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THE MYSTERY

BY

STEWART EDWARD WHITE

AND

SAMUEL HOPKINS ADAMS

_Illustrations by Will Crawford_

1907


CONTENTS


PART ONE

THE SEA RIDDLE

I. DESERT SEAS

II. THE "LAUGHING LASS"

III. THE DEATH SHIP

IV. THE SECOND PRIZE CREW

V. THE DISAPPEARANCE

VI. THE CASTAWAYS

VII. THE FREE LANCE


PART TWO

THE BRASS BOUND CHEST

_Being the story told by Ralph Slade, Free Lance, to the officers of
the United States Cruiser "Wolverine"_

I. THE BARBARY COAST

II. THE GRAVEN IMAGE

III. THE TWELVE REPEATING RIFLES

IV. THE STEEL CLAW

V. THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE

VI. THE ISLAND

VII. CAPTAIN SELOVER LOSES HIS NERVE

VIII. WRECKING OF THE "GOLDEN HORN"

IX. THE EMPTY BRANDY BOTTLE

X. CHANGE OF MASTERS

XI. THE CORROSIVE

XII. "OLD SCRUBS" COMES ASHORE

XIII. I MAKE MY ESCAPE

XIV. AN ADVENTURE IN THE NIGHT

XV. FIVE HUNDRED YARDS' RANGE

XVI. THE MURDER

XVII. THE OPEN SEA

XVIII. THE CATASTROPHE


PART THREE

THE MAROON

I. IN THE WARDROOM

II. THE JOLLY ROGER

III. THE CACHE

IV. THE TWIN SLABS

V. THE PINWHEEL VOLCANO

VI. MR. DARROW RECEIVES

VII. THE SURVIVORS

VIII. THE MAKER OF MARVELS

IX. THE ACHIEVEMENT

X. THE DOOM


ILLUSTRATIONS

"And you know a heap too much"

A schooner comporting herself in a manner uncommon on the Pacific

A man who was a bit of a mechanic was set to work to open the chest

Slowly the man defined himself as a shape takes form in a fog

"These sheep had become as wild as deer"

The firing now became miscellaneous. No one paid any attention to any one
else

With a strangled cry the sailor cast the shirt from him

"Sorry not to have met you at the door," he said courteously


PART ONE

THE SEA RIDDLE


I

DESERT SEAS


The late afternoon sky flaunted its splendour of blue and gold like a
banner over the Pacific, across whose depths the trade wind droned in
measured cadence. On the ocean's wide expanse a hulk wallowed sluggishly,
the forgotten relict of a once brave and sightly ship, possibly the
Sphinx of some untold ocean tragedy, she lay black and forbidding in the
ordered procession of waves. Half a mile to the east of the derelict
hovered a ship's cutter, the turn of her crew's heads speaking
expectancy. As far again beyond, the United States cruiser
_Wolverine_ outlined her severe and trim silhouette against the
horizon. In all the spread of wave and sky no other thing was visible.
For this was one of the desert parts of the Pacific, three hundred miles
north of the steamship route from Yokohama to Honolulu, five hundred
miles from the nearest land, Gardner Island, and more than seven hundred
northwest of the Hawaiian group.

On the cruiser's quarter-deck the officers lined the starboard rail.
Their interest was focussed on the derelict.

"Looks like a heavy job," said Ives, one of the junior lieutenants.
"These floaters that lie with deck almost awash will stand more hammering
than a mud fort."

"Wish they'd let us put some six-inch shells into her," said Billy
Edwards, the ensign, a wistful expression on his big round cheerful face.
"I'd like to see what they would do."

"Nothing but waste a few hundred dollars of your Uncle Sam's money,"
observed Carter, the officer of the deck. "It takes placed charges inside
and out for that kind of work."

"Barnett's the man for her then," said Ives. "He's no economist when it
comes to getting results. There she goes!"

Without any particular haste, as it seemed to the watchers, the hulk was
shouldered out of the water, as by some hidden leviathan. Its outlines
melted into a black, outshowering mist, and from that mist leaped a
giant. Up, up, he towered, tossed whirling arms a hundred feet abranch,
shivered, and dissolved into a widespread cataract. The water below was
lashed into fury, in the midst of which a mighty death agony beat back
the troubled waves of the trade wind. Only then did the muffled double
boom of the explosion reach the ears of the spectators, presently to be
followed by a whispering, swift-skimming wavelet that swept irresistibly
across the bigger surges and lapped the ship's side, as for a message
that the work was done.

Here and there in the sea a glint of silver, a patch of purple, or dull
red, or a glistening apparition of black showed where the unintended
victims of the explosion, the gay-hued open-sea fish of the warm waters,
had succumbed to the force of the shock. Of the intended victim there was
no sign save a few fragments of wood bobbing in a swirl of water.

When Barnett, the ordnance officer in charge of the destruction, returned
to the ship, Carter complimented him.

"Good clean job, Barnett. She was a tough customer, too."

"What was she?" asked Ives.

"The _Caroline Lemp_, three-masted schooner. Anyone know about her?"

Ives turned to the ship's surgeon, Trendon, a grizzled and brief-spoken
veteran, who had at his finger's tips all the lore of all the waters
under the reign of the moon.

"What does the information bureau of the Seven Seas know about it?"

"Lost three years ago - spring of 1901 - got into ice field off the tip of
the Aleutians. Some of the crew froze. Others got ashore. Part of
survivors accounted for. Others not. Say they've turned native. Don't
know myself."

"The Aleutians!" exclaimed Billy Edwards. "Great Cats! What a drift! How
many thousand miles would that be?"

"Not as far as many another derelict has wandered in her time, son," said
Barnett.

The talk washed back and forth across the hulks of classic sea mysteries,
new and old; of the _City of Boston_, which went down with all
hands, leaving for record only a melancholy scrawl on a bit of board to
meet the wondering eyes of a fisherman on the far Cornish coast; of the
_Great Queensland_, which set out with five hundred and sixty-nine
souls aboard, bound by a route unknown to a tragic end; of the
_Naronic_, with her silent and empty lifeboats alone left, drifting
about the open sea, to hint at the story of her fate; of the
_Huronian_, which, ten years later, on the same day and date, and
hailing from the same port as the _Naronic_, went out into the void,
leaving no trace; of Newfoundland captains who sailed, roaring with
drink, under the arches of cathedral bergs, only to be prisoned, buried,
and embalmed in the one icy embrace; of craft assailed by the terrible
one-stroke lightning clouds of the Indian Ocean, found days after, stone
blind, with their crews madly hauling at useless sheets, while the
officers clawed the compass and shrieked; of burnings and piracies; of
pest ships and slave ships, and ships mad for want of water; of whelming
earthquake waves, and mysterious suctions, drawing irresistibly against
wind and steam power upon unknown currents; of stout hulks deserted in
panic although sound and seaworthy; and of others so swiftly dragged down
that there was no time for any to save himself; and of a hundred other
strange, stirring and pitiful ventures such as make up the inevitable
peril and incorrigible romance of the ocean. In a pause Billy Edwards
said musingly:

"Well, there was the _Laughing Lass_."

"How did you happen to hit on her?" asked Barnett quickly.

"Why not, sir? It naturally came into my head. She was last seen
somewhere about this part of the world, wasn't she?" After a moment's
hesitation he added: "From something I heard ashore I judge we've a
commission to keep a watch out for her as well as to destroy derelicts."

"What about the _Laughing Lass_?" asked McGuire, the paymaster, a
New Englander, who had been in the service but a short time.

"Good Lord! don't you remember the _Laughing Lass_ mystery and the
disappearance of Doctor Schermerhorn?"

"Karl Augustus Schermerhorn, the man whose experiments to identify
telepathy with the Marconi wireless waves made such a furore in the
papers?"

"Oh, that was only a by-product of his mind. He was an original
investigator in every line of physics and chemistry, besides most of the
natural sciences," said Barnett. "The government is particularly
interested in him because of his contributions to aërial photography."

"And he was lost with the _Laughing Lass_?"

"Nobody knows," said Edwards. "He left San Francisco two years ago on a
hundred-foot schooner, with an assistant, a big brass-bound chest, and a
ragamuffin crew. A newspaper man named Slade, who dropped out of the
world about the same time, is supposed to have gone along, too. Their
schooner was last sighted about 450 miles northeast of Oahu, in good
shape, and bound westward. That's all the record of her that there is."

"Was that Ralph Slade?" asked Barnett.

"Yes. He was a free-lance writer and artist."

"I knew him well," said Barnett. "He was in our mess in the Philippine
campaign, on the _North Dakota_. War correspondent then. It's
strange that I never identified him before with the Slade of the
_Laughing Lass_."

"What was the object of the voyage?" asked Ives.

"They were supposed to be after buried treasure," said Barnett.

"I've always thought it more likely that Doctor Schermerhorn was on a
scientific expedition," said Edwards. "I knew the old boy, and he wasn't
the sort to care a hoot in Sheol for treasure, buried or unburied."

"Every time a ship sets out from San Francisco without publishing to all
the world just what her business is, all the world thinks it's one of
those wild-goose hunts," observed Ives.

"Yes," agreed Barnett. "Flora and fauna of some unknown island would be
much more in the Schermerhorn line of traffic. Not unlikely that some of
the festive natives collected the unfortunate professor."

Various theories were advanced, withdrawn, refuted, defended, and the
discussion carried them through the swift twilight into the darkness
which had been hastened by a high-spreading canopy of storm-clouds.
Abruptly from the crow's-nest came startling news for those desolate
seas: "Light - ho! Two points on the port bow."

The lookout had given extra voice to it. It was plainly heard throughout
the ship.

The group of officers stared in the direction indicated, but could see
nothing. Presently Ives and Edwards, who were the keenest-sighted, made
out a faint, suffused radiance. At the same time came a second hail from
the crow's-nest.

"On deck, sir."

"Hello," responded Carter, the officer of the deck.

"There's a light here I can't make anything out of, sir."

"What's it like?"

"Sort of a queer general glow."

"General glow, indeed!" muttered Forsythe, among the group aft. "That
fellow's got an imagination."

"Can't you describe it better than that?" called Carter.

"Don't make it out at all, sir. 'Tain't any regular and proper light.
Looks like a lamp in a fog."

Among themselves the officers discussed it interestedly, as it grew
plainer.

"Not unlike the electric glow above a city, seen from a distance," said
Barnett, as it grew plainer.

"Yes: but the nearest electric-lighted city is some eight hundred miles
away," objected Ives.

"Mirage, maybe," suggested Edwards.

"Pretty hard-working mirage, to cover that distance" said Ives. "Though
I've seen 'em - - "

"Great heavens! Look at that!" shouted Edwards.

A great shaft of pale brilliance shot up toward the zenith. Under it
whirled a maelstrom of varied radiance, pale with distance, but
marvellously beautiful. Forsythe passed them with a troubled face, on his
way below to report, as his relief went up.

"The quartermaster reports the compass behaving queerly," he said.

Three minutes later the captain was on the bridge. The great ship had
swung, and they were speeding direct for the phenomenon. But within a few
minutes the light had died out.

"Another sea mystery to add to our list," said Billy Edwards. "Did anyone
ever see a show like that before? What do you think, Doc?"

"Humph!" grunted the veteran. "New to me. Volcanic, maybe."


II

THE _LAUGHING LASS_


The falling of dusk on June the 3d found tired eyes aboard the
_Wolverine_. Every officer in her complement had kept a private and
personal lookout all day for some explanation of the previous night's
phenomenon. All that rewarded them were a sky filmed with lofty clouds,
and the holiday parade of the epauletted waves.

Nor did evening bring a repetition of that strange glow. Midnight found
the late stayers still deep in the discussion.

"One thing is certain," said Ives. "It wasn't volcanic."

"Why so?" asked the paymaster.

"Because volcanoes are mostly stationary, and we headed due for that
light."

"Yes; but did we keep headed?" said Barnett, who was navigating officer
as well as ordnance officer, in a queer voice.

"What do you mean, sir?" asked Edwards eagerly.

"After the light disappeared the compass kept on varying. The stars were
hidden. There is no telling just where we were headed for some time."

"Then we might be fifty miles from the spot we aimed at."

"Hardly that," said the navigator. "We could guide her to some extent by
the direction of wind and waves. If it was volcanic we ought certainly to
have sighted it by now."

"Always some electricity in volcanic eruptions," said Trendon. "Makes
compass cut didoes. Seen it before."

"Where?" queried Carter.

"Off Martinique. Pelée eruption. Needle chased its tail like a kitten."

"Are there many volcanoes hereabouts?" somebody asked.

"We're in 162 west, 31 north, about," said Barnett. "No telling whether
there are or not. There weren't at last accounts, but that's no evidence
that there aren't some since. They come up in the night, these volcanic
islands."

"Just cast an eye on the charts," said Billy Edwards. "Full of E. D.'s
and P. D.'s all over the shop. Every one of 'em volcanic."

"E. D.'s and P. D.'s?" queried the paymaster.

"Existence doubtful, and position doubtful," explained the ensign. "Every
time the skipper of one of these wandering trade ships gets a speck in
his eye, he reports an island. If he really does bump into a rock he cuts
in an arithmetic book for his latitude and longitude and lets it go at
that. That's how the chart makers make a living, getting out new editions
every few months."

"But it's a fact that these seas are constantly changing," said Barnett.
"They're so little travelled that no one happens to be around to see an
island born. I don't suppose there's a part on the earth's surface more
liable to seismic disturbances than this region."

"Seismic!" cried Billy Edwards, "I should say it was seismic! Why, when a
native of one of these island groups sets his heart on a particular loaf
of bread up his bread-fruit tree, he doesn't bother to climb after it.
Just waits for some earthquake to happen along and shake it down to him."

"Good boy, Billy," said Dr. Trendon, approvingly. "Do another."

"It's a fact," said the ensign, heatedly. "Why, a couple of years back
there was a trader here stocked up with a lot of belly-mixture in
bottles. Thought he was going to make his pile because there'd been a
colic epidemic in the islands the season before. Bottles were labelled
'Do not shake.' That settled his business. Might as well have marked 'em
'Keep frozen' in this part of the world. Fellow went broke."

"In any case," said Barnett, "such a glow as that we sighted last night
I've never seen from any volcano."

"Nor I," said Trendon. "Don't prove it mightn't have been."

"I'll just bet the best dinner in San Francisco that it isn't," said
Edwards.

"You're on," said Carter.

"Let me in," suggested Ives.

"And I'll take one of it," said McGuire.

"Come one, come all," said Edwards cheerily. "I'll live high on the
collective bad judgment of this outfit."

"To-night isn't likely to settle it, anyhow," said Ives. "I move we turn
in."

Expectant minds do not lend themselves to sound slumber. All night the
officers of the _Wolverine_ slept on the verge of waking, but it was
not until dawn that the cry of "Sail-ho!" sent them all hurrying to their
clothes. Ordinarily officers of the U.S. Navy do not scuttle on deck like
a crowd of curious schoolgirls, but all hands had been keyed to a high
pitch over the elusive light, and the bet with Edwards now served as an
excuse for the betrayal of unusual eagerness. Hence the quarter-deck was
soon alive with men who were wont to be deep in dreams at that hour.

They found Carter, whose watch on deck it was, reprimanding the lookout.

"No, sir," the man was insisting, "she didn't show no light, sir. I'd 'a'
sighted her an hour ago, sir, if she had."

"We shall see," said Carter grimly. "Who's your relief?"

"Sennett."

"Let him take your place. Go aloft, Sennett."

As the lookout, crestfallen and surly, went below, Barnett said in
subdued tones:

"Upon my word, I shouldn't be surprised if the man were right. Certainly
there's something queer about that hooker. Look how she handles herself."

The vessel was some three miles to windward. She was a schooner of the
common two-masted Pacific type, but she was comporting herself in a
manner uncommon on the Pacific, or any other ocean. Even as Barnett
spoke, she heeled well over, and came rushing up into the wind, where she
stood with all sails shaking. Slowly she paid off again, bearing away
from them. Now she gathered full headway, yet edged little by little to
windward again.

"Mighty queer tactics," muttered Edwards. "I think she's steering
herself."

"Good thing she carries a weather helm," commented Ives, who was an
expert on sailing rigs. "Most of that type do. Otherwise she'd have jibed
her masts out, running loose that way."

Captain Parkinson appeared on deck and turned his glasses for a full
minute on the strange schooner.

"Aloft there," he hailed the crow's-nest. "Do you make out anyone
aboard?"

"No, sir," came the answer.

"Mr. Carter, have the chief quartermaster report on deck with the signal
flags."

"Yes, sir."

"Aren't we going to run up to her?" asked McGuire, turning in surprise to
Edwards.

"And take the risk of getting a hole punched in our pretty paint, with
her running amuck that way? Not much!"

Up came the signal quartermaster to get his orders, and there ensued a
one-sided conversation in the pregnant language of the sea.

"What ship is that?"

No answer.

"Are you in trouble?" asked the cruiser, and waited. The schooner showed
a bare and silent main-peak.

"Heave to." Now Uncle Sam was giving orders.

But the other paid no heed.

"We'll make that a little more emphatic," said Captain Parkinson. A
moment later there was the sharp crash of a gun and a shot went across
the bows of the sailing vessel. Hastened by a flaw of wind that veered
from the normal direction of the breeze the stranger made sharply to
windward, as if to obey.

"Ah, there she comes," ran the comment along the cruiser's quarter-deck.

But the schooner, after standing for a moment, all flapping, answered
another flaw, and went wide about on the opposite tack.

"Derelict," remarked Captain Parkinson. "She seems to be in good shape,
too, Dr. Trendon!"

"Yes, sir." The surgeon went to the captain, and the others could hear
his deep, abrupt utterance in reply to some question too low for their
ears.

"Might be, sir. Beri-beri, maybe. More likely smallpox if anything of
that kind. But _some_ of 'em would be on deck."

"Whew! A plague ship!" said Billy Edwards. "Just my luck to be ordered to
board her." He shivered slightly.

"Scared, Billy?" said Ives. Edwards had a record for daring which made
this joke obvious enough to be safe.

"I wouldn't want to have my peculiar style of beauty spoiled by smallpox
marks," said the ensign, with a smile on his homely, winning face. "And
I've a hunch that that ship is not a lucky find for this ship."

"Then I've a hunch that your hunch is a wrong one," said Ives. "How long
would you guess that craft to be?"

[Illustration: A schooner comporting herself in a manner uncommon on the
Pacific]

They were now within a mile of the schooner. Edwards scrutinised her
calculatingly.

"Eighty to ninety feet."

"Say 150 tons. And she's a two-masted schooner, isn't she?" continued
Ives, insinuatingly.

"She certainly is."

"Well, I've a hunch that that ship is a lucky find for any ship, but
particularly for this ship."

"Great Caesar!" cried the ensign excitedly. "Do you think it's
_her_?"

A buzz of electric interest went around the group. Every glass was
raised; every eye strained toward her stern to read the name as she
veered into the wind again. About she came. A sharp sigh of excited
disappointment exhaled from the spectators. The name had been painted
out.

"No go," breathed Edwards. "But I'll bet another dinner - - "

"Mr. Edwards," called the captain. "You will take the second cutter,
board that schooner, and make a full investigation."

"Yes, sir."

"Take your time. Don't come alongside until she is in the wind. Leave
enough men aboard to handle her."

"Yes, sir."

The cruiser steamed to within half a mile of the aimless traveller, and
the small boat put out. Not one of his fellows but envied the young
ensign as he left the ship, steered by Timmins, a veteran bo's'n's mate,
wise in all the ins and outs of sea ways. They saw him board, neatly
running the small boat under the schooner's counter; they saw the
foresheet eased off and the ship run up into the wind; then the foresail
dropped and the wheel lashed so that she would stand so. They awaited the
reappearance of Edwards and the bo's'n's mate when they had vanished
below decks, and with an intensity of eagerness they followed the return
of the small boat.

Billy Edwards's face as he came on deck was a study. It was alight with
excitement; yet between the eyes two deep wrinkles of puzzlement
quivered. Such a face the mathematician bends above his paper when some
obstructive factor arises between him and his solution.

"Well, sir?" There was a hint of effort at restraint in the captain's
voice.

"She's the _Laughing Lass_, sir. Everything ship-shape, but not a
soul aboard."

"Come below, Mr. Edwards," said the captain. And they went, leaving
behind them a boiling cauldron of theory and conjecture.


III

THE DEATH SHIP


Billy Edwards came on deck with a line of irritation right-angling the
furrows between his eyes.

"Go ahead," the quarter-deck bade him, seeing him aflush with
information.

"The captain won't believe me," blurted out Edwards.

"Is it as bad as that?" asked Barnett, smiling.

"It certainly is," replied the younger man seriously. "I don't know that
I blame him. I'd hardly believe it myself if I hadn't - - "

"Oh, go on. Out with it. Give us the facts. Never mind your credibility."

"The facts are that there lies the _Laughing Lass_, a little
weather-worn, but sound as a dollar, and not a living being aboard of
her. Her boats are all there. Everything's in good condition, though none
too orderly. Pitcher half full of fresh water in the rack. Sails all O.
K. Ashes of the galley fire still warm. I tell you, gentlemen, that ship
hasn't been deserted more than a couple of days at the outside."

"Are you sure all the boats are there?" asked Ives.

"Dory, dingy, and two surf boats. Isn't that enough?"

"Plenty."

"Been over her, inside and out. No sign of collision. No leak. No
anything, except that the starboard side is blistered a bit. No evidence
of fire anywhere else. I tell you," said Billy Edwards pathetically,
"it's given me a headache."

"Perhaps it's one of those cases of panic that Forsythe spoke of the
other night," said Ives. "The crew got frightened at something and ran
away, with the devil after them."

"But crews don't just step out and run around the corner and hide, when
they're scared," objected Barnett.

"That's true, too," assented Ives. "Well, perhaps that volcanic eruption
jarred them so that they jumped for it."

"Pretty wild theory, that," said Edwards.

"No wilder than the facts, as you give them," was the retort.

"That's so," admitted the ensign gloomily.

"But how about pestilence?" suggested Barnett.

"Maybe they died fast and the last survivor, after the bodies of the rest
were overboard, got delirious and jumped after them."

"Not if the galley fire was hot," said Dr. Trendon, briefly. "No;
pestilence doesn't work that way."

"Did you look at the wheel, Billy?" asked Ives.

"Did I! There's another thing. Wheel's all right, but compass is no good
at all. It's regularly bewitched."

"What about the log, then?"


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