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The night was still enough, but piled-up masses of black clouds obscured a weakly moon, and there were only now and then uncertain gleams of glimmering light. There was no fog, nor any sign of any. The captain slept in his room, and on deck the steamer was utterly deserted. Only through the black darkness she still bounded on, her furnaces roaring, and the black trail of smoke leaving a long clear track behind her. It seemed as though every one were sleeping on board the steamer except those who fed her fires below and the grim, silent figure who stood in the wheelhouse.
Mr. Sabin, who, muffled up with rugs, was reclining in a deck chair, drawn up in the shadow of the long boat, was already beginning to regret that he had attached any importance at all to Mrs. Watson’s warning. It wanted only an hour or so of dawn. All night long he had sat there in view of the door of his deck cabin and shivered. To sleep had been impossible, his dozing was only fitful and unrestful. His hands were thrust deep down into the pockets of his overcoat—the revolver had long ago slipped from his cold fingers. More than once he had made up his mind to abandon his watch, to enter his room, and chance what might happen. And then suddenly there came what he had been waiting for all this while—a soft footfall along the deck: some one was making their way now from the gangway to the door of his cabin.
The frown on his forehead deepened; he leaned stealthily forward watching and listening intently. Surely that was the rustling of a silken gown, that gleam of white behind the funnel was the fluttering of a woman’s skirt. Suddenly he saw her distinctly. She was wearing a long white dressing-gown, and noiseless slippers of some kind. Her face was very pale and her eyes seemed fixed and dilated. Once, twice she looked nervously behind her, then she paused before the door of his cabin, hesitated for a moment, and finally passed over the threshold. Mr. Sabin, who had been about to spring forward, paused. After all perhaps he was safer where he was.
There was a full minute during which nothing happened. Mr. Sabin, who had now thoroughly regained his composure, lingered in the shadow of the boat prepared to wait upon the course of events, but a man’s footstep this time fell softly upon the deck. Some one had emerged from the gangway and was crossing towards his room. Mr. Sabin peered cautiously through the twilight. It was Mr. Watson, of New York, partially dressed, with a revolver flashing in his hand. Then Mr. Sabin perceived the full wisdom of having remained where he was.
Under the shadow of the boat he drew a little nearer to the door of the cabin. There was absolute silence within. What they were doing he could not imagine, but the place was in absolute darkness. Thoroughly awake now he crouched within a few feet of the door listening intently. Once he fancied that he could hear a voice, it seemed to him that a hand was groping along the wall for the knob of the electric light. Then the door was softly opened and the woman came out. She stood for a moment leaning a little forward, listening intently ready to make her retreat immediately she was assured that the coast was clear! She was a little pale, but in a stray gleam of moonlight Mr. Sabin fancied that he caught a glimpse of a smile upon her parted lips. There was a whisper from behind her shoulder; she answered in a German monosyllable. Then, apparently satisfied that she was unobserved, she stepped out, and, flitting round the funnel, disappeared down the gangway. Mr. Sabin made no attempt to stop her or to disclose his presence. His fingers had closed now upon his revolver—he was waiting for the man. The minutes crept on—nothing happened. Then a hand softly closed the window looking out upon the deck, immediately afterwards the door was pushed open and Mr. Watson, with a handkerchief to his mouth, stepped out.
He stood perfectly still listening for a moment. Then he was on the point of stealing away, when a hand fell suddenly upon his shoulder. He was face to face with Mr. Sabin.
He started back with a slight but vehement guttural interjection. His hand stole down towards his pocket, but the shining argument in Mr. Sabin’s hand was irresistible.
“Step back into that room, Mr. Watson; I want to speak to you.”
He hesitated. Mr. Sabin reaching across him opened the door of the cabin. Immediately they were assailed with the fumes of a strange, sickly odour! Mr. Sabin laughed softly, but a little bitterly.
“A very old-fashioned device,” he murmured. “I gave you credit for more ingenuity, my friend. Come, I have opened the window and the door you see! Let us step inside. There will be sufficient fresh air.”
Mr. Watson was evidently disinclined to make the effort. He glanced covertly up the deck, and seemed to be preparing himself for a rush. Again that little argument of steel and the grim look on Mr. Sabin’s face prevailed. They both crossed the threshold. The odour, though powerful, was almost nullified by the rushing of the salt wind through the open window and door which Mr. Sabin had fixed open with a catch. Reaching out his hand he pulled down a little brass hook—the room was immediately lit with the soft glare of the electric light.
Mr. Sabin, having assured himself that his companion’s revolver was safely bestowed in his hip pocket and could not be reached without warning, glanced carefully around his cabin.
He looked first towards the bed and smiled. His little device, then, had succeeded. The rug which he had rolled up under the sheets into the shape of a human form was undisturbed. In the absence of a light Mr. Watson had evidently taken for granted that the man whom he had sought to destroy was really in the room. The two men suddenly exchanged glances, and Mr. Sabin smiled at the other’s look of dismay.
“It was not like you,” he said gently; “it was really very clumsy indeed to take for granted my presence here. I have great faith in you and your methods, my friend, but do you think that it would have been altogether wise for me to have slept here alone with unfastened door—under the circumstances?”
Mr. Watson admitted his error with a gleam in his dark eyes, which Mr. Sabin accepted as an additional warning.
“Your little device,” he continued, raising an unstopped flask from the table by the side of the bed, “is otherwise excellent, and I feel that I owe you many thanks for arranging a death that should be painless. You might have made other plans which would have been not only more clumsy, but which might have caused me a considerable amount of personal inconvenience and discomfort. Your arrangements, I see, were altogether excellent. You arranged for my—er—extermination asleep or awake. If awake the little visit which your charming wife had just paid here was to have provided you at once with a motive for the crime and a distinctly mitigating circumstance. That was very ingenious. Pardon my lighting a cigarette, these fumes are a little powerful. Then if I was asleep and had not been awakened by the time you arrived—well, it was to be a drug! Supposing, my dear Mr. Watson, you do me the favour of emptying this little flask into the sea.”
Mr. Watson obeyed promptly. There were several points in his favour to be gained by the destruction of this evidence of his unsuccessful attempt. As he crossed the deck holding the little bottle at arm’s length from him a delicate white vapour could be distinctly seen rising from the bottle and vanishing into the air. There was a little hiss like the hiss of a snake as it touched the water, and a spot of white froth marked the place where it sank.
“Much too strong,” Mr. Sabin murmured. “A sad waste of a very valuable drug, my friend. Now will you please come inside with me. We must have a little chat. But first kindly stand quite still for one moment. There is no particular reason why I should run any risk. I am going to take that revolver from your pocket and throw it overboard.”
Mr Watson’s first instinct was evidently one of resistance. Then suddenly he felt the cold muzzle of a revolver upon his forehead.
“If you move,” Mr. Sabin said quietly, “you are a dead man. My best policy would be to kill you; I am foolish not to do it. But I hate violence. You are safe if you do as I tell you.”
Mr. Watson recognised the fact that his companion was in earnest. He stood quite still and watched his revolver describe a semi-circle in the darkness and a fall with a little splash in the water. Then he followed Mr. Sabin into his cabin.
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