[ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]
.His hair and brows were dyed—badly dyed; his left arm hung limply.He found The Thinking Machine alone.“I got your letter, sir,” he said respectfully.“If it’s a yacht, I’m willing to ship as master; but I’m too old to do much——”“Sit down, please,” the little scientist invited courteously, dropping into a chair as he spoke.“There are one or two questions I should like to ask.First”—the petulant blue eyes were raised toward the ceiling; the slender fingers came together precisely, tip to tip—“first: Why did you kill Peter Ordway?”Fell an instant’s amazed silence.Benjamin Holderby’s muscles flexed, the ruddy face was contorted suddenly with hideous anger, the sinewy right hand closed until great knots appeared in the tendons.Possibly The Thinking Machine had never been nearer death than in that moment when the sailorman towered above him—’twas giant and weakling.The tiger was about to spring.Then, suddenly as it had come, anger passed from Holderby’s face; came instead curiosity, bewilderment, perplexity.The silence was broken by the sinister click of a revolver.Holderby turned his head slowly, to face Detective Mallory, stared at him oddly, then drew his own revolver, and passed it over, butt foremost.No word had been spoken.Not once had The Thinking Machine lowered his eyes.“I killed Peter Ordway,” Holderby explained distinctly, “for good and sufficient reasons.”“So you wrote the governor,” the scientist observed.“Your motive was born thirty-two years ago?”“Yes.” The sailor seemed merely astonished.“On a raft at sea?”“Yes.”“There was murder done on that raft?”“Yes.”“Instigated by Peter Ordway, who offered you——”“One million dollars—yes.”“So Peter Ordway is the second man you have killed?”“Yes.”With mouth agape, Hutchinson Hatch listened greedily; he had—they had—saved Walpole! Mallory’s mind was a chaos.What sort of tommyrot was this? This man confessing to a murder for which Walpole was to be electrocuted! His line of thought was broken by the petulant voice of the Thinking Machine.“Sit down, Mr.Holderby!” he was saying, “and tell us precisely what happened on that raft.”’Twas a dramatic story Benjamin Holderby told—a tragedy tale of the sea—a tale of starvation and thirst torture and madness, and ceaseless battling for life—of crime and greed and the power of money even in that awful moment when death seemed the portion of all.The tale began with the foundering of the steamship Neptune, Liverpool to Boston, ninety-one passengers and crew, some thirty-two years ago.In mid-ocean she was smashed to bits by a gale, and went down.Of those aboard only nine persons reached shore alive.Holderby told the story simply:“God knows how any of us went through that storm; it raged for days.There were ten of us on our raft when the ship settled, and by dusk of the second day there were only six—one woman, and one child, and four men.The waves would simply smash over us, and when we came to daylight again there was some one missing.There was little enough food and water aboard, anyway, so the people dropping off that way was really what saved—what saved two of us at the end.Peter Ordway was one, and I was the other.“The first five days were bad enough—short rations, little or no water, no sleep, and all that; but what came after was hell! At the end of that fifth day there were only five of us—Ordway and me, the woman and child, and another man.I don’t know whether I went to sleep or was just unconscious; anyway, when I came to there were only the three of us left.I asked Ordway where the woman and child was.He said they were washed off while I was asleep.“‘And a good thing,’ he says.“‘Why?’ I says.“‘Too many mouths to feed,’ he says.‘And still too many.’ He meant the other man.‘I’ve been looking at the rations and the water,’ he says.‘There’s enough to keep three people alive three days, but if there were only two people—me and you, for instance?’ he says.“‘You mean throw him off?’ I says.“‘You’re a sailor,’ says he.‘If you go, we all go.But we may not be picked up for days.We may starve or die of thirst first.If there were only two of us, we’d have a better chance.I’m worth millions of dollars,’ he says.‘If you’ll get rid of this other fellow, and we ever come out alive, I’ll give you one million dollars!’ I didn’t say anything.‘If there were only two of us,’ says he, ‘we would increase our chances of being saved one-third.One million dollars!’ says he.‘One million dollars!’“I expect I was mad with hunger and thirst and sleeplessness and exhaustion.Perhaps he was, too.I know that, regardless of the money he offered, his argument appealed to me.Peter Ordway was a coward; he didn’t have the nerve; so an hour later I threw the man overboard, with Peter Ordway looking on.“Days passed somehow—God knows—and when I came to I had been picked up by a sailing vessel.I was in an asylum for months.When I came out, I asked Ordway for money.He threatened to have me arrested for murder.I pestered him a lot, I guess, for a little later I found myself shanghaied, on the high seas.I didn’t come back for thirty years or so.I had almost forgotten the thing until I happened to see Peter Ordway’s name in a paper.Then I wrote the slips and mailed them to him.He knew what they meant, and set a detective after me.Then I began hating him all over again, worse than ever.Finally I thought I’d go to his house and make a holdup of it—one million dollars! I don’t think I intended to kill him; I thought he’d give me money.I didn’t know there was any one with him.I talked to him, and he shot me.I killed him.”Fell a long silence.The Thinking Machine broke it:“You entered the apartment with a skeleton key?”“Yes.”“And after the shot was fired, you started out, but dodged behind the curtain at the door when you heard Mr.Pingree and Mrs.Robinson coming in?”“Yes.”Suddenly Hatch understood why The Thinking Machine had asked him to ascertain if there were curtains at that door.It was quite possible that in the excitement Mr.Pingree and Mrs [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]