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The Master of Silence: A Romance, a novel by Irving Bacheller

Chapter 13

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It was on a bleak and windy night in December that we were driven through a pelting rain to one of the docks on the North River, which our steamer was to leave at high tide in the early morning. When we alighted Mr. Murmurtot stood shivering in a greatcoat and muffler close by the passengers' entrance.

"This is a good place for a warm greeting," said he, taking Hester's hand. "I've stood here so long that my teeth are chattering from the cold."

"Won't you come aboard with us?" I asked.

"Not yet," he replied; "but I expect to sail with you in the morning."

"'Sa rough night, sir," said the porter who carried our luggage, "but we'll find it a bit rougher outside, I'm feered, afore anither night."

Fatigued by a long day of arduous work, we went at once to our staterooms. I was soon asleep after getting into my berth, but was awakened by the tramp of feet on the upper decks and the shouting of the crew long before the ship left her moorings. They reminded me of the first night I had ever spent on an ocean steamer--the night I left Liverpool on that journey fraught with danger I had not then dreamed of. I had grown old very fast under the influences that had come into my life since then. Indeed, I was now a man, whereas I had been only a boy when I left England. But Rayel was with me now, and that repaid me for all I had suffered. What would he have done in that lonely mansion after his father's death? For hours my mind was occupied with these reflections, and at length I determined to dress myself and go on deck. Rayel awoke while I was dressing and decided to go with me.

We found the decks thronged with people, and the ship's crew were bustling about, getting ready to sail. We stood near the gangway, facing the dock. A man was pacing back and forth in the opening whose figure seemed familiar to me. Presently he came aboard, and as he passed near us I saw it was the omnipresent Mr. Murmurtot.

"I wonder if he is afraid somebody will steal the ship?" I remarked.

"No, he is looking for some person," said Rayel, divining my thoughts.

"All ashore! Stand away, there!" shouted one of the ship's officers.

The passengers fell back, the gangway was pulled aboard, the great hawsers were loosened, and the ship moved slowly away from the dock. We stood for a long time watching the river craft and the receding lights of the city. The ship was well beyond the Atlantic Highlands when we went to our stateroom and to bed again. We slept until late in the morning, and arose barely in time for a late breakfast with Hester. Rayel seemed cheerful enough and took more than ordinary interest in his surroundings. When we had risen from the table he led me aside and directed my attention to a short, stout man with a bristly growth of close-cropped black hair, a low forehead and shaggy eyebrows, who was leaning lazily against the railing of the stairway.

"Let us avoid him," he whispered. "I do not like his looks."

What can this mean? I asked myself, as we all proceeded to the deck. Perhaps he was the man the detective was looking for.

It was a beautiful sunlit afternoon, and the vessel rode steadily in a sea that was growing quiet under the dying impulse that the winds had left behind them. We drew our chairs together on the deck near the stern of the vessel, and had settled down for a quiet chat among ourselves when we were unexpectedly joined by Mr. Murmurtot.

"Delighted, I'm sure!" he exclaimed, with the same inimitable drawl I had noted on the occasion of our first meeting. I soon observed that the artful little gentleman was master of an elaborate system of exclamations by which he encouraged one to talk freely without saying anything himself.

In response to my assertion that we had been exceedingly busy getting ready for the trip he said simply: "Indeed!"

It was a very unusual burst of confidence in which he was moved to express his views with any greater freedom. When the remark which preceded it was evidently expected to meet with Mr. Murmurtot's concurrence, then he would say, "Yes, indeed!"

If the remark were one to which this response would be inappropriate he often went to the extent of observing, "I dare say!" seemingly ventured after careful consideration of the chances for and against the proposition which provoked it.

"My dear sir, I do not agree with you," he would always say when he felt compelled to differ with me. If the difference in our views chanced to be extremely radical, he would throw particular emphasis upon the word "dear," as a sort of recompense for his opposition. These forms of speech, with occasional and slight variations, were always employed by Mr. Murmurtot as a medium of thought and sentiment.

In the midst of our conversation I noticed the man whom Rayel had pointed out to me when we arose from the breakfast-table. He was standing against the rail, not twenty feet from where we sat, and as I looked at him he turned away and walked leisurely down the deck. In a moment Rayel was on his feet, and, excusing himself, he proceeded in the same direction. An hour later, as he had not returned, I left Hester with Mr. Murmurtot and went forward in quest of him. He was in the reading-room, apparently interested in a newspaper. As he did not observe me, I sat down behind his chair without disturbing him. To my surprise I saw that he was not reading the paper, but that his eyes were furtively watching the mysterious stranger he had followed, who sat on the other side of the room listlessly puffing at a cigarette. I was seated scarcely a moment when Rayel seemed to be aware of my presence. Looking from face to face until he had discovered me he arose and came to my side.

"I was trying to read a newspaper," said he, leading the way to the door, "but reading is still hard work for me."

"I saw that you did not seem to be looking at the paper," said I, as we proceeded to the deck. He made no reply, but stopped and looked out across the waste of waters at the horizon.

"Do you know that man?" I asked.

For a moment I stood waiting for his answer. Apparently he had not heard my question, and I repeated it in a somewhat louder tone.

He turned suddenly with an impatient exclamation. There was a flash of anger in his eyes as he faced me. I had never seen him in such a mood before.

"Forgive me," said he. "I am only angry with myself. Come, Hester will be looking for us."

I did not venture again to refer to our bristly fellow-passenger in Rayel's presence. Never inclined to talk much, even with me, he was becoming more silent than ever as the voyage continued. Day by day his interest in that strange man seemed to increase. He spent as little time as possible in my company. When not with me he was hounding him about the ship, keeping him in sight from some favorable point of observation. What was the meaning of it? The question forced itself upon my mind persistently by day and night, and begat in me a gloomy reticence which Hester was quick to observe. Every day I expected some revelation from Rayel, but he said nothing about the man in whom he had taken such extraordinary interest.

We had been over a week at sea, and I was sitting alone one afternoon, when Mr. Murmurtot came along and asked if he might introduce an acquaintance of his whom I ought to know. Then he went to find the gentleman, saying that he would return in a few moments. He had no sooner left me than my mind reverted to the man who had been the bugbear of my thoughts since we left New York. Presently Mr. Murmurtot touched my arm. Looking up suddenly, I saw standing before me the very man of whom I had been thinking.

"Mr. Lane, let me introduce you to Mr. Fenlon," said the detective. I shook the hand that was extended to me mechanically, and made some incoherent response--I do not remember what. I had been taken by surprise. My voice was unnatural and my strength seemed to have left me suddenly.

"Are you not well, sir?" he asked.

"No, sir, he is not well yet."

It was the voice of Rayel that answered for me. He was standing by my side, his lips tightly drawn, and his eyes fixed upon the man Fenlon. There was a terrible look on his face as he stood there towering above us. The man turned pale and moved quickly backward two or three steps, staring at my cousin as if in fear of receiving a death-blow. For an instant, only, he stood like some fierce animal at bay, then turned and walked hurriedly down the deck. The situation was made all the more impressive by the interval of silence that followed Rayel's words.

"Forgive me," said Mr. Murmurtot, taking my hand, "if this meeting was unpleasant. It was necessary." Then he bowed politely and walked away. The sun was just going down as Rayel and I entered the cabin, where Hester was waiting for us.

"The captain thinks we will reach Southampton before five in the morning," said she.

I was glad to learn that our voyage was so near its end. _

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