AND yet at first, wild as my terror was, I had no thought but that somehow I could escape. That these waters were for me the very face of death, sure and relentless, terrible and slow, did not at once seize hold upon my heart.
Frantically I sprang for the entrance on the cove. The floor of the cave was sloping, and the water deepened swiftly as I advanced. Soon I was floundering to my knees, and on the instant a great wave rushed in, drenching me to the waist, dazing me with its spray and uproar, and driving me back to the far end of the cave.
With a dreadful hollow sucking sound the surge retreated. I staggered again toward the archway that was my only door to life. The water was deeper now, and swiftly came another fierce inrush of the sea that drove me back. Between the two archways a terrible current was setting. It poured along with the rush of a mountain river, wild, dark, tumultuous.
I had fled to the far end of the cave, but the sea pursued me. Swiftly the water climbed—it flung me against the wall, then dragged me back. I clutched at the naked rock with bleeding fingers.
Again, after a paroxysm during which I had seemed to stand a great way off and listen to my own shrieks, there came to me a moment of calm. I knew that my one tenuous thread of hope lay in launching myself into that wild flood that was tearing through into the cove. I was not a strong swimmer, but a buoyant one. I might find refuge on some half submerged rock on the shores of the cove—at least I would perish in the open, in the sunlight, not trapped like a desperate rat. And I began to fight my way toward the opening.
And then a dreadful vision flashed across my mind, weighed down my feet like lead, choked back even the cry from my frozen lips. Sharks! The black cutting fin, the livid belly, the dreadful jaws opening—no, no, better to die here, better the clean embrace of the waters—if indeed the sharks did not come into the cave.
AND then I think I went quite mad. I remember trying to climb up to the ledge which hung beetling fifteen feet above. Afterwards my poor hands showed how desperately. And I remember that once I slipped and went clear under, and how I choked and strangled in the salt water. For my mouth was always open, screaming, screaming continually.
And when I saw the boat fighting its way inch by inch into the cave I was sure that it was a vision, and that only my own wild beseeching of him to save me had made the face of Dugald Shaw arise before my dying eyes. Dugald Shaw was still mending the boat on the shore of the cove, and this was a mocking phantom.
Only the warm human clasp of the arms that drew me into the boat made me believe in him.
The boat bobbed quietly in the eddy at the far end of the cave, while a wet, sobbing, choking heap clung to Dugald Shaw. I clasped him about the neck and would not let him go, for fear that I would find myself alone again, perishing in the dark water. My head was on his breast, and he was pressing back my wet hair with strong and tender hands.
What was this he was saying? “My lassie, my little, little lassie!”
And no less incredible than this it was to feel his cheek pressed, very gently, against my hair—
After a little my self-control came back to me. I stopped my senseless childish crying, lifted my head and tried to speak. I could only whisper, “You came, you came!”
“Of course I came!” he said huskily. “There, don’t tremble so—you are safe—safe in my arms!”
AFTER a while he lifted me into the stern and began to manoeuvre the boat out of the cave. I suppose at another time I would have realized the peril of it. The fierce flow through the archway all but swamped us, the current threatened to hurl us against the rocks, but I felt no fear. He had come to save me, and he would. All at once the dreadful shadow, of the cavern was left behind, and the sunshine immersed my chilled body like a draught of wine. I lay huddled in the stern, my cheek upon my hand, as he rowed swiftly across the cove and drove the boat upon the beach.
Everybody but Captain Magnus was assembled there, including Crusoe. Crusoe it was who had given warning of my danger. Like a wise little dog, when I ignored his admonitions he had run home. At first his uneasiness and troubled barking had got no notice. Once or twice the Scotchman, worried by his fretfulness, had ordered him away. Then across his preoccupied mind there flashed a doubt. He laid down his tools and spoke to the animal. Instantly Crusoe dashed for the rocks, barking and crying with eagerness. But the path was closed, the tide was hurrying in, and Crusoe whined pitiably as he crept back and crouched against the man who of course knew better than a little dog what must be done.
Then Mr. Shaw understood. He snatched the painter of the boat and dragged it down the beach. He was shoving off as Cookie, roused by Crusoe’s barking, appeared from the seclusion of his afternoon siesta. To him were borne the Scotchman’s parting words:
“Virginia Harding—in the cave—hot blankets— may be drowning—”
“And at dat,” said Cookie, relating his part in the near-tragedy with unction, “I jes natchully plumped right down on mah ma’ah bones and wrestled with de Lawd in prayah.”
’THIS unique proceeding on Cookie’s part necessarily awoke the interest both of the recovered Cuthbert Vane, just emerging after his prolonged slumbers, and of the trio who had that moment returned from the woods. Importuned for an explanation, Cookie arose from his devotional posture and put the portentous query:
“Mistah Vane, sah, be dey any propah coffin-wood on dis yere island?”
Instantly connecting my absence with this terrible question, Aunt Jane shrieked and fell into the arms of Mr. Tubbs. I got the story from Cuthbert Vane, and I must say I was unpleasantly struck by the facility with which my aunt seemed to have fallen into Mr. Tubbs’s embrace—as if with the ease of habit. Mr. Tubbs, it appeared, had staggered a little under his fair burden, which was not to be wondered at, for Aunt Jane is of an overflowing style of figure and Mr. Tubbs more remarkable for brain than brawn. Violet, however, had remained admirably calm, and exhorted Aunt Jane to remember that whatever happened it was all for the best.
“Poor Violet,” I commented. “To think that after all it didn’t happen!”
A slow flush rose to the cheeks of the beautiful youth. He was sitting beside the hammock, where I was supposed to be recuperating. Of course it was to please Aunt Jane that I had to be an invalid, and she had insisted on mounting guard and reading aloud from one of Miss Browne’s books about Psycho-evolution or something until Cuthbert Vane came along and relieved her—and me.
“It would have happened, though,” said the Honorable Cuthbert solemnly, “if it hadn’t been for old Shaw, I can’t get over it, Vir—Miss Virginia, that I wasn’t on deck myself, you know. Here’s old Dugald been doing the heroic all his life, and now he gets his chance again while I’m sleeping off those bally cocoa-nuts. It’s hard on a chap. I—I wish it had been me.”
However dubious his grammar, there was no mistaking the look that brightened like the dawn in the depths of his clear eyes. My breath went from me suddenly.
“Oh,” I cried excitedly, “isn’t that—yes, I thought it was the dinner gong!”
For as if in response to my dire need, the clang of Cookie’s gong echoed through the island silences.
WHEN after those poignant moments in the boat I met Dugald Shaw in commonplace fashion at the table, a sudden, queer, altogether unprecedented shyness seized me. I sat looking down at my plate with the gaucherie of a silly child.
The episode of the afternoon provided Mr. Tubbs with ammunition for. a perfect fusillade of wit. He warned Mr. Shaw that hereafter he might expect Neptune to have a grudge against him for having robbed the sea-god of his beauteous prey. I said I thought most likely it was not Neptune that was robbed but sharks, but sharks not being classic, Mr. Tubbs would have none of them. He said he believed that if Mr. Shaw had not inopportunely arrived, Neptune with his tripod would soon have upreared upon the wave.
“Oh—tripod, Mr. Tubbs?” I said inquiringly.
“Yes, sure,” he returned undaunted. “Them camera supports is named for it, you know. But of course this gay gink of a Sandy had to come buttin’ in. Too bad the Honorable Bertie had et them cocoa-nuts. He’d have looked the part all right when it come to rescuin’ beauty in distress. But Fortune bein’ a lady and naturally capricious, she hands the stunt over to old Sobersides here.”
Just then old Sobersides cut across the flow of Mr. Tubbs’s sprightly conversation and with a certain harshness of tone asked Captain Magnus if he had had good sport on the other side of the island. Captain Magnus, as usual, had seemed to feel that time consecrated to eating was wasted in conversation. At this point-blank question he started confusedly, stuttered, and finally explained that though he had taken a rifle he had carried along pistol cartridges, so had come home with an empty bag.
At this moment I happened to be looking at Cookie, who was setting down a dish before Mr. Tubbs. The negro started visibly, and rolled his eyes at Captain Magnus with astonishment depicted in every dusky feature. He said nothing, although wont to take part in our conversation as it suited him, but I saw him shake his great grizzled head in a disturbed and puzzled fashion as he turned away.
AFTER this a chill settled on the table. You felt a disturbance in the air, as though wireless currents were crossing and recrossing in general confusion. Mr. Tubbs began again on the topic of my rescue, and said it was too bad Mr. Shaw’s name wasn’t Paul, because then we’d be Paul and Virginia, he, he! My aunt said encouragingly, how true! because they had lived on an island, hadn’t they? She had read the book many years ago, and bad mostly forgotten it, not having Mr. Tubbs’s marvellous memory, but she believed there was something quite sad about the end, though very sweet. She agreed with Mr. Tubbs that Mr. Vane would have looked most picturesque going to the rescue on account of his sash, and it was too bad he had not been able, but never mind, it was most kind of Mr. Shaw, and she was sure her niece appreciated it, though she was afraid she hadn’t thanked Mr. Shaw properly.
By this time it was perfectly clear that Mr. Shaw had been most inconsiderate in dashing out after me in that thoughtless manner. He should have waked Cuthbert Vane and helped him to array himself becomingly in the sash and then sent for a moving-picture man to go out in another boat and immortalize the touching scene. All this came seething to my lips, but I managed to suppress it. It was only on Cuthbert Vane’s account. As for my aunt and Mr. Tubbs, I could have bumped their heads together as remorselessly as two cocoa-nuts. I understood Aunt Jane, of course. In spite of the Honorable Cuthbert’s recent lapse, her imagination still played about certain little cards which should announce to an envious world my engagement to the Honorable Cuthbert Patrick Ruthmore Vane, of High Staunton Manor, Kent. So such a faux pas as my rescue from drowning by a penniless Scotch seaman couldn’t but figure in her mind as a grievance.
I stole a glance at the recipient of these sorry thanks. His face was set and—once I should have called it grim, but I knew better now. There was nothing I could say or do. Any words of mine would have sounded forced and puerile. What he had done was so far beyond thanks that spoken gratitude belittled it. And yet, suppose he thought that like the rest I had wished another in his place? Did he think that—could he, with the memory of my arms about his neck?
I only knew that because of the foolish, hateful words that had been said, the gulf between us was wider than before.
I sat dumb, consumed with misery and hoping that perhaps I might meet his glance and so tell him silently all that words would only mar. But he never looked at me. And then the first bitterness, which had made even Cuthbert seem disloyal in wishing himself in his friend’s place, passed, and gave way to dreary doubt. Cuthbert knew, of course, that he himself would have prized—what to Dugald Shaw was a matter of indifference. Yes, that was it, and the worst that Dugald Shaw was suffering now was boredom at hearing the affair so everlastingly discussed.
SO I began talking very fast to Mr. Vane and we were very gay and he tied his own necktie on Crusoe on consideration that he be held hereafter jointly. And—because I saw that Dugald Shaw was looking now—I smiled lingeringly into the eyes of the beautiful youth and said all right, perhaps we needn’t quarrel over our mutual dog, and then skipped off lightsomely, feeling exactly like a scorpion that has been wounding itself with its own sting.
As I passed Cookie at his dishpan a sudden thought struck me.
“Cookie,” I remarked, “you had a frightfully queer look just now when Captain Magnus told about having taken the wrong cartridges. What was the matter?”
Cookie took his hands out of the water and wiped off the suds, casting about stealthy and mysterious glances. Then he rolled a dubious eye at me.
“What was it, Cookie?” I urged.
“War am Cap’n now?”
“Down on the beach; he can’t possibly hear you.”
“You won’t say nothin’ to git Cookie in a rumpus?”
“Cross my heart to die, Cookie.”
“Well, den”—Cookie spoke in a hoarse whisper— “Cap’n say he forgit to take his gun ca’tridges. Miss Jinny, when he come back, I see him empty his gun ca’tridges out’n his belt and put back his pistol cartridges. So dere now!”
I turned at Cookie, too surprised to speak. Why had Captain Magnus been at pains to invent a lie about so trivial a matter? I recalled, too, that Mr. Shaw’s question had confused him, that he had hesitated and stammered before answering it. Why? Was he a bad shot and ashamed of it? Had he preferred to say that he had taken the wrong ammunition rather than admit that he could get no bag? That must be the explanation, because there was no other. Certainly no imaginable errand but the one assigned could have taken the captain to the other side of the island.
SEVERAL days went by, and still the treasure was unfound. Of course, as the unexplored space in the cave contracted, so daily the probability grew stronger that fortune would shed her golden smile upon us before night. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that the optimistic spirits of most were beginning to flag a little. Only Mr. Shaw, though banned as a confirmed doubter and pessimist, now by the exercise of will kept the others to their task. It took all Cuthbert Vane’s loyalty, plus an indisposition to be called a slacker, to strive against the temptation to renounce treasure hunting in favor of roaming with Crusoe and me. As for Captain Magnus, his restlessness was manifest. Several times he had suggested blowing the lid off the island with dynamite, as the shortest method of getting at the gold. He was always vanishing on solitary excursions inland.
Mr. Tubbs remarked, scornfully, that a man with a nose for money ought to have smelled out the chest before this, but if his own nasal powers were of that character he did not offer to employ them in the service of the expedition. Miss Higglesby-Browne, however, had taken to retiring to the hut for long private sessions with herself. My aunt reverentially explained their purpose. The hiding-place of the chest being of course known to the Universal Wisdom, all Violet had to do was to put herself in harmony and the knowledge would be hers. The difficulty was that you had first to overcome your Mundane Consciousness. To accomplish this Violet was struggling in the solitude of her hut.
Meanwhile Mr. Tubbs sat at the feet of Aunt Jane, reading aloud from a volume entitled “Paeans of Passion,” by a celebrated lady lyric poet of our own land.
After my meeting with Captain Magnus in the forest, Lookout Ridge was barred to me. Crusoe and I must do our rambling in other directions. This being so, I bethought me again of the wrecked sloop lying under the cliffs on the north shore of the cove. I remembered that there had seemed to be a way down the cliffs. I resolved to visit the sloop again. The terrible practicality of the beautiful youth made it difficult to indulge in romantic musings in his presence. And to me a derelict brings a keener tang of romance than any other relic of man’s multitudinous and futile strivings.
THE descent of the gully proved an easy matter, and soon I was on the sand beside the derelict. Sand had heaped up around her hull, and filled her cockpit level with the rail, and drifted down the companion, stuffing the little cabin nearly to the roof. Only the bow rose free from the white smother of sand. Whatever wounds there were in her buried sides were hidden. You felt that some wild caprice of the storm had lifted her and set her down here, not too roughly, then whirled away and left her to the sand.
Crusoe slipped into the narrow space under the roof of the cabin, and I leaned idly down to watch him through a warped seam between the planks. Then I found that I was looking, not at Crusoe, but into a little dim inclosure like a locker, in which some small object faintly caught the light. With a revived hope of finding relics I got out my knife—a present from Cuthbert Vane—and set briskly to work widening the seam.
I penetrated finally into a small locker or cubbyhole, set in the angle under the roof of the cabin, and, as subsequent investigation showed, so placed as to attract no notice from the casual eye. I ascertained this by lying down and wriggling my head and shoulders into the cabin. In other words, I had happened on a little private depository, in which the owner of the sloop might stow away certain small matters that concerned him intimately. Yet the contents of the locker at first seemed trifling. They were an old-fashioned chased silver shoe-buckle, and a brown-covered manuscript book.
The book had suffered much from dampness, whether of rains or the wash of the sea. The imitation leather cover was flaking off, and the leaves were stuck together. I seated myself on the cabin roof, extracted a hairpin, and began carefully separating the close-written pages. The first three or four were quite illegible, the ink having run. Then the writings became clearer. I made out a word here and there:
.... directions vague .... my grandfather .... man a ruffian but .... no motive .... police of Havana .... frightful den .... grandfather made sure .... registry .... Bonny Lass......
And at that I gave a small excited shriek which brought Crusoe to me in a hurry. What had he to do, the writer of this journal, what had he to do with the Bonny Lass?
Breathlessly I read on:
.... thought captain still living but not sure .... lost .... Benito Bon ....
I CLOSED the book. Now, while the coast was clear, I must get back to camp. It would take hours, perhaps days, to decipher the journal which had suddenly become of such supreme importance. I must smuggle it unobserved into my own quarters, where I could read at my leisure. As I set out I dropped the silver shoe-buckle into my pocket, smiling to think that it was I who had discovered the first bit of precious metal on the island. Yet the book in my hand, I felt instinctively, was of more value than many shoe-buckles.
Safely in my hammock, with a pillow under which I could slip the book in case of interruption, I resumed the reading. From this point on, although the writing was somewhat faded, it was all, with a little effort, legible.
If Samson did live to tell his secret, then any day there may be a sail in the offing. And still I can not find it! Oh, if my grandfather had been more worldly wise! If he hadn’t been too intent on the eternal welfare of the man he rescued from the Havana tavern brawl to question him about his story. A cave on Leaward Island—near by a stone marked with the letters B. H. and a cross-bones—I told the captain, said the poor dying wretch, we wouldn’t have no luck after playing it that low down on Bill! So I presume Bill lies under the stone.
Well, all I have is in this venture. The old farm paid for the Island Queen —or will, if I don’t get back in time to prevent foreclosure. All my staid New England relatives think me mad. A copra gatherer! A fine career for a minister’s son! Think how your father scrimped to send you to college—Aunt Sarah reproached me. Well, when I get home with my Spanish Doubloons there will be another story to tell. I won’t be poor crazy Peter then. And Helen—oh, how often I wish I had told her everything! It was too much to ask her to trust me blindly as I did. But from the moment I came across the story in grandfather’s old, half-forgotten diary—-by the way, the diary habit seems to run in the family—a very passion of secrecy has possessed me. If I had told Helen, I should have had to dread that even in her sweet sleep she might whisper something to put that ferret, her stepmother, on the scent. Oh, Helen, trust me, trust me!
December 25. I have a calendar with me, so I am not reduced to notching a stick to keep track of the days. I mark each off carefully in the calendar. If I were to forget to do this, even for a day or two, I believe I should quite lose track. The days are so terribly alike!
My predecessor here in the copra-gathering business, old Heintz, really left me a very snug establishment. It was odd that I should have run across him at Panama that way. I sounded him on the question of treasure. He said placidly that of course the island had been the resort of Edward Davis and Benito Bonito and others of the black flag gentry and he thought it very likely they had left some of their spoils behind them, but though he had done a little investigating as he had time he had come on nothing but a ship’s lantern, a large iron kettle, and the golden setting of a bracelet from which the jewels had been removed. He had already disposed of the bracelet. The kettle I found here, and sunk in the spring to keep the water clear. (Where it still is. V. H.) Evidently old Heintz knew nothing of the Bonny Lass. This was an immense satisfaction, as it proves that the story can not have been noised about.
Christmas Day! I wonder what they are all doing at home?
December 28. Of course the cave under the point is the logical place. I have been unable to find any stone marked B. H. on the ground above it, but I fear that a search after Bill’s tombstone would be hopeless. Although the formation of the island is of the sort to contain numerous caves still they must be considerably less plentiful than possible tombstones. Under circumstances such as those of the mate’s Story, it seems to me that all the probabilities point to their concealing the chest in the cave with an opening on the bay. It must have been necessary for them to act as quickly as possible, that their absence from the ship might go unnoticed—though I believe the three conspirators had made the crew drunk. Then to get the boat, laden with the heavy chest, through the surf to any of the other caves—if the various cracks and fissures I have seen are indeed properly to be called caves—would be stiff work for three men. Yes, everything indicates the cavern under the point. The only question is, isn’t it indicated too clearly? Would a smooth old scoundrel such as this Captain Sampson must have been have hidden his treasure in the very place certain to be ransacked if the secret ever got out? Unless it was deeply buried, which it could have been only at certain stages of the tide, even old Heintz would have been apt to come across it in the course of his desultory researches for the riches of the buccaneers. And I am certain placid old Heintz did not mislead me. Besides, at Panama, he was making arrangements to go with other Germans on a small business venture to Samoa, which he would not have been likely to do if he had just unearthed a vast fortune in buried treasure. Still, I shall explore the cave thoroughly, though with little hope.
Oh, Helen, if I could watch these tropic stars with you to-night!
January 6. I think I am through with the cave under the point—the Cavern of the Two Arches, I have named it. It is a dangerous place to work in alone, and my little skiff has been badly battered several times. But I peered into every crevice in the walls, and sounded the sands with a drill. I suppose I would have made a more thorough job of it if I had not been convinced from the first that the chest was not there. It was not reason that told me so—I know I may well be attributing too much subtlety of mind to Captain Sampson—but that strange guiding instinct—to put it in its lowest terms—which I know in my heart I must follow if I would succeed. Shall I ever forget the feeling that stirred me when first I turned the pages of my grandfather’s diary and saw there, in his faded writing, the story of the mate of the Bonny Lass, who died in Havana in my grandfather’s arms? My grandfather had gone as Supercargo in his own ship, and while he did a good stroke of business in Havana—trust his shrewd Yankee instincts for that—he managed to combine the service of God with that of Mammon. Many a poor drunken sailor, taking his fling ashore in the bright, treacherous, plague-ridden city, found in him a friend, as did the mate of the Bonny Lass in his dying hour. Oh, if my good grandfather had but made sure from the man’s own lips exactly where the treasure lay! It is enough to make one fancy that the unknown Bill, who paid for too much knowledge with his life, has his own fashion of guarding the hoard. But I ramble. I was going to say, that from the moment when I learned from my grandfather’s diary of the existence of the treasure, I have been driven by an impulse more overmastering than anything I have ever experienced in my life. It was, I believe, what old-fashioned pious folk would call a leading. The impetus seemed somehow to come from outside my own organism. All my life I had been irresolute, the sport of circumstances, trifling with this and that, unable to set my face steadfastly toward any goal. Yet never, since I have trodden this path, have I looked to right or left. I have defied both human opinion and the obstacles which an unfriendly fate has thrown in my way. All alone, I, a sailor hitherto of pleasure-craft among the bays and islands of the New England coast, put forth in my little sloop for a voyage of three hundred miles on the loneliest wastes of the Pacific. All alone, did I say? No, there was Benjy the faithful. His head is at my knee as I write. He knows, I think, that his master’s mood is sad to-night. Oh, Helen, if you ever see these lines, will you realize how I have longed for you—how it sometimes seems that my soul must tear itself loose from my body and speed to you across half a world?
February 1. Since my last record my time has been well filled. In the Island Queen I have been surveying the coasts of my domain, sailing as close in as I dared, and taking note of every crevice that might be the mouth of a cave. Then, either in the rowboat or by scrambling down the cliffs, I visit the indicated point. It is bitterly hard labor, but it has its compensations. I am growing hale and strong, brown and muscular. Aunt Sarah won’t offer me any more of her miserable decoctions when I go home. Heading first toward the north, I am systematically making the rounds of the island, for, after all, how do I know for certain that Captain Sampson buried his treasure near the east anchorage? For greater security he may have chosen the other side, where there is another bay, I should judge deeper and freer of rocks than this one, though more open to storms.
So far I have discovered half a dozen caves, most of them quite small. Any one of them seemed such a likely place that at first I was quite hopeful. But I have found nothing. Usually, the floor of the cave beneath a few inches of sand is rock. Only in the great cave under the point have I found sand to any depth. The formation in some cases is little more than a hardened clay, but to excavate it would require long toil, probably blasting—and I have no explosives. And I go always on the principle that Captain Sampson and his two assistants had not time for any elaborate work of concealment. Most likely they laid the chest in some natural niche. Sailors are unskilled in the use of such implements as spades, and besides, the very heart of the undertaking was haste and secrecy. They must have worked at night and between two tides, for few of the caves can be reached except at the ebb. And I take it as certain that the cave must have opened on the sea. For three men to transport such a weight and bulk by land would be sheer impossibility.
February 10. To-day a strange, strange thing happened—so strange, so wonderful and glorious that it ought to be recorded in luminous ink. And I owe it ail to Benjy ! Little dog, you shall go in a golden collar and eat lamb-chops every day! This morning—
Across my absorption in the diary cut the unwelcome clangor of Cookie’s gong. Bright on the breathless edge of discovery I was summoned, with my thrilling secret in my breast, to join my unsuspecting companions. I hid the book carefully in my cot. Not until the light of to-morrow morning could I return to its perusal. How I was to survive the interval I did not know. But on one point my mind was made up—no one should dream of the existence of the diary until I knew all that it had to impart.
PERHAPS because of the secret excitement under which I was laboring, I seemed that evening unusually aware of the emotional fluctuations of those about me. Violet looked grimmer than ever, so that I judged her struggles with her mundane consciousness to have been exceptionally severe. Captain Magnus seemed even beyond his wont restless, loose-jointed and wandering-eyed, and performed extraordinary feats of sword-swallowing. Mr. Shaw was very silent, and his forehead knitted now and then into a reflective frown. As for myself, I had much ado to hide my abstraction, and turned cold from head to foot with alarm when I heard my own voice addressing Crusoe as Benjy.
A faint ripple of surprise passed round the table.
“Named your dog over again, Miss Jinny?” inquired Mr. Tubbs. Mr. Tubbs had adopted a facetiously paternal manner toward me. I knew in anticipation of the moment when he would invite me to call him Uncle Ham.
“I say, you know,” expostulated Cuthbert Vane, “I thought Crusoe rather a nice name. Never heard of any chap named Benjy that lived on an island.” “When I was a little girl, Virginia,” remarked Aunt Jane, with the air of immense age and wisdom which she occasionally assumed, “my grandmother_your great-grandmother, of course, my love—would never allow me to name my dolls a second time. She did not approve of changeableness. And I am sure it must be partly due to your great-grandmother’s teaching that I always know my own mind directly about everything. She was quite a remarkable woman, and very firm. Firmness has been considered a family trait with us. When her husband died—your great-grandfather, you know, dear—she rose above her grief and made him take some very disagreeable medicine to the very last, long after the doctors had given up hope. As some relation or other said, I think your Great-Aunt Susan’s father-in-law, anybody else would have allowed poor John Harding to die in peace, but trust Eliza to he firm to the end.”
Under cover of this bit of family history I tried to rally from my confusion, but I knew my cheeks were burning. Looks of deepening surprise greeted the scarlet emblems of discomfiture that I hung out.
“By heck, bet there’s a feller at home named Benjy!” cackled Mr. Tubbs shrilly, and for once I blessed him.
Aunt Jane turned upon him her round, innocent eyes.
“Oh, no, Mr. Tubbs,” she assured him, “I don’t think a single one of them was named Benjy!” ...
The laughter which followed this gave me time to get myself in hand again.
“Crusoe it is and will be,” I asserted. “Like Great-Grandmother Harding, I don’t approve of changeableness. It happens that a girl I know at home has a dog named Benjy.” Which happened fortunately to be true, for otherwise I should have been obliged to invent it. But the girl is a cat, and the dog a miserable little high-bred something, all shivers and no hair. I would never have thought of him in the same breath with Crusoe.
THAT evening Mr. Shaw addressed the gathering at the campfire—which we made small and bright, and then sat well away from because of the heat—and in a few words gave it as his opinion that any further search in the cave under the point was useless. (If he had known the strange confirmatory echo which this awoke in my mind!) He proposed that the shore of the island to a reasonable distance on either side of the bay-entrance should be surveyed, with a view to discover whether some other cave did not exist which would answer the description given by the dying Hopperdown as well as that first explored.
Mr. Shaw’s words were addressed to the ladies, the organizer and financier, respectively, of the expedition, to the very deliberate exclusion of Mr. Tubbs. But he might as well have made up his mind to recognize the triumvirate. Enthroned on a camp-chair sat Aunt Jane, like a little goddess of the Dollar Sign, and on one hand Mr. Tubbs smiled blandly, and on the other Violet gloomed. You saw that in secret council Mr. Shaw’s announcement had been foreseen and deliberated upon.
Mr. Tubbs, who understood very well the role of power behind the throne, left it to Violet to reply. And Miss Browne, who carried an invisible rostrum with her wherever she went, now alertly mounted it.
“My friends,” she began, “those dwelling on a plane where the Material is all may fail to grasp the thought which I shall put before you this evening. They may not understand that if a different psychic atmosphere had existed on this island from the first we should not now be gazing into a blank wall of Doubt. My friends, this expedition was, so to speak, called from the Void by Thought. Thought it was, as realized in steamships and other ephemeral forms, which bore us thither over rolling seas. How then can it be otherwise than that Thought should influence our fortunes—that success should be unable to materialize before a persistent attitude of Negation? My friends, you will perceive that there is no break in this sequence of ideas; all is remorseless logic.
“In order to withdraw myself from this atmosphere of Negation, for these several days past I have sought seclusion. There in silence I have asserted the power of Positive over Negative Thought, gazing meanwhile into the profound depths of the All. My friends, an answer has been vouchsafed us; I have had a vision of that for which we seek. Now at last, in a spirit of glad confidence, we may advance. For, my friends, the chest lies buried—in sand.”
WITH this triumphant announcement Miss Higglesby-Browne sat down. A heavy silence succeeded. It was broken by a murmur from Mr. Tubbs.
“Wonderful—that’s what I call wonderful! Talk about the eloquence of the ancients—I believe, by gum, this is on a par with Congressional oratory!”
“A vision, Miss Browne,” said Mr. Shaw gravely, “must be an interesting thing. I have never seen one myself, having no talents that way, but in the little Scotch town of Dumbiedykes where I was born there was an old lady with a remarkable gift of the second sight. Simple folk, not being acquainted with the proper terms to fit the case, called her the Wise Woman. Well, one day my aunt had been to the neighboring town of Micklestane, five miles off, and on the way back to Dumbiedykes she lost her purse. It had three sovereigns in it—a great sum to my aunt. In her trouble of mind she hurried to the Wise Woman—a thing to make her pious father turn in his grave. The Wise Woman—gazed into the All, I suppose, and told my aunt not to fret herself, for she had had a vision of the purse and it lay somewhere on the road between Micklestane and Dumbiedykes.
“Now, Miss Browne, I’ll take the liberty of drawing a moral from this story to fit the present instance: where on the road between Micklestane and Dumbiedykes is the chest?”
Though startled at the audacity of Mr. Shaw I was unprepared for the spasm of absolute fury that convulsed Miss Browne’s countenance.
“Mr. Shaw,” she thundered, “if you intend to draw a parallel between me and an ignorant Scotch peasant—!”
“Not at all,” said Mr. Shaw calmly, “forebye the Wise Woman was a most respectable person and had a grandson in the kirk. The point is, can you indicate with any degree of exactness the whereabouts of the chest? For there is a good deal of sand on the shores of this island.”
“Oh, but Mr. Shaw!” interposed Aunt Jane tremulously. “In the sand—why, I am sure that is such a helpful thought! It shows quite plainly that the chest is not buried in—in a rock, you know.” She gave the effect of a person trying to deflect a thunderstorm with a palm-leaf fan.
“Dynamite—dynamite—blow the lid off the island!” mumbled Captain Magnus.
“If any one has a definite plan to propose,” said Mr. Shaw, “I am very ready to consider it. I have understood myself from the first to be acting under the directions of the ladies who planned this expedition. As a mere matter of honesty to my employers, I should feel bound to spare no effort to find the treasure, even if my own interests were not so vitally concerned. Considering its importance to myself, no one can well suppose that I am not doing all in my power to bring the chest to light. To-morrow, if the sea is favorable, it is my intention to set out in the boat to determine the character of such other caves as exist on the island. I’ll want you with me, lad, and you too, Magnus.”
Captain Magnus looked more ill at ease than usual.
“Did you think o’ rowin’ the whole way round the dinged chunk o’ rock?” he inquired.
“Certainly not,” said Mr. Shaw with an impatient frown. So the man, in addition to his other unattractive qualities, was turning out a shirk! Hitherto, with his strength and feverish if intermittent energy, plus an almost uncanny skill with boats, he had been of value. “Certainly not. We are going to make a careful survey of the cliffs, and explore every likely opening as thoroughly as possible. It will be s!ow work and hard. As to circumnavigating the island, I see no point in it, for I do not believe the chest can have been carried any great distance from the cove.”
“Oh—all right,” said Captain Magnus.
MR. TUBBS, who had been whispering with Aunt Jane and Miss Browne, now with a very made-to-order casualness proposed to the two ladies that they take a stroll on the beach. This meant that the triumvirate were to withdraw for discussion, and amounted to notice that henceforth the counsels of the company would be divided.
Captain Magnus, after an uneasy wriggle or two, said he guessed he’d turn in. Cookie’s snores were already audible between splashes of the waves on the sands. The Scotchman, Cuthbert Vane and I continued to sit by the dying fire. Mr. Shaw had got out his pipe and sat silently puffing at it. He might have been sitting in solitude on the topmost crag of the island, so remote seemed that impassive presence. Was it possible that ever, except in the sweet madness of a dream, I had been in his arms, pillowed and cherished there, that he had called me lassie—?
I lifted my eyes to the kind, honest gaze of Cuthbert Vane. It was as faithful as Crusoe’s and no more embarrassing. A great impulse of affection moved me. I was near putting out a hand to pat his splendid head. Oh. how easy, comfortable, and calm would be a life with Cuthbert Vane! I wasn’t thinking about the title now—Cuthbert would be quite worth while for himself. For a moment I almost saw with Aunt Jane’s eyes. Fancy trotting him out before the girls! stole insidiously into my mind. How much more dazzling than a plain Scotch sailor—
I turned in bitterness and yearning from the silent figure by the fire.
I think in an earlier lifetime I must have been a huntress and loved to pursue the game that fled.
I WOKE next morning with a great thrill of exhilaration. Perhaps before the sun went down again I would know the secret of the island.
The two divisions of our party, which were designated by me privately the Land and Sea Forces, went their separate ways directly after breakfast, which we ate in the cool of earliest morning. I could retire to the perusal of the journal which I had recovered from the wrecked sloop without fear of interruption.
I resumed my reading with the entry of February 10:—
This morning, having grown very tired of fish, of which I get plenty every time to go out in the boat by dragging a line behind, I decided to stay ashore and hunt pig. I set out across the base of the point, nearly due south—whereas I had been working along the coast to the north of the cove. On my right the slope of the mountain rose steeply, and as I approached the south shore the rise of the peak became more abrupt, and great jutting crags leaned out over the tree-tops below.
I reached the edge of the cliffs and found that on my right hand the mountain dropped in a sheer precipice from hundreds of feet above me straight into the sea. I considered, and made up my mind that by striking back some distance one might by a very rough climb gain the top of the precipice, and so swing around the shoulder of the mountain. I did not feel inclined to attempt it. The cliffs at this point offered no means of descent, and the few yards of sand which the receding tide had left bare at their foot led nowhere.
So far I had seen no pig, and I began to think they must all be feeding on the other side of the island. I turned to go back, and at that moment I heard an outcry in the bushes and Benjy came tearing out at the heels of a fine young porker. I threw up my gun to fire, but the evolutions of Benjy and the pig were such that I was as likely to hit one as the other. The pig, of course, made desperate efforts to escape from the cul-de-sac in which he found himself. His only hope was to get back into the woods on the point. Benjy kept him headed off successfully, and I began to edge up, watching my chance for a shot. Suddenly the pig came dashing straight toward me—oblivious, I suppose, to everything but the white snapping terror at his heels. Taken by surprise, I fired—and missed. The pig shot between my knees, Benjy after him. I withstood the shock of the pig, but not of Benjy. I fell, clawing wildly, into a matted mass of creepers that covered the ground beside me.
I got to my feet quickly, dragging the whole mass of vines with me. Then I saw that they had covered a curiously regular little patch of ground, outlined at intervals with small stones. At one end was a larger stone.
The patch was narrow, about six feet long—instantly suggestive of a grave. But swift beyond all process of reason was the certainty that flashed into my mind. I fell on my knees beside the stone at the head and pulled away the torn vine-tendrils. I saw the letters B. H. and an attempt at cross-bones rudely cut into the surface of the stone.
I closed my eyes and tried to steady myself. I thought, I am seeing things. This is the mere projecting of the vision which has been so long in my mind.
I opened my eyes, and lo, the fantasy, if fantasy it were, remained. I smote with my fist upon the stone. The stone was solid—it bruised the flesh. And as I saw the blood run, I screamed aloud like a madman, “it’s real, real, real!” Under the stone lay the guardian of the treasure of the Bonny Lass—and his secret was within my grasp.
I don’t know how long I crouched beside the stone, as drunk with joy as any hasheesh toper with his drug. I roused at last to find Benjy at my shoulder, thrusting his cool nose against my feverish cheek. I suppose he didn’t understand my ignoring him so, or thought I scorned him for losing out in his race with the pig. Yet when I think of what I owe that pig I could swear never to taste pork again.
Brought back to earth and sanity, I rose and began to consider my surroundings. Somewhere close at hand was the mouth of the cave—but where? The cliffs, as I have already said, were too steep for descent. Nothing but a fly could have crawled down them. I turned to the craggy face of the mountain. There, surely, must be the entrance to the cave! For hours I clambered among the rocks, risking mangled limbs and sunstroke—and found no cave. I came back at last, wearily, to the grave. There lay the dust of the brain that had known all—and a wild impulse came to me to tear away the earth with my bare hands, to dig deep, deep—and then with listening ear wait for a whispered word.
I put the delirious fancy from me and moved away to the edge of the cliffs. Looking down, I saw a narrow sloping shelf which dropped from the brink to a distance of ten or twelve feet below, where it met a slight projection of the rock. I had seen it before, of course, but it had carried no significance for my mind. Now I stepped down upon the ledge and followed it to its end in the angle of the rock.
Snugly hidden in the angle was a low doorway leading into blackness.
Now of course I ought in prudence to have gone back to the hut and got matches and a lantern and a rope before I sat foot in the darkness of that unknown place. But what had I to do to-day with prudence—Fortune had me by the hand! In I went boldly, Benjy at my heels. The passage turned sharply, and for a little way we walked in blackness. Then it veered again, and a faint and far-off light seemed to filter its way to us through a web woven of the very stuff of night. The floor sloped a little downward. I felt my way with my feet, and came to a step—another. I was going along a descending passage, cut at its steepest into rough, irregular stairs. With either hand I could touch the walls. All the while the light grew clearer. Presently, by another sharp turn, I found myself in a cave, some thirty feet in depth by eighteen across, with an opening on the narrow strip of beach I had seen from the top of the cliffs.
The roof is high, with an effect of Gothic arches. Near the mouth is a tiny spring of ice-cold water, which has worn a clean rock-channel for itself to the sea. Otherwise the cave is perfectly dry. The shining white sand of its floor is above the highest watermark on the cliffs outside. There is no doubt in my mind that in the great buccaneering days of the seventeenth century, and probably much later, the place was the haunt of pirates. One fancies that Captain Sampson of the Bonny Lass may have known of it before he brought the treasure to the island. There were queer folk to be met with in those days in the Western Ocean! The cave is cool at blazing midday, and secret, I fancy, even from the sea, because of the droop of great rock-eaves above its mouth. Either for the keeping of stores or as a hiding-place for men or treasure it would be admirable. Yes, the cave has seen many a fierce, sea-tanned face and tarry pigtail, and echoed to strange oaths and wild sea-songs. Men had carved those steps in the passage—thirty-two of them. In the sand of the floor, as I kicked it up with my feet hoping rather childishly to strike the corner of the chest, I found the hilt and part of the blade of a rusty cutlass, and a chased silver shoe-buckle. I shall take the buckle home to Helen—and yet how trivial it will seem with all else that I have to offer her! Nevertheless she will prize it as my gift, and because it comes from the place to which some kind angel led me for her sake.
I left the cave and hurried back to the cabin for a spade, walking on air, breaking with snatches of song the terrible stillness of the woods, where one hears only the high, fitful sighing of the wind, or the eternal mutter of the sea. As I came out of the hut with the spade over my shoulder I waved my hand to the Island Queen riding at anchor.
"You'll soon be showing a clean pair of heels to leeward, old girl!” I cried. Back in the cave, I set to work feverishly, making the light sand fly. I began at the rear of the cavern, reasoning that there the sand would lie at greater depth, also that it would be above the wash of the heaviest storms. At the end of half an hour, at a point close to the angle of the wall my spade struck a hard surface. It lay, I should judge, under about two feet of sand. Soon I had laid bare a patch of dark wood which rang under my knuckles almost like iron. A little more, and I had cleared away the sand from the top of a large chest with a convex lid, heavily bound m brass.
Furiously I flung the sand aside until the chest stood free for half its depth— which is roughly three feet. It has handles at the ends, great hand-wrought loops of metal. I tugged my hardest, but the chest seemed fast in its place as the native rock. I laughed exultantly. The weight meant gold—gold! I had hammer and chisel with me, and with these I forced the massive ancient locks. There were three of them, one for each strip of brass which bound the chest. Then I flung up the lid.
No glittering treasure dazzled me. I saw only a surface of stained canvas tucked in carefully around the edges. This I tore off and flung aside—eclipsing poor Benjy, who was a most interested spectator of my strange proceedings. Still no gleam of gold, merely demure rows of plump brown bags. With both hands I reached for them. Oh, to grasp them all! I had to be content with two, because they were so heavy, so blessedly heavy!
I spread the square of canvas on the sand, cut the strings from the bags and poured out—gold, gold! All fair Shining golden coins they were, not a paltry silver piece among them! And they made a soft golden music as they fell in a glorious yellow heap.
I don t know how long I sat there, playing with my gold, running it through my fingers, clinking the coins together in my palm. Benjy came and sniffed at them indifferently, unable to understand his master’s preoccupation. He thrust his nose into my face and barked, and said as clearly as with words, “Come, hunt pig!”
“Benjy,” I said, “we'll leave the pork alone just now. We have work enough to count our money. We’re rich, old boy, rich, rich!”
Of course, I don’t yet know exactly what the value of the treasure is. I have counted the bags in the chest; there are one hundred and forty-eight. Each, so far as I have determined, contains one thousand doubloons, which makes a total of one hundred and forty-eight thousand. Estimating each coin, for the sake of even figures, at a value of seven dollars—a safe minimum—you get one million, thirty-six thousand dollars. And as many of the coins are ancient I ought to reap a harvest from collectors.
Besides the coin, I found, rather surprisingly, laid between the upper layers of bags, a silver crucifix about nine inches long. It is of very quaint old workmanship, and badly tarnished. Its money value must be very trifling, compared to the same bulk of golden coins. I think it must have had some special character of sacredness which led to its preservation here. It is strange to find such a relic among a treasure so stained by blood and crime.
And now I have to think about moving the gold. First of all I must get the chest itself aboard the Island Queen. This means that I shall have to empty it and leave the gold in the cave, while I get the chest out by sea. When the chest is safely in the cabin of the sloop—where it won’t leave much room for Benjy and his master—I’m afraid—I will take the bags of coin out by the land entrance. I can’t think of risking my precious doubloons in the voyage around the point.
Of course I should have liked to get to the task to-day, but after the first mad thrill of the great event was over, I found myself as weak and unnerved as a woman. So by a great effort I came away and left my glorious golden hoard. Now I dream and gloat, playing with the idea that to-morrow I shall find it all a fantasy. The pleasure of this is, of course, that all the while I know this wildest of all Arabian fairy tales to be as real as the most drab and sober fact of my hitherto colorless life.
After all, on the way back from the cave Benjy brought down a pig. So he is as well pleased with the day as I am. Now I am sitting in the doorway of my cabin, writing up my journal, and trying to calm down enough to go to bed. If it were not for the swift fading of daylight, I would go back to the cave for another peep into the chest. But all round the island the sea is moaning with that peculiarly melancholy note that comes with the falling of night. The sea-birds have risen from the cove and gone wheeling off in troops to their nests on the cliffs. Somehow a curious dislike, almost fear, of this wild, sea-girt, solitary place has come over me. I long for the sound of human voices, the touch of human hands. I think of the dead man lying there at the door of the cave, its silent guardian for so long. I suppose he brooded once on the thought of the gold as I do—perhaps he has been brooding so these ninety years! I wonder if he is pleased that I, a stranger, have come into possession of his secret hoard at last?
Oh, Helen, turn your heavenly face on me—be my refuge from these shuddering unwholesome thoughts! The gold is for you—for you! Surely that must cleanse it of its stains, must loose the clutch of the dead hands that strive to hold it!
February 11. This morning I was early at the cave. Yes, there it was, the same wonder-chest that I had dreamed of all night long. It was absurd how the tightness in my breast relaxed.
I began at once the work of removing the bags from the chest and stacking them in the corner of the cave. It was a fatiguing job, I had to stoop so. At the bottom of the chest I found a small portfolio of very fine leather containing documents in Spanish. They bear an official seal. Although I should be interested to know their meaning, I think I shall destroy them. They weaken my feeling of ownership; I suppose there is a slight flavor of lawlessness in my carrying off the gold from the island like this. Very likely the little Spanish American state which has some claim to overlordship here would dispute my right to the treasure-trove.
I spent so much time unloading the chest and poring over the papers, trying, by means of my ill-remembered Latin, to make out the sense of the kindred Spanish, that before I was ready to go for my boat the tide was up and pounding on the rocks below the cave. I find that only at certain stages of the tide is the cave approachable by sea. At the turn after high water, for instance, there is such a terrific undertow that it sets up a small maelstrom among the reefs lying off the island. At low tide is the time to come.
February 12. Got the chest out of the cave, though it was a difficult job. I don’t know of what wood the thing is built—some South American hardwood, I fancy—but it weighs like metal. The heavy brass clampings count for something, of course. Luckily there was no sea, and I had a smooth passage around the point. I laughed rather ruefully as I passed the Cave of the Two Arches. To think of the toil I wasted there! I wish Benjy had encountered the fateful pig a little sooner.
Got the chest aboard the Island Queen and stowed in the cabin. Not room left to swing a kitten. Contrived an elaborate arrangement of ropes and spikes to keep it in place in a heavy sea.
In the afternoon began moving the gold. It’s the deuce of a job.
February 15. Been hard at it for three days. Most of the gold moved. Have to think too of provisions and water for the trip. I am making rather a liberal allowance, in case of being blown out of my course by a tropical gale.
February 16. On board the Island Queen. Have moved my traps from the hut and am sleeping on the sloop. Want to be near the gold. “Where the treasure is, there will the heart be also,” and in this case the body as well. To-morrow I have only to bring the last of the gold aboard—a trifling matter—-and then go out with the ebb. I would have got all the bags on board to-day, but I noticed a worn stretch In the cable holding the sloop and stopped to repair it. I can’t have the sloop going on the rocks in case a blow comes up to-night. There are only about a load and a half of bags left in the cave.
A queer notion seized me to-day about the crucifix, when I was bringing it from the cave. It seemed to float into my brain—I can’t say from what quarter—that I had better leave the crucifix for Bill. It wasn’t more than he had a right to, really—and there is no virtue in a cross-bones to make a man sleep well.
Of course I put the absurd idea from me, and brought the crucifix aboard with the rest of the gold. I shall be glad when I know that the vines have again covered that lonely-looking gravestone from sight. I can’t help feeling my own glorious good fortune to be somehow an affront to poor unlucky Bill.
To-morrow one last trip to the cave, and then hey, for home and Helen!
To be continued