BY CAMILLA KENYON
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY
To L. T.
In recognition of her faith in me.
I AN AUNT ERRANT II APOLLO AND SOME OTHERS III I ENGAGE THE ENEMY IV THE ISLE OF FORTUNE V THE CAPTAIN'S LEGACY VI THE CAVE WITH TWO MOUTHS VII A RABBIT'S FOOT VIII AN EXCURSION AND AN ALARM IX "LASSIE, LASSIE . . ." X WHAT CRUSOE AND I FOUND XI MISS BROWNE HAS A VISION XII THE ISLAND QUEEN'S FREIGHT XIII I BRING TO LIGHT A CLUE XIV MR. TUBBS INTERRUPTS XV SOME SECRET DIPLOMACY XVI LIKE A CHAPTER FROM THE PAST XVII FROM DEAD HANDS XVIII OF WHICH COOKIE IS THE HERO XIX THE YOUNG PERSON SCORES XX 'TWIXT CUP AND LIP XXI THE BISHOP'S CHEST
AN AUNT ERRANT
Never had life seemed more fair and smiling than at the moment when Aunt Jane's letter descended upon me like a bolt from the blue. The fact is, I was taking a vacation from Aunt Jane. Being an orphan, I was supposed to be under Aunt Jane's wing, but this was the merest polite fiction, and I am sure that no hen with one chicken worries about it more than I did about Aunt Jane. I had spent the last three years, since Aunt Susan died and left Aunt Jane with all that money and no one to look after her but me, in snatching her from the brink of disaster. Her most recent and narrow escape was from a velvet-tongued person of half her years who turned out to be a convict on parole. She had her hand-bag packed for the elopement when I confronted her with this unpleasant fact. When she came to she was bitter instead of grateful, and went about for weeks presenting a spectacle of blighted affections which was too much for the most self-approving conscience. So it ended with my packing her off to New York, where I wrote to her frequently and kindly, urging her not to mind me but to stay as long as she liked.
Meanwhile I came up to the ranch for a long holiday with Bess and the baby, a holiday which had already stretched itself out to Thanksgiving, and threatened to last until Christmas. People wrote alluringly from town, but what had town to offer compared with a saddle-horse to yourself, and a litter of collie pups to play with, and a baby just learning to walk? I even began to consider ranching as a career, and to picture myself striding over my broad acres in top-boots and corduroys.
As to Aunt Jane, my state of mind was fatuously calm. She was staying with cousins, who live in a suburb and are frightfully respectable. I was sure they numbered no convicts among their acquaintance, or indeed any one from whom Aunt Jane was likely to require rescuing. And if it came to a retired missionary I was perfectly willing.
But the cousins and their respectability are of the passive order, whereas to manage Aunt Jane demands aggressive and continuous action. Hence the bolt from the blue above alluded to.
I was swinging tranquilly in the hammock, I remember, when Bess brought my letters and then hurried away because the baby had fallen down-stairs. Unwarned by the slightest premonitory thrill, I kept Aunt Jane's letter till the last and skimmed through all the others. I should be thankful, I suppose, that the peace soon to be so rudely shattered was prolonged for those few moments. I recalled afterward, but dimly, as though a gulf of ages yawned between, that I had been quite interested in six pages of prattle about the Patterson dance.
At last I came to Aunt Jane. I ripped open the envelope and drew out the letter—a fat one, but then Aunt Jane's letters are always fat. She says herself that she is of those whose souls flow freely forth in ink but are frozen by the cold eye of an unsympathetic listener. Nevertheless, as I spread out the close-filled pages I felt a mild wonder. Writing so large, so black, so staggering, so madly underlined, must indicate something above, even Aunt Jane's usual emotional level. Perhaps in sober truth there was a missionary-experiment to "Find Capital after , or ;" Twenty minutes later I staggered into Bess's room.
"Hush!" she said. "Don't wake the baby!"
"Baby or no baby," I whispered savagely, "I've got to have a time-table. I leave for the city tonight to catch the first steamer for Panama!"
Later, while the baby slumbered and I packed experiment to "Find Period in middle" explained. This was difficult; not that Bess is as a general thing obtuse, but because the picture of Aunt Jane embarking for some wild, lone isle of the Pacific as the head of a treasure-seeking expedition was enough to shake the strongest intellect. And yet, amid the welter of ink and eloquence which filled those fateful pages, there was the cold hard fact confronting you. Aunt Jane was going to look for buried treasure, in company with one Violet Higglesby-Browne, whom she sprung on you without the slightest explanation, as though alluding to the Queen of Sheba or the Siamese twins. By beginning at the end and reading backward—Aunt Jane's letters are usually most intelligible that way—you managed to piece together some explanation of this Miss Higglesby-Browne and her place in the scheme of things. It was through Miss Browne, whom she had met at a lecture upon Soul-Development, that Aunt Jane had come to realize her claims as an Individual upon the Cosmos, also to discover that she was by nature a woman of affairs with a talent for directing large enterprises, although adverse influences had hitherto kept her from recognizing her powers. There was a dark significance in these italics, though whether they meant me or the family lawyer I was not sure.
Miss Higglesby-Browne, however, had assisted Aunt Jane to find herself, and as a consequence Aunt Jane, for the comparatively trifling outlay needful to finance the Harding-Browne expedition, would shortly be the richer by one-fourth of a vast treasure of Spanish doubloons. The knowledge of this hoard was Miss Higglesby-Browne's alone. It had been revealed to her by a dying sailor in a London hospital, whither she had gone on a mission of kindness—you gathered that Miss Browne was precisely the sort to take advantage when people were helpless and unable to fly from her. Why the dying sailor chose to make Miss Browne the repository of his secret, I don't know—this still remains for me the unsolved mystery. But when the sailor closed his eyes the secret and the map—of course there was a map—had become Miss Higglesby-Browne's.
Miss Browne now had clear before her the road to fortune, but unfortunately it led across the sea and quite out of the route of steamer travel. Capital in excess of Miss Browne's resources was required. London proving cold before its great opportunity, Miss Browne had shaken off its dust and come to New York, where a mysteriously potent influence had guided her to Aunt Jane. Through Miss Browne's great organizing abilities, not to speak of those newly brought to light in Aunt Jane, a party of staunch comrades had been assembled, a steamer engaged to meet them at Panama, and it was ho, for the island in the blue Pacific main!
With this lyrical outburst Aunt Jane concluded the body of her letter. A small cramped post-script informed me that it was against Miss H.-B.'s wishes that she revealed their plans to any one, but that she did want to hear from me before they sailed from Panama, where a letter might reach her if I was prompt. However, if it did not she would try not to worry, for Miss Browne was very psychic, and she felt sure that any strong vibration from me would reach her via Miss B., and she was my always loving Jane Harding.
"And of course," I explained to Bess as I hurled things into my bags, "if a letter can reach her so can I. At least I must take the chance of it. What those people are up to I don't know—probably they mean to hold her for ransom and murder her outright if it is not forthcoming. Or perhaps some of them will marry her and share the spoils with Miss Higglesby-Browne. Anyway, I must get to Panama in time to save her."
"Or you might go along to the island," suggested Bess.
I paused to glare at her.
"Bess! And let them murder me too?"
"Or marry you—" cooed Bess.
One month later I was climbing out of a lumbering hack before the Tivoli hotel, which rises square and white and imposing on the low green height above the old Spanish city of Panama. In spite of the melting tropical heat there was a chill fear at my heart, the fear that Aunt Jane and her band of treasure-seekers had already departed on their quest. In that case I foresaw that whatever narrow margin of faith my fellow-voyagers on the City of Quito had had in me would shrink to nothingness. I had been obliged to be so queer and clam-like about the whole extraordinary rendezvous—for how could I expose Aunt Jane's madness to the multitude?—that I felt it would take the actual bodily presence of my aunt to convince them that she was not a myth, or at least of the wrong sex for aunts. To have traveled so far in the desperate hope of heading off Aunt Jane, only to be frustrated and to lose my character besides! It would be a stroke too much from fate, I told myself rebelliously, as I crossed the broad gallery and plunged into the cool dimness of the lobby in the wake of the bellboys who, discerning a helpless prey, had swooped en masse upon my bags.
"Miss Jane Harding?" repeated the clerk, and at the cool negation of his tone my heart gave a sickening downward swoop. "Miss Jane Harding and party have left the hotel!"
"For—for the island?" I gasped.
He raised his eyebrows. "Can't say, I'm sure." He gave me an appraising stare. Perhaps the woe in my face touched him, for he descended from the eminence of the hotel clerk where he dwelt apart sufficiently to add, "Is it important that you should see her?"
"I am her niece. I have come all the way from San Francisco expecting to join her here."
The clerk meditated, his shrewd eyes piercing the very secrets of my soul.
"She knew nothing about it," I hastened to add. "I intended it for a surprise."
This candor helped my cause. "Well," he said, "that explains her not leaving any word. As you are her niece, I suppose it will do no harm to tell you that Miss Harding and her party embarked this morning on the freighter Rufus Smith, and I think it very likely that the steamer has not left port. If you like I will send a man to the water-front with you and you may be able to go on board and have a talk with your aunt."
Did I thank him? I have often wondered when I waked up in the night. I have a vision of myself dashing out of the hotel, and then the hack that brought me is bearing me away. Bellboys hurled my bags in after me, and I threw them largess recklessly. Some arch-bellboy or other potentate had mounted to the seat beside the driver. Madly we clattered over cobbled ways. Out on the smooth waters of the roadstead lay ships great and small, ships with stripped masts and smokeless funnels, others with faint gray spirals wreathing upward from their stacks. Was one of these the Rufus Smith, and would I reach her—or him—before the thin gray feather became a thick black plume? I thought of my aunt at the mercy of these unknown adventurers with whom she had set forth, helpless as a little fat pigeon among hawks, and I felt, desperately, that I must reach her, must save her from them and bring her safe back to shore. How I was to do this at the eleventh hour plus about fifty-seven minutes as at present I hadn't considered. But experience had taught me that once in my clutches Aunt Jane would offer about as much resistance as a slightly melted wax doll. She gets so soft that you are almost afraid to touch her for fear of leaving dents.
So to get there, get there, get there, was the one prayer of my soul.
I got there, in a boat hastily commandeered by the hotel clerk's deputy. I suppose he thought me a belated passenger for the Rufus Smith, for my baggage followed me into the boat. "Pronto!" he shouted to the native boatman as we put off. "Pronto!" I urged at intervals, my eyes upon the funnels of the Rufus Smith, where the outpouring smoke was thickening alarmingly. We brought up under the side of the little steamer, and the wide surprised face of a Swedish deckhand stared down at us.
"Let me aboard! I must come aboard!" I cried.
Other faces appeared, then a rope-ladder. Somehow I was mounting it—a dizzy feat to which only the tumult of my emotions made me indifferent. Bare brawny arms of sailors clutched at me and drew me to the deck. There at once I was the center of a circle of speechless and astonished persons, all men but one.
"Well?" demanded a large breezy voice. "What's this mean? What do you want aboard my ship?"
I looked up at a red-faced man in a large straw hat.
"I want my aunt," I explained.
"Your aunt?" he roared. "Why the devil should you think I've got your aunt?"
"You have got her," I replied with firmness. "I don't see her, but she's here somewhere."
The captain of the Rufus Smith shook two large red fists above his head.
"Another lunatic!" he shouted. "I'd as soon have a white horse and a minister aboard as to go to sea in a floating bedlam!"
As the captain's angry thunder died away came the small anxious voice of Aunt Jane.
"What's the matter? Oh, please tell me what's the matter!" she was saying as she edged her way into the group. In her severely cut khaki suit she looked like a plump little dumpling that had got into a sausage wrapping by mistake. Her eyes, round, pale, blinking a little in the tropical glare, roved over the circle until they lit on me. Right where she stood Aunt Jane petrified. She endeavored to shriek, but achieved instead only a strangled wheeze. Her poor little chin dropped until it disappeared altogether in the folds of her plump neck, and she remained speechless, stricken, immobile as a wax figure in an exhibition.
"Aunt Jane," I said, "you must come right back to shore with me." I spoke calmly, for unless you are perfectly calm with Aunt Jane you fluster her.
She replied only by a slight gobbling in her throat, but the other woman spoke in a loud voice, addressed not to me but to the universe in general.
"The Young Person is mad!" It was an unmistakably British intonation.
This then was Miss Violet Higglesby-Browne, I saw a grim, bony, stocky shape, in a companion costume to my aunt's. Around the edges of her cork helmet her short iron-gray hair visibly bristled. She had a massive head, and a seamed and rugged countenance which did its best to live down the humiliation of a ridiculous little nose with no bridge. By what prophetic irony she had been named Violet is the secret of those powers which seem to love a laugh at mankind's expense.
But what riveted my eyes was the deadly glare with which hers were turned on me. I saw that not only was she as certain of my identity as though she had guided me from my first tottering steps, but that in a flash she had grasped my motives, aims and purposes, and meant once for all to face, out-general and defeat me with great slaughter.
So she announced to the company with deliberation, "The Young Person is mad!"
It nettled me extremely.
"Mad!" I flung back at her. "Because I wish to save my poor aunt from such a situation as this? It would be charitable to infer madness in those who have led her into it!" When I reviewed this speech afterward I realized that it was not, under the circumstances, the best calculated to win me friends.
"Jane!" said Miss Higglesby-Browne in deep and awful tones, "the time has come to prove your strength!"
Aunt Jane proved it by uttering a shrill yelp, and clutching her hair with a reckless disregard of its having originally been that of a total stranger. So severe were her shrieks and struggles that it was with difficulty that she was borne below in the arms of two strong men.
I had seen Aunt Jane in hysterics before—she had them that time about the convict. I was not frightened, but I hurried after her—neck and neck with Miss Browne. It was fifteen minutes before Aunt Jane came to, and then she would only moan. I bathed her head, and held her hand, and did all the regulation things, under the baleful eye of Miss Browne, who steadfastly refused to go away, but sat glaring like a gorgon who sees her prey about to be snatched from her.
In the midst of my ministrations I awoke suddenly to a rhythmic heave and throb which pervaded the ship. Dropping Aunt Jane's hand I rushed on deck. There lay the various pieces of my baggage, and in the distance the boat with the two brown rowers was skipping shoreward over the ripples.
As for the Rufus Smith, she was under weigh, and heading out of the roadstead for the open sea.
I dashed aft to the captain, who stood issuing orders in the voice of an aggrieved fog-horn.
"Captain!" I cried, "wait; turn around! You must put my aunt and me ashore!"
He whirled on me, showing a crimson angry face. "Turn around, is it, turn around ?" he shouted. "Do you suppose I can loaf about the harbor here a-waitin' on your aunt's fits? You come aboard without me askin'. Now you can go along with the rest. This here ship has got her course set for Frisco, pickin' up Leeward Island on the way, and anybody that ain't goin' in that direction is welcome to jump overboard."
That is how I happened to go to Leeward Island.
APOLLO AND SOME OTHERS
The Rufus Smith, tramp freighter, had been chartered to convey the Harding-Browne expedition to Leeward Island, which lies about three hundred miles west of Panama, and could be picked up by the freighter in her course. She was a little dingy boat with such small accommodation that I can not imagine where the majority of her passengers stowed themselves away. My aunt and Miss Browne had a stateroom between them the size of a packing-box, and somebody turned out and resigned another to me. I retired there to dress for dinner after several dismal hours spent in attendance on Aunt Jane, who had passed from great imaginary suffering into the quite genuine anguish of seasickness. In the haste of my departure from San Francisco I had not brought a trunk, so the best I was able to produce in the way of a crusher for Miss Higglesby-Browne and her fellow-passengers was a cool little white gown, which would shine at least by contrast with Miss Browne's severely utilitarian costume. White is becoming to my hair, which narrow-minded persons term red, but which has been known to cause the more discriminating to draw heavily on the dictionary for adjectives. My face is small and heart-shaped, with features strictly for use and not for ornament, but fortunately inconspicuous. As for my eyes, I think tawny quite the nicest word, though Aunt Jane calls them hazel and I have even heard whispers of green.
Five minutes after the gong sounded I walked into the cabin. Miss Browne, Captain Watkins of the freighter, and half a dozen men were already at the table. I slid unobtrusively into the one vacant place, fortunately remote from the captain, who glared at me savagely, as though still embittered by the recollection of my aunt's fits.
"Gentlemen," said Miss Browne in icy tones, "Miss Virginia Harding."
Two of the men rose, the others stared and ducked. Except for Miss Browne and the captain, I had received on coming aboard only the most blurred impression of my fellow-voyagers. I remembered them merely as a composite of khaki and cork helmets and astounded staring faces. But I felt that as the abetters of Miss Browne a hostile and sinister atmosphere enveloped them all.
Being thus in the camp of the enemy, I sat down in silence and devoted myself to my soup. The majority of my companions did likewise—audibly. But presently I heard a voice at my left:
"I say, what a jolly good sailor you seem to be—pity your aunt's not!"
I looked up and saw Apollo sitting beside me. Or rather, shall I say a young man who might have walked straight out of an advertisement for a ready-made clothing house, so ideal and impossible was his beauty. He was very tall—I had to tilt my chin quite painfully to look up at him—and from the loose collar of his silk shirt his throat rose like a column. His skin was a beautiful clear pink and white just tinged with tan—like a meringue that has been in the oven for two minutes exactly. He had a straight, chiseled profile and his hair was thick and chestnut and wavy and he had clear sea-gray eyes. To give him at once his full name and titles, he was the Honorable Cuthbert Patrick Ruthmore Vane, of High Staunton Manor, Kent, England. But as I was ignorant of this, I can truthfully say that his looks stunned me purely on their own merits.
Outwardly calm, I replied, "Yes, its too bad, but then who ever dreamed that Aunt Jane would go adventuring at her time of life? I thought nobody over the age of thirteen, and then boys, ever went treasure-hunting."
"Ah, but lads of thirteen couldn't well come such a distance on their own, you know," returned Apollo, with the kindest air of making allowance for the female intellect.
I hurriedly turned the subject.
"I really can't imagine Aunt Jane on a desert island. You should see her behave on the mere suspicion of a mouse! What will she do if she meets a cannibal and he tries to eat her?"
"Oh, really, now," argued the paragon earnestly, "I'm quite sure there's no danger of that, don't you know? I believe there are no natives at all on the island, or else quite tame ones, I forget which, and here are four of us chaps, with no end of revolvers and things—shooting-irons, as you call them in America. Mr. Shaw—sitting opposite Miss Browne, you know—is rather running things, so if you feel nervous you should talk to him. Was with the South Polar Expedition and all that—knows no end about this sort of thing—wouldn't for a moment think of letting ladies run the risk of being eaten. Really I hope you aren't in a funk about the cannibals—especially as with so many missionary Johnnies about they are most likely all converted."
"It's so comforting to think of it in that light!" I said fervently. At the same time I peeped around Apollo for a glimpse of the experienced Mr. Shaw. I saw a strong-featured, weather-beaten profile, the face of a man somewhere in his thirties, and looking, from this side view at least, not only stern but grim. He was talking quietly to the captain, whose manner toward him was almost civil.
I made up my mind at once that the backbone of the party, and inevitably the leader in its projected villainies, whatever they might be, was this rugged-looking Mr. Shaw. You couldn't fancy him as the misled follower of anybody, even the terrific Violet.
As it seemed an unpropitious moment for taking counsel with Mr. Shaw about cannibals, I tried another tack with the beautiful youth at my side.
"How did you like Panama? I fancy the old town is very picturesque."
"Oh, rather!" assented Mr. Vane. "At least, that is what those painter chaps call it—met a couple of 'em at the hotel. Beastly little narrow streets and houses in a shocking state and all that. I like to see property kept up, myself."
"I am afraid," I said severely, "that you are a philistine!"
He blinked a little. "Ah—quite so!" he murmured, recovering himself gallantly. "One of those chaps that backed Goliath against David, what?"
From this conversational impasse we were rescued by the interposition of the gentleman opposite, whose small twinkling eyes had been taking me in with intentness.
"I did some flittin' about that little old burg on my own hook," he informed us, "and what I got to say is, it needs wakin' up. Yes, sir, a bunch of live ones from the U.S.A. would shake up that little old graveyard so you wouldn't know it. I might have took a hand in it myself, if I hadn't have met up with Miss Browne and your a'nt. Yes, sir, I had a slick little proposition or two up my sleeve. Backed by some of the biggest capital in the U.S.A.—in fact, there's a bunch of fellers up there in God's country that's pretty sore on old H.H. for passin' things up this way. Kep' the wires hummin' for two-three days, till they seen I wasn't to be switched, and then the Old Man himself—no use mentionin' names, but I guess you know who I mean—Wall Street would, quick enough, anyway—the Old Man himself threatened to put his yacht in commission and come down to find out what sort of little game H. H. was playin' on him. But I done like Br'er Rabbit—jes lay low. Hamilton H. Tubbs knows a good thing when he sees it about as quick as the next one—and he knows enough to keep mum about it too!"
"None can appreciate more profoundly than myself your ability to maintain that reserve so necessary to the success of this expedition," remarked Miss Browne weightily from the far end of the table. "It is to be wished that other members of our party, though tenderly esteemed, and never more than now when weakness of body temporarily overpowers strength of soul, had shared your powers of secrecy!"
This shaft was aimed quite obviously at me, and as at the moment I could think of nothing in reply short of hurling a plate I sank into a silence which seemed to be contagious, for it spread throughout the table. Three or four rough-looking men, of whom one, a certain Captain Magnus, belonged to our party and the rest to the ship, continued vigorously to hack their way through the meal with clattering knives and forks. Of other sounds there was none. Such gloom weighed heavily on the genial spirit of Mr. Tubbs, and he lightened it by rising to propose a toast.
"Ladies and gentlemen, to her now unfortunately laid low by the pangs of mal de mer—our friend and bony dear, Miss Harding!"
This was bewildering, for neither by friend nor foe could Aunt Jane be called bony. Later, in the light of Mr. Tubbs's passion for classical allusion, I decided to translate it bona dea, and consider the family complimented. At the moment I sat stunned, but Miss Browne, with greater self-possession, majestically inclined her head and said:
"In the name of our absent friend, I thank you." In spite of wistful looks from the beautiful youth as we rose from the table, and the allurement of a tropic moon, I remained constant to duty and Aunt Jane, and immured myself in her stateroom, where I passed an enlivening evening listening to her moans. She showed a faint returning spark of life when I mentioned Cuthbert Vane, and raised her head to murmur that he was Honorable and she understood though not the heir still likely to inherit and perhaps after all Providence—
The unspoken end of Aunt Jane's sentence pursued me into dreams in which an unknown gentleman obligingly broke his neck riding to hounds and left Apollo heir to the title and estates.
I ENGAGE THE ENEMY
It was fortunate that I slept well in my narrow berth on board the Rufus Smith, for the next day was one of trial. Aunt Jane had recovered what Mr. Tubbs, with deprecating coughs behind his hand, alluded to as her sea-legs, and staggered forth wanly, leaning on the arm of Miss Higglesby-Browne. Yes, of Miss Browne, while I, Aunt Jane's own niece, trotted meekly in the rear with a cushion. Already I had begun to realize how fatally I had underrated the lady of the hyphen, in imagining I had only to come and see and conquer Aunt Jane. The grim and bony one had made hay while the sun shone—while I was idling in California, and those criminally supine cousins were allowing Aunt Jane to run about New York at her own wild will. Miss Higglesby-Browne had her own collar and tag on Aunt Jane now, while she, so complete was her perversion, fairly hugged her slavery and called it freedom. Yes, she talked about her Emancipation and her Soul-force and her Individuality, prattling away like a child that has learned its lesson well.
"Mercy, aunty, what long words!" I cried gaily, sitting down beside her and patting her hand. Usually I can do anything with her when I pet her up a bit. But the eye of Miss Higglesby-Browne was on her—and Aunt Jane actually drew a little away.
"Really, Virginia," she said, feebly endeavoring to rise to the occasion as she knew Miss Browne would have her rise, "really, while it's very nice to see you and all that, still I hope you realize that I have had a—a deep Soul-experience, and that I am no longer to be—trifled with and—and treated as if I were—amusing. I am really at a loss to imagine why you came. I wrote you that I was in the company of trusted friends."
"Friends?" I echoed aggrievedly. "Friends are all very well, of course, but when you and I have just each other, aunty, I think it is unkind of you to expect me to stay thousands of miles away from you all by myself."
"But it was you who sent me to New York, and insisted on my staying there!" she cried. Evidently she had been living over her wrongs.
"Yes—but how different!" I interrupted hastily. "There were the cousins—of course I have to spare you sometimes to the rest of the family!" Aunt Jane is strong on family feeling, and frequently reproaches me with my lack of it.
But in expecting Aunt Jane to soften at this I reckoned without Miss Higglesby-Browne. A dart from the cold gray eyes galvanized my aunt into a sudden rigid erectness.
"My dear Virginia," she said with quavering severity, "let me remind you that there are ties even dearer than those of blood—soul-affinities, you know, and—and, in short, in my dear friend Miss Higglesby-Browne I have met for the first time in my life with a—a Sympathetic Intelligence that understands Me!"
So that was Violet's line! I surveyed the Sympathetic Intelligence with a smiling interest.
"Really, how nice! And of course you feel quite sure that on your side you thoroughly understand—Miss Higglesby-Browne?"
Miss Browne's hair was rather like a clothesbrush in her mildest moods. In her rising wrath it seemed to quiver like a lion's mane.
"Miss Harding," she said, in the chest-tones she reserved for critical moments, "has a nature impossible to deceive, because itself incapable of deception. Miss Harding and I first met—on this present plane—in an atmosphere unusually favorable to soul-revelation. I knew at once that here was the appointed comrade, while in Miss Harding there was the immediate recognition of a complementary spiritual force."
"It's perfectly true, Virginia," exclaimed Aunt Jane, beginning to cry. "You and Susan and everybody have always treated me as if I were a child and didn't know what I wanted, when the fact is I always have known perfectly well!" The last words issued in a wail from the depths of her handkerchief.
"You mean, I suppose," I exploded, "that what you have always wanted was to go off on this perfectly crazy chase after imaginary treasure!" There, now I had gone and done it. Of course it was my red hair.
"Jane," uttered Miss Higglesby-Browne in deep and awful tones, "do you or do you not realize how strangely prophetic were the warnings I gave you from the first—that if you revealed our plans malignant Influences would be brought to bear? Be strong, Jane—cling to the Dynamic Thought!"
"I'm clinging!" sniffed Aunt Jane, dabbing away her tears. I never saw any one get so pink about the eyes and nose at the smallest sign of weeping, and yet she is always doing it. "Really, Virginia," she broke out in a whimper, "it is not kind to say, I suppose, but I would just as soon you hadn't come! Just when I was learning to expand my individuality—and then you come and somehow make it seem so much more difficult!"
I rose. "Very well, Aunt Jane," I said coldly. "Expand all you like. When you get to the bursting point I'll do my best to save the pieces. For the present I suppose I had better leave you to company so much more favorable to your soul development!" And I walked away with my head in the air.
It was so much in the air, and the deck of the Rufus Smith was so unstable, that I fell over a coil of rope and fetched up in the arms of the Honorable Cuthbert Vane. Fortunately this occurred around the corner of the deck-house, out of sight of my aunt and Miss Browne, so the latter was unable to shed the lurid light on the episode which she doubtless would if she had seen it. Mr. Vane stood the shock well and promptly set me on my feet.
"I say!" he exclaimed sympathetically, "not hurt, are you? Beastly nuisance, you know, these ropes lying about—regular man-traps, I call 'em."
"Thanks, I'm quite all right," I said, and as I spoke two large genuine tears welled up into my eyes. I hadn't realized till I felt them smarting on my eyelids how deeply hurt I was at the unnatural behavior of Aunt Jane.
"Ah—I'm afraid you are really not quite all right!" returned the Honorable Cuthbert with profound concern. "Tell me what's the matter—please do!"
I shook my head. "It's nothing—you couldn't help me. It's just—Aunt Jane."
"Your aunt? Has she been kicking-up a bit? I thought she looked rather a mild sort."
"Oh—mild! That's just it—so mild that she has let this awful Higglesby-Browne person get possession of her body and soul."
"Oh, I say, aren't you a bit rough on Miss Browne? Thought she was a rather remarkable old party—goes in strong for intellect and all that, you know."
"That's just what fooled Aunt Jane so—but, I thought a man would know better." My feathers were ruffled again.
"Well, fact is, I'm not so much up in that sort of thing myself," he admitted modestly. "Rather took her word for it and all that, you know. There's Shaw, though—cleverest chap going, I assure you. I rather fancy Miss Browne couldn't pull the wool over his eyes much."
"She evidently did, though," I said snappishly, "since he's let her rope him in for such a wild goose chase as this!" In my heart I felt convinced that the clever Mr. Shaw was merely Miss Browne's partner in imposture.
"Oh, really, now. Miss Harding, you don't think it's that—that the thing's all moonshine?" He stared at me in grieved surprise.
"Why, what else can it be?" I demanded, driven by my wrongs to the cruelty of shattering his illusions. "Who ever heard of a pirate's treasure that wasn't moonshine? The moment I had read Aunt Jane's letter telling of the perfectly absurd business she was setting out on I rushed down by the first boat. Of course I meant to take her back with me, to put a stop to all this madness; but I was too late—and you're glad of it, I dare say!"
"I can't help being glad, you know," he replied, the color rising to his ingenuous cheeks. "It's so frightfully jolly having you along. Only I'm sorry you came against your will. Rather fancy you had it in your head that we were a band of cutthroats, eh? Well, the fact is I don't know much about the two chaps Miss Browne picked up, though I suspect they are a very decent sort. That odd fish, Captain Magnus, now—he was quite Miss Browne's own find, I assure you. And as to old H. H.—Tubbs, you know—Miss Browne met up with him on the boat coming down. The rum old chap got on her soft side somehow, and first thing she had appointed him secretary and treasurer—as though we were a meeting of something. Shaw was quite a bit upset about it. He and I were a week later in arriving—came straight on from England with the supplies, while Miss Browne fixed things up with the little black-and-tan country that owns the island. I say, Miss Harding, you're bound to like Shaw no end when you know him—he's such a wonderfully clever chap!"
I had no wish to blight his faith in the superlative Mr. Shaw, and said nothing. This evidently pained him, and as we stood leaning on the rail in the shadow of the deck-house, watching the blue water slide by, he continued to sound the praises of his idol. It seemed that as soon as Miss Browne had beguiled Aunt Jane into financing her scheme—a feat equivalent to robbing an infant-class scholar of his Sunday-school nickel—she had cast about for a worthy leader for the forthcoming Harding-Browne expedition. All the winds of fame were bearing abroad just then the name of a certain young explorer who had lately added another continent or two to the British Empire. Linked with his were other names, those of his fellow adventurers, which shone only less brightly than that of their chief. One Dugald Shaw had been among the great man's most trusted lieutenants, but now, on the organizing of the second expedition, he was left behind in London, only half recovered of a wound received in the Antarctic. The hook of a block and tackle had caught him, ripped his forehead open from cheek to temple, and for a time threatened the sight of the eye. Slowly, under the care of the London surgeons, he had recovered, and the eye was saved. Meanwhile his old companions had taken again the path of glory, and were far on their way back to the ice-fields of the South Pole. Only Dugald Shaw was left behind.
"And so," the even voice flowed on, "when I ran on to him in London he was feeling fearfully low, I do assure you. A chap of his sort naturally hates to think he's on the shelf. I had known him since I was a little 'un, when we used to go to Scotland for our holidays, and he would be home from sea and staying with his cousin at the manse. He'd make us boats and spin all sorts of yarns, and we thought him a bigger man than the admiral of the fleet.
"Well, old Shaw was fancying there was nothing for it but to go back to his place with the P. & O., which seemed a bit flat after what he'd been having, and meant he would never get beyond being the captain of a liner, and not that for a good many years to come, when a cable came from this Miss Higglesby-Brown offering him command of this expedition. As neither of us had ever heard of Miss Higglesby-Browne, we were both a bit floored for a time. But Shaw smoked a pipe on it, and then he said, 'Old chap, if they'll give me my figure, I'm their man.' And I said, 'Quite so, old chap, and I'll go along, too.'
"I had to argue quite a bit, but in the end the dear old boy let me come—after wiring the pater and what not. And I do assure you, Miss Harding, it strikes me as no end of a lark—besides expecting it to put old Shaw on his feet and give us hatfuls of money all round."
Well, it was a plausible story, and I had no doubt, so far as the Honorable Cuthbert was concerned, an absolutely truthful one. The beautiful youth was manifestly as guileless as a small boy playing pirate with a wooden sword. But as to Mr. Shaw, who could tell that it hadn't after all been a trumped-up affair between Miss Browne and him—that his surprise at the message was not assumed to throw dust in the eyes of his young and trusting friend? Are even the most valiant adventurers invariably honest? Left behind by his companions because of his injury, his chance of an enduring fame cut off, with no prospects but those of an officer on an ocean liner, might he not lend a ready ear to a scheme for plucking a fat and willing pigeon? So great was my faith in Aunt Jane's gullibility, so dark my distrust of Miss Browne, that all connected with the enterprise lay under the cloud of my suspicion. The Honorable Mr. Vane I had already so far exculpated as to wonder if he were not in some way being victimized too; but Mr. Shaw, after even a casual glimpse of him, one couldn't picture as a victim. I felt that he must have gone into the enterprise with his eyes open to its absurdity, and fully aware that the only gold to be won by anybody must come out of the pocket of Aunt Jane.
As these reflections passed through my mind I looked up and saw the subject of them approaching. He lifted his helmet, but met my eyes unsmilingly, with a sort of sober scrutiny. He had the tanned skin of a sailor, and brown hair cropped close and showing a trace of gray. This and a certain dour grim look he had made me at first consider him quite middle-aged, though I knew later that he was not yet thirty-five. As to the grimness, perhaps, I unwillingly conceded, part of it was due to the scar which seamed the right temple to the eyebrow, in a straight livid line. But it was a grim face anyway, strong-jawed, with piercing steel-blue eyes.
He was welcomed by Mr. Vane with a joyous thump on the shoulder-blade. "I say, old man, Miss Harding has turned out to be the most fearful doubting Thomas—thinks the whole scheme quite mad and all that sort of thing. I'm far too great a duffer to convert her, but perhaps you might, don't you know?"
Mr. Shaw looked at me steadily. His eyes were the kind that seem to see all and reveal nothing. I felt a hot spark of defiance rising in my own.
"And indeed it is too bad," he said coolly, "that the trip should not be more to Miss Harding's liking." The rough edges of his Scotch burr had been smoothed down by much wandering, but you knew at once on which side of the Solway he had seen the light.
"It is not a question of my liking," I retorted, trying to preserve an unmoved and lofty demeanor, though my heart was beating rather quickly at finding myself actually crossing swords with the redoubtable adventurer, this man who had often faced death, I could not refuse to believe, as steadily as he was facing me now.
"It is not at all a question of my liking or not liking the trip, but of the trip itself being—quite the wildest thing ever heard of out of a story-book." Harsher terms had sprung first to my lips, but had somehow failed to get beyond them.
"Ah—yet the world would be the poorer if certain wild trips had not been taken. I seem to remember one Christopher Columbus, for instance."
By a vivid lightning-flash of wrath I felt that this adventurer was laughing at me a little under his sober exterior—even stirring me up as one does an angry kitten.
"Yes," I flared out, "but Columbus did not inveigle a confiding old lady to go along with him!" Of course Aunt Jane is not, properly speaking, an old lady, but it was much more effective to pose her as one for the moment.
It was certainly effective, to judge by the sudden firm setting of his mouth.
"Lad," he said quietly, "lend a hand below, will you? They are overhauling some of our stuff 'tween decks."
He waited until the Honorable Cuthbert, looking rather dazed, had retired. We stood facing each other, my breath coming rather hurriedly. There was a kind of still force about this mastered anger of the dour Scot, like the brooding of black clouds that at any moment may send forth their devastating fire. Yet I myself was not endowed with red hair for nothing.
"Miss Harding," he said slowly, "that was a bitter word you said."
My head went up.
"Bitter, perhaps," I flung back, "but is it not true? It is for you to answer."
"No, it is not for me to answer, because it is not for you to ask. But since you talk of inveigling, let me give the history of my connection with the expedition. You will understand then that I had nothing to do with organizing it, but was merely engaged to do my best to carry it through to success."
"I have already heard a version of the matter from Mr. Vane."
"And you think he is in the conspiracy too?" "Certainly not," I replied hastily. "I mean—of course, I know he told me exactly what he believes himself."
"Yes, you would take the lad's word, of course." This with a slight but significant emphasis of which he was perhaps unconscious. "Then I suppose you consider that he was inveigled too?"
"I am not required to consider Mr. Vane's status at all," I replied with dignity. "It is my aunt whom I wish to protect." And suddenly to my dismay my voice grew husky. I had to turn my head aside and blink hard at the sea. I seemed to be encountering fearful and unexpected odds in my endeavor to rescue Aunt Jane.
He stood looking down at me—he was a big man, though of lesser height than the superb Cuthbert—in a way I couldn't quite understand. And what I don't understand always makes me uncomfortable.
"Very well," he said after a pause. "Maybe your opportunity will come. It would be a pity indeed if Miss Harding were to require no protecting and a young lady here with such a good will to it. But if you will take the suggestion of a man of rather broader experience than your own, you will wait until the occasion arises. It is bad generalship, really, to waste your ammunition like this."
"I dare say I am not a master of strategy," I cried, furious at myself for my moment of weakness and at him for the softening tone which had crept into his voice. "I am merely—honest. And when I see Aunt Jane hypnotized—by this Violet person—"
"And indeed I have seen no reason to think that Miss Higglesby-Browne is not a most excellent lady," interrupted Mr. Shaw stiffly. "And let me say this, Miss Harding: here we are all together, whether we wish to be or no, and for six weeks or more on the island we shall see no faces but our own. Are we to be divided from the beginning by quarrels? Are maybe even the men of us to be set by the ears through the bickering of women?"
Like the nick of a whip came the certainty that he was thinking of the Honorable Cuthbert, and that I was the rock on which their David-and-Jonathan friendship might split. Otherwise I suppose Miss Higglesby-Browne and I might have clawed each other forever without interference from him.
"Really," I said with—I hope—well-simulated scorn, "since I am quite alone against half a dozen of you, I should think you could count on putting down any rebellion on my part very easily. I repeat, I had no other object in coming along—though I was really kidnaped along—than to look after my aunt. The affairs of the party otherwise—or its personnel—-do not interest me at all. As to the treasure, of course I know perfectly well that there isn't any."
And I turned my back and looked steadily out to sea. After a moment or two I heard him turn on his heel and go away. It was none too soon, for I had already begun to feel unostentatiously for my handkerchief. Any way, I had had the last word—
The rest of my day was lonely, for the beautiful youth, probably by malevolent design, was kept busy between decks. Mr. Tubbs danced attendance on Aunt Jane and Miss Browne, so assiduously that I already began to see some of my worst fears realized. There was nothing for me to do but to retire to my berth and peruse a tattered copy of Huckleberry Finn which I found in the cabin.
At dinner, having the Honorable Cuthbert at my elbow, it was easier than not to ignore every one else. The small keen eyes of Mr. Tubbs, under his lofty and polished dome of thought, watched us knowingly. You saw that he was getting ready to assume a bless-you-my-children attitude and even to take credit somehow as match-maker. He related anecdotes, in which, as an emissary of Cupid, he played a benevolent and leading role. One detected, too, a grin, ugly and unmirthful, on the unprepossessing countenance of Captain Magnus. I was indifferent. The man my gaiety was intended for sat at the far end of the table. I had to wipe out the memory of my wet eyes that afternoon.
Directly dinner was at an end, remorselessly he led the Honorable Cuthbert away. I retired to Huckleberry Finn. But a face with a scar running to the eyebrow looked up at me from the pages, and I held colloquies with it in which I said all the brilliant and cutting things which had occurred to me too late.
I was thus engaged when a cry rang through the ship: "Land ho!"
THE ISLE OF FORTUNE
I dropped my book and ran on deck. Every one else was already there. I joined the row at the rail, indifferent, for the moment, to the fact that to display so much interest in their ridiculous island involved a descent from my pinnacle. Indeed, the chill altitude of pinnacles never agrees with me for long at a time, so that I am obliged to descend at intervals to breathe the air on the common level.
The great gleaming orb of the tropic moon was blinding as the sun. Away to the faint translucent line of the horizon rolled an infinity of shining sea. Straight ahead rose a dark conical mass. It was the mountainous shape of Leeward Island.
Everybody was craning to get a clearer view. "Hail, isle of Fortune!" exclaimed Miss Browne. I think my aunt would not have been surprised if it had begun to rain doubloons upon the deck.
"I bet we don't put it over some on them original Argonaut fellers, hey?" cried Mr. Tubbs.
Higher and higher across the sky-line cut the dark crest of the island as the freighter steamed valiantly ahead. She had a manner all her own of progressing by a series of headlong lunges, followed by a nerve-racking pause before she found her equilibrium again. But she managed to wallow forward at a good gait, and the island grew clearer momently. Sheer and formidable from the sea rose a line of black cliffs, and above them a single peak threw its shadow far across the water. Faintly we made out the white line of the breakers foaming at the foot of the cliffs.
We coasted slowly along, looking for the mouth of the little bay. Meanwhile we had collected our belongings, and stood grouped about the deck, ready for the first thrilling plunge into adventure. My aunt and Miss Browne had tied huge green veils over their cork helmets, and were clumping about in tremendous hobnailed boots. I could not hope to rival this severely military get-up, but I had a blue linen skirt and a white middy, and trusted that my small stock of similar garments would last out our time on the island. All the luggage I was allowed to take was in a traveling bag and a gunny-sack, obligingly donated by the cook. Speaking of cooks, I found we had one of our own along, a coal-black negro with grizzled wool, an unctuous voice, and the manners of an old-school family retainer. So far as I know, his name was Cookie. I suppose he had received another once from his sponsors in baptism, but if so, it was buried in oblivion.
Now a narrow gleaming gap appeared in the wall of cliffs, and the freighter whistled and lay to. There began a bustle at the davits, and shouts of "Lower away!" and for the first time it swept over me that we were to be put ashore in boats. Simultaneously this fact swept over Aunt Jane, and I think also over Miss Browne, for I saw her fling one wild glance around, as though in search of some impossible means of retreat. But she took the blow in a grim silence, while Aunt Jane burst out in lamentation. She would not, could not go in a boat. She had heard all her life that small boats were most unsafe. A little girl had been drowned in a lake near where she was visiting once through going in a boat. Why didn't the captain sail right up to the island as she had expected and put us ashore? Even at Panama with only a little way to go she had felt it suicidal—here it was not to be thought of.
But the preparations for this desperate step went on apace, and no one heeded Aunt Jane but Mr. Tubbs, who had hastened to succor beauty in distress, and mingled broken exhortations to courage with hints that if his opinion had been attended to all would be well.
Then Aunt Jane clutched at Mr. Shaw's coat lapel as he went by, and he stopped long enough to explain patiently that vessels of the freighter's size could not enter the bay, and that there really was no danger, and that Aunt Jane might wait if she liked till the last boat, as it would take several trips to transfer us and our baggage. I supposed of course that this would include me, and stood leaning on the rail, watching the first boat with Mr. Shaw, Captain Magnus and the cook, fade to a dark speck on the water, when Mr. Vane appeared at my elbow.
"Ready, Miss Harding? You are to go in the next boat, with me. I asked especially."
"Oh, thanks!" I cried fervently. He would be much nicer than Mr. Tubbs to cling to as I went down—indeed, he was so tall that if it were at all a shallow place I might use him as a stepping-stone and survive. I hoped drowning men didn't gurgle very much—meanwhile Mr. Vane had disappeared over the side, and a sailor was lifting me and setting my reluctant feet on the strands of the ladder.
"Good-by, auntie !" I cried, as I began the descent. "Don't blame yourself too much. Everybody has to go some time, you know, and they say drowning's easy."
With a stifled cry Aunt Jane forsook Mr. Tubbs and flew to the rail. I was already out of reach.
"Oh, Virginia!" she wailed. "Oh, my dear child! If it should be the last parting!"
"Give my jewelry and things to Bess's baby!" I found strength to call back. What with the wallowing of the steamer and the natural instability of rope-ladders I seemed a mere atom tossed about in a swaying, reeling universe. What will Aunt Jane do? flashed through my mind, and I wished I had waited to see. Then the arms of the Honorable Mr. Vane received me. The strong rowers bent their backs, and the boat shot out over the mile or two of bright water between us and the island. Great slow swells lifted us. We dipped with a soothing, cradle-like motion. I forgot to be afraid, in the delight of the warm wind that fanned our cheeks, of the moonbeams that on the crest of every ripple were splintered to a thousand dancing lights. I forgot fear, forgot Miss Higglesby-Browne, forgot the harshness of the Scotch character.
"Oh, glorious, glorious!" I cried to Cuthbert Vane.
"Not so dusty, eh?" he came back in their ridiculous English slang. Now an American would have said some little old moon that! We certainly have our points of superiority.
All around the island white charging lines of breakers foamed on ragged half-seen reefs. You saw the flash of foam leaping half the height of the black cliffs. The thunder of the surf was in our ears, now rising to wild clamor, fierce, hungry, menacing, now dying to a vast broken mutter. Now our boat felt the lift of the great shoreward rollers, and sprang forward like a living thing. The other boat, empty of all but the rowers and returning from the island to the ship, passed us with a hail. We steered warily away from a wild welter of foam at the end of a long point, and shot beyond it on the heave of a great swell into quiet water. We were in the little bay under the shadow of the frowning cliff's.
At the head of the bay, a quarter of a mile away, lay a broad white beach shining under the moon. At the edge of dark woods beyond a fire burned redly. It threw into relief the black moving shapes of men upon the sand. The waters of the cove broke upon the beach in a white lacework of foam.
Straight for the sand the sailors drove the boat. She struck it with a jar, grinding forward heavily. The men sprang overboard, wading half-way to the waist. And the arms of the Honorable Cuthbert Vane had snatched me up and were bearing me safe and dry to shore.
The sailors hauled on the boat, dragging it up the beach, and I saw the Scotchman lending them a hand. The hard dry sand was crunching under the heels of Mr. Vane. I wriggled a little and Apollo, who had grown absent-minded apparently, set me down.
Mr. Shaw approached and the two men greeted each other in their offhand British way. As we couldn't well, under the circumstances, maintain a fiction of mutual invisibility, Mr. Shaw, with a certain obvious hesitation, turned to me.
"Only lady passenger, eh? Hope you're not wet through. Cookie's making coffee over yonder."
"I say, Shaw," cried the beautiful youth enthusiastically, "Miss Harding's the most ripping sport, you know! Not the least nervous about the trip, I assure you."
"I was," I announced, moved to defiance by the neighborhood of Mr. Shaw. "Before we started I was so afraid that if you had listened you might have heard my teeth chattering. But I had at least the comforting thought that if I did go to my end it would not be simply in pursuit of sordid gain!"
"And indeed that was almost a waste of noble sentiment under the circumstances," answered the dour Scot, with the fleeting shadow of an enraging smile. "Such disappointingly calm weather as it is! See that Miss Harding has some coffee, Bert."
I promised myself, as I went with Mr. Vane toward the fire, that some day I would find the weapon that would penetrate the Scotchman's armor—and would use it mercilessly.
Cookie, in his white attire, and with his black shining face and ivory teeth gleaming in the ruddy firelight, looked like a converted cannibal—perhaps won from his errors by one of Mr. Vane's missionary Johnnies. He received us with unctuous warmth.
"Well, now, 'clar to goodness if it ain't the li'le lady! How come you git ashore all dry lak you is? Yes, sah, Cookie'll git you-all some'n hot immejusly." He wafted me with stately gestures to a seat on an overturned iron kettle, and served my coffee with an air appropriate to mahogany and plate. It was something to see him wait on Cuthbert Vane. As Cookie told me later, in the course of our rapidly developing friendship, "dat young gemmun am sure one ob de quality." To indicate the certainty of Cookie's instinct, Miss Higglesby-Browne was never more to him than "dat pusson." and the cold aloofness of his manner toward her, which yet never sank to impertinence, would have done credit to a duke.
On the beach Mr. Shaw, Captain Magnus and the sailors were toiling, unloading and piling up stores. Rather laggingly, Apollo joined them. I was glad, for a heavy fatigue was stealing over me. Cookie, taking note of my sagging head, brought me somebody's dunnage bag for a pillow. I felt him drawing a tarpaulin over me as I sank into bottomless depths of sleep.
I opened my eyes to the dying stars. The moon had set. Black shapes of tree and boulder loomed portentous through the ashen dimness that precedes the dawn. I heard men shouting, "Here she comes!" "Stand by to lend a hand!" In haste I scrambled up and tore for the beach. I must witness the landing of Aunt Jane.
"Where are they, where are they?" I demanded, rubbing my sleepy eyes.
"Why didn't you stay by the fire and have your nap out?" asked Mr. Shaw, in a tone which seemed to have forgotten for the moment to be frigid—perhaps because I hadn't yet waked up enough to have my quills in good pricking order.
"Nap? Do you think that for all the treasure ever buried by a pirate I would miss the spectacle of Aunt Jane and Miss Browne arriving? I expect it to compensate me for all I have suffered on this trip so far."
"See what it is, Bert," exclaimed the Scotchman, "to have a truly gentle and forgiving nature—how it brings its own reward. I'm afraid you and I miss a great deal in life, lad."
The beautiful youth pondered this.
"I don't know," he replied, "what you say sounds quite fit and proper for the parson, and all that, of course, but I fancy you are a bit out in supposing that Miss Harding is so forgiving, old man."
"I didn't know that you thought so badly of me, too!" I said timidly. I couldn't help it—the temptation was too great.
"I? Oh, really, now, you can't think that!" Through the dusk I saw that he was flushing hotly.
"Lad," said the Scotchman in a suddenly harsh voice, "lend a hand with this rope, will you?" And in the dusk I turned away to hide my triumphant smiles. I had found the weak spot of my foe—as Mr. Tubbs might have said, I was wise to Achilles's heel.
And now through the dawn-twilight that lay upon the cove the boat drew near that bore Mr. Tubbs and his fair charges. I saw the three cork helmets grouped together in the stern. Then the foaming fringe of wavelets caught the boat, hurled it forward, seemed all but to engulf it out leaped the sailors. Out leaped Mr. Tubbs, and disappeared at once beneath the waves. Shrill and prolonged rose the shrieks of my aunt and Miss Higglesby-Browne. Valiantly Mr. Shaw and Cuthbert Vane had rushed into the deep. Each now appeared staggering up the steep, foam-swept strand under a struggling burden. Even after they were safely deposited on the sand. Miss Browne and my aunt continued to shriek.
"Save, save Mr. Tubbs!" implored Aunt Jane. But Mr. Tubbs, overlooked by all but this thoughtful friend, had cannily saved himself. He advanced upon us dripping.
"A close call!" he sang out cheerfully. "Thought one time old Nep had got a strangle-hold all right. Thinks I, I guess there'll be something doing when Wall Street gets this news—that old H. H. is food for the finny denizens of the deep!"
"Such an event, Mr. Tubbs," pronounced Violet, who had recovered her form with surprising swiftness, "might well have sent its vibrations through the financial arteries of the world!"
"It would have been most—most shocking!" quavered poor Aunt Jane with feeling. She was piteously striving to extricate herself from the folds of the green veil.
I came to her assistance. The poor plump little woman was trembling from head to foot.
"It was a most—unusual experience," she told me as I unwound her. "Probably extremely—unifying to the soul-forces and all that, as Miss Browne says, but for the moment—unsettling. Is my helmet on straight, dear? I think it is a little severe for my type of face, don't you? There was a sweet little hat in a Fifth Avenue shop—simple and yet so chic. I thought it just the thing, but Miss Browne said no, helmets were always worn—Coffee? Oh, my dear child, how thankful I shall be!"
And Aunt Jane clung to me as of yore as I led her up the beach.
THE CAPTAIN'S LEGACY
When in my tender years I was taken to the matinee, usually the most thrilling feature of the spectacle to me was the scene depicted on the drop-curtain. I know not why only the decorators of drop-curtains are inspired to create landscapes of such strange enchantment, of a beauty which not alone beguiles the senses—I speak from the standpoint of the ten-year-old—but throws wide to fancy the gate of dreams. Directly I was seated—in the body—and had had my hat taken off and been told not to wriggle, I vaulted airily over the unconscious audience, over an orchestra engaged in tuning up, and was lost in the marvelous landscape of the drop-curtain. The adventures which I had there put to shame any which the raising of the curtain permitted to be seen upon the stage.
I had never hoped to recover in this prosaic world my long-lost paradise of the drop-curtain, but morning revealed it to me here on Leeward Island. Here was the feathery foliage, the gushing springs, the gorgeous flowers of that enchanted land. And here were the soft and intoxicating perfumes that I had imagined in my curtain landscape.
Leeward Island measures roughly four miles across from east to west by three from north to south. The core of the island is the peak, rising to a height of nearly three thousand feet. At its base on three sides lies a plateau, its edges gnawed away by the sea to the underlying rocky skeleton. On the southeastern quarter the peak drops by a series of great precipices straight into the sea.
Back from the cove stretches a little hollow, its floor rising gently to the level of the plateau. Innumerable clear springs which burst from the mountain converge to a limpid stream, which winds through the hollow to fall into the little bay. All the plateau and much of the peak are clothed with woods, a beautiful bright green against the sapphire of sea and sky. High above all other growth wave the feathery tops of the cocoa-palms, which flourish here luxuriantly. You saw them in their thousands, slender and swaying, tossing all together in the light sea-wind their crowns of nodding plumes.
The palms were nowhere more abundant than in the hollow by the cove where our camp was made, and their size and the regularity of their order spoke of cultivation. Guavas, oranges and lemons grew here, too, and many beautiful banana-palms. The rank forest growth had been so thoroughly cleared out that it had not yet returned, except stealthily in the shape of brilliant-flowered creepers which wound their sinuous way from tree to tree, like fair Delilahs striving to overcome arboreal Samsons by their wiles. They were rankest beside the stream, which ran at one edge of the hollow under the rise of the plateau.
At the side of the clearing toward the stream stood a hut, built of cocoa-palm logs. Its roof of palm-thatch had been scattered by storms. Nearer the stream on a bench were an old decaying wash-tub and a board. A broken frying-pan and a rusty axe-head lay in the grass.
In the hut itself were a rude bedstead, a small table, and a cupboard made of boxes. I was excited at first, and fancied we had come upon the dwelling of a marooned pirate. Without taking the trouble to combat this opinion, Mr. Shaw explained to Cuthbert Vane that a copra gatherer had once lived here, and that the place must have yielded such a profit that he was only surprised to find it deserted now. Behind this cool, unemphatic speech I sensed an ironic zest in the destruction of my pirate.
After their thrilling experience of being ferried from the Rufus Smith to the island, my aunt and Miss Browne had been easily persuaded to dispose themselves for naps. Aunt Jane, however, could not be at rest until Mr. Tubbs had been restored by a cordial which she extracted with much effort from the depths of her hand-bag. He partook with gravity and the rolled up eyes of gratitude, and retired grimacing to comfort himself from a private bottle of his own.
The boats of the Rufus Smith had departed from the island, and our relations with humanity were severed. The thought of our isolation awed and fascinated me as I sat meditatively upon a keg of nails watching the miracle of the tropic dawn. The men were hard at work with bales and boxes, except Mr. Tubbs, who gave advice. It must have been valuable advice, for he assured everybody that a word from his lips had invariably been enough to make Wall Street sit up and take notice. But it is a far cry from Wall Street to Leeward Island. Mr. Tubbs, ignored, sought refuge with me at last, and pointed out the beauties of Aroarer as she rose from the embrace of Neptune.
"Aroarer Borealis, to be accurate," he explained, "but they didn't use parties' surnames much in classic times."
The glad cry of breakfast put an end to Mr. Tubbs's exposition of mythology.
So does dull reality clog the feet of dreams that it proved impossible to begin the day by digging up the treasure. Camp had to be arranged, for folk must eat and sleep even with the wealth of the Indies to be had for the turning of a sod. The cabin was reroofed and set apart as the bower of Aunt Jane and Miss Browne. I declined to make a third in this sanctuary. You could tell by looking at her that Violet was the sort of person who would inevitably sleep out loud.
"Hang me up in a tree or anywhere," I insisted, and it ended by my having a tarpaulin shelter rigged up in a group of cocoa-palms.
Among our earliest discoveries on the island was one regrettable from the point of view of romance, though rich in practical advantages; the woods were the abode of numerous wild pigs. This is not to write a new chapter on the geographical distribution of the pig, for they were of the humdrum domestic variety, and had doubtless appertained to the copra gatherer's establishment. But you should have seen how clean, how seemly, how self-respecting were our Leeward Island pigs to realize how profoundly the pig of Christian lands is a debased and slandered animal. These quadrupeds would have strengthened Jean Jacques's belief in the primitive virtue of man before civilization debauched him. And I shall always paraphrase the familiar line to read: "When wild in woods the noble porker ran."
Aunt Jane had been dreadfully alarmed by the pigs, and wanted to keep me immured in the cabin o' nights so that I should not be eaten. But nothing less than a Bengal tiger would have driven me to such extremity.
"Though if a pig should eat me," I suggested, "you might mark him to avoid becoming a cannibal at second hand. I should hate to think of you, Aunt Jane, as the family tomb!"
"Virginia, you are most unfeeling," said Aunt Jane, getting pink about the eyelids.
"Ah, I didn't know you Americans went in much for family tombs?" remarked the beautiful youth interestedly.
"No, we do our best to keep out of them," I assured him, and he walked off meditatively revolving this.
If the beautiful youth had been beautiful on shipboard, in the informal costume he affected on the island he was more splendid still. His white cotton shirt and trousers showed him lithe and lean and muscular. His bared arms and chest were like cream solidified to flesh. Instead of his nose peeling like common noses in the hot salt air, every kiss of the sun only gave his skin a warmer, richer glow. With his striped silk sash of red and blue about his waist, and his crown of ambrosial chestnut curls—a development due to the absence of a barber—the Honorable Cuthbert would certainly have been hailed by the natives, if there had been any, as the island's god.
Camp was made in the early hours of the day. Then came luncheon, prepared with skill by Cookie, and eaten from a table of packing-cases laid in the shade. Afterward every one, hot and weary, retired for a siesta. It was now the cool as well as the dry season on the island, yet the heat of the sun at midday was terrific. But the temperature brought us neither illness nor even any great degree of lassitude. Always around the island blew the faint cooling breath of the sea. No marsh or stagnant water bred insect pests or fever. Every day while we were there the men worked hard, and grew lean and sun-browned, and thrived on it. Every afternoon with unfailing regularity a light shower fell, but in twenty minutes it was over and the sun shone again, greedily lapping up the moisture that glittered on the leaves. And forever the sea sang a low muttering bass to the faint threnody of the wind in the palms.
On this first day we gathered in the cool of the afternoon about our table of packing-boxes for an event which even I, whose role was that of skeptic, found exciting. Miss Browne was at last to produce her map and reveal the secret of the island. So far, except in general terms, she had imparted it to no one. Everybody, in coming along, had been buying a pig in a poke—though to be sure Aunt Jane had paid for it. The Scotchman, Cuthbert Vane had told me incidentally, had insured himself against loss by demanding a retaining fee beforehand. Somehow my opinion, both of his honesty and of his intelligence, had risen since I knew this. As to Cuthbert Vane, he had come purely in a spirit of adventure, and had paid his own expenses from the start.
However, now the great moment was at hand. But before it comes, I will here set down the treasure-story of Leeward Island, as I gathered it later, a little here and there, and pieced it together into a coherent whole through many dreaming hours.
In 1820, the city of Lima, in Peru, being threatened by the revolutionaries under Bolivar and San Martin, cautious folk began to take thought for their possessions. To send them out upon the high seas under a foreign flag seemed to offer the best hope of safety, and soon there was more gold afloat on the Pacific than at any time since the sailing of the great plate-galleons of the seventeenth century. Captain Sampson, of the brig Bonny Lass, found himself with a passenger for nowhere in particular in the shape of a certain Spanish merchant of great wealth, reputed custodian of the private funds of the bishop of Lima. This gentleman brought with him, besides some scanty personal baggage—for he took ship in haste—a great iron-bound chest. Four stout sailors of the Bonny Lass staggered under the weight of it.
The Bonny Lass cruised north along the coast, the passenger desiring to put in at Panama in the hope that word might reach him there of quieter times at home. But somewhere off Ecuador on a dark and starless night the merchant of Lima vanished overboard—"and what could you expect," asked Captain Sampson in effect, "when a lubber like him would stay on deck in a gale?" Strange to say, the merchant's body-servant met the fate of the heedless also.
Shrugging his shoulders at the carelessness of passengers, Captain Sampson bore away to Leeward Island, perhaps from curiosity to see this old refuge of the buccaneers, where the spoils of the sack of Guayaquil were said to have been buried. Who knows but that he, too, was bent on treasure-seeking? Be that as it may, the little brig found her way into the bay on the northeast side of the island, where she anchored. Water was needed, and there is refreshment in tropic fruits after a diet of salt horse and hardtack. So all hands had a holiday ashore, where the captain did not disdain to join them. Only he went apart, and had other occupation than swarming up the palms for cocoanuts.
One fancies, then, a moonless night, a crew sleeping off double grog, generously allowed them by the captain; a boat putting off from the Bonny Lass, in which were captain, mate, and one Bill Halliwell, able seaman, a man of mighty muscle; and as freight an object large, angular and ponderous, so that the boat lagged heavily beneath the rowers' strokes.
Later, Bill, the simple seaman, grows presumptuous on the strength of this excursion with his betters. It is a word and a blow with the captain of the Bonny Lass, and Bill is conveniently disposed of. Dead, as well as living, he serves the purpose of the captain, but of that later.
Away sailed the Bonny Lass, sailing once for all out of the story. As for Captain Sampson, there is a long gap in his history, hazily filled by the story of his having been lieutenant to Benito Bonito, and one of the two survivors when Bonito's black flag was brought down by the British frigate Espiegle. But sober history knows nothing of him until he reappears years later, an aged and broken man, in a back street of Bristol. Here was living a certain Hopperdown, who had been boatswain on the Bonny Lass at the time that she so regrettably lost her passengers overboard. He too had been at Leeward Island, and may have somewhat wondered and questioned as to the happenings during the brig's brief stay there. He saw and recognized his old skipper hobbling along the Bristol quays, and perhaps from pity took the shabby creature home with him. Hopperdown dealt in sailors' slops, and had a snug room or two behind the shop. Here for a while the former Captain Sampson dwelt, and after a swift illness here he died. With the hand of death upon him, his grim lips at last gave up their secret. With stiffening fingers he traced a rough map, to refresh Hopperdown's memory after the lapse of time since either had seen the wave-beaten cliffs of Leeward Island. For Captain Sampson had never been able to return to claim the treasure which he had left to Bill Halliwell's silent guardianship. Somehow he had lost his own vessel, and there would be rumors about, no doubt, which would make it difficult for him to get another. If he had, indeed, sailed with Bonito, he had kept his secret from his formidable commander. Even as he had dealt with Bill Halliwell, so might Bonito deal by him—or at least the lion's share must be yielded to the pirate captain. And the passion of Captain Sampson's life had come to be his gold—his hidden hoard on far-off Leeward Island. It was his, now, all his. The only other who knew its hiding-place, his former mate, had been killed in Havana in a tavern brawl. The secret of the bright unattainable treasure was all the captain's own. He dreamed of the doubloons, gloated over them, longed for them with a ceaseless gnawing passion of desire. And in the end he died, in Hopperdown's little shop in the narrow Bristol by-street.
Hopperdown, an aging man himself, and in his humble way contented, fell straightway victim to the gold-virus. He sold all he had, and bought passage in a sailing ship for Valparaiso, trusting that once so far on the way he would find means to accomplish the rest. But the raging of the fever in his thin old blood brought him to his bed, and the ship sailed without him. Before she was midway in the Atlantic Hopperdown was dead.
The old man died in the house of a niece, to whom by way of legacy he left his map. For the satisfaction of his anxious mind, still poring on the treasure, she wrote down what she could grasp of his instructions, and then, being an unimaginative woman, gave the matter little further heed. For years the map lay among other papers in a drawer, and here it was at length discovered by her son, himself a sailor. He learned from her its history, and having been in the Pacific, and heard the tales and rumors that cling about Leeward Island like the everlasting surf of its encompassing seas, this grand-nephew of old Hopperdown's, by name David Jenkins, became for the rest of his days a follower of the ignis fatuus. An untaught, suspicious, grasping man, he rejected, or knew not how to set about, the one course which offered the least hope, which was to trade his secret for the means of profiting by it. AH his restless, hungry life he spent in wandering up and down the seas, ever on the watch for some dimly imagined chance by which he might come at the treasure. And so at last he wandered into the London hospital where he died.
And to me the wildest feature of the whole wild tale was that at the last he should have parted with the cherished secret of a lifetime to Miss Higglesby-Browne.
In a general way, every one of us knew this history. Even I had had an outline of it from Cuthbert Vane. But so far nobody had seen the map. And now we were to see it; the time that intervened before that great event had already dwindled to minutes, to seconds—
But no; for Miss Browne arose and began to make a speech. The beginning of it dealt in a large and generalizing manner with comradeship and loyalty, and the necessity of the proper mental attitude in approaching the business we had in hand. I did not listen closely. The truth is, I wanted to see that map. Under the spell of the island, I had almost begun to believe in the chest of doubloons.
Suddenly I awoke with a start to the fact that Miss Browne was talking about me. Yes, I, indubitably, was the Young Person whose motives in attaching herself to the party were so at variance with the amity and mutual confidence which filled all other breasts. It was I who had sought to deprive the party of the presence, counsel and support of a member lacking whom it would have been but a body without a soul. It was I who had uttered words which were painful and astounding to one conscious of unimpugnable motives. In the days of toil to come, we were reminded, the Young Person, to wit, myself, would have no share. She would be but skeptic, critic, drone in the busy hive. Thus it was obvious that the Young Person could not with any trace of justice claim part or lot in the treasure. Were it not well, then, that the Young Person be required to make formal and written renunciation of all interest in the golden hoard soon to reward the faith and enterprise of the Harding-Browne expedition? Miss Browne requested the sense of the meeting on the matter.
Under the fire of this arraignment I sat hot-cheeked and incredulous, while a general wave of agitation seemed to stir the drowsy atmosphere. Aunt Jane was quivering, her round eyes fixed on Miss Higglesby-Browne like a fascinated rabbit's on a serpent. Mr. Hamilton H. Tubbs had pursed his lips to an inaudible whistle, and alternately regarded the summits of the palms and stole swift ferret-glances at the faces of the company. Captain Magnus had taken a sheath-knife from his belt and was balancing it on one finger, casting about him now and then a furtive, crooked, roving look, to meet which made you feel like a party to some hidden crime. Mr. Vane had remained for some time in happy unconsciousness of the significance of Miss Browne's oration. It was something to see it gradually penetrate to his perceptions, vexing the alabaster brow with a faint wrinkle of perplexity, then suffusing his cheeks with agonized and indignant blushes. "Oh, I say, really, you know!" hovered in unspoken protest on his tongue. He threw imploring looks at Mr. Shaw, who alone of all the party sat imperturbable, except for a viciously bitten lip.
Miss Higglesby-Browne had drawn a deep breath, preparatory to resuming her verbal ramble, but I sprang to my feet.
"Miss Browne," I said, in tones less coldly calm than I could have wished, "if you have thought it necessary to—to orate at this length merely to tell me that I am to have no share in this ridiculous treasure of yours, you have wasted a great deal of energy. In the first place, I don't believe in your treasure." (Which, of course, despite my temporary lapse, I really didn't.) "I think you are—sillier than any grown-up people I ever saw. In the second place, anything you do find you are welcome to keep. Do you think I came along with people who didn't want me, and have turned my own aunt against me, for the sake of filthy lucre? Did I come intentionally at all, or because I was shanghaied and couldn't help myself? Aunt Jane!" I demanded, turning to my stricken relative, who was gazing in anguish and doubt from Miss Browne to me, "haven't you one spark left of family pride—I don't talk of affection any longer—that you sit still and hear me made speeches at in this fashion? Have you grown so sordid and grasping that you can think of nothing but this blood-stained pirate gold?"
Aunt Jane burst into tears.
"Good gracious, Virginia," she wailed, "how shocking of you to say such things! I am sure we all got along very pleasantly until you came—and in that dreadfully sudden way. You might at least have been considerate enough to wire beforehand. As to blood-stains, there was a preparation your Aunt Susan had that got them out beautifully—I remember the time the little boy's nose bled on the drawing-room rug. But I should think just washing the gold would do very well!"
It was impossible to feel that these remarks helped greatly to clear the situation. I opened my mouth, but Miss Browne was beforehand with me.
"Miss Virginia Harding has herself admitted that she has no just or equitable claim to participate in the profits of this expedition—I believe I give the gist of your words, Miss Harding?"
"Have it your own way," I said, shrugging.
"I move, then, Mr. Secretary"—Miss Browne inclined her head in a stately manner toward Mr. Tubbs—"that you offer for Miss Virginia Harding's signature the document prepared by you."
"Oh, I say!" broke out Mr. Vane suddenly, "I call this rotten, you know!"
"In case of objection by any person," said Miss Browne loftily, "the matter may be put to a vote. All those in favor say aye!"
An irregular fire of ayes followed. Mr. Tubbs gave his with a cough meant so far as possible to neutralize its effect—with a view to some future turning of the tables. Captain Magnus responded with a sudden bellow, which caused him to drop the gleaming knife within an inch of Aunt Jane's toe. Mr. Shaw said briefly, "I think the distribution of the treasure, if any is recovered, should be that agreed upon by the original members of the party. Aye!"
Aunt Jane's assenting voice issued from the depths of her handkerchief, which was rapidly becoming so briny and inadequate that I passed her mine. From Cuthbert Vane alone there came a steadfast no—and the Scotchman put a hand on the boy's shoulder with a smile which was like sudden sunlight in a bleak sky.
Mr. Tubbs then produced a legal-looking document which I took to be the original agreement of the members of the expedition. Beneath their signatures he had inscribed a sort of codicil, by which I relinquished all claim on any treasure recovered by the party. Mr. Tubbs took evident pride in the numerous aforesaids and thereofs and other rolling legal phrases of his composition, and Miss Browne listened with satisfaction as he read it off, as though each word had been a nail in the coffin of my hopes. I signed the clause in a bold and defiant hand, under the attentive eyes of the company. A sort of sigh went round, as though something of vast moment had been concluded. And indeed it had, for now the way was clear for Violet's map.
I suppose that with a due regard for my dignity I should have risen and departed. I had been so definitely relegated to the position of outsider that to remain to witness the unveiling of the great mystery seemed indecently intrusive. Let it be granted, then, that I ought to have got up with stately grace and gone away. Only, I did nothing of the sort. In spite of my exclusion from all its material benefits, I had an amateur's appreciation of that map. I felt that I should gloat over it. Perhaps of all those present I alone, free from sordid hopes, would get the true romantic zest and essence of it—
Covertly I watched the faces around me. Mr. Tubbs's eyes had grown bright; he licked his dry lips. His nose, tip-tilted and slightly bulbous, took on a more than usually roseate hue. Captain Magnus, who was of a restless and jerky habit at the best of times, was like a leashed animal scenting blood. Beneath his open shirt you saw the quick rise and fall of his hairy chest. His lips, drawn back wolfishly, displayed yellow, fang-like teeth. Under the raw crude greed of the man you seemed to glimpse something indescribably vulpine and ferocious.
The face of Dugald Shaw was controlled, but there was a slight rigidity in its quiet. A pulse beat rapidly in his cheek. All worldly good, all hope of place, power, independence, hung for him on the contents of the small flat package, wrapped in oil-silk, which Miss Browne was at this moment withdrawing from her pocket.
Only Cuthbert Vane, seated next to me, maintained without effort his serenity. For him the whole affair belonged in the category known as sporting, where a gentleman played his stake and accepted with equanimity the issue.
As Miss Browne undid the oil-silk package everybody held his breath, except poor Aunt Jane, who most inopportunely swallowed a gnat and choked.
The dead sailor's legacy consisted of a single sheet of time-stained paper. Two-thirds of the sheet was covered by a roughly-drawn sketch in faded ink, giving the outline of the island shores as we had seen them from the Rufus Smith. Here was the cove, with the name it bears in the Admiralty charts—Lantern Bay—written in, and a dotted line indicating the channel. North of the bay the shore line was carried for only a little distance. On the south was shown the long tongue of land which protects the anchorage, and which ends in some detached rocks or islets. At a point on the seaward side of the tongue of land, about on a line with the head of the bay, the sketch ended in a swift backward stroke of the pen which gave something the effect of a cross.
To all appearance the map was merely to give Hopperdown his directions for entering the cove. There was absolutely no mark upon it to show where the treasure had been buried.
Now for the writing on the sheet below the map. It was in another hand than that which had written Lantern Bay across the face of the cove, and which, though labored, was precise and clear. This other was an uneven, wavering scrawl:
He sed it is in a Cave with 2 mouths near by the grave of Bill Halliwell wich was cut down for he new to much. He sed you can bring a boat to the cave at the half Tide but beware the turn for the pull is strong. He sed to find the Grave again look for the stone at the head marked B. H. and a Cross Bones. In the Chist is gold Dubloons, a vast lot, also a silver Cross wich he sed leve for the Grave for he sed Bill walks and thats unlucky.
That was all. A fairly clear direction for any friend who had attended the obsequies of Bill and knew where to look for the stone marked B. H. and a cross-bones, but to perfect strangers it was vague.
A blank look crept into the intent faces about the table.
"It—it don't happen to say in more deetail jest precisely where that cave might be looked for?" inquired Mr. Tubbs hopefully.
"In more detail?" repeated Miss Browne challengingly. "Pray, Mr. Tubbs, what further detail could be required?"
"A good deal more, I am afraid," remarked the Scotchman grimly.
Miss Browne whirled upon him. In her cold eye a spark had kindled. And suddenly I had a new vision of her. I saw her no longer as the deluder of Aunt Jane, but as herself the deluded. Her belief in the treasure was an obsession. This map was her talisman, her way of escape from an existence which had been drab and dull enough, I dare say.
"Mr. Shaw, we are given not one, but several infallible landmarks. The cave has two mouths, it can be approached by sea, it is IN the immediate neighborhood of the grave of William Halliwell, which is to be recognized by its headstone. As the area of our search is circumscribed by the narrow limits of this island, I fail to see what further marks of identification can be required."
"A grave ninety years old and hidden beneath a tropical jungle is not an easy thing to find, Miss Browne. As to caves, I doubt but they are numerous. The formation here makes it more than likely. And there'll be more than one with two mouths, I'm thinking."
"Mr. Shaw"—Miss Browne gave the effect of drawing herself up in line of battle—"I feel that I must give expression to the thought which comes to me at this moment. It is this—that if the members of this party are to be chilled by carping doubts, the wave of enthusiasm which has floated us thus far must inevitably recede, leaving us flotsam on a barren shore. What can one weak woman—pardon, my unfaltering Jane!—two women, achieve against the thought of failure firmly held by him to whom, we looked to lead us boldly in our forward dash? Mr. Shaw, this is no time for crawling earthworm tactics. It is with the bold and sweeping glance of the eagle that we must survey this island, until, the proper point discerned, we swoop with majestic flight upon our predestined goal!"
Miss Browne was somewhat exhausted by this effort, and paused for breath, whereupon Mr. Tubbs, anxious to retrieve his recent blunder, seized with dexterity this opportunity.
"I get you. Miss Browne, I get you," said Mr. Tubbs with conviction. "Victory ain't within the grasp of any individual that carries a heart like a cold pancake in his bosom. What this party needs is pep, and if them that was calculated on to supply it don't, why there's others which is not given to blowin' their own horn, but which might at a pinch dash forward like Arnold—no relation to Benedict—among the spears. I may be rather a man or thought than action, ma'am, and at present far from my native heath, which is the financial centers of the country, but if I remember right it was Ulysses done the dome-work for the Greeks, while certain persons that was depended on sulked in their tents. Miss Higglesby-Browne, you can count—count, I say—on old H. H.!"
"I thank you, Mr. Tubbs, I thank you!" replied Miss Browne with emotion. As for Aunt Jane, she gazed upon the noble countenance of Mr. Tubbs with such ecstatic admiration that her little nose quivered like a guinea-pig's.
THE CAVE WITH TWO MOUTHS
Obscure as were the directions which Hopperdown's niece had taken from his dying lips, one point at least was clear—the treasure-cave opened on the sea. This seemed an immense simplification of the problem, until you discovered that the great wall of cliffs was honeycombed with fissures. The limestone rock of which the island was composed was porous as a sponge. You could stand on the edge of the cliffs and watch the green water slide in and out of unseen caverns at your feet, and hear the sullen thunder of the waves that broke far in under the land.
One of the boats which had conveyed us from the Rufus Smith had been left with us, and in it Mr. Shaw, with the Honorable Cuthbert and Captain Magnus, made a preliminary voyage of discovery. This yielded the information above set down, plus, however, the thrilling and significant fact that a cave seemingly predestined to be the hiding-place of treasure, and moreover a cave with the specified two openings, ran under the point which protected the anchorage on the south, connecting the cove with the sea.
Although in their survey of the coast the voyagers had covered only a little distance on either side of the entrance to the bay, the discovery of this great double-doored sea-chamber under the point turned all thoughts from further explorations. Only the Scotchman remained exasperatingly calm and declined to admit that the treasure was as good as found. He refused to be swept off his feet even by Mr. Tubbs's undertaking to double everybody's money within a year, through the favor of certain financial parties with whom he was intimate.
"I'll wait till I see the color of my money before I reckon the interest on it," he remarked. "It's true the cave would be a likely and convenient place for hiding the chest; the question is: Wouldn't it be too likely and convenient? Sampson would maybe not choose the spot of all others where the first comer who had got wind of the story would be certain to look."
Miss Browne, at this, exchanged darkly significant glances with her two main supporters, and Mr. Tubbs came to the fore with an offer to clinch matters by discovering the grave of Bill Halliwell, with its marked stone, on the point above the cave within twenty-four hours.
"Look for it if you like," replied Mr. Shaw impatiently. "But don't forget that your tombstone is neither more nor less than such a boulder as there are thousands of on the island, and buried under the tropic growth of ninety years besides."
Miss Browne murmured to Aunt Jane, in a loud aside, that she well understood now why the eminent explorer had not discovered the South Pole, and Aunt Jane murmured back that to her there had always been something so sacred about a tombstone that she couldn't help wondering if Mr. Shaw's attitude were really quite reverential.
"Well, friends," remarked Mr. Tubbs, "there's them that sees nothin' but the hole in the doughnut, and there's them that see the doughnut that's around the hole. I ain't ashamed to say that old H. H. is in the doughnut class. Why, the Old Man himself used to remark—I guess it ain't news to some here about me bein' on the inside with most of the leadin' financial lights of the country—he used to remark, 'Tubbs has it in him to bull the market on a Black Friday.' Ladies, I ain't one that's inclined to boast, but I jest want to warn you not to be too astonished when H. H. makes acquaintance with that tombstone, which I'm willin' to lay he does yet."
"Well, good luck to you," said the grim Scot, "and let me likewise warn all hands not to be too astonished if we find that the treasure is not in the cave. But I'll admit it is as good a place as any for beginning the search, and there will be none gladder than I if it turns out that I was no judge of the workings of Captain Sampson's mind."
The cave which was now the center of our hopes—I say our, because somehow or other I found myself hoping and fearing along with the rest, though carefully concealing it—ran under the point at its farther end. The sea-mouth of the cave was protected from the full swell of the ocean by some huge detached rocks rising a little way offshore, which caught and broke the waves. The distance was about sixty feet from mouth to mouth, and back of this transverse passage a great vaulted chamber stretched far under the land. The walls of the chamber rose sheer to a height of fifteen feet or more, when a broad ledge broke their smoothness. From this ledge opened cracks and fissures under the roof, suggesting in the dim light infinite possibilities in the way of hiding-places. Besides these, a wide stretch of sand at the upper end of the chamber, which was bare at low tide, invited exploration. At high water the sea flooded the cavern to its farthest extremity and beat upon the walls. Then there was a great surge and roar of waters through the passage from mouth to mouth, and at turn of tide—in hopeful agreement with the legend—the suck and commotion of a whirlpool, almost, as the sea drew back its waves. Now and again, it was to prove, even the water-worn pavement between the two archways was left bare, and one could walk dry-shod along the rocks under the high land of the point from the beach to the cave. But this was at the very bottom of the ebb. Mostly the lower end of the cave was flooded, and the explorers went back and forth in the boat.