Black Dennis Nolan looked at her, straight into her sea-eyes, and felt the bitter-sweet spell of them again to the very depths of his being. Her glance was the first to waver. A veil of color slipped up softly across her pale cheeks. Young as she was, she had seen other men gaze at her with that same light in their eyes. They had all been young men, she reflected. Others, in Paris and London, had looked with less of pure bewitchment and more of desire in their eyes. She was not ignorant of her charms, her power, her equipment to pluck the pearl from the oyster of the world. She could marry wealth; she could win wealth and more fame with her voice and beauty on the concert-stage; she could do both. But in spite of her knowledge of the great world, her heart was neither blinded to the true things of worth nor entirely hardened. If she ever married, it would be for wealth and position, as the world counted such things, but never a man—lord or commoner—who did not come to her with the light of pure witchery in his eyes. She remembered, smiling down at the half-written letter to her New York agent, how that light had shone in the honest eyes of a young officer of the ship in which she had sailed from America to Europe. Her reflections, which had passed through her brain with a swiftness beyond that of any spoken or written words, were interrupted by the skipper.
"I bes rich now," he said thickly.
Mary Kavanagh lost color at that and turned her face away from them both, toward the fire in the wide chimney. Flora Lockhart looked up at the speaker, puzzled, but still smiling faintly. Her face was very beautiful and kind—but with an elfin kindness that seemed not all womanly, scarcely all human. Her beauty was almost too delicate, striking and unusual to bear the impress of a common-day kindness. She laughed gently but clearly.
"I am glad you are rich," she said. "You are rich in virtues, I know—all three of you."
"I bes rich in gold an' gear," said the skipper. "Rich as any marchant."
"I am glad," returned the girl. "It will be pleasant for me, in the future, to always picture my preservers in comfort. I hope you may continue to prosper, skipper—you and all your people. But here is the letter. How will you get it to New York, do you think?"
The skipper advanced to the bed, and took the letter. His fingers touched hers.
"I'll be takin' it to Witless Bay meself," he stammered. "Sure, that would be safest. It bes a longish trip; but I'll do it." He paused and stared down at the letter in his hand. "But 'twould take me t'ree days an' more, there an' back—an' what would the men be doing wid me away? The divil himself only knows! Maybe they'd get to t'inkin' agin as ye bes a witch. I'll be sendin' Bill Brennen wid it, afore sun-up to-morrow."
"And who will take it from Witless Bay to St. John's?" asked Flora.
"Foxey Garge Hudson, the Queen's own mail-carrier. There bes a post-office in Witless Bay," returned the skipper. "He makes the trip to St. John's once every week in winter-time, bar flurries an' fog, an' maybe twice every week in the summer-time. If it be'd summer-time now I'd sail the letter right round to St. John's in me fore-an'-aft schooner."
"What a terrible place! It seems to be thousands of miles out of the world," murmured the singer. "Don't any ships ever come to this harbor—except wrecks?"
The skipper shook his head. "Me own fore-an'-aft, the Polly, bes the only vessel trades wid this harbor," he said. He stowed the letter away in his pocket, turned and strode from the room and out of the house. He looked calm enough now, but the battle was still raging within him.
The skipper was out of bed next morning at the first peep of dawn. He dressed for a long journey, stuffed his pockets with food, and then wakened his grandmother.
"I bes goin' meself wid this letter," he said. "The men won't be tryin' any o' their tricks, I bes t'inkin'. Dick Lynch bain't fit for any divilment yet awhile an' 'tothers be busy gettin' timber for the church. Send Cormy to tell Bill Brennen an' Nick Leary to keep 'em to it."
"Why bes ye goin' yerself, Denny?" inquired the old woman.
"Sure, it bes safest for me to carry the letter, Granny," returned the skipper.
He ate his breakfast, drank three mugs of strong tea, and set out. A little dry snow had fallen during the night. The air was bitterly cold and motionless, and the only sound was the sharp crackling of the tide fingering the ice along the frozen land-wash. The sky was clear. With the rising of the sun above the rim of the sea a faint breath of icy wind came out of the west. By this time the skipper was up on the edge of the barrens, a mile and more away from the little harbor. He was walking at a good pace, smoking his pipe and thinking hard. A thing was in his mind that he could not bring himself to face fairly, as yet. It had been with him several hours of yesterday, and all night, and had caused him to change his plan of sending Bill Brennen with the letter—and still it lurked like a shadow in the back of his mind, unilluminated and unproven. But he knew, deep in his heart, that he would presently consider and act upon this lurking, sinister half-thought. Otherwise, he was a fool to be heading for Witless Bay. Bill Brennen, or any other man in the harbor, could have carried the letter as well—except for the idea that had been blindly at work all night in the back of his brain.
He had made four miles of his journey when he halted, turned and looked back along the desolate barrens and the irregular edge of the cliffs. Misgivings assailed him. Was Flora safe? What if something should happen—had already happened, perhaps—to stir his treacherous fellows to mutiny again? Any little accident might do it if they knew that he was on his way to Witless Bay. If one of them should cut his foot with an axe, or drop a tree on one of his comrades, it would be enough (with the skipper out of the way) to raise the suspicion of witchcraft and curses in their silly, mad souls again. And then what would happen? What would happen to Flora, the helpless, wonderful, most beautiful creature in the world. He stared back along his path, but the many curves and breaks in the cliff hid from him every sign of Chance Along. Not a roof, chimney, or streamer of smoke broke the desolation. In all the frozen scene he could find no mark of man or man's handiwork. South and north, east and west, lay the frosted barrens, the gray sea, the edge of the cliff twisting away to nothingness around innumerable lifeless bays and coves, and the far horizons fencing all in a desolate circle. But what mattered to the skipper, what weighed on his heart like despair was the fact that he was out of sight of Chance Along—of the roof that sheltered the girl he had saved from the wreck. He felt the loneliness of that dreary season and coast—for the first time in his life, I think. Anxiety was his teacher.
And now he knew that he must go on to Witless Bay, and so prove himself a fool for not having sent one of the men, or else face and act upon the thought lurking in the back of his mind. He drew the letter from his pocket and looked at it for a long time, turning it over and over between his fur-clad hands.
"She'll soon be forgettin'," he said. "Come summer-time, she'll be forgettin'. I bes rich—an' when she sees the grand house I kin build for her she'll marry me, sure, an' be happy as a queen. An' why not? Bain't I rich as any marchant? She'll be wearin' gold an' silk every day, an' eatin' like any queen—an' bain't that better for a grand lady nor singin' songs for a livin'?—nor singin' songs for her bread an' baccy like old Pat Kavanagh wid the wooden leg?"
He tore the letter to fragments and scattered it upon the snow. He had faced the lurking thought at last and acted upon it.
"Praise be to the saints!" exclaimed the skipper with intense relief. "That bes done—an' a good job, too. That letter'll never be gettin' to up-along, anyhow, an' when she larns how rich I be, an' begins to love me, she'll be praisin' the saints the same as me. Why for would she want to be goin' up-along to New York, anyhow? Now I'll jist shape me course 'round beyant the harbor an' see if they squid be up to any divilment or no."
He made his way inland for about half a mile and then headed southward. As he drew near the line of Chance Along he edged farther away from the coast, deeper into the wilderness of hummocks, frozen bogs and narrow belts of spruce and fir. When at last he heard the axes thumping between himself and the harbor he sat down in a sheltered place and filled and lit his pipe. The men were at work. The letter that would have torn Flora Lockhart from him was not on its way to New York. All was well with the skipper and the world! He remained there for an hour, smoking, listening, congratulating himself. By the thumping of the axes and the slow crashings of falling trees he knew that Bill Brennen had put a big crew at the chopping. This knowledge stilled his anxiety for the girl's safety. He knocked out his pipe and stowed it away and moved farther westward until he found a suitable camping-place behind a wooded hill. Here he made a fire, built a little shelter of poles and spruce branches, and rested at his ease. He thought of Flora Lockhart. Her sea-eyes and red lips were as clear and bright as a picture in his brain. Her wonderful, bell-like voice rang in his ears like fairy music. The spell of her was like a ravishing fire in his heart.
Suddenly the skipper sprang to his feet and slapped a hand on his thigh. He had remembered the necklace for the first time for many days, and with the memory had flashed the thought that with it to offer he would have no difficulty in proving his wealth to the lady and winning her heart. Those white diamonds and red rubies were surely just the things a great lady from up-along would appreciate. Could a king on his throne make her a finer gift? He doubted it. The sight of that necklace would open her eyes and melt her heart to the real worth and greatness of the skipper of Chance Along. Poor Skipper Nolan! But after all, he was little more than a savage. Of the hearts of women—even of the women of Chance Along—he was as ignorant as a spotted harbor-seal. He knew no more of Mary Kavanagh's heart than of Flora Lockhart's, but even a savage may win a heart in ignorance, and even a savage may learn!
With a great oath the skipper vowed that he would find that necklace; but not to sell for gold, as his old intention had been, but to sell for the possession of the girl from up-along. It seemed an easy thing to do. Foxey Jack Quinn could not have gone very far away from the harbor in that "flurry." Perhaps he had turned back and inland, searching blindly for shelter, and lay even now somewhere near this fire? It struck the skipper as a great idea. He would have three clear days to give to the quest of the body of Jack Quinn without arousing the curiosity of the harbor. Three days, as nearly as he could reckon, was the shortest time in which a man could make the journey to Witless Bay and back. As he could not show himself in Chance Along within that time without raising doubts as to the safe delivery of the letter, he was free to devote the time to the recovery of the necklace. It was a grand arrangement altogether. Of course he would keep covertly in touch with the harbor, in case of another panic of superstition; and of course he would find the corpse of Jack Quinn with the precious necklace in its pocket.
DICK LYNCH GOES ON THE WAR-PATH
Black Dennis Nolan's explorations in the wilderness in search of the corpse of Foxey Jack Quinn served no purpose save that of occupying his three days of exile from Chance Along. Of course he acquired a deal of exact information of the country lying beyond the little harbor and north and south of it for several miles; but this knowledge of the minute details of the landscape did not seem of much value to him, at the time. He searched high and low, far and wide, returning at intervals of from three to five hours to within sound of the axes of his men. He dug the dry snow from clefts between granite boulders and ransacked the tangled hearts of thickets of spruce-tuck and alder. He investigated frozen swamps, wooded slopes, rocky knolls and hummocks, and gazed down through black ice at the brown waters of frozen ponds. He carried on his search scientifically, taking his camp as a point of departure and moving away from it in ever widening and lengthening curves. He found the shed antlers of a stag, the barrel of an old, long-lost sealing gun, the skeleton of a caribou, and the bones of a fox with one shank still gripped in the jaws of a rusty trap. He found a large dry cave in the side of a knoll. He found the charred butts of an old camp-fire and near it that which had once been a plug of tobacco—a brown, rotten mass, smelling of dead leaves and wet rags. He found a rusted fish-hook, so thorough was his search—aye, and a horn button. In such signs he read the fleeting history of the passing of generations of men that way—of men from Chance Along who had sought in this wilderness for flesh for their pots and timber for their huts, boats and stages. He found everything but what he was looking for—the frozen body of Foxey Jack Quinn with the necklace of diamonds and rubies in its pocket. Then a haunting fear came to him that the thief had escaped—had won out to the big world in spite of the storm and by some other course than Witless Bay.
With this fear in him, he carried on terribly for a few minutes, raging around his fire, cursing the name and the soul of Foxey Jack Quinn, calling upon the saints for justice, confounding his luck and his enemies. He stopped it suddenly, for he had a way of regaining command of his threshing passions all at once. He did not have to let them thresh themselves out, as is the case with weaker men; but he gripped them, full-blooded, to quiet, by sheer will power and a turn of thought. The force of mastery was strong in Black Dennis Nolan's wild nature. When he wished it he could master himself as well as others. Now he sat down quietly beside his fire and lit his pipe. The evening was near at hand—the evening of the third and last day of his exile. The sun, like a small round window of red glass, hung low above the black hills to the north and west. He got to his feet, threw snow on the breaking fire and scattered the steaming coals with his foot. Then he pulled down his shelter and threw the poles and spruce branches into a thicket, so that no marks of his encampment were left except the wet coals and smudged ashes of the fire.
The crimson sun slid down out of sight behind the black hills to the west and north, and the gray twilight thickened over the wilderness. The last red tint had faded from the west and the windows of the cabins were glowing when the skipper reached the top of the path leading down to Chance Along. A dog barked—Pat Kavanagh's black crackie—and the whisper of the tide fumbling at edges of ice came up from the land-wash below the fish-house and drying-stages. He saw the spars of his little schooner etched black against the slate-gray of the eastern sky. He stood at the edge of the broken slope, looking and listening. Presently he heard a mutter of voices and saw two dark figures ascending the path.
"Good evenin', men," he said.
The two halted. "Glory be!" exclaimed the voice of Bill Brennen. "The skipper himself, sure, praise the saints! Bes it yerself, skipper, an' no mistake?"
"Aye, Bill, an' why for not?" returned Nolan. "Didn't ye t'ink as I could make the trip to Witless Bay an' back in t'ree days? Bes that yerself, Nick Leary?"
"Aye, skipper, aye," replied Nick. The two were now at the top of the path, staring anxiously at the skipper through the gloom. Leary's head was still in a bandage.
"We was jist a-settin' out to look for ye, skipper," said Bill.
Black Dennis Nolan laughed at that. "Was ye t'inkin' I couldn't find me way back to me own harbor, in fair weather?" he asked.
"Aye, skipper, sure ye could," said Bill Brennen; "but it bes like this wid us. Dick Lynch give us the slip this very day, wid a bottle o' rum in his belly an' the smoke of it in his head, an' a gun in his hand. Aye, skipper, an' we didn't larn it till only a minute ago from little Patsy Burke."
"Aye, that bes the right o' it," broke in Nick Leary. "We heard tell o' Dick Lynch a-slippin' away to the south'ard jist this minute from little Patsy Burke. Drunk as a bo's'un he was, wid his old swilin'-gun on his shoulder an' the divil's own flare in the eyes o' him. So we hauled out too, skipper, intendin' to catch him afore he come up wid yerself if the saints would give us the luck."
"Sure, then, I didn't catch a sight o' the treacherous squid," said the skipper. "Ye see, b'ys, I took a swing off to the westward to-day to spy out some timber. But what would Dick Lynch be huntin' me wid his swilin'-gun for? Why for d'ye say he was huntin' me? Didn't I put the comather on to him last time? The divil's own courage must be in him if he bes out huntin' for me."
"He was tryin' all he knowed how to raise trouble yesterday," said Bill; "but the b'ys wasn't wid him. This very mornin', when I called in to see how he was feelin' for work, there he laid in his bed wid the covers drug up over his ugly face, a-moanin' an' groanin' as how he wasn't fit to hit a clip. Then we all o' us goes off to the choppin', to cut timber for his riverence's blessed little church, an' mugs-up in the woods widout comin' home, an' when we gets back to the harbor, maybe a few minutes afore sun-down, little Patsy Burke gives us the word as how Dick Lynch went off wid a gun, swearin' by the whole assembly of heaven as how he'd be blowin' yer heart out o' ye the minute he clapped eye on ye. An' then, skipper dear, Pat Kavanagh's girl Mary comes a-runnin' wid word as how Dick Lynch t'iefed a bottle o' rum from Pat himself and was brow-sprit under wid the glory of it an' fit to take a shot—except for the aim of him—at Saint Peter himself. She telled as how he'd shaped his course to the south'ard, with his gun on his shoulder, swearin' he'd blow the head off ye or never come home to Chance Along no more. So Nick an' me puts two an' two forninst each other an' figgered as how Dick would have ye if somethin' didn't happen to t'row out his plans."
"Ye bain't got the right o' it there, Bill," said Nick. "'Twas Mary telled us to follow after Dick Lynch. She'd gone herself, she said, but she'd heard o' it no more'n a minute ago from Pat, her bein' over to the skipper's house an' tryin' to cheer up the lady what come off the wrack! 'Save the skipper,' says Mary, the eyes o' her like lumps o' ice on the coast in June. 'Save him from the drunk dog wid the gun, even if it bes the death o' yerselves.' Aye, that bes what Mary Kavanagh said to us—an' here we bes, skipper."
"Mary bes a good girl," said the skipper. Then he laughed harshly and slapped Bill Brennen on the back.
"Me brains bes still in me head an' me hands on the ends o' me two arms," he exclaimed; "but what bes happenin' to Dick Lynch, I wonder? If ever he comes back—but he'll not dare! Aye, ye kin lay to that. He'd as soon jump into hell wid the divil as come back now to Chance Along. Maybe he'll be losin' himself like Foxey Jack Quinn went an' done wid himself. Aye, lads, fools kin tell as how me luck bes gone—but the saints themselves bes wid me, drivin' me enemies out o' Chance Along widout me so much as havin' to kill one o' them!"
"Sure, skipper, it looks that way, an' no mistake," said Bill Brennen. "The saints be wid ye for the kind heart ye has for helpless women an' childer, an' for yer love o' Father McQueen, an' for the work ye bes at to build the little church; but most of all, skipper, for the kind heart o' ye to every helpless woman an' child."
A scowl, or was it a shadow, crossed Black Dennis Nolan's face at that.
"Sure, a kind heart bes a grand t'ing," he said,—"and so bes sharp wits an' hard hands!"
They turned and went down the path. Mother Nolan met the skipper just inside the door, with the big wooden spoon from the stew-pot dripping in her hand. Her black eyes looked blacker and keener than usual as they met those of her grandson.
"So here ye be, safe back from Witless Bay," she said. "Ye didn't waste a minute, Denny."
"Sure I didn't," returned the skipper, quickly. "It beed fair weather an' fair goin' all the way an' one little letter bain't much o' a pack to tote. How be ye all, Granny? How bes the lass from the wrack?"
"Grand altogether," said the old woman, returning to the stove and the pot of stew.
"Aye," said young Cormick, "she was singin' to-day fit to drag the heart o' ye out t'rough yer ears. Sure, Denny, if ye heard a fairy singin' 'twould sound no grander!"
"Aye, like a fairy," agreed the old woman, wagging her head. "I bain't wonderin' a mite at how she brought the salt tears a-hoppin' out o' the eyes o' the blessed Queen herself! An' she was that happy, Denny, a-t'inkin' o' how her letter to up-along was safe an' sure on its way, that didn't she have Pat Kavanagh down wid his fiddle, an' atween the two o' 'em they made the finest music was ever heard on this coast. Her heart bes fair set on up-along, Denny, an' on what she calls her career, meanin' songs an' glory an' money an' her name on the lips o' men."
The skipper was silent for a moment after that, staring at the floor. He raised his eyes to the old woman and found that she was gazing at him fixedly.
"Sure, an' why for not?" he said. "An' what bes she doin' now?"
"Sleepin'," replied Mother Nolan. "Sleepin' an' dreamin' o' up-along an' all her grand friends."
A scowl darkened the skipper's eyes and brow, but he had no remark to make on the matter of the lady's dreams. He threw aside his outer coat, ate his supper, smoked his pipe, and at last retired to his bed. In the meantime, Nick Leary had taken word to Pat and Mary Kavanagh that the skipper was home in Chance Along, safe and sound, having missed Dick Lynch by shaping his course westward to spy out timber. Mary's face brightened at the news. Pat glanced at her, then nodded his tangled head toward Leary.
"The skipper bes still alive an' the letter bes gone on its way," he said. "So, come spring, they be takin' that singin' lady wid the eyes o' magic away from Chance Along. Maybe they'll be comin' for her widout waitin' for spring? She bes a wonder at the singin', an' no mistake—the best I ever hear in all me v'yages into foreign ports. An' the looks o' her! Holy saints, they bain't scarce human!"
Nick Leary grinned through his bandage.
"Aye, Pat, ye've got the discarnin' eye in yer head—ye an' the skipper," he said. "However the skipper kep' himself away from Chance Along for t'ree entire days, wid herself a-singin' an' a-flashin' her eyes right in his own house, bes a puzzle to me. Aye, sure it do, for didn't I see her put the spell o' women on to him the very first minute she opened her eyes at him on the fore-top o' the wrack."
"Leave the skipper be, Nick Leary," said Mary. "Never half a word would ye be sayin' if he could hear ye. Leave him an' his business be. He bes a good friend to ye—aye, an' to every soul in the harbor who don't cross him."
"Sure, Mary, I bain't meanin' naught," returned Nick. "Sure he bes a good friend to me!"
Pat Kavanagh smiled and took up his fiddle and his bow. His hands were still for a minute, and then the instrument began to sigh and trill. The sounds gathered in strength, soared high, then thinned and sank to no more than the whisper of a tune—and then Pat began to sing. This is part of what he sang:—
"Come all ye hardy fishermen An' harken to me song, O' how the mermaid from the wrack Come ashore in Chance Along.
"Her eyes was like the sea in June, Her lips was like a rose, Her voice was like a fairy bell A-ringin' crost the snows.
"The Skipper he forgot the wrack, Forgot the waves a-rollin', For she had put the witchy spell On Skipper Dennis Nolan.
* * * * *
"Come all ye hardy fishermen An' larn from this me song, To turn yer eyes the other way To the girls from up-along."
"Yer songs get more foolish every day, father dear," said Mary.
"Sure, Pat, Mary bes right," said Leary. "Ye sings as if the girls in Chance Along hadn't so much as one eye in the heads o' the entire crew o' them. Now I bes t'inkin' as how there bes a girl in this harbor wid eyes an' lips——"
"Sure, Nick, yer thoughts bes no better nor father's songs," interrupted Mary.
BILL BRENNEN PREACHES LOYALTY
Black Dennis Nolan was permitted an interview with Miss Flora Lockhart in the afternoon following his return to Chance Along. The singer was sitting up in a chair by the fire, wrapped about in her own silk dressing-gown, which had been brought ashore from the wreck, and in an eiderdown quilt. Her plentiful, soft, brown hair was arranged in a manner new to Chance Along, and stuck through with a wonderful comb of amber shell and gold, and a pin with a jewelled hilt. The ornaments for the hair had been supplied by Mother Nolan, who had possessed them for the past thirty years, hidden away in the bottom of a nunney-bag. Her own son, the late skipper, had salvaged them from a wreck. Flora had her own rings on her tapering fingers. There was color in her flawless cheeks, her wonderful eyes were bright and clear, and her lips were red. She smiled at the skipper when Mother Nolan ushered him into the room.
"It was very, very kind of you to take my letter all the way to the post-office with your own hand," she said. Her bell-like voice was generous and sincere. "I wish I could reward you for all you have done for me, Mr. Nolan. But how can I—except in my heart? You are so rich and proud, I am afraid to offer you money." Here there was a playful note in her voice which the skipper detected. So she was making fun of his wealth and his pride. His dark face flushed with several disturbing emotions. To be addressed by the title of "mister" added to his discomfort. There were no misters in Chance Along—or anywhere on the coast, except the Methodist preacher in Bay Bulls, away to the north. He was skipper—or just Denny Nolan. He was skipper of Chance Along—not a preacher and not the mate of a foreign-going ship.
"Sure, it bain't no great trip to Witless Bay an' back agin," he mumbled, staring at the girl in the big chair. The light that entered the room from the gray afternoon, by way of the small window, was more of a shadow than an illumination. The red fire in the wide chimney warmed a little of it, painted the low ceiling and touched the girl's eyes with a sunset tint. The skipper shuffled his feet on a rag mat and crumpled his cap between his big hands. He felt like a slave—aye, and something of a rogue—here in his own house. But he tried to brace himself with the thought that he was master of the situation.
"Please sit down and talk to me, Mr. Nolan," said Flora.
The skipper glanced around the room. Mother Nolan had gone, leaving the door ajar behind her. A small wooden stool stood near the fire, directly across it from Flora. The skipper advanced to the stool and sat down, the thumping of his heart sounding in his ears like the strokes of a sledgehammer on wood. For a moment the sight of his strong eyes was veiled by a mist—by an inner mist smoking up from the heat and commotion of his blood. When his sight cleared he saw the beautiful young woman regarding him with a slight smile on her red lips and in her wonderful eyes. There was inquiry in the smile—yes, and pity and amusement were in it, too. The young man felt short of breath and at the same time a choking sensation as of uncomfortable fulness of the lungs. He stared across at her like one spellbound. The girl's glance wavered, but her smile deepened. A brief note of laughter, like a chime of glass bells, parted her lips.
"Dear me, you look very tragic," she said. "You look as if you saw a ghost."
The skipper started violently and turned his face to the fire. He laughed huskily, then got to his feet and looked down at her with the firelight red as blood in his black eyes. Suddenly he groaned, stooped and snatched up one of her white, bejewelled hands. He pressed it passionately to his lips, crushing the delicate fingers with his. For a second or two the singer was far too amazed and horrified to speak or act; then, recovering suddenly, she wrenched her hand free and struck him on the cheek. He flung his head back and stood straight. A short, thin, red line showed beneath his right eye where a diamond in one of her rings had scratched the skin.
"How dare you?" she cried, her voice trembling and her face colorless. "Go away! You forget—who I am! You are a coward!"
The skipper did not flinch, his eyes did not waver. She was but a woman, after all, for all her talk of queens and fame. He had kissed her hand—and she had struck him. Well? He was rich. He would marry her—and she would soon learn to love him. He looked down at her with a smile on his lips and the light of mastery in his black eyes.
"Go away—you coward!" she cried. Then she hid her face in her hands and began to sob. Tears glinted between her fingers, beside the diamonds. At that moment Mother Nolan entered and clutched her grandson by the elbow.
"Get out wid ye, ye great hulkin' fool!" she exclaimed. "Oh, I seed ye a-clawin' at her little hand. An' now ye've set her to weepin', ye great lump! Bain't there a drop o' wits in yer head? Don't ye know yer place, Denny Nolan, ye ignorant fisherman, a-pawin' at the likes o' her?"
The skipper felt shame at sight of Flora's tears and anger at his grandmother's humiliating words. There was a bitter edge to her voice that was new to him, and her lean old fingers pinched into his flesh like fingers of iron.
"Sure, I bes mad," he said. "'Twas only a trick, anyhow—an' I did no harm. There bain't naught for ye to be cryin' about."
He strode from the room, with old Mother Nolan still clinging to his elbow. When they reached the kitchen she loosed her clutch on his elbow.
"Denny Nolan, ye bes a fool!" she exclaimed. "Saints presarve us, Denny, what would ye be doin' wid a sprite the like o' her, wid a heart all full entirely o' gold an' diamonds an' queens an' kings?—an' girls in this very harbor, ye great ninney, wid red woman hearts in their breasts!"
The skipper stared at her for a second, muttered an oath, crushed his fur cap on his head and went out into the gray twilight, slamming the door behind him. He blundered his way up the path at the back of the harbor and held on, blindly, to the westward.
"Sure, now she'll be frighted o' me all the time," he muttered. "I was a fool to fright her so! Maybe now she'll never be marryin' wid me at all. The divil was into me! Aye, the divil himself!"
He came presently to a group of his men working in a belt of timber, and this encounter brought him back to affairs of the common day. Grabbing an axe from young Peter Leary, he set to with a fury of effort and unheeding skill that brought the slim spruces flapping to earth. Men had to jump to save themselves from being crushed. The white chips flew in the gray twilight; and Bill Brennen wondered what imp's claw had marked the skipper under the eyes and crisscrossed his temper.
The weather continued cold, cloudless and windless throughout the next three days. During that time the skipper made no effort to see Flora, but was abroad from sun-up to sun-down with the men, cutting out timber for the little church as if his life depended on it. No sight or sound of Dick Lynch came back to the harbor. This gave Bill Brennen an argument in favor of loyalty to the skipper. He preached it to the men, and it made a great impression on their simple though dangerous natures.
"There was Foxey Jack Quinn," he said. "Jack hated the skipper like we hates sea-water in our rum. Didn't he try to kill him—t'row him over the cliff—an' didn't the skipper put the comather on to him? An' then he tips and busts into the skipper's house, wid the intention o' t'iefing the money—an' where bes Foxey Jack Quinn this minute? The saints only knows!—or maybe the divil could tell ye! An' there was Dick Lynch. Dick ups an' crosses the skipper in the store, an' gets his head broke. Nex', he raises a mutiny agin the skipper an' slips his knife into a mate. Nex', he fills himself up wid rum an' sets out wid his swilin'-gun to blow the skipper's head away! An' where bes Dick Lynch this minute? Aye, where bes he! Tell me that, if ye kin—I don't know, an' ye don't know, an' the skipper himself don't know. But the saints knows!—or maybe it bes the divil himself could tell ye! Anyhow, all the luck o' this harbor bes wid the skipper an' wid them as stands true wid him. Aye, ye kin lay to that! His enemies blink out like a spark floatin' up in the air. B'ys, stick wid the skipper! He feeds ye like marchants. Already every man o' ye has more gold stored away nor ye ever see afore in all yer life, an' come spring the skipper'll be freightin' yer jewels, an' the cargo out o' the last wrack, north to St. John's, an' sellin' 'em for ye. Would ye have salved 'em widout the skipper? No. Would ye be able for to freight 'em to St. John's widout himself an' his fore-an'-after? No. An' neither would ye be able to sell 'em even if ye could freight 'em! Stand true to Black Dennis Nolan, b'ys, an' ye'll all be fat an' rich as marchants, wid never the need to wet a line at the fishin'."
Dick Lynch had gone away drunk; but not so drunk as to have forgotten to take food and a blanket with him, and to stow away on his person his share of the gold from the Durham Castle. His inflamed mind must have held a doubt as to the certainty of meeting and disposing of the skipper.
After the long spell of fine weather another "flurry" swirled out of the west, and sent the men of Chance Along into their cabins, to eat and drink and spin yarns and keep the fires roaring in the little, round stoves and blackened chimneys. Throughout the first day of storm the skipper sat by the stove in his kitchen, talking pleasantly enough to Mother Nolan and Cormick, figuring on the plans for the church which Father McQueen had left with him, but with never a question about Flora Lockhart. He was something of a dissembler, was the skipper—when his blood was cool. Mother Nolan spoke once of the girl, saying that the loneliness of Chance Along was eating her poor heart; but the skipper gave no heed to it. On the morning of the second day of the storm, after Mother Nolan had carried tea, bacon and toast to the singer and was eating her own breakfast with her grandsons, the inner door opened and Flora herself entered the kitchen. The three looked up at her in amazement. The skipper was the first to lower his eyes.
"Good mornin' to ye," he said, and went on with his breakfast.
"Oh, I am so dull and lonely," exclaimed the girl. "This terrible storm frightens me. Why must I stay in that dreary room all by myself?"
"Ye be welcome to the entire house, ye poor dear," said Mother Nolan. "But has ye et yer breakfast?"
"Not yet. The storm howled so in the chimney that I was too frightened to eat. Mayn't I bring it out here and eat it with you—and listen to you talking?" begged Flora.
"Sure ye kin. Set right down an' I'll fetch yer tray," said Mother Nolan.
"Aye, that ye kin—an' welcome ye be as June," said the skipper quietly.
The singer glanced at him shyly, uncertainly, with a question in her beautiful eyes.
"You are very kind—you are all very kind," she said. "I fear that I was very—rude to you, Mr. Nolan. I—I struck you—but you were rough. And I—called you names—which I did not mean."
"Let it pass," said the skipper, gazing at the bacon on his plate. "I bes rough, as ye say. It bes the way I was born an' bred. But I was meanin' no disrespect to ye, as the holy saints be me jedges. Sure I—I couldn't help meself!"
So it happened that Miss Flora Lockhart ate her breakfast beside the kitchen stove with Mother Nolan, the skipper and young Cormick. The way she ate was a wonder to watch, all so easy and quiet and polite. Mother Nolan wagged her head over it, as much as to say that such table manners would bring no good to such a place as Chance Along, and young Cormick could do nothing but stare at the beautiful stranger. She talked brightly, with the evident intention to please. It was her nature to want to impress people favorably toward her—and after all, she owed a great deal to these people and, for a few weeks longer at least, was entirely in their power. She saw that the skipper was a strong man—a man to be feared—and that her charms had ensnared his wild heart. Therefore she must play the game artfully with him instead of continuing the crude and honest method of slaps in the face. She believed that he would prove harmless and docile if skilfully handled, but as dangerous as a wounded animal if insulted and rebuffed.
After breakfast she asked for Pat Kavanagh. She did not remember his name, but spoke of him as the funny old fellow with the violin and the wooden leg.
"If he were here we could have a fine concert," she said, "and forget all about the terrible wind and snow whirling around the house." Her laughing face was turned to the skipper.
"Sure then, Pat bes the lad we wants," said the skipper, grinning like one entranced by a glimpse of heaven itself. There was a golden vision in his head, poor fool, of this beautiful creature sitting beneath his roof for all time, her red lips and wonderful eyes always laughing at him, her silvery voice forever telling him to forget the storm outside. The future looked to him like a state of bliss such as one sometimes half-sees, half-feels, in dreams.
"I'll go fetch him an' his fiddle," he said, pulling on his heavy jumper.
"Now don't ye be losin' yerself in the flurry," continued Mother Nolan.
"It bes nought, Granny," returned the skipper. "Sure I kin feel me way on me hands an' knees."
It took him fifteen minutes to find Pat Kavanagh's shanty and locate the door of it, so blinding and choking was the storm. He pushed the door open, stumbled into the warmth, and slammed the timbers shut behind him. Mary was sewing beside the stove, and Pat was mumbling over the first verse of a new "come-all-ye." They looked up at the skipper in astonishment.
"What the divil bes troublin' ye, Denny Nolan, to fetch ye out o' yer own house sich a day as this?" demanded the ex-sailorman. "Bes there anything the matter wid that grand young lady from up-along?"
The skipper removed his cap and with it beat the snow from his limbs and body. He breathed heavily from his struggle with the storm. Mary eyed him anxiously, her hands idle in her lap.
"I's come to fetch yer over to me own house—ye an' yer fiddle," said Nolan.
"The divil ye has!" retorted Pat Kavanagh. "Saints presarve ye, lad, what kind o' rum has ye bin a-drinkin' of this mornin' already?"
"Herself bes wantin' ye, Pat—ye an' yer fiddle, for to have a concert wid," said the skipper, with childlike trust and delight in his voice.
"Skipper, dear, would ye be haulin' me an' me wooden leg out into sich a desperate flurry as this here?" inquired Pat, aghast. "Saints be good to ye, skipper, but I'd die in me tracks!"
Some of the foolish delight went out of Nolan's face. His lips closed and his black eyes began to glint like moonshine on new ice.
"It bain't no more nor a step or two," he said. "If ye can't walk it yerself, Pat,—ye an' yer wooden leg,—then I kin tote ye on me back."
"Sure ye kin go, father; an' I'll be goin' along wid the two o' ye," said Mary. "The poor lass bes wantin' amusement, an' it be but right for us all to give it her. Music an' a concert she bes wantin' to keep up her poor little heart agin the storm. Sure, an' why not? Did ye think for her—a slip o' a grand concert-singer from up-along—to have a heart for the wind an' snows o' Chance Along?"
Pat grumbled. The skipper looked at Mary.
"There bain't nothin' wrong wid her heart," he said.
"Sure there bain't," agreed Mary. "Her poor little heart bes jist sick to death o' Chance Along—an' what else would ye look for? Sprees an' company she must be havin', day after day, an' night after night, like what she has always had. It bes our duty to amuse her, father, an' feed her an' nurse her, till her grand folks up-along takes her away."
The skipper was not altogether satisfied with Mary's words. They did not seem to voice his own ideas on the subject at all, though they were evidently intended to agree with his attitude toward the singer. They had a back-snap to them that he mistrusted.
Half an hour later all three were safe in the skipper's kitchen, breathless and coated with snow. Flora welcomed Mary with a kiss.
"What a beauty you are," she exclaimed.
Mary's rosy cheeks deepened in color at the praise, and a shadow came out from the depths of her gray eyes. Mother Nolan saw all this, though she seemed to be very busy with getting poor Pat and his wooden leg into a chair.
Well, a punch was brewed, and Pat played on his fiddle, and Flora Lockhart sang as no one but herself ever sang before on that coast—yes, or anywhere else in the whole island of Newfoundland. The wonder of her singing even set young Cormick's heart to aching with nameless and undreamed of aches. As for the skipper, he looked as if the fairies had caught him for sure!
DICK LYNCH MEETS MR. DARLING
In Chance Along the wintry days and weeks crawled by, with cold and thaw, wind, snow and fog. Flora Lockhart waited in vain for a reply to her letter. At last her suspicions were awakened by a word from Mother Nolan; so she wrote another letter and gave it to the old woman. The old woman gave it to Mary Kavanagh, and Mary in turn put it into the hands of one of the young men of the harbor, with instructions to take it to Witless Bay and from there send it out by mail. The young man promised to do all this, of course.
"An' mind ye," cautioned Mary, "don't ye go an' let the skipper know what ye bes up to."
Now this young man was one of the dozen who wanted Mary Kavanagh for a wife. He was not brave, he was not honest; but he was as cunning as a fox. So he thought the matter over, and soon came to the conclusion that the game was not worth the candle. He was afraid of the skipper; and he was content that the girl from up-along should remain in the harbor and continue to blind the skipper's heart to the charms of Mary Kavanagh. So he went quietly to the master, put the letter in his hands and told him what he knew of it. Dennis Nolan destroyed the letter, and told the young man to keep himself out of sight for the next three days. The infatuated skipper had not yet given up hope of winning the heart of the wonderful creature from up-along.
Late in March a French brig, bound for St. Pierre, went ashore on the Squid Rocks to the north of Chance Along. Only two of her crew reached the land-wash alive. They were powerful fellows, swarthy as Arabs, with gold rings in their ears, the devil in their hearts, and a smattering of many languages on their tongues. The gale that had driven the brig on the Squid Rocks had interrupted them in the hatching of a mutiny against their captain, mate and boatswain; for the brig's cargo consisted of silks and wines for the smugglers of St. Pierre, and two chests of gold containing the half-year's pay of the Governor, officials, and soldiers of the little island.
Black Dennis Nolan and his men found them on the land-wash, more dead than alive, dragged them back out of reach of the spray, and laid them on blankets beside a fire. The brig was well in among the rocks, going to pieces fast. After two hours of daring effort the skipper and four of his men reached her, and found the chests of French gold in the lazaret beneath the captain's cabin. They remained aboard the wreck for nearly an hour before venturing shoreward with the treasure. They salvaged the chests at last, however, placed a guard over them, and made one more trip to the brig and back, bringing a bale or two of silk and a cask of red wine the second time. Then the brig melted and fell to pieces before their eyes. It was not until then that any one noticed that the two swarthy sailors had recovered and departed, taking with them the blankets and bottle of rum which had been employed in reviving them. The skipper swore mightily at this discovery, knocked a few of his men about, then had the chests of gold stowed on two hand-sleds and set out for home in full force and at top speed. On reaching Chance Along he learned that the two swarthy strangers had already been there, and departed with two sealing-guns and a bag of food. The skipper sent Bill Brennen and six men on their tracks, for he did not want the strangers to carry out to the world the news of the wreck of the brig and the salving of the treasure-chests. He did not follow them himself because the chests had to be opened, and their contents divided and hidden away immediately, and the chests themselves destroyed.
The gold was divided into forty equal parts. One part was given, or laid aside, for every man who had been to the Squid Rocks; two parts went to each of the men who had accompanied the skipper to the brig itself, and four were kept by the skipper. There was no grumbling this time. The harvest was rich beyond the wildest dream and had been fairly shared. The money belonging to the men who had gone after the two strangers was placed in the hands of sons, wives or fathers.
"Hide it away, men," said the skipper, "for if them two pirates gets clear away, they'll sure be back some day wid a crew o' blackguards like themselves, to try to t'ief all our property away from us."
Bill Brennen and his party returned before sun-down, carrying a wounded comrade and a dead Frenchman along with them. There had been an ambush and a fight, and one of the sailors had escaped clean away. The skipper was in a rage; but, as the faithful Bill Brennen had commanded the party and Nick Leary had been a member of it, he kept his hands and feet still and let nothing fly but curses.
Now we must look around for Dick Lynch, who did not go out of this history when he departed so boldly from Chance Along with his sealing-gun on his shoulder. Far from it. Dick was intended for greater things than he knew.
A week after the wreck of the French brig on the Squid Rocks, Dick Lynch entered a public-house situated near the eastern end of Water Street, St. John's, sat down at a table near the fire and called for rum. Though Dick consumed much rum, he did not often buy it at this establishment; for he roomed in Mother McKay's cottage on the hill, back of the city, and Mother McKay kept a shebeen. To-day, however, Dick had felt that he could stand no more of Mother McKay's liquor nor of the honest dame's society, either. The rum was weak and harsh and the society was distracting to his thoughts. What he wanted was matured liquor and quiet, so that he might nail down his somewhat vague plans of returning to Chance Along and overthrowing the skipper thereof. The hour was that of the evening dusk. He was alone in this particular room of the Ship Ahoy Hotel, but he could hear the voices of other imbibers barking and rolling from an adjoining apartment. He gulped down half of his rum and lit his pipe. The proprietor entered then, threw a lump of coal on the fire and lit a ship's lantern that hung from the middle rafter. Next moment, the outer door opened, and a man entered from the muddy street, his sou'easter, oilskin coat and ruddy young face all agleam with moisture.
"Good evenin' to ye, Mister Darlin'," said the proprietor. "Foul weather, bain't it, sir?"
"Aye, Jake, foul weather it is," returned the young man, throwing aside his dripping hat. "Bring me whiskey,—hot, with a slice of lemon in it and a lump of sugar."
Jake departed, and Mr. Darling sat down beside the fire and pulled a short wooden pipe from an inner pocket. In repose, his young, clean-shaven face wore an expression of gravity that verged upon the dismal. He filled his pipe with cut tobacco from a leather bag, lit it and then glanced at Dick Lynch through a puff of twisting blue smoke. He caught Dick's eyes full upon him, for that worthy had been staring at him ever since he had removed his dripping sou'easter. He removed his pipe from his mouth and leaned forward.
"Hullo!" he said. "I'll swear this isn't the first time I've seen that black mug of yours, my man! But it wasn't in St. John's—an' it wasn't aboard any ship."
Dick Lynch was of the same way of thinking, for he recognized this young man as the officer from the Durham Castle, who had commanded the party that had been left behind by Captain McTavish to guard the wreck of that good ship. He took another swig at his glass and shifted his eyes to the fire.
"Sure, sir, ye may be right," he said. "Was it in Harbor Grace ye seed me?"
"No. I have never set foot in Harbor Grace," returned Mr. Darling.
"That bes my home, sir—Harbor Grace," lied Dick, cheerfully.
Just then Jake entered with Mr. Darling's toddy. He set it at the young sailor's elbow, hoped it was entirely to his taste, and retired. Darling sipped the toddy, puffed twice at his pipe, then fixed his keen glance upon Lynch's face.
"Don't lie to me," he said. "Your mug is too ugly to forget easy! You are the big, cussing pirate the savages gave the name of skipper to, along on that devilish coast to the south where we lost the Durham Castle. You are a sly fellow, and a daring one; but it will not help you a mite to sit there and talk about your happy home in Harbor Grace to me."
"The skipper!" exclaimed Dick Lynch, in genuine anger and dismay. "Saints presarve ye, I'd as soon be took for the divil himself as for Black Dennis Nolan o' Chance Along. No, sir, I bain't that tyrant, though some folks do say as how I bes about his size and color."
"Is that so?" enquired Mr. Darling, quietly. "You are not the skipper of Chance Along, but you look like him. Is that the way of it?"
"Aye, that bes the way of it, sir."
"You know this skipper fellow, then?"
"Aye, sir, to me cost—may the divil fly away wid him! Hasn't he bullied me an' cheated me all me life long, the divil-possessed tyrant! Bain't he the livin' curse o' Chance Along?"
"Chance Along, is it?" murmured Mr. Darling. "Now where the devil is Chance Along?"
Then, raising his voice, "You don't seem to love this skipper fellow—this Black Dennis Nolan. What is the trouble between the pair of you?"
Dick finished his rum, eyed the other suspiciously, then stared sullenly at the fire.
Mr. Darling smiled grimly and shouted for Jake.
"My friend will have more of the same," he said, pointing to Lynch's empty glass. "But make it hot, Jake. This is no kind of weather for cold liquor. Better bring the bottle right along, and the kettle and sugar too."
Twenty minutes later Dick Lynch began to talk again, his belated caution entirely vaporized and blown out of his somewhat inferior brain by the fumes of hot rum, lemon and sugar.
"I knows ye, sir," he said. "Sure, didn't I know ye the minute I clapped me two eyes on ye. Cap'n o' that big ship that come ashore in Nolan's Cove, t'ree miles to the south o' Chance Along, ye be. An' a smart landin' ye made, too, boat by boat, wid every mother's son o' ye wid a gun an' a sword in his two hands. Sure, sir, ye wasn't lookin' for to meet wid no man-killin' wrakers on that coast, was ye? Saints forgive ye, sir, the babe unborn would be safe to come ashore in Chance Along!"
John Darling smiled. "You are a sharp lad," he said. "I saw it in your eyes that you knew me the moment I entered the room. I don't see how I ever came to mistake a smart, well-spoken lad like you for that fellow you call the skipper. Well, I am sorry for it. But you have made one mistake, my lad. I wasn't the captain of that ship. I was only one of the mates."
"Well, sir," returned Lynch, cordially, "I bain't sharp enough for to see much difference atween a cap'n an' a mate. Ye looks like a cap'n to me, anyhow."
He paused, poured more rum and hot water, sampled the brew and continued.
"Now I feels it a shame, sir, the way Black Dennis Nolan made a fool o' the lot o' ye, wid his lies about Frenchman's Cove an' Nap Harbor. Sure, I felt desperate bad about it at the time—an' now I feels worse. Aye, sir, worse, seein' as how ye be sich a fine, grand ginerous young gintleman as ye be. An' then the way he ups an' takes all yer gold an' fine jewels away from ye, an' ye t'inkin' all the time 'twas the folk o' Nap Harbor done it!"
"Yes, it was certainly an unmannerly trick," said Darling, quietly. "I suppose he took it all to Chance Along—gold, jewels and everything—and kept it for himself?"
"He kep' more nor his share o' the sovereigns, ye kin lay to that, sir; an' as for the rings an' sich fancy trinkets—well, sir, he says as how we'll all be gettin' our share come June an' he gets 'round to St. John's here to sell 'em. But there bain't no share for me, sir. I fit for me rights, I did—an' here I be!"
The interview continued for another hour, and during the glowing, rum-inspired course of it, Dick Lynch told all that he knew of Chance Along, its manners, its skipper and its exact location. He confessed that he had never seen a great diamond and ruby necklace, but that he had seen a whole casket full of jewels and was willing to swear by all the saints aloft that the casket was still in Chance Along. He did not notice that Mr. Darling was spending all his time over one small glass of whiskey toddy. Finding the young officer a good listener and an agreeable companion, he went on to tell of the wreck of the Royal William, of the panic in the flooded cabin, and at last of the beautiful young woman with the voice like fairy bells and eyes like a mermaid's eyes.
Mr. Darling sat up at that and laid his pipe on the table.
"A full-rigged ship, you say? What was her name?" he asked, anxiously.
"The name o' the ship? Well, sir, far's I kin remember it was the Rile Willyum. Aye, sir, that was it."
Mr. Darling got excited. His face went dead white, then flaming red, and he leaned forward and gripped the fingers of his right hand in Lynch's shoulder. But Dick was too mellow and happy to object or to feel surprise.
"And what was the lady's name?" cried Mr. Darling. "Out with it, man! Out with it! What was her name?"
"Name o' the lady? Lady's name? Her name? Sure, sir, it bes Nora."
"Nora! Don't you mean Flora?"
"Aye, Flora. Sure, sir, Flora bes what I said."
"God!" exclaimed Mr. Darling, leaning back in his chair. Dick Lynch smiled across at him. He recovered himself in a minute.
"With a beautiful voice, you say?" he queried faintly.
"Aye, sir. Sure, didn't she sing a song afore the Queen herself," returned Dick.
"It is Flora!" cried the other. "My God, it is Flora!" Then gripping Lynch again, "Did you say—did you say she—she is—well?" he whispered.
"Sure, I telled ye she bes well," replied the befuddled fisherman. "Well, d'ye say? Aye, she bes plump as a pa'tridge, a-livin' on the fat o' the land—the fat o' all the wracks that comes up from the sea. An' a beauty she bes, altogether. Saints presarve ye, sir, she bes the beautifulest female woman ever come ashore on that coast. She was desperate bad wid the fever, was Nora, when first the skipper took her home wid him; but now she bes plump as a young swile, sir, an' too beautiful entirely for the likes o' meself to look at."
Mr. Darling's face went white again.
"The skipper?" he asked, huskily. "For God's sake, man, what are you saying? Why does she stay in Chance Along? What has she to do with that damned big black beast you call the skipper?"
"Now you bes a-gettin' excited, sir, all along o' that Nora girl," protested Dick Lynch. "She bes a-livin' wid Mother Nolan, in the skipper's own house. The skipper bes figgerin' on coaxin' of her 'round to marry wid him; but I hears, sir, as how she telled him as how she'd marry no poor, ignorant, dacent fisherman at all, but a king wid a golden crown on his head. Aye, sir, that bes the trut'. The likes o' she be well able to keep Black Denny Nolan in his place."
"Thank God!" exclaimed Mr. Darling, sitting back in his chair again.
Dick Lynch eyed him with drunken cunning.
"Ye knows that grand young woman, sir?" he queried.
"Yes," said Mr. Darling. "She crossed to London aboard my ship three years ago. We—we were good friends."
"Aye, ye would be," returned Dick with a drunken leer. And then, lurching forward, "Ye'll be makin' a trip 'round to Chance Along I bes t'inkin', sir, to put the comather on to this Dennis Nolan? Sure, an' why not? The dirty squid bes as full o' gold an' riches as any marchant. I'll be goin' along wid ye, sir—if ye gives me two pistols an' takes two yerself. I'll show ye where the harbor bes, an' his own house wid Nora in it—an' all. If we gets to the harbor quiet, about the middle o' the night, we'll shoot the skipper in his bed, the black divil, afore he kin so much as lay a curse on to us. I bes wid ye, sir. Ye kin trust Dick Lynch as ye would yer own mother."
Mr. Darling said that he had a great deal of business to attend to in the city, but that he would meet Dick Lynch in this very room, at nine o'clock in the morning, five days later. He did not mean a word of it, for he would not have trusted that worthy any farther than he could have thrown him over his shoulder. But he arranged the meeting and promised to supply plenty of pistols for the expedition. Then he said good night and went out of the warm room and fumes of rum to the mud and driving sleet of the night, leaving Dick Lynch smiling to himself at thought of what his enemy, the skipper, would say when he woke up in bed some fine morning and found himself dead.
MR. DARLING SETS OUT ON A JOURNEY
This John Darling was no ordinary shell-back. His father was an English parson, his uncle a Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, and his eldest brother a commander in the Royal Navy. John was poor in worldly gear, however, and had recently been third officer of the Durham Castle. Now he was without a berth, and was making a bid for fortune of an unusual and adventurous kind. In London, Sir Ralph Harwood had made him a private offer of one thousand pounds for the recovery of the necklace of diamonds and rubies. Darling had landed in St. John's, on his quest, about six days before his meeting with Dick Lynch. Upon landing he had learned at the Merchants' Club that the Royal William, bound for New York from London, was reported lost. She had foundered in mid-ocean or had been shattered upon some desolate coast. The underwriters had paid up like men—and both the American and English press had lamented the tragic fate of Miss Flora Lockhart, the young New York singer, who had so lately won fame in London.
Darling had taken the news of Flora's terrible fate keenly to heart. He had crossed the ocean with her three years before; and she had haunted his dreams, waking and sleeping, ever since. Though he had always felt that his devotion was hopeless, it was no less real for that. And now, from a drunken fisherman, he had learned that she was alive, in good health, and a captive!
Mr. Darling went straight to his own hotel from the Ship Ahoy. He cleaned his pistols, made a rough map of the east coast, south of Witless Bay, from the information obtained from Dick Lynch, packed a couple of saddle-bags, rolled up a pair of blankets and sent for the landlord. From the landlord he obtained change for two five-pound Bank of England notes, information concerning the road from St. John's to the head of Witless Bay, and hired a horse.
Mr. Darling set out on his adventurous journey after an early breakfast eaten by candle-light. He felt courageous, invincible. He would rescue the lady of his long sea-dreams from that black-faced, black-hearted pirate who was called the skipper of Chance Along. In the flush of this determination the necklace was forgotten. So confident was he of success, and so intent upon picturing the rescue of that beautiful creature who had bewitched him three long, varied sailor-years ago, that he had covered several miles of his journey before noticing the stumblings and gruntings of the ill-conditioned beast between his knees. He departed from the city by way of a road leading westward from the head of the harbor. This he followed for three miles, through slush and half-frozen mud, then turned to the left. He forced his horse into a trot. It pecked badly, and he shot over its bowed head and landed in a mud-hole. Scrambling to his feet he noticed for the first time the gaunt ribs, heaving flanks and swollen legs of his steed. He swore heartily, seized the bridle and dragged the horse forward. The road was indescribable. Mud, slush and icy water took him to the knee at every step; but he plugged manfully forward, dragging the protesting horse after him. So for an hour, across the barren rise of land to the southward, after which he remounted and rode at the best speed he could command until the horse stumbled again and again unseated him. Undaunted, Mr. Darling took his turn on foot again, dragging the puffing beast along at his muddy heels. The way was nothing but a muddy track across a desolate barren. It curved steadily to the left and at last brought him in sight of the irregular coast and the gray sea. By noon he had reached a miserable, dirty shebeen; and here he dried himself, sheltered and fed his horse and ate from his own provisions. He rested there for two hours (for his horse's sake rather than his own), and then mounted, threw a couple of shillings to the keeper of the house and continued on his way. He studied the coast-line intently as he floundered along. He saw that most of the shore ice had melted or broken away from the land-wash. Plans for the rescue of Flora Lockhart were taking shape in his mind. Beyond a doubt the rescue would have to be made by water; and so he studied every sheltered haven and surf-footed cape as he worked his heroic way southward, now plunging in his precarious saddle, now plunging with his own legs in the mire.
The figure of another wayfarer came in sight early in the afternoon. The stranger was on foot. He wore a red blanket round his shoulders and carried a long gun of ancient pattern. He was a big fellow with a swarthy face and bad eyes, and his ears were adorned with gold rings. Mr. Darling did not relish the fellow's looks, and so passed him without halting, alert, with his right hand on the butt of a pistol in his pocket. This picturesque ruffian was heading northward. After passing Mr. Darling he turned and glanced back several times, his interest doubtless attracted by the respectability of the other's appearance and the bulging saddle-bags. But he did not stop. Neither did he return. The young man with the old horse looked to him like a fighter—and even if the saddle-bags were stuffed with gold they would prove but a flea bite to the stake which he had in mind.
Mr. Darling and his encumbering steed reached Raggedy Cove about an hour after sunset. Mr. Darling was in good heart and, thanks to fine lungs and muscles, and a flawless constitution, was as fit in body as spirit. He found a bed for himself and a stable for the horse, and an old man full of information concerning the quickest and easiest way to get to Witless Bay. This was by water, said the old man. His own son George was going south along the coast next morning, in a bully. So Darling boarded the bully next morning, leaving his horse with the old man. George, the navigator of the bully, was an inquisitive young man; but his eyes were steady and his face honest. In spite of his prying questions, he won Mr. Darling's good-will by the way he handled his boat. Of all branches of human skill, that of seamanship appealed most strongly to John Darling's heart and head. He respected a smart sailor just as intensely as he despised a bungling one. He was an unusually fine sailor himself, and could handle any vessel, large or small, as easily as he could navigate it. So he answered a few of the fisherman's questions good-naturedly, and asked a great many in return. George Wick had heard of Chance Along, but had never been there. And why should he have been there? Nobody ever went to Chance Along. Yes, he had once seen Black Dennis Nolan.
"'Twas back in September, sir," he said. "Sure, didn't he put into Raggedy Cove one night—him an' his fore-an'-after—bound from St. John's, wid a freight o' grub an' gear. But what business would ye be havin' wid the likes o' him, sir?"
Darling ignored the question and asked another. No, George Wick was not familiar with the coast south of Witless Bay; but he had always heard that it was a desperate bad coast.
"What is your business in Witless Bay?" asked Darling.
The young fisherman pointed to four boxes of plug tobacco in the bottom of the bully.
"They bes for Skipper Walsh," he said. "I trades 'em for fish, an' then I heads back for Raggedy Cove."
"If you will sail me right around to Chance Along I will pay you well for it," said Darling. "My business in Chance Along is important—yes, very important. It would be worth five sovereigns to you, my man—that little trip."
George Wick looked interested, but shook his head.
"It bes a bad coast, sir," he said, "an' clean unbeknownst to me. An' now it would be desperate, sir, what wid the ice a-chokin' all the little coves so ye couldn't run in from a squall o' wind, sir."
"The shore-ice is gone, as you can see for yourself, and the drift-ice will not be down this way until near June," replied Darling. "But don't make any more excuses, George. You are not the man I want, anyway, for I see that you are no good for anything but asking questions. I'll be able to find some lad in Witless Bay, with a boat of some sort, who isn't afraid of the coast to the southward."
George Wick sulked for a few minutes, then asked, "What bes yer business wid Black Dennis Nolan, anyhow, sir? Bes ye a constable, sir, or anything like that?"
"My business is of a private nature," replied Mr. Darling. "I am a sailor, not a constable—an officer of the Merchant Marine."
"Aye, sir, I knowed ye for a sailor," said the other; "but there was a crew of constables along this way back in November, rigged out like fishermen an' swearin' as how they was fishermen. They went south; an' they soon come back wid empty hands. We was all t'inkin' in Raggedy Cove as how some vessel had maybe bin broke up afore it was deserted by the crew, as is the custom wid some folks in some harbors. An' when I see ye wid business in Chance Along, sir—well, Black Dennis Nolan do surely look to me like a man who'd be breakin' into a ship widout waitin' for her crew to desart her."
Mr. Darling smiled. "You are a smart man, George Wick," he said.
The bully rounded into Witless Bay and worked up to the settlement at the head of it without accident. Wick handed over his tobacco to Skipper Walsh; and then, with an eye on Mr. Darling, said he would call in a few days later for his trade of fish. Darling nodded, and purchased tea, hard-bread and bacon from the skipper. Later, he and George filled a small keg with water and put it aboard, and bought two sealing-guns and a supply of powder and slugs. They headed down the bay at the first gray wash of dawn. After three hours of hauling across the wind they rounded the southern headland of the bay. They made an easting of more than a mile before heading due south. Mr. Darling took the tiller now, and George manned the sheet. Darling produced a pair of marine glasses and the chart which he had made from information received from Dick Lynch. They skirted a lee-shore and had to beat up to windward again and again to clear themselves. Before sunset they ran into a tiny, sheltered cove and made camp.
It was shortly after noon of the next day that Mr. Darling, diligently scrutinizing the shore through his glasses, saw something that caught his attention. He edged the bully in and looked again.
"By heaven, it is a man's leg!" he exclaimed. He passed the glasses forward to Wick and pointed the direction.
"Sure," said Wick. "Sure, sir, it bes some poor divil wid a skinnywopper on his leg—so it bain't nobody from a wrack, ye kin lay to that."
They ran the bully shoreward and lowered the sail. Darling sprang to the land-wash and found the battered body of a man wedged tight between two icy rocks at the foot of the cliff. It was frozen stiff; but it was evident that it had not always been frozen. The crabs had found it, and even the heavy clothing was torn to strips. Mr. Darling stooped and took a little, red-bound casket from the torn breast. With his back to George Wick he opened it with trembling fingers. The diamonds and rubies of Lady Harwood's necklace flashed up at him!
MR. DARLING ARRIVES IN CHANCE ALONG
Mr. John Darling stood spellbound for a full half-minute, gazing down at the flaming, flashing gems coiled in their silken bed. He was aroused from his wonder and wild conjecture by the voice of George Wick.
"What bes the trouble, sir?" called the fisherman, who was busy fending the bully off the rocks. "Who bes it, anyhow? It bain't no friend o' yerself, sir, surely?"
Darling shut the casket and slipped it into an inner breast-pocket of his reefer. He turned slowly toward the sea and the boat, with a studied expression of puzzled pity on his face.
"Some poor fellow who has stepped off the cliff," he said. "I never saw him before—but the sight of him shook me a bit. He has been here quite awhile, I should say—yes, through thaw and frost, frost and thaw. Aye, and the crabs have been at him, poor devil! I suppose we should bury him; but there is no place here to dig a grave."
"Come aboard, sir! Come aboard wid ye!" exclaimed Wick, in a trembling voice. "It bain't no affair of our'n, sir—an' there bes the divil's own luck in finding a dead man unexpected."
Mr. Darling crossed the land-wash without another word, waded knee-deep into the tide, and climbed aboard the boat. George Wick poled the bully clear of the surf with one of the oars, then jumped forward and hoisted the red sail. Darling drew his chart from his pocket, examined it, then raised his glasses and studied the coast-line to the southward. The wind was light, but dead on shore. The bully hauled across it cleverly. A whitish gray haze stood along the sky-line to the east.
"We'll be havin' thick weather afore sun-down, sir, wid this wind holdin'," said Wick.
Darling nodded. "We must be getting pretty close to Chance Along," he said. "Yes, there is smoke. Can you see it?"
George could not make it out with his unassisted eyes, but through the glasses he saw the blue reek of wood-smoke above a distant point of the coast easily enough. An hour later the bully threaded the rocks off Squid Beach. Dick Lynch had spoken of these rocks when the rum was warm in his head, in the tap-room of the Ship Ahoy, and Darling had marked them on his chart.
"We are within two miles of it," said Darling, his voice husky with emotion at thought of Flora Lockhart.
George Wick turned his face toward the east and the white wall of fog that now rolled upon the gray water within a mile of the coast.
"Aye, sir; but we'll not be makin' it afore the fog catches us," he replied.
"That will not bother my plans," said Darling. "I don't intend to sail right into Chance Along, anyway. I want to pay a surprise visit. We'll find a bit of a cove along here somewhere, I think."
He was right. About a mile and a half beyond the Squid Rocks they found a little sheltered cove that was no more than a pocket in the cliff. The beach was narrow, and a glance disclosed the fact that at every full tide it was entirely submerged; but a "drook" or a narrow cleft, thickly grown with hardy bushes, led up from the land-wash to the barrens above. They lowered the sail and nosed their way into the cove. The streaming skirmishers of the fog were over them by this time. They beached the bully at the foot of the drook and made her fast.
"Keep everything aboard, and make yourself snug," said Mr. Darling. "Watch the tide. Haul in and back off with it; and, whatever you do, lie low and keep quiet. I am going to take a look at Chance Along—on the sly, you understand. You'll know all about it later. Don't worry if I don't get back within the next two or three hours."
"Ye bes after Black Dennis Nolan, sir," said Wick.
Mr. Darling nodded, placed two loaded pistols in his pocket and vanished up the tangled slope of the drook. Wick listened to the upward scrambling until it suddenly died away and fog and silence covered him deep like a flood. Then he filled and lit his pipe and sat down in the shelter of a tarpaulin to think it over. He sensed danger in the blind choking air. He felt anxiety for his companion and fear for himself; but curiosity and a natural courage fortified him to a certain degree.
Upon reaching the level of the barrens, Mr. Darling stood motionless for a little while and listened intently to the vague, fog-muffled breathing of the sea below him. He could hear nothing else. Turning to the south he moved silently forward along a well-worn path that traced the edge of the cliff. The fog was dense, and there was just enough wind to keep it drifting in from the sea. Darling held a boat-hook in his right hand and kept his eyes and ears alert. He heard a dog bark somewhere in front of him in the whitish-gray obscurity. Presently he came to where the path kinked and sloped down among a jumble of rocks, and at the same moment he caught the pungent, comforting smell of wood-smoke on the fog. Then he knew that Chance Along—the roof which sheltered Flora Lockhart—lay hidden and dripping beneath him. He was about to commence a cautious descent of the path, when a clamor of voices drifted up to him. He halted; and as the voices approached, together with the shuffle of climbing feet and the creak and clatter of shouldered boat-gear, he stepped aside. He saw the yellow blur of a lantern and immediately took up a position behind a great boulder. Bulky forms loomed into view at the top of the slope, broke from the blanketing fog for a moment, one by one, and plunged into it again, heading southward along the path. The big fellow in the lead carried the lantern, and the man at his elbow was talking excitedly as they passed within an oar's length of Darling.
"I's bin watchin' her these five hours back, skipper, a-tryin' to beat out o' the drift o' wind an' tide widout one entire mast a-standin'," he said. "She wasn't a half-mile off the rocks when I left the cove, an' a-firin' of her gun desperate. If she bain't stuck tight now, skipper, then me name bain't Tim Leary."
Mr. Darling stared and listened, as motionless as the boulder against which he leaned. They issued from the fog and were engulfed again in its clinging folds—twenty-five or thirty men and lads in all. Some carried coils of rope, others oars and boat-hooks. Several of them hauled empty sledges at their heels. The back of the last man vanished in the fog; but Mr. Darling remained in the shelter of the rock until the faintest whisper of their voices had died away before moving hand or foot.
"Organized wreckers," he muttered. "And that big pirate with the lantern was the skipper—the brute who is keeping Flora in this place! By God—I wonder just how much of a man, and how much of a beast he is! But now is my time, while they're all off waiting for another wreck to come ashore to them—damn them! The harbor must be about empty of able-bodied men just now."
He descended the twisting path cautiously. The small cabins of the fishermen presently loomed around him, here a gray gable, there a dull window, there an unpainted door—and below him a roof or two pushing up through the fog from a lower terrace of the village. He groped his way about, pausing frequently to peer and hearken. From one cabin came the sound of a child crying angrily, from another the harsh coughing of some very old person, and from still another the whining of a dog. He moved to the left, feeling his way gingerly between the humble dwellings. A lighted window caught his attention, and then a man's voice, with a whimsical drawl and twang to it, raised in song.
"Her eyes were like the sea in June, Her lips was like a rose, Her voice was like a fairy bell A-ringin' crost the snows. Then Denny, he forgot the wrack, Forgot the waves a-rollin', For she had put the witchy spell On Skipper Dennis Nolan,"
sang the voice behind the blurred yellow square of the window.
Darling approached the window on tip-toe and peered through the dripping glass. He saw that the vocalist was a long, thin fellow, with long, thin whiskers and a wooden leg, seated in a chair by a glowing stove. Two candles in tarnished brass sticks, a fiddle and bow, and a glass half full of red liquor that steamed, were on the corner of the deal table at his elbow. Beside him stood a young woman, long limbed, deep breasted, with a comely face that suggested cheeriness, but was now drawn and shadowed a little round the mouth and eyes with an expression of care. But it was a good face, trustworthy, kind and wise; and the man at the window trusted it the moment he saw it.
"I'll risk it," he muttered. "The old man looks harmless enough—and I might stumble around here until the fog lifts or the skipper gets back, without so much as a word with Flora, at this rate."
He withdrew from the window and slid quietly along the wall of the cabin until he found the door. He pulled the glove from his right hand and rapped on the wet planks with his bare knuckles. The voice of the man with the wooden leg stopped dead in the middle of a line and shouted, "Come in." Darling lifted the latch, pushed the door half open, and stepped swiftly into the lighted room, closing the door smartly behind him. The man and the girl stared at him in astonishment. He removed his dripping cap from his head.
"Can you tell me where I can find Miss Flora Lockhart?" he asked.
The man gasped at that, and the girl's gray eyes brightened. The girl stepped forward, placed a strong, eager hand on his arm and gazed into his face without apology or embarrassment. Darling returned the scrutiny unabashed.
"Ye be from up-along?" she queried. "Ye be a friend o' Flora's?"
"Yes," replied Darling. "I have heard that she is in this harbor—and that no word of her being here, or even of her being alive, has been sent out. Her friends believe her to be dead. And I heard that the man you call skipper is—is keeping her against her will. Of course, against her will! I have come to take her away—back to the world in which she belongs."
"Be ye alone, sir?" asked Pat Kavanagh, combing his beard with his long, lean fingers.
Darling frowned. "That's as may be," he said. "Alone or not, I'm no such fool as to tell it until I know how I stand with you; but I am armed, you may be sure!"
"Lad," said Pat, "I sees as how ye bes young, an' a sailor—aye, an' bewitched, too. Sure, I was a sailor meself, in the old days. I likes the cut o' yer fore-sils, lad, an' the lines o' yer hull, so I tells ye, man to man like, watch out for the skipper. Aye, armed or empty-handed, alone or wid a crew at yer back, watch out for Black Dennis Nolan. He bes a grand lad in his own way, an' ginerous an' fair wid his friends—but Saint Peter help the man who hauls acrost his bows! If ye've come to Chance Along to take the girl away wid ye, then get hold o' her quick an' clear out wid her quick."
"I'll take ye to her, sir," said Mary, eagerly. "Come, sir! Come along wid ye. She bes at the skipper's own house."
"At his own house? So I heard," said Darling, thickly.
"Aye," said Pat, "an' safe as if she was in church, wid Mother Nolan to mind her. Sure, an' Denny Nolan bain't such a pirate as ye t'inks, sir. Lie an' curse an' fight an' wrack he will, like the divil himself; but he bes a decent man wid the helpless, accordin' to his lights, for all that. Aye, cap'n, till she bes Denny Nolan's wife she kin be any man's wife—if he bes smart enough to get her out o' Chance Along."
"Come along wid me, sir!" urged Mary, pulling at Darling's sleeve. "He bes out o' the harbor now, wid all the crew. Now bes yer chance, sir!"
She had thrown a shawl over her head and shoulders while her father was talking; and now she opened the door and led the sailor into the choking fog outside.
"Give me yer hand, sir, an' mind yer feet," she whispered. And then, as she pressed quickly forward, leading Darling by the hand, "It must be the saints themselves sent ye an' the fog to Chance Along together, sir—ye an' the fog an' the wrack they all bes a-lookin' out for!"
"Then I trust the saints may continue their good offices," said Darling, seriously.
"Aye, sir, an' why not?" she returned. "But here we be, sir. Mother Nolan an' yer lass bes alone in the house together this minute; an' Mother Nolan will not be sayin' nay to yer plans o' runnin' away."
She opened the door and drew Mr. Darling after her into the lighted kitchen. "Here bes yer help, Flora darlin'," she said. "An' 'twas no letter fetched him, ye kin lay to that, but the drag in his own heart for ye."
Old Mother Nolan looked up at them with her snapping black eyes.
"Shut the door!" said she. "D'ye want to fill all me poor old bones wid misery?"
Mary laughed uncertainly and slammed the door; and it was not until then that Flora Lockhart moved or uttered a sound. She sprang to her feet, her clear eyes shining like stars.
"Jack! Mr. Darling!" she cried. "You here? Have you come for me?"
The sailor's heart fairly flooded his arteries with joy and tenderness. She had remembered him at a glance after the three long years! She had called him by name! Work, ambition, fame and disaster had not driven out the memory of him.
"Yes, I have come for you," he said, huskily. "I would have come long ago if I had known—but I heard of it only by chance—a few days ago. Are you ready to come away with me now? We must hurry—for I fear that I am not strong enough to risk facing your jailer—just now."
Mother Nolan threw a fur coat about the girl's shoulders.
"Aye, she bes ready," said the old woman. "Mary, snatch her things together, an' carry 'em along. Step lively, for the love o' heaven! Have ye a boat, lad? Then get her to it as quick as ye kin, an' into it, an' away out o' Chance Along wid the two o' ye jist as quick as the holy saints will let ye!"
John Darling fastened the great coat around Flora with trembling fingers.
"To find you here!" he whispered. "And yet you seem nearer to me here than when I read of you—of your glory—out there in the great world."
Their hands touched. Her eyes kindled to his, flame for flame, throb for throb.
"I am glad—you have found me," she said. "You—you did not forget me."
At that moment the door was flung open and Black Dennis Nolan sprang into the room, followed closely by Bill Brennen and Nick Leary. The skipper had returned to the harbor because the ship in distress had drifted clear of the coast after all, and was even now firing her gun and burning her flares in clear water directly off Chance Along. Before flinging open the door the wreckers had seen through the window what was taking place in the kitchen.
Flora Lockhart screamed and flung her arms around John Darling, clinging to him as to her only hope of deliverance; and before he could pull himself clear of her and draw a pistol from his pocket the infuriated skipper was upon him. Nolan gripped with his left hand, and struck with his right fist and his whole body; but, quick as thought, the sailor twisted, ducked and gripped the other low about the hips. They hurtled across the room, collided against a chair and crashed to the floor with Darling on top. Bill Brennen plunged forward to help his master, but was met half-way by old Mother Nolan, who twined her claws in his whiskers and hung to him like a cat to a curtain. Nick Leary was about to settle things when Mary Kavanagh fell upon him with a leg of the broken chair. Flora alone did not join the fray. She fell back against the wall and covered her eyes with her hands.
Things were at a deadlock, with the chances good for Darling to break away from the dazed skipper and make his escape. Bill Brennen was of no use, for he could not strike the terrible old woman who hung to his whiskers until he yelled with the pain of it. Nick lay on the floor with music and stars in his head and conviction that Mary Kavanagh (who even now knelt on his chest) was a grand young woman entirely. Then young Cormick entered, took in the vital points of the situation at a glance, snatched up a stick of firewood, and jumped for the corner where his brother and the stranger lay clinched. Flora saw it from between her trembling fingers. She screamed and sprang forward with out-flung arms; but she was too late. The boy struck once with the billet—and the fight was ended.
MARY KAVANAGH USES HER WITS
For half a minute the skipper was mad enough to kill the unconscious sailor with his hands and feet; but Mother Nolan and Mary Kavanagh together were equal to the task of holding him and bringing him to a glimmering of reason. Mother Nolan's tongue did not spare him, even as her fingers had not spared poor, loyal Bill Brennen's whiskers.
"Would ye be murderin' him?" she cried. "An' him helpless—aye, an' a better man nor ye be yerself, Denny Nolan. Then ye be no blood an' kin to me, ye great murderer! Didn't he land ye on the flat o' yer great back, ye limb, though ye took him all suddant an' unawares? Sure, he did! Kill him, then; an' 'twill be your own father's mother goes to St. John's to bring the police to hang ye up by yer cowardly neck. Aye, ye kin lay to that! What old Kate Nolan says she says, an' the divil himself couldn't make a liar of her!"
"I thought ye was a man, Denny, an' fought like a man," said Mary Kavanagh, in a low voice that shook with unuttered sobs; "but if ye strikes him now, a-layin' there as harmless as a swile, then I'll know ye for a coward an' a murderer."
The skipper looked down at Flora Lockhart, who knelt above Darling, weeping bitterly. His black eyes glowed and his face twisted and paled.
"If it had bin meself hit the blow that downed him, then I'd be finishin' him," he said, "but I don't kill where I don't down! I bain't no coward, Mary Kavanagh, as well ye knows! Bes there any more o' the likes of him a-sneakin' 'round me own harbor?"
"He come alone," said Mary. "He come alone, to find the girl ye've bin hidin' an' holdin' in Chance Along till all her folks thinks she bes dead."
"Sure, then, he found her," snarled the skipper, "an' little good 'twill be doin' him!"
"Shame upon ye, Denny Nolan!" exclaimed the old woman. "Shame upon ye an' yer lies an' yer wicked, silly heart that t'ought to keep the likes o' her forever in Chance Along. Ye bain't able to fool old Kate Nolan wid yer lies! Sure, wasn't I on to ye from the minute ye come home that ye'd not bin to Witless Bay wid the letter? I seed the lie writ across yer face, Denny Nolan. Shame upon ye to be tryin' to bury the poor helpless girl alive!"
"Pick him up," said the skipper, sullenly. "There bes grub enough an' to spare to feed him an' a hundred like him. Heave him up atween ye, men, an' we'll be lockin' of him up in a safe place. Fetch along the lantern, Cormy, lad."
John Darling opened his eyes at this moment, stared dizzily around him and struggled up to one elbow.
"Flora!" he cried. "Flora, where are you?"
The girl tried to go to him, but the skipper held her. Bill Brennen pressed the sailor back, and tied his wrists and ankles.
"Who carried the letter out to him?" demanded the skipper, gripping the girl's shoulders with his great hands, and glaring down into her colorless face. For answer, she wrenched herself away, and struck him a stinging blow across the mouth with her right hand.
"How dare you?" she cried. "How dare you lay hands on me? I despise you, you brute!"
He stepped back, his face crimson, his mouth twitching, all the fire and mastery gone from his eyes. He had thought, poor fool, that she was learning to care for him; for of late, in her game of self-defence, she had treated him with evident consideration and many little attentions of the voice and eyes. And now he understood. He saw the truth in every flash of her eyes, in every line of brow, mouth and chin. He turned, took the lantern from Cormick and strode from the house, with Bill and Nick and their prisoner at his heels.
"Go down to the land-wash an' spy 'round for his boat," he said to Cormick. "Turn out a couple o' men to help ye hunt for it—an' maybe ye'll find some more o' these sneakin' robbers hangin' 'round the harbor."
They carried Darling to the store, the skipper leading the way, and his trusties swinging and hoisting their helpless burden by heels and shoulders. They dropped him on the cold floor as if he had no more feelings than a sack of hard bread.
"That bes all, lads," said the skipper. "Go help hunt for the boat now an' shut the door behind ye. I'll jist be sayin' a few words to this dirty spy afore I leaves him to his dreams."
Brennen and Leary turned and left the store without a word. They felt vaguely uneasy, as if the great world of up-along had at last found them out, and reached a menacing hand into their snug harbor. Would the skipper be able to deal with so vast an enemy? If he killed this stranger it would mean hanging by the neck, sooner or later—perhaps for every man in the harbor? If he let him live, and held him a prisoner, it would bring the law prying into their affairs, some time or other. Doubt chilled them. They stumbled heavily away in the darkness.
The skipper held the lantern to his captive's face and regarded him with wolfish, sneering attention. Soon the sneer faded a little.
"I's seed ye afore," he said. "Aye, sure as hell, I's seed ye afore!"
"And this is not the first time I've seen your ugly mug, either," returned Darling. "I saw you the night the Durham Castle came ashore on this coast—the night you robbed the captain and the passengers. Well, what are you going to do about it?"
"Ye'll larn that soon enough," returned the other. "Did ye get a letter from—from her?"
"No," replied Darling, unable to see any danger in telling the truth of that matter. "No, I didn't get any letter. I met a friend of yours in St. John's, and he told me a great deal about you, and the game you are playing in this harbor—and also about her. Your friend's name is Dick Lynch."
"Dick Lynch," repeated the skipper, quietly. "I'll be cuttin' the heart out o' that dog yet!"
"And a good job, no doubt," said Darling. "But I warn you, my man, that if you injure Miss Lockhart in any way you'll curse the day you first saw daylight. You'll be burned out of here like the dirty, murdering pirate that you are—you and your whole crew. The law will have you, my man—it will have you by the neck. Do you think I risked coming to this place without leaving word behind me of where I was bound for and what I was after?"
"Now ye be lyin'," said the skipper, coolly. "Ye telled the truth about Dick Lynch; but now ye lie. Don't ye try to fool wid me, damn ye! Ye come to Chance Along widout leavin' a word behind ye. I sees the lie in yer face."
"I left Dick Lynch behind me," said the sailor.
That shook the skipper's assurance; but he was in no mood to feel fear for more than a moment. He laughed sneeringly and began to unload his captive's pockets. He took out the pistols, admired them and laid them aside. Next, he unearthed a few cakes of hard bread, a small flask of brandy, and a pipe and half a plug of tobacco.
"How'd ye come to Chance Along, anyhow? Where bes yer boat?" he asked, suddenly, pausing in his work.
"I walked across from Witless Bay," said Darling.
"Where bes yer boat?" asked the other.
"In Witless Bay, you fool! Do you think I carried it across my back?"
The skipper swung the lantern back and glanced at the soles of the other's boots.
"Ye bes a liar—and a desperate poor one at that," he said. "Where bes yer boat?"
John Darling lost his temper. He disliked being forced into telling a lie—and, being human, he disliked still more to have the lie discovered and the effort wasted.
"Go to hell and find it, you black-faced pirate!" he roared.
The skipper stopped, glared down at him, and swung his right hand back for a blow.
"Hit away, I'm tied," said the other, without flinching.
The skipper let his hand sink to his side.
"I don't hit a tied man. That bain't my way," he said, flushing darkly.
"Untie me, then, and you can hit all you want to. Cut these ropes and let me at you. Come now, for I see that you have some sense of manliness in you, after all."
"Not jist now. To-morrow, maybe—or maybe next day—I'll fight ye. And, by hell, when I do I'll kill ye wid me two hands!"
"I'll take the chance. Unless you starve me or cripple me in the meantime, I'll knock the everlasting life out of you."
The skipper growled and took up his interrupted work of investigating the other's pockets. He unbuttoned the heavy reefer and thrust a hand into an inner pocket. In a second he withdrew it, holding the little casket bound in red leather. A cry of astonishment escaped him. He pressed the catch with his thumb and the diamonds and rubies flashed and glowed beneath his dazzled eyes.
"Me own diamonds!" he cried. "Holy saints alive, me own diamonds! Where'd ye find 'em? Tell me that, now—where'd ye find 'em?"
Darling did not reply for a moment. Then, speaking quietly and somewhat bitterly, he said, "If you really want to know, I found them on a dead man, under the cliff a few miles to the north of here."
"That would be Foxey Jack Quinn," said the skipper. He closed the box and put it in his pocket, then took up the lantern and went out, locking the door behind him.
In the meantime, Mary Kavanagh had not been idle. She felt sure that the stranger was safe from bodily harm for the night at least, now that Dennis had shaken off the first blind deviltry of his rage. She knew Dennis almost as well as old Mother Nolan did; and to-night she felt sorry for him as well as angry with him. Leaving Flora in Mother Nolan's care, she left the house, and followed Cormick and the others down to the land-wash. The fog was thinning swiftly; but night had fallen, and the sky, sea and land were all black as tar. She soon learned that no sign of the stranger's boat could be found in the harbor. Returning from the land-wash, she met Nick Leary.
"How bes ye a-feelin' now?" she asked, not unkindly. "But it served ye right, Nick. A great man like ye has no call to be fightin' wid women."
"Me poor head buzzes like a nest o' wasps whin ye pokes it wid a club," said Nick. "Sure, Mary, 'twas a sweet tap ye give me! Marry me, girl, an' ye'll be free to bat me every day o' yer born life."
"Sure, an' 'twould do ye no harm," said Mary. And then, "So ye've shut the poor lad in the store, have ye?"
"Aye, but how'd ye know it, Mary?"
"I didn't know it, Nick, till ye telled me. Now go on wid yer business o' huntin' for the boat an' I'll be goin' on wid mine. An' thanks for yer offer, lad; but sure I'll never marry a man I kin knock down wid the leg o' a chair."
Nick seemed to be in no mood to accept this statement as final; but the girl soon cleared her tracks of him in the inky darkness, among the little houses. She climbed the path to the edge of the barren and turned northward. From what she had seen of John Darling she felt sure that he was no fool; and therefore she had not expected to find his boat in the harbor. He had told Mother Nolan that he had a boat, but had not mentioned its whereabouts. Mary decided that it was hidden somewhere handy to the harbor; and she was inclined to think that it was manned. He had come from the north, of course; therefore the chances were good that he had left his boat somewhere to the north of the harbor. She knew every hollow, break and out-thrust of that coast for miles as well as she knew the walls and floors of her father's cabin. A thought of the little drook came to her mind and she quickened her steps along the path. The light wind was shifting and the fog was trailing coastwise to the south before it. Mary noted this, sniffed at the air, which was slowly but surely changing in quality, and looked up at the black sky.
"There'll be snow afore mornin'," she said.
When she reached the head of the drook she halted and gave ear. The sloshing and lapping of the tide came up to her; and that was all for a minute or two. She parted the alders and young birches with her hands, very cautiously, and moved downward into the thicket for a distance of three or four yards, then halted again and again listened. At last, above the noises of the tide and almost smothered by them, she heard a sound unmistakably human—a violent sneeze. For a little while she remained quiet, daunted by the darkness and trying to consider the risks she was about to take. But the risks could not be considered, for they were absolutely unknown. She was playing for peace and justice, however—yes, and for Denny Nolan's happiness. Mastering her fear, she whistled softly. After a minute's silence a guarded voice replied to the whistle.