Slowly the great mass of steel swung to the unknown. For an hour the unknown guided her. Then fell blackness, sudden, complete. After that radiance the dazzled eye could make out no stars, but the look-out’s keen vision discerned something else.
“Ship afire,” he shouted hoarsely.
“Two points to leeward, near where the light was, sir.”
They turned their eyes to the direction indicated, and beheld a majestic rolling volume of purple light. Suddenly a fiercer red shot it through.
“That’s no ship afire,” said Trendon. “Volcano in eruption.”
“And the other?” asked the captain.
“No volcano, sir.”
“Poor Billy Edwards wins his bet,” said Forsythe, in a low voice.
“God grant he’s on earth to collect it,” replied Barnett solemnly.
No one turned in that night. When the sun of June 8th rose, it showed an ocean bare of prospect except that on the far horizon where the chart showed no land there rose a smudge of dirty rolling smoke. Of the schooner there was neither sign nor trace.
“This ship,” growled Carter, the second officer, to Dr. Trendon, as they stood watching the growing smoke-column, “is a worse hot-bed of rumours than a down-east village. That’s the third sea-gull we’ve had officially reported since breakfast.”
As he said, three distinct times the Wolverine had thrilled to an imminent discovery, which, upon nearer investigation, had dwindled to nothing more than a floating fowl. Upon the heels of Carter’s complaint came another hail.
“Boat ahoy. Three points on the starboard bow.”
“If that’s another gull,” muttered Carter, “I’ll have something to say to you, my festive lookout.”
The news ran electrically through the cruiser, and all eyes were strained for a glimpse of the boat. The ship swung away to starboard.
“Let me know as soon as you can make her out,” ordered Carter.
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“There’s certainly something there,” said Forsythe, presently. “I can make out a speck rising on the waves.”
“Bit o’ wreckage from Barnett’s derelict,” muttered Trendon, scowling through his glasses.
“Rides too high for a spar or anything of that sort,” said the junior lieutenant.
“She’s a small boat,” came in the clear tones of the lookout, “driftin’ down.”
“Anyone in her?” asked Carter.
“Can’t make out yet, sir. No one’s in charge though, sir.”
Captain Parkinson appeared and Carter pointed out the speck to him.
“Yes. Give her full speed,” said the captain, replying to a question from the officer of the deck.
Forward leapt the swift cruiser, all too slow for the anxious hearts of those aboard. For there was not one of the Wolverines who did not expect from this aimless traveller of desert seas at the least a leading clue to the riddle that oppressed them.