THE diary ended here.
I closed the book, and stared with unseeing eyes into the green shadows of the encompassing woods. What happened to the writer of the diary on that last trip to the cave? For he had never left the island. Crusoe was here to prove it, as well as the wreck of the Island Queen. And, in all human probability, under the sand which choked the cabin of the derelict was the long-sought chest of Spanish doubloons.
But what was the mysterious fate of Peter? Had he fallen overboard from the sloop and been drowned? Had he returned to the cave—and was he there still? It was all a mystery—but a mystery which I burned ,to solve.
Of course I might have solved it, very quickly, merely by communicating the extraordinary knowledge which had come to me to my companions. But for the present at least I meant to keep this astounding secret for my own. Somehow or other, by guile or lucky circumstance, I must bring it about that the document I had signed at Miss Browne’s behest was cancelled. Was I, who all unaided had discovered, or as good as discovered, the vainly-sought-for treasure, to disclose its whereabouts to those who would deny me the smallest claim upon its contents? Was I to see all those “fair, shining golden coins” parcelled out between Miss Browne, and Mr. Tubbs, and Captain Magnus (the three who loomed large in my indignant thoughts), and not possess a single one myself? Or perhaps accept a little stingy present of a few? I really wasn’t very covetous about the money, taken just as money; but considered as buried treasure it made my mouth water.
Then besides, while I kept my secret I had power; everybody’s destiny was in my hands. This was a sweet thought. I felt that I should enjoy going about with a deceptive meekness, and taking the severest snubs from Miss Browne, knowing that at any moment I could blossom forth into the most exalted and thrilling importance. Also, not only did I want a share in the treasure myself, but I wanted, if possible, to divide it up on a different basis from the present. I wanted Cuthbert Vane to have a lot of it—and I should have been much better pleased not to let Mr. Tubbs or Captain Magnus have any. I did not crave to enrich Violet, and I thought Aunt Jane had already more money than was good for her. Give her another half-million, and Mr. Tubbs would commit bigamy, if necessary, for her sake.
And then there was Dugald Shaw, who had saved my life, and who seemed to have forgotten it, and that I had ever had my arms about his neck—and who was poor—and brave—
Yes, decidedly, I should keep my secret yet awhile, till I saw how the cards were going to fall.
MY first and all but overpowering impulse was to possess myself of a spade and dash for the wreck of the Island Queen. Sober second thought restrained me. Merely to get there and back would consume much time, for the descent of the cliffs, and still more the climb up again, was a toilsome affair. Also, reflection showed me that to dig through the damp, close-packed sand of the cabin would be no trifling task, for I would be hampered by the need of throwing out the excavated sand behind me through the narrow companionway. I could achieve my end, no doubt, by patient burrowing, but it would require much more time than I had at my command before the noon-day sounding of Cookie’s gong. I must not be seen departing or returning with a spade, but make off with the implement in a stealthy and burglarious manner. Above all, I must not risk betraying my secret through impatience.
But there was nothing to forbid an immediate pilgrimage to the much-sought gravestone with its sinister symbol. The account in Peter’s diary of his adventure with the pig placed the grave with such exactness that I had no doubt cf finding it easily. That done, I would know very nearly where to look for the cave—and in order to bid defiance to a certain chill sense of reluctance which beset me at the thought of the cave I started out at once, skirting the clearing with much circumspection, for it seemed to me that even the sight of my vanishing back must shout of mystery to Cookie droning hymns among his pots and pans. Crusoe, of course, came with me, happily unconscious of his own strange relation to our quest.
Following in the steps of Peter, who seemed in an airy and uncomfortable fashion to be bearing me company, I struck across the point, at the base of the rough slope which marks the first rise of the peak. As I neared the sea on the other side great crags began to overhang the path, which was, of course, no path, but merely the line of least resistance through the woods. Soon the noise of the sea, of which one was never altogether free on the island, though it reached the recesses of the forest only as a vast, nameless murmur, broke in heightened clamor on my ears. I heard the waves roaring and dashing on rocks far below—and then I stood at the dizzy edge of the plateau locking out over the illimitable gleaming reaches of the sea.
SOMEWHERE in this angle between the ragged margin of the cliffs and the abrupt rise of the craggy mountainside, according to Peter’s journal, lay the grave. I began systematically to poke with a stick I carried into every low-growing mass of vines or bushes. Because of the comparatively rocky, sterile soil the woods were thinner here, and the undergrowth was greater. Only the very definite localization of the grave by the accommodating diarist gave any hope of finding it.
And then, quite suddenly, I found it. My proddings had displaced a matted mass of ground-creeper. Beneath, looking raw and naked without its leafy covering, was the “curiously regular little patch of ground, outlined at intervals with small stones.” Panic-stricken beetles scuttled for refuge. A great slug undulated painfully across his suddenly denuded pasture. A whole small world found itself hurled back to chaos.
At the head of the grave lay a large, smoothly-rounded stone. I knelt and brushed away some obstinate vine-tendrils, and the letters “B. H.” revealed themselves, cut deeply and irregularly into the sloping face of the stone. Below was the half-intelligible symbol of the crossed bones.
There was something in the utter loneliness of the place that caught my breath sharply. At once I had the feeling of a marauder. Here slept the guardian of the treasure—and yet in defiance of him I meant to have it. So, too, had Peter—and I didn’t know yet what he had managed to do to Peter—but I guessed from his journal that Peter had been a slightly morbid person. He had let the wild solitude of the island frighten him. He had indulged foolish fancies about crucifixes. He had in fact let the defenses of his will be undermined ever so little—and then of course there was no telling what they could do to you.
With an impatient shiver I got up quickly from my knees. What abominable nonsense I had been talking—was there a miasma about that old grave that affected one? I whistled to Crusoe, who was trotting busily about on mysterious intelligence conveyed to him by his nose. He ran to me joyfully, and I stooped and patted his warm, live,.vigorous body.
“Let Bill walk, Crusoe,” I remarked, “let him! He needn’t be a dog in the manger about the treasure, anyhow.”
NOW came the moment which I had been trying not to think about. I had to find the entrance to the cave, and then go into it or part with my own esteem forever. I went and peered over the cliff. I had an unacknowledged hope that the shelf of which Peter had written had been rent off by some cataclysm and that I could not possibly get down to the doorway in the rock. My hope was vain. The ledge was there—not an inviting ledge, nor one on which the unacrobatically inclined would have any impulse to saunter, but a perfectly good ledge, on which I had not the slightest excuse for declining to venture. Seventy feet below I saw a narrow strip of sand, from which the tide was receding. It ran along under the great precipice which rose on my right, forming the face of the mountain on the south side. On that strip of sand the old hiding-place of the pirates opened. I thought I saw the great overhanging eaves of rock of which the diary had spoken.
There was truly nothing dangerous about the ledge. It was nearly three feet wide, and had an easy downward trend. Yet you heard the hungry roar of the surf below, and try as you would not to, caught glimpses of the white swirl of it. I moved cautiously, keeping close to the face of the cliff. Crusoe, to my annoyance, sprang down upon the ledge after me. I had a feeling that he must certainly trip me—
An angle in the rock—a low, dark entrance-way—it was all as Peter had described. I peered in—nothing but impenetrable blackness. I took a hesitating step. The passage veered sharply, as the diary had recorded. Once around the corner, there would be nothing but darkness anywhere. One would go stumbling on, feeling with feet and hands—hands cold with the dread of what they might be going to touch. For, suddenly portentous and overwhelming, there rose before me the unanswered question of what had become of Peter on the last visit to the cave. Unanswered—and unanswerable except in one way; by going in to see.
But if by any strange chance—where all chances were strange—he were still there, I did not want to see. I did not like to contemplate his possible neighborhood. Indeed, he grew enormously more real to me with every instant I stood there, and whereas I had so far thought principally about the treasure, I now began to think with intensity of Peter. What ironic stroke of fate had cut him down in the very moment of his triumph? Had he ever reached the cave to bring away the last of the doubloons? Were they still waiting there unclaimed? Had he fallen victim to some extraordinary mischance on the way back to the Island Queen? Had a storm come up on that last night, and the weakened cable parted, and the Island Queen gone on the rocks, drowning Peter in the cabin with his gold? Then how had Crusoe got away, Crusoe, who feared the waves so, and would bark at them and turn tail and run?
Speaking of Crusoe, where was he? I realized that a moment ago he had plunged into the passage. I heard the patter of his feet—a pause. A queer, dismal little whine echoed along the passage. I heard Crusoe returning—but before his nose appeared around the angle of the tunnel, his mistress had reached the top of the cliff at a bound and was vanishing at a brisk pace into the woods.
With bitterness, as I pursued my way to camp, I realized that I was not a heroine. Here was a mystery—it was the business of a heroine to solve it. Now that I was safely away from the cave, I began to feel the itch of a torturing curiosity. How, without going into the terrifying place alone, should I find out what was there? Should I pretend to have accidentally discovered the grave, lead the party to it, and then—again accidentally—discover the tunnel? This plan had its merits—but I discarded it, for fear that something would be found in the cave to direct attention to the Island Queen. Then I reflected that very likely the explorers would work round the island far enough to find the sea-mouth of the cave. This would take matters entirely out of my hands. I would perhaps be enlightened as to the fate of Peter and the last remaining bags of doubloons, but might also have to share the secret of the derelict with the rest. And then all my dreams of playing fairy godmother and showering down on certain heads—like coals of fire—torrents of beautiful golden doubloons, would be over.
On the whole I could not tell whether I burned with impatience to have the cave discovered, or was cold with the fear of it.
And then, so vigorous is the instinct to see one’s self in heroic postures, I found I was trying to cheat myself with the pretence that I meant presently to abstract Aunt Jane’s electric torch and returning to the tunnel-mouth plunge in dauntlessly—
I HAD determined as an offset to my pusillanimous behavior about the cave to show a dogged industry in the matter of the Island Queen. It would take me a long while to get down through the sand to the chest, but I resolved to accomplish it, and borrowed of Cookie, without his knowledge, a large iron spoon which I thought I could wield more easily than a heavy spade. Besides, Cookie would be less sleuth-like in getting on the trail of his missing property than Mr. Shaw—though there would be a certain piquancy in having that martinet hale me before him for stealing a spade.
But that afternoon I was tired and hot—it really called for a grimmer resolve than mine to shovel sand through the languor of a Leeward Island afternoon. Instead, I slept in my hammock, and dreamed that I was queen of a cannibal island, draped in necklaces made of the doubloons, now hidden under the sand in the cabin of the derelict.
Later, the wailing of Cookie was heard in the land, and I had to restore the spoon to free Crusoe of the charge of having stolen it. I said I had wanted it to dig with. But of course it occurred to no one that it was the treasure I had expected to dig up with Cookie’s spoon. It was touching to see the universal faith in the trivial nature of my employments, to know that everyone imagined themselves to be seriously occupied, while I was merely a girl—there is no common denominator for the qualifying adjective—who roamed about idly with a dog, and no one dreamed that we had thus come to be potentially among the richest dogs and, girls in these latitudes.
A more serious obstacle to my explorations on the Island Queen presented itself next day. Instead of putting to sea, Mr. Shaw and Captain Magnus hauled the boat up on the beach and set to work to repair it. The wild work of exploring the coast had left the boat with leaky seams and a damaged gunwale. The preceding day had been filled with hardship and danger—so much so that my heart sank a little at the recountal of it. You saw the little boat threading its way among the reefs, tossed like seaweed by the white teeth of gnawing waves, screamed at by angry gulls whose homes were those clefts and caves which the boat invaded. And all this, poor little boat, on a hopeless quest—for no reward but peril and wounds. Captain Magnus had a bruised and bleeding wrist, but refused to have it dressed, vaunting his hardihood with a savage pride. Cuthbert Vane, however, had a sprained thumb which could not be ignored, and on the strength of which he was dismissed from the boat-repairing contingent, and thrown on my hands to entertain. So of course I had to renounce all thoughts of visiting the sloop. I should not have dared to go there anyway, with Mr. Shaw and the captain able more or less to overlook my motions from the beach, for I was quite morbidly afraid of attracting attention to the derelict. It seemed to me a happy miracle that no one but myself had taken any interest in her, or been inspired to ask by what chance so small a boat had come to be wrecked upon these desolate shores. Fortunately in her position in the shadow of the cliff she was inconspicuous, so that she might easily have been taken for the half of a large boat instead of the whole of a small one, or she must before this have drawn the questioning notice of the Scotchman. As to the captain, his attention was all set on the effort to discover the cave, and his intelligence was not lively enough to start on an entirely new tack by itself. And the Honorable Cuthbert viewed derelicts as he viewed the planetary bodies; somehow in the course of nature they happened.
SO, dissembling my excitements and anxieties, I swung placidly in my hammock, and near by sat the beautiful youth with his thumb carried tenderly in a bandage. In my preoccupied state of mind, to entertain him might have seemed by no means an idle pastime, if he hadn’t unexpectedly developed a talkative streak himself. Was it merely my being so distrait, or was it quite another reason, that led him to open up so suddenly about his Kentish home? Strange to say, instead of panting for the title, Cuthbert wanted his brother to go on living, though there was something queer about his spine, poor fellow, and the doctors said he couldn’t possibly—Of course I was surprised at Cuthbert’s views, for I had always thought that if there were a title in your family your sentiments toward those who kept you out of it were necessarily murderous, and your tears crocodile when you pretended to weep over their biers. But Cuthbert’s feelings were so human that I mentally apologized to the nobility. As to High Staunton Manor, I adored it. It is mostly Jacobean, but with an ancient Tudor wing, and it has a chapel and, a ghost and a secret staircase and a frightfully beautiful and wicked ancestress in the hall—I mean a portrait of her—and quantities of oak panelling quite black with age, and silver that was hidden in the family tombs when Cromwell’s soldiers came, and a chamber where Elizabeth once slept, and other romantic details too numerous to mention. It is all a little bit run down and shabby, for lack of money to keep it up, and of course on that account all the more entrancing. Naturally the less money the more aristocracy, for it meant that the family had never descended to marrying coal miners and brewers—which comment is my own, for Cuthbert was quite destitute of swank.
The present Lord Grasmere lived up to his position so completely that he had the gout and sat with his foot on a cushion exactly like all the elderly aristocrats you ever heard of, only when I inquired if his lordship cursed his valet and flung plates at the footmen when his foot hurt him his son was much shocked and pained. He did not realize so well as I—from an extensive course of novel-reading—that such is the usual behavior of titled persons.
It was delightful, there in the hot stillness of the island, with the palms rustling faintly overhead, to hear of that cool, mossy, ancient place. I asked eager questions—I repeated gloatingly fragments of description—I wondered enviously what it would be like to have anything so old and proud and beautiful in your very blood—when suddenly I realized that, misled by my enthusiasm, Cuthbert was saying something which must not be said—that he was about to offer the shelter of that ancient roof to me. To me, whose heart could never nest there, but must be ever on the wing, a wild bird of passage in the track of a ship—
I SAT up with a galvanic start. “Oh—listen—didn’t you hear something?” I desperately broke in. For somehow I must stop him. I didn’t want our nice jolly friendship spoiled—and besides, fancy being cooped up on an island with a man you have refused! Especially when all the while you’d be wanting so to pet and console him!
But with his calm doggedness Cuthbert began again—“I was a bit afraid the old place would have seemed too quiet and dull to you—” when the day was saved and my interruption strangely justified by a shrill outcry from somewhere about the camp.
I knew that high falsetto tone. It was the voice of Mr. Tubbs, but pitched in a key of quite insane excitement. I sprang. up and ran, Crusoe and the Honorable Cuthbert at my heels. There in the midst of the camp Mr. Tubbs stood, the centre of a group, who were regarding him with astonished looks. Mr. Shaw and the captain had left their tinkering, Cookie his saucepans, and Aunt Jane and Violet had come hurrying from the hut. Among us all stood Mr. Tubbs with folded arms, looking round upon the company with an extraordinary air of complacency and triumph.
“What is it, oh, what is it, Mr. Tubbs?” cried Aunt Jane, fluttering with the consciousness of her proprietorship.
But Mr. Tubbs glanced at her as indifferently as a sated turkey-buzzard at a morsel which has ceased to tempt him.
“Mr. Tubbs,” commanded Violet, “speak—explain yourself!”
“Come, out with it, Tubbs,” advised Mr. Shaw.
Then the lips of Mr. Tubbs parted, and from them issued this solitary word:
“What?” screamed Miss Higglesby-Browne. “You have found it?”
Solemnly Mr. Tubbs inclined his head.
“Eureka!” he repeated. “I have found it!”
AMIDST the exclamations, the questions, the genera! commotion which ensued, I had room for only one thought—that Mr. Tubbs had somehow discovered the treasure in the cabin of the Island Queen. Indeed, I should have shrieked the words aloud, but for a providential dumbness that fell upon me. Meanwhile Mr. Tubbs had unfolded his arms from their Napoleonic posture on his bosom long enough to wave his hand for silence.
“Friends,” he began, “it has been known from the start that there was a landmark on this little old island that would give any party discovering the same a line on that chest of money right away. There’s been some that was too high up in the exploring business to waste time looking for landmarks. They had ruther do more fancy stunts, where what with surf, and sharks, and bangin’ up the boat, they could make a good show of gettin’ busy. But old Ham Tubbs, he don’t let on to be a hero. Jest a plain man o’ business—that’s old H. H. Consequence is, he leaves the other fellers have the brass band, while he sets out on the q. t. to run a certain little clue to earth. And, ladies and gentlemen, he’s run it!”
“You have found—you have found the treasure!” shrilled Aunt Jane.
Contrary to his bland custom, Mr. Tubbs frowned at her darkly.
“I said I found the clue,” he corrected. “Of course, it’s the same thing. Ladies and gentlemen, not to appear to be a hot-air artist, I will tell you in a word, that I have located the tombstone of one. William Halliwell, deceased!”
Of course. Not once had I thought of it. Bare, stark, glaring up at the sun, lay the stone carved with the letters and the cross-bones. Forgetting in the haste of my departure to replace the vines upon the grave I had left the stone to shout its secret to the first comer. And that had happened to be Mr. Tubbs. Happened, I say, for I knew that he had not had the slightest notion where to look for the grave of Bill Halliwell. This running to earth of clues was purely an affair of his own picturesque imagination.
I wondered uneasily what he had made of the uprooted vines—but he would lay them to the pigs, no doubt. In the countenance of Mr. Tubbs, flushed and exultant, there was no suspicion that the secret was not all his own.
Miss Higglesby-Browne had been settling her helmet more firmly upon her wiry locks. She had a closed umbrella beneath her arm, and she drew and brandished it like a sabre as she took a long stride forward.
“Mr. Tubbs,” she demanded, “lead on!”
But Mr. Tubbs did not lead on. He stood quite still, regarding Miss Browne with a smile of infinite slyness.
“Oh, no indeed!” he said. “Old H. H. wasn’t born yesterday. It may have struck you that to possess the sole and exclusive knowledge of the whereabouts of a million or two—ratin’ it low—is some considerable of an asset. And it’s one I aint got the least idee of partin’ with unless for inducements held out.”
Aunt Jane gave a faint shriek. I had been silently debating what my own course should be in the face of this unexpected development. Suddenly I saw my way quite clear. I would say nothing. Mr. Tubbs should reveal his own perfidy. And the curtain would ring down upon the play, leaving Mr. Tubbs foiled all around, bereft both of the treasure and of Aunt Jane. Oh, how I would enjoy the farce as it was played by the unconscious actors! How I would step in at the end to reward virtue and punish guilt! And how I would point the moral, later, very gently to Aunt Jane, an Aunt Jane all penitence and docility!
Little I dreamed what surprise ensuing acts of the play were to hold for me, or of their astounding contrast with the farce of my joyous imagination.
I took no part in the storm that raged round Mr. Tubbs. It is said that in the heart of the tempest there is calm, and this great truth of natural philosophy Mr. Tubbs exemplified. His face adorned by a seraphic, buttery smile, he stood unmoved, while Miss Higglesby-Browne uttered cyclonic exhortations and reproaches, while Aunt Jane sobbed and said, Oh, Mr. Tubbs! while Mr. Shaw strove to make himself heard above the din. He did at least succeed in extracting from the traitor a definite statement of terms. These were nothing less than fifty per cent of the treasure, secured to him by a document signed, sealed and delivered into his own hands. To a suggestion that as he had discovered the all-important tombstone so might someone else, he replied with tranquillity that he thought not, as he had taken precautions against such an eventuality. In other words, as I was later to discover, the wily Mr. Tubbs had contrived to raise the boulder from its bed and push it over the cliff into the sea, afterwards replacing the mass of vines upon the grave.
As to the entrance to the tunnel, it was apparent to me that Mr. Tubbs had not yet discovered it. Even if he had, I am certain that he would have been no more heroic than myself about exploring it, though there was no missing Peter to haunt his imagination. But with the grave as a starting-point there could be no question as to the ultimate discovery of the cave.
I was so eager myself to see the inside of the cave, and to know whatever it had to reveal of the fate of Peter, that I was inclined to wish Mr. Tubbs success in driving his hard bargain, especially as it would profit him nothing in the end. But this sentiment was exclusively my own. On all hands indignation greeted the rigorous demands of Mr. Tubbs. With a righteous joy, I saw the fabric of Aunt Jane’s illusions shaken by the rude blast of reality. Would it be riven quite in twain? I was dubious, for Aunt Jane’s illusions have a toughness in striking contrast to the uncertain nature of her ideas in general. Darker and darker disclosures of Mr. Tubbs’s perfidy would be required. But judging from his present recklessness, they would be forthcoming. For where was the Tubbs of yesterday—the honey-tongued, the suave, the anxiously obsequious Tubbs? Gone, quite gone. Instead, here was a Tubbs who cocked his helmet rakishly, and leered round upon the company, deaf to the claims of loyalty, the pleas of friendship, the voice of tenderness—Aunt Jane’s.
MANFULLY Miss Higglesby-Browne stormed up and down the beach. She demanded of Mr. Shaw, of Cuthbert Vane, of Captain Magnus, each and severally, that Mr. Tubbs be compelled to disgorge his secret. You saw that she would not have shrunk from a regimen of racks and thumbscrews. But there were no racks or thumbscrews on the island. Of course we could have invented various instruments of torture—I felt I could have developed some ingenuity that way myself—but too fatally well Mr. Tubbs knew the civilized prejudices of those with whom he had to deal. With perfect impunity he could strut about the camp, sure that no weapons worse than words would be brought to bear, that he would not even be turned away from the general board to browse on cocoa-nuts in solitude.
Long ago Mr. Shaw had left the field to Violet and with a curt shrug had turned his back and stood looking out over the cove, stroking his chin reflectively. Miss Browne’s eloquence had risen to amazing flights, and she already had Mr. Tubbs inextricably mixed with Ananias and Sapphira, when the Scotchman broke in upon her ruthlessly.
“Friends,” he said, “so far as I can see we have been put a good bit ahead by this morning’s work. First, we know that the grave which should be our landmark has not been entirely obliterated by the jungle, as I had thought most likely. Second, we know that it is on this side of the island, for the reason that this chap Tubbs hasn’t nerve to go much beyond shouting distance by himself. Third, as Tubbs has tried this hold-up business I believe we should consider the agreement by which he was to receive a sixteenth share null and void, and decide here and now that he gets nothing whatever. Fourth, the boat is now pretty well to rights, and as soon as we have a snack Bert and Magnus and I will set out, in twice as good heart as before, having had the story that brought us here confirmed for the first time. So Tubbs and his tombstone can go to thunder.”
“I can, can I?” cried Mr. Tubbs. “Say, are you a human iceberg, to talk that cool before a man’s own face? Say I’ll—”
But Cuthbert Vane broke in.
“Three rousing cheers, old boy!” he cried to the Scotchman enthusiastically. “Always did think the chap a frightful bounder, don’t you know? We’ll stand by old Shaw, won’t we, Magnus?” Which comradely outbreak showed the excess of the beautiful youth’s emotions, for usually he turned a large cold shoulder on the captain, though managing in some mysterious manner to be perfectly civil all the time. Perhaps you have to be born at High Staunton Manor or its equivalent to possess the art of relegating people to immense distances without seeming to administer even the gentlest shove.
But unfortunately the effect of the Honorable Cuthbert’s cordiality was lost, so far as the object of it was concerned, because of the surprising fact, only now remarked by any one, that Captain Magnus had disappeared.
THIS evanishment of Captain Magnus, though quite unlooked for at so critical a moment, was too much in keeping with his eccentric and unsocial ways to arouse much comment. Everybody looked about with mild ejaculations of surprise, and then forgot about the matter.
Whistling a Scotch tune, Dugald Shaw set to work again on the boat. In the face of difficulty or opposition he always grew more brisk and cheerful. I used to wonder whether in the event of a tornado he would not warm into positive geniality. Perhaps it would not have needed a tornado, if I had not begun by suspecting him of conspiring against Aunt Jane’s pocket, or if the Triumvirate, inspired by Mr. Tubbs, had not sat in gloomy judgment on his every movement. Or if he hadn’t been reproached so for saving me from the cave, instead of leaving it to Cuthbert Vane—
But now under the stimulus of speaking his mind about Mr. Tubbs the Scotchman whistled as he worked, and slapped the noble youth affectionately on the back when he came and got in the way with anxious industry.
As I wanted to observe developments—a very necessary thing when you are playing Providence—I chose a central position in the shade and pulled out some very smudgy tatting, a sort of Penelope’s web which there was no prospect of my ever completing, but which served admirably to give me an appearance of occupation at critical moments.
Mr. Tubbs also had sought a shady spot and was fanning himself with his helmet. From time to time he hummed, in a manner determinedly gay. However he might disguise it to himself, this time Mr. Tubbs had overshot his mark. In the first thrill of his great discovery he had thought the game was in his hands. He had looked for an instant capitulation.
The truth was, since our arrival on the island Mr. Tubbs had felt himself the spoiled child of fortune. Aunt Jane and Miss Higglesby-Browne were the joint commanders of the expedition, and he commanded them. The Scotchman’s theoretical rank as leader had involved merely the acceptance of all the responsibility and blame, while authority rested with the petticoat government dominated by the bland and wily Tubbs.
Had Mr. Tubbs but continued bland and wily, had he taken his fair confederates into his counsels, who knows how fat a share of the treasure they might have voted him. But he had abandoned his safe nook behind the throne, and sought to come out into the open as dictator. Sic semper tyrannis. So had the mighty fallen.
FACED with the failure of his coup d’état, Mr. Tubbs’s situation was, to say the least, awkward. He had risked all, and lost it. But he maintained an air of jaunty self-confidence, slightly tinged with irony. It was all very well, he seemed to imply, for us to try to get along without H. H. We would discover the impossibility of it soon enough.
Aunt Jane, drooping, had been led away to the cabin by Miss Higglesby-Browne. You now heard the voice of Violet in exhortation, mingled with Aunt Jane’s sobs. I seemed to see that an ear of Mr. Tubbs was cocked attentively in that direction. He had indeed erred in the very wantonness of triumph, for a single glance would have kept Aunt Jane loyal and prodigal of excuses for him in the face of any treachery. Not even Violet could have clapped the lid on the up-welling fount of sentiment in Aunt Jane’s heart. Only the cold, contemning eye of H. H. himself had congealed the tepid flood.
The morning wore on with ever-increasing heat, and as nothing happened I began to find my “watchful waiting” dull. Crusoe, worn out perhaps by some private nocturnal pig-hunt, slept heavily where the drip of the spring over the brim of old Heintz’s kettle cooled the air. Aunt Jane’s sobs had ceased, and only a low murmur of voices came from the cabin. I began to consider whether it would not be well to take a walk with Cuthbert Vane and discover the tombstone all over again. I knew nothing, of course, of Mr. Tubbs’s drastic measures with the celebrated landmark. As to Cuthbert’s interrupted courtship, I depended on the vast excitement of discovering the cave to distract his mind from it. For that was the idea, of course—Cuthbert Vane and I would explore the cave, and then whenever I liked I could prick the bubble of Mr. Tubbs’s ambitions, without relating the whole strange story of the diary and the Island Queen. I was immensely pleased already by the elimination of Mr. Tubbs from the number of those who need have a finger in the golden pie. I thought that perhaps with patience I might coax events to play still further into my hand.
But meanwhile the cave drew me like a magnet. I jealously desired to be the first to see it, to snatch from Mr. Tubbs the honors of discovery. And I wanted to know about poor Peter—and the doubloons that he had gone back to fetch.
But already Captain Magnus had forsaken the post of duty and departed on an unknown errand. Could I ask Cuthbert Vane to do it, too? And then I smiled a smile that was half proud. I might ask him—but he would refuse me. In Cuthbert’s simple code, certain things were “done,” certain others not. Among the nots was to fail in standing by a friend. And just now Cuthbert was standing by Dugald Shaw. Therefore “nods and becks and wreathed smiles” were vain. In Cuthbert’s quiet, easy-mannered, thick-headed way he could turn his back calmly on the face of love and follow the harsh call of duty even to death. It would not occur to him not to. And he never would suspect himself of being a hero—that would be quite the nicest part of it.
And yet, I knew poor Cuthbert was an exploded superstition, an anachronism, part of a vanishing order of things, and that the ideal which was replacing him was a boiler-plated monster with clockwork heart and brain, named Efficiency. And that Cuthbert must go, along with his Jacobean manor, and his family ghost, and the oaks in the park, and everything else that couldn’t prove its right to live except by being fine and lovely and full of garnered sweetness of the past—
AT this point in my meditations the door of the cabin opened and Miss Browne came out, looking sternly resolute. Aunt Jane followed, very pink about the eyes and nose. She threw an anxious fluttering glance at Mr. Tubbs, who sat up briskly, and in a nervous manner polished with a large bandana that barren zone, his cranium, which looked torrid enough to scorch the very feet of the flies that walked on it. It was clear that on the lips of Miss Browne there hovered some important announcement, which might well be vital to the fortunes of Mr. Tubbs.
With a commanding gesture Miss Browne signalled the rest to approach. Mr. Tubbs bounced up with alacrity. Mr. Shaw and Cuthbert obeyed less promptly, but they obeyed. Meanwhile Violet waited, looking implacable as fate.
“And where is Captain Magnus?” she demanded, glancing about her.
But no one knew what had become of Captain Magnus.
As for myself, I continued to sit in the shade and tat. But I could hear with ease all that was said.
“Mr. Tubbs,” began Miss Browne, “your recent claims have been matter of prolonged consideration between Miss Harding and myself. We feel— we can not but feel—that there was a harshness in your announcement of them, an apparent concentration on your own interests ill befitting a member of this expedition. Also, that in actual substance, they were excessive. Not half, Mr. Tubbs; oh, no, not half! But one-quarter, Miss Harding and myself, as the joint heads of the Harding-Browne expedition, are inclined to think no more than the reward which is your due. We suggest, therefore, a simple way out of the difficulty. Mr. Dugald Shaw was engaged on liberal terms to find the treasure. He has not found the treasure. He has not found the slightest clue to its present whereabouts. Mr. Tubbs, on the contrary, has found a clue. It is a clue of the first importance. It is equivalent almost to the actual discovery of the chest. Therefore let Mr. Shaw, convinced I am sure by this calm presentation of the matter of the justice of such a course, resign his claim to a fourth share of the treasure in favor of Mr. Hamilton H. Tubbs, and agree to receive instead the former allotment of Mr. Tubbs, namely one-sixteenth.”
Having offered this remarkable suggestion, Miss Browne folded her arms and waited for it to bear fruit.
IT DID—in the enthusiastic response of Mr. Tubbs. Having already played his highest trump and missed the trick, he now found himself with an entirely fresh hand dealt to him by the obliging Miss Higglesby-Browne. The care in his countenance yielded to beaming smiles.
“Well, well!” he exclaimed. “To think of your takin’ old H. H. that literal! O’ course, havin’ formed my habits in the financial centres of the country, I named a stiff price at first—a stiff price, I won’t deny. But that’s jest the leetle way of a man used to handlin’ large affairs—nothin’ else to it, I do assure you. The Old Man himself used to say, ‘There’s old H. H.—you’d think he’d eat the paint off a house, he’ll show up that graspin’ in a deal. And all the time it’s jest love of the game. Let him know he’s goin’ to win out, and bless you, old H. H. will swing right round and fair force the profits on the other party. H. H. is slicker than soap to handle, if only you handle him right.’ Can I say without hard feelin’s that jest now H. H. was not handled right?. Instead o’ bein’ joshed with, as he looked for, he was took up short, and even them which he might have expected to show confidence—” here Mr. Tubbs cast a reproachful eye at Aunt Jane— “run off with the notion that he meant jest what he said. All he’d done for this expedition, his loyalty and faith to same, was forgotten, and he was thought of as a self-seeker and Voracious Shark!” The pain of these recollections dammed the torrent of Mr. Tubbs’s speech.
“Oh, Mr. Tubbs!” breathed Aunt Jane heart-brokenly, and of course a tear trickled gently down her nose, following the path of many previous tears which had already left their saline traces.
Mr. Tubbs managed in some impossible fashion to roll one eye tenderly at Aunt Jane, while keeping the other fastened shrewdly on the remainder of his audience.
“Miss Higglesby-Browne and Miss Jane Harding,” he resumed, “I accept. It would astonish them as has only known H. H. on his financial side to see him agree to a reduction of profits like this without a kick. But I’m a man of impulse, I am. Get me on my soft side and a kitten aint more impulsive than old H. H. And o’ course the business of this expedition aint jest business to me. It’s—er—friendship, and—er—sentiment—in short, there’s feelin’s that is more than worth their weight in gold!”
AT these significant words the agitation of Aunt Jane was extreme. Was it possible that Mr. Tubbs was declaring himself in the presence of others—and was a response demanded from herself—would his sensitive nature, so lately wounded by cruel suspicion, interpret her silence as fatal to his hopes? But while she struggled between maiden shyness and the fear of crushing Mr. Tubbs the conversation had swept on.
“Mr. Shaw,” said Miss Browne, “you have heard Mr. Tubbs, in the interest of the expedition, liberally consent to reduce his claim by one-half. Doubtless, if only in a spirit of emulation, you will attempt to match this conduct by cancelling our present agreement and consenting to another crediting you with the former sixteenth share of Mr. Tubbs.”
“Don’t do it, Shaw—hold the fort, old boy!” broke in Cuthbert Vane. “I say, Miss Browne, this is a bally shame!”
Miss Browne had always treated the prospective Lord Grasmere with distinguished politeness. Even now her air was mild though lofty.
“Mr. Vane, I must beg leave to remind you that the object of this expedition was yet unattained when Mr. Tubbs, by following clues ignored by others, brought success within our reach. Mr. Dugald Shaw having conspicuously failed—”
“Failed!” repeated Cuthbert, with unprecedented energy. “Failed! I say, that’s too bad of you, Miss Browne. Wasn’t everybody here a lot keener than old Shaw about mucking in that silly cave where those Johnnies would have hard work to bury anything unless they were mermaids? Didn’t the old chap risk his neck a dozen times a day while this Christopher Columbus stayed high and dry ashore? Suppose he did find the tombstone by stubbing his silly toes on it—so far he hasn’t found the cave, much less the box of guineas or whatever those foreign chaps call their money. Let Mr. Tubbs go sit on the tombstone if he likes. Shaw and I can find the cave quite on our own, can’t we, Shaw?”
“Mr. Vane,” replied the still deferential Violet, “as a member of the British aristocracy, it is not to be supposed that you would view financial matters with the same eye as those of us of the Middle Classes, who, unhappily perhaps for our finer feelings, have been obliged to experience the harsh contacts of common life. Your devotion to Mr. Shaw has a romantic ardor which I can not but admire. But permit us also our enthusiasm for the perspicacity of Mr. Tubbs, to which we owe the wealth now within our grasp.” Mr. Shaw now spoke for the first time.
“Miss Browne, I do not recognize the justice of your standpoint in this matter. I have done and am still prepared to do my best in this business of the treasure. If Mr. Tubbs will not give his information except for a bribe, I say—let him keep it. We are no worse off without it than we were before, and you were then confident of success. My intention, ma’am, is to hold you to our original agreement. I shall continue the search for the treasure on the same lines as at present.”
“One moment,” said Miss Browne haughtily. She had never spoken otherwise than haughtily to Mr. Shaw since the episode of the Wise Woman of Dumbiedykes. “One moment, Jane—and you, Mr. Tubbs—”
SHE drew them aside, and they moved off out of earshot, where they stood with their backs to us and their heads together.
It was my opportunity. Violet herself had proposed that the agreement under which we had all come to the island—the agreement which bound me to ask for no share of the treasure—should be canceled. Nothing now was necessary to the ripening of my hopes but to induce Dugald Shaw to immolate himself. Would he do so—on my bare word? There was no time to explain anything—he must trust me.
I sprang up and dashed over to the pair who stood looking gloomily out to sea. They turned in surprise and stared down, the two big men, into my flushed, up-tilted face.
“Mr. Shaw,” I whispered quickly, “you must do as Miss Browne wishes.” In my earnestness I laid a hand upon his arm. He regarded me bewilderedly.
“You must—you must!” I urged. “You’ll spoil everything if you refuse!”
The surprise in his face yielded to a look composed of many elements, but which was mainly hard and bitter.
“And still I shall refuse,” he said sardonically.
“Oh, no, no,” I implored, “you don’t understand! —oh, if you would only believe I am your friend!”
His face changed subtly. It was still questioning—and guarded.
“Why don’t you believe it?” I whispered unsteadily. “Do you forget that I owe you my life?”
And at the recollection of that day in the sea-cave the scarlet burned in my cheeks and my head drooped. But I saw how the lines about his mouth had softened. “Surely you must know that I would repay you if I could!” I hurried on. “And not by—treachery.”
He laughed suddenly. “Treachery? No! I think you would always be an open foe.”
“Indeed I would!” I answered with a flash of wrath. Then, as I remembered the need of haste, I spoke in an intense, quick whisper. “Listen—I can’t explain, there isn’t time. I can only ask you to trust me—to agree to what Miss Browne wishes. Everything—you don’t dream how much—depends on it!” For I felt that I would let the treasure lie hidden in the Island Queen forever rather than that Mr. Tubbs should, under the original contract, claim a share of it.
The doubt had quite left his face.
“I do trust you, little Virginia,” he said gently. “Yes, I trust in your honesty, heaven knows, child. But permit me to question your wisdom in desiring to enrich our friend Tubbs.”
“Enrich him—enrich him! The best I wish him is unlimited gruel in an almshouse somewhere. No! What I want is to get that wretched paper of Miss Browne’s nullified. Afterward we can divide things up as we like—”
BEWILDERMENT, shot with a gleam of half-incredulous understanding, seemed to transfix him. We stood a long moment, our eyes challenging each other, exchanging their countersign of faith and steadfastness. Then slowly he held out his hand. I laid mine in it—we stood hand in hand, comrades at last. Without more words he turned away and strode over to the council of three.
I now became aware of Cuthbert Vane, whom perplexity had carried far beyond the bounds of speech and imprisoned in a sort of torpor. He was showing faint symptoms of revival, and had got as far as “I say—?” uttered in the tone of one who finds himself moving about in worlds not realized, when the nearby group dissolved and moved rapidly toward us. Miss Browne exultant, beaming, was in the van. She set her substantial feet down like a charger pawing the earth. You might almost have said that Violet pranced. Aunt Jane was round-eyed and twittering. Mr. Tubbs wore a look of suppressed astonishment, almost of perturbation. What’s his game? was the question in the sophisticated eye of Mr. Tubbs. But the Scotchman had when he chose a perfect poker face. The great game of bluff would have suited him to a nicety. Mr. Tubbs interrogated that inexpressive countenance in vain.
Miss Browne advanced on Cuthbert Vane and seized both his hands in an ardent clasp.
“Mr. Vane,” she said with solemnity, “I thank you-—in the name of this expedition I thank you—for the influence you have exerted upon your friend!”
And this seemed to be to the noble youth the most stunning of all the shocks of that eventful morning.
Now came the matter of drawing up the new agreement. It was a canny Scot indeed who, acting on the hint I had just given him, finally settled its terms. In the first place, the previous agreement was declared null and void. In the second, Mr. Tubbs was to have his fourth only if the treasure were discovered through his direct agency. And it was under this condition and no other that Dugald Shaw bound himself to relinquish his original claim. Virginia Harding signed a new renunciatory clause, but it bore only on treasure discovered by Mr. Tubbs. Indeed, the entire contract was of force only if Mr. Tubbs fulfilled his part of it, and fell to pieces if he did not. Which was exactly what I wanted.
Miss Browne and Mr. Tubbs demurred a little at the wording on which Mr. Shaw insisted, but Mr. Tubbs’s confidence in the infallibility of the tombstone was so great that no real objection was interposed. No difficulty was made of the absence of Captain Magnus, as his interests were unaffected by the change. Space was left for his signature. Mine came last of all, as that of a mere interloper and hanger-on. I added it and handed the paper demurely across to Violet, who consigned it to an apparently bottomless pocket. Copies were to be made after lunch.
My demonstrations of joy at this happy issue of my hopes had to be confined to a smile—in which for a startled instant Violet had seemed to sense the triumph. It was still on my lips as with a general movement we rose from the table about which we had been grouped during the absorbing business of drawing up the contract. Cookie had been clamoring for us to leave, that he might spread the table for lunch. I had opened my mouth to call to him, “All right, Cookie!” when a shrill volley of barks from Crusoe shattered the stillness of the drowsy air. In the same instant the voice Cookie, raised to a sharp note of alarm, rang through the camp:
“My Gawd, what all dis yere mean?”
I turned, to look into the muzzle of a rifle.
FIVE men had emerged from the woods behind the clearing, so quietly that they were in the centre of the camp before Crusoe’s shrill bark, or the outcry of the cook, warned us their presence. By that time they had us covered. Three of them carried rifles, the other two revolvers. One these was Captain Magnus.
Advancing a step or two before the others he ordered us to throw up our hands. Perhaps he meant only the men—hut my hands and Aunt Jane’s and Miss Higglesby-Browne’s also went up with celerity. He grinned into our astounded faces with a wolfish baring of his yellow teeth.
“Never guessed I wasn’t here jest to do the shovel work, but might have my own little side-show to bring off, hey?” he inquired of no one in particular. “Here, Slinker, help me truss ’em up.”
The man addressed thrust his pistol in his belt and came forward, and with his help the hands of the Scotchman, Cuthbert Vane and Mr. Tubbs were securely tied. They were searched for arms, and the sheath-knives which Mr. Shaw and Cuthbert carried at their belts were taken away. The three prisoners were then ordered to seat themselves in a row on the trunk of prostrate palm.
The whole thing had happened in the strangest silence. Except for a feeble moaning from Aunt Jane, like the bleating of a sheep, which broke forth at intervals, nobody spoke or made sound. The three riflemen in the background, standing like images with their weapons raised, looked like a well-trained chorus in an opera.
To be Continued