The After House HTML version

8. Prisoners
MY first thought had been for the women, and, unluckily, to save them a shock I
had all evidences of the crime cleared away as quickly as possible. Stains that
might have been of invaluable service in determining the murderer were washed
away almost before they were dry. I realized this now, too late. But the axe
remained, and I felt that its handle probably contained a record for more skillful
eyes than mine to read, prints that under the microscope would reveal the
murderer's identity as clearly as a photograph.
I sent for Burns, who reported that he had locked the axe in the captain's cabin.
He gave me the key, which I fastened to a string and hung around my neck
under my shirt. He also reported that, as I had suggested, the crew had gone,
two at a time, into the forecastle, and had brought up what they needed to stay
on deck. The forecastle had been closed and locked in the presence of the crew,
and the key given to Burns, who fastened it to his watch-chain. The two
hatchways leading to the hold had been fastened down also, and Oleson, who
was ship's carpenter, had nailed them fast.
The crew had been instructed to stay aft of the wheel, except when on watch.
Thus the helmsman need not be alone. As I have said, the door at the top of the
companion steps, near the wheel, was closed and locked, and entrance to the
after house was to be gained only by the forward companion. It was the intention
of Burns and myself to keep watch here, amidships.
Burns had probably suffered more than any of us. Whatever his relation to the
Hansen woman had been, he had been with her only three hours before her
death, and she was wearing a ring of his, a silver rope tied in a sailor's knot,
when she died. And Burns had been fond of Captain Richardson, in a crew
where respect rather than affection toward the chief officer was the rule.
When Burns gave me the key to the captain's room Charlie Jones had reached
the other end of the long cabin, and was staring through into the chartroom. It