The officer observed the stranger with the keenest attention, in an effort to surprise anything suspicious in his attitude or remarks.
“It is incredible!” added the Count, as though he had just heard about the outrage for the first time.
“I can easily understand, sir, how uneasy the authorities must be,” he went on, “in view of Thomas Roch’s personality, and I cannot but approve of the measures taken. I need hardly say that neither the French inventor nor his keeper is on board the Ebba. However, you can assure yourself of the fact by examining the schooner as minutely as you desire. Captain Spade, show these gentlemen over the vessel.”
Then saluting the lieutenant of the Falcon coldly, the Count d’Artigas sank into his deck-chair again and replaced his cigar between his lips, while the two officers and eight sailors, conducted by Captain Spade, began their search.
In the first place they descended the main hatchway to the after saloon—a luxuriously-appointed place, filled with art objects of great value, hung with rich tapestries and hangings, and wainscotted with costly woods.
It goes without saying that this and the adjoining cabins were searched with a care that could not have been surpassed by the most experienced detectives. Moreover, Captain Spade assisted them by every means in his power, obviously anxious that they should not preserve the slightest suspicion of the Ebba’s owner.
After the grand saloon and cabins, the elegant dining-saloon was visited. Then the cook’s galley, Captain Spade’s cabin, and the quarters of the crew in the forecastle were overhauled, but no sign of Thomas Roch or Gaydon was to be seen.
Next, every inch of the hold, etc., was examined, with the aid of a couple of lanterns. Water-kegs, wine, brandy, whisky and beer barrels, biscuit-boxes, in fact, all the provision boxes and everything the hold contained, including the stock of coal, was moved and probed, and even the bilges were scrutinized, but all in vain.
Evidently the suspicion that the Count d’Artigas had carried off the missing men was unfounded and unjust. Even a rat could not have escaped the notice of the vigilant searchers, leave alone two men.
When they returned on deck, however, the officers, as a matter of precaution looked into the boats hanging on the davits, and punched the lowered sails, with the same result.
It only remained for them, therefore, to take leave of the Count d’Artigas.
“You must pardon us for having disturbed you, Monsieur the Count,” said the lieutenant.
“You were compelled to obey your orders, gentlemen.”
“It was merely a formality, of course,” ventured the officer.
By a slight inclination of the head the Count signified that he was quite willing to accept this euphemism.
“I assure you, gentlemen, that I have had no hand in this kidnapping.”