We waited anxiously for her next words. ' The search-light of the Arrow will do it. We can run the launch along the coast twice as fast as a man can walk or run, and play the searchlight of the yacht on the shore as we go."
Though simplicity itself, it was the only plan that promised success, and it took but little time to put it into operation. The fisherman volunteered as pilot, and while Tom went back in the launch to give instructions to the captain, we waited in the darkness of the little bay, holding our lights as beacons. The night, without a single star, but darkly showed the lapping waves and sighing pines which made the background of our tiny, rocky amphitheatre. Tom had not covered half the distance to the yacht, when we heard his hail, and the search-light swung at right angles, limning the launch speeding from the shore in a lane of light. We watched them till they reached the shadow of the side. There was a brief interval before we saw the launch returning down the silvery way, but, as she neared us, to our surprise we saw Tom was not there. In his stead came the first officer, who touched his cap, and said, " Mr. Haldane will stay on the yacht and run the searchlight, and has asked me to run the launch."
It was but the work of a moment to embark, and the boat headed out of the cove towards the north, the side agreed upon with Tom. Up in the prow stood the officer at the wheel, the fisherman pilot beside him. The engineer bent over his small engine in the centre, and in the stern sat Dorothy and I, peering into the space of light on the shore, where played the search-light. Bravely the little launch found her way forward, with the slight chug-chug of her engine the only sound. I could not rid myself of a feeling of unreality. Constantly we moved in light, while all else was in shadow. Before us was the shore, lighted as by a ghostly radiance, on either side was darkness, such darkness that we could barely distinguish the sky line of bluff and tree against the sky. We neither spoke nor moved, and the sailors forward scarce broke by a movement the silence, with its single sound rising above the monotony of the waves. Dark green of pine and cedar, lighter green of scrub oak, yellow gray of sand dune, soft brown warmth of massive boulder, curling white where splashing waves broke on the glistening pebbles of the shore, ragged stump and lofty maple — all were etherealized by the silver, shifting light. It was a night of enchantment, wherein I, taken up by a genie from my dusty tasks, had been placed beside a fairy queen to behold the wonders of Eastern magic. Mile after mile rolled by with no result. Once we flashed our light on a startled fisherman lifting his lobster pots from his boat. Now and again we cast it on veranda of summer cottage, or on kitchen steps of farmhouse. Where we found men, we inquired for the object of our search, but it was all in vain, and at last I looked questioningly at Dorothy.
" He could not have come so far as this."
She shook her head. " No," she said regretfully. " We may as well turn. But we'll find him on the other shore. I feel certain he went to the sea." She gave a low order to the officer at the wheel. He raised a lantern thrice, and the search-light paused and reversed its way.
Back over the ground we passed, more swiftly this time than on our way up. Back to the cove where we started, we went, and from there we took our course southward along the shore. We had gone perhaps three miles, when the fisherman turned suddenly. " There's some one ahead there on the bluff."
On swept the search-light, and outlined on a little knoll scarcely fifty yards from us stood a man, his hands stretched to heaven, and an expression of awful doubt and agony on his face. His lips moved, and a moaning cry came from them. Quickly the engineer threw the lever, and the sound of the engine ceased. Out of the stillness, made yet more manifest by the stopping of the single accustomed sound, came the moan. " Disappeared, disappeared, disappeared. Nothing real, nothing real! " The man paid no attention to the light or to our boat. He looked beyond us, at the ocean, with an unseeing gaze.
" Hold the search-light there! " I called, in a low tone.
The officer raised his lantern twice, and the search-light stopped with the man in the centre of its field.
" Go on," I said, and the launch passed slowly on into the darkness. In hurried tones, I told Dorothy my plans. The fisherman and I would go ashore at the first point possible, come up from behind, and take him. It was quickly and easily done. The launch was brought close in shore, where the fisherman and I could wade in, and, as we stole quietly up behind the man, we could see that he had not moved. His hands were still raised on high. His lips still uttered the same moan. To my surprise, he offered no resistance, and came quietly and peaceably on board the launch and the yacht, where they put him to bed. Through the whole he never ceased his plaint. We looked for sign or letter that might show his identity, but there was nothing. However, we had won the second step. Next came the question, " Did he know anything of the Alaska ? " That was the last thing we discussed before turning in, but it was not the last thing in my thoughts as I fell asleep.
I woke up next morning among the familiar sounds of New York harbor, and came on deck to find Tom and Dorothy already there. Our visitor was safe. He was still in a heavy sleep.
The newspapers had come on board, and we found that the disappearance of the battleship was now known, but that there was as yet no news. In the excitement, the story of the message from the man had been wholly forgotten. Every newspaper was searching, but none had any clue. The Navy Department could give no information, though besieged by hundreds of the relatives and friends of the men on board. There was no clue as to the identity of the insane man. No paper reported any man as lost. I thought the matter over as we breakfasted. Finally Tom spoke.
" What's the next move, Jim ? "
" To open the mouth of this man here," I answered. " I believe that he knows something; that a sudden shock drove him crazy, and our next move is to get him sane again."
" How will you do that? " queried Dorothy.
" I don't quite know," I answered hesitatingly. " But I think I had better try some physician. I want a bright, resourceful specialist."
" I know just the man," said Tom. " Forrester; he's making a name fast. You know him, Dorothy ? "
Dorothy nodded. " I don't think you can get a better man," she said, and so the next move was decided.
Our man awoke with no change from the night before, and with the same cry ever issuing from his lips. Tom went ashore, 'phoned Dr. Forrester, and arranged for attendants to remove the unfortunate to a private hospital. We preceded the carriage which was sent for him, in Tom's motor car.
We had waited perhaps five minutes in Dr. Forrester's office, when he entered. Clear-cut, with clean-shaven mouth and searching eyes, he seemed the very man to solve our problem, if it could be solved. Briefly I told him the condition. Here was an unknown man, with absolutely no clue to his identity, who, we believed, possessed certain information which we needed, information of the utmost public importance. Our desire was to bring him back to a normal sanity and to learn his story. My tale done, Forrester looked questioningly at Tom.
" It's all right. Doctor, every bit of it," said Tom decisively. " I'm right behind this thing, and it's all perfectly straight. My sister and I were with Mr. Orrington when he found the man."
Forrester rose as Tom spoke the last words.
" That's all that is necessary. I shall be very glad to do what I can. If you'll excuse me now, I think that the patient has arrived. If you care to wait, I'll make a preliminary examination and let you know something of the result immediately."
For half an hour we waited anxiously for the verdict. Could Dr. Forrester find the missing spring which would roll the curtain from that brain, and enable it to give forth the information which might mean so much to me ? Finally the door opened and he entered. We sprang up. He shook his head.
" A most trying and puzzling case. There seems to have been absolutely no injury to the brain, that can be recognized. None of the ordinary causes seem to have any share in the causation of this. I can do nothing for you to-day. I will try every means known to us in succession, and report to you day by day."
I felt baffled and seriously puzzled. It was most essential that I should get the story the moment the man recovered, if he did recover. It was equally essential that I should be free to hunt for new clues. Dorothy saw my anxiety.
" What is it, Mr. Orrington ? " she questioned.
" Simply wondering how I could be in two places at the same time — here waiting and on the coast searching," I answered.
" I can settle that," said she. " I am going to
take a week of observing in Tom's research laboratory, and I'll be right in reach of a telephone every minute."
I objected in vain. Dorothy settled matters as she had settled them before. Tom and I were to go down the coast in the Black Arrow, returning every night to New York. She was to remain in the city.
I reported my findings to the paper, and still the chief said, " Wait! Don't write anything till you have more. Keep at it till you have something."
Morning after morning we telephoned the hospital and found no change. Day after day we spent in the Black Arrow, searching the coast, or in the motor car, skirting the shores. Evening after evening we spent in the library at the Haldanes', in endless discussion and consultation. The country was daily growing more and more alarmed. Rumors of war, of foreign fleets coming to attack our shores, filled the papers. Stories that the Alaska had been sent to the Pacific and had been seen in South American ports, that she had been seen in European waters, that she had struck a derelict and, badly disabled, was coming slowly in, were current. Every story run to earth proved a fake, and every day had a new story. The Government knew no more than any one else, and had been driven to a sphinx-like silence in self-defense. They had employed, as had the newspapers, every known means of getting some news of the battleship, but all in vain.
The Alaska had disappeared on Monday or Tuesday of the first week in July. On Tuesday, we had found the man who was still gazing with unseeing eyes at the bare wall of the hospital room, still moaning the same cry. In six days he had never varied it but twice, and both those times he repeated his words in the cottage, " The sea, the awful sea."
Experiment after experiment had been tried without avail. Two consultations with the best alienists of the city had given Dr. Forrester no more light. Six days of searching the coast gave us not a single clue. On Monday night we reached the wharf about six, to find Dorothy waiting for us in the automobile. As we rode up town she rapidly explained the plan for the evening.
" They tried a high frequency current on the patient to-day," said Dorothy, " and it seemed to have the first effect. He stopped his plaint, went off to sleep, and woke silent for the first time. He did not drop back into his old condition until three hours later. They are going to try it again, as soon as we get there."
In one of Dr. Forrester's offices stood the high frequency apparatus. Before it sat the man, his eyes staring before him, his lips moving with his moaning cry. The doctor moved the cup-shaped terminal above his head, adjusted the negatives, then nodded to the nurse at the switch. Slowly increasing in sound and speed went the motor. Hissing low and sibilantly shot the vibrant discharge. Five minutes passed as we gazed intently on the man in the chair, five more, and yet five more. His words came slowly, drowsily now. The harsh, clashing syllables became a low hum. He dropped off into sleep, breathing regularly, and the nurse threw off the switch.
" That regular sleep is a great gain," said Forrester. " He'll probably wake soon."
Silently we sat waiting. The clock ticked loudly. I fell at once to my constant occupation, watching Dorothy. She sat beside Tom, her eager face bent intently on the man, so intently that it would seem as if she must obtain the secret from his sleeping form. I had watched her expressive face for perhaps half an hour, Forrester had been out and returned, when the man stirred drowsily, put up his hand to his eyes, rubbed them, yawned and looked up.
" Where — where am I ? " he said stumblingly. " Where's the boat ? " he went on.
Forrester soothed him. " You're all right," he said. " You had an accident, but you're all right again."
The man sank back resignedly. " Well — " he began, and then a wave of remembrance flashed across his face, a look of horror. We bent forward instinctively, hanging on his words.
"Where's the ship?" he cried. "What's happened to the Alaska ? I saw her disappear. For God's sake tell me I didn't — " The red flush in his face grew deeper, his breath grew labored, and the watching physician, stepping beside his bared arm, brought something concealed in his hand against it once, twice. " Oh ! " said the man shrinking. " What — " and then without another word he became unconscious.
I jumped up in excitement. " Couldn't you have, — "I began, but Forrester stopped me.
" I let him say all that was safe. Wait three hours, and he will probably be all right." He smiled somewhat exultantly. " The high frequency did it. Somehow it seems to rearrange the disordered parts by the electric flow."
" Why do you think the high frequency current did the work when all other methods failed ? " asked Tom, as we descended the stairs.
Forrester pulled at his chin with an air of abstraction. " I don't really know," he answered frankly " The action is almost as if some electrical matter in the patient had been jarred by an electrical shock, and when the high frequency got control, it put things back into shape. Readjusted the parts, as it were. I don't believe at all that the shock of seeing the battleship go down did the whole mischief. There was something else, something decidedly out of the common, mixed up in the case."
As we waited, I telephoned the office, and found the chief still there.
" Victory is in sight," I said. " Save as many columns as you can."
" You can have all you want," came back over the wire.
I asked for a desk, and began to write. I sketched the scene in the War Department, quoted the entire message from the man who was trying to stop all war, reviewed briefly what was known of the ship and of her disappearance, and told of our search down the coast, and of the finding of the man upstairs. Hour after hour went by as I wrote, and no call came. Dorothy and Tom sat reading. At last I brought my story down to the point where I wished to introduce the story of the man. There I stopped, and with idle pen sat and watched the beautiful head below the shaded light. If a man could only sit and see that " Picture of a woman reading " every night! I found myself figuring costs of living more zealously than ever before. A knock broke in on my thoughts.
" The patient has roused," said the nurse, " and the doctor would like to have you come."
Silently we passed through the bare corridors and up the wide stairs. As we entered, the doctor sat beside the man on the narrow iron bed. I looked with eager inquiry at the face. It shone with normal intelligence. We had conquered again.
" I have just been telling Mr. Joslinn of your finding him, and of his being here," said Forrester. " Now he is ready to talk."
Dorothy greeted him and began the talk, while I wrote feverishly as Joslinn spoke in a low steady tone. Yes, he had gone out fishing. He had left a little shooting box, whither he had run down alone on Monday, and taken the knockabout out. The reason no one had known of his disappearance was that there was no one to care. He had no family and had retired from business, made little trips now and then, so his landlady and friends simply thought of him as away. I chafed at the time that he took in coming to the point. If he only reached it, his long description of his acts was all a part of the story. Then came the crisis:
" I was out ten or twelve miles from shore, just about sunset," said Joslinn, " when I saw a battleship coming up the coast. She was the only ship in sight, and she passed within a short distance of me, so near that I felt the last of her wake. I never saw a finer spectacle than that boat as she swept on." He paused.
" Go on, go on," I said anxiously.
" I knew it was the Alaska," he resumed, " because I had seen her lying for weeks below my apartment house in Riverside Drive. I watched her as she went on triumphant. It was the time of evening colors. Out across the water came the bugle call, which I had heard so often as I hung over the parapet of the Drive at nightfall. The marine guard and the crew stood mustered and facing aft. The flag fell a fluttering inch, and at the moment of its fall the band crashed into the full strain of the Star Spangled Banner. I stood with bared head, and my eyes filled as the great ship bore proudly on. Just as the last note of ' Oh long may it wave ' came to me, like a bursting soap bubble, like a light cloud scattered by the wind, she disappeared without a sound ! Not so much as the splash of a pebble in the water could I hear."
" Do you mean to say," cried Tom, in utter amazement, " that all those thousands of tons of armored steel, those great guns in their huge turrets, that terrific mass of metal, disappeared without a sound ? "
" Absolutely without a sound," answered Joslinn gravely. " The Alaska disappeared with less commotion than a ring of tobacco smoke in the air. It utterly destroyed one's belief in the reality of anything in this world ! "
Bewilderment, complete bewilderment, is the only word which can express the appearance of our little group, as we stood in the bare room. Even Forrester temporarily forgot his professional attitude in the absorbing interest of the tale. But a sigh from Joslinn recalled him.
" That's quite enough, Mr. Joslinn," he said hurriedly, and, at his nod of dismissal, we turned and went down the stairs.
" Nothing real, with a vengeance," remarked Tom, as we descended. " I can't imagine a more unearthly spectacle than that noiseless fading away. I'd have said mirage, if he hadn't heard the music, and if the ship hadn't actually disappeared. Hold on — if this is the work of man, is it possible that he has discovered some new substance which, placed in armored steel, causes it to disintegrate ? If he got hold of such stuff, he might get it into armored steel, while it was making, and then after a certain time the whole thing might crumble away."
Tom had finished speaking as he stood in the door of the doctor's pleasant library.
Dorothy nodded as he closed. " That's not a bad idea, Tom. If anything could be found that would make steel crumble into dust, as a puff ball crumbles, it might of course be timed. But the whole thing dazes me. I want plenty of time to think it over."
" And I must get to work on my story," I said, trying to shake myself back into the world of reality again, and I rushed back to my desk.
Word for word I wrote the story, drew Joslinn's life history briefly, ran rapidly through the whole, and as Dorothy entered, " I know how I'll end," I exclaimed. " I'll prophesy the sinking of a British battleship this week."
She clapped her hands. " Good ! good ! " she cried. " You couldn't do better."
The last words of my story were the prophecy, and I hurried to the telephone. It was 1 a. m., but the chief himself answered. " I'll be there with the whole story in half an hour," I cried exultantly.
" Did he see her go down ? " asked the chief eagerly.
" He did," I answered, and a long whistle came over the wires.
Through dark streets and light, through the roar of upper Broadway and the sombre silence of lower Broadway the motor ran, and I tried to calm my hurrying brain. The excitement which had possessed me every day of the week was still over me. The awful wonder of Joslinn's tale possessed me, until my longed-for beat seemed but a minor accident in the great happenings of the world. Up the elevator and through the door at a bound I passed, to the chief's office. He reached eagerly from his chair for my copy. Page by page he read silently, as I sat handing them to him, and passing them from his hands to the boys running back and forth to the tubes. I could hear the crash of the presses, and I thought, strangely enough, of Pendennis and Warrington standing in Fleet Street and talking of the mightiest engine in the world, — the press. And after all, it was my story that was enlightening the world through those great presses below. I had solved the mystery that filled the newspapers from the Atlantic to the Pacific, nay more, that was discussed in the clubs of London and of Tokio, and my story would go through them all. I had won. Twice only I stopped in giving the copy to the chief, once to light my pipe, and once to look up Joslinn. I found him easily in the directory and in Bradstreet's. He was evidently a man of complete reliability. The last page had gone down the tube, and the chief leaned back and meditatively took up his pipe.
" That's the best stuff for some years, Orrington," he said. " I guess you'd better take this as a permanent assignment. The prophecy was a long chance, but I guess we'll take it. Now go to bed."
I slept till ten, but once up, I read my story with huge approval in my early paper, and saw everybody else reading it, as I went down town. My ears were filled with excited comment, and I examined with much glee the pained comments or total silence of our contemporaries. Especially did they condemn my prophecy. Reaching the office, I stopped on the first floor to get a late edition, among a general stare which I endeavored to bear modestly. At the elevator door, I paused. " Should I walk or ride? Walk it is," I decided. I wanted to stop in the hall outside the big office to look over my story again. As I sat in the hall window, I looked down. I could see a multitude before our bulletin board. None of the other papers had any crowd at all. As I looked, the throng went wild. A great roar rose, and the mass seethed and swayed as they gazed at the bulletin below me, but out of my sight. " Something's up," I said to myself, and bolted for the office. The reporters and editors were all clustered in one corner. As they saw me, a shout went up.
" Orrington, the British battleship Dreadnought, Number 8, has disappeared ! "