“Paper—third e’shen—loss of the Sco-sha.”
Faster and faster I hurried along. But the awful cry was always ringing in my ears, behind, before, and on either side.
When I reached our boarding-house my limbs could scarcely support me. I had hardly strength enough to pull the bell. And before our young waiter had opened the door two news men, crossing the square, were crying:
“Paper—third edition—reported loss of the ’Scotia.’”
As I passed through the hall the old colonel and the old clergyman were standing by the dining-room door. They were talking excitedly, and while I was going upstairs, panting hard and holding on by the handrail, I heard part of their conversation.
“Scotia was the name of the South Pole ship, wasn’t it?”
“Certainly it was. We must send young John out for a paper.”
Reaching my room I dropped into my chair. My faculties had so failed me that for some minutes I was unable to think. Presently my tired brain recalled the word “Reported” and to that my last hope began to cling as a drowning sailor clings to a drifting spar.
After a while I heard some of our boarders talking on the floor below. Opening my door and listening eagerly I heard one of them say, in such a casual tone:
“Rather sad—this South Pole business, isn’t it?”
“Yes, if it’s true.”
“Doesn’t seem much doubt about that—unless there are two ships of the same name, you know.”
At that my heart leapt up. I had now two rafts to cling to. Just then the gong sounded, and my anxiety compelled me to go down to tea.
As I entered the drawing-room the old colonel was unfolding a newspaper.
“Here we are,” he was saying. “Reported loss of the Scotia—Appalling Antarctic Calamity.”
I tried to slide into the seat nearest to the door, but the old actress made room for me on the sofa close to the tea-table.
“You enjoyed the rehearsal? Yes?” she whispered.
“Hush!” said our landlady, handing me a cup of tea, and then the old colonel, standing back to the fire, began to read.
"Telegrams from New Zealand report the picking up of large fragments of a ship which were floating from the Antarctic seas. Among them were the bulwarks, some portions of the deck cargo, and the stern of a boat, bearing the name ‘Scotia.’
“Grave fears are entertained that these fragments belong to the schooner of the South Pole expedition, which left Akaroa a few weeks ago, and the character of some of the remnants (being vital parts of a ship’s structure) lead to the inference that the vessel herself must have foundered."_
“Well, well,” said the old clergyman, with his mouth full of buttered toast.
The walls of the room seemed to be moving around me. I could scarcely see; I could scarcely hear.