THE CRUISE OF THE JASPER B.
TO ALL THE COPYREADERS ON ALL THE NEWSPAPERS OF AMERICA
I A BRIGHT BLADE LEAPS FROM A RUSTY SCABBARD II THE ROOM OF ILLUSION III A SCHOONER, A SKIPPER, AND A SKULL IV A BAD MAN TO CROSS V BEAUTY IN DISTRESS VI LADY AGATHA'S STORY VII FIRST BLOOD FOR CLEGGETT VIII A FLAME LEAPS OUT OF THE DARK IX MYSTERIES MULTIPLY X IN THE ENEMY'S CAMP XI REPARTEE AND PISTOLS XII THE SECOND OBLONG BOX XIII THE SOUL OF LOGAN BLACK XIV CLEGGETT STANDS BY HIS SHIP XV NIGHT, TEMPEST, LOVE AND BATTLE XVI ROMANCE REGNANT XVII MISS PRINGLE CALLS ON MR. CLEGGETT XVIII THE MAN IN THE BLUE PAJAMAS XIX TWO GREAT MEN MEET XX THE PSYCHOLOGICAL DETECTIVE XXI THE THIRD OBLONG BOX ARRIVES XXII DANCING ON THE DECK XXIII CUTLASSES XXIV THE DUEL XXV THE SECRET OF THE VESSEL'S HOLD XXVI A DOG DIES GAME XXVII CLEGGETT ACCOMMODATES THE KING
A BRIGHT BLADE LEAPS FROM A RUSTY SCABBARD
On an evening in April, 191-, Clement J. Cleggett walked sedately into the news room of the New York Enterprise with a drab-colored walking-stick in his hand. He stood the cane in a corner, changed his sober street coat for a more sober office jacket, adjusted a green eyeshade below his primly brushed grayish hair, unostentatiously sat down at the copy desk, and unobtrusively opened a drawer.
From the drawer he took a can of tobacco, a pipe, a pair of scissors, a paste-pot and brush, a pile of copy paper, a penknife and three half-lengths of lead pencil.
The can of tobacco was not remarkable. The pipe was not picturesque. The scissors were the most ordinary of scissors. The copy paper was quite undistinguished in appearance. The lead pencils had the most untemperamental looking points.
Cleggett himself, as he filled and lighted the pipe, did it in the most matter-of-fact sort of way. Then he remarked to the head of the copy desk, in an average kind of voice:
"H'lo, Clegg," said Jim, without looking up. "Might as well begin on this bunch of early copy, I guess."
For more than ten years Cleggett had done the same thing at the same time in the same manner, six nights of the week.
What he did on the seventh night no one ever thought to inquire. If any member of the Enterprise staff had speculated about it at all he would have assumed that Cleggett spent that seventh evening in some way essentially commonplace, sober, unemotional, quiet, colorless, dull and Brooklynitish.
Cleggett lived in Brooklyn. The superficial observer might have said that Cleggett and Brooklyn were made for each other.
The superficial observer! How many there are of him! And how much he misses! He misses, in fact, everything.
At two o'clock in the morning a telegraph operator approached the copy desk and handed Cleggett a sheet of yellow paper, with the remark:
It was a night letter, and glancing at the signature Cleggett saw that it was from his brother who lived in Boston. It ran:
Uncle Tom died yesterday. Don't faint now. He splits bulk fortune between you and me. Lawyers figure nearly $500,000 each. Mostly easily negotiable securities. New will made month ago while sore at president temperance outfit. Blood thicker than Apollinaris after all. Poor Uncle Tom.
Despite Edward's thoughtful warning, Cleggett did nearly faint. Nothing could have been less expected. Uncle Tom was an irascible prohibitionist, and one of the most deliberately disobliging men on earth. Cleggett and his brother had long ceased to expect anything from him. For twenty years it had been thoroughly understood that Uncle Tom would leave his entire estate to a temperance society. Cleggett had ceased to think of Uncle Tom as a possible factor in his life. He did not doubt that Uncle Tom had changed the will to gain some point with the officials of the temperance society, intending to change it once again after he had been deferred to, cajoled, and flattered enough to placate his vanity. But death had stepped in just in time to disinherit the enemies of the Demon Rum.
Cleggett read the wire through twice, and then folded it and put it into his pocket. He rose and walked toward the managing editor's room. As he stepped across the floor there was a little dancing light in his eyes, there was a faint smile upon his lips, that were quite foreign to the staid and sober Cleggett that the world knew. He was quiet, but he was almost jaunty, too; he felt a little drunk, and enjoyed the feeling.
He opened the managing editor's door with more assurance than he had ever displayed before. The managing editor, a pompous, tall, thin man with a drooping frosty mustache, and cold gray eyes in a cold gray face that somehow reminded one of the visage of a walrus, was preparing to go home.
"Well?" he said, shortly.
He was a man for whom Cleggett had long felt a secret antipathy. The man was, in short, the petty tyrant of Cleggett's little world.
"Can you spare me a couple of minutes, Mr. Wharton?" said Cleggett. But he did not say it with the air of a person who really sues for a hearing.
"Yes, yes—go on." Mr. Wharton, who had risen from his chair, sat down again. He was distinctly annoyed. He was ungracious. He was usually ungracious with Cleggett. His face set itself in the expression it always took when he declined to consider raising a man's salary. Cleggett, who had been refused a raise regularly every three months for the past two years, was familiar with the look.
"Go on, go on—what is it?" asked Mr. Wharton unpleasantly, frowning and stroking the frosty mustache, first one side and then the other.
"I just stepped in to tell you," said Cleggett quietly, "that I don't think much of the way you are running the Enterprise."
Wharton stopped stroking his mustache so quickly and so amazedly that one might have thought he had run into a thorn amongst the hirsute growth and pricked a finger. He glared. He opened his mouth. But before he could speak Cleggett went on:
"Three years ago I made a number of suggestions to you. You treated me contemptuously—very contemptuously!"
Cleggett paused and drew a long breath, and his face became quite red. It was as if the anger in which he could not afford to indulge himself three years before was now working in him with cumulative effect. Wharton, only partially recovered from the shock of Cleggett's sudden arraignment, began to stammer and bluster, using the words nearest his tongue:
"You d-damned im-p-pertinent———"
"Just a moment," Cleggett interrupted, growing visibly angrier, and seeming to enjoy his anger more and more. "Just a word more. I had intended to conclude my remarks by telling you that my contempt for YOU, personally, is unbounded. It is boundless, sir! But since you have sworn at me, I am forced to conclude this interview in another fashion."
And with a gesture which was not devoid of dignity Cleggett drew from an upper waistcoat pocket a card and flung it on Wharton's desk. After which he stepped back and made a formal bow.
Wharton looked at the card. Bewilderment almost chased the anger from his face.
"Eh," he said, "what's this?"
"My card, sir! A friend will wait on you tomorrow!"
"Tomorrow? A friend? What for?"
Cleggett folded his arms and regarded the managing editor with a touch of the supercilious in his manner.
"If you were a gentleman," he said, "you would have no difficulty in understanding these things. I have just done you the honor of challenging you to a duel."
Mr. Wharton's mouth opened as if he were about to explode in a roar of incredulous laughter. But meeting Cleggett's eyes, which were, indeed, sparkling with a most remarkable light, his jaw dropped, and he turned slightly pale. He rose from his chair and put the desk between himself and Cleggett, picking up as he did so a long pair of shears.
"Put down the scissors," said Cleggett, with a wave of his hand. "I do not propose to attack you now."
And he turned and left the managing editor's little office, closing the door behind him.
The managing editor tiptoed over to the door and, with the scissors still grasped in one hand, opened it about a quarter of an inch. Through this crack Wharton saw Cleggett walk jauntily towards the corner where his hat and coat were hanging. Cleggett took off his worn office jacket, rolled it into a ball, and flung it into a waste paper basket. He put on his street coat and hat and picked up the drab-colored cane. Swinging the stick he moved towards the door into the hall. In the doorway he paused, cocked his hat a trifle, turned towards the managing editor's door, raised his hand with his pipe in it with the manner of one who points a dueling pistol, took careful aim at the second button of the managing editor's waistcoat, and clucked. At the cluck the managing editor drew back hastily, as if Cleggett had actually presented a firearm; Cleggett's manner was so rapt and fatal that it carried conviction. Then Cleggett laughed, cocked his hat on the other side of his head and went out into the corridor whistling. Whistling, and, since faults as well as virtues must be told, swaggering just a little.
When the managing editor had heard the elevator come up, pause, and go down again, he went out of his room and said to the city editor:
"Mr. Herbert, don't ever let that man Cleggett into this office again. He is off—off mentally. He's a dangerous man. He's a homicidal maniac. More'n likely he's been a quiet, steady drinker for years, and now it's begun to show on him."
But nothing was further from Cleggett than the wish ever to go into the Enterprise office again. As he left the elevator on the ground floor he stabbed the astonished elevator boy under the left arm with his cane as a bayonet, cut him harmlessly over the head with his cane as a saber, tossed him a dollar, and left the building humming:
"Oh, the Beau Sabreur of the Grande Armee Was the Captain Tarjeanterre!"
It is thus, with a single twitch of her playful fingers, that Fate will sometimes pluck from a man the mask that has obscured his real identity for many years. It is thus that Destiny will suddenly draw a bright blade from a rusty scabbard!
THE ROOM OF ILLUSION
That part of Brooklyn in which Cleggett lived overlooks a wide sweep of water where the East River merges with New York Bay. From his windows he could gaze out upon the bustling harbor craft and see the ships going forth to the great mysterious sea.
He walked home across the Brooklyn Bridge, and as he walked he still hummed tunes. Occasionally, still with the rapt and fatal manner which had daunted the managing editor, he would pause and flex his wrist, and then suddenly deliver a ferocious thrust with his walking-stick.
The fifth of these lunges had an unexpected result. Cleggett directed it toward the door of an unpainted toolhouse, a temporary structure near one of the immense stone pillars from which the bridge is swung. But, as he lunged, the toolhouse door opened, and a policeman, who was coming out wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, received a jab in the pit of a somewhat protuberant stomach.
The officer grunted and stepped backward; then he came on, raising his night-stick.
"Why, it's—it's McCarthy!" exclaimed Cleggett, who had also sprung back, as the light fell on the other's face.
"Mr. Cleggett, by the powers!" said the officer, pausing and lowering his lifted club. "Are ye soused, man? Or is it your way of sayin' good avenin' to your frinds?"
Cleggett smiled. He had first known McCarthy years before when he was a reporter, and more recently had renewed the acquaintance in his walks across the bridge.
"I didn't know you were there, McCarthy," he said.
"No?" said the officer. "And who were ye jabbin' at, thin?"
"I was just limbering up my wrist," said Cleggett.
"'Tis a quare thing to do," persisted McCarthy, albeit good-humoredly. "And now I mind I've seen ye do the same before, Mr. Cleggett. You're foriver grinnin' to yersilf an' makin' thim funny jabs at nothin' as ye cross the bridge. Are ye subjict to stiffness in the wrists, Mr. Cleggett?"
"Perhaps it's writer's cramp," said Cleggett, indulging the pleasant humor that was on him. He was really thinking that, with $500,000 of his own, he had written his last headline, edited his last piece of copy, sharpened his last pencil.
"Writer's cramp? Is it so?" mused McCarthy. "Newspapers is great things, ain't they now? And so's writin' and readin'. Gr-r-reat things! But if ye'll take my advise, Mr. Cleggett, ye'll kape that writin' and readin' within bounds. Too much av thim rots the brains."
"I'll remember that," said Cleggett. And he playfully jabbed the officer again as he turned away.
"G'wan wid ye!" protested McCarthy. "Ye're soused! The scent av it's in the air. If I'm compilled to run yez in f'r assaultin' an officer ye'll get the cramps out av thim wrists breakin' stone, maybe. Cr-r-r-amps, indade!"
Cramps, indeed! Oh, Clement J. Cleggett, you liar! And yet, who does not lie in order to veil his inmost, sweetest thoughts from an unsympathetic world?
That was not an ordinary jab with an ordinary cane which Cleggett had directed towards the toolhouse door. It was a thrust en carte; the thrust of a brilliant swordsman; the thrust of a master; a terrible thrust. It was meant for as pernicious a bravo as ever infested the pages of romantic fiction. Cleggett had been slaying these gentry a dozen times a day for years. He had pinked four of them on the way across the bridge, before McCarthy, with his stomach and his realism, stopped the lunge intended for the fifth. But this is not exactly the sort of thing one finds it easy to confide to a policeman, be he ever so friendly a policeman.
Cleggett—Old Clegg, the copyreader—Clegg, the commonplace—C. J. Cleggett, the Brooklynite-this person whom young reporters conceived of as the staid, dry prophet of the dusty Fact—was secretly a mighty reservoir of unwritten, unacted, unlived, unspoken romance. He ate it, he drank it, he breathed it, he dreamed it. The usual copyreader, when he closes his eyes and smiles upon a pleasant inward vision, is thinking of starting a chicken-farm in New Jersey. But Cleggett—with gray sprinkled in his hair, sober of face and precise of manner, as the world knew him—lived a hidden life which was one long, wild adventure.
Nobody had ever suspected it. But his room might have given to the discerning a clue to the real man behind the mask which he assumed—which he had been forced to assume in order to earn a living. When he reached the apartment, a few minutes after his encounter on the bridge, and switched the electric light on, the gleams fell upon an astonishing clutter of books and arms....
Stevenson, cavalry sabers, W. Clark Russell, pistols, and Dumas; Jack London, poignards, bowie knives, Stanley Weyman, Captain Marryat, and Dumas; sword canes, Scottish claymores, Cuban machetes, Conan Doyle, Harrison Ainsworth, dress swords, and Dumas; stilettos, daggers, hunting knives, Fenimore Cooper, G. P. R. James, broadswords, Dumas; Gustave Aimard, Rudyard Kipling, dueling swords, Dumas; F. Du Boisgobey, Malay krises, Walter Scott, stick pistols, scimitars, Anthony Hope, single sticks, foils, Dumas; jungles of arms, jumbles of books; arms of all makes and periods; arms on the walls, in the corners, over the fireplace, leaning against the bookshelves, lying in ambush under the bed, peeping out of the wardrobe, propping the windows open, serving as paper weights; pictures, warlike and romantic prints and engravings, pinned to the walls with daggers; in the wardrobe, coats and hats hanging from poignards and stilettos thrust into the wood instead of from nails or hooks. But of all the weapons it was the rapiers, of all the books it was Dumas, that he loved. There was Dumas in French, Dumas in English, Dumas with pictures, Dumas unillustrated, Dumas in cloth, Dumas in leather, Dumas in boards, Dumas in paper covers. Cleggett had been twenty years getting these arms and books together; often he had gone without a dinner in order to make a payment on some blade he fancied. And each weapon was also a book to him; he sensed their stories as he handled them; he felt the personalities of their former owners stirring in him when he picked them up. It was in that room that he dreamed; which is to say, it was in that room that he lived his real life.
Cleggett walked over to his writing desk and pulled out a bulky manuscript. It was his own work. Is it necessary to hint that it was a tale essentially romantic in character?
He flung it into the grate and set fire to it. It represented the labor of two years, but as he watched it burn, stirring the sheets now and then so the flames would catch them more readily, he smiled, unvisited by even the most shadowy second thought of regret.
For why the deuce should a man with $500,000 in his pocket write romances? Why should anyone write anything who is free to live? For the first time in his existence Cleggett was free.
He picked up a sword. It was one of his favorite rapiers. Sometimes people came out of the books—sometimes shadowy forms came back to claim the weapons that had been theirs—and Cleggett fought them. There was not an unscarred piece of furniture in the place. He bent the flexible blade in his hands, tried the point of it, formally saluted, brought the weapon to parade, dallied with his imaginary opponent's sword for an instant....
It seemed as if one of those terrible, but brilliant, duels, with which that room was so familiar, was about to be enacted.... But he laid the rapier down. After all, the rapier is scarcely a thing of this century. Cleggett, for the first time, felt a little impatient with the rapier. It is all very well to DREAM with a rapier. But now, he was free; reality was before him; the world of actual adventure called. He had but to choose!
He considered. He tried to look into that bright, adventurous future. Presently he went to the window, and gazed out. Tides of night and mystery, flooding in from the farther, dark, mysterious ocean, all but submerged lower Manhattan; high and beautiful above these waves of shadow, triumphing over them and accentuating them, shone a star from the top of the Woolworth building; flecks of light indicated the noble curve of that great bridge which soars like a song in stone and steel above the shifting waters; the river itself was dotted here and there with moving lights; it was a nocturne waiting for its Whistler; here sea and city met in glamour and beauty and illusion.
But it was not the city which called to Cleggett. It was the sea.
A breeze blew in from the bay and stirred his window curtains; it was salt in his nostrils.... And, staring out into the breathing night, he saw a succession of pictures....
Stripped to a pair of cotton trousers, with a dripping cutlass in one hand and a Colt's revolver in the other, an adventurer at the head of a bunch of dogs as desperate as himself fought his way across the reeking decks of a Chinese junk, to close in single combat with a gigantic one-eyed pirate who stood by the helm with a ring of dead men about him and a great two-handed sword upheaved.... This adventurer was—Clement J. Cleggett! ...
Through the phosphorescent waters of a summer sea, reckless of cruising sharks, a sailor's clasp knife in his teeth, glided noiselessly a strong swimmer; he reached the side of a schooner yacht from which rose the wild cries of beauty in distress, swarmed aboard with a muttered prayer that was half a curse, swept the water from his eyes, and with pale, stern face went about the bloody business of a hero.... Again, this adventurer was Clement J. Cleggett!
Cleggett turned from the window.
"I'll do it," he cried. "I'll do it!"
He grasped a cutlass.
"Pirates!" he cried, swinging it about his head. "That's the thing—pirates and the China Seas!"
And with one frightful sweep of his blade he disemboweled a sofa cushion; the second blow clove his typewriting machine clean to the tattoo marks upon its breast; the third decapitated a sectional bookcase.
But what is a sectional bookcase to a man with $500,000 in his pocket and the Seven Seas before him?
A SCHOONER, A SKIPPER, AND A SKULL
It was a few days later, when a goodly number of the late Uncle Tom's easily negotiable securities had been converted into cash, and the cash deposited in the bank, that Cleggett bought the Jasper B.
He discovered her near the town of Fairport, Long Island, one afternoon. The vessel lay in one of the canals which reach inward from the Great South Bay. She looked as if she might have been there for some time. Evidently, at one period, the Jasper B. had played a part in some catch-coin scheme of summer entertainment; a scheme that had failed. Little trace of it remained except a rotting wooden platform, roofless and built close to the canal, and a gangway arrangement from this platform to the deck of the vessel.
The Jasper B. had seen better days; even a landsman could tell that. But from the blunt bows to the weather-scarred stern, on which the name was faintly discernible, the hulk had an air about it, the air of something that has lived; it was eloquent of a varied and interesting past.
And, to complete the picture, there sat on her deck a gnarled and brown old man. He smoked a short pipe which was partially hidden in a tangle of beard that had once been yellowish red but was now streaked with dirty white; he fished earnestly without apparent result, and from time to time he spat into the water. Cleggett's nimble fancy at once put rings into his ears and dowered him with a history.
Cleggett noticed, as he walked aboard the vessel, that she seemed to be jammed not merely against, but into the bank of the canal. She was nearer the shore than he had ever seen a vessel of any sort. Some weeds grew in soil that had lodged upon the deck; in a couple of places they sprang as high as the rail. Weeds grew on shore; in fact, it would have taken a better nautical authority than Cleggett to tell offhand just exactly where the land ended and the Jasper B. began. She seemed to be possessed of an odd stability; although the tide was receding the Jasper B. was not perceptibly agitated by the motion of the water. Of anchor, or mooring chains or cables of any sort, there was no sign.
The brown old man—he was brown not only as to the portions of his skin visible through his hair and whiskers, but also as to coat and trousers and worn boots and cap and pipe and flannel shirt—turned around as Cleggett stepped aboard, and stared at the invader with a shaggy-browed intensity that was embarrassing.
It occurred to Cleggett that the old man might own the vessel and make a home of her.
"I beg your pardon if I am intruding," ventured Cleggett, politely, "but do you live here?"
The brown old man made an indeterminate motion of his head, without otherwise replying at once. Then he took a cake of dark, hard-looking tobacco from the starboard pocket of his trousers and a clasp knife from the port side. He shaved off a fresh pipeful, rolled it in his palms, knocked the old ash from his pipe, refilled and relighted it, all with the utmost deliberation. Then he cut another small piece of tobacco from the "plug" and popped it into his mouth. Cleggett perceived with surprise that he smoked and chewed tobacco at the same time. As he thus refreshed himself he glanced from time to time at Cleggett as if unfavorably impressed. Finally he closed his knife with a click and suddenly piped out in a high, shrill voice:
"No! Do you?"
"I—er—do I what?" It had taken the old man so long to answer that Cleggett had forgotten his own question, and the shrill fierceness of the voice was disconcerting.
He regarded Cleggett contemptuously, spat on the deck, and then demanded truculently:
"D'ye want to buy any seed potatoes?"
"Why—er, no," said Cleggett.
"Humph!" said the brown one, with the air of meaning that it was only to be expected of an idiot like Cleggett that he would NOT want to buy any seed potatoes. But after a further embarrassing silence he relented enough to give Cleggett another chance.
"You want some seed corn!" he announced rather than asked.
"Tomato plants!" shrilled the brown one, as if daring him to deny it.
He turned his back on Cleggett, as if he had lost interest, and began to wind up his fishing line on a squeaky reel.
"Who owns this boat?" Cleggett touched him on the elbow.
"Thinkin' of buyin' her?"
"Perhaps. Who owns her?"
"What would you do with her?"
"I might fix her up and sail her. Who owns her?"
"She'll take a sight o' fixin'."
"No doubt. Who did you say owned her?"
The old man, who had finished with the rusty reel, deigned to look at Cleggett again.
"Dunno as I said."
"But who DOES own her?"
"She's stuck fast in the mud and her rudder's gone."
"I see you know a lot about ships," said Cleggett, deferentially, giving up the attempt to find out who owned her. "I picked you out for an old sailor the minute I saw you." He thought he detected a kindlier gleam in the old man's eye as that person listened to these words.
"The' ain't a stick in her," said the ancient fisherman. "She's got no wheel and she's got no nothin'. She used to be used as a kind of a barroom and dancin' platform till the fellow that used her for such went out o' business."
He paused, and then added:
"What might your name be?"
He appeared to reflect on the name. But he said:
"If you was to ask me, I'd say her timbers is sound."
"Tell me," said Cleggett, "was she a deep-water ship? Could a ship like her sail around the world, for instance? I can tell that you know all about ships."
Something like a grin of gratified vanity began to show on the brown one's features. He leaned back against the rail and looked at Cleggett with the dawn of approval in his eyes.
"My name's Abernethy," he suddenly volunteered. "Isaiah Abernethy. The fellow that owns her is Goldberg. Abraham Goldberg. Real estate man."
"Cleggett began to get an insight into Mr. Abernethy's peculiar ideas concerning conversation. A native spirit of independence prevented Mr. Abernethy from dealing with an interlocutor's remarks in the sequence that seemed to be desired by the interlocutor. He took a selection of utterances into his mind, rolled them over together, and replied in accordance with some esoteric system of his own.
"Where is Mr. Goldberg's office?" asked Cleggett.
"You've come to the proper party to get set right about ships," said Mr. Abernethy, complacently. "Either you was sent to me by someone that knows I'm the proper party to set you right about ships, or else you got an eye in your own head that can recognize a man that comes of a seafarin' fambly."
"You ARE an old sailor, then? Maybe you are an old skipper? Perhaps you're one of the retired Long Island sea captains we're always hearing so much about?"
"So fur as sailin' her around the world is concerned," said Mr. Abernethy, glancing over the hulk, "if she was fixed up she could be sailed anywheres—anywheres!"
"What would you call her—a schooner?"
"This here Goldberg," said Mr. Abernethy, "has his office over town right accost from the railroad depot."
And with that he put his fishing pole over his shoulder and prepared to leave—a tall, strong-looking old man with long legs and knotty wrists, who moved across the deck with surprising spryness. At the gangplank he sang out without turning his head:
"As far as my bein' a skipper's concerned, they's no law agin' callin' me Cap'n Abernethy if you want to. I come of a seafarin' fambly."
He crossed the platform; when he had gone thirty yards further he stopped, turned around, and shouted:
"Is she a schooner, hey? You want to know is she a schooner? If you was askin' me, she ain't NOTHIN' now. But if you was to ask me again I might say she COULD be schooner-rigged. Lots of boats IS schooner-rigged."
There are affinities between atom and atom, between man and woman, between man and man. There are also affinities between men and things-if you choose to call a ship, which has a spirit of its own, merely a thing. There must have been this affinity between Cleggett and the Jasper B. Only an unusual person would have thought of buying her. But Cleggett loved her at first sight.
Within an hour after he had first seen her he was in Mr. Abraham Goldberg's office.
As he was concluding his purchase—Mr. Goldberg having phoned Cleggett's bankers—he was surprised to discover that he was buying about half an acre of Long Island real estate along with her. For that matter he had thought it a little odd in the first place when he had been directed to a real estate agent as the owner of the craft. But as he knew very little about business, and nothing at all about ships, he assumed that perhaps it was quite the usual thing for real estate dealers to buy and sell ships abutting on the coast of Long Island.
"I had only intended to buy the vessel," said Cleggett. "I don't know that I'll be able to use the land."
Mr. Goldberg looked at Cleggett with a slight start, as if he were not sure that he had heard aright, and opened his mouth as if to say something. But nothing came of it—not just then, at least. When the last signature had been written, and Clegget's check had been folded by Mr. Goldberg's plump, bejeweled fingers and put into Mr. Goldberg's pocketbook, Mr. Goldberg remarked:
"You say you can't use the ship?"
"No; the land. I'm surprised to find that the land goes with the ship."
"Why, it doesn't," said Mr. Goldberg. "It's the ship that goes with the land. She was on the land when I bought the plot, and I just left her there. Nobody's paid any attention to her for years."
The words "on the land" grated on Cleggett.
"You mean on the water, don't you?"
"In the mud, then," suggested Mr. Goldberg.
"But she'll sail all right," said Cleggett.
"I suppose if she was decorated up with sails and things she'd sail. Figuring on sailing her anywhere in particular?"
Subtly irritated, Cleggett answered: "Oh, no, no! Not anywhere in particular!"
"Going to live on her this summer?—Outdoor sleeping room, and all that?"
"I'm thinking of it."
"You could turn her into a house boat easy enough. I had a friend who turned an old barge like that into a house boat and had a lot of fun with her."
"Barge?" Cleggett rose and buttoned his coat; the conversation was somehow growing more and more distasteful to him. "You wouldn't call the Jasper B. a BARGE, would you?"
"Well, you wouldn't call her a YACHT, would you?" said Mr. Goldberg.
"Perhaps not," admitted Cleggett, "perhaps not. She's more like a bark than a yacht."
"A bark? I dunno. Always thought a bark was bigger. A scow's more her size, ain't it?"
"Scow?" Cleggett frowned. The Jasper B. a scow! "You mean a schooner, don't you?"
"Schooner?" Mr. Goldberg grinned good-naturedly at his departing customer. "A kind of a schooner-scow, huh?"
"No, sir, a schooner!" said Cleggett, reddening, and turning in the doorway. "Understand me, Mr. Goldberg, a schooner, sir! A schooner!"
And standing with a frown on his face until every vestige of the smile had died from Mr. Goldberg's lips, Cleggett repeated once more: "A schooner, Mr. Goldberg!"
"Yes, sir—there's no doubt of it—a schooner, Mr. Cleggett," said Mr. Goldberg, turning pale and backing away from the door.
The ordinary man inspects a house or a horse first and buys it, or fails to buy it, afterward; but genius scorns conventions; Cleggett was not an ordinary man; he often moved straight towards his object by inspiration; great poets and great adventurers share this faculty; Cleggett paid for the Jasper B. first and went back to inspect his purchase later.
The vessel lay about two miles from the center of Fairport. He could get within half a mile of it by trolley. Nevertheless, when he reached the Jasper B. again after leaving Mr. Goldberg it was getting along towards dusk.
He first entered the cabin. It was of a good size and divided into several compartments. But it was in a state of dilapidation and littered with a jumble of odds and ends which looked like the ruins of a barroom. As he turned to ascend to the deck again, after possibly five minutes, intending to take a look at the forecastle next, he heard the sound of a motor.
Looking out of the cabin he saw a taxicab approaching the boat from the direction of Fairport. It was a large machine, but it was overloaded with seven or eight men. It stopped within twenty yards of the vessel, and two men got out, one of them evidently a person who imposed some sort of leadership on the rest of the party. This was a tall fellow, with a slouching gait and round shoulders. And yet, to judge from his movements, he was both quick and powerful. The other was a short, stout man with a commonplace, broad red face and flaxen hair. The two stood for a moment in colloquy in the road that led from Fairport proper to the bayside, passing near the Jasper B., and Cleggett heard the shorter of the two men say:
"I'm sure I saw somebody aboard of her."
"How long ago, Heinrich?" asked the tall man.
"An hour or so," said Heinrich.
"It was old man Abernethy; he's harmless," said the tall fellow. "He's the only person that's been aboard her in years."
"There was someone else," persisted Heinrich. "Someone who was talking to Abernethy."
The tall man mumbled something about having been a fool not to buy her before this; Cleggett did not catch all of the remark. Then the tall fellow said:
"We'll go aboard, Heinrich, and take a look around."
With that they advanced towards the vessel. Cleggett stepped on deck from the cabin companionway, and both men stopped short at the sight of him, Heinrich obviously a trifle confused, but the other one in no wise abashed. He made no attempt, this tall fellow, to give the situation a casual turn. What he did was to stand and stare at Cleggett, candidly, and with more than a touch of insolence, as if trying to beat down Cleggett's gaze.
Cleggett, staring in his turn, perceived that the tall man, ungainly as he was, affected a bizarre individualism in the matter of dress. His clothing cried out, rather than suggested, that it was expensive. His feet were cased in button shoes with fancy tops; his waistcoat, cut in the extreme of style, revealed that little strip of white which falsely advertises a second waistcoat beneath, but in his case the strip was too broad. There were diamonds on the fingers of both powerful hands. But the thing that grated particularly upon Cleggett was the character of the man's scarfpin. It was by far the largest ornament of the sort that Cleggett had ever seen; he was near enough to the fellow to make out that it had been carved from a piece of solid ivory in the likeness of a skull. In the eyeholes of the skull two opals flamed with an evil levin. The man suggested to Cleggett, at first glance, a bartender who had come into money, or a drayman who had been promoted to an important office in a labor union and was spending the most of a considerable salary on his person. And yet his face, more closely observed, somehow gave the lie to his clothes, for it was not lacking in the signs of intelligence. In spite of his taste, or rather lack of taste, there was no hint of weakness in his physiognomy. His features were harsh, bold, predatory; a slightly yellowish tinge about the temples and cheek bones, suggestive of the ivory ornament, proclaimed a bilious temperament.
Cleggett, both puzzled and nettled by the man's persistent gaze, advanced towards him across the deck of the Jasper B. and down the gangplank, hand on hip, and called out sharply:
"Well, my friend, you will know me the next time you see me!"
The tall man turned without a word and walked back to the taxicab, the occupants of which had watched this singular duel of looks in silence. In the act of getting into the machine he face about again and said, with a lift of the lip that showed two long, protruding canine teeth of an almost saffron hue:
"I WILL know you again."
He spoke with a kind of cold hostility that gave his words all the effect of a threat. Cleggett felt the blood leap faster through his veins; he tingled with a fierce, illogical desire to strike the fellow on the mouth; his soul stirred with a premonition of conflict, and the desire for it. And yet, on the surface of things at least, the man had been nothing more than rude; as Cleggett watched the machine make off towards an isolated road house on the bayside he wondered at the quick intensity of his own antipathy. Unconsciously he flexed his wrist in his characteristic gesture. Scarcely knowing that he spoke, he murmured:
"That man gets on my nerves."
That man was destined to do something more than get on Cleggett's nerves before the adventures of the Jasper B. were ended.
A BAD MAN TO CROSS
The isolated road house on the bay was a nondescript, jumbled, dilapidated-looking assemblage of structures, rather than one house. It was known simply as Morris's. It stood a few hundred yards west of the end of the canal which opened into the bay and was about a quarter of a mile from the Jasper B.
The canal itself was broad, straight, low-banked, and about three-quarters of a mile in length. The town had thrown out a few ranks of cottages in the direction of the canal. But these were all summer bungalows, occupied only from June until the middle of September. The solider and more permanent part of Fairport was well withdrawn from the sandy, sedgy stretches that bordered on tidewater.
At the north and inland terminus of the quiet strip of water in which the Jasper B. reposed was a collection of buildings including bathhouses, a boathouse, and a sort of shed where "soft drinks" and sea food were served during the bathing season. This place was known as Parker's Beach and was open only during the summer.
Morris's was of quite a different character from Parker's Beach. One could bathe at Morris's, but the beach near by was not particularly good. One could hire boats there and buy bait for a fishing trip. In one of its phases it made some pretensions to being a summer hotel. It had an extensive barroom. There was a dancing floor, none too smooth. There were long verandahs on three sides. That on the south side was built on piles' people ate and drank there in the summer; beneath it the water swished and gurgled when the tide was in.
The townspeople of Fairport, or the more respectable ones, kept away from Morris's, summer and winter. Summer transients, inhabitants of the bungalows during the bathing season, patronized the place. But most of the patronage at all seasons seemed to consist of automobile parties from the city; people apparently drawn from all classes, or eluding definite classification entirely. In the bleakest season there was always a little stir of dubious activity about Morris's. In the summer it impressed you with its look of cheapness. In the winter, squatted by the cold water amidst its huddle of unpainted outhouses, at the end of a stretch of desolate beach, the fancy gave Morris's a touch of the sinister.
Cleggett was anxious to get the Jasper B. into seaworthy condition as soon as possible. It occurred to him that the employment of expert advice should be his first step, and early the next morning he hired Captain Abernethy. That descendant of a seafaring family, though he felt it incumbent upon him to offer objections that had to be overcome with a great show of respect, was really overjoyed at the commission. He left his own cottage a mile or so away and took up his abode in the forecastle at once. By nine o'clock that morning Cleggett had a force of workmen renovating both cabin and forecastle, putting the cook's galley into working order, and cleansing the decks of soil and sand. That night Cleggett spent on the vessel, with Captain Abernethy.
By Saturday of the same week—Cleggett had bought the vessel on Wednesday—he was able to take up his abode in the cabin with his books and arms about him. To his library he had added a treatise on navigation. And, reflecting that his firearms were worthless, considered as modern weapons, he also purchased a score of .44 caliber Colt's revolvers and automatic pistols of the latest pattern, and a dozen magazine rifles.
He brought on board at the same time, for cook and cabin boy, a Japanese lad, who said he was a sailor, and who called himself Yoshahira Kuroki, and a Greek, George Stefanopolous.
The latter was a handsome, rather burly fellow of about thirty, a man with a kindling eye and a habit of boasting of his ancestors.
Among them, he declared, was Leonidas, the hero of Thermopylae. George admitted he was not a sailor, but professed a willingness to learn, and looked so capable, as he squared his bulky shoulders and twisted his fine black mustache, that Cleggett engaged him, taking him immediately from the dairy lunch room in which he had been employed. George's idea was to work his way back to Greece, he said, on the Jasper B. If she did not sail for Greece for some time, George was willing to wait; he was patient; sometime, no doubt, she would touch the shores of Greece.
The hold of the Jasper B. Cleggett and Captain Abernethy found to be in a chaotic state. Casks, barrels, empty bottles by the hundred, ruins of benches, tables, chairs, old nondescript pieces of planking, broken crates and boxes, were flung together there in moldering confusion. It was evident that after the scheme of using the Jasper B.'s hulk as one of the attractions of a pleasure resort had failed, all the debris of the failure had simply been thrown pell-mell into the hold. Cleggett and Captain Abernethy decided that the vessel, which was stepped for two masts, should be rigged as a schooner. The Captain was soon busy securing estimates on the amount of work that would have to be done, and the cost of it. The pile of rubbish in the hold, which filled it to such an extent that Cleggett gave up the attempt to examine it, was to be removed by the same contractor who put in the sticks.
All the activity on board and about the Jasper B. had not gone on without attracting the attention of Morris's. Cleggett noticed that there was usually someone in the neighborhood of that dubious resort cocking an eye in the direction of the vessel. Indeed, the interest became so pronounced, and seemed of a quality so different from ordinary frank rustic curiosity, that it looked very like espionage. It had struck Cleggett that Morris's seemed at all times to have more than its share of idlers and hangers-on; men who appeared to make the place their headquarters and were not to be confused with the occasional off-season parties from the city.
On Sunday morning Cleggett was awakened by Captain Abernethy, who announced:
"Strange craft lookin' us over mighty close, sir."
"A strange craft? Where is she?" Cleggett was instantly alert.
"She's a house boat, if you was to ask me," said the brown old man—in a new brown suit and with his whiskers newly trimmed he gave the impression of having been overhauled and freshly painted.
"Where is she?" repeated Cleggett, beginning to get into his clothes.
"She must 'a' sneaked up an' anchored mighty early this mornin'," pursued Cap'n Abernethy, true to his conversational principles.
"Is she in the bay or in the canal?"
"She looks like a mighty toney kind o' vessel," said Cap'n Abernethy. "If I was to make a guess I'd say she was one of them craft that sails herself along when she wants to with one of these newfangled gasoline engines."
"She wasn't towed here then?" Cleggett gave up the attempt to learn from the Captain just where the house boat was.
"She lies in the canal," said the Cap'n. Having established the point that he could not be FORCED to tell where she lay, he volunteered the information as a personal favor from one gentleman to another. "She lies ahead of us in the canal, a p'int or so off our port bow, I should say. And if you was to ask me I'd say she wasn't layin' there for any good purpose."
"What do you think she's up to? What makes you suspicious of her?"
"No, sir, she wasn't towed in," said Cap'n Abernethy, "or I'd 'a' heard a tug towin' her. Comin' of a seafarin' fambly I'm a light sleeper by nature."
Cleggett finished dressing and went on deck. Sure enough, towards the south end of the canal, three or four hundred yards south of the Jasper B., and about the same distance east of Morris's, was anchored a house boat. She was painted a slaty gray color. As Cleggett looked at her a man stepped up on the deck, and, putting a binocular glass to his eye, began to study the Jasper B. After a few minutes of steady scrutiny this person turned his attention to Morris's.
Looking towards Morris's himself Cleggett saw a man standing on the east verandah of that resort intently scanning the house boat through a glass. Cleggett went into the cabin and got his own glass.
Presently the man on Morris's verandah and the man of the house boat ceased to scrutinize each other and both turned their glasses upon the Jasper B. But the moment they perceived that Cleggett was provided with a glass each turned hastily and entered, the one Morris's place, and the other the cabin of the house boat. But Cleggett had already recognized the man at Morris's as the stoop-shouldered man of tall stature and fanciful dress who had tried to stare him down some days before.
As for the man on the house boat (which, as Cleggett had made out, was named the Annabel Lee), there was something vaguely familiar about his general appearance which puzzled and tantalized our hero.
As the morning wore on Cleggett became certain that the Jasper B. was closely watched by both the Annabel Lee and Morris's, although the watchers avoided showing themselves plainly. A slightly agitated blind at a second story window over the verandah showed him where the tall man or one of his associates gazed out from Morris's; and from a porthole of the Annabel Lee he could see a glass thrust forth from time to time. It was evident to him that the Annabel Lee and Morris's were suspicious of each other, and that both suspected the Jasper B. But of what did they suspect Cleggett? What intention did they impute to him? He could only wonder.
Through the entire morning he was conscious of the continuance of this watch. He thought it ceased about luncheon time; but at two in the afternoon he was certain that, if so, it had been resumed.
Cleggett, innocent and honorable, began to get impatient of this persistent scrutiny. And in spite of his courage a vague uneasiness began to possess him. Towards the end of the afternoon he called his little company aft and spoke to them.
"My men," he said, "I do not like the attitude of our neighbors. To put it briefly, there may be squalls ahead of the Jasper B. This is a wild and desolate coast, comparatively speaking. Strange things have happened to innocent people before this along the shores of Long Island. It is well to be prepared. I intend to serve out to each of you two hundred cartridges and a .44 caliber Colt's. In case of an attempt to board, you may find these cutlasses handy.
"Cap'n Abernethy, in all nautical matters you will still be in command of the ship, but in case of a military demonstration, all of you will look to me for leadership. You may go now and rig up a jury mast and bend the American colors to the peak—and in case of blows, may God defend the right! I know I do not need to exhort you to do your duty!"
As Cleggett spoke the spirit which animated him seemed to communicate itself to his listeners. Their eyes kindled and the keen joy that gallant men always feel in the anticipation of conflict flushed their faces.
"I am a son of Leonidas," said George Stefanopolous, proudly. And he secreted not merely one, but two, of Cleggett's daggers about his body, in addition to the revolver given him. As George had already possessed a dagger or two and an automatic pistol, it was now almost impossible for him to lay his hand casually on any part of his person without its coming into contact with a deadly weapon ready for instant use. Cap'n Abernethy picked up a cutlass, "hefted" it thoughtfully, rolled his sleeve back upon a lean and sinewy old arm that was tanned until it looked like a piece of weathered oak, spat upon his hand and whirled the weapon till it whistled in the air. "I come of a seafarin' fambly," said the Cap'n, sententiously.
As for Kuroki, he said nothing. He was not given to speech at any time. But he picked up a Malay kris and ran his thumb along the edge of it critically like a man to whom such a weapon is not altogether unfamiliar. A pleased smile stole over his face; he handled the wicked knife almost affectionately; he put it down with a little loving pat.
"Brave boys," murmured Cleggett, as he watched them. He smiled, but at the same time something like a tear blurred his eloquent and magnetic eye for a moment. "Brave boys," he murmured, "we were made for each other!"
The display of the American flag by the Jasper B. had an effect that could not have been foreseen.
Almost immediately the Annabel Lee herself flung an exactly similar American flag to the breeze. But a strange thing happened at Morris's. An American flag was first hung from an upper window over the east verandah. Then, after a moment, it was withdrawn. Then a red flag was put out. But almost immediately Cleggett saw a man rip the red flag from its fastenings and fling it to the ground.
Cleggett, resorting to his glass, perceived that it was the tall man with the stoop shoulders and incongruous clothing who had torn down the red flag. He was now in violent altercation with the man who had hung it out—the fellow whom he had called Heinrich some days before.
As Cleggett watched, the two men came to blows; then they clinched and struggled, swaying back and forth within the open window, like a moving picture in a frame. Suddenly the tall fellow seemed to get the upper hand; exerting all his strength, he bent the other backward over the window sill. The two contending figures writhed desperately a moment and then the tall man shifted one powerful, sinewy hand to Heinrich's throat.
The binoculars brought the thing so near to Cleggett that it seemed as if he could touch the contorted faces; he could see the tall man's neck muscles work as if that person were panting; he could see the signs of suffocation in Heinrich's countenance. The fact that he saw so plainly and yet could hear no sound of the struggle somehow added to its horror.
All at once the tall man put his knee upon the other's chest, and flung his weight upon Heinrich with a vehement spring. Then he tumbled Heinrich out of the window onto the roof of the verandah.
He stepped out of the window himself, picked Heinrich up with an ease that testified to his immense strength, and flung him over the edge of the verandah onto the ground. A few moments later a couple of men ran out from Morris's, busied themselves about reviving the fellow, and helped him into the house. If Heinrich was not badly injured, certainly all the fight had been taken out of him for one day.
With Heinrich thus disposed of, the tall man turned composedly to the task of putting out the American flag again. Through the glass Cleggett perceived that his face was twisted by a peculiar smile; a smile of joyous malevolence.
"A bad man to cross, that tall man," said Cleggett, musingly. And indeed, his violence with Heinrich had seemed out of all proportion to the apparent grounds of the quarrel; for it was evident to Cleggett that Heinrich and the tall man had differed merely about the policy of displaying the red flag. "A man determined to have his way," mused Cleggett. "If he and I should meet———" Cleggett did not finish the sentence in words, but his hand closed over the butt of his revolver.
His musing was interrupted by the noise of an approaching automobile. Turning, he saw a vehicle, the rather long body of which was covered so that it resembled a merchant's delivery wagon, coming along the road from Fairport.
It stopped opposite the Jasper B., and from the seat beside the driver leaped lightly the most beautiful woman Cleggett had ever seen, and walked hesitatingly but gracefully towards him.
She was agitated. She was, in fact, sobbing; and a Pomeranian dog which she carried in her arms was whimpering excitedly as if in sympathy with its mistress. Cleggett, soul of chivalry that he was, born cavalier of beauty in distress, removed his hat and advanced to meet her.
BEAUTY IN DISTRESS
"Can you tell me where I can get some ice? Can you sell me some ice?" cried the lady excitedly, when she was still some yards distant from Cleggett.
"Ice?" The request was so unusual that Cleggett was not certain that he had understood.
"Yes, ice! Ice!" There was no mistaking the genuine character of her eagerness; if she had been begging for her life she could not have been more in earnest. "Don't tell me that you have none on your boat. Don't tell me that! Don't tell me that!"
And suddenly, like a woman who has borne all that she can bear, she burst undisguisedly into a paroxysm of weeping. Cleggett, stirred by her beauty and her trouble, stepped nearer to her, for she swayed with her emotion as if she were about to fall. Impulsively she put a hand on his arm, and the Pomeranian, dropped unceremoniously to the ground, sprang at Cleggett snarling and snapping as if sure he were the author of the lady's misfortunes.
"You will think I am mad," said the lady, endeavoring to control her tears, "but I MUST have ice. Don't tell me that you have no ice!"
"My dear lady," said Cleggett, unconsciously clasping, in his anxiety to reassure her, the hand that she had laid upon his arm, "I have ice—you shall have all the ice you want!"
"Oh," she murmured, leaning towards him, "you cannot know——"
But the rest was lost in an incoherent babble, and with a deep sigh she fell lax into Cleggett's arms. The reaction from despair had been too much for her; it had come too suddenly; at the first word of reassurance, at the first ray of dawning hope, she had fainted. High-strung natures, intrepid in the face of danger, are apt to such collapses in the moment of deliverance; and, whatever the nature of the lady's trouble, Cleggett gained from her swoon a sharp sense of its intensity.
Cleggett was not used to having beautiful women faint and fall into his arms, and he was too much of a gentleman to hold one there a single moment longer than was absolutely necessary. He turned his head rather helplessly towards the vehicle in which the lady had arrived. To his consternation and surprise it had turned around and the chauffeur was in the act of starting back towards Fairport. But he had left behind him a large zinc bucket with a cover on it, a long unpainted, oblong box, and two steamer trunks; on the oblong box sat a short, squat young man in an attitude of deep dejection.
"Hi there! Stop!" cried Cleggett to the chauffeur. That person stopped his machine. He did more. He arose in the seat, applied his thumb to his nose, and vigorously and vivaciously waggled his outspread fingers at Cleggett in a gesture, derisive and inelegant, that is older than the pyramids. Then he started his machine again and made all speed in the direction of Fairport.
"I say, you, come here!" Cleggett called to the squat young man. "Can't you see that the lady's fainted?"
The squat young man, thus exhorted, sadly approached.
"Can't you see the lady has fainted?" repeated Cleggett.
"Skoits often does," said the squat young man, looking over the situation in a detached, judicial manner. He spoke out of the left corner of his mouth in a hoarse voice, without moving the right side of his face at all, and he seemed to feel that the responsibility of the situation was Cleggett's.
"But, don't you know her? Didn't you come here with her?"
The squat young man appeared to debate some moral issue inwardly for a moment. And then, speaking this time out of the right corner of his mouth, which was now nearer Cleggett, without disturbing the left half of his face, he pointed towards the oblong box and murmured huskily: "That's my job." He went and sat down on the box again.
Without more ado Cleggett lifted the lady and bore her onto the Jasper B. She was a heavy burden, but Cleggett declined the assistance of Cap'n Abernethy and George the Greek, who had come tardily out of the forecastle and now offered their assistance.
"Get a bottle of wine," he told Yosh, as he passed the Japanese on the deck, "and then make some tea."
Cleggett laid the lady on a couch in the cabin, and then lighted a lamp, as it got dark early in these quarters. While he waited for Yoshahira Kuroki and the wine, he looked at her. In her appealing helplessness she looked even more beautiful than she had at first. She was a blonde, with eyebrows and lashes darker than her hair; and, even in her swoon, Cleggett could see that she was of the thin-skinned, high-colored type. Her eyes, as he had seen before she swooned, were of a deep, dark violet color. She was no chit of a girl, but a mature woman, tall and splendid in the noble fullness of her contours. The high nose spoke of love of activity and energy of character. The full mouth indicated warmth of heart; the chin was of that sort which we have been taught to associate with determination.
The Japanese brought the wine, and Cleggett poured a few spoonfuls down the lady's throat. Presently she sighed and stirred and began to show signs of returning animation.
The Pomeranian, which had followed them into the cabin, and which now lay whimpering at her feet, also seemed to feel that she was awakening, and, crawling higher, began to lick one of her hands.
"Make some tea, Yosh," said Cleggett. "What is it?"
This last was addressed to the lady herself. Her eyes had opened for a fleeting instant as Cleggett spoke to the Japanese, and her lips had moved. Cleggett bent his head nearer, while Yosh picked up the dog, which violently objected, and asked again: "What is it?"
"Orange pekoe, please," the lady murmured, dreamily.
And then she sat up with a start, struggled to recover herself, and looked about her wildly.
"Where am I?" she cried. "What has happened?" She passed her hand across her brow, frowning.
"You fainted, madam," said Cleggett.
"Oh!" Suddenly recollection came to her, and her anxieties rushed upon her once more. "The ice! The ice!" She sprang to her feet, and grasped Cleggett by both shoulders, searching his face with eager eyes. "You did not lie to me, did you? You promised me ice! Where is the ice?"
"You shall have the ice," said Cleggett, "at once."
"Thank God!" she said. And then: "Where are Elmer and the box?"
"Elmer? Oh, the short man! On shore. I believe that he and your chauffeur had some sort of an altercation, for the chauffeur went off and left him."
"Yes," she said, simply, as they passed up the companionway to the deck together, "that man, the driver, refused to bring us any farther."
Cleggett must have looked a little blank at that, for she suddenly threw back her head and laughed at him. And then, sobering instantly, she called to the squat young man:
"Elmer! Oh, Elmer! You may bring the boxes on board!" She turned to Cleggett: "He may, mayn't he? Thank you—I was sure you would say he might. And if one of your men could just give him a lift? And—the ice?"
"George," called Cleggett, "help the man get the boxes aboard. Kuroki, bring fifty pounds of ice on deck."
She sighed as she heard him give these orders, but it was a sigh of satisfaction, and she smiled at Cleggett as she signed. Sometimes a great deal can happen in a very short space of time. Ten minutes before, Cleggett had never seen this lady, and now he was giving orders at her merest suggestion. But in those ten minutes he had seen her weep, he had seen her faint, he had seen her recover herself; he had seen her emerge from the depths of despair into something more like self-control; he had carried her in his arms, she had laughed at him, she had twice impulsively grasped him by the arm, she had smiled at him three times, she had sighed twice, she had frowned once; she had swept upon him bringing with her an impression of the mysterious. Many men are married to women for years without seeing their wives display so many and such varied phases; to Cleggett it seemed not so much that he was making a new acquaintance as renewing one that had been broken off suddenly at some distant date. Cleggett, like the true-hearted gentleman and born romanticist that he was, resolved to serve her without question until such time as she chose to make known to him her motives for her actions.
"Do you know," she said, softly and gravely to Cleggett as George and Elmer deposited the oblong box upon a spot which she indicated near the cabin, "I have met very few men in my life who are capable of what you are doing?"
"I?" said Cleggett, surprised. "I have done nothing."
"You have found a woman in a strange position—an unusual position, indeed!—and you have helped her without persecuting her with questions."
"It is nothing," murmured Cleggett.
"Would you think me too impulsive," she said, with a rare smile, "if I told you that you are the sort of man whom women are ready to trust implicitly almost at first sight?"
Cleggett did not permit himself to speak for fear that the thrill which her words imparted to him would carry him too far. He bowed.
"But I think you mentioned tea?" she said. "Did I hear you say it was orange pekoe, or did I dream that? And couldn't we have it on deck?"
While Kuroki was bringing a table and chairs on deck and busying himself about that preparation of tea, Cleggett watched Elmer, the squat young man, with a growing curiosity. George and Cap'n Abernethy were also watching Elmer from a discreet distance. Even Kuroki, silent, swift, and well-trained Kuroki, could not but steal occasional glances at Elmer. Had Cleggett been of a less lofty and controlled spirit he would certainly have asked questions.
For Elmer, having uncovered the zinc can and taken from it a hammer and a large tin funnel, proceeded to break the big chunk of ice which Kuroki had brought him, into half a dozen smaller pieces. These smaller lumps, with the exception of two, he put into the zinc bucket, wrapped around with pieces of coffee sacking. Then he put the cover on the bucket to exclude the air.
The zinc bucket was thus a portable refrigerator, or rather, ice house.
Taking one of the lumps of ice which he had left out of the zinc bucket for immediate use, Elmer carefully and methodically broke it into still smaller pieces—pieces about the size of an English walnut, but irregular in shape. Then he inserted the tin funnel into a small hole in the uppermost surface of the unpainted, oblong box and dropped in twenty or more of the little pieces of ice. When a piece proved to be too big to go through the funnel Elmer broke it again.
Cleggett noticed that there were five of these small holes in the box, and that Elmer was slowly working his way down the length of it from hole to hole, sitting astride of it the while.
From the way in which he worked, and the care with which he conserved every smallest particle of ice, Elmer's motto seemed to be: "Haste not, waste not." But he did not appear to derive any great satisfaction from his task, let alone joy. In fact, Elmer seemed to be a joyless individual; one who habitually looked forward to the worst. On his broad face, of the complexion described in police reports as "pasty," melancholy sat enthroned. His nose was flat and broad, and flat and broad were his cheek bones, too. His hair was cut very short everywhere except in front; in front it hung down to his eyebrows in a straggling black fringe or "bang." Not that the fringe would have covered the average person's forehead; this "bang" was not long; but the truth is that Elmer's forehead was lower than the average person's and therefore easily covered. He had what is known in certain circles as a cauliflower, or chrysanthemum, ear.
But melancholy as he looked, Elmer had evidently had his moments of struggle against dejection. One of these moments had been when he bought the clothes he was wearing. His hat had a bright, red and black band around it; his tweed suit was of a startling light gray, marked off into checks with stripes of green; his waistcoat was of lavender, and his hose were likewise of lavender, but red predominated in both his shirt and his necktie. His collar was too high for his short neck, and seemed to cause him discomfort. But this attempt at gayety of dress was of no avail; one felt at once that it was a surface thing and had no connection with Elmer's soul; it stood out in front of the background of his sorrowful personality, accentuating the gloom, as a blossom may grow upon a bleak rock. As Elmer carefully dropped ice, piece by piece, into the oblong box, progressing slowly from hole to hole, Cleggett thought he had never seen a more depressed young man.
Captain Abernethy approached Cleggett. There was hesitation in the brown old man's feet, there was doubt upon his wrinkled brow, but there was the consciousness of duty in the poise of his shoulders, there was determination in his eyes.
The blonde lady laughed softly as the sailing-master of the Jasper B. saluted the owner of the vessel.
"He is going to tell you," she said to Cleggett, including the Captain himself in her flashing look and her remark, "he is going to tell you that you really should get rid of me and my boxes at once—I can see it in his face!"
Captain Abernethy stopped short at this, and stared. It was precisely what he HAD planned to say after drawing Cleggett discreetly aside. But it is rather startling to have one's thoughts read in this manner.
He frowned at the lady. She smiled at him. The smile seemed to say to the Cap'n: "You ridiculous old dear, you! You KNOW that's what you were going to advise, so why deny it? I've found you out, but we both might just as well be good-humored about it, mightn't we?"
"Ma'am," said the Cap'n, evidently struggling between a suddenly born desire to quit frowning and a sense that he had a perfect right to frown as much as he wished, "Ma'am, if you was to ask me, I'd say ridin' on steamships and ridin' on sailin' vessels is two different matters entirely."
"Cap'n Abernethy," said Cleggett, attempting to indicate that his sailing master's advice was not absolutely required, "if you have something to say to me, perhaps later will do just as well."
"As fur as the Jasper B. is concerned," said the Cap'n, ignoring Cleggett's remark, and still addressing the lady, "I dunno as you could call her EITHER a sailin' vessel, OR a steamship, as at present constituted."
"You want to get me off your boat at once," said the lady. "You know you do." And her manner added: "CAN'T you act like a good-natured old dear? You really are one, you know!"
The Cap'n became embarrassed. He began to fuss with his necktie, as if tying it tighter would assist him to hold on to his frown. He felt the frown slipping, but it was a point of honor with him to retain it.
"She WILL be a sailin' vessel when she gets her sticks into her," said the Cap'n, fumbling with his neckwear.
"Let me fix that for you," said the lady. And before the Cap'n could protest she was arranging his tie for him. "You old sea captains!———" she said, untying the scarf and making the ends even. "As if anyone could possibly be afraid to sail in anything one of YOU had charge of!" She gave the necktie a little final pat. "There, now!"
The Captain's frown was gone past replacement. But he still felt that he owed something to himself.
"If you was to ask me," he said, turning to Cleggett, "whether what I'd got to say to you would do later, or whether it wouldn't do later, I'd answer you it would, or it wouldn't, all accordin' to whether you wanted to hear it now, or whether you wanted to hear it later. And as far as SAILIN' her is concerned, Mr. Cleggett, I'll SAIL her, whether you turn her into a battleship or into one of these here yachts. I come of a seafarin' fambly."
And then he said to the lady, indicating the tie and bobbing his head forward with a prim little bow: "Thank ye, ma'am."
"Isn't he a duck!" said the lady, following him with her eyes, as he went behind the cabin. There the Cap'n chewed, smoked, and fished, earnestly and simultaneously, for ten minutes.
Indeed, the blonde lady, from the moment when Elmer began to put ice into the box, seemed to have regained her spirits. The little dog, which was an indicator of her moods, had likewise lost its nervousness. When Kuroki had tea ready, the dog lay down at his mistress' feet, beside the table.
"Dear little Teddy," said the lady, patting the animal upon the head.
"Teddy?" said Cleggett.
"I have named him," she said, "after a great American. To my mind, the greatest—Theodore Roosevelt. His championship of the cause of votes for women at a time when mere politicians were afraid to commit themselves is enough in itself to gain him a place in history."
She spoke with a kindling eye, and Cleggett had no doubt that there was before him one of those remarkable women who make the early part of the twentieth century so different from any other historical period. And he was one with her in her admiration for Roosevelt—a man whose facility in finding adventures and whose behavior when he had found them had always made a strong appeal to Cleggett. If he could not have been Cleggett he would have liked to have been either the Chevalier d'Artagnan or Theodore Roosevelt.
"He is a great man," said Cleggett.
But the lady, with her second cup of tea in her hand, was evidently thinking of something else. Leaning back in her chair, she said to Cleggett:
"It is no good for you to deny that you think I'm a horridly unconventional sort of person!"
Cleggett made a polite, deprecatory gesture.
"Yes, yes, you do," she said, decidedly. "And, really, I am! I am impulsive! I am TOO impulsive!" She raised the cup to her lips, drank, and looked off towards the western horizon, which the sun was beginning to paint ruddily; she mused, murmuring as if to herself: "Sir Archibald always thought I was too impulsive, dear man."
After a meditative pause she said, leaning her elbows on the table and gazing searchingly into Cleggett's eyes:
"I am going to trust you. I am going to reward your kindness by telling you a portion of my strange story. I am going to depend upon you to understand it."
Cleggett bowed and murmured his gratitude at the compliment. Then he said:
"You could trust me with———" But he stopped. He did not wish to be premature.
"With my life. I could trust you with my life," finished the lady, gravely. "I know that. I believe that. I feel it, somehow. It is because I do feel it that I tell you——" She paused, as if, after all, she lacked the courage. Cleggett said nothing. He was too fine in grain to force a confidence. After a moment she continued: "I can tell you this," she said, with a catch in her voice that was almost a sob, "that I am practically friendless. When you call a taxicab for me in a few moments, and I leave you, with Elmer and my boxes, I shall have no place to go."
"But, surely, madam——"
"Do not call me madam. Call me Lady Agatha. I am Lady Agatha Fairhaven. What is your name?"
Cleggett told her.
"You have heard of me?" asked Lady Agatha.
Cleggett was obliged to confess that he had not. He thought that a shade of disappointment passed over the lady's face, but in a moment she smiled and remarked:
"How relative a thing is fame! You have never heard of me! And yet I can assure you that I am well enough known in England. I was one of the very first militant suffragettes to break a window—if not the very first. The point is, indeed, in dispute. And were it not for my devotion to the cause I would not now be in my present terrible plight—doomed to wander from pillar to post with that thing" (she pointed with a shudder to the box into which Elmer was still gloomily poking ice)-"chained to me like a—like a——" She hesitated for a word, and Cleggett, tactlessly enough, with some vague recollection of a classical tale in his mind, suggested:
"Like a corpse."
Lady Agatha turned pale. She gazed at Cleggett with terror-stricken eyes, her beautiful face became almost haggard in an instant; he thought she was about to faint again, but she did not. As he looked upon the change his words had wrought, filled with wonder and compunction, Cleggett suddenly divined that her occasional flashes of gayety had been, all along, merely the forced vivacity of a brave and clever woman who was making a gallant fight against total collapse.
"Mr. Cleggett," she said, in a voice that was scarcely louder than a whisper, "I am going to confide everything to you—the whole truth. I will spare myself nothing; I will throw myself upon your mercy.
"I firmly believe, Mr. Cleggett—I am practically certain—that the box there, upon which Elmer is sitting, contains the body of Reginald Maltravers, natural son of the tenth Earl of Claiborne, and the cousin of my late husband, Sir Archibald Fairhaven."
LADY AGATHA'S STORY
It was with the greatest difficulty that Cleggett repressed a start. Another man might have shown the shock he felt. But Cleggett had the iron nerve of a Bismarck and the fine manner of a Richelieu. He did not even permit his eyes to wander towards the box in question. He merely sat and waited.
Lady Agatha, having brought herself to the point of revelation, seemed to find a difficulty in proceeding. Cleggett, mutely asking permission, lighted a cigarette.
"Oh—if you will!" said Lady Agatha, extending her hand towards the case. He passed it over, and when she had chosen one of the little rolls and lighted it she said:
"Mr. Cleggett, have you ever lived in England?"
"I have never even visited England."
"I wish you knew England." She watched the curling smoke from her tobacco as it drifted across the table. "If you knew England you would comprehend so much more readily some parts of my story.
"But, being an American, you can have no adequate conception of the conservatism that still prevails in certain quarters. I refer to the really old families among the landed aristocracy. Some of them have not changed essentially, in their attitude towards the world in general, since the reign of Queen Elizabeth. They make of family a fetish. They are ready to sacrifice everything upon the altar of family. They may exhibit this pride of race less obviously than some of the French or Germans or Italians; but they have a deeper sense of their own dignity, and of what is due to it, than any of your more flighty and picturesque continentals. There are certain things that are done. Certain things are not done. One must conform or——"
She interrupted herself and delicately flicked the ash from her cigarette.
"Conform, or be jolly well damned," she finished, crossing one leg over the other and leaning back in her chair. "This, by the way, is the only decent cigarette I have found in America. I hate to smoke perfume—I like tobacco—and most of your shops seem to keep nothing but the highly scented Turkish and Egyptian varieties."
"They were made in London," said Cleggett, bowing.
"Ah! But where was I? Oh, yes—one must conform. Especially if one belongs to, or has married into, the Claiborne family. Of all the men in England the Earl of Claiborne is the most conservative, the most reactionary, the most deeply encrusted with prejudice. He would stop at little where the question concerned the prestige of the aristocracy in general; he would stop at nothing where the Claiborne family is concerned.
"I am telling you all this so that you may get an inkling of the blow it was to him when I became a militant suffragist. It was blow enough to his nephew, Sir Archibald, my late husband. The Earl maintains that it hastened poor Archibald's death. But that is ridiculous. Archibald had undermined his constitution with dissipation, and died following an operation for gravel. He was to have succeeded to the title, as both of the Earl's legitimate sons were dead without issue—one of them perished in the Boer War, and the other was killed in the hunting field.
"Upon Archibald's death the old Earl publicly acknowledged Reginald Maltravers, his natural son, and took steps to have him legitimatized. For all of the bend sinister upon his escutcheon, Reginald Maltravers was as fanatical concerning the family as his father. Perhaps more fanatical, because he secretly suffered for the irregularity of his own position in the world.
"At any rate, supported at first by the old Earl, he began a series of persecutions designed to make me renounce my suffragist principles, or at least to make me cease playing a conspicuous public part in the militant propaganda. As my husband was dead and there were no children, I could not see that I was accountable to the Claiborne family for my actions. But the Claibornes took a different view of it. In their philosophy, once a Claiborne, always a Claiborne. I was bringing disgrace and humiliation upon the family, in their opinion. Knowing the old Earl as I do, I am aware that his suffering was genuine and intense. But what was I to do? One cannot desert one's principles merely because they cause suffering; otherwise there could be no such thing as revolution.
"Reginald Maltravers had another reason for his persecution. After the death of Sir Archibald he himself sought my hand in marriage. I shall always remember the form of his proposal; it concluded with these words: 'Had Archibald lived you would have been a countess. You may still be a countess—but you must drop this suffragist show, you know. It is all bally rot, Agatha, all bally rot.' I would not have married him without the condition, for I despised the man himself; but the condition made me furious and I drove him from my sight with words that turned him white and made him my enemy forever. 'You will not be my countess, then,' he said. 'Very well—but I can promise you that you will cease to be a suffragist.' I can still see the evil flash of his eye behind his monocle as he uttered these words and turned away."
Lady Agatha shuddered at the recollection, and took a cup of tea.
"It was then," she resumed, "that the real persecution began. I was peculiarly helpless, as I have no near relations who might have come to my defense. Representing himself always as the agent of his father, but far exceeding the Earl in the malevolence of his inventions, Reginald Maltravers sought by every means he could command to drive me from public life in England.
"Three times he succeeded in having me flung into Holloway Jail. I need not tell you of the terrors of that institution, nor of the degrading horrors of forcible feeding. They are known to a shocked and sympathetic world. But Reginald Maltravers contrived, in my case, to add to the usual brutalities a peculiar and personal touch. By bribery, as I believe, he succeeded in getting himself into the prison as a turnkey. It was his custom, when I lay weak and helpless in the semistupor of starvation, to glide into my cell and, standing by my couch, to recite to me the list of tempting viands that might appear daily upon the board of a Countess of Claiborne.
"He soon learned that his very presence itself was a persecution. After my release from jail the last time, he began to follow me everywhere. Turn where I would, there was Reginald Maltravers. At suffrage meetings he took his station directly before the speaker's stand, stroked his long blond mustache with his long white fingers, and stared at me steadfastly through his monocle, with an evil smile upon his face. Formerly he had, in several instances, prevented me from attending suffrage meetings; once he had me spirited away and imprisoned for a week when it fell to my lot to burn a railroad station for the good of the cause. He strove to ruin me with my leaders in this despicable manner.
"But in the end he took to showing himself; he stood and stared. Merely that. He was subtle enough to shift the persecution from the province of the physical to the realm of the psychological. It was like being haunted. Even when I did not see him, I began to THINK that I saw him. He deliberately planted that hallucination in my mind. It is a wonder that I did not go mad.
"I finally determined to flee to America. I made all my arrangements with care and—as I thought—with secrecy. I imagined that I had given him the slip. But he was too clever for me. The third day out, as one of the ship's officers was showing me about the vessel, I detected Reginald Maltravers in the hold. It is not usual to allow women so far below decks; but I had insisted on seeing everything. Perspiring, begrimed, and mopping the moisture from his brow with a piece of cotton waste, there he stood in the guise of a—of—a croaker, is it, Mr. Cleggett?"
"Stoker, I believe," said Cleggett.
"Stoker. Thank you. He turned away in confusion when he saw that he was discovered. I perceived that, designing to cross on the same ship with me, he had thought himself hidden there. He was not wearing his monocle, but I would know that sloping forehead, that blond mustache, and that long, high, bony nose anywhere."
Lady Agatha broke off for a moment. She was extremely agitated. But presently she continued: "I endeavored to evade him. The attempt was useless. He found me out at once. The persecution went on. It was more terrible here than it had been in England. There I had friends. I had hours, sometimes even whole days, to myself.
"But this was not the worst. A new phase developed. From his appearance it suddenly became apparent to me that Reginald Maltravers could not stop haunting me if he wished!"
"COULD not stop?" cried Cleggett.
"COULD not," said Lady Agatha. "The hunt had become a monomania with him. It had become an obsession. He had given his whole mentality to it and it had absorbed all his faculties. He was now the victim of it. He had grown powerless in the grip of the idea; he had lost volition in the matter.
"You can imagine my consternation when I realized this. I began to fear the day when his insanity would take some violent form and he would endeavor to do me a personal injury. I determined to have a bodyguard. I wanted a man inured to danger; one capable of meeting violence with violence, if the need arose. It struck me that if I could get into touch with one of those chivalrous Western outlaws, of whom we read in American works of fiction, he would be just the sort of man I needed to protect me from Reginald Maltravers.
"I did not consider appealing to the authorities, for I have no confidence in your American laws, Mr. Cleggett. But I did not know how to go about finding a chivalrous Western outlaw. So finally I put an advertisement in the personal column of one of your morning papers for a reformed convict."
"A reformed convict!" exclaimed Cleggett. "May I ask how you worded the ad.?"
"Ad.? Oh, advertisement? I will get it for you."
She went into the stateroom and was back in a moment with a newspaper cutting which she handed to Cleggett. It read:
Convict recently released from Sing Sing, if his reform is really genuine, may secure honest employment by writing to A. F., care Morning Dispatch.
"Out of the answers," she resumed, "I selected four and had their writers call for a personal interview. But only two of them seemed to me to be really reformed, and of these two Elmer's reform struck me as being the more genuine. You may have noticed that Elmer gives the appearance of being done with worldly vanities."
"He does seem depressed," said Cleggett, "but I had imputed it largely to the nature of his present occupation."
"It is due to his attempt to lead a better life—or at least so he tells me," said Lady Agatha. "Morality does not come easy to Elmer, he says, and I believe him. Elmer's time is largely taken up by inward moral debate as to the right or wrong of particular hypothetical cases which his imagination insists on presenting to his conscience."
"I can certainly imagine no state of mind less enjoyable," said Cleggett.
"Nor I," replied Lady Agatha. "But to resume: The very fact that I had employed a guard seemed to put Reginald Maltravers beside himself. He followed me more closely than ever. Regardless of appearances, he would suddenly plant himself in front of me in restaurants and tramcars, in the streets or parks when I went for an airing, even in the lifts and corridors of the apartment hotel where I stopped, and stare at me intently through his monocle, caressing his mustache the while. I did not dare make a scene; the thing was causing enough remark without that; I was, in fact, losing my reputation.
"Finally, goaded beyond endurance, I called Elmer into my apartment one day and put the whole case before him.
"'I will pay almost any price short of participation in actual crime,' I told him, 'for a fortnight of freedom from that man's presence. I can stand it no longer; I feel my reason slipping from me. Have I not heard that there are in New York creatures who are willing, on the payment of a certain stipulated sum, to guarantee to chastise a person so as to disable him for a definite period, without doing him permanent injury? You must know some such disreputable characters. Procure me some wretches of this sort!'
"Elmer replied that such creatures do, indeed, exist. He called them—what did he call them?"
"Gunmen?" suggested Cleggett.
"Yes, thank you. He brought two of them to me whom he introduced as——"
She paused. "The names escape me," she said. She called: "Elmer, just step here a moment, please."
Elmer, who was still putting ice into the oblong box, moodily laid away his tools and approached.
"What WERE the odd names of your friends? The ones who—who made the mistake?" asked Lady Agatha, resuming her seat.
Elmer rolled a bilious eye at Cleggett and asked Lady Agatha, out of that corner of his mouth nearer to her:
"Is th' guy right?"
"Mr. Cleggett is a friend of mine and can keep a secret, if that is what you mean," said Lady Agatha. And the words sent a thrill of elation through Cleggett's being.
"M' friends w'at makes the mistake," said Elmer, apparently satisfied with the assurance, and offering the information to Cleggett out of the side of his mouth which had not been involved in his question to Lady Agatha, "goes by th' monakers of Dopey Eddie and Izzy the Cat."
"Picturesque," murmured Cleggett.
"Picture—what? Picture not'in!" said Elmer, huskily. "The bulls got not'in' on them boys. Them guys never been mugged. Them guys is too foxy t' get mugged."
"I infer that you weren't always so foxy," said Cleggett, eyeing him curiously.
The remark seemed to touch a sensitive spot. Elmer flushed and shuffled from one foot to the other, hanging his head as if in embarrassment. Finally he said, earnestly:
"I wasn't no boob, Mr. Cleggett. It was a snitch got ME settled. I was a good cracksman, honest I was. But I never had no luck."
"I intended no reflection on your professional ability," said Cleggett, politely.
"Oh, that's all right, Mr. Cleggett," said Elmer, forgivingly. "Nobody's feelin's is hoited. And any friend of th' little dame here is a friend o' mine." The diminutive, on Elmer's lips, was intended as a compliment; Lady Agatha was not a small woman.
"Elmer," said Lady Agatha, "tell Mr. Cleggett how the mistake occurred."
Oratory was evidently not Elmer's strongest point. But he braced himself for the effort and began:
"When th' skoit here says she wants the big boob punched I says to m'self, foist of all: 'Is it right or is it wrong?' Oncet youse got that reform high sign put onto youse, youse can't be too careful. Do youse get me? So when th' skoit here puts it up to me I thinks foist off: 'Is it right or is it wrong?' See? So I thinks it over and I says to m'self th' big boob's been pullin' rough stuff on th' little dame here. Do youse get me? So I says to m'self, the big boob ought to get a wallop on the nut. See? What th' big gink needs is someone to bounce a brick off his bean, f'r th' dame here's a square little dame. Do youse get me? So I says to the little dame: 'I'm wit' youse, see? W'at th' big gink needs is a mont' in th' hospital.' An' the little dame here says he's not to be croaked, but——"
But at that instant Teddy, the Pomeranian, sprang towards the uncovered hatchway that gave into the hold, barking violently. Lady Agatha, who could see into the opening, arose with a scream.
Cleggett, leaping towards the hatchway, was just in time to see two men jump backward from the bottom of the ladder into the murk of the hold. They had been listening. Drawing his pistol, and calling to the crew of the Jasper B. to follow him, Cleggett plunged recklessly downward and into the darkness.
FIRST BLOOD FOR CLEGGETT
As his feet struck the top of the rubbish heap in the hold of the vessel, Cleggett stumbled and staggered forward. But he did not let go of his revolver.
Perhaps he would not have fallen, but the Pomeranian, which had leaped into the hold after him, yelping like a terrier at a rat hunt, ran between his legs and tripped him.
"Damn the dog!" cried Cleggett, going down.
But the fall probably saved his life, for as he spoke two pistol shots rang out simultaneously from the forward part of the hold. The bullets passed over his head. Raising himself on his elbow, Cleggett fired rapidly three times, aiming at the place where a spurt of flame had come from.
A cry answered him, and he knew that at least one of his bullets had taken effect. He rose to his feet and plunged forward, firing again, and at the same instant another bullet grazed his temple.
The next few seconds were a wild confusion of yelping dog, shouts, curses, shots that roared like the explosion of big guns in that pent-up and restricted place, stinking powder, and streaks of fire that laced themselves across the darkness. But only a single pistol replied to Cleggett's now and he was confident that one of the men was out of the fight.
But the other man, blindly or with intention, was stumbling nearer as he fired. A bullet creased Cleggett's shoulder; it was fired so close to him that he felt the heat of the exploding powder; and in the sudden glow of light he got a swift and vivid glimpse of a white face framed in long black hair, and of flashing white teeth beneath a lifted lip that twitched. The face was almost within touching distance; as it vanished Cleggett heard the sharp, whistling intake of the fellow's breath—and then a click that told him the other's last cartridge was gone. Cleggett clubbed his pistol and leaped forward, striking at the place where the gleaming teeth had been. His blow missed; he spun around with the force of it. As he steadied himself to shoot again he heard a rush behind him and knew that his men had come to his assistance.
"Collar him!" he cried. "Don't shoot, or——"
But he did not finish that sentence. A thousand lights danced before his eyes, Niagara roared in his ears for an instant, and he knew no more. His adversary had laid him out with the butt of a pistol.
Cleggett was not that inconsiderable sort of a man who is killed in any trivial skirmish: There was a moment at the bridge of Arcole when Napoleon, wounded and flung into a ditch, appeared to be lost. But when Nature, often so stupid, really does take stock and become aware that she has created an eagle she does not permit that eagle to be killed before its wings are fledged. Napoleon was picked out of the ditch. Cleggett was only stunned.
Both were saved for larger triumphs. The association of names is not accidental. These two men were, in some respects, not dissimilar, although Bonaparte lacked Cleggett's breeding.
When Cleggett regained consciousness he was on deck; George, Kuroki and Cap'n Abernethy stood about him in a little semicircle of anxiety; Lady Agatha was applying a cold compress to the bump upon his head. (He made nothing of his other scratches.) As for Elmer, who had not stirred from his seat on the oblong box, he moodily regarded, not Cleggett, but a slight young fellow with long black hair, who lay motionless upon the deck.
Cleggett struggled to his feet. "Is he dead?" he asked, pointing to the figure of his recent assailant. Cap'n Abernethy, for the first time since Cleggett had known him, gave a direct answer to a question.
"Mighty nigh it," he said, staring down at the young man. Then he added: "Kind o' innocent lookin' young fellow, at that."
"But the other one? Was he killed?" asked Cleggett.
"The other?" George inquired. "But there was no other. When we got down there you and this boy——" And George described the struggle that had taken place after Cleggett had lost consciousness. The whole affair, as far as it concerned Cleggett, had been a matter of seconds rather than minutes; it was begun and over like a hundred yard dash on the cinder track. When George and Kuroki and Cap'n Abernethy had tumbled into the hold they had been afraid to shoot for fear of hitting Cleggett; they had reached him, guided by his voice, just as he went down under his assailant's pistol. They had not subdued the youth until he had suffered severely from George's dagger. Later they learned that one of Cleggett's bullets had also found him. Cleggett listened to the end, and then he said:
"But there WERE two men in the hold. And one of them, dead or wounded, must still be down there. Carry this fellow into the forecastle—we'll look at him later. Then bring some lanterns. We are going down into that hold again."
With their pistols in their right hands and lanterns in their left they descended, Cleggett first. It was not impossible that the other intruder might be lying, wounded, but revived enough by now to work a pistol, behind one of the rubbish heaps.
But no shots greeted them. The hold of the Jasper B. was not divided into compartments of any sort. If it had ever had them, they had been torn away. Below deck, except for the rubbish heap and the steps for the masts, she was empty as a soup tureen. The pile of debris was the highest toward the waist of the vessel. There it formed a treacherous hill of junk; this hill sloped downward towards the bow and towards the stern; in both the fore and after parts, under the forecastle and the cabin, there were comparatively clear spaces.
The four men forced their way back towards the stern and then came slowly forward in a line that extended across the vessel, exploring with their lanterns every inch of the precarious footing, and overturning and looking behind, under, and into every box, cask, or jumble of planking that might possibly offer a place of concealment. They found no one. And, until they reached a clearer place, well forward, on the starboard side of the ship, they found no trace of anyone.
Cleggett, who was examining this place, suddenly uttered an exclamation which brought the others to him. He pointed to stains of blood upon the planking; near these stains were marks left by boots which had been gaumed with a yellowish clay. A revolver lay on the floor. Cleggett examined it and found that only one cartridge had been exploded. The stains of blood and the stains of yellow clay made an easily followed trail for some yards to a point about halfway between the bow and stern on the starboard side.
There, in the waist of the vessel, they ceased; ceased abruptly, mysteriously. Cleggett, not content, made his men go over the place again, even more thoroughly than before. But there was no one there, dead or wounded, unless he had succeeded in contracting himself to the dimensions of a rat.
"There is nothing," said Cleggett, standing by the ladder that led up to the deck. "Nothing," echoed George; and then as if with one impulse, and moved by the same eerie thought, these four men suddenly raised their lanterns head-high and gazed at one another.
A startled look spread from face to face. But no one spoke. There was no need to. All recognized that they were in the presence of an apparent impossibility. Yet this seemingly impossible thing was the fact. There had been two men in the hold of the Jasper B. They had entered as mysteriously and silently as disembodied spirits might have done. One of them, wounded, had made his exit in the same baffling way. Where? How?
Cleggett broke the silence.
"Let us go to the forecastle and have a look at that fellow," he said, and led the way.
No one lagged as they left the hold. These were all brave men, but there are times when the invisible, the incomprehensible, will send a momentary chill to the heart of the most intrepid.
Cleggett found Lady Agatha, her own troubles for the time forgotten, in the forecastle. She had lighted a lamp and was bending over the wounded man, whose coat and waistcoat she had removed. His clothing was a sop of blood. They cut his shirt and undershirt from him. Kuroki brought water and the medicine chest and surgical outfit with which Cleggett had provided the Jasper B. They examined his wounds, Lady Agatha, with a fine seriousness and a deft touch which claimed Cleggett's admiration, washing them herself and proceeding to stop the flow of blood.
"Oh, I am not an altogether useless person," she said, with a momentary smile, as she saw the look in Cleggett's face. And Cleggett remembered with shame that he had not thanked her for her ministrations to himself.