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CHAPTER XXI-On Board a White Star Liner
Whilst Jimmy and Crouch were travelling at the rate of about forty miles an hour upon the track of the Great Northern Railway, Superintendent-detective Etheridge was traversing the country every bit as rapidly, upon an almost parallel route.
Leaving Whitehall shortly after ten o'clock at night, he followed the old Roman road which goes by the name of Watling Street that runs from London to Chester. He knew what he was about; and he knew also that, provided the Rolls-Royce car met with no mishap upon the road, he could reach Liverpool before the "Baltic" sailed. He had already telegraphed to the police both at that place and at Hull, giving a detailed description of "Mr. Lewis Valentine" and Rudolf Stork. It was discovered afterwards-and we have already said as much-that his telegram reached Hull too late. Stork, with his usual luck, had arrived in the nick of time, and before Detective-inspector Manning could trace his whereabouts, he had embarked upon the "Marigold," and was well out to sea in one of those dripping, impenetrable fogs, which are of such common occurrence upon the Dogger Bank.
At Liverpool, however, the case was very different. The police in that city were warned in time; and besides, it so happened that the boat-train was delayed by the breaking down of an engine which obstructed the main-line traffic for several hours. The great White Star liner lay alongside her wharf, under steam, with her cargo all aboard; but, long before the first batch of passengers had arrived, no less than six detectives and plain-clothes policemen were in possession of the gangways. A Mr. Lewis Valentine, registered as an American citizen, of Minneapolis, appeared in the list of passengers; and the police were already in possession of Etheridge's description of the man he wanted.
In the meantime, the superintendent-detective himself was speeding northward upon the famous road that in bygone days had conducted the Roman legions to the strong fortified posts upon the frontier of Wales. Etheridge knew the possibilities of the Rolls-Royce, which on many a previous occasion had stood him in good stead. It was by means of this car that he had captured Jack White, the famous Ealing murderer, and had been able to run down Joss Hubbard, the anarchist, whose arrest he brought about at the very moment when the criminal was setting foot upon the cross-Channel boat at Dover.
Towards morning, it rained steadily-a fine, drizzling rain which soon after daybreak turned to sleet. Even the main roads were covered with mud and slush, whereas the country lanes were converted into quagmires.
Hour by hour, the Rolls-Royce tore northward. Its great staring lights rushed through many a sleeping village. Its horn sounded repeatedly, giving ample warning to the few people who happened to be abroad-for the most part agricultural labourers going to their work in the small hours of the morning-that one of His Majesty's servants had urgent and important business to transact on behalf of the public safety.
In such a situation there was nothing novel as far as the superintendent-detective was concerned.He knew exactly where he was going, when he would get there, and what would-or what would not-happen, when he did. Accordingly, he folded his arms, turned up the collar of his fur coat, and lying well back in his seat, slept no less soundly, though not quite so noisily, as Captain Crouch himself.
He woke up as the car was entering Liverpool, pulled out his watch, and looked at the time. He had still three-quarters of an hour to spare; he would arrive on board the "Baltic" before she was due to sail.
Leaving the Rolls-Royce at the dock gates, he walked along the magnificent wharf owned by the White Star Company, where at the foot of the gangway he was recognized by one of the local detectives. Though no one, watching the two men's faces, would have imagined for a single instant that they had known each other for years, Etheridge gathered all the information he desired: namely, that the so-called "Mr. Valentine" had not yet come on board.
He ascended the gangway to the main promenade deck, where, cigar in mouth, he leaned upon the taffrail, surveying the crowd of dock labourers, customs house officials and passengers that was assembled under the wharf-shed.
Presently, a tall man approached who was wearing a heavy ulster, and who addressed Etheridge as if he were talking to an absolute stranger, though as a matter of fact he was no less a person than Superintendent-detective McGowan of Liverpool who had worked with Scotland Yard for years.
"I beg pardon, sir," said he, producing a cigarette from a morocco case, "but would you be so good as to oblige me with a light?"
Etheridge rummaged in his pockets, produced a box of safety matches, struck one, and held it in the hollow of both hands to screen the flame from the wind. When he was quite assured that the light would not be blown out, he leaned forward so that McGowan was not only able to light his cigarette, but to whisper in his colleague's ear. The words he used may, at first blush, seem somewhat vague; for all that, to the quick intelligence of the London detective they conveyed all the information he desired to know.
"D Forty-one," said McGowan, who then, having lighted his cigarette, thanked Etheridge, and strolled carelessly away.
Etheridge walked casually along the deck until he came to one of the lifts, where he asked the attendant to take him down to "D" deck. There, as if looking for his own cabin, he wandered about, until he came to number forty-one, which he promptly entered and where he seated himself in a comfortable armchair.
Then, producing a copy of the morning paper which he had purchased at the dock gates, he proceeded to read the news of the day. About the Baron von Essling he troubled himself not in the least. He never gave him a thought. He had gathered from McGowan that D41 was the number of the cabin that had been booked by "Mr. Valentine." Sooner or later, Valentine himself would arrive. Until that moment, Superintendent-detective Etheridge was determined to give the whole of his attention to the morning's news.
Suddenly, a steward entered, carrying a Gladstone bag. He appeared somewhat surprised to see the cabin in possession of the detective, of whose identity he had no idea.
"This is the wrong cabin, sir," said he.
"I think not," said the other. "It has been booked by a Mr. Valentine, I believe. I have here a police warrant for his arrest."
The usual effect of a police warrant can only be described as electrical. The steward allowed the Gladstone bag to fall from his hand, and stood regarding the detective in amazement.
"What shall I do?" he asked.
"Mr. Valentine has come on board?" asked Etheridge, disregarding the steward's question.
"He is on the promenade deck now."
"Then show him down to his cabin, and leave us together. You need not trouble to remain at hand, as several of my assistants are on board the ship, and besides, I am provided with these," he added, producing a Colt revolver and a pair of handcuffs.
The steward went out, walking on tiptoe, with the demeanour of a man who is conscious that he finds himself on dangerous ground. And no sooner was the door closed than Etheridge flung himself at the Gladstone bag as a hungry dog might tackle a bone. To undo the straps was the work of a moment. Producing a skeleton key from his pocket, he succeeded in opening the lock, and then turned out the complete contents of the bag upon the floor.
He found nothing more suspicious than a suit of pyjamas, washing materials and an extraordinary number of neckties of every conceivable colour, tone and shade. He bundled these back into the bag with scant ceremony; and no sooner had he done so than the door was opened, and there entered a man wearing a tweed suit and one of those soft felt hats which are so popular in the United States.
"I understood," said he, regarding Etheridge in surprise, "I understood this was my cabin-D41."
At that moment, there entered another steward-a thick-set man with a heavy, black moustache-who carried upon his back a large cabin-trunk, upon the lid of which were inscribed the words: "LEWIS N. VALENTINE, MINNEAPOLIS, MINN."
Now, Superintendent-detective Etheridge had already searched the archives of Scotland Yard for a photograph of von Essling; and there was no question but that this Mr. Lewis N. Valentine (of Minneapolis, Minn.) bore a striking resemblance to the military attach?, with the exception of the trifling fact that von Essling wore a moustache and Valentine was clean-shaven.
The steward set down the trunk in the middle of the cabin, and then went out without a word, half closing the door. Etheridge and Valentine stood face to face, regarding each other closely, the one wondering whether he had found the right man, the suspicions of the other fully aroused.
Etheridge had a method of his own that seldom failed. It was his custom to confront suspected persons with the truth. On such occasions, it is extremely difficult not to give one's self away; the most hardened criminal is not capable of controlling his features or of finding suitable words of explanation, when he suddenly finds himself face to face with his own guilt. If "Valentine," or von Essling, were so obliging as to betray his own identity, there was little doubt in the detective's mind that the necessary proof would be forthcoming, when the man's baggage was overhauled. However-as we shall see-Valentine himself was possessed of considerable presence of mind. He was a desperate man in a desperate situation, and was not likely to stick at trifles.
"To the best of my knowledge," said Etheridge bluntly, "this cabin was reserved for the Baron von Essling, a military attach? to the German Embassy in Washington, who has certainly no right to be in England at the present time."
Valentine started. He was not sufficiently master of himself to prevent it. He drew back a quick step, and stared hard at Etheridge. His lips had parted, and the colour had vanished from his cheeks.
"What do you mean?" he exclaimed.
He got the better of his feelings in an instant, and feigned annoyance. Etheridge, however, had already formed his own opinion, and was determined to arrest the man, at once.
"If you're wise," said he, "you'll speak the truth. It's my duty to warn you that anything you say may be used in evidence against you."
Very quietly, without ostentation or any show of violence, Valentine drew a revolver from the hip pocket of his trousers, and directed the barrel fair at the detective's heart.
"Hands up!" said he, almost in a whisper.
With an air of meekness and submission that was little short of amazing, the superintendent-detective raised both hands above his head.
Valentine spoke again, this time more quickly, as if he were excited.
"Who you are," he cried, "I neither know nor care. But attempt to betray me, attempt to leave this room until we have come to some mutual understanding, and you do so at your peril. How you discovered my identity, I don't pretend to know."
"Then," said Etheridge, whose hands were still held high above his head, "then, you admit that you are von Essling."
"I admit nothing," rapped out the other.
"You have already done so," answered the detective. "And that is enough for me."
And hardly had the words left his lips than Valentine was seized roughly from behind and both arms were pinned to his sides. For a moment, he struggled violently to free himself; and it was then that the revolver went off, and the leaden bullet was driven deep into the flooring. With an effort, he twisted round, to see who his adversary might be; and his disgust and astonishment can better be imagined than described when he found himself confronted by the same white-coated steward-the thick-set man with the black moustache-who had carried his cabin trunk on board. A second later, he was out of action, his hands fastened together behind his back by means of a pair of handcuffs.
"That was smart work, Richards," observed the superintendent-detective, turning to the steward. "I hope you were able to hear every word that passed between us?"
"Every word, sir," said the steward, who, as a matter of fact, was one of the detective's most trusted men, who had accompanied him from London, sitting beside the driver in the eighty horse-power Rolls-Royce car, which had come from Whitehall at the rate of forty miles an hour.
CHAPTER XXII-By the Dogger Bank
Whilst these events were in progress Captain Crouch and Jimmy Burke, in the great seaport town of Hull, were hot upon the scent of Rudolf Stork.
From the railway station they drove straight to the central police station, where they found the inspector in his office. Scotland Yard had telephoned during the night that Stork would probably arrive in Hull early in the morning. Detectives had been dispatched at once to the railway station, but got there too late to arrest the spy, who was probably the only first-class passenger who arrived by the one forty-seven train from King's Cross, who had no other baggage than a small handbag, and who was met by a motor-car in which he went off in the direction of the docks.
The police had made sundry inquiries among the fishing people in the poorer part of the town, and had learnt that the smack "Marigold" had put to sea in the small hours of the morning.
Crouch saw that there was nothing to be done but to continue the pursuit, even into the midst of the shoals and fog-wreaths of the Dogger Bank. He knew well the maxim that it was wise to set a thief to catch a thief, and decided to follow the "Marigold" in another fishing-smack, and not a steamer.
His reasons for this were twofold. In the first place, the Well-bank was extremely shallow water, across which no ocean-going ship could pass. Secondly, as he knew full well, in view of the forthcoming raid, the neighbouring waters were alive with enemy submarines, who were more likely to torpedo a steamer flying the English flag than a comparatively valueless fishing-boat.
Now, the name of Captain Crouch's friends was legion, but for the most part they lived, moved and had their being in seaport towns, and there were not a few in Hull.
One of these was a Grimsby man, with nearly thirty years' experience as a trawler, who was known as Captain Whisker; and it was to his house that Crouch and Jimmy Burke betook themselves, as soon as they had gleaned all available information from the police.
Though it was still exceedingly early in the morning Captain Whisker was up, digging furiously in his garden, with a blackened pipe between his lips. He was a man the very opposite of Crouch. Crouch was small and wizened; Whisker broad, florid and colossal. He could not have been less than six feet five in height, and his chest measurement was exceeded only by the girth of his waist. He was clean-shaven, but his eyebrows were so extremely large and bushy that they resembled a kind of superior moustache, and made his surname of "Whisker" seem singularly appropriate.
"Why, Crouch!" he exclaimed, driving his garden fork into the ground and coming forward with outstretched hand. "The last man on earth I ever thought to see! It must be five years, at least, since you and I were shipmates; and that was on the West Coast, when I took you down from Sierra Leone to Banana Point, when you were bound for the Aruwimi, to look for a lost explorer who, you said, was a good two inches taller than I."
"There's no time now to talk of that," said Crouch. "I've a job of work on hand, and you're the very man who can help. There's a German spy who put to sea at daybreak in the 'Marigold,' and I've a mind to go after him, if you know of a craft that can be safely recommended."
Captain Whisker drew himself up to his full height and puffed out both his cheeks, at the same time opening his blue eyes so widely that they resembled those of an enormous doll.
"Come inside," said he, almost in a whisper, after a pause sufficiently long to enable him to recover from his surprise. "Come inside, and talk matters out."
Crouch and Jimmy followed the burly captain into a very singular room, in which a hammock was suspended from the ceiling, whilst the floor was wholly taken up by fishing-nets, tarpaulins, ropes, boats' anchors, lifebuoys and a hundred odds and ends such as might be picked up on a sheltered beach near which a wreck had taken place. There was barely room in which to move.
Crouch told his story briefly-or as much of it as he deemed it was necessary for his seafaring friend to hear. When he had ended, Captain Whisker unburdened himself as follows-
"You can't do better," said he, "than set out in the 'Kitty McQuaire.' She's a faster smack than the 'Marigold'; she can do a good knot and a half better. I reckon she can sail nearer the wind than any sailing-ship of any kind between here and Aberdeen. She was going out this morning, in any case. I'll come with you, and take command. It's some years, Crouch, since you skippered a smack; and though I don't doubt that you still know as much of your old trade as I do, what you have told me has kind o' hoisted a flying jib before the mainsail of my curiosity; and I should like to see the business through."
"Come on, then!" Crouch almost shouted. "It won't be the first time, by a long chalk, that you and I were shipmates in adventure. And, what's more, you always brought me luck."
Resolved to waste no further time, they set out together; and long before the sun had reached its meridian, they were passing out of the mouth of the Humber, where they set their course to the north, towards the Well-bank lightship.
The "Kitty McQuaire" proved herself to be all that Whisker had said. As the afternoon advanced the sea got up, until by evening a gale was blowing from the south-east. The smack danced and dived and pirouetted, sometimes being lifted high upon the crest of the waves, and at other times plunging, nose foremost, into the depths.
Captain Whisker soon proved himself no less capable a seaman than Captain Crouch. Indeed, had it not been for his great knowledge of the sea and admirable presence of mind, it is more than likely that the "Kitty McQuaire" would have been driven on to a shoal or foundered in open water. They were obliged to haul down their sails, and keeping the smack head-on to the storm, to put their trust in Providence that they would not be driven back upon the shore.
That night to Jimmy Burke was a night of purgatory and terrible suspense. In the first place, he was unconscionably seasick. What he had endured upon the "Harlech" was as nothing to the torments he suffered now. In a very short time he was reduced to such a state of utter wretchedness that, in his fevered imagination, death by drowning was preferable to life under these conditions. For all that, he was filled with a great fear that the smack would, in truth, go down. Sometimes, when a great wave broke immediately before them, the salt water washed the ship from bows to stern, so that they were obliged to cling to the masts or whatsoever they could lay hold upon, to prevent themselves from being swept away.
In addition to the wind that shrieked and howled through the rigging, a denseness lay upon the uneasy surface of the waters. It was so dark that they could not see twenty yards before them, and knew not in which direction they were being driven by the wind. For some hours they lived in horrible anticipation that they would suddenly find themselves stranded on a sandbank or some lonely part of the coast, where the ship would be battered to fragments by the waves.
With the first signs of daybreak the fog lifted and a great blood-red sun, like an enormous Chinese lantern, arose from out of the east, to flood the desolate scene with a kind of purple-tinted twilight, such as one might suppose should infest a land of ghosts. At the same time, the wind dropped and changed further towards the south. Within two hours the sea had so abated that they were able to hoist their sails and to continue on their course.
Presently they caught sight of the coast, and Whisker recognized at once the white cliffs of Flamborough Head. They were much further north than they had dared to hope; if the wind continued to be favourable, they would reach the neighbourhood of the Well-bank soon after dark. Jimmy, also, had by midday sufficiently recovered of his seasickness to eat a ship's biscuit so hard that he was obliged to break it with an axe.
Early in the afternoon, since there were several ships in the neighbourhood-fishing-smacks, Government trawlers and steamers from the northern ports-they lowered a net to make a pretence of fishing and to avoid arousing suspicion. It is as well they did so, for soon afterwards they sighted a smack, a mile or so ahead, bearing on the same course as themselves, which Whisker recognized at once as the "Marigold," upon which-it was presumed-was Rudolf Stork.
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