The After House
Mary Roberts Rinehart
Part 2 out of 4
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
"We will take them back, Burns," I said shortly, and he assented
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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."
But, after all, it was not necessary. The key was to be found,
and very soon.
THAT'S MUTINY "
Exactly what occurred during Elsa Lee's visit to her brother-in-law's
cabin I have never learned. He was sober, I know, and somewhat dazed,
with no recollection whatever of the previous night, except a hazy
idea that he had quarreled with Richardson.
Jones and I waited outside. He suggested that we have prayers over
the bodies when we placed them in the boat, and I agreed to read the
burial service from the Episcopal Prayer Book. The voices from Turner's
cabin came steadily, Miss Lee's low tones, Turner's heavy bass only
now and then. Once I heard her give a startled exclamation, and both
Jones and I leaped to the door. But the next moment she was talking
Ten minutes - fifteen - passed. I grew restless and took to wandering
about the cabin. Mrs. Johns came to the door opposite, and asked to
have tea sent down to the stewardess. I called the request up the
companionway, unwilling to leave the cabin for a moment. When I came
back, Jones was standing at the door of Vail's cabin, looking in. His
face was pale.
"Look there!" he said hoarsely. "Look at the bell. He must have
tried to push the button!"
I stared in. Williams had put the cabin to rights, as nearly as
he could. The soaked mattress was gone, and a clean linen sheet
was spread over the bunk. Poor Vail's clothing, as he had taken it
off the night before, hung on a mahogany stand beside the bed, and
above, almost concealed by his coat, was the bell. Jones's eyes
were fixed on the darkish smear, over and around the bell, on the
I measured the height of the bell from the bed. It was well above,
and to one side - a smear rather than a print, too indeterminate
to be of any value, sinister, cruel.
"He did n't do that, Charlie," I said. "He couldn't have got up
to it after - That is the murderer's mark. He leaned there, one
hand against the wall, to look down at his work.
And, without knowing it, he pressed the button that roused the two
He had not heard the story of Henrietta Sloane, and, as we waited,
I told him. Some of the tension was relaxing. He tried, in his
argumentative German way, to drag me into a discussion as to the
foreordination of a death that resulted from an accidental ringing
of a bell. But my ears were alert for the voices near by, and soon
Miss Lee opened the door.
Turner was sitting on his bunk. He had made an attempt to shave,
and had cut his chin severely. He was in a dressing-gown, and was
holding a handkerchief to his face; he peered at me over it with
"This - this is horrible, Leslie," he said. "I can hardly believe
"It is true, Mr: Turner."
He took the handkerchief away and looked to see if the bleeding had
stopped. I believe he intended to impress us both with his coolness,
but it was an unfortunate attempt. His lips, relieved of the pressure,
were twitching; his nerveless fingers could hardly refold the
"Wh-why was I not - called at once?" he demanded.
"I notified you. You were - you must have gone to sleep again."
"I don't believe you called me. You're - lying, are n't you?" He
got up, steadying himself by the wall, and swaying dizzily to the
motion of the ship. "You shut me off down here, and then run things
your own damned way." He turned on Miss Lee. "Where's Helen?"
"In her room, Marsh. She has one of her headaches. Please don't
"Where's Williams?" He turned to me.
"I can get him for you."
"Tell him to bring me a highball. My mouth's sticky." He ran his
tongue over his dry lips. "And - take a message from me to
Richardson -" He stopped, startled. Indeed, Miss Lee and I had
both started. "To who's running the boat, anyhow? Singleton?"
"Mr. Singleton is a prisoner in the forward house," I said gravely.
The effect of this was astonishing. He stared at us both, and,
finding corroboration in Miss Lee's face, his own took on an instant
expression of relief. He dropped to the side of the bed, and his
color came slowly back. He even smiled - a crafty grin that was
"Singleton!" he said. "Why do they - how do they know it was he?"
"He had quarreled with the captain last night, and he was on duty
at the time of the when the thing happened. The man at the wheel
claims to have seen him in the chartroom just before, and there was
other evidence, I believe. The lookout saw him forward, with
something - possibly the axe. Not decisive, of course, but enough
to justify putting him in irons. Somebody did it, and the murderer
is on board, Mr. Turner."
His grin had faded, but the crafty look in his pale-blue eyes
"The chart-room was dark. How could the steersman -" He checked
himself abruptly, and looked at us both quickly. "Where are - they?"
he asked in a different tone.
"We can't keep them in this weather."
"We must," I said. "We will have to get to the nearest port as
quickly as we can, and surrender ourselves and the bodies. This
thing will have to be sifted to the bottom, Mr. Turner. The
innocent must not suffer for the guilty, and every one on the ship
is under suspicion."
He fell into a passion at that, insisting that the bodies be buried
at once, asserting his ownership of the vessel as his authority,
demanding to know what I, a forecastle hand, had to say about it,
flinging up and down the small room, showering me with invective and
threats, and shoving Miss Lee aside when she laid a calming hand on
his arm. The cut on his chin was bleeding again, adding to his wild
and sinister expression. He ended by demanding Williams.
I opened the door and called to Charlie Jones to send the butler,
and stood by, waiting for the fresh explosion that was coming.
Williams shakily confessed that there was no whiskey on board.
"Where is it?" Turner thundered.
Williams looked at me. He was in a state of inarticulate fright.
"I ordered it overboard," I said.
Turner whirled on me, incredulity and rage in his face.
I put the best face I could on the matter, and eyed him steadily.
"There has been too much drinking on this ship," I said. "If you
doubt it, go up and look at the three bodies on the deck."
"What have you to do about it?" His eyes were narrowed; there was
menace in every line of his face.
"With Schwartz gone, Captain Richardson dead, and Singleton in irons,
the crew had no officers. They asked me to take charge."
"So! And you used your authority to meddle with what does not
concern you The ship has an officer while I am on it. And there
will be no mutiny."
He flung into the main cabin, and made for the forward companionway.
I stepped back to allow Miss Lee to precede me. She was standing,
her back to the dressing-stand, facing the door. She looked at me
and made a helpless gesture with her hands, as if the situation
were beyond her. Then I saw her look down. She took a quick step
or two toward the door, and, stooping picked up some small object
from almost under my foot. The incident would have passed without
notice, had she not, in attempting to wrap it in her handkerchief,
dropped it. I saw then that it was a key.
"Let me get it for you" I said. To my amazement, she put her foot
"please see what Mr: Turner is doing," she said. "It is the key
to my jewel-case."
"Will you let me see it?"
"It is not the key to a jewel-case."
"It does not concern you what it is."
"It is the key to the storeroom door"
"You are stronger than I am. You look the brute. You can knock me
away and get it."
I knew then, of course, that it was the storeroom key. But I could
not take it by force. And so defiantly she faced me, so valiant was
every line of her slight figure, that I was ashamed of my impulse to
push her aside and take it. I loved her with every inch of my
overgrown body, and I did the thing she knew I would do. I bowed
and left the cabin. But I had no intention of losing the key. I
could not take it by force, but she knew as well as I did what
finding it there in Turner's room meant. Turner had locked me in.
But I must be able to prove it - my wits against hers, and the
advantage mine. I had the women under guard.
I went up on deck.
A curious spectacle revealed itself. Turner, purple with anger,
was haranguing the men, who stood amidships, huddled together, but
grim and determined withal. Burns, a little apart from the rest,
was standing, sullen, his arms folded. As Turner ceased, he took
a step forward.
"You are right, Mr. Turner," he said. "It's your ship, and it's
up to you to say where she goes and how she goes, sir. But some
one will hang for this, Mr. Turner, - some one that's on this deck
now; and the bodies are going back with us - likewise the axe. There
ain't going to be a mistake - the right man is going to swing."
"Yes, sir," Burns acknowledged, his face paling a little. "I guess
you could call it that."
Turner swung on his heel and went below, where Jones, relieved of
guard duty by Burns, reported him locked in his room, refusing
admission to his wife and Miss Lee, both of whom had knocked on the
The trouble with Turner added to the general misery of the situation.
Burns got our position at noon with more or less exactness, and the
general working of the Ella went on well enough. But the situation
was indescribable. Men started if a penknife dropped, and swore if
a sail flapped. The call of the boatswain's pipe rasped their ears,
and the preparation for stowing the bodies in the jolly-boat left
them unnerved and sick. Some sort of a meal was cooked, but no one
could eat; Williams brought up, untasted, the luncheon he had carried
down to the after house.
At two o'clock all hands gathered amidships, and the bodies were
carried forward to where the boat, lowered in its davits and braced,
lay on the deck. It had been lined with canvas and tarpaulin, and
a cover of similar material lay ready to be nailed in place. All
the men were bareheaded. Many were in tears. Miss Lee came forward
with us, and it was from her prayer-book that I, too moved for
self-consciousness, read the burial-service.
"I am the resurrection and the life," I read huskily.
The figures at my feet, in their canvas shrouds, rolled gently with
the rocking of the ship; the sun beat down on the decks, on the bare
heads of the men, on the gilt edges of the prayer-book, gleaming in
the light, on the last of the land-birds, drooping in the heat on
the main cross.-trees.
". . . For man walketh in a vain shadow," I read, "and disquieteth
himself in vain . . . .
"O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength: before I go
hence, and be no more seen."
THE DEAD LINE
Mrs. Johns and the stewardess came up late in the afternoon. We had
railed off a part of the deck around the forward companionway for
them, and none of the crew except the man on guard was allowed inside
the ropes. After a consultation, finding the ship very short-handed,
and unwilling with the night coming on to trust any of the men, Burns
and I decided to take over this duty ourselves, and; by stationing
ourselves at the top of the companionway, to combine the duties of
officer on watch and guard of the after house. To make the women
doubly secure, we had Oleson nail all the windows closed, although
they were merely portholes. Jones was no longer on guard below, and
I had exchanged Singleton's worthless revolver for my own serviceable
Mrs. Johns, carefully dressed, surveyed the railed-off deck with
"For - us?" she asked, looking at me. The men were gathered about
the wheel aft, and were out of ear-shot. Mrs. Sloane had dropped
into a steamer-chair, and was lying back with closed eyes.
"Yes, Mrs. Johns."
"Where have you put them?"
I pointed to where the jolly-boat, on the port side of the ship,
swung on its davits.
"And the mate, Mr. Singleton?"
"He is in the forward house."
"What did you do with the - the weapon?"
"Why do you ask that?"
"Morbid curiosity," she said, with a lightness of tone that rang
false to my ears. "And then - naturally, I should like to be sure
that it is safely overboard, so it will not be" - she shivered - "
"It is not overboard, Mrs. Johns," I said gravely. "It is locked in
a safe place, where it will remain until the police come to take it."
"You are rather theatrical, aren't you?" she scoffed, and turned away.
But a second later she came back to me, and put her hand on my arm.
"Tell me where it is," she begged. "You are making a mystery of it,
and I detest mysteries."
I saw under her mask of lightness then: she wanted desperately to
know where the axe was. Her eyes fell, under my gaze.
"I am sorry. There is no mystery. It is simply locked away for
She bit her lip.
"Do you know what I think?" she said slowly. "I think you have
hypnotized the crew, as you did me - at first. Why has no one
remembered that you were in the after house last night, that you
found poor Wilmer Vail, that you raised the alarm, that you
discovered the captain and Karen? Why should I not call the men
here and remind them of all that?"
"I do not believe you will. They know I was locked in the
storeroom. The door - the lock -"
"You could have locked yourself in."
"You do not know what you are saying!"
But I had angered her, and she went on cruelly: -
"Who are you, anyhow? You are not a sailor. You came here and were
taken on because you told a hard-luck story. How do we know that
you came from a hospital? Men just out of prison look as you did.
Do you know what we called you, the first two days out? We called
you Elsa's jail-bird And now, because you have dominated the crew,
we are in your hands!"
"Do Mrs. Turner and Miss Lee think that?"
"They feel as I do. This is a picked crew men the Turner line has
employed for years."
"You are very brave, Mrs. Johns," I said. "If I were what you think
I am, I would be a dangerous enemy."
"I am not afraid of you."
I thought fast. She was right. It had not occurred to me before,
but it swept over me overwhelmingly.
"You are leaving me only one thing to do," I said. "I shall
surrender myself to the men at once." I took out my revolver and
held it out to her. "This rope is a dead-line. The crew know, and
you will have no trouble; but you must stand guard here until some
one else is sent."
She took the revolver without a word, and, somewhat dazed by this
new turn of events, I went aft. The men were gathered there, and I
surrendered myself. They listened in silence while I told them the
situation. Burns, who had been trying to sleep, sat up and stared
at me incredulously.
"It will leave you pretty short-handed, boys," I finished, "but
you'd better fasten me up somewhere. But I want to be sure of one
thing first: whatever happens, keep the guard for the women."
"We'd like to talk it over, Leslie," Burns said, after a word with
I went forward a few feet, taking care to remain where they could
see me, and very soon they called me. There had been a dispute, I
believe. Adams and McNamara stood off from the others, their faces
not unfriendly, but clearly differing from the decision. Charlie
Jones, who, by reason of long service and a sort of pious control he
had in the forecastle, was generally spokesman for the crew, took a
step or two toward me.
"We'll not do it, boy," he said. "We think we know a man when we
see one, as well as having occasion to know that you're white all
through. And we're not inclined to set the talk of women against
what we think best to do. So you stick to your job, and we're
back of you."
In spite of myself, I choked up. I tried to tell them what their
loyalty meant to me; but I could only hold out my hand, and, one by
one, they came up and shook it solemnly.
"We think," McNamara said, when, last of all, he and Adams came up,
"that it would be best, lad, if we put down in the log-book all that
has happened last night and to-day, and this just now, too. It's
fresh in our minds now, and it will be something to go by."
So Burns and I got the log-book from the captain's cabin. The axe
was there, where we had placed it earlier in the day, lying on the
white cover of the bed. The room was untouched, as the dead man had
left it - a collar on the stand, brushes put down hastily, a
half-smoked cigar which had burned a long scar on, the wood before
it had gone out. We went out silently, Burns carrying the book, I
locking the door behind us.
Mrs. Johns, sitting near the companionway with the revolver on her
knee, looked up and eyed me coolly.
"So they would not do it!"
"I am sorry to disappoint you - they would not."
She held up my revolver to me, and smiled cynically.
"Remember," she said, "I only said you were a possibility."
"Thank you; I shall remember."
By unanimous consent, the task of putting down what had happened was
given to me. I have a copy of the log-book before me now, the one
that was used at the trial. The men read it through before they
This morning, between two-thirty and three o'clock, three murders
were committed on the yacht Ella. At the request of Mrs. Johns, one
of the party on board, I had moved to the after house to sleep,
putting my blanket and pillow in the storeroom and sleeping on the
floor there. Mrs. Johns gave, as her reason, a fear of something
going wrong, as there was trouble between Mr. Turner and the captain.
I slept with a revolver beside me and with the door of the storeroom
At some time shortly before three o'clock I wakened with a feeling
of suffocation, and found that the door was closed and locked on the
outside. I suspected a joke among the crew, and set to work with my
pen-knife to unscrew the lock. When I had two screws out, a woman
screamed, and I broke down the door.
As the main cabin was dark, I saw no one and could not tell where
the cry came from. I ran into Mr. Vail's cabin, next the storeroom,
and called him. His door was standing open. I heard him breathing
heavily. Then the breathing stopped. I struck a match, and found
him dead. His head had been crushed in with an axe, the left hand
cut off, and there were gashes on the right shoulder and the abdomen.
I knew the helmsman would be at the wheel, and ran up the after
companionway to him and told him. Then I ran forward and called the
first mate, Mr. Singleton, who was on duty. He had been drinking.
I asked him to call the captain, but he did not. He got his revolver,
and we hurried down the forward companion. The body of the captain
was lying at the foot of the steps, his head on the lowest stair. He
had been killed like Mr. Vail. His cap had been placed over his face.
The mate collapsed on the steps. I found the light switch and turned
it on. There was no one in the cabin or in the chart-room. I ran to
Mr. Turner's room, going through Mr. Vail's and through the bathroom.
Mr. Turner was in bed, fully dressed. I could not rouse him. Like
the mate, he had been drinking.
The mate had roused the crew, and they gathered in the chart-room.
I told them what had happened, and that the murderer must be among
us. I suggested that they stay together, and that they submit to
being searched for weapons.
They went on deck in a body, and I roused the women and told them.
Mrs. Turner asked me to tell the two maids, who slept in a cabin off
the chartroom. I found their door unlocked, and, receiving no answer,
opened it. Karen Hansen, the lady's-maid, was on the floor, dead,
with her skull crushed in. The stewardess, Henrietta Sloane, was
fainting in her bunk. An axe had been hurled through the doorway as
the Hansen woman fell, and was found in the stewardess's bunk.
Dawn coming by that time, I suggested a guard at the two
companionways, and this was done. The men were searched and all
weapons taken from them. Mr. Singleton was under suspicion, it
being known that he had threatened the captain's life, and Oleson,
a lookout, claiming to have seen him forward where the axe was kept.
The crew insisted that Singleton be put in irons. He made no
objection, and we locked him in his own room in the forward house.
Owing to the loss of Schwartz, the second mate, already recorded in
this log-book (see entry for August ninth), the death of the captain,
and the imprisonment of the first mate, the ship was left without
officers. Until Mr. Turner could make an arrangement, the crew
nominated Burns, one of themselves, as mate, and asked me to assume
command. I protested that I knew nothing of navigation, but agreed
on its being represented that, as I was not one of them, there could
be i11 feeling.
The ship was searched, on the possibility of finding a stowaway in
the hold. But nothing was found. I divided the men into two
watches, Burns taking one and I the other. We nailed up the after
companionway, and forbade any member of the crew to enter the after
house. The forecastle was also locked, the men bringing their
belongings on deck. The stewardess recovered and told her story,
which, in her own writing, will be added to this record.
The bodies of the dead were brought on deck and sewed into canvas,
and later, with appropriate services, placed in the jolly-boat, it
being the intention, later on, to tow the boat behind us. Mr. Turner
insisted that the bodies be buried at sea, and, on the crew opposing
this, retired to his cabin, announcing that he considered the
position of the men a mutiny.
Some feeling having arisen among the women of the party that I might
know more of the crimes than was generally supposed, having been in
the after house at the time they were committed, and having no
references, I this afternoon voluntarily surrendered myself to Burns,
acting first mate. The men, however, refused to accept this surrender,
only two, Adams and McNamara, favoring it. I expect to give myself up
to the police at the nearest port, until the matter is thoroughly probed.
The axe is locked in the captain's cabin.
(Signed) RALPH LESLIE.
John Robert Burns
Charles Klineordlinger (Jones)
Witnesses Carl L. Clarke
Joseph Q. Adams
THE FIRST MATE TALKS
Williams came up on deck late that afternoon, with a scared face,
and announced that Mr. Turner had locked himself in his cabin, and
was raving in delirium on the other side of the door. I sent Burns
down having decided, in view of Mrs. Johns's accusation, to keep
away from the living quarters of the family. Burns's report
corroborated what Williams had said. Turner was in the grip of
delirium tremens, and the Ella was without owner or officers.
Turner refused to open either door for us. As well as we could make
out, he was moving rapidly but almost noiselessly up and down the
room, muttering to himself, now and then throwing himself on the bed,
only to get up at once. He rang his bell a dozen times, and summoned
Williams, only, in reply to the butler's palpitating knock, to stand
beyond the door and refuse to open it or to voice any request. The
situation became so urgent that finally I was forced to go down,
with no better success.
Mrs. Turner dragged herself across, on the state of affairs being
reported to her, and, after two or three abortive attempts, succeeded
in getting a reply from him.
"Marsh!" she called. "I want to talk to you. Let me in."
"They'll get us," he said craftily.
"Us? Who is with you?"
"Vail," he replied promptly. "He's here talking. He won't let me
"Tell him to give you the key and you will keep it for him so no
one can get him," I prompted. I had had some experience with such
cases in the hospital.
She tried it without any particular hope, but it succeeded
immediately. He pushed the key out under the door, and almost at
once we heard him throw himself on the bed, as if satisfied that
the problem of his security was solved.
Mrs. Turner held the key out to me, but I would not take it.
"Give it to Williams," I said. "You must understand, Mrs. Turner,
that I cannot take it.
She was a woman of few words, and after a glance at my determined
face she turned to the butler.
"You will have to look after Mr. Turner, Williams. See that he is
comfortable, and try to keep him in bed."
Williams put out a trembling hand, but, before he took the key,
Turner's voice rose petulantly on the other side of the door.
"For God's sake, Wilmer," he cried plaintively, "get out and let
me sleep I haven't slept for a month."
Williams gave a whoop of fear, and ran out of the cabin, crying
that the ship was haunted and that Vail had come back. From that
moment, I believe, the after house was the safest spot on the ship.
To my knowledge, no member of the crew so much as passed it on the
starboard side, where Vail's and Turner's cabins were situated. It
was the one good turn the owner of the Ella did us on that hideous
return journey; for, during most of the sixteen days that it took
us to get back, he lay in his cabin, alternating the wild frenzy of
delirium tremens with quieter moments when he glared at us with
crafty, murderous eyes, and picked incessantly at the bandages that
tied him down. Not an instant did he sleep, that we could discover;
and always, day or night, Vail was with him, and they were quarreling.
The four women took care of him as best they could. For a time they
gave him the bromides I prepared, taking my medical knowledge without
question. In the horror of the situation, curiosity had no place,
and class distinctions were forgotten. That great leveler, a common
trouble, put Henrietta Sloane, the stewardess, and the women of the
party at the same table in the after house, where none ate, and
placed the responsibility for the ship, although, I was nominally
in command, on the shoulders of all the men. And there sprang up
among them a sort of esprit de corps, curious under the circumstances,
and partly explained, perhaps, by the belief that in imprisoning
Singleton they had the murderer safely in hand. What they thought
of Turner's possible connection with the crime, I do not know.
Personally, I was convinced that Turner was guilty. Perhaps,
lulled into a false security by the incarceration of the two men,
we unconsciously relaxed our vigilance. But by the first night the
crew were somewhat calmer. Here and there a pipe was lighted, and
a plug of tobacco went the rounds. The forecastle supper, served
on deck, was eaten; and Charlie Jones, securing a permission that I
thought it best to grant, went forward and painted a large black
cross on the side of the jolly-boat, and below it the date, August
13, 1911. The crew watched in respectful silence.
The weather was in our favor, the wind `on our quarter, a blue sky
heaped with white cloud masses, with the sunset fringed with the
deepest rose. The Ella made no great way, but sailed easily. Burns
and I alternated at the forward companionway, and, although the men
were divided into watches, the entire crew was on duty virtually
all the time.
I find, on consulting the book in which I recorded, beginning with
that day, the incidents of the return voyage, that two things
happened that evening. One was my interview with Singleton; the
other was my curious and depressing clash with Elsa Lee, on the deck
Turner being quiet and Burns on watch at the beginning of the second
dog watch, six o'clock, I went forward to the room where Singleton
was imprisoned. Burns gave me the key, and advised me to take a
weapon. I did not, however, nor was it needed.
The first mate was sitting on the edge of his bunk, in his attitude
of the morning, his head in his hands. As I entered, he looked up
and nodded. His color was still bad; he looked ill and nervous, as
might have been expected after his condition the night before.
"For God's sake, Leslie," he said, "tell them to open the window.
He was right: the room was stifling. I opened the door behind me,
and stood in the doorway, against a rush for freedom. But he did
not move. He sank back into his dejected attitude.
"Will you eat some soup, if I send it?"
He shook his head.
"Is there anything you care for?"
"Better let me starve; I'm gone, anyhow."
"Singleton," I said, "I wish you would tell me about last night.
If you did it, we've got you. If you didn't, you'd better let me
take your own account of what happened, while it's fresh in your
mind. Or, better still, write it yourself."
He held out his right-hand. I saw that it was shaking violently.
"Couldn't hold a pen," he said tersely. "Wouldn't be believed,
The air being somewhat better, I closed and locked the door again,
and, coming in, took out my notebook and pencil. He watched me
craftily. "You can write it," he said, "if you'll give it to me to
keep. I'm not going to put the rope around my own neck. If it's
all right, my lawyers will use it. If it is n't -" He shrugged his
I had never liked the man, and his tacit acknowledgment that he
might incriminate himself made me eye him with shuddering distaste.
But I took down his story, and reproduce it here, minus the
technicalities and profanity with which it was interlarded.
Briefly, Singleton's watch began at midnight. The captain, who had
been complaining of lumbago, had had the cook prepare him a mustard
poultice, and had retired early. Burns was on watch from eight to
twelve, and, on coming into the forward house at a quarter after
eleven o'clock to eat his night lunch, reported to Singleton that
the captain was in bed and that Mr. Turner had been asking for him.
Singleton, therefore, took his cap and went on deck. This was about
twenty minutes after eleven. He had had a drink or two earlier in
the evening, and he took another in his cabin when he got his cap.
He found Turner in the. chart-house, playing solitaire and drinking.
He was alone, and he asked Singleton to join him. The first mate
looked at his watch and accepted the invitation, but decided to look
around the forward house to be sure the captain was asleep. He went
on deck. He could hear Burns and the lookout talking. The forward
house was dark. He listened outside the captain's door, and heard
him breathing heavily, as if asleep. He stood there for a moment.
He had an uneasy feeling that some one was watching him. He thought
of Schwartz, and was uncomfortable. He did not feel the whiskey at
He struck a light and looked around. There was no one in sight.
He could hear Charlie Jones in the forecastle drumming on his banjo,
and Burns whistling the same tune as he went aft to strike the bell.
(It was the duty of the officer on watch to strike the hour.) It
was then half after eleven. As he passed the captain's door again,
his foot struck something, and it fell to the floor. He was afraid
the captain had been roused, and stood still until he heard him
breathing regularly again. Then he stooped down. His foot had
struck an axe upright against the captain's door, and had knocked
The axe belonged on the outer wall of the forward house. It was a
rule that it must not be removed from its place except in emergency,
and the first mate carried it out and leaned it against the forward
port corner of the after house when he went below. Later, on his
watch, he carried it forward and put it where it belonged.
He found Turner waiting on deck, and together they descended to the
chart-room. He was none too clear as to what followed. They drank
together. Vail tried to get Turner to bed, and failed. He believed
that Burns had called the captain. The captain had ordered him to
the deck, and there had been a furious quarrel. He felt ill by that
time, and, when he went on watch at midnight, Burns was uncertain
about leaving him. He was not intoxicated, he maintained, until
after half-past one. He was able to strike the bell without
difficulty, and spoke, each time he went aft, to Charlie Jones, who
was at the wheel.
After that, however, he suddenly felt strange. He thought he had
been doped, and told the helmsman so. He asked Jones to strike the
bell for him, and, going up on the forecastle head, lay down on the
boards and fell asleep. He did not waken until he heard six bells
struck - three o'clock. And, before he had fully roused, I had
"Then," I said, "when the lookout saw you with the axe, you were
"The lookout says you were not on deck between two and three o'clock."
"How does he know? I was asleep."
"You had threatened to get the captain."
"I had a revolver; I didn't need to use an axe."
Much as I disliked the man, I was inclined to believe his story,
although I thought he was keeping something back. I leaned forward.
"Singleton,"- I said, "if you didn't do it, and I want to think you
did not, - who did?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"We have women aboard. We ought to know what precautions to take."
"I wasn't the only man on deck that night. Burns was about, and
he had a quarrel with the Hansen woman. Jones was at the wheel, too.
Why don't you lock up Jones?"
"We are all under suspicion," I admitted. "But you had threatened
"I never threatened the girl, or Mr. Vail."
I had no answer to this, and we both fell silent. Singleton was the
first to speak:-
"How are you going to get back? The men can sail a course, but who
is to lay it out? Turner? No Turner ever knew anything about a
ship but what it made for him."
"Turner is sick. Look here, Singleton, you want to get back as much
as we do, or more. Wouldn't you be willing to lay a course, if you
were taken out once a day? Burns is doing it, but he doesn't pretend
to know much about it, and - we have the bodies."
But he turned ugly again, and refused to help unless he was given
his freedom, and that I knew the crew would not agree to.
"You'll be sick enough before you get back!" he snarled.
THE WHITE LIGHT
With the approach of night our vigilance was doubled. There was no
thought of sleep among the crew, and, with the twilight, there was
a distinct return of the terror of the morning.
Gathered around the wheel, the crew listened while Jones read evening
prayer. Between the two houses, where the deck was roped off, Miss
Lee was alone, pacing back and-forward, her head bent, her arms
The wind had gone, and the sails hung loose over our heads. I stood
by the port rail. Although my back was toward Miss Lee, I was
conscious of her every movement; and so I knew when she stooped under
the rope and moved lightly toward the starboard rail.
Quick as she was, I was quicker. There was still light enough to
see her face as she turned when I called to her:
"Miss Lee You must not leave the rope."
"I am sorry to seem arbitrary. It is for your own safety."
I was crossing the deck toward her as I spoke. I knew what she was
going to do. I believe, when she saw my face, that she read my
knowledge in it. She turned back from the rail and faced me.
"Surely I may go to the rail!"
"It would be unwise, if for no other reason than discipline."
"Discipline! Are you trying to discipline me?"
"Miss Lee, you do not seem to understand," I said, as patiently as
I could. "Just now I am in charge of the Ella. It does not matter
how unfit I am - the fact remains. Nor does it concern me that your
brother-in-law owns the ship. I am in charge of it, and, God willing,
there will be no more crimes on it. You will go back to the part of
the deck that is reserved for you, or you will go below and stay
She flushed with anger, and stood there with her head thrown back,
eyeing me with a contempt that cut me to the quick. The next moment
she wheeled and, raising her hand, flung toward the rail the key to
the storeroom door. I caught her hand - too late.
But fate was on my side, after all. As I stood, still gripping her
wrist, the key fell ringing almost at my feet. It had struck one of
the lower yard braces. I stooped, and, picking it up, pocketed it.
She was dazed, I think. She made no effort to free her arm, but she
put her other hand to her heart unexpectedly, and I saw that she was
profoundly shocked. I led her, unprotesting, to a deck-chair, and
put her down in it; and still she had not spoken: She lay back and
closed her eyes. She was too strong to faint; she was superbly
healthy. But she knew as well as I did what that key meant, and she
had delivered it into my hands. As for me, I was driven hard that
night; for, as I stood there looking down at her, she held out her
hand to me, palm up.
"Please!" she said pleadingly. "What does it mean to you, Leslie?
We were kind to you, weren't we? When you were ill, we took you on,
my sister and I, and now you hate us."
"He didn't know what he was doing. He wasn't sane. No sane man
kills - that way. He had a revolver, if he had wanted - Please
give me that key!"
"Some one will suffer. Would you have the innocent suffer with
"If they cannot prove it against any one -"
"They may prove it against me."
"I was in the after house," I said doggedly. "I was the one to
raise an alarm and to find the bodies. You do not know anything
about me. I am -'Elsa's jail-bird'!"
"Who told you that?"
"It does not matter - I know it. I told you the truth, Miss Elsa;
I came here from the hospital. But I may have to fight for my life.
Against the Turner money and influence, I have only - this key.
Shall I give it to you?"
I held it out to her on the palm of my hand. It was melodramatic,
probably; but I was very young, and by that time wildly in love
with her. I thought, for a moment, that she would take it; but she
only drew a deep breath and pushed my hand away.
"Keep it," she said. "I am ashamed."
We were silent after that, she staring out over the rail at the
deepening sky; and, looking at her as one looks at a star, I thought
she had forgotten my presence, so long she sat silent. The voices
of the men aft died away gradually, as, one by one, they rolled
themselves in blankets on the deck, not to sleep, but to rest and
watch. The lookout, in his lonely perch high above the deck, called
down guardedly to ask for company, and one of the crew went up.
When she turned to me again, it was to find my eyes fixed on her.
"You say you have neither money nor influence. And yet, you are a
"I hope so."
"You know what I mean" - impatiently. "You are not a common sailor."
"I did not claim to be one."
"You are quite determined we shall not know anything about you?"
"There is nothing to know. I have given you my name, which is
practically all I own in the world. I needed a chance to recover
from an illness, and I was obliged to work. This offered the best
opportunity to combine both."
"You are not getting much chance -to rest," she said, with a sigh,
and got up. I went with her to the companionway, and opened the
door. She turned and looked at me.
"Good-night, Miss Lee."
"I - I feel very safe with you on guard," she said, and held out
her hand. I took it in mine, with my heart leaping. It was as
cold as ice.
That night, at four bells, I mustered the crew as silently as
possible around the jollyboat, and we lowered it into the water.
The possibility of a dead calm had convinced me that the sooner it
was done the better. We arranged to tow the boat astern, and
Charlie Jones suggested a white light in its bow, so we could be
sure at night that it had not broken loose.
Accordingly, we attached to the bow of the jolly-boat a tailed
block with an endless fall riven through it, so as to be able to
haul in and refill the lantern. Five bells struck by the time we
had arranged the towing-line.
We dropped the jolly-boat astern and made fast the rope. It gave
me a curious feeling, that small boat rising and falling behind us,
with its dead crew, and its rocking light, and, on its side above
the water-line, the black cross - a curious feeling of pursuit, as
if, across the water, they in the boat were following us. And,
perhaps because the light varied, sometimes it seemed to drop behind,
as if wearying of the chase, and again, in great leaps, to be
overtaking us, to be almost upon us.
An open boat with a small white light and a black cross on the side.
FROM THE CROW'S NEST
The night passed without incident, except for one thing that we were
unable to verify. At six bells, during the darkest hour of the night
that precedes the early dawn of summer, Adams, from the crow's-nest,
called down, in a panic, that there was something crawling on all
fours on the deck below him.
Burns, on watch at the companionway, ran forward with his revolver,
and narrowly escaped being brained - Adams at that moment flinging
down a marlinespike that he had carried aloft with him.
I heard the crash and joined Burns, and together we went over the
deck and, both houses. Everything was quiet: the crew in various
attitudes of exhausted sleep, their chests and dittybags around
them; Oleson at the wheel; and Singleton in his jail-room, breathing
Adams's nerve was completely gone, and, being now thoroughly awake,
I joined him in the crow's-nest. Nothing could convince him that
he had been the victim of a nervous hallucination. He stuck to his
"It was on the forecastle-head first," he maintained. "I saw it
"Sort of shining," he explained. "It came up over the rail, and
at first it stood up tall, like a white post."
"You didn't say before that it was white."
"It was shining," he said slowly, trying to put his idea into
words. "Maybe not exactly white, but light-colored. It stood
still for so long, I thought I must be mistaken - that it was a
light on the rigging. Then I got to thinking that there wasn't
no place for a light to come from just there."
That was true enough.
"First it was as tall as a man, or taller maybe," he went on.
"Then it seemed about half that high and still in the same place.
Then it got lower still, and it took to crawling along on its
belly. It was then I yelled."
I looked down. The green starboard light threw a light over
only a small part of the deck. The red light did no better. The
masthead was possibly thirty feet above the hull, and served no
illuminating purpose whatever. From the bridge forward the deck
was practically dark.
"You yelled, and then what happened?"
His reply was vague - troubled.
"I'm not sure," he said slowly. "It seemed to fade away. The white
got smaller - went to nothing, like a cloud blown away in a gale.
I flung the spike."
I accepted the story with outward belief and a mental reservation.
But I did not relish the idea of the spike Adams had thrown lying
below on deck. No more formidable weapon short of an axe, could be
devised. I said as much.
"I'm going down for it," I said; "if you're nervous, you'd better
keep it by you. But don't drop it on everything that moves below.
You almost got Burns."
I went down cautiously, and struck a match where Adams had indicated
the spike. It was not there. Nor had Burns picked it up. A
splintered board showed where it had struck, and a smaller
indentation where it had rebounded; but the marlinespike was gone,
and Burns had not seen it. We got a lantern and searched
systematically, without result. Burns turned to me a face ghastly
in the oil light.
"Somebody has it," he said, "and there will be more murder! Oh, my
"When you went back after the alarm, did you count the men?"
"No; Oleson said no one had come forward. They could not have
passed without his seeing them. He has the binnacle lantern and
two other lights."
"And no one came from the after house?"
Eight bells rang out sharply. The watch changed. I took the
revolver and Burns's position at the companionway, while Burns went
aft. He lined up the men by the binnacle light, and went over them
carefully. The marlinespike was not found; but he took from the
cook a long meat-knife, and brought both negro and knife forward to
me. The man was almost collapsing with terror. He maintained that
he had taken the knife for self-protection, and we let him go with
Dawn brought me an hour's sleep, the first since my awakening in
the storeroom. When I roused, Jones at the wheel had thrown an
extra blanket over me, for the morning was cool and a fine rain was
The men were scattered around in attitudes of dejection, one or two
of them leaning over the rail, watching the jolly-boat, riding easily
behind us. Jones heard me moving, and turned.
"Your friend below must be pretty bad, sir," he said. "Your
lady-love has been asking for you. I wouldn't let them wake you."
"My - what?"
He waxed apologetic at once.
"That's just my foolishness, Leslie," he said. "No disrespect to
the lady, I'm sure. If it ain't so, it ain't, and no harm done.
If it is so, why, you needn't be ashamed, boy. 'The way of a man
with a maid,' says the Book."
"You should have called me, Jones," I said sharply. "And no
nonsense of that sort with the men."
He looked hurt, but made no reply beyond touching his cap. And,
while I am mentioning that, I may speak of the changed attitude of
the men toward me from the time they put me in charge. Whether the
deference was to the office rather than the man, or whether in
placing me in authority they had merely expressed a general feeling
that I was with them rather than of them, I do not know. I am
inclined to think the former. The result, in any case, was the same.
They deferred to me whenever possible, brought large and small
issues alike to me, served me my food alone, against my protestations,
and, while navigating the ship on their own responsibility, took care
to come to me for authority for everything.
Before I went below that morning, I suggested that some of the spare
canvas be used to erect a shelter on the after deck, and this was
done. The rain by that time was driving steadily - a summer rain
without wind. The men seemed glad to have occupation, and, from that
time on, the tent which they erected over the hatchway aft of the
wheel was their living and eating quarters. It added something to
their comfort: I wag not so certain that it added to their security.
Tuner was violent that day. I found all four women awake and dressed,
and Mrs. Turner, whose hour it was on duty, in a chair outside the
door. The stewardess, her arm in a sling, was making tea over a
spirit-lamp, and Elsa was helping her. Mrs. Johns was stretched on
a divan, and on the table lay a small revolver.
Clearly, Elsa had told the incident of the key. I felt at once the
atmosphere of antagonism. Mrs. Johns watched me coolly from under
lowered eyelids. The stewardess openly scowled. And Mrs. Turner
rose hastily, and glanced at Mrs. Johns, as if in doubt. Elsa had
her back to me, and was busy with the cups.
"I'm afraid you've had a bad night," I said.
"A very bad night," Mrs. Turner replied stiffly.
"Very marked. He has talked of a white figure - we cannot quite
make it out. It seems to be Wilmer - Mr. Vail."
She had not opened the door, but stood, nervously twisting her
fingers, before it.
"The bromides had no effect?"
She glanced helplessly at the others. "None," she said, after a
Elsa Lee wheeled suddenly and glanced scornfully at her sister.
"Why don't you tell him?" she demanded. "Why don't you say you
didn't give the bromides?"
Mrs. Johns raised herself on her elbow and looked at me.
"Why should we?" she asked. "How do we know what you are giving
him? You are not friendly to him or to us. We know what you are
trying to do - you are trying to save yourself, at any cost. You
put a guard at the companionway. You rail off the deck for our
safety. You drop the storeroom key in Mr. Turner's cabin, where
Elsa will find it, and will be obliged to acknowledge she found it,
and then take it from her by force, so you can show it later on
and save yourself!"
Elsa turned on her quickly.
"I told you how he got it, Adele. I tried to throw it -"
"Oh, if you intend to protect him!"
"I am rather bewildered," I said slowly; "but, under the
circumstances, I suppose you do not wish me to look after Mr.
"We think not" - from Mrs. Turner.
"How will you manage alone?"
Mrs. Johns got up and lounged to the table. She wore a long satin
negligee of some sort, draped with lace. It lay around her on the
floor in gleaming lines of soft beauty. Her reddish hair was low
on her neck, and she held a cigarette, negligently, in her teeth.
All the women smoked, Mrs. Johns incessantly.
She laid one hand lightly on the revolver, and flicked the ash from
her cigarette with the other.
"We have decided," she said insolently, "that, if the crew may
establish a dead-line, so may we. Our dead-line is the foot of
the companionway. One of us will be on watch always. I am an
"I do not doubt it." I faced her. "I am afraid you will suffer for
air; otherwise, the arrangement is good. You relieve me of part of
the responsibility for your safety. Tom will bring your food to the
steps and leave it there."
"With good luck, two weeks will see us in port; and then -"
"In port! You are taking us back?"
She picked up the revolver and examined it absently. Then she
glanced at me, and shrugged her shoulders. "How can we know?
Perhaps this is a mutiny, and you are on your way to some God
forsaken island. That's the usual thing among pirates, isn't it?"
"I have no answer to that, Mrs. Johns," I said quietly, and turned
to where Elsa sat.
"I shall not come back unless you send for me," I said. "But I
want you to know that my one object in life from now on is to get
you back safely to land; that your safety comes first, and that
the vigilance on deck in your interest will not be relaxed."
"Fine words!" the stewardess muttered.
The low mumbling from Turner's room had persisted steadily. Now it
rose again in the sharp frenzy that had characterized it through
the long night.
"Don't look at me like that, man!" he cried, and then "He's lost a
hand! A hand!"
Mrs. Turner went quickly into the cabin, and the sounds ceased. I
looked at Elsa, but she avoided my eyes. I turned heavily and went
up the companionway.
A KNOCKING IN THE HOLD
It rained heavily all that day. Late in the afternoon we got some
wind, and all hands turned out to trim sail. Action was a relief,
and the weather suited our disheartened state better than had the
pitiless August sun, the glaring white of deck and canvas, and the
The heavy drops splashed and broke on top of the jolly-boat, and,
as the wind came up, it rode behind us like a live thing.
Our distress signal hung sodden, too wet to give more than a
dejected response to the wind that tugged at it. Late in the
afternoon we sighted a large steamer, and when, as darkness came
on, she showed no indication of changing her course, Burns and I
sent up a rocket and blew the fog horn steadily. She altered her
course then and came towards us, and we ran up our code flags for
immediate assistance; but she veered off shortly after, and went
on her way. We made no further effort to attract her attention.
Burns thought her a passenger steamer for the Bermudas, and, as
her way was not ours, she could not have been of much assistance.
One or two of the men were already showing signs of strain. Oleson,
the Swede, developed a chill, followed by fever and a mild delirium,
and Adams complained of sore throat and nausea. Oleson's illness
was genuine enough. Adams I suspected of malingering. He had told
the men he would not go up to the crow's-nest again without a
revolver, and this I would not permit.
Our original crew had numbered nine - with the cook and Williams,
eleven. But the two Negroes were not seamen, and were frightened
into a state bordering on collapse. Of the men actually useful,
there were left only five: Clarke, McNamara, Charlie Jones, Burns,
and myself; and I was a negligible quantity as regarded the working
of the ship.
With Burns and myself on guard duty, the burden fell on Clarke,
McNamara, and Jones. A suggestion of mine that we release Singleton
was instantly vetoed by the men. It was arranged, finally, that
Clarke and McNamara take alternate watches at the wheel, and Jones
be given the lookout for the night, to be relieved by either Burns
I watched the weather anxiously. We were too short-handed to manage
any sort of a gale; and yet, the urgency of our return made it unwise
to shorten canvas too much. It was as well, perhaps, that I had so
much to distract my mind from the situation in the after house.
The second of the series of curious incidents that complicated our
return voyage occurred that night. I was on watch from eight bells
midnight until four in the morning. Jones was in the crow's-nest,
McNamara at the wheel. I was at the starboard forward corner of
the after house, looking over the rail. I thought that I had seen
the lights of a steamer.
The rain had ceased, but the night was still very dark. I heard a
sort of rapping from the forward house, and took a step toward it,
listening. Jones heard it, too, and called down to me, nervously,
to see what was wrong.
I called up to him, cautiously, to come dawn and take my place
while I investigated. I thought it was Singleton. When Jones had
taken up his position at the companionway, I went forward. The
knocking continued, and I traced it to Singleton's cabin. His
window was open, being too small for danger, but barred across with
strips of wood outside, like those in the after house. But he was
at the door, hammering frantically. I called to him through the
open window, but the only answer was renewed and louder pounding.
I ran around to his door, and felt for the key, which I carried.
"What is the matter?" I called.
"Who is it?"
"For God's sake, open the door!"
I unlocked it and threw it open. He retreated before me, with his
hands out, and huddled against the wall beside the window. I struck
a match. His face was drawn and distorted, and he held his arm up
as if to ward off a blow.
I lighted the lamp, for there were no electric lights in the forward
house, and stared at him, amazed. Satisfied that I was really Leslie,
he had stooped, and was fumbling under the window. When he
straightened, he held something out to me in the palm of his shaking
hand. I saw, with surprise, that it was a tobacco-pouch.
"Well?" I demanded.
"It was on the ledge," he said hoarsely. "I put it there myself.
All the time I was pounding, I kept saying that, if it was still there,
it was not true - I'd just fancied it. If the pouch was on the floor,
"It was there," he said, looking over his shoulder. "It's been
there three times, looking in - all in white, and grinning at me."
"It - it hasn't got any face."
"How could it grin - at you if it has n't any face?" I demanded
impatiently. "Pull yourself together and tell me what you saw."
It was some time before he could tell a connected story, and, when
he did, I was inclined to suspect that he had heard us talking the
night before, had heard Adams's description of the intruder on the
forecastle-head, and that, what with drink and terror, he had
fancied the rest. And yet, I was not so sure.
"I was asleep, the first time," he said. "I don't know how long
ago it was. I woke up cold, with the feeling that something was
looking at me. I raised up in bed, and there was a thing at the
window. It was looking in."
"What sort of a thing?"
"What I told you - white."
"A white head?"
"It wasn't a head. For God's sake, Leslie! I can't tell you any
more than that. I saw it. That's enough. I saw it three times."
"It isn't enough for me," I said doggedly. "It hadn't any head or
face, but it looked in! It's dark out there. How could you see?"
For reply, he leaned over and, turning down the lamp, blew it out.
We sat in the smoking darkness, and slowly, out of the thick night,
the window outlined itself. I could see it distinctly. But how,
white and faceless, had it stared in at the window, or reached
through the bars, as Singleton declared it had done, and waved a
fingerless hand at us?
He was in a state of mental and physical collapse, and begged so
pitifully not to be left, that at last I told him I would take him
with me, on his promise to remain in a chair until dawn, and to go
back without demur. He sat near me, amidships, huddled down among
the cushions of one of the wicker chairs, not sleeping, but staring
straight out, motionless.
With the first light of dawn Burns relieved me, and I went forward
with Singleton. He dropped into his bunk, and was asleep almost
immediately. Then, inch by inch, I went over the deck for footprints,
for any clue to what, under happier circumstances, I should have
considered a ghastly hoax. But the deck was slippery and sodden,
the rail dripping, and between the davits where the jolly-boat had
swung was stretched a line with a shirt of Burns's hung on it,
absurdly enough, to dry. Poor Burns, promoted to the dignity of
first mate, and trying to dress the part!
Oleson and Adams made no attempt to work that day; indeed, Oleson
was not able. As I had promised, the breakfast for the after
house was placed on the companion steps by Tom, the cook, whence it
was removed by Mrs. Sloane. I saw nothing of either Elsa Lee or
Mrs. Johns. Burns was inclined to resent the deadline the women
had drawn below, and suggested that, since they were so anxious to
take care of themselves, we give up guarding the after house and
let them do it. We were short-handed enough, he urged, and, if
they were going to take that attitude, let them manage. I did not
argue, but my eyes traveled over the rail to where the jolly-boat
rose to meet the fresh sea of the morning, and he colored. After
that he made no comment.
Singleton awakened before noon, and ate his first meal since the
murders. He looked better, and we had a long talk, I outside the
window and he within. He held to his story of the night before, but
was still vague as to just how the thing looked. Of what it was he
seemed to have no doubt. It was the specter of either the captain
or Vail; he excluded the woman, because she was shorter. As I stood
outside, he measured on me the approximate height of the apparition
- somewhere about five feet eight. He could see Burns's shirt, he
admitted, but the thing had been close to the window.
I found myself convinced against my will, and that afternoon, alone,
I made a second and more thorough examination of the forecastle and
the hold. In the former I found nothing. Having been closed for
over twenty-four hours, it was stifling and full of odors. The crew,
abandoning it in haste, had left it in disorder. I made a systematic
search, beginning forward and working back. I prodded in and under
bunks, and moved the clothing that hung on every hook and swung, to
the undoing of my nerves, with every swell. Much curious salvage I
found under mattresses and beneath bunks: a rosary and a dozen
filthy pictures under the same pillow; more than one bottle of
whiskey; and even, where it had been dropped in the haste of flight,
a bottle of cocaine. The bottle set me to thinking: had we a "coke"
fiend on board, and, if we had, who was it?
The examination of the hold led to one curious and not easily
explained discovery. The Ella was in gravel ballast, and my search
there was difficult and nerve-racking. The creaking of the girders
and floor-plates, the groaning overhead of the trestle-trees, and
once an unexpected list that sent me careening, head first, against
a ballast-tank, made my position distinctly disagreeable. And above
all the incidental noises of a ship's hold was one that I could not
place - a regular knocking, which kept time with the list of the boat.
I located it at last, approximately, at one of the ballast ports,
but there was nothing to be seen. The port had been carefully barred
and calked over. The sound was not loud. Down there among the other
noises, I seemed to feel as well as hear it. I sent Burns down, and
he came up, puzzled.
"It's outside," he said. "Something cracking against her ribs."
"You didn't notice it yesterday, did you?"
"No; but yesterday we were not listening for noises."
The knocking was on the port side. We went forward together, and,
leaning well out, looked over the rail.
The missing marlinespike was swinging there, banging against the
hull with every roll of the ship. It was fastened by a rope
lanyard to a large bolt below the rail, and fastened with what
Burns called a Blackwall hitch - a sailor's knot.
JONES STUMBLES OVER SOMETHING
I find, from my journal, that the next seven days passed without
marked incident. Several times during that period we sighted vessels,
ail outward bound, and once we were within communicating distance of
a steam cargo boat on her way to Venezuela. She lay to and sent her
first mate over to see what could be done.
He was a slim little man with dark eyes and a small mustache above
a cheerful mouth. He listened in silence to my story, and shuddered
when I showed him the jolly-boat. But we were only a few days out
by that time, and, after all, what could they do? He offered to
spare us a hand, if it could be arranged; but, Adams having recovered
by that time, we decided to get along as we were. A strange sight
we must have presented to the tidy little officer in his uniform and
black tie: a haggard, unshaven lot of men, none too clean, all
suffering from strain and lack of sleep, with nerves ready to snap;
a white yacht, motionless, her sails drooping, - for not a breath of
air moved, - with unpolished brasses and dirty decks; in charge of
all, a tall youth, unshaven like the rest, and gaunt from sickness,
who hardly knew a nautical phrase, who shook the little officer's
hand with a ferocity of welcome that made him change color, and whose
uniform consisted of a pair of dirty khaki trousers and a khaki shirt,
open at the neck; and behind us, wallowing in the trough of the sea
as the Ella lay to, the jolly-boat, so miscalled, with its sinister
The Buenos Aires went on, leaving us a bit cheered, perhaps, but
none the better off, except that she verified our bearings. The
after house had taken no notice of the incident. None of the women
had appeared, nor did they make any inquiry of the cook when he
carried down their dinner that night.. As entirely as possible,
during the week that had passed, they had kept to themselves. Turner
was better, I imagined; but, the few times when Elsa Lee appeared at
the companion for a breath of air, I was off duty and missed her. I
thought it was by design, and I was desperate for a sight of her.
Mrs. Johns came on deck once or twice while I was there, but she
chose to ignore me. The stewardess, however, was not so partisan,
and, the day before we met the Buenos Aires, she spent a little time
on deck, leaning against the rail and watching me with alert black
"What are you going to do when you get to land, Mr. Captain Leslie?"
she asked. "Are you going to put us all in prison?"
"That's as may be," I evaded. She was a pretty little woman, plump
and dark, and she slid her hand along the rail until it touched mine.
Whereon, I did the thing she was expecting, and put my fingers over
hers. She flushed a little, and dimpled.
"You are human, aren't you?" she asked archly. "I am not afraid
"No one is, I am sure."
"Silly! Why, they are all afraid of you, down there." She jerked
her head toward the after house. "They want to offer you something,
but none of them will do it."
"Offer me something?"
She came a little closer, so that her round shoulder touched mine.
"Why not? You need money, I take it. And that's the one thing they
have - money."
I began to understand her.
"I see," I said slowly. "They want to bribe me.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"That is a nasty word. They might wish to buy - a key or two that
"The storeroom key, of course. But what other?"
She looked around - we were alone. A light breeze filled the sails
and flicked the end of a scarf she wore against my face.
"The key to the captain's cabin," she said, very low.
That was what they wished to buy: the incriminating key to the
storeroom, found on Turner's floor, and access to the axe, with
its telltale prints on the handle.
The stewardess saw my face harden, and put her hand on my arm.
"Now I am afraid of you!" she cried: "When you look like that!"
".Mrs. Sloane," I said, "I do not know that you were asked to do
this - I think not. But if you were, say for me what I am willing
to say for myself: I shall tell what I know, and there is not
money enough in the world to prevent my telling it straight. The
right man is going to be punished, and the key to the storeroom
will be given to the police, and to no one else."
"But - the other key?"
"That is not in my keeping."
"I do not believe you!"
"I am sorry," I said shortly. "As a matter of fact, Burns has that."
By the look of triumph in her eyes I knew I had told her what she
wanted to know. She went below soon after, and I warned Burns that
he would probably be approached in the same way.
"Not that I am afraid," I added. "But keep the little Sloane woman
at a distance. She's quite capable of mesmerizing you with her
eyes and robbing you with her hands at the same time."
"I'd rather you'd carry it," he said, "although I'm not afraid of
the lady. It's not likely, after
He did not finish, but he glanced aft toward the jollyboat. Poor
Burns! I believe he had really cared for the Danish girl. Perhaps
I was foolish, but I refused to take the key from him; I felt sure
he could be trusted.
The murders had been committed on the early morning of Wednesday,
the 12th It was on the following Tuesday that Mrs. Sloane and I
had our little conversation on deck, and on Wednesday we came up
with the Buenos Aires.
It was on Friday, therefore, two days after the cargo steamer had
slid over the edge of the ocean, and left us, motionless, a painted
ship upon a painted sea, that the incident happened that completed
the demoralization of :he crew.
For almost a week the lookouts had reported 'All's well" in response
to the striking of the ship's bell. The hysteria, as Burns and I
dubbed it, of the white figure had died away as the men's nerves
grew less irritated. Although we had found no absolute explanation
of the marlinespike, an obvious one suggested itself. The men,
although giving up their weapons without protest, had grumbled
somewhat over being left without means of defense. It was entirely
possible, we agreed, that the marlinespike had been so disposed, as
some seaman's resort in time of need.
The cook, taking down the dinner on Friday evening, reported Mr.
Turner up and about and partly dressed. The heat was frightful.
All day we had had a following breeze, and it had been necessary to
lengthen the towing-rope, dropping the jolly-boat well behind us.
The men, saying little or nothing, dozed under their canvas; the
helmsman drooped at the wheel. Under our feet the boards sent up
simmering heat waves, and the brasses were too hot to touch.
At four o'clock Elsa Lee came on deck, and spoke to me for the
first time in several days. She started when she saw me, and no
wonder. In the frenzied caution of the day after the crimes, I
had flung every razor overboard, and the result was as villainous
a set of men as I have ever seen.
"Have you been ill again?" she asked.
I put my hand to my chin. "Not ill," I said; "merely unshaven."
"But you are pale, and your eyes are sunk in your head."
"We are very short-handed and - no one has slept much."
"Or eaten at all, I imagine," she said. "When do we get in?"
"I can hardly say. With this wind, perhaps Tuesday."
"You intend to turn the yacht over to the police?"
"Yes, Miss Lee."
"Every one on it?"
"That is up to the police. They will probably not hold the women.
You will be released, I imagine, on your own recognizance."
"And - Mr. Turner?"
"He will have to take his luck with the rest of us."
She asked me no further questions, but switched at once to what had
brought her on deck.
"The cabin is unbearable," she said. "We are willing to take the
risk of opening the after companion door."
But I could not allow this, and I tried to explain my reasons. The
crew were quartered there, for one; for the other, whether they were
willing to take the risk or not, I would not open it without placing
a guard there, and we had no one to spare for the duty. I suggested
that they use the part of the deck reserved for them, where it was
fairly cool under the awning; and, after a dispute below, they agreed
to this. Turner, very weak, came up the few steps slowly, but
refused my proffered help. A little later, he called me from the
rail and offered me a cigar. The change in him was startling.
We took advantage of their being on deck to open the windows and
air the after house. But all were securely locked and barred before
they went below again. It was the first time they had all been on
deck together since the night of the 11th. It was a different crowd
of people that sat there, looking over the rail and speaking in
monosyllables: no bridge, no glasses clinking with ice, no elaborate
toilets and carefully dressed hair, no flash of jewels, no light
laughter following one of poor Vail's sallies.
At ten o'clock they went below, but not until I had quietly located
every member of the crew. I had the watch from eight to twelve that
night, and at half after ten Mrs. Johns came on deck again. She did
not speak to me, but dropped into a steamer-chair and yawned,
stretching out her arms. By the light of the companion lantern, I
saw that she had put on one of the loose negligees she affected for
undress, and her arms were bare except for a fall of lace.
At eight bells (midnight) Burns took my place. Charlie Jones was at
the wheel, and McNamara in the crow's-nest. Mrs. Johns was dozing in
her chair. The yacht was making perhaps four knots, and, far behind,
the small white light of the jolly-boat showed where she rode.
I slept heavily, and at eight bells I rolled off my blanket and
prepared to relieve Burns. I was stiff, weary, unrefreshed. The air
was very still and we were hardly moving. I took a pail of water
that stood near the rail, and, leaning far out, poured it over my
head and shoulders. As I turned, dripping, Jones, relieved of the
wheel, touched me on the arm.
"Go back to sleep, boy," he said kindly. "We need you, and we're
goin' to need you more when we get ashore. You've been talkin' in
your sleep till you plumb scared me."
But I was wide awake by that time, and he had had as little sleep as
I had. I refused, and we went forward together, Jones to get coffee,
which stood all night on the galley stove.
It was still dark. The dawn, even in the less than four weeks we
had been out, came perceptibly later. At the port forward corner of
the after house, Jones stumbled over something, and gave a sharp
exclamation. The next moment he was on his knees, lighting a match.
Burns lay there on his face, unconscious, and bleeding profusely
from a cut on the back of his head - but not dead.
THE AXE IS GONE
My first thought was of the after house. Jones, who had been fond
of Burns, was working over him, muttering to himself. I felt his
heart, which was beating slowly but regularly, and, convinced that
he was not dying, ran down into the after house. The cabin was
empty: evidently the guard around the pearl handled revolver had
been given up on the false promise of peace. All the lights were
going, however, and the heat was suffocating.
I ran to Miss Lee's door, and tried it. It was locked, but almost
instantly she spoke from inside:
"What is it?"
"Nothing much. Can you come out?"
She came a moment later, and I asked her to call into each cabin
to see if every one was safe. The result was reassuring - no one
had been disturbed; and I was put to it to account to Miss Lee for
my anxiety without telling her what had happened. I made some sort
of excuse, which I have forgotten, except that she evidently did
not believe it.
On deck, the men were gathered around Burns. There were ominous
faces among them, and mutterings of hatred and revenge; for Burns
had been popular - the best-liked man among them all. Jones, wrought
to the highest pitch, had even shed a few shamefaced tears, and was
obliterating the humiliating memory by an extra brusqueness of manner.
We carried the injured man aft, and with such implements as I had I
cleaned and dressed the wound. It needed sewing, and it seemed best
to do it before he regained consciousness. Jones and Adams went below
to the forecastle, therefore, and brought up my amputating set, which
contained, besides its knives, some curved needles and surgical silk,
still in good condition.
I opened the case, and before the knives, the long surgeon's knives
which were in use before the scalpel superseded them, they fell back,
muttering and amazed.
I did not know that Elsa Lee also was watching until, having
requested Jones, who had been a sailmaker, to thread the needles,
his trembling hands refused their duty. I looked up, searching the
group for a competent assistant, and saw the girl. She had dressed,
and the light from the lantern beside me on the deck threw into
relief her white figure among the dark ones. She came forward as my
eyes fell on her.
"Let me try," she said; and, kneeling by the lantern, in a moment
she held out the threaded needle. Her hand was quite steady. She
made an able assistant, wiping clean the oozing edges of the wound
so that I could see to clip the bleeding vessels, and working deftly
with the silk and needles to keep me supplied. My old case yielded
also a roll or so of bandage. By the time Burns was attempting an
incoordinate movement or two, the operation was over and the
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