The After House
Mary Roberts Rinehart
I I PLAN A VOYAGE II THE PAINTED SHIP III I UNCLENCH MY HANDS IV I RECEIVE A WARNING V A TERRIBLE NIGHT VI IN THE AFTER HOUSE VII WE FIND THE AXE VIII THE STEWARDESS'S STORY IX PRISONERS X "THAT'S MUTINY" XI THE DEAD LINE XII THE FIRST MATE TALKS XIII THE WHITE LIGHT XIV FROM THE CROW'S NEST XV A KNOCKING IN THE HOLD XVI JONES STUMBLES OVER SOMETHING XVII THE AXE IS GONE XVIII A BAD COMBINATION XIX I TAKE THE STAND XX OLESON'S STORY XXI "A BAD WOMAN" XXII TURNER'S STORY XXIII FREE AGAIN XXIV THE THING XXV THE SEA AGAIN
I PLAN A VOYAGE
By the bequest of an elder brother, I was left enough money to see me through a small college in Ohio, and to secure me four years in a medical school in the East. Why I chose medicine I hardly know. Possibly the career of a surgeon attracted the adventurous element in me. Perhaps, coming of a family of doctors, I merely followed the line of least resistance. It may be, indirectly but inevitably, that I might be on the yacht Ella on that terrible night of August 12, more than a year ago.
I got through somehow. I played quarterback on the football team, and made some money coaching. In summer I did whatever came to hand, from chartering a sail-boat at a summer resort and taking passengers, at so much a head, to checking up cucumbers in Indiana for a Western pickle house.
I was practically alone. Commencement left me with a diploma, a new dress-suit, an out-of-date medical library, a box of surgical instruments of the same date as the books, and an incipient case of typhoid fever.
I was twenty-four, six feet tall, and forty inches around the chest. Also, I had lived clean, and worked and played hard. I got over the fever finally, pretty much all bone and appetite; but—alive. Thanks to the college, my hospital care had cost nothing. It was a good thing: I had just seven dollars in the world.
The yacht Ella lay in the river not far from my hospital windows. She was not a yacht when I first saw her, nor at any time, technically, unless I use the word in the broad sense of a pleasure-boat. She was a two-master, and, when I saw her first, as dirty and disreputable as are most coasting-vessels. Her rejuvenation was the history of my convalescence. On the day she stood forth in her first coat of white paint, I exchanged my dressing-gown for clothing that, however loosely it hung, was still clothing. Her new sails marked my promotion to beefsteak, her brass rails and awnings my first independent excursion up and down the corridor outside my door, and, incidentally, my return to a collar and tie.
The river shipping appealed to me, to my imagination, clean washed by my illness and ready as a child's for new impressions: liners gliding down to the bay and the open sea; shrewish, scolding tugs; dirty but picturesque tramps. My enthusiasm amused the nurses, whose ideas of adventure consisted of little jaunts of exploration into the abdominal cavity, and whose aseptic minds revolted at the sight of dirty sails.
One day I pointed out to one of them an old schooner, red and brown, with patched canvas spread, moving swiftly down the river before a stiff breeze.
"Look at her!" I exclaimed. "There goes adventure, mystery, romance! I should like to be sailing on her."
"You would have to boil the drinking-water," she replied dryly. "And the ship is probably swarming with rats."
"Rats," I affirmed, "add to the local color. Ships are their native habitat. Only sinking ships don't have them."
But her answer was to retort that rats carried bubonic plague, and to exit, carrying the sugar-bowl. I was ravenous, as are all convalescent typhoids, and one of the ways in which I eked out my still slender diet was by robbing the sugar-bowl at meals.
That day, I think it was, the deck furniture was put out on the Ella—numbers of white wicker chairs and tables, with bright cushions to match the awnings. I had a pair of ancient opera-glasses, as obsolete as my amputating knives, and, like them, a part of my heritage. By that time I felt a proprietary interest in the Ella, and through my glasses, carefully focused with a pair of scissors, watched the arrangement of the deck furnishings. A girl was directing the men. I judged, from the poise with which she carried herself, that she was attractive—and knew it. How beautiful she was, and how well she knew it, I was to find out before long. McWhirter to the contrary, she had nothing to do with my decision to sign as a sailor on the Ella.
One of the bright spots of that long hot summer was McWhirter. We had graduated together in June, and in October he was to enter a hospital in Buffalo as a resident. But he was as indigent as I, and from June to October is four months.
"Four months," he said to me. "Even at two meals a day, boy, that's something over two hundred and forty. And I can eat four times a day, without a struggle! Wouldn't you think one of these overworked-for-the-good-of-humanity dubs would take a vacation and give me a chance to hold down his practice?"
Nothing of the sort developing, McWhirter went into a drug-store, and managed to pull through the summer with unimpaired cheerfulness, confiding to me that he secured his luncheons free at the soda counter. He came frequently to see me, bringing always a pocketful of chewing gum, which he assured me was excellent to allay the gnawings of hunger, and later, as my condition warranted it, small bags of gum-drops and other pharmacy confections.
McWhirter it was who got me my berth on the Ella. It must have been about the 20th of July, for the Ella sailed on the 28th. I was strong enough to leave the hospital, but not yet physically able for any prolonged exertion. McWhirter, who was short and stout, had been alternately flirting with the nurse, as she moved in and out preparing my room for the night, and sizing me up through narrowed eyes.
"No," he said, evidently following a private line of thought; "you don't belong behind a counter, Leslie. I'm darned if I think you belong in the medical profession, either. The British army'd suit you."
"You know—Kipling idea—riding horseback, head of a column—undress uniform—colonel's wife making eyes at you—leading last hopes and all that."
"The British army with Kipling trimmings being out of the question, the original issue is still before us. I'll have to work, Mac, and work like the devil, if I'm to feed myself."
There being no answer to this, McWhirter contented himself with eyeing me.
"I'm thinking," I said, "of going to Europe. The sea is calling me, Mac."
"So was the grave a month ago, but it didn't get you. Don't be an ass, boy. How are you going to sea?"
"Before the mast." This apparently conveying no meaning to McWhirter, I supplemented—"as a common sailor."
He was indignant at first, offering me his room and a part of his small salary until I got my strength; then he became dubious; and finally, so well did I paint my picture of long, idle days on the ocean, of sweet, cool nights under the stars, with breezes that purred through the sails, rocking the ship to slumber—finally he waxed enthusiastic, and was even for giving up the pharmacy at once and sailing with me.
He had been fitting out the storeroom of a sailing-yacht with drugs, he informed me, and doing it under the personal direction of the owner's wife.
"I've made a hit with her," he confided. "Since she's learned I'm a graduate M.D., she's letting me do the whole thing. I've made up some lotions to prevent sunburn, and that seasick prescription of old Larimer's, and she thinks I'm the whole cheese. I'll suggest you as ships doctor."
"How many men in the crew?"
"Eight, I think, or ten. It's a small boat, and carries a small crew."
"Then they don't want a ship's doctor. If I go, I'll go as a sailor," I said firmly. "And I want your word, Mac, not a word about me, except that I am honest."
"You'll have to wash decks, probably."
"I am filled with a wild longing to wash decks," I asserted, smiling at his disturbed face. "I should probably also have to polish brass. There's a great deal of brass on the boat."
"How do you know that?"
When I told him, he was much excited, and, although it was dark and the Ella consisted of three lights, he insisted on the opera-glasses, and was persuaded he saw her. Finally he put down the glasses and came over, to me.
"Perhaps you are right, Leslie," he said soberly. "You don't want charity, any more than they want a ship's doctor. Wherever you go and whatever you do, whether you're swabbing decks in your bare feet or polishing brass railings with an old sock, you're a man."
He was more moved than I had ever seen him, and ate a gum-drop to cover his embarrassment. Soon after that he took his departure, and the following day he telephoned to say that, if the sea was still calling me, he could get a note to the captain recommending me. I asked him to get the note.
Good old Mac! The sea was calling me, true enough, but only dire necessity was driving me to ship before the mast—necessity and perhaps what, for want of a better name, we call destiny. For what is fate but inevitable law, inevitable consequence.
The stirring of my blood, generations removed from a seafaring ancestor; my illness, not a cause, but a result; McWhirter, filling prescriptions behind the glass screen of a pharmacy, and fitting out, in porcelain jars, the medicine-closet of the Ella; Turner and his wife, Schwartz, the mulatto Tom, Singleton, and Elsa Lee; all thrown together, a hodge-podge of characters, motives, passions, and hereditary tendencies, through an inevitable law working together toward that terrible night of August 22, when hell seemed loose on a painted sea.
THE PAINTED SHIP
The Ella had been a coasting-vessel, carrying dressed lumber to South America, and on her return trip bringing a miscellaneous cargo—hides and wool, sugar from Pernambuco, whatever offered. The firm of Turner and Sons owned the line of which the Ella was one of the smallest vessels.
The gradual elimination of sailing ships and the substitution of steamers in the coasting trade, left the Ella, with others, out of commission. She was still seaworthy, rather fast, as such vessels go, and steady. Marshall Turner, the oldest son of old Elias Turner, the founder of the business, bought it in at a nominal sum, with the intention of using it as a private yacht. And, since it was a superstition of the house never to change the name of one of its vessels, the schooner Ella, odorous of fresh lumber or raw rubber, as the case might be, dingy gray in color, with slovenly decks on which lines of seamen's clothing were generally hanging to dry, remained, in her metamorphosis, still the Ella.
Marshall Turner was a wealthy man, but he equipped his new pleasure-boat very modestly. As few changes as were possible were made. He increased the size of the forward house, adding quarters for the captain and the two mates, and thus kept the after house for himself and his friends. He fumigated the hold and the forecastle—a precaution that kept all the crew coughing for two days, and drove them out of the odor of formaldehyde to the deck to sleep. He installed an electric lighting and refrigerating plant, put a bath in the forecastle, to the bewilderment of the men, who were inclined to think it a reflection on their habits, and almost entirely rebuilt, inside, the old officers' quarters in the after house.
The wheel, replaced by a new one, white and gilt, remained in its old position behind the after house, the steersman standing on a raised iron grating above the wash of the deck. Thus from the chart-room, which had become a sort of lounge and card-room, through a small barred window it was possible to see the man at the wheel, who, in his turn, commanded a view of part of the chartroom, but not of the floor.
The craft was schooner-rigged, carried three lifeboats and a collapsible raft, and was navigated by a captain, first and second mates, and a crew of six able-bodied sailors and one gaunt youth whose sole knowledge of navigation had been gained on an Atlantic City catboat. Her destination was vague—Panama perhaps, possibly a South American port, depending on the weather and the whim of the owner.
I do not recall that I performed the nautical rite of signing articles. Armed with the note McWhirter had secured for me, and with what I fondly hoped was the rolling gait of the seafaring man, I approached the captain—a bearded and florid individual. I had dressed the part—old trousers, a cap, and a sweater from which I had removed my college letter, McWhirter, who had supervised my preparations, and who had accompanied me to the wharf, had suggested that I omit my morning shave. The result was, as I look back, a lean and cadaverous six-foot youth, with the hospital pallor still on him, his chin covered with a day's beard, his hair cropped short, and a cannibalistic gleam in his eyes. I remember that my wrists, thin and bony, annoyed me, and that the girl I had seen through the opera-glasses came on board, and stood off, detached and indifferent, but with her eyes on me, while the captain read my letter.
When he finished, he held it out to me.
"I've got my crew," he said curtly.
"There isn't—I suppose there's no chance of your needing another hand?"
"No." He turned away, then glanced back at the letter I was still holding, rather dazed. "You can leave your name and address with the mate over there. If anything turns up he'll let you know."
My address! The hospital?
I folded the useless letter and thrust it into my pocket. The captain had gone forward, and the girl with the cool eyes was leaning against the rail, watching me.
"You are the man Mr. McWhirter has been looking after, aren't you?"
"Yes." I pulled off my cap, and, recollecting myself—"Yes, miss."
"You are not a sailor?"
"I have had some experience—and I am willing."
"You have been ill, haven't you?"
"Could you polish brass, and things like that?"
"I could try. My arms are strong enough. It is only when I walk—"
But she did not let me finish. She left the rail abruptly, and disappeared down the companionway into the after house. I waited uncertainly. The captain saw me still loitering, and scowled. A procession of men with trunks jostled me; a colored man, evidently a butler, ordered me out of his way while he carried down into the cabin, with almost reverent care, a basket of wine.
When the girl returned, she came to me, and stood for a moment, looking me over with cool, appraising eyes. I had been right about her appearance: she was charming—or no, hardly charming. She was too aloof for that. But she was beautiful, an Irish type, with blue-gray eyes and almost black hair. The tilt of her head was haughty. Later I came to know that her hauteur was indifference: but at first I was frankly afraid of her, afraid of her cool, mocking eyes and the upward thrust of her chin.
"My brother-in-law is not here," she said after a moment, "but my sister is below in the cabin. She will speak to the captain about you. Where are your things?"
I glanced toward the hospital, where my few worldly possessions, including my dress clothes, my amputating set, and such of my books as I had not been able to sell, were awaiting disposition. "Very near, miss," I said.
"Better bring them at once; we are sailing in the morning." She turned away as if to avoid my thanks, but stopped and came back.
"We are taking you as a sort of extra man," she explained. "You will work with the crew, but it is possible that we will need you—do you know anything about butler's work?"
I hesitated. If I said yes, and then failed—
"I could try."
"I thought, from your appearance, perhaps you had done something of the sort." Oh, shades of my medical forebears, who had bequeathed me, along with the library, what I had hoped was a professional manner! "The butler is a poor sailor. If he fails us, you will take his place."
She gave a curt little nod of dismissal, and I went down the gangplank and along the wharf. I had secured what I went for; my summer was provided for, and I was still seven dollars to the good. I was exultant, but with my exultation was mixed a curious anger at McWhirter, that he had advised me not to shave that morning.
My preparation took little time. Such of my wardrobe as was worth saving, McWhirter took charge of. I sold the remainder of my books, and in a sailor's outfitting-shop I purchased boots and slickers—the sailors' oil skins. With my last money I bought a good revolver, second-hand, and cartridges. I was glad later that I had bought the revolver, and that I had taken with me the surgical instruments, antiquated as they were, which, in their mahogany case, had accompanied my grandfather through the Civil War, and had done, as he was wont to chuckle, as much damage as a three-pounder. McWhirter came to the wharf with me, and looked the Ella over with eyes of proprietorship.
"Pretty snappy-looking boat," he said. "If the nigger gets sick, give him some of my seasick remedy. And take care of yourself, boy." He shook hands, his open face flushed with emotion. "Darned shame to see you going like this. Don't eat too much, and don't fall in love with any of the women. Good-bye."
He started away, and I turned toward the ship; but a moment later I heard him calling me. He came back, rather breathless.
"Up in my neighborhood," he panted, "they say Turner is a devil. Whatever happens, it's not your mix-in. Better—better tuck your gun under your mattress and forget you've got it. You've got some disposition yourself."
The Ella sailed the following day at ten o'clock. She carried nineteen people, of whom five were the Turners and their guests. The cabin was full of flowers and steamer-baskets.
Thirty-one days later she came into port again, a lifeboat covered with canvas trailing at her stern.
I UNCLENCH MY HANDS
From the first the captain disclaimed responsibility for me. I was housed in the forecastle, and ate with the men. There, however, my connection with the crew and the navigation of the ship ended. Perhaps it was as well, although I resented it at first. I was weaker than I had thought, and dizzy at the mere thought of going aloft.
As a matter of fact, I found myself a sort of deck-steward, given the responsibility of looking after the shuffle-board and other deck games, the steamer-rugs, the cards,—for they played bridge steadily,—and answerable to George Williams, the colored butler, for the various liquors served on deck.
The work was easy, and the situation rather amused me. After an effort or two to bully me, one of which resulted in my holding him over the rail until he turned gray with fright, Williams treated me as an equal, which was gratifying.
The weather was good, the food fair. I had no reason to repent my bargain. Of the sailing qualities of the Ella there could be no question. The crew, selected by Captain Richardson from the best men of the Turner line, knew their business, and, especially after the Williams incident, made me one of themselves. Barring the odor of formaldehyde in the forecastle, which drove me to sleeping on deck for a night or two, everything was going smoothly, at least on the surface.
Smoothly as far as the crew was concerned. I was not so sure about the after house.
As I have said, owing to the small size, of the vessel, and the fact that considerable of the space had been used for baths, there were, besides the family, only two guests, a Mrs. Johns, a divorcee, and a Mr. Vail. Mrs. Turner and Miss Lee shared the services of a maid, Karen Hansen, who, with a stewardess, Henrietta Sloane, occupied a double cabin. Vail had a small room, as had Turner, with a bath between which they used in common. Mrs. Turner's room was a large one, with its own bath, into which Elsa Lee's room also opened. Mrs. Johns had a room and bath. Roughly, and not drawn to scale, the living quarters of the family were arranged like the diagram in chapter XIX.
I have said that things were not going smoothly in the after house. I felt it rather than, saw it. The women rose late—except Miss Lee, who was frequently about when I washed the deck. They chatted and laughed together, read, played bridge when the men were so inclined, and now and then, when their attention was drawn to it, looked at the sea. They were always exquisitely and carefully dressed, and I looked at them as I would at any other masterpieces of creative art, with nothing of covetousness in my admiration.
The men were violently opposed types Turner, tall, heavy-shouldered, morose by habit, with a prominent nose and rapidly thinning hair, and with strong, pale blue eyes, congested from hard drinking; Vail, shorter by three inches, dark, good-looking, with that dusky flush under the skin which shows good red blood, and as temperate as Turner was dissipated.
Vail was strong, too. After I had held Williams over the rail I turned to find him looking on, amused. And when the frightened darky had taken himself, muttering threats, to the galley, Vail came over to me and ran his hand down my arm.
"Where did you get it?" he asked.
"Oh, I've always had some muscle," I said. "I'm in bad shape now; just getting over fever."
"Fever, eh? I thought it was jail. Look here."
He threw out his biceps for me to feel. It was a ball of iron under my fingers. The man was as strong as an ox. He smiled at my surprise, and, after looking to see that no one was in sight, offered to mix me a highball from a decanter and siphon on a table.
It was his turn to be surprised.
"I gave it up when I was in train—in the hospital," I corrected myself. "I find I don't miss it."
He eyed me with some curiosity over his glass, and, sauntering away, left me to my work of folding rugs. But when I had finished, and was chalking the deck for shuffle-board, he joined me again, dropping his voice, for the women had come up by that time and were breakfasting on the lee side of the after house.
"Have you any idea, Leslie, how much whiskey there is on board?"
"Williams has considerable, I believe. I don't think there is any in the forward house. The captain is a teetotaler."
"I see. When these decanters go back, Williams takes charge of them?"
"Yes. He locks them away."
He dropped his voice still lower.
"Empty them, Leslie," he said. "Do you understand? Throw what is left overboard. And, if you get a chance at Williams's key, pitch a dozen or two quarts overboard."
"And be put in irons!"
"Not necessarily. I think you understand me. I don't trust Williams. In a week we could have this boat fairly dry."
"There is a great deal of wine."
He scowled. "Damn Williams, anyhow! His instructions were—but never mind about that. Get rid of the whiskey."
Turner coming up the companionway at that moment, Vail left me. I had understood him perfectly. It was common talk in the forecastle that Turner was drinking hard, and that, in fact, the cruise had been arranged by his family in the hope that, away from his clubs; he would alter his habits—a fallacy, of course. Taken away from his customary daily round, given idle days on a summer sea, and aided by Williams, the butler, he was drinking his head off.
Early as it was, he was somewhat the worse for it that morning. He made directly for me. It was the first time he had noticed me, although it was the third day out. He stood in front of me, his red eyes flaming, and, although I am a tall man, he had an inch perhaps the advantage of me.
"What's this about Williams?" he demanded furiously. "What do you mean by a thing like that?"
"He was bullying me. I didn't intend to drop him."
The ship was rolling gently; he made a pass at me with a magazine he carried, and almost lost his balance. The women had risen, and were watching from the corner of the after house. I caught him and steadied him until he could clutch a chair.
"You try any tricks like that again, and you'll go overboard," he stormed. "Who are you, anyhow? Not one of our men?"
I saw the quick look between Vail and Mrs. Turner, and saw her come forward. Mrs. Johns followed her, smiling.
"Marsh!" Mrs. Turner protested. "I told you about him—the man who had been ill."
"Oh, another of your friends!" he sneered, and looked from me to Vail with his ugly smile.
Vail went rather pale and threw up his head quickly. The next moment Mrs. Johns had saved the situation with an irrelevant remark, and the incident was over. They were playing bridge, not without dispute, but at least without insult. But I had hard a glimpse beneath the surface of that luxurious cruise, one of many such in the next few days.
That was on Monday, the third day out. Up to that time Miss Lee had not noticed me, except once, when she found me scrubbing the deck, to comment on a corner that she thought might be cleaner, and another time in the evening, when she and Vail sat in chairs until late, when she had sent me below for a wrap. She looked past me rather than at me, gave me her orders quietly but briefly, and did not even take the trouble to ignore me. And yet, once or twice, I had found her eyes fixed on me with a cool, half-amused expression, as if she found something in my struggles to carry trays as if I had been accustomed to them, or to handle a mop as a mop should be handled and not like a hockey stick—something infinitely entertaining and not a little absurd.
But that morning, after they had settled to bridge, she followed me to the rail, out of earshot I straightened and took off my cap, and she stood looking at me, unsmiling.
"Unclench your hands!" she said.
"I beg your pardon!" I straightened out my fingers, conscious for the first time of my clenched fists, and even opened and closed them once or twice to prove their relaxation.
"That's better. Now—won't you try to remember that I am responsible for your being here, and be careful?"
"Then take me away from here and put me with the crew. I am stronger now. Ask the captain to give me a man's work. This—this is a housemaid's occupation."
"We prefer to have you here," she said coldly; and then, evidently repenting her manner: "We need a man here, Leslie. Better stay. Are you comfortable in the forecastle?"
"Yes, Miss Lee."
"And the food is all right?"
"The cook says I am eating two men's rations."
She turned to leave, smiling. It was the first time she had thrown even a fleeting smile my way, and it went to my head.
"And Williams? I am to submit to his insolence?"
She stopped and turned, and the smile faded.
"The next time," she said, "you are to drop him!"
But during the remainder of the day she neither spoke to me nor looked, as far as I could tell, in my direction. She flirted openly with Vail, rather, I thought, to the discomfort of Mrs. Johns, who had appropriated him to herself—sang to him in the cabin, and in the long hour before dinner, when the others were dressing, walked the deck with him, talking earnestly. They looked well together, and I believe he was in love with her. Poor Vail!
Turner had gone below, grimly good-humored, to dress for dinner; and I went aft to chat, as I often did, with the steersman. On this occasion it happened to be Charlie Jones. Jones was not his name, so far as I know. It was some inordinately long and different German inheritance, and so, with the facility of the average crew, he had been called Jones. He was a benevolent little man, highly religious, and something of a philosopher. And because I could understand German, and even essay it in a limited way, he was fond of me.
"Seta du dick," he said, and moved over so that I could sit on the grating on which he stood. "The sky is fine to-night. Wunderschon!"
"It always looks good to me," I observed, filling my pipe and passing my tobacco-bag to him. "I may have my doubts now and then on land, Charlie; but here, between the sky and the sea, I'm a believer, right enough."
"'In the beginning He created the heaven and the earth,'" said Charlie reverently.
We were silent for a time. The ship rolled easily; now and then she dipped her bowsprit with a soft swish of spray; a school of dolphins played astern, and the last of the land birds that had followed us out flew in circles around the masts.
"Sometimes," said Charlie Jones, "I think the Good Man should have left it the way it was after the flood just sky and water. What's the land, anyhow? Noise and confusion, wickedness and crime, robbing the widow and the orphan, eat or be et."
"Well," I argued, "the sea's that way. What are those fish out there flying for, but to get out of the way of bigger fish?"
Charlie Jones surveyed me over his pipe.
"True enough, youngster," he said; "but the Lord's given 'em wings to fly with. He ain't been so careful with the widow and the orphan."
This statement being incontrovertible, I let the argument lapse, and sat quiet, luxuriating in the warmth, in the fresh breeze, in the feeling of bodily well-being that came with my returning strength. I got up and stretched, and my eyes fell on the small window of the chart-room.
The door into the main cabin beyond was open. It was dark with the summer twilight, except for the four rose-shaded candles on the table, now laid for dinner. A curious effect it had—the white cloth and gleaming pink an island of cheer in a twilight sea; and to and from this rosy island, making short excursions, advancing, retreating, disappearing at times, the oval white ship that was Williams's shirt bosom.
Charlie Jones, bending to the right and raised to my own height by the grating on which he stood, looked over my shoulder. Dinner was about to be served. The women had come out. The table-lamps threw their rosy glow over white necks and uncovered arms, and revealed, higher in the shadows, the faces of the men, smug, clean-shaven, assured, rather heavy.
I had been the guest of honor on a steam-yacht a year or two before, after a game. There had been pink lights on the table, I remembered, and the place-cards at dinner the first night out had been caricatures of me in fighting trim. There had been a girl, too. For the three days of that week-end cruise I had been mad about her; before that first dinner, when I had known her two hours, I had kissed her hand and told her I loved her!
Vail and Miss Lee had left the others and come into the chart-room. As Charlie Jones and I looked, he bent over and kissed her hand.
The sun had gone down. My pipe was empty, and from the galley, forward, came the odor of the forecastle supper. Charlie was coughing, a racking paroxysm that shook his wiry body. He leaned over and caught my shoulder as I was moving away.
"New paint and new canvas don't make a new ship," he said, choking back the cough. "She's still the old Ella, the she-devil of the Turner line. Pink lights below, and not a rat in the hold! They left her before we sailed, boy. Every rope was crawling with 'em."
"The very rats Instinctively had left it,"
I quoted. But Charlie, clutching the wheel, was coughing again, and cursing breathlessly as he coughed.
I RECEIVE A WARNING
The odor of formaldehyde in the forecastle having abated, permission for the crew to sleep on deck had been withdrawn. But the weather as we turned south had grown insufferably hot. The reek of the forecastle sickened me—the odor of fresh paint, hardly dry, of musty clothing and sweaty bodies.
I asked Singleton, the first mate, for permission to sleep on deck, and was refused. I went down, obediently enough, to be driven back with nausea. And so, watching my chance, I waited until the first mate, on watch, disappeared into the forward cabin to eat the night lunch always prepared by the cook and left there. Then, with a blanket and pillow, I crawled into the starboard lifeboat, and settled myself for the night. The lookout saw me, but gave no sign.
It was not a bad berth. As the ship listed, the stars seemed to sway above me, and my last recollection was of the Great Dipper, performing dignified gyrations in the sky.
I was aroused by one of the two lookouts, a young fellow named Burns. He was standing below, rapping on the side of the boat with his knuckles. I sat up and peered over at him, and was conscious for the first time that the weather had changed. A fine rain was falling; my hair and shirt were wet.
"Something doing in the chart-room," he said cautiously. "Thought you might not want to miss it."
He was in his bare feet, as was I. Together we hurried to the after house. The steersman, in oilskins, was at his post, but was peering through the barred window into the chart-room, which was brilliantly lighted. He stepped aside somewhat to let us look in. The loud and furious voices which had guided us had quieted, but the situation had not relaxed.
Singleton, the first mate, and Turner were sitting at a table littered with bottles and glasses, and standing over them, white with fury, was Captain Richardson. In the doorway to the main cabin, dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe, Vail was watching the scene.
"I told you last night, Mr. Turner," the captain said, banging the table with his fist, "I won't have you interfering with my officers, or with my ship. That man's on duty, and he's drunk."
"Your ship!" Turner sneered thickly. "It's my ship, and I—I discharge you."
He got to his feet, holding to the table. "Mr. Singleton—hic—from now on you're captain. Captain Singleton! How—how d'ye like it?"
Mr. Vail came forward, the only cool one of the four.
"Don't be a fool, Marsh," he protested. "Come to bed. The captain's right."
Turner turned his pale-blue eyes on Vail, and they were as full of danger as a snake's. "You go to hell!" he said. "Singleton, you're the captain, d'ye hear? If Rich—if Richardson gets funny, put him—in irons."
Singleton stood up, with a sort of swagger. He wes less intoxicated than Turner, but ugly enough. He faced the captain with a leer.
"Sorry, old fellow," he said, "but you heard what Turner said!"
The captain drew a deep breath. Then, without any warning, he leaned across the table and shot out his clenched fist. It took the mate on the point of the chin, and he folded up in a heap on the floor.
"Good old boy!" muttered Burns, beside me. "Good old boy!"
Turner picked up a bottle from the table, and made the same incoordinate pass with it at the captain as he had at me the morning before with his magazine. The captain did not move. He was a big man, and he folded his arms with their hairy wrists across his chest.
"Mr. Turner," he said, "while we are on the sea I am in command here. You know that well enough. You are drunk to-night; in the morning you will be sober; and I want you to remember what I am going to say. If you interfere again—with—me—or—my officers—I—shall—put—you—in—irons."
He started for the after companionway, and Burns and I hurried forward out of his way, Burns to the lookout, I to make the round of the after house and bring up, safe from detection, by the wheel again. The mate was in a chair, looking sick and dazed, and Turner and Vail were confronting each other.
"You know that is a lie," Vail was saying. "She is faithful to you, as far as I know, although I'm damned if I know why." He turned to the mate roughly: "Better get out in the air."
Once again I left my window to avoid discovery. The mate, walking slowly, made his way up the companionway to the rail. The man at the wheel reported in the forecastle, when he came down at the end of his watch, that Singleton had seemed dazed, and had stood leaning against the rail for some time, occasionally cursing to himself; that the second mate had come on deck, and had sent him to bed; and that the captain was shut in his cabin with the light going.
There was much discussion of the incident among the crew. Sympathy was with the captain, and there was a general feeling that the end had not come. Charlie Jones, reading his Bible on the edge of his bunk, voiced the general belief.
"Knowin' the Turners, hull and mast," he said, "and having sailed with Captain Richardson off and on for ten years, the chances is good of our having a hell of a time. It ain't natural, anyhow, this voyage with no rats in the hold, and all the insects killed with this here formaldehyde, and ice-cream sent to the fo'c'sle on Sundays!"
But at first the thing seemed smoothed over. It is true that the captain did not speak to the first mate except when compelled to, and that Turner and the captain ignored each other elaborately. The cruise went on without event. There was no attempt on Turner's part to carry out his threat of the night before; nor did he, as the crew had prophesied, order the Ella into the nearest port. He kept much to himself, spending whole days below, with Williams carrying him highballs, always appearing at dinner, however, sodden of face but immaculately dressed, and eating little or nothing.
A week went by in this fashion, luring us all to security. I was still lean but fairly strong again. Vail, left to himself or to the women of the party, took to talking with me now and then. I thought he was uneasy. More than once he expressed a regret that he had taken the cruise, laying his discontent to the long inaction. But the real reason was Turner's jealousy of him, the obsession of the dipsomaniac. I knew it, and Vail knew that I knew.
On the 8th we encountered bad weather, the first wind of the cruise. All hands were required for tacking, and I was stationed on the forecastle-head with one other man. Williams, the butler, succumbed to the weather, and at five o'clock Miss Lee made her way forward through the driving rain, and asked me if I could take his place.
"If the captain needs you, we can manage," she said. "We have Henrietta and Karen, the two maids. But Mr. Turner prefers a man to serve."
I said that I was probably not so useful that I could not be spared, and that I would try. Vail's suggestion had come back to me, and this was my chance to get Williams's keys. Miss Lee having spoken to the captain, I was relieved from duty, and went aft with her. What with the plunging of the vessel and the slippery decks, she almost fell twice, and each time I caught her.
The second time, she wrenched her ankle, and stood for a moment holding to the rail, while I waited beside her. She wore a heavy ulster of some rough material, and a small soft hat of the same material, pulled over her ears. Her soft hair lay wet across her forehead.
"How are you liking the sea, Leslie?" she said, after she had tested her ankle and found the damage inconsiderable.
"Very much, Miss Lee."
"Do you intend to remain a—a sailor?"
"I am not a sailor. I am a deck steward, and I am about to become a butler."
"That was our agreement," she flashed at me.
"Certainly. And to know that I intend to fulfill it to the letter, I have only to show this."
It had been one of McWhirter's inspirations, on learning how I had been engaged, the small book called "The Perfect Butler." I took it from the pocket of my flannel shirt, under my oilskins, and held it out to her.
"I have not got very far," I said humbly. "It's not inspiring reading. I've got the wine glasses straightened out, but it seems a lot of fuss about nothing. Wine is wine, isn't it? What difference, after all, does a hollow stem or green glass make—"
The rain was beating down on us. The "Perfect Butler" was weeping tears; as its chart of choice vintages was mixed with water. Miss Lee looked up, smiling, from the book.
"You prefer 'a jug of wine,"' she said.
"Old Omar had the right idea; only I imagine, literally, it was a skin of wine. They didn't have jugs, did they?"
"You know the 'Rubaiyat'?" she asked slowly.
"I know the jug of wine and loaf of bread part," I admitted, irritated at the slip. "In my home city they're using it to advertise a particular sort of bread. You know—'A book of verses underneath the bough, a loaf of Wiggin's home-made bread, and thou."'
In spite of myself, in spite of the absurd verse, of the pouring rain, of the fact that I was shortly to place her dinner before her in the capacity of upper servant, I thrilled to the last two words.
"'And thou,'" I repeated.
She looked up at me, startled, and for a second our glances held. The next moment she was gone, and I was alone on a rain swept deck, cursing my folly.
That night, in a white linen coat, I served dinner in the after house. The meal was unusually gay, rendered so by the pitching of the boat and the uncertainty of the dishes. In the general hilarity, my awkwardness went unnoticed. Miss Lee, sitting beside Vail, devoted herself to him. Mrs. Johns, young and blonde, tried to interest Turner, and, failing in that, took to watching me, to my discomfiture. Mrs. Turner, with apprehensive eyes on her husband, ate little and drank nothing.
Dinner over in the main cabin, they lounged into the chart-room—except Mrs. Johns, who, following them to the door, closed it behind them and came back. She held a lighted cigarette, and she stood just outside the zone of candlelight, watching me through narrowed eyes.
"You got along very well to-night," she observed. "Are you quite strong again?"
"Quite strong, Mrs. Johns."
"You have never done this sort of thing before, have you?"
"Butler's work? No—but it is rather simple."
"I thought perhaps you had," she said. "I seem to recall you, vaguely—that is, I seem to remember a crowd of people, and a noise—I dare say I did see you in a crowd somewhere. You know, you are rather an unforgettable type."
I was nonplused as to how a butler would reply to such a statement, and took refuge in no reply at all. As it happened, none was needed. The ship gave a terrific roll at that moment, and I just saved the Chartreuse as it was leaving the table. Mrs. Johns was holding to a chair.
"Well caught," she smiled, and, taking a fresh cigarette, she bent over a table-lamp and lighted it herself. All the time her eyes were on me, I felt that she was studying one over her cigarette, with something in view.
"Is it still raining?"
"Yes, Mrs. Johns."
"Will you get a wrap from Karen and bring it to me on deck? I—I want air to-night."
The forward companionway led down into the main cabin. She moved toward it, her pale green gown fading into the shadow. At the foot of the steps she turned and looked back at me. I had been stupid enough, but I knew then that she had something to say to me, something that she would not trust to the cabin walls. I got the wrap.
She was sitting in a deck-chair when I found her, on the lee side of the after house, a position carefully chosen, with only the storeroom windows behind. I gave her the wrap, and she flung it over her without rising.
"Sit down, Leslie," she said, pointing to the chair beside her. And, as I hesitated, "Don't be silly, boy. Else Lee and her sister may be as blind as they like. You are not a sailor, or a butler, either. I don't care what you are: I'm not going to ask any questions. Sit down; I have to talk to some one."
I sat on the edge of the chair, somewhat uneasy, to tell the truth. The crew were about on a night like that, and at any moment Elsa Lee might avail herself of the dummy hand, as she sometimes did, and run up for a breath of air or a glimpse of the sea.
"Just now, Mrs. Johns;" I said, "I am one of the crew of the Ella, and if I am seen here—"
"Oh, fudge!" she retorted impatiently. "My reputation isn't going to be hurt, and the man's never is. Leslie, I am frightened—you know what I mean."
"You mean—with the captain?"
"With any one who happens to be near. He is dangerous. It is Vail now. He thinks Mr. Vail is in love with his wife. The fact is that Vail—well, never mind about that. The point is this: this afternoon he had a dispute with Williams, and knocked him down. The other women don't know it. Vail told me. We have given out that Williams is seasick. It will be Vail next, and, if he puts a hand on him, Vail will kill him; I know him."
"We could stop this drinking."
"And have him shoot up the ship! I have been thinking all evening, and only one thing occurs to me. We are five women and two men, and Vail refuses to be alarmed. I want you to sleep in the after house. Isn't there a storeroom where you could put a cot?"
"Yes," I agreed, "and I'll do it, of course, if you are uneasy, but I really think—"
"Never mind what you really think. I haven't slept for three nights, and I'm showing it." She made a motion to rise, and I helped her up. She was a tall woman, and before I knew it she had put both her hands on my shoulders.
"You are a poor butler, and an indifferent sailor, I believe," she said, "but you are rather a dear. Thank you."
She left me, alternately uplifted and sheepish. But that night I took a blanket and a pillow into the storeroom, and spread my six feet of length along the greatest diameter of a four-by-seven pantry.
And that night, also, between six and seven bells, with the storm subsided and only a moderate sea, Schwartz, the second mate, went overboard—went without a cry, without a sound.
Singleton, relieving him at four o'clock, found his cap lying near starboard, just forward of the after house. The helmsman and the two men in the lookout reported no sound of a struggle. The lookout had seen the light of his cigar on the forecastle-head at six bells (three o'clock). At seven bells he had walked back to the helmsman and commented cheerfully on the break in the weather. That was the last seen of him.
The alarm was raised when Singleton went on watch at four o'clock. The Ella was heaved to and the lee boat lowered. At the same time life-buoys were thrown out, and patent lights. But the early summer dawn revealed a calm ocean; and no sign of the missing mate.
At ten o'clock the order was reluctantly given to go on.
A TERRIBLE NIGHT
With the disappearance of Schwartz, the Ella was short-handed: I believe Captain Richardson made an attempt to secure me to take the place of Burns, now moved up into Schwartz's position. But the attempt met with a surly refusal from Turner.
The crew was plainly nervous and irritable. Sailors are simple-minded men, as a rule; their mental processes are elemental. They began to mutter that the devil-ship of the Turner line was at her tricks again.
That afternoon, going into the forecastle for some of my clothing, I found a curious group. Gathered about the table were Tom, the mulatto cook, a Swede named Oleson, Adams, and Burns of the crew. At the head of the table Charlie Jones was reading the service for the burial of the dead at sea. The men were standing, bareheaded. I took off my cap and stood, just inside the door, until the simple service was over. I was strongly moved.
Schwartz disappeared in the early morning of August 9. And now I come, not without misgiving, to the night of August 12. I am wondering if, after all, I have made clear the picture that is before my eyes: the languid cruise, the slight relaxation of discipline, due to the leisure of a pleasure voyage, the Ella again rolling gently, with hardly a dash of spray to show that she was moving, the sun beating down on her white decks and white canvas, on the three women in summer attire, on unending-bridge, with its accompaniment of tall glasses filled with ice, on Turner's morose face and Vail's watchful one. In the forecastle, much gossip and not a little fear, and in the forward house, where Captain Richardson and Singleton had their quarters, veiled hostility and sullen silence.
August 11 was Tuesday, a hot August day, with only enough air going to keep our sails filled. At five o'clock I served afternoon tea, and shortly after I went to Williams's cabin in the forward house to dress the wound in his head, a long cut, which was now healing. I passed the captain's cabin, and heard him quarreling with the first mate, who was replying, now and then, sullenly. Only the tones of their voices reached me.
When I had finished with Williams, and was returning, the quarrel was still going on. Their voices ceased as I passed the door, and there was a crash, as of a chair violently overturned. The next bit I heard.
"Put that down!" the captain roared.
I listened, uncertain whether to break in or not. The next moment, Singleton opened the door and saw me. I went on as if I had heard nothing.
Beyond that, the day was much as other days. Turner ate no dinner that night. He was pale, and twitching; even with my small experience, I knew he was on the verge of delirium tremens. He did not play cards, and spent much of the evening wandering restlessly about on deck. Mrs. Turner retired early. Mrs. Johns played accompaniments for Vail to sing to, in the chart-room, until something after eleven, when they, too, went to their rooms.
It being impracticable for me to go to my quarters in the storeroom until the after house was settled, I went up on deck. Miss Lee had her arm through Turner's and was talking to him. He seemed to be listening to her; but at last he stopped and freed his arm, not ungently.
"That all sounds very well, Elsa," he said, "but you don't know what you are talking about."
"I know this."
"I'm not a fool—or blind."
He lurched down the companionway and into the cabin. I heard her draw a long breath; then she turned and saw me.
"Is that you, Leslie?"
"Yes, Miss Lee."
She came toward me, the train of her soft white gown over her arm, and the light from a lantern setting some jewels on her neck to glittering.
"Mrs. Johns has told me where you are sleeping. You are very good to do it, although I think she is rather absurd."
"I am glad to do anything I can."
"I am sure of that. You are certain you are comfortable there?"
"Then—good-night. And thank you."
Unexpectedly she put out her hand, and I took it. It was the first time I had touched her, and it went to my head. I bent over her slim cold fingers and kissed them. She drew her breath in sharply in surprise, but as I dropped her hand our eyes met.
"You should not have done that," she said coolly. "I am sorry."
She left me utterly wretched. What a boor she must have thought me, to misconstrue her simple act of kindness! I loathed myself with a hatred that sent me groveling to my blanket in the pantry, and that kept me, once there, awake through all the early part of the summer night.
I wakened with a sense of oppression, of smothering heat. I had struggled slowly back to consciousness, to realize that the door of the pantry was closed, and that I was stewing in the moist heat of the August night. I got up, clad in my shirt and trousers, and felt my way to the door.
The storeroom and pantry of the after house had been built in during the rehabilitation of the boat, and consisted of a short passageway, with drawers for linens on either side, and beyond, lighted by a porthole, the small supply room in which I had been sleeping.
Along this passageway; then, I groped my way to the door at the end, opening into the main cabin near the chart-room door and across from Mrs. Turner's room. This door I had been in the habit of leaving open, for two purposes—ventilation, and in case I might be, as Mrs. Johns had feared, required in the night.
The door was locked on the outside.
I was a moment or two in grasping the fact. I shook it carefully to see if it had merely caught, and then, incredulous, I put my weight to it. It refused to yield. The silence outside was absolute.
I felt my way back to the window. It was open, but was barred with iron, and, even without that, too small for my shoulders. I listened for the mate. It was still dark, and so not yet time for the watch to change. Singleton would be on duty, and he rarely came aft. There was no sound of footsteps.
I lit a match and examined the lock. It was a simple one, and as my idea now was to free myself without raising an alarm, I decided to unscrew it with my pocket-knife. I was still confused, but inclined to consider my imprisonment a jest, perhaps on the part of Charlie Jones, who tempered his religious fervor with a fondness for practical joking.
I accordingly knelt in front of the lock and opened my knife. I was in darkness and working by touch. I had extracted one screw, and, with a growing sense of satisfaction, was putting it in my pocket before loosening a second, when a board on which I knelt moved under my knee, lifted, as if the other end, beyond the door, had been stepped on. There was no sound, no creak. Merely that ominous lifting under my knee. There was some one just beyond the door.
A moment later the pressure was released. With a growing horror of I know not what, I set to work at the second screw, trying to be noiseless, but with hands shaking with excitement. The screw fell out into my palm. In my haste I dropped my knife, and had to grope for it on the floor. It was then that a woman screamed—a low, sobbing cry, broken off almost before it began. I had got my knife by that time, and in desperation I threw myself against the door. It gave way, and I fell full length on the main cabin floor. I was still in darkness. The silence in the cabin was absolute. I could hear the steersman beyond the chart-room scratching a match.
As I got up, six bells struck. It was three o'clock.
Vail's room was next to the pantry, and forward. I felt my way to it, and rapped.
"Vail," I called. "Vail!"
His door was open an inch or so. I went in and felt my way to his bunk. I could hear him breathing, a stertorous respiration like that of sleep, and yet unlike. The moment I touched him, the sound ceased, and did not commence again. I struck a match and bent over him.
He had been almost cut to pieces with an axe.
IN THE AFTER HOUSE
The match burnt out, and I dropped it. I remember mechanically extinguishing the glowing end with my heel, and then straightening to such a sense of horror as I have never felt before or since. I groped for the door; I wanted air, space, the freedom from lurking death of the open deck.
I had been sleeping with my revolver beside me on the pantry floor. Somehow or other I got back there and found it. I made an attempt to find the switch for the cabin lights, and, failing, revolver in hand, I ran into the chart-room and up the after companionway. Charlie Jones was at the wheel, and by the light of a lantern I saw that he was bending to the right, peering in at the chartroom window. He turned when he heard me.
"What's wrong?" he asked. "I heard a yell a minute ago. Turner on the rampage?" He saw my revolver then, and, letting go the wheel, threw up both his hands. "Turn that gun away, you fool!"
I could hardly speak. I lowered the revolver and gasped: "Call the captain! Vail's been murdered!
"Good God!" he said. "Who did it?" He had taken the wheel again, and was bringing the ship back to her course. I was turning sick and dizzy, and I clutched at the railing of the companionway.
"I don't know. Where's the captain?"
"The mate's around." He raised his voice. "Mr. Singleton!" he called.
There was no time to lose, I felt. My nausea had left me. I ran forward to where I could dimly see Singleton looking in my direction.
"Singleton! Quick!" I called. "Bring your revolver."
He stopped and peered in my direction.
"Who is it?"
"Leslie. Come below, for God's sake!"
He came slowly toward me, and in a dozen words I told him what had happened. I saw then that he had been drinking. He reeled against me, and seemed at a loss to know what to do.
"Get your revolver," I said, "and wake the captain."
He disappeared into the forward house, to come back a moment later with a revolver. I had got a lantern in the mean time, and ran to the forward companionway which led into the main cabin. Singleton followed me.
"Where's the captain?" I asked.
"I didn't call him," Singleton replied, and muttered something unintelligible under his breath.
Swinging the lantern ahead of me, I led the way down the companionway. Something lay huddled at the foot. I had to step over it to get down. Singleton stood above, on the steps. I stooped and held the lantern close, and we both saw that it was the captain, killed as Vail had been. He was fully dressed except for his coat, and as he lay on his back, his cap had been placed over his mutilated face.
I thought I heard something moving behind me in the cabin, and wheeled sharply, holding my revolver leveled. The idea had come to me that the crew had mutinied, and that every one in the after house had been killed. The idea made me frantic; I thought of the women, of Elsa Lee, and I was ready to kill.
"Where is the light switch?" I demanded of Singleton, who was still on the companion steps, swaying.
"I don't know," he said, and collapsed, sitting huddled just above the captain's body, with his face in his hands.
I saw I need not look to him for help, and I succeeded in turning on the light in the swinging lamp in the center of the cabin. There was no sign of any struggle, and the cabin was empty. I went back to the captain's body, and threw a rug over it. Then I reached over and shook Singleton by the arm.
"Do something!" I raved. "Call the crew. Get somebody here, you drunken fool!"
He rose and staggered up the companionway, and I ran to Miss Lee's door. It was closed and locked, as were all the others except Vail's and the one I had broken open. I reached Mr. Turner's door last. It was locked, and I got no response to my knock. I remembered that his room and Vail's connected through a bath, and, still holding my revolver leveled, I ran into Vail's room again, this time turning on the light.
A night light was burning in the bath-room, and the door beyond was unlocked. I flung it open and stepped in. Turner was lying on his bed, fully dressed, and at first I thought he too had been murdered. But he was in a drunken stupor. He sat up, dazed, when I shook him by the arm.
"Mr. Turner!" I cried. "Try to rouse yourself, man! The captain has been murdered, and Mr. Vail!"
He made an effort to sit up, swayed, and fell back again. His face was swollen and purplish, his eyes congested. He made an effort to speak, but failed to be intelligible. I had no time to waste. Somewhere on the Ella the murderer was loose. He must be found.
I flung out of Turner's cabin as the crew, gathered from the forecastle and from the decks, crowded down the forward companionway. I ran my eye over them. Every man was there, Singleton below by the captain's body, the crew, silent and horror-struck, grouped on the steps: Clarke, McNamara, Burns, Oleson, and Adams. Behind the crew, Charlie Jones had left the wheel and stood peering down, until sharply ordered back. Williams, with a bandage on his head, and Tom, the mulatto cook, were in the group.
I stood, revolver in hand, staring at the men. Among them, I felt sure, was the murderer. But which one? All were equally pale, equally terrified.
"Boys," I said, "Mr. Vail and your captain have been murdered. The murderer must be on the ship—one of ourselves." There was a murmur at that. "Mr. Singleton, I suggest that these men stay together in a body, and that no one be allowed to go below until all have been searched and all weapons taken from them."
Singleton had dropped into a chair, and sat with his face buried in his hands, his back to the captain's body. He looked up without moving, and his face was gray.
"All right," he said. "Do as you like. I'm sick."
He looked sick. Burns, who had taken Schwartz's place as second mate, left the group and came toward me.
"We'd better waken the women," he said. "If you'll tell them, Leslie, I'll take the crew on deck and keep them there."
Singleton seemed dazed, and when Burns spoke of taking the men on deck, he got up dizzily.
"I'm going too," he muttered. "I'll go crazy if I stay down here with that."
The rug had been drawn back to show the crew what had happened. I drew it reverently over the body again.
After the men had gone, I knocked at Mrs. Turner's door. It was some time before she roused; when she answered, her voice was startled.
"What is it?"
"It's Leslie, Mrs. Turner. Will you come to the door?"
"In a moment."
She threw on a dressing-gown, and opened the door.
"What is wrong?"
I told her, as gently as I could. I thought she would faint; but she pulled herself together and looked past me into the cabin.
"The captain, Mrs. Turner."
"And Mr. Vail?"
"In his cabin."
"Where is Mr. Turner?"
"In his cabin, asleep."
She looked at me strangely, and, leaving the door, went into her sister's room, next. I heard Miss Lee's low cry of horror, and almost immediately the two women came to the doorway.
"Have you seen Mr. Turner?" Miss Lee demanded.
"Has Mrs. Johns been told?"
She went herself to Mrs. Johns's cabin, and knocked. She got an immediate answer, and Mrs. Johns, partly dressed, opened the door.
"What's the matter?" she demanded. "The whole crew is tramping outside my windows. I hope we haven't struck an iceberg."
"Adele, don't faint, please. Something awful has happened."
"Turner! He has killed some one finally!"
"Hush, for Heaven's sake! Wilmer has been murdered, Adele—and the captain."
Mrs. Johns had less control than the other women. She stood for an instant, with a sort of horrible grin on her face. Then she went down on the floor, full length, with a crash. Elsa Lee knelt beside her and slid a pillow under her head.
"Call the maids, Leslie," she said quietly. "Karen has something for this sort of thing. Tell her to bring it quickly."
I went the length of the cabin and into the chartroom. The maids' room was here, on the port-side, and thus aft of Mrs. Turner's and Miss Lee's rooms. It had one door only, and two small barred windows, one above each of the two bunks.
I turned on the chart-room lights. At the top of the after companionway the crew had been assembled, and Burns was haranguing them. I knocked at the maids' door, and, finding it unlocked, opened it an inch or so.
"Karen!" I called—and, receiving no answer: "Mrs. Sloane!" (the stewardess).
I opened the door wide and glanced in. Karen Hansen, the maid, was on the floor, dead. The stewardess, in collapse from terror, was in her bunk, uninjured.
WE FIND THE AXE
I went to the after companionway and called up to the men to send the first mate down; but Burns came instead.
"Singleton's sick," he explained. "He's up there in a corner, with Oleson and McNamara holding him."
"Burns," I said cautiously—"I've found another!"
"God, not one of the women!"
"One of the maids—Karen."
Burns was a young fellow about my own age, and to this point he had stood up well. But he had been having a sort of flirtation with the girl, and I saw him go sick with horror. He wanted to see her, when he had got command of himself; but I would not let him enter the room. He stood outside, while I went in and carried out the stewardess, who was coming to and moaning. I took her forward, and told the three women there what I had found.
Mrs. Johns was better, and I found them all huddled in her room. I put the stewardess on the bed, and locked the door into the next room. Then, after examining the window, I gave Elsa Lee my revolver.
"Don't let any one in," I said. "I'll put a guard at the two companionways, and we'll let no one down. But keep the door locked also."
She took the revolver from me, and examined it with the air of one familiar with firearms. Then she looked up at me, her lips as white as her face.
"We are relying on you, Leslie," she said.
And, at her words, the storm of self-contempt and bitterness that I had been holding in abeyance for the last half hour swept over me like a flood. I could have wept for fury.
"Why should you trust me?" I demanded. "I slept through the time when I was needed. And when I wakened and found myself locked in the storeroom, I waited to take the lock off instead of breaking down the door! I ought to jump overboard."
"We are relying on you," she said again, simply; and I heard her fasten the door behind me as I went out.
Dawn was coming as I joined the crew, huddled around the wheel. There were nine men, counting Singleton. But Singleton hardly counted. He was in a state of profound mental and physical collapse. The Ella was without an accredited officer, and, for lack of orders to the contrary, the helmsman—McNamara now—was holding her to her course. Burns had taken Schwartz's place as second mate, but the situation was clearly beyond him. Turner's condition was known and frankly discussed. It was clear that, for a time at least, we would have to get along without him.
Charlie Jones, always an influence among the men, voiced the situation as we all stood together in the chill morning air:
"What we want to do, boys," he said, "is to make for the nearest port. This here is a police matter."
"And a hanging matter," someone else put in.
"We've got to remember, boys, that this ain't like a crime on land. We've got the fellow that did it. He's on the boat all right."
There was a stirring among the men, and some of them looked aft to where, guarded by the Swede Oleson, Singleton was sitting, his head in his hands.
"And, what's more," Charlie Jones went on, "I'm for putting Leslie here in charge—for now, anyhow. That's agreeable to you, is it, Burns?"
"But I don't know anything about a ship," I objected. "I'm willing enough, but I'm not competent."
I believe the thing had been discussed before I went up, for McNamara spoke up from the wheel.
"We'll manage that somehow or other, Leslie," he said. "We want somebody to take charge, somebody with a head, that's all. And since you ain't, in a manner of speaking, been one of us, nobody's feelings can't be hurt. Ain't that it, boys?"
"That, and a matter of brains," said Burns.
"But Singleton?" I glanced aft.
"Singleton is going in irons," was the reply I got.
The light was stronger now, and I could see their faces. It was clear that the crew, or a majority of the crew, believed him guilty, and that, as far as Singleton was concerned, my authority did not exist.
"All right," I said. "I'll do the best I can. First of all, I want every man to give up his weapons. Burns!"
"Go over each man. Leave them their pocket-knives; take everything else."
The men lined up. The situation was tense, horrible, so that the miscellaneous articles from their pockets—knives, keys, plugs of chewing tobacco, and here and there, among the foreign ones, small combs for beard and mustache unexpectedly brought to light, caused a smile of pure reaction. Two revolvers from Oleson and McNamara and one nicked razor from Adams completed the list of weapons we found. The crew submitted willingly. They seemed relieved to have some one to direct them, and the alacrity with which they obeyed my orders showed how they were suffering under the strain of inaction.
I went over to Singleton and put my hand on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Singleton," I said, "but I'll have to ask you for your revolver."
Without looking at me, he drew it from his hip pocket and held it out. I took it: It was loaded.
"It's out of order," he said briefly. "If it had been working right, I wouldn't be here."
I reached down and touched his wrist. His pulse was slow and rather faint, his hands cold.
"Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Yes," he snarled. "You can get me a belaying-pin and let me at those fools over there. Turner did this, and you know it as well as I do!"
I slid his revolver into my pocket, and went back to the men. Counting Williams and the cook and myself, there were nine of us. The cook I counted out, ordering him to go to the galley and prepare breakfast. The eight that were left I divided into two watches, Burns taking one and I the other. On Burns's watch were Clarke, McNamara, and Williams; on mine, Oleson, Adams, and Charlie Jones.
It was two bells, or five o'clock. Burns struck the gong sharply as an indication that order, of a sort, had been restored. The rising sun was gleaming on the sails; the gray surface of the sea was ruffling under the morning breeze. From the galley a thin stream of smoke was rising. Some of the horror of the night went with the darkness, but the thought of what waited in the cabin below was on us all.
I suggested another attempt to rouse Mr. Turner, and Burns and Clarke went below. They came back in ten minutes, reporting no change in Turner's condition. There was open grumbling among the men at the situation, but we were helpless. Burns and I decided to go on as if Turner were not on board, until he was in condition to take hold.
We thought it best to bring up the bodies while all the crew was on duty, and then to take up the watches. I arranged to have one man constantly on guard in the after house—a difficult matter where all were under suspicion. Burns suggested Charlie Jones as probably the most reliable, and I gave him the revolver I had taken from Singleton. It was useless, but it made at least a show of authority. The rest of the crew, except Oleson, on guard over the mate, was detailed to assist in carrying up the three bodies. Williams was taken along to get sheets from the linen room.
We brought the captain up first, laying him on a sheet on the deck and folding the edges over him. It was terrible work. Even I, fresh from a medical college, grew nauseated over it. He was heavy. It was slow work, getting him up. Vail we brought up in the sheets from his bunk. Of the three, he was the most mutilated. The maid Karen showed only one injury, a smashing blow on the head, probably from the head of the axe. For axe it had been, beyond a doubt. I put Williams to work below to clear away every evidence of what had happened. He went down, ashy-faced, only to rush up again, refusing to stay alone. I sent Clarke with him, and instructed Charlie Jones to keep them there until the cabin was in order.
At three bells the cook brought coffee, and some of the men took it. I tried to swallow, but it choked me.
Burns had served as second mate on a sailing vessel, and thought he could take us back, at least into more traveled waters. We decided to head back to New York. I got the code book from the captain's cabin, and we agreed to run up the flag, union down, if any other vessel came in sight. I got the code word for "Mutiny—need assistance," and I asked the mate if he would signal if a vessel came near enough. But he turned sullen and refused to answer.
I find it hard to recap calmly the events of that morning: the three still and shrouded figures, prone on deck; the crew, bareheaded, standing around, eyeing each other stealthily, with panic ready to leap free and grip each of them by the throat; the grim determination, the reason for which I did not yet know, to put the first mate in irons; and, over all, the clear sunrise of an August morning on the ocean, rails and decks gleaming, an odor of coffee in the air, the joyous lift and splash of the bowsprit as the Ella, headed back on her course, seemed to make for home like a nag for the stable.
Surely none of these men, some weeping, all grieving, could be the fiend who had committed the crimes. One by one, I looked in their faces—at Burns, youngest member of the crew, a blue-eyed, sandy-haired Scot; at Clarke and Adams and Charlie Jones, old in the service of the Turner line; at McNamara, a shrewd little Irishman; at Oleson the Swede. And, in spite of myself, I could not help comparing them with the heavy-shouldered, sodden-faced man below in his cabin, the owner of the ship.
One explanation came to me, and I leaped at it—the possibility of a stowaway hidden in the hold, some maniacal fugitive who had found in the little cargo boat's empty hull ample room to hide. The men, too, seized at the idea. One and all volunteered for what might prove to be a dangerous service.
I chose Charlie Jones and Clarke as being most familiar with the ship, and we went down into the hold. Clarke carried a lantern. Charlie Jones held Singleton's broken revolver. I carried a belaying pin. But, although we searched every foot of space, we found nothing. The formaldehyde with which Turner had fumigated the ship clung here tenaciously, and, mixed with the odors of bilge water and the indescribable heavy smells left by tropical cargoes, made me dizzy and ill.
We were stumbling along, Clarke with the lantern, I next, and Charlie Jones behind, on our way to the ladder again, when I received a stunning blow on the back of the head. I turned dizzy, expecting nothing less than sudden death, when it developed that Jones, having stumbled over a loose plank, had fallen forward, the revolver in his outstretched hand striking my head.
He picked himself up sheepishly, and we went on. But so unnerved was I by this fresh shock that it was a moment or two before I could essay the ladder.
Burns was waiting at the hatchway, peering down. Beside him on the deck lay a bloodstained axe.
Elsa Lee, on hearing the story of Henrietta Sloane, had gone to the maids' cabin, and had found it where it had been flung into the berth of the stewardess.
THE STEWARDESS'S STORY
But, after all, the story of Henrietta Sloane only added to the mystery. She told it to me, sitting propped in a chair in Mrs. Johns's room, her face white, her lips dry and twitching. The crew were making such breakfast as they could on deck, and Mr. Turner was still in a stupor in his room across the main cabin. The four women, drawn together in their distress, were huddled in the center of the room, touching hands now and then, as if finding comfort in contact, and reassurance.
"I went to bed early," said the stewardess; "about ten o'clock, I think. Karen had not come down; I wakened when the watch changed. It was hot, and the window from our room to the deck was open. There is a curtain over it, to keep the helmsman from looking in—it is close to the wheel. The bell, striking every half-hour, does not waken me any more, although it did at first. It is just outside the window. But I heard the watch change. I heard eight bells struck, and the lookout man on the forecastle head call, 'All's well.'
"I sat up and turned on the lights. Karen had not come down, and I was alarmed. She had been—had been flirting a little with one of the sailors, and I had warned her that it would not do. She'd be found out and get into trouble.
"The only way to reach our cabin was through the chart-room, and when I opened the door an inch or two, I saw why Karen had not come down. Mr. Turner and Mr. Singleton were sitting there. They were—" She hesitated.
"Please go on," said Mrs. Turner. "They were drinking?"
"Yes, Mrs. Turner. And Mr. Vail was there, too. He was saying that the captain would come down and there would be more trouble. I shut the door and stood just inside, listening. Mr. Singleton said he hoped the captain would come—that he and Mr. Turner only wanted a chance to get at him."
Miss Lee leaned forward and searched the stewardess's face with strained eyes.
"You are sure that he mentioned Mr. Turner in that?"
"That was exactly what he said, Miss Lee. The captain came down just then, and ordered Mr. Singleton on deck. I think he went, for I did not hear his voice again. I thought, from the sounds, that Mr. Vail and the captain were trying to get Mr. Turner to his room."
Mrs. Johns had been sitting back, her eyes shut, holding a bottle of salts to her nose. Now she looked up.
"My dear woman," she said, "are you trying to tell us that we slept through all that?"
"If you did not hear it, you must have slept," the stewardess persisted obstinately. "The door into the main cabin was closed. Karen came down just after. She was frightened. She said the first mate was on deck, in a terrible humor; and that Charlie Jones, who was at the wheel, had appealed to Burns not to leave him there—that trouble was coming. That must have been at half-past twelve. The bell struck as she put out the light. We both went to sleep then, until Mrs. Turner's ringing for Karen roused us."
"But I did not ring for Karen."
The woman stared at Mrs. Turner.
"But the bell rang, Mrs. Turner. Karen got up at once and, turning on the light, looked at the clock. 'What do you think of that?' she said. 'Ten minutes to three, and I'd just got to sleep!' I growled about the light, and she put it out, after she had thrown on a wrapper. The room was dark when she opened the door. There was a little light in the chart-room, from the binnacle lantern. The door at the top of the companionway was always closed at night; the light came through the window near the wheel."
She had kept up very well to this point, telling her story calmly and keeping her voice down. But when she reached the actual killing of the Danish maid, she went to pieces. She took to shivering violently, and her pulse, under my fingers, was small and rapid. I mixed some aromatic spirits with water and gave it to her, and we waited until she could go on.
For the first time, then, I realized that I was clad only in shirt and trousers, with a handkerchief around my head where the accident in the hold had left me with a nasty cut. My bare feet were thrust into down-at-the-heel slippers. I saw Miss Lee's eyes on me, and colored.
"I had forgotten," I said uncomfortably. "I'll have time to find my coat while she is recovering. I have been so occupied—"
"Don't be a fool," Mrs. Johns said brusquely. "No one cares how you look. We only thank Heaven you are alive to look after us. Do you know what we have been doing, locked in down here? We have been—"
"Please, Adele!" said Elsa Lee. And Mrs. Johns, shrugging her shoulders, went back to her salts.
The rest of the story we got slowly. Briefly, it was this. Karen, having made her protest at being called at such an hour, had put on a wrapper and pinned up her hair. The light was on. The stewardess said she heard a curious chopping sound in the main cabin, followed by a fall, and called Karen's attention to it. The maid, impatient and drowsy, had said it was probably Mr. Turner falling over something, and that she hoped she would not meet him. Once or twice, when he had been drinking, he had made overtures to her, and she detested him.
The sound outside ceased. It was about five minutes since the bell had rung, and Karen yawned and sat down on the bed. "I'll let her ring again," she said. "If she gets in the habit of this sort of thing, I'm going to leave." The stewardess asked her to put out the light and let her sleep, and Karen did so. The two women were in darkness, and the stewardess dozed, for a minute only. She was awakened by Karen touching her on the shoulder and whispering close to her ear.
"That beast is out there," she said. "I peered out, and I think he is sitting on the companion steps. You listen, and if he tries to stop me I'll call you."
The stewardess was wide awake by that time. She thought perhaps the bell, instead of coming from Mrs. Turner's room, had come from the room adjoining Turner's, where Vail slept, and which had been originally designed for Mrs. Turner. She suggested turning on the light again and looking at the bell register; but Karen objected.
The stewardess sat up in her bed, which was the one under the small window opening on the deck aft. She could not see through the door directly, but a faint light came through the doorway as Karen opened the door.
The girl stood there, looking out. Then suddenly she threw up her hands and screamed, and the next moment there was a blow struck. She staggered back a step or two, and fell into the room. The stewardess saw a white figure in the doorway as the girl fell. Almost instantly something whizzed by her, striking the end of a pillow and bruising her arm. She must have fainted. When she recovered, faint daylight was coming into the room, and the body of the Danish girl was lying as it had fallen.
She tried to get up, and fainted again.
That was her story, and it did not tell us much that we needed to know. She showed me her right arm, which was badly bruised and discolored at the shoulder.
"What do you mean by a white figure?"
"It looked white: it seemed to shine."
"When I went to call you, Mrs. Sloane, the door to your room was closed."
"I saw it closed!" she said positively. "I had forgotten that, but now I remember. The axe fell beside me, and I tried to scream, but I could not. I saw the door closed, very slowly and without a sound. Then I fainted."
The thing was quite possible. Owing to the small size of the cabin, and to the fact that it must accommodate two bunks, the door opened out into the chart-room. Probably the woman had fainted before I broke the lock of my door and fell into the main cabin. But a white figure!
"Karen exclaimed," Miss Lee said slowly, "that some one was sitting on the companion steps?"
"And she thought that it was Mr. Turner?"
"Yes." The stewardess looked quickly at Mrs. Turner, and averted her eyes. "It may have been all talk, miss, about his—about his bothering her. She was a great one to fancy that men were following her about."
Miss Lee got up and came to the door where I was standing.
"Surely we need not be prisoners any longer!" she said in an undertone. "It is daylight. If I stay here I shall go crazy."
"The murderer is still on the ship," I protested. "And just now the deck is—hardly a place for women. Wait until this afternoon, Miss Lee. By that time I shall have arranged for a guard for you. Although God knows, with every man under suspicion, where we will find any to trust."
"You will arrange a guard!"
"The men have asked me to take charge."
"But—I don't understand. The first mate—"
"—is a prisoner of the crew."
"They accuse him!"
"They have to accuse some one. There's a sort of hysteria among the men, and they've fixed on Singleton. They won't hurt him, I'll see to that,—and it makes for order."
She considered for a moment. I had time then to see the havoc the night had wrought in her. She was pale, with deep hollows around her eyes. Her hands shook and her mouth drooped wearily. But, although her face was lined with grief, it was not the passionate sorrow of a loving girl. She had not loved Vail, I said to myself. She had not loved Vail! My heart beat faster.
"Will you allow me to leave this room for five minutes?"
"If I may go with you, and if you will come back without protest."
"You are arbitrary!" she said resentfully. "I only wish to speak to Mr. Turner."
"Then—if I may wait at the door."
"I shall not go, under those conditions."
"Miss Lee," I said desperately, "surely you must realize the state of affairs. We must trust no one—no one. Every shadowy corner, every closed door, may hold death in its most terrible form."
"You are right, of course. Will you wait outside? I can dress and be ready in five minutes."
I went into the main cabin, now bright with the morning sun, which streamed down the forward companionway. The door to Vail's room across was open, and Williams, working in nervous haste, was putting it in order. Walking up and down, his shrewd eyes keenly alert, Charlie Jones was on guard, revolver in hand. He came over to me at once.
"Turner is moving, in there," he said, jerking his thumb toward the forward cabin. "What are you going to do? Let a drunken sot like that give us orders, and bang us with a belaying pin when we don't please him?"
"He is the owner. But one thing we can do, Jones. We can keep him from more liquor. Williams!"
He came out, more dead than alive.
"Williams," I said sternly, "I give you an hour to get rid of every ounce of liquor on the Ella. Remember, not a bottle is to be saved."
"But Mistah Turner—"
"I'll answer to Mr. Turner. Get it overboard before he gets around. And, Williams!"
"I'm going around after you, and if I find so much as a pint, I'll put you in that room you have just left, and lock you in."
He turned even grayer, and went into the storeroom.
A day later, and the crew would probably have resented what they saw that morning. But that day they only looked up apathetically from their gruesome work of sewing into bags of canvas the sheeted bodies on the deck, while a gray-faced Negro in a white coat flung over the rail cases of fine wines, baskets and boxes full of bottles, dozen after dozen of brandies and liquors, all sinking beyond salvage in the blue Atlantic.
MY first thought had been for the women, and, unluckily, to save them a shock I had all evidences of the crime cleared away as quickly as possible. Stains that might have been of invaluable service in determining the murderer were washed away almost before they were dry. I realized this now, too late. But the axe remained, and I felt that its handle probably contained a record for more skillful eyes than mine to read, prints that under the microscope would reveal the murderer's identity as clearly as a photograph.
I sent for Burns, who reported that he had locked the axe in the captain's cabin. He gave me the key, which I fastened to a string and hung around my neck under my shirt. He also reported that, as I had suggested, the crew had gone, two at a time, into the forecastle, and had brought up what they needed to stay on deck. The forecastle had been closed and locked in the presence of the crew, and the key given to Burns, who fastened it to his watch-chain. The two hatchways leading to the hold had been fastened down also, and Oleson, who was ship's carpenter, had nailed them fast.
The crew had been instructed to stay aft of the wheel, except when on watch. Thus the helmsman need not be alone. As I have said, the door at the top of the companion steps, near the wheel, was closed and locked, and entrance to the after house was to be gained only by the forward companion. It was the intention of Burns and myself to keep watch here, amidships.
Burns had probably suffered more than any of us. Whatever his relation to the Hansen woman had been, he had been with her only three hours before her death, and she was wearing a ring of his, a silver rope tied in a sailor's knot, when she died. And Burns had been fond of Captain Richardson, in a crew where respect rather than affection toward the chief officer was the rule.
When Burns gave me the key to the captain's room Charlie Jones had reached the other end of the long cabin, and was staring through into the chartroom. It was a time to trust no one, and I assured myself that Jones was not looking before I thrust it into my shirt.
"They're—all ready, Leslie," Burns said, his face working. "What are we going to do with them?"
"We'll have to take them back."
"But we can't do that. It's a two weeks' matter, and in this weather—"
"We will take them back, Burns," I said shortly, and he assented mechanically:—
"Aye, aye, sir."
Just how it was to be done was a difficult thing to decide. Miss Lee had not appeared yet, and the three of us, Jones, Burns, and I, talked it over. Jones suggested that we put them in one of the life boats, and nail over it a canvas and tarpaulin cover.
"It ain't my own idea," he said modestly. "I seen it done once, on the Argentina. It worked all right for a while, and after a week or so we lowered the jolly-boat and towed it astern."
I shuddered; but the idea was a good one, and I asked Burns to go up and get the boat ready.
"We must let the women up this afternoon," I said, "and, if it is possible, try to keep them from learning where the bodies are. We can rope off a part of the deck for them, and ask them not to leave it."
Miss Lee came out then, and Burns went on deck.
The girl was looking better. The exertion of dressing had brought back her color, and her lips, although firmly set, were not drawn. She stood just outside the door and drew a deep breath.
"You must not keep us prisoners any longer, Leslie," she said. "Put a guard over us, if you must, but let us up in the air."
"This afternoon, Miss Lee," I said. "This morning you are better below."
She understood me, but she had no conception of the brutality of the crime, even then.
"I am not a child. I wish to see them. I shall have to testify—"
"You will not see them, Miss Lee."
She stood twisting her handkerchief in her hands. She saw Charlie Jones pacing the length of the cabin, revolver in hand. From the chartroom came the sound of hammering, where the after companion door, already locked, was being additionally secured with strips of wood nailed across.
"I understand," she said finally. "Will you take me to Karen's room?"
I could see no reason for objecting; but so thorough was the panic that had infected us all that I would not allow her in until I had preceded her, and had searched in the clothes closet and under the two bunks. Williams had not reached this room yet, and there was a pool of blood on the floor.
She had a great deal of courage. She glanced at the stain, and looked away again quickly.
"I—think I shall not come in. Will you look at the bell register for me? What bell is registered?"
"Three!" she said. "Are you sure?"
I looked again. "It is three."
"Then it was not my sister's bell that rang. It was Mr. Vail's!"
"It must be a mistake. Perhaps the wires—"
"Mrs. Turner's room is number one. Please go back and ask her to ring her bell, while I see how it registers."
But I would not leave her there alone. I went with her to her sister's door, and together we returned to the maids' cabin. Mrs. Turner had rung as we requested, and her bell had registered "One."
"He rang for help!" she cried, and broke down utterly. She dropped into a chair in the chart-room and cried softly, helplessly, while I stood by, unable to think of anything to do or say. I think now that it was the best thing she could have done, though at the time I was alarmed. I ventured, finally, to put my hand on her shoulder.
"Please!" I said.
Charlie Jones came to the door of the chartroom, and retreated with instinctive good taste. She stopped crying after a time, and I knew the exact instant when she realized my touch. I felt her stiffen; without looking up, she drew away from my hand; and I stepped back, hurt and angry—the hurt for her, the anger that I could not remember that I was her hired servant.
When she got up, she did not look at me, nor I at her—at least not consciously. But when, in those days, was I not looking at her, seeing her, even when my eyes were averted, feeling her presence before any ordinary sense told me she was near? The sound of her voice in the early mornings, when I was washing down the deck, had been enough to set my blood pounding in my ears. The last thing I saw at night, when I took myself to the storeroom to sleep, was her door across the main cabin; and in the morning, stumbling out with my pillow and blanket, I gave it a foolish little sign of greeting.
What she would not see the men had seen, and, in their need, they had made me their leader. To her I was Leslie, the common sailor. I registered a vow, that morning, that I would be the common sailor until the end of the voyage.
"Mr. Turner is awake, I believe," I said stiffly.
She turned back into the main cabin; but she paused at the storeroom door.
"It is curious that you heard nothing," she said slowly. "You slept with this door open, didn't you?"
"I was locked in."
She stooped quickly and looked at the lock.
"You broke it open?"
"Partly, at the last. I heard—" I stopped. I did not want to tell her what I had heard. But she knew.
"You heard—Karen, when she screamed?"
"Yes. I was aroused before that,—I do not know how,—and found I was locked in. I thought it might be a joke—forecastle hands are fond of joking, and they resented my being brought here to sleep. I took out some of the screws with my knife, and—then I broke the door."
"You saw no one?"
"It was dark; I saw and heard no one."
"But, surely—the man at the wheel—"
"Hush," I warned her; "he is there. He heard something, but the helmsman cannot leave the wheel."
She was stooping to the lock again.
"You are sure it was locked?"
"The bolt is still shot." I showed her.
"Then—where is the key?"
"Certainly. Find the key, and you will find the man who locked you in."
"Unless," I reminded her, "it flew out when I broke the lock."
"In that case, it will be on the floor."
But an exhaustive search of the cabin floor discovered no key. Jones, seeing us searching, helped, his revolver in one hand and a lighted match in the other, handling both with an abandon of ease that threatened us alternately with fire and a bullet. But there was no key.
"It stands to reason, miss," he said, when we had given up, "that, since the key isn't here, it isn't on the ship. That there key is a sort of red-hot give-away. No one is going to carry a thing like that around. Either it's here in this cabin—which it isn't—or it's overboard."
"Very likely, Jones. But I shall ask Mr. Turner to search the men."
She went toward Turner's door, and Jones leaned over me, putting a hand on my arm.
"She's right, boy," he said quickly. "Don't let 'em know what you're after, but go through their pockets. And their shoes!" he called after me. "A key slips into a shoe mighty easy."