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HOME > Short Stories > Colonel Thorndyke's Secret > CHAPTER XX.
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 At ten o'clock a constable came with a message from the Lieutenant to Mr. Chetwynd that he would be glad if he would come down to the watch house. Dick did not wake the others, but freshening himself up by pouring a jug of water over his head, went at once with the constable. “Have you news?” he asked eagerly as he entered.
“Yes, the men returned an hour ago. At four of the houses they went to a foreign sailor had been lodging there for the last day or so, but yesterday afternoon all had paid their reckoning and left. Then the idea struck me that it would be as well to ask if they had been seen on the quays, and I sent off a fresh batch of men to make inquiries. A quarter of an hour ago one of them came back with the news that he had learned from a sailor that he had noticed a dark colored foreigner, whom he took to be a Lascar sailor, talking to a boatman, and that they had rowed off together to a barge anchored a short way out; he did not notice anything more about him.
“Now, I should not be at all surprised if the fellow went off to arrange with the bargeman for a passage for himself and four or five comrades to some port or other, it might be anywhere. It would make no difference to them where the barge was bound for. No doubt he saw the man again after the brig was sighted, and told him that they should come on board soon after it got dark, and told him to have the boat at the stairs. You see, in that case they might not have carried Mr. Thorndyke above fifty yards. They would probably get him on board as one of their party who had been drunk. The barge, no doubt, got under way about nine o'clock, which is the hour when the tide was high last night, and during the night the Indians could easily drop your friend overboard—and may even have done so before they got under way, which would have been the easiest thing to do. There would have been no one at the helm, and they could have chosen a moment when the crew, probably only three, were below. I am afraid that this is not a cheering lookout, but I have little doubt that it is the correct one.
“I have told my men to find out what barge was lying at the spot the sailor pointed out, and if we discover her name, which we are likely to be able to do, there will be no difficulty in finding out to whom she belongs and where she was bound for. Then we can follow it up; though there is little likelihood of our finding the murderers still on board.”
“Thank you very much for the pains that you are taking, sir,” Dick said. “I am afraid that there is no shadow of hope of finding my poor friend alive. I have no doubt that the thing has happened exactly as you suggest; the whole course of the affair shows how carefully it was planned, and I have no hope that any scruple about taking life would be felt by them for a moment. I will go back to the hotel, and I shall be obliged if you will let me know as soon as you obtain any clew as to the barge.”
An hour and a half later the officer himself came round to the room where Dick Chetwynd and the two pugilists were sitting. The detectives had started out to make inquiries on their own account, taking with them a hanger on at the hotel who spoke English.
“The barge's name was the Julie,” he said; “she has a cargo on board for Rotterdam.”
“I think the best thing would be to take a carriage, and drive there at once,” Dick said.
“You can do that, sir, but I don't think you will be there before the barge; they have something like eighteen hours' start for you, and the wind has been all the time in the east. I should say that they would be there by eight o'clock this morning.”
“No, I don't know that it would be of any use, but at least it would be doing something. I suppose we could be there in four hours?”
“From that to five; but even if the barge were delayed, and you got there first, which is very unlikely, I do not think that there would be the remotest chance of finding those villains on board. I reckon they would, as we agreed, launch the body overboard even before they got under way here, and they may either have landed again before the craft got under way, pretending that they had changed their minds, and then walked across to The Hague or to Haarlem, or have gone on with the barge for two hours, or even until daybreak. If by that time they were near Rotterdam, they may have stayed on board till they got there; if not, they may have landed, and finished the journey on foot, but they would certainly not have stopped on board after six or seven o'clock this morning. They would calculate that possibly we might get on their track at an early hour this morning, and set out in pursuit at once.
“However, it will doubtless be a satisfaction to you to be moving, and at least you will be able to overhaul the barge when you get to Rotterdam, and to hear what the boatmen say. The chances are they will not even have noticed that one of the men who came on board was missing. The men may very well have made up a long bundle, carried it on shore with them, or three of them may have carried a fourth ashore; and in the dark the bargemen were unlikely to have noticed that the number was less than when they came on board. However, it will be something for you to find out when and where the fellows landed.”
“Yes; I should certainly like to lay hands on them, though I am afraid we should find it very hard to prove that they had anything to do with this affair.”
“I think that also, Mr. Chetwynd. Morally, we may feel absolutely certain; but, unless the boatmen noticed that one of their number was missing when they landed, we have at present no evidence to connect them with it.”
“We will set out as soon as my other two men return. I told them to be back soon after twelve. I will write to you this evening from Rotterdam. Ah! here are the men.”
The door opened, and, to the stupefaction of the party, Mark Thorndyke entered the room.
“Good Heavens, Mark!” Dick exclaimed, springing forward and seizing his hand, “is it really you alive in the flesh? We had given you up for dead. We have been searching the town for you all night, and were just going to set out for Rotterdam in search of a barge on which we believed you were carried. Why, it seems almost a miracle!”
The two prize fighters also came forward, and shook hands with a pressure that would have made most men shrink.
“I am as glad, Mr. Thorndyke,” Gibbons said, “as if anyone had given me a thousand pounds. I have never quite given up hope, for, as I said to Mr. Chetwynd, if you got but a shadow of a chance, you would polish off those nigger fellows in no time; but I was afraid that they never would give you a chance. Well, I am glad, sir.”
“Mark, this is the Lieutenant of the watch here,” Dick said. “He has been most kind, and has himself headed the search that has been made for you all night. Now tell us all about it.”
“First of all give me something to drink, for, except some water, I have had nothing since dinner yesterday. You are right, Dick; it is almost a miracle, even to me, that I am here. I would not have given a penny for my chance of life, and I can no more account for the fact that I am here than you can.”
Mark drank off a tumbler of weak spirits and water that Gibbons poured out for him. Chetwynd rang the bell, and ordered lunch to be brought up at once. Just at this moment the two detectives came in, and were astonished and delighted at finding Mark there.
“Now,” he said, “I will tell you as much as I know, which is little enough. When I came to my senses I found myself lying on the deck of a craft of some sort; it was a long time before I could at all understand how I got there. I think it was the pain from the back of my head that brought it to my mind that I must have been knocked down and stunned in that fight; for some time I was very vague in my brain as to that, but it all came back suddenly, and I recalled that we had all got separated. I was hitting out, and then there was a crash. Yes, I must have been knocked down and stunned, and I could only suppose that in the darkness and confusion I had been carried off and taken on board without any of you missing me; my hands and feet were tied, and there was something shoved into my mouth that prevented me from speaking.
“I should think that it must have been an hour before I quite recovered my senses, and got the thing fairly into my mind. Then a man with a knife leant over me, and made signs that if I spoke he would stab me, and another took the gag out of my mouth and poured some water down my throat, and then put it in again. I saw that he was a dark colored man, and I then understood it all; it was those Hindoos who had got up the attack upon us and had carried me off. I had no doubt they had got the diamonds I had sewn up in the waistband of my trousers.
“I wondered why they were keeping me, but was sure they would stab me presently and throw me overboard. I knew that they had killed two soldiers for the sake of the diamonds, and if it hadn't been that they had given me the water, I should not have had a shadow of doubt about my fate.”
“I puzzled over why they should have done so, and came to the conclusion that they dared not do it on board, because of the crew, and that they intended to take me on shore somewhere, and there dispose of me. I made many attempts to loosen my ropes, but they would not give the slightest. At last I think I dozed off for a time. After I had had the water they drew a blanket or something of that sort over me. It had been there before, but it had only been pulled up as high as my nose, and I felt sure that it was only done to prevent the Dutchmen on the boat seeing that I was bound and gagged; this time they pulled it right over my face. When they took it off again I could see it was nearly morning, for there was a faint light in the sky. They were moving about on the deck, and presently I saw one of the sailors get into the boat and pull it along, hand over hand, by the rail, until he was close to me. Then four Lascar sort of chaps—I could scarcely make out their features—lifted me and lowered me into the boat and got in themselves.
“I did not attempt to struggle. No doubt they had made up some tale that I was mad or something of that sort, and I thought that I had best pretend to be quiet and peaceable till I could see some sort of chance of making a fight for it. It was but a few yards from the shore. The man lifted me out onto the bank, and the sailor then started to row back to the barge; they carried me a few yards away, and then laid me face downwards on some grass. Now, I thought to myself, it is all over; they are going to stab me and make off. To my surprise I felt they were doing something—I could not make out what—to the ropes; then there was quiet. I lay there I should think for half an hour, wondering why on earth they did not finish me. At last I made up my mind to move, and turned round onto my back. As I lay there I could see no one, and, raising my head, looked round. To my amazement I found that I was alone. It was now almost light, and as I craned my head in all directions I assured myself that they had gone; then I began to try again at the ropes.
“To my surprise I found that they were much looser than they were before, although still tight enough to give me nearly an hour's work before I got my hands free. Then it took me almost as long to get the ropes off my legs, for they had knotted them in such a fearfully intricate way that it was a long time before I could even discover where the ends were. At last I finished the job, stood up, and looked round. A quarter of a mile off there was a good sized town, but not a soul could I see.
“Till now I had hardly thought of the diamonds; I put my hands to my waistband and found, as I expected, that they were gone. I think I felt nothing but pleasure: the confounded things had given trouble enough, and I was well rid of them. Why they should have spared my life I could not imagine. If they had finished me, which they could have done without any risk to themselves when they got me ashore, they could have gone off with the diamonds without the slightest fear of pursuit, while now there was, of course, a chance that I might follow and recognize them.”
“Would you know them again?” the Lieutenant interrupted.
“Not in the slightest; it was light enough to see that they were dark, but from the time the boat came along the blanket was over my head, and except when they gave me the water I had no chance of seeing any of their features. Still, if I had gone straight to the town I saw and reported the matter to the authorities and sent mounted men to all the ports to warn them not to let any colored men embark, I might have given them a lot of trouble, but I don't suppose any of them would ever have been caught. After the craft they had shown in the whole matter, it is certain that they would have laid their plans for escape so well that the law would never have laid hands upon them. I put my hand mechanically to my watch to see the time, and to my astonishment discovered that I still had it in my pocket, and was equally surprised to find that the money in my trousers' pockets was also untouched. The watch had, of course, stopped. I first of all went down to the water and had a good wash; then I proceeded to the town, and, going to a hotel, ordered breakfast.”
“Why, I thought you said that you had had nothing to eat, Mark.”
“Yes? Well, I had forgotten all about that breakfast. The people looked a good deal surprised at an Englishman walking in in that way. While I was eating my breakfast two men—who were, I suppose, authorities of some kind—who spoke English, came and questioned me. As I had made up my mind to say nothing more about the affair, I merely told them that I had come for a sail from Amsterdam, and that I wanted a carriage ............
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