Two months later had come the first meager press notices of the narrow escape of the steamer, upon which Waldo Emerson had been touring the south seas, from utter destruction by a huge tidal wave. The dispatch read:
The captain reports that the great wave sept entirely over the steamer, momentarily submerging her. Two members of the crew, the officer upon the bridge, and one passenger were washed away.
The latter was an American traveling for his health, Waldo E. Smith-Jones, son of John Alden Smith-Jones of Boston.
The steamer came about, cruising back and forth for some time, but as the wave had washed her perilously close to a dangerous shore, it seemed unsafe to remain longer in the vicinity, for fear of a recurrence of the tidal wave which would have meant the utter annihilation of the vessel upon the nearby beach.
No sign of any of the poor unfortunates was seen.
Mrs. Smith-Jones is prostrated.
Immediately John Alden Smith-Jones had fitted out his yacht, Priscilla, despatching her under Captain Burlinghame, a retired naval officer, and an old friend of Mr. Smith-Jones, to the far distant coast in search of the body of his son, which the captain of the steamer was of the opinion might very possibly have been washed upon the beach.
And now Burlinghame was back to report the failure of his mission. The two men were sitting in the John Alden Smith-Jones library. Mrs. Smith-Jones was with them.
“We searched the beach diligently at the point opposite which the tidal wave struck the steamer,” Captain Burlinghame was saying. “For miles up and down the coast we patrolled very inch of the sand.”
“We found, at one spot upon the edge of the jungle and above the beach, the body of one of the sailors. It was not and could not have been Waldo’s. The clothing was that of a seaman, the frame was much shorter and stockier than your son’s. There was no sign of any other body along that entire coast.
“Thinking it possible one of the men might have been washed ashore alive we sent parties into the interior. Here we found a wild and savage country, and on two occasions met with fierce, white savages, who hurled rocks at us and fled at the first report of our firearms.
“We continued our search all around the island, which is of considerable extent. Upon the east coast I found this,” and here the captain handed Mr. Smith-Jones the bag of jewels which Nadara had forgotten as she fled from Thandar.
Briefly he narrated what he knew of the history of the poor woman to whom it had belonged.
“I recall the incident quite well,” said Mrs. Smith-Jones, “I had the pleasure of entertaining the count and countess when they stopped here upon their honeymoon. They were lovely people, and to think that they met so tragic an end!”
The three lapsed into silence. Burlinghame did not know whether he was glad or sorry that he had not found the bones of Waldo Emerson—that would have meant the end of hope for his parents. Perhaps much the same thoughts were running through the minds of the others.
Somewhere in the nether regions of the great house an electric bell sounded. Still the three sat on in silence. They heard the houseman open the front door. They heard low voices, and presently there came a deferential tap upon the door of the library.
Mr. Smith-Jones looked up and nodded. It was the houseman. He held a letter in his hand.
“What is it, Krutz?” asked the master in a tired voice. It seemed that nothing ever again would interest him.
“A special delivery letter, sir,” replied the servant. “The boy says you must sign for it yourself, sir.”
“Ah, yes,” replied Mr. Smith-Jones as he reached for the letter and the receipt blank.
He glanced at the post mark—San Francisco.
Idly he cut the envelope.
“Pardon me?” He glanced at first his wife and then at Captain Burlinghame.
The two nodded.
Mr. John Alden Smith-Jones opened the letter. There was a single written sheet and an enclosure in another envelope. He had read but a couple of lines when he came suddenly upright in his chair.
Captain Burlinghame and Mrs. Smith-Jones looked at him in polite and surprised questioning.
“My God!” exclaimed Mr. Smith-Jones. “He is alive—Waldo is alive!”
Mrs. Smith-Jones and Captain Burlinghame sprang from their chairs and ran toward the speaker.
With trembling hands that made it difficult to read the words that his trembling voice could scarce utter John Alden Smith-Jones read aloud:
On board the Sally Corwith,|
San Francisco, California.
Mr. John Alden Smith-Jones,
Dear Sir: Just reached port and hasten to forward letter you son gave me for his mother. He wouldn’t come with us. We found him on ******** Island, Lat 10 degrees—” South, Long. 150 degrees—” West. He seemed in good health and able to look out for himself. Didn’t want anything, he said, except a razor, so we gave him that and one of the men gave him a plug of chewing tobacco. Urged him to come, but he wouldn’t. The enclosed letter will doubtless tell you all about him.
Henry Dobbs, Master.
“Ten south, a hundred and fifty west,” mused Captain Burlinghame. “That’s the same island we searched. Where could he have been!”
Mrs. Smith-Jones had opened the letter addressed to her, and was reading it breathlessly.
My dear Mother: I feel rather selfish in remaining and possibly causing you further anxiety, but I have certain duties to perform to several of the inhabitants which I feel obligated to fulfill before I depart.
My treatment here has been all that anyone might desire—even more, I might say.
The climate is delightful. My cough has left me, and I am entirely a well man—more robust than I ever recall having been in the past.
At present I am sojourning in the mountains, having but run down to the sea shore today, where, happily, I chanced to find the Sally Corwith in the harbor, and am taking advantage of Captain Dobb’s kindness to forward this letter to you.
Do not worry, dearest mother; my obligations will soon be fulfilled and then I shall hasten to take the first steamer for Boston.
I have met a number of interesting people here—the most interesting people I have ever met. They quite overwhelm one with their attentions.
And now, as Captain Dobbs is anxious to e away, I will close, with ever assurance of my deepest love for you and father.
Ever affectionately your son,
Mrs. Smith-Jones’ eyes were dim with tears—tears of thanksgiving and happiness.
“And to think,” she exclaimed, “that after all he is alive and well—quite well. His cough has left him—that is the best part of it, and he is surrounded by interesting people—just what Waldo needed. For some time I feared, before he sailed, that he was devoting himself too closely to his studies and to the little coterie of our own set which surrounded him. This experience will be broadening. Of course these people may be slightly provincial, but it is evident that they posses a certain culture and refinement—otherwise my Waldo would never have described them as ‘interesting.’ The coarse, illiterate, or vulgar could never prove ‘interesting’ to a Smith-Jones.”
Captain Cecil Burlinghame nodded politely—he was thinking of the naked, hairy man-brutes he had seen within the interior of the island.
“It is evident, Burlinghame,” said Mr. Smith-Jones, “that you overlooked a portion of the island. It would seem, from Waldo’s letter, there must be a colony of civilized men and women upon it. Of course it is possible that it may be further inland than you penetrated.”
Burlinghame shook his head.
“I am puzzled,” he said. “We circled the entire coast, yet nowhere did we see any evidence of a man-improved harbor, such as one might have reason to expect were there really a colony of advanced humans in the interior. There would have been at least a shack near the beach in one of the several natural harbors which indent the coast line was there even an occasional steamer touching for purposes of commerce with the colonists.
“No, my friends,” he continued, “as much as I should like to believe it my judgment will not permit me to place any such translation upon Waldo’s letter.
“That he is safe and happy seems evident, and that is enough for us to know. Now it should be a simple matter for us to find him—if it is still your desire to send for him.”
“He may already have left for Boston,” said Mrs. Smith-Jones; “his letter was written several months ago.”
Again Burlinghame shook his head.
“Do not back on that, my dear madam,” he said kindly. “It may be fifty years before another vessel touches that forgotten shore—unless it be one which your yourselves send.”
John Alden Smith-Jones sprang to his feet, and commenced pacing up and down the library.
“How soon can the Priscilla be put in shape to make the return voyage to the island?” he asked.
“It can be done in a week, if necessary,” replied Burlinghame.
“And you will accompany her, in command?”
“Good!” exclaimed Mr. Smith-Jones. “And now, my friend, let us lose no time in starting our preparations. I intend accompanying you.”
“And I shall go too,” said Mrs. Smith-Jones.
The two men looked at her in surprise.
“But my dear!” cried her husband, “there is no telling what hardships and dangers we may encounter—you could never stand such a trip.”
“I am going,” said Mrs. Smith-Jones, firmly. “I know my Waldo. I know his refined and sensitive nature. I know that I am fully capable of enduring whatever he may have endured. He tells me that he is among interesting people. Evidently there is nothing to fear, then, from the inhabitants of the island, and furthermore I wish personally to meet the people he has been living with. I have always been careful to surround Waldo with only the nicest people, and if any vulgarizing influences have been brought to bear upon him since he has been beyond my mature guidance I wish to know it, that I may determine how to combat their results.”
That was the end of it. If Mrs. Smith-Jones knew her son, Mr. Smith-Jones certainly knew his wife.
A week later the Priscilla sailed from Boston harbor on her long journey around the Horn to the south seas.
Most of the old crew had been retained. The first and second officers were new men. The former, William Stark, had come to the Burlinghame well recommended. From the first he seemed an intelligent and experienced officer. That he was inclined to taciturnity but enhanced his value in the eyes of Burlinghame. Stark was inclined to be something of a martinet, so that the crew soon took to hating him cordially, but as his display of this unpleasant trait was confined wholly to trivial acts the men contended themselves with grumbling among themselves, which is the prerogative and pleasure of every good sailorman. Their loyalty to the splendid Burlinghame, however, was not to be shaken by even a dozen Starks.
The monotonous and uneventful journey to the vicinity of ten south and a hundred and fifty west was finally terminated. At last land showed on the starboard bow. Excitement reigned supreme throughout the trim, white Priscilla. Mrs. Smith-Jones peered anxiously and almost constantly through her binoculars, momentarily expecting to see the well-known thin and emaciated figure of her Waldo Emerson standing upon the beach awaiting them.
For two weeks they sailed along the coast, stopping here and there for a day while parties tramped inland in search of signs of civilized habitation. They lay two days in the harbor where the Sally Corwith had lain. There they pressed farther inland than at any other point, but all without avail. It was Burlinghame’s plan to first make a cursory survey of the entire coast, with only short incursions toward the center of the island. Should this fail to discover the missing Waldo the part was then to go over the ground once more, remaining weeks or months as might be required to thoroughly explore every foot of the island.
It was during the pursuit of the initial portion of the program that they dropped anchor in the self-same harbor upon whose waters Waldo Emerson and Nadara had seen the Priscilla lying, only to fly from her.
Burlinghame recalled it as the spot at which the bag of jewels had been picked up. Next to the Sally Corwith harbor, has they had come to call the other anchorage, this seemed most fraught with possibilities of success. They christened it Eugenie Bay, after that poor, unfortunate lady, Eugénie Marie Céleste de la Valois, Countess of Crecy, whose jewels had been recovered upon its shore.
Burlinghame and Waldo’s father with half a dozen officers and men of the Priscilla had spent the day searching the woods, the plain and the hills for some slight sign of human habitation. Shortly after noon First Officer Stark stumbled upon the whitened skeleton of a man. In answer to his shouts the other members of the party hastened to his side. They found the grim thing lying in a little barren spot among the tall grasses. About it the liquids of decomposition had killed vegetation leaving the thing all alone in all its grisly repulsiveness as though shocked, nature had withdrawn in terror.
Star stood pointing toward it without a word as the others came up. Burlinghame was the first to reach Stark’s side. He bent low over the bones examining the skull carefully. John Alden Smith-Jones came panting up. Instantly he saw what Burlinghame was examining he turned deathly white. Burlinghame looked up at him.
“It’s not,” he said. “Look at that skull—either a gorilla or some very low type of man.”
Mr. Smith-Jones breathed a sigh of relief.
“What an awful creature it must have been,” he said, when he had fully taken in the immense breadth of the squat skeleton. “It cannot be that Waldo has survived in a wilderness people by such creatures as this. Imagine him confronted by such a beast. Timid by nature and never robust he would have perished of fright at the very sight of this thing charging down upon him.”
Captain Cecil Burlinghame acquiesced with a nod. He new Waldo Emerson well and so he could not even imagine a meeting between the frail and cowardly youth and such a beast as this bleaching frame must once have supported. And at their feet the bones of Flatfoot lay mute witness to the impossible.
Presently a shout from one of the sailors attracted their attention toward the far side of the valley. The man was gesticulating violently toward the lofty cliffs which rose sheer from the rank jungle grasses. All eyes turned in the direction indicated by the excited sailor. At first they saw nothing, but presently a figure came in sight upon a little elevation. It was the figure of a human being, and even at the distance they were from it all were assured that it was the figure of a female. She was running toward the cliffs with the speed of a deer. And now, behind her, came another figure. Thick set and squat was the thing that pursued the woman. It might have been the reanimated skeleton they had just discovered.
Would the creature catch her before she reached the cliff? Would she find sanctuary even there? Already Burlinghame and Stark had started toward the cliff on a run. John Alden Smith-Jones followed more slowly. The men raced after their officers.
The girl had reached the rocks and was scampering up their precipitous face like a squirrel. Close behind her came the man. They saw the girl reach a ledge just below the mouth of a cave in which she evidently expected to find safety. They saw her clambering up the rickety sapling that answered for a ladder. They breathed sighs of relief, for it seemed that she was now quite safe—the man was still one ledge below her.
But in another moment the watchers were filled with horror. The brute pursuing her had reached forth a giant hand and seized the base of the sapling. He was dragging it over the edge of the cliff. In another moment the girl would be precipitated either into his arms or to a horrible death upon the jagged rocks beneath her.
Burlinghame and Stark halted simultaneously. At once two rifles leaped to their shoulders. There were two reports, so close together they seemed as one.