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The Mystery

PART I: The Sea Riddle
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