Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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"HOLD on for your life, Vic—there's some rocks just ahead!"
The speaker's voice was completely drowned amid the roaring of the waves, and the hissing, blinding spray. A moment later the ominous rending of splintering timbers sounded, and the little sailing boat, after one drunken lurch, slithered from the rocks upon which she had been driven.
The frail craft fell back helplessly into the seething smother of angry waters which boiled and churned furiously at the base of the treacherous headland, and almost disappeared beneath a tremendous wave.
She emerged after a second, and bravely tried to ride the mighty breakers which were rolling shorewards with relentless, pitiless force. But it was evident that the little vessel was doomed—she could never hope to live in such a sea after her buffeting and pounding on the cruel rocks.
A fitful moon was shining dully above the black and threatening cloud-bank which scurried across the heavens, and the pale glimmer only served to make the raging storm more hideous and terrible. The time was late evening, but it might have been midnight to judge by the deserted appearance of the foreshore.
The little headland against which the sailing-boat had struck was situated on the bleak and desolate coast of Gower—some little distance west of Langland Bay, not far from the great port of Swansea. This part of the rock-bound shore was completely destitute of habitations, by all appearances, and as far as the eye could reach nothing could be seen but tremendous crags and cliffs.
The tiny craft, her sails long since ripped to shreds, was tossed hither and thither in the giant waves, and her two drenched occupants clung desperately to whatever they could manage to grasp. Their plight was extremely serious, for the boat was rapidly becoming waterlogged, and all efforts to control her were useless and futile.
Owen Glyn, one of the luckless adventurers in the plunging cockleshell, was a London journalist, and his companion was a kindred spirit named Victor Spalding. Glyn was a sturdy young Welshman—a fine fellow in every way, and of a rather serious turn of mind. His friend, although similarly decent, was exactly the opposite in temperament, and somewhat inclined to be a humorist. He was one of those exuberant fellows who seemed to make light of everything, under way and all conditions. Being of the happy-go-lucky sort, light-hearted and care-free, he was famous in Fleet Street for his facetiousness.
Even under the present conditions Victor Spalding found it impossible to be serious, although he knew well enough exactly how perilous their position actually was. His good looking face broke into a grin as he glanced at his friend.
"Looks as if we're in for a considerable wettin' before we reach land again, old man," he yelled, in order to make his voice heard above the lashing waves. "It strikes me we're booked for a dip in the briny pretty soon! This old tub is crackin' up."
"She'll be a total wreck inside the next two minutes," agreed Glyn, with a grim nod. "Unless we can manage to keep her off the rocks, we shall be dashed to smithereens. Look out, man!"
Glyn's voice carried a note of warning, for he could see that their craft was being driven perilously near the menacing rocks once more. Like a cork the boat was lifted on the crest of a tremendous wave, and in another second she would be sent crashing to her doom.
Fortunately for the two amateur mariners, the little boat was turned completely upside down as she was swept upwards by the surging waters. And before the craft was finally dashed to pieces upon the rocks, its occupants were precipitated into the sea, gasping and floundering helplessly like a couple of straws in a cataract.
In a moment they were completely submerged in the boiling foam, and they knew that they would have to battle with all their strength to keep clear of the deadly rocks and crags which foamed the headland. Fortunately they were both expert swimmers, but even so it would be touch and go with them. In a storm such as this it was well nigh impossible to keep their heads above water, to say nothing of controlling their direction of progress.
It seemed quite a long time before either of the young men bobbed to the surface once more. But they appeared after a few moments, spluttering and panting for breath. As they did so they saw their little boat flung with terrific violence against the rocks, where it was battered to pieces like a hollow eggshell. Spalding grinned again.
"Of two evils, choose the lesser!" he panted, striking out strongly against the racing ride. "I'm not kiddin' myself that we're in clover, old man, but we're a dashed lot better off in the water than we should have been in that bally boat. All we've got to do is to keep our heads above water, and let the ragin' ocean do the rest. We shall be chucked ashore before long, whether we like it or not."
Glyn was tossing about in the angry surf close to his friend, and he nodded as he heard the words.
"You're quite right, Vic," he agreed. "But you must remember that the greatest danger lies in being hurled against the rocks. We must do our utmost to clear this headland, and try and steer a course to the beach. It's our only chance. Got ready to meet this chap!"
Glyn broke off as a huge mountain of water came towards them, its crest bubbling and seething with white foam. Quick as a flash, the pair turned and dived clean into the monster wave, and succeeded in getting through it without coming to any harm.
After it has passed, Glyn struck out grimly in an effort to round the treacherous headland of rocks, followed very closely by his friend. Once they could get clear of this, they would have a much better chance of reaching the mainland, although, even then, they would be extremely lucky if they succeeded in reaching the beach without injury. For the whole foreshore was studded with sharp, jutting masses of rock, which stood out menacingly in the boiling surf. For miles along this rugged coast these rocks reared themselves out of the sands, and many an unwary seafarer had met his death upon their relentless and murderous spikes.
Owen Glyn and Victor Spalding now commenced a deadly battle against the forces of nature, and struggled desperately to make their way inshore. They managed to keep fairly close together, but they were forced to continually dive into the great rollers head-on in order to keep themselves from being carried upwards, and dashed upon the rocks, as their little craft had been.
But by adopting these tactics, and swimming with all their strength, they gradually made headway out of the danger zone formed by the rocky headland, and succeeded in getting into the more open water beyond. Even here they were by no means out of danger, for the great waves came surging over them in a continuous succession, tossing them this way and that like little bits of cork in a mill-race.
Glyn, who was by far the more experienced of the two, knew quite well that they were in the most deadly peril, for any moment they might be dashed to death against an unseen rock. But, although he uttered no word of complaint, he reflected bitterly that their predicament had been brought about by the headstrong caprice of his companion.
The pair had started out from Mumbles for a sail in the evening—entirely against the advice of Glyn. The project had been Spalding's idea from the first, and he, no doubt, had been lured on by the brightness of the evening weather. He had scoffed at the very idea of a storm being near, as Glyn had hinted, and in the end the couple had set out.
For a while they had enjoyed their cruise immensely and had smoked and chatted together lightheartedly. But then, with unusual suddenness, a squall had come up, and had quickly turned into a raging storm, accompanied by thunder and lightning, and torrents of rain.
The two young men had turned and raced for port with all speed. But the storm had overtaken them, and had smashed the rudder of their little craft, and had carried away her flimsy sails, leaving them utterly helpless. They had been forced to run before the storm, unable to steer their vessel, and to face whatever lay in their path.
Luckily, they had been carried straight towards the coast, instead of out to sea, where they would have stood no chance whatever of living through the tempest. As it was, things were quite bad enough, for the luckless pair knew quite well that the rugged coast was crammed with dangerous rocks and crags. But they were helpless, and could do nothing but put up with whatever lay in store for them.
So far they had been extremely fortunate. Their boat was splintered to matchwood, it is true—but they themselves were still in the land of the living, and uninjured. But they were fighting for their very lives against the sea and the rocks, and if they finally succeeded in getting ashore they would have ample cause to congratulate themselves.
And it now began to look as if they would, indeed, manage to reach land. Glyn was still leading the way, with Spalding struggling gamely in his wake. The pair were gasping and panting with their efforts, and they were obliged to gulp in hurried breaths as opportunity offered. Three-fourths of the time they were under the surface of the angry waters, but they were slowly but surely getting nearer to safety.
They would not be able to endure the strain much longer, for their struggle had sapped their strength. And they knew that the worst was yet to come. Every moment brought them nearer to the treacherous rocks, and unless they could manager to prevent themselves being flung violently against them, their fate would be sealed. Their only hope lay in steering a course between the masses of rocks, and this would be no easy task, with such a sea running.
But the shipwrecked pair floundered gamely on, and more by luck than anything else succeeded in choosing a spot where the rocks were fewer. Glyn was the first to be cast ashore, and he was flung upon the beach by a mighty wave which carried him almost high and dry. He lay panting and spent upon the dripping sands, and he was conscious of a dull, numbing pain in one of his legs.
The next minute Victor Spalding, hurled shorewards by the next great roller, came toppling helter-skelter upon the beach. He was flung completely over a jutting point of rock, where he rolled over and sat up with his usual nonchalant unconcern. He glanced over to where his friend was lying and grinned.
"Bet you couldn't do that, old scout!" he remarked.
This was quite characteristic of Spalding, nothing seemed to make him serious. He always took dangers lightly, with a joke of some kind on his lips. In the present instance he was quite aware that both himself and his friend had had an almost miraculous escape from death—but the very manner of his landing had caused him to see the humorous side of their adventure.
Both the young men were feeling somewhat weak and used up, but their hearts were filled with a great thankfulness. They had managed in spite of all, to reach safety, and they were content.
Glyn looked up as Spalding made his remark, and his face was white and drawn with pain. In the pale, fitful moonlight, this was evident enough to his friend, who crossed over to him at once, his expression now one of acute concern.
"Hallo! What's up, Owen, old man?" he asked quickly. "You're looking a bit groggy."
Glyn smiled painfully.
"I—I'm all right, Vic," he said. "I think we're a couple of the luckiest chaps on earth to get out of this mess as we have done! Why, I never expected to get ashore at all, so I can't grumble at the little graze on the shin which is giving me beans just now! One of those blessed rocks caught me as I whizzed past it on the wave, I think, and it's pretty painful."
Spalding nodded, and bent down at once. In a moment he had pulled up Glyn's trouser leg, and was looking at the injured limb. There was no wonder that Glyn had winced with pain, for his shin was pretty badly hacked, and he was bleeding rather profusely.
"Bally nasty sort of wound, old chap, but we'll soon have it bound up," commented Spalding, taking out his handkerchief as he spoke. "If you can manage to walk, it's up to us to scout round and find some sort of place to spend the night. Hanged if I relish campin' out in the rain just now! I don't mind bein' shipwrecked, but I draw the line at sleepin' in the open when there's about half-a-ton of wetness comin' down every five minutes or so!"
Glyn smiled, and watched his friend deftly bind the handkerchief round his injured shin.
"I agree with you, Vic'" he said. "But we shall have to take our chance of finding accommodation. Don't forget that we're on a bleak and desolate part of the coast, and I shall be surprised if we come across any habitation hereabouts. We may be miles and miles away from the nearest house!"
Spalding snorted disgustedly.
"That's right—be cheerful!" he said. "Hang it all, give us a chance to look round before you dash our hopes to the ground! But I've got a notion you're wrong, old thing! I fancy I saw a glimmer of light at the top of the cliffs here while I was bein' buffeted about in the briny—an' I'm going up to investigate! Do you think you can manager the climb—or shall I hoist you on my manly back?"
"Oh, I can manage to walk all right—don't worry," said Glyn, getting to his feet as he spoke. "I only hope you're right about that, light, Vic. I can do with a rest and a feed, I can tell you!"
Spalding licked his lips.
"Don't talk about it, old boy!" he said, placing his hands upon his stomach. "I feel absolutely empty, somehow—although I'll admit that it's queer, considerin' that I've swallowed about half the ocean! Hallo! There seems to be a sort of pathway up the bally mountain here! Come on—I'll bet this is the way to the grub and a bed!"
He grabbed hold of Glyn, and assisted him along a beach towards the path he had discerned in the pale moonlight. It was a rough, rugged kind of stairway leading up the cliff side, and had obviously been cut by human hands. This gave the two adventurers renewed hope that there was some sort of habitation quite near to the spot, and they lost no time in making the ascent.
Glyn found that he could walk with the help of his friend, although each step caused him to suffer intense agony. The wound upon his shin was more serious than he had thought at first, but it was no use giving way to despair. Spalding, in spite of his offer, could not possibly have carried Glyn up the steep cliff, although he would have been quite game enough to make the attempt. And so Glyn bravely set his lips, and allowed himself to be half-hauled up the rough and slippery stairway.
The rain was pouring down in torrents, and an occasional flash of lightning showed them their surroundings with remarkable clearness. Below them, the incoming tide roared and crashed against the rocky beach, and Spalding and Glyn felt a renewed thankfulness in their hearts at their deliverance. After all, they had had a remarkable escape from death, and they were extremely lucky to have escaped with only the injury to Glyn's leg.
The fitful, pale moonlight was quite sufficient to show the steps in the pathway, and in spite of their sodden condition, the two castaways managed to negotiate them without mishap. After five minutes climbing, they reached the summit, and they were surprised to see a huge building situated practically at the edge of the cliff itself.
It was an extremely picturesque old place, with turrets and towers galore—evidently an ancient castle which had withstood the storms and winds for hundreds of years on that bleak, exposed spot. It was a welcome sight just now to the two soaked and exhausted young men, and Spalding pointed eagerly.
"There you are, old bean—what did I tell you?" he exclaimed. "There's the light I saw right enough—the friendly old beacon which spells rest, shelter and grub! Our luck's in after all, and we'll soon be comfortably housed within this musty old fortress! I'm just beginning to enjoy myself, Owen, old chap—and I'm hanged if I anticipated any adventure of this kind when we started out from London!"
This was undoubtedly true.
The two young journalists had travelled to Swansea in connection with a murder case which was attracting great public attention at the moment, and they had had no thoughts beyond that. Spalding's idea of going for a sail was solely responsible for the adventures which they were now experiencing—and which were to lead to many strange events.
The light which had been visible from the sea came from one of the castle windows overlooking the cliffs, and as Glyn and Spalding approached the great building they could see that the entrance was upon the opposite side of the old house. Very soon they had reached the great, iron-studded door, and Spalding seized the massive knocker and hammered loudly.
Rain and wind whistled round them as they waited for a response, and as nothing happened within the first minute, the knocker was again put into action by the irresponsible and impatient Spalding. He thudded vigorously and repeatedly upon the door, and at last the two visitors heard the sound of movements within.
"Woke 'em up at last!" said Spalding, with a grin.
A moment later the tremendous door was pulled open, and a little, wizened, bent old man stood facing them, looking rather scared and startled. He gazed at the newcomers stupidly for a few seconds, and then spoke in a husky, trembling voice.
"What—what do you want?" he muttered querulously, looking from one to the other apprehensively.
Spalding stepped forward.
"Well, if you'll be kind enough to oblige us, we'd like some food and shelter for the night," he said. "We've been shipwrecked on the rocks just below here, and we feel pretty well used up! In addition, my friend has injured his leg, and he wants attention rather badly. Anything doin'?"
The old man seemed slightly at a loss how to act, and he half shook his head.
"I'm—I'm sure I don't know what to do, gentlemen!" he mumbled. "You see, it's this way ."
"Are you the owner of the place?" interrupted Spalding.
"No, no, sir—my name's Llewellyn, and I'm the caretaker," answered the old fellow. "This is Glyn Castle, and I'm quite alone in the old house. But if you have suffered shipwreck, as you say, I can do nothing less than admit you."
Owen smiled to himself as he heard the old man's words. Glyn Castle—his own name! The thought passed through his mind that they couldn't have come to a better place.
The caretaker opened the door wide as he spoke, and the two sodden and bedraggled adventurers entered the ancient castle with somewhat mixed feelings.
As they did so, the heavy door closed behind them with a dull, sinister slam, while the gale whistled shrilly and fiercely outside.
"COME this way, gentlemen," said the old caretaker, after closing the door, and casting a scared glance into the gloomy recesses of the great entrance hall. "I suppose you will want to take your wet clothing off as soon as possible, and warm yourselves by the fire!" Owen Glyn nodded.
"That will certainly be our wisest plan," he agreed. "We're sorry to put you to so much trouble, and we'll help you light the fire ."
"There is quite a large fire burning in this room, sir," broke in the old fellow, striding across the hall, and flinging open the door of a great apartment as he spoke. "If you will make yourself at home here, I will hurry away and bring some blankets."
"Good man!" said Spalding, with a nod of approval. "Thanks very much! Ah! What a sight to cheer a couple of half-drowned men, eh? That's what I call a fire! One of the old sort—hot enough to roast a bally bullock!"
He, and Owen had followed the caretaker into the large room by this time, and their chilled hearts were greeted by the sight of a tremendous fire which burned on the open grate, radiating a cheerful glow of light and heat. The soaked pair hurried over to it, and were soon warming themselves near the crackling flames.
Llewellyn left the room, promising to return with blankets and a bandage for Owen's leg. And while the old chap was absent the two friends commenced to undress, spreading their sodden clothing in front of the fire to dry. The caretaker reappeared before they had stripped, and he brought them a couple of thick, warm blankets apiece, and placed the bandage upon the table.
"There you are, gentlemen—I hope you will be able to manage," he said, still with that peculiar scared look on his face. "I am quite unable to offer you a bed, and you will have to make shift in this one room for the night. But I will prepare you some food and bring it to you as soon as possible."
The two friends thanked him and went on with their undressing. The warmth of the fire had already made them feel much better, and when they had finally divested themselves of their wet clothing and had wrapped themselves in the blankets, they were almost themselves again—except for Owen's wound.
Victor now devoted his attention to this, and soon had it neatly and firmly bandaged up. The gash was really a serious one, and gave Glyn considerable pain. But he bore it bravely, and assured his friend that it was very much easier for the attention he had given it.
Llewellyn now returned once more, this time carrying a large tray, on which reposed a huge plate of sandwiches, some cups and saucers, and a large jug filled to the brim with steaming hot coffee. He set this burden down upon the table near the shaded lamp, and turned to the two blanket-swathed visitors.
"I don't think there is anything more I can do for you, gentlemen," he said in his trembling voice. "I hope you will like the food I have brought. It is plain, I know, but it is wholesome, and the coffee is hot. If you require any more, just ring the bell."
Victor eyed the tray hungrily, and the caretaker moved towards the door.
"Gosh! I shouldn't think we can manage more than you've provided here, Llewellyn!" he exclaimed. "We're tremendously obliged to you, and we'll drink your health in the coffee without the slightest delay! I've got an idea that we're going to enjoy this meal better than any we've had for many a long day. Bein' shipwrecked may have its drawbacks—but I can thoroughly recommend it for givin' a fellow a first-class, number one appetite!"
Owen smiled at his friend's irrepressible good humour, and the hungry pair fell to with a will. After their recent experiences they were badly in need of something strengthening, and the steaming coffee was the best stimulant they could take. Its grateful warmth seemed to make new men of them, and after drinking a cup each, they discussed the sandwiches. They were plain, as Llewellyn had remarked, but the luscious ham, liberally wedged between the slices of bread and butter, were tremendously enjoyable to the nearly exhausted young men.
Within ten minutes they had literally cleared the board, and were feeling like giants refreshed. They had been so busy attending to the wants of the inner man they had scarcely had an opportunity of studying their surroundings or of discussing the strangeness of the caretaker's manner. Llewellyn had vanished from the room immediately after bringing in the tray, and he had done so with a furtiveness which was somewhat uncanny.
Victor rose to his feet with a satisfied sigh, and looked round the large room. It was of such a size that he could only dimly see into the far corners of it, for the shaded paraffin lamp gave but an indifferent light. But what little light there was showed the room to be furnished in a very old-fashioned style, with solidly made furniture of a bygone age.
"We seem to have struck a ducededly queer sort of show," he remarked, gazing round him with interest. "I'll admit that we ought to be jolly grateful to Llewellyn for takin' us in and feedin' us up—but why did the old chap seem so startled when he opened the door?"
Owen shook his head.
"Goodness knows!" he replied. "There's evidently something strange about this place, old man—and about Llewellyn, too. He seems to be frightened out of his wits at our being in the house at all. That's why we're confined to this one room, I expect."
Spalding wheeled round in mock horror.
"Here, hold on, old sportsman—I'm dashed if I like the sound of that word 'confined'!" he protested. "Hang it all, this isn't a blessed prison, even if it looks like one. But wait a minute! I seem to have a hazy recollection of a curious sound as that old caretaker left the room, but I was too busy packing my interior to take much notice at the time!"
As he was speaking Victor crossed the room to the door and turned the handle. In a moment he knew that his suspicion was correct, and he turned back to Owen with a peculiar expression on his good-natured, open face.
"I thought so!" he observed, with a faint grin. "You were right, old top—we're confined right enough! The bally door's locked!"
Owen Glyn rose from his chair in consternation and surprise, and looked at his friend rather excitedly. The realisation that they were prisoners was somewhat astonishing, and for a moment he said nothing.
"You must be mistaken, Vic!" he said at last. "What possible reason can that old caretaker have for locking us in here? It's—it's preposterous!"
"I think the same as you, Owen," he said. "But there you are! The door is locked right enough, and the window looks as if it wants a bit of opening! This adventure seems to be turnin' out in a rummy way when you come to think of it! Why did the old bird lock the door—that's what I want to know!"
He strolled over to the window and examined it. The casement was situated high up in the wall and seemed to be composed of coloured glass. Thick curtains divided the window recess from the room, which explained why they had seen no glimmer of light from the outside.
Owen's leg was paining him considerably, but he hobbled over to Victor's side, and the pair examined the curious room together. Glyn seemed to be strangely silent and preoccupied, and Spalding wondered at the reason for it. But he said nothing as they walked round the room, looking at everything with great interest.
There was nothing very much to see, and in any case the light was so weak that very little could be discerned with any clearness. They discovered that the great room contained a large amount of very antique, beautiful furniture, consisting of bureaux, bookcases, tables, and articles of that kind. And after a merely cursory glance round they returned to their chairs before the fire and fell to talking over the situation.
"Our ancient friend Llewellyn has evidently got the wind up rather badly over something or other!" said Spalding, making use of his usual free and easy slang expressions. "But why should he be so scared, I'm dashed if I can understand! I daresay that you and I looked a pretty pair of scarecrows when we first appeared at the hall door—but, hang it all, we surely weren't hideous enough to make the old buffer act in this queer way! It's bally mysterious, and I'm filled with curiosity to discover what's up!"
"So am I," he agreed. "But there's something else which is very mysterious—to me, at any rate. Do you know, Vic, that this old place seems to be strangely familiar to me? I can't for the life of me understand why, but I've just got that feeling. Curious, isn't it?"
Spalding looked up at his friend and grinned.
"Perhaps it's not quite so curious as you seem to think, old man," he said. "You've told me more than once that there's some sort of a mystery connected with your past life, and for all you know this old castle may be your ancestral home! Your name's the same, anyhow—and that may be a clue! Of course, we know that Glyns are about two a penny in this part of the country, but you never know your luck! There are stranger things happen in real life than any of the stunts they shove in stories!"
"Don't be such an ass, old man!" he said. "There's certainly something missing with regard to my past history, but it's ridiculous to suppose that this old place has anything to do with it. Even coincidence hasn't quite such long arms as to literally cast me up on the shore at the very foundations of my boyhood's home—absolutely unknown to me!"
Spalding shook his head doubtfully, and the two friends began talking over the strange blank in Owen Glyn's life. It was quite true that some mystery surrounded his parentage, and this was always a point of acute worry on the young man's part.
During the war Owen had served as a lieutenant in the Army, but beyond that fact he knew absolutely nothing about himself. He had been found in Germany, a prisoner of war, and he merely knew that his name was Owen Glyn. It was quite evident that he had suffered severely from shell-shock, and he had been brought to England and cared for in a Home for more than eighteen months.
Eventually he had recovered his full health and strength; but even now he knew nothing about his parentage or home. He had advertised pretty extensively, but all to no purpose. He had never succeeded in discovering anything whatever about himself, greatly to his regret.
He had always carried a photograph of an elderly man, signed "your loving Father;" but, of course, this told him nothing, and he could not even say how he came to possess it. But he had never ceased in his efforts to find out something regarding his past life. War Office records had been ransacked, in vain, and at last he had almost given up hope of ever learning the truth concerning himself.
Owen was of a literary turn of mind, and he had soon commenced to make a good living with his pen. He now shared a flat with Victor Spalding in a quiet turning off Fleet Street, and was perfectly contented and happy. But for the blank page regarding his early life, Owen Glyn would have been absolutely in his element. He loved his work, and he loved the comradeship of his one staunch friend; but it was only natural for him to wistfully long for his parents, and to know whether he possessed brothers or sisters.
Up to the present moment he had never experienced the strange feelings which possessed him now—that of being in vaguely familiar surroundings. He told himself again and again that it was all fancy, but he could not shake the queer sensation from him.
He told Victor that he was a senseless idiot for even suggesting that this old place was anything to do with his early life; but at the same time he had a peculiar feeling that his friend's words had some truth in them. And yet such a thing was impossible, ridiculous, fantastic! After all the efforts he had made to find some trace of his old home it was simply out of the question to suppose that he had stumbled upon it by the merest chance, by the simple process of being cast ashore from a wrecked sailing boat!
Owen regarded the very idea as preposterous; but Victor persisted in declaring that it was at least a feasible hypothesis.
"It's all very well for you to scoff and cackle, old chap, but how the dickens do you account for this queer sense of familiarity about this room which has got hold of you?" he asked. "That wants a bit of answering, to my mind. And you seem to overlook the fact that this old pile possesses your very name. What about that, eh? Hang it all, coincidence can go a long way, but it can't go so far as this! You're a Welshman, your name's Glyn, and you feel at home in Glyn Castle, which is on the Welsh coast. What more do you want! You're on the trail of your past, old thing, and it's up to us to follow it to the end! What about it?"
Owen tried to laugh again, but his face became twisted with pain as his wound throbbed. Spalding noticed it, and jumped to his feet with alacrity.
"That leg of yours wants another good dressing," he declared. "I'll get that fossilised caretaker to bring some water and some fresh bandages. We can't afford to neglect a thing like that, or else we'll have you laid on your back for weeks to come!"
He walked over to the door and grasped the handle. The door was still locked, and Victor was just about to hammer upon it to draw Llewellyn's attention, when he happened to glance at the wall to the left of the doorway. A big oil painting hung there, almost hidden in the shadows, and neither of the young men had observed it before.
For some reason which Spalding couldn't explain, he walked over to the table and grasped the lamp. Then he carried it towards the picture, and held it as high as he could, so that the rays of light fell upon the grimy canvas. The picture was now illuminated with a fair amount of clearness, and as Victor Spalding gazed at the painting he drew his in breath with a sharp little hiss of excitement.
"Great Scott!" he shouted eagerly. "Come and have a look at this, old man! I've made a discovery which I think will start you jumpin' for joy—in spite of your wonky leg!"
Owen rose to his feet painfully, and glanced at his friend in surprise.
"What on earth are you getting so excited about, Vic?" he asked. "Anyone would think that you've discovered a valuable masterpiece—a Romney or a Rembrandt."
"So I have. A masterpiece of more interest to you than any of the works of the two jokers you've just mentioned!" interrupted Spalding. "Come and have a squint for yourself!"
Wonderingly, Owen hobbled across the room to his friend's side. There had been something in Spalding's tone which hinted more than his words implied, and Glyn was at a loss.
"Now, then, what's this marvellous find of yours?" he began. "You're—"
"Look here!" interrupted Spalding tensely. "What do you make of this, Owen?"
He pointed towards the old oil-painting as he spoke, and Glyn looked at the canvas in some curiosity. He stared at it for a moment or two fixedly, and then gave utterance to a great gasp of surprise.
"Good—good heavens!" he muttered, scarcely able to believe his eyes. "It's—it's—But it can't be, Vic! It's impossible! And yet the likeness is too striking to be mere imagination. Oh, I don't know what to think!"
Forgetting his wounded leg in the excitement of the moment, Owen Glyn ran across the room to the spot where the clothing was spread out to dry, and feverishly searched in one of the pockets. In a moment he had withdrawn a pocket-book from the sodden coat, and was re-crossing the room. As he went he took something out of a little pouch at the back of the book, and held it up beside the oil painting as he came to a halt.
It was the photograph of his father, and as the two friends compared the pictured features they were both struck by the great similarity between the painting and the photograph.
Owen was trembling with excitement, and he turned to Spalding with an eager light on his flushed face.
"The—the tremendous likeness, Vic. Do you see it?" he exclaimed breathlessly. "What can it mean? Is—is it possible that Glyn Castle is really connected in some strange way with my past life?"
Victor nodded, and looked at Owen queerly.
"There's no doubt about it, to my way of thinkin'," he replied. "This old painting is almost exactly like the photograph of your guv'nor, and you can bet your life that—. Hallo! That bally door's opened at last!"
As Spalding was speaking, he became aware that the locked door had suddenly been opened, and that the caretaker was looking at them. There was a strange, sinister light in the old fellow's eyes.
VICTOR SPALDING walked briskly along Oxford Street, Swansea, and abruptly swung himself into the foyer of the Hotel Majestic. There was a look of acute worry on his usually smiling features, and he was in a state of considerable untidiness.
Evidently the young journalist was feeling very far from himself.
The hour was a very early one for him to be abroad, and scarcely anybody was stirring, even in such a busy thoroughfare as this. A couple of milkmen were visible as they went on their morning rounds, and a sleepy-looking porter was shaking mats a few doors away from the hotel.
But Spalding scarcely noticed his surroundings at all in his present pre-occupied frame of mind, and his wrinkled brow spoke eloquently of the anxiety which filled him.
He passed through the foyer and made his way to the lounge. He glanced round in an absent kind of manner, but almost instantly his eyes focussed themselves upon the figures of two people whom he obviously recognised at once. One of them was tall and rather spare, with clear-cut, strong features, and his companion was an alert-looking youth, with bright eyes and a shrewd expression.
Spalding hurried over to them at once, his face showing the pleasure and relief which surged through him.
"Mr. Blake and Tinker!" he exclaimed, his eyes sparkling and his hand outstretched. "By gad! I've never been so pleased to see you in all my life! This is the most amazing piece of luck I've ever experienced—absolutely!"
The warmth of Spalding's greeting seemed to take the famous Baker Street criminologist a trifle by surprise, and he looked at the young journalist in some curiosity. But he shook hands cordially enough, in spite of the fact that he seemed a little at a loss to exactly place the identity of the new-comer.
Sexton Blake and Tinker had come to Swansea in connection with the same crime which was responsible for Spalding's presence in the great Welsh port, and they had already concluded their inquiries. They were, as a matter of fact, upon the point of leaving for London by an early train, and had been just setting out for the station when Spalding had appeared.
The detective eyed the journalist with a little frown of puzzlement on his brow.
"I must admit that your face seems quite familiar to me," he observed pleasantly, "but at the same time I cannot quite—"
"Oh, that's all right, Mr. Blake!" interrupted Victor. "My name's Spalding, and I had the pleasure of makin' your acquaintance when you were investigatin' that affair of Lady Wynchester's stolen pearls, at Berkeley Square. I'm up against somethin' in this neighbourhood which knocks spots off anything I've ever struck in the way of a mystery, and I'm hopin' that you'll undertake to help me—seein' that I've been fortunate enough to meet you in this unexpected manner! Anything doin'?"
Sexton Blake smiled, and shook his head.
"I remember you perfectly now, Mr. Spalding, but I'm afraid I shall be unable to do as you ask," he said. "Tinker and myself are just starting for London—"
"Oh, hang it all, can't you just hear what I've got to say before you turn me down?" interrupted Spalding, his face the picture of dismay. "I assure you, Mr. Blake, this affair is just in your line! But, quite apart from that, my pal has disappeared, and I want you to help find him! The whole thing is appallin', and I'm nearly worried to death!"
The famous detective looked at his watch.
"Well, I can give you just ten minutes," he said, "After that Tinker and I must hurry off to the station."
"Oh, thanks tremendously, Mr. Blake."
The young journalist had not met Tinker before, and after a brief introduction to the lad, the trio made their way to the smoking-room, where they were soon comfortably seated.
Spalding plunged at once into his story, and related as briefly as possible the events of the preceding night. He told his hearers exactly how he and Owen Glyn had been cast ashore on the rocks, and the subsequent visit to the ancient castle on the cliffs.
He also explained the strangeness of the caretaker's manner at Glyn Castle, and touched lightly upon the mystery which surrounded the past life of his friend. Spalding omitted no essential details, and told Blake and Tinker how he had discovered the oil painting which bore such a striking resemblance to the photograph of Glyn's father.
"Just as Owen and I was discussin' this picture," he went on, "we became aware that the door had been unlocked, and that the ancient caretaker was gazin' at us with his peculiar, sinister-lookin' eyes. There's somethin' dashed queer about that old fellow Llewellyn, Mr. Blake!"
"Evidently!" murmured the detective, who had been listening with great interest. "Did he give any explanation as to why the door had been locked?"
"No, he may have been going to do so, but somethin' happened just then which prevented him from goin' into any details," said Spalding. "Poor old Owen was so excited about the picture of his father that he forgot the wound on his shin, and he went blundering into a stool, and stumbled over it. There would have been nothin' serious in that, only he happened to catch his injured shin on the bally thing, and started the wound bleedin' most alarmingly. He simply laid on the floor groanin' in agony, with the blood runnin' down his leg in the most shockin' manner. I could see that the thing was serious, and quite beyond my powers of attention, and I told Llewellyn that a doctor's presence was absolutely essential.'
"Quite so," agreed Blake.
"Well, I bound up Owen's leg again, and started gettin' dressed in my sodden clothes, meanwhile makin' inquiries from the caretaker as to where a doctor could be found." continued Spalding. "The old fellow told me that a doctor lived in a village two miles away from the castle, and I set out post-haste to bring him along. There's no need to weary you with my adventures in discoverin' the village, and the medical man's house, but I found 'em at last, and succeeded in inducin' the doctor to come back with me. It wanted a bit of doin', Mr. Blake, for even a doctor doesn't like to be hauled out of warm bed and carted off in the pourin' rain for a two-mile walk!"
Spalding paused, and grinned.
"But he was a thorough sportsman, and he came without a murmur," he resumed. "I took him back to Glyn Castle, and we hammered at the door for admittance. Old Llewellyn opened it after a few minutes of waiting, and I could see at a glance that his expression had changed completely."
"In what way?" asked Blake.
"Well, he looked tremendously surprised when he saw me," replied Spalding. "He gazed almost stupidly from me to the doctor, and I asked him what the dickens was the matter. But instead of replying, he asked a question.
"'Why—why have you come back here?" he asked in quavering tones.
"Of course, I stared at him rather blankly, thinking he had gone off his chump, or something like that. "'I've brought the doctor to attend to my friend's injured leg,' I replied.
'"But your friend isn't here!' said Llewellyn, looking at us in surprise. 'He seemed to be angry with you for troubling about fetching the doctor, and he got dressed immediately after you had left, and followed you!'
"This was a bit of a shock to me, Mr. Blake, and I scarcely knew what to do. I couldn't believe the caretaker's words, and I began to question him rather closely. But he simply stuck to his story, and insisted that Owen had dressed and gone out after me. What could I do in face of that? Llewellyn swore that Owen wasn't in the castle, and there was nothing for the doctor and myself to do but clear off!"
Sexton Blake nodded.
"Your position was decidedly awkward," he admitted.
"Awkward isn't the word for it," said Spalding. "I felt startled and angry, and I was tremendously worried about poor old Owen. I didn't believe for a moment that he had left the castle of his own accord, but to satisfy a sort of forlorn hope, the doctor and I searched about the cliffs for a long time. I thought it just possible that the poor old chap had fallen and hurt himself afresh, but we found no sign whatever of my pal."
He paused, and the expression of acute worry returned to his face. Blake and Tinker had been listening with great interest to the journalist's story, and it was clear that they were impressed.
"It's jolly queer where Mr. Glyn could have got to," said Tinker thoughtfully. "Why did he go out after you at all, when he knew you'd be returning shortly with the doctor?"
"That's just the point which puzzles me," said Spalding. "I had a long talk with the doctor as we were searchin' the cliffs, and told him just how we had come to visit the old home. He gave me the information that Glyn Castle had been standin' empty for years and years, and until I told him he didn't even know that a caretaker was on the premises. When you come to think of it, Mr. Blake, the whole series of circumstances are bally strange, particularly when you take into consideration that Owen recognised the old painting, and Llewellyn's peculiar manner all along. What do you think of it?"
The detective stroked his chin thoughtfully.
"It is rather difficult to say at this stage," he replied. "Your story has all the elements of a profound mystery, and I will admit that I am greatly interested. Do you think Mr. Glyn's injury was sufficiently serious to prevent him leaving the castle without assistance?"
"Yes, that's just what I do think, Mr. Blake!" answered Spalding promptly. "Moreover, I've got a pretty good idea that Owen has met with some sort of foul play—there's no other explanation of the matter, to my mind. When I walked into Swansea this morning I had intended to go to the police, but I haven't much faith in their methods, especially in a case of this kind, where there's no actual, concrete proofs to offer 'em. But as soon as I set eyes on you and Tinker—Well, there you are! Will you look into the mystery and find my pal, Mr. Blake? For heaven's sake don't say no, for you're the very man for a job of this sort!"
Sexton Blake smiled, and looked from Spalding to Tinker, and back again.
"Well, I don't deny that I am greatly interested in the strange business you have placed before me," he said, "and I am inclined to agree with you that your friend has met with foul play. It is scarcely conceivable that Mr. Glyn would dress himself and hurry out after you as the caretaker stated, especially as such a proceeding would be pointless. He would have done far better to remain where he was until you returned with the doctor. And this, in my opinion, was what he intended to do."
Spalding looked up quickly.
"You mean that Owen was either forced to leave the castle, or that he is being detained there against his will?" he asked.
"Exactly!" agreed Sexton Blake. "And, since you and the doctor made a thorough search of the countryside in the immediate vicinity of the castle, there is little doubt in my mind that your friend is being kept within the castle—probably a prisoner!"
"But what on earth for?" asked Spalding in perplexity.
The detective shook his head.
"If we could answer that question, I don't think there would be much more mystery to solve," he replied. "Tell me, Spalding, did this caretaker strike you as being unusual in any way, apart from his queerness of manner?"
"It's difficult to say, Mr. Blake—he's such a wizened, bent little man," answered the journalist. "He's evidently tremendously old, and now you come to mention it, he did seem to be scared and frightened when we first went to the castle. And, in addition, he locked us in that room, as I told you, which seems to be a strange sort of thing to do."
"Very strange," agreed Blake. "You said that he unlocked the door just as you and Glyn were discussing the picture of his father, did you not?"
"Do you think Llewellyn overheard what you were saying?"
"Oh, yes, he must have done so!"
"Humph! I thought so," murmured the detective thoughtfully. "Well, my dear fellow, I am more than half inclined to delay my journey to London and to have a look into this business. Undoubtedly there is some sinister mystery connected with that old castle, and I am rather curious. What do you say, young 'un?"
He turned to Tinker as he uttered the last words of his sentence, and his assistant promptly nodded with great vigour.
"It's a great ado, guv'nor!" he said. "I vote we stay behind and get busy in the Glyn Castle mystery! We can just do with a few days on the rugged coast of Gower—after slogging away in London as we've been doing lately. Besides, you can't refuse to help Mr. Spalding to find his chum—it wouldn't be playing the game?"
Blake smiled and glanced at the eager Spalding.
"Tinker's words appear to have clinched the matter, and we will accompany you to Glyn Castle at once," he said.
The young journalist jumped to his feet and grasped Blake's hand warmly.
"Gosh, Mr. Blake, you're a brick!" he exclaimed delightedly. "I feel too overwhelmed with gratitude to thank you properly now, but I've got an idea that some dashed strange events are goin' to occur. I'm chiefly concerned about the fate of poor old Owen, for I'm absolutely certain that he didn't leave Glyn Castle of his own free will. Goodness only knows what's happened to him, but if anybody's harmed him they'll have to answer to me for it!"
Spalding's face took on a grim expression as he uttered the words, and Blake and Tinker could do nothing but admire him for his staunch loyalty to his friend. There was no pretence about Victor—he meant what he said, and he would certainly make things hot for those responsible for Owen's predicament.
The trio discussed the arrangements for the immediate future, and a little later they set off for the old castle upon the cliffs. Blake and Tinker, now that they had consented to make an investigation into the strange mystery which surrounded the old building, were quite as eager to reach the spot as Spalding himself.
But Victor, of course, was actuated by a double motive. He was anxious to solve the queer mystery, but he was more anxious regarding the whereabouts of his friend. What could have happened to him?
SEXTON BLAKE paused upon the wind-swept cliff and looked into the near distance with interest.
"Quite an imposing structure, Spalding, and undoubtedly of tremendous age," he remarked, pointing to Glyn Castle as he spoke. "The general outline of the building suggests that it was erected in the latter part of the Middle Ages, and I daresay its grim old walls have concealed many a stirring little drama from the eyes of the world."
"Yes, Mr. Blake, a mediaeval castle of this sort seems an ideal settin' for blood-curdlin' dramas!" he replied. "But, all the same, I hope poor old Owen isn't goin' through anything of that kind! In the daylight the castle looks picturesque and beautiful, but last night, in the darkness and rain, its sinister appearance was enough to give a fellow the shivers!"
"Hanged if I can see anything particularly attractive about the old show—daylight or not!" put in Tinker, eyeing the old pile critically. "Looks more like a prison than a residence, and it seems to have a sort of forbidding appearance about it. Ugh! Fancy living in a place like that!"
The trio had just come in sight of the ancient castle as they walked along the cliffs from the direction of Langland Bay. There was no proper roadway hereabouts, but merely an indistinct pathway through the grass. It was possible to approach the castle from the road leading to the village near by, but Blake and his companions had preferred the more pleasant method of traversing the cliff path.
The stormy weather of the previous night was still in evidence, although the rain had ceased to fall. A strong wind was blowing, inland from the sea, and angry, scudding clouds overhead seemed to give a hint of more rain in the near future.
Glyn Castle, viewed in the strong light of day, was certainly a fine old building. Its massive and imposing architecture, its lofty turrets and towers, gave it an appearance of grandeur and majesty which had been entirely lacking during the hours of darkness, when Spalding and Glyn had first approached it.
But, in spite of its beautiful and artistic form, there seemed to be a hint of grim and sinister mystery about the ancient place, even in the full light of the morning. Its great towering walls and ornamental masonry were all in a remarkable state of preservation, but the building as a whole certainly seemed to be forbidding and uninviting, as Tinker had said.
After pausing for a few moments the three interested spectators continued on the way. They were quite near to the spot where Spalding and Glyn had come to grief upon the treacherous rocks below, and the young man pointed out the roughly hewn stairway which led from the beach to the cliff top. This evidently had been made for the convenience of the inhabitants of the castle, and was probably as old as the building itself.
The whole country-side, apart from the castle itself, was bleak and barren, and consisted chiefly of coarse, grass-covered stretches of ground, with an occasional tree or mass of rock to break the monotony. No other human habitation was within sight, and Glyn Castle was about as isolated a dwelling as one could find in the British Isles.
"Cheerful lookin' sort of shanty, isn't it?" remarked Spalding as the trio drew nearer to the great iron-studded doorway. "Reminds me of the stories I used to read when I was a kid, Mr. Blake! I never dreamed that I should one day be mixed up in a real adventure with an ancient castle as the scene of operations, but I've got a strong sort of feelin' in my bones that somethin' queer is going' to happen here!"
"It strikes me that something queer has already happened here!" he said. "Mr. Glyn's imprisonment, for example. It seems obvious that he's being detained—that yarn about his going away last night is too thin to hold water. Even if he had been turned out, he would have waited for you."
"Of course he would," agreed Spalding, with a worried frown.
"Well, we'll interview the caretaker for a commencement," said Sexton Blake, halting in front of the door and grasping the knocker.
He gave it a few business-like thwacks, which echoed within the great hall eerily, and then waited for the door to be answered. In a very few seconds footsteps sounded, and then the massive door was opened a few inches, and the scared face of the old caretaker appeared. Llewellyn evidently intended to take no chances, for he was careful to keep a heavy chain in position, which effectually prevented the door opening more than a distance of three or four inches.
Through this narrow aperture his apprehensive old features could be seen gazing out upon the three visitors. Blake and Tinker were strangers to him, of course, but it was clear that he recognised Spalding instantly, for he fixed his eyes upon the young journalist with none too friendly an expression.
"Why—why have you come here?" he quavered. "I cannot tell you anything more—"
"We have come to see Mr. Owen Glyn," interrupted Sexton Blake briskly, stepping closer to the door, and looking at the caretaker intently. "Kindly open the door, and let us in!"
The old man shook his head.
"Mr. Glyn left the castle last night—as I told this gentleman," he said, indicating Spalding. "I have no idea where he went to but he is certainly not here. Why do you persist in thinking he is?"
"Because we are quite convinced that Mr. Glyn was in no fit condition to leave unassisted!" said Blake. "He was physically unable to do so, and in any case there was no object in his leaving when he knew that Mr. Spalding had gone to procure the services of a doctor. It is useless for you to stick to your story, Llewellyn—we don't believe it!"
"Not a word of it!" put in Spalding warmly. "Look here, man, you'd better let us in, or else you'll find yourself in trouble! Where is my friend?"
"Mr. Glyn left the castle shortly after you did, sir!" persisted Llewellyn, his voice faltering and trembling. "I—I told you last night that he was annoyed at your going, and he insisted upon going after you! That is all I can tell you!"
"Why was Mr. Glyn annoyed?" demanded Blake. "He knew that Mr. Spalding had gone for a doctor, did he not?"
"Yes, I suppose so." faltered the caretaker. "But he—he said his injury was not sufficiently serious to need medical attention." Spalding grunted angrily.
"Look here, Llewellyn—you're lying!" he exclaimed. "When I left, Mr. Glyn was groaning in agony, and quite unable to walk—as you know well enough! What's the idea of springing this cock-an-bull story on us, eh? Why are you keepin' Mr. Glyn in the castle? Come on—you'd better tell the truth before I lose my temper! I know he wouldn't leave until I returned—so it follows that he's still here! Now then—are you goin' to tell us the truth and open the door?"
The caretaker shook his head, but it was noticeable that the frightened look in his eyes became more pronounced.
"I—I have told you the truth," he said tremulously. "Mr. Glyn is not here, and I cannot open the door to you. I have wasted far too much time already in this useless talk, and I must go about my duties!" Slam!
The massive door closed with a bang, and Victor Spalding clenched his fists angrily as he glanced at Sexton Blake.
"Well, of all the confounded nerve!" he exclaimed heatedly. "What do you think of it, Mr. Blake? That miserable old reprobate actually banged the door in our faces! By gosh! I'll—I'll—"
Sexton Blake looked grim.
"There is no object in losing your temper, Spalding," he said smoothly, cutting the young journalist's angry speech short. "It is quite obvious that the caretaker was lying in order to induce us to go away. I am perfectly convinced that he knows all there is to know about Glyn—and I am also fairly certain that Glyn is within the castle!"
"So am I!" declared Spalding. "That's what makes me so infernally wild! The position is simply frightful: we're as helpless as kittens, so far as I can see! It's impossible for us to get into this blessed fortress in order to rescue poor old Owen; an' yet we must, Mr. Blake! It's absolutely up to us to get him out, or perish in the attempt! What do you suggest?"
Spalding looked at the detective anxiously as he spoke, and it was quite evident that he was vastly concerned regarding the fate of his friend. Blake's expression was one of concentrated thought, and after a few moments he turned to the journalist keenly.
"The position is somewhat curious, as you remarked, Spalding," he said. "But it may not be altogether hopeless, in spite of the impregnable appearance of the castle. Our best policy will be to take a walk completely round the building, and see if we cannot find some method of entering. Llewellyn, evidently has no intention of admitting us, so we must discover a means of entering without his assistance."
Victor shook his head doubtfully.
"Might as well try an' break into Dartmoor prison as get into this blessed place!" he muttered. "Still, that seems to be about the only thing to do, so we'll have a shot at it! That is to say, you will, Mr. Blake! I'm no bally good at the burgling stuff, but I'll bet that if any man can break into this old castle, you can!"
Sexton Blake made no reply, but merely smiled as he commenced the circuit of the building. This was quite an easy matter, for the castle was planted directly upon the cliff, with no surrounding grounds or gardens whatever. The walls rose sheer from the grass-grown earth, and they were free to walk close beside the old house without hindrance.
But as they went there seemed to be little prospect of gaining an entry into the grim interior, for all the windows were set high up, and were, in addition, securely barred and shuttered. The whole place was like a fortress, and after examining three sides of the building they were forced to the conclusion that no hope whatever existed of gaining admittance, unless some means could be found of attaining their object upon the fourth side—that which overlooked the sea.
Spalding was becoming somewhat dejected; a state of mind entirely foreign to his usually sunny nature. He was extremely worried and anxious regarding his friend, and he blamed himself—quite unjustly—for being the cause of what had taken place.
"I was a bally idiot for leaving poor old Owen in a place like this!" he said. "But I had no idea that he'd be trapped as soon as my back was turned. What's to be done, Mr. Blake? We simply must get the dear old chap out, even if we have to blow a hole through the wall! And that, by the look of things, is about the only way we shall be able to get inside!"
"Don't be in too much of a hurry, my dear fellow," and Blake quietly. "There is still the seaward side of the castle to investigate, and until we have thoroughly examined that we must not give up hope."
"Not much hope of doing anything on that side, guv'nor," he remarked. "Why, the castle wall rises sheer from the cliff edge!"
"I fancy you are mistaken, Tinker," replied the detective, making his way to the seaward side of the building. "Ah! You see? There is quite enough room on this ledge for us to walk from one side of the castle to the other. Be extremely careful, though; the earth may be loose and treacherous."
Blake pointed to a narrow ledge which ran between the end wall of the house and the edge of the cliff itself. It was barely more than three feet wide at its broadest part, and in places this was narrowed down to something under two feet where miniature landslides had occurred from time to time. From this ledge there was a sheer drop of a hundred feet to the rocky beach below, while the lofty wall of the castle rose into the air from the opposite edge of the narrow shelf.
To negotiate this perilous path steady nerves were required, but without a moment's hesitation Sexton Blake commenced walking unconcernedly along it, followed closely by Tinker and Spalding. And once they had fairly started, they could see that, after all, there was not a great amount of danger owing to the fact that tough, strongly-rooted ivy grew profusely along practically the whole width of wall. This, in the event of any of the trio slipping owing to a false step, would afford an excellent hand-hold.
Blake, as he led the way along, kept a keen look out for any signs of a means of gaining an entry. But the windows on this side were precisely similar to the others—high up, barred and shuttered. To attempt to make an entry by either one of them would be futile—a mere waste of time.
The detective observed, as he edged his way along the ledge, that the castle wall did not continue in an unbroken line to the further extremity, but that a kind of recess was situated in the centre. He further noticed that, from this recess, a massive tower reared itself heavenwards, like a grim sentinel on guard. No doubt this had been used, in days long gone by, as a watch tower, for a grimy window, almost hidden among the ivy, was situated rather more than half way up.
Blake saw all this as he made his way towards the base of the towering column of masonry, and he smiled grimly to himself. He had an idea that this spot might afford them a means of attaining their object, for his keen eyes had already noted the possibilities which the window in the tower offered.
A few moments later the detective reached the recess, Tinker and Spalding joining him immediately afterwards. They found themselves in a little weed-grown backwater, as it were, completely isolated from all human observation—with the exception of the shipping at sea, which they could well afford to ignore entirely.
Sexton Blake glanced round with great interest, and then turned to his two companions, at the same time producing a pair of powerful binoculars from his coat pocket.
"Splendid!" he murmured. "We have reached a point from which we cannot be observed from the castle windows, with the single exception of that situated in the tower. And that, I fancy, is going to prove more of a help than a hindrance."
Blake focussed his glasses upon the window as he spoke, and Spalding and Tinker looked at one another.
"By Jove! Mr. Blake's right!" exclaimed the journalist. "That bally window in the tower is the only one visible from here! All the same, I don't see how it's goin' to help much. It's barred, like the others, to say nothin' of bein' about twenty-Five feet over our heads!"
"Yes, and those iron bars look pretty solid, too," he remarked, eyeing the casement dubiously. "It would need either a Samson or an acetylene welding set to get into the castle through there!"
"No, Tinker, you are mistaken," interrupted Sexton Blake smoothly, lowering his binoculars and turning to his assistant. "These glasses show quite clearly that some of the bars are almost rusted through, and it ought not to be a very difficult matter to wrench a few of them out."
"Oh, good!" commented Tinker. "That simplifies matters considerably, guv'nor. This is the only window we can hope to get in by, and if those iron bars are weakened by rust, it ought to be comparatively easy."
Spalding looked at Blake eagerly.
"Don't you think it would be as well if I fetched the police, Mr. Blake?" he suggested. "They could force an entry by this window, and demand the instant release of poor old Owen."
"That would not be of the slightest use, Spalding," interrupted the detective, shaking his head. "The police, in the first place, would probably refuse to take any action, and even if they did they would find nothing. It is quite evident that the old caretaker is no fool, and he would not be caught napping so easily. No; our only hope is to take the law into our hands, and force our way into the castle."
"But do you thing it's possible?" asked Victor.
"Yes," said Blake. "The wall of the tower is partially ivy-green, and the stone-work, in addition, is exceedingly rough, with many crevices and niches which will afford excellent hand-hold, as you can see." Tinker cocked his eye at the tower wall, and nodded.
"I can shin up to what window in about a couple of ticks, guv'nor!" he observed. "It'll be a pretty easy climb, with the ivy stalks and the cracks in the stone-work to grab hold of. Shall I have a shot at it?"
"Yes; but be as careful as possible, my boy," said the detective. "The ivy may not be as strong as it seems."
Tinker, thus bidden, lost no time in commencing his climb. Naturally, it would not be quite so simple as he made out, but he had often negotiated more difficult and perilous ascents than this. Blake and Spalding remained at the base of the wall, holding themselves in readiness to lend assistance in case Tinker had a mishap.
But the lad seemed to be as sure-footed as a cat as he mounted upwards, making use of every thick branch of the ivy to assist him. Now and again, when the ivy looked uncertain, Tinker inserted his fingers in one of the many fissures in the stonework, and managed to draw himself nearer to the window with every second that passed.
In some places the ivy was quite useless, being much too think and weak to bear the weight of even a child, and in these circumstances Tinker was obliged to trust entirely to his grip upon the face of the wall itself. He clung on with hands and feet, and gradually mounted higher and higher. He noticed, with great satisfaction, that a thick branch of the ivy—one of the main stems of the plant—ran a few feet beneath the window itself, and he knew that when he reached this his position would be comparatively secure. The ivy, in fact, would give him a good foothold while he operated upon the window bars, for it curved gracefully under the window-sill as it stretched upwards from the ground at an acute angle.
Tinker safely got over the difficult portion of his climb, and breathed a sigh of relief as his fingers at length grasped the firmly-rooted ivy branch. Once he had done so, he pulled himself up with the greatest ease, and rested his feet upon the giant creeper, at the same time securing a good grip of the window-ledge itself. He found that he was now able to reach the iron bars without trouble, and he waved his hand to Blake and Spalding as a signal that all was well.
"Good for you. Tinker!" called the journalist delightedly. "Hang on tightly, an' see if you can shift a few of those bally iron bars!"
Tinker lost no time in devoting his attention to them, and a brief examination showed that the detective had been right in his surmise. Several of the bars were almost completely rusted away by the action of the weather, and grasping the first bar he bent it upwards quite easily, after first severing it by a hefty tug. The bar was so rotten near the base that it parted at once.
The removal of this one bar did not widen the space between the others sufficiently to admit of Tinker's passage through the window, so the lad at once devoted his attention to another. This was not quite so easy to dislodge, but after a few powerful wrenches it began to give way in a similar fashion to its neighbour. A final hefty pull succeeded in parting the decayed iron, and, incidentally nearly precipitated Tinker to the ground. The sudden jar he received as the bar parted almost made him lose his balance, but he just managed to retain his hold of the bar and pull himself to safety once more.
He merely gave a grunt of relief, and then proceeded to force the bar upwards, out of the way, as he had done with the other. Then he took a firm hold of the remaining bars, and commenced to haul himself through the window, which was open and unshuttered. Within a few seconds he was through, and his first consideration, after a preliminary glance round, was to turn and widen the space between the bars by the removal of a third. This was necessary, if Blake and Spalding were to enter, and Tinker found the task much easier now that he was in a secure position.
In fact, he managed to force another two of the rusty bars upwards, thus making the space amply wide enough to admit a full-sized man without difficulty. And, that done, Tinker waved to his companions once more, and then disappeared within the tower.
There was plenty of light here, for another window was built into the wall directly opposite the one by which Tinker had entered. He found himself in a tiny, square room, absolutely bare of furniture, and smothered in thick dust and hanging cobwebs. Evidently the place was nothing but a look-out tower, and had long since ceased to be used for any purpose whatever.
Tinker looked round curiously, and saw that a circular stone staircase led downwards, and he wondered what his best plan would be. He listened intently, but could hear nothing, and he decided to descend and investigate further before reporting to his master.
Instantly he commenced to put his thoughts into action, and silently made his way down the dusty stone stairs. As he went it became darker and darker, for there appeared to be no windows whatever upon the staircase. After going down about thirty stairs, however, he saw that daylight was filtering in somewhere lower down, and a little later he came upon another grimy window, situated at the base of the staircase, in a sort of lobby.
At the end of the lobby—which was not more than six feet long—a massive oaken door was situated, and Tinker's heart sank. He would never be able to force a tremendous door of this sort, and he began to think that all his efforts had been in vain. For, unless he could get beyond that doorway, he would be no better off than before he entered the castle at all. It was a galling thought, and Tinker set his teeth grimly as he approached the door, and listened.
Not a sound of any sort reached his ears and the silence of the dismal place was almost tomb-like. But Tinker was not a lad who was much troubled with nerves, and he began to examine the door which barred his further progress. It was a solid structure of oak and iron, with a cumbersome lock, and a circular, twisted iron handle. Tinker grasped this in a forlorn hope that the door would yield, and turned it gently.
The clumsy catch rose with a clumsy click, which echoed through the little lobby like a pistol shot. Tinker's heart almost stood still for a moment, least the sound had been heard within the castle. But nothing happened, and he gently pushed upon the great door.
To his intense surprise and joy it began to open, and he realised that it was not locked after all. This discovery made him feel greatly elated, and he pushed the door open a little wider—just sufficient for him to peep through. Then he smiled to himself, for there was nothing to be seen but a long stone passage, into which the daylight filtered only dimly. The passage was quite deserted, and at the far end it apparently took an abrupt turn to the left.
Tinker gazed along the sombre corridor for a few moments, considering the best method of procedure. He reflected that in all probability he was below the ground level, and that this passage was but one of a series which honeycombed the basement of the castle. He might easily lose his way if he started on a tour of investigation alone, to say nothing of other dangers which might beset him. So he decided to go back to the tower window, and obtain his master's assistance before proceeding further.
Accordingly, he silently closed the oaken door, and ran back up the circular staircase. When he arrived at the window he leaned out, and beckoned to the detective, who was still standing below with Spalding. Tinker signalled for Blake to make the ascent of the wall, at the same time cautioning him not to shout. Tinker deemed it wisest to make as little noise as they could, for it was impossible to tell where Llewellyn was situated, and whether he was within hearing distance.
Sexton Blake understood at once, and waved back to Tinker. Then he turned to Spalding, and spoke in a low voice.
"Tinker evidently has discovered a way into the castle," he said. "You had better remain here on guard while I join him."
"Right-ho, Mr. Blake—if you say no, that's good enough," agreed Spalding. "I won't deny that I'd like to come along, but you're the leader of this burglin' outfit, so I'll proceed to carry out orders! I suppose you're goin' on the principle that too many cooks'll spoil the broth, eh? In other words, too many of us overrunnin' the castle might give the show away!"
Sexton Blake smiled and nodded.
"Exactly," he said. "But it's just possible that you way be of much greater use here, Spalding. In a matter of this kind, one never knows what is going to crop up."
He grasped the ivy as he spoke, and was soon climbing up towards the window. Blake was much heavier than Tinker, of course, but he was an expect athlete, and he found no difficulty in making the ascent. He had observed exactly where Tinker had planted his feet on the way up, and this simplified matters for the detective. He used the same crevices and fissures, and accomplished the climb in less time than Tinker had done. Within three minutes of the start he was clambering in through the window, assisted by Tinker.
The lad lost no time in telling his master of his discoveries as they went down the circular staircase.
"I expect that passage leads right into the castle, guv'nor," he went on, "and if we have any luck at all, we ought to be able to locate Mr. Glyn without much trouble. According to Mr. Spalding, there's nobody here except that ancient caretaker, and once we're inside the place it ought to be easy enough to settle with him."
Blake nodded thoughtfully.
"Llewellyn is the only individual here so far as is known," he said. "But there may be others, Tinker. It is quite evident that a mystery surrounds this old place, and we must go carefully until we are a little more certain of our ground."
The pair had by this time reached the bottom of the circular staircase, and approached the oaken door. Tinker opened it as he had done previously, and he and Blake stepped into the passage with the silence of mice. Without hesitation, but walking on tiptoe, they traversed the dimly-lit passage until the end was reached, and cautiously looked round the corner. Here the corridor continued at right-angles, and seemed to be an exact replica of the other—only shorter.
The utter silence of the place was uncanny and almost weird, but Blake and Tinker continued on their way, turning several times at right-angles. The passages seemed to be endless, and Tinker had evidently been right in his first thought—that the castle was undermined by an extensive series of similar corridors. They were all dismal and badly lit, being neither pitch dark nor light, but in a sort of semi-twilight. What little daylight did penetrate into the place came from a number of perforated gratings let high up into the walls.
Blake and Tinker conversed very little as they explored the queer tunnels, and what few words were spoken were whispered in scarcely audible voices. After turning sharply for about the fourth time, the detective's keen ears caught a slight sound, and he instantly touched Tinker's arm as a signal for him to halt. The lad did so, and the pair stood listening intently.
The sounds were more distinct now, and Blake looked at Tinker tensely.
"Footsteps!" he murmured. "They are coming this way, too, by the sound of them!"
Tinker set his teeth grimly.
"Then we shall be spotted, guv'nor!" he breathed. "There's no escape from this passage unless we double back—and there's no time for that. What are you going to do?"
For answer Sexton Blake stole silently forward. He and Tinker were only a few feet away from another bend in the corridor, and they crept towards it and cautiously peeped round.
Blake pursed his lips in a grim smile as he beheld the bent figure of the old caretaker coming towards the spot. Llewellyn was carrying a tray, upon which was a supply of food and drink—and it was this circumstance which made the famous detective smile in that peculiar manner.
For it proved beyond question that a prisoner was close handy. The caretaker, evidently, was even now on his way to feed the captive—whom Sexton Blake had no doubt was Mr. Owen Glyn himself.
Events were moving slowly—but there seemed something tangible to go upon at last!
SEXTON BLAKE'S keen brain summed up the situation quickly.
He knew that what Tinker had said was right—there was no time to retreat along the passage, and it was equally impossible for them to move forward without being seen by the oncoming caretaker. The corridor itself was absolutely bare of recesses, or other means of concealment, and there was only one possible thing to do.
Bold action was essential, and Blake decided to confront Llewellyn without a moment's delay.
Abruptly, and without any preliminary warning, the detective stepped out directly in the caretaker's path, closely followed by Tinker. The pair halted in the centre of the passage, and waited with some curiosity to see what effect their sudden appearance would have upon the decrepit and mysterious Llewellyn.
The result was somewhat startling.
A couple of ghosts could scarcely have made the caretaker jump more effectively. Blake and Tinker had stepped out so silently and quickly that Llewellyn was scared out of his wits for a few seconds, and after uttering a gasp of surprise and dismay, he allowed the tray of food to drop from his nerveless fingers.
The crash of the breaking crockery failed to bring Llewellyn back to earth, and he seemed almost paralysed with apprehension. There was no doubt that his surprise was genuine, and it was clear that he regarded the appearance of the two strangers within the castle with chagrin and concern. But he was too much startled to utter a single word for a brief space, and simply stared stupidly at the forms of Blake and Tinker, as if unable to believe the evidence of his own eyes.
After a few moments, however, the new-comers observed that the expression in the old man's eyes were changing from surprise and dismay to furious anger, and when he had recovered himself a trifle, he looked from one to the other with fierce glint in his curious, sinister eyes.
"What—what is the meaning of this?" he demanded hotly, his voice tremulous and quivering. "How did you force yourself into the castle? You—you have no right here whatever, and your audacity is amazing! What do you want?" Sexton Blake stepped forward, and looked at the old caretaker sternly.
"You know very well what we want, Llewellyn!" he exclaimed. "Since you refused to admit us in the ordinary manner, we had no other course but to let ourselves in—"
"You are breaking the law!" interrupted the old man. "You have made yourselves liable to prosecution for burglary?"
The detective smiled.
"Possibly!" he admitted. "You are quite at liberty to inform the police—if you think fit! But before you do so I intend to find Mr. Owen Glyn—whom I am quite convinced is within this building—imprisoned against his will! Do you deny it?"
Llewellyn nodded quickly.
"Yes, I do!" he replied. "You—you must be mad to say such a thing! I told you before that Mr. Glyn left the castle last night, soon after his friend, and that—"
"Precisely!" cut in Sexton Blake smoothly. "That's what you told us, Llewellyn! But it doesn't follow that your statement was true, or that we believe what you said! As a matter of fact, I am quite convinced that you are lying! Mr. Glyn is here, and I demand to see him at once!"
The caretaker looked at Blake somewhat fearfully, but stuck to his point.
"He—he is not here!" he said feebly. "Why should you persist—"
"Then for whom was this food intended?" demanded the detective quickly, pointing to the mass of broken china and the ruined meal upon the floor. "Do you still insist that Mr. Glyn is not here?"
Llewellyn shrugged his shoulders with a helpless gesture, and remained silent. It was evident that he had been lying all along, and that he could not hope to keep up his attitude of deception. Blake noted the old man's discomfiture, and he smiled again.
"It is useless for you to keep up this farce a moment longer," he said curtly. "I have been exceedingly patient with you so far, Llewellyn. It is not my way to threaten—but unless you act promptly, and lead us immediately to the spot where Mr. Glyn is imprisoned, I shall send my assistant to fetch the police at once."
There was no mistaking the tone of Blake's voice, and the caretaker realised that he was cornered. He cast a surly and vindictive glance in the detective's direction, and gave vent to an angry grunt.
"Suppose I admit that Mr. Glyn is here—what business is it of yours?" he growled, altering his tactics, and eyeing the detective with a cunning look.
"That is entirely beside the point!" snapped Sexton Blake. "I demand to see Mr. Glyn at once—that is sufficient for you! Now then, are you going to show us the way to Mr. Glyn's apartment?"
The old man nodded eagerly.
"I am in your hands, gentlemen, by the look of things!" he muttered. "There is nothing for me to do but admit that you are right, and show you the way to the prisoner's cell! Come this way!"
Llewellyn's demeanour was now totally different, and Sexton Blake immediately suspected that the old man intended to lead himself and Tinker into a trap. But the detective gave no sign of his suspicions as he commenced following the caretaker along the dim passage. Nevertheless, he was alert, and well on his guard against any such move on Llewellyn's part.
Blake watched the old man closely as he led the way along, and kept within a few inches of his side, so as to obviate any possibly of his slipping away down some unforeseen tunnel or passage. In an ancient building of this kind, there was no telling what Llewellyn might be up to. He, obviously, was familiar with every nook and cranny of the old castle, whereas Blake and Tinker was completely in the dark regarding the lie of the land, as it were.
But the old fellow led the way along the passage in quite a straightforward manner, turning several times abruptly, until the top of a flight of stone stairs was reached. Llewellyn commenced the descent without a pause, and Blake made a sign to Tinker to be careful as they followed him down into the black depths which confronted him.
The staircase seemed to lead down into the very bowels of the earth, and an earthy, dank smell assailed their nostrils as they descended deeper. The air was sweet and wholesome, however, and the caretaker continued unconcernedly on his way, as if quite familiar with his surroundings.
After going down two flights, with abrupt turns at the bottom of each, Blake thought it advisable to have a little light upon the scene. The darkness here was intense and absolute, and the detective produced his electric torch, and switched it on. A second later Tinker followed his example, and the dual beams of light showed them the way with startling clearness after the intense gloom.
Llewellyn halted abruptly as the darkness was dispelled, and turned round, apparently disconcerted and upset. Obviously, he had not bargained for anything of this sort, and he was at a loss.
"Those torches are quite unnecessary!" he muttered, blinking in the bright glare. "I can find my way easily enough in the gloom—"
"That is very probably true," cut in Blake sharply. "But we prefer to see where you are leading us to, my friend!"
Llewellyn said no more, but the apprehensive look in his eyes became more pronounced. It was clear enough to him that these two strangers were highly suspicious of his motives in taking them into lower regions of the castle, but he turned once more, and continued on his way.
The bright torch lights showed Blake and Tinker that they were nearing the bottom of the staircase now, and they glanced round with interest. The stairs themselves, and the walls and floors, were all composed of solid stonework, massively built, and evidently of great age. But, apart from the earthy smelling atmosphere, the place appeared to be quite dry and well preserved.
At the foot of the staircase the caretaker emerged upon the floor of a long passage—a dark, tunnellike corridor, with a series of iron-studded doors running along either side. The very appearance of these sinister-looking portals was depressing, and the gloom and chilly air merely served to enhance this unwelcome sensation.
"Ugh! What a ghastly place!" he exclaimed looking round with a shiver of disgust. "It's worse than the cells of old Newgate!" Sexton Blake paused, and nodded.
"Much worse!" he agreed. "There is no doubt that we are in the dungeons of Glyn Castle, my lad. In the old days they were not over particular regarding light and ventilation, and I daresay some of these loathsome cubicles have housed many a brave martyr. Which of the cells is the present apartment of Mr. Owen Glyn, Llewellyn?" he added, turning upon the old caretaker quickly.
But the man, in spite of his age and stooping aspect, was not to the caught napping, and he shook his head.
"You won't find any trace of Mr. Glyn down here!" he declared emphatically. "I told you he wasn't in the castle, and you'll find that I'm right! You are welcome to search the dungeons to your heart's content."
As he spoke, Llewellyn threw open the heavy door of the first dungeon, and waved his hand towards the interior.
"Go in and assure yourselves that I am speaking the truth, gentlemen!" he exclaimed. Sexton Blake smiled.
"Certainly!" he agreed. "We will follow you in, Llewellyn."
The caretaker cast a keen look at the detective, and it was quite apparent to him that Blake had no intention of allowing himself to be trapped unawares. The criminologist was, in very truth, highly suspicious of the old fellow, and determined to give him no opportunity of playing tricks.
Without hesitation, Llewellyn entered the dark, evil-looking chamber, and Blake and Tinker went in after him. A glance was sufficient to assure them that the dungeon was empty of all human presence; it was completely bare, with the exception of a couple of rusty, ominous chains, fitted with leg-bands, which had at one time been used to manacle some poor creature who had been condemned to eke out a terrible existence in the ghastly prison.
Blake and Tinker left the cell and re-entered the passage once more, the caretaker following at once. Llewellyn immediately opened the door of the next dungeon, and went in. Just inside the door he turned, and faced round with a knowing leer upon his wrinkled features.
"Empty—like the first!" he exclaimed. "You will find that all the dungeons are the same, and you are merely wasting your time in searching down here for Mr. Glyn!"
Sexton Blake pursed his lips.
"I don't believe you, Llewellyn," he said. "And I can assure you that I shall not be satisfied until I have made a very thorough investigation. Come along, open the door of the third cell."
The caretaker smiled to himself, and did as he was ordered. Blake and Tinker had not entered the second dungeon, for a brief scrutiny of the interior, clearly defined in the light from their torches, had assured them that it was as empty as the first.
Llewellyn closed the door and walked to the third cell, which he opened by drawing back the heavy bolt. He was just about to enter, with a grumble upon his lips regarding the futility of the whole proceedings, when Sexton Blake gave him a gentle push from the rear, which sent him stumbling into the dungeon before he realised what had occurred.
Blake slammed the door and shot the bolt with a thud, totally regardless of the caretaker's furious shouts of protest. There was no doubt that Llewellyn had received the surprise of his life, and he was giving vent to his feelings in no uncertain words.
But the detective merely smiled, while Tinker grinned broadly.
"Well, I must say the old chap asked for what he's got, guv'nor," he remarked. "I believe he was only waiting for a suitable opportunity to shove us into one of these blessed dungeons. He'd have done it, too, if you hadn't been so wide as to see through his little game."
"Undoubtedly, young 'un. He brought us down here for the sole purpose of trapping us, as you say," agreed Blake. "But we cannot have our movements hampered and hindered by him indefinitely. He will come to no harm where he is, and, meanwhile, you and I can make our search for Glyn without interruption."
"You think he's down here then, sir?" he asked.
"In my opinion there is no question about it," declared the detective. "These dungeons are extensive, and probably cover the whole basement of the castle. They are practically soundproof, too, and however loudly Glyn shouted he would not be heard, I am convinced that we shall find him, but whether we shall discover the reason for his imprisonment is quite another matter."
Sexton Blake was quickly throwing the beams of light from his torch into the dungeons as he spoke, one after the other. But drew a blank at each one—there was no sign of any living soul in any of them.
Tinker, after standing at Blake's side for a few moments, crossed the passage, and commenced searching in the dungeons upon the opposite side. These were exactly similar in every way, and they were all empty.
As the pair made their examination of the long line of cells, they could faintly hear the furious voice of Llewellyn demanding to be released. But they took no notice of him, and by the time they had reached the further end of the corridor they were no nearer to the object of their search. Owen Glyn was certainly not here, and Tinker looked at Blake dubiously.
"No luck so far, guv'nor!" he exclaimed. "But I daresay there are a good few more of these beastly places to look into yet. The whole foundations of the castle seems to be composed of 'em. What horrible cells to place human beings in! As bad as the black hole of Calcutta, I should think. Ugh! It strikes me that the good old days were the bad old days in some respects, if this is a fair sample of the prisons they used to use."
Tinker was certainly right, the dungeons were terrible places in every respect. Not a trace of daylight penetrated to them, and the only ventilation appeared to be afforded by the passages—which circulated a current of fairly sweet air by means of gratings connected with the open. The cells themselves were merely solid stone boxes fitted with doors, completely bare of furniture, and containing only the hideous iron manacles and chains attached to the walls. These spoke eloquently enough of the tortures which at one time were inflicted upon evildoers, and Tinker felt thankful that he was not living in an age when such things were allowed to take place.
After examining every cell in the passage, the two searchers found that the dungeons extended at right angles, another long corridor containing almost as many as they had already looked into. It took them a further ten minutes to flash their torches into all of them, but by the time they had reached the end they had still found no trace of the missing man.
There seemed to be no end to the series of dungeons, for a third passage was discovered at the end of the second, and this, also, was composed of the gruesome stone prisons. Blake and Tinker began to lose hope a little as they commenced upon them, and for the most part they searched in silence—one on either side. The atmosphere of the place was depressing in the extreme, and this, added to their non-success, seemed to take away their desire for conversation.
Blake judged, as he neared the end of the passage, that the dungeons were formed in a rectangle, or, to be exact, in three sides of the rectangle. The fourth side was merely a passage, with a stone staircase leading upwards at each end. It was by one of these staircases they had descended, and it thus became clear to Blake that they were nearing the spot where they had first commenced—only at the opposite end of the black passage. The detective shrewdly began to suspect that their quarry would be unearthed in one of the cells as yet unsearched; for the caretaker, in order to throw them off the track, would naturally lead them to the series of cells which were entirely unoccupied. No doubt he had planned to imprison Blake and Tinker in one of these, and he would have succeeded if the pair had not been strictly upon their guard.
Somewhat encouraged by his deduction, Sexton Blake continued looking into the dungeons with renewed hope of success, and his astute conclusion was proved to be correct within the next few moments. Tinker also had been hurrying to finish his side of the passage, and as he reached the end cell he gave vent to a delighted shout of triumph.
"Here he is, guv'nor, I've found him!" he exclaimed, flinging open the dungeon door as he spoke. "Mr. Glyn is here, chained up to the wall!"
Blake was at Tinker's side in a second, and together they entered the cell. The lad's words were quite true, as the detective saw at a glance. Owen Glyn—for it was he right enough—was sitting upon the floor of his prison, securely manacled by the ankles, and chained to a great ring in the wall, exactly as the prisoners of a bygone age had been incarcerated. Blake murmured angrily as he saw the helpless position of the unfortunate man, but before he could speak Glyn himself jumped to his feet with a clanking of chains and a joyous-shout.
"Thank Heaven!" he exclaimed fervently. "I don't know who you are, but I'm absolutely overjoyed to see you! Dare I hope that you have come to release me, or are you in league with the scoundrel Llewellyn? But I can see you're not."
"Quite right, Mr. Glyn, we have come to get you out of this unfortunate predicament," he said, looking at the young man keenly. "Your friend Spalding is responsible for our presence here, and—"
"Good old Vic! I knew he'd move heaven and earth to get me out of this mess," interrupted Glyn. "I've had a most fearful time, I can assure you, and somebody's got to go through the mill for shoving me down here like a caged animal! By George! A few more hours of this, and I should have gone raving mad, I believe."
The detective nodded.
"I can quite believe it," he agreed. "No doubt you have had a most trying experience, and it will be interesting to discover why you have been imprisoned here."
"That's the very thing which has been puzzling me, Mr. —" Glyn paused, and looked at Blake intently, and with a puckered brow. "I feel certain that I have seen your somewhere before, and yet—Why, Great Scott! Of course, you're Mr Sexton Blake, aren't you? What an idiot I am not to have recognised you before?"
Owen Glyn's pleasure was genuine and unaffected, and he grasped Blake's hand heartily. After he had wrung it warmly, and had been briefly introduced to Tinker, he again turned to the detective with surprise in his eyes.
"I am tremendously delighted to meet you, Mr Blake, especially under such conditions as these!" he exclaimed. "But I can't understand how Vic enlisted your assistance so quickly. It's—it's amazing!"
Blake chuckled, and explained how Spalding had met himself and Tinker at the Hotel Majestic, and how he had induced them to visit Glyn Castle. As the detective related the incidents he deftly picked the locks of the ankle-irons, and managed to free the prisoner without the aid of keys. By the time he had finished Glyn had been informed of all that had taken place, and the young man was overwhelmed with gratitude at the efforts which had been made on his behalf.
"The whole business is a perfect mystery, Mr. Blake," he declared. "I haven't the slightest idea why I was locked up in this ghastly place, and I can only conclude that Llewellyn, the caretaker, must have gone mad."
Sexton Blake shook his head.
"I'm afraid I can't agree with you in that supposition," he said thoughtfully. "In spite of his obvious age, there is no sign of insanity about Llewellyn, so far as I can see. No, Mr. Glyn, there is some deep mystery at the back of the curious incidents which have taken place here, and the finding of the solution should prove to be a most absorbing little problem. To be quite frank, I am greatly interested."
Owen Glyn looked at Blake eagerly.
"Does that mean that you are going to make an investigation—professionally?" he asked. "Certainly—if you wish it," returned the detective.
"If I wish it!" repeated Glyn. "Why, Mr. Blake, I'd rather you looked into the matter than anybody! There's evidently something confoundedly fishy about the whole business, and if you can clear it up—well, I'd feel a lot more comfortable."
No doubt Owen Glyn was thinking of the mysterious blank in his past life as he was speaking, and of the strange likeness of the old oil painting upstairs to the photograph of his father which he always carried.
A peculiar little thrill went through him as the thought crossed his mind that now, perhaps—with the celebrated Baker Street criminologist at work on the case—the mystery of his parentage would be cleared up. That was his dearest wish, and if only it could be accomplished, he would be the happiest fellow in the country.
But dare he even hope for such a satisfactory outcome of Sexton Blake's inquiries? He scarcely knew what to think.
"TINKER, I think you may as well run upstairs and inform Mr. Spalding of our discoveries," said Blake, turning to his assistant. "Better go out by the front door, and being him back with you."
Tinker nodded, and hurried off up the stone stairway on his mission. The rambling old castle was so vast in size, and in the number of passages and turnings, that it was quite an easy matter to become lost if one was not very careful.
But Tinker had a rather acute instinct for the sense of direction, and after making one or two false excursions, he found himself in the dimly-lit passage from which the oaken door gave access to the circular staircase which led to the tower by which he had first entered.
Arrived here, he made his way towards the spot from where Llewellyn had appeared carrying the tray of food, and soon afterwards Tinker emerged into the great hall of the castle. The front door was heavily bolted and barred, but Tinker had these unfastened within a few seconds, and passed out into the sweet-smelling open air. After the depressing atmosphere of the dungeons this was a welcome contrast, and he lad hurried off round the building to the spot at the rear where Victor Spalding was still mounting guard at the foot of the tower.
The journalist faced round sharply as Tinker appeared round the angle of the stone wall of the recess, and his face broke into a grin as he recognised the newcomer.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" he exclaimed. "'Bout time you showed up, I think! What the deuce have you and Mr. Blake been doin' all this time? I was beginnin' to think you'd fallen victims to the same fate which had overtaken poor old Owen, and I was just goin' to shin up the ivy on a tour of investigation! Anythin' doin' in the discovery line, by the way?"
"Yes, rather!" said Tinker. "We've found Mr. Glyn—chained up in one of the beastly dungeons! He's quite all right, and the guv'nor told me to fetch you in!"
"Oh, ripping!" exclaimed Spalding in a relieved voice. "It's great news to hear that Owen is safe an' sound! I suppose that antiquated caretaker merchant was responsible for the whole business, wasn't he? By jingo, I'd like to give the madman a taste of his own medicine—"
"Don't worry—he's having it now!" cut in Tinker, with a delighted grin. "The guv'nor got fed up with Llewellyn's lies and procrastination, and shoved him into one of the dungeons. He's safe enough for a while!"
"Great!" chuckled Spalding, as he followed Tinker back along the ledge to the side of the castle. "Mr. Blake is a man of action, and knows exactly the right kind of goods to hand out. I'm dashed glad I met him this mornin' in Swansea—to say nothin' of you, old top! You're the very pair to handle a mystery in a mouldy old show of this sort, and I'll bet things are going to hum before we're very much older!"
Tinker nodded, and explained how he and Blake had discovered the unfortunate Glyn as they hurried round to the front entrance to the building. Spalding, of course, was just as mystified as the others regarding Llewellyn's motive for acting as he had done, and he was equally anxious to learn the solution of the outrage.
By the time the pair arrived in the upper passage on their way to join Blake and Glyn in the dungeons, they found that the detective and the late prisoner had already emerged, and were even now making their way towards the main part of the castle. Spalding hurried forward as he caught sight of his friend, and grasped his hand in a warm and hearty grip.
"I hear you've been havin' a taste of the dungeon stuff, old scout!" he exclaimed in his usual facetious manner. "Incarceration in the black hole, and all that kind of ghastly rot! But thank Heaven you're not hurt, old man! I've been in a most frightful state of anxiety since you disappeared—nearly demented with worry, to tell the truth! Any idea why that confounded old caretaker performed the locking-up stunt?"
Glyn shook his head.
"Not the slightest," he replied. "I received the surprise of my life when Llewellyn suddenly turned upon me! But we'd better go down to the room where the incident happened, and I'll tell you all about it!"
All four of them now descended the stairs, and walked towards the room Glyn had mentioned—that huge apartment into which the caretaker had showed himself and Spalding the previous night. Glyn had briefly told Sexton Blake about the oil painting, and about the strange blank in his memory regarding his past.
The detective was very interested, but so far had made very little comment. He intended to thoroughly search the old castle before he allowed himself to form any opinion regarding the matters in hand, but before he commenced upon this task he would hear Glyn's account of what occurred after Spalding's departure from the castle the night before.
The great reception room was soon reached, and after a preliminary glance round, and a quick scrutiny of the oil painting, Blake turned to Glyn.
"How did it happen that such a feeble old man as Llewellyn managed to overpower you?" he asked.
"That's the very thing which has been puzzling me!" chimed in Spalding. "Owen is a pretty hefty sort of fellow, and can usually take care of himself as well as the best of us. Llewellyn must have had help—or else have used a bally dose of dope!"
Glyn smiled and shook his head.
"He neither had help, nor used a drug," he said. "He simply collared me by a trick. You know, Vic, that I hurt my injured shin pretty badly by falling over that stool, and you—like a good pal—bound it up before you went for the doctor?"
"Yes, rather—you looked so groggy that I felt absolutely bound to fetch the doc," said Spalding, with a nod. "What happened after I'd gone?"
"Well, Llewellyn seemed to be tremendously upset and concerned over me," said Glyn. "He fussed about, fetching all kinds of things I didn't want, until at last he unearthed some embrocation, with which he offered to rub my leg. I was in pretty acute pain at the time, so I accepted his invitation, and allowed him to get busy with the stuff. He propped my leg upon a stool while I sat in a chair, and set to work in quite a professional style."
"Queer!" commented Spalding. "If he intended to shove you in a cell, why did he doctor you up first?"
"He was probably doing so to gain time in which to mature his plans," said Sexton Blake shrewdly.
"Just what I thought, Mr. Blake," he agreed. "Llewellyn was silent while he worked—scarcely spoke a word. Evidently he was forming the scheme which he afterwards carried out. Of course, I was entirely unsuspicious, and after he had rubbed my leg for a while, and then left me, I thought he was merely preparing a bandage or washing his hands. But the artful old scoundrel was engaged in something much deeper! To be exact, he was getting a noose of rope ready, and he threw this over my head and shoulders and drew it tight before I could even guess what was happening!"
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Victor. "The bally old fraud!"
"Of course, I struggled," went on Glyn. "But Llewellyn had taken care to get the rope low down, and so made me pretty nearly helpless. My arms were fastened to my sides, and I couldn't free them, however much I tried. And while I was struggling the caretaker yanked me to my feet, confound him! My injured leg let me down at once, and I collapsed upon the floor from sheer agony."
Glyn pulled a wry face at the thought of it, and it was evident that he had suffered severely from his lacerated shin.
"What did the murderous old blighter do next?" asked Spalding.
"Bound me more securely," said Owen. "He trussed me up like a plucked fowl, and then literally dragged me down into that foul dungeon. Goodness only knows how the old chap managed to do it, but he did. The journey was a pretty painful one for me, I can tell you; for I was simply hauled and bumped down the stone stairs like a sack of rubbish! Once the dungeon was reached, Llewellyn fixed those ankle-irons in position, and then removed the ropes. He gave me no explanation as to why he imprisoned me, but simply locked the door and cleared out. I've been lying down there ever since, wondering at the cause of it all, and you can tell how pleased I was when I saw Tinker unlock the door and call out to Mr. Blake. There you are, that's the whole yarn. Why the deuce the caretaker—who is a perfect stranger to me—should attack me and chain me up like that is a complete mystery. I've been trying to work out a probable explanation until my head ached, and I'm going to leave it to Mr. Blake to have a shot at." The detective smiled.
"Your story is very interesting, Mr. Glyn," he said. "Without a doubt, there is something big behind Llewellyn's conduct, and we must do our best to discover it. As a commencement, I do not think we can do better than explore the castle. By the way, let me glance at the photograph of your father, will you?"
Glyn produced it at once and handed it to the detective. Blake took it, and examined it as he walked over to the oil painting, at which he gazed intently for some moments. But he said nothing as he handed the photograph back to Glyn, rather to the young man's surprise.
Sexton Blake next took a keen glance round the large room, noting everything it contained in his comprehensive manner, but did not go to the length of examining the interior of drawers, or anything of that kind. He simply observed the various articles of furniture, and the obvious fact that they had been in disuse for a great length of time. Blake also saw that the contents of this one room alone were of considerable value, each piece of furniture being a veritable gem of antiquity.
The next twenty minutes were spent in a tour of investigation through the various rooms in the rambling old castle. Neither of the explorers were familiar with the interior of the old place, and so Sexton Blake led the way, leaving the other three to follow at their leisure, as they chatted together Glyn's injured leg was still giving him pain, but it was very much better for his enforced rest in the dungeon. No doubt the caretaker's application of embrocation helped to take away the acute pain, for Glyn found that he could now use the limb with comparatively little inconvenience.
The trip through the great building was of absorbing interest, and in every room the little party found something to excite their curiosity and excitement. Glyn Castle, with the exception of Llewellyn, was completely empty of any human presence apart from themselves; but it was filled with antique and extremely valuable furniture of all descriptions. The old building was a treasure house of beautiful articles, some of them a trifle musty, perhaps, but splendidly preserved on the whole. The interior of the castle itself, too, was magnificent, and, taken altogether, it was a unique and lordly dwelling.
Sexton Blake, however, came across nothing whatever which would throw the most obscure light upon the strange events which had taken place, and it looked as though the mystery was to remain as deep as ever, in spite of the exhaustive search he had made.
The party, after going over every room in the castle with the exception of the domestic regions, now entered this domain of the servants, and these quarters showed the same signs of disuse as the rest of the place. There was one little room, however, which was quite different, and this evidently was the particular little den of the old caretakers. Everything here was fresh and clean, and there was no doubt that Llewellyn believed in making himself as comfortable as possible.
Blake's attitude became very much more keen as he entered the doorway, and for a few moments he stood gazing into the room intently, taking in every detail. The caretaker obviously used this apartment for his every need, for a small camp bedstead stood against one wall, while nearby there was a table upon which rested an oil cooking-stove, crockery, and pots and pans of various kinds.
Opposite to this, against the other wall of the room, there was a second table. This was used for the storage of books and papers, and for writing purposes, to judge by appearances. Pens and ink were there, writing blocks, envelopes, a spectacle case resting upon a few newspapers, and finally a bunch of telegraph forms.
Blake's eyes narrowed a trifle as he caught sight of this miniature "office," and he crossed over to the table quickly. Here, if anywhere, he would be likely to find at least something which would serve as a slight clue to the caretaker's actions, and the detective's hopes were soon proved to be well-founded.
Tinker and the two journalists followed closely upon Blake's heels, and they crowded round him as he made a search of the loose papers which littered the table.
"This is where the startlin' discoveries are goin' to be made!" exclaimed Spalding, gazing at the table with interest. "After searchin' all through this mouldy old castle and findin' absolutely nix, we arrive at the spot where the bally clues are absolutely piled up in heaps! There you are, Mr. Blake's clicked already!"
The others laughed and looked at the detective eagerly. He had certainly grasped one of the papers in a fashion which indicated that he had found something of importance, and his alert manner only served to confirm what Spalding had facetiously pointed out.
"Humph! I fancy you are not very far from the truth when you say that we have discovered our first clue," said the detective smoothly. "It may be very slight, but it is certainly something!"
"What is it, guv'nor?" asked Tinker.
"It's is a copy of a telegram which Llewellyn evidently despatched this morning," replied Sexton Blake. "That, at any rate, indicates that he is not acting alone, and it ought to give us something to work upon."
"What does it say, Mr. Blake?" asked Glyn eagerly.
"And who's the joker it's addressed to?" chimed in Spalding. "That's the most important thing, in my opinion." The detective smiled.
"Undoubtedly," he agreed. "But if you will listen, I will read the wire to you. It is addressed to Mr. Godfrey Jarrow, Jermyn Street, London, W., and it merely says, 'Please come to the castle by first available train.—Llewellyn.' The message, you see, is very brief and to the point, and it seems to indicate that we may expect further developments before the lapse of many hours."
Spalding puckered his brows.
"Wonder who the dickens Mr. Godfrey Jarrow happens to be, anyhow?" he said musingly. "Ever heard of the chap, Owen?" Glyn shook his head.
"Not to my knowledge," he replied. "The name is quite unfamiliar to me, but I should say that he's the man who employs the caretaker—in all probability the owner of the castle. That seems to be the most feasible explanation of the matter. What do you think, Mr. Blake?"
The detective looked thoughtful.
"Somewhat difficult to say," he answered evasively. "In any case, the chief point of interest seems to be Llewellyn's anxiety to bring this Mr. Jarrow down here in such a hurry." Thud! Thud!
Sexton Blake was interrupted at this point by the sudden banging of the knocker upon the front door, and the members of the little party looked at one another questioningly. Spalding, of course, was the first to break the silence, and—as usual—he could not refrain from trying to be funny.
"Talk of the devil!" he exclaimed. "I expect this is the Jarrow merchant himself, comin' to make a personal investigation."
"Don't talk rot!" said Glyn. "How the thunder could anybody get from London in such a short time as this! Why, it couldn't be done by aeroplane!"
"Quite right, Glyn, but I should not be surprised if the visitor proves to be a messenger boy with a wire from the mysterious Mr. Jarrow," said Blake, striding towards the door as he spoke. "However, I will soon ascertain whether I am right or not!"
The detective was right, for he found a telegraph boy waiting at the hall door, with a telegram for Llewellyn. Blake took it, tipped the boy, and closed the door. Then, feeling perfectly justified in so doing under the circumstances, he tore open the envelope and withdrew the flimsy form.
Before he had time to unfold it, Tinker, Glyn and Spalding were by his side, all eager to read the contents of the wire. It was exceedingly brief, and ran: "Arrive during evening.—Jarrow." Just those four words, but Sexton Blake's face assumed a grim expression as he read them.
"We certainly shall have to look a good deal further into this matter," he said crisply. "It is just beginning to get interesting! I fancy there is a rather deeply-laid plot at the back of the incidents which have already occurred, and it would be a pity if we failed to seize upon such a unique opportunity to probe it to the bottom."
The detective spoke thoughtfully, and it was clear that he had already formed some sort of scheme for the furtherance of his plans even in this short time. The others looked at him with puzzled expressions as he walked back to Llewellyn's little den, and it was evident that none of the trio could quite understand Sexton Blake's meaning.
They watched him in silence for a few moments as he made another search of the caretaker's table—which brought forth no further results, however—and then Spalding turned to the criminologist with an exaggerated frown upon his brow.
"Subtle, deucedly subtle, in fact!" he exclaimed. "I've been rackin' my brains to discover just what you meant by that last remark of yours, Mr. Blake! That is to say, I've been tryin' to find where the unique opportunity for probin' the mystery comes in! Dashed if I can see one!"
"You'll understand in a few moments, my dear fellow," he said. "It seems to me that our best policy will be to act the part of hidden watchers—for a time, at any rate—until we are a little more certain of our ground. And in order to carry out a plan of that sort, it is essential that Llewellyn should remain entirely unsuspicious of what we have discovered, including your prison cell, Glyn!"
The young man stared at the detective in some amazement, and it was evident that Spalding and Tinker were equally surprised.
"But, that's impossible, Mr. Blake!" protested Glyn. "How can we make the caretaker believe that I'm still in the dungeon, when I'm not?"
"Quite simply," said Blake. "All you have to do is to go back there!"
"What!" exclaimed Glyn, gazing at Blake with a blank expression. "Go back to that ghastly hole! No fear! Why, you must be joking—"
"On the contrary, I am deadly serious!" interrupted the detective quickly. "You must remember that Llewellyn, so far, is totally in the dark as to what we have been doing since we locked him in the dungeon, and it is my intention that he should remain unenlightened. If you will consent to go back to your prison, Glyn, it will be quite an easy matter to hoodwink the old man—until such time as we are ready to take action."
"There you are, old man, easy!" he exclaimed. "Ripping chance for you to distinguish yourself, and all that sort of rot! Hanged if I can see what Mr. Blake is drivin' at, but that's nothin' to do with the question! All you've got to do is to go back into the dark hole, and sit tight!"
Owen Glyn took very little notice of Spalding's remarks. But it was beginning to dawn upon him that Sexton Blake really meant what he said. It seemed an extraordinary thing, and the young man was totally at a loss to see through the detective's plan.
"I can see you're serious, Mr. Blake," he said. "But what on earth is the idea? What good will it do if I go back into the cell? There seems to be no point in such a thing!"
"I think you will admit there is, when you've heard what I've got to say," replied Blake smoothly. "We now know that Llewellyn is in communication with this mysterious Mr. Jarrow. We also know that Jarrow is arriving here to-night. That, in point of fact, is all the information we have been able to gather, and in order to discover the exact connection between these two men we shall have to act warily. Therefore it is essential to put Llewellyn entirely off the track, and allay his suspicion."
"Of course," said Tinker. "But how are you going to do it, guv'nor?"
"By replacing Mr. Glyn in his original prison, and releasing Llewellyn!" said the detective. "It will be easy enough for us to make the old man understand that our search for Mr. Glyn has been in vain, and we will apologise for locking him up, and take our departure from the castle!"
Tinker slapped his thigh enthusiastically.
"By jingo—that seems simply a terrific wheeze!" he exclaimed. "Llewellyn will think we're blithering idiots, and he'll feel absolutely secure when he finds that Mr. Glyn is still in the dungeon—just as he left him!"
"Exactly!" agreed Sexton Blake. "The caretaker will put us down as a pair of incompetent noodles, and after our departure he will act in precisely the same manner as he would have done if we hadn't entered the castle at all. He will, in fact, put us out of his calculations entirely. But you and I and Mr. Spalding will be very much on the alert—outside the castle—waiting and watching for whatever developments occur."
Sexton Blake's plan was a sound one in every respect, and quite easy to put into operation. Llewellyn, of course, was totally ignorant of the fact that Glyn had been found and released, and if he discovered the young man still imprisoned when he visited the dungeon after the departure of Blake and Tinker, he would naturally assure that Glyn had been there all the time. Spalding, who had been on guard outside, had not been seen by the caretaker at all, so would not enter into the old man's calculations.
The scheme was pronounced first rate by all three of Blake's companions, although Owen Glyn certainly did not relish the part assigned to him. But the whole thing depended upon his consent to be re-imprisoned, and he agreed with obvious reluctance. This was not to be wondered at, for he had already spent several hours of extreme discomfort in the terrible dungeon, and to voluntarily go through the trying ordeal again was asking a good deal of him. But he could see that it was the only way.
It was quite evident that Glyn had not been imprisoned by Llewellyn without a reason, and the young man was just as keen to discover that reason as Blake and Tinker and Spalding. Perhaps of the four, he was the most anxious of them all—for he was beginning to think that the ultimate explanation of the mystery would concern him very intimately. And so Glyn agreed to fall in with Sexton Blake's plan.
He consoled himself with the thought that his second sojourn in the dungeon would only be of short duration, and that his friends would be very near to him the whole time—crouching in the gloom of the old castle walls to see what events the evening would bring forth.
GLYN CASTLE, dimly outlined against the sombre background of storm-swept sky, appeared eerie and sinister in the evening gloom.
Darkness had descended upon the majestic old pile which reared itself heavenwards from the lonely cliff-face, and with it had come the rain and the wind—heralding a storm similar to that of the previous night.
Down below, on the treacherous rocks and crags, the great rollers came dashing inshore with tremendous force, hissing and roaring, and sending vast sheets of vapour-like spray high into the air. The sounds of the angry waters, beating monotonously against the mountain of rock which formed the cliff-face, could be heard above the howling of the wind and the patter of rain upon the sodden ground, which added to the dismal and black outlook.
In spite of the stormy weather and the desolation, however, a man presently came striding towards the old building, enveloped in a dripping mackintosh. He was evidently a big, burly individual, heavily built and vigorous; so much was obvious from his generous outline and his swinging, quick tread. He was looking ahead of him as he progressed, and he made straight for the massive front door of the lonely castle.
No doubt the solitary visitor imagined himself to be the only person abroad in that wind-swept, exposed spot; but if such was the case he was mistaken. For his every movement was intently watched by two pairs of sharp eyes, which gazed out from behind a low pile of rocks situated in the nearby dripping grassland.
Tinker and Victor Spalding were the owners of the eyes, and they had been concealed in their present position for the last hour—ever since the first signs of approaching darkness had made themselves apparent. Their vigil had by no means been a pleasant one, for with the coming of the rain and the wind they had been soaked and chilled to the bone. But it was impossible for them to desert their post, and they had accepted the inevitable with the best grace possible.
"Hallo! Somethin' doin' at last!" whispered Spalding, nodding towards the big man. "This merchant must be the mysterious Jarrow—and I must say he looks a formidable sort of blighter! Old Dempsey would have somethin' of a job to knock him flat!"
Tinker nodded and grinned.
"Yes—he's certainly a decent-sized chap!" he returned. "But mere weight isn't everything, you know. I daresay he's flabby enough when it comes to the pinch!"
"Let's hope so, anyhow," said Spalding. "We may have to come to grips with him before the night's out. I shouldn't be surprised if there's a bally lot of dirty work in the offing! Wonder how your guv'nor's farin'?"
"No need to worry about him," said Tinker. "He'll be able to look after himself easily enough-dirty work or not! All the same, I wish we were with him!"
Sexton Blake had gone off alone to carry out a little scheme he had in mind, and Tinker and Spalding were forced to keep watch alone. But they had very little doubt that the detective was very much on the alert somewhere within the castle and they were quite easy in their minds concerning his safety.
The burly pedestrian had now reached the front door of the building, and he applied the heavy knocker in no uncertain manner—wishing, do doubt, to get in out of the rain as quickly as possible. Tinker and Spalding saw the bent old figure of Llewellyn as he opened the door, and a moment later the man in the mackintosh had passed inside, and the door was re-closed.
"Phew! What a night, Llewellyn!" exclaimed the visitor as he entered the dim hall. "Rain, wind and darkness—to say nothing of stony pathways!"
"Yes, sir—the weather is terrible," agreed the caretaker, helping the stranger off with his dripping mackintosh. "But, all the same, I am very glad you have come so quickly. Several strange happenings have taken place, and I thought it advisable to wire you as I did."
Mr. Godfrey Jarrow—for the visitor was obviously he—nodded, and followed the caretaker into the little living room. He was a very large man of about forty-five years of age, somewhat distinguished-looking, and decidedly gentlemanly. Evidently he was a man who believed in getting down to business without loss of time, for he seated himself in a chair near the shaded reading lamp, and looked at Llewellyn inquiringly.
"Now then—what's the trouble?" he asked. "Why have I been brought down here in such a hurried manner? You say that strange happenings have taken place, and I'm quite anxious to learn what they are."
The caretaker seated himself some little distance from the newcomer, and stroked his stubby grey beard a trifle nervously. Then, speaking in his habitual trembling manner, he entered into a long account of all that had taken place in the old castle. He told Mr. Jarrow about the arrival of the two shipwrecked young men the previous night, and how they had begged for shelter.
He explained all the incidents as they had occurred; how Glyn had stumbled over the stool and reopened this wound, and how his friend Spalding had set off for the doctor. Llewellyn then related how he had imprisoned the young man by roping him up, and dragging him down into the dungeon.
Mr. Jarrow listened to the caretaker's story with great intentness, and it was clear that he was vastly interested—and not a little puzzled. He stared at Llewellyn somewhat blankly, and there seemed to be traces of acute annoyance in his glance.
"But—I don't understand!" he exclaimed. "What on earth is the meaning of all this, eh? Why did you take it upon yourself to lock this young man up in the dungeon?"
"I think that point will be quite clear to you, sir, when I tell you that the young man's name is Glyn—Owen Glyn!" he said quietly. Mr. Godfrey Jarrow jumped to his feet quickly.
"What!" he exclaimed. "Do you mean to tell me that one of the two shipwrecked men was Glyn himself—Owen Glyn! I—I can't believe it, Llewellyn! It's altogether too fantastic to suppose that he would be cast ashore here—of all places!"
The caretaker shook his head.
"However queer it is, sir, I am quite convinced that the man I have imprisoned is Mr. Glyn—the owner of the castle!" he declared. "I was just as much amazed as you are when I first discovered the truth; but there is no doubt that I am right, as I think you will agree when I relate what occurred to arouse my suspicions."
And Llewellyn proceeded to tell the agitated Mr. Jarrow about the oil-painting, and its striking likeness to the photograph which Owen carried in his pocket-book. He also related the manner in which Spalding, accompanied by two strangers, had revisited the castle during the morning, and had demanded admittance.
"You didn't allow them to enter, of course?" asked Jarrow sharply.
"No, sir; but they were very persistent, and I had to finally bang the door in their faces," said the caretaker. "It was impossible to make them believe that Mr. Glyn had departed the night before, and I was greatly worried as to the best course to take."
Jarrow nodded with approval.
"You did quite right, Llewellyn—quite right," he exclaimed. "And now—"
"But I haven't told you everything yet, sir," interrupted the caretaker. "A little while after I had refused to admit the strangers I prepared some food for Mr. Glyn, and then started off for the dungeons. But in the upper passage I was suddenly confronted by the same two strangers who had called earlier, and I was absolutely flabbergasted!"
"Good heavens!" muttered Jarrow. "How did they get in?"
"I don't know, sir; but they gave me to understand that they did not intend to take their departure until they had found Mr. Glyn," replied Llewellyn. "Of course, I told them he wasn't here, but they wouldn't believe me. At last, while they were searching the dungeons, they pushed me into one of the cells, and locked the door! I was helpless, and almost an hour passed before I saw them again. But then they returned and let me out, saying that they could not find Mr. Glyn, and apologising for making a prisoner of me!"
"That was extremely fortunate, and we must congratulate ourselves," said Mr. Jarrow grimly. "You have done exceedingly well, Llewellyn, and I am greatly pleased at the neat manner in which you captured Mr. Glyn. It is most essential that he should be held safely. But what happened to the strangers—did they leave quietly?"
"Oh, yes, sir—they went away at once," said the old fellow. "Possibly they thought they might get into trouble if they remained, for they had broken into the castle unlawfully. What do you intend to do with the prisoner now, sir?"
Jarrow paced up and down the small room once or twice before replying, deep in thought. The caretaker's story had obviously upset his equanimity, and he seemed somewhat at a loss.
"It is most extraordinary," he muttered. "The fact that Glyn should come here in such a strange fashion is amazing! But one thing is certain, Llewellyn," he added, in a louder voice. "He cannot remain here! We must get him away out of the country at the earliest possible moment. I don't see exactly how it's going to be done—but I shall soon think of a way, and make plans accordingly. Meanwhile, of course, Glyn must be kept securely imprisoned in the dungeon."
"Yes, sir, he'll be safe enough there," he said. "But I am very glad that you have come; the responsibility of keeping him a prisoner without your knowledge was very trying to me."
Mr. Godfrey Jarrow agreed and proceeded to ask the caretaker a string of questions connected with the strangers who had entered the castle without permission. But Llewellyn affirmed that he knew nothing about them whatever, not even their names. Spalding, of course, he spoke of as Mr. Glyn's bosom friend and companion in the shipwrecking incident. But with regard to the others—Blake and Tinker—he was entirely ignorant.
Jarrow and the caretaker discussed the matter for some little time, and finally decided that the strangers were merely chance acquaintances of Spalding's, whose aid he had enlisted in his search for his friend. Now that they had gone, there was nothing further to worry about.
"Are you going down to see Mr. Glyn, sir?" asked Llewellyn.
Jarrow shook his head.
"No, I don't think I had better do so," he replied. "Such a proceeding would be most unwise, and no good would come of such an interview, so far as I can see. By the way, how is Mr. Glyn taking his enforced imprisonment—"
Mr. Godfrey Jarrow paused abruptly and a startled look appeared in his eyes as he glanced over the caretaker's shoulder. For there, framed in the doorway, was an exact replica of the old caretaker himself! Every detail was the same—the figure, the stoop, the grey-bearded features—everything with the exception of the clothing, which was slightly different. For a few seconds Jarrow continued to stare at the apparition with his mouth agape, and then he uttered a gasp of surprise.
"What—who Am I dreaming?" he stammered hoarsely.
Llewellyn, attracted by Jarrow's strange manner, faced round sharply, and then drew in his breath with a quick little hiss. At the same time he smiled to himself and rose to his feet, his attitude and demeanour changed entirely. He was no longer the bent and shrivelled old man he appeared, but stood up tall and erect. In a flash he had removed the short grey beard which adorned his chin, and almost in the same movement a false wig was drawn from his head. Then he stepped backwards a few paces, and as he did so a revolver miraculously appeared in his right hand, held in a steady and unwavering grip.
"I think, Mr. Jarrow, that the time has arrived when a formal introduction of myself is necessary!" he said in a cold, firm voice. "My name is Sexton Blake, and the best advice I can give both you and Llewellyn at the moment is to put your hands up without delay!"
The detective, as he spoke, watched the two men narrowly. There was no doubt that he had sprung a very complete surprise upon them, and he did not anticipate any trouble. The old caretaker promptly raised his hands above his head and advanced into the room trembling with fright. But Mr. Godfrey Jarrow was made of sterner stuff, and instead of complying with Blake's order, he uttered a bellow of fury and bewilderment.
"What does all this theatrical tomfoolery mean?" he roared angrily.
"I fancy that what you are pleased to term theatrical tomfoolery is in reality something far more useful!" he said pleasantly. "What I have learned by impersonating your caretaker, Mr. Jarrow, convinces me that you are playing a rather deep game—at the expense of Mr. Owen Glyn! I suspected all along that something decidedly fishy was in the wind, and so I prepared this little scheme in order to make certain of my ground. I found it quite a simple matter to re-enter the castle after releasing Llewellyn from the dungeon, and to imprison him afresh in one of the turrets which abound here!"
Jarrow breathed hard.
"You—you—" he began in a voice choking with fury.
"Quite so," said the detective blandly. "I must admit that my efforts at disguise succeeded far beyond my expectations, but by the aid of the wig and beard you were completely deceived, no doubt owing to the fact that you have not seen Llewellyn for some months, and also to the lack of adequate illumination! However, you have told me something of the true state of affairs, and but for the unfortunate appearance of Llewellyn, I daresay we should have progressed even better! The caretaker's escape has upset my plans considerably, but—since he has regained his freedom—we must make the best of it!"
Sexton Blake, although he spoke in this manner, was in reality feeling greatly chagrined at the partial failure of his plans. He had been quite as surprised as Jarrow when Llewellyn had appeared at the doorway, for the detective fondly imagined that the caretaker was safely locked in a remote turret.
Sexton Blake had conceived this new scheme some little time after he and Tinker and Spalding had left the castle, and in order to carry it out successfully it was necessary that Llewellyn should be disposed of for the time being. So Blake had again climbed the tower by means of the ivy, and had taken the old caretaker unawares, and had imprisoned him securely. But, by some means or other, he had managed to make his escape, thus completely spoiling the further plans which the detective had in mind.
It was very annoying, but now that the secret was out, Blake could do nothing but act boldly, and face both Jarrow and Llewellyn squarely. He was not exactly sure how the little episode was going to end, but he determined to learn all he could while he held the upper hand.
Mr. Godfrey Jarrow glared at Blake vindictively.
"What business is it of yours what I do in my own house?" he growled furiously. "What right have you here at all?"
"Never mind that at the moment," answered Sexton Blake. "I strongly advise you to tell the truth in a straightforward manner, Mr. Jarrow, before you get yourself into further trouble. Tell me—why are you so anxious to get Mr. Owen Glyn out of the country?"
"I do not see why I should submit to your impertinent questioning!" he said warmly. "You have forced your way into the castle unasked, and you have apparently taken it upon yourself to pry into my private affairs! I refuse to put up with it, sir, and I refuse to answer any of your confoundedly personal questions!"
Sexton Blake set his lips firmly.
"It is quite obvious to me that you are deliberately trying to defraud Mr. Glyn!" he said quietly. "I would suggest, Mr. Jarrow, that you immediately abandon any such idea, and give up any schemes you have in mind to carry out your object. I can assure you that it will be far better to restore to Mr. Glyn the property which is rightfully his! Do you understand me?"
Jarrow glanced at the detective fiercely. But he seemed to realise that he was cornered—that he was playing a losing game.
"Perfectly!" he muttered sullenly.
"Do you agree to discontinue your campaign against Mr. Glyn and his inheritance? asked Blake.
"What else can I do?" growled Jarrow. "You have got the upper hand of me and I am forced into a corner! Confound you—you have ruined everything!"
Sexton Blake smiled and strolled a few steps nearer to the centre of the room. As he did so he noticed that Llewellyn was reaching upwards to where a little stone projection protruded from the wall. The detective instantly became suspicious, and his voice snapped out sharply:
"Hold still, Llewellyn—and keep your hands above your head!" he commanded. "Remember that I have warned—"
Blake suddenly realised that he had been a fraction of a second too late. For even as he uttered the words he felt the solid stone flooring beneath him give way.
Before he could even throw out his hands in an effort to save himself, he knew that he was shooting downwards into the utter blackness of the lower regions—utterly helpless to stop his headlong descent!
SEXTON BLAKE'S fall was arrested a moment later by the hard, unyielding stonework of the lower floor.
His hurtling body crashed down with tremendous force, and it seemed impossible that he could have escaped without serious injury. He realised in a dazed kind of way that he was suffering considerable pain and that he was in pitchy darkness, with the exception of one small square of dim illumination which was apparent high above his head.
Even as he glanced up towards the spot the lighted aperture gradually grew smaller, and the detective knew that the movable stone slab in the floor of Llewellyn's room was sliding back into position—operated no doubt by some secret mechanism. Finally it closed with scarcely an audible click, and Blake's prison became even more intensely dark.
The detective, after lying upon the floor for a few minutes, in order to regain the breath which had been practically knocked from his body, slowly began to rise to his feet. He found, somewhat to his surprise, that he was able to stand, and a brief overhauling of his limbs was sufficient to tell him that no bones were broken. He was stiff and sore, however, and bruised practically all over. But, upon the whole, he considered that he had escaped lightly, for he had fallen from a great height.
The very distance of the drop told Blake that he had landed in one of the dungeons of the castle, and the knowledge made him furious. All his plans had apparently miscarried in the most unfortunate fashion, just at the moment when he had expected to accomplish so much!
His only comfort was in the thought that Tinker and Spalding were outside, keeping a close watch upon the building. He could rely upon them to get busy within a reasonable time, and this aspect of the matter caused Blake to cheer up a trifle.
Although the detective was feeling extremely annoyed at the simple manner in which he had been caught, he could not, with justice, censure himself for what had occurred. He had not blundered in any way, and it had not been possible for him to suspect the existence of a trap in the stone flooring of the caretaker's room. It had seemed absolutely solid in every way, and the moveable slab was so ingeniously constructed that it was quite out of the question to detect its presence.
The catastrophe had occurred solely on account of Llewellyn's unforeseen appearance, for the cunning old rascal was responsible for the opening of the hidden trapdoor. But Blake realised, with a somewhat bitter tightening of the lips, that worrying would do no good.
Painfully he felt in his pocket for his electric torch. Every movement of his arms and legs caused him to wince slightly, for his fall had shaken him up pretty considerably. But he managed to grasp the torch after an effect, and pressed the switch hopefully.
But no light appeared, as he had half feared. The fall had broken the filament of the tiny bulb, and the instrument was put out of action for the time-being. So the luckless detective was forced to fall back upon the less effective, but extremely useful, box of matches. He struck one of the matches at once, and the little blaze which resulted showed him his suspicion was correct.
He was imprisoned in one of the gruesome dungeons, without a doubt, and this knowledge did not add to Blake's peace of mind. For he knew that these cells were so strongly constructed that escape was completely out of the question. Just to make assurance doubly sure, however, he quickly examined the place by the aid of the matches, but soon found that there was no hope of getting out. The door was barred upon the outside, and the walls were composed of solid slabs of stone. Nothing short of dynamite would loosen one of them, and the trapdoor by which he had entered was all of a couple of dozen feet behind his reach.
With feelings too deep for words, Sexton Blake seated himself upon the hard stone floor. There was absolutely nothing he could do to help himself, and it only remained for him to wait, with as much patience as possible, for Tinker to get into action. The position was galling in the extreme; but it was no use railing against the inevitable. He was a prisoner, and he must remain in captivity until he was released.
Meanwhile, Mr. Godfrey Jarrow—in the room over Blake's head—looked at Llewellyn with great approval as he flopped himself into a chair breathing hard. The excitement of the last few minutes had made Jarrow go somewhat pale, but he was rapidly recovering his composure.
"That was a smart move of yours, Llewellyn!" he exclaimed admiringly. "I must congratulate you heartily upon your amazing astute action! You have managed to turn the tables completely, and that interfering detective is absolutely out of harm's way! He can't escape, I suppose?"
Llewellyn, looking pleased and somewhat excited, smiled and shook his head.
"No, sir, Mr. Blake is undoubtedly a very clever man, but I don't think, he is capable of escaping from the dungeons," he said. "It is lucky for us that he is ignorant of the pecularities of the castle, for if he had been familiar with them, he would assuredly have succeeded in attaining his object, and releasing Mr. Glyn!"
"Yes, he would—confound him!" he agreed. "But how did you manage to escape from the turret Blake mentioned?"
The old caretaker smiled again. He was one of the most aged of the Glyn family retainers, and he had lived in the castle all his life. There was not a secret about the old place of which he was not aware, and in these circumstances it was not surprising that he had regained his liberty.
"Mr. Blake locked me in the turret of the west wing," he said. "Naturally, the place seemed to be absolutely secure to him, sir, and it was pure chance that made him choose that particular turret for my prison. I don't suppose he would have been so easy in mind had he known about the secret stairway which leads from it to the upper passage; but it was by that means that I made my escape. However, it was impossible for the detective to know that I could leave the turret whenever I pleased, and I felt quite unconcerned sir. But I received something of a shock when I commenced the descent."
Jarrow looked up quickly.
"Shock!" he repeated. "You don't mean that Blake's assistants are inside the castle—"
"Oh, no, sir, nothing of that sort," interrupted Llewellyn. "I was referring to the condition of the secret stairway. Shortly after I left the turret I found my progress barred by a mass of fallen masonry, which must have come dislodged years and years ago. I began to think that Mr. Blake had made me a prisoner in reality, but I set to work upon the wreckage, and after some hours of hard work, I succeeded in forcing my way through. That is the reason I did not make my appearance earlier, sir." Jarrow nodded.
"Perhaps it was just as well that you didn't, Llewellyn," he said. "Everything has turned out very well indeed as things are, and you came upon the scene at the precise moment to upset Blake's little game. It was a lucky thing for us that we happened to be in this room, where the trapdoor is situated."
"Very lucky indeed, sir," agreed the caretaker. "I could not force Mr Blake to walk upon the trap, but I was waiting in readiness to act as soon as he did so. At the same time, I was a little dubious as to whether the central stone would answer to the touch of the knob, for the device which actuates the trap was made in the sixteenth century. But, fortunately, it is still in working order."
Llewellyn, owning to his long association with the members of the Glyn family spoke in almost a refined manner. He was an exceedingly well-trained servant, and he appeared to regard Mr. Jarrow with as much respect as his former employers. Much of the sinister appearance which had so drawn the attention of Owen and his friend had now left the caretaker's face, and in all probability he had assumed the expression for reasons of his own.
Mr Godfrey Jarrow, now that the excitement of the moment was over, was rapidly recovering his composure. He certainly had not bargained for anything of this nature when he had left London, but now that events had turned out as they had, he was bound to deal with them.
"Look here, Llewellyn, we can't leave matters as they are," he declared, looking at the old fellow thoughtfully. "Now that we have gone so far in this affair, we're absolutely forced into going further. Not only must we get Glyn out of the country, but Sexton Blake as well. That is essential, and the sooner we can manage it the better. No harm will come to them, of course; but we must arrange to keep them away for at least three months."
Llewellyn listened gravely to what Jarrow said, and then shook his head.
"I am afraid the matter is not quite so simple as that, sir," he said. "You see, Mr. Blake is not the only one concerned. There are others, one of them the detective's assistant, and the other, Mr. Glyn's own particular chum."
"But I don't see what—" began Jarrow.
"I think it highly probable that these two young men are even now waiting outside the castle," interrupted Llewellyn. "Very likely they are keeping watch, and if that is the case, it will be very difficult to do as you suggest. You see, sir, they know that Mr. Blake and Mr. Glyn are inside the castle, and it is not to be supposed that they will go away without further investigation. The very fact that Mr. Blake does not rejoin them will cause them to be more suspicious than ever."
Jarrow gave vent to a low curse under his breath.
"Confound it! This will ruin everything!" he muttered savagely. "But you're right, Llewellyn—absolutely right! Something will have to be done at once about those chaps outside. We can't allow their presence to upset all our arrangements, that's certain. By James!"
He broke off abruptly, and slapped his thigh. A cunning expression appeared in his eyes as he looked at the old caretaker, and it was evident that Jarrow had thought of some new dodge for the furtherance of his plans.
"An idea, Llewellyn, a really splendid idea, as I think you'll agree!" he exclaimed, rubbing his hands together with a satisfied air. "If those two fellows are really outside, as you say, I think it will be a simple matter to fool them."
The caretaker looked at Jarrow quickly. "Fool them, sir?" he repeated.
"Exactly! Nothing will be easier, Llewellyn," went on Jarrow. "All you have to do is to go outside, find them, and bring them in here." The old man stared blankly, and looked very mystified. "But I don't understand—" he began.
"You would understand easily enough if you considered the position for a moment," interrupted Jarrow briskly. "Blake came in here disguised as yourself, Llewellyn, and it's only natural to suppose that his friends outside are aware of his plans. Assuming that to be the case, it follows that they will mistake you for Blake as soon as they see you, for it is impossible for them to know that Blake is imprisoned."
The caretaker nodded his head quickly as he realised Jarrow's meaning, and his face expressed some amusement.
"Of course, sir, of course!" he exclaimed. "It is a remarkably smart idea of yours. I am to go outside and find Tinker and his companion, and tell them to come in? In your opinion they will accept me as the disguised Mr. Blake, and will follow without hesitation."
"That's it—precisely," he agreed. "They'll take you for Blake without question, and they'll enter the castle like a couple of lambs! They can't possibly have the slightest suspicion of you, and the very fact of your inviting them to enter will make it appear that Blake has gained the upper hand. But they'll soon find out their mistake."
Jarrow grinned to himself as he spoke, and Llewellyn nodded his head approvingly. The dodge was certainly a cute one, and there was every prospect of it succeeding.
Tinker and Spalding, of course, were fully aware that Blake had entered the castle in the personality of the caretaker, and they would naturally assume—when they saw Llewellyn—that they were confronting the disguised detective. Jarrow's scheme, undoubtedly, was a master stroke of finesse, and he hastened to put it into operation.
Llewellyn accordingly—after receiving a few parting words of instruction from Jarrow—equipped himself with a storm-lantern, and made his way out of the gloomy old building into the darkness of the night. He had no notion in which direction to look for his victims, but he shrewdly concluded that a few softly-spoken hails would have the effect of making Tinker and Spalding disclose their whereabouts.
The old caretaker was no fool, and he called Tinker's name in quite a fair imitation of Sexton Blake's own tone of voice. He was now familiar with the detective's manner of speaking, and he did his best to simulate it without betraying his real identity. He concluded that any little flaws would pass unnoticed by Spalding and Tinker, under the circumstances.
There was no response to his first hail, and Llewellyn peered into the darkness, holding the storm-lantern at arm's length as he did so. He walked along beside the castle wall for a short distance, and then halted again.
"Tinker!" he called softly. "Tinker!"
He looked round anxiously as he spoke, and almost immediately he was gratified to observe two dim forms detach themselves from among the rocks which were dimly visible upon the grassy patch nearby, and hasten towards him.
Tinker and Spalding, as a matter of fact, were thoroughly tired of their uncomfortable vigil in the mind and rain, and were only too glad that there was something doing at last. They hurried towards Llewellyn without hesitation, and joined him within a few moments.
"Thank goodness you've made a bally move at last, Mr. Blake!" exclaimed Spalding. "Tinker and I have been havin' a most deuced time out here, I can tell you! What's happenin'?"
Llewellyn had now lowered the storm-lantern, so that its dim rays should not illuminate his features too clearly as he confronted Tinker and Spalding. He had no fear that his real personality would be suspected, but it was as well to be cautious.
"A good deal has been happening, my dear fellow," he said in a whisper to Spalding. "But I cannot explain now. Everything is all right, and you and Tinker had better come inside at once."
Tinker breathed a sigh of relief.
"Oh, good!" he exclaimed. "We've had enough of skulking out here in this beastly weather. How did you manager to get the better of Jarrow and that ancient caretaker, guv'nor?"
Llewellyn's eyes gleamed with satisfaction as he heard Tinker's words. It was quite evident to him that he was accepted as Sexton Blake without question, and he turned and led the way back towards the castle door without answering Tinker's query.
Spalding and Tinker followed him at once. Neither of them had the slightest doubt regarding the old man, although they wondered why the detective continued to adhere so closely to the character of Llewellyn. Cute as Tinker undoubtedly was, he could scarcely be blamed for remaining unsuspicious of the cunning plan which was being carried through. The darkness and the rain all helped to make Jarrow's scheme a success, and the trio hurried to the castle without loss of time.
Llewellyn had left the door ajar, and he was the first to enter—pushing the door wide open, and halting just inside the hall. Tinker and Spalding followed close upon his heels, and immediately they were inside the caretaker closed the great door with a sinister clang.
Tinker looked round sharply.
"I say, guv'nor, rather unwise to bang the door like that," he exclaimed, in a tone of surprise. "What about Jarrow and why, Great Scott! The—the rotter's here!"
Tinker caught sight of Mr. Godfrey Jarrow as he uttered the words. He was standing in such a position that the open front door had concealed his presence from the newcomers. But now that the door was closed, he stood plainly revealed in the light of the storm-lantern. Jarrow was smiling with triumph, and in his had he grasped a wicked-looking Browning.
"Exactly. I am here, right enough, as you remark, Tinker!" he exclaimed blandly. "It may interest you to know that your master is already a prisoner in my hands, and that you and your companion are about to join him in captivity."
TINKER stared at Jarrow blankly for a few seconds, and then transferred his gaze to the features of Llewellyn, who was smiling in a self-satisfied fashion at the success of his ruse.
"By Jingo! They've tricked us, Vic!" roared Tinker angrily. "This old scoundrel is Llewellyn, the caretaker, and not the guv'nor at all!"
"That appears to be quite evident, old son," he agreed. "But I must remark that we've been caught being in a deucedly neat manner. There seems to be nothin' else for it but to get busy on that little scrap I hinted at a little while ago. What about it?"
Victor Spalding, in spite of his somewhat affected manner, was quite ready to put up a fight when the necessity arose, and he considered that the time had come for drastic action.
He and Tinker were rather staggered at the turn of events, and they were a little at a loss to understand exactly what had happened. It was quite evident to them that some disaster had occurred, and that Sexton Blake had in some way been disposed of by Jarrow and Llewellyn. The pair were mystified and chagrined at the neat manner in which they had been tricked, and they faced their enemies angrily.
"What have you done with the guv'nor, you blackguard?" shouted Tinker, turning on Jarrow like a flash, and striding forward with clenched fists. "If any harm's come to him, I'll—I'll—"
"You'll do precisely nothing!" interrupted Jarrow, dropping his air of bland amusement and pressing his Browning into Tinker's chest. "Understand that I'm top-dog just now, and I'm not standing any nonsense from you! This pistol is fully loaded, and if you and your friend show the least sign of causing trouble, I shan't hesitate to use it!"
Tinker breathed hard, and Spalding stepped forward as if to send his clenched fist crashing into Jarrow's face. But as he did so, Llewellyn also produced a revolver, and indicated that Spalding had better submit to the inevitable. It was thus made quite clear to the two helpless prisoners that resistance would be futile, and they were forced to accept the situation with the best grace possible.
Any attempt to make a fight of it would be worse than useless under the circumstances, and Tinker and Spalding could do nothing but glare at their captors impotently. It would be the height of folly to risk being shot, and their best policy would be to submit quietly and await an opportunity to turn the tables.
Jarrow observed their attitude of resignment and smiled approvingly.
"That's better," he said, with a nod. "I am glad you are sensible enough to realise when you are beaten. No harm will come to you if you'll do exactly as you're ordered; but I'm afraid you'll have to be imprisoned in a similar fashion to Mr. Blake for the time being."
"What for?" demanded Tinker angrily. "What's the idea of all this mystery, anyhow? Where's Mr. Glyn?"
"He is also a prisoner," said Jarrow. "But I have no time to argue with you, my lad. Your presence here is inconvenient to me, and since you have chosen to meddle in my affairs, I must take whatever course I think fit to get rid of your interference!"
Tinker and Spalding looked at one another helplessly. Jarrow's words told them absolutely nothing, and even now they were no wiser regarding the mystery which surrounded the old castle. There was nothing for them to do but take whatever came and trust to luck.
Victor Spalding shrugged his shoulders expressively.
"Dashed lively endin' to our pleasant little vigil in the bally rain!" he remarked. "Poor old Owen is down in the depths, an' now Mr. Blake has been shoved into the clink! It's our turn to pay a visit to the nether regions now, by the look of things, old scout!"
Tinker nodded gloomily and cast a glance at Jarrow. He was watching the two young men warily, and he took care to keep his pistol ready for instant action. Evidently he had no intention of allowing them the slightest opportunity of making a bid for liberty.
"Come on, Llewellyn, bind their hands behind them with that cord!" he rapped out briskly. "Once these fellows are safely imprisoned we can get about our business!"
The caretaker nodded as he pocketed his revolver, and proceeded to do as Jarrow ordered. A length of strong cord was lying upon the floor, and with this Llewellyn bound the hand of Tinker and Spalding securely behind their backs, rendering them completely helpless.
They were then ordered to march forward into the caretaker's little room, where they were halted beside the movable stone slab in the floor. Jarrow directed Llewellyn to touch the knob which operated the slab, and when the aperture was uncovered he flashed a light downwards, and told Tinker and Spalding to take a look.
"You will observe that Mr. Blake is comfortably housed in this little apartment," he remarked blandly. "It is just as well that you should see one another, to make the position clear!"
Tinker gazed down the shaft and dimly saw the form of his master in the dungeon below. Blake, attracted by the opening of the slab, and by the light, looked up quickly, and it was evident that he recognised his assistant.
"That you, Tinker!" he asked anxiously.
"Yes, guv'nor; but I can't help you!" answered Tinker. "Jarrow and Llewellyn deceived Mr. Spalding and I by a trick, and we're in their power!"
Blake gave vent to a low exclamation of annoyance, and it was clear that he was disappointed in his hopes. This was totally unexpected, and he realised at once that the position was rapidly growing worse. But he gave no indication of what was passing in his mind, and assumed a hopeful air.
"Never mind, Tinker, cheer up!" he called. "Jarrow will not have everything his own way for long. It is certainly unfortunate that you and Spalding have been trapped, but don't worry."
Jarrow muttered an oath under his breath.
"We'll see about that!" he growled. "I've got the four of you now, Blake, and I mean to take steps to keep you where I want you! You came here interfering in my affairs unasked, and you've only got yourselves to blame for what's happened. Close the trap, Llewellyn, and get these two fellows safely locked up in the dungeon!"
Mr. Godfrey Jarrow spoke impatiently, evidently somewhat puzzled by Sexton Blake's optimistic tones. He knew that the detective was securely imprisoned, with no chance whatever of making his escape, and he couldn't understand the lightheartedness of his captive.
The famous detective was also aware of his unfortunate predicament, but he was not the man to give way to despair. He had been in many a tighter corner than this, and had always managed to wriggle out of it by some means or other. Blake habitually looked upon the brightest aspect of any given situation, and he found that his optimism usually brought its own reward.
Llewellyn again produced his revolver after he had closed the stone trap-door, and he and Jarrow between them marshalled Tinker and Spalding towards the gloomy lower passage in which the chilly stone dungeons were situated. With their hands securely bound behind them, the prisoners were forced to march ahead with no possibility of eluding their armed captors, and they descended the great stone staircase to the cells with feelings too deep for words.
Everything seemed to be going wrong in connection with this strange case, and Jarrow and Llewellyn appeared to be doing precisely as they liked. All Blake's plans had miscarried, through no fault of his own, and now Tinker and Spalding were put out of the running, thus making the situation ten times worse. For, instead of being free to render aid to Blake and Glyn, they were themselves deprived of their liberty.
The position was galling in the extreme, and all four of the prisoners felt a little dejected, particularly as they were none the wiser regarding the mystery which surrounded the old castle and its strange occupants. They had discovered absolutely nothing, and they were even ignorant of Mr. Godfrey Jarrow's exact status, or what his purpose was.
The dungeon passage was soon reached, and Jarrow's voice, now harsh and with no trace of its former blandness, rapped out an order to the caretaker.
"Lock them in separate cells, Llewellyn!" he exclaimed. "There's no fear of them making their escape, so you may as well unbind their wrists!"
The old man smiled to himself as he proceeded to carry out the instructions, for none knew better than he how true Jarrow's words were. The dungeons of Glyn Castle had never been known, in all their history, to allow the escape of a prisoner, and they were equally as strong and secure now as they were when first built.
Jarrow stood nearby, with his Browning at the "ready," while Llewellyn removed the cords from each prisoner in turn and locked them securely in separate cells. Once they were inside, Jarrow and his henchman took their departure without further ado, leaving Tinker and Spalding to their own devices and in total darkness.
All four captives were now within close proximity of one another, but as totally isolated as if separated by miles, so far as conversation was concerned. The walls of the dungeon were of tremendous thickness, and no amount of shouting would penetrate them.
Owen Glyn had been in captivity the longest, and he was anxiously waiting to be released by Blake and his companions. He had submitted voluntarily to this second spell of imprisonment, and he expected every minute to regain his liberty. He was, of course, totally ignorant of the misfortunes which had overtaken his friends, and perhaps this was just as well. Had he been aware of what had actually occurred, he would probably have felt like giving way to despair; but, as things were, he was cheerfully anticipating a speedy release.
Blake and Tinker and Spalding, however, knew differently, and their spirits had consequently fallen to a somewhat low ebb. Each of them was utterly helpless in his own particular cell, and they were deprived of the slight consolation of talking to one another. There was nothing for them to do but sit upon the hard stone floor and review the situation, and this they did without deriving the slightest satisfaction.
Sexton Blake, particularly, felt angry with himself for allowing this catastrophe to occur, although he was not in any way to blame. Jarrow had gained the upper hand by the unforeseen escape of the old caretaker from the turret, and this was a circumstance against which the detective could not possibly provide. But it had changed the whole aspect of the situation, and fresh plans would have to be made.
Exactly how to set about doing this was the immediate problem to solve, and Blake knew well enough that the task would be difficult. In fact, he realised that action of any sort was out of the question while he and his companions were locked within their prison walls, and there was nothing to do but await events.
The four discomfited prisoners were busily engaged with their separate thoughts for some little time before anything occurred to interrupt them. But after half-an-hour had passed Llewellyn again made his appearance in the passage outside, and proceeded to dump blankets and food into each of the occupied cells, taking great care, as he did so, to open the doors only just sufficiently for his purpose. The old man, also, kept a firm grasp of his revolver as a means of preventing any attempt at escape.
Llewellyn carried out his task quickly, and without wasting words. In fact, he scarcely uttered a syllable during the whole time he was occupied in attending to the prisoners, and when he had done he took his departure once more, in the same grim silence.
The fact that blankets and food had been supplied to the four helpless captives told them plainly enough that their immediate release was by no means contemplated, and this knowledge did not serve to cheer them up at all. Under the circumstances, however, they were thankful for small mercies, and they wrapped themselves in the blankets and proceeded to partake of the sandwiches which Llewellyn had provided.
The caretaker rejoined Mr. Godfrey Jarrow in the little room above, and glanced at the big man questioningly. Llewellyn was a little dubious as to how events would turn out eventually, and he was clearly perturbed regarding the four charges which had been placed in his care below.
"How long will it be necessary to keep the prisoners here, sir?" he asked, taking a seat opposite Jarrow. "We shall need a considerable quantity of food if they are to be here for any length of time—"
"They won't be kept here a moment longer than necessary, Llewellyn," interrupted Jarrow. "We must consider ourselves very lucky that things have turned out as satisfactorily as they have, but something must be done immediately, of course. Now that we have captured all four of them I feel much easier in mind, for I don't suppose their plans were known to any others. There is every need for drastic and rapid action, but it is unnecessary to worry ourselves unduly over the situation." Llewellyn nodded.
"What do you propose to do, sir?" he asked.
"I am going to Swansea at once to carry out a little plan I have in mind," replied Jarrow. "It is absolutely essential that those four interfering busybodies must be got completely away—and kept away—for at least four months! Otherwise my plans will all fall to the ground. And, as I have no intention of allowing that to occur, I am going to see about the removal of the prisoners without delay!"
The caretaker looked a little startled.
"But—but how is it possible for you to arrange a matter of that kind, sir?" he asked. "I don't see—"
"There's no need for you to see, either!" broke in Jarrow. "All you've got to do, Llewellyn, is to guard the prisoners closely until I take them off your hands! I shall hold you absolutely responsible for them, remember! We can't afford to have any hitch occur now, and I shall look to you to see that everything is all right while I am away!"
The old man shifted uncomfortably in his chair, evidently not relishing the task allotted to him. But he made no comment as he listened to Jarrow's final instructions before he took his departure from the castle. But then, when Llewellyn was finally left alone, he paid a visit to the dungeons to assure himself that the prisoners were secure, and afterwards settled himself down in any easy chair—with his revolver ready—to await the return of Mr. Godfrey Jarrow.
Some two hours after his talk with the old caretaker, Jarrow was comfortably seated in the back room of a dingy quayside inn near Swansea Docks. He was facing a couple of rough-looking, weather-beaten individuals, who obviously followed a seafaring profession, and who were pulling vigorously at their pipes as they confronted Jarrow.
These two men were respectively Captain Shanks and his son, Joe, a burly young fellow of about twenty. They were the owners of a little seagoing cutter named the Ocean Sprite, a sturdy vessel capable of making voyages of considerable length. Jarrow had been aboard her on one or two occasions, and he was therefore fairly well acquainted with her owners.
Consequently he had sought out the father and son as the very men he required to undertake the task he had in mind, and for the past fifteen minutes he had been explaining exactly what he required them to do. Both the men had listened with the greatest interest, and they now regarded Jarrow with somewhat dubious glances.
"Remember, captain," said Jarrow in conclusion, "I'm going to foot the bill for all the expenses for the trip, and pay you and your son a clear five hundred pounds for your services. You must admit that my offer is a generous one, and will pay you much better than carrying your usual cargoes."
"Maybe!" said Shanks cautiously. "But I want to git all the details o' this business thoroughly clear before I commit myself to anything, Mr. Jarrow! I understand that we git two hundred pounds down, an' another three hundred at the end of the trip? Is that it?"
"Yes; in addition to the money for expenses, you'll get three hundred at the close of the voyage, provided everything goes well," he said. "But if you allow the prisoners to escape, you'll get nothing beyond the original two hundred! Now then, what do you say?"
Captain Shanks scratched his head.
"Don't 'urry me, Mr. Jarrow, don't 'urry me!" he exclaimed. "Your proposition has took me off my feet a little, an' I want to consider it calm an' peaceful afore I agree! Let's go over the main points again—just to freshen my memory!"
His son leaned over with an impatient expression on his face.
"Everything's clear enough, dad!" he said. "Mr. Jarrow explained everything quite distinctly. All we've got to do is to fetch four prisoners from Glyn Castle, and take them for a cruise in unfrequented waters for four months. We've got to carry enough food, and a fresh water machine, and we ain't got to touch land, or approach any other vessel during the trip."
"Exactly!" agreed Jarrow. "That's enough, surely!"
"Simple enough, to be sure," said the captain. "But I don't reckon to git myself into no trouble with the police, mind you! You said we'd got to treat the prisoners well and that no 'harm ain't to come to 'em! Well, I like that all right, an' I've a darned good mind to close with your offer, Mr. Jarrow! No questions ain't got to be arsked, I s'pose?"
"Well, the less you know about the affair the better for you," he said. "I can give you my word that there's nothing in it to get you into trouble with the police. These four prisoners stand in the way of a little business I've got on hand, and I want them put out of harm's way, for the time-being. You are to treat them as well as you possibly can, but keep them afloat for four months. That's all there is in it. Do you agree?"
Captain Shanks looked thoughtfully at Jarrow, and from him to his son Joe. The skipper was evidently in two minds about accepting the commission, and was considering the matter well before committing himself. Finally, he leaned over to Joe, and carried on a whispered conversation for a few minutes before again turning to the anxious Jarrow.
"Well, guv'nor, me an' Joe reckon we'll undertake the cruise, bein' as 'ow there ain't going to be no dirty work connected with it!" he said. "I ain't goin' to say as I like the job, mind, but we needs the money. So if you'll jest 'and over that two 'undred pounds right away, we'll call it a deal!"
Mr. Godfrey Jarrow smiled with satisfaction and at once produced his pocket-book, and took from it a sheaf of banknotes, which he passed over to the captain.
Within half an hour the three men had arranged all the final details of the scheme which so vitally affected the helpless prisoners in Glyn Castle, and when Jarrow finally took his departure, he was feeling elated and satisfied.
For his plans, in spite of Sexton Blake's activities, were working extremely well!
SEXTON BLAKE paced his dungeon cell impotently.
He was feeling furious and enraged at the way things had turned out, and he was chafing enormously at his inability to make any headway in connection with the mystery which he had undertaken to solve.
He had been confined in the dungeon only a comparatively few hours, but to him it seemed as if he had been there for days and days. The position was made all the more uncomfortable by the knowledge that escape was entirely out of the question. It was absolutely useless for him to even make the attempt—for he knew before that any such attempt would be doomed to failure, he was therefore deprived of even this slight consolation, and had perforce to remain in the cell, totally inactive.
There was nothing he could do to ease the position of himself and his companions, and the great detective fumed and fretted like a caged lion. The cell was pitchy dark by night and by day, and not even the faintest glimmer of light penetrated so far beneath the old castle floors. The uncanny silence, too, was well-nigh unbearable to a man of Blake's active mind, and it was no wonder that the detective patrolled his cell in a fever of angry resentment.
"Oh, this is intolerable—unbearable!" he muttered to himself, for the hundredth time. Blake had been imprisoned by his enemies many times before, but never in such a hopelessly impregnable place as this. There was not even a sporting chance of freeing himself, and he scarcely contain his impatience.
Moreover, he was curious and greatly puzzled as to the cause of it all. Why had he and his friends been cast into the dungeons in this fashion? What was Jarrow's object in acting in this manner? What, indeed, was Jarrow doing at the castle at all?
All these questions, and many others, passed through Blake's mind as he paced his cell, and he promised himself that they would be answered at the very first opportunity.
Tinker and Spalding and Glyn, all separately imprisoned quite near to Sexton Blake, were undergoing very similar sensations in their respective cells. They were all mystified and angry at the unexpected turn of events, and were wondering when their uncomfortable imprisonment was to cease. Their isolation was the hardest part of their burden—for each was unaware how his companions were faring. The whole position, in fact, was becoming intolerable, as Blake had said—but they were totally helpless to move a finger in their own aid.
And while the luckless captives were bewailing their fate in the cruel dungeons, old Llewellyn, the caretaker, was comfortably seated in his little room above, calmly scanning the pages of a newspaper. He was evidently looking for some particular item of news, for he made no attempt to read more than the bare headlines. Presently, however, he found what he sought, and he commenced chuckling over a certain paragraph which gave details of the mysterious disappearance of four individuals from London.
Several similar reports had appeared in the papers regarding the sudden vanishing of Sexton Blake, Tinker, Spalding, and Glyn. All four of them, it was stated, were known to have visited Swansea, but since their arrival in the great Welsh seaport all traces of them had been lost. They had disappeared, utterly, and all sorts of suggestions and surmises were contained in the various reports which appeared in different newspapers.
Llewellyn had read them all, and seemed to be in no way perturbed at the news contained in this latest paragraph, to the effect that the police were making very minute investigations as to the whereabouts of the four missing people. The caretaker knew well enough that they would never be likely to reach Glyn Castle in their search, and he was quite easy in mind regarding his prisoners.
When he had finished reading the newspaper, he busied himself in preparing some food for the captives, and carried it down to the dungeon passage. There was no necessity for Llewellyn to unlock the cell doors to hand the food to the prisoners, for a small grating was fitted into the centre of each. These gratings were strongly made and hinged—which made it a simple matter for the food to be passed into the interior of the cells. Llewellyn merely unfastened the hinged gratings, and handed each prisoner his portion, afterwards locking the grills securely in position once more. Since the caretaker had opened the doors to throw in the blankets, they had remained locked and barred, and the prisoners had had no opportunity of "rushing" Llewellyn during his visits to them.
The food which the caretaker supplied was wholesome and tasty, but none too plentiful. He doled out just sufficient to meet the demands of nature, and supplied each prisoner with enough to keep the pangs of hunger away. As a beverage they were sometimes allowed coffee, and sometimes tea—but they had either one or the other with practically every meal. Upon the whole, they were by no means badly treated in this respect, and they usually ate and drank very heartily of whatever was given them.
This occasion was very similar to the previous ones, and the four prisoners were soon busily engaged in demolishing their rations. They were, of course, quite unable to see what they were eating, owing to the intense darkness, but their meals usually tasted quite good, and they made short work of them—in spite of the various drawbacks under which they were compelled to eat. Blake, as a rule, felt quite satisfied with his portion—but Tinker and Glyn and Spalding, being young and healthy and vigorous, could quite easily have tucked away at least double the quantity, if they had had the opportunity.
A couple of hours after consuming the food Sexton Blake began to feel strangely sleepy, and his suspicions were at once aroused. Nothing like this happened before during his imprisonment, and he instantly suspected that some sort of drug had been introduced into his tea or sandwiches. He had tasted nothing unusual, it is true—but he was well aware that certain narcotics could be administered without their presence being detected.
At all events, he felt quite certain that his drowsiness could only be accounted for in this way, and he wondered for what purpose the drug had been given. He had no doubt that the other three prisoners had been treated in a similar fashion to himself, and his keen brain endeavoured to cope with the probable reason.
The detective, in spite of his iron will and strong character, found himself unable to shake off the slowly creeping stupor which was gradually overpowering him. He fought against it with all his might, but he knew that his efforts would end in failure. The drug had taken too great a hold on his system to admit of being successfully combated by force of will, and he felt himself sinking by slow degrees, into a state of unconsciousness.
It he had had only the slightest inkling of what the food contained he would have refrained from eating it. For he realised that something important was evidently afoot, and he would have given anything to retain his full faculties. It would probably mean an opportunity of turning the tables upon his enemies, and Blake strove hard to keep himself from succumbing to the insidious drug which was surely robbing him of his senses.
But, as he feared, his efforts were useless. Almost before he knew it he had dropped off into a deep slumber—a dreamless, sound sleep, from which he would not be likely to awaken for some considerable time. And as Blake had surmised, Tinker, Spalding, and Glyn were all in a similar condition—stretched at full length on their blankets, oblivious to their surroundings.
The explanation of this state of affairs soon became apparent. For, within the next hour, Jarrow and Llewellyn made their appearance in the dungeon passage, accompanied by Captain Shanks and his son Joe. They had come to carry out their contract with Jarrow, and no time was lost in setting about the transfer of the four prisoners to the waiting cutter.
The skipper had received full and precise instructions how to proceed, and he and his son commenced operations by grasping one of the captives—it was Owen Glyn—and carrying his unconscious form out of the dungeon into the passage. Llewellyn, equipped once more with his storm-lantern, showed his light upon the scene, and proceeded to illuminate the way out of the castle.
The old caretaker, carrying his lamp, directed Shanks and Joe up the great stone staircase into the upper passage, and so on until the entrance hall was reached. The skipper and his son seemed to make very little trouble of carrying their burden, for they were both strong, brawny men.
Llewellyn opened the front door for them to pass out, but he made no attempt to accompany them with the lamp, as this would have been somewhat risky. The night was pitchy dark outside, but the owners of the Ocean Sprite were used to the gloom, and they carried their unconscious prisoner towards the cliff path without the slightest hesitation.
Negotiating the steep and broken stairway to the beach below as a little more difficult for Shanks and his son, but they accomplished the task without accident, and hurried across the rock-strewn stretch of sand to the spot where the cutter was moored. The hour was very late at night, and the whole coast was deserted—so the conspirators had no fear of their actions being observed.
Owen Glyn was soon hoisted aboard the Ocean Sprite, and dumped into a fairly comfortable bunk situated in the forepart of the vessel. He was snoring loudly and peacefully sublimely indifferent to what was happening around him. Joe Shanks grinned as they left the sleeping man.
"No fear of him waking up for a few hours, dad," he remarked easily. "If the other three are no more troublesome than this one, we shall have a pretty easy time gettin' them aboard."
The skipper grunted.
"Easy or not, I shall feel a durned sight more comfortable when we git 'em to sea," he said. "This is a queer sort o' job, an I don't relish being pulled up by no coastguards. So we'd best hurry."
Joe nodded, and the pair returned to the castle with all speed. The task before them was no light one, for it is by no means an easy matter to carry the inanimate form of a man for such a distance. But they had accomplished the first journey without mishap, and they set about bringing the other three prisoners down to the cutter as speedily as possible.
One by one they were taken from their cells and transferred to the vessel, in the same way as Glyn had been. Llewellyn met the two seamen each time they returned, and escorted them to the dungeon passage with his lamp. Jarrow merely acted the part of onlooker, occasionally giving Shanks a word of instruction or advice as it occurred to him.
Sexton Blake was the last of the prisoners to be removed from the castle, and after he had been safely stowed into the little for'ard cabin with his companions, the Ocean Sprite put to sea without the loss of a moment. Jarrow and Llewellyn were heartily glad to see the last of their unwelcome captives, and locked themselves within the castle with more contented minds than they had had since Owen Glyn and Victor Spalding had first made their appearance at the door of the old building after their shipwrecking incident.
Mr. Godfrey Jarrow considered that he had disposed of the prisoners in a masterly manner, and that he was now free to pursue his mysterious plans without hindrance. In any case, he was quite certain that he had nothing further to fear from Sexton Blake—for at least four months. And by that time he would be quite willing for the detective to make what investigation he wished.
Jarrow was quite convinced that, whatever his motives were, they were quite unknown to Blake and his companions. And in this he was undoubtedly right. For Blake, in spite of his efforts, had been baffled at every turn, and he was even now quite ignorant of the mystery which surrounded Glyn Castle and its two strange inhabitants.
Captain Shanks, after the smart little vessel had cast her moorings and was ploughing through the water at a good pace, busied himself on deck while his son took the wheel. The Ocean Sprite was a swift-sailing, sloop-rigged craft of graceful appearance, but just now there was something about her which seemed strangely out of place. There was a wooden erection which had been specially built for this particular trip, and the skipper grinned to himself approvingly as he surveyed it.
Meanwhile, the four prisoners from Glyn Castle were still sleeping as peacefully as ever, proving that Llewellyn had done his work with more efficiency than discretion. The effects of the drug were still very apparent and none of the victims showed the least sign of awakening. It was not until another three hours had passed that the first of the prisoners began to recover, and this in itself was a somewhat slow process.
Sexton Blake showed the first signs of returning consciousness, and his sensations were peculiar and hard to define. His head ached and buzzed abominably, and for some little time he lay trying to collect his scattered wits. The drug had numbed his senses, and he could not remember much for some minutes after awakening.
But gradually his faculties returned to him, and as they did so he became aware that he was no longer lying upon a solid stone floor. It was pitch dark, the same as the dungeon had been, but everything else was different. The air was not so chilly and stuffy, and strange gurgling and swishing noises came softly to his ears. Lastly, Blake felt the rolling motion of the boat, and in a flash of understanding he realised that he was at sea.
The detective was still feeling bemused and fuddled by the action of the drug, but he lost no time in scrambling to his feet as soon as this knowledge of the change of prisons fully dawned upon him. It was not difficult for him to reconstruct what had taken place while he lay drugged and helpless, and he determined to discover exactly what class of vessel he was aboard of.
Accordingly he rose to his feet somewhat shakily, and found to his satisfaction that he was not bound. He also discovered, by his sense of touch, that he had been lying in a lower bunk of the cabin, and was consequently able to step out upon the floor without any trouble. His head seemed to be swimming as he gained an upright position, but after a few moments this unpleasant sensation began to pass away.
The detective was rapidly recovering his customary alertness of manner, and he struck a match and looked round the little apartment. The spluttering flame showed him a clean and neat little cabin, fitted with four bunks, a table with a scrubbed top, and various lockers and chests. But Blake had no interest in anything but the bunks, and he investigated these at once.
As he had thought, three of them were occupied by Tinker, Spalding, and Glyn—all of them were still in the deep sleep induced by the drug. Blake made no attempt to awaken them, but he was keenly delighted that they were here with him, safe and sound.
The match burnt out in a few seconds, and the detective crossed the cabin to the door. He had expected it to be locked, but somewhat to his surprise, he found it unsecured in any way except for the usual latch. This seemed to point to the fact that he and his three companions were no longer prisoners—but Blake was soon to learn differently.
He opened the door at once, and passed out upon the open, wind-swept deck. The keenness of the air which blew into his face did more than anything else to dispel the remaining effects of the narcotic, and Blake felt better after the first few moments under the stars than he had done since falling into the stupor.
He looked round him with great interest, and the first faint streaks of dawn showed him, with fair distinctness, that the vessel upon which he was standing was well out in the open sea—completely out of sight of land. This was positive proof that a good long time had elapsed since the coast had been left behind.
Blake next turned his attention to the craft itself, and he saw at a glance that the cutter was a good, seaworthy vessel of substantial build. The cabin from which he had just emerged was situated in the extreme bows of the little ship, and within six feet of the door, stretching right across the deck, was a heavy wooden barrier—completely blocking the passage to the after part of the boat.
The detective's eyes narrowed as he observed the obstruction, and its significant presence was not lost upon him. Obviously the barrier had been erected as a means of preventing himself and his companions from having the free run of the vessel, and he saw at once that the strongly-made fencing would effectively confine the prisoners to this allotted portion of the deck.
The barrier was built after the style of trellis work, but strong enough to withstand the heaviest storm, if appearances went for anything. There was no apparent gateway, or other opening, in the formidable-looking barrier, and there was no doubt in Blake's mind that its purpose was intended solely to keep himself, and the other prisoners from leaving this position of the cutter.
Sexton Blake smiled grimly to himself as he took in all these details, and he marvelled at the completeness of the arrangements which had been made to render himself and his companions helpless. Mr. Godfrey Jarrow, of course, was responsible for them, and the famous detective promised himself a satisfactory settlement with that gentleman at the earliest opportunity.
Meanwhile, he suddenly became aware that a figure was moving towards him along the deck—upon the further side of the trellis barricade. It belonged to Captain Shanks, and he nodded cheerfully to Sexton Blake as he came to a halt upon the heaving deck.
"Mornin', sir!" he greeted pleasantly, at the same time drawing an enormous revolver from his pocket. "I see you're 'avin' a look at the alterations wot we've made for your benefit. I'm sorry you'll 'ave to be content with such a small bit o' dec, but orders is orders, as the sayin' is."
Sexton Blake smiled.
"No doubt we have to thank our friend Jarrow for this little trip?" he suggested. "But as we are apparently booked for a prolonged journey on your vessel, I should like to know who you are, and where you are taking us."
The skipper nodded.
"Well, I don't think they'll be any 'arm in obligin' you with an answer to all you want to know, sir," he replied. "My name is Cap'n Shanks, an' this cutter is owned by me an' my son Joe. We've been 'ired—as you reckoned—by Mr. Jarrow, an' we've got orders to take you an' your friends for a long cruise. We're bound for the South Atlantic, an' if you an' the other gents will only behave sensible, there ain't no reason why we shouldn't all enjoy ourselves. You won't come to no 'arm whatever—provided you don't try no tricks:" The detective pointed to the revolver.
"That, I presume, is intended to add a little weight to your arguments—in case my friends, or myself, attempt any of the tricks you mention?" he asked drily.
"Exactly, sir—you've hit it fust go!" answered the skipper blandly. "I think I ought to explain the position at the beginnin'—so's there can't be no misunderstandin' later on. You an' your friends 'ave got to keep to your own side of this 'ere barrier—that's about all there is to it! Me or my son will always be on deck, fully armed, an' if any of you gents make an attempt to git past this blamed fence, we shall be compelled to act drastic. But there won't be no need for nothin' of that sort, sir—if you'll only act sensible. You'll 'ave plenty of good food, which we shall pass through this 'ere slit in the fence, an' you won't 'ave no cause to worry over nothin'."
Captain Shanks spoke in a tone of voice which indicated that he wished everything to be on amicable terms between himself and his prisoners, and Sexton Blake looked at him sharply. The detective could see that the skipper was by no means of a scoundrelly nature, as might have been expected, and he took some trifling consolation from that fact. But Blake was certainly surprised at this move on Jarrow's part, and he did not know quite what to make of it.
He regarded the captain fixedly.
"How long is this cruise intended to last?" he asked.
"Well, my orders is to keep afloat for four months, sir—without touchin' land, or approachin' any other craft," answered the skipper deliberately. "So it's up to you to git kinder resigned right away. You an' your friends won't 'ave no 'ardships to suffer, an' you'll be takin' a good long 'oliday without no expenses to pay."
Sexton Blake's lips set in a firm, grim line as he heard the captain's words, but he gave no indication of the astonishment which filled him. He was also greatly angered at the helpless position in which he had been placed by the cunning Jarrow.
Action on the part of the prisoners was rendered impossible—for with a constant watch being kept by armed men nothing could be done to improve the situation. Apparently, the four of them had been pitched out of the frying-pan into the fire—for they were certainly no better off aboard the cutter than they had been in the dungeons of Glyn Castle—so far as taking action against Mr. Godfrey Jarrow was concerned.
The famous Baker Street detective had never found himself quite so thoroughly thwarted at every turn than at the present moment, and a great rage welled up within him. Matters had been quite bad enough at the castle, but to be drugged and shanghaied in this outrageous fashion was almost beyond endurance. But he realised the utter futility of railing against the inevitable, and he turned abruptly on his heel and entered the little cabin once more.
The daylight was now much stronger, and it revealed the fact that the other three victims of Llewellyn's drug were all showing signs of recovery. Glyn was stretching himself drowsily as Blake entered, and Spalding was sitting up and looking round him with a dazed and vacant expression. Tinker was still lying in his bunk, but his eyes were open wide, and the astonishment in them spoke eloquently of the fact that he had regained his wits to a sufficient extent to know that he was no longer in the dungeons of Glyn Castle.
"What's happened, guv'nor?" he muttered recognising Blake at once. "I—I feel absolutely rotten! My head's buzzing like a blessed saw-mill, and I can't see straight."
Victor Spalding turned his head and nodded.
"That's dashed queer!" he remarked "You've described my feelin's exactly old son. Hanged if I know what to make of this! The bally room seems to be heavin'—just as if the castle is topplin' over! If I hadn't been confined in the dark and dismal dungeon for hours an' hours, I should be inclined to put this ghastly sensation down to a considerably strengthy gargle."
Sexton Blake chuckled, and turned to the little washstand which was screwed to one of the walls of the cabin. Here he found a bottle of water and a glass, and he proceeded to give each of the three dazed youngsters a drink of the clear, reviving liquid.
Its effect upon them was immediate and beneficial, and within the next five minutes they had recovered sufficiently to listen with amazement and interest to Blake's account of his interview with Captain Shanks. The detective recounted everything which had passed, and his three hearers were staggered at the turn events had taken.
"This is simply ghastly, Mr. Blake!" exclaimed Glyn. "Do you mean to say we're going to be cut off from civilisation for four solid months?"
"According to the skipper—yes!" answered Blake. "This man Jarrow is responsible for our predicament, and I am quite at a loss to understand his motives in acting as he has done. However, it is no use worrying ourselves unduly, we must await our opportunity of reversing the position."
"But, according to what you've just told us, that seems to be pretty hopeless," he observed. "This adventure appears to be a fair knock-out for unexpected surprises, Mr. Blake, and I'm dashed if I can see where it's goin' to end! First we're messed about by that old fossil of a caretaker, an' then incarcerated in the noisome dungeons of the castle. Now, to cap the lot, we're ballywell shanghaied like a set of drunken longshoremen. Goodness only knows what it all means, but we seem to be up against it this time with a vengeance!"
Owen Glyn nodded gloomily.
"Just when I had hoped for so much, too!" he muttered brokenly. Sexton Blake tapped him on the shoulder reassuringly.
"It is early yet to give way to despair, my dear fellow," he said. "I don't think there is any cause for undue anxiety—at any rate, at present. I will admit that the position is extremely galling, but something may turn up to alter the whole aspect of affairs at any moment."
This was quite true, and the detective's cheerful attitude soon reflected itself on his companions—at least, to a certain degree. They discussed the whole situation in detail, but it was impossible for them to arrive at any satisfactory explanation of Jarrow's strange actions, or to make plans for the immediate future.
A little later they went on deck in a body, and surveyed the formidable barricade. Upon the other side of it Captain Shanks was busy with some coils of rope, but he turned and faced them as they appeared. His revolver was stuck in his belt ready for instant action, and it seemed that the skipper was determined to give his prisoners no opportunity of passing the barrier.
"Joe is gettin' some breakfast ready for you gentlemen now," he exclaimed pleasantly. "He'll pass it through to you in a few minutes, an' I 'ope you'll enjoy it. We're goin' to make things as comfortable as we can for you while you're aboard our craft, an' all we asks you to do is to keep over in your own quarters. If you do that, things will go on smooth an' amicable."
"Well, it's cheerin' to learn that we're goin' to have some grub, at any rate," he remarked. "This bally trellis-work arrangement reminds me rather forcibly of the Zoo, you know. Caged animals, and all that sort of rot. Fancy bein' stuck here for four months! Ye gods and little bloaters!"
Spalding's facetious remarks really voiced the sensations of his three companions. They were all feeling somewhat like caged animals as they regarded the strongly-made barrier which confronted them, and they realised the utter helplessness of the position. The barricade itself could be easily surmounted were it not for the fact that Shanks or his son were continually on the watch with firearms ready for action. Any attempt to climb the fence would be doomed to failure at the outset under such conditions, and the four prisoners set their teeth grimly. There was nothing for them to do but accept the situation as philosophically as possible, and hope for the best.
The cutter was now ploughing through the choppy sea with exhilarating swiftness, and under different circumstances the little party who stood in the forepeak would have enjoyed themselves immensely. As things were, however, they felt very little pleasure in the enforced voyage, and for the most part they stood surveying their surroundings in silence.
Not a sail of any sort was in sight, and their vessel was quite alone upon the vast waste of waters, her sails bellying out in the stiff breeze which blew strongly from the north-east. Sexton Blake cast a comprehensive glance at the scurrying clouds above, and turned to his companions.
"I fancy we're in for a spell of rough weather," he commented. "There is every sign of a storm blowing up within a few hours, and Shanks and his son will have all their work cut out to manage this craft, small as it is. Possibly we may Find an opportunity of obtaining control of the boat, but we must be very cautious, and take no action until we are quite certain of success."
The detective's words seemed to cheer the others. They promised a sporting chance of reversing positions, and the little party discussed the possibilities of escape while they partook of breakfast in the little cabin. Joe, as his father had promised, prepared a really substantial meal for them, and they enjoyed it immensely. After their recent experiences in the dungeons of the castle, they were feeling invigorated and freshened by the keen sea breezes, and their appetites responded accordingly.
Blake's forecast of the weather conditions looked like proving correct, for as the morning wore on the sea became appreciably rougher, and the wind blew almost a gale. By the time dinner was over, and the afternoon was well advanced, the storm threatened to swoop down upon them at any moment, and the four prisoners observed that Captain Shanks was looking anxious and worried.
He and Joe had shortened sail several times during the last few hours—a sure indication that they anticipated a spell of bad weather. The sea was rising rapidly now, and the wind was howling through the rigging with a shrieking intensity which foretold of worse to follow. But the Ocean Sprite, in spite of her rolling and plunging, seemed to be easily manageable by the skipper and his mate, for Joe acted in that capacity. They were both experienced seamen, and handled the vessel with ease and assurance.
Blake and his three companions spent most of the afternoon on their little stretch of deck, interestedly watching the skilled manipulation of the various ropes and tackle. The boat was now speeding through the waves at a tremendous speed, running before the wind with scarcely a dozen yards of sail set. Now and again she shipped formidable seas, and the spray continually roared up from her sharp bows, and soaked the occupants of the forepeak. But they preferred to weather the storm in the open, rather than be confined to the tiny cabin.
Tinker cocked his eye skywards, and surveyed the heavens dubiously.
"This is only the beginning of what we're in for!" he remarked, with a nod. "There's a hurricane coming up in a few minutes, guv'nor—and it's going to be a regular blighter, if I know anything!" Blake nodded.
"I'm afraid you're right, Tinker," he agreed. "There is every sign of a very severe storm, and I think it will break shortly after sunset. In all probability we shall have to lend a hand with the running of the boat, but we will do nothing whatever for the present. Just wait and see how events turn out."
Spalding and Glyn were looking serious, as well as Blake and Tinker. They were quite experienced enough in the ways of the sea to know when the elements threatened danger, and they fully realised the gravity of the situation. The skipper and Joe were doing their best, and so far they had matters well in hand. Joe was at the wheel, and his father was busy with the gaff-lines and other gear which required attention. The skipper had already securely lashed everything possible, and was now going over his work a second time to make everything doubly sure before the storm broke upon them.
The dusk was gathering quickly now, and the wind howled more fiercely than ever. Then, with scarcely any warming, the rain began to descend in a blinding sheet, hissing down upon the decks with a fury which was almost incredible. At the same time, the seas became rougher than ever, and the little Ocean Sprite tossed and plunged like a wild thing. At one second she was high up upon the crest of a giant wave, and the next she was floundering in the trough, with her timbers creaking and groaning under the terrific strain.
Mountainous seas crashed upon her decks in a continuous succession, and the little Ocean Sprite lurched and shivered drunkenly under each terrific impact. Blake and his companions, huddled together in the bows, were compelled to cling tightly to the rails to prevent themselves being flung overboard. The ship was floundering in the throes of a particularly nasty squall, and seemed to be in imminent danger of turning turtle. But the wind and the seas, between them, brought her back on a comparatively even keel, and sent her scurrying forward into the spume and spray like a frightened bird.
Disaster, however, was not to pass them by entirely.
Sexton Blake, as he clung to the rail, suddenly became aware of a tearing, rending sound from overhead, and he glanced up quickly. There was still sufficient light for him to discern the quivering mast, and even as he looked he saw a portion of the rigging in the act of falling to the deck. A warning cry arose in his throat, but before he could give utterance to it the mass of cordage hurtled downwards with tremendous force.
Joe Shanks, apparently, saw the incident at the same second as the detective. But, unfortunately for him, he was standing directly beneath the loosened rigging. He saw his danger in a flash, and made a sudden sideways dive in order to clear the descending missile. But he was just the fraction of a second too late, and he was sent crashing to the deck with a heavy thud.
He lay just where he had fallen, ominously still. There was no doubt that he was gravely injured, and his father came running towards him, careless of anything else. He bent over Joe anxiously, and the first glance told him that the lad was unconscious—perhaps dying.
Captain Shanks was almost stunned by this disaster. Even with Joe's aid the task of managing the boat was no light one, especially during stormy weather, but with his son rendered helpless, the skipper knew that he was lost. And Joe must be attended to at once—he could not be left upon the sea-swept deck, exposed to the fury of the elements. The captain looked round him almost wildly, scarcely knowing which way to turn.
Sexton Blake, watching from the other side of the barricade, saw Shanks' predicament at once, and—with characteristic generosity—determined to go to the rescue. He could do no less under the circumstances.
"If you want any help, captain," he called, raising his voice above the roar of the wind, "I am perfectly willing to do anything I can!"
The skipper looked round quickly.
"Thank you sir, thank you!" he said gratefully, forgetting everything else in the anxiety he felt for his son. "Joe is pretty badly injured, by the look o' things, an' if you can do him any good I shall be more obliged than I can say!"
The detective nodded, and prepared to climb the barrier, now without the slightest fear of hindrance. As he did so he could not help feeling that Fate seemed about to turn the tables, and that the fortunes of himself and his three friends were altering for the better.
CAPTAIN SHANKS was obliged to take the wheel, and to leave his injured son in charge of the detective.
He could not be in better hands than those of Sexton Blake, although the skipper was unaware of this at the moment. Shanks was only too glad to have Joe attended to at all, under the circumstances, and he cast a grateful look in Blake's direction as he saw the famous detective gently lift the stricken man into his arms and make his way below.
Within five minutes Joe was made snug and comfortable in the skipper's cabin, and Sexton Blake quickly examined his injuries. As skilfully as any doctor, and with a face equally as grave, Blake attended to the unconscious man. He was bleeding profusely from a jagged wound upon the head, and after staunching the flow of blood and temporarily bandaging the injury, the detective left the cabin once more and ascended to the deck.
Shanks was still at the wheel, looking worried and grieved; but he was not alone now. As Blake had surmised, Tinker and Spalding and Glyn were now doing everything in their power to assist the skipper in the running of the vessel, and they were proving themselves to be extremely useful hands in this emergency. Without their timely aid, the Ocean Sprite would in all probability have foundered; but, as things were, they had managed between them to save the gallant little cutter from destruction.
Under the skipper's directions, they had done everything necessary to ensure the safety of the ship, and even now they were running into smoother water. By the look of things, they had weathered the worst part of the storm, and by dawn there was every prospect of their making calm waters once more.
Blake looked round approvingly as he emerged on deck and quietly walked to the skipper's side. Shanks turned an eager face as he approached, and it was evident to the detective that a great bond of affection existed between father and son.
"Well, sir, how is he?" he asked anxiously scanning Blake's features in an endeavour to learn the worst. "Don't—don't tell me that my poor boy is—is—"
"No, captain; Joe is unconscious, but he is not dead," interrupted Blake quietly. "He has received a very severe blow upon the head, and I'm afraid the matter is serious."
Captain Shanks swallowed hard.
"Not—not in danger of dyin', sir?" he gasped chokingly. "Oh, don't say that I'm to lose my son!" Sexton Blake placed a hand on the old man's shoulder.
"I'm sorry, captain," he said softly, "but it is only right that you should know the worst at once. Joe is in danger of death, as you feared. He has received a fracture of the skull, and there is a small piece of bone pressing upon a vital nerve centre. Such a condition of things is extremely serious, and it is unfortunate that we are so far out to sea."
The skipper passed a hand across his forehead and looked at Blake with moist eyes.
"Do you mean that nothin' can be done to help my boy, sir?" he breathed. "Do you mean that we've got to stand by an' watch him die, without bein' able to do nothin' for him? Heaven grant that such is not the case! I'd willin'ly give my own life if it would save Joe, an' I can't bear the thoughts of him goin' like this! What can we do to help him, sir; what can we do?"
The detective looked at Shanks squarely.
"There is only one thing which will save the life of your son, captain," he said. "An' what's that, sir; what's that?" asked Shanks tremblingly.
"An operation," answered Sexton Blake. "An operation performed within the next hour is the only hope, but I think that would almost certainly be the means of preventing Joe's death."
The skipper ran his fingers through his hair with a hopeless gesture as he comprehended the purport of Blake's words. The realisation of the utter impossibility of obtaining medical aid in time to be of any use almost drove him frantic, and he clutched at the detective's coat-sleeve in an agony of fear and consternation.
"An hour?" he repeated dazedly. "My son will die if we don't git an operation performed within an hour? By heavens, it's—it's impossible, sir! We're more'n six hours from the nearest land, an' the wind an' tide's against us. The seas are so heavy that he couldn't be taken off by another vessel, even if we sighted one, an' we can do nothin' but run afore the wind. An' Joe, my boy, has got to die within—"
"Are you sure sir, that there's no other way to save him? Can't we—"
He broke off, too miserable and grief-stricken to say more. The words seemed to choke in his throat, and he turned a tear-stained face to the detective which spoke more eloquently of his feelings than any mere words could have done.
Sexton Blake felt genuinely sorry for the old skipper, and he rapidly came to a decision.
"There is only one other suggestion I have to make, Shanks," he said, looking at the skipper with his keen eyes. "The operation on your son is the only hope of pulling him through, and I am perfectly willing to perform it, if you are agreeable. I cannot, of course, promise success, but I will do my best to save Joe's life."
The detective spoke in a quiet voice, but it seemed to carry the hope of success. Captain Shanks clutched at the unexpected offer as a drowning man clutches at a straw, and he turned to Blake with a new-found look of joy in his glance.
"Thank Heaven for your kindness, sir!" he said chokingly. "I—I know I don't deserve to be treated like this, but if you'll only save the life of my boy, I'll—I'll do anythin' in my power to repay you! Agree, sir? O' course I'll agree, an' only too thankful o' the chance! Go—go an' perform the operation on Joe, sir, an' may good luck go with you!"
The skipper's voice was filled with relief and hope, and he gently pushed Sexton Blake towards the companion-way in his eagerness for him to commence on his delicate task. Shanks did not even think of questioning Blake's ability to perform the operation; he took this much for granted, and, in any case, it was better for the captain to know that at least some efforts were being made on behalf of the injured man, rather than to leave him to die without everything possible done.
And so, Blake, having gained the captain's consent, descended once more to the little cabin alone, and prepared to begin on the fight for Joe's life. The famous detective was very greatly skilled in surgery and medicine, but he realised that everything was against him in this instance. He had no drugs or instruments of any sort which were suited to the matter in hand, and he would have to manage as best he could with what few articles he carried upon his person.
Chief among these was a strong but delicately-made pocket-knife which contained other implements in addition to the usual two blades. It was fitted with scissors, tweezers, and a couple of sharply-pointed instruments which Blake had often found useful in minor operations previously. He had never been compelled to use the crude tools for such an important occasion as this, when a life hung in the balance; but they were certainly better than nothing.
The detective set about his task with a businesslike alertness which indicated that he was a perfect master of the situation, in spite of the many drawbacks with which he had to contend. He removed his coat and rolled up his shirt-sleeves as a commencement, and then procured a bowl of water and some bandages. The bandages he had discovered in a locker during his first visit to the cabin, but there was nothing else in the surgical line which would assist him.
Joe Shanks was breathing evenly, but was still totally unconscious as Blake began his task. It was necessary to remove the matted hair from around the wound before doing anything else, and while the detective was thus engaged he became aware that the skipper had softly entered the cabin. Blake made no comment, for he had no objection to the father of his patient being present. After all, it was only natural that Shanks should be tremendously anxious regarding his son, and he felt compelled to leave the ship in the hands of the late prisoners and to watch by Joe's side.
He took up his position by Blake's elbow, but made no attempt to enter into conversation, realising with shrewd common-sense that it was far better for the detective to be left to concentrate upon his work unhampered. But if he did not speak with his lips, his eyes glowed with an expression of gratitude which told plainly enough what he left.
Sexton Blake went about his intricate task with a dexterity which surprised the old seaman, who gazed fascinatedly at the skilful fingers of the great detective as they performed their mission of restoring life and health to the injured man. Blake had not yet begun the actual operation so far, but was still engaged in preparing the way for it. Perfect cleanliness was vital before he could hope to raise the fragment of bone which was pressing upon the nerve centre, and in order to make a success of the work he had set himself to accomplish, Blake took great pains to cleanse the wound of all foreign bodies.
At last he was ready to make the great experience, and he braced himself for the ordeal. The detective's nerves were as firm as steel at all times, but he realised that he would be testing their strength severely during the next few minutes. For not only had he to perform the operation with inadequate implements, but he had also to contend against the continual rolling and pitching of the vessel as she was buffeted about by the tremendous seas. One false move on Blake's part would seal Joe's doom for ever, instead of saving his life, and he set his lips in a firm, grim line as be prepared himself for the supreme moment.
Captain shanks watched him breathlessly, scarcely daring to move a finger, lest he should disturb the man who was fighting for the life of his only son. He marvelled at the apparent calmness and impartiality which characterised Blake's every move, but the skipper could never fully realise the enormous strain under which the detective was labouring in reality.
Quietly and methodically, and seeming to act without effort, Blake fought for the ebbing life of the captain's son. Joe was lying upon a pad of folded blankets, which Blake had spread upon the firmly-clamped table, and the only illumination which served to show him what he was doing came from a shaded oil-lamp which rocked and swayed overhead.
And under these primitive conditions, the great detective patiently probed and manipulated his instruments with a decisiveness which was nothing short of miraculous. The only sign which showed what he was undergoing in the way of nerve-strain was the perspiration which slowly formed upon his brow. He did nothing without first weighing its consequences in his mind, and every tiny movement was made with a deliberation which proved that Sexton Blake, had he so desired, could have become one of the world's most famous surgeons.
In absolute silence—except for the howling of the wind and the swish of the water against the ship's side—the detective carried on his work, watched by the anxious eves of Captain Shanks. For almost fifteen minutes Blake bent closely over his patient's inanimate form, battling for his life with all the skill at his command, and at the end of that time he raised himself with a little smile of satisfaction upon his features, and commenced wiping the instruments he had used.
The skipper noticed the change in Blake's attitude but he dared not risk asking for information, in case the reply he received was the one he dreaded to hear. But he soon found that it was unnecessary to question the detective, for Blake turned to him almost at once.
"I fancy your son will recover now, captain, and be little the worse for his mishap," he said, quietly. "The operation was a somewhat troublesome one to perform, but I think we may regard it as successful."
Captain Shanks groped for Blake's hand through his tear-dimmed vision, and wrung it warmly and fervently. He was quite unable to utter a word for a few moments, but when at last he found his voice he spoke huskily and brokenly.
"Mr. Blake, I shall never be able to repay you properly for what you've done for me an' my boy tonight!" he muttered quaveringly. "It—it seems too good to be true, sir! To think that you have done this for me—after the shameful way I've treated you an' your friends! I—I didn't know such kindness could be found in this world, an' I feel properly ashamed to look you in the face! But it's larnt me a lesson—by gosh, it has. I'll take my oath that I'll never undertake another shady job o' this sort, an' to prove that I mean what I say—jest watch me, sir!"
The skipper dragged his heavy revolver from his pocket as he spoke, and walked towards the ship's side. Then, raising it above his head, he flung it with all his force through the open porthole, emitting a grunt of disgust at the same moment.
"From this moment onwards. Mr. Blake, I'm your friend till the day I die, an' I'm ready to take any orders you like to give!" he exclaimed, with evident sincerity. "I'll take you back to the nearest land as soon as you give the word, an' the man who paid me to keep you afloat can go to blazes, for all I care! I've finished with 'im an' all his blamed kind, an' from now on I'm goin' to play a straight game!"
Sexton Blake smiled as he shook the skipper's brawny fist. He had half expected something of the sort, and he was highly delighted at the wholehearted manner in which the captain had admitted his wrongdoing. Blake was a remarkably shrewd judge of character, and he knew from the first moment of seeing Shanks that he was not a bad fellow at heart.
"I am extremely glad to hear you speak in this way, captain," he said, "and I shall be very interested to learn the details of Jarrow's contract with you. Have you any idea what his motive is in getting you to keep us aboard this boat for so long a time?" Shanks shook his head.
"No, sir—I don't know nothin' about that," he replied. "Jarrow ain't the sort o' man to tell no secrets to the likes o' me! But I'll tell you everything I can as soon as you like, an'...."
Shanks paused as a knock sounded on the door, and the next moment Spalding and Glyn entered the cabin. They were both grinning in spite of the uncomfortable wetness of their clothing, and they approached Blake and Shanks at once.
"Deucedly glad to see that you an' the skipper are gettin' more friendly!" exclaimed Spalding. "Owen and I heard you talkin' after the long spell of silence, an' we concluded that the critical stage of the proceedings was over. So we've just popped in to offer congrats!"
"You're right, sir—dead right!" said the skipper, heartily. "Mr. Blake has pulled my boy right out o' the grave, as you might say, an' if any gentleman deserved to be congrat'lated, it's him. Why, I can't hardly believe that he's done such a wonderful thing—although I see 'im do it with my own eyes!"
Spalding and Glyn were elated when Blake explained the change in their fortunes, and while Tinker remained at the wheel—where they had left him—Shanks explained exactly what had passed between himself and Jarrow. The skipper did not spare himself in the slightest degree, but related everything in detail—finally producing the two hundred pounds which had been paid to him as the first instalment of what he was to receive for his services.
"He can have his dirty money back now!" he concluded, looking at the wad of notes disgustedly. "After what's 'appened, I wouldn't think o' touching a blamed penny of it—not me! I'm sorry that I ever took it in the fust place, an' that I ever 'ad anythin' to do with Mr. Jarrow! 'E might 'ave been the cause o' my losin' my boy, if it 'adn't been for you, sir!"
Blake nodded thoughtfully, and proceeded to put a few questions to the skipper regarding Jarrow's underlying motives. But he soon found that Shanks knew absolutely nothing of what lay at the back of Jarrow's move, and could not enlighten him in any way whatever. The captain could recall nothing of any hint which Blake thought it possible Jarrow had let fall, and after a few minutes the detective was compelled to give up his quest for information.
Shanks, obviously, knew nothing beyond the fact that Jarrow required the four prisoners kept out of his way for the period he had stated, and it was therefore of little use to question him further. The old skipper was quite sincere in his self-condemnation, and could be relied upon to prove himself a staunch comrade to the late prisoners, from now onwards.
It was a remarkable fact that even now, after all that had taken place since Glyn Castle was first entered by Spalding and his chum, nothing was known of the queer mystery which surrounded the old building. It seemed incredible, but it was true. Blake and his friends were practically none the wiser, in spite of their adventures on the rugged Welsh coast, regarding Glyn Castle. All they knew was that Mr. Godfrey Jarrow and Llewellyn were opposed to them, and Sexton Blake vowed that he would solve the puzzle at the earliest opportunity.
The skipper looked up as a heavy sea thudded against the ship's side, effectually reminding him that the storm had not yet blown itself out.
"Bless my life! I must get back to my duties, gentlemen!" he exclaimed. "I have been so interested in Mr. Blake's operation on my boy that I clean forgot the Ocean Sprite, an' everythin' else! I'll soon 'ave our position worked out, an then I'll be able to tell you 'zactly how far we are from the nearest land."
"Good!" said Spalding. "Bally good, in fact! Land is the stuff I want to see more than anything else just now. I've had quite enough of the jolly old sea to last me for years an' years, and I don't want to see the inside of a boat again for—. Gadzooks! I believe something has got in our beastly way, and we've hit it with a considerable bash!"
Even as he finished speaking, Spalding was sent sprawling upon the floor of the cabin, while an appalling series of grinding, splintering sounds came to his ears. Shanks and Glyn had also been flung to the floor, but Sexton Blake had just managed to grasp the table, and to save himself from being pitched over. Incidentally, he instinctively saved the unconscious Joe from sliding off the table, and so meeting instant death.
The Ocean Sprite, after heaving and tossing for a few seconds amid the din of rending timbers, became strangely still, and the startled occupants of the skipper's cabin scrambled to their feet and looked at one another with serious faces. There could be only one explanation of this occurrence, and with one accord they dashed for the companionway, and literally tumbled on deck.
The night was inky black, and a thick sea-mist enveloped everything at a distance of a dozen yards or so. Giant seas were dashing into the air on either side of the little cutter, and Blake set his lips grimly as he saw them. They could only mean one thing—and Tinker's anxious voice confirmed the detective's worst fears even as he gave free rein to his thoughts.
"Guv'nor, we're on the rocks!" exclaimed. Tinker, his voice full of blank amazement and consternation. "We ran into this bank of fog only a couple of minutes ago, and I couldn't see a blessed thing! Oh, what rotten luck! Are—are we badly damaged, do you think?"
"Yes, Tinker, I fancy we are very seriously damaged!" answered Blake, in a low voice. "You are in no way to blame, however, and there is no need for you to condemn yourself. This fog-bank, evidently, is hanging over some rocks, and we seem to have become firmly wedged upon them—"
"You're right, Mr. Blake!" cut in the skipper, with a sad note in his voice. "The Ocean Sprite is done for this time, without a doubt! She's blamed near high an' dry on the rocks, an' I shouldn't wonder but what there's a hole in her bottom big enough to drive a carriage an' pair through! Well, it serves me right for usin' the craft for Jarrow's dirty work—bust my buttons if it don't!"
In spite of the seriousness of the situation, the others were forced to smile at Shanks' philosophic manner of regarding the catastrophe. There could be no doubt that they were in a most precarious position, and this aspect of the disaster was not lost upon the free-and-easy Spalding.
"That's all very well, cap'n," he protested. "But what I want to know is—how are we goin' to make the shore again? Bein' stranded on the bally rocks is a deuced awkward sort of accident, you know, just when things were lookin' so rosy, too! Dashed if our luck isn't dead out all the way along!"
Victor certainly seemed to have hit the nail upon the head by that remark, for misfortune was dogging the little party relentlessly and persistently, by all appearances.
Dawn would be breaking very shortly now, but at the moment the early morning was dark and chilly. The rain had ceased to fall, but the seas were still running high, and the wind had dropped almost to a dead calm—which accounted for the thick mist. The storm had blown itself out, and the rough seas were merely the aftermath of the hurricane which had raged during the night.
This, at any rate, was something in their favour, for there was now no danger of the vessel being washed off the rocks. A brief investigation showed that the Ocean Sprite had become firmly wedged between two towering fangs of rock, and she seemed to be in no danger of sliding off. Captain Shanks announced that the tide was rapidly running out, and he was proved correct within a very short time.
By the time the first faint streaks of dawn showed themselves in the Eastern sky the rocks upon which the cutter was impaled were only just awash, and a little later she was absolutely high and dry. And in the growing light of the new day the little party scrambled overside with the intention of ascertaining the extent of the damage to their vessel.
A prolonged examination of the cutter's bottom was quite unnecessary, for the first glance told them the worst. Practically half the Ocean Sprite's keel had been ripped away, and the damage was so extensive that the hope of refloating her was utterly out of the question. Captain Shanks was almost broken-hearted when he saw the havoc which had been wrought on his beloved little craft, but no amount of wailing would help to mend matters.
And a worse discovery was yet to follow.
The ship's party, after they had investigated the damage to the cutter, went for a tour of inspection over the rocks with the intention of ascertaining their whereabouts. And it did not take them long to find out that they were on an island—a tiny rock of a place, barren of trees, and desolate in the extreme. It was composed chiefly of towering, jagged formations of rock, and a more bleak and uninviting refuge could scarcely be imagined. At high tide the greater part of the island was pretty well submerged by all appearances, for sand and seaweed were strewn everywhere among the lower crags and boulders.
"Well, of all the dismal, wretched, an' barren islands in the world, this is the bally limit!" exclaimed Spalding, looking round with an air of disgust and disappointment. "Bein' shipwrecked on an island filled with coconuts an' bananas an' things wouldn't have been so bad, but this! Ugh! It makes a fellow shudder to gaze at the landscape! Where the deuce are we, anyhow?"
Captain Shanks was looking serious as he turned to answer the question.
"If I ain't mistaken in my reckonin'," he said gravely, "we're somewhere not very far off the coast of Portugal. But we might jest as well be in the middle of the Pacific for all the help we're likely to git! We're stranded on about the worst o' rocks in the Atlantic—an' it looks as though we're booked for a considerable stay!"
The others looked at the skipper with anxious glances, but it quickly dawned upon them that Shanks was right.
They were marooned—marooned on a barren island of rocks!
OWEN GLYN looked at Sexton Blake with a wistful expression in his eyes.
"Surely there must be some means of making our escape from this wretched place," he said. "I know we've no cause to grumble, really—for we're jolly lucky to have come off as well as we have done. But I'm fearfully anxious to get back and see what's happening at the castle. I—I can't help feeling that the mystery of my parentage is going to be cleared up there, Mr. Blake, and this set-back is galling and exasperating."
Blake took a pull at his pipe, and nodded thoughtfully.
"I am quite as anxious to get back to civilisation as you are, my dear fellow," he replied. "As a matter of fact, I have been seriously thinking of building some sort of raft, and attempting to reach land by that means. It is impossible for us to remain here indefinitely, and something will have to be done."
The famous detective was lying upon a pile of blankets and cushions as he spoke, and appeared to be extremely comfortable. The wisps of smoke from his pipe curled upwards towards the lofty arches of a tremendous cave in which he was reclining, and for a shipwrecked man he was undoubtedly doing himself remarkably well.
Two days had passed since the Ocean Sprite had wrecked herself upon the rocks, and during the interval the six castaways had managed to make themselves a comfortable home upon the barren island. Or, to be more exact, five of them had done so—for Joe Shanks, of course, was quite incapable of taking any active part in the proceedings.
A brief search of the island had revealed that fact that a large cave existed high up in the centre of the great formation of rocks, and the party had at once decided to make their home there. The cave was lofty, and quite out of the reach of the tide, and it was situated in such a position that it would afford them ample protection from the keen winds which blew across the Atlantic.
Within a couple of hours of discovering the cave they had made plans to transport all the available stores from the cutter, and they had set about this task without a moment's delay. Their craft had not been absolutely wrecked when she had first struck the fangs of rock, but there was no telling when another storm might come along and break her up completely. It was, therefore imperative to land all the food and other material from the Ocean Sprite as quickly as possible, and the five marooned adventurers had set to work with a will.
Before darkness had fallen they had accomplished the greater part of the business. Every scrap of food had been carried ashore first, and this had been followed by blankets and clothing, cushions, crockery, and cooking utensils, and even a couple of tables and some chairs and stools. The galley stove had been taken to pieces with some difficulty, carted into the cave and re-erected. Everything possible which could be taken from the cutter had been landed, and the result was a remarkably comfortable island home.
Joe Shanks, under Blake's direction, had been very carefully taken ashore, for his condition was as yet extremely critical. There was no doubt about his recovery provided he was allowed to rest, but any sudden jar or shock might easily prove fatal.
And so the skipper's son had been carried from the cutter's cabin—still reclining upon the table on which the operation had been performed. He had been securely lashed to the woodwork by strips of sheeting to avoid any possibility of his slipping off, and the legs of the table had then been removed—thus forming the table top into a stretcher. The patient had been safely carried into the cave, and seemed to have suffered no ill-effects whatever—greatly to the captain's joy.
The six castaways had spent the night's in peaceful and well-earned slumber, and the following day they had again visited the wreck, and had brought ashore a few more articles which might prove useful. Upon the whole, they regarded themselves as being extremely fortunate, but they were all chafing somewhat under the enforced imprisonment—the duration of which they could not even make a guess at.
No ship had been sighted since their arrival on the island, and Captain Shanks had stated that, according to his reckoning, the nearest land was some ten or twelve miles away at a rough estimate. The skipper also caused a little gloom to settle upon his companions when he mentioned the fact that the island was situated in treacherous waters which were studiously avoided, and that in consequence they were not likely to be sighted by any passing vessel.
But, in spite of these drawbacks, the little party were exceedingly lucky to have come off so well. They had every necessity—and a good many luxuries into the bargain—for a long stay upon the rocky island if necessary, and so they had nothing to grumble about.
The Ocean Sprite, while the rough seas had subsided considerably, was still getting a pretty severe buffeting at each high tide, and was fast becoming a total wreck. She was still firmly wedged between the treacherous fangs of rock, and seemed to be in no danger of slipping off. But the seas had left their impression upon her injured hull, and were relentlessly rending her to pieces.
Practically all the timbers which had been torn from the once proud little vessel had drifted ashore, and had been hauled high above the reach of the waves, in readiness for use as fuel, or for any other purpose which might be necessary. A good deal of the wood was sound, and serviceable, and Sexton Blake determined to make good use of a quantity of it as a means of escape. There was plenty of strong rope available, and he saw no reason why a raft should not be constructed, as he had just suggested.
Owen Glyn seized the idea with alacrity, and his eyes gleamed with pleasurable anticipation.
"A raft!" he repeated. "Why, of course—that's a splendid suggestion of yours, Mr. Blake! There's plenty of timber here, and we could build one large enough to carry the whole six of us easily—"
Sexton Blake shook his head.
"No, no, Glyn—that would never do," he interrupted. "It would be extremely foolhardy for more than two of us to venture into the open sea under such conditions. A raft such as we could construct would be a frail contrivance at the best, and there is no necessity to risk more lives than is absolutely necessary."
"Mr. Blake's right, Owen—absolutely right," cut in Spalding. "A trip on the briny ridin' a bally raft may be great fun for healthy fellows like us—but just imagine what it would be like for poor old Joe here! The exposure an' the tossin' would finish him off long before land was reached. No, old son, a couple of us must make the journey, and send help back for the others."
"Exactly," agreed Blake. "That is my idea precisely, Spalding. And, since the suggestion came from myself, I think Tinker and I will make the attempt to reach the coast as soon as we can prepare the raft. I am particularly anxious to settle accounts with Mr. Godfrey Jarrow, and Tinker and I will make all haste to Glyn Castle—if we are lucky enough to make land without mishap."
The others looked at the detective with disappointed glances. Clearly, both Spalding and Glyn had hoped to be chosen to accompany Blake—but they realised that it was more fitting that Tinker should go. He was Blake's assistant, and would no doubt be more useful to him than either of them.
Captain Shanks approved of the plan, too, and volunteered to do everything in his power to make the building of the raft a success. He would have liked to make the journey himself, but it was out of the question for him to leave his injured son. Joe was making good headway, but it would be some little time before he was his old self again.
And so the little party of five fell to discussing the details of the plans for the immediate future. The evening meal was just over, and night was almost upon them, so nothing further could be done until the next morning. Fortunately, there had been plenty of blankets aboard the Ocean Sprite, and in consequence each member of the little camp had two or three in which to roll themselves up for the night.
Very soon they were all sleeping soundly. They had all been working like navvies during the whole of the day, with the exception of Joe, and as a result they slumbered deeply. The keen sea breezes also helped to induce heavy sleep, but at the same time they were extremely refreshing and beneficial. So much so, in fact, that by dawn the castaways were astir once more, feeling invigorated and ready for anything.
Tinker and Spalding volunteered to prepare breakfast, while Blake and Glyn went off with the skipper to choose the most suitable lengths of timber for the construction of the raft. It was their intention to use as much as possible of the wood which had been cast ashore, and to supplement this by taking whatever further supplies they required from the cutter. The vessel would never be fit for use again, so it did not matter about disfiguring her a little more.
For two whole days Sexton Blake and his companions worked upon the building of the raft, and succeeded in turning out quite a serviceable looking craft. The keel was made out of heavy pieces of securely lashed timber, and upon this was built up a solid platform of planks and spars.
There were several layers of these, all bound tightly together, so as to give the raft a good floating body. Upon the topmost of all—which was really the "deck" of the raft—flooring boards had been placed, which made the little vessel much more comfortable than the usual roughly-built raft.
Moreover, sides had been added to the flooring, so as to prevent as far as possible the shipping of heavy seas, and also to make the craft more water-tight. By the time she was ready for launching, she was practically a complete little boat, with seats for the passengers, a locker for the storage of food and water, and a mast and sail. A couple of roughly-made oars were included, and altogether the raft looked quite capable of doing what was required of her.
Blake and Tinker surveyed the clumsy stack of timber and cordage with critical eyes, and the latter nodded his head with great approval.
"She'll do, guv'nor," he observed. "I wouldn't mind trusting myself on this raft for a three-hundred-mile trip, let alone ten or twelve. She'll carry us to land without any trouble at all."
"It will never do to be too certain in a case of this sort," he answered. "The raft certainly looks capable of anything now, but a little rough weather will probably alter her appearance considerably. However, I certainly think we shall stand a fair chance of making the coastline, and we'll make a start at dawn to-morrow."
Everything was prepared before darkness fell. A large keg of water was placed in the locker, and sufficient food for several days' rations was stowed on board. Nothing was overlooked, and by the time the little party turned in they were all feeling satisfied that the journey would prove to be a successful one for Blake and Tinker.
They were astir before the break of dawn the next morning, and Blake made a brief examination of Joe Shanks before he left the island. There was no telling when the detective would be able to send help to the four marooned castaways, but he promised that help would certainly come if he and Tinker succeeded in making a safe journey.
Blake was pleased with the progress of his patient. Joe was mending in a remarkably rapid manner, showing that he was the possessor of a fine, healthy constitution. He was not allowed to talk much as yet, and he had been told very little of the adventures which had befallen the Ocean Sprite's party. Joe was in no need of further medical aid, and his complete return to health was simply a matter of time. This in itself was a remarkable tribute to the detective's prowess as a surgeon, and Captain Shank's gratitude was something extraordinary.
After a hasty breakfast the raft was launched, and Blake and Tinker, after shaking hands all round, took their places on the deck. They found that the raft floated evenly, and seemed to be in every way thoroughly seaworthy.
When Blake said the word, Shanks and Glyn and Spalding gave the raft a mighty push off, which sent her swaying and rocking on the tide. But in a few moments she settled down to the swell, and as the wind caught in her flapping sail, she sped out almost gracefully into the open sea.
"Good-bye and good luck!" sang out Spalding, waving his hand in farewell. "Buck up an' send the bally old rescue party along!"
Glyn and the skipper added their parting words of good cheer to those of Spalding, and Blake and Tinker answered and waved in return. They kept on waving at intervals until the island was a mere speck in the distance, and the figures of the three castaways looked no bigger than insects. The adventurers had fairly started on their perilous cruise now, and they would have to trust to Providence to see them safely through.
For some hours they allowed themselves to drift with the wind and tide, for they had no exact idea in which direction the mainland lay. In any case, the oars would be of very little use as a means of propelling or steering such a heavy and clumsy craft, and their best policy was to simply drift. So long as they were travelling in something like the right direction—which Blake reckoned should be northwards—they were pretty certain to strike land sooner or later. And, provided they did so within reasonable time, they would be quite content.
The weather was now fine and sunny, which made the first part of their trip almost enjoyable. By noon they had seen no sign of any other craft, and they were absolutely alone on the vast expanse of waters—apparently cut off from civilisation for all time. The comparative frailness of their floating refuge made the pair feel strangely insignificant as they rode upon the heaving breast of the ocean now so placid and calm. It was difficult to realise that this same gently rippling stretch of water, aided by the wind, could lash itself into such an appalling power of destruction as that which had sent the gallant little Ocean Sprite high and dry upon the rocks—a shattered wreck.
Blake and Tinker enjoyed a hearty lunch as they bobbed and floundered along in their queer vessel, and discussed the possibilities of making the land by the time darkness had fallen. As far as present appearances went, there was not much possibility of any such good luck befalling them. But they continued to hope, and to scan the horizon in all directions.
The fact that they had been so many hours at sea without sighting any other vessel indicated plainly enough that they were either making very slow progress, or else that the rocky island on which they had been marooned was further out of the track of ships than Captain Shanks had supposed, Blake and Tinker, at any rate, had certainly expected to see some little indication that civilisation had not been left entirely behind them, even if they did not sight land.
But for another couple of hours they drifted along in the same sluggish manner, still without seeing so much as a fishing smack. Matters were now beginning to look a trifle serious, and Blake was grave. It was impossible for them to sail along indefinitely in this ridiculous little vessel, that much was obvious.
The detective was gazing idly overside when he suddenly became aware that the raft was gradually changing its direction of travel. Her sails were still set, but instead of drifting in the same direction as the slight wind, she was moving at right angles to it. There could be only one explanation of this, and Blake turned to Tinker.
"We're being carried out of our course by some sort of current, young'un," he said, pointing into the water. "I think we'd better unship the oars, and see what can be done in the way of steering. I am quite convinced that the nearest land does not lie in the direction in which the current is taking us, and our best policy will be to—"
"But I can't understand it, guv'nor!" interrupted Tinker, "I always thought that sea-currents were caused by rivers emptying into the sea? If that's the case, we ought to be somewhere nearer land than we supposed! Hadn't we better let the current take us along?"
"I think not, Tinker—if we can help it!" he replied. "You see, the current may be caused by a river entering the ocean fifty miles or so away. Or it is caused, possibly, by something entirely different. There is no telling with these mysterious currents, for the Atlantic is full of them."
Tinker nodded, and unshipped the oars, as his master had directed. They took one apiece, and commenced pulling strongly in an endeavour to turn the raft out of the current. But their efforts seemed to make very little impression on the clumsy craft, for it continued to glide smoothly along with the eddying swirl.
The pair rowed until the perspiration streamed down their cheeks, but they made no progress whatever. It was evident that they would have to give up the attempt, and allow themselves to be carried along helplessly. The raft, being a practically square structure, was difficult to steer, and absolutely refused to answer the pull of the oars.
"Phew! This is rotten!" gasped Tinker. "It's hopeless, guv'nor! We might as well try to shove the Olympic along with a couple of oars as this old tub! She won't budge an inch!"
"So it seems," replied Blake, resting upon his oar, and wiping his face. "The current is too strong for us, Tinker. We must drift along with it, that's all. Perhaps it will prove a blessing in disguise—but I'm doubtful! However, we're in the hands of the gods, and we can only hope for the best."
They shipped their oars once more, and sat in the raft regaining their breath. The current was not carrying them along at any amazing speed, but it was certainly taking them more swiftly than the wind had done. Blake and Tinker were by no means perturbed, but they were naturally somewhat anxious regarding their ultimate destination. But there was nothing for them to do but await events.
The evening was well advanced before any change in the outlook occurred—and by that time they had been drifting along with the current for several hours. The dusk was just beginning to gather when Tinker's keen eyes detected a smudge of smoke upon the horizon, and he let out a frantic yell of delight. Excitedly he pointed out his discovery to Blake, and the pair wondered anxiously whether they would be seen.
The detective calculated that the raft would not be very far distant from the steamer by the time she passed their bows, as it were, and he reckoned that it would be possible to attract attention—provided the light did not fall too soon. He and Tinker spent a rather excited three-quarters of an hour while they waited for the supreme moment to arrive, and during this interval one or other of them continually waved their sail about in an effort to attract the attention of the steamer's crew.
At last the large vessel drew within hailing distance, and both Blake and Tinker commenced shouting at the top of their voices. But even as they did so they observed that the steamer was slowing down, and that a small boat had been lowered, and was being rowed in their direction. The tramp steamer's officers had evidently seen their signal of distress long before they had heard their hail, and Blake and Tinker both offered up a little prayer of thankfulness. They were saved!
An hour later both Sexton Blake and Tinker were seated in the skipper's cabin on the tramp steamer, and the former gave the captain a brief account of their plight. Blake did not deem it necessary to explain everything in detail, but he told just enough to satisfy the skipper that everything was in order.
The rescued castaways found, to their delight, that the vessel was bound for Tilbury, and Blake, when he at last found an opportunity of a private talk with Tinker, informed the lad that he was exceedingly pleased that things had turned out as they had.
"As events have happened in this way, Tinker, we have now a splendid opportunity of making a few enquiries before sending out help to our friends on the island," he said. "They are perfectly safe, and have plenty of food—sufficient for four months, if necessary. Moreover, Joe Shanks cannot be moved for another fortnight, and during that time you and I can find plenty to employ our time, I have no doubt!"
Blake spoke in a significant tone of voice, and Tinker looked at him sharply. "What do you mean, guv'nor?" he said. "Are you going to leave those chaps on the island while you deal with Jarrow?" The detective nodded.
"Exactly, Tinker!" he agreed. "I mean to find out exactly what is happening at Glyn Castle without a moment's delay. There is something extremely peculiar in the incidents which have occurred there, and I shall not be content until I have discovered their meaning."
"Good!" commented Tinker. "That means that we shall get our own back on Mr. Jarrow! By jingo, the scoundrel will receive the surprise of his life when he sees us walk in as large as life! I suppose we shall start for Wales as soon as we touch port?"
"By the first available train!" answered Sexton Blake.
VICTOR SPALDING looked out across the deserted horizon with a somewhat dejected expression upon his usually sunny features.
"Not a sail!" he muttered. "Not even a bally smudge of smoke to gladden the old optics! Dashed queer why Mr. Blake and Tinker have deserted us like this! I can't bring myself to believe that they came to grief on that toppin' little raft! The idea's too ghastly, old scout!"
Owen Glyn nodded.
"It may be ghastly, Vic, but it seems to be true," he replied. "There's no other possible explanation of their long silence that I can see. Why, man alive, do you mean to say they'd leave us here like this if they had reached land?"
Spalding looked thoughtful.
"Well, you'd scarcely think so," he admitted. "But these detective Johnnies are queer fellows when they get busy on the solvin' of a bally mystery, you know! At any rate, I'm not going' to believe that Blake and Tinker are payin' a visit to Davy Jones yet awhile! Hang it all, Owen, the very idea of that makes a cold shiver run up an' down my beastly spine!"
Glyn turned his face seawards and glared into the distance, obviously unable to agree with his friend's point of view. The two young men had indulged in similar conversations on many occasions recently, and there was certainly some excuse for them.
Queerly enough, they were both looking tremendously bronzed and healthy, and their clothing seemed to have undergone many changes for the worse since the departure of Sexton Blake and Tinker.
Other changes were apparent on the island, too. A little, roughly-built house stood near the entrance to the great cave—obviously constructed out of the timbers of the ill-fated Ocean Sprite. The wreck of that gallant little craft was no longer visible upon the jagged fangs of rock, for the very good reason that the majority of its woodwork had been utilised upon the island by the castaways.
Outside the shack, sitting in deck chairs, the figures of Captain Shanks and his son Joe could be plainly seen from the spot where Glyn and Spalding were standing. Joe appeared to have lost all traces of his illness, and was just his former vigorous self again. Even as Spalding turned to glance inland, Joe rose from his chair and strode across to where a little wooden hut had been constructed. From the base of the hut a large armoured hose ran down the rocks to the sea below—evidently a supply pipe to the apparatus which was installed within the hut.
This was nothing less than a fresh-water machine which had once been in use in the cutter. There was no spring water whatever upon the rocky island, and the castaways had been compelled to make use of this apparatus in order to obtain the vital liquid. It was a lucky thing for them that the machine had been among the equipment aboard the Ocean Sprite, for otherwise their predicament would have been hopeless.
Joe turned the circular handle of the pump which drew the water from the sea and delivered it, fresh and pure, into the pail which he had placed under the valve. Then he picked up the pail and made his way to the little wooden house, in which the cooking arrangements were carried on.
Spalding had observed Joe's movements, and he knew that the skipper's son was setting about preparing a lunch for the four inhabitants of the island. Since his recovery he had acted as chief cook and bottle-washer of the party, and he was becoming quite an expert.
The four marooned men, in spite of the comparative luxury of their quarters, were becoming sick and tired of their monotonous existence upon the island, and this was not to be wondered at. For weeks had elapsed since Sexton Blake and Tinker had sailed away in their raft in order to bring assistance, and during the whole of that time the castaways had received no message from them.
This disappointment had made them—with the exception of Spalding—fear that the worst had happened to Blake and Tinker. They believed that their voyage upon the raft had ended in disaster, and that the detective and his assistant had perished before land could be reached. Victor Spalding, however, did not share this view for some reason, and nothing would convince him that they had seen the last of their two brave friends. He admitted that he had no grounds upon which to found his belief—but he just stuck to his opinion.
Certainly Glyn and Shanks and Joe could not be blamed for believing as they did. For it seemed incredible that Blake—if he had really escaped death—should leave them alone on the island for such a long period.
Once or twice they had thought that help would arrive—only to meet with disappointment. Ten days after Blake and Tinker had left, they had caught sight of a small motor-boat just after dawn, and they believed that it had been cruising near the island. But, in spite of frantic efforts, they had failed to attract the attention of the occupants.
They had also found some mysterious footprints in the sand, which proved conclusively that somebody had landed on the island. They had seen no trace of the visitors themselves, and they had been greatly puzzled and chagrined. It was a very queer circumstance, and one which the castaways were totally unable to account for.
And since that time the same thing had occurred on two or three occasions, greatly mystifying the marooned unfortunates. They were totally at a loss to account for these uncanny visitations, which appeared to be absolutely pointless. Nothing was ever taken away from the island, and nothing, so far as they could discover, was left behind except a few blurred footprints in the sand.
Apart from these somewhat extraordinary happenings, the life of the four Crusoes was humdrum and monotonous in the extreme. But they were, nevertheless, growing quite accustomed to it by this time, and were healthy and bronzed and full of vitality and vigour. They were well supplied with food and drink, and plenty of fuel was available from the wreck of the cutter. Moreover, they had practically everything necessary for their individual comfort in the way of razors and soap, for they had been able to rescue everything which the Ocean Sprite had on board.
The only fly in the ointment, as Spalding put it, was the uncertainty of what had happened to Blake and Tinker. There is an old saying to the effect that no news is good news, but in this particular instance it didn't seem to fit. The lack of tidings indicated that disaster of the worst possible kind had overtaken the detective and his assistant, for if they had reached land they would assuredly have sent help to their marooned friends. That, at all events, is how the castaways had regarded the matter.
Spalding and Glyn had visited the rock upon which they now stood many hundreds of times during their stay upon the island, and had always looked in vain for the hoped-for sail. This occasion proved to be the same as the others, and the pair turned dejectedly back towards the centre of the place they had been compelled to call home for so many weeks.
"Oh, I'm fed-up!" said Glyn. "Absolutely and thoroughly fed-up!"
His friend chuckled.
"Well, I'm in high hopes that I shall be in the same agreeable condition in a few minutes!" he remarked. "I observed that the excellent Joe disappeared into the cook-house a little while back, an' I'll bet he's preparin' a thunderin' good feed, as usual! It's simply amazin' the way that chap knocks up the grub!"
Glyn couldn't help grinning at Spalding's facetiousness. He was always the same, no matter under what conditions he happened to find himself, and nothing ever seemed to ruffle his habitual good temper. This was just as well, especially in the present circumstances, for a man of Spalding's character could usually be relied upon to dispel any gloominess which happened to be in the air. Indeed, his good-humour and cheery spirit had done much to make life on the island bearable for his three companions.
During lunch Captain Shanks brought up the one important topic of conversation—as he usually did. This, of course, was upon the subject of rescue—how long it was likely to be delayed, or whether it would come at all. The skipper made some reference to this important question at practically every meal, and he never seemed to tire of talking about it.
He was just as mystified as the others regarding Sexton Blake's silence and inaction, and the only explanation of it which occurred to him was that the detective had perished. Yet Shanks could not understand this, for the weather had been exceedingly good upon the day Blake and Tinker had left the island, and he would have staked his life that the pair would reach land in safety.
And yet they had heard nothing.
This very obvious fact usually had the effect of bringing the mealtime discussions to a close, for the simple reason that a dead wall confronted them. But each day brought renewed hope to the four castaways, and it was only natural that they should voice their thoughts.
The weather to-day was particularly fine and sunny, and when lunch was over Glyn and Spalding set about doing their share of the "housework," as they termed it. All four of them worked splendidly together, and the task of washing up was mostly performed by Joe, while Glyn and Spalding dried the plates and dishes after him.
Spalding grasped a pile of clean "crocks" with the intention of stowing them away in readiness for the next meal, when he happened to glance seawards. As he did so he gave a sudden start, which had the effect of scattering about half the plates up the floor.
Glyn and the skipper and Joe looked round quickly, but before they could inquire the cause of the sudden clatter, they were surprised to see Spalding deliberately fling the rest of the plates he held haphazard into a corner and wave his arms wildly.
"A sail—a sail!" he yelled. "By the Lord Harry, a bally boat is comin' in sight at last! Hooray!"
His companions followed the direction of his glance with excited looks, and they saw at once that his words were true. A large motor-launch was making for the island at a smart pace, and she presented a magnificent spectacle to the eager castaways as they watched her ploughing through the waves towards them. This was the first vessel they had seen for weeks and weeks, and they became almost frantic with excitement as they beheld her.
Owen Glyn drew in his breath with a sharp little hiss of doubt.
"I—I wonder if she's really coming here with the intention of taking us back to civilisation?" he breathed.
"Of course she is, you idiot!" said Spalding. "Look at the way she's steerin'—absolutely in a bee-line for us! I'll bet Mr. Blake and Tinker are aboard of her—you can tell that by the direct manner in which she's headin' this way! If strangers were visitin' the island, they wouldn't be buzzin' landwards at this rate; they'd come crawlin' up to see what sort of a show they were up against!"
Captain Shanks nodded quickly.
"I believe you're right, sir," he exclaimed tensely. "No motor-launch would be in these waters without a good reason But my buttons! Did you see that?"
"See what?" asked Glyn.
"Why, there's somebody wavin' to us from the launch's deck!" yelled the skipper. "That proves that Mr. Blake is on board! Oh, thank Heaven, he an' the boy got ashore safely!"
The captain was undoubtedly right, as the others saw immediately. There was certainly somebody on the launch who was waving a white handkerchief, and in all probability it was Tinker's greeting to them. As if with one accord, the four castaways commenced running madly down to the water's edge waving frantically as they went.
The motor-launch was now much nearer, and they could see that she was much larger than they had at first thought. In fact, she looked more like a fair-sized yacht than a launch—a yacht capable of great speed, to judge by her graceful lines and racy build.
She dashed up to within five hundred yards of the treacherous rock shore, and then dropped anchor. Within a couple of minutes a small boat was lowered overside containing two figures, who commenced rowing towards the island with swift and powerful strokes.
The four marooned men were now so excited that they could scarcely contain themselves. As the little boat drew near to the beach they waded in and pulled her high and dry, at the same time confirming their hopes as to the identity of the visitors.
"Mr. Blake an' Tinker!" shouted Spalding delightedly. "I knew all along you'd come back sooner or later!"
"I—I can scarcely believe it!" said Glyn brokenly. "After we'd given you up for lost, too! Oh, this is too good to be true!"
Captain Shanks and Joe greeted the newcomers with respectful pleasure and expressed their gratitude at the safe return of the wanderers. So far Blake and Tinker had had no opportunity of getting in a single word, but the detective, when he had at last finished shaking hands with everybody, did manage to make himself heard.
"My friends, I am delighted to find you all looking so well," he exclaimed. "It is exceedingly gratifying to me to know that you have suffered no ill effects from your long stay here, and I declare that Joe is even better than he was before his accident!"
"Yes, rather—Joe's all right!" said Spalding. "We're tremendously pleased to see you an' Tinker, Mr. Blake, but we can't understand why you left us here such a bally long time! You don't know what we've been conjecturin' about you—"
"I don't wonder at that, my dear fellow," interrupted the detective. "But Tinker and I could not possibly come sooner. We reached civilisation quite safely on the raft, but there are some very good reasons why we could not return here before this. We have come to take you back with us now, however, and I can promise you a good time after your lonely existence on this rock."
Glyn looked at Blake with a curious expression in his eyes.
"Have you been prevented from returning here by that fellow Jarrow?" he asked. "Have you been inquiring into the mystery of the castle—"
"Yes, Glyn—I have!" interrupted Blake, with a nod. "But I do not intend to enter into any long explanation regarding that matter just now. You can take it from me that everything will be well before long, and I propose to take you straight to the castle at once, although I think it will be as well to spend a few days in the open sea to begin with. Tinker and I have been working fairly hard of late, and a little cruise in the yacht will do us both good. I am sure you will not mind a little delay of that sort, in spite of your impatience to return!"
"Mind, Mr. Blake?" he echoed. "Great Scott, I don't care if we spend a month in the yacht so long as we get off this beastly rock! I'll admit that we've had all the necessities of life here, but the monotony and the loneliness have been frightful! The pleasure of seeing you and Tinker again, and the knowledge that we're going back to the castle at all is good enough for me! What do you say, Vic?"
"I echo your sentiments exactly, old scout!" he remarked. "The mouldy old castle can rip for all I care! Any old time will do to continue out bally investigations there—so long as we're back in a civilised community I don't mind if it snows! I've got an idea, accordin' to Mr. Blake's observations, that he has done all the investigatin' necessary, an' he's goin' to spring a stunnin' surprise on us! I may be wrong, but—there you are!"
Sexton Blake smiled quietly to himself when he heard Spalding's words, but he made no comment. He seemed to be strangely uncommunicative considering his long and unaccountable absence, but he appeared to be in no hurry to enlighten the castaways as to his doings. And they, on their part, were too excited and relieved at their rescue to pay much attention to this aspect of the matter.
They were heartily glad that the time had come for them to leave their rocky island home at last, and arrangements were quickly made for all four of them to go aboard the yacht. This was a simple matter, for they intended to leave everything just as it was upon the island. Captain Shanks, if he so desired, could come along and collect anything he needed at some future date.
Within half an hour the whole party were comfortably installed on the magnificent motor yacht, and were speeding away from the lonely little isle which had been their home for so many long weeks. Glyn and Spalding were supplied with new suits of clothing which Blake had thoughtfully brought for them, and the pair looked forward eagerly to enjoying themselves.
They were a little mystified at Sexton Blake's peculiar reticence regarding his adventures during the last three months, but they did not dream of pressing him for details. They knew well enough that the detective would confide in them when he thought fit, and meanwhile they gave themselves up to having a glorious time aboard the yacht.
She was truly the last word in luxurious motor launches, and carried a crew of seven or eight. She was equipped with a spacious dining saloon and a large billiard-room, and lighted throughout by electricity. Everything possible was provided for the comfort of her passengers, and Glyn and Spalding were not at all sorry that Blake had suggested the cruise before returning to port.
They all spent a most enjoyable five days aboard the swiftly-moving craft, speeding through the waters in glorious weather. For the most part the yacht kept clear of the usual shipping lines, and no land had been sighted since the start. But Glyn and Spalding were quite content, caring very little where they were taken. Sexton Blake was conducting the cruise, and that was good enough for them. They knew that they would finish by being taken to the castle, and they were quite content.
At dinner on the sixth day Blake made the long looked-for announcement.
"I intend to steer straight for the rugged cliffs at the base of Glyn Castle to-night," he said quietly. "You have been exceedingly patient, Glyn, but there is no reason why we should delay our return any longer."
"Oh, good!" said Owen, looking at the detective with a puzzled face. "I had no idea we were anywhere near the Welsh coast, Mr. Blake. Have you made any arrangements as to what you're going to do when we get there? What about that scoundrel Jarrow? And Llewellyn—the old humbug?"
"I think we can afford to ignore them on this occasion, my dear fellow," he replied. "However, we will see how events turn out."
He said no more, and some time later he and Tinker, accompanied by Spalding and Glyn, left the saloon and went on deck. The night was pitchy dark, with no moon, and with dense cloud banks obscuring the stars. The yacht was even now nearing the frowning cliff upon which Glyn Castle was perched, and the travellers strained their eyes shorewards to discern their whereabouts. It was difficult to see anything at all, but Glyn judged that they were no more than a mile from the treacherous, rocky coast.
"I say, Mr. Blake, you surely don't intend to make a landing to-night?" he exclaimed. "It's not far off midnight now, you know, and I should think it will be better to wait till the morning."
The detective shook his head.
"No, Glyn, we will go ashore at once," he declared. "I fancy there is a little surprise waiting for you in the castle, and I have a mind that you should pay a visit there as soon as possible!"
Glyn was greatly puzzled, but he made no further comment. Blake's words, as a matter of fact, had aroused his curiosity, and he was now quite eager to go. And, within the next ten minutes, the yacht was anchored, and a small boat lowered overside. Blake, Tinker, Spalding and Glyn took their places within it, and pushed off for the shore.
Only a few hundred yards had to be traversed, and the nose of the boat grounded upon the beach in a few seconds, and the little party scrambled out, and made their way towards the cliff path in the darkness. They had no difficulty in finding it, and they mounted the summit of the cliff in single-file.
At the top the dull, grim walls of the old castle could be dimly seen, standing gaunt and lonely in majestic solitude, its ancient turrets and towers rearing themselves heavenwards with proud aloofness. Owen Glyn looked at the great building with quickly beating heart, and as he did so he started slightly. A change had come over the castle since he had last seen it by night, and he knew at once what it was.
Practically all the windows were now brilliantly illuminated, whereas previously they had always been dark.
VICTOR SPALDING grinned to himself as they halted at the massive hall door. It was clear that he had observed the difference in the aspect of the castle, as well as his chum, and he turned to Glyn as Sexton Blake gave a hearty peal at the bell.
"Somewhat more cheery lookin' exterior—what?" he remarked. "Brilliant lights everywhere in honour of the prodigal's return, an' all that sort of rot! If only the fatted calf is roastin' on the spit, I shall be perfectly contented. By gad!"
He broke off in surprise as the hall door was flung open by a liveried flunkey, who stepped aside to allow the visitors to pass into the wide hall. As they did so they were too astounded to utter anything for a few moments, for an amazing change had taken place. The wide hall was now superbly furnished, and soft electric lights gleamed everywhere.
The whole place seemed to be transformed entirely. The same picturesque old walls were unaltered, but countless improvements had been made to everything. But, although the furniture was new and magnificent, there was nothing modern in the appearance of the whole—with the exception of the electric lighting. And this had been carried out in such a way that it resembled the old-fashioned candles and lamps.
Sexton Blake and Tinker were smiling delightedly and the detective took it upon himself to conduct Glyn and Spalding from room to room. The pair were almost speechless with surprise, for the same amazing changes had taken place everywhere. Every apartment they entered had some fresh revelation for them, although the castle still preserved, practically intact, its former appearance of tremendous age. But the whole place was improved in an astounding degree, and Glyn and Spalding wandered about with the keen enjoyment of a couple of schoolboys.
At last they returned to the big hall once more, and Owen Glyn turned to Sexton Blake for enlightenment.
"What does it all mean, Mr. Blake?" he asked. "Who is responsible for all the amazing changes which have taken place here since we saw it last? It's absolutely wonderful, and the castle is scarcely recognisable as the same old building."
The detective chuckled.
"You will soon know everything, my dear fellows," he said. "But now that you have had a look round, and have seen what has been done, I want you to take a walk into Langland Bay at once—if you think you can manage it after all the excitements of the evening!"
Glyn looked surprised.
"Certainly, Mr. Blake, I don't mind," he said. "But what's the idea—"
"I have a letter here, addressed to the Langland Bay Hotel," interrupted the detective. "If you wouldn't mind delivering it, I should be greatly obliged."
"But, look at the time!" said Glyn, more puzzled than ever. "It's past two o'clock in the morning, Mr. Blake!"
"Never mind that, my dear fellow," answered Blake. "The time makes very little difference, for when you reach the hotel you will find that the letter is expected!"
"That's good enough, Owen, old man," cut in Spalding. "Come along, I'll go with you! It's a dead cert that Mr. Blake wouldn't want the bally letter delivered at this unearthly hour unless it was important, so let's get a move on! What about it?"
Glyn nodded abstractedly, and the pair left the castle once more, and started off on their mission. They were quite unable to understand the attitude of Sexton Blake, but they both obtained the impression that there was something significant in the letter.
The night was intensely dark, and for a few moments the two young fellows had some difficulty in keeping to the path. But after a short time their eyes became more accustomed to the gloom, and they progressed more quickly.
After they had walked along in silence for a minute or two, Glyn turned to his chum.
"Look here, Vic, there's something thundering queer about everything, in my opinion!" he said. "It's all different, somehow—"
"Rather!" said Vic emphatically. "The whole bally castle is changed in a stupendous manner—"
"Yes, I know," interrupted Glyn. "But other things are different as well, and I'm blessed if I can make it out! The cliff path didn't seem quite the same, I remember, and I'm jolly certain this road is altered!"
Spalding looked round him.
"Altered!" he repeated. "How the deuce can the road be altered, old son? An' yet, now you come to mention it, it does seem a bit different! Dashed queer thing, you know, to find alterations outside as well as in! By gad! I—I thought there was a wood, or somthin', just away to the right there!"
"So there is," he agreed. "There's a road through that wood leading to a village with a name about ten yards long. Why, the wood doesn't seem to be here, Vic! Surely we haven't come the wrong way? Hanged if I can make out exactly the lie of the land!"
He paused, and looked round him in astonishment. He could have sworn that he and Spalding had taken the usual cliff path which led to Langland Bay, and yet he didn't seem to recognise his surroundings. Moreover, the wood which Spalding had mentioned was no longer visible. It was really a peculiar experience, and he didn't know what to make of it.
"I say, Owen—there's something deucedly fishy about all this!" said Spalding, gazing ahead intently. "First we miss the bally woods, an' now I see there's a lot of gleamin' lights in the sky over there! They were never there before, so far as I know, an' I've been wonderin' what they mean! See 'em?"
He pointed in front of him as he spoke to a spot where a glimmer of reflected lights gleamed in the heavens. Glyn looked in the same direction, and scratched his head in perplexity.
"By jingo—so there are!" he exclaimed. "Hanged if I can made head nor tail of this affair I've never been so fogged up in my life! I know we're going in the right direction; and yet we seem to be on unfamiliar ground all the time! Nothing is exactly as it ought to be to-night, and I've got half an idea that we're asleep and dreaming!"
"No fear, old scout; dreams don't alter the bally landscape in this fashion!" replied Spalding. "We're up against somethin' deucedly queer, an' I propose that we ask some joker what's happened when we get into Langland Bay. Hallo! There's a stranded motor car just ahead, by the look of it!"
The two friends had been walking onwards as they conversed, and they now observed that a motor car was standing stationary in the roadway a little distance in front. They saw that the driver was repairing a tyre as they drew nearer to the spot, and he took very little notice of them as they halted within a few yards of him.
This seemed queer to the newcomers, and Spalding determined to interrogate the stranger with an idea of ascertaining their exact whereabouts. In ordinary circumstances such a thing would have seemed ridiculous, but both Spalding and Glyn had an unaccountable feeling that they were lost.
"Sorry to trouble you, old man—but can you direct us to the Langland Bay Hotel?" asked Spalding leaning forward and bending over the kneeling motorist. "We seem to have lost our bearin's a trifle!"
The driver of the car looked up, and shook his head.
"The Langland Bay Hotel!" he repeated. "Say guess I've never heard o' such a place!" It was quite evident that the man was an American, for he had an accent one could almost cut with a knife. Glyn and Spalding looked at one another disappointedly.
"Oh, well, if you're a stranger in these parts, I don't suppose you would know it," said Spalding. The man laughed.
"Stranger nothin'!" he exclaimed. "I reckon I've lived around here ever since I was born, an' there ain't no hotel within a hundred miles which I couldn't direct you to without thinkin' twice! Guess you've got hinder mussed up with the name o' the place you're searchin' for, son!"
Spalding and Glyn were absolutely astounded to hear the man speak in this manner, and they again looked at one another queerly.
"If you've lived here all your life, you must know the Langland Bay Hotel!" said Glyn. "It's not much more than a mile from here—"
"Cut it out, pard!" interrupted the motorist. "I reckon you must be lookin' for the Centerville City Hotel, sure! You'll find it right in the middle o' Centerville City, two miles further on! That's the nearest hotel you'll strike around this locality!"
The two friends stared at the speaker blankly, seriously wondering if they had encountered a madman.
"Centerville City!" repeated Spalding. "What on earth are you talkin' about, old chap! You must be thinkin' of your own home town across the bally water, or somethin'! We want Langland Bay."
The motor driver rose to his feet, and looked at the pair strangely. He was evidently puzzled, but he grinned broadly.
"Say, you guys talk as if you think you're located in England!" he said. "I guess it's time you're put wise—"
"Nothing of the sort," cut in Glyn. "We're in Wales!"
"Look here, sonny, I don't allow no blamed Britisher to pull my leg—it ain't healthy!" growled the man, staring harder than ever. "This place is Center County, in the State of Maine, U.S.A.! I dunno what sort o' bees you've got buzzin' under your cap, but you can take it from me that the only hotel hereabouts is in Centerville City!"
The driver seemed to be quite sincere, and he did not strike them as being at all like a lunatic. But Spalding and Glyn could not believe the evidence of their ears, and they looked at the man blankly.
"You—you must be mad!" muttered Glyn. "We're on the Gower Coast, in Wales—eight miles from the port of Swansea! We can't possibly be anywhere else, and it's ridiculous for you to say we're in America!"
The motor driver spat into the darkness impatiently.
"Gee! You guys sure want a tarnation amount of convincin'!" he exclaimed. "I tell you you're in the State of Maine, an' if you don't believe me, jest get aboard my auto! I'll soon show you that you're barkin' up the wrong blamed tree—sure!"
He busied himself with the tyre without more ado, and Spalding and Glyn gazed at one another in a perfect chaos of mind. They had never experienced anything so extraordinary as this in their lives before, and they didn't know whether to accept the motorist's offer or not.
"Well, if this doesn't beat the bally band!" murmured Spalding. "I certainly feel inclined to accept this gentleman's offer to take us for a trip in his 'auto'—just to see what's goin' to happen next! By gad! Are we travellin' on our heads or our heels, old scout?"
Glyn shook his head helplessly, but followed his chum into the car. The driver finished whatever he was doing to the tyre within a couple of minutes, and he drove off in the direction of the spot where the lights were gleaming in the sky.
The occupants of the car sat as if dazed. Every minute they were forced, against their better judgement, to accept the driver's statement that they were, in very truth, really upon American soil. Astounding as this undoubtedly was, there was ample evidence that it was a fact.
The road upon which they were speeding was different, as they could now see, from the Langland Bay road. It was broadening out into quite a respectable thoroughfare, whereas it ought to have remained narrow and tortuous. And, almost before they knew it, they had entered a small town—which could not be mistaken for anything but a purely American "city."
Its main street was wide and long, and the buildings upon either side were chiefly those known as "frame" houses—mostly built of wood. A few brick structures were scattered here and there, but the whole place was typically American in style. The street was brilliantly lighted by means of electric standards; and it was the glare from these which Spalding and Glyn had seen reflected in the sky.
The car halted abruptly at a level crossing, in the roadway, and the next moment a train roared by—a train which could not, by the wildest stretch of imagination, be mistaken for a British one. It's great towering locomotive was fitted with an enormous cow-catcher, and a bell upon the boiler clanged out its warning to users of the road as the engine flashed on its way, pulled a long train of brightly lighted Pullman cars behind it. No doubt the express was the Something-or-other Limited, bound for New York.
Victor Spalding and Owen Glyn rubbed their eyes, and gazed at one another in a manner which was really comical. They had every cause for their amazement, but there was no doubt that they were at last convinced of the truth of the motor driver's statement.
"By gad—it's true, Owen!" gasped Spalding. "We're absolutely in the United States, old man—not a doubt of it! This is one of Mr. Blake's little tricks—an' he's had us on toast with a vengeance!"
"But—it's impossible, Vic!" he protested. "Remember the castle! Great Scott! Haven't we just come out of it? How can we be in America when Glyn Castle is just along the road!"
"Dashed if I know, old top—but we are!" returned Spalding. "There must be two bally castles—exactly alike, or somethin' of that kind! Anyhow, that express was American enough—an' so is this town!"
Glyn nodded dazedly.
"Yes, that's so," he admitted. "But I'm hanged if I can understand it, Vic. Talk about surprises! Fancy finding ourselves in America when we thought we were in Wales! We had no suspicion whatever Hallo! Here's Mr. Blake himself!"
At that moment another car had whizzed up and halted alongside the one in which the two friends were seated. It contained Sexton Blake, Tinker, and a smiling stranger.
"Well, my dear fellow," said the detective, "I hope you delivered the letter safely at the Langland Bay Hotel—"
"A bit too deuced thick to play a joke like this on us, Mr. Blake!" put in Spalding. "You're a bally fraud, absolutely!" Blake chuckled.
"I think it will be as well if we all go back to Glyn Castle," he suggested. "A few explanations, I fancy, will not be at all unwelcome!"
OWEN GLYN and his friend looked tremendously relieved when they heard Sexton Blake's words.
His promise of enlightenment bucked them up wonderfully, and made them feel quite cheerful. The mystifying experiences they had recently undergone had almost taxed their patience to the limit, and they had seriously begun to wonder whether they were mad or sane.
Blake's hint that satisfactory explanations were shortly to be forthcoming put the pair at their ease once more, but at the same time it whetted their curiosity in no uncertain manner. Truly, the amazing series of recent happenings would require a vast amount of clearing up, and Spalding and Glyn were quite anxious to get back to the castle.
Glyn Castle, Blake had called it, but surely he must be wrong! And yet it seemed to be the same in every way to Spalding and his chum, and they were puzzled beyond measure. They couldn't for the life of them understand how this particular circumstances was to be explained, but they realised that idle conjecture was useless.
Blake's car had by this time turned round, and was speeding back along the road, closely followed by the vehicle in which the two friends were seated.
They had given no instructions to the driver whatever, and they shrewdly suspected that he had received them earlier—probably from Sexton Blake. It was all part of a pre-arranged plan—that much was obvious now—and Spalding and Glyn marvelled at the thoroughness and subtlety of the famous detective's surprise.
They had been completely hoodwinked into believing that they were being taken to the Welsh coast in the motor yacht, whereas in reality they had been brought to America. This, of course, accounted for the "cruise," which had really been substituted for a speedy Atlantic crossing. Sexton Blake had stage-managed everything admirably, and had succeeded in keeping up the little deception to the very last.
The two cars quickly reached their destination, and Spalding and Glyn looked at the old building with a new interest. Either their eyes were deceiving them, or else some sort of miracle must have happened, but they could not doubt that it was Glyn Castle itself which stood before them. The old towers and turrets, the gables and chimneys, everything was identical, with the exception of the brilliant lights which shone from the mullioned windows. The ancient, weather-stained walls stood out in the same grim manner, frowning as darkly as they had always done.
Sexton Blake and Tinker alighted from their car, and followed the beaming stranger who accompanied them to the door of the castle, beckoning to Spalding and Glyn as they did so. A couple of minutes later the whole party of them were assembled in the great lounge hall, and the famous detective—who was still wearing an expression of smiling amusement—turned to the two mystified young men.
"I trust you will forgive us of the harmless little deception which has been played upon you, my dear fellows," he said, with a merry twinkle in his keen eyes, "but the opportunity was much too good a one to miss. However, before we enter into any further details, I want to introduce you to Mr. Oscar T. Williamson, the famous millionaire. He is quite anxious to make your acquaintance, I assure you."
Glyn and Spalding were presented at once to the affable looking stranger whom they had first seen in the car, and when these formalities were over the millionaire seated himself, and beamed upon them. He seemed to be an extremely jovial individual, and his visitors liked him instantly.
"Mr. Blake is quite right when he says that I'm pleased to meet you two boys," he began. "As a matter of fact, I'm real delighted to know you both, but I'll admit at once that it's you, Mr. Glyn, in whom I'm particularly interested. You see, I've got a fixed notion in my head that you and I are kinsmen—"
"Kinsmen!" repeated Glyn in astonishment. "Well, I'm jiggered! But I—I don't see exactly how we can be related, Mr. Williamson—"
"That's not at all surprising," interrupted the millionaire smoothly, "but when I tell you that my great grandfather was one of the Glyns, of Glyn Castle, no doubt the position will be a littler clearer to you. I happened to be born here in the States because my parents were located here, but you can bet that I've always had a pretty considerable interest in my ancestral home 'way back in the Old Country. To be quite frank, the yearning to see it for myself took a great hold on me, and during the early part of last summer I crossed the Atlantic for a holiday in England. And about the first thing I did when I landed was to buy a ticket for Swansea."
Mr. Williamson paused, and looked round. Everybody was listening to him with the greatest interest, and Owen Glyn seemed absolutely absorbed in his newly-found kinsman's story. He felt that the narrative was being related chiefly for his benefit, and he was right.
"I guess I didn't lose much time in hitting the trail for Glyn Castle, sonny," went on the millionaire, "and I found the old place to be about ten times as magnificent as I had anticipated. I had imagined it as a ramshackle, tumbled-down ruin, and I was agreeably surprised when I saw that the castle was in a splendid state of preservation. Well, to cut a long story short, I took such a fancy to the old building that I determined to have it—lock, stock and barrel, complete as it stood! I was in a position to buy it, whatever the price might be, and I got busy at once—"
"Do you mean that you wanted the castle as a residence?" asked Glyn.
"Exactly!" nodded Mr. Williamson. "But it was no use to me for that purpose where it stood in Wales, and I reckoned to have it transported, and rebuilt right here on my Maine estate!" "What—what an extraordinary idea!" he ejaculated. "Amazing'!" put in Spalding.
"Extraordinary or not, I reckoned the scheme was quite possible, and I began making inquiries," went on Mr. Williamson blandly. "I found, eventually, that a Mr. Godfrey Jarrow, of London, was the owner of the castle—at least, he told me that he owned the place, and he agreed to sell out his interest for the sum of twenty thousand pounds. We fixed the deal, and everything was signed, and all arrangements made to get the transporting arrangements in hand. But just about this time you and your friend here slid into the landscape, and slightly disorganised the whole bag of tricks, by all accounts!"
The millionaire smiled, and Sexton Blake took up the story from this point.
"Mr. Williamson is quite right, Glyn," he said. "By an extraordinary series of coincidences, the incidents which took place at the castle—the happenings which caused you and Spalding and myself and Tinker such mystification—occurred just after Jarrow had put the deal through with Mr. Williamson. Naturally, Jarrow was anxious and furious when you appeared upon the scene so unexpectedly, for if you succeeded in making out your right to the property he would lose the twenty thousand pounds purchase money!"
Light at last began to dawn upon Owen Glyn, and he nodded.
"I see just what you mean, Mr. Blake'" he said, "But Jarrow was absolutely on the wrong track really. I had no intention of putting in a claim for Glyn Castle, for the simple reason that I was not aware that I had any right to it! I will admit that I was in high hopes of establishing my identity when Vic discovered that oil painting of my father, but beyond that I was not interested."
"I quite understand that, my dear fellow," agreed Blake. "But Jarrow was not to know your intentions. As a matter of fact, I have proved beyond question that you are the rightful owner of the castle, and it is obvious that Jarrow was quite aware of this also. He was your late father's trustee, and he took every advantage of your unfortunate loss of memory to benefit himself financially."
"The confounded old swindler!" chimed in Spalding. "That accounts for his terrific anxiety to get us all out of his way so quickly!"
"Precisely!" agreed Sexton Blake. "Jarrow as soon as he realised the position, did everything possible to get you, Glyn—and Spalding, Tinker and myself as well—out of harm's way. It was essential to his interests that we should be disposed of for a sufficient length of time for the castle to be taken down, and shipped to America. After he had received his money, of course, he would promptly vanish, and he wouldn't care a jot then what we did. And so the cunning scoundrel arranged with Captain Shanks and his son to take us aboard the Ocean Sprite for a four months' cruise."
Sexton Blake paused, and looked at Glyn. It was clear enough that the famous detective's news had pleased the young man considerably, and his face was flushed and excited. At last his burning desire was satisfied, and he knew for a fact that he was really Owen Glyn, heir to Glyn Castle. This had been quite an unexpected and unlooked-for development in his fortunes, and it would be futile to ignore the fact that he was overjoyed. But before he could pour out his gratitude for what Blake had done for him, the detective resumed.
"As you know," he went on, "disaster overtook the little Ocean Sprite of the coast of Portugal, and the whole party became marooned on the rocky island. But Tinker and myself succeeded in reaching England by means of the raft, and we hurried without the loss of a moment to Wales. When we arrived at Glyn Castle we discovered that the work of taking the building to pieces was already in progress, and we were greatly surprised."
"I should think you were!" he exclaimed. "Why, I've never heard of such an astounding idea in my life as the complete removal of a huge place like Glyn Castle! The task must have been a colossal one to accomplish! But what about Jarrow, Mr. Blake? What did you do to him?"
"Nothing—so far!" replied the detective, with a grim note in his voice. "Tinker and I kept our presence entirely secret, and even to this moment Jarrow is under the impression that we are all cruising in the Atlantic! You see, he is quite ignorant of the fate which had overtaken the Ocean Sprite, and I saw no reason to enlighten him! But I sought out Mr. Williamson with all possible speed, and explained the whole position to him. Naturally enough, he was extremely angered when he learned of J arrow's duplicity, and suggested that we should at once inform the police with a view to his immediate arrest. Afterwards the plan was to bring you and the others back from the island at once, and to go through all the formalities for the purchase of the castle a second time. I agreed to this arrangement readily enough, of course; but Mr. Williamson thought it better to make a slight alteration!"
Sexton Blake paused and glanced at the millionaire, who was still smiling in his former bland manner.
"That is quite correct," he agreed easily. "I am one of those individuals who believe in the old saying that second thoughts are best, you know, and I suggested to Mr. Blake that we should leave all existing arrangements as they were, and carry the thing through—but at record speed! You see, sonny, I thought it possible that you might refuse to sell, and I couldn't afford to risk a disappointment of that sort!"
Glyn shook his head.
"You needn't have feared anything of that nature, Mr. Williamson," he said, with a smile. "I should have agreed readily enough—"
"Perhaps so," broke in the millionaire, "but there was an element of doubt about the matter, and I was determined to have the castle in any case. And I guessed that it would be safer, from my point of view, to move it first, and offer to buy it afterwards! But doing that I reckoned that I should be pretty certain to keep it, for I can hardly imagine that you'd be enthusiastic about the place as to have it shipped back to Wales!"
"I should think not!" said Glyn, with a laugh.
"Well, Mr. Blake jibbed a bit at first," went on Williamson, "and I could only get his consent to the plan by undertaking to pay you whatever price you cared to ask for the castle—no matter what it was. I agreed to this at once, naturally, and we soon got busy. A literal army of workmen were turned loose upon the old building, and the task of transplanting it across the water was got under way as quickly as possible. Huge gangs of men were kept working at the double day and night in order to get the job finished before your store of supplies ran out on the island, and they succeeded. They succeeded far beyond my expectations, and they carried out the work in an amazingly complete manner, as you can see for yourself."
The millionaire waved his hand as he spoke, indicating the walls around him. The others glanced at them and marvelled. Even after Mr. Williamson's explanation it was difficult to realise that the building in which they were seated was actually the identical castle which had stood upon the coast of Wales for hundreds and hundreds of years.
But it was true.
Every brick and stone which had been used in the making of Glyn Castle centuries ago had been transported across the Atlantic in the most careful manner by experts, and the castle was now rebuilt in its original form. All the valuable carved panelling has been scrupulously packed, and was now back in position, looking as exquisite as it had ever done.
Only the brain of an American millionaire could have given birth to a notion of this description, and only his unlimited supplies of money could have accomplished such a colossal task. The transplanting of Glyn Castle must have cost Mr. Williamson a tremendous sum altogether, but he considered the result to be well worth it.
For some few minutes there was silence in the great hall. Owen Glyn and Victor Spalding having been only just acquainted with the true state of affairs, needed a little time to recover their composure, which was not to be wondered at under the circumstances. Surprise after surprise had been showered upon them, and they were a little swept off their feet.
One little point seemed to be worrying Spalding, and he looked at Mr. Williamson and Sexton Blake in turn.
"You may think it funny," he said, with a grin, "but I've been wonderin' what's become of that blitherin' old fossil known as Llewellyn! He richly deserves to be boiled in oil or somethin' pleasant of that sort for the fearful way he behaved when the bally castle was on the other side of the ocean!"
"I'm not sure that I don't agree with you, Spalding," he said. "But Mr. Williamson merely 'fired' the old caretaker as a punishment for his sins. Not doubt Llewellyn would have been brought over here if he had been of a different character, but Mr. Williamson very sensibly refused to have any dealings with a traitor."
The millionaire nodded.
"Absolutely," he agreed. "That fellow Llewellyn may have been an old retainer of the Glyn family, but his conduct in helping Jarrow to swindle our friend here of his inheritance disgusted me so much that I kicked him out neck and crop."
"Well, he got much less than he deserved," he said. "And now there's something that I want to know—from you, Mr. Blake! Why did you bring Vic and myself here in such a mysterious manner? Why weren't we told that we were in America instead of Wales! You can't imagine what a couple of idiots we felt when we were questioning the driver of that motor-car! We thought he was a madman, and no doubt he thought the same of us!"
The detective chuckled.
"I fancy Mr. Williamson can answer your question far better than I!" he observed. The millionaire laughed.
"Yes, I'm the culprit!" he exclaimed. "I'm afraid I can do but little but beg an apology, but it was a whim of mine to bring you and your friend here at night just to see if you'd be deceived!" "Well, I'm jiggered!" exclaimed Glyn.
"At any rate, you succeeded all right, Mr. Williamson," said Spalding. "To be quite exact, you diddled us very neatly! We hadn't the faintest notion that we were anywhere but on the coast of Wales, an' when we discovered that we were on Yankee soil—well, there you are! Surprise wasn't the word to use at all!"
"Yes, I'm quite satisfied," nodded the millionaire blandly. "I chose this particular portion of the coast because it resembles the Welsh cliffs so closely. It is not exactly the same, of course, but there is so little difference that you were unable to detect it in the darkness. I am absolutely proud of the castle, now that it's safely rebuilt and installed with electric lighting, and I'm only waiting for you to mention a figure which will satisfy you, Mr. Glyn, to complete the business!"
Owen looked a little bewildered and uncomfortable. Everything had been sprung upon him with such suddenness that he wasn't prepared to discuss money matters just now, and he turned red.
"Well, I scarcely know how to answer you, Mr. Williamson," he exclaimed. "I think it is fairly certain that I should have sold the castle in any case when I found that I owned it, and I also think that I should have been quite eager to accept the twenty thousand pounds you mentioned. Therefore we may as well—"
"By gad, you're a rotten sort of business man, Owen!" cut in Spalding. "Here's a gentleman absolutely rollin' in wealth an' eager to carve off a chunk of it for you in return for the bally castle, an' you don't attempt to drive a bargain! Why, man, you ought to stand out for double the sum you just talked about, if only for compensation as the way you've been imprisoned, shipwrecked, marooned, an' what not!"
Glyn looked more uncomfortable than before.
"Shut up, you old Shylock!" he hissed. "What do you mean by suggesting anything like that? You ought to be—Why, you bounder, you're only pulling my leg!"
Mr. Williamson smiled more broadly than before and commenced writing out a cheque. He handed it to Glyn a few seconds later, and the young man nearly fell back off his chair when he read the amount.
"Great Scott! What's this for?" he gasped. "Fifty thousand pounds! It's—it's too much, Mr. Williamson, and I couldn't think of—"
"Put it in your pocket and say no more about it!" broke in the millionaire. "I agree with your friend's views, whether he was pulling your leg or not! I regard the castle as cheap at forty thousand, and the extra ten is just a little appreciation of your good-natured way of taking everything. I guess over three months of isolation on the island was worth ten thousand, to say nothing of all the rest!"
Glyn shook hands with Williamson as if in a dream. He was almost too affected to speak, for he had never expected anything like this. In one stroke he had regained his identity and obtained a fortune, and he was dumb with amazement and joy.
"Speaking of the island," said Blake, "I omitted to tell you that you were not quite so much out of touch with civilisation as you supposed. I sent a small party of men there on several occasions, just to watch over you and see that everything was all right. They had instructions not to speak to any of you—in case you questioned them. They reported to me that things were going well, and I was relieved of any anxiety on that score."
"By gad! That accounts for the mysterious footprints we found in the sands!" said Spalding.
"Exactly!" said Blake, with a smile. "We couldn't possibly leave you marooned for all that time without assuring ourselves of your well being, so I adopted this plan. It was the only way, and it proved quite successful."
Nothing now remained but to deal with Mr. Godfrey Jarrow, the rascally trustee of the Glyn estate. He was still in ignorance of the true state of affairs, and he was due to arrive at the castle at nine o'clock, much to the surprise of Spalding and Glyn. Williamson had arranged for Jarrow to call in person on this particular morning for the purpose of receiving the balance of his money. So far he had merely been paid a deposit, and he was not likely to overlook the appointment.
The night had long since passed, and the time was almost seven o'clock when the little party Finished their conversation in the great lounge hall. Mr. Williamson suggested that they should all partake of an early breakfast while awaiting the arrival of Jarrow, and so, after a refreshing wash and brush up apiece, they enjoyed a hearty meal together.
They were just finishing when Jarrow was announced. He came in, looking as brawny and cocksure as he had done in Wales, and he was smiling broadly as he entered. But as soon as he caught sight of Sexton Blake and Owen Glyn, his features underwent a remarkable change. He staggered drunkenly in his amazement, but before he could utter a word, Mr. Oscar T. Williamson told him exactly what he thought of him in no uncertain manner. The millionaire adopted a grim attitude and spoke in harsh tones; but he spoke to such good purpose that Mr. Godfrey Jarrow—metaphorically speaking—completely shrivelled up.
He was beaten—just at the very moment when he had expected to triumph. His eyes glinted angrily when he realised his position, and it seemed as if he was about to become violent. But at that moment Mr. Williamson touched a bell, and an American police officer, accompanied by a Scotland Yard detective, entered the room, and promptly arrested Jarrow on charges of conspiracy and fraud.
The humiliated trustee cast venomous and vindictive glances at the assembled party as he was being led out, but he was sensible enough to make no attempt to break away from his captors.
Spalding breathed a sigh of relief as the door closed.
"Well, that's that!" he observed. "Old Jarrow has got his all right this time, without a bally doubt!" Tinker grinned.
"And he deserves it, too," he said. "Jarrow must be a pretty low down sort of bounder to try and rob a chap of his inheritance! What's more, he'd have succeeded if you and Mr. Glyn hadn't been shipwrecked at the foot of the castle cliffs that night!"
"Absolutely!" agreed Spalding. "An' it strikes me that he'd have won the day in spite of that if you an' Mr. Blake hadn't got busy an' rounded him up! But it's all over now, thank goodness, an' dear old Owen has come out on top! Good luck to him!"
At this point Mr. Oscar T. Williamson rose to his feet, his bland smile very much in evidence.
"My friends," he said, "it is entirely owing to my somewhat bizarre notion of transporting Glyn Castle to America that you are gathered here this morning, and I guess I shall be tremendously disappointed if I can't persuade you all to spend at least a week with me as my guests. I can promise you a rattling good time, and I reckon a brief holiday of that sort will be a fitting termination to all your recent adventures. Now then, what do you say?"
With one accord the millionaire's guests said "Yes"; and the week which followed amply repaid them for their decision. For Williamson was as good as his word, and gave the members of the party an almost-royal time.
Glyn Castle—that ancient structure which had withstood so many storms on the rugged coast of Wales—was now a brilliant palace of light and activity; and was not at all likely to degenerate into its former condition of loneliness and gloom. But in spite of the new condition of things, the old building still retained something of its sombre stateliness, and this added very materially to its charms.
Mr. Oscar T. Williamson, at any rate, was more than delighted with his new possession, and that, after all, was the main thing to be considered.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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