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Chapter 2

  • " 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 ? "
  • " No."
  • " 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."