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THE CRUISE OF THE JASPER B. (chapter12)

2006-08-28 19:57

    CHAPTER XII

    THE SECOND OBLONG BOX

    When Cleggett returned to the ship he found Captain Abernethy in conversation with a young man of deprecating manner whom the Captain introduced as the Rev. Simeon Calthrop.

    "I been tellin' him," said the Cap'n, pitching his voice shrilly above the din the workmen made, and not giving the Rev. Mr. Calthrop an opportunity to speak for himself, "I been tellin' him it may be a long time before the Jasper B. gets to the Holy Land."

    "Do you want to go to Palestine?" asked Cleggett of Mr. Calthrop, who stood with downcast eyes and fingers that worked nervously at the lapels of his rusty black coat.

    "I've knowed him sence he was a boy. He's in disgrace, Simeon Calthrop is," shrieked the Captain, preventing the preacher from answering Cleggett's question, and scorning to answer it directly himself. "Been kicked out of his church fur kissin' a married woman, and can't get another one." (The Cap'n meant another church.)

    The preacher merely raised his eyes, which were large and brown and slightly protuberant, and murmured with a kind of brave humility:

    "It is true."

    "But why do you want to go to Palestine?" said Cleggett.

    "She sung in the choir and she had three children," screamed Cap'n Abernethy, "and she limped some. Folks say she had a cork foot. Hey, Simeon, DID she have a cork foot?"

    Mr. Calthrop flushed painfully, but he forced himself courageously to answer. "Mr. Abernethy, I do not know," he said humbly, and with the look of a stricken animal in his big brown eyes. He was a handsome young fellow of about thirty——or he would have been handsome, Cleggett thought, had he not been so emaciated. His hair was dark and brown and inclined to curl, his forehead was high and white and broad, and his fingers were long and white and slender; his nose was well modeled, but his lips were a trifle too full. Although he belonged to one of the evangelical denominations, the Rev. Mr. Calthrop affected clothing very like the regulation costume of the Episcopalian clergy; but this clothing was now worn and torn and dusty. Buttons were gone here and there; the knees of the unpressed trousers were baggy and beginning to be ragged, and the sole of one shoe flapped as he walked. He had a three days' growth of beard and no baggage.

    When Cap'n Abernethy had delivered himself and walked away, the Rev. Mr. Calthrop confirmed the story of his own disgrace, speaking in a low but clear voice, and with a gentle and wistful smile.

    "I am one of the most miserable of sinners, Mr. Cleggett," he said. "I have proved myself to be that most despicable thing, an unworthy minister. I was tempted and I fell."

    The Rev. Mr. Calthrop seemed to find the sort of satisfaction in confessing his sins to the world that the medieval flagellants found in scoring themselves with whips; they struck their bodies; he drew forth his soul and beat it publicly.

    Cleggett learned that he had set himself as a punishment and a mortification the task of obtaining his daily bread by the work of his hands. It was his intention to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, refusing all assistance except that which he earned by manual labor. After such a term of years as should satisfy all men (and particularly his own spiritual sense) of the genuineness of his penitence, he would apply to his church for reinstatement, and ask for an appointment to some difficult mission in a wild and savage country. The Rev. Mr. Calthrop intimated that if he chose to accept rehabilitation on less arduous terms, he might obtain it; but the poignancy of his own sense of failure drove him to extremes.

    "Are you sure," said Cleggett sternly, "that you are not making a luxury of this very penitence itself? Are you sure that it would not be more acceptable to Heaven if you forgave yourself more easily?"

    "Alas, yes, I am sure!" said Mr. Calthrop, with a sigh and his calm and wistful smile. "I know myself too well! I know my own soul. I am cursed with a fatal magnetism which women find it impossible to resist. And I am continually tempted to permit it to exert itself. This is the cross that I bear through life."

    "You should marry some good woman," said Cleggett.

    "I do not feel that I am worthy," said Mr. Calthrop meekly. "And think of the pain my wife would experience in seeing me continually tempted by some woman who believed herself to be my psychic affinity!"

    "You are a thought too subtle, Mr. Calthrop," said Cleggett bluntly. "But I suppose you cannot help that. To each of us his destiny. I am prepared, until I see some evidence to the contrary, to believe your repentance to be genuine. In the meantime, we need a ship's chaplain. If your conscience permits, you may have the post——combining it, however, with the vocation of a common sailor before the mast. I am inclined to agree with you that manual labor will do you good. Some time or another, in her progress around the world, the Jasper B. will undoubtedly touch at a coast within walking distance of Jerusalem. There we will put you ashore. Before we sail you can put in your time holystoning the deck.

    "The deck of the Jasper B., said Cleggett, looking at it, "to all appearances, has not been holystoned for some years. You will find in the forecastle several holystones that have never been used, and may begin at once."

    Cleggett, if his tastes had not inclined him towards a more active and adventurous life, would have made a good bishop, for he knew how to combine justice and mercy. And yet few bishops have possessed his rapidity of decision, when compelled, upon the spur of the moment, to become the physician of an ailing soul. He had determined in a flash to make the man ship's chaplain, that Calthrop might come into close contact with other spiritual organisms and not think too exclusively of his own.

    The Rev. Mr. Calthrop thanked him with becoming gratitude and departed to get the new holystones.

    By three o'clock that afternoon, with such celerity had the work gone forward, Mr. Watkins, the contractor, announced to Cleggett that his task was finished, except for the removal of the rubbish in the hold. Cleggett, going carefully over the vessel, and examining the new parts with a brochure on the construction and navigation of schooners in his hand, verified the statement.

    "She is ready to sail," said Cleggett, standing by the new wheel with a swelling heart, and sweeping the vessel from bowsprit to rudder with a gradual glance.

    It was a look almost paternal in its pride; Cleggett loved the Jasper B.

    She was an idea that no one else but Cleggett could have had.

    "Sail?" said Mr. Watkins.

    "Why not?" said Cleggett, puzzled at his tone.

    "Oh, nothing," said Mr. Watkins. "It's none of my business. My

    business was to do the work I was hired to do according to specifications.

    Further than that, nothing."

    "But why did you think I was having the work done?"

    "Can't say I thought," said Mr. Watkins. "I took the job, and I done it.

    Had an idea mebby you were in the movin' picture game."

    Mr. Watkins, as he talked, had been regarding Cap'n Abernethy, who in turn was looking at the mainmast. There seemed to be something in the very way Cap'n Abernethy looked at the mainmast which jarred on Mr. Watkins. Mr. Watkins dropped his voice, indicating the Cap'n with a curved, disparaging thumb, as he asked Cleggett:

    "Is HE going to sail her?"

    "Why not?"

    "Oh——nothing; nothing at all," said Mr. Watkins. "It's none o' MY business."

    Cleggett began to be a little annoyed. "Have you," he said with dignity, and fixing a rather stern glance upon Mr. Watkins, "have you any reason to doubt Cap'n Abernethy's ability as a sailing master?"

    "No, indeed," said Mr. Watkins cheerfully, "not as a sailing master. He may be the best in the world, for all I know. _I_ never seen him sail anything. I never heard him play the violin, neither, for that matter, and he may be a regular jim-dandy on the violin for all I know."

    "You are facetious," said Cleggett stiffly.

    "Meaning I ain't paid to be fresh, eh?" said Mr. Watkins. "And right you are, too. And there's all that junk down in the hold to pass out and cart away."

    Cleggett personally supervised this removal, standing on the deck by the hatchway and scanning everything that was handed up. The character of this junk has already been described. Every barrel or cask that was placed upon the deck was stove in with an ax before Cleggett's eyes; he satisfied himself that every bottle was empty; he turned over the broken boxes and beer cases with his foot to see that they contained nothing.

    But the work was three-quarters done before he found what he was looking for. From under a heap of debris, which had completely hidden it, towards the forward part of the vessel, the workmen unearthed an unpainted oblong box, almost seven feet in length. It was of substantial material and looked newer than any of the other stuff. Cleggett had it placed on one side of the hatchway and sat down on it. It was tightly nailed up; all of its surfaces were sound. Cleggett did not doubt that he would find in it what he wanted, yet in order to be on the safe side he continued to scrutinize everything else that came out of the hold.

    But finally the hold was as empty as a drum, and Watkins and his men departed. The oblong box upon which Cleggett sat was the only possible receptacle of any sort in an undamaged condition, which had been in the hold. He determined to have it opened in the cabin.

    As he arose from it he was struck by its resemblance to the box in Elmer's charge, the dank box of Reginald Maltravers, which stood on one end near the cabin companionway, leaning against the port side of the cabin so that it was not visible from the road, which ran to the starboard of the Jasper B. But, since all oblong boxes are bound to have a general resemblance, Cleggett, at the time, thought little enough of this likeness.

    He called to George and Mr. Calthrop, who, with Dr. Farnsworth, were forward receiving their first lecture on seamanship from Cap'n Abernethy and Kuroki, to carry the box into the cabin.

    But as George and the Rev. Mr. Calthrop lifted the box to their shoulders, Cleggett was startled by a loud and violent oath; a veritable bellow of blasphemy that made him shudder. Turning, he saw than an automobile had paused in the road. In the forward part of the machine stood Loge, raving in an almost demoniac fury and pointing at the box. He writhed in the grip of three men who endeavored to restrain him. One of them was the sinister Pierre.

    Hoisting himself, as it were, on a mounting billow of his own profanity, Loge cast himself with a wide swimming motion of his arms from the auto. But one of the men clung to him; they came to the ground together like tackler and tackled in a football game. The others cast themselves out of the machine and flung themselves upon their leader; he fought like a lion, but he was finally overpowered and thrown back into the auto, which was immediately started up and which made off towards Fairport at a rattling speed. Three hundred yards away, however, Loge rose again and shook a furious fist at the Jasper B., and though Cleggett could not distinguish the words, the sense of Loge's impotent rage rolled towards him on the wind in a roaring, vibrant bass.

    The sight of the box that he had not been able to buy, in Cleggett's possession, had stirred him beyond all caution; he had actually contemplated an attempt to rush the Jasper B. in broad daylight.

    But while this queer tableau of baffled rage was enacting itself on the starboard bow of the Jasper B., a no less strange and far less explicable thing was occurring on the port side. The swish of oars and the ripple of a moving boat drew Cleggett's attention in that direction as Loge's booming threats grew fainter. He saw that two oarsmen, near the eastern and farther side of the canal, had allowed the dainty, varnished little craft they were supposed to propel to come to a rest in spite of the evident displeasure of a man who sat in its stern. This third man was the same that Cleggett had seen on the deck of the Annabel Lee with a spy glass, and again that same morning driving the two almost nude figures up and down the canal.

    The two oarsmen, Cleggett saw with surprise, rowed with shackled feet; their feet were, indeed, chained to the boat itself. About the wrists of each were steel bands; fixed to these bands were chains, the other ends of which were locked to their oars. They were, in effect, galley slaves.

    All this iron somewhat hampered their movements. But the reason of their pause was an engrossing interest in the box of Reginald Maltravers, which stood, as has already been said, on the port side of the cabin, on one end, and so was visible from their boat. They were looking at it with slack oars, dropped jaws and starting eyes; the thing seemed to have fascinated them and bereft them of motion; it was as if they were unable to get past it at all. Elmer, worn out by his many long vigils, lay asleep on the deck at the foot of the box, with an arm flung over his face.

    The stout man, after vainly endeavoring to start his oarsmen with words, took up an extra oar and began vigorously prodding them with it. Cleggett had not seen this man look towards the Jasper B., but he nevertheless had the feeling that the man had missed little of what had been going on there. He seemed to be that kind of man.

    His crew responding to the stabs of the oar, the little vessel went perhaps fifty yards farther up the canal towards Parker's, and then swung daintily around and came back towards the Jasper B. at almost the speed of a racing shell, the men in chains bending doggedly to their work. Cleggett saw that the boat must pass close to the Jasper B., and leaned over the port rail.

    The man in the stern had picked up a magazine and was lolling back reading it. As the boat passed under him Cleggett saw on the cover page of the magazine a picture of the very man who was perusing it. It was a singularly urbane face; both the counterfeit presentment on the cover page and the real face were smiling and calm and benign. Cleggett could read the legend on the magazine cover accompanying the picture. It ran:

    Wilton Barnstable Tells In this Issue the Inside Story of How he Broke up the Gigantic Smuggling Conspiracy.

    At that instant the man dropped the magazine and looked Cleggett full in the face. He waved his arm in a meaning gesture in the direction in which Loge had disappeared and said, with a gentle shake of his head at Cleggett, as if he were chiding a naughty child:

    "When thieves fall out——! When thieves fall out, my dear sir!"

    As he swept by he resumed his magazine with the pleased air of a man who has delivered himself of a brilliant epigram; it showed in his very shoulders.

    "And that," murmured Cleggett, "is Wilton Barnstable, the great detective!"

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