I found myself convinced against my will, and that afternoon, alone, I made a second and more thorough examination of the forecastle and the hold. In the former I found nothing. Having been closed for over twenty-four hours, it was stifling and full of odors. The crew, abandoning it in haste, had left it in disorder. I made a systematic search, beginning forward and working back. I prodded in and under bunks, and moved the clothing that hung on every hook and swung, to the undoing of my nerves, with every swell. Much curious salvage I found under mattresses and beneath bunks: a rosary and a dozen filthy pictures under the same pillow; more than one bottle of whiskey; and even, where it had been dropped in the haste of flight, a bottle of cocaine. The bottle set me to thinking: had we a “coke” fiend on board, and, if we had, who was it?
The examination of the hold led to one curious and not easily explained discovery. The Ella was in gravel ballast, and my search there was difficult and nerve-racking. The creaking of the girders and floor-plates, the groaning overhead of the trestle-trees, and once an unexpected list that sent me careening, head first, against a ballast-tank, made my position distinctly disagreeable. And above all the incidental noises of a ship’s hold was one that I could not place—a regular knocking, which kept time with the list of the boat.
I located it at last, approximately, at one of the ballast ports, but there was nothing to be seen. The port had been carefully barred and calked over. The sound was not loud. Down there among the other noises, I seemed to feel as well as hear it. I sent Burns down, and he came up, puzzled.
“It’s outside,” he said. “Something cracking against her ribs.”
“You didn’t notice it yesterday, did you?”
“No; but yesterday we were not listening for noises.”
The knocking was on the port side. We went forward together, and, leaning well out, looked over the rail.
The missing marlinespike was swinging there, banging against the hull with every roll of the ship. It was fastened by a rope lanyard to a large bolt below the rail, and fastened with what Burns called a Blackwall hitch—a sailor’s knot.
JONES STUMBLES OVER SOMETHING
I find, from my journal, that the next seven days passed without marked incident. Several times during that period we sighted vessels, all outward bound, and once we were within communicating distance of a steam cargo boat on her way to Venezuela. She lay to and sent her first mate over to see what could be done.