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Title: Blooming Aloes Author: Edgar Wallace * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1400701h.html Language: English Date first posted: Feb 2014 Most recent update: Feb 2014 This eBook was produced by Roy Glashan from a donated text. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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Edgar Wallace wrote a series of stories for magazine publication featuring ship's steward Felix Jenks. Eight of these were later included in the collection The Steward published by William Collins, Sons & Co., London, in 1932. The bibliographic record of the individual Felix Jenks stories is patchy; the interested reader will find all available data in the latest PGA/RGL edition of The Steward (released in February 2014). So far as is known, the present story, "Blooming Aloes," did not appear in any collection published during Wallace's lifetime.
IT'S a sen—what's that word you said yesterday? (It was the Steward talking.) Sententious! That's right. I must remember that one. It is surprising the number of classy words you can collect in one voyage if you keep your ears open. I got 'urge' last trip from a Pittsburg lady—it means 'wanting to do it.' You get an 'urge' to clean, paint and things like that. At least, some people do. Personally speaking, the only 'urge' I've ever got was to sleep after eating pork pie. Sententious—I'll jot that down. As I was about to remark, it's a sententious remark to pass, but if there wasn't any thieves there would be no thieving.
There never was a confidence man, a card-sharp or a tale-teller that didn't get his living by appealing to what I might describe as the criminal instincts of the respectable classes. Studying human beings is a hobby of mine, and a man who does fourteen trips a year across the Atlantic Ocean has all the opportunity he wants for improving his mind in that respect.
And what I discovered very early in my career was that, except one in a hundred, every man is a dreamer. Women are dreamers too, but they dream practical. It doesn't matter what kind of a man he is, whether he's a fat drummer from New York or one of those skinny cotton men from Manchester who complain because there's only one church service on Sunday and the hymns are too frivolous, they've got dreams. You can see the dreamers lying in their chairs, staring across the sea. or leaning over the rail staring down at the gulf weed, or strolling along the promenade deck looking at nothing—all dreaming.
Sometimes they dream about picking up a wallet of a million dollars, belonging to a hard-hearted swindler, sometimes about taking ten millions from a secret Russian delegate who is going to use the money for corrupting the world—generally speaking, there is something noble about their robbery and the money runs into millions.
And, mind you, the money they steal in their dreams is always put to a good use. I know one chap (he's the president of a hardware corporation) who commits his larcency the minute he comes on board and spends the voyage founding orphan asylums. Lew Baker, one of the cleverest get-a-bits that ever travelled the North Atlantic, told me that no con ever robbed an honest man. And that is true. It's the prospect of getting something for nothing that appeals to people who work ten hours a day to pay the grocer, and the only way to get something for nothing is by thieving—and then you only get it temporary.
People who read about ocean-going crooks think that the beginning and end of 'em is card-play. We put up notices in the smoke-room warning passengers that there are card-sharps aboard, but there wouldn't be room on the smoke-room walls to give particulars of all the queer swindles that are worked between port and port.
The card-men, to my mind, are straight-away grafters who work hard for their living and are entitled to a certain amount of respect. They are workmen pure and simple, and if they catch you, why, there's nothing to it but the loss of your foolish money. You can avoid them and they'll give you no trouble if you say 'no.' The people that are really dangerous are what our old skipper used to call 'the Blooming Aloes.' From all accounts, the aloe is a plant or vegetable that only breaks into flower once in a hundred years.
There are two or three crowds that work the world, and you see them on the western ocean once in a blue moon. As a rule they prefer the long trips—Southampton to Durban. Durban to Bombay, Bombay to Sydney, Sydney to San Francisco, Vancouver to Japan. They have time to get acquainted with passengers, and when they make a kill there's money to it. They're patient and sensible. I've heard of one crowd that went twice round the world and never touched a cent—they could have made hundreds, but that kind isn't after hundreds.
The only gang I ever saw was the one run by Connie Barthurst—they travelled with me once on the western trip—'John P Mortimer, Miss Mortimer and servant'—and I shouldn't have known anything about them if it hadn't been for the fact that my opposite number was a fellow FMwho used to be a steward on the Orient route and spotted them.
Connie was one of those tall, refined women who always dress quietly and speak to nobody. She used to sit on the deck for hours reading. Her 'father' was a big, grey-haired fellow, who spent his time walking round the deck. I never saw him in the smoke-room once. Anyway, he never smoked. He told me it was a filthy habit (I was his room steward), and drinking was worse. I never saw them again in years—it was on Mr. Denman's tenth trip with me that they turned up at Southampton—'Mr. and Miss Mortimer and servant.'
Mr. Denman was what I might call an ideal passenger—he always tidied his cabin before he went out, folded and brushed his own clothes—even hung up his own towels. I don't suppose I've answered the bell to him twice, and he's crossed with me a dozen times. He was never ill, always had his meals in the saloon, even in weather that made the old Crenic roll like a baby's head, and, beyond making his bed, there was nothing for me to do. A perfect gentleman in every shape and form. When we got to New York there was his ten- dollar bill, when we pulled into Southampton, two pound notes with a 'Thank you. steward—I hope I haven't been too much trouble to you.'
He generally had the same stateroom—105 on 'C' deck, and usually sat at the purser's table. Mr. Denman was by all accounts a rich man in the insurance business. He looked easy, but he wasn't. Every crowd that travelled the North Atlantic roped him into a little game at some time or other. If he had stood out against them and been clever, they'd have caught him, but he wasn't that kind. He went like a lamb to the slaughter, as the saying goes, and when they found that he never bet more than a dollar on three aces, and his limit for a full house was ten dollars, they dropped him.
'I never bet more than I can afford to lose,' he told Big Lew Baker.
'You're wise,' said Lew. 'What points do you play at bridge?'
'Tenpence a hundred in England and fifty cents in the States—money is more plentiful in New York.'
'You'll never be ruined,' said Lew, regretful: 'and, talking about ruin, I had a queer experience in London. Met a Russian prince— one of those guys that used to be a millionaire—had a vodka concession or sump'n—and he was actually starving! And the queer thing was that he carried about in his pocket three diamond rings worth a fortune—look at this!*
This was in the slack hour between the first and last dinner bugle, and I was relieving the smoke-room steward. There was only Lew and Mr. Denman in the room.
Lew took an emerald and diamond ring from his waistcoat pocket—a beauty.
'The worst of having too much money.' he said, 'is that you don't know the value of things. What do you think I paid him for this—guess pounds?'
'Three hundred?' said Mr. Denman.
'Fifty!' said Lew, very solemn. 'Why I bought it I don't know. It is no more use to me than a boudoir cap. It's worth twenty-five hundred dollars in New York. You can have it for sixty pounds.'
'It would be robbing you.' said Mr. Denman: 'and, besides. I've no use for jewellery. It is against my religious convictions.'
Lew sighed very heavy.
'Do you play marbles?' he asked.
'I used to when I was a boy,' said Mr. Denman, 'but I'm afraid that I'm out of practice.'
Mr. Denman was a youngish man, rather bald and near-sighted, and, being a simple, nervous kind of fellow, rather shy. The kind of fellow that is usually easy money to chaps like Lew: but so far as I know he was never caught for more than fifty dollars, and he lost that playing whist, to which he was very partial. Nobody would dream that he was the kind that Connie's crowd would go after. In the first place, though he was well off, he didn't appear to me to be so rich that he'd be worthwhile. The blooming aloes go for big money—tens of thousands—and he didn't seem to be in the six-figure class.
Anyway, Mr. and Miss Mortimer and servant got acquainted with him before the ship had left Cherbourg, and two days out he was carrying books from the library for Connie, and wrapping her up in her travelling rug. Which is always what I would term A Sign.
The very next morning Mr. Mortimer called me back after I'd taken him his morning coffee.
'What sort of day is it, steward?'
'Looks like being a fine day, sir,' I said. 'We've run out of the rain.'
'You've a big passenger list, steward—anybody important aboard?'
I told him there was nobody except two movie stars.
'They're important enough for one ship,' he said, smiling. 'It's curious, but I thought Mr. Denman was a movie actor the first time I saw him.'
Having brought the conversation round to Mr. Denman, it wasn't difficult to get out of me as much as I wanted to tell, which wasn't much.
The same afternoon I heard voices in Mortimer's cabin, and one of them was Connie's. The door was shut, but the next stateroom was empty, and I went inside, and. stepping up on to the bed, I got as near the top of the partition as I could.
A ship's the noisiest thing in the world, and you get so used to talking against the turbine and trying to drown the wind outside and the creaks inside, that you raise your voice more than you do anywhere else. Ever notice how you get a sore throat at the end of a voyage? It's speaking on the strain. That's why sailors always seem to be shouting when you meet 'em ashore.
'Not dollars, pounds.' Mortimer was saying. 'A hundred and twenty thousand.'
I didn't hear what Connie said, but after she had finished talking Mortimer went on:
'He's buying the block ... corner of Green and Regent Street.'
I didn't hear any more, but I knew they were talking about Mr. Denman.
Now, it's a point I've raised before—should the steward tell? We've had this question out many a time in the stewards' mess and we've always come to the same decision. If you see a passenger walk into another passenger's stateroom and lift his links and his wallet, it's the steward's duty to pinch him. If you see a gangster with his hand in another man's pocket, you take him up to the captain. But that's where the steward's duty ends. To put paragraphs in other people's tales is no business of yours unless you've got a better tale to tell.
We were passing Fire Island light on the Wednesday afternoon, and I was trying to help Mr. Denman pack his grip, when he saved me a whole lot of trouble.
'What a nice man Mr. Mortimer is!' he said.
'Very nice, sir,' said I: 'though it's my experience, after serving twenty-five years, man and boy, on ships ( and torpedoed twice in the war), that you can't judge shipboard friends till you meet 'em ashore.'
'But Mr. Mortimer is so different,' he says, wagging his baldish head and looking like an owl. 'I was to have stayed with him at his home, only unfortunately I am returning to England by this ship.'
I didn't say anything to this. A gangster usually says he has a home in Georgia, or Sacramento, or some other place where you're not likely to drop in on him if you're staying in New York. Or else he's got a fruit farm in New Brunswick, or a ranch next the Prince of Wales' in Alberta.
Mr. Denman sighed.
'The worst of making friends on board ship.' he said, 'is that they pass, as it were, into oblivion. You never see them again. It is one of the sadnesses of life!'
'I dare say you'll see them again,' I said.
I might have been a prophet, for when we'd turned round and I was sorting the baggage of homeward-bound passengers, and dealing out the flowers and fruit, I saw Mr. Mortimer.
I might say in passing that this 'say it with flowers' movement doubles a steward's work the first day out. Especially if there are a few actresses on board.
'I never expected to see you again so soon, steward,' he said. He had a wonderful smile, one of those smiles that made you feel good to see. 'I had a cable calling me back to England,' he said. 'It's a nuisance.'
There are some things that it is pathetic to see in a grown man, such as a taste for condensed milk, or the idea that some men get that they can sing or do conjuring tricks. It made me properly sad to see how overjoyed Mr. Denman was to find 'Miss Mortimer' was aboard. He clucked about like a young hen, fixing her chair, finding her rugs, and was in the library half-an-hour before the books were issued to get her the books she wanted. I don't think he left her side all the voyage, except for sleeping and changing purposes.
One night, when I was helping him find a collar-stud that had rolled under his berth, he told me that some men in the smoke-room had tried to get him into a no-limit poker game. He could hardly tell me for laughing.
'I always pretend that I'm ignorant of ship sharks,' he said. 'It saves a lot of bother and doesn't offend these fellows. But I'm too old a passenger to be caught, steward.'
'I'm sure, sir,' I said.
Poor soul! I took his baggage ashore at Southampton, and he was so much taken up with 'Miss Mortimer' that he nearly didn't tip me; and it was only after my hanging around for half-an-hour, asking him if he was sure he'd forgotten nothing, that he remembered and slipped me a fiver. And when a cautious man like Mr. Denman breaks the habit of years and puts a hundred and fifty per cent on to his usual tip, he's pretty far gone.
In a month we were taking him back again to New York, and sure enough there was Mr. and Miss Mortimer. But now they were 'Harry' and 'Connie' to one another, and used to spend the evenings leaning over the rail shoulder to shoulder. I had a little talk with the purser and asked him what he thought ought to be done, and he gave me a choking off for my pains.
'Your job is steward,' he said, 'not policeman!'
So I let the matter slide.
On this trip I had Miss Mortimer's cabin to look after, though, naturally, I saw very little of her, the stewardess doing most of the fetching and carrying. But four days out we struck a sou'-wester, a rip-snorter, and the Crenic is one of those ships that was originally intended to be a breakwater. She is one of those stiff, break-but-never-bend packets, with not an ounce of give in her. We hadn't been in the storm for an hour before we had all the dead lights down over every port, and the upper deck passengers down below.
By night the main dining saloon was flooded, owing to her taking a sea through one of the new-fangled, storm-proof portholes. It was a busy time for the stewards, for all the passengers who didn't get religion were ill; and even Miss Mortimer, who was a bit of a traveller, joined the passengers who took to their beds and waited for death. If they'd only waited without ringing for it, it wouldn't have been so bad.
In the early morning we broke into a calm patch, and as the stewardess had gone down with the other women, I had to take Miss Mortimer's breakfast to her—a biscuit and a glass of ice-water.
'Come in, steward,' she said, when I knocked at the door.
She was lying on her bed in a velvet dressing-gown, and I could not help but admire her, for, in spite of the bad night, she looked as beautiful as a picture.
'Will you give me that ring, steward?' she said as I was going out.
She pointed to the dressing-table. She had fastened the ring by a safety-pin to a little bag that hung on the mirror. As I unfastened it I had a good look. It was a new ring, with four big diamonds, and as she slipped it on her engaged finger I guessed how the land lay.
'That's a nice ring, miss,' I said.
'Yes, isn't it?'
She held out her finger and looked at it with a kind of frown.
'Engagement ring, miss?' I asked.
'Yes,' she said, but she didn't tell me who the lucky man was. and I didn't want to know. If Denman had been written on the inside, I couldn't have been more sure that he was the owner.
'Steward,' she called, as I was going, 'when people travel with a lot of money, how is it taken care of?'
'The purser puts it in the safe, miss,' I said, somewhat surprised for a minute, for there isn't a passenger travelling who doesn't know that valuables are put away in the purser's safe the day the ship leaves port.
I found out what all this meant the same day, because Mr. Denman was unusually talkative. He'd never spoken to me about his business before, but I suppose being in love makes a man indiscreet. I've noticed that very often. A brother-in-law of mine told me more about himself the week before he got married than my sister has found out since.
It appeared that Mr. Denman, as well as being in the insurance business, bought and sold property, and he was buying a big business block in Regent Street on behalf of some man in New York.
'I am going to bring the money across in hard cash,' he said. 'It is too important a deal for me to take any risks. Mr. Yonks is an eccentric man, and might stop a cheque, or cable his London agent to withhold payment of a draft; and it is much too important for me, since I've practically bought the property, to allow such a thing to happen.'
'If the ship went down you'd lose it all, sir,' I said.
'What a perfectly horrible idea!' said Mr. Denman. 'Don't talk about it, steward. I should lose something more valuable than my money. And, besides, it is not so stupid as you think. Mr. Mortimer frequently brings over large sums in cash. In fact, when he returns with me, he is bringing two hundred thousand dollars with him.' To me it was as plain as a pikestaff, and I could see, looming ahead, one of the grandest little confidence tricks on the big scale that had ever been worked on the western ocean.
'You'll excuse me saying so, sir, I don't think you're wise to bring that amount of money on board,' I said. 'I don't know much about banking, but it seems to me that if you sent the money through your own banker, Mr. Yonks couldn't either stop the cheque or play any monkey tricks.'
But he shook his head. There is something in human nature that makes good advice sound like an alarm clock on a cold, raw morning, the louder it rings, the more you want to turn over and go to sleep; and I guessed that that was how Mr. Denman was feeling, so I shut up.
Before we reached New York I had the chance of a talk with Lew Baker. Now, Lew is a straightforward card-man, without an ounce of vice in him. He's got a nice home in Brooklyn and a girl at the high school. I'm not defending Lew, or saying that I should care to get my living the same way as he does, but that's neither here nor there.
'There's an old saying, Felix,' he said. 'Never interfere between husband and wife. It's not your business, and I'm rather surprised that you think of butting in. I don't know Connie Barthurst, but I've heard of her graft, which is too slow for my liking. She's not the only aloe in the forest There's a man named Price that works the Mediterranean—Port Said to Marseilles. They say he goes six months before he touches. There's another man named Tom Bones, he's on the Indo-China route. But Connie is cleverer. Why, she dropped into Tom's private hunting ground when he was down with fever at Singapore and took hold of a fellow he'd been after for years, and shook twenty-eight thousand out of him. I don't know either of the parties, and maybe it's all lies. Gangsters have always got some queer story of things that happen on the other side of the world. But that slow business doesn't appeal to me. You've got to have capital for one thing.
'Tom was always shadowed into his home port by a motor launch in case he had to make a getaway quick, which costs money. Gimme quick profits, big enough to count but not painful enough to squeal. I don't think this man Denman will fall, because he's one of those mean and cunning men who count their change. A fellow who thinks he's going gay because he plays bridge at fifty cents a hundred isn't likely to fall for half a million dollars.'
'He's fallen, Mr. Baker,' I said. 'He'll land at Southampton completely minus.'
Lew Baker had a good look at his cigar and then said:—
'If he does, I shall have a higher respect for Connie than I've got now. But those things don't happen except in books. Suppose he lost his money on the voyage home, what sort of squeal would he raise? It might have been worked in the old days before radio was invented, but to try it now would bring a tugful of 'tecs at the ship's side before she passed the Nab Lightship. Leave them to it, Felix.'
I've never been quite sure how much Lew Baker knew; he was the sort of man who told just as much truth as was necessary in the way of business. But, as the poet says, a yarn that is half the truth gets you guessing.
Baker's opinion of Mr. Denman was considerably supported. The day we left New York I was on the upper deck, watching the gangway for my passengers, and about half-an-hour before the ship was due to sail, along came Mr. Denman with a big bag in his hand and three of Burns' men shadowing him. He was the sort of fellow who'd take no risks. Behind him came Mr. Mortimer, and he had a bag, but no detectives. And then came Miss Mortimer, in black, with Servant carrying her grip. I've never known whether the servant was in the swindle. She looked too stupid to me, but perhaps that was her long suit.
As soon as he saw me, Mr. Denman beckoned.
'Come down to my cabin, steward,' he said, and when I offered to take the bag he shook his head. 'I can carry this very well,' he said, with a little smile.
He had 112 on 'C' deck, a bigger stateroom than usual, with a small sitting-room attached, and I followed him in. He settled with the detectives, and then:-
'Will you ask Mr. Mortimer to come in?' he said.
Apparently Mortimer was expecting to be sent for, for he was sitting on the settee of his cabin with his bag on his knees.
'Mr. Denman wants to see you, sir.'
Mortimer glanced at Connie, and she nodded.
'I think it will be safer, father,' she said, sweetly.
I didn't know what would 'be safer,' but I soon found out. When I got back to Mr. Denman's stateroom, he had opened the bag and taken out a big wad of yellow-backs; they were lying on the table, and I saw Mortimer's eyes drop on them instantly.
'I want you to be a witness to this, steward,' said Mr. Denman. 'Mr. Mortimer is taking a large sum of money back to England, and he wishes it to go with mine.'
Mortimer took out two wads of notes and a sheet of paper and, making a little parcel of the money, tied it with string and dropped it into the open bag, which was locked and sealed under my eyes.
'I'll carry this,' he said, with that lovely smile of his. 'You go ahead, Denman.'
The alleyway toward the main companion was very narrow, and for some reason the deck lamps were not alight. Though several of the cabin doors were open, they were mostly either curtained, or, the ship being against the pier, were so dark as to give no light at all.
I followed in the rear and saw nothing unusual, and was present when the sealed bag was placed in the purser's safe and the receipt pocketed by Mr. Denman.
And, mind you, I was looking for something funny. The only thing I noticed unusual was, about ten minutes later, seeing Servant running up the companion- way to the deck, which was strange, because I'd never seen her out of her cabin before. It puzzled me all through the voyage how the swindle was going to be worked. It would have been simple enough if the money hadn't been handed to the purser, but there was the bag in the safe, and I'll swear that Mortimer did not ring the changes, for I watched the packing of that grip like a hawk.
They were thicker than thieves throughout that voyage, practically living in one another's cabins. At night Mr. Denman and Mr. Mortimer used to play piquet in his stateroom, with Miss Mortimer doing her needlework, as innocent as a lamb, and more so. I don't mind admitting that I did more listening at doors, more peeping and prying under sofas, that voyage than I've ever done before or since. And there was no solution to the mystery. All I knew was that poor Mr. Denman was heading straight for bankruptcy, and was enjoying the experience.
I was tidying up Mortimer's cabin the day we reached the English Channel, when the door was flung open and Connie came in.
'This damned boat is not going into Cherbourg, Jack,' she said, before she saw me.
'Moderate your language, my dear child.' said Mr. Mortimer, 2ith a quick look at me.
'Oh, but daddy, isn't it too tiresome? I did want to get some picture postcards. You remember I promised Maisie I would send her some,' she said, in an altered tone of voice. Then, with a smile at me: 'I'm afraid, steward, you think I use strong language?'
'I didn't notice any, miss,' I said, and got out of the cabin as soon as I could.
Now, if there's one thing more certain than another, it is that passengers homeward-bound do not go ashore in Cherbourg to buy picture postcards: and, what was more, the Mortimers' baggage was labelled for Southampton. The whole thing was as clear as daylight: they were going to jump the boat at Cherbourg and leave poor old Denman to collect his bag from the purser at Southampton. The changes had been rung! Right under my eyes, I thought—and yet it didn't seem possible.
I didn't get a chance of hearing their conversation; I was too agitated, so to speak. For a second I'd a mind to warn Mr. Denman—but only for a second.
Taking in Lew Baker's shaving water—he always shaved in the afternoon—I must have shown my feelings for he looked very hard at me.
'What's on your mind, Felix?' he asked.
I didn't tell him, but he guessed.
'Connie's graft is getting into your head and disturbing your mental equilibrium,' he said. Lew was a class talker and used educated expressions. 'Now cut it out, Felix! To every dog his bone, to every lion his rabbit. Denman is on the knees of the gods—I wish 'em joy. Personally, I'd sooner nurse almost anything.'
I went up to the boat deck for my pipe that night, and I stepped carefully, knowing that it was even money on Denman and Connie being there. For it was a bright, starlit night, and stars are highly attractive to people in love.
And there they were. Eavesdrop? That means listening? Why, of course! Didn't I feel, in a manner of speaking, Denman's guardian angel?
She said, in a far-away voice:—
'Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could go on and on through all eternity—only you and I, dear?'
'It would be wonderful,' he said, 'but I've got to be in London tomorrow evening. But after that--'
'And, dear' (this was her talking) 'you must open the bag— you know, the bag with daddy's money—in London. We will come round to your hotel after dinner. Daddy says he can't be bothered tomorrow morning, and he is quite willing to trust the money to you.'
'His confidence in me,' said Mr. Denman, in a shaking voice, 'is amazing. He doesn't know anything about me, either.'
I heard her laugh softly—I was smiling myself. The picture of poor Denman waiting at his hotel for them to call was a sad one.
I had two hours' sleep that night, for a steward has to be up with the lark on the day a ship makes port. It was a grey morning when I turned out; a dull line to port showed the English coast. I was taking a couple of whiffs from my pipe when I saw a big motor-launch moving abeam and on a parallel track. She was standing into the ship, and I thought at first it was the pilot till I heard the chief officer shouting through his megaphone to ask what in hell the driver was doing. Then suddenly it swooped in under our side, keeping pace with the ship.
As I looked over the rail I saw a rope thrown down from the lower promenade deck, and at the end of the rope was a bag. I recognized it at once. It was the sealed bag that I'd seen put into the purser's cabin, only I couldn't see the seals.
In a second I was racing down the companion and flew out on to the lower promenade. A man was sitting astride the rail, ready to slip down the rope.
It was Mr. Denman!
'Stand where you are, Felix,' he said, and when I saw the gun in his hand I naturally stood still.
'You'll find a tenner in my cabin—the clothes I left behind you can have. Tell Connie Barthurst, with Tom Bones' compliments, to keep clear of the Indo-China line. That's my beat. And tell her I've been waiting four years to meet her.'
With that he disappeared from view, and by the time I'd reached the ship's side he was in the launch and casting off the loose end of the rope.
I heard the first officer yell for him to come back, and then the nose of the motorboat turned to the open sea, and that was the last I saw of Mr. Tom Bones.
After I'd been cursed by the chief for not holding him, I went down to Mr. Mortimer's cabin and knocked at the door. He was up and dressed, and Connie was with him, sipping a cup of coffee that the servant had brought.
'Your friend Mr. Denman's gone over the side, taking the bag with him,' I said.
Mortimer's eyebrows went up.
'Indeed—he is in a hurry. Did he wake the purser up to get it?'
I'd seen the purser.
'No, sir; the bag you put in the safe is still there. And he asked me to present Tom Bones' compliments '
The girl went white.
'Tom Bones!' she said, and then hissed: 'Look at the bag, you fool!'
They didn't take the slightest notice of me, but, jerking open a trunk, Mortimer pulled out a bag. I actually gasped. If it wasn't the same bag that had been put in the safe, it was its own brother. Sealed and tied.
He broke the seal and pushed a key into the lock. There were six little packages, and he tore the paper from one.
'Blank sheets!' he almost screamed.
There were three bags, according to the purser's theory. There was the bag with the money in it, and the bag that was substituted in the dark alleyway by the servant who stood in the doorway of one of the cabins as Mortimer passed, and the bag that Denman put into the servant's cabin in exchange when his confederate and pal lured servant to the upper deck with a message.
I've never known who that confederate was. All I do know is that Lew Baker never played cards all that trip, and bought a new automobile when he got back to New York.
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