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Chapter 6

A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE


Remaining only long enough to see that the operator got off the first part of his story, and finding, on inquiry, that the telegrapher had no difficulty in reading his writing, Larry started back to the scene of the wreck. He wanted to learn if all the passengers and crew were saved, and get an interview with the captain, if he could.

So he left his old enemy, Peter, there grinding out his story in no pleasant frame of mind. But it was part of the game, and Larry's "beat" was a cleanly-scored one, especially as Peter had tried to win by a trick.

The young reporter found the work of rescue almost completed. The life savers had labored to good advantage and had brought nearly all the passengers ashore in the breeches buoy. They were cared for temporarily at the beach station, though the small quarters were hardly adequate.

With the bringing ashore of the crew and officers, the captain coming last, the life savers found their work finished. And it was only just in time, for, not more than an hour after the commander had staggered up the beach, worn and exhausted by the strain and exposure, the after part of the vessel slid from the bar and sank in deep water.

Larry, who had been introduced to Captain Needam by Bailey, told the former of his desire for an interview with the commander of the Olivia, and the matter was soon arranged, though Captain Tantrella was in dire distress over the loss of his ship.

However, he told Larry what the reporter wished to know, describing how, in the fog, the vessel had run on the sand bar. He related some of the scenes during their wait to be rescued, told of the high seas and terrible winds, and painted a vivid picture of the dangers. Larry wrote it in his best style and hurried back to the telegraph office.

There was only one passenger missing, and the name of this one, according to the purser's list, was Mah Retto. The name, though peculiar, Larry thought, was not dissimilar to scores of others, for the steamer had on board a cosmopolitan lot of passengers. No one knew how Retto had been lost.

As Larry was on his way to the telegraph office a sudden thought came to him.

"That's it!" he exclaimed. "The man who came ashore on the life-raft is this missing Mah Retto. I'll just stop on my way to the telegraph office and see him. That will clear it all up, and make every passenger accounted for."

He hurried on, intending to get a hasty interview with the man at Bailey's hut, and then go telegraph the rest of his story. The fisherman was still down on the beach, aiding the life savers to pack their apparatus for transportation back to the station. As Larry came in sight of the cabin he saw the raft, on which the stranger had come ashore, lying just beyond high-water mark.

He entered the hut, expecting to see Retto, as he had come to call the foreigner, sitting comfortably by the fire. But the rescued man was not there. Nor was he in the room where he had been put to bed.

"Maybe he's in the woodshed," thought Larry. "I'll take a look."

But he was not there.

"That's strange," Larry mused. "He's disappeared. There is something queer in this, and I'm going to find it out. But first I must send the rest of my story."

Larry found Peter Manton still at the telegraph office grinding away. Larry's first batch of copy had been sent off, as had most of Peter's stuff. As the representative of the Scorcher handed in the last of his copy he turned to Larry and said, sneeringly:

"I'll bet I've got a better story than you have."

"Perhaps," was all Larry replied. Then, as Peter went back to the wreck for more information, Larry wrote, as an addition to his story, the interview with the captain, finishing with an account of the missing Mah Retto. He told also of the man who came ashore on the raft, and who was believed to be the passenger who was unaccounted for.

"That's a good day's work done," remarked the young reporter, as he signed his name to the last sheet of copy. "I wonder if they want me to stay here?"

He wrote a brief message asking Mr. Emberg for instructions. Telling the operator he would call in about two hours for an answer, Larry decided he would get some breakfast.

As there was no restaurant in the little hamlet, he thought the best plan would be to go back to the fisherman's cabin. He wanted to talk with Bailey about the disappearance of the man they had rescued from the raft.

The fisherman was at the hut when Larry arrived, and was busy preparing a meal.

"Guess you feel like eating something, don't ye?" he asked.

"You guessed it right the first time," replied the young reporter, with a grin.

"And my other company," went on Bailey. "I expect he's hungry."

"He's gone."

"Gone?"

"Yes; I came back here a while ago and there wasn't a sign of him."

"Why, that's queer," returned the fisherman. "I've been so busy frying this bacon and making fresh coffee I didn't notice it. But that reminds me, I haven't seen or heard anything of him since I came in. His clothes are gone, too."

Larry and Bailey made a hasty search through the cabin. There were few places where a person could conceal himself, and they very soon found that their late guest was nowhere on the premises.

"Here's something," remarked Larry, as he looked on a small table in the room where the rescued man had slept. "It looks like a note."

It was a note, written on the fly leaf torn from a book. It read:

"Dear friends. Accept my thanks for saving my life. Please take this small remembrance for your trouble."

There was no signature to the note, but folded in the paper was a hundred-dollar bill, somewhat damp from immersion in the sea.

"Well, sink my cuttle-fish!" exclaimed Bailey. "That's odd. A hundred dollars! That's more than I make in a summer season. But half of it's yours. I'd like to rescue people steady at that rate."

"It's all yours," said Larry. "I got the story I came down after, and that's all I want. But I would like to find this Mah Retto, if that's his name. He doesn't write much like a foreigner, though he looks like one. May I keep this note?"

"As long as you don't want a share in the hundred-dollar one, I reckon you can," Bailey replied, with a laugh.

Larry folded the scrap of paper to put in his pocket. As he did so something bright and shining on the floor attracted his attention. He stooped to pick it up, finding it was a small gold coin, of curious design, evidently used as a watch charm.

"I guess our man dropped this," Larry said, holding it out to Bailey.

"Well, you can keep that, with the note. Perhaps it will help you solve the mystery," the fisherman said. "I'm satisfied with what I got."

Larry put the charm in his pocket, together with the note, and was about to leave the room, when the fisherman, who was lifting from the corner a box, in which to deposit his money, uttered an exclamation.

"What is it?" asked Larry.

"Why, it's a man's beard. Somebody's shaved his off and left it here. How in the name of a soft-shell clam——"

"It's that man!" cried Larry. "I knew he had a beard on when we pulled him ashore!"

"A beard on?" murmured Bailey, in questioning tones.

"Yes," went on Larry. "When you were outside, getting some wood, just before you ran down the beach when the life savers came, I was in here. The man stuck his head from the bed-room and asked for his clothes, which I gave him. I noticed he was smooth shaven——"

"Why, he had a beard on when we pulled him from the water," interrupted the fisherman.

"I was sure he did, but when I asked him why he had shaved it off he said I was mistaken—said it was only a bunch of seaweed I had thought was a beard. Then you called me to hurry out, and I forgot all about it until now. But he must have shaved his whiskers off in here, and then he disappeared. There's something strange about it all."

"I rather guess there is," Bailey admitted. "Wonder where he got his razor? I never use one."

"He must have had it in that small valise he wore, strapped by a belt, around his waist," Larry answered. "That's probably where he carried his money. I'd like to get at the bottom of this mystery."

"Well, you newspaper fellows are looking for just such things as this," said the fisherman with a smile. "It's right in your line."

"So it is," Larry replied. "I'll solve it, too."

But it was some time later, and Larry had many strange adventures before he got at the bottom of the queer secret that started down there on the lonely sea coast.

Victor Appleton

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