NEXT morning I came out of the hut in time to see Mr. Shaw and his companions in duress led forth from the sleeping quarters which they had shared with their captors. They were moored as before to a palm tree, by a rope having a play of two or three feet, and their hands unbound while they made a hasty breakfast under the eye of a watchful sentinel. Then their wrists were tied again, not painfully, but with a firmness which made any slipping of their bonds impossible.
While the pirates were breakfasting a spirited dispute took place among them as to who should go to the treasure cave and who stay in camp to guard the prisoners. Slinker and Horny urged with justice that as they had missed all the excitement of the preceding day it was their turn to visit the cave. There not only the probable rapture of exhuming the chest awaited them, but the certain privilege of inspecting “the Bones.” This ghastly relic seemed to exercise an immense fascination upon their imaginations, fascinatio not unmingled with superstitious dread. The right to see the Bones, then, Slinker and Horny passionately claimed. Tony supported them, and it ended with Chris and Captain Magnus being told off as our guards for the morning.
At this Chris raised a feeble lamentation, but he was evidently a person whose objections nobody was accustomed to heed. Captain Magnus, who might with plausibility have urged claims superior to those of all the rest, assented to the arrangement with a willingness which filled me with boding. I had caught his restless, furtive eye fixed gloatingly upon me more than once. I saw that he was aware of my terror, and exulted in it, and took a feline pleasure in playing me, as it were, and letting me realize by slow degrees what his power over me would be when he chose finally to exert it. My best hope for the present, once the merciful and prudent Tony was out of sight, lay in this disposition of my tormentor to sit quiescent and anticipate the future. Nevertheless, in leaving the cabin I had slipped into my blouse a small penknife which I had found in Aunt Jane’s bag. It was quite new, and I satisfied myself that the blades were keen. My own large sheath-knife and my revolver I had been deprived of at the suggestion of the thoughtful Magnus. I had surrendered them unprotestingly, fearful of all things that my possessions might be ransacked and Peter’s diary, though hidden with much art at the bottom of the bag, he brought to light. For I might yet sell the secret of the Island Queen at a price which should redeem us all.
Unobtrusively clutching for comfort at the pen-knife in my blouse I watched the departure of the pirates, including my protector Tony. They had taken Mr. Tubbs with them, although he had magnanimously offered to remain behind and help guard the camp. Evidently his experience of the previous day had not filled him with confidence in his new friends. It might be quite possible that he intended, if left behind, to turn his coat again and assist us in a break for liberty. If so, he was defeated by the perspicacious Tony, who observed that when he found a pal that suited him as well as Washtubs he liked to keep him under his own eye.
With a spade over his shoulder, and many a dubious glance Mr. Tubbs followed the file into the woods.
Aunt Jane had a bad headache, and as nobody objected she had remained in the cabin. Miss Browne and I had been informed by Tony that we might do as we liked so long as we did not attempt to leave the clearing. Already Violet had taken herself to a camp-chair in the shade and was reading a work entitled, “Thoughts on the Involute Spirality of the Immaterial.” Except for the prisoners tied to the palm tree, the camp presented superficially a scene of peace. Cookie busied himself with a great show of briskness in his kitchen. Because of the immense circumspection of his behavior he was being allowed a considerable degree of freedom. He served his new masters apparently as he had served us, but enveloped in a portentous silence. “Yes, sah—no, sah,” were the only words which Cookie in captivity had been heard to utter. Yet from time to time I had caught a glance of dark significance from Cookie’s rolling eye, and I felt that he was loyal, and that this enforced servitude to the unkempt fraternity of pirates was a degradation which touched him to the quick.
I had followed the example of Miss Higglesby-Browne as regards the camp-chair and the book. What the book was I have not the least idea, but I perused it with an appearance of profound abstraction which I hoped might discourage advances on the part of Captain Magnus. Also I made.sure that the penknife was within easy reach. Meanwhile my ears, and at cautious intervals my eyes, kept me informed of the movements of our guards.
For a considerable time the two ruffians, lethargic after an enormous breakfast, lay about idly in the shade and smoked. As I listened to their lazy, fragmentary conversation vast gulfs of mental vacuity seemed to open before me. I wondered whether after all wicked people were just stupid people—and then I thought of Aunt Jane—who was certainly not wicked—
As the heat increased a voice of lamentation broke from Chris. He was dry—dry enough to drink up the condemned ocean. No, he didn’t want spring water, which Cookie obsequiously tendered him, he wanted a drink—wouldn’t anybody but a fool nigger know that? There was plenty of the real stuff aboard the schooner, on the other side of the “adjective” island. Why had they, with incredible lack of forethought, brought along nothing but their pocket flasks? Why hadn’t they sent the adjective nigger back for more? Where was the bottle or two that had been rooted out last night from the medical stores? Empty? Every last drop gone down somebody’s greedy gullet? The adjectives came thick and fast as Chris hurled the bottle into the bay, where it swam bobbingly upon the ripples. Captain Magnus agreed with the gist of Chris’s remarks, but deprecated, in a truly philosophical spirit, their unprofitable heat. There wasn’t any liquor, so what was the good of making an adjective row? Hadn’t he endured the equivalent of Chris’s present sufferings for weeks? He was biding his time, he was. Plenty of drink by and by, plenty of all that makes life soft and easy. He bet there wouldn’t many hit any higher spots than him. He bet there was one little girl that would be looked on as lucky, in case she was a good little girl and encouraged him to show his natural kindness. And I was favored with a blood-curdling leer from across the camp, of which I had put as much as possible between myself and the object of my dread.
BUT now, like a huge black Ganymede, appeared Cookie, bearing cups and a large stone crock.
“It suhtinly am a fact, Mistah Chris, sah,” said Cookie, “dat dey is a mighty unspirituous fluidity ’bout dis yere spring watah. Down war I is come from no pussons of de Four Hund’ed ain’t eveh ’customed to partake of such. But the sassiety I has been in lately round dis yere campaint of the convivialous ordah; ole Cookie had to keep it dark dat he got his li’le drop o’ comfort on de side. Dis yere’s only home-made stuff, sah. ’Taint what I could offah to a gennulman if so be I is got the makin’s of a genuwine old-style julep what is de beverage of de fust fam’lies. But bein’ as it is, it am mighty coolin’ sah, and it got a li’le kick to it—not much, but jes’ 'bout enough to make a gennelmun feel lak he is one.”
Cookie’s tones dripped humility and propitiation. He offered the brimming cup cringingly to the pale-eyed, red-nosed Chris, who reached for it with alacrity, drank deep, smacked his lips meditatively, and after a moment passed the cup back.
“’Taint so worse,” he said approvingly. “Anyhow, It’s drink!”
Magnus suddenly began to laugh and slap his knee.
“S’elp me, it's the same dope that laid out the Honorable!” he chortled. “Here, darky, let’s have a swig of it!”
Cookie complied, joining respectfully in the captain’s mirth.
“I guess you-all is got stronger haids den dat young gennelmun!” he remarked. “Dis yere ole niggah has help hisself mighty freely and dat Prohibitionist Miss Harding ain’t eveh found it out. Fac’ is, it am puffeckly harmless ’cept when de haid is weak.”
False, false Cookie! Black brother in perfidy to Mr. Tubbs! One friend the less to be depended on if a chance for freedom ever came to us! A hot flush of surprise and anger dyed my cheeks, and I felt the indignant pang of faith betrayed. I had been as sure of Cookie’s devotion as of Crusoe’s—which reminded me that the little dog had not returned to camp since he fled before the onslaught of the vengeful captain.
Cookie refilled the pirate’s cups, and set the crock beside, them on the ground.
“In case you gennelmun feels yo’ selfs a li’le thursty later on,” he remarked. He was retiring, when Captain Magnus called to him.
“Blackie, this ain’t bad. It’s coolin’ but thin a real nice ladylike sort of drink, I should say. Suppose you take a swig over to Miss Jinny there with my compliments—I’m one to always treat a lady generous if she gives me half a chance.”
OBEDIENTLY Cookie hastened for another cup, set it on a tray and approached me with his old-time ornate manner. I faced him with a withering look, but, unmindful, he bowed, presenting me the cup, and interposing his bulky person between me and the deeply quaffing pirates. At the same time his voice reached me, pitched in a low and anxious key.
“Fo’ de Lawd’s sake, Miss Jinny, spill it out! It am mighty powerful dope—it done fumented twice as long as befo’—it am boun’ to give dat trash de blind-staggahs sho’tly!”
Instantly I understood, and a thrill of relief and of hope inexpressible shot, through me. I raised to the troubled black face a glance which I trust was eloquent—it must needs have been to express the thankfulness I felt. Cookie responded with a solemn and convulsive wink—and I put the cup to my lips and after a brief parade of drinking passed it back to Cookie, spilling its contents on the ground en route.
Cookie retired with his tray in his most impressive cake-walk fashion, and in passing announced to Captain Magnus that “Miss Jinny say she mos’ suhtinly obligated to de gennelmun fo’ de refreshment of dis yere acidulous beverage.” Which bare-faced mendacity provoked a loud roar of amusement from the sentinels, who were still sampling the cooling contents of the stone crock.
“Learning to like what I do already, hey?” guffawed the captain, and he called on Chris to drain another cup with him to the lady of his choice.
For a leaden-footed eternity, it seemed to me, I oscillated, longing for, yet dreading, the signs that Cookie’s powerful dope had begun to work upon our guards—
And then suddenly time, which had dragged so slowly, appeared to gallop, and the morning to be fleeing past, so that every wave that broke upon the beach was the footfalls of the returning pirates. Long, long before that thirsty, garrulous pair grew still and torpid their companions must return—And I saw Cookie, his stratagem discovered, dangling from a convenient tree.
GRADUALLY the rough, disjointed talk of the sailors began to languish. Covertly watching, I saw that Chris’s head had begun to droop. His body, propped comfortably against a tree, sagged a little. The hand that held the cup was lifted, stretched out in the direction of the enticing jar, then forgetting its errand fell heavily. After a few spasmodic twitchings of the eyelids and uneasy grunts, Chris slumbered.
Captain Magnus was of tougher fibre. But he grew silent and there was a certain meal-sack limpness about his attitude. His dulled eyes stared dreamily. All at once with a jerk he roused himself, turned over, and administered to the sleeping Chris a prod with his large boot.
“Hey, there, wake up! What right you got to be asleep at the switch?” But Chris only breathed more heavily.
Captain Magnus himself heaved a tremendous yawn, settled back in greater comfort against his sustaining tree, and closed his eyes. I waited, counting the seconds by the beating of the blood in my ears. In the background Cookie hovered apprehensively. Plainly he would go on hovering unless loud snores from the pirates gave him assurance. For myself, I sat fingering my penknife, wondering whether I ought to rush over and plunge it into the sleepers’ throats. This would be heroic and practical, but unpleasant. If, on the other hand, I merely tried to free the prisoners and Captain Magnus woke, what then? The palm where they were tied was a dozen yards from me, much nearer to the guards, and within range of even their most languid glance. Beyond the prisoners was Miss Browne, glaring uncomprehendingly over the edge of her book. There was no help in Miss Browne.
I left my seat and stole on feet which seemed to stir every leaf and twig to loud complaint toward the captive pair! Tense, motionless, with burning eyes, they waited. There was a movement from Captain Magnus; he yawned, turned and muttered. I stood stricken, my heart beating with loud thumps against my ribs. But the captain’s eyes remained closed.
“Virginia—quick, Virginia!” Dugald Shaw was stretching out his bound hands to me, and I had dropped on my knees before him and begun to cut at the knotted cords. They were tough, strong cords, and I hacked them feverishly—
Then something bounded across the clearing and flung itself upon me. Crusoe, of course!—and wild with the joy of reunion. I strangled a cry of dismay, and with one hand tried to thrust him off while I cut through the rope with the other.
“Down, Crusoe!” I kept desperately whispering. But Crusoe was unused to whispered orders. He kept bounding up on me, intent to fulfil an unachieved ambition of licking my ear. Cuthbert Vane tried, under his breath, to lure him away. But Crusoe’s emotions were all for me, and swiftly becoming uncontrollable they burst forth in a volley of shrill yelps.
ALOUD cry answered them. It came from Captain Magnus, who had scrambled to his feet and was staggering across the clearing. One hand was groping at his belt—it was flourished in the air with the gleam of a knife in it—and staggering and shouting the captain came on.
“Ah, you would, would you? I’ll teach you—but first I settle him, the porridge-eatin’ Scotch swine—”
The reeling figure with the knife was right above me. I sprang up, in my hand the little two-inch weapon which was all I had for my defense—and Dugald Shaw’s. There were loud cries in my ears, the shouting of men, and a shrill continuous note which I have since realized came from the lungs of Miss Higglesby-Browne. Magnus made a lunge forward—the arm with the knife descended. I caught it—wrenched at it frantically—striving blindly to wield my little penknife, whether or not with deadly intent I don’t know to this day. He turned on me savagely, and the penknife was whirled from my hand as he caught my wrist in a terrible clutch.
All I remember after that is the terrible steely grip of the captain’s arms and a face flushed, wild-eyed, horrible, that was close to mine and inevitably coming closer, though I fought and tore at it—of hot, feverish lips whose touch I knew would scorch me to the soul—and then I was suddenly free, and falling, falling, a long way through darkness.
MY first memory is of voices, and after that I was shot swiftly out of a tunnel from an immense distance and opened my eyes upon the same world which I had left at some indefinite period in the past. Faces, at first very large, by and by adjusted themselves in a proper perspective and became quite recognizable and familiar. There were Aunt Jane’s, very tearful, and Miss Higglesby-Browne’s, very glum, and the Honorable Cuthbert’s, very anxious and a little dazed, and Cookie’s, very, very black. The face of Dugald Shaw I did not see, for the quite intelligible reason that I was lying with my head upon his shoulder.
As soon as I realized this I sat up jerkily, while everyone exclaimed at once, “There, she’s quite all right—see how her color is coming back!”
People kept Aunt Jane from flinging herself upon me and soothed her into calm while I found out what had happened. The penknife that I had lost in my. struggle with Captain Magnus had fallen at the Scotchman’s feet. Wrenching himself free of his all but severed bonds he had seized the knife, slashed through the rope that held him to the tree, and flung himself on Captain Magnus. It was a brief struggle—a fist planted neatly on the ruffian’s jaw had ended it, and the captain, half dazed from his potations, went down limply.
Meanwhile Cookie had appeared upon the scene flourishing a kitchen knife, though intending it for no more bloody purpose than the setting free of Cuthbert Vane. Throughout the fray Chris slumbered undisturbed, and he and the unconscious Magnus were now reposing side by side, until they should awake to find themselves neatly trussed up with Cookie’s clotheslines.
But my poor, brave Crusoe dragged a broken leg, from a kick bestowed on him by Captain Magnus, at whom he had flown valiantly in my defense.
So far so good; we had signally defeated our two guards, and the camp was ours. But what about the pirates who were still in the cave and would shortly be returning from it? They were three aimed and sturdy ruffians, not to include Mr. Tubbs, whose habits were strictly non-combative. It would mean a battle to the death.
Our best hope would be to wait in ambush behind the trees of the clearing—I mean for Dugald Shaw and Cuthbert Vane to do it—and shoot down the unsuspecting pirates as they returned. This desperate plan, which so unpleasantly resembled murder, cast gloom on every brow.
“It’s the women, lad,” said the Scotchman in a low voice to Cuthbert. “It’s—it’s Virginia.” And Cuthbert heavily assented.
Seeing myself as the motif of such slaughter shocked my mind suddenly back to clearness.
“Oh,” I cried, “not that! Why not surprise them in the cave, and make them stay there? One man could guard the entrance easily—and afterwards we could build it up with logs or something.”
“A remarkably neat scheme,” said Mr. Shaw, “but impossible of application, I’m afraid, because none of us knows where to find the cave.”
I shook my head.
THERE was a lengthy silence. People looked at each other, and their eyes said, this has been too much for her.
“I know,” I impatiently repeated. “I can take you straight there. I found the tombstone before Mr. Tubbs did, and the cave too. Come, let’s not waste time. We must hurry—they’ll be getting back!”
Amazement, still more than half incredulous, surged round me. Then Mr. Shaw said rapidly:
“You’re right. Yes, if you have found the cave, the best thing we can do is to keep them shut up in it.
We must move fast—perhaps we’re too late already. If they have found the chest they may by now be starting for camp with the first load of doubloons.”
Again I shook my head.
“They haven’t found the gold,” I assured him.
The astonished faces grew more anxious. “It sho’ have told on li’le Miss Jinny’s brain,” muttered Cookie to himself.
“They haven’t found the gold,” I reiterated with emphasis, “because the gold is not in the cave. Don’t ask me how I know, because there isn’t time to tell you. There was no gold there but the two bags that the pirates brought back last night. The—the skeleton moved it all out.”
“My Lawd!” groaned Cookie, staggering backward.
“Virginia! I had no idea you were superstitious!” quavered Aunt Jane.
“I say, do take some sleeping tablets or something and quiet your nerves!” implored Cuthbert with the tenderest solicitude.
In my exasperation I stamped my foot.
“And while we are arguing here the pirates may be starting back to camp! And then we’ll have to kill them and go home and give ourselves up to be hanged! Please, please, come with me and let me show you that I know!” I lifted my eyes to the intent face of Dugald Shaw.
“All right,” he said tersely. “I think you do know. How and what, we’ll find out later.” Rapidly he made his plan, got together the things needful for its execution, looked to the bonds of the still dazed and drowsy prisoners, posted Cookie in their neighborhood with a pair of pistols, and commanded Aunt Jane to dry her tears and look after Miss Higglesby-Browne, who had dismayed everyone by most inopportunely toppling over in a perfectly genuine swoon.
THEN the Scotchman, Cuthbert Vane and I set off through the woods. The men were heavily armed, and I had recovered my own little revolver and restored it to my belt. Mr. Shaw had seen to this, and had said to me, very quietly:
“You know, Virginia, if things don’t go our way, it may be necessary for you to use it—on yourself.”
And I nodded assentingly.
We went in silence through the green hush of the woods, moving in single file. My place as guide was in the van, but Mr. Shaw deposed me from it and went ahead himself, while Cuthbert Vane brought up the near. No one spoke, even to whisper. I guided Dugald Shaw, when needful, by a light touch upon the arm. Our enterprise was one of utmost danger. At any moment we might hear the steps and voices of the returning pirates. Thus forewarned, we might of course retreat into the woods and let them pass, ourselves unseen. But then, what of those whom we had left in camp? Could we leave them undefended to the vengeance of Captain Magnus? No, if we met the pirates it was their lives or ours—and I recall with incredulity my resolution to imbed five of my six bullets in a pirate before I turned the sixth upon myself. I reflected with satisfaction that five bullets should be a fatal dose to any pirate unless an exceptionally tough one. And I hoped he would not be tough—
But I tell myself with shudders that it was not I, but some extraordinary recrudescence of a primitive self, that indulged these lethal gloatings.
No steps but our own, no voices but the birds’, broke the stillness of the woods. We moved onward swiftly, and presently the noise of the sea came to us with the sudden loudness that I remembered. I paused, signalled caution to my companions, and crept on.
We passed the grave, and I saw that the vines had been torn aside again, and that the tombstone was gone. We came to the brink of the cliff, and I pointed silently downward along the ledge to the angle in which lay the mouth of the cave. My breath came quickly, for at any instant a head might be thrust forth from the opening. Already the sun was mounting toward the zenith. The noontide heat and stillness was casting its drowsy spell upon the island. The air seemed thicker, the breeze more languid. And all this mealtime—and the thoughts of hungry pirates turning toward camp.
My hope was that they were still preoccupied with the fruitless search in the cave.
MR. SHAW and Cuthbert dropped down upon the ledge. Though under whispered orders to retreat I could not, but hung over the edge of the cliff, eager and breathless. Then with a bound the men were beside me. Mr. Shaw caught my hand, and we rushed together into the woods.
A quake, a roar, a shower of flying rocks. It was over—the dynamite had done its work, whether successfully or not remained to be seen. After a little the Scotchman ventured back. He returned to us where we waited in the woods—Cuthbert to mount guard over me—with a cleared face.
“It’s all right,” he said. “The entrance is completely blocked. I set the charge six feet inside, but the roof is down clear to the mouth. Poor wretches—they have all come pouring out upon the sand—”
All three of us went back to the edge of the cliff. Seventy feet below, on a narrow strip of sand before the sea-mouth of the cave, we saw the figures of four men who ran wildly about and sought for a foothold on the sheer face of the cliff. As we stood watching them, with, on my part, at least, unexpected qualms of pity and a cold interior sensation very unlike triumph they discovered us. Then for the first time, I suppose, they understood the nature of their disaster. We could not hear their cries, but we saw arms stretched out to us, fists frantically shaken, hands lifted in prayer. We saw Mr. Tubbs flop down upon his unaccustomed knees—it was all rather horrible.
I drew back shivering. “It won’t be for long, of course,” I said uncertainly, “just till the steamer comes—and we’ll give them lots to eat—but I suppose they think—they will soon be just a lot more skeletons—” And here I was threatened with a moist anticlimax to my late Amazonian mood.
Why should the frequent and natural phenomena of tears produce such panic in the male breast? At a mere April dewiness about my lashes these two strong men quaked.
“Don’t—don’t cry!” implored Cuthbert earnestly.
“It’s been too much for her!” exclaimed the once dour Scot in tones of anguish. “Hurry, lad—we must find her some water—"
“Nonsense,” I interposed, winking rapidly. “Just think of some way to calm those creatures, so that I shan’t see them in my dreams, begging and beseeching—” For I had not forgotten the immensity of my debt to Tony.
So a note was written on a leaf torn from a pocketbook and thrown over the cliff weighted with a stone. The captives swooped upon it. Followed then a vivid pantomime by Tony, expressive of eased if unrepentant minds, while Mr. Tubbs, by gestures, indicated that though sadly misunderstood, old H. H. was still our friend and benefactor.
It was an attentive group to which on our return to camp I related the circumstances which had made possible our late exploit of imprisoning the pirates in the cave. The tale of my achievements, though recounted with due modesty, seemed to put the finishing touch to the extinction of Violet, for she wilted finally and forever, and was henceforth even bullied by Aunt Jane. The diary of Peter was produced, and passed about with awe from hand to hand. Yesterday’s discovery in the cave had rounded out the history of Peter to a melancholy completion. But though we knew the end we guessed in vain at the beginning, at Peter’s name, and that of the old grandfather whose thrifty piety had brought him to Havana and to the acquaintance of the dying mate of the Bonny Lass, at the whereabouts of the old New England farm which had been mortgaged to buy the Island Queen, at the identity of Helen, who waited still, perhaps, for the lover who never would return.
But even our regrets for Peter did not chill the exultation with which we thought of the treasure-chest waiting there under the sand in the cabin of the Island Queen.
ALL afternoon we talked of it. That, for the present, was all we could do. There were the two prisoners in camp to be guarded—and they had presently wakened and made remarks of a strongly personal and unpleasant trend on discovering their situation. There was Crusoe invalided, and needing petting, and getting it from everybody on the score of his romantic past as Benjy as well as of his present virtues. The broken leg had been cleverly set by Dugald—somehow in the late upheaval Miss and Mister had dropped quite out of our vocabularies—with Cuthbert as surgeon’s assistant and me holding the chloroform to the patient’s nose. There was the fatigue and reaction from excitement which everybody felt, and Peter’s diary to be read, and golden dreams to be indulged. And there was the delicate i question to be discussed, of how the treasure should be divided.
“Why, it all belongs to Virginia, of course,” said Cuthbert, opening his eyes at the thought of any other view being taken but this obvious one.
“Nonsense!” I hastily interposed. “My finding of the diary was just an accident, I’ll take a share of it, no more.”
Here Miss Browne murmured something half inaudible about “—confided to members of the Expedition—” but subsided for lack of encouragement.
“I suggest,” said Dugald, “that our numbers having most fortunately diminished and there being, on the basis of Peter’s calculations, enough to enrich us all, that we should share and share alike.” And this proposal was received with acclamations, as was a second from the same source, devoting a certain percentage of each share to Cookie, to whom the news of his good fortune was to come later as a great surprise.
AS an earnest of our riches, we had the two bags of doubloons which the pirates had recovered from the fleshless fingers of the dead man. They were old, worn coins, most of them, many dating from the seventeenth century, and bearing the effigies of successive kings of Spain. Each disk of rich, yellow Peruvian gold, dug from the earth by wretched sweating slaves and bearing the name of a .narrow rigid tyrant, had a history, doubtless, more wild and bloody than even that we knew. The merchant of Lima, his servant, Bill Halliwell, and afterwards poor Peter had died for them. For their sake we had been captives in fear of death, and for their sake now four wretched beings were prisoners in the treasure-cave and two more cursed fate and their bonds within hearing of our outraged ears. And who knew how much more of crime and blood and violence we should send forth into the world with the long-buried treasure? Who knew—and, ah, me, who cared? So riotous was the gold-lust in my veins that I think if I had known the chest to be another Pandora’s box I should still have cried out to open it.
Shortly before sunset Cuthbert and Cookie were dispatched by Dugald Shaw to the cliff above the cave with supplies for the inhumed pirates. These were let down by rope. Luckily the spring in the cave obviated the need of water. A note was brought up on the rope, signed by Mr. Tubbs, and containing strangely jumbled exhortations, prayers and threats. A second descent of the rope elicited another missive, neatly folded and addressed in the same hand to Miss Jane Harding. Cuthbert gave this privately to me, but its contents must forever be unknown, for it went, unread, into Cookie’s fire. I had no mind to find Aunt Jane, with her umbrella as a parachute, vanishing over the edge of the cliffs to seek the arms of a repentant Tubbs.
The fly in the ointment of our satisfaction, and the one remaining obstacle to our possession of the treasure, was the presence of the two pirates in our midst. They were not nice pirates. They were quite the least choice of the collection. Chris, when he was not swearing, wept moistly, and so touched the heart of Aunt Jane that we lived in fear of her letting him go if she got the opportunity. He told her that he had lost an aunt in his tender youth, of whom she reminded him in the most striking way, and that if this long-mourned relative had lived he felt he should have been a better man and not led away against his higher nature by the chance of falling in with bad companions. Aunt Jane thought this resemblance to Chris’s aunt a remarkable coincidence and an opportunity for appealing to his better self which should be improved. She wanted to improve it by untying his hands, because he had sprained his wrist in his childhood and it was sensitive. He had sprained it in rescuing a little companion from drowning, the child of a drunkard who had unfeelingly thrown his offspring down a well. This episode had been an example to Chris which had kept him from drinking all his life, until he had fallen into his present rough company.
Aunt Jane took it very hard that the Scotchman seemed quite unfeeling about Chris’s wrist. She said it seemed very strange to her in a man who had so recently known the sorrows of captivity himself. She said she supposed even suffering would not soften some natures.
As to Magnus, his state of sullen fury made him indilferent even to threats of punishment. He swore with a determination and fluency worthy of a better cause. For myself, I could not endure his neighborhood. It deemed to me I could not live through the days that must intervene before the arrival of the Rufus Smith in the constant presence of this wretch.
More than all, it made Dugald and Cuthbert unwilling to leave the camp together. There was always the possibility that the two ruffians might find means to free themselves, and, with none but Cookie and the women present, to obtain control of the firearms and the camp. For the negro, once the men were free, could not surely be depended on to face them. Loyal he was, and valiant in his fashion, but old and with the habit of submission. One did not see him standing up for long before two berserker-mad ruffians.
What to do with the pirates continued for a day and a night a knotty problem.
It was Cuthbert Vane who solved it, and with the simplicity of genius.
“Why not send them down to their chums the way we do the eats?” he asked.
IT seemed at first incredibly fantastic, but the more you thought of it the more practical it grew. It was characteristic of Cuthbert not to see it as fantastic. For him the sharp edges of fact were never shaded off into the dim and nebulous. Cuthbert, when he saw things at all, saw them steadily and whole. He would let down the writhing, swearing Magnus over the cliff as tranquilly as he let down loaves of bread, aware merely of its needing more muscular effort. Only he would take immense care not to hurt him.
Dire outcries greeted the decision. Aunt Jane wept, and Chris wept, and said this never could have happened to him if his aunt had lived. Oaths followed from Captain Magnus in a turgid stream. Nevertheless the twain were led away, firmly bound, and guarded by Dugald, Cuthbert and the negro. And the remarkable programme proposed by Cuthbert Vane was triumphantly carried out. Six prisoners now occupied the old cave of the buccaneers.
With the camp freed from the presence of the pirates all need of watchfulness was over. The prisoners in the cave were provided with no implements but spades, whereas dynamite and crowbars would be necessary to force a way through the debris which choked the mouth of the tunnel. A looking over of the ground at the daily feeding time would be enough.
To-morrow’s sun would see our hopes crowned and all our toil rewarded by the recovery of the treasure from the Island Queen.
NEXT morning an event occurred sufficiently astonishing to divert our thoughts from even the all-important topic of the Island Queen. Cookie, who had been up on the high land of the point gathering firewood, came rushing hack to announce that a steamer had appeared in the offing. All the party dropped their occupations and ran to look. That the Rufus Smith had returned at an unexpectedly early date was of course the natural explanation of the appearance of a vessel in these lonely seas. But through the glass the new arrival turned out to be not the tubby freighter but a stranger of clean-cut, rakish build, lying low in the water and designed for speed rather than carrying capacity.
A mile offshore she lay to, and a boat left her side. Wondering and disquieted, we returned to the beach to await her coming. Was it another pirate? What possible errand could bring a steamer to this remote, unvisited, all but forgotten little island? Had somebody else heard the story of the Bonny Lass and come after the doubloons, unknowing that we were beforehand with them? If so, must we do battle for our rights?
The boat shot in between the points and skimmed swiftly over the rippling surface of the cove, under the rhythmic strokes of half a dozen flashing oars. The rowers wore a trim white uniform, and in the stern a tall figure, likewise whiteclad, turned toward us a dark face under a pith helmet.
As the oarsmen drove the boat upon the beach the man in the stern sprang agilely ashore. Dugald Shaw stepped forward, and the stranger approached, doffing his helmet courteously.
“You are the American and English party who landed here some weeks ago from the Rufus Smith?”
His English was easy and correct, though spoken with a pronounced Spanish accent. His dark, high-featured face was the face of a Spaniard. And his grace was the grace of a Spaniard, as he bowed sweepingly and handed Mr. Shaw a card.
“Señor Don Enrique Gonzales,” said Dugald, bowing in his stiff-necked fashion, “I am very happy to meet you. But as you represent His Excellency the President of the Republic of Santa Marina I suppose you come on business, Señor Gonzales?”
“Precisely. I am enchanted that you apprehend the fact without the tiresomeness of explanations. For business is a cold, usually a disagreeable affair, is it not so? That being the case, let us get it over.”
“First, do us the honor to be seated, Señor Gonzales.”
Comfortably bestowed in a camp-chair in the shade, the Spaniard resumed:
“My friend, this island belongs, as of course you are aware, to the republic of which I have the honor to be a citizen. All rights and privileges, such as harvesting the copra crop, are strictly conserved by the republic. All persons desiring such are required to negotiate with the Minister of State of the Republic. And how much more, when it is a question of treasure—of a very large treasure, Señor.”
To be concluded