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THE CRUISE OF THE JASPER B. (chapter9)

2006-08-28 19:57

    CHAPTER IX

    MYSTERIES MULTIPLY

    Directing Kuroki to remove the ring and bring it along, Cleggett gave his arm to Lady Agatha and led the way back to the Jasper B. Neither said anything to the point until, seated in the cabin, with the twenty-dollar bill and the ring before them, Cleggett picked up the latter and remarked:

    "You are certain of the identity of this ring?"

    "Certain," she said. "I could not mistake it. There is no other like it, anywhere."

    It was a very heavy gold band, set with a large piece of dark green jade which was deeply graven on its surface with the Claiborne crest.

    "Was it," asked Cleggett, "in the possession of Reginald Maltravers?"

    "It might have been, readily enough," she said, "although I had not known that it was. Still, that does not explain. . . ." She shrugged her shoulders.

    "There are a number of things unexplained," answered Cleggett, "and the presence of this ring, and the manner in which it has come into our possession, are not the most mysterious of them. The explosion itself appears to me, just now, at least, hard to account for."

    "The manner in which people get into and out of the hold of your vessel is also obscure," said Lady Agatha.

    "Nor is the motive of their hostility clear," said Cleggett.

    He picked up the piece of paper money. Something about the feel of it aroused his suspicions. He called Elmer, and when that exponent of reform entered the cabin, asked him bluntly:

    "Did you ever have anything to do with bad money?"

    Elmer intimated that he might know it if he saw it. "Then look at that, please."

    Elmer took the torn bill, produced a penknife, slit the yellow paper, and cut out of it one of the small hair-like fibers with which the texture of such notes is sprinkled. After wetting this fiber and mangling it with his penknife he gave his judgment briefly.

    "Queer," he said.

    "But what does that explain?" asked Lady Agatha. "Perhaps the Earl of Claiborne came to this country and took to making counterfeit money in the hold of the Jasper B., into and out of which he stole like a ghost? Finally he got tired of it and blew himself up with a bomb out there, leaving his ring with a piece of money intact? Is that the explanation we get out of our facts? Because, you know," she added, as Cleggett did not smile, "all that is absurd!"

    "Yes," said Cleggett, still refusing to be amused, "but out of all this

    jumble of mystery, just one certain thing appears."

    "And that is?"

    "That our destinies are somehow linked!"

    "Our destinies? Linked?"

    She gave him a swift look, and as suddenly dropped her eyes again.

    Cleggett could not tell whether she was offended or not by his expression of the idea.

    "The same people," said Cleggett, after a brief pause, "who are so persistently hostile to me are also in some manner connected with your own misfortunes. Their possession of this ring shows that."

    "Yes," she said, following his thought, "that is true——whoever set off that bomb was also wearing this ring, or was very near the person who was wearing it. And," with a shudder which conveyed to Cleggett that she was thinking of the box on deck, "it COULDN'T have been Reginald Maltravers!"

    "Perhaps," said Cleggett, "someone was sneaking over from Morris's with the intention of destroying the Jasper B., and was himself the victim of a premature explosion as he crouched behind the rocks to await his opportunity."

    "But why," puzzled Lady Agatha, with contracted brows, "should a dynamiter, anarchistic or otherwise, be holding a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill in his hand as he went about his work?"

    Cleggett brooded in silence.

    "We are in the midst of mysteries," he said finally. "They are multiplying about us."

    He was about to say more. He was about to express again his belief that they had been flung together by fate. The sense that their stories were inextricably intertwined, that they must henceforward march on as one mystery towards a solution, was exhilarating to him. But how was it possible that she should feel the same sense of pleasure in the fact that they faced dangers, seen and unseen, together?

    Together!——How the thought thrilled him!

    On deck, Elmer, before returning to the box of Reginald Maltravers, suddenly and unexpectedly grasped Cleggett by the hand.

    "Bo," he said, "I'm wit' youse. I'm wit' youse the whole way. Any friend of the little dame is a friend of mine. She's a square little dame. D' youse get me?"

    "Thank you," said Cleggett, more affected than he would have cared to own. "Thank you, my loyal fellow."

    Cleggett established a watch on deck that night, with a relief every two hours. Towards morning George returned, with Dr. Farnsworth and a nurse. This nurse, Miss Antoinette Medley, was a black-eyed, slender girl with pretty hands and white teeth; she gestured a great deal and smiled often. She and Dr. Farnsworth devoted themselves at once to the young anarchist poet, who had come out of his stupor, indeed, but was now babbling weakly in the delirium of fever.

    The night was not a cheerful one, and morning came gloomily out of a gray bank of mist. Cleggett, as he looked about the boat in the first pale light, could not resist a slight feeling of depression, courageous as he was. The wounded man gibbered in a bunk in the forecastle. The box of Reginald Maltravers stood on one end, leaning against the port side of the cabin, and dripped steadily. Elmer, wrapped in blankets, lay on the deck near the box of Reginald Maltravers, looking even more dejected in slumber than when his eyes were open. Teddy, the Pomeranian, was snuggled against Elmer's feet, but, as if a prey to frightful nightmares, the little dog twitched and whined in his sleep from time to time. These were the apparent facts, and these facts were set to a melancholy tune by the long-drawn, dismal snores of Cap'n Abernethy, which rose and fell, and rose and fell, and rose again like the sad and wailing song of some strange bird bereft of a beloved mate. They were the music for, and the commentary on, what Cleggett beheld; Cap'n Abernethy seemed to be saying, with these snores: "If you was to ask me, I'd say it ain't a cheerful ship this mornin', Mr. Cleggett, it ain't a cheerful ship."

    But Cleggett's nature was too lively and vigorous to remain clouded for long. By the time the red disk of the sun had crept above the eastern horizon he had shaken off his fit of the blues.

    The sun looked large and bland and friendly, and, somehow, the partisan of integrity and honor. He drew strength from it. Cleggett, like all poetic souls, was responsive to these familiar recurrent phenomena of nature.

    The sun did him another office. It showed him a peculiar tableau vivant on the eastern bank of the canal, near the house boat Annabel Lee. This consisted of three men, two of them naked except for bathing trunks of the most abbreviated sort, running swiftly and earnestly up and down the edge of the canal. He saw with astonishment that the two men in bathing suits were handcuffed together, the left wrist of one to the right wrist of the other. A rope was tied to the handcuffs, and the other end of it was held by the third man, who was dressed in ordinary tweeds. The third man had a magazine rifle over one shoulder. He followed about twenty feet behind the two men in bathing suits and drove them.

    Cleggett perceived that the man who was doing the driving was the same who had watched the Jasper B. so persistently the day before from the deck of the Annabel Lee. He was middle-sized, and inclined to be stout, and yet he followed his strange team with no apparent effort. Cleggett saw through the glass that he had a rather heavy black mustache, and was again struck by something vaguely familiar about him. The two men in bathing suits were slender and undersized; they did not look at all like athletes, and although they moved as fast as they could it was apparent that they got no pleasure out of it. They ran with their heads hanging down, and it seemed to Cleggett that they were quarreling as they ran, for occasionally one of them would give a vicious jerk to the handcuffs that would almost upset the other, and that must have hurt the wrists of both of them.

    As Cleggett watched, the driver pulled them up short, and waved them towards the canal. They stopped, and it was apparent that they were balking and expostulating. But the driver was inexorable. He went near to them and threatened their bare backs with the slack of the rope. Gingerly and shiveringly they stepped into the cold water, while the driver stood on the bank. The water was up to their waists and he had to threaten them again with his rope before they would duck their heads under.

    When he allowed them on shore again they needed no urging, it was evident, to make them hit up a good rate of speed, and back and forth along the bank they sprinted. But the cold bath had not improved their temper, for suddenly one of them leaped and kicked sidewise at the other, with the result that both toppled to the ground. The stout man was upon them in an instant, hazing them with the rope end. He drove them, still lashing out at each other with their bare feet, into the water again, and after a more prolonged ducking whipped them, at a plunging gallop, upon the Annabel Lee, where they disappeared from Cleggett's view.

    While Cleggett was still wondering what significance could underlie this unusual form of matutinal exercise, Dr. Farnsworth came out of the forecastle and beckoned to him. The young Doctor had a red Vandyck beard sedulously cultivated in the belief that it would make him look older and inspire the confidence of patients, and a shock of dark red hair which

    he rumpled vigorously when he was thinking. He was rumpling it now.

    "Who's 'Loge'?" he demanded.

    "Loge?" repeated Cleggett.

    "You don't know anyone named 'Loge,' or Logan?"

    "No. Why?"

    "Whoever he is, 'Loge' is very much on the mind of our young friend

    in there," said Farnsworth, with a movement of his head towards the forecastle. "And I wouldn't be surprised, to judge from the boy's delirium, if 'Loge' had something to do with all the hell that's been raised around your ship. Come in and listen to this fellow."

    Miss Medley, the nurse, was sitting beside the wounded youth's bunk, endeavoring to soothe and restrain him. The young anarchist, whose eyes were bright with fever, was talking rapidly in a weak but high-pitched singsong voice.

    "He's off on the poems again," said the Doctor, after listening a moment. "But wait, he'll get back to Loge. It's been one or the other for an hour now."

    "I spit upon your flag," shrilled Giuseppe Jones, feebly declamatory. "'I spit——I spit——but, as I spit, I weep.'" He paused for a moment, and then began at the beginning and repeated all of the lines which Cleggett had read from the little book. One gathered that it was Giuseppe's favorite poem.

    "'I spit upon the whole damned thing!'" he shrilled, and then with a sad shake of his head: "But, as I spit, I weep!"

    If the poem was Giuseppe's favorite poem, this was evidently his favorite line, for he said it over and over again——"'But, as I spit, I weep'"-in a breathless babble that was very wearing on the nerves.

    But suddenly he interrupted himself; the poems seemed to pass from his mind. "Loge!" he said, raising himself on his elbow and staring, with a frown not at, but through, Cleggett: "Logan——it isn't square!"

    There was suffering and perplexity in his gaze; he was evidently living over again some painful scene.

    "I'm a revolutionist, Loge, not a crook! I won't do it, Loge!"

    Watching him, it was impossible not to understand that the struggle,

    which his delirium made real and present again, had stamped itself into the texture of his spirit. "You shouldn't ask it, Loge," he said. The crisis of the conflict which he was living over passed presently, and he murmured, with contracted brows, and as if talking to himself: "Is Loge a crook? A crook?"

    But after a moment of this he returned again to a rapid repetition of the phrase: "I'm a revolutionist, not a crook-not a crook——not a crook——a revolutionist, not a crook, Loge, not a crook——" Once he varied it, crying with a quick, hot scorn: "I'll cut their throats and be damned to them, but don't ask me to steal." And then he was off again to declaiming his poetry: "I spit, but, as I spit, I weep!"

    But as Cleggett and the Doctor listened to him the youth's ravings suddenly took a new form. He ceased to babble; terror expanded the pupils of his eyes and he pointed at vacancy with a shaking finger. "Stop it!" he cried in a croaking whisper. "Stop it! It's his skull——it's Loge's skull come alive. Stop it, I say, it's come alive and getting bigger." With a violent effort he raised himself before the nurse could prevent him, shrinking back from the horrid hallucination which pressed towards him, and then fell prone and senseless on the bunk.

    "God!——his wounds!" cried the Doctor, starting forward. As Farnsworth had feared, they had broken open and were bleeding again. "It's a ticklish thing," said Farnsworth, rumpling his hair. "If I give him enough sedative to keep him quiet his heart may stop any time. If I don't, he'll thrash himself to pieces in his delirium before the day's over."

    But Cleggett scarcely heeded the Doctor. The reference to "Loge's" skull had flashed a sudden light into his mind. Whatever else "Loge" was, Cleggett had little doubt that "Loge" was the tall man with the stoop shoulders and the odd, skull- shaped scarfpin, for whom he had conceived at first sight such a tingling hatred——the same fellow who had so ruthlessly manhandled the flaxen-haired Heinrich on the roof of the verandah the day before.

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