Stories of the Gold Star Line/The Rice-Paper Chart
No. III.—THE RICE-PAPER CHART.
IT was on the 80th of April, 1889, that I landed at Tilbury charged with an extraordinary mission. Six months previously I had been transferred from the Morning Star to her sister ship the North Star, which was then running on the same lines as the British India Fleet, and instead of returning home from Sydney by way of Adelaide and Albany, we went north, up the Queensland coast, past New Guinea, through Torres Straits to Batavia, and through the Straits of Sunda, past the remains of the volcanic island Krakatoa.
I was glad of the change and the opportunity of visiting new ports and seeing fresh places. At Thursday Island, our first place of call, I went ashore and made my way to the little hotel on the hill. Here amongst a number of traders at the bar I ran across an old friend, a Dutch skipper, one Hans Nausheim. I was glad to see him, and we sat down and entered into conversation. He told me that he was now the owner of a few pearling boats, and had done fairly well for himself. He had only returned to Thursday Island on the previous day from one of his expeditions.
"I am glad you happened to call, Mr. Conway," he said, "for I have something which I am anxious to show you. You can, I dare say, give me your opinion as to what I shall do with it." As he spoke he opened a leather pouch slung at his belt, and from one of the pockets drew out a dirty and crumpled piece of Chinese rice-paper, which he proceeded carefully to unfold and smooth out upon the table.
I looked at it with some curiosity.
"What is it?" I asked.
"It is evidently intended to be some sort of chart," he answered, "drawn apparently from memory of an island in the Banda Sea south of New Guinea. Whoever did it must have had some rough idea of the island, and with that memory has made the best job he could, though his latitude and longitude are all wrong."
"But how did this thing come into your possession?" I asked.
"That is the curious part. It was found by one of my Kanakas on one of the small, uninhabited islands, and he brought it to me. He discovered it on the dead body of a Malay, wrapped in a piece of waterproof of European manufacture."
"And do you suppose it to be of any importance?" I asked.
"That is for you to decide," was his answer. "It is evidently the work of an Englishman, and there is just the ghost of a possibility that it means more than meets the eye. You see this small hole in the left corner of the chart; it has evidently been made intentionally, and at the back there is some writing in English. Most of the words have faded by exposure, but certain letters are plain enough. They have evidently been written with a pointed stick smeared with the juice of the papala tree. Here they are, you can read them for yourself. I don't know that you can make sense, but as far as they go they are plain enough."
I bent over the dirty and almost obliterated chart, and made out quite distinctly on its back the following letters:—
These letters were all written in large capitals, and below them were faint marks of a sentence which was now quite unintelligible.
"I have been puzzling over the thing for a day or two," continued my Dutch friend, "and I do believe there is something in it. The hole is probably meant to mark the island, for all the lines seem to point to this one spot. As doubtless you know, Mr. Conway, thousands of islands are scattered over the Banda Sea. The chart is the work of an Englishman, beyond doubt, but who he is and where he is it is almost impossible to guess. Except the one word London nothing else is legible. What do you think of it?"
"It is interesting," I answered, "and the name which is partly obliterated doubtless stands for Theobald. No other letter but 'T' would fit on to that 'H' and make sense. It is just possible, Nausheim, that with the help of a London directory the unknown person for whom this chart is meant may be discovered. If you would care to trust it to me, I will take it with me and look through the directory when I reach London."
"Very well," he answered after a pause, "I will trust you to do this; but remember, Mr. Conway, I am a poor man. If anything should come of this chart—I mean, if it should prove of value—you will not forget me."
"I will give you my word on that," I replied, "and will promise to let you know at once if I find anything out. A letter addressed to you here, care of the post office, will be pretty certain to find its billet?"
"Yes, for I call here pretty often," he answered. "You can take the chart, Mr. Conway."
I carefully folded up the precious paper and thrust it into my pocket. A moment or two later I left the old skipper, and going on board the North Star locked the chart in my strong-box.
Our voyage was without adventure and we reached Tilbury in good time. On the very day of my arrival in London I called at the General Post Office, asked to be allowed to look at a directory, and began my search. Beyond doubt the first name on the half-obliterated chart was Theobald, and the second might refer to Islington, Kensington, Paddington, Newington, or Kennington. My first task was to discover how many Theobalds there were in these districts. I found fourteen in all, three of whom lived in Islington, three in Kensington, four in Paddington, two in Newington, and two in Kennington. I noted down the various addresses of these people and determined to start immediately on my round of investigation. The mystery of the chart began to interest me much, and as I had nothing special to do, I determined not to leave a stone unturned to follow it up.
[Illustration: "I apologised for my intrusion"]
I began my search in Kennington, visiting all the people whose addresses I had taken, but without result. I then visited Paddington, Islington, and Newington, and in these places also my search was fruitless. No one evinced the slightest interest in my story; on the contrary, all seemed to resent my inquiries and look upon me with a certain amount of suspicion which they took but little pains to disguise, and nowhere could I get a clue to the identity of the maker of the chart. It was on the morning of the third day that I found myself in Kensington. I had only three addresses left; one of these was in the High Street and belonged to a man who kept a tobacconist's shop. I called on him first, with the usual result. There were now but two more, one in the direction of Hammersmith, and one in South Kensington. After a brief hesitation I decided to give the more aristocratic address the preference. I went down Wright's Lane, therefore, and soon found myself in that quarter of dismal squares and so-called gardens which constitute the mass of buildings in this part of London. The address which I had in view I will call, for the purpose of this story, Rosemary Gardens; and when I reached number fifteen, on the afternoon of that day, I felt a sense of satisfaction at being so near the end of my quest. If the two last addresses turned out fruitless there was nothing further to be done.
As I mounted the steps which led to the large house in Rosemary Gardens I roughly estimated the rental to be about three hundred a year. The name of the owner I saw in my note-book was a Mr. Morris Theobald. A staid butler replied to my ring, and on my inquiring for his master ushered me without any comment into a well-furnished library. He then took my card and left me. A few moments later the door was opened and an elderly man with a muscular and well set-up figure entered the room. I apologised for my intrusion and immediately told him the object of my visit.
"I am looking for someone of your name," I said, "in order to throw light on a mystery." I then told him of the chart and asked him if he could help me. He was standing with his back to the light and I found it impossible to scrutinise his features. When I came to the end of my story he said in a quiet tone—
"Do you object to showing me the piece of paper to which you have referred?"
I immediately took the chart from my pocket-book and handed it to him. He scrutinised it closely for a long time in silence, then returned it to me.
"Pray take a seat, Mr. Conway," he said. "What you have told me h extraordinary, and may, of course, be only a curious coincidence, but I must confess that I am much interested in this matter. At what date did the man who gave you this scrap of paper say that he had found it?"
"In the early part of February," was my reply.
Mr. Theobald crossed the room, opened a large bookcase and took down an atlas.
"And how long," he continued, "do you suppose it had been in the possession of the dead Malay?"
"Not long," I answered, "for, from his appearance, the Kanaka who found the chart judged that the Malay was only dead a few days."
"I see that it has been much exposed to the weather," said Mr. Theobald.
"It has," I answered, "although it was covered by a piece of macintosh."
"This is a strange thing altogether," he murmured, "very strange. The more I think of it the less"—he hesitated—"the less I like it."
"What do you mean, sir?" I asked eagerly. "Is it possible that I have really come to the end of my search. Can you really throw light on this queer affair?"
"It is possible," he said. "See"—he laid his finger on the map as he spoke—"this mark on the chart must be somewhere north of the two little islands Teon and Nila."
"How in the world do you know?" I asked.
"It is only due to you, Mr. Conway, that I should tell you more. Remember, there may be nothing in it, and yet, on the other hand, there may be much. God only knows. It is strange, your coming here and singling me out. Sit down; these are the facts." Mr. Theobald motioned me to a chair and seated himself opposite. His face had grown white and all the urbanity of his former manner was now eclipsed by an overpowering anxiety.
"These are the facts," he repeated eagerly. "Last year, in May, a young friend of ours—poor boy, he was almost a son to me—Jack Raynor, left England for Australia. We are large shipbrokers in the City, Mr. Conway, and Raynor was a clerk in my firm. He went to Australia on special business for the firm. Just before his departure my daughter Sibyl, my only child, promised to become his wife, and it was arranged that the marriage should take place when he returned. I am a rich man, and meant to start the young pair comfortably in life. We heard from Raynor from time to time. In his last letter he said he was going for a cruise round the islands in a friend's yacht. And the very next news which reached us was from this man, Mr. Bessemer, saying that poor Raynor was dead—he had been washed overboard in a heavy gale and drowned. Immediately on arriving at Townsville, Bessemer had reported the death and made an affidavit before the magistrate there. I shall not soon forget my poor child's terrible trouble—indeed, we were both fearfully cut up. I do not think Sibyl will ever be the same again. Raynor was a particularly fine fellow—young, handsome, jolly, as good a man as ever breathed."
"But what about this Mr. Bessemer, who took him for the trip?" I asked.
"I have never met him, but he is a great friend of my junior partner, Mr. Cardew. Cardew is a very old friend of my family's. It was he who gave Raynor the introduction to Bessemer. Poor Cardew was terribly upset at the sequel, and we can scarcely get him to allude to the matter, as he says he can never forgive himself for being the one who gave the fatal introduction. It is on Sibyl's account that he is so downcast, for he regards my little girl almost as if he were her second father. But now, Mr. Conway, the thing that has struck me is this. Could Raynor by any chance have kept afloat and readied one of the islands, where he is now a prisoner unable to get away? Can he by any means have made this chart, marking it as you see, and then got the Malay to try and take it to some place where it would be likely to be found? It is well known that the Malays are splendid swimmers, and this man might have been able to reach the island, whereas it would have been fatal for Raynor to attempt it. This, of course, I know is all wild conjecture; but the fact is, I shall never rest now till I get to the bottom of the matter."
"If that is the case, I am thankful that I called to see you," was my answer.
"I believe it was Providence who sent you here. We must go without delay into the whole thing. Good God! the boy may be alive, after all!" Here Mr. Theobald rose from his chair and began to pace to and fro with ill-suppressed excitement.
"Dare I tell Sibyl of this?" he continued, lowering his voice. Then he turned to me. "Fortunately, Mr. Conway, my friend Cardew is in town; I will wire to him at once and ask him to come here to meet you. Are you disengaged this evening?"
"Quite," I replied, catching some of his excitement in spite of myself.
"Then be here at eight-thirty, and I will get Cardew to meet you, and we will go carefully into the matter. It must be thrashed out to the bitter end."
When I arrived at Rosemary Gardens for the second time that day I was shown at once into the drawing-room. The room was brightly lighted and looked gay with flowers and many harmonious and softly blending colours. The moment he saw me Mr. Theobald came forward.
"I want to introduce you to my daughter," he said; "come this way." He led me to the other end of the room.
"Sibyl," he said, "this is Mr. Conway, of whom I have been speaking."
A slender and graceful young girl came forward. She was dressed in something soft and white, her eyes were dark, and her whole appearance was extremely delicate and ethereal. Her features were cut almost with the clearness of a cameo, and I saw at a glance that if health and happiness were hers she would be very beautiful. As she glanced at me now her lips trembled and her eyes swam in tears.
"You don't know what you have done for me," she said eagerly; "you have given me back hope. Father says you know something about Jack. Come and let us talk things over."
She led me to a small sofa, seated herself, and invited me to take a place by her side.
"Now tell me, tell me everything," she cried.
[Illustration: "'The "N" in that letter is a facsimile of the "N" on the back of the chart.'"]
"But, my dear young Lady, I have very little to tell. That chart may or may not have been Raynor's work."
"Oh, I am certain it is," she answered. "I have often dreamt that he was alive, and now this chart proves my dreams to be true. But here comes Mr. Cardew; you must be introduced to him." She stood up as a squarely built, dark man of about five-and-thirty years of age approached us.
"I have been telling Mr. Cardew about your splendid news, Mr. Conway," she continued, "and he is almost as glad as I am."
"If there is any truth in the news which you have brought, Mr. Conway, I am much pleased," said Cardew. He spoke in a gentle, somewhat drawling voice, and his eyes, which were of a light brown, were partly narrowed as he watched me. The next instant I saw him glance at Miss Theobald. As he did so a curious light leaped into his eyes, passing the next instant; but the moment I saw it I guessed his secret. Had no one else suspected it? Was it possible that his love, his desperate love for the beautiful girl by my side, had never been suspected either by her father or herself?
"Yes, Mr. Conway," said our host, who now also appeared on the scene, "I have broken through my resolve and told my daughter, and also my good friend Cardew, all that occurred this afternoon. The fact is, the matter is too serious to attempt any reserve. Perhaps you will now kindly show Mr. Cardew the chart, and let us hear the whole story over again from your lips."
I removed the chart from my pocket-book and repeated the story that I had told Mr. Theobald earlier in the day. As I was speaking I observed that Cardew glanced now and then at the chart as if he would devour it. But for the queer, restless light in his eyes, I never saw anyone who kept better control over his emotions. He stood perfectly erect, with his hands behind his back, his thin lips pressed together. To an ordinary observer he was a clever-looking and interesting man, with nothing in the least sinister about him: nevertheless, that flash in his eyes when he glanced at Sibyl Theobald had betrayed him to me. I felt sure that all the facts of Raynor's mysterious death were not known to either Sibyl or her father.
[Illustration: "'If you will help me, I will make it worth——'"]
"Well, and what do you think of it, Cardew? "said our host, when I had finished speaking.
He did not answer for a moment, then he slightly shrugged his shoulders.
"I think nothing of it," he said, and he uttered the words slowly and with a regretful accent. "Remember," he continued, "I have got Bessemer's letter, in which he says distinctly, 'Poor Jack Raynor was washed overboard in a gale of wind at least ten miles from any land.' You must, therefore, judge for yourselves that it is out of the question that this piece of paper can have anything to do with him."
"How can you possibly say so, Mr. Cardew?" cried the girl. "How do they know that they were ten miles from any land, with all those islands round them? Look at the letters on the back of the chart. The first word can only mean Theobald. Mr. Conway has looked up all the other Theobalds in London with the exception, I believe, of one family. Jack was lost in the Banda Sea, where this chart was found. Besides," she added, the colour rushing into her cheeks and then fading away, leaving them deadly white, "there is something which I recognised in the handwriting."
"Oh, come, my darling," said her father, "your hope is too rosy; these are merely printed letters."
"All the same, they were written by Jack," she answered, "I know it well; he always wrote his 'N's' in that peculiar way, always, even in his ordinary handwriting, printing them. I will show you what I mean, I will fetch some of his letters."
She ran out of the room, returning presently with a small packet tied together with a piece of black ribbon. Her fingers shook so much that she could scarcely untie the knot. Presently she opened a letter and pointed in triumph to the very obvious fact that in each case Raynor printed his 'N.'
"There," she said, "the 'N' in that letter is a facsimile of the 'N' on the back of the chart. Any expert, I am sure, would tell you that they were written by the same hand. Oh, yes, the chart was made by him, and he is alive. We must go and search for ourselves; you will take me, father, won't you?"
Cardew glanced at Mr. Theobald and then looked at Sibyl.
"Ask father to take me," said the girl, turning to him and laying her hand on his arm; "you can persuade him—do. He will consent if you ask him."
"I would gladly ask your father to do so if it were the least use, Sibyl," was Cardew's reply; "but as things stand, and knowing what I do, it would be a mere waste of time and money."
"Money!" retorted the girl, "what does money matter; and if it took ten years it would be time well spent. I bore the trouble as best I could while there was no hope, but now I shall not know a moment's rest until this thing is cleared up."
"Everything possible shall be done, Sibyl," said her father; "but it is scarcely necessary that we should go ourselves; we can employ men to search the islands with the aid of the chart."
"No, no," she cried; "we must go ourselves—you and I, father—and at once."
I turned to Mr. Theobald.
"You fully understand my position, sir," I said. "I in no way guarantee the genuineness of the chart; I know nothing about it except what the Dutch skipper has told me. Anything you do is entirely on your own responsibility."
"I quite understand, Mr. Conway; but, as things are, there is no reason why my daughter and I should not take this trip; it will set our minds at rest. If Sibyl wishes it so earnestly, I am quite willing to undertake the affair."
"Then, in that case," I answered, "if you really desire to go, you could not do better than come with me in the North Star—at any rate, as far as Batavia. After that you can make what arrangements you like for the search. We shall sail from London on the 17th."
"Let us decide to do it," cried the girl. "Oh, it would be splendid!"
"Very well; I will go carefully into the matter," said her father, "and to-morrow morning will consult Ferrers, our business man. In the meantime, Mr. Conway, please accept my sincere thanks for all the trouble you have taken."
Soon afterwards I took my leave, Cardew accompanying me.
"I am going to my club," he said suddenly. "If you have nothing better to do, will you come with me? This is an extraordinary affair, and I should like to talk it over with you."
"I will come, with pleasure," I replied. We called a hansom, got into it, and drove to the club. When we got there Cardew ordered supper, and over the meal proceeded to discuss the situation.
"I will be quite frank with you, Mr. Conway," he said. "I do not approve of this wild-goose chase. The chart, as far as Raynor is concerned, is worthless."
I interrupted him.
"One thing, at least, is clear," I said. "It is the work of an Englishman, and the words on the back allude to a person of the name of Theobald."
"That may be the case; but they do not allude to Mr. Theobald of Rosemary Gardens."
"They allude to someone of the name of Theobald who lives in Kensington, Paddington, Islington, Kennington, or Newington," I answered. "I have seen, with one exception, the Theobalds in those five quarters; your Mr. Theobald is the only one who takes the least interest in the matter."
He drummed impatiently with his hand on the table.
"Let me look at the thing once more," he said.
I unfolded the chart, and, stretching across the table, held my hand partly on it as he examined it. He did so very gravely, then pushed it back to me.
"I would give a good deal that they did not go," he said.
"Why?" I asked suddenly.
He shot an eager glance at me, then looked round him. There was no one near.
"I will tell you a secret which I have never before confided to living man," he replied. "Before God I fully believe that Raynor is dead. The evidence of his death is too absolutely complete for any sensible person to attach the least importance to that piece of paper. Sibyl has very strong feelings; she was nearly mad with grief when he died. That grief has now quieted down, and she was just beginning to accept the inevitable. Your appearance on the scene has revived her old sensations and given her hope—false hope. Yes, before God," he added, speaking with great bitterness, "the hope is false—false as hell! and, sir, it interferes with me—with me!"
"With you?" I said.
"With me; for I love her to madness. I have loved her for years. That boy, who had not yet cut his wisdom teeth, came in my way. I had not spoken, I had not dared to, but he stepped in and won her. God, what I suffered! But I kept my emotions to myself, and no one guessed. Mr. Theobald knows nothing of this, nor does Sibyl. The lad went away and—died. I shall win her yet, but this trip interferes with me. Do you understand?"
I bowed without making any answer. He stared fixedly at me as if he would read me through; then, bending across the table and laying his hand within an inch of mine, he continued—
"Mr. Conway, I would do much, much to prevent Sibyl starting on this voyage. If you will help me, I will make it worth——"
I started back.
"I cannot interfere," I said. "I have stated my case; I have shown the chart to the Theobalds; it is for them to decide."
"Say no more," he answered. "It was in your power to do a great deal—and I am rich and powerful, and could have——"
He broke off abruptly—his face was the colour of chalk. "I see it is useless to ask you," he said finally.
"It is," I replied. "In a place like the Banda Sea, which is full of islands, there is a possibility of Mr. Raynor being alive. The more Mr. Theobald thinks over this matter, the more anxious he will be to follow up this possibility. I am sorry for you, Mr. Cardew, and I will, of course, respect your confidence; but beyond remaining neutral in the matter I can do nothing."
"I understand," he said. He remained silent for a moment, evidently in deep thought; then he turned the conversation to indifferent matters.
During the next few days I was in constant communication with the Theobalds, and was often at their house. By my advice Theobald consulted an expert on the value of the chart. This man, on carefully examining it, pronounced it useless unless the explorer already knew something of the position of the island; but, on the other hand, if such a person could be found, the chart might lead to the right island.
The moment I heard this I suggested that we should cable to the Dutchman, who knew all those waters well. This was eagerly agreed to by Mr. Theobald, and accordingly I cabled to Nausheim to meet us at Batavia, telling him that we would be there by a certain date.
Miss Theobald and her father then made eager and hurried preparations for the voyage, and on the evening of the 16th they came on board the North Star. I was in my cabin at the time, but a moment later came on deck to receive them. What was my astonishment to see that Mr. Cardew had accompanied them. The moment he saw me he came up and spoke.
"You are surprised to see me here," he said; "but at the eleventh hour I have taken my passage. After all, I found it impossible to remain quietly at home. With such important matters in suspense I felt that I must be in the running at any cost. If Raynor should be still alive there will be no one to give him a more hearty welcome back to the world than I."
[Illustration: "'What has happened?' I cried suddenly. 'Look at this!'"]
As Cardew uttered this barefaced lie I saw him glance at Sibyl. The return of hope had already improved her appearance, the fragile nature of her beauty was less apparent than when I had last seen her. Now, in her travelling-dress, with the wind blowing her soft hair away from her face, her eyes full of light, and a wild-rose colour in her cheeks, she looked as lovely as girl could look. As Cardew uttered those false words she gave him a glance of the purest gratitude. In reply he gazed at her steadily. Straight into her clear brown eyes he looked, he bit his lip, and his face turned pale. I saw the drops stand out on his forehead. It was marvellous to me that neither Miss Theobald nor her father guessed the state of things. For myself, I by no means liked his accompanying us, and felt immediately that, somehow, in some fashion there was mischief ahead.
The voyage flew by without anything special occurring until one morning we were in the Indian Ocean. Theobald and I had been discussing the chart, and he asked to see it in order to study it in connection with an atlas. As we were both busy over it I was suddenly called on deck. This was the first time that the chart had left my hands. I returned within a quarter of an hour, and Theobald handed me the little piece of rice-paper on which so much depended, folded up in its usual form. I slipped it into my pocket-book and returned it to the place which it invariably occupied in my strong-box.
On the following afternoon we were within twenty-four hours of Colombo. On the morning of that day something took me to my strong-box, and, seeing the chart, I opened it, glanced at it half mechanically, saw that it was all right, and put it back again. On the afternoon of that same day the skipper, Theobald, and I were having tea together, when the conversation drifted to the subject of the chart. Captain Meadows and Mr. Theobald began to differ with regard to the exact point where the island might be supposed to be, and finally I went to fetch the chart in order to compare it with the ship's one in the chart-room on the bridge. We all went to the chart-room, and I there unfolded the chart and laid it on the table. The two men bent eagerly over it. "Good God! what has happened?" I cried suddenly. "Look at this!" We stared at the chart in absolute bewilderment. Were we all dreaming? No; what we saw was an ugly fact. Across the paper even as we looked there crept a, dull, bluish blur that soon fogged the lines and ran the points and marked lines into an indistinguishable smudge.
"What in the name of Heaven does it mean?" I cried. "I looked at the chart this very morning and it was as clear as it had ever been. It is a certain fact that no one has tampered with it since."
"But what is it?" gasped Theobald, his eyes dilating with fear.
I snatched up a piece of paper and roughly and rapidly tried to reproduce the chart before my visual memory of it had faded. It was all useless. I could not reproduce the lines, and the chart before us was nothing more than waste paper.
Theobald sank down on the nearest chair; his face was white and his strong lips trembled; his own and his daughter's hopes were in one moment dashed to the ground. What did it mean? Who had done it? By what unforeseen agency had this ghastly change come about?
"It is devilry—devilry!" muttered Theobald, and his face took on a more and more scared appearance. Suddenly he sprang to his feet.
"Where is Cardew?" he cried. "I must tell him of this. God help my child! To bring her so far and then to dash all her hopes is past bearing."
Without another word he turned and left us. Captain Meadows and I looked at each other.
"Why, Conway," exclaimed the skipper, "you look as startled as Theobald himself! Have you any explanation to offer?"
"Except this," I answered—"someone has tampered with the chart."
"Tampered with it?" cried the captain. "But it looked all right when you first opened it."
"It looked all right, certainly, but was all wrong," was my reply. "Yes, it has been tampered with, and, as Mr. Theobald said, the devil is in this matter."
"But do you suspect anyone?"
"I do, Captain Meadows, but I cannot speak of my suspicions at this moment. I will go away and take a turn by myself."
For many an hour that day I paced the hurricane deck, thought after thought coursing through my brain; but, try as I would, nowhere could I get a solution with regard to the tampered chart. What had been done with it? and, above all things, how had it got into the hands of the only man who would be likely to injure it? On one occasion, and one only, I had left it with Mr. Theobald. Had Cardew got hold of it then? It seemed almost impossible to believe that this was the case, but I thought it worth while to make inquiries. I saw Theobald that evening and put the question to him.
"There is no doubt whatever that the chart has been tampered with," I said; "but how and in what way God only knows. I am not a chemist, nor a scientific man, and cannot therefore solve the mystery; but I should like to ask you one question, sir. I left the chart in your possession for a few minutes yesterday; did you by any chance put it into the hands of any other person?"
"No, no," he said. "No, no; Cardew and I never lost sight of it for a moment."
"Cardew!" I cried in dismay; "what had he to do with it?"
"He happened to come into my cabin. Sibyl called me, and I left it in his care. When I came back he was bending over it examining it. He is as much interested in the matter as I am. As I said before, anyone would suppose that Sibyl was his daughter. Why, what is the matter, Conway?"
"I am sorry I left the chart with you," was my reply, and then I became silent. My suspicions were strengthened. Cardew had the chart in his possession for a moment or two. What had he done with it during that time? That he had done something was positive.
It was at six o'clock on the evening of the 14th of June that we dropped anchor in the harbour at Batavia. We all immediately got into the launch and made for the quay. Miss Theobald, still looking bright and happy, was with us. Her father had decided up to the present not to tell her anything about the ruined chart. I believe he had a last lingering hope that the old Dutchman, Hans Nausheim, would help us out of our dilemma. The bright eyes of the girl and her happy, confident manner were hard to bear, for I knew only too well that under existing circumstances the Dutchman could do but little. Straining my eyes towards the port I saw his sturdy figure. Yes, he had kept his appointment faithfully. Cardew, too, was standing at the bows; he did not speak, but gazed steadily at the quay as we drew near to it. The next moment we had all sprung on shore. Hans came forward. I drew him aside, and in a few words told him of the disaster. His face paled.
"It is hopeless, then, Mr. Conway," he said. "I trusted you with the chart—you have not kept your trust as you promised."
"The chart was for the space of ten minutes in the hands of Mr. Theobald," I answered.
"Anyone else, sir?"
"A Mr. Cardew; they are both interested in the success of this voyage."
"Aye, aye, that's as it may be," said the old skipper; "but the chart is ruined, and we cannot get to the island. There is no hope whatever, unless, indeed, I find the Kanaka who discovered the dead Malay. He left my employment some time ago, and has hidden himself Heaven only knows where. I can but search for him."
Meanwhile the rest of the party had gone to the Hôtel dess Indes, and I quickly followed them. The hour had come when Miss Theobald must be told.
Theobald drew me aside.
"Can the Dutchman do anything he asked in a tremulous whisper.
"Very little I fear," I replied: "it is your duty, sir, to tell Miss Theohald: you cannot keep her in the dark any longer."
Mr. Theobald looked despairingly round. He dashed the moisture from his brow, and suddenly turned to his daughter.
"Come with me, Sibyl, I have something to tell you," he said.
[Illustration: "'You will both be tried for murder.'"]
She glanced into his face and her own went white. They disappeared into a private room which he had engaged, and he closed the door behind them.
Meanwhile I sauntered in the direction of the coffee-room. I found Cardew smoking a cigar. When he saw me he took it from his lips.
"What is it now? " he said; "is he breaking the news to her?"
"He is," was my curt reply. "The confounded trick which has ruined Miss Theobald's happiness is being explained to her by her father." I could scarcely add any more, I felt it almost impossible to be civil to the scoundrel. I entered the coffee-room. He followed me. The next moment I was startled by a loud exclamation which dropped from his lips.
"In the name of all that's wonderful, Bessemer, how did you turn up here?" he cried.
A slender, dark man dressed in a suit of white drill came forward.
"My yacht happens to be in the harbour," he replied. "I came in this morning; I have been cruising here, there and everywhere. But what has happened to you? Where have you dropped from?"
Cardew, who by this time had controlled his intense excitement, turned and introduced Mr. Bessemer to me. A waiter appeared; Cardew ordered refreshments and invited me to sit down. There was no help for it but to comply. Cardew then told Bessemer the story of our adventures, and Bessemer sympathised much in the destruction of the chart. Then he said, glancing at me for a moment—
"But in any case it could never have applied to poor Raynor, who beyond all doubt was drowned. We were in a typhoon at the time, and it is marvellous we did not all perish."
"Well, it is wonderful, meeting you here," said Cardew; "I call it no end of luck. I have not heard anything of you for months and months."
As he spoke I saw the two men exchange glances, and I suddenly resolved to watch them as closely as I could.
My room was on the ground floor, and the door opened on to the verandah. The heat that night was excessive, and my nerves were in too active a state to allow me to sleep. I blew out the light and sat down in an easy-chair by the door and gave myself up to anxious thought.
The hours dragged on, everything was still. Suddenly I heard a movement in one of the rooms some little distance down the verandah, and the next moment a small tunnel of light shot from the door across the gravelled courtyard. I quickly saw that this light came from Cardew's room. All my keenest suspicions were alert, and I drew back quickly into my own room. The next moment the light went out, and the soft tread of bare feet fell on my ears. A figure, which I quickly saw was Bessemer's, passed my door. What could this mean? The next instant I had made up my mind. If some clandestine scheme were on foot, I would meet guile with guile. In such a case as this any means would justify the end. I crept softly out, stepped over the verandah, and drew swiftly into the dark shadow of a large cactus that stood in the courtyard. Bessemer had evidently gone into Cardew's room. It was perfectly dark now. Then suddenly I heard Cardew's voice in a passionate whisper—
"My God! it has been a near thing, Henry. What do you reckon is the best thing to do now?"
"Nothing, absolutely nothing. We are safe," was the light reply. "Raynor will never be seen again. But tell me, how did you manage about the chart? Did you work that?"
"Yes," answered Cardew, with a soft chuckle; "I got hold of it for five minutes and did the deed. I saw when that fool of a purser would not be tampered with, that all depended on the chart, and before I left England I went to a chap who is up in this sort of game. He told me exactly what to do. I painted the paper over with iodide of potassium. It looked exactly the same as before, and it succeeded just as he said it would."
"How? What do you mean?"
"Why, when exposed to the ozone in the sea air the iodine was liberated from the iodide and, combined with the starch in the rice-paper, turned it all blue. It is the regular test for ozone—see?"
"Whew! that's the devil's own trick! And they never discovered?"
"No, and never will now."
"But about Raynor," continued Caraew after a pause, "I only guessed what happened; what did you really do?"
"Left him on an island quite out of any ship's track. Many thanks for the cheque—it has made me independent for life."
"Do you happen to know where the island is?"
"Rather, never could forget it, could go there blindfold; but I don't want to—you bet. It's all right, we are as safe as——"
But before he had finished his sentence I had leapt across the verandah and was standing between the men and the open door.
"You're safe, are you, you scoundrels?" I cried.
Two violent oaths burst from the men as they staggered back at my sudden appearance. I held up my hand.
"Quiet, both of you; not a word " I said. "If you make the slightest noise I shall rouse the hotel. Now look here, I have heard everything."
"You wretched eavesdropper!" hissed Cardew between his clenched teeth.
"You can call me anything you please," I answered; "but listen. Mr. Bessemer, there is only one course open to you. You take us to the island to-morrow, or you know the consequences. Is it Yes or No?" I looked him full in the eyes. He recovered his equanimity and instantly assumed an air of insolent bravado. I maintained mine of quiet resolution. I knew that he was clever enough to see that his game was up.
"You had better be careful, Mr. Conway," said Cardew at last. "It is never safe to tempt desperate men. We are two against one, remember."
I quickly slipped a revolver from my pocket.
"I did not come unprepared," I said. "There is no hope for either of you, if you, Mr. Bessemer, refuse to take us to the island. I have heard all; I know the trick of the chart, too. You will both be tried for murder."
"Hush!" said Bessemer, standing up quickly. "Put down that revolver; we won't touch you, of course. If I do what you ask, what guarantee have I that you won't give me away after all?"
"My word for what it is worth, and I believe I can answer for Theobald. If Raynor is alive you shall both go free."
"What do you say, Cardew?" muttered Bessemer. But Cardew said nothing. He continued to gaze at me and took no more notice of Bessemer than if he had not existed.
"Well, Mr. Conway, you leave me no alternative," said Bessemer at last; "but remember, this matter will not stop here. I shall claim my satisfaction from you for your underhanded spying. You shall pay for this some day."
I laughed. Bessemer looked again at Cardew, who still remained silent. Bessemer then left the room. As he did so an idea struck me. I went hastily to my own room, took a chair from there, and placing it by his open door, sat down.
"What do you mean by that?" he said angrily.
"Oh, nothing particular," I answered. "It is a hot night, that's all."
He knew well enough why I had done it, and I knew, too, that he was too valuable to leave him any chance of escape.
During the remainder of that night I sat by Bessemer's open door, and all that night also I kept my revolver in my hand. I was determined not to lose sight of Bessemer for a single moment until Theobald appeared. To my great relief at early dawn I heard him come out on to the verandah. I then beckoned him to me.
"I have discovered everything," I said. "Help me to watch Bessemer; he must not escape. Now listen."
I then told him in Bessemer's presence what had occurred. The poor fellow's excitement, rapture, and relief are beyond my powers to describe. Cardew's treachery was forgotten in his joy about Sibyl.
"Her life will be spared; nothing else matters, she will be happy yet," he cried.
"Yes," he added, turning to Bessemer, "if you take us to the island you shall go free."
"Do not lose sight of him, Mr. Theobald," I said. "I am going now to find Cardew." I went to Cardew's room and knocked, but there was no answer. I opened the door and entered. I found him lying across his bed as if asleep. A glance showed me that he had not undressed. A further glance drew me to his side. I bent over him. I touched him, and started back. He was dead!
"Suicide," I murmured. Yes, his game was up, his passion could never be realised. He had doubtless provided, himself with means of escape should his worst fears be realised. An empty bottle lay by his side.
Early that day we started in Bessemer's yacht in search of Jack Raynor. How we found him, Sibyl's delight, the story he had himself to tell of his marvellous escape, all belong to another tale than this.