Cruise of the Jasper B/Chapter 21
THE THIRD OBLONG BOX ARRIVES
"I think," said Wilton Barnstable, when Cleggett had finished, "that I may be able to clear up a few points for you.
"The two men whom you saw me hazing up and down the bank of the canal, and whom you saw again tonight, followed by the man in the baby blue silk pajamas, were Dopey Eddie and Izzy the Cat!"
"The wretches!" cried Lady Agatha.
"Wretches indeed," said Wilton Barnstable, Barton Ward, and Watson Bard, in unison, and with conviction.
"And the man in the baby blue silk pajamas, was----" the great detective paused, as if to make his revelation more effective. And while he paused, Miss Genevieve Pringle, with pursed lips and averted face, signified that the very idea of introducing a man in baby blue silk pajamas into the conversation was intensely displeasing to her.
" The man in pajamas was Reginald Maltravers," finished the great detective.
"Reginald Maltravers!" cried Lady Agatha.
She opened her mouth again as if to say something more, but words failed her, and she only stared at the detective, with parted lips and round eyes.
Cleggett went to her and touched her on the arm, and with the touch she gave a sob of emotion and found her tongue again.
"Reginald Maltravers," she said, "is not dead then! Not dead after all!"
She endeavored to control herself, but for a moment or two she trembled. It was evident that it was all she could do to keep from crying hysterically with relief. The nightmare that had haunted her for days had vanished almost too suddenly. Presently she began to be herself again.
"You are sure that he is not dead?" she said with a voice that still shook.
"Sure," said Wilton Barnstable.
And as if quietly satisfied with the sensation they had produced, the three detectives smiled at each other urbanely and contentedly. Barnstable continued:
" Reginald Maltravers came to my agency some days ago and requested a bodyguard. Dopey Eddie and Izzy the Cat had attacked him, no doubt intending to earn the money which Elmer had promised them. He beat them off. In fact, he caned them soundly. But they still continued to dog him.
"Mr. Ward here, who handled the case, soon reported to me that he believed Reginald Maltravers to be insane."
"Insane he was," cried Lady Agatha. "I have seen the light of insanity in his eye, gleaming through his accursed monocle." She spoke with vehemence. Now that she knew the man to be alive, her hatred of him had flared up again.
"Insane he was," agreed Wilton Barnstable. "And shortly after that discovery was made, he disappeared. The next day after his disappearance, Dopey Eddie and Izzy the Cat were liberally supplied with money.
"Of course they got the money, Lady Agatha, through the clever trick they worked upon you."
"A great many people have got money from me since I have been in America," said Lady Agatha.
"Ah! Yes?" The great detective went on with his masterly summing up. "Of course they got the money from the trick they worked on Lady Agatha. But at the time I thought it possible that they had robbed Reginald Maltravers and then put him out of the way. They are well-known gunmen.
"I took them into custody and determined to hold them until such time as Reginald Maltravers would be found, or his fate discovered. Eventually I brought them with me on my house boat. I was really holding them without due legal warrant, but I am forced to do that, sometimes. They complained of lack of exercise, so I gave them exercise in the manner which you saw the other morning, Mr. Cleggett.
"One of my agents, shortly after this, picked up the trail of Reginald Maltravers again. When I learned that he was alive my first impulse was to release Dopey Eddie and Izzy the Cat. But I learned that the two gunmen could, if they would, give me a tip as to certain of the activities of Logan Black, against whom I have been collecting evidence for nearly a year. So I kept them on my boat.
"Reginald Maltravers, most of the time that you were riding about the country, Lady Agatha, with the box that you thought contained him, was really following you. He would lose your trail and find it again, but he was always some hours behind you. Of course, he knew nothing of the oblong box. He thought that you were running away from him. And all the time that Reginald Maltravers was following you, agents of mine were following Reginald Maltravers."
"Lady Agatha," interrupted Cleggett, "was also being pursued by Miss Pringle here."
Wilton Barnstable carefully made a note in a little book which he drew from his waistcoat pocket. Barton Ward also made a note in a little book, Watson Bard started to make a note, and then paused; in fact, Watson Bard did not complete his note until he had gotten a peep into the notebook of Barton Ward. The notes made, the three detectives once more smiled craftily at each other, and Wilton Barnstable resumed:
"We knew, of course, that another lady was also following Lady Agatha. But, until the present moment, we had not identified her with Miss Pringle. And I should not be at all surprised, not at ALL surprised, if still another person had been following Miss Pringle."
" With what object?" asked Miss Pringle, looking alarmed at the idea.
"The motive, my dear lady, I must for the present withhold," said Wilton Barnstable. And again the three detectives exchanged knowing glances.
"Reginald Maltravers' pursuit of you, Lady Agatha, led him to Fairport," went on the great sleuth. "No doubt he met the driver of the vehicle which brought you hither, and learned that you and Elmer had been set down in this neighborhood, just as Miss Pringle learned it. No doubt it was well after dark when he arrived in the vicinity of the Jasper B. And it is to be supposed that, once out here, he went to Morris's road house, thinking it quite likely that you and Elmer would stop there, as he had been tracking you from road house to road house. Logan Black, knowing that the authorities were on his trail, mistook Reginald Maltravers for a detective, and held him prisoner at Morris's. Logan Black's men took away his clothes in order to minimize the possibility of his escape."
"And the Earl of Claiborne's signet ring----" began Cleggett.
"Of course, Reginald Maltravers was wearing it, and of course they took his valuables from him," said Barnstable. "One of the ruffians was wearing the ring as he approached your vessel with a bomb. But, Mr. Cleggett, there are points about that bomb explosion which I do not understand."
"Nor I," admitted Cleggett.
"We will clear them up later," said the great detective, smiling benignly at his thumbs, which he was revolving slowly about each other as he reconstructed the case.
"Later!" smiled Barton Ward. "Later!" murmured Watson Bard. With their hands clasped over their stomachs, they, too, benignly twirled their thumbs.
"Tonight," pursued Barnstable, "having finally got all the information I wished from Dopey Eddie and Izzy the Cat with regard to Logan Black, I tossed them the key to their irons and told them to unlock themselves and clear out. It was just before the storm began, and they were sitting on the bank of the canal at the time. I allowed them to sit there in the evenings and get the fresh air.
"But before they could unlock themselves Reginald Maltravers, who had, we must suppose, escaped from Morris's through the carelessness of one of Logan Black's subordinates, crawled up the bank of the canal, which he had swum, and made for the two gunmen, with the water dripping from his eyeglass. He had recognized them as the men who had dogged and assaulted him, and every other idea was obliterated in his desire for vengeance.
"They fled. He pursued. He caught them, and they fought. They succeeded in dropping one of the iron balls on his foot--on his bunion foot, Mr. Cleggett--crippling him."
As this mention of the bunion, Miss Genevive Pringle arose with dignity, and, flinging a shawl about her shoulders, left the cabin, chin in air. She did not vouchsafe so much as one backward glance at Cleggett or the three detectives or lady Agatha as she left, but outraged propriety was expressed in every line of her figure.
"H'm," mused the detective, flushing slightly; and Watson Bard and Barton Ward also colored a little, and looked hacked. They glanced furtively at Lady Agatha, to see if she too might be offended.
"Proceed, Mr. Barnstable," she said a little impatiently. "Bunions don't bother me, either mentally or physically. I am familiar with the idea of bunions. There are many bunions in the Claiborne family."
" On his bunion foot, crippling him," resumed the detective, reassured. "The storm came up, and still the gunmen fled, and still Reginald Maltravers pursued. I suppose, since you saw them on the west side of the canal, Mr. Cleggett, that they had run around the north end of it. Probably, while you and Logan Black were fighting, they were running up and down in the neighborhood, in the storm, intent only upon their own feud."
"They certainly seemed exhausted when I saw them," said Cleggett, "all three of them. But if you will permit me to say so, the astuteness with which you are reconstructing this case compels my admiration."
Wilton Barnstable bowed, and Barton Ward and Watson Bard slightly inclined their heads.
"Your skill," said Lady Agatha, "is equal to that of Sherlock Holmes."
At the name of Sherlock Holmes a shade passed over the face of Wilton Barnstable. He slightly compressed his lips, and his eyebrows went up a fraction of an inch. This shade was reflected on the faces of Barton Ward and Watson Bard. There was a moment of silence, but presently Wilton Barnstable continued, repressing a sigh:
" I thought at first, Mr. Cleggett, that you were an ally of Logan Black's, just as you believed me to be his ally, and as he believed you and me to be working together. It may interest you to know that smuggling has been one of his side lines. There is, somewhere hereabouts, a cave in which smuggled goods are stored. These coasts have a sinister history, Mr. Cleggett. It is possible that your canal boat--I beg your pardon, your schooner, Mr. Cleggett--played some part in their smuggling operations. At any rate it is evident that Logan Black transferred to the hold of this vessel the incriminating evidence against him, contained in that oblong box, when he learned that my agents were watching Morris's. The Jasper B. has been lying in her present position for a long time. In the event that a sudden get-away from Morris's became necessary, it was an advantage to Logan Black to be able to leave without being hampered with this matter. No one, for many years, had paid any attention to the Jasper B., with the exception of the old truck farmer, Abernethy, who used sometimes to fish from her deck, and----"
"Truck farmer!" cried Cleggett. "Abernethy?"
"Truck farmer," repeated Wilton Barnstable.
" Is not Abernethy an old sea captain?" asked Cleggett.
"Why, no, I believe not," said Barnstable. "At least I never heard so. He is well known as a small truck gardener in this neighborhood. It is true that he comes of a seafaring family--indeed, it is his boast. But, in a community where nearly everyone knows a little about boats, I believe that Abernethy is remarkable for an indisposition to venture far from shore."
"I can scarcely believe it," breathed Cleggett.
"He does not understand boats," said Barnstable. "That is the reason, I take it, why he has always fished in the canal from the deck of the Jasper B. "
"Abernethy is a gallant man," said Cleggett, rather sternly. "And even although he may have had little actual seafaring experience, the instinct is in him! The inherited love of a nautical life has been latent in him all along. And at the first opportunity it has come out. He has shown his mettle aboard the Jasper B. "
"I do not doubt it, if you insist upon it," said Wilton Barnstable, politely. And from revolving his thumbs benignly towards himself he began to revolve them urbanely from himself. The reversal was imitated at once by Barton Ward, but Watson Bard was slower in putting this new coup into execution.
"The resemblance between the two oblong boxes evidently fooled Logan Black," continued Barnstable, "and his men stole the wrong one. but he knows by this time that his plan to get the box has failed."
"He knows it?" said Cleggett.
"From the bank of the canal he witnessed our capture of the box, and of the two men who were making off with it. After you had beaten off his assault upon the ship, he turned his attention to the canal, to see if the men whom he had assigned to the job of creeping over the stern of the Jasper B. had by any chance succeeded in purloining the box. He was alone, but he attempted to come to the assistance of his two followers even as we made them prisoners. In fact, we exchanged shots."
The great detective made little of the danger he had encountered.
Indeed, his smile became one of amusement as he removed his coat, rolled up his shirt sleeves, and exhibited a bandaged wound in the fleshy part of his arm.
"It is only a slight wound," he said, beaming on it as if wounds were quite delightful affairs, "and scarcely inconveniences me."
Barton Ward and Watson Bard, with their sleeves rolled up, were also smiling placidly and indulgently at bandages about their left arms. Whether there were real wounds beneath their bandages also, Cleggett could not determine. The bandage of Barton Ward was slightly stained with red, but the bandage of Watson Bard was quite white. All three replaced their coats at the same time, and Wilton Barnstable went on:
"Our course of procedure is plain, Mr. Cleggett. We have the evidence against Logan Black. We must have the man himself. I depend upon you to cooperate with me. I think," he said, beaming at Barton Ward and Watson Bard with an air of modest triumph, "that the case of Logan Black is going to prove one of my really GREAT cases.
"There is only one point which I have not yet made clear to you, I believe--and that is how Logan Black's men were able to enter and leave the hold of your vessel so mysteriously. But I am shaping up my theory about that! I am shaping it up!"
"Would it be indescreet to inquire just what your theory is?" asked Cleggett.
And Lady Agatha murmured:
"For my part, I can make nothing of it, and I should be glad to hear your theory."
"It would," said Wilton Barnstable, soberly, "it would be premature, if I told you my theory at the present moment. You must pardon me--but it WOULD. In my line of business--and I insist, Mr. Cleggett, that I am a plain business man, nothing more--I find it absolutely necessary not to communicate all my information to the layman until the case is quite perfect in all its points. But do not get the notion, Mr. Cleggett, that I underestimate the part that you have taken in the case of Logan Black. You have helped me, Mr. Cleggett. When I have my secretary prepare the case of Logan Black for magazine and newspaper publication I shall have your name mentioned as that of a person who has helped me. Yes, you have helped me."
As he spoke he picked from a reading table a magazine, on the cover of which appeared his own portrait--or rather, the portrait of the popular conception of Wilton Barnstable--and began to make motions about it with his finger. He appeared to be marking off the space beside the portrait into an arrangement of letters and spaces. His lips moved as he did so; he murmured: "The Case of Logan Black--the Case of Logan Black!" He seemed to see, with the eye of a typographical expert, the legend printed there. Barton Ward and Watson Bard, slightly flushed and a little excited in spite of themselves, seemed also to see it there.
It might have occurred to a person more critical than Cleggett that it was he himself who had furnished nearly all the real evidence upon which Wilton Barnstable was constructing this Case of Logan Black. But Cleggett looked for the gold in men, not the dross; the great qualities of Wilton Barnstable appealed to his imagination; the best in Cleggett responded to the best in Wilton Barnstable; if the detective possessed a certain amount of vanity, Cleggett preferred to overlook it.
"Decidedly," said Wilton Barnstable, laying down the magazine, and looking at Cleggett kindly and serenely, "I shall see to it that your name is mentioned in connection with the Case of Logan Black." And Barton Ward and Watson Bard also bent upon him their bland and friendly regard.
Cleggett was about to thank them, but at that moment there was a commotion of some sort on deck.
Two female voices, one of which they all recognized as that of Miss Genevieve Pringle, were mingling in a babble of greeting, expostulation, interjection, and explanation, and presently Miss Pringle entered the cabin, followed by a younger lady who, except for her youth, looked much like her.
"My niece, Miss Henrietta Pringle, of Flatbush," said Miss Pringle, primly presenting her prim relation. "She has just arrived----"
"With the plum preserves!" cried Lady Agatha.
"With the plum preserves," confirmed Miss Genevieve Pringle.
And Captain Abernethy and George the Greek bore into the cabin a third oblong box, exactly similar in appearance to the box of Reginald Maltravers and the box which contained the evidence against Logan Black, and set it on the floor.
The three detectives stood and looked at the three boxes with an air of great satisfaction.
"With this addition to our oblong boxes," said Wilton Barnstable, "their number is now complete. Miss Henrietta Pringle, we will listen to your story."
There was little to tell, and Miss Henrietta Pringle told it in a breath. Having received no acknowledgment of the receipt of the plum preserves from her aunt, an unusual oversight on her aunt's part, she had journeyed to Newark with a vague fear that there might be something wrong.
"Arrived in Newark," she said, "I learned that my aunt, with her two white horses and her family carriage driven by Jefferson, the negro coachmen, had suddenly left Newark, without giving any explanation to anyone, or making her destination known.
"The proceeding was very strange; it was very unlike my aunt, and I was frightened. Everyone who had seen her start testified that she was laboring under a great nervous strain of some sort.
"I called at the freight depot and got the box of plum preserves which I had shipped to her. To tell the truth, I feared for her reason. I thought that if I could find her, and could show her the familiar plum preserves, which she loved so well, they would be of material assistance in influencing her to return to her home. So, setting out to search for her in my Ford auto, I took the box of plum preserves with me.
"I soon got upon her trail. The negro coachman, the family carriage and the white horses had excited remark everywhere. Briefly, I traced her here, and am happy to discover that my worst fears with regard to her have proved false."
"Henrietta," said her aunt, reproachfully, "your fears do you very little credit, or me either."
"Aunt Genevieve," said the niece, "pray, do not rebuke me."
"I was certain," said Wilton Barnstable, complacently, "that it would develop that Miss Genevieve Pringle was herself being pursued. I was confident of it, Cleggett. And now that I have cleared up for you the mystery of Logan Black, the mystery of the box of Reginald Maltravers, and the mystery of the box of plum preserves, there only remains the capture of Logan Black to hold me in this part of the country and to keep you from your voyage to the China Seas."
"We must get together," said Cleggett, "on a plan of campaign. Logan Black will certainly attack again. He has only been beaten off temporarily. In the meanwhile, it is almost breakfast time."
And, indeed, the lights in the cabin were suddenly growing pale. The sun was rising. Its beams, shining through the cabin skylight, fell upon the three great detectives, each one of whom, with an air of ineffable satisfaction, was gloating--but gloating urbanely and with dignity--over an oblong box.