For several days the newspapers of America and even those of Europe continued to discuss these events. Editorials crowded upon editorials. Rumors were added to rumors. Story tellers of every kind crowded to the front. The public of two continents was interested. In some parts of Europe there was even jealousy that America should have been chosen as the field of such an experience. If these marvelous inventors were American, then their country, their army and navy, would have a great advantage over others. The United States might acquire an incontestable superiority.
Under the date of the tenth of June, a New York paper published a carefully studied article on this phase of the subject. Comparing the speed of the swiftest known vessels with the smallest minimum of speed which could possibly be assigned to the new boat, the article demonstrated that if the United States secured this secret, Europe would be but three days away from her, while she would still be five days from Europe.
If our own police had searched diligently to discover the mystery of the Great Eyrie, the secret service of every country in the world was now interested in these new problems.
Mr. Ward referred to the matter each time I saw him. Our chat would begin by his rallying me about my ill-success in Carolina, and I would respond by reminding him that success there was only a question of expense.
"Never mind, my good Strock," said he, "there will come a chance for our clever inspector to regain his laurels. Take now this affair of the automobile and the boat. If you could clear that up in advance of all the detectives of the world, what an honor it would be to our department! What glory for you!"
"It certainly would, Mr. Ward. And if you put the matter in my charge--"
"Who knows, Strock? Let us wait a while! Let us wait!"
Matters stood thus when, on the morning of June fifteenth, my old servant brought me a letter from the letter-carrier, a registered letter for which I had to sign. I looked at the address. I did not know the handwriting. The postmark, dating from two days before, was stamped at the post office of Morganton.
Morganton! Here at last was, no doubt, news from Mr. Elias Smith.
"Yes!" exclaimed I, speaking to my old servant, for lack of another," it must be from Mr. Smith at last. I know no one else in Morganton. And if he writes he has news!"
"Morganton?" said the old woman, "isn't that the place where the demons set fire to their mountain?"
"Oh, sir! I hope you don't mean to go back there!"
"Because you will end by being burned up in that furnace of the Great Eyrie. And I wouldn't want you buried that way, sir."
"Cheer up, and let us see if it is not better news than that."
The envelope was sealed with red sealing wax, and stamped with a sort of coat of arms, surmounted with three stars. The paper was thick and very strong. I broke the envelope and drew out a letter. It was a single sheet, folded in four, and written on one side only. My first glance was for the signature.
There was no signature! Nothing but three initials at the end of the last line!
"The letter is not from the Mayor of Morganton," said I.
"Then from whom?" asked the old servant, doubly curious in her quality as a woman and as an old gossip.
Looking again at the three initials of the signature, I said, "I know no one for whom these letters would stand; neither at Morganton nor elsewhere."
The hand-writing was bold. Both up strokes and down strokes very sharp, about twenty lines in all. Here is the letter, of which I, with good reason, retained an exact copy. It was dated, to my extreme stupefaction, from that mysterious Great Eyrie:
Great Eyrie, Blueridge Mtns,
To Mr. Strock: North Carolina, June 13th.
Chief Inspector of Police,
34 Long St., Washington, D. C.
You were charged with the mission of penetrating the Great Eyrie.
You came on April the twenty-eighth, accompanied by the Mayor of Morganton and two guides.
You mounted to the foot of the wall, and you encircled it, finding it too high and steep to climb.