And I think we all slept the more comfortably, feeling that we knew of no one who was suffering in the storm.
Some hours before daylight, while I lay dreaming in my cosy box bed, I was awakened by hearing a rapping noise. I listened, fancying it was but the noise of some rat behind the wainscot that had come for shelter into the warm house; but the loud knocking came again. I hurriedly drew on some clothes and opened the outer door. A wild gust of wind and snow swished in upon me, and in the deep snow outside there stood a woman holding a lighted lantern.
"Please d'ye ken anything about Thora Kinlay?" said she; and I recognized Ann, the servant woman of Crua Breck.
"Anything about Thora?" I asked, surprised at the inquiry. "Why, Ann, what's gone wrong wi' her?"
"We're feared she's lost," said the woman. "She went outby in the forenoon, and she hasna come back yet."
"Did she not say where she was going to?" I asked.
"No; and we've heard nothing o' her. We canna think what can hae come ower her."
"But where are Carver and Tom, and the boat's crew?" I asked. "Have they not been out seeking for the lass?"
"No; they're all away in the St. Magnus; and the mistress is ill in her bed. The shepherd and me has been seekin' Thora all the night, and I've come to Lyndardy, thinkin' ye might hae seen her yestreen."
"No; I havena seen Thora these nine or ten weeks past," I said. "But if she be out in this storm she must be looked for; so bide here a wee, Ann, and I'll come out and help ye."
I thereupon hastened within for my sea boots and oilskins. I had next to procure a lantern from the byre; and this was somewhat difficult, for the snow had drifted in a high bank against the door, and I had to remove it before I could effect an entrance. Lighting the lantern, and taking down my long staff, I noticed that my climbing lines had been taken from the peg where they usually hung. My gun, too, was amissing. No one but myself had any use for either the ropes or the gun, and I thought it curious that they were removed; but at the moment I did not concern myself about so apparently trivial a circumstance.
I soon rejoined the woman, and with her I made diligent search for Thora. Backward and forward we tramped for many weary miles in the wind and snow. We went by every road and footpath that we knew, yet not even a footmark but our own could we find.
I questioned Ann and the shepherd, who had joined us, as to where they had searched before I came out. The shepherd had been to a cottage where lived an old woman named Mary Firth, but Mary was not at home, and there was no one in the cottage—no trace of Thora.
"Has either o' ye been across at Jack Paterson's croft?" I then asked.
"No," said the shepherd.
"Weel, then, that's the only place she can have been to, that I can think of. So you two had better get back to Crua Breck and wait till daylight. I'll gang to Jack Paterson's, and if they ken nothing of Thora there, we can only wait till the morning."
The two returned to the farm, therefore, and I tramped through the storm to the croft of Clouston, past the ghostly standing stones of the Druids, and along the dreary, snow-covered road.
The cottage was in darkness, with a great drift of snow against the door. I knocked with my stick several times, and presently I heard Jack Paterson's gruff voice demanding who was there.
"It's me, Halcro Ericson. Open the door, Jack."
"Save us all!" he exclaimed, raising the bolt. "What brings ye out on a night like this, lad? Come inside."
"No; I'm seeking for Thora Kinlay; d'ye ken anything about her; she's lost!"
"Lost! No; I ken nothing o' her. But wait and I'll see the bairns."
He returned to the door in a few minutes.
"Hilda says that Thora was here yestreen," he said. "But she went away to Crua Breck when the snow came on so bad."
I was dismayed at his answer, for it seemed to prove to me that Thora was really lost in the snow.
Paterson offered to continue the search with me, but I advised him to dress and go to Stromness, and make inquiries in the town, while I left him and returned to Lyndardy, always searching for footprints on the snow.
At dawn I resumed the search with my sister Jessie. We first went to Crua Breck to make sure that Thora had not yet returned. We heard that Mrs. Kinlay was very ill now, and that Ann could not leave her.
We returned by the top of the cliffs, where the snow was shallow, but nothing rewarded our search until we got as far as North Gaulton, where we observed what appeared to be footprints crossing our path. They were indistinct, for the wind had disturbed the snow; but they were indeed footprints, and we followed them. They led us to the brink of the cliff, to the very spot where Thora and I had, many weeks before, gone over to descend to the cave.
"Somebody has gone over here, Hal," said Jessie. "Look down on that jag of rock, there is the mark of a rope!"
And at once I remembered about the disappearance of my climbing lines. I looked to where Jessie pointed, and sure enough there were the marks of a rope, where it had disturbed the snow and grazed against the frosted stone. There was no rope hanging there, but I well knew that it could have been removed from below by means of a few dexterous jerks and twitches.
I reasoned with myself upon what I saw, and I considered that the person who had gone down the cliff could be none other than Thora, for I believed that none but she knew of that way down to the cave. Only she and Tom Kinlay knew that I kept my climbing ropes in the byre; but Tom had, as Ann told me, gone out in the St. Magnus. Only Thora could have taken them, then.
What her possible reason for going down to the cave might be, I did not pause to reflect, further than surmising the probability of her having had some quarrel with her father, and of her having run away from Crua Breck as she had once threatened to do. But why do this on such a night of storm?
The first thing to be done was to ascertain beyond doubt if Thora was now in the cave. Had it been expedient, I would at once have gone over the cliff, notwithstanding its frozen condition. Unfortunately, however, I had no other good rope than the one that had been taken away. An old one I had which was neither long enough nor strong enough for the purpose; but even this might be of service, I thought. We went back to the farm, and Jessie helped me to lengthen the rope by joining to it several shorter pieces. Then, judging that Thora, if she were in the cavern, would be suffering from want of food, we got a small basket and stored it with tempting eatables—some newly-made scones, two hard-boiled eggs, and a closed flagon filled with hot tea. Thus prepared we went together through the snow to the cliff.
Whilst I was tying the rope to the handle of our basket, Jessie gathered some stones and threw them down the precipice to attract Thora's attention to the mouth of the cave. I stood out on the brink of the cliff above the cavern and allowed the line to slip through my fingers as though I were "heaving the lead," until the basket touched upon the rock at the entrance to the cave.
For several minutes we waited for some sign that the food was accepted. Twice the line was drawn up a little, and the weight of the basket was still felt. I called for more stones to throw down, at the same time kicking a loose piece of rock well out, so that it fell with a loud splash into the deep water. Jessie went about picking up stones from among the snow, when suddenly an exclamation escaped her.
"Eh, Hal!" said she; "why here's your magic stone!"
"Impossible!" I exclaimed, unable to believe her.
"I tell you it is, indeed!" she protested; and she brought the stone to me, holding it in the palm of her hand.
I at once recognized the viking's talisman. And now I felt sure that Thora was in the cave, and that she had probably dropped the stone by some accident before going over the brink of the cliff, for it was at the very edge that Jessie found it.
When I tried the rope again, I felt that the basket was being held. Then the line was drawn further down, and again set loose, and I drew it up. The basket had been emptied.
In the afternoon, as the snow had abated, I went out, though without stating my intention, and returned to the top of the cliff, determined upon making the descent to the cave and hearing from Thora her reason for this strange freak of hers, before venturing to inform them at Crua Breck that I had discovered the girl's hiding place. The danger of a descent was very great, for the face of the rocks was in parts coated with frozen snow, and I knew that besides the difficulty of climbing with cold hands there was the possibility of slipping upon the icy surface of the ledges. But now I had my viking stone to protect me, and with less hesitation than the occasion warranted I proceeded to climb down the precipice, and was fortunate enough to reach the bottom without accident.
Lighting a small lantern I had brought, I walked into the cavern, thinking it strange that I saw no trace of Thora at the entrance, for I had made noise enough to attract her. Yet I noticed the flagon that had held the warm tea we had sent down in the morning lying empty on a flat stone. I continued my way further into the cavern, watching the play of light upon the huge stalactites that hung from the roof. At last I came to the stream in which Thora had so nearly lost her life. It was swollen, and rushed past with great force. At one point a kind of bridge had been formed by a couple of wooden planks that had been thrown across. Over this bridge I crossed, turning my lantern to right and left, anxiously looking for Thora, whom I also called by name. Beyond the little bridge I was sensible of a strong spirituous smell, and this became still stronger as I advanced, until, when I held my light towards a side chamber of the cave I discerned a large number of small kegs.
At once I thought of what Colin Lothian had said the day before in Gray's Inn about smuggled whisky. Here, then, I had discovered the secret store of some unlawful trader. But my surprise at this soon abated in my anxiety to find Thora. I was continuing my way yet further when my foot touched something strange. I turned my light upon it, and there, lying before me, was the sleeping form, not of Thora, but of Tom Kinlay.
Chapter XXXVI. Trapped In The Cave.
I stood for some moments transfixed with surprise at seeing Tom Kinlay in this situation. He was lying with his head and shoulders upon a square box and snoring loudly. Behind him were piled up many kegs, which I doubted not were filled with contraband spirits. As I reasoned on all this I surmised that Tom was there probably by the directions of his father, whom, after what I had heard and seen, I could not but associate with the smugglers.
I now, for the first time, saw also some shade of reason for the enmity that had existed between Carver and my father. At the time of the wreck of the Undine, years before, when he was stranded in the cavern, Carver had no doubt seen the convenience of the place for smuggling purposes. The cave was commodious, and the fact that its situation was little known among the natives gave it the additional advantage of secrecy.
I could not tell whether Kinlay had carried on his illicit traffic whilst my father was alive, but I guessed that this was so; and believing that my father was the only man who knew his secret, I saw reason sufficient for enmity. My father's death had removed the one great obstacle in the way of Carver's carrying on the smuggling unsuspected. It had also enabled him to become a pilot—a position which gave unusual opportunity to a man so unscrupulous. As pilot he was able to board any vessel that entered the Orcadian waters, and in the case of ships which came over from the Continent or from the north of Scotland with contraband goods, a transfer of cargo could be boldly effected without exciting suspicion. And here in the cave I saw before me a part of the smuggler's store.
Having explored the cavern by the light of my lantern, I was forced to believe that Thora was not there. I returned once more to the kegs of spirits before departing.
Tom was still sound asleep. Approaching him, I turned the light upon him and knelt down, shielding the light from his closed eyes.
Suddenly I was alarmed by hearing the noise of voices at the outer part of the cave—the voices of many men. I blew out the light of my lantern, rose to my feet, and slipped into the shadow to watch, for I did not doubt that these were the smugglers.
I had not stood there very long before I observed a flickering of lights, and the sound of men's feet and voices came nearer and nearer. Then I saw the lights of two lanterns, and distinguished the figures of five men. Their sea jackets were powdered with snow.
"Now, lads," said a hoarse voice that I recognized as Carver Kinlay's, "look smart. Get as many as ye can into the boat, then roll the others into the water."
His eyes rested upon the sleeping form of his son.
"Hullo!" he cried, "why, here is the young devil after all!"
Then, crossing the plank bridge, he gave Tom a heavy kick in the ribs, and placed his lantern on the top of one of the casks.
Tom awoke with a start, and I saw him tremble as in fear. His face was ghastly white.
"Where have ye been all night?" growled his father, without waiting for an answer; "hurry along here and help to get these kegs into the boat."
Young Kinlay rose and staggered after the men. Evidently he had broached one of the whisky kegs.
I drew closer within the shadow of the rock and watched the proceedings. The smugglers carried away one by one as many of the spirit kegs as I believed might lie in the bottom of the St. Magnus. This was done in a great hurry as though much depended upon getting the things cleared away, and Carver was for ever urging his men to "hurry up!"
Then they all set to work, and rolled what remained of the casks into the stream, until, after about an hour's time, there was left no trace of the smuggler's store, excepting only the square box that Tom had slept upon.
Carver Kinlay knelt down beside this chest and unlocked it. He turned over many bundles of papers, and I saw him take out what appeared to be a roll of bank notes and thrust them into his breast pocket. He paused suddenly in his work at the hurried return of his men, and grasped at the box like a miser suddenly surprised.
"The hounds are on us!" exclaimed one excitedly. "They have taken the boat!" And almost immediately there was a tramp of feet coming up the cavern, and a blaze of light from several torches shining on drawn cutlasses.
Kinlay turned with the fury of a wild animal that finds itself trapped, and stood at bay before a company of blue jackets, who were headed by the young officer I had twice before met, Lieutenant Fox of the revenue cutter Clasper.
"In the Queen's name, I arrest you, Carver Kinlay!" said the officer in a firm, loud voice.
"Not so easily," said Kinlay, who was evidently determined not to surrender himself without resistance; and planting one foot firmly on the little bridge which spanned the stream, he drew a large revolver and pointed it full at the lieutenant's head.
Standing very near to him, in a dark crevice at his right hand, I saw the movement. I saw Carver's eyes flash in the torchlight, and just as the click of the trigger sounded I sprang quickly forward and knocked the man's hand upward. The shot rattled among the stalactites of the roof, and the report filled the cavern with deafening noise.
Kinlay was utterly taken aback by what happened, and as the weapon fell from his hand and dropped into the deep water, he turned instinctively to see who had attacked him. Two of the cutter's men thereupon crossed the planks and encountered him on the large flat rock whence the casks had been taken, while I made my way past them.
I was walking coolly over the little bridge, with my extinguished lantern in my hand, when the lieutenant stepped forward and took me by the collar.
"Aha, youngster!" he exclaimed, "I've seen you before. You've done me a good turn, but I must take you nevertheless."
And he retained his hold of my jacket, giving directions to his men the while.
I made a gentle protest, showing no resistance, and stood by the officer, looking excitedly at the scuffle that ensued between the smugglers and the revenue men. Tom Kinlay had already been seized and dragged off to the cutter's boat. One of the smugglers had retreated to the inner recesses of the cave, taking refuge in the darkness, and the three others were having a severe fight with the sailors, using large knives in their defence.
Two of them were speedily overpowered, one of them receiving a serious wound in his side, the other a great cut across his cheek. They were both taken to the boat, and there kept under strict guard. The third man managed to get over to Kinlay.
Carver, on losing his pistol, had taken out his sheath knife, and armed with this he fought with furious determination, standing with his back against a wall of rock. One of his antagonists, in trying to lay hold of his hand, was badly cut, and the other disabled by a blow in the face. But when Carver was joined by his comrade there was a rush of the cutter's men across the bridge, and the smugglers were finally conquered.
They had yet to be brought over to the outer side of the stream, however, and this was a work of no small difficulty. A couple of the sailors walked over the narrow planks, one before and one behind their prisoner, who made an unsuccessful attempt to break loose.
Then Carver was brought to the bridge in a similar manner; and he also attempted to escape by making a spring forward when he reached the middle of the planks. His captors, however, were ready for him. The man behind him had held his two hands, and when by main force he got his right hand free, the sailor held with such a tight grip to the other that Carver was pulled round and he overbalanced himself.
A stiff struggle for mastery then took place. Kinlay was the stronger man, and with his free hand he dealt the sailor a hard blow on the chest. The sailor staggered and fell across the narrow planks, but still holding Kinlay's left hand he pulled the pilot smuggler down with him. The sailor let his hand go free. Then Kinlay tripped, and, uttering a wild yell, fell headlong into the rushing stream.
The lieutenant, seeing what had happened, loosened his grasp of my collar and hurried over to his men to try to save Carver from the dreadful current. One of the wooden planks was thrown into the water for him to take hold of, but Carver must have failed in his attempt to reach it. One of the cutter's men ran to the mouth of the cave and brought back with him a long rope—my own climbing rope—which he had seen lying on the rocks: this also was too late, for Carver was already carried off by the swift stream, no doubt to be taken over into that gulf where Thora had so nearly lost her life.
There now remained only one other of the smugglers to be captured, and he was ultimately discovered crouching like a terrified dog in a dark corner. Before the revenue men left, however, they made a careful search of the cavern; but they brought nothing down to the boat excepting the wooden box that Kinlay had been searching in when he was surprised by the arrival of the blue jackets.
When this excitement was over, and the lieutenant had ordered his men to return to their boat, I was wondering what their movements would be in regard to myself. Would they leave me to climb the cliff and go home, or would they take me round to Stromness?
I was not left long in doubt. Two of the sailors, still with drawn cutlasses, took me into the bow of the longboat and placed me there beside Tom Kinlay and the other prisoners, and bound me to them with my own rope. Then the lieutenant took his seat in the stern sheets, his men plied their oars, and we were taken out to the cutter, which lay anchored a few fathoms out from the rocks.
We were all taken aboard of her. Her white canvas was hoisted and her anchor weighed, and soon we were speeding blithely along in the direction of Stromness, with the St. Magnus towed astern.
Chapter XXXVII. In Which I Am Put Under Arrest.
When we were well under weigh, and I had done admiring the cutter's trim fittings and the smartness of her men, I turned to consider the condition of my unfortunate companions. Two of them were badly wounded, and they were ordered to be taken below to have their wounds dressed, whilst the others were now being placed in irons. They were bound hand and foot to a gun carriage.
Tom Kinlay, who was beside me under the starboard bulwarks, watched the men with consternation in his face. He was evidently very much afraid. I saw him put his hand to his breast as though he felt there for something. I thought he was searching for some weapon; but whatever it was he did not find it. He opened his coat and still searched.
"Hang it!" he exclaimed, "I must have lost it;" and then he looked at me accusingly.
Somehow I thought just then of my viking's stone that I had recovered so strangely, and as I took it from my pocket and assured myself that it was all safe, I began to wonder how it had come to be left there at the top of the cliff. How had Thora allowed it to go out of her keeping? And Thora, where now was she?
Suddenly I felt a warm breath on my face. I turned and saw Tom Kinlay glaring at me.
"Ah! it is you," he exclaimed; "you've stolen it from me!"
And he made a grab at the stone, which fell from my hand upon the deck, for the string had been taken from it, and I had consequently not been able to hang it round my neck. We both scrambled upon the deck, each eager to secure the talisman. But I managed to push Kinlay away, and picking up the stone I put it safely in my breast pocket just as two of the cutter's men came towards us.
"Now, then, youngster," said one of them, taking Tom by the shoulder, "it's your turn now, my lad;" and he proceeded to adjust a pair of handcuffs upon Tom's wrists.
At the same time the other sailor came to me and was in the act of binding me in a similar manner when Lieutenant Fox came forward from the after deck.
"Hold hard, Gillions!" he said. "This youngster needn't be treated like the others, I think. Leave him to me;" and addressing me he asked, "What is your name, my lad?"
"Halcro Ericson, sir," I replied.
"Well, Ericson, tell me, how came you to be mixed up in this affair? I thought I saw you on board that coasting schooner, the Falcon, the other night. Have you turned smuggler since then?"
"No, sir; I was in the cave for something else. I was down seeking for Thora."
"For Thora? What's that—some sort of birds?"
"Birds! No; for the lass that was lost in the snow yestreen."
"Queer place to look for a lass, that, I must say! But how did you get there if you did not go round with Kinlay?"
"I climbed down the cliff, sir."
"Come, come, none of your nonsense!" said the officer. "Don't tell me you climbed down that cliff. I know it's impossible."
"It's not impossible," I rejoined, "for I have climbed it many a time before."
"Well, it's to be hoped the girl was worth risking your neck for. However, as you did not find her after all, you deserve to get off, to look for her in a more likely place."
Then turning to the seaman he said:
"Off with the irons, Gillions, and put the youngster ashore when the anchor's down."
"Ay, ay, sir!" said Gillions.
Accordingly I was set free; and seeing my rope lying on the deck I coiled it up ready to take ashore with me, taking it aft to the gangway.
We were by this time abreast of the Ness and entering Stromness Bay. Notwithstanding the continued falling of snow, several boats put out from the jetties of the harbour when the Clasper was seen sailing in with her prize; and as the chains, rattled over her bow and she came to an anchorage close inshore, she was surrounded by inquiring fisher folk.
In one of the first boats that came alongside sat Bailie Duke wrapped in a great gray plaid. He hailed one of the petty officers of the cutter, and Mr. Fox came forward and asked him aboard.
"What's all this about?" said Mr. Duke, addressing the lieutenant as he stepped on the deck. "I see ye've made a prisoner of our pilot."
"I've made prisoner of a smuggler, sir, pilot or not pilot," said Mr. Fox.
"But on whose authority have you taken the St. Magnus? Do you not know that she is our pilot boat?" asked the bailie.
"On the highest authority, Mr. Duke—the Queen's," replied the lieutenant. "If Kinlay was your pilot, then all the greater was his offence. His men must suffer the penalty for their crime, and I suppose the port must just appoint another pilot, that's all."
"His men must suffer, you say?" said Mr. Duke, not understanding. "Then you do not accuse Carver Kinlay himself of smuggling?"
"I should certainly have done that, Mr. Duke; but Carver Kinlay, unfortunately, is dead."
"Carver Kinlay dead!" exclaimed the bailie.
"Yes; he lost his life just now in the Gaulton Cave, where we discovered him and his crew in the act of carrying off contraband spirits.
"I suppose," the officer continued, "we can send the prisoners ashore to your jail, sir?"
"Certainly," said Mr. Duke; "we've plenty of room there: send them ashore. But they will be tried at Kirkwall, not here, you know."
"I know," returned the officer; "but you see the roads are blocked with this snow. There's no getting to Kirkwall except by sea, and I have another little affair of this sort on hand tonight."
Bailie Duke was naturally inquisitive, and at the mention of this other "little affair" he pricked up his ears.
The lieutenant drew him to the other side of the deck, and they both remained there in earnest conversation. Mr. Duke had his back towards me. He had not observed me as yet. But the cutter's boat was being got out to take me ashore, and as I was anxious to hear from him whether Thora had been found, I walked across and waited until he should turn round. As I stood there I heard my own name mentioned.
"Oh, it's just as clear as daylight!" said the magistrate, in reply to a question from Mr. Fox. "I have traced it all out. There is little doubt that it was young Halcro Ericson that did it."
"Halcro Ericson! What! the boy Halcro Ericson?" exclaimed the lieutenant with undisguised surprise. "Why, then, that accounts for our finding him hiding in the cave! I would never have thought it."
"What!" said the bailie. "You don't mean you have got the lad?"
"Yes, I do, sir; that is if you have no other natives with the same outlandish name. He's on board, I assure you. Ay, and here he is."
The officer turned round towards me where I stood with my lantern in one hand, and the coil of rope over my shoulder.
Bailie Duke looked at me with a frown on his brow, and his eyes were steadily fixed upon my face, which could only have reflected the innocence of my heart.
"I cannot believe it," he said in an undertone; "and yet the thing's so clear."
Then he laid a hand sternly on my shoulder, and said, "Ericson, my lad, I'm really sorry; but, you see, there's no use evadin' the hand o' the law, and I must make you my prisoner."
"Your prisoner, Mr. Duke! But you cannot think that I have anything to do with the smuggling?"
"Smuggling!" said he. "I said nothing about smuggling. With that I have no business. No, it's not the smuggling, it's the murder!"
"Murder! What murder?" I gasped.
"The murder of Colin Lothian, the wandering beggar," he said.
Colin Lothian murdered! I was stunned and perplexed by these terrible words. But, without further explanation, Mr. Duke gave orders to some men in the boat he had come out by to make a prisoner of me. Two men came aboard and bound my arms about me with my own rope, and conducted me into the boat, while the bailie got down into the stern, where he sat ruminating as we were rowed towards the landing pier.
I was marched between two guards up the narrow street of Stromness, and the cold snow fell down upon me. At the doors of the houses women and children, whose faces were all so familiar, looked at me, some with pity, some with shrinking fear. I heard strange utterances of accusation.
"Who would have thought it, that he could hae done such a thing?" said one.
"See how the lad hangs his head!" said another.
"Ay, but it's a young murderer he is," said a third.
And this word "murderer" sounded in my ears from every side, and much I wondered what it all could mean.
When we arrived at the door of the prison house a crowd of the townspeople awaited us. I looked round the faces fearlessly, and in their midst I recognized the wrinkled face of my skipper, Davie Flett.
"Cheer up, my hearty!" said he, as I passed by him. "We'll not heave anchor till ye come out; and you'll not be long, I'll warrant."
But I confess it was difficult for me to feel cheerful at that moment. Indeed, when the prison doors closed upon me, when I found myself alone in my dark cell, I became dazed and stupid, and began to think that perhaps after all I was the murderer that I had been called. Yet what could it all mean? Colin Lothian murdered! My old friend Colin Lothian!
Chapter XXXVIII. Accused Of Murder.
I need not prolong my narrative by telling you in what way I spent that first night in the cold solitude of my prison cell, or by recording the thoughts that occupied my mind through those long and weary hours. My jailer, one Jimmy Macfarlane, an honest, kind-hearted man, who had known my father, gave me a basin of hot porridge before he locked me up for the night, and left with me, as though by accident, a good, thick horse cloth to keep me warm. Conscious of my innocence, and trusting in the justice of my accusers, I slept well and soundly, nor did I awake until late on the following morning, when the Sabbath light stole through the crossbars of the little window, and the opening of the door aroused me.
I heard Macfarlane speaking with some one.
"Ye'll find him in here, captain; but dinna stay ower long wi' him; for, ye ken, I'm breakin' the rule in letting ye see the lad."
"All right, Jimmy!" said a voice that I at once recognized as that of Captain Flett.
"Well, Ericson, my lad," he said, entering the cell and offering me his hand. "They've not put the hangman's rope round your neck yet, I see."
Then he added in a more serious tone, "Come, I canna stay with you long. Let us talk the affair over, and see what's to be done."
"First of all then," I said, "I want to know what it's all about. Why have they put me in here?"
"What! have they not told you the particulars?"
"No; I know nothing but that old Colin Lothian has been murdered."
"And ye dinna ken who it was that murdered him? Tell me the truth now."
"I know nothing at all about it," I said.
"Well, then, I'll just tell you all that I know myself, Ericson."
And sitting down beside me on an old box that was in the cell, the skipper proceeded with his account of the affair, of which the following is the substance.
On the afternoon following that of the beginning of the snowstorm, Captain Flett waited for me on the schooner, for he wanted to set sail again. Every now and then he went up the companion ladder to look out for me towards the snow-covered town. While thus engaged he heard the boatswain's whistle sounded on board the revenue cutter, then lying in the outer bay, and he was admiring the alertness of the blue jackets as they got the cutter ready for sailing, when a small boat that he had not noticed came alongside of the Falcon, and Bailie Duke accosted him.
"Captain Flett," said the bailie excitedly, "I want the lad Ericson; where is he?"
"'Deed I can't tell you that, your honour," replied Flett. "I have been waiting for him here mysel' all the day."
"Just as I expected," said the bailie, with evident annoyance; "the young rascal has escaped. When did you last see him, captain?"
"I saw him yestreen, sir. But was it anything of importance you're wanting the lad for?"
"Anything of importance! Ay, is it of importance! For, know you this, Captain Flett, the lad's nothing but a murderer, a murderer in cold blood!"
"Impossible!" ejaculated the skipper. "When heard you of the lad harming body or beast? But who is it that's murdered, bailie?"
"Colin Lothian, the gaberlunzie," replied the magistrate.
"Man, you astonish me," exclaimed Flett. "Poor auld Lothian! And when did the thing happen?"
Bailie Duke then told how during that morning a party of men had been sent up from the town to the moor to search for the lost Thora Kinlay. They did not find the girl. But Jack Paterson and another fisherman, while crossing a very lonely part of the moor, had discovered a poor dog, whose pitiful whining had drawn them to the spot. The animal was at once recognized as the dog that had always been seen at the heels of the wandering beggar, and it stood shivering in the cold snow that had gathered there in a deep wreath. The dog refused to move from the spot, and the men cleared away some of the snow, when they came upon the stiff and lifeless body of Colin Lothian.
At first they thought the man was merely asleep, for his woollen plaid was spread over him like a blanket. But on raising the garment they saw marks of blood that had trickled upon the snow and sunk down into the underlying heather. Paterson at once despatched his companion to Stromness for Dr. Linklater, whilst he himself went up to a small cottage which stood about two hundred yards away. Nobody was in the cottage, but there were signs of some one having been there very recently, for the peats were yet smouldering on the hearthstone, and on a little table lay a towel stained with blood.
Dr. Linklater arrived sooner than Paterson expected him, and after a careful examination of the body he stated that Lothian had been dead several hours, and that his death was the result of foul play. The man had, in fact, been murdered.
"I'm real sorry to hear this, sir," said Flett to the bailie. "It was only yestreen I was speakin' wi' poor Colin at the inn. He'll be sorely missed in the countryside. But tell me, Mr. Duke, what for d'ye say that young Ericson has anything to do wi' it?"
"Because," the magistrate replied, "simply because the gun that the man was shot with was found near the spot where he died. That gun, captain, is identified as Halcro Ericson's."
"But surely ye canna convict the lad on such slight evidence, sir. He's innocent, I'll swear!"
"I trust he may prove so, captain. But you must allow that the evidence is against him. Colin has been shot dead, and with Ericson's gun. Ericson is not to be found; no one knows where he is. That is clearly against him; and as a magistrate I am bound to arrest him on suspicion. In fact, I have already issued a warrant for his arrest, and if you know anything of his whereabouts, just say so, Davie; for the lad's not at his home, and his mother knows nothing. They say he is out seeking for young Thora Kinlay; but it seems clear to me that he has fled from the consequences of his foul crime."
"Well," said Flett, "I have told you all I know, that the lad left the schooner here before the snow came on so heavy. I have been expecting him aboard all the day. I know no more, Mr. Duke, and that's the truth."
At this point of my skipper's account we were interrupted by Macfarlane, who put his head in at the door and said:
"Come away, Davie. I canna let ye stay longer, man."
"Ay, ay, just another minute, Jimmy," said Flett.
Then turning to me again, he continued: "Weel, I'm just away up to Dominie Drever's. The dominie was aboard the Falcon just before the Clasper came in yestreen, and I saw him again after ye were brought here. He was up at Lyndardy this mornin' seeing your mother for information about all your movements these two days past. And now I'm to go up to the schoolhouse and tell him—what shall I tell him, Halcro?"
"Just tell him this, Davie: that the last time I saw poor Colin Lothian was when we were in Gray's Inn. That I went straight home from the Falcon, and never left the house till the servant woman at Crua Breck knocked me up to seek for Thora. That I was out looking for her part of the night and all the morning, and then that I climbed down the Gaulton Cliff, thinking I would find her in the cave. There, instead of finding Thora, I was taken along with the smugglers and brought in the Clasper to Stromness, where Bailie Duke himself arrested me.
"There, that is the sum of it all. Tell it to Mr. Drever, and he will believe it and understand."
"Very good," said the skipper, and then he left me.
He had not gone out many minutes before Jimmy Macfarlane came into the apartment and made a fire in the grate, and brought me water to wash myself, and a good breakfast of coffee and fried bacon. When I was made comfortable he left me alone again, and only disturbed me during the rest of the day to bring in my meals or more fuel for the fire.
Chapter XXXIX. An Unprofessional Inquiry.
Whatever the common opinion among the people of Stromness may have been with regard to the death of Colin Lothian, there was one who, all along, never allowed himself to doubt my innocence. Dominie Drever had his private views on the matter, and he was not over eager to communicate them to other persons. He even kept them from myself in a great measure, and only gathered such information regarding my movements as Captain Flett and my people at Lyndardy were able to supply. There were some other aspects of the case, quite apart from myself, that he was anxious to make clear, and with this purpose in view he had gone quietly about the town gathering evidence and summoning an array of important witnesses.
Not until late on this Sunday afternoon did he come to see me; and then our interview lasted but for a few moments. Macfarlane showed him in just as I was finishing my tea and settling myself cosily before the fire.
"Ah, Halcro, my lad!" he exclaimed in his breezy way, "I see they are making you comfortable here. I hope you find it no great hardship to be cooped up here, eh? It's hardly so bad as your experience on the Falcon, I should think?"
"No, sir, and I hope it will not last so long either," I said, taking the hand he offered me.
"Little fear o' that," said he. "Mr. Duke will send you home i' the morning; but it's as well you should stay here until the evidence is complete. Bailie Thomson will not agree to your being set at liberty before the inquiry."
"And when is the inquiry to be?" I asked.
"At ten o'clock tomorrow morning," said Mr. Drever. "You see, Halcro, they're not to put you on your trial in any formal way. That could only take place at Kirkwall, or before the procurator fiscal. But the roads are all blocked wi' snow, and there's no getting to Kirkwall just now. Even the St. Magnus smugglers, and another gang that Mr. Fox arrested yestreen up at Sandwick, have to be imprisoned here until the roads are opened up. But it will be easy to prove your innocence. Thora will make that perfectly clear, as ye will see."
"Thora!" I exclaimed. "Then Thora has been found?"
"Found! certainly. She never was lost. However, ye'll hear all about that matter again. Just leave it all to me, Halcro, and dinna be downcast about biding here another night. But I must away now. Good e'en to ye!"
"Good e'en, sir!"
The good man was leaving me abruptly, when at the door he turned back.
"Oh, Halcro!" said he, as though suddenly remembering something, "they tell me that your viking's stone has been amissing. Have ye heard anything of it yet?"
"Why, yes, Mr. Drever," I replied. "I found it at the head of the Gaulton Cliff on Saturday."
"Just so," said he smiling, "I had heard that. Now that stone may be wanted in evidence. Would you mind letting me have it?"
"Here it is, sir," I said, handing it to him.
And taking it with him, he left me to my thoughts.
The morning of the inquiry came round, and at about ten o'clock Jimmy Macfarlane opened the door of my place of confinement and beckoned me to follow him. He conducted me through a long passage into a large room adjoining the prison house.
It was a comfortable apartment, with a bright peat fire burning on the hearth, before which Colin Lothian's dog lay sound asleep. Close to the fire and athwart the room was a long table, where, as I entered, I saw Bailie Duke seated at his ease in a large armchair. At his right sat Bailie Thomson—a man with a forbidding face, whom I had often of late seen in the company of Carver Kinlay. At Mr. Duke's left hand was the schoolmaster, prim and businesslike as I had often seen him look in the school when anything of importance was pending, such as a class examination. Near him sat Lieutenant Fox, looking very handsome in his naval uniform, and very much at his ease. The only other person in the room was Dr. Linklater, who smiled a greeting to me as I stood at the door.
"Take a seat there, Ericson, my lad," said Mr. Duke, indicating a chair opposite to him in the middle of the floor.
And then he turned to the dominie, speaking with him in an undertone.
These five men, who were all in different degrees known to me, presented no very formal aspect, and I felt no dread of what was to follow. As I sat there awaiting the opening of the proceedings I looked straight before me at the long table. Here, lying in front of the two bailies, were my fowling piece and a coil of rope. Before Mr. Drever lay Jarl Haffling's talisman; also, to my surprise, I observed the wooden box that I had seen in the cave, and the little chest that I had taken from the chart room of the Pilgrim; on the lid of the latter was the log book of that ill-fated ship.
What these relics of the Pilgrim could possibly have to do with the murder of Colin Lothian I was at a loss to know. But their importance in the issue of the case will presently be seen.
"Halcro Ericson!" said Bailie Duke.
I rose to my feet and faced him. He tapped his snuffbox and took a large pinch, and leisurely passed the box to the dominie. Presently, after much use of his bandanna handkerchief, he continued:
"Halcro Ericson, you were arrested on Saturday last on suspicion of being the murderer of Colin Lothian—a poor, worthy man, known and respected in the Mainland for many, many years. At the time of your arrest on board the Clasper, the evidence against you was circumstantially complete, and appeared to be conclusive. Further evidence of an important nature, however, has since been gathered by Mr. Drever here, and it has brought new light upon the matter. You are not, I am happy to say, to be formally charged with the murder of Lothian; but, in the absence of the proper official—the procurator fiscal—it is necessary that I, as the senior bailie of Stromness, should make some inquiry into this case, you see. You will presently be examined with other witnesses, and you will have an opportunity of, I hope, clearing yourself of whatever suspicion is still attached to you. Sit down again, Halcro."
Concluding this speech, Mr. Duke rang a little hand bell that was on the table, and Macfarlane appeared at one of the doors.
"Just send in Jack Paterson and Steenie Barrie," he said; and presently the two fishermen were ushered in. Paterson, entering first, touched his forelock to the magistrate, and similarly saluted Lieutenant Fox.
"Jack, my man," said Mr. Duke, "just let us know what way ye found auld Colin's body."
Paterson stepped up to the table, twirling his sou'wester round and round by the brim between his two big hands.
"Weel, ye see, Mr. Duke," began Jack falteringly, "I was lying in my bed on Friday night when young Halcro Ericson knocked at the door and telt me that Thora Kinlay was out in the storm and couldna be found. So I cam' along to Stromness—"
"Ay, but dinna mind that part o' the story, Jack," interrupted Mr. Duke; "just begin where Steenie and you heard the dog."
"Yes, Mr. Duke," said Paterson, dropping his sou'wester in his nervousness. And then he repeated what Captain Flett had already told me.
"Did you both go into the cottage?" asked the bailie.
"No," said Jack, "Steenie ran away down to the town to tell the doctor. I went into Mary's mysel'. But Mary was away at Kirkwall, ye ken. I saw that some person had been there, however; for the peats were still hot, and there was some roasted potatoes on the table, forbye a cloth that had blood on it."
"And you waited about there until Dr. Linklater came?"
"Yes, Mr. Duke."
"Now do you recognize this as the gun you found?" Mr. Duke asked, touching my fowling piece.
"Ay, that's just it," replied Jack.
Bailie Thomson then asked: "Have you ever seen the gun before, Paterson?"
"No," said Jack.
"What! have you never seen Ericson with it?"
"Never," said Paterson, "though they tell me it is Halcro's gun."
"Are you sure that Ericson had not the gun with him when he knocked you up on Friday night?" persisted Mr. Thomson.
"Yes, quite sure," said Jack.
"And where did Ericson go to after he left you?" questioned Mr. Thomson.
"I dinna ken, Mr. Thomson. He said he was to gang back to Lyndardy. But ye'd better ask himsel', had ye not?"
And Paterson looked round to where I sat.
Mr. Thomson seemed to have no further questions to ask, and Bailie Duke said:
"Very well, Jack, that will do now. You may both go."
And Jack Paterson went away, followed by Barrie.
"Now, doctor, would you just let us hear what you have to say, please?" said Mr. Duke, turning to Dr. Linklater.
The doctor kept his seat, and said:
"Mr. Drever came to me early on Friday morning and told me that Colin Lothian had been shot dead over by Mary Firth's cottage, and I went out. I met the man Barrio on the way, and he turned back with me, conducting me to the spot. I found Lothian quite dead. He had been dead quite two hours, I should say. There was a gunshot wound in his back under the left shoulder. I got Paterson and Barrie to take off a door in Mary Firth's room, and we carried the body upon it down to my house. I made an examination of the body, and extracted several swan shot from the left lung."
Dr. Linklater then passed a piece of paper containing the shot to Bailie Duke, saying: "I suppose you need me no longer, bailie?"
"No, doctor, that's all," said Mr. Duke. "Just tell Macfarlane to send David Flett in, will you?"
Flett came in and took his place before the magistrates, and gave information as to the time of my leaving the Falcon on Friday night.
Mr. Thomson, questioning him, asked:
"Do you know of any motive that the lad Ericson might have in committing this crime? Was there any enmity between him and Lothian?"
"Certainly not. How could ye think so, Mr. Thomson?" said my skipper. "Why, Colin and Halcro were most friendly. It seems to me ridiculous that anyone should ever suspect such a thing o' the lad!"
Mr. Duke here rang his bell and told Macfarlane to bring in Tom Kinlay.
It was a considerable time before Tom appeared, with the jailer at his side, for he had to be brought out of the cell in which the smugglers were imprisoned. As Flett went out, he came forward slowly, looking pale and haggard. I noticed him start nervously as Mr. Duke, putting forth his hand to take up his snuffbox, happened to touch the gun.
There was some dispute between Bailie Duke and Bailie Thomson as to which of them should first question Kinlay. But it was arranged that Mr. Thomson should do so. He commenced by saying to Tom:
"You were taken in the North Gaulton Cave on Saturday, were you not?"
But at this point Mr. Drever made an unexpected interruption. Hitherto he had, during the proceedings, been quietly but busily writing down the evidence, for use in the formal indictment which, as I afterwards learned, Mr. Duke was to submit to the procurator fiscal, whose deputy he was.
"Mr. Duke," said the dominie, "do you not think, in view of the importance of Kinlay's evidence, that it is advisable to administer the oath?"
"Ah! you're right, dominie; yes, certainly," said Mr. Duke.
"No, no," objected Bailie Thomson. "Why should this witness be treated differently from the others?"
"Mr. Drever is right, Thomson," said Mr. Duke. "We must have the oath."
"I see no reason for it," said Bailie Thomson. "This is not a formal or judicial inquiry; it is a simple precognition of witnesses."
"I think, Mr. Thomson," mildly interposed the schoolmaster, "that you will see a little later on the necessity of it. Besides, you must remember that Kinlay is already a prisoner on two separate charges."
"Yes," said Mr. Duke, "both for smuggling and for having contravened the law of treasure trove."
Then addressing Tom Kinlay he said:
"Thomas Kinlay, you will now hold up your right hand and repeat these words distinctly after me."
Kinlay raised his hand above his head and repeated the solemn and impressive words of our Scotch adjuration:
"I swear by Almighty God, as I shall answer to God at the great day of judgment, that I will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help me, God!"
When this was done Mr. Duke leaned back in his chair and said:
"Now, Mr. Thomson, if you please."
"You were taken in the cave of Gaulton on Saturday, were you not?" repeated Mr. Thomson, addressing Tom.
Tom sullenly answered "Yes."
"Now, tell us," the bailie continued, "when you entered that cave with your father and the crew of the St. Magnus, whom did you find there?"
Tom had first seen me when I was taken down to the cutter's boat, and no doubt he had believed that it was I who had guided the revenue men to the cavern. He, therefore, grasped at the interpretation implied by the bailie's question, and, whether intentionally or not, suppressed the fact that he was himself in the cave before the smugglers arrived, he merely said:
"We didna find anybody in the cave."
"That is strange," said Mr. Thomson. "Then you saw nothing of Ericson in the cave?"
"Nothing, sir, until I saw him in the Clasper's pinnace."
"Of course we are to understand," observed Bailie Duke, "that Ericson might hide in the cave without being discovered by the smugglers. Lieutenant Fox had better be questioned about his manner of arresting the lad;" and he looked towards the officer.
Mr. Fox bent forward in his chair and said: "I first saw Ericson in the cave when, as I believe, he saved my life by knocking a pistol from Carver Kinlay's hand. I believe the lad was in there before the crew of the St. Magnus."
"Then that is proof sufficient that Ericson was hiding," said Mr. Thomson with an air of triumph.
"Halcro! come forward, will you?" said Mr. Duke, "and stand beside Kinlay."
I did as he requested, and then I was required to take the oath as Kinlay had taken it. Mr. Thomson looked satisfied.
"Tell us, Ericson," said Bailie Duke, taking a pinch of snuff, and then bending forward with his elbows on the table, "tell us this: When you bravely, and at the risk of breaking your neck, climbed down the North Gaulton Cliff to render assistance, as you supposed, to Thora Kinlay, did you find anyone in the cave?"
"Yes, Mr. Duke," I answered with directness, "I found Tom Kinlay. He was alone and asleep."
"You descended the cliff without the aid of ropes, I believe?"
"Do you know any other lad in Pomona who could have done such a thing? Kinlay, there, for instance?"
"He might have done it, sir, but not in winter."
"How, then, do you account for Kinlay getting into the cave?"
"I suppose, sir, that he had my ropes;" and I pointed to the coil of rope on the table.
"Now, further, do you recognize this gun?"
"Yes; it is mine."
"When did you last use it?"
"Two days before I went away in the Falcon, more than two months since."
There was a pause here and a passing of the snuffbox. Bailie Duke then turned to Kinlay, holding the viking's stone in his fingers.
"Have you ever had this curious stone in your possession, Kinlay?" he asked.
"Yes; I got it from my sister," replied Tom.
"Ericson," asked Mr. Duke, "how came the stone in your possession on Saturday?"
"Jessie and I found it at the head of the Cliff," I said. "It was that which made me believe that Thora was in the cave. She got the stone from me before I went away, and I thought she had maybe dropped it as she was getting over the cliff."
"But what on earth could the lass want in the cave?" asked Mr. Thomson.
"She was unhappy at home," I explained, "and had threatened to run away. I supposed she had taken refuge in the cave."
"Kinlay," said Mr. Duke, touching the coil of rope, "did you at any time make use of these lines to climb down the Gaulton cliffs?"
Tom was silent.
"If you do not care to tell us that, then, perhaps, you will say if you happened to make use of this gun on the night on which Colin Lothian met his death?"
Tom became perceptibly confused.
"Mr. Duke," exclaimed Bailie Thomson, "what in the world are you driving at?"
"I'm driving at the truth, Mr. Thomson," said Bailie Duke calmly, "and I think I see it. In the first place, you will observe, sir, that no motive whatever has been found which would induce Halcro Ericson to raise his hand against poor Colin Lothian. Now, on the contrary—and I can prove this by witnesses if you wish—it is certain that Kinlay had a quarrel with Lothian on the very day of the murder. Lieutenant Fox, who was witness of that quarrel, will be able to tell the reason of it. The reason was simply this—nothing else but this, Mr. Thomson—that it was Colin who let it out about the smuggling. It was what Lothian said in Oliver Gray's inn that morning which led the officer to believe that Carver Kinlay kept a store of illicit whisky in the Gaulton Cave. Is that so, Mr. Fox?"
"It is quite true," said the officer.
"Now, it is useless to examine more witnesses in proof of what I say. All that may be considered in detail when the case comes before the procurator fiscal. But Mr. Drever has found one witness whose evidence is of the greatest importance, and I will have that witness called.
"Macfarlane, bring in Thora Kinlay.
"Ericson, my lad, sit down here with Mr. Drever."
Stepping towards the schoolmaster I faced the door through which Macfarlane had disappeared, giving a pat of recognition to Colin Lothian's dog as I passed it. And now that door was reopened, and my dear school friend Thora came in.
It was the first time I had seen her since her illness. She seemed taller and more stately, and I mutely marvelled at the delicate beauty of her fair face and at the brightness of her deep-blue eyes.
Our eyes met, and we simply pronounced each other's name.
"Halcro!" said she; "Thora!" said I.
And then Colin Lothian's dog sprang about her skirts in joyful greeting, and followed her to the middle of the room.
Bailie Duke, after a consultation with Mr. Drever, called Thora to the table and administered the oath. She pronounced the words with grave solemnity.
"I understand, Thora," said Mr. Duke, "that you know something concerning the death of Colin Lothian?"
"Yes," said Thora. "I know all about it, Mr. Duke."
"What! You can tell how it happened? You know who committed the deed?"
Lothian's dog here licked her hand. She sent it away, and it wandered about the room until it came to Tom Kinlay.
"Yes, I can tell you that," she replied.
And then she turned round, pointing with accusing finger at Tom Kinlay, "'Twas him that did it. I saw it all. See, even the dog kens its own master's blood!"
At Kinlay's feet crouched Lothian's dog, snarling angrily as it looked at a stain on the young man's trousers.
Consternation filled me as I heard this terrible accusation. Mr. Drever alone of those present seemed unmoved; he alone seemed to have expected it. Tom Kinlay's face grew pale and haggard, and he almost tottered as he stood there with all eyes directed upon him.
When the excitement had subsided, Mr. Duke looked towards Thora and asked her to tell all she knew, in her own way, and to omit no detail. She accordingly stepped a little nearer to the table, resting her hand upon it, and gave her evidence in a clear, unfaltering voice. Her narrative was to the following effect:
On the day of the commencement of the snowstorm Thora, who had not been to school since her illness, went over to Clouston to visit her young friend Hilda Paterson. When the storm came on she issued out of the cottage and took the road as far as Stenness, and over the undulating land of Sandwick, where the snow wreaths were already so deep that often on her way she failed to recognize the landmarks. She travelled in uncertainty as to the direction she was taking, and felt utterly tired out—for she was not yet strong—when she came unexpectedly to a little cottage, and, to her dismay, found she had walked nearly three miles out of the direct road home.
The cottage was a tiny building of rough stones, and the snow found its way inside through the wide crevices in the walls. It was the home of one Mary Firth, a lone old woman who earned her living by knitting stockings and burning kelp. Opening the door, Thora entered the only room. There was no one within and the fire was dead out, for Mary Firth had gone away that morning to Kirkwall to sell her stock of knitting. Thora was cold and hungry; she considered it impossible to reach Crua Breck before dark, and the snow was falling heavily, so she determined to wait till old Mary returned. She got a few pieces of dry peat from a corner and piled them on the hearth, then sought for Mary's flint and steel, and proceeded to kindle a fire. Its warmth was comforting, and she sat there on a low stool until the peats glowed hot and the kettle began to boil.
Still Mary did not return. There was no tea to be found in the cupboard and the only particle of food was a piece of oaten bannock. There were a few raw potatoes, however, and Thora put some of these in the fire to roast.
She was looking out at the falling snow through the little window, and expecting Mary, when in the distance she saw the figure of a man walking in the direction of Lyndardy farm, and bending forward as he fought against wind and snow. Behind him was a dog, and she knew at once that the man was Colin Lothian.
Now Thora had been anxious to meet the old wanderer ever since I had told her of the wreck of the Undine, and throwing her shawl over her head she ran out of the cottage to bid him enter and share the meal she had prepared.
She had not gone far, however, before she observed another person approaching old Lothian from the opposite direction. This was Tom Kinlay, and as she recognized him she paused and slowly retreated to the cottage without being observed, for she had no desire to meet him, or be seen by him at that moment.
As she looked round the two men met and stood face to face. The wind carried the sound of their voices towards her, and she heard angry words pass between them. Yet what they said was indistinct. She only gathered that they were quarrelling about something that Lothian had told to the excise officers. The dog barked at Kinlay, and he kicked the animal.
Finally, Tom allowed the old man to continue his way a few yards and shouted after him, "Well, anyhow, you'll tell no more;" and as he said these words he raised a gun to his shoulder and fired.
The girl saw Lothian stagger and fall. Then Tom went and knelt down at the side of his victim as though he would complete his work with the knife he took from his belt. But, looking nervously round in the direction of the cottage, as though fearing that the report of the gun might bring some one out, he hurried away in the direction of the cliffs, carrying with him a rope which was coiled over his shoulder.
Already Thora had left the cottage, but Tom had not observed her. She ran through the snow towards the wounded man. The dog was yelping and running frantically about.
The old man raised himself to a sitting posture as she stooped and supported his head. He did not recognize her until she spoke.
"Where are you hurt, Colin?" she asked. "Do you not know me? I'm Thora."
He tried to place his hand on his side, and fell back helpless.
"Can ye walk with me as far as Mary Firth's?" she said.
"Nay, Thora, lassie," he murmured. "I'll not walk any more. My travelling is ower. The life flies out o' me."
Thora wrung her hands, not knowing what to do. The darkness of night was coming on. They were far away from any dwelling, save the little cottage, and the snow wreaths on the desolate moor were becoming every moment more impassable.
"I will run to Stromness for Dr. Linklater," she said.
"No, lassie, no; there's no use o' doing that," said Colin. "The doctor can do nothing. Go away home and let me die."
"No, I canna leave you, Colin," she said woefully. "And how can I go home when my own brother has done this thing?"
"Tom Kinlay is no brother o' yours, Thora!" gasped Colin. "Nor Carver your father!"
"What do you mean, Colin? Oh, what do you mean?" cried she. "Carver not my father! Who is my father, then?"
"Listen!" said Colin.
But he had not strength to say more. He dropped his head back and groaned. And then she saw that he was dead.
She took the plaid from under him and spread it over his body to protect it from the snow. Then leaving the dog in charge of its dead master, she hurried first to the cottage to see if Mary Firth had returned. She wiped her hands of the blood that was on them, and made her way through the snow to Stromness.
It was almost midnight when she arrived in the town, for her journey had been a long and a difficult one. All the houses were in darkness, and there was not a person to be seen in the deserted streets. She made her way to the schoolhouse, and after much trouble succeeded in arousing Andrew Drever.
But when the door was opened she had not strength to speak. She fainted from exhaustion as soon as she sat down in the kitchen. Mr. Drever gave her food, which revived her; but it was not until she had had several hours' sleep that she could recount even a part of what had occurred on the moor. But the schoolmaster understood this much, that Colin Lothian was lying dead near to Mary Firth's cottage, and, leaving the girl for a few minutes, he ran to Dr. Linklater's and sent him to make further discoveries.
Such was the substance of Thora's evidence, though I have given it in fuller detail than as she delivered it to Mr. Duke.
When she had been cross-questioned by Bailie Thomson the inquiry was closed by Mr. Duke, and the case remitted to a higher court. Tom Kinlay was thereupon taken by Macfarlane to his prison cell to await the delivery of the formal charge of murder.
I was taking up my gun and preparing to leave when Andrew Drever requested me to remain in order to be present at the consideration of a further question that had arisen out of his investigations of the case. Mr. Duke remained in his chair, talking with Thora, while Bailie Thomson and Mr. Fox went out. Presently, however, I was somewhat surprised to see Captain Flett enter, with Peter Brown; and I could only conjecture that there was now to be some explanation as to the meaning of the two boxes being on the table—the box out of the cave and the little chest from the Pilgrim. But what was said and done at this supplementary inquiry may well be reserved for another chapter.
Chapter XL. Ephraim Quendale.
"Tom Kinlay is no brother of yours, Thora; nor Carver your father!"
These words were ringing in my ears. What did they mean?
I was questioning in my own mind what Colin could have meant when Mr. Drever asked us all to sit at the table. He had some statement to make.
Turning to Mr. Duke he said:
"In the remarkable evidence just given by Thora—I will not now call her Thora Kinlay—you who heard it were no doubt astonished at the revelation made to her by Colin Lothian in his dying moments."
"Yes, dominie," said Mr. Duke. "I have just been asking Thora what Colin could have meant. Can you throw any light on the matter yourself?"
"I believe we can throw some light on it, bailie, and perhaps you can help me to make the matter clear."
The schoolmaster stood with his hand resting on the chest that had been brought from the cave.
"First of all," said he, "I will ask if you remember Carver Kinlay's arrival in the Mainland?"
"Right well do I remember it," said Mr. Duke. "He was cast ashore in the wreck of a Danish barque about a dozen years ago, or more. What was the ship's name, now?"
"The Undine?" suggested Mr. Drever.
"Ay, that's just it, the Undine. And Sandy Ericson found Carver in some hole in the cliff two or three days after the wreck."
"That was so," said Andrew. "And you will also mind that Carver was not alone in the cave. There was a child with him—a little girl."
"Yes, yes; I mind that now, Andrew. The child was Thora herself."
"And that cave was the same that the smugglers were taken in on Saturday," said David Flett.
"The very same," said the dominie. "And this box, here, has remained in the cave ever since the wreck. See, the ship's name is painted on it!"
And he turned the box with the name outward. We read the word "Undine."
The schoolmaster then opened the box and took from it a bundle of papers and a book, handing them to the bailie.
"By these you will see, sir, that the barque Undine sailed from Glasgow, bound for Copenhagen, and that her owner's name was Quendale—Ephraim Quendale, of Copenhagen. The ship's book will also show you that at Glasgow she took on board the man Carver Kinlay and his wife, his son Tom, and an infant girl."
"The girl Thora—" put in Bailie Duke.
"Wait a bit, sir," said Andrew, continuing. "There were four persons saved from the wreck in pilot Ericson's boat. These were Kinlay's wife and their boy Tom, a Danish seaman, and a gentleman passenger. That passenger, sir, was Ephraim Quendale himself, the owner of the ship, who, from what I gather, seems to have been returning to his native land, having been on a trip to Scotland with his young wife and their child.
"On the morning after the wreck some bodies were washed ashore, and, if you will remember, amongst these was the body of a beautiful young woman, in whose arms was still clasped the shattered body of a little child. You see, Mr. Duke, there were two children on board the vessel, both of them girls, of about the same age. The drowned woman was recognized by Quendale as his wife, and she was afterwards buried with the child in the old burying ground of Yeskenaby.
"Two days afterwards—that is to say on the fifth day after the wreck—Ephraim Quendale and the Danish sailor left Orkney."
Here Andrew Drever put his hand in his breast pocket and drew out a paper.
"I have here," he said, "a letter that I got yesterday from widow Ericson. It is a letter addressed to her husband, Sandy Ericson, and it was written by Ephraim Quendale on the eve of his departure from Kirkwall to Copenhagen. I will read it:
"'I have been fortunate enough to find a ship in this port bound for my own land. We sail this morning for Copenhagen, and I shall not be able to see you to thank you personally for what you have done for me in my hour of misfortune. But I shall be back again in your island, please God, in a few weeks' time. I beg that you will do me the goodness to have my beloved wife's name, Thora Quendale, inscribed on the tombstone, and also that you will take charge of all wreckage that may be gathered from the remains of my poor ship. I grieve sorely that you were unable to find the body of the other child; for I still have my doubts, notwithstanding that the woman Kinlay was so positive that the child we buried was not her own. It was sad that the little head was so disfigured. The eyes would have proved all to me. My own darling's eyes were heavenly blue, like her mother's. Should you discover the other body, I beg you will write me a full description of its appearance and forward it by the first ship to me, at Copenhagen, in Denmark.
The schoolmaster handed the letter to Bailie Duke, who read it over to himself and asked a few questions regarding its contents.
"Mr. Quendale never returned to Orkney?" said he.
"No," replied the dominie.
"Strange. And did Pilot Ericson never hear from him?"
"And what about the wreckage?"
"There was none of special value," said Andrew. "This box that we have here is, I believe, the only thing of value that remained, and, as you know, it was only discovered a few days since."
"But Kinlay appears to have known of it," observed Mr. Duke.
"Certainly he knew of it," the dominie returned; "but its value consists in the papers it contains, most of them being in the Danish language, which Kinlay was ignorant of. Had he known that tongue he would doubtless have seen that a large number of the documents are drafts upon the National Bank of Denmark, and other claims of value."
"Very good, Andrew; we'll examine them afterwards," said the magistrate. "There was no other wreckage? no other bodies washed ashore?"
"No. It was while he was looking out for further remains of the wreck that Sandy Ericson discovered Carver Kinlay in the Gaulton Cave, and with him the child we know as Thora."
"Kinlay's own child, that is," observed the bailie.
"I believe not, Mr. Duke," said Andrew. "She is the daughter of this Mr. Quendale, the owner of the wrecked ship."
"Indeed! You believe that, Andrew?"
"I firmly believe it."
"Had we not better send for Mrs. Kinlay, to hear what she has to say on the matter?" said Mr. Duke.
"Mrs. Kinlay is dangerously ill. However, I was at Crua Breck yesterday and saw her. It seems that when Sandy took the bairn to her, she, in her excitement at its recovery, claimed it as her own. There was no clothing on the child to identify it by, you see, and she did not discover her mistake for some hours after Sandy had gone. But Sandy had told her that Mr. Quendale was to return to Pomona very soon, and Thora was kept there until her father should come back."
"But, Andrew, man, how do you explain their keeping Thora and bringing her up as their own bairn if, as you affirm, she was known to be the daughter of other parents?"
"Simply in this way," said Mr. Drever; "Carver, you see, knew very well that Mr. Quendale was expected back in Orkney. He kept the girl, as his wife confesses, hoping for a ransom from so wealthy a father. But having begun, very foolishly, by passing Thora off as his own bairn, he was obliged to continue to recognize her as such before folk, still believing that her true father would reappear."
Bailie Duke was not altogether satisfied with this explanation.
He turned to Thora and said: "Did Carver always treat you kindly, Thora—as a father?"
Thora looked up appealingly to him, with tears on her cheek, saying: "No, Mr. Duke. He was good to me before folk; but he was very hard sometimes."
"And your mother—I mean Mrs. Kinlay—was she good to you?"
"She has aye been good to me; but not like a mother," said Thora, as plaintively as a lost lamb.
"And you never suspected that she was not your true mother?" asked Mr. Duke.
"Not till Colin Lothian spoke to me about it."
"There is certainly some mystery about all this," said the bailie, turning to Andrew Drever. "But it remains with us to communicate with this Mr. Quendale, if he is still alive."
"He is not alive," said Andrew, with conviction.
"Oh, then, you know something of him?"
"Yes," said Mr. Drever; and here he turned to me and asked me, to my surprise, to relate all that had occurred during my solitary voyage in the Falcon. I did not see what possible application this could have to the case, or how it could be connected with the mystery of Thora's parentage. But I related my adventure.
I told how David Flett had been knocked overboard, and of the mate and Jerry leaving me alone on the schooner; of my difficult navigation of her, and of my discovery of the Pilgrim. Here the schoolmaster called the magistrate to give attention, and I guessed that it must be with the ill-fated ship that the mystery was to be in some way cleared. I told how I saw the supercargo seated at the table in the cabin, and how I had read the last entry in his log book.
Andrew Drever opened the book, which was before him, and passed it to Mr. Duke, saying: "You will observe, sir, that the last date written here is January, 1831. Thirteen years ago."
"Thirteen years ago!" exclaimed Mr. Duke, turning over the pages. "Ah! now I begin to see your application. Go on, Halcro."
I then spoke of finding the charts, and described how the Pilgrim had touched at Kirkwall.
"She called at Kirkwall to put me ashore for hospital," interposed Peter Brown.
"What!" exclaimed Mr. Duke. "And are you going to say that this Pilgrim was the vessel in which Mr. Quendale sailed for Copenhagen?"
"Copenhagen was the port she sailed for—calling at Akureyri, in Iceland," quietly explained the dominie. "Go on, Halcro."
I then described the captain's room, and told of the man I had seen lying dead in the sleeping bunk. I spoke of the diamond ring.
"Have you got that ring?" asked the magistrate.
"Yes," I said, feeling in my waistcoat pocket and producing it from the folds of a piece of muslin. I handed it to the schoolmaster, whom I had not told about it before. He examined the sparkling stones and handed it on to Mr. Duke. I saw Mr. Duke eyeing it curiously. As he looked at the inner circle of gold a light came to his eyes.
"Ah, hello!" said he. "There are some letters engraved here. Can you read them, dominie? The characters are foreign. It looks like German or Russian."
Andrew took the ring nearer to the light.
"The characters are Danish!" said he excitedly. "It is the name 'Thora Quendale!'"
"Well, all this is unmistakable evidence," said Mr. Duke. "I think you have proved, Andrew, that this passenger on the Pilgrim and the owner of the Undine were one and the same person. The ring is a lady's ring. Probably it belonged to Quendale's wife."
"I think it likely that he took it from his dead wife's finger," said the schoolmaster, handing the ring back to me.
"No, sir," I said. "The ring isna mine. It belongs now to Thora, and Thora shall have it;" and making my way towards her I took her fair hand in mine.
White and smooth it was, like the hand of a lady, with long tapering fingers and shapely nails. A strange new sensation came over me as I held it in my own rough palm. My heart beat quicker, and I felt myself growing red in the face.
"Take the ring, Thora, and wear it for the sake of those who have gone before;" and I slipped the glistening ring upon her finger.
"Thank you, Halcro!" she said, very softly. "Thank you! I will wear it for my father and mother's sake, and also for yours."
"For my sake, Thora!" and I looked down into her eyes.
There was an expression in them that I had not seen there before. I started back with a sudden recollection. Here before me I saw the same blue eyes, the same fair hair, the same beautiful face and rounded neck that I had seen pictured in the locket that fell from the dead man's hand on board the Pilgrim! Here was proof added to proof. There could no longer be any doubt in my mind that Thora was indeed the daughter of the beautiful woman who was cast ashore at Inganess, and whose body now lay in the old neglected graveyard across the moor—the daughter of Thora and Ephraim Quendale.
Chapter XLI. The Last Of The Kinlays.
Thora Quendale—as I must now call my young girl friend—returned that evening to her old home at Crua Breck. We walked together that far over the hardened snow; and many were the questions she asked me concerning all that I had seen and learnt of her dead father. What was he like? Was he tall, and great, and noble as she imagined him? What was the colour of his hair? How old did I think he was? And did I suppose he had suffered much in that dreadful ice prison in the far north?
To all of which I answered as best I could, with my very slight knowledge of the facts she was so much interested in. O, if I had only known who that passenger was that lay dead in the captain's room! I could perhaps have discovered more about him before the ship went down.
As we walked side by side across the white moorland, my companion looked again and again at the glittering ring on her finger.
"I am glad," I said, "that I happened to bring the ring away with me."
"I'd rather you had brought my mother's picture. That would have been more to me than anything else."
"Alas!" I said. "But I did not know then that it was the picture of your mother, Thora; and I thought it would be wrong to take it from his hand. For it was perhaps the only thing he had to look upon in those weary long days in the ice prison that could remind him of his happier times. I think it must have been the last thing his eyes rested upon while his life lingered."
"Maybe you're right, Halcro," said she; "but I'd like to have seen the picture.
"Tell me," she continued, "d'ye know where my mother's grave is?"
"Yes, well do I know it, and I'll take you to it some day when the snow is away."
We walked along silently after this, and parted at the gate of Crua Breck farm.
A few days after Bailie Duke's preliminary examination of witnesses, the procurator fiscal—the official by whom such inquiries are conducted in Scotland on behalf of the Crown—arrived from Kirkwall. The case had already been made clear in preparation for him, and he had little else to do than take the evidence formally and arrange it in legal order.
The matter became somewhat involved with the action against the smugglers, for it transpired that Tom Kinlay had, after telling his father of the affair at the inn, been sent by Carver to spy on Colin Lothian, and to watch the cliffs and give an alarm in case the revenue authorities had determined to institute a plan of attack from the land. The evidence against him was too strong to admit of a doubt as to the ultimate issue of the examination, and a single day's inquiry was sufficient to establish the case against him. He was accordingly carried off to Kirkwall, and there committed to prison on the charge of having "wilfully, wickedly, and with malice aforethought, murdered Colin Lothian by shooting him with a gun."
The trial was awaited with much interest by the people of the Mainland. No one doubted that the prisoner would be found guilty of a capital offence. The only question that gave any one concern was the nature of the punishment that his guilt would merit.
But several weeks before the date fixed for the trial an event occurred which made all speculation superfluous. One morning the rumour reached Stromness that Tom Kinlay and all the smugglers had escaped from Kirkwall jail. At first this was generally discredited, for the building in which the men were confined was a notably strong one; but later reports confirmed the rumour. The authorities had trusted more to the strength of the prison than to the vigilance of the guard; and one dark night, by the aid of some of their comrades outside and the treachery of one of the jailers, the prisoners effected an easy escape. Dodging through the narrow streets they went by various ways to the harbour, and there took forcible possession of a small brig that was lying at anchor in the bay. Before the alarm spread the vessel was far out at sea beyond the possibility of pursuit. The escape was well planned, and as the brig was fully provisioned, her destination could only be surmised.
It was commonly believed that the fugitives would return to their old trade of smuggling, and, as the men's knowledge of navigation was known to be extremely limited, it was not thought that they would venture upon a voyage to very distant parts.
At this time I was away on a short trip in the Falcon. We touched at the island of Rousay, and here we learnt that some smugglers in a strange brig had, two days earlier, made a daring raid upon one of the small villages, robbing the inhabitants of their most precious possessions. We heard a similar story at Papa Westray. But it was not until our return to Stromness that we associated these piratical raids with Tom Kinlay and his companions.
A few weeks afterwards a Glasgow barque, named the Surprise, put in at Stromness, and reported having, on passing one of the Outer Hebrides, rendered assistance to a wrecked vessel, which, though bearing another name, answered exactly to the description of the stolen brig. Among the passengers on the Surprise was Captain Gordon, who had left his ship, the Lydia, at Greenock, and was now on his way to Leith. He had gone out in the ship's boat to the wreck. One of the crew was saved, an Orkney man; but the rest were all lost, including, as we afterwards heard, young Tom Kinlay, whose career of crime was thus brought to an early termination.
Mrs. Kinlay, who was a gentle and good woman, had much tribulation to bear up against in the unhappy deaths of her husband and son; and, having but little of the sympathy of her neighbours, she resolved to leave the island. Accordingly, as soon as she recovered her health, the farm, stock, and furniture at Crua Breck were sold, and the unfortunate widow took passage over to Caithness, where she remained among her relatives for the rest of her days.
A great dread came upon me when I heard that Mrs. Kinlay had left for Scotland. I thought that Thora Quendale had gone with her, and that I had lost sight of my dear girl friend for ever. I feared even to ask if this was so; but passing along the road one evening, soon after we had dropped anchor in the bay, I chanced to meet Andrew Drever walking home with a string of trout hanging at his side.
Having exchanged a few friendly remarks with me, he asked if I would go and spend the evening with him.
"Come and take some supper with us, lad," said he. "Thora will be glad to see ye."
"Thora!" I exclaimed.
"Ay, Thora. Did you not know Thora lives with us now?"
"No; I thought she had gone to Caithness with Mrs. Kinlay."
"Nay, nay," said Andrew; "Thora can look after herself now, since we heard from Copenhagen. But come along as soon's you can, and we'll tell you all about it."
And with that he trudged away humming a lightsome tune.
Chapter XLII. A Choice Among Three.
Not many minutes after I left the schoolmaster, when I was passing by the wharf, I met Jack Paterson. Jack was standing looking down into the water, with his two hands deep in his trousers pockets, and his face bearing an expression of curious indecision.
"Hello, Jack, what's troubling you now?" I asked, approaching him.
"Troubling me! Well, I suppose it is troubling me, too. The fact is, Ericson, I've been asked to take command of the new pilots."
"Well, man, that's surely nothing to look so gloomy about, is it?"
"No, lad; and I wouldna trouble sae muckle if I could see my way clear to takin' the offer. But, ye see, Halcro, I canna do the piloting without a boat."
"I see, I see. Ay, Jack, but that's a pity, man. And ye canna get the money towards buying the St. Magnus?"
"No; the St. Magnus is for sale, I weel ken that, and she's a right good boat. But where can a poor crofter body like me get the siller, think ye?"
"'Deed, I dinna ken, Jack; but maybe the siller will come somehow. There's many a one in Orkney would advance it for you, surely. Dinna be cast down about it, man. What about your crew?"
"Weel, I was thinkin' of yersel for one, Halcro?"
"Ay, and Jimmie Crageen, and Ronald Ray from Kirbister, and Steenie Barrie; all o' them good honest men and weel acquainted wi' the Orkneys. What d'ye say, Halcro? Will ye join us?"
"I canna say, Jack. Ye see there's the Falcon. I couldna leave Davie Flett very well; though I'll not deny I'd rather be a pilot than anything else."
"Weel, ye'll think of it any way; and if we can get the money, there's no doubt but we'll manage the business right enough."
With that I left Jack on the wharf and continued my way, meditating upon this chance of fulfilling my ambition of being a Pomona pilot.
I had not gone far, however, when I heard a quick step behind me.
"Ericson, Ericson!" some one called.
I turned and saw Lieutenant Fox following me in full uniform, and with a young midshipman attending him. He came up to me, and, after a few ordinary observations, said:
"I wanted to ask you something, Ericson. We're short-handed on the Clasper, and we need the help of a man who knows these islands well; someone who knows all about the people, and can be of service in keeping down the smuggling. Now, what d'ye say? Will you join us yourself?"
"I'm afraid not, Mr. Fox," I replied, for I had already half made up my mind about the piloting, and with true Orkney instinct I clung to the old ways of my family. "I'm afraid not, sir. You see I'm aboard the Falcon just now, and if I leave Davie Flett it will only be to join the new pilots.
"But if you're needing a hand," I continued, thinking just then of Willie Hercus, "I can get you a lad that knows just about as much of the Orkneys as I do, one that has always wished to be a man-o'-war's man."
"I'd rather have yourself, Ericson," said the officer. "Just think about it, will you? It's a good opening for you, and you may yet reach the quarterdeck and become an admiral, and fly your own pennant before you're as old as Davie Flett. Let me know as soon as you decide. But if you can't join us, send your friend. Good evening!"
As the young lieutenant walked away with a great clattering of his long sword, I looked at his laced cocked hat and his epaulettes, and fancied myself in a similar uniform. However, my native simplicity came to my rescue, and, good as this opportunity of serving my Queen appeared, I yet thought fondly of the pilot's busy, perilous life. Something told me that it was my destiny to be a pilot, as my fathers for three generations had been before me.
I went into Oliver Gray's inn, and there found my skipper, Davie Flett, awaiting me. He was talking with a little old man, whom I soon recognized as Isaac the Dutch Jew, who had bought the viking's ruby from Tom Kinlay. When I entered, Isaac retired to a far corner of the parlour and watched me closely as I talked with Captain Flett.
"When do we sail, captain?" I asked, as I sat down beside the skipper.
"Tomorrow night," said he.
And I judged that I should now have to determine without delay which of the three appointments I should take—remain with Flett, join the revenue cutter, or become a pilot.
"I've just been speaking with Lieutenant Fox of the Clasper," I said. "He wants me to go into the revenue business."
"Ay! and so you're to be a blue jacket, eh?" mused Flett, without offering any objection to my leaving the Falcon.
"No," I replied, "I'm not sure yet that I'll join them, captain. The fact is, I have also seen Jack Paterson, and he wants me to become a pilot."
"That's more in your line, my lad. Tak' my advice and join the pilots. Ye'll do better as a pilot than anything else. It's in your blood. As for the Falcon, I said when you came aboard us that you could easily leave if you chanced upon something better. We can soon get another lad to fill your berth. Maybe ye ken a lad yersel' that would come aboard us?"
"Ay, that I do," I responded. "There's Robbie Rosson, he'd be glad of the chance."
"Bring him to me then, Halcro, and we'll take him along with us next trip to see if he likes it."
Here was a fortunate opportunity. By my own advancement I was to be the means of helping my two school companions. Willie Hercus was to join the revenue cutter; Robbie Rosson was to go aboard the Falcon. As for myself, I may say that it was a foregone conclusion with me that I should take to the piloting.
"Has Paterson got a boat yet, Halcro?" asked the skipper.
"No, that is his one difficulty. He wants the money. I wish I could only get some money from somewhere."
Captain Flett lapsed into silence, as though, acting in his customary fashion, he was contriving in his mind how best to secure a pilot boat for Jack Paterson. Presently the old Jew edged nearer to us and said to me:
"Did I hear you say you vant money, mine young friend?"
"That's a thing a good many folk want," said I. "Why?"
"Vy? Oh, just because I tink you have got someting vort a great lot of money. Dot little black stone you showed me; long time ago, you know."
Here Captain Flett interposed, speaking with Isaac in Dutch. A long conversation followed in that language, during which Flett asked me for my viking's stone. The old Jew took the talisman in his long fingers. He regarded it as though he were familiar with its structure, twisting it round and screwing the thin band of gold that encircled it. Then a very wonderful thing happened. He gave the stone a few taps upon the table and the metal ring fell off. The stone dropped open in two pieces like a shell, and in the heart of it appeared a bright clear gem that sparkled in the light of the oil lamp hanging above us. I looked on in dumb amazement.