The Mystery of the Sea/Chapter 47



The Secret Service men spread round the house, moving off silently right and left, in accordance with the nods of their chief in answer to their looks of query. As they moved, keeping instinctively in shelter from any possible view from the house so far as the ground afforded opportunity, I could see that each felt that his gun was in its place. They all knew the gang they had to deal with, and they were not going to take any chances. MacRae said to me:

"I'll go and get the key! I know this country better than any of you; I can run over to the cross roads in a few minutes and it will be less marked than driving there." As he went out at the gate he told the driver to pull down the road, till the curve shut him out of sight. Whilst he was gone, the men surrounded the house, keeping guard at such points that nothing coming from it could escape our notice. The chief tried the back door but it was shut; from its rigidity it was manifestly bolted top and bottom.

In less than a quarter of an hour MacRae returned and told us that Mrs. MacFie was coming with the key as quickly as she could. He offered to take it, telling her who he was; but she said she would come herself and make her service, as it would not be respectful to him and the other gentlemen to let them go alone. In a few minutes she was with us; the chief detective, Cathcart, and I stayed with MacRae, the rest of the men remaining on watch and hidden. There was a little difficulty with the lock, but we shortly got in, Mrs. MacFie leading the way. Whilst she was opening the shutters of the back room, which was evidently the Minister's study, Cathcart and the chief left the room, and made a hurried, though thorough, search of the house. They came back before the old lady was well through her task, and shook their heads.

When the light was let in, the room presented a scene of considerable disorder. It was evident that it had been lately inhabited, for there were scattered about, a good many things which did not belong to it. These included a washing jug, and a bowl full of dirty water; a rug and pillows on the sofa; and a soiled cup and plate on the table. On the mantlepiece was a guttered out candle. When the old woman saw the state of the room, she lifted her hands in horrified amazement as she spoke:

"Keep's 'a! The tramps must ha' been here. In the Meenester's own study, too! An' turnin' the whole place topsal-teerie. Even his bukes all jumm'lt up thegither. Ma certes! but won't he be upset by yon!"

Whilst she had been speaking, my eyes had been taking in everything. All along one side of the room was a bookcase, rough shelves graduated up in height to suit the various sizes of books. There were in the room more than enough books to fill them; but still some of the shelves towards the right hand end were vacant and a great quantity of books lay on the floor. These were not tumbled about as if thrown down recklessly, but were laid upon the floor in even rows. It looked as if they had been taken down in masses and laid out in the same order as though ready to put back. But the books on the shelves! It was no wonder that the old woman, who did not understand the full meaning, was shocked; for never was seen such seeming disorder in any library. Seldom did a volume of a series seem to be alongside its fellow; even when several were grouped together, the rest of the selection would be missing, or seen in another part of the shelf. Some of the volumes were upside down; others had the fronts turned out instead of the back. Altogether there was such disorder as I had never seen. And yet! . . .

And yet the whole was planned by a clever and resolute woman, fighting for her life—her honour. Marjory, evidently deprived of any means of writing—there was neither pen nor ink nor pencil in the room—and probably forbidden under hideous threats to leave any message, had yet under the very eyes of her captors left a veritable writing on the wall, full and open for all to read, did they but know how. The arrangement of the books was but another variant of our biliteral cipher. Books as they should be, represented A; all others B. I signed to the man with the notebook, who took down the words wrought in the cipher as I read them off. Oh, how my heart beat with fear and love and pride as I realised in the message of my dear girl the inner purpose of her words:

"To-morrow off north east of Banff Seagull to meet whaler Wilhelmina. To be Shanghaied—whatever that means. Frightful threats to give me to the negro if any trouble, or letters to friends. Don't fear, dear, shall die first. Have sure means. God with us. Remember the cave. Just heard Gardent—" Here the message ended. The shelf was empty; and the heap of books, from which she had selected so many items, remained as they had been placed ready to her hand. She had been coerced; or else she feared interruption in her task, and did not want to cause suspicion.

Coerced! I felt as though choking!

There was nothing further to be gained here; so we told the old lady that we should write regarding the rental if we decided to take the house. When we went back to our wagonette, we picked up our two trackers—there was no use for them now—and went back to Crom as fast as the horses could gallop. It was necessary that we should arrange from headquarters our future plans; such maps and papers as we had were at Crom, where also any telegrams might await us. In the carriage I asked the detective chief what was meant by 'Shanghaied' for it was evidently a criminal class word.

"Don't you know the word," he said surprised. "Why I thought every one knew that. It isn't altogether a criminal class word, for it belongs partly to a class that call themselves traders. The whalers and others do it when they find it hard to get men; as a rule men nowadays don't like shipping on long whaling voyages. They get such men delivered on board by the crimps, drunk or, more generally, hocussed. Then when they get near a port they make them drunk again, which isn't much of a job after all, and they don't make no kick; or if things are serious they hocus them a bit again. So they keep them one way or another out of sight for months or perhaps years. Sometimes, when those that are not too particular want to get rid of an inconvenient relative—or mayhap a witness, or a creditor, or an inconvenient husband—they just square some crimp. When he gets his hooks on the proper party, there ain't no more jamboree for him, except between the bulwarks, till the time is up, or the money spent, or whatever he is put away for is fixed as they want it."

This was a new and enlightening horror to me. It opened up fresh possibilities of distress for both Marjory and myself. As I thought of this, I could not but be grateful to Montgomery for his message to the man-of-war's men. If once they succeeded in getting Marjory on board the Seagull we should, in the blindness of our ignorance as to her whereabouts, be powerless to help her. The last word of her message through the books might be a clue. It was some place, and was east of Banff. I got the big map out at once and began to search. Surely enough, there it was. Some seven or eight miles east of Banff was a little port in a landlocked bay called Gardentown. At once I sent off a wire to Adams at Aberdeen, and another to Montgomery to Peterhead on chance that it might reach him even before that which Adams, whom he kept posted as to his every movement, would be sure to send to him! It was above all things necessary that we should locate first the Seagull and then the Wilhelmina. If we could get hold of either vessel we might frustrate the plans of the miscreants. I asked Adams to have the touching of the Wilhelmina at any port telegraphed to him at once from Lloyds.

He was quite awake at his end of the wire; I got back an answer in an incredibly short time:

"Wilhelmina left Lerwick for Arctic seas yesterday." Very shortly afterwards another telegram came from him:

"Montgomery reports Seagull fishing this summer at Fraserburgh. Went out with fleet two days ago." Almost immediately after this came a third telegram from him:

"Keystone notified. Am coming to join you."

After a consultation we agreed that it was better that some of us should wait at Crom for the arrival of Adams, who had manifestly some additional knowledge. In the meantime we despatched two of the Secret Service men up to the north of Buchan. One was to go to Fraserburgh, and the other to Banff. Both were to follow the cliffs or the shore to Gardentown. On their way they would get a personal survey of the coast and might pick up some information. MacRae went off himself to send a telegram ordering his yacht, which was at Inverness, to be taken to Peterhead, where he would join her. "It may be handy to have her at the mouth of the Firth," he said. "She's a clipper, and if we should want to overhaul the Seagull or the Wilhelmina, she can easily do it."

It was a long, long wait till Adams arrived. I did not think that a man could endure such misery as I suffered, and live. Every minute, every second, was filled with some vague terror. Omne ignotum pro mirifico. When Fear and Fancy join hands, there is surely woe and pain to some poor human soul.

When Adams at last arrived he had much to tell; but it was the amplification of what we had heard, rather than fresh news. The U. S. cruiser Keystone had been reached from Hamburgh, and was now on her way to a point outside the three-mile limit off Peterhead; and a private watch had been set on every port and harbour between Wick and Aberdeen. The American Embassy was doing its work quietly as befits such an arm of the State; but its eyes and ears were open, and I had no doubts its pockets, too. Its hand was open now; but it would close, did there be need.

When Adams learned our purpose he became elated. He came over to me and laid his hand tenderly on my shoulder as he said:

"I know how it is with you, old fellow; a man don't want more than two eyes for that. But there's a many men would give all they have to stand in your shoes, for all you suffer. Cheer up! At the worst now it's her death! For myself I feared at first there might be worse; but it's plain to me that Miss Drake is up to everything and ready for everything. My! but she's a noble girl! If anything goes wrong with her there's going to be some scrapping round before the thing's evened up!" He then went on to tell me that Montgomery would be joined at Peterhead by two other naval fellows who were qualified in all ways to do whatever might be required. "Those boys won't stop at much, I can tell you," he said. "They're full of sand, the lot; and I guess that when this thing is over, it won't harm them at Washington to know that they've done men's work of one kind or another."

It was comfort to me to hear him talk. Sam Adams knew what he meant, when he wanted to help a friend; thinking it all over I don't see what better he could have said to me—things being as they were. He went back to Aberdeen to look out for news or instructions, but was to join us later at Banff.

We left two men at Crom; one to be always on the spot, and the other to be free to move about and send telegrams, etc. Then the rest of us drove over to Fyvie and caught the train to Macduff.

When we arrived we sent one man in the hotel in Banff in case we should want to communicate, and the rest of us drove over in a carriage to Gardentown. It is a lovely coast, this between Banff and Gardentown, but we should have preferred it to be less picturesque and more easy to watch.

When our man met us, which he did with exceeding caution, he at once began:

"They've got off, some of them; but I think the rest of the gang's ashore still. That's why I'm so particular; they may be watchin' us now for all I can tell." Then he proceeded to give us all the information he had gleaned.

"The Seagull was here until yesterday when she went out into the Firth to run down to Fifeshire, as the fish were reported going south. She had more than her complement of men, and her skipper volunteered the information that two of them were friends whom they were taking to join their own boat which was waiting for them at Burnt Island. From all accounts I gather," he went on, "that they wasn't anything extra hightoned. Most of them were drunk or getting a jag on them; and it took the two sober ones and the Skipper to keep them in order. The Skipper was mighty angry; he seemed somehow ashamed of them, and hurried out of port as quick as he could when he made his mind up. They say he swore at them frightful; though that was not to be wondered at when he himself had to help bring the nets on board. One of the men on the quay told me that he said if that was the effect on his men of waiting round for weeks doing nothing, he would see that another time their double-dashed noses were kept to the grindstone. I've been thinking since I heard of the trouble they had in carrying on the nets, that there was something under them that they meant to hide. The men here tell me that the hand-barrow they carried would have been a job for six men, not three, for it was piled shoulder high with nets. That's why the skipper was so wrathy with them. They say he's a sort of giant, a Dutchman with an evil, cunning face; and that all the time he was carrying the back handles he never stopped swearing at the two in front, though they was nigh speechless with the effort of carrying, and their faces as red as blazes. If I'm right we've missed them this time. They've got the girl on the fishing boat; and they're off for the whaler. She's the one we'll have to find next!"

As he spoke my heart kept sinking deeper and deeper down. My poor girl, if alive, was in the hands of her enemies. In all the thoughts which filled me with anguish unspeakable there was but one gleam of consolation—the negro was not on board, too. I had come to think of this miscreant as in some way the active principle of whatever evil might be.

Here, we were again at a fault in our pursuit. We must wait for the reports of Montgomery who was making local inquiries. We had wired him to join us, or send us word to Gardentown; and he had replied that he was on the way.