'Last scene of all that ends this strange, eventful history'
ARTHUR HUNT CHUTE
THE Royal Company Islands, according to the chart, were situated to the southward of Australia, in boisterous seas of high latitudes.
This was one of the few waste places of the Southern Ocean with which the far-roaming Sprott was not acquainted. But, Dirk Dugas, who always laid claim to a sufficiency of knowledge, held forth at length upon the looked-for islands.
Whenever his former mate opened up on this subject, the skipper, if he happened to be handy, cut in with sneer3, winding up with the remark:
“The only thing that keeps me from wiping you off the map is that it ’ud be a crime to shoot ye.”
It was indeed a black day that brought this ill assorted pair together. The world itself was scarce wide enough to contain 3uch hate as theirs. What, then, might not be expected with this twain locked up in the narrow confines of a schooner.
On coming aboard the Acadian, with the rest of the Ushuaia's crowd, Dugas was inclined to regard himself as a passenge, but was soon disabused.
Finding him unoccupied, on the first day out from Marion, the skipper ordered: “Lay below there, you; down on yer prayer-handles, and clean out the bilges.” This was about a3 filthy and loathsome a job as could be invented.
On his dignity, as an ex-mate, Dugas held back, refusing to obey, with the result that Gabereau had an excuse to manhandle him, which he proceeded to do
with alacrity and dispatch.
TA A Y after day, the Acadian held strongly to her ^ course, drawing ever nearer and nearer, to the Í3Íes of treasure, while in season and out, Gabereau continued his unmerciful hazing of Dirk Dugas.
One afternoon, after Dugas had been manhandled more unmercifully than ever, he crawled away, groaning, into his bunk in the fore-peak, and laid there, apparently dead to the world.
Paul, who had the watch off, was disturbed for fear
the poor wretch was going to pass away, he seemed to have come to such dire extremities.
When he went off to sleep, Paul was haunted by groans and stertorous breathing. He could hardly believe he heard aright, when, on awakening a few hours later, the voice of Dugas came to him in earnest conversation with several of the Ushuaia's former crew.
After this, as Paul laid in his bunk, he made it his business to watch the suspicious corner in the fore-peak. He experienced alarm, when various members of the Acadian's crew, as well as the Ushuaia's, began to foregather with the scheming Dugas.
“He doesn’t mean anything good by those meetings, that’s sure,” Paul afterwards declared to the skipper, who pooh-poohed the idea.
Whisperings, and secret conclaves below continued, while on the quarter deck above, Sprott Gabereau walked defiant, declaring that he was ready for all mutinies that Dugas and his vermin could invent.
The trouble began at midnight, a hundred miles off the expected islands. At supper, that night, sitting at the end of the foc’sle table, the skipper had announced:
“I guess we ought to make our anchorage in Commissioner’s Bay about noon to-morrow, if this wind holds steady.”
A buzz of conviviality greeted this information. During the rest of the evening, all hands were especially excited at the prospect of the morrow. In the excitement, the suspicious communings of Dugas and his friends passed unnoticed, by all except Paul, who remarked on them to the skipper, only to meet with another rebuff.
At midnight, the next watch came on deck, wheel and
lookout were relieved, and the others were just going below, when Dugas and ten men, armed with the guns of the sealers, suddenly emerged from the foc’sle, and started to drive all hands before them.
Sprott Gabereau was standing unconcernedly at the far end of the after house. As Dugas spotted him, he called:
“Get that son of Satan!
Half a dozen guns banged off at once, bullets ricocheting all over the house, while Dugas, leading on, cried:
“Did ye get him?”
He was still calling out this question, when the corner by the companion slide began to spit fire, with sudden and deadly precision.
Once. Twice. Thrice, the revolver behind the slide spoke.
There was a scream from Dugas, whose leg had been shattered above the knee, followed by other screams and groans. Almost before they knew what had transpired, the leading four of the mutineers were sprawled out on the deck.
This was too much for the remainder, who turned and fled, while the canny skipper emerged from behind cover, taking pot shots at the retreating mob.
Two minutes after Dugas began his blustering charge, the fight was over, while Gabereau, advancing along the deck, did not even need the precaution of a refilled chamber.
Bending over the first man, who turned out to be one of his own crew, he inquired:
“What the devil made you start out on this?”
“Dugas told me you intended to hog all the gold,” was the panting answer.
“Aye, and what of it.”
“He said that with the sealing guns, we could soon have the ship, and then, to-morrow, we could have all the treasure for ourselves.”
“Umph, and I hope ye’ll like the treasure ye’ve got in the calf o’ yer leg, now!”
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As others of the crew came out to assist in the removing of the casualties the skipper himself picked up the groaning Dugas, and carried him down to his bunk in the fore peak, standing there, and gloating over him, as he writhed in agony.
“Thought ye was goin' to put it over Sprott Gabereau, eh? I told ye, first time ise met, not to start runnin’ athwart my hawse, ye poor fool. Now I got ye polished
up to the Queen's taste!
"Tell my crew I'd keep ’em away from their share
o' treasure, eh?
"Tell 'em how easy it ’ud be to put it over the old stiff from Arichat, eh?
“Tell 'em how big the treasure was, eh?
"Tell 'em how many chests o’ gold they’ll have to divide among themselves, eh?
Catching a defiant look, Gabereau wheeled, while the two exchanged fierce glances, but the fiercest, at that moment, were those of the bloody figure on the bunk.
"He may be down, but he’s not out,” was Paul's observation, as he met the skipper later, stamping up and down upon the poop.
Gabereau did not deign to answer, but stood long and earnestly staring into the night. Somewhere, not far ahead in that blanket of darkness, was the Ferrara fortune, that loadstone of wealth, for which so many had suffered and died.
"I’d ride over my own brother’s carcass, if he stood between me and them islands,” he suddenly snorted. "Same here.” burst in a voice, sounding like the fervent Amen to a prayer. Glancing about, Gabereau was startled to see Don Juan, close beside him.
It was a long time before they retired to the cabin, but Paul, who had been watching them, remained upon deck. When at last, he turned to his bunk, he could not sleep. Strange premonitions came to haunt him, to keep him tossing, twisting feverishly. Finally, abandon-
ing the idea of repose, he got up and went out again on deck, walking up and down upon the weather quarter.
Two bells of the middle watch had just gone, when, gazing toward the bow, Paul thought he descried a fork of flame. In the next instant with an acrid cloud, the whole fore-peak burst into conflagration. Standing there, aghast, Paul seemed to see, in this sudden outburst, that same fierceness that had glowed in the eyes of Dugas.
rT'HE fire from the peak spread so rapidly that soon the whole for’ard section of the Acadian was a seething mass of lurid flame; the illumination, mounting with terrifying refulgence into the darkness of the night.
At the first alarm, all hands were literally erupted from the fore-scuttle, bursting up into the free air as though impelled by some volcanic force beneath. There was, a wild unreasoning fear. Everybody was running about to no purpose, with frantic calls of: “Out with the boats. Man the tackle, there.”
One boat had already taken the water, and was being paid astern, when Sprott Gabereau emerged, with his imperturbable command.
“Who ordered ye to the boats?”
“Well, what the hell are ye doin’, tailin’ onto the falls. Get out o’ this wi’ ye.”
As the crowd still hesitated, weak-kneed, irresolute, the mighty skipper walked toward them, as a lion might bear down upon a flock of sheep
“Git out o’ this, ye yellow-livered curs.” Involuntarily, all hands obeyed.
“Now, then, for’ard, there, and fight that fire. Into it, every last mother’s son o’ ye.”
In an instant, that whip-lash voice was compelling the entire crew, with the unescapable urgency of its command.
“Go to it, you sons o’ Satan, there ain’t nothin’ now to save ye, but the leapin’ lightnin’ in yer heels.
In spite of the appalling threat that loomed before him, in the stout heart of the skipper, there was no thought of quitting.
“Off wi’ the hatches! Rig the head-pump. Now then, get after it.”
Leading the way, Gabereau disappeared ’tween decks, to carry the war against the foe whose threatenings were momentarily increasing down there in the bowels of his ship.
Alow and aloft, everything was in a state of indescribable confusion, with slatting sails, slamming booms, thrashing tackle, whining of gear, jamming pumps, rushing water, shouts, warnings, and relayed words of command.
Paul, who had followed close after the intrepid skipper into the hold, was advancing with the rest, when at the breaking down of a partition with the axes, a solid wall of roaring flame suddenly burst into view.
At that moment, the appalling magnitude of the fire smote him with frenzied dread. In a flash, it came over him that all hope was gone; no living man could ever gain the mastery over such raging and unbridled fury.
In that terror-smiting moment, he had only one fear answering that urge; he turned and scrambled back again upon the deck.
“Where was Yvonne?”
“What had become of her?”
Rushing aft, and down into the cabin, he burst into the little stateroom, where she slept.
There came back no answer, and to his consternation, he found the stateroom empty. The bed recently had been slept in, but its occupant was gone.
Almost beside himself, Paul came out again into the cabin, shouting:
“Yvonne! Where are you?”
The cabin, like the inner stateroom, was abandoned,
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and in a blind panic he bounded up the companion, and out again on deck, now bright as day from the
Over the jargon and discord, his voice sounded again:
Up from the lee quarter, there floated a clear belllike voice. Hardly believing his eyes, Paul leaned over the rail, to look down into the upturned face of thegirl, seated amidships in one of the boats, while Don Juan, standing astern, was just in the act of casting off.
As the distance between them was already yawning, Paul jumped, landing head foremost across a heiter skelter of blankets and supplies.
Usmg a sculling oar, the Don pulled away from under the schooner’s lee. and in the next instant, their tiny craft met the vast lift and urge of the open sea.
"Get out your sweeps and row there,” directed the Don.
Without further remark, Paul did as he was bidden, whtle the Arudiua flamed up before them into the
As they rowed away, with the distance between themselves and the parent vessel increasing, it seemed as though they were cutting themselves off from their old sure world; the schooner was small enough, but now, they were a mere tiny speck tossed everlastingly upon an infinity of night and sea.
For Paul, everything was passing as in a dream, but there was nothing hesitating or uncertain in the orders of the Don. Studying a compass, astern, he proceeded to give directions upon a definite course.
"Up a little. Keep her a bit more before the wind. Now then, steady so. We didn't get away any too soon. The jig's up for the rest of ’em, if they don’t abandon ship pretty smartly.”
"Shall we stand by, to join with the other boats?” inquired Paul.
"Not on your life,” replied the Don, who was again studying his compass, "we’ve got our nose pointed toward the Royal Company Islands, and we’re quite able to keep on that course by ourselves.”
While Paul worked steadily at the oars, the Don and Yvonne busied themselves making everything snug aboard the sealing boat. There was a frightful hurrah’s nest at first, but things soon began to assume a shipshape appearance.
Looking on, Paul marvelled at the mass of supplies that they had got away with; blankets, oilskins, boxes of hard-tack, cans of bully beef, beakers of water, oars, thole-pins, spars and sails.
Nothing essential seemed to have been forgotten, right down to chronometer and sextant. And yet, there was nothing there that they could do without. The whole thing did not create the impression of a sudden alarm, and a frantic departure, it suggested rather a careful and calculated preparation.
Paul was looking back with a troubled glance toward the waning reflection of the burning schooner, when the Don, seeming to read his thoughts, called out.
"Do you know anything about handling small boats?”
Yvonne answered for him. “There isn't anything he doesn’t know’ about it. He’s been sailing cats and dories out of Arichat into all kinds of weather, pver 3ince he was a kid.”
Cheered by this information, the Don spelled him at the oars, exclaiming: "All right, step the mast, and
put the sail to her.”
With the nimble dexterity of a born boat-handler, Paul soon had the spritsail adjusted, and a steering oar out astem, secured by a grummet to the after thole-pin.
As soon as the sheet was paid off sufficiently, Don Juan hauled in his oar3, amidships, and away they went, dancing up and down across the longbacked rollers.
For 3ome moments the Don studied his compass, then looking up he directed,
"Keep the wind just on your quarter, if 3he holds true we’ll fetch Commissioners' Bay by noon to-morrow.”
All through the remaining hours of darkness, Paul held the sealing boat to her course.
With sea and sky turning grey in the morning light, Don Juan spelled him at the steering oar, while Yvonne spread out a breakfast of bully beef, hard tack and water.
It was bitterly cold, with a piercing wind. Shuddering from the blast, the Don fell to cheering himself by talking about how soon they would make the looked for Islands.
“We were only sixty miles off, last night, when we
abandoned ship; I checked it off on my own chart, here. Judging by the run we made since then, I’d say we’re a good thirty miles on the way. Another five or six hours, and we ought to be going ashore inside Commissioner’s Bay. ”
"That sounds good,” answered Yvonne.
She and the Don were beginning to wax enthusiastic about the prospects, when Paul cut them short.
"Don’t like to disappoint you, but chances are slim for making that place today.”
"What do you mean?”
"The wind is hauling. Looks as if we’re in for a sou’ easier, and if it comes to that, they’re generally ripsnorters, down here.”
The Don attempted to pooh-pooh this statement, but Yvonne interrupted,
"I guess you'll find he’s right, Dinkums. Uncle Sprott always used to say that Paul was as good a weather prophet as any barometer.”
The other shrugged his shoulders, and feigned to make light of this statement, but the kick and lift of the sea was increasingly felt in the tiny boat, and it became more and more difficult to hold her to her course.
Before the morning was far spent, true to the prophecy already uttered, the wind began to head them, until it was apparent that they could no longer hold to their course.
Nothing daunted, Paul clewed up the sail, unstepped the mast, and addressed himself with might and main to the oars. But with wind and sea quickly rising, in spite of his skill, driving into the giant seas, they began to fill with water.
The Don, in his impetuousness to get forward, kept urging a continuance at the rowing, until at last, Paul was forced to declare:
“We’ll take a chance o’ foundering, if we keep on bucking into seas like that.”
Yvonne, by this time, was growing panicky, as she watched the greybeards thundering by.
“We can’t live long in this.” There was a hint of despair in the girl’s voice.
The Don grunted and swore at the miscarriage of his plans. As far as he was concerned, nothing else mattered. For his part, Yvonne was forgotten. But Paul paused to pat soothingly upon her shoulder.
“Cheer up, little girl, it’s not so bad.”
“But what can we do now, Paul?”
“Leave it to me, I got a dodge that’ll make us ride easy.”
“What are you going to do?” grunted the Don.
“Put out a drogue.”
Again, there came a stream of expletives at the enforced delay.
Ignoring this, Paul took spars, sail, and a couple of oars, and, lashing them securely together, cast them off at the bow on the end of a long mooring line.
“That’ll fix her,” he muttered.
Riding to the drogue, the boat eased off, while the sail helped to break the force of the seas from for’ard.
While Don Juan swore and cursed at the evil luck which held him back from his one headlong quest; Paul, although addressing himself to the exacting effort at the baling, found time continually to think of her whom he loved.
In spite of fears and tears, at the occasional touch of a strong hand, Yvonne smiled up into the darkness. In such moments, she tasted something of that profound
communion that comes where hardship knits two souls together.
By ten o’clock, the storm had abated sufficiently to permit taking in the drogue. Paul, who had been watching the wind, announced, at last:
“All right, I guess we’ll be able to make sail again.” Back upon their course, and once more running free, the Don’s spirits began to rise from the depths.
By noon, when he was able to get a shot at the sun, with his sextant, his mercurial soul was once more on high, whilst he chanted a gladsome chorus: “We’ll
make it yet. We’ll make it yet.”
With both latitude and longitude worked out, he pricked a mark on the map, which showed their position to be seventy-five miles to the westward of the longedfor haven.
With the sun coming out, and all prospects brightening, the Don announced,
“Just keep her quartering and you’ll be all right. We’ll have to take it watch and watch, from now on. “I’ll turn in first. Wake me at four, then I’ll stand my trick.”
Whereat, he laid himself down upon a pile of blankets, and without further consideration for aught else, was soon fast asleep, leaving Paul and Yvonne gazing fondly into each other’s eyes.
A mere sealing boat, a tiny speck tossed everlastingly in the infinity of waters.
What was there?
Love afloat in the Roaring Forties. One spark, quenchless even against the mighty sea.
PAUL and Yvonne were both dog-weary, but something in their hearts kept each awake, each yearning toward the other.
Brave, strong, constant, and enduring, in that revealing moment, Yvonne beheld her lover as a new creation. His every action in the past far-faring months, told Yvonne more plainly than words, that she was his woman, not in some pale, passive sense, but his woman, worth fighting for to the end of the world.
“What did you come for, Paul?” she asked, leaning toward him, with lips parted.
“For you, darling,” he answered.
“Did you ever love anyone else?”
“Never in this world. For me, there was only one Yvonne. There never could be another.”
The girl pretended to speak as one who doubted. But whatever expression she affected, no pretence could cloud the clear untroubled shining of her eyes.
“Who was the girl that my Paul kissed on the landing at Puntas Arenas?”
“And who was she, my love?”
Briefly, Paul told the story of the theft of the black chart case by Sloggett and his fair accomplice, of their pursuit, of the consequent tragedies, of the rescue of the girl, and of her ultimate restoration of the case.
“And that’s why she kissed me,” he declared, simply.
When he had finished his story, Yvonne’s eyes were dim with tears. Suddenly she bent toward him, as though swayed by unseen winds.
Involuntarily, their lips met, in one long, burning, rapturous kiss. Then, a following sea, causing their tiny craft to gripe, called the lover back to his oar.
Turning to look toward the Don, who still slept, Yvonne inquired: “Is there anything you want me to explain, my Paul.”
“No, nothing, Love.”
“But, haven’t you got doubts because of me?”
“No, I never doubted you, except once.
“When was that?”
“When the Don first started to come around. Uncle Sprott filled my mind with a lot of hideous ideas, and then egged me on, until I was ready to imagine the blackest things he told me.” “What changed your mind?”
“We went to spy on you, like sneaking thieves, went up prepared to see
“And what did you see?”
“Someone reading you something fine, up there in the office behind the fishery stores.”
At this, Yvonne again looked toward the Don, with a sudden twinge of grief.
“I wish that you could have known him on his better side, Paul. On one side, he’s so noble, so chivalrous, so good.”
“We both know what’s the matter with him, darling,
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he’s like Uncle Sprott, like poor old Baptiste, and all the others.”
“Yes, he’s just plain crazy because of the Ferrara fortune. But he’s worse, Paul, than any of the rest.”
“Because, his fathers for generations have lived for nothing else. He was born with the curse in his veins.”
Yvonne looked toward the sleeping Don, and shuddered. Lowering her voice to an awed whisper:
“There was something strange about how this boat got away. It didn’t all just happen by chance.
“I am not afraid of the ocean, Paul dear, not so long as I am here with you, but there is still something I’m afraid of.”
“What is that, my love?”
She did not answer, but turned back with horror as the Don, awakening suddenly, called out her name.
ON working out his sights, Don Juan twice found that they were only twenty miles from the longed for islands, almost close enough to glimpse the looming mountains. Then, before the joyous cry of ‘Land ho!’ could be raised, head winds carried them again far off their course, their tiny craft the plaything of titanic forces.
As long as his tiny boat was on her course, Don Juan rode upon the heights, but with each set-back, his soul was plunged into yet deeper hells.
When hope itself was gone, as though the evil spell were somehow broken, the wind began to haul around again into the old familiar quarter.
In his most abandoned state, the Don was not too far gone to sense the change. As their boat, of her own accord, began to set steadily to the westward, he watched the compass with avid gaze, then broke out quaveringly: “Still looks as though we had a chance.”
A tattered rag of a man, a mere wisp of decrepitude, he crawled for’ard and attempted to step the mast.
Under the weight, he sank helplessly, but Paul was soon beside him, and between them, after a long struggle, they managed to get the boat again under sail, with her nose in the desired direction.
As the morning advanced, without food, without water, the Don gathered fresh succor, from amazing hidden springs.
By noon, he, whom the dawn had beheld stricken as a corpse, was busily engaged in the problem of navigation, raised from the dead, as it were, once more to shoot the sun.
When the reckoning was completed, he made his mark, as usual, upon the chart, calling out: “My God, we’re
going to make it!”
Paul and Yvonne, throughout the entire morning, had appeared apathetic to all mutterings. At the unexpected call, both cried, simultaneously: “Where are we?”
“Only nine miles off, we’ve crossed that everlasting curtain of head winds. There’s nothing now to stop us.”
“But, where are the islands?” inquired Paul, still dubious.
“There, dead ahead.”
Paul looked, and b( held only the looming fog.
“Can’t see anything.”
“No, it’s thick off here, just as one might expect, with mist from the mountains. But we’ve got our course laid fair, this time. With a leading wind there’s nothing to it, running down our latitude.
Paul, working with a will, soon had the sprit-sail opened out, and with the sheet well off they went reeling off the miles.
After some time of eager driving, the Don announced: “She’s steppin’ up
toward five knots; another hour, and we’ll be there.”
“How far are we, now?”
“Can’t be more than five miles off. Keep a bright lookout.”
“Wish this fog would clear.”
“Long as the wind holds, never mind the fog.”
As the fog began gradually to disperse, there came to them the sound of breakers, at which, Paul instinctively shrank back, whilst the Don set up a cracked cheer:
“Hurrah, we’re cornin’ on to shoal water!”
“Without a cast 0’ the lead. This is worse than runnin’ in, in the dark.” “But look, the fog’s still lifting!”
In his impetuosity, the Don stood up in the boat, almost capsizing them by his abruptness.
As the encompassing blanket of gloom was steadily raised, the horizon marched farther and farther away, disclosing new creatures on every hand. Here and there, schools of porpoise, while an occasional sea lion appeared in close proximity to their boat.
The sight of animal life in such abundance, began to foster in the sea-weary trio an added yearning for the land.
Yvonne was thrilled as the black mists were scurrying and fleeing before them. Here and there, a lacing of foam told of shoals, while the water began to take on a hue reminiscent of the rock of the Prince Edward group.
“These islands must be volcanic.” Paul was speaking casually, when the Don again leaped to his feet, and stood gazing, wide-eyed, astounded.
The last wisp of fog had suddenly been swept away, and there, clear to the horizon’s rim, they beheld the bare, hard face of the sea, a lifting, melancholy waste of endless waters, a part of that unimpeded highway extending from the Cape of Storms to the pitch of the Horn.
All around them on the surface of the water, swarming seals were searching endlessly for missing rookeries, while in the blue, above, sea birds called in vain for nesting places they had known.
The mighty sea, out of which these islands rose, had opened up and swallowed them. Not a trace of the lone archipelago! Naught remained to tell the story but an occasional crested breaker, and the rusted-hue in the water, reminiscent of red volcanic ash.
The Royal Company Islands had vanished forever from the sight of sun and moon and stars. There, at the end of the world, at the end of the seas, God, Himself, had taken the Ferrara treasure.
Even while they were staring, dumb, smitten, against the aura of the west, already tinging into sunset, their eyes were attracted by another sight—A New Bedford whaler, coming grandly along, a white ridge of foam curving away from her sharp fore-foot, even her dingy sails touched with glory from the dying day.
As Paul and Yvonne burst out together in a joyous shout, the meaning of it all was borne in upon the unwilling mind of the Don. Seated amisdhips, reclining on the lee gunnel, he suddenly collapsed, and plunged headlong into the lap of a rising wave.
With rare presence of mind, Yvonne reached forth and grasped him, then, as quickly, loosed her hand.
“He’s dead,” she muttered.
In an understanding silence, Paul took the sobbing girl into his arms. For some moments she nestled there against him, crying softly. Then, as it became increasingly clear that the whaler had sighted them and that their rescue was assured, Paul bent to kiss away the tears. “Are you afraid, now, little girlie?” “No, no, there’s nothing more I dread, dear Paul. I am yours, and you are mine.”
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U)AUL and Yvonne came back to Arichat like swallows winging northward in the springtime. Even on the farthest seas they knew the spell of home, and now, with love united, the longedfor shore loomed up before them as the land of heart’s desire.
In the mellow afterglow of nightfall, Isle Madame reached forth with welcome. Passing down the mile-long street of Norman poplars, they heard the angelus. Listening to that note in the gathering gloom, their childhood home seemed to have taken unto itself something of the timeless and the eternal.
Together they came down the quiet grass-grown street to that well-remembered gateway, and gazed through a mass of bloom at the great house beyond with its heavy shutters, solid walls, mighty chimney, and air of calm security.
They had expected to find the homestead left desolate, but smoke curled up blithely from the chimney, while the red glow of the mullioned windows beckoned to them through the darkness.
With a strange blending of joy and fear they came up the sanded pathway, and then Yvonne, who was leading, rushed forward with a sudden cry, as a burly figure, seated before the house, uprose to meet them.
“Uncle Sprott! Uncle Sprott!”
In the next instant, with childish abandon, the girl flung her arms around the great bear, kissing him just as she used to on return after closing hour.
Paul met his uncle as though face to face with someone from the unreturning grave. After the first greeting, Sprott was calm and collected as ever, accepting the demonstrations of Yvonne with a cool restraint betokening something rankling within.
“How in the world did you ever get home?”
“Sailed back o’ course, ain’t no chance fer walkin’ on the water.”
“But what about the fire?”
“Bah, I soon fixed that, and what’s more, fixed Dirk Dugas to boot; his coffin was hangin’ on the collar beams the minute he started to cut athwart my hawse, I was bound to get there, and there wasn’t anything could stop me.” “And did you get there?”
“Yea, only to find that God ’lmighty had swallowed up the island, like the moon scoffs off a cloud. That’s why I’m back here in the end, empty-handed as I was in the beginning ”
“Well, we thought you were gone this time for sure ”
“Didn’t I tell ye that the Devil takes care of his own.”
“Oh, Uncle Sprott!” Yvonne chided. Ignoring her the Skipper taunted. “Still stuck on this fickle lass, eh Paul?”
“Always,” came back the unhesitating answer.
“Umph! I wouldn’t take no one else’s leavings.”
At this, Yvonne faced him squarely. “What do you mean, Uncle Sprott?” “E r’ly what I say, young miss. Ye "a-. eff another feller. An’ now when he's r a the go-by, ye’ve got the
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ye skipped with?”
With a sudden welling of emotion, she exclaimed: “He was my father.”
At this amazing divulgence, Sprott Gabereau for once lost his imperturbability. Palsy seemed to smite him as he came tremblingly, abjectly toward the girl. Folding her into his arms, he patted her shoulder soothingly.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, little girlie.” After they had kissed and made up, he said: “Now tell me all about it.”
“I didn’t know at first, Old Snookums.
I knew nothing more than you. And then, when Don Juan came, he pledged me not to tell his secret.
“You see, my father at one time was a political prisoner in Ushuaia, a province of the Argentine, situated away down there almost beside Cape Horn. He was sent down there because of plotting in a revolution, but he didn’t mind as it gave him a chance, he thought, to get nearer to the Ferrara treasure. All the time that was the only thing for which he lived.
“Finally, he escaped from Ushuaia in an open boat, with my mother, and started for Puntas Arenas. On the way,
I was born, and then we all fell into the hands of the Yhagans, who turned the boat adrift with my mother, myself, and the cursed chart case. In time, my mother died from exposure, she really gave her life to save me. So that was how you came to rescue me, Uncle Sprott, under such strange circumstances.
“My father was for years held captive by the Yhagans. Then, escaping to Puntas Arenas, he fell in with Dirk Dugas, and together they started to dog your trail for the missing chart case. That was what brought them up here and started all the trouble.”
When the girl had finished her story, Sprott Gabereau spoke slowly, as though thinking aloud. “Yes, Monsieur le Curé was right after all. It’s the great grand fool I was, that I didn’t heed his word in the beginning, and throw away that cursed case when I first brought it back to Arichat. The worst thing that ever came to our blessed Isle was the curse locked up in there by the hand of Andrea Ferrara. Aye, it’s meself that was the biggest fool of all.”
Then turning toward Yvonne, the tough old sea dog asked with rare humility:
“Will ye forgive me, little girlie?”
“Of course I will, Old Snookums,” she declared, sealing her word with a glowing kiss.
“You’re all right, Uncle Sprott, old dear. You’re like a crusty bear, with a big heart underneath. Of course you had to lose your head over the gold, just like all the rest. There is only one person who never changed. When everyone else went crazy over the treasure, he remained just the same,”
Going over to Paul, who stood apart, Yvonne threw her arms about him, exclaiming: “Here’s where the last of the Ferraras finds the dearest treasure.” Sprott’s eyes were misty with unexpected emotion, as he led the way toward the house.
Pausing upon the step, he raised his arm to indicate the hills of their heritance that stretched before them bathed in radiance beneath a crescent moon. They beheld first the rolling uplands, the ploughed fields, the forest clearings, held by generations of Acadians as servants of the soil.
As they stood there in silent contemplation, something of the peace of the hills and the strength of the sea seemed to be imparted to them.
“And to think that one would ever ever leave a home like this,” Paul mused.
Coming into the house, Sprott led them to the living room, exclaiming:
“There's something here that belonged to our people ever since they first carved out this dwelling from the forest. Once, with Ferrara’s fever in my veins, I ripped it down. But now, with all the madness over, I’ve hung it up again. And for your own dear sakes I hope that you will always keep it where it is.”
Over the mantle, suspended in strange union, was a sealing-rifle and a crucifix, under which the lovers caught sight of that ancient text hung there in the place of honor, as the very genius of this home, proclaiming:
SUCCESS TO THE FISHERIES AND
SPEED THE PLOW.