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HOME > Short Stories > Colonel Thorndyke's Secret > CHAPTER XIX.
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 The Essex was to sail at eleven o'clock. Half an hour before that time Mark's hackney coach drew up at the wharf. Ten minutes later Dick Chetwynd, who had, like Mark, driven by a circuitous route, and had made several stoppages, joined him, and as they shook hands slipped a parcel into his hand, and this Mark at once pocketed, and buttoned his coat up tightly; then hailing a boat, they went on board together; they had sent their luggage on the previous evening. On getting on board Mark saw the two prize fighters walking up and down the deck aft. They were quietly dressed, and save for their size would have attracted no attention, and would have been taken for two countrymen on their way to Holland on business. The two detectives were seated forward, their appearance being that of two quiet business men, commercial travelers or small traders. The two friends first went below, and saw to the cabin which they were to share, and found their luggage was all there. Then they returned on deck. Four or five other passengers were standing watching the last bales of goods coming on board. The tide was just on the turn, and a quarter of an hour later the warps were thrown off, and some of the sails hoisted, and the Essex began to move through the water.
“Look there, Dick!” Mark exclaimed. “Do you see that boat lying on its oars in the middle of the stream? That man sitting in the stern is a foreigner, either from Southern Europe or from India.”
“He is certainly a dark man, Mark. Still, that may be only a coincidence.”
“It is rather a curious one,” Mark said. “We are too far off to see his features, but he is apparently watching us off. There, the oars are dipping into the water, now he sees that we are fairly under way.”
“Well, Mark, I shall begin to think that you are right. I am bound to say that hitherto I thought that it was ridiculous to suppose that you could have been watched as you thought, and that you had got these diamonds on your brain till you had really become fanciful. However, it certainly looks as if you were right; but even if you were, how on earth could they have found out that we were going by this ship?”
“That is more than I can tell; if they have been watching me they must have known that I was intimate with you; they have seen me come out of Cotter's Bank, and afterwards enter your lodgings; they would feel sure that I had heard that there would be danger connected with the diamonds, and might suppose that I should get some friend to take them from the bank, and may have followed your movements as well as mine. In that case they would have found out that you also went to Cotter's Bank; may have followed you to Tower Street, and found out that you had taken a passage for two to Amsterdam. They may again have seen you go to the bank this morning and have guessed that you had the diamonds about you, and then seeing us together on the wharf would feel pretty certain that it was so. One of them may have hired that boat and watched the Essex to see that neither of us went on shore again.”
“Now they see that we are off they will know that their game is up,” Chetwynd said.
“I am not so sure of that, Dick; there are craft going every day to Antwerp and Flushing, and for anything we know some of them may be on board a craft already dropping down like ourselves by this tide. But even if we had twelve hours' start, by landing, say at Flushing, they would have time to cross by land to Amsterdam and get there before us.”
“Yes, I suppose they would; anyhow, it is pretty certain that we shall not be troubled on the voyage.”
“Yes, I never thought there was much danger of that, because even if they were on board they would see that you and I, being always together, could not be got rid of without an alarm being given.”
Not until they were passing Greenwich did either of the detectives come near Mark, then as he and Dick were standing by the bulwarks, looking at the hospital, Chester strolled across the deck and, pointing to the building as if asking him some question about it, said:
“There is a colored man forward, dressed as a sailor.”
“Is that so?” Mark said. “I see no one aft here who looks suspicious, and I don't think they will try anything till we get to Amsterdam. There was a colored man in a boat watching us as we set sail.”
“I saw him, sir. Can he get to Amsterdam before us?”
“Yes, I have no doubt he can; if he lands at Flushing or Antwerp, and takes a post chaise or a diligence, I should say he could get there twenty-four hours before us. Certainly he could do so if he landed at The Hague, as we have to go a long way round to get into the Zuyder Zee. That is where the real danger will be; still you had better keep a sharp lookout on the man forward.”
No more was said. Mark was not long in getting into conversation with the other passengers aft, and later on strolled forward with Dick, asking the sailors some questions as to what sort of passage they were likely to have, and how the wind suited. The men agreed that unless the wind shifted they would not be likely to make a quick passage.
“The wind is northeasterly,” one of them said. “We can only just lay our course now, and it will be dead against us in some of the reaches. Still, I think we shall manage to make down to sea with only a tack or two, but when we are once fairly out of the river it will be a long leg and a short one, and going up round the Texel it will be dead against us. Except that it would be a bit worse if it had a little more east in it, it is about as foul a wind as we could have, and I don't see any sign of a change, worse luck.”
Presently, moving about among them, he got next to Gibbons.
“I don't think we shall have any trouble on board,” he said; “if there is any, it will be after we have landed. But you can keep an eye on that foreign sailor standing alone there up in the bows.”
“All right, sir; if you like, I can manage to get into a quarrel with him, and can warrant that he won't get out of his berth before it is time to go ashore.”
“No, I would leave him alone, Gibbons; as long as he is forward he can do no harm; but if you see him working his way aft, after it gets dark, it will do him no harm if you manage to stumble against him and give him a clout on the head.”
“All right, sir; if I hit him once he won't want another. The fellow seems quiet enough, and as far as strength goes he don't look stronger than a girl.”
After chatting for some time longer Mark and Dick Chetwynd went aft again. The Essex did not put into any intermediate port, and it was only on the sixth day after sailing that she approached Amsterdam. The voyage had passed off without any incident except that at nine o'clock one evening there had been a slight noise on deck and the sound of a fall. The friends went up at once. Several of the sailors had run aft, and Gibbons was explaining matters to them.
“I was walking up and down the deck,” he said, “when I saw this chap staring down through the skylight, and I said to him, 'I don't call it good manners to be prying down into your betters' cabin.' He did not answer or move, so I gave him a push, when he turned upon me like a wild cat, and drew his knife from his girdle. There it is, on the other side of the deck. As I did not want daylight put into me, I just knocked him down.”
“Served him right,” one of the sailors said. “He had no right to come aft at all, and if he drew his knife on you, you were quite right in laying him out. But you must have hit him mighty hard, for you have knocked the life pretty near out of him. Well, we may as well carry him forward and throw a bucket of water over him. That is the worst of these foreign chaps; they are always so ready with their knives. However, I don't think he will be likely to try his hand on an Englishman again.”
Mark and his friend went below again. In the morning Mark asked one of the sailors if the foreigner was much hurt.
“Well, he is a good bit hurt, sir. That big chap looks as strong as a bullock, and his blow has flattened the foreign chap's nose. He cannot see out of his eyes this morning, and is keeping his bunk. They cannot stand a blow, those foreign chaps; but I don't suppose that any of us would have stood such a blow as that, without feeling it pretty heavy. The man who hit him is quite sorry this morning that he hit him quite so hot, but, as he says, when a fellow draws a knife on you, you have not got much time for thinking it over, and you have got to hit quick and hard. I told him he needn't be sorry about it. I consider when a fellow draws a knife that hanging aint too bad for him, whether he gets it into a man or not.”
There was a growl of assent from two or three sailors standing round, for in those days the use of the knife was almost unknown in England, and was abhorrent to Englishmen, both as being cowardly and unfair, and as being a purely foreign crime.
“It will be dark before we get alongside,” Mark said to the two detectives. “Do you two walk first; we will keep just behind you, and the others shall follow as close as they can keep to us. If anyone is looking out for us they will see that we are a strong party, and that it would be no good to attack us, for even if they were to stab me it would not be possible to search me for the diamonds when I am with a party like this.”
It was indeed quite dark when the brig brought up outside a tier of vessels lying by the wharf. A few oil lamps burning by the quay showed that there were a good many people still sauntering about. The party waited until the rest of the passengers had landed. They learned from one of those who knew the place that the hotel to which they were going was but three or four hundred yards away, and obtained directions how to find it.
“Now we will go,” Mark said. “Gibbons, you had better keep a sharp lookout on your own account. That fellow you knocked down may try to put a knife into you.”
“I will keep a sharp lookout, sir, never you fear.”
“I think, Tring, you had better watch Gibbons; he is more in danger than I am. Have you seen the man go on shore?”
“Yes, he was the very first to cross onto the next vessel,” Tring said.
The loungers on the quay had gathered together to watch the passengers as they left the ship, and by the dim light from one of the oil lamps it could be seen that the majority of them were of the roughest class. As they were passing through them a man with a cry of rage sprang at Gibbons with an uplifted knife. Tring's fist struck him under the ear as he was in the act of striking, and he fell like a log. There was a cry of “Down with them!” and a rush of a score of men, most of whom were armed with heavy bludgeons.
The party was at once broken up, heavy blows were exchanged, the two pugilists rolling their assailants over like ninepins, but receiving several heavy blows from their assailants' clubs. A rush of five or six men separated Mark from the others. Those in front of him he struck down, but a moment later received a tremendous blow on the back of the head which struck him to the ground unconscious. His companions were all too busy defending themselves against their assailants to notice what had been done, and as the attack had taken place in the center of the roadway behind the quay, there was no lamp, and the fight was taking place in almost total darkness.
By this time many people had run up at the sound of the fray. A minute later there was a cry that the watch were coming, and four or five men with lanterns emerged from one of the streets leading down to the quays, and hurried towards the spot. The fight at once ceased, the men who had attacked mingled with the crowd, and when the watch came up they found the five Englishmen clustered together and ten or twelve men lying on the ground.
The instant that the fight had ceased Dick Chetwynd asked, “Where is Mr. Thorndyke?”
No answer was given. The other four men simultaneously uttered exclamations of alarm. The crowd was thinning fast as the watch came up.
“What is all this about?” one of them asked in Dutch.
“Do any of you speak English?” Dick asked.
“I do,” one of them said.
“We landed five minutes ago from that craft,” continued Dick, “and as we came across we were attacked by a band of ruffians. An Englishman, one of our party, is missing.”
“Whose bodies are these?” the watchman asked, raising his lantern and pointing to them.
“Perhaps Mr. Thorndyke is among them,” Dick Chetwynd said.
The fallen figures were examined by the light of the lanterns. Mark was not among them. The watchmen uttered an exclamation of astonishment as they looked at the men's faces.
“What did you strike them with?” the one who spoke first asked.
“Struck them with our fists, of course,” Gibbons replied. “They will do well enough; you need not bother about them, they will come round again presently. The question is, Where is Mr. Thorndyke?”
The whole of the lookers on had dispersed, each fearing that he might be charged with taking part in the outrage.
“This is a very serious matter,” Chetwynd said. “We have every reason to believe that the attack was premeditated, for the gentleman who is missing was known to have some valuables on him; all these fellows ought to be taken and locked up and made to give an account of themselves. We are going to the Hotel d'Hollande where you can find us at any time. I dare say some of these scoundrels are known to you, and that may give you a clew as to where Mr. Thorndyke is.
“I have but little hope that he will be found alive; no doubt he has been stabbed and his body carried off so that they can search his clothes at their leisure. We came in a strong party to prevent the risk of an attack upon Mr. Thorndyke. Here is my card. It is of no use our attempting to search by ourselves, but if you will get these fellows taken to the watch house, and will call at the hotel, we will join your party and help you to search the places you think he has most likely been taken to.”
“I think, sir, you had better come with me to the watch house, and see the Lieutenant, and tell him what has happened.”
“I will just take my friends to the hotel, and shall be back from there before you have got men to take these fellows away. If you go to one of those ships and borrow a bucket, empty it over each of them; you will find that will bring them to!”
As soon as they arrived at the hotel Dick ordered a private sitting room and five bedrooms.
“We have made a terrible mess of this, lads,” he said gloomily. “I don't say that it is any of our faults, but it is a horrible affair. I have not the least doubt that Mr. Thorndyke has been killed, and it is no satisfaction to us that we have pretty nearly done for a dozen of those scoundrels.”
“I would not have had it happen for a hundred pounds, nor a thousand, sir. If there had been daylight we could have licked a score of them in spite of their bludgeons, but they came with such a rush at us that we got separated before we knew where we were. I don't think that it was our fault. I feel as much ashamed as if I had thrown up the sponge in the ring at the end of the first round. To think that we came over here, four of us, and yourself, sir, on purpose to take care of Mr. Thorndyke, all well save a few knocks with those sticks, and Mr. Thorndyke killed and carried off before we have been on shore five minutes. A better young fellow I never put on the gloves with;” and Gibbons passed the back of his hand across his eyes.
“Well, I must be off now,” Chetwynd said. “I feel heartbroken over it. I have known him since we were boys together; and what makes it worse is that only three days ago he became engaged to be married. How we are going to take the news back God only knows!”
As he hurried down the street towards the wharf he saw a number of lanterns coming towards him, and ten or twelve watchmen came along escorting the prisoners, many of whose faces were covered with blood; then came four other watchmen carrying a body on a stretcher.
“One of them is dead,” the watchman who had before spoken said to Dick. “A foreign seaman, a Lascar I should say, from his color; we found an open knife by his side.”
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