IT HAPPENED in this way. I took Dick Parmiter with me and sailed across to St. Helen’s. We beached the boat on the sand near to the well and quarantine hut, and climbed up eastwards till we came to the hole which Glen’s party had dug. The ground sloped away from the church in this direction; and as I stood on the edge of the hole with my face towards the side of the aisle, I could just see over the grass the broken cusp of the window. It was exactly opposite to me.
It occurred to me, however, that Glen had measured the distance wrong. So I sent Dick in the boat across to Tresco to borrow a measure, and while he was away I examined the ground there around; but it was all covered with grass and bracken, which evidently had not been disturbed. Here and there were bushes of brambles, but, as I was at pains to discover, no search for the cross had been made beneath them.
In the midst of my search Dick came back to me with a tape measure, and we set to work from the window of the church. The measure was for a few yards, so that when we had run it out to its full length, keeping ever in the straight line, it was necessary to fix some sort of mark in the ground, and start afresh from that; and for a mark I used a big iron key which I had in my pocket. Three chains brought us exactly to the hole which had been dug, and holding the key in my hand, I said:
“They made no mistake. It is plain the plan was carelessly drawn.”
And Dick said to me: “That’s the key of our cottage.”
I handed it to him to make sure. He turned it over in his hand.
“Yes,” said he, “that’s the key;” and he added reproachfully, with no doubt a lively recollection of his mother’s objurgations: “So you had it all the time.”
“I found it this morning, Dick,” said I.
“In the shed on the Castle Down. Now, how the deuce did it get there? The dead sailormen had no use for keys.”
“It’s very curious,” said Dick.
“Very curious and freakish,” said I, and I sat down on the grass to think the matter out.
“Let me see, your mother missed it in the morning after I came to Tresco.”
“That’s three days ago.” And I could hardly believe the boy. It seemed to me that months had passed. But he was right.
“Yes, three days ago. Your mother missed it in the morning. It is likely, then, that it was taken from the lock of the door the night before.”
“That would be the night,” said Dick, suspiciously, ‘’when you tapped on my window.”
“The night, in fact, when I first landed on Tresco. Wait a little.”
Dick sat still upon the grass, and I took the key from his hand into mine. There were many questions which at that moment perplexed me—that hideous experience in Cullen Mayle’s bedroom, the rifling of Adam Mayle’s grave, the replacing of the plan in it and the disappearance of the cross, and I was in that state of mind when everything new and at all strange presented itself as a possible clue to the mystery. It seemed to me that the key which I held was very much more than a mere rusty iron key of a door that was never locked. I felt that it was the key to the door of the mystery which baffled me, and that feeling increased in me into a solid conviction as I held it in my hand. I seemed to see the door opening, and opening very slowly. The chamber beyond the door was dark, but my eyes would grow accustomed to the darkness if only I did not turn them aside. As it was, even now I began to see dim, shadowy things which, uncomprehended though they were, struck something of a thrill into my blood, and something of a chill, too.
“The night that I landed upon Tresco,” I said, “we crossed the Castle Down, I nearly fell on to the roof of the shed, where all the dead sailormen were screeching in unison.”
“Yes!” said Dick, in a low voice, and I too looked around me to see that we were not overheard. Dick moved a little nearer to me with an uneasy working of his shoulders.
“Do you remember the woman who passed us?” I asked.
“You said it was a woman.”
“And it was.”
I had the best of reasons to be positive upon, that point. I had scratched my hand in the gorse and I had seen the blood of my scratches the next day on the dress of the woman who had brushed against me as she passed. That woman was Helen Mayle. Had she come from the shed? What did she need with the key?
“Is that shed ever used?” I asked.
“Whom does it belong to?”
He nodded over towards Merchant’s Rock.
“Then Adam Mayle used it?”
“Cullen Mayle used it.”
I sprang up to my feet and walked away; and walked back; and walked away again. The shadowy things were indeed becoming visible; my eyes were growing indeed accustomed to the darkness; and, indeed, the door was opening. Should I close, slam it to, lock it again and never open it? For I was afraid.
But if I did shut it and lock it I should come back to it perpetually, I should be perpetually fingering the lock. No; I would open the door wide and see what was within the room. I came back to Dick.
“What did Cullen Mayle use it for?”
“He was in league with the Brittany smugglers. Brandy, wine, and lace were landed on the beach of a night and carried up to the shed.”
“Were they safe there?”
Dick laughed. Here he was upon firm ground, and he answered with some pride:
“When Cullen Mayle lived here, the collector of customs daren’t for his life have landed on Tresco in daylight.”
“And at night the dead sailormen kept watch.”
“There wasn’t a man who would go near the shed.”
“So Cullen Mayle would not have needed a key to lock the shed?”
“No, indeed!” and another laugh.
“Could he have needed a key for any other purpose? Dick, we will go slowly, very slowly,” and I sat for some while hesitating with a great fear very cold at my heart. That door was opening fast. Should I push it open, wide? With one bold thrust of the hand I could do it—if I would. But should I see clearly into the room—so clearly that I could not mistake a single thing I saw. No, I would go on, gently forcing the door back, and all the while accustoming my vision to the gloom.
“Has that shed been used since Cullen Mayle was driven away?”
“You are certain? Oh, be certain, very certain, before you speak.”
Dick looked at me in surprise, as well he might; for I have no doubt my voice betrayed something of the fear and pain I felt.
“I am certain.”
“Well, then, have you, has any one heard these dead sailormen making merry—God save the mark—since that shed has been disused?”
Dick thought with considerable effort before he answered. But it did not matter; I was certain what his answer would be.
“I have never heard them,” he said.
“Nor have met others who have?”
“No,” said he, after a second deliberation, “I don’t remember any one who has.”
“From the time Cullen Mayle left Tresco to the night when we crossed the Down to Merchant’s Rock? There’s one thing more. Cullen was in league with the Brittany smugglers. He would be in league, then, with smugglers from Penzance, who would put him over to Tresco secretly, if he needed it?”
“He was very good friends with all smugglers,” said Dick.
“Then,” said I, rising from the ground, “we will sail back, Dick, to Tresco, and have another look into that shed.”
I made him steer the boat eastwards and land behind the point of the old Grimsby Harbour, on which the Block House stands, and out of sight of Merchant’s Point. It was not that I did not wish to be seen by any one in that house. But—but—well, I did not wish at that moment to land near it—to land where a voice now grown familiar might call to me.
From the Block House we struck up through Dolphin Town on to the empty hill, and so came to the shed. I pushed open the door and went in. Dick followed me timidly.
The floor was of stone. I had been thinking of that as we sailed across from St. Helen’s. I had been thinking, too, that when I was carried into the inner room the door of the partition was jambed against the floor, that Roper had kicked it open, and that, as it yielded, I had heard some iron thing spring from beneath it and jingle across the floor. That iron thing was, undoubtedly, the key which I held in my hand.
I placed it again under the door. There was a fairly strong wind blowing. I told Dick to set the outer door wide open to the wind, which he did. And immediately the inner door began to swing backwards and forwards in the draught. But it dragged the key with it, and it dragged the key over the stone floor. The shed was filled with a harsh, shrill, rasping sound, which set one’s fingernails on edge. I set my hand to the door and swung it more quickly backwards and forwards. The harsh sound rose to a hideous inhuman grating screech.
“There are your dead sailormen, Dick,” said I. “It was Cullen Mayle who took the key from your door on the night I landed on Tresco—Cullen Mayle, who had my horse to carry him on the road and smuggler friends at Penzance to carry him over the sea. It was Cullen Mayle who was in this shed that night, and used his old trick to scare people from his hiding-place. It was Cullen Mayle who was first in the Abbey burial ground. No doubt Cullen Mayle has that cross. And it was Cullen Mayle whom the woman—— But, there, enough.”
The door was wide open now, and this key had opened it. I could see everything clearly. My eyes were, indeed, now accustomed to the gloom—so accustomed that, as I stepped from the shed, all the sunlight seemed struck out of the world.
It was all clear. Helen Mayle had come up to the shed that night. She had told Cullen of the stick in the coffin—yes, she must have done that. She told him of the men who watched. What more had passed between them I could not guess, but she had come back with despair in her heart, and, in the strength of her despair, had walked late at night into his room—with that silk noose in her hand.
That she loved him—that was evident. But why could she not have been frank with me? Cullen had spoken with her, had been warned by her, had left the island since. Why had she kept up this pretence of anxiety on his account, of fear that he was in distress, of dread lest he return unwitting of his peril and fall into Glen’s hand? Clutterbuck’s word “duplicity “came stinging back to me.
I sent Dick away to sail the boat back to Merchant’s Point, and lay for a long while on the open hillside, while the sun sank and evening came. It was only yesterday that she had played in her garden upon the violin. I had felt that I knew her really for the first time as she sat with her pale face gleaming purely through the darkness. Why could she not have been frank to me? The question assailed me; I cried it out. Surely there was some answer, an answer which would preserve my picture of her in her tangled garden, untarnished within my memories. Surely, surely! And how could such deep love mate with duplicity?
I put the scarf into my pocket, and crossed the hill again and came down to Merchant’s Point. I could not make up my mind to go in. How could I speak of that night when I slept in Cullen Mayle’s bedroom? I lay now upon the gorse watching the bright windows. Now I went down to the sea and its kindly murmurings. And at last, about ten o’clock of the night, a white figure came slowly from the porch and stood beside me.
“You have been here—how long?—I have watched you,” she said very gently. “What is it? Why didn’t you come in?”
I took both her hands in mine and looked into her eyes.
“Will you be frank with me if I do?”
“Why, yes,” she said, and her face was all wonder and all concern. “You hurt me—no, not your hands, but your distrust.”