The sixteen thousand tons of the Triple Screw Liner, Urquhart Castle, churned smooth sliding seas with groaning monotony. She was over three hours out from Durban, bound for Colombo. Lord Juventius Mellor had been pulled down considerably by fever during his adventurous trip across Africa with Simon Iff, and the old man had thought that a long sea voyage and a month or two in the beautiful climate of Kandy would be the best treatment. Camilla Craig, the vaudeville headliner, had adopted the boy for her 'steady'.
The weather was abominably sticky, and in the recess of the magician's deck chair stood an immense tumbler full of Dry Martini which he was sucking blissfully through a straw. In the chair on his right was Captain McVea, a genial salt at sixty, who bore the highest sort of reputation for all seaman-like qualities in the line on which he had commanded ships for over thirty years, with hardly a mishap so serious as to fail to reach port on schedule time. He had had his adventures, though, and at this moment was recounting one of the liveliest of them to an amused group of passengers. This was by no means his first voyage with Simon Iff. The magician had travelled on his ships more than once. He liked the quiet steady capable even-tempered seaman. The captain had the great faculty of carrying his hearers to the scenes of his adventures; and the little gathering was watching a munition ship ablaze in Toulon Harbour when they were recalled to reality by a steward who entered the group with an envelope in his hand.
"Beg pardon, Captain," he said. "Wireless--personal."
"Excuse me a moment, gentlemen," said the captain, breaking off his story. He tore open the envelope and took out the slip. His jaw suddenly dropped; he rose to his feet; the paper dropped from his hands; he fell forward stricken by apoplexy. Fortunately, the ship's surgeon was a member of the party. The sick man was carried to his cabin, and the passengers were left to recover from their consternation as best they might. In presence of the terrific suddenness of the event, all were subdued but one man who, with more curiosity than delicacy, picked up the radiogram. His amazement was pathetic to witness.
"I say, you fellows," he stammered. "I don't get this at all. Listen to this; it's sent from Durban, and it isn't signed, and all it says is 'A pleasant voyage to you!'"
Simon Iff rubbed his hands briskly together. "Jully, oh very jolly!" he chirped. "And I was looking forward to a dull evening."
Just at this moment the surgeon rejoined the group. "He'll get over it all right, bar accident," reported he. "But he can't speak or write at present, and at the same time he is horribly afraid of something. He seems to want something done, as far as I can make out, but there's no way of getting at what it is."
"That's as may be," said Simon Iff. "The first thing to do is to find out the events which have led up to this from the data at our disposal."
"We don't seem to have any," said the man who had read the radiogram.
"Oh dear me, yes," said Simon Iff. "This is a most illuminating document."
"It doesn't seem to be anything much," complained the surgeon, examining the slip.
"It isn't so much what it is," said Simon Iff, "as what it isn't. And as for its conventionality, the captain was disturbed emotionally in reading it. The apoplexy was but the physical echo of the mental thunderstorm. There is therefore no question of coincidence. The message meant something to the captain that it doesn't mean to us--at present.
"Some sort of code message," suggested the surgeon.
"Not so fast, my friend. We know something about the message before reading it at all. A message which can cause apoplexy means bad news. Either something has happened or a disastrous character, or something has become liable to happen. Now glance for a moment at the sender. He does not need to sign his name. He knows that the captain will understand the message."
"That is, it is a code," insisted the surgeon obstinately.
"By code," said Simon Iff very soberly, "we mean a prearranged system of communication between two or more people, who are at least on sufficiently good terms to arrange that system. this is not ordinary code of transpositions or ciphers or anything of the kind. The captain got its meaning at a glance."
"Then," said the surgeon, "it becomes more a signal than a code."
"That is a little better," replied the magician. "We can imagine that the captain, before leaving Durban, had arranged with someone to report on some occurrence, and communicate in these terms if the worst had happened. But I will ask you to consider what this theory implies. There is surely something sinister about a communication which requires such fantastically guarded secrecy as a signal couched in such conventional terms. Why not employ a single non-committal word? The captain is on his own ship. There is no one to suspect anything wrong. Observe, gentlemen, we are already getting the idea of something wrong--morally and perhaps legally wrong--it is involved in our present theory. Another point is that if this were a prearranged signal, the captain must have contemplated the possibility of the occurrence which threw him into apoplexy. In such circumstances, he must surely have been in a state of extreme anxiety. We all saw him at dinner and since then. I think we may all agree that, if he was anxious, he must be a wonderful actor. He might have mastered himself; but I think we should have seen some touch of tremor, or hurry, or something of the sort, when he took the radiogram. I am sure that we did not; but I thought I noticed a very mild surprise when the steward said, 'personal', as if he were thinking, 'Now who the deuce can that be?' Besides all that, if he had been expecting it, as he must have done if he were to understand it, he would surely have been steeled against the shock of the news. I think that we are therefore compelled to assume that our whole theory is wrong, and that this is the last message in the world that he expected. There remains, however, this possibility: that our signal was agreed upon a long time ago, and that the captain had forgotten the whole affair; had assumed that the issue had been closed. We have still, however, the difficulties suggested by the character of the message. We have to assume that McVea had almost conspiratorial relations with somebody at one time; and the whole of his career and character makes this unlikely. Now what can have happened in Durban; what (for the matter of that) can have happened anywhere? Captain McVea has spent his life on the sea, he has been a widower for twenty years and has no children, his fortune is safely tucked away in government bonds, his only love affair is his ship, he is not mixed in politics or intrigues of any kind; he is one of the simplest men I ever met. It is difficult to conceive of anything that would upset him unless it were a threat. He might have left a sample of blood with the doctor at Durban, and the germ of sleeping sickness or something pleasant have been found in it; but a physician would hardly communicate such intelligence in such ironic terms. Note how I have been compelled to bring in the word ironic. Irony is implicit in this message--I ought perhaps to have said so much at the start.
"Now already we know something more about the sender. He is not trying to break bad news gently--he is rubbing it in; in short, we have an enemy. How then does it happen that the enemy has no need to sign his name? How is he sure that McVea will understand his irony? Observe McVea's instant comprehension of the message. Words so conventional might come from anybody and mean what they say; yet the captain has no doubt whatever. We can, of course, imagine, since this is our evening for imagining, that the sender of the radiogram had at one time been a friend, and at that time arranged and so forth, as we hypothesized before; but that still involves the idea of conspiracy and fails to explain the irony. I think we must put that hypothesis in the locker.
"Consider once more the character of the message. We have now decided that it was not a signal. I can only think of one other thing it could be, and that is: an allusion. Those particular words must have some terrible association for the captain. Yet he must have heard those words thousands of times in the last quarter century and more that he has sailed these seas, and he has not been having apoplectic fits on each occasion. It wasn't the words that frightened the birds but the 'orrible double ongtong. Anybody writing a straight message would have added a signature unless it had been some romantic girl; and if so, why the apoplexy?"
Lord Juventius cleared his throat. Simon's glance flung a dagger, and he subsided.
"No, it's clear that McVea was not expecting anything of the sort, that it dug up something hidden very deeply in his life.
"Now, how could he be sure that an anonymous communication of this harmless appearance was in reality some shocking threat to life and honour? Only because he knew just what we don't know--the nature of the allusion. The message must be from some person or group of persons to whom these words mean something terrible. One can imagine secret socieities in which they were the valdiction to a traitor--a warning that he had been found out, and that they meant to execute him. But again this does not fit in at all with what we know of the captain's character. He never had fantastic notions--he has never been mixed up with anything shady. For the purposes of the argument, we are compelled to assume that McVea is a good man, and his enemy a bad one. Considering the effect of the message, its innocence becomes positively devilish. Now a man who commands a great ship has to be absolutely stainless, financially and in every other way. He is liable to make bitter enemies--to incur deadly hatred. A brave man (however) takes all this in the day's work.
"You will observe, moreover, that the message came from the port we have just left. One cannot imagine the message as meaning much more than that his enemy is in Durban. He has plenty of time to take precautions, one would think. But would one, if one thinks more deeply? From his anxiety to speak, to get something done, as Mr. Eliot here reports, one could seem to suspect some danger imminent. It suggests that the captain is inextricably in the toils. This radiogram reads 'malice and revenge triumphant'. The man in Durban, rightly or wrongly, is sure that he has turned the trick, and cannot refrain from torturing his enemy with anticipation of disaster. But then again, what does the message say? We have eliminated the theory of collusion. It means this: There is a man who hates McVea. McVea knows this man and fears him. There is a passage in their lives when these particular words possessed so fearful a significance that their mere quotation is sufficient to identify the sender to McVea. What then is the information conveyed? McVea must have thought that he was dead or in prison. On on other hypothesis can we explain the shock. If he had been in prison, the captain would have been able to calculate when he would be at liberty; unless he had broken prison, which doesn't happen as often as one might suppose from reading story books. Besides, if he had broken prison, McVea's course would have been quite simple; a wireless to the Durban police, describing the man, would stop his game. I think that we must conclude that the captain supposed him to be dead.
"You have all heard of the professor who could reconstruct an extinct animal from a single bone, and you may think that these deductions are rather tenuous; but, after all, the professor used to be right. We are then encouraged to go on a little more deeply into the significance of this message. Its sender is no ordinary man. He is a person big enough to make McVea afraid of him, and McVea is no chicken. We have a man of great intelligence. This impression is confirmed by the subtle simplicity of his method of declaring himself. Imagine him in Durban composing his message. He says to himself 'I have a thousand ways of letting that swine know that I'm alive and on the job: how shall I put it so as to fix my fangs most deeply?' He decides to use nothing but this terrible allusion, these words which were a climax in the past. We have no means of knowing what these events were save that they must have been such that the formula was burnt deeply into the captain's brain.
"One step further. We know that criminals, otherwise astute, often give themselves away through vanity, as in the case of the Gunpowder Plot--a weakness to warn some friend discloses a conspiracy; or, for one reason or another, the mischiefmaker wants his victim to know what is going to happen to him, and who is behind it. But would a man of such subtlety as we have deduced share in such a weakness? How could he be absolutely certain that his blow would go home? He is apparently giving his victim every chance to take precautions. This consideration leads us to wonder whether the man is in durban after all. He might have an accomplice on this ship. But would not that rather be inviting McVea to look around for an accomplice? Also, I don't particularly see this man trusting other people. One can have associations of people who are technically criminals, if they are banded together for what they deem a cause more sacred than law; but the real criminal is a lone wolf.
"I do not think this idea of an accomplice is in character. Suppose that he has bribed someone on this ship to kill the captain, his warning risks his success. It seems to me much more likely that he should leave a false trail. Nothing easier or less suspicious than to leave his message with a friend, an office boy, for the matter of that, with instructions to dispatch it at a certain time. This would both frighten McVea, and put him off his guard. The first place that McVea would by no means look for him would be on board the boat. The idea naturally crossed my mind that this chap might be an anarchist who had planted an infernal machine on the boat, and timed it to explode shortly after the captain got the message."
The company, who up til now, had been partly interested and partly bored by this elaborate gossamer of thought, began to feel extremely uncomfortable. Iff hastened to reassure them.
"I am not very much afraid of this," he said, "because the explosion has not yet happened. He could not have foreseen the apoplexy, and obviously McVea's first act would have been to report all particulars to Durban. Besides, this man isn't an anarchist. Anarchists are earnest, Godfearing people with no sense of humour, and we have already decided that this chap is an intellectual and malicious as Goethe's conception of the devil. We have now established a very strong probability that he is on this boat. Question is 'Where?'"
"We can eliminate the crew and the steerage," said Lord Juventius Mellor, "they are all good chaps. All the intellectual people are in the Second Class, and all the malicious ones in the First."
"This is not a joke," said Simon severely. "The conclusion of your argument would be that no maliciously intellectual person could travel by sea at all. But I think that we should look for him in the saloon. He would have the run of the boat, and so easier access to the captain. Besides this, he would be less severely scrutinized. We must remark, however, that in coming aboard at all, he exposes himself to the risk of recognition by the captain. His personality and appearance must be branded deeply on our friend's mind, else how could so simple a message produce so tragic a result? We are therefore certain that he regards his disguise as impenetrable. It has already appeared that the allusion in the message must be to something in the past. This makes it look as though that past were somewhat remote. But we cannot content ourselves with this. We all know how, on meeting a man, perhaps hardly more than a casual acquaintance whom one has not seen for more than twenty years, there is, if not an immediate recognition, a puzzled feeling: 'I know that face; I've seen that man somewhere.' Sea captains, with their keen eyes, don't miss much; certainly not a man like McVea, who has always been particularly smart in dealing with men. Is there anyone among the passengers who was changed so as to be utterly unrecognizable? The marks of such a change would be evident. They would amount to total disfigurement. In other words, we have arrived at a complete impossibility.
"It seems as if we were thrown back upon the idea of an accomplice--a person unknown to the captain--but we have already seen serious objections to this suggestion. The way out leads us into yet more formidable darkness. This message becomes more terrible yet, if we suppose it to be sent by a person absolutely convinced that he is safe. Perhaps that person is dead after all, or at least neither in Durban, where the police could deal with him, nor on the ship, where we could deal with him. I seem to have come to the idea of a legacy of vengeance. We have the painful incident connected with the wording of the message. We see that the man concerned is dead or perhaps in prison, but he has arranged for somebody to execute his mission of revenge. This somebody is taking a long chance. We are not living in the days of the Venetian Oligarchy. Men do not execute the vengeance of others, unless they are passionately moved by love for the wronged person, or incited by the hope of gain. It is possible that a man could command wealth from a grave or a jail, and through his hireling would be unlikely to think of the device of the radiogram, the sending of it might have been stipulated. But one could hardly arrange for this in a will, and if the original man is in jail, why should he trust his accomplice so deeply? The man would have every inducement and opportunity to doublecross him. Number 2 must therefore be honestly devoted to Number 1. Here is another impossibility. We have a satanically intellectual person risking his life, in all probability, to commit a crime with a motive of sublime love and self-abnegation! From this we arrive at the conclusion that whatever Number 1 thinks or thought, Number 2 believes that Number 1 has been infamously wronged by Captain McVea. We know something else about Number 2--he is quite young; an older man does not act in so quixotic a fashion on behalf of another. We cannot suppose him to have been on the job for very long. This ship is the best known of all the common objects of this part of the sea shore. Where would be no object in delaying to throw a scare into the captain. Now, how far have we got?
"We have a very young, enthusiastic person, with a passionate love of an apparently wronged person, and an almost insanely chivalrous attitude. But of course you will object that we have here another impossibility. I have spoke of an infamous wrong--nothing less would justify the action even of Number 1, still less of Number 2. Now since the radiogram had to be intelligible to the captain, he must know well what that wrong was, and he must fear revenge. But on the other hand, we who know him know, that he is not at all the man to wrong anyone, even in the most trifling manner. Whatever the events were that are associated, in the minds of these people, with the words of the radiogram, we are bound to think that McVea's share in them was justified in his own eyes, and misinterpreted by Number 1. The captain, however, certainly knew that Number 1 had so misinterpreted that action, but he was unable to clear the mater up because the man was either dead, or thought by him to be so. I have made these remarks in public, not without apprehension that I may have bordered on indiscretion; but, generally speaking, it is safe to look for truth. And the conclusion has justified me. When I saw how my analysis was turning, I began to hope that Number 2 might be within hearing of my voice--he would want to be where he could watch the effect of the receipt of the radiogram. And in this sheltered portion of the deck we are not visible by anyone outside our little circle of a dozen persons. I will therefore ask Number 2 to talk to me privately before he proceeds with what I make no doubt to be his very admirable plan."
The men looked at each other wondering. The younger members of the party became exceedingly self-conscious.
"I think," said Simon Iff, finishing his drink, "that Iwill go and see the captain, while you think it over. Perhaps he may be able to speak by now. Shall we run along and see, Doc?"
He took the surgeon's arm, and they walked away, leaving the crowd in a very curious state of mind.
"I should really tell him," lisped Lord Juventius Mellor. "I know it will save an awful lot of trouble."
Camilla Craig rearranged the pillows under his head, and stole a sly kiss in the shadows.
Except in German Universities, it is held to be a decided disadvantage to a theory if it will not work. Nobody replied to simon Iff's advertisement. The matter was quietly dropped. The captain had completely recovered, but it was understood that he did not care even for expressions of sympathy.
"He had recovered his speech, when we got there the other night," said Simon Iff to his pupil, "but all he would say was, that there was no danger to the ship. His silence confirmed my general view. There is something in the past which the captain supposed closed forever; something whose revelation means tragedy for him. I cannot believe that he is to blame, and yet I'm sure that Number 2 at least would acquiesce in Bacon's definition of revenge as 'wild justice'."
"Do you still think that Number 2 is on the ship?" asked the boy.
"The alternative is that he is waiting for us at Colombo, but I think he is on board, and if so, we need not look for violence. I am beginning to think of Number 2 as in some way or other legitimately armed. He does not fear the consequences of his act, whatever act he may have in contemplation. He may be a person absolutely wedded to his fixed idea. His subtlety may be a lunatic's cunning, but I don't think so. McVea knows something of my reputation. If it were possible to avert the fall of the axe, he would have asked me to help him. But he keeps silence--he does his duty like a haunted man. One can see that he is sinking under the anticipation of the blow. It is 'the one thing as certain as death'. That alone makes me certain that Number 2 does not propose to do anything illegal. Even a Camorra cannot carry out every assassination with the punctuality of an omnibus service."
The conversation was interrupted by Camilla Craig, who wanted Lord Juventius to play at the ship's concert and Simon Iff to tell one of his stories.
"I think not," said Simon Iff. "I know better than to challenge a supreme artist in the line which has made her famous through-out the world. What are you going to do, my dear?"
"I think I will try out a dramatic monologue," said the girl. "I haven't told it before--I should like to see how it goes."
"Try it on the dog," said Simon. "You know we are bound to applaud, especially when every cheer means an extra sovereign for the Seamen's Home. I am really very anxious for that concert. Your devotion to Juventius has driven me to Pirate Bridge."
"Well, it's not long till to-morrow night," smiled Camilla, "and twenty-four hours after that you will be eating curry at the Grant Oriental."
"I wish I could do something to help that poor old boy," said Simon, when she had gone. "If he would talk--well, all things are possible--but I am certain that he doesn't deserve what's coming to him. I see only one chance. If I were present when the blow was struck, I might be able to parry it. Who knows--who knows?"
The following night, the saloon of the Urquhart Castle was crowded. by special request, the Second Class passengers had been invited to the concert. The purser was in his glory. Hardly any one noticed how weak and ill the captain was as he sat in his chair on the platform, but people with a little psychology could read him easily; a simple, desperate man, knowing himself doomed, and determined to do his duty to the end. The concert went off more pleasantly than such functions usually do. Every one acquiesced in the general mediocrity, content to wait for the treat in store for them, when Camilla Craig, with her red hair ravishingly emphasized by a frock of rich, soft blue, would do her turn.
"I am going to tell you a story," she began, and her inimitable smile flashed round the crowded saloon. "It is called 'The End of the Voyage'. Once upon a time..."
Simon Iff suddenly stood up.
"We have with us to-night," cried Camilla, "a very distinguished gentleman who very wisely observed on the night that we left Durban, that as a general rule, it was safe to look for truth. I crave that gentleman's inculgence for my little fiction."
Lord Juventius Mellor looked very swiftly at Simon Iff. Camilla's mouth had shut like a trap. The boy seemed to understand that a duel had been in progress; and he was amazed to see that his master, having tried to cover his movement by pretending to adjust his trousers, sat down again and folded his arms. Camilla's smile was radiant as sunrise on soft snowy mountains.
"Once upon a time," she began again, "it was just three and twnety years ago, a wealthy lawyer whom I will call James Smith, finding himself threatened with consumption, had gone to an island in the South Seas, which I will call Friendly Island."
The audience shuddered. An incredibly bitter sneer was in the tone with which she pronounced 'friendly'.
"James Smith was accompanied by his wife and their infant daughter. Friendly Island is an earthly Paradise; only two or three Europeans live there, in the regular way. I do not mean that this circumstance alone would constitute a paradise. There was the inevitable missionary--there was a romantic German who sold stores--there was a rascally pearler who was always getting drunk and raising trouble, and besides James Smith, there was another stranger whom I will call William Brown. He was a man of good breeding, manners and education, and he was undeniably handsome. He had arrived there about six weeks after Smith had settled down. He had come from the port of the neighbouring island where steamers occasionally put in, in a small fishing boat, a boat with a big square sail easily handled by one man.
"Smith and Brown became the greatest friends possible. The lawyer was passionately fond of fishing, and would often go out in Brown's boat, to an island some four hours' sail distant, where were tall crags, within whose shadow lay a pool which enjoyed a tremendous reputation for big fish. Lawyer though he was, he had not lost faith in humanity. He never guessed that Brown would soil honour and betray friendship.
"It happened that Mrs. Smith was a true woman. She told Brown to cease his insults, but she was too good a woman for this world. She ought to have warned her husband; and she did not.
"Brown pretended to acquiesce in the situation, but the devil had entered into him. His guilty passion decided him to override all obstacles. Smith was in his way--then Smith must go. Most of us who sail these seas believe that there is something in the sun's heat which tends to intoxicate the passions. It is as if the brain boiled into madness. When Brown finally decided to put Smith out of the way, he was not content to choose a simple accident. He resolved upon a death by torture.
"One night, it had been arranged that Smith should sail over to the little island for the fishing. Starting at mid-night, he would arrive comfortably at dawn, catch is fish, and be back in time for dinner. Mrs. Smith had retired early to bed that night, with a slight touch of fever. But Brown took his friend" (again the sneer rang out) "to the boat. He pushed it off from the little warf. waved his hand cheerfully to Smith, and cried, 'A pleasant voyage to you!'"
The audience sat as if hypnotized. Not one but was too appalled even to shudder.
"Drowsing at the helm, Smith sailed past a long, low key of coral, which extends some two miles eastward from the island. It lies almost flush with the water. It has neither a hut nor a tree; but it serves to break the freshness of the Trade Winds. Smith was hardly beyond the point, about two miles from shore, when he was awakened from his pleasant lethargy by the sudden fall of the mainsail. He jumped up, amazed, for the rope was nearly new. An examination revealed something absolutely astounding. The main haul had been treated with sulphuric acid--the stain was on smith's fingers. I suppose he thought this was Brown's idea of a joke. He looked for the oars. they had been taken out of the boat. There was absolutely nothing for him to do but wait for rescue. It never entered his mind that this was a plot against his life. the sun came up--it began to be very hot--not a breath stirred. He began to be thirsty. He went to the locker for water--the bottles had been filled from the sea!
"'This is beyond a joke,' he cried angrily to the unsympathetic universe. And then he laughed. There was a melon in the locker. He cut it open. A bright blue liquid flowed--copper sulphate! The melon was uneatable! An hour or two later, what with bewilderment, anxiety and torture, he began to wander in his mind. He had made endless efforts to rehoist the sail by cutting away the rotten part of the rope; but he was a poor hand at climbing, and he was not strong enough to take down the mast and fix the sail. Ultimately he drove a spike into the mast as high as he could reach and fixed the boom to it, so that he was able to get a little way on the boat. Of course he headed her for the nearest shore visible. But the breeze was very light, and he made poor progress. The heat of the sun was intense and his thirst maddening. In vain he scanned the sea for any sail.
"Then he discovered that smoke was rising from the forehatch. He hastened to investigate the cause. Again sulphuric acid! Three carboys had been placed upside down and stoppered with some material that would resist the action of the acid for a number of hours. The time had expired--the bottom of the boat was awash with vitriol, and the fumes began to choke him. He knew that to throw water upon it would only quicken the action of the acid. It was only a question of time, and a short time at that, before the sea rushed in. Swimming was out of the question--too many sharks. He might conceivably construct a raft, but that was not a very simple job for a lawyer, single-handed, with he knew not how few minutes to spare.
"As God willed it, however," (Camilla's voice grew very solemn) "he was not to die that day. Out of His treasury, the Great Father let forth a squall, a little local squall scuddling across a tiny strip of ocean. It struck the sinking boat, lifted her almost out of the water, drove her furiously toward the key. She was not two hundred yards from land when she sank under his feet. He had seen his chance, and thrown off his clothes. He never knew how he did it, but he reached the shore. The squall had passed--he lay there naked in the blazing sun--a raving lunatic. Night calmed him. He began to crawl over the razor edges of the coral towards the village. He probably fainted from loss of blood, for the coral cut him cruelly. He said afterwards that he thought his mental and physical agony had made him dance in madness. He passed a second day upon the key--a shadless day--a day of blazing torture--a day without water. But by dawn on the third day, he had reached one of the paths about the village. There he was ound by some of the natives. They did not recognize him. His face was scarred by coral, and twisted by agony. He himself did not know who he was, but his wife and his child knew him. There was no one to suspect anything beyond the most ordinary accident. Brown exhibited the proper sympathy, and even renewed his abominable intrigues. But Mrs. Smith, with her man wounded, was a lioness. She may or may not have suspected something wrong, but however that may be she told Brown--in front of the other white men of the island--to get out and stay out, which he did. A month after that, Smith came to himself with full clear memory of every incident. One thought was uppermost in his mind; revenge upon the fiend! A lawyer's idea of revenge is not to stick a knife into someone when he isn't looking, and trust to luck to get away with it; a lawyer knows a trick worth two of that.
"Brown was a pretty well known person--a capable and ambitious man--a man easy to find--a man without suspicion that he was being hunted--and he was a man moreover on whom the law could put its grip. Smith went to work in a perfectly clear headed way. He found it easy enough to establish the proofs of guilt. He got sworn statements from the trader who had sold Brown the acid--the pearler had been on the warf when Brown arranged the provisioning. Even the missionary was able to contribute a detail to the case. He had been pleading with Brown, begging him to change his manner of life and the sailor had replied, 'I'll come to Jesus when Ella comes to me.' Ella being the name of Mrs. Smith. The missionary had replied that he understood perfectly that Brown's evil passions were in his way, and Brown had replied, 'Hell, no! Smith's in the way--but it won't be for long.'
"Armed with these weapons, Smith and his family went to London to begin the search. All this took over a year, for Smith's activities were interrupted by continually increasing ill-health. A shock more terrible than all was yet in store for the unhappy man. They had not been a month in London before Ella Smith disappeared! No trace of her was ever found, though of course Smith set every wheel in motion. One must not say so, since one does not know, but one can have little doubt that Brown found some means to kidnap her, or perhaps to make away with her. The shock completely wrecked the brain of the unhappy lawyer. Two days after his wife's disappearance, he had to be placed in a private asylum for the cure of the insane. His little daughter was left in the care of her father's unmarried sister. Three years of treatment restored Smith to health. He returned to his house, and his daughter, who by this time was old enough to understand things, heard from him the story of his wrongs. He had prepared a long and formidable statement, supported by the affidavits of his wife and of the other people on the island. 'Yvonne,' he said to her one day, 'there is a spot in my brain not quite healed. I can forget everything but one thing, and that one thing is Brown's Judas smile and false words--"A pleasant voyage to you!" I think he must remember them too. They sealed the triumph of his malice. Now I will burn them in his brain. I will not have him arrested--not just yet. I'm going to change my name, and travel. I shall send him a copy of this statement and these affidavits, so that he may know that I have got him by the short hair, and whenever I find him starting on a voyage, for he is a sea captain, I shall telegraph to him these words, "A pleasant voyage to you." He will know from whom they come.'
"This programme was duly carried out. Smith and his daughter travelled in many delightful places of the earth. He took great pains to have her well brought up; but he himself was the only real influence in her mind. Almost from infancy she had been fed by day and night with this tale of infamy and horror. She began to have a fixed idea about it--almost as strong as her father; and he, poor man, was slowly sinking into chronic madness. He developed ideas of persecution--he lived over again and again those hours of agony on the boat--his mind grdually became confused. In his last years, he even ranged his wife among his persecutors."
"Ah," cried Simon Iff on a high note, "what did I tell you? Or, more accurately, what should I have told you if I had had a chance?"
Captain McVea immediately asserted his authority; though, if he were a king, it was surely in some Hell unthinkable. "I must request silence," he said sharply and angrily.
Simon Iff shrugged his shoulders and subsided, murmuring something about an obstinate man doing himself no good.
"I beg your pardon for being interrupted," said Camilla sweetly. "It proves how much I have been boring you."
In point of fact the audience had been breathless ever since she had first pronounced the words "A pleasant voyage to you!"
"To continue my dull story," she went on, "Smith sank slowly from depth to depth of melancholia. He still put off the arrest of Captain Brown. His only pleasure was to gloat upon the agony which that scoundrel must be suffering. And then, quite suddenly, he died. His sister sent Yvonne to a convent to put her wise to all the tricks of life--a very necessary education for one who was intended for the stage. My story is nearly at an end. In the excitement of life, she forgot about Captain Brown; but she always carried with her the proofs of his guilt. Recently, the matter was recalled vividly to her mind. She found herself booked to travel by the ship which Brown commanded. After all, justice is justice. Here are the documents in the case," she cried, throwing a packet on the table, "and I will conclude by calling upon Detective Sergeant Green, of the Durban police, to arrest John McVea."
The detective proceeded to perform his duty. Blank silence reigned in the audience. Then somebody, more imbecile than his fellows, jumped up and shouted, "It's all a joke, boys; it's part of the dramatic monologue!"
The spell was broken. Every one laughed, stamped, shouted, and cheered. For though most people present knew that the captain's apoplexy was no joke, which the theory of a joke would involve, yet when somebody gave voice to an explanation which let everybody out--they followed the bellwether.
"Silence, pray, gentlemen!" roared Simon Iff above the hurricane of the emotion. "Of course we can't let the lady sit down without a hand, but I want to make one comment on the story. It is utterly false, documents or no documents. Captain McVea never did this. We all know him. One can imagine him sufficiently provoked to kill a man in a quarrel, provided that he knew himself to be in the right of it. But that he is what Miss Camilla paints him is unthinkable."
Loud cries of "Speech" came from all over the saloon. "I implore you to say no more," said the captain, raising his manacled hands in a pitiful gesture. "Let the law take its course. I make no defence."
"Nonsense," said Simon. "I am the next item on the programme, with Mr. Mate's permission. Who ever heard of a concert, above all, one in aid of the Seamen's Home, coming to a stop merely because the chairman is held for attempted murder?" If the imbecility of the bellwether had been infectious, how much more the buoyancy of Simon Iff!
A way to the platform was made for him, and he began to speak.
"I only want to put in a word or two of criticism," he said, with a queer grim puckering of his lips. "But I want to say this much--that although we have the facts of the story, detailed in affidavits, the psychology of the story is all hearsay. Miss Craig was not old enough to know what was really happening on the island. This is a purely ex-parte statement prepared by the man who fancied himself injured."
"Fancied!" cried Camilla indignantly. "I lived with him for years. I saw the scars upon his body; I watched the cancer eat away his mind."
"You give your case away, Miss Craig," returned Iff, expostulating. "You force us to remember that this statement was drawn up by a lawyer who was also a lunatic, with ideas of persecution. You remember that, towards the end, he..." His speech was interrupted by a hubbub at one door of the saloon.
"All this must stop," cried a harsh voice. "It has gone on too long."
It was the captain who sprang to action. "Turn her out!" he cried. But Simon Iff put his hand on the mate's shoulder. "You're in command of this ship, Mr. Mate," he said, "and I think that we ought to hear what this lady has to say."
An old woman was walking towards the platform. Every neck was craned to look at her. No one present could have doubted the truth for a moment. Her hair was white, though it showed that it had once been as red as Camilla's. But enough remained of fierceness in the eyes, of voluptuousness in the mouth, and of arrogance in the nose, to declare them mother and daughter. Instinctively the room was hushed.
"My name," she said, "was Clare O'Grady. I remember very little of my early life. My first clear memories take me to New Orleans. I lived in the Red Light District. On my professional cards was printed 'The Little Red Devil,' with an obscenely worded invitation. One night, a party landed from an English ship. Two of the men were not in argument. The youngest of the party, a bigger fool than the rest of them, you may think, was defending the women of the District. 'It isn't their fault,' he shouted, 'they aren't given a chance. I could take one of these women right here, and make a damn fine thing of her.' The others immediately took him up. theydared him to make his word good. 'By God, I will,' he said, walking straight to my door.
"The first words he ever spoke to me were, 'Will you marry me?' Of course I never thought he meant it, and I joked with him. 'Will you?' he insisted. 'Of course I would,' I answered. 'Come to my ship at eleven to-morrow morning,' he said, 'and we'll get married right away. You may want to buy yourself some things,' and he pulled out a one hundred dollar bill, and put it in my hand. You could buy something for one hundred dollars in those days!
"He went on his way. Of course, he was drunk--in the morning he would throw me off the ship. But I would go nevertheless. Suckers like that are not born every minute. Well, the next day we were married. There sits my husband, John McVea.
"But the Little Red Devil was devilish still. I delighted in making my husband's life a hell. I deceived him almost to his face. I made drunken scenes--I stole his money; I pledged his credit. I assaulted him. He remained absolutely imperturable. The most he would say was that a good ship should weather most storms.
"At first I had liked his kindness. I tortured him, strange as it sounds, because I loved him. But my inability to conquer him turned into hate and fear. We had--we have a daughter."
It was the last stroke to Camilla Craig. She went into violent hysterics, and had to be taken from the room. The old woman would have continued her story, but Simon Iff checked her.
"Pray wait till Miss McVea comes back," he said. "You must finish, since things have gone so far; but she must be the first to hear."
The silence lent great impressiveness to the scene. Each mind was busy with a thousand speculations. When Camilla reappeared, it was as if the curtain had been raised upon some famous tragedy, for the first time unearthed. Mrs. McVea, pale with suppressed emotion, went on with her story.
"We had a little daughter, and she bored me. I hated domestic life. I wanted constant change of scene and people. I wanted drink. I had plenty of money to spend; I could do what I liked, but the moral force of my husband cowed me. I was never quite comfortable when I had done wrong, and as that was every day, I became wretched. I wanted power--I ruined men as some rakes ruin women--not for love but for vanity--and my husband was the only man I could not move. Among my many intrigues, I had conquered a lawyer, named Johnson. He was a very wealthy man, and I knew that I was cleverer than he. I would collect an independent fortune, and enjoy myself. One day my husband came back from a voyage to find the house shut up. Johnson had no need to practice his profession--I insisted on his taking me all over the world. We landed up at last on the island of which my daughter has told you. It was there that things began to happen. My lover was passionately devoted to me, but he did not trust me. He wanted to keep a whip of money over me. He would not marry me--he would not settle anything on me; I was no better off than before.
"One day, I saw an ad in the Over Seas Edition of the Daily Mail. It contained these words 'Little Red Devil, nothing to forgive, when you feel like it.'
"I hated my husband as I have never hated anything. I knew how his life was bound up with the child. I had taken her away--NOTHING TO FORGIVE!! I would give him something to forgive if ever he crossed my path, and just then, well, it was not paths crossing. But he caught up. He had taken a year's leave, and somehow or other he had tracked us down. He made no advances to me--he treated me as though he had never seen me before. I understood that he was there to be my husband if I were tired of Johnson. To me his attitude was a persection. I lay awake night after night thinking how I could break his spirit. I wanted to soil him. I thought I would put a crime upon him. It was I who tried to murder Johnson. The other Europeans on the island were all crazy about me--my puppets. I meant to see my husband hanged. And then the plot went wrong. Johnson came back. I held my hand; but I told my husband that I would not have him on the island. I could not bear the situation. If only Johnson had had the sense to die! But he came back to reason. He had regained my favour. I could make him a hideous engine of revenge against my husband.
"But after years, the taste even of revenge grows dull. I had managed to embezzle, I suppose you would call it, various large sums from Johnson's estate during his incapacity. The missionary on the island had forged a marriage certificate for me. When I couldn't stand it any longer, I quit the game. With my money and my magnetism, I was a queen in Paris, Vienna and St. Petersburg. I went on the stage--I became the favourite of emperors.
"And then again, Nature had her revenge. So insatisable was my temperament that I wearied even of the wanton bounty of my life. I was at the time very intimate with the Mother Superior of a very fashionable nummery--a woman of princely family and income, and the morals of Satan himself. The nights that I passed under her roof were literally heaven to my world-weary mind. I craved to join them, but it was no use. I could understand their austerities as a sort of perverse pleasure, but I simply could not believe that nonsense of their creed. I think I must have been a little mad. Remember I was more famous then than my daughter is now, and with worse reason. Oh, I was sick of it! I wanted a new sensation. I tried drugs--I wore them out. I couldn't even acquire a habit. There was one sensation left for me--the one we're all sure of--Death. The Little Red Devil should be game to the finish. I would make a splash. I was to appear on Christmas Eve at the Ellis Theatre in London. I had the lead in a new play. When I took my call I would kill myself in full view of the audience. The night came.
"During the performance of a play I've always made it a rule not to see people in the house. It disturbs one's thought. I came to take my call, to make my little speech--I had the pistol in my sleeve--I had prepared my speech--it was to end by telling the audience that this play was the crowning triumph of my life--that now I was quite sure that I had everything the world could offer, and that I hated it, and so...I intended to finish the sentence with a shot. When I came out before the footlights, I saw my husband sitting inthe stalls. I hardly remember what happened in my mind. It was a remorseless logic so clear that my dull brain cannot pick up the threads, but I went on with my speech; and I ended it by pulling out the pistol, putting it to my forehead, and dropping it to the floor. 'I will come home with you John, if you will be round at the stage door in half an hour.'
"A tumult of laughter and applause was the passing bell of my life.
"My husband received me as if nothing had happened. But about one week later he said, 'I've been watching you, Little Red Devil, and what you need is work. Another month of this, and you would turn loose again.' He made me stewardess on his ship, and I have never left him since. We never found the baby; Johnson had hidden her too well--until to-night."
"The case," said Simon Iff, "is one which appears to me to present all the features of an early reconciliation. I suggest that that at least might take place out of court."