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A Tragedy Of High Explosives
by [?]


In the course of my work last year I had occasion to go over a file of old Liverpool newspapers, and thus came upon a remarkable paragraph in the ship news. Translated out of the language of commerce, it was to the effect that the good ship Empress, just arrived from Australia, reported that while rounding the Cape of Good Hope she had been driven southward far out of her course by a storm; and that away down in the Southern Atlantic had sighted a vessel drifting aimlessly about. The first mate boarded her, and, returning, reported that the derelict was the ship Albatross. That she had been abandoned was plain, for all the boats were gone, and so were the log and the ship’s instruments. On the deck, close by the companion hatch, lay two bodies, or rather skeletons, clad in weather-rotted garments, that showed them to have been man and woman. These bodies were headless, but the heads were nowhere to be found on the deserted deck. The mate found on the cabin table an open book, with writing on its pages. A pen lay on the table, and a small inkstand, in which the ink had evidently long since dried. The book was evidently a journal or diary, so the mate reported, and he put it in his pocket, meaning to carry it aboard the Empress ; but when he was getting down into his small boat the book slipped from his pocket, dropped into the water and sunk. The Albatross was badly water-logged, and, he thought, could not have floated much longer. To this report the editor of the paper added a note saying that the readers would all doubtless remember that the Albatross had sailed from Liverpool several years before, bound for Australia, and it was thought to have gone down with all on board, as no news of her had since been received.

That was the substance of the remarkable paragraph. What was almost as remarkable to me, a newspaper man, was that the Liverpool paper had evidently made no effort to learn the owners of the Albatross, the name of her captain and crew, or whether or not she carried any passengers. I carefully searched files to see if there was any further reference to the case. There was none. After the manner of his kind, the editor of the paper had, so it seemed, taken it for granted that his intelligent readers “would remember” all the particulars that they wanted to know.

I was much impressed by the paragraph. My professional instinct told me that there was a good newspaper story there, and I was disgusted that any editor could let it go untold. I also experienced more than usual curiosity to know how those headless bodies came there, or rather, why they should lie there on the deck headless. Then there was that journal that had been found lying open on the cabin table, as though the writer had been interrupted in the writing which had never been finished. What light might that little book not throw on the mystery? And now it was lying fathoms deep in the Southern Atlantic. Of what use to speculate over the matter. Thanks to the careless mate and the stupid editor, that mystery would remain forever unsolved. But in spite of reason I did speculate considerably over the matter, and, try as I did, could not banish the story from my mind.

A few weeks after that I went into Northern Vermont to report the Benton murder trial, which was attracting much more than local attention. I was pleased to find that the prosecuting attorney was an old classmate of mine, George Judson. I had known him pretty well as a hard-working and remarkably bright man, with a curious streak in his mental make-up that led him to investigate every new “ism” that appeared. We used to call him a Spiritualist, and, had the word been in use, I am sure would have called him a crank. He was five years older than I, had married immediately after graduating, had prospered as a lawyer, and now had a good home for his wife and two children. He seemed much pleased to renew the acquaintance of college days, and insisted that I should make his house my home during my stay in the town.