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Page:Weird Tales volume 30 number 01.djvu/40

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38
WEIRD TALES

vas iron, life-buoys, and other carefully stowed gear—a patch of white, woolly fog wavered and drifted. The captain snatched up a pair of binoculars and looked long and earnestly.

"Go down and see," he ordered.

The third mate saluted and went. His face was white as he turned to obey. Captain Ross watched while he made his way to deck B and thence to the poop, saw him go forward, hesitate, peer at the eddying fog. Suddenly he threw up his hands with a startled gesture and turned to run.

"Good God! It's after him!"

Captain Ross gripped the rail under his hands as he spoke, and leaned over to watch with eyes almost starting out of his head. Stumbling, running, turning to look back over his shoulder at the thing that steadily pursued, the mate zigzagged an erratic course. A woman's shriek was heard.

An instant later, pandemonium rose on deck B. Men and women struggled from their deck-chairs. Some, entangled in rugs, tripped and fell. Some were too paralyzed by horror to move at all. Deck stewards, serving tea-trays, let their burdens tilt, and the crash of breaking china added to the uproar.

The third mate ran with open mouth, his hands making queer flapping movements, his eyes wild with terror. The fog rolled up behind—closer—closer. A long white wisp of it seemed to blow out like a tentacle, touched the mate's neck, curled round it. The man yelled, put up clutching fingers. His cry died on a strangling sob.

Captain Ross roared out an order through his megaphone. The mate was down on his knees now. Over him the fog circled and hovered. Several of the crew came running; they were, so far, more in awe of the captain than anything else on board. They picked up the mate and carried him off at a run, vanished down a companionway.

Captain Ross let out a great breath of relief and put down his megaphone with an unsteady hand. The cloud of fog was blowing down deck again. Now it was drifting round the poop. And from it the captain heard a high, keening, intolerable whistle, rising, falling, rising again to torturing shrillness.

For minutes he stood watching, listening. At last he set a double watch on the bridge and went below. He knew at last what fear of the unknown meant. He knew at last that his ignorance and obstinacy had put his ship at the mercy of something he could not understand or control.

"Murder!" The word hammered and clanged through his brain. "Murder! That was the doctor's word. Said I was sending Tom to his death!"

Passengers huddled in groups, whispering, crying, cursing, utterly demoralized as he made his way through the luxurious lounge toward the deck A cabins. He knew it would be wise to stop, to reassure them, to check the panic that was running like wildfire in their midst. He knew also that he couldn't do it. His brain was numb with shock. He couldn't console these terrified people. He was terrified himself, sick and cold and stupid with terror.

He groaned as he hurried to Number 14. The door of the room stood wide open. Sunset light painted it blood-red. Its silence was horrible. A taunt—a threat—a prelude to disaster! He saw Mr. Amyas look in.

"Where is he? Where is Tom Everett?"

Mr. Amyas did not at first reply. He looked intently at the captain's altered face; then:

"You know—at last?"