Chapter XLVI: A Midnight Cruise

Ezra solved the matter by springing to his feet. “Come on to Claxton, father,” he cried. “We’ll get what we want there.”

“Steady, sir, steady!” the fisherman said hastily. “I didn’t say as I wasn’t good for the job. I’m ready to start for the sum you names. Hurry up, Jarge, and get the tackle ready.”

The sea-booted youth began to bustle about at this summons, bearing things out into the darkness and running back for more with an alacrity which one would hardly have suspected from his uncouth appearance.

“Can I wash my hands?” asked Girdlestone. There were several crimson stains where he had held the body of the murdered girl. It appeared that Burt’s bludgeon was not such a bloodless weapon after all.

“There’s water, sir, in that bucket. Maybe you would like a bit o’ plaster to bind up the cut?”

“It’s not bad enough for that,” said the merchant hastily.

“I’ll leave you here,” the fisherman remarked. “There’s much to be done down theer. You’ll have poor feedin’ I’m afraid; biscuits and water and bully beef.”

“Never mind that. Hurry up all you can.” The man tramped away down to the beach, and Ezra remained with his father in the hut. The old man washed his hands very carefully, and poured the stained water away outside the door.

“How are you going to pay this man?” he asked.

“I have some money sewed up in my waistcoat,” Ezra answered. “I wasn’t such a fool as not to know that a crash might come at any moment. I was determined that all should not go to the creditors.”

“How much have you?”

“What’s that to you?” Ezra asked angrily. “You mind your own affairs. The money’s mine, since I have saved it. It’s quite enough if I spend part of it in helping you away.”

“I don’t dispute it, my boy,” the old merchant said meekly. “It’s a blessing that you had the foresight to secure it. Are you thinking of making for France now?”

“France! Pshaw, man, the telegraph would have set every gendarme on the coast on the look-out. No, no, that would be a poor hope of safety!”

“Where then?”

“Where is the fisherman?” asked Ezra suspiciously, peering out from the door into the darkness. “No one must know our destination. We’ll pick up Migg’s ship, the Black Eagle, in the Downs. She was to have gone down the Thames to-day, and to lie at Gravesend, and then to work round to the Downs, where she will be to-morrow. It will be a Sunday, so no news can get about. If we get away with him they will lose all trace of us. We’ll get him to land up upon the Spanish coast. I think it will fairly puzzle the police. No doubt they are watching every station on the line by this time. I wonder what has become of Burt?”

“I trust that they will hang him,” John Girdlestone cried, with a gleam of his old energy. “If he had taken the ordinary precaution of making sure who the girl was, this would never have occurred.”

“Don’t throw the blame on him,” said Ezra bitterly. “Who was it who kept us all up to it whenever we wished to back out? If it had not been for you, who would have thought of it?”

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