Cruise of the Jasper B/Chapter 18
THE MAN IN THE BLUE PAJAMAS
The rain had ceased almost as Miss Pringle was removed to the cabin. The storm had passed. Low down on the edges of the world there were still a few dark clouds, there was still an occasional glimmer of lightning; but overhead the mists were fleecy, light and broken. A few stars were visible here and there.
And then in a moment more a full moon rose high and serene above the world. The May moon is often very brilliant in these latitudes, as sailors who are familiar with the coasts of Long Island can testify. This moon was unusually brilliant, even for the season of the year and the quarter of the globe. It lighted up earth and sky so that it was (in the familiar phrase) almost possible to read by it. Only a few moments had elapsed since the rout of Logan Black's ruffians, but in the vicinity of this remarkable island such sudden meteorological changes are anything but rare, geographers and travelers know.
Lady Agatha had gone into the cabin to resuscitate Miss Pringle and, as she said, "have it out with her." Cleggett, gazing from the deck towards Morris's, in the strong moonlight, wondered when the attack would be renewed. He thought, on the whole, that it was improbable that Loge would return to the assault while this brightness continued.
Suddenly three figures appeared within his range of vision. They were running. But running slowly, painfully, lamely. In the lead were the two men whom he had first seen hazed up and down the bank of the canal by Wilton Barnstable, and whom he had seen the second time chained in the great detective's boat.
They were shackled wrist to wrist now. To the left leg of one of them was attached a heavy ball. A similar ball was attached to the right leg of the other. They had picked these balls up and were struggling along under their weight at a gait which was more like a staggering walk than a trot.
They were pursued by the man whom Cleggett had seen attempt to escape from Morris's. This man still wore his suit of baby blue pajamas.
He wore nothing else. He was stiff. He moved as if the ground hurt his bare feet.
He especially favored, as Cleggett noticed, the foot on which there was a bunion. He was lame. He crept rather than ran. But he seemed bitterly intent upon reaching the two men in irons who labored along twenty or thirty feet ahead of him. And they, on their part, casting now and then backward glances over their shoulders at their pursuer.
Cleggett divined that the men in irons had escaped from the Annabel Lee, and that the man in the baby blue pajamas was loose from Morris's. But why the man in the pajamas pursued and the others fled he could not guess.
They passed within fifty yards of the Jasper B. But the men in irons were so intent upon their own troubles, and the pursuer was so keen on vengeance, that none of them noticed the vessel. As they limped along, splashing through the pools the rain had left, the pursuer would occasionally pause to fling stones and sticks and even cakes of mud at the fugitives, who were whimpering as they tottered forward.
The man in the baby blue pajamas was cursing in a high-pitched, nasal, querulous voice. Cleggett noticed with astonishment that a single-barreled eyeglass was screwed into one of his eyes. Occasionally it dropped to the ground, and he would stop and fumble for it and wipe it on his wet sleeve and replace it. Had it not been for these stops he would have overtaken the men in irons.
"Clement!" Lady Agatha laid her hand upon his arm. "Miss Pringle wants to see you in the cabin."
"Well--imposter!" laughed Cleggett. "Is she able to talk to you yet? And what on earth did she mean by her plum preserves?"
"That is what she wants to tell, evidently," said Lady Agatha. And she went aft with him.
Miss Pringle, who had been rubbed dry by Lady Agatha, and was now dressed in some articles of that lady's clothing, which were much too large for her, sat on the edge of the bed in Lady Agatha's stateroom and awaited them. Her appearance was scarcely conventional, and she seemed to feel it; nevertheless, she had a duty to perform, and her innate propriety still triumphed over her situation and habiliments.
"Mr. Cleggett," she said, pointing to the box which contained the evidence against Logan Black, which was exactly similar to the box of Reginald Maltravers, and which had been placed in this inner room for safe-keeping, "what does that box contain?"
Cleggett was startled. He and Lady Agatha exchanged glances.
"What do you think it contains?" he asked.
"That box," she said, "was shipped to me from Flatbush, and was claimed in my name--in the name of Genevieve Pringle--at the freight depot at Newark, New Jersey, by this lady here. Deny it if you can!"
"I do deny it, Miss Pringle," said Lady Agatha, accompanying her words with a winsome smile. But Miss Pringle was not to be won over so easily as all that; she met the smile with a look of steady reprobation. And then she turned to Cleggett again.
"Mr. Cleggett," she said, "my birthday occurred a few days ago. It was--I have nothing to conceal, Mr. Cleggett--it was my forty-ninth birthday. Every year, for many years past, a niece of mine who lives in Flatbush sends me on my birthday a box of plum preserves.
"These preserves have for me, Mr. Cleggett, a value that they would not possess for anyone else; a value far above their intrinsic or, as one might say, culinary value. They have a sentimental value as well. I was born in Flatbush, and lived there, during my youth, on my father's estate. The city has since grown around the old place, which my niece now owns, but the plum trees stand as they have stood for more than fifty years. It was beneath these plum trees. . . ."
Miss Pringle suddenly broke off; her face twitched; she felt for a handkerchief, and found none; she wiped her eyes on her sleeve.
In another person this action might have appeared somewhat careless, but Miss Pringle, by the force of her character, managed to invest it with propriety and dignity; looking at her, one felt that to wipe one's eyes on one's sleeve was quite proper when done by the proper person.
"I will conceal nothing, Mr. Cleggett. It was under these plum trees that I once received an offer of marriage from a worthy young man. It was from one of these plum trees that he later fell, injuring himself so that he died. You can understand what these plum trees mean to me, perhaps?"
Lady Agatha impulsively sat down beside the elder woman and put her arm about her. But Miss Pringle stiffly moved away. After a moment she continued:
"The preserved plums, as I have said, are sent me every year on my birthday. This year, when I received from my niece a notification that they had been shipped, I called for the box personally at the freight office.
"What was my astonishment to learn that the box had been claimed in my name, not a quarter of an hour before, and taken away.
"I obtained a description of the person who had represented herself as Miss Genevieve Pringle, and of the vehicle in which she had carried off my box. And I followed her. The paltriness of the theft revolted me, Mr. Cleggett, and I determined to bring this person to justice.
"The fugitive, with my plum preserves in her possession, had left, goodness knows, a broad enough trail. I found but little difficulty in following in my family carriage. In fact, Mr. Cleggett, I discovered the very chauffeur who had deposited her here with the box. Inquiries in Fairport gave me your name as the owner of this lighter."
" Lighter!" interrupted Cleggett. "The Jasper B., madam, is not a lighter."
"I beg your pardon," said Miss Pringle. "But what sort of vessel is it then?"
"The Jasper B.," said Cleggett, with a touch of asperity, "is a schooner, madam."
"I intended no offense, Mr. Cleggett. I am quite willing to believe that the vessel is a schooner, since you say that it is. I am not informed concerning nautical affairs. But, to conclude--I discovered from the chauffeur that this lady, calling herself Lady Agatha Fairhaven, had been deposited here, with my box. I learned yesterday, after inquiries in Fairport, that you were the owner of this vessel. The real estate person from whom you purchased it assured me that you were financially responsible. I came to expose this imposter and to recover my box. On my way hither I was caught in the storm. The runaway occurred, and you know the rest."
Miss Pringle, during this recital, had not deigned to favor Lady Agatha with a look. Lady Agatha, on her part, after the rebuff which she had received, had sat in smiling silence.
"Miss Pringle," she said, pleasantly but seriously, when the other woman had finished, "first I must convince you that this box does not contain your plum preserves, and then I will tell you my story."
With Cleggett's assistance Lady Agatha removed the cover from the oblong box, and showed her its contents.
"That explains nothing," said Miss Pringle, dryly. "Of course you would remove the plum preserves to a place of safety."
"Miss Pringle," said Lady Agatha, "I will tell you everything. I DID claim a box in your name at the railway goods station in Newark--and if there had been nothing in it but plum preserves, how happy I should be! I beg of you, Miss Pringle, to give me your attention."
And Lady Agatha began to relate to Miss Pringle the same story which she had told to Cleggett. At the first word indicative of the fact the Lady Agatha had suffered for the cause of votes for women, a change took place in the expression of Miss Pringle's countenance. Cleggett thought she was about to speak. But she did not. Nevertheless, although she listened intently, some of her rigidity had gone. When Lady Agatha had finished Miss Pringle said:
" I suppose that you can prove that you are really Lady Agatha Fairhaven?"
For answer Lady Agatha went to one of her trunks and opened it. She drew therefrom a letter, and passed it over without a word.
As Miss Pringle read it, her face lighted up. She did not lose her primness, but her suspicion seemed altogether to depart.
"A letter from Emmeline Pankhurst!" she said, in a hushed voice, handling the missive as if it were a sacred relic. "Can you ever forgive me?"
"There is nothing to forgive," beamed Lady Agatha. "I am willing to admit, now that you understand me, that the thing looked a bit suspicious, on the face of it."
"You have suffered for the cause," said Miss Pringle. "I have suffered for it, too!" And, with a certain shyness, she patted Lady Agatha on the arm. But the next moment she said:
"But what IS in the box you brought here then, Lady Agatha? Two boxes were shipped to Newark, addressed to me. Which one did you get? What is really in the one you have been carrying around? My plum preserves, or----"
She shuddered and left the sentence unfinished.
"Let us open it," said Cleggett.
"No! No!" cried Lady Agatha. "Clement, no! I could not bear to have it opened."
Miss Pringle rose. It was evident that a bit of her earlier suspicion had returned.
"After all," said Miss Pringle, indicating the letter again, "how do I know that----"
"That it is not a forgery?" said Lady Agatha. "I see." She mused a moment, and then said, with a sigh, "Well, then, let us open the box!"
"I think it best, Agatha," said Cleggett. "I shall have it brought down."
But even as he turned upon his heel to go on deck and give the order, Dr. Farnsworth and the Rev. Simeon Calthrop ran excitedly down the cabin companionway.
"The box of Reginald Maltravers," cried the Doctor, who was in Cleggett's confidence, "is gone!"