"And how," interrupted Captain Ross, "do you come by this chapter of your melodrama?"
"She told me—later."
"You had the lady's confidence, I see! Perhaps after Lackland went you took his——"
"She was dying."
The doctor's voice and steady eyes did not waver. He went on like an automaton.
"She went into Number 14 to find—her husband! He was laughing, silently, doubled up, tears of mirth on his face. He tied her up and gagged her, laughing all the time. Told her Lackland would be late. He'd forged a note in her writing, sent it to Lackland asking him to wait, to come to Number 14 at midnight, not earlier on any account. Vernon had counted on a lover's obedience to any whim. He was right.
"Lackland came on the stroke of twelve. Vernon was ready for him—with a knife. In the struggle, Lackland got a grip of the other's throat. Vernon thrust home. In his death-agony, Lackland's hands tightened, fastened like a vise. Vernon was asphyxiated. A steward found them both dead, lying locked together at Mrs. Vernon's feet."
The bleak austerity in Doctor Fielding's eyes checked comment.
"That's all of what you would call fact. Mrs. Vernon died—brain-fever in the end."
"And they were all buried at sea? All three of them?"
Captain Ross looked not wholly unsympathetic.
"Then I know the whole thing from start to finish at last."
"No, It is not finished yet, sir. Vernon knew the secret of perpetuating himself in the physical world even without his body. That had been lowered over the side and I saw it done. But Vernon himself—his malicious powerful ego—has never left this ship."
The captain's softened expression was instantly combative. "I've listened to your story, to the end—to the very end! Thank you, doctor. I've no time to speculate on ghosts. Once and for all, I don't believe in the supernatural."
He turned to the others.
"Before we break up this meeting, have you anything to say? Mr. Owen?"
The first mate was a Welshman, vivacious, sensitive, emotional.
"The doctor's not told you half, sir," he burst out. "You don't know what a hell the ship was for days and nights, God, those nights! Up and down the deck—up and down, whistling—if you could call it whistling."
"Whistling what? And what whistled?"
Mr. Owen was past being daunted by the captain's glance.
"A high, queer sort of sound, sir. No tune or anything. Went through your head like red-hot wire. What was it? I Don't ask me, sir! It doesn't bear thinking of."
"Exactly. That's my complaint against you all. You refuse to think. This absurd legend of Number 14 would never have existed if you'd thought, and investigated. Anything more?"
"I—we—there was the fog, sir! And Steevens here saw——"
"I'll take him in turn. Fog?"
"Yes, sir. Fog or sea-mist. The whistling seemed to come from it."
With a quick, irritable gesture, Captain Ross turned to the steward.