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Dead Men Tell No Tales E. W. Hornung

Chapter XIII The Longest Day of My Life

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"Then to-morrow it is! You see I know it's the climate," he added, jumping from tone to tone; "it couldn't have been those two or three glasses of sound wine."

"Shall I tell you what it is?" I said, looking him full in the face, with eyes that I dare say were wild enough with fever and insomnia. "It's the burning of the Lady Jermyn!" I cried. "It's the faces and the shrieks of the women; it's the cursing and the fighting of the men; it's boat-loads struggling in an oily sea; it's husbands and wives jumping overboard together; it's men turned into devils, it's hell-fire afloat - "

"Stop! stop! " he whispered, hoarse as a crow. I was sitting up with my hot eyes upon him. He was white as the quilt, and the bed shook with his trembling. I had gone as far as was prudent, and I lay back with a glow of secret satisfaction.

"Yes, I will stop," said I, "and I wouldn't have begun if you hadn't found it so difficult to understand my trouble. Now you know what it is. It's the old trouble. I came up here to forget it; instead of that I drink too much and tell you all about it; and the two things together have bowled me over. But I'll go to-morrow; only give me something to put me asleep till then."

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"I will!" he vowed. "I'll go myself to the nearest chemist, and he shall give me the very strongest stuff he's got. Good-by, and don't you stir till I come back - for your own sake. I'll go this minute, and I'll ride like hell!" And if ever two men were glad to be rid of each other, they were this young villain and myself.

But what was his villany? It was little enough that I had overheard at the window, and still less that poor Eva had told me in her hurried lines. All I saw clearly was that the Lady Jermyn and some hundred souls had perished by the foulest of foul play; that, besides Eva and myself, only the incendiaries had escaped; that somehow these wretches had made a second escape from the gig, leaving dead men and word of their own death behind them in the boat. And here the motive was as much a mystery to me as the means; but, in my present state, both were also matters of supreme indifference. My one desire was to rescue my love from her loathsome captors; of little else did I pause to think. Yet Rattray's visit left its own mark on my mind; and long after he was gone I lay puzzling over the connection between a young Lancastrian, of good name, of ancient property, of great personal charm, and a crime of unparalleled atrocity committed in cold blood on the high seas. That his complicity was flagrant I had no room to doubt, after Eva's own indictment of him, uttered to his face and in my hearing. Was it then the usual fraud on the underwriters, and was Rattray the inevitable accomplice on dry land? I could think of none but the conventional motive for destroying a vessel. Yet I knew there must be another and a subtler one, to account not only for the magnitude of the crime, but for the pains which the actual perpetrators had taken to conceal the fact of their survival, and for the union of so diverse a trinity as Senhor Santos, Captain Harris, and the young squire.

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Dead Men Tell No Tales
E. W. Hornung

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