They had not heard, for I could still catch the murmur of their voices. The creak of the jib-boom and the swish of my own boat beneath had frightened me at first. It seemed impossible that it should not disturb them. But after a moment my courage returned, and I pulled myself up on to the bowsprit, and lying almost at full length along it, for fear of being spied, crawled slowly along, and dropped noiselessly on to the deck.
They were standing together by the mizzen-mast, he with his back turned full towards me, she less entirely averted, so that I could see a part of her face in the moonlight, and the silvery gleam of her grey hair. Yes, it was they, surely enough; and they had not seen me. My revenge, long waited for, was in my grasp at last.
Suddenly, as I stood there watching them, I remembered my knife—the blade which had slain my father. I had left it below—fool that I was!—in the tin box. Could I creep back again, and return without attracting their attention? Should I hazard the attempt for the sake of planting that piece of steel in Simon Colliver’s black heart?
It was a foolish thought, but my whole soul was set upon murder now, and the chance of slaying him with the very knife left in my father’s wound seemed too dear to be lightly given up. Most likely he was armed now, whilst I had no weapon but the naked hand. Yet I did not think of this. It never even occurred to me that he would defend himself. Still, the thought of that knife was sweet to me as I crouched there beneath the shadow of the bulwarks. Should I go, or not? I paused for a moment, undecided; then rose slowly erect.
As I did so Mrs. Luttrell turned for an instant and saw me.
As I stood there, bareheaded, with the moonlight shining full upon my white shirt-sleeves, I must have seemed a very ghost; for a look of abject terror swept across her face; her voice broke off and both her hands were flung up for mercy—
“Oh, God! Look! look!”
As I rushed forward he turned, and then, with the spring of a wild cat, was upon me. Even as he leapt, my foot slipped upon the greasy deck; I staggered backward one step—two steps—and then fell with a crash down the unguarded forecastle ladder.
TELLS IN WHAT MANNER I LEARNT THE SECRET OF THE GREAT KEY.
As my senses came gradually back I could distinguish a narrow, dingy cabin, dimly lit by one flickering oil-lamp which swung from a rafter above. Its faint ray just revealed the furniture of the room, which consisted of a seaman’s chest standing in the middle, and two gaunt stools. On one of these I was seated, propped against the cabin wall, or rather partition, and as I attempted to move I learnt that I was bound hand and foot.
On the other stool opposite me and beside the chest, sat Simon Colliver, silently eyeing me. The lamplight as it flared and wavered cast grotesque and dancing shadows of the man upon the wall behind, made of his matted hair black eaves under which his eyes gleamed red as fire, and glinted lastly upon something bright lying on the chest before him.