Part 3 out of 4
out--three against one. Hobart was nearest to him, his face swollen and
red, his eyes ugly slits, with teeth snarling between thin lips. The
fellow laughed sneeringly, as their glances met.
"Now we'll take care of you, Captain," he taunted. "Never mind his guns,
Mike; there's not a load in either of them. Give the guy what he is
looking for. Come on you terriers!"
But West did not wait. There was only one chance, and he took it--to
carry the fighting to them. He had no doubt of the emptiness of his guns,
and hurled one straight at Hobart's head, leaping forward with the other
clutched in his hand straight at Mike, who had scarcely time to fling up
one hand in defence. The thrown weapon missed its mark by a narrow inch,
striking the wall behind, and falling clattering to the floor, but the
other broke through the big saloon-keeper's guard, and sent him reeling
to his knees, a gush of blood reddening his hair. Again and again West
struck him, driving him prone to the floor before the other two dragged
him away, wrestled the weapon from his hand, and closed with him in a
desperate death grapple.
What followed he never could relate. He was mad with fury of the fight.
A mere animal defending life with every means at hand, caring nothing for
either wound or hurt so that he won out in the end. Mike was out of it,
but the two grappling him fought like wild cats, rough barroom fighters,
resorting to any tactics to disable their opponent. Yet it was this that
saved him. Crazed as he was, madly as his brain whirled in the fierce
struggle, his long training held supreme--he knew how to fight,
remembered instinctively every trick and guard. Again and again his
clinched fist reached its mark, and slowly he broke away from clutching
hands, and regained his feet. It was a terrific struggle, but luck, as
well as skill, was with him. The next he knew, out of the red ruck, was
that he had Hobart by the throat, jammed against the wall, with fingers
clinched in the throat. Then he saw the other coming, a dim, shapeless
thing, that he kicked at viciously. The boot must have landed, for he was
suddenly free to strike the purple face fronting him, and fling the
helpless rocking body in a huddled mass on the floor.
By God, it was over with; he had won breathing space, a chance to see
what was about him. Yet that was all. The fellow he had kicked was
already up, doubled from the pain of the blow, but with mad eyes
glaring at him. Hobart had struggled to his knees, cursing fiercely as
he swept the blood out of his eyes. They would both be on him again in a
minute, more desperate than ever, and the door was locked--there was no
chance there. The window! Ay! there was the window. Death either way,
yet a chance; and he was man enough to take it. He leaped on the chair,
and clambered up; he heard Hobart swear, and felt the grip of a hand on
his dangling leg; kicked himself free, and was on the ledge. He never
looked below, or took time to poise for the leap. Heedless, desperate,
scarcely realizing what he was doing, he flung his body out over the
edge, and fell.
The shed roof was below, and he struck it, fortunately feet first, but
the sharp slant of the boards sent him hurtling forward over the edge
into a miscellaneous pile of boxes beneath, his body finally resting on
the hard ground. He lay there dazed, the breath knocked entirely out of
him, bruised, and scarcely certain whether he was dead or alive. For the
moment, he seemed to have lost all consciousness, unable to realize even
what had occurred in that upper room, or to comprehend the necessity of
immediate flight. All about him was intense darkness, and, after the
crash of his fall, no sound broke the silence. He could see nothing, hear
nothing to arouse his faculties; his flesh quivered with pain, although
he felt sure no bones were fractured, for he could move both arms and
limbs freely, while after the first shock, his mind returned to activity,
dominated by the single conviction that he must get away from there
before those men could get down stairs.
But how? He retained no strength, no ability to use his limbs sufficient
to carry him away from the neighbourhood swiftly. He felt paralysed,
numb, even his brain functioning strangely, the danger of his helpless
condition its only incentive to action. He endeavoured to rise, rolling
partially over in the effort which failed, but the movement, slight as it
was, left one hand dangling over an excavation at his right. His fingers
explored the edge of this opening cautiously, revealing a cellar-way,
leading down into the basement. The opening was black, silent,
mysterious, yet it was a hiding place. If he could manage to roll down
those steps into those depths below, he might hide there unseen, until he
regained strength, until the first effort at pursuit had been abandoned.
Then there might be a chance for escape.
West grasped the idea clearly enough. Those fellows would be there
swiftly. If they found him gone they would have no doubt but what he
landed safely, and had made a get-away. They would search, of course,
perhaps out into the alley, hoping he might have been injured, but it was
hardly probable they would think to explore the cellar. Even if they did,
he could surely creep into some dark corner where he might escape
observation. Anyway, crippled as he was, this offered the one and only
chance. He could not argue and debate; he must act.
He rolled over, and lowered himself down into the opening, locating the
half-dozen broken and rotted steps with his feet. He made no attempt to
stand, but simply slid down, finding a partially closed door at the
bottom, the passage-way blocked by a litter, the exact nature of which
could not be determined in the darkness. With some difficulty, and more
than ever conscious of his weakness, and the pain of bruises, he managed
to crawl over this pile of debris, and crouch down finally in the intense
blackness within. He felt like a trapped rat, still gasping for breath,
his body quivering from exertion.
Yet his retreat had been none too rapid. The silence above was broken by
the creak of an opening door, the sound of excited voices, and a sudden
gleam of light, finding entrance through the open cellar-way. West
startled, crept back into a corner, every nerve alert at approaching
peril. He recognized Hobart's voice, as the fellow plunged down the steps
from the first floor out into the yard.
"To hell, of course he's here!" he stormed. "My God, man, he dived out
head first; I saw him. He'll be dead as a door nail now. Come on with
that lantern, Turner. Where in thunder is the ladder--does any one know?"
"You think he lies on the roof?"
"Why not? That's where he must have struck, ain't it, Shorty? I don't
know though; it is so steep he'd most likely roll off. Here, you, let me
take the glim. There's nothing here in these boxes. Ah, there's the
ladder; climb up, Shorty, and see if the guy is stuck anywhere on the
roof. Go on! What are you afraid of; if he's there, he's a stiff all
right, believe me."
Turner's voice, hoarse and rumbling, came back from above.
"There ain't nuthin' up here, Jim. Damn me, if I don't believe the cuss
got clean away. Gee, but he was sure a nervy guy all right."
"Nervy? Crazy, you mean. But he never took that fall without busting
something. The bird is lying about here somewhere. You make sure he ain't
up there, Shorty."
"Well, he ain't; I kin see every inch o' this roof. Perhaps he fell in
between them barrels down there."
The two evidently searched thoroughly, the rays of the lantern dancing
wildly about, while Hobart savagely cursed his companion, and reiterated
his belief that no man could ever take that plunge, and escape unhurt.
"It couldn't be done, I tell you; maybe he could crawl, but that would be
all. Why he went down head first; I saw him go out the window, and that
drop would daze a cat. Say, Shorty, maybe the stiff dropped down into
this cellar-way. Let's take a look."
The light streamed in through the narrow opening, and some one
scrambled cautiously down the rotted steps. West, drawing himself
securely back behind the protection of his barrel, saw the lantern
thrust forward, and a face behind it peering in the shadows. The fellow
did not advance into the room, but Hobart did, pressing his way roughly
past, and standing there full in the glow of light, staring about into
the dim shadows. He evidently saw nothing to arouse suspicion, for his
voice was angry with disgust.
"Not a damn sign here, Shorty. It looks like the fellow maybe did get
away. But it beats me how. There ain't no place now for us to look but
"An' if he ain't there?"
"Then we'll hop this dump mighty sudden, I'm telling you. We'll slip out
and leave Mike to explain how he got his coco cracked. With that guy
loose, it won't be healthy for me hanging around here."
"He ain't got the goods on you, has he?"
"No, he ain't got the goods, but he is dead wise to some things, and he
didn't get out of that shindy up stairs without getting hurt. He'll be
sore all right, and will raise all the hell he can. It's safer to keep
out of the way."
"An' what about that other buck, Hobart? It won't do to have him picked
up, if this guy gets the harness bulls to take a look around here."
"That ain't his style, Shorty; he won't spiel anything to the cops about
this row. He's an ex-soldier, a Captain, and he's nuts on the girl.
That's why he dipped into this mess--trying to save her--see? Maybe he
won't be so keen now, after the song and dance she gave him up stairs.
I'm half inclined to think the guy will drop out entirely, damn glad to
get off alive, now he believes she is as rotten as the rest of us. But I
ain't sure--maybe he is the kind that sticks. That's why I don't take any
chances just now. Things ain't quite ripe for a get away--see?"
"Sure; she gave him some straight stuff, hey?"
"She certainly did; she's as smart as she is good looking. It somehow
don't strike me this guy is going to bother her any more. I'm figuring
that he's out of it."
"But his partner?"
"Oh, we'll leave him somewhere propped up against a door. Likely he'll
never know what happened to him, or where. He ain't nothing to be afraid
of--just a butler with a cracked head. It's the other guy who has got the
brains. Come on; let's take a look out in the alley."
Their shadows vanished up the stairs, the glow of light disappearing, and
leaving the cellar in impenetrable darkness. West did not venture to
move, however, content to wait until thoroughly assured the way for
escape was clear. He had not learned much from this conversation, except
to increase his conviction that a serious crime was being consummated.
The full nature of this conspiracy was as obscure as ever; rendered even
more doubtful indeed by the active participation of Natalie Coolidge.
This was what puzzled and confused him the most. He could no longer
question her direct interest in the affair, or her willingness to assist
in overcoming his efforts. Even without the free testimony of the men
this fact was sufficiently clear. She had deliberately lied to him,
attempted deceit, and then, when he refused to yield to her efforts, had
so reported to Hobart, and left him to his fate. It was manifestly
impossible for him to believe in her any longer. Yet what could it all
mean? How could she hope to benefit by such an association? Why could she
thus shield the murderers of Percival Coolidge? What possible object
could there be in the commission of this crime, except to gain possession
of her own fortune? It was all mystery to his mind; a new unanswerable
question arising wherever he looked.
What strange influence could this man Hobart exercise over the girl? To
West's judgment he was in no way the sort of man to appeal to Natalie
Coolidge. He was of a low, cunning order, with some degree of outward
polish, to be sure, yet inherently tough, and exhibiting marks of a
birth-right which indelibly stamped him of a social class far below her
own. Surely, she could not love the fellow, yet unquestionably he
possessed a mysterious power over her, difficult to explain through any
other hypothesis. If West had not known the young woman under different
conditions, he might have accepted this theory, and dismissed the whole
matter from mind. But it was the haunting memory of that earlier Natalie
Coolidge, the mistress of Fairlawn, which would not permit his complete
surrender. She had seemed all that his dream of womanhood called for.
Unconsciously, he had given her his heart, and he could not tear the
remembrance from mind. There was something wrong, terribly wrong; what it
was he had no means of knowing, yet, there in the dark, he determined he
would know, would never be content until he learned the whole truth. All
his hope, all his future, depended on the answer.
Hobart and Turner were absent for some little while; the sound of their
voices ceased, but the distant flicker of the lantern enabled West to
trace their progress up the alley, and then back again. They returned in
no pleasant humour, convinced that their expected victim had escaped
safely, but made no further effort to search the yard. Hobart said enough
to make it plain that his immediate project was to disappear, leaving
Mike to his own devices. With this point settled the two tramped heavily
up the stairs, and disappeared within. West, confident at last, that the
way was left clear, wriggled out from his place of concealment behind the
barrel, and stood erect. He felt stronger now, and in less pain,
convinced that his injuries were in no degree serious. He could move his
limbs freely and his mind was active. The darkness was so intense he had
to grope his way forward, anxious to make no noise which might betray
his presence. No doubt the basement could be reached in some way from the
floor above, and any unusual sound below might easily attract attention.
In the intensity of the gloom, his sense of direction failed, taking him
somewhat further back before he finally located the exact position of
those outer steps. Then as he turned abruptly, his foot came in contact
with an obstacle on the floor. For an instant he could not determine what
it was; then, with a thrill of horror, he realized the presence of a
human body. There was no sound, no movement, and West drew back from
contact with the object, shrinking in horror. Then he gripped himself
sternly--whoever, whatever this was, he must know. Alive or dead he must
determine the truth. He bent over, feeling with his hands in the
darkness. Good God, the flesh was warm; it was no cold corpse he touched,
but a living human being; ay! tied like a mummy, unable to move hand or
foot. Then, as suddenly, his groping fingers, eager enough now,
discovered the cause of silence--the man was gagged, cruelly gagged,
helpless to utter a sound.
THE COMING OF A MESSAGE
The situation once realized, West worked rapidly. If this bound man was
Sexton, the quicker he could be released the better. Hobart had already
revealed his plans, and might appear at any moment for the purpose of
executing them. If escape was to be achieved, it must be accomplished at
once. In the darkness his fingers could do nothing with the knot, but the
sharp blade of a knife quickly severed the twisted cloth, and the gag was
instantly removed from between the clinched teeth. The man moaned,
breathing heavily, but made no other sound while West slashed at the
cords lashing his limbs, finally freeing them entirely. Not until this
had been accomplished did he pause long enough to ask questions.
"There; that's the last. Now who are you--Sexton?"
"Yes, sir," weakly, and in a mere whisper, "an' I know yer voice, sir.
Thank God, yer found me, sir."
"It was a bit of luck; but we'll talk that over later. Now we've got to
get out of here. Can you walk?"
"I don't know, sir; after a fashion, maybe. I'm mighty stiff and
numb, sir. Oh, Lord, but that hurts; give me a hand, an' perhaps I
can make it."
"Take it easy; work your legs up and down like that; good, that will
restore the circulation. How long have you been lying here?"
"I don't know, sir," his voice strengthening. "I must have been hit, the
way my head aches. The first thing I knew after I went into that room
with you, I was lyin' here in the dark. I couldn't move or speak, sir,
an' it was so black, I kind of got it into my head maybe I was dead and
buried. If it hadn't been for my hearing things--voices talking, and all
that--I guess I would have gone clear batty. Maybe I didn't get
everything straight, sir, but one o' them fellows was Hobart, wasn't he?"
"Yes; we walked right into his trap. The fellow who came over to the
table and talked to us was Jim Hobart. He knew me at first sight it
seems, and easily guessed what we were there for."
"And was Miss Coolidge here too, sir?"
"Yes, she was; I had a talk with her that has mixed me all up, Sexton.
She seems to be hand in glove with these fellows. But how did you suspect
she was here?"
"I heard her voice, sir; up there somewhere, sir, soon after I come to
my senses. She and some man went along outside. Sounded like he was
makin' her go with him. I couldn't get much of what was said, but he
sure talked awful rough, an' she seemed to be pleadin' with him. They
wasn't there but just a minute, an' then, a little later, I heard an
automobile start up."
"You have no idea how long ago this was?"
"No, I ain't, sir. I been lyin' here about half dead, I guess, an' I
don't seem to have known anything after that, until those fellows come
down here with the lantern. Were they hunting after you?"
"Yes; I outwitted them up stairs, and jumped from a window. But that is
enough talk now; we'll go over the whole affair when we are safely away
from this place. How is it? do you think you can navigate?"
Sexton responded by getting slowly to his feet. He trembled, and was so
uncertain, as he attempted to grope forward, that West grasped him
firmly, helping him slowly toward the foot of the steps. Even this
effort, however, helped the man to recover somewhat the use of his
numbed limbs, while his breathing became much easier. The two crept up
the stairs cautiously, and surveyed the cluttered up yard as best they
might in the dim light of the distant street lamp. It appeared entirely
deserted, nor was there any evidence that the building above was
occupied. No doubt lights were burning within, but if so the shades must
have been drawn closely, allowing no reflection to escape. No better
opportunity for evading notice could be hoped for, and West, alert now to
every chance, made instant decision.
"They are all inside. Creep along behind that pile of lumber to where you
see the hole in the fence. I'll be just behind you. That's the way."
The narrow alley was much lighter, yet still dark enough to conceal their
movements, as they clung close to the deeper shadows. Except for an old
cart it was unoccupied, the surface covered with ashes, so packed as to
leave no trace of wheels. Ahead of them at the end of the block, glowed
the only street lamp visible. Sexton, by now largely recovered from his
late experiences, broke into a run, with West following closely behind.
Both were eager to escape from the immediate neighbourhood unseen.
Suddenly Sexton stumbled, but arose almost instantly to his feet again,
grasping something which gleamed like silver in his hand.
"Not hurt, are you?" asked West anxiously.
"No; what's this I found?"
The other took it impatiently.
"What is it? Why a small pocket knife, of course. Come on, man, don't
stand mooning there." He slipped the article carelessly into his pocket.
"Let's get out into the open while the road is clear."
"Where are you going?" Sexton panted, endeavouring to keep beside him.
"Have you anything planned out?"
"Not very much; Milwaukee Avenue first. There is sure to be an all-night
restaurant somewhere in sight. Telephone for a taxi, don't dare to risk a
street car, we both look too tough."
"Suppose they will follow us?"
"Hardly; they will have no idea which way we went, or how long we'll have
been gone. All Hobart will think about now will be getting out of sight
himself. Once we turn off this street, we'll be safe enough."
It was considerably past midnight when the two men finally reached the
University Club; they had lunched at an all-night restaurant, washed and
made themselves as presentable as possible, yet were hardly recognizable
as they entered the Club lobby. Neither possessed a hat; Sexton was in
his shirt sleeves, while West's coat clung to him in rags. Without
waiting to explain anything to the servant in charge, except to state
briefly that Sexton would be his guest for the night, the Captain hurried
into the waiting elevator, and accompanied by his companion, ascended to
his apartment above.
The reaction from the excitement of the evening left Sexton dull and
drowsy once he felt secure from any possible danger. His only desire was
to lie quiet, and forget. Stretched out on a comfortable lounge, he fell
asleep almost instantly, making no effort even to remove his clothes.
West was of a different temperament, his mind far too active to find
sleep possible. His only desire was to think, plan, decide upon some
future course of action. With mind busy, forgetful of the very presence
of his companion, he indulged in a bath, again dressed himself, and,
lighting a cigar, settled back into an easy chair to fight the whole out
alone with himself.
The adventures of the night had greatly changed his conception of this
affair in which he had become so strangely involved. The mystery
confronting him appeared more difficult of solution than ever. His first
vague theory of the case had already gone completely to smash. Question
after question rose before him which remained unanswered. He was more
thoroughly convinced than ever that Percival Coolidge had been murdered;
that the act had been committed either by Hobart himself, or under his
direction. He possessed no proof, however, nor could he figure out a
motive for the crime. Who was this Jim Hobart? That was one of the first
things to be learned. Was he in any way personally interested in the
fortune left by Stephen Coolidge? Or did he hold any special relationship
with the murdered man? How could he expect to profit by the sudden death
of Percival? More important still, what peculiar influence did the fellow
exert over the girl? Here was by far the deeper mystery, the one that
troubled him most. The others seemed possible of explanation, but the
sudden change in Natalie Coolidge was beyond all understanding.
Except in face, form, dress, outward appearance, she no longer seemed to
West as being the same woman he had formerly known. His original interest
in her had vanished; he had learned to distrust and doubt her sincerity
and truth. Beyond all question she was openly playing an important part
in this tragedy under Hobart's direction, but for the life of him he
could not figure out to what end. Still the very mystery of it had its
fascination. While he felt no longer any special desire to serve her, to
further risk his life in her cause, yet he experienced a fierce
determination to learn what all this really meant; to uncover the object
these conspirators had in view. Although he imagined love no longer
spurred him on, his real interest in the affair became even more intense,
with an aroused desire to read the riddle. He convinced himself that from
henceforth this was to be his only object--not the girl, nor any
attraction she once had for him, but a stern determination to solve this
crime, and bring its perpetrators to justice. If she was involved it
could not be helped, she would have to suffer with the rest; his own duty
Yet how could he begin action? What clue did he possess which could be
followed? Practically none. Before morning, that saloon on Wray Street
would unquestionably be deserted, except perhaps by its proprietor, and
Mike would simply deny everything. A search of the place would be
useless, for Hobart would be too sly a fox to leave any trail. Two
possibilities remained; the police might have some record of the fellow,
might know his favourite haunts, even be able to locate his next probable
hiding place. If not, the only hope remaining would seem to be Natalie
Coolidge. She would undoubtedly return to Fairlawn; was probably there
already, and, by shadowing her, the whereabouts of Hobart would surely be
revealed either sooner or later.
But possibly there was a quicker way to learn their purpose than by
thus seeking to find either. If it was the Coolidge fortune which was
at stake, why not endeavour to learn in whose trust it was being held,
and what steps were being taken to safe-guard it? This investigation
ought not to be particularly difficult, even though he possessed no
authority; he could explain the nature of his interest to an attorney,
and be advised how to proceed. Determined to take all three steps the
first thing next day, West rested back comfortably in the chair,
already half asleep. One hand rested in his pocket, and as his fingers
fumbled some object there, he suddenly recalled the knife Sexton had
found in the alley.
He drew the article forth curiously, and looked at it under the glow of
the electric light--it was a small silver handled pen-knife, such as a
lady might carry, a rather strange thing to be discovered in a dirt alley
back of Wray Street. The incongruity struck him forcibly, and he sat up,
wide awake once more, seeking for some mark of identification on the
polished handle. There was none, not an inscription of any kind, but he
noted that the single slender blade did not fit closely down into its
place. He opened it idly to learn the cause--beneath appeared the white
gleam of tightly folded paper.
WHAT THE TELEPHONE TOLD
All West's indifference vanished instantly. He had to pry the paper out,
so closely had it been wedged in beneath the closed knife blade, and it
required a moment in which to straighten it out so that the writing was
discernable. Even then the marks were so faint, and minute, he could not
really decipher them until he made use of a magnifying glass lying on the
desk. A woman's hand, using a pencil, had hastily inscribed the words on
a scrap of common paper, apparently torn from some book--the inspiration
of an instant, perhaps, a sudden hope born of desperation. He fairly had
to dig the words out, letter by letter, copying them on an old envelope
until he had the message complete: "_Please notify police to search
West read this over, word by word, again and again. What did it mean? Did
it mean anything? Had it any possible connection with the case in which
he was interested? There was no signature, nothing to guide him; yet in
some way the plea sounded real, was a cry of distress, an appeal for
help. It could be given no other meaning, yet how long had it been lying
there in the alley? Not any great length of time surely, for the polished
silver was far too conspicuous to escape notice. It must have been
dropped during the night, within a very short time of its discovery. But
what did the words signify? "_Notify police_" was clear enough, but
"_search Seminole_" meant absolutely nothing. What was "Seminole"--an
apartment house? A hotel? A saloon? Perhaps the police would know;
evidently the writer so believed, or she would never have used the name
with such confidence. A familiar name to her, she assumed that the police
would have no difficulty in instantly locating the place meant. The haste
with which the message had apparently been written, its short, sharp
words, bespoke urgent need, the consciousness of imminent peril. Plainly
the writer had used the only means at hand in a hurried desperate effort
to gain assistance.
"The police." The request had been for the police; then why not appeal to
the police? Why not take the note now directly to headquarters, and let
them help solve its mystery? At first West hesitated, yet a moment's
thought convinced him this would be the logical course to pursue. He
could accomplish nothing alone, unguided. His appealing to the police
need not necessarily involve any disclosure relative to the Coolidge
matter. He had found this note accidentally in an alley in the northwest
section of the city; his being there need require no special explanation;
he did not understand its meaning, but it was quite evidently a police
matter, and consequently he placed it in their hands. That all sounded
natural enough. Besides at this hour of the night there was no other
place to which he could go for information.
He looked at Sexton, who was sleeping soundly, and decided not to awaken
the man. He had no use for his services just now; the City Hall was only
a few blocks away, and he might not be out more than an hour himself. He
would leave a note so that if by any chance he should be delayed, Sexton
would understand what had occurred. He scratched this off hastily, placed
it in a conspicuous place, and swiftly departed, after extinguishing the
light. He was no longer conscious of fatigue, or the pain of bruises, his
mind eager to learn the meaning of this new discovery.
It had been a quiet night at the City Hall Station, and West encountered
no difficulty in reaching the presence of the lieutenant in charge. The
latter gazed at his caller curiously over an early edition of the morning
paper, as the officer who had opened the door to the inner office, said
"This guy wants to see you personally, sir; he wouldn't talk to no
"All right, Slavin; shut the door, and I'll hear what he has to say. What
is it, my man?"
West explained swiftly and clearly, his manner of speech, as well as his
statement as to who he was, evidently making a favourable impression on
his listener, who interrupted the brief narrative with several
respectfully asked questions. He look the note, spread it out on the
desk, and studied it carefully.
"Looks genuine enough," he commented at last, "but not very clear. I
don't know any place in this town called Seminole. Wait a minute though;
perhaps one of the boys may have an idea."
He pressed a button on top of the desk, and in response to the summons, a
side door opened, and a main in plain clothes entered.
"You rang, sir?"
"Yes, McAdams; this gentleman here--"
"Captain West, as I am a sinner!" he exclaimed. "Gee! but I am glad to
see you again, old man! Say. By Gad! you don't remember me."
"Oh, but I certainly do, Mac," and West grasped the extended hand
heartily. "It's a devil of a surprise, that's all. Saw you last at Brest,
the day you sailed for home. So this was your job, Sergeant?"
"Been with the department ever since I was a kid. Put me in plain clothes
since I came back. Lieutenant, this is Captain West, over across the pond
with the Engineers; we were buddies for about two months. What was
"Well, Captain West has just been telling me a rather peculiar story, and
wanted some information I thought perhaps you could give; you know the
old town right now better than I do. First of all, do you recall any
crook by the name of Hobart--Jim Hobart?"
"Hobart? Hobart? no, not off hand, I don't. How old a man is he,
"Middle-aged, anyway; an active fellow enough, but his hair is
"Do you know where he hangs out?"
"The last I saw of him was in a saloon known as Mike's Place over on
"Off Milwaukee; yes, I know. Mike is a big Pole, but has never had any
serious trouble so far as I know. However, being there is no special
recommendation to a guy, but I don't believe this man Hobart has been
pulled since I've been on the force. And you don't recall the name,
"No; but he might be an old timer come back. Look him up in the index,
Mac. That will soon tell you whether we have got any such mug, or not."
McAdams drew out a thick volume from a near-by cabinet, and ran his
fingers swiftly down a long column of names, indexed under the letter
"H." Suddenly he stopped, with an exclamation.
"The lad is here all right--Government offence, fifteen years ago, third
arrest; mugged number 28113. Let's look him up, and see if he is the same
man. Come over here, Captain."
"Is that the fellow?" he asked.
West studied the face seriously.
"Yes, I believe it is, Mac," he said at length. "He looks much older now,
but those are his features all right. What was his game?"
"'Con' mostly, according to the record; only one conviction though, two
years in Detroit for using the mails to defraud. Oh, yes, here is
something different, 'assault with intent to kill'--indeterminate
sentence to Joliet for that. Nothing heard of him since. So he is back,
and at the old game again. Do you want him brought in, Captain?"
"No, not yet. I haven't anything against the man now but a suspicion. I
wanted to learn his record, that's all. This inquiry was only incidental.
What I'm really interested in just at present is something I picked up in
the alley back of Mike's Place three or four hours ago. It's a note in a
woman's hand-writing, and when I found it, it was hidden in a small
silver pen-knife, such as a lady might carry. I thought it might have
some connection with the case I'm trying to catch this fellow Hobart in."
"There is a woman in it, then?"
"Yes; but I haven't got things hitched up sufficiently to talk about it.
The note itself is blind."
"In what respect?"
"Well, here it is. Can you make it out? I'll read it for you--'_Please
notify police to search Seminole quick_.'"
"But that is plain enough, isn't it?"
"Yes, if you know what she means by Seminole; what is it? a street? an
apartment house? a saloon? Do you know of anything under that name?"
McAdams stood motionless thinking.
"No, by thunder, I don't," he admitted reluctantly. "There is no street
of that name in the city. There used to be a shady hotel over on Ontario
Street called 'The Seminole,' but that was torn down ten years ago. I
never heard of any other--did you, Dave?"
"No," answered the lieutenant slowly, sucking away at a cigar. "I just
been looking over the directory, and I don't find nothing. Maybe it's the
name of a boat--seems to me I've heard some such name before, but I don't
just recollect where."
"A boat! Well, that's a straw anyway, and worth looking up." Mac picked
up the telephone. "Who is on at the Harbour Master's office this time
"Winchell, usually, and he'll have a record there."
The detective jiggled the receiver impatiently.
"Yes, this is police headquarters calling. Give me the Harbour Master's
office, please--I said the Harbour office. Oh, is this you, Dan? Bob
McAdams speaking. Do you know of any boat on the lakes called the
_Seminole_? What's that? A lumber schooner at Escanaba? Never makes this
port, you say? And you don't know of any other by that name? Sure, I'll
hold the wire; look it up."
"Not a very promising lead," he said over his shoulder, "but Dan will
have the dope for us in a minute."
He suddenly straightened up, the receiver at his ear.
"I didn't quite get that, Dan. A medium sized yacht, you say? Where is
it? Oh, at the Jackson Park lagoon. I see; and who did you say owned it?
What's that? I didn't quite catch the name--Coolidge? What Coolidge?
Exactly; the fellow who killed himself out south. Hold the wire."
He swung about to face West, the receiver still at his ear.
"This mean anything to you?"
"It surely does," eagerly. "The girl I spoke of was Natalie Coolidge. By
all the gods, we are on the right track."
"All right, Dan," resuming his conversation. "What's that? Coolidge had
the boat up the river a few weeks ago trying to sell it. That's how you
happened to remember the name--I see. Say, is there any one out at
Jackson Park I could talk to at this hour? Who? Oh, yes, the Life
Saving Station. Sure: somebody will be on duty there. Thanks, old
He hung the receiver up on the hook, and reached for the telephone
"Some luck, I say. Jackson Park--oh, yes, here it is. All right, Central;
sure, that is the proper number. This is the City Hall Police
Headquarters again; hustle it up, please. Hullo, Jackson Park Life Saving
Station? Good; this is McAdams speaking from the City Detective Bureau.
Is there a yacht out there in the lagoon called the Seminole? belongs to
a man named Coolidge; medium sized boat, with gas engine. Yes; what's
that? Not there now; went out into the lake about two hours ago. The hell
it did! Who was aboard? do you know? Say that again; oh, you wasn't on
watch when she sailed; your partner said what? Three men and a woman. All
right, yes, I got it. Say now, listen; this is a police matter, so keep
your eyes open. It will be daylight pretty soon, and if you get sight of
that boat, call up the City Hall Station at once. Do you get me?"
He wheeled about, smiling whimsically.
"It's on again, off again, Flannigan. We had it, and we have it not.
Dave I am getting interested; I feel the lure of the chase. What say
you? Can you spare me for a day or two? You can? good enough; we'll comb
the lakes until we find out who is sailing aboard the _Seminole_. You're
with me, old man?"
West extended his hand silently, and the fingers of the two clasped in a
THE YACHT "SEMINOLE"
There was little to do but wait impatiently for some further message of
guidance. McAdams dispatched a few telegrams to nearby lake ports, and
briefly outlined certain plans of action for the morrow, provided nothing
further was heard from the missing boat; these included a possible visit
to Fairlawn, and a city-wide search for Hobart, who both men decided
could not be included among the party on the yacht. West told his new
assistant the entire story in detail, and Mac's interest in ferreting out
the matter became intense. It was the kind of case which fascinated him
with its mystery, but no theory he could spin born from long police
experience, seemed to exactly fit all the revealed facts. The great
puzzle revolved about the strange actions of the girl; her part in the
affair presenting an unsolvable riddle. They must have talked for an
hour, discussing the situation frankly from every angle, yet arriving at
no definite conclusion. The sky in the east was red with dawn when both
men fell fast asleep in their chairs, still waiting.
It was nine o'clock, and still no word. The two had eaten a hasty
breakfast in a restaurant across the street, discussing the situation
again thoroughly, but to no more satisfactory result. It seemed
impossible to reconcile certain facts. If the silver knife, with its call
for help, had indeed been dropped by Natalie Coolidge, and she was being
held a prisoner in the hands of villains on board the _Seminole_, why had
she acted toward West as she did in that house on Wray Street? To all
appearances there she had been hand in glove with the conspirators,
willing even to connive at the Captain's murder if necessary to the
success of their crime. Only one theory was possible; that the girl was
under constraint, driven to her strange act by personal fear. She dare do
nothing else, terrorized by the threats of Hobart, and her own sense of
utter helplessness in his power. This, and this only, must be the answer
to the riddle.
McAdams, unable to remain quiet, departed to get his police search
started in an attempt to discover Hobart in his new hiding place. The
fellow could not be on the yacht, as that had sailed from Jackson Port at
far too early an hour for him to have possibly made one of the party. He
would still be in the city then, securely concealed in some dive of the
underworld, perfecting his plans, whatever they might be, and, perhaps,
arranging to join those on the boat later. The detective even thought
this unlikely, his theory being that Hobart merely desired to get the
girl safely out of the way for a length of time sufficient to enable him
to complete his nefarious scheme. He argued that Natalie was in no real
danger; she would be held no doubt, kept out of sight as long as was
necessary, but otherwise left uninjured. This was no strong-arm crime,
but a high class confidence game, and the important thing was to quickly
lay hands on Hobart. With him once in the toils, the whole conspiracy
would instantly collapse. With this end in view, McAdams took up the
man's trail, leaving West to stand guard over the telephone.
The latter called up Sexton, and hurried him out to Fairlawn, with
instructions to find out all he could from the servants there relative
to any late developments. He expected no important revelation from this
point, as Natalie could not have returned home, yet there might have
been a telephone communication, or some other occurrence of interest to
furnish a clue. Sexton was instructed to report the result of his
investigation at the earliest moment possible. This accomplished,
nothing remained for West to do, but sit down and wait for something
else to happen.
The delay was shorter than he anticipated. There was a sharp ringing of
the bell, the police operator responding quickly.
"Police Headquarters. What's wanted? McAdams; no he is not in just
now. Who is calling him? Harbour Master's office; all right; hold the
wire a minute."
He turned his head around.
"Must be your case, Captain; better hear what they have to say."
West grasped the receiver eagerly.
"Is this the Seminole matter?" he asked swiftly. "Certainly, I
understand about it. What's that. Oh, Winchell told you to call up if
you learned anything. Of course; what is it? Yes, I hear; just found her
tied up at north side of Municipal Pier. What's the trouble? Engine
working bad, and had to come in, hey? All right--thanks; I'll go
straight over and see them."
This was great luck, yet there was very little he could hope to
accomplish alone, without the help and authority of McAdams. Even if the
vessel had been stolen--which was probably not true--he possessed no
power of arrest. All he could hope to do would be to keep the fellows in
sight until Mac showed up, and, if possible, prevent them from putting
out into the lake again. Even in that he needs must be cautious not to be
seen by any of the gang who might recognize him. An alarm, proving they
were being followed, would doubtless send them scattering instantly. If
they were to be trapped, no suspicion could be aroused.
West thought of all these things as a taxi bore him across the city to
the pier, and acted accordingly. The open air restaurant accorded him
every reasonable opportunity for concealment, while affording ample view
of whatever was going on. It was a bright, sunshiny day, the waters of
the lake a deep blue. No crowd was present, yet enough people were at the
tables, or lounging about the pier, to make his presence unnoticeable.
The pleasure boat for Lincoln Park, a band aboard, and with a barker
industriously busy, was close by, surrounded by a bevy of women and
children. Beyond these, on the same side, snuggled close against the
cement wall, lay the yacht. West ordered a drink, and sat down at a table
within easy view, although partially concealed himself by a pillar
supporting the roof.
The _Seminole_ was a much larger boat than he had anticipated seeing,
yet he could not doubt her being the vessel sought. The name was plainly
stencilled on the bow, as well as upon the dingy towing astern. Her deck
lay almost even with the promenade, and he was able to trace her lines
clearly from where he sat. The craft had evidently been constructed for
comfort as well as speed. He noted two short masts unrigged, a bridge
forward of the wheel-house, together with a decidedly commodious cabin
aft. The deck space between was clear, except for the hatchway leading
down to the engine. The planking was clean, as though newly scrubbed,
while every handrail glistened in the sun. The cabin appeared tightly
closed, even the windows being heavily draped. Some mechanics were
evidently working below; there was a sound of hammering, and occasionally
a fellow in overalls appeared at the hatch opening. No one wearing any
semblance of a yacht uniform was visible, although four or five men
lounged about the deck, or close at hand on the pier, apparently
connected with the vessel. Two were well-dressed, rather gentlemanly
appearing fellows, the others of a decidedly rougher class, although
bearing no outward marks of being sea-men. While an air of carelessness
was assumed by all these, yet West, watching them closely, felt that
they were very much on their guard, anxiously waiting an opportunity to
depart. No face among the party had any familiarity; he had encountered
none of them at Mike's Place the evening before. Satisfied as to this, he
left the table, and strolled out on to the promenade, joining the crowd
watching the Lincoln Park boat get underway. So far as he could observe
this movement attracted no attention, although a moment later his eyes
plainly caught a bit of drapery drawn slightly aside at one of the cabin
windows of the _Seminole_, and, he felt convinced, the quick gesture of a
There was a woman on board then! This certainty of knowledge by evidence
of his own eyes, set his blood leaping. Whatever the purposes of these
people he was again upon the right trail. The uplifted curtain was
immediately lowered, and, if any signal had thus been conveyed, there was
no other evidence visible. A little later one of the two better dressed
fellows loafing on the pier, a rather heavily built man, with closely
clipped red moustache, and a scar over one eye, slowly crossed the deck,
and entered the cabin. He came forth again a moment later, asked some
question of the workmen below and then clambered back carelessly over
the rail, joining his companion on the pier.
"A half hour yet; it was quite a job the boy's had, but they are making
time. Come over here a minute."
They walked forward, out of earshot from where West sat on a bench in the
sun. He watched the fellows closely, yet without neglecting the boat, but
they neither glanced toward him, or seemed aware of his existence.
Convinced that they felt no suspicion, but were merely exercising
ordinary precaution not to be overheard, the watcher soon banished all
fear of them from his mind. His whole thought centred on the early
arrival of McAdams. Until the detective came, there was nothing he could
do but sit there quietly and wait. But what if the necessary repairs were
completed, and the _Seminole_ sailed before Mac got there? The fellow
called Joe had mentioned half an hour, and he probably meant that was the
time set by the mechanics for completing their job on the engine. Beyond
doubt, the intention was to depart immediately. Was there any means in
his power by which this could be prevented? The only suggestion which
came to him was the picking of a quarrel in some way, with the two men
ashore. The boat would never depart unless they were aboard, as they
were evidently the leaders of the gang, yet this would be a most
desperate expedient, to be resorted to only when all other effort had
failed. The two were husky chaps, and he would probably be the one to
suffer most in such an encounter. Besides it would put them on their
guard, and possibly avail nothing. Why not speak to the fellows
pleasantly, and naturally? They had no reason to be suspicious of him; he
was but one of many others lounging idly about the pier. His curiosity
would seem reasonable enough, and he might thus gain some clue as to
their destination. Then, even if they did sail before Mac appeared, they
could be safely intercepted in time for a rescue. Indeed, such
information, if it could be gained, would give opportunity to plan
Circumstances seemed to work to this end, the two men strolling
carelessly back toward where he sat, pausing within a few feet of him,
all their attention apparently riveted upon the yacht.
"Had some hard luck?" he ventured. "Engine give out?"
The red-moustached one glanced about, his eyes surveying the speaker
"Broke a piston, and had to be towed in," he replied carelessly, "We'll
be off again presently."
"Nice day for a sail."
The very indifference of the fellow led West to take a chance.
"Some nice boat you've got there. The Coolidge yacht, isn't it? Haven't
seen it out lately."
"Are you a yachtsman?"
"A bit of an amateur, yes; have a cat-boat I play with some. Belong to
the Columbia Club."
"Off Grant Park; this boat quarters in the Jackson lagoon. We left there
last night. You knew Coolidge?"
"No, never met him; recognized the boat though. Has it been sold?"
"Not yet. It wasn't his anyway; belonged to the estate. I'm one of the
trustees; that's how I've got the use of it--see? Ever looked it over?"
West shook his head.
"No, but I wouldn't mind; she's a dandy."
"She sure is; better inside than out to my notion. Come aboard; we've got
time enough. Not thinking of buying a yacht, are you?"
"Well, I might, if the price is not too steep. I've got the fever all
right; what I lack maybe, is money. It costs a lot to run a yacht."
"Oh, I don't know. We operate this with three men as a crew. That's not
so bad. Come along with us, Mark; we'll take a look at the cabin first,
and then go forward."
The three men stepped over the low rail, and moved aft across the deck,
the leader talking fluently, and pointing out various things of interest.
His only object apparently was to arouse in West a desire to purchase.
The other man never spoke, and the latter gave no thought to his
presence. He had been rarely fortunate so far, and was looking for an
opportunity to question his guide on the purpose of their voyage. He
would wait until later; until the examination had been completed,
perhaps, when they believed him a possible purchaser. Joe opened the
cabin door, and West stepped inside, the interior darkened by drawn
curtains. The dusk was confusing, and he stood still after the first
step, hearing the latch click behind him.
A hand gripped his shoulder as though in a vise, and swung him around;
the muzzle of an automatic confronted him, and behind it the threatening
eyes of Joe glared directly into his own.
"Not a move, you damned spy," a voice said coldly. "Now, Mark, frisk the
cuss, and be lively about it. Had a gun, hey; I thought so. Give it to
me. Now get the cord over there and give him a turn or two. A very good
job, old boy; the fellow is safe enough, I should say."
He turned his eyes away, searching the cabin, confident that West was
"Come on out, Mary," he said sharply. "Who is this guy, anyhow?"
A woman came forward through the shadows. West had a glimpse of her face,
but the features were unfamiliar. A woman of forty, perhaps, still
attractive in appearance, with dark hair and bold black eyes that met
his own defiantly. He was puzzled, doubtful as to what it all meant. So
this was the woman he had seen on board; not Natalie Coolidge at all.
There had been a mistake of some kind; but if so, why had these people
given him this sort of reception aboard? These thoughts swept his mind in
a flash, as the woman peered forward to see his features more clearly.
For a moment she said nothing, and Joe broke out impatiently.
"He's the lad, ain't he?" he asked. "We ain't gone an' picked up the
"No; he's the bird all right. I never lamped him but once before myself.
I heard his name then, but forgot it. He's her friend, there ain't no
doubt o' that, Joe, and it ain't likely he's hanging around here just for
fun, is it? My idea was it would be safer to take him in."
"Sure; what's yer name, young fellow?"
Concealment was useless; they evidently had him correctly spotted; to lie
would do no good.
"That's the name," the woman exclaimed eagerly. "He is a soldier--a
Captain, or something like that. Jim told me about him; he's the same
fellow who was snooping about Mike's Place last night, before we
"Is that so? How the hell did you get out of there?"
"We had a little trouble," West admitted, "but they let me go."
"Yes, they did! I know better than that; Hobart don't do business
that way. I reckon we've played his game all right taking you in.
Well, you don't get out of here so easy, let me tell you. How'd you
come to get onto us?"
"That's my business."
"Oh, is it? Well, we'll make it ours from now on. There is one thing
pretty sure--you were here playing a lone hand. So it don't make much
difference what yer idea was. We'll take the bird along with us, Mary;
then he'll be out of temptation."
The woman nodded.
"Jim will know what to do with him," she said. "All we got to do is keep
"I'll attend to that; come on, Mark, let's throw the damn sneak into that
left-hand stateroom. He'll stay there all right. Aw, take hold; don't be
afraid of hurting the fellow."
They roughed him forward, but West made no attempt to resist; his hands
were bound, and he was helpless. The woman threw open the narrow door,
and he was bundled unceremoniously across the threshold, and thrown
heavily to the floor. He struggled partially upright, protesting against
being left in that helpless condition, but the red-moustached man only
laughed, shutting the door tightly, and locking it. The single port hole
was covered by heavy drapery, the stateroom in total darkness. Through
the door panels he could hear a voice speaking.
"He's better off that way until we get out of here. You stay here, Mary,
till I can attend to him myself. Those fellows ought to have that engine
fixed by this time. Mark and I better go up on deck awhile."
"But, Joe, do you think they have caught on to us?" she asked anxiously.
"No, I don't; this guy wouldn't be snooping about alone if they had. He
ain't no fly cop, and just happened to be loafin' here--that's my guess.
He knew this was the Coolidge Yacht, and that set him to asking
questions. That guy don't look to me like he was the kind to be afraid
of. All we got to do is hold him here until Jim decides what he's up to.
I don't want to hurt him none, unless I have to. Everything else all
right, I suppose?"
"Sure; quiet as a mouse; asleep, I guess."
"That's good; well you stay here until I come back. Want a gun?"
She did not answer so as to be heard, but West could distinguish the
movement of feet in the outer cabin, and then the closing of a door.
Undoubtedly the two men had gone on deck, leaving the woman there alone.
His feet were not tied, and he could sit up, although the hands were
tightly bound behind him. With eyes accustoming themselves to the gloom,
he could discern something of his surroundings. He was in the ordinary
stateroom of a small yacht, with barely space in which to move about
comfortably. Two bunks were at one side, with a metal stand at their foot
for washing purposes. A rug covered the floor, the beds were made, and a
stool, screwed to the deck, occupied a position just below the porthole.
A few hooks were in evidence on the opposite wall; but no garments
dangled from them to tell of previous occupancy. Indeed the place was
scrupulously clean, as though unused for some time.
West made his way to the port, pushed aside the curtain with his
shoulders and looked out. The smallness of the opening made any hope of
escape in that way impossible; nor could he expect to attract the
attention of any one ashore. His view was limited to the east and north,
a wide expanse of blue water, the only thing in sight being the pleasure
boat bound for Lincoln Park, already little more than a black dot in the
distance. Convinced of his complete helplessness, he sat down on the
stool to consider the situation.
He had been a fool; there was no doubt as to that; the only thing now was
how he could best retrieve his folly. He had walked blindly into a trap,
suspecting nothing, confidently relying on his own smartness, believing
himself unknown. Now he must find his way out. It angered him to realize
how easily it had been accomplished; not so much as a blow struck; no
opportunity even for him to cry out an alarm--only that dark cabin, and
the threatening revolver shoved against his cheek. He wondered where
McAdams was; perhaps hunting him even then on the pier; and Sexton, what
had he succeeded in discovering out at Fairlawn? That Natalie Coolidge
had returned home, no doubt. At least he no longer believed she was with
this yachting party--evidently there was but one woman on board. Yet,
whether she was there or not, it was clear enough from what he had heard
that this sudden voyage of the _Seminole_ had some direct connection with
the mystery he was endeavouring to solve. That was why he had been
decoyed aboard, and made prisoner--to keep him silent; to get him
securely out of the way. Yet this knowledge revealed nothing as to what
their real purpose was.
What did they intend doing with him now that he was in their hands? Joe
had declared his fate would be left with Hobart. Then it must be that
they had a rendezvous arranged somewhere with that arch-conspirator, some
hidden spot along the lake shore where they were to meet shortly, and
divide the spoils, or make further plans. Hobart unquestionably was the
leader of the gang; but who was the woman? She had evidently been in
Mike's Place the night before, and had a glimpse of his face. She must
have left with that party in the automobile, yet she surely was not the
one who had dropped that note begging the police to search this vessel.
What then had become of the other? If she was being held prisoner, it was
not at all probable she had been left somewhere ashore; apparently she
had reason to know where she was being taken--to the _Seminole_;
otherwise she would never have written as she did. She must have
overheard their plans, before she hastily scratched off the note
desperately; and yet those plans might have been changed. However, if so,
why were these people--accomplices of Hobart no doubt--fleeing in the
yacht, seeking to conceal their identity in an effort to disappear? What
were they fleeing from? Why were they so fearful of discovery by the
police? What would cause them to kidnap him, merely on suspicion that he
was a friend of Natalie Coolidge? The very act was proof positive of the
desperation of their crime. It could be accounted for on no other theory.
West paced the narrow space, his brain whirling, as he attempted to
reason the affair out, his own helplessness becoming more and more
apparent. What could he do? There was but one answer--absolutely nothing
as he was then situated. He could only wait for some movement on the
part of the others; his fate was out of his own hands; he had been a
fool, and must pay the price. The cords about his wrists chafed and hurt
with each movement. The metal wash-stand gave him an inspiration; its
upper strip was thin, and somewhat jagged along the edge; possibly it
might be utilized to sever the strands. It was better to try the
experiment than remain thus helplessly bound. With hands free he could
at least defend himself.
He made the effort, doubtfully at first, but hope came as the sharp edge
began to tear at the rope. It was slow work, awkward, requiring all the
strength of his arms, yet he felt sure of progress. He could feel the
strands yield little by little, and redoubled his efforts. It hurt, the
rope lacerating his wrists, and occasionally the jagged steel cut into
the flesh cruelly, but the thought of freedom outweighed the pain, and he
persevered manfully. At last, exercising all his muscle, the last frayed
strand snapped. His wrists were bleeding, and the hands numb, but the
severed cord lay on the floor and he again had the free use of his arms.
The sudden freedom brought new hope and courage. He listened at the door,
testing the knob cautiously. There was no yielding, and for the moment no
sound reached him from without. The woman was doubtless there on guard,
and any effort he might make to break down the door would only bring the
whole gang upon him. Unarmed, he could not hope to fight them all. As he
stood there, hesitating, unable to determine what to attempt, he became
aware of a throbbing under foot, increasing in intensity. West knew
instantly what it meant--they were testing out the engine; if all worked
well, the boat would cast off.
He sprang back to the port and stared out, eagerly hoping that, as they
swept out into the lake, he might find some opportunity to communicate
with some one on the pier. Perhaps by this time Mac would have arrived,
and be watching their departure, unable to intervene, as he had no
warrant for arrest, or any definite knowledge that the yacht was being
used for a criminal purpose. He had not long to wait. Hurrying steps
echoed along the deck; a voice shouted out some order, and the end of a
loosened rope dropped splashing into the water astern; the boat trembled
to the pulsations of the engine, and West realized that it was at first
slowly, then more swiftly, slipping away into the broad water. Already he
could perceive the white wake astern, and, an instant later, as the turn
to the right widened, he had a glimpse of the pier, already separated
from him by a broad expanse of trembling water. Above the noise his voice
would scarcely reach that distance. A crowd of people stood there
watching, clinging along the edge of the promenade--McAdams was not among
them. It would be useless to strive to attract their attention; not one
among them would comprehend; even if they did, not one of them could
help. He still stood there, gazing back at the fast receding pier,
gradually becoming blurred in the distance, but hopelessly. He knew now
he must face his fate alone.
THE FATE OF A PRISONER
The _Seminole_ headed straight out into the lake, its course evidently a
little to the north of east. The steady throb of the engine exhibited no
lack of power, the snowy wake behind telling of rapid progress. There was
a distinct swell to the water, increasing as they advanced, but not
enough to seriously retard speed, the sharp bow of the yacht cutting
through the waves like the blade of a knife, the broken water churning
along the sides. West clung to his perch, peering out through the open
port, watching the fast disappearing shore line in the giant curve from
the Municipal Pier northward to Lincoln Park. In spite of the brightness
overhead, there must have been fog in the air, for that distant view
quickly became obscure and then as suddenly vanished altogether. There
remained no sign of land in sight; only the seemingly limitless expanse
of blue water, not so much as a trail of smoke breaking the encircling
rim of the sky.
Except for the occasional tread of feet on the deck above, and the faint
call of a voice giving orders, the yacht seemed deserted, moving unguided
across the waste of waters. No sound of movement or speech reached West's
ears from the cabin, and he settled down into moody forgetfulness, still
staring dully out through the open port. What was to be, would be, but
there was nothing for him to do but wait for those who held him prisoner,
to act. He was still seated there, listless, incapable even of further
thought, when the door was suddenly unlocked. He had barely time to arise
to his feet, when the man with the red moustache stepped within, facing
him, as he pushed tightly shut the door behind. The fellow's eyes saw the
severed rope on the floor, and he smiled, kicking the strands aside
"Smart enough for that, were you?" he asked. "Well, I would have taken
them off myself, if I had thought about it. How did you manage? Oh, I
see; rather a bright trick, old man. Feeling pretty fit, are you?"
West did not answer at once; this fellow had come with an object in mind,
and his only desire was to baffle him. It was to be a contest of wits,
and helpless as the prisoner was physically, he had no intention of
playing into the other's hands.
"I might be, if I knew what all this meant," he said at last. "Haven't
you got hold of the wrong party?"
The man laughed, standing where he blocked all passage.
"I might have been convinced that I had an hour ago," he answered coldly.
"But since then I find I've made rather a good bet. I have the honour of
addressing Captain West, I believe?"
"You have the name correct; there is no reason why I should deny that.
Unfortunately, I do not know with whom I am conversing."
"Quite easily remedied. I am Joe Hogan, commonly called 'Red' Hogan. The
moniker means nothing to you."
"I never heard it before."
"I thought not, which merely proves you are not a 'fly-cop,' only a
measly busy-body sticking your nose into some one else's business. Well,
we know how to take care of your kind, and this is likely to prove the
last case you'll dabble in for a while, my man."
"What does that mean--a threat?"
"Never mind what it means; it is a straight tip. Now listen,
West--Captain West I believe is the proper term of address--and you will
understand better. When I got you in here I had no real knowledge as to
who you were. I merely took a chance on what Mary had to say, and she
twigged you at once. She's smart, that woman; never forgets a face. She
sure did a good job this time. But after you were locked in safe, and
nobody knew what had happened, and you certainly handled easily enough, I
slipped ashore into the restaurant and called up Jim Hobart on the wire.
Did he give me your pedigree? He did. Jim was about the happiest guy in
the town when he learned we had you bottled. Raised hell last night,
didn't you? All right, my friend, you are going to pay the piper today.
What got you into this muss, anyhow? You are no relation to the Coolidge
girl, are you?"
"None whatever; merely a friend."
"Friend, hey! Well, she's a good looker; so this friendship stuff is
easily accounted for. Friend, hell!" he laughed. "You must have it bad to
put on all these stunts for sweet friendship's sake. You wouldn't even
quit when she told you to."
"I believed she was compelled to say what she did to me," replied West
quietly. "That she was in Hobart's power, afraid of her life. There was
no other explanation of her strange action possible."
"Is that so?"
"I am willing to listen to such an explanation, Hogan, and if satisfied
she really wishes me to keep out of the affair, I will."
"And if not?"
"Then I am going to fight in her cause to the very end of things. You
cannot frighten me; your only chance to influence my action is to make
things clear. I confess I have been fighting in the dark, not even
comprehending your purpose. I do know that the main stake your gang is
after is the Coolidge fortune; that, in order to get hold of it, you are
obliged to keep control over Miss Natalie. But I can conceive no reason
why she should assist in the conspiracy. She certainly cannot be
benefited by having her own fortune stolen. This is what puzzles me, but
it hasn't changed my loyalty to her. I still believe in her, and feel
that she is simply a victim of circumstances beyond her control. Am I
"Sure; it all means you intend to remain a blunder-headed fool defending
a girl who does not desire any defence--a Don Quixote tilting at
wind-mills. That is your choice, is it?"
"Unless you care to explain clearly just how Miss Natalie's interests are
"Which I am not at liberty to do at present. She is satisfied, and has
practically told you so, according to Jim Hobart. If you will not accept
her word, there is no use of my saying anything about the matter.
Besides, West, frankly I don't give a damn what you think. We've got you
safe enough, where you can't do anything, even if you want to--so, why
worry? Twenty-four hours more will finish our little job, and, until that
time is up, you'll remain right here; after that we don't care where in
hell you go, or what you do--the game will have been played."
The man's tone, and air of confidence was impressive; beyond doubt
he felt that the cards were all in his hands. West drew in his
"Apparently you are right," he said quietly. "May I ask a question or
"Fire away; I'll answer as I please."
"Who is the woman on board?"
"Mary, you mean? Hobart's wife."
"She came from the place on Wray Street last night in an auto?"
"Yes; I brought her along myself."
"There were two of us, Mark and I--why? what are you driving at?"
"Just putting some broken threads together. Then Natalie Coolidge is not
on this yacht?"
"I should say not. What would we be doing with her out here?"
"Where is she then?"
"Oh, I begin to see what brought you aboard so easily, West. You thought
we had the lady kidnapped, and was sailing off with her. Some stunt that.
What put the idea in your head?"
West hesitated a moment, but decided a truthful answer would do no harm.
"I knew an automobile had driven out of the alley back of Mike's Place;
and that a woman was in it. When I got away a little later, I picked up a
message--a note which had been dropped. It was written in a woman's hand
"The little cat! She dropped it?"
"It seems so. You forgot yourself that time. So she was with you, was
"I don't know what you mean. I told you who were with me. Go on; what did
the note say?"
"It was only a request for the police to search the _Seminole_ at once."
"Oh, that's the way the wind blows. But you preferred to tackle the job
yourself. I am certainly obliged to you, West."
"You have no reason to be. I took that note to the police, and they are
on the case. They are combing the city right now for Hobart, and if they
get him, this bubble of yours is likely to be pricked."
"Hell, they won't get him. There isn't a fly-cop in Chicago who could
locate Jim in a week, and as for Natalie, believe me she is quite able to
take care of herself."
"But where is she?"
"At home, of course, if you must know--'Fairlawn,' isn't that the name of
the place? We left her there on our way to Jackson Park."
"Then the girl was with you?"
"Spilled the beans, didn't I? That comes from talking too much.
However, there is no harm done. Sure she left with us, but we dropped
her out at Fairlawn. It was her machine we were riding in. Say, you've
questioned me about enough, so let up. Listen now--you will stay in
this stateroom until we get ready to let you out. Don't try any funny
business either, for if you do, you are going to get hurt. There is a
guard outside in the cabin, and we are not afraid to shoot out here on
the lake. Nobody knows where you are, West; so if you want to live,
keep quiet--that's my advice."
He started back, one hand on the knob of the door, but West stopped him.
"Do you mind telling me where we are bound?" he questioned.
Hogan smiled, but the smile was not altogether a pleasant one.
"You will have to wait, and find that out for yourself, Captain. My
orders are not to talk."
"Sure; Jim is engineering this deal, and whatever he says goes, for he's
the guy who has his hands on the dough--see?"
He slipped out, closing and locking the door behind him. West, more
thoroughly confused than ever over the situation in which he found
himself, paced the brief length of the narrow stateroom, and then paused
to stare moodily out of the port. His eyes rested on the same wide
expanse of water, no longer brightened by the glow of the sun. A mass of
clouds veiled the sky, while a floating bank of fog obscured the horizon,
limiting the scope of his vision. Everything appeared grey and desolate,
and the restless surge of waves were crested with foam. It was hard to
judge just where the sun was, yet he had an impression the vessel had
veered to the north, and was proceeding straight up the lake, already
well out of sight from either shore.
He had learned little of the slightest value; merely that Natalie had
been of the party leaving in the automobile the night before. She,
undoubtedly, had been the one who had dropped the note. Then, in spite of
all they said about her, in spite of what she had told him, she was
actually a prisoner, desperately begging for assistance to escape. As to
the other things Hogan had told him, the probability was they were mostly
lies. West did not believe the girl had returned to 'Fairlawn,' the story
did not sound natural. If she had written that note, these fellows would
never trust her alone, where she could communicate with friends. They
might venture to send her in to talk with him, knowing her every word was
overheard, but surely they would never be reckless enough to leave her
free to act as she pleased. That was unthinkable. Besides why should they
have taken this yacht, and sailed it out secretly in the night unless she
was hidden away aboard? The only conceivable object would be to thus keep
her safely beyond sight and hearing. And that would be a reason why
Hobart's wife should also be on board--to look after the girl. The longer
he thought it all over, the more thoroughly was he convinced they were
both prisoners on the same vessel. Yet what could he do? There was no
answer forthcoming; no possibility of breaking forth from that room was
apparent; he was unarmed, helpless. If he did succeed in breaking through
the door, he would only encounter an armed guard, and pit himself against
five or six men, criminals probably, who would count his death a small
matter compared to their own safety. He sank down, with head in his
hands, totally unnerved--it was his fate to attempt nothing; only to wait
Mark brought in food, merely opening the door slightly, and sliding the
tray in on the floor. No words were exchanged, nor was the tray removed
until just at twilight, when the fellow appeared again on a similar
mission. It became dark, but no light was furnished. Outside the clouds
had thickened, and a heavy swell was tossing the vessel about rather
roughly. Seemingly the engine was merely endeavouring to maintain
head-way, with no port in immediate prospect; they were steering
aimlessly into the promise of a stormy night. No sound reached him from
the cabin, and finally, worn out mentally and physically, West flung
himself on the lower bunk, and lay there motionless, staring up into the
THE SINKING YACHT
Lying there motionless, yet wide awake, his senses alert, every slightest
sound and movement made clearer the situation. He could feel the laboured
efforts of the vessel, the slap of waves against the side, the rush of
water astern. Occasionally the echo of a voice reached him from the deck
above, and once footsteps were audible almost over his head. The engine
strokes were regular, but slow, the vibrations shaking the boat in its
sturdy battling against the forces of the sea. The _Seminole_ rolled
heavily, yet there was nothing at all alarming in her actions, and West
felt no premonition of illness, or fear as to the sea-worthiness of the
little craft. Whoever was handling her was evidently a seaman, quite
capable of conquering a storm of this magnitude. No noise came to him
from the cabin, yet he had no thought it could be deserted. Hogan would
certainly retain a guard there, and probably others--with no duties of
seamanship weighing on them--would seek refuge there from the wind-swept
deck above. No doubt the fellows had a skipper, as neither Hogan, nor the
man Mark, bore any resemblance to a lake sailor. Quite possibly the
entire crew were innocent of what was actually transpiring aboard, and
equally indifferent, so long as their wages were satisfactory. Yet it was
even more probable that they had been selected for this special service
because of lack of ordinary scruples; men who would never question so
long as the pay was adequate for the danger involved. It seemed to West
the wind and sea were slowly decreasing in violence; there was less noise
and turmoil. The movement of the vessel began to lull him into
forgetfulness, his vigilance relapsed, his mind drifting in thought. He
endeavoured to arouse himself, to keep awake, but finally fatigue
conquered, and he sank into a deep sleep. He had no knowledge of how long
this slumber lasted, or what suddenly awakened him, so startled at the
moment that he sat up in the berth, staring into the blackness. Was it a
dream, or a reality? Had some one spoken? He could neither see nor hear
anything; the boat seemed to be motionless, not even throbbing now to the
beat of the engine--the silence was uncanny. It seemed to him his own
heart had stopped, so still it was, and he felt a cold perspiration
break out on his flesh. Something was wrong, must be wrong. Where were
they--at anchor in some harbour? or helplessly adrift on the lake? The
sea must have gone down; waves no longer dashed against the side, and
there was no shriek of wind overhead; the yacht rocked gently, as though
the swell of the sea no longer buffeted her; there was no sound of action
on the deck above. Then he heard a voice again, outside, reaching him
this time plainly through the open port.
"All set, Mapes," it said sharply. "Come on down. You finished the job?"
"Ay, ay, sir," the answer gruff, but with a tinge of excitement in the
tone. "She's fixed all right. Hold hard, now, mate."
West, thoroughly aroused, realizing instantly the importance of this
new move, and as quickly suspecting its purpose, leaped to the
port-hole, and, endeavoured to gain a glimpse without. The night was
still intensely black, the sky overcast and starless, the only glimmer
of light the reflecting of foam tipped surges. If land was near it
remained invisible, nor could he even be sure of the close proximity of
a boat. There seemed to be a smudge there at the left, a black, lumping
shadow, shapeless against the background of sea; yet he could not be
sure. Even as he gazed at it doubtfully, the dim object disappeared,
fading away like a mirage. No sound reached him to cause the vision to
seem real--no voice, no creak of oars, no flap of a sail; yet something
told him that mysterious shadow was a boat, a boat filled with men,
creeping away silently into the night, fleeing from the yacht, and
vanishing into the darkness.
My God, what could such action mean? Why were these fellows deserting the
_Seminole_, leaving him helpless aboard, locked into that stateroom? Was
the yacht disabled? sinking? and had they merely forgotten him in their
own eagerness to escape? Were they in mid-lake? or close to some point of
land? Had every one gone, leaving the vessel totally abandoned, a wreck
buffeted by the surges, doomed to go down, unseen, its final fate
unknown? Unknown! The word rising to his brain was the answer. There was
the crest of the plot. What could be easier, or safer, than this ending?
Who would ever know the truth? Who could ever prove anything, even if
they suspected? And who was there to suspect?
No one had reason to believe he was aboard the _Seminole_; not even
McAdams. If it was to their interest to get him permanently out of the
way--if Hobart had so decided--what simpler method could be found than
the sinking of the yacht? The very crew might be innocent of the
purpose, dupes of the conspiracy; they might even be unaware of his
presence aboard, and deceived by Hogan into the belief that the vessel
had opened a seam, and must sink shortly, would take to the boat without
suspecting any one was left behind. They could so testify in all honesty
if any question ever arose. The very simplicity of the scheme meant
safety; yet the possibility of such cold blooded murder had never before
occurred to him. Unknown! without a trace left; only a boat crew landing
somewhere on the coast at dawn, and scattering to the four winds. It was
a plot infernal.
West stopped, his hands clinched, his heart seeming to stop its pulsing.
But if Natalie Coolidge was also prisoner on board, what of her? Wasn't
that the very thing most probable? Of course it was; how foolish he had
been. These men, recklessly criminal, as they were, would never sacrifice
the yacht, and risk their own lives, merely to put him out of the way. He
was not important enough for that; he was but an incident. It was an
accident which had made him a prisoner. While this was--must be--a
carefully arranged plan. The girl then must be the real victim; his own
plight arose merely because he chanced to be there, and the villains dare
not leave him alive to tell the story.
The certainty of this acted like an electric shock. He had not felt
seriously alarmed before as to his own fate. He had only been conscious
of a deep anger, a mad determination to make Hogan pay. If the _Seminole_
was sinking, and beyond doubt this was the intention of those deserters,
it was going down slowly, so slowly there would be ample time for escape.
He was not asleep, but wide awake, and far from paralyzed by the danger.
He was not the sort to give up while there was any hope left. Surely the
guard in the cabin would have departed with the others, leaving him free
to act. He could smash his way out through that door, and find something
on deck to construct a raft from. This was Lake Michigan, not the ocean,
and not many hours would pass before he was picked up. Vessels were
constantly passing, and daylight would bring rescue.
But now the task became difficult. He must find the girl, and serve her.
To his surprise, his heart beat rapidly in contemplation of the task.
Surely she must welcome his coming to her assistance now. She would be
alone, free to reveal the truth of all this strange mix-up of affairs;
perhaps the old trust, the old confidence between them would be renewed.
At least in the midst of such peril, alone on the sinking yacht, facing
possible death together, he would again discover the real Natalie
Coolidge. The hope instantly inspired action. Every minute might mean
life or death; the work must be accomplished now, if ever. The _Seminole_
was evidently deserted, the boat containing the fleeing crew already far
enough away to be beyond sound of any noise he might make. He already
felt the wallowing of the deck beneath his feet, a dead, dull feeling,
evidence enough that the deserted vessel was slowly, but surely going
down. The condition could not last long; faster and faster the water
would seep into her hold, until suddenly, without warning, perhaps, she
must go down like a stone.
All these thoughts flashed across his mind almost in an instant; there
was no hesitancy, no waste of time. His eager eyes searched the narrow
confines of the stateroom for some possible weapon with which to assail
the door. The stout stool alone seemed available. Swinging this over his
shoulder, hampered by the narrowness of space, he struck again and again,
with all his strength, the upper panel splintering beneath the third
crashing blow. He could see nothing, but felt with his fingers along the
jagged ends of the shattered wood, and redoubled his efforts, striking
wildly, but with effect, until suddenly the lock gave, and the door burst
open. He was in the main cabin, which was unlit and deserted. Standing
there confused in the grim silence, unable for the instant to determine
how to advance in the dark, he could hear the rapid beating of his own
heart, and the continuous lap of waves outside. God! how sodden the deck
felt under foot; what a sickening swell hurled the craft, and such
stillness! If the girl was aboard why did she not cry out? Surely she
must have heard that noise, the rain of blows, the crunch of wood.
He stood, crouched, listening intently for something to guide him in the
right direction. And yet, even if Natalie had heard, what reason would
the girl have to suspect the truth? Likely enough she was sound asleep,
completely worn out, and with no knowledge of what had occurred on board.
It was only the sound of that voice speaking loudly in the boat alongside
which had aroused him. She had no reason to suspect desertion, no
occasion to believe any other prisoner than herself was aboard. The noise
of crashing wood, even if it awoke her, would have no special meaning to
her mind, only perhaps to add to her terror. He must act alone; there was
no other way. If he could only have a light of some kind, and not be
compelled to grope blindly about in that intense darkness.
He stepped cautiously forward, with hands outstretched, swaying to the
sudden roll of the sinking hulk underneath his feet. He struck a piece of
furniture, a bench bolted to the deck, and then his groping fingers came
in sudden contact with the cabin wall, which he followed, circling to the
left. In this manner he succeeded in finally locating the door opening
out on to the deck, and had grasped the knob, when a deep moan from the
black void behind caused him to become suddenly erect, his heart beating
like a trip-hammer. No other sound followed, no repetition, and yet there
could be no mistaking what he had heard. It was a groan, a human groan,
emanating from a spot but a few feet away. He took a single step in that
direction; then hesitated, fearful of some trap; in the silence as he
stood there poised, he could faintly distinguish the sound of some one
"Who is there? Who moaned just now?" he asked, struggling to control
"I did," the answer was a mere husky whisper out of the darkness.
"Masters, the watchman; but who are you? I don't know your voice."
"It makes no difference; are you hurt? Where are you? How can I
get a light?"
"Yes, sir; I'm about done for I guess; you're over by the door, ain't
you? There's a hangin' lantern just up above, if you've got a match with
you. Say, that looks good; I didn't hardly know but I was dead, it was so
black. But I never saw you before; how did you get aboard here?"
The flame of the match caught the wick, and flared up, throwing a dim
illumination over the cabin interior. West drew down the glass, before he
ventured to glance in the direction of the voice. A man lay facing him,
curled up on the deck, his hair, matted with blood, hanging over eyes
that were burning with fever. He made no attempt to rise, apparently was
unable to move, and a dark, bloody stain covered the deck. West sprang
forward, and lifted the head on his arm.
"You are hurt--badly?" he exclaimed. "What can I do for you?"
"Nuthin', I reckon," still in that same strained whisper. "I'm done
for; no doubt of it. That guy got me. You ain't one o' that murderin'
gang, are you?"
"No; I was a prisoner on board; I came here to help a girl."
"A girl! Miss Coolidge you mean, sir?"
"Yes, Natalie Coolidge; do you know anything about her? Where she is?"
"Sure, I know; the damn whelps left her here; that was their dirty game,
sir. 'Twas because I tried to unlock her door that Hogan slugged me. The
boat's goin' down, ain't it? I know'd it was; I heard the skunks talk
about what they was goin' to do, an' then I tried to get her out, sir."
"You were the watchman?"
"Yes, sir; down in the lagoon at Jackson Park. These fellows come off to
the yacht about midnight, an' they had Miss Coolidge with 'em. That's
what fooled me, sir, an' I let 'em get aboard, thinkin' it must be all
right. After that I couldn't do nuthin'--there was six to one, an' that
'Red' Hogan had a gun in his mitt. They hustled me down into the cabin. I
didn't even know she was a prisoner until they locked her into a
stateroom; then I got wise, but it was too late."
"And she is there yet, Masters? What room is it?"
"The last one to the right, sir. Don't you mind about me; I'm done for,
but maybe there's a chance for you two."
FREE OF THE YACHT
The man was evidently dying. West, from his experience on European
battle-fields, felt assured the end was indeed close at hand. His face
under the flitting rays of the swinging light was ghastly and drawn, his
words were barely audible, and painfully uttered, while, as the arm
supporting his head was withdrawn, he sank back heavily into his former
position, and his eyes instantly closed. Only as West bent lower could he
determine the surety of his breathing still.
There was nothing to be done for Masters; no occasion for lingering there
helplessly. The yacht was sinking under their feet, going down slowly,
but surely, and the end could not be far off. The very movement of the
vessel sickened him, brought to him a sensation of fear. Moreover he knew
the truth now, and saw clearly his duty. The watchman had not told much,
but it was sufficient to verify all his former suspicions. These fellows
he fought were desperate criminals, playing for high stakes, conspiring
to even commit murder to achieve their object--which could be nothing
less than gaining possession of the Coolidge fortune. To that end they
had coolly planned the sinking of the _Seminole_ in mid-lake, with the
helpless girl locked securely in her cabin. It was a cowardly, diabolical
crime, and yet, no doubt, they had figured it as the safest method of
completely disposing of her. And, but for the accident of his presence on
board, and his having been awakened by that incautious voice, the foul
plot would probably have proven successful. They had already got safely
away, leaving her behind a prisoner, her only possible rescuer this
watchman wounded unto death. The yacht was sinking in the dark, going
steadily down in those night shrouded waters. Who would ever know? The
main body of the crew, perhaps, never even dreamed of her presence
aboard. There was no evidence, nothing to convict the men really guilty.
Here was the scheme of a master-mind in crime. West weaved his way across
the rolling deck of the cabin to the stateroom door Masters had pointed
out as the one sheltering the girl. There was no sound from within, nor
would the knob yield to his grasp. It was locked, the key gone. There
was no time to wait and hunt for that missing piece of metal doubtless
safely hidden in Hogan's pocket, or else thrown overboard; he must break
a way in; but first he must explain to her, so as to spare her the sudden
fright of such an assault. He rapped sharply on the panel, pausing an
instant for a response. None came, and he knocked again more roughly.
"Miss Coolidge: you are there, are you not?"
"Yes; who is that?" almost a cry of delight in the voice. "You--you have
a voice I know."
"I am Matthew West; but do not ask questions now. The yacht is going
down, and I must break this door in to release you. Stand back while I
smash the boards. You hear and understand?"
"Yes--yes: I am safely away; have no fear."
The light revealed the weapon he required just beyond where Masters
lay--a heavy hatchet, still stained with blood, probably the very
instrument with which the watchman had been brutally struck down. That
made no difference now, and West snatched it up, and began to splinter
the wood with well directed blows. He worked madly, feverishly, unable to
judge there in the cabin whether he had a minute, or an hour, in which to
effect their rescue. All he knew was that every second was worth saving,
and with this impulse driving him, swung the sharp blade with all his
strength and skill, gouging out great splinters of wood, and finally
forcing the lock to yield. He sprang eagerly through the opening, the
hatchet still in his grasp, and faced her.
She stood there looking straight at him, seemingly unable even yet to
wholly realize the marvellous truth of his presence. The light from the
swinging lamp in the big cabin beyond, streamed in through the shattered
doorway, and revealed her face, pale, but unafraid, the eyes wide-open,
the lips parted. An instant both paused, and then she cried out in
"Oh, it is really you, Captain West. I know now. What has happened? How
did you come to be here?"
"Not now," he insisted. "Don't ask me now. Just come as quick as you can.
Do you not realize the boat is sinking, going down under our very feet?
For all I know it may take the plunge before we can reach the deck. There
is no time for anything but action. Quick; let me take your hand."
She obeyed without a word, and he pressed her before him out through the
door into the more brightly lighted cabin. Her eyes opened in horror at
the sight of Masters, and she drew back trembling against West's arm.
"Who--who is that? A dead man?"
"I fear so; wait just a second until I learn; if he still lives we cannot
leave him here."
West bent over the motionless figure; the flesh was no longer warm; and
he could detect no breath. Satisfied, he regained his feet.
"It is all over with," he said gravely. "He is beyond human aid."
"But--but, please, who is he?" she insisted, clinging to his arm. "Surely
I have seen the man before; what has happened?"
"He was the watchman on the yacht--Masters he said his name was," West
explained impatiently. "He was still alive when I first came, and told me
where you were confined. He tried to serve you when the others left, and
was struck down by Hogan."
"The others left! Is the boat deserted? Are we here all alone?"
"Yes; the villains left us both locked into state-rooms to die. They
deserted the yacht, expecting it to sink, and take us both down with it.
The craft is near foundering now, and our only hope is to obtain the
open deck at once. Do not question any more, but do just as I say. You
trust me, do you not?"
"Trust you! of course I do."
"Then let's talk afterwards. All I can think about now is how best to
save your life."
She permitted him to draw her through the door on to the black, deserted
deck. For the first moment, as they hesitated there, little could be
perceived other than vague shadows. The sky was overcast, but the wind
light, yet with sufficient swell to the water to cause the yacht to
wallow uncomfortably. West, bracing himself to the sudden plunging,
managed to reach the rail. He drew back, sick at heart at the sight of
the waves lapping the side almost on a level with the sloping deck on
which he stood. The sight brought home to him as never before the drear
deadly peril in which they were. It was already a matter of minutes; any
second indeed that labouring hulk might take the fatal plunge. The
knowledge brought back all his soldier instincts of command, his rough
insistence. He would find some means of rescue; he must! He was back
instantly, grasping her arm.
"Quick," he cried. "You knew this yacht; what small boats did she carry?"
"Only the one; the other was so warped it had been taken ashore."
"Only one! Those fellows put off in that. There was nothing else to save
"There are life-belts here; see, hung to the front of the cabin. Was that
what you meant?"
"Yes, and no." He snatched one from the hook, and hastily strapped it
about her. "These may help, but we shall need more. Was there no
life-raft? My God! there must surely be something of that kind."
"Yes, there is; I remember now. It is forward there, near the engine-room
hatch. Percival Coolidge explained to me how it worked once. But--but I
don't believe just the two of us could ever launch it over the rail."
"We will, because we must--it is our only hope. I'll take the other belt;
now come. We haven't an instant to waste--the water is even now almost
level with the deck; any second we may be awash, and go down like a
stone. Hold on tight to me."
The deck was already sloping to port in a dangerous degree, and West was
compelled to cling to the rail, as they slowly made passage forward
through the darkness. Their eyes had by then adapted themselves to the
night, so as to distinguish larger objects, and, as there was no litter
to encounter, as in the case of a ship wrecked by storm, the two
progressed safely as far as the engine-hatch. Neither spoke, but West
still clasped the hatchet, peering anxiously about for some signs of the
life-raft. He located it at last, securely fastened to the side of the
deck house, and, leaving the girl to hold herself upright as best she
could, began to hack it loose. It was quite an affair, cork-lined, and
evidently capable of sustaining considerable weight when once launched in
the water, but cumbersome and hard to handle on deck, more particularly
because of its awkward form.
Fortunately it hung to the port side with a rather steep slant to the
rail, which was not high. The waters of the lake, threatening to engulf
them with every sodden roll of the vessel, were almost within reach of an
outstretched hand, while occasionally a wave danced along the bulwark,
and scattered its spray over the deck. West, working with feverish
impatience, realized suddenly that his companion had deserted the place
where he had left her and was also tugging and slashing at the lashings
of the raft. These finally yielded to their blind attack. Without the
exchange of a word the two grasped the sides and shoved the thing hard
down against the port rail.
"Wait now," he cried exultantly. "Stay behind, and brace yourself against
the hatch-cover. I'll get underneath and lift. Once on the rail the two
of us must shove it free overboard. Here, keep a grip on this line, so
the raft can't float away."
She understood instantly, and, with a single swift glance at her dimly
revealed figure, West straightened up, bearing the full weight on his
shoulders, every muscle strained to the utmost, as he thus pressed it
over inch by inch across the wooden barrier. Twice he stopped,
breathless, trembling in every limb, seemingly unable to exert another
pound of strength. Perspiration dripped from his face, his teeth clinched
in desperate determination. At the second pause, she was beside him,
pressing her way in also beneath the sagging burden. He felt the pressure
of her body.
"No, no; I can make it alone," he panted indignantly.
"Not so well as we both can, working together. I am strong, Captain West.
Try it again now, and see."
Suddenly the great unwieldy mass moved, slid forward, poised itself an
instant on the rounded rail. The yacht rolled sharply to port, flinging
both on to the deck together, but sending the raft crunching overboard,
clear of the side. West grasped her, and dragged her to her feet. His one
thought was that they were actually going down, but, even as he held her
in his arms, ready to leap out into the black water, the shuddering
vessel, with a last despairing effort, partially righted herself, and
"The rope," he questioned. "Did you lose grip on the rope?"
"No, it is here. I can feel the jerk of the raft."
"Thank God for that; let's pull it closer to the side. We can't wait to
take anything with us; even if I knew where provision and blankets were,
I could never find them in this darkness. I would not dare leave you to
search; another dip like that must be the very last. Here, let me hold
you up; can you see the raft?"
"Yes; I'm sure it is just below; why I could almost touch it."
"Can you jump to it from the rail? It is either that, or the water. Are
you afraid to try?"
"Afraid--no. Hold me; yes; that way, but--but what are you going to do?"
"Follow, of course; but I shall take to the water. There are no oars
here. Nothing to use as a substitute for them. I'll have to swim, and
push that old ark as far away as possible. When the yacht goes down, the
suction is liable to swamp us, if we are close in."
"But I can swim, Captain West."
"I am glad to know that; but now you do just as I say. There is no
necessity for both of us getting wet through. Are you ready?"
She poised herself, held steady by the grip of his hands, her eyes on the
dark outline of the floating raft. There was no hesitancy, no
"Say when," he said sharply.
She sprang outward, and came down, sinking to her knees, and clinging
fast, as the raft bobbed up and down under her sudden weight, dipping
until the water rolled completely over it.
THE COMING OF DAWN
West leaned far out, and stared off at the faint blotch made by the raft
against the water surface. He could perceive little except a bare,
"Did you make it? Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm safe enough; but wet just the same; the thing bobbed under."
"It will hold us up though, don't you think?"
"Why, of course, it will float; it is supposed to support four people. It
rides dry enough now. But--but, Captain West, I want you to come."
"I'm coming; I'll throw my shoes and coat over there to you first. To be
rid of them will make swimming easier. Watch out now--good! Now draw in
the line; we may need it. Got it all right? Very well; here goes."
He made the plunge, coming up to the surface close beside the raft, the
edge of which he quickly grasped with his hands. The girl remained
motionless, barely perceptible through the gloom, but with anxious eyes
marking his every movement. The frail support beneath her rose and fell
on the swell of the waters, occasionally dipping beneath the surface.
Beyond, a grim, black, threatening shadow, wallowed the wreck. West swam
steadily, urging the unwieldy raft away from the menacing side of the
vessel, driven by the necessity of escaping the inevitable suction when
she went down. It was a hard, slow push, the square sides of the raft
offering every obstacle to progress. Yet the waves and wind helped
somewhat, the raft being lighter than the water-sogged _Seminole_, so
that gradually the distance widened, until there extended a considerable
waste of water between the two. Exhausted by his exertion, and breathing
hard, West glanced back over his shoulder at the dimmer shadow of the
yacht, now barely revealed against the clouded sky. The bulk of it seemed
scarcely visible in any defined form above the level of the sea--the end
must be almost at hand.
Satisfied that they were far enough away for safety, he clambered
cautiously upon the platform, the girl as carefully making room for him
on the few dry planks. The raft tossed dizzily under the strain, but he
made it at last, the water draining from his soaked clothing, his flesh
shivering at the touch of the cool night air. He sat up, his limbs
braced to hold him erect, glancing aside at her, wondering at her
continued silence. Even in the darkness she must have known his eyes were
searching her face.
"You are cold," she said, doubtfully. "Here is your coat, and I have kept
it dry--no, really, I do not need it; I am quite warmly dressed."
He threw the garment over his wet shoulders, gratefully, and the two sat
there very close together, staring back at the labouring _Seminole_.
There was nothing to say, nothing to do; for the moment at least they
were safe, and perhaps morning would bring rescue. Suddenly West
straightened up, aroused by a new interest--surely that last wave went
entirely over the yacht's rail; he could see the white gleam of spray as
it broke; and, yes, there was another! Unconsciously his hand reached