"Brave girl!" he murmured as he wrapped Vincent in the coverings and passed him on to the skipper.
"And now," he said, "the time has come to think of other things. I believe the waves have sufficiently subsided to enable us to dare it."
He fumbled once more at the raft, at last to bring up a long, post-shaped affair.
"More rations," murmured Joe, swallowing his last bite of hardtack; "a regular commissary. But why get them out at this time?"
"You wait," smiled Curlie.
He was standing up. After telling Joe to steady him, he began tearing away at the upper end of the mysterious package. In a moment, he took out some limp, rubber affairs.
"Toy balloons," jeered Joe.
"Something like that," Curlie smiled.
He next brought out a small brass retort and a tiny spirit lamp.
"Lucky our matches are dry," he murmured, after unwrapping some oiled cloth and lighting the spirit lamp with one of the matches inclosed.
After firmly tying the end of a toy balloon over the mouth of the retort he held the spirit lamp beneath the bowl of the retort. At once the balloon began to expand.
"Chemicals already in the retort," he explained.
When the balloon was sufficiently inflated, he quickly tied it at the mouth, then began inflating another.
"The gas is very buoyant," he explained. "Hold that," he said as he passed the string to the engineer.
"There's enough," he said quietly when the third had been filled.
He next drew forth some shiny fine copper wire coiled about some round, insulated bars.
When he had fastened the balloons to one end of the bars, he attached a strong cord to the balloons, then allowed them to rise, at the same time paying out the strands of copper wire.
"Not very heavy wire for an aerial," he remarked, "but heavy enough. We'll have a perpendicular aerial, which is better than horizontal, and it'll hang pretty high. All that's in our favor."
When the balloons had risen to a height which allowed the aerial, to which was attached a heavier insulated wire, to float free, he gave the cord to the engineer and began busying himself at putting together what appeared to be a small windmill with curved, brass fans.
"A windmill," he explained, "is the surest method of obtaining a little power. Always a little breeze floating round. Enough to turn a wheel. This one is connected direct with a small generator. Gives power enough for a radiophone. Might use batteries but they might go dead on you. Windmill and generator is as good after ten years as ten days.
"There you are," he heaved a sigh of relief, as he struck the transmitter which he had taken from his apparently inexhaustible "bag of tricks."
"Unless I miss my guess, we have a perfectly good radiophone outfit of fair power. All the rest of it is stowed down there in the bottom. We should be heard distinctly at from a hundred to five hundred miles. In the future," he smiled, "every lifeboat and raft will be equipped with one of these handy little radiophone outfits, which are really not very expensive."
Then, with all eyes fixed upon him, he began to converse with the unseen and unknown, who, sailing somewhere on that vast sweep of water, were, they hoped, to become their rescuers.
In perfectly natural tones he spoke of their catastrophe and their present predicament. He gave their approximate location and the names of their party. This after an interval of two minutes, he repeated.
Then, suddenly his lips parted in a smile. The others watched him with strained attention. After a minute had elapsed, he said with apparent satisfaction:
"We'll await your arrival with unmixed pleasure.
"The Steamship Torrence," he explained, "in crossing the Atlantic was driven two hundred miles off her course. She is now only about seventy-five miles from us. Being a fast boat, she should reach us in three or four hours.
"And now," he said with a smile, "since we have no checker-board on deck and are entirely deprived of musical instruments of any kind, perhaps you would like to hear me tell why I was sure the mysterious island which has caused us so much grief, did not exist."
"By the way," he said turning to Vincent, "do you chance to have the original of that old map with you?"
The boy pointed to his aviator's sodden leather coat. Although he had gained much strength from the warm blankets, he had found himself unable to speak of the tragedy which had befallen his companion on the Stormy Petrel. Now as he saw Curlie draw the water-soaked map from the pocket of his coat, a look of horror overspread his face and he muttered hoarsely:
"Throw it into the sea. It brings nothing but bad luck."
"No, no," said Curlie, "we won't do that."
"Then you must keep it," the other boy exclaimed. "I don't want ever to see it again. Alfred made me a present of it just before we hopped off."
"All right," said Curlie, "but you are parting with a thing of some value."
"Value!" exclaimed Vincent. Then he sat staring at Curlie in silence as much as to say: "You too must have been bitten by the gold-bug." But that Curlie had not been bitten by that dangerous and poisonous insect will be proved, I think, by the pages which follow.
THE STORY OF THE MAP
"You see," said Curlie, tapping the soggy bit of vellum which he held in his hand, "the trouble with this map is, not that it is not genuine, but that it's too old. This map," he paused for emphasis, "this map was made in fourteen hundred and forty-six."
Gladys Ardmore gasped. Her brother stared in astonishment.
"It's a fact!" declared Curlie emphatically.
"You see," he went on, "the day I was in the library with Miss Gladys I saw an exact reproduction of this map in a large volume. At the same time I read a description of it and a brief account of its history. It seems it was lost sight of about a century ago. There were copies, but the original was gone.
"I concluded at once that the map had somehow come into the hands of Alfred Brightwood. Since I was convinced that this was the truth, and since I had read the writing about the gold discovered on the mysterious island charted there, I decided that it would be wise to find out whether or not it were possible that this strange story might be true. I found my answer in a bound volume of Scottish Geographic Magazines in a series of articles entitled 'The So-Called Mythical Islands of the Atlantic.'
"It seems that there is fairly good proof that a number of vessels landed on the North American continent before Columbus did. Driven out of their course or lured on by hopes of gold and adventure, these ships from time to time discovered and rediscovered lands to the west of Ireland. They thought of the land as islands and gave them names. The island of Brazil was one of them. If you were to consult this map I have here you would find the island of Brazil indicated by a circle which is nearly as large as Ireland, yet if you were to cruise all over the waters in the vicinity of this supposed island you would find only the restless old ocean.
"What's the answer then?" he smiled. "Just this: These ancient sea rovers didn't have any accurate way of telling where they were at a given time on the sea, so they had to guess at it. Carried on by winds and currents, they often traveled much farther than they thought. They landed on the continent of North America and thought it an island. When they came back to Europe they tried to locate the land they had discovered on a map, and missed it by only a thousand miles or so.
"Our ancient friend who wrote of his experiences on the back of this map had doubtless been carried to some point in Central or South America, for there was, even in those days, plenty of gold to be found in those regions."
"So you see," he turned to Vincent with a smile, "you went five hundred miles out to sea for the purpose of rediscovering America. Not much chance of success. Anyway that's what I thought, and that is why I dashed off on a wild race in the Kittlewake. And that's why we're here."
Silence followed the ending of Curlie's narrative. There seemed to be nothing more to say.
So they sat there staring at the sea for a long time.
The silence was at last broken by the skipper's announcement:
"Smoke on the larboard bow."
It was true. Their relief was at hand.
Almost immediately afterward Curlie received a second reassuring message from the captain of the liner. A short time after that he had the pleasure of escorting the dripping daughter of a millionaire up the gangway.
The next day as they were moving in toward the dock, Vincent Ardmore approached Curlie.
"My sister," there was a strange smile on his lips, "says you set out on this trip for the purpose of having me arrested?"
"Well—" the other boy choked up and could not continue.
"The law, punishment, prisons and all that, as I understand it," said Curlie thoughtfully, "have but one purpose: to teach people what other folks' rights are and to encourage them in respecting them. It's my business to see that there is fair play in the air."
He paused and looked away at the sea. When he resumed there was a suspicious huskiness in his voice. "Seems to me that as far as you are concerned, nature has punished you about enough. You ought to know by this time what interfering with the radio wave lengths belonging to sea traffic might mean to shipwrecked men; and—well—Oh, what's the use!" he broke off abruptly. "I'm a chicken-hearted fool. You're out on parole and must report to your sister every week. She's—she's what I'd call a brick!"
Turning hastily he walked away.
Almost before he knew it, he all but ran over Gladys Ardmore, coming to meet him.
"Oh, Mister—Mister—" she hesitated.
"Just plain Curlie," he smiled.
"You—you're coming to see me when you get home? Won't you?"
Curlie thought a moment, then of a sudden the spacious walls of the Ardmore mansion flashed into his mind. To go there as an officer of the law was one thing; to go as a guest was quite another.
"Why—why—" he drew back in confusion—"you'll have to excuse me but—but—"
"Oh! I know!" she exclaimed. "It's the house and everything. Tell you what," she seized him by the arm; "there's a little old-fashioned farmhouse down in one corner of our estate. It was there when we bought it and has been kept just the same ever since. Even the furniture, red plush chairs, kitchen stove and everything, are there. We'll go down there and have a regular frolic sometime, popcorn, molasses candy, checkers and everything. We've a wonderful cook who once lived on a farm. We'll take her along as a chaperon. Now will you come? Will you?" she urged eagerly.
"If you don't," she held up a warning finger, "I'll come up and visit you in that secret wireless room of yours just as I once said I would."
"In that case," said Curlie, "I suppose I'll have to surrender. And," he added happily, "here we are, back to dear old North America, without any gold but with a lot to be thankful for."
The boat was bumping against the dock. Giving his arm a squeeze the girl dashed away.
OFF ON ANOTHER WILD CHASE
A few nights later Curlie was back in the secret tower room. He was busy as ever running down trouble.
Joe Marion, entering the room noiselessly, dropped a letter into his hand. The letter bore the insignia of the Ardmore family in one corner.
"From Gladys Ardmore!" he told himself.
But he was mistaken. It was a typewritten letter signed in a bold business hand. It ran:
"It is with great pleasure that I inclose a check for the sum of the reward offered for the safe return of my son.
"(Signed) J. Anson Ardmore."
Curlie looked at the check, then uttered a low whistle.
"Pay to the order of C. Carson, $10,000.00," he whispered. Then out loud:
"Joe, what would a fellow do with ten thousand dollars?"
"Search me," Joe grinned back. "You got the fever or something?" he asked a second later.
Curlie showed him the check.
"Why," said Joe, "you might buy a car."
"Not much. The Humming Bird's quite good enough."
"Tell you what," he said after a moment's thought, "just get that cashed for me, will you? Then find out where our old skipper and the engineer live and send them a thousand apiece. After that pocket a thousand for yourself. Then—then—Oh, well, hire me a safety deposit box and buy me a lot of Liberty bonds. Might want 'em some day.
"And, say, that reminds me," he pointed to a square of vellum which hung on a stretcher in the corner. "Take that over to the big library on the North Side and tell 'em it's a present from us. It's that map Vincent Ardmore gave me. It's worth a thousand dollars, but such maps are not safe outside a library. Tell 'em to put it on ice," he laughed.
Scarcely had Joe departed than a keen-eyed, gray-haired man entered the tower room. He was Colonel Edward Marshall, Curlie's superior.
"Curlie," he wrinkled his brow, as he took a seat, "there's somebody raising hob with the radio service in Alaska."
Curlie nodded his head. "I thought there might be. Sends on 1200, doesn't he?" He was thinking of the hotel mystery and of the strange girl who had whispered to him so often out of the night.
"Yes, how did you know so much?"
"Part of my job."
"But you've been away."
"Radiophone whispers travel far."
"Well," said the colonel, settling down to business, "Alaska's in a bad way. This fellow doesn't confine himself to 1200 up there. He uses all sorts of wave lengths; seems to take pleasure in mussing up important government communications and even more in breaking in on Munson."
"Munson, the Arctic explorer."
"Yes. He's making a try for the Pole. Much depends upon his keeping in touch with the outside world and this crank or crook seems determined that he shall not."
"Why don't they catch him?"
"Well, you see," he wrinkled his brow again, "the boys up there are rather new at it. Don't understand the radio compass very well. The fellow moves about and all that, so it's difficult.
"I thought," he said slowly after a moment, "that you might like to tackle the case."
"Would I?" exclaimed Curlie, jumping to his feet. "Try me! Can I take Joe along?"
"As you like. Better get off pretty promptly; say day after to-morrow."
"Never fear. We'll be off on time."
The colonel bowed and left the room.
"Alaska! Alaska!" Curlie murmured after a time, "Alaska and the Yukon trail, for of course it will be that. It's too late for the boats. And that reminds me, I made a promise to Gladys Ardmore. Only one night left."
A short time after that he put in an out-of-town telephone call. It was a girlish voice that answered.
Late the next night Curlie made his way home along the well-remembered Forest Preserve road. He was riding in the Humming Bird. He had been to Gladys Ardmore's party for two and a chaperon down in the little farmhouse. The party had been a grand success and he was carrying away pleasant memories which would serve him well on the long, long Yukon trail and the weary and eventful miles which lay beyond its further terminal.
If you wish to learn of Curlie's adventures up there and of the secret of the whisperer, you must read the next volume, entitled "On the Yukon Trail."