knew it for a very bright, human eye that watched me through the knot-hole. Now this may seem a very small matter in the telling, but to me at that moment (overwrought by my long sojourn in the dark) it was vastly otherwise. For maybe a full minute the eye stared at me, fixed and motionless and with a piercing intensity, then suddenly was gone, and I lying there, my flesh a-tingle, my heart quick-beating in a strange terror, so that I marvelled to find myself so shaken. Leaping up in sudden fierce anger I wrenched open the door and rushed forth, only to fall headlong over some obstacle; and lying there bruised and dazed heard the soft thud and scamper of rats in the dark hard by. So I got me back to my bunk, and lying there fell to a gloomy reflection. And the more I thought, the fiercer grew my anger that any should dare so to spy upon me. Thus it was in one of my blackest humours that Godby found me when, having set down the victuals he had brought, he closed the crazy door and seated himself on the cask that served me as chair, and bent to peer at me where I lay. "Mart'n," said he, speaking almost in a whisper, "be ye awake at last?" For answer I cursed him heartily. "Avast, pal!" says he shaking his head, "look'ee, Mart'n, 'tis in my mind the devil's aboard this ship." "And what then?" I demanded angrily. "Am I a raree show to be peeped at and watched and spied upon?" "Anan, pal--watched, d'ye say?" "Aye, stared at through the knot-hole yonder awhile since by you or Penfeather." "Never knowed there was a knot-hole, Mart'n," said he in the same hushed voice and staring at the thing, "and as for Cap'n Adam he aren't been anigh you this two days. But 'tis all one, pal, all one--this ship do be haunted. And as for eyes a-watching of ye, Martin, who should it be but this here ghost as walketh the ship o'nights and makes away wi' good men." "How d'ye mean?" I questioned, reaching the ale he had brought. "What talk is this of ghosts?" "What's yon?" he whispered, starting up, as a rustling sounded beyond the door. "Mere rats, man!" "Lord love ye, Mart'n," says he, glancing about him, "'tis a chancy place this. I don't know how ye can abide it." "I've known worse!" said I. "Then ye don't believe in spectres, Mart'n--ghosts, pal, nor yet phantoms?" "No, I don't!" "Well, Mart'n, there be strange talk among the crew o' something as do haunt the 'tween-decks--" "Aye, I've overheard some such!" I nodded. "But, look ye, I've haunted the ship myself of late." "And yet you've seen nowt o' this thing, pal?" "No. What thing should I see?" "Who knows, Martin? But the sea aren't the land, and here on these wild wastes o' waters there's chancy things beyond any man's wisdom as any mariner'll--ha, what's yon?" says he under his breath and whipping round, knife in hand. "'Twas like a shoeless foot, Mart'n...creeping murder...'Tis there again!" Speaking, he tore open the door and I saw his knife flash as he sprang into the darkness beyond; as for me I quaffed my ale. Presently back he comes, claps to the door (mighty careful) and sinking upon the upturned cask, mops at his brow. "Content you, Godby," says I, "here be no ghosts--" "Soft, lad--speak soft!" he whispered. "For--Lord love you, Mart'n, 'tis worse than ghosts as I do fear! Dog bite me, pal, here's been black and bloody doings aboard us this last two nights." "How so, Godby?" I questioned, lowering my voice in turn as I met his look. "I mean, lad, as this thing--call it ghost or what ye will--has took three men these last two nights. There's Perks o' Deptford, McLean as hails from Leith, and Treliving the Cornishman--three good men, Mart'n--lost, vanished, gone! And, O pal, wi' never a mark or trace to tell how!" "Lost! D'ye mean--overboard?" "No, Mart'n, I mean--lost! And each of them i' the middle watch --the sleepy hour, Mart'n, just afore dawn. In a fair night, pal, wi' a calm sea--these men vanish and none to see 'em go. And all of 'em prime sailor-men and trusty. The which, Mart'n, sets a cove to wondering who'll be next." "But are you sure they are gone?" "Aye, Mart'n, we've sought 'em alow and aloft, all over the ship, save only this hole o' yourn--the which you might ha' known had ye slept less." "Have I slept so much, then?" "Pal, you've done little else since you came aboard, seemingly. All yesterday, as I do know, you slept and never stirred nor took so much as bite or sup--and I know because while we was a' turning out the hold a-seekin' and a-searchin' I come and took a look at ye every now and then, and here's you a-lyin' like a dead man but for your snoring." "Here's strange thing, and mighty strange! For until I came aboard I was ever a wondrous light sleeper, Godby." "Why, 'tis the stench o' this place--faugh! Come aloft and take a mouthful o' good, sweet air, pal." "You say you sought these men everywhere--even down here in the hold?" "Aye, alow and aloft, every bulkhead and timber from trucks to keelson!" "And all this time I was asleep, Godby?" "Aye--like a log, Mart'n." "And breathing heavily?" "Aye, ye did so, pal, groaning ye might call it--aye, fit to chill a man's good blood!" "And neither you nor Adam nor the others thought to search this dog-hole of mine?" "Lord love ye--no, Mart'n! How should three men hide here?" "Three men? Aye, true enough!" says I, clasping my head to stay the rush and hurry of my thoughts. "Come aloft, pal, 'tis a fair evening and the fine folk all a- supping in the great cabin. Come into the air." "Yes," I nodded, "yes, 'twill clear my head and I must think, Godby, I must think. Reach me my doublet," says I, for now I felt myself all shivering as with cold. So Godby took up the garment where it lay and held it out to me; but all at once let it fall and, drawing back, stood staring down at it, and all with never a word; whiles I sat crouched upon my bed, my head between my clenched fists and my mind reeling beneath the growing horror of the thought that filled me. And now, even as this thought took dreadful shape and meaning--even as suspicion grew to certainty, I heard Godby draw a gasping breath, saw him reach a stealthy, fumbling hand behind him and open the door, and then, leaping backwards, he was swallowed in the dark, and with a hurry of stumbling feet, was gone. But I scarcely heeded his going or the manner of it, so stunned was I by the sudden realisation of the terror that had haunted my ghastly slumbers and evil wakings, a terror that (if my dreadful speculations were true) was very real after all, a peril deadly and imminent. The truth of which I now (and feverishly) set myself to prove beyond all doubt, and reached for the lanthorn. Now in so doing my foot caught in the doublet lying where Godby had dropped it, and I picked it up out of the way; but as I lifted it into the light I let it fall again (even as Godby had done): and now, staring down at it, felt my flesh suddenly a-creep for, as it lay there at my feet, I saw upon one sleeve a great, dark stain that smeared it up from wrist to elbow--the hideous stain of new-spilt blood. CHAPTER XVIII CONCERNING THE MARK OF A BLOODY HAND AND HOW I LAY IN THE BILBOES ON SUSPICION OF MURDER It was with an effort at last that I dragged my gaze from the hateful thing at my feet, only to meet the wide stare of that great eye my knife had wrought and (albeit no human eye now glittered there) yet it seemed none the less to watch my every move so persistently that I snatched off my neckerchief and pinning it against the bulkhead with my knife, hid the thing from sight. Which done, I spurned my blood-stained doublet into a corner and getting to hands and knees with the light beside me, began my search. My bunk was formed of boards supported by four up-ended casks and stretched the whole length of my small chamber. Upon these boards was a pallet covered by a great blanket that hung down to the very flooring; lifting this, I advanced the lanthorn and so began to examine very narrowly this space beneath my bed. And first I noticed that the flooring hereabouts was free of dust as it had been new-swept, and presently in the far corner espied a blurred mark that, as I looked, took grim form and semblance; stooping nearer I stared at this in the full glare of the lanthorn, then, shrank back (as well I might) for now I saw this mark was indeed the print of a great, bloody hand, open at full stretch. Crouching thus, I felt again all the horror I had known in my dreams, that dread of some unseen, haunting presence seeming to breathe in the very air about me, a feeling of some evil thing that moved and crept in the dark beyond the door, of ears that hearkened to my every move and eyes that watched me unseen. And this terror waxed and grew, until hearing a faint stirring behind me, I whirled about in panic to see the neckerchief gently a-swing against the bulkhead where I had pinned it; and though this was caused by no more than the motion of the ship (as I judged), yet in my then state of mind I whipped out my pistol and, levelling at the knot-hole, pulled the trigger, whereon was a mere flash in the pan and no more. This of itself steadied me, and sitting on my bed I found that the charge had been withdrawn. Laying by the useless weapon (for I had neither powder nor ball) I fell to profound meditation. And now indeed many things were plain; here (methought) had been the ghost, here had lain the murderer of three men, here in the one and only safe place for him in the whole ship, viz., beneath my bed, the while I lay there in drugged sleep. It would be simple matter to steal hither in my absence and drug my food, and would explain the strange nausea had so afflicted me of late. Here then I had the secret of my day-long sleeping, my vapours and black humours, here the explanation of my evil dreams and ghastly visions while Death, in human guise, crept about my couch or stooped above my unconscious form. But (I reasoned) I was not to be murdered, since I was of more use to him alive than dead and for three reasons (as I judged). First, that in his stealthy comings and goings he might be mistaken for me and thus left alone; secondly, that dressed in my habit he might haply father his crimes on me; and thirdly, that I (lying here drugged and asleep) might afford him the one and only escape from pursuit and capture. And yet (thinks I) what manner of man (or rather devil) should this be who, clad in my doublet, could make away with three lusty fellows and no one the wiser? Hereupon (and all in a flash) I seemed to see again the great black ship drifting down on us in the river and the man who rowed the skiff with the misshapen bundle in the stern-sheets--the bundle that had vanished so inexplicably. "By the living God," says I in a whisper, "here's an end to all the mystery at last!" And so remained a great while sitting motionless on my bed, being mightily cast down and utterly confounded. Rousing myself at last I drew my knife from the bulkhead and put out the light; then very cautiously set wide the door, and thus lapped in the pitchy dark (and mighty thankful for the good chain-shirt beneath my jerkin) stood holding my breath to listen. But hearing no more than the usual stir and bustle of the ship, I stole forward silent in my stockinged feet, and groping before me with my left hand, the knife clenched in my right, began to steal towards the ladder. And now, despite shirt of mail, I felt a cold chill that crept betwixt my twitching shoulder-blades as I went, for that which I feared was more hateful than any knife. Howbeit, reaching the ladder, I got me to the orlop (and mighty thankful) and so to the upper deck, to find a wondrous fair night breathing a sweet and balmy air and with a round moon uprising against a great plenitude of stars. The moon was low as yet and, taking advantage of the shadows, I got me into the gloom of the mainmast where the boats were stowed; and here (being well screened from chance view) I sat me down to drink in the glory of sea and sky, and to wait for chance of speech with Adam. And huge joy was it to behold these vast waters as they heaved to a slumberous swell and all radiant with the moon's loveliness; or, gazing aloft, through the maze of ropes and rigging, marvelled at the glory of the heaven set with its myriad starry fires. And, contrasting all this with the place of black horror whence I had come, I fell to a very ecstasy. And now, even as I sat thus lost in pleasing wonderment, from the quarter-deck hard by came the sweet, throbbing melody of a lute touched by skilled fingers and therewith a voice richly soft and plaintive, yet thrilling with that strange, vital ring had first arrested me and which I should have known the world over. So she sang an air that I knew not, yet methought it wondrous sweet; anon she breaks off, all at once, and falls to the song I had heard her sing before now, viz.: "A poor soul sat sighing by a green willow tree." Now as I hearkened, my gaze bent aloft, the starry heavens grew all sudden blurred and misty on my sight, and I knew again that deep yearning for a life far different from that I (in my blind selfishness) had marked out for myself. "Here truly" (thinks I) "is one of Godby's 'times of stars,' the which are good times being times of promise for all that are blessed with eyes to see --saving only myself who (though possessing eyes) am yet not as other men, being indeed one set apart and dedicated to a just act of vengeance. But for this, I too might have been happy perchance and with a hope of greater happiness to be." Something the like of this was in my thoughts while the song was a-singing, and I half-blinded by tears that would not be blinked away. Howbeit, the song ending, I was aware of a man's voice something high-pitched and precise: "I vow and protest, dear madam, 'tis rare--a night angelic and an angel here to sing us to an ecstasy." "Faith, Joan," says another voice, "your singing might draw any man's heart out of him, sweet cousin." "And that is but bald truth, I vow, my lady!" spoke a third. "Why then, gentlemen," says she, laughing, "here's an angel will to bed ere so ill a chance befall you." Now here (being minded to steal a look upon her) I rose, and creeping to the great mast, edged myself into the shadow and so beheld one that crouched there already, and knew him for that same red-headed fellow I had belaboured with the rope's-end. He was staring up at the quarter-deck and, following his look, I saw my lady stand leaning upon the rail, her shapely figure outlined against the moonlight, her face upraised to the sky. So stood she awhile, the gentlemen beside her (very brave in their velvets and new-fangled great periwigs) until came her maid Marjorie; then she sighed, acknowledged the gentlemen's bows and flourishes with a graceful curtesy, and bidding them a laughing "good-night" went her way, her shapely arm about Marjorie's trim waist.
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