previous
next

XXX The Last Week: Thursday

A LIGHT flashed in my face recovered me. I was propped up against a mattress, unbound and ungagged. A kneeling man was chafing my limbs with rough hands, another stood at a little distance looking on.

Upon a box close beside me stood a jug of water and several slices of bread and cheese.

“Water!” I gasped. My tongue was so big that I could scarcely articulate.

The man who was chafing me put the jug to my lips, and I drained it at a single draught.

“Good?” he asked.

“God bless you!” I mumbled, and both men laughed. They were the murderers of Edward Shaw—Samuel Pagney and Bill Jones.

“The day?” I muttered.

“Thursday!”

“Time?”

“About six; it's gettin' dark outside.”

It was Pagney who had answered me—Judith Kelly's husband.

“Take me on deck!” I implored them.

“No,” said Jones.

Pagney looked at his companion. “Be damned!” he growled, and gathered me up into his arms; he was a big,


  ― 286 ―
strong man, as was his rvial. Jones shrugged his shoulders, but made no comment. In another moment I was lying on the bare boards of the deck, breathing the clean, sweet air of heaven. Pagney sat on his haunches beside me, silent as a wooden figure. I spoke to him twice, but he growled out, “Shut your mouth!” and the second time kicked me in the temple with his boot-heel. Soon I was in a great physical agony. My numbed nerves commenced to wake, and in the process venomously stabbed and re-stabbed every inch of my body with long needles of pain. I forced myself to bear the torture without a groan, fearing lest did I make a sound Pagney would consign me to the hold again. After a long while, or what seemed so, I could move my arms. I drew them up softly one after another across my chest. My right hand was clenched about a piece of paper. It was shut with the rigidity of iron, and refused to obey my will. I knew it held Miss Denton's letter.

“Sam,” I muttered, daring in my great desire his anger, “do you want to make some money?”

He started violently. “Ay,” he said, “ay.”

“Open my vest!”

“Ay, ay!”

“Do as I bid you!”

He tore it open. “There is a pocket in the lining!” I whispered.

He searched for and found it presently, and took out the hundred pounds I had received from the dealer for my furniture.

“Notes!” he gasped. “Notes!”

“They shall be all yours. Sam, if you help me a little. It's a hundred pounds.”

He chuckled, stuffing the notes into his pocket. “I guess they're mine now,” he cried, triumphantly.

“For how long?”

“For good, I reckon.”

“You fool,” I muttered. “I have only to tell Bill you have them and he'll put the Push on to you. You wouldn't be allowed to keep threepence, and if you hid it away they'd tear you to ribbands.”

His jaw fell. “What do you want me to do?”




  ― 287 ―

“Very little—force open my right hand.”

He did so; I groaning with pain the while.

Bill Jones came to the deck at that moment. “Stow that!” he growled.

“You go to hell!” said Pagney. Jones walked to the other end of the hulk without reply. Evidently the rivals were at daggers drawn; it seemed to me that I might turn their mutual hate to my advantage.

“There's a paper here, it's a letter,” said Pagney.

“Strike a match, I want to read it.”

He held it away from me. “Straight wire, you won't put me away; the oof's mine?” he muttered.

“Straight wire, Sam!”

“Swear!”

“I swear!”

“Very good!” He put the letter into my left hand, and struck a wax match upon his thigh. I read these words:

“I shall obey you, and go to-night to Melbourne, Lucas; but I shall return. I think you have not behaved well to me, but if what you have said is true, and you are in danger, I shall not desert you yet. On Saturday night I shall wait for you on the University bridge at nine. Risk nothing in the meantime; I have a right to ask you so much.”

“MAY ELIZABETH DENTON.”

“My heaven!” I muttered; “she is mad, she has not believed me. She does not realise her danger! And ah, God! my uncle has read this letter. He knows. He will be there to meet her. She is doomed!”

“What's that you say?” growled Pagney.

With the strength of despair I sat upright, heedless of shooting nerves and rasping joints. As I did so some loose money jingled in my pockets.

“You've got more,” gasped Pagney; “my eye, the bloomin' ijits never searched you, they was —— fools!” Like a flash he was on me, going through my pockets. But a wild thought, a desperate, if feeble hope, flashed through my mind. “Jones!” I shouted. “Jones!” Pagney dashed his fist in my face, and I fell back groaning, but Jones came running up.




  ― 288 ―

“What's the fuss?” he growled.

“He's robbing me!” I panted.

Pagney sprang to his feet, felling me to the deck as he rose. As he did so a coin clattered on to the boards, flashing gold in the dim light of the watch-lamps. It rolled into the scuppers. Jones rushed to secure it, Pagney after him. In a second they were locked in each other's arms, fighting and cursing like incarnate fiends. Then was my chance. I slipped my hand down to my hip-pocket, and with a thrill of wildest rapture realised that my revolver rested there untouched.

My uncle and his council had, for some mysterious reason, entirely neglected to search my pockets when they had had me at their mercy. Possibly they had been too entirely content with my easy capture to think of such a detail. Possibly they had been in too great a hurry to do so at the time, assured that so trifling a matter could be properly effected at their leisure. Whatever may have been, however, the reason of their remissness, the glorious fact remained that the pistol was still in my possession; and a chance of freedom was right within my grasp already. My gaolers had forgotten me in their furious combat. All I had to do was to sit up, draw my revolver, wait for the finish of the fight, and then force them under the muzzle of my pistol to row me ashore, a free man again. But when I essayed the first of these tasks I was forced to utterly abandon hope of immediate escape. I was as weak as an infant. Not only could I not sit up, but, try as I might, I could not extract the pistol from my pocket with my left hand, for the pocket was situated over my right hip; as for my right hand, it was useless, completely paralysed; and I could not yet move either of my legs more than a few inches at a time.

I groaned aloud in my despair. My gaolers heard, and by mutual consent sprang away from each other and silently approached me. No doubt their lives depended on guarding me securely. Pagney sullenly emptied his pockets upon the deck and strode off. Jones picked up the coins and replaced them in my vest pocket. I noticed with a thrill of satisfaction that Pagney had not parted with my bank notes. After an hour spent by us all in deepest silence, Pagney


  ― 289 ―
returned from his retreat, and between them the ruffians lowered me into the hold, and carried me back to the cabin. They allowed me to eat my prison fare, which I did hungrily, although each mouthful tore my already lacerated tongue. Afterwards they bound me and replaced the gag. I managed, however, so that the cords were less rigid than before, in this fashion. I had already discovered that the pair hated each other with such jealous thoroughness that one could not suffer the other to carry out his will in the smallest particular; therefore, I played them off one against another. When they were binding my feet, I groaned and appealed for clemency to Pagney. He cursed me to be silent. Jones immediately was up in arms, and swore that the bonds should be relaxed. Similarly I appealed to Jones when my hands were being tied, and Pagney was then my champion. I offered to share between them all the money I had if they left off the gag, but they sullenly refused. They placed me on a mattress when all was finished; it was hard and knotty, but elysium compared with the iron-covered floor. In spite of the apprehension I suffered on account of Miss Denton, I slept that night, for I was in comparative comfort, and exhausted nature demanded its own restorative. Beyond that, I felt that my condition was no longer quite hopeless. Doubtless on the morrow my gaolers again would free my hands, and by then strength must have returned to my limbs. Thank heaven, I did not dream.

previous
next