"Come in, Mr. Barrow. I'm glad to see you. I was surprised to hear of your use of the money, but was pleased rather than disappointed. You did well."
For a moment Dick was taken back, then he smiled sheepishly. "I don't know just what to say, Sir, I did so many things. But I didn't know I was being watched."
"Every move you made was watched carefully, and reported to me. I know where you spent every hour since you left here the other morning. I wanted to know how you would act with money enough to do as you pleased for a few days. You acted wisely, and I'm glad that you spent so much of it on men who need it. You bought twenty-two pairs of shoes, thirty-six shirts and forty-five suits of underwear. You also bought cheap suits for nine men and several odd and end accessories as well.
"Out of the total sum you spent less than one hundred dollars for yourself, and yet you have only forty-two dollars of the sum I handed you. The remainder you used for meals and cheap lodging for the men you have taken care of in the past three days. You have gone through a lot of money since you were here."
Dick stammered as he spoke, "I'm sorry, sir, but I thought--"
"You thought just right! I did give you the money to use as you pleased and I'm proud of the way you spent it. But I want to know the answer. You must have decided by this time. If the answer is yes, you will bind yourself to a lifetime of work. If it is no, we will say goodbye."
Dick's face lighted with a smile. "The answer is yes. I am proud to leave my future in your hands--even to my marriage. I made up my mind to do as you desire, and am prepared to leave any time you are ready. I hope you have hired every one you need and that we will all enjoy our new work."
"You're a brave man, Dick Barrow." There was admiration in the voice of the stranger. "If you remained here I believe you would make your mark in life, but you will have even greater opportunity where you are going. I believe your decision will prove to be a happy one.
"You must stay at a good hotel. Reasonable if you want, although it is not important. I will send the girl to you within a few days. You will be married as soon as possible after you meet her.
"She will bring a letter and will do exactly as you say. I will allow time for you to get acquainted before I have further orders. From that time you will obey my orders explicitly and follow every instruction without question. Every member of the party will take orders from you, and you must give them!"
Once more Dick was handed a handful of bills as he prepared to leave, and knew there was even more than the first time. But he would live in constant dread of meeting the girl he was to marry. As he started to open the door, the man spoke again.
"Use the money as you desire. It will be your last chance of spending any and I want you to enjoy yourself as much as possible during the time remaining. Do what you like for the men in the park or any others you wish to help. If you need more money send a messenger to this room, but don't come yourself. Don't contact me again until my orders require it. Have a good time."
Dick felt that he was living a dream, but a very pleasant one. Just one thought disturbed him. Who the girl would be--and what she would be like?
Out to Sea The following morning an advertisement appeared in the papers, under the heading of help wanted: woman. It was the same address on Morgan Avenue. His heart sank! The man was advertising for a wife! Now Barrow knew he was in for a tough streak of luck. He read it carefully.
Opportunity for young lady. Must be of age, single, brilliant, with good family background. Higher education not necessary. Must be willing to travel long distance. Must not be averse to marriage with brilliant young man; give up all former associations, with no possibility of return; live life in small community of own race, with no possibility of communication with former home. Must be without close family ties, or relationship. Opportunity to live life of luxury and ease, with amiable group far from present home and civilization. Young lady who fits qualifications will not regret applying for position. Honor, love and security will be her reward. OPPORTUNITY! Room 36, 18 West Morgan Avenue, City.
While Dick was eating dinner on Tuesday evening, a young lady fell headlong in front of his table. A moment later she was seated in the chair opposite his own. Ten minutes later he was ordering her dinner.
Afterward, as they walked toward a movie, Dick felt as if he was committing a crime. He was supposed to meet his future wife--and instead was entertaining this young lady who had fallen into his life. When he learned that she was staying at the same hotel, they made a date for breakfast the next morning.
Dolores Dunbar was good company, and seemed willing to spend most of her time in Dick's company. He learned that she was as friendless as himself, and wondered why they couldn't have met before he made the strange bargain. But as the third day drew to a close she appeared apprehensive.
When she kept glancing around, as if expecting someone, Dick became curious, and felt rather hurt to think she was looking for someone else. Finally she spoke.
"I'm sorry, Dick, that I've made use of you the way I have, but I was ordered to do it. You see, my employer told me to meet you and spend every possible moment in your company. He also said that I would become acquainted with someone through you, and that you would know who he was, when I said I came from the large-headed man on Morgan Avenue--with a letter."
For a moment Dick was stunned. Then he laughed, a sickly, half-hearted laugh. When he found his voice it squeaked.
"I think we had better go to my room. We have some very private things to say."
The queer man had succeeded in their being together for three days before either knew they were the central figures in the drama. Now they felt farther apart than at any moment since they had met, but nervously admitted they had fared better than they expected.
They were married in the morning, to keep the agreement, but didn't consider it part of the bargain to live as man and wife.
Dick found only one order in the letter, to be at the office at ten o'clock on Tuesday morning. That left five days to enjoy themselves.
In spite of the stiffness between them Dick noticed how the light caught in Dolores' dark hair, and how her brown eyes sparkled at each new sight. Her head reached just above his shoulder, and he had never danced with a better partner. She enjoyed his company, and admitted to herself that he was a perfect gentleman.
During the five days they saw every good show, and visited every popular night club. Things they had always wanted to do were packed into the short time to themselves. Dick hired a car, and they drove for hours through the country. When Tuesday morning came they were tired, and it was hard to get up in time to keep the appointment.
When they opened the door, the big-headed man laughed at their yawns. "I see that you've either been enjoying yourselves, or have been trying mighty hard. You can make up your sleep from now on, as it will be a long time before we reach our destination. How do you like each other for permanent companions?"
Their faces grew crimson. Finally Dick found his voice. "I'm perfectly satisfied, Sir. I think Dolores is very pretty, and is very good company!"
He looked the other way to hide his embarrassment, as the girl spoke.
"I feel the same way. We have enjoyed being together, and perhaps when we are better acquainted the stiffness will disappear. We both feel odd, because we were required to marry!"
The strange man laughed out loud at this. "In other words you might have fallen in love, if you had been allowed time to do it. But having to marry creates an entirely different feeling. I believe it will work out well, even though you feel cheated at the moment. But we haven't any time to lose. Everyone is at the dock and we sail in two hours.
"Here are your instructions, Dick. From now on you give the orders, and I remain in the background. They will all feel more comfortable under the command of one of their own race. Study everything carefully on the way to the dock, then give them as your own orders."
Dick had little time for anything except to look through the sheaf of papers. On one sheet was a list of seven couples, with stateroom numbers beside each. His own was on the top, with number three room. This he dropped in a side pocket where it would be easy to find. The remainder was in connection with sailing.
Dick, Dolores and the big-headed man occupied one cab, while the baggage followed in another. Dolores had obtained quite a wardrobe, much to the amusement of her employer. But the man spoke only once during the trip.
"Everyone in the party must consider that they work for you, Dick. You must hear all complaints and settle all differences. They must not approach me for any reason. I am known as Morquil, of section one, which you will understand when we reach our destination."
The crew was hurrying back and forth on the deck of the small ship, taking care of last-minute details. A group of people were gathered beside a huge stack of baggage, and Dick walked toward them without waiting for the others.
Dolores went up the gangplank beside Morquil, helping him slightly. He seemed to have difficulty in supporting his enormous head with the slight body.
As Dick reached the group, he read the names from the list in his hand. "Mr. and Mrs. John McCarthy. You are in stateroom number seven. Take what baggage you can carry, the rest will be put on board." He called each name and stateroom; they headed for the ship. John McCarthy he found was the man he had met in the office, and he still had his perpetual grin. Evidently his fiancee had agreed to the pact for they were now man and wife.
When Dick started toward the ship, after watching the baggage put on board, he was stopped by a tap on the shoulder. The cab drivers were still waiting for their money. Morquil had left everything in his hands, even to paying for the motor trip to the dock.
It was a strange departure, with only a few people on the dock to say goodbye. Even they were just neighbors of the passengers. Most of the women on board were crying as the Primrose nosed out through the harbor toward the open sea.
Dick was still at the rail when the captain approached. "I'm sorry to bother you, Mr. Barrow, but I must know our destination so I can set the course."
The young leader's day dreaming was cut short, to jerk him back to his duties. He felt that the lives and hopes of everyone on the ship had been thrust into his hands.
Even the captain didn't know where they were going. The ship had been chartered for a voyage of several months, to an unknown destination. He and the crew were well paid, and didn't care where they went.
Dick drew a sealed envelope from his pocket, detached a slip of paper and handed it to the captain. He read the note, then repeated it. "You are to keep the destination to yourself. No one on the ship is to know where we are going, and you will not mention it to me again. I hope that we have good weather, Captain, and a fast trip."
Barrow felt like a fool. Repeating messages as if they were his own--without the slightest knowledge of what they were about. He was supposedly charting the course--and didn't have the slightest idea where they were going.
When Dick reached his stateroom (after answering questions from everyone on board--and telling them nothing) he found Dolores sobbing. She had kept her smile until the boat sailed. Now she was crying her eyes out. It was not a new sight, as every woman on the ship seemed occupied in the same way, with the men trying to comfort them.
As Dick sat down beside her, he could feel the throb of the diesel motor. It seemed to carry the rhythm of adventure through the walls of the cabin, giving the feeling of the unknown. For a long time there was silence while Dolores held one of Dick's hands for protection.
"Dick! We only have one cabin! I'm supposed to stay here with you--and I hardly know you! Morquil told me that I must stay here, there are no extra rooms."
"I'm sorry, Dolores. We will just have to put up with things as they are. We've got into this and will have to see it through. After all, we are man and wife, and the people on board would think it strange if we didn't occupy the same room. There are two bunks, so I won't have to sleep on the floor. It will be a long trip, and we might as well enjoy it as much as possible."
Days changed into weeks as the ship plowed steadily south. They stopped at one port for a few hours to refuel, but there was little to see. The ship was slow and it felt good to walk on land again. But no one spoke enough English to answer questions.
It was the only time they sighted land until just before the end of the trip, when small islands began to slide by. Some within a few hundred feet, others just visible in the distance. Morquil hadn't appeared on deck during the entire trip, but now he approached the rail.
His face lighted with an ethereal glow as he gazed across the blue water. He looked like a man who was sighting his home after many years of absence. Dick couldn't help but feel glad for him, while cold chills of misgiving crept up and down his own spine. Their voyage was ending at a far different place that he had pictured in his mind, and quite the opposite of the description which Morquil had given of gigantic mechanical development.
They were passing by small south-sea islands, where mechanical equipment was out of the question. They hardly appeared habitable!
When the captain approached Dick, Morquil joined the conversation. "I'll give you the directions, Captain. Mr. Barrow is not feeling well, and I can do it for him.
"In about an hour we will reach the island, and I will point out the entrance to the harbor. It is well protected and there is no need to worry about any storm while we unload."
Every inch of space in the ship was packed with supplies. There were crates of books as well as pieces of machinery. Considerable radio equipment included assembled sets as well as parts. There were rifles and even one small cannon. Several crates of chickens and turkeys joined the other things on the beach. Then to the amazement of the party, a crate of pigs appeared.
It required three days to empty the ship, and with each passing hour the little party grew more apprehensive. It seemed as if they had been transferred to an island to start a new civilization, instead of a place where mechanical development was far advanced. Because Dick was the leader of the party, the others began to look at him with hatred; Morquil was almost forgotten.
When the last piece of equipment was covered with heavy tarpaulins, they constructed a shelter against one side of the pile. It was almost dark when everything was finished, and the captain decided to wait until the next day to sail. Everyone was invited on board the Primrose, for a farewell party.
Dick was forced to call a meeting in the main cabin, to forestall danger of the party deserting with the ship. Morquil had instructed him carefully.
"Friends, we are facing a great adventure. I'm in no different position than you, except that as leader I am responsible for whatever happens. I must take all blame for whatever comes, yet know that it will eventually work out as we expected.
"You all know that it is forbidden to talk about this trip, or to surmise our destination. I can assure you that it is done for your benefit, and later you will appreciate the fact that you did not know the future. I can't say what the next few days will bring to all of us, but be assured that everything you have been promised will be fulfilled.
"At the moment it seems impossible that things can turn out as we expected, but they will! You must simply be patient, and do not lose faith in this great adventure."
As Dick finished his speech, Morquil smiled, well satisfied. Dolores even smiled faintly, although it required effort to overcome her feeling of disaster.
The following morning everyone went ashore, and John McCarthy went around trying to aid Barrow in cheering up the party. He lied like a trooper, whispering to everyone that he had discovered something that satisfied him about the marvelous civilization they would reach before long.
Word of this reached Morquil, and he hurriedly called Dick and John out of sound of the others. He appeared almost frightened, and the moment they were alone, he spoke.
"What have you learned? I wanted you to know nothing, and it is better if you are ignorant. Whatever you learned is too much, and may upset the future."
John started to laugh, then seeing the expression of agony on the face of Morquil, he stopped short. "Don't worry. I haven't learned anything! I simply tried to help Dick keep the people satisfied. They were getting so restless they needed something. In my home town I was known as a famous liar, and thought my ability might come in handy."
Slowly the agony disappeared from Morquil's face. "Someday you will understand how much you have done for me, John. You will never regret it!"
The McCarthys remained jovial, and tried to keep up the spirits of the others as the days of loneliness passed.
Philip Jones and his wife were quiet, and waited patiently. Andrew and Emma Smith had taken over the cooking, and served the meals. George and Mary Martin were the youngest couple, and Dick doubted whether either of them was past twenty-one. The others were all nearer thirty. They spent their time side by side, gazing over the sea, perfectly happy in each other's company.
Jerold Brown and Peter Yarbro were constantly fishing, from the collapsible boat, while their wives played cards.
One night they were awakened by brilliant flashes of light. Running to the beach, they watched in amazement.
They appeared like big guns firing just above the surface of the water, a few miles away. While they watched they gradually faded out. It was like a terrific electric storm, and the little party drew close together for comfort.
When the lights faded out entirely, Morquil told them to get some sleep. They would have to move equipment aboard a new ship the following day.
With the first streak of dawn Dick was back at the edge of the beach, straining his eyes into the gloom, but it was almost an hour before any object was visible.
After breakfast the ship was much plainer. They could see a rounded hull, like the top of a huge submarine, above the water. One of the women remarked that she would stay on the island before she'd enter an undersea ship. The trip on the Primrose was bad enough, but it wasn't below the surface.
Morquil called them within the canvas shelter, as if to make a speech. He held a small ball in one hand, and while they waited for instructions it landed in their midst.
A cloud of yellow vapor burst from the object, and everyone in the party slowly sank to the ground. Morquil joined the others in unconscious stupor, a victim of his own gas.
Strange Destination When Dick opened his eyes, there was a feeling of motion to the bed. The strangeness of the ceiling overhead drew his attention. It was not canvas, but shiny metal, almost purple in tint.
Suddenly he sat up. Dolores lay beside him. As his eyes cleared of the lingering mist, objects in the room became plainer. They were in a luxuriously equipped cabin.
Dolores slowly opened her eyes. A moment later she sat up beside him. Glancing through the porthole, beyond the bed, she turned away with a groan.
"We are under water! And deep! I can't see a thing but strange blue light."
When Dick joined her, his forehead puckered in a frown. "No, Dolores. It doesn't look like water, it looks more like--No! It can't be!"
For several minutes there was silence while he gazed through the opening. Dolores had lost interest in the outside and was examining the fittings of the cabin. It had everything that could be desired in a first class hotel room, and many little toilet articles besides.
Suddenly Dick turned away. "It's true! We're in the air--or above it! Dolores, this ship is an aircraft!"
"Never mind, Dick, this room is beautiful! Whether we're flying or swimming, this is the nicest room I ever had. It has everything, and look at the dressing table!"