“That’s no reason against your having a cigar now,” said Dick, in his cool way, but looking hard at me from under his shaggy eyebrows as he spoke. He evidently thought that my intellect was a little gone.
“No,” I continued, “it’s no laughing matter; and I speak in sober earnest, I assure you. I have discovered an infamous conspiracy, Dick, to destroy this ship and every soul that is in her;” and I then proceeded systematically, and in order, to lay before him the chain of evidence which I had collected. “There, Dick,” I said, as I concluded, “what do you think of that and, above all, what am I to do?”
To my astonishment he burst into a hearty fit of laughter.
“I’d be frightened,” he said, “if any fellow but you had told me as much. You always had a way, Hammond, of discovering mares’ nests. I like to see the old traits breaking out again. Do you remember at school how you swore there was a ghost in the long room, and how it turned out to be your own reflection in the mirror? Why, man,” he continued, “what object would any one have in destroying this ship? We have no great political guns aboard. On the contrary, the majority of the passengers are Americans. Besides, in this sober nineteenth century, the most wholesale murderers stop at including themselves among their victims. Depend upon it, you have misunderstood them, and have mistaken a photographic camera, or something equally innocent, for an infernal machine.”
“Nothing of the sort, sir,” said I, rather touchily. “You will learn to your cost, I fear, that I have neither exaggerated nor misinterpreted a word. As to the box, I have certainly never before seen one like it. It contained delicate machinery; of that I am convinced, from the way in which the men handled it and spoke of it.”
“You’d make out every packet of perishable goods to be a torpedo,” said Dick, “if that is to be your only test.”
“The man’s name was Flannigan,” I continued.
“I don’t think that would go very far in a court of law,” said Dick; “but come, I have finished my cigar. Suppose we go down together and split a bottle of claret. You can point out these two Orsinis to me if they are still in the cabin.”
“All right,” I answered; “I am determined not to lose sight of them all day. Don’t look hard at them, though, for I don’t want them to think that they are being watched.”
“Trust me,” said Dick; “I’ll look as unconscious and guileless as a lamb;” and with that we passed down the companion and into the saloon.
A good many passengers were scattered about the great central table, some wrestling with refractory carpet-bags and rug-straps, some having their luncheon, and a few reading and otherwise amusing themselves. The objects of our quest were not there. We passed down the room and peered into every berth, but there was no sign of them. “Heavens!” thought I, “perhaps at this very moment they are beneath our feet, in the hold or engine-room, preparing their diabolical contrivance!” It was better to know the worst than to remain in such suspense.
“Steward,” said Dick, “are there any other gentlemen about?”
“There’s two in the smoking room, sir,” answered the steward.
The smoking-room was a little snuggery, luxuriously fitted up, and adjoining the pantry. We pushed the door opened and entered. A sigh of relief escaped from my bosom. The very first object on which my eye rested was the cadaverous face of Flannigan, with its hard-set mouth and unwinking eye. His companion sat opposite to him. They were both drinking, and a pile of cards lay upon the table. They were engaged in playing as we entered. I nudged Dick to show him that we had found our quarry, and we sat down beside them with as unconcerned an air as possible. The two conspirators seemed to take little notice of our presence. I watched them both narrowly. The game at which they were playing was “Napoleon.” Both were adepts at it, and I could not help admiring the consummate nerve of men who, with such a secret at their hearts, could devote their minds to the manipulation of a long suit or the finessing of a queen. Money changed hands rapidly; but the run of luck seemed to be all against the taller of the two players. At last he threw down his cards on the table with an oath, and refused to go on.
“No, I’m hanged if I do,” he said; “I haven’t had more than two of a suit for five hands.”
“Never mind,” said his comrade, as he gathered up his winnings; “a few dollars one way or the other won’t go very far after to-night’s work.”