" This is an outrage," I exclaimed indignantly. " Why should I be put under arrest ? "
" On complaint of the French government as being concerned in the sinking of the French battleship La Patrie Number 3 off Brest this morning," replied the officer coolly. " As it is an international complaint, it came under the Federal courts, and we were empowered to make the arrest."
As he spoke, the whole thing flashed across me. My predictions of the destruction of the Dreadnought Number 8 and of La Patrie Number 3 had come true. I had told of the sinking at the very moment it occurred. My story had been spread over the world by cable and by wireless, and my arrest as an accomplice in the act was the result. I immediately felt more cheerful.
" The charge is too absurd to stand for a moment," I said. " I am entirely ready to go with you.
Back up-stairs with my two companions I went for my hat, and then I accompanied them to the Federal building. The inquiry was sharp and searching. I admitted unhesitatingly that I had written the original account of the sinking of the Alaska and had prophesied the loss of the Dreadnought Number 8 and of La Patrie Number 3, also that I had given information of the sinking of the ship an hour or two before it had been known in France. On being questioned as to the source of my knowledge, I gave the account already published of the discovery of the man who saw the Alaska disappear, and spoke of the original letter sent by the man who intended to stop all war. Of the two essential factors, the discovery of the hidden letter and the charging of the reflectoscopes, I did not speak. These were valuable assets to me, as long as they were not made public. I could not throw them away. They meant higher salary, greater reputation, and these things meant a third, far more essential than either.
My story done, the judge sat for some moments without moving. Finally he spoke. " Frankly, Mr. Orrington, I cannot see that you have explained that inside information which enabled you to make your predictions, or tell of the loss of the La Patrie Number 3. You are the only person who seems to know anything of this. You offer no explanation of your knowledge. I do not see that I can do otherwise than commit you without bail."
Commit me without bail, keep me from following out my assignment, keep me from seeing Dorothy ! I thought rapidly. Of course there was a solution. I addressed the judge.
" Your honor, I gave this information in advance to the President and to the Secretary of War. If you will get either one of them on the telephone, they will corroborate my words."
The judge's attitude changed. " If that proves correct, I shall have no reason to detain you," he said, and, turning to a court officer, he ordered him to call up Washington, state the case to the President's private secretary, and ask the President for a statement.
" If you cannot get the President, get the Secretary of War," I broke in, and the judge said, " Very well."
I did not want to bring the office into this at all if I could help it. I was out playing a lone hand, with the whole responsibility resting on me, and I did not wish to ask for aid if I could possibly avoid it. I thought of the Haldanes, but decided to save them for a last resort. I could not bear to think of Dorothy in the courtroom. For a long half hour I waited, reading the morning papers, till the return of the messenger. He entered and walked before the bench.
" Your honor, the President has gone shooting in Virginia. He will not return for three days, and can only be seen on urgent official business. The Secretary of War is dangerously ill and cannot be disturbed."
I remembered with a shock that I had seen the second fact in the newspapers. Of the first I had no knowledge. As he heard the news, the judge again shook his head. " I cannot release you on that mere statement, Mr. Orrington. Is there anything else you would like to have done ? "
I gave way with an inward sigh. " Yes, telephone, if you will, to Professor Thomas Haldane at his laboratory, saying that I am under arrest here, and ask him to come and bring a lawyer."
Another weary period of waiting in the stifling heat passed before the door opened and Tom entered, accompanied by another man.
" Hello, old man. This is a shame," ejaculated Tom, as he came towards me. As his lawyer went up to the bench for an interview with the judge, he went on in a lower tone. " It is a shame, Jim, but I expected it."
" What ? " I said in amazement.
" I expected it," repeated Tom. " It was the only logical outcome of your prophecies. You had too much inside information. People couldn't help suspecting you knew more than you had told. You were the only person on whom they could lay their hands. It's really not surprising at all that you are here. The only thing is, we've got to get you out of this right off."
He turned to the lawyer. " Can't you get the judge to take my word that I know all the circumstances, and can swear to Mr. Orrington's innocence.”
The lawyer went up to the bench and had a brief conversation with the judge. In a few moments he returned. " I hope I've solved the difficulty,” said he. " The judge will accept your statement and Mr. Orrington's together. If you will explain the whole thing to him, he will see that it goes to no one save the Attorney General."
" You'd better do it," said Tom briefly.
" I suppose I'll have to," I replied. We adjourned to the judge's private office and told the whole story.
" I can understand," said the judge, as I finished, " that the story of the disappearance of the French battleship might be a lucky guess, once given the letter of which you speak, but the narrative as told by you seems almost too incredible to be admitted as evidence. Is this letter containing the second message still in your possession ? "
" No," I said, and hesitated.
Tom broke in. " It's in my sister's hands, judge. She has had it ever since that first night. If you will wait I will get some radium from my laboratory and show the hidden message to you."
" It could not, then, disappear in the time which has elapsed ? " queried the judge.
" No," answered Tom, decisively. " I have been experimenting with inks of that kind since I knew of this, and I should say unhesitatingly that it would still be there, although I've never happened to see it myself. I'll bring the things back at once. My motor is at the door."
By that time I had exhausted the news possibilities of the newspapers and was left to the real estate columns. " Which was better for a young couple, a small apartment in the city or a suburban home ? " That was a question which made even the flamboyant advertisements of farthest Suburbia a matter of deep and abiding interest to me. I was half through the columns when, to my joy and surprise, the door opened, and Dorothy entered, followed by Tom and the lawyer. At her coming, the nodding court officer roused and became a model of soldierly deportment, the secret service men straightened in their chairs, the judge felt of his tie and rose hastily to offer a seat beside him with a courtly bow. Gracious and stately, Dorothy bowed to him, but she came to me.
" Oh, Jim," she said, in a low voice, " what a shame. I am so glad I was here to help."
I passed the gap from Miss Haldane to Dorothy at a bound. " Dorothy," I answered, " I'm so glad you were."
After that how little mattered the long weary afternoon. It took but a few minutes to arrange a closet off the judge's room for the exhibition of the evidence. As Dorothy brought forth the letter which had been the forerunner of three mighty tragedies, the judge asked to see it, and read it curiously,
" And there is a second letter below this. Miss Haldane ? " he queried.
" Yes," answered Dorothy, " I have seen it."
" Have you had this in your possession ever since the night's meeting of which your brother and Mr. Orrington spoke ? " he asked again.
" It has been in my personal possession, or in a locked drawer of my own, in a locked safe in my own house," replied Dorothy. " I asked Mr. Orrington for it, as I intended to make some tests with my brother on the ink. We have, however, not used it as yet."
" You are ready to swear that this is the original letter ? "
" I am," said Dorothy calmly.
" Very well, then, let us go on with the test."
The letter was placed open as before, with the radium in its leaden case before it. Tom threw back the cover, as we sat in front of the table, and turned off the lights. I waited as before, beside Dorothy. If I had felt a tightening bond before, I felt one a thousand times stronger now. I had seen the dear girl beside me day in and day out since our first meeting, and never had she failed to show the same fire of brilliant imagination, the same power of achievement. She had blazed my path to success in the weeks past. She had come to help me in my distress to-day. To gain her had become the whole end of my life. I looked into the darkness towards the letter, expecting each moment to see the curves and lines springing out luminous. Minute after minute passed. I could hear the ticking of the great clock, two rooms away, and the stifled roar of the summer afternoon in the great city, but the darkness held no light. No line appeared. Finally Tom spoke.
" How long an exposure did you give it last time, Dorothy ? "
" Two or three minutes," said she. He rose, turned on the lights and looked at his watch.
" Twelve minutes and no results. It's the same lot of radium, too. Look this over with me, will you, Dorothy ? "
They examined the apparatus carefully, turned off the light and tried again. No result. Tom went back into the other room and brought another sample of radium and used that. Still no result. At last he turned on the lights and spoke. " I can't understand, judge, but I cannot bring out the second letter."
The judge rose blinking. " According to your own statements," he said, " the letter has not been out of Miss Haldane's possession at all, and the message once on there could not disappear. I fear I shall have to hold Mr. Orrington after all, till we can hear from the President."
My heart sank. Tom turned to me.
" Never you mind, Jim, we'll find the President for you, and have you out inside two days."
I smiled somewhat wearily. " You mustn't leave your work to do that, Tom."
Dorothy broke in. " We can't work alone. It needs all three of us to get anywhere, doesn't it, Tom ? "
" Sure thing," said Tom sturdily, and they left me, but not before Dorothy had given me a word of comfort that was a stay in time of trouble.
I had often watched the gloomy walls of the prison as I passed, and wondered at the sensations of the prisoners when the gates closed behind them. My sensations as I drove into the courtyard and passed up the stairs, into the cell whose iron gate clanged shut behind me, were all poignant enough, but I could not be wholly downhearted. The whole thing seemed utterly absurd, yet as night came on, a deep gloom gradually settled over me. I could not see my way out. " Suppose the President and Secretary of War should both die, as had the last Secretary of the Navy ! " I had no proof but the letter and the witnesses who saw the second message shine forth, and with that thought of witnesses came back the puzzling question, " Why did not the second message appear ? " It had been there. I had seen it with my own eyes. Dorothy, Mrs. Hartnell, John King, Regnier,— each and all had seen it and read it. Tom had declared it impossible for the writing to disappear. What could be the explanation ? One thought kept coming, returning to my mind again and again, as I sat on the edge of my narrow cot, watching the barred moonlight streaming through the great window opposite my tier. The letter must have been changed. The letter which we examined in the judge's room could not be the same as that which had shown us the second message. Somewhere, somehow, an exchange must have been effected. It could have been no easy matter, either. Parchment of the kind used in all the letters was no easy thing to come by. It could by no means be bought in every stationer's store, nor could so complete a copy of the message be produced without much trouble and labor. Only one man would be likely to have such a copy ready at hand, without the second message, the man who was trying to stop all war. He might have an extra copy. But how could he know the letter was in Dorothy's hands ? How could he get a chance to change the papers ? Hour after hour, the long night through, I struggled with the question, and with the morning some crystallization came from the dull haze of my thoughts. There was one time and place where a man might easily make an exchange. At Mrs. Hartnell's house in Washington, in the time which elapsed between the closing of the radium case and the turning on of the lights. It might be improbable, but it was the only solution I could find. Towards early morning I dropped off into a troubled sleep, and dreamed I was in court, where Regnier, as judge, was trying me, with John King as prosecuting attorney. I had just been condemned to disappear as had the Alaska, when Dorothy sailed through the courtroom in the Black Arrow's launch, with Tom at the wheel. She reached out her hand to me. I leaped in and escaped.
The late morning brought me a weary and exhausted waking. I had breakfast brought in from outside, sent word to the office that I would not be in for a few days, a by no means uncommon thing for me to do since I went on this assignment, and then I settled down to wait. I got enough waiting before eight o'clock that evening to last me the rest of my natural life, but at that hour came a warder with a short request to follow him to the office. There was Tom, good fellow, rushing towards me as I entered.
" You're a free man, Jim; I have the order for your release," he cried. " The President came to your rescue, like the trump he is. Hurry up now, and come to our house for a late dinner."
The clang of the gates behind me was as much music to my ears as it had been discord on my entrance. I had endured all the prison life that I wanted. I was willing to leave any writing up of such experiences to the yellow newspaper reporter.
Fifth Avenue never seemed so gay. New York never seemed so full of the wine of life as on that drive. It needed only Dorothy to make it complete, and I was speeding towards her as rapidly as the speed regulations would allow. As we went on, Tom told me the story of his search for the President. How he had found him off shooting in Virginia and how gladly he had given the word for my release.
Once in the hall of the Haldanes' house, Dorothy appeared at the head of the stairs. " Oh, Jim ! " she cried. Thank Heaven she had forgotten all about Mr. Orrington now. " Oh, Jim, I'm so glad. It's all right now, isn't it.'' "
" It is," I said emphatically.
She hurried down, waving a blue foreign-looking sheet. " Oh, boys, I've got the best thing yet. We can tell just where ' the man ' is now. I've just found out the way."