The figures at my feet, in their canvas shrouds, rolled gently with the rocking of the ship; the sun beat down on the decks, on the bare heads of the men, on the gilt edges of the prayer-book, gleaming in the light, on the last of the land-birds, drooping in the heat on the main cross-trees.
“. . . For man walketh in a vain shadow,” I read, “and disquieteth himself in vain . . . .
“O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength: before I go hence, and be no more seen.”
THE DEAD LINE
Mrs. Johns and the stewardess came up late in the afternoon. We had railed off a part of the deck around the forward companionway for them, and none of the crew except the man on guard was allowed inside the ropes. After a consultation, finding the ship very short-handed, and unwilling with the night coming on to trust any of the men, Burns and I decided to take over this duty ourselves, and, by stationing ourselves at the top of the companionway, to combine the duties of officer on watch and guard of the after house. To make the women doubly secure, we had Oleson nail all the windows closed, although they were merely portholes. Jones was no longer on guard below, and I had exchanged Singleton’s worthless revolver for my own serviceable one.
Mrs. Johns, carefully dressed, surveyed the railed-off deck with raised eyebrows.
“For—us?” she asked, looking at me. The men were gathered about the wheel aft, and were out of ear-shot. Mrs. Sloane had dropped into a steamer-chair, and was lying back with closed eyes.
“Yes, Mrs. Johns.”
“Where have you put them?”
I pointed to where the jolly-boat, on the port side of the ship, swung on its davits.
“And the mate, Mr. Singleton?”
“He is in the forward house.”
“What did you do with the—the weapon?”
“Why do you ask that?”
“Morbid curiosity,” she said, with a lightness of tone that rang false to my ears. “And then—naturally, I should like to be sure that it is safely overboard, so it will not be”—she shivered—” used again.”
“It is not overboard, Mrs. Johns,” I said gravely. “It is locked in a safe place, where it will remain until the police come to take it.”
“You are rather theatrical, aren’t you?” she scoffed, and turned away. But a second later she came back to me, and put her hand on my arm. “Tell me where it is,” she begged. “You are making a mystery of it, and I detest mysteries.”
I saw under her mask of lightness then: she wanted desperately to know where the axe was. Her eyes fell, under my gaze.
“I am sorry. There is no mystery. It is simply locked away for safe-keeping.”
She bit her lip.
“Do you know what I think?” she said slowly. “I think you have hypnotized the crew, as you did me—at first. Why has no one remembered that you were in the after house last night, that you found poor Wilmer Vail, that you raised the alarm, that you discovered the captain and Karen? Why should I not call the men here and remind them of all that?”