" It's no use, Orrington, there's nothing in it," said the managing edito_ecisively. " We can't publish a fairy story like that. We've got to stick t_robabilities, at least. What did the Secretary of War say when you told him ?
" Oh, he said it was simply the insane freak of a crazy man," I answere_lumly enough, for I had set my whole heart on this scoop, and felt more an_ore convinced that it was true, the more I was rebuffed. I went on with _leam of hope. " I'd like to have you see radium bring out the second letter, that was underneath the first."
" My dear chap," said the chief, a little impatiently, " I'll take your wor_or that, and you could use that story very well in another way, but it isn'_ews. Whole fleets can't be sunk by a single man. It's nonsense." He place_is glasses on his nose with a vigorous gesture, and picked up a fresh bunc_f copy.
Without a word, I passed out into the big office where, sitting down at a_mpty desk by the window, I lighted my pipe and lost myself in thought. No_ery pleasant thoughts they were, for I had been rebuffed for my enthusiasm o_very side, since I took up the quixotic task of persuading the United State_hat one of her battleships was in danger. My own chief, the Washingto_orrespondent, the War Department, the President, and now the managing edito_f the New York office whither I had been suddenly called — all laughed at m_ale. Dorothy Haldane alone had believed. Together we had seen the messag_row from the darkness. We were convinced of its truth. From that one meetin_ad come the feeling that, when Dorothy agreed, the opinion of the rest of th_orld faded to minor account. Over and over again her name threaded th_huttle of my thoughts. Dorothy was my last thought as I lay down at night.
Dorothy was my first thought with the dawn.
I had an hour to wait before I could reach a man whom I had been told t_nterview, and I sat back waiting and dreaming. It was Tuesday of the fata_eek, the first week in July. Suddenly the door of the chief's office opened, and I heard my name. " Orrington ! Orrington ! " I jumped to my feet an_urried in. The chief was sitting with the receiver to his ear. " Close tha_oor! " he ordered. " Here's Orrington now. Tell him what you told me."
I took the phone at his gesture and listened.
" Orrington ? "
" Yes." (The man on the other end was the head of our Washington office.)
" There may be something in that story of yours. The War Department has jus_alled me up. The Alaska has disappeared somewhere between Newport News an_ar Harbor. They talked with her by wireless yesterday morning, and have bee_nable to get into communication with her since. She has two sets of wireles_n board, and has not been out of close communication for three years. The_ave sent four revenue cutters out searching the coast, but nothing has bee_een. Finally the secretary thought of you and the message from the man wh_ntended to stop all war. Have you found out anything ? "
" Well, take your orders from New York now. They've asked for you for this. _on't think the other papers have it yet."
I straightened up with a throb of joy and turned to the chief. He looked at m_eenly. " Better not write anything till you have something more. Th_ssignment is yours. Go out and find the Alaska or what happened to her. _ive you _carte blanche_."
Hardly were the last words out of his mouth before I had jumped for my hat an_as hurrying down the stairs with a generous order for expense money in m_and. A moment's stop at the cashier's, and I was out on the street. Up an_own I looked for cab or automobile. I was bound for the water front. Fo_nce, there was not even a street car going my way. I started hurriedly on, half running in my speed. As I rushed along, I heard my name, " Mr. Orrington ! " The voice would have called me miles. It was Dorothy Haldane, seated in _ig blue motor. Her chauffeur drew up beside me, and she threw open the door.
" Let me take you wherever you are going, and tell me if you have heard mor_rom that letter."
I needed no second invitation, gave the wharf address to the chauffeur, an_urned to answer Dorothy. As I told her the news, she leaned forward to th_hauffeur.
" Go back to where we left Mr. Haldane's launch," she said, and turned to me.
" I've just left Tom at his launch, which was to take him out to the Blac_rrow. They were waiting for some provisions at the wharf, and may be ther_et. He'll be delighted to take you, and the Black Arrow is one of th_wiftest motor yachts in the bay. Will you make your search on her ? If yo_ill, I'll go with you. I only stayed ashore to-day to do some shopping tha_an wait."
When the gods befriend a man, who is he to say nay ? Through the hot and dirt_arkets we sped and reached the wharf, just as the Black Arrow's launch wa_eaving the shore. A clear call and a wave of Dorothy's parasol brought i_ack, while a bewildered smile passed over Tom Haldane's face as he saw u_waiting him. " Why, Jim ! " he began,
" Don't stop to talk now," said Dorothy. " Take us to the Black Arrow as fas_s you can."
In a moment we had cleared the wharves and were passing from the dirt an_mells of the city on to the clear waters of the bay. As we went, Doroth_xplained the situation to Tom, who fell in with the plan joyously. Once o_he slim rakish yacht, he spoke.
" Now, Jim, you're in command. Where are we going ? "
" Right down the coast," I said, " and we'll megaphone every fisherman an_acht. It's the men on the coasters who will know, if any one does."
Swift as her name, the Black Arrow ploughed her way through the summer sea.
Pleasantest of all assignments to sit on her deck and watch Dorothy Haldane a_he talked and speculated on the problem before us. Could one man have sunk s_ighty a battleship ? Was there any possibility that a single man could mak_ar on the world ? Tom came up to us in the midst of the discussion, and stoo_istening.
" Queer this should come up now," he said. " It was only last winter tha_omeone was talking
about something like this up at our house, one Sunday night. Who was it, Dorothy ? "
A sudden look of alarm flashed across her face. She started to speak and the_roke off. " Oh ! I hardly remember."
Tom persisted. " Let's see, there was a crowd of the fellows there, and, quee_hing too, John King and Dick Regnier. The same pair that were with you th_ther night."
" Regnier! " That name shot across me like a bullet. The short, quick, troubled breathing of some one behind me on the night we read the letter ! "
Can it be ! " I burst forth.
Dorothy made no pretense of misunderstanding me. " No," she said firmly. "
Dick was up to see me last night. It couldn't have been he."
The coast had been rushing by us rapidly as we talked, and now the summe_ottages and bathing beaches were giving way to longer stretches of bare san_nd wooded inlets. I rose and looked forward.
" We may as well commence here," I said, and we began systematic inquiry.
Catboat and sloop tacking out on pleasure bent, tramp steamer ploughin_eavily up the coast, — one after another, we came alongside and asked th_ame questions. " Have you seen a battleship to-day or yesterday ? Have yo_een or heard anything unusual ? "
The answers came back in every vein. Brusque denials — ironical inquiries — would-be humorous sallies — courteous rejoinders — one and all had the sam_ord. No battleship seen. Nothing unusual seen or heard. The morning ha_ecome noon, ere we were fairly on our quest. The afternoon wore on toward_ight, as it progressed. As the hours passed, I protested against my host_iving up their yacht to my service, but quite in vain. They were as firml_esolved to pursue the quest to the end as I was myself.
About five o'clock, when we were some six or seven miles off the coast, cam_he first success. We hailed a schooner whose lookout replied negatively t_ur questions. As we passed slowly, we heard a sudden hail, as a gaunt man, the skipper, rushed to the side.
" Lookin' for anything unusual, be ye ? " he shouted. " I've seen one thing, — a catboat takin' on a crazy man out of a knockabout."
" Whereabouts ? " I shouted.
" 'Bout ten miles back, I reckon," came the answer.
He knew no more than that, and the interchange over, I turned to Dorothy.
" Shall we run that clue down ? " I asked.
She nodded decisively. " By all means," she said. " It's the only one we have.
Send the Arrow inshore, will you, Tom, on a long slant ? "
Once more the engine took up its racing speed, as the boat bore down on th_hore. As we went in, we changed the questions, and asked the few boats we me_f they had picked up a man. At last we saw a catboat just sailing out of _ittle bay, and bore down on it. A man and a boy sat in the stern. As _houted my question once more, the man jumped up.
" Yes, we picked one up."
" Where is he ? " I shouted.
" At my house, but he's crazy," replied the man.
" Can we get in there with the yacht ? "
" No, but I can take you in," he answered, and it was but a moment's work t_ower a boat from the davits. As I stepped to the side, Tom and Doroth_urried up.
" We're going, too," Tom cried.
The launch bore us rapidly across to the cat-boat, and as we approached, _tudied the faces of the man and the boy. They were simple folk, of evidentl_imited intelligence. Hardly had we come alongside, when I began my questions, and a strange story came in reply. Stripped of its vernacular and repetitions, this was the tale finally dragged from the man and boy, as we sailed toward_he shore.
They had started out in the early morning and had fished with some success. I_he afternoon, they had seen a knockabout running free before the wind, wit_ll sorts of strange action. The sail widespread, she turned and reared, started and checked, swung and circled. There was no sign of life on boar_hat they could ascertain, and they made up their minds that the boat ha_ither lost its occupants or had been driven offshore with its sail hoisted.
On boarding, much to their surprise, they found a man, apparently a solitar_isherman, lying unconscious in the stern sheets. Throwing water over hi_oused him. He sat up and looked around, but with unseeing eyes. His lip_uivered, and in a low whisper he began to speak. " Disappeared, disappeared, disappeared. Nothing real, nothing real." Rising, he started to walk straigh_head, but struck the side and fell. His murmur now changed to a loud moan. "
Disappeared, disappeared, disappeared. Nothing real, nothing real." Again h_ried to walk, but this time they caught him, bound him, and carried him t_hore, to their house, where he went quietly enough to bed, with the unceasin_oan. " Disappeared, disappeared, disappeared. Nothing real, nothing real,"
rising and falling like the waves on the shore.
The story had taken all the way in, and as we rowed towards shore, leaving th_atboat and launch at the mooring where the knockabout lay, the night wa_wiftly shutting in. A light glimmered in a low house on the bluff.
" That's my house," said the man, as we hastened towards it. A woman with _indly face met us at the door.
" Wife, these are some folks that are looking for the crazy man," said ou_riend.
" He's fast asleep," was the answer, " but you can go in and see him, if yo_ant to."
My heart rose. The second step of my quest was in sight.
" Tom," I said quietly, " come along with me. Miss Haldane, will you remai_ere ? "
Dorothy nodded. Tom and I followed the woman as she passed down a narro_assage. Opening a rude door, she entered. In front of the bed, she stoppe_hort and threw up her hands. " For the land's sake," she cried. " He's gone!
Gone! The word echoed dismally in my brain.
" Wait till I get a lamp," said the woman, and she pattered nervously out.
By the fading light, we could see the disordered bed, the open window, and a_verturned chair. A glimmer of light came down the passage, and the woma_urried back, followed by Dorothy. No more information could be gleaned.
Evidently the lost man had risen, dressed completely, and left by the low ope_indow. The woman of the house was in great distress, weeping and rocking. "
The poor crazy man, lost in these woods. He was as harmless as anything. _hought he was all right."
Dorothy sat down beside her, and, soothing her, began a series of quie_uestions. " How long did you leave him ? "
" An hour or more." She had been doing the supper dishes. Dorothy turned t_he husband.
" What roads are there from here ? "
" Only one for a mile. That goes from the front of the house."
The woman broke in. " If he'd taken that, I'd have seen him. He'd have gone b_y window. He must have gone to the shore or the woods."
" There's no use waiting. He's only getting farther away from us," cried Tom.
" Let's look around the house."
Our fisher friend had two lanterns and a kerosene light. With these, we bega_he search. The sand and rock around the house gave no sign of footprints, an_e passed out in widening circles, meeting and calling without avail. A hal_our's exploration left us just where we started. We had found nothing.
Turning back, we met Dorothy at the door.
" I was afraid you would find nothing," she said. " I've just found out tha_e said one thing beside the sentence which he continually repeated. Once h_aid, ' The sea, the sea, the awful sea.' I believe he has gone to the shore."
Together, we went in that direction. Tom and the fisherman took one way, Dorothy and I the other. As we hastened on, the light of the lantern thre_ircles of hazy light on the black water and on the shore. Dorothy, in th_epths of thought, walked on a httle in advance, and, despite myself, m_houghts turned from the man I sought and the errand for which I sought him, and I gazed wholly at the round cheek shaded by a flying tress that escape_rom the close veil, and at the erect figure, now stooping to look ahead, no_ising and passing on in deep thought. The same thrill which had held me th_irst night came again, that binding call, that tightening chain. I los_yself in a dreamy exhilaration.
Suddenly, Dorothy stopped. " It's no use to go farther."
Obediently I turned, and we retraced our steps. Just below the house, we me_om and the fisherman, returned from an equally unavailing search. We all fou_tood gazing out to sea where the Black Arrow lay, her lights the sole gemme_elief of the dark waters, save where her search-light blazed a widening pat_f changing silver before her. All at once I saw Dorothy raise her head with _uick breath.
" If he's on the shore, I know how we can find him, no matter what start h_as."