The After House
24. The Thing
I deserve no credit for the solution of the Ella's mystery. I have a certain quality of
force, perhaps, and I am not lacking in physical courage; but I have no finesse of
intellect. McWhirter, a foot shorter than I, round of face, jovial and stocky, has as
much subtlety in his little finger as I have in my six feet and a fraction of body.
All the way to the river, therefore, he was poring over the drawing. He named the
paper at once.
"Ought to know it," he said, in reply to my surprise. "Sold enough paper at the
drugstore to qualify as a stationery engineer." He writhed as was his habit over
his jokes, and then fell to work at the drawing again. "A book," he said, "and an
axe, and a gibbet or gallows. B-a-g - that makes 'bag.' Doesn't go far, does it?
Humorous duck, isn't he? Any one who can write 'ha! ha!' under a gallows has
real humor. G-a-b, b-a-g!"
The Ella still lay in the Delaware, half a mile or so from her original moorings.
She carried the usual riding-lights - a white one in the bow, another at the stern,
and the two vertical red lights which showed her not under command. In reply to
repeated signals, we were unable to rouse the watchman. I had brought an
electric flash with me, and by its aid we found a rope ladder over the side, with a
small boat at its foot.
Although the boat indicated the presence of the watchman on board, we made
our way to the deck without challenge. Here McWhirter suggested that the
situation might be disagreeable, were the man to waken and get at us with a gun.
We stood by the top of the ladder, therefore, and made another effort to rouse
him. "Hey, watchman!" I called. And McWhirter, in a deep bass, sang lustily:
"Watchman, what of the night?" Neither of us made, any perceptible impression
on the silence and gloom of the Ella.