“The baby tied to the buoy,” he would say, striking the table with his fist, “The baby tied to the buoy is worth its weight in gold.”
Then he would laugh, as if well satisfied with himself. But they could never draw out of him any explanation of these words, and for many years the Bowles household were lost in conjectures as to what they could possibly mean.
This accounted for Mrs. Bowles’ excitement, when Erik suddenly announced to her that he was the famous baby who had been tied to a buoy.
Patrick O’Donoghan, who had been in the habit of lodging at the Red Anchor, whenever he was in New York, for more than fifteen years, had not been seen there now for more than four years. There had also been something mysterious about his last departure. He had received a visit from a man who had been closeted with him for more than an hour. After this visit Patrick O’Donoghan, who had seemed worried and troubled, had paid his board bill, taken his carpet bag, and left in a hurry.
They had never seen him since that day.
Mr. and Mrs. Bowles were naturally ignorant of the cause of his sudden departure, but they had always thought that it had some connection with the loss of the “Cynthia.” In their opinion the visitor had come to warn Patrick O’Donoghan of some danger which threatened him, and the Irishman had thought it prudent to leave New York immediately. Mrs. Bowles did not think he had ever returned. If he had done so, they would have been sure to hear of him through other seamen who frequented their house, and who would have been astonished if Patrick O’Donoghan had boarded anywhere else, and would have been sure to ask questions as to the reasons for his doing so.
This was the substance of the story related to Erik, and he hastened to communicate it to his friends.
His report was naturally received with all the interest which it merited. For the first time, after so many years, they were on the track of a man who had made reiterated allusions to the baby tied to a buoy. It was true they did not know where this man was, but they hoped to find him some day. It was the most important piece of news which they had as yet obtained. They resolved to telegraph to Mrs. Bowles, and beg her to prepare a dinner for six persons. Mr. Bredejord had suggested this idea, as a good means of drawing the worthy couple out; for while they talked during the dinner, they might be able to glean some new facts.
Erik had little hopes of obtaining any further information. He thought that he already knew Mr. and Mrs. Bowles well enough to be convinced that they had told him all that they knew. But he did not take into account Mr. Bredejord’s skill in questioning witnesses, and in drawing from them information which they themselves were scarcely aware of.
Mrs. Bowles had surpassed herself in preparing the dinner. She had laid the table in the best room on the first floor. She felt very much flattered at being invited to partake of it, in the society of such distinguished guests, and answered willingly all of Mr. Bredejord’s questions.