The Murders on the Moon-Ship can be found in




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IMAGINE a handful of space ship between the earth and moon. In their midst is a merciless destroyer. He strikes not once but five times—each time in a different manner. The crew and passengers are terrified—they suspect each other—madness begins... such is the material that this story is made of.

It is enough to say that fear is the greatest aid of the murderer; just as it is ultimately his own undoing. If he wishes to kill any person he need only make them aware of the fact and arouse in the victim's mind such a feeling of terror that he will betray himself to his assassin. For when terror grips us, we cannot reason, we cannot take the ordinary precautions that should be used to defend our-selves.

Then, too, it is fear of apprehension that leads the criminal to ultimately leave some track that will betray him. For in the game of chess that he plays with the forces of order, it needs. only one false move to lead to disaster.

We are sure our readers will enjoy this engrossing story of humor, tragedy and mad terror in the interplanetary spaces.


THE last case was aboard: the final handshakes were over. The last passenger, a fussy little fellow in a check suit, had at length given heed to the frantic hooting of the siren, disengaged himself from the powerful embraces of an oversized yet lachrymose female: and, clutching his ticket in one hand, and a tenanted parrot cage in the other, made a breathless and hatless dive for the gangway.

To old and seasoned space-fliers like Professor Galloway and myself, there was something ludicrous in all this emotional bustle, this fuss and pother over a little hop to the Moon; but, then, in all probability the majority of the voyagers had never before left the Earth, while there might even have been some, incredible though it may sound to my twenty-first century readers, who had never before travelled beyond the boundaries of their own continent.

Nevertheless, as the captain radioed the starting signal for the first atomic explosions to propel our bullet-like liner through the twenty-mile starting tunnel in the Welsh hills, I fancy that even my bald-headed and fossilised old friend must have felt an odd thrill, although the only emotion he displayed was extreme irritability at the departure time being at least two minutes behind schedule.

Whatever old Galloway felt, I know that I, D.S.O., explorer, one-time secret service man, and erstwhile War Correspondent though I was, never left for a trip to the moon without a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as we commenced that tremendous acceleration through the tube. And despite all the refinements in the way of gravity stabilisers, velocity equalisers, these "stats", and those "stats", with which all modern moonships were equipped, on this particular occasion, that sinking feeling seemed more intense than ever before. It was as though my reactions were warning me of the terrible events which were to take place, before the X22 reached its destination.

The X22 was one of the Packet Company's latest vessels, with eight-cylinder atomic propulsion engines, and a host of mechanical gadgets which did not interest me in the slightest, for I am no engineer. What did interest me was the excellent cuisine, and the really comfy little cabins, to say nothing of the varied and extensive stock of sparkling wines laid in by the discriminating purser. And noting the general air of luxury, comfort, and home-from-home-ishness, as we made our way through the Earth's atmospheric belt, I forgot all about my premonitions, and began cheerfully to anticipate this two months' trip as a veritable oasis. It would be, after the hardships old Galloway and myself had undergone on the wild mesas of South America during the past two fears, collecting his confounded specimens, and contracting malaria. Once we reached the Professor's Lunar observatory, I knew the old grind would begin again, but for the next two months, I told myself, I was just going to vegetate in blissful tranquillity, and friend Galloway could go to the devil and take his beloved fossils with him.

The professor had other ideas however. We had scarcely reached the zone of outer space, when I encountered him in the billiard room, surrounded by a group of admiring passengers who Were plying him with questions about the moon, his work, space, the fifth dimension, the missing link, and a hundred and one other scientific puzzles, for Galloway's brilliance and catholicity of accomplishment were bywords throughout the whole world.

A BORN showman, my old friend rose superbly to the occasion. His eyes sparkled, his long white mustachios, which always reminded me of a comic opera brigand, seemed to take on a fiercer aspect. And even his polished bald head seemed to glisten with greater iridescence, as he spoke of his wonderful laboratory and observatory on the moon, of the artificial production of air and the synthesis of water on the satellite: of the strange two-dimensional natives of the moon, who could live intelligently without water, food or atmosphere, and finally of our two years' search among the rocks of the little known South American plateau for fossil specimens of "missing links" in the evolutionary chain. Finally, with a soft graciousness which was in total contrast to the vicious irascibility which he was wont to display in controversy, he hoisted a chubby little fellow of about seven years old, who had asked him if "He found any bird's eggs in South 'Merica?", and promised to show him on the morrow not only birds' eggs, but alligators' eggs, and strange animals in stone that had roamed the earth ages ago.

The next few days passed peacefully enough, with Professor Galloway very much in the limelight. Through the windows of the lounge he would point out the beauties of the heavenly bodies set like jewels gin the dead blackness of outer space: he would discuss orbitary navigation with the spatial officers, or repeat his little scientific talks to the passengers who were delighted and surprised to find such an eminent personage, as accessible and agreeably informative. But, wherever my old friend went, he was accompanied by little Jackie Hilliard, whose parents had much ado tearing the young rascal away at sleeping time to get him to bed.

In all my long experience, I had never seen Galloway unbend to such a degree, nor had I ever known him show so much affection for anyone as he appeared to do for this small boy, who, I should imagine must have tried Galloway's colossal mind with his infantile queries; but then space flying, like sea voyaging, seems to make people more friendly. The child's parents were a good-looking young couple: none too well off, if I might judge by appearances, and no doubt making their way to the moon with a view to settling down there and improving their prospects.

Our other passengers were more interesting to the student of humanity. Most interesting was Docteur Emile Fouchard, of psychic and metaphysical fame, a tall gaunt man with a trim people, travelling on a beard, a air of mystery, and the clothes of an undertaker: He had little to say, but when he did speak he gesticulated like a circus contortionist, and almost invariably in a low musically intoned yet uncanny voice he would quote some adage anent the insecurity of human life, or throw out some dark hint of coming peril. After the first day or two, the other passengers made a practice of "seeing him first," and giving him the air, and for hours he would sit musing in a chair, fingering an exotic ring, which he had informed me came from the V tombs of the Pharaohs, or poring over his favorite volume, a leather-covered copy of Shakespeare's "Hamlet".

The fellow got on my nerves, there was something sinister about him; that's the word, sinister, although the American purser, Minott, used another characteristic Yankee term; something to do with insects; ah, yes, "bughouse", that was it. At least that was how I remember it.

A Goodly Crew

IT was almost a relief to turn to Mrs. Van Stokes, who, if she was fat and vulgar, and overpoweringly reminiscent of pork, was at any rate cheerful and happy. She claimed to be the widow of a rich pickle packer, although I suspected her widowhood was of the grass rather than the common or garden variety. She furnished a sort of comic relief to our scene.

Then there were the Ruttledge twins, Beatrice and Cornelia, sprightly young ladies of twenty summers apiece: honorable, leaders of the Bright Young People who attempted to paint London red, and only succeeded in imparting a rose pink tinge to some of the more insignificant suburbs. Born practical jokers, they found Dr. Fouchard, and poor old Galloway ready made butts for their rather broad humor, which consisted in such silly tricks as binding Fouchard's feet together while he browsed over "Hamlet", or neatly tying the printed legend "Lost" to the back of the professor's smoking jacket while one of his impromptu lectures was in progress. Next to Fouchard, I liked the Ruttledge twins least of all among my fellow passengers.

Then there was Adolph Bratz, the piano virtuoso, long haired and unkempt, but with a lurid reputation alike as a hammer breaker, and home breaker. He was very friendly with Mr. and Mrs. Hilliard, and I later found that he was financing their trip, though why, I couldn't imagine, for neither of the Hilliards knew a Beethoven Sonata from the five-finger exercise.

And last but not least in self-importance was the fussy little fellow in the check suit, who rejoiced in the name of Henry V. Johnson. He was a physics teacher in a small-town high school, and was out with the purpose to teach the world; his trip to the moon being the result of his winning a prize offered by a Sunday Paper: place the most popular planets in order, first prize a trip to the moon, all found! You know the kind of thing! Anyway, Johnson had won, and here he was, with his parrot "Priscilla the bargain. (He confided to Galloway, "As one scientist to another", that he was taking the parrot, to test the lunar atmosphere, before he stepped out of the ship to risk a breath himself. To his mind it was a new way of "trying it on the dog" which somehow got to the ears of the Ruttledge twins after which Johnson's life became a misery).

So you will see that we were rather a mixed lot. McFee, the Scottish engineer, put it very pawkily, when he whispered to me on the second day out, "Present company awilways excepted; Majorr, they're a gey queer carrgo this trrip."

The personnel of a space-flier is not of course very extensive. Captain Brant I knew well: we had played in the same footfall team, and I had perfect confidence in his courage and ability in all emergencies. Like myself, he was getting a little worse for wear these days, but there was plenty of life in the old dog yet, and he could have given many a younger man a good run for his money at half a dozen forms of athletics. With Minott, the purser, McFee, the engineer, Olsen, the radio-man, and Sheppard, the navigator, we had as hard-boiled a group of officers as ever stepped aboard a space-flier.

Of menial members of the crew of course, there was no sign, for the purely menial tasks were carried out by robots of striking design and characteristics. I had almost forgotten a most important member of the personnel, Mrs. McNamara, the stewardess, a cockney with an accent you would out with a knife, and a tamper that made old confirmed bachelors like Galloway and myself thank our lucky stars.


CHAPTER II.

The First Disaster

HERE we were then, seventeen souls speeding away from the earth, as fast as atomic disintegration could carry us, each with his or her own secret ambitions and aspirations: each with his or her own secret fears. From the first, our isolation Welded us together into a large family and before we had been a week out, we felt we had known each other all our lives.

Then, like a sudden thunderbolt, came the first blow which heralded the reign of terror through which we were to pass, the first blow which was to undermine our confidence in one another, and to make us go about suspecting each other and fearing for our very lives.

The first blow was comic, ludicrous, "damned silly nonsense," as Galloway put it. Johnson's blessed parrot was found dead in its cage! Just that, nothing more! There was no sign of molestation. The cage was undamaged. It stood on the centre table, in Johnson's cabin just as he had left it when he retired for the night. In the morning, the parrot was lying dead in its cage. Everyone sympathised with the little physics teacher to his face, and smiled at his forlorn countenance, behind his back. But Johnson was not so easily pacified. He openly accused Professor Galloway of poisoning the bird, and raved and ranted for an hour or more to Captain Brant, who had great difficulty in controlling his own sense of risibility. Nothing would please Johnson but a thorough examination, not only of the carcass, but also of the bird seed and water.

The matter was somewhat complicated as Galloway was the only one aboard who had the necessary technical qualifications for such a task, and the professor was unfortunately, "prisoner at the bar" so to speak. Questioned as to why a eminent professor like my friend should stoop to such a petty and unnecessary act, Johnson reiterated again that it was professional jealousy. He had got the better of an argument with the professor the night before, Galloway had got very angry: ergo, Galloway had poisoned the parrot out of spite.

Everyone took the matter as a joke except Johnson, and of course Galloway, who lost all of his amiability, and gave vent to a string of expletives that almost upset the ship. We left the two reviling one another, and I turned in with Captain Brant, for a smoke and a yarn.

"Come to think of it, you know, Major, the professor was a little bit rude to the dominie last night."

"Oh!" I ejaculated for I had spent the evening discussing Brahms with Herr Bratz.

"Yeah, the old man had been displaying some of his fossils and lecturing a select group about the discrepancies in Lamarck's theories, when Johnson butted in with a query about suspended animation. This upset Galloway, who inquired whether he wanted any more irrelevant information for his kindergarten cranium, such as the number of legs a caterpillar possessed, or whether elephants lay eggs. But little Johnson stuck to his guns and told a cock and bull story about a toad that was found by some miners blasting, embedded in rock formations at least a thousand years old. The miners thought it was a fossil, but some director of natural history thought otherwise, applied oxygen and restoratives, and the toad came to life, and for a matter of three weeks or so, frisked about, at the end of which time he was attacked by another toad in the laboratory and died.

"Old man Galloway fairly snorted at that: he was sore at his little lecture being interrupted with such twaddle, but Johnson, with a smile of triumph, produced old faded cuttings authenticating his story. This fairly riled the professor, who described the whole affair as a silly hoax, one thing led to another until Galloway so far forgot himself as to call Johnson a liar, to which Johnson's parrot made the classic retort, and Galloway's sense of repartee was worn so thin that he could only reply that if such states of suspended animation really existed, the sooner Johnson entered one the better, and he had better take his confounded parrot with him. And that concluded the programme for the evening. Both went to their own cabins looking daggers at one another."

"UM. I see. Still surely no one believes Galloway would do such a stupid act."

"No, only Johnson can conceive such action, and he is suffering under a sense of grievance. When he comes to his senses, he'll realise like the rest of us that the damned thing died a natural death. It's just coincidence that he quarrelled with the professor the night before."

As I made my way to my own cabin, I could hear Galloway and Johnson still at it: the one arguing angrily against the other, much to the secret amusement of the Ruttledge twins. Come to think of it if there was foul play about this beastly parrot business, it looked much mote like these mischief-making young females' work than poor old Galloway's. But then, although they were fond of fun I could not picture these young ladies descending to such useless cruelty. The day wore on, and for the first time Galloway did not lecture in the billiard room. Truth to tell, this confounded parrot business had got on everybody's nerves, and one and all were glad when sleeping time arrived, and we could make excuses to steal off to our own cabins.

Personally, I felt awfully disturbed. Even I still peg of O.P. whiskey could not woo for me sleep, and I lay tossing from side to side. After all, there was something damned funny about a healthy parrot popping off suddenly like that, and Galloway had behaved very strangely for him since coming aboard! At length I fell into a troubled sleep in which parrots with beaks like pterodactyls chased me all over the moon. A loud gurgling woke me. I sat up, fully awake, my heart pounding with the sudden start. Footsteps? Yes, then a cry for help: it was Galloway. Was Johnson attacking him? I grasped my automatic and made my way to the place from which I guessed the cry to have come. It was Johnson's cabin. Switching on the light, what a sight met my eyes! Galloway stood supporting Johnson. Both were in their night attire. From Johnson's neck the blood spattered and spurted like a fountain despite Galloway's efforts to swab it. In Johnson's face was a drawn look of terror, such as I had never before beheld, and on the floor I was horrified to note the professor's ivory paper knife in a pool of blood.

The noise had attracted the others, and passengers and officers alike were crowding into the doorway. Brant waved the women back, and closed the door. Johnson was already beyond help, a jagged wound through the carotid of the size he had experienced was more than any man could survive. The Captain took in the situation at a glance. McFee stood over the professor with my automatic, but Galloway seemed too dazed to comprehend the situation. When at last he realised he was under arrest for murder, he protested his innocence bitterly and vehemently, and called Brant and the rest of us all the fools and dolts, urging us that while we fooled about with him, the murderer was making his escape.

Pro and Con

BUT the damning evidence of the paper knife, and the wound in Johnson's neck, which was just such a gash as the ivory knife would make, at length made him realise that further protest was useless, and with a sigh he resigned himself to the inevitable. What an object lesson, I thought to myself, for those with uncontrollable tempers. A few hasty words over some scientific triviality had led one of the most brilliant men of science to commit a cowardly murder. I couldn't bring myself to believe in his innocence despite his protests. I knew his bursts of passion too well; but I listened to his faltering account of the incident, with a quaking heart, for we were friends of old standing.

According to Galloway, he had been awakened by a peculiar swishing noise which he could not describe. He arose to investigate, and switching on the light, grasped the paper knife as the only available weapon, although what he feared aboard the Moonship, he had to admit, he could not say. Then he heard Johnson cry out, a deep gurgling sound followed: he raced into Johnson's room, and by the glimmer of light from his own cabin opposite saw that Johnson was lying back in his bed bleeding grievously from the neck. Dropping the paper knife, he attempted to arrest the flow of blood with the bed covers and was so doing, when I made my entrance.

We all listened politely, but none of us were very impressed. The defence was just a shade too complete. It covered all the obvious points, as for instance, why Galloway had not switched on the light, and the presence of the paper knife, and we were all really relieved when Captain Brant had him conducted to a spare cabin under guard, so that we might talk more freely.

Of course, the only thing to do under the circumstances was to radio the spatial station from which a speedy magnetic rocket with a police official would be dispatched to take charge of the case, but we were one and all bowed down with the horror of the tragedy. That is all except Dr. Emile Fouchard. The inhuman wretch seemed in his glory, and punctuated our gloom with his horrible fatalistic quotations of which his crop seemed at all times to be full.

Suddenly, he veered round excitedly "Captain, you av we wrong man. I am sure. In ze first place, look at we daggair. It lies in a pool of blood. Zat is true, but note carefully, ze point does not lie in ze blood, and for two inches from we point, is it not white and glistening, innocent of blood? Has the assassin then used ze haft of ze daggair, to make ze puncture? No! for ze haft is blunt. It looks then, that we professair is of an innocence as he declare.

"Considair too, he made a cry for help. Would he have made that cry if he had been guilty before the murdair 'ad been smoothed ovair, and he made his escape. He was assist ze victim, when he knew that if guilty, recovery would spell disaster for himself."

The latter part of le docteur's speech did not impress me much, for Galloway would have acted just so, I knew, had he, in a moment of passion struck Johnson. He would have done everything in his power to undo the wrong, but the evidence of the paper knife was conclusive. For a couple of inches from the point, there was not the slightest trace of blood and it's general appearance bore out Galloway's statement that he had dropped the paper knife to render first aid to Johnson.

Bract's face was a study. "Well, if the professor did not kill Johnson, who the Hades did, can you tell me that, Docteur?" Fouchard smiled that horrible sinister smile of his. "Ah, who can zay? There are now sixteen of us aboard, it may be any one of us. Who knows? But one of us it must be, unless a spirit.... "

"Tush," put in Brant roughly. "Pretty hefty spirit made this mess. Besides, none of us here believes in spirits."

"No, zat is a pity. ‘There are more things in 'eaven and earth that are dream't of in your philosophy'. Who knows, who knows?" and the docteur glided out of the room.

"That bird puts years on me," said Min-ott, the purser. "Betcha life he knows more about the job than he says."

"THATS quite enough; Minott," rebuked the Captain, "Tell Olsen to radio the spatial station, and inform them of the occurrence. It's out of my depth, and I need help. In the meantime, Major, let us have a talk with the professor, and see if we can do anything to solve the mystery."

We moved to Galloway's prison. My old friend looked twenty years older than he had the previous night. The terrible accusation was bearing heavily upon him. He welcomed us with a wan smile of hopelessness, but when we informed him of our finding of the knife's innocence in the affair, his face brightened perceptibly, and he wrung our hands with delight.

There was still much to clear up however. As Brant said, if Galloway was innocent, who was guilty? And, even more mysterious, if the paper knife had not made the fatal wound in Johnson's neck, what had? We had searched the apartment, but no trace of a weapon could be found. Galloway was as nonplussed as the Captain and myself. While we were investigating, I noted some scraps of burnt paper by the side of the lamp. Well, there might be a clue here. The three of us took up the scraps. Whoever had done the burning had made a bad job of it, for there were several scraps containing words in a feminine hand. It was a tedious business smoothing out the fragments, but what a reward, what a clue! When we had finished, it read, with many a gap between:—

"Dea n
You must                           me       see  you.
My husband knows all.         s      n      r     game
            if           rent     h         w      intrigued
cad      Rotter       m          you    remember
I just love          sneer        t             make a false
move    I           kill        sight                 sin
trice"

Brant gave a low whistle. "A most incriminating document". "Yes," said Galloway, "We never thought of the women, but it's a case of, 'Cherchez la femme,' once more."

"Um, question is, which woman? 'trice' is obviously Beatrice, but there are three Beatrices aboard. One of the Ruttledge twins, but we can count her out as she's a spinster: the Van Stokes female, who may or may not be a widow: and Mrs. Hilliard."

"Well, I bet it's the fat woman," put in the Captain. "I hate the sight of that amorous overfed creature. Just the kind to be carrying on an intrigue with every man she meets. In fact, she's been chasing me around since the moment she came aboard."

"Um, yes, but I never heard of a fat man committing murder, Captain!"

"No, Major, but this is a fat woman, and Belle Guinness wasn't exactly two-dimensional, y'know!"

Even under the horrible circumstances, we had to laugh at the Captain's prejudice. Still, that wasn't getting us any further. I was inclined to agree with Galloway that the most likely Beatrice was Mrs. Hilliard, modest and demure though she had always appeared. For one thing, she was the only woman who could be definitely proved to have a husband, for another, that husband was aboard, and the note seemed to me, to reveal the fact that the husband had discovered the intrigue since coming aboard, even if it had been of long standing.


CHAPTER III.

Another Tragedy

MY own theory was that Hilliard had dispatched Johnson, in a jealous frenzy. But there was such an inglorious uncertainty about the whole affair, that Brant could hardly arrest anyone. Finally, it was decided to keep Hilliard under surveillance, while I kept an eye on the Beatrices. I made my way to the lounge, where the women were huddled together. As yet, they merely knew that Johnson had met with some accident or other, and when I entered, I was plied with questions from all of them. Well, I'm not much of a bad news breaker, and I blurted out the truth before I knew what I was doing.

Mrs. Van Stokes had hysterics, Mrs. Hilliard was visibly affected; the stewardess crossed herself, and only the Ruttledge twins seemed cool: damned callous in fact: didn't turn an individual or collective hair, so to speak. Still, they busied themselves looking after the other females, fetching water and smelling salts, and all that kind of thing.

I suddenly remembered I had a bottle of brandy in my cabin, and was hastening along the corridor when I met Minott, the purser, with a face on which sheer funk was written all over.

"Major Burnett—come—Olsen—horrible—dead, bumped off in the radio room."

We hastened to the room. Olsen was in a standing position, his right hand on the electric light switch, as though he had just entered the room. His posture was almost lifelike, but when I looked at his face, my God, what a look of loathing and terror was there! I have seen scores of dead men on the battlefields, but I never saw such a haunting look of dread as I beheld on Olsen's dead face. Minott and I closed the door, retraced our steps to my cabin and each took a tot of brandy. Then we searched out Captain Brant.

When the Captain heard of the second murder, he was almost beside himself. There was something devilish uncanny about the whole affair. A murder or two on land, in an hotel say, well, it was bad enough: but one could get away from the location, but here driving through a vacuum in a shell-like contrivance: here we had some fiend in our midst and we could not get away from the peril. There were only fifteen of us now, and it must be one of the fifteen, yet who? who? who?

Brant, having himself radioed the spatial station, rounded up the passengers and officers alike. It was then that we missed Herr Bratz, the pianist. Come to think of it, we hadn't seen him when the first murder was discovered, and he had never turned up since. Putting two and two together, he seemed a bit sweet on young Mrs. Hilliard, was often in her company. Looked as though Hilliard wasn't the murderer at. ter all, but that Bratz and Johnson were rivals, and Bratz had dispatched the physics teacher, and then hidden himself. Olsen's death squared with that. Bratz had overheard the Captain suggesting the calling of the spatial station, and fearing immediate detection, he had disposed of the wireless man.

The problem was, where was he hiding? An organised search was commenced. Bratz' cabin lay at the further end of the corridor. It was empty, nor was there any indication that anything was amiss. A large quill pen lay in a bottle of ink, and on the same desk, a pile of music manuscript paper was arrayed. The chaiir in front of the desk had been pushed aside slightly, as though the musician had been interrupted in his composition by some noise outside, and had arisen to investigate the cause.

Outside the cabin, the corridor hereabouts terminated in a cul de sac, which was rather dark, even when the lights were on in the passage. We were just about to leave the cabin, when Mrs. Hilliard, who had followed us, uttered a little cry, and darted into the dark corner, where she fell to her knees sobbing "Jack, oh! Jack".

A DARK object lay by her. It was Bratz, dead as a doornail. Here then was the end of the mystery. Bratz was the murderer and he had committed suicide. Even as we assisted the grief-stricken woman, I couldn't help thinking that it was funny a noted pianist should have "Jack" for Christian name; a silly woman's pet name, I supposed.

It was while we were grouped around Bratz, that McFee announced sighting the spatial station's rocket, and in a very few moments we were conversing with Marshal Merrivale, the investigation officer from the station. Now, if this account was a fiction thriller, instead of an authentic narrative of cold fact, Merrivale would be introduced as an exceedingly brilliant amateur detective, with a knowledge of all branches of science, half a dozen unheard of detection machines, a private fortune and a liking for opium. On these lines, Merrivale was rather a disappointment.

He was a small man, with rather nice gray eyes, a moderately high broad forehead, protruding ears, tight-set lips, and a good deal of chin. He was about thirty-six or so to judge from appearances, and obviously physically fit although by no means of the ultra-athletic type. He didn't take drugs, he didn't smoke incessantly," nor drink absinthe: he didn't even chew gum.

Of course, we had all solved the mystery by this time. The culprit was dead by his own hand. We handed over the evidence in the form of the ivory knife. The incriminating document, and what few other odds and ends there were to Merrivale, and then we all informed him of our own pet views on the matter, to all of which he listened with grave politeness. The truth is, we were all immensely relieved now that the murdered was dead. Three deaths in one night were horrible enough, but infinitely more horrible had been the suspense, with suspicion hanging over everyone. And with the relief, our tongues were loosened. Merrivale must have been fed up with all the twaddle we talked, but he heard us out.

Only Dr. Fouchard dissented from the popular view that Bratz had committed suicide. Hilliard was attempting to pacify his wife, who was almost beside herself with grief. Funny kind of cuss, Hilliard must be, I admitted, but I could not agree with Fouchard that the husband had dispatched both Johnson and Bratz. At length, Merrivale must have tired of our chatter, for he turned to the Captain abruptly and intimated that he would like to inspect the rooms where the murders had taken place.

I accompanied Merrivale, and for some hours we worked together although I must confess my contributions consisted in fetching and carrying of the most elementary kind. Examination of Olsen's body showed that he had been poisoned, but the poison was one which Merrivale could not identify. The administration had been through a puncture in the back of the neck, as though a minute hypodermic had been used. In Bratz's case, a similar puncture was found on the wrist of the right hand, and several punctures on the back of the left hand. The same poison was evident. In Johnson's case, no trace of poison was found, the big jagged wound being evidently the only cause of death, nor were there any traces of the telltale punctures of the skin.

I could see that Merrivale, unlike the all-triumphant investigator of tradition, was all at sea, so to speak. Two things puzzled him greatly, the fact that if the murders had a common source, the murderer had varied his technique: if he possessed such a subtle means of poisoning, why had he resorted to the comparatively clumsy method of stabbing in the case of Johnson, and then again, where was the weapon which had dispatched the little, schoolmaster? Merrivale, unlike the usual ‘tee, was only too glad to talk about his deductions; probably on the principle that two heads are better than one, even if the second be only of the mutton variety; and we discussed the situation together for a long time.

Too Many Theories

"YOU know, Major, I am sure of one thing, and that is, that the pianist did not commit suicide. For one thing, you see in the case of Olsen, the radio man, the poison evidently acted so rapidly that he had no time to stagger toward a chair. He just died where he stood, with his hand on the light switch. That he saw his assailant is evident from the look of horror on his face. He was evidently attacked the moment he switched on the light, and died the next instant. Bratz died from the same poison, administered in the same way. But where Olsen has but one puncture Bratz has several on his hands. Now, if the solitary puncture on the right hand was self-inflicted (an ambidextrous pianist such as Bratz could of course easily operate a hypodermic with his left hand) even if the poison did not kill him instantly, it would most certainly act with such rapidity that the right hand would be instantly rendered powerless; certainly it would be paralysed to such a degree that it would be impossible to transfer the hypodermic syringe from the left hand to it, much less inflict the other wounds on the left hand. And even more elementary, how is it we have not recovered the syringe, or other injection instrument? The assumed suicide could not have had the strength to have thrown it far or to have risen and concealed it, yet we have found no sign of it in the darkened cul de sac."

I had to confess that our theory of suicide did not sound so probable after all. Merrivale continued:—

"There is another very elementary point which everybody seems to have missed. Although Bratz was the last victim to be discovered, examination of the bodies clearly demonstrates that he was the first to die. There is little doubt that he was killed about 11 P. M. last night, while Johnson was not killed until about 2 o'clock in the morning. It is therefore evident that not only did he not take his own life, but that he could not possibly have killed Johnson, nor silenced Olsen."

"Ah, then Johnson killed him, and then took his own life," I suggested.

"And, I suppose rose from the dead, and bumped oil Olsen at 3.30 a.m.," commented Merrivale satirically. "Hardly admissible! Of course, as Olsen died last of the three, he's technically the most likely to have killed the others, and then slipped his own cable, but there are several factors against that theory. First, there's that look of horror: then, Olsen was a big burly musclebound individual, who would have found it a physical impossibility to put that puncture in the back of his own neck: then again, there's no sign of the weapon. No, I believe all three were murdered and therefore the murderer is still at large."

"Um! not a very pleasing prospect, Marshal. Still, one thing puzzles me. Olsen was leaning against the jamb of the door: his assailant was evidently directly in front of him, from the look of horror in his eyes, yet he had just as evidently been attacked from behind, although there is very little space between his head and the wall."

MERRIVALE was about to reply when Dr. Fouchard strolled in. With his usual insolent suaveness, he commenced right away to air his views much to Merrivale's apparent amusement and I must confess, my own annoyance.

"'Ave you obsairved, Monsieur de Police, zat juist by ze place where Olsen died, ze wood of ze jamb is damage'; as though a blunt instrument 'ad been forced against it?"

He was obviously excited and gesticulated wildly, throwing his arms about. As he did so, I subconsciously noted that there was a difference about his hands, but could not think what it was. We examined the jamb, and sure enough, to the left of the spot where Olsen's head had been, the wood was splintered as though someone had made a vicious jab with a ragged edged jack-knife. Fouchard smiled in triumph. He turned to me and wiggled his middle finger.

"And you, Monsieur le Majeur, Ave you noticed the ragged tears in Herr Bratz's smoking jacket?"

I quickly seized his gesticulating hand and held it firm, "No, we have not, but we have observed the startling fact that you no longer wear that massive Egyptian ring!"

Fouchard tried to withdraw his hand, but I held him firm. His face blanched. "Surely," he stammered, "You do not tick I Ave commit ze murdairs. For what motive, I ask?"

"Look here," spat out Merrivale, "What the blazes has the disappearance of your ring got to do with the murders? Major Burnett never mentioned murder. Still it seems to have turned you a bit queer."

"Yes, no, he knows ze ring was not ordinaire: it 'ave ze subtle Egyptian poison, so zat ze great Pharaoh may himself release from ze bondage of life. I carry it, and tick, I may sometime grow tired of life, too. Yesterday, I lose the ring. I search, I cannot find him. And you suspect me, it is terrible! terrible!"

"Um, gets nuttier. Anyway, whether your story is right or wrong, Docteur, you're under arrest right now. If we can find the ring, we'll analyse its contents, if any, and compare the poisons. If they are identical, then you can only be innocent by a devilish long coincidence."

Despite Fouchard's gesticulations and protests, Merrivale had him locked up in his cabin, pending further inquiries. Personally I was quite convinced of his guilt. Merrivale had an open mind. If the Docteur had mislaid the ring, it was possible a third party had found it and committed the murders with its aid. On the other hand—well—I was developing a headache-over the whole affair!

We commenced a thorough search of the passage in which Bratz lay. We verified the fact that there were several ragged tears in Bratz's attire. We also found several scratches and jagged holes in the flooring about the body, but I for one did not overlook the possibility of Fonchard having made these marks and also the mark by Olsen's head, to throw a red herring in our path of investigation. As we were about to conclude our investigation, I noted something glistening in a corner of the ornamental skirting. I picked up the object: it was Fouchard's ring. The Marshal and myself made our way to my cabin to talk things over. Here we encountered Galloway, who had been sleeping for the last hour or so, and Captain Brant. We acquainted them with the latest developments.

"Well," was the Captain's verdict. "It looks to me as though you have the right man. Fouchard did the murders, and attempted to fasten them on Bratz, by leaving his ring in the pianist's hand, so that it would look like suicide. But the ring slipped from the pianist's lifeless fingers, and being round, rolled along for a considerable distance before lodging in the skirting. That upset the docteur's plans, and he evidently searched the spot for the ring without success, while you were examining the radio room. He then conceived the plan of making the ragged tears in his jacket, and when he got you safely out of the radio room he duplicated the performance there on the door jamb to throw you off the scent."

"Very likely, but perhaps not, Captain. If that were so, why should Fouchard be the only one to contest the general idea of suicide on the part of the pianist in the first place? Surely it was in his interest to foster the idea. Anyway, if Professor Galloway will assist me, we'll make a thorough examination of the ring and its contents."


CHAPTER IV.

Muddied Trails

W E were advancing down the corridor to Galloway's cabin, when we heard the most terrible row going on below. We hastened down the companion way fearing the worst, to find Mrs. McNamara engaged in a fierce altercation with Minott.

When we finally could arrest the flow of Billingsgate from the fair stewardess's lips, we learned that tabloid foods and vitamin concentrates had been disappearing mysteriously. Minott had called Mrs. McNamara to account for the discrepancy in her stock of these goods, and this was the result.

We all laughed heartily: this bit of comic relief was welcome enough after the tension of the last twenty-four hours. The incident sufficed however, to delay the examination of the ring, and Merrivale must have momentarily forgotten about it for on ascending, he announced his intention of interviewing the Hilliards, with a view to ascertaining the connection between the incriminating letter and the affair. There was also the undoubted affection of the lady for Bratz to consider.

When we entered we saw that Mrs. Hilliard had composed herself somewhat. The boy was sleeping peacefully in his cot; while Hilliard was resting on the arm of his wife's chair. As we entered the woman rose and came towards us saying "I hope you will excuse me, gentlemen, but, you know my brother's death has come as a fearful shock."

"Johnson your brother?" I cried, astounded.

She shook her head. "No, the man you knew as Herr Bratz was my brother. He was no more German than you, Major, but at an early age he realised that talent alone would not get him far with an English audience, who always dote on foreigners. He studied for a time in Germany, became 'Herr Bratz', and was lauded to the skies by the public. As plain Jack Wilson from Rochdale, he would never have had a look in, in the West End. So thoroughly did he practise the deception, that he learned German like a native, and seldom spoke anything else. We all kept his secret: he was good, kind, and generous, though he was a bit wild," and Mrs. Hilliard fell to sobbing again.

"Well, that clears up one mystery," said Merrivale. "Now, we do not want to hurt you in your sorrow, Mrs. Hilliard, but there is certain information of vital importance which you alone can give us. Do you remember writing a note to Johnson shortly before he died?"

"Why yes," she said frankly enough. "I sent him an invitation to come along and see us. Jackie ran along with it and popped it through the door. You see Frank (her husband) and I once met him on a conducted tour in Holland, and we did not recognise him at first, he had changed so; so as soon as it came to us who the little man in the check suit was, I sent him an invitation to come along for a game of cards with us."

"That was all?"

"Why yes."

"Now, I do not want to pain or offend you, Mrs. Hilliard, but, er—that was nothing in that note, which a married woman-, er—no impropriety?"

Mrs. Hilliard flushed slightly, hut looked very puzzled. "I do not understand," she said slowly.

"Well, nothing that you would not like your husband to know?"

Frank Hilliard jumped up angrily, but Merrivale waved him aside.

"No of course not," protested Mrs. Hilliard indignantly.

"THANK you. Now, do you mind writing your usual signature on this piece of paper?"

The lady complied. Taking the pasted note from his pocket, Merrivale compared the writing on it with the signature. There was not the slightest doubt that the two were written by the same hand.

."Then, you admit you wrote this note?"

"Yes, but—" Her face went white. "There's something missing: I—"

Her husband picked up the note. "What is the meaning, of this," he demanded madly. "Is this your innocent note? I've no idea what it means, but evidently you have been carrying on with Johnson, and thought I had discovered, you—"

"But, Frank, I can explain. It's really quite innocent. I swear. The missing words and letters: oh, how can I prove it?"

"The note is in pencil, I observe," put in Merrivale calmly. "Perhaps you used a writing pad."

"Yes, I did. I'll get it." Merrivale took the pad, and taking off the top leaf, he held it up to the light. The indentations of the pencil were clearly seen, but the fact that other notes had been written on the same pad before made exact decipheration difficult. At length however, he turned with a smile.

"Mrs. Hilliard, we all owe you a most humble apology for our most unfounded suspicions. I'm only too glad to say that what I have discovered proves your story, and innocence to the full. The original note you wrote was as follows, was it not?

"Dear Mr. Johnson," (not Dearest Henry, as we had thought)
"You must really come along and let us see you. My husband knows all sorts of new card games, quite different from those which so intrigued you at the Arcade at Rotterdam as you will remember.

I just love to see you two sneering at one another when you make a false move: It's a killing sight.

Do come, and renew an old acquaintanceship.

Yours sincerely,
Beatrice Hilliard."

"And, Marshal, may I trouble you for a reconstruction of the letter as you thought it would read?" put in Mrs. Hilliard. Merrivale was embarrassed. "Well, really, Major Burnett looked after that department."

It was my turn to flush. "Um," I stammered,—"It was something like this:

Dearest Henry,
You must let me see you. My husband knows all. It is the end of our game. If the rent heart of a woman, intrigued by a cad, a Rotter, means nothing to you, remember I just love you: sneer at me, or make a false move, and I'll kill you on sight."

I paused and coughed. "We couldn't quite make out the "sin" bit at the bottom, but of course now we know it was part of "Yours sincerely".

"And you really thought that of me, Major Burnett?"

"Well, I'm really awfully sorry, you know, we, that is,—" I commenced apologetically, but I never finished the sentence for I received the finest slap on the face it has ever been my pleasure (?) to accept, and Mrs. Hilliard swept indignantly from the room.

On Watch!

HILLIARD rated us soundly, too, for a bunch of damned idiots and altogether, my interest in mystery elucidation fell with a wallop. Merrivale seems rather pleased, no doubt because this little drama represented the destruction of the final link in the chain of evidence we had so magnanimously presented to him on his arrival. No doubt, now that he had so effectually blown down our house of cards, he felt he could start afresh.

As sleeping time was drawing near, it was decided to lock up the passengers in their cabins for their own safety, the officers, together, with Merrivale and myself electing to form a guard. As Merrivale was really the only man who could not possibly be guilty of the murders, he was given the keys of the cabin. And as everybody suspected everybody else, despite the fact that we had Fouchard locked up, the guard on each occasion was double.

First Minott and Merrivale were to keep watch, then Sheppard and Captain Brant, and in the final watch, McFee and myself. It was the most uncomfortable guard I ever was on. With three corpses in the refrigerator, and a homicidal maniac at large, or at the best only held, from us by a flimsy partition, the patrolling of the eerie corridor was a sinister business. Add to the fact that one did not know whether one's mate on guard was the guilty party or not, and the horror of the whole business may readily be imagined. Of course, I was sure Dr. Fouchard was the man but then the, Captain with a total lack of reason was equally emphatic that the Van Stokes Woman had something to do with it.

When Sheppard awakened me to take my turn with McFee, I had, strangely enough, been dreaming of my old home in Somerset oblivious to the horrors of the preceding hours, but I woke curiously alert for all that. I noted at once that the vanes of the door ventilator of Fouchard's prison cabin had been opened to their full extent, a matter of perhaps two inches each. I questioned Sheppard, but he simply laughed. If Fouchard was trying to escape that way, he wash 't likely to achieve much success. Besides, where could he escape to on a moon fiver?

Anyway, what were ventilators for but to let air in: he had no doubt opened the contrivance himself to secure more air circulation during the night! McFee was still sleepy. Like most Scots, he was pretty calm in an emergency. He certainly didn't seem to fear the murderer very much, for after patrolling the corridor with me once or twice, yawning the while, he sat down on a box, in a shaded corner, nodding in a somnolescent way which provoked my soldierly ire. Finding it useless to get the engineer to keep intelligent guard, I paced the corridor myself reviewing the situation as I did so.

COME to think of it it was damned funny that a man should be so negligent of his own personal safety as to go to sleep in this fashion. I had overlooked the fact that McFee had been working harder than any of us all the voyage out and was subjected to high temperatures all the time, but my mind was hardly functioning normally yet McFee's behavior told me only one thing at that moment;—that he had nothing to fear from the menace, because, of course, he was the murderer; I stirred him gently. He was fast asleep. I hurriedly searched his pockets. There was nothing to connect him with the crimes: some chunks of tobacco, a few valve tips and washers, a wallet with a photo of a girl in kilts, not a shred of evidence.

I paced the corridor again. This thing was getting me: I was perspiring. I felt an overpowering sense of horror: I could swear I smelt an earthly graveyard odor pervading the whole corridor. I could stand it no longer, I must have a stimulant. I made my way to my cabin. Confound it, I had pulled the door to, and that snap lock had shut. Merrivale had the keys too. I continued the pacing, reproaching myself for my weakness. What conduct was this for a soldier? I squared my shoulders, but it was all of no avail. This wasn't a battlefield, and my nerves that had stood a thousand barrages, had gone to pieces under the strain. I must have a drink: I must! I must! Merrivale was sleeping, it wouldn't take an instant to get the keys from him. I made my way to his bunk. His door was open. Securing the keys was the work of a moment, and in another minute I was in my own cabin, gulping down neat brandy.

With a sudden revulsion of feeling, I realised what a coward I was. I made my way into the corridor again. Anyway, I'd better wake up McFee before I got a return of the blues. I hastened down to the engineer: the lazy blighter was still asleep, gone to the world, his head fallen forward on his chest. I shook him, but he never stirred. I gave him a vicious kick, and another and another. I raised his head, but it fell back on his chest again. A horrible fear assailed my mind. I dragged the Scot into an erect position, and shook him frantically: then in a frenzy, I pulled him into the better lighted part of the passage, and looked into his face.

The murderer had struck again: McFee was dead, and all round his throat were vivid purple marks, in symmetrical pattern, to show that the life had been choked out of the stalwart Scot.

I cried aloud in terror, and the others came running into the corridor, and then, well, it's hard for a D.S.O., to have to confess it, but I must have fainted, gone clean over.


CHAPTER V.

I Am Accused!

WHEN I came to, I was in my own cabin, and Merrivale and Galloway were looking at me with a queer sternness. I made to rise, when Merrivale suddenly covered me with his automatic.

"Oh, no you don't, my gallant Major. We've got you at last. You may as well make a clean breast of it. We can't figure out your motive, unless the Brazilian fever has warped your mind, but we've got enough circumstantial evidence to convict you. I figure it out this way. You stole Fouchard's ring: you were the only person aboard who seemed to know it contained poison: killed Bratz, why, I don't know: polished off Olsen when we was about to call assistance from the Station, after doing a bit of curiously amateurish work on Johnson, just to fill in the time, I suppose.

"Then with devilish ingenuity you produced the mutilated note to Johnson, to incriminate the Hilliards. When Fouchard began to doubt your red herrings, you accused him, and showed his ring was missing. Then it was you, my dear Major, who managed to find the ring again. Curious coincidence, isn't it! But Fouchard knew too much for you: you hastily evolved a new plan. I may as well tell you now, I never suspected Fouchard: I locked him up for his own safety; but equally I made the tragic mistake of never suspecting you.

"I let you retain the ring pending examination, what a fool I was! In the night, you strangled your fellow—guardsman, stole my keys, unlocked the prisoner's cabin and killed Fouchard with his own ring."

"What," I cried, "Fouchard dead too?"

"What the Hades do you expect? Dead as a doornail. But the time for dissembling is over: we have ample minor proofs. For instance you're the only person aboard with the strength to strangle noiselessly a man of McFee's build; Galloway has told me all about your South American exploit with the puma, when you have him by throttling the brute with your naked hands. Now, we've got the rough outline, I'd like you to fill in the details."

For a long time I sat speechless, bowed down with this fresh horror. Fouchard dead too! Where was it all going to end? Of Merrivale's idiotic accusations I didn't think very much; we had pretty nearly all been suspected in turn, still, what a fool I'd been over those keys! Eventually, I told the truth about the whole affair. Merrivale smiled incredulously, but I could see that Galloway half believed in me.

"Anyway, Marshal, it's up to you to examine the ring. Three people are supposed to have met their death through its agency, so there cannot be much poison left in it now."

Galloway took the ring, and carefully pressed the stones, catching the dripping fluid in a watch-glass. It was at once obvious from the quantity collected that the hollow ring must have been full of the liquor.

Merrivale frowned. "Proves nothing. The poisoner evidently has a reservoir from which he refills."

"Hardly applicable to me, considering I stole the ring, Marshal," I retorted. "But examine the mechanism of the ring. When the green stone is pressed inwards, two fangs protrude. In every wound I have examined on the bodies, there is but one puncture, not two. Again, the fangs protrude on the inside of the ring, not on the outside, the idea being that the would-be suicide pressed the stone while wearing the ring. It would therefore seem to be impossible to murder a person with the ring excepting by first placing the ring on their fingers, and then pressing the green stone. It is certainly obviously impossible to inflict wounds on the back of the hand, or the neck, such as we found on Bratz and Olsen, with this ring. Again, you accuse me of strangling McFee, but no human fingers ever made that symmetrical design on the engineer's neck. It is as though a broad hand of watered silk had been compressed with titanic strength round the Scot's neck, leaving a record of the pattern on his neck."

WHILE I had been speaking, Merrivale had been pacing up and down restively: he could see he was wrong, but, did not want to admit it. Meanwhile, the professor was busily engaged in testing the poison in the watch glass. At length he turned to us: "I'm afraid I cannot tell you very much about this. It is certainly a rare reptilian venom, and in some respects may be said to resemble the poison found in the bodies, but the lack of suitable reagents on board forces me to confess that any accurate determination or comparison is impossible."

I turned to Merrivale, "Come, Marshal, I think you must admit you are wronging me, but handcuff me if you like. I would like to see Fouchard."

"Well, Major, somebody must be guilty, you know, and it certainly looked black against you after that key business. By the way, why did you try to break down the shutters of Fouchard's door, when you had the key?"

"Um, suppose that's a trip question, but as I don't happen to be guilty it doesn't act. What do you mean?"

"Well, all around the ventilator there are small irregular holes, as though. someone had been trying to force open the vanes with a screwdriver, or similar instrument. You know, something like the marks we found over Olsen's head, and on the floor by Bratz's body."

"Well, I know nothing about that, but I did notice the ventilator was open when I went on guard, and it was shut last night."

"And, it was tight when I concluded guard," agreed the Marshal. "Then the murder must have happened while the Captain and Sheppard were on guard."

Captain Brant and Sheppard were questioned closely, and when the Captain admitted that he had left the corridor on several occasions to attend to other duties, I could see that Merrivale had immediately mentally pounced on Sheppard as the guilty one. But a mild form of third degree inquisition failed to produce any result, and in the end, we ‘all tailed into Fouchard's shrine that was yesterday a prison, and the day before a cabin, to see if we could further elucidate the mystery.

Fouchard was sitting bolt upright in a chair in front of a small Sheridan table. He was facing the door. In his left hand he held a pocket electric battery pointing straight at the ventilator. His lifeless thumb had fallen from the press-button, so the light was no longer on, but had it been, the zone of the ventilator would have been completely illuminated. His right hand sprawled, with the index finger extended, over the table. On his face was a look of horror, but there was something more;—there was a look of recognition.

Without doubt, Fouchard had seen the murderer, and what was more he had recognised him before he died. I had been standing a little to the left of the others when I noted a peculiar wavy line on the highly polished table by the Docteur's left hand. I drew Merrivale's attention to it, and standing behind Fouchard, we saw that the dull line travelled obliquely from left to right in a series of waves and terminated at the right hand. It could only be seen from certain angles, and—"My God, Major, it's a word," ejaculated Merrivale. "Fouchard has wet his finger, and written a message on the highly polished table top, knowing it would dry dull. See:—C—O—R—N—E—I—L—and then, the poison had done its work, I suppose."

"Um, took a long time compared with Olsen's case then," I could not help saying.

Not Murdered!

"YES, that's puzzling, but it's evidently a message: a name: by Jove, one of the Ruttledges is called Cornelia, too. I have it! How blind I've been! Those young demons would do anything. Another Loeb and Leopold type of crime. Quite obvious, these two have had every thrill in the world: they've made the world hum with their mad caprices since they wore pinafores. That's it: sheer ennui, the motive. Jaded with the ordinary vices and jokes, they've planned this super practical joke on the world. All these deaths on a space-ship! What more intriguing, what more thrilling? Captain, arrest the pair of them at once!"

"One minute, Marshal, you know Corneil isn't the exact way to go about spelling Cornelia, you know, and anyway, I don't quite see how one of the young ladies could get through the ventilator, for you know, you held the keys. And again, you haven't solved the problem of how Fouchard lasted out long enough to write that word after being poisoned."

Merrivale glared angrily. "Um, you can't expect a Frenchman, even if he is a doctor of philosophy, to spell a damned outlandish name like that correctly: as for the keys, well if you could steal them, so could she."

"You forget she was locked in her own cabin by your own good self," I said testily.

Merrivale flew in a rage. "I've a jolly good mind to arrest you for obstruction, Major Burnett: what are these women to you? By Jove, I begin to see light, you are working wonderfully well, you are. I'm by no means convinced of your innocence yet, despite the evidence of the ring. You are right: Fouchard could not have written that word after being poisoned. No, you did, after you had killed him, so that you would throw the blame on the girl. But you are bound to have left finger prints on this table," and Merrivale began, with febrile haste, to examine the table.

I was not so much angry as amused this time. Despite the seriousness of the situation, there was something funny about the pendulum attitude of the investigator. Professor Galloway was really wild however, about this fresh accusation. He had just finished conducting an examination of the corpse, and he tackled Merrivale with all the vitriolic eloquence in his makeup in my defence. When he had concluded, he observed calmly, "And it may interest you to know, most perceptive of marshals, that Fouchard did not die of poison!"

"Not die of poison?" repeated the bewildered Merrivale.

"No, there is no trace of a puncture on the body, nor of poison in the blood."

"Then what the blazes did he die of?"

"Heart failure!" said Galloway tartly.

‘Then, he,—he—wasn't murdered after all?"

"Directly, no: indirectly, yes. He undoubtedly saw something to horrify him: he undoubtedly recognised somebody, and saw clearly that they had come to menace him. He then evidently scrawled, or was scrawling the warning message when his heart succumbed to the shock."

For a moment, Merrivale hesitated and then:—"Well that bears out my first theory. We'll interview these young devils."


CHAPTER VI.

The Stowaway

THE Ruttledge twins received us graciously. Look here, began Merrivale brusquely, "There's been a couple of fresh murders through the night, despite the guard."

"Oh I say," put in Beatrice. "This voyage is getting too like the ten little nigger boys for my peace of mind!"

"Yes, well we think, that is (as he caught my frown) I think, you young ladies know a good deal about this. It may interest you to know that the latest victim left a message in which one of your names appears."

"Indeed, Mr. Detective," put in Cornelia, "How positively thrilling."

"Yeah, it'll he more thrilling still when we land, and the judge puts on his black cap."

"Don't be so damned silly," put in Beatrice, as she lit a cheroot. "You surely don't think we have got anything to do with this nasty sticky business, do you?"

"Of course we don't, really," I put in, "but unfortunately Fouchard, the latest victim, scrawled a few letters which read very similar to your sister's name, and we were wondering if you could throw any light on the mystery. I am afraid the Marshal's enthusiasm has evaporated his sense of chivalry. I can assure you the only person the admirable Merrivale hasn't suspected yet, is himself, and our inquiries are purely routine."

"I see."

"Do you by any chance happen to know Dr. Fouchard well? I mean—there's no hint of romance!" They both snorted and commenced to speak at once. From the babble, I gathered they had never seen the doctor before this journey, and thought him "perfectly horrid." No, he had never sought to pay either of them attentions, in fact, on the few occasions they had met, he had been rather rude.

This information rather upset a new theory I had been formulating,—that Fouchard had died from a perfectly natural heart attack, and feeling life slipping, he-had scrawled subconsciously the name "Cornelia," because he admired the girl.

How long the inquisition would have proceeded I don't know. Merrivale was getting ready to fire a few more shots, when a terrific din was heard in the direction of the galley. We all made our way in that direction, and were astounded to find Mrs. MacNamara belaboring a gigantic African Negro (who seemed to have sprung from nowhere) with a quart bottle.

Merrivale pulled out his automatic, but the Negro stood quietly enough, and gave no sign of resistance.

Mrs. MacNamara explained volubly that her stores of tabloid foods had been continuing to diminish with astonishing rapidity. Finally, like the bold woman she was, she had laid in wait, armed with the quart bottle, to see which of the staff was pilfering, and had been nearly knocked backwards to see the huge son of Ham emerge from the trap door leading to the hold.

Nothing daunted, however, she had attacked him right manfully, with the result that we overheard the row. The African's story was that he had been touring England with a travelling circus which had "gone bust", as he picturesquely termed it. He had tramped about the country for some time, and eventually had lit upon the space ship. Watching his opportunity he' had crawled aboard and concealed himself, stealing out now and then to purloin the stores from Mrs. McNamara's larder.

Merrivale heard him out, then "And what is your name?"

"Cornelius Twinkle, Sah!"

Mr. Cornelius Twinkle in another couple of minutes was safely down the hold again, but this time with massive leg irons, and manacles about his Herculean form.

HERE then, was the murder. We all felt relieved, most of all Merrivale, who was most amiable and apologetic. "Of course I had the stowaway idea back of my mind all the time, but I had to badger you ladies and gentlemen, in order to find out as much as I could. That's how we investigators work you know! Anyway, we don't need to fear any more."

I had to confess I was puzzled as to motive, but Merrivale airily assured me that he had it all cut and dried. The Negro evidently knew and hated Dr. Fouchard: but he had made a mistake on several occasions and killed the wrong men. To me this seemed a bit thin, particularly in McFee's case, but Merrivale was sure the Negro had strangled McFee, as he was the only person aboard, excepting myself, who had sulhaent muscular development.

However that might be, there were no more murders during the next twenty-four hours, although I noted everyone paid great attention to the locking of the doors and the thorough closing and securing of the ventilators at sleeping time.

I couldn't sleep. For one thing, Merrivale had sniffed so avidly at every red herring which crossed his path, that the mere fact that we had discovered a stowaway named Cornelius did not seem to me at all convincing. To my mind, the crimes were the acts of a maniac, and the big nigger seemed a perfectly sane, and rational person. In fact, I took a decided liking to him from the first time I saw him. Another thing, if he was such a terrible being why had he refrained from attacking Mrs. McNamara? The more I, thought about it, the more clearly I recognised that the Marshal, like most officials, was intent on getting a scapegoat first, and then proving that he did the crime. The advent of the big Ethiopian was no doubt like manna from Heaven to the bewildered investigator, who had seen clue after clue crumble to nothing. I verily believe, he had reached a point of such mental instability, that he would have accused Johnson's parrot had it been alive. Um, funny job that parrot's dying should herald all these murders! Of course, if people had just died it might have been a case of parrot-fever spreading through the ship, but there were stabbings, poisonings and a strangulation.

Very ill-rested, I arose at the appointed waking time, to join the others, who were overjoyed to find a full roll-call. We had breakfast in the dining room, and at this meal we managed almost to capture a spirit of light heartedness. Merrivale was in fine vein, and was just recounting a thrilling episode in his career, when Minott dashed rn:—

"Say, folks: the chunk of ebony's done himself in overnight."

Mrs. Van Stokes fainted immediately, and Captain Brant rebuked the purser for his tactlessness. Merrivale, Galloway and myself accompanied Minott to the hold. Yes, sure enough, the big nigger was a mass of congealed blood across his chest, and in his right hand he clenched a small but ugly looking knife. Merrivale was overjoyed: this put the crown on his work: proved the Negro's guilt. Galloway on examination thought there was a spark of life in the huge carcass yet, so we began to unshackle the Negro. As we did so, I noted that there was a nasty gash almost as high as the collar bone.

"Say, Merrivale, how do you account for this, when the half hundredweight hand-irons only allow the nigger to raise his hand a little above his waist, and they are unbroken yet? He no doubt had the knife concealed about his waist, but how did he make that wound: also, with a knife like that about him, why didn't he attack the stewardess, if he's the guilty party?"

A Big Black Crow!

THERE was no time to spend in argument however, if we were to fan the glow of life into a flame again. We bathed his bloody torso, with warm water, and then we discovered that there were not just one or two wounds, but that his whole chest was a mass of ragged tears: not clean cuts as one would imagine a knife to make, but jagged affairs, something like the wound in Johnson's neck.

The poor Negro looked just like, well, like an apple that a bird's been pecking at. We hound him up roughly, and took him upstairs, meeting the Ruttledges on the way. The sisters lost all their attitude of cynicism at the pitiable sight, and insisted on Cornelius being taken to their cabin, so that they could nurse him. Powerful restoratives were poured down his throat, the Lisle rays were applied, and every possible means we had aboard used to revive the Negro, but though the man still lived, he remained unconscious.

Leaving him in good hands, I took my flash-lantern in one hand, and my automatic in the other, and stole back into the shadowy hold. I examined the stool on which the Negro had sat, and the wall behind it. The former revealed nothing, but the wooden partition of a radius of perhaps a foot around where the nigger had sat was one mass of irregular indentations, as though someone had been playing a game of darts, with outsize weapons. Something like bad grouping with a machine gun, but the marks registered were ragged, not at all clear cut. The thought of a murderer using a kind of machine gun with some elementary form of bullet crossed my mind, but I dismissed the idea as too fantastic. One thing was clear, whatever had made the marks on the wall had made the wounds in the Negro's chest, and very obviously he had drawn his knife, not to slay, but to defend himself.

I prayed that he might soon recover consciousness, so that we could learn the nature of the menace, for it was evident the murderer was still at large. I made my way back to the lounge.

There. I found Mrs. Hilliard almost beside herself, with her husband and Galloway not very much better. Jackie had disappeared! They had searched every cabin, without result: not a trace of the youngster could be found excepting his handkerchief which was recovered by Minott about the spot where Bratz was murdered.

Well, there was nothing for it but further organised search. Armed with automatics, we split up into two groups, and commenced to search throughout the whole ship. Minott, Merrivale, the Professor and myself undertook to search the forepart of the vessel. As we moved forward, Merrivale whispered, "Damned funny thing, Minott always seems on the scene of these affairs: he found Olsen, and the nigger: now, he's found the handkerchief."

Poor Merrivale, he would be suspecting himself next!

We searched here, there, and everywhere, but we found no trace. At length there only remained the little room in the nose of the ship, where the professor's fossils were stored. In the happier earlier days of the trip, Galloway had often taken the boy along here to show him the "funny beasties," and it struck me that possibly the child had felt a longing to visit the museum once more, and had, unobserved, slipped along. Sure enough, as we emerged from the shadowy bottle neck passage leading to the room, young Jackie emerged from the door, holding his finger to his lips. He had heard us coming and evidently did not want us to disturb something or other. When we got near enough, he said "Shush, you'll wake the funny animal!"

Galloway started. "The funny animal!"

"Yes, 'Fessor, one of your funny stone animals is breathing, I can see it's sides going wiggly woggly, and it has such a funny long tail and a head like a big black crow."

"A big black crow." Somewhere at the back of my obtuse mentality a subconscious train of thought was trying to burst through. I found myself repeating an old French lesson of forty years ago. What was it?

Bird—oiseau.
Eagle—aigle
Buzzard—busé
CROW—C O R N E I L L E.

So that was what Fouchard meant by his message! He was warning us against this thing with a head like a big black crow!

Thrusting the boy into the passage, we entered the room with automatics drawn. A strong earthy musk-laden smell pervaded the chamber. At first we could see nothing, so gloomy was the place, and then we saw it.

A LARGE chunk of stone of the Mesozoic period, retained because of its covering of fossilised vegetation, had been split in twain, as though pried open, and there on the top of the pieces reposed the strangest living thing I have ever seen. As the boy had said it had a head like a big black crow, but its beak was the beak of a flying lizard, a pterodactyl, Its body was fish-like, yet snake-like, but it had the peculiarity that it was practically two-dimensional. Although nine inches or more in depth, it was not more than a quarter of an inch to half an inch in thickness. The body terminated in a long snaky tail, while a couple of protuberances like fins folded close to the body. That the animal lived, we could not doubt, from the slight respiratory movements.

"My God!" cried Galloway. "The Mesozoic Missing Link!" The sound of his voice awoke the creature. It stared at us an instant with its malevolent cobra-like eyes, and then without warning, it spread its fin-like wings and soared with great velocity over our heads. Merrivale's automatic spat out, and the creature fell at Minott's feet. As it did so it curled its long tail round the purser's leg, and buried the sharp spine into the fleshy part of his calf. With a little-cry, Minott dropped to the ground. We riddled" the beast with shells, but poor Minott had gone to join the great majority, for the poison had been exuded from it's sac through the spine of the creature's tail just as in the case of Bratz and Olsen.

As the creature writhed in its last agony the powerful beak struck the ‘floor again and again, making the same kind of splintered marks we had observed so. often before.

We covered poor Minott's face, and took the boy to his harassed parents. Then we all gathered together in the lounge and offered up a prayer of thanksgiving, for our deliverance from the menace.

There isn't very much more to tell. When Galloway, who was fearfully shaken by the whole business, had recovered a bit, we discussed the whole affair.

"You see," said the professor, "The study of evolution is even yet but in its infancy. For one thing, our fossil record is very incomplete. The oldest igneous rocks naturally yield nothing from their fiery origin: many of the earlier sedimentary rocks too, have been so denuded, or metamorphosed by the action of heat and, pressure that they preserve no fossil records of the creatures which roamed the Earth in bygone days.

"All my life I have found the study of the evolution from one type to another intriguing, and the fact that when a higher type evolves from a lower the latter does not entirely disappear, is most interesting. Such survivals are sometimes called 'sports', the idea being that they are freaks of nature, but when we remember that in the Mesozoic period the reptiles were predominant, and these cold-blooded beings were of giant size, herbivores, carnivores, flying and marine forms alike; while in the following Caenozoic period the warm-blooded mammals attained ascendancy, and the reptile now only survives in the insignificant crocodile, snake or lizard, it can be seen that these 'sports' represent rather the gradual discarding of the former types. They are rather Nature's throwouts!

An Explanation

"AGAIN, while there are examples of sudden change and acquisition of new' parts, to enable the individual to conform to altered environment, such as the development of birdlike forms from the reptiles of the Mesozoic period, there is not, as Darwin imagined, a clear-cut line of demarcation between species, and attributes of earlier species often linger after they have lost their usefulness.

"For instance, in the Eocene period, monkeys with arboreal limbs have yet teeth difficult to distinguish from the Eocene horses: carnivores with hoofs exist, and herbivores with sloth-like claws.

"It is these seeming paradoxes which make the subject of evolution so interesting to me, and it is in the study of the missing links of the chain that Major Burnett and myself have spent the last two years in South America, with what tragic success you know. The specimen which has caused all the trouble is undoubtedly a link between the birds and reptiles of the Mesozoic period. The scorpion-like spine of the tail must be looked upon as a further 'sport' of nature, probably surviving from a still older form, although we must admit that as we reconstruct the dinosaurs from bony skeletons, we hardly know whether they were equipped with paralysing or lethal venom or not, although the provision of such would be quite logical."

"But, how did the damn thing come to life after hundreds of centuries?" put in Merrivale.

"Ah, that is where I owe Johnson, poor chap, an apology. You remember he spoke of a case of reptilian suspended animation. I had heard the tale before, and I am afraid I lost my temper for I always looked upon the yarn as of the Aesop vintage. In some sedimentary rock formations at Butte, a foreman and three miners swore affidavits (mind, this is a hundred years ago) that they they had chipped a toad, which they first took to be a fossil, from the solid rock. They then realised the thing was hibernating, but it was of a different species from any other they had ever seen.

"So, they sent it on to the Bronx, New York Zoological Park, where the director revived the toad, and it ran about for a short time all alive and kicking, the director coming to the conclusion that it was an authentic case of suspended animation, the reptile having crept into the soft mud thousands of years before. With the passage of time, and pressure, the mud had formed stone, and encased the toad.

"I've seen the preserved carcass myself, but I never thought the story possible. But here we have had most terrible proof of the authenticity of suspended reptilian animation. What awoke the creature in this case, I know not: probably some unknown ray emanating from the operation of the atomic motors. The splitting of the stone is easily explained, as it is in easily divisible laminated strata, and we have had ample demonstrations of the reptile's strength."

"Yes, but I don't understand why it should adopt different methods of killing," said Merrivale.

"There is nothing inconsistent in that. Many creatures are armed with several types of natural weapons. A scorpion, for instance uses his poison spine tail to attack some creatures, and his strong claws to attack others. What I think actually took place was this:—The creature escaped from its prison off stone and flew through the forepart of the ship into the living quarters. Working late on his composition, Bratz heard the thing fluttering in the corridor, went to investigate and was struck on the hands, as he was trying to ward off the creature's beak attacks, by the venomous tail spine. The tears in Bratz's jacket were of course made by the beak.

"IN the case of Johnson, who always slept with his door ajar, it looks as though the creature maliciously attacked him in his sleep, and as the first blow severed an artery, he merely woke momentarily to give one cry. In Olsen's case, it had taken refuge in the radio room, and as Olsen turned on the light he saw it: that accounted for the look of horror. It must have been near him too, for while the mark on the jamb of the door was made by the beak it curled its tail around his neck and pierced the poor devil's neck with its poison-spine.

"In Dr. Fouchard's case it was different: the doctor was sitting at the table, undoubtedly disconsolately reviewing our unfair accusations of him, when he heard the creature, no doubt startled by something, trying to edge the vanes of the ventilator open. You remember that its body was practically two-dimensional. If it could get its head through, then the rest would be easy.

"Fouchard pressed the button of his torch and saw the creature's crow-like head being forced through the aperture. An intelligent man, he immediately connected the beast's appearance, (for he could readily see it was no ordinary crow), with the murders, and fearing his hour had come, he attempted to write the word Corneille, (crow) on the table to warn us. Then his heart, always weak, gave out. Either the animal was frightened by Fouchard's torch, or else, it couldn't get its head through, but it must have lurked about the corridor, perhaps under the very box on which McFee went to sleep.

"You remember, Burnett, you complained that the passage smelt earthy, like a graveyard, musky, reptilian? We all noticed the same odor in the fossil chamber. No wonder you lost your nerve, Major, that night! It might easily have dispatched you as well as McFee for it must have been very near you. Anyway, while you were fortifying yourself with brandy, the reptile had stolen from its hiding place, wrapped its strong body about McFee's stalwart Scottish neck, and crushed the life out of him.

"The next night everybody was safe. We suspended guard because we had caught the Negro, but everybody took special care of their doors and ventilators. No doubt that precaution saved some of us. Finding no sport in the usual hunting grounds, the creature descended to the hold, where it encountered Cornelius. The Negro drew his knife, and attempted to defend himself, but this further enraged the reptile and it attacked him again and again with its beak.

"Fortunately, the thing was so angry that it must have forgotten to use its tail, and so Cornelius has a remote chance of living."

"Well, that's all right, but there are two little points. How did Dr. Fouchard's ring, and Jackie Hilliard's handkerchief go missing?"

Galloway laughed. "Simple accidents: if this was fiction, they would prove excellent red herrings!"

"But, there's one thing puzzles me yet, Professor," I could not help saying, "What killed Johnson's parrot?"

At this Merrivale started. "What, you mean to tell me," he said in anger, to our explanations, "that you have suppressed this most important piece of evidence from me? Had I known about this, I could have cleared the matter up in no time, and probably saved much of this expenditure of life. Obviously the parrot was killed by the brute. It settled on the cage, and when it couldn't reach the bird with its long beak, it inserted the tail between the bars of the cage and poisoned the parrot."

"I am sorry to destroy your last remaining piece of deduction, Marshal Merrivale," put in the professor dryly. "But I made an autopsy of the parrot, before we threw the body overboard, and it was perfectly clear the blessed thing died of old age, aggravated by the atmosphere of the moonship!"

* * * *

Oh, Cornelius, did he recover? Rather, he's my staunch bodyguard now, and he and I have been on many a hazardous exploration trip since, but;—you can take it from. me, if old Galloway wants to hunt missing links again, he hunts 'em alone, as far as I am concerned.

THE END.