PIECES OF EIGHT
Being the Authentic Narrative of a Treasure Discovered in the Bahama Islands in the Year 1903—Now First Given to the Public
BY RICHARD LE GALLIENNE
A.L. BURT COMPANY Publishers New York
Published by arrangement with Doubleday, Page & Company
Copyright, 1918, by
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian
COPYRIGHT, 1917, 1918, BY THE BUTTERICK PUBLISHING COMPANY
LIFE BEING OF THE NATURE BOTH OF A TREASURE-HUNT AND A PIRATICAL EXPEDITION, I DEDICATE THIS NARRATIVE TO THE FOLLOWING SAILING COMPANIONS OF MINE ON THIS ENTERTAINING OLD PIRATE CRAFT WE CALL THE EARTH, IN THE HOPE THAT EACH MAY FIND HIS TREASURE, AND, AT LEAST, ESCAPE HANGING AT THE END OF THE TRIP—TO WIT: HARRY DASH JOHNSON, SAM NICHOLSON, BERT WILLSIE AND CHARLEY BETHEL, ALL ENGAGED IN ONE OR ANOTHER OF THE PIRATICAL PROFESSIONS.
(The following MS., the authorship of which I am not at liberty to divulge, came to me in a curious way. Being recently present at a performance of "Treasure Island" at The Punch and Judy Theatre in New York City, and, seated at the extreme right-hand end of the front row of the stalls—so near to the ground-floor box that its occupants were within but a yard or two of me, and, therefore, very clearly to be seen—I, in common with my immediate neighbours, could not fail to remark the very striking and beautiful woman who was the companion of a distinguished military-looking man on the youthful side of middle age.
Still young, a little past thirty, maybe, she was unusually tall and stately of figure, and from her curious golden skin and massive black hair, one judged her to be a Creole, possibly a Jamaican. Her face, which was rather heavily but finely moulded, wore an expression of somewhat poetic melancholy, a little like that of a beautiful animal, but readily lit up with a charming smile now and again at some sally of her companion, with whom she seemed to be on affectionate terms, and with whom, as the play proceeded, she exchanged glances and whispered confidences such as two who have shared an experience together—which the play seems to bring to mind—are seen sometimes to exchange in a theatre.
But there was one particular which especially accentuated the singularity of her appearance and was responsible for drawing upon her an interested observation—seemed, indeed, even in her eyes to condone it, for she, as well as her companion, was obviously conscious of it—the two strange-looking gold ornaments which hung from her delicately shaped ears. These continually challenged the eye, and piqued the curiosity. Obviously they were two old coins, of thick gold, stamped with an antique design. They were Spanish doubloons!
As, in common with the rest of the audience, I looked at this picturesque pair, my eyes forsook the lady of the doubloons, and fastened themselves with a half-certainty of recognition upon her companion. Why! surely it was —— ——, an old dare-devil comrade of mine, whose disappearance from New York some ten years before had been the talk of the two or three clubs to which we both belonged. A curious blending of soldier, poet, and mining engineer, he had been popular with all of us, and when he had disappeared without warning we were sure that he was off on some Knight-errant business—to Mexico or the Moon!
He was, indeed, wearing that disguise of Time, which we all come involuntarily to wear—an unfamiliar greyness of his hair at the temples, and a moustache that would soon be a distinguished white; yet the disguise was not sufficient to conceal the youthful vigour of his personality from one who had known him so well as I. The more I looked at him, the more certain I grew that it was he, and I determined to go round to his box at the conclusion of the second act.
Then, becoming absorbed in the play, I forgot him and his companion of the doubloons for a while, and when I looked for them again, they had vanished. However, a letter in my mail next morning told me that the observation had not been all on my side. My eyes had not deceived me. It was my friend—and, at dinner with him and his lady, next evening, I heard the story of some of those lost years. Moreover, he confided to me that a certain portion of his adventures had seemed so romantic that he had been tempted to set them down in a narrative, merely, of course, for the amusement of his family and friends. On our parting, he entrusted me with this manuscript, which I found so interesting that I was able to persuade him to consent to its publication to that larger world which it seemed to me unfair to rob of one of those few romances that have been really lived, and not merely conjured up out of the imaginations of professional romancers.
His consent was given with some reluctance, for, apart from a certain risk which the publication of the manuscript would entail, it contains also matters which my friend naturally regards as sacred—though, in this respect, I feel sure that he can rely upon the delicacy of his readers. He made it a condition that every precaution should be taken to keep secret the name and identity of his wife and himself.
Therefore, in presenting to the world the manuscript thus entrusted to me, I have made various changes of detail, with the purpose of the more surely safeguarding the privacy of my two friends; but, in all essentials, the manuscript is printed as it came originally into my hands.
R. Le G.
PAGE Prologue vii
Out of the Constant East the Breeze 2
I. Introduces the Secretary to the Treasury of His Britannic Majesty's Government at Nassau 3
II. The Narrative of Henry P. Tobias, Ex-Pirate, as dictated on his deathbed, in the year of our Lord, 1859 13
III. In which I charter the Maggie Darling 21
IV. In which Tom catches an enchanted fish, and discourses of the dangers of treasure hunting 30
V. In which we begin to understand our unwelcome passenger 40
VI. The incident of the Captain 48
VII. In which the sucking fish has a chance to show its virtue 57
VIII. In which I once again sit up and behold the sun 64
IX. In which Tom and I attend several funerals 69
X. In which Tom and I seriously start in treasure hunting 75
XI. An unfinished game of cards 85
The dotted cays, with their little trees 92
I. Once more in John Saunders's snuggery 95
II. In which I learn something 100
III. In which I am afforded glimpses into futurity—possibly useful 108
IV. In which we take ship once more 123
V. In which we enter the wilderness 141
VI. Duck 154
VII. More particulars concerning our young companion 160
VIII. Better than duck 169
Across the scarce-awakened sea 178
I. In which we gather shells—and other matters 179
II. In which I catch a glimpse of a different kind of treasure 187
III. Under the Influence of the Moon 193
IV. In which I meet a very strange individual 200
V. Calypso 213
VI. Doubloons 223
VII. In which the "King" dreams a dream—and tells us about it 232
VIII. News! 239
IX. Old Friends 246
X. The Hidden Creek 253
XI. An Old Enemy 258
XII. In which the "King" imprisons me with some old books and pictures 266
XIII. We Begin to Dig 274
XIV. In which I lose my way 283
XV. In which I pursue my studies as a Troglodyte 292
XVI. In which I understand the feelings of a Ghost! 306
XVII. Action 315
XVIII. Gathering up the threads 321
Epilogue By the Editor 332
Out of the constant East the breeze Brings morning, like a wafted rose, Across the glimmering lagoon, And wakes the still palmetto trees, And blows adrift the phantom moon, That paler and still paler glows— Up with the anchor! let's be going! O hoist the sail! and let's be going! Glory and glee Of the morning sea— Ah! let's be going!
Under our keel a glass of dreams Still fairer than the morning sky, A jewel shot with blue and gold, The swaying clearness streams and gleams, A crystal mountain smoothly rolled O'er magic gardens flowing by— Over we go the sea-fans waving, Over the rainbow corals paving The deep-sea floor; No more, no more Would I seek the shore To make my grave in— O sea-fans waving!
PIECES OF EIGHT
Introduces the Secretary to the Treasury of His Britannic Majesty's Government at Nassau, New Providence, Bahama Islands.
Some few years ago—to be precise, it was during the summer of 1903—I was paying what must have seemed like an interminable visit to my old friend John Saunders, who at that time filled with becoming dignity the high-sounding office of Secretary to the Treasury of His Majesty's Government, in the quaint little town of Nassau, in the island of New Providence, one of those Bahama Islands that lie half lost to the world to the southeast of the Caribbean Sea and form a somewhat neglected portion of the British West Indies.
Time was when they had a sounding name for themselves in the world; during the American Civil War, for instance, when the blockade-runners made their dare-devil trips with contraband cotton, between Nassau and South Carolina; and before that again, when the now sleepy little harbour gave shelter to rousing freebooters and tarry pirates, tearing in there under full sail with their loot from the Spanish Main. How often those quiet moonlit streets must have roared with brutal revelry, and the fierce clamour of pistol-belted scoundrels round the wine-casks have gone up into the still, tropic night.
But those heroic days are gone, and Nassau is given up to a sleepy trade in sponges and tortoise-shell, and peace is no name for the drowsy tenor of the days under the palm trees and the scarlet poincianas. A little group of Government buildings surrounding a miniature statue of Queen Victoria, flanked by some old Spanish cannon and murmured over by the foliage of tropic trees, gives an air of old-world distinction to the long Bay street, whose white houses, with their jalousied verandas, ran the whole length of the water-front, and all the long sunny days the air is lazy with the sound of the shuffling feet of the child-like "darky" population and the chatter of the bean-pods of the poincianas overhead.
Here a handful of Englishmen, clothed in the white linen suits of the tropics, carry on the Government after the traditional manner of British colonies from time immemorial, each of them, like my friend, not without an English smile at the humour of the thing, supporting the dignity of offices with impressive names—Lord Chief Justice, Attorney General, Speaker of the House, Lord High Admiral, Colonial Secretary and so forth—and occasionally a figure in gown and barrister's wig flits across the green from the little courthouse, where the Lord Chief Justice in his scarlet robes, on a dais surmounted by a gilded lion and unicorn, sustains the majesty of British justice, with all the pomp of Westminster or Whitehall.
My friend the Secretary of the Treasury is a man possessing in an uncommon degree that rare and most attractive of human qualities, companionableness. He is a quiet man of middle age, an old white-headed bachelor with a droll twinkling expression, speaking seldom, and then in a curious silent fashion, as though the drowsy heat of the tropics had soaked him through and through. With his white hair, his white clothes, his white moustachios, his white eyelashes, over eyes that seem to hide away among quiet mirthful wrinkles, he carries about him the sort of silence that goes with a miller, surrounded by the white dusty quiet of his mill.
As we sit together in the hush of his snuggery of an evening, surrounded by guns, fishing-lines, and old prints, there are times when we scarcely exchange a dozen words between dinner and bed-time, and yet we have all the time a keen and satisfying sense of companionship. It is John Saunders's gift. Companionship seems quietly to ooze out of him, without the need of words. He and you are there in your comfortable arm-chairs, with a good cigar, a whisky-and-soda, or a glass of that old port on which he prides himself, and that is all that is necessary. Where is the need of words?
And occasionally, we have, as third in those evening conclaves, a big slow-smiling, broad-faced young merchant, of the same kidney. In he drops with a nod and a smile, selects his cigar and his glass, and takes his place in the smoke-cloud of our meditations, radiating, without the effort of speech, that good thing—humanity; though one must not forget the one subject on which now and again the good Charlie Webster achieves eloquence in spite of himself—duck-shooting. That is the only subject worth breaking the pleasant brotherhood of silence for.
John Saunders's subject is shark-fishing. Duck-shooting and shark-fishing. It is enough. Here, for sensible men, is a sufficient basis for life-long friendship, and unwearying, inexhaustible companionship.
It was in this peace of John Saunders's snuggery, one July evening, in 1903, the three of us being duly met, and ensconced in our respective arm-chairs, that we got on to the subject of buried treasure. We had talked more than usual that evening—talked duck and shark till those inexhaustible themes seemed momentarily exhausted. Then it was I who started us off again by asking John what he knew about buried treasure.
At this, John laughed his funny little quiet laugh, his eyes twinkling out of his wrinkles, for all the world like mischievous mice looking out of a cupboard, took a sip of his port, a pull at his cigar, and then:
"Buried treasure!" he said, "well, I have little doubt that the islands are full of it—if one only knew how to get at it."
"Seriously?" I asked.
"Certainly. Why not? When you come to think of it, it stands to reason. Weren't these islands for nearly three centuries the stamping ground of all the pirates of the Spanish Main? Morgan was here. Blackbeard was here. The very governors themselves were little better than pirates. This room we are sitting in was the den of one of the biggest rogues of them all—John Tinker—the governor when Bruce was here building Fort Montague, at the east end yonder; building it against pirates, and little else but pirates at the Government House all the time. A great old time Tinker gave the poor fellow. You can read all about it in his 'Memoirs.' You should read them. Great stuff. There they are," pointing to an old quarto on some well lined shelves, for John is something of a scholar too; "borrow them some time."
"Yes, but I want to hear more about the treasure," interrupted I, bringing him back to the point.
"Well, as I was saying, Nassau was the rendezvous for all the cut-throats of the Caribbean Sea. Here they came in with their loot, their doubloons and pieces of eight"; and John's eyes twinkled with enjoyment of the rich old romantic words, as though they were old port.
"Here they squandered much of it, no doubt, but they couldn't squander it all. Some of them were thrifty knaves too, and these, looking around for some place of safety, would naturally think of the bush. The niggers keep their little hoards there to this day. Fawcett, over at Andros, was saying the other night, that he estimates that they have something like a quarter of a million dollars buried in tin cans among the brush over there now—"
"It is their form of stocking," put in Charlie Webster.
"Precisely. Well, as I was saying, those old fellows would bury their hoards in some cave or other, and then go off—and get hanged. Their ghosts perhaps came back. The darkies have lots of ghost-tales about them. But their money is still here, lots of it, you bet your life."
"Do they ever make any finds?" I asked.
"Nothing big that I know of. A jug full of old coins now and then. I found one a year or two ago in my garden here—buried down among the roots of that old fig tree."
"Then," put in Charlie, "there was that mysterious stranger over at North Cay. He's supposed to have got away with quite a pile."
"Tell me about him," said I.
"Well, there used to be an old eccentric character in the town here—a half-breed by the name of Andrews. John will remember him—"
"He used to go around all the time with a big umbrella, and muttering to himself. We used to think him half crazy. Gone so brooding over this very subject of buried treasure. Better look out, young man!"—smiling at me. "He used to be always grubbing about in the bush, and they said that he carried the umbrella, so that he could hide a machete in it—a sort of heavy cutlass, you know, for cutting down the brush. Well, several years ago, there came a visitor from New York, and he got thick with the old fellow. They used to go about a lot together, and were often off on so-called fishing trips for days on end. Actually, it is believed, they were after something on North Cay. At all events, some months afterward, the New Yorker disappeared as he had come, and has not been heard from since. But since then, they have found a sort of brick vault over there which has evidently been excavated. I have seen it myself. A sort of walled chamber. There, it's supposed, the New Yorker found something or other—"
"An old tomb, most likely," interrupted John, sceptically. "There are some like that over at Spanish Wells."
"Maybe," said Charlie, "but that's the story for what it's worth."
As Charlie finished, John slapped his knee.
"The very thing for you!" he said, "why have I never thought of it before?"
"What do you mean, John?" we both asked.
"Why, down at the office, I've got the very thing. A pity I haven't got it here. You must come in and see it to-morrow."
And he took a tantalising sip of his port.
"What on earth is it? Why do you keep us guessing?"
"Why, it's an old manuscript."
"An old manuscript!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, an old document that came into my hands a short time ago. Charlie, you remember old Wicks—old Billy Wicks—'Wrecker' Wicks, they called him—"
"I should say I do. A wonderful old villain—"
"One of the greatest characters that ever lived. Oh, and shrewd as the devil. Do you remember the story about his—"
"But the document, for heaven's sake," I said. "The document first; the story will keep."
"Well, they were pulling down Wicks's own house just lately, and out of the rafters there fell a roll of paper—now, I'm coming to it—a roll of paper, purporting to be the account of the burying of a certain treasure, telling the place where it is buried, and giving directions for finding it—"
Charlie and I exclaimed together; and John continued, with tantalising deliberation.
"It's in the safe, down at the office; you shall see it to-morrow. It's a statement purporting to be made by some fellow on his deathbed—some fellow dying out in Texas—a quondam pirate, anxious to make his peace at the end, and to give his friends the benefit of his knowledge."
"O John!" said I, "I sha'n't sleep a wink to-night."
"I don't take much stock in it," said John. "I'm inclined to think it's a hoax. Some one trying to fool the old fellow. If there'd been any treasure, I guess one could have trusted old 'Wrecker' Wicks to get after it.... But, boys, it's bed-time, anyhow. Come down to the office in the morning and we'll look it over."
So our meeting broke up for the time being, and taking my candle, I went upstairs, to dream of caves overflowing with gold pieces, and John Tinker, fierce and moustachioed, standing over me, a cutlass between his teeth, and a revolver in each hand.
The Narrative of Henry P. Tobias, Ex-Pirate, as Dictated on His Deathbed, in the Year of Our Lord, 1859.
The good John had scarcely made his leisurely, distinguished appearance at his desk on the morrow, immaculately white, and breathing his customary air of fathomless repose, when I too entered by one door, and Charlie Webster by the other.
"Now for the document," we both exclaimed in a breath.
"Here it is," he said, taking up a rather grimy-looking roll of foolscap from in front of him.
"A little like hurricane weather," said the broadly smiling Charlie Webster, mopping his brow.
The room we were in, crowded with pigeon-holes and dusty documents from ceiling to floor, looked out into an outer office, similarly dreary, and painted a dirty blue and white, furnished with high desks and stools, and railed off with ancient painted ironwork, forlornly decorative, after the manner of an old-fashioned countinghouse, or shipping office. It had something quaintly "colonial" about it, suggesting supercargoes, and West India merchants of long ago.
John took a look into the outer office. There was nothing to claim his attention, so he took up the uncouthly written manuscript, which, as he pointed out, was evidently the work of a person of very little education, and began to read as follows:
"County of Travas "State of Texas "December 1859
"I being in very poor health and cannot last long, feeling my end is near, I make the following statement of my own free will and without solicitation. In full exercise of all my faculties, and feel that I am doing my duty by so doing.
"My friends have shown me much kindness and taken care of me when sick, and for their kindness I leave this statement in their hands to make the best of it, when I will now proceed to give my statement, which is as follows:—
"I was born in the city of Liverpool, England (on the 5th day of December 1784). My father was a seaman and when I was young I followed the same occupation. And it happened, that when, on a passage from Spain to the West Indies, our ship was attacked by free-traders, as they called themselves, but they were pirates.
"We all did our best, but were overpowered, and the whole crew, except three, were killed. I was one of the three they did not kill. They carried us on board their ship and kept us until next day when they asked us to join them. They tried to entice us, by showing us great piles of money and telling us how rich we could become, and many other ways, and they tried to get us to join them willingly, but we would not, when they became enraged and loaded three cannon and lashed each one of us before the mouth of each cannon and told us to take our choice to join them, as they would touch the guns and that dam quick. It is useless to say we accepted everything before death, so we came one of the pirates' crew. Both of my companions were killed in less time than six months, but I was with them for more than two years, in which time we collected a vast quantity of money from different ships we captured and we buried a great amount in two different lots. I helped to bury it with my own hands. The location of which it is my purpose to point out, so that it can be found without trouble in the Bahama Islands. After I had been with them for more than two years, we were attacked by a large warship and our commander told us to fight for our lives, as it would be death if we were taken. But the guns of our ship were too small for the warship, so our ship soon began to sink, when the man-of-war ran alongside of our vessel and tried to bore us, but we were sinking too fast, so she had to haul off again, when our vessel sunk with everything on board, and I escaped by swimming under the stern of the ship, as ours sunk, without being seen, and holding on to the ship until dark, when I swam to a portion of the wrecked vessel floating not far away. And on that I floated. The next morning the ship was not seen. I was picked up by a passing vessel the next day as a shipwrecked seaman.
"And let me say here, I know that no one escaped alive from our vessel except myself and those that were taken by the man-of-war. And those were all executed as pirates,—so I know that no other man knows of this treasure except myself and it must be and is where we buried it until to-day and unless you get it through this statement it will remain there always and do no one any good.
"Therefore, it is your duty to trace it up and get it for your own benefit, as well as others, so delay not, but act as soon as possible.
"I will now describe the places, locations, marks etc., etc., so plainly that it can be found, without any trouble.
"The first is a sum of one million and a half dollars—($1,500,000)—"
At this point, John paused. We all took a long breath, and Charlie Webster gave a soft whistle, and smacked his lips.
"A million and a half dollars. What ho!"
Then I, happening to cast my eye through the open door, caught sight of a face gazing through the ironwork of the outer office with a fixed and glittering expression, a face anything but prepossessing, the face of a half-breed, deeply pock-marked, with a coarse hook nose, and evil-looking eyes, unnaturally close together. He looked for all the world like a turkey buzzard, eagerly hanging over offal, and it was evident from his expression, that he had not missed a word of the reading.
"There is some one in the outer office," I said, and John rose and went out.
"Good morning, Mr. Saunders," said an unpleasantly soft and cringing voice.
"Good morning," said John, somewhat grumpily, "what is it you want?"
It was some detail of account, which, being despatched, the man shuffled off, with evident reluctance, casting a long inquisitive look at us seated at the desk, and John, taking up the manuscript once more resumed:
"... a sum of one million and one half dollars—buried at a cay known as Dead Men's Shoes, near Nassau, in the Bahama Islands."
"'Dead Men's Shoes!' I don't know any such place, do you?" interrupted Charlie.
"No, I don't—but, never mind, let's read it through first and discuss it afterwards," and John went on:
"Buried at a cay known as Dead Men's Shoes, near Nassau, in the Bahama Islands; about fifty feet (50 ft.) south of this Dead Men's Shoes is a rock, on which we cut the form of a compass. And twenty feet (20 ft.) East from the cay is another rock on which we cut a cross (X). Under this rock it is buried four feet (4 ft.) deep.
"The other is a sum of one million dollars ($1,000,000). It is buried on what was known as Short Shrift Island; on the highest point of this Short Shrift Island is a large cabbage wood stump and twenty feet (20 ft.) south of that stump is the treasure, buried five feet (5 ft.) deep and can be found without difficulty. Short Shrift Island is a place where passing vessels stop to get fresh water. No great distance from Nassau, so it can be easily found.
"The first pod was taken from a Spanish merchant and it is in Spanish silver dollars.
"The other on Short Shrift Island is in different kinds of money, taken from different ships of different nations—it is all good money.
"Now friends, I have told you all that is necessary for you to know, to recover these treasures and I leave it in your hands and it is my request that when you read this, you will at once take steps to recover it, and when you get it, it is my wish that you use it in a way most good for yourself and others. This is all I ask.
"Now thanking you for your kindness and care and with my best wishes for your prosperity and happiness, I will close, as I am so weak I can hardly hold the pen.
"I am, truly your friend,
HENRY P. TOBIAS.
"Henry P. Tobias?" said Charlie Webster. "Never heard of him. Did you, John?"
And then there was a stir in the outer office. Some one was asking for the Secretary of the Treasury. So John rose.
"I must get to work now, boys. We can talk it over to-night." And then, handing me the manuscript: "Take it home with you, if you like, and look it over at your leisure."
As Charlie Webster and I passed out into the street, I noticed the fellow of the sinister pock-marked visage standing near the window of the inner office. The window was open, and any one standing outside, could easily have heard everything that passed inside. As the fellow caught my eye, he smiled unpleasantly, and slunk off down the street.
"Who is that fellow?" I asked Charlie. "He's a queer looking specimen."
"Yes! he's no good. Yet he's more half-witted than bad, perhaps. His face is against him, poor devil."
And we went our ways, till the evening, I to post home to the further study of the narrative. There seated on the pleasant veranda, I went over it carefully, sentence by sentence. While I was reading, some one called me indoors. I put down the manuscript on the little bamboo table at my side, and went in. When I returned, a few moments afterward, the manuscript was gone!
In Which I Charter the "Maggie Darling."
As luck would have it, the loss, or rather the theft, of Henry P. Tobias's narrative, was not so serious as it at first seemed, for it fortunately chanced that John Saunders had had it copied; but the theft remained none the less mysterious. What could be the motive of the thief with whom—quite unreasonably and doubtless unjustly—my fancy persisted in connecting that unprepossessing face so keenly attentive in John Saunders's outer office, and again so plainly eavesdropping at his open window.
However, leaving that mystery for later solution, John Saunders, Charlie Webster, and I spent the next evening in a general and particular criticism of the narrative itself. There were several obvious objections to be made against its authenticity. To start with, Tobias, at the time of his deposition, was an old man—seventy-five years old—and it was more than probable that his experiences as a pirate would date from his early manhood; they were hardly likely to have taken place as late as his fortieth year. The narrative, indeed, suggested their taking place much earlier, and there would thus be a space of at least forty years between the burial of the treasure and his deathbed revelation. It was natural to ask: Why during all those years, did he not return and retrieve the treasure for himself? Various circumstances may have prevented him, the inability from lack of means to make the journey, or what not; but certainly one would need to imagine circumstances of peculiar power that should be strong enough to keep a man with so valuable a secret in his possession so many years from taking advantage of it.
For a long while too the names given to the purported sites of the treasure caches puzzled us. Modern maps give no such places as "Dead Men's Shoes" and "Short Shrift Island," but John—who is said to be writing a learned history of the Bahamas—has been for a long time collecting old maps, prints, and documents relating to them; and at last, in a map dating back to 1763, we came upon one of the two names. So far the veracity of Tobias was supported. "Dead Men's Shoes" proved to be the old name for a certain cay some twenty miles long, about a day and a half's sail from Nassau, one of the long string of coral islands now known as the "Exuma Cays." But of "Short Shrift Island" we sought in vain for a trace.
Then the details for identification of the sites left something to be desired in particularity. But that, I reasoned, rather made for Tobias's veracity than otherwise. Were the document merely a hoax, as John continued to suspect, its author would have indulged his imagination in greater elaboration. The very simplicity of the directions argued their authenticity. Charlie Webster was inclined to back me in this view, but neither of my friends showed any optimism in regard to the possible discovery of the treasure.
The character of the brush on the out-islands alone, they said, made the task of search well nigh hopeless. To cut one's way through twenty miles of such stubborn thickets, would cost almost as much in labour as the treasure was worth. And then the peculiar nature of the jagged coral rock, like endless wastes of clinker, almost denuded of earth, would make the task the more arduous. As well look for a particular fish in the sea. A needle in a haystack would be easy in comparison.
"All the same," said I, "the adventure calls me; the adventure and that million and a half dollars—and those 'Dead Men's Shoes'—and I intend to undertake it. I am not going to let your middle-aged scepticism discourage me. Treasure or no treasure, there will be the excitement of the quest, and all the fun of the sea."
"And some duck perhaps," added Charlie.
"And some shark-fishing for certain," said John.
* * * * *
The next thing was to set about chartering a boat, and engaging a crew. In this Charlie Webster's experience was invaluable, as his friendly zeal was untiring.
After looking over much likely and unlikely craft, we finally decided on a two-masted schooner of trim but solid build, the Maggie Darling, 42 feet over all and 13 beam; something under twenty tons, with an auxiliary gasolene engine of 24 horse power, and an alleged speed of 10 knots. A staunch, as well as a pretty, little boat, with good lines, and high in the bows; built to face any seas. "Cross the Atlantic in her," said the owner. Owners of boats for sale always say that. But the Maggie Darling spoke for herself, and I fell in love with her on the spot.
Next, the crew.
"You will need a captain, a cook, an engineer, and a deck-hand," said Charlie, "and I have the captain, and the cook all ready for you."
That afternoon we rounded them all up, including the engineer and the deck-hand, and we arranged to start, weather permitting, with the morning tide, which set east about six o'clock on July 13, 1903. Charlie was a little doubtful about the weather, though the glass was steady.
"A northeaster's about due," he said, "but unless it comes before you start, you'll be able to put in for shelter at one or two places, and you will be inside the reef most of the way."
Ship's stores were the next detail, and these, including fifty gallons of gasolene, over and above the tanks and three barrels of water, being duly got aboard, on the evening of July 12, all was ready for the start; an evening which was naturally spent in a parting conclave in John Saunders's snuggery.
"Why, one important thing you've forgotten," said Charlie, as we sat over our pipes and glasses. "Think of forgetting that. Machetes—and spades and pickaxes. And I'd take a few sticks of dynamite along with you too. I can let you have the lot, and, if you like, we'll get them aboard to-night."
"It's a pity you have to give it away that it's a treasure hunt," said John,—"but, then you can't keep the crew from knowing. And they're a queer lot on the subject of treasure, have some of the rummest superstitions. I hope you won't have any trouble with them."
"Had any experience in handling niggers?" asked Charlie.
"Not the least."
"That makes me wish I were coming with you. They are rum beggars. Awful cowards, and just like a pack of children. You know about sailing anyhow. That's a good thing. You can captain your own boat, if need be. That's all to the good. Particularly if you strike any dirty weather. Though they're cowards in a storm, they'll take orders better than white men—so long as they see that you know what you are about. But let me give you one word of advice. Be kind, of course, with them—but keep your distance all the same. And be careful about losing your temper. You get more out of them by coaxing—hard as it is, at times. And, by the way, how would you like to take old 'Sailor' with you?"
"Sailor" was a great Labrador retriever, who, at that moment, turned up his big head, with a devoted sigh, from behind his master's chair.
"Rather," I said. So "Sailor" was thereupon enrolled as a further addition to the crew.
"Of course, you needn't expect to start on time," said Charlie, with a laugh; "you'll be lucky if the crew turns up an hour after time. But that's all in the game. I know them—lazy beggars."
And the morning proved the truth of Charlie's judgment.
"Old Tom," the cook, was first on hand. I took to him at once. A simple, kindly old "darky" of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" type, with faithfulness written all over him, and a certain sad wisdom in his old face.
"You'll find Tom a great cook," said Charlie, patting the old man on the shoulder. "Many a trip we've taken together after duck, haven't we, Tom?" said he kindly.
"That's right, suh. That's right," said the old man, his eyes twinkling with pleasure.
Then came the captain—Captain Jabez Williams—a younger man, with an intelligent, self-respecting manner, somewhat non-committal, business-like, evidently not particularly anxious as to whether he pleased or not, but looking competent, and civil enough, without being sympathetic.
Next came the engineer, a young hulking bronze giant, a splendid physical specimen, but rather heavy and sullen and not over-intelligent to look at. A slow-witted young animal, not suggesting any great love of work, and rather loutish in his manners. But, he knew his engine, said Charlie. And that was the main thing. The deck-hand proved to be a shackly, rather silly effeminate fellow, suggesting idiocy, but doubtless wiry and good enough for the purpose.
While they were busy getting up the anchor of the Maggie Darling, I went down into my cabin, to arrange various odds and ends, and presently came the captain, touching his hat.
"There's a party," he said, "outside here, wants to know if you'll take him as passenger to Spanish Wells."
"We're not taking passengers," I answered, "but I'll come and look him over."
A man was standing up in a rowboat, leaning against the ship's side.
"You'd do me a great favour, sir," he began to say in a soft, ingratiating voice.
I looked at him, with a start of recognition. He was my pock-marked friend, who had made such an unpleasant impression on me, at John Saunders's office. He was rather more gentlemanly looking than he had seemed at the first view, and I saw that, though he was a half-breed, the white blood predominated.
"I don't want to intrude," he said, "but I have urgent need of getting to Spanish Wells, and there's no boat going that way for a week. I've just missed the mail."
I looked at him, and, though I liked his looks no more than ever, I was averse from being disobliging, and the favour asked was one often asked and granted in those islands, where communication is difficult and infrequent.
"I didn't think of taking any passengers," I said.
"I know," he said. "I know it's a great favour I ask." He spoke with a certain cultivation of manner. "But I am willing, of course, to pay anything you think well, for my food and my passage."
I waived that suggestion aside, and stood irresolutely looking at him, with no very hospitable expression in my eyes, I dare say. But really my distaste for him was an unreasoning prejudice, and Charlie Webster's phrase came to my mind—"His face is against him, poor devil!"
It certainly was.
Then at last I said, surely not overgraciously: "Very well. Get aboard. You can help work the boat"; and with that I turned away to my cabin.
In Which Tom Catches an Enchanted Fish, and Discourses of the Dangers of Treasure Hunting.
The morning was a little overcast, but a brisk northeast wind soon set the clouds moving as it went humming in our sails, and the sun, coming out in its glory over the crystalline waters, made a fine flashing world of it, full of exhilaration and the very breath of youth and adventure, very uplifting to the heart. My spirits, that had been momentarily dashed by my unwelcome passenger, rose again, and I felt kindly to all the earth, and glad to be alive.
I called to Tom for breakfast.
"And you, boys, there; haven't you got a song you can put up? How about 'The John B. sails?'" And I led them off, the hiss and swirl of the sea, and the wind making a brisk undertone as we sang one of the quaint Nassau ditties:
Come on the sloop John B. My grandfather and me, Round Nassau town we did roam; Drinking all night, ve got in a fight, Ve feel so break-up, ve vant to go home.
Chorus So h'ist up the John B. sails, See how the mainsail set, Send for the captain—shore, let us go home, Let me go home, let me go home, I feel so break-up, I vant to go home.
The first mate he got drunk, Break up the people trunk, Constable come aboard, take him away; Mr. John—stone, leave us alone, I feel so break-up, I vant to go home.
Chorus So h'ist up the John B. sails, etc., etc.
Nassau looked very pretty in the morning sunlight, with its pink and white houses nestling among palm trees and the masts of its sponging schooners, and soon we were abreast of the picturesque low-lying fort, Fort Montague, that Major Bruce, nearly two hundred years ago, had had such a time building as a protection against pirates entering from the east end of the harbour. It looked like a veritable piece of the past, and set the imagination dreaming of those old days of Spanish galleons and the black flag, and brought my thoughts eagerly back to the object of my trip, those doubloons and pieces of eight that lay in glittering heaps somewhere out in those island wildernesses.
We were passing cays of jagged cinder-coloured rock covered with low bushes and occasional palms, very savage and impenetrable. Miles of such ferocious vegetation separated me from the spot where my treasure was lying. Certainly it was tough-looking stuff to fight one's way through; but those sumptuous words of Henry P. Tobias's narrative kept on making a glorious glitter in my mind: "The first is a sum of one million and one half dollars.... The other is a sum of one million dollars.... The first pod was taken from a Spanish merchant and it is in Spanish silver dollars. The other on Short Shrift Island is in different kinds of money, taken from different ships of different nations ... it is all good money."
In fact I found to my surprise that I had the haunting thing by heart, as though it had been a piece of poetry; and over and over again it kept on going through my head.
Then Tom came up with my breakfast. The old fellow stood by to serve me as I ate, with a pathetic touch of the old slavery days in his deferential, half-fatherly manner, dropping a quaint remark every now and again; as, when drawing my attention to the sun bursting through the clouds, he said, "The poor man's blanket is coming out, sah"—phrases in which there seemed a whole world of pathos to me.
Presently, when breakfast was over, and I stood looking over the side into the incredibly clear water, in which it seems hardly possible that a boat can go on floating, suspended as she seems over gleaming gulfs of liquid space, down through which at every moment it seems she must dizzily fall, Tom drew my attention to the indescribably lovely "sea-gardens" over which we were passing—waving purple fans, fairy coral grottoes, and jewelled fishes, lying like a rainbow dream under our rushing keel. Well might the early mariners people such submarine paradises with sirens and beautiful water-witches, and imagine a fairy realm down there far under the sea.
As Tom and I gazed down lost in those rainbow deeps, I heard a voice at my elbow saying with peculiarly sickening unction:
"The wonderful works of God."
It was my unwelcome passenger, who had silently edged up to where we stood. I looked at him, with the question very clear in my eyes as to what kind of disagreeable animal he was.
"Precisely," I said, and moved away.
I had been trying to feel more kindly toward him, wondering whether I could summon up the decency to offer him a cigar, but "the wonderful works of God" finished me.
"Hello! Captain," I said presently, pointing to some sails coming up rapidly behind us. "What's this? I thought we'd got the fastest boat in the harbour."
"It's the Susan B., sponger," said the Captain.
The Captain was a man of few words.
The Susan B. was a rakish-looking craft with a black hull, and she certainly could sail. It made me feel ashamed to watch how quickly she was overhauling us, and, as she finally came abreast and then passed us, it seemed to me that in the usual salutations exchanged between us there was mingled some sarcastic laughter; no doubt it was pure imagination, but I certainly did fancy that I noticed our passenger signal to them in a peculiar way.
I confess that his presence was beginning to get on my nerves, and I was ready to get "edgy" at anything or nothing—an irritated state of mind which I presently took out on George the engineer, who did not belie his hulking appearance, and who was for ever letting the engine stop, and taking for ever to get it going again. One could almost have sworn he did it on purpose.
My language was more forcible than classical—had quite a piratical flavour, in fact; and my friend of "the wonderful works of God" looked up with a deprecating air. Its effect on George was nil, except perhaps to further deepen his sulks.
And this I did notice, after a while, that my remarks to George seemed to have set up a certain sympathetic acquaintance between him and my passenger, the shackly deck-hand being apparently taken in as a humble third. They sat for'ard, talking together, and my passenger read to them, on one occasion, from a piece of printed paper that fluttered in the wind. They listened with fallen lower jaws and occasional attempts to seem intelligent.
The Captain was occupied with his helm, and the thoughts he didn't seem to feel the necessity of sharing; a quiet, poised, probably stupid man, for whom I could not deny the respect we must always give to content, however simple. His hand was on the wheel, his eyes on the sails and the horizon, and, though I was but a yard away from him, you would have said I was not there at all, judging by his face. In fact, you would have said that he was all alone on the ship, with nothing to think of but her and the sea. He was a sailor, and I don't know what better to say of a man.
So for companionship I was thrown back upon Tom. I felt, too, that he was my only friend on board, and a vague feeling had come over me that, within the next few hours, I might need a friend.
Fishing occurred to me as a way of passing the time.
"Are we going too fast for fishing, Tom?" I asked.
"Not too fast for a barracouta," said Tom; so we put out lines and watched the stretched strings, and listened to the sea. After awhile, Tom's line grew taut, and we hauled in a 5-foot barracouta, a bar of silver with a long flat head, all speed and ferocity, and wonderful teeth.
"Look!" said Tom, as he pointed to a little writhing eel-like shape, about nine inches long, attached to the belly of the barracouta.
"A sucking fish!" said Tom. "That's good luck;" and he proceeded to turn over the poor creature, and cut from his back, immediately below his head, a flat inch and a half of skin lined and stamped like a rubber sole—the device by which he held on to the belly of the barracouta much as the circle of wet leather holds the stone in a school-boy's sling.
"Now," he said, when he had it clean and neat in his fingers, "we must hang this up and dry it in the northeast wind; the wind is just right—nor'-nor'east—and there is no mascot like it, specially when—" Old Tom hesitated, with a slyly innocent smile in his eyes.
"What is it, Tom?" I asked.
"Have I your permission to speak, sah?" he said.
"Of course, you have, Tom."
"Well, sar, then I meant to say that this particular part of a sucking fish, properly dried in the northeast wind, is a wonderful mascot—when you're going after treasure." Tom looked frightened again, as though he had gone too far.
"Who said I was going after treasure?" I asked.
"Aren't you, sah?" replied Tom, "asking your pardon?"
I looked for'ard where the three delegates seemed to have lost interest for a while in their conversation and the fluttering paper, and appeared to be noticing Tom and me.
"Let's talk it over later on, when you bring me my dinner, Tom."
Later, as Tom stood, serving my coffee, I took it up with him again.
"What was that you were saying about treasure, Tom?" I asked.
"Well, sar, what I meant was this: that going after treasure is a dangerous business ... it's not only the living you've got to think of—." Here Tom threw a careful eye for'ard.
"The crew, you mean?"
"But it's the dead too."
"The dead, Tom?"
"Yes, sar—the dead!"
"All right, Tom," I said, "go on."
"Well, sar," he continued, "there was never a buried treasure yet that didn't claim its victim. Not one or two, either. Six or eight of them, to my knowledge—and the treasure just where it was for all that. I das'say it sounds all foolishness, but it's true for all that. Something or other'll come, mark my word—just when they think they've got their hands on it: a hurricane, or a tidal wave, or an earthquake. As sure as you live, something'll come; a rock'll fall down, or a thunderbolt, and somebody gets killed—And, well, the ghost laughs, but the treasure stays there all the same."
"The ghost laughs?" I asked.
"Eh! of course; didn't you know every treasure is guarded by a ghost? He's got to keep watch there till the next fellow comes along, to relieve sentry duty, so to speak. He doesn't give it away. My no! He dassn't do that. But the minute some one else is killed, coming looking for it, then he's free—and the new ghost has got to go on sitting there, waiting for ever so long till some one else comes looking for it."
"But, what has this sucking fish got to do with it?" And I pointed to the red membrane already drying up in Tom's hand.
"Well, the man who carries this in his pocket won't be the next ghost," he answered.
"Take good care of it for me then, Tom," I said, "and when it's properly dried, let me have it. For I've a sort of idea I may have need of it, after all."
And just then, old Sailor, the quietest member of the crew, put up his head into my hands, as though to say that he had been unfairly lost sight of.
"Yes, and you too, old chap—that's right. Tom, and you, and I."
And then I turned in for the night.
In Which We Begin to Understand our Unwelcome Passenger.
Charlie Webster had hinted at a nor'easter—even a hurricane. As a rule, Charlie is a safe weather prophet. But, for once, he was mistaken. There hadn't been much of any wind as we made a lee at sunset; but as I yawned and looked out of my cabin soon after dawn, about 4.30 next morning, there was no wind at all.
There was every promise of a glorious day—calm, still, and untroubled. But for men whose voyaging depended on sails, it was, as the lawyers say, a dies non. In fact, there was no wind, and no hope of wind.
As I stood out of the cabin hatch, however, there was enough breeze to flutter a piece of paper that had been caught in the mainsail halyard; it fluttered there lonely in the morning. Nothing else was astir but it and I, and I took it up in my hand, idly. As I did so, George reared his head for'ard—
"Morning, George," I said; "I guess we've got to run on gasolene to-day. No wind in sight—so far as I can see."
"That's right, sar," said George, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Presently, he came to me in his big hulking way, and said:
"There ain't no gasolene, sir—"
"No gasolene?" I exclaimed.
"It's run out in the night."
"The tanks were filled when we started, weren't they?" I asked.
"We can't have used them up so soon...."
"No sir,—but some one has turned the cocks...."
I stood dazed for a moment, wondering how this could have happened,—then a thought slowly dawned upon me.
"Who has charge of them?" I said.
George looked a little stupid, then defiant.
"I see," I said; and, suddenly, without remembering Charlie Webster's advice not to lose your temper with a negro—I realised that this was no accident, but a deliberate trick, something indeed in the nature of a miniature mutiny. That fluttering paper I had picked from the halyard lay near my breakfast table. I had only half read it. Now its import came to me with full force. I had no firearms with me. Having a quick temper, I have made it a habit all my life never to carry a gun—because they go off so easily. But one most essential part of a gentleman's education had been mine, so I applied it instantly on George, with the result that a well-directed blow under the peak of the jaw sent him sprawling, and for awhile speechless, in the cockpit.
"No gasolene?" I said.
And then my passenger—I must give him credit for the courage—put up his head for'ard, and called out:
"I protest against that; it's a cowardly outrage. You wouldn't dare to do it to a white man."
"O I see," I rejoined. "So you are the author of this precious paper here, are you? Come over here and talk it over, if you've the courage."
"I've got the courage," he answered, in a shaking voice.
"All right," I said; "you're safe for the present—and, George, who is so fond of sleep, will take quite a nap for a while, I think."
"You English brute!" he said.
"You English brute!" he had said; and the words had impelled me to invite him aft; for I cannot deny a certain admiration for him that had mysteriously grown up in me. It can only have been the admiration we all have for courage; for, certainly I cannot have suggested that he had any other form of attractiveness.
"Come here!" I said, "for your life is safe for the time being. I would like to discuss this paper with you."
He came and we read it together, fluttering as I had seen it flutter in his fingers as he read it for'ard to the engineer and to the deck-hand. George, meanwhile, was lying oblivious to the rhetoric with which it was plentifully garnished, not to speak of the Latin quotations, taking that cure of bleeding, which was the fashionable cure of a not-unintelligent century. It began:—
"THINK HOW MANY WE ARE!—THINK WHAT WE COULD DO! It isn't either that we haven't intelligence—if only we were to use it. We don't lack leaders—we don't lack courage—we don't lack martyrs; All are ready—"
I stopped reading.
"Why don't you start then?" I asked.
"We have a considerable organisation," he answered.
"You have?" I said. "Why don't you use it then?"
"We're waiting for Jamaica," he answered; "she's almost ready."
"It sounds a pretty good idea to me," I remarked, "from your point of view. 'From your point of view,' remember, I said; but you mustn't think that yours is mine—not for one moment—O dear no! On the contrary, my point of view is that of the Governor of Nassau, or his representative, quite near by, at Harbour Island, isn't it?"
My pock-marked friend grew a trifle green as I said this.
"We have sails still, remember," I resumed. "George and the lost gasolene are not everything. Five hours, with anything of a wind, would bring us to Harbour Island, and—with this paper in my hand it would be—what do you think yourself?—the gallows?"
My friend grew grave at that, and seemed to be thinking hard inside, making resolutions the full force of which I didn't understand till later, but the immediate result of which was a graciousness of manner which did not entirely deceive me.
"O" he said, "I don't think you quite mean that. You're impulsive—as when you hit that poor boy down there—"
"Well," I observed, "I'm willing to treat you better than you deserve. At the same time, you must admit that your manifesto, as I suppose you would call it, is justified neither by conditions nor by your own best sense. You yourself are far more English than you are anything else—you know it; you know how hard it is for white men to live with black men, and—to tell the truth—all they do for them. The mere smell of negroes is no more pleasant to you than it is to many other white men. Englishmen have exiled themselves, for absurdly small salaries, to try to make life finer and cleaner for those dark—and, I'll admit, pathetic—barbarians. You can't deny it. And you've too much sense to deny it. So, I'll say nothing about this, if you like" (pointing to the manuscript), "and if the wind holds, put you ashore to-morrow at Spanish Wells. I like you in spite of myself. Is it a bargain?"
On this we parted, and, as I thought, with a certain friendliness on both sides.
There was no sailing wind, so there was nothing to do but stay where we were all day. The boys fished and lay around; and I spent most of the time in my cabin, reading a novel, and, soon after nine, I fell asleep in a frame of mind unaccountably trustful.
I suppose that I had been asleep about three hours when I was disturbed by a tremendous roar. It was Sailor (who always slept near me) out on the cockpit with a man under his paws—his jaws at the man's throat. I called him off, and saw that it was my pock-marked friend, with his right hand extended in the cockpit and a revolver a few inches away from it. So far as I knew it was the only firearm on the ship. "Let's get hold of that first, Sailor," I said, and I slipped it into my hip pocket.
"It's too bad that we can't be decent to people, Sailor, isn't it? It makes life awfully sad," I said.
Sailor wagged his tail.
The stars were fading on the eastern islands.
"Wake up, Tom," I called, and, "wake up, Captain!" Meanwhile, I took out the revolver from my hip pocket, and held it over the man I seemed to grow more and more sorry for.
"We've not only got a mutiny aboard," I told the captain, "but we've got treason to the British Government. Do you want to stand for that? Or shall I put you ashore with the rest?"
Unruffled as usual, he had nothing to say beyond
"Ay, ay, sir!"
"Take this cord then," I ordered him and Tom, "and bind the hands and feet of this pock-marked gentleman here; also of George, engineer; and also of Theodore, the deck-hand. Bind them well. And throw them into the dingy, with a bottle of water apiece, and a loaf of bread. By noon, we'll have some wind, and can make our way to Harbour Island, and there I'll have a little talk with the Commandant."
And as I ordered, all was done. Tom and I rowed the dingy ashore, with our three captives bound like three silly fowls, and presently threw them ashore with precious little ceremony, I can tell you; for the coral rock is not all it sounds in poetry. Then we got back to the Maggie Darling, with imprecations in our ears, and particularly the promises of the pock-marked rebel, who announced the certainty of our meeting again.
Of course we laughed at such threats, but I confess that, as I went down to my cabin and picked up the "manifesto," which had been forgotten in all the turmoil, I could not escape a certain thrill as I read the signature—for it was: "Henry P. Tobias, Jr."
The Incident of the Captain.
As we hoisted the sails and the sun came up in all his glory, the smell of Tom's coffee seemed to my prosaic mind the best of all in that beautiful world. I said: "Let's give 'em a song, boys,—to cheer 'em up. How about 'Delia gone!'?"
At this suggestion even the imperturbability of the captain broke into a smile. He was a man hard to move, but this suggestion seemed to tickle him.
Some gave a nickel, some gave a dime; I never gave no red cent— She was no girl of mine. Delia gone! Delia gone!
seemed to throw him into convulsions, and I took the helm awhile to give him a chance to recover. The exquisiteness of its appeal to the scoundrels, so securely trussed there on the island we were swiftly leaving behind, seemed to get him to such a degree that I was almost afraid that he might die of laughing, as has been heard of. He laughed as only a negro can laugh, and he kept it going so infectiously that Tom and I got started, just watching him. Even Sailor caught the infection, his big tongue shaking his jaws with the huge joke of it.
I don't know what they thought had happened to us, the three poor devils there on the jagged coral rock. At all events the laughter did us good by relieving the tension of our feelings, and when at last we had recovered and the captain was at the wheel again, once more sober as a judge, you couldn't have believed such an outbreak possible of him.
The Maggie Darling was sailing so fast that it hardly seemed necessary to trouble to call at Harbour Island; but, then, the wind might go down, our adventure was far from over, and gasolene might at any moment be a prime necessity. So we kept her going, with her beautiful sails filled out against the bluest sky you can dream of, and the ripple singing at her bow—the loveliest sight and sound in the world for a man who loves boats and the sea.
"Is there anything like it, Tom?" I asked. "Do you read your Bible? You should; it's the greatest book in the world."
Tom hastened to acquiesce.
"You remember in the Book of Job? Three things are wonderful to me, The way of a ship on the sea, the way of an eagle in the air, and the way of a man with a maid."
"Ay, ay, sir," said Tom, "the way of a ship on the sea—but the way of a man with a maid—"
"What's the matter with that, Tom?"
"They're all very pretty—just like the boat; but you'll not find one near so true. We're better without them, if you ask my advice. A man's all right as long as he keeps on his boat; but the minute he lands—the girls and the troubles begin."
"Ah! Tom," I said; "but I think you told me you've a family—"
"Yes, sar, but the only good one amongst them is in the churchyard, this fifteen years."
"Your wife, Tom?"
"Yes, sar, but she was more than a woman. She was a saint. When I talk of women I don't think of her. No; God be kind to her, she is a saint, and I only wait around till she calls me."
"Tom, allow me to shake hands with you," I said, "and call myself your friend for ever."
The tears rolled down the old fellow's cheeks, and I realised how little colour really matters, and how few white men were really as white as Tom.
And so that night we made Harbour Island, and met that welcome that can only be met at the lonely ends of the earth.
The Commandant and the clergyman took me under their wings on the spot, and, though there was a good hotel, the Commandant didn't consider it good enough for me.
Bless them both! I hope to be able some day to offer them the kind of hospitality they brought me so generously in both hands; lonely men, serving God and the British Empire, in that apparently God-forsaken outpost of the world.
I liked the attitude they took toward my adventure. Their comments on "Henry P. Tobias, Jr." and the paper I had with me, were especially enlightening.
"The black men themselves," they both agreed, "are all right, except, of course, here and there. It's fellows like this precious Tobias, real white trash—the negroes' name for them is apt enough—that are the danger for the friendship of both races. And it's the vein of a sort of a literary idealism in a fellow like Tobias that makes him the more dangerous. He's not all to the bad—"
"I couldn't help thinking that too," I interrupted.
"O! no," they said, "but he's a bit mad, too. That's his trouble. He's got a personal, as well as an abstract, grudge against the British Government."
"Treasure?" I laughed.
"How did you know?" they asked.
"Never mind; I somehow got the idea."
"And he thinks that by championing the nigger he can kill two birds, see?"
"I see," I said. "I'm sorry I didn't nab him while I had him."
"Never mind," they rejoined; "if you stick to your present object, you're bound to meet him again and soon. Only take a word of advice. Have a few guns with you, for you're liable to need them. We're not afraid about nabbing the whole bunch; but we don't want to lose good men going after a bad man. And there's such a thing as having too much courage."
"I agree," I remarked. "I'll take the guns all right, but I'm afraid I'll need some more crew. I mean I'll want an engineer, and another deck-hand."
And, just as I said this, there came up some one post-haste from the village; some one, too, that wanted the clergyman, as well as me, for my captain was ill, and at the point of death.
It was an hour or so after dinner time, and we were just enjoying our cigars.
"What on earth can be the trouble?" I said, but, the three of us, including the Commandant went.
We found the captain lying in his berth, writhing with cramps.
"What on earth have you been doing with yourself, Cap.?" I asked.
"I did nothing, sir, but eat my dinner, and drink that claret you were kind enough to give me."
"That half-bottle of claret?"
"Yes, sir, the very same."
"Well, there was nothing to hurt you in that," I said. "Did you take it half and half with water, as I told you?"
"I did indeed, sir."
"And what did you eat for your dinner?"
"Some pigeon-peas, and some rainbow fish."
"Sure, nothing else?"
"God's truth, sir."
"It's very funny," I said. And then as he began to writhe and stiffen, I called out to Tom: "Get some rum, Tom, and make it boiling hot, quick—quick!"
And Tom did.
"We must get him into a sweat."
Very soon we did. Then I said to Tom:
"What do you make out of this smell that's coming from him, Tom?"
"Kerosene, sar," said Tom.
"I thought the very same," I said.
Tom beckoned me to go with him to the galley, and showed me several quart bottles of water standing on a shelf.
"Two of these were kerosene," he said, "and I suppose Cap. made a mistake"; for one looked as clear as the other.
Then I took one of them back to the captain.
"Was it a bottle like this you mixed with the claret?" I asked.
"Sure it was, sir," he answered, writhing hard with the cramps.
"But my God, man!" I said. "Couldn't you tell the difference between that and water?"
"I thought it tasted funny, boss, but I wasn't used to claret."
And then we had to laugh again, and I thought old Tom would die.
"A nigger's stomach and his head," said the Commandant, "are about the same. I really don't know which is the stronger."
And Tom started laughing so that I believe, if the wind had been blowing that way, you could have heard him in Nassau.
The captain didn't die, though he came pretty near to it. In fact, he took so long getting on his feet, that we couldn't wait for him; so we had practically to look out for a new crew, with the exception of Tom, and Sailor. The Commandant proved a good friend to us in this, choosing three somewhat characterless men, with good "characters."
"I cannot guarantee them," he said; "that's impossible, but, so far as I know, and the parson'll bear me out, they're all quiet, good-living men. The engineer's in love, and got it bad; he is engaged to be married, and is all the gladder of the good pay you're offering—more than usually comes their way—and that always keeps a man straight, at least until after he's married."
The Commandant was a splendid fellow, and he had a knowledge of human nature that was almost Shakespearean, particularly when you considered the few and poor specimens he had to study it by.
As we said good-bye, with a spanking southwest breeze blowing, I could see that he was a little anxious about me.
"Take care of yourself," he said, "for you must remember none of us can take care of you. There's no settlement where you're going—no telegraph or wireless; you could be murdered, and none of us hear of it for a month, or for ever. And the fellows you're after are a dangerous lot, take my word for it. Keep a good watch on your guns, and we'll be on the look out for the first news of you, and anything we can do we'll be there, you bet."
And so the Maggie Darling once more bared her whiteness to the breeze, and the world seemed once more a great world.
"It's good to be alive, Tom," I said, "on a day like this, though we get killed to-morrow."
Tom agreed to this, so did Sailor; and so, I felt, did the Maggie Darling, the loveliest, proud-sailed creature that ever leaned over and laughed in the grasp of the breeze.
In Which the Sucking Fish Has a Chance to Show Its Virtue.
The breeze was so strong that we didn't use our engine that day. Besides, I wanted to take a little time thinking over my plans. I spent most of the time studying the charts and pondering John P. Tobias's narrative, which threw very little light on the situation. There was little definite to go by but his mark of the compass engraven on a certain rock in a wilderness of rocks; and such rocks as they were at that.
As I thought of that particular kind of rock, I wondered too about my three friends, trussed like fowls, on their coral rock couches. Of course they had long since cut each other free, and were somewhere active and evil-doing; and the thought of their faces seemed positively sweet to me, for of such faces are made "the bright face of danger" that all men are born to love.
Still the thought of that set me thinking too of my defences. I looked well to my guns. The Commandant had made me accept the loan of a particularly expert revolver that was, I could see, as the apple of his eye. He must have cared for me a great deal to have lent it me, and it was bright as the things we love.
Then I called Tom to me: "How about that sucking fish, Tom?" I asked.
"It's just cured, sar," he said. "I was going to offer it to you this lunch time. It's dried out fine; couldn't be better. I'll bring it to you this minute." And he went and was back again in a moment. "You must wear it right over your heart," he said, "and you'll see there's not a bullet can get near it. It's never been known for a bullet to go through a sucking fish. Even if they come near, something in the air seems to send them aside. It's God's truth."
"But, Tom," I said, "how about you?"
"I've worn one here, sar, for twenty years, and you can see for yourself"—and he bared the brown chest beneath which beat the heart that like nothing else in the world has made me believe in God.
And so we went spinning along, and, if only I had the gift of words, I could make such pictures of the islands we sailed by, the colours of the waters, the joy of our going—the white coral sand beaches and the big cocoanut palms leaning over them, and the white surges that curled along and along the surf reef, over and over again, running like children to meet each other and join each other's hands, or like piano keys rippling white under some master's fingers.
That night we made a good lee, and lay in a pool of stars, very tranquil and alive with travelling lights, great globed fishes filled with soft radiance, and dreaming glimmers and pulsating tremors of glory and sudden errands of fire. Sailor and I stayed up quite late watching the wonder in which we so spaciously floated, and of the two of us, I am sure that Sailor knew more than I.
But one thought I had which I am sure was not his, because it was born of shallower conditions than those with which his instincts have to deal. I thought: What treasure sunk into the sea by whatsoever lost ship—galleons piled up and bursting with the gold and silver of Spain, or strange triangular-sailed boats sailing from Tripoli with the many-coloured jewels of the east, "ivory, apes, and peacocks"—what treasure sunk there by man could be compared with the treasure already stored there by Nature, dropped as out of the dawn and the sunset into these unvisited waters by the lavish hand of God? What diver could hope to distinguish among all these glories the peculiar treasures of kings?
We awoke to a dawn that was a rose planted in the sky by the mysterious hand that seems to love to give the fairest thing the loneliest setting.
But there was no wind, so that day we ran on gasolene. We had some fifty miles to go to where the narrative pointed, a smaller cay, the cay which it will be remembered was, according to John Saunders's old map, known in old days as "Dead Men's Shoes"—but since known by another name which, for various reasons, I do not deem it politic to divulge—near the end of the long cay down which we were running.
Tom and I talked it over, and thought that it might be all the better to take it easy that day and arrive there next morning, when, after a good night's sleep, we should be more likely to feel rested, and ready to grapple with whatever we had to face.
So about twilight we dropped anchor in another quiet bay, so much like that of the night before, as all the bays and cays are along that coast, that you need to have sailed them from boyhood to know one from another.
The cove we were looking for, known by the cheery name of Dead Men's Shoes, proved farther off than we expected, so that we didn't come to it till toward the middle of the next afternoon, an afternoon of the most innocent gold that has ever thrown its soft radiance over an earth inhabited for the most part by ruffians and scoundrels.
The soft lapping beauty of its little cove, in such odd contrast to its sinister name—sunshine on coral sand, and farther inland, the mangrove trees, like walking laurel stepping out into the golden ripples—Ah! I should like to try my hand on the beauty of that afternoon; but we were not allowed to admire it long, for we were far from being alone.
"She's changed her paint," said Tom, at my elbow. And, looking round, I saw that our rakish schooner with the black hull was now white as a dove; and, in that soft golden water, hardly a foot and a half deep, five shadowy young sharks floated, with outstretched fins like huge bats. Our engineer, who was already wading fearlessly in the water, beautifully naked, "shooed" them off like chickens. But it was soon to be evident that more dangerous foes waited for us on the shore.
Yet there was seemingly nothing there but a pile of sponges, and a few black men. The Susan B. had changed her colour, it was true, but she was a well-known sponger, and I noticed no one among the group ashore that I recognised.
There was one foolish fellow that reminded me of my shackly deck-hand, whom I had always thought out of his mind, standing there on his head on the rocks, and waving his legs to attract attention.
"Why! There's Silly Theodore," called out the captain.
"Look out!" murmured Tom at my elbow.
"I'm going ashore all the same, Tom," I said.
"I'm going with you too," said the Captain. "You needn't be afraid of me. You're the sort I like. But look after your guns. There's going to be something doing—quiet as it looks."
So we rowed ashore, and there was Theodore capering in front of a pile of sponges, but no other face that I knew. But there were seven or eight negroes whose looks I took no great liking to.
"Like some fancy sponges to send home?" said one of these, coming up to me. "Cost you five times as much in Nassau."
"Certainly I'd like a few sponges," I said.
And then Theodore came up to me, looking as though he had lost his mind over the rather fancy silk tie I happened to be wearing.
"Give me dat!" he said, touching it, like a crazy man.
"I can't afford to give you that, Theodore."
"I'd die for dat," he declared.
"Take this handkerchief instead;" but, meanwhile, my eyes were opening. "Take this instead, Theodore," I suggested.
"I'd die for dat," he repeated, touching it.
His voice and touch made me sick and afraid, just as people in a lunatic asylum make one afraid.
"Look out!" murmured Tom again at my elbow.
And just then I noticed, hiding in some bushes of seven-year apple trees, two faces I had good reason to know.
I had barely time to pull out the Commandant's revolver from my pocket. I knew it was to be either the pock-marked genius or the engineer. But, for the moment, I was not to be sure which one I had hit. For, as my gun went off, something heavy came down on my head, and for the time I was shut off from whatever else was going on.
In Which I Once Again Sit Up and Behold the Sun.
"Which did I hit, Tom?" were my first words as I came back to the glory of the world; but I didn't say them for a long time, and, from what Tom told me it was a wonder I ever said them at all.
"There he is, sar," said Tom, pointing to a long dark figure stretched out near by. "I'm afraid he's not the man you were looking for."
"Poor fellow!" I said; it was George, the engineer; "I'm sorry—but I saw the muzzles of their guns sticking out of the bush there. It was they or me."
"That no lie, sar, and, if it hadn't been for that sucking-fish's skin, you wouldn't be here now."
"It didn't save me from a pretty good one on the head, Tom, did it?"
"No, sar, but that was just it—if it hadn't been for that knock on the head, pulling you down just that minute, that thar pock-marked fellow would have got you. As it was, he grazed your cheek, and got one of his own men killed by mistake—the very fellow that hit you. There he is—over there."
"And who's that other, Tom?" I asked, pointing to another dark figure a few yards away.
"That's the captain, sar."
"The captain? O I'm sorry for that. God knows I'm sorry for that."
"Yas, sar, he was one of the finest gentlemen I ever knowed was Captain Tomlinson; a brave man and a good navigator. And he'd taken a powerful fancy to you, for when you got that crack on the head, he picked up your gun, and began blazing away, with words I should never have expected from a religious man. The others, except our special friend—"
"Let's call him Tobias from now on, Tom," I interposed.
"Well him, sar, kept his nerve, but the others ran for the boats as if the devil was after them; but the captain's gun was quicker, and only four of them got to the Susan B. The other two fell on their faces, as if something had tripped them up, in a couple of feet of water. But, just then, Tobias hit the captain right in the heart; ah! if only he had one of those skins—but he always laughed off such things as superstitious.
"There was only me and Tobias then, and the dog, for the engineer boy had gone on his knees to the Susan B. fellows, at the first crack, and begged them to take him away with them. I wouldn't have thought it of him—for he wasn't afraid o' them sharks, sar, as you saw, but I suppose it was thinking of his gal—anyway he went off a-praying and blubbering with what was left of the crew of the Susan B., who seemed too scared to notice him, and so let him come; and, as I was saying, there was no one left but Tobias and the dog and me, and I was sure my end was not far off, for I was never much of a shot.
"As God is my witness, sar, I was ready to die, and there was a moment when I thought that the time had come and Martha was calling me; but Tobias suddenly walked away to the top of the bluff and called out to the Susan B. that was just running up her sails. At his word, they put out a boat for him, and, while he waited, he came down the hill towards me and the dog that stood growling over you; and for sure, I thought it was the end. But he said: 'Tell that fellow there that I'm not going to kill a defenceless man. He might have killed me once but he didn't. It's bound to be one of us some day or other, but despise me all he likes—I'm not such carrion as he thinks me; and if he only likes to keep out of my way, I'm willing to keep out of his. Tell him, when he wakes up, that as long as he gives up going after what belongs to me—for it was my grandfather's—he is safe, but the minute he sets his foot or hand on what is mine, it's either his life or mine.' And then he turned away and was rowed to the Susan B., and they soon sailed away."
"With the black flag at the peak, I suppose, Tom," said I. "Well, that was a fine speech, quite a flight of oratory, and I'm sure I'm obliged to him for the life that's still worth having, in spite of this ungodly aching in my head. But how about the poor captain there! Where does all his eloquence come in there? He can't call it self-defence. They were waiting ready to murder us all right behind that seven-year apple tree, as you saw. I'm afraid the captain and the law between them are all that is necessary to cook the goose of our friend Henry P. Tobias, Jr., without any help from me—though, as the captain died for me, I should prefer they allowed me to make it a personal matter."
And then I got on my feet, and went and looked at the captain's calm face.
"It's the beginning of the price," said Tom.
"The beginning of the price?"
"It's the dead hand," continued Tom; "I told you, you'll remember, that wherever treasure is there's a ghost of a dead man keeping guard, and waiting till another dead man comes along to take up sentry duty so to say."
"That's what you said, Tom," I admitted. "Several men have been killed, it's true, but no one's put his hand on the treasure."
"All the worse for that!" replied Tom, shaking his head. "These are only a beginning. The ghost is getting busy. And it makes me think that we're coming pretty near to the treasure, or we wouldn't have had all this happen."
"Growing warm, you mean, as the children say?"
"The very thing!" said Tom. "Mark me, the treasure's near by—or the ghost wouldn't be so malicious."
And then, looking around where the captain, and the engineer and Silly Theodore lay, I said:
"The first thing we've got to do is to bury these poor fellows; but where," I added, "are the other two that fell in the water?"
"O," said Tom, "a couple of sharks got them just before you woke up."
In Which Tom and I Attend Several Funerals.
When Tom and I came to look over the ground with a view to finding a burial-place for the dead, I realised with grim emphasis the truth of Charlie Webster's remarks—in those snuggery nights that seemed so remote and far away—on the nature of the soil which would have to be gone over in quest of my treasure. No wonder he had spoken of dynamite.
"Why, Tom," I said, "there isn't a wheel-barrow load of real soil in a square mile. We couldn't dig a grave for a dog in stuff like this," and, as I spoke, the pewter-like rock under my feet clanged and echoed with a metallic sound.
It was indeed a terrible land from the point of view of the husbandman. No wonder the Government couldn't dispose of it as a gift. It was a marvel that anything had the fierce courage to grow on it at all. For the most part it was of a grey clinker-like formation, tossed, as by fiery convulsions, in shelves of irregular strata, with holes every few feet suggesting the circular action of the sea—some of these holes no more than a foot wide, and some as wide as an ordinary-sized well—and in these was the only soil to be found. In them the strange and savage trees—spined, and sown thick with sharp teeth—found their rootage, and writhed about, splitting the rock into endless cracks and fissures with their fierce effort—sea-grape, with leaves like cymbal-shaped plates of green metal; gum-elemi trees, with trunks of glistening bronze; and seven-year apples, with fruit like painted wood.
Here and there was a thatch-palm, stunted, and looking like the head-dress of some savage African warrior. Inland, the creek, all white sand and golden sunny water at its opening, spread out far and near into noisome swamps overgrown with mangroves. Those strangest of all trees, that had something tender and idyllic as they stepped out into the ripple with their fresh child-like laurel-line leaves and dangling rods of emerald, that were really the suckers of their banyan-like roots, had grown into an obscene and bizarre maturity, like nightmares striding out in every direction with skeleton feet planted in festering mud, and stretching out horned, clawing hands that seemed to take root as one looked, and to throw out other roots of horror like a dream.
Twilight was beginning to add to its suggestions of diablerie, and the whole land to seem more and more the abode of devils.
"Come along, Tom, I can't stand any more of this. We'll have to leave our funerals till to-morrow, and get aboard for the night"—for the Maggie Darling was still floating there serenely, as though men and their violence had no existence on the planet.
"We'd better cover them up, against the turkey-buzzards," said Tom, two of those unsavory birds rising in the air as we returned to the shore. We did this as well as we were able with rocks and the wreckage of an old boat strewn on the beach, and, before we rowed aboard—Tom, and Sailor, and I—we managed to shoot a couple of them,—pour encourager les autres.
I don't think two men were ever so glad of the morning, driving before it the haunted night, as Tom and I; and Sailor seemed as glad as ourselves, for he too seemed to have been troubled by bad dreams, and woke me more than once, growling and moaning in his sleep in a frightened way.
After breakfast, our first thought was naturally to the sad and disagreeable business before us.
"I tell you what I've been thinking, sar," said Tom, as we rowed ashore, and I managed to pull down a turkey-buzzard that rose at our approach—happily our coverings had proved fairly effective—"I've been thinking that the only one of the three that really matters is the captain, and we can find sufficient soil for him in one of those big holes."