The next happening on board the Mandalay which I have to record was the attempt to break open the door of Professor Deeping’s stateroom. Except when he was actually within, the Professor left his room door religiously locked.
He made light of the affair, but later took me aside and told me a curious story of an apparition which had appeared to him.
“It was a crescent of light,” he said, “and it glittered through the darkness there to the left as I lay in my berth.”
“A reflection from something on the deck?”
Deeping smiled, uneasily.
“Possibly,” he replied; “but it was very sharply defined. Like the blade of a scimitar,” he added.
I stared at him, my curiosity keenly aroused. “Does any explanation suggest itself to you?” I said.
“Well,” he confessed, “I have a theory, I will admit; but it is rather going back to the Middle Ages. You see, I have lived in the East a lot; perhaps I have assimilated some of their superstitions.”
He was oddly reticent, as ever. I felt convinced that he was keeping something back. I could not stifle the impression that the clue to these mysteries lay somewhere around the invisible Mohammedan party.
“Do you know,” said Bell to me, one morning, “this trip’s giving me the creeps. I believe the damned ship’s haunted! Three bells in the middle watch last night, I’ll swear I saw some black animal crawling along the deck, in the direction of the forward companion-way.”
“Cat?” I suggested.
“Nothing like it,” said Mr. Bell. “Mr. Cavanagh, it was some uncanny thing! I’m afraid I can’t explain quite what I mean, but it was something I wanted to shoot!”
“Where did it go?”
The chief officer shrugged his shoulders. “Just vanished,” he said. “I hope I don’t see it again.”
At Tilbury the Mohammedan party went ashore in a body. Among them were veiled women. They contrived so to surround a central figure that I entirely failed to get a glimpse of the mysterious Mr. Azraeel. Ahmadeen was standing close by the companion-way, and I had a momentary impression that one of the women slipped something into his hand. Certainly, he started; and his dusky face seemed to pale.
Then a deck steward came out of Deeping’s stateroom, carrying the brown bag which the Professor had brought aboard at Port Said. Deeping’s voice came:
“Hi, my man! Let me take that bag!”
The bag changed hands. Five minutes later, as I was preparing to go ashore, arose a horrid scream above the berthing clamour. Those passengers yet aboard made in the direction from which the scream had proceeded.
A steward—the one to whom Professor Deeping had spoken—lay writhing at the foot of the stairs leading to the saloon-deck. His right hand had been severed above the wrist!