"Be that yerself, sir?" inquired the voice from the blackness below.
She descended lower, parting the tangled growth before her with her hands.
"I bes a friend—an' a woman," she said. "I comes wid a word for ye, from him."
"Stand where ye bes!" commanded George Wicks, his voice anxious and suspicious. "What the divil bes the trouble now? Stand where ye bes an' tell me the word."
"I bes all alone, so help me Peter!" replied the girl, "an' it bain't safe the way we bes talkin' now, up an' down the drook. The lads o' the harbor may be comin' this way an' a-hearin' us—an' then ye'll bes in as bad a way as the captain himself. Let me come down to ye. Bes ye afeared o' one lone woman?"
"Come down wid ye, then," said George, his voice none too steady, "but I warns ye as how I hes a lantern here an' a pistol, an' if ye bain't all alone by yerself I'll shoot ye like a swile an' ax ye yer business afterwards. I's heard queer t'ings o' Chance Along!"
"I bes alone," returned Mary, "an' if ye fires yer pistol at me then ye bes a dirty coward."
As she spoke she continued her difficult way down the channel of the drook. She saw the yellow gleam of the lantern between the snarled stems of the bushes. Strong, clear-headed and brave as she was, she began now to sob quietly with fright; yet she continued to push her way down the drook.
"They—they has caught the captain," she said, brokenly, "an' now they bes huntin' all 'round the harbor for his boat. I has—come to tell ye—an' to help ye."
George Wick parted the bushes, raised his lantern and peered up at her.
"There bain't no call for ye to be cryin'," he said, in a changed voice. "If ye means no treachery, lass, then I'll not be hurtin' ye."
She stood beside him; and as he stared at her by the yellow light of the lantern all thought of treachery from that quarter faded away. His heart warmed and got a trifle out of hand. He could scarcely believe his senses, and for a moment forgot John Darling and the queer stories he had heard of Chance Along. All he realized was that his eyes and the lantern told him that the finest looking girl he had ever seen had come down the drook, all of her own free will, to pay him a visit.
"The skipper caught him an' tied him up in the store," whispered Mary, "an' now all the men in the harbor bes searchin' for the boat." Then she told the story of Flora Lockhart, and disclosed a plan for outwitting the skipper that had just come to her mind.
"Sure, ye bes a wonder," said George, who was as clay in her hands. "Aye, we'll be putting the comather on to Black Denny Nolan, ye kin lay to that! Sure, it be a grand idee altogether!"
So they unloaded the bully and hid everything among the bushes.
"Now you must lay low," cautioned Mary, "an' I'll bring yer bully back to ye as soon as I kin—or maybe one o' the skipper's bullies in its place. Anyhow, I'll get to see ye agin to-morrow night. Lay low, now, an' don't be lightin' a fire."
As she stepped aboard the bully George's mind cleared a little.
"Ye bain't playin' any tricks on me, I do hope," he whispered. "Ye wouldn't be leavin' me here all alone by meself forever, widout me bully even, would ye now?"
"Ye kin trust me," said Mary. Then she shoved off into the darkness.
Half an hour later the keel of the bully touched the land-wash in the sheltered harbor of Chance Along. Mary Kavanagh stepped ashore, laid the oar noiselessly inboard and set the bully adrift, and then made her cautious way up and into her father's cabin. Snow began to fall thickly and silently as she closed the door.
MOTHER NOLAN DOES SOME SPYING
John Darling was sore, hungry and cold; but his heart was joyful and strong. He had been knocked over the head, and he had been robbed of the newly-recovered necklace and the reward of a thousand pounds; but he had found Flora, alive, evidently not ill-treated and not in any real danger save of oblivion, and with the memory of him clear in her heart. He had failed to get her away from the harbor; but he felt convinced that a way of escape for both of them would soon occur. He did not fear Black Dennis Nolan. The fellow was a man, after all. He knew that if he should come to any serious physical injury at the skipper's hands it would be in a fair fight. Also, he knew that Mother Nolan and Mary Kavanagh were on his side—were as anxious to get Flora out of the harbor as he was to take her out. But the planks upon which he lay were as cold and hard as ice; and at last he began to wonder if even his splendid constitution would stand a night of this exposure, bound hand and foot, without serious results. He lay awake for hours, suffering in body but rejoicing in heart. At last, numb with cold, he sank into a half-doze. He was aroused by sounds at the door—the cry of a key turning an unoiled lock and the creak of rusty hinges. Then the welcome gleam of a lantern flooded to him along the frosty floor. The visitor was Bill Brennen. He stooped above the sailor and squinted at him curiously. Under his left arm he carried a caribou skin and several blankets.
"Lad," said he, "ye must be full o' the divil's own ginger to cross the skipper as ye done. Sure an' the wonder bes why he didn't kill ye dead! But now that ye still be alive, him not killin' ye in the first flush, ye bes safe as Mother Nolan herself. A divil o' a woman that, entirely. Saints in glory, me whiskers still aches desperate! Here bes a grand rug for ye to lay on, an' blankets to cover yerself wid. The skipper sent 'em. Kill a man he will, in fair fight; but it bain't in his nature to let any man go cold nor hungry in Chance Along."
He spread the caribou skin and one of the blankets on the floor and rolled John Darling on to them. Then he threw two more blankets over him and tucked them in. Next, he produced a flask from his pocket and uncocked it.
"Skipper's orders," he said, and held the flask to the helpless one's lips.
"Now ye bes as snug as any marchant, what wid yer grand bed an' yer drop o' fine liquor in yer belly," he remarked. He turned at the door and said, "Some one will be bringin' ye grub in the mornin'. Good night to ye."
From that until morning, the prisoner on the floor, bound at wrist and ankle, rested more peacefully than Black Dennis Nolan in his father's bed; for the sailor was only sore in his muscles and bones, but the skipper ached in heart and soul. The skipper tossed through the black hours, reasoning against reason, hoping against hopelessness. The girl hated him and despised him! Twist and turn as he might, he could not escape from this conviction. Now he even doubted the power of the diamonds and rubies to win her, having seen that in her eyes which had brought all his dreams crumbling to choking dust. Pain had laid the devil of fury in him and aroused the imp of stubbornness. He would wait and watch. He was safe to keep them both in the harbor until the arrival of Father McQueen, in June; and perhaps, by that time, he would see some way of winning the girl. Should the necklace of diamonds and rubies fail to impress the girl, then he might bribe John Darling with it to leave the harbor. You see, the workings of the skipper's mind were as primitive as his methods of coping with mutineers.
The skipper left his bed and the house at the first gray of dawn, determined to search the coast high and low for a solution of the mystery of the stranger's arrival. He went down between the silent cabins, all roofed with new snow, and the empty snow-trimmed stages, and looked out upon the little harbor. What was that, just at the edge of the shadow of the rock to the right of the narrow passage?—a boat, lump of wreckage or a shadow? Stare as he would, he could not determine the nature of the thing in that faint and elfin twilight; but it drew his eye and aroused his curiosity as no natural shadow of any familiar rock could have done. He dragged a skiff from under one of the stages and launched it into the quiet harbor and with a single oar over the stern sculled out toward the black object on the steel-gray tide. It proved to be a fine bully, empty and with the frozen painter hanging over the bow and trailing alongside.
"So this bes how he come to Chance Along—an' not man enough to moor his boat safe!" exclaimed the skipper.
The bully was as empty as on the day it had been built, save for one oar lying across the thwarts. Not even a spar and sail were aboard her. The man must be an absolute fool to set out along a dangerous coast, in a bad time of year, single-handed and without grub or gear, reflected the skipper. The thought that such a bungler as this stranger should be preferred to himself, intensified his pangs of humiliation. No girl who understood such things—no girl of that coast—would treat him so, he reflected, bitterly. He pulled the dripping painter aboard the skiff, made it fast around a thwart and towed the bully ashore.
Mary Kavanagh had been astir as early as the skipper himself. She had gone first to the store. Peering through a window, she had made out the stranger's form on the floor, bulkily blanketed. From the store, she hastened to the skipper's house, saw his footprints pointing toward the land-wash, and stood with her hand on the latch until a skiff slid out into her line of vision from behind the drying-stages. She knew that the skipper was on his way to investigate the derelict bully. She opened the door then, entered quietly and went to Mother Nolan's room. The old woman was sitting up in bed with her night-cap a-tilt over one ear.
"Saints alive, Mary, what mischief bes afoot now?" asked Mother Nolan.
Mary drew close to the bed-side and leaned over to her confederate.
"The captain bes safe in the store, all rolled up in blankets," she whispered, "an'—an' I larned something last night that means as how we kin get 'em both away before long, wid luck. An' I played a trick on the skipper—so don't ye bes worryin' when he tells ye as how he's found the captain's boat. Give the word to the lass to keep her heart up. Sure, we'll be gettin' the two o' them safe out o' the harbor yet."
"An' where bes Denny now? How'd ye get into the house?" asked the old woman.
"He bes out in a skiff this very minute, a-lookin' at the captain's boat where it bes driftin' 'round the harbor. Sure, an' that bes just where I wants him. An' now I'll be goin', Mother Nolan dear, for I bain't wishin' Denny to catch me here a-whisperin' t'ye so early in the mornin' or maybe he'd get the idea into his head as how us two women bain't such harmless fools as what he's always bin takin' us for."
"Ye bes a fine girl, Mary Kavanagh," returned Mother Nolan, "an' I trusts ye to clear this harbor o' trouble. I'll be tellin' the good word to the poor lass inside this very minute. Her heart bain't all diamonds an' pride, after all, as she let us know last night, poor dear."
Mary left them, and a minute later met the skipper on his way up from the land-wash.
"I's found the boat the stranger come in," said the skipper.
"Sure, an' so ye would, Denny, if it was to be found," replied Mary.
The young man eyed her gloomily and inquiringly until she blushed and turned her face away from him.
"Ye talks fair, Mary," he said. "Ye talks as if ye was a friend o' mine; but ye bain't always actin' that same way, these days. Last night, now, ye an' granny was sure fightin' agin me! I seed ye bat Nick Leary wid the leg o' the chair—an' I seed that dacent old woman a-hangin' to Bill Brennen's whiskers like a wildcat to the moss on a tree."
"An' why not, Denny Nolan?" retorted the girl. "Ye t'ree men was after murderin' that poor lad! D'ye think Mother Nolan was wantin' to see ye carried off to St. John's an' hung by yer neck? Sure, we was fightin' agin ye. What hurt had that poor lad ever done to ye? He come to Chance Along for his lass—an' sure, she was ready enough to be goin' away wid him!"
The skipper's face darkened. "Who saved her life from the wrack?" he cried. "Tell me that, will ye! Who salvaged her from the fore-top o' the wrack?"
Without waiting for an answer, he brushed past Mary and strode up to his house. The girl stood motionless for a little while, gazing after him with a flushed face, twitching lips and a flicker of amusement in her gray eyes.
"Poor Denny," she murmured. "His pride bes hurt more nor the heart of him!"
John Darling was not honored by a visit from the skipper that day; but Bill Brennen carried food to him, made up a fire in the stove, and even loosed his bonds for a few minutes upon receiving his word of honor that he would not take advantage of the kindness by trying to escape.
"What does Nolan intend to do with me?" asked Darling.
"Well, sir, it looks to me as how he bes figgerin' to keep ye in Chance Along till June. He bes t'inkin' as how the young lady may blow 'round to his own idee," replied Bill.
"And what is his idea?"
"As how he bes a better man nor ye be."
"But why does he figure to keep me until June? Why not until July, or August—or next Christmas?"
"Well, sir, ye see it bes this way wid him. Father McQueen, the dear, riverent gentleman—an' may he never die till I kills him, an' may every blessed hair on his head turn into a wax candle to light him to glory!—bes comin' back to Chance Along in June. The skipper bain't afeared o' any man in the world but his riverence."
John Darling smiled. "I should like to see Father McQueen," he said; "but I am afraid I must be going away from here considerably before the first of June."
Bill wagged his head. "Now don't ye be too sure, sir," he whispered. "Ye bain't dealin' wid any ignorant fisherman when ye bes dealin' wid Black Dennis Nolan. Sure, didn't he find yer bully this very mornin'!"
"My bully!" exclaimed the other, losing color. "Where did he find it?"
"Driftin' in the harbor," returned Bill. "It bes a grand bully entirely, sir."
Darling was silent for a moment. Then, trying to look as if the finding of the bully drifting in the harbor was rather a joke, he laughed.
"And did he capture my crew of five strong men?" he asked.
Bill Brennen grinned. "Now ye needn't be tryin' any o' yer divilment on me," he said. "The bully was as empty as Tim Sullivan's brain-locker—an' the holy saints knows as that bes empty enough! Sure, there wasn't even a sail aboard her, nor a bite o' grub nor a drop o' liquor."
"My five men must have fallen overboard," said Darling, smiling. Poor John! Now, should he manage to escape and get Flora out of the skipper's house, how was he to get out of the harbor? What had happened to George Wick? The tide must have carried the bully out of the drook, while George was asleep, and drifted it around to the harbor. He promised himself the pleasure of teaching Master George the art of mooring a boat if he ever met him again.
John Darling spent an anxious day. Shortly after midnight he was startled by a faint tapping on one of the windows. The night was pitch black, and so he could see nothing. The tapping was repeated. He rolled out of his blanket and across the floor toward the sound. His progress was arrested by a rank of boxes and flour-bags. Pressing his shoulder against these, he hitched himself to his feet, turned and leaned across them until his face was within a foot of the faint square of the window. Against the half-darkness he could now see something indistinct in shape, and all of a dense blackness save for a pale patch that he knew to be a human face. It was Mary Kavanagh. She told him briefly of the way she had turned the skipper from searching the coast for his boat and his companion; of Flora's safety, and of how she hoped to accomplish their escape before long—perhaps on the following night. Wick was still hidden in the drook, she said. She would try to get a boat of some kind around to him on the next night; and if she succeeded in that, she would return and try to get Darling out of the store and Flora out of the skipper's house.
The sailor was at a loss for words in which to express his gratitude.
"But ye must promise me one thing," whispered the girl. "Ye must swear, by all the holy saints, to do naught agin Denny Nolan when once ye git safe away—swear that neither Flora nor yerself puts the law on to Denny, nor on to any o' the folks o' this harbor, for whatever has been done."
"I swear it, by all the saints," replied Darling. "For myself—but I cannot promise it for Flora. You must arrange that with her."
Several hours after Mary's interview with John Darling, old Mother Nolan awoke in her bed, suddenly, with all her nerves on the jump. The room was dark, but she felt convinced that a light had been held close to her face but a moment before. She felt no fear for herself, but a chilling anxiety as to what deviltry Denny might be up to now. Could it be that she was mistaken in him after all? Could it be that he was less of a man than she had thought? She crawled noiselessly from her bed and stole over to the door of Flora Lockhart's room. The door was fastened. With the key, which she had brought from under her pillow, she made sure that it was locked. She unlocked it noiselessly, opened the door a crack and peered in. The room was lighted by the glow from the fire and by a guttering candle on a chair beside the bed. She saw that the room was empty, save for the sleeping girl. Closing the door softly and locking it again, she turned and groped her way across to the kitchen door, beneath which a narrow line of light was visible. Scarcely breathing, she raised the latch, drew the door inward a distance of half an inch and set one of her bright old eyes to the crack. She saw the skipper kneeling in a corner of the kitchen, with his back to her and a candle on the floor beside him. He seemed to be working busily and heavily, but not a sound of his toil reached her eager ears.
"He bes hidin' something'," she reflected. "Shiftin' some o' his wracked gold, maybe? But why bes he so sly about it to-night, a-spyin' in on his old grandmother to see if she bes sound asleep or no?"
Presently, she closed the door and crept back to her bed. Next morning, as soon as the skipper and young Cormick had left the house, she examined the corner of the floor where the skipper had been at work. She had to pull aside a wood-box to get at the spot. One of the narrow, dusty planks showed that it had been tampered with. She pried it up with a chisel, dug into the loose earth beneath and at last found a small box covered with red leather. She opened it and gazed at the diamonds and rubies in frightened fascination. Ignorant as she was of such things, she knew that the value of these stones must be immense. At last she closed the casket, returned it to the bottom of the hole and replaced the earth, the plank and the wood-box. Where, when and how had the skipper come by that treasure? she wondered. She hobbled over to Pat Kavanagh's house and told Mary all about it.
MARY AT WORK AGAIN
Pierre Benoist, the survivor of the French brig, arrived at Mother McKay's shebeen in good order, with the borrowed blanket draped over his broad shoulders and the borrowed sealing-gun under his arm. All birds of Pierre's variety of feather seemed to arrive naturally at Mother McKay's, sooner or later. The French sailor found Dick Lynch; a Canadian trapper with Micmac blood in his veins, who had come out of the woods too soon for his own good; three men from Conception Bay and half a dozen natives of the city, all talking and swearing and drinking Mother McKay's questionable rum and still more questionable whiskey. Pierre laid aside his blanket and musket, shouted for liquor and then studied the assembled company. It did not take him long to decide that they were exactly the material he required. He took a seat at Dick Lynch's elbow and in such English as he was master of, remarked that any man who worked for his living was no better than a fool.
"Sure," said Lynch, "by the looks o' yerself ye should know."
Monsieur Benoist pulled his sinister mouth into as pleasant a grin as he could manage, and veiled the dangerous light in his eyes. Then he replied, in a loud voice that caught the attention of all the men in the room, that he was certainly in a position to know, having come straight from a little harbor to the southward where a handful of fishermen had just salvaged two chests of good French gold from a wreck. He told the whole story of the wreck and of the subsequent fight in which his companion had been killed. To add reality to his tale he described several of the fishermen minutely.
"That bes the skipper himself!" cried Dick Lynch. "That bes Black Dennis Nolan, ye kin lay to that—aye, an' Bill Brennen an' Nick Leary! Sure, then, ye've come from Chance Along, b'y—the very place I comes from meself. Two chests o' gold, d'ye say? Then I tells ye, b'ys, there bes as much more there besides. Chance Along bes fair stinkin' wid gold an' wracked stuff."
He went on excitedly and gave a brief and startling outline of the recent history of Black Dennis Nolan and Chance Along, not forgetting his own heroic stand against the tyrant.
"B'ys, all we has to be doin' bes to go an' take it—an' then to scatter. This here captain wid the rings in his ears has the right idee, sure! Wid all the gold an' jewels in Chance Along shared amongst us sure we'd never be needin' to hit another clip o' work so long as we live. Aye, 'twould be easy wid guns in our hands; but we must be quick about it, lads, or the law'll be gittin' there ahead o' us," he concluded.
The others clustered about Lynch and the French sailor, a few of them reeling, but all intent upon coming to some arrangement for laying hands upon the treasure of Chance Along. Big fists pounded the sloppy table, husky voices bellowed questions, and stools and benches were overturned.
"There bes twelve o' us here," said Tom Brent, of Harbor Grace, "twelve able lads, every mother's son o' us ready for to make the trip. Now the first thing bes for every man to tell his name an' swear as how he'll do his best at gettin' the stuff an' never say naught about it to any livin' soul after he's got safe away wid his share."
All agreed to these suggestions, and oaths were taken and hopes of everlasting salvation pledged that were not worth the breath that sounded them. It was next ascertained by Monsieur Benoist, who naturally took a leading part in the organization, that every man of the twelve possessed a fire-arm of one kind or another. Then Bill McKay, Mother McKay's son, and two others departed in quest of horses and sleds. The roads were fairly good now, though unpacked. Mother McKay set to work at the packing of provisions for the expedition. She was heart and soul in the enterprise, and would have her interests represented by her son Bill, the worst rascal, hardest fighter and most devoted son in St. John's. She had a hold on some of the small farmers around—in fact, she owned several of the farms—so it was not long before Bill and his companions returned, each in possession of a horse and sled. The expedition set out at two o'clock of a windless, frosty, star-lit morning. They travelled the roads which John Darling had followed, several days before; but now the mud-holes and quaking bogs were frozen and covered with snow. Bill McKay drove the sled that led the way at a pace that gave the following teamsters all they could do to keep in touch; but willing hands manned the whips and hammering sled-stakes. Now and again one or another of the raiders would fall off a sled and necessitate a halt; and so the poor horses were given a chance, now and again, to recover something of their lost wind.
Back in Chance Along things were going briskly. Mary Kavanagh learned from John Darling something of the history of the diamond and ruby necklace and made up her mind to return it to the sailor. She wanted to clean the harbor of everything of the kind—of everything that came up from the sea in shattered ships, except food. She saw the hands of the saints in salvaged provisions, but the hand of the devil himself in wrecked gold and jewels—and wrecked women. She decided to arrange the recovery of the necklace and the bully, and the escape of the strangers for that very night; and her decision was sealed, a few hours later, by the skipper's behavior. It was this way with the skipper. He felt shame for having kept the girl in the harbor against her prayers, and for the lies he had told her and the destruction of the letters; but he was neither humble nor contrite. Shame was a bitter and maddening emotion for one of his nature. He brooded over this shame, and over that aroused by the girl's scorn, until his finer feelings toward her were burned out and blown abroad like ashes. His infatuation lost its fine, ennobling element of worship, and fell to a red glow of desire of possession. He forced his way to Flora's room, despite the protests of Mother Nolan.
"To-morrow ye'll be mine or ye'll be his," he said, staring fixedly at the frightened girl. "To-morrow mornin' him an' me bes a-goin' to fight for ye—an' the man what lives will have ye! Ye put the name o' coward on to me—but I bain't no coward! I fights fair—an' the best man wins. I could kill him now, if I was a coward."
Flora's face was as white as the pallid figure on the cross above the chimney.
"You are a coward!—and a beast!" she cried from dry lips. "If you kill him my curse shall be with you until your dying day—and afterwards—forever."
"Then ye can tell him to go away, an' I won't be killin' him," said the man.
"Tell him—to go—away?"
"Aye—that ye've no need o' him. Send him away. Tell him ye means to marry wid me."
"No," whispered the girl. And then, "Do you mean to—give him a chance?—to fight him fair?"
"Aye, man to man—an' as sure as the divil fetched him to Chance Along I'll kill him wid these hands! An' then—an' then ye'll be mine—an' when Father McQueen comes in June 'twill be time for the weddin'—for that part o' it. Ye've put the names o' coward an' beast on to me—an' by Saint Peter, ye'll live to change them names or to know them!"
Some color came back to Flora's cheeks and her clear eyes shone to their depths.
"If you fight fair," she said, faintly but steadily, "he will give you what you deserve. I am not afraid. God will be with him—and he is the better man!"
The skipper laughed, then stooped suddenly, caught her in his arms and kissed her on the lips. Next moment he flung her aside and dashed from the room, almost overturning Mother Nolan in his flight. At the door of the kitchen he came face to face with Mary Kavanagh. He tried to pass her without pausing, but she stood firm on the threshold and held him for a moment or two with her strong arms. Her gray eyes were blazing.
"I sees the Black One a-ridin' on yer back!" she cried, in a voice of horror and disgust. "I sees his face over yer shoulder—aye, an' his arm around yer neck like a rope!"
He looked at her for a moment, and then quickly away as he forced her violently aside.
"An' the hell-fire in yer eyes!" she cried.
The skipper was free of her by then and out of the house; but he turned and stared at her with a haggard face and swiftly dulling eyes.
"The curse bes on me!" he whispered. "It bes in me vitals now—like I had kilt him already."
The expression of the girl's face changed in a flash and she sprang out and caught one of his hands in both of hers.
"Kill him? Ye bain't meanin' to kill him, Denny Nolan?" she whispered.
"Aye, but I bes, curse or no curse," he said, dully. "To-morrow mornin' I bes a-goin' to kill him—man to man, in fair fight."
"But for why, Denny?"
"For the girl."
"Bes ye lovin' her so desperate, Denny?"
"Nay, nay, lass, not now. But I wants her! An' she puts the name o' beast on to me an' the nature o' beast into me, like a curse!"
"To-morrow? An' ye'll fight him fair, Denny?"
"Aye, to-morrow—man to man—wid empty hands!"
The girl turned and entered the house, and the skipper went up the path at the back of the harbor and wandered over the snowy barrens for hours. It was dusk when Bill Brennen found him.
"Skipper," said Bill, "the lads bes at it again. They wants to know when ye'll make a trip to St. John's wid the jewels?—an' where the jewels bes gone to, anyhow?"
"Jewels!" cried the skipper—"an' the entire crew o' 'em fair rotten wid gold! I'll dig up the jewels from where we hid 'em an' t'row 'em into their dirty faces—an' they kin carry 'em to St. John's an' sell 'em to suit themselves, the squid!"
So he and Bill Brennen tramped off to the northward; and Mary Kavanagh was aware of their going.
Mary was busy during their absence. She unearthed the necklace, and with it and the key from behind the skipper's clock, made her way to the store. It was dark by now, with stars in the sky and a breath of wind from the south and south-by-west. The folks were all in their cabins, save the skipper and Bill Brennen, who were digging the harbor's cache of jewelry from the head of a thicket of spruce-tuck. She let herself into the store and freed John Darling without striking a light. She placed the casket in his hand.
"The skipper has yer pistols in his own pocket, so I couldn't git 'em for ye," she whispered. "Now sneak up to the back, quick. Ye'll find yer lass there, a-waitin' for ye wid old Mother Nolan. Git north to the drook where yer man bes, an' lay down there, the three o' ye, till I fetches yer bully. Then git out, an' keep out, for the love o' mercy! Step lively, captain! The skipper bes out o' the harbor this minute, but he bes a-comin' home soon. Get along wid ye quick, to the top o' the cliff."
She left him before he had an opportunity to even try to thank her. He followed her to the door, walking stiffly, paused outside for long enough to get his bearings, then closed the door noiselessly, turned the key in the lock, withdrew it and dropped it in the snow. Then he made his way cautiously to the back of the harbor and up the twisting path as fast as he could scramble. At the top, crouched behind a boulder, beside old Mother Nolan, he found Flora.
Neither the girl nor the man heard the old woman's words of farewell. They moved northward along the snowy path, hand in hand, running with no more sound than slipping star-shadows. So for a hundred yards; and then the speed began to slacken, and at last they walked. They reached the black crest where the brushwood of the drook showed above the level of the barrens. Here they halted, and Darling whistled guardedly. An answering note came up to them from the blackness below and to seaward. Darling stepped down, parted the young birches and twisted alders with one arm and drew Flora into the cover. She stumbled, saved herself from falling by encountering his broad chest—and then she put up both arms and slipped them about his neck.
"My God! Do you mean it, Flora?" he whispered.
For answer, her arms tightened about his neck. He lowered his head slowly, staring at the pale oval of her face—and so their lips met.
Another cautious whistle from below brought them to a realization of their surroundings. They continued their downward journey and presently found George Wick. George was in a bad humor. He was cold, and he grumbled in cautious growls.
"So ye come for a girl, did ye? Well, there bes another girl in this harbor I'd like to be fetchin' away wid me! Aye, here she bes now, wid the bully."
Mary sprang ashore.
"Here ye be. Git yer gear aboard quick, an' away wid ye," she whispered, "an' don't forget yer promise."
"I'll be comin' back for ye, one o' these days," said George Wick.
"Then ye needn't, for ye bain't wanted," replied Mary.
John and Flora scarcely heard her; but George gave ear until the last swish and rustle of her ascent through the brush died away. Then he fell to loading the bully. Five minutes later they took their places aboard, pushed out of the little cove, stepped the mast and spread the red sail.
Flora sat in the stern-sheets. John managed the tiller with his left hand. The light breeze wafted them northward. At last George Wick broke the silence.
"Hark! What bes that?" he exclaimed.
"It sounded like gun-shots," said John, indifferently.
"I suppose that mad skipper is fighting with his men," said Flora—and the breath of her words touched the sailor's cheek.
FATHER MCQUEEN'S RETURN
Black Dennis Nolan and Bill Brennen brought the loose jewels from their hiding-place to the harbor. The skipper carried the dispatch-box, and in his pockets he had John Darling's neat little pistols, each good for two shots—the latest thing in pistols at that time. They went straight to Cornelius Lynch's cabin, where the leading grumblers were assembled. The skipper was about to kick open the door and stuff the jewels into their insatiable maws when a guarded, anxious voice at his elbow arrested him with one foot drawn back. The voice was that of Mary Kavanagh.
"Whist!" said Mary. "Bes that yerself, Denny Nolan?"
"Aye, sure it be," returned the skipper.
"I heard a sound on the cliff, to the north," said Mary. "The sound o' a horse nickerin' an' men cursin' it for the same."
"A horse?" queried the skipper. And then, "On the cliff to the north? Where the divil has ye been to, Mary Kavanagh?"
"Whist! Hark to that!" exclaimed the girl.
"Sure, skipper, 'twas somethin' up back yonder," whispered Bill Brennen. "It sounded to meself like a gun slammin' agin a rock."
"Would it be that stranger lad?" queried Dennis, anxiously.
"Nay, he bes safe enough," said Mary. "But hark to that, now! There bes a whole crew up yonder."
The skipper opened Cornelius Lynch's door, but not with his foot as he had formerly intended.
"Turn out an' git yer guns, men. There bes trouble a-foot," he said, quietly. Then, laying a hand on Mary's shoulder, he whispered, "Git Pat an' yerself to my house an' fasten up the doors. It bes a strong house, lass, an' if there bes any gunnin' ye'll be safe there."
"Ye needn't be worryin' for Flora Lockhart," said Mary. "She bes safe enough—herself an' the captain—a-sailing away in the bully this half-hour back."
The skipper's hand tightened on her shoulder; but she did not flinch. In the light from the open door he stared at her—and she stared back at him, glance for glance. There was astonishment in his eyes rather than anger, and a question rather than condemnation. He was about to speak when the smashing report of a musket rang out from the slope and a slug splintered the edge of the open door. The skipper pushed Mary away from him.
"Run! Run to the house!" he cried.
Mary vanished into the darkness. Men clustered around the skipper, sealing-guns, pistols, cutlasses and clubs in their hands, their grumblings forgotten in the prospect of a fight. The open door was shut with a bang.
"Follow me!" shouted the skipper, dropping the dispatch-box of loose jewels to the trampled snow and pulling his pistols from his pocket.
The men of Chance Along and Pierre Benoist's ruffians met at the foot of the steep slope, among the upper rank of cabins. All doubts as to the intentions of the visitors were dispelled from the skipper's mind by a voice shouting, "Git inside the houses, lads, an' pull up the floors. There bes where ye'll find the stuff. Git into the big house. It be fair full o' gold an' jewels."
The voice was that of Dick Lynch. The skipper knew it, and his pistols flashed and banged in his hands.
The light of the stars, dimmed by a high, thin veil of mist, was not good enough to fight scientifically by. After the first clash it was almost impossible to know friend from foe at the length of an arm. Single combats, and cursing knots of threes and fours, staggered and swatted among the little dwellings. The work was entirely too close for gun-work, and so the weapons were clubbed and the affair hammered out like hot irons on an anvil.
After ten minutes of it the skipper found himself in front of his own door, with a four-foot stick of green birch in his hands, and something wet and warm trickling from his forehead into his left eye. Three men were at him. Bill McKay was one of them and Pierre Benoist another. McKay fought with a clubbed musket, and the French sailor held a dirk in one hand and an empty pistol in the other. The third prodded about in the background with a cutlass. He seemed to be of a retiring disposition.
The skipper defended his position heroically; but after two minutes of it the musket proved heavier than the club of birch, and he received a crack on his left shoulder that put one arm out of action. The Frenchman ducked and slipped in; but the skipper's boot on his collar-bone set him back for a moment and sent the knife tinkling to the ground. But the same movement, thanks to the little wad of snow on the heel of his boot, brought the skipper to the flat of his back with a bone-shaking slam. The clubbed musket swung up—and then the door flew open above his upturned face, candle-light flooded over him and a sealing-gun flashed and bellowed. Then the threatening musket fell of its own weight, from dead hands—and the skipper went to sleep with more stars twirling white and green fire across his inner vision than he had ever seen in the sky.
It was daylight when Black Dennis Nolan next opened his eyes. He was in his own bed. He felt very sick in the stomach, very light in the head, very dry in the mouth. Old Mother Nolan sat beside the bed, smoking her pipe.
"Was it ye let off the old gun out the door?" he asked.
"Nay, 'twas Mary done it," replied Mother Nolan, blinking her black eyes at him.
"An' where bes Mary now?" he asked.
"In me own bed. Sure, when she was draggin' ye into the house, didn't some divil jab her in the neck wid a great knife."
The skipper sat up, though the effort spun a purple haze across his eyes, and set a lump of red-hot iron knocking about inside his skull.
"Bes she—dead?" he whispered.
"Nay, lad, nay, she bain't what ye'd call dead," replied the old woman.
The skipper rolled to the floor, scrambled to his feet, reeled across the kitchen and into the next room, and sank at the side of Mary's bed. He was done. He could not lift himself an inch higher; but a hand came down to him, over the side of the bed, and touched his battered brow.
A week later, Mary Kavanagh was able to sit up in Mother Nolan's bed; and the skipper was himself again, at least as far as the cut over his eye and the bump on top of his head were concerned.
The skipper and Mother Nolan sat by Mary's bed. The skipper looked older, wiser and less sure of himself than in the brisk days before the raid.
"I bes a poor man now," he said. "Sure, them robbers broke t'rough this harbor somethin' desperate! Didn't the back o' the chimley look like the divil had been a-clawin' it out?"
"Quick come and quick go! Ye bes lucky, lad, they didn't sail away wid yer fore-an'-after," said Mother Nolan.
"Aye, Granny; but it do beat me how ever they come to dig up the kitchen-floor."
"Sure, an' they didn't," said Mary. "'Twas meself done that—an' sent the red an' white diamonds away wid Flora's man. 'Twas himself ye took 'em from, Denny Nolan."
"An' a good thing, too," said Mother Nolan. "Sure, ye sent all the curses o' Chance Along away together, Mary dear! There bain't no luck in wracked gold, nor wracked diamonds—nor wracked women! Grub an' gear bes our right; but not gold an' humans."
The skipper gazed at the girl until her eyes met his.
"Was ye workin' agin me all the time?" he asked, quietly.
"Nay, Denny, but I was workin' for ye—all the time," she whispered.
"Sure she was," said Mother Nolan, puffing at her pipe. "Aye—an' many's the time 'twas on me tongue to call her a fool for her trouble, ye was that bewitched an' bemazed, lad."
The skipper stared at the floor for a long time, in silence. At last he said, "Wid the way ye was workin', Mary, the wonder bes to me what for ye risked the knife in yer neck to save me life from the Frenchman."
"Denny, ye bes still a fool!" exclaimed Mother Nolan. "When you bain't one manner o' fool ye bes another! What for? d'ye ask! Well, what for?"
"Sure, I was only wonderin'," said the man, glancing shyly and hopefully at the girl in the bed.
* * * * *
Father McQueen reached Chance Along early in June. He found plenty of work awaiting him, including six masses for the newly-dead, and the building of the church. The general tone of the harbor impressed him as being strangely subdued. Even Black Dennis Nolan seemed less vivid and dominant in his bearing; but in spite of this change in him, he refused to put off his wedding even for the glory of being married in the new church.
In spite of a scar on her round, white neck, Mary Nolan was the grandest-looking, sweetest bride that had ever been seen in Chance Along. Denny thought so, and old Barney Keen said it, and Mother Nolan proved it by admitting that even she herself had not cut such a figure, under similar circumstances, fifty years ago. And on the morning after the wedding, the skipper and Mary set out on their honeymoon to St. John's, aboard the fore-and-after, with a freight of salvaged cargo under the hatch instead of thiefed jewels and gold. Back in the harbor the men unmoored their skiffs for the fishing, even as their fathers had done since the first Nolan and the first Leary spied that coast. They grumbled a little, as was their nature; but there was no talk of mutiny or treason. The red tide of greed had ebbed away with the passing of the sense of possession, and the fear of bewitchment had faded away with the departure of the innocent witch.
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