The Watchers

Chapter XIV

In Which Peter Tortue Explains his Intervention on My Behalf

A.E.W. Mason

AS will be readily understood, when I woke up the next morning I was sensible at once of a great relief. My anxieties and misadventures of last night were well paid for after all. I could look at my swollen wrists and say that without any hesitation, the watchers had departed from their watching, and what if they had carried away the King of Portugal’s great jewelled cross? Helen Mayle had no need of it, indeed, her great regret now was that she could not get rid of what she had; and as for Cullen, to tell the truth, I did not care a snap of the fingers whether he found a fortune or must set to work to make one. Other men had been compelled to do it—better men too, deuce take him! We were well quit of George Glen and his gang, though the price of the quittance was heavy. I would get up at once, run across to Merchant’s Point, and tell Helen Mayle—— My plans came to a sudden stop. Tell Helen Mayle precisely what? That Adam Mayle’s grave had been rifled?

I lay staring up at the ceiling as I debated that question, and suddenly it slipped from my mind. That grave had been rifled before, and quite recently. I was as certain of that in the sober light of the morning as I had been during the excitement of last night. Why? It was not for the chart of the treasure, since the chart had been left. And by whom? So after all, here was I, who had waked up in the best of spirits too, with the world grown comfortable, confronted with questions as perplexing as a man could wish for. It was, as Cullen Mayle had said, at the inn near Axminster, most discouraging. And I turned over in bed and tried to go to sleep, that I might drive them from my mind. I should have succeeded too, but just as I was in a doze there came a loud rapping at the door, and Dick Parmiter danced into the room.

“They are gone, Mr. Berkeley,” he cried.

“I know,” I grumbled; “I saw them go,” and stretched out my arms and yawned.

“Why, you have hurt your wrist,” Dick exclaimed.

“No,” said I, “it was George Glen’s shake of the hand.”

“They are gone,” repeated Dick, gleefully, “all of them except Peter Tortue.”

“What’s that?” I cried, sitting up in the bed.

“All of them except Peter Tortue.”

“To be sure,” said I, scratching my head.

Now what in the world had Peter Tortue remained behind for? For no harm, that was evident, since I owed my life to his good offices last night. I was to remember that it was he who saved me. I was, then, to make some return. But what return?”

I threw my pillow at Parmiter’s head.

“Deuce take you, Dicky! My bed was not such a plaguey restful place before that it needed you to rumple it further. Well, since I mayn’t sleep late i’ the morning like a gentleman, I’ll get up.

I tried to put together some sort of plausible explanation which would serve for Helen Mayle while I was dressing. But I could not hit upon one, and besides Parmiter made such a to-do over brushing my clothes this morning that that alone was enough to drive all reasoning out of one’s head.

“Dick,” said I as he handed me my coat, “you have had, if my memory serves me, some experience of womenfolk.”

Dick nodded his head in a mournful fashion.

“Mother!” said he.

“Precisely,” said I. “Now, here’s a delicate question. Do you always tell womenfolk the truth?”

“No,” said he, stoutly.

“Do you tell them—shall we say quibbles,—then?”

“Quibbles?” said Dick, opening his mouth.

“It is not a fruit, Dicky,” said I, “so you need not keep it open. By quibbles I mean lies. Do you tell your womenfolk lies, when the truth is not good for them to know?”

“No,” said Dick, as steadily as before, “for they finds you out.”

“Precisely,” I agreed. “But since you neither tell the truth nor tell lies, what in the world do you do?”

“Well,” answered Dick, “I say that it’s a secret which mother isn’t to know for a couple of days.”

“I see. And when the couple of days has gone?

“Then mother has forgotten all about the secret.”

I reflected for a moment or two.



“Did you ever try that plan with Miss Helen?”

“No,” said he, shaking his head.

“I will,” said I, airily, “or something like it.”

“Something like it would be best,” said Dick.

The story which I told to Helen was not after all very like it. I said:

“The watchers have gone and gone for ever. They were here not for any revenge, but for their profit. There was a treasure in St. Helen’s which Cullen Mayle was to show them the way to—if they could catch him and force him. They had some claim to it—I showed them the way.”

“You?” she exclaimed. “How?”

“That I cannot tell you,” said I. “I would beg you not to ask, but to let my silence content you. I could not tell you the truth and I do not think that I could invent a story to suit the occasion which would not ring false. The consequence is the one thing which concerns us, and there is no doubt of it. The watchers did not watch for an opportunity of revenge and they are gone.”

“Very well,” she said. “I was right after all, you see. The hand stretched out of the dark has done this service. For it is your doing that they are gone?”

I did not answer and she laughed a little and continued, “But I will not ask you. I will make shift to be content with your silence. Did Dick Parmiter come with you this morning?”

“Yes,” I answered with a laugh, “but he was not with me last night.”

Helen laughed again.

“Ah,” she cried!” So it was your doing, and I have not asked you.” Then she grew serious of a sudden. “But since they are gone”—she exclaimed, in a minute, her whole face alight with her thought—“since they are gone, Cullen may come and come in safety.”

“Oh! yes, Cullen may come,” I answered, perhaps a trifle roughly. “Cullen will be safe and may come. Indeed, I wonder that he was not here before this. He stole my horse upon the road and yet could not reach here first. I trudged a-foot, Cullen bestrode my horse and yet Tresco still pines for him. It is very strange unless he has a keen nose for danger.”

My behaviour very likely was not the politest imaginable, but then Helen’s was no better. For although she displayed no anger at my rough words—I should not have cared a scrape of her wheezy fiddle if she had, but she did not, she merely laughed in my face with every appearance of enjoyment. I drew myself up very stiff. Here were all the limits of courtesy clearly over-stepped, but I at all events would not follow her example, nor allow her one glimpse of any exasperation which I might properly feel.

“Shall I go out and search for him in the highways and hedges?” I asked with severity.

“It would be magnanimous,” said she biting her lip, and then her manner changed. “He rode your horse,” she cried, “and yet he has fallen behind. He will be hurt then! Some accident has befallen him!”

“Or he has wagered my horse at some roadside inn and lost! It was a good horse, too.”

She caught hold of my arm in some agitation.

“Oh! be serious!” she prayed.

“Serious quotha!” said I, drawing away from her hand with much dignity. “Let me assure you, madam, that the loss of a horse is a very serious affair, that the stealing of a horse is a very serious affair——”

“Well, well, I will buy it from you, saddle and stirrup and all,” she interrupted.

“Madam,” said I, when I could get my speech. “There is no more to be said.”

“Heaven be praised!” said she. “And now it may be, you will condescend to listen to me. What am I to do? Suppose that he is hurt! Suppose that he is in trouble! Suppose that he still waits for my answer to his message! Suppose in a word that he does not come! What can I do? He may go hungering for a meal.”

I did not think the contingency probable, but Helen was now speaking with so much sincerity of distress that I could not say as much.

“Unless he comes to Tresco I am powerless. It is true I have bequeathed everything to him, but then I am young,” she said, with a most melancholy look in her big dark eyes. “Neither am I sickly.”

“I will go back along the road and search for him,” and this I spoke with sincerity. She looked at me curiously.

“Will you do that?” she asked in a doubtful voice, as though she did not know whether to be pleased or sorry.

“Yes,” said I, and a servant knocked at the door, and told me Parmiter wished to speak with me. I found the lad on the steps of the porch, and we walked down to the beach.

“What is it?” I asked.

“The Frenchman,” said he, with a frightened air.

“Peter Tortue?”


I led him further along the beach lest any of the windows of the house should be open towards us, and any one by the open window.

“Where is he?”

Dick pointed up the hill.

“At the shed?” I asked.

“Yes. He was lying in wait on the hillside, and ran down when he saw that I was alone. He stays in the shed for you, and you are to go to him alone.”

“Amongst the dead sailor-men?” said I, with a laugh. But the words were little short of blasphemy to Dick Parmiter. “Well, I was there last night, and no harm came to me.”

“You were there last night?” cried Dick. “Then you will not go?”

“But I will,” said I. “I am curious to hear what Tortue has to say to me. You may take my word for it, Dick, there’s no harm in Peter Tortue. I shall be back within the hour. Hush! not a word of this!” for I saw Helen Mayle coming from the house towards us. I told her that I was called away, and would return.

“Do you take Dick with you?” she asked, with too much indifference. She held a big hat of straw by the ribbons and swung it to and fro. She did that also with too much indifference.

“No,” said I, “I leave him behind. Make of him what you can. He cannot tell what he does not know.”

The sum of Dick’s knowledge, I thought, amounted to no more than this—that I had last night visited the shed, in spite of the dead sailormen. I forgot for the moment that he was in my bedroom when I rose that morning.

The door of the shed was fastened on the inside; I rapped with my knuckles, and Tortue’s voice asked who was there. When I told him, he unbarred the door.

“There is no one behind you?” said he, peering over my shoulder.

“Nay! Do you fear that I have brought the constables to take you? You may live in Tresco till you die if you will. What! Should I betray you, whose life you saved only last night?”

Peter opened the door wide.

“A night!” said he, with a shrug of the shoulders. “One can forget more than that in a night, if one is so minded.”

I followed him into the shed. Here and there, through the chinks in the boards, a gleam of light slipped through. Outside it was noonday, within it was a sombre evening. I passed through the door of the partition into the inner room. The rafters above were lost in darkness, and before my eyes were accustomed to the gloom I stumbled over a slab of stone which had been lifted from its place in the floor. I turned to Tortue, who was just behind me, and he nodded in answer to my unspoken question. The spade and the pick had stood in that corner to the left, and this slab of stone had been removed in readiness. The darkness of the shed struck cold upon me all at once, as I thought of why that slab had been removed. I looked about me much as a man may look about his bedroom the day after he has been saved from his grave by the surgeon’s knife. Everything stands as it did yesterday—this chair in this corner, that table just upon that pattern of the carpet, but it is all very strange and unfamiliar. It was against that board in the partition that I leaned my back; there sat George Glen with his evil smile, here Tortue polished his knife.

“Let us go out into the sunlight, for God’s sake!” said I, and my foot struck against a piece of iron, which went tinkling across the stone floor. I picked it up. “They are gone,” said I, with a shiver, “and there’s an end of them. But this shed is a nightmarish sort of place for me. For God’s sake, let us get into the sun!”

“Yes, they are gone,” said Tortue, “but they would have stayed if they dared, if I hadn’t set you free, for they went without the cross.”

I was still holding that piece of iron in my hand. By the feel of it, it was a key, and I slipped it into my pocket quite unconsciously, for Tortue’s words took me aback with surprise.

“Without the jewelled cross? But you had the plan,” said I, as I stepped into the open. “I heard you describe the spot—three chains in a line east of the east window in the south aisle of the church.”

“There was no trace of the cross.”

“It was true then!” I exclaimed. “I was sure of it, even after Roper had found the stick and the plan. It was true—that grave had been rifled before.”

“Why should the plan have been put back, then?”

“God knows! I don’t.”

“Besides, if the grave had been rifled, the spot of ground on St. Helen’s Island had not. There had been no spade at work there.”

“Are you sure of that?”


“And you followed out the directions?”

“To the letter. Three chains east by the compass of the eastern window in the south aisle of St. Helen’s Church, and four feet deep! We dug five and six feet deep. There was nothing, nor had the ground been disturbed.”

“I cannot understand it. Why should Adam Mayle have been at such pains to hide the plan? Was it a grim joke to be played on Cullen?”

There was no means of answering the problem, and I set it aside.

“After all, they are gone,” said I. “That is the main thing.”

“All except me,” said Tortue.

“Yes. Why have you stayed?”

Tortue threw himself on the ground and chewed at a stalk of grass.

“I saved your life last night,” said he.

“I know. Why did you do it? Why did you cover my mistakes in that shed? Why did you cut the rope?”

“Because you could serve my turn. The cross!” he exclaimed, with a flourish. “I do not want the cross.” He looked at me steadily for an instant with his shrewd eyes. “I want a man to nail on the cross, and you can help me to him. Where is Cullen Mayle?”

The words startled me all the more because there was no violence in the voice which spoke them—only a cold, deliberate resolution. I was nevermore thankful for the gift of ignorance than upon this occasion. I could assure him quite honestly,

“I do not know.”

“But last night you knew.”

“I spoke of many things last night of which I had no knowledge—the cross, the plan”

“You knew where the plan was. Flesh! but you knew that!”

“I guessed.”

“Guess, then, where Cullen Mayle is, and I’ll be content.”

“I have no hint to prompt a guess.” Tortue gave no sign of anger at my answer. He sat upon the grass, and looked with a certain sadness at the shed.

“It does not, after all, take much more than a night to forget,” said he.

“I am telling you the truth, Tortue,” said I, earnestly. “I do not know. I never met Cullen Mayle but once, and that was at a roadside inn. He stole my horse upon that occasion, so that I have no reason to bear him any goodwill.”

“But because of him you came down to Tresco?” said Tortue quickly. ‘’No.”

Tortue looked at me doubtfully. Then he looked at the house, and

“Ah! It was because of the girl.”

“No! No!” I answered vehemently. I could not explain to him why I had come, and fortunately he did not ask for an explanation. He just nodded his head, and stood up without another word.

“I do not forget,” said I pointing to the shed. “And if you should be in any need” But I got no further in my offer of help; for he turned upon me suddenly, and anger at last had got the upper hand with him.

“Money, is it not?” he cried, staring down at me with his eyes ablaze. “Ay, that’s the way with gentlefolk! You would give me as much as a guinea no doubt—a whole round gold guinea. Yes, I am in need,” and with a violent movement he clasped his hands together. “Virgin Mary, but I am in need of Cullen Mayle, and you offer me a guinea!” and then hunching his shoulders he strode off over the hill.

So Helen Mayle’s instinct was right. Out of the five men there was one who waited for Cullen’s coming with another object than to secure the diamond cross. Would he continue to wait? I could not doubt that he would, when I thought upon his last vehement burst of passion. Tortue would wait upon Tresco, until, if Cullen did not come himself, some word of Cullen’s whereabouts dropped upon his ear. It was still urgent, therefore, that Cullen Mayle should be warned, and if I was to go away in search of him, Helen must be warned too.

I walked back again towards Merchant’s Point with this ill news heavy upon my mind, and as I came over the lip of the hollow, I saw Helen waiting by the gate in the palisade. She saw me at the same moment, and came up towards me at a run.

“Is there more ill-news?” I asked myself. “Or has Cullen Mayle returned? “and I ran quickly down to her.

“Has he come?” I asked, for she came to a stop in front of me with her face white and scared.

“Who?” said she absently, as she looked me over.

“Cullen Mayle,” I answered.

“Oh, Cullen,” she said, and it struck me as curious that this was the first time I had heard her speak his name with indifference.

“Because he must not show himself here. There is a reason! There is a danger still!”

“A danger,” she said, in a loud cry, and then “Oh! I shall never forgive myself!”

“For what?”

She caught hold of my arm.

“See?” she said. “Your coat-sleeve is frayed. It was a rope did that last night. No use to deny it. Dick told me. He saw that a rope too had seared your wrists. Tell me! What happened last night? I must know!”

“You promised not to ask,” said I, moving away from her.

“Well, I break my promise,” said she. “But I must know,” and she turned and kept pace with me, down the hill, through the house into the garden. During that time she pleaded for an answer in an extreme agitation, and I confess that her agitation was a sweet flattery to me. I was inclined to make the most of it, for I could not tell how she would regard the story of my night’s adventures. It was I after all who caused old Adam Mayle’s bones to be disturbed; and I understood that it was really on that account that I had shrunk from telling her. She had a right to know, no doubt. Besides there was this new predicament of Tortue’s stay. I determined to make a clean breast of the matter. She listened very quietly without an exclamation or a shudder; only her face lost even the little colour which it had, and a look of horror widened in her eyes. I told her of my capture on the hillside, of Tortue’s intervention, of the Cross and the stick in the coffin. I drew a breath and described that scene in the Abbey grounds, and how I escaped; and still she said no word and gave no sign. I told her of their futile search upon St. Helen’s, and how I had witnessed their departure from the top of the Castle Down. Still she walked by my side silent, and wrapped in horror. I faltered through this last incident of Tortue’s stay and came to a lame finish, amongst the trees at the end of the garden. We turned and walked the length of the garden to the house.

“I know,” I said. “When I guessed the stick held the plan, I should have held my tongue. But I did not think of that. It was not easy to think at all just at that time, and I must needs be quick. They spoke of attacking the house, and I dreaded that. . . . I should not have been able to give you any warning. . . . I should not have been able to give you any help. . . . for, you see, the slab of stone was already removed in the shed.”

“Oh, don’t!” she cried out, and pressed her hands to her temples. “I shall never forgive myself. Think! A week ago you and I were strangers. It cannot be right that you should go in deadly peril because of me.”

“Madam,” said I, greatly relieved, “you make too much of a thing of no great consequence. I hope to wear my life lightly.”

“Always?” said she quickly, as she stopped and looked at me.

I stopped, too, and looked at her.

“I think so,” said I, but without the same confidence. “Always.”

She had a disconcerting habit of laughing when there was no occasion whatever for laughter. She fell into that habit now, and I hastened to recall her to Tortue’s embarrassing presence on the island.

“Of course,” said I, “a word to the Governor at Star Castle and we are rid of him. But he stood between me and my death, and he trusts to my silence.”

“We must keep that silence,” she answered.

“Yet he waits for Cullen Mayle, and—it will not be well if those two men meet.”

“Why does he wait? Do you know that, too?”

I did not know, as I told her, though I had my opinion, of which I did not tell her.

“The great comfort is this. Tortue did not make one upon that expedition to the Sierra Leone River, but his son did. Tortue only fell in with George Glen and his gang at an ale-house in Wapping, and after—that is the point—after Glen had lost track of Cullen Mayle. Tortue, therefore, has never seen Cullen, does not know him. We have an advantage there. So should he come to Tresco, while I go back along the road to search for him, you must make your profit of that advantage.”

She stopped again.

“You will go, then?”

“Why, yes.”

She shook her head, reflectively.

“It is not right,” she said.

“I am going chiefly,” said I, “because I wish to recover my horse.”

She always laughed when I mentioned that horse, and her laughter always made me angry.

“Do you doubt I have a horse?” I asked. “Or rather had a horse? Because Cullen Mayle stole it, stole it deliberately from under my nose—a very valuable horse which I prized even beyond its value—and he stole it.”

The girl was in no way impressed by my wrath, and she said, pleasantly:

“I am glad you said that. I am glad to know that with it all, you are mean like other men”

“Madam,” I returned, “when Cullen Mayle stole my horse, and rode away upon it, he put out his tongue at me. I made no answer. Nor do I make any answer to the remark which you have this moment addressed to me.”

“Oh, sir!” said she, “here are fine words, and here’s a curtsey to match them;” and spreading out her frock with each hand, she sank elaborately to the very ground.

We walked for some while longer in the garden, without speech, and the girl’s impertinence gradually slipped out of my mind. The sea murmured lazily upon the other side of the hedge, and I had full in view St. Helen’s Island and the ruined church upon its summit. The south aisle of the church pointed towards the house, and through the tracery of a rude window I could see the sky.

“I wonder who in the world can have visited the Abbey burial-ground and rifled that grave?”

The question perplexed me more and more, and I wondered whether Helen could throw light upon it. So I asked her, but she bent her brows in a frown, and in a little she answered:

“No, I can think of no one.”

I held out my hand to her. “This is goodbye,” said I.

“You go to-day?” she asked, but did not take my hand.

“Yes, if I can find a ship to take me. I go to St. Helen’s first. Can I borrow your boat; Dick will bring it back. I want to see that east window in the aisle.”

A few more words were said, and I promised to return, whether I found Cullen Mayle or not. And I did return, but sooner than I expected, for I returned that afternoon.

The Watchers - Contents    |     Chapter XV - The Lost Key is Found

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