The Doctor, who appeared to be a man of iron nerves, had settled down to a book, but I observed that every now and then he laid it upon his knee, and took an earnest look all round him. For my part, although I tried once or twice to read, I found it impossible to concentrate my thoughts upon the book. They would always wander back to this great empty silent room, and to the sinister mystery which overshadowed it. I racked my brains for some possible theory which would explain the disappearance of these two men. There was the black fact that they were gone, and not the least tittle of evidence as to why or whither. And here we were waiting in the same place–waiting without an idea as to what we were waiting for. I was right in saying that it was not a one-man job. It was trying enough as it was, but no force upon earth would have kept me there without a comrade.
What an endless, tedious night it was! Outside we heard the lapping and gurgling of the great river, and the soughing of the rising wind. Within, save for our breathing, the turning of the Doctor’s pages, and the high, shrill ping of an occasional mosquito, there was a heavy silence. Once my heart sprang into my mouth as Severall’s book suddenly fell to the ground and he sprang to his feet with his eyes on one of the windows.
“Did you see anything, Meldrum?”
“No. Did you?”
“Well, I had a vague sense of movement outside that window.” He caught up his gun and approached it. “No, there’s nothing to be seen, and yet I could have sworn that something passed slowly across it.”
“A palm leaf, perhaps,” said I, for the wind was growing stronger every instant.
“Very likely,” said he, and settled down to his book again, but his eyes were for ever darting little suspicious glances up at the window. I watched it also, but all was quiet outside.
And then suddenly our thoughts were turned into a new direction by the bursting of the storm. A blinding flash was followed by a clap which shook the building. Again and again came the vivid white glare with thunder at the same instant, like the flash and roar of a monstrous piece of artillery. And then down came the tropical rain, crashing and rattling on the corrugated iron roofing of the cooperage. The big hollow room boomed like a drum. From the darkness arose a strange mixture of noises, a gurgling, splashing, tinkling, bubbling, washing, dripping–every liquid sound that nature can produce from the thrashing and swishing of the rain to the deep steady boom of the river. Hour after hour the uproar grew louder and more sustained.
“My word,” said Severall, “we are going to have the father of all the floods this time. Well, here’s the dawn coming at last and that is a blessing. We’ve about exploded the third night superstition anyhow.”
A grey light was stealing through the room, and there was the day upon us in an instant. The rain had eased off, but the coffee-coloured river was roaring past like a waterfall. Its power made me fear for the anchor of the _Gamecock_.
“I must get aboard,” said I. “If she drags she’ll never be able to beat up the river again.”
“The island is as good as a breakwater,” the Doctor answered. “I can give you a cup of coffee if you will come up to the house.”
I was chilled and miserable, so the suggestion was a welcome one. We left the ill-omened cooperage with its mystery still unsolved, and we splashed our way up to the house.
“There’s the spirit lamp,” said Severall. “If you would just put a light to it, I will see how Walker feels this morning.”
He left me, but was back in an instant with a dreadful face.
“He’s gone!” he cried hoarsely.
The words sent a thrill of horror through me. I stood with the lamp in my hand, glaring at him.
“Yes, he’s gone!” he repeated. “Come and look!”
I followed him without a word, and the first thing that I saw as I entered the bedroom was Walker himself lying huddled on his bed in the grey flannel sleeping suit in which I had helped to dress him on the night before.
“Not dead, surely!” I gasped.
The Doctor was terribly agitated. His hands were shaking like leaves in the wind.
“He’s been dead some hours.”
“Was it fever?”
“Fever! Look at his foot!”
I glanced down and a cry of horror burst from my lips. One foot was not merely dislocated, but was turned completely round in a most grotesque contortion.