Roy Glashan's Library
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Irish barrister and author of detective and mystery stories Bodkin was appointed a judge in County Clare and also served as a Nationalist member of Parliament. His native country and years in the courtroom are recalled in the autobiographical Recollections of an Irish Judge (1914).
Bodkin's witty stories, collected in Dora Myrl, the Lady Detective (1900) and Paul Beck, the Rule of Thumb Detective (1898), have been unjustly neglected.
Beck, his first detective (when he first appeared in print in Pearson's Magazine in 1897, he was named "Alfred Juggins"), claims to be not very bright, saying, "I just go by the rule of thumb, and muddle and puzzle out my cases as best I can."
...In The Capture of Paul Beck (1909) he and Dora begin on opposite sides in a case, but in the end they are married. They have a son who solves a crime at his university in Young Beck, a Chip Off the Old Block (1911).
Other Bodkin books are The Quests of Paul Beck (1908), Pigeon Blood Rubies (1915), and Guilty or Not Guilty? (1929).
— Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, Steinbrunner & Penzler, 1976.
"WHAT did you say?" asked Mr Beck, a little surprised, and half suspecting a joke.
"I want you to go to Hong-Kong."
There was no hint of merriment in the speaker's strong face or steady voice. Indeed, Mr Livingston was not a man at all given to jesting. High up in the service of Lloyds' great shipping insurance agency, he was reputed one of the shrewdest and gravest business men in the City. Mr Beck had met him in his inner sanctum by appointment this morning, and the result was this startling suggestion.
"To go to Hong-Kong?"
"Just so; starting in three days' time. Can you?"
"Of course I can. The real question is, will I? What is it for?"
"Well, it's this way. You know Joshua Marable?"
"Well; big shipowner and strike breaker."
"Those are the very words I wanted. You remember, of course, how he broke up the dockyard strike, imported coolies and all that. Well, the workmen never forgave him. There were threats of dynamite at the time, and it seems they were meant. Last year there was an infernal machine found in the cellar of his house in Park Lane. It missed fire somehow, as these things do. But there was enough dynamite in it to blow up a row of houses, and the scoundrel who put it there was never caught.
"You were not on that job," he added, after a second's pause, and Mr Beck smiled genially at the implied compliment. "Unluckily," the other went on, "it did not end there. Marable, as perhaps you know, does the very cream of the Chinese trade—leaves the skimmed milk to the others. He carries only picked tea crops—the delicate tips you know, worth anything from five to ten shillings a pound, rich silks, and fine porcelain—regular shiploads of gold. He insures with us, and last year two of his vessels were lost. You follow me?"
Mr Beck nodded gravely.
"It was the biggest loss we have had for fifty years. Of the first of the vessels nothing was ever heard. It must have gone down with all hands on board. But from the other, one man, a doctor named Dalton, escaped by a miracle. He was a strong swimmer, and was in the sea for nine hours, clinging to a spar, before he was picked up. He told of a terrible explosion in mid-ocean that tossed him into the water like a cork. He is a shrewd fellow, mind you, and he does not think it was steam. There was no gunpowder on board, so——"
"You suspect dynamite?"
"You've hit it. We think a clockwork infernal machine may have been put on board before they started. They can wind them, I believe, to go for a month; or perhaps the devil who did the job may have stepped off at some port they touched at and left the little keepsake behind him.
"Now, Marable is not a man to be put down. He's plucky, and straight as they make them, though perhaps a bit too hard when his blood is up. He has made up his mind to go the next trip himself in his own boat, The Queen—the newest and best of his fleet—which clears for Shanghai the day after to-morrow.
"He was here with me yesterday about the insurance. His impression is that his going himself may make things all square.
"I take a different view. I don't doubt he will keep a sharp eye out for his boat's sake and his own. But it seems pretty plain that this devilish plot is aimed at him, and the devils will be keen on the chance to send him and his boat to the bottom together. I want a better pair of eyes than his to watch. There are no man's eyes I would sooner trust than yours if you can go. Don't answer me for a moment," the agent went on hastily, as if he feared a refusal. "The Queen is a passenger as well as a cargo boat, and is as comfortable as the best. I have reserved two berths for you, and an assistant if you want one. It's a big thing, Mr Beck; I know that. I don't talk now of the fee, though naturally that would be a big thing, too. But you may save a shipload of people from a horrible death. Of course, there's the same risk for yourself; but——"
"I'll go," interrupted Mr Beck, quietly.
"I thought so," responded the other, with a shrewd smile; he knew it was the last few words that had caught his man. "Now, as to the fee—would a thousand pounds——"
"It's a gamble with death," said Mr Beck, gravely, "let us make it a complete gamble; nothing if I fail, two thousand if The Queen comes back safe to London; three if I catch the dynamitard."
"Done!" said Mr Livingston.
"Is the owner to know I'm going?"
"That rests with you. We leave the matter wholly in your hands. He knows nothing so far. Tell him or not, as you choose. Will you take an assistant?"
"Perhaps; I'll take the two berths anyway, if you don't mind. Well, I'm off. I've some things to see to before I start."
"Good-bye and good luck. I'll have much pleasure in drawing you a cheque for three thousand."
TWO hours before The Queen started, Mr Beck stepped on board, carrying a big kit-bag, which constituted his entire equipment for China and back if Fate should see good to let him come back.
An hour later Mr Marable arrived, and Mr Beck, from a quiet corner, watched him come on board. He was a big, square man, with a big, round face, whose appearance claimed instant liking and respect. The large head was liberally thatched with a thick crop of wavy, light-brown hair, in which only a rare streak of silver showed. His blue eyes shone genially under thick eyebrows. His face was full of good-humoured benevolence. Only the firm lips and the obtrusive chin hinted the fighting qualities of the man who had broken one of the fiercest strikes that London had ever known.
As was perhaps natural, he had much luggage, with which a couple of porters struggled, while he came on board carrying a large black bag. Mr Beck, who noted everything, noticed that the weight of this bag seemed to strain his strong right arm.
Captain Manley—a handsome, well-set-up young fellow—greeted the owner as he stepped on deck, and Mr Beck heard him say as they shook hands: "Miss Wilson has come, sir. I gave her the best berth."
"That's all right, my boy," replied Mr Marable, genially, and, following the porters, he went below with his luggage, still carrying the large black bag.
Sharp at the appointed hour the bell rang, and the vessel crept slowly out of her berth, feeling her way through the throng of shipping in the dock, and gathering speed as she went. It was dead calm, and when the harbour was cleared, and The Queen was cutting the water cleanly on an even keel, the passengers in the splendid saloon felt no hint of the swift motion that carried them eastwards.
All on board were seasoned sea-goers—all except one, and all but one settled down speedily and easily to the pleasant, lazy life on shipboard. The exception was Miss Haidée Wilson—a slim, pale, pretty girl, whom the doctors had sent on a long sea voyage for health's sake, and whose millionaire father, busy about many things, had reluctantly intrusted her to the guardianship of his old friend Mr Marable.
She sat at the right hand of the captain at dinner in the sumptuous dining-saloon, resplendent with rare woodwork, with sea pictures let into the panels, but she hardly tasted the dainties abundantly provided. A sweet-faced girl was Miss Wilson, with a certain gentle languor of movement that added to her charm. Mr Marable sat at the captain's left hand, and Mr Beck some places down at the same table. The meal was invariably luxurious, worthy of the best hotel on shore; the fowl and the fish as fresh as if they had just come from the farmyard or the river.
They might have been on land again, for any suggestion of motion in that spacious saloon. The illusion of perfect rest was complete, save now and again as the great vessel, swinging ever so slowly to the smooth swell, gave a glimpse through a sinking port-hole of the blue sea and the white or red-sailed vessels that went racing past with the speed of their own swift motion.
BEFORE they were three days out, something happened to send a current of excitement through the stagnation of quiet, every-day life on shipboard. Of the thirty passengers, one was missed. In the bustle of departure his absence had not been noticed. But when his place for three days stood vacant at the table, inquiries were made, and it was found that his luggage was in his berth, but no one had seen the man himself come aboard.
The incident stimulated a certain vague disquiet that was already abroad amongst the passengers, for rumours of Mr Marable's misfortunes had gone about.
"Why," they whispered amongst themselves, "had this man funked the voyage at the last moment, after his luggage had come aboard?" and could find no satisfactory answer.
At a hint from Mr Beck, dropped casually in the captain's ear, the luggage was carefully examined, but nothing in the least dangerous or suspicious was found.
From the moment he had stepped on board Mr Beck's eyes and ears had been on the alert. He had nothing to go upon. It was his method to look out for his facts first, and work them into a theory afterwards, as a child fits the bits of a puzzle map into their places.
As he himself was fond of saying, he worked by rule of thumb. He searched all places, likely and unlikely. If he did not find what he expected, he lost no time in searching for it elsewhere. Experience had taught him to regard nothing as impossible, nothing as incredible. From the first he was inclined to suspect the owner, who pocketed the insurance money, and his curiosity was excited by the big, black dressing-bag which Mr Marable had carried so carefully aboard in his own hand.
AFTER lunch one day, while Mr Marable, with a fragrant cigar between his lips and Miss Wilson on his arm, was pacing the long promenade deck, to which the rare combination of cool breeze and bright sunshine had tempted the passengers, Mr Beck stepped quietly into the owner's state-room with a skeleton key, which was an "open sesame" to most locks.
The black bag, which had tempted his curiosity, lay in a corner, and he began operations at once. The bag, as he expected, was very heavy for its size, but the lock was not by any means as facile as he anticipated. This increased Mr Beck's suspicions. Why so good and so rare a lock on a mere leather bag, which could be easily cut to pieces? But could it be cut to pieces?
He took a sharp-pointed borer from his tool-bag, and ran it into the bottom of the bag. The point grazed on a thin lining of fine steel. Mr Beck was more determined than ever to see the inside of the bag. A quarter of an hour, he thought, at the most, would do it, and he set to work fitting and filing his skeleton key.
The work was almost done, when he heard a quick, heavy step—a step that he knew was Mr Marable's—in the passage. Mr Beck's nerves were of steel, but he may be pardoned if the sharp tool he was using at the moment slipped, and scratched the silver plating of the lock slightly, and scored his thumb deeply. He was almost caught in the act. The next moment he laid the bag softly in its place, and skipped into the berth behind the drawn curtains. Not a second too soon. Mr Marable came briskly into the stateroom.
The curtains were still shaking, and, let it be confessed, Mr Beck was shaking too. The situation was delicate and trying. If he were caught he might perhaps clear himself of the charge of burglary, but only by revealing his real character of detective.
But the alternative was not pleasant. To explain his presence he must confess that he suspected the owner of a design to blow up his own vessel and all on board. Mr Beck had had many close squeaks in his adventurous life, but he never felt himself in a tighter place than when he crouched breathless behind those curtains.
Mr Marable came hastily and breathlessly into the room, and glanced sharply around. Fortunately the shaking curtains were out of range of that first look. He picked the black bag from the floor, drew the keys from his pocket, and for a moment it seemed as if he would unlock it. But he changed his mind, and put it down unopened. Then he walked to the dressing-table, and touched his hair lightly with a silver-backed brush and twisted the ends of his moustache.
Amusement struggled with Mr Beck's fright as he watched. Mr Marable was the last man on earth that one would have suspected of personal vanity.
Finally, he saw him take a fine cambric handkerchief from a drawer in the wardrobe, sprinkle on it a few drops of perfume, crush it into the pocket of his lounge coat, and turn for the door.
Mr Beck's courage rose at his departure. It was an accidental interruption after all; the man suspected nothing. Then, while Mr Beck was chuckling at his escape, Mr Marable paused just at the door, turned, and stepped back straight across the cabin to the berth. His hand was on the curtain, and Mr Beck's heart was in his mouth, when Mr Marable changed his mind again, dropped the curtain, which he had raised a little, and went out without looking back or closing the door behind him. As the sound of his footsteps died away down the passage, Mr Beck made a dash like a ferreted rabbit for his own cabin.
Still his suspicions were not wholly appeased. He felt he must get another look at the black bag, so the next morning, when he found Mr Marable lolling with a book and a cigar on deck, he tried a new lead.
"Might I disturb you for a moment?"
Mr Marable looked up lazily, but with a smile that invited disturbance.
"I think I saw you reading The Royal Magazine yesterday," said Mr Beck, smoothly. "If you have quite finished with it there is an article I should like very much to see——"
"Certainly," interrupted Mr Marable, courteously. "It's in my cabin; I'll fetch it."
"Oh, don't trouble," said Mr Beck, "if I might be allowed?"
"You are very good," yielded Mr Marable, lazily, "you'll find the magazine on the table, or in one of the drawers. Seven is the number of the cabin."
The black bag was on the table when Mr Beck got to the cabin. He pounced on it swiftly and silently as a panther on its prey. He had his skeleton key in his hand ready, but it was not needed. The bag was unlocked this time, and opened at a touch, and the detective found he was all wrong. It was a perfectly innocent bag that lay open before him—a dressing-case and a dispatch-box combined. There were heavy gold toilet fittings, and documents which Mr Beck could see at a glance were of immense importance. The steel lining was covered on the inside with dark blue silk. Mr Beck examined the bag thoroughly, and then put it down with a little sigh, in which surprise and relief were curiously blended.
"Found what you wanted?" asked Mr Marable, as he passed him on the deck.
"Yes," Mr Beck answered courteously, "I found exactly what I wanted."
Yet he did not read his magazine when he got to his seat, but sat thinking, with his fingers between the pages. It was always his way when one door was closed in his face to look hard for another opening.
As a result of his thinking he spoke to Mr Marable as they came together on deck after dinner for the inevitable smoke.
"Could I have a word or two with you, sir, on private and important business?"
"Certainly, old chap. Fire away!"
"It is too important and too private to be talked of here."
Mr Marable looked at the grave face, and grew grave in sympathy.
"Come down to my state-room," he said and led the way.
"To begin with," said Mr Beck, when the door of the state-room had been closed and locked behind them, "let me introduce myself. I am a detective. I have been employed by Lloyds' people to look after this dynamite business on your vessels. My name is Beck—you may have heard of me."
"Heard of you! Of course I have. Seen your picture in the illustrated papers. Stupid of me not to know you at the first look. Delighted you've come, Mr Beck, the very man for the job," and he stretched a welcoming hand to the detective.
"Wait," said Mr Beck, "I have a confession to make first. You mayn't be so ready to shake hands with me afterwards. Yesterday I stole into your state-room and tried to burglarise your black bag. I had almost succeeded when you came in by chance. I hid behind those curtains."
Mr Marable's face was a picture of blank amazement. "By Jove!" was all he could stammer out.
Mr Beck went on quietly: "I made a pretence of that magazine to get into your cabin to-day. I found the black bag on the table open, and I examined it carefully."
Mr Marable found his tongue at last, too amazed it seemed for anger. "Why, you don't mean to say you suspected me of those devilish outrages?"
"I only mean to say that I thought it my duty to investigate thoroughly. I think it my duty now to tell you and to invite your confidence and help in my future investigations."
Mr Marable remained silent for a moment. His genial face had grown grave, almost stern. But there was no anger in his voice, when he spoke at last.
"I don't deny, Mr Beck," he said, "that I feel deeply humiliated by what you have just told me. It is horrible to have been suspected, even for one moment, of so hideous a crime. But I hope I am a just man, and I have no right to be angry. You did not know me personally; it was your duty, as you say, to investigate everything, to suspect everyone. I am glad you told me. It was plucky and straightforward of you. Let bygones be bygones. Of course I will help you all I can in your quest."
THE very next morning there was more matter for investigation. A ghost had been seen in one of the corridors about midnight by Miss Wilson as she went to fetch a book from the saloon. It moaned and she fainted. That was all she knew. But the story was supplemented by the steward, who reported that a bottle of champagne and a chicken had been stolen from the pantry.
The captain held a council of war in his own room, a council consisting of the owner, Miss Wilson and the steward. At Mr Marable's suggestion Mr Beck was specially invited to the consultation.
The lady and the steward told their story.
Miss Wilson was very pale and wonderfully pretty. She had not yet recovered from her fright. "I'm ashamed of myself," she said; "but I am so afraid of ghosts. If I had thought it was a man I would have grabbed him."
"Anyone would have been frightened," murmured the captain, sympathetically, but he did not himself look like a man whom it would be easy to frighten.
"Don't fret, my dear young lady," broke in Mr Marable, briskly. "The fellow cannot escape us unless he is able to swim a thousand miles or so to the nearest land.
"He is on board for no good, that's certain," he added as an afterthought. "Likely as not he is at the bottom of this horrible dynamite business. What do you say, Mr Beck—do you begin to see light?"
"I shouldn't be surprised if he had something to do with it," said Mr Beck, judiciously; "he may help us to the truth, but you've first got to catch your hare, as the cookery books remark."
"How do you mean to catch him?" cried Miss Wilson, with the liveliest interest.
"That ought to be a simple job enough, my dear young lady. We'll set a little trap for him, and bait it with a bottle of champagne. Have you by any chance such a thing as a reel of fine black thread, silk preferred?"
"Certainly; in my cabin."
"Will you be good enough to fetch it?"
"First tell me your plan, please. I cannot understand how the black thread can catch him."
She pleaded so prettily that Mr Beck smiled and yielded. He was human, and never could resist a pretty girl's pleading. "It is simplicity itself," he said. "I will have a bottle of champagne left where our midnight marauder will be likely to find it, with one end of your black thread tied to the neck of the bottle. The reel will run out as he goes. He cannot see it, of course, in the dark. He will carry the bottle to his hiding-place. Then, even if he breaks the thread off it doesn't matter. The next morning——"
"Oh, I see, I see," she cried delightedly; "how simple and clever! I'll fetch the thread at once; I love to be in a game of this kind."
The young captain looked as if he also loved to be in a game of some kind with the same player, but he said nothing.
MR BECK'S trap caught the bird. Next morning a line of thin black thread lay along the snow-white deck, with the end almost under one of the boats that hung at the davits, covered over with tarpaulin.
A couple of stout seamen went up the davits to the boat, and in a moment the stowaway was dragged from his hiding-place.
It was not by any means a prepossessing figure that stood on the deck in a long white night robe confronting the stern captain, amid a crowd of passengers standing around, amazed and angry, and buzzing with indignation like a swarm of startled bees.
He was a pale, lank youth—very pale and thin—with a receding forehead and lantern jaws and eyes devoid of all expression but utter bewilderment. He seemed to have been suddenly snatched out of a sound sleep, and unable to realise clearly what had happened to him. Perhaps the bottle of champagne drunk overnight had something to do with his bewilderment.
The passengers were wild with rage, convinced that the sneaking, murderous dynamitard had been caught at last. They would have tossed him overboard there and then if the captain had not interposed.
"Easy, gentlemen," he said, stepping in front of the stowaway, "easy, ladies," for the women were as furious as the men. "The chap must have fair play, whatever he is. I will see what he has to say for himself in my cabin. You will come, Mr Marable, and you, Mr Beck?"
"May I come too, captain?" whispered Miss Wilson.
"Certainly," replied the captain; "you are one of our committee of public safety."
The stowaway had got rid of a good deal of his fright by the time they had all come to the captain's cabin. Now he stood upon his privileges; he even posed as an injured person.
"My passage is paid for," he blustered. "I have a right to be on board." To their amazement he produced the order for his berth and his card—Ernest Archer.
"Then why the——" the captain began angrily, but he caught Miss Wilson's eye and broke off confused. Miss Wilson's presence saved Mr Archer some particularly strong language.
"The captain wants to know," chipped in Mr Beck, politely, "why you didn't go to your cabin like an ordinary Christian, instead of roosting in that boat?"
"Oh, that, sir," retorted Mr Archer, "is capable of very easy, and so far as I am concerned, very creditable explanation. I had heard of the dynamite outrages on board Mr Marable's vessels. I have, I may say without boasting, a curious gift for amateur detective work, which has heretofore been practised only in my own domestic concerns. In this voyage I had hoped to combine duty with pleasure. From my station of secret observation overlooking the vessel——"
"Under a heavy tarpaulin," growled the captain.
"Overlooking the vessel," repeated Mr Archer, firmly, with a reproving eye on the interrupter. "I hoped to be able to detect the perpetrators of this abominable outrage. Your intrusion on my privacy has robbed me of that hope."
He spoke like a man with a grievance. The four eyed each other amazedly.
"Well, of all the cool, confounded donkeys," began the captain, when Mr Beck interrupted again.
"Perhaps we might be able to discuss the matter better in the absence of this gentleman," he suggested.
Mr Archer was removed by two able-bodied seamen, both labouring under a strong desire to wring his neck.
"What is Mr Marable's opinion?" said Mr Beck, deferentially, when the door closed behind them.
"I say, let the fellow loose," responded Mr Marable, promptly.
"Pitch him overboard to the sharks; that's my vote," said the captain. "I've no fancy to sail in such company."
"Oh!" commented Miss Wilson, with so much reproach in her voice that the captain was instantly converted.
"I mean," he added lamely, "we might lock him up safely somewhere; feed him well, of course, and all that, till the ship gets safely to shore."
He looked humbly for approval to Miss Wilson, who refused it.
"My dear sir," interposed Mr Marable, smoothly, "you need not be alarmed for your ship and passengers;" and he glanced shyly at the lady passenger. "Of course, we will keep close watch that the fellow does not leave the vessel. We can trust our good friend, Mr Beck, for that."
"But," protested the young lady, "I don't believe he is a dynamitard. I'm sure he isn't."
"I rather think he is, myself," remarked Mr Marable, placidly; "that's why I propose to let him loose. He won't willingly blow himself up, and he cannot blow up the ship without blowing up himself. But he may have set an infernal machine somewhere, believing he could escape. If so, we must give him a chance to unset it. Perhaps we may even catch him and his playthings together if we look sharp."
Mr Beck sat silent, listening patiently, and glancing from one speaker to another. All of them now turned instinctively to him, willing to accept his verdict.
"If I may express an opinion," he said modestly, under compulsion of their looks, "I entirely agree with Mr Marable. Our best chance of catching the criminal—if there be a criminal on board to catch—is to let this man go free."
"I'm sure he is innocent," persisted Miss Wilson.
"I'm beginning to think so myself," chimed in the captain, shamelessly.
"Anyhow we must all say so," enjoined Mr Beck, persuasively; "there must be no hint of suspicion. Mr Archer must enter the saloon without a stain on his character. The captain will inform the passengers that his game of hide-and-seek was a harmless frolic."
THE passengers accepted the captain's statement without demur. Mr Archer was freely received and turned out a much pleasanter person than was expected. He was a wonderful card juggler, sang a good comic song, and knew how to make himself generally agreeable.
The captain alone did not warm to the newcomer. But Miss Wilson was particularly gracious. Mr Archer was an adept at deck games, and she played with him constantly. A charming picture she made, her hair tossed loose by the wind as she poised and darted the wooden shovel, and sent the wooden disc gliding along the slippery deck. But the captain did not love Mr Archer a bit better for his part in the picture.
Watching from the isolated grandeur of the bridge he was more and more convinced that Archer was a deep-dyed criminal. So much attention did he give to their sport and so little to his duties that it is a marvel he did not run the vessel on the nearest desert island.
Mr Beck, too, watched the newcomer closely. He had speedily wormed himself into Archer's confidence and friendship. They had long confidential talks together, or played chess—a game to which they were both addicted—until the small hours of the morning.
Mr Marable more than once congratulated Mr Beck on his adroitness, and Mr Beck modestly replied: "Congratulate me, sir, when I have caught my man, not before."
Meanwhile the swift vessel sped on her allotted course over the wide curve of the blue Pacific, through calm waters under peaceful skies, carrying her load of human life and mystery and crime.
There was a wireless telegraphic installation on board, and messages from passing ships, or from land they neared or left, were a great source of amusement to the passengers as they swept on and on under the wide, empty, covering dome of the sky.
By degrees Archer slipped out of Miss Wilson's good graces, and Captain Manley stepped in.
It was all the difference between jest and earnest. A new light came to her eyes, a new colour to her cheek, health and happiness visited her together. Her other admirers—and every man on board was her admirer—soon realised that the captain had won, and gave place to the victor.
Only Mr Marable seemed dissatisfied; if the thing were not absurd one would have said he was jealous of the captain's good fortune. But Mr Marable was old enough to be the girl's father. He kept himself well in hand as a rule, but once or twice he was snappish to the captain without cause, and once he spoke of him disparagingly to Haidée till silenced by her sudden anger.
THE very next day after their tiff she came to him with the news of her engagement to Captain Manley. To her surprise he was warm in his congratulations. "You must forgive me if I was a bit nasty of late," he said. "I was dreaming that perhaps—well, what does it matter what an old fool dreams? I am awake now all right, and I hope you will be happy—I am sure you will be happy. You may trust me to do what I can to make matters smooth for you at home." After that he was more civil than ever to the captain.
Still the swift vessel raced ever eastward over the monotonous ocean, and the sun rose and set, and the next day was like the last, till one memorable morning land showed—a smudge on the far-off line of the horizon where the dark blue of the sea met the light blue of the sky. Before evening that same day the good ship pushed her way slowly, zigzag, in and out, amid the crowded shipping in the harbour of Hong-Kong, and her passengers rejoined again the living world of men.
All was bustle and excitement on board. The passengers who had met as strangers at the beginning of the voyage parted as old friends at its close. They were loth to lose sight of each other for ever as the land absorbed them.
Only Haidée Wilson, Joshua Marable and Mr Archer remained on board.
Mr Archer knew no one in Hong-Kong and had no business there. He had taken a return ticket, and from first to last protested that he had come out and was going back in his self-appointed role of private detective. He grew a little restless, however, while they lay in harbour, and once or twice was anxious to go ashore, but Mr Beck at one time and Marable at another dissuaded him.
"He does not quit the vessel," the captain declared, "until the last man has landed safe in the London Docks, if I have to clap him in irons to hold him."
But Haidée Wilson only laughed at her lover, and declared the man was as much a dynamitard as she was.
Meanwhile Mr Marable was very busy getting his precious cargo of delicate teas and rich silks and fine porcelain on board. Mr Archer, perhaps for the lack of other occupation, took a deep interest in the cargo, and more than once was found in the hold, to Mr Marable's manifest annoyance.
The work went briskly forward. The vast piles of cargo vanished in smooth sequence into the hold. Order grew again out of confusion. New passengers were shipped until the total of thirty was complete.
Many were refused and returned to shore disconsolate, for The Queen was the most popular boat that sailed in these waters, and Captain Manley the most popular captain.
IT was a fine, sunshiny morning, hot and still. Not a breeze stirred the air, not a ripple moved on the glassy waters when The Queen, amid cheers and the waving of handkerchiefs, edged slowly out from the dock wall through the maze of shipping and set her prow straight across the wide curve of the great globe back to the little island—a tiny speck in the far-off western sea.
Smoothly the vessel moved, and slowly at first, as loth to leave the land. There followed in her wake an evil companionship of sharks—hideous, swift-gliding shadows whose dorsal fins showed like rough cactus leaves over the still clear water and ripped it into long ripples as they moved.
The Queen had passed the harbour mouth and had glided out into the open sea when the bell rang of itself in the secluded cabin amidships, and an electric message quivered through the ether from Hong-Kong five miles away.
"Owner wanted for an hour. Urgent.—CHIN HANG."
Mr Marable was surprised and annoyed by the untimely message and at first seemed disposed to disregard it.
"You cannot afford to bring the ship back again," he said to the captain, "for this tomfoolery. Chin Hang is always in a fuss. What can he have to say now that he could not have said before we parted?"
"We could send a boat, sir," the captain suggested, "and lie by for you here."
"How long would it take?"
"You should be there and back again in four hours at the outside."
"All right," grumbled Mr Marable. "I suppose I ought to go, but it's a nuisance all the same. Look lively, captain, the sooner we get off the sooner we get back."
But they did not get off as soon as he expected. The morning dragged slowly away in unexpected delays.
First Mr Archer manifested a sudden and passionate desire to go back with Mr Marable. He insisted and protested. It was his last chance, he cried, of a peep at Hong-Kong. Mr Marable and Mr Beck were polite and diplomatic in their persuasions. But it needed a curt and stern refusal from Captain Manley to cut short his importunity.
Then, to the surprise of everyone, Mr Beck wanted to go, and even got down into the boat. He had very special reasons, he said, for making the request, but he refused to tell what his special reasons were, and Mr Marable with manifest impatience reminded him that it was more necessary than ever to keep a watch on Mr Archer.
Unlike Mr Archer, however, Mr Beck yielded with a good grace, and admitted that after all his duty was on shipboard.
Nearly an hour was wasted in this fashion, and Mr Marable seemed feverish and impatient to be off.
Yet, when at the last moment he met Haidée Wilson on deck, he delayed a moment or two more in an attempt to induce her to come with him.
"Just a pleasant few hours' row," he urged, "and back again."
"No, no," she said, "I stick to the ship."
"And the captain," he added, smiling.
"Good-bye," she said with a swift blush as she turned from him to the rails.
"Au revoir," he responded gaily, and with his black bag in his hand he went down the ladder at last to the boat.
"Now, my men," he cried impatiently as he settled on his seat, "give way. I'm in a deuce of a hurry." The four oars lifted together for the stroke.
But before the blades could splash in the water Mr Beck, leaning over the rail, cried out loudly:
"Curse you," growled Mr Marable in a sudden burst of anger, "what is it now?"
"I've put your black bag in the locker."
"The black bag is here," said the coxswain, lifting it in his hand.
"The other one I mean," cried Mr Beck. "Mr Marable knows there are two."
With a howl of fear and rage like a wild beast trapped, Mr Marable leapt from his seat, stumbled blindly towards the locker, and made desperate efforts to force it open.
"It's locked," cried Mr Beck's imperturbable voice from high above him. "Here's the key!"
He tossed the key into the air as he spoke, but it fell short of the boat and dropped with a splash amongst the sharks.
Then Mr Marable seemed suddenly to go mad. He growled and snarled in inarticulate rage and foamed at the mouth, while he tore frantically at the locker till his finger nails were broken. Furiously he pounded it with his naked fists. His bruised hands made blood-marks on the wood. His terror was contagious; the crew in the boat and the crowd gathered at the ship's side watched him in utter, speechless bewilderment.
Suddenly, before anyone could guess his purpose, he turned and leapt with a great shout from the boat's edge into the sea. He never rose again! The long ripples his plunge made quivered and grew calm. Far down in the still water a throng of ghastly shadows met with darting of sharp snouts and the gleam of white bellies. They snapped and tugged and tore. A dark stain rose through the clear water. It curdled into crooked streaks, showed for a moment on the surface like red veining of green marble, and then faded and vanished.
The crowd gazed silently, horror-struck at the sudden, mysterious tragedy. Then a clamour broke out of mingled wonder and pity.
Mr Beck's stern voice was heard above the clamour.
"It is just," he said; "he deserves no pity. The dynamitard has met his doom!"
The detective's genial face was pale and stern and pitiless as death. A hush fell on the clamouring crowd as they caught the meaning of his words.
"He meant to blow up the ship. He thought his own infernal machine was in the boat with him," Mr Beck curtly explained to the men and women that crowded round him excitedly. "Thank God for your lives. You shall know all presently. Meanwhile I must have a word with the captain."
While the boat and boat's crew were brought back over the ship's side, Mr Beck went below with the captain to his cabin.
Captain Manley was pale as a sheet.
"It was horrible!" he said hoarsely.
"It was just," retorted Mr Beck, sternly. "I have no pity for him. Think what he has done, what he meant to do! He meant death for us all, even the sweet girl whom his friend gave in his charge. Just think of it!"
"I daren't," said the captain in a whisper. "I daren't. You are quite sure?"
"Sure as fate. So shall you be."
"But how?" began the captain again, when Mr Beck smilingly interposed.
"Just luck," he said complacently—he was his genial self again—"my never-failing luck. I began poking about blindly a few days after I came on board and thought I'd have a peep into the big black bag he was so careful about, and failed. He almost caught me in the act. I tried again the next day and found a big black bag open for me to examine. But it wasn't the same black bag, though, it was a duplicate. I had scraped the lock of the first the day before when I was trying to open it, ever such a little scrape, but there was no scrape at all on the lock of the second.
"Mr Marable, I found, kept two identical black bags—one for show and the other for use. That seemed a bit suspicious?"
"Very," assented the captain.
"Well, I knew then that he had spotted me, and so I made a virtue of a necessity, introduced myself as a detective, and told him the whole story of my visit to his cabin, with humble apologies for my suspicion, that threw him completely off his guard."
"But what about Mr Archer?" queried the captain.
"My assistant," said Mr Beck, quietly. "We planned that little comedy between us to give the real criminal, whoever he might be, a scapegoat, and Archer was very useful afterwards amongst the cargo.
"Captain Manley, you are carrying to England a load of chopped rice straw for tea, and old canvas bales for silk, and crockery ware worth twopence a ton for rare porcelain. But it was never meant to arrive."
"The infernal machine was not really in the boat's locker?" asked Captain Manley.
"Not likely! It is here." He lifted a black bag on the table. "You needn't start, captain. There's dynamite enough there to blow us all to blazes, but it won't go off this time. Marable set the clockwork when he was ready to leave the vessel, but I stopped it a minute afterwards. Then I delayed his starting on one excuse or another, and kept him dancing like a bear on hot plates till it was time for his clock to strike. His other ships were plainly destroyed in much the same way."
"You saved every life on board," said the captain, and he gripped Mr Beck's hand so hard he knew he was thinking of Haidée Wilson.
LATER on the crew and passengers were told the story and were allowed to examine the infernal machine for themselves, and at dinner the captain proposed the health of Mr Beck, and it was drunk amid cheers and tears.
The good ship The Queen came back to England without her owner, who was reported to have fallen overboard.
Though there was no official inquiry, the gruesome story crept abroad in various forms, none more horrible than the truth.
Mr Beck got his cheque for three thousand pounds, of which a hundred went to buy a wedding present for Captain and Mrs Manley.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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