THERE IS no need for me to tell at any length the conversation that passed between the three of us that night. Cullen Mayle spoke frankly of his journey to the Sierra Leone River.
“Mr. Berkeley,” he said, “already knows so much, that I doubt it would not be of any avail to practise mysteries with him. And besides there is no need, for, if I mistake not, Mr. Berkeley can keep a secret as well as any man.”
He spoke very politely, but with a keen eye on me to notice whether I should show any confusion or change colour. But I made as though I attached no significance to his words beyond mere urbanity. He told us how he made his passage to the Guinea Coast as a sailor before the mast, and then fell in with George Glen. It seemed prudent to counterfeit a friendly opinion that the cross would be enough for all. But when they discovered the cross was gone from its hiding place, he took the first occasion to give them the slip.
“For I had no doubt that my father had been beforehand,” said he. “Had I possessed more wisdom, I might have known as much when I heard him from my bed refuse his assistance to George Glen, and so saved myself an arduous and a perilous adventure. For my father, was he never so rich, was not the man to turn his back on the King of Portugal’s cross.”
Of his father, Cullen spoke with good nature and a certain hint of contempt; and he told us much which he had learned from George Glen. “He went by the name of Kennedy,” said Cullen, “but they called him ‘Crackers’ for the most part. He was not on the Royal Fortune at the time when Roberts was killed, so that he was never taken prisoner with the rest, nor did he creep out of Cape Corse Castle like George Glen.”
“Then he was never tried or condemned,” said Helen, who plainly found some relief in that thought.
“No!” answered Cullen, with a chuckle. “But why? He played rob-thief—a good game, but it requires a skilled player. I would never have believed Adam had the skill. Roberts put him in command of a sloop called the Ranger which he had taken in the harbour of Bahia, and when he put out to sea on that course which brought him into conjunction with the Swallow, he left the Ranger behind in Whydah Bay. And what does Adam do but haul up his anchor as soon as Roberts was out of sight, and, being well content with his earnings, make sail for Maryland, where the company was disbanded. I would I had known that on the day we quarrelled. Body o’ me, but I would have made the old man quiver. Well, Adam came home to England, settled at Bristol, where he married, and would no doubt have remained there till his death, had he not fallen in with one of his old comrades on the quay. That frightened him, so he come across to Tresco, thinking to be safe. And safe he was for twenty years, until George Glen nosed him out.”
Thereupon, Cullen, from relating his adventures, turned to questions asking for word of this man and that whom he had known before he went away. These questions of course he put to Helen, and not once did he let slip a single allusion to the meeting he had had with her in the shed on Castle Down. For that silence on his part I was well prepared; the man was versed in secrecy. But Helen showed a readiness no whit inferior; she never hesitated, never caught a word back. They spoke together as though the last occasion when they had met was the night, now four years and a half ago, when Adam Mayle stood at the head of the stairs and drove his son from the house. One thing in particular I learned from her, the negro had died a month ago.
It was my turn when the gossip of the islands had been exhausted, and I had to tell over again of my capture by Glen and the manner of my escape. I omitted, however, all mention of an earlier visitant to the Abbey burial grounds, and it was to this omission that I owed a confirmation of my conviction that Cullen Mayle was the visitant. For when I came to relate how George Glen and his band sailed away towards France without the cross, he said:
“If I could find that cross, I might perhaps think I had some right to it. It is yours, Helen, to be sure, by law, and——”
She interrupted him, as she was sure to do, with a statement that the cross and everything else was for him to dispose of as he thought fit. But he was magnanimous to a degree.
“The cross, Helen, nothing but the cross, if I can find it. I have a thought which may help me to it. ‘Three chains east of the east window in south aisle of St. Helen’s Church.’ Those were the words, I think.”
“Yes,” said I.
“And Glen measured the distance correctly?”
“To an inch.”
“Well, what if—it is a mere guess, but a likely one, I presume to think,—what if the chains were Cornish chains? There would be a difference of a good many feet, a difference of which George Glen would be unaware. You see I trust you, Mr. Berkeley. I fancy that I can find that cross upon St. Helen’s Island.”
“I have no doubt you will,” said I.
Cullen rose from his chair.
“It grows late, Helen,” said he, “and I have kept you from your sleep with my gossiping.” He turned to me. “But, Mr. Berkeley, you perhaps will join me in a pipe and a glass of rum? My father had a good store of rum, which in those days I despised, but I have learnt the taste for it.”
His proposal suited very well with my determination to keep a watch that night over Helen’s safety, and I readily agreed.
“You will sleep in your old room, Cullen,” she said, “and you, Mr. Berkeley, in the room next to it;” and that arrangement suited me very well. Helen wished us both good-night, and left us together.
We went up into Mayle’s cabin and Cullen mixed the rum, which I only sipped. So it was not the rum. I cannot, in fact, remember at all feeling any drowsiness or desire to sleep. I think if I had felt that desire coming over me I should have shaken it off; it would have warned me to keep wide awake. But I was not sensible of it at all; and I remember very vividly the last thing of which I was conscious. That was Cullen Mayle’s great silver watch which he held by a ribbon and twirled this way and that as he chatted to me. He spun it with great quickness, so that it flashed in the light of the candle like a mirror, and at once held and tired the eyes. I was conscious of this, I say, and of nothing more until gradually I understood that some one was shaking me by the shoulders and rousing me from sleep. I opened my eyes and saw that it was Helen Mayle who had disturbed me.
It took me a little time to collect my wits. I should have fallen asleep again had she not hindered me; but at last I was sufficiently roused to realise that I was still in the cabin, but that Cullen Mayle had gone. A throb of anger at my weakness in so letting him steal a march quickened me and left me wide awake. Helen Mayle was however in the room, plainly then she had suffered no harm by my negligence. She was at this moment listening with her ear close to the door, so that I could not see her face.
“What has happened?” I asked, and she flung up her hand with an imperative gesture to be silent.
After listening for a minute or so longer she turned towards me, and the aspect of her face filled me with terror.
“In God’s name what has happened, Helen?” I whispered. For never have I seen such a face, so horror-stricken—no, and I pray that I never may again, though the face be a stranger’s and not one of which I carried an impression in my heart.
Yet she spoke with a natural voice.
“You took so long to wake!” said she.
“What o’clock is it?” I asked.
“Three. Three of the morning; but speak low, or rather listen! Listen, and while you listen look at me, so that I may know.” She seated herself on a chair close to mine, and leant forward, speaking in a whisper. “On the night of the sixth of October I went to the shed on Castle Down and had word with Cullen Mayle. Returning I passed you, brushed against you. So much you have maintained before. But listen, listen! That night you climbed into Cullen’s bedroom and fell asleep, and you woke up in the dark middle of the night.”
“Stop! stop!” I whispered, and seized her hands in mine. Horror was upon me now, and a hand of ice crushing down my heart. I did not reason or argue at that moment. I knew—her face told me—she had been after all ignorant of what she had done that night. “Stop; not a word more—there is no truth in it.”
“Then there is truth in it,” she answered, “for you know what I have not yet told you. It is true, then—your waking up—the silk noose! My God! my God!” and all the while she spoke in a hushed whisper, which made her words ten times more horrible, and sat motionless as stone. There was not even a tremor in the hands I held; they lay like ice in mine.
“How do you know? “I said. “But I would have spared you this! You did not know, and I doubted you. Of course—of course you did not know. Good God! Why could not this secret have lain hid in me? I would have spared you the knowledge of it. I would have carried it down safe with me into my grave.”
Her face hardened as I spoke. She looked down and saw that I held her hands; she plucked them free.
“You would have kept the secret safe,” she said, steadily. “You liar! You told it this night to Cullen Mayle.”
Her words struck me like a blow in the face. I leaned back in my chair. She kept her eyes upon my face.
“I—told it—to Cullen Mayle?” I repeated.
She nodded her head.
“Here in this room. My door was open. I overheard.”
“I did not know I told him,” I exclaimed; and she laughed horribly and leaned back in the chair.
All at once I understood, and the comprehension wrapped me in horror. The horror passed from me to her, though as yet she did not understand. She looked as though the world yawned wide beneath her feet. “Oh!” she moaned, and, “Hush!” said I, and I leaned forward towards her. “I did not know, just as you did not know that you went to the shed on Castle Down, that you brushed against me as you returned,—just as you did not know of what happened thereafter.”
She put her hands to her head and shivered.
“Just as you did not know that four years ago when Cullen Mayle was turned from the door, he bade you follow him, and you obeyed,” I continued. “This is Cullen Mayle’s work—devil’s work. He spun his watch to dazzle you four years ago; he did the same to-night, and made me tell him why his plan miscarried. Plan!” and at last I understood. I rose to my feet; she did the same. “Yes, plan! You told him you had bequeathed everything to him. He knew that tonight when I met him at St. Mary’s. How did he know it unless you told him on Castle Down? He bade you go home, enter his room, where no one would hear you, and—don’t you see? Helen! Helen!”
I took her in my arms, and she put her hands upon my shoulders and clung to them.
“I have heard of such things in London,” said I. “Some men have this power to send you to sleep and make you speak or forget at their pleasure; and some have more power than this, for they can make you do when you have waked up what they have bidden you to do while you slept, and afterwards forget the act;” and suddenly Helen started away from me, and raised her finger.
We both stood and listened.
“I can hear nothing,” I whispered.
She looked over her shoulder to the door. I motioned her not to move. I walked noiselessly to the door, and noiselessly turned the handle. I opened the door for the space of an inch; all was quiet in the house.
“Yet I heard a voice,” she said, and the next moment I heard it too.
The candles were alight. I crossed the room and squashed them with the palm of my hand. I was not a moment too soon, for even as I did so I heard the click of a door handle, and then a creak of the hinges, and a little afterwards—footsteps.
A hand crept into mine; we waited in the darkness, holding our breath. The footsteps came down the passage to the door behind which we stood and passed on. I expected that they would be going towards the room in which Helen slept. I waited for them to cease that I might follow and catch Cullen Mayle, damned by some bright proof in his hand of a murderous intention. But they did not cease; they kept on and on. Surely he must have reached the room. At last the footsteps ceased. I opened the door cautiously and heard beneath me in the hall a key turn in a lock.
A great hope sprang up in me. Suppose that since his plan had failed, and since Tortue waited for him on Tresco, he had given up! Suppose that he was leaving secretly, and for good and all! If that supposition could be true! I prayed that it might be true, and as if in answer to my prayer I saw below me where the hall door should be a thin slip of twilight. This slip broadened and broadened. The murmur of the waves became a roar. The door was opening—no, now it was shutting again; the twilight narrowed to a slip and disappeared altogether.
“Listen,” said I, and we heard footsteps on the stone tiles of the porch.
“Oh, he is gone!” said Helen, in an indescribable accent of relief.
“Yes, gone,” said I. ‘’See, the door of his room is open.”
I ran down the passage and entered the room. Helen followed close behind me.
“He is gone,” I repeated. The words sounded too pleasant to be true. I approached the bed and flung aside the curtains. I stooped forward over the bed.
“Helen,” I cried, and aloud, “out of the room! Quick! Quick!”
For the words were too pleasant to be true. I flung up my arm to keep her back. But I was too late. She had already seen. She had approached the bed, and in the dim twilight she had seen. She uttered a piercing scream, and fell against me in a dead swoon.
For the man who had descended the stairs and unlocked the door was not Cullen Mayle.