Nightmare, by Francis Stevens

Chapter 13

ALTHOUGH the fact was not included in the extensive notices which later appeared in the New York papers in regard to the loss and rescue of the well-known millionaire yachtsman (his own friends told nothing, but one of the sailors talked), there occurred a peculiar psychological phenomenon as Mr. Jones came over the rail of the Bandersnatch.

It was as if a dark veil, which he had scarcely known existed, had been suddenly swept away from his mental vision. It had torn a trifle when he recognized one of the men in the dingey which rescued him as his old friend, Henry Martindale. He had sat in a silent, stupid-seeming daze as they were rowed back to the yacht by the sailor who accompanied Martindale, and listened to his friends’ exclamations of joy, amazement and congratulation.

But as he stepped, barefooted and naked, upon the white deck of his own, familiar, beloved Bandersnatch, that veil split asunder from top to bottom and vanished forever from his brain.

In plain words, Mr. Jones remembered. He remembered how for two years, since the moment when a small, heavy clock, carelessly placed upon a shelf in his stateroom on the Lusitania, had fallen at a lurch of the vessel and struck him upon the temple, he had been the victim of that queer mental disease, amnesia. Cared for by the best doctors in London and New York, they had not been able to restore the delicate equilibrium of his brain.

The loss of his memory had been accompanied by physical deterioration, and this winter the physicians had ordered a long cruise through Southern seas in the hope of improving, if not curing, his condition.

They had, exactly as he had informed Jim Haskins, come around into the Pacific by way of the Panama Canal, and were bound for the Philippines when one night Mr. Jones actually did get up out of bed, dress himself, not in yachting clothes but in a grey morning suit, walk out on deck, straight across it, and over the rail, before the men on watch could stop him. In the sea that was running they had been unable to find him, but, although they had from almost the first, given him up as drowned, still his good friends Martindale and Charles Laroux could not bear to leave the spot of the disaster, but cruised up and down, back and forth, for three whole days and nights, ever on the lookout, ever hoping against hope that they might at least bear his body back to New York for burial.

Upon falling overboard the shock of his sudden immersion in the sea had, by one of those little jokes which Nature sometimes perpetrates, started his mental machinery going again at exactly the place where, figuratively, it left the rails. The equal shock of finding his rescuers to be his friends, and the rescuing vessel the Bandersnatch, completed the good work, and that deep abyss of two forgotten years, wherein had been lost the great war and many other memories less vast, was filled.

Once again he could spread out before him the pages of his past life and find not one leaf missing.

Curiously enough, his first thought, after the sweeping realization of it all came over him, was of his cousin, the Hon. Percy Merridale, whom he had been going to visit on that unlucky voyage across the Atlantic.

“Poor old Percy,” he said, paying no heed to the flood of questions which were pouring from the lips of both his friends, “why, he was killed along with half his regiment at the very beginning of the war. And here I have been wondering what he would think because I did not arrive in London on time!”

“You have, eh?” asked Laroux, looking at him keenly. “Then you remember that you did start for London?”

“Oh, yes. I remember everything now. Lord, what chums you fellows have been, putting up with the crazy whims of a man with only half a mind. But by Jove, I’m cold. If you’ll have the steward get me something hot to drink, and let me get dry and into some clothes, I’ll be glad to tell you all about it.”

With bitter self-reproaches at their own neglectfulness, Laroux and Martindale fairly hustled him below and to bed. They would hear nothing of his dressing, but on one thing he held out. He was perfectly willing to go to sleep — he had never felt so utterly tired out in his life — but they must promise to hold the Bandersnatch where she was, or at least near to it, until he awakened.

To this his friends agreed, and Jones slept the sleep of exhausted but perfect health for eleven straight hours.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon when he appeared on deck, and he immediately sought his two friends. They greeted him eagerly, for they were more than anxious to know how he could possibly have kept afloat for nearly three days, and settling comfortably down beneath the awnings on the breezy afterdeck, they all lighted their excellent cigars and the story began.

Before he had progressed very far their interest became other than that of curiosity, and as he went on, two of the three cigars were allowed to languish and die unheeded. From curiosity they passed to amazement, and from amazement to carefully suppressed incredulity.

This, however, caused Jones no uneasiness, for it was about what he had expected. Finishing the incident of the flying monster with the utmost complacence and indifference to their more than dubious glances, he called for Captain Janiver.

“Captain,” he said, “I want you to locate for me an island which I know to be in this immediate vicinity, although beyond the horizon in some direction. What land is there hereabouts?”

The captain shook his head. “The only island I know of within a hundred miles is hardly worthy of the name, Mr. Jones. It is nothing but a high, barren chunk of rock sticking up out of the sea. As far as I know it has never even been named.”

“Oh, yes, it has,” smiled Jones. “That island is Joker Island, and I want you to put the old Bandersnatch’s nose about and take us there just as fast as she’ll slouch through the water.”

“Very well, sir, but — ”

“Why, Jones, old man, we were at that place ourselves, and there isn’t anything there!” This from Laroux.

“You were there?”

“Of course. Janiver remembered the place and we went, on the slim possibility that you might have been washed ashore. We cruised all around it, and even landed wherever there was a beach. We found some footprints and a few old, tin cans, but there was certainly nothing else.”

Jones grew suddenly very white. He had a sensation of sickness in the pit of his stomach, and an overwhelming consciousness of some dreadful disaster impending, he himself scarcely knew what.

“Captain Janiver,” he said between his teeth, “put this boat about and do as I directed.”

The captain touched his cap and obeyed, not without a curious glance over his shoulder. He was familiar with the idiosyncrasies of his owner — all developed, however, within the past twenty-four months, and he sighed as he gave the necessary directions.

“Too bad,” he murmured, shaking his gray head sadly, “too bad. Such a goodnatured, quiet young fellow as he is, too.”

As for Jones himself, he resolutely declined to speak another word on the subject until he had himself visited the scene of his recent adventures. Clinging passionately to the belief that they had actually occurred, he forced his mind to dwell upon the question of what might have happened to Sergius and Miss Weston after he left the aeroplane in such an unexpected manner.

He was possessed by a really loving concern upon this matter, although the love was not for the Boston girl but for Sergius Petrofsky, who had in the short space of three days won a place in his heart never before occupied by any man, even his faithful friends Harry Martindale and Charlie Laroux.

The two latter let him alone, when they perceived that he no longer wished to talk. Like the captain, they, were accustomed to some rather strange moods in their friend, although they had hoped for better things with the recovery of his memory.

About five o’clock the rapid little Bandersnatch raised a blur upon the southern horizon, which soon developed into a dark blot, then gradually took shape as the familiar black outline of the crater-wall of Joker Island.

With the sight all Jones’s courage returned. He could not sit still, but paced back and forth across the deck, and when at last they came to; anchor in the very bay where the Monterey had lain, he fairly tumbled into the small launch which was lowered to accommodate Jones, his two friends and a couple of sailors.

Of course the Monterey was gone, but there was the place where the nihilists had been encamped, though now no tents raised their brown canvas against the cliff, Springing from the launch Jones rushed up the beach and examined the place where they had been. There were, as Laroux had said, a few tin cans scattered about, a good many footprints, and the ashes of a fire, but these might have been there for any length of time.

He ran down the beach, hoping to discover the marks left by the aeroplane’s launching, but this had been upon the smooth, hard sand near the water, and the tides had obliterated them, if they had really ever been there. If they had been there! But they had been — it had happened! It was all so indelibly imprinted upon the tablets of his brain that it was clearer than any other event in his whole life.

The caves, then. Beckoning to Laroux and Martindale to follow him, he pressed on to the rocky promontory hiding the cleft, or ravine. Well, that was there anyway. And there were caves, too, hundreds of them. Into which of them had he crawled, following Prince Paul and Miss Weston, followed by Jim Haskins and the two sailors? This one surely, or — no, it might have been this, or any one of a dozen others.

He felt the touch of a hand upon his shoulder.

“Look here, old man,” said Martindale with a gentle indulgence which seemed to Jones well-nigh intolerable by reason of its implications, “you must not take this so hard. Now listen. Charlie and I know you are absolutely all right now — absolutely all right. Don’t let there be any question in your mind of that. Your memory has returned, and you can go on to the Philippines, or back to New York and take up your life exactly where you were before it — that accident on the liner — happened.

“But just now you are suffering from the memory of a particularly vivid hallucination. If we didn’t think you were all O.K. we wouldn’t tell you that, you know. We’d humor you, and say we thought it was all real. But you wouldn’t want us to do that now, would you? You’ll believe, won’t you, that while you were here on the beach, thrown-up by the storm you — well, dreamed a whole lot of things that couldn’t possibly have happened? Then, still dreaming, you started to swim out to sea again, thinking you were pursued by these impossible monsters, and so we picked you up, by about one chance in a million. The currents are very strong about here, Janiver says, and they carried you a long way — clear out of sight of the island. Can’t you believe all this, which is the truth, and let the rest go along with the last two years?”

He spoke earnestly, with a deep and loving tenderness, which made Jones extremely uncomfortable. How could he convince these men that those things had really happened? That there, within the island, was at least one other friend of his, possibly in dire need of help, if he yet lived? Then Holloway, Prince Paul, Haskins, the beautiful, sharp-tongued girl- Suddenly the mental defenses which he had raised gave way and went down before the flood of damning, almost unendurable conviction.

“Harry,” he said hoarsely, staggering a little where be stood, “will you and Laroux get me back to New York? Just put up with me till — till we get back to New York, won’t you?”

“Don’t be a fool, Rolly,” cried Laroux, springing forward and actually shaking him, but with a roughness that was all friendship. “You aren’t crazy — you never have been crazy — you’ve been in a sort of delirium, like you have when you’re down with fever. You’re right as Harry or me. If you weren’t you wouldn’t be ready to believe the truth. It was nothing but plain, ordinary delirium, I tell you.”

“Well, maybe it was,” conceded Jones, with a somewhat sickly smile, “but whatever it was, I know I want to get away from this place and back to New York. I want to see brick buildings, and ride on every-day street-cars, and eat dinner in a Broadway cafe. You boys have been the best, most patient friends a man ever had. Will you promise me something?”

“Of course,” broke in Laroux, “but look here, Rolly, just to satisfy you entirely suppose we stop in at Frisco and find out if such a yacht as the Monterey was chartered recently by a bunch of Russians, and — ”

Jones held up his hand. “No,” he said. “A man who’s been off his nut for two years, and knows it, doesn’t have to go around hunting up evidence to support the facts. I want to get back to New York just as fast as the old tub will travel. What I want you to promise is this. Don’t ever mention any of this — this crazy dream of mine to me again. I know you won’t tell it to anybody else. But — I just don’t want ever to hear anything about it — again.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30