A moment later the pressure was released. With a growing horror of I know not what, I set to work at the second screw, trying to be noiseless, but with hands shaking with excitement. The screw fell out into my palm. In my haste I dropped my knife, and had to grope for it on the floor. It was then that a woman screamed—a low, sobbing cry, broken off almost before it began. I had got my knife by that time, and in desperation I threw myself against the door. It gave way, and I fell full length on the main cabin floor. I was still in darkness. The silence in the cabin was absolute. I could hear the steersman beyond the chart-room scratching a match.
As I got up, six bells struck. It was three o’clock.
Vail’s room was next to the pantry, and forward. I felt my way to it, and rapped.
“Vail,” I called. “Vail!”
His door was open an inch or so. I went in and felt my way to his bunk. I could hear him breathing, a stertorous respiration like that of sleep, and yet unlike. The moment I touched him, the sound ceased, and did not commence again. I struck a match and bent over him.
He had been almost cut to pieces with an axe.
IN THE AFTER HOUSE
The match burnt out, and I dropped it. I remember mechanically extinguishing the glowing end with my heel, and then straightening to such a sense of horror as I have never felt before or since. I groped for the door; I wanted air, space, the freedom from lurking death of the open deck.
I had been sleeping with my revolver beside me on the pantry floor. Somehow or other I got back there and found it. I made an attempt to find the switch for the cabin lights, and, failing, revolver in hand, I ran into the chart-room and up the after companionway. Charlie Jones was at the wheel, and by the light of a lantern I saw that he was bending to the right, peering in at the chartroom window. He turned when he heard me.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. “I heard a yell a minute ago. Turner on the rampage?” He saw my revolver then, and, letting go the wheel, threw up both his hands. “Turn that gun away, you fool!”
I could hardly speak. I lowered the revolver and gasped: “Call the captain! Vail’s been murdered!
“Good God!” he said. “Who did it?” He had taken the wheel again, and was bringing the ship back to her course. I was turning sick and dizzy, and I clutched at the railing of the companionway.
“I don’t know. Where’s the captain?”
“The mate’s around.” He raised his voice. “Mr. Singleton!” he called.
There was no time to lose, I felt. My nausea had left me. I ran forward to where I could dimly see Singleton looking in my direction.
“Singleton! Quick!” I called. “Bring your revolver.”
He stopped and peered in my direction.