“Let me know of the result,” said my companion; and with a nod he strolled away in search, I fancy, of his partner at the dinner-table.
Left to myself, I bethought me of my retreat of the morning, and climbing on the bulwark I mounted into the quarter-boat, and lay down there. In it I could reconsider my course of action, and by raising my head I was able at any time to get a view of my disagreeable neighbours.
An hour passed, and the Captain was still on the bridge. He was talking to one of the passengers, a retired naval officer, and the two were deep in debate concerning some abstruse point of navigation. I could see the red tips of their cigars from where I lay. It was dark now, so dark that I could hardly make out the figures of Flannigan and his accomplice. They were still standing in the position which they had taken up after dinner. A few of the passengers were scattered about the deck, but many had gone below. A strange stillness seemed to pervade the air. The voices of the watch and the rattle of the wheel were the only sounds which broke the silence.
Another half-hour passed. The Captain was still upon the bridge. It seemed as if he would never come down. My nerves were in a state of unnatural tension, so much so that the sound of two steps upon the deck made me start up in a quiver of excitement. I peered over the edge of the boat, and saw that our suspicious passengers had crossed from the other side, and were standing almost directly beneath me. The light of a binnacle fell full upon the ghastly face of the ruffian Flannigan. Even in that short glance I saw that Muller had the ulster, whose use I knew so well, slung loosely over his arm. I sank back with a groan. It seemed that my fatal procrastination had sacrificed two hundred innocent lives.
I had read of the fiendish vengeance which awaited a spy. I knew that men with their lives in their hands would stick at nothing. All I could do was to cower at the bottom of the boat and listen silently to their whispered talk below.
“This place will do,” said a voice.
“Yes, the leeward side is best.”
“I wonder if the trigger will act?”
“I am sure it will.”
“We were to let it off at ten, were we not?”
“Yes, at ten sharp. We have eight minutes yet.” There was a pause. Then the voice began again–
“They’ll hear the drop of the trigger, won’t they?”
“It doesn’t matter. It will be too late for any one to prevent its going off.”
“That’s true. There will be some excitement among those we have left behind, won’t there?”
“Rather. How long do you reckon it will be before they hear of us?”
“The first news will get in at about midnight at earliest.”
“That will be my doing.”
“Ha, ha! we’ll settle that.”
There was a pause here. Then I heard Muller’s voice in a ghastly whisper, “There’s only five minutes more.”
How slowly the moments seemed to pass! I could count them by the throbbing of my heart.
“It’ll make a sensation on land,” said a voice.
“Yes, it will make a noise in the newspapers.”
I raised my head and peered over the side of the boat. There seemed no hope, no help. Death stared me in the face, whether I did or did not give the alarm. The Captain had at last left the bridge. The deck was deserted, save for those two dark figures crouching in the shadow of the boat.
Flannigan had a watch lying open in his hand.
“Three minutes more,” he said. “Put it down upon the deck.”
“No, put it here on the bulwarks.”
It was the little square box. I knew by the sound that they had placed it near the davit, and almost exactly under my head.
I looked over again. Flannigan was pouring something out of a paper into his hand. It was white and granular–the same that I had seen him use in the morning. It was meant as a fuse, no doubt, for he shovelled it into the little box, and I heard the strange noise which had previously arrested my attention.