Stories of the Gold Star Line/The Jewelled Cobra

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ON the afternoon of the 3rd of April, 1886, I, George Conway, purser of the Morning Star, passenger steamer of the Gold Star Line, was sitting on the verandah of the Great Oriental Hotel at Colombo. We were homeward bound from Singapore, and the Morning Star was lying at anchor about half a mile from the break-water. She was to leave at six o'clock that evening.

The thermometer on the verandah registered 90°, and I stretched myself at full length on a low wicker chair. The only other European present was a handsome, sunburnt man of middle age dressed entirely in white drill. I put him down at once as a military officer, from the white hue of the chin-strap on his cheek. I had been watching him casually for some time and could not help being struck by his manner. A curious, nervous restlessness seemed to pervade him, he kept changing from one seat to another, lighting his cigar and letting it go out, and looking up quickly if any of the servants happened to come suddenly out of the dining-room. There was a keen, alert look in his blue eyes, and a set, almost fierce, expression on his firm, sharply cut features. He glanced at me two or three times as if about to speak and finally got up and came across to me.

{{c{{x-smaller[Illustration: "Major Strangeways, leaning over the railing."]}}}}

"Excuse me, sir," he said, "but I think you are an officer of the Morning Star?"

"I am," I replied; "I am the purser."

"Can you tell me the exact hour when she will sail?"

"At six o'clock," I answered; "are you going home by her?"

"Yes, and I shall go on board at once; I can't stand hanging about here."

He called to one of the white-robed servants to get his luggage, and in a few moments started off.

I thought his manner somewhat extraordinary, but as several passengers came in at that moment, and all more or less claimed my attention, I had to postpone my curiosity for the present.

About an hour later we were all on board. I found the new passenger, whose name was entered in the ship's lists as Major Strangways, leaning over the railing. His anxious look was still on his face, and he watched each fresh arrival closely. At five minutes to six the whistle loomed out its warning of departure, the Lascars were just beginning to haul up the gangway, when suddenly another shrill whistle, repeated thrice, sounded from the shore, and a small steam launch shot rapidly out from the Company's wharf and came tearing through the water towards us. When this happened I noticed that Major Strangways gave vent to an impatient exclamation, that he came and leant over the taffrail and looked eagerly out in the direction of the approaching launch. It came alongside, and a girl ran lightly up the gangway. As she did so I observed that the Major gave a sigh of distinct relief; her luggage was hauled up after her, she waved her hand to someone on the launch. Immediately afterwards the quartermaster sang out, "All clear, sir," the engine bells rang, and the Morning Star swung round with her head once more to the open sea.

Meanwhile the girl stood silent, not far from Major Strangways; her back was turned to us, her eager eyes were watching the shore. A steward came up and touched his cap—he asked what he was to do with her luggage. She replied quickly—

"My cabin is No. 75; have it taken there immediately." As she did so I saw her face. She was a distinctly handsome girl, with an upright figure and a proud bearing. She was well made and had a look of distinction about her. Her eyes had a ruddy light in them, and her hair was of that red shade which inclines to gold. The whole expression of her sparkling and youthful face was vivid and intelligent, and just for an instant as she spoke to the steward I observed that her lips parted in a brilliant smile. Her appearance, however, bore marks of haste. Her dress, a riding habit, was covered with dust, and her hair was in considerable disorder. The next moment, the steward leading the way, she disappeared down the companion, and I turned to attend to my numerous duties.

That evening, as I was dressing for dinner, the chief steward entered my cabin.

"I thought I would mention to you, sir, that as Mr. and Mrs. French have left, I have given the two vacant seats at your table to Miss Keele and Major Strangways."

"Miss Keele?" I said interrogatively.

"Yes, sir; the young lady who arrived just before the vessel started."

"Oh, that's all right," I answered.

The man withdrew and I continued my toilet. As I did so a smile of satisfaction lingered round my lips. Major Strangways had already roused my interest, and Miss Keele had the sort of face which must attract the attention of any man who has an eye for beauty. I am very fond of a pretty face and have seen many in the course of my numerous voyages. But there was something about the eyes and the whole expression of the girl who had come on board the Morning Star so unexpectedly that afternoon, which worried as much as it attracted me. Had I, or had I not, seen that face before? Either I had met it in the past, or it was startlingly like a face I knew. In vain I searched through my memory—the dinner bell rang, and I entered the saloon.

Miss Keele, with all signs of haste and travel removed, was seated at my right hand, and Major Strangways had the place next to her. I gave her a searching glance and, as I did so, almost uttered an exclamation. The missing link in my memory of the past was supplied. Good God! what a queer thing life was! That girl, sitting there in her evening dress, in all the freshness of her young beauty, had stood, three years ago, in the criminal dock of the Old Bailey. Beyond doubt, either she or her double had stood there. I knew now why the pose of the head and the flash in the red-brown eyes had so arrested my attention. It was perfectly true I had seen that face before. On a hot August afternoon, three years ago, I had strolled into the great criminal court at the Old Bailey and had there witnessed part of a trial. A girl had stood in the dock—this girl. I had never heard how the trial ended, nor whether the girl was guilty or not. There she had stood, and I had watched her. What in the name of all that was miraculous was she doing on board the Morning Star now?

"I beg your pardon," I said suddenly.

Miss Keele had addressed me twice, but so lost was I in my musings that I had not heard her. I hastened now to push that ugly memory out of sight, and to rise to my immediate duties.

"I am afraid you had rather a rush to catch the boat," I said.

"Yes," she answered, with again that fleeting smile; "it was a close shave, and was all owing to those abominable coolies. You cannot make a native understand that there is such a thing as time. I should have been terribly disappointed if I had lost my passage, as I am most anxious to get home by the first week of the Season."

"Then England is your home?" I said tentatively.

"It is," she answered. "I spent all my early days in England, but I have been in Ceylon, on my father's plantation, for the last five or six years. I have an aunt in London who has promised to take me about, but I only got the final summons to join her at the eleventh hour. Hence my great haste," she continued; "I all but lost the boat."

"You certainly did," I replied.

Her tone was perfectly frank, her eyes were wide open and unembarrassed. Could I be mistaken after all? Was there another girl just like Miss Keele in the world? But no, I was certain she was the same. There was a peculiar look and power about her face which raised it altogether out of the common, and I had never yet been mistaken in a likeness. The girl sitting by my side was a consummate actress; beyond doubt she was acting a part.

"You speak. Miss Keele, as if you knew Ceylon very well," said Major Strangways; "is your father's plantation anywhere near Kandy?"

"Two miles outside Kandy," she replied.

[Illustration: "I gave her a searching glance and almost uttered an exclamation."]

"Then you surely know the Morrisons, of Gelpoor?"

She laughed.

"I know them quite well; do you?"

"They are my cousins," he said. "How very curious!"

The next moment the two were deep in a vivacious conversation, exchanging many reminiscences, and I saw that for the present I was out of the running.

When dinner was over I returned to my cabin. I sat down, lit my pipe, and endeavoured to review the position. The girl who had come on board the Morning Star at the last moment had, beyond doubt, a past which she was anxious to conceal. Of this I had not the faintest shadow of doubt; but, after all, it was not my affair. Perhaps she had been proved innocent, not guilty; perhaps she was to be pitied, not censured. One thing, at least, was evident. Whatever she had done in her past life, she had now retrieved her position, her friends were respectable, and she herself appeared to be quite a lady.

I had just resolved to dismiss the matter from my mind, and was bringing my whole attention to bear upon long lists of accounts and invoices of stores, when, just as five bells struck, I heard a knock at my door, and to my surprise Major Strangways entered.

"I hope you will excuse me, purser," he said; "I want to speak to you on a matter of some importance."

"Certainly," I answered; "sit down."

He seated himself on the sofa, and I pushed a cigar towards him.

"I suppose there is no chance of our being overheard?" he said, glancing round.

"None whatever," I said; "please go on."

"Well," he began, "I am in a very exceptional position, and I want to ask you before I say anything further if you will promise to keep what I am about to tell you an absolute secret from everyone on board?"

"Certainly," I answered, "provided it is nothing which will compromise my position as a servant of the Company."

"It will not do so in the least. You will give me your promise?"

"Yes," I said.

"Well, to begin, I must inform you at once that, as I sit here, I am worth close on half a million sterling."

I looked at him in surprise.

"I do not mean that I myself own that sum," he continued, "but that on my person I carry property to that value."

I waited for him to continue.

"I will tell you the whole story," he said. "I made up my mind to do so this afternoon. It is essential that I should have some trustworthy confidant, for one never knows what may happen, and if anything should happen to me before I get home, I shall ask you to act for me. Would you mind locking your door?"

[Illustration: "Unbuttoning his shirt, opened it."]

"Why?" I asked, looking him full in the face.

"To prevent anyone coming in suddenly. I have something to show you which no one else must see."

I leant over and shot the brass bolt forward, then turned to him again.

"What are you going to do?" I exclaimed, thinking he must be mad. With great rapidity he had taken off his dress coat, then his waistcoat, and, unbuttoning his shirt, opened it.

"Do you see this?" he cried.

"Yes," I answered, as he turned to the light; "what is it?"

He was wearing round his waist, next to his skin, a somewhat broad belt covered with wash-leather. As I spoke he suddenly drew away the outer covering and disclosed underneath a band fashioned to resemble a cobra.

"In this belt," he said, "there are jewels to the value I have mentioned. I am taking them home to England."

"You are doing a very dangerous thing," I could not help exclaiming. "Are you the owner of these valuables?"

He laughed.

"I?" he cried. "Certainly not. Have you ever heard of Prince Sindhia?"

"By name, of course," I replied.

"Well, these belong to him. His father has just died. He and I are very old friends. He is now the Maharajah of Besselmir. He is in London, and this day five weeks is to appear before the Queen at a State function at Buckingham Palace, in order to receive some special distinction. On that occasion he is obliged to wear his jewels, the regalia jewels of his state, and he has commissioned me to bring them to him, making it a stipulation that they shall never leave my person, day or night. It is, of course, a fearful responsibility. I daresay you noticed how nervous I was on the verandah of the hotel this afternoon. Well, I had reason. A fortnight ago I received the jewels from the Maharajah's Palace at Besselmir—they were delivered up to me by the custodian, who had this belt specially made for my accommodation. I had important business to transact in Ceylon, and came across hoping to catch this very boat, and so to reach England in time. I did not suppose a soul knew of the strange wealth which I carried round my person, but yesterday I received a queer communication. A native of Besselmir had followed me from the Maharajah's palace. Last night he thrust a paper written in cipher into my hand. This was to inform me that a certain gang of thieves of world-wide reputation knew that I was coming home with the jewels and had resolved to deprive me of them. In what special way I was bringing them to England was still my own secret, but I was already the victim of a conspiracy, and it behoved me to be extra cautious.

"As soon as possible I got on board and stood by the gangway, watching each passenger with intense interest. I was informed by one of the stewards that no fresh passengers, with the exception of myself, had come on board at Colombo, and my fears were just being laid to rest when the steam launch at the last moment shot through the water. I almost gave up hope just then. You can imagine my relief when I discovered that the new passenger was a woman, and not only a woman, but a girl I happen to know all about, for Miss Keele is connected with some of my oldest friends at Kandy."

"Let me look at the belt a little closer," I said. "Ah! what a very curious inner belt!"

It certainly was, being made of countless tiny links of solid gold to give it flexibility, something after the manner of Maltese work. Along its whole length lay a perfect galaxy of precious stones of all sorts and colours, many of which were unknown to me. The glittering blaze of gems was so dazzling that it almost took my breath away. Carbuncles of fiery scarlet lay side by side with amethysts, layers of diamonds, sapphires and pearls. The head of the snake was of exquisitely carved ivory, with an outspread hood of emeralds, and the eyes were two olive-green chrysoberyls that seemed to emit a marvellous opalescent light of their own.

"Well, you are in a strange position," I could not help exclaiming.

"I certainly am," he answered.

"Is it wise to carry the jewels about like that?" I said. "You had much better let me see the second officer and have them put in the bullion room."

"No, no," he cried petulantly; "certainly not. I will keep my promise to my friend, and you have just promised to keep yours. Believe me, the jewels are safe enough. Every extra person who knows of their existence only increases the risk. None of the gang who have threatened to deprive me of my treasure can possibly be on board, and I am safe enough until I reach England."

"All the same, I should not go ashore at any of the ports, if I were you," I said.

"Of course I sha'n't. The Morning Star holds me until we reach England, when I shall immediately take the jewels to the Maharajah."

"All the same. Major," I said, "it behoves you to be very careful to give your confidence to no one."

"Whom am I to give it to?" he asked, looking me in the face. "I am not a man to make friends easily, and beyond yourself and, of course, Miss Keele, who is more or less an old friend already, I shall see little of my fellow-passengers."

I longed to say to him, "Beware of Miss Keele," but did not like to do so.

"Well, purser, I have your word to respect my confidence," he said; "you won't breathe a syllable of this to a single soul?"

"You have my word, Major Strangways."

He held out his hand and grasped mine with a firm grip.

I am pretty tough, and few things disturb my night's repose, but I will confess that on that special night my sleep was broken and restless. Major Strangways was in a strange position. He was carrying home on his person what amounted to half a million of money. A gang of thieves of world-wide reputation knew that he was the bearer of all this treasure. A girl had come on board at the very last minute whose face I had seen three years ago in the dock of the Old Bailey. How queer were these circumstances; and what did they mean? But for the fact of the girl's presence I should scarcely have been uneasy. I knew everyone else on board, but what about the girl? If I mentioned what I suspected about her, I should ruin her for ever. Such a statement would amount to slander. Without corroboration it must not be breathed. The girl might be wronged and innocent. On the other hand, she might be what I did not dare to think. Large gangs of thieves have employed women before now for their more delicate work. She was a handsome and most attractive girl—the prize was enormous.

I tossed from side to side, a queer sensation of coming trouble oppressing me. I wished heartily that Major Strangways had never taken me into his confidence. Towards morning I fell into a heavy doze.

The days sped by without anything special occurring, and, in spite of myself, my fears slumbered.

Meanwhile Major Strangways and Miss Keele became the centre of interest on board the Morning Star. There is nothing which gives such liveliness to a voyage home as an active flirtation, and we had not left Colombo many days before it was evident to every passenger on board that Major Strangways had lost his heart to the beautiful, bright-eyed, vivacious girl. He followed her about like a shadow, was seldom absent from her side, watched her every movement with burning eyes, was moody and silent when away from her, and raised to the seventh heaven of bliss when in her presence.

Miss Keele, on the other hand, held herself somewhat aloof from the gallant fellow's attentions. She acted on every occasion as a dignified and reserved woman, never for an instant giving herself away or letting herself go.

When we reached Brindisi most of the passengers went on shore, and amongst them Miss Keele. Major Strangways, taking my advice, remained on board. He had said little or nothing to me about the treasure which he carried since that first evening, and I observed now that his mind was occupied with more personal matters. The bright eyes of a certain girl were of greater value to him than the most brilliant diamonds which had ever been excavated out of the depths of the earth.

No fresh passengers came on board at Brindisi, and, having coaled, we proceeded cheerily on our voyage.

At Gibraltar, however, we had quite an influx of fresh arrivals, and amongst them was a wiry looking, well set up young fellow of two or three and twenty. The moment Major Strangways saw him he uttered an exclamation of astonishment and pleasure, ran up to him, and wrung his hand.

"Why, Morrison," he said, "this is luck! Who would expect to see you here? I thought you were safe at Kandy."

"No wonder, Strangways," was the eager reply. "When last I saw you I had no more intention of coming to England than I had of flying, but I have been sent over by the quickest possible route on important business, was detained at Gibraltar with a nasty touch of jungle fever from which I have now quite recovered. My father will be much put about at the unavoidable delay, but there was no help for it."

Major Strangways eyed him all over with marked approval.

"I am glad you are better and that you are coming home with us," he said. "This is a curious thing, Morrison. I thought when I came on board the Morning Star that I should be amongst strangers, but first Miss Keele turns up, and then you. 'Pon my word, I'm right glad to see you."

"Miss Keele? What Miss Keele?" asked the young man.

"Annie Keele. You know her, of course. She has often talked to me about you."

"But this really is incredible," said Morrison. "I had not the slightest idea that either of the Keele girls meant to come to England this year. I saw them both the night before I sailed. You must be joking, Strangways."

"Seeing is believing," said Major Strangways, turning round and for the first time noticing me. He introduced Mr. Morrison, who expressed pleasure at making my acquaintance.

"I'll just go down and find Miss Keele," said the Major after a pause.

"No, let me do that," I interrupted; "you will like to show Mr. Morrison round, and the boat does not start for half an hour. I will find Miss Keele and tell her of your arrival."

"Be sure you say Dick Morrison is on board; she will know all about me," called out our new passenger. "This is luck," I heard him add; "Annie Keele is no end of fun."

"The most beautiful and charming girl I ever came across," was the Major's answer, and then they both sauntered away to the other end of the deck.

I ran down the companion. I found Miss Keele in the ladies' saloon. She was seated by a small table near one of the open port-holes writing busily. She looked up as I approached. One of her idiosyncrasies was always to write her letters with red ink. She was a great correspondent, and at every port we stopped at she had always a heavy mail to despatch.

"Oh, purser," she exclaimed, "I am glad to see you! I particularly want to have this letter posted before we start. It is for Colombo; shall I be in time?"

I noticed a slightly worn and anxious expression round her lips. I spoke abruptly.

"The vessel won't start for half an hour," I said; "but I have news for you, Miss Keele."

"Indeed!" she answered.

"Yes, a special friend of yours has just come on board."

"A friend?" she replied. She kept her composure admirably, but I noticed that in spite of every effort a queer, chalky hue was stealing round her lips.

"A friend of mine?" she said again; "but surely, Mr. Conway, you do not know any of my friends?"

"I have only just made the acquaintance of this friend, but Major Strangways knows him well. I allude to Mr. Morrison—Dick Morrison, he calls himself."

"Dick Morrison?" she exclaimed with a start; "Dick?"

"Yes, he has just come on board; he is going to England with us. He is delighted to hear that you are one of the passengers. He will he down in a moment to see you."

"Oh, I must not wait for that," she said, jumping up at once. "Dear old Dick, how more than pleased I shall be to welcome him! What a splendid piece of luck!"

She made a sudden lurch as she spoke against the little table, and the bottle of red ink was upset. It rolled down over the blotting paper, over the half-finished letter, and then streamed on to the floor,

"What mischief have I done? Oh, do send for one of the stewards to have it mopped up," she cried; "I must not wait another moment. I must see Dick without delay."

She left the saloon, walking very quickly; her colour was high and her eyes bright. I waited behind her for an instant to give directions about the spilt ink, and the next moment the sound of a loud crash fell on my ears. I rushed out. By some extraordinary accident, which was never explained, Miss Keele, when half way up the companion, had turned her ankle under her and fallen backwards, her head knocking violently against the polished wood of the floor. She lay at the bottom of the companion now, half insensible. The moment I touched her she opened her eyes.

"Oh, do, please, take me to my cabin at once," she pleaded.

There was a passion in her accents which aroused my sympathy. I helped to raise her—a stewardess came in view, we got further assistance, and the girl was taken to her cabin. Cairns, the ship's doctor, was hastily summoned. He came out after a brief examination to say that Miss Keele had hurt her head and twisted her ankle badly, and that she would have to remain perfectly quiet for the rest of the voyage.

"She must stay in her cabin to-day," said the doctor, addressing me. "Of course, she may be well enough to be carried on deck to-morrow. It is strange how her foot slipped, for the vessel was not even in motion."

I made no remark of any sort, but, going on deck, told Major Strangways and Mr. Morrison what had happened.

Major Strangways' dismay was very evident. Mr. Morrison expressed regret, and said he hoped that Annie would pull herself together and allow him to see her on the next day.

"It is a great piece of luck, her coming over to England with us," I heard him say to the Major, and then the two men turned aside to pace up and down the hurricane deck.

Two days later we reached the neighbourhood of the Isle of Wight. Our voyage was nearly over, and people who had made friends on the voyage were looking forward, many of them with regret, to the inevitable parting on the morrow.

[Illustration: "Seated by a small table, writing busily."]

During these few days Miss Keele had remained in her cabin, sending out many excuses, both to the Major and Mr. Morrison, for her enforced imprisonment. the Major many times suggested that she should be carried on deck, but all his suggestions were negatived by the girl herself, who declared that she was in much pain and would prefer to remain in her cabin. Several of the ladies on board visited her, and their accounts of her cheerfulness, and the brave way in which she bore her too evident sufferings, aroused their admiration.

The last night approached. I had a great deal to do, and went down early to my cabin. I was just about to turn my attention to the ship's accounts when there came a brisk knock at my door, and Strangways entered.

"I thought I'd like to tell you myself, Conway," he exclaimed. "Congratulate me, won't you? Miss Keele has just consented to be my wife."

"The dickens she has!" I could not help exclaiming, under my breath. "But how did you manage to have an interview with her?" I said, aloud.

You know where there's a will there's a way," was his laughing response. "I wrote her a note, and she consented to see me in the ladies' saloon when the rest of the passengers were at dinner. The stewardess helped her to get into the saloon. Did you not notice my empty place this evening?"

"I can't say I did," I answered. "When a vessel like the Morning Star is reaching her destination, a purser has a good many other things to consider."

"Of course, old fellow. Well, the long and the short of it is that I have seen her, and she has promised to marry me. I ordered a bottle of champagne for the auspicious occasion, and we drank each other's healths. My God! what a lucky fellow I am! There never was anyone like her in the world. I believe Morrison guesses the state of affairs. I must go and tell him."

"What about your belt, Major?" I said suddenly.

"Oh, that's all right. The fact is, I had almost forgotten it, but I have faithfully worn it day and night, and to-morrow, or next day at latest, will deliver it up to the Maharajah. It will be a relief to get rid of it."

[Illustration: "Still holding her arm, I went up to the unconscious man."]

"You have not said anything about it to Miss Keele?" I asked.

"Well, no; is it likely? What gives you such a suspicious air, Conway?"

"Oh, nothing, nothing! Of course I congratulate you."

"You well may; I am the luckiest fellow on the face of God's earth."

His face beamed all over; he wrung my hand as if he would scarcely let it go, and left the cabin.

An hour passed, and I must say that during that time I paid very little attention to the ship's accounts. Major Strangways' news had produced a sense of intense discomfort, and all my early suspicions were revived. Who was Miss Keele? What was she doing on board the Morning Star? Had she an ulterior motive behind those quiet manners and that beautiful face? Beyond doubt she had shown extreme agitation when I mentioned the fact that Morrison was on board. The spilt ink testified to this, also the changing colour on her expressive face, and, still more, the accident which occurred a moment later. Was it possible that the somewhat serious injury she received was not really accidental?

I started up when this idea came to me, blaming myself much for my suspicions, and then, making a violent effort, I withdrew my mind from Miss Keele and her affairs. Eight bells was close at hand, and I turned restlessly to the business which I must conclude before I lay down. I had just got a little bit into the swing of the thing when there came another knock at my door. I muttered angrily under my breath, but said the inevitable words, "Come in."

This time, much to my astonishment, Morrison appeared on the scene.

"Purser, I have something to say; I shall not keep you a moment."

"Come in and shut the door, won't you?" was my reply.

He entered gravely, closing the door behind him. His boyish face looked pale, and there was a startled, horrified expression in his eyes.

"You ought to know," he said, "and so ought Strangways. Strangways has just told me he is engaged to Annie Keele; but, by Jove! Annie Keele is not on board at all! I caught a glimpse of the girl who poses as Miss Keele. She came out of her cabin and limped in the direction of Strangways' cabin not ten minutes ago. I stepped back behind a curtain, meaning to spring out and declare myself, for Annie and I—the real Annie, I mean—have been the greatest chums all our lives. But, by Jove! it wasn't Annie at all; the girl was not even like her. What does this mean, purser?"

"God only knows," I answered. "Where did you say you saw Miss Keele?"

"Limping along the passage, not far from Strangways' cabin. She went very softly, and I lost sight of her almost in a moment. I was so stunned I could think of nothing but to come straight to you."

"You did quite right; and now leave me, like a good fellow; I must look into this matter immediately."

"But what will you do? What does it mean?"

"Heaven only knows what it means," I replied; "but leave me, Morrison, and at once—there is not a moment to lose. No, you cannot help—go, do go."

As I spoke my eyes lighted upon a pipe which Strangways in his excitement had left on my table. I instantly resolved to utilise it—it would give me an excuse to go to his cabin. Morrison had already departed. I now opened my own door softly and went out into the dark saloon, and made my way towards Strangways' cabin. I hurried my footsteps, and when I reached his door opened it without knocking.

Never till my dying day shall I forget the sight that there met my eyes. As it was past midnight the electric light was of course out, but by the light of a reading lamp on the wall I could see Strangways lying half dressed on the lower bunk. His face was white as death, his mouth slightly open, his eyes shut as if in heavy slumber. Was he dead or drugged? What in the world was the matter?

Before I had time to call his name, a rustling sound caused me to turn my eyes in the direction of the port-hole. A woman was leaning out of it. My God! she was the girl who had posed as Annie Keele. Without a moment's hesitation I rushed up to her, seized her arm, and said, "What is the meaning of this? What are you doing here? Speak at once."

"Let me go, Mr. Conway; I can explain everything," was her reply.

"What have you done with Strangways, and where is his belt?" I cried.

Still holding her arm, I went up to the unconscious man and bent over him. The belt, the wonderful golden cobra which contained the priceless regalia of the Maharajah of Besselmir, was gone. where was it?

"You have robbed this man, and must account for it," I said. "I know all about the treasure which he carries; you are found out. Miss Keele—your game is up."

"No, it is not up," she said, drawing herself to her full height and by a sudden quick movement slipping away from my detaining hand. "It is not up, for I have succeeded. Do your worst; I care about nothing now. I said I would do it, and I have done it."

"But you have killed him," I cried; "you have given him poison!"

"No, not poison; I had to drug him,. but he will recover after some hours. I liked him too well to poison him. Do what you will with me, the belt is gone, and you will never see it again. I have fulfilled my mission; you can lock me up if you wish."

Without a second's delay I pressed the electric bell. A moment or two later footsteps were heard approaching. The doctor and chief steward were on the scene immediately. I blurted out what was necessary of my story; the doctor bent over Strangways, and the steward took possession of Miss Keele. She was searched, but no sign of the jewels could we find. Her defiant eyes followed me wherever I went, there was a smile round her cold lips.

"I have succeeded," she said briefly; "nothing else matters. I said I would do it, and I have done it."

A wild thought struck me. One of the ways in which smugglers evaded Customs in the old days flashed through my mind. A celebrated and successful trick was the following. The goods were placed in small metal cylinders, which were hermetically sealed. A line sufficiently long to allow the cylinder to reach the bottom of the sea was attached; it was then pushed through the porthole and dropped into the water. At the other end of the line was a cork float to mark the spot. The cylinders were subsequently hauled up by small rowing boats from the shore, and the goods brought to land—thus the Customs were evaded. Was it possible that Miss Keele had disposed of the Maharajah's regalia in a similar manner? If so, was I in time?

I dashed my way roughly through the crowd and flew up the companion like a madman. I made straight for the bridge. Belphage, our first officer, was on watch.

"Man overboard!" I shouted; "sling over a lifebelt."

Immediately something whirled over my head, and before it had struck the water Belphage had roared his orders to the quarter-master, who lowered one of the lifeboats.

"But who is it, Conway?" he cried, as I felt the vessel shake and tremble as the engines reversed.

"Half a million, and I am going for it; thanks for your smartness," was my answer, and I ran towards the davits and scrambled into the boat.

The whole ship was now awake, and the scene was one of indescribable confusion and uproar. The next moment we had shoved away and half a dozen Lascars were laying to the oars as if their lives depended on it. They were making straight for the lifebelt, whose automatic light danced on the water half a mile astern.

"It is not a man at all," I said to the third officer, who was at the helm shivering in his pyjamas; "it's half a million in jewels. Contraband goods trick—steer for the belt, I'll tell you everything afterwards."

"Great Scott! what a game! How did it happen?" he cried.

"You'll see directly. Pull, you Johnnies."

"Atcha, sahib," the Lascars cried, and they bent to the oars, guided by the light that came nearer and nearer. We presently reached it.

"Now, then, you men, keep your eyes open," I cried in frantic excitement. "Pull straight on in the line between the steamer and the belt, and look out for something floating."

I scrambled to the bows and looked right and left. In the darkness across the water a four-oared gig was making rapidly in our direction. Suddenly it paused, stopped, turned, and made as quickly for the shore. The appearance of the gig on the scene made my suspicions certainties. What a fiendish plot it was! But now to find the floating buoy.

The officer at the helm steered in a straight line, and a few moments later I heard him utter a shout of triumph. There was something luminous bobbing up and down on the water. The next instant we were alongside it. The men ceased rowing and I leant over, seized the luminous object, and pulled it in. It was a soda-water bottle, evidently coated inside with luminous paint, and attached to it was a piece of cork. I immediately began to haul in the line that was fastened to the cork. Fathom after fathom came up, and at last at the end appeared what I knew was there—the wash-leather belt which contained the Maharajah's regalia. With trembling fingers I raised the flap of the belt and saw that the golden cobra with its wealth of jewels was safe within. After its short sojourn in the bed of the English Channel it lay uninjured in my grasp. My fellow officer and the Lascars stared open-eyed, as the galaxy of jewels flashed before their eyes.

I explained matters to them as shortly as I could, and we rowed back to the steamer. A crowd of chattering and excited passengers awaited our arrival. The skipper came up at once to question me.

"How is Strangways?" was my first remark.

[Illustration: "Began to haul in the line that was fastened to the cork."]

"Coming to," was his reply; "but I never saw the doctor in a greater funk about anyone. He thought at first that it was all over with the poor chap. The girl has disappeared, though. It is an awful thing."

"The girl? Miss Keele? What do you mean?"

"What I say. She leapt overboard. She managed to elude the steward, rushed up on deck, and was over before anyone could prevent her. We have been searching all round the ship while you were going after that half million. We cannot find her, high or low."

Nor did anyone ever find Miss Keele again, and whether she is alive now or dead is more than I can say. Her abrupt arrival on board the Morning Star was only equalled by her still more startling and sensational departure.

"When she heard that you had gone off in the lifeboat she seemed to lose her senses," said the chief steward to me. 'Then he guesses,' I heard her say. 'If he guesses, he will find it, and then I shall have failed.' The next moment she was off like a flash. Poor young lady," he added in a whisper.

I could not help echoing the sigh which came up from the good fellow's throat. But Major Strangways was coming to, and I had to go to him. I told him my story. I found him almost delirious, and even the recovery of the regalia had little or no effect upon him. The fact is, Miss Keele stole far more than the Maharajah's regalia on that unhappy night. Major Strangways has never been the same man since; but at least the jewels were saved.

I went with Strangways a few days later, when he delivered up the belt which had so nearly cost him his life, and Strangways himself told the Maharajah the part I had played in its recovery. The great Oriental thanked me quietly, without demonstration of any kind. Finally he asked me my name and address.

Before I left England on my next voyage I received a neat packet. In it was a ring set with a single stone, a diamond of the first water. I dare not repeat the value which an expert put upon it. It remains when I am at sea in the National Safe Deposit in Chancery Lane—a reminiscence of how I saved the Maharajah's regalia.