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Книга The Polar Treasure. Содержание - Chapter 2 THE CLICKING DANGER

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Chapter 2


AS HE was whipped along New York streets in the speedy gray roadster, it suddenly dawned on Victor Vail that he knew nothing about his rescuer. He didn't even understand why he had accompanied the strange man so readily.

The blind violinist was not in the habit of meekly permitting unknowns to lead him about. Yet he had gone with this mighty stranger as docilely as a lamb.

"Are you a messenger sent to take me to Ben O'Gard?" he asked.

"No," came the bronze giant's amazing voice. "I do not even know any one by that name."

Victor Vail was so intrigued by the beauty of his unusual companion's vocal tones that he could not speak for a moment.

"May I ask who you are?" he inquired.

"Doc Savage," said the bronze man.

"Doc Savage," Victor Vail murmured. He seemed disappointed. "I am sorry, but I do not believe I have heard the name before."

The bronze giant's lips made a faint smile.

"That is possible," he said. "Perhaps I should have been more formal in giving you my name. It is Clark Savage, Jr."

At this, Victor Vail gave a marked start.

"Clark Savage, Jr!" he gasped in a tone of awe. "Why, among the violin selections I rendered in my concert tonight was a composition by Clark Savage, Jr. In my humble opinion, and to the notion of other artists, that composition is one of the most masterly of all time. Surely, you are not the composer?"

"Guilty!" Doc admitted "And it is not flattery when I say the selection was never rendered more beautifully than by your hand to-night. Indeed, your marvelous playing was one of two things which led me backstage. I wished to compliment you. I noted the furtive manner of the man leading you outside, and followed. That is how I happened to be on hand."

"What was the second thing which led you to seek me out?" Victor Vail asked curiously.

"That is something I shall explain later," Doc replied. "I hope you do not mind accompanying me."

"Mind!" Blind Victor Vail laughed. "It is a privilege!"

The sightless master of the violin,indeed, considered it such. He had many times wondered about the mysterious Clark Savage, Jr., who had composed that great violin selection. Strangely enough, the composer was listed as an unknown. He had claimed no credit for the marvelous piece of work.

This was astounding in itself, considering what moneymad beings the human race had become. The composer could have ridden to a fortune on the strength of that one selection.

Victor Vail could not help but wonder and marvel at the powers of this strange man who had rescued him.

* * *

AS THE roadster wended its way through the heavy traffic of the theatrical district, no one noticed one particular cab which followed Doc Savage and the blind violinist; not even Doc.

The seafaring man who had directed the ill-fated attempt to capture Victor Vail occupied the machine. However, he had stuffed his cheeks with gum, donned dark glasses, stuck a false mustache to his lip, thrust a cigar in his teeth, and changed his cap. He looked like a different man.

"Keelhaul me!" he snarled repeatedly to himself. "I gotta get that Victor Vail! I gotta!"

Doc's roadster halted finally before one of the largest buildings in New York. This was a gigantic white thorn of brick and steel which speared upward nearly a hundred stories.

Doc Savage led the blind violinist inside. They entered an elevator. The cage climbed with a low moan to the eighty-sixth floor. Noiselessly, the doors slid back.

They now entered a sumptuously furnished office. This held an inlaid table of great value, a steel safe so large it reached to the bronze giant's shoulder, and many comfortable chairs. A vast window gave an impressive view of a forest of other skyscrapers.

Doc ensconced Victor Vail in a luxurious chair. He gave the musician a cigar of such price and quality that it came in an individual vacuum container. Doc did not smoke, himself.

"If you do not mind telling, I should like to know what was behind that attack upon you to-night," Doc said.

The unusual voice of the bronze man held a strangely compelling quality. Victor Vail found himself answering without the slightest hesitancy.

"I am completely in the dark as to the reason," he said "I have no enemies. I do not know why they tried to seize me."

"Those who seized you had the earmarks of hired thugs. But there was a man in the cab, a sailor. He shouted at the others several times. Did you recognize his voice?"

Victor Vail shook his head slowly. "I did not hear it. I was too dazed."

Silence fell for a moment.

Then the office abruptly rang with the coarse tones of the seafaring man!

"Sink 'im, mateys!" it shrilled. "Scuttle 'im! Use your guns!"

Victor Vail sprang up with a startled cry.

"It's Keelhaul de Rosa!" he shouted. "Watch him closely, Mr. Savage! The devil once tried to kill me!"

"Keelhaul de Rosa is not here," Doc said gently.

"But his voice spoke just then!"

"What you heard was my imitation of the voice of the sailor in the taxi," Doc explained. "I repeated his words. Obviously, that man was Keelhaul de Rosa, as you call him."

Victor Vail sank back in his chair. He fumbled with the fine cigar. He mopped his forehead.

"I would have sworn it was Keelhaul de Rosa speaking," he muttered. "Why — why — holy smoke! What manner of man are you, anyhow?"

Doc passed the question up as though he hadn't heard it. He disliked to speak of his accomplishments, even though it might be but a few words that were well deserved.

A truly remarkable man, this golden-eyed giant of bronze!

"Suppose you tell me what you know of Keelhaul de Rosa," Doc said.

The blind man ran long fingers through his white hair. It was apparent he was becoming excited.

"Why, bless me!" he muttered. "Could this mystery go back to the destruction of the Oceanic? It must!"

* * *

WITH A pronounced effort, Victor Vail composed himself. He began speaking rapidly.

"The story goes back more than fifteen years," he said. "It was during the World War. My wife, my infant daughter, and myself sailed from Africa on the liner Oceanic. We were bound for England.

"But an enemy sea raider chased the liner northward. The enemy boat could not overhaul us, but it pursued our craft for days. Indeed, the Oceanic sailed far within the arctic ice pack before escaping. "

"The liner was trapped in the ice. It drifted for months, and was carried by the ice far within the polar regions."

Victor Vail paused to puff his cigar.

"Trouble with the crew arose as food ran short," he continued. "A shell from the enemy raider had destroyed our wireless. We could not advise the outside world of our difficulty. The crew wanted to desert the liner. although the master of the vessel assured them the ice pack was impassable."

Victor Vail touched his eyes. "You understand. I am telling this only as I heard it. I, of course, saw nothing. I only heard.

"The leaders of the crew were two men Ben O'Gard was one. Keelhaul de Rosa was the other. They were persuaded not to desert the liner."

Victor Vail suddenly covered his face with his hands.

"Then came the disaster. The liner was crushed in the ice. Only Ben O'Gard. Keelhaul de Rosa, and about thirty of the Oceanic's crew escaped. I was also among the survivors, although that is a mystery I do not yet understand."

"What do you mean?"

"I was seized by members of the crew two days before the disaster, and made unconscious with an anaesthetic. I did not revive until the day following the destruction of the Oceanic. Then I awakened with a strange pain in my back."

"Describe the pain, suggested Doc.

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