At one o’clock in the morning
I arose, dressed hurriedly, drew on a pair of felt
slippers, and put a revolver in my pocket. It
was then time to put Edith Metford’s proposal
to the proof, and she would be waiting for me on deck
to hear whether I had succeeded in it. We had
parted a couple of hours before on somewhat chilling
terms. I had agreed to follow her suggestion,
but I could not trouble my tired brain by guesses at
the cause of her moods.
It was very dark. There was only
enough light to enable me to find my way along the
corridor, off which the state-rooms occupied by Brande
and his immediate lieutenants opened. All the
sleepers were restless from the terrible heat.
As I stole along, a muffled word, a sigh, or a movement
in the berths, made me pause at every step with a beating
heart. Having listened till all was quiet, I moved
on again noiselessly. I was almost at the end
of the corridor. So intent had I been on preserving
perfect silence, it did not sooner occur to me that
I was searching for any special door. I had forgotten
I could no more think of it than one
can recall the name of a half-forgotten acquaintance
suddenly encountered in the street. It might
have been fourteen, or forty-one; or a hundred and
fifty. Every number was as likely as it was unlikely.
I tried vainly to concentrate my mind. The result
was nothing. The missing number gave no clue.
To enter the wrong room in that ship at that hour
meant death for me. Of that I was certain.
To leave the right room unentered gave away my first
chance in the unequal battle with Brande. Then,
as I knew that my first chance would probably be my
last, if not availed of, I turned to the nearest door
and quietly tried the handle. The door was not
locked. I entered the state-room.
“What do you want?” It
was Halley’s voice that came from the berth.
“Pardon me,” I whispered,
“a mistake. The heat, you know. Went
on deck, and have blundered into your room.”
“Oh, all right. Who are you?”
“Good-night. You did not blunder far;”
I went out and closed the door quietly.
I had gained something. I was within one door
of my destination, for I knew that Halley was berthed
between Rockingham and Brande. But I did not know
on which side Brande’s room was, and I dared
not ask. I tried the next door going forward.
It opened like the other. I went in.
“Hallo there!” This time
no sleepy or careless man challenged me. It was
“May I not enter my own room?” I whispered.
“This is not your room.
You are?” Rockingham sprang up in his berth,
but before he could leave it I was upon him.
“I am Arthur Marcel. And
this iron ring which I press against your left ear
is the muzzle of my revolver. Speak, move, breathe
above your natural breath and your brains go through
that porthole. Now, loose your hold of my arm
and come with me.”
“You fool!” hissed Rockingham.
“You dare not fire. You know you dare not.”
He was about to call out, but my left
hand closed on his throat, and a gurgling gasp was
all that issued from him.
I laid down the revolver and turned
the ear of the strangling man close to my mouth.
I had little time to think; but thought flies fast
when such deadly peril menaces the thinker as that
which I must face if I failed to make terms with the
man who was in my power. I knew that notwithstanding
his intensely disagreeable nature, if he gave his
promise either by spoken word or equivalent sign, I
could depend upon him. There were no liars in
Brande’s Society. But the word I could not
trust him to say. I must have his sign. I
“You know I do not wish to kill
you. I shall never have another happy day if
you force me to it. I have no choice. You
must yield or die. If you will yield and stand
by me rather than against me in what shall follow,
choose life by taking your right hand from my wrist
and touching my left shoulder. I will not hurt
you meanwhile. If you choose death, touch me
with your left.”
The sweat stood on my forehead in
big beads as I waited for his choice. It was
soon made. He unlocked his left hand and placed
it firmly on my right shoulder.
He had chosen death.
So the man was only a physical coward or
perhaps he had only made a choice of alternatives.
I said slowly and in great agony,
“May God have mercy on your soul and
mine!” on which the muscles in my left arm stiffened.
The big biceps an heirloom of my athletic
days thickened up, and I turned my eyes
away from the dying face, half hidden by the darkness.
His struggles were very terrible, but with my weight
upon his lower limbs, and my grasp upon his windpipe,
that death-throe was as silent as it was horrible.
The end came slowly. I could not bear the horror
of it longer. I must finish it and be done with
it. I put my right arm under the man’s
shoulders and raised the upper part of his body from
the berth. Then a desperate wrench with my left
arm, and there was a dull crack like the snapping
of a dry stick. It was over. Rockingham’s
neck was broken.
I wiped away the bloody froth that
oozed from the gaping mouth, and tried to compose
decently the contorted figure. I covered the face.
Then I started on my last mission, for now I knew the
door. I had bought the knowledge dearly, and
I meant to use it for my own purpose, careless of
what violence might be necessary to accomplish my end.
When I entered Brande’s state-room
I found the electric light full on. He was seated
at a writing-table with his head resting on his arms,
which hung crossways over the desk. The sleeper
breathed so deeply it was evident that the effect
of the morphia was still strong upon him. One
hand clutched a folded parchment. His fingers
clasped it nervelessly, and I had only to force them
open one by one in order to withdraw the manuscript.
As I did this, he moaned and moved in his chair.
I had no fear of his awaking. My hand shook as
I unfolded the parchment which I unconsciously handled
as carefully as though the thing itself were as deadly
as the destruction which might be wrought by its direction.
To me the whole document was a mass
of unintelligible formulae. My rusty university
education could make nothing of it. But I could
not waste time in trying to solve the puzzle, for
I did not know what moment some other visitor might
arrive to see how Brande fared. I first examined
with a pocket microscope the ink of the manuscript,
and then making a scratch with Brande’s pen
on a page of my note-book, I compared the two.
The colours were identical. It was the same ink.
In several places where a narrow space
had been left vacant, I put 1 in front of the figures
which followed. I had no reason for making this
particular alteration, save that the figure 1 is more
easily forged than any other, and the forgery is consequently
more difficult to detect. My additions, when
the ink was dry, could only have been discovered by
one who was informed that the document had been tampered
with. It was probable that a drawer which stood
open with the keys in the lock was the place where
Brande kept this paper; where he would look for it
on awaking. I locked it in the drawer and put
the keys into his pocket.
There was something still to do with
the sleeping man, whose brain compassed such marvellous
powers. His telepathic faculty must be destroyed.
I must keep him seriously ill, without killing him.
As long as he remained alive his friends would never
question his calculations, and the fiasco which was
possible under any circumstances would then be assured.
I had with me an Eastern drug, which I had bought from
an Indian fakir once in Murzapoor. The man was
an impostor, whose tricks did not impose on me.
But the drug, however he came by it, was reliable.
It was a poison which produced a mild form of cerebritis
that dulled but did not deaden the mental powers.
It acted almost identically whether administered sub-cutaneously
or, of course in a larger dose, internally. I
brought it home with the intention of giving it to
a friend who was interested in vivisection. I
did not think that I myself should be the first and
last to experiment with it. It served my purpose
The moment I pricked his skin, Brande
moved in his seat. My hand was on his throat.
He nestled his head down again upon his arms, and drew
a deep breath. Had he moved again that breath
would have been his last. I had been so wrought
upon by what I had already done that night, I would
have taken his life without the slightest hesitation,
if the sacrifice seemed necessary.
When my operation was over, I left
the room and moved silently along the corridor till
I came to the ladder leading to the deck. Edith
Metford was waiting for me as we had arranged.
She was shivering in spite of the awful heat.
“Have you done it?” she whispered.
“I have,” I answered,
without saying how much I had done. “Now
you must retire and rest easy. The
formula won’t work. I have put both it and
Brande himself out of gear.”
“Thank God!” she gasped,
and then a sudden faintness came over her. It
passed quickly, and as soon as she was sufficiently
restored, I begged her to go below. She pleaded
that she could not sleep, and asked me to remain with
her upon the deck. “It would be absurd to
suppose that either of us could sleep this night,”
she very truly said. On which I was obliged to
tell her plainly that she must go below. I had
more to do.
“Can I help?” she asked anxiously.
“No. If you could, I would
ask you, for you are a brave girl. I have something
now to get through which is not woman’s work.”
“Your work is my work,” she answered.
“What is it?”
“I have to lower a body overboard without anyone
There was no time for discussion,
so I told her at once, knowing that she would not
give way otherwise. She started at my words, but
“How will you do that unobserved
by the ‘watch’? Go down and bring
up your bring it up. I will keep the
men employed.” She went forward, and I
turned again to the companion.
When I got back to Rockingham’s
cabin I took a sheet of paper and wrote, “Heat Mad!”
making no attempt to imitate his writing. I simply
scrawled the words with a rough pen in the hope that
they would pass as a message from a man who was hysterical
when he wrote them. Then I turned to the berth
and took up the body. It was not a pleasant thing
to do. But it must be done.
I was a long time reaching the deck,
for the arms and legs swung to and fro, and I had
to move cautiously lest they should knock against the
woodwork I had to pass. I got it safely up and
hurried aft with it. Edith, I knew, would contrive
to keep the men on watch engaged until I had disposed
of my burden. I picked up a coil of rope and made
it fast to the dead man’s neck. Taking
one turn of the rope round a boat-davit, I pushed
the thing over the rail. I intended to let go
the rope the moment the weight attached to it was
safely in the sea, and so lowered away silently, paying
out the line without excessive strain owing to the
support of the davit round which I had wound it.
I had not to wait so long as that, for just as the
body was dangling over the foaming wake of the steamer,
a little streak of moonlight shot out from behind a
bank of cloud and lighted the vessel with a sudden
gleam. I was startled by this, and held on, fearing
that some watching eye might see my curious movements.
For a minute I leaned over the rail and watched the
track of the steamer as though I had come on deck
for the air. There was a quick rush near the
vessel’s quarter. Something dark leaped
out of the water, and there was a sharp snap a
crunch. The lower limbs were gone in the jaws
of a shark. I let go the rope in horror, and the
body dropped splashing into that hideous fishing-ground.
Sick to death I turned away.
“Get below quickly,” Edith
Metford said in my ear. “They heard the
splash, slight as it was, and are coming this way.”
Her warning was nearly a sob.
We hurried down the companion as fast
as we dared, and listened to the comments of the watch
above. They were soon satisfied that nothing of
importance had occurred, and resumed their stations.
Before we parted on that horrible
night, Edith said in a trembling voice, “You
have done your work like a brave man.”
“Say rather, like a forger and murderer,”
“No,” she maintained.
“Many men before you have done much worse in
a good cause. You are not a forger. You
are a diplomat. You are not a murderer.
You are a hero.”
But I, being new to this work of slaughter
and deception, could only deprecate her sympathy and
draw away. I felt that my very presence near
her was pollution. I was unclean, and I told her
that I was so. Whereupon, without hesitation,
she put her arms round my neck, and said clinging
closely to me:
“You are not unclean you
are free from guilt. And Arthur I
will kiss you now.”