Symud i'r prif gynnwys
Cuddio Rhestr Erthyglau

15 erthygl ar y dudalen hon



[ALL 1UGUTS RESERVED,] THE HUSBAND'S SECRET, OR LOST IN THE DARK. BY RICHARD DOWLING. Author of "Under St. Paul's" etc., etc. CHAPTER XXI THE RESCUE. THAT memorable Christmas morning when the low weak light began to steal over the downs between Greenlee and Barnacle Bay, no object broke the green monotony of the downs a hundred yards from the edge of the cliffs. About half-a- mile from Lookout Head, on the way to Barnacle Bay and about fifty yards from the brow of the cliff, the downs decended a little towards the sea, lost their flat regularity, and became broken up into a number of small mounds and hollows. The mounds in no instance reached higher than a man s knee. The thin skin of turf was here no- where broken. Owing to the depression towards the sea, a man standing upon the brink of the cliff, would be invisible to anyone crossing the downs a hundred yards inland. As the light grew less feeble it revealed, lying among these mounds, the form of a man. Later, it showed that he lay with his face to the ground facing Barnacle Bay that he lay partly in the hollow between two of the mounds, and that his head rested on his left arm, which was supported in turn by the top of one of the hillocks. Was the man asleep ? Something in his atti- tude gave the idea that he was not asleep, or that if he were asleep the sleep was of a peculiarly sound character. Closer examination revealed facts which almost conclusively proved he could not be asleep. Although his pilot cloth overcoat was strong looking and seemed to have been but little worn, the right, sleeve hung in ribbons around the right arm, the right side of the coat was torn off, he had no hat, and his right arm was 10 shockingly mutilated that even a surgeon of long experience and much practice could not look at it without a shudder. Was the man dead ? That was hard to answer for although no breeze blew, one could not be sure at a little distance whether the air or the muscles moved the torn ends of the coat at the right side. There was no other motion for hours. When the sergeant in command of the coast- guards who set out that morning from Roekfall by the edge of the cliffs saw this figure lying in front, he halted his men, formed them into line. and gave the command Present!" in the belief that the prostrate man was about to fire. The injured man was several hundred yards off at the time the sergeant made him out. The carbines carried by his men would not be much use at such a distance, whereas a musket might be em- ployed with advantage, and this man might have a musket. Caution was necessary. There might be other men behind the one crouching in front; in fact, a numerous band. After awhile, observing the man 'in front did I not stir, he grounded arms and (despatched two men on the left flank. These [could see if there were any others behind, and they would divert the attention. When this disposition was made, all advanced towards the prostrate form. In time they came up to the hurt man, found he was not dead, but insensible; and the sergeant, having left two men in charge of him, went on with what remained of his force to Greenlee, where he arrived about an hour after the mounted men had ridden in. From the sergeant in command of the mounted men. the sergeant of coastguards learned the con- dition of the village when the former arrived, and what had occurred since Half-an-hour after the news got to Rockfall we were in the saddle, and in little more than half an hour more we galloped most of the way) we were' in sight of Lookout Head. There was not a moment to be lost; we were nor, a minute too soon. Just as we could see the Head a crowd of men were coming; up from the village. They had a prisoner, and we knew what to expect and who he was. We galloped right to the Head, and drew up in front of the crowd. When they saw us they halted and held a consultation so, leaving my men on the Head, I rode up to the crowd. I saw at once that the spirit of the crowd was not all the one way. Having get hold of their man, and finding him weak and wounded, some of them began to grow faint-hearted about the lynch- ing. it appears that after more than an hour's attack on his house, they had broken in, found his wife, a little girl, a half-witted man. and young Spalding. Bad as young Spalding was from a cut. he had spoken to them from the window before they sot in and although none of them would take his word for his innocence, some of them were not so very sure about lynching the man. Old Tineworth, who is greatly looked up to in the village, was daad against it, although he had been in favour of it at one time. Anyway, they locked young Spalding's wife and the little girl into a room, and were carrying him on a plank; he was hardly able to walk when we rode up. I told them that if the man had had any hand in the murder, he would be sure to suffer for it by law, and that if they took the law into their own hands, whether the man was innocent or guilty, they would be sure to suffer, and that would make matters no better for them. Well, to make the story short, they agreed to leave him on the plank where he was, and go back to the village. As they were going back to the village I saw them open to let someone through them. and then I saw that this was young Spalding's wife, the poor captain's pretty daughter. She had escaped from the room; and was as pale as death and nearly as calm. I was in the saddle a few paces from the plank. She walked on straight up to the plank without saying a word, and stood over him, look ing down at him. I know my duty, and I've done my duty always, and often queer duty it was; but this knocked me over, looking at her looking down at him. She wasn't crying, and she never said a word. If she had thrown herself down beside him 1 could have stood it: as it was, I could not call the men to take him up. I could not speak to her, and she did nothing but stand and look at him. All at once she came up to me and looked into my face, and said You know my father and the men were killed last night, and they said my husbnnd killed them, and that s my husband there. They were going to throw him over the cliff, over the place near where my father and the men were killed last night. Do you understand ?" I said I knew about it. I And,' said she. you are a policeman—what are you going to do with him now ?' Somehow her words and her ways put me out more than anything I ever met before. But 1 said: 'We will take him to Rockfall. There he will be safe.' «' Oh, I knew all about it,' said she. My father and the men were killed last night, and this morn- ing the village wanted to kill my husband, and you came to stop them, and say "No. he must be taken back to the town, and be killed there. '• I told her that I was quite sure he'd be safe in the town, and that as he had nothing to do with the thing, nothing would be done to him. She did not seem even to hear what I said. She was lookingjup in my face the whole time nnd I hadn't the heart to move. She spoke more like thinking to herself than speaking to me. No. he can't escape three times. Someone wasnear kill- ing him last night, and they wanted to kill 'him this morning, and now the police come to kill him. He can't escape the third time. There's one good thing about the police, if they are to kill him they 11 do it outright, and at once. They won't hurt him first, and then try to throw him over a cliff when he's too weak to raise his arm. The police will make it sure this third time. Then there will be no one alive in the world but me. That would make the world lonesome and cold. I should always be going to the door at night and opening it and saying "Come in," and only the deadly wind would come in. Do you under- stand all this ?" 14 And I said I did. «' Very well. now I want to tell you something you know nothing about. Stop firat-you will use only one pair of handcuffs for this I told her I should need none. "'Oh. but I know better than that,' she said. 4 Now what I want to tell you is this: I was with him when he did it. I helped him to do it. It was I who told him to do it, because ^because — because -I had a good reason but I forger, it. Did you notice how dark it was last night ? Well, you won't be surprised when you recollect how dark it was that I lost the reason in the dark. Now put the handcuffs on me- And she held out her hands, her little white wrists to me Damme, but I could see the btue veins in the child's wrist and no tears in her eyes. I Duty is often queer." Bv the time the coastguards had arrived a cart and horse had been procured from the village and Markham Spalding, with his young wife sitting beside him, was in it: and the horsemen were ready to set out escorting it to Roekfall- They were to call on their way for the man who had been found on the downs; The coastguard | servant and his men were to remain at Roekfall j in the place or those who had been lost the tious night. <1: J.. ¡! The excitement in the village had somewhat abated and as the little cavalcade set out for Rock- fall. many of the most prudent of the fishermen than ked heaven that the responsibility of young Spalding's death had been taken off their hands. tiring the whole of the way from Greenlee to Kockfall the woman never spoke. She sat in a dull lethargy. She sat close to her husband, but took i i ti le notice of him. The darkness of that night had entered her soul, and all her mind was as blank as the unfiozen Polar Sea, as dark as the core of adamant. Nothing went on in her mind her thought was fixed on no image. There was no substantive thought in her mind, but a formula for her numbed condition possessed her mind fia air possesses a valley. The formula was As 1 sat up last night waiting for Mnrk and my father, I fell asleep, and I am dreaming now. and when I awake 1 shall be with Mark and my father in Heaven." As soon as the sad procession reached Roekfall, the wounded men were taken to the police-station, and surgeons summoned. After a long examina- tion the surgeons declared the unknown man's case to be hopeless, but with youth and a good constitution at his back, they had every confidence on the recovery of the young boat builder. 1 owards evening young Spalding was much better. At nuht the unknown man became conscious, and was informed that he lay in the police station in danger of speedy death, and that he was suspected of having had something to do with the crime of the night before. He asked were they sure he was dying. Yes. the docters, said he would not last twentv- i f otir licurs, and. might die that night. If he had any statement to make he had better do so at once. A magistrate would be summoned to take his deposition. His reply was Ilis name was Tom Reynolds. He had been connected with the explosion, and was prepared to tell all. Thereupon a magistrate was sent for. CHAPTER XXII. HINGING THE GREAT BLACK BELL. WHEX William Spalding threw himself down in the boat with the one desperate hope in his mind of plugging the hole with his thumb, the boat was more than half full of water, and, to make matters worse, she plunged forward with his fall and took in water over the bows. His feet were towards the bow, his face was to- wards the stern. The stern sheet floating about aft delayed him a second or two, and he knew he had only a few seconds to spare. The great danger now was of her heeling over. Any list would j bring her gunwale under water, and then nothing could prevent her capsizing While with his right hand he wildly felt about for the current from the hole, with the left hand he carefully balanced the movements of his right. At last the column of in rushing water struck his curved palm. Then darting his hand down- ward he thrust his thumb into the hole. He crushed his thumb into the hole with as little attention to the agony it caused him as though it had been a piece of wood. Now the leak was stopped As long as he kept still there was no immediate chance of the boat going down, except that she was making water above her usual load-line, where the seams are often not staunch. However, as the boat was in- tended for use at sea, the chances were she was staunch up to the gunwale. staunch up to the gunwale. He had no superstitious fear of the dead now. or of the ghostly whisperings in the cave. A more direct dread was upon him, and he quailed before the presence of death. Death yesterday would have had little terror for him. But to day, after the awful crime of the night before, a crime of his own devising and invention, the thought was intoleable. No, no. he must not die. He must live on somehow until the awful newness had passed away from the deed. In ten years he might be able to face the Hereafter. If he had only one year, much of the'dread he now felt might be gone. Even a week would be something. But to die here, and to-day! No no That would never do. Anything at all was better than to follow his bleeding victims into the appalling regions of the Unknown. If he might only be ill awhile and lose his reason before he died that would be better. He should not come upon the eternal consequences of his crime in such a sharp and affrighting manner. What was the value of that cargo now above his head to him ? He'd give every bale and barrel for one inch of ledge to hold that grappling-iron and let him ascend into that cave once more, and take his chance there, no matter what fate that chance might bring. To die fighting, to be up there in that secure cave, hurling death upon those below, and to be struck in ihe head or the heart during a struggle would be a joyous way out of life. But to drown here in this gloomy cave. a cave almost as dark as the places where the murdeied men lay. out there by Greenlee, was not to be endured. To .feel himself sink down into these iree^ing waters, to hear their murmur in his ears. and to know that in a few moments he should pass from full vigour of sound health into the realms of ven- geance and ghosts! t gh! I'e raised his head and looked towards the mouth of the cave. The fatal rope still hung between the Black Bell and the water. Ho groitned and dropped his head again. Already his right arm was becoming numbed with cold. I'll try what I can do with my hat," he said, and taking off his hat, he began cautiously to bale out the water. But he could create little offect on the mass of water in the boat. In the first place, for fear of causing her to roll he was obliged to take no more than half-a-pint of water up in his hat at a time. and then in moving his hand over the side to throw the water out, he had to keep the boat on an even keel by moving his 4-ight leg out, so as to act as a counterpoise to his left arm and the water in the hat. Still he kept on baling, and after half-an-hour's incessant work, to his great joy, he found he had got the better of the water; it had fallen half-an- ineh And now his right arm has lost all sensitive- ness. From the shoulder down he was completely tnv onscious of its existence. It felt as though a sli lit wrench would tear it from the socket. The water had run up his left sleeve and found its way iiii'U'r his clothes. His knees were in the water,, and he felt his strength failing. ould it be possible to reduce the water by an inch more ? If that were done he might manage with his left hand to drag the boat out of the qive and back to her old hiding place. Once there he could sink her and wait until he regained strength to make the ascent from the water's edge Ip the downs. Thisjtliought filled him with new energy, and the boat being now lighter than an hour ago he was able to bale more quickly. But, his strength was failing, and he might with perfect safety have got out double the quantity if he had only re- gained the strength he possessed at starting. It would have been easy for a moderately good swimmer, even in his clothes. to cover the distance between the Black Bell and the foot of that pre- cipitous path; but like most sailors William Spalding was unable to swim. At length the heavy task was accomplished, and Spalding clutched the Bell wih his left hand and "loved the boat slowly towards the left side of the pave. He had reduced the water altogether by an inch and a halt. All this time he had been lying down on the thwarts. It was perfectly impossible for him to get into even a kneeling posture, that would have given him great relief. i-hitting his body slightly to the tight he got his left hand and arm over the si.te of the boat and was able to use his hat as a paddle. In order that he might see where he was going it was necessary he should propel the boat stern foremost. At moments he was on the point of giving up in despair. This paddling, although only a dis- tance of twenty yards had to be accomplished, was terribly laborious and terribly slow, for the eRed of paddling thus clumsily at one side was to mtike the boat go round in a circle, and this ten- dency had to be counteracted by. after each stroke ¡. of' hi-w left hand, holding the hat in the water. thus almost stopping the little way the stroke had im- parted to the boat. He gained the will of the cave after a long struggle Ir. was easier to get on now. It was only tiftv yards to the mouth of the cave, and by laying hold of the seaweed he wag enabled to pull the boat along without driving bef away from the wall. The man's determination to live, his fierce do- termination not to die, lent him st. ength and gave hi in po er to resist cold and fatigue that would baye killed him long ago under ordinary ciienrti- stanees The deadness of the arm had now ex- tended to the shoulder and right breast, and the muscles at the back and front on the left side were beginning to creep,and tingle in an alarming manner But his will was still inflexible He would live, though the hand of every man was against him though the elements and fate had sworn enmity against him, he would not die. He was now within a few yards of the cave a mouth within a few yards of the gateway to de- liverance, to escape, to life. He had wrestled with death in that odious loathsome cave, and he had thrown death and was now about to escape He paused awhile to ga-her breath. <]ovild it be after all that he was really to get away ? It seemed to him that he had been a century in that water vault. Perhaps all had gone "It 1 for him on the cliffs and they had lynched his ;i < 1- y. -V.. ¡ fi son, and Retcard was on his way out of the country, and Reynolds was dead. He pushed the boat with extreme caution into the low mouth of the cavern, and advanced slowly out- wards, until it was possible for him to see the cliffs on the opposite side of the little bay. Here he lay awhile without motion, scarcely breathing. He saw something that sealed his fate. At the opposite side of the bay, with his carbine on his shoulder, a soastguardsman was walking quietly up and down! Now and then the man paused and scanned the bay closely, and looked at the path then he resumed his walk. Owing to the gloom of the entrance, and the height of the coastguardsman, the latter could not see tho smuggler. For awhile Spalding lay fascinated by horror All was now lost! He watched that man in » dreamy half-conscious way. The cold was beginning to tell on his mind, and his senses were growing dull. All at once he jerked his head up and dropped his eyes. What was dihclosed to the etcsno Ion er interested him. The ears-the ears were now the thing! for in the silent intervals between the on- slaught and the outdraught of the waves he heard the sound of Oars !-Oars !-Oars! She'll swim a minute without the plug! One minute! It would be enough! One minute!" With a sudden dash he drew himself upright and stepping with feet that seemed to find the centre of gravity on the boat's gunwale as though by instinct. Then seizing the rocks at the side of the entrance with his left hand (the right hand and arm were dead) he drew the boat swiftly along the side of the cave until once more he was oppo- site the great Black Bell. Then with one push. risking all on that push, he shot the sinking boat to the base of the Bell, and with a groan seized the rope once more, and steadied himself on the gunwale. They're after me, but I'll never give in! Never! I'll drair the grappling home first." He leant on the rope. "It holds! It holds! My grappling holds! he shouts as the perspiration pours down his face. One second more he stands on the gunwale with the taut line straight as an iron rod in his grasp, bearing half the weight of his body cow without giving an inch. Then with a low growl of triumph he spurns the boat, hears her go down with a sough, looks back to be sure that she has sunk, and then twisting the line round one of his legs, begins to haul him- self up the slippery side with his left hand, secur- ing himself before taking another hold by hitching up on his leg the slack of the line. At last, after prodigious exertions, he gains the top of the Bell, and has, only to ascend the shaft. He knows there is a smile of triumph on his face. An hour ago, after the grappling dragged the first time and I caught it the second time, I thought it was like ringing my death bell. Now I'm safe, or next thing to it. Let me shake this coil off my leg, and I'll be up before they can pull two strokes more. I'll be- Ah God There was a sharp, shrill, metallic rattle over- head, and something heavy fell with a loud jingle down the side of the Bell, followed by a sickening, soft, sliding noise, succeeded by a heavy splash after which all was still in the cave of the Black Bell. The grappling had parted from its hold; the passing knell of William Spalding had been rung by himse, f on the great Black Bell. (To be Continued).



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