Part 1 out of 4
The After House
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
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 is 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new dress-suit, an out-of-date medical library, a box of surgical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
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
"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
"The - what?"
"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
"I'm thinking," I said, "of going to Europe. The sea is calling
"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
"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
"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
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 is n't - I suppose there's no chance of your needing another
"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, are n'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, have n't you?"
"Yes - miss."
"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 carne 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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
He got to his feet, holding to the table. "Mr. Singleton -hic -
from now on you're captain. Captain Singleton! How - how d'ye
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
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 'teas 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
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
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
"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
"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, is n'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,
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
"You got along very well to-night," she observed. "Are you quite
"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," sloe 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 where. 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
"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
She was sitting in a dock-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 arc 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 maze, 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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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 o$ 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 of 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
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
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
"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
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,
"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
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
"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.
"That is -?"
"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
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
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
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,
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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 -"
"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
"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
"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
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 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
"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
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 Tier. 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
"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
"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.
"Well?" - sullenly.
"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.