly. “You can’t in common decency refuse me the rest of the story now, Sir Harris.”
“There is no reason that I know of why I should.” said the old baronet. “Did you ever hear of a man called Shadow Varne?”
Captain Francis Newcombe shook hi? head.
“No,” he said.
“Possibly, then,” said the old baronet, “you may remembertherobbery atLord Seeton’s place? It was during the war.”
“No,” said the other thoughtfully. “I can’t say I do. I don’t think I ever heard of it.”
“Well, perhaps you wouldn’t,” nodded the old baronet. “It happened at a time when, from what you’ve said, I would imagine you were in the ranks, and—however, it doesn’t matter. The point is that the robbery at Lord Seeton’s is amazingly like, I could almost say, each and every one of this series of robberies that is taking place today. The same exact fore-knowledge, the hidden wall safe, or hiding place, or repository, or whatever it might be, that was supposedly known only to the family; the utter absence of any clue; the complete disappearance of —shall we call it?—the loot itself. There is only one difference. In the case of Lord Seeton, the jewels—it was principally a jewel robbery—were eventually recovered. They were found in the possession of Shadow Varne. But”—the old baronet smiled a little grimly again— “the police were not to blame for that.”
CIR HARRIS GREAVES, amateur criminologist, re^ verted to his tumbler of Scotch and soda.
Captain Francis Newcombe knocked the ash from his cigarette with little taps of his forefinger.
“Yes?” he said.
“It’s a bit of a story,” resumed the old baronet slowly. “Yes, quite a bit of a story. I do not know how Shadow Varne got to Paris; I simply know that, had he not taken sick, neither he nor the jewels would everhave been found. But perhaps I am getting a little too far ahead. I think I ought to say that Shadow Varne, though he had never actually up to this time been known in a physical sense to the police, had established for himself a widespread and international reputation. His name here, for instance amongst the criminal element of our own East End wasa sort of Talisman, something to conjure with, as it were though no one could ever be found who had seen or could describe the man. I suppose that is how he got the name of Shadow. Some must have known him, of course, but they were tight lipped; and even these, I am inclined to believe, would never have been able to lay fingers on him, even had they dared. He was at once an inscrutable and diabolical character. I would say, and in this at least Scotland Yard will agree with me, he seemed like some evil, unembodied spirit upon whom one could never come in a tangible sense, but that hovered always in the background, dominating, permeating with his personality the criminal world.”
“But if this is so, if no one knew him. or had ever seen him.” said the ex-captain of territorials in a puzzled way, “how was he recognized as Shadow Varne in Paris?”
“I am coming to that,” said the old baronet quietly. “As you know very well, in those days they were always poking into every rat hole in Paris for draft evaders. That is how they stumbled on Shadow Varne. They dug him out of one of those holes, a very filthy hole, like a rat —like a very sick rat. The man was raving in delirium. That is how they knew they had caught Shadow Varne— because in his delirium he disclosed his identity. And that is how they recovered Lord Seeton’s jewels.”
“My word!” ejaculated Captain Francis Newcombe. “A bit tough, I call that! My sympathies are almost with the accused!”
“I am afraid I have failed to make you understand the inhuman qualities of the man,” said the old baronet tersely. “However, Shadow Varne was even then too much for them —at, least temporarily. A few nights later
he escaped from the hospital; but he was still too sick a man to stand the pace, and they were too close on his heels. He had possibly, all told, a couple of hours of liberty, running, dodging through the streets of Paris. The chase ended somewhere on the bank of tne Seine. He was fired at here as he ran, and though quite a few yards in the lead, he appeared to have been hit, for he was seen to stagger, fall, then recover himself and go on. He refused to halt. They fired and hihim again—or so they believed. He fell to the ground—and rolled over the edge into the water. And that was the last that was ever seen of him.”
“My word!” ejaculated the ex-captain of territorials again. “That’s a nice end! And I must say, -with all due deference to you, Sir Harris, that I can’t see anything wrong with Scotland Yard’s deduction. I fancy he’s dead, fast enough.”
“Yes,” said the old baronet deliberat ly, “I imagined you would say so; and I, too, would agree were it not for two reasons. First, had it been any other man than Shadow Varne; and, second, that the body was never recovered.”
“DUT,” objected Captain Francis Newcombe, “if, as you believe, the man is still carrying on, having been identified once, he would, wouldn’t you say, be recognized again?”
“Not at all!” said the oldbaronet decidedly. “You must take into account the man’s sick and emaciated condition when he was caught, and the subsequent hospital surroundings. Let those who saw him then see the same man to-day, robust, in health, and in an entirely different atmosphere, locality and environment! Recognized? I would lay long odds against it, even leaving out of account the man’s known ingenuity for evading recognition.”
The ex-captain of territorials nodded thoughtfully.
“Yes,” he said, “that is quite possible; but,even granting that he is still alive, I can’t see—”
“Why should I believe he is at the bottom of what is going on to-day here in London?” supplied the old baronet quickly. “Perhaps intuition, perhaps the mystery about the man that has interested me from the time I first heard of him in the early days of the war, and which has ever since been a fascinating study with me, has something to do with it. I told you to begin with that my proof was theory. But I believe it. I do not say he is alone in this, or was alone in the Lord Seeton affair; but he is certainly the head and front and brains of whatever he was, or is, engaged in. As for the similarity of the cases, I will admit that might be pure coincidence, but we know that Shadow Varne did have the Seeton jewels in his possession. The strongest point, however, that I have to offer in a tangible sense, bearing in mind the man himself and his hideously elusive propensities, is the fact that there is no absolute proof of his death. Why wasn’t his body recovered? You will answer me probably along the same lines that the Paris police argued and that were accepted by Scotland Yard. You will say that it was dark, that the body might not have come to the surface immediately, and under the existing conditions, by the time they procured a boat and began their search, it might easily be mised. Very good! That is quite possible. But why, then, was not the body eventually recovered in two or three days, say—a week, if you like? You will say that this would probably be very far indeed from being the first instance in which a body was never recovered from the Seine. And here, too, you would be quite right. But I do not believe it. I do not believe it was a dead man or a man mortally wounded, or a man wounded so badly that he must inevitably drown, who pitched helplessly into the water that night. I believe he did it voluntarily, and with considered cunning, as the only chance he had. Go into the East End. Listen to the stories you will hear about him. The world does not get rid of such as he so easily! The man is not human. The crimes he has committed would turn your blood cold. He is the mos" despicable. the most wanton thing that I ever heard of. He would kill with no more compunction than you would break in two that match you are holding in your hand. Where he came from God alone knows, and—”
A club attendant had stopped beside the old baronet’s chair.
“Yes?” said the old baronet.
"I beg pardon. Sir Harris, but your car is here,” announced the man.
“Very good! Thank you!” The old baronet drained his glass and stood up. “Well, you have heard the story, captain.” he said with a dry smile. "I shall not embarrass you by asking you to decide between Scotland V ard and myself, but I shall at least expect you to admit that there is some slight justification for my theory.”
HT HE ex-captain of territorials, as he rose in courtesy,
* shook his head quietly.
“If I felt only that way about it,” he said slowly, “I should simply thank you for a very interesting story and your confidence. As it is. there is so much justification I feel impelled to say to you that, if this man is what you describe him to be. is as dangerous as you say he is, I would advise you. Sir Harris, in all seriousness, to leave him —to Scotland Yard.”
"What!” exclaimed the old baronet sharply. “And let him go free! No, sir! Not if every effort I can put forth will prevent it! Never, sir—under any circumstances!”
Captain Francis Newcomb? smiled gravely, and shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, at least, I felt I ought to say it,” hesaid. “Good night. Sir Harris—and thank you so much!”
“Good-night, captain!” replied the old baronet cordially. as he turned away. “Good-night to you, sir!”
Captain Francis Newcombe watched the other leave the room, then he walked over to the window. The drizzle had developed into a downpour, with gusts of wind that now pelted the rain viciously at the window’ panes. He frowned at the streaming glass.
A moment later, as he moved away from the window, he consulted his watch. It was a quarter past eleven. Downstairs he secured his hat and stick, and spoke to the doorman.
“Get a taxi, please, Martin,” he requested, “and tell the chap to drive me home.”
He lighted a cigarette as he w’aited, and then under the shelter of the doorman’s umbrella entered the taxi.
It was not far. The taxi stopped before a flat in a fashionable neighborhood that was quite in keeping with the fashionable club Captain Francis Newcombe had just left. His man admitted him.
“It’s a filthy night, Runnells,” said the ex-captain of territorials.
Runnells slammed the door against a gust of wind.
“You’re bloody well right!” said Runnells.
CHAPTER 2 An Iron in the Fire
IT WAS a neighborhood of alleyways and lanes of ferocious darkness: of ill-lighted, baleful streets, of shadows; and of doorways where no doors existed, black, cavernous and sinister openings to inner chambers of misery. of squalid want, of God-knows-what.
It was the following evening, and still early—barely eight o'clock. Captain Francis Newcombe turned the corner of one of these gloomily lighted streets, and drew instantly back to crouch, as an animal crouches before it springs, in the deep shadow’s of a wretched tenement building. Light footfalls sounded; came nearer. Two forms, skulking, yet moving swiftly, came into sight around the corner.
Captain Francis Newcombe sprang. His fist crashed with terrific force to the point of an opposing jaw. A queer grunt—and one of the two men sprawled his length on the pavement and lay quite still. Captain Francis Newcombe’s movements were incredibly swift. His left hand was at the second man’s throat now, and a revolver was shoved into the other’s face.
The tableau held for a second.
“A bit of a ‘eushing’ expedition, was it?” said the excaptain of territorials calmly. “1 looked a likely victim, didn’t I? Just the usual bash on the head with a neddy, and then the usual stripping even down to the boots if they were good enough—and mine were good enough, eh? And I might get over that bash on the head, or my skull might be cracked; I might wake up in one of your filthy passageways here, or I might never wake up! What would it matter? It’s done every night. You make your
living that w’ay. And who’s to know who did it?” His grip tightened suddenly on the other’s throat. “Your kind are better dead,” said Captain Francis Newcombe, and there was something of horrible callousness in his conversational tones. “You lack art; you have no single redeeming feature.” It was as though now he were debating in cold precision with himself. “Yes, you are much better dead!”
“Gor’blimy, guv’nor, let me go,” half choked, half
WHO is the FOURTH Straggler? That is the tantalizing, mystifying puzzle in this story. Can you guess it before the author lays the secret before you? This is not a war story. It is the first novel the author of “The Miracle Man” has written since “Pawned.”
whined the other. “ We wasn’t goin’ to touch you. No fear! Me an’ me mate was just goin’ round to the pub for an ’arf-pint—”
“It would make a noise,” said Captain Francis Newcombe unemotionally. “That is the trouble. I should have to clear out of here, and be put to the annoyance of waiting a half hour or so before I could come back and attend to my own affairs. That’s the only reason I haven’t fired this thing off, and I’m not sure that reason’s good enough. But it’s a bit of a fag to argue it out, so— don’t move, you swine, or that’ll settle it quicker still!” His fingers, from the other’s throat, searched his own waistcoat pocket, and produced a silver coin. “Heads or tails?” he inquired casually. “You call it.”
“My Gawd, guv’nor,” whimpered the man, “yer don’t mean that! Yer wouldn’t shoot a cove down like that, would yer? Yer wouldn’t do that!”
“Heads or tails?” The ex-captain of territorials’ voice was bored. “I shan’t ask you again.”
The light was poor. The man’s features, save that they were dirty and unshaven, were almost indistinguishable; but the eyes roved everywhere in hunted fear, and he lumped the fingers of one hand together and plucked with them in an unhinged way at his lips.
“I—no!” gurgled the man. “My Gawd!” His words were thick. His fingers, plucking, clogged his lips. “I carn’t— —” The mechanism of the revolver intruded itself—an unemotional click. The man screamed out. “No, no—wait, guv’nor! Wait!” he screamed. “’Eads! Gawd! ’Eads!”
CAPTAIN FRANCIS NEWCOMBE examined the coin; the sense of touch, as he rubbed his fingers over it, helping out the bad light.
“Right you are!” he said indifferently. “Heads it is! You’re in luck!” He tossed the coin on the pavement. “I’d keep that, if I were you.” His voice was still level, still bored. “You haven’t got anything, of course, to do any sniping with, for anything as valuable as that would never remain in the possession of your kind for more than five minutes before you would have pawned it.” He glanced at the prostrate form of the thug’s companion, who was showing some signs of returnmg consciousness. “I fancy you’ll find his jaw’s broken. Better give him a leg up,” he said, and, turning on his heel, walked on down the street.
Captain Francis Newcombe did not look back. He traversed the murky block, turned a corner, turned still another, and presently made his way through an entrance, long since doorless, into the hallway of a tenement house. It was little better than a pit of blackness here, but his movements were without hesitation, as one long and intimately familiar with his surroundings. He mounted a ricketty flight of stairs, and, without ceremony, opened the door of a room on the first landing, entered, and closed the door behind him. The room had no light in it.
“Who’s there?” demanded a weak, querulous, female voice.
The visitor made no immediate reply. The place reeked with the odor of salt fish; the air was stale, and an offence that assaulted the nostrils. Captain Francis Newcombe crossed to the window, wrenched at it, and flung it viciously open. I
A protracted fit of coughing came from a corner behind him.
“Didn’t I tell you never to send for me?” he snapped out in abrupt menace.
“ ’Ow, it’s you, is it?” said the woman’s voice. “Well,I ain’t never done it afore, ’ave I? Not in three years I ain’t.”
“You’ve done it now; you’ve done it to-night—and that’s once too often!” returned Captain Francis Newcombe savagely. “And before I’m through with you, I’ll promise you you’ll never do it again!”
“No,” she answered out of the darkness. “I won’t never do it again, an’ that’s why I done it to-night— ’cause I won’t never ’ave another chance. The doctor ’e
says he is sure I ain’t goin’ to be ’ere in the mornin’. .
Captain Francis Newcombe lit a match. It disclosed a tallow dip and a piece of salt fish on a battered chair— —and, beyond, the shadowy outline of a bed. He swept the piece of fish to the floor out of his way, lighted the candle, and, leaning forward, held it over the bed.
A woman’s face stared back at him in the flickering light; a curiously blotched face, and one that was emaciated until the cheek bones seemed the dominant feature. Her dull, almost glazed, gray eyes blinked painfully in even the'candle rays; a dirty woollen wrap was fastened loosely around a scrawny neck, and over this there straggled strands of tangled and unkempt gray hair.
“Well, I fancy the diagnosis isn’t far wrong,” said the ex-captain of territorials critically. “I’ve been too good to you— and prosperity’s let you down. For three years you haven’t lifted a finger except to carry a glass of gin to your lips. And now this is the end, is it?”
THE woman did not answer. She breathed heavily. The hectic spots on her cheeks burned a little wider. Captain Francis Newcombe set the candle back on the chair, and, with his hands in his pockets, stood looking at her. His face exhibited no emotion.
“I haven’t heard yet why you sent for me,” he said sharply.
“Polly,” she said thickly. “I wanter know wot abaht Polly?”
Captain Francis Newcombe smiled without mirth.
“My dear Mrs. Wickes,” he said evenly, “you know all about Polly. I distinctly remember bringing you the letter she enclosed for you in mine ten days ago, because I distinctly remember that after you had read it I watched you tear it up. And as your education is such that you cannot write in return, I also distinctly remember that you gave me messages for her which I was to incorporate in my own reply. Since then I have not heardfromPolly.” The woman raised herself suddenly on her elbow, and, her face contorted, shook her fist.
“My dear Mrs. Wickes!” she mimicked furiously through a burst of coughing. “Yer a cool ’un, yer are. That’s wot yer says, yer stands there an’ smiles like a bloomin’ hangel, an’ yer says, ‘my dear Mrs. Wickes!’ Curse yer, I knows more abaht yer than yer thinks for. Three years I’ve watched yer, an’ hif I’ve kept my tongue to meself that don’t say I don’t know wot I knows.” “Indeed!” Captain Francis Newcombe shrugged his shoulders. He smiled slightly. “Then I should say, if it were true, that it is sometimes dangerous, Mrs. Wickes— to know even a little about some things.”
The woman rocked in the bed, and hugged her thin bosom against a spasm of coughing that came near to strangulation.
“Bah!” she shouted, when she could get her breath. “I ain’t afraid of yer any more. Curse yer, I’m dyin’ anyhow! It’s nothin’ to you wiv yer smug smile, except yer glad I’ll be out of the wye—an —an’ it ain’t nothin’ to me either. I’m sick of it all, an’ I’m glad, I am; but afore I goes I wanter know wot abaht Polly. Wot’d yer tyke her awye for three years ago?”
“For the price of two quid paid weekly to a certain Mrs. Wickes, who is Polly’s mother,” said Captain Francis Newcombe composedly; “and with which the said Mrs. Wickes has swam in gin ever since.”
Mrs. Wickes fell back exhausted on her pillow.
“Wot for?” she whispered in fiere 3 insistence. “I wanter know wot for?”
“Well,” said Captain Francis Newcombe, “even at fifteen Polly was an amazingly pretty little girl—and she showed amazing promise. I’m wondering how she has developed. Extremely clever youngster! Don’t see, in fact, Mrs. Wickes, where she got it from! Not even the local desecration of the king’s English—in spite of the board schools! Amazing! We couldn’t let a flower like that bloom uncultivated, could we?”
The woman was up in the bed again.
A GUTTER brat!” she cried out. “An’ you says send ’er to school wiv the toffs in America, ’cause there wouldn’t be no chance of doin’ that ’ere at 'ome; an I says the toffs don’t tyke ’er kind there neither. An you says she goesasyerward,an’yer can get ’erin,onlyshe ’as to forget abaht these ’ere London slums. An’ she ain’t to write no letters to me except through you, ’cause hif any was found down ’ere they’d turn their noses up over there an’ give Polly the bounce.”
“Quite right, Mrs. Wickes!” said Captain Francis Newcombe imperturbably. “And for three years Polly has been in one of the most exclusive girls’ seminaries in America—and incidentally I might say I am arranging to go over there shortly for a little visit. If her photographs are to be relied upon, she has more than fulfilled her early promise. A very beautiful young woman, educated, and now, Mrs. Wickes—a lady. She has made a circle of friends among the best and the wealthiest. Why even now, with the summer holidays coming on, you know, I understand she is to be the guest of a school friend in a millionaire’s home. Think of that, Mrs. Wickes! What more could any woman ask for her daughter? And why should you. for instance, ask more to-night? Why this eleventh hour curiosity? You agreed to it all three years ago, Mrs. Wickes—for two quid a week.”
“Yes,” said the woman passionately, “an’ I’m probably goin’ to ’ell for it now! I knowed then yer wasn’t doin’ this for Polly’s sake, an’ in the three years I kept on knowin’ yer more an’ more for the devil you are. But I says to meself that I’m ’ere to see Polly don’t come to no harm, but—but I ain’t goin’ to be ’ere no more, an’ that’s wot I wants to know to-night. An’ I asks yer, wot’s yer game?”
“Really!” Captain Francis Newcombe shrugged his shoulders again. “This isn’t very interesting, Mrs. Wickes. And in any case, I fail to see what you are going to do about it, or what lever you could possibly bring to bear to make me divulge what you are pleased to imagine is some base and ulterior motive in what I have done. It is quite well known among Captain Newcombe’s circle that he is educating a ward in America. It is—er—rather to his credit, is it not?”
“Curse yer wiv yer smooth tongue!” said Mrs. Wickes wildly. “I knows! I knows yer got a game—some dirty game wiv Polly in it. Yer clever, yer are—an’ yer ain’t human. But yer won’t win, an’ all along Polly. She won’t do nothin’ that ain’t straight, she won’t. Polly ain’t that kind.”
“Oh, as to that, and granting my wickedness,” said Captain Francis Newcombe indifferently, “I shouldn’t worry. Having you in mind, Mrs. Wickes, I fancy even that would be quite all right—blood always tells, you know.”
“Blood! Blood’ll tell, will it?” The woman was rocking in the bed again. She burst into harsh laughter. It brought on another, and even more severe, strangling fit of coughing. “Blood’ll tell, will it?” she choked, as she gasped for breath. “Well, so it will! So it will!”
Captain Francis Newcombe stared at her from narrowed eyes.
“What do you mean by that?” he demanded sharply.
But Mrs. Wickes had fallen back upon her pillow in utter exhaustion. She lay fighting painfully, pitifully now for every breath.
“What do you mean by that?” repeated Captain Francis Newcombe still more sharply.
AND then suddenly, as though some strange premonition were at work, all fight gone from her, the woman threw out her arms in a broken gesture of supplication
“I’m a wicked woman, a bloody wicked ’un I’ve been. Gawd forgive me for it!” she whispered. “Polly ain’t no blood of mine.”
Captain Francis Newcombe rested his elbows on the back of the chair, and smiled coolly.
“I think,” he said evenly, “it’s my turn now to ask what the game is? That’s a bit thick, isn’t it—after three years?”
The hectic spots had faded from the woman’s face, and an ominous grayness was taking their place. She was crying now.
“It’s Gawd’s truth,” she said. “I was afraid yer wouldn’t ’ave give me the two quid a week hif yer’d known I ’adn’t no ’old on ’er. Polly don’t know. No one knows but me, an’—” Her voice trailed off through weakness.
Captain Francis Newcombe, save that his eyes had narrowed a little more, made no movement. He watched her without comment as she struggled for her breath again.
“I didn’t mean to ’ave no fight wiv yer, Gawd knows I
didn’t. Gawd knows I didn’t send for yer for that. I only wanted to ask yer wot abaht Polly, an’ to ask yer to be good to ’er, an’— an’ tell yer wot I’m tellin’ yer now afore it’s too late. “An’—an’—” She raised herself with ^ a sudden convulsive effort to her elbow. “Gawd, I—I’m goin’ now."
With a swift movement Captain Francis Newcombe whipped a flask from his pocket, and held it to the woman’s lips.
She swallowed a few drops with difficulty, and lay still.
Presently Mrs. Wickes’ lips moved.
Captain Francis Newcombe, close beside the bed now, leaned over her.
“A lydy ’er mother was, an’ ’er father, ’e was a gentleman born, ’e was. I —I don’t know nothin abaht em except she was a governess an’ ’e ’adn’t much money. Neither of ’em ’adn’t no family accordin’ to ’er, an’ countin’ wot ’appened she told the truth, poor soul.
Again Mrs. Wickes lay silent. Her lips continued to move, but they were soundless. She seemed suddenly to become conscious of this, and motioned weakly for the flask. And again with difficulty she swallowed a few drops
“Years ago this was.” Mrs. Wickes forced the words
with long pauses between. “ ’Ard times came^ on em. ’E got killed in a haccident. An’ she took sick after Polly came, an’ the money went, an’ she wouldn’t ’ave charity, an’ she got down to this, like us ’uns ere, tryin^ to keep body an’ soul together on the bit she ’ad left. An she died, an’ I took Poíly. Two years old she was then. There wasn’t no good of tellin’ Polly an’ ’ave er gi\e ’erself airs when she ’ad to go out an’ do ’er bit an earn something. Polly Wickes—Polly Wickes—the flower girl. Flowers—posies—pretty posies—that’s where yer saw ’er—”
The woman’s voice had thickened; her words, in snatches, were incoherent:
“Polly Wickes—Polly Wickes—Polly Gray—Polly Gray ’er name is—Polly Gray. I got the lines an the birth paper. I kept ’em all these years. ’Ere! I got ’em ’ere.”
“W'here?” said Captain Francis New'combe tersely.
“ ’Ere!” Mrs. Wickes plucked feebly at the edge of the bed clothing. “ ’Ere!”
Captain Francis Newcombe thrust his hand quickly in under the mattress. After a moment’s search he brought out a soiled envelope. It bore a faded superscription in a scrawling hand. He picked up the candle from the chair and read it:
“Polly’s papers which is God’s truth,
Mrs. Wickes ‘X’ her mark.”
He tore the envelope open rather carefully at the end. It contained two papers that were turned a little yellow with age. Yes, it was quite true! His eyes travelled swiftly over the names:
“Harold Morton Gray____Elizabeth Pauline Forbes .
There was a sudden sound from the bed—like a long, fluttering sigh. Captain Francis Newcombe swung sharply about. The woman’s arm was stretched out toward him; dulled eyes seemed to be striving desperately in their fading vision to search his face.
“Polly!” Mrs. Wickes whispered. “Be—be good to
Polly—be good to—”
The outstretched arm fell to the bed covering—and Mrs. Wickes lay still.
Captain Francis Newcombe leaned forward, holding the candle, searching the form on the bed critically with
Continued on page 62 his eyes. After a moment he straightened up.
The Four Stragglers
Continued from page 21
Mrs. Wiekes was dead.
Captain Francis Newcombe replaced the papers in the envelope, and placed the envelope in his pocket. He set the candle back on the chair, blew it out, and walked across the room to the door.
“Gray, eh?” said Captain Francis Newcombe under his breath, as he closed the door behind him. “Polly Gray, eh? Well.it doesn’t matter, does it? It’s just as good an iron in the fire whether it’s— Wickes or Gray!”
Three of Them
TWENTY-FIVE minutes later, Captain Francis Newcombe stood at the door of his apartment. Runnells admitted him.
“Paul Cremarre here yet?” demanded the ex-captain of territorials briskly.
“Yes,” said Runnells. “Been here half an hour.”
With Runnells behind him, Captain Francis Newcombe entered the living room of the apartment. A tall man, immaculately dressed, with a small, very carefully trimmed black moustache, with eyes that were equally black but whose pupils were curiously minute, stood by the mantel.
“Ah, monsieur!” He waved his arm in greeting. “Saint!”
“Back, eh, Paul?” nodded Captain Francis Newcombe flinging himself into a lounge chair. “Expected you, of course, to-night. Well, how’s Pere Mouche?” “Ah!” murmured the Frenchman. “That is another story! I am afraid it is true that his back is really bending under the load. He has done amazingly; but though the continent is wide, it can only absorb so much, and there are always difficulties. He says himself that we feed him too well.”
Captain Francis Newcombe frowned. “Well, he’s right, of course! Leduc and Colferre, eh? I don’t like it! If we needed anything further to back us up in our decision lately that it was about time to lay low for a while, we’ve got it here. There is to-morrow night’s affair, of course, that naturally we will carry through, but after that I think we should come to a full stop for, say—a six months’ holiday. Personally, as you know, I’m rather anxious to make a little trip to America. I’ll take Runnells along as my man for the looks of it. He can play at valeting and still enjoy himself if he keeps out of mischief—which I will see to it”—Captain Francis Newcombe’s lips thinned—“that he does! That will account for the temporary closing up of this apartment here. And you, Paul—I suppose it will be the Riviera for you?”
The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders. “Ah!” he said. “As to that I do not know, but what does it matter?” He laughed good humoredly. “I have no attraction such as monsieur with a charming ward in America. I am oft.hedesolate, one of the forlorn of the earth in whom no one has more than a passing interest.”
EXCEPT Scotland Yard and the Prefecture,” said the ex-captain of territorials with a grim smile.
“You’re bloody well right!” said Runnells gruffly. “I don’t know how, but it’s true. Let the cops nose a cold scent for a while, I says. I can do with a bit of America whenever you’re ready!”
“Quite so!” said Captain Francis Newcombe. “It’s in the air. Like Runnells,
I do not know exactly where it comes from, but I know it’s there.”
“Monsieur,” said the Frenchman, “I have often wondered about the fourth— stragglers, I think you called us that night—about the fourth straggler.”
“You mean?” demanded Captain Francis Newcombe sharply.
“Nothing!” said the Frenchman. “One sometimes wonders, that is all. The thought flashed through my mind as you spoke. But it means nothing. How could it? More than three years have gone. Let us forget my remark.” He flicked the ash from his cigareette. “Well, then, as I am the only one left to speak, I will say that I too agree. For six months we do not exist so far as business is concerned-— after to-morrow night. I have made a promise to the little Pere Mouche that when I return he shall eat a ragout from a veritable gold plate, and that Scotland Yard—”
The doorbell interrupted the Frenchman’s words.
Runnells left the room to answer the summons. He was back in a moment with a card on a silver tray, which he handed to the ex-captain of territorials.
The card tray was significant. Captain Francis Newcombe glanced first at Runnell’s face, frowned—then picked up the card. His eyes narrowed as he read it.
DETECTIVE-SERGEANT MULLINS New Scotland Yard
He handed the card coolly to Paul Cremarre.
“Everything all right so far as you are concerned?” he demanded in a low, quick tone.
THE Frenchman smiled at the card in a curious way, handed it back, and lighted a fresh cigarette.
“Yes,” he said.
A minute later, Runnells ushered in a thick-set, florid-faced man.
“Sergeant Mullins, sir!” he announced, and withdrew from the room.
The sergeant looked inquiringly from one to the other of the two men.
“I’m sorry to intrude, gentlemen,” he said. “It’s Captain Newcombe, I—” Captain Francis Newcombe waved his hand pleasantly.
“Not at all, sergeant!” he said. “I am Captain Newcombe. What can I do for you?”
“Well, sir,” said the man from Scotland Yard “even if the papers hadn’t been full of it all day, you’d probably know about it anyway, being as how you were a friend of his. it’s Sir Harris Greaves, sir—Sir Harris’ murder.”
Captain Francis Newcombe, as though instinctively, turned toward an evening paper that lay upon the table, its great headlines screaming the murder across the front page.
“Good Heavens, sergeant—yes!” he exclaimed. “It’s a shocking thing! You’ve read it, of course, Paul?”
“I’ve never read anything like it before,” said the Frenchman grimly. “The most wanton thing I ever heard of! Absolutely purposeless!”
“Exactly!” agreed Captain Francis Newcombe. “But you'll pardon me, sergeant, if I appear a bit curious as to why you should have come to me aboutit.” “Well, sir,” said Sergeant Mullins, “that’s simple enough. You are the last one as had any conversation with Sir Harris before he was murdered.”
Captain Francis Newcombe stared at the Scotland Yard man in a puzzled way. “I am afraid I don’t quite understand, sergeant,” he said a little helplessly. “According to the published accounts, Sir Harris was stabbed in his bed, presumably during the early morning hours, though no sound was heard, and the crime wasn’t discovered until his man went to take Sir Harris his tea at the usual hour this morning. But perhaps the accounts are inaccurate?”
“No, sir,” said Sergeant Mullins; “as far as that goes, they’re accurate enough. The doctors say it must have been somewhere between two and three o’clock in the morning.”
“Quite so!” said Captain Francis Newcombe. “That is what I had in mind. Sir Harris left the club shortly before I did. I have no exact idea what the hour was, though the doorman would probably be able to say, but I am quite certain it could not have been later than half past eleven.”
“It wasn’t even as late as that, sir,” said the man from Scotland Yard seriously. “Ten after eleven, it was, when Sir Harris left; and you, sir, at a quarter past. But I didn’t say, sir that you were the last one as spoke to Sir Harris alive. Conversation was what I said, sir—and a lengthy one too. One says a lot in an hour or so, sir.”
“Oh, I see!” said Captain Francis Newcombe, with a smile. “Or, rather—I don’t! What about this conversation, sergeant?”
“Well, sir, if you don’t mind,” said Detective-Sergeant Mullins, “that’s what I’d like to know—what was it about?”
“Well, if it’s important, I’ll try to remember,” said Captain Francis Newcombe gravely. “The shows, of course, and the American Yacht race, horses, a hunting lodge Sir Harris had in Scotland, and-—yes. I believe that’s all, sergeant. But it’s quite a range, at that.”
Detective-Sergeant Mullins inspected the bottom button of his waistcoat intently.
“Sir Harris was a bit of a criminologist in his way, as perhaps you’ve heard, sir?” he said.
“Yes, I believe I have heard it said that was a hobby of his,” nodded Captain Francis Newcombe. “But I wouldn’t have known it from anything Sir Harris said last night, if that’s what you mean. The subject wasn’t mentioned.”
“Nor any crime? And particularly any particular criminal?” prodded, the Scotland Yard man.
Captain Francis Newcombe shook his head.
“Not a word,” he said.
Detective-Sergeant Mullins looked up a little gloomilyfrom hiswaistcoat button.
“I’m sorry for that,” he said.
“So am I, if it would have helped any,” said the ex-captain of territorials heartily. “But what’s the point, sergeant?”
WELL, you see, sir,” said the Scotland Yard man, “with all due respect to the dead, Sir Harris fancied himself a bit, he did, along those lines. Some queer notions he had, sir—and stubborn, as you might say. He’s got himself into trouble more than once, and the Yard’s had its own time with him. He’s been warned, sir, often enough—and if he was alive, he wouldn’t say he hadn’t. It’s what he’s been told might happen. There’s no other reason, as far as we’ve gone, why he should have been murdered. It looks the likely thing that he went too far this time, and got to know more than some crook took a notion it was safe to have him know.”
Paul Cremarre smiled inscrutably at the Scotland Yard man.
“I take back what I said about it being a purposeless murder, sergeant,” he murmured.
“Yes, sir,” said Detective-Sergeant Mullins. “Well, I fancy that’s all, gentlemen. Good-night, gentlemen!”
_ Detective-Sergeant Mullins’ foot steps died away in the hall.
Captain Francis Newcombe’s dark eyes rested unemotionally upon the Frenchman. The Frenchman leaned against the mantel and stared at the end of his cigarette. The front door closed, and Runnells came back into the room.
“Now, Runnells,” said the Captain “we will talk about—to-morrow night.”
CHAPTER 4 Gold Plate
A MOTOR ran swiftly along a country road.
Two men sat in the front seat.
“My friend Runnells,” said one of the two quizzically, after a silence that had endured for miles, “what the devil is the matter with you to-night?”
“I don’t know,” said Runnells, who drove the car. “What the captain was talking about last night, maybe—the things you feel in the air.” i( “Bah!”said Paul Cremarrecomposedly. “If it is only the air! For three years we have found nothing in the air but good fortune.”
“That’s all right,” Runnells returned sullenly. “If you want to know, what it is that has got into me, I’ll tell you. I know everything’s fixed for to-night, maybe better than it’s ever been fixed before—it ain’t that. It’s last night. It’s damned queer, that bloke from Scotland Yard showing up in our rooms!”
“Ah!” murmured Paul Cremarre. “Yes, my Runnells, I too have thought of that. But you were at home the night before, when Sir Harris Greaves was murdered, you and the captain, were you not? It is nothing, is it? A mere little coincidence— yes? Y ou should know better than I do.” “There’s nothing to know,” said Runnells shortly. “It’s just the idea of a Scotland Yard man coming to our diggings. Like a warning,somehow, it looks.” “Yes,” said Paul Cremarre. “Quite so! And the headlights now—hadn’t you better switch them off? And run a little slower, Runnells. It is not far now, if I have made no mistake in my bearings.” Darkness fell upon the road; the motor slackened its speed.
“You Were speaking of the visit from Scotland Yard,” resumed the Frenchman calmly. “You were at home, of course, when Captain Newcombe returned from the club the night before last at— what time was it, he said?”
“Oh, that’s straight enough!” grunted Runnells. “He came in about half past eleven, and we were both in bed by twelve. I’ve told you it ain’t that. What would he have to do with sticking an old toff like Sir Harris that never done him any harm?”
“Nothing,” said Paul Cremarre. “I was simply thinking that Sergeant Mullins’ theory reminded me of something that you, too, may perhaps remember.” “What’s that?” inquired Runnells.
“A rifle shot that was fired one night in a thicket when the Boche had us on the run,” said Paul Cremarre.
Runnells swung sharply in his seat and shouted hoarsely:
“What d’you want to bring that up for to-night? I—curse it—I can see it out there in the black of the road now!”
They both remained silent for some minutes.
“I mean nothing,” said Paul Cremarre, “except that Captain Francis Newcombe is a man like no other man in the world: that he is, as I once had the honor to remark—incomparable.”
Runnells grunted over the wheel. “Slower,Runnells,”ordered the Frenchman. “If I am not mistaken, we are arrived. The lodge gates can’t be more than a quarter of a mile on, and the bit of lane that borders the park ought to be just about here—yes, there it is!”
RUNNELLS stopped the motor; and then, with the engine running softly, backed it for a short distance from the main road down an intensely black, treelined lane.
“That’s far enough,” said Paul Cremarre. “We can’t take any risk of being heard from the Hall. Now edge her in under the trees.”
“What for?” grumbled Runnells. “It’s so bloody dark, I’d probably smash her. She’s right enough as she is. There’s a fat chance of any one coming along this here lane at two o’clock in the morning, ain’t there?”
“Runnells,” said the Frenchman smoothly, “I quote from the book of Captain Francis Newcombe: ‘Chance is the playground of fools.’ Back her in, my Runnells.” ., „
“Oh, all right! said Runnells—and a moment later th e lane was empty.
Still another moment, and the two men, each carrying two rather large-sized, empty travelling bags, began to make their way silently and cautiously through the thickly-wooded park of the estate. It was not easy going in the darkness. Now and then they stumbled. Once or twice Runnells cursed fiercely under his breath; once or twice the Frenchman lost his urbanity and swore softly in his native tongue.
To be Continued.
"BUYING AN AUTOMOBILE.”
FEBRUARY 1 – 1911
The Busy Man’s Magazine
MR. BLANK, begins Herbert L. Towle, writing in Recreation, has made up his mind to buy an automobile. Can we help him out with some advice? Well, maybe. But first we must ask some questions, doctor fashion, before we can prescrible.
What does he wish to pay for car, equipment and extras complete? What are his ideas as to power, passenger capacity, and speed? Will he use the car for pleasure only, or also for business; that is, to take him to and from the station or office, or from the farm to town and back? Will his wife drive the car? Will he employ a chauffeur? What is he prepared to pay annually for up-keep? Will he use the car throughout the year, or lay it up during cold weather? Does he expect to sell in a year or two, or to keep the car longer? Has he had previous experience with automobiles? Does his territory include bad hills, and are the roads good or otherwise? Will he stable the car on his own premises or in a public garage? On the answers to these questions will depend the selected type of motive power—electric, steam, or gasoline engine; the type of transmission if a gasoline car is chosen; the power, wheel-base, and body style, the tire equipment, and the extras as regards wind shield, top, etc. The question of whether to buy new or second-hand will also be determined by this information.
For restricted town use, such as shopping or making doctors’ calls, and for running from home to business and back where distances are short, there is nothing quite so convenient as an electric vehicle, provided charging facilities are at hand and the necessary skill is available to keep the battery in order. It is frequently profitable to install a charging outfit on the premises, particularly as the skill available in small public garages is often of doubtful merit. The chief drawback to the use of electric vehicles for local purposes is their high price, $1,500 being about the minimum for a small runabout. The cost of current at meter rates per house-power is also quite an item compared with the half-cent or cent per mile paid for the fuel of a small gasoline runabout.
As steam cars are numbered in the small minority and are limited to a few makes, it will suffice to say regarding them that the choice between steam power and a gasoline engine is mainly one of personal preference. The steam engine runs quietly and its power is very elastic. It takes a few minutes to fire up the boiler, but in most cases that is not a serious objection. The principal drawback is that to hold steam and water under a pressure of several hundred pounds necessitates more or less constant attention to pipe joints and couplings, stuffing boxes, packings, etc., of all of which the number about a steam car is rather large. The fuel, also, is in some cars under pressure, and there is the possibility of some pipe or connection springing a leak, and the escaping fuel being ignited by the fire under the boiler. On the other hand, if one lives in a country of steep hills or bad stretches of road, or where deep snow may be expected, one can get more for his money in the way of ability to surmount such obstacles in a steam car than in either of the other types.
Coming to gasoline cars, we find the greater preponderance of choice in four-cylinder engines. The once common one and two-cylinder runabouts have almost disappeared, owing partly to improvements in manufacture which enable a four-cylinder car to be offered for what was once the price of a one-cylinder runabout. Requirements as to power have also increased and to-day the common type of small runabout has a twenty horsepower four-cylinder engine. Such a car does excellent local and suburban service, and it will perform with credit even in long tours if it is cleverly handled. Such cars can be purchased to-day at from $900 up, depending on their workmanship and on the type of transmission they contain. A genuinely high-grade twenty-horse-power car would be worth from $1,500 to $2,000.
If the purse allows, a slightly larger car, developing from 25 to 30 horse-power, and having a motor of 4 to 4 1/4-inch bore, is better for touring. Such a car will negotiate hills and rough roads more easily than a smaller machine, on account of its power, longer wheel base, and greater weight. For equal speeds and mileage it will last longer, also, and for the same reason—i. e., that it does its work more easily. As a matter of fact, its owner is likely to expect a somewhat higher average speed.
The exact speeds reasonably attainable with given cars will depend on the driver and the road. On good level or moderately rolling highways, even a twenty-horse-power car will average twenty miles an hour during a day’s run and have power to spare. With a thirty-horse-power touring car, the average gait might be twenty-five miles per hour, and with a light roadster of that power a thirty-mile average would be possible, though not usual. Such a roadster will easily touch 50 miles an hour for short distances—fast enough for safety.
As for larger cars and higher powers than these, they are desirable only as luxuries. Up to a certain limit, the larger and more powerful the car, the more luxurious is the sensation of riding. Beyond that point, a heavy car rides so steadily that the sense of exhilaration is lost, and one has to exceed speeds of thirty or forty miles an hour to feel that one is going at all. The difference is similar to that between a knockabout and a schooner yacht. In the small boat there is “something doing” every minute, whereas it takes a stiff blow to give one a thrill when abroad the larger craft. A big car is almost necessary for touring, as a small car driven all day on rough roads racks its passengers to the point of exhaustion. But for home use, for marketing, for taking friends to the station, and for short weekend runs, the car of twenty to twenty-five horse-power certainly gives the best return for the money.
Other things being equal, it is advisable for the beginner to take a car of moderate power, certainly not over thirty horse-power, and better somewhat less. If he can afford to hire a chauffeur and pay the bills likely to result, his choice need not be restricted. But the larger his car, the more completely will an inexperienced owner be at the mercy of the chauffeur, and the more difficult it will be for him to master the intricacies of the machine himself. A small car, on the other hand, is easily learned; and when you have learned to look after your car—large or small—in person, your chauffeur is not likely to fool you long.
If a woman is to operate the car, planetary transmission is best, unless she has had previous driving experience. Under other conditions, sliding gear transmission with three or four speeds is preferable, and except perhaps in the smaller cars, four speeds are better than three. An air-cooled motor has an advantage in severe winter weather, but elsewhere water cooling is usually preferred. The ignition system is important; a high-grade high-tension magneto is as good a choice as any.
As already indicated, $1,000 is about the lowest price that one can expect to pay for a four-passenger car intended principally for service. By this is meant regular travel to and from the station or place of business, regular household service in place of a horse, regular calls on patients, if the owner is a doctor, and so on. Indeed, the result is more likely to be more satisfactory if the purchase price is a little higher.
If, on the other hand, one does not purchase with an eye to service, but merely for week-end runs and cooling-off spins after dinner, one may get along quite comfortably with a second-hand car purchased for less than $1,000. This subject will be mentioned in a later paragraph. Meanwhile, the reader is cautioned to bear in mind that, with an old car, a low purchase price is apt to be followed by high repair bills, and that a $3,000 car purchased at the end of six years for $450 is a deal more expensive to keep up than the same car would be if new. The worst possible purchases in the secondhand line are worn-out cars of low first price and worn-out cars of foreign make. The first are certain to go to pieces in one part after another with harrowing regularity. The second, if of good original reputation, will stand up fairly well while they last, but it will be nearly impossible to obtain parts for them, and wholly impossible to get such parts at reasonable cost. If one must spend from $500 to $1,000, it is better to get a small than a large car, since, other things being equal, the former is apt to be in better condition. For the lower figure, indeed, the purchaser will be lucky to get a car of any sort, except the smallest runabout, which will not require an expensive overhauling to put it in shape.
Going to the other end of the price schedule, one finds, as is natural, a much more satisfactory range of choice. Here again, however, the rule holds that high quality combined with high power commands a corresponding price. A high-grade twenty-horse-power car which can be bought second-hand for $1,000 would have cost from $1,500 to $2,000 when new. The best thirty-horse-power cars cost to-day about $3,000, though it is probable that within a year or two $2,500 will be the standard figure without loss of quality.
Assuming decent workmanship and intelligent care, what does it cost to keep a car? Unfortunately, this is a question which can only be answered by citing particular cases, since everything depends on the personal equation and on the extent to which the car is used. If a car is used in moderation—say 2,500 miles per year— and is kept as long as it gives good service, instead of being arbitrarily sold off at the end of the first or second year, both the mileage expenses and the depreciation are kept low. Assuming a car to be purchased either new or second-hand for a total cost of $1,000, driven 2,500 miles per year for six years, and then sold for $250, the yearly expense figures will be about as follows: Interest on car and garage, $75; depreciation, $125; tires, $70; repairs, $60; gasoline, $15; license, $5; sundries, $25; total, $375.
Sunday, 22 January 2017
One kiss spelled apparent doom for Martin Lane, and sent him down the swift descent to an Avernus from which it seemed that there could be no recovery.
FRANK L. PACKARD
NOVEMBER 15, 1924
This long novelette is complete in this issue.
THE Bonara, Singapore to Brisbane, heavy with cargo and low in the water, rolled sulkily, lifted sulkily, grumbling, chattering her disapproval of the night in the language of her kind, which is a language universal to all ships under whatsoever flag, and is, withal, a very human language.
Bulkheads, rivets, plates, stanchions, all the innards of her, lifted up their voices in an unanimity of discontent, refusing to be assuaged by the soft lullaby of the engines that sang in steady throb and beat as though to allay her fret.
She was unhappy, irritable and disgruntled. Not that it was heavy weather, but there was a choppy crosssea, and it was thick, misty, sticky, dirty weather.
She flung the seas from her bows, not smoothly, but in short, angry buffets, as though annoyed beyond her patience at their incessant teasing and the denial of her right to ride through their domain in comfort. Occasionally she seemed to shake herself much after the manner of a wet dog, as the wind in accentuated gusts every now and then deposited a tropical downpour upon her decks. Also, it was pitilessly black, save when, in the distance, on-driven, the showers seemed to take on a spread of grayish color, thinly transparent, like some strange wraith hurling itself through the night upon her. And her whistle blasts, bellowing raucous, in these moments of mist, were as though she were giving vent to her spleen.
On the bridge, Martin Lane, chief officer, a tall, sturdy figure, bulking the larger for his oilskin wrappings, brushed the wet out of his face, and as a downpour subsided temporarily into a mere drizzle, flung his oilskin jacket wide open. It was hot.
From forward the ship’s bell struck once. Half past four in the morning.
MARTIN LANE stood still for a moment, his steady gray eyes fixed over the weather cloth, staring, as though he wondered where the sound had come from. He could just barely make out the rise of the foc’s’le-head beyond the Bonara’s low, flush foredeck. Then he frowned, shrugged his shoulders a little impatiently, and resumed his pacing up and down the bridge again.
There was something uneasy in the night—or was it himself?
From the boat deck below, as he passed the head of the starboard bridge ladder, he caught a faint glimmer of light as a curtain swayed in the wind from one of the open portholes of the captain’s cabin. The old man was a bit uneasy himself—still up; or, at any rate, still stretched out on his settee with his ubiquitous pile of month or more old newspapers, of which it was his habit to garner an enormous sheaf in every port, and which he thereafter read with amazing thoroughness and pertinacity.
Martin Lane’s frown gave place to the flicker of a smile. The skipper’s hobby was quite harmless, and on a cargo boat any hobby that would pass the time was a blessing. Captain Botts prided himself on being a bit of a shark at world news. It was a man’s business, and especially a seaman’s, the old man was wont to say, to keep posted on what was going on in the world while one, in a way of speaking, was out of it. Eh? What? Wireless? Bah! Sketchy at best, Mr. Lane—and a lot you don’t even get, at that, with the forsaken sets they put into us cargo boats.
But it wasn’t the newspapers, as Martin Lane very well knew, that were keeping the old man up to-night, though he might be reading them, as, indeed, he undoubtedly had been doing when he, Martin Lane, had stuck his head inside the skipper’s cabin just before taking the bridge when the watch was changed a little more than half an hour ago. Nor was it the promise of worse weather. As a matter of fact the glass had been rising a little, even if grudgingly, for the last few hours. It was the ship’s position.
For two days the Bonara had ploughed her way by dead reckoning through what Captain Botts had designated as the tail of a bad doing somewhere up to the nor’eastward. There had been no stars, there had been no sun—a smoky haze had simulated daylight, the nights had been as this one was. The Bonara was beyond any question or doubt in the Flores Sea, but exactly where was another matter, and a matter of much moment. A parallel ruler and a pair of dividers applied to the chart proclaimed her, on the basis of dead reckoning, to be on her course due south from Celebes and with ample sea room. But in the Malayan Archipelago there are many other islands, very many—they loom up out of the sea at dawn, when there is dawn, and they are the specters of the night—and the dots on the chart that represent them are in number as the specks left by countless vagrant and wandering flies.
Martin Lane’s hand, gripping the bridge rail, tightened suddenly, fiercely, involuntarily — tightened until the knuckles cracked sharply. Yesterday, and the day before, times without number, he had consulted the chart, hung over it like a man fascinated, leaving it only to return to it again at frequent intervals. The parallel ruler and the dividers had strayed always to one particular point from the ship’s supposed position—on perhaps the most diminutive dot of all. To-night, for example, that dot was barely a hundred and fifty miles away—by dead reckoning.
“My God!” said Martin Lane.
He did not move. It was raining again—heavily. He did not rebutton his oilskin. Why should he? It was a night of moonlight, of sheer beauty, a placid sea, and a form in soft, clinging white stood beside him, and the moonrays caressed the great masses of dark hair so close to him, and her face.
“Carol!” he whispered. “Carol Gray!”
Somewhere out there, a hundred and fifty miles away . . .nearer to-night than in two years! Perhaps not. Perhaps she wasn’t there. Who knew!
A VOICE within him jeered: “Of course! Why try?
Go on, you silly fool, torture yourself! Two years ago you were first officer on a swell mailboat on the India run. And you chucked it when you got back to England. Go on, tell us why. We’d like to near it—we’ve never heard it before!”
“Carol!” said Martin Lane under his breath. “Carol!” He whispered it again. “Carol!”
Moisture that was not from the rain was on his forehead; his face had whitened and showed like a grayish blotch in the darkness. His eyes strained seaward-—to port. She was over there somewhere—perhaps. That was where she had been going. Whether she had ever reached her destination, or, reaching it, had remained there, he did not know. She had left the ship at Bombay. Eventually she was to reach Batavia, and after that, by some sort of trading vessel and in accordance with arrangements made for her by her uncle, that diminutive dot on the chart that represented an island and her uncle’s home. It was not an easy journey, nor, perhaps, one altogether safe for a girl alone. He had said so at quite an early stage in their acquaintanceship, and she had laughed at him. She loved the sea, and she loved the out-of-doors. “Is your uncle married?” he had asked her.
“No,” she had answered. “He lives all alone with his natives and his copra, except for a sort of white overseer, a man he calls Starling, who has been with him, I believe, for the last twenty years.”
“But what kind of a life could you possibly live there?” he had protested. “Perhaps once in six months a trading boat comes in. You are absolutely cut off from the world —not a woman of your kind—no companionship of your own age. You’ll be frightfully lonely, I’m afraid.”
She had turned her head away then as she had answered: “Ah, that! I don’t know. But uncle is no longer a young man, and I want to see him.”
As the voyage progressed they had been a great deal together on his watches off, and then had come that night —in the Gulf of Aden.
He did not seek to find excuses for himself even now, for there were no excuses to find, but at least he had been innocent of any premeditation in what he had done. He. had not been conscious of any formative prelude to his act, even to the consciousness of yielding to an impulse. It had come on the instant. His soul itself had been intoxicated. He had been conscious only that he had swept her into his arms, that his lips were upon her hair, her eyes, her lips, her throat. He had been unconscious of her struggles; unconscious that in his strength, ungoverned and like himself beyond restraint, he had done her physical hurt as wed—conscious only that what alone he desired of life was for the moment his; that she was in his arms, strained to him, that she belonged to him, that he had claimed his own. And at the end it was a limp figure that had slipped from his arms as he had released her, and, swaying, had caught at one of the boat’s lashings to keep herself from falling to the deck. She had not been able to speak for a moment; and he had been as a man racked, undone from some mad orgy, his brain, his mind, his soul shaken and adrift.
Strained, white, tortured her face had looked when she had spoken then; her voice low, monotonous, save that she gasped for breath.
“I mistook you for a gentleman,” she had said. “Let me pass!”
She had taken a faltering step forward, and, fearing that she would fall, he had reached out to catch her. She had instantly shrunk back.
“I—I would not care to have it known that—that I have been in your arms,” she had said in a dead tone. Are you going to force that shame upon me too—make me call out for protection?”
He remembered that a voice had spoken. It wasn’t his voice, though the sounds had come from his lips:
“Carol—my God, have pity! I love you!”
Love! She had flung the word back at him, her small hands clenched, her eyes blazing now. “To such as you it is evidently only the instinct of the beast! And—and you dared to think—”
He had never seen her, never spoken to her again. She had remained in her cabin thereafter unless perhaps at such hours as she knew him to be on duty on the bridge.
A note that he had sent along to her had been returned unopened. She had left the ship at Bombay.
“O God!” Martin Lane cried out into the night.
HE HAD chucked the passenger run on his return to England. It was perhaps unreasonable but he had not reasoned about it. Mailship life had become abhorrent to him—the boat deck had not been empty of other couples on the homeward voyage. And then, back in England, he had played, perhaps, in a little luck. The Bonara, a new cargo boat of the same line, was just going into commission; her route the area lanes of the world, her ports where cargo offered. It appealed. He applied for the transfer and got it—and in a sense, too, got promotion.
He became chief officer of the Bonara. And to-night, after two years, spanning the countless leagues that since had lain between them, the Bonara in her wanderings from end to end of the world had brought him, by dead reckoning, to within a hundred and fifty miles of her again—like a hand’s throw from her, it seemed.
Two bells—five o’clock!
Martin Lane turned as a step sounded on the starboard bridge ladder.
It was Captain Botts.
“Still thick, Mr. Lane,” said the old man as he stepped on the bridge. “I was hoping for something better with the glass rising.”
“Yes, sir,” said Martin Lane. He muttered something, quite mechanically, about the hope of getting longitude sights in the morning.
“I hope so,” agreed Captain Botts with mild fervency. “I’d feel the easier for it, Mr. Lane. Most peculiar weather—damme, most peculiar! I think I mentioned it must be the tail of a very unusual disturbance somewhere to the nor’east.”
“Yes, sir,” said Martin Lane.
“H’m!” said Captain Botts mildly. “Damme!”
Martin Lane shook himself together.
“I don’t think there’s anything to worry about, sir,” he said cheerfully. “I’m quite certain her position’s all right.”
“It’s the islands, Mr. Lane,” said Captain Bouts. “Ticklish business anywhere in these seas even in clear weather. Damme, they even seem to shift their moorings. You take a plate of soup, Mr. Lane, and a pepper pot, and shake the pepper in good and hard, and, the pepper being the islands, Mr. Lane, you’ve got as good a chart of these waters as you’ll find anywhere.”
Martin Lane smiled.
“You’re not far wrong, at that, sir,” he said.
“No,” said Captain Botts; “I’m not. And speaking of islands. I’ve just been—h’m—I’ve just been reading about that affair over at Samatoa in the Polynesian group. And a rascally piece of business it was, I must say, Mr. Lane. Fancy making a clean sweep of every agent’s safe on the beach—six of them!”
Martin Lane stared.
“Agents’ safes!” he ejaculated. “You mean robbed, sir? I don’t remember that ‘Sparks’ ever picked up anything about it.”
“Quite so,” said Captain Botts mildly; “but, as I’ve had occasion to remark, the wireless is sketchy at best, and there’s a lot you don’t get anyhow. You should read the papers, Mr. Lane. I think I’ve said so before. You’re welcome at any time to help yourself in my cabin.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Martin Lane hastily. “But when did this happen, sir? It must have been before we left port, else it wouldn’t have been in your paper, but I didn’t hear any talk about it in Singapore.”
“Well,” said Captain Botts, “come to think of it, the paper I was reading this in to-night was one of the older ones I brought aboard. I fancy the excitement had died out, if there ever was any, seeing that Polynesia isn’t exactly next door to Singapore by several thousand miles. Allowing for the date of the paper, I’d say it was a matter of five or six weeks ago.”
“I see,” nodded Martin Lane. “But whoever did it got caught, of course. Not much of a game to try to get away with in a place like that!”
“Caught!” Captain Botts repeated. “No chance! There wasn’t anybody caught! or, at least,” he amended, “not at the date when the paper was published—and I haven’t run across anything else about it in any of the others. It was professional work, Mr. Lane. I’m not saying the average run of safes you’ll find in the islands aren’t jim-crack affairs at best, but these were all opened with neatness and dispatch in one night, and not a blessed quid left in ’em in the morning. What do you make of that, Mr. Lane?”
“Well, I’d say, sir,” he hazarded, “that, if it was professional work, it might be some blighter sailing as a passenger maybe on one of the ships that touched there, and that he went ashore and cleaned up, and the ship steamed off with him and his loot.”
“And you’d be wrong, Mr. Lane,” said Captain Botts promptly, “because there wasn’t any shipping in port at the time it happened.”
“Is that so?” exclaimed Martin Lane. “What theory, then, does the paper advance, sir?”
Captain Botts shook his head.
“It doesn’t advance any,” he said. “Just a brief statement of the facts as I’ve given them to you. But I’ve a theory of my own, Mr. Lane. Simple enough, I’d say. There’s a queer lot, off and on, drifts into the islands—beachcombers and the like. What’s to have prevented one of that kind, who was a professional at home, doing the trick, then hiding the stuff, and then sitting tight for months if need be, playing at whatever job he’d taken up, until the excitement blows over and he finally gets away with nobody to give him a thought, and—”
But Martin Lane was no longer paying any attention to his commander’s mental delving into the realms of crime. He was staring out into the black ahead, suddenly tense, listening.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said quickly. “But did you hear anything?”
Captain Botts became instantly alert.
“No,” he said. “What was it?”.
“Perhaps a mistake, sir,” said Martin Lane quietly. “I wouldn’t be at all sure. Listen, sir!”
A moment passed in silence between the two men on the bridge. Then Martin Lane spoke again abruptly: “There, sir! Did you hear anything then?”
“Well, I wouldn’t be sure,” said Captain Botts a little anxiously; “but I thought I did—like—like the—”
“Creak of a boom,” suggested Martin Lane.
“Yes, by God!” said Captain Botts. “That’s what I’d say it was, if it’s anything. A point off the port bow, I’d say.”
“It seemed to me to come from starboard,” said Martin Lane tersely. He bawled suddenly through his cupped hands: “For’ard, there!”
“Aye, sir?” a voice floated back from the foc’s’le-head.
“D’ye hear anything? Make out anything ahead?”
“No, sir,” the man answered. “Save that there’s another rain squall comin’ down with the wind, an’ it’s goin’ thick again.”
“Damme!” said Captain Botts a little nervously. “Thick’s the word! It’s settling down again, right enough! But if there’s anything out there, you’d have thought she’d have heard our siren and then answered it. A trifle queer, Mr. Lane! Maybe it’s no more than a bit of loose tackle aboard ourselves, but in any case you’ve sharper ears than that chap, and you’ll oblige me by going up for’ard there for a bit. I’ll keep the bridge, Mr. Lane.”
“Very good, sir,” said Martin Lane.
He ran to the starboard bridge ladder and swung himself to the deck below. Was it imagination? The creak of a boom borne down on the wind—a faint sound like that out of the noises of the ship and the night!
FROM above him there came a series of choked, sputtering gasps of escaping steam, as though the whistle, preparatory to its regular-interval pronouncement, were clearing its throat—and then suddenly above this noise there came a shout from the foc’s’lehead, a shout that he himself echoed wildly—and both were drowned out as the whistle burst into its resonant roar.
He was halfway along the foredeck close to the rail. It came suddenly out of the mist and the sheeting rain like some great, ghostly apparition, towering, high, onrushing, shapeless save that it had vast, outspread, fluttering wings of grayish white which seemed to seek to enshroud the Bonara as with a weird, unearthly pall. And on the instant there was a terrible crash; the rent and tear of wood; a snap of big timber like the report of a gun; the squeals, like hurt things, of the foredeck iron rail stanchions giving way; the rattle of falling blocks; the whine of parting cordage—shouts, yells, hoarse cries, a tumult of them.
It was quick as the winking of an eye. Something fetched him a blow upon the head, his feet were swept from under him, and there came tumbling upon him great smothering folds of canvas. The creak of a boom! He hadn’t been mistaken! In a giddy sort of way he remembered that. A sailing vessel of some kind!
As he tried to free himself, half stunned though he was, his mind was correlating cause and effect. With the Bonara low in the water the flush foredeck had not overmuch freeboard, and that was the spot where the sailing vessel, of whatever kind or description she was, had rammed into the steamer, pushing her bowsprit upward and aboard, gouging the rail to pieces, and, protruding over the foredeck, had snapped, bringing jib and jib-topsail, or whatever headsail she was carrying, down with a run.
Heavens, how his head ached—and it began to swim around now! What was the matter? Why couldn’t he free himself? His feet seemed to be entangled somehow in the cordage that kept tightening and tightening like a noose around his ankles. He felt himself being dragged bodily along the deck, and he could clear neither head, nor arms, nor shoulders of the weight of the folds of heavy canvas that enveloped him.
He heard shouts; he could even catch snatches of the words themselves, though they came in a dead, muffled way through the canvas—a torrent of blasphemy, a broadside of ribald and unbridled epithets being hurled at the Bonara and all that pertained to her:
“You rusty-plated hulk . . . you scrougy, misbegotten son of Belial! . . .”
He shouted nimself—but he didn’t seem able to make himself heard. They must be talking through megaphones.
He heard Captain Botts:
“Shall I stand by?”
“Aye, stand by in Hell!” a voice answered in a virulent screech. “You’ve no business tryin’ to navigate anywhere else!”
And Captain Bott’s mild voice rose for once injurious retort.
“Damme!” screamed Captain Botts. “Mr. Lane!”
MARTIN LANE made another attempt to shout, even though conscious of the futility of it. He was sick with the sense of falling—falling—falling, through his brain filtered the fact that he had at last been dragged overboard. He was plunging downward. But now the weight of canvas, the great folds of it that had wrapped themselves about him, that had half smothered him, seemed suddenly to belly out and float away. He clutched wildly, frantically, madly—at nothingness. He struck the water helplessly, doubled up, and seemed to continue on down and down interminably.
He had been called a good swimmer, but it seemed to stand him in no good stead now, for something was dragging at his feet, pulling him along—keeping his head and shoulders submerged. Yes, he knew what it was—the cordage entangling his legs—some of the gear that had come down with the canvas. His lungs were bursting. He struggled now in a sort of panic desperation for the surface—and his head bobbing suddenly above water, he drew a gasping breath. And then he was under again, but his feet now seemed to be jerked straight upward, and it was as though he were standing on his head.
He was being hauled up.
He came out of the water dangling head down. He bumped against something — again — and yet again. He put out his hands to protect himself.
Yes, that was it—a vessel’s side. He fended himself off weakly. They were getting the wrecked gear aboard, and he was being pulled in with it. If that tangle of cordage around his feet and ankles gave way, became untangled—
He tried again and again to cry out. He was not certain that he made any sound. It seemed now, more than anything else, that he was fighting to prevent consciousness from slipping away from him. His head throbbed as though a thousand devils were beating a tattoo upon it, and flashes, sickening, giddy flashes, swam before his eyes. He felt himself bumping over something; felt himself grasped by the knees and by the collar of his oilskin.
“Gawd, look what’s come aboard!”
From a prone position on what his fleeting senses still realized must be a vessel’s deck, Martin Lane struggled as far up as to get upon his knees.
The truculent voice bawled again:
“Say, who t’hell are you?”
“I—I’m the mate of the Bonara,” mumbled Martin Lane weakly—and collapsed.
When he came to his senses again, his surroundings were strange. He could see little or nothing because it was but faintly light like the first gray of dawn; but his hands, feeling out and around him, had rewarded him instantly with a sense of unfamiliarity and confusion.
Perhaps it was his head.
It hurt brutally, and spun around in a crazy fashion.
No; it wasn’t his head.
He was lying on a bunk, but it certainly was not his bunk on the Bonara; and he could hear the running swish of water against the hull, and there was a peculiar motion—certainly not at all the motion of the Bonara in no matter what kind of sea. He sat bolt upright suddenly—and, in dizziness, grasped as suddenly at the edge of the bunk for support. The sensation passed. He remembered now.
His eyes roved around him. There was just enough light beginning to filter in through the porthole to enable him to make out the boundaries of a very small cabin, and to locate the door two or three steps away. With his hand on the wall for support, he reached the door, opened it and stepped out. He found himself in an extremely narrow alleyway. It was not so dark here because, a few yards away at the end of the alleyway in one direction, a door, evidently on the hook, was partially open, and through this there streamed a ray of yellow artificial light.
The sound of voices reached him from this doorway, and he began to move in that direction. It was not far, only a few yards, but he had not traversed half the distance when he halted suddenly. The voices were quite distinct now.
“I wasn’t for it then, and I ain’t for it now,” came in thin, snarling tones. “You should have cut the fool loose and let him sink. This ain’t no place for him with what we got on hand. And it ain’t too late to get rid of him now. Drop him overboard—the crew’s for it. Who’s to know on that steamer what happened to their mate? He just went over with the wreckage at the time—get me? We never saw him, did we? You ain’t got no love for him, have you?”
BY HUGGING back against one wall of the alleyway, Martin Lane could see in through the opening of the door without being seen himself. Though not very large, it was evidently the vessel’s main cabin. Two men, their side faces to him, sat opposite to each other at the table under the swinging lamp. One was a big blotched-faced, thick-set, heavy man with red hair and a short, rust-colored beard; the other was slight, rat-eyed, with a thin, hatchet-like face of a yellow, pasty, unhealthy color, the more unprepossessing for its several days’ growth of dirty black stubble. Martin Lane again brushed his hand across his eyes. In a kind of subconscious way he stated to himself that they were as hard looking a couple of blighters as ever he had clapped his eyes upon.
It was the big, red-haired man who spoke now. “No, it ain’t for love of him, Muggy MacGuire,” he said in a deliberate, truculent growl. “It’s love for our own skins, and in partic’lar for my own.”
Muggy MacGuire leaned forward in his chair and, though his little black eyes narrowed, forced a laugh that was evidently intended to placate the other.
“That’s all right, Captain,” he said hurriedly. “I ain’t tryin’ to start anything. I’m only tryin’ to play safe, and knowin’ it ain’t because you’re chicken-livered about it, I don’t get you, that’s all.”
“H’m!” said Captain William Dorsay a little more graciously. “No, it ain’t because I’m chicken-livered; it’s because I sometimes look a little ahead of my nose—a habit, if you’d only had it, which might have saved you from runnin’ like a scared cat from the U.S.A. with a fleet of cops at your heels!”
The little rat-eyed man grinned in an oily way.
“But then I wouldn’t have met Captain William Dorsay of the Molly Deane at the Peep-of-Day Bar in Trinidad,” he said smoothly, reaching out to where a bottle and glasses stood on the table. “And I think we’ll drink to that, just to show there’s nothing to get sore about.”
“Aye!” said Captain William Dorsay with sudden heartiness. “By God, we’ll drink to that! I’ll not say but what it’s been a rare good thing for both of us!”
Martin Lane leaned heavily against the wall, staring into the cabin. What was all this about? Perhaps he was delirious, imagining it, while in reality he was off his head and still actually lying on his bunk.
“Here’s how!” said Muggy MacGuire.
“Here’s chin-chin!” said the red-haired man. He swallowed the contents of his glass at a gulp, and wiped his lips with the back of his hand. He stared for a moment in speculative fashion at his companion, then nodded his head brusquely. “Aye,” said he, “I’ll tell you why. That little business at Samatoa was well done and no traces left behind. And I’ll say this, you did some amazin’ neat work, but we had luck with us, too, that nobody spotted the Molly Deane lyin’ offshore.”
There was a sudden queer pounding in Martin Lane’s pulse, as he still stood leaning against the alleyway wall. The skipper and his newspaper!
“Samatoa!” he whispered to himself.
Muggy MacGuire poured himself another drink.
“Go on, Captain,” he invited. “I get you on all those counts, but I don’t see how the bird we’ve fished aboard is goin’ to help us out any.”
AND then suddenly the red-haired man laughed out in a hoarse and unpleasant guffaw.
“Him!” said he. “Blimy! He’s the witness for the defense if we ever needs one, which mabbe we’re likely to. He gives us a clean bill of health. It’s like this, ye’see. Samatoa’s a regular port of call for some of the passenger boats and it’s known long ago all over the lot what happened there, but it ain’t known how it happened. Well, the bits of islands where we’ve picked fruit since then on the way along do know, some of ’em, how it happened to them, but they ain’t got any means of outside communication for months mabbe until the first tradin’ vessel puts in. Savvy? But in time the news of it’ll trickle out, and by and by there’ll be a gunboat nosin’ around lookin’ for a schooner whose description might answer to us. Two and two makes four, Muggy MacGuire, and whoever did it to one did it to all. If you’ve got an alibi on one count you’re clear on all of ’em.”
“Sure,” agreed Muggy MacGuire, “all that’s straight enough—but I’m hanged if I see what you’re drivin’ at yet.”
“Well,” said Captain William Dorsay with a harsh chuckle, “it’s simple enough. With a jury rig for’ard where that swine took our bowsprit off, and with the help of the auxiliary, we’ll rise old Gray’s island at the proper hour after dark tomorrow night. That’ll be our last port of call before we run into civilization to refit. There’s nothin’ to it! This mate of—what’d he call her?—the Bonara—is goin’ to tell the world that we treated him with real honest-to-God, Christian kindness, and that on the night old Silas Gray was stuck up for his cash we was sailin’ along as best we could makin’ for port to repair damages after smashin’ into his ship.”
The red-haired man thumped the table in a sort of triumphant self-applause and reached for the bottle again.
“And the reason he ain’t goin’ to feel well enough is because he’s goin’ to get a drop or so of laudanum out of the medicine chest dumped into his tea now and then for the next two days, judiciously administered, as the sayin’ is, Muggy MacGuire —not to make him too dopey, but just dopey enough to keep him from feelin’ like gettin’ up, and so he’ll think it’s his hurt and the maulin’ he’s had that’s delayin’ his convalescence. And tomorrow night, with the help of an extra drop or two, he’ll fall off into a little sounder sleep so’s he won’t know we’ve anchored.
“And that’s that!” said he with a complacent grin. “But to ease your mind in case anythin’ did happen and he found out what was goin’ on, which he ain’t in no ways likely to, I’ll say this, that you can drop him overboard then without hesitatin’ any about it, and furthermore that I’ll see to it you do.”
“I get you!” said the little rat-eyed man. “I guess there ain’t anythin’ to it now except how much we get, and accordin’ to you this bird Gray keeps a wad there.”
“Aye!” said Captain William Dorsay“So they say. It’s common talk that he keeps a good few thousand pounds by him. Why, I don’t know. I’ve never seen it, of course, though I touched there once for water a few years ago; but I seen the old safe he’s got, and it won’t bother you no more than as if it was made of the galvanized iron he’s got on the roof of his house.” He warmed suddenly to his subject and rubbed the palms of his hands together pleasurably.
“It’s the last little tradin’ visit we make this voyage, but it’ll be the easiest and pleasantest of all, I make no doubt. We’ll run in on the other side of the island from the house where there’s deep water close in by the shore, and at which partic’lar point it ain’t much more’n a mile across. And the natives countin’ for nothin’, there’s only two whites on the island, Silas Gray and an old fellow he’s had there as boss for years, except mabbe a girl, a niece of his, that I heard had come out to live with him a year or so ago.”
The little rat-eyed man leaned forward, a sudden ugly smirk on his face.
“A girl—eh?” he said. His lips parted in a slow smile —he touched them here and there with the tip of his tongue as though they were parched. He mouthed the words again: “A girl—eh?”
Martin Lane found himself groping his way back to his cabin. He couldn’t kill those two men in there with his bare hands. It was quite impossible—He was too weak. Mechanically he reached and closed the cabin door silently behind him, and staggering to his bunk flung himself upon it.
“Carol!” he said aloud. “Oh, my God—Carol!”
He lay there an hour—motionless. It grew light. A step sounded along the alleyway, and his door opened. The red-haired man came in.
Martin Lane lifted his head.
“How’re you feelin’?” demanded the red-haired man pleasantly.
Martin Lane’s eyes fastened on a small tray the other held in his hand. He shook his head.
“Here’s a mug of tea for you, and some biscuits, son,” said the red-haired man.
“Leave ’em,” said Martin Lane in a voice that simulated weakness. “I’ll take ’em by and by.”
“Right you are!” said the other heartily. “Just you buck up and you’ll have the hair on your teeth again in less than no time.” He set the tray down on the cabin floor beside the bunk. “Anythin’ you’d like?” Again Martin Lane shook his head.
The red-haired man went out of the cabin.
Martin Lane listened until the retreating footstep had died away, then he reached over for the mug of drugged tea, emptied it under the mattress of his bunk—and ate the biscuits.
“I’ve got to get my strength back,” said Martin Lane in a queer, judicial manner to himself, “and I’ve got two days and one night to do it in.”
HE SAT up on his bunk after a while, haggard-faced, staring across the small cabin. What could he do after all? What chance had he, alone, unarmed, against an entire crew who, through their captain as a mouth-piece, were self-acknowledged sea-pillagers, whose trade was robbery, to whom murder, if expedient to their lawless plans, was merely an incident? The majority of them were probably Malays, maybe a few Chinese, the whites the scum of the world’s waterfronts. A hell’s brood.
At intervals through the day food and drink were brought him; sometimes by the red-haired man, and sometimes by a disfigured Malay who had a white scar across one cheek bone—and each visit found him listless, tossing on his bunk, or by way of variety, pathetic and drowsy. The food he ate. If it were water that was brought, he drank it, for water would disguise no foreign taste; if it were other than water, followed the first mug of tea under the mattress.
And that night he slept well, tired with exercise, and because his strength was returning, and the pain and giddiness were going from his head.
He awoke with a grim sense of physical well-being the next morning, and began the routine of the day before, but added thereto a search of the cabin. Shoes hid weapon! The only place here in the cabin where there could be anything that was not already in plain sight was the locker there under the bunk—two big drawers on top of which the bunk was built. He started to open one. It wasn’t locked, but it came with difficulty as though packed with something extremely heavy, he stared a little in amazement when it was wide enough open to permit him to inspect the contents. It was full of ankle and wrist-irons—thick, heavy, rusty ones, some locked, some unlocked, that gaped open as though eager for prey upon which to snap themselves together, each pair connected by a short but also rusty piece of chain. He pulled out the other drawer—it was equally full of the same thing. He nodded tersely to himself. The red-haired renegade had not lied any about one of the favorite pursuits of the Molly Deane.
“Blackbirding,” said Martin Lane—and nodded his head again.
There were no shoes and no weapons—unless one of these things might be called a weapon. He picked up and examined a pair of the wrist-irons. They were better than nothing. At close quarters they would at least deal a much uglier blow than a bare fist—not the ones that had been snapped together; they were too small in circumference for the purpose—but with a pair where the jaws gaped open he could encase his knuckles rather neatly, make them, as it were, iron shod. He chose a pair of the latter, thrust the manacles into his trousers pocket, and closed the locker drawers again.
It grew dark. An hour passed. Suddenly Martin Lane raised himself on his elbow and listened. The next instant he lay prone again, his head on an out-flung arm, his face to the bulkhead. Queer how, above the creak of timber and the noises of the vessel, he had come to recognize unerringly the footsteps of the red-haired man in the alleyway there outside!
He felt the schooner swing quickly to a more even keel, as though she were coming sharply up into the wind. He heard the hurried patter of feet on the deck above his head. He heard the slatting of canvas. And then the door of the cabin opened.
It was black inside here, utterly black.
“Hello, son,” inquired the voice of the red-haired man, “how goes it?”
Martin Lane made no answer.
A footstep crossed the cabin. Then he felt the other’s hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently.
He made no movement.
A head was bent low, a breath was on his cheek; eyes, he sensed, were peering at him fixedly in the darkness.
Impulse, born of a mad surge of passion, seized upon him. He was strong enough now; he could do it. With a single movement he could lock his fingers in a stranglehold on the other’s throat.
“That’s the boy!” said the red-haired man with a low chuckle. “We’re just goin’ to let go the mud-hook, but I thought I’d make sure first it wouldn’t disturb you, ’cause you’ve had a hard time of it, and you need the few snatches of sleep you’ve been able to get.”
The footsteps retreated across the cabin. The door opened and closed. Martin Lane came up on his elbow again—listening intently. The footsteps died away along the alleyway. And then Martin Lane was on his feet. In a second he was across the cabin, and, with the door closed behind him, stood in the alleyway listening again. There was commotion on the deck above his head, a good deal of it. Then he heard the plunge of the anchor going overboard. How far to the shore was it? They would go in a boat, and he would have to swim for it. He must hurry. Every minute counted now.
THE door to the main cabin from the alleyway stood wide open, and the swinging lamp gave light. The companionway to the deck was there, of course. He stole forward, gained the threshold of the door, and, pressed back against the alleyway wall, halted again for an instant. So far the way was clear. The cabin was empty and deserted.
He darted through the cabin and up the companionway, and at the top of this halted once more, throwing himself flat on his belly. He crawled out now on the deck making for the starboard rail, and, gaining this, searched around on hands and knees for a bit of rope. Almost anything would serve his purpose, which was to avoid the sound of a splash, for it wasn’t far from the schooner’s rail to the waterline. His lips grew tight with impatience. He had not been seen yet, but every second was inviting discovery— perhaps it would be even safer to risk the splash.
And then his lips relaxed. His hand was on a loose rope’s end. Feeling along, he found it to be the slack of a rope that was fast to a belaying pin inside the rail. There was more than enough to reach well over the side and still leave it fast to the pin. He worked with desperate haste now, paying out the rope’s end over the rail; then, swinging himself over, he lowered himself down and slid silently into the water.
He swam under water until forced to the surface for breath. And now for the first time he obtained his bearings. A black, serrated, irregular mass, the shore line, the tree tops curiously like the jagged teeth of a saw, showed a little to his right against a sky-line that was scarcely less black. It did not seem to be very far away, but it was almost impossible to gauge the distance in the darkness. And there was a stiff wind blowing too, if those ugly, scudding clouds meant anything; though here, in some sort of a cove probably, the water was comparatively calm. The weather hadn’t cleared very much, if any, in spite of the Bonara’s rising glass—or maybe there was another storm coming up, there was a sinister feeling astir a bad season of the year in these waters, anyhow!
The schooner was indistinct, and he had therefore little or no fear of being seen himself. He could just barely make out a faint medley of sounds from the deck. They were very quiet on board there.. And then another sound caught his ear—a low, steady, rhythmical splash. Oars! His lips compressed. It wasn’t that he was afraid of being seen by the boat, he could evade that in the darkness easily enough; but he had hoped that they would not have left the schooner so soon—that he might have reached shore first. There was no hope of that now. The greater the distance, the farther he would be left behind. From the sound, the boat was pulling a good many oars. He found himself wondering how many of the cutthroats, apart from the red-haired man and the little rat-eyed fugitive from justice, were in her. Perhaps four or six. The schooner wasn’t very large. She wouldn’t have a crew of more than ten or twelve all told, and a few would certainly be left on board. What did the exact number matter? There would be enough of them anyway!
HE CAUGHT a glimpse of the boat—just a black smudge passing across the face of the water over there to his right. A feeling of bizarre unreality swept over him. It was full of intense, unholy humor. He hadn’t even a pair of shoes; and the weapons with which he was to slash and slay his way to victory singlehanded were a pair of rusty old manacles!
Suddenly his feet touched bottom, and presently he drew himself up on a stretch of sand. He was conscious of great physical lassitude, a desire to lie down and rest. But, instead, he ran, stumbling at first, but seeming to regain vigor under the mental lash with which he drove himself onward. A girl’s face swam before his eyes. She seemed to be angry with him. His nails were biting into the palms of his hands.
“On the other side of the island—about a mile across” —that’s what the red-haired man had said.
He was running through a wooded tract; through vegetation that sought maliciously to bar his way, where creepers and undergrowth tripped him at almost every step. He fought and twisted his way through this for a long time.
He stopped short. Out of the utter stillness there had come a single shot. And then there came another and another, quickening into a fusilade—and the night became suddenly hideous with yells. The sounds came from slightly to his left, and from still some distance away. He swerved in that direction and plunged on once more. The shots and yells continued. And now occasionally he heard low cries and the sound of speeding feet here and there about him, a branch snapping, native words gasped out, terrified exclamations—as though the woods were suddenly peopled with unseen ghosts. He nodded. He understood—that’s what the red-haired man had said. The natives didn’t count. Wherever they had come from, they were now in full flight.
Flashes stabbing the blackness, vicious little tongues of flame, showed through what was now but a fringe of trees separating him from the scene of the firing; and beyond this fringe of trees and across what seemed like a clearing he could make out a long black shadow from which, here and there, came answering spurts of flame —that was the house, of course—and there were no lights in the windows except when those little tongue-flames spurted out.
AGAIN Martin Lane nodded his head. The red haired man had evidently failed to take the household unawares, and so, taking cover here at the fringe of the woods, he was attacking it from this point. The only chance then for him, Martin Lane, to get to the house was by working his way around to the other side.
They would have arms in there, plenty of them, and—
A strange, bewildered look spread over his face. It seemed as though he had been dealt a terrific blow on his upper left arm and shoulder. It spun him half round like a top, and the whirl, short as it was, made him ridiculously dizzy. He flung out his right hand to grasp at a tree for support—and then he felt himself sliding towards the earth as though he were melting into it. And then sound and sight were blotted out.
He became conscious first of all that boisterous singing, outbursts of hilarity and jubilation had given place to the screams, yells and shots that had been ringing in his ears. He next discovered that he was lying full length on the ground. He raised himself up to a sitting posture—and bit his lips with pain. He put his hand to his shoulder. It was wet, sticky, hot; his left arm hung helplessly at his side. He sat still for an instant trying to collect his senses. He had been hit by a stray bullet, of course—that was obvious. And the shot must have been fired by someone in the house—that was also obvious—but it was also absurdly ironical that he should have been shot by someone in the house. How long had he been lying here on the ground unconscious? There was no telling, naturally, but long enough so that in the meantime the attack on the house had succeeded and instead of shots—A low cry came from him. He staggered to his feet. It was over, then! He was too late! Where was Carol? What had they done to her? No—not too late! Not too late to get his fingers around the throat of that evil-eyed rat! A smashed arm! Ha, ha!
His brain was in riot.
He moved out to the edge of the trees. There was a light now in one of the windows of the house at least— just opposite where he stood and perhaps a couple of hundred feet away; while much farther off and over to the right, three or four lanterns kept moving around and bobbing up and down—and it was from this latter direction that the sounds of raucous singing and hilarity came. It was very shadowy and indistinct, but thanks to the lanterns he was able to make out another building there, quite detached of course from the house itself. A storage shed probably—but certainly being looted, whatever it was. And from the sounds it was fairly obvious that amongst the contents had been found spirits of some sort.
HE DROPPED down on his knees and began to crawl, like a dog with one forefoot crushed, toward the lighted window of the house. They couldn’t see him if he kept close to the ground. He halted before he had gone five yards. His left hand kept dragging and bumping on the ground, swinging his arm like a pendulum that was out of control. The thing wobbled too, and it bothered him. He lifted his left hand with his right, tucked the former into the bosom of his shirt, improvising in that fashion a sling, and crawled on again.
The window was open, and as he reached it he heard the sound of voices from inside. It was only shoulder high, and, standing up, well at one edge of the window frame, he peered in.
Something indefinable, save that it was primal, elemental, in its merciless fury stirred him. He had seen death before—many times—but never one by murder. Strange that he should first come upon it here on a lonely little island! A gray-haired man with face upturned, a smudge of blood across temple and cheek, dead, lay upon the floor. And his requiem was a coarse laugh. The red-haired man was laughing. He stood over in the far corner holding, by one of its two handles, a handbag that gaped open; and, kneeling in front of him, was the furtive, rat-eyed little MacGuire, working with some tools at a safe, large, but many years out of fashion.
“You made too much noise gettin’ in the window, Muggy,” laughed the red-haired one grossly. “For a swell New York footpad it must have been painful to have come a cropper like that! But you sure crowded on all sail when you came out again—with the wind of a bullet blowing you along. You looked like you was in a hurry! I’m laughin’ yet!”
“Aw, go to Hell!” said Muggy MacGuire politely. “It wasn’t my fault. It was the girl that spotted me and let out a screech. She’ll wish to Gawd she hadn’t! I’ll fix her when I’m through with this piece of tin junk!”
“There’s no one else left to fix,” said the red-haired man roughly. “There was only the three of ’em—and old Gray’s probably gone out by now too. All the information the natives can give is that a ship came here—an’ anybody’d know that. But I ain’t sure”— he laughed again in the same gross way—“that, havin’ clapped eyes on the girl myself, I can see where you’ve got any personal and preferred claim to her. She’s some looker!”
“You don’t, eh?” snarled the other.
“No; I don’t!” returned the red-haired man, mimicking the other’s tone.
Muggy MacGuire turned a face suddenly distorted by a thin and evil-mouthed grin.
“Well, anyway,” he said, his leer broadening, “we don’t have to fight about it. She can’t be taken on board even for a few days on account of that bird from the Bonara, but we’ve got until daylight here. See? And we’ll—” Martin Lane was moving silently away from the window, edging the wall of the house. He was conscious of two things: one, a desire to kill—this possessed him— hugely, savagely, remorselessly, he desired to kill. He lusted for it. And, as though it seeped through senses drunk with this intoxicant, the other thing: she was in there somewhere . . . somewhere in there . . . somewhere in there . . .
THE house here seemed to make an L. He turned the corner, and suddenly crouched down, motionless and still. Against the wall in the shadows of the angle it was very black and he was quite safe from observation, but farther along the shadows were less opaque and he could make out a man’s figure pacing slowly up and down.
“Got a guard here, eh?” said Martin Lane to himself in a curiously detached and unemotional way. “Wonder if it’s to keep Carol from getting out or the rest of the lot from getting in until those two God-mocking devils are ready for them?”
The man struck a match, bending his head to light his tobacco. It threw his face into relief. Martin Lane smiled unpleasantly. It was the scar-cheeked Malay who had brought him drugged tea for two days. He began to creep forward again, very cautiously, hugging the wall. The match-light had disclosed more than the other’s face. There was a door there just opposite to where the Malay stood.
The man resumed his pacing up and down, now bulking up out of the shadows, now lost in them. Martin Lane crept forward. There mustn’t be any noise about it—just quiet. But there mustn’t be any mistake either. There was certainly a door on the other side of the house, because the other side must be the front facing the sea, and if there was a guard here there would certainly be one on the other side too. There mustn’t be any noise about it.
From his pocket Martin Lane drew out his rusty pair of manacles. He encircled the knuckles of his right hand with them. He mustn’t miss . . . there would be no second chance . . . if the man grappled with him . . his left arm must be broken at the shoulder. . . . he felt a bit sick with the pain of the thing . . . but he had to fight that too . .
He marked the limit of the Malay’s approach—and reached that spot while the man was pacing slowly in the other direction. The Malay was coming back now— nearer—still nearer.
AND then, from where he crouched in the shadows, Martin Lane sprang, and struck—struck with every ounce of his weight behind the blow—struck to kill if he could. And there was no sound—save a queer little crunching sound as the iron-shod knuckles met flesh and bone just back of the other’s ear.
There was a crumpled thing on the ground. Martin Lane bent over it, felt over it. He thrust the manacles back into his pocket, and, in their stead, stood up with the Malay’s revolver in his hand. He stepped quickly, silently then to the door, opened it noiselessly, and entered. A ceiling lamp, burning low, lighted the place dimly. He was standing in a wide hallway that obviously made the entire breadth of the house, and ended in another door that fronted on the side facing the sea. The hallway, he noted, was evidently used as a sort of lounging room, judging from the wicker chairs and tables with which, throughout its length, it was furnished. To his right was a closed door—the red-haired man and the little crook were in there, of course. There was another door, also closed, on his left. He stepped cautiously toward this one, and opened it. It was quite dark inside except for the faint light, not enough to enable him to see, that now filtered in from the hallway behind him—but a strange, confused murmur of voices reched him from, apparently, somewhere across the room. He moved forward again. The voices became more distinct. He felt his pulse quicken fiercely. He could distinguish a girl’s tones. It must be Carol—it couldn’t be anyone but Carol!
He brought up against the opposite wall of the room— and suddenly he remembered the little rat-eyed man’s remarks about the thinness of tropical partitions. It was Carol’s voice, and he could hear every word now as he felt along the wall for a door that obviously must open somewhere here into still another room beyond.
“No, no—I won’t! I can’t!” Her voice was low, broken —a half sob. “I—I can’t leave you here, uncle, like this, no matter what happens.”
A weak voice answered her—a man’s voice—the words coming evidently with great effort, almost in gasps, with long pauses between each one.
“They’re counting on that—that you wouldn’t leave me—that’s why they’ve left you alone so far. It’s the only chance. You must take it, Carol—at once. Try and get out of the house. Take the boat at the dock. Find some of the natives in the woods—row you—only twenty miles straight across to Marston’s island. You’ll be there before daybreak. You mustn’t think of me—you mustn’t —do no good. They’ve done for me—like—like Starling. I— I haven’t got much longer—your only chance—you mustn’t think of me— I—”
Martin Lane found the door, opened it and stepped into the other room. The light of a small shaded lamp that stood on a table beside a bedstead in the far corner threw into a sort of filmy relief only its immediate surroundings. The rest of the room was in shadow. But the light showed a man’s face on the bed—an old man’s face— waxen, deathlike in pallor; and kneeling on the floor beside the bed, the drooped shoulders of a girl.
“Carol!” There was a catch in Martin Lane’s voice— like a dry sob. He stepped toward her. “Carol!” he said again.
WITH a low, startled cry, she sprang to her feet and, turning, faced him. He was in the shadows; she was not. He could see the brown eyes wide with amaze—and then, suddenly, snatching the lamp from the table, she held it up until the rays were in his face. He saw the color fade from her cheeks, and whiteness come, and deepen into an ashen gray. He saw the lamp tremble in her hand.
Her lips moved. Contempt, loathing, the bitterness of despair were in her voice.
“I heard you had left your ship,” she said. “So you have come to this—a marauder!”
For a moment his mind seemed stunned, his brain to refuse its functions. And then it cleared—but with the throbbing pain that follows the numbness of a blow.
“My Heavens, Carol!” he whispered hoarsely. “You don’t think—you can’t think that I—that I am one of these devils!”
She made no answer. She replaced the lamp on the table, and, turning her back, knelt again at the bedside. And the old man on the bed raised himself on his elbow and made a pitiful effort to reach out and shake a clenched fist.
“May God damn you all to the pit!” he gasped out.
Martin Lane lurched a little on his feet. His mouth was dry. His words came thickly.
“Carol—it’s impossible that you should think anything like that!”
“Is it—since you have come here with them!” she said in a monotone. “And it must have been you who led them here. I noticed you have been wounded—I suppose that is what kept you from appearing on the scene until now—and why, until now, perhaps, I have been left alone.”
Martin Lane brushed his hand, that still held the Malay’s revolver, across his eyes. There wasn’t much time, none to waste— and he was wasting it. He could hardly blame her. It was quite natural—very natural—but absurdly grotesque, of course, when he wanted to save her if he could—not simply because sue was a woman, but because she was the woman he loved—only she wouldn’t believe that— he had been mad, insanely mad once. Curse that shoulder—it was trying to get the better of him again! And there wasn’t an instant to spare now—that Malay out there might be dead—or he might only be stunned, and, coming to life, raise the alarm. Or the red-haired man—
“Well, I am not one of them.” He found himself speaking in a cool, quick, incisive way. “Do you hear, Carol? I am not one of them. There is no time for explanations now. They can come afterwards—if there ever is an afterwards. You must run for it. Quick, Carol! The way is clear for the moment to get away from the house. I can’t answer for even the next minute.”
She answered still with her back to him, still in the same hard monotone:
“Í prefer to stay here. I should on no account leave my uncle, even if I thought I would be safer with you alone than in the hands of the others.”
His shoulder was bullet-smashed, his hand tucked helplessly in the bosom of his shirt. He couldn’t carry her in spite of herself. That was impossible. And, besides, it would be a beastly thing to tear her away from that man, even if he were dying and wouldn’t live probably more than a few minutes anyhow—and the man was dying, going fast—he couldn’t even speak any more, though he was trying to —and making only contortions with his lips.
AN INSTANT longer Martin Lane hung there, and then, as a sudden, desperate inspiration came to him, he turned and, without a word, half ran, half staggered from the room. If she wouldn’t come of her own accord, there was still a chance perhaps to save her. If it failed, then that was the end of both of them.—that was all. He wasn’t sure how much of a chance it was. He was sure only that in case of failure the end would not come for them alone. It was queer that those manacles were the basis of that inspiration—that they might be put to still another use to-night, and perhaps now mean the way to freedom. Manacles—freedom! Sounded foolish, that! Damn it, he was shaky—a bit sick—but he couldn’t afford to crash.
He reached the hallway and paused now to listen. There was no sound from the Malay guard outside. The voices of the red-haired man and Muggy MacGuire came indistinctly from behind the closed door in front of him. He released his hand from its sling. A good deal would depend on what he could do with it—if, for instance, he could raise his forearm from the elbow. He tested it. It brought sweat beads out on his forehead, gave him excruciating pain, and he bit his lips to suppress a cry—but the forearm came up from the elbow, and, by supporting it against his hip, he could keep it there. It was enough—quite enough. He let it dangle again at his side.
He stepped now to the door from behind which came that sound of voices. It took an instant, no more, to fling the door wide and stand inside the room. The safe was open now, and the two men crouching before it, in the act of transferring its contents to the hand bag, swung sharply around—to stare at a bare-footed, bloodstained and bedraggled figure who smiled coldly as he covered them with a revolver. There was a look of stunned bewilderment on the red-haired man’s face as he lurched to his feet—a quick snarl and a torrent of blasphemous invective from the little rat-eyed man, who, instead of making any attempt to gain his feet, jerked his hand toward his pocket.
“Don’t do that!” Martin Lane’s voice was level, ominously without inflection. The man’s hand dropped back.
Martin Lane spoke again—as though there had been no interruption:
“The only chance to live you two have got is that you do what you are told, and the only chance I have to live and get out of this depends on the same thing. It’s an even break. If you raise the alarm and bring the rest of your cutthroats here, I am perfectly well aware that it is the end of me and that girl in there—but the point is that if you force the issue you two will die first. It’s rather plain, isn’t it? The cards are on the table. Now”—his voice rang sharp and imperative—“stand up beside each other, face the wall and put your hands above your heads!”
Sullenly, slowly, the two men obeyed. The little crook had become speechless, though his lips worked as if in a sort of dumb fury. The red-haired man had found his voice—he cursed without cessation in a monotone, but one that he took care to keep guarded and low.
MARTIN LANE stepped up behind them, transferred his revolver to his left hand which he raised to his hip, and with his right hand he relieved the two of their weapons. These he tucked inside his shirt, and from his own pocket drew out the pair of manacles.
“Now,” he ordered curtly, “each of you put the hand that is nearer the other down behind your back!”
Again sullenly, slowly, they obeyed.
The manacles snapped over their wrists.
“You may turn around now,” said Martin Lane sharply, “and finish your work. Put the rest of that cash into the handbag! You came for it, and there’s no reason why you should go away without it—instead of leaving it for the rest of your blood-spilling lot. And”—his voice of a sudden rasped and snarled—“shake a leg, damn you! You’ve no time to spare. If I’m caught in here, I fire—at you.” They mouthed, they cursed, they raved at him; but they worked. They knelt on the floor again, and what of cash and papers that were left in the safe they placed in the handbag—and the while, it seemed to Martin Lane as he glanced in that direction, the upturned face of the murdered man near-by brooded upon the scene with strange and gruesome contemplation. Martin Lane turned his head away, his lips twitching. If it were not for Carol—! He restored his wounded arm to its improvised sling.
“Take the bag between you now with your manacled hands,” he ordered. “Each a handle! Yes, like that! And now listen to what I say! The bag swinging between you won’t interfere. You are like one man now with his two arms still free. You will go into that room where the girl and the wounded man are, pick the man up from the bed, carry him down to the beach in front of the house and put him in a boat that is moored there at the dock. If any of your crew see you, or attempt to interfere, you will inform them that it is all right and order them away. If they do not obey your orders, you know the consequences— for all of' us.” He stepped behind the two men and shoved his revolver muzzle into the nape of the red-haired man’s neck. “Now—march!” he said coldly, and gave the man an unceremonious push forward.
Prodded on by Martin Lane’s revolver, they crossed the room, went out into the hall, the two men, not graciously, but silent now under the spell of a grim logic that they could quite appreciate was flawless, and on which depended their tenure upon life. And then they came into the inner room beyond.
Martin Lane’s lips were like a tight-drawn line; pain from his wound, the loss of blood seemed to come striving with renewed effort to rob him of his senses. He fought it back with all his mental strength. He mustn’t let go—he mustn’t. He walked behind the two, a little unsteadily upon his feet. But they could not see that. If her uncle were taken away, Carol would go too of her own accord—anywhere—she wouldn’t leave her uncle—that was the idea. But that wasn’t all. The minutes were still counting. That Malay might still be a factor and if the alarm were given Carol couldn’t be saved by just shooting these two men here. He couldn’t stand off the whole ruffianly crew. He could hear that shouting, singing—a mad revelry now from outside. They were getting drunker out there.
They were nearly across the room. Carol was still kneeling by the bed, her back turned. She neither moved nor looked around.
The two men hesitated. Martin Lane jabbed at them with his revolver.
“Go on!” he said, between his teeth. “You know what you’ve got to do. Pick that man up!”
And then the girl was on her feet, facing them defiantly.
“You shan’t!” she cried out. “Let him alone! You shall not touch him!”
The red-haired man brushed her aside, and bent over the bed. He made a sudden sucking sound with his teeth, and gave vent to an ugly grunt.
“He’s dead,” said the red-haired man.
“Dead!” Martin Lane leaned over the red-haired man’s shoulder. For a moment he stood there staring at the form on the bed. It was true—quite true. The old man was dead. He found himself striving as though against great odds to think clearly and rationally. Carol would come now— there was no good of her staying here any longer—the man was dead—nothing to be gained by it. “Come away, Carol,” he heard himself saying.
“No!” she cried wildly. “I don’t believe it! He’s not dead—he’s not! I won’t go!” She flung herself on her knees, her arms outspread over the bed as though both to protect and cling to the form that lay there, and broke into sobs.
“But you must, Carol.” Martin Lane’s voice was breaking; he tried to steady it. “You must come at once. Can’t you believe me—oh, my God, can’t you believe me—it’s the only way. Look! You can see that I have these two men handcuffed.”
Her sobs turned to laughter—a wild outburst of it—mad, hysterical laughter. She seemed suddenly beyond self-control.
“Carry her!” said Martin Lane hoarsely.
The red-haired man and the rat-eyed little crook strove to pick her up. She turned upon them, gaining her feet again, and fought them off madly, battling with them, pounding at them with her fists, laughing, crying as she struggled.
“My God!” moaned Martin Lane miserably. “My God!”
She had gone down in a limp, pitiful, unconscious little heap on the floor.
“Carry her!” said Martin Lane again hoarsely.
They picked her up. The bag had dropped from their hands. Martin Lane raised it so that they could grip it again between them..
“Go on!” rasped Martin Lane. “Quick now!”
They passed out into the hallway, and along to the door facing the sea. Martin Lane opened this, stepped aside and took up his position again close behind the two men.
“Go on!” he repeated under his breath.
IT WAS dark out here, but out of the darkness a footstep sounded, coming quickly in their direction. Martin Lane’s jaws clamped. Yes, of course! He had expected someone to be on this side of the house, just as the Malay had been on the other. Close against the red-haired man, his revolver muzzle bored into the small of the other’s back.
A voice called out: “That you, Cap?”
The revolver muzzle increased its pressure.
“Yes; it’s all right,” the red-haired man snarled.
The step came nearer.
“What you got there—the girl? I heard her yowlin’. Let’s have a look.”
The revolver muzzle at the small of the red-haired man’s back again increased its pressure.
“Damn it!” shouted out the red-haired man in a sudden frenzy. “Get out of here and mind your own business!”
“Oh, all right, Cap,” snickered the voice. “Keep yer shirt on! I ain’t buttin’ in!”
The step retreated. The revolver muzzle released its pressure.
“Straight down to the beach!” whispered Martin Lane.
A path leading toward the shore was just barely discernible in the blackness. They followed it. It led to a small dock where, at the foot of the steps of a little landing stage, a boat was moored. These they descended, and at Martin Lane’s orders Carol Gray was lowered into the stern of the boat, and the handbag deposited beside her. He smiled a little grimly as he noted the outline of the craft. It was a fairly large boat—the kind in general use amongst the islands where man-power was abundant, and which was usually rowed by from four to six natives.
“Cast off that line for’ard!” Martin Lane directed briefly; and then, as he was obeyed: “Now get in yourselves—up there toward the bow!”
“No!” The red haired man mouthed a sudden oath, and held back. “I’m damned if I do! What for? We’ve done what you told us so far because we couldn’t help ourselves, but that’s an end of it—though some day I’ll make you wish you’d never been born for this!” He broke into a flood of furious profanity. “You take these cursed things off our hands, and let us go!”
“Get in!” Martin Lane clipped off his words.
“Don’t you do it, Captain!” snarled the little rat-eyed MacGuire. “He don’t dare fire any more, ’cause he’s got his chance to get away now, and he ain’t goin’ to risk it.”
“You’re quite wrong,” said Martin Lane evenly. “I can’t row the boat, as unfortunately my left arm has been hurt. You two are going to do it. You are going to row twenty miles across to an island out there.”
“Twenty miles! Out there!” The red-haired man wheezed his words, he seemed to suck them in and out, half in fear, half in fury. “Why, you fool, you’d never get there! Not to-night! There’s a storm brewin’. It’ll be bad out there before mornin’.”
“It would be worse ashore.” Martin Lane spoke without movement of the lips. “Get in!”
They made no movement.
Martin Lane spoke again—with ominous patience:
“I can’t go without you—you see, it is still an even break. Shall we all go—or all stay?” His revolver muzzle cuddled suddenly behind the little rat-eyed man’s ear. “I will give you until I count three. One—”
The little rat-eyed man squealed and lunged forward. He drew the red-haired man after him as the manacles jerked tight. They half sprawled, half clambered into the boat.
Martin Lane’s head was going around.
“That’s better!” He bit at his lips. “Now sit down beside each other on that seat and ship an oar apiece!”
He fumbled with the stern line, cast it off and stepped into the boat himself.
The boat slipped out past the dock and headed for the open sea.
MARTIN LANE’S mind seemed trying to evade itself—most curious!—trying to lay down on its job—quit! There were two things he must do—ship the tiller and make Carol comfortable. He succeeded after difficulty with the tiller; he had nothing other than the handbag for Carol’s comfort—to use as a support for her head and shoulders as she lay there beside him in the stern-sheets.
He lashed at his brain again, driving it to service. There weren’t any stars to steer by—only the wind—the direction of the wind—he hoped it wouldn’t shift, no matter how hard it blew. Straight across to Marston’s island—straight across, the old man had said—twenty miles—there by daylight.
He laid the revolver on the thwart beside him that he might steer with his one good hand. The girl stirred now for the first time—sat up—but did not speak.
There was a cross sea. And now, losing the lee of the island, the wind was fresh. The boat was heavy. The manacled pair toiled at the oars. After a while their efforts slackened—the little rat-eyed man seemed weary.
“Pull!” Martin Lane heard himself say sharply.
They began to quarrel with each other.
“You see what we’ve got for this!” the little rat-eyed man’s voice shrieked out suddenly. “I told you to throw him back into the water as soon as we’d hauled him aboard after that collision with his damned ship!”
“Hold your cursed tongue!” shouted back the red-haired man.
“Hold nothin’!” screamed the other. “Dope him up and use him as a witness to prove we’re regular Sunday school kids! Oh, hell! Do you know what kind of a witness he’ll make now? We’ll swing for this—that’s what we’ll do—”
The voices floated away in a gust of wind.
Then broken fragments of a sentence low, guarded, but caught in a momentary lull, came again:
“Bash of an oar . . . kill . . .”
THE boat began to ship water. The waves were running higher. Martin Lane nodded in a sort of mechanically judicial way to himself. She’d swamp, naturally, if he kept her on this course and it got much worse—but she must be kept on the course—that was the way to this Marston’s island. What was that? It was very black, of course—but what were those two fools doing standing up like that —were they trying to capsize the boat and—
“Martin!” That was Carol’s voice— ringing—clear—imperative. “Martin— look out!”
It was like some weird, double-headed giant stumbling toward him—like the pictures in his books at home when he was a kid. And it was brandishing a long club —no, that was an oar—in each hand.
He let go the tiller and snatched up his revolver and fired—and fired again. The flashes hurt his eyes. There came a scream of pain. The boat rocked and shipped a great quantity of water. The giant retreated, seeming to drag the smaller half of his body with him.
Martin Lane was conscious of a very queer feeling—as though he were mentally clinging in extreme desperation to the edge of some great abyss—and his hold was slipping— slipping—slipping— A voice bawled out of the darkness, maddened with fear—the red-haired man’s voice:
“She’ll fill! She’ll fill! Take off these damned irons! Are you goin’ to let me drown like a rat—he’s shot in the knee.”
“I have no key,” said Martin Lane. His answer was mechanical. There was something else he wanted to say before something, he didn’t know what it was going to be, but something, happened to him. His arm didn’t ache—queer it didn’t—it was more like a sort of torpor creeping upon him all over. Oh, yes, he had it now—to get the water out of the boat. “Bale!” said Martin Lane. “Bale —use your hat—bale!”
HE SAGGED against the tiller, and was conscious that an arm went suddenly out around him in support. That must be Carol—Carol’s arm. “Martin—oh, Martin!”
She was sobbing brokenly. Why was she sobbing? There was life for it yet— plenty of it—just keep on baling with hats—
“I know now—I know. I heard what they said. Oh, Martin—Martin—Martin—”
But Martin Lane’s chin had crumpled on his breast.
The red-haired man baled, frantically, fiercely, fear gnawing at him; the little man shackled to him lay half across a thwart and moaned.
The hours dragged on. Dawn came. In the stern-sheets a girl, with drawn, white face, with a man’s head pillowed on her lap. She held a revolver in her hand. The man was motionless, inert, his eyes closed. A bandage made from a torn skirt was about his left shoulder.
The day passed. Another came . . . another . . .
There was no water in the boat save that which swished in the bottom to the rise and fall of an oily swell.
Still another day.
The gold-laced skipper of a mailboat leaned over his bridge rail and peered down to where, at his lowered gangway, one of his own boats was towing a battered looking craft of about its own size alongside. He rubbed his eyes. In the forward part of the boat two men, outstretched and motionless, appeared to be manacled together; in the stern, seemingly lifeless, were a man with a bandaged shoulder and a woman—the woman’s arms around the man.
The sunlight glinted on a revolver lying beside the woman on the seat.
The ship’s surgeon standing up in the boat hailed the bridge:
“Two of them, wounded, but there’s life in all of them yet, sir. I think they’ll pull through.”
The promenade deck was lined with excited passengers crowding anxiously, eagerly, curiously, against each other. A cheer went up.
The skipper, still leaning over the bridge rail, rubbed his eyes again as he continued to stare down into the boat.
“My word!” he ejaculated. “Now what the devil sort of a yarn is at the bottom of all this I wonder?”
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.