Stories of the Gold Star Line/The Cypher With the Human Key
No. II.—THE CYPHER WITH THE HUMAN KEY.
THE details of the following story have been for many months a matter of history to every official on the Gold Star Line, but though circulated privately they have never been made public property before.
It was a cold, cheerless evening in the early part of May, 1897, that the Morning Star sailed from Sydney Harbour with both first and second saloons crowded to overflowing. The reason for this was the great Jubilee festival which was to be held in London in the following June. Colonial visitors from all parts of the Queen's dominions were flocking to it, and as I glanced round at the passengers I thought that I had never seen a more miscellaneous assortment. There were squatters and bushmen from up country in loud check suits and cabbage-tree hats, flash specimens of the Stock Exchange and racing fraternity, a few wealthy hotel keepers with their families, and a fair sprinkling of that marvellous and nondescript creature only seen to perfection on big liners—the professional globe-trotter. But of all the mixed collection, two men who came on board at the last moment most attracted my attention. They spoke English well, were dressed like gentlemen, declared themselves to be Englishmen who had lived for several years in the bush, had no trace of roughness or want of civilisation about them, but had without exception the most sinister faces I ever saw in my life. They were strangely alike, too, in appearance—so much so that I would have put them down as brothers had not their names been entered in the ship's lists as George Wilson and Henry Sebright. They were first-class passengers, and never committed any solecism or made themselves disagreeable in any way whatsoever; nevertheless, I noticed that no girl liked to speak to them, and that even the men gave them more or less a cold shoulder. A history of crime seemed to be written on both their faces, on the thin lips and narrow, shifty eyes, and yet their features in themselves were good, and they had mellow, pleasant voices.
The ship was so full that I had much difficulty in making things go smoothly. This was partly accounted for by the fact that I had to reserve one whole state-room with three berths for a man who had booked them by wire through the manager of our office in Sydney. Such a request, however inconvenient, had to be carried out, and the passenger for whom so much accommodation was necessary was expected to arrive on board at Adelaide. I imagined that he must in consequence be a person of some importance, and in this conjecture events proved me to be right.
I happened to be standing near the gangway as he came on board, leaning on the arm of a slim, pretty-looking girl, for whom, however, no special accommodation had been made. She was to occupy an upper berth in a four-berth cabin in company with other ladies, who were of course total strangers to her. One glance at her face showed me, however, that she was the sort of girl who would think very little of personal inconvenience, and that all her thoughts at present were centred on the man with whom she had come on board. There was sufficient likeness between the pair for me to guess that they were father and daughter. The man looked very ill. His face was of a livid grey colour, the cheeks were drawn and hollow, and the eyes glowing with hectic fever. I noticed that several pairs of eyes followed the new passenger and his pretty daughter as they slowly made their way across the deck towards the companion, and in the background I observed the two men whom I have already spoken about gazing at them with eager and intensely curious expressions on their evil faces.
We soon got under way again, and for the time I forgot the new passengers in a quantity of work that engaged all my thoughts.
A few days later, Cairns, our ship's doctor, came up and accosted me.
"I am very sorry about Rutherford," he said; "he will never see England, I fear."
"Do you mean our new passenger?" I inquired.
"Yes, I have examined him carefully. The poor chap has only got one lung, and that is going fast. His leaving shore as he has done is nothing short of madness. I told him so. He gave me a queer answer."
"What was that?" I inquired.
"He said, 'I know all about it, and I have my reasons, but I don't mean to die before the right moment comes.' He then told me that he has some oxygen cylinders in his cabin, and intends to keep himself going with these until we reach Suez. What in the world can it mean? Using such cylinders is of course against the rules, but the good old skipper will always stretch a point. As Rutherford was speaking to me his daughter came in. He calls her Elizabeth sometimes, and sometimes Betty. She is a fine girl, and you can see at a glance that she is tremendously fond of him. She is no fool with regard to his condition—I noticed that—but she was as cheerful in his presence as if he had not a pin's point the matter."
"It is a pity the man came on board," was my rejoinder after a moment's pause.
"I cannot understand it, for my part," reiterated Cairns in a thoughtful voice.
I looked him full in the face.
"What are you driving at?" I said at last; "do you suppose there is a mystery anywhere?"
"Oh, I don't know! I fancy somehow that my new patient has got something on his mind. The way he is burning himself up is really little short of madness. Of course he cannot last any time the way he goes on. From his way of speaking I think he is a medical man, too, and must know well what he is doing."
[Illustration: "Leaning on the arm of a pretty-looking girl."]
Cairns left me and I went on deck. There was a heavy sea running, and my morning's work being over, I sat by a skylight to smoke a cigar. Just before me the two Englishmen, Wilson and Sebright, were wrangling over a game of deck quoits at half-crown points. Presently I noticed the invalid, Mr. Rutherford, coming slowly on deck. With uncertain and feeble steps he came lurching in my direction, and presently sat down with a heavy sigh in an empty deck chair by my side. To my astonishment the moment he did so the men stopped playing and came up and spoke to him. He replied in a friendly tone, and I saw at once that they were old acquaintances.
"I will bet two to one on you, "Wilson," he cried.
"I will take you," laughed the other—"in sovereigns?"
"Certainly," answered the invalid, bowing his head slightly.
[Illustration: "I saw him take her hand."]
The men collected the quoits and began to play, showing a good deal of volatile excitement as they did so.
"You are a good sailor, Mr. Rutherford," I remarked, as the vessel lifted and swung down on the heavy trade swell.
"Oh, I am never sea-sick," was his slow reply; "consumptives never are, you know. I find the sea a marvellous pick-me-up."
"I am glad of that," I replied, "and I hope the voyage will do you good."
He did not answer, and just at that moment I saw Miss Rutherford coming on deck. She smiled when she saw her father, a bright smile full of tenderness and courage, and then to my great amazement paused opposite the two men.
"Ah! that was well done, Mr. Sebright," she said. "What an adept you are at the game!"
They both dropped their quoits and began to talk eagerly to her.
She chatted in the gayest fashion, laughing heartily many times, and then seemed to throw herself into their pastime with great zest.
"Father," she cried out suddenly, "Mr. Wilson has lost, so you must pay. He says you have taken him in sovereigns."
With a smile Mr. Rutherford put his hand into his pocket, drew out a couple of sovereigns and laid them in Sebright's palm.
"The wind is rather cold just here, my dear," he said, turning to his daughter; "will you help me to my cabin?"
She gave him her arm and they walked down the deck. A moment later Wilson and Sebright followed them. Presently, as I passed Rutherford's cabin, I saw the door open and Miss Rutherford and her father entertaining my sinister fellow-passengers with a bottle of wine.
"Now, what can this mean?" I said to myself. "Surely a girl of Miss Rutherford's type cannot really admire men of the Wilson and Sebright order?"
Nevertheless, I soon began to think myself in the wrong, for stately as her manners were and outwardly correct her bearing, Miss Betty—pretty Miss Betty, as nearly everyone on board had learned to call her—did give up a great deal of her time to the two men; in particular she seemed to single out Wilson for her most gracious attention. She paced the deck in the evening by his side, and once I saw him take her hand and hold it for nearly half a minute. I was standing not far off when this happened, and I noticed at the same instant that the girl turned white, that she bit her lips, and a look of pain so intense came into her face that tears absolutely started to her eyes.
She bore Wilson's handclasp, however, without the smallest show of unwillingness, and he never noticed the queer expression on her face.
From that moment I began to watch Miss Betty with great interest. That she did not really like either of the men I was firmly convinced. Why, then, did she treat them, Wilson in particular, as if they were special friends?
Mr. Rutherford got rapidly worse. I heard this from Cairns, who spent a good deal of his time in his cabin, and was on several occasions called up at night to attend to him.
"How is your patient?" I said to him a few days later.
"Why, Conway," was his reply, "you are the very man I want. As to my poor patient, he won't last much longer. I was just coming to find you; I want you to come with me to his cabin. He wishes us both to hear something he has got to say, so will you come now and hear what it is he wants?"
"By all means," I replied; "but what about Miss Betty?"
"I believe she is on deck, but he wishes her to be present, too."
"Then I will go up and fetch her," I answered. I ran up the companion and found the young girl standing near the taffrail, leaning slightly over it and looking down at the waves as we raced quickly over them. By her side stood the detestable Wilson. Since Miss Rutherford had bestowed so much notice upon him he had seemed to have gained in self-assurance and swagger. The easy, gentlemanly manners which had marked his conduct during his first few days on board now gave place to a sort of devil-may-care attitude. Sebright, however, was still gentle and subservient. At the present moment he was nowhere in sight, and Wilson stood far nearer to Miss Rutherford than I considered in good taste.
"I have been sent by your father to fetch you," I said.
"Is he worse?" she inquired. She looked round eagerly. Once again I noticed that queer pallor in her face, and the expression of unspoken anguish round her eyes, but the next moment it had vanished. She turned a bright, laughing face towards her companion.
"I must go now," she said, "but I will see you again after lunch. Good-bye."
She tripped down the companion, and I followed her. A moment later we found ourselves in the sick man's cabin. He was lying on one of the bunks, and as we came in he rose slowly and asked us to be seated.
"Betty, my dear," he said, turning to his daughter, "close and lock the door."
She did so; then she went and knelt by his side. Nothing could exceed the tenderness in her face. I noticed then its strength, the strong contour of the chin, the curves of the firm lips.
"Are you quite sure you are strong enough to go into this matter to-day? " she said. Her voice sank to a whisper, but low as it was both Cairns and I heard it.
"Yes, my darling, I had better get it over; it will be a relief, Betty,"
"Then that is all right," she said. "Please, gentlemen, come close up to in father; it hurts his chest to talk too loud. Now, then, father, dear."
The sick man glanced first at her and then at us, and began.
"I want to make a certain disclosure to you two gentlemen," he said; "my daughter is here to answer for its genuineness."
"But surely," I interrupted, "your own word is sufficient?"
"It would doubtless be quite sufficient if I could tell you all, but it is necessary for me to conceal the really important part. When the right time comes a full confidence will be made to you, but that time is not yet. Without knowing all, therefore, I want you both to make me an important promise. God only knows how tremendous an issue hangs on your compliance!"
Neither Cairns nor I said a word, but our eyes were fixed intently on the sick man's face. Miss Betty laid one of her slim hands on his arm.
"You will be brief, father," she said; "the gentlemen will, I know, understand matters quickly. You must be brief."
"I must tell what I have to tell in my own way," was the reply. "Now, then, sirs, I want to inform you both that, feeble and ill as I am, I am engaged on a mission of the utmost secrecy and importance. On me and on my daughter depends the exposure of one of the most diabolical conspiracies of the present day. There are many lives in imminent danger, and amongst them are some of the highest and noblest in England."
As he said the last words he lowered his voice and spoke very slowly, as if he were watching the effect of his communication upon us both. After a moment's pause he continued.
"My daughter and I alone can stop an appalling catastrophe, and we can only do this by your aid."
"You may depend upon my aid, for one," I said with sudden impulse.
Miss Rutherford raised her grey eyes and gave me a look of gratitude.
"I am the messenger of a private agency in Sydney," continued the sick man, "and have been employed on this very matter for the last six months. As you, Dr. Cairns, are aware, I have only a few weeks at the longest to live. I shall never see England, but I know that by means of the oxygen which I keep in these cylinders I shall keep myself alive until ye reach Suez. I wish to live until then—I especially wish to die then, for it is all-important that my body should be consigned to the Bitter Lake."
Here he paused, being interrupted by a violent fit of coughing. He had spoken quietly and seemed perfectly composed, but as he said the last words an irresistible conviction seized me that the man must be insane. I glanced at Cairns, but saw no reflection of my thought on his face; and as to Miss Rutherford, except for two burning spots which had appeared on her cheeks, site did not show any special emotion.
"When I reach the Bitter Lake I shall die," continued the invalid, speaking now almost cheerfully, and in a most matter-of-fact voice; and," he continued, "as a necessary consequence my body will be buried there. Now, it is absolutely necessary for the success of my scheme that my body should be buried in the Bitter Lake, and it is equally necessary that it should reach England."
"What do you mean?" I cried.
Cairns now interrupted. His eyes sparkling with suppressed fire.
"I can assure you, Mr. Rutherford," he said, "that if it were really essential, it would be possible to convey your body to England on board the Morning Star; we could embalm——"
the invalid raised his hand with an irritable gesture.
"You must hear me out," he said. "There are two men on board involved in the great conspiracy to which I have just alluded."
[Illustration: "He drew out a strange oil silk case."]
"What?" I cried, springing from my seat, "do you allude to Wilson and Sebright?"
"I would prefer not to name the persons," he answered. "They are on board, and it is necessary, absolutely necessary to the fulfilment of my scheme that they should both see my body committed to the deep. When this event has taken place their worst fears will be laid to rest, and"—he glanced at his daughter—"Miss Rutherford will do the rest."
"I will not fail," she said; "I will act my part to the end."
"I know that well," was her father's reply. "Gentlemen," he added, glancing at us both, "this girl has the spirit of a man in her veins; she will neither falter nor swerve until the whole scheme which we have come on board to complete has been carried through to the bitter end."
Miss Betty drew herself up and her eyes flashed with fire.
Mr. Rutherford continued to speak.
"The men to whom I have alluded must see my body go to the bottom of the Lake loaded with twenty pounds of chain cable. Gentlemen, it will be your business to see that this is done."
"That would be done in the natural course," said Cairns slowly; "but, my dear sir, the subject is a painful one—why dwell on it?"
"I must do so, and I must also get your distinct promise. Dr. Cairns, and yours also, Mr. Conway, that you will both personally superintend the matter."
I bowed. Cairns did not speak.
"My body must be buried," continued the dying man, " but it must also rise again. I have made all the necessary arrangements to ensure this. It will be picked up by the British Agent at Suez in a steamboat which will follow the ship. Already I have advised him by cable that I am coming by this boat." He leant back, and I could see the muscles that showed on his face working spasmodically.
"And now," he said, "for my final instructions." He rose slowly, crossed the cabin, and kneeling before a large trunk, opened it. From this receptacle he drew out a strange oil silk case.
"You will place my body in this," he said, "lacing it tightly together after doing so. You will then sew my body in canvas in the usual way. This case consists of a double covering, containing an air-tight chamber between two layers which are now collapsed. At one end there is an aluminium case, one side of which is made of felt. This case contains seven pounds of calcium carbide. From the box a tube guarded by a valve communicates with the indiarubber chamber, and as soon as the water by its pressure has forced its way through the felt and reached this substance an enormous evolution of acetylene gas will take place and will inflate the whole covering. The specific gravity will be instantly lowered to such an extent that in less than twenty minutes my body will once again reach the surface. I organised this case myself long ago and have made frequent experiments in Sydney Harbour. You quite understand now, Dr. Cairns, what you are expected to do?"
Cairns stood up and began handling the case.
"This is the most ingenious device I ever heard of," he said. "You certainly astonish me. Yes, sir, I think you may rest assured that Conway and I will respect your half confidence, and will see this matter properly carried through."
"Then that is all right," said the sick man. "I have unburdened my mind and can rest. Let my burial be as public as possible; let those—those men to whom I have alluded be present."
He sank back on his seat panting slightly. "Please go away now," said Miss Rutherford; "he cannot stand any more."
The red spots had faded from her cheeks, but the fire had not left her eyes.
"Whenever the time comes," I said, looking full at her, "you can rely upon me."
"Thank you," she replied.
Cairns and I left the cabin.
The voyage continued without anything special occurring, but Mr. Rutherford now never came on deck, and his daughter spent most of her time by his side. Whenever she was able to go on deck for a little air, she was always found in Wilson's company. She showed apparent pleasure when he approached, and I often heard her talk to him about her father's condition. I thought from Sebright's manner that he was not quite satisfied with the growing friendship between Miss Rutherford and his companion, but Wilson's face beamed with intense self-satisfaction. He dressed more loudly than he had done, and his swagger was more marked. He invariably wore a heavy gold chain, to which a massive locket, which contained a single brilliant in the centre, hung. This appendage gave the final touch to the man's true vulgarity. Once as I approached quite near I heard Sebright say to him—
"I wonder you wear that locket."
"Miss Rutherford admires it," was the strange reply. I could scarcely believe my ears. On the 18th of June we passed out of the Red Sea, and I shall never forget the day-break on the morning that we steamed slowly up to Suez. I was on deck watching the sun rise when Cairns came quickly to my side. His face was very pale and grave.
"Come down quickly, Conway," he said; "Rutherford is dying. He wishes to see you; he cannot live half an hour."
I followed him at once. Upon the bunk in his state cabin lay the sick man. His breath came and went between his blue lips with a horrible hissing sound. Miss Rutherford was standing just behind him. When he saw me he beckoned with his eyes for me to approach, and I bent over him.
"Here is a letter," he said; "give it to the British Agent when he comes on board, and remember what I have asked you and Dr. Cairns to do. Thanks for all your kindness. Good-bye."
"Rest assured that I will do everything in my power to carry out your instructions," I answered; and then glancing at Miss Betty I continued, "You may also depend on my doing what I can for the comfort of your daughter."
The ghost of a smile flitted across his face.
"I trust all will go well," he said, and then I left him.
I went on deck, where I found the British Agent, who had just come on board from the tender which was alongside. I immediately handed him Rutherford's letter. He read it in silence.
"I have made the necessary arrangements," he said after a long pause, and speaking slowly; "everything shall be done as arranged. Is he still alive?"
"Yes, but he is dying fast," I replied. By this time the passengers began to come on deck, and as the mails were brought on board I noticed Dr. Cairns hurrying towards me.
"It is all over," he said quietly. "We will carry out his instructions as soon as possible."
Wilson happened to be standing close. He cast an anxious glance at us both, then he approached the doctor and whispered—
"Did I hear you say that Mr. Rutherford is dead?"
"Yes," replied Dr. Cairns; "the funeral will take place this morning as soon as we are under way again."
The faintest suspicion of a triumphant smile crept round the man's dark eyes, and I felt I could have struck him as I saw it.
An hour later Cairns and I found ourselves in poor Rutherford's cabin. He was lying in his last sleep; his hands were folded across his chest, and the smile of death lingered round his lips. His daughter was standing near; her eyes were perfectly dry and tearless, and the red spots were brighter than usual on her cheeks.
"I know you will both do what is necessary," she said in a hurried voice when we approached. "I will go to my own cabin until—until you call me."
She left us.
"That is about the bravest girl I ever met in my life," I said, turning to Cairns.
"Don't talk of it; we cannot discuss this matter," said Cairns in a choking voice. "God only knows if we are doing right, but follow out the poor fellow's directions we must."
Scarcely uttering a word we both then began to carry out the instructions which had been so carefully given to us. The dead man's body was laced into the mysterious case with its double covering, and then sewed up in canvas. We sent for the quartermaster and a couple of men, and had the poor fellow carried out to the main deck on a hatchway grating, a Union Jack spread over him. As we reached the deck I saw that we were now well out on the Bitter Lake and going at slow speed.
The news of Rutherford's death had caused some little comment, and several of the passengers collected in a knot round the body as Mr. Hitchcock, a clergyman who happened to be on board, read the service.
Amongst those who stood nearest to the dead man were Miss Rutherford and Wilson. She stood with her back slightly turned to Wilson, her eyes fixed upon the still form covered by the Union Jack. Not for a single instant did her queer stoicism forsake her. The service proceeded, and at the words, "We commit his body to the deep," the screw was stopped for a moment, the men raised the grating, and the body slid down into the still water and disappeared. All was over. As I turned away I glanced up. Looking down now with an almost fiendish smile on his face stood Sebright. I felt I could not bring myself to speak to him, and turned quickly aside. I looked out astern. In the distance I could see the British Agent's boat, which had been lying ready, come slowly puffing out from the landing-stage.
By this time we were again well under way and rapidly leaving the Bitter Lake behind us.
At dinner that evening I could not help noticing a change on Wilson's face. It had hitherto worn a look both of cunning and anxiety; now this had completely vanished, there was a calm expression of ease about his countenance which yet was not without a certain melancholy. I guessed that in some extraordinary way Rutherford's death had given him relief, but that his thoughts were also with Miss Rutherford, who possessed an immense attraction for him, and whose grief he could not help sympathising in.
Sebright, on the other hand, was in boisterous spirits.
Miss Rutherford did not leave her father's state-room for two or three days. On the morning of the third day, however, she came on deck again. She was dressed in deep mourning and her face was very white. I noticed, too, a strange, almost reckless kind of hardness about her mouth, which was more particularly manifest when Wilson appeared. What did she mean by allowing the attentions of that scoundrel?—for scoundrel I had little doubt he was. I felt almost inclined to remonstrate with her, for was she not, to a certain extent, now under my care? Once I went up to her for the purpose, but the moment I alluded to Wilson she turned restlessly aside.
"I know that my whole conduct is incomprehensible to you, Mr. Conway," she said; "but you must have patience. By and by you will see the solution of what is now a puzzle. Please understand one thing: I shall never forget your kindness, nor that of Dr. Cairns."
Tears rose to her eyes, but they did not fall.
"I must beg of you not to be too sympathetic," she continued. "I have no time to mourn yet, and, above all things, I must not give way. My father has left the conclusion of this matter in my hands. I have every belief that I shall bring it to a successful issue, but I cannot quite tell yet. But before we reach Plymouth I shall know."
Wilson approached and said something to the girl in a low tone; she turned away with him immediately, and the next moment they were pacing up and down the deck. They remained together during the greater part of the morning, and I observed that at certain times the man talked very earnestly to Miss Rutherford. At lunch they entered the saloon side by side.
Soon afterwards, as I happened to be in my cabin, the two men slowly passed. They did not see me, and I heard Wilson say to Sebright, "Now that everything is safe, I mean to win that girl."
"Then let me tell you, Wilson," was Sebright's reply, "that your increasing intimacy with Miss Rutherford is by no means for the good of——" They passed on and I did not hear any more.
That same evening I noticed Sebright pacing about, alone, and now and then casting glances of strong disapproval at the pair who were standing close together leaning over the taffrail of the further deck. Once I passed them slowly. As I did so I heard Miss Rutherford say—
"Call my sentiments what you will, I have a wish to obtain it."
"My God!" was the low smothered reply, "will nothing else content you?"
"If I yield, if I give it to you, will you——"
[Illustration: "His swagger was more marked."]
I passed on, much wondering. The next morning found us close to Plymouth. As we were approaching the harbour Miss Rutherford came up to me.
"How soon shall we arrive?" she asked.
"In about an hour," I answered.
"Then the time has come for me to give you my full confidence. Will you and Dr. Cairns come with me to my father's state-room?"
"Certainly," I answered.
I fetched the doctor, and we both hurried down the companion to the state-room. Miss Rutherford had gone on before; she was waiting for us. As soon as we had entered she placed herself between us and the door.
"I will not lock the door," she said, "but I must be very careful that no one opens it. Standing here I can guard it. Now, then, for the solution of the mystery."
I did not reply. Cairns looked at her with intense curiosity. She was standing very erect, and those crimson spots which always visited her cheeks under stress of emotion became again visible.
"Yes," she said,, meeting both our eyes without flinching, "I wonder what you think of me. It is true I did employ every fascination I had to draw Mr. Wilson on, and I did it with my father's sanction. I wanted to obtain something from him, and there was no other way. I have got what I want"—here she thrust her hand into her pocket and drew out the locket which Wilson had worn at his watch chain, and which contained the single brilliant star.
"He gave you that?" I cried. "Surely, surely you are not engaged to him?"
She did not answer for a moment, then she said slowly—
"I have paid a heavy price for this locket. Because of it I have told many lies; I have done more—I have consented to marry him. Yes, I consented last night; but"—here she gave a low laugh, a laugh almost of horror—"our marriage can never come off. Circumstances forbid."
"Tell us all," said Cairns suddenly.
"I will do so, and you must try to follow me. The plot is an intricate one." She paused for a moment; the locket lay on the table, her slim long hand covered it. "The plot in which my father was engaged is connected with the exposure of one of the biggest anarchist gangs in Europe, and the object of all our operations, which must have seemed so extraordinary to you, has been to obtain a key to their cypher, and at the same time to make them think that we had not obtained it, in order to quiet their suspicions and get them to despatch a certain communication from Plymouth to London which, if we can intercept, will put the whole gang into our hands."
"What do you mean, Miss Rutherford?" I interrupted.
"You must hear me to the end," she said. "It is needless to say that any cypher which such a gang would employ would be made with all their ingenuity, and be such that its key would be well nigh impossible to discover. Well, we have discovered it. Unlike any other cypher, this one has a human key."
"A what?" I cried.
"Yes," she repeated, "a human key. You know, perhaps, of the Bertillon system of identification of criminals so much used in Paris. On this principle by certain measurements one man out of fifty thousand can be identified, for it is well known that no two men have all the measurements of head and limbs alike. Now the cypher employed by this gang has been constructed on various measurements from the chief of the gang's body, such as the circumference of his skull and length of certain bones. These, in an order which I now hold, have been applied to a code and reveal the cypher as no other key can. It would take me too long to tell you how my father discovered this, but a few years ago he was thrown unexpectedly and by extraordinary circumstances into the company of the chief of the gang, and discovered by an accident that the principal measurements of his body and those of the chief correspond. This, as you will see, was a most important discovery. He mentioned the fact to the chief, who was then apparently his friend, and the gang know well that my father's body holds the key to the cypher. Hence their fixed determination to kill him if possible and have him buried at sea. The two men, Wilson and Sebright, came on board for the express purpose of murdering my father, but they quickly saw that it was unnecessary to kill a dying man. Nature did the work for them. Well, he was, as you know, buried at sea, and Messrs, Wilson and Sebright saw his body committed to the deep. They therefore now consider themselves absolutely safe, but they little guess the sequel which by my father's ingenuity is about to take place."
"But one question," I interrupted. "Why should not the measurements of your father's body have been taken before burial?"
"Because it is only the chief of the secret police in Paris who knows exactly which they are; it is to him, therefore, that the body must go."
"But surely, as I suggested, we could have brought the body home?" cried Cairns.
[Illustration: "Saw his body committed to the deep."]
"Had you done so our purpose would not have been effected," replied Miss Rutherford, "because the two men on board would not have had their minds relieved; they would not have thought, as they now think, that the key to the cypher is safe for ever, and would not despatch the telegram, which I believe Mr. Wilson has already written, to London. As soon as the ship touches Plymouth he means to send off this telegram. If he does so all our plans will be foiled." She paused, then slowly raising the locket held it on her palm. "I happen to know, and my father also knew, that, written in a very ordinary and simple cypher within this locket is the order of the measurements of my father's body, which it is necessary to know in order to read the key. When I promised to marry him last night Mr. Wilson gave me the locket. It was the price I required. He thought himself safe, believing that my father was buried for ever. Now listen: this is what is about to take place. As soon as we get into Plymouth harbour, and the tender comes out to meet the vessel, two detectives will step on board armed with a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Wilson and Mr. Sebright. Without the necessary signal from me they will do nothing. Mr. Wilson will have on his person the telegram which he is about to despatch to London. He will immediately be arrested and the telegram retained. Now you see what I mean. You perceive what I have struggled for—it has been worth the effort, yes, worth the effort."
[Illustration: "Sebright tried to leap overboard"]
Her face turned red, and then paled away to the most ghastly pallor. I knew what she was thinking of. She had lured Wilson to his own destruction as only a woman could. It was a desperate game, but she had not hesitated to play it. For a moment she stood before us absolutely silent, her eyes cast down, then she raised them.
"Don't judge me too harshly," she said; "any means are justifiable to obtain such an end. What is the blackening of one woman's character compared to the awful issues which would have followed the letting of those scoundrels free? My father and I devised the whole plan and worked it hand in hand—aye, even though he is dead, we still work this matter hand in hand."
Tears for the first time since her father's death sprang to her eyes, she trembled, then covered her face with her hands.
Cairns looked at her with intense compassion, but we were both silent. For my part I was fitting the various complex pieces of this masterpiece of detection together. At last I spoke.
"Miss Rutherford, you are a wonderful woman. Few would have played the part you have played so bravely; but are you quite certain that that locket gives you the further clue you want?"
"Yes; all is now complete. In less than an hour you shall see the fruit of my father's labours and mine. Be near me, I beg of you both, when the tender comes alongside."
We both promised; she opened the door of the state-cabin and we went out.
As were now drawing in slowly towards the harbour, and the tender bringing the Channel pilot came up alongside. I noticed that Wilson was standing watching it. He held in his hand a small roll of paper. Directly the gangway was down, Vernon, one of the harbour detectives, accompanied by another man, sprang on board. Vernon hurried towards us.
"Is there a Mr. Rutherford here?" he asked. Before I could reply Miss Rutherford herself approached. I now noticed that she stood in such a position as to put the gangway between herself and Wilson. He was standing within a foot of her, his eyes devouring her face. She gave him a quick glance, then turned to the detective.
"Mr. Vernon," she said, "my father is dead, but you have your instructions. These are the gentlemen. Do your duty."
With a sweep of her hand she indicated Sebright and Wilson. The detective gave one of those faint smiles which showed a keen relish for the work on hand. He glanced at his confederate, who came up quickly. In an instant handcuffs were placed on the wrists of Wilson and Sebright, and Wilson's roll of paper was transferred with the deftness and quickness of legerdemain to Vernon's pocket.
"What is the meaning of this?" said Wilson, when he could find his voice. "Miss Rutherford, Miss Rutherford, are you mad? Why are we both subjected to this indignity? Loose me, sir, at once; you mistake us for some other men."
"Your names are in this warrant," replied Vernon, in the coolest of tones. "You are arrested on suspicion of conspiracy against the Government, and must come with me. The less you say, the better for yourselves."
"You have no case against us," said Wilson. He looked full into the detective's face.
The passengers had now come clustering round in the greatest excitement.
"Ask Miss Rutherford," was Vernon's unexpected response.
She drew back for an instant, then she went boldly forward.
"I played my part, and I have succeeded," she said. "When you gave me that locket, Mr. Wilson, you fitted the last link into a necessary chain of evidence against you. You are a clever man, but a woman's wits, joined to those of a dying man, have won the victory. You little thought when I allowed you to make love to me, that I was playing a part as deep, as daring, as desperate as your own. I have won and you have lost. The contents of that fatal telegram shall never reach their destination. Mr. Vernon will see to that."
Here Wilson bunt into a high, excited laugh. He glanced at Sebright, who muttered something. I caught the words "fooled by a woman—I told you so."
"I do not know what you mean, Miss Rutherford," said Wilson; "you must have taken leave of your senses. As to you," he said, turning to the detective, "the telegram which you have wrested from my grasp is of no value whatever."
"You think that, because you believe that the key to the cypher is lost," continued Miss Rutherford, "but you are mistaken; the key is forthcoming. You know well that my father's body holds the key. The measurements of my father's body are the same measurements as those of the chief of your gang; you both know it, sirs. You believe that my father's body is now lying at the bottom of the Bitter Lake."
"We saw it buried; there is no doubt with regard to that," replied Sebright.
"Yes, but you did not see what took place afterwards. The sea has given up its dead; my father's body will be in England in three days from now."
Sebright's face turned very white.
"This is witchcraft," he cried. "Wilson, don't listen to a word the miserable girl says."
"And," continued Miss Rutherford, "the numbers of the measurements are contained in this locket. I know all. You have failed, we have won."
"Come, come," said Vernon, "time will prove whether the young lady is right or not; but I have no time to spare, you are both arrested and must come with me. The less you say, the better for your safety."
With a wild cry, as if suddenly roused to the peril of the situation, Sebright now made a lurch forward and tried to leap overboard, but Miss Rutherford herself interposed.
"Your game is up," she said, "go quietly. My father did not die in vain; it is useless to resist."
"Aye, the lady says the truth," echoed Vernon. "Come, no more struggling, please."
A moment later the two men were on board the tender.
On reaching London that afternoon we found the town ringing with the news of the capture of the entire gang of anarchists. Few knew, however, through what byways that capture had been effected.