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Mary Roberts Rinehart
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 141 pages of information about The After House.

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.

CHAPTER VI

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.

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