ARTHUR HUNT CHUTE’S
Gold lust, mystery, headlong adventure; a tender, human love story—all these are to be found in
SPROTT GABEREAU was rich because he was contented, contented because he was rich. But, as you shall see, his contentment, priceless beyond rubies, was evanescent as morning mist.
With the sealing fleets of the Southern Ocean he had amassed a tidy fortune, tidy as fortunes go in Nova Scotia, and was able to say ‘Thank God, I can afford to pay for my desires.’
His home, situated at the end of a long street of silver poplars, was built in the style of Normandy, with high gables, white-washed walls, massive shutters, and little dormer windows peeking out amid the apple blossoms in the spring-time. The venerable house had belonged to sire and grandsire from those brave days when Louisburg was the Dunkirk of America.
There was a mile-long street athwart the town, grass grown and shaded, a street of sylvan solitude, listening ever to the muffled note of breakers. Though out of sight
of the blue vista, this mile-long street was ever sighing back to its crooning mother. A place of stirring past, of sleeping present, of quaint beauty, of quiet charm— Arichat with its song of the sea.
Captain Gabereau referred to this haven in his native tongue as, ‘un refuge, sur.’ Here, behind the protecting heads, Acadian folk had found indeed a sure refuge, from storms of persecution, from storms of the outer ocean.
To step ashore in Arichat was to step back a century in time. A few miles of sea channel had been a wall against the changing years. Nova Scotia, on the mainland, belonged tc. the modern world. Isle Madame, with its little town, sebthere like some pearl of price, belonged to the old world and to the long ago.
Coming'in from sea, one saw first Jerseyman’s Island with its fi h stations bearing the names of the Huguenots. High and ,’fted up above the port the twin spires of the cathedral vere set to watch departing mariners like Notre Dame de la Guarde. Along the wharves one heard strange speech reminiscent of the voyagers of Saint Malo.
In the evenings, when the pretty girls came out, one caught a glimpse of Norman caps and kirtles.
Here, the old spiritual kingdom had not yet departed. Fishermen bound to seaward in the mornings were haunted by the call for matins. Those that stood in for the foreland in evening fog tuned their ear not merely for the bell-buoy, but for the angelus coming faintly from Our Lady on the hill.
CPROTT GABEREAU ^ was born at Arichat fifty years before. The
tensely powerful serial
town had always seemed to him like a little bit of heaven— his life had known much of the other extreme. He sprang from a race of Acadian peasants, for nigh two centuries racy of the same soil, the kind that put down their roots like the mighty oak. Change was utterly foreign to their nature. At least, this was true until the generation to which the ubiquitous Sprott belonged. His was a sort of vagabondism in the blood.
Speaking of master mariners, we encounter something truly epic when we behold Captain Gabereau fitting out his little schooner at Arichat for sealing expeditions that were to take him to the farthest seas. The Falklands, South Georgia, the Crozets, Vancouver Island, the Behring Sea, the Japan Grounds, all were alike to him.
Neither law of God nor man could hold him back when there was prospect of large gain. For poaching on the Russian sealing preserve he had done time in the salt mines of Siberia. But his indomitable spirit, which could bluff the Horn in a tiny schooner, was not the kind to quail before the Russian guard.
After eleven months in the mines, his chain mate died.
Tearing off the bonds binding him to the dead man, he began a terrific journey which old sealers still point to as a supreme example of endurance.
Back in Frisco, he rejoined his vessel. Dreading a repetition of their skipper’s awful experiences, all hands were for putting back. But Sprott was not the kind to traverse two oceans for nothing. Straightway, he set out for the forbidden ground, and after chucking the devil under the chin, came back with a priceless cargo of skins, preaching as always from his favorite text; ‘The bold man seldom gets hurt.’
It was all in the day’s work for Sprott to watch the Nova Scotian shores go down astern, and sight nothing again until he picked up the high coast of Staten Land in the boisterous regions of the Horn.
Hunting for South Sea seals, he would circumnavigate the globe, in the high south latitudes, spending months on end in lonely, desolate seas, frequenting Antarctic coasts, uncharted, unexplored.
Whether lost in wintry blizzards of the roaring forties, or in the sure refuge of his native isle, always and everywhere, he was self contained, and self sustained; a calm, steadfast, and enduring man, gracing with Drake and Cook the name of Navigator.
The South China Herald of Hong Kong once referred to Sprott Gabereau as, ‘the most outstanding figure in the seal fisheries of four oceans.’ With his day’s work done, with rovings ended, little did he think that all this was
mere training, as it were, for quest of the treasure at the end of the world.
/^ABEREAU sighed with satisfaction as he listened to the evening benediction sounding from the twin spires on the hill. There was something heartsome in the sight of his high chimney sending up its smoke like incense in the gloaming.
The garden where he sat was full of pleasant odor, of honeysuckle, of thyme, of lilac, blending with the farther aroma of sweect lover.
For a passer by, the swinging gate opened welcomingly. The stranger who had landed that afternoon in the mail boat stood for a moment irresolute, gazing through the mass of bloom at the house beyond. He who was to be the destroyer of the peace of this quiet home did not enter, but stood for a moment to spy out the land, and then, having satisfied a momentary interest, he passed on toward the village.
Captain Gabereau heard him pause, and, though he could not see, bent to listen as those footsteps rang out with something of strange challenge, conveying a quick, aggressive movement that sounded alien to the leisurely genius of this place.
Night came down quietly over the port. Breezes from the outer harbor whispered in the tree tops, lights began to twinkle up and down the mile long street. The note of wheeling sea-birds answered to the curlew’s call. Whatever of strife or turmoil there might be upon this earth seemed far away, remote and distant as though Isle Madame itself were some serene untroubled star. Even the passage of time was unnoticed by Gabereau as he sat in that fathomless tranquility.
Almost before he knew it, closing hour had come, and Yvonne tripping blithely along with Paul, her sweetheart. There was the accustomed parting at the gal ), whispers, caresses, and fond sighs, indicative alike of mating birds and mating lovers. Then, after many murrjurs, at last the fond good bye, and with a rush, Yvonne name toward the Captain’s chair, flinging her arms arou’ ,d him from behind.
“Hey, there, blinding me, so’s I can’t se^ your sweetheart, eh?”
The girl danced away tingling with suppressed excite-
GABEREAU did not sleep soundly. After he had kissed Yvonne good night there were strange presentiments that came to ward off slumber.
Yvonne, his adopted daughter, knew nothing of her kith or kin. As a baby girl she had been rescued from an abandoned lifeboat in those lonely and desolate seas somewhere below the fifties south. Captain Gabereau, in his sealing schooner rounding the Horn from the Behring Sea, had overhauled a bobbing craft in which he found a dead mother, and a child still living.
Along with the rescued babe, he had taken from the lifeboat a black chart-case, of japanned metal, which bore a crown stamped upon its upper face. This crown was instantaneously recognized as the mark that Andrea Ferrara, a Spanish swordsmith had once graven upon Scottish broadswords of peculiar excellence.
The meaning of that embossed Ferrara crown put Gabereau into a fever of excitement. Here was a clew from him who had raped the richest cathedral treasures of the south. The skipper and Dirk Dugas, his mate, sworn to secrecy, opened the case together. The cover had rusted on with sea water, and required prodigious tusselling back and forth before the top finally loosened and came away. At the sudden opening, there tumbled out a lone Spanish gold coin, and another chart case hermetically sealed together with a parchment communication. Skipper and mate bent over and examined the coin, as they gazed upon its yellow gleam, an answering light came into their own hard faces. This doubloon was a rare appetizer.
The parchment had been rolled like a chart, and tied with a silk string. At first touch, the rotted string burst open. Both were greatly surprised as they unrolled the parchment, the sheet was so large as to indicate a long
ment. A darK eyed blonde. Who could mistake such rare distinction? Eyes of night, contrasted by hair of golden flax.
Beside the rough uncouthness of the skipper, she appeared delectable and dainty as some bandbox beauty. There was about her a strange blending of weaknessandof strength, a blending of the clinging vine and the mountain ash, suggestive of a girl who could lean upon a man abjectly helpless, and who, upon occasion, could stand entirely on her own.
She came to Gabereau, as to her father, and yet, there was a reticence about her, a sort of high-born reserve that made the rough old sea dog instinctively aware of something better.
“And what’s the news tonight, my pretty?”
Yvonne drew back, aglow with imminent expectancy. Holding her hands behind her, she exclaimed: “Guess what I’ve got here, Old Snookums?” “Laces?”
“You’d never, never guess.” “All right, I’ll give it up, then. Let’s see?”
The girl disclosed her hand, and there in the open palm lay a Spanish gold coin.
The eyes of Sprott Gabereau narrowed sharply. There was a quick intake of the breath.
“Where did you get that, girlie?”
“From a dark-looking man with a pointed beard who came into the store to-night to buy supplies.”
The calm and steadfast mariner who couldgaze imperturbably at the eye of a hurricane was visibly moved. Taking the coin from the girl’s outstretched palm, he gazed rapturously upon its gleam of gold, while from within he felt the surging of long dormant passion.
In that moment, Sprott Gabereau was suddenly poor, because he was discontented; he was discontented because he was poor.
communication, giving all instructions, with perhaps some personal expressions of the pirate.
Instead of drawn out detail, the whole message was written in India ink with a quill pen, in pithy conciseness, it read:
‘This inner chart case, bearing with it a curse, was sealed with the sign of the cross by a dead hand. If any but the rightful one shall break this seal, ruin and misery shall be his portion.’ (Signed) Andrea Ferrara.
Under the name, was the famous seal of the Spanish crown.
Gabereau was a stolid, unimaginative person, but holding that inner chart case, in that moment, a cold clammy fear took hold of him, as though a dead hand of the long ago was raised in warning against him.
Greatly to the disgust of mate Dugas, the skipper, respecting this presentiment, refused for the time being to break the seal.
Thus had begun that chapter of calamities which, from the coming of the black case, dogged the sealing schooner like fell death. Driving before the Westerlies, they had crashed in fog upon a hidden berg, and found themselves embayed completely in the ice. Limping out of that deathtrap, in extremis, finally they were towed into Punta Arenas by a Chilian cruiser.
In that town at the end of the world, where it never does to inquire into one’s past, Gabereau entered upon a ■chapter of murder and intrigue, all centreing around his ■unopened clue to the Ferrara treasure.
Bold as a lion, he held his own against the worst, and SfinaUy in spite of assassins and cut-throats, effected his repairs, and got away to sea. But, before he was out of ’the Straits of Magellan, Dugas had inflamed the crew to mutiny, so reluctant were all hands to turn their backs upon the hoped for treasure.
Hitting fast and hard, the masterful skipper had stifled the first flames of revolt, then, and as an awful warning, he had placed the recalcitrant mate in an open boat and
left him bobbing about helplessly, without oars, on trackless ocean.
“That’ll teach ye to start yer shines aboard my vessel,” was the captain’s parting shot.
To which the raging mate replied: “I’ll get you, Sprott Gabereau! I’ll get you, yet, even if I have to come up from the cellar o’ hell.”
Gabereau’s answer was a taunting laugh, while his vessel held to her homing course.
A/f ANY times, on that northward passage, he had fondly fingered the mysterious chart case, promising himself that once ashore he would brave the curse, and break the seal. Then, with a new vessel, and a trusty crew, he would sail away again and claim that vast pirate hoard, greater even than that of Captain Kidd— for was not Ferrara in his day reputed the richest man in the Americas?
Gabereau remembered having heard his grandsire tell across the fire: ‘Why, the jewels alone, packed in nineteen boxes, were worth $517,000. But that isn’t half of it. There are precious stones, and specie, and silver bullion, and gold, and ivory, the finest possessions of some of the grandest cathedrals of South America.’
But always, after these glowing pictures, would come that cold and clammy dread, so that the rest of the voyage for Gabereau was an amazing mixture of exaltation and depression.
There was nothing psychical or metaphysical in the make-up of this sealing skipper. The appeal to reason with him had always taken the form of ‘a kick in the slats’ or a ‘sock in the jaw’. Fists and feet were the only persuaders with which he was acquainted. Argument was something which his forthright, downright nature could not abide. But in spite of a breast-plate of triple armour, from the moment that he came by this grim possession, he found himself the prey of fear and dread.
‘This thing will do ye no good, throw it overboard,’ one voice would adjure.
Then, another voice would caution, ‘Hold fast! Hold fast! Do not let this secret go.’
So, he who was as bold as a lion and utterly fearless began to find in the unseen a dread that he had never known in the fury of the Horn. But in spite of doubts and fears, the avarice of the man, deepest instinct of his nature, saw to it that he kept this mysterious case.
On Christmas eve, in sight of the lights of home, while her skipper was filled with dreams of far treasure, the Santa Anna, driving before the wind, with everything lugged on, crashed into a sunken derelict, and foundered by the head before a single boat could be manned.
Over the reefs of Petit de Grat, where the North Atlantic retched and thundered, on a piece of broken wreckage Sprott Gabereau had been swept into a sandy cove, as into a cradle of sheltering love. With him out of the angry sea he had brought the babe Yvonne, and the chart case, the clue to the forbidden treasure.
DACK in Arichat, when Gabereau confessed perplexity to Monsieur le Cure, there had been nothing equivocal in that good man’s advice.
‘Throw it away, nothing good will ever come of it.’ Conscience told Gabereau that he should heed this word, but still he hesitated, for conscience was never strong in his matter-of-fact make up.
‘Nay, I care not what Monsieur le Cure says, that black case belongs to Yvonne. I will keep it for her.’
With this, he had hidden the source of perplexity, out of sight, and out of remembrance, in a secret drawer at the bottom of an old camphor-wood sea chest. Perhaps it would not have come to his mind to-night but for the
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sight of that gold coin which Yvonne had thrust under his eyes. This glimpse has awakened a past, not dead, merely slumbering.
To think of Yvonne was to think of gold. She carried with her the lure of fortune. He had but to glimpse the doubloon held out in her pretty hand, and the call of treasure was sounding in his veins. He told himself that he could be content with what he had, but he could not be content when he thought of her, a daughter of Old France ordained for purple and fine linen. The simple folk of Arichat could do quite well with the product of their carding and their spinning, but Yvonne was made for something better.
Pretending to himself that he was thinking only of the girl, Gabereau got out of bed, and taking up the golden coin, from the mantel, he stood in the moonlight gazing upon its yellow sheen.
Visions of wealth began to crowd upon him, as he stood there in the mystic shadows; the room became for him, indeed, a place for enkindling visions.
He looked out of the window at plowed fields, at snake fences, at forest clearings, everywhere evidences of labor incessant. The toil of generations had claimed this land in the beginning, and the toil of generations had been ceaselessly required to hold it for a pittance.
“No one ever got rich on the soil in Arichat,” complained Gabereau, bitterly.
His thought went to sire, and grandsire, who had spent their lives for those plowed fields, and who had finally gone to the churchyard, leaving naught but the eternal challenge of the soil.
Then, his eye turned toward Jerseyman’s Island, toward the fish curing stations, and toward the sea, which Monsieur le Cure styled ‘The Blessed Mary’s Treasury.’
At Michaelmas, they had a sermon of thanksgiving, for the fishermen on account of the wealth which they had taken from the fisheries.
Gazing at the gleam of Spanish gold, Sprott Gabereau experienced a revulsion at this talk of ‘wealth.’
“Call it wealth,” he muttered. “Why our fisher folk are chain-gang slaves, worse than them that toil in salt-mines.
“What do the poor fools get for all their toiling; the father builds a vessel, and thereby dooms his sons forevermore to be groundhogs of the sea.
“Who ever got rich at the farming? Who ever got rich at the fishing?
“Aye, it’s a poor, poor country, and what’s more they are all poor, poor people,” said Sprott bitterly. “And what have I got to show for the years of toil put into this hillside? Nothing more than my fathers. They were fools, but I was a bigger fool, for I knew better.”
Gazing fondly at the doubloon, there came to him a flood of new desires. With the touch of gold he was conscious, suddenly, of those unnumbered goodthings which Arichat,aquaint, impoverished seaport, could never offer.
As he was placing the coin back again upon the mantel, his eye caught a text hanging above, a text which had hung in the house ever since the first Gabereau carved out the joists of their dwelling from the forest primeval:
SUCCESS TO THE FISHERIES AND
SPEED THE PLOW
The sight of this text in his present mood threw Sprott Gabereau into a sudden fury; it seemed to hang there for the express purpose of flaunting him.
Ripping down the old frame from above the mantel, he flung it out of the window with an oath. Then, returning to his bed tried to sleep, but, somehow, rest and composure would not come.
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At length, moved by curiosity, he arose, lifted the heavy cover of the old sea chest, and there, in its secret drawer, was the case of japanned metal just as it had appeared on that morning when he took it from the dead grasp of Yvonne’s mother.
Gabereau was not given to nervous apprehension, but a shiver ran through him, as his hand closed upon the cold metal. At that same moment, afar in the night, there came a long-drawn cry. He started ominously.
“God be with us, what’s that?”
Then, as the cry sounded again, he recovered his composure.
“Only a heron flying low over the marshes. I seem to be getting into a bad state. The trouble is, every little thing seems to have an unhallowed meaning, when one gets hold of this accursed case.”
Like one who steeled himself for some desperate deed, Gabereau advanced to strike a light; the moon was waning and it was growing dark. While he was still fumbling for a match, there came an unmistakable footfall on the gravel pathway.
Once again, high tensed nerves went taut while his heart seemed to sound against his very eardrums.
But, in spite of apprehension, his presence of mind did not forsake him. Placing the black case back in its secret drawer, he went stealthily down the stairs, and stole out into the night.
He was prepared to meet the most desperate assault, as he issued forth, but was not prepared to hear the voice of Yvonne from her dormer window, whispering love messages to Paul.
He came up to his bedroom again mumbling great oaths that had not done service since his days in the sealing fleet.
“God only knows what I’m cornin’ to. A pretty kettle o’ fish it is, when a man can’t get out o' his own honest bed without jumping at every slightest whisper. Sure, the heron’s cry was as good as a murder, an’ them two sweethearts, God bless ’em, wereworsethan a mutiny.”
Taking out a bottle of rum, he helped himself to a stout jorum, and then returned to his bed. But something would not let him sleep; perhaps it was the rum, perhaps it was the pictures awakened by the gold coin, perhaps it was the fever of excitement into which he had thrown himself by withdrawing the black case.
At all events, he fell to thinking on the fact that he had never been able to lay his hand upon that accursed case without alarming sensations within. It had been so twenty years before. It was so tonight. As if the spirit of the dead was still on sentinel duty there, to guard momentous secrets.
The more Gabereau thought about it, the more resentful he got of his own fears.
The thoughts of the gold coin, and the awakening fires of avarice werecausinghim to put his nervous apprehensions to one side, and to view the whole thing calmly and dispassionately, when the chimes of the cathedral began to sound for midnight
/^ABEREAU’S ears were strained for the last stroke when somewhere down the village street they caught the same nervous apprehensive footsteps that had awakened his interest early in the evening.
Something told him that the swift walking stranger was coming to his own house, and in the nextinstant.sureenough, the gate opened, and there was the crunch of gravel on the garden pathway.
Before the untimely arrival had time to knock, Gabereau threw up his window, calling:
“Hi, what d’ye want down there?”
“To see Captain Gabereau.”
“A pretty time o’ night for a stranger to be making calls. Go on, I’ll see ye tomorrow.”
“No, I can’t wait, it’s got to be tonight.”
“And what’s yer errand.”
“You must come down to find that out.”
“But, what if I won’t. No decent folk ever come calling at Arichat at this ungodly hour.”
“I can’t hold myself to customs in the back o’ beyond,” said the stranger, dryly. “You’ve travelled around too much in your day, captain, to stand on ceremony. I’ve got something important, that ought to be enough.”
“All right, wait a minute, and I’ll be there,” growled the Captain.
A moment later he descended the stairs, fastening his trousers as he came.
Lighting the lamp in the hallway, the great iron bolt was thrown back, the door flung open, and the captain stood there on the threshold, peering out into impenetrable gloom. While he stood thus, against all expectation, a strong arm suddenly shot out of the darkness and sent him reeling down the doorstep onto the pathway below. In a twinkling, the stranger, who had been standing without, had jumped inside and banged and bolted the door in the captain’s face.
AT FIRST Gabereau was too dazed to C*take in what had happened. As he picked himself up, it dawned upon him that his house had been entered by some unknown and dangerous stranger, that he himself was virtually a prisoner, outside his own door.
At thought of the black case within, he was filled with sudden panic. As long as he held that secret in safety, its spell remained quiescent, but now that it might be snatched away, horror seized hold upon him.
That black case never seemed so desirable as now, just beyond his grasp.
With a bellow of rage, he rushed against the door, crashing into it with might and main. But the stout oak and the heavy bolt were made to withstand just such assault, and his frantic efforts were expended in vain.
In that moment of hesitating impotence, to add to his agony there came a scream from Yvonne’s window, which spluttered out as though someone had just bound and gagged her.
Turning from the impassable door, Gabereau next essayed the windows, but every one was closed with a heavy shutter secured from within. The lower floor of his home was indeed in fit condition to stand seige, like some feudal stronghold. It was the custom of the sealing skippers after a long and successful voyage often to bring much wealth into the house for safekeeping, hence all entrances were doubly fortified.
Cursing the defences which so effectively barred him out of his own domain, he went from shutter to shutter, pounding and tearing until his hands were in a frightful state, with torn finger nails and bleeding knuckles.
The mere thought of losing that black case plunged him into such frantic fear that the power of calm reasoning seemed utterly to have forsaken him, with the result that he kept up his futile attacks on doors and windows until nigh exhausted.
Finally, withdrawing for a moment, panting and spent, a faint glimmering of reason began to assert itself.
“This thing is making a fool of me,” he muttered. “I must be steady.”
With a calmer consideration came the idea of forcing an entrance by one of the upper windows. No sooner was the idea in mind, than he was off to the barn.
He was back in a jiffy, and placing the ladder against Yvonne’s open window, when he heard a stealthy footstep behind him on the gravel.
Whirling about, the skipper found himself face to face with a black-looking creature, who on first sight appeared almost gigantic. There in the moonlight, by his copper-colored skin, painted face, black hair close upon the forehead, brilliant eyes, and massive brawn, Gabereau recognized him as a Yhagan Indian, an Antarctic Highlander, from the region
of Cape Horn. He was almost bare to the cold night winds, but that autumn air was a mere summer kiss to one accustomed to pass shelterless and naked in a land pf fierce and freezing storms.
The captain was a six foot heavyweight, a giant among his own race, but this Yhagan was fully a head taller, with a physical development like one of the sons of Anak.
His countenance at first glance seemed stupid, but, on closer inspection, Gabereau caught a gleam of low cunning, that flashed through the dull mask. The face darker than that of a Canadian Indian, was painted and bedaubed, a broad line of red alternating with a stripe of black.
He spoke in a heavy, deep voice, with guttural tones. “Yo’ waitee ’ere, Miser.”
Gabereau’s answer was to stoop down and hurl a heavy rock at the savage’s head, but, for all his great size, he was agile as a panther. Ducking, so that the missile just glanced across his shoulder, he sprang upon the retreating skipper, who fought furiously. But the odds were altogether too great.
“Yo waitee ’ere, Miser. Yo no movee, see?”
With this injunction, he proceeded to tie Gabereau securely hand and foot against the ladder, splaying his arms and legs, and chuckling to himself, with a merry contagious laugh, at the trick which he was playing upon the white man.
When, at last, the skipper was effectively secured, the Yhagan vanished as mysteriously as he had come, leaving the spread-eagled skipper to his own devices. For some time he struggled to break the thongs, but the binding was too secure, and finally he gave it up as hopeless.
Later, there came footsteps, as of someone departing through the back entry, hushed comings and goings, and then once more the abandoned silence of the outer darkness.
All through that awful night Gabereau remained there a prisoner, lashed to a ladder outside his own home. His physical discomfiture was excruciating; as the hours dragged on, the cruel torture of the thongs increased, but this was nothing to the mental agony which he endured as he told himself that every hour his enemy would be getting farther and farther away with the black chart case, with its promise of wealth untold.
Again, and again, he lamented that he had not long before opened up the secret of the black case.
“It’s the great, grand fool I was,” he told himself. “Ye never appreciate what ye have till someone comes to snatch it from ye.”
Just after dawn, his nephew, Paul, came up to do some early chores around the place. Great was his consternation to find this unexpected prisoner.
When Paul had cast off the thongs, the skipper lost no time in doubling round to the rear, where, as he expected, the door was still standing open.
Not waiting to give any explanation to his astounded nephew, the skipper rushed straight into the house.
“Whew! they sure have made one frightful hurrah’s nest out of this place,” he muttered.
All the lower rooms were in disorder, but, for some mysterious reason, his own bedroom appeared undisturbed.
With feverish apprehension, Gabereau went straight to the secret drawer which the Chinese craftsman had so cunningly concealed. He hardly dared to open it. Holding his breath in dread lest the worst should have happened, he pulled it out, and there against all expectation, he found the inner case, safe as ever. He was just starting to breathe a sigh of relief, when Paul suddenly rushed in, his strong face tensed with horror.
Just then at peace with the world, Gabereau beamed upon him.
“Weil, what’s up, young feller?”
. “My God, Uncle Sprott, Yvonne is gone!”
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IN THAT soul-revealing moment, Sprott -*■ Gabereau knew that the black chart case, this mysterious possession had indeed become more precious to him than his little Yvonne. As long as he retained the clue to the Ferrara treasure, nothing mattered, nothing else could matter. He received the news of the girl’s disappearance with philosophic calm. But Paul, on the other hand, was almost beside himself in frantic fear.
“We must give a ge lcral alarm, Uncle Sprott, and get the whole town out in search of her.”
“We’ll do no such thing.”
“But we can’t merely trust to ourselves.”
“We must trust to ourselves. Not a word of this can be noised about the village.”
“Why?” Paul was aghast.
“Because there are matters at stake in this affair, Paul, far beyond your ken.”
“I don’t understand. Nothing in the world can be more important to me than my Yvonne. If we do not know where she is, everything should be put to one side until we find her.”
“Not so fast, not so fast, my lad Your love has made you too impetuous. I shall not leave a stone unturned in helping to find her. But the matter must be kept strictly between ourselves. I can’t tell you just what is behind this thing. It will suffice to let you know that there are matters at stake in this affair far beyond the personal considerations of you or me, or anyone else.”
“But let us be going, then. While we wait here dear knows where they have taken my sweetheart.”
“They can’t snatch her off Isle Madame without our knowing it. So just keep calm, and make haste slowly.”
“What course would you suggest?” “Simple enough! Whoever they are, if they try to get away with her, they must go either by the mail boat, or aboard one of them coasters lying in the harbor. We’ll take a dory first and go out and see that they ain’t aboard any 0’ them vessels in the stream.”
“All right then, hurry, hurry,” admonished Paul, as he started to lead the way.
But Gabereau still hung back, looking for a place in which to hide the secret case, dreading lest someone might come and rob him, during his absence.
While he was still temporizing, there came a ripple of bell-like laughter from the garden, and in another moment, Yvonne herself burst in upon them, fully dressed, and flushed from a walk in the brisk morning air, looking none the worse for her misadventure of the previous night.
At the girl’s unexpected appearance, Paul rushed forward, clasping her in his arms, smothering her with caresses, fondling her wavy golden hair, revelling in the flashes of deep love which her eyes gave back to him.”
“Oh, darling, darling, I was nearly crazy when I found that you were gone. I can’t tell you how glad I am that you’ve come back.”
“I couldn’t leave my own dear Paul,” she answered simply, pledging her words with a rapturous kiss.
With a love that believed, and trusted Paul had no doubts, no questions.
But his uncle was different. As soon as the lovers had broken away, he let out a snort of rage, exclaiming.
“That’s nice actions. Are ye a man, Paul Gabereau, or are ye just a softie, and a village bumpkin?”
Paul turned upon his accuser in amazement, while he continued, “Why don’t ye ask her where she’s been?”
“I believe in her, always.”
“Umph! It’s more than I do. Never seen the woman yet I’d trust to midnight prowlings. This thing looks mighty funny.”
"Well I’d believe in my little Yvonne, whatever happened,” said Paul, with his
arm around her, his every attitude expressive of completest trust and faith.
Disgusted by his nephew’s attitude, and still harboring doubts, Gabereau demanded of the girl point blank. “Where were you, anyway?”
Looking him squarely in the eye, she answered, “I can’t tell you, Uncle Sprott.” “Can’t tell me,” thundered the other. “No.”
“Well, things are coming to a pretty pass when a young lass can go out in the middle of the night with robbers who break into my house, and then come back in the morning, and bleat out; ‘I can’t tell you’. Where were you, anyway, and who was it that you went off with.”
This time the girl merely shook her head, while the old Skipper swore furiously, at his own inability to extract from her any slightest clue.
But the storm that came between them was of short duration, like a hard squall quickly past.
Detecting the stern look softening on the grim, hard face, Yvonne suddenly and impulsively threw herself upon him, exclaiming:
“Oh, you dear old Snookums, what made you say such dreadful things?”
As the skipper bowed over the black chart case, his face suddenly seemed to grow old and gray. With quick sympathy, ' Yvonne noticed it.
“I wasn’t the only one that went away,” she whispered.
While his eyes still questioned, she continued: “You know, if you ever love anything better than me, you old Snookums, your little Yvonne may be gone for
Tj'ROM the loiterers around the village store, Gabereau heard rumors next day that did much to disturb his peace of mind. A light had appeared inthehaunted house, the night before, and suspicious characters had been seen going thither, hiding their movements under cover of darkness.
The description of a tall, black looking fellow, with a pointed beard, at once made Gabereau think of Dirk Dugas, his treacherous mate. At the very thought of Dugas, a baleful shadow seemed to pass over the peaceful harbor, lying there in sunshine blue as an angel’s eye.
Punta Arenas, and Hell-holes on the other side of the world, might give asylum to this villain, but what was he doing breaking in upon the pure tranquility of Isle Madame? After so many years, why this intrusion? Why couldn’t he stay in his own place Why couldn’t he keep to his own pack?
The more Gabereau thought about it., the more enraged he became at the intrusion. He had sought out Arichat, as a sanctuary , as a place inviolate. He had come back here, above all, because of Yvonne, because of her he had settled down to the peace of this Acadian village. Peace, he told himself, was all he wanted, but what peace could remain if this knave had found him out?
From Baptiste Le Blanc, former cook of his sealing schooner, he heard a confirmation of that which he already feared.
Baptiste joined him on the road home, with the exclamation, “Hey, cappen, who d’ye s’pose I met las’ night?”
“Well, I’ll bet ye couldn’t guess if I gave a thousand chances. Dirk Dugas is back again.”
“How do you know?” Gabereau’s voice sounded with a sharp, irascible note.
“Because I seen him with me own eyes.”
“Where?” In spite of his usual self control, a feverish agitation had taken hold of Gabereau. Baptiste looked at him, amazed.
“I met him cornin’ down Main Street, saw him fair and square right under the light. Even before we met I was thinkin’ about him, perhaps because I heard his
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footsteps, them quick, sly, stealthy steps that always seems like Dugas.
“It was about a half hour after midnight; I’d been havin’ a few drinks with some o’ the boys on one o’ them rum runners from Saint Pierre, an’ if it hadn’t a bin fer seein’ him fair and square under the light, I would ’ave thought that it was just the booze that was makin’ me imagine things.
“First I heard them footsteps that always made me feel creepy like and next thing, with his slouch hat over his eyes, an his head down, Dugas goes by me, doin’ his best to keep from bein’ recognized. But there’s one ugly looking cuss that ye can’t do no mistakin’ of, whether ye meet him on the Barbary coast, or here right under the shadow of Our Lady.”
“What makes ye so sure?” continued the Captain, still hoping against hope, that Baptiste’s encounter had been the hallucination of a troubled brain.
In the next instant, he realized that this rumor was true beyond a peradventure.
From under his coat Baptiste drew forth the outer chart case. “I picked this thing up halfway toward your place. I knowed at once that it was the same black case that we’d taken off that lifeboat, down in the fifties South, and I knowed then that I wasn’t dreamin’ when I seen him go sneakin’ by me, in the shadow, with his hat pulled over his eyes.”
Gabereau saw in a flash, what had caused the intruder of the night before to ransack the lower part of the house, and then to leave his own room untouched. He had evidently mistaken the outer case for the object of his search, and had made off with it at once. Later, on the road, in his anxiety, he had opened the case to find that he had unwittingly been fooled, and in disgust had thrown the false clue into the gutter.
Gabereau adjured Baptiste to keep to himself what he knew about this matter.
“It will only make trouble in the town, so don’t say a word about it,” was his parting shot.
“Don’t worry, cappen, I won’t say a word,” he replied.
But this rare tid-bit was too good a piece of village gossip not to be shared with at least two or three boon companions, with the result that the whole town was soon agog with fabulous tales of the black case, of hints concerning far off treasure, and of dread yarns pertaining to Dirk Dugas, accounted dead, now ushered so strangely into their midst.
A still greater surprise was waiting for Sprott Gabereau, when he returned to his own home.
He had once said: ‘I never know what to expect next, when I’m up against Dirk Dugas.’
As though to bear out this saying, there was the sleek, and oily fellow waiting for him in his own parlor, as bland and calm as though his errand were the most commonplace occurrence.
Gabereau was thankful that Yvonne was out so that he could express himself freely.
“What the hell are ye doin’ here?”
“Ah, good morning, Captain Gabereau. You’re getting gray, I see, like all the rest of us. But, alas, you are no more polite than you used to be.”
“Polite, you’ll find out from the toe o’ my boot how polite I am. This is a white man’s home ye’re in now, no place here for dirty greasers. Why the devil can’t you stay where you belong?”
“I belong anywhere that’s on the trail of treasure, Captain. I’ve been searching for the Ferrara fortune all the way from Nome to Diego Ramirez. There isn’t a place on the North Pacific, or the South Pacific, where old Ferrara laid his keel, that I haven’t covered. Men who are following after a quest for years, my captain, are not turned aside easily, as you may imagine.”
“Well, what d’ye want to come dogging me for? What have I got to do with ye an’ yer cursed treasure?”
“Ye know that, captain, without asking.”
“And what do ye want of me, now?” “The same thing we wanted from you twenty years ago, at Punta Arenas.”
“But ye didn’t get it at Punta Arenas, and what’s more ye won’t get it in Arichat.”
“That remains to be seen.” The sleek, oily tone changed to sharp incisiveness.
“Are ye cornin’ up here to threaten me?”
“No, we’re up here to do something more than threaten. You got away last time with the case and your life. This time, you’ll give up one or the other, perhaps both.”
There was something of unexpected decisiveness in the speaker’s voice.
“You are talking pretty cocky, ain’t ye, Dirk Dugas?”
“Aye, an’ I got a reason to.”
“Cause, this time, I ain’t here fer myself. You and me both know, skipper, that there is a curse on the wrong man, if he breaks that seal.”
“And who’s the right one, pray?”
“Don Juan Ferrara, my Captain, when we next sail to find this treasure.”
“An’ who might he be?”
“The rightful heir of all this fortune.” “Ye mean, he hopes he is, but I’ll tell ■ ye, the heir to this fortune is the guy who holds its secret.”
“Well, we’ll have that secret, don’t you fret, Sprott Gabereau. Our schooner’s fittin’ out over there on the mainland in Canso, we’re supposed to be bound fer the sealin’ grounds o’ the Southern Ocean, but everybody knows our real destination is the Island, where Old Ferrara hid his treasure, and when we sail, we’re taking that there black chart case with us, as sealed orders."
“You are, eh!”
“Yes, because it’s ours, by right.” “Well, it’s mine by might,” thundered the skipper, rising in sudden fury, and you get out of this house, you dirty low down crawling snake, get out o’ here, and don’t let me ever see your face around again, fer if I do, I’ll turn yer head backwards so far, it’ll never look for’ard.”
Recognizing the ring of the man-master in that well remembered voice, the erstwhile mate made haste to go, while Gabereau sped the parting guest with a rousing lift from the toe of a heavy brogan.
T^VER since she had brought the gold coin home, that night, Yvonne had been fired by the excitement of the village. Paul, of less ebullient nature, answered her bubblings over with exclamations of distrust. It was Yvonne’s own idea to take her doubting lover up to hear the truth, from Monsieur le Cure. She felt sure that he at least would be able to give them something beyond the mere chaff and winnowings of gossip.
They found the good priest, after supper, seated in the rectory gàrden, gazing with reflective eye on a sunset sea that fringed the peace of their blessed isle. His face lighted up as he saw them enter the rectory gate. With grave dignity, he bade them welcome, motioning them into a seat, beneath the trees.
“Well, what is it, to-night, my children?”
“We have come, Father, to ask you to tell us about the Ferrara treasure.” “You’ve got the fever, eh!”
“No. We just wanted to hear about it.” “Well, I hope it will never be more than that, my dears.”
“It is a very fetching story, but at the same time, very dangerous for the peace of our parish.”
After lighting his pipe, and stretching his feet out on the seat before him, Monsieur le Cure took up the tale.
“You’ve both heard of the haunted house?”
“Oh, yes, back of the town, on top of the hill.”
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“Well, that place once belonged to a man named Andrea Ferrara, a descendant of the famous Spanish swordsmith, of the same name. Over a hundred years ago, this young fellow arrived in Arichat, apprenticed to one of the Jersey Companies. He remained here as a clerk for five years. Then, tiring of the humdrum life of the fishery stores, he finally broke away, and went to sea, where his decision of character quickly advanced him to the position of master.
“During the Revolutionary war of the thirteen colonies, with letters of marque from the British Government, he went forth to raid American shipping. His career as a privateer was tremendously remunerative.
“With the signing of the peace, he was still wedded to the life of the freebooter. As a man of sagacity and judgment, he was not the kind to run amuck against the Great Powers, so, with that discretion which always marked him, he transferred his operations from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific.
“Making his base on Desolation Island, he preyed successfully upon Spanish shipping for a score of years.
“From the time he sailed away from Arichat as a privateer, his home town knew him no more, until he came backincredibly wealthy and incredibly famous.
“Many rumors were current as to how he acquired his fabulous wealth. There is no doubt that a large part of it came from raping the cathedral treasures of South America, as no reverence for man nor God restrained his predatory expeditions.
“During his years of absence from here, his reputation as a blood-thirsty cutthroat and brigand had assumed terrible proportions. Great was the surprise of his fellow townsmen, when they beheld the retired pirate coming ashore with all the quiet, ascetic dignity of some old justice of the peace. Possessed of the courtly reticence of a Spanish Don, the very restraint of the man commanded respect from those who had been loudest in denunciation.
“Cutting off entirely from past associations, Ferrara set out to enjoy his illgotten gains. In his day, he was reputed to be the richest man in British America. With the feudal instinct in his blood, he started to build up a manorial estate on the finest situation in Isle Madame.
“He brought back here with him a wife, whom he married at Valparaiso. They had four boys born of their union; to them the elder Ferrara looked with pride as the future scions of a great house. A soaring ambition burning in his soul, backed up with his incredible riches, made it appear as though all things were possible.
“But there was a breakdown somewhere in his pompous schemings. Perhaps it was merely the caprice of chance. Perhaps it was because wealth which comes with evil brings evil. At all events, the retired pirate never got much pleasure out of all his gains.
“Morgan, the famous buccaneer of the Spanish Main, after an amazingly remunerative career, was able to wash his face to become a vestryman in the Church of England, a governor of Jamaica, and finally, in the fullness of time, was knighted by his Sovereign.
“Andrea Ferrara was wont to meditate on the career of friend Morgan, which began sulphurously and ended with the odor of sanctity. A career like this was exactly to his own taste, but the hand of fate was against him.
“He was always more or less ostracized by the upright people of our parish. As worthy servants of the soil, they were not
easily led away from an appreciation of clear and honest values. And so the man of incredible riches dwelt apart, more lonely and isolated ashore in his sumptuous home, than he had ever been afloat on his pirate craft.
“Sensitive, proud, high-spirited, he was stung to the quick by the social stigma which rested on him. This was his first disappointment. A still more bitter pill awaited him as his sons came to manhood, each striving to outdo the other in lechery and debauchery. The first son ran away with a chambermaid, the second flaunted the parish with a brazen strumpet, and the other two got so low that no amount of their father’s money could serve as whitewash. ,
“Finally, in utter shame and heartsickness, the old pirate ordered his vessel, the Carmencita, to be made ready for sea. Some of the good people of the community allowed that His Majesty’s cruisers should be warned of this sinister preparation. But the mayor expressed the general opinion when he said,
“ ‘Let him go. God knows, it’s the easiest and safest way of ridding the parish of his unwholesome brood.’
“The last incident before he sailed did much to soften the hearts of the people.
“On the day prior to embarkation, large cases filled with jewels and specie were carried down and stowed in the hold of the Carmencita. At this unexpected occurrence, the two worthless sons, who still remained, suddenly showed a spark of interest in their sire, and both alike came down to the vessel to plead for another chance.
“Andrea Ferrara listened to their pleadings with a supercilious smile on his Don-like face. He heard them through to the end, then, without a word, went into his cabin and came out again with a handful of gold coins.
“At sight of this, the faces of the sons brightened. But their hopes soon faded, for in the next instant, the father pitched the handful of precious coins over the taffrail and watched them sink into the sea.
“What a thing to do!” both sons exclaimed, aghast.
“Ignoring their shocked manner, Ferrara held out his empty hand.
“ ‘Where is the money I had?’
“ ‘It is gone.’
“ ‘ Y ou threw it away like a fool.’
“ ‘Aye, my sons, and that’s the way you have done with your opportunity.’
“ ‘But, just give us one more chance, father. Just one more chance,’ they plead.
“ ‘No, no, never again will I be responsible for such miserable and unworthy curs. The worst of my scoundrels and cut-throats afloat was the soul of honor compared to such as you. Not one more cent of the wealth Andrea Ferrara will pass on. At least, not unless you can pay the price. If you ever again get your hands on this gold of mine it will cost you as much to find it, as it did for your father to gain it.’
“That was the old pirate’s last word. Next day the Carmencita weighed anchor and sailed out through the Western Passage.”
When Monsieur le Cure had finished his story, Paul still sat there gazing steadfast and unmoved at the quiet night coming up out of the sea; for him it was merely a story. But not so for Yvonne. For her somewhere beyond the rim of that mysterous skyline, fancy was already beckoning.
“My, I wish I were a boy,” she sighed, half aloud, half to herself.
“Why in the world should you wish for
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such an unnatural thing as that?” inquired Monsieur le Cure.
“Because, then, I could go after the treasure,” she said, in an awed whisper.
“Tut, tut, you shouldn’t even mention such a thing, my dear!” chided the good priest. Notwithstanding the chiding, Yvonne went home to dream of just such quests.
npHE house of Andrea Ferrara, called ‘Domraney’, was situated a short distance outside of the town on a lonely stretch of road leading out to the back of the parish.
The house itself was built on a windy promontory overlooking the harbor and the outer sea. Time was when gardens smiled inside the great stone gates. When the lawns and grounds were kept with scrupulous care. But generations of disuse had given to the place an atmosphere of abandoned wretchedness.
The gates were broken down. The wooden picket fence had long since rotted. Grass and shrubs grew over the driveway, while the forest itself was slowly advancing, closing in again on what had once been a glorious landscape of lawns and gardens.
Children coming home from school used to commit themselves to acts of frightful hardihood by pausing to peek around the stone gate-posts, but a scream of excitement from someone always served to send the whole pack at full cry down the hill.
The children were not the only ones that held a horror of this place. Their elders and betters who had to pass there on windy darksome nights, felt a sudden tightening of the breath which did not relax again until they were well along the Marsh road.
Some were inclined to speak lightly of this, as an idle superstition. It was easy enough to ridicule unknown horrors in the safety of the town, but out on the lonely road after dark, listening to the thunder of a northern sea, it was quite another story.
‘Domraney’ had become a dead hand in a living present. Behind the town of Arichat it was a sepulchre for melancholy memories.
No blithesome smoke ever was seen curling from its chimneys, no ray of sunlight was ever permitted to steal through its fast closed shutters.
Baptiste Le Blanc, who had a forge down the Marsh Road, used to tell of hearing wailing voices from the place in the dead of night. Once, those cries had sounded so human that the hardy smith armed with his heavy sledge, had approached as far as the outer gateway. Then, something in the spirit of the forest answering back to the haunted house, caused him to drop his sledge and flee.
Telling about it afterwards by the glow of his own forge, Baptiste declared:
“Our Lady succor me, I seen old Andrea Ferarra himself. ’Twas him and no other walkin’ up and down in front o’ the drive, a wringin’ his hands, and wailing like some soul in purgatory.”
“Why didn’t ye take a swipe at him, Baptiste, wi’ yer sledge?” inquired one of the scornful.
“Go on try it yerself,” chided the smith, safe in his reputation as bravest of the brave.
Had it not been for the fabulous wealth of the old Arichat pirate, the haunted house doubtless would have been allowed to lapse into oblivion. But such is the resuscitative power of treasure, that the ghost of Andrea Ferrara renewed its youth with each succeeding generation.
Mothers told stories to the little ones about him, always with the warning.
“If you aren’t good children, Andrea Ferrara’ll get you.”
In Sunday sermons, in the church of Our Lady, Monsieur le Cure used to point to the deserted house as a horrible example of that which was the root of all evil.
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Ever since this place had been left like an open wound in the parish, there had been an especial meaning in the priest’s prayer to the Blessed Mary:
‘Oh, Holy Mother, we beseech of thee to keep us from the lust of wealth. Help us to set our minds and hearts upon thy treasury alone.’
But in spite of the warnings of loving mothers, in spite of exhortations of the man of God, there were -those in the parish whose minds were ever returning to the fascinating shadow of Andrea Ferrara as it hovered over the peace of that Acadian town.
There were tales that were told by the adventurous spirits, after dark across the firelight, of the treasure, of its possible hiding place, of its quest, and of its vast proportions, an amount large enough to make rich every man in the parish.
According to legend, Andrea Ferrara had sailed away to the Southward with his chests of gold. He was gone for two years, and then, one day, when the story of him had ceased to be the news of the village, he had come again, returning as a common passenger upon a coasting packet.
The rich pirate had at first landed with pomp and circumstance. He had come back again bowed, decrepit, penniless and forlorn.
Finding his way to the haunted house, he lived there until his death, five years later. Where there had formerly been servants and luxury in abundance, there followed penury and frugality.
The old man dwelt utterly alone, like his peasant sires, existing almost entirely on the product of the soil. On rare occasions, he would come into town to purchase necessities from the store of the fish company, always paying for the same with a coin of Spanish gold.
The good folk of the community had made up their minds that his treasure was buried at some inaccessible spot at the end of the seas, and were prepared to dismiss him as a primary interest, when suddenly the sight of his Spanish gold set the whole community agog.
From that time until his death he was never wanting in attention, but no word escaped him as to what he had done with his treasure.
His unworthy sons, who were all present at his death bed, saw his lips sealed forever without the slightest hint as to where they could find an answer to that question which had become to them the be-all and end-all of existence.
After Andrea Ferrara had been laid away in the hallowed ground under the shadow of Our Lady, the four sons sailed away each going his own direction, each sworn by a great oath to let the others know if he should find a clue to the hidden treasure.
Three generations had come and gone since then. Three generations had squandered their lives trying to find the lost fortune.
Just when Arichat was beginning to think of them as mythical figures, there came that Spanish Gold coin, brought in in exchange for supplies at the fisheries store.
And then, as though that gold coin itself had been a bugle call, there had come out of nowhere he who claimed to be the last heir of the Ferraras.
In the old days when ‘Domraney’ was in its prime, a light used to appear in the cupola atop the roof of the great house.
In the splendid era this light did not arouse attention, since the house was always a mass of illumination after dark. But when the old pirate returned to his self-inflicted asceticism, the shutters were closed and barred everywhere, except aloft there in that eeriespot, companioned by the wheeling gulls.
Up there it was rumored that Ferrara used to live with ghostsof bygone revelries. Every night when the rest of the house was darkened, that light would appear with such regularity that fishermen beating in toward the outer channel took from
it their bearing to guide them into harbor.
Why did Andrea Ferrara, so parsimonious in all else, squander oil so freely for that night-long vigil? What was the purpose of enkindling that star at twilight and keeping it bright until the cry of day?
Some said that still he had money hoarded away, and that he spent his nights counting it over, finding his only joy in this miserly devotion.
The appearance of a solitary gold doubloon from time to time at the fisheries store lent color to that tale.
Others, not wishing to impute iniquity, declared that he was troubled with remorse, and that he placed the light in the cupola as a guide for mariners beyond the Outer Head, doing this as a penance for the many noble ships which in earlier days he had lured to destruction by his false light on Desolation Island.
Whether for avarice or penance, that lamp in the cupola burned on as long as his flickering life remained. On his death bed he still sent his sons up to tend it. When at last he had gone to the churchyard, navigators of the outer channel in the night-time had reason to bemoan him, as they looked in vain for his vanished star.
And now, after all these years, the old gleam was appearing again in the haunted tower of ‘Domraney’.
Paul Gabereau, nephew of Captain Sprott, was the first to spy it. He had been out with a fishing boat on the middle ground, and late one evening, burst in upon the loafers at the store, exclaiming.
“My God, they’ve lit the light again up there on top o’ the haunted house.” “Go long,” chided Baptiste. “Ye’ve been drinkin’ whiskey blanc, Paul. You’ve been seein’ things, that’s what. Lucky you was inside early with a jag like that.” “All right, you can say I was drinkin’. I s’pose you was drinkin’, too, the night you left your sledge outside the gate and beat it for your missus.”
“No, sir. I wasn’t drinkin’ that night. I was sober as a judge.”
“Well, you wasn’t a bit more sober then than I am now, Baptiste. Come on out here an’ I’ll soon show ye.”
At this general invitation, all hands trooped out of the store exclaiming: “Yes, come along, might as well take a look.” “Ye’ll soon find out he’s drunk,” grunted the doubter, who, to show his superiority, remained behind alone, smoking his pipe, and mumbling to himself, “Pack 0’ fools, runnin’ after a crazy drunk.”
But, he was soon to learn the difference. A few moments later the crowd returned hushed and awed.
“What’s up?” inquired Baptiste.”
“It’s there, all right,” came back in chorus, “Ain’t no mistake about it.”
Still doubting, Baptiste went out to see for himself. What he saw prevented him from returning to the gossips round the friendly cracker-barrel. Instead, he went straight up the street to the home of his friend Gabereau, who, as usual, was seated alone in the garden, waiting for closing time, and Yvonne’s return.
“Hullo, Baptiste, what’s on your mind?”
“I come to tell ye, Skipper, that the light’s lit again up there in Ferrara’s cupola.”
Sprott was not slow of comprehension. Without a word of explanation, he entered the house and returned a few minutes later shoving a Webley service revolver into his hip.
“Just stay here, Baptiste, for a while, will ye?”
“But what d’ye want me to stay for, skipper?”
“So’s there’ll be someone with Yvonne, in case I don’t get back till late.”
“Wish that I was goin’ with ye.”
“Not this time, my friend. There’ll be plenty o’ chance yet. And tell Yvonne if she gets back before I do, that I had a business call and not to worry.”
To be Continued