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   Chapter 44 THE VOICE IN THE DUST

The Mystery of the Sea By Bram Stoker Characters: 15922

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


One of the men produced his note book and began taking down in shorthand the rapid utterances of the chief, repeating it so as to check the accuracy as he went on:

"Easy to see the marks; the floor is deep in dust, and the walls are thick with it. On floor, mark of several feet-confused in struggle, may articulate separately later on-one woman's-also trailing of long skirt. On walls marks of hands, fingers outspread, as if trying to grasp. Some of the long marks down the wall others across." The speaker here raised his lamp and held it in the opening as far as his arm would go; then he went on:

"Steps wind downwards to right. Struggle seems to have stopped. Footmarks more clear."... Then the chief turned to us:

"I think gentlemen, we may follow in now. The footmarks may be discriminated and identified later. We must chance destroying them, or we cannot pass in this narrow passage." Here I spoke; a thought had been surging up in my brain ever since the detective had pointed out the finger marks on the wall "down and across":

"Stop a moment please! Let me see the marks on the wall before any one enters; the passage is narrow and they may be rubbed off." A glance was enough, just time enough to formulate which was the symbol of "a" and which of "b." The perpendicular strokes were "a" and the horizontal "b." Marjory had kept her head, even at this trying time, and was leaving a message for me as she was forced along. I understood why the struggle had ceased. Seized and forced through the narrow doorway, she had at first struggled hard. Then, when she realised that she could leave a clue behind her, she had evidently agreed to go quietly; for so she might have her hands free. It would be a hard job to carry or force along an unwilling captive through that narrow uneven passage; doubtless the captors were as willing as she was that she should go quietly. I said to the detectives:

"These marks on the wall are in a cipher which I can read. Give me the best lamp we have, and let me go first."

So, in an orderly procession, leaving two men in the library with Mrs. Jack to guard the entrance, we passed into the secret passage. As I read off the words written on the wall, the man with the note-book took them down, his companion holding a candle so as to enable him to do so. How my heart beat as I read my dear girl's message, marked on the wall on the inner side whichever way the curves ran. Obviously it would create less attention by guiding herself in this wise as she passed. She had kept her hand well down so that her signs should not be confused with the marks made by the men who, guiding themselves likewise, had held their hands at a natural height. Her sign marks ran continuously, even after we had passed into the passage between the chapel and the monument; the writing ran as follows:

"Four men came in-two waiting in passage through bookcase-late-striking one-struggled-then quiet-hands free-same voice we heard in Chapel. Feathers thin voice, small man, dark-all masked-Whisky Tommy hoarse voice, big man, sandy, large hands-Dago, deep voice, swarthy, little finger missing left hand-Max, silent, nods for speech, think dumb-two others on ahead too far see, hear."

In a pause I heard the chief detective murmur:

"That girl's a peach. We'll get her yet!" The spot at which we were pausing was where the way to the reservoir branched off. Here Marjory probably stood with her back to the wall and used her hands behind her back, for the strokes were smaller and more uneven. There were faults which put me out and I could only read a few words-"whispering"-"only word can hear 'manse.'" There was evidently some conversation going on between her captors, and she was making use of her opportunities. Then we went on and found the signs renewed. It cut me to the heart when I saw a smear of blood on one of the marks; the rough uncertain movement and the sharp edges of the rock had told on her delicate skin. But later on, the blood marks were continued, and I could not but think that she had cut her fingers on purpose to make a more apparent clue. When I mentioned my surmise to the detective, his instinct having been trained in such matters, showed a keener insight than my own:

"More likely she is preparing to leave a mark which we can see when they get her out of the tunnel. They may not suspect intention if her fingers are bleeding already!" The words following the stop where I had read "manse" were:

"Boat ready-Seagull-Coffin-Hearse-bury isl-" Here the next mark instead of being horizontal took a sudden angle down, and the blood was roughly rubbed off. It was as though her hand had been struck in the act of making the mark. Her captors had suspected her. There were no more marks on the wall. I could not imagine, however, that Marjory would be entirely baffled. She had infinite resource, and would doubtless find some other means of leaving a clue. Telling the others therefore to keep back I threw the rays of the lamp over roof and walls and floor as we proceeded.

It was a strange scene. The candles and lamp showing up but patches of light in the inky black darkness; the moving figures projected against the lights as I looked back; the silence broken by the shuffling tread of stumbling feet on the rock floor; the eager intense faces, when a change in the light flashed them into view. It all moved me at moments, for there was a gleam of hope in its earnestness.

I tried to put myself in Marjory's position. If her hands were useless, as they would be if she could not use them without suspicion-even were they not tied now as was probable-her next effort would be with her feet; I therefore looked out carefully for any sign made this way. Presently I came across a mark which I suspected. It was only a few steps beyond the last mark on the wall. It was a sort of drag of the foot, where there was any slight accumulation of dust, or rubbish, or sand. There were more such traces ahead. So motioning to the others to keep back, I followed them up, taking care not to disturb any of them. They were but the rough marks made during a stumbling progress; and for a time I was baffled; though I could distinguish the traces of Marjory's little feet amongst the great ones. Then I went back and looked at them afresh from the beginning, and a light burst upon me. They were made with the right or left foot as required; thus she could reproduce the bi-literal symbol. Interpretation was now easy enough, and hence on, to the exit from the tunnel, I could tell almost every word written. There being only a few cases where the sign was not sufficiently marked for me to read it.

"Suspicious. Hands tied-gagged-find Seagull-find Manse."

It was sadly slow work, and my heart at times sank within me at the exasperating delay in our progress. However, it was progress after all; and that sustained us. All along, as we worked our way towards the monument, I had been thinking of the word "manse;" and now its repetition showed its importance. It would be necessary that the abductors have some place in which to conceal their captive, before they should be able to get her out of the country. That this latter would be a necessary step towards their object was manifest; but the word Seagull settled it.

When we got to the entrance of the tunnel we examined every inch of the way; this was the wish of the detective rather than my own. Marjory would, it seemed to me, go quietly through the entrance. She would know that she was being watched here with extra carefulness; and would reserve herself for a less suspicious opportunity. She would also know that if I were on her track at all, I would be able to follow through the secret entrance.

Outside, on the ground beside the monument, were no unusual signs of passage. The patch of bare earth and gravel, which we had before noticed, left no trace of footsteps. Those who had used it had evid

ently taken care that there should be no sign. We went slowly along the route, which, by my former experiments with the thread, I had found was habitually used. Presently one of the Americans asked me to stop, as he had seen a trace of feet. For my life I could distinguish nothing in the seemingly undisturbed mass of pine needles. But the man, who in his youth had been in Indian country, had learned something of tracking; he could interpret signs unseen to others with less highly developed instincts. He went down on his knees and examined the ground, inch by inch, using a microscope. For some ten yards he crawled along on hands and knees engaged in this way. Then he stood up and said:

"There's no error about it now. There are six men and a woman. They have been carrying her, and have let her down here!" We did not challenge his report, or even ask how he had arrived at it; we were all well content to accept it.

We then moved on in the manifest direction in which the ground trended; we were working towards the high road which ran past the gates of Crom. I asked the others to let me go first now, for I knew this would be Marjory's chance to continue her warning. Surely enough, I saw presently a slight disturbance in the pine needles, and then another and another. I spelled out the word "Manse" and again "Manse" and later on "try all Manses near." Then the sign writing ceased; we had come out of the wood on to a grass field which ran down to the high road. Here, outside a gap at the bottom of the field, were the marks in the dust of several feet, the treading of horses, and the ruts of wheels. A little further on, the wheel marks-some four-wheeled vehicle-were heavy; and from the backward propulsion of the dust and gravel in the hoof-tracks we could easily see that the horses were galloping.

We stopped and held a council of war. It was, of course understood by us all that some one should follow on the track of the carriage, and try to reach the quarry this way. For my own part, I felt that to depend on a wheel mark, in such a country of cross roads, was only the off chance. In any case, this stern chase must be a long one; whereas time was vital, every moment being precious. I determined to try to follow out Marjory's clue. "Try every Manse near." To do this we should get to some centre where we could obtain a list of all the churches in the neighbourhood. Ellon was naturally the place, as it was in the centre of the district. They all acquiesced in my view; so we hurried back to Crom, leaving two men, the tracker and another, to follow the fugitives. Hitherto Don Bernardino had hardly said a word. He was alert, and the eager light of his eye was helpful; but after he had shown us the secret way, and found that already I knew the outer passage as well as he did, or better, he had contented himself with watchfulness. Now he suggested:

"There is also the boat! May it not be well that some one should follow up that side of the matter? Thus we shall be doubly armed."

His advice commended itself to the chief of the detectives; though I could see that he took it suspiciously from the Spaniard. It was with manifest purpose of caution that he answered:

"Quite right! But that we shall see to ourselves; when Mr. Adams comes he will work that racket!" The Spaniard bowed, and the American returned the courtesy with a stiff back. Even in such a time of stress, racial matters were not to be altogether forgotten.

In the hall at Crom, we found, when we came back through the old chapel, Sam Adams. He had arrived just after we had set out on our search, but was afraid to follow over-ground lest he should miss us; wisely he did not attempt the underground way as he had no proper light. His coming had been a great comfort to Mrs. Jack, who, always glad to see a countryman of her own, now almost clung to him. He had brought with him two young men, the very sight of whom made my heart warmer. One of them he introduced as "Lootenant Jackson of West Point" and the other as "Lootenant Montgomery of Annapolis." "These boys are all right!" he added, laying a hand affectionately on the shoulder of each.

"I am sure they are! Gentlemen, I thank you with all my heart for coming!" I said as I wrung their hands. They were both fine specimens of the two war Academies of the United States. Clean-built from top to toe; bright-eyed, resolute and alert; the very type of highly bred and trained gentlemen. The young soldier Jackson answered me:

"I was too delighted to come, when Adams was good enough to get leave for me."

"Me too!" echoed the sailor "When I heard that Miss Drake was in trouble, and I was told I might come, I think I danced. Why, Sir, if you want them, we've only to pass the word, and we can get you a man of war's crew-if every man of them has to desert!"

Whilst we were speaking there was a sound of rapid wheels, and a carriage from Ellon drew up at the door. Out jumped Cathcart, followed by a tall, resolute looking young man who moved with the freedom of an athlete.

"Am I in time?" was Cathcart's greeting as he rushed towards me. I told him exactly how we stood. "Thank God!" he said fervently "we may be in time yet." Then he introduced his friend MacRae of Strathspiel. This was the host with whom he had been staying; and who had volunteered to come, on hearing of his summons:

"You may trust Donald!" was his simple evidence of the worth of his friend.

This addition to our forces gave us great hope. We had now a sufficiency of intelligent, resolute men to follow up several clues at once; and in a brief council we marked out the various duties of each. Cathcart was to go to Ellon and get a list of all the manses in the region of Buchan, and try to find out if any of them had been let to strangers. We took it for granted that none of the clergy of the place were themselves concerned in the plot. MacRae was to go with Cathcart and to get all the saddle horses he could without attracting public attention, and bring them, or have them brought, to Crom as soon as possible. Secrecy of movement was insisted on with almost agonised fervour by Adams and the Secret Service men. "You don't know these wretches," said the chief of the latter "They are the most remorseless and cruel villains in the world; and if they are driven to bay will do anything however cruel or base. They are well plucked too, and don't know what fear means. They will take any chances, and do anything to get their way and protect themselves. If we don't go right in this matter, we may regret it to the last of our days."

The silence in the room was only broken by the grinding of teeth, and by Mrs. Jack's suppressed sobs.

Adams was to go to Aberdeen as a working centre, and was to look after the nautical side of the adventure; he was to have Montgomery in this work with him. Before he left Crom, he wrote some cipher telegrams to the Embassy. He explained to me that one of his suggestions was that an American war-ship which was cruising in the North Sea should, if possible, be allowed to lie off the coast of Aberdeen ready for any emergency. When Montgomery heard it, he asked that if possible a message should be sent from him to the first officer of the Keystone: "Tell the men privately that they are helping Marjory Drake!-There will be a thousand pair of eyes on the watch then!" he added by way of explanation.

I was to wait with the detectives till we should get word from any of our sources as to what could be done.

For there were several possibilities. The trackers might mark down the locality where the prisoner was hidden. Cathcart might, before this, come with the list of manses and their occupants. Adams or Montgomery might get wind of the Seagull; for Montgomery had already orders to go to Petershead and Fraserburgh, where the smacks for the summer fishing were gathered.

Don Bernardino remained with me at Crom.

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