Into the city room of the New York Leader hurried Mr. Whiggen, the telegraph editor. In his hand was a slip of paper, containing a few typewritten words. Mr. Whiggen laid it on the desk of Bruce Emberg, the city editor.
"Just came in over our special wire," said Mr. Whiggen. "Looks as if it might be a bad wreck. That's a dangerous coast. I thought you might like to send one of your men down to cover it."
"Thanks," replied the city editor. "I will. Let's see," and, while he read the message, a score of reporters in the room looked up to see what had caused the telegraph editor to come in with such a rush.
This is what Mr. Emberg read from the slip Mr. Whiggen handed him:
"BULLETIN.—S.S. Olivia ashore off Seven Mile Beach, on sand bar. Big steerage list, some cabin passengers—fruit cargo. Ship badly listed, but may get off at high tide. If not, liable to break up in storm. Passengers safe yet.—ASSOCIATED PRESS."
There followed a brief description of the vessel, compiled from the maritime register, giving her tonnage, size, and when built.
"Um," remarked Mr. Emberg when he had read the short message, which was what newspaper men call a "flash" or bulletin, intended to notify the journals of the barest facts of the story. "This looks as if it would amount to something. I'll send a man down. Have we any one there?"
"We've got a man in Ocean City," replied the telegraph editor, "but I'm afraid I can't reach him. Have to depend on the Associated Press until we can get some one down."
"All right, I'll send right away."
The telegraph editor went back to his sanctum on the run, for it was near first-edition time and he wanted to get a display head written for the wreck story. Mr. Emberg looked over the room, in which many reporters were at work, most of them typewriting stories as fast as their fingers could fly over the keys. Several of the news-gatherers who had heard the conversation between the two editors hoped they might be sent on that assignment, for though it meant hard work it was a chance to get out of the city for a while.
"Are you up, Newton?" asked Mr. Emberg of a reporter in the far corner of the room.
"No, I've got that political story to write yet."
"That's so. I can't spare you. How about you, Larry?"
"I'm up," was the answer, which is the newspaper man's way of saying his particular task is finished.
"Here, then, jump out on this," and the city editor handed the telegram to a tall, good-looking youth, who arose from his desk near a window.
Larry Dexter, who had risen from the rank of office boy to reporter, took in the message at a glance.
"Shall I start now?" he asked.
"As soon as you can get a train. Seven Mile Beach is down on the Jersey coast, near Anglesea. You can't get there in time to wire us anything for to-day, but rush a good story for to-morrow. If a storm comes up, and they have to rescue the passengers, it will make a corker. Don't be afraid of slinging your words if it turns out worth while. Here's an order on the cashier for some money. Hustle now," and Mr. Emberg scribbled down something on a slip of paper which he handed to the young reporter.
"Leave the message in the telegraph room as you go out," went on the city editor. "Mr. Whiggen may want it. Hustle now, Larry, and do your best."
Many envious eyes followed Larry Dexter as he hurried out of the city room, putting on his coat and hat as he went, for he had been working in his shirt sleeves.
Larry went down the long corridor, stopping in the telegraph room to leave the message which was destined to be responsible for his part in a series of strange events. He had little idea, as he left the Leader office that morning, that his assignment to get the story of the wreck was the beginning of a singular mystery.
Larry cashed the order Mr. Emberg had given him, and hurried to the railroad station. He found there was no train for an hour, and, telephoning to the city editor to that effect, received permission to go home and get some extra clothing, as he might have to stay away several days.
The young reporter rather startled his mother as he hurried in to tell her he was going out of town, but Mrs. Dexter had, in a measure, become used to her son doing all sorts of queer things since he had started in newspaper life.
"Will you be gone long, Larry?" she asked, as he kissed her good-bye, having packed a small valise.
"Can't say, mother. Probably not more than two days."
"Bring me some sea shells," begged Larry's brother, Jimmie, a bright little chap.
"And I want a lobster and a crab and a starfish," spoke Mary, a sunny-haired toddler.
"All right, and I'll bring Lucy some shells to make beads of," answered Larry, mentioning his older sister, who was not at home.
Larry found he had not much time left to catch his train, and he was obliged to hurry to the ferry which took him to Jersey City. There he boarded a Pennsylvania Railroad train, and was soon being whirled toward the coast.
Seven Mile Beach was a rather dangerous stretch of the Jersey shore, not far from Cape May. There were several lighthouses along it, but they did not always prevent vessels from running on a long sand bar, some distance out. More than one gallant ship had struck far up on it, and, being unable to get off, had been pounded to pieces by the waves.
By inquiring Larry found that the wreck of the Olivia was just off a lonely part of the coast, and that there were no railroad stations near it.
"Where had I better get off?" he asked, of the conductor.
"Well, you can get off at Sea Isle City, or Sackett's Harbor. Both stations are about five miles from where the ship lies, according to all accounts. Then you can walk."
"He can do better than that," interposed a brakeman.
"How?" asked Larry.
"There's a station, or rather what remains of it, half way between those places," the brakeman said. "It used to be called Miller's Beach. Started to be a summer resort, but it failed. There's nothing there now but a few fishermen's huts. But I guess that's nearer the wreck than Sea Isle City or Sackett's Harbor."
"Is there a place I could stay all night?" asked the young reporter.
"You might find a place. It's pretty lonesome. Sometimes, in the summer, there are campers there, but it's too late in the fall now to expect any of 'em. We'll stop there for water, and you can get off if you like."
Larry hardly knew what to do. Still he decided he was sent to get a story of the wreck, and he felt it would be well to get as near to it as possible. But there was another thing to think of, and that was how to get his news back into the Leader office. He must be near a telegraph station. Inquiry of the trainmen disclosed the fact that the nearest one was three miles from Miller's Beach.
"Guess I'll chance it," concluded Larry.
"We'll be there in an hour," went on the brakeman. "It's the jumping-off place, so to speak, and it's not going to be very pleasant there when the storm breaks."
That a heavy storm was gathering was all too evident from the mass of dark, rolling clouds in the east. They hung low, and there was a rising wind.
"I wouldn't want to be on that vessel," remarked the brakeman as the train, having stopped at a small station, started off again. "It's beginning to rain now, and it will blow great guns before morning."
Several men, their faces bronzed from exposure to the weather, had boarded the train. They talked quietly in one corner of the car.
"Who are they?" asked Larry, of the brakeman.
"Life savers, from the Anglesea station. Going to Tatums, I guess."
"Tatums is the life-saving station nearest where the vessel is ashore. Maybe they are going to help in case she breaks up in the storm. Tatums is about three miles below where you are going."
Larry began to see that he would have no easy task in getting news of the wreck, or in transmitting it after he had it. But he was not going to worry so early in the undertaking. So, when the brakeman warned him that the train was nearing the water tank, which was all that remained of interest to the railroad people at Miller's Beach, the young reporter prepared to alight.
As he went out on the platform the wind increased in violence, and then, with a rush and a roar, the rain began to fall in torrents.
Larry wished he could stay in the train, as he had no umbrella, but there was no help for it. He leaped off the platform of the car almost before it had stopped, and looked for a place of shelter. He was surprised to see several large buildings in front of him, but even through the mist of rain he noted that they were dilapidated and forsaken. He was in the midst of a deserted seaside resort.
He hurried on, being wet through before he had gone a dozen steps. Then he heard the train puffing away. It seemed as though he was left all alone in a very lonesome place.
"Hi! Where you going?" a voice hailed him.
Larry looked up, to see a man clad in yellow oilskins and rubber boots standing in front of him.
"I came down about the wreck," was the young reporter's reply.
"Got any folks aboard? If you have I'm sorry. She's broken her back!"
"No; I'm a reporter from New York. What do you mean about breaking her back?"
"Why, she ran away up on the bar at high tide. When it got low tide a while ago the bows and stern just sagged down, and she broke in two. They've got to work hard to save the passengers."
"That's a good story," was Larry's ejaculation, but it was not as heartless as it sounds, for he was only speaking professionally. "I must get down after it."
"What? With night coming on, the wreck almost half a mile out, and it coming on to blow like all possessed?" asked the man in oilskins. "Guess you don't know much about the sea, young man."
"Very little," answered Larry.
A sudden gust of wind, which dashed the rain with great force into his face, nearly carried the reporter off his feet. He looked about for a place of shelter.
"Better come with me," suggested the man. "There are no hotel accommodations here, though there once were. I have a shack down on the beach, and you're welcome to what I've got. I fish for a living. Bailey's my name. Bert Bailey."
"Go ahead. I'll follow," returned Larry. "I'd like to get out of this rain."
"Have to tog you out like me," said the old fisherman, as he led the youth toward his hut. "These are the only things for this weather."
As they hastened on there came over the water the boom of a signal gun from the wrecked steamer.
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