. . . . . . .
A loud sound, like the sharp report of a gun, was heard above the confusion of noises—a loud crash—some wild curses from rough sailors’ throats! The boat suddenly danced and tossed upon the waves like a piece of cork, while the big sail flapped in the wind as if it would be torn the next minute into a thousand pieces.
The peak-halyard was broken, and the gaff, deprived of its hold, struck with fearful force downwards. With all the might of his arms, strong as those of a giant, the skipper pulled at the helm to bring the vessel to the wind. The two other men worked desperately to make the sail fast.
In these moments of supreme danger none of the three gave a thought to the disguised woman in the oilskin cape, who had stood so long motionless as a statue by the mast. Not till their difficult task was successfully finished did they notice that she had disappeared. They looked at each other with troubled faces. The skipper at the helm said—
“She has gone overboard. The gaff must have hit her on the head. There is no more to be done. Why would she stay on deck?”
He cleared his throat and spat into the sea, after the fashion of sailors.
The other two said nothing. Silently they obeyed the orders of the skipper, who made for the mouth of the Schelde again.
They made no attempt to save her. It would have been a useless task.
THE STOLEN DOCUMENT
The last ordinary train to Antwerp had gone long before Heideck reached the station. But a short interview with the railway commissioner sufficed, and an engine was at once placed at the Major’s disposal. When he had mounted to the stoker’s place the station-master saluted and signalled to the driver to start. For a moment Heideck felt a sharp pain in his heart like a knife when the grinding engine started. It was his life’s happiness that he was leaving behind him for ever. A dull, paralysing melancholy possessed his soul. He seemed to himself to be a piece of lifeless mechanism, like the engine puffing ceaselessly onwards, subject and blindly obedient to the will of another. All his actions were decided, no longer by his own resolutions, but by an inexorable, higher law—by the iron law of duty. He was no longer personally free nor personally responsible. The way was marked out for him as clearly and distinctly as the course of the engine by the iron lines of rails. With tightly compressed lips he looked fixedly before him. What lay behind was no longer any concern of his. Only a peremptory “Forward” must henceforth be his watchword.
About six o’clock in the morning he stood before the royal castle on the Place de Meix, where the Prince-Admiral had fixed his quarters, King Leopold having offered him the castle to reside in.
In spite of the early hour Heideck was at once conducted to the Prince’s study.