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Title: When the Sea Gives Up Its Dead: A Thrilling Detective Story
Author: Corbett, George, Mrs.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Online Distributed


WHEN THE SEA GIVES UP ITS DEAD.

  A THRILLING DETECTIVE STORY.

  BY
  MRS. GEORGE CORBETT,

  AUTHOR OF
  “ADVENTURES OF A LADY DETECTIVE,”
  “NEW AMAZONIA,” “PHARISEES UNVEILED,”
  “THE ADVENTURES OF AN UGLY GIRL,” “MRS. GRUNDY’S VICTIMS,”
  “SECRETS OF A PRIVATE ENQUIRY OFFICE,”
  ETC., ETC.

  LONDON:
  TOWER PUBLISHING COMPANY, LIMITED,
  95, MINORIES, E.C.

  1894.



CONTENTS

          CHAPTER                                          PAGE

               I.   “THE DIAMOND ROBBERY”                     1
              II.   FIRM FAITH IS NOT IDLE                    6
             III.   “MISS ANNIE CORY IS CONFIDENTIAL”        18
              IV.   A SUSPICIOUS DEATH                       35
               V.   AN OLD FRIEND IN A NEW GUISE             46
              VI.   A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE               54
             VII.   EVIL TIDINGS                             66
            VIII.   ON THE TRACK                             73
              IX.   A BALLOON ADVENTURE                      91
               X.   A BRIGHT PAIR                            99
              XI.   AN UNEXPECTED ALLY                      107
             XII.   BAITING THE TRAP                        117
            XIII.   MORE DISAPPOINTMENTS                    126
             XIV.   AN ACCOMMODATING POSTMAN                134
              XV.   JUST IN TIME                            142
             XVI.   A DETERMINED PURSUIT                    156
            XVII.   RUNNING HIM DOWN                        165
           XVIII.   A WILY SYREN                            174
             XIX.   SERGEANT-MAJOR TWILEY HAS A SURPRISE    184
              XX.   A CRITICAL GAME                         192
             XXI.   “WARE ASSASSIN”                         201
            XXII.   ANNIE’S RETURN                          210
  XXIII. and Last   JUBILATE                                219



WHEN THE SEA GIVES UP ITS DEAD.

CHAPTER I.

“THE DIAMOND ROBBERY.”


“Confound that upset! I shall be two minutes behind time--I wish I had
walked all the way, instead of trusting to the supposed extra speed of a
’bus, when the streets are so slippery that horses cannot keep their
feet.”

Thus soliloquised Harley Riddell, ruefully, as he hurriedly picked his
way through the somewhat aggressive conglomeration of wagons, hansoms,
’buses and fourwheelers, which threatened to still further belate his
arrival at the establishment of his employers, Messrs. Stavanger,
Stavanger and Co., diamond merchants, of Hatton Garden.

By dint of an extra spurt from the corner of Holborn Viaduct, he
managed to be less unpunctual than he had expected; but, somewhat to his
surprise, he fancied that the assistants whom he encountered betrayed
signs of suppressed excitement, which were not at all in keeping with
the usual decorous quietude of Messrs. Stavanger’s aristocratic
establishment. Still more astonished was he to notice that, whatever the
reason for the unusual excitement may have been, it became intensified
by his arrival. But there was just a tinge of alarm mingled with his
astonishment when he perceived that both the Brothers Stavanger and Mr.
Edward Lyon, who was the “Co.” in the business, were here before him. As
not one of these gentlemen had ever been known to come to business
before eleven o’clock in the forenoon, Harley may be excused for
thinking it odd that they should all be here on this particular morning
before the city clocks had boomed ten, and that, furthermore, they
should all stand gazing at him with expressions which suggested
suspicion and anathema.

“Nothing wrong, I hope, sirs?” was Harley’s impulsive question.

“You are no doubt the best judge of that,” said Mr. David Stavanger,
who, being a vicar’s churchwarden, systematically cultivated a dignified
bearing and an impressive mode of speech. “Probably the atrocious injury
to which we have been subjected has been exposed to the light of
detection sooner than you bargained for. You perceive, Mr. Detective,”
he continued, turning to a short, but very well-built man of middle age,
who was also contemplating our hero with unusual interest, “you perceive
the instantaneous working of an evil conscience! No sooner does this
ingrate see us here a few moments before our usual time than he jumps to
the very natural conclusion that he is at the end of his criminal
tether.”

“I beg your pardon,” interrupted the detective, whose name was John
Gay. “Your deductions, Mr. Stavanger, are possibly more decided than
correct. We have yet to hear what this gentleman has to say for himself,
and you will perhaps let me remind you that it is dangerous to make
statements that we perhaps may be unable to prove.”

“Gentleman, indeed!” exclaimed Mr. David.

“Yes sir, with your permission, gentleman--until we have proved him
otherwise.”

“That will be an easy matter,” put in Hugh Stavanger, the son of the
senior partner. “Everything points to him, and him alone, as the thief.”

Harley had not noticed Hugh Stavanger’s presence until he thus
unpleasantly made it apparent. He had, in fact, been stupefied by the
extraordinary words and behaviour of those around him. But at the word
“thief” every fibre of his body thrilled with passion, and he strode
hastily forward to the side of Hugh Stavanger, exclaiming “Retract that
word! or, by Heaven----”

“Ah! he would add violence to his other crimes,” said Mr. David, hastily
sheltering himself behind Mr. Samuel Stavanger’s more portly person.
“Take care, Hugh, my boy! There is never any knowing how far these
desperadoes will go when they are aroused. Mr. Gay, I insist upon your
duty being done at once.”

By this time Harley was calm again outwardly, but his calm was as that
of the ocean which a deluge of rain is beating into a surface smoothness
which the still heaving waters below would fain convert into mountainous
breakers.

Thief! Desperado! Was it possible that he was alluded to? He looked at
the faces of those around him, and read condemnation in them all. Nay,
there was at least one countenance which was impassive, one breast in
which a trace of fairplay seemed to linger. He would appeal to the
detective for an explanation of this horrible mystery.

“Will you,” he began, in a voice whose steadiness and quietness
surprised even himself, “will you tell me what is the matter? and why I
am glared at as if I were a wild beast?”

“Yes, pray go through the mockery of an explanation,” cried Mr. David.

“Sir,” replied Mr. Gay, “it is by no means certain that an explanation
would be a mockery in this case.”

“Why, you yourself said everything pointed to this man’s guilt,”
contended Mr. David.

“Very likely,” was the dry reply. “I said that everything seemed to
point to your manager’s guilt. But I did not say that it proved it. That
is another thing, and slightly out of my province.”

“And meanwhile,” said Harley, “I am still in the dark.”

“There has been a robbery of a serious and extensive nature, and you are
suspected of being the thief,” said the detective, carefully watching
the face of the stricken Harley. “It is my duty to arrest you in the
name of the law, and I warn you against saying anything that may be
construed against you at the trial.”

“Since when has this tremendous robbery taken place?” asked Harley.
“Everything was secure when I left the premises last night at seven
o’clock.”

“Who was here when you left?” asked Mr. Lyon, taking part in the
conversation for the first time.

“No one, sir. The members of the firm had all left early. Mr. Hugh, to
whom I usually hand the keys, being also gone, I locked all the cases
up, lighted the gas, padlocked the door, delivered the door-key to the
night-watchman, and took the keys of the safes to Mr. David Stavanger’s
house. I put them into his own hands.”

“That is quite true, so far as the delivery of the keys goes,” said Mr.
David. “What I want to know is this--What have you done with the stones
you abstracted before you locked the safes?”

“Excuse me once more,” interrupted the detective, “you will have all
necessary questions fully answered at the preliminary inquiry. Meanwhile
Mr. Harley Riddell must consider himself a prisoner.”

“You will permit me to send a message to my brother?”

“Certainly.”

One of the shopmen, to whom Harley had always been kind, hurriedly
produced a piece of paper and a pencil, and Harley, in whom surprise at
his own calmness was still the dominant sensation, quickly wrote as
follows:--“Dear Lad, I believe I am under arrest for wholesale robbery.
It would be too absurd to protest my innocence to my twin soul.
Ascertain where I am taken to, and break the news gently to the dear
mother, before it reaches her in some other way. Tell her that the
mystery is bound to be cleared up soon. As for Annie--God help her and
me, for how can she ally herself to a man who has been under
arrest?--Harley.”



CHAPTER II.

FIRM FAITH IS NOT IDLE.


Harley Riddell was duly charged before a magistrate with having
feloniously abstracted gems to the value of four thousand pounds from
the premises of Messrs. Stavanger, Stavanger, and Co., diamond
merchants. After hearing all the evidence obtainable, the legal luminary
thought it his duty to commit the prisoner to the Assizes, and during
that time Harley was condemned to undergo the miseries of confinement
and mental torture, without being able to do anything to help himself
out of the abyss of disgrace into which he had been plunged.

But though he was powerless himself, others were working bravely for
him. At first they also worked hopefully, until it became evident that
whoever had concocted the plot of which he was the victim, had neglected
no precaution against the failure of their plans. Mr. David Stavanger,
the senior partner of the firm, deposed that, influenced by the
invariable steadiness, industry, and ability of the prisoner, he had
been induced to place more trust in him than he had ever placed in any
of the subordinates of the firm. He had been eight years in the
employment of Messrs. Stavanger, Stavanger, and Co., and had never given
the firm any cause to complain of his conduct until now. “In fact,”
continued Mr. David, “he has so wormed himself into our confidence that
it has been a very easy matter for him to steal those jewels, and there
is no knowing----”

Considerably to Mr. David’s chagrin, however, he was not permitted to
continue his remarks, and his evident determination to take accused’s
guilt for granted was sharply reprimanded. Fellow employees gave similar
evidence to that of Mr. David, but were all so evidently convinced of
Harley’s innocence, that counsel for the prosecution no longer felt
quite sure of winning the case, until Mr. Gay produced the most damning
evidence that could be forthcoming against a man accused of theft. He
had, duly armed with a warrant, searched the belongings of Harley
Riddell at his own home, and, inside the lining of the light topcoat
that he had worn the day before the occurrence of the robbery, the
detective had found three of the missing jewels set as rings, which were
identified by Mr. Hugh Stavanger, who had seen them in their cases on
the 17th of May.

Asked how, if Harley Riddell was the manager, and consequently of
considerable importance in the business, it came to pass that the full
extent of the robbery was discovered before the arrival of the latter on
the scene, Mr. Hugh Stavanger stated that it was usual for Riddell to
see to the safety of everything at the shop and to deliver the keys to
the senior partner. At nine in the morning these were fetched by the
leading shopman, whose duty it was to see that all was in readiness to
receive customers at ten o’clock. As Mr. David Stavanger wished to
present his eldest daughter with a birthday gift, Mr. Hugh had
volunteered to fetch several articles of jewellery for her to choose
from, and had, therefore, contrary to his usual custom, gone to the shop
at nine o’clock. He had himself unlocked the safes, and on comparing the
contents with the inventory which was with them, had at once seen that a
great number of valuable stones were missing, and had telegraphed to the
members of the firm to come at once. The detective, who was immediately
sent for, could find no evidence that any part of the premises had been
feloniously entered, or that the safes had been tampered with.

There was much other evidence, some of it of not too relevant a nature,
but all of it conducive to the annihilation of any hope of acquittal for
the prisoner. His defence was considered feeble, his guilt indisputable,
and he was sentenced to five years’ penal servitude.

Five years’ penal servitude! Is any pen powerful enough to picture all
that it means to a man like Harley Riddell? One day on the summit of
bliss, and the next in the abyss of degradation and despair! One day
revelling in love and happiness; the next loaded with misery,
desperation, and isolation from all his beloved ones! It is terrible for
those who are guilty of crime. But for those who are innocent--God help
them!

There was a farewell scene between Harley and his mother, who was
passionately indignant at the monstrous injustice of which one of her
twin sons was the victim. The poor soul, mindful in her misery of
Harley’s solicitude on her behalf, bravely hid her agonising grief under
a show of mingled anger and hopefulness, while for the first time in all
her long years of widowhood she felt resigned to the fact that the
father of her boys no longer lived to witness the disgrace that had
fallen upon his name. What though the disgrace was unmerited! It was
none the less bitter, and Harley, who knew his mother’s indomitable
nature, felt cheered and hopeful in his turn when he heard her vow to
use every means, whether they were evidently possible or apparently
impossible, to vindicate his character, and bring the guilt of the
robbery home to the real perpetrators. Hilton Riddell, his twin brother,
cheered him much, too, by his faith in the chances of a speedy
unravelment of the plot of which he was evidently the victim.

There was also another with whom a parting interview was permitted,
although Harley would almost have preferred to be spared the anguish of
mind which it cost him. For the presence of winsome Annie Cory, who was
to have been his bride ere long, only brought the more vividly to his
mind the picture of all that cruel fate had bereft him of.

She, like the true girl she was, vowed to wait for his release, and to
wed none but him. He, being sensitive and refined, vowed just as
positively that nothing but the most incontrovertible proofs of his
innocence would ever permit him to take advantage of her love.

Mr. Cory was very magnanimous, and he had cordially approved of the
engagement of his only child to a man whose combined resources only
amounted to £400 a year. For was not he himself wealthy enough to
provide very handsomely for his daughter, and were not the various
qualities of Harley Riddell far beyond riches alone?

Still, although he liked the young fellow, and would, under happier
conditions, have gladly welcomed him as a son-in-law, he fully endorsed
Harley’s protestations to the effect that only as a man who could stand
before the world unshamed would he ever permit a woman to share his
life. For he would not like his daughter to marry an ex-convict, whom
folks would look askance at, even though the ex-convict’s friends were
all convinced of his innocence and of the injustice of his punishment.

But he deemed it wise to offer no violent opposition to Annie’s
determination to be true to the man she loved. He trusted to time to
weaken her love, and show her the folly of allying herself to poverty
and disgrace. Meanwhile, as he really liked Harley, and fully believed
in his innocence, he meant to do all in his power to promote a certain
plan which Hilton had confided to him, whereby it was hoped to divert
the weight of punishment on to the shoulders that deserved it.

The interview had proved trying to Annie as well as to Harley, and Mr.
Cory was very thankful when he arrived at his own house with his
daughter, who certainly looked as if she had borne as much as she could.

“Margaret,” he said to his sister, who had been his housekeeper ever
since his wife died, eight years before the opening of our story, “I
believe the child is dead beat, and I don’t feel too clever myself. Have
you anything in the way of a pick-me-up ready?”

“You shall have some hot milk, with a touch of brandy in it, in a few
minutes. That will do you both good, and serve to put you off until
dinner is ready, which will be another half hour yet. How did the child
bear it?”

“Very bravely. Vowed eternal fidelity, and all that sort of thing. But
Riddell is too much of a man to take her at her word, and swears to be
nobody’s husband until he is proved innocent. And quite right, too. In
fact, I hope Annie will get over her infatuation in any case, for I have
no fancy for being pointed at as the father-in-law of a man who has been
in gaol. You see, although we never for a moment believe that the poor
lad had anything to do with the robbery, and are sure that he is the
victim of a vile plot, it will be difficult to get the world to think as
we do, and, to tell the truth, it’s a deucedly nasty business all
round.”

While Mr. Cory had been speaking, Annie had gone up to her own room, and
Miss Cory had rung her bell in order to give some directions to a
servant before she followed her niece upstairs.

“Williamson,” she said, “bring two glasses of hot milk here as quickly
as possible.”

She delivered herself of this order very quietly. But no sooner was the
servant’s back turned than she emptied the vials of her wrath on to her
brother’s devoted head.

“John Cory,” she said, drawing her really majestic figure up to its
full height, and speaking with a solemn deliberation which she only
affected on serious occasions. “I’m ashamed of you! I never expected to
see the day when my father’s son would deliberately contemplate the
desertion and permanent abandonment of a man whose sole sin is his
betrayal by some villain who has cunningly contrived to divert suspicion
from himself to an innocent man. John Cory, if I could believe that you
would do this vile thing, I would leave your roof for ever.”

“But, my dear girl----”

“Don’t ‘my dear girl’ me! You never do it except when you want to talk
me over, and at fifty-six I’m too old to swallow gross flattery. Just
tell me this--Do you mean to turn your back on young Riddell now that he
is powerless to help himself, or do you mean to act like a man?”

“Of course, I mean to do all I can for him.”

“I knew you did. All the same, the bare thought that you could dream of
revoking what you promised just before the poor lad’s calamity overtook
him, made me feel as if I could shake you. Oh, here’s your milk. Just
put your brandy in yourself and drink it, while I go upstairs to Annie.
Williamson, see that we have dinner punctually.”

Williamson, having acknowledged her mistress’s order with due deference,
hurried away to expedite matters in the lower regions, and Miss Margaret
Cory lost no more time in visiting her niece, whom she found sobbing as
though her heart was breaking. At this sight, even Miss Margaret, stolid
though she usually was, found herself considerably upset. She made a
faint attempt to dissuade Annie from crying, but was convinced that her
efforts were woefully inadequate, and eventually administered the truest
consolation by breaking down herself and mingling her tears with those
of the girl whom she loved more than any other being on earth.

“There, auntie, I won’t be so foolish again,” said Annie at last. “But
I could not help myself when I thought of all the horrors poor Harley is
doomed to endure.”

“And no wonder, my dear. But, please God, we’ll put an end to his misery
by freeing him before long.”

“But how can that be? Have you forgotten that he is sentenced to five
years’ imprisonment?”

“No, I have not forgotten. Neither have I forgotten a speech that his
brother Hilton uttered last night. He said:--‘Heaven helping me, I will
leave no stone unturned to run the author of all this misery to earth.
He may be very cunning, but I defy him to elude my watchfulness, when
once I have set eyes upon him. The mystery is not so great as it perhaps
seems to some. The onus of criminality rests between very few people,
and I have good reasons for believing that my suspicions are centring
themselves round the right man. It is but a question of time, for, if
there is a God in Heaven, the guilty coward who really stole those
diamonds shall be brought to justice!’ Annie, when I heard the fervour
with which those words were uttered, and marked the deliberate
determination of Hilton Riddell’s mien, I shared his confidence in the
future, and resolved to afford him every facility for achieving his
purpose. He will need money, for without money very little can be done.
For your sake, my darling, I will give all I can to prove your lover’s
innocence.”

“How good you are, auntie!” cried the girl, kissing her relative
affectionately. “You always make me feel better. This time, besides
comforting me, you have made me a little bit ashamed of myself.
Henceforth I will work, instead of giving way to useless repining. If
there is any part I can take in the unravelment of this mystery, I will
show myself a ready and capable helper.”

“That’s right, dear girl. The police started with the conviction that
Harley Riddell was guilty, and hunted up no end of facts to prove
themselves in the right. We will start with equally positive convictions
in the other direction, and it will be odds if our labour of love does
not bear the fruit we desire.”

“Oh, auntie! I am all anxiety to begin! Do let me run down and tell the
dad all about it.”

“Not so fast, my dear. If Mrs. Riddell, who has been terribly prostrated
by this blow, is able to bear being left an hour or two this evening,
her son will call here, by appointment with me, to consult as to what
will be the best plans for us to adopt.”

“You dear old thing! You have been actually working already!”

“Certainly. The sooner we begin operating, the better chance we have of
being successful, and the sooner we may hope to see Harley justified and
at liberty. In fact, you need not be surprised if Hilton Riddell has
already made considerable progress. And now, dear, you must make
yourself a little presentable, and I expect you to partake of a
substantial meal, even as I mean to do, for we must make ourselves
strong if we mean to do anything useful.”

The result of Miss Margaret’s tact and management was that Annie was not
nearly so downcast that evening as her father had feared she would be,
and when Hilton Riddell made his appearance at eight o’clock, he found
every member of the Cory family ready and willing to second all his
endeavours on Harley’s behalf.

“And how did you leave your mother?” asked Miss Margaret.

“Stronger and better than I could have believed possible,” was the
reply. “She is brave and hopeful, and firmly believes that I shall
succeed in tracing the real delinquent. One thing troubles me a good
deal about my mother. It may be necessary for me to travel, or some
other contingency may arise which will render it impossible to be with
her much, and I fear that, if left to herself, she may succumb to her
troubles.”

“She shall not be left to herself,” cried Miss Margaret, emphasising her
remarks by a vigorous shake of the handsome lace lappets which adorned
her cap. “She must come and live here while you are away. That is just
what you would have proposed yourself, isn’t it, John?”

“Certainly, just the very thing,” echoed John, warmly. “Sorry you got
the suggestion out before I did, though. And now, Mr. Riddell, about
your means and employment. Don’t think me impertinent or intrusive,
but----”

“Pray don’t apologise,” said Hilton, hastily. “I will, as you so kindly
take such an interest in us, explain exactly how we stand. My mother,
who is an officer’s widow, has a life pension, which the vicissitudes in
the career of Harley or myself cannot touch. My employers, Messrs.
Treadonem and Co., have magnanimously given me my liberty, and have not
been afraid to mention their true reason for discarding the services of
the brother of a convict. My time, therefore, is my own, to use as I
please. Needless to say, it will be used in my brother’s service.
Fortunately, I have a couple of hundred pounds saved, and Harley, during
the last six years, has saved a few hundreds also. He has some inkling
of my intended course of procedure, and has arranged for me to draw his
money, if I require it. But I hope to run my quarry to earth without
encroaching upon Harley’s savings, for it will go hard with him at
first, especially if he has no money to fall back upon.”

“His money shall not be touched,” put in Mr. Cory in a very decided
tone. “I have a nice sum available for unexpected contingencies like the
present.”

“And so have I,” answered Miss Margaret.

“You are very kind; I hardly know how to thank you,” said Hilton, very
much moved.

“And how can I help?” inquired Annie, piteously. “I have no money of my
own, but I am anxious to do some real work, and I am sure you would find
me clever and capable.”

“I should only be too glad of your help,” said Hilton, with animation in
his mien and entreaty in his voice, “but the only way in which you can
help seems too preposterous to suggest to you.”

“Out with it, man,” cried Mr. Cory; “if it is something that cannot be
undertaken, no harm will be done.”

“Then here you are, sir. It is necessary that I should gain a little
insight into the doings of the family of Mr. David Stavanger, for I am
convinced that either he or his son knows where the still missing
diamonds could be found. There is an advertisement in to-day’s paper for
a holiday governess to the youngest Miss Stavanger, a girl of twelve.
To-morrow morning I intended going to the office of Messrs. Bell and
White, private inquiry agents, to ask them to send their principal lady
detective, Miss Dora Bell, to try for the appointment, as a governess
has many means of gaining information concerning what is going on in a
household. Now, if you----”

“Not another word, I will turn detective, and beard these lions in their
own den,” was Annie’s exclamation.

“But how about references? Besides, they would know your name, perhaps,”
objected Mr. Cory.

“You dear innocent,” remarked Miss Margaret, with the calmness born of
superior wisdom; “when one takes up detective work, one has not to be
too squeamish about ways and means, and you may trust us to devise some
scheme to circumvent these villains. If Annie can’t get the post, I’ll
try to make myself look more youthful, and make a bid for the
appointment.”

Somehow, any lurking objections which Mr. Cory might have had were all
overcome, and when Hilton went home that night, many arrangements for
the future had been made. Subject to Mrs. Riddell’s own consent, it had
been decided that it would be best for her to live with Miss Margaret
for a while. Mr. Cory, very much to his own surprise, found himself
enrolled as an amateur detective, liable to be called upon for active
service at any time. Annie, instead of moping at home and giving way to
melancholy, was bent upon yielding efficient help as a lady detective,
and Hilton meant to be guided by the exigencies of the moment.

The avowed end and aim of all these good people was to bring the man who
was responsible for Harley Riddell’s imprisonment to justice.

The progress of our story will show how they went about their new
employment, and what were the results of their endeavours as amateur
detectives.



CHAPTER III.

“MISS ANNIE CORY IS CONFIDENTIAL.”


A few days after the events narrated in the last chapter, Miss Margaret
Cory was reading aloud from some manuscript which she had just received
by post. Her audience was small, being composed of two individuals with
whom we are already acquainted--to wit, her brother, Mr. Cory, and
Hilton Riddell, who both listened to her with curious interest.

You and I too, dear readers, will take the liberty of hearing what Miss
Cory had to say.

“My darling Auntie,” she read, “I am now fairly installed here, but,
would you believe it? there are signs already that it will be
unnecessary for me to remain here very long. I shall, however, do my
utmost to retard my exit until I have learned all I want to know. Short
as my time here has been, it has already revealed much to me. Perhaps I
had better begin my story at the beginning, and then you can form your
own opinion. I must also be as lucid and explicit as possible, since
upon what I learn and describe Hilton Riddell’s actions in the near
future are dependent.

“On presenting myself here yesterday morning, according to arrangement,
I was admitted by a middle-aged servant, who regarded me with what I
considered pure effrontery.

“‘I wish to see Mrs. Stavanger,’ I said.

“‘Very likely,’ was the woman’s answer. ‘But you may prepare yourself
for a long wait first.’

“‘Why? Is she not in?’

“‘Oh yes, she’s in. But she thinks people wouldn’t believe her to be a
swell if she didn’t keep folks waiting a good bit.’

“‘Perhaps you will be good enough to tell her that I am here.’

“‘I suppose you are the new governess?’

“‘I am.’

“‘Oh well, you won’t be here long, if you’ve no more patience than the
others. But come inside; you can wait in the hall.’

“Saying this, the extraordinary specimen of a servant permitted me to
cross the threshold. The cabman had become impatient, and began to bring
my bit of luggage in at once. It was quite ten minutes before the woman,
who, I learned afterwards, is called Wear, made her reappearance, and
requested me to follow her to the drawing-room. By this time the cabman
had been paid and had gone away.

“Still smarting under the peculiar treatment of the servant, it was
with some trepidation that I approached the mistress. She was sitting in
an easy chair, and did not rise to greet me, as I naturally expected she
would do. From this trifling circumstance I instantly deduced the
opinion that Mrs. Stavanger was totally devoid of those finer instincts
which go to make up the being described by the term ‘lady.’ Subsequent
observations have confirmed me in this opinion. Personal beauty of a
strong, showy type, must at one time have been Mrs. Stavanger’s to a
great degree. She would be handsome yet, but for the expression of
mingled ill-temper and arrogance which perpetually disfigures her
features. She is, I think, a woman who has, by means of her good looks,
secured a husband whose position in life is much higher than hers had
been, and she is one of those people of whom it is expressively said
that ‘they cannot carry corn’--in other words she is a ‘beggar on
horseback.’

“She treated me with scant courtesy, even as her waiting maid had led me
to expect. She apparently imagines that a woman who is compelled to earn
her living in any shape or form is no longer deserving of respect or
civility. Hers is a belief which, unfortunately, has many followers, but
which troubles me very little, and would trouble me just as little were
I really the poor governess I seem to be, for I do not hold the opinion
of unreasonable people to be important enough to worry about. By the
time this interview was over, I had been given to understand that my
duties would be slightly more onerous than I had anticipated when being
engaged by Mr. Stavanger, who had spoken of his wife being too nervous
to interview strangers, and of his twelve-year-old daughter as a child
who required very little discipline.

“The latter is a very bright girl, but she is fearfully spoiled by
alternate over-indulgence and fault-finding. She has led her former
governess a pretty dance, by all accounts, and coolly told me that she
always did as she liked, and that it was no use telling tales of her, as
her mother never believed them, but invariably punished the governess
instead of the refractory pupil.

“‘It’s no use your setting me any lessons,’ she remarked yesterday
afternoon. ‘I shall only work when I like, just as I have always done.’

“‘Very well,’ I replied coolly, ‘we’ll be idle together. It’s no use
killing oneself to keep oneself, is it?’

“You would have been highly amused if you had seen Miss Fanny
Stavanger’s stare of surprise. She is evidently not used to being
humoured.

“‘I don’t know,’ was her dubious answer to my query. ‘If you take your
wages you ought to try to earn them. That is what mamma always tells the
other servants.’

“This wasn’t a palatable speech to hear. But the stake for which I am
playing is too big to allow me to be daunted by trifles, so I merely
told the girl it rested entirely with her whether I accepted my ‘wages’
from her parents or not, and that if she refused to learn her lessons
there would be no alternative for me but to refuse.

“‘Perhaps,’ I added, ‘you have been harassed over your lessons and have
not been permitted to learn in your own way. If you like we will alter
all that. You shall study when you please, and give over the minute you
are tired.’

“‘Well, I call you really jolly,’ was Miss Fanny’s rejoinder. ‘Maybe you
think me a fool, but if you’ll help me nicely, you’ll see what a lot I
can really do.’

“The little rebel was conquered. This morning she was quite eager to
begin studying with me, and I foresee little trouble with her in future.
Already she begins to be confidential with me, and has told me something
that will prove valuable. I am, I suppose, not yet quite inured to my
duties as detective, for I felt downright mean when listening to Fanny,
until a picture of my poor, innocent Harley rose before my mental
vision, and my heart hardened against the wicked people who have ruined
him.

“There are several members of this household who would prove interesting
to a student of human nature. Mr. Stavanger is purse-proud,
ostentatiously religious, hard and uncharitable in his judgment of
others; fond of show, and yet mean in trifles. It needs no very keen
observer to discover that much.

“Of Mrs. Stavanger you will already have formed your opinion. The
eldest daughter is a conglomeration of both parents, with some of their
defects slightly accentuated. The son I need not describe to you, you
saw him at the trial. But Fanny has told me that of late he has been
very unsteady, and that he and his father have quarrelled a good deal.
My pupil has also much to say about Wear, the parlour maid.

“‘I never saw anybody change so,’ observed the child. ‘Wear used to be
so respectful, until those nasty thieves got into the shop, and nearly
ruined papa and his partners. Since then she is impertinent all day
long, and says such queer things. I can’t imagine why she isn’t packed
off about her business. But when Ada told her the other day that she
would put up with her impudence no longer, Wear just laughed in her
face, and said that it would take a cleverer body than Ada to turn her
out of this house now.’

“I made no comments to Fanny on this information. But I feel sure of
one thing. Wear has become possessed of some power over the Stavangers,
of which she is making a very injudicious use, since it would pay her in
the end much better to keep a civil tongue in her head, and merely to
insist upon more liberal wages, instead of showing others that there is
ground for suspicion. When once the source of her sudden accession of
power over the Stavangers is discovered that power will irrevocably
leave her. Coupling Fanny’s remarks about ‘those nasty thieves’ with our
own previously-formed opinion respecting the actual culprit in whose
place Harley has been condemned and Wear’s peculiar behaviour, the
inference that we are on the right track is obvious. With God’s help, we
shall yet be able to rescue Harley from his horrible fate. I wonder if
you will think me wicked when I confess that I long for the time when
his betrayers will be suffering the agony that has been meted out to
him. Tell Hilton to hold himself in readiness for action at any moment,
for I am sure that I am on the eve of further discoveries.”

Three days later another budget from Annie was being discussed in Mr.
Cory’s drawing-room. This time Miss Cory had an additional listener.
Mrs. Riddell had been persuaded to take up her abode here for an
indefinite period. Her house had been let furnished until such time as
she was likely to require it again. Hilton was also visiting here at
present, and was ready to do anything or go anywhere to help to prove
his brother’s innocence. The fact that his mother was in such good
hands, instead of being left to mope and grieve in childless loneliness,
heartened him considerably for the work which he was convinced lay
before him.

“Since writing to you last,” read Miss Cory, “I have made a wonderful
discovery. I am quite sure that Hugh Stavanger, whose evidence was the
principal means of ensuring Harley’s condemnation, is the thief we are
in search of. Last night at twelve o’clock, when all the household was
supposed to be asleep, Mr. Stavanger was fuming in the dining-room at
the belated return home of his hopeful son, who, I have gathered, has
got into the habit of staying out late at night. At eleven o’clock I had
heard the hall door open, and someone ran upstairs to Hugh Stavanger’s
room, shutting the bedroom door behind him. The servants, who had not
seen the entrance of Mr. Hugh, but had heard the noisy run up to his
room, concluded that it was he who had come in. Everybody else being at
home, they locked and barred the doors for the night, and then went to
bed. But I, who had resolved to let nothing escape my notice, if it
could be helped, knew that a little pantomime was being enacted for the
benefit of the unsuspicious servants, for it was Mr. Stavanger who had
come noiselessly downstairs, and had imitated his son’s manner of
entering the house and going upstairs. The latter was still away from
home.

“From this behaviour I drew certain deductions. Mr. Stavanger wanted to
speak privately to his son; he did not want the servants to witness the
time of Hugh’s arrival, nor the condition in which he arrived; and the
matter about which he desired to speak must be of great importance,
since it required to be discussed unseasonably.

“I determined to be present at the interview.

“To do this, prompt action on my part was necessary, as I must be on
the scene before either of the principal actors. There are three
servants in the house. Wear was the last of these to go to bed, and the
moment she had passed the landing on to which my room door opened, I
slipped downstairs, and passed quietly into the dining room, without
being heard by anyone. Then I hid myself behind the window draperies,
and awaited events.

“I had not long to wait. Scarcely two minutes had elapsed ere Mr.
Stavanger, slipperless and cautious, came creeping into the room.
Perhaps it was because he was nervous that he found it necessary to help
himself to a big drink of brandy. Having disposed of this, he stepped
softly into the hall, and, an instant later, I heard him carefully
unfastening the front door. I was very glad that he did not return to
the dining room immediately, as this enabled me to change my position
into a more comfortable one. I sat down on the floor, leaned my back
against one of the window frames, and readjusted the curtains.

“If there was to be an interview between father and son, I might expect
them in this room, for they were not likely to be so indiscreet as to
carry on a conversation in the hall. Nor was I mistaken. In about a
quarter of an hour I heard someone ascend the front steps, and Mr.
Stavanger, who had been waiting in the hall until then, opened the door
before his son had time either to ring the bell or to insert a latch
key.

“‘Keep yourself quiet,’ I heard him say in a low tone, ‘and go into the
dining room. Make no noise, for your liberty is in danger.’

“Do you believe that, in cases of emergency, some of our faculties are
strengthened to an enormous extent? I think that this must be so, and
that I, for one, have been the subject of this phenomenon. Otherwise,
how shall I account for being able to hear Mr. Stavanger’s words so
distinctly? No doubt, the midnight quiet of the house and neighbourhood
had something to do with it. Still, I shall always think that Providence
thus showed its approval of my endeavours to save Harley Riddell from an
unjust fate.

“Hugh’s answer to his father’s injunction was an ejaculation of which I
did not catch the import. But he was evidently sufficiently impressed by
his manner to be obedient for once. I heard the door quietly fastened
again, and then the two men came into the room in which I was playing
the eavesdropper. Mr. Stavanger, after turning up the gas, which he had
previously lighted, seated himself, and requested his son to do the
same.

“‘Now then,’ observed the latter, ‘I would like to know what all this
mystery is about, and what you mean by insinuating that my liberty is in
danger.’

“‘Have you no idea?’ questioned Mr. Stavanger.

“‘Not the slightest.’

“‘Think again.’

“‘Why the deuce don’t you out with it? It isn’t likely that I know just
what you are driving at, and if I did, I am not fool enough to take the
initiative.’

“‘Well I will tell you. I have all along suspected that you yourself
were the thief for whom Riddell has been made the scapegoat. Perhaps it
will be as well for me to tell you that I have from the first been sure
of it. This was what made me so anxious to secure Riddell’s conviction.
I hoped thereby to save our own name from disgrace. But my efforts are
likely to prove futile, because, besides being a thief, a perjurer, and
a scoundrel, you are proving yourself a fool. You have been spending and
gambling recklessly of late, and people are talking about the amount of
money you are getting through. The gossip about you has come to Mr.
Lyon’s ears, and to-day I endured the greatest humiliation of my life,
for I was told to my face that I had deliberately sent an innocent man
to gaol, knowing the while that my son was guilty. It was in vain that I
denied this. Mr. Lyon vows that he has proofs of your guilt, and he has
given me his positive orders to refund the value of the theft and to
endorse some story which he is going to trump up to show that no theft
has been committed, or take the consequences.’

“‘Meaning that he would make me change places with Riddell! Good God!
what shall I do? I can’t give up the diamonds!’

“‘But you must give them up! Do you think I will allow you to ruin us
all? And simply because you want money to squander in drinking and
gambling hells? Tell me what you have done with your booty.’

“‘It’s all gone. I realised the diamonds for a quarter their value, and
paid my creditors with it.’

“‘What! you were heavily in debt?’

“‘Yes. I owed hundreds, and the money melted like wax.’

“‘What have you left?’

“‘About fifty pounds.’

“‘It’s a lie! You cannot have gone through the worth of all you took.’

“‘I tell you I have.’

“‘I wonder what I have done that I should be cursed by a son like you!
I won’t ruin myself to buy your freedom. You shall go to gaol like the
dog you are.’

“‘And what about the mater and the girls? If you won’t do it for me, you
will perhaps wish you had done it for their sakes.’

“‘Ah, you have me there! You are not worth stretching out a saving hand
to. But it would be hard to make them suffer for you.’

“‘Yes, I knew I should bring you to reason. What do you intend to do in
the matter?’

“‘Do you think your equal for shamelessness could be found anywhere?’

“‘Suppose you stick to business. What is going to be done?’

“‘Mr. Lyon sails for America to-morrow on very important business, as
you already know. He will not remain there above a week. In three weeks,
therefore, we may expect him back. Before that time arrives two things
must be done. I must place to the credit of Mr. Lyon and your uncle
Samuel an equivalent for their share of the stolen property. And you
must have left the country before then, for he has forbidden your
entering the shop again, and will not pledge himself not to denounce you
if he sees you.’

“‘But this is no reason why I should leave England?’

“‘There is another reason.’

“‘What is that?’

“‘Wear knows your secret. She saw the box of diamonds in your room on
the day of the robbery. At first she did not think about it, but, after
hearing of the robbery she put two and two together, and concluded that
the fine things that were missing were the same which her prying eyes
had seen hidden in the corner of one of your drawers. I can’t imagine
how a man in your position could be fool enough to leave his drawers
unlocked. Anyhow, Wear fathomed your secret, and tried to find the
things again, but they were gone. Then she came to me, and threatened
exposure unless I gave her fifty pounds to hold her tongue. This I did,
hoping to hear no more of the matter from her. But she is a woman of
such little sense that she is likely to ruin everything. Not content
with demanding more money from time to time, she is vilely impertinent
to us all, and behaves so very much like a person who holds us under her
thumb, that I shall find it necessary to make some provision for her
further away. But first, you must clear out of the country, for your
conduct is such as to awaken too much suspicion.’

“‘Does the mater know all?’

“‘No. She knows that Wear holds you in her power somehow, but doesn’t
know the actual facts. I was obliged to get up a plausible yarn as wide
of the real truth as I could, in order to induce her to keep Wear on,
now that she is so impertinent, until I could get rid of her
diplomatically.’

“‘And when must I go?’

“‘To-morrow night, at nine o’clock, a certain Captain Cochrane will call
to escort you to his ship. You must have everything in readiness to
leave with him. But you will not be able to take any luggage with you,
as Wear must not know you are going away.’

“‘Send Wear out of the way somewhere. Pack her off to the Crystal Palace
for the day.’

“‘It won’t do. Our servants are not used to treats, and Wear would
suspect something in a minute. Besides, I don’t want anybody except
Captain Cochrane to know that I am cognisant of your departure. It may
save a good deal of awkwardness for me in future.’

“This conversation, as you may easily believe, was listened to by me
with the greatest eagerness, and I was desperately afraid of missing a
word. Here was full proof to me, of Harley’s innocence. But my knowledge
was, I knew, useless as evidence, since I had no witness but myself to
bring forward. True, there is Wear. But she may be bought over by the
other side. And at present our task must be the frustration of Hugh
Stavanger’s attempt to escape with the diamonds. For, in spite of his
assertion to the contrary, I believe him to be still in possession of
the greater part of the stolen property. If he goes away with Captain
Cochrane, he will contrive to take his booty on board with him.

“There is one thing that makes my discoveries incomplete. Otherwise I
would have come home to tell you all this, never to return here, instead
of sitting up all night to write this. The name of the ship in which
Hugh Stavanger is to sail did not transpire, so Hilton will not be able
to do anything to help until to-morrow night. He must then watch for the
arrival of this captain, and be prepared to follow him and his intended
companion wherever they may go. It may be necessary to try to obtain a
passage with them. Is there any office on board a ship that Hilton can
take?

“To-morrow night, if I see an opportunity of hearing what these bad
people have to say to each other, I will try to gain some additional
information, for use in case Hilton fails to get on board with them, or
to intercept Hugh Stavanger’s attempt to escape. Perhaps I may learn
something more during the day. But this meeting is too early for me to
have any prospect of hiding unobserved, for the rest of the household
will all be up and stirring. Even if I could secrete myself again, I
might not be able to escape detection and reach my own room unobserved,
as I have been able to do this last night.

“The fact is, I feel somewhat unnerved, and am afraid of betraying
myself. In a few hours I must go through the farce of teaching Fanny,
although I feel dead tired already. I shall not need to feign a
headache. Still, if needs were, I could spend many a night in the work
of love upon which I have entered, and the day will wear away as others
do. Then as soon as I feel that my further presence here is useless, I
will try to slip out unobserved and exchange experiences with Hilton, if
there is time before the two men leave the house. As you know, I brought
very little luggage with me, and I will put on as many clothes as
possible, leaving the few things I cannot use. They are not marked, and
I could not be traced through them, especially as I am dyed and painted
to look like somebody else for awhile.”

This was all. Annie left off abruptly. Possibly she had feared
interruption; or had had only time enough to catch the early morning
post. Anyhow, she had done her part of the investigations well, and had
sent a very comprehensive report.

“Isn’t she a splendid girl?” said Miss Cory, with enthusiasm.

“She is just wonderful,” answered Hilton. “No wonder my brother loves
her so. I wish the world held more like her.”

“There are heaps of brave and noble girls, my boy, if you only knew
where to look for them. I wish my poor child was nicely out of that nest
of scoundrels.”

To which remark of Mr. Cory’s Mrs. Riddell, wiping first her eyes and
then her spectacles, gave answer--“Mr. Cory, that girl is too plucky and
sensible to get into trouble through being indiscreet. And as nothing
else is likely to betray her identity, we may rest assured that she will
get away all right. She will have no great distance to travel, but of
course, some one must be on the lookout for her.”

“I will go with Hilton,” said Mr. Cory; “and we will be within watching
distance of Mr. Stavanger’s house before half-past eight. Then,
everything being arranged that requires to be arranged beforehand,
Hilton will follow the two men, and find out what ship they are bound
for, while I wait for Annie, and bring her home with me.”

“Her suggestion that, if Hugh Stavanger gets to sea before the diamonds
can be found, as proof of what she says, I should try to embark on board
the same ship, with the object of recovering the things, or indicating
their whereabouts to the authorities, is a good one. But I have no
experience of sea-life, beyond an occasional excursion for an hour or
two from a sea-side holiday resort. And I have not the slightest idea of
anything I could do to excuse my presence on board a ship of any sort.
The sailors work above, and the firemen below. But even if I knew their
duties, and could get a job on board, my chances of finding the diamonds
would be small. But I would take care to keep my man in sight after he
left the ship, and it will take him all his time to baffle me then.”

So said Hilton, and this time it was Miss Cory who made the suggestions
which were ultimately followed.

“You couldn’t go on board directly after the captain to ask for work.
The time would be so unseasonable as to cause suspicion. But you might
perhaps ascertain casually whether the ship is leaving at once or not.
If it is, then you will have to risk trying to get on board, in spite of
the lateness of the hour. If not, wait till morning, but keep watch lest
there should be an attempt to slip away earlier than the time mentioned
to you. You have several hours yet before you, and you have more than
one disguise ready. Use one of these, and pack the others in your box
for use in emergencies. Go boldly on board, and offer to pay for your
passage. Comport yourself as one who has plenty of money, but who has
some reason for preferring to sail in a vessel that is not known as a
passenger ship. The captain will at once jump to the conclusion that you
are in some trouble, and you must humour his fancy. Hint something about
a breach of promise action, and he will think you quite a hero.”

The last sentence was uttered with a scornful accent which plainly
indicated Miss Cory’s opinion of man’s peculiar notions of what is
honourable in his dealings with the other sex. But her suggestion
“caught on,” and formed the basis of the tale with which Hilton Riddell
was to hide his real motive in attempting to obtain a passage with
Captain Cochrane. There was of course the possibility that his
application would be refused. In this case, he would proceed by the
quickest route to whichever place the merchant ship was bound for, and
would be on the spot, ready to meet the diamond thief, and to do his
best to convict him of the possession of some of the stolen property.

When, at the time agreed upon, Mr. Cory and Hilton Riddell set off on
their mission of love and vengeance, every detail of their plans had
been arranged, Hilton, not sure when or under what circumstances he
would see his mother again, had bidden her a fond good-bye, and had left
her praying for God’s help in the enterprise which she hoped would
restore her banished son to her.

Meanwhile the Stavangers, father and son, were also maturing their
plans, feeling pretty confident now of success, and little dreaming that
the avenger was already on their track.



CHAPTER IV.

A SUSPICIOUS DEATH.


Nearly opposite the residence of Mr. Stavanger there was an untenanted
house. The front area was well planted with trees and shrubs, which
afforded capital shelter to two men who had loitered there for some
time. The men were known to us, being none other than Mr. Cory and
Hilton Riddell. They were getting somewhat fidgety lest a mistake had
been made somewhere. For it was long past the time appointed for Hugh
Stavanger’s departure with Captain Cochrane, and yet they had seen
neither the one nor the other, although the house had been strictly
watched for two hours.

“He can’t have eluded us by going away earlier than the time named?”
said Hilton, anxiously.

“Oh no,” was the confident reply. “Annie would have been sure to let us
know somehow or other.”

“Unless she is suspected, and is prevented from doing anything further
just now.”

“That is possible. But I doubt it, for she would have no need or
opportunity to watch Mr. Stavanger in any suspicious way during the day.
And even if she had found it desirable to do so, and had been detected,
what could these people do to her? They could not say: You shall not go
out, because we have been stealing, and don’t want to be caught. As for
locking her up in her room, that would be hardly practicable. No, since
she has not come out to us I fancy that events are still multiplying
indoors, and that we shall hear all about it soon. Ah--there is somebody
coming out! It is Annie, I expect.”

“No; it is a woman, but it is not Miss Cory.”

“It is a servant, and on an urgent message, for she is actually
running.”

“Hush! she might hear us. Now she has passed us. Shall I follow her, do
you think?”

“No, no, stay here. Look how the lights are flashing about those upper
rooms. The whole house seems to be in an uproar--and now I can hear a
woman screaming. Good God! they are murdering Annie.”

As he almost shouted this, in his sudden alarm, Mr. Cory, followed by
Hilton, rushed across the road and up the steps leading to Mr.
Stavanger’s house. Someone was evidently expected, for the door was
opened as soon as they reached it, and a young girl, the housemaid
probably, stood before them with clasped hands and streaming eyes.

“Oh, sir, are you the doctor?” she exclaimed. “It’s just awful! Wear
has been taken ill all of a sudden, and she is rolling on the floor and
screaming dreadful, with the agony she’s in. The missis is too
frightened to be beside her. But the governess is with her, and oh dear,
doctor, do be quick!”

“I’m not the doctor,” answered Mr. Cory quickly, “but I’ll fetch one
directly. I was passing and heard the screams. Come along.”

A moment later both men were hastening for a certain Doctor Mayne, whom
they knew. He lived not far away, and from him they hoped to be able to
hear a few after-details of the case. Fortunately he was at home, and
set off at once. The doctor whom the servant had gone to seek had not
been in when she arrived at his house, so Doctor Mayne was admitted to
the patient at once. But the moment he looked at her he judged her case
to be hopeless.

Nor was he mistaken. Poor Wear was, as the housemaid had said, in mortal
agony. An hour later she was dead. Annie, though she was tired and
heartsick, was with her to the last, rendering what help she could, and
wondering all the while if this terrible event could be the accident it
was supposed to be. For the woman’s death at this juncture, with Hugh
Stavanger’s secret still unbetrayed by her, was so strangely opportune
an occurrence that less suspicious natures than Annie’s might easily
suspect some of the Stavangers to have had a hand in it.

Wear was known to be rather fond of an occasional drink of Hollands. On
her box in her room was found a gin bottle, from which she had evidently
been drinking. But the bottle contained no gin, but a deadly poison
sometimes used for disinfecting purposes. How this happened to be in an
unlabelled bottle, and how Wear happened to mistake it for gin, are
mysteries which have never been elucidated, and never will be now. The
dead woman can reveal neither of these secrets, nor that other one which
was so important to the people in whose house she died.

It was about eleven o’clock when this event occurred.

Meanwhile our two watchers were in a great state of anxiety and
suspense, which was not lessened when Doctor Mayne, surprised to see
them there still when he left the house, told them that all was over.

“Some time, Doctor Mayne, I will explain everything to you. At present
my great anxiety is about my daughter.”

“Why, is she ill?”

“No, she is in that house. The woman who had just died an awful death
knew a secret likely to cost young Stavanger his liberty and to liberate
young Riddell, and the Stavangers were aware that she had them in her
power. My daughter is there. She also knows their secret. Her life is no
safer than Wear’s was. She shall stay no longer, lest she also be
poisoned.”

“You are saying terrible things, Mr. Cory,” said the doctor, “but your
excitement must prove your excuse. The unfortunate woman certainly died
from poison. But there is nothing in the event to lead to the
supposition that anyone but herself was to blame for the accident. In
any case, it is of a kind to which your daughter could hardly fall a
victim. Even if Wear had been deliberately poisoned--and I do not for a
moment think that is so--a repetition of the same kind of tragedy would
not be ventured upon by even the most reckless criminals. The young lady
whom I take to be your daughter looked so ill and upset that I advised
her to go to bed at once, and I know that she agreed to follow my
advice.”

“Where is Mr. Stavanger?”

“I do not know. There are no men in the house, I think, at present, and
the women are all considerably cut up by to-night’s scene. And now, as I
have had several broken nights lately, and am very tired, I will say
good-bye. To-morrow I will talk things over.”

“Now, what do you think it behoves us to do?” asked Hilton, who was as
greatly perplexed and alarmed as Mr. Cory was. “I cannot understand how
it happens that the Stavangers, senior and junior, and this Captain
Cochrane, of whom Annie spoke, have not turned up.”

“I have it,” said Mr. Cory, after some deliberation. “There has been
some alteration of plans. We left home perhaps earlier than Annie
expected, and there may even now be a message waiting for us. But here
comes a woman. See how she loiters. One would think she was as much
interested in this house as we are.”

“Why, so she is! It is Miss Cory, I am sure.”

And so it proved. It was Miss Cory indeed, looking for her brother and
friend.

“Whatever brings you here, Margaret?” asked Mr. Cory, in considerable
surprise.

“Come here and you shall know,” she answered. “You can do nothing more
here, and I have much to tell you. Annie is not coming out to-night. She
is all right. Now listen.”

And as the trio walked homewards, Miss Cory gave them the following
particulars:

“You had not been gone many minutes,” she said, “when a letter from
Annie arrived, saying that she would come home to-morrow, as her work
would then, she thought, be quite done. She also said that Mrs.
Stavanger had received a telegraphic message during the morning. It was
addressed to her husband, but she had opened it, as was her usual custom
with messages which came to the house. It simply said ‘Can’t come. Bring
H. S. at 8.30 to Millwall Dock. Sail to-morrow.’ Annie understood the
message, which Mrs. Stavanger indiscreetly read aloud. To the mistress
of the house it was not so intelligible. But she comprehended that it
might be important, and sent the boy who does odd jobs about the house
during the day to the shop with it. It seems to me that it would take a
very clever individual to throw dust into Annie’s eyes. ‘I am not sure,’
she writes, ‘that it is safe to neglect watching the house, and yet
Hilton at least should try to keep Hugh Stavanger in sight. What we want
to prove is that he has the diamonds. It is no use, as we know, to
attempt to have him arrested until we have proof in our possession that
will convict him. Of course we know that he is guilty, and certain other
people know it also. But we may not be able to induce them to give
evidence on our side. Mr. Lyon has the honour of the firm to support.
Mr. Stavanger’s family credit and prosperity would be entirely ruined by
the proof of his son’s guilt. Wear will stick to the Stavangers if they
make a sufficiently high bid for her silence. We must therefore place
our reliance on the diamonds, which Hugh Stavanger must have hidden
somewhere or other. They will be our salvation if we can show that they
have been seen in the scoundrel’s possession. I am afraid it is a
dangerous thing to do, but there seems to be nothing for it but to
follow the man to sea. If he does not come home before eight o’clock, it
is hardly likely that the stolen property is here. If he does come home
it might almost be safe to arrest him on the chance of finding the
things on him. But I dread ruining all by premature action, so implore
you to be cautious. Let father watch here with a detective if he likes,
but let Hilton go at once to Millwall Dock and keep a sharp look out
there. He might perhaps discover the name of the ship Captain Cochrane
is commanding, and get a passage in her. If he cannot go as a passenger,
he can try, after changing his disguise, to go as cook or steward. Of
course he does not know the work, but that is a detail that cannot be
taken into consideration when such great issues are at stake.’

“Now what do you think of that?” said Miss Cory, folding up the letter,
which she had stopped to read by the light of a street lamp.

“I think Annie is a wonderful girl. She seems to think of everything,”
was Hilton’s reply, given in a tone of great disappointment. “But her
excellent advice comes too late. Our bird has flown, and it will be
almost impossible to discover him to-morrow, since he is sure to keep
dark, and we do not even know the name of the ship to which he has been
taken.”

“Yes, men generally have an idea that women are of no use,” Miss Cory
said, and her voice had such a triumphant inflection in it that her
hearers at once found themselves heartened again. “But in this case they
may thank their stars that they have got women to help them.”

“We shall only be too glad to thank our stars--the women themselves,”
quoth Hilton. Whereupon Miss Cory rejoined: “Very prettily said, Mr.
Riddell, but you don’t know yet what you have to thank me for. I know
where young Stavanger is to be found this minute.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really and truly.”

“But how in the world have you managed it?”

“Well, you see, when Annie’s letter arrived, you had already left home,
and for a while I was more than a little puzzled as to what was best to
be done. But there was no time to spare, and I soon had to come to a
decision. Had I come to fetch either of you to go to Millwall, we should
have been too late, and had I thought of intercepting either of the
Stavangers on the way, my efforts would have been futile. There was but
one course open to me, and I adopted it without delay. You and I, John,
are about the same size. It being already nightfall, and it being,
moreover, very essential that I should not be noticed much myself, I
took a liberty with your wardrobe that you must excuse. I haven’t seen
much of dock life, as you know, but I have an idea, which has proved to
be correct, that women, at least respectable women, don’t hang about the
dock gates at night unless they are on the look out for some particular
ship. I am not one to stick at trifles, but I did not want to be
mistaken for somebody who wasn’t respectable, and I did want to be as
unnoticed as possible. So I just got dressed in one of your suits, put
my hair out of the way--there isn’t much of it--donned a long top-coat
and took an old hat, and set off for Millwall. I took the Underground,
and changed at Mark Lane. At Fenchurch Street I just caught a train
starting for the docks. If I had had to wait there I should have had a
fruitless errand, for I lost a little time at the other end hunting
about the dock gates, and I was afraid to attract attention to myself by
asking my way. Perhaps you think that I ought to have known it, as I was
down there with you last summer to look over one of the ships in which
you are a shareholder. But things look very different in the bright
sunshine, when you have a lot of friends with you, all bent upon
pleasure, from what they do at night, when you are alone and nervous,
and fearful alike of being seen yourself or of failing to see those of
whom you are in search.

“I am thankful, however, to say that I overcame all obstacles, and I was
luckier in my mission than I could have dreamed of, for I had barely got
up to the dock gates, when a cab stopped for a moment to put down two
men, whom I had little difficulty in recognising as Mr. David Stavanger
and his son Hugh. I almost betrayed myself by trying to get too near
them, as they questioned the watchman, but I suppose they thought
themselves quite safe in that out-of-the-way region, and did not even
trouble themselves to speak low, or to notice who stood near them.

“‘Do you know where the “Merry Maid” is lying?’ asked Mr. Stavanger.

“‘Yes, sir, she’s lying over there, sir, in that basin; but she’s not
easy to get at. She’s been shifted into the middle of the dock, sir. She
was to have sailed this tide, but the bo’sun was telling my mate, a bit
since, that none of her stores have come aboard, through the steward not
ordering them, and telling the skipper that he had. There’s been a jolly
row, and the steward had to clear in a hurry to-night, although he had
signed articles.’

“‘Then I suppose everybody all around is in a tear about it?’ put in
Hugh Stavanger.

“‘Not a bit of it, sir,’ was the watchman’s reply. ‘Why should anybody
be vexed except the owners? They are the only losers, having to pay a
day’s expenses for nothing. The men are nearly all ashore, enjoying
themselves a bit longer.’

“‘But how are we to get on board, if the ship is in the middle of the
dock?’

“‘Oh, that’s easily managed, sir, when you know how to go about it.
Hallo, Jim, just show the gents the way on board the “Merry Maid.”’

“‘Right you are,’ said the individual addressed as Jim. ‘Come along,
sirs.’

“The next minute the Stavangers were on their way to the ship, and I
was trudging back to the station, quite satisfied with the results of my
mission, except for one thing. I had kept a sharp look-out on both
father and son, but could see that they had no luggage whatever with
them. Hugh Stavanger may have the diamonds concealed about him, or, as
he is sure to have some luggage of some sort to follow him on board in
the morning, the property we want to trace may be sent to him to-morrow.
Anyhow, Hilton here, if he can get on board, will make it his business
to seek it. He knows where to go, and he ought to start early, as the
ship sails about noon. Just to finish my story--I got home as quickly as
I could, and changed my clothes. Then I thought that, as you had missed
Annie’s letter, you would perhaps hang about here all night, on the
look-out for Captain Cochrane and his passenger. So I took a cab, and
got out in the next street to the one I expected to find you in--and
here I am, dead-tired, if I may own the truth.”

While Miss Cory had been talking, the trio had been walking homewards.
They hoped to have come across a belated cab or hansom by the way, but
were not fortunate enough to do so. They were all, therefore, very glad
when they reached home, where warmth, food, and rest awaited them.



CHAPTER V.

AN OLD FRIEND IN A NEW GUISE.


The ss. “Merry Maid” was making capital progress. She was well-engined,
well-manned, her disc was well in evidence, and wind and weather were
all that could be desired. The captain was in an unusually good humour,
for, in addition to his regular means of making money over and above his
salary, he had an extra good speculation on hand, in the shape of a
young passenger whose supposed name was Paul Torrens, but whom we have
known as Hugh Stavanger.

Mr. Torrens, as we will also call him for a time, hardly looked like the
typical fugitive from justice, for his face, as he sat talking to
Captain Cochrane, was that of a man who feels exceedingly well pleased
with himself. The two men were sitting in the cabin of the steamer.
Before them stood bottles and glasses, and the clouded atmosphere of the
apartment gave testimony to the supposition that both men were ardent
votaries of the goddess Nicotine.

“After all, it’s quite jolly to be at sea,” observed Mr. Torrens. “I
expected to feel no end of squeamish.”

To which elegant remark Captain Cochrane replied in kind: “And you
haven’t turned a hair! I am glad of it too, for I hate to have to do
with folk who get sea-sick. They are such an awful nuisance while ill,
and are limp and unsociable for days sometimes, even after they are
supposed to be over the worst of the visitation. A fellow who can take
his share at the whisky bottle is more to my taste.”

“Then I ought to suit you?”

“Yes, you do. Perhaps better than you imagine.”

“Indeed? I should like to know what you mean. It’s something new to be
so well appreciated.”

“It doesn’t take much to please me. Kindred tastes and a well-lined
pocket go a long way towards it.”

“But if the owner of the well-lined pocket declines to part with the
rhino?”

“In this case there is something more at stake than mere rhino, and I
think that the present possessor of it will not dare refuse to go shares
with me.”

As Captain Cochrane said this he emphasised his meaning by such an
unmistakably menacing look that Mr. Torrens shrank together as if
struck, and grew pale to the very lips.

“Of whom and of what are you speaking?” he stammered. But his whole
manner showed that he entertained no doubt on the subject, and his
companion was so sure of his position that he did not trouble himself to
enter into explanations, but smiled coolly and remarked: “Suppose we go
into my berth to discuss matters more fully? It may save future trouble
if we come to an understanding at once, and this place is perhaps not
quite private enough.”

Without a word of remonstrance or comment, Mr. Torrens rose and
followed the captain into his private berth. The latter closed the door
behind his visitor, and pointed out a comfortable chair to him.

“Now then, we will talk business, Mr. ---- Torrens. I happen to know
that the individual who got potted for a certain diamond robbery had no
more to do with the job than I had.”

“How do you happen to know that?”

“Well, during the time that elapsed between receiving a visit from a
certain Mr. Stavanger, and the reception of his son as a passenger on
board the “Merry Maid,” I made a good many inquiries which enlightened
me considerably. I based my inquiries on the circumstance that it was
found desirable to send Mr. Hugh Stavanger out of the
country--presumably for his health, which happens to be very good. That
little yarn about his declining health turning out to be fiction, I
looked around for another reason, since it is evident that a reason
there must be. It was not difficult to discover that Mr. Hugh Stavanger
had of late been leading a very fast life, and that he had been much
more flush of money since the robbery than was the case before that
event took place. I am not given to being foolishly charitable in my
opinions of others, and I did not think myself to be far wrong in
believing that I knew the source of his increased income. There was
another thing that convinced me that I was right. There had been no
hesitation in fixing the guilt of the robbery upon a man against whom
there had never been a breath of suspicion, and who had proved himself a
valued servant. The rancour with which such a man was pursued to his
doom ought to have set blear-eyed Justice on the right track. But she
has such a curious knack of toading to wealth and position that a poor
devil in the dock stands no chance at all, but may thank his stars that
no more lies are raked up against him. No doubt Messrs. Stavanger felt
it to be necessary to secure a conviction, since, the affair being
apparently settled, the law’s sagacious bloodhounds could turn their
attention to a less simple case on the face of it. Perhaps they have not
remembered that this Riddell whom they have sent to penal servitude has
friends and relations who may even now be trying to find evidence
against the real thief.”

“And if they are seeking evidence, what has that to do with me?”

“Everything, my dear sir, since it may result in a reversal of your
positions. But we have beaten about the bush long enough. It’s time we
spoke plainly. You are, I am quite sure, the man who stole the diamonds,
and swore away another man’s liberty to save your own skin. There must
be a good share of the stolen property in your possession. In fact, it
is in that little leather bag that you take such care of, that it goes
to bed with you at night. Too much valuable property is good for no man.
You will therefore fetch that bag out of your berth at once. You will
then open it, and spread its contents upon this table, the door being
securely fastened against intruders. I shall then choose my share of the
plunder as a solatium to my conscience for consenting to associate with
a thief.”

“And what if I refuse?”

“Then I shall have you fastened in the remaining spare berth, without
giving you a chance to overhaul your baggage. I shall then have you
taken ashore at Malta, and formally charged with being an absconded
thief; your baggage will be searched, and you know best whether you can
afford to refuse my offer of complete protection, on condition that we
go shares in the plunder.”

For a few seconds Mr. Torrens did not reply. Then he resigned himself to
the inevitable, and, cursing his ill-luck, which left him no peace;
cursing his father, who had chosen a scoundrel to convey him out of
harm’s way; cursing the captain because he was an avaricious brute;
cursing anything and everybody but his own vile self, he proceeded to
the berth he had occupied during the time he had been at sea. Thence he
soon after emerged, carrying the small bag to which Captain Cochrane had
referred.

Meanwhile the latter was smiling with satisfaction, and chuckling at the
astuteness which was helping him to enrich himself so easily. When Mr.
Torrens left him for a moment he felt no uneasiness concerning the
diamonds, for he considered that that worldly-wise young man would not
throw the proof of his guilt through the window in preference to sharing
it with another.

“He is not fool enough to chuck it away, and if he were so inclined, I
am keeping a sharp eye on his berth, and can stop him if he even tries
to open the bag before he brings it here.”

So murmured the captain, quite unconscious of the fact that his
low-spoken words found an eager listener. Yet so it was, and to explain
how this happened a slight description of the cabin of the “Merry Maid”
is necessary.

It was a square apartment, lighted from a large skylight in the centre.
On either side it was flanked by berths. To the right, at the foot of
the companion, was the steward’s pantry. Then came the berth allotted to
Mr. Torrens, and those which the officers occupied. Immediately opposite
the passenger’s berth was the captain’s room. On either side of the
latter were built respectively a small berth for the steward and a
bathroom. Another spare berth on this side completed the accommodation.

The steward was evidently a man with an inquisitive turn of mind, for
during the conversation just recorded he was kneeling on the top of his
bunk, with his ear pressed close to a small orifice in the partition
wall. It was an odd coincidence that the steward, who had shipped under
the name of “William Trace,” should have a hole at the front of his
berth through which he could survey the cabin when desirous of doing so.
Still more odd was it that the pantry should also be similarly furnished
with means of observation. To prevent undue notice of his own movements,
Mr. Trace had furnished his peepholes with small discs of cardboard,
with which he covered them when he required a light in his room. The
orifices were so small and so cleverly placed as to be almost certain to
escape detection, provided the steward was careful.

When we first observe him watching the captain, and listening to his
conversation with Mr. Torrens, his face is lighted up with joy, and his
limbs are shaking with excitement.

“He cannot escape me,” he thinks. “I have run him to earth, and within
ten days he will be denounced. Heaven grant me patience to keep my
counsel until we reach Malta. Ha! now he returns with his ill-gotten
gains, and that other scoundrel little imagines how he will be punished
for his greed.”

For the next ten minutes Mr. Trace finds connected thought impossible,
but, with his eye put close to the peephole, is taking a necessarily
circumscribed view of the scene being enacted in the captain’s berth.
There is a tempting display of very beautiful jewellery, and there is
considerable haggling anent its distribution. But the latter is
accomplished at last, and the captain places his share in his private
desk, which he locks very carefully. Mr. Torrens, wearing a very savage
look on his face, crosses the cabin to his own berth, and fastens the
door after him. As it is still early in the afternoon, he is perhaps
thinking of taking a nap.

The steward is apparently satisfied with his observations for the
present, for he gets down from his post of vantage, and prepares himself
for his afternoon duties. Tea has to be ready at five o’clock, and, from
a purely stewardly point of view, much time has been wasted, so that it
behoves him to hurry himself now. His beard, which is brown and bushy,
requires some little readjustment, and Captain Cochrane would be
considerably surprised if he could see how easily removable both beard
and wig are.

But we, who already recognise in William Trace our friend Hilton
Riddell, feel no surprise whatever, unless it be at his temerity in
offering himself for a post concerning the duties of which he knew
positively nothing. When, on attempting to engage a berth as passenger
in the “Merry Maid,” he found his application rejected, he straightway
resolved to change his disguise; and having found that the ship had not
her full complement of men, and could not sail until morning, he
resolved to apply to the mate to be taken on as steward. The mate,
without much inquiry, gave him the post, and had already repented of his
indiscretion, for a man may have a great deal of natural aptitude, and
yet fail utterly at a post that is quite strange to him. It was so with
William Trace, and he had already learnt the savour of a seaman’s
invective.

It may have hurt his pride a little to hear himself called a fraud and a
duffer, and to have a number of burning adjectives hurled at his head
every day. But, in view of his recent discoveries, he is inclined to
condone these offences against his self-respect.

Unfortunately for him, he has forgotten to lower the piece of cardboard
with which he is wont to cover the peephole which overlooks the
captain’s berth.

From such simple oversights do tragedies spring.



CHAPTER VI.

A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE.


Late that evening the steward of the “Merry Maid” was sitting in his
berth, writing.

The accommodation at his disposal was of the most meagre kind. It
included neither desk nor table, for which, by-the-bye, the tiny place
would not have had room if they had been available. By way of a
substitute, however, his washstand, which was of the sort commonly
considered quite luxurious enough for a seafarer, was fitted with a deal
top, and upon this he had spread the wherewithal to write a long letter.
He sat upon his campstool and applied himself very diligently to his
work, covering sheet after sheet with minute writing. Actually, he was
writing a very detailed account of all that had transpired after he left
home to enter upon the duties of an amateur detective. Having made his
budget of news as complete and circumstantial as possible, he folded the
papers upon which he had written into a long, thin roll. Then he reached
out of the drawer under his bunk an empty wine bottle. He had evidently
prepared it for the occasion, for it was quite clean and dry. Into this
receptacle he thrust his roll of paper. Then he corked the bottle, and
wired the cork firmly down, tying over all a piece of washleather, in
order to prevent the possibility of the entrance of sea-water into the
bottle. His next proceeding was to open the port, and to lower the
bottle through it into the water, through which the “Merry Maid” was
running at the rate of ten knots an hour--not at all bad for an ordinary
ocean tramp, as the class of vessels to which the “Merry Maid” belonged
is often called.

“There,” he thought, “I feel easier after taking that precaution. One
never knows what may happen, and there is too much at stake to permit it
to depend entirely on my safety. I wonder what makes me feel so uneasy.
I don’t think I have done anything to betray myself. And yet I have a
strange foreboding of coming ill. Shall I ever see old England again?
Just now I have my doubts. Throwing that bottle into the sea was the
first outcome of the new feeling of dread which has come over me, and
even if ill comes to me before we reach Malta, there is the chance of
Harley being rescued after all, for the first person who picks the
bottle up will examine and report upon its contents. I once read of a
castaway bottle floating about two years--sent hither and thither,
caught first by one current, and then by another--before it was finally
washed ashore. God grant that Harley may not have to wait two years for
his deliverance.”

While he was thus musing in a depressed mood that struck him as uncanny
and unaccountable, considering the information that he had gained, the
steward of the “Merry Maid” prepared himself for bed, for he had to rise
early next morning. Had he but cast his tired eyes up to the little
peephole which overlooked the next berth, he would have noticed
something which would have alarmed him. The hole being unprotected, the
light from his oil lamp had betrayed him.

The captain had retired for the night, but found sleep to be in too
fitful and fleetsome a mood to benefit him. The fact that he was richer
by at least a thousand pounds than he was a day or two ago had set his
imagination going, and he was in fancy entering into all sorts of plans
for doubling his capital. Towards one o’clock, he was dozing off, when a
slight noise awoke him. Some people are easily aroused by any unexpected
sound. Captain Cochrane was one of these people. There is hardly any
time so quiet at sea in a merchant ship as one o’clock in the morning.
All hands not on watch are in bed, and those who are on watch content
themselves with doing their duty. Supplementary caperings or
promenadings are deferred until a more seasonable time.

This being the case, we can understand how it was that Captain Cochrane
was on the alert at once when the sound of a splash in the water close
to his port fell on his startled ears. For a moment he lay wondering
whether someone had fallen overboard or not. Then, just as he came to
the conclusion that the splash was hardly loud enough to account for a
cat falling into the water, he noticed something else that surprised
him.

Just opposite his face, as he sat up in his bunk, there was a small
round patch of light. He had no light burning in his berth. Whence came
this illumination of a spot to which no light for which he could account
could penetrate? He must find out. With Captain Cochrane, to resolve was
usually to do. It did not take him long to discover William Trace’s
secret.

A hole had been deliberately cut in the partition. Such an act would not
be done without a purpose. What was that purpose? A very cursory
inspection, conducted in the quietest possible manner, convinced the
captain that he had come upon a means of espionage. He himself had been
the object of supervision. It was time to reverse the situation, and
this was accordingly done. The blood of William Trace would, of a
surety, have run cold if he could have seen the baleful look in the eye
which was now peering down at him as he unconsciously betrayed his dual
identity by divesting himself of the thick wig and beard, which he found
hot and uncomfortable.

Chancing, as he vaulted into his bunk, to glance at his means of
inspecting the next berth, he noticed, to his horror, that the
card-board disc was not in its place. To repair the omission was the
work of a moment. But he could not so soon recover from the shock which
his blunder had caused him. The sense of foreboding which had visited
him in the earlier part of the night attacked him with redoubled force,
but amid all his doubts of his own personal safety, inspired by his
conviction of the villainous character of the two men with whom he had
to deal, there rose a sense of thankfulness that Harley’s rescue no
longer depended entirely upon his brother’s personal safety.

The replacing of the card-board disc prevented Captain Cochrane from
seeing into the steward’s berth. But this fact did not trouble him. The
hole had served his purpose, and he had seen enough to convince him that
he had brought to sea as ship’s steward a man who was neither more nor
less than a spy. A spy, moreover, who had found it necessary to cloak
his identity by an elaborate disguise.

What could be his special motive, and who was the object of his
attentions? The captain felt quite easy as regarded himself, for he had
always been very careful to avoid adding to his perquisites in so clumsy
a manner as to lead to unpleasant inquiries. His transaction with Mr.
Torrens was the first for which he felt the law might have a legitimate
grip upon him. But as the steward had evidently been officiating as spy,
or detective, whichever he might like to call himself, before the
occurrence of the little scene just alluded to, it was clear that this
was not the cause of the stranger’s presence on board. His motive must
be anterior to the division of the spoil. Yet that it had something to
do with the flight of Mr. Torrens, and the abduction of the said spoil,
Captain Cochrane felt morally convinced.

Now, had the pursuit and discovery of a diamond thief involved no loss
or danger to himself, the skipper of the “Merry Maid” would not have
felt very much concern. But the events of the last few days had
materially altered his notions on the subject. For, whereas he would
formerly have felt it incumbent upon him to lend his aid in the cause of
right and justice, he now felt his own safety involved in the
maintenance of Mr. Torrens’s desire to do what he liked with what was
left of the proceeds of his venture.

For was he not an accessory after the fact? And had he not in his own
possession a very handsome share of the plunder? Detection and exposure
of Torrens meant loss, disgrace, and imprisonment for Captain Cochrane.

“Having gone so far,” he said, clenching his teeth, and looking very
grim about the eyes, “I will go on to the bitter end. I won’t allow any
man to foil me, if I can help it. This William Trace, as he calls
himself, came here at his own risk, and on his head be it if he does not
find his way home again.”

The next morning, or, rather, at eight o’clock the same morning, there
was considerable speculation in the minds of two of the individuals in
the cabin of the “Merry Maid.” One of them was the steward, who was, to
the best of his ability, attending to the wants of those at the
breakfast table. But though he was keenly observant of the captain’s
manner, there was nothing in it that could lead him to suppose his
secret to have been betrayed. Nay, the captain was even more forbearing
than usual, and had nothing to say anent the sloppy nature of the dry
hash, or the extraordinary mixture dignified by the name of curried
lobster.

Altogether, breakfast passed over pretty quietly, and Hilton Riddell,
alias William Trace, began to feel more comfortable in his mind. Further
espionage he did not think necessary to go in for, as he had already
learned enough to prove his case. If only the ship could be made to
accelerate her speed, and arrive quicker at Malta. He could then
disburthen himself of the immense responsibility which weighed upon him.
Meanwhile, the best thing he could do was to endeavour to give
satisfaction as steward, in order to lead as peaceful a life as possible
while on board.

After breakfast, the captain requested Mr. Torrens to accompany him to
the chart-room, as he had something he wanted to show him there.

“Certainly; any blessed thing for a change,” said the passenger. “I
should feel inclined to blow my brains out if I had to put up with this
stagnation long. How on earth you fellows stand the monotony, I don’t
know.”

“Well, you see,” was the captain’s reply, as the two were crossing the
poop deck together, “we are used to the life, and, what’s more, we like
it. But that is not what I want to talk to you about just now. I have
something to tell you that will astonish you. Ah! there he goes. Do you
know that fellow? I mean the one who has just gone along to the galley.”

“Of course I know him. He is the steward.”

“So I thought, until last night, when I witnessed a performance not
intended for my eyes. That fellow, who has shipped with us as steward,
and calls himself William Trace, is a detective, and he is after you.”

“Good God! how do you know that?”

“He has got a very good outfit in the way of disguise. That bushy beard
of his is false. So is his wig. And I happen to know that he saw you
bring the diamonds out of your berth into mine. And that reminds me. I
want to have a look into that same berth of yours.”

“For God’s sake, don’t trifle with me. Is what you say about the steward
true?”

“Yes, it’s true enough, curse him.”

“Then I’m lost.”

“I don’t know about that. Anyhow, I don’t mean to give in, and lose what
I got last night, without a struggle.”

“But what can we do if the thing is found out already?”

“There are a good many things which desperate men can do. But, before we
decide anything further, we’ll go below again, while our enemy is in the
galley.”

Suiting the action to the word, the confederates proceeded to Mr.
Torrens’s berth.

“I thought so,” observed the captain; “look here.”

“At what? At that little hole into which you have thrust your finger?”

“That little hole is one of the traps that has betrayed you. There is
one just like it overlooking my berth.”

“But nobody can see through it.”

“At present, no. Because it is covered on the other side. Remove the
cover, and put an enemy’s eye to the hole, and where are your secrets?
There is no doubt about it. This fellow has followed you here, and he
has now discovered all he came for. It’s lucky for you that we went
shares last night, for you would have small chance of getting out of the
mess by yourself.”

“Who will this be? Have you any idea?”

“A detective from Scotland Yard, most likely. Employed by the friends of
the man who is in gaol.”

“Riddell has a brother who, in my hearing, swore not to let the matter
drop. My God, what a fool I am! This is the very man. I wondered what
his voice and figure reminded me of. Now I know. This is Harley
Riddell’s brother himself. He will tell everything when we get to
Malta.”

“We mustn’t let him.”

“How are we to prevent him?”

“He must never reach Malta. I tell you, I won’t be baulked of my share
of the diamonds, and you have far more at stake than I have. It often
happens that a man falls overboard.”

For a moment the two villains looked into each other’s eyes. Then they
understood each other, and Hilton Riddell’s fate was mapped out before
that interview ended.

Somehow, the steward’s duties seemed interminable that day, for the
captain had taken it into his head that the chart-room required a
thorough cleaning and overhauling.

“Steward,” he said, “I want you to try what sort of a job you can make
of this place. Our last steward didn’t half look after things. You can
get the engineer’s steward to help you for an hour. It won’t take you
longer than that.”

The work might be uncongenial to a man of Hilton Riddell’s tastes and
temperament. But it had to be done, and he was not one to shirk his
responsibilities because they happened to be distasteful. So he occupied
himself up in the chart-room, unconscious of the fact that his berth was
being searched all over. The searchers found enough to convince them of
his real identity. They also made the discovery that it must have been
he who wished to sail as passenger in the “Merry Maid,” but whom Captain
Cochrane, in obedience to Mr. Stavanger’s request that he would carry no
passenger but Hugh, had declined to take. There was the long red
moustache, and there was the checked tweed suit worn by the would-be
passenger, whose career was to be so soon ended.

It was singular that the lock of the steward’s door should have gone
wrong, and that when he went to bed that night he could not turn the
key, as was his wont on retiring. “I must put that right to-morrow,” he
thought. Then, believing himself to be unsuspected, and therefore in no
danger, he went to bed, and, being very tired, soon dropped into a sound
slumber.

At 12 p.m. the chief mate was waiting impatiently for the second mate to
come and relieve him, for he felt as if he could keep his eyes open no
longer. The longest spell off watch that the mates of a merchant cargo
steamer ever have is four hours. From this four hours must be deducted
half an hour for a wash and a meal, leaving three and a half hours as
the utmost length of time they have for sleep. As a rule, they no sooner
lay their heads upon their pillows than they fall asleep, and the two
men who were scheming against the steward’s safety meant to take
advantage of this fact. To all appearance they had gone to bed. In
reality, they were never more keenly on the alert, and, in the absence
of both mates, they were tolerably safe, as they knew how to choose
their moment for action. They waited until they heard the second mate
ascend the companion to relieve his superior. Then they swiftly and
noiselessly entered the steward’s berth, closing the door after them.

But, careful as their movements had been, they startled the sleeper, who
attempted to spring up in his bunk. There was a sudden blow, a stifled
cry, and a short but sharp struggle, at the end of which Hilton Riddell
lay passive and lifeless in the hands of his assassins, who had deemed
strangulation the safest way to silence their victim.

When, about two minutes later, the mate came off watch, all was quiet
in the steward’s berth. But the two men stood gazing at each other with
horror-stricken eyes, and instinctively turned their backs upon the
awful object which but a few moments ago had been full of life and
strength.

For fully an hour they hardly dared to breathe. Then, feeling sure that
the mate must be sound asleep now, they set about removing the evidence
of their crime. The captain, who, like his companion, was shoeless for
the occasion, slipped up the companion, to reconnoitre.

“All is safe,” he presently whispered to his fellow-murderer, who had
not dared to remain alone with the body, but had come out into the
cabin. “There is not a soul about. The folk on the bridge will be
looking in any direction except behind them, where we are. And even if
they tried to look this way, the night is too dark for them to see
anything.”

Soon after this there was lowered, over the side furthest from the
mate’s berth, the remains of what had been the steward of the “Merry
Maid.” The body was lowered so carefully, too, that not the slightest
splash was caused that could have attracted the attention of an
unsuspicious person.

A while later the “Merry Maid” arrived in Malta. Here the captain duly
reported the sudden and unaccountable disappearance, of his steward.
“The poor fellow was eccentric,” he said soberly, and with a great show
of sympathy. “He did not drink, but told me that he had once been in a
lunatic asylum. The weather was quite clear and calm. He must have had
an attack of insanity and jumped overboard. Enemies? Certainly not; he
was a general favourite on board.”

And so it came to pass that a verdict of suicide while temporarily
insane was made to account for the disappearance of William Trace, and
his murderers, poor fools, imagined themselves safe from detection.



CHAPTER VII.

EVIL TIDINGS.


Mrs. Riddell and Miss Cory were sitting in the drawing-room. Both ladies
were occupied less fancifully than ladies of fiction generally are. They
were darning stockings, and Mrs. Riddell’s spectacles were dimmed with
tears, as she held up a neatly finished piece of work, and sighed
wistfully, “I wonder if poor Harley will live to wear it again.”

“Live to wear it!” was the optimistic rejoinder. “Of course he will.
He’s not particularly ill, though he’s naturally low-spirited. But he
will soon be all right, when we are able to infuse a little more hope
into his mind than is advisable at present.”

“Do you know, I was sorely tempted to tell him yesterday of all that is
being done for him. It seems so cruel to leave the poor fellow in
misery.”

“But think how much more dreadful his disappointment will be, if things
do not go off so well as we have reason to expect. Far better wait until
we hear from Hilton. Then we shall, I trust, have something definite to
promise him. Meantime, as you are aware, every effort is being made to
trace Hugh Stavanger’s doings from the time of the robbery until the
time of his flight. Our chain of evidence, with God’s help, will soon be
complete, and when we have effected his deliverance, we will all do our
best to make up to your poor lad for some of his sufferings.”

“I wish I could feel as you do. But, somehow, as each day passes, I
begin to lose heart more and more, and yesterday, when I saw my dear
boy, looking so ill and miserable, I thought my heart would have
broken.”

“Yes, I knew you would feel it keenly, and wanted you to stay at home.
Perhaps it is as well that you will not be permitted to see him
again--until honour and freedom are restored to him. Picture how happy
we shall all be then!”

“I will try, dear kind friends, I will try. And what do I not owe you
already! Without you to hearten me up, when I am tempted to doubt
Providence, I should have fretted myself into my grave before this time.
But don’t you think we should have the telegram which Hilton promised to
send from Malta soon? Shouldn’t it be here to-day or to-morrow?”

“I suppose it should. Only we must, of course, make allowances for
possible bad weather and other causes of detention.”

“Yes, yes, I won’t be impatient again.”

Mrs. Riddell, utterly crushed by the suddenness and severity of her
recent troubles, was prone to despondency and melancholy. It was
fortunate for her that she had found such a firm, cheerful, and hopeful
friend as Miss Cory to cheer her now childless loneliness. Annie, too,
though she took her lover’s fate sadly to heart, was fain to do her
utmost to keep up the health and spirits of both herself and others.

“There may be important work before me,” she was apt to say, “and I
should feel ashamed of myself if I were to allow myself to become
incapable of doing it.”

So she kept herself fully occupied with healthy employment, took her
food regularly, and held herself in readiness for action at any moment.
On the afternoon during which the above conversation took place between
Mrs. Riddell and Miss Cory, Annie had been with her father to see a
private detective whom they were employing to make inquiries concerning
Hugh Stavanger. But although the man gleaned proofs that the individual
whose past he was trying to investigate had spent a great deal of money
lately, he could discover nothing to connect him with the diamond
robbery.

“Never mind,” said Annie bravely, as they were walking homewards again.
“We shall hear from Hilton soon, and he is not likely to lose sight of
Hugh Stavanger, so that he can be arrested as soon as we are ready with
our proofs. When Mr. Lyon comes home, we will have him subpœnaed as a
witness, whether he likes it or not.”

“I don’t think we can rely upon him,” said Mr. Cory.

“And I do think that we can. I have given him a good deal of
consideration, and have come to the conclusion that he is a gentleman.
From the inquiries we have made of him, we have learnt nothing that
could lead us to believe him anything but honourable. A few days ago I
thought as you do. Mr. Lyon has no doubt every desire to shield the
honour of his firm. But when he comes back, I mean to interview him and
implore him to help us to save an innocent man from worse than death.”

“And surely he cannot refuse so reasonable a prayer.”

“I wonder how he came to suspect Hugh Stavanger, and how much he really
knows.”

“We shall, I hope, discover everything in time--at any rate, enough to
reverse the positions of Harley and young Stavanger.”

“Poor Harley. How dreadfully ill he looked yesterday! And yet how brave
he tried to be! But hurry up, father, you know that it is just possible
for the ‘Merry Maid’ to have reached Malta to-day, and a message may
even now be waiting for us.”

There was no cablegram waiting for them, but the quartette spent the
rest of the day without augmented anxiety, little dreaming of the
terrible tidings in store for them. Late in the evening they were all
sitting round the drawing-room fire, the ladies working while Mr. Cory
read extracts from the “Echo.”

“Great Heavens!” he exclaimed suddenly, as his eye lighted on a passage
which filled him with consternation. “Surely God himself is working for
our enemies.”

His words so startled his companions that at least two of them were
incapable of inquiring the nature of the new calamity which had
evidently befallen them.

“What has happened now?” gasped Miss Cory, her face pale with
consternation.

“Read for yourself,” was the reply, as her brother handed the paper to
her. She took it with trembling fingers, but gained courage, when she
saw, at a glance, that the news was not what she had feared.

“Don’t be so alarmed, Mrs. Riddell,” she said reassuringly. “This
paragraph does not concern your son.” Then she read aloud as follows:--

  “TERRIBLE COLLISION AT SEA.
      “GREAT LOSS OF LIFE.

“The news of a painful disaster has reached us from New York. The
Pioneer liner ‘Cartouche’ reports a collision between that vessel and
the British steamer ‘Gazelle’ on the 31st ultimo. The weather was thick
at the time of the collision, and the foghorn of the ‘Cartouche’ was
blowing. Suddenly a vessel emerged from the fog, and was seen to be
crossing the starboard bow of the ‘Cartouche.’ The latter was
immediately ported, and her engines set full speed astern. But these
efforts could not prevent a collision, and in a few seconds the
‘Gazelle’ was struck amidships, going down immediately, with every soul
on board. Some of these were afterwards picked up by the boats of the
‘Cartouche.’ But 28 persons are known to have perished, among these
being three first-class passengers--Mr. Thomas Ackland, the Lancashire
cotton spinner; Mr. Henry Teasdale, son of the Member for Sheffington;
and Mr. Edward Lyon, junior member of the firm of Stavanger, Stavanger
and Co., diamond merchants, Hatton Garden.”

For awhile there reigned an awestruck silence in the room.

“There seems no doubt about it,” at last said Mr. Cory.

“No, the information is positive enough,” was his sister’s response.

“It seems dreadful,” said Annie, with quivering lips and streaming eyes,
“to think of oneself when reading of such awful catastrophes. The news
is sad enough for anyone to read, but how can we help thinking also how
strangely it affects us? Wear is dead; and now death has overtaken the
only other witness, apart from ourselves, upon whom we could hope to
place any reliance. Surely God must have forsaken us altogether.”

“Not that, my dear child,” was Mrs. Riddell’s trembling protest. “We are
sorely tried. But I cannot bring myself to think that He has wholly
deserted us. He is just trying us to the utmost of our strength.”

With this, Mrs. Riddell stooped to kiss Annie. Then, wishing the others
“good-night,” she left them, for she feared to break down, and thus
increase the sorrow of the others. She also hoped that her Bible, a
never-failing source of comfort, would lend her its tranquillising aid.
Alas, she was soon to experience a trial great enough to make even her
faith falter.

The next morning all four were seated at breakfast, when a servant
brought the morning paper in.

“Quick, father,” said Annie. “Look at the shipping news and see if there
is any account of the ‘Merry Maid’.”

Mr. Cory turned obediently to the part of the paper named. But he was so
long in making any remark that Annie looked up in surprise, which
deepened into terror when she saw the expression of her father’s face.
It was white and drawn, and big drops of perspiration stood upon his
forehead.

Mutely she asked to see for herself what was the new trouble sent them.
And mutely he handed her the paper. The reader already knows what she
was likely to read there, and will not care to witness the grief with
which the news of Hilton Riddell’s death was received.

But, great though the grief was, there came a time when other passions
gave it battle.

“My boy has been murdered,” said the heartbroken mother. “I may lie
down, and die. Hilton is dead, and Harley’s last hope is gone.”

“Hilton has been murdered,” said Annie. “But Harley’s last hope has not
gone. I still count for something, and I will never rest until I have
tracked and denounced the man to whom we owe all our misery.”

“Hilton has been murdered,” said Mr. Cory. “But the world is not so very
big after all, and I swear that his murder shall not go unavenged.”

“Yes, there has been murder,” said Miss Cory; “and everything must be
done to punish the fiend who is guilty of it. I cannot go with you, my
place is with our unhappy friend here. But I can do this much--I can
place my fortune at your disposal. Spend it freely in tracking our
enemy. I will give every penny I have for such a purpose. Go, and my
blessing go with you.”

So far, everything had seemed to work in Hugh Stavanger’s favour. All
those whom he had to fear were swept from his path. But, if he had heard
and seen what passed at the Corys, he would perhaps have trembled.

And he would have had good cause for trembling. For Nemesis is not an
agreeable foe to follow in one’s wake.



CHAPTER VIII.

ON THE TRACK.


A splendid mail steamer, bound for the Orient, was ploughing its way
through the notoriously treacherous waters of the Bay of Biscay, whose
surface to-day was of the brightest and calmest. There was little to
indicate the horrors of which “The Bay,” as it is called by sailors, is
so often the witness, and most of the passengers were congregated about
the deck, chatting, reading, smoking, or otherwise doing their best to
enjoy the leisure hours at their disposal.

“So this is the dreaded Bay of Biscay again,” said Mrs. Colbrook, a
stout, good-humoured-looking lady. “I suppose I am exceptionally lucky,
for it has always been smooth when I crossed it.”

The persons she addressed were Mr. Cory and Miss Annie Cory, who,
however, had thought it advisable to take their passage under the names
of Mr. and Miss Waine. They were bound upon an important errand, and did
not intend to risk failure by proclaiming their identity too widely.
True, the chances that anyone knowing their motive in voyaging to Malta
would come across them by the way were so remote as to be almost beyond
the need of consideration. But Mr. Cory was so far cut out for detective
work that he was not likely to fail through lack of carefulness, and
preferred to neglect not the smallest precaution.

“Yes, Mrs. Colbrook,” he smiled, in reply to that lady’s remark. “There
is little to indicate the mischief that goes on here sometimes. We may
be thankful that we are favoured with such beautiful weather.”

“That we may! I cannot picture anything more awful than to be in a ship
at sea in a storm so bad that destruction is almost certain,” said
Annie. “It seems to me to be like no other danger. On land there is
always some loophole of escape if the peril is of a protracted nature.
But on the wide, trackless ocean, with not another ship in sight, things
look almost hopeless from the first. I have more than once tried to
picture the terror and distress that must reign on board a doomed
vessel, but my mind faints before the awful picture.”

“There I think you are entirely wrong,” remarked Mrs. Colbrook. “I
believe that awful panics on board sinking ships are of much less
frequent occurrence than is generally imagined.”

“And your reason for that belief?” asked Annie.

“A little experience of my own. I was, a year or two ago, on board a
small steamer bound from the Tyne to Antwerp. There were only five
first-class passengers, all of them ladies. We had but been at sea about
three hours when a terrific storm arose, which speedily threatened to
sink our ship. The wind howled, the rain poured in torrents, the
lightning flashed, the thunder rolled, the ship played such a fine game
at pitch and toss, that everything breakable was smashed to atoms, and
we seemed to be oftener standing on our heads than on our heels, or
would have been, if we had been able to stand at all. Soon after the
storm began the steamer’s wooden deck groaned and creaked awfully, and
the timbers, as if afraid that we were not fully realising the dangers
of our position, considerately gaped in a score of places, so that
whether we were in our bunks, or whether we were in the saloon, it was
all the same--we were so copiously supplied with the elemental fluid
that our clothes and bedding were saturated. Three of the ladies sat,
shivering and miserable, holding on to the cabin table, and hoping for
the advent of the steward with news of a probable improvement in the
weather. Near them sat the stewardess, in as helpless a condition as
they were. Even if she had cared to risk an attempt to go on deck, she
could not have done so, as we were battened down, there being some fear
lest the little ship, in her crazy pitchings and rollings, would ship
the cabin full of water and swamp us all. Cooking and attendance were
all postponed for the time being, ‘for,’ as the stewardess coolly
remarked, ‘what was the use of trying to prepare a meal if you were to
be drowned directly afterwards?’

“Three of the passengers, including myself, were lying in bunks, so
sick and ill that we could do nothing whatever. I do not know whether I
was worse than the others or not, but it is certain that I was too
helpless to lift the eau-de-Cologne bottle that was lying by my side,
although I longed for the use of some of its contents, thinking that it
might, perhaps, help to remove the deadly faintness by which I was
overpowered. After several hours of this misery the steward came to us
for a minute, but did not render us any service. Asked by the stewardess
what was thought of the chances of survival by those on deck, he replied
that pretty nearly everybody on deck looked for the end every minute.
Then we were left to our own reflections again.

“Now this was the time when a panic would have been the most likely to
arise, since it was the moment when we practically lost all hope. But,
strange as it may seem, the four women at the table sat as quietly as
before, and two of them, who were sisters, calmly wondered how the news
of their death would be received at home. The other two were crying
quietly, and spoke very little. The three sick ones, beyond an
occasional moan of misery, gave no outward token of having realised
their apparently speedily approaching end, and the only thing that I now
longed for was that the steamer, if she was going to sink, would be
quick about it, so that my misery would be at an end.”

“And you were not drowned after all?” queried Annie, with a spice of
mischief in her voice.

“No, we were not drowned after all--but, look there, how excited all
those people seem to be.”

Mr. Cory and his daughter followed the direction of Mrs. Colbrook’s
eyes, and saw that quite a crowd of people were gathering on the
starboard bow, whence some object of interest ahead seemed to be
engaging their attention. Our friends soon became members of the curious
crowd, and were saddened by the spectacle pointed out to them. It was
the battered and mastless hull of a derelict ship, floating on the now
smooth waters, and presenting mute evidence of their whilom relentless
fury.[A]

  [A] It may be argued by seafarers that the Bay of Biscay is out
      of the track of derelicts. This supposition is, upon the
      whole, correct. But there are exceptions to every rule, and
      at the time of writing there is marked in charts a derelict
      off Lisbon.--THE AUTHOR.

Glasses were hurriedly brought into use, and countless conjectures as to
the name, nationality, and experiences of the wreck were hazarded. Not a
sign of life was perceptible on its deck, and it was all too evident
that the crew no longer found a home in it. As to their fate, who could
say what it had been? Perhaps they had been saved by some passing
vessel. Perhaps they had been swept into the seething and roaring
waters, their last shrieks rendered inaudible by the war of the
elements. Perhaps, imagining their battered ship to be sinking, they had
succeeded in taking to the boats, and might be even now floating on this
billowy waste, with the pangs of hunger and thirst gnawing at their
vitals, and with “water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”
Perhaps--but why lose oneself in endless painful conjectures, since a
solution of the questions that puzzle us is out of our power to arrive
at?

To Mr. Cory and Annie the sight was especially painful, for it brought
vividly to their minds poor Hilton’s fate, and they could not help
picturing the last scene of his life as an awful one. This only
strengthened their determination to avenge his untimely end, and the sad
conjectures with which the fast approaching wreck was greeted were
mingled with a feeling of bitterness at the misery and suffering which
were permitted to run riot upon the earth.

“No,” said Annie, after a lengthened pause in the conversation, during
which she seemed to have divined her father’s thoughts; “we mustn’t lose
faith, after all. Please God, all will come right yet. Those scoundrels
will be brought to book, and Harley will be proved innocent. Then we
shall all be happy again.”

“Meanwhile, though, Harley is suffering untold misery; Mrs. Riddell
seems to be fretting herself into her grave; Hilton has met with a
violent end; and Providence seems to be doing its best to help the cause
of villainy.”

“Yes, it is difficult to understand. But the cause of the wicked cannot
always prosper, and the tangled skein of our destiny will unravel itself
in time.”

“So I suppose. We can only hope that the thread of our life doesn’t snap
before then. One doesn’t like to feel as if one were so much the sport
of fate, as to be like a mere cork on the ocean of life, tossed about
with as little ceremony as--as--as that bottle.”

Mr. Cory had found himself somewhat at a loss for a suitable simile,
when his eyes fell on a bottle lightly tossing on the rippling water.

“I suppose that bottle is carefully corked, or it would fill with water
and sink,” observed Annie, contemplatively.

“Yes, I should imagine it has papers in it,” said her father, “unless
somebody has corked and sealed an empty bottle for a freak.”

Both speakers knew of the practice of confiding news concerning sinking
or endangered ships to papers sealed in bottles, and felt a subdued
interest in the black little object bobbing about the water. How their
interest would have been quickened could they have known how Hilton had
employed his last night on board the “Merry Maid,” and could they have
dreamed that this was perhaps the very bottle whose contents were
intended to be instrumental in proving who was really guilty of the
great diamond robbery, for the perpetration of which Harley was enduring
penal servitude. But so it is. We often strive for the unattainable, and
pass our greatest blessings by with indifference.

The derelict ship was by this time quite near, and scores of eager eyes
were scanning it, to see if perchance there was not after all someone
left on board. But all looked as quiet and deserted as when the wreck
had been first sighted, and it was with many a sigh of pity that the
hope of still saving some of the crew was abandoned. There had been many
suggestions from passengers that the mail boat should slow down, and
send some men to board the derelict. But this proposal was negatived by
the captain, as he did not believe anybody was on board, and was not
justified in losing time for mere curiosity’s sake.

So the great steamer forged ahead, leaving the stranger in its wake, and
it was already well astern, when suddenly a long, mournful howl was
heard, thrilling every soul on board with a feeling of horror. Once more
eyes and glasses were brought into requisition, and then it was seen
that a large dog, or, rather, the emaciated skeleton of one, was
tottering to and fro on the poop of the dismasted wreck, and howling
forth a pitiful appeal for succour to the possible saviours whom, in the
semi-obliviousness of exhaustion and starvation, he had failed to see
when nearer.

“You will stop the ship now, won’t you?” cried out a dozen people at
once. But the captain declined to do any such thing.

“I have my reputation for speed and efficiency to keep up,” he said. “I
have no end of competition to fight against, and I cannot afford to lose
time for a dog’s sake.”

“Oh, how can you be so cruel?” exclaimed a bright, fair girl, of about
Annie’s age. “It will be as bad as murder if you refuse to save the poor
beast. Oh! listen.”

Again that long-drawn howl of despair escaped the distracted and
suffering animal, as he saw that the distance between himself and an ark
of safety was rapidly widening, and there were others who joined their
entreaties once more to those of Miss Bywater.

But the captain’s resolve was adamantine, and loud murmurs of
disapproval were heard on all sides, while many of the ladies could not
refrain from crying, so powerfully was their pity and excitement
aroused. Mr. Cory’s face was also twitching with sympathy, and his hands
were clenched angrily, until the conduct of the dog put an idea into his
head upon which he at once based his action.

Seeing that the steamer was leaving him to certain death, the brave
beast flung himself into the water, determined upon making an effort to
reach the vanishing asylum. Of course, the feat was hopeless, for,
though he might have been a good swimmer, starvation had reduced him to
such straits, that it was problematical if he would be able to swim
twenty yards.

“Annie, I cannot stand this,” said Mr. Cory, hurriedly. “You mustn’t be
alarmed at what I’m going to do. You know that few swimmers can beat me,
and if I can save that dog, I mean to do it.”

The next moment he had thrown off his coat and waistcoat, and before
anyone quite realised what he was about to do, he had dived into the
water, and, with swift and powerful strokes, was making for the
struggling dog. Instantly there was a tremendous commotion, and the cry
of “Man overboard!” resounded from end to end of the mighty vessel,
while orders to reverse the engines and to lower a boat were issued
immediately. What was refused for the sake of a mere dog, dared not be
denied to a man, and every effort was at once made to overtake the
plucky swimmer, who was swiftly nearing the object he was striking for.
A boat was manned and lowered with astonishing quickness, and amid the
suppressed cries of some, and the encouraging shouts of others, the
rowers bent to their work, and gave speedy promise of succour. What a
race for life that was! And what a shout went up from the deck of the
ocean racer when Mr. Cory was seen to reach the dog, which must have
been at its last gasp when he seized it, for it was limp and motionless
now. This was deemed a very fortunate thing by the spectators, some of
whom had feared that the drowning animal’s struggles might impede the
rescuer’s movements. A few minutes more, and the boat reached the plucky
swimmer, who, together with the dog, was hauled in, amid the
enthusiastic plaudits of the excited onlookers, many of whom, however,
thought that help for the starving animal had come too late.

But Mr. Cory had no notion of giving up hope, and clung tenaciously to
his prize, although assured that it was dead. And so it seemed for a
time, but there were plenty of people willing to aid in completing the
good work, and as much pains was bestowed upon the resuscitation of the
insensible brute as if it had been a human being. When at last the poor
thing opened its eyes, the joy on board the steamer was almost
unanimous, and if the ship’s surgeon had not asserted his rights, it
would have been forthwith killed with kindness, inasmuch as it would
have been plied with food which its stomach was too weak to take.

Meanwhile, the vessel proceeded on her way, as soon as the boat was
hoisted up, and Mr. Cory went to change his wet clothes for dry ones.
When he came on deck again some time later he was rejoiced to find that
the dog, which he forthwith christened “Briny,” was making steady
progress towards recovery, and that he was already, after his own
fashion, giving grateful acknowledgment of the attentions lavished upon
him by Annie and the surgeon. He proved to be a large Newfoundland, and
would, no doubt, soon recover his wonted size, strength, and beauty.

The only person who looked coldly on Mr. Cory after this exploit was the
captain, who could not forgive the trick that had been played upon him,
and who would not have deemed the lives of twenty dogs a sufficient
equivalent for the loss of time spent in saving them.

Mrs. Colbrook was a middle-aged lady, the wife of an officer stationed
at Malta. She had been in England to visit a daughter, and to see after
a legacy which she had unexpectedly succeeded to. She and the Corys had
fraternised from the beginning of the voyage, and as time passed she
learned to respect them more and more.

“You are only bound for Malta, at present,” she said one day. “And you
tell me that the business which takes you there may compel you to leave
the place directly. My husband will be delighted to know you, and if you
will stay with us while you are in Malta you will confer a favour on us
both.”

“You are very kind,” said Mr. Cory, “and it would certainly be much
pleasanter for us than staying in an hotel. But I could not think of
trespassing upon your hospitality to such an extent without making you
acquainted with the object of our visit to the place.”

“I do not think that at all necessary.”

“But I do, in justice to you. And as I am sure we can trust you
thoroughly, I will at once tell our story to you. You will be interested
in it, and will the better realise how it is that Annie is at times so
sad and preoccupied. She has had some painful experiences, poor child.”

And forthwith Mr. Cory confided to Mrs. Colbrook the whole history of
the diamond robbery and its disastrous consequences, and found her
henceforth all that he had expected--sympathetic, kind, discreet, and
helpful. To Annie she was as one of the kindest of mothers, and the girl
found it a great comfort to be able to talk of her troubles to one who
took such a friendly interest in her, and had such firm faith in the
truth of all her statements.

At Malta Major Colbrook met his wife on board the steamer, and his
attention was speedily directed to the new friends she had made. As soon
as he learned Annie’s story and object he was all eagerness to help her,
and promised to make some inquiries on Mr. Cory’s behalf respecting the
man of whom he was in search.

The day after Malta was reached there was quite a merry party gathered
at the house of Major Colbrook, for various friends had dropped in to
hear Mrs. Colbrook’s English news, and to congratulate her on her return
home. The Corys, on second thoughts, had preferred to put up at an
hotel, but readily promised to spend all their spare time with the
Colbrooks. They were both feeling somewhat preoccupied, but did their
best to present as cheerful a front to strangers as possible.

Inquiries promptly made had resulted in the following information:--The
“Merry Maid” had discharged her cargo of Government stores, and had
proceeded to Sicily, leaving behind a gentleman who had come out from
England as a passenger. This gentleman’s name was Paul Torrens, and it
was believed that he was now in Spain. Being aware of the facility
offered to criminals by the lack of an extradition treaty between
England and Spain, Mr. Cory was inclined to think the supposition
correct, but felt reluctant to leave Malta without feeling sure that the
man he was tracking had really left the island. Annie hardly knew what
to think. At one time she was all anxiety to be gone, and the next
moment she was oppressed by an uneasy feeling that to quit Malta at once
would be to diverge from the trail. It will, therefore, be readily
supposed that their thoughts refused to concentrate themselves on the
topics of conversation current in Mrs. Colbrook’s drawing-room. Annie,
at last, considering that she had done enough homage to conventionality,
rose to leave, asking Mrs. Colbrook to excuse her, as she really did not
feel equal to remaining inactive.

“You won’t be offended if I leave you now?” she pleaded in a low voice.
“I seem to be wasting my time unless I am making some progress in
Harley’s cause, and I am sure my father, for my sake, is just as eager
for progress as I am.”

“To be sure, dear child,” said Mrs. Colbrook caressingly. “I can quite
enter into your feelings, and would rather help you than hinder you. So
don’t consider me at all, but go at once if you really feel that you can
employ your time to more purpose.”

Mr. Cory was just as anxious to forego the pleasures of polite society
as Annie was, so the pair took their leave unobtrusively, and walked
towards their hotel. Oddly enough, however, their thoughts now reverted
to a conversation to which they had but listened inattentively awhile
ago.

“I suppose the Colbrooks and some of their afternoon callers will be
going to see this balloon ascent they were talking of,” said Mr. Cory,
after walking some distance in apparent deep contemplation of a more
serious subject.

“Really father,” was Annie’s rejoinder, “I should have been surprised
to hear you talking about balloons and kindred subjects just now, were
it not that something else surprises me still more. While Captain
Drummond was talking so enthusiastically about this wonderful aeronaut,
I did not feel the slightest interest in the subject. In fact, I didn’t
consciously listen to the conversation. And yet, when you spoke just
now, I was actually feeling a desire to witness the forthcoming ascent.
I am not quite sure that there isn’t something uncanny about it, for I
have often had opportunities of witnessing similar displays, and haven’t
cared to go to them. To-day, when it would seem to be sheer waste of
time, I feel irresistibly impelled to go and watch the performance of
this much-talked-of balloonist. An absurd fancy, isn’t it?”

“I am not so sure of that, Annie. I can recall many instances in which
I have been unaccountably induced to act contrary to my original
intention, and have been glad afterwards that I yielded to an apparently
freakish impulse of the moment. Here is a case in point: About twelve
months ago certain shares were being boomed sky-high, and so much
percentage was being derived from them that I, in common with many other
people, decided to share in the general prosperity. As, perhaps, you
know, both your aunt and I lost a great deal of money through buying
some shares in a big brewery company, which, though about two millions
were foolishly paid for it by the dupes who formed the limited liability
company which took it over, turned out to be simply an unlimited fraud.
The original proprietors had, by dint of advertisements and paragraphs,
increased the public confidence in their concern at the very time when
it was tottering for support. It was by way of retrieving our losses in
connection with the brewery shares that I wanted to profit by buying
rising mining shares, and I proceeded to the office of a well-known
stockbroker, in order to negotiate without delay. I found Mr. ----
engaged six deep, and sat down to await my turn to go into his inner
sanctum, but had not been seated there three minutes when a strange
thing happened. It was as if someone had suddenly whispered to me,
saying, ‘Get out of this office while you are still well off. Don’t
trust to this boom.’ I gave myself no time to think, either one way or
the other, but at once took my departure, saying to the clerk that I
would call another time. I have so far not called to see Mr. ----, and
the much-boomed shares are just worth so much waste paper.”

“Then you don’t think my fancy to see the balloon ascent an absurd one?”

“By no means. There may be something in it. Anyhow, we will go. But
there is plenty of time to spare.”

“Then what do you say to going first to such shops as there are, and
trying to find out if Hugh Stavanger has been raising money on any of
his plunder?”

“A capital idea! I should not have thought of it. I’m afraid you will
have to depend more upon yourself than upon me for inspiration. What do
you say, Briny?”

Briny was fast getting into condition now, and a great affection had
sprung up between him and his new owners, who were bent upon always
taking him out with them whenever it was practicable, as he was likely
to prove a good protector. An hour was now devoted to doing as Annie had
suggested, but without getting any idea of Hugh Stavanger’s present
whereabouts. One thing, however, they did learn. There was one man to
whom two men had offered some diamonds for sale a week ago. The dealer,
not being in a large way of business, had not come to terms with the
strangers.

“To tell the truth,” he said, “they were too avaricious. One of the men
was, I think, a ship’s captain. The other was a landsman, and I think he
must be in the trade, for he knows as much about precious stones as I
do. He knew the exact value of the things he had to offer me, and he
wouldn’t take the highest offer I was prepared to make. But he promised
to call back again, and as I think he was very anxious in reality to
turn his stones into cash, I have been expecting him to come and close
with my offer. If, as I gather from your inquiries, the diamonds have
been stolen, I am very glad I did not buy them, for the affair might
have ruined me.”

“And I am very sorry you did not get them,” said Annie, eagerly. “If he
comes back, secure the diamonds at his price. We will buy them from you,
and will give you a liberal commission for your trouble. The man who has
been here was the principal witness against an innocent man, who is now
in prison. It is our mission to bring the guilt home to the right party,
in the person of the son of the diamond merchant, who professed to have
been robbed by a Mr. Riddell. If we can prove him to be possessed of the
property, we can prove the innocence of Mr. Riddell. You will help us,
will you not?”

“I will do my best, madam. You will find me discreet and silent, and I
hope to be able to help in the good work.”

“And, meanwhile, here is a banker’s reference,” said Mr. Cory. “And you
may rely upon finding us profoundly grateful if you help us to solve
this painful mystery.”

“Is the accused gentleman a relative of yours?” asked the jeweller,
hesitatingly, as if afraid that he was taking too much liberty.

“He is my daughter’s fiancé.”

“Ah, now I understand your earnestness in the matter. But how about the
seafaring man?”

“I expect it is the captain of the ‘Merry Maid,’ the steamer in which
Hugh Stavanger sailed. If he also had diamonds to dispose of, we may
conclude that they are part of the stolen property, and that it is as
important to find him as it is to find the original thief.”

“He said the ship was sailing next day, so you won’t find him in Malta.”

“No; but we can follow. But, in any case, don’t let Stavanger slip
through your fingers if he turns up here again.”

A few more preliminaries were settled with the friendly jeweller, and
then, prior to going to their hotel for dinner, our amateur detectives
went to see the balloon ascent, which was to take place at six o’clock.
There was a tolerable muster in the enclosure, and considerable local
interest seemed to be shown in the event. The aeronaut was a man of
great experience, and had an assistant in whom he had every confidence.
The conversation with the jeweller had taken up so much time that our
two friends only arrived a few minutes before the order to “leave go”
was given, and had not seen many of the preparations. Besides the
aeronaut and his assistants, the car was to contain two passengers, both
of whom had paid ten pounds for the privilege, and neither of whom had
ever been up in a balloon before. Some of the onlookers were betting
upon the results, and there was considerable diversity of opinion as to
where the descent would take place.

Presently the ropes were let loose, and the ponderous machine rose
rapidly into the air, amid the plaudits of the assembled crowd. Mr. Cory
was looking on quietly, when his interest became suddenly excited by one
of the objects which bobbed over the edge of the car. He looked at Annie
in astonishment, to note that she also was gazing breathlessly at the
now fast rising balloon.

“We have him at last!” whispered Mr. Cory, joyfully.

“God be thanked, Harley will soon be free!” said Annie, the tears of joy
running down her cheeks.

Perhaps their confidence was rather premature, but it was easy to
comprehend. For they had both recognised one of the faces looking down
at them as that of Hugh Stavanger.



CHAPTER IX.

A BALLOON ADVENTURE.


Mr. Blume, the chief mate of the ss. “Centurion,” was pacing the bridge
in anything but an angelic mood, which evidenced itself in perpetual
growls at everybody with whom he came into contact. The objects of his
displeasure, seeing no adequate reason for it, were not disposed to take
his fault-finding too meekly, the result being that the atmosphere on
board the “Centurion” was decidedly unpleasant.

“I’ll bet my bottom dollar that the mate got jilted last time he was in
port,” remarked the second mate to the third engineer, both being off
watch together.

“What makes you think that?”

“Oh, lots of things. He was as jolly as any of us when we first got in,
and was perfectly killing when he went ashore to see Lottie, as he
always has done whenever we have been in Cardiff. He came back much
sooner than usual, in a vile temper, and hardly ever went ashore again.
Since we left he has been awfully ill-natured, and I am sure Lottie is
at the bottom of it.”

“Perhaps she’s ill.”

“Perhaps she’s fiddlesticks. Much more likely is it that she’s found
another admirer. Lightly come, lightly go, you know. He’s a very nice
fellow when he likes. But he’s only a mate. And if Lottie can see her
way clear to pick up a skipper as easily as she picked up our mate, I
reckon the poorest man has the least chance.”

“Well, if that’s what’s the matter with him, I’m sorry for him. I’ve
been jilted a time or two myself, and I know what it feels like. I don’t
think I’ll ever look at a woman again with a view to matrimony.”

“I say, how old are you?”

“Twenty-two. But I’ve had experience enough for forty-two, and----”

“Now don’t try to kid me any more. What about that photograph that hangs
over your bunk?”

“Oh, that’s my sister Nellie.”

“Does your sister Nellie write on all her photographs--‘To my darling
Jim, from his faithful Dora?’”

“Look here. You have been poking your nose where you had no business to
poke it. What about yourself?”

“My dear fellow, I never saw the woman yet that I would tie myself to.”

“You pretend you don’t like them?”

“Nothing of the sort; I worship them. But I believe in variety, and
prefer to carry a light heart from one port to another.”

“How does variety affect your pocket?”

“Very conveniently. I admire only respectable girls, and they never
know me long enough to prove expensive. Hello, what’s up now?”

As the second mate made this exclamation, he turned his eyes to what
seemed to be an object of speculation to many on board. It was trailing
along the water a considerable distance ahead, and was as yet somewhat
difficult to distinguish. On the bridge the mate was also exercising his
mind about it.

“I can’t make the thing out,” he said to the man at the wheel. “It can’t
be a boat of any sort; and yet, what else would you expect to see
scudding on the water before the wind like that? Here, have a look,
Greenaway; your eyes can see further than mine.”

Greenaway did as he was bid, and, after careful observation, remarked
quietly, “It’s a dismasted balloon, sir, and there are some fellows
hanging on to the rigging.”

“A dismasted balloon! What the deuce do you mean?”

“Well, sir, I mean what I say. She’s dismasted. Leastways, her sail’s
flopping about anyhow, and doesn’t help her a bit. I reckon it’s about
time them fellows took to their boats. If they don’t they’ll soon be
exploring Davy Jones’s locker.”

“I always knew you to be a blamed fool, Greenaway; but, hang me, if you
don’t get worse. What makes you call the thing a balloon?”

“Why, I reckon I call it a balloon because it is a balloon. I don’t see
that you can have a better reason, sir. Hello! One of the fellows has
tumbled overboard. I fancy there isn’t much chance for him. By Jove! one
of ’em’s jumped down on deck, and hauled him in again. Are we likely to
overtake them? I would like to cheat old Davy.”

By this time Mr. Blume had seized the glasses, and, being now much
nearer, could see for himself that the battered and wave-tossed object
before him was a balloon in reality, though how its occupants came to be
in such a plight he could but faintly conjecture.

“Run and tell the skipper,” he cried eagerly. Then, knowing beforehand
what the captain would do, he ordered the man at the wheel to steer for
the distressed aeronauts. In another minute the captain was on deck,
having been just about ready to sit down to his breakfast. He fully
endorsed the mate’s action, for he was not one to refuse succour to
victims of the elements.

“Stand by to lower a boat,” he shouted, his order being promptly carried
out. When sufficiently near for the purpose the boat was lowered, and
her crew soon had the satisfaction of rescuing four exhausted men from
the aerial vessel, which, relieved of their weight, slowly rose into the
air, and floated southwards in the direction of the African coast.

The condition of the rescued men was truly pitiable, and they were saved
none too soon. They had a painful story of peril to relate as soon as
warmth, food, and rest had done their beneficent work.

“When we made our ascent from Valetta,” said the captain of the
balloon, “the wind was just as I had hoped for it to be, and the people
who saw us ascend had little conception of what was before us. Some
seemed to imagine that the descent would take place within a few score
yards of the place whence we ascended. But I knew better, although I
little dreamed of the experience really in store for us. There was not
much chance of landing on shore, and I expected to travel a short
distance out to sea, and to be picked up, after a simple ducking, by a
steamer which I had chartered to follow the balloon. But shortly after
leaving the coast-line we noticed that the wind had gained strength, and
was carrying us southwards at a rapid rate. Our water anchor was useful
for a time, but unfortunately the rope broke; we lost our anchor; and
the balloon rose several hundred yards.

“Soon, however, a terrific downpour of rain caused us to descend again,
and the balloon was dragged along the surface of the sea. We were now in
a very sorry plight, for the car was frequently under water, and we had
to cling desperately to the ropes to save ourselves from drowning. We
must all have perished hours ago, but for the courage of Mr. Calderon,
my assistant, who made frequent dives into the car, and brought up the
ballast, one bag at a time, an expedient which only raised the balloon
by occasional fits and starts. We next threw away the greater part of
our clothing, which was sodden and heavy with rain and sea-water. Even
our money and the only bottle of spirits we had went overboard, for life
itself depended on our being lightened to the utmost. In this connection
I cannot refrain from animadverting on the conduct of Mr. Torrens, one
of our passengers. He threw his coat overboard, but declined to part
with any more of his clothes, even though very strongly urged to do so.
Once, numbed with cold and fatigue, he lost his hold of the rope to
which he was clinging, and fell into the sea. He will never be nearer
death than he was at that moment, for, lightened of his weight, the
balloon began to right itself, and we firmly believe that it would have
risen and carried us to a place of safety, if we could have reconciled
ourselves to abandoning him to his fate.

“The temptation to do so was a terrible one, I assure you.

“‘If we leave him to drown we shall be saved.’

“‘If we rescue him for the present we shall probably all be drowned.’

“‘His life is worth less than all ours. Why should we die to save him?’

“These were the thoughts that assailed us, and of the three left hanging
on to the balloon I am sure that none but Mr. Calderon would have
mustered courage and self-denial sufficient to go to the rescue of
Torrens, who was drowning fast, he not being able to swim at all.

“We had sighted a great many ships during the night, but were unable to
attract the attention of any of them, as we had no light. When day
dawned things looked more hopeful, but your help came none too soon, for
we were all about dead beat.”

Such was the story of the captain of the balloon, related to the captain
of the ss. “Centurion,” and afterwards published in all the principal
newspapers of Europe. I may add that these published accounts were
supplemented by the grateful acknowledgments of the aeronauts for the
kindness and attention shown them by those on board the “Centurion.” At
Alexandria the steamer, which was en route for Madras, discharged its
passengers, who at once proceeded to arrange for passages elsewhere.

The two professional aeronauts and their Maltese passenger returned to
Valetta, but the gentleman unfavourably known as Mr. Torrens preferred
to disport himself in fresh fields and pastures new. One of his
principal reasons for not returning to Malta was due to a fright he got
when leaving that place. As he rose in the car, feeling perfectly secure
against pursuit and detection, and elated by the enjoyment of his novel
position, he looked down at the sea of faces below him, and was startled
to recognise Miss Cory, whom he knew again as the young lady who was
figuring as his sister’s governess when he left home.

Like a flash the truth struck him. “She is shadowing me,” he thought. “I
believe it is the girl whom I heard was engaged to Riddell. If so, her
presence, first in my father’s house, and then here, bodes me no good,
and the sooner I clear out the better. I hope the machine won’t be in
too big a hurry to drop, so that I shall have a chance of getting away.
It’s lucky I got that belt to carry my property in. It’s much better
than either pockets or a bag, and I have left nothing at my lodgings
that I need worry about. Hang it, why can’t I be left to enjoy myself
without a lot of meddling fools coming after me?”

“You don’t feel upset, do you?” inquired his fellow-passenger, noticing
that Mr. Torrens had grown somewhat pale and frightened looking.

“Well, you know, it’s a queer sensation, mounting up here. Still, I
shall be all right in a minute.”

So said he, feeling glad that so natural an explanation of his
confusion was at hand. But he had no intention of being seen at Valetta
again, and when, his balloon adventure over, he was cast upon his own
resources in Alexandria, he deemed it desirable to think of some other
place to which to proceed. There were certain difficulties in the way.
But these must be promptly overcome. For if, as he feared, the face he
had seen at Valetta was that of an enemy and pursuer, it behoved him to
quit Alexandria before the landing place of the rescued aeronauts became
too widely known. Unfortunately, all the money he had with him had been
in the pocket of the coat he was compelled to throw into the sea. His
refusal to doff his waistcoat when urged to do so arose from the fact
that it as well as the belt had some valuable diamonds stitched into its
lining, and he preferred the risk of drowning to the certainty of
poverty.

It was with some reluctance that he found it necessary to try and
negotiate the sale of some of his incriminatory property. For anything
he knew telegrams might have been exchanged already, and the myrmidons
of the law might even now be on his track. Still he could not manage
without money, so the risk must be run.

He did run the risk, and though his identity was quite unsuspected by
the dealer, he found himself compelled to accept half the value of the
stone he offered for sale, or go without money. He was naturally a good
bargainer, and it stung him to the quick to feel himself outdone. “But
what can’t be cured must be endured” is an axiom which sometimes
impresses itself painfully upon us all, and as Mr. Hugh Stavanger, alias
Paul Torrens, was no exception to the general rule, he found
animadversion useless.

That evening, after writing a long letter to his father apprising him
of both his present and his intended whereabouts, he became a passenger
on a steamer bound for Bombay, having booked his passage under the name
of Harry Staley, as he considered “Paul Torrens” to be no longer a safe
appellation.



CHAPTER X.

A BRIGHT PAIR.


_Letter from MR. STAVANGER to his SON._

(_Written in Cypher._)

“My Dear Boy,--For you are my dear boy still, although you have of late
caused me a great deal of anxiety. You hardly know how much I endured
until I received your letter from Malta, and even then I was tormented
by a dread of what it might have been found necessary to do. I allude to
the death of the steward, which, to say the least, was very lucky for
us. You wonder how I know this? I will tell you later on. There is so
much to relate that I must start at the beginning, or I shall get mixed
up. First and foremost, the business is steadily recovering from the
shock given to it by the abstraction of so much portable property.
Secondly, my brother has not the slightest suspicion that there is any
reason why Harley Riddell should not stay where he is, and I am
beginning to be of his opinion. This belief is inspired in me by a
strange sequence of circumstances, all of which seem to point to one
conclusion. He must really be a very wicked man, or Providence would not
work so persistently against him as it seems to do. Everything that
could help him and hurt you is almost miraculously rendered powerless,
and everybody whom we had cause to dread has been promptly removed. How,
therefore, can anyone doubt that Divine vengeance is exacting atonement
for some fearful crime which has not yet been brought to light? This
being so, we are nothing less than the instruments used by Providence
for its own ends, and I regard what you have done as the involuntary
outcome of an inexplicable and unconscious cerebral influence.

“But now that the aims of Providence are achieved, I beseech you to
assert your own identity and to fight against any impulse to repeat any
one of the dangerous proceedings of the past few months.

“And now for such news as I have. Perhaps I ought to have mentioned
sooner that your mother and sisters are quite well. Also that I am in
like case both mentally and bodily, now that I know you to be rid of
your enemies. It would have been an awful Damoclean sword hanging over
us if that inquisitive Wear had not been providentially removed from our
path. Then there was my poor old friend Mr. Edward Lyon. Did you see in
the papers anything about his sudden death while away on his business
mission to America? I had nothing but esteem for him. But I must say
that I felt immensely relieved when the news of his death reached us. He
had turned unpleasantly suspicious just before he sailed, and would most
assuredly have begun to make undesirable inquiries on his return. But
heaven has seen fit to remove him to a better world. That it has at the
same time removed one who might have been the means of proving Riddell
not guilty of the crime for which he suffers is only another proof to me
that he is, as I said before, being made to expiate some former sin.

“Nor is this by any means all the proof of my theory. You know Clement
Corney? And perhaps you feel uneasy at the mention of his name. If so,
you may set your fears at rest, for he also is numbered among those who
might have been a witness against you, but is not. A week ago he came to
me with a long tale about what he knew and about what he suspected. You
seem to have been imprudently confidential with him, and to have allowed
him to pry into your affairs far too much. From what he told me I judged
him to be a very formidable witness against you and deemed it advisable
to accede to his demands for money, but looked with anything but
equanimity upon the prospect of having to continue supplying him with
money as long as he chose to blackmail me. I should have been left no
choice in the matter, as exposure, after having gone so far, would mean
ruin. But here Providence once more interposed most strangely. Last
night, on opening my evening paper, I came upon the account of the
inquest on Clement Corney’s body. He had been jerked from the top step
of a ’bus and had broken his neck.

“This is all very strange and wonderful. But the strangest thing of all
has to be related yet. As you will see by the postmark of this letter,
we have come to St. Ives for our holiday. We arrived here on Monday, and
on Tuesday I was walking on the beach and wondering how you were going
on when I saw a group of children become considerably excited. Going up
to them I found that one of them was holding a bottle which had been
washed up by the tide. Seeing that the bottle was carefully sealed, and
appeared to contain papers, I offered the children a shilling for it.
They ran off with the shilling in high glee, while I secreted the bottle
in my dustcoat, and walked rapidly towards our lodgings with it. I
cannot account for the impulse which prompted these apparently
irrelevant actions, except upon the hypothesis of Providential
interference already mentioned. I do not usually take much interest in
the doings of children, and I am not naturally of a prying, inquisitive
disposition, and yet I was anxious to open that bottle in the privacy of
my own bedroom. And now mark the result.

“That bottle contained papers giving a detailed account of all that
Hilton Riddell, alias William Trace, had done, and was doing, to ruin
you and liberate his brother. What a sneak the fellow has been to
deceive people, and to do the tricky things he was doing. No wonder he
came to a bad end. And how vindictive he must have been to write down
all he wrote on the papers that have so wonderfully been put in my
possession. Why, only one half the details would have reversed the
relative positions of his brother and yourself, if anyone but me had
secured that bottle. It seems miraculous, doesn’t it, that, after
tossing about on the waters of the broad Atlantic, the fragile
receptacle of a deadly secret should have been guided to the only person
who knew how to make a proper use of it? I broke the bottle, and after
reading them destroyed the papers. And what do you to say to the strange
fact that I, who had never been in St. Ives before, should chance to be
there just when that bottle was washed ashore? Only picture what a
calamity it would have been had anyone but myself stumbled upon it.

“The whole thing has only served to strengthen the belief expressed
nearer the beginning of this letter, and I no longer feel the slightest
qualms of conscience on his behalf. Nor do I feel much further
uneasiness about you. Wear is dead. Mr. Lyon is dead. Clement Corney is
dead. The carefully-prepared proofs against you which Hilton Riddell
consigned to the waves have perished in a more deadly element, and he
himself is powerless to do you further injury unless the sea gives up
its dead. All things taken together, therefore, you may consider
yourself perfectly safe, and I do not think there would be the slightest
risk in your returning to England, and resuming your duties at the shop.
Let me know as soon as possible whether you intend to do so or not. You
will have had sufficient holiday, and ought to try to make up for all
the worry you have caused me lately.

“One thing puzzles me a little. How did Hilton Riddell get to know that
you were sailing in the ‘Merry Maid,’ and what led him to pitch his
suspicions on you? It couldn’t be all chance, and, but for his timely
extinction things might have been very awkward for you by this time.

“But enough of this subject. You know all there is to know, and I know
as much as I want to know. Nor do I desire ever to open the subject
again.

“You will be interested to hear that Mr. Leonard Claridge is violently
in love with Ada, and is very anxious to marry her off-hand. I am just
as anxious that the marriage should take place as he is, for it would be
a great thing to have Ada so advantageously settled. She pretends to
turn her nose up at an offer from a grocer. But she is a very sensible
girl, after all, and will reflect that if Mr. Claridge is a grocer he is
not in the retail line, and will be able to provide her with an
establishment quite equal to her mother’s.

“Fanny is likely to be much more troublesome to us. She is very
passionate and intractable, and nobody seems able to manage her since
the night you left home. That night was also the one on which Wear came
to such a sudden and tragic end. It was also the night on which that
governess disappeared, who seemed to have such a genius for managing
Fanny. When I returned home, after seeing you safe on board the ‘Merry
Maid,’ the governess had gone out. It was odd that she never came back,
wasn’t it?”

Yes, it was certainly odd. Indeed, it was the one fly in Mr. Stavanger’s
ointment. Just now the fact did not trouble him, because he was not
aware of it.

At one of the principal hotels in Bombay a young man sat reading the
letter from which the above long extract is given. He would have been
fairly good-looking but for the unpleasant expression which his reckless
indulgence in vicious pleasures and his aggressively selfish temperament
had given him. In height and breadth he somewhat exceeded the average,
but his gait was seen to be clumsy when he walked, although his
proportions were regular enough. His hands and feet were small and well
shaped, his complexion of a clear, but healthy enough paleness when he
condescended to lead an abstemious life. Just now it was full of
tell-tale pimples. His features were regular; his teeth well-shaped, but
slightly discoloured; his hair, eyes, and expression all as black as
they can be found anywhere.

Such was Hugh Stavanger, known on the hotel books as Harry Staley. He
had been to the “poste restante” for his letter, and as his eyes
wandered from one page to another, rapidly deciphering the contents that
would have proved so baffling to anyone not initiated in the business of
Stavanger, Stavanger, and Co., the heavy scowl on his face gave way to a
look of evil triumph, not unmingled with astonishment.

“Well, of all the lucky accidents, these beat everything,” he murmured.
“To think of all those people being bowled over like that. But what a
caution the governor is, to be sure, with his talk about wickedness and
Providence. And he really writes as if he believes what he preaches.
There is one thing, though, in which he is quite right. The sea can’t
give up its dead, at any rate not in such a condition as to be able to
speak against me. Hullo! What’s this? Curse that girl. There is no
mistake about her now. She was a spy when pretending to be governess.
She disappeared from our house the night I sailed. This means that she
found out where I was going to, and set that scoundrel of a Riddell on
my trail. Her next manœuvre was to follow me out to Malta. These people
evidently know who really took the diamonds. And they are moving heaven
and earth to bring me to book. Ah! well! They mean to win. So do I, and
all the odds are now in my favour. They may suspect what they like, but
they haven’t a proof left. As the governor says, Providence is dead
against them. We all know that it’s no use flying in the face of
Providence, so my enemies are foredoomed to disappointment.

“So the governor thinks I had better go home again, and that I should be
quite safe. I don’t exactly agree with him, and I have an idea that I
can work a trick worth two of that. This interesting young lady, whom I
imagine to be Miss Cory, wants to discover my whereabouts. I have, very
foolishly, been running away from her. I think I will reverse my
tactics. It would be completing the good offices of Providence if I were
to permit my enemies to overtake me. Nay, I will go further than that. I
will give them indirect information of my whereabouts. Then, just when
they imagine the hour of their triumph has arrived, I will remove them
from my path with even less compunction than I felt over Hilton Riddell.

“Yes, the hunted shall turn hunter, and whether it is God or devil that
is helping me, I mean to win.”



CHAPTER XI.

AN UNEXPECTED ALLY.


Annie trembled violently when she saw Hugh Stavanger disappearing with
the balloon, and for a moment seemed almost fainting with excitement.

“Courage, my darling,” said her father. “He can hardly escape us now,
for I will at once take steps to have him arrested as soon as the
balloon descends. Now your desire to see this balloon ascent is
partially accounted for. Oh, here is Major Colbrook. Do you know, sir,
the man of whom we are in search is actually in that balloon?”

“Are you sure?”

“Quite sure. We have taken note of his appearance too closely to mistake
any other man for him. We have also heard some news about him this
afternoon, and have secured a witness who saw him with the stolen
diamonds in his possession.”

“By jove, you are getting on. I suppose there had better be no time
lost in seeing after his capture as soon as the balloon descends. But
where, in the name of fortune, is it going to? Why--it’s going right out
to sea!”

Others had noticed also that a catastrophe seemed to be impending, and
intense excitement prevailed, which became augmented when the balloon
was lost sight of altogether. As we know, darkness came on while the
aeronauts were still being whirled away from the steamer which was to
have overtaken them, and they would have perished but for the opportune
arrival of the ss. “Centurion.”

The Corys were dreadfully disappointed at this fresh freak of fate. To
lose their prize when it seemed so nearly within their grasp was a blow
sufficient to shake their hope of ever being able to help Harley, for
everything worked against them.

“I am afraid your chances of laying your hands on Stavanger, junior, are
gone,” said Major Colbrook, when he called to see our friends the next
morning.

“How so?” inquired Mr. Cory.

“Well, none of the ships that have come in this morning have sighted the
balloon. The probability is that it has come to grief, and that the men
are all drowned or killed. I am sorry for the other fellows, but
sympathy would be wasted on a scoundrel who would swear another man’s
liberty away for a crime he has committed himself.”

“Perhaps so. But, if Stavanger has perished, the proofs of his guilt
will have been lost with him, and that will be a very serious thing for
us.”

“But you have a witness in the shape of the jeweller, who can prove that
the diamonds were offered to him for sale.”

“There you are wrong. Unless we can secure some of them, we cannot show
reasonable proof that these are the identical diamonds that were
stolen.”

“I think, father, that the sooner we look after that ship-captain the
better. You know we were told that he also had some jewels for sale. As
he was in Hugh Stavanger’s company, I expect he had exacted them as the
price of his silence or his help. If we can find him, it may turn out
that we can do without the diamond merchant’s son. Our present object
must be to expedite Harley’s liberation. The punishment of the
wrong-doers can follow after.”

“Bravo, Miss Cory. You have hit the nail on the head,” exclaimed the
major. “Look here, we know the name of the ship, and that she has left
Malta. Let’s go to the harbour-master, and find out where she cleared
for. You may be able to catch her at the next discharging port. Before
you could overtake the ‘Merry Maid’ now she will be loaded and away. So
you must find out somehow where she is bound for.”

As Major Colbrook’s advice was considered good, it was acted upon at
once, but the result of the inquiries made was somewhat disappointing.
The “Merry Maid” had gone to Barcelona, and from there to Gibraltar for
orders, and what those orders were would take some little time to
discover.

“Have you the ‘Shipping Gazette’?” inquired the major.

“No, sir; we don’t go in for that much, and I have no recent copies by
me. I’ll tell you what, though; if it is very important that you should
know where the ‘Merry Maid’ is, why don’t you cable to the owners?”

“A very good idea, if I knew where to cable to,” said Mr. Cory. “But I
have not the slightest notion who the owners are.”

“There I am better informed than you,” put in Annie, eagerly. “Hilton
gave me the name and address of the owners, and I have them here in my
note-book.”

“Capital!” cried the major. “We shall manage it yet. Now for the
address.”

“Messrs. Rose and Gibney, agents, Great Water Street, London.”

“Good. The next thing is to decide what to say. You don’t want your own
name to figure, I suppose? No? I thought not. Then you had better cable
in my name, and direct the reply to come to my house.”

After a little delay, the following message was sent to Messrs. Rose and
Gibney:--“At what port, and when, is ‘Merry Maid’ due?”

The answer to this, which had been prepaid, was--“Due at Cardiff, 4th
proximo, from Antwerp, to load for Port Said.”

“Splendid. That will suit you to a T,” exclaimed the major. “You can
stay here two or three weeks, to give yourself time to hunt up as much
information as possible about Stavanger. Then, failing success, you can
proceed from here direct to Port Said, and board the ‘Merry Maid’ in the
canal. By the time you get to Cardiff, the vessel might have started on
her voyage, so your surest chance of success lies in waiting for this
Captain Cochrane at his port of destination. And I think you had better
take the authorities into your confidence. They might help you to find
Stavanger.”

It was agreed to follow Major Colbrook’s advice in the main, but our
friends preferred to go on to Port Said without much more delay.

“Hugh Stavanger probably saw us,” said Annie. “If so, he will not come
back to Malta.”

“Perhaps not, but you have no guarantee that your supposition as to his
having seen you is correct. And you will surely not leave here till news
of some sort respecting the balloonists arrives.”

“No; it will be better to wait a little while.”

That a little patience was advisable, was proved when the particulars of
the rescue of the balloonists came to hand. When, however, the Corys
learned that Hugh Stavanger was not returning to Malta, they left the
island for Port Said as soon as it could be managed. But here they were
baffled again, as by the time they landed, the man whom they sought was
already on his way to Bombay, and no efforts of theirs could discover a
trace of him.

“We must remain here now until the ‘Merry Maid’ arrives,” said Annie.
“Meanwhile, it strikes me that we have been acting very clumsily. To
give a different name to ship captains and hotel proprietors is not
enough. We must disguise ourselves effectually. It is quite possible
that Hugh Stavanger recognised me at Valetta, and that but for that
misfortune he would have been brought to book by this time. Such a
blunder must not be made again. We have a great stake to play for, and
we intend to win.”

“You are right, Annie. If the fellow suspects us, he will look out for
us, so we must circumvent him by losing ourselves, as it were.”

The result of the conversation that now ensued between father and
daughter was a complete change in the appearance of both of them, and
those who could recognise Mr. Cory or his daughter in the elderly
clergyman who was supposed to be the tutor and travelling guide of the
rather delicate-looking young Englishman who accompanied him would have
to be extremely wide-awake. There was no cessation of watchfulness on
the part of the so-called Rev. Alexander Bootle and Mr. Ernest Fraser.
But very little that was of special interest to them occurred during
their stay in Port Said, and they were very glad when at last the “Merry
Maid” appeared in the port. Duly armed with the necessary authority, the
Rev. Mr. Bootle, accompanied by an officer of the law, went on board the
steamer the moment it was possible to do so, his object being the arrest
of Captain Cochrane, on the charge of being accessory after the fact to
the great diamond robbery in Hatton Garden.

Picture his dismay on discovering that Captain Cochrane had not come out
with his ship this time. According to the account of Mr. Gerard, the new
master of the “Merry Maid,” Mr. Cochrane had had a legacy of a thousand
pounds left him lately, and he had resolved to take a holiday for the
space of a voyage. On the return of the ship to England, he meant to
join it, and Captain Gerard would then have to subside into his former
position of chief mate.

That evening, conceiving that nothing was to be done there towards the
object they had at heart, Mr. Fraser and his companion were arranging
their luggage, preparatory to returning to England on the morrow. Both
were downcast--the former particularly so.

“It’s of no use trying to do anything for Harley,” was Mr. Fraser’s
remark. “The way in which we are foiled at every turn is driving me mad.
Surely fate cannot always work so determinedly against people who are
fighting on the side of right and justice.”

“I don’t know. It’s a queerly mixed-up world. But I don’t see any cause
for being so terribly disheartened. We may come across Cochrane in
England without much trouble. And it is just possible that Stavanger has
gone back to England, too. He may think himself safe there now, and
events may develop rapidly in our favour while there.”

At this juncture, a knock was heard at the door, and a servant entered
the room with a note on a salver. The note was brief, but puzzling.

“The present captain of the ‘Merry Maid’ would like an interview with
the Rev. Mr. Bootle. He thinks that Mr. Bootle will be greatly benefited
thereby.”

“Show the gentleman in,” was the order given as soon as the note was
read, and a moment afterwards a tall, well-made man entered the room. He
was about thirty years old, originally possessed of fair hair and a
concomitant complexion. Already, however, his hair was of the sparsest,
and of nondescript tint, while exposure to the weather had invested his
face and neck with the ruddiest of hues. As if to atone for the lack of
hair on the top of his head, he was endowed with a moustache of which
nine men out of ten would have envied him the possession. The extremely
punctilious neatness of his attire would have led many to set him down
as foppishly inclined. But one look at the keen, piercing grey eyes
would have negatived the supposition that he was of a weak nature.

“Pray be seated, Captain Gerard,” said Mr. Bootle. “You have business
with us, I believe.”

“Well, I think so. To begin with, you don’t seem to be friendly towards
Captain Cochrane.”

“One isn’t usually good chums with the people one wants to arrest.”

“Precisely so. Now, I am not particularly anxious, either to do
Cochrane an ill turn, or to do you a good turn without sufficient
reason. A short explanation of my position will show you that I have a
strong personal motive in seeking your further acquaintance. I have been
ten years in the employment of the owners of the ‘Merry Maid,’ and when
two years ago I passed my final exam., and got a master’s ticket, I was
promised the first vacancy as captain that offered in the company. Soon
after this the former skipper of the ‘Merry Maid’ died, and I expected
to be appointed to her, but was disgusted to find myself passed over in
favour of a cousin of one of the owners--Cochrane, forsooth. Now, he is
a man with not half my experience, and is popular with nobody that has
to sail with him; so you may readily believe that I have not found it
easy to swallow humble pie as his subordinate. At present he is taking a
holiday. He says that he has had a legacy left him. You boarded the ship
this morning with a warrant to arrest him on a charge of being concerned
in a diamond robbery. I have put two and two together, and have come to
the conclusion that the legacy is a hoax invented to cover his
possession of money he could not otherwise give a good account of. If
your suspicions, and my suspicions, I may add, are proved correct,
Captain Cochrane won’t tread the ‘Merry Maid’s’ deck again. Failing his
return, I am sure to be given permanent command, and as I consider
myself to have a right to the position, I shall be very glad to give any
information I can that will remove my rival from my path. I have, you
see, been perfectly straightforward and honest with you. I don’t pretend
to disinterested motives, or any rot about only being anxious to serve
the ends of justice. I want Cochrane out of my way, and for that reason
alone I am ready to co-operate with you against him. If you care to give
me your confidence, we may be able to help each other.”

Both his hearers had listened eagerly to what Captain Gerard had to say.
Then they nodded to each other, after mutually questioning the
advisability of trusting this stranger, who might, after all, be a
friend of Captain Cochrane, and might have come to pump them in order to
put the villain on his guard. But, somehow, they were both inclined to
believe what had just been told them, and renewed hope coursed through
their veins at the prospect of making important discoveries after all.

“I believe what you say,” remarked the Rev. Mr. Bootle, after a short
pause; “and after you have heard all there is to say on our side, you
will, I am sure, be even more ready than at present to help us.”

Then followed a recapitulation of all the details already familiar to
the reader, and it was as Mr. Bootle had surmised. Captain Gerard became
greatly excited, and vowed that he would do all he could in the cause of
justice, even if it became imperative to work openly, and thus lose the
favour of his employers, who were Cochrane’s relations.

“And you say that Riddell’s brother sailed as steward in the ‘Merry
Maid’ last voyage? Depend upon it, he must have betrayed his identity in
some way or other. And I will tell you why I think so. There has been
some whispering aboard the ship about the late steward’s disappearance.
If this steward was the man you say, his disappearance is no longer
mysterious. He was murdered. And, what’s more, I will try to prove it.”



CHAPTER XII.

BAITING THE TRAP.


“You would like to know my reasons for believing that your friend has
met with foul play,” said Captain Gerard, after the first horror and
surprise of his hearers was over. “Well, here they are. It was only
yesterday that our second mate, who is new to the ship, related a
conversation he had had with the bo’sun. The latter asserts that on the
night that saw the last of the man supposed to be William Trace, it was
so unbearably stuffy down below that he coiled himself up beside the
winch, between the third and after hatch, and went to sleep there. He
says that it must have been approaching morning, when he suddenly awoke
with a sensation of danger, such as we all experience at times when our
sleep is disturbed. With his senses all on the alert, he looked about
him, without at first noting anything. Then it struck him that the sound
he had heard was a splash, and a moment after he saw Messrs. Cochrane
and Torrens creeping stealthily towards the companion, down which they
vanished. Shortly afterwards he fell asleep again, and did not connect
the steward’s disappearance with the splash he had heard, or with the
skipper’s stealthy movements, until he heard different members of the
crew whispering their suspicions of foul play. Had the weather been bad,
or had the steward been an unsteady man, it might have been supposed
that he had fallen overboard while drunk, as the ship was not rolling.
But the man was as steady as the weather was fine, and he could not have
fallen overboard without deliberately trying to do so. The inference,
therefore, is in favour of his having been pitched over. You may not
think this much proof of my belief that he was murdered. But our Chippy
stumbled upon a motive, or what would have struck a keen observer as a
good equivalent for one. He was ordered by the captain to repair sundry
holes which had been made in the wainscoting by the steward. Since I
know who the steward was, I am sure these holes had been made for
purposes of espionage; that he discovered collusion between Cochrane and
the passenger; that they, in their turn, discovered who he was, and
deliberately negatived his evidence against them by murdering him. There
are also many other corroborative little incidents to be unearthed, I am
sure, and I promise you that by the time the ‘Merry Maid’ has finished
this voyage, there will have been gathered by me all the information
possible concerning this suspected murder. Meanwhile, your best course
will be to return to England, and try to secure Cochrane. He lives in
Disraeli Road, Forest Gate, London. Before we separate I will give you
his complete address.”

“Is he married?”

“He has been, but his wife is dead. Since her death he has placed his
son under the care of a sister, and he makes her house his home also
when in port. Only secure him, and you will learn enough to liberate
your friend from gaol. Cochrane will tell all he can about Stavanger to
screen himself. He is notoriously of a sneakish disposition. If money is
no object, I would suggest that you cable to somebody in England to see
that the fellow does not give you the slip. And now I guess I had better
be moving, as soon as you have given me an address that will always find
you. We are going on to Bombay from here. Should I come across
Stavanger, you may bet your bottom dollar that I will ensure his
arrest.”

A few weeks after the above conversation, an elderly gentleman in
clerical garb was having a somewhat heated discussion with a private
detective.

“How in the world could you bungle so seriously as to let the man slip
through your fingers? I telegraphed the importance of his capture to
you, warning you always to keep him in sight. And yet I find, on
arriving here myself, that you have lost all trace of him.”

So said the irate clergyman, to whom the detective replied--

“My dear sir, when you have lived a little longer, you will perhaps have
a better understanding of the difficulties of my profession. The man
whom I did watch tallied exactly with the description of the man I was
instructed to watch, and it is not my fault that it turns out to be the
brother-in-law whom I have shadowed. I do not believe Cochrane has been
near the house.”

“Perhaps you are right. But my vexation is none the less, for, somehow,
every effort I have made, so far, has resulted in nothing but
disappointment.”

“Well, it’s a long lane that never has a turning, and Cochrane is
evidently dubious as to his safety and has chosen to obliterate himself
for a while. We may take it for granted that he won’t join the ‘Merry
Maid’ again. Nor will the share of the stolen diamonds which he was seen
with at Valetta be enough to support him permanently. I should imagine
he will change his name and set up in some other line of business in
London or its vicinity. If you care to empower me to do so, I will
employ one of my men to investigate, and report the appearance of the
proprietors of new enterprises, preferably those of a quiet, shady
nature.”

“London is such a big place, that we are as likely to stumble across our
man in the street, as to discover him in the way you suggest. But I
suppose it will be as well to be watchful.”

It was only too true. Once more, when apparently on the eve of success,
our friends had been most bitterly disappointed by the discovery that
their quarry had escaped them. For a week his whilom home was carefully
watched, but he did not put in an appearance there, and, after awhile,
it was discovered that his relatives were greatly distressed about him,
as he had neither visited them nor acquainted them with his place of
abode for some time past.

All things considered, Harley’s prospects of release seemed no better
than they were at the time of his conviction. But it was at least a
little satisfactory to learn that his health had so far not suffered
quite so much as had been feared. His mother, too, bore up wonderfully
under all her trials, and expressed her firm faith in the ultimate
restoration of her son’s liberty and reputation. Hilton’s fate had been
a great blow to her at first. Then, much to the surprise of friends, she
declined to believe that he was really dead, in spite of the evidence
that was forthcoming to that effect.

“Depend upon it,” she said, “God wouldn’t be so cruel as to deprive me
of both my boys. I shall yet see them happy and well.”

After a time nobody tried to argue her out of this belief, for it
comforted her, and kept her from sinking into the despondency that would
otherwise have overwhelmed her. Miss Margaret Cory was, as usual, a
comfort and a consolation to everybody. Mr. Cory was glad to be at home
again, but was as determined as ever to pursue his investigations
further. Annie--quiet, subdued, and sad--was yet unremittent in her
efforts to gain information likely to be useful. As time wore on, she
became more brave, nay, positively daring, and showed such skill in
safely following up clues that her father no longer felt any uneasiness
about her, even though her absences from home were often unexpectedly
lengthened.

The family had removed to a new house in a neighbourhood to which they
were strange, and none but themselves knew that she was a daughter of
the house, since, for prudential reasons, she had retained her masculine
clothing, without which it would not have been so easy for her to
penetrate unobserved into all sorts of places. Of course the case had
been put into the hands of an official detective, who, however, was as
much at a standstill as they were.

One day Annie, whom the servants and neighbours supposed to be Mr.
Edgar Bootle, son of the Rev. Alexander Bootle, found among the letters
on the breakfast table one bearing the Bombay postmark. She concluded at
once that it was from Captain Gerard, as he had promised to write on his
arrival at Bombay.

“Look here, father,” she said eagerly, as the “Rev. Mr. Bootle” entered
the breakfast room, “here is Captain Gerard’s letter. Open it at once
and see what he says.”

The request was promptly obeyed, and what was in the letter is here
transcribed:--

“SS. ‘Merry Maid,’ Bombay.

“Dear Sir,--As per promise, I am losing no time in affording you such
information as is in my power. I find that the look-out man who was on
duty on the night, and at the time of Mr. Hilton Riddell’s
disappearance, is also convinced that he heard a suspicious splash, but
it is doubtful if either he or the carpenter would care to appear as
witnesses in the event of a new trial, since they are afraid of being
detained, without recompense sufficient, long enough to cause them to
lose their ship. Perhaps, however, you may be able to make them an offer
good enough to overcome hesitation in this direction. But I have,
nevertheless, some very valuable information for you. Yesterday, having
only been in port an hour or two, and having finished all business for
the day, I was having a turn on the Apollo Bunda, when whom should I
meet face to face but our late passenger. He recognised me at once as
the former mate of the ‘Merry Maid,’ but would have passed by without
apparent recognition if I had not buttonholed him, and made this course
impossible. He acknowledged my salutation very stiffly, and would still
have passed on had I not remarked, ‘Look here, old man, it’s lucky for
you we have met; otherwise you would most certainly be in gaol
to-morrow.’

“You should have seen his face. It went as white as a scared man’s face
ever can, and for a moment he looked as if he was going into a fit. Then
he pulled himself together, and tried to make light of his emotion.

“‘What a queer way you have of talking, Mr. Gerard,’ he said, and I was
viciously glad to see what a feeble show he made of the self-possession
he tried to muster. ‘How on earth could I be entitled to lodgings in
gaol?’

“‘Well, thereby hangs a tale,’ I said. ‘Suppose you come down with me to
a quiet house I know of, where we can talk unobserved. You have some
deadly enemies in Bombay at this minute, and the sooner you take
yourself away from a public place like this the better.’

“Fifteen minutes later we were sitting, each armed with a whisky and
soda, in the public room of a house which I, in common with other
sea-faring officers, had often frequented during my numerous voyages to
Bombay. Stavanger was desperately nervous, and was careful to sit with
his back to the general company, while I, having a good view of all who
came in, was able to assure him that, so far, none of his enemies were
present. And then I exercised a stroke of diplomacy, for which I am sure
you will commend me.

“I have induced him to set off for England, where you will have no
difficulty of capturing him. I set a trap for him, and he has walked
into it beautifully. Briefly, this is what I did. I told him that at
Port Said a middle-aged gentleman and his daughter, accompanied by an
officer of the law, came on board the ‘Merry Maid’ with a warrant for
the arrest of one Hugh Stavanger, alias Paul Torrens, on a charge of
being the principal person implicated in a diamond robbery that had
taken place some time ago at Hatton Garden. ‘The young lady,’ I
continued, ‘was engaged to be married to a man who has been convicted of
the crime, and she has vowed to unearth you and haul you up, if she has
to follow you all over the world. She has tracked you from one place to
another, and is quite confident of catching you some time. I suggested
that you were probably in England again. But neither she nor her father
thought this possible.’ ‘Depend upon it,’ Miss Cory said, ‘the scoundrel
will never dare come to England again, and it would be folly to look for
him there. If he had felt safe there, he would not have come away, that
is true.’ I told Stavanger much more than this, all tending to make him
believe that, after all, England was the only safe place for him. I
enlarged on the wealth at your disposal, and said that you had several
detectives trying to find him somewhere abroad. Also that you had found
out somehow that he had sailed for Bombay, that you had immediately
decided to follow him in one of the mail boats, and that you must have
reached Bombay a few days before the ‘Merry Maid’ arrived. I also
professed to have no sympathy with you, and remarked that if I could lay
my hands on a few diamonds I would only be too glad of the chance. The
fellow did not condescend to chum with me at all when I was only a mate.
Now he seems to repent his error of judgment; is convinced that I am
quite in harmony and sympathy with him; and is ready to swallow any
advice that I may offer. Here is the result of my advice and manœuvring.
He went back to his hotel with his hat over his eyes, and his light coat
huddled about his neck as much as possible, I being kind enough to
accompany him. Then he put a few things into his pockets, packed a
portmanteau, paid his hotel bill, and went with me to the skipper of a
boat leaving for England that tide. He is now a passenger in that boat,
which is called the ‘Hornby Cross,’ and is due in London a month from
date. Before parting from him, I, partially by wheedling, partially by
insistence, got a diamond ring out of him. This ring I will bring home
with me, and, should it prove to be a part of the stolen property, you
will have proof enough to saddle the robbery on Stavanger, even if he
were not walking right into your clutches. This letter will reach you a
week before the ‘Hornby Cross’ is due, and will give you time to make
the necessary arrangements for capture. The ‘Hornby Cross’ is owned by
Messrs. Ward, Willow, and Co., Fenchurch Street, and Stavanger’s present
alias is John Morton. A word or two more. The scoundrel had half a
notion for a few minutes of remaining here, on the chance of being able
to ‘stop your gallop,’ as he called it. In other words, if he can ever
get half a chance he will murder you, as he considers that if the world
were rid of Miss Cory and her father he would be perfectly safe. I
persuaded him that it would be foolish for him to linger here, and vowed
that I could find a safe method of disposing of you. I am actually to
have a hundred pounds as soon as I can prove Stavanger’s enemies to be
no longer in the land of the living. Nice for you, isn’t it? But there
is no fear of my ever earning that hundred pounds, nor of him ever
employing anyone else to earn it, since he is sure to be in your power
soon.”



CHAPTER XIII.

MORE DISAPPOINTMENTS.


The “Hornby Cross,” having accomplished its voyage in safety, was viewed
with considerable interest as it was being manœuvred into Millwall Dock,
whither it had brought a cargo of grain from India. Among the onlookers
were a few whose attention was the result of curiosity alone; but the
greater part of the small crowd assembled at the dock gates had business
of some sort on board. There were relatives and friends of the returning
seafarers, eagerly looking out for their own folk, and anxious to see
them again after their long voyage. And there were numbers of touters
for nearly every trade that can be patronised by seafarers. There was
also Mr. Gay, a detective whom we have met before, talking to an elderly
clergyman and a slim young man, whose clear blue eyes keenly watched the
operations on board the incoming vessel.

Presently she was near enough to be boarded by the most venturous
spirits in the crowd, and these were soon clambering about in what
seemed a very reckless fashion to those unused to the sight. Among the
first to touch the “Hornby Cross’s” deck was Mr. Gay, and he at once
made for the captain, who was standing on the bridge, contentedly
watching the operations of the dock pilot, into whose charge the vessel
had been put.

“Good morning, sir,” said Mr. Gay, touching his hat in greeting. “I am
glad to see you safe in port. My name is Gay. You will have received the
note I sent you by the pilot this morning.”

“Your name is Gay, is it? Well, I guess you won’t feel like your name
for a bit. Your note came too late, sir.”

“The deuce! Do you mean to say that Morton, as he calls himself, has
given us the slip?”

“I do. You see, I would have done my best to help you if I had had only
half a notion who my passenger was. As I hadn’t, you can’t be surprised
at being done.”

“But the man really started from Bombay with you?”

“Yes, he really did. But he didn’t choose to come all the way with us,
and I had no reason for supposing that he was wanted here. We had to
call at Gibraltar for bunker coals, and Mr. Morton expressed a fancy to
remain behind and explore Spain. I reckon he had funked about coming to
England, and thought the Spaniards would be better chums with a rogue.”

“My clients will be dreadfully disappointed. Everything seems to go
against them.”

“It seems to me that in this case it is your own stupidity that has gone
against them. You must excuse the remark, but it expresses what I
think.”

“And in what way have I been stupid, may I ask?”

“Well, you might have found out where we were likely to bunker. The
owners would have given you the information. Then you could have come
out to intercept your man before he had a chance to clear, instead of
waiting here expecting him to walk into the trap set for him. Or you
could have cabled to me to detain him. But, of course, these little
items are things a detective wouldn’t be likely to think of.”

“I feel quite grateful for your sympathy in my disappointment, Captain
Criddle, but feel it necessary to correct you in a few particulars. Even
though only a detective, I was struck with the idea that it would be
wise to consult the owners. Their information left only the course
adopted open to me. I was told that you had probably already taken in
bunker coals at Malta, and that you would not be calling at any other
place before your arrival in England. It is only six days since we
learned that Morton, or, more correctly speaking, Stavanger, was on
board your ship, and either meeting him, or cabling to have him detained
was out of the question. You received instructions through the pilot at
Gravesend, and I fail to see what further steps could have been taken
for the man’s capture, unless we had been more accurately informed of
your proceedings by your owners.”

“Oh, well, it isn’t their fault, as they knew no different. But I
haven’t time to talk any more, as I have a swarm of people to see. Good
afternoon.”

Thus peremptorily dismissed, Mr. Gay found it necessary to return to
shore without the prize he had hoped to land with him, and his
professional chagrin was mingled with real sorrow for the bitter
disappointment of his clients. He was not a little angry with Captain
Criddle for his want of sympathy and his unflattering insinuations.
These were, no doubt, prompted by the reluctance felt by most people to
have anything to do with a criminal case in any shape or form, and
Detective Gay was not far wrong when he suspected Captain Criddle of
being rather pleased than otherwise that the expected arrest had not
taken place on board his ship.

That the Corys were deeply dismayed is a foregone conclusion, and that
Mr. Cory thought it useless to make further investigations for a while
is not surprising.

“The man won’t have stayed in Gibraltar, that is certain,” he said. “And
if we were to go there, and follow up the trail, it is doubtful if we
could ever track him and secure his return to England. So long as he
chooses to remain in Spain, so long is he safe. Even if he leaves there
I’m afraid his pursuit would be but a wild goose chase. His predilection
for aliases will make identification difficult, and he seems to possess
some abnormal instinct that cautions him against coming danger.”

“I think myself, sir,” observed Mr. Gay, “that he won’t come back to
England, at all events, until he has run through his plunder. Even then
he may be quietly supplied with money by his father, whom we believe to
to be in league with him. If I were you I would not move in the matter
for a while, in order to lull all suspicion of pursuit. If we can
stumble on Captain Cochrane in the meantime, so much the better. We may
be able to prove Mr. Riddell’s innocence through him.”

“And if we do not stumble on Captain Cochrane?” inquired Annie, whose
assumption of masculine garb made it more imperative upon her to keep
her composure than would have been the case had she been figuring simply
as Annie Cory.

“In that case it will be difficult to bring conviction to the minds of
judge and jury, if you decide to move for a fresh inquiry.”

“But the ring which the present captain of the ‘Merry Maid’ is bringing
home with him?”

“That may prove valuable evidence, or it may not, just as it happens.”

“It is bound to be valuable evidence when it is identified as part of
the stolen property, as it is sure to be.”

“By whom?”

“By whom? Why, by the Stavanger Bros., or by Mr. Riddell, who
inventoried the goods the night they disappeared.”

“Well, I don’t want to dishearten you too much; but I feel it my duty to
show you how difficult the case really is. No doubt Mr. Riddell could
recognise this diamond ring. But would his word be accepted? He was
convicted of the robbery by overwhelming evidence, which it is now to
his interest to negative by every means in his power. It is, therefore,
natural that he should try to remove the onus of guilt from his own
shoulders to that of another, by swearing to property traced to that
other’s possession. Pray, don’t be angry! I am not stating a private
conviction that Mr. Riddell would swear falsely, but that a
chuckle-headed judge or jury would be likely to think so. When a man is
once down, the world likes to keep him down.”

“But,” put in Mr. Cory, “there are the Brothers Stavanger, who would
know the ring as well as Mr. Riddell, presumably better.”

“And how are we to guarantee that they will aid the ends of justice by
identifying that which will help to prove the son of the one and the
nephew of the other to be a thief, a perjurer, and an absconding
vagabond? The reputation of both the firm and the family depends upon
Hugh Stavanger’s safety. I firmly believe that they have already done
some false swearing in the matter. Is it likely that they will reverse
their former tactics and play into our hands now?”

“I’m afraid you are right. Still, we have several things to fall back
upon that will help us, even if the evidence of the ring proves
valueless.”

“It cannot prove valueless,” said Annie now, with considerable
decision. “Captain Gerard will relate how he became possessed of it, and
there is his letter to us by way of corroboration of his evidence. The
Maltese jeweller will also help us, if necessary. So, even if we cannot
bring the real culprits up for judgment, we can move for a new trial,
and even if judge and jurors are as addlepated and obstinate as you
would have us to believe, they must see that the case is much deeper and
more complicated than they supposed. And if it is their natural
propensity to doubt the word of people accused of crime, they will be as
likely to exercise it upon the man now accused. Mr. Peary, our
solicitor, must push things on without delay, and we will rely upon such
evidence as we can produce, if we can secure a new trial. Meanwhile,
there is still time to do some active work, and a plan I have in my head
may result in the discovery of a clue to Hugh Stavanger’s whereabouts.”

What that plan was Annie would not disclose, though pressed upon the
point both by her father and the detective. The latter was very much
annoyed at the turn events had taken, and was by no means sanguine as to
the ultimate results of the investigations that were being pursued on
Harley Riddell’s behalf. But he went away with a higher admiration of
Annie Cory’s pluck than he had ever felt for that of any woman in his
life.

“She is game to the core,” he thought, “and if anybody can help the poor
fellow in gaol, it is his sweetheart, who, it seems to me, cannot be
daunted. She is one in a million. Most girls would have sat down and
fretted, instead of trying to remedy the evil. Well, good luck to her,
say I. If a girl like that doesn’t deserve to succeed, nobody does.”

From which remarks it may be gathered that Mr. Gay was not one of those
who, to cover their discomfiture, would begrudge success to another,
because he or she did not happen to be in the profession.

A few weeks later the “Merry Maid” was safely docked again, and Annie,
accompanied by her father, and still figuring as Mr. Ernest Fraser, was
sitting in the cabin of the steamer talking to Captain Gerard. They had
awaited his arrival at the dock, being too impatient to stay at home
until he had time to visit them.

His face lengthened considerably as he listened to the long account of
disappointment and failure they had to give him.

“Well, I’m hanged if ever I knew anything like it,” he said at last, in
a tone of great vexation. “I thought everything was plain sailing, and
never dreamt that Stavanger would alter his mind about coming on to
England. You can’t touch him in Spain, and for anything we know he may
stick there. I wonder where Cochrane is. He must have taken the alarm,
too.”

“We hope to be able to help the case considerably by means of the ring
you wrote to us about,” observed Mr. Cory.

“Well, the imp of mischief seems to be at work,” said the captain,
emphasising his vexation by an oath. “Even the ring will be no use as
evidence now. At Malta we coaled, coming home. There I met an old chum,
who, like myself, was on his first voyage as master. I’m afraid we both
jubilated till we were half seas over. I was cutting a dash with the
diamond ring at the time. My friend offered to go on board my ship with
me. As we were being rowed to the ship he noticed my ring, and made some
remark about it. I pulled it off to show it to him. Whether it was his
fault or mine I hardly know, but between us we let the ring drop into
the water, with the result that it is lost beyond recovery.”



CHAPTER XIV.

AN ACCOMMODATING POSTMAN.


“Annie, my child, don’t you think you had better give up this vain
chase? You are looking ill and worried. The case makes no real progress,
in spite of all our exertions, and you are wearing your life away for
nothing.”

“For nothing, auntie? Is Harley’s rescue nothing? I’m ashamed to hear
you speak like that. It’s a good thing Mrs. Riddell has not come
downstairs yet. She would be astonished to find you turning traitor.”

“I have heard some people say, my dear, that you have a real nasty
temper when you like, and I am bound to admit that they are not far
wrong, for your last sentence was thoroughly ill-natured. As you know,
however, I am quite ready to make allowances, and I repeat that you are
not reaping an equivalent success for all your exertions.”

“And what would you have me do? Leave Harley to his fate, without
another effort to save him?”

“By no means. I am as anxious as ever that he should be helped. But I
think you will work more efficiently if you take things quietly for a
while, and resume operations after your inactivity has lulled all
suspicion.”

“You mean well, auntie; but I should die if I didn’t work in some way or
other for Harley’s benefit. So far all my efforts have failed, but I
don’t mean to give up hope, for Fate cannot always set her signals dead
against us.”

The above conversation between Miss Cory and her niece will serve to
show that poor Harley Riddell, while possessing friends who were as
firmly convinced of his innocence as ever, was in danger of having his
prospects jeopardised by the paralysing influence of baffled efforts.
Annie was the only one whom disappointment did not seem to daunt, and,
with her, failure was but a stimulus to renewed effort. The
long-drawn-out agony of her lover’s unjustified incarceration was ever
before her eyes, and she would have deemed herself guilty of a crime had
she resigned herself to the passive inactivity which to others seemed
the only course left her.

“Are you going out this morning?” questioned Miss Margaret, as she
carefully examined a hole in the damask tablecloth she was about to
darn.

“Yes. I have a little business to transact. Tell father I won’t be long,
for, if I am, I shall have been unexpectedly detained.”

Presently our heroine, who to the ordinary passer-by looked a rather
handsome young fellow, with short, dark hair, bright dark blue eyes, and
a dark moustache, of a shape which suited his light form and clearly-cut
features to perfection, was walking down the street in a westerly
direction at a rapid pace.

Half an hour later this same young gentleman was to be seen talking to
an elderly postman, in a neighbourhood which, for the sake of the
aforementioned postman I had better not indicate too closely. Suffice it
to say that his round embraced the residence of Mr. David Stavanger,
who, with his family, was now back in London.

“Have you anything yet for me?” was the first inquiry addressed to the
postman, an inquiry, moreover, which pointed to a little previous
collusion between the two innocent-looking individuals.

“I believe I have, at last, sir,” was the answer, “I had an extra lot of
letters this morning, and very near forgot all about you. In fact, I was
just putting three letters in the letter-box of Number Thirty-nine when
I caught sight of a foreign stamp, and stuck to the letter it was on,
just in time. Is this anything in your line, sir?”

Saying this, the postman handed a letter to “Mr. Bootle,” which the
latter seized with avidity, and examined eagerly. The scrutiny appeared
to more than satisfy him. He was positively jubilant, for the missive
bore a Spanish postmark, and was in the handwriting which had become
quite familiar to the pseudo governess of Fanny Stavanger.

“I believe this is the very thing I want. Wait a moment until I open it,
so that I may know whether I need your services any more for the present
or not. There! you see there is no cheque or valuable paper of any
description in this envelope. It is, as I told you, a letter only that I
wished to intercept, and there will be no inquiry about it, I assure
you, as the writer is a fugitive from justice, who is only too anxious
to keep dark. Yes, this tells me all I want to know. This very night I
set off to catch my man, and here is the ten-pound note I promised you.”

“If you have gold about you it would suit me better, sir. Ten pounds is
a lot for a poor chap like me to have, and folks might get suspicious if
I showed a note for that amount.”

“Perhaps you don’t feel sure that the note is genuine. I have no gold
with me. But if you object to the bank note, I will give you a cheque on
the National and Provincial Bank.”

“Oh, it’s all right, sir. I’ll take your word for it. All the same, if
you don’t mind, I’ll follow you till we get to the bank. Then you can go
inside with me, and change it.”

It was evident that the postman distrusted him. But Mr. Bootle was too
delighted with the prize he had obtained to be very thin-skinned about
this stranger’s opinion. In due time the postman received £10 in gold as
payment for his breach of confidence, and went on his way rejoicing,
wishing for a speedy opportunity of doing another such profitable day’s
work.

As for Mr. Ernest Bootle, he went on his way rejoicing, too, and feeling
not the slightest qualm of conscience at what he had done, since it was
all in the cause of right and justice. The precious letter was hugged
very closely during the journey home, and then, in the privacy of Mr.
Bootle’s own room, it was re-read.

For the benefit of the reader we will transcribe its contents here:--

“Lina, Spain.

“My Dear Father,--I am still inclined to stop in this place for a
while. Nobody has the slightest suspicion that I am not a _bonâ fide_
English agent and that my name is not Gregory Staines. You still urge me
to come home. I think your advice unwise, for I am sure that girl will
leave no stone unturned to find me, and arrest would be very distasteful
to me. I am very much better as I am. I live in comfort, have no
tiresome business restrictions, and, so far, have won so much in an
English gaming-house here that it has not been necessary to encroach on
the money I have realised. You need not imagine that I am careless, or
that I am courting recognition. Even if anyone who knew me was to come
here, I am too well disguised to be identified, and even if
identification were possible, it would be useless, as I am quite safe in
Spanish territory. And I am not staying at an hotel either, but have
taken lodgings in a quiet, respectable neighbourhood, with a
good-looking young English widow, who seems inclined to be sweet on me.
If I find that she has any money put by I may perhaps marry her, and
settle down here. I don’t care much for swell society, so, if I can be
made comfortable when at home, and I do not run out of spending money
abroad, I shan’t need to grumble. In any case, I mean to give England a
wide berth while that confounded woman is knocking around. I wish she
would break her neck.”

“No, I won’t break my neck,” said the individual to whom this pious
wish applied. “But I’m hoping, after all, to stop your gallop, Mr.
Stavanger, since you have so kindly put your new address in this letter;
and the good-looking widow must be cured of her folly, too. I daresay
you do feel yourself tolerably safe, and you are evidently free from
qualms of conscience also. The latter, no doubt, will make themselves
felt when you are brought to book for your crimes. Then you will, no
doubt, be a pattern of pious repentance, since the gist of repentance,
in convicted criminals, is to be measured by the poignancy of their
regret at being found out. The exceptions to this rule are the very,
very few who voluntarily own their culpability and surrender themselves
to justice. As you are not likely to prove a voluntary repentant, I must
force your hand. And now for my immediate plans.”

The result of the deliberations in which Mr. Bootle now indulged will be
apparent in a letter which the Rev. Alexander Bootle, otherwise Mr.
Cory, read up to his sister, and to Mrs. Riddell the same evening. Said
letter merely informed them that Annie was now gone to carry out the
plan at which she had hinted some days ago; that she was sanguine of
success; that she wished her departure from home kept as quiet as
possible; that she had, according to an understanding between them,
drawn as much money as she thought might be needed for the enterprise
she had in hand; and that they must not feel uneasy if they did not hear
from her for some time, as she did not wish to risk the failure of her
enterprise by allowing even her nearest and dearest to know of her
whereabouts.

“I hope Annie will not plunge into any foolish risks,” said Miss
Margaret, anxiously.

“She is too sensible to do that,” Mrs. Riddell remarked. “Still, she has
courage surpassing that of 99 out of every 100 women, and would think
little of what would scare others.”

“And her very pluck will carry her safely through dangers that another
woman would succumb to. I think Harley is lucky in having won so devoted
a girl. For she will never relax her efforts, and I begin to be imbued
with her faith in ultimate success.”

“So do I,” added Mr. Cory. “All the same, I wish she had taken us into
her confidence. The child is only twenty, and has never been entirely
thrown on her own resources before. Suppose she were to fall into the
hands of swindlers, and be robbed of the money she has with her? All
sorts of evils might happen before she could communicate with us.”

“John, I’m surprised at you. Annie is too much in earnest, and at the
same time too wary, to play into the hands of the enemy. You don’t like
the notion of her pursuing her investigations alone. After all, it is
the best thing she can do; for you must admit that neither you nor the
detective have been much use in the case.”

“That was due to adverse circumstances, not to our want of penetration.”

“I am willing to grant that; but I have no doubt that Annie is actuated
by an idea that she is less likely to put Stavanger on his guard if
alone than if accompanied by anyone else. For my part I have resolved
not to be uneasy about her. Have you heard anything of what the
Stavangers are doing just now?”

“Jogtrotting, as per usual, I suppose, except that the elder daughter is
to be married soon. I am not sure that it is not to-day.”

“I’m sorry for the man who marries into that family. But, of course, we
have no grounds for warning him. And now about Harley. It is wonderful
how he keeps his health. Oh, are you going to bed, Mrs. Riddell? Well,
good night. Perhaps all is going to be cleared up soon, and you must
keep your spirits up, for your son’s sake.”

“For the sake of my sons, yes,” said the old lady tremulously. “And for
the sake of the dear girl who has done so much for them and for me.”

“Strange how the dear old soul clings to that belief in Hilton’s
ultimate recovery,” said Miss Margaret, when she and her brother were
once alone. “Nothing seems to convince her that he is really dead.”

“We have plenty of proof that he is dead. There is the word of all the
people who voyaged with him in the ‘Merry Maid’ that he disappeared in
mid-ocean. And the length of time that has now elapsed precludes all
possibility of his being alive still.”

“Of course, he must be dead. And our poor friend will be bound to awaken
in time to the bitter truth that the sea will not give up its dead.”

“If you please,” announced a servant, whose knock had not been heard by
the brother and sister, “a gentleman, whose name is Captain Gerard,
wishes to speak to you.”

“Gerard! Show him in at once. Perhaps he has some important news for us,
Margaret.”

“We’ll hope so. And we shall soon know.”

“Good evening, Mr. Bootle,” said Captain Gerard, advancing into the
room. “You will, perhaps, be surprised to receive a visit from me so
late in the day. But the truth is I have a bit of news for you that may
interest you--I have seen Captain Cochrane.”



CHAPTER XV.

JUST IN TIME.


We will now, with the reader’s permission, retrace our history to the
night on which the captain and passenger of the “Merry Maid” consigned
to the waves the body of the man whom they firmly believed to have
murdered.

The barque “Halcyon,” bound from Lisbon for Callao, was proceeding
quietly on her course and had, up to now, encountered nothing out of her
usual experience. The captain, contentedly smoking a big cigar, was
leaning idly over the rail and scanning the horizon, on the faint chance
of seeing something that would relieve the monotony of the scene. It was
a fine moonlight night, but now and again a cloud, carried along a
higher strata than that by which the movements of the “Halcyon” were
dominated, obscured the radiance of the orb of night, and enveloped sea
and sky in a temporary mantle of darkness, rendering invisible
everything but the distant lights of some vessel crossing the track
pursued by the “Halcyon.” Captain Quaco Pereiro, being of an adventurous
disposition, would have preferred more variety in the scenery. But he
was withal of a philosophical turn of mind, and never fretted for that
which was unobtainable. Being content, therefore, to accept his somewhat
isolated position uncomplainingly, he was nevertheless prepared to
welcome relief in any form, and followed with considerable interest the
course of a steamer, of which he obtained an occasional feeble glimpse,
and which he concluded, from the track pursued, to be bound for the
Mediterranean. Not that there was anything special about the steamer to
attract his attention. But it chanced to be the nearest object in sight,
therefore possibly the most profitable to observe.

But nothing occurred on board that he was near enough to distinguish,
and Captain Pereiro, having finished his cigar, and having bethought
himself that it would be as well to go below for a drink of wine, was
raising himself up from the rail against which he had been leaning, when
his eyes caught sight of a dark object bobbing quietly about on the
waters, offering no resistance beyond that inert resistance which is
inherent in any solid substance.

“H’m! what is that?” he questioned himself. “A log of wood? Yes--no--ah!
Sancta Maria! it is the body of a man! Holy Mother, preserve us!”

Such a sight always saddened Captain Pereiro, for it reminded him of
what might possibly be his own fate, and made him pray the more
fervently that the beloved wife and children whom he had left at home
might be long ere they were deprived of their bread winner. Imagining
that it was the body of some shipwrecked sailor that was now within a
boat’s length of him, he was about to turn away from the painful sight,
when his heart gave a startled bound on hearing a weird cry, as of some
human being in the depths of agony and despair.

“Mother of God!” he cried, crossing himself vigorously, “what was that?”

Convinced that the cry he had heard did not originate on board, Captain
Pereiro turned his gaze over the side again in the direction of the
weird object which had already impressed him painfully. With ears and
eyes strained to their utmost tension, he waited for he scarcely knew
what. Would the body float quietly past, with not a sign of life or
vitality about it? Or would his impressions be realised, and would it
turn out that the awful scream he had heard proceeded from that which he
had shudderingly looked upon as a corpse?

He was not left many seconds to conjecture, for once more the moonlit
air was rent with the desponding shriek of the dying, and this time all
doubt and superstitious fear were simultaneously removed from his mind.
For not only was it evident whence the cry proceeded, but the hands of
the supposed corpse were thrown up imploringly, yet feebly, as though by
one from whom the vital spark had nearly fled.

Others had now also both seen and heard what was going on, and it
scarcely needed Captain Pereiro’s sharp command to back the mainyard in
order to induce his sailors to bring about the end he desired. In an
incredibly short space of time the course of the “Halcyon” was arrested,
a boat was lowered, the drowning man secured, and preparations for
starting again made. As soon as rescuers and rescued were safely on
board, Captain Pereiro gave the order to brace the mainyard, and
speedily, with well-filled sails, the barque was being steered on her
course once more.

It seemed, however, that the fine fellows had wasted their energies in a
vain cause, for the stranger had relapsed into total unconsciousness,
which was so profound that for a long time it resisted every benevolent
effort to dispel it.

“The fates are against the poor fellow,” murmured the captain,
sorrowfully. “I fear we were too late to help him. And yet it is a shame
to be so cheated after all the trouble. Pedro, we will have another try,
and by the Virgin, I will renounce--I mean I will be angry with--my
patron saint if he does not help us to succeed in keeping this man’s
soul out of purgatory a while longer.”

Pedro, who, by the way, was the steward of the “Halcyon,” was already
fatigued by the vigorous exertions he had made. He was, moreover,
convinced that the thing upon which he had been operating no longer
contained a soul, and he felt a horror at the idea of pulling and
twisting a dead body about. But he dared not refuse to do as he was
told, so, invoking the aid of St. Peter as a corollary to the help St.
George had been asked to extend to the captain, he set bravely to work
once more, and soon became as full of faith and energy as Pereiro
himself.

Fortunately for St. George, the captain had no need to be angry with
him, for after a prolonged and fatiguing spell of rubbing, fomenting,
dosing, and artificial respiration, the stranger’s eyelids began to
quiver, and short, gasping sighs escaped his labouring breast. Thanks to
Pereiro’s clever treatment, he was already partially relieved of the
brine which he had perforce swallowed, but no sooner did the latter
realise that his efforts were being rewarded by success, than he
promptly administered another emetic, which proved thoroughly effectual,
and left the patient gasping with exhaustion, but on the high road to
recovery.

As the reader no doubt guesses, it was Hilton Riddell who was thus
miraculously saved from what appeared to be certain death. His would-be
murderers were so anxious to avoid observation on their own ship that
they had not noticed the proximity of the barque at right angles with
them, and felt as sure that they had compassed their desired end, as
that they themselves were alive and well.

Thus they sped on their course, hugging the belief that they had taken
the most effectual means of silencing an enemy, and feeling secure in
the reflection that, as the sea was not likely to give up its dead, they
were not likely to be confronted with Hilton Riddell again.

Meanwhile the latter was receiving every care and attention on board
the “Halcyon.” Captain Pereiro was greatly delighted to observe the
gradual recovery of the prey he had rescued from the ocean, all the more
so as he had already convinced himself that Hilton had been the victim
of foul play. The blow on the head had been a terrible one--so terrible,
indeed, that it threatened to kill him, many symptoms of concussion of
the brain showing themselves. Thus it was weeks before poor Hilton
recovered his wonted vigour, and, under God, it was due to the
unremitting care and attention with which Captain Pereiro nursed him
that he was enabled to evade death. Pedro, too, being of a generous
disposition, grudged no pains in the preparation of dainties likely to
stimulate the invalid’s for some time languishing appetite. Had Hilton
been their patron saint himself, he could not have been treated with
more care and tenderness, and his returning consciousness of what he had
been saved from invested them, in turn, with every saint-like attribute.

Short, stout, of stolid feature; black-haired, rough-bearded, and
carelessly shaven; with dark eyes, whose kindly light was almost
obscured by bushy, overhanging eyebrows; of the swarthiest complexion;
with big, coarse hands, and a rough gait, and with all the
eccentricities of his appearance accentuated by a sublime indifference
to the advantages of becoming attire, Captain Pereiro was not one to
strike the casual observer with enthusiastic admiration. The steward,
Pedro, did not come in a bad second as far as personal appearance went,
except that he was taller, thinner, and more pronouncedly ungainly. But
ask Hilton Riddell to this day to name the two finest fellows on earth,
and he will at once utter a verdict in favour of the captain and steward
of the Portuguese barque “Halcyon.”

It was at first a source of wonderment to his rescuers how he had kept
afloat so long, until they discovered that much of his apparent bulk was
caused by a life-saving waistcoat with which he had had the forethought
to provide himself.

“This man is English, and he comes from London. So much I can make out
from his speech, but no more,” said the captain, when talking things
over with the mate of his ship, who, though not taking an active part in
the nursing of the foundling, yet felt a considerable interest in his
progress towards recovery. “He is a beautiful man, as beautiful as the
fabled gods must have been; but I burn with curiosity to know how he has
been thrown on to our hands. He has met with foul play, that is sure,
and he has been among people whom he knew to be his enemies. That is
also sure. It is also evident that he was to some extent prepared for
the risk he ran, and that his enemies were ignorant of the fact.
Otherwise he would not have worn this waistcoat, ready for inflation,
under his shirt, or his enemies, after thinking they had killed him by
the blows on the head, would have removed the wonderful garment which
ensured his floating on the surface of the water.”

“But,” objected the mate, “he may have been wrecked, and the wound on
his head may have been caused by a blow from floating wreckage.”

“No, that is not so, for when I took a marlingspike, and pretended to
hit my own head with it, at the same time pointing to his, he nodded
vigorously, as much as to say that his wound was inflicted purposely. I
am sure he has a strange history, and, for the first time in my life, I
wish I knew how to talk English.”

“If he could talk Portuguese it would do just as well.”

“Yes; but he doesn’t talk Portuguese, so there’s an end of it. I will go
below again now, and see how he is getting on.”

Captain Pereiro found his patient very much better, and anxious to know
where he was, how he came there, and whither he was being taken. But his
eager questions, and the captain’s willing answers, only resulted in
their becoming more hopelessly befogged with each other. Neither could
elicit or communicate anything satisfactory. At last the captain was
seized with a bright idea, which induced him to rush to the chart-room
as quickly as his unwieldy body would let him, leaving Hilton wondering
what was the matter with him. Presently he returned with a triumphant
look on his face, bearing in his hands a large roll, which he laid
carefully on the locker for a while. Then he assisted Hilton into a
sitting position, piling behind him a pair of sea boots, some oilskins,
a camp stool, and sundry other things, upon which substantial foundation
he arranged various pillows in the dexterous manner which had become
habitual to him. Having thus made the patient as comfortable as
possible, he produced the roll from the top of the locker and unfolded
what proved to be a large chart.

Hilton smiled his sudden comprehension, and eagerly bent his eyes upon
the chart. The captain, seeing that his purpose was likely to be
understood, pointed first to Hilton, then to the chart, in effect asking
him to give as much information as he could. Very soon Hilton put his
finger on London and looked at the captain, who nodded comprehension.
Then he slowly traced the course of the “Merry Maid” on the chart until
nearly abreast Lisbon, when he stopped, feigned to go to sleep; to
strike his head with his eyes shut; to awake struggling in the water; to
withdraw a tube from his waistcoat pocket; and to inflate by its means a
concealed life-saving garment. The captain thoroughly understood this
pantomime, and clenched his fist in anger at those who had perpetrated
so dastardly a deed. Then, once more pointing questioningly to the
chart, he gave Hilton to understand that he wished to know whither the
“Merry Maid” was bound, whereupon the remainder of the route to Malta
was traced out for him. After this, being mutely questioned in his turn,
Pereiro made a start at Lisbon, Hilton following his movements with
breathless attention. Stopping near the spot indicated by the latter, he
gave a sharp cry, tossed his arms as if struggling in the water, made a
pantomimic rescue, and then began to rub himself vigorously, and to pump
his arms up and down to show that artificial respiration had been
resorted to. Hilton squeezed his hands gratefully, and murmured words of
thanks, of which Pereiro had no difficulty in grasping the import,
although they were uttered in a tongue of which he knew nothing but that
it was English. After this, anxiously watched, he slowly traced a course
which filled Hilton’s heart with dismay, for he never stopped until he
had rounded Cape Horn, and followed what seemed to his companion to be
an interminable coastline.

Finally, he stopped at Callao, and was astounded to see that his
information was received with every symptom of distress. For a time,
Hilton knew not what to do, for he felt stunned. To go all that
distance, and in a sailing vessel, too, was equivalent to being dead to
friends and foes alike for many months. Moreover, he was rendered
utterly useless, and could do nothing but fret and worry at the trouble
which would be felt at home on his own account.

“My mother will wonder why she does not hear from me. Those scoundrels
will forge some plausible tale to account for my disappearance, and poor
Harley will be doomed to undergo the whole of his horrible sentence in
prison, if, indeed, he lives so long. Between grief for Harley, and
grief for me, my poor mother will fret herself into the grave. And poor
Annie! My God! how everything is playing into the hands of those
villains! It seems unbelievable--and there is that bottle of papers I
threw overboard, too. Perhaps that will soon disclose the true state of
affairs, and Harley’s liberation may be effected without any further
help from me.”

Could he have foreseen the fate of the papers he had prepared so
carefully, his distress of mind would have been much greater than it
was. Fortunately, this knowledge was denied him, but he already suffered
enough to cause him to have a relapse, and for some time his condition
gave great anxiety to his nurses.

After many days he was sufficiently convalescent to come on deck, and
after that his physical progress was rapid. As he recovered his wonted
strength and vigour, the admiration of those around him increased
considerably. Some of them--indeed, all--used as they were to swarthy
skins, and dusky locks, looked upon his smart, upright physique, his
clear, fair skin, just relieved from effeminacy by being slightly
tanned, his finely-cut features, his wavy, flaxen hair, his expressive
grey eyes, and his small hands and feet, as the perfection of all that
was gallant and beautiful in man. By-and-bye they also began to admire
him for other than his physical qualities. For he was not disposed to be
the idle and ungrateful recipient of bounty, but lost no opportunity of
doing a service to his deliverers.

Ships are never overmanned. There is always room for the help of
another hand or two. And even then, in squally weather, it taxes
everybody’s energies to keep pace with the exigencies of the hour. Thus,
it often happened that Hilton proved himself invaluable, and though
Captain Pereiro, with whom he was fast learning to converse in broken
Portuguese, remonstrated with him for working so hard, he could not
renounce any part of the active life he was now leading. For it served
to save him from the despondency which he could not otherwise have
resisted.

Nevertheless, he counted the months, the weeks, the days that must
elapse ere he could obtain any news of what was transpiring at home, and
every spell of adverse weather caused him acute anguish, since it
lengthened the time during which he would have to remain inactive. But
as all things come to those that wait, even so did the last day of his
voyage dawn on Hilton Riddell, and it was with curiously mingled
emotions that he once more found himself ashore. True, it was in a
strange country, among a strange people, and thousands of miles away
from the place in which he was anxious to find himself.

But it was, at any rate, a civilised country, to which English news
might penetrate, and he was not without a faint hope that he might come
across an English paper containing some account of progress made on
Harley’s behalf. How fallacious this hope was will be apparent to the
reader, but one has to picture oneself in his destitute, lonely, and
desperate condition, to realise to what mere straws of comfort one can
cling for consolation. The “Halcyon” would be some weeks before it would
be ready to leave Callao, and Captain Pereiro, who by this time knew a
great deal of the Englishman’s story, very generously urged him to make
it his home until he could get himself transported back to England.

Being without money, and possessing no credit with anyone here, Hilton
took the only course open to him under the circumstances, unless he had
been willing to seek work, and remain here long enough to save money for
his passage. This he could not do, as he deemed his speedy presence in
England imperative, in Harley’s interests. He therefore went to the
British Consul, and represented himself as a seafarer, who had been
washed overboard in a squall. His reason for being thus uncommunicative
concerning what really occurred was that he feared that any report
should reach England through the Consulate, and find its way into the
English papers before he could arrive himself. He was fully alive to the
fact that news of his safety would be gladly welcomed by his mother and
friends. But he also knew that if his enemies were to suspect him to be
in the land of the living, they would be on their guard, and would,
perhaps, succeed once more in baulking him of the prey he meant to run
to earth, in spite of what appeared to be a malignantly adverse fate.

“The bitterness of my loss is past,” he said. “My people already mourn
me dead, and my enemies triumph over my removal from their path. I will
awaken neither the hopes of the one nor the fears of the other until the
right moment for striking arrives. My blow will then be more deadly and
sure, and I shall be able to work with much more freedom if my continued
existence is unsuspected.”

It was in conformity with this resolution that he gave fictitious names
to the consul, both of himself and the ship from which he was supposed
to have been washed overboard. Had there been much doubt expressed
concerning the matter, there was the evidence of Captain Pereiro and his
crew to show how he had come aboard the “Halcyon.” Asked what he wished
the consul to do for him, he replied that he was anxious to reach
England as soon as possible; that, if chance afforded, he would gladly
work his passage home; otherwise, he wished to be shipped free of charge
to himself, on board a London-bound steamer, this request being in
strict accordance with English usage and custom.

His request was looked upon as reasonable enough, and, upon the whole,
he was well treated. But there was no vessel in the port that was likely
to proceed to England immediately, and he was forced to submit to a
heart-breaking delay. By this time Pereiro was very much attached to
him, and would fain have persuaded him to wait until the “Halcyon” had
discharged her cargo and reloaded, in order to return in the barque to
Lisbon, thence to proceed by the quickest route to London.

“One of my sailors has asked me to let him off articles. He has come
across a chance of making money more quickly than would be the case at
sea. You can ship in his place, earn his pay, and have money to buy some
clothes, and take you home to London. You will also be more at home with
us than on another strange ship. Say the word, my friend, and make me
happy.”

But to this plan Hilton did not feel himself able to consent. The idea
of another long voyage in a sailing vessel filled him with horror. Yet,
as the weeks sped by, and no better opportunity offered itself, his
hopes sank to zero. At last, when he was feeling thoroughly weary and
despondent, another steamer bearing the English flag steamed into the
harbour. This was the “Lorna Doone.” Both officers and crew bore
evidence of having undergone great privations, and the story they had to
tell was enough to make anybody’s heart ache. Head winds and heavy seas
had delayed their outward passage, and sickness, in the shape of yellow
fever, had overtaken them at their discharging port. All in turn had
been seriously ill. Some of their shipmates had never recovered from the
grip of Yellow Jack. Water, provisions, and men were alike scarce, and
the captain, being in dire straits, had found it necessary to run into
Callao for relief, before proceeding on the return voyage to Liverpool.

In all this Hilton hailed his opportunity. No sooner was the quarantine
flag hauled down, than he boarded the “Lorna Doone,” and asked to be
shipped as an able seaman. Too sorely pushed to insist upon discharges
or references, the captain gladly engaged him, and in another day or two
the Blue Peter was flying on the foremast head of his new home.

It was with some regret, and many manifestations of sorrow, that the
parting between Hilton and his demonstrative benefactors took place. But
at last the painful scene was over; he was fairly installed on board the
“Lorna Doone,” and in a few hours more was being borne to the goal he
was so anxious to reach--England.



CHAPTER XVI.

A DETERMINED PURSUIT.


In a certain house, in a certain street, in the town of Lina, Mrs.
Dollman, a very pretty widow, of small attainments as far as time goes,
for she was but 22, was talking to her sister, who had come to take tea
with her. Said sister’s name was Mrs. Twiley, and she lived at Gibraltar
when at home, her husband being a sergeant-major there. The late Mr.
Dollman had been a lieutenant stationed at the fortress. He had risen
from the ranks by merit alone, and had nothing to live upon but his pay.
When he died, with startling suddenness, his young wife found herself
rather badly off, her widow’s pension not leaving much margin for
luxuries, after a certain number of necessities had been purchased.

Of relatives she had none left but the sister who lived in Gibraltar,
and to whom she was much attached. She, therefore, resolved upon
remaining in the vicinity, instead of going to England, where she knew
very few people. A little kindly co-operation on the part of her late
husband’s friends enabled her to start a boarding-house on a small
scale, with a view to supplementing her meagre income, and she was
considered to be doing very well. Among her boarders was Hugh Stavanger,
who was known here as Gregory Staines, and who was supposed to be a
commission agent of some sort. Mr. Staines had been rather profuse in
his attentions to his pretty landlady, and Mrs. Twiley, having heard
something about a whispered possible engagement, deemed it compatible
with her position as sole and serious relative to warn her sister
against want of caution.

“You see, Phœbe,” she said gravely, “you really know next to nothing
about this Mr. Staines. Certainly, he seems to have plenty of money to
go on with, and pays you regularly. But you want more than that. You
want to feel that his past life will bear investigation, and that he is
really actuated by no mercenary motives in seeking to marry you.”

“Why, good gracious, Millie! I haven’t a penny saved up, as you know;
and, as for my pension, I shall forfeit that if I marry again. So how
can anybody possibly want to marry me through mercenary motives?”

“Will often says that with all your native shrewdness, there are some
points on which you are awfully slow, and I am inclined to agree with
him. Do you forget that you have a very well-furnished house, with every
article in it paid for; that you have a comfortable little business
nicely established; and that you are such a capital little manager that
many an adventurer would jump at the chance of being kept by you? Now,
don’t lose yourself in a temper, for I don’t mean to insinuate that you
couldn’t be loved for yourself, apart from the material advantages you
have to offer. In fact, I know different, for Archer Pallister thinks
and dreams of nothing but your looks and ways, and I am sure that if he
isn’t downright genuine, there isn’t a genuine man on earth. Indeed, the
woman who marries him may thank her lucky stars. But there are all sorts
of people knocking around, and Will says that we ought to be on our
guard against Englishmen dodging about in Spain, unless they can give a
very satisfactory account of themselves. For anything we know, this
Gregory Staines is either an absconding building society secretary, or a
fraudulent poor-rate collector.”

“I think it’s real mean of you to talk like that, Millie. You ought to
know me better than to think I would take up with an adventurer.”

“I am glad to hear you say so, my dear. Will, too, will be highly
pleased to be told that you are going to give Mr. Staines the cold
shoulder.”

“You are rather premature. I never said so.”

“Not in so many words, perhaps. But you implied it. You said that you
wouldn’t take up with an adventurer.”

“Your conclusion does not follow.”

“Indeed it does, dear, for I firmly believe the man to be a worthless
adventurer.”

“He is a jeweller’s agent, doing a good business.”

“So he says. But haven’t you noticed that he transacts his business at
very unbusiness-like times? He’s out to-day, but the circumstance is
exceptional. He generally goes to bed about two o’clock, rises late,
loafs about the house for hours, and goes out upon this ostensible
business of his towards evening, when work of his sort is, or ought to
be, over. Besides, how could an agent live by doing business in Lina
alone? Will and I are not the only two people who have talked him over,
and the consensus of opinion is that he is not to be trusted, and is a
man against whom you ought to be warned.”

“It is very kind of you to talk about my private affairs to all sorts of
people. Be good enough to tell Will that I’m exceedingly obliged to
him.”

“Now, don’t be rusty! You know that Will is as fond of you as I am, and
that nothing would grieve him more than to think you were unhappy. Oh,
look what a pretty girl is getting out of that conveyance! Why, she is
coming here. I wonder what she wants.”

Phœbe Dollman also forgot her slight illhumour, and looked with interest
upon the tall golden-haired beauty approaching the door. Presently a
card was brought in to Mrs. Dollman, and the Spanish servant informed
her that a lady wished to speak to her. The name on the card was Una
Stratton, and very speedily Mrs. Dollman was conversing with the owner
of it.

Miss Stratton, it appeared, was a lady artist, who wished to enrich her
portfolio by sketching some Spanish scenes and people. She had been
recommended to Mrs. Dollman’s boarding-house by a Mr. Smith, who had
obtained the address for her from a friend who had spent a few weeks at
Lina in the early summer.

Mrs. Dollman did not know who could be the especial gentleman who had
been good enough to recommend her lodgings. But she had had several
boarders who were little more than birds of passage, being en route for
other places, and the gentleman through whom Miss Stratton had obtained
her address might be one of those. Anyhow, things seemed to be
straightforward enough. The young lady offered to pay for her board in
advance, and Mrs. Dollman, who was quite charmed with the new arrival,
promptly closed with her. Nor did she raise any objections when Miss
Stratton announced that she wished to bring another boarder with her in
the shape of a big Newfoundland dog, who was even now waiting outside
for her.

In a very short time everything was satisfactorily arranged, and the new
boarder installed in comfortable quarters.

“This is my sister, Mrs. Twiley,” said Mrs. Dollman some time later.
“She and her husband are my only relatives, and whoever knows me,
speedily knows them, for they are good enough to spend a great deal of
time with me.”

“Your sister! You make me feel quite envious. I have neither sister nor
brother, and have often felt rather lonely in consequence.”

“But you have other relatives?”

“Oh, yes! I have the best father in the world. And my aunt--God bless
her!--has been the most tender and affectionate of mothers to me.”

“Then, after all, you ought to be happy, in our opinion, for it has
always seemed to us that young people without a parental home are the
most to be commiserated.”

“And yet, with every possible advantage of home and family, one may be
overtaken by troubles beside which the mere death of a loved one is
comparative happiness.”

As the beautiful stranger uttered the last words, her eyes darkened
with grief, and her whole appearance betokened the most bitter sorrow.
Both Millie and Phœbe were stricken with sudden awe before this brief
glimpse of an anguish which evidently surpassed anything they had ever
dreamed of, and their hearts went out tenderly towards Miss Stratton.
Very quickly, however, the latter regained control of herself, and five
minutes later the sisters were ready to doubt whether she was not one of
the happiest of mortals.

“Have you any boarders in the house, Mrs. Dollman?” she inquired
presently, while occupied in despatching the refreshing meal which had
been promptly ordered for her. As she waited for a reply she toyed with
her teaspoon, patted her big dog on the head, and altogether looked so
carelessly unconcerned, that much more suspicious people than those she
had to deal with would have been slow to fancy that her question was one
of vital import to her, or that she was listening for the reply with
every nerve tingling with anxiety.

“Only four,” was Phœbe’s answer. “We have a Mr. Everton and his wife.
They have been here six months, and are likely to remain here. Then
there are two single gentlemen, Mr. Grice and Mr. Staines.”

Miss Stratton’s heart leapt at this answer, yet she received it with
apparent indifference, although it relieved her of a great anxiety.
Suppose Mr. Gregory Staines, whose presence here was really her sole
reason for coming to Lina, had suddenly taken it into his head to seek
fresh quarters! She did not doubt her ability to trace him again. But
each delay that occurred before running the man to earth prolonged the
sufferings of the man whose liberty she had sworn to secure, and she was
thankful to have found him at last.

Contrary to Phœbe’s expectation, she betrayed not the slightest further
interest in the other lodgers, but conversed for awhile pleasantly on
other topics, inquiring carefully about the neighbouring scenery under
the pretence of being anxious to take some local views.

“My artistic work is not necessarily bread and butter to me,” she
observed. “But I naturally wish to do as well as possible while I am
here, as they may not be willing to spare me from home long.”

“I would like to see your sketches, if you don’t mind showing them to
us,” said Millie.

“And you shall see them,” was the answer. “But not this evening. I
suppose my box will be here soon, but by the time I have unpacked what
is necessary, I shall be ready to go to bed, for I am very tired with
travelling.”

And this excuse, although not quite in accordance with Una Stratton’s
ultimate intentions, served to secure her the privacy she desired for
the rest of the evening. She had casually learned that the other
boarders were out, and that they were not likely to put in an appearance
until sometime later.

“Mr. and Mrs. Everton are spending the day with some friends in
Gibraltar. Mr. Grice never comes in until eight o’clock, and Mr.
Staines’ movements are so uncertain that we never know whether he will
be in to supper or not. We generally have it soon after eight, and spend
the rest of the evening at cards or music. We shall be very glad of your
company. But are you quite sure that you will like the room you have
chosen? As a rule, ladies do not feel so safe in a bedroom on the ground
floor, and I have a chamber on the third floor, quite as pretty, if you
would prefer it.”

But to this suggestion Una, as we will at present call the girl in whom
the reader has already recognised Annie Cory, returned a negative
answer, saying that she preferred not to take her dog up and down the
stairs. “He always sleeps in my room,” she added, “and is such a
splendid protector that I could not possibly feel nervous with him near
me. I could not answer for his carefulness with the stair carpets, and
always prefer to keep him to the ground floor.”

This sounded plausible enough, and Millie remarked with a laugh that it
would be a bold burglar who would dare to invade a room guarded by so
powerful an animal.

“I think so too,” said Una. “But he is as gentle as a lamb, unless
bidden to be otherwise, and I am sure you will like him. Eh, Briny? You
are a dear old thing, aren’t you?”

Briny acknowledged the compliment by a stately wave of his tail, and by
gently inserting his nose in the hand of his mistress, knowing that she
always had a caress to spare for him.

Soon after Miss Stratton had retired with her dog to her own room,
Millie’s husband came to see his sister-in-law, and to escort his wife
home to their quarters. The new arrival was liberally discussed and
enthusiastically praised. But Sergeant-Major Twiley was disposed to
receive all praises of the beautiful stranger _cum grano salis_, and
rather hurt the feelings of his women-folks by offering to go round to a
certain English hotelkeeper to have a look at the London directory,
which served as a sort of guarantee to the _bona fides_ of would-be
creditors. He found nothing, however, but a substantiation of the new
lodger’s statements. The name and address she had given both tallied
with those in the directory. So Sergeant-Major Twiley was reassured, and
the ladies found their convictions confirmed.

But what would the three of them have thought if they could have seen
what was now going on in the room to which the supposed Miss Stratton
had retired, avowedly with the object of securing a good night’s rest?



CHAPTER XVII.

RUNNING HIM DOWN.


“Now, Briny,” said Miss Stratton, having assured herself that there was
no possibility of her either being overseen or overheard, “we shall have
to be smart lest we startle our game too soon again. I think that with
all his attempts at disguise it will take him all his time to deceive
me. I wonder what he will think of me when he comes under the spell of
the fascinations I mean to exercise over him? H’m! Perhaps he is not
very susceptible, and won’t be fascinated. In that case, I mean to work
upon another tack. I only hope that I have studied the art of make-up
sufficiently to prevent me from committing a hopeless blunder. Madame
D’Alterre charged plenty for her instructions, and, so far, I am doing
credit to them.”

As Miss Stratton talked to her dog, she patted and caressed him, and
altogether treated him as if he could understand every word she said.
For his part, he made no noisy demonstrations of approval, but showed
his sympathy and appreciation in his own dignified way. Then he laid
himself beside the door and watched the transformation which his
mistress soon began to make in her appearance. Truth to say, the change
effected was sufficiently startling to deceive even the keenest
observer, and perhaps Briny himself would have been at fault if he had
not been already initiated into some of his owner’s curious habits.

In about an hour Miss Stratton was nowhere to be seen, and in her place
stood the young gentleman who has been introduced to the reader as Mr.
Bootle. Enjoining the dog to remain at his post, Mr. Bootle put the
light out, after placing some matches ready for use. Then he raised the
blind and looked out of the window. Greatly to his delight, it proved to
be a French window, opening into the garden, which was now dark and
deserted, but from which it was easy to emerge unobserved into a lane
which communicated with the main street. Before leaving the garden,
however, after closing the window, Mr. Bootle reconnoitred a little, for
he had an idea that Mrs. Dollman’s dining-room had a window which
overlooked this part of the premises. The supposition proved quite
correct, and what was equally important was the fact that the window was
not too closely blinded. As it did not present any points of observation
for the ordinary passer-by, particular care was not deemed necessary.

Regulating his movements with all possible care, Mr. Bootle contrived
to obtain a good view of the persons seated round the table, occupied in
partaking of supper. Sergt.-Major Twiley and his wife were there, and
there were two other gentlemen present. The sergeant-major was easy to
distinguish, and it took Mr. Bootle but a very short time to decide
which of the other two men was the one posing as Mr. Gregory Staines,
for one of them was a podgy, red-faced man, with clear, honest blue
eyes, that would certainly have been very much out of place on his
vis-à-vis’s face.

“There now, Mr. S., I have got a good look at you unobserved,” was the
inward comment of the unseen watcher. “I must now take measures for
keeping you under my notice without being suspected by you.”

Five minutes later our friend, cigarette in hand, was promenading
carelessly up and down the front street, and keeping a sharp look-out
upon Mrs. Dollman’s door. It was half-past nine when at last his vigil
was rewarded by the sight he hoped for. Mr. Gregory Staines was bent
upon either business or amusement, and was hurrying ahead of Mr. Bootle,
perfectly unsuspicious of the fact that he was being followed. Lina is
not a very large place, and it did not take long for either individual
to reach the goal aimed at.

Mr. Bootle, otherwise Annie Cory, felt a slight accession of
nervousness on entering the hotel to which Mr. Staines hurried as if he
were afraid of missing some of the fun going on inside. But, although
Annie found herself entering upon a totally new phase of life, she
sauntered through the vestibule, and into a large saloon behind Staines,
as if she were quite used to the habits of the society to which she was
now being introduced. Following the example of her unconscious guide,
she seated herself at a small table, and ordered a drink of brandy. Her
reason for ordering brandy was soon apparent. While keenly taking note
of all that transpired around her, she only feigned to drink, and after
a while, watching her opportunity, she deftly substituted an empty glass
for the one she was supposed to be using. In this way she fairly
accounted for her presence in the place without appearing to be an
unprofitable customer. Her next proceeding was to follow Mr. Staines
into a side-room, in the centre of which stood a table, round which were
seated some men playing at cards. The game was being watched by about a
score of onlookers, and it was easy to stand among them and elude
special observation. After about twenty minutes spent impatiently by Mr.
Staines, that gentleman found someone to play with him, and was
forthwith transformed into a happy man, for his adversary, though not an
inexperienced player, was too excitable to stand the smallest chance of
beating such a combination of skill, coolness, and knavery as now
confronted him. Mr. Staines, although his luck was almost miraculous,
seemed to have as yet aroused no suspicions of unfair play. Now and
again he lost a trifle, but Mr. Bootle concluded that these occasional
losses were deliberately effected solely for the purpose of preserving
the confidence and stimulating the gambling propensities of the people
whose money the unscrupulous fellow meant to win.

“I think I will drop it,” said Mr. Staines at last, putting his winnings
into his pocket. “Luck seems all my way to-night, and I don’t think it
fair to go on playing, for I have no wish to skin anybody out.”

But this show of consideration for others had precisely the effect
anticipated by the speaker. The majority of his hearers were English,
and they did not relish the imputation of unskilfulness thus adroitly
thrown upon them.

“No, sir,” said a tall, military-looking man, whose eyes were already
bright between the excitement of play and the worship of Bacchus. “It is
not good enough to excuse yourself in that way just when luck is on the
point of turning. I demand my revenge, and these gentlemen will all
agree that I am right, eh?”

There was an immediate chorus of approval from the onlookers to whom the
speaker appealed.

“Yes, yes; give him his revenge,” was the cry. “For my part,” added a
fast young subaltern, “I think it deuced mean to want to leave off at
such a critical time.”

“Nothing of the sort,” shouted a half-tipsy individual, whose outward
appearance gave very little indication of the nature of his profession
or pursuits. “I consider that Mr. Staines has behaved like a man, and if
anybody dares to say otherwise I’ll knock him down.”

The speaker looked big enough and brawny enough to imbue his hearers
with the belief that he was quite able to carry out his threat. His
utterances were therefore received with something like the respect they
merited by all but the fast young sub. already mentioned.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” sneered he; “it will be
easy for your friend to prove his fairness by accepting Captain Gale’s
challenge to continue playing, and if it comes to knocking people down,
why, then, two can play at that game.”

The altercation, although a mere interchange of empty boasts, struck Mr.
Bootle as a very violent scene indeed, and it was a great relief when
Mr. Staines soothingly spoke to the antagonists, thanking one for his
straightforward championship, and assuring the other that he was ready
either to play or to go home, just as seemed best to those whose money
he had won.

“And,” he added, “if the gentleman who has challenged me for his
revenge doubts my fairness, I am ready to return him the money I have
won, and to forego the pleasure of a friendly game with him in future.”

“No, no,” was the immediate verdict. “The money was won in fair play,
and Captain Gale only wants his revenge.”

So, presently, the game was resumed with increased zest, and small bets
as to the results were indulged in, while glasses were emptied and
replenished with a beautiful disregard of the probable effects of their
contents upon the system. Mr. Bootle had made occasional feints of
drinking, but could not help being amused to see how easy it was to
substitute an empty glass for his own, without arousing the suspicions
of those who profited by the change. The babel of voices, the frequent
oaths, the tobacco-laden atmosphere, were all antagonistic to Mr.
Bootle’s ideas of comfort. But he, or rather she, would have braved much
greater inconveniences than these, rather than forego the slightest
chance of benefiting Harley.

So far, however, she had not made much progress. Her object was to
scrape a casual acquaintance with Mr. Staines, from which she hoped to
evolve events that would work in her favour. But the early morning hours
arrived before the opportunity she sought was hers. Gregory Staines
played steadily on--first with one player, and then with another; first
losing, then winning a game, with apparently commendable impartiality.
Perhaps he did not keep careful note of the money that changed hands
with startling frequency. But there was no lack of keen observers
present, who, perhaps stimulated by the insinuations of the antagonistic
sub., noted the fact that Gregory Staines’ winning games had almost
invariably a greater amount at stake than the games at which he was the
loser.

The latter, slightly carried away by his success, was losing his
habitual caution, and was inclined to play as long as he could find
anyone to play with him. Nor did he observe the angry scowls with which
his triumphs were now being greeted by two or three of the men whom he
had despoiled of their pocket money, until a warning hand was laid for a
moment on his shoulder, and a voice whispered in his ear:--“Take care;
you have enemies in the room.”

Glancing swiftly round, he saw a slightly-built young fellow of medium
height looking at him meaningly. His own glance betrayed some
nervousness, for he never lost sight of the possibility of being tracked
by the friends of Harley Riddell. But he was speedily reassured on that
score, and looked upon this young stranger as a new arrival, who might,
possibly, prove profitable to him.

“Enemies?” he inquired, in the same low tone used by the stranger. “What
reason have you for supposing that I have enemies, either here or
elsewhere?”

“Success always provokes enmity. You have been extraordinarily
successful to-night. Losers generally imagine their losses due to
anything but bad play, and I just now accidentally overheard something
that is of importance to you.”

“Another moment. Wait for me outside, if I am not asking too great a
favour. I will follow you presently. Then we can discuss this matter
more fully.”

Annie was only too thankful to escape from the rank atmosphere, in
which she felt almost choked, although she successfully managed to hide
her discomfort from others. She was soon pacing about the front of the
hotel, which was a frequent resort of Englishmen, and conducted very
much upon the lines of an English institution of like status.

“Good heavens!” she muttered, “what am I made of that I can look at this
man, and speak to him, without denouncing him to his face, and tearing
from him the pitiful mask of respectability he still makes a show of
wearing? Had I dreamt of all this a year ago, I could not have believed
myself strong enough to show self-control like this. Ah! here he comes.
I hope it will be easy to cultivate just the necessary amount of
acquaintanceship with him. It will make my task easier, perhaps.”

Shortly after this, Gregory Staines joined the individual who sauntered
in the same direction, which chanced to be homewards for both of them,
although the former little dreamed how closely his fate was linked with
that of his companion. An earnest conversation now ensued, during which
Mr. Staines was persuaded that certain words had been exchanged in the
cardroom of the hotel, which promised anything but safety to him, in the
event of his being caught out alone.

“And why should you interest yourself particularly in me?” he queried
suspiciously, and received for answer, “Thereby hangs a tale, my dear
sir. I have an idea that you are, like myself, not too squeamish about
trifles. Pray excuse me if I am mistaken. Perhaps I am not such a good
judge of character as I fancy myself.”

“That remains to be seen, Mr. Stranger. Anyhow, I’ll see you at the same
place to-morrow night again.”

“Well, don’t forget to be careful. Those scoundrels may have lost some
of their animosity by to-morrow. Still, I have had an awkward scrape or
two myself, and have no patience with thin-skinned fools, who have no
business to play unless they can notch a point or two.”

“But that wouldn’t suit us.”

“Perhaps not. Still, a certain gudgeon who is putting up at Gibraltar
just now would be just in our line. I’ll tell you all about him
to-morrow. How far do you go in this direction?”

They were just opposite Mrs. Dollman’s establishment as he spoke. But
Mr. Bootle did not wish to appear too familiar with the ways of Mr.
Staines at present. So he duly expressed his surprise on hearing that
Mr. Staines was already at home. Then he bade him good-bye for the
nonce, went round to the garden, and soon reached the room allotted to
Miss Una Stratton, where he received a warm, but silent welcome from
Briny, who had kept faithful vigil.



CHAPTER XVIII.

A WILY SYREN.


When Una Stratton made her appearance next morning at breakfast she bore
no evidence of having been up half the night, and her brilliant hair,
radiant complexion, and entire get-up provoked the admiration of all who
saw her. Nor did they dream that the lady ever presented herself in any
other guise, or that she had recourse to art in order to enhance and
transform her naturally charming appearance. Contrary to his usual
custom, Gregory Staines was also present at breakfast, and Miss
Stratton’s eyes gleamed so triumphantly when she observed his amazed
admiration of herself that she deemed it advisable to veil their
brightness by looking down at Briny, who, as was his usual custom when
permitted to do so, was sitting beside his mistress in his dual capacity
of guardian and beloved protégé. She had had considerable fear lest
Gregory Staines should see something about her appearance that would
lead him to couple her with either Miss Annie Cory or the pseudo
governess. But as she caught his badly-veiled glances of approval her
heart glowed with satisfaction.

“If one of my plans fails,” she thought, “the other must succeed. I
came here with the deliberate intention of personating a modified
Delilah, and I seem to have hit upon the type of feminine attractiveness
most pleasing in his eyes. I feel sure now that I can fascinate him. But
I am not quite so sure that I can veil my natural repulsion to him
successfully. It will be just dreadful to feign the captive syren with a
man who possesses my deadly hatred. But I would do even more than that
for Harley.”

As she concluded this reflection Miss Stratton raised her eyes, as if
furtively, to Mr. Staines’s face, and then glanced down again,
apparently in sudden confusion. Her embarrassment was so well feigned
that Mr. Staines experienced a sudden thrill of satisfaction and
flattered vanity.

“Why, I do believe she is struck with me,” he thought, complacently.
“She is a rattling beauty, too, by Jove! I wonder if she has got any
money? If appearances go for anything, she has. She might prove quite a
good catch. But I must be careful, or the little Dollman may get rusty,
and I don’t want to cook my goose in that quarter yet.”

Mr. and Mrs. Everton had written to say that they would not come back
for another week. Mr. Grice had had an early breakfast, and was already
off to the office in which he spent most of his days. Mrs. Dollman had
some housekeeping duties to attend to after breakfast was over, and
there was, therefore, a capital opportunity for a tête-à-tête. Of this
opportunity, nothing loth, Mr. Staines availed himself. Miss Stratton
had seated herself on a chair at a small table standing at the window.
This window, as we already know, overlooked the garden at the back of
the house, and as the young lady, leaning her arms upon the table, asked
his opinion concerning the identity of first one flower and then
another, to all of which she professed herself a stranger, it seemed the
most natural thing in the world for Gregory Staines to take the chair
facing Miss Stratton, on the other side of the table, in order to
converse with her more naturally and pleasantly.

“Do you love flowers?” he asked, greedily gazing at the exquisite
contour of the face within so short a distance of him.

“I love everything nice,” was the reply.

“You make me feel envious,” he said.

“Envious? Why, how can that be?” inquired Una, with a wonderful
assumption of ingenuousness.

“Say rather, how can it be otherwise. Perhaps you do not know what it
feels like to be loved by such a being as yourself. Your very presence
is intoxicating.”

“Mr. Staines! Do you forget that we have not known each other an hour,
and you are already paying me compliments?”

“An hour! Is it only an hour since? I suppose it is. And yet I feel as
if I had known you all my life. It seems almost unaccountable, doesn’t
it? There must be some natural affinity between you and me.”

And Miss Stratton permitted the man to talk on in this strain of
offensive familiarity! Nay more, she encouraged it, for not only did she
smile, apparently well pleased, at his vapid compliments, but she
allowed herself to cast upon him such a languishing glance as fully
excused his belief that he was exceedingly well pleasing in her sight.

“By Jove! she must be awfully struck!” he thought, gleefully. “I do
believe she is actually making love to me. I am not particularly
inclined to matrimony, but a subrosa liaison with a beauty like this
would vary my life very pleasantly. I mean to go in for a little fun,
and if this young lady is fool enough to throw herself into my arms,
why--it’s her look out, not mine. I can easily clear, whenever I want to
back out of it.”

After this Mr. Staines would fain have continued talking to Una. But
she, apparently of an impulsive nature, suddenly announced that she had
work to do in her own room, and would not remain with him any longer.
He, emboldened by her complaisant behaviour, eagerly sought to detain
her awhile longer, and even grasped her right hand between both his own,
as he pleaded for a little more time with her. As soon as she felt him
touch her, Una turned her face from him, shuddering violently in an
agony of repulsion, and Briny sprang to his feet, growling in a
threatening manner.

“Be quiet, Briny,” said Una; “don’t you know a friend when you see one?”

Of course, Mr. Staines took the reproof administered to Briny as a
direct compliment to himself. He also mistook Una’s shudder for a thrill
of delight invoked by the contact between his hand and hers, and
congratulated himself triumphantly upon the easy conquest he had made.
Indeed, so sure of his ground did he feel that he resisted the girl’s
attempt to withdraw her hand, squeezed it tenderly, and whispered
confidentially, “We can have a chat this afternoon, cannot we, Miss
Stratton?”

Miss Stratton’s reply was such a languishing and apparently
love-stricken look that, but for the threatening attitude of Briny, who
evidently did not like him, he would there and then have attempted to
kiss her.

“Will you come out for a walk this afternoon?” he asked. “It will not do
to let these people see too much, I suppose. I can meet you at the end
of the street, and will show you the sights of the neighbourhood. Say,
will you come?”

“At what time?”

“Will three o’clock suit you?”

“There, I hear the landlady coming. She mustn’t see you squeezing my
hand.”

“By Jove, no. She might be jealous, eh! At three o’clock, then?”

“Come, Briny, I want you to go out with me. We have some work to do this
morning, and I have an appointment for three o’clock this afternoon.”

This was all the answer vouchsafed to Mr. Staines, beyond another
bewildering glance as Miss Stratton hurriedly quitted the room, followed
by the faithful Briny. But he understood its meaning perfectly, and knew
that he might rely upon getting the pleasant walk he had proposed.

“Rather quick work,” he mused, stroking his well-waxed moustache, and
indulging in a smirk of gratified vanity. “I’ve never gone in for
lady-killing much. But it seems to me that I can have things pretty much
my own way with women, if I like to lay myself out to please them. First
the pretty young widow, and then the beautiful artist. And I had half a
notion of marrying the widow! What a fool I should have been to-day if I
had been already booked! Good Lord! this girl isn’t fit to leave home by
herself. She’ll be like wax in my hands, and I can clear out when I get
tired of her, unless she proves to have plenty of money, in which case I
shall make it my business to get hold of it, sooner or later.”

Meanwhile, the subject of his complaisant musings was in her own room,
with the door locked, and was walking backwards and forwards in an agony
of passion such as would have surprised him, if he could have seen it.
She rubbed her right hand violently with her pocket handkerchief, and
gave vent to short inarticulate cries of fury.

“I thought I could bear it,” she panted, hoarsely, “I believed I could
endure anything for Harley’s sake, and to bring this perjured thief and
murderer to justice. I have overrated my strength, for the contamination
of his touch has nearly driven me mad. And yet I acted so well that I
really believe that he imagines me to have fallen hopelessly in love
with him! I am sure he also thinks me infatuated and pliant enough to be
a willing tool in his hands. Upon my word, it doesn’t take much
manœuvring to throw dust in the eyes of a vain man.”

Miss Stratton muttered a good deal more to the same purpose, and then,
having calmed down a little, began to wash her hands, for she was not
satisfied with merely rubbing off Mr. Staines’ touch. Then, having made
sure that her toilet and disguise were all perfect, she ascertained from
Mrs. Dollman the time at which she would be expected in to lunch, and,
carrying a portfolio with her, went out, ostensibly to sketch. Her real
purpose, however, was to hunt about until she found a shop in which she
could buy or order a few local sketches, as nearly in the same style as
some English sketches that she had brought with her as possible. She was
fortunate enough to secure just what she wanted, and at a price, too,
which made her wonder how the artist could possibly make a living at
that sort of work.

Returning to the house, she found that it was near lunch time, and that
Mr. Staines, contrary to his usual custom, intended to grace the board
with his presence. But he was very cautious in his behaviour, and Mrs.
Dollman’s sharp eyes could not detect more admiration on his part for
the beautiful stranger than was consistent with the fact that she was a
previously unknown new arrival. On her side Miss Stratton was a pattern
of discreetness, and bestowed nearly all her attention upon the pretty
little mistress of the house.

After lunch was over Mrs. Dollman begged to see Miss Stratton’s
sketches. The portfolio, therefore, was fetched out, and the little
drawings it contained were duly admired. The local views were not shown
yet. They were intended to account for time that Miss Stratton expected
to devote to other pursuits than sketching, and would not be shown at
all if events developed themselves as quickly as she hoped. Truth to
tell, she was not very clever with pencil or brush, and such artistic
achievements as she was able to show were due to the “amour propre” of
her drawing master. He, knowing that in nineteen cases out of twenty it
is usual for young ladies to discard their school pursuits as soon as
their education is pronounced complete, thought it a pity that they
should not have something to show their fond parents for all the money
spent upon them, and made a point of doing their work himself if he
found that his pupils showed no special aptitude for it. In this way he
built himself a fine reputation as an art teacher, for the vanity of the
majority of his pupils forbade them to betray the fact that they had
really had very little to do with the production of the pictures bearing
their signature. Miss Stratton had not started upon her present
enterprise without having first matured her plans, and she had even
taken the precaution to change the initials of the little pictures with
which she meant to support her assumption of the role of an artist. But,
all used as she was becoming to the necessity for a certain amount of
deception, she felt very uncomfortable when listening to the praises
lavished upon work to which she could lay very little claim.

When this little farce was over there was a general adjournment, and
Miss Stratton betook herself to her own room to prepare for the intended
excursion, in the rôle of a complaisant inamorata, with her mortal
enemy. The latter, after meeting her outside, as per arrangement, did
all in his power to amuse his companion, and was highly pleased with his
afternoon’s entertainment. When he was once more left alone, at the end
of the street leading to Mrs. Dollman’s house, he was vainer than he had
ever been in his life before, and anticipated not the slightest drawback
to the success of the love affair upon which he had just entered.

But Miss Stratton’s feelings ran in a different groove. While
apparently quite happy in the company of Mr. Staines, she was careful
not to agree to any scheme of enjoyment that involved retirement from
the public thoroughfares. While there she felt herself safe, and did not
hesitate to befool Mr. Staines so egregiously that he already regarded
her as his willing prey. She was, however, by no means quite satisfied
with her day’s work so far. During the course of her conversation she
had casually mentioned her desire to inspect Gibraltar under pleasant
guardianship. But the gentleman showed such a decided aversion to the
idea of visiting that place that the prospect of luring him there seemed
as yet but a remote one.

Now, as her sole object in thus cultivating his society was to find an
opportunity of persuading him to visit the fortress, in order that she
might have his arrest effected upon English ground, it is not surprising
that the prospect of failure in this direction should cause her some
disquietude. A prolonged flirtation with the scoundrel would be
unendurable. Still, she was determined to give the game a fair trial,
and if it failed, she could but hope that as “Mr. Bootle” she would be
more successful. Briny had been taken out with her, but could not be
persuaded to show any liking for Mr. Staines.

“I am sorry to be unable to give you my company this evening, but hope
to spend several hours with you to-morrow. Had I known of your arrival,
I would not have made the appointment to which I am bound to attend
to-night. But we mean to have a jolly big day together to-morrow, eh?”

Mr. Staines went his way, very well satisfied with the answer he got,
though Miss Stratton’s comment upon his curious way of preferring his
request might not have pleased him.

“He is sorry to be unable to give me a share of his company this
evening! Rather cool, forsooth, even for a vain fool like that. I doubt
I have acted only too well. I should have coquetted and played with him,
and made him think that, to please me, it would be necessary to accede
to all my requests. Yet no! The man is too coarse to be captivated by
modesty, and I do not despair by any means. Poor Harley! It is well for
his peace of mind that he does not know how far I have to stoop to help
him.”



CHAPTER XIX.

SERGEANT-MAJOR TWILEY HAS A SURPRISE.


“So you are not playing to-night?”

“No; I have been thinking over something you said to me last night, and
fancy that a confidential conversation might prove profitable to both of
us. Suppose we slip out and compare notes?”

“I don’t mind. We can easily come back if we wish to do so.”

The speakers were Gregory Staines and Mr. Bootle, the latter being the
first to open the conversation. As they walked briskly onwards, he
gradually betrayed his real character to his companion, or, rather, he
would have done so had Mr. Bootle not thoroughly gauged it beforehand.

“How long have you lived in this part of the world, Mr. Bootle?”

“Only a few weeks. I am not in the habit of staying too long in places
likely to prove unprofitable. I’m a bird of passage, fond of migrating,
in season or out of season.”

“And in what way do you expect to make this place profitable?”

“H’m! That’s a bit of a secret yet. I don’t believe in being
indiscreet.”

“In other words, you distrust me?”

“You put your question in a somewhat abrupt style. Still, as you are no
doubt aware, there are some ways of earning a living of which the
authorities have a nasty knack of disapproving. You strike me as just
the sort of man whom I want to get hold of. Yet I have no guarantee that
such is really the case, and I have too much at stake to risk failure by
being unduly confidential.”

“Look here, Mr. Bootle. Say right out what you want to say. I don’t
think you have any real doubts as to my likelihood of proving just the
sort of man you want. If there is money in the job, and I am to have my
share in it, I’m in with you, provided there isn’t too much risk to be
run; but you need not imagine that I’ll be a mere tool for anybody.
Acting partner on equal terms, if you like, and I am your man. Now, what
do you want me to do?”

“Not much. You are lucky at cards. I would like to share your luck.”

“I see. You have something in immediate view. Who is the pigeon to be
plucked?”

“A young fellow who is visiting at Gibraltar just now. He lately
succeeded to a fortune that he did not expect, and is now doing his
level best to make ducks and drakes of it. He is outrageously fond of
cards, and loses with the best grace imaginable. It hurts me to see the
way in which he is enriching all sorts of cads, and I have often
wondered how I could divert a share of this stream of wealth in my
direction. Last night I arrived at a possible solution of my
perplexities. I saw you play. Without hinting that your methods of
playing are not all square and above board, I must say that I could not
help noticing the wonderful facility with which you were always able to
produce winning cards. Do you think you can be as successful with
anyone?”

“If it is worth my while.”

“Then will you honestly turn over half your winnings to me, if I
introduce this stranger to you?”

“With all my heart! All I stipulate is that you lose no time over it.
How are you going to manage it?”

“Well, the matter does not strike me as very difficult. I have had a few
games with your pigeon. But I am such a duffer at play that I need never
hope to make my fortune in that line. Suppose I try to persuade him to
come to Lina? You could be on the look out; I would introduce you; and
your own cleverness could do the rest.”

“When shall it be? To-morrow night?”

“That I cannot say. If I were Mr. Danvers’ bosom friend it might be
straightforward sailing. As it is, I am only a new acquaintance,
although I have done my best to ingratiate myself with him. If I invite
him over here it must be with some special excuse. A little supper party
would do it. You could invite the gentleman who seemed so partial to you
last night to make a fourth, and I’ll stand exes.”

Mr. Staines seized this plan with avidity, and almost overwhelmed his
informant with questions, all of which related in some way or other to
the supposed habits and circumstances of the myth which had been invoked
solely in Harley Riddell’s interests. Satisfied eventually that a very
good haul was probably in store for him, he went on his way rejoicing.
Mr. Bootle would not return with him to the hotel, but pleaded that his
only sensible course was to return to Gibraltar, whence he professed to
have come, in order to endeavour to make an appointment with Mr.
Danvers.

But the reader hardly needs to be told that Gibraltar saw nothing of Mr.
Bootle that evening. On the contrary, he went straight to the lodgings
that he found so comfortable and convenient. Briny was waiting for him
with his usual watchfulness, and was very glad to find that he was not
doomed to spend the whole evening alone. Instead of going to bed Mr.
Bootle carefully changed his apparel, and emerged presently from the
room attired as Miss Una Stratton.

“You are in nice time for supper, Miss Stratton,” said Mrs. Dollman. “I
hope your headache has left you.”

“Thank you,” was the reply. “I feel much better now. Do you mind my
bringing Briny into the room with me? He has had to be very quiet since
tea-time.”

“Certainly not. He’s a jolly dog, whom to know is to like. Eh, Briny?
Miss Stratton, let me introduce my brother-in-law to you. This is Mr.
Twiley.”

“Yes, I have already heard of you, Mr. Twiley, and am pleased to make
your acquaintance.”

So said the young lady upon whom the sergeant-major’s eyes were fixed
with unaffected admiration. And when she said she was pleased to see him
she meant it, too. For she had already been revolving a plot in her mind
in which the sergeant-major played a prominent part, and her first
glance at him convinced her that he was a man whom she could trust. He
was in the very position to afford her certain aid which she desired,
and it was a great relief to her to find that he was just the sort of
man she had imagined Mrs. Twiley’s husband to be. So she resolved to
lose no time in taking him into her confidence, as she needed an able
coadjutor at once. But even urgent confidences must be repressed until a
seasonable opportunity for their disclosure occurs, and Miss Stratton
began to fear that her designs were fated to be baulked for the time
being.

At last, however, she saw a fair chance of speaking, for, supper being
over, the dining-room was left to the occupation of Miss Stratton, Mrs.
Dollman, and Sergeant-Major Twiley. The latter had come over
unexpectedly, having had some commission in the town to execute, and
still had a little time to spare ere he need return to quarters.

“Have you time to sit down here a little while, Mrs. Dollman?” asked
Miss Stratton, not without a slight touch of nervousness in her voice.
“I have something very important to tell you, and I am anxious that your
brother-in-law should listen to me also. But the door must be carefully
closed, lest we be overheard. You will appreciate my anxiety on this
score when I tell you that life itself may depend upon our caution. Nay,
do not look so dubious. I have much to confess to you, but my
confessions are not discreditable to myself. At least, I do not believe
it likely that you will think so when I have told you my story. I am
here, not in the character of a fugitive, but of a pursuer.”

“And whom are you pursuing?” asked the sergeant-major, his curiosity
considerably aroused.

“You know the man very well. He lives in this house.”

“Impossible!”

“Not a bit of it. I have known the man as Hugh Stavanger, as Paul
Torrens, and as Harry Morton, and have at last, I hope, run him to earth
as Gregory Staines.”

“Why, Miss Stratton,” said Mrs. Dollman, with some excitement, although
she obeyed the warning finger held up, and modulated her voice to a low
pitch, “you and he were the best of friends yesterday, and to-day, also,
anyone seeing you together would have thought you were old friends.”

“Poor girl! I imagined I had been too careful to have betrayed any
apparent familiarity with Staines,” thought Miss Stratton; “but ‘to the
jealous, trifles light as air are proofs as strong as Holy Writ.’ It is
well I came here before this poor child’s heart was wounded too sorely.
She is a brave girl, I am sure, and her farcical admiration for this
scoundrel will turn to disgust as soon as she learns his real
character.”

It will be noticed that our heroine spoke of the young widow as if she
herself were the senior of the two. But wisdom and self-reliance are not
always dependant upon age, and the younger girl’s experience and courage
had given her sounder judgment than is possessed by the average woman of
forty. Aloud she said:--

“Yes, I flatter myself that I have acted my part well this time. He
hates me, fears me, and flees from me as if I were grim death. And yet
he is ready to fall in love with me.”

“I don’t understand,” said Phœbe Dollman, with a troubled look in her
eyes. “How can he both hate you and love you?”

“That is easily explained. My real name is Annie Cory, and my sole
objects in life at present are to bring this scoundrel to book for a
series of crimes which he has committed, and to liberate an innocent man
from penal servitude. Hugh Stavanger--or shall we call him Gregory
Staines for the nonce?--would know me very well if my disguise were not
so perfect. But my natural appearance falls very short of what you see
now, as I will soon show you, if you will cover that window more
securely. I was watching you through it last night, and he might follow
my example to-night.”

Annie’s hearers were too astonished and mystified to say much. But they
did as she asked them, and attentively watched the transformation
wrought in her appearance. By-and-bye they saw the girl as we first knew
her--dark-haired, and of brunette complexion.

“You see what a wig can do,” she smiled, “and a little knowledge in the
art of making up. Even my figure, gait, and voice have been altered in
the service of justice. But you would be most astonished if you saw me
conversing in a familiar manner with Mr. Staines in still another
character--that of a moderately tall, slim young man, with a lovely dark
moustache. Patent cork elevators are a fine aid to height. But I see you
are dreadfully mystified, so will tell you everything, feeling sure that
I can depend upon you to help me. One word more. I am not an artist, nor
ever will be. But I have plenty of money at command, and any plan that
you may suggest will not fail through lack of finances.”

For fully half an hour not a sound was heard in the room, except Annie
rapidly relating her history, and describing the true character of
Gregory Staines, and for fully ten minutes longer the sergeant-major sat
with compressed lips and fiercely-knitted brows, intent upon inventing a
scheme to circumvent the villain.

“I have it,” he exclaimed, at last, bringing his fist fiercely down upon
the table. “You will never succeed in decoying him into Gibraltar. But
we won’t waste time over him. If he won’t go willingly into the arms of
the English authorities, he must be made to go.”

“And how can that be managed?”

“Easily. He will be rather a big child to deal with, but I guess he is
nearly at the end of his tether--we will kidnap him.”



CHAPTER XX.

A CRITICAL GAME.


The day after the one in which so many confidences had been bestowed
upon Mrs. Dollman and her friends by Miss Stratton was one of
considerable anxiety to the latter. Poor little Phœbe, although one of
the brightest and nicest women in the world, was a very bad actress, and
she could not for the life of her treat Mr. Staines with the same
cordiality as before, although warned of the immense importance of
self-restraint. Personally, she did not feel as aggrieved as might have
been expected, for her heart had never been touched, although she had
been led to admire a man who knew very well how to be fascinating when
he pleased. Now she felt extremely disgusted with herself for having
been pleased with the flattery her lodger had bestowed upon her, and the
young fellow of whom her brother-in-law had spoken as an honest admirer
now stood a good chance of getting his innings.

But, try as she might, she could not help showing something of the
detestation which a knowledge of Gregory Staines’ real character had
awakened in her. As he sat at her breakfast-table, she pictured poor
Harley Riddell languishing for his crime in prison. And when, after
being out for a few hours, he faced her at the dinner-table, she
conjured Hilton’s spectre behind him, and was seized with such a
trembling that she let the soup-ladle fall back into the soup-tureen
with a crash that cracked the latter, and a splash that covered the
tablecloth and her dress with the hot liquid. Suspecting the real cause
of her emotion, Miss Stratton, who was sitting near her, pressed her
foot warningly upon hers, and exclaimed solicitously--

“You seem quite shaky to-day, Mrs. Dollman. Are you not well?”

“Oh, yes, I am quite well, thank you,” replied the little widow. “But
I’m all in a tremble with something or other. It’s the heat, I think.”

The heat! And it had been found necessary to have a good fire in the
dining-room, as everybody was complaining of the cold. Miss Stratton
felt the moment to be a critical one. But she did not lose her
self-possession, although she saw the sudden suspicion which leaped into
the eyes of Gregory Staines, who, with knife and fork slightly raised
from his plate, was sitting immovable, mutely questioning the faces of
the blundering Phœbe and herself.

“Really,” she laughed, “if you go on like this, I shall swear that you
are in love, and that your inamorato has had the bad taste to transfer
his affections elsewhere. Fancy complaining of the cold one minute, and
being all of a tremble with the heat the next! Those are genuine love
symptoms--I’ve felt them myself.”

As Miss Stratton spoke, with such apparent disregard of Phœbe’s
feelings, she darted an admiring and meaning look at Gregory Staines,
which at once put that gentleman at his ease again for a little while.

“The little fool has seen that the artist is more in my line, and is
jealous,” he mused. “But what of that? She can’t harm me, though she may
make things deucedly uncomfortable for me here. Query, will it really
pay me to break with her? That remains to be seen. I’m by no means sure
that Miss Stratton has money that I can secure, or that it would be as
good a prospect to take up with her as to settle down here, with Phœbe
to keep me. I think I must retain both irons in the fire for a few days
longer. Stratton is so awfully infatuated that she will be only too glad
to condone a flirtation with Phœbe.”

In pursuance of this train of thought, Mr. Staines became very
solicitous about Mrs. Dollman’s state of health, smiled quite tenderly
at her, suggested that she should lie down to compose her nerves, and
offered to take all the labours of carving off her hands. But it was not
in Phœbe’s nature to restrain her feelings, and when he accidentally
touched her hand in taking the carving-knife from her, she sprang away
from him with such an agony of horror and repulsion in her face, that he
could no longer doubt her real sentiments towards him, and everyone at
the table could see that there was more beneath the surface than met the
eye. As for Gregory Staines, he was thunderstruck, although he was able
to keep both his actions and his facial expression under admirable
control.

“She has been told something about me,” was his savage inward comment.
“Somebody has betrayed me, and the little idiot has been made the sharer
of a secret that she cannot keep. Betrayal means enmity, and the
presence of a betrayal argues the near proximity of an enemy. I have but
one enemy whom I need fear, and she has been cleverly put off the scent.
And, yet, who knows? The devil himself must be in her, for she has
followed and traced me to all sorts of places, and why not here? Good
God! I never thought of it! Surely it can’t be this woman who has flung
herself at my head as if I were the God of Love in the flesh? But, after
all, even if it were, what can she do to me? She dare not move openly,
for no plans for my arrest can be made effectual on Spanish territory.
If she has really traced me, I am safe for to-day, at all events. I must
meet her with her own weapons, and if I find that Miss Stratton and my
arch-enemy are one and the same, may the Lord have mercy on her soul!”

The object of his meditations was not slow to observe that Mr. Staines
had suddenly received food for thought, and was not deceived, even
though he kept his countenance so cleverly.

“I must be careful not to place myself for any length of time in his
power,” she thought. “He is quite capable of murdering me, if his
suspicions of my true identity are assured, and with me all hope of
Harley’s salvation would die.”

And yet all this bye-play was unnoticed by the other boarders sitting
at the table. Mrs. Dollman was a little nervous, and Mr. Staines was
good-naturedly solicitous on her behalf. That was all. An hour later the
room was empty of all but Miss Stratton and Mr. Staines, and the two
were outwardly as enamoured of each other as yesterday. She wished to
amuse him, lull his suspicions, and engage his attention until it was
time to meet her in the evening, in her assumed character of Mr. Bootle.
He was bent upon watching every gesture and movement of hers, and upon
comparing her personality with that of the girl he suspected her to be.

Thus the afternoon wore away, and tea-time arrived. Miss Stratton had
declined an invitation to have a walk with Mr. Staines, saying that she
preferred a tête-à-tête by the fireside, and she had found an
opportunity to warn Mrs. Dollman against saying or doing anything that
could ruin the plans which were being matured with a view to capturing
Mr. Staines. He was apparently as complaisant and love-stricken as ever,
and both played at exchanging confidences which bore very little
relation to their actual experiences. When, shortly before tea-time,
Miss Stratton adjourned to her own room, she imagined that her influence
over the man whom she was befooling was almost as strong as it was
yesterday.

But he was deeper than she gave him credit for being, and had made an
important discovery. While toying with her hair, and enthusiastically
admiring its golden brilliance, he had satisfied himself that it was an
artificial covering which hid the darker glory which was her natural
heritage. For one brief period our heroine’s life was in immediate
danger, and the reason it was spared then was because her enemy had
promptly resolved to seek an opportunity likely to be fraught with less
danger to himself.

They saw each other at the tea-table awhile later, and Miss Stratton
was looking lovelier than ever--so lovely that, though he hated her,
Gregory Staines felt himself moved by the wildest admiration of her
outward charms, for her eyes sparkled and her cheeks glowed with the
excitement of her conviction that at last the hour of her triumph was
near at hand. Mrs. Twiley was here again. She had brought a message from
her husband, and fully understood the importance of the step he
contemplated taking that night. The adventure he proposed was a somewhat
risky one. But she had every confidence in his courage and discretion,
and was, moreover, much more capable of keeping a secret than her
sister. Gregory Staines watched her narrowly, but could not detect any
embarrassment in her intercourse with him, or any covert collusion
between her and Miss Stratton.

“She knows nothing about me,” he thought, “and she does not seem to get
on very well with the girl who is masquerading here as an artist. But
that sort of thing is only natural with women. They are always jealous
of anyone prettier than themselves. By heaven, I wish I had really the
chance I fancied I had of winning this superb creature. Fancy having a
gambling-house, with a wife like that at the head of affairs! Why, there
would be no end of a fortune to be made. But it is useless to think of
it, if she is really Annie Cory. If! Why, there is a doubt yet, in spite
of appearances. I can’t see what her motive in making love to me can be,
after all. What could she gain by it, so long as I stayed in Spain? It
strikes me that I had better not be too rash. I will watch and wait. If
my suspicions are unfounded, so much the better. If not, so much the
worse--for her!”

Meanwhile, Miss Stratton excused herself to Mrs. Dollman, and announced
her intention of spending the evening in her room, as she had a great
many letters to write. Arrived there, she found plenty to occupy her for
half an hour. At the end of that time Mrs. Twiley came to her by
prearrangement, and was utterly astonished to watch the metamorphosis
effected in her appearance while she was there.

“Why, you make me feel inclined to run away again,” she laughed. “It’s
dreadfully compromising to be here alone with you. Suppose a servant, or
one of the other boarders saw me, the consequences would be awful! My
reputation would be gone, and poor, dear Twiley’s only consolation would
be a divorce. But, seriously, it is wonderful to think of all you have
done and are doing for the sake of your lover. I hope you will be
successful in all your plans, and some day I expect the pleasure of
seeing Mr. Riddell enjoying liberty and happiness once more.”

“Thank you so much,” said the lady addressed, who was, to all
appearances, a man again, to wit, Mr. Bootle, “Whenever that happy day
arrives, believe me, I shall esteem it a sacred duty to bring him to see
all who have helped us in our dark days.”

“In fact, you will come here for your honeymoon.”

“Honeymoon! I dare not think of such happiness while he is languishing
in prison. See, would you like to judge how he looked only a year ago?”

As she spoke, the girl handed a photograph of a handsome, smiling young
fellow to her visitor, at which the latter gazed with a mist gathering
in her eyes.

“And this,” she was next told, “is the brother who has been foully
murdered.”

It struck Mrs. Twiley that the brother was even a nobler type of
manhood than the unfortunate lover, but she had too much tact to betray
that opinion, though she looked long and earnestly at the lineaments of
one who was supposed to have come to so sad an end.

Then the whole of the evening’s intended work was gone over again in
detail, not an item being overlooked that could conduce to either
success or failure. Everything being at length arranged, Mrs. Twiley
rejoined her sister, and “Mr. Bootle” prepared to sally forth on her
evening’s adventures, of which she by no means underestimated the
possible peril. But the courage engendered by devotion to others
transcends all other courage in its nobility and strength, and not the
faintest twinge of fear assailed our heroine, as, feeling added security
in her capital disguise, she told Briny to remain on guard, and stepped
out of the window into the garden, whence she presently emerged into the
lane, and thence into the open street.

But what was that dark object creeping in her footsteps, and dodging
nearer and nearer to her? It was no friend, that is certain, as he would
not have slunk out of sight so promptly every time that there was any
likelihood of his being observed. Had “Mr. Bootle” looked round, he, or
she, if the reader prefers, might possibly have seen a mortal enemy,
armed with a knife, and carefully watching his opportunity for removing
the one whom he feared.

And had Mr. Staines looked round, he would have noticed a pursuer in
his turn, one who disliked him already, and who would not hesitate to
protect “Mr. Bootle” at the cost of his life. This was the faithful
Briny, who, for once, had disobeyed his owner by following her when
forbidden to do so. His consciousness of wrong-doing made him linger in
the background. But he was none the less a valuable protector, even
though his presence was unsuspected.

Yet neither of the beings whom he was following looked round, and
neither one nor the other dreamed of danger behind, so anxious were they
to reach the goal that lay before them.



CHAPTER XXI.

“WARE ASSASSIN!”


There was a somewhat obscure and badly-lighted stretch of road to
traverse ere Mr. Bootle could reach his destination, which was the hotel
so much frequented by Gregory Staines. Very often, especially at certain
times of the day, the place was tolerably well frequented. But it
chanced sometimes that it was comparatively deserted, and upon this fact
Gregory Staines counted for his opportunity to get rid of his enemy.
That that enemy was a woman was not a deterrent circumstance with him.
She was more dangerous to him than ten ordinary men, by virtue of her
extraordinary perseverance, her devotion to her lover, her unflinching
courage, and the keenness with which she pursued her self-imposed
mission. Therefore, she must be rendered harmless, and there was but one
way of effecting this desirable result.

“It’s her own fault,” he muttered. “If she will throw herself into the
lion’s jaws, she has none but herself to blame if he closes his teeth
upon her. By Jove, what a schemer she is! She hesitates at nothing.
Fancy making love to me, in order to bewitch me into acceding to any
request she might make of me. I know now why she hinted her desire to
see Gibraltar in my company. She wanted to inveigle me into English
territory; but that game’s off, my dear. And then how extraordinarily
well she is got up now! I should never have suspected ‘Mr. Bootle’s’
_bona fides_ if that little fool of a Dollman had not roused my
suspicions about ‘Miss Stratton.’ Being suspicious, it was natural that
I should watch her, and that I should listen at her window. But I shall
never forget my amazement at discovering how completely I had been
hoodwinked. Yet I am sure that my previous failure to penetrate her dual
disguise must be attributed to her superior cleverness, not to my
denseness. This makes it all the more imperative to remove her--and now
I see my chance.”

The next moment he had stealthily sprung forward, and with arm upraised,
was about to plunge a knife into Mr. Bootle’s back, when there was a
sudden rush, and he felt himself borne to the ground by a heavy mass
which threw itself against him. With a startled cry he flung out his
arms, and made a frantic effort to save himself from falling, the knife
which he meant to have used to such deadly purpose dropping from his
nerveless grasp. But his struggle was useless, and he lay gasping with
terror, while Briny (for he it was who had thus opportunely come to the
rescue) held him down, and growled murderous things. Mr. Bootle had
turned round as soon as he heard the commotion behind him, and,
recognising Briny, guessed at once what was the matter.

“The dastard has intended to kill me, or to stun me, thinking me a fit
subject for robbery,” was his first thought. But presently, on
approaching nearer, he recognised his foe, and realised that his
disguise was penetrated. Like lightning, however, the idea flashed
through his brain that even yet it would be good policy to appear to be
unaware of Gregory Staines’ discovery, and to pretend to be ignorant of
the motive of Briny’s attack upon him.

“Briny! Briny!” he called hurriedly. “Mind what you are doing. Off! I
say. Off at once! This is a friend!”

Briny, in obedience to the voice which he knew and loved through every
attempt at disguising it, drew himself off the recumbent figure of the
man, who was dreading lest he should use his fangs, and whom terror was
rendering passive under his weight. But that he relinquished his prey
with great reluctance was quite evident, and he growled menacingly as
Gregory Staines rose to his feet, with a sickly attempt to endorse his
foe’s assumption of the unreasonableness of Briny’s attack upon him.

“That is a nasty brute to fall foul of,” he said angrily. “There is no
telling what mischief he might have done me, if you had not been handy.
I noticed who was in front of me, and hurried forward to overtake you,
when I was hurled to the ground without any ceremony. But how do you
happen to be acquainted with this dog? And how is it that he seems to
know you so well?”

“My dear sir, I can easily explain away your mystification on that
score. Briny belongs to a very dear friend of mine, a Miss Stratton,
whose arrival in Lina I have been expecting for a week. The presence of
Briny shows that my friend is here now, and I shall probably see her
to-morrow.”

Such was Mr. Bootle’s remark, given in a calm and composed voice, which
certainly surprised Staines by the astonishing nerve it evinced. That
the composure of the voice was somewhat belied by an irrepressible
trembling of the limbs for a few moments was not apparent to the latter,
and he felt all the more savage at his failure to secure the
extermination of so implacable an enemy.

“I wonder what the game is now,” he thought. “It can’t be that I’m
expected to swallow this pretence of being friendly. There is still some
further plotting going on, and it is deemed necessary to keep me
befooled a little while longer. I think I will play the unsuspecting
chicken. But I’m too clever to be caught.”

Anyone noticing the further progress of this antagonistic couple towards
the hotel would hardly have imagined them to be either great friends or
great enemies. For they walked, conversing together, fully a yard apart,
and each kept a wary eye upon the other, the dog carefully watching Mr.
Staines’ every movement. Arrived at the hotel, the pair appeared to be
on the same terms as they had been yesterday, and soon began to discuss
the business which ostensibly brought them both here.

“How about your gambling friend at Gibraltar, Mr. Bootle?” was the query
addressed to him.

“Just as rackety as ever,” he replied. “The money being squandered like
water, and any amount of hawks hovering round in search of prey.”

“Ourselves included, eh?”

“Yes, ourselves included.”

“And how is the prey to be got at?”

“By following out the plan suggested yesterday evening. I have seen Mr.
Danvers to-day, and he has accepted my invitation to supper. I had some
difficulty in inducing him to agree to come here. He wanted me to hold
the affair at my rooms in Gibraltar, but I told him that I had invited a
fellow who did not care to show himself on English territory, and with
whose company he would be delighted.”

“And how do you know that I would not care to go to Gibraltar?”

“Natural inference, my dear sir. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too fond of the
place myself if my real name was known there.”

“So you masquerade under an alias?”

“Certainly. Just as you do.”

“Precisely. But I would like to set your mind at rest on one point. I
have not the slightest objection to go to Gibraltar. So if Mr. Danvers
objects to coming here I will meet him on his own ground. Did you hold
out any other inducement to Mr. Danvers to tempt his presence at our
proposed supper?”

“Yes; I told him that my friend Miss Stratton would be present, and
promised him a great treat, for she is both clever and handsome.”

“Exceedingly so, Mr. Bootle. Cleverer than most people would be inclined
to believe; but even such abnormal cleverness as hers over-reaches
itself sometimes.”

“Possibly. She isn’t infallible. But after next Friday her mission in
Spain will be ended, and she can then return to safer quarters.”

For some time after this remark very little was said. Then Mr. Staines,
seeing an acquaintance of his at the other end of the saloon, asked Mr.
Bootle to excuse him for five minutes, and left him to meditate the
progress of affairs by himself.

“I wonder how much and how little he knows,” the latter mused. “And I
also wonder whether he really swallows my yarn about the supper. He has
discovered who I really am. Of that I am convinced. But does he also
know that Mr. Bootle and Miss Stratton are one and the same individual,
and that it is a serious strain on my vocal organs to talk so much in an
assumed voice? His professed willingness to go to Gibraltar does not
deceive me. He knows that the whole story about Mr. Danvers is pure
fiction. Knowing this, he is also convinced that I have an ulterior
motive behind my apparent friendliness. I have hinted that Miss Stratton
has no further business here after Friday. He imagines me to have some
plot on foot, which will take until Friday to mature, although this is
only Monday. If I am not mistaken, he is now plotting with that
villainous-looking fellow who is with him to get rid of me before that
time, and, were I remaining here, I might expect another attack upon my
life. But after to-night, my friend, you will be harmless.”

Meanwhile Mr. Staines was rapidly explaining as much of the situation as
suited him to the individual before-mentioned.

“Don’t look round,” he said. “You saw me come in with the young fellow
I have just left. Do you think that he would prove difficult to tackle
from behind?”

“Not if to tackle him were worth one’s while, mister. Is he in your
way?”

“Very much so.”

“What would his removal be worth to you?”

“Twenty pounds. Ten now, and ten on completion of the job.”

“I think you may depend upon me to conduct the business satisfactorily.
But twenty quid is too little. Double it and put half down, and I’m your
man.”

“Indeed I won’t. The affair wouldn’t be worth all that to me. The
youngster is in my way, but his removal is not necessary. Twenty pounds
it is, or nothing.”

“Very well, then. Nothing it shall be. I want to cut this and go to
America, but I may as well be hard up here a bit longer as reach America
without a penny, and if you won’t give forty, I won’t take the risk.”

Gregory Staines hated to part with so much money, for every penny it
cost him to preserve his liberty made him think that his crime had not
brought him a life whose pleasures were equivalent to the penalties
exacted from him. But he reflected that he would never be safe while so
determined an enemy lived, and resolved upon what he deemed a last
sacrifice.

“Very well,” he said at last, “you shall have what you ask. But mind you
don’t hit the wrong man, and watch the dog. Your best plan will be to
wait until you see us go out together, and then watch your chance. If
necessary, I will help you, for it’s about time this game was ended.”

A few more arrangements were made, the hired assassin received half his
fee, and Mr. Staines returned to his intended victim, remarking: “What a
nuisance duns are! I owed that fellow a few shillings, and he had the
impudence to insist upon being paid to-night.”

“That’s the worst of dealing with common people,” said Mr. Bootle,
carelessly. “But we have talked over all preliminaries about our supper
party, and about the pigeon whom we intend to pluck. On Wednesday night
you must be in good trim, as Danvers is sure to bring a lot of money
with him.”

“And where are you off to now?”

“To my lodgings.”

“Do you mean to take the dog with you?”

“No, I think he had better be sent home. He will be able to find Miss
Stratton, and to-morrow I shall hear from her. She knows where to write
to.”

“I have a better plan than that. Miss Stratton has come to stay at the
house I am in. Come with me, and see her this evening. It is not yet
late.”

This plan was readily agreed to, and the two set out together, each
knowing the other to be plotting his safety, and each warily watching
his companion’s every movement, the dog being quite as watchful as his
companions.

There was also another form carefully gauging his chances of making the
attack by which he hoped to put another twenty pounds in his pocket.
This individual was so exceedingly anxious not to miss his opportunity,
that he failed to notice sundry dark shadows which haunted the gloom to
the rear of him. Presently, his opportunity seemed to have come; he
sprang noiselessly forward, and aimed a terrific blow at the dog’s head,
while Gregory Staines gripped Mr. Bootle’s throat at the same moment to
prevent him making an outcry ere the other man could despatch him.

But, somehow, everything went wrong. The dog eluded the assassin’s blow,
and, with a deep growl, sprang at his throat, the weight of his
onslaught flinging the man to the ground. Simultaneously, the place
seemed full of men, and ere Gregory Staines had time to realise what was
happening, he had been knocked aside, and overpowered, to find himself,
a few moments later, gagged, and bound hand and foot, in a vehicle that
was rapidly being driven away from Lina. Beside him sat a stalwart young
fellow, of soldierly bearing, who made it his business to tighten his
bonds and gags, every time that he struggled to free himself. Opposite
him sat Sergeant-Major Twiley and Mr. Bootle, the former looking
triumphant, the latter tremulously thankful.

“I reckon your gallop’s stopped now, old man,” remarked the
sergeant-major. “You won’t steal many more diamonds, or murder many more
stewards, after this.”

“Thank God that at last I have secured the real thief, and that Harley
will soon be at liberty now,” was Mr. Bootle’s inward comment.

As for the prisoner, who knew that his fancied safety had been his
ruin, and that his daring pursuer had kidnapped him, in order to convey
him to English territory, where he would be amenable to the laws of
England, he could only see one horrible object ahead of him--the
gallows.



CHAPTER XXII.

ANNIE’S RETURN.


Mr. Cory’s residence was in a wonderful state of bustle and excitement.
A telegram had been received from Annie to the effect that at last she
had been successful in her mission, and that her captive was now on his
way to England, under such efficient surveillance that he was not likely
to escape again. There were endless conjectures as to how this desirable
result had been brought about; but none of these were permitted to
interfere with the active preparations that were being made, in order to
give a fitting welcome to the girl whose courage and devotion had been
crowned with such happy results. For no one doubted that now all would
progress satisfactorily, and that such proofs of Harley’s innocence
would be forthcoming as would conduce to his speedy liberation.

There was only one blot on the general jubilation. That was the loss of
Hilton, of which all his friends were convinced that Hugh Stavanger was
the cause. Yet even Mrs. Riddell, bitterly as she grieved for him, felt
thankful to God to-day. For was not the unmerited disgrace under which
Harley languished a much sorer trial than even death itself? And had not
at least one of her boys a happy future before him? As for Annie, she
had ceased to look upon her as an ordinary mortal. For, she thought, no
mere girl could have done what she had done, and come unscathed through
her adventures.

“John, you are sure you did not mistake the time, and that you will not
be too late to meet her?” inquired Miss Margaret anxiously.

“There is ample time, my dear,” was the reply. “And even if I were too
late, the child is well able to dispense with anybody’s assistance,
especially as she has Briny with her.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that. Now that the terrible strain is nearly
over, a reaction may have set in, and the dear girl may be as helpless
as a fashionable doll.”

This reflection quickened Mr. Cory’s movements, with the result that he
was at the station quite an hour before the time appointed. He found the
long wait almost intolerable, but at last received the reward he sought.
Miss Margaret’s conjecture had not been far wrong. True, Annie was still
quite capable of directing minor affairs, but the strain imposed by the
necessity for daily, nay hourly, deception, had told upon her, and she
looked both weary and ill. But she soon brightened up under her father’s
radiant welcome. Her return home was in every respect a joyful one, and
the whole of the evening was spent in interchanging confidences and
experiences.

The trio of elderly people listened with the greatest astonishment to
Annie’s account of her adventures in Lina, and of the mode in which Hugh
Stavanger, alias Gregory Staines, had been kidnapped and conveyed to
English territory. Considerable management and diplomacy had been
required ere it had been possible to overcome certain difficulties in
the way of securing his arrest and transshipment to England. But at last
all was arranged, and the culprit would be put upon his trial for the
suspected murder of Hilton Riddell.

“And how have matters progressed here?” Annie inquired at last “You are
all well, and you tell me, Dad, that Harley feels confident of success.
I have been so fortunate myself that I cannot but hope you have also had
some little gleams of enlightenment.”

“And you are quite right, dear,” exclaimed Miss Margaret, triumphantly.
“There is no end of news to tell you. To begin with, old Mr.
Stavanger----”

“No, that isn’t the beginning of the story,” interrupted Mr. Cory,
smiling.

“Now, John, who is to tell the story--you or I?”

“Oh, you, of course.”

“Then be good enough to let me tell it in my own way. I shall just start
where I did before. Captain Cochrane--”

“Captain Cochrane? What of him, for Heaven’s sake?” cried Annie, in
great excitement.

“Did you ever try to tell anything to more unreasonable people, Mrs.
Riddell? They want to hear all sorts of news, and yet they take the
words out of my mouth.”

So said Miss Margaret, and she did not feel at all sweet tempered as
she said it. But Annie speedily smoothed her ruffled plumes, and then
she continued without interruption: “Captain Gerard called to see us one
evening, and explained a great deal that had transpired during his last
voyage. As you are already aware, he also said that he had seen Captain
Cochrane in London. You may be sure that we recommended a vigorous
search, and only yesterday that search ended satisfactorily. Our man was
discovered close to the house in which his sister lives, and was only
captured after a very desperate resistance. Unfortunately for his future
chances of defence, he at once conjectured the cause of his arrest, and
protested that the passenger of the ‘Merry Maid’ was the only man to
blame for the steward’s disappearance. Even if this were true, though,
he tacitly admitted himself to be an accessory to crime after the fact,
and very plainly showed that he had regarded himself as liable to arrest
on suspicion at any moment. Probably Hugh Stavanger may try to place the
onus of guilt upon the captain. But, however this part of this long
string of troubles turns out, there will be quite enough evidence
elicited to prove that the diamond merchant’s son left England with a
great deal of the stolen property in his possession. Our solicitors have
already moved for a new trial, and we have secured several important
witnesses, Captain Gerard having been very helpful to us. His motives
must be regarded as quite disinterested, too, for he has been promised
the permanent command of the ‘Merry Maid,’ Captain Cochrane’s
resignation having been sent in. Your father saw this resignation at the
office of the shipowners, to whom he had explained our whole story, but
as there was no address of his on the document, it gave us no clue to
the man’s present whereabouts. He just seems to have hidden himself in
obscure lodgings, and to have imagined that our pursuit of him would
soon be abandoned. You are to see Harley to-morrow. He knows something
of what has been going on, as we thought it cruel to refuse him a gleam
of hope, now that things have progressed so well. I am not sure that he
won’t worship you, when he sees you.”

But this prospect proved so overwhelming to the over-wrought girl that
she burst into a passion of weeping, and hurried up to her own room.
Mrs. Riddell found the sight of Annie’s emotion unbearable, and also
lost her composure, while Mr. Cory and Miss Margaret looked at each
other in blank dismay.

“I think I must follow Annie upstairs,” said the latter at last.

“By no means, my dear,” objected Mr. Cory. “A cry will do the child
good. Our presence would only impose restraint upon her. Depend upon it,
she will come down soon, all the better for giving way for once. God
knows she must have had nerves of iron lately, and it was high time that
her work was done. She has borne up splendidly, but to have continued
the strain under which she has lived since Harley was committed would
have killed her.”

And Mr. Cory was quite right. The girl had borne as much as she could.
But she came back presently, quite composed, and ready to talk things
over quietly. Mrs. Riddell had gone to bed, but, even after supper was
over, Annie proved herself an insatiable listener.

“How is the Stavanger family going on?” she asked.

“Well,” her father answered. “I rather think that Mr. David Stavanger
must have become aware of his son’s guilt, and that the effort to hide
it is preying upon his mind. I hear that he has dissolved partnership
with his brother, and has realised his share of the business. His eldest
daughter is married, and he has gone with his wife and younger daughter
to live at Boulogne. It has been an object with me to keep him in sight,
as I thought it possible that his son might join him. The dissolution of
partnership and the removal seem to have been very suddenly taken steps
indeed, and my private inquiry agent told me that they were the result
of a quarrel with Mr. Samuel Stavanger. If this is true, perhaps the
latter suspects his nephew’s guilt.”

“Whether he does or not is immaterial to us, father. We can prove all
that is necessary without him.”

“Yes; but we could not be sure of that until lately. The capture of both
the culprits was hardly to be hoped for. Come in!”

In response to this permission, a servant entered to say that Mr.
Jenkins wished to see Mr. Cory. Mr. Jenkins, feeling sure of a welcome,
followed the servant into the room, and was speedily communicating some
important information to his three hearers.

“Annie,” said Mr. Cory, as soon as the servant had closed the door
behind her, “this is the agent who has been working for us at Boulogne.
Perhaps he has some fresh discoveries to report.”

“You are right, sir,” said Jenkins, ensconcing himself comfortably on
the seat pointed out to him, and basking in the warmth of the
comfortable fire. “Mr. Stavanger had hardly reached Boulogne, when he
developed symptoms of serious illness, and both doctor and nurses were
speedily in requisition. Mrs. Stavanger pleaded indisposition on her own
account, and declined to immure herself in a sick room. Hence her
husband was entirely given up to strangers, for the little girl was of
no use as a nurse. One of the women who has been engaged for this office
is an Englishwoman, and she has proved singularly amenable to pecuniary
persuasions. In a conversation which I secured with her yesterday, she
gave me some extraordinary information. Mr. Stavanger’s ailment, it
appears, is brain fever, and his whole thoughts are centred upon various
events connected with, and subsequent to, the diamond robbery. He raves
incessantly of his son, and of all the trouble he has brought upon him.
These ravings I have tried to arrange in their chronological order, and,
always premising that they are not the mere phantoms of a diseased
brain, I conclude them to reveal the following facts: Mr. Stavanger
became convinced of his son’s guilt, some time not long before Mr.
Riddell’s committal. Certain indiscretions on the part of Hugh Stavanger
caused others beside his father to learn of his guilt. One of these
others was a servant named Wear, who at once proceeded to blackmail the
family on the strength of her knowledge. This woman died very suddenly,
and Mr. Stavanger has been haunted by a belief that his son compassed
her death. You, I know, had an idea that the old gentleman himself had a
hand in the affair. But whatever may be attributed to the son, I feel
sure that the father was not to blame in this respect. Yet he was quite
prepared to go to great lengths to shield his scapegrace son, and
knowing him to be a thief, and suspecting him to be a murderer, he aided
his escape from England in the ss. ‘Merry Maid.’ While staying at St.
Ives, several weeks after this, he had an extraordinary find in the
shape of a sealed bottle, containing papers. These papers appear to have
been written and signed by Mr. Hilton Riddell, on board the ‘Merry
Maid,’ before being sealed in the bottle and thrown into the sea. Their
purport was a complete description of all that had taken place on board
the vessel since it had sailed from London, and they evidently contained
proof enough of Hugh Stavanger’s guilt. If such a bottle was really cast
into the sea, it was a very strange chance that threw it into the hands
of the only man besides those denounced in it who could have a great
personal interest in suppressing and destroying its contents.”

“Extraordinary!” exclaimed Mr. Cory. “Why, it would have saved months of
work and suspense for us. But--I am afraid it reveals only too truly
what has been the fate of poor Hilton! He had penetrated the secrets of
the villains, and felt that his life was not safe. They must in their
turn have suspected him, and Stavanger and Cochrane had deemed it
necessary to their safety to remove him. Oh, the scoundrels! But the
poor lad shall be amply avenged!” Annie, too, was excited and indignant.
So was Miss Margaret. But they forbore all interruptions, and Mr.
Jenkins concluded his narrative in his own way.

“But little remains to be added,” he said. “This Mr. Stavanger seems
to be an odd mixture of bigotry, hypocrisy, and blind devotion to his
disreputable son. He talks quite jubilantly about the opportune deaths
of Mr. Edward Lyon, and of a man by whom he himself was being
blackmailed because of the fellow’s knowledge of Hugh Stavanger’s guilt.
Then his ravings are to the effect that Harley Riddell must have really
done something to make himself accused of God, since Providence is
visibly fighting against him. He also seems to be aware of many of your
abortive attempts to entrap his son, and the poor soul triumphs over you
in his delirium. Here is the last of his speeches that have been
reported to me. ‘Yes, you may search the world over, but you will not
discover Hugh. He is only the chosen instrument of Providence, used to
bring his deserts to a villain who has committed some great and
undiscovered crime. That villain’s brother’s would have betrayed Hugh,
and what became of him--Bah! Neither he nor you can prove aught against
my son--unless the sea gives up its dead!’”



CHAPTER XXIII. and Last.

JUBILATE.


The Court was crowded in every part. For the trial of Hugh Stavanger
and Captain Cochrane upon various indictments had aroused immense public
interest, and countless rumours were afloat respecting the wonderful
acumen, devotion, and heroism of Miss Annie Cory. She was inundated with
applications for interviews, and greatly as she disliked much of the
questioning to which she was subjected, she submitted to it with the
best grace she could muster, for Harley’s sake. Soon she found herself a
popular idol. Her sayings and doings were recorded in every paper in the
land that could obtain authentic information on the subject, and some of
the more obscure journals that were endowed with smart editors
determined to rescue them from their obscurity, published racy accounts
of fictitious interviews with her, which were so extraordinarily full of
favourable criticism that none but her enemies could have taken serious
exception to them. She was photographed so often that at last she
rebelled, and vowed that she would never enter a photographer’s studio
again. She figured as Miss Una Stratton, as Miss Cory, and as Mr.
Bootle, her various presentments being so totally different that
curiosity to see her rose to its highest pitch, and caused her every
movement to be watched with the keenest interest. Briny, too, came in
for his share of attention. For had it not transpired that his mistress
in all probability owed her life to him? And that he was a cordially
beloved member of the Cory family? Through the publication of his
history a curious thing came to pass.

One day an elderly gentleman sought an interview with Mr. Cory. Briny
was in the hall when he arrived, and welcomed him with the wildest
demonstrations of affection. It transpired that Briny’s original name
had been Neptune; that his master’s name was Woodstock; that the latter
had been ordered by his doctors to do a little sea-voyaging; and that
after going out to America, he had engaged a return passage for himself
and his dog on board a timber-laden vessel bound for England, and not
likely to make such a rapid passage as a steamer, his object being to
spend a few weeks over the voyage.

“But things did not work quite so satisfactorily as had been expected,”
he continued. “Bad weather overtook us, after various incidents that I
will not inflict upon you, and the day arrived when it was deemed
necessary to take to the boats. I had the misfortune to receive a blow
on the head that rendered me insensible for a time, and when I came
round, I found, to my great grief, that my faithful friend Neptune had
been left on board the wreck to perish in miserable solitude. I believe
I was very violent in my denunciations of the inhumanity that could thus
desert him. But even my partiality was at last convinced that, the boats
being overcrowded already, there could have been no room found for a
large dog, except at the risk of all our lives. As it was, one boat
swamped and drowned its occupants. When, quite recently, I read of your
brave action in saving the life of a deserted dog, I felt sure it must
be dear old Neptune.”

“But you won’t take him away from us?” pleaded Miss Margaret, anxiously.

“My dear madam,” quoth Mr. Woodstock, “do you take me for a heathen?”

But--will the disclosure be premature?--she was subsequently induced to
take him “for better, for worse,” and the pair are as happy and jolly as
people who have been half a century in finding their affinity ought to
be.

Annie had had an interview--nay, two interviews, with her lover, and had
the satisfaction of leaving him more hopeful each time. Of course his
love and gratitude knew no bounds, but we will spare the reader all his
extravagant testimonials to his lady love’s perfections, or his bitter
denunciations of those who had brought about the necessity for her
exceptional exertions.

“I think we may almost venture to pity them now,” said Annie, gently.
“They have been very wicked, and all their schemes have to some extent
been successful. But their downfall has come at last. They cannot escape
conviction, and this knowledge must in itself be a very bitter
punishment for them. Your liberation is now only a mere matter of form,
and all England is in sympathy with you, even before the trial which is
to decide whether you and Hugh Stavanger are to change places or not.”

“Our solicitor told me that Mr. Stavanger was supposed to be dying.
Have you heard how he is?”

“He is recovering; but will never be the same man again. They say that
his illness has changed him in many respects, and that he has vowed
never to look upon his son again.”

“I suppose he is a man of extreme views. Probably his present aversion
to his son is more the result of the disgrace which it is no longer in
his power to avert, than of a suddenly aroused conviction that his son
has sinned against law and morality, or that, by swearing against me, he
has helped to make me that son’s scapegoat. I don’t believe in
after-discovery repentances. All the same, I believe he is to be pitied,
and I shall bear no animosity.”

“That is well spoken, Harley! The punishment of our enemies rests now
with the law, and personal enmity may well die out. If only poor Hilton
were alive there would be such complete happiness in store for us that
our hearts need have no room for enmity.”

Nevertheless, on the day of the trial Annie watched the progress of
events with the keenest anxiety, and her distress of mind worried her
friends considerably. Suppose her hopes were destined to be blighted,
after all? Suppose the evidence at command should not prove enough, even
yet, to bring about a reversal of the sentence which had weighed upon
Harley for months? It was no wonder that she looked anxious, or that she
was oblivious of everything but the actual progress of the trial. She
was well supported by friends, who lavished every attention upon her
that could be spared from the dear, sweet-faced old lady, to whom this
day was of such awful moment. They had all tried to persuade Mrs.
Riddell to remain at home, fearing that the excitement might be too much
for her.

Their persuasions were most kindly meant. But the firmness with which
they were resisted convinced them that they were also ill-judged. One of
Mrs. Riddell’s sons was to have his fate decided that day--either as a
free man, or as a confirmed felon. And two men were to be arraigned for
depriving her of her other son. It would be dreadful to look upon that
son’s murderers. But it would be intolerable anguish to remain at home
in ignorance of what was being done.

Captain Cochrane and Hugh Stavanger both looked round with a feeble
assumption of confidence when they were brought into the dock. But there
were very few sympathetic looks to be seen on the sea of faces at which
they gazed, and their eyes soon sought the ground, the one scowling
angrily, and the other looking abjectly miserable.

No expense had been spared that could help to prove Harley innocent of
the diamond robbery, even the Maltese jeweller being to the fore. Harley
Riddell himself was strongly cross-examined, and his worn, haggard
appearance caused his fond mother and faithful sweetheart some
additional sorrow. But as the trial progressed, excitement lent a colour
to his cheeks and a brightness to his eyes which showed his friends how
soon he would recover his former vigour when free, and proved to
strangers how handsome he was likely to appear when happy.

The prisoners were on their trial, the one for the diamond-robbery, and
the other for being accessory after the fact. On the morrow they were to
take their trial for the suspected murder of Hilton Riddell. Somehow,
however, the proofs which had been deemed so overwhelming by Harley’s
friends, did not appear as if they were going to be sufficient to
compass the conviction of Hugh Stavanger for the robbery. There was
plenty of proof that he had had a great many diamonds in his possession,
and his evident desire to evade observation argued guilt on his part.
But there was no one who could or would prove that the jewels in Hugh
Stavanger’s possession were the jewels that had been stolen. Both his
father and his uncle had suddenly disappeared, and their evidence was
unavailable. This disappearance confirmed everybody’s moral conviction
that Hugh Stavanger was guilty.

But moral conviction is not proof, and without proof no man may be
judged. Accused’s counsel began to be very hopeful. Presumably
everything would have turned upon Hilton Riddell’s evidence, and,
curiously enough, the lack of evidence was likely not merely to fail in
proving Stavanger’s guilt, but to be the actual means of proving his
innocence. It was fully explained why he had joined the “Merry Maid.”
But although he might have gained important evidence, he had not
returned with it, and was, therefore, useless as a witness. It being
impossible to prove that Mr. Hilton Riddell was possessed of any
information likely to be detrimental to Mr. Hugh Stavanger or to Captain
Cochrane, it naturally followed that a motive for his supposed murder
was wanting. Given no motive, only absolute proof that the men had been
seen to commit the murder would be sufficient to secure their committal
upon the capital charge, and though all the world felt morally convinced
of their guilt, the men had capital counsel who knew, none better, how
to make black look like white, and whose professional reputation was
staked upon the winning of such a desperate looking case.

There was also a certain judge on the bench with whom the words
“justice” and “moral conviction” became obsolete terms as soon as he
entered upon the study of “law.” He also prided himself upon his ability
to enforce the dictates of law in all their naked severity, in spite of
all the clamourings of public opinion. Nay, public opinion was his
especial bugbear, and his judicial eye always rested with particular
disfavour upon anyone unfortunate enough to be deemed a popular
favourite. He had read all about Annie’s adventures, and had at once
dubbed her in his own mind an unwomanly schemer. He didn’t like
unwomanly women. They set a bad example to others. Therefore an example
must be made of them, and they must be shown that the dictum of one of
her Majesty’s judges cannot be lightly upset. Poor man! He was but
human, and he could hardly be expected to view with favour an attempt to
upset the judgment he had himself given when Harley Riddell was tried
for the diamond robbery. Do not mistake me, dear reader, our noble judge
would sacrifice his own private feelings if law bade him do so. But law
must be paramount, and if law was ever doubtful, it must always consider
itself opposed to sentimentalism and unwarranted interference.

Thus it happened that, by the enforcement of this enactment or of that,
all the cherished proofs of Harley’s innocence and Hugh Stavanger’s
guilt were ruthlessly torn to shreds, and more than one heart was
turning sick with disappointment, when a strange commotion was heard
among the crowd of people at the entrance of the court. There were loud
cries of “Silence in Court.” But these cries were unheeded. Indeed, the
commotion waxed louder and became momentarily more irrepressible, as a
man pushed his way through the crowd, while his name flew before him.

It was Hilton Riddell!

Hilton Riddell was that day a name to conjure with, and even the judge
himself permitted his mind to entertain emotions that were not strictly
of a legal tendency. But how describe the joy and delight of the mother
who had pictured him lying dead at the bottom of the sea? Of the brother
who thought that for his sake he had perished? Of the friends who now
saw light ahead for Harley? Or the dismay of the two scoundrels who,
though they were freed from the weight of bloodguiltiness, yet saw
condemnation in store for them as the result of the evidence of this
man, who had been given up by the sea for their undoing?

All this happened some time ago. And our friends may be supposed to
have settled down to the freedom and joy which is theirs. But even yet
they cannot think calmly of the events of that wonderful day when blind
justice seemed to be balancing her scales against them again, and when
Hilton’s opportune return wrought the condemnation of villainy, and
re-united every member of a now happy family. Hugh Stavanger has ample
time now in which to contemplate the fate he so ruthlessly inflicted
upon another. And Captain Cochrane often laments the day that cupidity
stole such a sorry march upon him.

Miss Una Stratton and Mr. Ernest Bootle have been relegated to the
phantoms of the past, and even Miss Annie Cory has been merged into Mrs.
Harley Riddell. Her husband has quite recovered his former health and
good looks, though he is perhaps of a more serious disposition than of
yore. He does not care to lead an idle life, but is at the head of a
lucrative business established for him by his father-in-law. Needless to
say, the said father-in-law did not care to be parted from his daughter,
and the three live very happily together.

Hilton Riddell makes his mother’s heart happy by his devotion to her,
and she has no fear that the day will come when he will crave for the
exclusive society of a companion of his own years. He also has embarked
in a line of business which ensures him freedom from pecuniary anxiety.

Mr. and Mrs. Woodstock live next door to the house in which Mr. and Mrs.
Harley Riddell and Mr. Cory reside, and it is questionable which of the
homes Briny claims as his own.

Mr. and Mrs. Twiley, and Mrs. Dollman (on her marriage to a worthy young
friend of the sergeant-major) received some very handsome presents from
the Corys, and Hilton Riddell is not likely to forget all he owes to a
certain worthy Captain Quaco Pereiro and his steward.


THE END.



Transcriber’s Note

The Contents was added by the transcriber.

Punctuation has been standardised. Hyphenation and spelling have been
retained as published in the original book except as follows:

    Page 1
      further belate his arrivel _changed to_
      further belate his arrival

    Page 13
      my suspicions are centreing _changed to_
      my suspicions are centring

    Page 20
      is much higher that hers _changed to_
      is much higher than hers

    Page 34
      pretty confident now of suc cess _changed to_
      pretty confident now of success

    Page 43
      but the bo’sen was telling _changed to_
      but the bo’sun was telling

    Page 48
      in fixing the guitl _changed to_
      in fixing the guilt

    Page 48
      toading to wealth and positon _changed to_
      toading to wealth and position

    Page 57
      hole has served his purpose _changed to_
      hole had served his purpose

    Page 61
      We musn’t let him _changed to_
      We mustn’t let him

    Page 123
      evidence that was forthcomng _changed to_
      evidence that was forthcoming

    Page 124
      to write on his arrrival _changed to_
      to write on his arrival

    Page 125
      entitled to lodgings in goal _changed to_
      entitled to lodgings in gaol

    Page 170
      The Babel of voices _changed to_
      The babel of voices

    Page 174
      guardian and beloved portégé _changed to_
      guardian and beloved protégé

    Page 225
      his judical eye _changed to_
      his judicial eye





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