A furious fight; the advent of a dashing Spanish Don; the stirring preparations for a wild adventure. Peaceful Arichat is a blaze of excitement
ARTHUR HUNT CHUTE
THE STORY SO FAR—Sprott Gabereau, erstwhile seal-poacher and rover of the South Seas, is living in comfortable retirement in the sleepy, Cape Breton village of Arichat, with his ward, Yvonne, whom as a babe he rescued from an open boat adrift at sea. For years, Gabereau jealously has guarded a black chart-case, found in the boat with Yvonne. This is stamped with the crown of Andrea F err ara. a Spanish swordsmiih, a descendant of whom is known to have raped the richest cathedral treasures of the South.
One day, Yvonne appears with an old Spanish gold coin which Gabereau believes to have come from ‘Domremey’, the ancient house in which the buccaneer, Ferrara, lived for years. With the spread of the news of the discovery of the coin, two unaccountable events occur. Yvonne disappears and Gabereau is attacked by a giant Indian, who has ransacked the lower rooms of the sealer’s house. Later, Gabereau discovers that the covering of the chart-case is missing. He learns also that his villainous mate of the old days, Dugas, has returned to Arichat. Undeterred by these events,Gabereau determines to search ‘Domremey’.
GABEREAU set out directly for the haunted house. Probably he was the only man in all that highly superstitious community that did not give a pinch of snuff for the unknown horrors that had been imputed to this spot.
He now went to church every Sunday, on Yvonne’s account. But the old-timers used to smile to see him there, remembering how he used to declare in his sealing days, ‘I’m afraid of neither God, Man or Saint Michael.’
Ideas of a God of vengeful justice, of haunting spirits, and returning ghosts of the wicked never bothered his bluff matter-of-fact existence.
In his earlier years, with blatant atheism, he had gloried in the chance to ridicule the superstitions of the simple folk of the town. Then something finer in his nature, awakened by the childlike faith of Yvonne, had taught him at least the outward show of reverence, but there was nothing but contempt in his heart for the haunted house legends that surrounded ‘Domremey’.
Swinging along, he soon came in sight of the cupola, and there, sure enough shining through the tree tops, was the light that had caused such terrific flutterings.
“The poor fools thinks that’s a ghost, eh? Well I know mighty well who that ghost is; what I want to know now is just what the tricky snake is doin’ up there. He’ll be up to no good, that’s sure.”
past the stone gate posts, Gabereau entered the overgrown lawn in front, where he had to walk warily to keep from tripping amid the dwarf spruce and lichen.
At the front door, he paused and listened. Not a sound, except the whispering pines and hemlocks. The house loomed before him like some mighty sepulchre; an emblem of death in the midst of a living forest.
With stealth, so as not to betray himself, he tried the great front door, but found it barred securely.
Coming around to the windows along the side, he grabbed hold of a rotten shutter, which at the first strong pull came away and fell at his feet with a loud crash. At this undue disturbance, he crouched in the shadow and waited, unaware of what guard Dugas might have on duty. But there was neither sight nor sound of anyone, and reassured, he sprang up to the window, this time testing thoroughly before trusting to his grip.
Letting himself down inside the haunted house, he found the place full of the stifling odor of disuse. Crawling warily over the rotting floors there came the sound of giant rats scurrying hither and yon. The rats were more real and startling to him in that moment than a regiment of ghosts, and when one of these ghoulish creatures ran
across his shoulders, he had his first yearning for the clear, outer air.
There was thick darkness everywhere, and his progress at best was groping and uncertain. On hands and knees, he worked his passage out into the hallway, where he waited for some time, listening attentively. Reassured by the absence of any movement, other than that of the rats, he lit a match as a guide toward the stairway.
The stairs were in such rickety condition that he did not dare to trust himself, without lighting a match to make sure at every step. Thus his progress upward was painfully slow.
Once, about midway up, the planking was so uncertain that he was prepared for an imminent plunge, but maneouvering as cautiously as though he were going aloft with frayed seizings on the ratlins, he came at last without mishap to the upper landing.
Above this was another narrower stairway, in better preservation, which brought him to the top story. Here as his supply of matches was giving out, he began to feel his way again.
At the end of a long hallway, impeded with lumber and broken furniture, he found a ladder leading to the cupola. With relief, he saw that the ladder was new and had been recently secured at top and bottom, by pieces of stout marlin.
Before committing himself to the last assault, the canny Gabereau made sure of his avenue for retreat. He was too well aware of the nature of his foe to leave the
rear line unexamined.
He found a window handy to the ladder andafter considerable pulling he succeeded in detaching the shutter, which he was hauling inside when the decayed wood crumbled in his hands, and away went the bulk of the heavy screen crashing down with an infinite clatter.
Almost instantaneously with the noise of the falling screen, he heard someone stirring above.
“That fixed it,” Gabereau muttered to himself as he crouched hastily behind a couple of old boxes.
There was a sudden lifting of the slide above, and as a yellow gleam appeared, he caught a glimpse 0 f Dirk Dugas climbing stealthily down the ladder.
In the hiding place behind the boxes Gabereau pulled out his gun and waited, but to his surprise, there was nothing suspicious in the movements of the fellow coming down the ladder; hedescended slowly, with utmost unconcern, and once on the floor, stood dimly outlined by the gleam from above. Turning on a flash light, he
made his way down the hall to some interior recess, where he disappeared
Gabereau strained his ears to listen, and then, just when curiosity was about to get the better of him, Dugas reappeared with a heavy bag upon his shoulder. Although a powerful man, he strained under the load.
Arriving back at the foot of the ladder, he dropped the bag upon the ground, at which something happened that put even the cool and stolid Gabereau into a state of wild excitement.
As the bag dropped, there came the clink of coins. There was no mistaking that note. It sounded in the straining ears of Gabereau with overwhelming power.
In that moment, a blind, unreasoning lust seized hold of him. The same burning fever that had been started by the sight of that piece of Spanish gold returned to him with a fury that was increased a thousandfold. Avarice was rooted in the very soul of Sprott Gabereau, and now he knew what it was to lust after gold, just as some men lust after women.
Seizing his heavy service revolver, he covered the unsuspecting Dugas as he stood, an irresistible target, fair under the gleam from the garret landing.
In that burning moment, all his being was consumed in blind, inchoate passion. Trembling with an excitement that one never would have dreamed of imputing to his stolid nature, he gazed pantingly across the sight of his gun.
IT WAS the clinking sound that caused Sprott Gabereau to stay his hand. There was hypnotic power in the jingle of coin to awaken undreamed ecstasies within his soul.
Here was wealth beyond imagining, a treasure vast and unlimited lying close to hand. At first glimpse of that bag he took it for granted that this was but one of unnumbered bags that made up the hidden fortune of Andrea Ferrara. Then, the thought flashed over him :
If Dugas had the whole of it here, why did he make such desperate attempts to steal from him the black case?
If he had the whole treasure, why was he so consumed in his desire to arrive at the sealed secret?
With such questions flashing upon his mind, the madness that had seized Sprott Gabereau passed like a March squall, and left him in the cool afterthought with his gun sagging impotently
“My God, what’s coming over me,” he mused, as he replaced his gun in his hip. “I’ll have to watch myself again, when I’m in a place like this.”
With hungry eyes he saw Dugas tie a stout rope to the precious load, and lift it, hand over hand, into the cupola.
Once the bag had jingled down safely on that upper floor, the trap door leading thither was closed, and Gabereau, straining his every sense, found himself again in darkness.
For some time he remained in his hiding place, attempting to collect his thoughts, and to view the whole affair calmly and with reason.
Obviously, Dirk Dugas was the one who had given out that Spanish coin, that came ultimately to his hands through Yvonne. Where that golden doubloon came from, there were hundreds, yea, thousands more.
As Sprott thought of this, his heartbeat quickened. A cold, calculating attitude was difficult indeed in sight of such untold reward. Already in his own mind, he was the possessor of this gold. Whatever obstacles might intervene were swept away in the imperious assumption of one great desire.
A faint sound of someone counting out money above called him back to action.
“Yes, he’s got the first lead on this fortune,” he muttered. “But I’ve got something more, or he wouldn’t be coming after me so strong to get my secret.”
“I’m going to see just what he’s doing up there. But I won’t start anything to-night, if I can help it.”
With this resolve he came out from his hiding place, and started to climb up the ladder to discover what might be passing in the place of the far-shining light.
When he had come to the top, with his head against the trap door, he paused and listened. From somewhere within sounded the clink, clink, clink pf counting out a steady stream of
coins. Below, everything in the haunted house was silent as the grave.
At last, committing himself to a decisive move, Gabereau put his shoulders under the trap door, and slowly lifted. As his head came through to the upper surface, he noticed with satisfaction that the entrance into the cupola was in the shape of an outer hallway, beyond which Dugas was now busily engaged.
Thanks to this fortunate arrangement, the invader was able to take up his station and spy on what was going on within, without being observed himself.
Leaving the trap open, he crawled on all fours toward a pencil of yellow light that came through a large crack in the doorway.
Up in the high turret, the wind was moaning dismally, while the place seemed to sway unsteadily like the foretop in a gale. But Gabereau now had ears and eyes for only one thing. Approaching the door stealthily, he knelt there, and putting his eye to the crack gazed with avid interest at what might be transpiring within.
The sight that met his eyes was one to thrill the soul of the coldest, hardest miser. There, at a long wooden table sat Dugas, engaged in the pleasant pastime of counting out a small mountain of golden coins. There were Spanish doubloons, French louis, English sovereigns and many others, which even the far-wandering Gabereau could not distinguish.
But he noted the fact that by far the greater number of coins that Dugas counted were a variety current in Spanish countries of South America. There was no doubt who had suffered most from the piratical fury of Andrea Ferrara.
Gabereau noticed that the old counting house table was fitted up with drawers, into which Dugas swept a small pile of gold as he completed this or that tally.
Over the long, broad table of mahogany, still well preserved, there hung the strangest contrivance, a combination of lantern and reading lamp, obviously from some princely Spanish galleon of the long ago. It was of Moorish design, of beaten brass, constructed in such
AT THE first alarm, Dugas, roused from his worshipful attitude, leaped into fighting preparedness. With a quick -
lunge of a stick, lying w ..
close to hand, he smashed the hanging lamp, plunging the room into inky darkness. Then, with a
vault across the table, he landed fair upon the intruder.
cunning manner that the light was shed abroad from the front window of the turret; while, at the same time, a sort of burnished brass reflector caused it to illuminate the broad surface of the counting house table beneath.
So this was the secret of the star that had guided mariners for so many years. It was lit primarily by a miser who was engaged at the sordid occupation of counting out his gold.
Dirk Dugas, as he sat at the table, was facing the door, so that he was in full view of Sprott Gabereau as he pressed up hard against the key-hole.
Like Gabereau, Dugas was obviously infected with the lust of gold. If there was naught else to be respected, here at least, he was face to face with that which stirred up his deepest veneration. In that moment, he might, indeed, have been a high-priest'performing some sacred rite, so reverently did he handle each golden coin.
Impressed by that same worshipful spirit, Sprott Gabereau clean forgot all else; he, too, had joined with heart and soul in the love feast, when without the slightest warning, the door against which he was leaning heavily, gave way precipitately, and the unsuspecting skipper, with all his two hundred and forty pounds, was plunged across the sacred threshold.
2Gabereau was aware of a pair of iron-shod boots that kicked his face and head and chest. Maddened by this unscrupulous attack, the leonine skipper fastened upon one of the kicking legs, and with a grunting heave, brought his foe crashing down in a heap beside him on the floor.
In their fall they upended the great mahogany table, and from its top, massed up piles of gold went pouring forth in a perfect flood of jangling metal.
At the feel of so much wealth, lapping up about them, both fighters were filled with a sudden mad intoxication In an instant, with the touch of gold, they had forgotten one another, forgotten their grudges, forgotten all else in one overmastering motive to grab the lion’s share of that treasure, spilled like much dust beneath their feet.
Working frantically with both hands, Dirk Dugas began to shovel the coins into his own corner, while Gabereau, catching the fever, started at once in equally frantic haste, to sweep back the greatest possible amount into his own section.
Both of them now struggled more arduously for the lion’s share than they had struggled for their lives. Their breath came in short panting gasps, the very pounding of their hearts seemed to be audible in that stifling lair.
Not a word passed between them, there was scarce a second’s pause for respite. Gabereau knew that every last one of those stray coins added to the toll of happiness; nothing else mattered, nothing else could matter.
Here was that for which men suffered cold and heat and storm and bitter seas. That for which they endured toil and drudgery unending.
Lack of this same gold had made his fathers, and his fathers’ fathers slaves and helots of the soil. Lack of gold
had caused him to brave the Horn, and to trespass on the sealing preserves of the farthest ocean. Lack of gold made it worth while to endure the salt mines of Siberia, made it worth while, when once free, to risk everything again on the same career of desperate chancing.
As in a lightning flash, Gabereau saw the entire past of his strenuous, far-faring life as one continual quest for gold.
And after all the struggle, all the sacrifice, what had he gained? How much had his lifetime of effort yielded him? Not a tithe of the wealth that lay in an inert mass beneath his feet.
Yea, here was a chance that gathered up into a breathless moment all the possibilities of many lifetimes! Here was such a chance as one had never had before, such a chance as one wquld never have again!
He could not fathom what was passing in the mind of his opponent; he only knew that Dugas was also working like the furies.
At first there seemed to be plenty to keep both occupied, and then, as the piles grew larger behind, and more attenuated before, the spirit of emulation and cupidity was engendered.
Gabereau’s hand closed upon a stray coin after which Dugas was also fumbling in the dark, and he was greeted with a sullen snarl:
“Keep yer hands off o’ my stuff, will ye.”
“Your stuff, eh?”
“Yes, mine, by God, every bit I hold!”
ye git it?”
“But it’s mine, 1 tell ye,” snarled out Dugas, “It’s all mine; held for ' ^ the heir to the
, ' Ferraras.”
‘ ‘Um ph ! you mean for the heir to the garj 0> Hell’s ridin’ breecheg_ Don’t come
arounj here wjth any 0’
yer heir stuff, Dugas. You’re a left-handed son 0’ the Barbary Coast, born on a woodpile and nursed in the hogwash. A room in the penitentiary is your estate, and a corner 0’ potters field, after the gallows, is your family burying-ground. I know ye, and I know yer jailbird breed.”
At this torrent of denunciation, Dugas momentarily ceased to be a maniac in a wild fight for gold. With the staccato note of that well remembered voice, he was back again as mate under Sprott Gabereau, under the only complete man-master that he had ever known.
In that moment, over his passion-clouded brain, there came a ray of sense.
Against all expectation, he suddenly dropped his fanatical whine, and spoke with calm conciliation.
“Look at here, skipper, you and me are a couple o’ jays.”
“Umph! ye are, all right.”
Yvonne stood “And so are you.”
listening breath“What’s cornin’into yer
lessly to every mind now?”
word that passed. “Well, I was just think-
ing what fools we two were to keep on fightin’ each other, when if we had any sense, we might both be lousy with money, and have more than we might use up in fifty lifetimes.”
“What in the world are ye driving at?”
“Just this, the gold which we’re fightin’ for here, like a couple 0’ idiots, isn’t a tithe of the gold that’s still hidden away, waiting for us to go and find it.”
“And where are we going to find it?”
“Ah, that’s the secret that you got locked up in that black case which you took off o’ the dead woman down off the Horn.”
“Ye seem to know a hell o’ a lot.”
“Aye, I ain’t been on the trail o’ the Ferrara treasure this twenty year without finding out some secrets. I’ve
got a pretty good idea where the old feller landed his chests off the Carmencita. All I’m needin’ now is the chart to guide me to the exact spot where he buried ’em. And you’re the one skipper that’s got that chart.”
“And what’s more, I’m the one that’s goin’ to damned well hang on.”
“But what’s the good o’ hangin’ on. It ain’t doin’ you, nor me, nor anyone else no good, hidden away in that black case. I told ye that down South there, twenty year ago, and I’m tellin’ ye here again to-night. There’s plenty fer us both, skipper, an’ what’s more, we’ve got the money to fit out the expedition to go and fetch the rest o’ the treasure.”
Here Sprott Gabereau’s curiosity overcame antipathy. “Tell me where ye got the funds. How did ye come by this bag 0’ gold?”
“We got it through the last heir o’ the Ferraras.” Gabereau let out a snort of disgust. “I didn’t ask ye, Dugas, fer any more o’ yer fairy tales that ye cooked up when ye was doin’ time. I asked ye straight and plain to tell me how ye come by this bag o’ gold.”
“That’s my own business, Sprott Gabereau. Ye can play with me, as I told ye, and get rich as the best, or ye can stick along by yerself, and die a poor lunkhead of Arichat, to be buried with nothin’ in the back o’ beyond.
“You’re gettin’ old, skipper, and so am I. If we’re going to get this treasure, we’ve wasted altogether too much time. For pity sake, let’s be reasonable. Let’s make a decent arrangement while we can.”
“A decent arrangement with you?”
“Well, I’d just as soon make an arrangement with the Arch-bishop o’ Hell.”
“But look at the money you’ll have if you will only come to satisfactory terms with us.”
“Meaning that if you will only agree to let us in on the secret of that black case of yours, we’ll agree to let you have half of the gold in this room right now.”
“Oh, ye will, will ye. Ye always were a cool cucumber. Let me have half o’ what’s in this room, eh? Already I got more than three-quarters of it behind me, and what’s more I’m goin’ to have thewhole bag o’ tricks as my very own before I get out o’ here this night.”
“But every cent of this money is mine!” The voice of Dirk Dugas rose to an outraged scream, as he sprang at the other, biting and snarling, with all the fierceness of a cornered rat.
Gabereau shook him off, and sent him crashing across the floor. But with a sob of overmastering rage he was up and at him again.
Thus began one of the strangest fights ever staged between two hated rivals. Surrounded by impenetrable gloom in narrowest quarters, over a quivering floor, that rang ever with crashing gold, the two fought with mad frenzy.
In the light, Gabereau could have broken the spine of Dirk Dugas, as he might have broken a corn stalk, but darkness was the ally of the sneak. Once, twice, thrice, Dirk Dugas sailed in, landing vicious kicks at the mighty skipper, causing him to roar like a maddened bull.
“If I get my hands on you,” he threatened, “the devils will be playing hurley with your head to-night on the streets o’ hell.”
Nothing daunted, Dugas flung himself upon his opponent this time burying his teeth in Gabereau’s throat, whereat the other started to gouge out his eyes, causing him to let go his death-like grip at the throat.
With his adversary still clinging to him, the skipper, by far the abler and stronger of the twain, rose and sent Dugas across the room with a thunderous jar, causing their eerie perch to give forth an ominous note. Cross beams and rafters had all rotted until the cupola itself was scarce more secure than a house of cards. And still, grandly oblivious to the threatenings under their feet, the money-maddened pair fought on.
Recovering from a momentary daze, Dugas pulled out a knife, and crawling along stealthily, attempted to disembowel his foe with a nigger-twist trick, familiar in low sailor dives.
In the darkness he missed, and the point of his knife was broken sharp off by the leather holster on the other’s hip. By the same motion, the gun was jarred out of its pocket and rattled away at their feet.
Quick as lightning the skipper reached forth with his foot and kicked both gun and knife out of the rooms, growling.
“Ain’t goin’ to be no weapons here but fists an’ feet. But, by God, there ain’t goin’ to be nothin’ barred! Come on, ye low down dirty dog, your coffin’s hangin’ on the collar beams!”
The sly, snake-like Dugas was edging and crawling toward the door.
Realizing his intention, Gabereau caught him with a terrific kick that nigh unshipped his jaw.
“None 0’ yer crawlin’ after the gun. Get away from that door, or I’ll smash every bone in yer sneaking carcass.”
With the odds against him, Dugas hopped back warily into the farther corner, where he waited at bay. He
■expected imminent attack, but once more the master mind returned to the main issue, and Gabereau began to help himself in a calculating manner from the largest pile of specie. Again something more dominant even than the instinct for preservation urged Dugas to the fray. He came at Gabereau this time with head down, adopting the ramming tactics of a goat. As they crashed together, louder than all other noises, there arose the unmistakable protest of straining rafters.
In a moment of horror, Dirk Dugas became aware that the rotting floor was giving away.
“My God, look out, or we’ll both be gone!”
But Gabereau, in that moment, had become a plain lunatic. For him, all thought of safety had completely vanished. With Dugas stumbling from panic, the mighty skipper leaped into the air and landed upon him with the clatter of a thousand bricks. At the impact, a first dull groan of pain rose suddenly to a shriek of horrors as outraged timbers burst asunder, while victor and vanquished, with a jangling flood of gold, went plunging down into a black abyss.
REAT alarm was felt at the Skipper’s absence from home that night. Baptiste, in a moment of amazing hardihood ventured as far as the gates of the haunted house, then something snapped in his overwrought nerves, and turning pell mell, he did not cease running until he was back again in the safe precincts of the village.
After that first effort, nothing could persuade the highly superstitious smith to venture out again, during the hours of darkness.
On the following morning, observing every injunction, he waited not merely until the cock had crowed, but also until the sun was well across the yardarm, before trusting himself again to that dread abode.
Walking warily, even in the daylight, he came around to the back of the haunted house. Forcing open a door, he entered as charily as though he expected to be greeted by the sight of a corpse laid out on the stretching board.
Within, he found nothing but silence and shadows. He called, and only the scurrying rats gave answer to his hollow echo.
“Don’t like the look of it,” he muttered to himself, “but I ’spose we got to take a chance, so here goes.”
With muscles tensed, carrying a two-pound hammer, the giant smith came up the dim stairs, and there, at last, on the upper floor, he discovered the prostrate Gabereau, still unconscious, sprawled out where he had fallen in a heap from the caved-in rafters.
There was no sign of any other person, nor of evil spirits, and Baptiste began to breathe more easily.
Bending over to examine his friend, the smith was suddenly struck by the yellow glint of a couple of gold coins lying beside him on the floor. Picking them up hastily, he started to search the place for more, but to his great chagrin, found that someone had evidently just swept the floor.
“Whoever it was, done the job up well,” muttered he.
As though in answer to his ruminations, a sudden creaking of the wind in the empty rafters recalled old fears. Pocketing the two gold coins, and fearing lest the ghosts which had done such evil to his friend might also leap forth to wreak vengeance upon him, Baptiste shouldered the prostrate skipper, without further delay, and started to struggle laboriously down the rickety stairs, and at last, with a vast sigh of relief, he issued forth into the clean, clear light of day.
Once outside in the barnyard, he placed his burden in the buggy, and drove straight back to the Gabereau home.
Yvonne was almost beside herself at their arrival, but the injured man by this time had partly regained consciousness, and was able to speak thickly.
“Ish—nuthin’—floor fell in—, nuthin’—lil’ girl.”
Doctor Fisette, who arrived a short time later, was afraid at first about his ribs, but a further examination showed that no bones were broken.
“I guess the trouble is that he has suffered from a severe concussion,” said the doctor. “He must be kept quiet, with nothing to cause undue excitement. The trouble has been the shock to his system. Whatever happens, don’t let him leave his bed for several days.”
Seeing that his friend was in safe hands, and with complete confidence in his recuperative ability, Baptiste sauntered forth, and answering to a sure urge, turned his
footsteps toward the village. There was something burning in his pocket, which had to be declared, to all and sundry, something which seemed indeed worthy of a town-crier.
It was mail time when Baptiste arrived outside the general store. As usual, at that hour, the congregation of gossips was complete.
Bursting with great tidings, the smith approached them. News of the mishap to Captain Gabereau had already been noised about the village, and he was plied with questions, which he answered in a tantalizing manner.
“What’s up with ye, Baptiste?” inquired Gus Terrio. “You’re generally the biggest gas bag on Isle Madame, an’ now, by gosh, you’re as dumb as a clam! Did them ghosts burn yer tongue out?”
“How many of ’em did ye see up there?” chimed in another.
“I seen somethin’ a blame sight more’n ghosts,” muttered the smith, significantly.
“I’ll bet ye did,” concurred Gus. “S’pose ye seen half the folks from the churchyard who was up there to meet ye.”
“I seen somethin’ that you’d give yer eye teeth to see, Gus Terrio.”
“What was that?”
The smith could not contain his secret longer. Plunging his hand into a pocket, he pulled out the two gold coins which he had picked up beside the recumbent Gabereau, and passed them round among the crowd.
“There you are,” he announced triumphantly. “Now ye can see with yer own eyes.”
At once the spark of casual interest was fanned into flame, as all hands bent over the undreamed discovery.
“Mon Dieu, it’s the same kind o’ Spanish gold that Andrea Ferrara used to bring down to the fishery stores.” “Aye, it’s the very same.”
“An’ what’s more, there must be lots up there where these come from.”
“Ain’t no doubt about it.”
Everyone was speaking at once, with the hushed tone of vast excitement. Everyone in imagination was already tiptoeing along the threshold of a fortune. The very air had become momentous.
Just as the crowd stood there in that pregnant moment, who should appear but Monsieur le Curé.
“What have we here, my children?”
Baptiste slid the gold coins into his pocket, and stood back sheepishly, while each waited for the other.
“Is there none to answer?”
Finally, Gus Terrio offered a halting explanation of what had happened.
At tidings of the discovery in the haunted house, the brow of the priest clouded darkly.
“I am sorry to hear this news, my children.”
“For what should ye be sorry, Monsieur le Curé. Don’t
ye want us to have the good things that money will buy?” “Ah, I wish you to have all the good things that come as a reward of honest toil, from the soil, or from the sea. But I tremble for you when I see in your hands gold which cost you nothing.”
“We don’t understand.”
“Well, what does it say in the Good Book? By the
sweat of your brow ye shall eat your bread. Those that learn that lesson live content. Because of that, our land has been a happy blessed land. But I tell you, my children, a blight shall rest upon this little island, if the love of gold once drops its poison in our veins.”
“But, what’s the matter with this gold?” persisted Terrio. “It’s all the same. There ain’t no difference, is there?”
“Aye, and there is though. There is good gold, that is the reward of the good workman. And then there is the bad gold, that comes with evil that can never bring aught but evil in its train.”
Someone grunted dubiously, but the priest continued: “This idea may be old-fashioned in the modern world outside, my children. But thanks to the guardian angel of our happy isle, we have been able to dwell apart, a peculiar people, possessing that peace that is beyond the price of pearls.”
“But look at the good things that ye can buy with this,” demanded Baptiste, holding out the coins in mute appeal.
The sight of the shining metal at once seemed to outweigh the words of the man of God; his counsel smacked of the remote, but the gold seemed near and real.
“When ye want food or shelter, it’s gold that speaks.” “Aye, an’ when ye need shoes, gold gets ’em.” “Whenever ye ask for anything, ain’t it gold that pays the price?”
“Nay, nay, my children, it’s work that pays the price. If you want clothes, you must work for them. If you want food you must work for it. Yea, and I’ll say more, if ye want happiness, you must work for it.”
“I’d be happy if I had nothin’ to do, and plenty to pay with,” broke in Gus Terrio.
“No, you wouldn’t, Gus, my lad. God ordained that men should get up in the morning to find their toil, that they should lie down at night, weary, and content. This has been the way in our parish for over a hundred years. God grant that it may never get to be old-fashioned here to pay with toil for our desires. •
“The worst thing in the world, my children, is the tiring business of doing nothing. That is part of the emptiness that comes to those who try to buy things with fools’ gold.
“From the time your fathers started to clear away the stumps and till this soil, we’ve been learning not to expect something for nothing. Woe betide us, now, if any of our people are lured away from the fisheries, and from the plow, to seek after that which satisfieth not.”
The crowd before the general store turned away, unpersuaded, all except Paul Gabereau, he alone found perplexity in the warning of Monsieur le Curé.
AS SOON as Sprott Gabereau had recovered from his misadventure in the haunted house, he returned thither to spy out the land. But, outside of the broken
rafters and the caved in floor, not a clue remained to mark out the strange happenings thathadoccurred there.
What of the midnight visitant?
What of the bag of gold?
These questions harassed the skipper incessantly, but on that lurid battle in the goldroom the curtain had been rung down as on an evanescent dream. Gone all hint of treasure. Gone the light. Gone the sinister shadow of Dirk Dugas.
In season, and out, Gabereau’s mind was forever reverting to this vexing problem, which always left him mystified.
One evening the skipper was seated in his garden as usual, waiting for the closing hour, when his quick ear caught the sound of Yvonne returning with someone, the sound of whose tread was unfamiliar. He could hardly believe he heard aright. Paul had been keeping company with his adopted daughter so long that it seemed incredible to think of another cutting in.
Who was the gallant that dared to make so bold? What right had he to attempt such a thing? Conduct like this was not allowable in Arichat.
Continued on page 28
Continued, from page 22
Gabereau swung around heavily in his chair. He was prepared to give the highhanded village bumpkin a cool reception. But he was not prepared for the gay Lothario whom Yvonne led up the pathway.
Gabereau’s first impression told him that the approaching stranger was about the finest looking fellow that he had ever seen. Indeed this chap was altogether too good-looking to suit the rough-neck strain of the sealing skipper.
Tall, dark, trim, there was about him the courtly grace of a Spanish don, unmistakably of the ruling class, instinct with pride and power. His lean figure adumbrated splendid physical fitness. The brightness of his eye, the freshness of his skin, the sprightliness of his step spoke of youth, but a graying about the temples hinted at maturer years. A young old man, or an old young man. He was dressed in the correct appointments of a Corinthian, blue serge jacket, white ducks, white shoes, peak cap with gold badge of fouled anchor, on his sleeve a commodore’s four rows of black braid.
Noting the rows of braid, Gabereau muttered to himself: “Admiral of the window frame pinkeys, eh!”
In the next instant, Yvonne summoned the skipper to the common civilities.
“Uncle Sprott, get up and meet my friend, Captain Don Juan.”
Although the Skipper hated this stranger at sight, there was one person from whom he took his orders. Accordingly he arose with a grunted : ‘Howdy.’ “Good evening, sir.” The stranger bowed slightly. His manners were as correct as his clothes, at which Sprott marked him down a peg lower in his estimation.
“What are you, a Spick?”
“You mean Spanish?”
“Yea, Spick or Spanish, they’re all the same to me.”
“I have the honor, sir, to be a citizen of the Argentine.”
“Born there, were ye?”
“No, my family came from Virginia, emigrated to South America when I was a lad.”
“And what’s the idea o’ them glad rags yer wearin’? They’ve got ye all dolled out like a Christmas tree.”
In spite of Yvonne’s frantic signals from behind the other’s back, Sprott tried to be as insulting as possible, but his thrusts drew only a bland smile.
“I expect a yachtsman’s rig does look a bit like musical comedy to a real old sea-dog like yourself, captain.”
“Umph! afternoon tea regattas is all right fer them that likes ’em, but it ain’t a man’s game.”
“I agree with you there, sir. This harbor bar stuff’s no good. I’d sooner smash around outside in a hard blow. There’s where you’ll find who’s kissin’ Polly.”
“You really go out to sea, then, do you?”
“Oh yes, occasionally.” The face of the stranger still wore its bland unruffled smile. Sprott found himself increasingly vexed by his invincible poise.
“What’s your business down in the Argentine?” he inquired.
“I graduated from the Naval School, and for many years was an officer in the navy.”
“But, you’re only a spring chicken.” “I’m older than I look, sir.”
“Are you still in the navy?”
“No, I’m on the retired list, on account of being on the wrong side in a recent revolution.”
“What are you doing now?”
“That’s my own personal affair, sir.” This last was spoken with an even, incisive tone, that went through Gabereau like a knife. Hating anything that savored of the Latin countries, he yearned to kick this Spanish cavalier clean over
the sea wall, but something warned him that here was a type that could not be so easily disposed of.
Making the best of a bad job, the skipper sat down and proceeded to play gooseberry for the rest of the evening; but the visitor was too much of a gentleman to ignore the host, and throughout all his conversation, was continually referring to Gabereau, who answered in monosyllables and elected to remain on the outside until talk casually turned to the subject of the Ferrara treasure.
“Did you ever hear of Andrea Ferrara?”
“I should say so, ever since I can remember.”
“And how did you happen to know of him way down in South America?”
“Why, that was where he left his indelible mark, sir. The golden statues from Lima Cathedral, the vanished crown jewels from the short lived Brazilian Empire, the Cardinal’s diamond mitre from the Episcopal palace at Guayaquil, the man who got away with loot like that had one claim at least to continuing renown.”
In spite of his personal antipathies, Gabereau was forced to admit that here was one who talked with authority. Drawing his chair into the circle he listened while Don Juan descanted further on the vastness of the Ferrara treasure.
“Do you think that anyone will ever find that treasure?” inquired Yvonne, with a wee small voice, almost whispering from the thrill of wondrous tales.
“Of course, they will, my dear,” answered Don Juan, with easy assumption.
“I’m not so sure about that,” growled the skipper.
“No doubt about it, sir,” retorted Don Juan. “Somebody will find it, all right, and when they do they will have more power in their hands than many kings and emperors.”
Yvonne was not the only one that was fired by his easy faith. When the stranger had finally gone, Gabereau went to his room, determined that very night to open the chart case and find its secret.
He had been a fool. Procrastination would never get him anywhere. What was all this talk about the seal, and the curse of a dead hand? What was it but the invention of a master mind to keep back fools and cowards?
After closing the shutter, and locking his bedroom door, Gabereau took the inner case from its hiding place, and without further ado was preparing to break the seal of the dead hand, when there came an unmistakable creak of someone walking warily in bare feet in the outer hallway.
With his fingers already clutching that fatal seal, a cold shiver passed through the captain’s body, and in sudden, awful dread, he waited, as though some fiend were crouching at his door.
For fully a quarter of an hour, in paralyzed impotence he sat there, while the bright moonlight flooded the room. Although he could not see what was without he felt certain that eyes were peering at him through the keyhole.
Finally, not daring to tempt the situation further, he placed the case beneath his pillow and spent the rest of the night in sleepless apprehension, starting up at every imagined sound, as though his bedroom itself were some beleagured fastness.
The following morning at breakfast, he was in bitter mood, while Yvonne, across the table at the coffee, looked as if she too had missed much sleep.
Half through the breakfast, Gabereau burst out: “Who was the Spick that you brought around last night?”
“He’s the captain of the Ushuaia, and I think he’s simply wonderful. You weren’t nice at all to him, Uncle Sprott.”
“Umph! What’s the Ushuaia, that
white schooner that’s been lying in the stream for the past week?”
“No, she isn’t a schooner, she’s a private yacht,” answered Yvonne, unwilling to have anything but a grandee touch attached to the splendid Don Juan.
“Have you ever seen this Spanish guy before?”
“Yes, several times.”
“You’re not at all particular about your company, are you?”
“Why, he’s the most fascinating person I ever met.”
“He’s too damned fascinating.”
The wrathful skipper brought his fist down upon the table with a crash that nearly broke the china.
“Now, listen, Yvonne, don’t let me ever hear of your meeting that feller again. D’ye hear me?”
“Yes, I hear you.”
“Yvonne’s proud head suddenly tilted upward, saucy nose, dimpled chin, supercilious eyebrows, alike instinct with high disdain. The rough-neck skipper somehow did not feel at home at sight of such lofty defiance. He could give categorical commands to a crew, but somehow this little Miss Independence was always flaunting him to his face.
With his first mandate already as good as repudiated, he inquired: “What’s that fellow doin’ snoopin’ around here, anyways?”
“I guess he’s got as much right around as anybody,” was Yvonne’s testy answer.
Much disgruntled, Gabereau went up on the back porch, and getting out his spyglass, trained it on the Ushuaia, the fair white schooner lying there like a painted ship in the calm blue of the inner harbor.
Studying her clean, clear lines, and her beautiful sheer, graceful as the swoop of a swallow he was constrained to admiration; her designer had indeed called forth a thing of beauty. Whattookthe captain’s eye was the blending of grace andstrength. Here was no mere pleasure craft, but a storm-bird in the truest sense, called forth to meet the grimmest testings of the ocean.
While the captain was still gauging the mightiness of her spars, he saw something which caused his heart to go ‘phutt.’ Out of the vessel’s foc’sle there emerged a dark-looking savage, almost naked, with copper colored skin, and painted face. Rising to his full height, he towered above the deck hands, an unmistakable Yhagan giant.
GABEREAU was still fingering his spyglass with a trembling hand, when Yvonne called: “Someone’s here to see you, Uncle Sprott.”
As he came down the stairs there seated before him in his front parlor, cool as an icicle, sat Yvonne’s visitor of the night before. Beside him, Dirk Dugas smirked at his former Skipper with the assurance of a small boy thumbing his nose to a bully from safe security.
As he entered the parlor, what disgusted Gabereau most of all was the fact that Yvonne had joined the group, and was seated on the arm of a chair, prattling away to the strangers.
Turning to her darkly, Gabereau suggested: “You better go out, Yvonne.” “Oh, no, let her stay,” pleaded Don Juan, “We mustn’t have any secrets between us, you know.”
“Secrets, what d’ye mean by secrets.” “Just what I say, Captain Gabereau. You have been keeping a secret hidden away here in your house for the past twenty years.”
“What business is that to you?” “That’s just what I’ve come to talk to you about.”
“Well, judging by the skunks that you keep company with, the less we have to say to each other the better.”
“I know, sir, you don’t care for Dugas,
my mate here, but he happens to be my alter ego when it comes to that which is now the be all and end all of my existence. You asked me last night what my business was in South America; well I might as well tell you plainly, in the Southern Ocean, in Arichat Harbor, or wherever I happen to lay the keel of the Ushuaia, I have only one business.”
“To find the Ferrara treasure.”
“I guess you’ve bit off more’n you can chew, Mr. Spick.”
“That remains to be seen, sir. At all events, I am not the kind of man to be deterred by slight obstacles.”
“Like myself, for instance,” growled Gabereau.
“Exactly. You will be a mere pawn on the board, sir, if you start to obstruct me.” “You seem to be most confident!”
“Aye, and there’s nothing can stop me. I’d ride over my dead brother’s carcass if he stood between me and the Ferrara fortune.”
In the eye of the speaker at that moment Sprott detected a fanatical light, as of a smouldering fire that might at any moment burst into a conflagration. He was not the easy fellow that he had at first appeared. Under the jaunty garb of the Corinthian was a heart that beat with one all-consuming purpose.
But Gabereau, a man of rock, begotten of the hardy brine, was not the kind to give because of threatenings.
“And so ye came up here this morning to bulldoze, did ye?”
Gabereau’s voice sounded sharp. His wrath was rising, but the other sat cool and debonair.
“Don’t lose your temper, sir. We are up here on a mission that calls for rationality.”
“I ain’t askin’ ye fer any insults in my own home, Mister Spick.”
“You are the one who appears to be doing the insulting.”
“What the hell are ye givin’ us, I’ll damn soon—
The stranger’s hand was raised imperiously. “Please cut out the swearing.”
“Why, don’t you see there is a lady
Sprott had always prided himself on his deportment before Yvonne. There was something mortifying in this rebuke.
Sensing a momentary advantage, Don Juan continued; “I can see, captain, that my mate is evidently persona non grata with you, but waiving such trivial considerations, why can’t we come, to a fair understanding?”
“Why should we?”
“Because the secret chart case which you have, by rights is mine.”
“How d’ye make that out?”
“I am the last of the Ferraras.”
It was easy for Gabereau to pooh pooh this claim when advanced by Dirk Dugas, but somehow, it carried now a ring of authenticity.
“You mean that you are their heir,
“Precisely. I wouldn’t be coming to you claiming the case if I wasn’t. All I am asking you, sir, is to be reasonable. Produce that case, and I will give you my promise of your own fair share of the reward.”
“My share of the reward. That’s generous of ye, ain’t it? But possession is nine points of the law, my friend, and what I have I’ll hold. If that there treasure is good enough fer you to chase all over the world after, I guess it won’t do no hurt fer me to take a hand myself.” “You mean that you’d have the audacity to fit out an expedition on your own?”
“I always was a sky-high gambler, mister.”
Continued on page 3O
Continued, from page 28
Continued, from page 28 Here, Yvonne, who had been listening breathlessly to every word that passed, suddenly broke in, “But, Uncle Sprott, you surely wouldn’t retain that case if it wasn’t yours.”
Turning ponderously in his chair, the big skipper cast a baleful eye upon the interrupter. “You just keep your oar out of this.”
“But, Uncle Sprott—”
“Whir—umm—ph—urn!” Struggling with an overmastering rage the skipper let out a terrific series of deep grunts, like a sea lion coming to the surface.
“Not another word out of you, Yvonne. I’m master in my own house, and I’ll have you know it. And as fer ye, me two skunks, that door over there which you come in through, is the hole you can take to get out of, and you git, as fast as God’lmighty’ll let ye.”
With the furious skipper rising ominously, Dirk Dugas hastened to make his exit.
But, Don Juan, refusing to be stampeded, backed away slowly, exclaiming.
“You wouldn’t give us that case decently, and like a gentleman, so you may now bide the consequences-.”
ABEREAU went away that morning, Y-J telling Yvonne that he would not be back until late in the evening.
There was a schooner lying in the roads off Lennox Passage which was being put up for sale on account of an Ad,miralty claim. With re-awakening of interest in such matters, the skipper thought that he might as well take a look at this vessel.
He started out on foot for the village of West Arichat, planning to get there in time for lunch with his friend, Captain Paddy Mack, an old crony of the sealing days, who promised to put him aboard the schooner by motor boat.
About half way on his journey, for some inexplicable reason, the skipper had a presentiment that he should turn back.
In dogged persistence he still kept on, remonstrating with*himself, aloud:
“God only knows what’s getting into ye these days, Sprott Gabereau. Seems ye can’t start out to cross over into the next parish without some kind o’ crazy ideas coming into yer head, sayin’:
“Ye better turn back, ye better turn back.”
In spite of the efforts to reassure himself, the idea of something amiss began to grow upon him.
“It’s always that pesky case,” he complained, “first thing in the morning, last thing in the evening, and any time through the night. Never know when it’s goin’ to get ye. Damn thing’s worse than a crying baby. Sometimes, by gosh, I think I’d a bin wise if I’d taken the advice of Monsieur le Curé and chucked the thing into the sea.”
Then the thought of his rivals began to come to him, and with the spirit of emulation which they engendered the chart case again took on its priceless aspect. The more Gabereau thought of the headlong Don Juan and his quest, the more his own .desire was whetted, while still that inner voice kept urging him within,
“You better turn back!”
“You better turn back!”
Finally, with an exclamation of disgust, as though he had ceased to be master of his own movements, he decided to postpone his trip to view the schooner, and directed his steps again toward his own place.
It was about noon when he got back home. All was quiet in the garden. With no one in sight, he entered softly through the kitchen. At first there was no sound, and he had about decided that the house was empty, when a slight stir caught his ear from above.
In an instant he was on the qui vive. Tiptoeing to the landing, there came a stir as of somebody moving stealthily, followed by a slight, undetermined note,
that sounded like a piece of parchment being straightened out upon the floor.
Running noiselessly up the stairs, without slightest sound or knock, to .announce his coming, Gabereau burst .suddenly into his own room.
As the door was being pushed back, a girl screamed, and there, stretched out on the floor before him, Gabereau beheld Yvonne, with the inner case, the case of mystery, lying open. She was stretched full-length upon the floor, face forward, .•supporting her head with the weight on her elbows. Before her was an old piece •of crumpled parchment, grey with time, pregnant with significance.
The girl had gone into a sudden paroxysm at the unlooked for intrusion, but seeing that it was only .her Uncle .'Sprott she smiled up into his face with the utmost unconcern.
Gabereau stood for a moment aghast, .as though his eyes deceived him. The .•secret of the inner chart case, that unknown something which he had feared mnspeakably, was there reposing harmlessly beneath the pretty elbows of Yvonne. The skipper really acted at first .as though he expected the thing to bite her; because of his preoccupation, the girl was delivered from a hurricane of wrath to which she might otherwise have been •exposed.
“What are you doing with that, Yvonne?” His voice sounded hollow and tense.
“Just finding out what the black case ¡had to say, Uncle Sprott.”
“But don’t you know better than that.” “What do you mean, old Snookums. I always liked rummaging through your things, and you never forbade me.”
“But, this is different.”
“I know it is, that’s why I like it so much more.”
“And how in the world did you ever get the idea ofthat secret drawer?”
“By rummaging around, of course.” “But can’t you read, my child. Didn’t you see what was written around the •case? Didn’t you realize the curse that was there, sealed with a dead hand?” “Pooh,” said Yvonne with supreme indifference, “I’d been hearing everybody talk about this case, morning, noon and night, ever since the stranger brought that gold coin in the store. Then at nights you got acting so funny, that I bad to take a wee peek in the keyhole to see what was the matter with you.” “Whirr—umm—ph!”
The old walrus let out a snort, but she ignored it, and continued, with most disarming frankness:
“You were so funny, Uncle Sprott, last night when you stood there in your night dress in the moonlight, with that case in your hand, I had to pinch myself to keep from laughing. You looked just like a small boy in school who was scared that he was going to get a licking.”
“I never saw you scared of anything in the world before, and I made up*my mind, right off that I was going to open that case first chance I got. So here it is with its awful secret, a lot of gibberish that doesn’t mean anything in the world, as far as I can see. Come, take a look.”
Forgetting his accustomed heavyweight manner, Gabereau was promptly down on all fours beside her, scanning the ancient grey parchment with hungry eyes.
He recognized at once the precise handwriting, done with India ink and quill in the same hand as the first, a masterpiece of conciseness. Succinct and to the point. For the . skipper at least there was no mistaking its meaning, as he read the words in a voice vibrant with suppressed emotion.
“Top of Cape Horn.
“Approach from Pacific side.
“Lat. 55°58’ 4 S. Long. 57° 16’ W.
“Landing, Dislocation Estuary.
“Shingle beach on South affords protection.
“Landing party haul up boats.
“Ascent advisable E.N.E. side.
“Summit to northward, facing lagoon.
“Highest point of all,
“In rent of granite rock.”
Under the signature appeared the accustomed seal of the Spanish crown.
On the opposite side of the parchment was a chart denoting the approach by sea.
“Do you know what that means?” inquired the skipper, his eyes dancing with sudden madness.
“What does it mean, Uncle Sprott.”
“It means that all we’ve got to do is to land on that shingle beach, and follow out instructions, and as your Spick friend said, we’ll have more wealth than many kings and emperors.”
With that, the staid and dour old skipper, in an exultant rush, suddenly seized Yvonne by the waist and started dancing her around the room, all the time letting out whoops of joyous delight.
“And are you really going to go after the treasure,” panted Yvonne, the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them suddenly at her feet.
“Am I going!” exclaimed the skipper, giving her a resounding kiss. “Why God bless yer soul fer opening up the secret. Now then, me Pretty, just watch the water boilin’ in my wake. I’ll hang me hat on top of the old Cape Stiff before they’ve time to rattle down the riggin’.”
Once again the skipper was off in^a whirlwind reel.
To be Continued