The Mystery of the Sea/Chapter 45
The time of waiting was inconceivably long and dreary. When Marjory and I had been waiting for death in the water-cave, we thought that nothing could be so protracted; but now I knew better. Then, we had been together, and whatever came, even death itself, would be shared by us. But now I was alone; and Marjory away, and in danger. In what danger I knew not, I could only imagine; and at every new thought of fear and horror I ground my teeth afresh and longed for action. Fortunately there was something to do. The detectives wanted to know all I could tell them. At the first, the chief had asked that Mrs. Jack would get all the servants of the house together so that he might see them. She had so arranged matters that they would be together in the servants' hall, and he went down to inspect. He did not stay long; but came back to me at once with an important look on his face. He closed the door and coming close to me said:
"I knew there was something wrong below stairs! That footman has skipped!" For a few seconds I did not realise what he meant, and asked him to explain.
"That footman that went out gallavantin' at nights. He's in it, sure. Why isn't he in the hall where the others are? Just you ask the old lady about him. It'll be less suspicious than me doing it." Then it dawned on me what he meant.
"There is no footman in the house!" I said.
"That's so, Mister. That's just what I'm tellin'! Where is he?"
"There is none; they don't have any male servants in the house. The only men are in the stables in the village."
"Then that makes it worse still. There is a man who I've seen myself steal out of the house after dark, or in the dusk; and sneak back again out of the wood in the grey of the dawn. Why, I've reported it to Mr. Adams. Didn't he warn you about it; he said he would."
"He did that."
"And didn't you take his tip?"
"No!" here from the annoyed expression of his face I took warning. It would never do to chagrin the man and set him against me by any suspicion of ridicule. So I went on:
"The fact is, my friend, that this was a disguise. It was Mar—Miss Drake who used it!" He was veritably surprised; his amazement was manifest in his words:
"Miss Drake! And did she put on the John Thomas livery? In the name of thunder, why?"
"To escape you!"
"To escape me! Wall, I'm damned! That elegant young lady to put on livery; and to escape me!"
"Yes; you and the others. She knew you were watching her! Of course she was grateful for it!" I added, for his face fell "but she couldn't bear it all the same. You know what girls are," I went on apologetically, "They don't like to be cornered or forced to do anything. She knew you were all clever fellows at your work and didn't take any chances." I was trying to conciliate him; but I need not have feared. He was of the right sort. He broke into a laugh, slapping his thigh loudly with his open hand as he said heartily:
"Well, that girl's a daisy! she's a peach; she's "It"! To think of her walking out under our noses, and us not having an idea that it might be her, just because we didn't think she'd condescend to put on the breeches—and the footman's at that. Well, it's a pity we didn't get on to her curves; for it might have been different! Never mind! We'll take her out of her trouble before long; and Mr. Whisky Tommy and his push will have to look out for their skins!"
This little episode passed some of the time; but the reaction to the dreary waiting was worse than ever. As I began again an endless chain of surmises and misgivings, it occurred to me that Don Bernardino might be made of some use. The blackmailers had evidently watched him; it might be that they would watch him again. If so, he could be the means of a trap being laid. I turned the matter over in my mind, but at present could see no way to realise the idea. It gave me another thought, however. The Don had been very noble in his attitude to me; and I might repay some of his goodness. Although he was so quiet and silent, I knew well that he must be full of his own anxiety regarding the treasure, now exposed as it might be to other eyes than his own. I could ask him to go to see after it. With some diffidence I broached the matter to him, for I did not want in any way to wound him. Since I had determined to relinquish the treasure if necessary, I was loth to make the doing so seem like an ungracious act. At first he almost took offence, reminding me with overt haughtiness that he had already assured me that all the treasures of Spain or of the Popedom were secondary to a woman's honour. I liked him all the better for his attitude; and tried to persuade him that it was his duty to guard this trust, as otherwise it might fall into bad hands. Then a brilliant idea struck me, one which at once met the case and made the possibility of a trap. I told him that as the blackmailers had watched him once they might have done so again, and have even followed him to my house. As I was speaking, the thought struck me of how well Providence arranges all for the best. If Don Bernardino had not taken from the library the typescript of the secret writing, it might have fallen into the hands of the gang. When I mentioned the idea to him he said in surprise:
"But I did not take the papers! I read them on the table; but did not think of moving them. Why, had I done so, I should have at once made suspicion; and it was my purpose to keep the secret if I could." An idea struck me and I ran over to the table to look where the papers usually were.
There was not a sign of them about. Somebody had secured them; it could hardly have been Marjory who lacked any possible motive for doing so. The Spaniard, eagerly following my face, saw the amazement which I felt; he cried out:
"Then they have taken them. The treasure may yet prove a lure through which we may catch them. If it be that they have followed me to your house, and if they have any suspicions that came to me on reading that paper, then they will surely make some attempt." If anything were to be tried on this line, there was no time to lose. I had to carry out the matter privately; for on mentioning to Don Bernardino that I should ask one of the detectives to go with him, he at once drew back.
"No!" he said, "I have no right to imperil further this trust. The discovery was yours, and you knew of the hiding place before I did; but I could not with my consent allow any other person to know the secret. Moreover, these men are enemies of my country; and it is not well that they should know, lest they should use their knowledge for their country's aid. You and I, Senor, are caballero. To us there is, somewhere, a high rule of honour; but to these people there is only law!"
"Well," I said, "if you are going, you had better lose no time. These people have had nearly six hours already; I left the house with Mrs. Jack a little after ten. But you had better go carefully. The men are desperate; and if they find you alone, you may have a bad time."
For answer he pulled a revolver from his pocket. "Since yesterday," he said, "I go armed, till these unhappy businesses are all over!"
I then told him of the entrance to the caves, and gave him the key of the cellar. "Be sure you have light." I cautioned him "Plenty of light and matches. It will be towards low water when you get there. The rope which we used as a clue is still in its place; we did not take it away." I could see that this thought was a new source of anxiety to him; if the gang were before him it would have served to lead them to the treasure itself. As he was going, I bade him remember that if there was any sign of the men about, he was to return at once or send us word, so that we could come and catch them like rats in a trap. In any case he was to send us word, so that we might have knowledge of his movements, and inferentially of those of our enemies. In such a struggle as ours, knowledge was everything.
Not long after he had gone, Cathcart and MacRae arrived on horseback. They said there were three other saddle horses coming after them. Cathcart had a list of all the churches, and the manses of all the clergy of all shades of doctrine, in Buchan; and a pretty formidable list it made. He had also a map of Aberdeen County, and a list of such houses as had been let for the summer or at any period during it. Such was of course only an agent's list, and would not contain every letting privately.
We set to work at once with the map and the lists; and soon marked the names which were likely to be of any use to us, those which had at any time lately been let to strangers. Then Cathcart and Gordon and all the detectives, except the chief, went off on horseback with a list of places to visit. They were all to return to report as soon as possible. The chief kept tab of the places to be visited by each. When the rest had gone, I asked him if he knew where any of those supposed to be of the gang lived in the neighbourhood. He said he felt awkward in answering the question, and he certainly looked it. "The fact is," he said sheepishly, "since that young lady kicked those names on the dirt, and so into my thick head, I know pretty well who they are. Had I known before, I could easily have got those who could identify them; for I never saw them myself. I take it that 'Feathers' is none other than Featherstone who was with Whisky Tommy—which was Tom Mason—in the A. T. Stewart ransom case. If those two are in it, most likely the one they called the 'Dago' is a half-bred Spaniard that comes from somewheres over here. That Max that she named, if he's the same man, is a Dutchman; he's about the worst of the bunch. Then for this game there's likely to be two Chicago bums from the Levee, way-down politicians and heelers. It's possible that there are two more; a man from Frisco that they call Sailor Ben—what they call a cosmopolite for he doesn't come from nowhere in particular; and a buck nigger from Noo Orleans. A real bad 'un he is; of all the . . . But I hope he isn't in the gang. If he is, we haven't no time to lose."
His words made my blood run cold. Was this the crowd, within whose danger I had consented that Marjory should stand. The worst kind of scoundrels from all over the earth. Oh! what it was to be powerless, and to know that she was in their hands. It took me all my strength of purpose not to weep, out of very despair. I think the detective must have wished to cheer me a little, for he went on:
"Of course it's not their game to do her any harm, or let harm come to her. She's worth too many millions, alive and unharmed, for them to spoil their market by any foolishness. It's here that I trust Whisky Tommy to keep the rest straight. I suppose you know, Sir, that criminals always work in the same way every time. We know that when the Judge wouldn't pay up for old A. T., Featherstone threatened to burn up the stiff; but Whisky Tommy knew better than to kill the golden goose like that. Why he went and stole it from Featherstone and hid it somewhere about Trenton till the old lady coughed up about twenty-five thousand. Tommy's head's level; and if that black devil isn't in the squeeze, he'll keep them up to the collar every time."
"Who is the negro?" I asked, for I wanted to know the worst. "What has he done?"
"What hasn't he done that's vile, is what I'd like to know. They're a hard crowd in the darkey side of Noo Orleans; and a man doesn't get a bad name there easily, I tell you. There are dens there that'd make God Almighty blush, or the Devil either; a darkey that is bred in them and gets to the top of the push, doesn't stick at no trifles!
"But you be easy in your mind as yet, Sir; at present there's naught to fear. But if once they get safe away, they will try to put the screw on. God knows then what may happen. In the meantime, the only fear is lest, if they're in a tight place, they may kill her!"
My heart turned to ice at his words. What horrible possibilities were there, when death for my darling was the "only" fear. It was in a faint enough voice I asked him:
"Would they really kill her?"
"Of course they would; if it was their best course. But don't you be downhearted, Sir. There's not much fear of killing—as yet at all events. These men are out for dough; and for a good heap of it, too. They're not going to throw away a chance till the game's up. If we get on to their curves quick, they'll have to think of their own skins. It's only when all's up that they'll act; when they themselves must croak if she doesn't!"
Oh! if I had known! If I had had any suspicion of the dangerous nature of the game we were playing—that I had consented that Marjory should play—I'd have cut my tongue out before I'd have agreed. I might have known that a great nation like the United States would not have concerned itself as to any danger to an individual, unless there had been good cause. Oh fool! fool! that I had been!
If I had been able to do anything, it might not have been so bad. It was necessary, however, that I should be at the very heart and centre of action; for I alone knew the different ramifications of things, and there was always something cropping up of which I had better knowledge than the others. And so I had to wait in what patience I could pray for. Patience and coolness of head were what were demanded of me for the present. Later on, the time might come when there would be action; and I never doubted that when that time did come it would not find me wanting—even in the issues of life and death.