In Search of the Unknown
“The sea was a sheet of silver tinged with pink. The tremendous arch of the sky was all shimmering and glimmering with the promise of the sun. Already the mist above, flecked with clustered clouds, flushed with rose color and dull gold. I heard the low splash of the waves breaking and curling across the beach. A wandering breeze, fresh and fragrant, blew the curtains of my window. There was the scent of sweet bay in the room, and everywhere the subtle, nameless perfume of the sea.
“When at last I stood upon the shore, the air and sea were all a-glimmer in a rosy light, deepening to crimson in the zenith. Along the beach I saw a little cove, shelving and all a-shine, where shallow waves washed with a mellow sound. Fine as dusted gold the shingle glowed, and the thin film of water rose, receded, crept up again a little higher, and again flowed back, with the low hiss of snowy foam and gilded bubbles breaking.
“I stood a little while quiet, my eyes upon the water, the invitation of the ocean in my ears, vague and sweet as the murmur of a shell. Then I looked at my bathing-suit and towels.
“‘In we go!’ said I, aloud. A second later the prophecy was fulfilled.
“I swam far out to sea, and as I swam the waters all around me turned to gold. The sun had risen.
“There is a fragrance in the sea at dawn that none can name. Whitethorn a-bloom in May, sedges a-sway, and scented rushes rustling in an inland wind recall the sea to me—I can’t say why.
“Far out at sea I raised myself, swung around, dived, and set out again for shore, striking strong strokes until the necked foam flew. And when at last I shot through the breakers, I laughed aloud and sprang upon the beach, breathless and happy. Then from the ocean came another cry, clear, joyous, and a white arm rose in the air.
“She came drifting in with the waves like a white sea-sprite, laughing at me, and I plunged into the breakers again to join her.
“Side by side we swam along the coast, just outside the breakers, until in the next cove we saw the flutter of her maid’s cap-strings.
“‘I will beat you to breakfast!’ she cried, as I rested, watching her glide up along the beach.
“‘Done!’ said I—’for a sea-shell!’
“‘Done!’ she called, across the water.
“I made good speed along the shore, and I was not long in dressing, but when I entered the dining-room she was there, demure, smiling, exquisite in her cool, white frock.
“‘The sea-shell is yours, ‘ said I. ‘I hope I can find one with a pearl in it.’
“The professor hurried in before she could reply. He greeted me very cordially, but there was an abstracted air about him, and he called me Dick until I recognized that remonstrance was useless. He was not long over his coffee and rolls.
“‘McPeek and Frisby will return with the last load, including your trunk, by early afternoon, ‘ he said, rising and picking up his bundle of drawings. ‘I haven’t time to explain to you what we are doing, Dick, but Daisy will take you about and instruct you. She will give you the rifle standing in my room—it’s a good Winchester. I have sent for an ‘Express’ for you, big enough to knock over any elephant in India. Daisy, take him through the sheds and tell him everything. Luncheon is at noon. Do you usually take luncheon, Dick?’
“‘When I am permitted, ‘ I smiled.
“‘Well, ‘ said the professor, doubtfully, ‘you mustn’t come back here for it. Freda can take you what you want. Is your hand unsteady after eating?’
“‘Why, papa!’ said Daisy. ‘Do you intend to starve him?’
“We all laughed.
“The professor tucked his drawings into a capacious pocket, pulled his sea-boots up to his hips, seized a spade, and left, nodding to us as though he were thinking of something else.
“We went to the door and watched him across the salt meadows until the distant sand-dune hid him.
“‘Come, ‘ said Daisy Holroyd, ‘I am going to take you to the shop.’
“She put on a broad-brimmed straw hat, a distractingly pretty combination of filmy cool stuffs, and led the way to the long, low structure that I had noticed the evening before.
“The interior was lighted by the numberless little port-holes, and I could see everything plainly. I acknowledge I was nonplussed by what I did see.
“In the centre of the shed, which must have been at least a hundred feet long, stood what I thought at first was the skeleton of an enormous whale. After a moment’s silent contemplation of the thing I saw that it could not be a whale, for the frames of two gigantic, batlike wings rose from each shoulder. Also I noticed that the animal possessed legs—four of them—with most unpleasant-looking webbed claws fully eight feet long. The bony framework of the head, too, resembled something between a crocodile and a monstrous snapping-turtle. The walls of the shanty were hung with drawings and blue prints. A man dressed in white linen was tinkering with the vertebrae of the lizard-like tail.
“‘Where on earth did such a reptile come from?’ I asked at length.
“‘Oh, it’s not real!’ said Daisy, scornfully; ‘it’s papier-maché.’
“‘I see, ‘ said I; ‘a stage prop.’
“‘A what?’ asked Daisy, in hurt astonishment.
“‘Why, a—a sort of Siegfried dragon—a what’s-his-name—er, Pfafner, or Peffer, or—’
“‘If my father heard you say such things he would dislike you, ‘ said Daisy. She looked grieved, and moved towards the door. I apologized—for what, I knew not—and we became reconciled. She ran into her father’s room and brought me the rifle, a very good Winchester. She also gave me a cartridge-belt, full.
“‘Now, ‘ she smiled, ‘I shall take you to your observatory, and when we arrive you are to begin your duty at once.’
“‘And that duty?’ I ventured, shouldering the rifle.
“‘That duty is to watch the ocean. I shall then explain the whole affair—but you mustn’t look at me while I speak; you must watch the sea.’
“‘This, ‘ said I, ‘is hardship. I had rather go without the luncheon.’
“I do not think she was offended at my speech; still she frowned for almost three seconds.
“We passed through acres of sweet bay and spear grass, sometimes skirting thickets of twisted cedars, sometimes walking in the full glare of the morning sun, sinking into shifting sand where sun-scorched shells crackled under our feet, and sun-browned sea-weed glistened, bronzed and iridescent. Then, as we climbed a little hill, the sea-wind freshened in our faces, and lo! the ocean lay below us, far-stretching as the eye could reach, glittering, magnificent.
“Daisy sat down flat on the sand. It takes a clever girl to do that and retain the respectful deference due her from men. It takes a graceful girl to accomplish it triumphantly when a man is looking.
“‘You must sit beside me, ‘ she said—as though it would prove irksome to me.
“‘Now, ‘ she continued, ‘you must watch the water while I am talking.’
“‘Why don’t you do it, then?’ she asked.
“I succeeded in wrenching my head towards the ocean, although I felt sure it would swing gradually round again in spite of me.
“‘To begin with, ‘ said Daisy Holroyd, ‘there’s a thing in that ocean that would astonish you if you saw it. Turn your head!’
“‘I am, ‘ I said, meekly.
“‘Did you hear what I said?’
“‘Yes—er—a thing in the ocean that’s going to astonish me.’ Visions of mermaids rose before me.
“‘The thing, ‘ said Daisy, ‘is a thermosaurus!’
“I nodded vaguely, as though anticipating a delightful introduction to a nautical friend.
“‘You don’t seem astonished, ‘ she said, reproachfully.
“‘Why should I be?’ I asked.
“‘Please turn your eyes towards the water. Suppose a thermosaurus should look out of the waves!’
“‘Well, ‘ said I, ‘in that case the pleasure would be mutual.’
“She frowned and bit her upper lip.
“‘Do you know what a thermosaurus is?’ she asked.
“‘If I am to guess, ‘ said I, ‘I guess it’s a jelly-fish.’
“‘It’s that big, ugly, horrible creature that I showed you in the shed!’ cried Daisy, impatiently.
“‘Eh!’ I stammered.
“‘Not papier-maché, either, ‘ she continued, excitedly; ‘it’s a real one.’
“This was pleasant news. I glanced instinctively at my rifle and then at the ocean.
“‘Well, ‘ said I at last, ‘it strikes me that you and I resemble a pair of Andromedas waiting to be swallowed. This rifle won’t stop a beast, a live beast, like that Nibelungen dragon of yours.’
“‘Yes, it will, ‘ she said; ‘it’s not an ordinary rifle.’
“Then, for the first time, I noticed, just below the magazine, a cylindrical attachment that was strange to me.
“‘Now, if you will watch the sea very carefully, and will promise not to look at me, ‘ said Daisy, ‘I will try to explain.’
“She did not wait for me to promise, but went on eagerly, a sparkle of excitement in her blue eyes:
“‘You know, of all the fossil remains of the great batlike and lizard-like creatures that inhabited the earth ages and ages ago, the bones of the gigantic saurians are the most interesting. I think they used to splash about the water and fly over the land during the carboniferous period; anyway, it doesn’t matter. Of course you have seen pictures of reconstructed creatures such as the ichthyosaurus, the plesiosaurus, the anthracosaurus, and the thermosaurus?’
“I nodded, trying to keep my eyes from hers.
“‘And you know that the remains of the thermosaurus were first discovered and reconstructed by papa?’
“‘Yes, ‘ said I. There was no use in saying no.
“‘I am glad you do. Now, papa has proved that this creature lived entirely in the Gulf Stream, emerging for occasional flights across an ocean or two. Can you imagine how he proved it?’
“‘No, ‘ said I, resolutely pointing my nose at the ocean.
“‘He proved it by a minute examination of the microscopical shells found among the ribs of the thermosaurus. These shells contained little creatures that live only in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. They were the food of the thermosaurus.’
“‘It was rather slender rations for a thing like that, wasn’t it? Did he ever swallow bigger food—er—men?’
“‘Oh yes. Tons of fossil bones from prehistoric men are also found in the interior of the thermosaurus.’
“‘Then, ‘ said I, ‘you, at least, had better go back to Captain McPeek’s—’
“‘Please turn around; don’t be so foolish. I didn’t say there was a live thermosaurus in the water, did I?’
“My relief was genuine, but I thought of the rifle and looked suspiciously out to sea.
“‘What’s the Winchester for?’ I asked.
“‘Listen, and I will explain. Papa has found out—how, I do not exactly understand—that there is in the waters of the Gulf Stream the body of a thermosaurus. The creature must have been alive within a year or so. The impenetrable scale-armor that covers its body has, as far as papa knows, prevented its disintegration. We know that it is there still, or was there within a few months. Papa has reports and sworn depositions from steamer captains and seamen from a dozen different vessels, all corroborating one another in essential details. These stories, of course, get into the newspapers—sea-serpent stories—but papa knows that they confirm his theory that the huge body of this reptile is swinging along somewhere in the Gulf Stream.’
“She opened her sunshade and held it over her. I noticed that she deigned to give me the benefit of about one-eighth of it.
“‘Your duty with that rifle is this: if we are fortunate enough to see the body of the thermosaurus come floating by, you are to take good aim and fire—fire rapidly every bullet in the magazine; then reload and fire again, and reload and fire as long as you have any cartridges left.’
“‘A self-feeding Maxim is what I should have, ‘ I said, with gentle sarcasm. ‘Well, and suppose I make a sieve of this big lizard?’
“‘Do you see these rings in the sand?’ she asked.
“Sure enough, somebody had driven heavy piles deep into the sand all around us, and to the tops of these piles were attached steel rings, half buried under the spear-grass. We sat almost exactly in the centre of a circle of these rings.
“‘The reason is this, ‘ said Daisy; ‘every bullet in your cartridges is steel-tipped and armor-piercing. To the base of each bullet is attached a thin wire of pallium. Pallium is that new metal, a thread of which, drawn out into finest wire, will hold a ton of iron suspended. Every bullet is fitted with minute coils of miles of this wire. When the bullet leaves the rifle it spins out this wire as a shot from a life-saver’s mortar spins out and carries the life-line to a wrecked ship. The end of each coil of wire is attached to that cylinder under the magazine of your rifle. As soon as the shell is automatically ejected this wire flies out also. A bit of scarlet tape is fixed to the end, so that it will be easy to pick up. There is also a snap-clasp on the end, and this clasp fits those rings that you see in the sand. Now, when you begin firing, it is my duty to run and pick up the wire ends and attach them to the rings. Then, you see, we have the body of the thermosaurus full of bullets, every bullet anchored to the shore by tiny wires, each of which could easily hold a ton’s strain.’
“I looked at her in amazement.
“‘Then, ‘ she added, calmly, ‘we have captured the thermosaurus.’
“‘Your father, ‘ said I, at length, ‘must have spent years of labor over this preparation.’
“‘It is the work of a lifetime, ‘ she said, simply.
“My face, I suppose, showed my misgivings.
“‘It must not fail, ‘ she added.
“‘But—but we are nowhere near the Gulf Stream, ‘ I ventured.
“Her face brightened, and she frankly held the sunshade over us both.