THE FOUR STRAGGLERS
FRANK L. PACKARD
RUNNELLS was swabbing at his brow. "It— it knocked me flat, that did,"
he said with a sudden, wild rush of words: 'but it ain't any worse than what's happened up there. Hell's broke loose— just hell —that's what! The old bird's gone and done it. Shot himself, he has." Captain Francis Nt'a rnbe's hand reached out and ek~t'tt i a qutck, tight grip on the her's shoulder. "t'on~ out of hert~" he said abruptly lie led Runnells out beyond the overhang of the verandah, and in the better Light stared into the ma'i's face. "Now, then, what's this you say.' Old Marlin's shot himself?" "8y acciekut,'' said Runnells, nodding his head exeitedlv "leastwavs, that's what I suppose you'd call it," "[[)cad~" demanded Captain Francis Neweombe, Itunrit'tls laughed nervously. "You're bloody well right he's dead!" he said gruffly, "[[bead as a herring `I'hat's what the row's all about," `r~u your story!" ordered Captain Francis Newcombe shortly.
"Well, when I went up there from here,” said Runnells, "I saw the house al! lit up. and the blacks all running around, and the whole place humming. And they spotted me, some of the servants did, and all began talking at once about the old bird having shot himself and they seemed to take it for granted that I knew too— d'ye twig! that I'd been in the house, of course, and had got up and dressed, having heard the shots. The only play I had was to keep my mouth shut and let ’em think so and listen to them. It seems, as near as they knew, that his nibs had been asleep, and suddenly wakes up and goes blind off his top. and runs upstairs with a revolver, and goes to Locke's room, and opens the door and begins shooting, and all the time he's screaming out at the top of his lungs, you're one of them, you’re one of them; but I'll kill you before you open it!’ Locke must have had his nerve with him. Anyway, he jumped out of bed and tried to get the revolver away from the old fool. By this
time the whole house was up, and some of the black servants took a hand by trying to collar his nibs, but Marlin breaks away from them somehow, and runs, for the stairs like a mad bull, He must have tripped going down, or knocked his arm, or something, anyway his revolver goes off and when they got to him he was at the bottom of the stairs with a hole in his head.” Runnells paused for a moment, but, eliciting no comment, went on again: “Well, while I was getting all this information that I was supposed to know, Locke comes out on the verandah and spots me. ‘I’ve just been to your room, Runnells,’ he says. ‘Do you know where Captain Newcombe is?’ And I says, ‘No, sir, I don’t; leastways,’ I says, ‘I’ve been too excited to notice.’ Then he says I’d better try and find you, and that gave mé the first chance to get away and cop these spades. I sneaked around through the woods at the back of the house with them.”
Captain Francis Newcombe lighted a cigarette.
“Sneak back with them then, the same way,” he said calmly.
“Right!” said Runnells.
”Now!” said Captain Francis Newcombe. “And you haven’t been able to find me.”
“Right!” said Runnells again, and started off at a run.
CAPTAIN FRANCIS NEWCOMBE began to walk leisurely across the beach toward the path leading to the house. He puffed leisurely and with immense content at his cigarette. In the light of certain knowledge possessed by himself alone, the whole thing was as clear as daylight. The old maniac had wakened up, and in someway had discovered for the first time that his key and book were gone^-that had set him off. It was rather rough on Locke to have been selected as the thief! But there was no accounting for what a lunatic would do!
He was chuckling to himself now. An explanation of
his absence from the house at this hour? It was too simple! Polly would substantiate it. Polly’s scruples about keeping silent were now useless—to him! He had
now useless—to him! He had thought the old madman must have telephoned from the boathouse. He had got up and dressed, and gone down to see—and, of course, had seen nothing!
He flicked his cigarette away. And now he laughed—laughed with the same evil joy, the same savage triumph but magnified a hundredfold now, with which he had laughed a little while ago in the boathouse back there. Only the laughter was silent now—it was his soul that rocked with mirth. The gods were very good! The black of the night had brought a dawn of incomparable radiance. That was poetic! Ha, ha! Well, why not poetry? He was in exquisité humor. It was like wine in his head—that, too, was poetry, wasn’t it?—-somebody had said it was— or something like it. Nor God, nor man, nor the devil could stay him now! He had only to be circumspect in the house of death—and help himself. Almost, poetry again! Excellent! The old fool dead! Even the trouble and annoyance of staging an accident was now. remoyed. The old fool dead—with his secret. They would hunt a long time —and it would forever be a secret.
Except to Shadow Varne! ~
The Warp and the Woof^.
TTOWARD LOCKE stood leaning with his shoulder against one of the-verandah pillars. Behind him, in the house, he was conscious of a sort of hushed commotion. Out on the lawn in front of him little groups of negroes stood staring at tl|e house with strained, uplifted faces, or moved across his line of vision in frightened,, pathetically humorous efforts to keep an unobtrusivesilence—walking on tiptoes in their barefeet on the velvetlawn. Queer how the black faces were mellowed into softer colors in the early morning light!
Mr. Marlin was dead. Locke's eyes half closed; his lips drew together, compressed in a hard line. Strange! In one sense, he seemed still dazed with the events of the last hour; in another sense, his mind was brutally clear. He was dazed because even yet it seemed impossible to grasp the fact that so sorrowful, and dire, and unrecallable a tragedy was an actual, immutable, existent truth. It was not that Mr. Marlin in a sudden paroxysm of demented frenzy should have done what he had—even to the extent that the old man’s attack should have been ■directed against his, Locke’s, person. He could quite understand that. In the aquarium, only a few hours before, the old man has used identically the same words that he had shouted as he had burst in the bedroom door and had begun firing wildly: “You are one of them!. . . . You are one of them!. ...” And then, apart from what had transpired in the aquarium, there had been the shock of the attack on the path almost immediately afterward. The old man had not lost his money, but he had gone back to the house—he, Locke, had seen that, too—and, instead of sleeping, these things had probably preyed upon his mind until he had lost the little reason that had been left to him and a homicidal mania had developed. All that was quite easily understood.
As Polly had said, the specialist had predicted it if the old man became over-excited—and Miss Marlin had feared it. It was not this phase, so logically explainable, of what had happened that affected him still in that dazed, numbed way; it was the fact, so much harder to understand, that quick and sudden, in the passing of a moment, old Mr. Marlin was gone!
He straightened up a little, easing the position of his shoulder against the pillar. On the other hand, from an entirely different aspect, that of the consequences as applied to his own course of action, his mind had been clear, irrevocable, settled in its purpose almost from the instant that—first to reach the old madman’s side—he had found Mr. Marlin dead. It was the end! He was waiting now for Newcombe to return—from wherever the man had taken himself to. /
The sight of the awed, grief-stricken figures on the lawn stirred him suddenly with keen emotion. The girls were upstairs in Dora Marlin’s room together and— He wrenched his mind away from the course toward which it was trending. For the moment it would do neither them nor himself any good; for the moment he was waiting for —Captain Francis Newcombe.
A queer smile came and twisted at his lips. Was it defeat—or victory?
The smile passed. His face became grave again. There was Newcombe now—at the far edge of the lawn.
He was strolling leisurely toward the house, then, suddenly pausing for an instant, he as suddenly broke into a run, elbowing his way unceremoniously through the groups of negroes, and, reaching the steps, covered them in a bound to the verandah.
“I say!” he burst out breathlessly as he halted before Locke. “Whatever is the matter? This hour in the morning and every light on in the house—and all those negroes out there?”
“I’ve been waiting for you,” said Locke quietly. “Come in here.” He led the way to the French windows by which he had found entry into the house a few hours before, and passed through into the room beyond.
Captain Francis Newcombe followed.
“I say!” he repeated, closing the door with a push behind him. “What’s up, old man?”
“Mr. Marlin is dead,” said Locke briefly.
“Dead!” Captain Francis Newcombe stared incredulously. “Why, he wasn’t ill—at least not in that way. I ■don’t understand.”
TT WAS a small room, a sort of adjunct to the library
which led off from it toward the rear door of the house. Howard Locke’s fingers were aimlessly turning the leaves of a book which lay on the table in the center *of the room, and beside which he was standing now.
“A belief that he was being followed, that some one was trying to take his money away from him, turned him from ¡a harmless lunatic into a dangerous madman,” Locke ■said slowly. “He seemed to believe that I was, to use his ■own words, ‘one of them,’ and he tried to shoot me in my ■room. The household was aroused. The servants came. We tried to subdue him. But he broke away from us then, ■and in running down the stairs, fell, I think, and his ^revolver went off in his hand, killing him instantly.”
“Good Heavens!” said Captain Francis Newcombe ■heavily, “That’s awful! An$ that poor girl—Miss Marlin.”
“Yes,” said Howard Locke, his fingers still playing ■with the leaves of the book.
Captain Francis Newcombe appeared to be greatly ¡agitated. He took out his cigarette ease, opened and shut ‘it several times, and finally restored it to his pocket with its contents untouched.
“It’s ghastly!” he ejaculated; and then in a slower, ■more meditative tone: “But with the shock of it over, I •can’t say I’m particularly surprised. He struck me as .acting in a more than usually peculiar manner all day .yesterday, and especially last night, or rather this
morning—as a matter of fact it was on account of Mr. Marlin himself that I was out of the house when it happened. He telephoned Polly about four o’clock this morning and nearly frightened her to death. She came to my room in a pitiful state of distress. He told her her mother was dead. God knows why—except that it shows how mad he was. From Polly’s description of the conversation during which she had distinctly heard the sound of waves and the slam of a door in the wind, I decided that he must have telephoned from somewhere outside. The only place I could think of was the boathouse. If the man was as bad as that, I was afraid something might happen to him, so I dressed and went out. It is obviously unnecessary to say that I did not find him. Polly and I both decided, on Miss Marlin’s account, to say nothing about it, but I can see nothing to be gained now, in view of what has happened, by keeping silent.”
“No; there could be nothing gained by it now,” agreed Locke a little monotonously. “As you imply, it is only cumulative evidence of the man’s state of mind just prior to his death.”
“Exactly!” nodded Captain Francis Newcombe gravely. “But, after all, that is apart from the immediate present. I suppose you have already seen to what you could here in the house, but there still must be many things to do.”
HOWARD LOCKE closed the book, and stepped a little away from the table, a little nearer the other. “There are,” he said with quiet deliberation. “But there is one thing in particular for you to do. The mail came over from the mainland very late last night. It naturally hasn’t been touched this morning and is still in there”—he motioned toward the door leading from the rear of the room—“on the library table. There is a letter there for you, a very urgent one, demanding your instant return to London.”
Captain Francis Newcombe’s eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly—but his voice was a drawl:
“I don’t think I quite understand. May I ask how you happen to know the contents of the letter?”
“I am speaking in a purely suggestive sense,” Locke answered, his voice hardening a little. “There is no letter for you that I know of. I am suggesting a plausible explanation which you can make to Miss Marlin—and Miss Wiekes—for leaving this place at once.”
Captain Francis Newcombe stiffened, but his voice still retained its drawl.
“I am tempted to believe that insanity is infectious,” he said; “either that, or perhaps my own intelligence is sadly astray this morning. I have neither the desire nor the intention to leave here, and especially at a time such as this when I might possibly be of even a little assistance to those who have been so hospitable to me, and so I do not require any excuse, however plausible or ingenious,, for going away.”
Locke’s eyes restedappraisingly for a long moment on the other’s cool, composed, suave face. Well, was it any cooler, any more self-possessed than his own? What of passion that was boiling within did not show on the surface!
“Nevertheless,” he said steadily, “that is the excuse you will give., One of the motor boats is going over to the mainland in a little while, and you are going on her. I have already had your baggage—and Runnells’—put on board.”
“You—what?” The red was suddenly in Captain Francis Newcombe’s face. He took a quick step forward, his hands clenched. “My baggage sent out of the house— by your orders!” he said hoarsely. “You’ve gone a bit too far now, my man, and you’ll explain yourself—and explain yourself damned quick! Out with it! What’s the meaning of this?”
Locke had not moved. His eyes had not left the other’s face. There was something strangely tempting about that face; it induced an almost uncontrollable impulse to mark it, to batter it, to wreck it with a rain of blows that would not cease until physical exhaustion intervened and one could strike no more. And yet his hands hung idly at his sides.
“Yes”—Locke’s voice was not raised—“I will tell you the meaning of it. You are going for two reasons. The first is because you are morally responsible for Mr. Marlin’s death; and the second is because you are—ivhat you are—and as such, from the moment you say good-bye to her here, you are going out of Polly’s life forever.” Captain Francis Newcombe came still a step nearer. Locke’s eyes had not left the other’s face. He read a cold, ugly glitter in the gaze that held on his; he saw the curious whitening of the other’s lips—and a knotted fist suddenly drawn back to strike. And with a lightning movement Locke caught the other’s wrist and flung the blow aside.
“Don’t do that!” he said in a dead tone. “Heaven knows, it's hard enough to keep my hands off you as it is, but what is between you and me is not measured, or in any way altered by a brawl—-and besides I cannot brawl here in this house where Mr. Marlin lies dead, and where there is already distress enough.”
For a moment Captain Francis Newcombe did not
speak; then abruptly he began to laugh, and, stepping over to a chair at the end of the table, flung himself nonchalantly into it.
“Upon my soul, Locke,” he said coolly, “what I said at first in jest, I believe now must be true. I believe you’ve gone completely off your head. I’d like to hear why you think I am morally responsible for Mr. Marlin’s death; and, particularly, I’d like to know what—”
“I want to get this over,” said Locke, with a set face. “You are clever. If it appeals to a certain sense of morbid vanity in you, that they say all criminals possess, I grant at once that you are as clever a scoundrel, and as miserable and inhuman and unscrupulous a one, as ever blasphemed the image in which God made him.”
CAPTAIN FRANCIS NEWCOMBE strained upward from the chair, his lips working—but Locke stood over him now and pushed him back.
“Don’t get up!” he said with savage curtness. “You are going to hear more than that before I am through. I said you were clever—but your cleverness will do you no good here. This is the end, Newcombe. You took a child out of the slums of London—bought her in some unholy fashion, I imagine, from a woman named Mis. Wickes; you sent the child out of England to America, and educated her in a school, especially selected I also imagine, where she would be brought into intimate contact with, and form her friendships amongst, the daughters of wealthy Americans of high social position. Why? In the light of what has happened, the answer is plain enough: That you might use her introduction into these homes as an entree for yourself to further your own criminal purposes.”
A cold sneer had gathered on Captain Francis Newcombe’s lips.
“You employed the word ‘imagine’ on both counts,” he said. “I congratulate you.”
“Quite so!” said Locke icily. “I may even employ it again. I am not imagining, however, when I say that you received a letter from Polly telling you that Mr. Marlin had half a million dollars in cash here on this island, and—”
“Did Polly tell you that?” demanded Captain Francis Newcombe sharply.
“Innocently—yes,” Locke answered. “And in her letter she also told you ‘all about everything here,’ to use her own words, which could not help but embrace the fact that Mr. Marlin was not right in his mind—yet, strangely enough, in the smoking room of the liner, you will perhaps remember, you had had no idea of any such thing, and even expressed anxiety for the safety of your ward.”
Captain Francis Newcombe was painstakingly polishing the finger nails of one hand on the palm of the other now.
“One might possibly conceive a man to be eccentric and attribute his idiosyncrasies to that cause—without thought of classifying him as a raving lunatic,” he observed in a bored voice.
Locke shrugged bis shoulders.
“Perhaps there is a better explanation of your mistake,he said evenly. “You did not, at that time, have the slightest idea that I, too, would be one of the party on this island.”
Captain Francis Newcombe looked up from his finger nails.
“Did you?” he inquired softly.
“Yes,” said Locke curtly.
“Ah!” Captain Francis Newcombe, with eyes half closed now, studied Locke’s face for a full minute before he spoke again. “I am becoming rather curious as to just who you are, Locke,” he murmured finally.
“You ought to know,” Locke responded grimly. “I imagine it was you who went through my papers that night in my cabin.”
“That is the third time,” suggested Captain Francis Newcombe, “that you have said ‘imagine’.”
“Yes.” Locke smiled without humor. “I happen to know, however, that from the moment of your arrival here Mr. Marlin became more and more obsessed with the belief that he was being watched and followed. I know from his own statement that he rather cunningly laid a false trail—to a hut in the woods behind the house, wasn’t it, Newcombe? And it is rather conclusive evidence, I should say, that the man who followed that trail was the man who was watching Mr. Marlin. I saw you coming from that direction at three o’clock this morning. You were unsuccessful, of course; but you are none the less morally responsible for Mr. Marlin’s death.”
CAPTAIN FRANCIS NEWCOMBE leaned back in his chair, and laughed softly, insolently, contemptuously. “As I understand the indictment,” he said coolly,“it is to the effect that I left London for the purpose of coming here and stealing some money that I knew a madman had hidden. The evidence against me is from beginning to end purely circumstantial, and most of it is admittedly imaginative. The one ‘damning’ fact adduced is that I was seen coming from somewhere at three o’clock this
morning. This is a bit thick, Locke—coming ïröïft you!" His voice was beginning to lose its suavity. “You don't imagine, do you, that any such ‘ease’ as that would hold water for an instant in any court of law?”
"No,” said Locke quietly; ‘T know it wouldn’t. I quite agree with you there.”
Captain Francis New combe’s face for an instant held a look of puzzlement, as though he had not heard aright— then it stiffened into ugly menace.
“I think you need a lesson’” He spoke from between set lips. “This is no longer merely ridiculous, or absurd, or cracked-brained It is monstrous!”
“Again 1 agree with, you.” Locke’s voice was low now', rasping his words. “It is so monstrous that, strong as the circumstantial evidence against you is, I would not have been able to credit it had I not had a basis for belief that permitted of no denial. I know you for exactly what you are. 1 know that you are a criminal, that you are one by profession, that you have no other profession, that you are without conscience, inhuman, ruthless, a fiend who would do honor to hell itself."
“By Heavens!” Captain Francis Newcombe with livid face surged up from the chair to his feet.
But Locke's face. too. was white now' with passion, as with a sudden outflung hand he thrust the other away.
“I am not through yet,” he said. "Denial, any attitude of pretended righteous indignation, or any other attitude that may suggest itself to you as the best mask to adopt, is hardly worth your while when attempted with one who once very narrowly escaped being one of your victims with a man who once, because you feared he possessed the information that you know now he does possess, you tried to murder with cold-blooded deliberation.”
“You?” Captain Francis Newcombe, with head thrust forward, his eyes narrowed, searched every lineament of Locke’s face.
“Look well!” Locke spoke with scarcely^any movement of the lips, in a cold dead w'ay, without inflexion in his voice. “Look w'ell! It will do you tittle good. You never saw my face before. Shall I tell you where I first saw yours? It was in a thicket one night, anight during the great German offensive. There were four men there.
Three of them sat together with their backs against the trees: the other lay face down on the ground a little distance away. A stray shell burst nearby. One of the three, a Frenchman, called it a straggler. "Like us.’ you said. I am the fourth straggler."
Captain Francis Newcombe drew slightly back. He made no other movement. He said nothing. His eyes remained riveted on Locke's face.
"I was almost done in that night,” said Locke. “I'd had two days and two nights of it. I did not hear ail you said —w hat particular place it was. for instance, that had beer, robbed. I heard of the share that each of you had played in the affair.
I saw your faces. I heard the Frenchman. a self-admitted crook, hail you as a
greater than himself—yes, as a greater even than any criminal in all France. I heard you check him with your name on his lips. I heard him call your attention to my presence there. I heard you say you had not forgotten— and in a flare light I saw you with your rifle across your knees, its muzzle only a few feet away from my head. Then in the ensuing darkness I w'as lucky enough to be able to wriggle silently back a few yards in among the trees —and a second later I saw the flash of your rifle shot.”
Locke stopped. His lips w'ere dry. He touched them
with the tip of his tongue.
T ne two men stood eyeing each other. Neither moved.
Locate spoke again:
"As I crawled out of that thicket I swore that I would pay you for that shot if it took all my life to bring you to account. I did not know your name, I did not know
where you came from or where you lived; but I knew your face—and I was sure, as we are sometimes strangely sure of the future, that sometime, in some place, you and I would meet again. But it was four years before we did;
and in those four years, during which I have travelled a great deal on my father’s business, no man’s face, in a crowd, or merely in passing on the street, whether here or abroad, but that I searched in the hope that it might be yours. And then I saw you—in London—just a few days before we sailed. I followed you to your apartment and I saw the other two—Runnells, and the Frenchman, whose name I discovered was Paul Cremarre.
“I secured an introduction to you at your club, and I learned from you that you were sailing within a day or so on a certain ship. I told you I was sailing on the same ship. Within an hour after I had left you at the club, I did two things: I booked passage on that ship; and I engaged a man who was recommended to me as one of the best private detectives in England. With the knowledge that you were a criminal, it was only a question of a short time then before the detectives would unearth your re-
cord, or that you would be caught in some new venture ; and meanwhile, leaving him to work up your ‘history,’ I crossed with you, and suggested the yachting trip, as I did not intend to let you out of my sight until were were trapped. And I think, but for the fact that you have been told now, that would have been accomplished even more quickly than I had expected. At one of the stops that I purposely made on the way down the coast on the Talofa, I received a letter from the detective mailed in London the day after we sailed. He said that developments had been such that he was working in conjunction with Scotland Yard, and that he expected to be able to send me a very satisfactory report within a day or so.”
Captain Francis Newcombe took his cigarette case from his pocket for the second time— but now he calmly lighted a cigarette.
“And so,” he said smoothly, “just at the moment, when, after four long years, you are about to reap the fruits of your labor, you tell me to go. Where? Into the trap—waiting for me over there on the mainland?”
“No,” said Locke bitterly. “Where you will ; you and Runnells—and Paul Cremarre. We’ll have no more trouble from any of you here.” Captain Francis Newcombe paused suddenly in the act of lifting his cigarette to his lips.
“This Paul Cremarre you speak of,” he said, “what makes you think he is here?”
“Because I expected him to be here,” said Locke shortly^ “He was one of the three of you. He could not very well form part of your retinue as Runnells did. He would have to come separately. I know he is here because I saw a man wearing a mask last night. I have reason to know it was not you; and since I superintended packing Runnells’ baggage and have also seen Runnells himself, I know— for reasons that need not be explained—that it was not Runnells.”
“I see,” said Captain Francis Newcombe. “So it must have been this Paul Cremarre— since the three would be here together. I regret that I was not fortunate enough to have the advantage of your viewpoint, even though you honor me with the credit of having arranged all these little details. And so, at the moment of your supreme success we are to go—we three. May I ask why this change of heart?”
OWARD LOCKE reached into his pocket and took out a faded envelope that was torn at one end.
“These,” he said, his voice rasping hoarsely again, “are Polly’s papers—her birth certificate, the marriage certificate of her parents— the proof of perhaps the,most contemptible and scoundrelly crime you have ever committed; I say ‘perhaps’ because there may be lower depths of beastliness and inhumanity of which only a mind such as yours could conceive. You know where these papers were found. Besides using Polly as your cat’s-paw and your tool, making her innocence serve your vile ends, you robbed her of her claim to even honest parentage!” His face had grown white to the lips, his voice was almost out of control. “Arid yet it is Polly—Polly Gray—who is saving you now! I have no change of heart. I never, even on that night in the thicket, wanted to square my account with you as I do now.
“But for Polly’s sake I cannot do it. Ï love her more than I hate you. I want to save her from the sorrow and distress she would suffer if she knew the truth of what has happened there; and above all I want to save her from the misery and shame of having her name publicly connected with yours were you brought as a common criminal to stand in the dock. And so you are going—where I do not know. Not London, or anywhere else, as Captain Francis Newcombe any more—for you would no longer dare to do that with the police at last hot on the investigation of your career. But you are going out of her life never to contaminate it again. And this is the bargain that. I make with you—that she shall never hear from you again. I compound no felony with you, I have no power to hold you; even were I an officer of the law, without specific evidence of a specific crime. That such evidence will inevitably be forthcoming is certain, but for the moment there is no warrant for your arrest. You will make the excuse for your departure as I have suggested—and later on a brief notice of the death of Captain Francis Newcombe in some distant place will account for your continued silence, and remove you out of her life.”
Captain Francis Newcombe blew a smoke ring in the air and watched it meditatively.
“Excellent!” he murmured. “And if I refuse? To save Polly you would have to call your bloodhounds off.”
“It is too late fpr that,” said Locke sternly. “And even if it were not, it would be better that Polly should suffer
e ven the shame of publicity than that you should remain in any way in touch with her life.”
“I see!” murmured Captain Francis Newcombe again. “But with exposure as inevitable as you say it is, it is too bad that Polly should—er—nevertheless suffer her share of this shameful publicity whether I go or not.”
“You fence well,” said Locke with a grim smile. “Scotland Yard sooner or later will know, but they will not make public what they know until they have laid hands upon their man. It is your freedom that is at stake. I told you I did not think you would venture to return to London.”
“Locke,” said Captain Francis Newcombe softly, “permit me to return the compliment—but also with reservations. You are clever—but having overlooked one little detail, as so often happens even t5 the cleverest of us all, your scheme as regards keeping Polly in ignorance of my unworthiness falls to the ground. That envelope you hold in your hand—I was wondering—it simply occurred to me how Polly was to be informed that—er—her name is —I think you said—Gray.”
“I had hot overlooked it,” Locke answered evenly. “Polly’s parentage is a matter that precedes your entry into her life by many years; it is a matter that is logically within the knowledge of this Mrs. Wickes. I shall cable London to-day. There will be means of securing Mrs. Wickes’ confession on this point. These papers will come from her.Y
“Ah, yes!” said Captain Francis Newcombe gently. “Quite so! Perhaps, after all, I am the one who overlooked detail. But if by any chance this Mrs. Wickes could not be found—what then?”
Locke studied the other’s face. It was impassive; no, not quite that—there was something that lurked around the corners of the man’s mouth—-like a hint of mockery.
“In that case,” he said steadily, “I should have done my best to save her from the knowledge of what you are, for I should have to tell her; but meanwhile you will have gone from here, and, as I have already said, she will be saved the brutal notoriety that would attach to her wherever she went, and until she died mar her. life, if Captain Francis Newcombe’s ‘case’ were blazoned abroad from the criminal courts of England—and that, in the last analysis, is what really matters.” He thrust the envelope abruptly back into his pocket, and as abruptly took out his watch and looked at it. “I do not want to detain the boat. You know where to find Paul Cremarre. Get him, and take him with you. Your baggage has been searched —so has Runnells’. I do not for a moment think you found that which specifically brought you to this house. I doubt, indeed, now that Mr. Marlin is dead, if it ever will be found by anybody. But in so far as you are concerned, assurance will be made doubly sure —the three of you will be subjected to a personal search before you are landed on the other side.” He snapped his watch back into his pocket. “Shall I find out if Miss Marlin is able to see you?”
p APT AIN FRANCIS NEWCOMBE examined the ^ glowing tip of his cigarette with every appearance of nonchalance—but the brain of the man was seething in a fury of action. He was beaten—in so far as the
existence, the entity of a character known as Captain Francis Newcombe was concerned—he was beaten. . . .This cursed, meddling fool had beaten him. . Damn that shot that he had missed in the darkness. . He could not draw his revolver and fire another and kill this man—not now. . . .To do that
here would be suicide.....And, besides,
there was still half a million dollars. . Quite a
sop!. . Mrs. Wickes didn’t count one way or
the other—but Paul Cremarre—that was
awkward. '. The island must be left in quiet
and repose in so far as anything pertaining
to the attempted robbery was concerned—an
incident that with his departure was closed
. Paul Cremarre must be accounted for... .
Well, the truth was probably the safest, since
denial would only result in a search for a
third man that Locke knew had been here
.... That Locke should think that Paul
Cremarre had come here as part of the pre-
arranged plan was-probably all the better...
It left no lingering doubts....
He looked up—his eyes cold and steady on Locke.
“I regret, I shall always regret, that I missed that shot,” he said deliberately; “but for whatever satisfaction it will bring you, I admit now that you have beaten me. I agree to your terms. I will go; so will Runnells— but I can’t take Paul Cremarre. Paul Cremarre is dead. He died this morning. A rather horrible death. I found him on the shore a little way from the water’s edge, his clothes in ribbons—in fact, one of his coat sleeves was completely torn away and—
“The man I was looking for had a white shirt sleeve,” said Locke quietly.
“Well, your search is ended then, if that will give you any further satisfaction,” said Captain Francis Newcombe gruffly. “His white shirt sleeve was the least of it. His face and throat were covered with round, purplish blotches and the man was absolutely mangled. He had the appearance of having been crushed—as they say a python crushes a victim in its folds. And, damn it, that’s not far from what happened! How he had first come into contact with the monster I don’t know, but he had been in a fight with a gigantic octopus, and had evidently just managed crawl ashore out of the thing’s reach temporarily, and had died there.” Captain Francis Newcombe laughed unpleasantly. “The reason I know this is because I saw the creature—the tide was higher, of course, when I found the body—come back and carry off its prey. You will pardon me, perhaps, if I do not describe it in detail. It— —er—wasn’t nice.”
Locke stared at the other for a moment.
“That’s a rather strange story,” he said slowly. “But I can’t see where it would do you any good to lie now.”
Captain Francis Newcombe helped himself to another cigarette, lighted it, and suddenly flung a mocking laugh at Locke.
“No,” he said, “I’m afraid that’s the trouble—it wouldn’t do me any good to lie now. And so I might as well tell you, too, that there’s no use sending that cable to London about Mrs. Wickes, either. Mrs. Wickes is also dead. For reasons best known to myself, I did not choose to tell Polly about the woman’s death, so I fear now that, lacking that estimable old hag’s co-operation in the resurrection of those papers, you will have to resort to telling Polly, after all, a little something about her cherished guardian. However, Locke, on the main count, that of notoriety, if it depends upon Scotland Yard ever getting their man, I think I can give you my personal guarantee that she will never be—”
He stopped, and whirled sharply around.
One half of the French window was swaying inward.
With a low cry, Locke sprang past the other.
“Polly!” he cried.
Stæ was clutching at the edge of the door, her form drooping lower and lower as though her support were evading her and she could not keep pace with its escape, her face a deathly white, her eyes half closed.
Locke caught her as she fell, gathered her in his arms and carried her to a couch. She had fainted. As he looked hurriedly around for some means of reviving her, Captain Francis Newcombe spoke at his elbow.
“Permit me,” said Captain Francis Newcombe. He was proffering the water in a flower vase from which he had thrown out the flowers.
Mechanically Locke took it, and began to sprinkle the girl’s face.
tt Too bad!” said Captain Francis Newcombe pleasantly.
■®r hardly necessary, I fancy, for me to explain my sudden departure for England to her—what? I’ll say au revoir, Locke—merely au revoir. We may meet again. Who knows—in another four years! And I’ll leave you to make my adieus to Miss Marlin.”
Locke made no reply.
The door closed. Captain Francis Newcombe was gone.
DOLLY stirred now on the couch. Her eyes opened, rested for an instant on Locke’s, then circled the room in a strange, quick, fascinated way, as though fearful of what she might see yet still impelled to look.,
“H e’s—h e ’ s gone?” she whispered.
“Yes,” Locke answered softly. “Don’t try to talk, Polly.”
She shook her head. A smile came, bravely forced.
“I—I saw him from upstairs—on the lawn coming ward the house,” she said. “After a little while when did not come in, I went down to find him. I did not him anywhere, and—and I walked along the verandah, and I heard your voices in here—-heard something were saying. I—I was close to the door then—and— somehow I—I couldn’t move—and—I wanted to cry —and I couldn’t. And—and I heard—all. And then I myself swaying against the window, and somehow gave way and—and—”
She turned her face away and buried it in her hands.
Something subconscious in Locke’s mind seemed to at work. He was staring at the French window. It had given way. It hadn’t any socket for the bolt at top bottom. Strange it should have been that window! brushed his hand across his eyes.
“Polly,” he said tenderly, and, kneeling, drew her him until her head lay upon his shoulder.
And then her tears came.
And neither spoke.
But her hand had crept into his and held it tightly, like that of a tired and weary child who had lost its way—and found it again.
The Time-Lock of the Sea
T OW tide at three-fifteen! Captain Francis Newcombe, in the stern of a small motor boat, drew his flashlight from his pocket and consulted his watch. Five minutes after two. He nodded his head in satisfaction. Just right! And the night was just right—just cloudy enough to make of the moonlight an ally rather than foe. It disclosed the island there looming up ahead now perhaps a mile away; it would not disclose so diminutive a thing as this little motor boat out here on the water creeping in toward the shore.
The boat was barely large enough to accommodate the baggage, piled forward, and still leave room for Runnells and himself. Also the boat leaked abominably; also the engine, not only decrepit but in bad repair, was troublesome and spiteful. Captain Francis Newcombe shrugged his shoulders. The engine was Runnells’ look-out; that was why, as a matter of fact, Runnells was here at all. As for the rest, what did it matter? The boat had been bought for the proverbial song over there on the mainland, and was good enough to serve its present purpose.
Again he changed his position, but his eyes narrowed now as they fixed on Runnells’ back. Runnells sat amidships where he could both nurse the engine and manipulate the little steering wheel at his side. Runnells was necessary evil, he, Newcombe, did not know how to run the engine. Therefore he had been obliged to bring Runnells along, and therefore Runnells would participate after all in the old fool’s half million—temporarily. Afterwards—well, there were so many things that might happen when Runnells had lost his present usefulness!
Runnells spoke now abruptly.
“It’s pretty hard to make out anything ashore,” he said; “but if we’ve hit it right, we ought to be just about heading for a little above the boathouse. Can you pick up anything?”
“Nothing but the outline of the island against the sky,” Captain Francis Newcombe answered. “We’re too far out yet.”
Runnells’ sequence of thought was obviously irrelevant and disconnected.
“The blinking swine!” he muttered savagely. “Stripped the pelt and searched, I was—and you, too! And kicked ashore like a dog! Gawd, it’s too bad they ain’t going to know they’ll have had the trick turned on ’em, after all! I’d give a good bit of my share to see Locke’s face if he knew. He wouldn’t think himself such a wily bird maybe!”
“You’re a bit of a fool, Runnells,” said Captain Francis Newcombe shortly.
HIS train of thought had been interrupted. Runnells
rlftH Ql 1 CT erne for! on AtVior_T /v ^ ^ ^
Newcombe’s hands clenched suddenly, fiercely in the darkness. Locke! Someday, somewhere—but not now; not until the days and months, yes even years, if necessary, were past and gone, and Locke had forgotten Captain Francis Newcombe, and Scotland Yard had forgotten—he w ould meet Locke again. And when that time came there would be no ammunition wasted as there had been in that damned thicket that night! Locke! The fool doubtless thought that he had been completely mas-
ter of the situation and of Captain Francis Newcombe— even to the extent of obliterating Captain Francis Newcombe. Well, perhaps he had! It was. quite true that the clubs of London, and, yes. for instance, the charming old Earl of Cloverley, would know Captain Francis Newcombe no more—but Shadow Varne • still lived, and Shadow/
Continued on page 53
Continued from page 31
Varne, with half a million dollars, even in'a new environment, wherever it might be, did not present so drear and uninviting a prospect. Ha, ha! Locke! Locke could wait—that was a pleasure the future held in store! What counted now, the only thing that counted, was getting the money actually into his possession—that, and the assurances that the trail wás smothered and lost behind him. Well, the former was only a matter of, say, an hour or so at the most now; and the latter left nothing to be desired, did it?
He smiled with cool, ironic complacency. Locke, having in mind Scotland Yard, would expect him to disappear as effectually and as rapidly as possible. Locke ought not to be disappointed! He had disappeared; he and. Runnells—and, equally important, their luggage. One was sometimes too easily traced by luggage,— especially with that infernally efficient checking system employed on the railroads here in America! It had been rather simple. When Runnells and the luggage and himself had all been dumped with equal lack of ceremony on a wharf over there on the mainland, he had had some of the negroes that were loitering around carry the luggage into a sort of storage shed that was on the dock, and, merely saying that he would send for his things, he and Runnells had unostentatiously allowed themselves to be swallowed up by the city. And then they had separated. The rest had been a matter of detail— detail in which Runnells, with the experience of years, was particularly efficient. A purchase here, a purchase there—quite innocent purchases in themselves—and later on a man, not two men, but one man, a man who did not at all look like Runnells, seeing the chance of picking up a bargain in a second-hand motor boat somewhere along the waterfront had bought it and gone away with it. Later on again, but not until after nightfall, not until nine o’clock in fact, he, Captain Francis Newcombe, had “sent” for the luggage —by"the very simple expedient of forcing an entry into the shed and loading it into the motor boat that Runnells had brought alongside the dock. Thereafter, Runnells, the luggage and himself had disappeared. :Surely Locke ought to be quite satisfied—
he, Captain Francis Newcombe, was doing his best to guarantee Polly against any unseemly publicity in connection with Scotland Yard! And he would continue to do so! With any kind of luck, he would be away from the island here again long before daylight; then say, a few nights’ cruising along the coast, laying up by day, and then, as circumstances dictated, by railroad, or whatever means were safest, a final—
WITH a smothered oath, Captain Francis Newcombe snatched at the gunwale of the boat fur support, as he was thrown suddenly forward from his seat. The boat seemed to stagger and recoil as from some vicious blow that had been dealt it, and then, as he recovered his balance, it surged forward again with an ugly, rending, tearing sound along the bottom planks, rocking violently—then an even keel again—and silence.
Runnells had stopped the engine.
“My Gawd,” Runnells cried out wildly, “we’ve gone and done it!”
Captain Francis Newcombe was on his feet peering through the darkness to where Runnells, who after stopping the engine had sprung forward from his seat, was now groping around beneath the pile of luggage.
“A reef, eh?” said Captain Francis Newcombe coolly. “Well, we got over it. We’re in deep water again. Carry on!” Runnells’ voice came back full of fear. “We’re done, we are,” he mumbled. “I stopped the engine the minute she hit, but she had too much way on her—that’s what carried her over. She’s bashed a hole in her the size of your head. She won’t float five minutes.”
“Start her ahead again, then!” Captain Francis Newcombe’s voice snapped now.
“It won’t do any good,” Runnells anwered, as he stumbled back to his former place.. “She won’t anywhere near make the shore—it’s half a mile at least.”
“Quite so!” said Captain Francis Newcombe. “But, in that case, we won’t have so far to swim!”
The engine started up again.
“It ain’t as though we didn’t know
there was reefs”-Runnells was stuttering his words—“only we’d figured with our light draft we wouldn’t any more than scrape one anyhow, and it wouldn’t do us any harm. But she’s rotten, that’s what she is plain rotten and putty! And we must have hit a sharp ledge of rock. Gawd, we’ve got a foot of water in us now!”
“Yes,” said Captain Francis Newcombe calmly. “Well, don’t blubber about it! We’ll get ashore—and we’ll get away again. There’s half a dozen skiffs and things of that sort stowed away in the boathouse that are never used now. One of them will never be missed, and we can at least get far enough away from the island by daybreak not to be seen, and eventually we’ll make the other side even if it is a bit of a row.”
“Row!” ejaculated Runnells.
“Yes,” said Captain Francis Newcombe curtly. “Why not— since we have to? We can’t steal a motor boat whose loss would be discovered, can we?”
“My Gawd!” said Runnells.
THE water was sloshing around Captain Francis New combe’s feet; the boat had already grown noticeably sluggish in its movement. He cast an appraising eye toward the land. It. was almost impossible to judge the distance. Runnells had said half a mile a few minutes ago. Call it a quarter of a mile now. But Runnells was quite right in one respect, it was certain now that the boat would scuttle before the shore was reached.
“How far can you swim, Runnells?” he demanded abruptly.
“It ain’t that,” choked Runnells. “I can swim all right; it’s—”
“It was just a matter of whether your body would be washed up on the shore, which would be equally as bad as though the boat stranded there for the edification of our friend Locke,” drawled Captain Francis Newcombe. “But since you can swim that far, and since the boat’s got to sink, let her sink here in deep water where she won’t keep anybody awake at night wondering about her—or us. Stop the engine again!”
“Butthe luggage,” said Runnells, “I—” “It will sink out of sight quite readily, but run a rope through the handles and lash the stuff to the boat so it won’t drift ashore—yes, and anything else that’s loose!” said Captain Francis Newcombe tersely. “I can’t swim a quarter of a mile with portmanteaus! Stop the engine!” “Strike me pink!” said Runnells faintly, as he obeyed and again stumbled forward to the luggage.
Captain Francis Newcombe sat down and began to unlace his boots. The water was nearly level with the bottom of the seat.
“Hurry up, Runnells!” he called.
“It’s all right,” said Runnells after a moment.
“Take your boots off then, and sling them around your neck,” ordered Captain Francis Newcombe.
“Yes,” said Runnells.
Captain Francis Newcombe stood up and divested himself of a light raincoat he had been wearing. From the skirt of the garment he ripped off a generous portion, and, taking out his revolver and flashlight, wrapped them around and around with the waterproof cloth. The coat itself he thrust into an already waterfilled locker under the seat where it could not float away.
“Ready, Runnells?” he inquired.
“Yes,” said Runnells.
“Come on, then,” said Captain Francis Newcombe.
The gunwale was awash as he struck out. A dozen strokes away, as he looked back, the boat had disappeared. He cursed sullenly under his breath—then laughed defiantly. It would take more than that to beat Shadow Varne.
Runnells swam steadily at his side. Presently they stepped out on the shore. Captain Francis Newcombe stared up and down the beach, as he seated himself on the sand and began to pull on his boots.
“We’rea bitoff our bearings, Runnells,” he said. “I couldn’t see any sign of the boathouse even when I was swimming in. And I can’t see it now. Which way do you think it is?”
Runnells was also struggling with his wet boots.
“We’re too far up,” he answered. “I thought I had it about right, but I figured that if I didn’t quite hit it, it would be
safer to be on this side than on the other so we wouldn’t have to pass either the wharf or the house in getting to it.”
“Good!” commented Captain Francis Neweombe. “We’ll walk back that way, then.”
THEY started on along the beach. For perhaps half a mile they walked in silence, and then, rounding a little point, the boathouse came into view a short distance ahead. A moment later they passed in under the overhang of the verandah. ''
And then Runnells snarled suddenly. Captain Francis Neweombe was unwrapping his flashlight. The faint, stray rays of moonlight that managed to penetrate the place did little more than accomplish the creation of innumerable black shadows of grotesque shapes.
“What’s the matter?” he demanded. “The damned place in under here gives me the creeps after last night,” Runnells growled.
“It’s not exactly pleasant,” admitted Captain Francis Neweombe casually.
“You’re bloody well right, it ain’t!” agreed , Runnells fervently. And then sharply, as the ray from the flashlight in Captain Francis Newcombe’s hand streamed out: “That’s where he lay last night, only the water’s farther out now. It’s blasted queer the thingnever tackled the old madman in all this time.”
“On the contrary,” said Captain Francis Neweombe, “it would rather indicate that the brute was a transient visitor.”
“Then I hope to Gawd,” mumbled Runnells, “that it didn’t like the quarters well enough to stick them for another night.”
“I agree with you,” laughed Captain Francis Neweombe coolly; “but, as it happens, it’s low tide now and the water is out beyond where we are going—which may offer an alternative solution to old Marlin’s escape. However, Runnells, that’s not what we are looking for—we’re looking for a keyhole.”
He led the way forward, his flashlight playing on the big central concrete pier, some eight feet square, in front of him. He was chuckling quietly to himself. It being established that the old maniac’s hiding place was here under the boathouse, a hiding place that was opened by a key, and that, except at low tide, was inaccessible, the precise location of that hiding place became obvious even to a child. The row of little piers that supported the structure at the sides and front were all individually too small to be hollow—and there was absolutely nothing else here except the big center support.
With Runnells beside him now, he began to examine this center pier under the ray of his flashlight. He walked once completely around it, making a quick, preliminary examination. The pier was some six or seven feet in height, and the concrete_ construction was reinforced with massive iron bands placed both horizontally and transversely between two and three feet apart, the small squares thus formed giving a sort of checkerboard effect to the mass. The lower portion was green with sea-slime. There was no apparent evidence of any opening.
Rut Captain Francis Neweombe had not expected that there would be.
“Look for a little hole, Runnells,” he said. ‘ ‘Anything, for instance, that might appear to be no more than a fault in the concrete. And look particularly above high water mark. The opening is below because the old man could only get in at low tide; but the keyhole is more likely to be above out of the reach of the water because it must be watertight inside.” “Yes,” said Runnells.
THEY made a second circuit of the pier, but carefully now, searching minutely over every inch of surface. It took a long time—a very long time—a quarter of an hour—a half hour—more.
And still there was no sign of either keyhole or opening.
“Strike me pink!” grumbled Runnells. “It looks like it was stickingto us to-night. This is what I calls rotten luck!”
“And I was thinking that it was excellent—even beyond expectations, Runnells,” said Captain Francis Neweombe smoothly. “The old man. has done his work so well that it is certain no one would stumble on it. Therefore, when we get away, we do so with the absolute knowledge that an empty hiding place will never be discovered. You follow that,
don’t you, Runnells? No one except you and I will know that the money was ever found—or taken.”
“Yes,” said Runnells gruffly; “but we ain’t got it yet. And we must have been at it a good hour already—and the tide’s coming back in now.”
“Quite so!” said Captain Francis New' combe evenly. “But if we don’t get it tonight, there is to-morrow night—and the night after that again. There are always the woods, and your ability as a thief guarantees us plenty to eat. Meanwhile, we’ll stick to this side here fronting the sea—it’s the logical place—one couldn’t be seen even from under the verandah back there. Go over every bit of the iron work now.”
Another quarter of an hour passed in silence—save for the lap of the water that, with the tide on the turn now, had crept up almost to the base of the pier. The flashlight moved slowly up and down and to right and left as the two men crouched there, bent forward, their fingers, augmenting the sense of sight, feeling over the surface of the cement and iron that here was barnacle-coated, and there covered with festoons of the green slime.
“It’s no good!” said Runnells pessimistically at last. “Let’s try around on another side, and get out of the water—I’m standing in it now.”
“It’s here—and nowhere else,” said Captain Francis Neweombe doggedly. “And, furthermore, I’m certain it’s one of these squares inside the intersecting pieces of iron. It would be just big enough to allow a man to crawl in and out—and not too big or too heavy for one man to handle alone. It can’t be anything else. Whatever’s here the old man made himself—no one helped him, understand, Runnells? His secret wouldn’t be worth anything in that case. Go on—hunt!”
But Runnells, instead, had suddenly straightened up.
“I thought I heard something out there like—like a low splashing,” he said tersely.
CAPTAIN FRANCIS NEWCOMBE paid no heed. He was laughing, low, jubilantly, triumphantly.
“I’ve got it, Runnells!” he cried. “Here’s a bit of the iron down here that moves to one side—just a little piece. Look! And the keyhole underneath! I was wrong about the keyhole being above high water—it isn’t, or anywhere near it —but we’ll see how the contrivance works.” He thrust his hand into his pocket, brought out the bronze key, fitted it quickly into the keyhole, and turned it. A faint click answered him. “Push, Runnells, on that square just above the water—it’s bound to swing inward—these iron strips hide the joints.”
But he did not wait for Runnells to obey his injunction. He snatched the key out of the lock again, and even as he saw the piece of iron swing back into place covering the keyhole, he was pushing against the concrete slab himself. It swung back and inward from its upper edge with a sort of oscillating movement. His flashlight bored into the opening. Clever! The old maniac had had the cunning of—-a maniac! It was quite clear. Old Marlin had cut away the square and fitted it with a new block—yes, he could see—the interior would, of course, have been flooded at high water while the old madman was preparing the new block, but that made no difference—the place would always empty itself at low tide again because the flooring, or base, in there was on the same level as the lower edge of the opening—and it would be when it was empty of water, naturally, that the new block would be fitted into place—and thereafter it would remain empty.
He was crawling through the opening now—the weight of the swinging block causing it to press against his shoulders, but giving way easily before his advance. There was just room to sqeeze through. Very ingenious! The wallswere a good foot to a foot and a half thick. The lock-bar worked through the side of pier wall into the middle of the edge of the movable block so no water could get in that way; and the block when closed fitted in a series of gaskets against the inside of the iron bands that reinforced the outside of the pier, which latter, overlapping the edges of the block, hid any indication of an entrance from view. It must have taken the old fool weeks! Again Captain Francis Neweombe laughed. His head and shoulders were through now,
and, with his flashlight ray flooding the interior, he could see that—
A cry, sudden, wild, terror-stricken, from Runnells reached him.
“Quick!” Runnells cried frantically. "For the love of Gawd make room for me
the thing's here! Quick! Quick! Let me get in!”
The thing! In a flash Captain Francis Newcombe wriggled the rest of his body through the opening, and, holding back the movable block, sent his flashlight streaming out through the opening. It lighted up Runnells’ face, contorted with fear, ashen to the lips, as the man came plunging along; and out beyond, it played on a waving, sinuous tentacle, another and another, groping, snatching, feeling—and from out of the midst of these a revolting pair of eyes, and a beak, horny, monstrous, in shape like a parrot’s beak.
With a gasp Runnells came through, sprawling on the floor.
The movable block swung back into place with a little click.
Captain Francis Newcombe shrugged his shoulders.
“A bit of a close shave, Runnells,” he said. “I fancy you’re right—last night’s brought the brute backagain. Rather a bore, too! Unless he moves off again, he’s got us penned up until low water.”.
“That’ll be twelve hours,” whimpered Runnells; “and it’ll be daylight then— and another twelve before we could get out when it’s dark.”
Captain Francis Newcombe shrugged his shoulders again. His flashlight was playing around him. The hollow space here inside the pier was perhaps six feet square, and solid concrete, top, bottom and sides. This fact he absorbed subconsciously, as he reached quickly out now to a little shelf that had been built out from one side of the wall. There was a half burned candle here and some matches, and, lying beside these, a package wrapped in oiled-silk. He struck a match, lighted the candle, switched off his flashlight, thrust it into his pocket, and snatched up the package. An instant more and he had unwrapped it.
AND unholy laughter came, and the soul of the man rocked with it. It rose and fell, hollow and muffled in the little space where there was scarcely room for the two men to move without jostling one another. The money! He had won! It was his! Locke—Paul Cremarre—Scotland Yard—ha ha! Well, they had pitted themselves against Shadow Varne—and Shadow Varne had never yet failed to get what he went after, in spite of man, or God, or devil—and he had not failed now—and he never would fail!
He was tossing the bundles of bank notes from band to hand with boastful glee.
“This’ll buck you up a bit, Runnells!” be laughed. “You’ll be well paid for waiting even if it has to be until tomorrow night—eh, what?”
Runnells, on his feet now, a sudden red of avarice burning in bis cheeks, grabbed at one of the bundles, and began to fondle the notes with eager fingers.
“Gawd!” he croaked hoarsely. “Thousand-dollar notes! Strike me pink! Gawd!” Captain - Francis Newcombe was still laughing, but his eyes had narrowed now as, watching Runnells, there came a sudden thought. Would he need Runnells any more? There wasn’t any motor boat to run—but it was a long way in a rowboat for one man over to the mainland. Here in the old maniac’s hiding place— ideal—and a bit of irony in it too—delicious irony! Well, it did not require instant decision. Meanwhile it seemed to be strangely oppressive in here in the confined space.
“It’s stuffy in here, Runnells,” he said. “Pull that door, or block, or whatever you like to call it, back a crack and freshen the place up.”
The “door” was fitted with a light brass handle, similar to a handle used on a bureau drawer. Runnells stooped, still clutching a bundle of bank notes in one hand, and gave the handle a careless pull. The block did not move. He gave the handle a vicious tug then, but still with the same result. He dropped the bundle of bank notes, and used both hands. The block did not yield.
“I can’t move the damned thing,” he snarled. “It seemes to be locked.”
Captain Francis Newcombe’s voice was suddenly cold and hard.
“Try again!” he said. “Here, I’ll help
you! Take yoür coat off and run thé sleeve, the two of them if you can-, through the handle so we can both get hold.”
Both men pulled.
The handle broke away from its fastenings. The block did not move.
“It’s locked, I tell you,” panted Runnells. “Haven’t you got the key?”
“Yes,” said Captain Francis Newcombe quietly; “but there’s no hidden keyhole here. It’s locked from the outside—a spring lock. I remember now hearing it click. The old man would set it so that he could get out, of course, every time he entered. Wé didn’t.”
“Gawd!” said Runnells thickly. “What’re we going to do?”
Captain Francis Newcombe’s eyes studied the four walls and roof. He spoke more to himself than Runnells.
“Say, six by six by six,” he said. “Roughly, two hundred cubic feet. Watertight—hermetically sealed—no air except what’s in here now. One hundred cubic feet per man—short work—very short.”
“What do you mean?” whispered Runnells with whitening f a c e—a n d coughed.
“I mean that brute out there, if it still is out there, counts for nothing now,” said Captain Francis Newcombe steadily. “We could at least fight that—we can’t fight suffocation. I’d say a very few minutes, Runnells, before we’re groggy if we can’t get air—I don’t know how long the rest of it will take:”
RUNNELLS screamed. His face gray, beads of sweat suddenly spurting from his forehead, he flung himself against the cement “door,” clawing with his finger nails, where no finger nails could grip, around the edges of the block. And then in maniacal frenzy he attacked the wall with his pocketknife.
The blades broke.
Captain Francis Newcombe, with a queer, set smile, drew his revolver, and, holding the muzzle close to the wall, fired. The bullet made little impression. With the muzzle now held over the same spot he fired again.
And now he choked and coughed a little.
The acrid fumes helped to vitiate the air.
“You’re making it worse—my Gawd, you’re making it worse!” shrieked Runnells. “I can’t breath that stuff into me.”
“I prefer to be doing something, even if it’s pretty well a foregone conclusion that it’s useless—than sit on the floor and wait.” Captain Francis Newcombe answered. “A bullet probably hasn’t the ghost of a chance of going through—but if a bullet won’t, nothing that we have got to work with will.”
The lighted candle on the shelf began to flicker.
Captain Francis Newcombe fired again —once more—and yet still another shot.
Runnells moaned and staggered. He went to the floor, his fists beating at the wall until they bled.
Captain Francis Newcombe watched the candle.
The minutes passed.
The light grew dim.
Captain Francis Newcombe sat down on the floor.
A strange coughing, a mingling of choking sounds. '
The candle flickered and went out.
Captain Francis Newcombe spoke. There was something debonair in his voice in spite of its labored utterance:
“The house divided, Runnells. Do you remember that night in the thicket?”
There was no answer.
Again Captain Francis Newcombe spoke:
“I’ve saved two shots. Will you have one, Runnells? Suffocation’s a rotten way to go out.”
“No!” Runnells scfeamed. “No, no—my Gawd—no!”
Captain Francis Newcombe’s laugh was choked and gasping.
“You always were a stinking coward, Runnells,” he said. “‘Well, suit yourself.”
The tongue flame of a revolver lanced through the blackness.
Runnells screamed and screamed again. Sprawling on the floor, his hand fell upon the package of bank notes he had dropped there. He tore at them now in his raving, tore them to pieces, tore and tore and tore—and screamed.
But presently there was no sound in the old madman’s hiding place.
The tides are tongueless. They came and went, and kept their secret. In England, Scotland Yard sought diligently 'for the murderer of Sir Harris Greaves; and on a little island of the Florida Keys long seaich was made for a great sum of money that an old madman in his demented folly had hidden—but neither the one nor the other was ever found.