The Iron Pirate/Chapter 5

The Iron Pirate  (1905)  by Max Pemberton
Chapter V



The manuscript, which was sealed on its cover in many places, consisted of several pages of close writing, and of sketches and scraps from newspapers—Italian, French, and English. The sketches I looked at first, and was not a little surprised to see that one of them was the portrait of the man known as "Roaring John," whom I had met at Paris in the strange company; while there was with this a blurred and faint outline of the features of the seaman called "Four-Eyes," who had come to me at the Hotel Scribe with the bidding to go aboard La France. But what, perhaps, was even more difficult to be understood was the picture of the great hull of what I judged to be a warship, showing her a-building, with the work yet progressing on her decks. The newspaper cuttings I deemed to be in some part an explanation of these sketches, for one of them gave a description of a very noteworthy battleship, constructed for a South American Republic, but in much secrecy; while another hinted that great pains had been taken with the vessel, which was built at a mighty cost, and on so new a plan that the shipwrights refused to give information concerning her until she had been some months at sea to prove her.

All this reading remained enigmatical, of course, and as I could make nothing of it to connect it with the events I have narrated, I went on to the writing, which was fine and small, as the writing of an exact man. And the words upon the head of it were these:—


Of Her Crew, and Her Purpose.

Written for the eyes of Mark Strong, by Martin Hall, sometime his friend.

I put from me the sorrow of the thought which the last three words brought to me, and read therefrom this history, which had these few sentences as its preface:—

"You read these words, Mark Strong, when I am dead; and I would ask you before you go further with them to consider well if you would wish, or have inclination for, a pursuit in which I have lost all that a man can lose, and in which your risk, do you take the work upon you, will be no less than mine was. For if you read what is written here, and have in you that stuff which cannot brook mystery, and is fired when mystery also is danger, I know that you will venture upon this undertaking at the point where death has held my hand; and that by so doing you may reap where I have sown. And with this, think nor act in any haste lest you lay to my charge that which may befall you in the pursuit you are about to begin."

I read on, for the desire to do justice to Martin Hall was strong upon me at the very beginning of it.

From that place the story was in great part autobiographical, but in no sense egotistical. It was, as you shall see, the simple narration of a man sincere in his dreaming, if he did dream; logical in his madness, if he were mad. And this was his story as first I read it:—

"Having well considered the warning which is the superscription of this record, you have determined to continue this narrative, I do not doubt; for I judge you to be a man who, having tasted the succulent dish of curiosity, will not put it away until you have eaten your fill. I will tell you, therefore, such a part of my life as you should know when you come to ask yourself the question, ’Is this man a fool or an imbecile, a crack-brained faddist or the victim of hallucination?' This question should arise at a later stage, and I beg you not to put it until you have read every word that I have written here.

"I was born in Liverpool, thirty-three years ago, and was educated for a very few years at the well-known institute in that city. They taught me there that consciousness of ignorance which is half an education; and being the son of a man who starved on a fine ability for modelling things in clay, and plaster-moulding, I went out presently to make my living. First to America, you doubt not, to get the experience of coming home again; then to the Cape, to watch other men dig diamonds; to Rome, to Naples, to Genoa, that I might know what it was to want food; to South America as an able seaman; to Australia in the stoke-hole of a South Sea liner; home again to my poor father, who lay dead when I reached Liverpool.

"I was twenty-two years old then, and glutted with life. I had no relation living that I knew of; no friend who was not also a plain acquaintance. By what chance it was I cannot tell, but I drifted like a living log into the detective force of my city, and after working up for a few years through the grades, they put me on the landing stage at Liverpool to watch the men who wished to emigrate because they had no opinion of the police force here. It was miserable employment, but educating, for it taught me to read faces that were disguised, old men became beardless, young men made old at the touch of a coiffeur. I suppose I had more than common success, for when I had been so employed for five years, I was sent to London by our people and there commanded to go to the Admiralty and get new instructions. Regard this, please, as the first mark in this record I am making. Of my work for our own people I may not tell even you, since I engaged upon it under solemn bond of secrecy; but I can indicate that I was sent to Italy to pick up facts in the dockyards there, and that our people relied on my gifts of disguise, and on my knowledge of Italian, learnt upon Italian ships and in Italian ports. In short, I was expected to provide plans and accounts of many things material to our own service, and I entered on the business with alacrity, gained admittance to the public dockyards, and knew in a twelve-month all that any man could learn who had his wits only to guide him, and as much of those of other men as he could pick up.

"But I imagine your natural impatience, and your mental exclamation, 'What has all this rigmarole to do with me—how does it affect this pretended narrative?' Bear with me a moment when I tell you that it is vital to my story. It was in Italy during my second year of work that I had cause to be at Spezia, inspecting there a new type of gun-boat about which there was much talk and many opinions. I have no need to tell you, who have not the bombastic knowledge of a one-city man, that at Spezia is to be found all that is great in the naval life of Italy; on the grand forts of the bay which received the ashes of Shelley are her finest guns; on the glorious hills which arise above her limpid blue waters are her chief fortifications. There, at the feet of the hills where grows the olive, and where the vine matures to luxurious growth, you will find in juxtaposition with Nature's emblems of peace the storehouses of the shot and shell which one day shall sow the sea and the land with blood. Amongst these fortifications, amidst these adamantine terraces and turrets, my work lay; but the most part of it was done in the dockyards, both in the yards which were the property of the Government and in the private yards. My recreation was a rare cruise to the lovely gulfs which the bay embosoms, to the Casa di Mare, to Fezzano, to the Temple of Venus at the Porto Venere; or a walk when there was golden-red light on the clustering vines, and the Apennines were capped with the spreading fire which falls on them when the sun passes low at twilight. Many an hour I stood above the old town, asking why a common cheat of a spy, as I reckoned myself, should presume to find other thoughts when breathing that air laden of solitude; but they came to me whether I would or no; and it was often on my mind to throw over the whole business of prying; and to set out on a work which should achieve something, if only a little, for humanity. That I did not follow this impulse, which grew upon me from day to day, is to be laid to the charge of one of those very walks upon the hillside about which I have been telling you. It was an evening late in the year, and the sun was just setting. I watched the changing hues of the peaks as the light spread from point to point; watched it reddening the sea, and leaving it black in the shadows; watched it upon the church spires of Spezia, upon the castle roof, upon the steel hulls of great ships. And then I saw a strange thing, for amongst all the vessels which were so burnished by the invisible hand of Heaven, I saw one that stood out beyond them all, a great globe, not of silver, but of golden fire. There was no doubt about it at all; I rubbed my eyes, I used the glass I always carried with me; I viewed the hull I saw lying there from half-a-dozen heights, and I was sure that what I saw was no effect of evening light or strange refraction. The ship I looked on was built either of brass, or of some alloy of brass, as it seemed to me, for the notion that she could be plated with gold was preposterous; and yet the more I examined her, the more clearly did I make out that her hull was constructed of a metal infinitely gold-like, and of so beautiful a colour in the reddened stream which shone upon it that the whole ship had the aspect of a mirror of the purest gold I had ever seen.

"The sudden fading of the light behind the hills shut the vision—I could not call it less—from my eyes. The dark fell, and the vines rustled with the cold coming of night. I returned to the town quickly, and neglecting any thought of dinner, I went straight to the sea-front and began, if I could, to find where the water lay wherein this extraordinary steamer was docked. I had taken the bearings of it from the hills, and I was very quickly at that spot where I thought to have seen the strange vessel. There, truly enough, was a dock in which two small coasting steamers were moored, but of a sign of that which I sought there was none. I should have had the matter out there and then, searching the place to its extremity; but I had not been at my work ten minutes when I knew that I was watched. A man, dressed as a rough sailor, and remarkable for the hideousness of his face and a curious malformation of one tooth, lurked behind the heaps of sea lumber, and followed me from point to point. I did not care to have any altercation, so I left the matter there; but, being determined to probe the mystery to the very bottom, I returned in a good disguise of a common English seaman on the following evening, and again entered the dockyard. The same man was watching, but he had no suspicion of me.

"'Any job going?' I asked, and the question seemed to interest him.

"'I reckon that depends on the man,' he replied, sticking his hands deep into his pockets, and squirting his filthy tobacco all over the timber about. 'What's a little wizen chap like you good for, except to get yer neck broken?'

"'All in my line,' I answered jauntily, having fixed my plan; 'I'm starving amongst these cursed cut-throats here, and I'm ready for anything.'

"'Starving, are you! Then blarm me if you shan't earn your supper. D'y'see that four feet of bullock's fat and nigger working at them iron pins in the far corner?'—he pointed to a thick-set, dark and burly seaman working in the way he had described—'go and stick yer knife in him, and I'm good for a bottle—two, if you like, you darned little shootin' rat of a man'; and he clutched me with his great paw and shook me until my teeth chattered again. But his look was full of meaning, and I believe that he wished every word that he said.

"'Stick your knife into the man yourself,' I replied, when I was free of him, 'you great Yankee lubber—for another word I'd give you a taste of mine now.'

"He looked at me as I stood making this poor mock of a threat, and laughed till he rang up the hill-sides. Then he said—

"'You're my sort; I reckon I know your flag. Out with it, and we'll pour liquor on it, I guess; for there ain't no foolin' you—no, by thunder! You're just a daisy of a man, you are; so come along and let the nigger be. As for hurtin' of 'im—why, so help me blazes, he's my pard, he is, and I love him like my own little brother what died of lead-poisonin' down Sint Louis way. You come along, you little cuss, and see if I don't make you dance—oh, I reckon!'

"I take these words from my note-book, and write them out for you, to give you some idea of the class of man I met with first on this adventure. More of his nice language I do not intend to trouble you with; but will say that I drank with him, and later on with his companions, about as fine a dozen of self-stamped rascals as ever I wish to see. Next day, I came again to the dockyard, for the conversation of the previous evening had convinced me beyond doubt that I was at the foot of a mystery, and, to my delight, I got employment from the chief of the gang, named ’Roaring John' by his friends; and was soon at work on the simple and matter-of-fact business of cutting planks. This gave me an entry to the dockyard—all I wished at the moment.

"Now, you may ask, 'Why did you take the trouble to do all this from the mere motive of curiosity engendered by the strange ship you thought you saw from the hills?' I will tell you briefly. The fact of my being watched when I entered the dock convinced me that there was something there which no stranger might see. That which no stranger may see in a foreign yard spells also the word money. If there was any information to be got in that dock, I could sell it to my own Government, or to the first Government in Europe I chose to haggle with. This reason alone made me a hewer of wood amongst foul-mouthed companions, a tar-bedaubed loafer in a crew of loafers.

"You see me, then, at the stage when I had got admission to the dock, but had learnt nothing of the vessel. It is true that I was admitted only to the outer basin, where the coasting steamers lay, and that the man 'Roaring John' threatened me with all the curses he could command if I passed the gate which opened into the dock beyond; but such threats to a man whose business it was to lay bare mystery had no more effect on me than the braying of an ass in a field of clover. Minute by minute and hour by hour, I waited my opportunity. It came to me on the morning of the eighth day, when, in the poor hope of getting something by the loss of sleep, I reached the yard at four o'clock; and the gate being unopen, I lurked in hiding until the first man should come. He was no other than the one who had engaged me; and when he had gone in, about five minutes after I had come, he did not close the second door after him, there being no men then at their work. I need not tell you that I used my eyes well in those minutes, and while he was away—this was no more than a quarter of an hour—I had seen all I wished to see. There, sure enough, lay the most remarkable warship I had ever beheld—a great, well-armed cruiser, whose decks were bright with quick-firing guns, whose lines showed novelty in every inch of them. More remarkable than anything, however, was the confirmation of that which I had seen from the hills. The ship, seemingly, was built of the purest gold. This, of course, I knew could not be; but as the sun got up and his light fell on the vessel, I thought that I had never seen a more glorious sight. She shone with the refulgent beauty of a thousand mirrors; every foot of her deck, of her turrets, of her upper house made a sheen of dazzling fire; the points of her decklights were as beacons, all lurid and a-gold. So marvellous, truly, was her aspect, that I forgot all else but it, and stood entranced, marvelling, forgetful of myself and purpose. The flash of a knife in the air and a fearful oath brought me to my senses to know that I was in the grasp of the man ’Roaring John.'

"'Curse you for a small-eyed cheat! what are you doing here?' he asked, shaking me and threatening every minute to let me feel his steel; 'what are you doing here, you little cat of a man? Spit it out, or I'm darned if I don't spit you; oh, I guess!'

"I should have made some answer in the rough voice I always put on in this undertaking, but a bad mishap befel me. The best of my disguise was the thick, bushy black hair I wore about my face. As the ruffian went to take a firmer hold of my collar, he pulled aside a portion of my beard, and left my chin clean-shaven beneath as naturally it was. The intense surprise of this discovery seemed to hit him like a blow. He stepped back with a murderous look in his eyes—a look which meant that, if I stayed there to deal with him alone, I had not another minute to live. But I cheated him again, and, turning on my heel, I fled with all the speed I possessed, and got into the street with twenty ruffians at my heels, and a hue and cry such as I hope never to hear again.

"The escape was clever, but I reached my hotel and sat down to find expressions equal in power to my folly. The thought that I, who was a vulgar spy by profession, had committed a mistake worthy of a novelist's policeman, was gall and wormwood to me. Yet I was sure that I had cut off all hope of returning to the yard; and what information I was to get must come by other modes. The nature of these I knew not, but I was determined to set out upon a visit to Signor Vezzia, who was the builder to whom the docks wherein I worked belonged. To him I came as the pretended agent of a shipping firm in New York, with whom I had some little acquaintance, and he gave me audience readily. He was very willing to hear me when he learnt that I was in quest of a builder to lay down steamers for the American trade with Italy; and some while we passed in great cordiality, so ripe on his part that I ventured the other business.

"'By-the-by, Signor Vezzia, that's a marvellous battleship you have in your second dock; I have never seen anything like her before.'

"I spoke the words, and read him as one reads a barometer. He shrank visibly into his bulb, and the tone of his conversation marked a storm. I heard him mutter 'Diavolo!' under his breath, and then the mercury of his conversation mounted quickly.

"'Yes, yes; a curious vessel, quite a special thing, for a South American Republic, an idea of theirs—but you will extend me the favour of your pardon, I am busy'—and in his excitement he put his spectacles off and on, and called 'Giovanni, Giovanni!' to his head clerk, who made business to be rid of me. Clearly, as a piece in the game I was playing, Signer Yezzia had made his solitary move. He was no more upon my board, miserably void as it was, and in despair I mounted to my hill-top again; and spent the morning where the vines grew, looking down upon the golden ship which was built for a 'South American Republic.' That tale I never believed, for the man's face marked it as a lie as he gave it to me; but the mere telling of it added piquancy to the dish I had tasted of, and I resolved in that hour to devote myself heart and soul to the work of unravelling the slender threads, even if I lost my common employment in the business. The reverie held me long. I was roused from it by the sight of a dull vapour mounting from the funnel of the nameless ship. She was going to sail then—at the next tide she might leave Spezia, and there would be no more hope. I threw a word at my dreaming, and hurried from the vines to my hotel in the town below.

"Now you may form opinion that my prospects in this abstruse and perplexing chase were not at that time much to vaunt. My theories and my acts had led me into a mental cul-de-sac, a blind alley, where, in lack of exit, I took hold of every straw that the wind of thought set flying. Here was the problem at this stage as it then appeared to me:—Item (1): A ship built of some metal I had no knowledge of. Item (2): A ship that shone like a rich sunset on a garden lake. Item (3): A ship that was armed to the full, as a casual glance told me, with every kind of quick-firing guns, and with two ten-inch guns in her turret. Item (4): A ruffianly blackguard, to whom the cutting of a throat seemed meat and drink, with ten other rogues no less deserving, from a murderous point of view, put to watch about the ship that no strange eye might look upon her. Item (5): The confusion of Signor Vezzia, who made a fine tale and said at the same time with his eyes 'This is a lie, and a bad one; I'm sorry that I have nothing better ready.' Item (6): My own adamantine conviction that I stood near by some mystery, which was about to be a big mystery, and which would pay me to pursue. 'A fine bundle of nonsense,' I hear you say; 'as silly a flight of a vaporous brain as ever man conceived’—but stay your words awhile; remember that one who is bred up at the keyhole lets himself, if he be wise, be moved by his impulses, and first opinions. He does not quit them until he knows them to be false. Instinct told me to go on in this work, if I lost all other, if I starved, if I drowned, if I died at it. And to go on I meant.

"This was my musing at the Albergo, and when it was over I laughed aloud at its quixotic folly. 'Oh, poor fool,' I said, 'miserable, brain-blinded, groping fool, to talk of going on when the ship sails this night, this very night; and unless you put agents on in every part of the globe, you will never hear of her again. What a fine piece of dreamer's wit is yours! what a bar-parlour yarn to tell rustics in Somerset! Get up, and mind your own business, go on with your common labour, and let the ship and her crew go to the devil if they like.' For the matter of that, this advice perforce I had to follow, for I did not possess one single clue at that moment; and although I racked my brains for one all the afternoon, and went often to the hill-top to see if the nameless ship yet lay in the dock, I could pick up no new thread, nor light upon any infinitesimal vein of material. The very want of a point d'appui irritated a brain already excited to a fine condition of unrest. Any hour the ship might sail; any hour something which would give me the name of her owner might come to me—but the hours went on and nothing came. I dined, and was no step advanced; I smoked cigars in three cafés, and was again at the beginning; I visited half-a-dozen folk I knew, and drew no word to help me. At last, mocking the whole mystery with a fine English phrase, I said, 'Let her go'; and I returned to the Albergo and to bed. I had hunted a marine covert for two days and had drawn blank.

"I have said that I went to bed, but it was a poor folly of a process, you do not doubt. I lay down, indeed, and read Poe's tales, which I love, an hour or more; then I went over the whole business again, raised every point; made my brain aflame with speculation; put out the candle; lit it again; read more mystery; held out the hand to sleep; told sleep I did not want her. You who know me will know also how useless are such gamings of man with Nature. I could not have slept if a king's ransom went with the sleeping; and so I lay fretful, blameful, scolding myself, condoling with myself, vowing the whole problem a plague and a cheat. This idle wandering might have lasted until dawn, had it not been for my neighbour in the room to my left, who began to talk with a low buzz as of a night-insect humming in a bed-curtain. The surging of the voice amused me; I lay quite still and listened to it. Now it rose loud—I gleaned a word, and was pleased; now it fell—and I fretted; but anon another voice was added to the first, and, if the one had pleased me, the second thrilled me. It was the voice of my friend who wished to stab me at the dock.

"Two words spoken by this man brought me to my feet; two more to the thin wooden door which divided our rooms, as oft you'll find them divided in cafés through Italy. With feverish impatience, I knelt to pry through the keyhole; and muttered a big oath when I saw that it was stuffed with paper, and that the sight of the two men was hidden from me. But I listened with an ear long trained to listening, and, although the men spoke so that few words reached me, I remained a whole hour upon my knees, amazed that the man should thus be sent by Providence to my very hotel; excited with the new sensation of a foot upon the trail. The ship had not sailed, then, for here was the ruffian, who watched her, wasting rest in the first hours to hold a parley; and if a parley, with whom? Why, with those who paid him for the work, I did not doubt.

"At the end of an hour the voices ceased, but there was still a movement in the room. That was hushed too; and I judged that my neighbour had gone to bed. For myself I had one of two courses before me: either to court sleep and wait luck with the sun, or to see there and then what was in the room, and by whom it was occupied. You ask, How was that possible? but you forget my scurvy trade again. In my bag were forbidden implements sufficient to stock Clerkenwell. I took from that a brace and bit, and an oiled saw. In ten minutes I cut a hole in the partition and put my eye to it, waiting first to see if any man moved. For the moment my heart quaked as I thought that both the fellows had gone, but one look reassured me. A burly, black-bearded man sat in a reverie before a dressing-table, and I saw that there was spread upon the table a great heap of jewels which, at the lowest valuation, must have been worth a hundred thousand pounds. And beside the jewels was a big bull-dog revolver, close to the man's hand.

"The tension of the strange situation lasted for some minutes. I had no clear vision through my spy-hole, and knew not at the first watching whether the man I saw was asleep or awake. A finer inspection of him, made with a catlike poise as I knelt crouching at the door, showed me that he slept: had fallen to sleep with his fingers amongst the jewels—a great rough dog of a man clutching wealth in his dreaming. And he was, then, one of those connected with the golden ship in the harbour—the strange ship manned by cut-throats, and built for a 'South American Republic.' Indeed did the mystery deepen, the problem became more profound, every moment that I worked upon it. Who was this man? I asked, and why did he sit in an Italian hotel fingering jewels, and giving a meeting-place at midnight to a common murderer from a dockyard? Were the jewels his own? Had he stolen them? Suggestions and queries poured upon me; I felt that, whatever it might be, I would know the truth; and I resolved to dare beyond my custom, and to learn more of the bearded man and of his gems.

"Watch me, then; as I knelt for a whole hour at the place of observation, and waited for the fellow to awake. It must have been well on towards morning when he stirred in his chair, and then sat bolt upright. I thought he looked to have some tremor of nervousness upon him; clutching hastily at the jewels to put them in a great leather case, which again he shut in a large iron box, locking both, and placing the key under his pillow. After that he threw off his clothes with some impatience, and, leaving the lamp which burned upon his dressing-table, he dropped upon his bed. For myself my plan was already contrived; I had determined to go to great risk, and to enter the room—playing the common cheat again, yet more than the common cheat, for that was an enterprise which needed all the fine caution and daring which long years of police work had taught me. I had not only to ape the housebreaker, but also to get the good cunning of a jewel robber—and yet I knew that the things I had seen warranted me, from my point of view, in doing what I did, and that desperate means alone were fit to cope with the situation.

"Now the new work was quick. Being assured that my man slept, I put back with some cold glue, which was always in my tool chest, the piece I had cut from the door, and then picked the lock with one grip of my small pincers. My revolver I carried in the belt at my waist, for my hands were occupied with a soft cloth and a bottle of chloroform. I had big felt slippers upon my feet; and went straight to his bed, where I let him breathe the drug for a few moments, and deepened his light sleep until it became heavy unconsciousness. In this state I did what I would with him, and, having no fear of his awaking, I got at his keys and his jewels, and saw what I wished. There, true enough, were precious stones of all values: Brazilian diamonds, Cape stones tinged with yellow, yet big and valuable, the finer class of Indian turquoise, pink pearls, black pearls—all these loosely wrapped in tissue paper; but a magnificent parcel such as you would see only in a West End house in London. I must confess, however, that these stones interested me but little, for as I delved amongst his treasures I brought up at last a necklace of opals and diamonds, the first set gems I had discovered; and as I held them to the lamp and examined the curious grouping of the stones, and the strange Eastern form of the clasp, I knew that I had seen the bundle before. The conviction was instantaneous, powerful, convincing; yet even with my aptitude for recalling names, places, and things, I could not in my mind place those jewels. None the less was I assured that the one solid clue I had yet taken hold of was in my keeping; and, as a quick glance round the chamber told me no more, I put up the baubles in their case again, replaced the key, and quitted the chamber. Do not think, however, that I had neglected to mark my man; every line of his face was written in my mental notebook, every peculiarity of head and countenance, the shape of his arms, above all, the mould of the hands, that wonderful index to recognition; and henceforth I knew that I could pick him from a hundred thousand.

"When I had done with this business, I lay upon my bed, and brought the whole of my recollection back upon the jewels. Where had I seen them; in what circumstances; in whose hands? Again and again I travelled old ground, exhumed buried cases, dwelt upon names of forgotten criminals, and of big world people. An hour's intense mental concentration told me nothing; the dark of the hour before dawn gave way to the cold breaking of morning light, and yet I tossed in an agony of blank and futile reasoning. I must have slept from the sheer blinding of the brain somewhere about that hour; and in my dreaming I got what wakefulness had denied to me. There in my sleep was the whole history of the stones written for me. I remembered the Liverpool landing-stage; the departure of the Star liner, City of St. Petersburg for New York; the arrest of the notorious jewel-thief, Carl Reichsmann; the discovery of the opal and diamond necklace upon him; the restoration of it to—to—the brain failed for a moment—then with a loud cry of delight, which roused me, I pronounced the words; to Lady Hardon, of 2O2A, Berkeley Square, London.

"It is a ridiculous situation to sit up in bed asking yourself if your dream be reality, or your reality be a dream; but when I awoke with that name on my lips, the joy of the thing was so surpassing that I repeated the name again and again, muttering it as I got into my clothes, using it all the time I washed, and speaking it aloud when I stood before the glass to tie my cravat. Here, I suppose the folly of the whole repetition dawned upon me, for, of a sudden, I shut my lips firm and close, and bethought me of the man in the next room. What of him? Was he still there? I listened. There was no sound, not so much as of a heavy sleeper. He had gone then, and had Lady Hardon's jewels—yet Lady Hardon, Lady Hardon——nay, but you could never know the sudden and awful emotion of that great awakening which came to me in that moment when my memory travelled quickly on to Lady Hardon's end; for I remembered then that she went down in the great steamer Alexandria, which was lost in the Bay of Biscay twelve months before I discovered the golden ship in the dockyard at Spezia; and I recalled the fact, known world- wide, that her famous jewels, this necklace amongst them, had gone with her to her end. Lost, I say; yet that was the account at Lloyd's; lost with never a soul to give a word about her agony; lost hopelessly in the broad of the bay. How came it, then, that this man who knew the ruffians in the dockyard below; who seemed a common fellow, yet possessed a hundred thousand pounds' worth of jewellery, how came it that he had got that which the world thought to be lying on the sands of the bay? You say, 'Pshaw, it was not the same bauble'; that is the obvious answer to my theorising, but in the recognition of historic gems a man trained as I was never makes an error. I would have staked my life that the jewels were those supposed to be under the sea; and, moved to a state of deep excitement, I left my hotel without breakfast, and mounted to the hill-top for tidings of the great vessel.

"But she had sailed, and the dock which had held her was empty.

"This discovery did not daunt me, for I had expected it. I should have been surprised if she had been at her berth; and the fact that she had weighed under cover of night fell in so well with my anticipation that I waited only to ascertain officially what ships had left Spezia during the past twenty-four hours. They told me at the Customs that the Brazilian war-vessel built by Signor Vezzia weighed at three a.m.; but more I could not learn, for these men had evidently been well bribed, and were as dumb as unfee'd lawyers. I knew that their information was not worth a groat, and hurried back to the Albergo to assure myself that my neighbour with the necklace had sailed also. To my surprise, he was at breakfast when I arrived at the hotel; and so one great link in my theoretic chain snapped at the first test. As he had not sailed with the others, he could have no direct connection with the nameless ship, no nautical part or lot with her. But what was he, then? That I meant to know as soon as opportunity should serve.


"I have led you up, Strong, step by step, through the details of this work to this point, that you may have the facts unalloyed as I have them; and may construct your history from this preamble as I have constructed mine. I am now about to move over the ground more quickly. I will quit Spezia, and ask you to come with me, after the interval of nigh a year—during which no man had known that which I now tell you—to London, where, in an hotel in Cecil Street, Strand, I was again the neighbour of the man with the jewels whom I had taken so daring an advantage of in Italy. Let me tell you briefly what had happened in the between-time. The day on which the nameless ship left the dock, this man—whom, I may say at once, I have always met under the name of Captain Black—quitted the town and reached Paris. Thither I followed him, staying one day in the French capital, but going onward with him on the following morning to Cherbourg. There he went aboard a small yacht, and I lost him in the Channel. I returned at once to Italy, and wired to friends in the police force at New York, at London, and San Francisco, and at three ports in South America for news (a) of a new war-ship lately completed at Spezia for the Brazilian republic; (b) of a man known as Captain Black, who left the port of Cherbourg in the cutter-yacht La France on the morning of October 30th. For nearly twelve months I waited for an answer to these questions; but none came to me. To the best of my knowledge, the nameless war-ship was never seen upon the high seas. I began to ask myself, if she existed, how came it that a vessel, burnished to the beauty of gold, had been spoken of none, seen of none, reported in no harbour, mentioned in no despatch? Yet she remained known but to her crew and to me; and my study of shipping lists, gazettes, and papers in all tongues, never gave me clue to her. Only this, I had such a record of navigation as I think man never kept yet before; and I marked it as curious, if nothing more, that in the month when the cruiser quitted Spezia three ocean-going steamers, each carrying specie to the value of more than one hundred thousand pounds, went down in fair weather, and were paid for at Lloyd's. What folly! you say again; what are you going to conclude? I answer only—God grant that I conclude falsely—that this terrible thing I suspect is the phantom of a too-keen imagination.

"Now, when no tidings came, either of the ship sought or of the man Black, I did not lose all hope. Indeed, I was much occupied making—during a month's leisure in London—a list, as far as that were possible, of all the gems and baubles which the dead men and women on the sunken steamers had owned. This was a paltry record of bracelets, and rings, and tiaras, and clasps, such stuff as any fellow of a jeweller may sell; unconvincing stuff, worth no more than a near relation for purposes of evidence. There was but one piece of the whole mass that did not come in my category—a great box with a fine painting by Jean Petitot upon its lid, and a curious circle of jasper all about the miniatures. This was a historic piece of bijouterie mentioned as having once been the property of Necker, the French financier; then lost by a New York dealer, who was taking it from Paris to Boston in the steamship Catalania; the ship supposed to have foundered, with the loss of all hands, off the Banks of Newfoundland, sixteen days after the nameless ship left Spezia. I made a record of this trifle, and forgot it until, many months later, a private communication from the head of the New York Secret Service told me that the man I wanted was in London; that he was an American millionaire, who owned a house on the banks of the Hudson River; who had great influence in many cities, who came to Europe to buy precious stones and miniature paintings, a man who was considered eccentric by his friends. I kept the notes, and hurried to England—for I had been to Geneva some while—and took rooms in the hotel where Captain Black was staying. Three days after I was disguised as you have seen me, selling him miniatures. Within a week, by what steps I need not pause to say, I knew that the jasper box, lost, by report, in the steamer Catalania, was under lock and key in his bedroom.

"I cannot tell you how that discovery agitated me. Here, indeed, was my second direct link. The man had in his possession an historic and unmistakable casket, which all the world believed to be lost in a steamer from which no soul had escaped. How I treasured that knowledge! Three months the man remained in London; during three months he was not thirty hours out of my sight or knowledge. Day by day when with him, I consulted such shipping information as I could get; and scored another mark upon my record when I made sure that no inexplicable story from the sea was written while he remained ashore. This was perplexing for a surety. I could not in any way connect the man with the nameless ship, and yet he knew her crew; he was the one in whose possession the jewels were; above all, while he was ashore there were no disasters which could not be set down to ocean peril or the act of God, as the policies say. This further knowledge held me to him with the magnetic attraction of a mystery such as I have never known in my life. I resigned my work for the Government; and henceforth gave myself heart and soul to the pursuit of the man. I followed him to Paris, to St. Petersburg; I tracked him through France to Marseilles; I watched him embark, with three of the ruffians I had seen at Spezia, in his yacht again; and within a month the yacht was in harbour at Cowes without him; while a steamer, bound from the Cape to Cadiz, and known to have specie aboard her, went out of knowledge as the others had done. Then was I sure, sure of that awful dream I had dreamed, conscious that I alone shared with that man and his crew one of the most ghastly secrets that the deep has kept within her.

"The end of my story I judge now that you anticipate. Though absolutely convinced myself, I had still lack of the one direct link to make a legal chain. I had positively to connect the man Black with the nameless ship, for this I had only done so far by pure circumstance. For many months I have made no gain in this attempt. Last year in Liverpool I sketched in yet another point in my picture. I received tidings of the man in that city, and there I did trade with him in my old disguise; but he was not alone—the crew of ruffians you have known by this time kept company with him in that bold and bestial Bohemianism you will have witnessed with me. I kept vigil there a week, but lost him at the end of that time. When he reappeared in the circles of civilisation it was in Paris, but two days ago, when I asked you to accompany me. You know that I attempted to sail with him on his cruise, and your instinct tells you why. If I could, by being two days afloat in his company, prove beyond doubt that he used his yacht as a pretence; if I could prove that when he left port in her he sailed out to sea, and was picked up by the nameless ship, my chain was forged, my book complete, and I had but to call the Government to the work!

"But I have failed, and the labour I have set myself shall be done by others, but chiefly, Mark Strong, by you. From the valley of the dead whence soon I must look back, if it is to be on a life that has no achievement before God in it, I. who have laid down such a life as mine was in this cause, urge you upon it. You have youth, and money sufficient for the enterprise; you will get money in its pursuit. You have no fear of the black After, which is the end of life; but, after all, it may come to you as it came to me, that there is the finger of the Almighty God pointing to your path of duty. I have lived the life of a common eavesdropper; but believe me that in this work I have felt the call of humanity, and hoped, if I might live to accomplish it, that the Book of the Good should find some place for my name. So may you when my mantle falls upon you. What information I have, you have. The names of my friends in the cities mentioned I have written down for you; they will serve you for the memory of my name; but be assured at the outset that you will never take this man upon the sea. And as for the money which is rightly due to the one who rids humanity of this pest, I say, go to the Admiralty in London, and lay so much of your knowledge before them as shall prevent a robbery of your due; claim a fit reward from them and the steamship companies; and, as your beginning, go now to the Hudson River—I meant to go within a month—and learn there more of the man you seek; or, if the time be ripe, lay hands there upon him. And may the spirit of a dead man breathe success upon you!"

On the yacht "Celsis" lying at Cowes, written in the month of August, for Mark Strong.

When I put down the papers, my eyes were tear-stained with the effort of reading, and the cabin lamp was nigh out. My interest in the writing had been so sustained that I had not seen the march of daylight, now streaming through the glass above, upon my bare cabin table. But I was burnt up almost with a fever; and the oppressive fumes from the stinking lamp seemed to choke me, so that I went above, and saw that we were at anchor in the Solent, and that the whole glory of a summer's dawn lit the sleeping waters. And all the yacht herself breathed sleep, for the others were below, and Dan alone paced the deck.

The first knowledge that I had of the true effect of Martin Hall's narrative was the muttered exclamation of this old sailor—

"Ye haven't slept, sir," said he; "ye're just the colour of yon ensign!"

"Quite true, Dan—it was close down there."

"Gospel truth, without a hitch! but ye're precious bad, sir; I never seed a worse figger-'ed, excusing the liberty. I'd rest a bit, sir."

"Good advice, Dan. I'll sleep here an hour, if you'll get my rug from below."

I stretched myself on a deck-chair, and he covered my limbs almost with a woman's tenderness, so that I slept and dreamt again of Hall, of Captain Black, of the man "Four-Eyes," of a great holocaust on the sea. I was carried away by sleep to far cities and among other men, to great perils of the sea, to strange sights; but over them all loomed the phantom of a golden ship, and from her decks great fires came. When I awoke, a doctor from Southsea was writing down the names of drugs upon paper; and Mary was busy with ice. They told me I had slept for thirty hours, and that they had feared brain-fever. But the sleep had saved me; and when Mary talked of the doctor's order that I was to lie resting a week, I laughed aloud.

"You'd better prescribe that for Roderick," said I; "he'd rest a month; wouldn't you, old chap?"

"I don't know about a month, old man, but you mustn't try the system too much."

"Well, I'm going to try it now, anyway, for I start for London to-night!"

"What!" they cried in one voice.

"Exactly, and if Mary would not mind running on deck for a minute, I'll tell you why, Roderick."

She went at the word, casting one pleading look with her eyes as she stood at the door, but I gave no sign, and she closed it. I had fixed upon a course, and as Roderick, dreamingly indifferent, prepared to talk about that which he called my "madness," I took Hall's manuscript, and read it to him. When I had finished, there was a strange light in his eyes.

"Let us go at once," he said; and that was all.