"Idiot that I am," cried Cleggett, "not to have covered that hole!" His chagrin was touching to behold.
"There, there, Cleggett," said Wilton Barnstable kindly, "do not reproach yourself too bitterly."
"But to let him escape when I had him----" Cleggett finished the sentence with a groan.
But Wilton Barnstable was thinking.
"Please have some lights brought down here if you will, Captain," he said to Abernethy, "and ask Mr. Bard and Mr. Ward to come."
In a few minutes the interior of the hold was illuminated with lanterns; it was as bright as day. But the detectives did not proceed at once to a minute examination of the hold as Cleggett had supposed they would.
Instead, they stood in the waist of the vessel and thought.
Visibly they thought. Wilton Barnstable thought.
Barton Ward thought. Watson Bard thought. They thought in silence. Cleggett could almost feel these three master brains pulsating in unison, working in rhythmic accord, there in the silence; the sense of this intense cerebral effort became almost oppressive. . . .
Finally Wilton Barnstable began to stroke his mustache, and a pleased smile stole over his plump and benign visage. Barton Ward also began to stroke his mustache and smile. But it was twenty seconds more before Watson Bard's corrugated brow relaxed and his eyes twinkled with the idea that had come so much more readily to the other two.
"Cleggett," said Wilton Barnstable, "you have heard of the deductive method as applied to the work of the detective?"
"I have," said Cleggett. "I have read Poe's detective tales and Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories."
"Ah! Sherlock Holmes!" The three detectives looked at each other with glances in which were mingled both bitterness and amusement; the look seemed to dispose of Sherlock Holmes. Once again Cleggett had a fleeting thought that Wilton Barnstable might possibly be a vain man.
"Sherlock Holmes," said Barnstable, "never existed. His marvelous feats are not possible in real life, Cleggett. But the deductive method which he pretended to use--mind you, I say PRETENDED, Cleggett!--is, nevertheless, sound."
And then the three detectives gave Cleggett an example of the phenomenal cleverness.
"Mr. Ward," said Wilton Barnstable, "Logan Black entered this hold."
"He did," said Barton Ward.
"He is not here now," said Wilton Barnstable.
"He is not," said Watson Bard.
"Therefore he has escaped," said Wilton Barnstable.
"But how?" said Barton Ward.
"Only a ghost or an insect could leave this hold otherwise than by the hatchway, to all appearances," said Wilton Barnstable.
"Logan Black is not a ghost," said Barton Ward firmly.
"Logan Black is not an insect," said Watson Bard with conviction.
"Then," said Barnstable, "that eliminates the supernatural and the--the----"
"The entomological?" suggested Cleggett.
The three detectives stared at him fixedly for a moment, as if surprised at the interruption. But if they were miffed they were too dignified to do more than hint it. Barnstable continued:
"There is no such thing as magic."
"There is not," said Ward.
"The fourth dimension does not exist," said Bard.
"Therefore Logan Black's exit," said Barnstable, "was in accordance with well-known physical laws. We are forced to the conclusion that he made his escape through a secret passageway."
"A tunnel," said Barton Ward.
"With a concealed door opening into the hold," said Watson Bard.
"A ship with a secret tunnel!" cried Cleggett. "Who ever heard of the like? Why, the thing is----"
But he broke off. He had been leaning against the starboard side of the hold. Even as he spoke he felt the wall behind him moving. He turned. A door was opening. It was built into the side of the Jasper B. and the joints were cleverly concealed. He had inadvertently found, with his elbow, the nailhead which was in reality the push button that released the spring. The black entrance of a subterranean passage yawned before him.
He stared in astonishment. The three detectives were pointing at the tunnel with plump forefingers and bland, triumphant smiles.
"Nothing is impossible, my dear Cleggett," said Barnstable. "The tunnel HAD to be there!"
"It explains everything," said Cleggett. "But a tunnel into MY ship!"
And, in truth, for a moment he felt disappointed in the Jasper B.
A tunnel is all very well leading from the basement of a house, or extending backward from a cave; but Cleggett felt that it was scarcely a dignified sort of arrangement, nautically speaking, for a ship to have leading from its hold.
It seemed, somehow, to stamp the Jasper B. indelibly as a thing of the land rather than as the gallant creature of piping winds and following seas. Could the Jasper B., a bone in her teeth and her tackle humming, ever again sail through Cleggett's dreams? For a moment, if the worst must be known, he was almost disgusted with the Jasper B., considered as a ship. For a moment he was willing to believe that Cap'n Abernethy was nothing but a Long Island truck farmer, and NOT of a seafaring family at all. For a moment he felt himself to be a copyreader again on the New York Enterprise.
But only for a moment! The star of romance, clouded temporarily by fact, rose serene and bright again in the wide heaven of the unusual spirit, the barber's basin gleamed once more the helmet of Mambrino. Cleggett began to see the matter in its proper light.
"A tunnel!" he cried, brightening, and looking at it with his legs spread a little wide and his hands on his hips. "A tunnel! Eh, by gad! Who could have prophesied a tunnel? Barnstable, never tell me again there is no romance in real life! I tell you, Barnstable, she's a good old ship, the Jasper B.! I don't suppose there was ever another schooner in the world with a secret passageway leading out of her hold!"
"She IS a remarkable vessel," agreed Wilton Barnstable gravely. "But, come, we are wasting time! The other end of this passage is at Morris's, that is plain. Loge Black has only a few minutes' start of us. Therefore, to Morris's!"