Transcriber's Note: This book is an example of early pulp fiction. It was published in 1908 by The Arthur Westbrook Co. as Adventure Series No. 76. "Old Sleuth" is the pseudonym of Harlan Page Halsey (1837-1898).
THE "DOCK RATS" OF NEW YORK OR THE SMUGGLER BAND'S LAST STAND
BY "OLD SLEUTH"
The words fell from beautiful lips under the most exciting circumstances.
A boat rocked upon the calm water that murmured along the shore, when a young man came down from the upper bank of white drift sand, and seized the tiller rope. He had the rope in his hand, his arm was upraised to draw the boat to his feet, when he was startled by hearing the words with which we open our narrative.
The young man turned toward the speaker, and encountered a sight that caused his handsome eyes to bulge with amazement.
It was a clear, cloudless night, and a half moon shed its diminished radiance on surrounding objects, and revealed to the astonished gaze of the young man the weird-appearing figure of a young girl.
One glance was sufficient to announce the fact that the girl was beautiful, but alas! in what questionable shape did she appear? She was attired in a loose gown tightened about the waist with a leathern belt, her feet were bare, and her long hair hung unkempt upon her shoulders.
As our old-time readers know, we are not heavy on the beauty-describing business, and we will merely declare that the girl was indeed a lovely creature, clad in rags; but she was beautiful, and Spencer Vance, the young man, discerned the fact at a glance, and his amazement was the greater because of the thrilling conditions under which re beheld so great loveliness.
The young man made no immediate answer to the girl's abrupt salutation, but merely stood and gazed at her without any attempt to conceal his utter astonishment.
"You must not go off in the yacht to-night!" said the girl.
"Why must I stay ashore to-night?"
"Danger is ahead of you!"
"But I am an old sailor, miss; I can take care of myself, I reckon."
The girl drew close to the young man, laid her hand upon his arm, and in a husky voice, whispered:
"The danger comes not from the sea! You will be a victim!"
The young man let the boat line fall from his grasp, a fierce light shone in his eyes, and there was a tremulousness, but not of fear, in his voice as he demanded:
"Who sent you to tell me this?"
"It matters not, you are doomed if you go on the yacht to-night! never again will your feet press the hard shore, but the waves will cast you up!"
"Who are you, miss, and why have you come to warn me?"
A moment the girl was silent. She hung her head and appeared lost in thought, but at length, looking up and fixing her magnificent blue eyes upon the young man, she said:
"I do not know who I am, but I do know that if you go out on the yacht to-night, you will never return till the waves wash your dead form to the beach!"
"You must have some reason for coming to warn me?"
"Yes; I would save your life!"
"Why are you so deeply interested in saving my life?"
"I would warn anyone whom I knew was in peril! and you must heed my words!"
"Are you seeking death?"
"I do not understand."
"And I cannot explain, but I must go out though death meet me upon the crest of every wave."
The girl again remained silent for a moment, but, at length in a still lower whisper, she said:
"You have been betrayed!"
The young man started, and a slight pallor overspread his handsome face as he caught the girl's delicate arm in his firm grasp, and demanded:
"Who am I?"
"You are Spencer Vance."
The young man could not conceal an expression of extreme astonishment.
"Who told you my name was Spencer Vance?"
"It matters not, but take heed; do not go out on the sea to-night."
"I tell you I must! I will go, but you must tell me what you know of Spencer Vance."
"You are a revenue detective; you are in the employ of the Government; you have been betrayed, and to-night you are to be silenced if you go out on the yacht!"
"Do the men on the yacht know who I am?"
"They do not know your name, but they suspect you are a Government detective, and they have determined to put you out of the way; to-night they will do the deed if you go."
"Someone must have told them I was a Government officer."
"Yes; someone told them."
"Do you know who gave the information?"
"Will you tell me?"
"I have warned you, now go your way, and save your life! they are desperate men, the waves have already received three of their victims within a year go, and your doom is sealed! Nothing can save you!"
"I shall go!"
"You do not believe my words?"
"I will believe you if you will tell me who betrayed me to the smugglers."
"I did!" came the starring response.
The detective stood the girl off from him at arm's length, and studied her from feet to head.
The girl stood and calmly submitted to the inspection.
"So you are the traitor?"
"You admit you betrayed me?"
"I am no traitor! I owe nothing to you! I had a right to inform the boys if I saw fit, and I did so."
"And now you come and warn me?"
"Why do you warn me, if you are the one who set them on to murder me?"
"I did not think they would murder you, and now I have come to warn you."
"Are you engaged in the business?"
The girl spoke in a scornful tone, and her eyes dashed with indignation.
"Who are you?"
"I do not know who I am."
A strange look came into the detective's eyes as an idea dashed through his mind.
"Are you the child of a wreck?"
"I do not know. I know nothing about myself."
"Whom do you live with?"
"The man who calls himself my father."
"Is he not your father?"
"Has he confessed to you that he is not your father?"
"Then how do you know he is not your father?"
"I know he is not."
"Why do you live with him?"
"Where should I go? I have no other home, and he is kind to me."
"Is he a smuggler?"
"It is not fair to ask me that question."
"I have told you all that was needful to warn you of your own peril; you should not take advantage of my frankness."
The detective looked upon the lovely girl with a deep sense of pity in his heart. Her appearance seemed to tell her tale, and it was sad to think that such wondrous beauty was but the plaything of a gang of rough sailors.
"Are you married?" asked the detective, abruptly:
"No," came the answer, in a quick, decisive tone.
"Will you tell me your name?"
"They call me Renie."
"And your father's name?"
"And you informed the men who I was?" repeated the detective.
"How did you find out that I was a Government officer?"
"I will not tell you."
"How did you find out that the men intended to go for me to-night?"
"I overheard them arranging their plans."
"Do they know that you overheard them?"
"Then when they discover that I am up to their plans, will they not accuse you of having betrayed them?"
"That is a question I cannot answer."
"I am astonished that you should put me in this peril, and then come and warn me!"
"I tell you I did not think my information would be followed by anything serious."
"But you tell me that three other officers have suffered by them."
"I did not know that until after I had told them who you were."
"Did you tell them directly?"
"Well, Renie, I am much obliged to you."
"And you will not go off in the yacht to-night?"
"I will think the matter over."
"Promise me that you will not go!" pleaded the girl, in an earnest tone.
"I will not promise; but if I do go, you need have no fear. I can take care of myself, forewarned, you know, is forearmed. Goodnight, Renie."
"I shall never forgive myself if you are injured!"
"Thank you for your interest; but you need have no fear. I can take care of myself; the crew of the yacht 'Nancy' will not toss me to the fishes to-night."
The girl turned and walked away under the moonlight, and a strange impulse caused the detective to follow her.
The girl moved along like an uncouth apparition over the yielding sand, and had traversed fully a quarter of a mile along the shore, when suddenly a man leaped down from the bank and confronted her.
The detective, in shadowing the strange girl, had kept well in under the shadow of the bluff, and could not have been seen; and when he saw the man confront the girl, he moved rapidly forward, and gained a point near enough to overhear the talk that passed between them.
The man was a rough, villainous-looking fellow, and his voice was coarse and his manners vulgar. It was evident that the girl was annoyed at meeting him, as was immediately betrayed by her manner.
"Hello, Renie, I've been waiting a long time for a chance to have a talk with you."
"I do not wish to have a talk with you, though, Sol Burton; so good-night!"
"Not so fast, my pretty bird; I've something to tell you."
"And I don't wish to stop and listen to you."
"You would if you knew all I had to tell."
"Well, as I don't know all you've got to tell, and as I don't desire to listen to you, I'll bid you goodnight."
"You always were down on me, Renie, but I'm a friend of your'n arter all, and I've collared the secret of your life, and I'd tell it to you, only you're so darn uppish when I go to speak to you."
The detective saw the girl advance toward the rough-looking man, and overheard her say:
"You know the secret of my life?"
"What secret is there of my life?"
"Tom Pearce is not your daddy, but I know how you came to be his adopted child."
The girl trembled from head to foot.
"Sol Burton, tell me all you know."
"Ah! you will listen to me, my pretty bird?"
"Yes, I will."
The man chuckled as he said:
"I thought you would listen to me when I let on what I know'd."
"Tell me the secret!" commanded the girl.
"Oh, yes, Renie! but I've a condition."
"A condition? What condition would you exact?"
"You must become my wife. There, the thing's out; so now, what have you got to say?"
"I say, no!"
"That's your decision?"
"That's my decision."
"Be careful, gal. I only asked you to marry a me to give you a chance; remember you're nobody's child, and I've hooked on to the secret."
"You're a mean man, Sol Burton, to threaten me!"
"Well, the fact is, Renie, I like you! I'm dead in love with you, and I'm willing to marry yer, and that's more than most of the fellows round here would do, knowing all I know."
"Good-night, Sol Burton, I'll not stop to talk with you, nor will I tell my father that you said insulting words to me."
"What do you suppose I care about Tom Pearce? I can whisper a few words in his ear that will take some of the starch out of him! He's been mighty uppish about you, although he's let you run round the beach barefoot these sixteen years."
"Go talk to Tom Pearce, and do not be the coward to repeat your threats to me!"
The girl started to move away, when the man suddenly leaped forward and grasped her in his arms, but the same instant he received a blow which sent him reeling, as the girl was snatched from his rude grasp.
A curse fell from the man's lips, and he arose to his feet and advanced toward the man who had struck him.
"Run home, little girl!" whispered the detective; "I will take care of this brute!"
"Thank you!" said the girl, and she glided away along the beach.
"See here, you're the man who struck me?"
"Yes; I'm the man."
"I think I've seen you before."
"I think we've met before."
"What did you hit me for?"
"I struck you because you put your hands rudely upon the girl."
"Yer did, eh?"
The man leaned toward the detective with the remark:
"Well, it's my turn now!"
And his turn it proved to be, as he received a rap, which caused him to turn clean over.
Sol Burton was raving mad when he once more regained his feet; the fellow was an ugly chap, a great bully ashore, and a cruel heartless man afloat. As he arose he exclaimed:
"All right, you're fixed for me to-night; but my time will come! I'll get square with you before you're much older!"
Sol Burton turned and walked away a baffled man.
Spencer Vance walked to the point on the beach where he had stood when the girl had come to him with the strange warning.
The young man was a Government officer, a special detective, and had been assigned to the collector at the port of New York to run down an organized gang of smugglers who were known to be doing a large business off the Long Island coast.
Several detectives had been detailed to work up the matter, and one after another they had mysteriously disappeared, and the Government had never succeeded in solving the mystery of their taking off; and further, none of the officers had ever been able to locate the head-quarters of the gang.
One fact had been established: large quantities of smuggled goods had been carried into New York, and each week the Government was swindled out of thousands of dollars of revenue; and the illicit traffic had grown to such an extent that a number of honest merchants had subscribed a large sum of money which had been placed at the disposal of the collector to be used as a fund for the breaking up of the gang, who were ruining regular importers in certain branches of trade and commerce.
Spencer Vance, although but a young man, had quite a reputation as a detective. He had done some daring work in running down a gang of forgers, and in the employ of a State Government, he had been very successful in breaking up several gangs of illicit whisky distillers. He was a resolute, cool, experienced man, an officer who had faced death a hundred times under the most perilous circumstances. and when summoned upon the new duty he accepted the position readily.
By methods of his own he got upon the track of the workers; the men who did the actual work of landing the contraband goods.
The latter were not the really guilty men. They were not the principals, the capitalists; but they were the employees who for large pay ran off the coast, intercepted the steamers carrying the contraband goods, and landed them within certain assigned limits.
The men ostensibly were fishermen, and honest people among whom they associated never "tumbled" to their real calling.
The necessities of our narrative do not demand that we should locate the exact quarter where the smugglers operated; and, besides, as there were numerous gangs covering a space of fifty miles along the coast, it would be almost impossible to indicate intelligibly the field of their operations, were we so inclined.
Spencer Vance, as stated, had adopted his own measures for locating the men; in his earlier life he had been a sailor, and had worked his way up until at the age of nineteen he held the position of second mate on a large schooner; and when he was assigned to the special duty of "piping" the smugglers, his sea experience came in good play, and was of great aid to kiln in his perilous duty.
The officer started out on his work by taking passage to the Island of Cuba, and one day in the port of Havana a ragged sailor dropped into a groggery kept by a Frenchman and made himself acquainted with a number of sailors, who were having a good time ashore.
The ragged Jack told his own tale, won upon the good-will of the jolly fellows who were in for a good time, and in the end was shipped for New York on a fast-sailing schooner.
The detective had an eye on the schooner, and well knew, when as a sea-tramp he shipped on the vessel, he had struck a smuggler.
It was a clear starry night when the vessel sighted the Long Island shore after having slipped inward past Fire Island.
The detective lay low and watched for some hours.
He had known that something unusual was in progress on board the schooner. The captain was below, and one of the mates had charge of the deck; a light shone in the distance, like a red star dancing over the waves, and the men on the schooner moved about in a stealthy manner to and fro across the deck.
It was a strange thing to do; why should they tread thus lightly the deck of a ship ten miles off shore, as though their footsteps might be heard? Alas! it was a case of involuntary stealth, a sign of the nervous, trepidation which attends conscious guilt.
It did not seem that there could be any danger near; the heavens were clear, the bosom of the deep unruffled even by an evening breeze. Nature called not for the coward tread, and the gleaming eye, the pale face, and the anxious glance hither and thither. No, no; but the smugglers feared another peril. Revenue cutters were known to be cruising along the coast; more than ordinary vigilance was being exercised by a robbed Government.
The men upon the schooner knew that the revenue officers were up to many of their tricks and were posted as to many of their signals; false lights might gleam across the waters like an ignis fatuus luring on a famished traveler in the desert, and within the hour after their calling had been betrayed, every man might be in irons, and the cargo and the vessel would be confiscated.
A fortune was at stake, and the shadow of a prison loomed out over across the waters and threatened to close in behind them.
Spencer Vance, the disguised detective, the supposed sea-tramp, moved about with the smugglers, acting as they acted, stepping on tiptoe, and looking pale and anxious, and it did not require that he should assume the pale excited look, for it was a momentous crisis. He had hit the vessel the first clip, and he had struck the trail which had baffled men who claimed a larger experience in that particular branch of the detective service. He had "piped" down to a critical moment, but he carried his life in his hands. He was not watched, but one false move might draw attention toward him, and but a mere suspicion at that particular moment would cost him his life; these men would not have stopped to bandy, words or make inquiries.
As stated, there came the gleam of a light flashing across the calm waters, and the men who were not on ship duty strained their eyes. Soon there followed a succession of lights, signal lights telling their story, and then the schooner men let out answering lights, and the sails were lowered and the schooner merely drifted upon the bosom of the deep.
Spencer Vance was speechless with excitement as the little game proceeded.
At this period in our story we will not describe the modus operandi, as later on we propose to fully depict the smugglers' methods under more exciting circumstances, when Spencer Vance was better prepared to checkmate the game. We have here only indicated in an introductory form the detective's keen plan for running down and locating the haunts of the pirates.
Three days following the maneuvers of the schooner off the coast, the detective appeared at a fishing village, and at once he set to locating his shore men.
It was not the poor sailors, who were mere instruments in the robbery scheme, whom the detective was seeking to "pipe" down. His game was to follow certain clews until he trailed up to the capitalists, the really guilty parties, the rich men who flaunted in New York in elegance and luxury on their ill-gotten gains.
The detective had got an good terms with one of the gangs. He had been off several times with them an a cruise, and considered that he was fast working down to a dead open-and-shut, and the really guilty parties, when he received the strange wanting at the hands of the weird, but beautiful girl who called herself Renie Pearce.
That same night the detective had engaged to go off in the yacht; it was understood that a smuggler was expected off the coast that night, and he was looking to strike on a big "lay."
We must explain to our readers that the arrival of expected vessels is an uncertain event, and the shore watchers were sometimes compelled to go off night after night, even for weeks, before the vessel, sending out the long-looked-for signals, hove in sight off the horizon; and it was on these vigil nights the detective had sailed out with the men. He had thought his game well played, his disguise perfect, his victory sure, when, as stated, at the last moment, a strange, beautiful girl came along and whispered in his ear the terrible warning that danger awaited him if he went off in the boat that night.
Spencer Vance, however, was undaunted; the warning was not sufficient to deter him going off and braving death in the way of duty, and he would have gone had not an incident occurred that caused him to await another opportunity.
As recorded, after his encounter with Sol Burton, he returned to where his boat lay, determined to go off to the yacht, when a second time an apparition glided to his side and whispered a few startling words in his ear.
The detective stood by his boat thinking over the thrilling position of affairs, when Renie Pearce once more appeared before him.
"Hello! you've come back, eh?" called the detective.
"Well, what now?"
"You are determined to go off to-night."
"You must not go, there's better game for you ashore!"
The detective was thrown off; he could not understand the girl. Renie had confessed that she had originally betrayed him to the smugglers, and then, when danger threatened, she came and warned him, and her warning failing, she came tripping to him once more, barefooted, ragged, and beautiful, and held out to him an alluring bait.
There was no misunderstanding the purport of her words. She betrayed the fact that she knew his full purpose, and her words implied that she was ready to throw him a larger and more certain game. Her wards were, "There's better game for you ashore!"
"Are you, my friend, Renie?"
"Yes; I am your friend."
"If you are my friend, why did you betray me to the smugglers?"
"I was not your friend then, I am your friend now. I can serve you and you can serve me! Your life is in danger. You will never return if you go out in the yacht to-night. I had prepared you for your doom, but now I will save you, and again I tell you that there's better game ashore."
"Why should I trust you! do you not confess to having betrayed me?"
"I only knew you then as a government detective; now I know you are a man."
"You must have made the latter discovery very suddenly."
"When you knocked Sol Burton down; that man meant me harm. I could have defended myself against him, but a greater peril menaces me to-night."
"What peril menaces you?"
"I have no confidant in the world; shall I make one of you?"
"My confidence may get you into trouble."
"You are a brave, noble man; you will desire to act as my champion."
"You are a strange girl."
"Yes; mine is a hard lot; I am a waif; I am nothing; I am all outcast; a thing, and yet—"
The girl ceased. She had spoken with a wild. energy, and she had looked ravishingly beautiful while talking.
"And yet, what?" said the detective interrogatively.
"My heart is full of all the ambitions that might fill the heart of a girl born in the midst of splendor and luxury; and although the companion of smugglers, I love only what is pure and beautiful; I cherish the fondest dreams, and yet—"
Again the detective supplemented:
"Well, go on."
"I am a poor, ragged, barefooted girl, the daughter of a boat-keeper, and that is not all!"
"Tell me all."
"I had reason to suppose that my pretended father was my friend; one thing is certain no millionaire ever guarded a fair daughter with more tenderness than he has guarded me. He has sent me to school, and has permitted me to become educated far above my station. You know in this land that is an easy thing for a poor man to do, but within a few days strange suspicions have crossed my mind; no man even among the roughest of them ever dared insult me. Tom Pearce would have killed the man who dared bring one faint flush to my cheek with his vile tongue! but alas! I fear—fear."
"What do you fear?"
"Shall I say it?"
"I fear his tender care of me has been a speculation."
"You do not believe he is your friend?"
"I fear he is not."
"Some enemy may have traduced Tom Pearce."
"No; the words that aroused my suspicions fell frown his own lips."
"And what do you fear?"
"You must learn from other lips."
"Who will tell me?"
"If you are to know at all, you must learn my fears from the lips of my enemies."
"How shall I do that?"
"Are you willing to serve me?"
The detective was silent. He was certainly charmed and lured by this beautiful child of the shore, but could he afford to undertake to be the champion of a barefooted girl, though she did own a strangely beautiful face?
"If you serve me I will serve you."
"What can you do for me?"
The girl's eyes gleamed as she answered:
"Let me but know that these men are my foes, that I owe them no gratitude, and I can give you information for which the government would pay thousands! and even to-night in serving me you would also serve yourself."
"Will you tell me how?"
"One of the bosses is to visit the shore to-night."
"Aha! there is where the whale blows."
"Who does he visit?"
"What is his purpose?"
"I only guess."
"What do you guess?"
"Am I to speak more plainly to you, or can you not discern?"
"Have you ever met the man?"
"You fear him?"
"I do not know yet; you may find out."
"What do you suspect?"
A moment the girl was silent, but at length she said:
"I suspect I am to be sent away!"
"You mistrust your reputed father?"
"And this man comes to-night?"
"You would offer a suggestion?"
"Are you prepared to take advantage of my information?"
"Watch them: learn their purpose!"
"Where do they meet?"
"In my father's cabin."
"Lead me there."
The detective decided not to go off in the yacht that night. He preferred to be "taken in tow" by beautiful little barefoot, and strange adventures were the outcome of his change of plans.
The detective and the girl traversed a mile and a half of the beach and then struck inland, and soon came in sight of the glimmer of lights gleaming forth from a fisherman's shanty.
"They meet there. You know how to act, and I can give you no 'points' when it comes to 'piping.' Good-bye for the present."
The girl glided away and the detective proceeded toward the cabin only to encounter a series of thrilling, extraordinary, and startling adventures.
Spencer Vance had become greatly interested in the beautiful Renie during the walk along the beach. He had become deeply impressed with the purity, yet weirdness of her character. He had pressed the girl for some reminiscence of her early childhood, but she had no recollections beyond the sea and the fisherman's cabin where she had lived with old Tom Pearce and his wife.
Her supposed father had for years rowed her every morning across the bay to the mainland, where she had attended the village school, from whence she had passed to the high school, at which her reputed father had supported her for a couple of years.
Mrs. Pearce died suddenly one day after a few hours' illness. Just before her death Renie was alone with her in the room. The woman had been unconscious, but she momentarily recovered consciousness and summoned the girl to her bedside and attempted to communicate some parting intelligence, but alas! she only succeeded in uttering a few disjointed exclamations, suggestive, but not directly and fully intelligible. The half-uttered exclamations only served to confirm certain suspicions that had long floated unsuggested through the girl's mind, and her disappointment was bitter when the icy hand of death strangled the communications which the dying woman was seeking to make.
The girl had formed a sort of attachment for Tom Pearce. The man was a good-natured, jolly sailor sort of a fellow, and, as intimated, had always treated the girl with the utmost kindness and consideration.
It was thus matters stood up to the time of the detective's strange meeting with the girl upon the beach.
As the girl pointed to the house and concluded the words which close our preceding chapter, she glided away, and left the detective to "work his own passage".
During the walk along the beach Renie had been a little more explicit in explaining her immediate peril, and our hero was prepared to more intelligently enact the role of the eavesdropper.
The cabin of Tom Pearce, the boatman, was an ordinary fisherman's hut, built in the midst of white sand-hills, with a few willows planted on a little patch of made earth, and serving as protectors against the fierce summer blaze of the sun.
The detective crept up to the cabin, and climbing upon a rear shed which served as a cover to several boats and a large quantity of nets, he covered himself with a fragment of old sailcloth, and secured a position from where, through a little opening which in the summer was left unclosed, he could see into the main room of the cottage. He could not only see, but could as readily overhear any conversation that might occur.
Glancing into the room, he saw Tom Pearce, whom he had seen many times before on board several of the boats that sail over the bay. The fisherman, or rather smuggler, was seated before a table on which stood a ship's lamp, reading what appeared to be an old time-stained letter, and after an interval he muttered aloud:
"Well, well, I don't know what to do! That girl is dear to my old heart, and I'd rather die than any harm should come to her; and again I don't like to stand in her way; while according to this letter from the old woman, written nigh on to thirteen years ago, I've no right to let her pass from my possession."
The mutterings of the old man were interrupted by a loud rap at his rickety door.
"Come in!" called the old smuggler.
The door opened, and a roughly dressed man strode into the cabin.
"Hello, Pearce! I see you are here to meet me."
"Yes, Mr. Garcia, I'm waiting for you."
Mr. Garcia took a seat by the table opposite the old smuggler, and saw the latter crumple the letter, and put it in his pocket.
"Eh, old man, what's that your hiding?"
"Nothing that will interest you, sir; it's only an old letter from my dead wife, sent to me many years ago when she was visiting some of her friends over in Connecticut."
"How about this Government officer who has been prowling around here?" was the next question which fell from Garcia's lips.
"Well, that's more than I can tell you, but he'll be fixed to-night, whoever he is! Yes, sir, he'll not cause the lads any trouble, they've 'tumbled' to him! too soon."
"They've tumbled, eh?"
"Yes; and they got up a false cruise to-night on purpose to carry him out to sea."
"How was it the boys chanced to 'drop' to him?"
"Renie did the business."
"Renie did the business?" ejaculated the man.
"Yes, sir; she went through him. She is a wonderful girl, she is, but I don't think she really meant to give the fellow away, but we caught her in a trap."
"You caught her in a trap?"
"Well, she was sending a message to warn the detective of his danger, and the letter was intercepted, and so we got into the whole business. I tell you the fellows were mad, and had it been anybody but Renie they'd never have sent another message."
"Does Renie know her letter was intercepted?"
"I don't think she does."
"Why would she want to give the Government officer the 'tip'?"
"No telling about these women, sir, no telling about them; you see this man is a good-looking chap, a very handsome fellow, and he's a daring man, too, and a splendid sailor! It's a pity he wasn't one of the crew. I tell you he saved the lives of all the lads one night off the coast; but he's doomed! He'll never save nobody again!"
"Has he been making love to the girl?"
"No; I reckon he's never seen her, but she's seen him; you see Renie goes under cover sometimes, and she wanders along the shore for hours, and one night she came upon the detective when he was holding a parley with a pal from the city; the gal 'laid low' and overheard all that was said, and at the same time she 'nipped' a letter which the man dropped from his jacket, and thus got down on the whole business; but somehow her heart went ag'in giving the man away, and she writes a letter ready to deliver to him; and by ginger, she mislaid her letter, and my nephew, a rattling little chap, 'nipped' it and gave it to the Cap, and the whole business was out!"
"You are sure there has been no acquaintance between the detective and your daughter?"
"Yes; I am sure of that."
"Why are you sure?"
"Well, I've Renie's word, and that gal would die before she would tell a lie; no, sir, she's never spoke to him, and as she never has, she never will, for his accounts will all be cleared tonight! the lads will have a dead open and shut on him."
"I reckon you've been deceived," said Garcia.
"That gal has known more of this man than you think. She would not warn a stranger that his life, was in peril, especially when that stranger was her father's foe."
"Well, it don't make any difference. She will never see him again!"
"We can't tell about that."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll bet a thousand dollars the man didn't go off on the cruise tonight!"
"Yes, he did."
"Did you see him aboard?"
"No: but I know he went."
"That girl would know that the letter was lost."
"Yes, very likely."
"Well, she'd take some other measures to warn the man; you've been deceived, old man!"
"I hope you're mistaken, or it will be bad for Renie. I tell you the men will be raging mad if the detective slips through their nets to-night."
"They will be, and now you recognize the necessity of turning the girl over to me."
"I've been thinking over that matter."
"You remember what I promised you?"
"Yes, yes; but suppose he should come?"
"Who should come?"
The old smuggler had spoken the words in a thoughtful manner, and the question was really addressed to himself. The old smuggler recognised that he had made a startling admission and remained silent.
"I suppose you mean the day might come when someone will appear to claim the girl, and you will lose a large sum of money?"
"No; no; you do not know what I mean, you have never heard the girl's strange history."
"I know she is not your child."
"Yes; you forced that confession from me a long time ago."
"Tell me the girl's history."
"I dare not."
"Does she know the tale?"
"She believes herself your child?"
"I think she has a suspicion that she is not my child, but she loves me."
"Has she ever asked you whether or not she is your child?"
"Then why do you say she suspects that she is not your child?"
"Well, from many little things I have been led to suspect that. She herself has a suspicion of the real truth."
"You must then tell me her history."
"I dare not."
"Listen old man, I am her friend and your friend; this is no place for Renie; when she was a mere child it was all right, but now it is not safe. You must give her to me! and listen; should anyone ever come to claim her, she shall be surrendered, and you will receive any reward that may be paid!"
"I do not think anyone will ever come for her, but could I solve one mystery I know where to look."
Garcia was evidently, as the listening detective discerned, a very shrewd, quick-witted man.
He fixed his keen dark eyes on the old smuggler, and said:
"There is something you are keeping back from me; come now, I will pay you one hundred dollars to tell me Renie's history."
"You will give a hundred dollars?" Pearce exclaimed, in an eager tone.
"Yes, I will."
"You will pay the money right down?"
"I will show the letter."
The old man went down in his pocket, and drew forth the time-stained letter he had been reading when the detective first looked in upon him, and drawing closer to the light, said:
"I won't show you the whole letter, but I will read just one portion to you," and he read as follows:
"DEAR Tom,—There has been one thing on my mind for a long time. I am getting old, and at any time might die, and I have a secret which I feet I should share with you in order to guard against accidents. Upon that terrible night when Renie was placed in my care, there was also consigned to my keeping a box—a sealed box—which I was never to open until Renie should reach the age of twenty-one, or be called for by parties claiming her as their child. I was given to understand that the box contained proofs of the dear child's birth and parentage, and it was hinted that some day she would inherit an immense fortune. I never told you about the box, but when I return I will confide to you the place where it is concealed, so that you will be prepared to carry out the trust in case anything should happen to me before Renie becomes of age, or is claimed by those who placed her in my charge."
The remainder of the letter had no bearing upon the case of Renie, but was devoted to general matters.
After Tom Pearce had concluded the reading there followed a momentary silence. The man Garcia appeared to be lost in deep thought. The old smuggler also appeared to be lost in deep meditation.
After an interval Garcia said:
"From that letter it would appear that the proofs of the girl's identity were in your wife's possession?"
"Did she keep her promise to you?"
"You mean did she inform me' where the box was hidden?"
"She did not."
"And she died without making the revelation?"
"Yes, she died very suddenly."
"Did you ever search over her papers?"
"And never came across the slightest clew?"
"Why was it she did not make a confidant of you?"
"Well, I was a pretty wild sort of man in those days, and it's my idea that many precious jewels are hidden in that box."
The eyes of the man Garcia glistened as he asked:
"What makes you think so?"
"Well, my old woman let fall many strange hints now and then, and always said that Renie would be rich some day—immensely rich."
"She meant when claimed by her friends?"
"Yes; but she once said that Renie would be rich whether her friends claimed her or not; and what is more, money was always ready when anything was needed for the girl."
"But the girl has been allowed to run loose."
"Not altogether; no, sir, not altogether; Renie has received an expensive education, and my wife always found the money to pay the bills; the girl thinks she was educated out of my hard earnings, but never a dollar or my money went for her support until after the old woman died!"
"Have you ever searched for the box?"
"Do you suppose your wife ever opened it?"
"That I cannot tell, but once when she and I were in the City of New York, we read about a great singer who had some magnificent jewels, and my wife said to me: 'I'll wager I could-show jewels handsomer and richer than that critter's got, and they claim hers are valued at a hundred thousand dollars.'"
The detective heard all these strange revelations, and he made up his mind that there was a big job falling into his hands.
"You say you have searched for the box?"
"And never found it or gained any clew as to its whereabouts?"
"Has Renie any knowledge of the box?"
"I don't know whether my wife ever made a confidant of the child."
"Has the girl ever spoken of it?"
"And you have never mentioned it to her?"
"Who was with your wife when she died?"
"She may have made a final revelation to the girl!"
"I think not."
"How long has your wife been dead?"
"Tom Pearce, all you tell me makes me anxious to take charge of the girl; but tell me all the circumstances under which she came to be placed in your charge."
After a moment's thought the old man said:
"One calm winter's day, the boating men hereabouts were surprised to see a handsome and trim-built yacht come sailing through the channel; and running up the bay to a good anchorage, she let go her iron and lay like a great swan on the water.
"A short time afterward, a foreign-looking man was landed on the beach, and he strolled around among the fishermen's buts and only spoke when addressed by some of the fishermen; but I tell you his great black eyes were busy glancing around. No one knew at the time what he was looking for, but it was evident he was searching for something, and my wife and I later on were the only ones who fell into the mystery."
"The man was studying the faces of the people hereabouts?" suggested Garcia.
"That was just what he was doing, and later on he made inquiries here and there, and as events proved, my wife was the woman who struck his fancy."
"And did he bring her the child?"
"Hold on! let me tell the story just as the events happened. I told you it was in the winter when the yacht hove to in the bay; well, one bitter and blustering night about three days after the arrival of the yacht, I was over on the mainland having a carouse, and toward morning took the chances of crossing the bay in a catboat to my home. How I ever reached here in safety I'll never tell, but I ran on to the beach all right, and footed to my shanty! Well, sir, as I neared the house pretty well sobered, the first thing I heard was the wail of an infant; and I tell you I was surprised, and entering the house I saw my wife with a lovely child in her arms, which she was feeding with a spoon.
"'Hello, Betsy,' I yelled, 'where did you get that little squealer from?'
"Well, sir, my wife raised her finger to her lips, and warned me to be silent, and in a low tone told me that on the following day she would tell me all about it. Well. you see I was pretty well fagged out, and I always had an idea that what my wife said and done was right. So I tumbled into bed without making any further inquiries.
"Well, the next morning my good wife told me as how amidst the storm when it was at its greatest fury, the strange man who had come ashore from the yacht, entered our cabin having a bundle wrapped in his arms, and she told me how surprised she was when he opened his bundle and discovered a beautiful little child about a year old."
"Renie was only a year old when placed in your charge"
"That's all, sir."
"There ain't much more to tell; my wife told me that the man, had left the child in her charge, and that we were to be well paid for its keep; and as long as Betsy thought it as all right, I made no objections."
"Did the man ever come again?"
"No, sir; the day following the bringing of the child ashore the yacht sailed away and never since has her prow plowed the waters of the bay. Nor has anyone belonging to her ever been seen in these parts."
"And how long ago did this occur?"
"Nigh onto seventeen years ago, sir."
"And Renie is about eighteen years old?"
"It is not likely that she will ever be claimed."
"It is not likely that the box will ever be found."
There was one man, however, who dissented from the latter opinion; the detective in his own mind resolved that he would find that box, if it took him years to trace it; meantime the man Garcia opened his scheme.
"Tom, you must let me have the girl."
"I am willing; but the girl herself objects."
"You have spoken to her?"
"Yes; I told her a rich gentleman in New York, wished to adopt her, a man who would bring her up as his own child; but she answered that she did not wish to go to New York; did not desire to be adopted, and would not leave me."
"She must be compelled to go with me!"
"I wouldn't like to do that."
"Listen, Tom, let me have the girl, and I will pay, you two thousand dollars down in gold!"
"But she will not go with you."
"We can manage that."
"How do you mean to manage it?"
"We'll play a trick on her, and I tell you when once I get her in my house, she will find things so pleasant and delightful she will never wish to return to this place again!"
"I can't play no tricks on the gal! no, no, she's got perfect confidence in me, and I would not betray her confidence, not even for two thousand dollars in gold! And I'm a poor man, sir, very poor, and I'm old and getting feeble!"
"I'll tell you what we can do, Tom; you can bring her to New York to visit me."
"And then we may be able to persuade her to remain."
"I'll think it over; but see here, why is it you are so anxious to get possession of the girl?"
"I do not wish to see one so lovely and beautiful living in such a miserable condition."
"See here, Garcia, do you mean that girl harm?"
"Why, old man, what could prompt you to ask that question?"
"Well, I'll tell you, you're so anxious; 'tis just come over my mind that you don't mean just what's right. Now, see here; it wouldn't do for you to mean any harm to Renie. I'd follow, any man who would harm her to the very death!"
As the old smuggler spoke he drew his knife front his belt and laid it on the table in a suggestive manner,
"You can trust the girl with me; but where is she, to-night?"
"Can't tell, sir; nights like these she likes to roam the beach; she's a strange girl, sir, but I'd never have any harm come to her!"
"Will you consent to bring her to New York on a Visit?"
"I'll think the matter over, and—"
The further remarks of the old smuggler were cut short by a shrill scream of agony which broke the stillness of the night.
The two men stopped and listened a moment, when Tom Pearce started to go toward the door, exclaiming:
"Something has scared Renie!"
"Hold on! Nothing is the matter with the girl," said Garcia.
"How do you know?" retorted the old smuggler; and he made another step toward the door, when the man Garcia suddenly dealt him a blow with a club.
The blow was a powerful one, and it brought the old man to the floor, which laid him insensible upon the broad of his back.
Meantime, the detective had overheard the scream; and had slid away from his hiding-place, and started to run toward the point from whence the cry had come.
Spencer Vance was convinced that the scream had been uttered by Renie, and, remembering Sol Burton's attack upon the girl, he suspected the man had renewed his attempt.
The detective ran for some distance, and saw no one; and his anxiety became intense lest some real harm had befallen the helpless girl. He could not understand what had become of her. When he first heard the cry, it did not appear as though the screamer could be more than a few hundred feet distant from where he lay ensconced; but he had covered thousands of square feet, and could see nothing of the girl, or, indeed, was there a living soul visible.
The detective was straining his eyes in glances in every direction when he caught sight of the figure of a man moving stealthily across the sand.
The detective started to follow the man, and speedily discerned that the stealthy prowler was the man Garcia.
The latter had not seen the detective, and our hero kept upon his track, following him to the shore. On the beach were gathered a group of men, and in their midst Vance beheld the girl Renie.
At a glance the detective took in the situation, Garcia, despairing of success with the old smuggler, had determined to kidnap the girl.
There were three men besides the man Garcia, and four to one was pretty good odds; besides, the detective knew the men to be desperate and well prepared to fight. What should he do? He could not stand by and see the fair, helpless girl carried oft; and yet he was alone, and had no one to call upon for assistance.
Lying off the shore was a sloop-yacht, and on the beach was a boat; the intention of the men was apparent. It was their purpose to carry the girl off to the yacht.
Spencer Vance was an experienced officer, well posted in all the tricks and devices of his craft, and he at once began to carry out a scheme.
He took up a position behind a sand-rift, and commenced to shriek and scream like a woman; and a moment later he became aware that his ruse was successful; two men came running toward the place where he lay concealed and as they approached the detective leaped to his feet. He had the men at a disadvantage; they were not expecting an attack, and were unprepared.
The detective, however, was ready to receive them as they ran down the incline, and quick as lightning sprung upon the two men. The men were both stunned, and were down before they had a chance to make an outcry.
Having disposed of the two men, the detective advanced toward the point on the beach where the two remaining men stood. He walled straight up to the kidnappers, who stood and gazed at him in amazement.
"Heh, Renie!" he called, "are you going willingly with these men?"
The men answered for the girl:
"Yes; she is going with us. Who are you, and what have you got to say about it?"
"When I speak, it will be from these; you fellows get in your boat or I fire!"
"Who are you?" came the question.
"Get in your boat, and leave, or down you go! The other two chaps are settled."
"But give us an explanation."
One of the men made a movement to draw his weapon, but the detective called:
"Hold on there, my friend! And now, you fellows, get in your boat, or at the call of three it will be too late!"
"One!" called the detective, and he made one step nearer the men.
"Two!" he called a second later, and he advanced another step.
The men did not wait for the third call, but leaped into their boat.
The detective advanced to the spot where Renie stood, and in a low voice, he said:
"Am I right?"
The girl made no reply.
A suspicion of the truth flashed through the detective's mind, and he said:
"Renie, run to your father's cabin, the road is clear!"
The girl, who had stood speechless during the whole time that the exciting incidents we have described were transpiring, suddenly bounded away, but without speaking one word.
The detective called to the two men in the boat:
"Don't you fellows land again, or it will cost you your lives!"
The men made no reply, and the detective moved away in the same direction that had been pursued by Renie. He had gone less than a hundred feet, when he met the girl coming toward him.
The detective was both amused and pleased. He realized that in case of an emergency the girl would be of great help.
"Never mind, my child, I've settled 'em!" he said:
Still the girl made no reply, and it was then the detective discovered that she had been gagged. He also discovered that her arms had been secured, so she could not raise them to her head.
It took him but a moment to release her with his knife, when she exclaimed:
"I thank you for coming to my aid; but where are the villains?"
"I reckon they've gone off to their boat; but come, we will see. With such a noble and brave ally I would not hesitate to invite a scrimmage with half a dozen of them."
The detective's guess proved correct. The two men whom he had first dropped had evidently recovered their senses, and had joined their pals on the beach, as a boat bearing four persons could be seen moving off toward the yacht.
As our readers can well imagine, it was not because of the detective's warning that the men pulled away to their boat. Garcia remembered that he had stricken down the old smuggler, and it was the consequences of that act which made him anxious to get away.
"There they go, Renie!"
"Yes; thanks to you, I am not going with them;" answered the girl.
"Why was the assault made upon you, my child?"
"You are my friend; I will tell you all now. That man Garcia is a villain! He has made all manner of propositions to me to induce me to leave the coast and go to the city with him, but I knew the man to be a villain, a murderer, and criminal of the worst sort, and I refused all his offers."
"On what pretense did he make offers to you, my child?"
"Oh, he told me I was fitted to adorn a mansion, that this life with these rough fishermen was no life for me, and that he would take me to live as his child in luxury and splendor."
"In one respect, Renie, the man told you truly. You are not fitted to dwell among these rough men around here."
"I know that well enough, but I will not leave my father, and when I do I shall not place myself under the protection of a man like Garcia."
"Who is this man Garcia?"
"He is a Cuban, or rather his father was a Cuban, and his mother, as I've heard him say, was an Irish lady. I think he is one of the capitalists engaged in the smuggling trade; and that he is a villain and scoundrel I know!"
"He had a long interview with Tom Pearce to-night."
"Yes; I requested you to be a listener to their talk. What did you overhear?"
"Tom Pearce is an honest and good man, as far as you are concerned; the fellow Garcia was seeking with the offer of bribes to induce the old man to take you to New York and surrender you to his keeping. He used the same arguments with your father that he used with you."
"And what did my father say to his propositions?"
"He gave no decided answer; but one thing is certain, the old man would never surrender you to that fellow if he had the least suspicion that any harm would come to you."
"What has occurred this night will convince him, I reckon."
"Yes, I should say so," responded the detective.
"I would not have gone to that man's house even had my father consented. I have a mind and will of my own; and now that I am on my guard I will take care of myself against any such attacks in future."
"I don't know, Renie; I do not think you will be safe here."
"The men around here will protect me."
At that moment a diminutive shadow was cast on the sand in front of Renie and the detective, and a moment later a little fellow, a mere child seemingly in years, appeared before them.
"Hello, Tommy, where did you come from?" demanded Renie.
"I want to speak to you, Renie."
"Well, speak out, Tommy."
"I won't speak before anyone. I've awful news to tell you."
"Go and hear what the lad has to say to you," suggested Vance,
Renie stepped aside with the lad, when the latter whispered in a low tone:
"Sol Burton has made trouble."
"What has he done?"
"He told the men that you gave that man warning, and they're awful mad at you, and they've put up a job to get the man into a quarrel."
"Where are the men now?"
"Down to Rigby's."
"They expect the detective down there to-night?"
"And Sol Burton was the man who told them I gave the detective warning?"
"You go down to Rigby's and listen to what goes on, and in about an hour come up and report to me."
"Where will you be?"
"At the cabin."
Tom Pearce's house was generally called the cabin, as the timbers and other materials of which it was constructed were portions of a wreck that had come ashore many years previously.
Tommy bid the girl good-night, and the latter returned to the detective.
"Well, is the communication confidential?"
"You are in great peril."
"From which quarter does the danger threaten me?"
"Sol Burton has reported against me."
"What has he reported?"
"He has told the men that I warned you, and that is the reason you did not go off in the yacht."
"The men will not harm you, I reckon."
"No, they will not harm me."
"Then I reckon no harm is done."
"The men have sworn to get square with you tonight!"
The detective laughed in a quiet way, and said:
"My dear child, I have been in hotter danger than any that threatens me at this moment. I know now in which quarter the danger lies, and I would be a poor man were I to be frightened off when holding that 'lead.'"
"But those men are set to catch you to-night. They have sworn to assault you, and there are twenty of them, all told; you may treat the danger lightly, but I tell you they are a desperate lot. They will make good their threat unless you go. It will be impossible for you to stand against them all."
"Never you fear for me, Renie; I'll go off in the yacht to-night. She catches a 'liner,' and don't you forget."
"You will go off in the yacht with those men?" exclaimed the girl.
"Yes, I will."
'Never! they will go for you at sight! They know now that you have been warned."
"I will look out for myself; it is not my peril we must consider, but yours."
"I am safe. I shall tell all to my father, and after that it will be a dangerous thing for Garcia to show his face around our cabin."
"The man has money, he will operate by trick and device. He will bribe someone whom you consider your best friend to aid him, and already you have an enemy."
"I do not fear him. I'll scare that man over to the mainland, to remain there, before to-morrow's sunset. No, no! I am not in danger, but you are."
"You need have no fear for me."
"You will not go to Rigby's to-night?"
"I may go down there."
"And invite your doom?"
The detective smiled as he answered:
"I can depend upon you?"
"How depend upon me?"
"You will not give any information against me!"
"I certainly will not."
"You must not know anything about me when you are questioned, but you can suggest that, possibly, I have become seared, and slid away."
"Why do you not go?"
"Go! why, my child, I'm getting right down to the business that brought me here; in a few days I'll have matters dead to rights; and, while I think of it, let me warn you, do not let Tom Pearce go off any more."
"He does not go off nowadays. He has not been off in the yacht for a year. He is getting too old."
"Give him a warning."
"How warn him?"
"Tell him to lay low, that the officers have got all the points down good, and are about to close in; tell him he'll be safe if he lies quiet close from this time out."
"I will warn him; but, alas! it's you who should take warning. You know not your peril?"
"We will drop that matter for the present. I have only one more word to say: You must know nothing about me, under any circumstances whatever; you must never seek to communicate with me, unless I first address you."
"I do not understand."
"It is not necessary for you to understand; you are a girl of ready wit; a general command to you is sufficient. I have good reasons for my request. I am amply able to take care of myself under all circumstances; my fear, as I told you, is for you. And now, to change the subject, have you any intimate friend, save your father?"
"Can I claim to be a friend of yours?"
The girl answered promptly:
"You have already proven yourself a friend."
"You remember the words addressed to you by Sol Burton?"
"That fellow, I am satisfied, has no information for you."
"I have so decided in my own mind."
"Will you confide in me as a friend?"
"I will!" came the ready reply.
"I have reason to know that there is a mystery connected with your committal, years ago, to the care of Mrs. Pearce."
"I know that myself."
"I can solve that mystery if you permit me to do so."
"I believe you can aid me; but if you go to Rigby's to-night you can never do service far me; these men will make good their threat!"
"We will not talk about me now; we will talk about you, and I wish to ask you one question: Were you with Mrs. Pearce when she died"
"Did she succeed in making any communication"
"She did not."
"Not even one word?"
"She only succeeded in saying, 'Renie, I have something important to tell you;' then her tongue became paralyzed, and she never spoke again."
"Upon no former occasion did she ever give you hint?"
"She never told you of the circumstances under which you were confided to her care?"
"And she never spoke of a mysterious box or any relics that might some day serve as identification tokens."
"Never. She always gave me to understand that she was my real mother."
"Well, now, Renie, I wish to ask you some very, important questions, and I desire that you will think and consider well before you make a reply."
"I have a good memory; but, first, tell me what was the purport of the conversation between my father and the man Garcia?"
"We will not speak of that now."
"There were revelations made"
"And you will repeat them to me?"
"Why not now?"
"I will answer you frankly. I have determined, as I told you, to solve the mystery connected with your consignment to the care of Mrs. Pearce, and I do not wish to tell you anything that will start any suggestions in your mind, until I have collected and considered all the little memories you may have retained of the habits of your supposed mother."
"Her habits were ordinary and commonplace enough. She was merely a good, hard-working fisherman's wife."
"But did she not act like a woman who possessed: a secret?"
The girl was thoughtful for some moments.
"I do remember a strange incident that once occurred when I was quite a girl."
"Ah! now we are getting down to it. Relate the incident."
"My reputed mother is buried in the graveyard on the mainland, beside the grave of her son."
"Well, once she visited his grave with me, and as she stood weeping, she said, after focusing her eyes on me in a strange manner:
"'Renie, some day from that grave may come forth a strange secret; the day may come when I will tell you about it.'"
The detective was keenly interested at once.
"Were you old enough to consider her remark seriously?"
"Yes; I formed an idea as to her meaning."
"What was your idea?"
"She alluded to the resurrection of the dead. She was what they called a Millerite."
"Yes; I have heard of those people—a strange sect, who believed the world was coming to an end about every three months. So you thought she alluded to the resurrection?"
"Did she visit her son's grave often?"
"Did you ever notice that her mind took any particular line of thought after these visits?"
The detective was thoughtful a moment, but his meditations were rudely disturbed by the reappearance of the boy Tommy. The little fellow had been running hard, and was almost breathless as he called to Renie: "Come quick! I've something to tell you."
The girl stepped aside with the lad, when the latter laid:
"They're coming for him."
The lad, pointed toward the detective.
"Who is coming?"
"The crew of the 'Nancy.' They're all wild drunk, and they're sure to try to hurt him."
"How do they know he is here?"
"Someone ran in the tavern and told 'em."
"Who was it?"
"I don't know. I was down there 'laying around' on the watch, when a man ran in and whispered something to the big mate, and then the men all took a 'stiff tin' and with oaths and curses started to go to your daddy's cabin. I ran ahead of them to warn you."
"They will not harm me."
"No, but they are after him sure!" again the lad pointed toward the detective.
"All right, Tommy, you go and watch them, we'll look out."
Renie returned to where the detective stood, and said:
"Come with me, we've not a moment to spare."
"What's the matter now?"
"The gang have learned that you are still on the coast; they are all mad drunk, and they're coming for you!"
"Which way are the men coming?"
"They are going to my father's cabin, and if they do not find you there they will commence a search for you; they're all mad with liquor, and should they find you, no power on earth can save you!"
"Nonsense! they cannot harm me. I only fear for you; and now listen, I've other work around here beyond the duty of breaking up the gang of smugglers. I'm going to solve the mystery of your life, fathom the secret of Betsy Pearce, and mark my, words, I'll succeed!"
"Oh, do not remain here to-night! listen, they are almost upon us! fly with me! I can place you in a hiding-place!"
"If I lose my life to-night, it will be your fault, Renie."
"Because you will not do as I say."
"What shall I do?"
"Go to your father's cabin, and deny any knowledge of me."
"You demand that I shall leave you?"
"I go at your command!"
The girl glided away.
Meantime the detective heard loud voices and signs of intense excitement over at the boatman's cabin, which was not more than six hundred feet distant from where the detective and Renie stood, while the conversation which we have repeated was in progress.
Strange feelings were raging in the detective's bosom at that moment. He had known the beautiful barefooted girl but a few hours, and he had come to feel more interest in her than he had ever cherished for any other human being since the day he had laid his widowed mother to rest in the church-yard.
When he had first glanced at the girl under the exciting circumstances of that truly eventful night, he had considered her a rustic beauty, handsome, but ignorant; but alas! a better knowledge of her taught him that she was a refined and educated girl, despite the fact of the bare feet, her unkempt hair, and long residence among the fishermen and smugglers of the coast.
She was a true child of romance, a wonderful prodigy of a strange and weird fate, and he could not but picture to himself what a ravishingly lovely creature she would be under different auspices; and he wondered not that the Cuban villain, Garcia, was anxious to secure possession of her.
The detective quickly thought over the whole matter. He discerned the Cuban's purpose; the man meant to take the girl to Cuba, perchance, to make her his wife, and why not? She was beautiful, and there was a possibility that she might develop into a great heiress.
The detective, however, did not have much time to meditate on his strange meeting with the girl and the stranger incidents that followed that meeting. He was warned that it was necessary for him to take measures for the safety of his life.
Spencer Vane was a thoroughly experienced detective. He was no tyro at the business, and he was up to all the tricks and devices of the modern science of criminal detection. He was as good at the art of disguise as any in the profession, and it was his skill in the latter particular which make him so indifferent as to the approach of the gang of madly drunken smugglers.
Our hero walked over behind a high sand drift, and in a few minutes had worked a most startling and extraordinary "transform;" no living man, unless posted as to his disguise, could ever have recognised in the dark-faced, rough-looking man who issued from behind the drift, the same light-haired, dashing-looking fellow who had a moment before disappeared behind it.
The detective had just completed his change in appearance, when he was startled by hearing a shrill piercing scream in a female voice from the direction of Tom Pearce's cabin.
"As I feared!" he muttered, and he walked rapidly toward the cabin, and approaching, he saw an excited group of men standing outside, while something of a more ordinary character appeared to be transpiring beneath the humble roof.
The detective approached the group of men standing outside and inquired:
"Hello, what's going on here?"
The men crowded around the new-comer, and glared in his face, and one of the men called out,
"Ahoy there, bring a glim here, quick! Here's stranger, and by all that's fatal, I believe Tom's enemy!"
The detective was perfectly cool as he answered;
"Will you tell me what's going on here"
"Who are you, anyhow?" came the query in a rough tone.
Meantime one of the men had brought out a ship's lantern, and it was held up in front of the detective's face, and the men glared at him.
"Do any of you know this fellow?" came the question.
One man after another declared his utter ignorance of the identity of the stranger.
"Who are you, my man?" again came the question;
"My name is Ballard, but I reckon no one around here knows me."
"I reckon you're right, you villain! and now what brings you here?"
"I came here to see a woman named Betsy Pearce."
"You came here to see a woman named Betsy Pearce?"
"What brought you here to see Betsy Pearce?"
"That's my business."
"You've been here before, to-night, old man!"
"Who says so?"
"We all do."
"Then you are all mistaken!"
"We are, eh? Well, my friend, it stands you in hand to give an account of yourself, and explain your presence here, or tomorrow's sun will never rise before your eyes!"
"Will you men explain why I am assailed this way?"
"My friend, Tom Pearce, has been found in his cabin unconscious!"
The detective gave a start, and a shudder passed over his stalwart frame. The start and shudder were the result of far different causes than the men around him supposed, but they noticed his momentary agitation, and one of them exclaimed:
"We've got the right man! And now, boys, get a rope; there'll be no foolin' in this case!"
Meantime one of the men entered the cabin and whispered to Renie, who was weeping over the body of her murdered father.
"They've caught the rascal, miss, and they're going to hang him!"
The girl uttered a scream, a wild piercing wail of anguish and terror! At that terrible moment it flashed across her mind that the men had caught Spencer Vance, and had concluded that the detective was the assailant of her father.
The girl rushed from the cabin screaming:
"Hold! Hold! do not harm that man! He is innocent! Hold! Hold, I say!"
The girl advanced to the center of the group of men that surrounded the detective, still exclaiming:
"Do not harm that man! he is innocent! He is innocent!"
She approached close to the prisoner; one of the men held the the lantern so its gleam shone full in the detective's face, and he inquired:
"Do you know him, Renie?"
The girl fixed her eyes on the prisoner and recoiling, exclaimed:
"No, no, I do not know him! I thought it was another man! He must be the one!"
As the excited girl spoke she pointed toward the detective.
The latter still stood, the coolest party amidst all there assembled.
Renie had taken but a cursory glance at the prisoner. One glance had been sufficient to prove to her that it was not the detective, and observing the man's swarthy complexion she connected him with the Cuban Garcia, and it was the latter fact which in the excitement of the moment caused her to exclaim
"He must be the one!"
As stated, the detective was perfectly cool, but he realized his position in all its terribleness, and more fully, when one of the men said:
"Now, then, stranger, give an account of yourself."
"I tell you I came here to see Betsy Pearce."
"You were not at this cabin before to-night."
"I was not."
"Where do you hail from?"
"That's my business."
"That means you won't tell"
"You may be sorry anon, good man; and now answer! What was your business with Betsy Pearce?"
"I will not answer."
"You had no business with Tom Pearce?"
"I did not."
"Stranger, your story don't work. Betsy Pearce has been dead and in her grave these two years."
"I know that!"
"Ah, you knew it?"
"Yes, I learned so since my arrival on the coast."
Renie had returned to the interior of the cabin, and one of the men said:
"Is the rope ready?"
"Yes," came the answer.
"Do you hear that, stranger?"
"Rig a swing cross, boys. We'll fix this fellow, and teach all comers that this is the wrong coast for such scoundrels!"
The detective fully realized the men were in earnest, and that, unless some fortunate accident intervened. it would indeed be an "up you go" with him.
It would be hard to conceive a more embarrassing and critical position. The detective could not appeal to Renie openly as the appeal would reveal his real identity; and no opportunity appeared for a quiet revelation of himself to the girl.
He was led to the place of execution; the rope was thrown over his head, when Renie came forth from the cabin. She ran forward to where the victim stood.
"Hold! Hold!" she said, "what are you about to do?"
"Hang your father's assailant!"
"Does the man confess his guilt?"
"Let me speak to him."
The girl pressed forward close to the doomed man, and addressing him, said:
"Are you innocent or guilty?"
"It makes no difference now; but tell me are you Renie Pearce?"
"I am Renie Pearce."
"I have an important communication to make to you before I die."
"What I communicate must be spoken in your ear alone, as it concerns you only."
"Go and see what he has to say," commanded the leader of the lynching party.
The girl stepped close to the man and the lyncher stepped back.
In a low tone the detective said:
"Be calm and do not betray that you know me!"
The girl felt her heart stand still, and a cry rose to her lips.
"Hold," whispered the officer, "or you will destroy all chances for escape."
The girl's face assumed the hue of death, a thrilling suspicion flashed through her mind.
"You can save me, Renie, but if you betray my real identity I am doomed!"
"Are you Spencer Vance?"
"Heavens! what does this mean?"
"It is no time for explanations now; tell me, is your father dead"
"He shows signs of life."
"Then you can save my life."
"You shall not die!"
"Listen, tell the men I have made certain revelations to you; tell them your father is reviving; bid them wait and let the old man identify me as the assailant, or proclaim my innocence."
"I see! I see!" said the girl.
"Remember, under no circumstances, even though I die, must my identity be betrayed!"
"You can trust me."
The girl stepped toward the men, and addressing them, said:
"You must not hang that man!"
"Is the man your friend?" came the question in a jeering tone.
"The man is a stranger; but I am satisfied he did not strike down my father. He has told me important things; my father revives, let my father see this man!"
At the moment there came a fortunate diversion in favor of the policy of delay; a voice called in from the house
"Come here, Renie, your father is reviving. He has called for you!"
"Bring the man to my father," said the girl.
"Yes," came the answer from several.
"Throw the rope off from around his neck."
A young man stepped forward and did as commanded.
The sentiment was turning in favor of the seemingly doomed man.
It was an exciting moment when the detective was led into the cabin; as many as could get in, crowded into the low-ceiled room.
The old man had rapidly revived, his only attendant being an old man-of-war's-man, who had had a large experience with wounded men.
The detective meantime was quite confident; conscious of his innocence he welcomed the inspection.
The wounded man opened his eyes and gazed around the room.
"Where am I?" he demanded.
Renie stepped to his side and said:
"You are in your own cabin, father."
The old man gazed around wildly at the pale faces gathered around his bed; the detective was led forward and the old smuggler's glance fell upon the stark face. Suddenly the wounded man uttered a thrilling cry, rose up in the bed to a sitting position, end pointing his finger at the detective, demanded in a hoarse voice
"Why is he here? take him away!"
The group gathered around the bed were paralyzed to silence, but after a moment the silence was broken by the voice of the leader of the gang of lynchers who asked:
"Who is he, Tom?"
In clear distinct tones the answer came:
"The villain who struck me down!"
Renie uttered a scream, and oaths fell from the lips of the men.
"Out with him! out with him!" came the cry, and oaths and curses and shouts of vengeance filled the air.
The men started to turn the detective toward the door, determined to hang him without further hindrance or delay.
The wounded man as he uttered the fatal words had fallen back, seemingly into a dead faint.
It was a terrible moment; the maddened men had reached the door with their prisoner when Renie called out in a frantic voice:
"Hold! do not take him away, my father has a word to say to him."
The girl's quick wit and readiness of expedient were wonderful.
At first, when the fatal words fell from her father's lips, her blood ran cold with horror; but quickly came the recollection that the detective had changed his appearance, and that she herself had failed to recognize him. Garcia was a dark-complexioned man, and the thought came to her that here was a possibility that, in a moment of excitement and bewilderment, the injured old smuggler had mistaken the detective for Garcia,
Her device to stay the maddened men was a rare example of quickness of thought at a critical moment; indeed, it was the only appeal that would have caused the men to delay their fell purpose.
Tom Pearce was still unconscious, and Renie threw herself upon the old man, pretending to caress him, so as to hide the fact of his unconsciousness and to gain time until he should revive.
At length, the old smuggler did revive, and Renie whispered the inquiry in his ear:
"Father, who was it struck you down?"
"Garcia!" came the response in a husky voice.
Gladness gleamed in the girl's eyes.
The men brought the detective to the bedside.
"Wait, wait a moment!" commanded Renie.
"What does the old man wish to say to the villain?"
"Wait, wait until he more fully revives."
Some of the men who were outside, not understanding the cause of the delay, called out:
"Bring the man out!"
Meantime, the old man more fully revived, when Renie whispered to him:
"Father, do you know me?"
"Yes; it is Renie, my child."
"Do you remember pointing out the man who assailed you?"
"Yes; it was that villain Garcia."
"The man whom you denounced was not Garcia."
"Was it not Garcia whom they brought before me."
"Who was it?"
"I made a mistake!"
"Yes; you made a mistake. Will you not look again at the man?"
"Certainly I will."
"Will you rise up in bed?"
Renie assisted the old man to rise, and beckoned the men to lead the detective forward.
"Now, father," she said, "look upon this man."
The old smuggler looked the detective all over, and a change came over his face as he said:
"Is that the man I denounced?"
"My friends, that is not the man who assailed me!"
The gang of lynchers stood gazing in amazement, and there was a suspicious look upon the faces of many of them as their leader remarked:
"The girl has cajoled him."
The men suspected that the girl had induced her Father to recall his words.
"Would you know the man who assailed you, Tom?"
"Then why did you accuse this man?"
"I had not fully recovered my senses when I denounced him."
"Do you know the right man?"
"Yes," came the answer.
"Are you sure you have your senses now?"
"This man is really innocent?"
"That settles it, stranger. We owe you an apology; but you had a narrow 'squeak' of it, and but for the gal, you'd have been dangling now from yonder spar."
Turning to the wounded man, the fellow continued:
"Tom, who was the man who assailed you?"
"I know him."
"You're going to die; tell us, old man, who did the deed?"
The old man-of-war's-man, who had been attending the wounded smuggler, exclaimed:
"Die, is it? Not he! Tom Pearce is good for a three-years' cruise yet; and he'd a mind to take it!"
"Well, tell us who the man was, Tom?"
"No, boys, not now; it was a private quarrel. I'm coming around all right, and I'm much obliged for the good feeling you men have shown toward me; but I'll settle with the man who downed me—settle with him good, and no mistake!"
"All right, you have your own way, but when you're around again, we want to have a talk with you; and, meantime, Renie, I've a few words to say to you in private."
"You want to talk to me, Ike Denman!"
"Well, speak out."
"Clear out, boys; you know what business you have on hand; get down to work, and if you fail, I'll meet you at Rigby's later on."
The men moved away, the detective going with them; and a few moments later Renie, Denman, and the old smuggler were alone.
"Renie," said Denman, "haven't we always treated you well?"
"I've never complained of the treatment I've received on the coast."
"Then, why have you turned against us?"
"I've not turned against you."
"Go slow, girl, go slow! Don't say anything you'll have to take back."
"I know just what I'm saying."
"There's been an enemy on the coast."
"A Government officer?"
"Yes; a Government officer."
"Who warned him he was in danger?"
"Who first learned he was a Government officer?"
"That's neither here nor there. Who warned him not to go off in the yacht this night?"
"Why did you do so?"
"I did not want to see the man murdered."
"Who told you the man would be murdered?"
Ike Denman fixed his keen eyes sharply on the girl when he asked the question.
"No one told me."
"See here, girl, do not tell me that!"
"You have my answer."
"Renie, before to-night I would have taken your word for anything; but now I doubt you!"
"I can't help it, I have told you the truth."
"Someone must have told you our plans?"
"No one told me."
"And what did you tell the detective?"
"I told him not to go off in the yacht to-night."
"What more did you tell him?"
"I told him to leave the coast."
"What reason did you give him for warning hunt rot to go off in the yacht?"
"I told him he'd never return alive."
"That's frank and straight."
"I always tell the truth."
"And now, girl, we have something, worse than a Government officer on the coast."
The girl remained silent, and Denman continued:
"A traitor is worse than a Government officer, and, we have a traitor in our midst."
The girl still remained silent. She supposed the fellow was alluding to her.
"Renie, you must tell me who told you our plans?"
"No one told me your plans."
"Listen, girl, I want to keep you out of trouble; let me tell you something; the men are very much incensed against you, and have uttered terrible threats."
"I can't help it."
"Why did you warn the detective?"
"I did not wish to see the man murdered."
"And you turned against your father and us all?"
"I have turned against no one. I only sought to save a man's life."
"The man is a friend of yours?"
"I never spoke to him before in my life, until I warned him of his danger."
"Where is the man?"
"If he is wise, he has left the coast."
"Will you tell me how you have learned of our plans?"
"I overheard you discuss them."
"And you are the traitor
"I am the traitor!"
"Girl, never confess to anyone else what you have confessed to me!"
The old smuggler was a listener to the foregoing conversation, and he said:
"Renie is tender-hearted."
"Yes; but, Tom, Renie must go away."
"Yes; she is going away."
"Have you a place for her?"
"Will you tell me who assailed you?"
"Ike, I can't tell you all; but I was assailed on Renie's account."
"You were assailed on Renie's account?"
"This is a strange story!"
"Some day you will know why I was assailed."
"Was it one of our people?"
"A man you know."
"When will Renie go away?"
"As soon as possible."