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Title:      A Certain Dr Thorndyke
Author:     R Austin Freeman
eBook No.:  0500351.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
Character set encoding:     Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted:          April 2005
Date most recently updated: March 2014
This eBook was produced by: Jon Jermey

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Title:      A Certain Dr Thorndyke
Author:     R Austin Freeman

*

CONTENTS

I. THE FUGITIVE
II. THE LEGATEE
III. THE MUTINY ON THE 'SPEEDWELL'
IV. THE PHANTOM MATE
V. THE NEW AFTERGUARD
VI. BETTY MAKES A DISCOVERY
VII. THE MATE TAKES HIS DISCHARGE
VIII. THE LAST OF THE 'SPEEDWELL'
IX. ARMS AND THE MAN
X. BETTY'S APPEAL
XI. THE ORDER OF RELEASE

BOOK II THE INVESTIGATOR

XII. THE INDICTMENT
XIII. THORNDYKE TAKES UP THE INQUIRY
XIV. THORNDYKE MAKES A BEGINNING
XV. MR. WAMPOLE IS HIGHLY AMUSED
XVI. WHICH TREATS OF LAW AND BUTTONS
XVII. THE LAPIDARY
XVIII. THE END OF THE CLUE
XIX. THORNDYKE CONNECTS THE LINKS
XX. OSMOND'S MOTIVE

*

BOOK I--THE ISHMAELITE

I. THE FUGITIVE

The tropic moon shone brightly on the village of Adaffia in the Bight of
Benin as a fishing-canoe steered warily through the relatively quiet surf
of the dry season towards the steep beach. Out in the roadstead an
anchored barque stood up sharply against the moonlit sky, the yellow
spark of her riding light glimmering warmly, and a white shape dimly
discernible in the approaching canoe hinted of a visitor from the sea.
Soon the little craft, hidden for a while in the white smother of a
breaking wave, emerged triumphant and pushed her pointed nose up the
beach; the occupants leaped out and, seizing her by her inturned
gunwales, hauled her forthwith out of reach of the following wave.

"You know where to go?" the Englishman demanded, turning a grim, hatchet
face towards the 'headman'. "Don't take me to the wrong house."

The headman grinned. "Only one white man live for Adaffia. Me sabby him
proper." He twisted a rag of cotton cloth into a kind of turban, clapped
it on his woolly pate and, poising on top a battered cabin-trunk, strode
off easily across the waste of blown sand that separated the beach from a
forest of coconut palms that hid the village. The Englishman followed
less easily, his shod feet sinking into the loose sand; and as he went,
he peered with a stranger's curiosity along the deserted beach and into
the solemn gloom beneath the palms, whence came the rhythmical clamour of
drums and the sound of many voices joining in a strange, monotonous
chant.

Through the ghostly colonnade of palm trunks, out into the narrow,
tortuous alleys that served for streets, between rows of mud-built hovels
roofed with unkempt grass thatch, where all was inky blackness in the
shadow and silvery grey in the light, the stranger followed his guide;
and ever the noise of the drums and the melancholy chant drew nearer.
Suddenly the two men emerged from an alley into a large open space and in
an instant passed from the stillness of the empty streets into a scene of
the strangest bustle and uproar. In the middle of the space was a group
of men, seated on low stools, who held between their knees drums of
various sizes, which they were beating noisily, though by no means
unskillfully, some with crooked sticks, others with the flat of the hand.
Around the musicians a circle of dancers moved in an endless procession,
the men and the women forming separate groups; and while the former
danced furiously, writhing with starting muscles and streaming skins, in
gestures grotesque and obscene, the latter undulated languorously with
half-closed eyes and rhythmically moving arms.

The Englishman had halted in the black shadow to look on at this singular
scene and to listen to the strange chant that rang out at intervals from
dancers and spectators alike, when his guide touched him on the arm and
pointed.

"Look, Mastah!" said he; "dem white man live. You look um?"

The stranger looked over the heads of the dancers, and, sure enough, in
the very midst of the revellers, he espied a fellow-countryman seated on
a green-painted gin-case, the sides of which he was pounding with his
fists in unsuccessful emulation of the drummers. He was not a spectacle
to engender undue pride of race. To begin with, he was obviously drunk,
and as he drummed on the case and bellowed discordantly at intervals, he
was not dignified. Perhaps to be drunk and dignified at one and the same
time is not easy, and assuredly the task is made no easier by a costume
consisting of a suit of ragged pyjamas, the legs tucked into scarlet
socks, gaudy carpet slippers, and a skullcap of plaited grass. But
such was the garb of this representative of a superior race, and the
final touch was given to a raffish ensemble by an unlit cigar that
waggled from the corner of his mouth.

The stranger stood for a minute or more watching, in silence and with
grim disapproval, this unedifying spectacle, when a sudden interruption
occurred. One of the dancers, a big, powerful ruffian, in giving an extra
flourish to his performance, struck his foot against the gin-case and
staggered on to the seated white man, who, with a loud, foolish laugh,
caught him playfully by the ankle. As a result, the big negro toppled
over and fell sprawling amongst the drummers. In an instant all was
confusion and uproar. The drummers pummelled the fallen man, the women
howled, the men shouted, and the drunken white man yelled with idiotic
laughter. Then the big negro leaped to his feet with a roar of fury, and
rushing at the white man, closed with him. The gin-case turned turtle at
the first onset, the two combatants flew off gyrating amongst the legs of
the crowd, mowing down a little lane as they went; and for some moments
nothing could be distinguished save a miscellaneous heap of black bodies
and limbs with a pair of carpet slippers kicking wildly in the air. But
the white man, if lacking in dignity and discretion, was not deficient in
valour. He was soon on his feet and hitting out right and left with
uncommon liveliness and spirit. This, however, could not, and did not,
last long; a simultaneous rush of angry negroes soon bore him to the
ground and there seemed every prospect of his being very severely mauled.

It was at this moment that the stranger abandoned his role of a neutral
spectator. Taking off his helmet and depositing it carefully in the angle
of a mud wall, he lowered his head, thrust forward his shoulder, and
charged heavily into the midst of the shouting mob. Now, the Slave Coast
native is a sturdy, courageous fellow and truculent withal; but he does
not play the Rugby game and he is a stranger alike to the subtler aspects
of pugilism and the gentle art of ju-jitsu. Consequently the tactics of
the new assailant created quite a sensation among the Adaffia men. Their
heels flew up unaccountably, their heads banged together from unknown
causes, mysterious thumps, proceeding from nowhere in particular with the
weight of a pile-monkey, stretched them gasping on the earth; and when
they would have replied in kind, behold! the enemy was not there! They
rushed at him with outstretched hands and straightway fell upon their
stomachs; they grabbed at his head and caught nothing but a pain in the
shoulder or a tap under the chin; and the sledge hammer blow that was to
have annihilated him either spent itself on empty air or, impinging upon
the countenance of an ally, led to misunderstanding and confusion.
Hampered by their own numbers and baffled by the incredible quickness of
their elusive adversary, they began to view his strange manoeuvres as
feats of magic. The fire of battle died down, giving place to doubt,
bewilderment, and superstitious fear. The space widened round the white,
silent, swiftly-moving figure; the more faint-hearted made off with
their hands clapped to their mouths, screeching forth the hideous Efé
alarm cry; the panic spread, and the remainder first backed away and then
fairly broke into a run. A minute later the place was deserted save or
the two Europeans and the headman.

The stranger had pursued the retreating mob for some distance, tripping
up the stragglers or accelerating their movements by vigorous hammerings
from behind, and he now returned, straightening out his drill jacket and
dusting the grimy sand from his pipe-clayed shoes with a silk
handkerchief. The other white man had by this time returned to the
gin-case, on which he was once more enthroned with one of the abandoned
drums between his knees, and, as his compatriot approached, he executed a
martial roll and would have burst into song but that the cigar, which had
been driven into his mouth during the conflict, now dropped into his
throat and reduced him temporarily to the verge of suffocation.

"Many thanks, dear chappie," said he, when he had removed the
obstruction; "moral s'pport most valuable; uphold dignity of white man;
congratulate you on your style; do credit to Richardsons. Excuse my not
rising; reasons excellent; will appear when I do." In fact his clothing
had suffered severely in the combat.

The stranger looked down at the seated figure silently and with tolerant
contempt. A stern-faced, grim-looking man was this new-comer,
heavy-browed, square-jawed, and hatchet-faced, and his high-shouldered,
powerful figure set itself in a characteristic pose, with the feet wide
apart and the hands clasped behind the back as he stood looking down on
his new acquaintance.

"I suppose," he said, at length, "you realize that you're as drunk as an
owl?"

"I s'spected it," returned the other gravely. "Not's an owl, though; owls
very temp'rate in these parts."

At this moment the headman rose from the cabin-trunk, on which he had
seated himself to view the conflict, and, picking up the stranger's
helmet, brought it to him.

"Mastah," said he, earnestly, "you go for house one time. Dis place no
good. Dem people be angry too much; he go fetch gun."

"You hear that?" said the stranger. "You'd better clear off home."

"Ver' well, dear boy," replied the other, suavely. "Call hansom; we'll
both go."

"Whereabouts do you live?" demanded the stranger.

The other man looked up with a bland smile. "Grosvenor Square, ol'
fellow, A1; brass knocker 'stinguishers on doorstep. Tell cabby knock
three times and ring bottom bell." He picked up the cigar and began
carefully to wipe the sand from it.

"Do you know where he lives?" asked the stranger, turning to the headman.

"Yass; me sabby. He live for factory. You make him come one time, Mastah.
You hear dat?"

The sound of the strange and dismal Efé alarm cry (produced by shouting
or screaming continuously and patting the mouth quickly with the flat of
the hand) was borne down from the farther end of the village. The headman
caught up the trunk and started off up the street, while the stranger,
having hoisted the seated man off the gin-case with such energy that he
staggered round in a half-circle, grasped him from behind by both arms
and urged him forward at a brisk trot.

"Here, I say!" protested the latter, "nosso fast, d'ye hear? I've dropped
my slipper. Lemme pick up my slipper."

To these protests the stranger paid no attention, but continued to hustle
his captive forward with undiminished energy.

"Lemme go, confound you! You're shaking me all to bits!" exclaimed the
captive; and, as the other continued to shove silently, he continued:
"Now I un'stand why you boosted those niggers so neatly. You're a bobby,
that's what you are. I know the professional touch. A blooming escaped
bobby. Well, I'm jiggered!" He lapsed, after this, into gloomy silence,
and a few minutes' more rapid travelling brought the party to a high
palm-leaf fence. A primitive gate was unfastened, by the simple process
of withdrawing a skewer from a loop of cord, and they entered a compound
in the middle of which stood a long, low house. The latter was mud-built
and thatched with grass like the houses in the village, from which,
indeed, it differed only in that its mud walls were whitewashed and
pierced for several windows.

"Lemme welcome you to my humble cot," said the proprietor, following the
headman, who had unceremoniously walked into the house and dumped down
the cabin-trunk. The stranger entered a small, untidy room lighted by a
hurricane-lamp, and, having dismissed the headman with a substantial
'dash', or present, turned to face his host.

"Siddown," said the latter, dropping into a dilapidated Madeira chair and
waving his hand towards another. "Less' have a talk. Don't know your
name, but you seem to be a decent feller--for a bobby. My name's Larkom,
John Larkom, agent for Foster Brothers. This is Fosters' factory."

The stranger looked curiously round the room--so little suggestive of a
factory in the European sense--and then, as he seated himself, said:
"You probably know me by name: I am John Walker, of whom you have--"

He was interrupted by a screech of laughter from Larkom, who flung
himself back in his chair with such violence as to bring that piece of
furniture to the verge of dissolution.

"Johnny Walker!" he howled. "My immortal scissors! Sh'ld think I do know
you; more senses than one. I've got a letter about you--'ll show it to
you. Where is that blamed letter?" He dragged out a table-drawer and
rooted among a litter of papers, from which he at length extracted a
crumpled sheet of paper. "Here we are. Letter from Hepburn. You 'member
Hepburn? He and I at Oxford together. Merton, y'know. Less see what he
says. Ah! here you are; I'll read it: 'And now I want you to do me a
little favour. You will receive a visit from a pal of mine who, in
consequence of certain little indiscretions, is for the moment under a
cloud, and I want you, if you can, to put him up and keep him out of
sight. His fame I am not permitted to disclose, since being, as I have
said, 'sub nube', just at present, and consequently not in search of fame
or notoriety he elects to travel under the modest and appropriate name
of Walker.'" At this point Larkom once more burst into a screech of
laughter. "Funny devil, Hepburn! awful rum devil," he mumbled, leering
idiotically at the letter that shook in his hand; then, wiping his eyes
on the gaudy 'trade' tablecloth, he resumed his reading. "'He need not
cause you any inconvenience, and you won't mind his company as he is
quite a decent fellow--he entered at Merton just after you went down--and
he won't be any expense to you; in fact, with judicious management,
he may be made to yield a profit, since he will have some money with him
and is, between ourselves, somewhat of a mug.' Rum devil, awful rum
devil," sniggered Larkom. "Doncher think so?" he added, grinning
foolishly in the other man's face.

"Very," replied the stranger, stolidly. But he did not look particularly
amused.

"'I think that is all I have to tell you,'" Larkom continued, reading
from the letter. "'I hope you will be able to put the poor devil up, and,
by the way, you need not let on that I have told you about his little
misfortunes.'" Larkom looked up with a ridiculous air of vexation. "There
now," he exclaimed, "I've given old Hepburn away like a silly fool. But
no, it was he that was a silly fool. He shouldn't have told me."

"No, he should not," agreed Walker.

"'Course not," said Larkom with drunken gravity. "Breach o' confidence.
However, 's all right. 'Pend on me. Close as a lock-jawed oyster. What'll
you drink?"

He waved his hand towards the table, on which a plate of limes, a stone
gin jar, a bottle of bitters with a quill stuck through the cork, and a
swizzle-stick, stained purple by long service, invited to conviviality.

"Have a cocktail," said Larkom. "Wine of the country. Good old
swizzle-stick. I'll mix it. Or p'rhaps," he sniggered, slyly, "p'raps
you'd rather have a drop of Johnny Walker--ha! ha! Hallo! Here they are.
D'ye hear 'em?" A confused noise of angry voices was audible outside the
compound and isolated shouts separated themselves now and again from the
general hubbub.

"They're callin' us names," chuckled Larkom. "Good thing you don't
un'stand the language. The nigger can be rude. Personal abuse as a fine
art. Have a cocktail."

"Hadn't I better go out and send them about their business?" asked
Walker.

"Lor' bless you, they haven't got any business," was the reply. "No,
siddown. Lerrum alone and they'll go home. Have a cocktail." He
compounded one for himself, swizzling up the pink mixture with deliberate
care and pouring it down his throat with the skill of a juggler; and when
Walker had declined the refreshment and lit his pipe, the pair sat and
listened to the threats and challenges from the outer darkness. The
attitude of masterly inactivity was justified by its results, for the
noise subsided by degrees, and presently the rumble of drums and the
sound of chanting voices told them that the interrupted revels had been
resumed.

After the third application to the stone bottle Larkom began to grow
sleepy and subsided into silence, broken at intervals by an abortive
snore. Walker meanwhile smoked his pipe and regarded his host with an air
of gloomy meditation. At length, as the latter became more and more
somnolent, he ventured to rouse him up.

"You haven't said what you are going to do, Larkom," said he. "Are you
going to put me up for a time?"

Larkom sat up in the squeaking chair and stared at him owlishly. "Put you
up, ol' f'ler?" said he. "Lor bless you, yes. Wodjer think? Bed been
ready for you for mor'n a week. Come'n look at it. Gettin' dam late.
Less' turn in." He took up the lamp and walked with unsteady steps
through a doorway into a small, bare room, the whitewashed walls of which
were tastefully decorated with the mud-built nests of solitary wasps. It
contained two bedsteads, each fitted with a mosquito net and furnished
with a mattress, composed of bundles of rushes lashed together, and
covered with a grass mat.

"Thash your doss, ol' f'ler," said Larkom, placing the lamp on the
packing-case that served for a table, "this is mine. Goo' night!" He
lifted the mosquito-curtain, crept inside, tucked the curtain under the
mattress, and forthwith began to snore softly.

Walker fetched in his trunk from the outer room, and, as he exchanged his
drill clothes (which he folded carefully as he removed them) for a suit
of pyjamas, he looked curiously round the room. A huge, hairy spider was
spread out on the wall as if displayed in a collector's cabinet, and
above him a brown cockroach of colossal proportions twirled his long
antennae thoughtfully. The low, bumpy ceiling formed a promenade for two
pallid, goggle-eyed lizards, who strolled about, defiant of the laws of
gravity, picking up an occasional moth or soft-shelled beetle as they
went. When he was half undressed an enormous fruit-bat, with a head like
that of a fox-terrier, blundered in through the open window and flopped
about the room in noisy panic for several minutes before it could find
its way out again.

At length he put out the lamp, and creeping inside his curtain, tucked it
in securely; and soon, despite the hollow boom of the surf, the whistle
of multitudinous bats, the piping of the mosquitoes, and the sounds of
revelry from the village, he fell asleep and slept until the sun streamed
in on to the whitewashed wall.

II. THE LEGATEE

LARKOM appeared to have that tolerance of alcohol that is often to be
observed in the confirmed soaker. As he sat with his guest in the
living-room, taking his early tea, although he looked frail and broken in
health, there was nothing in his appearance to suggest that he had quite
recently been very drunk. Nor, on the other hand, was his manner very
different from that of the previous night, save that his articulation and
his wits were both clearer.

"What made you pick out this particular health-resort for your little
holiday?" he asked. "It isn't what you would call a fashionable
watering-place."

"No," replied Walker. "That was the attraction. I had heard about you
from Hepburn--he is my brother-in-law, you know--and as it seemed, from
what he said, that your abode was on the very outside edge of the world,
I marked it down as a good place to disappear in."

Larkom grinned. "You are not a bad judge, old chappie. Disappearing is
our speciality. We are famous for it. Always have been. How does the old
mariners' ditty run? You remember it? 'Oh, the Bight of Benin, the Bight
of Benin, One comes out where three go in.' But perhaps that wasn't
exactly what was in your mind?"

"It wasn't. I could have managed that sort of disappearance without
coming so far. But look here, Larkom, let us have a clear understanding.
I came here on spec, not having much time to make arrangements, on the
chance that you might be willing to put me up and give me a job. But I
haven't come to fasten on to you. If my presence here will be in any way
a hindrance to you, you've only got to say so and I will move on. And I
shan't take it as unfriendly. I quite understand that you have your
principals to consider."

"Principals be blowed!" said Larkom. "They don't come into it; and as to
me, I can assure you, J. W., that this is the first stroke of luck I've
had for years. After vegetating in this God-forgotten hole with nobody
but buck-niggers to speak to, you can imagine what it is to me to have a
pukka white man--and a gentleman at that--under my roof. I feel like
chanting 'Domine, non sum dignus'; but if you can put up with me, stay as
long as you care to, and understand that you are doing me a favour by
staying."

"It is very handsome of you, Larkom, to put it in that way," said Walker,
a little huskily. "Of course, I understand the position and I accept your
offer gratefully. But we must put the arrangement on a business footing.
I'm not going to sponge on you. I must pay my share of the expenses, and
if I can give you any help in working the factory--"

"Don't you be afraid, old chappie," interrupted Larkom. "I'll keep your
nose on the grindstone; and as to sharing up, we can see to that later
when we cast up the accounts. As soon as we have lapped up our tea, we
will go out to the store and I will show you the ropes. They aren't very
complicated, though they are in a bit of a tangle just now. But that is
where you will come in, dear boy."

Larkom's statement as to the 'tangle' was certainly no exaggeration. The
spectacle of muddle and disorder that the store presented filled Walker
at once with joy and exasperation. After a brief tour of the premises,
during which he listened in grim silence to Larkom's explanations, he
deliberately peeled off his jacket--which he folded up neatly and put in
a place of safety--and fell to work on the shelves and lockers with a
concentrated energy that reduced the native helper to gibbering
astonishment and Larkom to indulgent sniggers.

"Don't overdo it, old chap," the latter admonished. "Remember the
climate. And there's no hurry. Plenty of spare time in these parts. Leave
yourself a bit for to-morrow." To all of which advice Walker paid no
attention whatever, but slogged away at the confused raffle of
stock-in-trade without a pause until close upon noon, when the cook came
out to announce that "chop live for table." And even this was but a
temporary pause; for soon after breakfast--or tiffin, as the
Anglo-Indian calls it--when Larkom showed a tendency to doze in his
chair with a tumbler of gin toddy, he stole away to renew his onslaught
while the native assistant attended to the 'trade'.

During the next few days he was kept pretty fully occupied. Not that
there was much business doing at the factory, but Larkom's hand having
become of late so tremulous that writing was impossible, the posting of
books and answering of letters had automatically ceased.

"You're a perfect godsend to me, old chappie," said Larkom, when, by dint
of two days' continuous labour, the books had been brought up to date,
and Walker attacked the arrears of correspondence. "The firm wouldn't
have stood it much longer. They've complained of my handwriting already.
If you hadn't come I should have got the order of the boot to a
certainty. Now they'll think I've got a native clerk from somewhere at my
own expense."

"How about the signature?" Walker asked. "Can you manage that?"

"That's all right, dear boy," said Larkom cheerfully. "You sign slowly
while I kick the table. They'll never twig the difference."

By means of this novel aid to calligraphy the letter was completed and
duly dispatched by a messenger to catch the land post at Quittah. Then
Walker had leisure to look about him and study the methods of West Coast
trade and the manners and customs of his host. Larkom sober was not very
different from Larkom drunk--amiable, easy-going, irresponsible, and
only a little less cheerful. Perhaps he was better drunk. At any rate,
that was his own opinion, and he acted up to it consistently. What would
have happened had there had been any appreciable trade at Adaffia it is
impossible to guess. As it was, the traffic was never beyond the capacity
of Larkom even at his drunkest. Once or twice during the day a party of
bush natives would stroll into the compound with a demijohn of palm oil
or a calabash full of kernels, or a man from a neighbouring village would
bring in a bushel or so of copra, and then the premises would hum with
business. The demijohn would be emptied into a puncheon or the kernels
stowed in bags ready for shipment, and the vendors would receive their
little dole of threepenny pieces--the ordinary currency of the coast.
Then the vendors would change into purchasers. A length of baft or
calico, a long flint-lock gun with red-painted stock, a keg of powder, or
a case of gin would replace the produce they had brought; the threepenny
pieces would drift back into the chest whence they had come, and the deal
would be completed.

At these functions Walker, owing to his ignorance of the language,
appeared chiefly in the role of onlooker, though he took a hand at the
scales, when he was about, and helped to fill the canvas bags with
kernels. But he found plenty of time to wander about the village and
acknowledge the appreciative grins of the men whom he had hammered on the
night of his arrival or the courteous salutations of the women.
Frequently in the afternoons he would stroll out to sit on the dry sand
at high-water mark and, as the feathery leaves of the sea-washed palms
pattered above him in the breeze, would gaze wistfully across the blue
and empty ocean. One day a homeward-bound steamer came into the bay to
anchor in Quittah roads; and then his gaze grew more wistful and the
stern face softened into sadness.

Presently Larkom hove in sight under the palms, carolling huskily and
filling a gaudy trade pipe. He came and sat down by Walker, and having
struck some two dozen Swedish matches without producing a single spark,
gazed solemnly at the steamer.

"Yellow funnel boat," he observed; "that'll be the Niger, old Rattray's
boat. She's going home, dear boy, home to England, where hansom cabs and
green peas and fair ladies and lamb chops--."

"Oh, shut up, Larkom!" exclaimed the other, gruffly.

"Right, dear boy. Mum's the word," was the bland reply, as Larkom resumed
his fruitless attack on the matches. "But there's one thing I've been
going to say to you," he continued after a pause, "and it's this--confound
these damstinkers; I've used up a whole box for nothing--I was
going to say that you'd better not show yourself out on the beach
unnecessarily. I don't know what your little affair amounts to, but I
should say that, if it was worth your while to cut away from home, it's
worth your while to stop away."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that you are still within the jurisdiction of the English courts;
and if you should have been traced to the ship and you let yourself be
seen, say, by any of the Germans who pass up and down from Quittah to
Lomé or Bagidá, why, some fine day you may see an officer of the Gold
Coast bearing down on you with a file of Hausas, and then it would be ho!
for England, home, and beauty. You sabby?"

"I must take that risk," growled Walker. "I can't stay skulking in the
house, and I'm not going to."

"As you please, dear boy," said Larkom. "I only mentioned the matter.
Verbum sap. No offence, I hope."

"Of course not," replied Walker.

"I don't think you are in any immediate danger," pursued Larkom. "Old
chief Akolatchi looked in on me just now and he tells me that there are
no white officers at Quittah. The doctor died of blackwater fever two
days ago, and the commissioner is sick and is off to Madeira by this
steamer. Still, you had better keep your weather eyelid lifting."

"I mean to," said Walker; and knocking out his pipe on the heel of his
shoe, he rose and shook the sand from his clothes.

"If you'll excuse my harping on a disagreeable topic, old chappie," said
Larkom, as they strolled homewards along the beach, "I think you would be
wise to take some elementary precautions."

"What sort?" asked Walker.

"Well, supposing you were traced to that barque, the Sappho, it would be
easy to communicate with her skipper when she comes to her station at
Half-Jack. Then they might ascertain that a gent named Johnny Walker with
a golden beard and a Wellington nose had been put ashore at Adaffia.
You're a fairly easy chappie to describe, with that Romanesque boko, and
fairly easy to recognize from a description."

"But, damn it, Larkom! You're not suggesting that I should cut off my
nose, are you?"

"God forbid, dear boy! But you might cut off your beard and drop Johnny
Walker. A clean shave and a new name would make a world of difference. No
native would recognize you without your beard."

"Perhaps not. But a white police officer would spot me all right. A clean
shave and a different name wouldn't deceive him."

"Not if he really meant business. But the local officials here will be
pretty willing to turn a blind eye. They are not keen on arresting a
white man with a parcel of niggers looking on. Lowers the prestige of the
race. If a constabulary officer came down here to arrest a bearded man
named Walker and found only a clean-shaved covey of the name of Cook,
he'd probably say that there was no one here answering the description
and go back perfectly satisfied with his tongue in his cheek."

"Do you think he really would?"

"I do. At any rate, you may as well give the authorities a chance; meet
'em half-way. Don't you think so?"

"I suppose it is the reasonable thing to do. Very well, Larkom, I will
take your advice and turn myself into a bald-faced stag--I noticed that
you have some razors in the store. And as to the name, well, I will adopt
your suggestion in that, too. 'Cook' will do as well as any other."

"Better, old chap. Distinguished name. Great man, James Cook.
Circumnavigator; all round my hat."

"All the same," said Walker, alias Cook, "I fancy you are a trifle
over-optimistic. If an officer were sent down here with a warrant, I
think he would have to execute it if he could. He would be running a
biggish risk if he let himself be bamboozled."

"Well, dear boy," replied Larkom, "you do the transformation trick and
trust in Providence. It's quite likely that the local authorities will
make no move; and if a G.C.C. officer should turn up and insist on
mistaking James Cook for Johnny Walker, I daresay we could find some way
of dealing with him."

The other man smiled grimly. "Yes," he agreed. "I don't think he'd
mistake James Cook for Mary's little lamb."

As they entered the compound a quarter of an hour later, a native rose
from the kernel bag on which he had been seated, and disengaging from the
folds of his cloth a soiled and crumpled letter, held it out to Larkom.
The latter opened it with tremulous haste and, having glanced through it
quickly, emitted a long, low whistle.

"Sacked, by jiggers!" he exclaimed, and handed the letter to his guest.
It was a brief document and came to the point without circumlocution. The
Adaffia factory was a financial failure, "whatever it might have been
under other management," and the firm hereby dispensed with Mr. Larkom's
services. "But," the letter concluded, "as we are unwilling to leave a
white man stranded on the Coast, we hereby make over to you, in lieu of
notice, the factory and such stock as remains in it, the same to be your
own property; and we hope that you will be able to carry on the trade to
more advantage for yourself than you have for us."

"Devilish liberal of them," groaned Larkom, "for I've been a rotten bad
servant to the firm. But I shall never make anything of it. I'm a regular
waster, old chappie, and the sooner the land-crabs have me, the better it
will be for everyone." He lifted the lid of a gin-case and dejectedly
hoisted out a high-shouldered, square-faced Dutch bottle.

"Stop this boozing, Larkom," said Cook, late Walker. "Pull yourself
together, man, and let us see if we can't make a do of it." He spoke
gently enough, with his hand on the other man's shoulder, for the thought
of his own wrecked life had helped him to understand. It was not the mere
loss of employment that had hit Larkom so hard. It was the realization,
sudden and complete, of his utter futility; of his final irrevocable
failure in the battle of life.

"It's awfully good of you, old chap," he said dismally; "but I tell you,
I'm beyond redemption." He paused irresolutely and then added: "However,
we'll stow the lush for the present and talk things over," and he let the
bottle slip back into its compartment and, shut down the lid.

But he was in no mood for talking things over, at present. The sense of
utter failure appeared to have overwhelmed him completely, and, though he
made no further attempt upon the gin-case that evening, his spirits
seemed to sink lower and lower until, about ten o'clock, he rose from his
chair and silently tottered off to bed, looking pitiably frail and
broken.

It was about two o'clock in the morning when Cook awoke to the
consciousness of a very singular noise. He sat up in bed to listen. A
strange, quick rattle, like the chatter of a jigsaw, came from the
rickety bed on which Larkom slept, and with it was mingled a confused
puffing that came and went in quick gusts.

"Anything the matter, Larkom?" he asked anxiously; and then, as a broken
mumble and a loud chattering of teeth came in reply, he sprang from the
bed and struck a match. A single glance made everything clear. The
huddled body, shaking from head to foot, the white, pinched face, the
bloodless hands with blue finger-nails, clutching the scanty
bed-coverings to the trembling chin, presented a picture of African fever
that even a newcomer could recognize. Hastily he lit a candle, and,
gathering up every rag that he could lay hands on, from his own
travelling-rug to the sitting-room table-cloth, piled them on to his
shivering comrade until the sick man looked like a gigantic caddis worm.

After an hour or so the violence of the shivering fit abated; gradually
the colour returned to the white face until its late pallor gave place to
a deep flush. The heaped coverings were thrown on the floor, the sufferer
fidgeted restlessly about the bed, his breathing became hurried, and
presently he began to babble at intervals, This state of affairs lasted
for upwards of an hour. Then a few beads of perspiration appeared on the
sick man's forehead; the chatterings and mumblings and broken snatches of
song died away, and, as the parched skin broke out into dewy moisture, a
look of intelligence came back to the vacant face.

"Cover me up, old chappie," said Larkom, turning over with a deep sigh.
"Air strikes chilly. Thanks, old fellow; let's have the table-cloth, too.
That's ripping. Now you turn in and get a bit of sleep. Sorry to have
routed you up like this." He closed his eyes and at once began to doze,
and Cook, creeping back to bed, lay and watched him by the light of the
flickering candle. Then he, too, fell asleep.

When he awoke it was broad daylight, and through the open door he could
see Larkom standing by the table in the sitting-room, wrapped in the rug.
The Fanti cook was seated at the table and the solitary Kroo boy, who
formed the staff of the factory, stood by his supplementary chair, his
eyes a-goggle with curiosity.

"Now, Kwaku," Larkom was saying, "you see that pencil mark. Well, you
take this pen and make a mark on top of it--so." He handed the pen to
the cook, who evidently followed the instructions, for his tongue
protruded several inches, and he presently rose, wiping his brow. The
Kroo boy took his place and the ceremony was repeated, after which the
two natives retired grinning with pride.

"Gad, Larkom," exclaimed Cook, when he came out and joined his host;
"that dose of fever has taken the starch out of you. You oughtn't to be
up, surely?" He looked earnestly at his comrade, shocked at the aspect of
the pitiful wreck before him and a little alarmed at the strange,
greenish-yellow tint that showed through the waxen pallor of the face.

"Shan't be up long, dear boy," said Larkom. "Just setting things straight
before I turn in for good. Now, just cast your eye over this document--devil
of a scrawl, but I expect you can make it out." He took up a sheet
of paper and handed it to Cook. The writing was so tremulous as to be
almost illegible, but with difficulty Cook deciphered it; and its purport
filled him with astonishment. It read thus:


'This is the last will and testament of me John Larkom of Adaffia
in the Gold Coast Colony, West Africa. I give and devise all my
estate and effects, real and personal, which I may die possessed
of or be entitled to, unto James Cook absolutely, and I appoint
him the executor of this my will.

'Dated this thirteenth day of November one thousand eight hundred and
ninety-seven.

'Signed by the testator in the presence of us, who thereupon made our
marks in his and each other's presence.

'JOHN LARKOM.

'Kwaku Mensah of Cape Coast. His + mark

'Pea Soup of Half-Jack. His + mark.'


"I've given you your new name, you see," Larkom explained. "Take charge
of this precious document and keep that letter from the firm. Burn all
other papers."

"But," exclaimed Cook, "why are you talking as if you expected to snuff
out? You've had fever before, I suppose?"

"Rather," said Larkom. "But you're a new-comer; you don't sabby. I'm an
old coaster, and I sabby proper. Look at that, dear boy. Do you know
what that means?" He held out a shaking, lemon-coloured hand, and as his
companion regarded it silently, he continued:

"That means blackwater fever; and when a Johnny like me goes in for that
luxury, it's a job for the gardener. And talking of that, you'd better
plant me in the far corner of the compound where the empty casks are
kept, by the prickly-pear hedge; I shall be out of the way of traffic
there, though graves are a damned nuisance in business premises, anyhow."

"Oh, dry up, Larkom, and get to bed," growled Cook; "and, I say, aren't
there any doctors in this accursed place?"

Larkom grinned. "In the fossil state, dear boy, they are quite numerous.
Otherwise scarce. The medico up at Quittah died three days ago, as I told
you, and there are no others on tap just now. No good to me if they were.
Remember what I've told you. Burn all papers and, when you've planted me,
take over the factory and make things hum. There's a living to be made
here and you'll make it. Leave the swizzle-stick alone, old chappie, and
if ever you should chance to meet Hepburn again, give him my love and
kick him--kick him hard. Now I'm going to turn in."

Larkom's forecast of the probable course of his illness bid fair to turn
out correct. In the intervals of business--which, perversely enough, was
unusually brisk on this day--Cook looked in on the invalid and at each
visit found him visibly changed for the worse. The pale-lemon tint of his
skin gave place to a horrible dusky yellow; his voice grew weaker and his
mind more clouded, until at last he sank into a partial stupor from which
it was almost impossible to rouse him. He wanted nothing, save an
occasional sip of water, and nothing could be done to stay the march of
the fell disease.

So the day passed on, a day of miserable suspense for Cook; the little
caravans filed into the compound, the kernels and copra and knobs of
rubber rolled out of the calabashes on to the ground, the oil gurgled
softly into the puncheon, the bush people chattered vivaciously in the
store and presently departed gleefully with their purchases; and still
Larkom lay silent and apathetic and ever drawing nearer to the frontier
between the known and the unknown. The evening fell, the store was locked
up, the compound gate was shut, and Cook betook himself with a shaded
lamp to sit by the sick man's bed.

But presently the sight of that yellow face, grown suddenly so strangely
small and pinched, the sharpened nose, and the sunken eyes with the
yellow gleam of the half-seen eyeballs between the lids, was more than he
could bear, and he stole softly through into the sitting-room, there to
continue his vigil. So hour after weary hour passed. The village sank to
rest (for it was a moonless night) and the sounds that came in through
the open window were those of beast and bird and insect. Bats whistled
out in the darkness, cicadas and crickets chirred and chirruped, the bark
of the genet and the snuffling mutter of prowling civets came from
without the compound, while far away the long-drawn, melancholy cry of a
hyena could be heard in the intervals of the booming surf.

And all the while the sick man slowly drew nearer to the dread frontier.

It wanted but an hour to dawn when a change came. The feeble babblings
and mumblings, the little snatches of forgotten songs chanted in a weak,
quavering treble, had ceased for some time, and now through the open door
came a new sound--the sound of slow breathing mingled with a soft, moist
rattling. The watcher rose from his chair and once again crept, lamp in
hand, into the dimly-lighted room, there to stand looking down gloomily
at the one friend that Fate had left him. Larkom was now unconscious and
lay quite still, save the heaving chest and the rise and fall of the chin
with each breath.

Cook took put down the lamp, and, sitting down, gently took the damp and
chilly hand in his, while he listened, in agony at his own helplessness,
to the monotonous, rattling murmur that went on and on, to and fro, like
the escapement of some horrible clock.

By and by it stopped, and Cook fumbled at the tepid wrist; then, after a
pause, it began again with an altered rhythm and presently paused again,
and again went on; and so the weary, harrowing minutes passed, the pauses
growing ever longer and the rattling murmur more and more shallow. At
last there came a pause so long that Cook leaned over the bed to listen.
A little whispering sigh was borne to his ear, then all was still; and
when, after waiting yet several minutes more, he had reverently drawn the
gaudy table-cloth over the silent figure, he went back to his chair in
the sitting room, there to wait, with grim face and lonely heart, for the
coming of the day.

The late afternoon sun was slanting eagerly over the palm-tops as he took
his way to the far corner of the compound that faced towards the western
beach. The empty barrels had been rolled away and, in the clear space,
close to the low prickly-pear hedge, a smooth mound of yellow sand and a
rough wooden cross marked the spot where Larkom, stitched up in sacking
in lieu of a coffin, had been laid to rest. The cross had occupied most
of Cook's scanty leisure since the hurried burial in the morning (for
trade was still perversely brisk, despite the ragged house-flag half-mast
on the little flag-pole), and he was now going to put the finishing
touches to it.

It was a rude enough memorial, the upright from a board from one of the
long gun-crates, and the cross-piece formed by a new barrel stave cut to
the requisite length; and the lack of paint left it naked and staring.

Cook laid down on the sand a box containing his materials--a set of zinc
stencil plates, used for marking barrels and cases, a stencil brush, and
a pot of thin black paint--and sketched out lightly in pencil the words
of the inscription:

JOHN LARKOM 14th November 1897

Then he picked out a J from the set of stencil plates, dipped the brush
in the pot, and made the first letter, following it in order with O, H,
and N. Something in the look of the familiar name--his own name as well
as Larkom's--made him pause and gaze at it thoughtfully, and his air was
still meditative and abstracted as he stooped and picked up the L to
commence the following word. Rising with the fresh plate in his hand, he
happened to glance over the low hedge along the stretch of beach that
meandered away to a distant, palm-clad headland; and then he noticed for
the first time a little group of figures that stood out sharply against
the yellow background. They were about half a mile distant and were
evidently coming towards the village; and there was something in their
appearance that caused him to examine them narrowly. Four of the figures
walked together and carried some large object that he guessed to be a
travelling hammock; four others straggled some little distance behind;
and yet three more, who walked ahead of the hammock, seemed to carry guns
or rifles on their shoulders.

Still holding the plate and brush, Cook stood motionless, watching with
grim attention the approach of the little procession. On it came, at a
rapid pace, each step bringing it more clearly into view. The hammock was
now quite distinct and the passenger could be seen lying in the sagging
cloth; eight of the figures were evidently ordinary natives while the
other three were plainly black men dressed in a blue uniform, wearing red
caps and carrying rifles and bayonets.

Cook stooped and dropped the plate back into the box, picking out, in
place of it, a plate pierced with the letter O. Dipping his brush into
the paint, he laid the plate over the pencilled L on the cross and
brushed in the letter. Quietly and without hurry, he followed the O with
an S, M, O, N, and D; and he had just finished the last letter when an
English voice hailed him from over the hedge.

He turned and saw, a little distance away, a fresh-laced Englishman in a
quiet undress uniform and a cheese-cutter cap, peering at him curiously
from the top a sand-hill, at the base of which stood the group of
hammockmen and the three Hausas.

"There's a gate farther down," said Cook; and, as the officer turned
away, he dropped the plate that he was holding back into the box, laid
down the brush, and took up a camel's-hair pencil. Dipping this into the
paint-pot, he proceeded deliberately and with no little skill to write
the date in small letters under the name. Presently the sound of
footsteps was audible from behind. Cook continued his writing with
deliberate care and the footsteps drew nearer, slowing as they
approached. Close behind him they halted, and a cheery voice exclaimed:
"Good Lord! What a let-off!" and then added, "Poor beggar! When did
he die?"

"This morning, just before dawn," replied Cook.

"Phew!" whistled the officer. "He wasn't long getting his ticket. But, I
say, how did you know his name? I thought he called himself Walker."

"So he did. But he wished his name to be put on his grave."

"Naturally," said the officer. "It's no use giving an alias at the last
muster. Well, poor devil! He's had rough luck, but perhaps it's best,
after all. It's certainly best for me."

"Why for you?" asked Cook.

"Because I've got a warrant in my pocket to arrest him for some trouble
at home--signed the wrong cheque or something of that kind--and I
wasn't very sweet on the job, as you may guess. Blood's thicker than
water, you know, and the poor chap was an English gentleman after all.
However, those black devils of mine don't know what I have come for, so
now nothing need be said."

"No." He looked round into the bluff, rosy face and clear blue eyes of
the officer and asked: "How did you manage to run him to earth?"

"He was traced to Bristol and to the barque Sappho after she had sailed.
Then the Sappho was seen from Quittah to bring up here, right off her
station--she trades to Half-Jack--and, as we were on the look-out, we
made inquiries and found that a white man had come ashore here. Good
thing we didn't find out sooner. Well, I'll be getting back to Quittah.
I've just come down with a new doctor to take over there. My name's
Cockeram, assistant inspector G.C.C. You're Mr. Larkom, I suppose?"

"Won't you stop and have a cocktail?" asked Cook, ignoring the question.

"No, thanks. Don't take 'em. H2O is the drink for this country."

He touched his cap and sauntered to the gate, and Cook saw him walk
slowly up and down behind the hedge, apparently gathering something.
Presently he sauntered back into the compound looking a little sheepish,
and, as he came, twisting some blossoming twigs of wild cotton into a
kind of grommet and shelling the little 'prayer-beads' out of some
Jequirity pods that he had gathered. He walked up the sandy mound and,
sprinkling the scarlet seeds in the form of a cross, laid the loop of
cotton-blossoms above it.

"It's a scurvy wreath," he said, gruffly, without looking at Cook, "but
it's a scurvy country. So long." He walked briskly out of the compound
and, flinging himself into the hammock, gave the word to march.

The other looked after him with an unwonted softening of the grim face--yet
grimmer and more lean now that the beard was gone--only resuming his
writing when the little procession was growing small in the distance. The
date was completed now, but, dipping his brush afresh, he wrote below in
still smaller letters: 'Now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt
seek me in the morning, but I shall not be.'

Then he picked up the box and went back into the house.

III. THE MUTINY ON THE 'SPEEDWELL'

For a man in search of quiet and retirement, the village of Adaffia would
seem to be an ideally eligible spot; especially if the man in question
should happen be under a rather heavy cloud. Situated in a little known
part of the Slave Coast, many miles distant from any town or settlement
where white men had their abodes, it offered a haven of security to the
Ishmaelite if it offered little else.

Thus reflected John Osmond, late John Walker, and now 'Mr. James Cook',
if the need for a surname should arise. But hitherto it had not arisen;
for, to the natives, he was simply 'the white man' or 'mastah', and no
other European had passed along the coast since the day on which he had
buried Larkom--and his own identity--and entered into his inheritance.

He reviewed the short interval with its tale of eventless and monotonous
days as he sat smoking a thoughtful pipe in the shady coconut grove that
encompassed the hamlet, letting his thoughts travel back anon to a more
distant and eventful past, and all the while keeping an attentive eye on
a shabby-looking brigantine that was creeping up from the south. It was
not, perhaps, a very thrilling spectacle, but yet Osmond watched the
approaching vessel with lively interest. For though, on that deserted
coast, ships may be seen to pass up and down on the rim of the horizon,
two or three, perhaps, in a month, this was the first vessel that had
headed for the land since the day on which he had become the owner of the
factory and the sole representative of European civilization in Adaffia.
It was natural, then, that he should watch her with interest and
curiosity, not only as a visitor from the world which he had left, but as
one with which he was personally concerned; for if her people had
business ashore, that business was pretty certainly with him.

At a distance of about a mile and a half from the shore the brigantine
luffed up, fired a gun, hoisted a dirty red ensign, let go her anchor,
scandalized her mainsail, lowered her head-sails, and roughly dewed up
the square-sails. A fishing canoe, which had paddled out to meet her, ran
alongside and presently returned shoreward with a couple of white men on
board. And still Osmond made no move. Business considerations should have
led him to go down to the beach and meet the white men, since they were
almost certainly bound for his factory; but other considerations
restrained him. The fewer white men that he met, the safer he would be:
for, to the Ishmaelite, every stranger is a possible enemy or, worse
still, a possible acquaintance. And then, although he felt no distaste
for the ordinary trade with the natives, he did not much fancy himself
standing behind a counter selling gin and tobacco to a party of British
shell-backs. So he loitered under the coconuts and determined to leave
the business transactions to his native assistant, Kwaku Mensah.

The canoe landed safely through the surf; the two white men stepped
ashore and disappeared towards the village. Osmond refilled his pipe and
walked a little farther away. Presently a file of natives appeared moving
towards the shore, each carrying on his head a green-painted gin-case.
Osmond counted them--there were six in all--and watched them stow the
cases in the canoe. Then, suddenly, the two white men appeared, running
furiously. They made straight for the canoe and jumped in; the canoe men
pushed off and the little craft began to wriggle its way cautiously
through the surf. And at this moment another figure made its appearance
on the beach and began to make unmistakable demonstrations of hostility
to the receding canoe.

Now, a man who wears a scarlet flannelette coat, green cotton trousers,
yellow carpet slippers, and a gold-laced smoking-cap is not difficult to
identify even at some little distance. Osmond instantly recognized his
assistant and strode away to make inquiries.

There was no need to ask what was the matter. As Osmond crossed the
stretch of blown sand that lay between the palm-grove and the beach, his
retainer came running towards him, flourishing his arms wildly and fairly
gibbering with excitement.

"Dem sailor man, sah!" he gasped, when he had come within earshot, "he
dam tief, sah! He tief six case gin!"

"Do you mean that those fellows didn't pay for that gin?" Osmond
demanded.

"No, sah. No pay nutting. Dey send de case down for beach and dey tell me
find some country cloth. I go into store to look dem cloth, den dey run
away for deir canoe. Dey no pay nutting."

"Very well, Mensah. We'll go on board and collect the money or bring back
the gin. Can you get a canoe?"

"All canoe go out fishing excepting dat one," said Mensah.

"Then we must wait for that one to come back," was the reply; and Osmond
seated himself on the edge of dry sand that overhung the beach and fixed
a steady gaze on the dwindling canoe. Mensah sat down likewise and
glanced dubiously at his grim-faced employer; but whatever doubts he had
as to the wisdom of the proposed expedition, he kept them to himself. For
John Osmond--like Father O'Flynn--had a 'wonderful way with him'; a way
that induced unruly intruders to leave the compound hurriedly and rub
themselves a good deal when they got outside. So Mensah kept his own
counsel.

The canoe ran alongside the brigantine, and, having discharged its
passengers and freight, put off for its return shorewards. Then a new
phase in the proceedings began. The brigantine's head-sails, which lay
loose on the jib-boom, began to slide up the stays; the untidy bunches of
canvas aloft began to flatten out to the pull of the sheets. The
brigantine, in fact, was preparing to get under way. But it was all done
in a very leisurely fashion; so deliberately that the last of the
square-sails was barely sheeted home when the canoe grounded on the
beach.

Osmond wasted no time. While Mensah was giving the necessary
explanations, he set his shoulder to the peak of the canoe and shoved her
round head to sea, regardless of the cloud of spray that burst over him.

The canoe-men were nothing loath, for the African is keenly appreciative
of a humorous situation. Moreover, they had some experience of the white
man's peculiar methods of persuasion and felt a natural desire to see
them exercised on persons of his own colour--especially as those persons
had been none too civil. Accordingly they pushed off gleefully and
plunged once more into the breakers, digging their massive,
trident-shaped paddles into the water to the accompaniment of those
uncanny hisses, groans, and snatches of song with which the African
canoe-man sweetens his labour.

Meanwhile their passenger sat in the bow of the canoe, wiping the sea
water from his face and fixing a baleful glance on the brigantine, as she
wallowed drunkenly on the heavy swell. Slowly the tack of the mainsail
descended, and then, to a series of squeaks from the halyard-blocks, the
peak of the sail rose by stow jerks. The canoe bounded forward over the
great rollers, the hull of the vessel rose and began to loom large above
the waters, and Osmond had just read the name 'Speedwell, Bristol' on her
broad counter, when his ear caught a new sound--the 'clink, clink' of
the windlass-pawl. The anchor was being hove up.

But the canoe-men had heard the sound, too, and, with a loud groan, dug
their paddles into the water with furious energy. The canoe shot forward
under the swaying counter and swept alongside, the brigantine rolled over
as if she would annihilate the little craft, and Osmond, grasping a
chain-plate, swung himself up into the channel, whence he climbed to the
bulwark rail and dropped down on the deck.

The windlass was manned by six of the crew, who bobbed up and down slowly
at the ends of the long levers; a seventh man was seated on the deck,
with one of the gin cases open before him, in the act of uncorking a
bottle. The other five cases were ranged along by the bulwark.

"Good afternoon," said Osmond, whose arrival had been unnoticed by the
preoccupied crew; "you forgot to pay for that gin."

The seated man looked up with a start, first at Osmond and then at
Mensah, who now sat astride the rail in a strategic position that
admitted of advance or retreat as circumstances might suggest. The clink
of the windlass ceased, and the six men came sauntering aft with
expectant grins.

"What are you doin' aboard this ship?" demanded the first man.

"I've come to collect my dues," replied Osmond.

"Have yer?" said the sailor. "You'll be the factory bug, I reckon?"

"I'm the owner of that gin."

"Now that's where you make a mistake, young feller. I'm the owner of this
here gin."

"Then you've got to pay me one pound four."

The sailor set the bottle down on the deck and rose to his feet.

"Look here, young feller," said he, "I'm goin' to give you a valuable
tip--gratis. You git overboard. Sharp. D'ye hear?"

"I want one pound four," said Osmond, in a misleadingly quiet tone.

"Pitch 'im overboard, Dhoody," one of the other sailors counselled. "Send
'im for a swim, mate."

"I'm a-goin' to," said Dhoody, "if he don't clear out," and he began to
advance, crabwise, across the deck in the manner of a wrestler attacking.

Osmond stood motionless in a characteristic attitude, with his long legs
wide apart, his hands clasped behind him, his gaunt shoulders hunched up,
and his chin thrust forward, swaying regularly to the heave of the deck,
and with his grim, hatchet face turned impassively towards his adversary,
presented a decidedly uninviting aspect. Perhaps Dhoody appreciated this
fact; at any rate, he advanced with an ostentatious show of strategy and
much intimidating air-clawing. But he made a bad choice of the moment for
the actual attack, for he elected to rush in just as the farther side of
the deck was rising. In an instant Osmond's statuesque immobility changed
to bewilderingly rapid movement. There was a resounding "Smack, smack";
Dhoody flew backwards, capsizing two men behind him, staggered down the
sloping deck, closely followed by Osmond (executing a continuous series
of 'postman's knocks' on the Dhoodian countenance), and finally fell
sprawling in the scuppers, with his head jammed against a stanchion. The
two capsized men scrambled to their feet, and, with their four comrades,
closed in on Osmond with evidently hostile intentions. But the latter did
not wait to be attacked. Acting on the advice of the Duke of
Wellington--whom, by the way, he somewhat resembled in appearance--to
'hit first and keep on hitting', he charged the group of seamen like
an extremely self-possessed bull, hammering right and left, regardless
of the unskilful thumps that he got in return, and gradually drove them,
bewildered by his extraordinary quickness and the weight of his
well-directed blows, through the space between the fore mast and the
bulwark. Slowly they backed away before his continuous battering, hitting
out at him ineffectively, hampered by their numbers and the confined
space, until one man, who had had the bad luck to catch two upper cuts in
succession, uttered a howl of rage and whipped out his sheath-knife.
Osmond's quick eye caught the dull glint of the steel just as he was
passing the fife-rail. Instantly he whisked out an unoccupied iron
belaying-pin, whirled it over and brought it down on the man's head. The
fellow dropped like a pole-axed ox, and as the belaying-pin rose aloft
once more, the other five men sprang back out of range.

How the combat might have ended under other circumstances it is
impossible to say. Dhoody had disappeared--with a bloody scalp and an
obliterated eye; the man with the knife lay unconscious on the deck with
a little red pool collecting by his head; the other five men had
scattered and were hastily searching for weapons and missiles, so far as
was possible with this bloodthirsty Bedlamite of a 'factory bug' flying
up and down the deck flourishing a belaying-pin. Their principal
occupation, in fact, was in keeping out of reach; and they did not always
succeed.

Suddenly a shot rang out. A little cloud of splinters flew from the side
of the mainmast, and the five seamen ducked simultaneously. Glancing
quickly forward, Osmond beheld his late antagonist, Dhoody, emerging from
the forecastle hatch and taking aim at him with a still smoking revolver.
Now, the 'factory bug' was a pugnacious man and perhaps over-confident,
too. But he had some idea of his limitations. You can't walk up twenty
yards of deck to punch the head of a man who is covering you with a
revolver. At the moment, Osmond was abreast of the uncovered main hatch.
A passing glance had shown him a tier of kernel bags covering the floor
of the hold. Without a moment's hesitation he stooped with his hands on
the coaming, and, vaulting over, dropped plump on the bags, and then,
picking himself up, scrambled forward under the shelter of the deck.

The hold of the _Speedwell_, like that of most vessels of her class, was a
simple cavity, extending from the forecastle bulkhead to that of the
after-cabin. Of this the forward part still contained a portion of the
out ward cargo, while the homeward lading was stowed abaft the main
hatch. But the hold was two-thirds empty and afforded plenty of room to
move about.

Osmond took up a position behind some bales of Manchester goods and
waited for the next move on the part of the enemy. He had not long to
wait. Voices from above told him that the crew had gathered round the
hatch; indeed, from his retreat, he could see some of them craning over
the coamings, peering into the dark recesses of the hold.

"What are yer goin' to do, Dhoody?" one of the men asked.

"I'm goin' below to finish the beggar off," was the reply in a tone of
savage determination.

The place of a ladder was supplied by wooden footholds nailed to the
massive stanchion that supported the deck and rested on the kelson.
Osmond kept a sharp eye on the top foothold, clambering quickly on the
closely packed bales to get within reach; and as a booted foot appeared
below the beam and settled on the projection, he brought down his
belaying-pin on the toe with a rap that elicited a yell of agony and
caused the hasty withdrawal of the foot. For a minute or more the air was
thick with execrations, and, as Osmond crept back into shelter, an
irregular stamping on the deck above suggested some person hopping
actively on one leg.

But the retreat was not premature. Hardly had Osmond squeezed himself
behind the stack of bales when a succession of shots rang out from above,
and bullet after bullet embedded itself in the rolls of cotton cloth.
Osmond counted five shots and when there came an interval--presumably to
reload--he ventured to peer between the bales, and was able to see
Dhoody frantically emptying the discharged chambers of the revolver and
ramming in fresh cartridges, while the five sailors stared curiously into
the hold.

"Now then," said Dhoody, when he had re-loaded, "you just nip down, Sam
Winter, and see if I've hit him, and I'll stand by here to shoot if he
goes for yer."

"Not me," replied Sam. "You 'and me the gun and just pop down yerself.
I'll see as he don't hurt yer."

"How can I?" roared Dhoody, "with me fut hammered into a jelly?"

"Well," retorted Sam, "what about my feet? D'ye think I can fly?"

"Oh," said Dhoody, contemptuously, "if you funk the job, I won't press
yer. Bob Simmons ain't afraid, I know. He'll go."

"Will he?" said Simmons. "I'm jiggered if he will! That bloke's too handy
with that pin for my taste. But I'll hold the gun while you go, Dhoody."

Dhoody cursed the whole ship's company collectively and individually for
a pack of chicken-livered curs. But not one of them would budge. Each was
quite willing, and even eager, to do the shooting from above; but no one
was disposed to go below and 'draw the badger'. The proceedings seemed to
have come to a deadlock when one of the sailors was inspired with a new
idea.

"Look 'ere, mates," he said, oracularly; "'Tis like this 'ere: 'ere's
this 'ere bloomin' ship with a nomicidal maniac in 'er 'old. Now, none of
us ain't a-goin' down there for to fetch 'im out. We don't want our 'eds
broke same as what 'e's broke Jim Darker's 'ed. Contrarywise, so long as
'e's loose on this ship, no man's life ain't worth a brass farden.
Wherefore I says, bottle 'im up, I says; clap on the hatch-covers and
batten down. Then we've got 'im, and then we can sleep in our bunks in
peace."

"That's right enough, Bill," another voice broke in, "but you're
forgettin' that we've got a little job to do down below there."

"Not yet, we ain't," the other rejoined; "not afore we gets down Ambriz
way, and he'll be quiet enough by then."

This seemed to satisfy all parties, including even the ferocious Dhoody,
and a general movement warned Osmond that his incarceration was imminent,
For one moment he was disposed to make a last, desperate sortie, but the
certainty that he would be a dead man before he reached the deck decided
him to lie low. Many things might happen before the brigantine reached
Ambriz.

As the hatchcovers grated over the coaming and dropped into their beds,
the prisoner took a rapid survey of his surroundings before the last
glimmer of daylight should be shut out. But he had scarcely time to
memorize the geographical features of the hold before the last of the
hatch-covers was dropped into its place. Then he heard the tarpaulin drag
over the hatch, shutting out the last gleams of light that had filtered
through the joints of the covers; the battens were dropped into their
catches, the wedges driven home, and he sat, in a darkness like that of
the tomb.

The hold was intolerably hot and close. The roasting deck above was like
the roof of an oven. A greasy reek arose from the bags of kernels, a
strange, mixed effluvium from the bales of cotton cloth. And the place
was full of strange noises. At every roll of the ship, as the strain of
the rigging changed sides, a universal groan arose; bulkheads squeaked,
timbers grated, the masts creaked noisily in their housings, and unctuous
gurgles issued from the tier of oil puncheons. It was clear to Osmond
that this was no place for a prolonged residence. The sweat that already
trickled down his face meant thirst in the near future, and death if he
failed to discover the tank or water-casks. A diet of palm kernels did
not commend itself; and, now that the hatch was covered, the water in the
bilge made its peculiar properties manifest. The obvious necessity was to
get out; but the method of escape was not obvious at all.

From his own position Osmond's thoughts turned to the state of the
vessel. From the first, it had been evident to him that there was
something very abnormal about this ship. Apart from the lawless behaviour
of the crew, there was the fact that since he had come on board he had
seen no vestige of an officer. Dhoody had seemed to have some sort of
authority, but the manner in which the men addressed him showed that he
had no superior status. Then, where was the 'afterguard'? They had not
gone ashore. And there had been enough uproar to bring them on deck if
they had been on board. There was only one reasonable conclusion from
these facts, and it was confirmed by Dhoody's proprietary air and by a
certain brown stain that Osmond had noticed on the deck. There had been a
mutiny on the _Speedwell_.

The inveterate smoker invokes the aid of tobacco in all cases where
concentrated thought is required. Osmond made shift to fill his pipe in
the dark, and, noting that his tobacco was low, struck a match. The flame
lighted up the corner into which he had crept and rendered visible some
objects that he had not noticed before; and, at the first glance, any
lingering uncertainty as to the state of affairs on the _Speedwell_
vanished in an instant. For the objects that he had seen comprised a
shipwright's auger, a caulking mallet, and a dozen or more large wooden
pegs cut to a taper at one end.

The purpose of these appliances was unmistakable, and very clearly
explained the nature of the 'little job' that the sailors had to do down
below. Those rascals intended to scuttle the ship. Holes were to be bored
in the bottom with the auger and the plugs driven into them. Then, when
the mutineers were ready to leave, the plugs would be pulled out, and the
ship abandoned with the water pouring into her hold. It was a pretty
scheme, if not a novel one, and it again suggested the question: Where
were the officers?

Turning over this question, Osmond remembered that Dhoody had gone to the
forecastle to fetch his revolver. Then the crew would appear to be still
occupying their own quarters; whence it followed that, if the officers
were on board, they were probably secured in their berths aft.

This consideration suggested a new idea. Osmond lit another match and
explored the immediate neighbourhood in the hope of finding more tools;
but there were only the auger and the mallet, the pegs having probably
been tapered with a sheath-knife. As the match went out, Osmond quenched
the glowing tip, and, picking up the auger and mallet, though for the
latter he had no present use, began to grope his way aft. The part of the
hold abaft the main hatch had a ground tier of oil-puncheons, above which
was stowed a quantity of produce, principally copra and kernels in bags.
Climbing on top of this, Osmond crawled aft until he brought up against
the bulkhead that separated the cabin from the hold. Here he commenced
operations without delay. Rapping with his knuckles to make sure of the
absence of obstructing stanchions, he set the point of the auger against
the bulkhead, and, grasping the cross lever, fell to work vigorously. It
was a big tool, boring an inch and a half hole, and correspondingly heavy
to turn; but Osmond drove it with a will, and was soon rewarded by
feeling it give with a jerk, and when he withdrew it, there was a
circular hole through which streamed the welcome daylight.

He applied his eye to the hole (which, in spite of the thickness of the
planking, afforded a fairly wide view) and looked into what was evidently
the cuddy or cabin. He could see a small, nearly triangular table fitted
with 'fiddles', or safety rims, between which a big water-bottle slid
backwards and forwards as the ship rolled, pursued by a dozen or more
green limes and an empty tumbler--a sight which made his mouth water.
Opposite was the companion-ladder and at each side of it a door--probably
those of the captain's and mate's cabins. Above the table would
be the sky light, though he could not see it; but he could make out some
pieces of broken glass on the floor and one or two on the table; and he
now recalled that he had noticed, when on deck, that the skylight glass
was smashed.

Having made this survey, he returned to his task. Above the hole that he
had bored, he proceeded to bore another, slightly intersecting it, and
above this another, and so on; tracing a continuous curved row of holes,
each hole encroaching a little on the next, and the entire series
looking, from the dark hold, like a luminous silhouette of a string of
beads. It was arduous work, and monotonous, but Osmond kept at it with
only an occasional pause to wipe his streaming face and steal a wistful
look at the water-bottle on the cabin table. No sign did he perceive
there of either officers or crew; indeed the latter were busy on deck,
for he had heard the clink of the windlass, and when that had ceased, the
rattle of running gear as the sails were trimmed. And meanwhile the
curved line of holes extended along the bulkhead and began to define an
ellipse some eighteen inches by twelve.

By the time he had made the twenty-fourth hole, a sudden weakening of the
light that came through informed him that the sun was setting. He took a
last peep into the cabin before the brief tropic twilight should have
faded, and was surprised to note that the tumbler seemed to have vanished
and that there appeared to be less water in the bottle. Speculating
vaguely on the possible explanation of this, he fell to work again,
adding hole after hole to the series, guiding himself by the sense of
touch when the light failed completely.

The thirty-eighth hole nearly completed the ellipse, and was within an
inch of the first one bored. Standing back from the bulkhead, Osmond gave
a vigorous kick on the space enclosed by the line of holes, and sent the
oval piece of planking flying through into the cabin. Passing his head
through the opening, he listened awhile. Sounds of revelry from the deck,
now plainly audible, told him that the gin was doing its work and that
the crew were fully occupied. He slipped easily through the opening, and,
groping his way to the table, found the water-bottle and refreshed
himself with a long and delicious draught. Then, feeling his way to the
companion-ladders he knocked with his knuckles on the door at its port
side.

No one answered; and yet he had a feeling of some soft and stealthy
movement within. Accordingly he knocked again, a little more sharply, and
as there was still no answer, he turned the handle and pushed gently at
the door, which was, however, bolted or locked. But the effort was not in
vain, for as he gave a second, harder push, a woman's voice--which
sounded quite near, as if the speaker were close to the door--demanded
"Who is there?"

Considerably taken aback by the discovery of this unexpected denizen of
the mutiny-ridden ship, Osmond was for a few moments at a loss for a
reply. At length, putting his mouth near to the keyhole (for the skylight
was open and the steersman, at least, not far away), he answered softly:
"A friend."

The reply did not appear to have the desired effect, for the woman--also
speaking into the keyhole--demanded sharply:

"But who are you? And what do you want?"

These were difficult questions. Addressing himself to the first, and
boggling awkwardly at the unaccustomed lie, Osmond stammered:

"My name is--er--is Cook, but you don't know me. I am not one of the
crew. If you wouldn't mind opening the door, I could explain matters."

"I shall do nothing of the kind," was the reply.

"There's really no occasion for you to be afraid," Osmond urged.

"Isn't there?" she retorted. "And who said I was afraid? Let me tell you
that I've got a pistol, and I shall shoot if I have any of your nonsense.
So you'd better be off."

Osmond grinned appreciatively but decided to abandon the parley.

"Is there anyone aft here besides you?" he asked.

"Never you mind," was the tart reply. "You had better go back where you
came from."

Osmond rose with a grim smile and began cautiously to feel his way
towards the companion-steps and past them to the other door that he had
seen. Having found it and located the handle, he rapped sharply but not
too loudly.

"Well?" demanded a gruff voice from within.

Osmond turned the handle, and, as a stream of light issued from the
opening door, he entered hastily and closed it behind him. He found
himself in a small cabin lighted by a candle-lamp that swung in gimballs
from the bulkhead. One side was occupied by a bunk in which reclined a
small, elderly man, who appeared to have been reading, for he held an
open volume, which Osmond observed with some surprise to be Applin's
Commentary On the Book of Job. His head was roughly bandaged and he wore
his left arm in a primitive sling.

"Well," he repeated, taking off his spectacles to look at Osmond.

"You are the captain, I presume?" said Osmond.

"Yes. Name of Hartup. Who are you?"

Osmond briefly explained the circumstances of his arrival on board.

"Ah!" said the captain. "I wondered who was boring those holes when I
went into the cabin just now. Well, you've put your head into a hornet's
nest, young man."

"Yes," said Osmond "and I'm going to keep it there until I'm paid to take
it out."

The captain smiled sourly. "You are like my mate, Will Redford; very like
him you are to look at, and the same quarrelsome disposition,
apparently."

"Where is the mate now?"

"Overboard," replied the captain. "He got flourishing a revolver and the
second mate stabbed him."

"Is the second mate's name Dhoody?"

"Yes. But he's only a substitute. The proper second mate died up at
Sherbro, so I promoted Dhoody from before the mast."

"I take it that your crew have mutinied?"

"Yes," said the captain, placidly. "There is over a ton of ivory on board
and two hundred ounces of gold dust in that chest that you are sitting
on. It was a great temptation. Dhoody began it and Redford made it worse
by bullying."

"Dhoody seems to be a tough customer."

"Very," said the captain. "A violent man. A man of wrath. I am surprised
that he didn't make an end of you."

"So is he, I expect," Osmond replied with a grin; "and I hope to give him
one or two more surprises before we part. What are you going to do?"

The captain sighed. "We are in the hands of Providence," said he.

"You'll be in the hands of Davy Jones if you don't look out," said
Osmond. "They are going to scuttle the ship when they get to Ambriz. Can
I get anything to eat?"

"There is corned pork and biscuit in that locker," said the captain "and
water and limes on the cabin table. No intoxicants. This is a temperance
ship."

Osmond smiled grimly as a wild chorus from above burst out as if in
commentary on the captain's statement. But he made no remark. Corned pork
was better than discussion just now.

"You seem to have been in the wars," he remarked, glancing at the
skipper's bandaged head and arm.

"Yes. Fell down the companion; at least, Dhoody shoved me down. I'll get
you to fix a new dressing on my arm when you've finished eating. You'll
find some lint and rubber plaster in the medicine chest there."

"By the way," said Osmond, as he cracked a biscuit on his knee, "there's
a woman in the next berth. Sounded like quite a ladylike person, too. Who
is she?"

The captain shook his head. "Yes," he groaned, "there's another
complication. She is a Miss Burleigh; daughter of Sir Hector Burleigh,
the Administrator or Acting Governor, or something of the sort, of the
Gold Coast."

"But what the deuce is she doing on an old rattle trap of a windjammer
like this?"

The captain sat up with a jerk. "I'll trouble you, young man," he said,
severely, "to express yourself with more decorum. I am the owner of this
vessel, and if she is good enough for me she will have to be good enough
for you. Nobody asked you to come aboard, you know."

"I beg your pardon," said Osmond. "Didn't mean to give offence. But
you'll admit that she isn't cut out for the high-class passenger trade."

"She is not," Captain Hartup agreed, "and that is what I pointed out to
the young woman when she asked for a passage from Axim to Accra. I told
her we had no accommodation for females, but she just giggled and said
that didn't matter. She is a very self-willed young woman."

"But why didn't she take a passage on a steamer?"

"There was no steamer due for the Leeward Coast. Her father, Sir Hector,
tried to put her off; but she would have her own way. Said it would be a
bit of an adventure; travelling on a sailing ship."

"Gad! She was right there," remarked Osmond.

"She was, indeed. Well, she came aboard and Redford gave her his berth,
he moving into the second mate's berth, as Dhoody remained in the
forecastle. And there she is; and I wish she was at Jericho."

"I expect she does, too. What happened to her when the mutiny broke out?"

"I told her to go to her berth and lock herself in. But no one attempted
to molest her."

"I am glad to hear that," said Osmond, and as he broke another biscuit,
he asked: "Did you secure the companion-hatch?"

"Miss Burleigh did. She fixed the bar across the inside of the doors. But
it wasn't necessary, for they had barricaded the doors outside. They
didn't want to come down to us, they only wanted to prevent us from going
up on deck."

"She was wise to bolt the doors, all the same," said Osmond; and for a
time there was silence in the cabin, broken only by the vigorous
mastication of stony biscuit.

IV. THE PHANTOM MATE

WHEN he had finished his rough and hasty meal, Osmond attended to his
host's injuries, securing a pad of lint on the lacerated arm with strips
cut from a broad roll of the sticky rubber plaster. Then he went out into
the cabin to reconnoitre and take a drink of water, closing the door of
the captain's berth so that the light should not be seen from above.

The hubbub on deck had now subsided into occasional snatches of
indistinct melody. The men had had a pretty long bout and were--to judge
by the tone of the songs--getting drowsy. Osmond climbed on to the table
and began carefully to pick the remainder of the glass out of the
skylight frame. The skylight had a fixed top--there being a separate
ventilator for the cabin--and, instead of the usual guard-bars, had
loose wood shutters for use in bad weather. Hence the present
catastrophe; and hence, when Osmond had picked away the remains of the
glass, there was a clear opening through which he could, by hoisting
himself up, thrust out his head and shoulders. To avoid this fatiguing
position, however, he descended and placed on the table a case that he
had noticed by daylight on a side-locker; then, mounting, he was able, by
standing on this, to look out at his ease, and yet pop down out of sight
if necessary.

When he cautiously thrust out his head to look up and down the deck, he
was able at first to see very little, though there was now a moderate
starlight. Forward, whence drowsy mumblings mingled with snores came from
the neighbourhood of the caboose, he could see only a projecting pair of
feet; and aft, where a single voice carolled huskily intervals, his view
was cut off by the boat--which lay at the side of the deck--and by the
hood of the companion-hatch. He craned out farther; and now he could
catch a glimpse of the man at the wheel. The fellow was not taking his
duties very seriously, for he was seated on the grating unhandily filling
his pipe and letting the ship steer herself; which she did well enough,
if direction was of no consequence, the light breeze being a couple of
points free and the main-sheet well slacked out. Osmond watched the man
light his pipe, recognizing then the flat, shaven face--which he had
punched earlier in the day--and as he watched he rapidly reviewed the
strategic position and considered its possibilities. The flat, shaven
face, with its wide mouth, offered a vague suggestion. He considered;
looked out again; listened awhile; and then descended with a distinctly
purposeful air. First he crept silently up the steps of the companion and
softly removed the bar from the inside of the doors. Then he made his way
to the skipper's cabin.

As he entered, the "old man" looked up from his book inquiringly.

"I've come down for a bit of rubber plaster," said Osmond.

The skipper nodded towards the medicine-chest and resumed his studies,
while Osmond cut off a strip of plaster some seven inches by four.

"You haven't got any thin rope or small-stuff in here, I suppose?" said
Osmond.

"There's a coil of rope-yarn on the peg under those oilskins--those
smart yellow ones; those were poor Redford's. He was too much of a dandy
to wear common black oilies like the rest of us. What do you want the
stuff for?"

"I want to try a little experiment," replied Osmond. "But I'll tell you
about it afterwards."; and he took down the oilskins and the coil of
line, the latter of which he carried away with him to the main cabin
together with the roll of plaster and the scissors. Here, by the faint
starlight that now mitigated the darkness, he cut off a couple of lengths
of the line and, having pocketed one and made a bowline-knot or fixed
loop in the end of the other, ascended the table and once more looked out
on deck. Save for some resonant snoring from forward, all was quiet and
the ship seemed to have settled down for the night. The helmsman,
however, was still awake, for Osmond heard him yawn wearily; but he had
left the wheel with a rope hitched round one of the spokes, and was now
leaning over the quarter-rail, apparently contemplating the passing
water.

It was an ideal opportunity. Grasping the frame of the skylight, Osmond
gave a light spring and came through the opening like a very stealthy
harlequin. Then, creeping along the deck in the shelter of the boat and
that of the companion-hood, he rose and stole noiselessly on the toes of
his rubber-soled shoes towards the preoccupied seaman. Nearer and nearer
he crept, grasping an end of the line between the fingers of either hand,
and holding the strip of plaster spread out on the palm of the left,
until he stood close behind his quarry. Then, as the sailor removed his
pipe to emit another enormous yawn, he slipped his left hand round,
clapped the plaster over the open mouth, and instantly pinioned the man's
arms by clasping him tightly round the chest. The fellow struggled
furiously and would have shouted, but was only able to utter muffled
grunts and snorts through his nose. His arms were gripped to his sides as
if in a vice and his efforts to kick were all foreseen and adroitly
frustrated. He had been taken by surprise by a man who was his superior
in mere strength and who was an expert wrestler into the bargain; and he
was further handicapped by superstitious terror and lack of breath.

The struggle went on with surprisingly little noise--since the sailor
could not cry out--and meanwhile Osmond contrived to pass the end of the
line through the loop of the bowline and draw it inch by inch until it
was ready for the final pull. Then, with a skilful throw, he let the man
down softly, face downwards, on the deck; jerked the line tight and sat
on his prisoner's legs. He was now master of the situation. Taking
another turn with the line round the man's body, he secured it with a
knot in the middle of the back, and with the other length of line, which
he had in his pocket, he lashed his captive's ankles together.

The almost noiseless struggle had passed unnoticed by the sleepers
forward. No watch or look-out had been set and it had apparently been
left to the helmsman to rouse up his relief when he guessed his "trick"
at the wheel to have expired. Osmond listened for a few moments, and
then, removing the batten with which the doors of the companion had been
secured on the outside, opened the hatch, slid his helpless prisoner down
the ladder; closed the doors again, replaced the batten, and, creeping
through the opening of the sky light, let himself down into the cabin.
Here he seized his writhing captive, and, dragging him across the cabin,
thrust him head-first through the hole in the bulkhead and followed him
into the hold, where he finally deposited him as comfortably as possible
on the kernel bags under the main hatch.

"Now, listen," he said, sternly. "I'm going to take that plaster off your
mouth; but if you utter a sound, I shall stick it on again and fix it
with a lashing." He peeled the plaster off, and, as the man drew a long
breath, he demanded: "Do you hear what I say?

"Yes," was the reply; "I hear. You've got me, governor, fair on the hop,
you have. You won't hear no more of me. And if you can cop that there
Dhoody the same way, there won't be no more trouble on this ship."

"I'll see what can be done," said Osmond; and with this he returned into
the cabin, and, cutting off two fresh lengths of rope-yarn and another
piece of plaster, prepared for a fresh capture.

But, at present, there was no one to capture. The wheel jerked to and fro
in its lashing, the brigantine walloped along quietly before the soft
breeze, the crew slumbered peacefully forward, and Osmond looked out of
the skylight on an empty deck, listening impatiently to the chorus of
snores and wondering if he would get another chance.

It is impossible to say how long this state of affairs would have lasted
if nothing had happened to disturb it. As it was, a sudden accident
dispelled the universal repose. The unsteered vessel, yawing from side to
side, lifted her stern to a following sea and yawed so far that her
mainsail got by the lee. The long boom swung inboard and the big sail
jibed over with a slam that shook the entire fabric. The vessel
immediately broached to with all her square-sails aback, and heeled over
until the water bubbled up through her scupper holes.

The noise and the jar roused some of the sleepers forward and a hoarse
voice bawled out angrily: "Now you, Sam! What the devil are you up to?
You'll have the masts overboard if you don't look out."

Immediately after, Dhoody came staggering aft along the sloping deck,
followed by one or two bewildered sailors. The group stood gazing in
muddled surprise at the untended wheel, and Dhoody exclaimed:

"Where's the beggar gone to? Here, you Sam! Where are you?"

"P'raps he's gone down to the cabin," one of the men suggested.

"No, he ain't," said Dhoody. "The companion's fastened up."

"So it is, mate," agreed the other with a glance at the battened doors;
and the party rambled slowly round the poop, peering out into the
darkness astern and speculating vaguely on the strange disappearance.

"He's gone overboard," said Dhoody; "that's what he's done. So you'd
better take the wheel now, Bob Simmons; and you just mind yer helm, or
you'll be goin' overboard, too, with all that lush in yer 'ed."

Accordingly Simmons, protesting sleepily that it "wasn't his trick yet,"
took his place at the wheel. The vessel was put once more on her course,
and the men, with the exception of Dhoody, crawled forward to the shelter
of the caboose. The second mate remained awhile, yawning drearily and
impressing on the somnolent Simmons the responsibilities of his position.
Then, at last, he too went forward, and the ship settled down to its
former quiet.

Osmond waited for some time in case Dhoody should return to see that the
new helmsman was attending to his instructions; but as he made no
reappearance and was now probably asleep, it seemed safe to resume
operations. Osmond thrust his head and shoulders out through the opening,
but, though he could see that the wheel was already deserted, the
unfaithful Simmons was invisible. Presently, however, a soft snore from
somewhere close by invited him to further investigation, and as he crept
out on deck, the enormity of Simmons's conduct was revealed. He had not
sunk overpowered at his post, but had deliberately seated himself on the
deck in a comfortable position with his back against the doors of the
companion, where he now reclined at his ease, wrapped in alcoholic
slumber. If only Dhoody would keep out of the way, the capture was as
good as made.

Osmond stole up to the sleeping seaman and softly encircled his arms with
the noose, leaving it slack with the end handy for the final pull. Then
he put the man's feet together, and passing the lashing round the ankles,
secured it firmly. This aroused the sleeper, who began to mumble
protests. Instantly, Osmond slapped the plaster on his mouth, jerked the
arm-lashing tight and secured it with a knot; unbattened the doors, and,
opening them, slid the wriggling captive down the ladder on to the cabin
floor. Then he came up, closed and re-battened the doors, slipped down
through the skylight, and, dragging his prisoner to the bulkhead, bundled
him neck and crop through the opening and finally deposited him on the
kernel-bags beside the other man, who was now slumbering peacefully.
Having removed the plaster, he remained awhile, for Simmons was in no
condition to give promises of good behaviour; but in a few minutes he
gave what was more reassuring, a good healthy snore; on which Osmond
departed, leaving him to sleep the sleep of the drunk.

The capture had been made none too soon. As Osmond came through into the
cabin, he was aware of voices on deck, and, climbing on to the table, put
his head up to listen, but keeping carefully out of sight.

"It's a dam rum go," a hoarse voice exclaimed. "Seems as if there was
somethink queer about this bloomin' ship. First of all this factory devil
comes aboard like a roarin' lion seekin' who he can bash on the 'ed; then
Sam goes overboard; then Bob Simmons goes overboard. 'Tain't nateral, I
tell yer. There's somethink queer, and it's my belief as it's all along
o' this mutiny."

"Oh, shut up, Bill," growled Dhoody.

"Bill's right, though," said another voice. "We ain't 'ad no luck since
we broke out. I'm for chuckin' this Ambriz job and lettin' the old man
out."

"And what about Redford?" demanded Dhoody.

"Redford ain't no affair of mine," was the sulky reply; to which Dhoody
rejoined in terms that cannot, in the interests of public morality, be
literally recorded; concluding with the remark that 'if he'd got to
swing, it wouldn't be for Redford only'.

"Then," said the first speaker, "you'd better take the wheel yerself. I
ain't goin' to."

"More ain't I," said another. "I don't want to go overboard."

A prolonged wrangle ensued, the upshot of which was that the men drifted
away forward, leaving Dhoody to steer the ship.

Osmond quietly renewed his preparations, though he realized that a
considerably tougher encounter loomed ahead. Dhoody was not only less
drunk than the others; he was a good deal more alert and intelligent and
he probably had a revolver in his pocket. And the other men would now be
more easily roused after this second catastrophe. He peeped out from time
to time, always finding Dhoody wide awake at his post, and sensible of
drowsy conversation from the sailors forward.

It was fully an hour before a chance seemed to present itself; and Osmond
was too wary to attack blindly without a chance. By that time the
mumblings from forward had subsided into snores and the ship was once
more wrapped in repose. Looking out at that moment, he saw Dhoody staring
critically aloft, as if dissatisfied with the trim of the sails.
Presently the second mate stepped away from the wheel, and, casting off
one of the lee braces, took a long pull at the rope. Now was the time for
action. Slipping out through the skylight, Osmond stole quickly along in
the shelter of the boat, and, emerging behind Dhoody, stood up just as
the latter stooped to belay the rope. He waited until his quarry had set
a half-hitch on the last turn and rose to go back to the wheel; then he
sprang at him, clapped the plaster on his mouth, and encircled him with
his arms.

But Dhoody was a tough adversary. He was stronger, more sober, and less
nervous than the others. And he had a moustache, which interfered with
the set of the plaster, so that his breathing was less hampered. In fact,
Osmond had to clap his hand on it to prevent the man from calling out;
and thus it was that the catastrophe befell. For as Osmond relaxed his
bear-hug with one arm, Dhoody wriggled himself partly free. In a moment
his hand flew to his pocket, and Osmond grabbed his wrist only just in
time to prevent him from pointing the revolver. Then followed a struggle
at the utmost tension of two strong men; a struggle, on Osmond's side, at
least, for dear life. Gripping the other man's wrists, he watched the
revolver, all his strength concentrated on the effort to prevent its
muzzle from being turned on him. And so the two men stood for a space,
nearly motionless, quite silent, trembling with the intensity of muscular
strain.

Suddenly Dhoody took a quick step backwards. A fatal step; for the
manoeuvre failed, and Osmond followed him up, pressing him farther
backward. The bulwark on the poop was comparatively low. As Dhoody
staggered against it with accumulated momentum, his body swung outboard
and his feet rose from the deck. It was impossible to save him without
releasing the pistol hand. He remained poised for an instant on the rail
and then toppled over; and as he slithered down the side and his wrist
slipped from Osmond's grasp, the revolver discharged, blowing a ragged
hole in the bulwark and waking the echoes in the sails with the din of
the explosion.

Osmond sprang back to the companion-hatch and crouched behind the hood.
There was no time for him to get back to the skylight; indeed he hardly
had time to unfasten the doors and drop on to the ladder before the men
came shambling aft, muttering and rubbing their eyes. Quietly closing the
doors, he descended to the cabin and took up his old post of observation
on the table.

"He's gone, right enough," said an awe-stricken voice, "and I reckon
it'll be our turn next. This is a bad look-out, mates."

There was a brief and dismal silence; then a distant report was heard,
followed quickly by two more.

"That's Dhoody," exclaimed another voice. "He's a-swimmin' and makin'
signals. What's to be done? We can't let 'im drownd without doin' nothin
'."

"No," agreed the first man, "we must have a try at pickin' 'im up. You
and me, Tom, will put off in the dinghy, while Joe keeps the ship
hove-to."

"What!" protested Joe. "Am I to be left alone on the ship with no one but
Jim Darker, and him below in his bunk?"

"Well, yer can't let a shipmate drownd, can yer?" demanded the other.
"And look here, Joe Bradley, as soon as you've got the ship hove-to, you
just fetch up the fo'c'sle lamp and show us a glim, or we shall be
goners, too. Now hard down with the helm, mate!"

Very soon the loud flapping of canvas announced that the ship had come up
into the wind, and immediately after the squeal of tackle-blocks was
heard. The _Speedwell_ carried a dinghy, slung from davits at the taffrail,
in addition to the larger boat on deck, and it was in this that the two
men were putting out on their rather hopeless quest.

Osmond rapidly reviewed the situation. Of the original seven men one was
overboard, two were in the hold, one was below in his bunk, and two were
away in the boat. There remained only Joe Bradley. It would be pretty
easy to overpower him and stow him in the hold; but a yet easier plan
suggested itself. Joe was evidently in a state of extreme superstitious
funk and the other two were in little better case. He recalled the
captain's remark as to his resemblance to the dead mate and also the fact
that Redford's oilskins were different from any others on board. These
circumstances seemed to group themselves naturally and indicate a course
of action.

He made his way to the captain's berth and, knocking softly and receiving
no answer, entered. The skipper had fallen asleep over his book and lay
in his bunk, a living commentary on the Book of Job. Osmond took the
oilskins from the peg, and, stealing back silently to the cabin, invested
himself in the borrowed raiment. Presently a passing gleam of light from
above told him that Joe was carrying the fore castle lamp aft to 'show a
glim' from the taffrail. Remembering that he had left the companion hatch
unfastened, he ascended the ladder, and, softly opening one door, looked
out. At the moment, Joe was engaged in hanging the lamp from a fair-lead
over the stern, and, as his back was towards the deck, Osmond stepped out
of the hatch and silently approached him.

Having secured the lamp, Joe took a long look over the dark sea and then
turned towards the deck; and as his eyes fell on the tall, oilskinned
figure, obscurely visible in the gloom--for the lamp was below the
bulwark--he uttered a gasp of horror and began rapidly to shuffle away
backwards. Osmond stood motionless, watching him from under the deep
shade of his sou'-wester as he continued to edge away backwards. Suddenly
his heel caught on a ring-bolt and he staggered and fell on the deck with
a howl of terror; but in another instant he had scrambled to his feet and
raced away forward, whence the slam of the forecastle scuttle announced
his retirement to the sanctuary of his berth.

More than a quarter of an hour elapsed before a hoarse hail from the sea
heralded the return of the boat.

"Joe ahoy! It's no go, mate. He's gone." There was a pause. Then came the
splash of oars, a bump under the counter, the sound of the hooking on of
tackles, and another hail.

"Joe ahoy! Is all well aboard?"

Osmond stepped away into the shadow of the main sail, whence he watched
the taffrail. Soon the two men came actively up the tackle-ropes, their
heads appeared above the rail, and they swung themselves on board
simultaneously.

"Joe ahoy!" one of them sang out huskily, as he looked blankly round the
deck. "Where are yer, Joe?" There was a brief silence; then, in an
awe-stricken voice, he exclaimed: "Gawd-amighty, Tom! If he ain't gone
overboard, too!"

At this moment the other man caught sight of Osmond, and, silently
touching his companion on the shoulder, pointed to the motionless figure.
Osmond moved a little out of the shadow and began to pace aft, treading
without a sound. For one instant the two men watched as if petrified;
then, with one accord, they stampeded forward, and once more the
forecastle scuttle slammed. Osmond followed, and quietly thrusting a
belaying-pin through the staple of the scuttle, secured them in their
retreat.

V. THE NEW AFTERGUARD

WHEN Captain Hartup, brusquely aroused from his slumbers, opened his eyes
and beheld a tall, yellow oilskinned figure in his berth, the Book of Job
faded instantly from his memory and he scrambled from his bunk with a
yell of terror. Then, when Osmond took off his sou'-wester, he recognized
his visitor and became distinctly uncivil.

"What the devil do you mean by masquerading in this idiotic fashion?" he
demanded angrily. "I don't want any of your silly schoolboy jokes on this
ship, so you please understand that."

"I came down," said Osmond, smothering a grin and ignoring the
reproaches, "to report progress. I have hove the ship to, but there is no
one at the wheel and no look-out."

The skipper stared at him in bewilderment as he crawled back into his
bunk. "What do you mean?" he asked. "You've hove the ship to? Isn't there
anybody on deck?"

"No. The ship is taking care of herself at the moment."

"Queer," said the skipper. "I wonder what Dhoody's up to."

"Dhoody is overboard," said Osmond.

"Overboard!" exclaimed the skipper, staring harder than ever at Osmond.
Then, after an interval of silent astonishment, he said severely:

"You are talking in riddles, young man. Just try to explain yourself a
little more clearly. Do I understand that you have hove my second mate
overboard?"

"No," replied Osmond. "He went overboard by accident. But it was all for
the best;" and hereupon he proceeded to give the skipper a somewhat
sketchy account of the stirring events of the last few hours, to which
the latter listened with sour disapproval.

"I don't hold with deeds of violence," he said when the story was
finished, "but what you have done is on your own head. Where do you say
the crew are?"

"Two are in the hold and the other four in the fo'c'sle, bolted in. They
are all pretty drunk, but you'll find them as quiet as lambs when they've
slept off their tipple. But the question is, what is to be done now. The
men won't be any good for an hour or two, but there ought to be someone
at the wheel and some sort of watch on deck. And I can't take it on until
I have had a sleep. I've been hard at it ever since I came on board
yesterday."

"Yes," Captain Hartup agreed, sarcastically, "I daresay you found it
fatiguing, chucking your fellow-creatures overboard and breaking their
heads. Well, you had better take the second mate's berth--the one
Redford had--and I will go on deck and keep a look out. But I can't do
much with my arm in a sling."

"What about the lady?" asked Osmond. "Couldn't she hold on to the wheel
if you stood by and told her what to do?"

"Ha!" exclaimed the skipper. "I had forgotten her. Yes, she knows how to
steer--in a fashion. She used to wheedle Redford into letting her take a
trick in his watch while he stood by and instructed her; a parcel of
silly philandering, really, but it wasn't any affair of mine. I'd better
go and rouse her up."

"Wait till I've turned in," said Osmond. "I am not fit to meet a lady
until I have had a sleep and a wash. If you will show me my berth, I will
go and cast the lashings off those two beggars in the hold and then turn
in for an hour or two."

The captain smiled sardonically but made no comment; and when Osmond,
furnished with a lantern, had visited the hold and removed the lashings
from the still slumbering seamen, he entered the tiny berth that the
skipper pointed out to him, closed the door, and, having taken off his
jacket and folded it carefully, and wound his watch, blew out the candle
in the lantern, stretched himself in the bunk and instantly fell asleep.

When he awoke, the gleam from the deck-light over his head--the berth
had no port-hole--informed him that it was day. Reference to his watch
showed the hour to be about half-past eight; and the clink of crockery
and a murmur of voices--one very distinctly feminine--suggested that
breakfast was in progress.

Which, again, suggested that the conditions of life on board had returned
to the more or less normal.

Osmond sprang out of the bunk, and, impelled by hunger and curiosity,
made a lightning toilet with the aid of Redford's razor, sponge, and
brushes. There was, of course, no bath; but a 'dry' rub-down in the
oven-like cabin was a fair substitute. In a surprisingly short time, with
the imperfect means at hand, he had made himself almost incredibly
presentable and after a final 'look over' in Redford's minute shaving-glass,
he opened the door and entered the cuddy.

The little table, roughly laid for breakfast, was occupied by Captain
Hartup and a lady, and a flat-faced seaman with a black eye officiated as
cabin steward. They all looked up as Osmond emerged from his door and the
sailor grinned a little sheepishly.

"Had a short night, haven't you?" said the captain. "Didn't expect you to
turn out yet. Let me present you to our passenger. Miss Burleigh, this is
Mr.--Mr.--"

"Cook," said Osmond, ready for the question this time.

"Mr. Cook, the young man I was telling you about."

Miss Burleigh acknowledged Osmond's bow, gazing at him with devouring
curiosity and marvelling at his cool, trim, well appearance.

"I think," she said, "we had a brief interview last night, if you can
call it an interview when there was a locked door between us. I am afraid
I wasn't very civil. But you must try to forgive me. I've been sorry
since."

"There is no need to be," replied Osmond. "It was perfectly natural."

"Oh, but it isn't mere remorse. I am so mad with myself for having missed
all the excitements. If I had only known! But, you see, I had happened to
look out of my door in the evening, hearing a peculiar sort of noise, and
then I saw somebody boring holes in the partition, and of course I
thought it was those wretches trying to get into the cabin. Then, when I
heard your voice, I made sure it was Dhoody or one of those other
ruffians, trying to entice me out. And so I missed all the fun."

"Just as well that you did," said the captain. "Females are out of place
in scenes of violence and disorder. What are you going to have, Mr. Cook?
There's corned pork and biscuit and I think there's some lobscouse or
sea-pie in the galley, if the men haven't eaten it all."

Osmond turned suddenly to the sailor, who instantly came to 'attention'.

"You're Sam Winter, aren't you?"

"Aye, sir," the man replied, considerably taken aback by the 'factory
bug's' uncanny omniscience. "Sam Winter it is, sir."

"How is Jim Darker?"

"He's a-doin' nicely, sir," replied Sam, regarding Osmond with secret
awe. "Eat a rare breakfast of lobscouse, he did."

"Is there any left?"

"I think there is, sir."

"Then I'll have some;" and, as the man saluted and bustled away up the
companion-steps, he seated himself on the fixed bench by the table.

Captain Hartup smiled sourly, while Miss Burleigh regarded Osmond with
delighted amusement.

"Seem quite intimate with 'em all," the former remarked. "Regular friend
of the family. I suppose it was you who gave Winter that black eye?"

"I expect so," replied Osmond. "He probably caught it in the scrum when I
first came on board. Did you have any trouble in getting the men to go
back to duty?"

"The men in the fo'c'sle wouldn't come out till daylight, and the two men
in the hold took a lot of rousing from their drunken sleep. Of course, I
couldn't get through that hole with my arm in this sling, so I had to
prod them with a boat-hook. It's a pity you made that hole. Lets the
smell of the cargo and the bilge through into the cabin."

He looked distastefully at the dark aperture in the bulkhead and sniffed--quite
unnecessarily, for the air of the cuddy was charged with the
mingled aroma of bilge and kernels.

"Well, it had to be," said Osmond; "and it will be easy to cover it up.
After all, a smell in the cuddy is better than sea-water."

Here Sam Winter was seen unsteadily descending the companion-steps with a
large enamelled-iron plate in his hands; which plate, being deferentially
placed on the table before Osmond, was seen to be loaded with a
repulsive-looking mixture of 'salt horse', shreds of fat pork and soaked
biscuit floating in a greasy brown liquid.

"That's all there was left, sir," said he, transferring a small surplus
from his hands to the dorsal aspect of his trousers.

Osmond made no comment on this statement but fell-to on the unsavoury
mess with wolfish voracity, while the captain filled a mug with alleged
coffee and passed it to him.

"Who is at the wheel, Winter?" the captain asked.

"Simmons, sir," was the reply. "I woke him up again as I come aft."

"Well, you'd better go up and take it from him. Carry on till I come up."

As Winter disappeared up the companionway Miss Burleigh uttered a little
gurgle of enjoyment. "Aren't they funny?" she exclaimed. "Fancy waking up
the man at the wheel! It's like a comic opera."

The captain looked at her sourly as he tapped the table with a piece of
biscuit for the purpose of evicting a couple of fat weevils; but he made
no comment, and for a time the meal proceeded in silence. The skipper was
fully occupied with cutting up his corned pork with one hand and in
breaking the hard biscuit and knocking out the weevils, while Osmond
doggedly worked his way through the lobscouse with the silent
concentration of a famished man, all unconscious of the interest and
curiosity with which he was being observed by the girl opposite him.

However, the lobscouse came to an end--all too soon--and as he reached
out to the bread-barge for a handful of biscuit he met her eyes; and
fine, clear, bright blue eyes they were, sparkling with vivacity and
humour. She greeted his glance with an affable smile and hoped that he
was feeling revived.

"That looked rather awful stuff," she added.

"It was all right," said he, "only there wasn't enough of it. But I hope
you had something more suitable."

"She has had what the ship's stores provide, like the rest of us,"
snapped the captain. "This is not a floating hotel."

"No, it isn't," Osmond agreed, "and that's a fact. But it is something
that she still floats; and it would be just as well to keep her
floating."

"What do you mean?" demanded the skipper.

Osmond thoughtfully extracted a weevil with the prong of his fork as he
replied: "You've got a crew of six, three to a watch, and one of them has
got to do the cooking. But you have got no officers."

"Well, I know that," said the captain. "What about it?"

"You can't carry on without officers."

"I can and I shall. I shall appoint one of the men to be mate and take
the other watch myself."

"That won't answer," said Osmond. "There isn't a man among them who could
be trusted or who is up to the job; and you are not in a fit state to
stand regular watches."

Captain Hartup snorted. "Don't you lay down the law to me, young man. I
am the master of this ship." And then he added, a little inconsistently
"Perhaps you can tell me how I am to get a couple of officers."

"I can," replied Osmond. "There will have to be some responsible person
on deck with each watch."

"Well?

"Well, there are two responsible persons sitting at this table with you."

For a few moments the captain stared at Osmond in speechless astonishment
(while Miss Burleigh murmured "Hear, hear!" and rapped the table with the
handle of her knife). At length he burst out: "What! Do I understand you
to suggest that I should navigate this vessel with a landsman and a
female as my mates?"

"I am not exactly a landsman," Osmond replied. "I am an experienced
yachtsman and I have made a voyage in a sailing ship."

"Pah!" exclaimed the skipper. "Fresh-water sailor and a passenger! Don't
talk nonsense. And a female, too!"

"What I am suggesting," Osmond persisted calmly, "is that you should be
about as much as is possible in your condition and that Miss Burleigh and
I should keep an eye on the men when you are below. I could take all the
night watches and Miss Burleigh could be on deck during the day."

"That's just rank foolishness," said the skipper. "Talk of a comic opera!
Why, you are wanting to turn the ship into a Punch and Judy show! I've no
patience to listen to you," and the captain rose in dudgeon and crawled--not
without difficulty--up the companion-steps. Miss Burleigh watched
him with a mischievous smile, and as his stumbling feet disappeared she
turned to Osmond.

"What a lark it would be!" she exclaimed, gleefully. "Do you think you
will be able to persuade him? He is rather an obstinate little man."

"The best way with obstinate people," replied Osmond, "is to assume that
they have agreed, and carry on. Can you steer--not that you need, being
an officer. But you ought to know how to."

"I can steer by the compass. But I don't know much about the sails
excepting that you have to keep the wind on the right side of them."

"Yes, that is important with a square vessel. But you will soon learn the
essentials--enough to enable you to keep the crew out of mischief. We
will go on deck presently and then I will show you the ropes and explain
how the gear works."

"That will be jolly," said she. "But there's another thing that I want
you to explain: about this mutiny, you know. Captain Hartup was
awfully muddled about it. I want to know all that happened while I was
locked in my berth."

"I expect you know all about it now," Osmond replied evasively. "There
was a bit of a rumpus, of course, but as soon as Dhoody was overboard it
was all plain sailing."

"Now, you are not going to put me off like that," she said, in a resolute
tone. "I want the whole story in detail, if you please, sir. Does a
second mate say 'sir' when he, or she, addresses the first mate?"

"Not as a rule," Osmond replied, with a grin.

"Then I won't. But I want the story. Now." Osmond looked uneasily into
the delicately fair, slightly freckled face and thought it, with its
crown of red-gold hair, the prettiest face that he had ever seen. But it
was an uncommonly determined little face, all the same.

"There really isn't any story," he began. But she interrupted sharply:

"Now listen to me. Yesterday there were seven ferocious men going about
this ship like roaring and swearing lions. To-day there are six meek and
rather sleepy lambs--I saw them just before breakfast. It is you who
have produced this miraculous change, and I want to know how you did it.
No sketchy evasions, you know. I want a clear, intelligible narrative."

"It isn't a very suitable occasion for a long yarn," he objected. "Don't
you think we ought to go on deck and keep an eye on the old man?"

"Perhaps we ought," she agreed. "But I'm not going to let you off the
story, you know. That is understood, isn't it?"

He gave a reluctant assent, and when she had fetched her pith helmet from
her cabin and he had borrowed a Panama hat of Redford's, they ascended
together to the deck.

The scene was reminiscent of 'The Ancient Mariner'. The blazing sun shone
down on a sea that seemed to be composed of oil, so smooth and unruffled
was its surface. The air was absolutely still, and the old brigantine
wallowed foolishly as the great, glassy rollers swept under her, her
sails alternately filling and backing with loud, explosive flaps as the
masts swung from side to side, and her long main-boom banging across
with a heavy jar at each roll. Sam Winter stood at the wheel in a posture
of easy negligence (but he straightened up with a jerk as Osmond's head
rose out of the companion-hood); the rest of the crew, excepting Jim
Darker, lounged about drowsily forward; and the skipper appeared to be
doing sentry-go before a row of green gin-cases that were ranged along
the side of the caboose. He looked round as the new-comers arrived on
deck, and pointing to the cases, addressed Osmond.

"These boxes of poison belong to you, I understand. I can't have them
lying about here."

"Better stow them in the lazarette when I've checked the contents,"
replied Osmond.

"I can't have intoxicating liquors in my lazarette. This is a temperance
ship. I've a good mind to chuck 'em overboard."

"All right," said Osmond. "You pay me one pound four, and then you can do
what you like with them."

"Pay!" shrieked the captain. "I pay for this devil's elixir! I traffic in
strong drink that steals away men's reason and turns them into fiends!
Never! Not a farthing!"

"Very well," said Osmond, "then they had better go below. Here, you,
Simmons and Bradley, bear a hand with those cases. Will you see them
stowed away in the lazarette, Miss Burleigh?"

"Aye, aye, sir," the latter replied, touching her helmet smartly;
whereupon the two men, with delighted grins, pounced upon two of the
cases, while Miss Burleigh edged up close to Osmond.

"What on earth is the lazarette?" she whispered, "and where shall I find
it?"

"Under the cuddy floor," he whispered in reply. "The trap is under the
table."

As the two seamen picked up their respective loads and went off beaming,
followed by Miss Burleigh, the captain stood gazing open-mouthed. "Well,
I'm--I'm--sure!" he exclaimed, at length. "What do you mean by giving
orders to my crew? And I said I wouldn't have that gin in my lazarette."

"Can't leave it about for the men to pinch. You'll have them all drunk
again. And what about the watches? We can't have the regular port and
starboard watches until you are fit again. Better do as I suggested. Let
me keep on deck during the night, and you take charge during the day.
Miss Burleigh can relieve you if you want to go below."

"I'll have no women playing the fool on my ship," snapped the skipper;
"but as to you, I don't mind your staying on deck at night if you
undertake to call me up when you get into a mess--as you certainly
will."

"Very well," said Osmond, "we'll leave it at that. And now you'd better
come below and let me attend to your bandages. There's nothing to do on
deck while this calm lasts."

The skipper complied, not unwillingly; and when Osmond had very gently
and skilfully renewed the dressings and rebandaged the injured arm and
head--the captain reclining in his bunk for the purpose--he retired,
leaving his patient to rest awhile with the aid of the Commentary On the
Book of Job.

As soon as he arrived on deck, he proceeded definitely to take charge.
The stowage of the gin was now completed and the crew were once more
collected forward, gossiping idly but evidently watchful and expectant of
further developments from the 'after-guard.' Osmond hailed them in a
masterful tone. "Here, you men, get a pull on the main-sheet and stop the
boom from slamming. Haul her in as taut as she'll go."

The men came aft with ready cheerfulness, and as Osmond cast off the fall
of the rope and gave them a lead, they tailed on and hauled with a will
until the sheet-blocks were as close as they could be brought. Then, when
the rope had been belayed, Osmond turned to the crew and briefly
explained the arrangements for working the ship in her present,
short-handed state.

"So you understand," he concluded, "I am the mate for the time being, and
Miss Burleigh is taking the duties of the second mate. Is that clear?"

"Aye, aye, sir," was the reply, accompanied by the broadest of grins, "we
understands, sir."

"Who is the cook?" inquired Osmond.

"Bill Foat 'as been a-doin' the cookin', sir," Simmons explained.

"Then he'd better get on with it. Whose watch on deck is it?"

"Starboard watch, sir," replied Simmons; "that's me and Winter and
Darker."

"I must have a look at Darker," said Osmond. "Meanwhile you take the
wheel, and you, Winter, keep a look-out forward. I haven't heard the
ship's bell sounded this morning."

"No, sir," Winter explained. "The clock in the companion has stopped and
none of us haven't got the time."

"Very well," said Osmond. "I'll wind it up and start it when I make eight
bells."

The routine of the duties being thus set going, Osmond went forward and
paid a visit to the invalid in the forecastle, with the result that Jim
Darker presently appeared on deck with a clean bandage and a somewhat
sheepish grin. Then the chief officer turned his attention to the
education of his subordinate, observed intently by six pairs of
inquisitive eyes.

"I think, Miss Burleigh," he said, "you had better begin by learning how
to take an observation. Then you will be able to do something that the
men can't, as an officer should. Do you know anything about mathematics?"

"As much as is necessary, I expect. I took second class honours in maths.
Will that do?"

"Of course it will. By the way, where did you take your degree?"

"Oxford--Somerville, you know."

"Oh," said Osmond, rather taken aback. "When were you up at Oxford?"

She regarded him with a mischievous smile as she replied: "After your
time, I should say. I only came down a year ago."

It was, of course, but a chance shot. Nevertheless, Osmond hastily
reverted to the subject of observations. "It is quite a simple matter to
take the altitude of the sun, and you work out your results almost
entirely from tables. You will do it easily the first time. I'll go and
get Redford's sextant, or better still, we might go below and I can show
you how to use a sextant and how to work out your latitude."

"Yes," she agreed eagerly, "I would sooner have my first lesson below.
Our friends here are so very interested in us."

She bustled away down to the cabin, and Osmond, following, went into his
berth, whence he presently emerged with two mahogany cases and a portly
volume, inscribed 'Norie's Navigation'.

"I've found the second mate's sextant as well as Redford's, so we can
have one each," he said, laying them on the table with the volume. "And
now let us get to work. We mustn't stay here too long or we shall miss
the transit."

The two mates seated themselves side by side at the table, and Osmond,
taking one of the sextants out of its case, explained its construction
and demonstrated its use. Then the volume was opened, the tables
explained, the mysteries of 'dip' refraction and 'parallax' expounded,
and finally an imaginary observation was worked out on the back of an
envelope.

"I had no idea," said Miss Burleigh, as she triumphantly finished the
calculation, "that the science of navigation was so simple."

"It isn't," replied Osmond. "Latitude by the meridian altitude of the sun
is the A B C of navigation. Some of it, such as longitude by lunar
distance, is fairly tough. But it is time we got on deck. It is past
eleven by my watch and the Lord knows what the time actually is. The
chronometer has stopped. The skipper bumped against it when he staggered
into his berth on the day when the mutiny broke out."

"Then how shall we get the longitude?" Miss Burleigh asked.

"We shan't. But it doesn't matter much. We must keep on a westerly
course. There is nothing, in that direction, between us and America."

The appearance on deck of the two officers, each armed with a sextant,
created a profound impression. It is true that, so far as the 'second
mate' was concerned, the attitude of the crew was merely that of
respectful amusement. But the effect, in the case of Osmond, was very
different. The evidence that he was able to 'shoot the sun' established
him in their eyes as a pukka navigator, and added to the awe with which
they regarded this uncannily capable 'factory bug'. And there was plenty
of time for the impression to soak in; for the first glance through the
sextant showed that the sun was still rising fairly fast; that there was
yet some considerable time to run before noon. In fact, more than half an
hour passed before the retardation of the sun's motion heralded the
critical phase. And at this moment the skipper's head rose slowly above
the hood of the companion-hatch.

At first his back was towards the observers, but when he emerged and,
turning forward, became aware of them, he stopped short as if petrified.
The men ceased their gossip to watch him with ecstatic grins, and Sam
Winter edged stealthily towards the ship's bell.

"What is the meaning of this play-acting and tom foolery?" the skipper
demanded, sourly. "Women and landsmen monkeying about with nautical
instruments."

Osmond held up an admonitory hand, keeping his eye glued to the eyepiece
of the sextant.

"I'm asking you a question," the captain persisted. There was another
brief silence. Then, suddenly, Osmond sang out "Eight bells!" and looked
at his watch. Winter, seizing the lanyard that hung from the clapper of
the bell, struck the eight strokes, and the second mate--prompted in a
hoarse whisper--called out: "Port watch, there! Bradley will take the
first trick at the wheel."

"Aye, aye, sir--Miss, I means," responded Bradley, and proceeded
purple-faced and chuckling aloud, to relieve the gratified Simmons.

At these proceedings the captain looked on in helpless bewilderment. He
watched Osmond wind and set the clock in the companion and saw him
disappear below, followed by his accomplice, to work out the reckoning,
and shook his head with mute disapproval. But yet to him, as to the rest
of the ship's company, there came a certain sense of relief. Osmond's
brisk, confident voice, the cheerful sound of the ship's bell, and the
orderly setting of the watch, seemed definitely to mark the end of the
mutiny and the return to a reign of law and order.

VI. BETTY MAKES A DISCOVERY

For reasons best known to herself, Miss Burleigh made no further attempt
that day to satisfy her curiosity as to the quelling of the mutiny. There
was, in fact, little opportunity. For shortly after the mid-day meal--sea-pie
and corned pork with biscuit--Osmond turned in regardless of the
heat, to get a few hours' sleep before beginning his long night vigil.
But on the following day the captain was so far recovered as to be able
to take the alternate watches--relieved to some extent in the daytime by
the second mate--and this left ample time for Osmond to continue the
education of his junior, which now extended from theoretical navigation
to practical seamanship.

It was during the afternoon watch, when the two mates were seated
on a couple of spare cases in the shadow of the main-sail,
practising the working of splices on some oddments of rope, that the
'examination-in-chief' began; and Osmond, recognizing the hopelessness of
further evasion, was fain to tell the story of his adventure, dryly
enough, indeed, but in fairly satisfying detail. And as he narrated, in
jerky, colourless sentences, with his eyes riveted on the splice that he
was working, his spellbound listener let her rope's-end and marlinspike
lie idle on her lap while she watched his impassive face with something
more than mere attention.

"I wonder," she said when the tale was told, "whether the men realize who
the spectre mate really was."

"I don't think they can quite make out what happened. But I fancy they
look upon me as something rather uncanny; which is all for the best,
seeing how short we are and what a helpless worm the skipper is."

"Yes, they certainly have a holy fear of you," she agreed, smiling at the
grim, preoccupied face. She reflected awhile and then continued: "But I
don't quite understand what brought you on board. You say that Dhoody had
stolen those cases of gin. But what business was that of yours?"

"It was my gin."

"Your gin? But you don't drink gin."

"No, I sell it. I am a trader. I run a store, or factory, as they call it
out here."

As Osmond made this statement, her look of undisguised admiration changed
to one of amazement. She smothered an exclamation and managed to convert
it at short notice into an unconcerned "I see"; but her astonishment
extinguished her powers of conversation for the time being. She could
only gaze at him and marvel at the incongruity of his personality with
his vocation. She had encountered a good many traders, and though she had
realized that the 'palm-oil ruffian' was largely the invention of the
missionary and the official snob and that West African traders are a
singularly heterogeneous body, still that body did not ordinarily include
men of Osmond's class. And her sly suggestion of his connection with
Oxford had been something more than a mere random shot. There are certain
little tricks of speech and manner by which members of the ancient
universities can usually be recognized, especially by their
contemporaries and though Osmond was entirely free from the deliberate
affectations of a certain type of ''varsity' man, her quick ear had
detected one or two turns of phrase that seemed familiar. And he had not
repudiated the suggestion.

"I wonder," she said, after an interval of some what uncomfortable
silence, "what made you take to trading. The métier doesn't seem to fit
you very well."

"No," he admitted with a grim smile; "I am a bit of a mug at a business
deal."

"I didn't mean that," she rejoined hastily. "But there are such a lot of
things that would suit you better. It is a sin for a man of your class
and attainments to be keeping a shop--for that is what it amounts to."

"That is what it actually is," said he.

"Yes. But why on earth do you do it?"

"Must do something, you know," he replied, lamely.

"Of course you must, but it should be something suitable, and selling gin
is not a suitable occupation for a gentleman. And it isn't as if you were
a 'lost dog.' You are really extremely capable."

"Yes," he admitted with a grin, "I'm pretty handy in a scrum."

"Don't be silly," she admonished, severely. "I don't undervalue your
courage and strength--I shouldn't be a natural woman if I did--but I am
thinking of your resourcefulness and ingenuity. It wasn't by mere
thumping that you got your ascendancy over the men. You beat them by
sheer brains."

"Jim Darker thinks it was an iron belaying-pin."

"Now don't quibble and prevaricate. You know as well as I do that, if it
had been a matter of mere strength and courage, you would never have got
out of the hold, and we should have been at the bottom of the sea by now.
It was your mental alertness that saved us all."

"I'm glad to hear it," said Osmond. "But you aren't getting on very fast
with that splice. Have you been watching me?"

"Oh! bother the splices!" she exclaimed, impatiently. "I want you to tell
me why you are throwing yourself away on this ridiculous factory."

"It isn't a bad sort of life," he protested. "I don't think I mind it."

"Then you ought to," she retorted. "You ought to have some ambition.
Think of all the things that you might have done--that you still might
do with, your abilities and initiative."

She looked at him earnestly as she spoke; and some thing that she saw in
his face as she uttered those last words gave her pause. Suddenly it was
borne in on her that she had met other men who seemed to be out of their
element; men who, report whispered, had been driven by social
misadventure--by debt, entanglements, or drink--to seek sanctuary on
the remote West Coast. Was it possible that he might be one of these
refugees? He was obviously not a drinker and he did not look like a
wastrel of any kind. Still, there might be a skeleton in his cupboard. At
any rate, he was extraordinarily reticent about himself.

She changed the subject rather abruptly. "Is your factory in the British
Protectorate?"

"Yes. At Adaffia, a little, out-of-the-way place about a dozen miles east
of Quittah."

"I know it--at least I have heard of it. Isn't it the place where that
poor fellow Osmond died?"

"Yes," he replied, a little startled by the question.

"What was he like? I suppose you saw him?"

"Yes. A biggish man. Short moustache and Vandyke beard."

"Quite a gentlemanly man, wasn't he?"

"He seemed to be. But he didn't have a great deal to say to anybody."

"It was rather pathetic, his dying in that way, like a hunted ox that has
run into a trap."

"Well," said Osmond, "there wasn't much to choose. If the climate hadn't
had him, the police would."

"I am not so sure," she replied. "We all hoped he would get away,
especially the officer who was detailed to arrest him. I think he meant
to make a fussy search of all the wrong houses in the village by way of
giving notice that he was there and scaring the fugitive away. Still, I
think he was rather relieved when he found that trader man--what was his
name?--Larkin or Larkom?--painting the poor fellow's name on the cross
above his grave. You heard about that, I suppose?"

"Yes. Queer coincidence, wasn't it?"

"Don't be so callous. I think it was a most pathetic incident."

"I suppose it was," Osmond agreed. "And now, don't you think you had
better have another try at that splice?"

With a little grimace she took up the piece of rope and began obediently
to unlay its ends and the interrupted course of practical seamanship was
resumed, with intervals of desultory conversation, until eight bells,
when the teapot was brought forth from the galley and conveyed below to
the cabin. After tea, through what was left of the first dog-watch, there
was another spell of knots and splices; and then, when the sun set and
darkness fell on the sea, more desultory talk, in which Osmond mostly
played the role of listener, which--with an interval for dinner--lasted
until it was time for the second mate to turn in.

So life went on aboard the _Speedwell_ day after day.

The calm persisted as calms are apt to do in the Doldrums, with nothing
to suggest any promise of a change. Now and again, at long intervals, the
oily surface of the sea would be dimmed by a little draught of air--just
enough to 'put the sails asleep' and give momentary life to the
steering-wheel. But in a few minutes it would die away, leaving the sails
to back and fill as the vessel rolled inertly on the glassy swell. The
first observation had shown the ship's position to be about four degrees
north of the equator, with the coast of the Bight of Benin some eighty
miles away to the north; and subsequent observations revealed a slow
southerly drift. It was pretty certain that she had a more rapid easterly
drift on the Guinea current, but as the chronometer was out of action,
there was no means of ascertaining this or of determining her longitude.
Sooner or later, if the calm continued, she would drift into the Bight of
Biafra, where she might pick up the land and sea breezes or find an
anchorage where she could bring up and get the chronometer rated.

To a seaman there is nothing more exasperating than a prolonged calm. The
crew of the _Speedwell_ were not sailors of a strenuous type, but the
inaction and monotony that prevailed on the idly ship bored them--if not
to tears, at least to bad language and chronic grumbling. They lounged
about with sulky looks and yawned over the odd jobs that Osmond found for
them, whistling vainly for a breeze and crawling up the rigging from time
to time to see if anything--land or another ship--was in sight. As to
the captain, he grew daily more sour and taciturn as he saw his stores of
provisions dwindling with nothing to show for the expenditure.

But by two of the ship company the calm was accepted with something more
than resignation. The two mates had no complaint whatever to make. They
were, indeed, cut off from all the world; marooned on a stationary ship
in an unfrequented sea. But they had one another and asked for nothing
better; and the longer the calm lasted the more secure were they of the
continuance of this happy condition. For the inevitable thing had
happened. They had fallen in love.

It was very natural. Both were more than commonly attractive, and
circumstances had thrown them together in the closest and most intimate
companionship through every hour of the long days. They had worked
together, though the work was more than half play; they had a common
interest which kept them apart from the others. Together they had sat,
talking endlessly, in little patches of shadow when the sun was high in
the heavens, or leaned upon the bulwark rail and watched the porpoises
playing round the idle ship or the Portuguese men-of-war gliding
imperceptibly past on their rainbow-tinted floats. They had paced the
heaving deck together when the daylight was gone and earnestly studied
the constellations 'that blazed in the velvet blue', or peered down into
the dark water alongside where the Nautilus shone like submarine stars
and shoals of fish darted away before the pursuing dolphin lurid flashes
of phosphorescent light. No more perfect setting for a romance could be
imagined.

And then the personality of each was such as to make a special appeal to
the other. In the eyes of the girl, Osmond was a hero, a paladin. His
commanding stature, his strength, his mastery of other men, and above all
his indomitable courage, had captured her imagination from the first. And
in his rugged way he was a handsome man; and if he could be a little
brutal on occasion, he had always been, to her, the soul of courtesy and
chivalry. As to the 'past' of which she had a strong suspicion, that was
no concern of hers; perhaps it even invested him with an added interest.

As to Osmond, he had been captivated at once, and, to do him justice he
had instantly perceived the danger that loomed ahead. But he could do
nothing to avoid it. Flight was impossible from this little self-contained
world, so pleasantly cut off from the unfriendly world without;
nor could he, even if he had tried, help being thrown constantly into the
society of this fascinating little lady. And if, during the long,
solitary night-watches, or in his stifling berth, he gnashed his teeth
over the perverseness of Fate and thought bitterly of what might have
been, that did not prevent him from succumbing during the day to the
charm of her frank, unconcealed friendliness.

It was in the forenoon of the eighth day of the calm that the two cronies
were leaning on the rail, each holding a stout line. The previous day
Osmond had discovered a quantity of fishing tackle among Redford's
effects, and a trial cast had provided not only excellent sport, but a
very welcome addition to the ship's meagre diet. Thereupon an epidemic of
sea-angling had broken out on board, and Bill Foat, the cook, had been
kept busy with the preparation of snappers, horse and other deep-sea
fish.

"I wonder," the girl mused as she peered over the side, "how much longer
this calm is going to last."

"It may last for weeks," Osmond replied. "I hope it won't for your sake.
You must be getting frightfully bored."

"Indeed, I'm not," she rejoined. "It is the jolliest holiday I have ever
had. The only fly in the ointment is the fear that my father may be a
little anxious about me. But I don't suppose he is really worrying. He is
like me--not much given to fussing and he knows that I am fairly well
able to take care of myself, though he doesn't know that I have got a
Captain James Cook to stand by me. But I expect you are getting pretty
sick of this monotonous life, aren't you, Captain J.?"

Osmond shook his head. "Not a bit," he replied. "It has been a delightful
interlude for me. I should be perfectly satisfied for it to go on for the
rest of my life."

She looked at him thoughtfully, speculating on the inward meaning of this
statement and noting a certain grave wistfulness that softened the grim
face.

"That sounds rather as if Adaffia were not a perfect Paradise, for it has
been a dull life for you since the mutiny collapsed and the calm set in,
with no one to talk to but me."

"Adaffia would be all right under the same conditions," said he.

"What do you mean by the same conditions?" she asked, flushing slightly;
and as he did not immediately answer, she continued: "Do you mean that
life would be more pleasant there if you had your second mate to gossip
with?"

"Yes," he answered, reluctantly, almost gruffly. "Of course that is what
I mean."

"It is very nice of you, Jim, to say that, but you needn't have spoiled
it by speaking in that crabby tone. It is nothing to be ashamed of. I
don't mind admitting that I shall miss you most awfully if we have to
separate when this voyage is over. You have been the best of chums to
me."

She flushed again as she said this and then looked at him a little shyly.
For nearly a minute he made no response, but continued to gaze intently
and rather gloomily at the water below. At length he said, gravely, still
looking steadily at the water:

"There is something, Miss Burleigh, that I feel I ought to tell you; that
I wouldn't tell any one else in the world."

"Thank you, Jim," she said. "But please don't call me Miss Burleigh. It
is so ridiculously stiff between old chums like us. And, Jim, you are not
to tell me anything that it might be better for you that I should not
know. I am not in the least inquisitive about your affairs."

"I know that," he replied. "But this is a thing that I feel you ought to
know. It has been on my mind to tell you for some days past." He paused
for a few seconds and then continued: "You remember, Betty, that man
Osmond that you spoke about?"

"Yes; but don't call him 'that man Osmond.' Poor fellow! I don't suppose
he had done anything very dreadful, and at any rate we can afford to
speak kindly of him now that he is dead."

"Yes, but that is just the point. He isn't dead."

"Isn't dead?" she repeated. "But Captain Cockcram saw that other man,
Larkom, painting the name on his grave. Was it a dummy grave?"

"No. But it was Larkom who died. The man Cockeram saw was Osmond."

"Are you sure? But of course you would be. Oh, Jim! You won't tell
anybody else, will you?"

"I am not very likely to," he replied with a grim smile, "as I happen to
be the said John Osmond."

"Jim!" she gasped, gazing at him with wide eyes and parted lips. "I am
astounded! I can't believe it."

"I expect it is a bit of a shock," he said bitterly, "to find that you
have been socialising for more than a week with a man who is wanted by
the police."

"I didn't mean that," she exclaimed, turning scarlet. "You know I didn't.
But it is so astonishing. I can't understand how it happened. It seems so
extraordinary, and so--so opportune."

Osmond chuckled grimly. "It does," he agreed. "Remarkably opportune.
Almost as if I had polished Larkom off ad hoc. Well, I didn't."

"Of course you didn't. Who supposed for a moment that you did? But do
tell me exactly how it happened."

"Well, it was quite simple. Poor old Larkom died of blackwater fever. He
was a good fellow. One of the very best, and the only friend I had. He
knew all about me--or nearly all--and he did everything he could to
help me. It was an awful blow to me when he died. But he never had a
chance when once the fever took hold of him. He was an absolute wreck and
he went out like the snuff of a candle, though he managed to make a will
before he died, leaving the factory and all his effects to his friend
James Cook. It was he who invented that name for me.

"Well, of course, when he was dead, I had to bury him and stick up a
cross over his grave. And--then I just painted the wrong name on it.
That's all."

She nodded without looking at him and a shadow seemed to fall on her
face. "I see," she said, a little coldly. "It was a tempting opportunity;
and events have justified you in taking it."

Something in her tone arrested his attention. He looked at her sharply
and with a somewhat puzzled expression. Suddenly he burst out: "Good
Lord, Betty! You don't think I did this thing in cold blood, do you?"

"Didn't you?" she asked. "Then how did you come to do it?"

"I'll tell you. Poor old Larkom's name was John, like mine. I had painted
in the 'John' and was just going to begin the 'Larkom' when I happened to
look along the beach. And there I saw Cockeram with his armed party
bearing down on Adaffia. Of course, I guessed instantly what his business
was, and I saw that there was only one thing to be done. There was the
blank space on the cross. I had only to fill it in with my own name and
the situation would be saved. So I did."

Her face cleared at this explanation. "I am glad," she said, "that it was
only done on the spur of the moment. It did seem a little callous."

"I should think so," he agreed, "if you thought of me sitting by the poor
old fellow's bedside and calmly planning to use his corpse to cover my
retreat. As it was, I hated doing it; but necessity knows no law. I have
thought more than once of making a dummy grave for myself and shifting
the cross to it and of setting up a proper memorial to Larkom. And I will
do it when I get back."

She made no comment on this; and as, at the moment her line tightened, she
hauled it in, and impassively detaching a big red snapper from the hook,
re-baited and cast the line overboard with a curiously detached,
preoccupied air. Apparently, she was reflecting profoundly on what she
had just learned, and Osmond, glancing at her furtively from time to
time, abstained from interrupting her meditations. After a considerable
interval she turned towards him and said in a low, earnest tone: "There
is one thing that I want to ask you. Just now you said that you felt you
ought to tell me this; that I ought to know. I don't quite see why."

"There was a very good reason," he replied, "and I may as well make a
clean breast of it. To put it bluntly, I fell in love with you almost as
soon as I saw you, and naturally, I have grown to love you more with
every day that has passed."

She flushed deeply, and glancing at him for an instant, turned her eyes
once more on her line.

"Still," she said in a low voice, "I don't see why you thought I ought to
know."

"Don't you?" he rejoined. "But surely it is obvious. You accepted me as
your chum and you seemed to like me well enough. But you had no inkling
as to who or what I was. It was my clear duty to tell you."

"You mean that there was the possibility that I might come to care for
you and that you felt it your duty to warn me off?"

"Yes. It wasn't very likely that there would be anything more than
friendship on your side; but still it was not impossible. Women fall in
love with the most unlikely men."

At this she smiled and looked him squarely in the face, "I thought you
meant that," she said, softly, "and, of course, you were quite right. But
if your intention was to put me on my guard and prevent me from caring
for you, your warning has come too late. You would have had to tell me
before I had seen you--and I don't believe it would have made a scrap of
difference even then. At any rate, I don't care a fig what you have done--I
know it was nothing mean. But all the same, I am glad you told me. I
should have hated to find it out afterwards by myself."

He gazed at her in dismay. "But, Betty," he protested, "you don't seem to
grasp the position. There is a warrant out for my arrest."

"Who cares?" she responded. "Besides, there isn't. John Osmond is dead
and there is no warrant out for Captain James Cook. It is you who don't
grasp the position."

"But," he expostulated, "don't you realize that I can never go home? That
I can't even show my face in Europe?"

"Very well," said she. "So much the worse for Europe. But there are
plenty of other places; and what is good enough for you is good enough
for me. Now, Jim, dear," she added, coaxingly, "don't create
difficulties. You have said that you love me--I think I knew it before
you told me--and that is all that matters to me. Everything else is
trivial. You are the man to whom I have given my heart, and I am not
going to have you crying off."

"Good God, Betty!" he groaned, "don't talk about 'crying off'. If you
only know what it means to me to look into Paradise and be forced to turn
away! But, my dearest love, it has to be. I would give my life for you
gladly, joyfully. I am giving more than my life in refusing the sacrifice
that you, in the nobleness of your heart, are willing to make. But I
could never accept it. I could never stoop to the mean selfishness of
spoiling the life of the woman who is more to me than all the world."

"I am offering no sacrifice," she said. "I am only asking to share the
life of the man I love. What more does a woman want?"

"Not to share such a life as mine," he replied, bitterly. "Think of it,
Betty, darling! For the rest of my days I must sneak about the world
under a false name, hiding in obscure places, scanning the face of every
stranger with fear and suspicion lest he should discover my secret and
drag me from my sham grave. I am an outcast, an Ishmaelite. Every man's
hand is against me. Could I allow a woman--a beautiful girl, a lady of
position--to share such a sordid existence as mine? I should be a poor
lover if I could think of such contemptible selfishness."

"It isn't so bad as that, Jim, dear," she pleaded. "We could go abroad--to
America--and make a fresh start. You would be sure to do well there
with your abilities, and we could just shake off the old world and forget
it."

He shook his head, sadly. "It is no use, darling, to delude ourselves. We
must face realities. Mine is a wrecked life. It would be a crime, even if
it were possible, for me to take you from the surroundings of an English
lady and involve you in the wreckage. It was a misfortune, at least for
you, that we ever met, and there is only one remedy. When we separate, we
must try to forget one another."

"We shan't, Jim," she exclaimed, passionately. "You know we shan't. We
aren't, either of us, of the kind that forgets. And we could be so happy
together! Don't let us lose everything for a mere scruple."

At this moment all on deck were startled by a loud hail from aloft. One
of the men had climbed up into the swaying foretop and stood there
holding on to the topmast shrouds and with his free hand pointing to the
north. Osmond stepped forward and hailed him.

"Foretop there! What is it?"

"A steamer, sir. Seems to be headin' straight on to us."

Osmond ran below, and having fetched Redford's binocular from the berth,
climbed the main rigging to just below the cross-tree. There, securing
himself with one arm passed round a shroud, he scanned the northern
horizon intently for a minute or two and then descended slowly with a
grave, set face. From his loftier station he had been able to make out
the vessel's hull; and the character of the approaching ship had left him
in little doubt as to her mission. His comrade met him with an anxious,
inquiring face as he jumped down from the rail.

"Small man-o'-war," he reported in response to the unspoken question;
"barquentine-rigged, buff funnel, white hull. Looks like a gun-boat."

"Ha!" she exclaimed. "That will be the Widgeon. She was lying off Accra."

The two looked at one another in silence for a while as they look who
have heard bad tidings. At length Osmond said, grimly: "Well, this is the
end of it, Betty. She has been sent out to search for you. It will be
'good-bye' in less than an hour."

"Not 'good-bye,' Jim," she urged. "You will come, too, won't you?"

"No," he replied; "I can't leave the old man in this muddle."

"But you'll have to leave him sooner or later."

"Yes; but I must give him the chance to get another mate, or at least to
ship one or two native hands."

"Oh, let him muddle on as he did before. My father will be wild to see
you when he hears of all that has happened. Don't forget, Jim, that you
saved my life."

"I saved my own," said he, "and you chanced to benefit. But I couldn't
come with you in any case, Betty. You are forgetting that I have to keep
out of sight. There may be men up at head-quarters who know me. There may
be even on this gun-boat."

She gazed at him despairingly and her eyes filled. "Oh, Jim," she moaned,
"how dreadful it is. Of course I must go. But I feel that we shall never
see one another again."

"It will be better if we don't," said he.

"Oh, don't say that!" she pleaded. "Think of what we have been to one
another and what we could still be for ever and ever if only you could
forget what is past and done with. Think of what perfect chums we have
been and how fond we are of one another. For we are, Jim. I love you with
my whole heart and I know that you are just as devoted to me. It is a
tragedy that we should have to part."

"It is," he agreed, gloomily, "and the tragedy is of my making."

"It isn't," she dissented, indignantly; and then, softly and coaxingly,
she continued: "But we won't lose sight of each other altogether, Jim,
will we? You will write to me as soon as you get ashore. Promise me that
you will."

"Much better not," he replied; but with so little decision that she
persisted until, in the end, and much against his judgment, he yielded
and gave the required promise.

"That makes it a little easier," she said, with a sigh. "It leaves me
something to look forward to."

She took the glasses from him and searched the rim of the horizon, over
which the masts of the approaching ship had begun to appear.

"I suppose I ought to report to the old man," said Osmond, and he was
just turning towards the companion when Captain Hartup's head emerged
slowly and was in due course followed by the remainder of his person. His
left arm was now emancipated from the sling and in his right hand he
carried a sextant.

"Gun-boat in sight, sir," said Osmond. "Seems to be coming our way."

The captain nodded, and stepping to the taffrail, applied his eye to the
eyepiece of the sextant.

"It has gone seven bells," said he. "Isn't it about time you got ready to
take the latitude--you and the other officer?" he added, with a sour
grin.

In the agitating circumstances, Osmond had nearly forgotten the daily
ceremony--a source of perennial joy to the crew. He now ran below and
presently returned with the two sextants, one of which he handed to 'the
other officer'.

"For the last time, little comrade," he whispered.

"And we'll work the reckoning together. Norie's Navigation will be a
sacred book to me after this."

She took the instrument from him and advanced with him to the bulwark.
But if the truth must be told, her observation was a mere matter of form,
and twice before the skipper called "eight bells" she had furtively to
wipe a tear from the eyepiece. But she went below to the cuddy and
resolutely worked out the latitude (from the reading on Osmond's
sextant), and when the brief calculation was finished, she silently
picked up the scrap of paper on which Osmond had worked out the reckoning
and laid hers in its place. He took it up without a word and slipped it
into his pocket.

"They are queer keepsakes," she said in a half-whisper as the door of
the captain's cabin opened, "but they will tell us exactly when and where
we parted. Who knows when and where we shall meet again--if we ever do?"

"If we ever do," he repeated in the same tone; and then, as the captain
came out and looked at them inquiringly, he reported the latitude that
they had found, and followed him up the companion-steps.

When they arrived on deck they found the crew ranged along the bulwark
watching the gun-boat, which was now fully in view, end-on to the
brigantine, and approaching rapidly, her bare masts swinging like
pendulums as she rolled along over the big swell.

"I suppose we shall make our number, sir," said Osmond; and as the
skipper vouchsafed no reply beyond an unintelligible grunt, he added:
"The flag locker is in your cabin, isn't it?

"Never you mind about the flag locker," was the sour reply. "Our name is
painted legibly on the bows and the counter, and I suppose they've got
glasses if they want to know who we are." He took the binocular from
Osmond, and after a leisurely inspection of the gun-boat, continued:
"Looks like the Widgeon. Coming to pick up a passenger, I reckon. About
time, too. I suppose you are both going--if they'll take you?"

"I am not," said Osmond. "I am going to stay and see you into port."

The skipper nodded and emitted an ambiguous grunt, which he amplified
with the addition: "Well, you can please yourself," and resumed his
inspection of the approaching stranger.

His forecast turned out to be correct, for the gunboat made no signal,
but, sweeping past the _Speedwell's_ stern at a distance of less than a
quarter of a mile, slowed down and brought-to on the port side, when she
proceeded to lower a boat; whereupon Captain Hartup ordered a rope ladder
to be dropped over the port quarter. These preparations Miss Burleigh
watched anxiously and with an assumption of cheerful interest, and when
the boat ran alongside, she joined the skipper at the head of the ladder,
while Osmond, lurking discreetly in the background, kept a watchful eye
on the officer who sat in the stern-sheets until the lessening distance
rendered him distinguishable as an undoubted stranger, when he also
joined the skipper.

As the new-comer--a pleasant-faced, clean-shaved man in a lieutenant's
uniform--reached the top of the ladder, he exchanged salutes with the
skipper and the lady, who advanced and held out her hand.

"Well, Miss Burleigh," said the lieutenant as he shook her hand,
heartily, "this is a relief to find you safe and sound and looking in the
very pink of health. But you have given us all a rare fright. We were
afraid the ship had been lost."

"So she was," replied Betty. "Lost and found. I think I have earned a
fatted calf, don't you, Captain Darley?"

"I don't know," rejoined the lieutenant (the honorary rank was in
acknowledgment of his position as commander of the gun-boat); "we must
leave that to His Excellency. But it doesn't sound very complimentary to
your shipmates or to your recent diet. I needn't ask if you are coming
back with us. My cabin has been made ready for you."

"But how kind of you, Captain Darley. Yes, I suppose I must come with
you, though I have been having quite a good time here; mutinies, fishing,
and all sorts of entertainments."

"Mutinies, hey!" exclaimed Darley, with a quick glance at the captain.
"Well, I am sorry to tear you away from these entertainments, but orders
are orders. Perhaps you will get your traps packed up while I have a few
words with the captain. I shall have to make a report of what has
happened."

On this there was a general move towards the companion. Betty
retired--somewhat precipitately--to her berth and the lieutenant
followed Captain Hartup to his cabin.

Both parties were absent for some time. The first to reappear was Betty,
slightly red about the eyes and carrying a small hand-bag. Having
dispatched Sam Winter below to fetch up her portmanteau, she drew Osmond
away to the starboard side.

"Jack," she said, in a low, earnest tone--"I may call you by your own
name just for once, mayn't I?--you have made me a promise. You won't go
back on it, will you, Jack?"

"Of course I shan't, Betty," he replied.

"I want you to have my cabin when I've gone," she continued. "It is a
better one than yours and it has a tiny port-hole. And if you open the
locker, you will find a little note for you. That is all. Here they come.
Good-bye, Jack, darling!"

She turned away abruptly as he murmured a husky farewell, and having
shaken hands with Captain Hartup and thanked him for his hospitality, was
stepping on to the ladder when she paused suddenly and turned back.

"I had nearly forgotten," said she. "I haven't paid my passage."

"There is no passage-money to pay," the skipper said, gruffly. "My
contract was to deliver you at Accra, and I haven't done it. Besides," he
added, with a sour grin, "you've worked your passage."

"Worked her passage!" exclaimed the lieutenant. "What do you mean?"

"She has been taking the second mate's duties," the skipper explained.

Darley stared open-mouthed from the skipper to the lady. Then, with a
fine, hearty British guffaw, he assisted the latter down to the boat.

VII. THE MATE TAKES HIS DISCHARGE

As an instance of the malicious perversity which the forces of nature
often appear to display, the calm which had for so many days cut off Miss
Betty from any communication with the world at large seemed unable to
survive her departure. Before the gun-boat was fairly hull down on the
horizon, a dark line on the glassy sea announced the approach of a
breeze, and a few minutes later the brigantine's sails filled, her
wallowings subsided, and a visible wake began to stream out astern.

The change in the vessel's motion brought the captain promptly on deck,
and Osmond listened somewhat anxiously for the orders as to the course
which was to be set. But he knew his commander too well to make any
suggestions.

"Breeze seems to be about sou'-sou'-west," the skipper remarked with one
eye on the compass-dial and the other on the upper sails. "Looks as if it
was going to hold, too. Put her head west-nor'-west."

"Did the lieutenant give you our position?" Osmond inquired.

"No, he didn't," the skipper snapped. "He wasn't asked. I don't want any
of your brass-bound dandies teaching me my business. The continent of
Africa is big enough for me to find without their help."

Osmond smothered a grin as he thought of the chronometer, re-started and
ticking away aimlessly in the captain's cabin, its error and rate alike
unknown. But again he made no comment, and presently the skipper resumed:
"I suppose you will be wanting to get back to Adaffia?"

"I'm not going to leave you in the lurch."

"Well, you can't stay with me for good excepting as a seaman, as you
haven't got a ticket--at least, I suppose you haven't."

"No. I hold a master's certificate entitling me to navigate my own yacht,
but, of course, that is no use on a merchant vessel, excepting in an
emergency. But I don't quite see what you are going to do."

"It is a bit of a problem," the skipper admitted. "I shall take on one or
two native hands to help while we are on the Coast, and appoint Winter
and Simmons to act as mates. Then perhaps I shall he able to pick up an
officer from one of the steamers for the homeward trip."

"I will stay with you until you are fixed up, if you like," said Osmond;
but the captain shook his head.

"No," he replied. "I shall put you ashore at Adaffia. I can manage all
right on the Coast, and I must have a regular mate for the homeward
voyage."

Thus the programme was settled, and, on the whole, satisfactorily to
Osmond. It is true that, if there had been no such person as Elizabeth
Burleigh, he would have held on to his position, even with the rating of
ordinary seaman, for the homeward voyage, on the chance of transferring
later to some ship bound for South America or the Pacific Islands. But
although he had renounced all claim to her and all hope of any future
connected with her, he still clung to the ill omened land that was made
glorious to him by her beloved presence.

The captain's forecast was justified by the event. The breeze held
steadily and seemed inclined to freshen rather than to fail. The old
brigantine heeled over gently and forged ahead with a pleasant murmur in
her sails and quite a fine wake trailing astern. It was a great relief to
everybody after the long calm, with its monotony and inaction and the
incessant rolling of the ship and flapping of the sails. The captain was
almost pleasant and the crew were cheerful and contented, though they had
little to do, for when once the course was set there was no need to touch
sheet or brace, and the trick at the wheel was the only active duty apart
from the cook's activities.

To Osmond alone the change brought no obvious satisfaction. All that had
recently happened had been, as he could not but recognize, for the best.
The parting had to come, and every day that it was delayed forged his
fetters only the more firmly. But this reflection offered little
consolation. He loved this sweet, frank, open-hearted girl with an
intensity possible only to a man of his strength of will and constancy of
purpose. And now she was gone; gone out of his life for ever. It was a
final parting. There was no future to look forward to; not even the most
distant and shadowy. The vision of a great happiness had floated before
him and had passed, leaving him to take up again the burden of his
joyless life, haunted for ever by the ghost of the might-have-been.

Nevertheless, he went about his duties briskly enough, finding jobs for
the men and for himself, overhauling the cordage, doing small repairs on
the rigging, and even, with his own hands, putting a patch on a weak spot
on the bottom of the long-boat and lining it inside and out with scraps
of sheet copper. And if he was a little grimmer and more silent than
before, the men understood and in their rough way sympathized, merely
remarking that "Pore old Cook do seem cut up along o' losin' his Judy."

At dawn on the third day the land was in sight; that is to say to the
north there was an appearance as if a number of small entomological pins
had been stuck into the sea-horizon in irregular groups. Viewed from the
fore-top, however, through Redford's glasses, this phenomenon resolved
itself into a narrow band of low-lying shore, dotted with coconut
palms, the characteristic aspect of the Bight of Benin.

As the day wore on, the brigantine gradually closed in with the land.
Before noon, the captain was able, through his telescope, to identify a
group of white buildings as the German factories at the village of
Bagidá. Then the neighbouring village of Lomé came in sight and slowly
crept past; and as the _Speedwell_ drew yet nearer to the land, Osmond was
able to recognize, among a large grove of coconuts, the white-washed
bungalow at Denu, and, a few miles ahead, the dark mass of palms that he
knew to be Adaffia.

"Well, Mr. Cook," said the captain, "you'll soon be back by your own
fireside. If the breeze holds, we ought to be in Adaffia roads by four at
the latest. I suppose you have got all your portmanteaux packed?"

"I'm all ready to go ashore, if you are still of the same mind."

"I never change my mind," replied the skipper; and Osmond believed him.

"Are you making any stay at Adaffia?" he asked.

"I am going to put you ashore," the captain answered. "What I shall do
after that is my business."

"I asked," said Osmond, "because I thought I might be able to get you one
or two native hands. However, you can let me know about that later. Now,
as it is your watch on deck, I will go below and take a bit of a rest."

He went down to the berth, into which he had moved when Betty departed,
and, shutting the door, looked thoughtfully round the little apartment.
Nothing had been altered since she left. All the little feminine
tidinesses had been piously preserved. It was still, to the eye, a
woman's cabin, and everything in its aspect spoke to him of the late
tenant. Presently he lay down on the bunk--the bunk in which she had
slept--and for the hundredth time drew from his pocket the letter which
she had left in the locker. It was quite short--just a little note
hastily written at the last moment when the boat was waiting. But to him
it was inexhaustible; and though by now he knew it by heart, he read it
again as eagerly as when he had first opened it.

'MY DEAREST JIM,' it ran. 'I am writing you a few words of farewell
(since we must say 'good-bye' in public) to tell you that when you read
them I shall be thinking of you. I shall think of you, best and dearest
comrade, every day of my life, and I shall go on hoping that somehow we
shall meet again and be as we have been on this dear old ship. And Jim,
dearest, I want you to understand that I am always yours. Whenever you
want me--no, I don't mean that; I know you want me now--but whenever
you can cast away things that ought to be forgotten, remember that I am
waiting for you. Try, dear, to forget every thing but your love and mine.

'Au revoir!

'Your faithful and loving

'BETTY.'

It was a sweet letter, written in all sincerity; and even though Osmond
never wavered in the renunciation that honour demanded, still it told him
in convincing terms that the door was not shut. The gate of Paradise was
still ajar. If he could forget all justice and generosity; if he, who had
nothing to give, could bring himself to accept the gift so generously
held out to him, he still had the option to enter. He realized that--and
never, for an instant, entertained the thought. Perhaps there were other
ways out. But if there were, he dismissed them, too. Like Captain Hartup,
he was not given to altering his mind. Free as he was from the captain's
petty obstinacy, he was a man of inflexible purpose, even though the
purpose might have been ill-considered.

His long reverie was at length interrupted by a voice which came in
through the little port-hole. "No soundings!"

He glanced up at the tell-tale compass which formed a rather unusual
fitting to the mate's bunk and noted that the ship's course had been
altered three points to the north. She was now heading almost directly
for the land and was presumably nearly opposite Adaffia. He re-folded the
letter and put it away, but his thoughts went back to its message and to
the beloved writer. Presently the voice of the man in the channel who was
heaving the lead was heard again; and this time it told of a nearer
approach to that dreary shore.

"By the deep, eighteen!"

He noted the depth with faint interest and began to think of the
immediate future. As soon as he got ashore he must write to her. It was
quite wrong, but he had promised, and he could not but be glad that she
had exacted the promise. It would be a joy to write to her, and yet he
could feel that he was doing it under compulsion. But it must be a
careful letter. There must be in it no sign of weakening or wavering that
might mislead her. She must be free and she must fully realize it; must
realize that he belonged to her past and had no part in her future. It
would be a difficult letter to write; and here he set himself to consider
what he should say. And meanwhile the leads-man's voice came in from time
to time, recording the gradual approach to the land.

"By the deep, ele-vern!" "By the mark, ten!" "By the deep, eight!"

At this point he was aware of sounds in the cuddy as if some heavy
objects were being moved, and he surmised that the gin-cases were being
disinterred from the lazarette. Then he heard the trap fall and heavy
footsteps stumbled up the companion-stairs. A moment later the leadsman
sang out: "By the mark, sev-ern!" and as Osmond rose from the bunk there
came a thumping at his door and a voice sang out:

"The captain wants you on deck, sir, and there's a canoe a-comin'
alongside."

Osmond cast a farewell glance round the little cabin and followed the man
up on deck, where he found the captain waiting on the poop, standing
guard, apparently, over two leathern bags and one of canvas. Looking
forward, he saw the crew gathered at the open gangway, regarding with
sheepish grins four unopened gin-cases, while a canoe, bearing a
scarlet-coated grandee, was just running alongside. As he stepped out
of the companion, the captain picked up the three bags, and walking with
him slowly towards the gangway, addressed him in a gruff tone and a
somewhat aggressive manner.

"According to law," said he, "I believe you are entitled to a third of
the ship's value for salvage services. There are nearly two hundred
ounces of gold-dust in these two leather bags--that is, roughly, eight
hundred pounds--and there is forty-eight pounds ten in sovereigns and
half-sovereigns, in the canvas bag. Will that satisfy you?

"Rubbish," said Osmond. "I want eight shillings for two cases of gin
broached by your men."

"You won't get it from me," snapped the skipper. "I'll have nothing to do
with intoxicating liquor."

"If you don't pay, I'll sue you," said Osmond.

"I haven't had the gin," retorted the skipper. "It was brought on board
without my authority. You must recover from the men who had it. But what
do you say about the question of salvage?"

"Hang the salvage!" replied Osmond. "I want to be paid for my gin."

"You won't get a ha'penny from me for your confounded poison," exclaimed
the skipper, hotly. "I hold very strict views on the liquor traffic.
There are the men who drank the stuff. Make them pay. It's no concern of
mine. But about this salvage question: are you satisfied with what I
offer?"

Osmond glanced through the gangway. The gin-cases were all stowed in the
canoe; Mensah was beaming up at him with an expectant grin and the
canoe-men grasped their paddles. He felt in his pocket, and then, taking
the canvas bag from the skipper, thrust his hand in and brought out a
handful of coins. From these he selected a half-sovereign, and returning
the others, dropped in a couple of shillings from his pocket.

"Two shillings change," he remarked. He threw the bag down on the deck,
and pocketing the half sovereign, dropped down into the canoe. But he had
hardly taken his seat on the tie-tie thwart when two heavy thumps on the
floor of the canoe, followed by a jingling impact, announced the arrival
of the two bags of gold-dust and the bag of specie.

Osmond stood up in the dancing canoe with a leather bag in each hand.

"Now, Mensah," he sang out, "tell the boys to get away one time."

The paddles dug into the blue water; the canoe bounded forward. Aiming
skilfully at the open gang way, Osmond sent the heavy leathern bags, one
after the other, skimming along the deck, and the little bag of specie
after them. The skipper grabbed them up and rushed to the gangway. But he
was too late. The canoe was twenty yards away and leaping forward to the
thud of the paddles. Looking back at the brigantine with a satisfied
smile, Osmond saw a row of six grinning faces at the rail, and at the
gangway a small figure that shook its fist at the receding canoe with
valedictory fury.

His homecoming was the occasion of a pleasant surprise. At intervals
during his absence he had given a passing thought to his factory and the
little solitary house by the beach and had wondered how they would fare
while their master was away. Now he found that in Kwaku Mensah he had a
really faithful steward, and not only faithful but strangely competent in
his simple way. The house was in apple-pie order and the store was neatly
kept and evidently a going concern, for when he arrived, Mensah's pretty
Fanti wife was behind the counter, chaffering persuasively with a party
of 'bush' people from Agotimé, and a glance into the compound showed a
good pile of produce, awaiting removal to the produce store. Accounts, of
course, there were none, since Mensah 'no sabby book', but nevertheless
that artless merchantman had kept an exact record of all the transactions
with that uncanny precision of memory that one often observes in the
intelligent illiterate.

So Osmond settled down at once, with a satisfaction that rather surprised
him, into the old surroundings; and as he sat that evening at the table,
consuming with uncommon relish a dinner of okro soup, 'chickum cotrecks',
and 'banana flitters', the product of Mrs. Mensah's skill (her name was
Ekua Bochwi, from which one learned that she had been born on Wednesday
and was the eighth child of her parents), he was inclined to congratulate
himself on Captain Hartup's refusal to retain him as the provisional mate
of the _Speedwell_.

But in spite of the triumphant way in which he had out-manoeuvred the
skipper, Osmond had a suspicion that he had not seen the last of his late
commander. For the brigantine, which he had left hove-to and apparently
ready to proceed on her voyage, had presently let go her anchor and
stowed her sails as if the captain contemplated a stay at Adaffia. And
the event justified his suspicions. On the following morning, while he
was seated at the breakfast-table, with a fair copy of his letter to
Betty before him, he became aware of shod feet on the gravelled compound,
and a few moments later the doorway framed the figure of Captain Hartup,
while in the background lurked Sam Winter, grinning joy and carrying two
leathern bags.

The captain entered, and regarding his quondam mate with an expression
that almost approached geniality, wished him "good morning" and even held
out his hand. Osmond grasped it cordially, and drawing up a second chair,
pressed his visitor to join him.

"A little fresh food," he remarked, untactfully, with his eye on the
leathern bags, "and a cup of real coffee will do you good."

"I don't know what you mean by that," snorted the skipper. "I'm not
starving, and neither are you. The ship's grub hasn't killed you. Still,"
he added, "as I see you are breakfasting like a Christian and not in the
beastly Coast fashion, I don't mind if I do try a bit of shore tack with
you. And you needn't look at those bags like that. I am not going to
force anything on you. I am not an obstinate man" (which was a most
outrageous untruth).

"What have you brought them here for?" Osmond demanded stolidly.

"I'll tell you presently," replied the skipper. "Bring 'em in, Winter,
and dump 'em on that sideboard."

Winter deposited the two bags on the stack of empty cases thus politely
designated and then backed to the doorway, where he was encountered by
Kwaku, who was directed to take him to the store and feed him.

"I've come ashore," the captain explained when they were alone, "to see
if I can make one or two little arrangements with you."

Osmond nodded as he helped his guest to stuffed okros and fried eggs
(eggs are usually served, on the Coast, fried or poached or in some other
overt form, as a precaution against embryological surprises).

"To begin with," continued the skipper, "I want about half a dozen
niggers--a cook, a cabin-boy, and a few hands to do the rough work. Do
you think you can manage that for me?"

"I've no doubt I can," was the reply.

"Good. Well, then, there is this gold-dust. If you care to change your
mind, say so, and the stuff is yours."

Osmond shook his head. "I came on board for my own purposes," said he,
"and I am not going to take any payment for looking after my own
business."

"Very well," the skipper rejoined: "then if you won't have it, I may as
well keep it; and I shan't if it remains on board. It was that gold-dust
that tempted Dhoody and the others. Now I understood from you that you
have got a safe. Is it a pretty strong one?"

"It's strong enough. There are no skilled burglars out here."

"Then I'm going to ask you to take charge of this stuff for me. You see
that both bags are sealed up, and there is a paper inside each giving
particulars of the contents and full directions as to how they are to be
disposed of if anything should happen to me. Will you do this for me--as
a matter of business, of course?"

"Not as a matter of business," replied Osmond. "That would make me
responsible for the safe custody of the bags, which I can't be, as I may
have to be absent from Adaffia and leave my man, Mensah, in charge of the
factory. I will put the stuff in my safe with pleasure, and I think it
will be perfectly secure there; but I won't take any payment or accept
any responsibility beyond exercising reasonable care. Will that do?"

"Yes," replied the captain, "that will do. What is good enough for your
own property is good enough for mine. So I will ask you to lock the stuff
up for me and keep it till I ask for it; but if you should hear that
anything has happened to me--that I am dead, in fact--then you will
open the bags and read the papers inside and dispose of the property
according to the directions written in those papers. Will you do that? It
will be a weight off my mind if you will."

"Certainly I will," said Osmond. "But have you any reason to expect that
anything will happen to you?"

"Nothing immediate," the captain replied. "But, you see, I am not as
young as I was, and I am not what you would call a very sound man. I am
subject to occasional attacks of giddiness and faintness. I don't know
how much they mean, but my doctor at Bristol warned me not to treat them
too lightly. He gave me a supply of medicine, which I keep in the chest,
and when I feel an attack coming on, I turn in and take some. But still,
'in the midst of life we are in death,' you know; and I'm ready to answer
to my name when the call comes."

"Well," said Osmond, "let us hope it won't come until you have got your
goods safely home to Bristol. But in any case, you can depend on me to
carry out your instructions."

"Thank you, Mr. Cook," said the captain. "I am glad to get that little
matter settled. The only anxiety that is left now is the ivory. I had
thought of asking you to take charge of that, too, but it would be
awkward for you to store. And, after all, it's fairly safe in the hold. A
man can't nip off with a dozen eighty-pound tusks in his pocket. So I
think we will leave that where it is, ready stowed for the homeward
voyage. By the way, have you got any produce that you want to dispose
of?"

"Yes, I have a ton or two of copra and a couple of puncheons of oil; and
I can let you have some kernels and rubber. Perhaps you would like to
take some of the produce in exchange for trade goods."

The arrangement suited Captain Hartup exactly, and accordingly, when they
had finished breakfast and stowed the gold-dust in the safe, they
adjourned to the produce store to settle the details of the exchange.
Then half a dozen canoes were chartered, the new hands mustered by Kwaku,
and for the rest of the day the little factory compound and the usually
quiet beach were scenes of unwonted bustle and activity. Sam Winter
(secretly fortified with a substantial 'tot' of gin) was sent on board to
superintend the stowage and breaking-out of cargo, while the skipper
remained ashore to check off the goods landed and embarked.

The sun was getting low when the two white men set forth to follow the
last consignment down to the beach. When they had seen it loaded into the
canoes and watched its passage through the surf, Captain Hartup turned to
Osmond, and having shaken his hand with almost unnatural cordiality,
said, gruffly but not without emotion:

"Well, good-bye, Mr. Cook. I've a good deal to thank you for, and I don't
forget it. Providence brought us together when I badly needed a friend,
and He will bring us together again, no doubt, in His own good time. But
how or when, no one can foresee."

He shook Osmond's hand again and, stepping into the waiting canoe, took
his seat on a parcel of rubber. The incoming breaker surged up and spent
its last energy in a burst of spray on the canoe's beak. The little craft
lifted and, impelled by a hearty shove from the canoe-men, slid down the
beach on the backwash and charged into the surf. For a few minutes Osmond
stood at the brink of the sea watching the canoe as it hovered amidst
clouds of spray, dodging the great combers and waiting for its chance to
slip through the 'shouting seas' to the quiet rollers outside. At length
the periodical 'lull' came; the paddles drummed furiously on the
green-blue water; the canoe leaped at the following wave, disappeared in
a burst of snowy froth, and reappeared prancing wildly but safely outside
the line of surf. A little figure in the canoe turned and waved its hand;
and Osmond, after a responsive flourish of his hat and a glance at the
anchored brigantine, turned away from the beach with an odd feeling of
regret and walked slowly back to the factory, pondering on the captain's
curious and rather cryptic farewell.

VIII. THE LAST OF THE 'SPEEDWELL'

FOR a couple of months Osmond's life at Adaffia drifted on monotonously
enough, yet not at all drearily to a man of his somewhat solitary habits
and self-contained nature. The factory prospered in a modest way with
very little attention on his part, causing him often to reflect
regretfully on poor Larkom's melancholy and unnecessary failure. That
kindly wastrel was now secured--for a time--from oblivion by a
neatly-made wooden cross, painted white and inscribed with his name, a
date, and a few appreciative words, which had been set above his grave
when the other cross had been removed to grace an elongated heap of sand
which represented the resting-place of the late John Osmond.

Moreover, there were breaks in the monotony which had not existed before
the adventure of the _Speedwell_. His letter to Betty (in which, among
other matters, he had related with naive satisfaction the incident of the
leathern bags and the defeat of Captain Hartup) had evoked a lengthy
reply with a demand for a further letter; and so, much against his
judgment, he had been drawn into a regular correspondence which was the
occasion of alternate and conflicting emotions. Every letter that he
wrote racked his conscience and filled him with self-contempt. But the
arrival of the inevitable and always prompt reply was a delight which he
accepted and enjoyed without a qualm. It was very inconsistent. To the
half-naked native who acted as the semi-official postman, he would hand
his letter shamefacedly, with a growl of disapproval, admonishing himself
that "this sort of thing has got to stop." And then, on the day when the
reply was expected, he would take a telescope out on the sand-hills and
remain for hours watching the beach for the appearance in the remote
distance of that same native postman.

These letters, mostly written from head-quarters, kept him informed
respecting events of local interest, and, what was much more to the
point, of Betty's own doings and movements. He learned, for instance,
that there were rumours of a native rising in Anglóh (officially spelt
Awuna), the region at the back of Adaffia; and that--regardless of this
fact--Betty was trying to get her father's permission for a little
journey of exploration into this very district.

This latter item of news set his emotional see-saw going at double
speed. His judgment denounced the project violently. First, there was
the danger--obvious, though not so very great; for the African is
essentially a gentlemanly fighter, if rather heavy-handed, and would
avoid injuring a white woman. But he is a shockingly bad marksman
and uses slugs and gravel for ammunition, so that accidents are very
liable to happen. But apart from the danger, this expedition was highly
undesirable, for it would bring Betty into his neighbourhood, and of
course they would meet--she would see to that. And that meeting ought
not to take place. It would only prolong a state of affairs that was
disturbing to him and ruinous to her future prospects. He felt this
very sincerely, and was foolish enough to say so in his reply to her
letter.

From time to time his thoughts wandered to Captain Hartup, and always
with a tendency to speculate on the meaning--if there were any--of the
note of foreboding which he thought he had detected in the captain's last
words as they said "good-bye" on the beach. Those words--together with
something final and testamentary in his manner when he had deposited the
bags of gold-dust in the safe--seemed to hint at an uncertainty of life
and distrust of the future on the captain's part, on which Osmond
reflected uneasily. And at last, there came a day on which the skipper's
meaning was made clear.

One morning, in the short interval between the night and the dawn, he
awoke suddenly and became aware of a dusky figure between his bed and the
window.

"Mastah!" the voice of Mensah exclaimed, excitedly, "dat ship,
_Speedwell_! I look um. He fit for come on de beach."

Osmond lifted the mosquito-curtain and, springing out of bed, dropped
into his slippers, snatched up the telescope, and followed Mensah out to
the end of the compound whence there was a clear view of the sea. And
there she was looming up sharp and clear against the grey dawn; and the
first glance of a nautical eye read tragedy and disaster in every detail
of her aspect. No telescope was needed. She was close in shore, within a
couple of cable-lengths of the surf, with her square-sails aback and
head-sails shivering, drifting slowly but surely to the destruction that
roared under her lee. Obviously, there was no one at the wheel, nor was
there any sign of life on board. She was a perfect picture of a derelict.

For a few moments Osmond stared at her in horrified amazement. Then, with
a sharp command to Mensah to "get canoe one time," he ran out of the
compound and made his way to the beach.

But his order had been anticipated. As he and Mensah came out on the
shore, they found a group of excited fishermen dragging a canoe down to
the water's edge, while another party were already afloat and paddling
out through the surf towards the derelict brigantine. Osmond and his
henchman at once joined the fishermen, and though the latter looked
askance at the white man--for the accommodation of the little craft was
rather limited--they made no demur, experience having taught them that
he would have his own way--and pay for it. Accordingly they hauled and
shoved with a will, and in a very few moments got the canoe down to the
water's edge. Osmond and Mensah stepped in and took their seats, the
fishermen grasped the gunwales, and when a big wave swept in and lifted
the canoe, they shoved off and went sliding down on the backwash and
charged into the surf.

Meanwhile the brigantine continued to drift by the wind and current
nearly parallel to the shore, but slowly approached the latter. At the
moment she was turning sluggishly and beginning to 'pay off' on the star
board tack. Her sails filled and she began to move ahead. If anyone had
been on board she might even now have been saved, for there was still
room for her to 'claw off' the lee shore. Osmond gazed at her with his
heart in his mouth and urged the canoe-men to greater efforts; though
they wanted little urging, seeing that their friends in the other canoe
were now quite near to the receding ship. Moment by moment his hopes rose
as the brigantine gathered way, though she was now less easy to overtake.
Breathlessly he watched the leading canoe approach her nearer and nearer
until at last the fishermen were able to lay hold of the vacant tackles
that hung down from the stern davits and swarm up them to the poop. And
even as they disappeared over the taffrail, the flicker of life that the
old brigantine had displayed faded out. Under the pressure of the
mainsail she began slowly to turn to windward. The head-sails shivered,
the square-sails blew back against the mast; she ceased to move ahead,
and then began once more to drift stern-foremost towards the white line
of surf.

As Osmond's canoe ran alongside, where the other canoe was now towing,
the first arrivals came tumbling over the side in a state of wild
excitement, jabbering as only an excited African can jabber. Mensah
proceeded hastily to interpret.

"Dose fishermen say dis ship no good. Dead man live inside him."

Osmond acknowledged the information with an in articulate growl, and
grasping a chain-plate, hauled himself up into the channel, whence he
climbed over the rail and dropped on deck.

His first act was to run to the wheel, jam it hard over to port and fix
it with a lashing. Then he ran forward to look at the anchors; but both
of them were stowed securely and--for the present purposes--useless. He
looked up despairingly at the sails, and for a moment thought of trying
to swing the yards; but a glance over the stern at the snowy line of surf
showed him that the time for manoeuvring was past. For an instant he
stood scanning the deck; noting the absence of both boats and the yawning
main hatch. Then he ran aft and scrambled down the companion-steps.

The door of the captain's cabin was open--had been left open by the
fishermen--and was swinging idly as the ship rolled. But though the
whereabouts of the dead man was evident enough before he reached it, he
entered without hesitation, intent only on learning exactly what had
happened on that ill-omened ship.

The little cabin was just as he had last seen it--with certain
differences. And in the bunk lay something that had once been Captain
Hartup. It was a dreadful thing to look upon, for the Tropics deal not
kindly with the unsepulchred dead. But as Osmond stood looking down on
the bunk, mere physical repulsion was swallowed up in a profound feeling
of pity for the poor, cross-grained, honest-hearted little shipmaster.
There he lay--all that was left of him. There, in the bunk, still
lightly held by the blackened, puffy hand, was the inexhaustible
Commentary, and on the deck, by the bunk-side, an open box containing a
tumbler and a large medicine-bottle the label of which bore written
directions and a Bristol address.

Osmond picked up the bottle and read the minute directions with a sense
of profound relief. Its presence suggested what his inspection of the
dead man confirmed; that at least death had come to Captain Hartup
peaceably and decently. The traces of a murderous attack which he had
feared to find were not there. Everything tended to show that the captain
had died, as he had seemed to expect, from the effects of some
long-standing malady.

From the dead man Osmond turned a swift attention to the cabin. He had
noticed, when he entered, that the chronometer was not in its place on
the little chart-table. He now observed that other things had
disappeared--the telescope, the marine glasses, the sextant, and the
mathematical instrument case In short, as he looked round, he perceived
that the little cabin had been gutted. Every portable thing of value had
been taken away.

His observations were interrupted by the voice of Mensah calling to him
urgently to come away "one time," and at the same moment he felt the ship
give a heavy lurch followed by a quick recovery. He backed out of the
cabin and was about to run up the companion-steps when his glance fell on
the door of the adjoining berth, which had been his own and Betty's, and
he was moved irresistibly to take a last, farewell look at the little
hutch which held so many and so dearly prized memories. He thrust the
door open and looked in; and even as he looked, a flash of dazzling white
came through the tiny porthole, and a moment later a thunderous crash
resounded and the ship trembled as if struck by a thousand monstrous
hammers.

He waited no more, but, springing up the steps, thrust his head
cautiously out of the companion-hatch. Glancing seaward, he saw a great,
sparkling green mass sweeping down on the ship. In another instant, its
sharp, tremulous crest whitened; a hissing sound was borne to his ears
and quickly rose to a hoarse roar which ended in a crash that nearly
shook him off his feet. Then sea and sky, masts and deck, were swallowed
up in a cloud of blinding white; there was another roar, and the snowy
cataract descended, filling the deck with a seething torrent of foaming
water.

Osmond sprang out of the hatch and took a quick glance round. The two
canoes were hovering on the outside edge of the surf and obviously unable
to approach the ship. Towards the land, the sea was an unbroken expanse
of white, while to seaward the long ranks of sharp-crested waves were
turning over and breaking as they approached. Warned by a hissing roar
from the nearest wave, he stepped back into the shelter of the companion.
Again the ship staggered to the crashing impact. Again the visible world
was blotted out by the white cloud of spray and foam; and then, as the
deluge fell, came a sickening jar with loud cracking noises as the ship
struck heavily on the ground. Twice she lifted and struck again, but the
third time, rending sounds from below told that her timbers had given way
and she lifted no more. Then, under the hammering of the surf, which
filled her lower sails with green water, she heeled over towards the
shore until the deck was at an angle of nearly forty-five.

Osmond looked out from his shelter and rapidly considered what he should
do. There was not much time to consider, for the ship would soon begin to
break up. He thought of dropping overboard on the land side and swimming
ashore; but it was not a very safe plan, for at any moment the masts
might go over the side, and it would not do for him to be underneath when
they fell.

Still, he had to act quickly if he were to escape from the impending
collapse of the whole fabric, and he looked about eagerly to find the
least perilous method. Suddenly his glance fell upon a large cork fender
which was washing about in the lee scuppers. The way in which it floated
showed that it was dry and buoyant, and it appeared to him that with its
aid he might venture into the surf beyond the shelter of the ship and
wash safely ashore.

He watched for an opportunity to secure it. Waiting for the brief
interval between the descent of the deluge and the bursting of the next
wave, he slipped out, and grasping the end of the main sheet, which had
washed partly loose from the cleat, ran down to the scupper, seized the
fender, and hauling himself up again, crept into his shelter just in time
to escape the next wave. When this had burst on the ship and the cataract
had fallen, he kicked off his slippers, darted out, and clawing his way
past the wheel, reached the taffrail. Holding on firmly to the fender
with one hand, with the other he grasped the lee davit-tackle, and
springing out, let the tackle slip through his hand.

Just as he reached the water, the next wave burst on the ship; and for
the next few moments he was conscious of nothing but a roaring in his
ears, a sudden plunge into darkness, and a sense of violent movement. But
he still clung tenaciously to the fender, and presently his head rose
above the seething water. He took a deep breath, shook the water from his
eyes, and began to strike out with his feet, waiting anxiously for the
next wave and wondering how much submersion he could stand without
drowning. But when the next wave came, its behaviour rather surprised
him. The advancing wall of hissing foam seemed simply to take hold of the
fender and bear it away swiftly shoreward, leaving him to hold on and
follow with his head comfortably above the surface.

In this way, amidst a roar like that of steam from an engine's
escape-valve, he was borne steadily and swiftly for about a quarter of a
mile. Then the spent wave left him and he could see it travelling away
towards the shore. But the following wave overtook him after a very short
interval and carried him forward another stage. And so he was borne along
with surprising ease and speed until he was at last flung roughly on the
beach and forthwith smothered in foaming water. He clawed frantically at
the wet sand and strove to rise. But the beach was steep and the undertow
would have dragged him back but for the help of a couple of fishermen,
who, holding on to a grass rope that was held by their companions, waded
into the surf, and grabbing him by the arms, dragged him up on to the dry
sand beyond the reach of the waves.

As he rose to his feet, he turned to look at the ship. But she was a ship
no longer. The short time occupied by his passage ashore had turned her
into a mere wreck. Her masts lay flat on the water and her deck had been
burst through from below; and through the yawning spaces where the planks
had been driven out, daylight could be seen in several places where her
side was stove in. The two canoes had already come ashore, and their
crews stood at the water's edge, watching the flotsam that was even now
beginning to drift shoreward on the surf. Osmond, too, watched it with
interest, for he now recalled that the instantaneous glance that he had
cast through the open main hatch had shown an unexpectedly empty
condition of the hold. And this impression was confirmed when Mensah
joined him (apparently quite unmoved by the proceedings of his eccentric
employer) and remarked:

"Dose fishermen say only small-small cargo live in side dat ship. Dey say
de sailor-man tief de cargo and go away in de boats."

Osmond made no comment on this. Obviously the cargo could not have been
taken away in two small boats. But equally obviously it was not
there, nor were the boats. It was clear that the ship had been
abandoned--probably after the skipper's death--and she had been abandoned
at sea. The suggestion was that the crew had transhipped on to some
passing vessel and that the cargo had been transferred with them. It might
be a perfectly legitimate transaction. But the presence in the cabin of
the unburied body of the captain, and the open main hatch, hinted at
hurried proceedings of not very scrupulous agents. A responsible
shipmaster would certainly have buried the dead captain. Altogether
it was a mysterious affair, on which it was possible only to
speculate.

The spot where the brigantine had come ashore was about halfway between
Adaffia and the adjoining village of Denu. Osmond decided to walk the
three or four miles into Adaffia, and when he had washed, dressed, and
breakfasted, to return and examine the wreckage. Meanwhile, he left
Mensah on guard to see that nothing was taken away--or at any rate, to
keep account of anything that was removed by the natives, who were now
beginning to flock in from the two villages. Accordingly, having borrowed
from the fishermen a large, shallow calabash to put over his head--for
the sun was now well up and making itself felt--he strode away westward
along the beach, walking as far as was possible on the wet sand to avoid
delivering his bare feet to the attacks of the chiggers--sand-fleas--which
infested the 'Aeolian sands' above the tide-marks.

When he returned some three hours later all that was left of the
_Speedwell_ was a litter of wreckage and flotsam strewn along the margin of
the sea or on the blown sand, to which some of the more valuable portions
had been carried. The vessel's keel, with the stem and stern-posts and a
few of the main timbers still attached, lay some distance out, but even
this melancholy skeleton was gradually creeping shoreward under the
incessant pounding of the surf. The masts, spars, and sails were still in
the water, but they, too, were slowly creeping up the beach as the spent
waves struck them every few seconds. As to the rest, the ship seemed
almost to have decomposed into her constituent planks and beams. There is
no ship-breaker like an Atlantic surf.

Osmond cast a pensive glance over the disorderly frame that had once been
a stout little ship, and as Mensah observed him and approached, he asked:

"How much cargo has come ashore, Kwaku?"

Mensah flung out his hands and pointed to the litter on the shore.
"Small, small cargo come," said he. "One, two puncheons of oil, two or
tree dozen bags kernels, some bags copra, two, tree bales Manchester
goods--finish."

"I don't see any Manchester goods," said Osmond.

"No, sah. Dem country people. Dey darn tief. Dey take eberyting. Dey no
leave nutting"; and in confirmation he pointed to sundry little caravans
of men, women, and children, all heavily laden and all hurrying homeward,
which were visible, mostly in the distance. Indeed, Osmond had met
several of them on his way.

"You have not seen any ivory?"

"No, sah. I look for um proper but I no see um."

"Nor any big crates or cases?"

"No, sah. Only de bales and crates of Manchester goods, and de country
people break dem up."

"Has the captain--the dead man--come ashore?"

"Yas, sah. He live for dat place," and Mensah pointed to a spot at the
eastern end of the beach where a clump of coconut palms grew almost at
high-water mark. Thither Osmond proceeded with Mensah, and there, at the
spot indicated, he found the uncomely corpse of the little skipper lying
amidst a litter of loose planks and small flotsam, on the wet sand in the
wash of the sea, and seeming to wince as the spent waves alternately
pushed it forward and drew it back.

"Mensah," said Osmond, looking down gravely at the body, "this man my
countryman, my friend. You sabby?"

"Yas, sah. I sabby he be your brudder."

"Well, I am going to bury him in the compound with Mr. Larkom and Mr.
Osmond."

"Yas, sah," said Mensah, with a somewhat puzzled expression. That second
grave was a mystery that had caused him much secret cogitation. But
discretion had restrained him from asking questions.

"You think," pursued Osmond, "these people fit for bring the dead man to
Adaffia?"

"Dey fit," replied Mensah, "s'pose you dash um plenty money."

"Very well," said Osmond, with characteristic incaution, "see that he is
brought in and I will pay them what they ask."

"I go look dem people one time," said Mensah, who had instantly decided
that, on these advantageous terms, he would undertake the contract
himself.

Before starting to walk back, Osmond took another glance at the wreckage
and at the crowd of natives who were, even now, carrying it away
piecemeal. For a moment he had a thought of constituting himself Lloyd's
agent and taking possession of what was left. But he had no authority,
and as the mere wreckage was of no realizable value, and as the little
cargo there had been was already carried away, he dismissed the idea and
set out homeward, leaving the delighted natives in undisputed possession.

His first proceeding on arriving home was to unlock the safe and break
open the leathern bags to see what directions Captain Hartup had given as
to the disposal of his property. He was not entirely unprepared to find
that the captain had formally transferred the gold-dust to him. But he
was totally unprepared for the contents of the bulky paper which he drew
out of the second bag, and as he opened and read it he could hardly
believe the evidence of his eyesight. The paper was a regularly-drawn
will, witnessed by Winter and Simmons, which made 'my friend and
temporary mate, Mr. James Cook', sole executor and legatee.

It began with a preamble, setting forth that 'I, Nicholas Hartup, being a
widower without offspring, dependants, or near relations, give and
bequeath my worldly possessions to the man who has dealt with me
honestly, faithfully, and without thought of material profit or reward'
and then went on to make the specific bequests, describing each of the
items clearly and in detail. These included the gold-dust, giving the
exact weight, a consignment of ivory consisting of 'thirty-nine large
tusks in three large crates, at present in the hold of the brigantine
_Speedwell_, and fifty-one scribellos in a large canvas bag wired up and
sealed, also in the hold' also the vessel herself, and, most astonishing
of all, 'my freehold house in Bristol, known as number sixty-five Garlic
Street' and a sum of about three thousand pounds, a part invested in
certain named securities and the remainder lying on deposit at a
specified bank in Bristol. It was an amazing document. As Osmond read and
re-read it he found himself wondering at the perverseness of the little
shipmaster in hiding his kindly, appreciative feelings under so
forbidding an exterior; but, to judge by the wording of the preamble, his
experience of men would seem not to have been happy. Osmond, having put
back the will in the bag, tied up that and the other and replaced them in
the safe. As he locked the door and pocketed the key, he reflected on the
irony of his present position. In all the years during which he had lived
amidst his friends and relatives, no one had ever bequeathed to him a
single penny. Yet in the course of a few months, in this unfrequented and
forgotten corner of the world, he had twice been made the sole legatee of
almost complete strangers. And now he had be come a man of modest
substance, an owner of landed property; and that in a country which
prudence insisted that he must never revisit.

IX. ARMS AND THE MAN

SPEAKING in general terms, Welshmen cannot be fairly described as
excessively rare creatures; in fact, there are some parts of the
world--Wales, for instance--in which they are quite common. But
circumstances alter cases. When Jack Osmond, busily engaged in posting
up his account-books, lifted his eyes and beheld a specimen of this
well-known type of mammal, he was quite startled; not merely because he
had never before heard anyone say "Good morning" with an accent on the
"ning"--which the present example did, although it was actually three
in the afternoon--but because no ship had called in the neighbourhood
quite lately and he had not known of the presence of any European in
the village.

The stranger introduced himself by the name of Jones, which being not
entirely without precedent was accepted without difficulty. He had an
additional name, but as Osmond failed to assimilate it, and it could be
expressed in writing only by an extravagant expenditure of l's and double
d's, it is omitted from this merely Saxon chronicle. He shook Osmond's
hand exuberantly and smiled until his face--particularly the left side--was
as full of lines as a ground-plan of Willesden Junction.

"I come to you, Mr. Larkom," said the visitor, retaining Osmond's
unwilling hand and apparently adopting the name that remained unaltered
over the door of the factory, "as a fellow-countryman in distress,
craving a charitable judgment and a helping hand."

He would have been well advised to leave it at that; for Osmond's natural
generosity needed no spur, and the memory of his own misfortunes was
enough to ensure his charity to others. But Mr. Jones continued, smiling
harder than ever: "I come to you confidently for this help because of the
many instances of your kindness and generosity and good-fellowship that I
have heard--"

"From whom?" interrupted Osmond.

"From--er--from--well, I may say, from every one on the Coast who
knows you."

"Oh," said Osmond; and his face relaxed into a grim smile. Jones saw that
he had made a mistake and wondered what the deuce it was.

"Come into my room," said Osmond, "and tell me what you want me to do.
Have a cocktail?"

Mr. Jones would have a cocktail, thank you; and while Osmond twirled the
swizzle-stick and raised a pink froth in the tumbler, he cautiously
opened his business.

"I am taking some risk in telling you of my little affair, but I am sure
I can trust you not to give me away."

"Certainly you can," Osmond replied, incautiously.

"You promise on your honour as a gentleman not to give me away?"

"I have," said Osmond, handing him the cocktail.

Jones still hesitated somewhat, as if desirous of further formalities,
but at length plunged into the matter in a persuasive whisper, with much
gesticulation and a craftily watchful eye on Osmond's face.

It was not an encouraging face. A portrait of the 'Iron Duke' at the age
of thirty, executed in very hard wood by a heavy-handed artist with a
large chisel and mallet, would give you the kind of face that Mr. Jones
looked upon; and as the 'little affair' unfolded itself, that face grew
more and more wooden. For Osmond's charity in respect of errors of
conduct did not extend to those that were merely in contemplation.

It transpired gradually that Mr. Jones's sufferings and distress were
occasioned by a little cargo that he had been unable to land; which cargo
happened to include--er--in fact, to be quite candid, consisted largely
of Mauser rifles, together with some miscellaneous knick-knacks--such as
Mauser cartridges, for instance--all of which were at present rolling in
the hold of a privately-chartered vessel (name not mentioned). It also
appeared that the Colonial Government had most unreasonably prohibited
the importation of arms and ammunition on account of the silly little
insurrection that had broken out inland; which very circumstance created
an exceptional opportunity--don't you understand?--for disposing of
munitions of war on profitable terms. It appeared, finally, that Mr.
Larkom's factory was an ideal place in which to conceal the goods and
from which to distribute them among local sportsmen interested in
target-practice or partridge-shooting.

"To put it in a nutshell," said Osmond, "you're doing a bit of
gun-running and you want to use me as a cat's paw; and to put it in
another nutshell, I'll see you damned first."

"But," protested Jones, "you sell arms yourself, don't you?"

"Not while this row is on. Besides, the niggers don't buy my gas-pipes
for war-palaver. My customers are mostly hunters from the bush."

Mr. Jones lingered a while to ply the arts of persuasion and consume two
more cocktails; and when at last he departed, more in sorrow than in
anger, he paused on the threshold to remark:

"You have promised, on your honour, not to give me away."

"I know I have, like a fool," replied Osmond "Wish I hadn't. Know better
next time. Good day." And he followed his departing guest to the compound
gate and shut it after him.

From that moment Mr. Jones seemed to vanish into thin air. He was seen no
more in the village, and no whispers as to his movements came from
outside. But a few nights later Osmond had a rather curious experience
that somehow recalled his absent acquaintance. He had gone out, according
to his common custom, to take a quiet stroll on the beach before turning
in, and think of his future movements and of the everlasting
might-have-been. Half a mile west of the village he came on a fishing
canoe, drawn up above tide-marks, and as he had just filled his pipe he
crept under the lee of the canoe to light it--for one learns to husband
one's matches in West Africa. Having lighted his pipe, he sat down to
think over a trading expedition that he had projected, but, finding
himself annoyed by the crabs, which at nightfall pour out of their
burrows in myriads, he shifted to the interior of the canoe. Here he sat,
looking over the spectral breakers out into the dark void which was the
sea, and immersed in his thoughts until he was startled by the sudden
appearance of a light. He watched it curiously and not without suspicion.
It was not a ship's anchor-light, nor was it a flare-lamp in a
fishing-canoe. By the constant variation in its brightness Osmond judged
it to be a bull's-eye lantern which was being flashed to and fro along
the coast from some vessel in the offing to signal to someone ashore.

He looked up and down the dark beach for the answering signal, and
presently caught a dull glimmer, as of a bull's-eye lantern seen from one
side, proceeding from the beach a short distance farther west. Watching
this spot, he soon made out a patch of deeper darkness which grew in
extent, indicating that a crowd of natives had gathered at the water's
edge; and, after a considerable interval a momentary flash of the lantern
fell on a boat dashing towards the beach in a smother of spray.

Soon after this a number of dark shapes began to separate themselves from
the mass and move in single file across the low sand-dunes, passing
within a few dozen yards of the canoe. Osmond could see them distinctly,
though himself unseen; a long procession of carriers, each bearing a load
on his head; and whereas some of these loads were of an oblong shape,
like small gun-crates--about the length of a Mauser rifle--the others
were more nearly cubical and quite small, though obviously heavy. Osmond
watched the file of carriers and counted upwards of forty loads. Perhaps
it was none of his business. But as those parcels of death and
destruction were borne silently away into the darkness to swell the tale
of slaughter in the inland villages, he cursed Mr. Jones and his own
folly in giving that unconsidered promise.

The last of the carriers had vanished and he had just risen from the
canoe to return up the now deserted beach when a new phenomenon presented
itself. The clouds which had hidden the rising moon, thinned for a few
moments, leaving a patch of coppery light in the eastern sky; and against
this, sharp and distinct as if cut out of black paper, stood the shape of
a schooner. But not an ordinary trading schooner. Brief as was the gleam
that rendered her visible, her character was perfectly obvious to a
yachtsman's eye. She was a large yacht of the type that was fashionable
when the America Cup was new; when spoon bows and bulb keels were things
as yet undreamed of. Osmond stared at her in astonishment; and even as he
looked, the clouds closed up, the sky drew dark, and she was lost in the
blackness of the night.

He was up betimes on the following morning and out on the beach in the
grey dawn to see if any confirmatory traces of these mysterious
proceedings were visible. But his questioning eye ranged over the grey
sea in vain. The schooner had vanished as if she had never been. There
were, however, multitudinous tracks of bare feet leading up from the
shore to the sand-hills, where they were lost; deep footprints such as
would be made by heavily-laden men. And there was something else, even
more significant. Just at high-water mark, hardly clear of the wash of
the sea, was a ship's boat, badly battered, broken-backed, and with one
bilge stove in. Some fool, who knew not the West Coast surf, had
evidently landed a heavy lading in her with this inevitable result.

But it was not her condition alone that caused Osmond to stride so
eagerly towards her. There was something in her size and build that he
seemed to recognize. As he reached her, he walked round to examine her
stern. There had, of course, been a name painted on her transom, but it
had been scraped out and the stern re-painted. Then Osmond stepped in and
lifted one of the bottom-boards; and there, on the starboard side close
to the keel, was a patch covered with sheet-copper, while inspection from
without showed an external covering of copper. There was no mistaking
that patch. It was his own handiwork. This poor battered wreck was the
_Speedwell's_ long-boat; and as he realized this, he realized, too, what
had become of the _Speedwell's_ cargo.

The discovery gave Osmond considerable food for thought for the remainder
of the morning. But about mid-day an unlooked-for letter from Betty
arrived and for the time being occupied his attention to the exclusion of
all other matters. And not entirely without reason. For it conveyed
tidings of a somewhat disturbing kind. The message was, indeed, smuggled
in inconsequently, as important messages often are in ladies' letters, at
he end. But there it was; and Osmond read it with deep disapproval and no
small uneasiness.

"You will probably not hear from me again for a week or two as I am going
for a little trip inland and may not have a chance to send a letter. I
shall let you know directly I get back, and until you hear from me you
had better not write--or, at least, you can write, and make it a nice
long letter, but don't send it until you get mine."

That was the message. She did not give a hint as to the region into which
the 'little trip' would take her. But Osmond had a strong and
uncomfortable suspicion that her route would take her into the country at
the back of the great lagoon and would bring her finally to Adaffia.

He pondered the situation at length. As to the danger of such a journey,
it was probably negligible--if the reports were correct. The disturbed
area was far away to the north, on the borders of Krepi. The country at
the back of the lagoon was believed to be quite peaceful and safe. But
one never knew. These Efé peoples were naturally warlike and turbulent.
At any moment they might break out in support of their inland relatives.
Even now they might have provided themselves with some of Mr. Jones's
knick-knacks and be preparing for "war-palaver."

The result of his cogitations was somewhat curious and not very easy to
understand. For some time past he had been turning over in his mind a
project which had really been held up by the regular arrival of Betty's
letters. That project was concerned with a trading expedition to the
interior--to the country at the back of the lagoon. But that 'little
trip' would have taken him out of the region in which the receipt of
letters was possible, and he had accordingly put it off to some more
opportune time. Now that more opportune time seemed to have arrived.
There would be no more letters for a week or two, so there was nothing to
prevent him from starting. That was how he put it to himself, What was
actually in his mind it is impossible to guess. Whether his purpose was
to be absent from Adaffia when Betty should make her inevitable visit, to
avoid the meeting for which he had yearned but which he felt to be so
undesirable; or whether he had some vague hopes of a possible encounter
on the road: who can say? Certainly not the present chronicler, and
probably not Osmond himself. At any rate, the upshot of it was that he
decided on the journey, and with characteristic promptitude set about his
preparations forthwith; and as they were far from elaborate and had been
well considered before hand, a single day's work saw everything ready for
the start.

On the following morning he set forth, leaving the faithful Mensah in
charge of the factory. A dozen carriers bore the loads of goods for the
trading venture, and his recently engaged servant, Koffi Kuma, carried
his simple necessaries in a light box. In spite of his anxieties and
haunting regrets, he was in high spirits at the promised change from the
monotony of Adaffia, which, but for the infinitely precious letters,
would have been intolerably wearisome. The universal sand, varied only by
the black lagoon mud, the everlasting coconut palms chattering
incessantly in the breeze, and the bald horizon of the unpeopled sea, had
begotten in him an intense yearning for a change of scene; for the sight
of veritable trees with leaves, growing in actual earth, and of living
things other than the sea-birds and the amphibious denizens of the beach.

A couple of hours' steady marching carried him and his little party
across the bare plain of dry mud that had once been part of the great
lagoon and brought him to the mainland and the little nine-inch trail
that did duty as a road. Gleefully he strode along in the rear of his
little caravan, refreshing his eyes and ears with the novel sights
and sounds. The tiresome boom of the surf had faded into a distant
murmur that mingled with the stirring of leaves; strange birds, unseen
in the bush, piped queer little Gregorian chants, while others,
silent, but gorgeous of plumage--scarlet cardinals and rainbow-hued
sun-birds--disported themselves visibly among the foliage. Little
striped Barbary mice gambolled beside the track, and great, blue-bodied
lizards with scarlet heads and tails perched on the tall ant-hills that
rose on all sides like pink monuments, and nodded their heads defiantly
at the passing strangers. It was a new world to Osmond. The bright
pink soil, the crowded bush, the buttressed forest trees, the uncouth
baobabs, with their colossal trunks and absurdly dwarfed branches--all
were new and delightful after the monotony of the beach village, and
so fully occupied his attention that when they entered a hamlet of
pink-walled houses, he was content to leave the trading to Koffi, while
he watched a troop of dog-faced monkeys who seemed to have established
a sort of modus vivendi with the villagers.

Thus, with occasional halts for rest or barter, the caravan worked its
way through the bush until about four o'clock in the afternoon; when
Osmond, who had lagged behind to avoid the chatter of his carriers,
rounded a sharp turn in the road and found himself entering the main
street of a village. But he was not the only visitor. An instantaneous
glance showed him a couple of stands of piled arms, by the side of which
some half-dozen bare-footed native soldiers were seated on the ground
eating from a large calabash; a fierce and sullen looking native, secured
with manacles and a leading-rope and guarded by two more of the Hausa
soldiers as he was fed by some of the villagers; and two white officers,
seated under the village shade tree and engaged at the moment in
conversation with Koffi, who seemed to have been captured by a Hausa
sergeant.

As Osmond came in sight the two officers looked at one another and rose
with a rather stiff salutation.

"You are Mr. Cook of Adaffia, I understand?" one of them said.

"Yes," Osmond replied; and as the two officers again looked at one
another with an air of some embarrassment, he continued, bluntly: "I
suppose you want to know if I have got any contraband of war?"

"Well, you know," was the half-apologetic reply, "someone has been
selling rifles and ammunition to the natives, so we have to make
inquiries."

"Of course you do," said Osmond; "and you'd better have a look at my
goods. Koffi, tell the carriers to bring their loads here and open them."

A very perfunctory inspection was enough to satisfy the constabulary
officers of the harmless character of the trade goods, and having made
it, they introduced themselves by the respective names of Stockbridge and
Westall and invited Osmond to join them in their interrupted tea under
the shade tree.

"Troublesome affair this rising," said Westall, as he handed Osmond a mug
of tea; "there'll be wigs on the green before it's over. Now that the
beggars have got rifles, they are ready to stand up to the constabulary.
Think they're as good as we are; and they're not so far wrong, either."

"Where are you bound for now?" Osmond asked.

"We are going back to Quittah with some prisoners from Agotimé." Westall
nodded at the manacled native and added: "That's one of the ring-leaders--a
rascal named Zippah; a devil of a fellow, vicious as a bush-cat and
plucky, too. Stockbridge and I are keeping him with us, in case of a
rescue, but there are over a dozen other prisoners with the main body of
Hausas. They marched out of the village just before you turned up."

"And we'd better be marching out, too," said Stockbridge, "or we shan't
catch them up. Will you have any more tea, Cook? If not, we'd better get
on the road. There's only a native sergeant-major with those men ahead.
Are you coming our way?"

"Yes," replied Osmond, "I'll come with you as far as Affieringba, and
then work my way home along the north shore of the lagoon."

The three Englishman rose, and, as Westall's servant repacked the tea
apparatus, the little procession formed up. The six Hausas led with fixed
bayonets; then came Westall followed by the prisoner, Zippah, and his
guard; next came half a dozen carriers loaded with bundles of confiscated
muskets and powder then Osmond and Stockbridge; and the rear was brought
up by Osmond's carriers and the three servants.

The road, or path, after leaving the village, passed through a number of
yam and cassava plantations and then entered a forest of fan-palms; a dim
and ghostly place now that the sun was getting low, pervaded by a
universal rustling from the broad, ragged leaves above and a noisy
crackling from the dry branches underfoot. For nearly an hour the party
threaded its way through the gloomy aisles, then the palms gradually
thinned out, giving place to ordinary forest trees and bush.

"Quite pleasant to get a look at the sky again," Osmond remarked as they
came out into the thin forest.

"Yes," said Stockbridge; "but you won't see it for long. There's a bamboo
thicket just ahead."

Even as he spoke there loomed up before them an immense, cloudy mass of
soft, blue-green foliage; then appeared a triangular black hole like the
entrance to a tunnel, into which the Hausas, the prisoners, and the
carriers successively vanished. A moment later and Osmond himself had
entered through that strange portal and was groping his way in almost
total darkness through a narrow passage, enclosed and roofed in by solid
masses of bamboo stalks. Ahead, he could dimly make out the vague shapes
of the carriers, while all around the huge clusters of bamboos rose like
enormous piers, widening out until they met overhead to form a kind of
groined roof. It was an uncanny place; a place in which voices echoed
weirdly, mingling with strange, unexplained noises and with the
unceasing, distant murmur of the soft foliage far away over head.

Osmond stumbled on over the crackling canes that formed the floor,
gradually growing accustomed to the darkness until there appeared ahead a
triangular spot of light that grew slowly larger, framing the figures of
the Hausas and carriers; and then, quite suddenly, he emerged, blinking,
into broad daylight on the margin of a smallish but deep and rapid river,
which at this spot was spanned by a primitive bridge.

Now a native bridge is an excellent contrivance--for natives; for the
booted European it is much less suitable. The present one was formed of
the slender trunk of a young silk-cotton tree, barkless and polished by
years of wear, and Osmond watched enviously as the Hausas strolled
across, grasping the cylindrical surface handily with their bare feet,
and wondered if he had not better take off his boots. However, Westall
had no false pride. Recognizing the disabilities involved by boots, he
stooped, and, getting astride the slender log, crossed the river with
ease and safety, if without much dignity; and the other two white men
were not too proud to follow his example.

Beyond the river the path, after crossing a narrow belt of forest,
entered a valley bordered by hills covered with dense bush, which rose
steeply on either side. Osmond looked at the little party ahead,
straggling in single file along the bottom of the valley, and inwardly
wondered where Westall had picked up his strategy.

"It's to be hoped, Stockbridge," he remarked, "that there are none of Mr.
Zippah's friends hanging about here. You couldn't want a prettier spot
for an ambush."

He had hardly spoken when a tall man, wearing a hunter's lionskin cap and
carrying a musket, stepped quietly out of the bush on to the track just
in front of Westall. The prisoner, Zippah, uttered a yell of recognition
and held up his manacled hands. The deep, cannon-like report of the
musket rang out and the narrow gorge was filled with a dense cloud of
smoke.

There was an instant's silence. Then a scattering volley was heard from
the Hausas ahead, the panic-stricken carriers came flying back along the
trail, shouting with terror, and the two white men plunged forward into
the stinking smoke. Leaping over the prostrate Zippah, who was being held
down by two Hausas, they came upon Westall, lying across the path, limp
and motionless. A great ragged patch on his breast, all scorched and
bloody, told the tale that his pinched, grey face and glazing eyes
confirmed. Indeed, even as they stooped over him, heedless of the
bellowing muskets and the slugs that shrieked past, he drew one shallow
breath and was gone.

There was no time for sentiment. With set faces the two men turned from
the dead officer and ran forward to where the shadowy forms of the Hausas
appeared through the smoke, holding their ground doggedly and firing
right and left into the bush. But a single glance showed the hopelessness
of the position. Two of the Hausas were down, and of the remaining four,
three, including the sergeant, were more or less wounded. Not a man of
the enemy was to be seen, but from the wooded slope on either hand came
jets of flame and smoke, accompanied by the thunderous reports of the
muskets and the whistle of flying slugs, while a thick cloud of smoke
rolled down the hillsides and filled the bottom of the valley as with a
dense fog.

Osmond snatched up the rifle of one of the fallen Hausas and, clearing
out the man's cartridge-pouch, began firing into likely spots in the bush
when Stockbridge interposed. "It's no go, Cook. We must fall back across
the bridge. You clear out while you've got a whole skin. Hallo! did you
hear that? Those weren't trade guns."

As he spoke there were heard, mingling with the noisy explosions of the
muskets, a succession of sharp, woody reports, each followed by the
musical hum of a high-speed bullet.

"Back you go, Cook," he urged. "This is no place for--"

He stopped short, staggered back a few paces, and fell, cursing volubly,
with a bloody hand clasped on his leg just below the knee.

Osmond stooped over him, and, finding that the bone was not broken,
quickly tied his handkerchief over the wound to restrain the bleeding.
"That will do for the present," said he. "Now you tell the men to fall
back, and I'll bring the prisoner."

"Never mind the prisoner," said Stockbridge. "Get the wounded back and
get back yourself."

"Not at all," said Osmond. "The prisoner is going to cover our retreat.
Put your arm round the sergeant's neck and hop along on your sound leg."

In spite of the galling fire, the retreat was carried out quickly and in
good order. Stockbridge was hustled away by the sergeant--who was only
disabled in one arm--and the two helpless men and the dead officer were
borne off by the three native servants. Meanwhile Osmond took possession
of the prisoner--just as one of his guards was preparing to cut his
throat with a large and very unofficial-looking knife--and, rapidly
pinioning his arms with the leading-rope, held him up with his face
towards the enemy; in which position he served as excellent cover, not
only for Osmond but also for the two Hausas, who were able to keep up a
brisk fire over his shoulders.

In this fashion Osmond and his two supporters slowly backed after the
retreating party. The firing from the bush practically ceased, since the
enemy had now no mark to fire at but their own chief; and though they
continued to follow up, as the moving bushes showed, their wholesome
respect for the Snider rifle--with which the Hausas were armed--prevented
them from coming out of cover or approaching dangerously near.

In less than a quarter of an hour the open space by the river was
reached; and here Osmond's retreat was covered by the rest of the party,
who had crossed the river and had taken up a safe position in the bamboo
thicket, whence they could, without exposing themselves, command the
approaches to the bridge. The two Hausas were turning to run across the
log when Osmond noticed a large basket of produce--containing among
other things, a number of balls of shea butter--which one of his
carriers had dropped in retreat.

"Hi!" he sang out, "pick up that basket and take him across,"; and then,
as a new idea suggested itself: "Put those balls of shea tulu in my
pocket."

The astonished Hausa hesitated, especially as a Mauser bullet had just
hummed past his head, but when Osmond repeated the order impatiently he
hurriedly grabbed up the unsavoury-looking balls of grease and emptied
them into Osmond's pocket. Then he turned and ran across the bridge.

Osmond continued to back towards the river, still holding the struggling
Zippah close before him as a shield. Arriving at the end of the bridge,
he cautiously sat down and got astride the log, pulling his captive, with
some difficulty, into the same position, and began to wriggle across.
Once started, Zippah was docile enough; for, with his pinioned arms, he
could not afford to fall into the swirling water. He even assisted his
captor so far as he was able, being evidently anxious to get the perilous
passage over as quickly as possible. When they had crept about a third of
the way across, Osmond took one of the balls of shea butter from his
pocket and, reaching past his prisoner, smeared the mass thickly on the
smooth surface of the log; and this proceeding he repeated at intervals
as he retired, leaving a thick trail of the solid grease behind him.
Zippah was at first profoundly mystified by the white man's manoeuvres,
which he probably regarded as some kind of fetish ceremonial or magic;
but when its purpose suddenly dawned on him, his sullen face relaxed into
a broad and appreciative grin, and as he was at length dragged backwards
from the head of the bridge, through the opening into the dark bamboo
thicket, he astonished the besieged party (and no doubt the besiegers
also) by letting off a peal of honest African guffaws.

X. BETTY'S APPEAL

As the prisoner was withdrawn by his guard into the dark opening of
the thicket, Osmond halted for a moment to look back across the river.
Not a sign of the enemy was to be seen excepting the pall of smoke
that hung over the wooded shore. But the reports of unseen muskets and
rifles and the hum of slugs and bullets warned him of the danger of
exposing himself--though he, too, was probably hidden from the enemy by
the dense smoke of the black powder. Accordingly he turned quickly and,
plunging into the dark tunnel-like passage, groped his way forward,
unable, at first, to distinguish anything in the all-pervading gloom.
Presently he perceived a little distance ahead a cluster of the great
bamboo stalks faintly lighted as if by a hidden fire or torch, and a
moment later, a turn of the passage brought him in view of the light
itself, which seemed to be a rough shea-butter candle or lamp, set on
the ground and lighting up dimly the forlorn little band whose retreat
he had covered.

This much he took in at the first glance. But suddenly he became aware of
a new presence at the sight of which he stopped short with a smothered
exclamation. Stockbridge, sitting beside his dead comrade, had uncovered
his wounded leg; and kneeling by him as she applied a dressing to the
wound was a woman. He could not see her face, which was partly turned
away from him and concealed by a wide pith helmet; but the figure was--to
him--unmistakable, as were the little, dainty, capable hands on which
the flickering light shone. He approached slowly, and as Stockbridge
greeted him with a wry grin, she turned her head quickly and looked up at
him. "Good evening, Mr. Cook," she said, quietly. "What a fortunate
chance it is that you should be here."

"Yes, by Jove," agreed Stockbridge; "at least a fortunate chance for us.
He is a born tactician."

Osmond briefly acknowledged the greeting, and in the ensuing silence, as
Betty methodically applied the bandage, he looked about him and rapidly
assessed the situation. Stockbridge looked weak and spent and was
evidently in considerable pain, though he uttered no complaint; the
wounded Hausas lay hard by, patiently awaiting their turn to have their
injuries attended to, and the carriers crouched disconsolately in gloomy
corners out of the way of chance missiles. A continuous firing was being
kept up from the other side of the river, and slugs and Mauser bullets
ploughed noisily through the bamboo, though none came near the fugitives.
The position of the latter, indeed, was one of great natural strength,
for the river made a horse-shoe bend at this spot and the little
peninsula enclosed by it was entirely occupied by the bamboo. An attack
was possible in only two directions; by the bridge, or by the path that
entered the thicket at the other end.

"Well," said Osmond, as Betty, having finished the dressing, transferred
her attention to one of the wounded Hausas, "here we are, safe for the
moment. They can't get at us in here."

"No," agreed Stockbridge. "It's a strong position, if we could stay here,
though they will probably try to rush the bridge when it's dark."

Osmond shook his head with a grim smile. "They won't do that," said he.
"I've taken the precaution to grease the log; so they'll have to crawl
across carefully, which they won't care to do with the Hausas potting at
them from shelter. But we can't stay here. We'd better clear out as soon
as it is dark; and the question is, which way?"

"We must follow the river, I suppose," said Stockbridge, in a faint
voice. "But you'd better arrange with the sergeant. I'm no good now. Tell
him he's to take your orders. Our carriers know the country."

The sergeant, who had witnessed Osmond's masterly retreat, accepted the
new command without demur. A guard was posted to watch the bridge from
safe cover, and the carriers were assembled to discuss the route.

"Now," said Osmond, "where is the next bridge?" There was apparently no
other bridge, but there was a ford some miles farther up, and a couple of
miles below there was a village which possessed one or two of the large,
punt-shaped canoes that were used for trading across the lagoon.

"S'pose dey no fit to pass de bridge," said the head carrier, "dey go and
fetch canoe for carry um across de river."

"I see," said Osmond. "Then they'd attack us from the rear and we should
be bottled up from both sides. That won't do. You must get ready to march
out as soon as it is dark, sergeant. Your carriers can take Mr. Westall's
body and some of the wounded and the sound men must carry the rest. And
send my carriers back the way they came. There are too many of us as it
is."

"And dem muskets and powder, dat we bring in from the villages?" said the
sergeant. "What we do wid dem?"

"We must leave them here or throw them in the river. Anyhow, you get off
as quickly as you can."

The sergeant set about his preparations without delay and Osmond's
carriers departed gleefully towards the safe part of the country.
Meanwhile Osmond considered the situation. If the enemy obtained canoes
from the lower river, they would probably ferry a party across and attack
the bamboo fortress from front and rear simultaneously. Then they would
find the nest empty, and naturally would start in pursuit; which would be
unpleasant for the helpless fugitives, crawling painfully along the river
bank. He turned the position over again and again with deep
dissatisfaction, while Stockbridge watched him anxiously and Betty
silently continued her operations on the wounded. If they were pursued,
they were lost. In their helpless condition they could make no sort of
stand against a large body attacking from the cover of the bush. And the
pursuit would probably commence before they had travelled a couple of
miles towards safety.

Suddenly his eye fell on the heap of captured muskets and powder-kegs
that, were to be left behind or destroyed. He looked at them
meditatively, and, as he looked, there began to shape itself in his mind
a plan by which the fugitives might at least increase their start by a
mile or so. A fantastic scheme, perhaps, but yet, in the absence of any
better, worth trying.

With characteristic energy, he set to work at once, while the carriers
hastily fashioned rough litters of bamboo for the dead and wounded.
Broaching one of the powder-kegs, he proceeded to load all but two of the
muskets--of which there were twenty-three in all--cramming the barrels
with powder and filling up each with a heavy charge of gravel. Six of the
loaded and primed muskets he laid on the ground about fifty yards from
the bridge end of the long passage, with their muzzles pointing towards
the bridge; the remaining fifteen he laid in batches of five about the
same distance from the opposite entrance, towards which their muzzles
pointed. Then, taking a length of the plaited cord with which the muskets
had been lashed into bundles, he tied one end to the stock of one of the
unloaded guns and the other to the trigger of one of the wounded Hausas'
rifles. Fixing the rifle upright against the bamboo with its muzzle stuck
in the half-empty powder-keg, of which he broke out two or three staves,
he carried the cord--well greased with shea butter--through a loop tied
to one of the slanting bamboos. Then he propped the musket in a standing
position on two bamboo sticks, to one of which he attached another length
of cord. It was the mechanism of the common sieve bird-trap. When the
cord was pulled, the stick would be dislodged, the musket would fall, and
in falling jerk the other cord and fire the rifle.

Broaching another keg, he carried a large train of powder from the first
keg to the row of loaded muskets, over the pans of which he poured a
considerable heap. Leaving the tripping-cord loose, he next proceeded to
the opposite end of the thicket and set up a similar trap near the
landward entrance, connecting it by a large powder train with the three
batches of loaded muskets.

"You seemed to be deuced busy, Cook," Stockbridge remarked as Osmond
passed the hammock in which he was now reclining.

"Yes," Osmond replied; "I am arranging a little entertainment to keep our
friends amused while we are getting a start. Now, sergeant, if you are
ready, you had better gag the prisoner and move outside the bamboos. It
will be dark in a few minutes. And give me Mr. Westall's revolver and
pouch."

At this moment, Betty, having applied such "first aid" as was possible to
the wounded Hausas, came to him and said in a low voice:

"Jim, dear, you will let me help you, if I can, won't you?"

"Certainly I will, dearest," he replied, "though I wish to God you
weren't here."

"I don't," said she. "If it comes to the worst, we shall go out together.
But it won't. I am not a bit frightened now you are with me."

"I see you have given Stockbridge your hammock," said he. "How far do you
think you can walk?"

"Twenty miles, easily, or more at night. Now, Jim, don't worry about me.
Just tell me what I am to do and forget me. You have plenty to think
about."

"Well, then, I want you and Stockbridge to keep in the middle of the
column. The carrier who knows the way will lead, and the sergeant and I
will march at the rear to look out for the pursuers. And you must get
along as fast as you can."

"Aye, aye, sir," she replied, smiling in his face and raising her hand
smartly to the peak of her helmet; and without another word she turned
away to take her place in the retiring column.

As the little procession moved towards the opening, Osmond ran back to
the bridge end of the track to clear out the guard before he set his
traps. A brisk fusillade was proceeding from the concealed enemy when he
arrived, to which the guards were replying from their cover.

"I tink dey fit for come across de bridge," one of the Hausas remarked as
Osmond gave them the orders to retire.

"Very well," he replied; "you be off one time. I stop to send them back."

The two Hausas accordingly retired, reluctant and protesting, and Osmond
took their place behind the screen of bamboo, from which he looked out
across the river. It was evident by the constant stirring of the bush and
the occasional appearance of men in the openings that some sort of move
was in progress, and in fact the footsteps of the two Hausas had hardly
died away when it took definite shape. The attack opened with a
thundering volley which sent the leaves and splinters of bamboo flying in
all directions; then, out of the bush, a compact body of warriors each
armed with a Mauser rifle, emerged in single file and advanced towards
the bridge at a smart trot. Osmond watched them with a grim smile. Down
the narrow track they came in perfect order and on to the foot of the
bridge, stepping along the smooth log with perfect security they reached
the greased portion. Then came the catastrophe. As the leading warrior
stepped on the greasy surface, his feet flew from under him and down he
slithered, grabbing frantically at the legs of the next man, who
instantly clawed hold of his neighbour and thus passed on the
disturbance. In a moment the whole file was capsized like a row of
ninepins, and as each man's rifle exploded as he fell and the whole body
broke out into simultaneous yells of rage and terror, the orderly dignity
of the attack was destroyed utterly.

The cause of the disaster was not immediately perceived, and as soon as
the struggling warriors had been rescued from the river or had drifted
down stream, the attack was renewed, to end in another wholesale capsize.
After the third attempt, however, it apparently began to dawn on the
warriors that there was something unnatural about the bridge. A noisy
consultation followed, and when Osmond opened a smart fire with his
revolver, the entire body retreated hastily into the bush.

As it was pretty certain that there would be no further attempt to rush
the bridge at present, and as the darkness was fast closing in, Osmond
proceeded to finish his arrangements before evacuating the fortress.
Having set the tripping-cord across the path about six inches from the
ground, he loaded and cocked the rifle. The trap was now set. If the
warriors should presently manage to crawl across the bridge and enter the
thicket, the first comer would certainly strike the cord; and the musket
volley and the flying gravel, though they would probably do little harm,
would send the attacking party back to the cover of the bush.

Having set the trap, Osmond knocked in the heads of the remaining
powder-kegs and spread the powder about among the dry dead bamboo stalks
that covered the ground. Then he retired to the landward end of the
thicket, and, having set the second trap, started in pursuit of his
friends.

The fugitives had evidently travelled at a good pace despite their
encumbrances, for he had walked nearly a mile along the riverside track
before he overtook them. As he turned a sharp bend he came on them quite
suddenly, crouching down in the undergrowth as if in hiding; and, as he
appeared, the two Hausas who formed the rear-guard motioned to him to
crouch down too.

"What is it?" he whispered, kneeling beside the last Hausa.

"S't! Someone live for river. You no hear um, sah?"

Osmond listened attentively. From somewhere down the river came a sound
of muffled voices and the rhythmical swish of something moving through
water. He crept nearer to the brink and cautiously peered through the
bushes across the dark river. The sounds drew nearer, and soon he could
dimly make out the shapes of two long canoes poling up-stream in the
shallows on the other side. Each canoe held only three or four men, just
enough to drive it swiftly against the stream; but in spite of this,
there could be little doubt as to the business on which these
stealthily-moving craft were bent. As they faded into the darkness,
Osmond touched the Hausa on the shoulder, and, whispering to him to
follow, began softly to retrace his steps. His experience of the
happy-go-lucky native had inspired him with a new hope.

Attended by the puzzled but obedient Hausa, he followed the sound of the
retreating canoes until it suddenly ceased. Then he crept forward still
more cautiously and presently caught sight of the two craft, brought up
under the opposite bank and filling rapidly with men. He crouched down
among the bushes and watched. Very soon the canoes, now crowded with men,
put out, one after the other, and swiftly crossing the river, grounded on
a small beach or hard under the high bank; when the men, each of whom, as
Osmond could now see, carried a gun or rifle, landed and crept up a
sloping path. The canoe immediately put off and returned to the other
side, whence, having taken up a fresh batch of passengers they crossed to
the hard. This manoeuvre was repeated six times, and, as each canoe
carried over a dozen men, there were now assembled on the near bank about
a hundred and fifty warriors, who remained in a mass, talking in hoarse
undertones and waiting for the word to advance.

The last load apparently completed the contingent, for, this time, all
the passengers landed and crept up the path, leaving the two canoes drawn
up on the hard. This was what Osmond had hoped for and half expected.
Feverishly he watched the mob of warriors form up and move off in orderly
single file, each shouldering his musket or rifle and no one making a
sound. As the silent procession vanished towards the lately evacuated
fortress, he craned forward to see if any guards had been posted. But not
a soul was in sight. Then he stole along the track until he was above the
hard, when he turned to the Hausa.

"Wait," he whispered, "until I get the canoes. Then go back quickly and
tell the sergeant I come."

He crept down the path to the hard, and, stepping into one of the canoes,
walked to the stern, holding on to the second canoe. As his weight
depressed the stern, the bow lifted from the ground and he was able to
push off, walking slowly forward as the craft went astern. Then, from the
bow, he threw his weight on the stern of the second canoe, which lifted
free of the ground in the same manner, and the two craft began silently
to drift away down stream on the swift current.

Osmond waved his free hand to the Hausa, and, when he had seen the man
steal away to carry the good tidings to the fugitives, he set himself to
secure the two canoes together. Each had a primitive painter of grass
rope rove through a hole in the bluff bow and a small thwart or
cross-band of the same material close to the stern to strengthen the long
sides. By making fast the painter of the second canoe to the stern thwart
of the one he was in, he secured them together and left himself free to
ply the pole; which he began to do as noiselessly as possible, when he
had drifted down about a quarter of a mile from the hard, steering the
canoes close along the side on which his friends would be waiting.
Presently there came a soft hail from the bank; on which, checking their
way with the pole, he brought the two canoes up on a spit of sandy mud
close underneath.

As he stepped ashore, holding on to the painter of the leading canoe, a
little, white-skirted figure came scrambling down the bank, and running
to him, seized both his hands.

"Jim!" she whispered, "you are a wonder! You have saved us all! Of course
you have! I knew you would!" She gave his hands a final squeeze and then
abruptly returned to business. "I will see to the wounded if you tell me
where they are to go."

Osmond indicated the larger of the two canoes, and she at once climbed up
the bank to arrange the embarkation, while Osmond, having drawn both
canoes up on the spit, called to two of the Hausas to take charge of the
painters so that the craft should not get adrift while loading. Then he
went up to superintend. The first problem, that of canoe-men, was easily
solved, for the carriers, who were natives of the lagoon country, all had
some skill in the use of the pole and cheerfully volunteered for duty.

But it was not without some difficulty that the three rough litters--one
of them containing the body of poor Westall--were lowered down the steep
bank and the wounded men helped down to the spit; but when once they were
there, the roomy, punt-like canoes afforded ample and comfortable
accommodation for the whole party. The sound men, with three canoe-men
and the prisoner, were packed into the smaller canoe, leaving plenty of
space in the other for the wounded to lie at their ease. Stockbridge's
hammock was stowed in the bows, so that he should not be disturbed by the
movements of the canoe-men, the body of Westall came next, decently
covered with a country cloth, and then the rest of the wounded. When all
was ready, Betty and Osmond stepped on board and took their places side
by side in the stern.

As they pushed off into the river Stockbridge settled himself comfortably
on his pillow with a sigh of relief at exchanging the jolting of the bush
road for the easy motion of the canoe.

"By Jove, Cook!" he exclaimed, "it was a stroke of luck for us that you
happened to overtake us. But for your wits they would have made a clean
sweep of us. Hallo! What the deuce is that?"

From up the river came three thunderous volleys in quick succession,
followed by a confused noise of shouting and the reports of muskets and
rifles; then the sound of another volley, more shouts and rattling
reports; and as they looked back, the sky was lighted for a few moments
by a red glare. Osmond briefly explained the nature of his 'little
arrangements', while the alarmed carriers poled along the shallows for
dear life.

"But," said Stockbridge, after listening awhile, "what are the beggars
going on firing for? Just hark at them! They're blazing away like
billy-oh!"

"I take it," replied Osmond, "that they have gorged the bait. Apparently,
a party has managed to crawl across the bridge to attack the bamboo
thicket from the front while the other force, which ferried across the
river, attacked from the rear, and that each party is mistaking the other
for us. The trifling error ought to keep them amused for quite a long
time; in fact until we are beyond reach of pursuit."

Stockbridge chuckled softly. "You are an ingenious beggar, Cook," he
declared with conviction; "and how you managed to keep your wits about
you in that hurly-burly, I can't imagine. However, I think we are safe
enough now." With this comfortable conclusion, he snuggled down into his
hammock and settled himself for a night's rest.

"Oh, Jim, dear," whispered Betty, "how like you! To think out your plans
calmly with the bullets flying around and everybody else in a hopeless
twitter. It reminds me of the 'phantom mate' on the dear old _Speedwell_.
By the way, how did you happen to be there in that miraculously opportune
fashion?"

Osmond chuckled. "Well," he exclaimed, "you are a pretty cool little
fish, Betty. You drop down from the clouds and then inquire how I
happened to be there. How did you happen to be there?"

"Oh, that is quite simple," she replied. "I got Daddy's permission to
take a trip from Accra across the Akwapim Mountains to Akuse; and when I
got there I thought I should like to have a look at the Country where the
bobbery was going on. So I crossed the river and was starting off gaily
towards the Krepi border when an interfering though well-meaning old
chief stopped me and said I mustn't go any farther because of
war-palaver. I wanted to go on, but my carriers wouldn't budge; so back I
came, taking the road for Quittah, and by good luck dropped into a little
war-palaver after all."

"Why were you going to Quittah?"

"Now, Jim, don't ask silly questions. You know perfectly well. Of course
I was going to run over to Adaffia to call on my friend Captain J.; and
by the same token, I shouldn't have found him there. Now tell me how you
came to be in the bush at this particular time."

Osmond stated baldly the ostensible purpose of his expedition, to which
Betty listened without comment. She had her suspicions as to the ultimate
motive, but she asked no questions. The less said on that subject, the
better.

This was evidently Osmond's view, for he at once plunged into an account
of the loss of the _Speedwell_ and of Captain Hartup's testamentary
arrangements. Betty was deeply affected, both by the loss of the ship and
the death of the worthy but cross-grained little skipper.

"How awfully sad!" she exclaimed, almost in tears. "The dear old ship,
where I spent the happiest days of my life! And poor Captain Hartup! I
always liked him, really. He was quite nice to me, in spite of his gruff
manner. I used to feel that he was just a little human porcupine with
india-rubber quills. And now I love him because, in his perverse little
heart, he understood and appreciated my Captain Jim. May I come, one day,
and put a wreath on his grave?"

"Yes, do, Betty," he replied. "I buried him next to Osmond's new grave,
and I put up an oaken cross which I made out of some of the planking of
the old _Speedwell_. He was very fond of his ship. And I have kept a couple
of her beams--thought you might like to have something made out of one
of them."

"How sweet of you, Jim, to think of it!" she exclaimed, nestling close to
him and slipping her hand round his arm, "and to know exactly what I
should like! But we do understand each other, don't we, Jim, dear?

"I think we do, Betty, darling," he replied, pressing the little hand
that had stolen into his own.

For a long time nothing more was said. After the turmoil and the alarms
of the escape, it was very peaceful to sit in the gently-swaying canoe
and listen to the voices of the night; the continuous "chirr" of
countless cicadas, punctuated by the soft swish of the canoe-poles as
they were drawn forward for another stroke; the deep-toned, hollow
whistle of the great fox-bats, flapping slowly across the river; the long
drawn cry, or staccato titter, of far-away hyenas, and now and again, the
startling shriek of a potto in one of the lofty trees by the river-bank.
It was more soothing than absolute silence. The sounds seemed so remote
and unreal, so eloquent of utter solitude; of a vast, unseen wilderness
with its mysterious population of bird and beast, living on its strange,
primeval life unchanged from the days when the world was young.

After a long interval, Betty spoke again. "It seems," she said,
reflectively, "dreadfully callous to be so perfectly happy. I wonder if
it is."

"Why should it be?" her companion asked.

"I mean," she explained, "with poor Mr. Westall lying there dead, only a
few feet away."

Osmond felt inwardly that Westall had not only thrown away his own life
but jeopardized the lives of the others which were in his custody. But he
forbore to express what he felt and answered, simply: "I don't suppose
the poor chap would grudge us our happiness. It won't last very long."

"Why shouldn't it, Jim?" she exclaimed. "Why should we part again and be
miserable for the want of one another? Oh, Jim, darling, my own mate,
won't you try to put away your scruples--your needless scruples, though
I love and respect you for having them? But don't let them spoil our
lives. Forget John Osmond. He is dead and buried. Let him rest. I am
yours, Jim, and you know it; and you are mine, and I know it. Those are
the realities, which we could never change if we should live for a
century. Let us accept them and forget what is past and done with. Life
is short enough, dear, and our youth is slipping away. If we make a false
move, we shall never get another chance. Oh, say it, Jim. Say you will
put away the little things that don't matter and hold fast to the reality
of our great love and the happiness that is within our reach. Won't you,
Jim?"

He was silent for a while. This was what he had dreaded. To have freely
offered, yet again, the gift beside which all the treasures of the earth
were to him as nothing; and, even worse, to be made to feel that he,
himself, had something to give which he must yet withhold; it was an
agony. The temptation to yield--to shut his eyes to the future and
snatch at the golden present--was almost irresistible. He knew that
Betty was absolutely sincere. He knew quite well that whatever might
befall in the future, she would hold him blameless and accept all
mischances as the consequences of her own considered choice. His
confidence in her generosity was absolute, nor did he undervalue her
judgment. He even admitted that she was probably right. John Osmond was
dead. The pursuit was at an end and the danger of discovery negligible.
In a new country and in a new character he was sure that he could make
her life all that she hoped. Then why not forget the past and say "yes"?

It was a great temptation. One little word, and they would possess all
that they wished for, all that mattered to either of them. And yet--"Betty,"
he said at length, in a tone of the deepest gravity, "you have
said that we understand one another. We do; perfectly; absolutely. There
is no need for me to tell you that I love you, or that if there were any
sacrifice that I could make for you, I would make it joyfully and think
it an honour and a privilege. You know that as well as I do. But there is
one thing that I cannot do. Whatever I may be or may have done, I cannot
behave like a cad to the woman I love. And that is what I should do if I
married you. I should accept your sterling gold and give you base metal
in exchange. You would be the wife of an outlaw, you would live under the
continual menace of scandal and disaster. Your children would be the
children of a nameless man and would grow up to the inheritance of an
ancestry that could not be spoken of.

"Those are the realities, Betty. I realize, and I reverence, your great
and noble love for me, unworthy as I am. But I should be a selfish brute
if I accepted what you offer to me with such incredible generosity. I
can't do it, Betty. It was a disaster that you ever met me, but that we
cannot help. We can only limit its effects."

She listened silently while he pronounced the doom of her newly-born
hopes, holding his hand tightly grasped in hers and scarcely seeming to
breathe. She did not reply immediately when he ceased speaking, but sat a
while, her head resting against his shoulder and her hand still clasped
in his. Once she smothered a little sob and furtively wiped her eyes. But
she was very quiet, and, at length, in a composed, steady voice, though
sadly enough, she rejoined: "Very well, Jim, dear. It must be as you
think best, and I won't tease you with any more appeals. At any rate, we
can go on loving each other, and that will be something. The gift of real
love doesn't come to everyone."

For a long time they sat without further speech, thinking each their own
thoughts. To Betty the position was a little puzzling. She understood
Osmond's point of view and respected it, for she knew that the sacrifice
was as great to him as to her. And though, woman-like, she felt their
mutual devotion to be a full answer to all his objections, yet--again,
woman-like--she approved, though reluctantly, of his rigid adherence to
a masculine standard of conduct.

But here came another puzzle. What was it that he had done? What could it
possibly be that a man like this should have done? He had said plainly--and
she knew that it was true--that there had been a warrant for his
arrest. He had been, and in a sense still was, a fugitive from justice.
Yet his standard of honour was of the most scrupulous delicacy. It had
compelled him quite unnecessarily to disclose his identity. It compelled
him now to put away what she knew was his dearest wish. Nothing could be
more unlike a criminal; who, surely, is above all things self-indulgent.
Yet he was an offender against the law. Now, what, in the name of Heaven,
is the kind of offence against the law of which a man of this type could
be guilty? He had never given a hint upon the subject, and of course she
had never sought to find out. She was not in the least inquisitive now.
But the incongruity, the discrepancy between his character and his
circumstances, perplexed her profoundly.

Finally, she gave up the puzzle and began to talk to him about Captain
Hartup and the pleasant old times on board the _Speedwell_. He responded
with evident relief at having passed the dreaded crisis; and so, by
degrees, they got back to cheerful talk and frank enjoyment of one
another's society, letting the past, the future, and the might-have-been
sink into temporary oblivion.

XI. THE ORDER OF RELEASE

IT was a long journey down the winding river and across the great lagoon.
How long Osmond never knew; for, as hour after hour passed and the canoe
sped on noiselessly through the encompassing darkness, the fatigues of
the day began to take effect, not only on him, but on his companion too.
Gradually the conversation slackened, the intervals of silence grew
longer and longer, merging into periods of restful unconsciousness and
punctuated by little smothered yawns on the part of Betty; until, at
length, silence fell upon the canoe, unbroken save by the sounds of
sleeping men and the rhythmical 'swish' of the poles.

At the sound of a distant bugle Osmond opened his eyes and became aware
that the day was breaking and that the journey was nearly at an end. Also
that his head was very comfortably pillowed on the shoulder of his
companion, who now slumbered peacefully at his side. Very softly he
raised himself and looked down at the sleeping girl, almost holding his
breath lest he should disturb her. How dainty and frail she looked, this
brave, hardy little maid! How delicate, almost childlike, she seemed as
she lay, breathing softly, in the easy posture of graceful youth! And how
lovely she was! He gazed adoringly at the sweet face, so charmingly
wreathed with its golden aureole, at the peacefully-closed eyes with
their fringes of long, dark lashes, and thought half-bitterly,
half-proudly, that she was his own for the asking; and even as he looked,
she opened her eyes and greeted him with a smile.

"What are you looking so solemn about, Jim?" she asked, as she sat up and
reached for her helmet.

"Was I looking solemn? I expect it was only foolishness. Most fools are
solemn animals."

"Don't be a guffin, Jim," she commanded, reprovingly.

"What is a guffin?" he asked.

"It is a thing with a big, Roman nose and most abnormal amount of
obstinacy, which makes disparaging comments on my Captain Jim."

"A horrid sort of beast it must be. Well, I won't, then. Is that Quittah,
where all those canoes are?"

"I suppose it is, but I've never been there. Yes, it must be. I can see
Fort Firminger--that thing like a Martello tower out in the lagoon
opposite the landing-place. Mr. Cockeram says it is an awfully strong
fort. You couldn't knock it down with a croquet mallet."

Osmond looked about him with the interest of a traveller arriving at a
place which he has heard of but never seen. Behind and on both sides, the
waste of water extended as far as the eye could see. Before them was a
line of low land with occasional clumps of coconut palms that marked the
position of beach villages. Ahead was a larger mass of palms, before
which was a wide 'hard' or landing-place, already thronged with market
people, towards which numbers of trading canoes were converging from all
parts of the lagoon.

As they drew nearer, an opening in the palms revealed a whitewashed fort
above which a flag was just being hoisted; and now, over the sandy shore,
the masts of two vessels came into view.

"There is the Widgeon," said Betty, pointing to the masts of a
barquentine, "and there is another vessel, a schooner. I wonder who she
is."

Osmond had observed and was also wondering who she was; for he had a
suspicion that he had seen her before. Something in the appearance of the
tall, slim masts seemed to recall the mysterious yacht-like craft that he
had seen one night at Adaffia revealed for a moment in 'the glimpses of
the moon'.

They were now rapidly approaching the landing-place. The other canoe had
already arrived, and its disembarked crew could be seen on the hard
surrounded by a crowd of natives.

"That looks like a naval officer waiting on the beach," said Osmond,
looking at a white-clad figure which had separated itself from the crowd
and appeared to be awaiting their arrival.

"It is," replied Betty. "I believe it is Captain Darley. And there is a
constabulary officer coming down, too. I expect they have heard the news.
You'll get a great reception when they hear Mr. Stockbridge's story--and
mine. But they will be awfully upset about poor Mr. Westall. You are
coming up to the fort with me, of course?"

Osmond had intended to go straight on to Adaffia, but he now saw that
this would be impossible. Besides, there was the schooner. "Yes," he
replied, "I will see you to your destination."

"It isn't my destination," said she. "I shall rest here for a day--the
German deaconesses will give me a bed, I expect--and then I am coming on
with you to Adaffia to put a wreath on Captain Hartup's grave. You can
put up either at the fort or with one of the German traders or
missionaries. There are no English people here excepting the two officers
at the fort."

Osmond made no comment on this, for they were now close inshore. The
canoe slid into the shallows and in a few moments more was hauled up by a
crowd of willing natives until her bows were high and dry on the hard.

The officer who had joined Darley turned out to be the doctor, under
whose superintendence Stockbridge's hammock was carefully landed and the
rest of the wounded brought ashore. Then the litter containing the body
of the dead officer was lifted out and slowly borne away, while Darley
and the native soldiers stood at the salute, and the doctor, having
mustered the wounded, led the way towards the little hospital. As the
melancholy procession moved off, Darley turned to greet Betty and Osmond,
who had stepped ashore last.

"How do you do, Miss Burleigh? None the worse for your adventures, I
hope. Been having rather a strenuous time, haven't you?"

"We have rather," she replied. "Isn't it a dreadful thing to have lost
poor Mr. Westall?"

"Yes," he replied, as they turned away from the lagoon and began to walk
towards the fort. "Shocking affair. Still, fortune of war, you know.
Can't make omelettes without breaking eggs. And here is Mr. Cook, in the
thick of the bobbery, as usual. What a fellow you are, Cook! Always in
hot water."

As he shook Osmond's hand heartily, the latter replied: "Well, the
bobbery wasn't of my making, this time. I found it ready made and just
bore a hand. By the way, what schooner is that out in the roads?"

"That," replied Darley, "is an ancient yacht named the Primula--a lovely
old craft--sails like a witch. But she has come down in the world now.
We met her coming up from the leeward coast and brought her in here."

"Brought her in? Is she in custody, then?"

"Well, we brought her in to overhaul her and make some inquiries. There
is just a suspicion that she has been concerned in the gun-running that
has been going on. But we haven't found anything up to the present. She
seems to be full up with ordinary, legitimate cargo."

"Ha!" exclaimed Osmond.

"Why 'ha'?" demanded Darley with a quick look at Osmond. "Do you know
anything about her?"

"Let us hear some more," said Osmond. "Is there a Welshman named Jones on
board?"

"There is. He's the skipper, purser, and super cargo all combined."

"Have you looked through her manifest?"

"I have; and I've jotted down some notes of the items of her lading."

"Is there any ivory on board?"

"Yes," replied Darley, with growing excitement.

"Three large crates and a big canvas bag?"

"Yes!"

"Containing in all, thirty-nine large tusks and fifty-one scribellos?"

Darley dragged a pocket-book out of his pocket and feverishly turned over
the leaves. "Yes, by Jove!" he fairly shouted. "The very numbers. Now,
what have you got to tell us?"

"I think you can take it that the ivory and probably the rest of the
lading, too, is stolen property."

"Why," exclaimed Betty, "that must be your ivory, Jim."

Darley flashed an astonished glance at her and then looked inquiringly at
Osmond. "Is that so?" he asked.

"I have no doubt that it is," the latter replied. "But if it should
happen that there is a man on board named Sam Winter--"

"There is," interrupted Darley.

"And another named Simmons and others named Foat, Bradley, and Darker, I
think, if you introduce me to them, that we shall get the whole story.
And as to the gun-running, I can't make a voluntary statement, but if you
were to put me in the witness-box, I should have to tell you all that I
know; and I may say that I know a good deal. Will that do, for the
present?"

Darley smiled complacently. "It seems like a pretty straight tip," said
he. "I will just skip on board, now, and take possession of the manifest;
and if you will give me that list of names again, I will see if those men
are on board, and bring them ashore, if they are. You will be staying at
the fort, I suppose? There are only Cockeram and the doctor there."

"Yes," said Betty, "I shall ask Mr. Cockeram to put him up, for to-night,
at any rate."

"Very well," said Darley, "then I shall see you again later. And now I
will be off and lay the train."

He touched his cap, and as they emerged into an open space before the
gateway of the fort, he turned and walked away briskly down a long, shady
avenue of wild fig-trees that led towards the shore.

Quittah fort was a shabby-looking, antique structure adapted to the
conditions of primitive warfare. It was entered by an arched gateway
graced by two ancient cannon set up as posts and guarded by a Hausa
sentry in a blue serge uniform and a scarlet fez. Towards the gateway
Osmond and Betty directed their steps, and as they approached, the sentry
sprang smartly to attention and presented arms; whereupon Betty marched
in with impressive dignity and two tiny fingers raised to the peak of her
helmet.

"This seems to be the way up," she said, turning towards a mouldering
wooden staircase, as a supercilious-looking pelican waddled towards them
and a fish-eagle on a perch in a corner uttered a loud yell. "What a
queer place it is! It looks like a menagerie. I wonder if there is anyone
at home."

She tripped up the stairs, followed by Osmond and watched suspiciously by
an assemblage of storks, coots, rails, and other birds which were
strolling about at large in the quadrangle, and came out on an open space
at the top of a corner bastion. Just as they reached this spot a man came
hurrying out of a shabby building which occupied one side of the square;
and at the first glance Osmond recognized him as the officer who had come
to Adaffia to execute the warrant on the day when he had buried poor
Larkom. The recognition was mutual, for as soon as he had saluted Betty,
the officer turned to him and held out his hand.

"Larkom, by Jove!" said he.

"My name is Cook," Osmond corrected.

"Oh," said the other; "glad you set me right, because I have been going
to send you a note. You remember me--Cockeram. I came down to Adaffia,
you know, about that poor chap, Osmond."

"I remember. You said you had been going to write to me."

"Yes. I was going to send you something that I thought would interest
you. I may as well give it to you now." He began to rummage in his
pockets and eventually brought forth a bulging letter-case, the very
miscellaneous contents of which he proceeded to sort out. "It's about
poor Osmond," he continued, disjointedly, and still turning over a litter
of papers. "I felt that you would like to see it. Poor chap! It was such
awfully rough luck."

"What was?" asked Osmond.

"Why, you remember," replied Cockeram, suspending his search to look up,
"that I had a warrant to arrest him. It seemed that he was wanted for
some sort of jewel robbery and there had been a regular hue-and-cry
after him. Then he managed to slip away to sea and had just contrived to
get into hiding at Adaffia when the fever got him. Frightful hard lines!"

"Why hard lines?" demanded Osmond.

"Why? Because he was innocent."

"Innocent!" exclaimed Osmond, staring at the officer in amazement.

"Yes, innocent. Had nothing whatever to do with the robbery. No one can
make out why on earth he scooted."

As Cockeram made his astounding statement, Betty turned deathly pale. "Is
it quite certain that he was innocent?" she asked in a low, eager tone.

"Perfectly," he replied, turning an astonished blue eye on the
white-faced girl and then hastily averting it. "Where is that confounded
paper--newspaper cutting? I cut it out to send to Lark--Cook. There is
no doubt whatever. It seems that they employed a criminal lawyer chap--a
certain Dr. Thorndyke--to work up the case against Osmond. So this
lawyer fellow got to work. And the upshot of it was that he proved
conclusively that Osmond couldn't possibly be the guilty party."

"How did he prove that?" Osmond demanded.

"In the simplest and most satisfactory way possible," replied Cockeram.
"He followed up the tracks until he had spotted the actual robber and
held all the clues in his hand. Then he gave the police the tip; and they
swooped down on my nabs--caught him fairly on the hop with all the
stolen property in his possession. There isn't the shadow of a doubt
about it."

"What was the name of the man who stole the gems?" Osmond asked
anxiously.

"I don't remember," Cockeram replied. "What interested me was the name of
the man who didn't steal them."

Betty, still white-faced and trembling, stood gazing rather wildly at
Osmond. For his face bore a very singular expression--an expression that
made her feel sick at heart. He did not look relieved or joyful.
Surprised he certainly was. But it was not joyous surprise. Rather was it
suggestive of alarm and dismay. And meanwhile Cockeram continued to turn
over the accumulations in his letter-case. Suddenly he drew forth a
crumpled and much-worn envelope from which he triumphantly extracted a
long newspaper cutting.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, as he handed it to Osmond, "here we are. You will
find full particulars in this. You needn't send it back to me. I have
done with it. And now I must hook off to the court-house. You will take
possession of the mess-room, Miss Burleigh, won't you? and order whatever
you want. Of course, Mr. Cook is my guest." With a formal salute he
turned, ran down the rickety stairs and out at the gate, pursued closely
as far as the wicket by the pelican.

But Betty's whole attention was focussed on Osmond; and as he fastened
hungrily on the newspaper cutting, she took his arm and drew him gently
through a ramshackle lattice porch into the shabby little white washed
mess-room, where she stood watching with mingled hope and terror the
strange, enigmatical expression on his face as he devoured the printed
lines.

Suddenly--in the twinkling of an eye--That expression changed. Anxiety,
even consternation, gave place to the wildest astonishment; his jaw fell,
and the hand which held the newspaper cutting dropped to his side. And
then he laughed aloud; a weird, sardonic laugh that made poor Betty's
flesh creep.

"What is it, Jim, dear?" she asked nervously.

He looked in her face and laughed again.

"My name," said he, "is not Jim. It is John. John Osmond."

"Very well, John," she replied, meekly. "But why did you laugh?"

He placed his hands on her shoulders and looked down at her with a smile.

"Betty, darling," said he, "do I understand that you are willing to marry
me?"

"Willing indeed!" she exclaimed. "I am going to marry you."

"Then, my darling," said he, "you are going to marry a fool."

BOOK II THE INVESTIGATOR

XII. THE INDICTMENT

MR. JOSEPH PENFIELD sat behind his writing-table in a posture of calm
attention, allowing his keen grey eyes to travel back and forth from the
silver snuff box which lay on the note-pad before him to the two visitors
who confronted him from their respective chairs. One of these, an elderly
hard-faced man, square of jaw and truculent of eye, was delivering some
sort of statement, while the other, a considerably younger man, listened
critically, with his eyes cast down, but stealing, from time to time, a
quick, furtive glance either at the speaker or at Mr. Penfield. He was
evidently following the statement closely; and to an observer there might
have appeared in his concentrated attention something more than mere
interest; something inscrutable, with, perhaps, the faintest suggestion
of irony.

As the speaker came, somewhat abruptly, to an end, Mr. Penfield opened
his snuff-box and took a pinch delicately between finger and thumb.

"It is not quite clear to me, Mr. Woodstock," said he, "why you are
consulting me in this matter. You are an experienced practitioner, and
the issue is a fairly simple one. What is there against your dealing with
the case according to your own judgment?"

"A good deal," Mr. Woodstock replied. "In the first place, I am one of
the interested parties--the principal one, in fact. In the second, I
practise in a country town, whereas you are here in the very heart of the
legal world; and in the third, I have no experience whatever of criminal
practice; I am a conveyancer pure and simple."

"But," objected Mr. Penfield, "this is not a matter of criminal practice.
It is just a question of your liability as a bailee."

"Yes, true. But that question is closely connected with the robbery.
Since no charge was made for depositing this property in my strong-room,
obviously, I am not liable unless it can be shown that the loss was due
to negligence. But the question of negligence turns on the robbery."

"Which I understand was committed by one of your own staff?"

"Yes, the man Osmond, whom I mentioned; one of my confidential
clerks--Hepburn, here, is the other--who had access to the
strong-room and who absconded as soon as the robbery was discovered."

"When you say he had access," said Mr. Penfield, "you mean--"

"That he had access to the key during office hours. As a matter of fact,
it hangs on the wall beside my desk, and when I am there the strong-room
is usually kept open--the door is in my private office and opposite to
my desk. Of course, when I leave at the end of the day, I lock up the
strong-room and take the key away with me."

"Yes. But in the interval--hm? It almost looks as if a claim might be--hm?
But you have given me only an outline of the affair. Perhaps a more
detailed account might enable us better to form an opinion on the
position. Would it be troubling you too much?"

"Not at all," replied Mr. Woodstock; "but it is rather a long story.
However, I will cut it as short as I can. We will take the events in the
order in which they occurred; and you must pull me up, Hepburn, if I
overlook anything.

"The missing valuables are the property of a client of mine named Hollis;
a retired soap manufacturer, as rich as Croesus, and like most of these
over-rich men, having made a fortune was at his wit's end what to do with
it. Eventually, he adopted the usual plan. He became a collector. And
having decided to burden himself with a lot of things that he didn't
want, he put the lid on it by specializing in goldsmith's work, jewellery
and precious stones. Wanted a valuable collection, he said, that could be
kept in an ordinary dwelling-house.

"Well, of course, the acquisitive mania, once started, grew by what it
fed on. The desire to possess this stuff became an obsession. He was
constantly planning expeditions in search of new rarities, scouring the
Continent for fresh loot, flitting from town to town and from dealer to
dealer like an idiotic bee. And whenever he went off on one of these
expeditions he would bring the pick of his confounded collection to me to
have it deposited in my strong-room. I urged him to take it to the bank;
but he doesn't keep an account with any of the local branches and didn't
want to take the stuff to London. Moreover, he had inspected my
strong-room and was a good deal impressed by it."

"It is really strong, is it?" asked Mr. Penfield.

"Very. Thick reinforced concrete lined with steel. Very large, too. Not
that the strength is material as it was not broken into. Well, eventually
I agreed to deposit the things in the strong-room--couldn't refuse an
important client--but I resolutely declined to make any charge or accept
any sort of consideration for the service. I wasn't going to make myself
responsible for the safety of things of that value. And I explained my
position to Hollis; but he said that a strong-room that was good enough
for my valuable documents was good enough for his jewels. Which was
talking like a fool. Burglars don't break into safes to steal leases.

"Well, this business began about six years ago, and--so far as I can
tell--nothing amiss occurred until quite lately. I say so far as I can
tell, for of course we can't date the robbery. We only know when it was
discovered. But I assume that the theft was committed pretty recently or
it would surely have been discovered sooner."

"And when was it first ascertained that a robbery had been committed?"
asked Mr. Penfield, dipping a quill into the ink.

"On the fourth of October," replied Mr. Woodstock; and having paused
while Mr. Penfield noted the date, he continued: "On that day Hollis took
a great ruby up to South Kensington, where it had been accepted for a
loan exhibition. He delivered it himself to the keeper of the precious
stones, and was a little taken aback when that gentleman, after a
preliminary inspection, began to pore over it with a magnifying-glass and
then sent for one of his colleagues. The second expert raised his
eyebrows when he had looked at the gem, and he, too, made a careful
scrutiny with the lens. Finally, they sent for a third official; and the
upshot of it was that the three experts agreed that the stone was not a
ruby at all but only a first-class imitation.

"Of course Hollis didn't believe them, and said so. He had bought the
stone for four thousand pounds from a well-known dealer and had shown it
to a number of connoisseurs, who had all been enthusiastic about the
colour and lustre of the gem. There had never been any question that it
was not merely a genuine ruby, but a ruby of the highest class. However,
when e had heard the verdict of the experts, he pocketed his treasure and
went straight off to Cawley's in Piccadlilly. But when Mr. Cawley shook
his head over the gem and pronounced it an unquestionable counterfeit, he
became alarmed and danced off in a deuce of a twitter to the dealer from
whom he had bought it.

"That interview settled the matter. The dealer remembered the transaction
quite well and knew all about the stone, for he had full records of the
circumstances under which he had acquired it. Moreover, he recognized
the setting--a pendant with a surround of small diamonds--but he was
quite clear that the stone in it was not the stone that he had sold to
Hollis. In fact it was not a stone at all; it was just a good-class paste
ruby. The original had been picked out of the setting and the counterfeit
put in its place; and the person who had done the job was apparently not
a skilled jeweller, for there were traces on the setting of some rather
amateurish work."

"There is no doubt, I suppose," said Mr. Penfield, "of the bona-fides of
the dealer?"

"Not the slightest," was the reply. "He is a man of the highest
reputation; and as a matter of fact, no regular dealer would palm off a
counterfeit. It wouldn't be business. But the question doesn't really
arise, as you will see when I proceed with the story.

"As soon as Hollis was convinced that a substitution had been effected,
he commissioned an independent expert to come down and make a critical
survey of his collection; and it was then ascertained that practically
every important gem in his cabinets was a counterfeit. And in every case
in which the stone was a false one, the same traces of clumsy workmanship
were discoverable by an expert eye.

"The conclusion was obvious. Since the original gems had come from all
sorts of different sources, there could he no question of fraud on the
part of the various vendors; to say nothing of the fact that Hollis--who
has practically no knowledge of stones himself--always obtained an
expert opinion before concluding a deal. It was obvious that a systematic
robbery had been carried out, and the question that arose was, who could
the robber be?

"But that question involved certain others; as, for instance, when had
the robbery been committed? where were the jewels at that time? and who
had access to the place in which they were?

"These were difficult questions. At first it seemed as if they were
unanswerable, and perhaps some of them would have been if the robber had
not lost his nerve. But I am anticipating. Let us take the questions in
their order.

"First as to the date of the robbery. It happens that a little less than
two years ago Professor Eccles came down by invitation and made a careful
inspection of Hollis's collection with a view to a proposed bequest to
the nation, and marked off what he considered to be the most valuable
specimens. Now, I need not say that if Professor Eccles detected no
counterfeit stones, we may take it that no counterfeits were there.
Consequently, the collection was then intact and the robbery must have
been committed since that date. But it happens that that date coincides
almost exactly with the arrival of Osmond at my office. Just two years
ago Hepburn introduced him to me; and as he is Hepburn's brother-in-law,
I accepted him with perfect confidence.

"The other questions seemed more difficult. As to Hollis's own premises,
the jewel-room had a Chubb detector lock on its only door, the cabinets
have similar locks, the windows are always kept securely fastened, and no
attempt has ever been made to break into the place. Besides, burglars
would simply have taken the jewels away. They would not have left
substitutes. The personnel of his household--a lady secretary, a
housekeeper, and two maids--appear beyond suspicion. Moreover, they had
all been with him many years before the robbery occurred. In short, I
think we may consider Hollis's premises as outside the field of inquiry."

"Do you really?" said Mr. Penfield, in a tone which clearly indicated
that he did not.

"Certainly; and so will you when you have heard the rest of the story. We
now come to the various occasions on which the more valuable parts of
this collection were deposited in my strong-room. Let me describe the
procedure. In the first place, Hollis himself packed the jewels in a
number of wooden boxes which he had had made specially for the purpose,
each about fourteen inches by nine by about five inches deep. Every box
had a good lock with a sunk disc on each side of the keyhole for the
seals. When the boxes were packed they were locked and a strip of tape
put across the keyhole and secured at each end with a seal. They were
then wrapped in strong paper and sealed at all the joints with Hollis's
seal--an antique Greek seal set in a ring which he always wears on his
finger. On the outside of the cover was written a list of the contents in
Hollis's own handwriting and signed by him, and each box bore in addition
a number. The boxes were brought to my office by Hollis and by him
delivered personally to me; and I gave him a receipt, roughly describing
and enumerating the boxes, but, of course, not committing myself in
respect of the contents. I then carried them myself into the strong-room
and placed them on an upper shelf which I reserved for them; and there
they remained until Hollis fetched them away, when he used to give me a
receipt in the same terms as my own. That concluded the particular
transaction.

"Now, it happened that at the time when the robbery was discovered,
several of the boxes which Hollis had taken back from me about a month
previously still remained packed and in their paper wrappings. And it
further happened that one of these--there were eight in all--contained
an emerald which Hollis had bought only a few days before he packed it.
There was no question as to the genuineness of this stone; and when the
box was opened, there was no question as to the fact that it had been
replaced by a counterfeit. Even Hollis was able to spot the change. So
that seemed to fix the date of the robbery to the period during which the
box had been in my strong-room."

"Apparently," Mr. Penfield agreed. "But you speak of the box as being
still in its paper wrapping. What of the seals?"

"Ah!" exclaimed Woodstock, "that is the most mysterious feature of the
affair. The seals were unbroken and, so far as Hollis could see, the
package was absolutely intact, just as it had been handed to me."

Mr. Penfield pursed up his lips and took snuff to the verge of
intemperance.

"If the seals were unbroken," said he, "and the package was in all other
respects intact, that would seem to be incontestable proof that it had
never been opened since it was closed and sealed."

"That was what I pointed out," interposed Hepburn, "when Mr. Woodstock
talked the matter over with Osmond and me. The unbroken seals seemed a
conclusive answer to any suggestion that the robbery took place in our
office."

"So they did," Woodstock agreed, "and so they would still if Osmond had
kept his head. But he didn't. He had evidently reckoned on the question
of a robbery from our strong-room never being raised, and I imagine that
it was that emerald that upset his nerve. At any rate, within a week of
our discussion he bolted, and then, of course, the murder was out."

Mr. Penfield nodded gravely and asked, after a short pause: "And how is
Mr. Hollis taking it? Is he putting any pressure on you?"

"Oh, not at all--up to the present. He has not suggested any claim
against me; he merely wants to lay his hand on the robber and, if
possible, get his jewels back. He entirely approves of what I have done."

"What have you done?" Mr. Penfield asked.

"I have done the obvious thing," was the reply, delivered in a slightly
truculent tone. "As soon as it was clear that Osmond had absconded, I
communicated with the police. I laid an information and gave them the
leading facts."

"And do they propose to take any action?"

"Most undoubtedly; in fact I may say that they have been most commendably
prompt. They have already traced Osmond to Bristol, and I have every hope
that in due course they will run him to earth and arrest him."

"That is quite probable," said Mr. Penfield. "And when they have arrested
him--?"

"He will be brought back and charged before a magistrate, when we may
take it that he will be committed for trial."

"It is possible," Mr. Penfield assented, doubtfully. "And then--"

"Then," replied Woodstock, reddening and raising his voice, "he will be
put on his trial and, I make no doubt, sent to penal servitude."

Mr. Penfield took snuff deprecatingly and shook his head. "I think not,"
said he; "but perhaps there is some item of evidence which you have
omitted to mention?"

"Evidence!" Woodstock repeated impatiently. "What evidence do you want?
The property has been stolen and the man who had an opportunity to steal
it has absconded. What more do you want?"

Mr. Penfield looked at his brother solicitor with mild surprise.

"The judge," he replied, "and I should think the magistrate, too, would
want some positive evidence that the accused stole the jewels. There
appears to be no such evidence. The unexplained disappearance of this man
is a suspicious circumstance; but it is useless to take suspicions into
court. You have got to make out a case, and at present you have no case.
If the charge were not dismissed by the magistrate, the bill would
certainly be thrown out by the Grand Jury."

Mr. Woodstock glowered sullenly at the old lawyer, but he made no reply,
while Hepburn sat with down cast eyes and the faintest trace of an
ironical smile.

"Consider," Mr. Penfield resumed, "what would be the inevitable answer of
the defence. They would point out that there is not a particle of
evidence that the robbery--if there has really been a robbery--occurred
in your office at all, and that there are excellent reasons for believing
that it did not."

"What reasons are there?"

"There are the unbroken seals. Until you can show how the jewels could
have been abstracted without breaking the seals, you have not even a
prima-facie case. Then there is the method of the alleged robbery. It
would have required not merely access but undisturbed possession for a
considerable time. It was not just a matter of picking out the stones.
They were replaced by plausible counterfeits which had to be made or
procured. Take the case of the ruby that you mentioned. It deceived
Hollis completely. Then it must have been very like the original in size,
form, and colour. It could not have been picked up casually at a
theatrical property dealer's; it must have been made ad hoc by careful
comparison with the original. But all this and the subsequent setting and
finishing would take time. It would be quite possible while the jewels
were lying quietly in Hollis's cabinets, but it would seem utterly
impossible under the alleged circumstances. In short," Mr. Penfield
concluded, "I am astounded that you ever admitted the possibility of the
robbery having occurred on your premises. What do you say, Mr. Hepburn?"

"I agree with you entirely," the latter replied. "My position would have
been that we had received certain sealed packages and that we had handed
them back in the same condition as we received them. I should have left
Hollis to prove the contrary."

"And I think he could have done it," said Woodstock doggedly. "You seem
to be forgetting that emerald. But in any case I have accepted the
suggestion and I am not going to draw back, especially as my confidential
clerk has absconded and virtually admitted the theft. The question is,
what is to be done? Hollis is mad to get hold of the robber and recover
his gems, and he is prepared to stand the racket financially."

"In that case," said Mr. Penfield, taking a final pinch and pocketing his
snuff-box, "I will venture to make a suggestion. This case is out of your
depth and out of mine. I suggest that you allow me to take counsel's
opinion; and the counsel I should select would be Dr. John Thorndyke."

"Thorndyke--hm!" grunted Woodstock. "Isn't he an irregular practitioner
of some sort?"

"Not at all," Mr. Penfield dissented warmly. "He is a scientific expert
with an unrivalled knowledge and experience of criminal practice. If it
is possible for anyone to unravel this tangle, I am confident that he is
the man; and I know of no other."

"Then," exclaimed Woodstock, "for God's sake get hold of him, and let me
know what he says, so that I can report to Hollis. And let him know that
there will be no trouble about costs."

With this Mr. Woodstock rose and, after an unemotional leave-taking, made
his way out of the office, followed by Hepburn.

XIII. THORNDYKE TAKES UP THE INQUIRY

MR. PENFIELD'S visit to Dr. Thorndyke's chambers in King's Bench Walk,
Inner Temple, was productive of some little surprise, as such visits were
rather apt to be. For the old solicitor had definitely made up his mind
that Woodstock's theory of the robbery was untenable and that the burden
of proof ought to be cast on Hollis; and he was therefore not a little
disconcerted to find Thorndyke tending to favour the view that the
probabilities pointed to the strong-room as the scene of the robbery.

"After all," the latter said, "we must not ignore the obvious. It is
undeniable that Osmond's disappearance--which has the strongest
suggestion of flight--is a very suspicious circumstance. It occurred
almost immediately after the discovery of the thefts and the suggestion
that the gems had been stolen from the strong-room. Osmond had access to
the strong-room--though I admit that a good many other persons had,
too. Then there is the striking fact that the period of the robberies
coincides exactly with the period of Osmond's presence at the office.
During the four years which preceded his arrival no robbery appears to
have occurred, although all the other conditions seem to have been the
same. So far as we can see, the robberies must have commenced very
shortly after his arrival. These are significant facts which, as I have
said, we cannot ignore."

"I am entirely with you," Mr. Penfield replied, "when you say that we
must not ignore the obvious. But are you not doing so? These packages
were most carefully and elaborately sealed; and it is admitted that they
were returned to the owner with the seals unbroken. Now, it seems to me
obvious that if the seals were unbroken, the packages could not have been
opened. But apparently you think otherwise. Possibly you attach less
importance to seals than I do?"

"Probably," Thorndyke admitted. "It is easy to exaggerate their
significance. For what is a seal, when all is said? It is an artificial
thing which some artist or workman has made and which another artist or
workman could copy if necessary. There is no magic in seals."

"Dear, dear!" Mr. Penfield exclaimed with a wry smile. "Another illusion
shattered! But I think a Court of Law would share my erroneous view of
the matter. However, we will let that pass. I understand that you look
upon Osmond as the probable delinquent?"

"The balance of probabilities is in favour of that view. But I am keeping
an open mind. There are other possibilities, and they will have to be
explored. We must take nothing for granted."

Mr. Penfield nodded approvingly. "And suppose," he asked, "the police
should arrest Osmond?"

"Then," replied Thorndyke, "Mr. Woodstock would be in difficulties, and
so would the police--who have shown less than their usual discretion--unless
the prisoner should get in a panic and plead 'guilty.' There is
not even a prima-facie case. They can't call upon Osmond to prove that he
did not steal the gems."

"Exactly," Mr. Penfield agreed. "That is what I tried to impress on
Woodstock--who is really a most extraordinarily unlegal lawyer. But have
you any suggestion to offer?"

"I can only suggest that, as we are practically without data, we should
endeavour to obtain some. The only fact that we have is that the stones
have been removed from their settings and replaced by imitations. There
seems to be no doubt about that. As to how they came to be removed, there
are evidently four possibilities. First, they may have been taken from
Hollis's cabinets by some person unknown. Second, the substitution may
have been effected by Hollis himself, for reasons unknown to us and by no
means easy to imagine. Third, they may have been stolen from the
strong-room by some person other than Osmond. Fourth, they may have been
stolen from the strong-room by Osmond. The last is, I think, the most
probable. But all of the four hypotheses must be impartially considered.
Do I understand that Hollis is prepared to offer facilities?"

"He agrees to give every assistance, financial or other."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "I suggest that we make a beginning by inspecting
the boxes. I understand that there are still some unopened."

"Yes; six. Hollis reserved them to be opened in the presence of
witnesses."

"Let Hollis bring those six boxes together with those that have been
opened, with their packings and wrappings, if he has them. If we can fix
a day, I will arrange for an expert to be present to witness the opening
of the six boxes and give an opinion on the stones in them. If it appears
that any robbery has been committed, I shall ask Hollis to leave the
boxes and the counterfeit jewels that I may examine them at my leisure."

Mr. Penfield chuckled softly and helped himself to a pinch of snuff.

"Your methods, Dr. Thorndyke," said be, "are a perennial source of wonder
to me. May I ask what kind of information you expect to extract from the
empty boxes?"

"I have no specific expectations at all," was the reply; "but it will be
strange indeed if we learn nothing from them. They will probably have
little enough to tell us; but, seeing that we have, at present, hardly a
single fact beyond that of the substitution--and that is not of our own
observing--a very small addition to our knowledge would be all to the
good."

"Very true, very true," agreed Mr. Penfield. "A single definite fact
might enable us to decide which of those four possibilities is to be
adopted and pursued; though how you propose to extract such a fact from
an empty box, or even a full one, I am unable to imagine. However, I
leave that problem in your hands. As soon as you have secured your
expert, perhaps you will kindly advise me and I will then make the
necessary arrangements with Mr. Hollis."

With this Mr. Penfield rose and took his departure, leaving Thorndyke to
read over and amplify the notes that he had taken during the
consultation.

As matters turned out, he was able to advise Mr. Penfield within
twenty-four hours that he had secured the services of an expert who was
probably the greatest living authority on gem stones; with the result
that a telegram arrived from Mr. Hollis accepting the appointment for the
following day at eleven in the forenoon, that time having been mentioned
by the expert as the most suitable on account of the light.

It wanted several minutes to the appointed hour when the first visitor
arrived; for the Treasury clock had hardly struck the third quarter when,
in response to a smart rat-tat on the little brass knocker, Thorndyke
opened the door and admitted Professor Eccles.

"I am a little before my time," the latter remarked as he shook hands,
"but I wanted to have a few words with you before Mr. Hollis arrived. I
understand that you want me to give an opinion on some doubtful stones of
his. Are they new ones? Because I may say that I looked over his
collection very carefully less than two years ago and I can state
confidently that it contained no gems that were not unquestionably
genuine. But I have heard some rumours of a robbery--unfounded, I hope,
seeing that Hollis proposes to bequeath his treasures to the national
collection."

"I am afraid," replied Thorndyke, "that the rumours are correct; but that
is what you are going to help us to decide. It is not a case of simple
robbery. The stolen stones seem to have been replaced by imitations; and
as you examined the collection when it was undoubtedly intact, you will
see at once if there has been any substitution."

He proceeded to give the professor a brief account of the case and the
curious problem that it presented, and he had barely finished when a cab
was heard to draw up below. A minute later, as the two men stood at the
open door, the visitor made his appearance, followed by the cabman, each
carrying a bulky but apparently light wooden case.

Mr. Hollis was a typical business man--dry, brisk, and shrewd-looking.
Having shaken hands with the professor and introduced himself to
Thorndyke, he dismissed the cabman and came to the point without
preamble.

"This case, marked A, contains the full boxes. The other, marked B,
contains the empties. I will leave you to deal with that at your
convenience. My concern and Professor Eccles's is with the other, which I
will open at once and then we can get to work."

He thrust the despised case B into a corner, and hoisting the other on to
the table, unbuckled the straps, unlocked it, threw open the lid, and
took out six sealed packages, which he placed side by side on the table.

"Shall I open them?" he asked, producing a pocket knife, "or will you?

"Before we disturb them," said Thorndyke, "we had better examine the
exteriors very carefully."

"I've done that," said Hollis. "I've been over each one most thoroughly
and, so far as I can see, they are in exactly the same condition as they
were when I handed them to Woodstock. The writing on them is certainly my
writing and the seals are impressions of my seal, which, as you see, I
carry on my finger in this ring."

"In that case," said Thorndyke, "we may as well open them forthwith.
Perhaps I had better take off the wrappings, as I should like to preserve
them and the seals intact."

He took up the first package and turned it over in his hands, examining
each surface closely. And as he did so, his two visitors watched him--the
professor with slightly amused curiosity, the other with a dry,
rather impatient manner not without a trace of scepticism. The package
was about fourteen inches in length by nine wide and five inches deep. It
was very neatly covered with a strong, smooth white paper bearing a
number--thirteen--and a written and signed list of the contents, and
sealed at each end in the middle. The paper was further secured by a
string, tied tightly and skilfully, of which the knot was embedded in a
mass of wax on which was an excellent impression of the seal.

"You see," Hollis pointed out, "that the parcel has been made as secure
as human care could make it. I should have said that it was perfectly
impossible to open it without breaking the seals."

"But surely," exclaimed the professor, "it would be an absolute
impossibility! Don't you agree, Dr. Thorndyke?"

"We shall be better able to judge when we have seen the inside," the
latter replied. With a small pair of scissors he cut the string, which he
placed on one side, and then, with great care, cut round each of the
seals, removing them with the portions of paper on which they were fixed
and putting them aside with the string. The rest of the paper was now
taken off, disclosing a plain, white-wood box, the keyhole of which was
covered by a strip of tape secured at each end by a seal seated in a
small circular pit. Thorndyke cut the tape and held the box towards
Hollis, who already held the key in readiness. This having been inserted
and turned, Thorndyke raised the lid and laid the box on the table.

"There, Professor," said he; "you can now answer your own question. The
list of contents is on the cover. It is for you to say whether that list
correctly describes the things which are inside."

Professor Eccles drew a chair up to the table, and lifting from the
inside of the box a thick pad of tissue paper (which Thorndyke took from
him and placed with the string and the seals), ran his eye quickly over
the neatly-arranged assemblage of jewels that reposed on a second layer
of tissue. Very soon a slight frown began to wrinkle his forehead. He
bent more closely over the box, looked narrowly first at one gem, then at
another, and at length picked out a small, plain pendant set with a
single oval green stone about half an inch in diameter.

"Leaf-green jargoon," said he, reading from the list as he produced a
Coddington lens from his pocket; "that is the one, isn't it?"

Hollis grunted an assent as he watched the professor inspecting the gem
through his lens.

"I remember the stone," said the professor. "It was one of the finest of
the kind that I have ever seen. Well, this isn't it. This is not a
jargoon at all. It is just a lump of green glass--flint glass, in fact.
But it is quite well cut. The lapidary knew his job better than the
jeweller. There has been some very rough work on the setting."

"How much was the stone worth?" Thorndyke asked.

"The original? Not more than thirty pounds, I should say. It was a
beautiful and interesting stone, but rather a collector's specimen than a
jeweller's piece. The public won't give big prices for out-of-the-way
stones. They like diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds."

"Is this counterfeit a true facsimile of the original? I mean as to size
and style of cutting?"

Professor Eccles took from his pocket a small leather case, from which he
extracted a calliper gauge. Applying this delicately to the exposed edges
of the "girdle" between the claws, he read the vernier and then reapplied
it in the other diameter.

"Seven-twelfths by three-quarters of an inch, brilliant cut," he
announced. "Do you happen to remember the dimensions, Mr. Hollis? These
can't be far out, as the stone fits the setting."

"I've brought my catalogue," said Hollis, producing a small, fat volume
from his pocket. "Thought we might want it. What's the number?
Three-sixty-three. Here we are. 'Jargoon. Full leaf-green. Brilliant
cut. Seven-twelfths by three-quarters.'

"Then," said the professor, "this would seem to be a perfect replica.
Queer, isn't it? I see your point, Doctor. This fellow has been to
endless pains and some expense in lapidary's charges--unless he is a
lapidary himself--to say nothing of the risk; and all to get possession
of a stone worth only about thirty pounds, and not easily marketable at
that."

"Some of the other stones are worth more, though," remarked Hollis.

"True, true," agreed the professor. "Let us look at some of the others.
Ha! Here is one that looks a little suspicious, if my memory serves."

He picked out a gold ornament set with a large cat's-eye bordered with
small diamonds and exhibited it to Hollis, who bent down to inspect it.

"Cat's-eye," he commented, after a long and anxious inspection. "Well, it
looks all right to me. What's the matter with it?"

"Oh, it is a cat's-eye, sure enough, but not the right kind, I think.
What does the catalogue say?"

Hollis turned over a page and read out: "Chrysoberyl. Cymophane or
cat's-eye. Brown, oval, cut en cabochon. Five-eighths by half an inch.
Bordered by twelve diamonds."

"I thought so," said the professor. "This is a cat's-eye, but not a
chrysoberyl. It is a quartz cat's-eye. But I should hardly have thought
it would have been worth the trouble and expense of making the exchange.
You see," he added, taking the dimensions with his gauge, "this stone is
apparently a facsimile of the missing one in size and shape and not a bad
match in colour. The diamonds don't appear to have been tampered with."

"What about that emerald?" Hollis asked anxiously, indicating a massive
ring set with a large, square stone bordered with diamonds. Professor
Eccles picked up the ring, and at the first glance he pursed up his lips,
dubiously. But he examined it carefully through his lens, nevertheless.

"Well?" demanded Hollis.

The professor shook his head sadly. "Paste," he replied. "A good
imitation as such things go, but unmistakable glass. Will you read out
the description?"

Hollis did so; and once again the correspondence in dimensions and
cutting showed the forgery to be a carefully-executed facsimile.

"This fellow was a conscientious rascal," said the professor. "He did the
thing thoroughly--excepting the settings."

"Yes, damn him!" Hollis agreed, savagely. "That ring cost me close on
twelve hundred pounds. It came from Lord Pycroft's collection."

Professor Eccles was deeply concerned; naturally enough, for any robbery
of precious things involves a wicked waste. And then there was the
depressing fact that the valuable "Hollis bequest" was melting away
before his eyes. Gloomily, he picked out one after another of the inmates
of the box and regretfully added them to the growing heap of the
rejected.

When the first box had been emptied, the second was attacked with similar
procedure, and so on with the remainder, until the last box had been
probed to the bottom, when the professor sat back in his chair and drew a
deep breath. "Well," he exclaimed, "it is a terrible disaster and
profoundly mysterious. In effect, the collection has been skimmed of
everything of real value. Even the moonstones have been exchanged for
cheap specimens with the rough native cutting untouched. I have never
heard of anything like it. But I don't understand why the fellow took all
this trouble. He couldn't have supposed that the robbery would pass
undetected."

"It might easily have remained undetected long enough to confuse the
issues," said Thorndyke. "If the jewels had been returned to the cabinets
and lain there undisturbed for a few months, it would have been very
difficult to determine exactly when, or where, or how the robbery had
been carried out."

"Yes," growled Hollis. "The scoundrel must have known that I am no expert
and reckoned on my not spotting the change. And I don't suppose I should,
for that matter. However, the cat slipped out of the bag sooner than he
expected and now the police are close on his heels. I'll have my pound of
flesh out of him yet."

As he snapped out this expression of his benevolent intentions, Mr.
Hollis gathered up the remnant of unrifled jewels and was about to
deposit them in one of the empty boxes when Thorndyke interposed.

"May I lend you a deed-box with some fresh packing? I think we agreed
that the empty boxes and the packing should be left with me, that I might
examine them thoroughly before returning them."

"Very well," said Hollis, "though it seems a pretty futile thing to do.
But I suppose you know your own business. What about those sham stones?"

"I should like to examine them too, as they are facsimile imitations; and
we may possibly learn some thing from the settings."

"What do you expect to learn?" Hollis inquired in a tone which pretty
plainly conveyed his expectations.

"Very little," Thorndyke replied (on which Hollis nodded a somewhat
emphatic agreement). "But," he continued, "this case will depend on
circumstantial evidence--unless the robber confesses--and that evidence
has yet to be discovered. We can do no more than use our eyes to the best
advantage in the hope that we may light on some trace that may give us a
lead."

Hollis nodded again. "Sounds pretty hopeless," said he. "However, Mr.
Penfield advised me to put the affair in your hands, so I have done so.
If you should discover anything that will help us with the prosecution, I
suppose you will let me know."

"I shall keep Mr. Penfield informed as to what evidence, if any, is
available, and he will, no doubt, communicate with you."

With this rather vague promise Mr. Hollis appeared to be satisfied, for
he pursued the subject no farther, but, having packed the poor remainder
of his treasures in the deed-box, prepared to depart.

"Before you go," said Thorndyke, "I should like to take a trial
impression of your seal, if you would allow me."

Hollis stared at him in amazement. "My seal!" he exclaimed. "Why, good
God, sir, you have already got some seventy impressions--six from each
of these boxes and all those from the empties!"

"The seals that I have," Thorndyke replied, "are the questioned seals. I
should like to have what scientists call a 'control.'

"I don't know what you mean by 'questioned seals,'" Hollis retorted. "I
haven't questioned them, I have acknowledged them as my own seals."

"I think," Thorndyke rejoined with a faint smile, "that Mr. Penfield
would advise you to acknowledge nothing. But, furthermore, none of these
seals is a really perfect impression such as one would require for
purposes of comparison."

"Comparison!" exclaimed Hollis. "Comparison with what? But there," he
concluded with a sour smile, "it's no use arguing. Have it your own way.
I suppose you know what you are about."

With this, he drew off the ring, and, laying it on the table, bestowed a
glance of defiance on Thorndyke. The latter had, apparently, made his
preparations, for he promptly produced from a drawer a small box, the
opening of which revealed a supply of sealing-wax, a spirit-lamp, a metal
plate, a little crucible or melting-ladle with a wooden handle, a bottle
of oil, a camel's-hair brush, and a number of small squares of white
paper. While he was setting out this apparatus the professor examined the
seal through his lens.

"A fine example," he pronounced. "Syracusan, I should say, fourth or
fifth century B.C. Not unlike the decadrachm of that period--the racing
Quadriga with the winged Victory above and the panoply of armour below
seem to recall that coin. The stone seems to be green chalcedony. It is a
beautiful work. Seems almost a pity to employ it in common use."

He surrendered it regretfully to Thorndyke, who, having taken an
infinitesimal drop of oil on the point of the brush and wiped it off on
the palm of his hand, delicately brushed the surface of the seal. Then he
laid a square of paper on the metal plate, broke off a piece from one of
the sticks of sealing-wax and melted it in the crucible over the lamp.
When it was completely liquefied, he poured it slowly on the centre of
the square of paper, where it formed a circular, convex pool. Having
given this a few seconds to cool, he took the ring and pressed it
steadily on the soft wax. When he raised it--which he did with extreme
care, steadying the paper with his fingers--the wax bore an exquisitely
perfect impression of the seal.

Hollis was visibly impressed by the careful manipulation and the fine
result; and when Thorndyke had repeated the procedure, he requested that
a third impression might be made for his own use. This having been made
and bestowed in the deed-box, he replaced the ring on his finger, bade
the professor and Thorndyke a curt farewell, and made his way down to the
waiting cab.

As the door closed behind him, the professor turned to Thorndyke with a
somewhat odd expression on his face.

"This is a very mysterious affair, Doctor," said he.

The curiously significant tone caused Thorndyke to cast a quick,
inquiring glance at the speaker. But he merely repeated the latter's
remark.

"A very mysterious affair, indeed."

"As I understand it," the professor continued, "Hollis claims that these
gems were stolen from the boxes while they were in the solicitor's
strong-room; and that they were taken without breaking the seals. But
that sounds like sheer nonsense. And yet the solicitor appears to accept
the suggestion."

"Yes. Hollis claims that the gems that were put into the boxes were the
real gems; and both he and the solicitor, Woodstock, base their beliefs
on the fact that Woodstock's confidential clerk appears to have absconded
immediately after the discovery of the robbery."

"H'm!" grunted the professor. "Is it quite clear that the clerk has
really absconded?"

"He has disappeared for no known reason."

"H'm. Not quite the same thing, is it? But has it been established that
the real stones were actually in the boxes when they were handed to the
solicitor?"

"I wouldn't use the word 'established,'" Thorndyke admitted. "There is
evidence that one stone, at least, was intact a day or two before the
boxes were deposited; and that stone--a large emerald--was found to
have been changed when the box was opened."

The professor grunted dubiously and reflected awhile. Then he looked hard
at Thorndyke and appeared to be about to make some observation; and then
he seemed to alter his mind, for he concluded with the somewhat
colourless remark: "Well, I daresay you are quite alive to all the
possibilities"; and with this he prepared to take his departure.

"Do you happen," asked Thorndyke, "to know the addresses of any
lapidaries who specialize in imitation stones?"

Professor Eccles reflected. "Imitations are rather out of my province,"
he replied. "Of course any lapidary could cut a paste gem or make a
doublet or triplet, and would if paid for the job. I will write down the
addresses of one or two men who have worked for me and they will probably
be able to give you any further information." He wrote down two or three
addresses, and as he put away his pencil, he asked: "How is your
colleague, Jervis? He is still with you, I suppose?

"Jervis," was the reply, "is at present an independent practitioner. He
accepted, on my advice, a whole-time appointment at the 'Griffin' Life
Assurance Office. But he drops in from time to time to lend me a hand. I
will tell him you asked after him. And let me tender you my very warmest
thanks for your invaluable help to-day."

"Tut, tut," said the professor, "you need not thank me. I am an
interested party. If Hollis doesn't recover his gems, the national
collection is going to lose a valuable bequest. Bear that in mind as an
additional spur to your endeavours. Good-bye, and good luck!"

With a hearty handshake and a valedictory smile, Professor Eccles let
himself out and went his way, apparently in a deeply thoughtful frame of
mind, as Thorndyke judged by observing his receding figure from the
window.

XIV. THORNDYKE MAKES A BEGINNING

THE profound cogitations of Professor Eccles set up in the mind of
Thorndyke a sort of induced psychic current. As he turned from the window
and began to occupy himself in sorting his material preparatory to
examining it, his thoughts were busy with his late visitor. The professor
had been about to say something and had suddenly thought better of it.
Now, what could it have been that he was about to say? And why had he not
said it? And what was the meaning of that strangely intent look that he
had bestowed on Thorndyke, and that rather odd expression that his face
had borne? And, finally, what were those 'possibilities' at which he had
hinted?

These were the questions that Thorndyke asked himself as he carried out,
quietly and methodically, the preliminaries to his later investigations;
with the further questions: Did the professor know anything that bore on
the mystery? and if so, what was it that he knew? He evidently had no
knowledge either of Woodstock or of Osmond, but he was fairly well
acquainted with Hollis. It was manifest that he rejected utterly the
alleged robbery from the strong-room; which implied a conviction that
the exchange of stones had been made either before the boxes were handed
to Woodstock or after they had been received back from him.

It was a perfectly natural and reasonable belief. Mr. Penfield had been
of the same opinion. But Mr. Penfield had no special knowledge of the
matter. His opinion had been based exclusively on the integrity of the
seals. Was this the professor's case, too? Or was he in possession of
some significant facts which he had not disclosed? His manner rather
suggested that he was. Perhaps it might be expedient, later, to sound him
cautiously. But this would depend on the amount and kind of information
that was yielded by other sources.

By the time he reached this conclusion the sorting process was completed.
The six boxes with their contents replaced were set out in order, the
empties put together as well as was possible, and the seals from the
wrapping of each box put into a separate envelope on which the number and
description was written. A supply of white paper was laid on the table
together with a number of new paper bags, and a little simple microscope
which consisted of a watchmaker's compound eye-glass mounted on a small
wooden stand. Thorndyke ran his eye over the collection to see that
everything was in order; then, dismissing the professor from his mind, he
drew a chair up to the table and fell to work.

He began with the seals. Opening one of the envelopes, he took out the
four seals--including that on the knot, which he had cut off--and
laying them out on the table, examined them quickly, one after the other.
Then he picked up one of them, laid it on a card and placed the card on
the stage of the magnifier, through which he made a more prolonged
examination, turning the card from time to time to alter the incidence of
the light, and jotting down on a note-block a few brief memoranda. The
same procedure was followed with the other three seals, and when they had
all been examined they were returned to their envelope, the top sheet of
the note-block was detached and put in with them, the envelope was put
aside and a fresh one opened. Finally he came to the envelope which
contained the two impressions that he had, himself, taken from Hollis's
seal, but these were not subjected to the minute scrutiny that the others
had received. They were merely laid on the card, slipped under the
magnifier, and after a single, brief glance, returned to their envelope
and put aside. Next, the seals in the recesses by the keyholes of the
boxes were scrutinized, the eyeglass being swung clear of its stand for
the purpose, and when this had been done, the fresh set of notes was
detached and slipped into one of the envelopes.

But this did not conclude the examination. Apparently there was some
further point to be elucidated. Rising from his chair, Thorndyke fetched
from a cabinet a microscope of the kind used for examining documents--a
heavy-based instrument with a long, pivoted arm and a bull's-eye
condenser. With this he re-examined the seals in succession, beginning
with the two impressions that he had, himself, taken; and it might have
been noticed that this examination concerned itself exclusively with a
particular spot on the seal--a portion of the background just in front
of the chariot and above the back of the near horse.

He had just finished and was replacing the microscope in the cabinet when
the door opened silently and a small, clerical-looking man entered the
room and regarded him benevolently.

"I have laid a cold lunch, sir, in the small room upstairs," he
announced, "and I have put everything ready in your laboratory. Can I
help you to carry anything up?" As he spoke, he ran an obviously
inquisitive eye over the row of boxes and the numbered envelopes.

"Thank you, Polton," Thorndyke replied. "I think we will take these
things up out of harm's way and I will just look them over before lunch.
But meanwhile there is a small job that you might get on with. I have
here a collection of seals of which I want enlarged photographs made--four
diameters magnification and each set on a separate negative and
numbered similarly to the envelopes."

He exhibited the collection to his trusty coadjutor with a few words of
explanation, when Polton tenderly gathered together the seven envelopes,
and master and man betook themselves to the upper regions, each laden
with a consignment of Mr. Hollis's boxes, full and empty.

The laboratory of which Polton had spoken was a smallish room which
Thorndyke reserved for his own use, and which was on the same floor as
the large laboratory and the workshop over which Polton presided. Its
principal features were a long work-bench, covered with polished linoleum
and at present occupied by a microscope and a tray of slides, needles,
forceps, and other accessories, a side-table, a cupboard, and several
sets of shelves.

"Is there anything more, sir?" Polton asked when the boxes had been
stacked on the side-table. He looked at them wistfully as he spoke, but
accepted with resignation the polite negative and stole out, shutting the
door silently behind him As soon as he had gone, Thorndyke fell to work
with a rapid but unhurried method suggestive of a fixed purpose and a
considered plan. He began by putting on a pair of thin rubber gloves.
Then, spreading on the bench a sheet of white demy paper such as chemists
use for wrapping bottles, he took one of the boxes, detached its wrapping
paper, opened the box, and taking out the jewels and the pads of tissue
paper, deposited the former at one end of the bench and the latter at the
other, together with the empty box. First he dealt with the pads of
tissue paper, one of which he placed on the sheet of white paper, and
having opened it out and smoothed it with an ivory paper-knife, examined
it closely on both sides with the aid of a reading glass. Then he took from
a drawer a large tuning-fork, and holding the packing paper vertically over
the middle of the sheet on the bench, he struck the tuning-fork sharply,
and while it was vibrating, lightly applied its tip to the centre of the
suspended paper, causing it to hum like a gigantic bumble-bee and to
vibrate visibly at its edges. Having repeated this proceeding two or
three times, he laid the paper aside and with the reading glass inspected
the sheet of demy, on which a quite considerable number of minute specks
of dust were now to be seen. This procedure he repeated with the other pads
of tissue paper from the box, and as he worked, the sheet of white paper
on the bench became more and more conspicuously sprinkled with particles
of dust until, by the time all the pads had been treated, a quite
appreciable quantity of dust had accumulated. Finally, Thorndyke took the
box itself and, having opened it, placed its bottom on the sheet of paper
and with a small mallet tapped it lightly but sharply all over the bottom
and sides. When he lifted it from the paper, the further contribution of
dust could be plainly seen in a speckling of the surface corresponding to
the shape of the box.

For some moments Thorndyke stood by the bench looking down on this
powdering of grey that occupied the middle of the sheet of white paper.
Some of the particles, such as vegetable fibres, were easily recognizable
by the unaided eye; and there were two hairs, evidently moustache hairs,
both quite short and of a tawny brown colour. But he made no detailed
examination of the deposit. Taking from the cupboard a largish flat
pill-box, he wrote on its lid the number of the box, and then, having
lightly folded the sheet of paper, carefully assembled the dust into a
tiny heap in the middle and transferred it to the pill-box, applying the
tuning-fork to the sheet to propel the last few grains to their
destination. Then, having put the box aside and deposited the sheets of
tissue paper--neatly folded--in a numbered envelope, he spread a fresh
sheet of demy on the bench, and taking up another box from the
side-table, subjected it to similar treatment; and so, carefully and
methodically, he dealt with the entire collection of boxes, never pausing
for more than a rapid glance at the sprinkling of dust that each one
yielded.

He was just shooting the 'catch' from the last package into the pill-box
when a quick step was audible on the stairs, and after a short interval
Polton let himself in silently.

"Here's Dr. Jervis, sir," said he, "and he says he hasn't had lunch yet.
It is past three o'clock, sir."

"A very delicate hint, Polton," said Thorndyke. "I will join him
immediately--but here he is, guided by instinct at the very
psychological moment."

As he spoke, Dr. Jervis entered the room and looked about him
inquisitively. From the row of pill-boxes his glance travelled to the
little heaps of jewellery, each on a numbered sheet of paper.

"This is a quaint collection, Thorndyke," said he, stooping to inspect
the jewels. "What is the meaning of it? I trust that my learned senior
has not, at last, succumbed to temptation; but it is a suspicious looking
lot."

"It does look a little like a fence's stock-in-trade or the product of a
super-burglary," Thorndyke admitted. "However, I think Polton will be
able to reassure you, when he has looked over the swag. But let us go and
feed; and I will give you an outline sketch of the case in the intervals
of mastication. It is quite a curious problem."

"And I take it," said Jervis, "that those pill-boxes contain the
solution. There is a necromantic look about them that I seem to
recognize. You must tell me about them when you have propounded the
problem."

He followed Thorndyke into the little breakfast-room, and when they had
taken their seats at the table and fairly embarked on their immediate
business, the story of the gem robbery was allowed to transpire
gradually. Jervis followed the narrative with close attention and an
occasional chuckle of amusement.

"It is an odd problem," he commented when the whole story had been told.
"There doesn't seem to be any doubt as to who committed the robbery; and
yet if you were to put this man Osmond into the dock, although the jury
would be convinced to a man of his guilt, they would have to acquit him.
I wonder what the deuce made him bolt."

"Yes," said Thorndyke, "that is what I have been asking myself. He may be
a nervous, panicky man, but that does not look like the explanation. The
suggestion is rather that he knew of some highly incriminating fact which
he expected to come to light, but which has not come to light. As it is,
the only incriminating fact is his own disappearance, which is
evidentially worthless by itself."

"Perfectly. And you are now searching for corroborative facts in the dust
from those boxes. It doesn't look a very hopeful quest."

"It doesn't," Thorndyke agreed. "But still, circumstantial evidence gains
weight very rapidly. A grain of positive evidence would give quite a new
importance to the disappearance. For instance, no less than seven of
those boxes have yielded moustache hairs, all apparently from the same
person--a fair man with a rather closely cropped moustache of a tawny
colour. Now, if it should turn out that Osmond has a moustache of that
kind and that no other person connected with those boxes has a moustache
of precisely that character, this would be a really important item of
evidence, especially coupled with the disappearance."

"It would, indeed; and even the number might be illuminating. I mean
that, although moustache hairs are shed pretty freely, one would not have
expected to find so many. But if the man had the not uncommon habit of
stroking or rubbing his moustache, that would account for the number that
had got detached."

Thorndyke nodded approvingly. "Quite a good point, Jervis. I will make a
note of it for verification. And now, as we seem to have finished, shall
we take a look at one or two of the samples."

"Exactly what I was going to propose," replied Jervis; and as they rose
and repaired to the small laboratory, he added: "It's quite like old
times to be pursuing a mysterious unknown quantity with you. I sometimes
feel like chucking the insurance job and coming back."

"It is better to come back occasionally and keep the insurance job,"
Thorndyke rejoined as he placed two microscopes on the bench facing the
window and drew up a couple of chairs. "You had better note the number of
each box that you examine, though it is probably of no consequence."

He took up the collection of pill-boxes, and having placed them between
the two microscopes, sat down, and the two friends then fell to work,
each carefully tipping the contents of a box on to a large glass slip and
laying the latter on the stage of the microscope.

For some time they worked on in silence, each jotting down on a
note-block brief comments on the specimens examined. When about half of
the boxes had been dealt with--and their contents very carefully
returned to them--Jervis leaned back in his chair and looked
thoughtfully at his colleague.

"This is very commonplace, uncharacteristic dust in most respects," said
he, "but there is one queer feature in it that I don't quite make out. I
have found in every specimen a number of irregularly oval bodies, some of
them with pointed ends. They are about a hundredth of an inch long by a
little more than a two hundredth wide; a dull pink in colour and
apparently of a granular homogeneous substance. I took them at first for
insect eggs, but they are evidently not, as they have no skin or shell. I
don't remember having seen anything exactly like them before. Have you
found any of them?"

"Yes. Like you, I have found some in every box."

"And what do you make of them? Do you recognize them?"

"Yes," replied Thorndyke. "They are the castings of a wood-boring beetle;
particles of that fine dust that you see in the worm-holes of worm-eaten
wood. Quite an interesting find."

"Quite; unless they come from the boxes that the jewels were packed in."

"I don't think they do. Those boxes are white wood, whereas these
castings are from a red wood. But we may as well make sure."

He rose and took up the empty boxes one by one, turning each one over and
examining it closely on all sides.

"You see, Jervis," he said as he laid down the last of them, "there is
not a trace of a worm-hole in any of them. No, that worm-dust came from
an outside source."

"But," exclaimed Jervis, "it is very extraordinary. Don't you think so? I
mean," he continued in response to an inquiring glance from his
colleague, "that the quantity is so astonishing. Just think of it. In
every one of these boxes we have found an appreciable number of these
castings--quite a large quantity in the aggregate. But the amount of
dust that will fall from a piece of worm-eaten furniture must be
infinitesimal."

"I would hardly agree to that, Jervis. A really badly wormed piece--say
an old walnut chair or armoire--may, in the course of time, shed a
surprisingly large amount of dust. But, nevertheless, my learned friend
has, with his usual perspicacity, laid his finger on the point that is of
real evidential importance--the remarkable quantity of this dust and its
more or less even distribution among all these boxes. And now you realize
the truth of what I was saying just now as to the cumulative quality of
circumstantial evidence. Here we have a number of boxes which have
undoubtedly been tampered with by some person. That person is believed to
be the man Osmond on the ground that he has absconded. But his
disappearance, by itself, furnishes no evidence of his guilt. It merely
offers a suggestion. He may have gone away for some entirely different
reason.

"Then we find in these boxes certain moustache hairs. If it should turn
out that Osmond has a moustache composed of similar hairs, that fact
alone would not implicate him, since there are thousands of other men
with similar moustaches. But taken in conjunction with the disappearance,
the similarity of the hairs would constitute an item of positive
evidence.

"Then we find some dust derived from worm-eaten wood. Its presence in
these boxes, its character, and its abundance offer certain suggestions
as to the kind of wood, the nature of the wooden object, and the
circumstances attending its deposition in the boxes. Now, if it should be
possible to ascertain the existence of a wooden object of the kind
suggested and associated with the suggested circumstances, and if that
object were the property of, or definitely associated with, the man
Osmond, that fact, together with the hairs and the disappearance, would
form a really weighty mass of evidence against him."

"Yes, I see that," said Jervis; "but what I don't see is how you arrive
at your inferences as to the object from which the dust was derived."

"It is a question of probabilities," replied Thorndyke. "First, as to the
kind of wood. It is a red wood. It is pretty certainly not mahogany, as
it is too light in colour and mahogany is very little liable to 'the
worm.' But the abundance of dust suggests one of those woods which are
specially liable to be worm eaten. Of these the fruit woods--walnut,
cherry, apple, and pear--are the most extreme cases, cherry being,
perhaps, the worst of all and therefore usually avoided by the
cabinet-maker. But this dust is obviously not walnut. It is the wrong
colour. But it might be either cherry, apple, or pear, and the
probabilities are rather in favour of cherry; though, of course, it might
be some other relatively soft and sappy red wood."

"But how do you infer the nature of the object?"

"Again, by the presence of the dust in these boxes, by the properties of
that dust and the large quantity of it. Consider the case of ordinary
room dust. You find it on all sorts of surfaces, even high up on the
walls or on the ceiling. There is no mystery as to how it gets there. It
consists of minute particles, mostly of fibres from textiles, so small
and light that they float freely in the air. But this wood consists of
relatively large and heavy bodies--over a hundredth of an inch long.
From the worm-holes it will fall to the floor; and there it will remain
even when the floor is being swept. It cannot rise in the air and become
deposited like ordinary dust, and it must therefore have made its way
into these boxes in some other manner."

"Yes, I realize that; but still I don't see how that fact throws any
light on the nature of the wooden object."

"It is merely a suggestion," replied Thorndyke; "and the inference may be
quite wrong. But it is a perfectly obvious one. Come now, Jervis, don't
let your intellectual joints get stiff. Keep them lissom by exercise.
Consider the problem of this dust. How did it get into these boxes and
why is there so much of it? If you reason out the probabilities, you must
inevitably reach a conclusion as to the nature of the wooden object. That
conclusion may turn out to be wrong; but it will be logically
justifiable."

"Well, that is all that matters," Jervis retorted with a sour smile, as
he rose and glanced at his watch. "The mere fact of its being wrong we
should ignore as an irrelevant triviality; just as the French surgeon,
undisturbed by the death of the patient, proceeded with his operation and
finally brought it to a brilliantly successful conclusion. I will
practise your logical dumbbell exercise, and if I reach no conclusion
after all I shall still be comforted by the mental vision of my learned
senior scouring the country in search of a hypothetical worm-eaten chest
of drawers."

Thorndyke chuckled softly. "My learned friend is pleased to be ironical.
But nevertheless his unerring judgement leads him to a perfectly correct
forecast of my proceedings. The next stage of the inquiry will consist in
tracing this dust to its sources, and the goal of my endeavours will be
the discovery and identification of this wooden object. If I succeed in
that, there will be, I imagine, very little more left to discover."

"No," Jervis agreed, "especially if the owner of the antique should
happen to be the elusive Mr. Osmond. So I wish you success in your quest,
and only hope it may not resemble too closely that of the legendary blind
man, searching in a dark room for a black hat--that isn't there."

With this parting shot and a defiant grin, Jervis took his departure,
leaving Thorndyke to complete the examination of the remaining material.

XV. MR. WAMPOLE IS HIGHLY AMUSED

ON a certain Saturday afternoon at a few minutes to three the door of Mr.
Woodstock's office in High Street, Burchester, opened somewhat abruptly
and disclosed the figures of the solicitor himself and his chief clerk.

"Confounded nuisance all this fuss and foolery," growled the former,
pulling out his watch and casting an impatient glance up the street. "I
hope he is not going to keep us waiting."

"He is not due till three," Hepburn remarked, soothingly; and then,
stepping out and peering up the nearly empty street, he added: "Perhaps
that may be he--that tall man with the little clerical-looking person."

"If it is, he seems to be bringing his luggage with him," said Mr.
Woodstock, regarding the pair, and especially the suit-cases that they
carried, with evident disfavour; "but you are right. They are coming
here."

He put away his watch, and as the two men crossed the road, he assumed an
expression of polite hostility.

"Dr. Thorndyke?" he inquired as the new-comers halted opposite the
doorway; and having received confirmation of his surmise, he continued:
"I am Mr. Woodstock, and this is my colleague, Mr. Hepburn. May I take it
that this gentleman is concerned in our present business?" As he spoke he
fixed a truculent blue eye on Thorndyke's companion, who crinkled
apologetically.

"This is Mr. Polton, my laboratory assistant," Thorndyke explained, "who
has come with me to give me any help that I may need."

"Indeed," said Woodstock, glaring inquisitively at the large suit-case
which Polton carried. "Help? I gathered from Mr. Penfield's letter that
you wished to inspect the office, and I must confess that I found myself
utterly unable to imagine why. May I ask what you expect to learn from an
inspection of the premises?"

"That," replied Thorndyke, "is a rather difficult question to answer. But
as all my information as to what has occurred here is second-or
third-hand, I thought it best to see the place myself and make a few
inquiries on the spot. That is my routine practice."

"Ah, I see," said Woodstock. "Your visit is just a matter of form, a
demonstration of activity. Well, I am sorry I can't be present at the
ceremony. My colleague and I have an engagement elsewhere; but my
office-keeper, Mr. Wampole, will be able to tell you anything that you
may wish to know and show you all there is to see excepting the
strong-room. If you want to see that, as I suppose you do, I had better
show it to you now, as I must take the key away with me."

He led the way along the narrow hall, half-way down which he opened a
door inscribed 'Clerks' Office', and entered a large room, now unoccupied
save by an elderly man who sat at a table with the parts of a dismembered
electric bell spread out before him. Through this Mr. Woodstock passed
into a somewhat smaller room furnished with a large writing-table, one or
two nests of deed-boxes, and a set of book-shelves. Nearly opposite the
table was the massive door of the strong-room, standing wide open with
the key in the lock.

"This is my private office," said Mr. Woodstock, "and here is the
strong-room. Perhaps you would like to step inside. I am rather proud of
this room. You don't often see one of this size. And it is absolutely
fire-proof; thick steel lining, concrete outside that, and then brick. It
is practically indestructible. Those confounded boxes occupied that long
upper shelf."

Thorndyke did not appear to be specially interested in the strong-room.
He walked in, looked round at the steel walls with their ranks of steel
shelves, loaded with bundles of documents, and then walked out.

"Yes," he said, "it is a fine room, as strong and secure as one could
wish; though, of course, its security has no bearing on our case, since
it must have been entered either with its own key or a duplicate. May I
look at the key?"

Mr. Woodstock withdrew it from the lock and handed it to him without
comment, watching him with undisguised impatience as he turned it over
and examined its blade.

"Not a difficult type of key to duplicate," he remarked as he handed it
back, "though these wardless pin-keys are more subtle than they look."

"I suppose they are," Woodstock assented indifferently. "But really,
these investigations appear to me rather pointless, seeing that the
identity of the thief is known. And now I must be off; but first let me
introduce you to my deputy, Mr. Wampole."

He led the way back to the clerks' office, where his subordinate was
busily engaged in assembling the parts of the bell.

"This is Dr. Thorndyke, Wampole, who has come with his assistant,
Mr.--er--Bolton, to inspect the premises and make a few inquiries.
You can show him anything that he wants to see and give him all the
assistance that you can in the way of answering questions. And,"
concluded Mr. Woodstock, shaking hands stiffly with Thorndyke, "I wish
you a successful issue to your labours."

As Mr. Woodstock and his colleague departed, closing the outer door after
them, Mr. Wampole laid down his screw-driver and looked at Thorndyke with
a slightly puzzled expression.

"I don't quite understand, sir, what you want to do," said he, "or what
sort of inspection you want to make; but I am entirely at your service,
if you will kindly instruct me. What would you like me to show you first?"

"I don't think we need interrupt your work just at present, Mr. Wampole.
The first thing to be done is to make a rough plan of the premises, and
while my assistant is doing that, perhaps I might ask you a few questions
if it will not distract you too much."

"It will not distract me at all," Mr. Wampole replied, picking up his
screw-driver. "I am accustomed to doing odd jobs about the office--I am
the handy man of the establishment--and I am not easily put out of my
stride."

Evidently he was not; for even as he was speaking his fingers were busy
in a neat, purposive way that showed clearly that his attention was not
wandering from his task. Thorndyke watched him curiously, not quite able
to 'place' him. His hands were the skilful, capable hands of a mechanic,
and this agreed with Woodstock's description of him and his own. But his
speech was that of a passably educated man and his manner was quite
dignified and self-possessed.

"By the way," said Thorndyke, "Mr. Woodstock referred to you as the
office-keeper. Does that mean that you are the custodian of the
premises?"

"Nominally," replied Wampole. "I am a law-writer by profession; but when
I first came here, some twenty years ago, I came as a caretaker and used
to live upstairs. But for many years past the upstairs rooms have been
used for storage--obsolete books, documents, and all sorts of
accumulations. Nobody lives in the house now. We lock the place up when
we go away at night. As for me, I am, as I said, the handy man of the
establishment. I do whatever comes along--copy letters, engross leases,
keep an eye on the state of the premises, and so on."

"I see. Then you probably know as much of the affairs of this office as
anybody."

"Probably, sir. I am the oldest member of the staff, and I am usually the
first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. I expect I
can tell you anything that you want to know."

"Then I will ask you one or two questions, if I may. You probably know
that my visit here is connected with the robbery of Mr. Hollis's gems?"

"The alleged robbery," Mr. Wampole corrected. "Yes, sir. Mr. Woodstock
told me that."

"You appear to be somewhat doubtful about the robbery."

"I am not doubtful at all," Wampole replied in a tone of great decision.
"I am convinced that the whole thing is a mare's nest. The gems may have
been stolen. I suppose they were as Mr. Hollis says they were. But they
weren't stolen from here."

"You put complete trust in the strong-room?"

"Oh no, I don't, sir. This is a solicitor's strong-room, not a banker's.
It is secure against fire, not against robbery. It was designed for the
custody of things such as documents, of great value to their owners but
of no value to a thief. It was no proper receptacle for jewels. They
should have gone to a bank."

"Do I understand, then, that unauthorized persons might have obtained
access to the strong-room?"

"They might, during business hours. Mr. Woodstock unlocks it when he
arrives and it is usually open all day; or if it is shut, the key is left
hanging on the wall. But it has never been taken seriously as a bank
strong-room is. Mr. Hepburn and Mr. Osmond kept their cricket-bags and
other things in it, and we have all been in the habit of putting things
in there if we were leaving them here over-night."

"Then, really, any member of the staff had the opportunity to make away
with Mr. Hollis's property?"

"I wouldn't put it as strongly as that," replied Wampole, with somewhat
belated caution. "Any of us could have gone into the strong-room; but not
without being seen by some of the others. Still, one must admit that a
robbery might have been possible; the point is that it didn't happen. I
checked those boxes when I helped to put them in, and I checked them when
we took them out. They were all there in their original wrappings with
Mr. Hollis's handwriting on them and all the seals intact. It is nonsense
to talk of a robbery in the face of those facts."

"And you attach no significance to Mr. Osmond's disappearance?"

"No, sir. He was a bachelor and could go when and where he pleased. It
was odd of him, I admit, but he sometimes did odd things; a hasty,
impulsive gentleman, quick to jump at conclusions and make decisions and
quick to act. Not a discreet gentleman at all; rather an unreasonable
gentleman, perhaps, but I should say highly scrupulous. I can't imagine
him committing a theft."

"Should you describe him as a nervous or timid man?"

Mr. Wampole emitted a sound as if he had clock work in his inside and was
about to strike. "I never met a less nervous man," he replied with
emphasis. "No, sir. Bold to rashness would be my description of Mr. John
Osmond. A buccaneering type of man. A yachtsman, a boxer, a wrestler, a
footballer, and a cricketer. A regular hard nut, sir. He should never
have been in an office. He ought to have been a sailor, an explorer, or a
big-game hunter."

"What was he like to look at?"

"Just what you would expect--a big, lean, square-built man,
hatchet-faced, Roman-nosed, with blue eyes, light-brown hair, and a
close-cropped beard and moustache. Looked like a naval officer."

"Do you happen to know if his residence has been examined?"

"Mr. Woodstock and the Chief Constable searched his rooms, but of course
they didn't find anything. He had only two small rooms, as he took his
meals and spent a good deal of his time with Mr. Hepburn, his
brother-in-law. He seemed very fond of his sister and her two little
boys."

"Would it be possible for me to see those rooms?"

"I don't see why not, sir. They are locked up now, but the keys are here
and the rooms are only a few doors down the street."

Here occurred a slight interruption, for Mr. Wampole, having completed
his operations on the bell, now connected it with the battery--which had
also been under repair--when it emitted a loud and cheerful peal. At the
same moment, as if summoned by the sound, Polton entered holding a small
drawing-board on which was a neatly executed plan of the premises.

"Dear me, sir!" exclaimed Mr. Wampole, casting an astonished glance at
the plan. "You are very thorough in your methods. I see you have even put
in the furniture."

"Yes," Thorndyke agreed, with a faint smile; "we must needs be thorough
even if we reach no result."

Mr. Wampole regarded him with a sly smile. "Very true, sir," he
chuckled--"very true, indeed. A bill of costs needs something to explain
the total. But, God bless us! what is this?"

"This" was, in effect, a diminutive vacuum cleaner, fitted with a little
revolving brush and driven by means of a large dry battery, which Polton
was at the moment disinterring from his suit-case. Thorndyke briefly
explained the nature of the apparatus while Mr. Wampole stared at it with
an expression of stupe faction.

"But why have you brought it here, sir?" he exclaimed. "The premises
would certainly be the better for a thorough cleaning, but surely--"

"Oh, we are not going to 'vacuum clean' you," Thorndyke reassured him.
"We are going to take samples of dust from the different parts of the
premises."

"Are you, indeed, sir? And, if I may take the liberty of asking, what do
you propose to do with them?"

"I shall examine them carefully when I get home," Thorndyke replied, "and
I may then possibly be able to judge whether the robbery took place here
or elsewhere."

As Thorndyke furnished this explanation, Mr. Wampole stood gazing at him
as if petrified. Once he opened his mouth, but shut it again tightly as
if not trusting himself to speak. At length he rejoined: "Wonderful!
wonderful!" and then, after an interval, he continued meditatively: "I
seem to have read somewhere of a wise woman of the East who was able, by
merely examining a hair from the beard of a man who had fallen
downstairs, to tell exactly how many stairs he had fallen down. But I
never imagined that it was actually possible."

"It does sound incredible," Thorndyke admitted, gravely. "She must have
had remarkable powers of deduction. And now, if Mr. Polton is ready, we
will begin our perambulation. Which was Mr. Osmond's office?"

"I will show you," replied Mr. Wampole, recovering from his trance of
astonishment. He led the way out into the hall and thence into a smallish
room in which were a writing-table and a large, old-fashioned, flap-top
desk.

"This table," he explained, "is Mr. Hepburn's. The desk was used by Mr.
Osmond and his belongings are still in it. That second door opens into
Mr. Woodstock's office."

"Is it usually kept open or closed?" Thorndyke asked.

"It is nearly always open; and as it is, as you see"--here he threw it
open--"exactly opposite the door of the strong-room, no one could go in
there unobserved unless Mr. Woodstock, Mr. Hepburn, and Mr. Osmond had
all been out at the same time."

Thorndyke made a note of this statement and then asked: "Would it be
permissible to look inside Mr. Osmond's desk? Or is it locked?"

"I don't think it is locked. No, it is not," he added, demonstrating the
fact by raising the lid; "and, as you see, there is nothing very secret
inside."

The contents, in fact, consisted of a tobacco-tin, a couple of briar
pipes, a ball of string, a pair of gloves, a clothes-brush, a pair of
much-worn hair-brushes, and a number of loose letters and bills. These
last Thorndyke gathered together and laid aside without examination, and
then proceeded methodically to inspect each of the other objects in turn,
while Mr. Wampole watched him with the faintest shadow of a smile.

"He seems to have had a pretty good set of teeth and a fairly strong
jaw," Thorndyke remarked, balancing a massive pipe in his fingers and
glancing at the deep tooth-marks on the mouth-piece, "which supports your
statement as to his physique."

He peered into the tobacco-tin, smelt the tobacco, inspected the gloves
closely, especially at their palmar surfaces, and tried them on; examined
the clothes brush, first with the naked eye and then with the aid of his
pocket-lens, and, holding it inside the desk, stroked its hair backwards
and forwards, looking closely to see if any dust fell from it. Finally,
he took up the hair-brushes one at a time and, having examined them in
the same minute fashion, produced from his pocket a pair of fine forceps
and a seed-envelope. With the forceps he daintily picked out from the
brushes a number of hairs which he laid on a sheet of paper, eventually
transferring the collection to the little envelope, on which he wrote:
"Hairs from John Osmond's hair-brushes."

"You don't take anything for granted, sir," remarked Mr. Wampole, who had
been watching this proceeding with concentrated interest (perhaps he was
again reminded of the wise woman of the East).

"No," Thorndyke agreed. "Your description was hearsay testimony, whereas
these hairs could be produced in Court and sworn to by me."

"So they could, sir; though, as it is not disputed that Mr. Osmond has
been in this office, I don't quite see what they could prove."

"Neither do I," rejoined Thorndyke. "I was merely laying down the
principle."

Meanwhile, Polton had been silently carrying out his part of the
programme, not unobserved by Mr. Wampole; and a pale patch about a foot
square, between Mr. Hepburn's chair and the front of the table, where the
pattern of the grimy carpet had miraculously reappeared, marked the site
of his operations. Tenderly removing the little silken bag, now bulging
with its load of dust, he slipped it into a numbered envelope and wrote
the number on the spot on the plan to which it corresponded.

Presently a similar patch appeared on the carpet in front of Osmond's
desk, and when the sample had been disposed of and the spot on the plan
marked, Polton cast a wistful glance at the open desk.

"Wouldn't it be as well, sir, to take a specimen from the inside?" he
asked.

"Perhaps it would," Thorndyke replied. "It should give us what we may
call a 'pure culture.'" He rapidly emptied the desk of its contents, when
Polton introduced the nozzle of his apparatus and drew it slowly over
every part of the interior. When this operation was completed, including
the disposal of the specimen and the marking of the plan, the party moved
into Mr. Woodstock's office, and from thence back into the clerks'
office.

"I find this investigation intensely interesting," said Mr. Wampole,
rubbing his hands gleefully. "It seems to combine the attractions of a
religious ceremony and a parlour game. I am enjoying it exceedingly. You
will like to have the names of the clerks who sit at those desks, I
presume."

"If you please," replied Thorndyke.

"And, of course, you will wish to take samples from the insides of the
desks. You certainly ought to. The informal lunches which the occupants
consume during the forenoon will have left traces which should be most
illuminating. And the desks are not locked, as there are no keys."

Mr. Wampole's advice produced on Polton's countenance a smile of most
extraordinary crinkliness, but Thorndyke accepted it with unmoved gravity
and it was duly acted upon. Each of the desks was opened and emptied of
its contents--instructive enough as to the character and personal habits
of the tenant--and cleared of its accumulation of crumbs, tobacco-ash,
and miscellaneous dirt, the 'catch' forming a specimen supplementary to
those obtained from the floor. At length, when they had made the round of
the office, leaving in their wake a succession of clean squares on the
matting which covered the floor, Mr. Wampole halted before an
old-fashioned high desk which stood in a corner in company with a high
office-stool.

"This is my desk," said he. "I presume that you are going to take a
little souvenir from it?"

"Well," replied Thorndyke, "we may as well complete the series. We
operated on Mr. Hollis's premises this morning."

"Did you indeed, sir! You went there first; and very proper too. I am
sure Mr. Hollis was very gratified."

"If he was," Thorndyke replied with a smile, "he didn't make it
obtrusively apparent. May I compliment you on your desk? You keep it in
apple-pie order."

"I try to show the juniors an example," replied Mr. Wampole, throwing
back the lid of the desk and looking complacently at the neatly stowed
contents. "It is a miscellaneous collection," he added as he proceeded to
transfer his treasures from the desk to a cleared space on the table.

It certainly was. There were a few tools--pliers, hack-saw, hammer,
screw-driver, and a couple of gimlets--a loosely folded linen apron, one
or two battery terminals and a coil of insulated wire, a stamp-album, a
cardboard tray full of military buttons, cap-badges, and old civilian
coat buttons, and a smaller tray containing one or two old copper and
silver coins.

"I see you are a stamp collector," remarked Thorndyke, opening the album
and casting a glance of lukewarm interest over its variegated pages.

"Yes," was the reply, "in a small way. It is a poor man's hobby, unless
one seeks to acquire costly rarities, which I do not. As a matter of
fact, I seldom buy specimens at all. This album has been filled
principally from our foreign correspondence. And the same is true of the
coins. I don't regularly collect them; I just keep any odd specimens that
come my way."

"And the buttons? You have a better opportunity there, for you have
practically no competitors. And yet it seems to me that they are of more
interest than the things that the conventional collectors seek so
eagerly."

"I entirely agree with you, sir," Mr. Wampole replied, warmly. "It is the
common things that are best worth collecting--the things that are common
now and will be rare in a few years' time. But the collector who has no
imagination neglects things until they have become rare and precious.
Then he buys at a high price what he could have got a few years
previously for nothing. Look at these old gilt coat-buttons. I got them
from an old-established tailor who was clearing out his obsolete stock.
Unfortunately, he had thrown away most of them and nearly all the steel
button-dies. I just managed to rescue these few and one or two dies,
which I have at home. They are of no value now, but when the collectors
discover the interest of old buttons, they will be worth their weight in
gold. I am collecting all the buttons I can get hold of."

"I think you are wise, from a collector's point of view. By the way, did
you ever meet with any of those leather-bound sample wallets that the old
button-makers used to supply to tailors?"

"Never," replied Mr. Wampole. "I have never even heard of them."

"I have seen one or two," said Thorndyke, "and each was a collection in
itself, for it contained some two or three hundred buttons, fixed in
sheets of mill-board, forming a sort of album; and, of course, every
button was different from every other."

Mr. Wampole's eyes sparkled. "What an opportunity you had, sir!" he
exclaimed. "But probably you are not a collector. It was a pity, though,
for, as you say, one of those wallets was a museum in itself. If you
should ever chance to meet with another, would it be too great a liberty
for me to beg you to secure an option for me, at a price within my
slender means?"

"It is no liberty at all," Thorndyke replied. "It is not likely that I
shall ever come across one again, but if I should, I will certainly
secure it for you."

"That is most kind of you, sir," exclaimed Mr. Wampole. "And now, as Mr.
Polton seems to have completed the cleansing of my desk--the first that
it has had, I am afraid, for a year or two--we may continue our
exploration. Did you wish to examine the waiting-room?"

"I think not. I have just looked into it, but its associations are too
ambiguous for the dust to be of any interest. But I should like to glance
at the rooms upstairs."

To the upstairs rooms they accordingly proceeded, but the inspection was
little more than a formality. They walked slowly through each room,
awakening the echoes as they trod the bare floors, and as they went,
Thorndyke's eye travelled searchingly over the shelves and rough tables,
stacked with documents and obsolete account-books, and the few rickety
Windsor chairs. There was certainly an abundance of dust, as Mr. Wampole
pointed out, but it did not appear to be of the brand in which Thorndyke
was interested.

"Well," said Mr. Wampole, as they descended to the ground-floor, "you
have now seen the whole of our premises. I think you said that you would
like to inspect Mr. Osmond's rooms. If you will wait a few moments, I
will get the keys."

He disappeared into the principal's office, and meanwhile Polton rapidly
packed his apparatus in the suit case, so that by the time Mr. Wampole
reappeared, he was ready to start.

"Mr. Osmond's rooms," said Mr. Wampole, as they set forth, "are over a
bookseller's shop. This is the place. If you will wait for a moment at
the private door, I will notify the landlord of our visit." He entered
the shop and after a short interval emerged briskly and stepped round to
the side-door, into which he inserted a latch-key. He led the way along
the narrow hall, past a partially open door, in the opening of which a
portion of a human face was visible, to the staircase, up which the
little procession advanced until the second-floor landing was reached.
Here Mr. Wampole halted and, selecting a key from the small bunch,
unlocked and opened a door, and preceded his visitors into the room.

"It is just as well that you came to-day," he remarked, "for I understand
that Mrs. Hepburn is going to take charge of these rooms. A day or two
later and she would have been beforehand with you in the matter of dust.
As it is, you ought to get quite a good haul."

"Quite," Thorndyke agreed. "There is plenty of dust; but in spite of
that, the place has a very neat, orderly appearance. Do you happen to
know whether the rooms have been tidied up since Mr. Osmond left?"

"They are just as he left them," was the reply, "excepting that the Chief
Constable and Mr. Woodstock came and looked over them. But I don't think
they disturbed them to any extent. There isn't much to disturb, as you
see."

Mr. Wampole was right. The furnishing of the room did not go beyond the
barest necessities, and when Thorndyke opened the door of communication
and looked into the bedroom, it was seen to be characterized by a like
austere simplicity. Whatever might be the moral short-comings of the
vanished tenant, softness or effeminate luxuriousness did not appear to
be among them.

As his assistant refixed the 'extractor', Thorndyke stood thoughtfully
surveying the room, trying to assess the personality of its late occupant
by the light of his belongings. And those belongings and the room which
held them were highly characteristic. The late tenant was clearly an
active man, a man whose interests lay out-of-doors; an orderly man, too,
with something of a sailor's tidiness. He had the sailor's knack of
keeping the floor clear by slinging things aloft out of the way. Not only
small articles such as rules, dividers, marlinspike, and sheath-knife,
but a gun-case, fishing-rods, cricket-bats, and a bulky roll of charts
were disposed of on the walls by means of picture-hooks and properly-made
slings--the height of which gave a clue to the occupant's stature and
length of arm. And the nautical flavour was accentuated by the contents
of a set of rough shelves in a recess, which included a boat compass, a
nautical almanack, a volume of sailing directions, and a manual of naval
architecture. The only touch of ornament was given by a set of four
photographs in silver frames, which occupied the mantelpiece in company
with a pipe-rack, a tobacco-jar, an ash-bowl, and a box of matches.

Thorndyke stepped across to the fireplace to look at them more closely.
They were portraits of five persons: a grave-looking, elderly clergyman;
a woman of about the same age with a strong, alert, resolute face and
markedly aquiline features; and a younger woman, recognizably like the
clergyman; and two boys of about seven and eight, photographed together.

"Those," said Mr. Wampole, indicating the older persons, "are Mr.
Osmond's parents, both, I regret to say, deceased. The younger lady is
Mrs. Hepburn, Mr. Osmond's sister, and those little boys are her sons.
Mr. Osmond was very devoted to them, as I believe they were to him."

Thorndyke nodded. "They are fine little fellows," he remarked. "Indeed it
is a good-looking family. I gather from your description that Mr. Osmond
must have taken rather strongly after his mother."

"You are quite right, sir," replied Mr. Wampole. "From that portrait of
his mother you would recognize Mr. Osmond without the slightest
difficulty. The likeness is quite remarkable."

Thorndyke nodded again as he considered long and earnestly the striking
face that looked out of the frame so keenly under its bold, straight
brows. Strength, courage, determination, were written in every line of
it; and as he stood with his eyes bent upon those of the portrait and
thought of this woman's son--of the mean, avaricious crime, so slyly and
craftily carried out, of the hasty, pusillanimous flight, unjustified by
any hint of danger--he was sensible of a discrepancy between personality
and conduct to which his experience furnished no parallel. A vast amount
of nonsense has been talked and believed on the subject of physiognomy;
but within this body of error there lies a soul of truth. 'Character
reading' in the Lavater manner is largely pure quackery; but there is a
certain general congruity between a man's essential character and his
bodily 'make-up', including his facial type. Here, however, was a
profound incongruity. Thorndyke found it difficult to identify the sly,
cowardly knave whom he was seeking with the actual man who appeared to be
coming into view.

But his doubts did not affect his actions. He had come here to collect
evidence; and that purpose he proceeded to execute with a perfectly open
mind. He pointed out to Polton the most likely spots to work for
characteristic dust; he examined minutely every piece of furniture and
woodwork in both the rooms; he made careful notes of every fact observed
by himself or communicated by Wampole that could throw any light on the
habits or occupations of the absent man. Even the secretly-amused
onlooker was impressed by the thoroughness of the investigation, for, as
Polton finally packed his apparatus, he remarked: "Well, sir, I have told
you what I think--that you are following a will-o'-the-wisp. But if you
fail to run him to earth, it certainly won't be for lack of painstaking
effort. You deserve to succeed."

Thorndyke thanked him for the compliment and retired slowly down the
stairs while the rooms were being locked up. They called in at the office
to collect Thorndyke's green canvas-covered case and then made their
adieux.

"I must thank you most warmly, Mr. Wampole," said Thorndyke, "for the
kind interest that you have taken in our investigations. You have given
us every possible help."

Mr. Wampole bowed. "It is very good of you to say so. But it has really
been a great pleasure and a most novel and interesting experience." He
held the door open for them to pass out, and as they were crossing the
threshold he added: "You won't forget about that button-wallet, sir, if
the opportunity should arrive."

"I certainly will not," was the reply. "I will secure an option--or
better still, the wallet itself and send it to you. By the way, should it
be sent here or to your private address?"

Mr. Wampole reflected for a few moments. Then he drew from his pocket a
much-worn letter-case from which he extracted a printed visiting-card.

"I think, sir, it would be best to send it to my private address. One
doesn't want it opened by the wrong hands. This is my address; and let me
thank you in advance, even if only for the kind intention. Good evening,
sir. Good evening, Mr. Polton. I trust that your little dusty souvenirs
will prove highly illuminating."

He stood on the threshold and gravely watched his two visitors as they
retired down the street. At length, when they turned a corner, he
re-entered, shutting and locking the outer door. Then in an instant his
gravity relaxed, and flinging himself into a chair, he roused the echoes
with peal after peal of joyous laughter.

XVI. WHICH TREATS OF LAW AND BUTTONS

"THIS seems highly irregular," said Mr. Penfield, settling himself
comfortably in the easy-chair and smilingly regarding a small table on
which were a decanter and glasses. "I don't treat my professional
visitors in this hospitable fashion. And you don't even ask what has
brought me here."

"No," replied Thorndyke, as he filled a couple of glasses; "I accept the
gifts of Fortune and ask no questions."

Mr. Penfield bowed. "You were good enough to say that I might call out of
business hours, which is a great convenience, so here I am, with a
twofold purpose; first, to seek information from you; and second to give
you certain news of my own. Perhaps I may take them in that order and
begin by asking one or two questions?"

"Do so, by all means," replied Thorndyke.

"I have heard," pursued Mr. Penfield, "from our friends Hollis and
Woodstock, and perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that you have
made yourself somewhat unpopular with them. They have even applied
disrespectful epithets to you."

"Such as mountebank, impostor, quack, and so forth," suggested Thorndyke.

Mr. Penfield chuckled as he sipped his wine. "Your insight is
remarkable," said he. "You have quoted the very words. They complain
that, after making a serious appointment with them and occupying their
time, you merely asked a number of foolish and irrelevant questions, and
then proceeded to sweep the floor. Is that an exaggeration, or did you
really sweep the floor?"

"I collected a few samples of dust from the floor and elsewhere."

Mr. Penfield consumed a luxurious pinch of snuff and regarded Thorndyke
with delighted amusement.

"Did you indeed? Well, I am not surprised at their attitude. But a year
or so ago it would have been my own. It must have looked like sheer
wizardry. But tell me, have your investigations and floor-sweepings
yielded any tangible facts?

"Yes," replied Thorndyke, "they have; and those facts I will lay before
you on the strict understanding that you communicate them to nobody. As
to certain further inferences of a more speculative character, I should
prefer to make no statement at present. They may be entirely erroneous."

"Exactly, exactly. Let us keep scrupulously to definite facts which are
susceptible of proof. Now, what have you discovered?"

"My positive results amount to this: in the first place I have
ascertained beyond the possibility of any reasonable doubt that those
boxes had been opened by some person other than Mr. Hollis. In the second
place it is virtually certain that the person who opened them was in some
way connected with Mr. Woodstock's office."

"Do you say that the boxes were actually opened in his office?

"No. The evidence goes to prove that they were taken from the office and
opened elsewhere."

"But surely they would have been missed from the strong-room?"

"That, I think was provided for. I infer that only one box was taken at a
time and that its place was filled by a dummy."

"Astonishing!" exclaimed Mr. Penfield. "It seems incredible that you
should have been able to discover this--or, indeed, that it should be
true. The seals seem to me to offer an insuperable difficulty."

"On the contrary," replied Thorndyke, "it was the seals that furnished
the evidence. They were manifest forgeries."

"Were they really! The robber had actually had a counterfeit seal
engraved?"

"No. The false seal was not engraved. It was an electrotype made from one
of the wax impressions; a much simpler and easier proceeding, and one
that the robber could carry out himself and so avoid the danger of
employing a seal engraver."

"No doubt it would be the safer plan, and probably you are right in
assuming that he adopted it; but--"

"I am not assuming," said Thorndyke. "There is direct evidence that the
seal used to make the false impressions was an electrotype."

"Now, what would be the nature of that evidence--or is it, perhaps, too
technical for an ignorant person like me to follow?"

"There is nothing very technical about it," replied Thorndyke. "You know
how an electrotype is made? Well, to put it briefly, the process would be
this: one of the wax impressions from a box would be carefully coated
with black lead or some other conducting material and attached to one of
the terminals of an electric battery; and to the other terminal a piece
of copper would be attached. The black-leaded wax impression and the
piece of copper would be suspended from the wires of the battery, close
together but not touching, in a solution of sulphate of copper. Then, as
the electric current passed, the copper would dissolve in the solution
and a film of metallic copper would become deposited on the black-leaded
wax and would gradually thicken until it became a solid shell of copper.
When this shell was picked off the wax it would be, in effect, a copper
seal which would give impressions on wax just like the original seal. Is
that clear?"

"Perfectly. But what is the evidence that this was actually done?"

"It is really very simple," replied Thorndyke. "Let us consider what
would happen in the two alternative cases. Take first that of the seal
engraver. He has handed to him one or more of the wax impressions from
the boxes and is asked to engrave a seal which shall be an exact copy of
the seal which made the impressions. What does he do? If the wax
impression were absolutely perfect, he would simply copy it in intaglio.
But a seal impression never is perfect unless it is made with quite
extraordinary care. But the wax impressions on the boxes were just
ordinary impressions, hastily made with no attempt at precision, and
almost certainly not a perfect one among them. The engraver, then, would
not rigorously copy a particular impression, but, eliminating its
individual and accidental imperfections, he would aim at producing a seal
which should be a faithful copy of the original seal, without any
imperfections at all.

"Now take the case of the electrotype. This is a mechanical reproduction
of a particular impression. Whatever accidental marks or imperfections
there may be in that impression will be faithfully reproduced. In short,
an engraved seal would be a copy of the original seal; an electrotype
would be a copy of a particular impression of that seal."

Mr. Penfield nodded approvingly. "An excellent point and very clearly
argued. But what is its bearing on the case?"

"It is this: since an electrotype seal is a mechanical copy of a
particular wax impression, including any accidental marks or
imperfections in it, it follows that every impression made on wax with
such a seal will exhibit the accidental marks or imperfections of the
original wax impression, in addition to any defects of its own. So that,
if a series of such impressions were examined, although each would
probably have its own distinctive peculiarities, yet all of them would be
found to agree in displaying the accidental marks or imperfections of the
original impression."

"Yes, I see that," said Mr. Penfield with a slightly interrogative
inflexion.

"Well, that is what I have found in the series of seal-impressions from
Mr. Hollis's boxes. They are of all degrees of badness, but in every one
of the series two particular defects occur; which, as the series consists
of over thirty impressions, is utterly outside the limits of
probability."

"Might those imperfections not have been in the seal itself?

"No. I took, with the most elaborate care, two impressions from the
original seal, and those impressions are, I think, as perfect as is
possible. At any rate, they are free from these, or any other visible
defects. I will show them to you."

He took from a drawer a portfolio and an envelope. From the latter he
produced one of the two impressions that he had made with Mr. Hollis's
seal and from the former a half-plate photograph.

"Here," he said, handing them to Mr. Penfield, "is one of the seal
impressions taken by me, and here is a magnified photograph of it. You
can see that every part of the design is perfectly clear and distinct and
the background quite free from indentations. Keep that photograph for
comparison with these others, which show a series of thirty-two
impressions from the boxes, magnified four diameters. In every one of
them you will find two defects. First the projecting fore-legs of the
left-hand horse are blurred and faint; second, there is, just in front of
the chariot and above the back of the near horse, a minute pit in the
back ground. It is hardly visible to the naked eye in the wax
impressions, but the photographs show it plainly. It was probably
produced by a tiny bubble of air between the seal and the wax.

"Now, neither of these defects is to be seen in Mr. Hollis's seal. Either
of them might have occurred accidentally in one or two impressions. But
since they both occur in every case, whether the impressions are
relatively good or bad, it is practically certain that they existed in
the matrix or seal with which the impressions were made. And this
conclusion is confirmed by the fact that, in some cases, the defect in
the horse's fore legs is inconsistent with other defects in the same
impression."

"How inconsistent?" Mr. Penfield demanded.

"I mean that the faint impression of the horse's legs is due to
insufficient pressure of the left side of the seal; the seal has not been
put down quite vertically. But here--in number 23, for instance--the
impression of the chariot and driver on the right-hand side is quite
faint and shallow. In that case, the left-hand side of the impression
should have been deep and distinct. But both sides are faint, whereas the
middle is deep."

"Might not the seal have been rocked from side to side?"

"No, that would not explain the appearances; for if the seal were rocked
from side to side, both sides would be deep, though the middle might be
shallow. It is impossible to imagine any kind of pressure which would
give an impression shallow on both sides and deep in the middle. The only
possible explanation is that the matrix, itself, was shallow on one
side."

Mr. Penfield reflected, helping his cogitations with a pinch of snuff.

"Yes," he agreed. "Incredible as the thing appears, I think you have made
out your case. But doesn't it strike you as rather odd that this
ingenious rascal should not have taken more care to secure a good
impression from which to make his false seal?"

"I imagine that he had no choice," replied Thorndyke. "On each box were
six seals; three on the paper wrapping, two in the recesses by the
keyhole, and one on the knot of the string. Now, as the paper had to be
preserved, the seals could not be torn or cut from that. It would be
impossible to get them out of the recesses. There remained only the seals
on the knots. These were, of course, much the least perfect, though the
string was little more than thread and the knots quite small. But they
were the only ones that it was possible to remove, and our friend was
lucky to have got as good an impression as he did."

Mr. Penfield nodded. "Yes," said he, "you have an answer to every
objection. By the way, if the paper had to be preserved so carefully, how
do you suppose he got the parcels open? He would have had to break the
seals."

"I think not. I assume that he melted the seals by holding a hot iron
close to them and then gently opened the packets while the wax was soft."

Mr. Penfield chuckled. "Yes," he admitted, "it is all very complete and
consistent. And now to go on to the next point. You say that there is
evidence that these boxes were opened by some person other than Hollis
himself; a person connected in some way with Woodstock's office. Further
that they were opened, not in the office itself, but in some other place
to which they had been taken. I should like to hear that evidence;
especially if it should happen to be connected with those mysterious
floor-sweepings."

"As a matter of fact, it is," Thorndyke replied, with a smile. "But the
floor-sweeping was not the first stage. The investigation began with Mr.
Hollis's boxes, from which I extracted every particle of dust that I
could obtain; and this dust I examined minutely and exhaustively. The
results were unexpectedly illuminating. For instance, from every one of
the untouched boxes I obtained one or more moustache hairs."

"Really! But isn't that very remarkable?"

"Perhaps it is. But moustache hairs are shed very freely. If you look at
the dust from a desk used by a man with a moustache, you will usually see
in it quite a number of moustache hairs."

"I have not noticed that," said Mr. Penfield, "having no moustache
myself. And what else did you obtain by your curious researches?"

"The other result was really very remarkable indeed. From every one of
the boxes I obtained particles--in some cases only one or two, in others
quite a number--of the very characteristic dust which is shed by
worm-eaten furniture."

"Dear me!" exclaimed Mr. Penfield. "And you were actually able to
identify it! Astonishing! Now, I suppose--you must excuse me," he
interpolated with an apologetic smile, "but I am walking in an enchanted
land and am ready to expect and believe in any marvels--I suppose you
were not able to infer the character of the piece of furniture?

"Not with anything approaching certainty," replied Thorndyke. "I formed
certain opinions; but they are necessarily speculative, and we are
dealing with evidence."

"Quite so, quite so," said Mr. Penfield. "Let us avoid speculation. But I
now begin to see the inwardness of the floor-sweeping. You were tracing
this mysterious dust to its place of origin."

"Exactly. And, naturally, I began with Mr. Hollis's premises--though the
forgery of the seals seemed to put him outside the field of inquiry."

"Yes; he would hardly have needed to forge his own seal."

"No. But I examined his premises thoroughly, with an entirely negative
result. There was no one on them with a moustache of any kind; the dust
from his floors showed not a particle of the wood-dust, and I could find
no piece of furniture in his house which could have yielded such dust.

"I then proceeded to Woodstock's office, and there I obtained abundant
samples both of hairs and wood-dust. I found Osmond's hair-brushes in
his desk, and from them obtained a number of moustache hairs which, on
careful comparison, appear to be identically similar to those found in
the boxes."

"Ha!" exclaimed Mr. Penfield in what sounded like a tone of disapproval.
"And as to the wood-dust?"

"I obtained traces of it from every part of the floor. But it was very
unequally distributed; so unequally as to associate it quite distinctly
with a particular individual. I obtained abundant traces of it from the
floor round that individual's desk, and even more from the inside of the
desk; whereas, from the interiors of the other desks I recovered hardly a
particle."

"You refer to 'a particular individual.' Do you mean John Osmond?"

"No," replied Thorndyke. "Osmond's desk contained no wood-dust."

"Ha!" exclaimed Mr. Penfield in what sounded very like a tone of
satisfaction.

"As to the individual referred to," said Thorndyke, "I think that, for
the present, it might be better--"

"Certainly," Mr. Penfield interrupted emphatically, "certainly. It will
be much better to mention no names. After all, it is but a coincidence,
though undoubtedly a striking one. But we must keep an open mind."

"That is what I feel," said Thorndyke. "It is an impressive fact, but
there is the possibility of some fallacy. Nevertheless it is the most
promising clue that offers, and I shall endeavour to follow it up."

"Undoubtedly," Mr. Penfield agreed, warmly. "It indicates a new line of
inquiry adapted to your peculiar gifts, though to me I must confess it
only adds a new complication to this mystery. And I do really find this a
most perplexing case. Perhaps you do not?"

"I do, indeed," replied Thorndyke. "It bristles with contradictions and
inconsistencies. Take the case against Osmond. On the one hand it is in
the highest degree convincing. The robberies coincide in time with his
presence in the office. His disappearance coincides with the discovery of
the robbery; and then in the rifled boxes we find a number of hairs from
his moustache."

"Can you prove that they are actually his?" Mr. Penfield asked.

"No," Thorndyke replied. "But I have not the slightest doubt that they
are, and I think they would be accepted by a jury--in conjunction with
the other circumstances--as good evidence. These facts seem to point
quite clearly to his guilt. On the other hand, the wood-dust is not
connected with him at all. None was found in his desk or near it; and
when I examined his rooms--which by a fortunate chance I was able to
do--I not only found no trace whatever of wood-dust, but from the
appearance of the place I was convinced that the boxes had not been
opened there. And furthermore, so far as I could ascertain, the man's
personality was singularly out of character with a subtle, cunning,
avaricious crime of this type; not that I would lay great stress on that
point."

"No," agreed Mr. Penfield; "the information is too scanty. But tell me:
you inferred that the boxes were not opened in Woodstock's office, but
were taken away and opened in some other place. How did you arrive at
that?"

"By means of the wood-dust. The place in which those boxes were opened
and refilled must have contained some worm-eaten wooden object which
yielded that very distinctive dust, and yielded it in large quantities.
But there was no such object on Woodstock's premises. I searched the
house from top to bottom and could not find a single piece of worm-eaten
wood work."

"And may I inquire--mind, I am not asking for details--but may I
inquire whether you have any idea as to the whereabouts of that piece of
furniture?"

"I have a suspicion," replied Thorndyke. "But there is my dilemma. I have
a strong suspicion as to the place where it might be found; but,
unfortunately, that place is not accessible for exploration. So, at
present, I am unable either to confirm or disprove my theory."

"But supposing you were able to ascertain definitely that the piece of
furniture is where you believe it to be? What then?"

"In that case," Thorndyke replied, "provided that this worm-eaten object
turned out to be the kind of object that I believe it to be, I should be
disposed to apply for a search-warrant."

"To search for what?" demanded Mr. Penfield.

"The stolen property--and certain other things."

"But surely the stolen property has been disposed of long ago."

"I think," replied Thorndyke, "that there are reasons for believing that
it has not. But I would rather not go into that question at present."

"No," said Mr. Penfield. "We agreed to avoid speculative questions. And
now, as I think I have exhausted your supply of information, it is my
turn to contribute. I have a rather startling piece of news to
communicate. John Osmond is dead."

Thorndyke regarded Mr. Penfield with raised eyebrows. "Have you heard any
particulars?" he asked.

"Woodstock sent me a copy of the police report, of which I will send you
a duplicate if you would like one. Briefly, it amounts to this: Osmond
was traced to Bristol, and it was suspected that he had embarked on a
ship which traded from that port to the west coast of Africa. That ship
was seen, some weeks later, at anchor off the coast at a considerable
distance from her usual trading-ground, and on her arrival at her station--a
place called Half-Jack on the Grain Coast--was boarded by an
inspector of constabulary who had been sent up from the Gold Coast to
make inquiries. To him the captain admitted that he had landed a
passenger from Bristol at a place called Adaffia in the Bight of Benin.
The passenger was a man named Walker whose description agreed completely
with that of Osmond. Thereupon, the inspector returned to Accra to
report; and from thence was sent down to Adaffia with an armed party to
find the man and arrest him.

"But he was too late. He arrived only in time to find a trader named
Larkom setting up a wooden cross over the grave. Walker had died early
that morning or the night before."

"Is it quite clear that this man was really John Osmond?"

"Quite," replied Mr. Penfield. "Larkom had just painted the name John
Osmond on the cross. It appeared that Osmond, when he realized that he
was dying, had disclosed his real name and asked to have it written above
his grave--naturally enough. One doesn't want to be buried under an
assumed name."

"No," Thorndyke agreed. "The grave is a sufficiently secure sanctuary.
Does the report say what was the cause of death?"

"Yes, though it doesn't seem very material. He is stated to have died
from blackwater fever--whatever that may be."

"It is a peculiarly malignant type of malaria," Thorndyke explained; and
he added after a pause: "Well, 'the White Man's Grave' is a pestilential
region, but poor Osmond certainly wasted no time in dying. How does his
death affect our inquiry?"

Mr. Penfield took snuff viciously. "Woodstock's view is--I can hardly
speak of it with patience--that as the thief is dead, the inquiry comes
automatically to an end."

"And Hollis, I take it, does not agree?"

"Indeed he does not. He wants his property traced and recovered."

"And do I understand that you instruct me to proceed with my
investigations?

"Most certainly; especially in view of what you have told me."

"I am glad of that," said Thorndyke. "I dislike exceedingly leaving an
inquiry uncompleted. In fact, I should have completed the case for my own
satisfaction and as a matter of public policy. For if Osmond stole these
gems, the fact ought to be proved lest any other person should be
suspected; and if he did not, his character ought to be cleared as a
matter of common justice."

"That is exactly my own feeling," said Mr. Penfield. "And then, of
course, there is the property. That ought to be recovered if possible,
especially if, as you seem to think, it is still intact. And now," he
added, draining his glass and rising, "it is time for me to depart. I
have to thank you for a most interesting and pleasant evening."

As Thorndyke stood on the landing looking down upon his retreating guest,
he was dimly aware of a presence on the stair above; and when he turned
to re-enter his chambers, the presence materialized into the form of
Polton. With silent and stealthy tread the 'familiar spirit' stole down
the stairs and followed his principal into the room, where, having closed
both doors with a secret and portentous air, he advanced to the table.

"What have you got under your arm, Polton?" Thorndyke asked.

By way of reply, Polton regarded his employer with a smile of the most
extraordinary crinkliness and began very deliberately to untie the string
of a small parcel. From the latter he at length disengaged a kind of
leathern wallet marked in gold lettering with what appeared to be a
tradesman's name and address. This he bore, slowly and ceremoniously, to
the table, where with a sudden movement he unrolled it, displaying a
glittering constellation of metal buttons.

"Well done, Polton!" Thorndyke exclaimed. "What a man you are! Now, where
might you have unearthed this relic?"

"I discovered it, sir," replied Polton, blushing with pleasure like a
dried apricot, "in a little, old-fashioned tailor's trimming-shop in one
of the courts off Carnaby Street. It is quite a well preserved specimen,
sir."

"Yes, it is in wonderful condition, considering its age. Mr. Wampole will
be delighted with it. He will be set up with buttons for life. I think,
Polton, it would add to his pleasure if you were to run down and make the
presentation in person. Don't you?"

Polton's features crinkled to the point of obliteration. "I do, indeed,
sir," he replied. "At his private residence, I think, sir."

"Certainly; at his private residence. And we shall have to find out at
what time he usually returns from the office."

"We shall, sir," Polton agreed; and thereupon proceeded to crinkle to a
perfectly alarming extent.

XVII. THE LAPIDARY

IN a small street hard by Clerkenwell Green is a small shop of antique
and mouldy aspect, the modest window of which is so obscured by a coat of
paint on the inside as to leave the unaided observer to speculate in vain
as to the kind of wares concealed within. A clue to the mystery is,
however, furnished by an inscription in faded gilt lettering on the
fascia above, which sets forth that the tenant's name is Lambert and that
his vocation is that of a lapidary and dealer in precious stones.

On a certain afternoon a few days after his interview with Mr. Penfield,
Dr. John Thorndyke might have been seen to turn into the small street
with a brisk, decisive air suggestive of familiarity with the
neighbourhood and a definite purpose; and the latter suggestion would
have been confirmed when, having arrived at the shop, he pushed open the
door and entered. A faded, elderly man confronted him across the counter
and inquired what might be his pleasure.

"I have called," said Thorndyke, "to make some inquiries concerning
artificial stones."

"Did you want them for theatrical purposes?"

"No. Those are usually cast or moulded, aren't they?"

"Sometimes. Not as a rule. Can't get much sparkle out of moulded glass,
you know. But what was the class of goods you were wanting?"

"I wanted a set of imitation gems made to given shapes and dimensions to
form a collection such as might be suitable for purposes of instruction
in a technical school."

"Would the shapes and dimensions have to be exact?"

"Yes, quite exact. They are intended to be copies of existing specimens
and the settings are already made."

Thorndyke's answer seemed to occasion some surprise, for the man to whom
he made it reflected profoundly for a few moments and then looked round
at a younger man who was sorting samples from the stock at a side-bench.

"Odd, isn't it, Fred?" said the former.

"What is odd?" inquired Thorndyke.

"Why, you see, sir, we had someone come in only a few days ago making the
very same inquiry. You remember him, Fred?"

"Yes, I remember him, Mr. Lambert. Crinkly-faced little blighter."

"That's the man," said Mr. Lambert. "I rather wondered at the time what
his game was. Seemed to know a lot about the trade, too; but you have to
mind what you are about making strass facsimiles."

"Of course you have," Thorndyke agreed, "especially when you are dealing
with these crinkly-faced people."

"Exactly," said Mr. Lambert, "But, of course, sir, in your case we know
where we are."

"It is very good of you to say so," rejoined Thorndyke. "But I gather
that you are not often asked to make sets of facsimile imitations."

"No, not sets. Occasionally we get an order from a jeweller to duplicate
the stones of a diamond necklace or tiara to be used while the original
is in pawn, or for safety in a crowd. But not a collection such as you
are speaking of. In fact, during all the thirty-five years that I have
been in business, I have only had one order of the kind. That was between
four and five years ago. A gentleman named Scofield wanted a set to offer
to some local museum, and he wanted them to be copies of stones in
various public collections. He got the shapes and dimensions from the
catalogues--so I understood."

"Did you execute the order?"

"Yes; and quite a big order it was."

"I wonder," said Thorndyke, "whether he happened to have selected any of
the stones that are in my list. Mine are mostly from the Hollis
collection. But I suppose you don't keep records of the work you do?"

"I expect all the particulars are in the order book. We can soon see."

He went over to a shelf on which was ranged a row of books of all ages,
and running his hand along, presently drew out a leather volume which he
laid on the counter and opened.

"Ah! Here we are," said he, after a brief search. "Mr. Scofield. Perhaps
you would like to glance over his list. You see there are quite a lot of
them."

He pushed the book across to Thorndyke, who had already produced a
note-book from his pocket, the entries in which he now proceeded to
compare with those in Mr. Scofield's list. Mr. Lambert watched him with
close interest as he placed his finger on one after another of the
entries in the book, and presently remarked:

"You seem to be finding some duplicates of your own lot."

"It is most remarkable," said Thorndyke "--and yet perhaps it isn't--but
his selection coincides with mine in over a dozen instances. May I tick
them off with a pencil?"

"Do, by all means," said Lambert. "Then I can copy them out afterwards--that
is, if you want me to get the duplicates cut."

"I do, certainly. I will mark off those that I want, and, when you have
cut those, I will give you a further list. And I may add that I should
like you to use the best-quality strass that you can get. I want them to
be as much like real stones as possible."

"I should do that in any case for good cut work," said Lambert; and he
added: "I suppose there is no special hurry for these stones?

"None at all," replied Thorndyke. "If you will send me a card to this
address when they are ready, I will call for them. Or, perhaps, if I pay
for them now you could send them to me."

The latter alternative was adopted, and while the prices were being
reckoned up and the bill was being made out, Thorndyke occupied himself
in making, in shorthand, a copy of the list in the order book. He had
finished and put away his note-book by the time the account was ready;
when, having laid a visiting-card on the counter, he paid his score and
began to put on his gloves.

"By the way," said he, "your customer would not happen to be Mr. Scofield
of the Middle Temple, I suppose?

"I really couldn't say, sir," replied Lambert. "He never gave any
address. But I had an idea that he came up from the country. He used to
give his orders and then he would call, at longish intervals, and take
away as many of the stones as were ready. He was a middle-aged man, a bit
on the shady side; tallish, clean-shaved, iron-grey hair, and not too
much of it."

"Ah, then I don't think that would be the same Mr. Scofield. It is not a
very uncommon name. Good-afternoon."

With this Thorndyke took up his stick and, emerging from the shop, set a
course southward for the Temple, walking quickly, as was his wont, with a
long, swinging stride, and turning over in his mind the bearings of what
he had just learned. In reality he had not learned much. Still, he had
added one or two small items to his stock of facts, and in circumstantial
evidence every added fact gives additional weight to all the others. He
sorted out his new acquirements and considered each in turn.

In the first place, it was clear that Mr. Scofield's collection was a
facsimile of the missing part of Hollis's. The list in Lambert's book was
identical with the one in his own pocket-book; which, in its turn, was a
list of the forgeries. The discovery of the maker of the forgeries (a
result of extensive preliminary scouting on the part of Polton) was of
little importance at the moment, though it might be of great value in the
future. For, since the forgeries existed, it was obvious that someone
must have made them. Much more to the point was the identity of the
person for whom they were made. Whoever 'Mr. Scofield' might have been,
he certainly was not John Osmond. And this set Thorndyke once more
puzzling over the really perplexing feature of this curious case. Why had
Osmond absconded? That he had really done so, Thorndyke had no doubt,
though he would have challenged the use of the word by anyone else. But
why? There had been nothing to implicate him in any way. Beyond the hairs
in the boxes--of which he could not have known and which were not at all
conclusive--there was nothing to implicate him now but his own flight.
All the other evidence seemed to point away from him. Yet he had
absconded.

Thorndyke put to himself the various possibilities and argued them one at
a time. There were three imaginable hypotheses. First, that Osmond had
committed the robbery alone and unassisted; second, that he had been an
accessory or worked with a confederate; third, that he had had no
connection with the robbery at all.

The first hypothesis could be excluded at once, for Mr. Scofield must
have been, at least, an accessory; and Mr. Scofield was not John Osmond.
The second was much more plausible. It not only agreed with the known
facts, but might even furnish some sort of explanation of the flight.
Thus, supposing Osmond to have planned and executed the robbery with the
aid of a confederate in the expectation that, even if discovered, it
would never be traced to the office, might it not have been that, when,
unexpectedly, it was so traced, Osmond had decided to take the onus on
himself, and by absconding, divert suspicion from his accomplice? The
thing was quite conceivable. It was entirely in agreement with Osmond's
character as pictured by Mr. Wampole; that of a rash, impulsive, rather
unreasonable man. And if it were further assumed that there had been
known to him some incriminating fact which he had expected to leak out,
but which had not leaked out, then the whole set of facts, including the
flight, would appear fairly consistent.

Nevertheless, consistent as the explanation might be, Thorndyke did not
find it convincing. The aspect of Osmond's rooms, with their suggestion
of hardy simplicity and a robust asceticism, still lingered in his
memory. Nor had he forgotten the impressive face of the gentlewoman whose
portrait he had looked on with such deep interest in those rooms. These
were, perhaps, but mere impressions, of no evidential weight; but yet
they refused to be lightly dismissed.

As to the third hypothesis, that Osmond had not been concerned in the
robbery at all, it would have been quite acceptable but for the
irreconcilable fact of the flight. That seemed, beyond any question, to
connect him with the crime. Of course it was conceivable that he might
have some other reason for his flight. But no such reason had been
suggested; whereas the circumstances in which he had elected to disappear--at
the exact moment when the crime had been traced to the office--made
it idle to look for any other explanation. And so, once more, Thorndyke
found himself involved in a tangle of contradictions from which he could
see no means of escape.

The end of his train of thought coincided with his arrival at the entry
to his chambers. Ascending the stairs, he became aware of a light above
as from an open door; and a turn of the staircase showed him that door--his
own--framing a small, restless figure.

"Why, Polton," he exclaimed, "you are early, aren't you? I didn't expect
you for another hour or two."

"Yes, sir," replied Polton, "I got away early. But I've seen it, sir. And
you were perfectly right--absolutely right. It is a sparrowhawk, stuck
in a little log of cherry wood. Exactly as you said."

"I didn't say a sparrowhawk," Thorndyke objected.

"You said, sir, that it was a stake or a bec iron or some kind of small
anvil, and a sparrowhawk is a kind of small anvil."

"Very well, Polton," Thorndyke conceded. "But tell me how you managed it
and why you are home so early."

"Well, sir, you see," Polton explained, fidgeting about the room as if he
were afflicted with St. Vitus's dance, "it came off much easier than I
had expected. I got to his house a good hour too soon. His house keeper
opened the door and wanted me to call again. But I said I had come down
from London and would like to wait. And then I told her about the buttons
and explained how valuable they were and asked her if she would like to
see them; and she said she would. So she took me upstairs to his
sitting-room and there I undid the parcel and showed her the buttons.

"Then I got talking to her about the rooms; remarked what a nice place
Mr. Wampole had got and how beautifully it was kept."

"Really, Polton!" Thorndyke chuckled, "I had no idea you were such a
humbug."

"No more had I, sir," replied Polton, with a complacent crinkle. "But,
you see, it was a case of necessity; and besides, the room was
wonderfully neat and tidy. Well, I got her talking about the house, and
very proud she seemed to be of it. So I asked her all the questions I
could think of: whether she had a good kitchen and whether there was pipe
water or a pump in the scullery, and so on. And she got so interested and
pleased with herself that presently she offered to let me see over the
house if I liked, and of course, I said that there was nothing in the
world that I should like better. So she took me down and showed me the
kitchen and the scullery and her own little sitting-room and a couple of
big cupboards for linen and stores, and it was all as neat and clean as a
new pin. Then we went upstairs again, and as we passed a door on the
landing she said, 'That's a little room that Mr. Wampole does his
tinkering in.'

"'Ah!' says I, 'but I'll warrant that room isn't quite so neat and tidy. I
do a bit of tinkering myself and I know what a workroom looks like.'

"'Oh, it isn't so bad,' says she. 'Mr. Wampole is a very orderly man. You
shall see for yourself, if it isn't locked. He usually locks it when he
has a job in hand.'

"Well, it wasn't locked; so she opened the door and in we went; and the
very moment I put my head inside, I saw it--on the table that he used
for a bench. It was set in a little upright log, such as you get from the
trimmings of fruit trees. And, my word! it was fairly riddled.--like a
sponge--and where it stood on the bench there was a regular ring of
powder round it.

"'That's a rare old block that his anvil is set in,' says I, going across
to look at it.

"'Not so old as you'd think,' says she. 'He got it about five years ago,
when we had the cherry tree lopped. You can see the tree in the garden
from this window.'

"She went over to the window and I followed her; and as I passed the bench
I picked up a pinch of the dust between my finger and thumb and put my
hand in my pocket, where I had a pill-box that I had brought in case I
should get a chance to collect a sample. As we were looking out of the
window, I managed to work the lid off the pill-box and drop the pinch of
dust in and slip the lid on again. Then I was happy; and as I had done
all that I came to do, I thought I would rather like to clear off."

"Why?" asked Thorndyke.

"Well, sir," said Polton in a slightly apologetic tone, "the fact is that
I wasn't very anxious to meet Mr. Wampole. It wouldn't have been quite
pleasant, under the circumstances, to present those buttons and have him
thanking me and shaking my hand. I should have felt rather like Pontius
Pilate."

"Why Pontius Pilate?" asked Thorndyke.

"Wasn't he the chap--or was it Judas Iscariot? At any rate, I had a
sudden feeling that I didn't want to hand him those buttons. So I looked
up my time table and discovered that I couldn't wait to see him. 'But,
however,' I said, 'it doesn't matter. I can leave the buttons with you to
give him; and I will leave my card, too, so that he can send me a line if
he wants to.' So with that I gave her the roll of buttons and nipped off
to the station, just in time to catch the earlier train to town. I hope I
didn't do wrong, sir."

"Not at all," Thorndyke replied heartily. "I quite understand your
feeling on the matter; in fact, I think I should have done the same.
Shall we look at that pill-box? I didn't expect such good fortune as to
get a specimen."

Polton produced the little box, and having opened it to make sure that
the contents were intact, handed it to Thorndyke, who forthwith made a
preliminary inspection of the dust with the aid of his lens.

"Yes," he reported, "it is evidently the same dust as was in the other
samples, so that aspect of the case is complete. I must compliment you,
Polton, on the masterly way in which you carried out your really
difficult and delicate mission. You have made a brilliant success of it.
And you have been equally successful in another direction. I have just
come from Lambert's, where I had a very instructive interview. You were
perfectly correct. It was Lambert who cut those dummy stones."

"I felt sure it must be," said Polton, "when I had been round to those
other lapidaries. He seems to be the only one who specializes in cutting
strass gems. But did you find out who the customer was, sir?"

"I found out who he was not," replied Thorndyke, "and that was as
far as it seemed wise to go. The rest of the inquiry--the actual
identification--will be better carried out by the police. I think, if
we give Mr. Lambert's address, with certain other particulars, to Mr.
Superintendent Miller, we can safely leave him to do what is necessary."

XVIII. THE END OF THE CLUE

IT was nearing the hour of six in the evening when five men made their
appearance on the stretch of pavement on which Mr. Woodstock's office
door opened. They did not, however, arrive in a solid body, but in two
groups--of two and three, respectively--which held no mutual
communication, but kept within easy distance of one another. The larger
group consisted of Dr. Thorndyke, Mr. Lambert, the lapidary, and a tall,
powerful man of distinctly military appearance and bearing; the smaller
group consisted of a uniformed inspector of the local police and Mr.
Lambert's assistant "Fred."

"I hope our friends are punctual in coming out," Thorndyke remarked as he
stood with his two companions ostensibly inspecting the stock in a
bookseller's window. "If we have to wait about long, we are likely to
attract notice. Even a bookseller's window won't explain our presence
indefinitely."

"No," the tall man agreed. "But there is a good deal of traffic in this
street to cover us up and prevent us from being too conspicuous. All I
hope is that he will take things quietly--that is, if he is the right
man. You are sure you would know him again, Mr. Lambert?"

"Perfectly sure, Superintendent," was the confident reply. "I remember
him quite well. I have a good memory for faces, and so has my man, Fred.
But I tell you frankly that neither of us relishes this job."

"I sympathize with you, Mr. Lambert," said Thorndyke. "I don't relish it
myself. We are both martyrs to duty. Ah! Here is somebody coming out.
That is Mr. Woodstock. I mustn't let him see me."

He turned to the shop-window, presenting his back to the street, and the
solicitor walked quickly past without noticing him. A few moments later
Mr. Hepburn emerged and walked away in the opposite direction, furtively
observed by Fred, who, with his companion, occupied a position on the
farther side of the office door. He was followed after a short interval
by two young men, apparently clerks, who walked away together up the
street and were narrowly inspected by Fred as they passed. Close on their
heels came an older man, who emerged with an air of business and, turning
towards the three watchers, approached at a brisk walk.

"That the man, Mr. Lambert?" the superintendent asked in a low, eager
tone, as the new-comer drew near.

"No," was the reply. "Not a bit like him."

Two more men came out, at both of whom Mr. Lambert shook his head. Then
came a youth of about eighteen, and after his emergence an interval of
several minutes, during which no one else appeared.

"That can't be the lot," said the superintendent, with a glance of
anxious inquiry at Thorndyke.

"It isn't unless some of them are absent," the latter replied. "That
would be rather a disaster."

"It would, indeed," the superintendent replied. "What do you say, Doctor,
to going in--that is, if the door isn't locked?

"Not yet, Miller," Thorndyke replied. "Of course we can't wait
indefinitely, but, if possible--Ah! here is someone else."

As he spoke, an elderly man came out and stood for a few moments looking
up and down the street. Then he turned and very deliberately locked the
door behind him.

"That's the man!" Lambert exclaimed. "That is Mr. Scofield."

"You are quite sure?" demanded Miller.

"Positive," was the reply. "I recognized him instantly"; and in
confirmation, Fred was signalling with a succession of emphatic nods.

Superintendent Miller cast an interrogative glance at Thorndyke. "Your
man, too?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Thorndyke. "Mr. Wampole."

The unconscious subject of these observations, having locked the door,
slowly pocketed the key and began to walk at a leisurely pace and with a
thoughtful air towards the three observers, closely followed by Fred and
the inspector. Suddenly he became aware of Thorndyke; and the beginnings
of a smile of recognition had appeared on his face when he caught sight
of Mr. Lambert. Instantly, the smile froze; and as Superintendent Miller
bore down on him with evident purpose, he halted irresolutely and cast a
quick glance behind him. At the sight of Fred--whom he evidently
recognized at once--and the inspector, his bewilderment changed to sheer
panic, and he darted out into the road close behind a large covered van
that was drawn up at the kerb.

"Look out!" roared Miller, as Wampole passed the rear of the van; but the
only effect of the warning was to cause the fugitive to cast a terrified
glance backward over his shoulder as he ran. And then, in an instant,
came the catastrophe. An empty lorry was coming up the street at a brisk
trot, but its approach had been hidden from Wampole by the van. As the
unfortunate man ran out from behind the latter, still looking back, he
charged straight in front of the horses. The driver uttered a yell of
dismay and tugged at the reins; but the affair was over in a moment. The
pole of the lorry struck Wampole at the side of the neck with the force
of a battering-ram and flung him violently down on the road, where he lay
motionless as the ponderous vehicle swerved past within an inch of his
head.

A number of bystanders immediately gathered round, and the carman, having
pulled up the lorry, climbed down from his high perch and came hurrying,
 white-faced and breathless, across the road. Through the gathering crowd
the inspector made his way and piloted Thorndyke to the fatal spot.

"Looks a pretty bad case, sir," said he, casting a perturbed eye down at
the motionless form, which lay where it had fallen. "Will you just have a
glance at him?"

Thorndyke stooped over the prostrate figure and made a brief--a very
brief--inspection. Then he stood up and announced curtly: "He is dead.
The blow dislocated his neck."

"Ha!" the inspector exclaimed, "I was afraid he was--though perhaps it
is all for the best. At any rate, we've done with him now."

"I haven't," said Miller. "I've got a search warrant; and I shall want
his keys. We will come along with you to the mortuary. Can't very well
get them here."

At this moment the carman presented himself, wiping his pale face with a
large red handkerchief.

"Shockin' affair, this, Inspector," he said, huskily. "Pore old chap. I
couldn't do no more than what I done. You could see that for yourself. He
was down almost as soon as I see 'im."

"Yes," the inspector agreed, "he ran straight at the pole. It was no
fault of yours. At least, that's my opinion," he added with official
caution. "Just help me and the constable here to lift the body on to your
lorry and then he will show you the way to the mortuary. You understand,
Borman," he continued, addressing the constable. "You are to take the
body to the mortuary, and wait there with the lorry until I come. I shall
be there in a minute or two."

The constable saluted, and the inspector, having made a note of the
carman's name and address, stood by while the ghastly passenger was
lifted up on to the rough floor. Then, as the lorry moved off, he turned
to Miller and remarked: "Your friend Mr. Lambert looks rather poorly,
Superintendent. It has been a bit of a shock for him. Hadn't you better
take him somewhere and give him a little pick-me-up? We shall want him
and his assistant at the mortuary, you know, for a regular
identification."

"Yes," agreed Miller, glancing sympathetically at the white-faced,
shaking lapidary, "he does look pretty bad, poor old chap. Thinks it's
all his doing, I expect. Well, you show us the way to a suitable place."

"The Blue Lion Hotel is just round the corner," said the inspector, "and
it is on our way."

To the Blue Lion he accordingly led the way, while Thorndyke followed,
assisting and trying to comfort the shaken and self-reproachful Lambert.
From the hotel they proceeded to the mortuary, where Lambert having,
almost with tears, identified the body of 'Mr. Scofield', and the dead
man's keys having been handed to Superintendent Miller, the latter
departed with Thorndyke, leaving the inspector to conduct the carman to
the police-station.

"You seem to be pretty confident," said Miller as they set forth, guided
by Polton's written directions, "that the stuff is still there."

"Not confident, Miller," was the reply, "but I think it is there. At any
rate, it is worth while to make the search. There may be other things to
see besides the stones."

"Ah!" Miller agreed doubtfully. "Well, I hope you are right."

They walked on for some five minutes when Thorndyke, having again
referred to his notes, halted before a pleasant little house in a quiet
street on the outskirts of the town, and entering the front garden,
knocked at the door. It was opened by a motherly-looking, middle-aged
woman to whom Miller briefly but courteously explained his business and
exhibited his warrant.

"Good gracious!" she exclaimed. "What on earth makes you think the
missing property is here?"

"I can't go into particulars," replied Miller. "Here is the
search-warrant."

"Yes, I see. But couldn't you wait until Mr. Wampole comes home? He is
due now, and his tea is waiting for him in his sitting-room."

Miller cleared his throat. Then, hesitatingly and with manifest
discomfort, he broke the dreadful news.

The poor woman was thunderstruck. For a few moments she seemed unable to
grasp the significance of what Miller was telling her; then, when the
horrid reality burst upon her, she turned away quickly, flinging out her
hand towards the staircase, ran into her room, and shut the door.

The two investigators ascended the stairs in silence with an
unconsciously stealthy tread. On the landing they paused, and as he
softly opened the three doors and peered into the respective apartments,
Miller remarked in an undertone: "Rather gruesome, Doctor, isn't it? I
feel like a tomb-robber. Which one shall we go in first?"

"This one on the left seems to be the workshop," replied Thorndyke.
"Perhaps we had better take that first, though it isn't likely that the
gems are in there."

They entered the workshop, and Thorndyke looked about it with keen
interest. On a small table, fitted with a metal-worker's bench-vice,
stood the "sparrow-hawk," like a diminutive smith's anvil, in its
worm-eaten block, surrounded by a ring of pinkish-yellow dust. A Windsor
chair, polished by years of use, was evidently the one on which the
workman had been accustomed to sit at his bench; and close inspection
showed a powdering of the pink dust on the rails and other protected
parts. On the right-hand side of the room was a small woodworker's bench,
and on the wall above it a rack filled with chisels and other small
tools. There was a tool cabinet ingeniously made from grocer's boxes, and
a set of shelves on which the glue-pot and various jars and small
appliances were stowed out of the way.

"Seems to have been a pretty handy man," remarked Miller, pulling out one
of the drawers of the cabinet and disclosing a set of files.

"Yes," Thorndyke agreed; "he appears to have been quite a good workman.
It is all very neat and orderly. This is rather interesting," he added,
reaching down from the shelf a box containing two earthen ware cells
filled with a blue liquid, and a wide jar with similar contents.

"Electric battery, isn't it?" said Miller. "What is the point of interest
about it?"

"It is a two-cell Daniell's battery," replied Thorndyke, "the form of
battery most commonly used for making small electrotypes. And in evidence
that it was used for that purpose, here is the jar filled with copper
sulphate solution, forming the tank, with the copper electrode in
position. Moreover, I see on the shelf what look like some gutta-percha
moulds." He reached one down and examined it. "Yes," he continued, "this
is a squeeze from a coin. Apparently he had been making electrotype
copies of coins; probably some that had been lent to him."

"Well," said Miller, "what about it?"

"The point is that whoever stole those gems made an electrotype copy of
Hollis's seal. We now have evidence that Wampole was able to make
electrotypes and did actually make them."

"It would be more to the point if we could find the gems themselves,"
rejoined Miller.

"Yes, that is undoubtedly true," Thorndyke admitted; "and as we are not
likely to find them here, perhaps we had better examine the sitting-room.
That is much the most probable place."

"I don't quite see why," said Miller. "But I expect you do," and with
this he followed Thorndyke across the landing to the adjoining room.

"Good Lord!" he exclaimed, stopping to gaze at the neatly-arranged
tea-service on the table, "just look at this! Uncanny, isn't it? Teapot
under the cosy--quite hot still. And what's under this cover? Crumpets,
by gum! And him lying there in the mortuary! Fairly gives one the creeps.
Don't you feel a bit like a ghoul, Doctor?"

"I might, perhaps," Thorndyke replied, dryly, "if there had been no such
person as John Osmond."

"True," said Miller. "He did do the dirty on Osmond, and that's the
fact--unless Osmond was in it, too. Looks rather as if he was; but you
don't seem to think so."

"As a mere guess, I do not; but it is a puzzling case in some respects."

He stood for a while looking about the room, letting his eye travel
slowly along the papered walls as if in search of a possible
hiding-place. From the general survey he proceeded to the consideration
of details, turning the door-key--which was on the inside and turned
smoothly and silently--and examining and trying a solid-looking brass
bolt.

"You notice, Miller," he said, "that he seems to have been in the habit
of locking and bolting himself in; and that the bolt has been fixed on
comparatively recently. That is somewhat significant."

"It seems to suggests that the swag was hidden here at one time, if it
isn't here now. I suppose we may as well look through these cabinets,
just as a matter of form, for he won't have hidden the stuff in them."

He produced the dead man's bunch of keys, and having unlocked the hinged
batten which secured the drawers of one, pulled out the top drawer.

"Coins," he announced; "silver coins. No! By jingo, they're copper,
plated, and no backs to them. Just look at that!"

"Yes," said Thorndyke, taking the specimen from him, "a silver-faced
copper electro, taken, no doubt, from a borrowed coin. Not a bad way of
forming a collection. Probably, if he had been skilful enough to join the
two faces and make a complete coin, it would have been the original owner
who would have had the electrotype, and Wampole would have kept the
genuine coin. While you are going through the cabinets, I think I will
explore those two cupboards. They seem to me to have possibilities."

The cupboards in question filled the recesses on either side of the
fireplace. Each cupboard was built in two stages--a lower about three
feet in height, and an upper extending nearly to the ceiling. Thorndyke
began with the right-hand one, throwing open both its pairs of folding
doors, after unlocking them with the keys, handed to him by Miller. Then
he cleared the shelves of their contents--principally stamp albums and
back numbers of The Connoisseur--until the cupboard was completely
empty, when he proceeded to a systematic survey of the interior, rapping
with his knuckles on every part of the back and sides and testing each
shelf by a vigorous pull. Standing on a chair, he inspected the top and
ascertained, by feeling it simultaneously from above and below, that it
consisted of only a single board.

Having thoroughly explored the upper stage with no result, he next
attacked the lower story, rapping at the back, sides, and floor and
pulling at the solitary shelf, which was as immovable as the others. Then
he tested the ceiling or top by feeling it with one hand while the other
was placed on the floor of the upper story.

Meanwhile, Miller, who had been systematically examining the row of
home-made cabinets, shut the last of the multitudinous drawers and stood
up.

"Well," he announced, "I've been right through the lot, Doctor, and
there's nothing in any of them--nothing, I mean, but trash. This last
one is full of buttons--brass buttons, if you'll believe it. How are you
getting on? Had any luck?"

"Nothing definite, so far," replied Thorndyke, who was, at the moment,
taking a measurement of the height of the lower story with a
tape-measure; "but there is something here that wants explaining. The
internal height of the lower part of this cupboard is two feet ten
inches; but the height from the floor of the lower part to the floor of
the top part is three feet one inch. So there seems to be a space of
three inches, less the thickness of two boards, between the ceiling of
the lower part and the floor of the top part. That is not a normal state
of affairs."

"No, by jingo!" exclaimed the superintendent. "Ordinarily, the floor of
the top part would be the ceiling of the bottom part. Carpenters don't
waste wood like that. Either the floor or the ceiling is false. Let us
see if we can get a move on the floor. That is the most likely, as it
would be the lid of the space between the two."

He passed his hands over the board, feeling for a yielding spot, and
craned in, searching for some indication of a joint, as he made heavy
pressure on the edges and corners. But the floor showed no sign whatever
of a tendency to move. He was about to transfer his attention to the
ceiling underneath when Thorndyke stopped him.

"Wait," said he. "Here is another abnormal feature. This moulding along
the front of the door is fastened on with three screws. They have been
painted over with the rest of the moulding, but you can make out the
slots quite plainly."

"Well?" queried Miller.

"Carpenters don't fix mouldings on with screws. They use nails and punch
them in with a 'nail-set' and stop the holes with putty. Moreover, if you
look closely at these screw-heads, you can see that they have been turned
at some time since the moulding was painted."

As the superintendent stooped to verify this observation, Thorndyke
produced from his pocket a small leather pouch of portable tools from
which he took a screw-bit and the universal handle. Having fitted them
together, he inserted the screwdriver into the slot of the middle screw
and gave a turn.

"Ah!" said he. "This screw has been greased. Do you see how easily it
turns?"

He rotated the tool rapidly, and as the screw emerged he picked it out
and exhibited it to Miller.

"Not a trace of rust, you see, although the paint is some years old."

He laid it down and turned to the left-hand screw, which he extracted
with similar ease. As he drew it out of its hole, the moulding became
visibly loose, though still supported by the mitre; but when the last
screw was extracted, the length of moulding came away in his hand,
showing the free front edge of the floor, or bottom-board. This Thorndyke
grasped with both hands and gave a steady pull, when the board slid
forward easily, revealing a cavity about two inches deep.

"My eye!" exclaimed Miller, as Thorndyke drew the board right out. "This
puts the lid on it--or rather takes the lid off."

He stood for a moment gazing ecstatically into the cavity, and especially
at a collection of small, flat boxes that were neatly packed into it;
then he grabbed up one of the boxes, and sliding back the hooked catch,
raised the lid.

The expression of half-amused astonishment with which he viewed the open
box was not entirely unjustified. As the receptacle for a robber's hoard,
it was, to say the least, unconventional. The interior of the box was
divided by partitions into a number of little square cells; and in each
cell, reposing in a nest of black or white velvet according to its
colour, was an unmounted gem.

The superintendent drew a deep breath. "Well," he exclaimed, "this knocks
anything I've ever come across. Looks as if he never meant to sell the
stuff at all. Just meant to keep it to gloat over. Is this what you had
expected to find, Doctor? I believe it is, from what you said."

"Yes," Thorndyke replied. "This agrees exactly with my theory of the
robbery. I never supposed that he had stolen the gems for the purpose of
selling them."

"Didn't you?" said Miller. "Now, I wonder why."

"My dear Miller," Thorndyke answered, with a smile, "the answer is before
you in those cabinets which you have just examined. The man was a
human magpie. He had a passion for acquiring and accumulating. He was the
born, inveterate collector. Now, your half-baked collector will sell his
treasures at a sufficient profit; but the real, thoroughbred collector,
when once he has got hold, will never let go."

"Well," said Miller, who had been meanwhile lifting out the boxes and
verifying their contents with a supercilious glance into each, "what is
one man's meat is another man's poison. I can't see myself hoarding up
expensive trash like this when I could swap it for good money."

"Nor I," said Thorndyke. "We both lack the acquisitive instinct. By the
way, Miller, I think you will agree with me that all the circumstances
point to Wampole's having done this single-handed?"

"Undoubtedly," was the reply. "This is a 'one-man show,' if ever there
was one."

"And, consequently, that this 'find' puts Osmond definitely out of the
picture?"

"Yes," Miller agreed; "I think there is no denying that."

"Then you will also agree that, although we might wish it otherwise, the
whole of the circumstances connected with this robbery must be made
public. That is necessary as a measure of common justice to the memory of
Osmond. He was publicly accused and he must be publicly exonerated."

"You are quite right, Doctor," Miller admitted, regretfully; "though it
seems a pity, as the poor devil is dead and we've got the swag back. But,
as you say, justice is justice. The innocent man ought to be cleared."

He took out the last remaining box, and having opened it and looked in,
handed it to Thorndyke and cast a final glance into the cavity.

"Hallo!" he exclaimed, reaching into the back of the space, "here's
something wrapped in paper--a key, by Jove!"

"Ah," said Thorndyke, taking it from him and inspecting it curiously,
"the key of the strong-room. I recognize it. Quite a well-made key, too.
I think we ought to hand that to Woodstock at once; and perhaps it would
be as well to hand him the gems, too, and get his receipt for them. We
don't want property of this value--something like a hundred thousand
pounds--on our hands any longer than we can help. What do you say?"

"I say let us get rid of them at once if we can. But we must seal the
boxes before we hand them over. And we must seal up these rooms until the
property has been checked by Hollis. Let us put the books back in the
cupboard and then, perhaps, you might go and find Woodstock while I keep
guard on the treasure-trove."

They fell to work repacking the cupboard with the albums and magazines
which they had taken out; and had nearly finished when they became aware
of voices below and then of hurried footsteps on the stairs. A few
moments later the door was flung open and Mr. Woodstock and Mr. Hepburn
strode into the room.

"May I ask," the former demanded, glaring at Miller, "who the deuce you
are and what is the meaning of this indecent invasion? The housekeeper
tells me that you profess to have come here to search for missing
property. What property are you searching for, and what is your
authority?"

The superintendent quietly explained who he was and exhibited his
warrant.

"Ha!" exclaimed Woodstock, with a withering glance at Thorndyke. "And I
suppose you are making this ridiculous search at the suggestion of this
gentleman?"

"You are quite correct, sir," replied Miller. "The warrant was issued on
information supplied by Dr. Thorndyke."

"Ha!" was the contemptuous comment. "You obtained a warrant to search the
private residence of a man of irreproachable character who has been in my
employ for something like a score of years! Well, have you made your
search? And if so, what have you found?"

"We have completed the search," replied Miller, "and we have found what
we believe to be the whole of the stolen property, and this key, which I
understand is the key of your strong-room."

As the superintendent made this statement, in studiously matter-of-fact
tones, Mr. Woodstock's jaw fell and his eyes opened until he appeared the
very picture of astonishment. Nor was his colleague, Mr. Hepburn, less
amazed; and for a space of some seconds the two solicitors stood
speechless looking from one another to the wooden-faced but secretly
amused detective officer. Then Woodstock recovered somewhat and began to
show signs of incredulity. But there was the key and there were the
boxes; and it needed only a glance at the contents of the latter to put
the matter beyond all question. Even Woodstock could not reject the
evidence of his eyesight.

"But," he said with a puzzled air and with new born civility, "what I
cannot understand is how you came to connect Wampole with the robbery.
Where did you obtain the evidence of his guilt?"

"I obtained it," Thorndyke replied, "from the dust which I collected from
your office floor."

Mr. Woodstock frowned impatiently and shook his head. "I am afraid," he
said, coldly, "you are speaking a language that I don't understand. But
no doubt you are right to keep your own counsel. What do you propose to
do with this property?"

"We had proposed to hand it to you to hold pending the formal
identification of the gems by Mr. Hollis."

"Very well," said Woodstock; "but I shall want you to seal the boxes
before I put them in my strong-room. I can't accept any responsibility
as to the nature of the contents."

"They shall be sealed with my seal and the superintendent's," Thorndyke
replied, with a faint smile; "and we will hope that the seals will give
more security than they did last time."

This understanding having been arrived at, the boxes were gathered up and
distributed among the party for conveyance to the office; and after a
short halt on the landing while Miller locked the doors and sealed the
keyholes, they went down the stairs, at the foot of which the tearful
housekeeper was waiting. To her Mr. Woodstock gave a brief and somewhat
obscure explanation of the proceedings and the sealed doors, and then the
party set forth for the office, the two solicitors leading and conversing
in low tones as they went.

Arrived at their destination, the formalities were soon disposed of. Each
box was tied up with red tape, sealed on the knot and on the opening of
the lid. Then, when they had all been conveyed into the strong-room and
locked in, Mr. Woodstock wrote out a receipt for "eight boxes, containing
real or artificial precious stones, said to be the property of James
Hollis, Esq., and sealed with the seals of Dr. Thorndyke and
Superintendent Miller of the C.I.D.," and handed it to the latter
officer.

"Of course," he said, "I shall communicate with Mr. Hollis at once and
ask him to remove these things from my custody. Probably he will write to
you concerning them; but, in any case, I shall wash my hands of them when
I get his receipt--and I shall take very good care that nobody ever
saddles me with portable property of this kind again."

"A very wise resolution," said Thorndyke. "Perhaps you might point out to
Mr. Hollis that the boxes ought to be opened in the presence of
witnesses, one of whom, at least, should be an expert judge of precious
stones. I shall write to him to-night, before I leave the town, to the
same effect. We all want the restitution to be definitely proved and
acknowledged."

"That is perfectly true," Woodstock admitted; "and perhaps I had better
make it a condition on which I allow him to take possession of the
boxes."

The business being now concluded, Thorndyke and the superintendent
prepared to take their departure. As they were turning away, Mr. Hepburn
addressed Thorndyke for the first time.

"May I ask," he said, hesitatingly and with an air of some embarrassment,
"whether the--er--the dust from our office floor or--er--any other
observations of yours which led you to this surprising discovery seemed
to suggest the existence of any confederate?"

"No," Thorndyke replied, decisively. "All the evidence goes to show, very
conclusively, that Wampole carried out this robbery single-handed. Of
that I, personally, have no doubt; and I think the superintendent agrees
with me."

"Undoubtedly," Miller assented. "I, too, am perfectly convinced that our
late lamented friend played a lone hand. You are thinking of John
Osmond?"

"Yes," Hepburn admitted, with a frown of perplexity. "I am. I am
wondering what on earth can have induced him to go off in that
extraordinary manner and at that particular time."

"So am I," said Thorndyke.

"Well, I'm afraid we shall never learn now," said Woodstock.

"Apparently not," Thorndyke agreed; "and yet--who knows?"

XIX. THORNDYKE CONNECTS THE LINKS

EARLY in the afternoon--at forty minutes past twelve, to be exact--of a
sunny day in late spring, a tall, hatchet-faced man, accompanied by a
small, sprightly lady, strolled at a leisurely pace through Pump Court
and presently emerged into the cloisters, where he and his companion
halted and looked about them.

"What a lovely old place it is!" the latter exclaimed, letting her eyes
travel appreciatively from the porch of the Temple Church to the façade
of Lamb Buildings. "Wouldn't you like to live here, Jack?"

"I should," he replied. "It is delightful to look at whichever way you
turn; and there is such a delicious atmosphere of peace and quiet."

She laughed merrily. "Peace and quiet!" she repeated. "Peace, perfect
peace. That has always been the desire of your heart, hasn't it? Oh, you
old hum bug! Before you had been here a month you would be howling for
the sea and someone to fight." Here her glance lighted on the little wig
shop, tucked away in its shady corner, and she drew him eagerly towards
it "Let us have a look at these wigs," said she. "I love wigs. It is a
pity they have gone out of fashion for general use. They were such a
let-off for bald-headed men. Which one do you like best, Jack? I rather
fancy that big one--full-bottomed, I think, is its proper description.
It would suit you to a T. It looks a little vacant with no face inside
it, but it would have a grand appearance with your old nose sticking out
in front. You'd look like the Great Sphinx before they knocked his nose
off. Don't you think you'd look rather well in it?"

"I don't know that I am particularly keen on wigs," he replied.

"Unless they are on the green," she suggested with a roguish smile.

He smiled at her in return, with a surprising softening of the rather
rugged face, and then glanced at his watch.

"We mustn't loiter here staring at these ridiculous wigs," said he; "or
we shall be late. Come along, you little babbler."

"Aye, aye, sir," she responded; "come along, it is," and they resumed
their leisurely progress eastward across the court.

"I wonder," he said, reflectively, "what sort of fellow Thorndyke is.
Moderately human, I hope, be cause I want him to understand what I feel
about all that he has done for us."

"I shall want to kiss him," said she.

"You had better not," he said, threateningly. "Still, short of that, I
shall look to you to let him know how grateful, beyond all words, we are
to him."

"You can trust me, Jack, darling," she replied, "to make it as clear as I
can. When I think of it, I feel like crying. We owe him everything. He is
our fairy-godmother."

"I don't think, Betty, dear," said Osmond with a faint grin, "that I
should put it to him in exactly those words."

"I wasn't going to, you old guffin!" she exclaimed, indignantly. "But it
is what I feel. He is a magician. A touch of his magic wand changed us in
a moment from a pair of miserable, hopeless wretches into the pet
children of Fortune, rich in everything we desired, and with the whole
world of happiness at our feet. Oh, the wonder of it! Just think,
darling! While you, with that ridiculous bee in your silly old bonnet,
were doing everything that you could to make yourself--and me--miserable
for life, here was this dry old lawyer, whose very existence we
were unaware of, quietly, methodically working away to dig us out of our
own entanglements. We can never even thank him properly."

"No. That's a fact," Osmond agreed. "And, in spite of Penfield's
explanations, I can't in the least understand how he did it."

"Mr. Penfield admits that he has only a glimmering of an idea himself;
but as he has promised to extract a full explanation to-day, we can
afford to bottle up our curiosity a little longer. This seems to be the
house; yes, here we are: '1st Pair, Dr. John Thorndyke.'"

She tripped up the stairs, followed by Osmond, and on the landing was
confronted by the open 'oak' and a closed inner door, adorned by a small
but brilliantly burnished brass knocker.

"What a dinkie little knocker!" she exclaimed; and forthwith executed
upon it a most impressive flourish. Almost instantly the door was opened
by a tall, dignified man who greeted the visitors with a smile of quiet
geniality.

"I have no need to ask who you are," he said, as, having saluted the
lady, he shook hands with Osmond. "Your resemblance to your mother is
quite remarkable."

"Yes," replied Osmond, a little mystified, nevertheless. "I was always
considered to be very like her. I should like to think that the likeness
is not only a superficial one."

Here he became aware of Mr. Penfield, who had risen from an arm-chair and
was advancing, snuff-box in hand, to greet them.

"It is very delightful to meet you both in these chambers," said he, with
an old bow. "A most interesting and significant meeting. Your husband's
name has often been spoken here, Mrs. Osmond, in the days when he was, to
us, a mere abstraction of mystery."

"I've no doubt it has," said Betty, regarding the old lawyer with a
mischievous smile, "and I don't suppose it was spoken of in very
complimentary terms. But we are both absolutely bursting with gratitude
and we don't know how to put our feelings into words."

"There is no occasion for gratitude." said Thorndyke. "It has been a
mutual change of benefits. Your husband has provided us with a problem of
the most thrilling interest, which we have had the satisfaction of
solving, with the added pleasure of being of some service to you. We are
really your debtors."

"Very kind of you to put it in that way," said Osmond, with a faint grin.
"I seem to have played a sort of Falstaffian part. My deficiency of wit
has been the occasion of wit in others."

"Well, Mr. Osmond," Thorndyke rejoined, with an appreciative side-glance
at the smiling Betty, "you seem to have had wit enough to bring your
affairs to a very happy conclusion. But let us draw up to the table. I
understand that there are to be mutual explanations presently, so we had
better fortify ourselves with nourishment."

He pressed an electric bell, and, as his guests took their places at the
table, the door opened silently and Polton entered with demure gravity to
post himself behind Thorndyke's chair and generally to supervise the
proceedings.

Conversation was at first somewhat spasmodic and covered a good deal of
mutual and curious inspection. Betty was frankly interested in her
surroundings, in the homely simplicity of this queer bachelor household,
in which everything seemed to be done so quietly, so smoothly, and so
efficiently. But especially was she interested in her host. Of his great
intellect and learning she had been readily enough convinced by Mr.
Penfield's enthusiastic accounts of him; but his personality, his
distinguished appearance, and his genial, pleasant manners were quite
beyond her expectations. It was a pleasure to her to look at him and to
reflect that the affectionate gratitude that she must have felt for him,
whatever he had been like, had at least been worthily bestowed.

"My husband and I were speaking as we came along," she said, "of the
revolution in our prospects that you created, in an instant, as it
seemed, in the twinkling of an eye. One moment our affairs were at a
perfectly hopeless deadlock; the next, all our difficulties were smoothed
out, the tangle was unravelled, and an assured and happy future lay
before us. It looked like nothing short of magic; for, you see, John had
done everything that he possibly could to convince all the world that he
was guilty."

"Yes," said Thorndyke, "that is how it appeared; and that is one of the
mysteries which has to be cleared up presently."

"It shall be," Osmond promised, "if utterly idiotic, wrong-headed conduct
can be made intelligible to reasonable men. But still, I agree with my
wife. There is something quite uncanny in the way in which you unravelled
this extraordinary tangle. I am a lawyer myself--a pretty poor lawyer, I
admit--and I have heard Mr. Penfield's account of the investigation, but
even that has not enlightened me."

"For a very good reason," said Mr. Penfield. "I am not enlightened
myself. I am, I believe, in possession of most of the material facts.
But I have not the special knowledge that is necessary to interpret them.
I am still unable to trace the connection between the evidence and the
conclusion. Dr. Thorndyke's methods are, to me, a source of endless
wonder."

"And yet," said Thorndyke, "they are perfectly normal and simple. They
differ from the methods of an orthodox lawyer merely in this: that
whereas the issues that I have to try are usually legal issues, the means
which I employ are those proper to scientific research."

"But surely," Betty interposed, "the purposes of legal and scientific
research are essentially the same. Both aim at arrive at the truth."

"Certainly," he replied. "The purposes are identical. But the procedure
is totally different. In legal practice the issues have to be decided by
persons who have no first-hand knowledge of the facts--by the judge and
jury. To them the facts are furnished by other persons--the witnesses--who
have such first-hand knowledge and who are sworn to give it truly and
completely. And on such sworn testimony the judges form their decision.
The verdict has to be 'according to the evidence,' and its truth is
necessarily subject to the truth of the testimony and the competence of
the witnesses.

"But in scientific research there is no such division of function. The
investigator is at once judge, jury, and witness. His knowledge is
first-hand, and hence he knows the exact value of his evidence. He can
hold a suspended judgment. He can form alternative opinions and act upon
both alternatives. He can construct hypotheses and try them out. He is
hampered by no rules but those of his own making. Above all, he is able
to interrogate things as well as persons."

"Yes," agreed Mr. Penfield, "that is what has impressed me. You are
independent of witnesses. Instead of having to seek somebody who can
give evidence in respect of certain facts, you obtain the facts yourself
and become your own witness. No doubt this will become evident in your
exposition of this case, to which I--and our friends too, I am sure--are
looking forward with eager interest."

"You are paying me a great compliment," said Thorndyke; "and as I hear
Polton approaching with the coffee, I need not keep you waiting any
longer. By the way, how much may I assume that our friends know?"

"They know all that I know," replied Mr. Penfield. "We have had a long
talk and I have told them everything I have learned and that you have
told me."

"Then I shall assume that they have all the main facts, and they must
stop me if I assume too much." He paused while Polton poured out the
coffee and partially disencumbered the table. Then as his familiar
retired, he continued: "I think that the clearest and most interesting
way for me to present the case will be by recounting the investigation as
it actually occurred, giving the facts observed and the inferences from
them in their actual order of occurrence."

"That will certainly be the easiest plan for us to follow," said Osmond,
"if it will not be too wearisome for you."

"On the contrary," replied Thorndyke, "it will be quite interesting to me
to reconstitute the case as a whole; and the best way will be to treat it
in the successive stages into which the inquiry naturally fell. I will
begin with the information which was given to me when the case was placed
in my hands.

"A number of sealed boxes had been deposited by Mr. Hollis in the custody
of Mr. Woodstock, who placed them in his strong-room. These boxes were
stated by Hollis to contain a number of valuable gems, but the nature of
the contents was actually known only to Hollis, who had packed the boxes
himself. After an interval the boxes were returned to Hollis; and it was
agreed by all the parties, including Hollis, that all the seals were then
intact. Nevertheless, on opening the boxes, Hollis found that most of the
gems had been abstracted and replaced by counterfeits. Thereupon he
declared that a robbery had been committed while the boxes were reposing
in the strong room; and this view was, strange to say, accepted by Mr.
Woodstock.

"Now, it was perfectly obvious that these statements of alleged fact were
mutually irreconcilable. They could not possibly be all true. The
question was, Which of them was untrue? If the stones were in the boxes
when they were handed to Woodstock and were not there when he returned
them to Hollis, then the boxes must have been opened in the interval. But
in that case the seals must have been broken. On the other hand, if the
seals were really intact, the boxes could not have been opened while they
were in Woodstock's custody. Woodstock's position--which was also that
of Hollis--was a manifest absurdity. What they alleged to have happened
was a physical impossibility.

"So far, however, the legal position was quite simple, if Woodstock had
accepted it. The seals were admitted to be intact. Therefore no robbery
could have occurred in Woodstock's office. But Woodstock accepted the
impossible; and thereupon a certain Mr. John Osmond proceeded very
deliberately to tip the fat into the fire."

"Yes, didn't he?" agreed Betty with a delighted gurgle. "You were an old
guffin, Jack! Still, it was all for the best, wasn't it?"

"It was, indeed," assented Osmond. "Best stroke of work I ever did. You
see, I knew that there is a Providence that watches over fools. But we
mustn't interrupt the exposition."

"Well," continued Thorndyke, "the disappearance of Mr. Osmond settled the
matter so far as Mr. Woodstock was concerned. He swore an information
forthwith, and must have grossly misled the police, for they immediately
obtained a warrant, which they certainly would not have done if they had
known the real facts. Then Woodstock, distrusting his own abilities--very
justly, but too late--consulted Mr. Penfield. But Mr. Penfield took
the perfectly sound legal view of the case. The seals were admittedly
unbroken. Therefore the boxes had been returned intact and there had
been no robbery in the office. But if there had been no robbery, the
disappearance of Osmond had no bearing on the case. Of course, neither
Woodstock nor Hollis would agree to this view, and Mr. Penfield then
recommended that the case should be put in my hands.

"Now it was obvious that the whole case turned on the seals. They
had been accepted as intact--without any kind of inquiry or
examination. But were they really intact? If they were, the case was
against Hollis; and I could see that my friend Professor Eccles suspected
him of having engineered a sham robbery to evade a bequest to the nation.
But this seemed to me a wild and unfair suspicion, and for my own part I
strongly suspected the seals. Accordingly, I examined a whole series of
them, minutely and exhaustively, with the result that they proved to be
impressions, not of the matrix in Mr. Hollis's ring, but of an
electrotype matrix made from a wax impression.

"This new fact brought the inquiry to the next stage. It proved that the
boxes had been opened and that they had been opened in Woodstock's
office. For when they came there they were sealed with Hollis's seal, but
when they left the office they were sealed with the forged seal. Things
began to look rather black as regards Osmond; but, although I was
retained ostensibly to work up a case against him, I kept an open mind
and proceeded with the investigation as if he did not exist.

"The second stage, then, started with the establishment of these facts: a
robbery had really occurred; it had occurred in Woodstock's office; and,
since the boxes had been kept in the strong-room, it was from thence that
they had been abstracted. The next question was, By whom had the robbery
been committed? Now, since the property had been taken from the
strong-room, and since the strong-room had not been broken into, it
followed that the thief must have had, or obtained, access to it. Now,
there were three persons who had easy access to it: Woodstock who
possessed the key, Hepburn and Osmond, both of whom occasionally had the
key in their custody: There might be others, but if so, they were at
present unknown to me. But of the three who were known, one, Osmond, had
apparently absconded as soon as the robbery was discovered and connected
with the office. Moreover, the commencement of the robberies apparently
coincided in time with the date on which he joined the staff.

"Evidently, then, everything that was known pointed to Osmond as the
delinquent. But there was no positive case against him, and I decided to
proceed as if nothing at all were known and seek for fresh data. And my
first proceeding was to make an exhaustive examination of the boxes, the
wrapping-paper, and the inside packing. As to the paper, I may say that I
developed up a large number of finger-prints--on the outside surface
only--I never examined, as the occasion did not arise. The investigation
really concerned itself with the dust from the insides of the boxes and
from the packing material. Of this I collected every particle that I
could extract and put it aside in pill-boxes numbered in accordance with
the boxes from which it was obtained. When I came to examine
systematically the contents of the pill-boxes, I made two very curious
discoveries.

"First, every pill-box--representing, you will remember, one of the
gem-boxes--contained one or more hairs; usually one only and never more
than three. They were all alike. Each was a hair from a moustache of a
light-brown colour and cut quite short, and there could be no doubt that
they were all from the same individual. Consequently they could not be
chance hairs which had blown in accidentally. The gem-boxes had been
packed at various times, and hence the uniformity of the hairs connected
them definitely with the person who packed the boxes. In short, it seemed
at first sight practically certain that they were the hairs of the actual
robber; in which case we could say that the robber was a man with a short
light-brown moustache.

"But when I came to reflect on the facts observed I was struck by their
singularity. Moustache hairs are shed very freely, but they do not drop
out at regular intervals. One, two, or more hairs in any one box would
not have been surprising. A man who was in the habit of pulling at or
stroking his moustache might dislodge two or three at once. The surprising
thing was the regularity with which these hairs occurred; one, and
usually one only, in each box, and no complete box in which there was
none. It was totally opposed to the laws of probability.

"The point was highly significant. Anyone can recognize a hair. Most men
can recognize a moustache hair. A detective certainly could. If these
boxes had been opened by the police, as Hollis had originally intended,
these hairs would almost certainly have been seen and eagerly fastened on
as giving what would amount to a description of the thief. They would
have been put in evidence at the trial and would have been perfectly
convincing to the jury.

"The more I reflected on the matter the more did I suspect those hairs.
If one assumed that they had been planted deliberately, say by a
clean-shaved or dark-haired criminal, their regular occurrence in every
box would be quite understandable. It would be a necessary precaution
against their being overlooked. Otherwise it was unaccountable. Still,
the fact of their presence had to be noted and the individual from whom
they came identified, if possible.

"The second discovery that I made was, perhaps, even more odd. In every
one of the boxes I found particles of the fine dust which falls out of
the holes in worm-eaten wood; sometimes only a few grains, sometimes
quite a large number of grains, and in the aggregate a really
considerable quantity."

"But how astonishing," exclaimed Betty, "that you should be able to tell
at once that these tiny grains came from worm-eaten wood."

"I make it my business," he replied, "to be able to recognize the
microscopical appearances of the different forms of dust. But your remark
indicates a very significant point. I imagine that there will be very few
persons in the world who could identify these particles in a collection
of miscellaneous dust. And therein lay the value of this discovery; for
if the significance of the hairs was open to doubt, that of the wood
certainly was not. There was no question of its having been purposely
planted. It had certainly found its way into the boxes accidentally, and
the person who had unconsciously introduced it was pretty certainly
unaware of its presence. It was undoubtedly a genuine clue.

"The discovery of this characteristic dust raised several questions. In
the first place, how came it into the boxes? Dust from worm-eaten
furniture falls on the floor and remains there. It is too coarse and
heavy to float in the air like the finer kinds of dust. In a room in
which there is worm-eaten furniture, you will find the particles of dust
all over the floor; but you will not find any on the tables or
chair-rails or mantelpiece. But these boxes must have stood on a table or
bench when they were being packed and when the dust got into them. Then
the dust must have been on the table or bench. But how could it have got
there? It was possible that the bench, itself, might have been
worm-eaten. But that was not a probable explanation, for the dust tends
to fall, not to rise. It would have fallen, for the most part, from the
under surface on to the floor. The most likely explanation emerged from a
consideration of the next question; which was, how could one account for
the large quantity that was found?

"The quantity was extraordinarily large. From the whole set of boxes we
collected something approaching a quarter of a thimbleful; which seems an
enormous amount if you consider that it must all have got into the boxes
during the short time that they were open for packing. What could be the
explanation?

"There were two factors which had to be considered: the nature of the
wood and the nature of the object which had been fashioned from it; and
both were important for purposes of identification. Let us consider the
first factor--material. Now, these wood-boring insects do not bore
through wood as the bookworm bores through paper, to get at something
else. They actually feed upon the wood. Naturally, then, they tend to
select the kind of wood which contains the most nourishment and which,
incidentally, is usually the softest. But of all woods those of the fruit
trees are richest in gum and sap and are most subject to the attacks of
the worm. Walnut, pear, apple, plum, and cherry all have this drawback,
and of these cherry is so inveterately 'wormy' that it has usually been
shunned by the cabinet-maker. Now, the quantity of the wood-dust pointed
to some excessively worm-eaten object and suggested one of the fruit
woods as the probable material, and the balance of probability was in
favour of cherry; and this was supported by the pinkish colour of the
dust. But, of course, this inference was purely hypothetical. It
represented the general probabilities and nothing more.

"And now we come to the second factor. What was the nature of this wooden
object? A piece of ordinary furniture we could dismiss for two reasons:
first, the dust from such a piece will ordinarily fall upon the floor,
from whence it could hardly have got into the boxes; and, second, no
matter how badly wormed a piece of furniture may be, the quantity of dust
which falls from it is relatively small and accumulates quite slowly,
being practically confined to that which is pushed out of the holes by
the movements of the insects within. This process would not account for
the great quantity indicated by these samples of ours. My feeling was
that this worm-eaten object was an appliance of some sort, subject to
frequent and violent disturbance. Let us take an imaginary case as an
illustration. Let us imagine a mallet with an excessively worm-eaten
head. Whenever that mallet is used, the shock of the impact will send a
shower of wood-dust flying out on the bench, where it will rapidly
accumulate.

"But, of course, this object of ours could not be a mallet for the reason
that mallets are always made of hard wood; and jewellers' mallets are
usually made of box-wood, lignum vitae or horn, none of which is subject
to 'the worm'. Thinking over the various appliances used by jewellers--since
it was with a jeweller we were dealing--I suddenly bethought me of
one which seemed to fulfil the conditions exactly. Jewellers and
goldsmiths, as you probably know, use a variety of miniature anvils,
known as stakes, bec irons, sparrowhawks, etc. Now, these little anvils
are usually stuck in a block of wood, just as a smith's anvil is planted
on a tree-stump. These blocks are not usually hard wood; indeed, soft
wood is preferable as it absorbs the shock better. A favourite plan is to
get a little log of wood and set the spike of the stake or sparrow-hawk
in a hole bored in the end grain; and the most abundant source of these
little logs--at least in the country--is the pile of trimmings from old
fruit trees. Such a log would tend very soon to become worm-eaten; and
if it did, every time it was used a ring of wood-dust would form around
its base and would soon spread all over the bench, sticking to everything
on it and straying on to the hands, arms, and clothing of the workman.

"This inference, you will observe, was, like the previous one, purely
hypothetical. But it agreed perfectly with the observed facts and
accounted for them in a reasonable way; and as I could think of no other
that did, I adopted it with the necessary reservations. But, in fact, the
correctness or incorrectness of this hypothesis was at present of no
great importance. Apart from any question as to its exact origin, the
wood-dust was an invaluable clue. We now knew that the unknown robber was
a person whose clothing was more or less impregnated with wood-dust; that
any places that he had frequented would yield traces of wood-dust from
the floors, and that the place where the boxes had been packed abounded
in wood-dust and contained a badly worm-eaten wooden object of some kind.

"The next proceeding was obvious. It was to find the places which had
been frequented by that unknown person, to seek for the worm-eaten
object, and, if possible, to identify the individual who appeared to be
connected with it. The suspected places were two: Mr. Hollis's house and
Mr. Woodstock's office. I did not, myself, suspect Hollis; but
nevertheless I determined to examine his house as narrowly as the other.
Accordingly I asked Mr. Penfield to obtain facilities for me to visit
both places to make inquiries on the spot; which he did.

"Perhaps, before I describe that voyage of exploration, it may be as well
to pause and consider what knowledge I now possessed and what I was going
to look for. There was the wood-dust, of course. That was the visible
trail that I hoped to pick up. But there were other matters. I knew that
there was a man, in some way connected with the robbery, who had a short,
fair moustache. I had to find out who he was. Also if there was any
source from which some other person might collect specimen hairs from
that moustache--a hair-brush, for instance--and if such source existed,
who had access to it.

"Then there was the personality of the thief. One knew a good deal about
him by this time. He was an ingenious man; a fairly good workman, at
any rate, with metal-worker's tools, but not a skilled jeweller. He must
have been able to make a key from a wax squeeze--unless he were
Woodstock himself, which he pretty certainly was not; for none of the
others had sufficiently free access to the strong-room to do what had
been done. Then he must have had at least a simple working knowledge of
electric batteries, since we could be fairly certain that he made the
electrotypes himself; he would never have run the risk of putting the
forgery out to the trade. He was clearly a secretive, self-contained man.
The only fallacy that I had to guard against was the possibility of a
confederate outside the office, who might have done the actual work; but
this possibility seemed to be negatived by the whole character of the
robbery and especially by one very odd feature in it, which was this:
Professor Eccles had noticed with surprise that many of the stones which
were taken were of quite trifling intrinsic value, so trifling that, if
they had been sold, they would hardly have realized enough to pay the
cost of replacing them with the specially-made counterfeits. Indeed, in
one case, at least, the thief must have lost money on the transaction,
for he had taken a fine moonstone and replaced it with an inferior one of
the same dimensions. But the value of the original was only about ten
shillings, and he must have spent more than that on the replacement. The
professor was greatly puzzled by this, having assumed, of course, that
the gems were stolen to sell. But to me, this rather anomalous feature of
the robbery offered a very curious suggestion; which was that no sale of
the booty had ever been contemplated. It looked like a collector's
robbery; and if there had been a collector in any way connected with the
parties, I should have given him my very close attention. But, so far as
I knew, there was none. Nevertheless, this peculiarity of the robbery had
to be borne in mind when I came to make my investigations on the spot.

"Let me now briefly describe those investigations. Their main object was
to ascertain whether there were any traces of wood-dust in the premises
of either Hollis or Woodstock, and the method was this: in each case, a
rough ground-plan of the premises was made; then small areas of the
floors were cleaned thoroughly with a specially constructed vacuum
cleaner and the dust from each area put into an envelope marked with a
number, which number was also marked in the plan on the spot from which
the dust had been collected. The collection was carried out by my
laboratory assistant, Mr. Polton, whom you have seen, leaving me free to
make inquiries and to inspect the premises. Of course, the samples of
dust had to be brought home to be examined in the laboratory, so we were
hampered by the circumstance that we did not know at the time whether any
wood-dust had or had not been obtained. But this proved to be of no
importance.

"We operated first at Mr. Hollis's house, regardless of his scornful
protests. Then we went on to Mr. Woodstock's office; and there I had a
rather remarkable experiences As I entered with Mr. Woodstock, I saw an
elderly man engaged in repairing an electric bell; and a glance at his
hands and the way in which he manipulated his tools showed the
unmistakable facility and handiness of the skilled workman. It was a
little startling; for here were two of the characteristics of the unknown
person I was endeavouring to identify. This man had evident skill in the
use of metal-worker's tools and he clearly knew a good deal about
electric batteries. And when I learned that this Mr. Wampole was the
office-keeper and that he evidently had a key of the premises, I was
still further impressed. I began to revise my opinion as to there being
no confederate; for the fact remained that Osmond had absconded and that
his disappearance--until it was otherwise explained--undeniably
connected him with the robbery. I began to think it possible that there
had been a partnership and that he had been used as a cat's paw.
Meanwhile, I had to find out as much as I could about him, and to this
end I sat down by Wampole, as he worked at refitting the batteries, and
questioned him on the subject of Osmond's appearance, habits,
temperament, and circumstances. It is only fair to him to say that he
scouted the idea of Osmond's having committed the robbery and gave
excellent reasons for rejecting it. On the other hand, his description of
Osmond made it clear that the hairs which I had found in the boxes were
Osmond's hairs; and when I expressed a wish to inspect Osmond's desk, he
took me to it readily enough, and as it was unlocked, he threw up the lid
and showed me the interior. The most interesting thing in it, from my
point of view, was a pair of hair-brushes; from which I was able to
extract several moustache hairs which appeared--and subsequently turned
out to be--identically similar to those found in the boxes.

"The examination of Osmond's desk suggested a similar examination of all
the other desks in the office, finishing up with that belonging to Mr.
Wampole. And it was in examining that desk that I did really receive
somewhat of a shock. For when we came to turn out its contents, I found
that these included, in addition to a number of metal-worker's tools, a
work man's linen apron and some battery terminals and insulated wire, a
stamp-album, a tray of military buttons and badges and old civilian
buttons, and another tray of old coins.

"The coincidence was too striking to be ignored. Here was a man who had
free access to these premises night and day, and who corresponded in
every particular with the unknown robber. We had already seen that he had
the skill and special knowledge that were postulated; now this
stamp-album, these buttons, badges, and coins, wrote him down an
inveterate collector. If I had looked on Mr. Wampole with interest
before, I now regarded him with very definite suspicion. Whatever
significance the hairs had seemed to have was now entirely against him;
for there were the brushes, easily available, and he knew it.

"I must confess that I was greatly puzzled. Every new fact that I
observed seemed more and more to confuse the issues. With the exception
of the hairs--which were, at least, doubtful evidence--I had found
nothing whatever to incriminate Osmond; whereas Wampole presented a
highly suspicious appearance. But Osmond had absconded; which seemed to
put Wampole outside the inquiry, excepting as a confederate. And when I
went with Wampole to Osmond's rooms, my inspection of them only left me
more puzzled; for the personality that they reflected was the very
opposite of that indicated by the nature and method of the robbery.
Instead of the avarice and cunning that characterized the robber, the
qualities suggested were those of a hardy, adventurous, open-air man,
simple to austerity in his tastes and concerned with any thing rather
than wealth and worldly possessions. The very photographs on the
mantelpiece proclaimed the incongruity, especially that of his mother,
whom Wampole informed me he strongly resembled; which showed the face of
a dignified, strong, resolute, courageous looking lady, whose son I found
it hard to picture, first as a thief, and then as a panicky fugitive. Yet
the fact remained that Osmond had absconded.

"However, when we got home and proceeded to question the samples of dust
in the laboratory, they gave an answer that was unmistakable. The results
were roughly thus: the samples from Hollis's house contained no
wood-dust; those from Osmond's rooms contained none; that from the inside
of his desk contained none and that from his office floor barely a trace.
Those from the floor of the clerks' office yielded a very small quantity,
but that from the floor by Wampole's desk contained quite a large amount,
while the dust extracted from the interior of his desk was full of the
castings--derived, no doubt, to a large extent from the apron which he
had kept in it. So the murder was out. The man who had packed those boxes
was Mr. Wampole, and the hairs which I found in them had come from
Osmond's brushes.

"One thing only remained to be done: the final verification. The
wood-dust had to be traced to its ultimate source in Wampole's lair. This
invaluable service was carried out by my assistant, Polton, who, with
extraordinary tact and skill, contrived to get a glimpse into the
workshop during Wampole's absence; and when he peeped in, the first
object that met his eye was a sparrowhawk, planted in a little log of
cherry-wood that was absolutely riddled by the worm. That concluded the
inquiry so far as I was concerned, though some further work had to be
done to enable the police to act. But no doubt Mr. Penfield has told you
about the lapidary and the police raid which resulted in Wampole's death
and the discovery of the gems in his possession."

"Yes," Osmond replied, "I think we have had full details of the final
stages. Indeed, Mr. Penfield had given us most of the facts that you have
mentioned, but neither he nor we were able to connect them completely. It
seemed to us as if you had made one or two very fortunate guesses; but
now that I have heard your reasoned exposition I can see that there was
no element of guessing at all."

"Exactly," agreed Mr. Penfield; "every stage of the argument rests
securely on the preceding stages. I am beginning to suspect that we
lawyers habitually underestimate the man of science."

"Yes," said Osmond, "I am afraid that is so. It is pretty certain that no
lawyer could have solved this mystery."

"I have to remind you," Thorndyke remarked, "that the man of science was
not able to solve it. He was able only to solve a part of it. The thief
was identified and the stolen property traced to its hiding-place. But
one question remained and still remains unanswered. Why did John Osmond
disappear?"

Osmond and Betty both smiled, and the latter asked: "Did you never form
any guess on the subject?"

"Oh, yes," replied Thorndyke, "I made plenty of guesses. But that was
mere speculation which led to nothing. It occurred to me, for instance,
that he was perhaps drawing a red-herring across the trail--that he was
shielding the real criminal. But I could find no support for the idea. I
could see no reason why he should shield Wampole--unless he was a
confederate, which I did not believe. If the criminal had been Hepburn,
it would have been at least imaginable. But there was never the shadow of
a suspicion in regard to Hepburn. No, I never had even a hypothesis; and
I haven't now."

"I am not surprised," said Osmond, with a slightly sheepish grin. "It was
beyond even your powers to conceive the possible actions of an impulsive
fool who has mistaken the facts. However, as I have put you to the
trouble of trying to account for my unaccountable conduct, it is only
fair that I should make it clear, if I can; even though I know that when
I have finished, your opinion of me will be like Bumble's opinion of the
Law--that I am 'a ass and a idiot.'"

"I hardly think that very likely," said Thorndyke, turning a twinkling
eye on Betty. "As I said just now, you seem to have brought a most
unpromising affair to an extraordinarily satisfactory conclusion which is
not at all suggestive of 'a ass and a idiot.'"

"But," objected Osmond, "the satisfactory conclusion which you are
putting to my credit is entirely your own work. I set up the obstacles;
you knocked them down. However, we need not argue the point in advance. I
will tell you the story and you shall judge for yourself."

XX. OSMOND'S MOTIVE

"In order to make my position clear," Osmond began, "it is necessary for
me to say certain things to you, my best and kindest of friends, which I
should not confide to any other human creature. I shall have to confess
to thoughts and suspicions which were probably quite unjust and
unreasonable and which are now uttered subject to the seal of the
confession."

The two lawyers bowed gravely in acknowledgement, and Osmond continued:
"I was introduced to Mr. Woodstock, as you know, by my brother-in-law,
Mr. Hepburn; and I may say that I accepted the post chiefly that I might
be near my sister. She and I had always been very devoted to one another,
and from the time when I left Oxford up to the date of her marriage we
had lived under one roof; and that was how she came to make the
acquaintance of Hepburn.

"I did not encourage the intimacy, but neither could I hinder it. She was
of a responsible age and she knew her own mind. The end of it was that,
after an engagement lasting a few months, they were married, and there
was nothing more to be said. But I was rather troubled about it. I had
known Hepburn nearly all my life. We had been at school together and the
greater part of our time at Oxford, where we belonged to the same
college, Merton. Through all those years we were on the footing of
intimate friends--rather oddly, for we were very different in
temperament and tastes, and, indeed, had very little in common--and we
knew one another extremely well. I don't know what Hepburn thought of me,
but I must confess that I never had much of an opinion of him. He was a
clever man; rather too clever, to my taste. An excellent manager, very
much on the spot, and in fact decidedly cunning; fearfully keen on the
main chance, fond of money and ambitious to be rich, and none too
scrupulous in his ideas. At school he was one of those boys who contrive
to increase their pocket-money by all sorts of mysterious little deals,
and the same tendency showed up at Oxford. I didn't like his ways at all.
I always had the feeling that, if he should ever be tempted by an
opportunity to make a haul by illegitimate means, he might be led by his
acquisitiveness to do something shady.

"However, his morals were not in my custody and were none of my business
until he began to visit us at my rooms, where I was living with my
sister. Then I gave her a few words of warning; but they took no effect.
He made himself acceptable to her, and, as I have said, they became
engaged and eventually, when Hepburn took up his job with Woodstock,
married. For a year or two I saw little of them--I was articled to a
solicitor in London; but when I was fully qualified Hepburn, at my
sister's suggestion, offered to speak to Woodstock on my behalf, and the
result was that I entered the office, as you have heard.

"And now I come to the particular transaction. Woodstock's office was, as
you know, conducted in a rather happy-go-lucky fashion, especially as
regards the strong-room. The key hung on the wall practically all day.
Usually, Woodstock took it away with him at night; but quite frequently,
when Woodstock was away for a night, it would be left in Hepburn's
charge. Occasionally it was left with me; and on one occasion, at least,
Wampole had charge of it for a night. And each of us four, Woodstock,
Hepburn, Wampole, and myself, had a key of the outer door and could enter
the premises whenever we pleased. You will remember, too, that the house
was empty, out of office hours. There was no caretaker.

"Now, one night when I had been out on the river and got home rather
late, I found that I had run out of tobacco. The shops were all shut, but
I remembered that there was a nearly full tin in my desk at the office,
so I ran round there to fill my pouch. I am always rather quiet in my
movements, and perhaps, as it was late, I may have moved, instinctively,
more silently than usual. Moreover, I still wore my rubber-soled
boating-shoes. Well, I let myself in with my key and entered the office,
leaving the outer door ajar. As I came in through the clerks' office I
could see through the open doorway that there was a light in Woodstock's
office and that the door of the strong-room was open. A good deal
surprised at this, I stopped and listened. There were sounds of someone
moving about in the strong-room, and I was on the point of going in to
see who it was when Hepburn came out with one of Hollis's boxes in his
hand. And at that moment the outer door blew-to with a bang.

"At the sound of the closing door Hepburn started and whisked round to
re-enter the strong-room. Then he saw me standing in the dark office, and
I shall never forget his look of terror. He turned as white as a ghost
and nearly dropped the box. Of course I sang out to let him know who I
was and apologized for giving him such a start, but it was a minute or
two before he recovered himself, and when he did he was decidedly huffy
with me for creeping in so silently. His explanation of the affair was
quite simple. He had been up to London with Woodstock, who had stayed in
town for the night and had sent him down with a consignment of valuable
securities which the firm were taking charge of. Not liking to have them
in his personal possession, he had come on to the office to deposit them
in the strong-room; and then, while he was there, he had taken the
opportunity of checking Hollis's boxes, which he informed me he was in
the habit of doing periodically and usually after office hours.

"The explanation was, as I have said, quite simple; indeed, no
explanation seemed to be called for. There was nothing in the least
abnormal about the affair. When I had once more apologized for the fright
that I had given him, I filled my pouch and we went away together, and I
dismissed the matter from my mind.

"I don't suppose I should ever have given the incident another thought if
nothing had occurred to remind me of it. The months went by and it seemed
to have passed completely out of my memory. Then Hollis dropped his
bomb-shell into the office. Some one among us, he declared, had secretly
opened his boxes and stolen his gems; and until that somebody was
identified, we were all more or less under suspicion.

"Of course, Hepburn scouted the idea of there having been any robbery at
all, and so did Wampole. They both pointed to the unbroken seals and
declared that the thing was a physical impossibility; and I should have
been disposed to take the same view, in spite of the strong evidence of
the missing emerald. But as soon as I heard the charge, that scene in the
office came back to me in a flash; and now, somehow, it did not look by
any means so natural and simple as it had at the time. I recalled
Hepburn's terrified stare at me; his pale face and trembling hands. Of
course, my sudden appearance must have been startling enough to upset
anyone's nerves; but it now seemed to me that his fright had been out of
all proportion to the cause.

"Then, when I came to think it over, the whole affair seemed very
characteristic of Hepburn; of his greed for money, his slyness, his
cunning, calculating ways. The property which had been stolen was of
great value, and I did not doubt that Hepburn would have annexed it
without a qualm if he could have done so with complete safety. But it had
been done so skilfully that the risk had been almost entirely eliminated.
It was a very clever robbery. But for the merest chance the things would
have gone back to Hollis's cabinet unchallenged; and when they had been
there a week or two the issues would have become hopelessly confused. It
would have been impossible to say when or where the robbery had been
committed. The whole affair had been most cunningly planned and neatly
carried out. I felt that, if Hepburn had been the robber, that was just
the way in which he would have done it.

"Moreover, the robbery--if there had really been one, as I had no doubt
there had--seemed to lie between three, or at the most, four of us:
those who had easy access to the strong-room. But of these Woodstock was
out of the question, Wampole had practically no access to the strong-room
and was an old and trusted servant of irreproachable character, and as I
was out of it, there remained only Hepburn. Whichever way I thought of
the affair, everything seemed to point to him, and whenever I thought of
it the vision came back to me of that scared figure standing by the the
strong-room door with the box of gems in his hand.

"But I need not go into any further detail. The bald fact is that it
appeared to me beyond a doubt that Hepburn was the thief, and the only
question was, what was to be done. The fat was in the fire. The police
would be called in. The stolen property would be traced and the crime
pretty certainly brought I home to Hepburn. That was how I forecast the
probable course of events.

"Now, if Hepburn had been a single man it would have been no affair of
mine. But he was my sister's husband and the father of my two little
nephews, who had been to me like my own children. If Hepburn had been
convicted of this crime, my sister's life would have been absolutely
wrecked. It would have broken her heart; and as for the two little boys,
their future would have been utterly and irrevocably damned. I couldn't
bear to think of it. But was there any way out? It seemed to me that
there was. I was a bachelor with no home-ties but my sister and the
kiddies. I had always had a desire to travel and see the world. Well, now
was the time. If I cleared off to some out-of-the-way region, the
dangerous inquiries at the office would stop at once and the whole
hue-and-cry would be transferred to me. So I decided to go. And the place
that I selected as my destination was Adaffia, where I knew that an old
friend of Hepburn's had settled as a trader.

"But I thought I would take Hepburn into my confidence and give him a
chance of doing the same by me, only I am afraid I rather muddled the
business. The fact is that, when it came to the point, I was a little shy
of telling him exactly what was in my mind. It is a delicate business,
telling a man that you have discovered him to be a thief. So I hummed and
hawed and approached the subject gradually by remarking that it looked as
if there would be wigs on the green presently. But that cat didn't jump.
Hepburn declined to admit that any robbery had occurred in the office.
However, I persisted that we should presently have the police buzzing
about the office and that then the position would become mighty
uncomfortable for some of us. Still, he professed to be--and, of course,
was--quite unconcerned; but when I went on to suggest that if I took a
little holiday the state of affairs at the office would be made more
comfortable for everybody, he stared at me in astonishment, as well he
might. Of course, I could think of nothing but what I had seen that night
when I caught him coming out of the strong-room, and I took it for
granted that he realized what was in my mind, so that his astonishment
didn't surprise me.

"'Wouldn't it look a bit queer if you went away just now?' he asked.

"'That is just the point," I replied. 'I'll hop off, they will leave the
office alone and there will be no more trouble.'

"He seemed a good deal puzzled, but he didn't raise any objections; and
of course he did not make any confidences, which again did not very much
surprise me. He was the very soul of caution and secretiveness.

"'Where did you think of going for your holiday?' he asked.

"I told him that I thought of running over to Adaffia to call on Larkom,
the trader there, and suggested that he should send Larkom a letter
introducing me. He didn't much like writing that letter, and he liked it
less when I mentioned that I proposed to travel under the name of Walker.
However, Larkom was an old friend whom he knew that he could trust, so,
in the end, he agreed to write the letter. And that settled the affair.
In due course I went off in the comfortable belief that he understood the
position exactly, leaving him considerably surprised but quite confident
that he knew all about the robbery. It was a very pretty comedy of
errors; but it would have become a tragedy but for your wonderful insight
and for the strange chance that the results of your investigations should
have found their way into the newspapers. That is to say, if it was a
chance."

"It was not a chance," said Mr. Penfield. "As a matter of fact, Dr.
Thorndyke wrote out the account himself and broadcast it to all the
papers, including those of the United States."

"Why did you do that?" Betty inquired, with a glance of intense curiosity
at Thorndyke.

"For two reasons," the latter replied: "one obvious, the other less so.
In the first place, Osmond had been publicly accused, and as there had
been no trial, there had been no public withdrawal of the accusation. But
he was a man of honourable antecedents and irreproachable character.
Common justice demanded that his innocence should be proclaimed at least
as widely as had been the presumption of his guilt. Even if he were dead,
it was necessary that his memory should be cleared of all reproach. But,
in the second place, it was not at all clear to me that he was dead."

"The deuce it wasn't!" exclaimed Osmond. "I thought I had settled that
question beyond any possible doubt. But you were not satisfied?"

 "No. The report which reached me was singularly unconvincing, and there
were certain actual discrepancies. Take first the general appearance of
the alleged occurrences; here is a man, a fugitive from justice, whose
purpose is to disappear. He lands at Adaffia and in the course of a week
or two is reported to have died. Now, West Africa is a very unhealthy
place, but people don't usually drop down dead as soon as they arrive
there. On the contrary. The mortality among new-comers is quite small.
Death is most commonly due to the cumulative effects of repeated attacks
of malaria and does not ordinarily occur during the first year of
residence. Osmond's death under the circumstances alleged was not in
agreement with ordinary probabilities.

"Then the fact of death was not certified or corroborated. The officer
who reported it had not seen the body; he had only seen the grave. But to
a man of my profession, the uncorroborated grave of a man who is
admittedly trying to escape from the police is an object of deep
suspicion. The possibility of a sham burial was obvious. This man, on
leaving his home, had made a bee-line for Adaffia, an insignificant
village on the African coast the existence of which was unknown to the
immense majority of persons, including myself. How came he to know of
Adaffia? and why did he select it as a hiding-place? The obvious answer
suggested was that he had a friend there. But as there was only one white
man in the place--who must have been that friend--a sham death and
burial would have been perfectly easy and a most natural expedient.

"Then there was the discrepancy. Osmond was reported to have died of
blackwater fever. Now, this was almost an impossibility. Blackwater fever
is not a disease which attacks new-comers. It lies in wait for the
broken-down coaster whose health has been sapped by long-standing chronic
malaria. In the immense majority of cases it occurs during, or after
the third year of residence. I have found no record of a single case in
which the patient was a new-comer to the coast. It was this discrepancy
that immediately aroused my suspicions; and as soon as I came to consider
the circumstances at large, the other improbabilities came into view. The
conclusion that I arrived at was that there was a considerable
probability that the trader, Larkom, had carried out a sham burial; or,
if it it had really been a case of blackwater fever at Adaffia, the
victim was Larkom himself, and that a false name had been put on the
grave; in which case the man whom the officer saw must have been Osmond.
You will note the suspicious fact that the name on the grave was 'John
Osmond'--not 'Walker.' That impressed me very strongly. It met the
necessities of the fugitive so very perfectly."

Osmond chuckled softly. "It seems to me, Dr. Thorndyke," said he, "that
you and I represent the two opposite extremes. You take nothing for
granted. You accept no statement at its face value. You weigh, measure,
and verify every item of evidence put to you. Whereas I--well, I wonder
what you think of me. I shan't be hurt if you speak your mind bluntly."

"There is nothing in my mind," said Thorndyke, "by which you need be hurt.
It would, of course, be insincere to pretend that you did not display
very bad judgement in taking so momentous a course of action on a mere,
unconfirmed suspicion. But perhaps there are qualities even more valuable
than worldly wisdom, and certainly more endearing; such as chivalry,
generosity and self-forgetfulness. I can only say that what you have told
us as to your motives has made my little service to you a great pleasure
to me; it has turned a mere technical success into a source of abiding
satisfaction--even though you did seek to defeat the ends of justice."

"It is nice of you to say that, Dr. Thorndyke," Betty exclaimed with
brimming eyes. "After all, it is better to be generous than discreet--at
least, I think so; and I don't mind admitting that I am proud to be the
wife of a man who could cheerfully give up everything for the good of his
kinsfolk."

"I think," said Mr. Penfield, tapping his snuff-box by way of emphasis,
"you have very good reason to be proud of one another."

"Thank you, Mr. Penfield," she replied, smilingly. "And that brings me to
what really was the object of our visit to-day. Only, here I am in rather
a difficulty. I am commissioned to give thanks for all that has been done
for us, and I really don't know how to express one-half of what we feel."

"Is there any need?" said Thorndyke. "Mr. Penfield and I already
understand that you enormously overestimate your indebtedness to us.
Isn't that enough?"

"Well, then," said Betty, "I will just say this. But for you, Jack and I
could never have been married. It was really you who gave us to one
another. We wish to say that we are extremely pleased with your gift and
we are very much obliged."


THE END



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