MIDNIGHT found Mr. Jones sitting in his prison tent disconsolate.
There was a neat cot and blankets, but he had never felt less like sleeping in his life. He clung to his wakefulness and the few hours intervening between him and the morrow, like a sick man anticipating an extremely painful but inevitable operation. For something told him that Sergius Petrofsky was not the man to make empty threats.
Mr. Jones could see no way out of his predicament — unless he might anger the Russian into shooting instead of torturing him. The man certainly possessed a violent temper behind those haughty eyes of his.
While the captive was still revolving in his mind this desperate expedient, he suddenly felt something poke him sharply in the back. At the same instant some one said “Sh!” in a sharp, sibilant whisper.
The pain of the unexpected jab made Jones spring to his feet, crashing into the tent-pole and shaking the whole tent so violently that one of his guards appeared in the entrance. He thrust a large, hirsute countenance into the aperture and said something that sounded like the name of a Russian province.
“Get out, get out!” exclaimed Mr. Jones, gesturing violently to make his meaning clear. “It is nothing at all. Nothing. I bumped into the pole. Go away!”
The guard stared at him suspiciously for a moment longer, glanced about the little tent, which was dimly lighted by a lantern, and at last withdrew himself.
Once more the prisoner sat down, close to the canvas wall, and cautiously whispered, “It’s all right. He has gone. Who are you and what do you want? What did you poke me like that for?”
There was a moment’s silence, followed by a slight ripping sound. Through the canvas close by his shoulder Jones saw the point of a knife appear. It deftly cut two sides of a small triangle, then the flap so made was lifted and a face appeared. The face looked familiar. Then Mr. Jones recognized Doherty, the man who had captured him.
“Say, where are youse from?” The question was barely breathed in a voice which could not possibly have carried beyond the walls of the tent. Jones replied in the same bated tone:
“New York. Why?”
“That settles it, bo. Wait a jif.”
The face was withdrawn, and the knife came into use once more. This time, however, it sawed out an aperture about three feet square near the bottom of the canvas wall. “Come on out, bo,” whispered the rescuer.
Mr. Jones obeyed, moving as stealthily as he could, and having first made sure that the lantern would not cast the shadow of his escaping form upon the side of the tent. The situation required caution if ever a situation did.
Once outside he straightened himself, and felt a powerful hand grasp his arm. “This way, bo,” came the whisper, and rescuer and rescued crept softly across the sands, behind the tents, and away, keeping close to the cliff. Glancing seaward, Jones saw the riding lights of the yacht, otherwise a dim, black bulk upon the quiet waters of the bay.
His guide led him away from the camp, not in the direction of the point where the two had first met, but onward along the beach. As soon as they were out of ear-shot of his Russian companions Doherty halted and said:
“I don’t go no furder wid youse, see? G’wan on along until youse comes to a ravine. Go up there, and pretty soon youse comes to where dis other prince guy is, see? I don’t know whether youse and this Holloway feller are the same guy or not. If you are, then youse don’t need no more help from me. If youse ain’t, then take a tip and hold your jawr about comin’ straight from this camp, see? Now, beat it!”
“But see here!” exclaimed Jones, laying his hand on the other’s shoulder to stay him. “Why have you helped me out this way? I’m everlastingly obliged to you, and — ”
“Aw, ferget it!” snapped the other, shaking off the detaining hand roughly. “I ain’t no friend of youse, neither, see? But no Russian dook ain’t my boss when it comes to beatin’ up another N’York feller with that knout thing. See? Now, will youse beat it, or d’youse want t’go back there and get what’s comin’ to youse?”
“I’ll go. But, thank you, just the same. Say, can’t you tell me something about all this business — ”
But already Doherty had disappeared in the darkness, and with a slight sigh Roland C. Jones turned his face in the direction he had been instructed to follow. At any rate, the knouting was indefinitely postponed, and he could think of nothing much worse which could befall.
A short distance beyond the place where Doherty had left him the beach again ended in rocks. The man had spoken of a “ravine,” so Mr. Jones again climbed and scrambled, coming at last to where the cliff seemed to be split in two parts. How far this split penetrated into the rocky wall, he had no means of knowing, for it was all as dark as a pocket.
He discovered by stumbling into it that a little rill of water flowed down the middle of the split and into the sea. His best chance of exploring the ravine was to walk up the bed of this stream, which was no more than ankle deep. The water, he found, had the bitter chill of a glacier stream, and his feet were soon numb with cold. He had been offered no opportunity to dry his clothing, and it was still very damp and uncomfortable. He hoped that the extreme warmth of the night might prevent him from getting pneumonia.
Mr. Jones was not accustomed to such privations and hardships, and he found them extremely annoying.
Having no means of making a light, he stumbled along in the darkness, alternately cursing himself for having fallen overboard and the Hon. Percy Merridale as the (however remote) cause of all his misfortunes.
At length, however, the watercourse made a sharp bend, and rounding it, he beheld, a short distance ahead of him, a reddish glow upon the rocks. Then a black figure appeared in silhouette against the glow. He was considering how he could best make his presence known, for this he correctly surmised to be the place of that mysterious other encampment, when a voice exclaimed, “Hands up, there, or I’ll fire!”
“Twice in one night!” muttered Jones rebelliously.
“What’s that? Stranger, you’ve strayed onto the wrong range. Come into the light, and don’t make no false moves, or you’ll sure get perforated.”
The voice had now come close to his side, and Mr. Jones felt the hard muzzle of some sort of weapon pressing against his ribs.
“I assure you that I am not armed,” he said.
“I’ll assure myself in a minute,” responded the unsympathetic voice. “March, now!”
And again Jones marched. The light which Jones had seen reflected upon the cliff was cast by a fire built between two huge boulders in such a manner as to obscure its radiance so far as was possible. Emerging into the full glare, the unfortunate halted again, obedient to the pressure on his arm.
About the fire, which they were probably maintaining for the sake of illumination, since they were cooking nothing, and the temperature of the night was so high, several figures were gathered. All save one of these persons were men, the exception being a slender young girl, who at that moment turned her face and stared straight into the eyes of Mr. Jones.
“By Jupiter!” he murmured. “What’s a girl like that doing with this crowd?”
The young lady was attired in a somewhat dilapidated white yachting costume, which looked as if it had been soaked more than once and not pressed in a long time. But she was not of the type whose social standing or personal attraction would ever be judged by her clothes, however she might be dressed. Her crisply curling hair gleamed almost red in the firelight, though in daytime it would probably be no more than auburn. Her skin was of that clear, transparent whiteness which sometimes accompanies such hair; her features clean-cut and firm to a point which would have been almost masculine had they not been relieved by, a pair of blue eyes so pure, childish, and innocent that looking at them one could only be reminded of the eyes of a suddenly awakened baby.
For the rest, she was slight of figure, with small, tapering hands and feet, giving an impression of physical weakness which Mr. Jones later discovered to be deceptive.
He did not, of course, absorb all these details of appearance in that first brief meeting. At the moment he saw only that here was a beautiful, well-bred girl in the midst of surroundings entirely unsuitable — unless she happened to be a movie actress, which seemed improbable.
Of her companions, one was a tall, rather good-looking man with a sensitive mouth and slightly receding chin, also in yachting costume. Another was a rangy, lanky sort of fellow, attired in nothing more formal than a shirt and shabby trousers. The two remaining men were plainly of a lower class, probably seamen from their general appearance.
With a look of astonishment the girl glanced from Jones to his captor, who stood slightly behind him, and said:
“James, who is this person? How did he come here?”
Yes, she said it exactly as if she were standing in her own drawing-room, inquiring of the butler how some unknown vagabond had penetrated into her domain. Something humorous in the whole situation smote Jones abruptly, so that he laughed aloud, and she stared at him more haughtily than ever.
“I beg your pardon,” said Mr. Jones, hastening to correct his involuntary rudeness, “I have had a rather trying evening, and — er — I did not expect to see a young lady in this place.”
“And why not, pray? You are one of Prince Sergius’ friends, are you not? Paul, this must be one of your brother’s men, although I for one have never seen him before. Do you know him?”
She addressed the handsome man with the weak chin, and Jones knew this must be the brother of the Russian who had imprisoned him.
“No,” he replied, rising lazily. “I have never seen the fellow before. Do you know him? Dick Holloway?”
“Not yet, but I’ve no objection. What is your name, anyway?”
So the man in the shirt and trousers was Holloway. Jones looked at him with considerable interest, since it was in his name that he had nearly suffered so much, and saw that he was a young man with a keen, rather strong face. Dressed differently, he might have been either a reporter or an automobile salesman — or a member of Jones’s own club.
“My name is Roland C. Jones,” stated the castaway, somewhat weary of reiterating that fact. “Some hours ago, early in the evening, I was cast up on the beach by the storm. I— think I had fallen overboard in my sleep. I was on my way to London. Then I— ” He suddenly remembered Doherty’s warning. He decided that he owed it to his benefactor to keep faith. “I came on up the beach and stumbled into this ravine and walked up it and — and here I am, you know.”
This simple statement was met by dead silence for a moment. Then the Russian asked: “You were going to London, you say? That sounds a little peculiar. And you say you were wrecked, some hours ago? Where were you, pray, in the interval? Do you mean you have met no one since that time?”
“Yes,” admitted Mr. Jones, realizing that his story lacked strength. “I met one man — or, rather, I saw a man; but as soon as he caught sight of me he made off. I chased him, but he was too quick. Then I wandered around a while, until I found my way here.”
“H— m What ship were you on?”
Jones started to reply, “The Lusitania,” but checked himself. He was actually afraid that these people, too, would insist on that nightmare tangle of German torpedoes and impossible distances. Then he would know that something had crone wrong in his brain. He did not want to know it just then. There was too much to attend to without that. “I was on my own yacht, the Bandersnatch. We were just cruising around, you know. We had thought of running over to the Azores.” (Jones was not at all sure by this time where in the Atlantic he might be, but the Azores, as occupying a fairly central position, seemed safe.) “I must have walked in my sleep, for first thing I knew I was in the water, and the only wonder is that I was not drowned. I am a New Yorker, but we sailed from Savannah.” He was rather proud of this touch of realism, but Holloway burst out laughing.
“First London, and now the Azores,” the latter remarked in a tone of goodnatured amusement. “You seem to have put out on a remarkable voyage.”
“For my part,” interposed the young lady, who, despite her infantile eye, seemed of very determined and decisive character, “I don’t believe a word of your story. If you were on a yacht, which I don’t doubt, it was the Monterey, and she lies in the bay now. I believe you were on board at the same time we were, although we didn’t see you. That about London and Savannah and the Azores is merely ridiculous. I can’t imagine your object in making such absurd statements. Paul, this man has been sent here by your brother to spy upon us and find out the secret of the caverns.”
Paul nodded his head, saying: “Holloway, do you not think that Miss Weston is right?”
“It’s a one best bet she is, prince. All that gas about his yacht and the rest of it was probably planned to make us think he’s a bit light in his upper story.”
“Bats in his belfry — nobody home — you know.”
“Oh, you mean insane. But why should he wish us to think that?”
“So we won’t take too much pains to keep our cards face down. If you’ll take a tip from me, prince, you’ll keep this angel-faced little castaway tied right to mama’s apron-strings till time’s called.”
The prince laughed amiably, but the amiability was for Holloway, not Mr. Jones.
“Your expressions — your idioms — they are so very charming, Dick Holloway. But you are right. We cannot afford to be betrayed. James Haskins, you will kindly remain close to this gentleman’s side. Take him with you and return to your post. And now, my friends, we have already sat too long talking. Let us sleep for the two hours that remain of night. Remember, we start at dawn.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13