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Title: Pirates' Hope
Author: Lynde, Francis, 1856-1930
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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produced from scanned images of public domain material


_BY FRANCIS LYNDE_

    PIRATES' HOPE
    THE FIRE BRINGERS
    THE GIRL A HORSE AND A DOG
    THE WRECKERS
    DAVID VALLORY
    BRANDED
    STRANDED IN ARCADY
    AFTER THE MANNER OF MEN
    THE CITY OF NUMBERED DAYS
    THE HONORABLE SENATOR SAGEBRUSH
    THE PRICE
    A ROMANCE IN TRANSIT

    _CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS_



PIRATES' HOPE



PIRATES' HOPE

    BY
    FRANCIS LYNDE


    NEW YORK
    CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
    1922



    COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY
    CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

    Printed in the United States of America

    Published April, 1922

[Illustration]



    TO
    EDWARD YOUNG CHAPIN

    FRIEND OF MANY YEARS AND
    KINDLIEST OF CRITICS, THIS
    BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY
    INSCRIBED.



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                                      PAGE
        I INTRODUCING MR. MACHIAVELLI VAN DYCK      3
       II THE SHIP'S COMPANY                       19
      III THE MAJOR--AND OTHERS                    36
       IV THE LOG OF THE _Andromeda_               50
        V ANY PORT IN A STORM                      61
       VI A SEA CHANGE                             72
      VII SHORE LEAVE                              86
     VIII INTO THE PRIMITIVE                      103
       IX THE BULLY                               115
        X THE BONES OF THE _Santa Lucia_          131
       XI FINDERS KEEPERS                         144
      XII BONTECK UNLOADS                         159
     XIII THE WIND AND THE WAVES ROARING          175
      XIV HAND TO MOUTH                           193
       XV THE MERRY WAR                           212
      XVI A MARATHON AND AN ULTIMATUM             235
     XVII CAPTAIN ELIJAH SCORES                   251
    XVIII UNDER A GIBBOUS MOON                    266
      XIX THE FORWARD LIGHT                       285



PIRATES' HOPE



I

INTRODUCING MR. MACHIAVELLI VAN DYCK


TO those who knew him best and had known him longest, Bonteck Van
Dyck, sometime captain of his university eleven, a ball player with
the highest batting average on the university nine, a large-lettered
star in everything pertaining to athletic accomplishments, and above
and beyond this the fortunate--or unfortunate, as one chooses to view
it--inheritor of the obese Van Dyck fortune, figured, like the dead
kitten discovered on the ash heap by the investigative infant, as "a
perfectly good cat, spoiled."

As was most natural, the spoiling was usually charged in a lump sum
to the exaggerated fortune. In the university Van Dyck was a breezy,
whole-souled, large-hearted man's man, the idol of his set and
fraternity and a pathetically easy mark for the college borrower. Past
the college period, however, there came rumors of a radical change;
sharp-edged hints that the easy mark was becoming an increasingly
hard mark; vague intimations that this prince of good fellows of an
earlier day was attaining a certain stony indifference to suffering on
the part of those who sought to relieve him of some portion of the
money burden. Nay, more; it was whispered that he was not above using
the bloated bank account as a club wherewith to dash out the brains
of his opponents, not only in the market-place, but at the social
fireside, where, as a handsome young Croesus, owning a goodly handful
of Manhattan frontages, sailing his own yacht, and traveling in his
own private car, he was the legitimate quarry of the match-making
mothers--or fathers.

Though we had been reasonably close friends in the university days, it
so chanced that I had seen next to nothing of Van Dyck during the three
years immediately following the doling out of the coveted sheepskins in
Commencement Week; and the echoes of these derogatory stories--echoes
were all that had drifted out to me in the foreign field to which, as
a constructing engineer, I had gone soon after my graduation--were
somehow vastly unconvincing. But on a certain memorable autumn evening
in a New Orleans hotel, when I found myself sitting across a table
for two as Van Dyck's guest, listening while he explained, or tried
to explain, why he had cabled me from Havana to meet him at this
particular time and place, it was disconcertingly evident that the
golden youth of the old university days had really developed into
something different--different, and just a shade puzzling.

"You see, Preble, you are the one man I was most anxious to find,"
he was saying, for the third time since the half-shell oysters had
been served. "By the sheerest good luck I happened to run across
Bertie Witherspoon in Havana, and he told me that you were, or had
been, running the blockade, or something of that sort, down on the
Venezuela coast, and that a wire to the Barcado Brothers' New Orleans
headquarters would probably reach you."

"Running the blockade!" I broke in derisively. "That is about as near
as a New York provincial like Bertie Witherspoon could come to any fact
outside of his native Borough of Manhattan! There is no blockade on the
Venezuelan coast; and I've been building a railroad from Trujillo up
into the Sierra Nevada de Merida. Does this trifling difference make me
any less the man you were anxious to find?"

"Not in the least," he returned, with the old-time, boyish smile
wrinkling at the corners of his fine eyes. "But I do hope you've
got your railroad built and are footloose and free to take another
commission."

"No," I said; "the railroad isn't finished. But as it probably never
will be, under the present Venezuelan administration, we can leave it
out of the question."

"Then you could take a month or so off, if you should feel like it?"

"I could, yes; if the hotel bills wouldn't prove to be too high."

Again the good-natured smile identified the Teck Van Dyck of other days
for me.

"There won't be any hotel bills," he said gently. "You are to be my
guest on the _Andromeda_ for a little cruise."

"On the _Andromeda_?" I exclaimed. "You don't mean to say you've got
that baby Cunarder with you down here in these waters?"

"Yea, verily, and for a fact," was the smiling reply. "I came up the
big river in her this afternoon. Been knocking about a bit among the
islands to dodge the country-house invitations up home."

"Out of tune with the little social gods and goddesses?" I ventured.

"Out of tune with a good many things, Dick. This is a sorry old world,
and the people in it are sorrier--most of 'em. Everything's a bore."

I laughed.

"Since when have you been soaking Diogenes and the later Cynics?"

"Chortle if you want to," he returned. "Old Man Socrates had it about
right when he said that virtue is knowledge, and Antisthenes went him
one better when he said, 'Let men gain wisdom--or buy a rope.' Another
time he says, 'A horse I can see, but horsehood I can not see.' That
applies to humanity, as well."

"Meaning that things--and people--are not always what they seem?"

"Meaning that people are so seldom what they seem that you can ignore
the exceptions. Somebody has said that there are two distinct entities
in the ego; the man as he sees himself, and the man as God sees him.
That is only a fraction of a great truth. There are as many entities as
the man has human contacts; he is not precisely the same man to any two
of his acquaintances, and he is a hypocrite with most."

"Bosh!" said I, thinking I had the key to all this hard-bitted, and
lately acquired, philosophy. "You have too much money, Bonteck; that is
all that is the matter with you."

He put down his oyster fork and looked me squarely in the eye. He
was the same handsome, upstanding young Hercules that he had always
been, but there was something new and more or less provocative in the
contemptuous set of the mouth and the half belligerent emphasis of the
well-defined jaw.

"You've said it, Dick; I have too much money, and other people haven't
enough," was his rather enigmatical retort. Then: "You may call it
madman raving if you like, but I've lost my sense of perspective; I
can't tell an honest man--or woman--when I see one."

"All of which leads up to?----"

"To the thing which has brought me to New Orleans, and to my reason for
wiring you from Havana. My philosophy has led me to the jumping-off
place, Dick. Before I am two months older I am going to know at least
one small bunch of people for what they really are under their skins.
And you are going to help me to acquire this invaluable information.
How does that proposal strike you?"

"It strikes me a trifle remindfully, if you insist on knowing," I said.
"I haven't been altogether out of touch with the home people, and quite
a few of them have had something to say about this loss of perspective
that you've just confessed to. I've been writing most of the gossip off
to profit and loss, but----"

"You needn't," was his brusque interruption. "As I've said, this is a
pretty rotten world, if anybody should ask."

"Is it, indeed? How many millions does it take to give a man that point
of view?"

"That is the devil of it," he said, with a touch of bitterness. "Will
you believe me when I say that, apart from yourself and two or three
other honest money-despisers like you, I don't really know, as man to
man, or man to woman, half a dozen people on the face of the planet?"

"I'll believe that you think so. Still, that is all piffle, as you very
well know. So far as the women are concerned, it merely means that you
haven't met the one and only."

Van Dyck was silent while the waiter was placing the meat course.
During the plate-changing interval I became unpleasantly conscious
of the presence--the curiously obtrusive presence--of a dark-faced,
black-mustachioed little man sitting two tables away, and apparently
engrossed in his dinner. Why this one foreign-looking individual, out
of the many late diners comfortably filling the large room, should
disturb me, I could not determine; but the vague disquietude came--and
remained. Twice I thought I caught the small man watching my tablemate
furtively from beneath his heavy eyebrows; and when Van Dyck began
to speak again, I was almost certain I detected that half mechanical
cocking of an ear which betrays the intentional and eager eavesdropper.

"The one and only woman," said Van Dyck musingly, taking up the
thread of the table talk at the point where it had been broken by the
shifting of plates. "That is another exploded fallacy, Preble. There
are dozens of the 'one-and-onlys,' each with a scheming mamma, or a
grafting father, or an impecunious guardian who has been thriftlessly
making ducks and drakes of his ward's trust funds. And they are all
so immitigably decent and well-behaved and conventional that butter
wouldn't melt in the mouth of a single one of them. They never, by any
chance, let you see one-sixty-fourth of an inch below the surface."

"I grant you surfaces are more or less deceptive," I admitted. "But
your charge is too sweeping. You can't lump humanity any more than you
can the stars in heaven."

"Can't I? Wait and you shall see. And it isn't altogether what you are
thinking; that I have been 'touched' so often that it has soured me.
Heaven knows I've been a perfect Pool of Bethesda to a whole worldful
of financial cripples ever since I left the university; but I don't
especially mind the graft. What I do mind is the fact that it makes
smiling hypocrites out of the grafters, big and little. Not one of them
dares show me his real self, and there are times when I am fairly sick
at heart for one little refreshing glimpse of humanity in the raw."

"Which is more piffle," I commented. "You didn't cable me to come and
eat a New Orleans dinner with you on the bare chance that I'd let you
work off a batch of grouches on me, did you?"

His answer was delayed so long that I wondered if he were trying to
determine beforehand how much or how little he might be obliged to tell
me. But finally he broke ground, rather cautiously, I thought, in the
field of the explanations.

"No; I didn't ask you for the purpose of unloading my peculiar and
personal grievances upon you, tempting as that may have been. I have
a deep-laid plot, and I want you to help me carry it out. It is just
about the maddest thing you ever heard of, and I've got to have at
least one sane man along--as a sort of sea-anchor to tie to when the
hurricane begins ripping the masts out of us, and all that."

"In other words, you are out to pick up a bit of moral backing for the
plot. Is that it?"

"You have hit it precisely. You are to go along and hold me up to
the mark, Dick. If I show any signs of weakening, you are to jab a
knife into me and twist it around a few times. You are on salary, you
know--if you care to have it that way."

"If you say money to me again, I quit you cold, right here and now,"
was my answer to that. And then: "Pitch out and tell me: what is this
piratical scheme that you are afraid you may not have the nerve to
carry through?"

The plotter sat back in his chair, regarding me through half-closed
eyelids; and again I thought I caught the dark-faced foreigner two
tables distant stealthily watching him.

"On the face of it, it looks almost as thrilling as an old maids' tea
party--and not any less conventional," Van Dyck began. "You have been
around and about a good bit in the Caribbean, haven't you?"

"I suppose I might be able to pilot the _Andromeda_ into most of the
well-known harbors, if I had to," I boasted.

"Good. But you haven't been much out of the regular steamer lanes?--or
have you?"

"Now and then; yes. Once, when I was trying to blow around from
Carthagena to La Guaira in a coasting schooner, our old tub of a wind
jammer was caught in a hurricane and piled up on a coral reef. We were
Crusoes on the ghastly little island for nearly a month before a tramp
steamer happened along and saw our signals."

Van Dyck nodded as one who is hearing what has been heard before.

"You wrote home about that adventure, as you may, or may not, remember,
and the story got around to me. Afterward, I chanced to see in the
shipping news the report of the captain of the tramp 'tanker' which
had picked you up. Your island wasn't down on any of the charts,
and Captain Svenson gave the latitude and longitude as a matter of
information. Have you any idea what island it was--or is?"

"No. As you may imagine, I was only too glad to see the last of it when
we were taken off."

"It is said to be the Lost Island of the old English plateship
harriers--Sir Frankie Drake and the rest," Van Dyck went on. "There is
a story that Drake once ran a Spanish treasure ship into the lagoon
which encircles the island, shot it full of holes, and finally burned
it after a siege lasting a couple of days. The tale adds that during
the two-day fight the Spaniards had time to unload and bury some of the
gold bars in the galleon's cargo. Drake tried to make his prisoners
tell what they had done with the treasure--so the story goes--and when
they proved obstinate he sailed away and left them to starve. At a
somewhat later period the island appears in the legends as 'Pirates'
Hope'--place where the black-flag rovers used to put in to refit.
Nobody seems to know why it hasn't been put down on the modern charts."

I closed my eyes and a cold little chill ran up and down my back. Van
Dyck's yarn was probably only a figment of the story-tellers, but it
brought back most vividly the memory of that despairing month I had
spoken of; the dragging hours and days, the pinch of starvation, the
hope deferred as we stared our eyes out sweeping the meeting line
of sea and sky that never--until that last welcome day--gave back a
sign of the world out of which we had been blotted. Also, the story
resurrected another memory, one which had been almost forgotten with
the lapse of time. There had been relics on the island; a few bits
of the iron and woodwork of an ancient wreck, and a few bleached
bones--human bones. Still, I had all the incredulity of one who had
listened to many marvelous tales of the sea.

"You can hear dozens of yarns like that about every coral island and
cay in the Caribbean," I said.

"I know," he agreed. "And on a pleasure voyage it helps out wonderfully
if you have some one along who can tell them. How would the old
Spanish Main strike you as a winter cruising ground for the good ship
_Andromeda_?"

It was at this point that I began to see a few rays of daylight--or
thought I did.

"Show me the _Andromeda's_ passenger list and I can tell better," I
laughed.

"Your fellow voyagers will be people you know, or used to know--the
majority of them," he returned; then, with what seemed to be a curious
lack of enthusiasm, he enumerated them. "I've invited the newly married
Greys; the Ph.D. Sanfords; Major Terwilliger and his nephew, Jerry
Dupuyster; Conetta Kincaide and her dragoness aunt, Miss Mehitable;
Madeleine Barclay and her father; young Grisdale and his bull pup; and
Hobart Ingerson. And last, but by no means least, Mrs. Eager Van Tromp
and her three daughters."

"Heavens!" I interjected. "Why didn't you include all of New York,
while you were about it? Do you mean to tell me that you have all these
people with you in the _Andromeda_?"

"Not yet, but soon," he qualified. "They are on the way down here in my
private car. I'm here to meet them, and so, by the same token, are you."

"Good Lord! If you had hired a Hagenbeck to make your collection it
couldn't have been more zoo-like! What under the sun were you thinking
of, Teck?"

"They are all people I'd like to know better," he rejoined half
absently. "The 'collection,' as you so scoffingly call it, was quite
carefully chosen, if you did but know it."

"But Ingerson!" I protested.

"I know. Ingerson is a brute, you would say; and so would I, if I were
on the witness stand and obliged to testify. But in condemning him we
should be in the minority, Dick. He has the _entrée_ to the best houses
in New York, and half of the dowagers in that abandoned city would snap
at him for a son-in-law."

"That may well be. But to shut yourself up with him in a yacht party
for weeks on end----"

"Your point is well taken. But you will remember that I have admitted
the madnesses from start to finish. The vital thing, however, is this:
Will you consent to go along with us to add the saving touch of sanity?
Don't turn me down, Dick," he added, and the adjuration was almost a
pleading.

"I'm not turning you down," I hastened to say. "I am merely asking
'why?'"

Van Dyck's face was a study in moody perplexity, and he spoke slowly,
almost hesitantly, when he answered my query.

"I don't know that I can explain the exact 'why,' or give a logical
reason, even to so good a friend as you are, Dick. The winter-cruise
notion originated with Mrs. Van Tromp, I believe; and she is
responsible for the inclusion of the major and his nephew. Also, she
is the one who asked me to invite Ingerson. She has been playing in
hard luck lately, and for the sake of her three girls, who, in her
point of view, have simply _got_ to marry money, she is obliged to
keep the pace. I suppose the prospect of a winter in Florida--the
four of them at Palm Beach, with no chance to cut economical corners,
you know--appalled her. Besides, she knows the _Andromeda_, and the
_Andromeda's chef_. That goes a long way with as good a trencherwoman
as she is."

"That will do for a starter," I said. "Let us say that Mrs. Van Tromp
and her daughters are bread-and-butter guests. But how about the
others?"

Van Dyck did not reply until after the deft serving man had cleared the
table and brought the cigars.

"The others, with the possible exception of Billy Grisdale, who is
only an infant, are people with whom I should like to become better
acquainted, as I have said."

"Which is still purer piffle," I put in. "You've known all of them
practically all your life. But go on."

"I've known them, and I haven't known them," he asserted. "There are
the Sanfords--the professor and his wife: they typify the older
married set, and the casual onlooker would say that they try to give
the impression that they are still satisfied and happy. I should like
to find out if they really are satisfied and happy. Then there are the
Greys; they are still in the billing and cooing stage: I'd like to see
if it isn't possible for them to get too much of each other when the
doors are all shut and locked and neither of them can duck out for a
breath of the fresh air of solitude."

"Jehu!" I muttered. "The blue-bearded old gentleman of the Old-World
legend wasn't in it with you. Let's have the rest of it."

Van Dyck's smile barely missed being a saturnine grin, and there was
scarcely a suggestion of mirth in it.

"Major Terwilliger poses as a generous, large-hearted old rounder who
is eventually going to do something handsome for Jerry Dupuyster, his
sister's son. Privately, I have a notion that the major's liberal
fortune--which he promises to bestow upon Gerald--is largely, if not
wholly, a myth, and that he is selfish enough to keep Jerry dangling as
a bait to the scheming mammas--and aunts--for the social advantages and
'side' thereby accruing to Jerry's uncle."

"Conetta Kincaide's aunt, for example?" I interpolated.

"Yes, Aunt Mehitable, if you like. And, this being the case, I have a
perfectly normal curiosity to see what will happen when the dragoness
gets the major and Jerry in a clear field, with no possibility of a
breakaway for them, or of interference with her dragonizing for her."

"Having already used Bluebeard, I'm out of comparisons for you," I
said. "What about the Barclays, father and daughter?"

Van Dyck shook his head and the faintest possible shadow of a frown
came and sat between his eyes.

"We needn't be ill-natured on the wholesale plan," he evaded. "You
wouldn't suspect a man like Holly Barclay of offering his daughter to
the highest bidder, would you? Supposing we admit that he has gone
through the fortune that his wife's father got together, and let it
stand at that."

"You are not letting it stand at that," I countered shrewdly.

"No, perhaps I am not," he admitted, after a thoughtful pause. "I
thought I should like to prove or disprove a thing that I have heard,
about Holly Barclay--and Madeleine--and--well, you'll guess it if I
don't say it--about Ingerson."

"Again with the clear field and no favor, I suppose," I put in a bit
savagely. Then: "Van Dyck, you ought to be shot!"

He was glancing at his watch, and his smile was wry.

"I shall get my little drink of hemlock before the table is cleared,
never fear," he said soberly. "Any time you may think I am not getting
it, you have my permission to blow the gaff; to call the others
together and tell them what I've done to them. That is fair, isn't it?"

I nodded, and again he relapsed into thoughtful silence. Our dinner
appointment had been for a rather late hour in the evening, and
by now the great dining-room was all but empty, though the small
dark-faced man on our right was still dallying with the sweets and
the black coffee. A heavy, intoxicating fragrance drifted across
from the flowering cereus in the palm room, and the distance-mellowed
strains of an orchestra playing in an alcove on the opposite side
of the rotunda added another sensuous touch. The glamour of the
tropics, a far-reaching breath of the beckoning mystery of shimmering
seas, and coral reefs singing to the beat of the murmuring surf--the
mystery whose appeal is ever and most strongly to the senses and the
passions--was in the air when I said, gravely enough, I make no doubt:

"I'll go with you, Bonteck; and chiefly for the reason you have just
given--the reason and the permission. Let this be your fair warning: if
at any time your little farce threatens to grow into a tragedy, I shall
most certainly call you down."

"I was rather hoping you'd say something like that," he agreed, with
what appeared to be the utmost sincerity.

"At the same time," I went on, "it is only fair to add that your
expensive experiment will fail. Nothing will happen on the _Andromeda_
that couldn't, or wouldn't, happen in a house party at your country
place in the Berkshires. You will come back as wise--or as foolish--as
you are now."

"Oh, well," he said, pushing his chair back and casting the napkin
aside, "we needn't pull the bud in pieces to find out what kind of
a flower it's going to be. I can't promise you that you will be
greatly edified, and it is quite within the possibilities that you
may find yourself frightfully bored. But, in any event, it will help
out a little if we leave something to the imagination, don't you
think?--something to speculate about and to look forward to. I know it
does look rather cut-and-dried in the prospect; eight bells breakfast,
luncheon when you like to have it, dinner in the second dog-watch,
and cards--always cards when Mrs. Van Tromp can find a partner and a
table--in the evening."

He had got upon his feet and was standing before me, an acutely
attractive figure of a well-built, well-groomed man in faultless
evening dress. The identifying smile of other and less cynical days was
drawing at the corners of his eyes when he went on.

"We'll live in hopes. Perhaps we shall be able to smash the _Andromeda_
on some reef that isn't down on the charts. Failing that, there is
always the chance of a stray hurricane--with the other chance of
the engines breaking down at the inopportune moment. We shall find
excitement of some kind; I can feel it in my bones."

"Small chance on a baby Cunarder," I grumbled, rising in my turn.

"Oh, I don't know," he offered, in gentle deprecation. "At any rate we
can still be hopeful. Now if you are ready we'll go to the railroad
station and meet the players. I told you they were on the way down from
New York, but I omitted to add that they are due to arrive to-night;
within fifteen or twenty minutes, to be strictly accurate. Let's gather
up a few for-hire autos and go to the rescue."



II

THE SHIP'S COMPANY


WE were on the sidewalk--"banquette," as it is called in New
Orleans--in front of the hotel, and Van Dyck was marshaling a number of
vehicles for a descent upon the railroad station, when a small man with
his soft hat pulled well down over his eyes appeared at my elbow as
silently as if he had materialized out of the rain-wet pavement.

"Pardon, M'sieu'," he murmured, in the broken English which placed him,
apparently, as a native of the French quarter, "ze brother of my cousin
ees h-ask me to fin' out for heem w'en M'sieu' Van Dyck's steamsheep
comes on N' Orlean. 'Ees h-oncle been de _chef_ h-on dat sheep, an'
'ee's want sand heem lettaire. _Oui._"

Van Dyck had started his procession of cabs, and he called to me as
the last of the vehicles pulled up to the curb to take us in. Almost
mechanically I gave the soft-spoken and apologetic questioner his
answer.

"Mr. Van Dyck's yacht came up the river to-day. Tell your cousin's
brother he will have to hurry his letter. The _Andromeda_ will sail
either to-night or to-morrow morning, I believe."

It was not until after I had joined Van Dyck in the waiting taxi, and
we were sluing and skidding over the wet pavements on the way to the
railroad station, that my companion said: "Didn't I see you talking to
a little fellow in gray tweeds and a soft hat just before we drove away
from the hotel? Do you know the man?"

"No; he was a stranger to me," I returned. "He asked a question and I
answered it. He is the man who sat two tables away on your right in the
hotel dining-room. He said he was the cousin of a cousin of somebody
who wanted to send a letter to the _Andromeda's_ cook, and he wanted to
know when the yacht would arrive."

"You told him the _Andromeda_ is already here?"

"Yes."

"That's a bit odd," was Van Dyck's comment.

"What is odd?"

"That this little sallow-faced fellow should turn up here in New
Orleans practically at the same moment that I do. I spotted him while
we were at dinner and wondered if he could be the same one."

"The same one as who? And why shouldn't he be here?" I asked, rather
more than mildly curious.

"The same one I have seen at least twice before in the past few weeks.
The first time was at our anchorage in the Hudson when he, or somebody
very much like him, was the last man overside as we were leaving port a
month ago. I understood then that he was a friend of some member of the
_Andromeda's_ crew and had come aboard for a farewell visit."

"And the second time?"

"The second time was some three weeks later, and the place was Havana.
There he, or again somebody exactly like him, was hanging around the
water front chinning with any member of the crew who happened to have
shore leave. That time he wasn't trying to mail a letter; he was trying
to find out why it had apparently taken us three weeks, instead of
something less than one, to make the run down from New York to Cuba."

"Did he find out?" I inquired, with a little private wonderment of my
own to prompt the query.

"I can't say as to that," was Van Dyck's half-guarded reply. "What is
puzzling me now is his--er--omnipresence, so to speak. So far as I
know, we left him in Havana. How does he come to be here in New Orleans
on the very day of our arrival?"

"That is easy," I said; "the method, I mean--not his object. He could
have come by railroad from Key West in less time than it took the
_Andromeda_ to steam across the Gulf."

"Of course," Van Dyck agreed, quite as if this simple explanation had
not occurred to him. And then, since we had reached the station, where,
upon inquiry, we found that the New York train was already in, there
was time only for a hospitable dash to the platform upon which our
prospective ship's company was at the moment debarking.

Though I knew all of Van Dyck's guests well enough to need no
introductions, the mob of them that was pouring out of the private car
_Kalmia_ was overwhelming by sheer weight of numbers.

"Heavens!" I said to Van Dyck as we came upon the scene, "I don't
wonder that you wanted help," and therewith we plunged in to bring
order out of the platform chaos of mingled humanity and hand baggage.

It was after we had the human part of the chaos marching, with an army
of laden red-caps, upon the line of chartered taxis, that Van Dyck
thrust a sheaf of baggage checks into my hand.

"Be a good fellow, Dick, and see to it that the heavy dunnage gets
started for the _Andromeda's_ wharf before you leave, won't you?" he
asked. "I'll go on with the crowd, and have one of the taxis wait for
you--T. and P. wharf, foot of Thalia Street, you know."

That was how it came about that I was left alone to wrestle with the
baggage-masters and the transfer people, and after I had seen the last
truck-load of steamer trunks sorted, tarpaulined, and started on its
way over town, I returned to the cab rank and found my taxi awaiting
me, as Van Dyck had promised.

It was not until I was climbing into the covered cab that I discovered
that it was already occupied. As I ducked for shelter from the rain,
which was now falling smartly, a voice that I should have recognized
if I had heard it on another planet said, "I hope you found my little
green trunk with the others. It has all my dinner gowns in it."

"Conetta!" I gasped; and then I saw what Van Dyck had done, either with
malice aforethought or in sheer heedlessness. In the taxicab loading
there had been an overflow of one, and Conetta Kincaide had been left
behind to share the waiting vehicle with me.

"You--you knew this was my cab?" I stammered, after I had accumulated
wit enough to shut the door and tell the driver to go on.

"Of course. Bonteck put me in and said you'd be along in a few minutes;
that you'd gone to look after the baggage. How do you happen to be
here with Bonteck?"

"That," I evaded, "is a rather tedious story. Later on you may have
it for what it is worth, if you still care to hear it. Excuse me a
moment," and I leaned forward and stuck my head through the open window
at the taxi-driver's ear to whisper: "Take your time, and don't bother
to make any short cuts."

"What was that you were saying to the man?" was the question I had to
answer after I had fallen back into the seat beside the possessor of
the cool voice and self-contained manner.

"I was telling him he needn't hurry," I confessed brazenly. "In a few
minutes you will be one of the crowd again, and there are three years
to be bridged, in some fashion, in those few minutes."

I felt, rather than heard, her little gasp of dismay.

"Do you mean to say that--that you are going along in the _Andromeda_?"
she asked faintly.

"It is even so--more is the pity. I had committed myself to Bonteck, in
a way, before I knew the names on his passenger list."

"And if you had known, you would have refused?"

"I don't know. Most likely I should; and not altogether out of
consideration for you. You see, I am quite frank."

"You are; most refreshingly frank. One might have hoped that time,
and--and----"

----"And absence and new fields and faces, and all that, would make
me forget," I finished for her. "Unhappily, they haven't. But that is
neither here nor there. Though I have kept pretty well out of the
civilized world for the past three years, there has been a word now and
then from home. Tell me plainly, Connie--how much does Jerry Dupuyster
know?"

"He knows that three years ago we were engaged to be married, you and
I." The cool voice trembled a little, but it was still well under
control.

"That is better," I commented with a sigh of relief; and it was better
because, if Jerry hadn't known, there would have been chances for
hideous complications on the proposed cruise of the _Andromeda_, or at
least, in some inchoate way, I felt there would. "Does Jerry know why
it was broken off?" I went on.

"He thinks he does."

"Which is to say that he accepts your Aunt Mehitable's version of it;
the one she published broadcast among our friends--that, without any
cause assigned, we simply agreed to disagree?"

"I suppose so."

Silence for a square or so, broken only by the drumming of the taxi's
motor. Then I took the bull by the horns.

"Shall I tell Bonteck that, for reasons which I don't care to explain,
I shall have to drop out of this badly mixed ship's company of his?"

The cool voice had fully regained its even tones when she said: "Why
should you?"

"There is no 'why' unless you care to interpose one of your own making.
But I should think, with Jerry Dupuyster along----"

"The _Andromeda_ is a reasonably roomy little ship," was the calm
retort. "And, besides, there are enough of us to afford protection--the
protection of a crowd. If you have promised Bonteck, you can hardly
break with him at the last moment, can you?"

"You don't care, then?"

"Why should I care? What is done is done, and can't be helped. Aunt
Mehitable thinks I ought to marry; I suppose she thinks I owe it to her
to marry and set up an establishment of my own. Perhaps I do owe it to
her. I've been a charge upon her generosity all my life."

"So you are going to marry Jerry Dupuyster, a lisping club-lizard
who apes the English so hard that he forgets that he has a string of
American ancestors as long as your arm?" I flamed out.

"Well, if I am, what is it to you, Dick Preble? Or to any one else
besides Jerry and me? Also, I might ask what right I have given you to
put me upon the rack?"

"None; none whatever," I admitted gloomily. "Still, I have a right,
of a sort--the right of the first man. You seem conveniently and
successfully to have forgotten. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to
forget, though I have tried all of the customary antidotes."

"Other women?" she asked, with the faintest possible touch of malice.

I was resentful enough to meet her baldly upon her own ground.

"There was a young woman in Venezuela; a pure Castilian, with the blood
of kings in her veins. I could have married her."

"Why didn't you?" she asked sweetly.

"I have wished many times that I had. I wonder if you can understand if
I say that I was afraid?"

"Mr. Kipling says that we can't understand--that we can never
understand. But I think I know what you mean. You may have been
Adam--the first man, again--for her; but she wasn't, and never could
be, Eve--the first woman--for you. Was that it?"

The taxi was finally approaching the quarter of the city in which our
wharf lay. There were other things to be said, and they had to be said
hurriedly.

"Let us get things straightened out--before the crowd messes in," I
said. "Three years ago we were engaged to be married. One day I was
obliged to tell your Aunt Mehitable that the comfortable fortune my
father had left me had been swallowed up in an exhausted Colorado gold
mine, and that I'd have to go to work for a living. She then told
me--with what seemed to me to be unnecessary spitefulness--that her
will was made in favor of some charitable institution, and since you
would thus be left penniless, it was up to me to set you free and give
you a chance to marry somebody who could provide for you. Am I stating
it clearly?"

"Clearly enough."

"Then she went on to say that the news of my misfortune had preceded
me; that you had already been told all there was to tell; and that it
would be a kindness to you if I should agree not to see you again."

"And you did me the kindness," she put in calmly. "I ought to be
thankful for that. Perhaps I am thankful."

"I was furious," I confessed. "If you will permit me to say it this
long after the fact, your aunt carries a vicious tongue in her head,
and she didn't spare me. Also, I'll admit that my own temper isn't
exactly patient or forgiving. It was the next morning that I had the
chance to go to South America thrust at me, and the ship was sailing at
noon. I left a letter for you and disappeared over the horizon."

"Yes," she replied in the same even tone; "I got the letter."

"That brings us down to date," I went on, as the taxi drew up at the
wharf. "The next thing is the _modus vivendi_--the way we must live
for the next few weeks. You say that Jerry knows that we were once
engaged. If he is half a man, there will be plenty of chances for
misunderstanding and trouble. We must agree to be decently quarrelsome."

"You have begun it beautifully," she said, with a hard little
laugh. "Admitting your premises, what will Jerry think of this taxi
drive--without a chaperon?"

"Jerry will never know that you came over with me--unless you tell him."

"Aunt Mehitable can tell him," she retorted, again with the touch of
malice in her voice.

"But, for the sake of Major Terwilliger's money, she won't tell
him," I ventured drily; and a moment later I was handing her up the
_Andromeda's_ accommodation ladder with a sharper misery in my heart
than I had suffered since the night three years in the past when her
dragoness aunt had goaded me into effacing myself.

There was a pleasant bustle of impending departure already going on
aboard the yacht when we reached the deck. Most of the women--all
of them, in fact, save the youngest of the Van Tromp trio and
Annette Grey--had gone to their several staterooms, and the men were
scattered--"dotted" was Conetta's word--here and there, apparently
trying to find themselves, like so many cats in a strange garret.

"You will go below?" I said to Conetta when I had shown her the way aft.

"Yes; and by myself, if you please." Then, with a quick turn of the
proud little head, and a look in the slate-blue eyes that was far
beyond any man's fathoming: "Good-night, Dick, and good-by. Perhaps our
quarrel would better begin right here and now." And with that she was
gone.

It was possibly five minutes later that I met Grey, the newly married,
roving in search of his mate.

"Annette?" he queried. "Have you seen her anywhere, Preble?"

"She is with Edie Van Tromp on the bridge," I told him. Then I linked
an arm in his and drew him to the shoreward rail, saying: "Don't rush
off. Throw that vile cigar away and light a fresh one, and tell me how
the New York law partnership is getting along. Remember, there are some
weeks ahead of you in which you won't be able to get any farther away
from Annette than the length of the _Andromeda_--no matter how badly
you may want to."

The married lover twisted his arm out of mine and dropped the stub of
his cigar over the rail.

"Preble, you're a brute," he remarked, quite conversationally. And then
he added: "By Jove, don't you know, I wouldn't be a bachelor again for
the shiniest million that was ever minted! I didn't realize, until
within the last few weeks, what a crabbed, dog-in-the-manger beggar it
would make of a man."

"Thanks," I laughed. "Experience counts for something, even if it is
short and pretty recent, as you might say. Where is the major?"

Grey clipped the end of the fresh cigar I had given him and lighted it.
He was sparing me a few moments merely to show me that it was possible
for him to stay that long out of sight and sound of the loved one.

"The major is in a class by himself, as you ought to know if you've
preserved any fragment of memory, Preble. He is down in the yacht's
smoking-room, hobnobbing with a glass of hot brandy and soda, and
finishing a novel that he has been reading all the way down from
Chattanooga. Think of it--hot toddy in this weather!"

"A veteran--even a Spanish War Veteran--has to do something to
individualize himself," I jested; and then Grey took his turn at me.

"You are a veteran yourself, Richard--of a sort. They tell me you have
been knocking around here in the tropics so long that you've forgotten
all the little decent and civilized ameliorations. Why don't you marry
and settle down?"

I laughed.

"Go up yonder on the bridge and ask Annette why some men marry and some
don't; she'll tell you," I said; and he promptly took me at my word, at
least so far as leaving me was concerned.

A short time after this, just after I had identified the two smokers in
the wicker lounging chairs under the afterdeck awning as Ingerson and
Madeleine Barclay's father, the last truck-load of trunks came. While
the baggage was going into the _Andromeda's_ forehold, Dupuyster,
looking more English than any Briton to the manner born, came lounging
aft and greeted me chirpingly.

"'Lo, old chappie; dashed glad to know you're comin' along, what? Bonty
was just tellin' me he'd scragged you for the voyage. Topping, I'll
say."

"Topping, if you say so, Jerry. How long have you been over?"

"Eh, what?--how long have I been over? I say, old dear--that's a jolly
good one, y' know. But tell me; where is this bally old tub of Bonty's
goin' to sail for? Bonty won't tell us. He's as mysterious about it
as--as----"

Realizing that he was feeling around in his ultra-British vocabulary
for a fitting Anglo-maniacal simile, I helped him out.

"As a bag of tricks, let us say. I don't know, any more than you do,
Jerry. Summer seas in midwinter, and all that, I suppose. What do we
care?"

"Haw! dashed little, so long as the _Andromeda's_ well found in the
provision lockers: eh? what? And Bonty will have seen to that." Then:
"I've been lookin' about a bit for Conetta. Did she come aboard with
you?"

I nodded. "She has gone to her stateroom, I believe."

The young man whose chief end in life seemed to be to out-English the
English lighted a cigarette and lounged on farther aft. I followed the
movements of his white-flanneled figure with the gaze speculative.
Quite as truly as in the case of Bonteck Van Dyck--though in a vastly
different manner--here was a "perfectly good cat, spoiled." I had
known Jerry Dupuyster quite intimately in the university days; known
him for a lovable fellow with rather more, than less, than his fair
allowance of brains and ability. But something, either the bait of the
major's hypothetical fortune, or too much idleness--or both--had turned
him into ... the speculative train paused. I didn't know what the
compelling influences had turned Jerry Dupuyster into, but whatever it
might be, it seemed too trivial to warrant the effort needful to try to
define it.

Sauntering forward on the starboard promenade I saw that Grey had
joined his wife and Edie Van Tromp on the bridge, and that Van Dyck and
a lean, hatchet-faced man whom I took to be the yacht's sailing-master,
were with them. While I looked on, Goff, the sailing-master, came down
to the rail to direct the stowing of the last load of luggage through
the open port below. Like some other things in this Caribbean cruise
entourage, this man Goff was a new wrinkle, and a rather astounding
one. Hitherto--at least in my knowing of them--the _Andromeda's_
skippers had been of the Atlantic-liner class, spick and span martinets
in natty uniform, with fine, quarter-deck manners, and maintaining a
discipline comparable only to that of the Navy.

But Goff was at the other end of the gamut of extremes; a gaunt,
hard-bitted old Yankee fishing-smack captain, if appearances counted
for anything; hungry-looking, lank and weather-beaten, with a harsh
voice and a bad eye. And to emphasize the oddities, the sailormen he
was directing seemed to be all foreigners; another sea change sharply
opposed to Van Dyck's former notions about manning his yacht.

As it appeared, there was to be no loss of time in the outsetting.
While the trunks were still tumbling into the hold baggage-room,
a subdued clamor came up from the fire hold, and the yacht's twin
funnels began to echo to the roar of the stirred fires. A minute later
the lower-river pilot, a hairy-faced giant who might have taken the
heavy villain's part in comic opera, climbed aboard. With a bare nod
to the sailing-master, the giant ascended to the bridge, and almost
immediately the yacht's searchlight blazed out, the order to cast off
was given, and the trim white hull, shuddering to the thrust of its
propellers, edged away into the brown flood of the Mississippi, and
made a majestic half-circle in midstream to pass the lights of the city
in review as it was headed for the Gulf.

Dodging the pair of smokers under the after-deck awning, I went around
to the port promenade, where I stumbled upon Billy Grisdale sitting
alone with his bull pup between his knees.

"Hello, Prebby," he said, much as if it had been only three days
instead of as many years since he had come down to the East River pier,
a fresh-faced prep. school-boy, to see me off for the tropics. "Come
over here and sit down and give me a smoke." And when I had done all
three: "Rum old go, isn't it? If I wasn't such an ass about carrying
a tune, I'd be warbling 'My native land, good-night.' Got your life
insured?"

"I'm an orphan and a bachelor; why should I carry insurance, Billy?" I
said, laughing at his doleful humor.

"I don't know. Guess I've got a bad case of the hyps. Can't think of
anything but that bloody-bones jingle of Stevenson's:

    'Fifteen men on a dead man's chest,
     Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of rum!'

Teck Van Dyck's a pirate. He's gone daffy over something, and we're all
going to heaven in a hand-basket."

Of course this was all froth; pure froth. But there was usually a
little clear liquor in the bottom of Billy's stein.

"What ails you?" I asked.

An impish grin spread itself over his smooth, boyish face.

"I'm in love, if anybody should ask you. Everything looks green to me,
and I want to chew slate-pencils. _Ergo_--which is college slang for
'Ah, there, stay there'--I'm as daffy as Teck. Don't laugh or I'll set
Tige on you. Say, Prebby, do I look like an invalid?"

"Yes; about as much as Mr. John Sullivan did when he carried the world
heavy-weight wallop in his good right hand."

"Yet I am an invalid. Doc Fanning says I am, and he's like George
Washington. He might lie if he could, but he can't because he's lost
the combination."

"What on earth are you gibbering about, Billy?"

"Facts; iron-clad, brass-bound, blown-in-the-bottle,
sold-only-in-the-original-package facts. Fanning's the family
physician, you know, and he has gone on record as declaring that I need
half a winter off in a mild climate. And I don't know to this good
minute whether I succeeded in fooling him, or whether he was just plain
good-natured enough to size the thing up and fool the governor--I
don't, really, Prebby."

"But why?" I persisted.

"The 'why' is a girl, of course; you ought to know that without being
told. She's a lulu and a charmer, and if I can't marry her I'll end it
all with a bare bodkin. Her name? I'm going to tell you, Prebby; and,
again, if you laugh, I'll make Tige bite you. It's Edith."

"Not Edie Van Tromp!"

"Prebby, you're the one only and original wizard. You could make your
fortune if you should set up as a guesser."

"Ye gods and little children!" I commented. "Edie Van Tromp is
eighteen, if I remember correctly; and you are----"

"I was twenty a few days ago, if you don't mind," he returned, tickling
the cropped ears of the bull pup. And then: "'Crazy,' you say? Maybe
so--quite likely so. I've got to keep the pace, you know. This little
ship's full of crazy people. I'm crazy about Edie, and, if you listen
to what you hear, Jerry Dupuyster's crazy about Conetta Kincaide--just
like you used to be--and Jack Grey's crazy about his Annette, and
Ingerson and Teck are both crazy about Madeleine Barclay. So there you
are. And if the wind gets around into the sour east, Teck's going to
sink the ship in the deep-blue Caribbean, and drown us all--all but
Madeleine--and live happily ever after. Apropos of nothing at all,
Prebby, this is a rotten cigar you gave me, and I'm all mussed up and
discouraged. What's that bell clanging about?"

"It is striking five bells in the first night watch--otherwise, or
landsman-wise, half-past ten o'clock."

"Good!--excellent good. Let's turn in, so we can turn out bright and
early for our first shot at the blue water. What do you say?"

I said the required word, and we went below to our respective
staterooms. The next morning when I turned out and drew aside the
curtain shading the stateroom port light, the sun was shining brightly,
and for a horizon there were only the tumbling wavelets of the Gulf of
Mexico.



III

THE MAJOR--AND OTHERS


THE first morning in blue water developed the fact that breakfast
on the _Andromeda_ was destined to be a broken meal. In the
white-lacquered dining-saloon, only three members of the ship's
company, Major Terwilliger, Madeleine Barclay's father, and Professor
Sanford were at table, though Van Dyck and Billy Grisdale had been
still earlier, had already breakfasted and had gone on deck.

As I took my place, the major, affecting the bluff heartiness which
was merely a mask for an ease-loving, self-centered habit which
never for a moment lost sight of the creature comforts, was trying,
quite ineffectually, to draw Sanford into a discussion of the merits
and demerits of certain French liqueurs--a subject upon which the
clean-living, abstemious professor of mathematics was as poorly
informed as any anchorite of the desert.

"Vermuth, now; a dash of vermuth in your morning bitters," the major
expatiated; "there's nothing like it for an appetiser. I'm not saying
anything against the modern cocktail, properly compounded; it has
its place. But for a morning eye-opener it is crude. Believe me, a
Frenchman knows the meaning of the word _apéritif_ much better than we
do."

"Yes?" said the professor, with a palpable effort to galvanize an
interest which he was evidently far from feeling.

"Quite so," declared the major; after which he proceeded to enlarge
upon American backwardness in the matter of picking and choosing among
the potables, inveighing with all the warmth of a past master in the
art of good living against the barbarism of taking one's liquor raw.

While the major was giving his alcoholic homily, and not omitting,
meanwhile, to keep his plate well supplied with the crispest bits of
bacon and the hottest of the rolls, I had an opportunity to observe the
silent man whose place was opposite my own. Holly Barclay had changed
greatly in the three years which had elapsed since I had last seen him
in New York. I never knew--I do not yet know--what particular form his
dissipation took, but it had left its indubitable record in the haggard
face, the deep-sunken eyes, and in the womanish hands which trembled a
bit in spite of an evident effort to hold them steady.

Fragmentary gossip of former days had said that Holly Barclay's bane
was women; other whispers had it that it was the gaming table; still
others that it was the larger gaming table of the Street. Whatever
it was, it had apparently left him a rather ghastly wreck of a man;
a prey, not to remorse, perhaps, but certainly to fear. And with the
fear in the deep-set eyes there was a hint of childish petulance; the
irritable humor of a man who has fought a losing battle with life and
expects to be waited upon and coddled as a reward for his defeat and
humiliation.

It was a relief to turn from this haggard wreck, and from the
sham-hearty major, to the mild-eyed professor. Sanford I had known in
the university, and a less self-conscious or more lovable man never
lived. Deeply immersed in the natural sciences, which were his hobby,
and absent-minded at times to a degree that put to shame the best
efforts of the college-professor-joke makers, he was nevertheless the
most human of men; a faculty member whose door was always hospitably
open to the homesick Freshman, and whose influence for good in the
lush field of the college campus was second only to that of his
plain-featured, motherly wife.

"Ah, yes," he was saying, in answer to the major's eulogy of chartreuse
as a cordial, "it is said to be a distillation from the leaves of
_Urtica pilulifera_, the much-abused nettle, I believe. Those old
Alpine monks had a wonderful knowledge of the scanty flora of the high
altitudes where they built their monasteries. Which reminds me: I hope
Bonteck will give us an opportunity to study some of the remarkable
plant forms peculiar to the tropics before we return. It would be most
enlightening to a stay-at-home like myself."

The major's facial expression was that of a person who has been
basely betrayed into casting pearls before swine. That any one could
be so benighted as to associate a divine cordial only with the crude
materials out of which it might be made was quite beyond his powers of
comprehension.

"Hum," he muttered, "I've always understood that the process of
chartreuse-making was a secret that was most jealously guarded." And
with that he let the pearl casting stop abruptly.

Here was a striking example, one would say, of the ill-assortment
of our mixed ship's company manifesting itself at the introductory
breakfast at sea. Throughout the meal Barclay said nothing to any of
us. His few remarks were addressed to the serving steward, and they
were all in the nature of complaints. His coffee was too weak, the
bacon was too crisp, the cold meats were underdone. What with the
gourmet appetite of the major, and Barclay's apparent lack of any
appetite at all, the broken meal was anything but a feast of reason
and a flow of soul, and I was glad to break away to the freedom of the
decks.

Finding the after-deck untenanted, I strolled forward. The _Andromeda_
was loafing along over a sea as calm as a mill-pond, and her course,
as nearly as I could guess it from the position of the sun, was a
little to the east of south. Van Dyck and Billy Grisdale were on the
bridge, and one of the foreign-looking sailormen had the wheel. On the
main-deck forward three members of the crew were swabbing down, and
two others were polishing brass. As I paused at the rail in the shadow
of the bridge overhang, Goff, the sailing-master, came stumping along.
Though no one had as yet told me that he was a Gloucesterman, I took a
shot at it.

"This is not much like cracking on with a schooner for the Banks, is
it, Captain?" was the form the shot took; and the grizzled veteran of
the sea stopped and looked me over with an eye militantly appraisive.

"What you know about the Banks?" he inquired hostilely.

"Little enough," I admitted. "One trip, made when I was a boy, in the
schooner _Maria Ann_, of Gloucester, Captain Standifer."

"I want to know!" he said, thawing perceptibly. "Old _Maria Ann's_
afloat yit, but Standifer's gone; run down in a dory in a fog." Then,
lowering his voice: "You don't belong to this New York clanjamfry, do
ye?"

"Not strictly speaking; I signed on in New Orleans."

"Know these waters putty middlin' well?"

"I've sailed them a few times."

"Friend o' Cap'n Van Dyck's, I cal'late?"

"As good a friend as he has on earth, I hope."

At this the old sea dog thrust an arm in mine and led me aft until we
were out of earshot from the bridge.

"What d' ye know about this here winter cruise?" He fired the question
at me belligerently.

"About its course and destination? Little or much, as you choose to put
it. What should I know?"

He paid no attention to my question.

"Cap'n Van Dyck's all right, only he's too dum hardheaded," he
confided. "Picked up his 'tween-decks lackeys in New York an' Havana.
Don't like the looks o' some on 'em. If you're a friend of the Cap'n's,
you keep a weather eye on that slick lookin' yaller boy that waits on
table in the dinin'-saloon."

"How am I to keep an eye on him?" I asked.

"When you're eatin' with the folks, you keep 'em from talkin' about
things that yaller boy hadn't ought to hear," he bit out, and with that
he left me.

Here was a little mystery on our first day at sea. What was it, in
particular, that the mulatto serving boy shouldn't hear? My mind went
back to the talk of the previous evening, across the table in the
dining-room of the New Orleans hotel. Now that I came to analyze it,
I realized that it had been only cursorily explanatory on Van Dyck's
part. While he seemed at the time to be perfectly frank with me, it
occurred to me now that I had all along been conscious of certain
reservations. A winter cruise in the Caribbean; for the ship's company
a gathering of people whom he had threatened to know better before the
cruise ended; these were about the only definite objects he had set
forth.

But two things were pretty plainly evident. Goff was deeper in Van
Dyck's confidence than I was; and, beyond this, the sailing-master was
making the mistake of thinking that I knew as much as he did. It was no
great matter, I thought. If the mulatto under-steward needed watching,
I'd watch him, trusting to the future to reveal the reason--if any
there were--why he should be watched.

Making my way to the awning-sheltered after-deck lounge, which was
still untenanted, I picked out the easiest of the wicker chairs and
sat down to fill my pipe for an after-breakfast smoke. Before the pipe
had burned out, Ingerson put in his appearance, lighting a black cigar
as he came up the cabin stair. If I had been free to select, he was
the last man in our curious assortment whom I should have chosen as a
tobacco companion, but short of a pointed retreat to some other part of
the ship, there was no escape.

"Hello, Preble," he grunted, casting his gross body into a chair.
"Monopolizing the view, are you? Seen anything of Madeleine?"

"Miss Barclay hadn't appeared when I breakfasted," I returned; and if I
bore down a bit hard on the courtesy prefix it was because I hated to
hear Madeleine's Christian name come so glibly off his tongue.

"How many days of this are we in for?" was his next attempt.

"That, I suppose, will be left to the wishes of the ship's company."

"All right," he grinned; "I guess I can stand it as long as Van Dyck
can."

I stole a glance aside at his heavy featured, half-bestial face. It was
the face of a man prematurely aged, or aging, by the simple process of
giving free rein to his passions and appetites. Though he couldn't have
been more than thirty-two or three, the telltale pouches were already
forming under the bibulous eyes. Though I suppose he was fresh from his
morning bath, I fancied I could detect the aroma of many and prolonged
midnight carousals about him. Van Dyck's intimation that there was
even a possibility of Madeleine Barclay's throwing herself away upon
this gross piece of flesh came back to me with a tingling shock of
repugnance. Surely she would never do such a thing of her own free will.

We had been sitting in uncomradely silence for maybe five minutes
when Mrs. Van Tromp, mother of marriageable, and as yet unmarried,
daughters came waddling aft to join us. How far she might go in letting
Ingerson's wealth atone for his many sins, I neither knew nor cared,
but that the wealth had its due and proper weight with her was proved
by the alacrity with which she relieved me of the necessity of taking
any part in a three-cornered talk. So, when I got up to empty my pipe
ashes over the rail, I kept on going, quite willingly abandoning the
field to inherited money and its avid worshiper.

With such an unfruitful beginning, one might predicate an
introductory day little less than stupefying. But later on there
were ameliorations. After luncheon, which, like the breakfast, was a
straggling meal with only three or four of us at table at the same
time, I found myself lounging on the port promenade with Beatrice, the
middle member of the Van Tromp trio, a fair-haired, self-contained
young woman with a slant toward bookish things which set her well apart
from her athletic older sister and tomboyish younger.

"'Westward Ho!'?" I said, glancing at the title of the book lying in
her lap.

"Yes; I've been trying to get the atmosphere. But Kingsley takes too
much time with his introductions. Whereabouts are we now?"

I marked the slow rise and fall of the ship as it swung along making
its leisurely southing. As in the early morning, the _Andromeda_ was
logging only loafing speed.

"We are still a long way from the scene of Sir Francis Drake's more or
less piratical exploits," I told her. "Do you take Kingsley at his face
value?"

"He calls it war, but it seems to me more like legalized buccaneering,"
she rejoined. Then: "How much of it do you suppose is true?"

I laughed.

"Have you already learned to distrust history, at your tender age?" I
mocked. "Isn't it all set down in the books?"

She turned large and disparaging eyes upon me.

"Of course you know well enough that all history is distorted;
especially war history where the victors are the only source of
information. The other people can't tell their side of it."

"True enough," I admitted. "I fancy old Sir Francis was a good bit
more than half a pirate, if all the facts were known. That story about
his burning of the Spanish galleon at Pirates' Hope, for example."

"I haven't heard it. Tell it to me," she urged.

I gave her the story as Van Dyck had given it to me, omitting--for no
good reason that I could have offered--all mention of my own unnerving
experiences on the island of the legend.

"Left those poor wretches to starve because they wouldn't buy their
lives off him?" she commented, with a belated horror in her voice.

"It is only a legend, you must remember," I hastened to say. "Most
likely there isn't a word of truth in it."

Her gaze was upon the distant merging line of sea and sky, and there
was a dreamy look in her eyes.

"I should like to see that island," she said. "I wonder if we shall go
anywhere near it?"

If I smiled it was only at the hold the ancient tale had apparently
taken upon her.

"Bonteck will doubtless make it a port of call, if you ask him to. But
it is hundreds of miles from here."

"What does it look like?"

"Very much like any or all of the coral islands you may have seen
pictured in your school geographies, only it is long and narrow instead
of being circular, like the Pacific atolls. But it is a true coral
island, for all that; a strip of land possibly a quarter of a mile wide
and a mile long, densely wooded--jungled, you might say--with tropical
vegetation; a beach of white sand running all the way around; beyond
the beach, a lagoon; and enclosing the lagoon, and with only a few
passages through it here and there, the usual coral reef. The lagoon is
shallow for the greater part of it, but outside of the reef the bottom
goes down like the side of a mountain."

"Why, you must have seen the island!" she said.

"I have," I answered, rather grimly.

"Did you land on it when you were there?--but of course you must have,
to be able to describe it so well."

"Oh, yes; I landed upon it," I admitted.

Again she let her gaze go adrift to leeward. She was evidently reveling
in something that seemed to her more tangible than Kingsley's famous
story of Amyas Leigh and his voyagings.

"You say it is called Pirates' Hope. Was that on account of Sir Francis
Drake's battle with the Spanish galleon?"

"Oh, no; I imagine it got its name at a much later date; in the time of
the bold buccaneers. There are two little bays, one on the north and
another on the south. Either would be a good place in which to careen
the little cockleshell ships of our ancestors and scrape their bottoms.
Possibly Morgan or some of the others put in there for that purpose and
thus gave the island its name."

"Did you find any relics when you were there?"

It didn't seem necessary to tell this open-minded young woman about the
bones, so I turned her question aside.

"The last of the buccaneers was permanently hanged some time in the
closing decade of the seventeenth century, if I remember rightly. You'd
scarcely expect to find any traces of them or their works now."

"No; that's so," she conceded.

Into the pause that followed I thrust a query of my own.

"Where has Conetta been keeping herself all day?"

"She is with her aunt. It seems that Miss Gilmore isn't a very good
sailor."

I laughed because I couldn't help it. If the dragoness was upset by the
easy swinging of the _Andromeda_ over a sea that was more like a gently
undulating mirror than anything else, what would happen to her if we
should encounter a gale, or even half a gale?

"You needn't laugh," Beatrice put in reproachfully. "There is nothing
funny about seasickness."

"I was laughing at the idea of anybody's being seasick in weather like
the present," I explained. "But I fancy it is the old story in the case
of Miss Mehitable. If she had nothing worse than a toothache, Conetta
would have to play the part of a nurse."

"My-oh!" said my pretty lounging-companion; "it is perfectly easy to
see that there is no love lost between you and Miss Mehitable."

"There isn't," I replied shortly; and there that matter rested.

Still later in the day--just at sunset, to be strictly accurate as
to the time--there was another compensation for a day which had been
hanging rather heavily on my hands. I had gone alone into the yacht's
fore-peak, and was wondering if I should have time to smoke another
pipe before the dinner call should sound, when a mocking voice behind
me said: "Isn't it about time we were quarreling some more?"

I went on filling my pipe without looking around.

"You've been careful not to give me an earlier chance," I said. "How is
your Aunt Mehitable by this time?"

"She is able to sit up and take a bit of nourishment." Then: "How you
do hate poor Aunt Mehitable, don't you?"

"As I see it, I haven't any particularly good reason to squander any
part of my scanty store of affection upon her. Did she know I was going
to make one of this mixed-up ship's-quota?"

"Honestly, I don't think she did. She said a tremendous lot of things
last night when she saw you with Bonteck. Aren't you going to be decent
to her?"

"She is Bonteck's guest, or one of them, and I'm another. South
America and the tropics haven't sacked me of quite all of the
conventionalities."

"How nice! Of course, we've all been supposing they had. When are you
going to tell me some more about the Castilian princess? the one you
could have married, and didn't--to your later sorrow."

Strange as it may seem, all this light-hearted mockery cut into me
much more deeply than any real bitterness could have. Because, let me
explain, it was precisely the attitude she used to hold toward me in
the old days when the mockeries were only so many love taps, as one
might say; a sort of joyous letting down, or keying up, for her, after
a day-long immurement with a crotchety, sharp-tongued maiden aunt.

"I've told you all there is to tell," I said, as gruffly as I could.

"Oh, dear, no; I'm sure you haven't. Was she--is she--very beautiful?
But of course she must be; luminous dark eyes burning with--er--with
all sorts of things; midnight hair; an olive skin so clear and
transparent that you can almost see through it; little aristocratic
hands--blue-blooded hands; and a figure ... tell me, is she large and
queenly? or petite and child-like?"

I laughed derisively.

"You seem to have forgotten that not all Spaniards are black. There are
some among them as fair as you are. The 'princess,' as you call her,
has hair about the color of yours, and her eyes are blue, even bluer
than yours. But I don't see what interest you can have in her. I didn't
marry her."

"But you may go back there--wherever it is--and correct that dreadful
mistake."

"In that case I should first be obliged to murder her present husband.
Perhaps I omitted to tell you last night that she was very successfully
married to a wealthy young coffee planter, just before I left Trujillo."

"Well, you wouldn't let a little thing like that stop you if you wanted
to go back, would you?"

"Oh, no; certainly not. Don Jesus Maria Diego de Traviano would
probably do the stopping act--with a soft-nosed bullet. He is a crack
shot with a Mauser, as I happen to know."

"Poor you!" she murmured. Then, with the lightning-like change of front
which had been one of her chief attractions--for me--in the old days:
"Why don't you quarrel?--say something that I'll have to get mad and
bitter at?"

I turned to face her and the sheer beauty of her shook me. Yet I did
contrive to strike back, after a fashion.

"The voyage is yet young. There will doubtless be many quarrelsome
occasions. Just now I don't think of anything more vital than this:
if you are meaning to keep Jerry Dupuyster in hand, you are going the
wrong way about it. If you seem to prefer my company to his, I have an
idea that he would be just Quixotic enough to let you have your own
way."

"Thanks, awfully," she laughed, but behind the laugh the slate-blue
eyes were saying things out of a very different vocabulary. "That will
do very nicely for a beginning. I suppose I shall have to give Jerry a
few lessons in the proper reactions. Isn't that the tinkle-tinkle of
the dinner gong?"

It was; and a few minutes later our ship's company, lacking only Miss
Mehitable, who was still confined to her stateroom, gathered for the
first time as a whole around the long table in the dining-saloon of
the _Andromeda_. And in the seating I took blessed good care to have
Beatrice Van Tromp on my left and motherly Mrs. Sanford for a bulwark
on my right.



IV

THE LOG OF THE ANDROMEDA


DURING the first few days of our southward voyaging the routine on
board fell easily into the rut predicted by Van Dyck in the talk across
the dinner-table in the New Orleans hotel; three meals a day, a good
bit of more or less listless lounging under the awnings between times,
and rather half-hearted battles with the cards in the evenings.

Day after day we had the same cloudless skies, and the same gentle
breeze quartering over the port bow; and each morning there was
apparently the same school of porpoises tumbling in the swell under
the yacht's forefoot. Marking the course, I saw little change in it
from day to day. We were still steering either south or a few points
east of south, and if Van Dyck had any intention of touching at any of
the Central American ports, the telltale compass in the ceiling of the
dining-saloon did not indicate it.

Of the growth of Bonteck's cynical scheme of human analysis there were
as yet no signs visible to the casual bystander. Mrs. Eager Van Tromp
and Conetta's dragoness aunt sat in the shade of the after-deck awning,
reading novels, and fanning themselves in moments when the breeze
failed; and the Van Tromp trio, sometimes with Conetta and Madeleine
Barclay, and always with Billy Grisdale and his bull pup, when they
were not pointedly driven away, roamed the ship from bow to stern,
and from bridge to engine-room. The Greys, prolonging their honeymoon,
hid themselves in out-of-the way corners like a pair of lovers; and
the Sanfords, serenely enjoying their first real vacation, could be
stumbled upon now and then--so Billy Grisdale averred--holding hands
quite like the younger pair.

As for the men, candor compels the admission that the deadly blight of
_ennui_ seemed to be slowly settling down upon at least four of us. Van
Dyck, though scrupulously careful of his responsibilities as host, was
anything but good company when he was off duty. The major and Holly
Barclay, with Ingerson and anybody who could be dragooned into taking a
fourth hand, played cards hours on end in the yacht's smoking-room; for
nominal stakes, John Grey hinted, when neither Ingerson nor Van Dyck
was sitting in, but with the sky for the limit when either of the two
really rich men was present and betting.

The second time Grey mentioned this I thought it might be well to dig a
little deeper.

"You are Bonteck's guest, Jack, and so am I," I said bluntly. "Are you
making charges?"

"Not me," returned the married lover, with a lapse into prematrimonial
carelessness of speech. And then, after a reflective moment, "But for
that matter, I don't have to make them, Preble. Everybody buys wisdom
of the major now and then over the card table. It has come to be a
proverb, back home. For a supposedly rich man he plays a mighty thrifty
game--and that remark is not original with me, not by a long shot."

"Possibly the major is saving his money for Gerald," I suggested, more
to see what Grey would say than for any other reason.

Grey's slow wink was more expressive than many words.

"That worn-out joke doesn't fool you any more than it does me," he
asserted baldly. "You've never seen Major Terwilliger in his great and
unapproachable act of coupon-clipping, have you?"

I was obliged to admit that I had not.

"Well, neither has anyone else, I venture to say. He is a shrewd,
shifty old rounder, Preble; no more and no less. And there are men in
New York who will tell you that he sails pretty close to the wind a
good bit of the time--that he has to to save his face. It's a nasty
thing to say, but I more than half believe he is playing Gerald up to
Conetta for purely fiduciary reasons."

"But Conetta has no money," I protested.

"No; but Aunt Mehitable has--a barrel of it. And it will come to
Conetta, sooner or later--always provided Conetta marries to please
Aunt Mehitable."

Now this statement was not exactly in accordance with the facts, as I
knew them, or thought I knew them, and I said so.

"Miss Mehitable's will is already made, and I happen to know that her
money will not go to Conetta. It will be divided among a number of
charitable institutions."

We were on the starboard promenade forward, and Grey looked around as
if to make sure there were no overhearers.

"I'm going to breach a professional confidence and tell you something,
Preble, taking it for granted that it will go no farther. One day about
three years ago, while I was reading for my Bar examinations in the
office of Maxim, Townsend and Maxim, Miss Mehitable did make just such
a will as you mention; I know it because I made the transcript of it.
That will was left in the office safe, and something like a week later
she came back, asked for it, got it, and destroyed it. Then she had
Townsend draw another--which I also copied. That one, so far as I know,
is still in existence and unchanged. It leaves a few bequests to the
charity folk, and the bulk of the property to Conetta."

If Grey had drawn off and hit me in the face I could scarcely have
been more dumfounded. For some inscrutable--and wicked--reason of her
own, Aunt Mehitable had wanted to break our engagement, Conetta's and
mine, and the loss of my patrimony had given her an easy half of the
means. Upon hearing of my loss she had quickly supplied the other half
by making the will which she didn't mean to let stand--which she had
promptly destroyed as soon as I had been safely eliminated. The grim
irony of her expedient might have been amusing if I hadn't been so
angry. She might easily have lied to me about the disposition of her
property, but that would have been against her principles. To quiet
what she was probably calling her conscience, she had actually made the
will with which she had clubbed me to death; a will which she fully
intended to revoke, and did revoke--after I was out of the way.

How much or how little Grey suspected the turmoil he had stirred up in
me by his breach of office confidence I do not know, but he was good
enough to give me a chance to get back to normal, searching his pockets
for a cigar, and, when he had found one, turning his back to me--and
the breeze--while he lighted it.

"Do you think Miss Gilmore believes in the major's coupon clipping?" I
asked, after I had contrived to swallow the shock he had given me.

Again he let me see the slow wink.

"That is the farcical part of it. For a sharp-eyed, keen-witted maiden
lady who has made a good bit of real money buying and selling in the
Street, it is little less than wonderful. But it's a fact, Preble; she
_does_ believe in it. She lets the major write himself off at his own
valuation, and never dreams of asking to see a certified check. She
seems to regard Jerry Dupuyster as one of the few really desirable
matrimonial propositions on the market. That is why she is here--with
Conetta."

This last assertion of Grey's told me nothing that I had not
already set down as an obvious fact, but his gossipy talk afforded
a luminous commentary upon the manner in which an isolated group of
human beings will secrete all sorts of small uncharities, if the
isolation be only complete enough. These little incidents to the
contrary notwithstanding, however, I could not see that Van Dyck
was making much progress in his unmasking experiment. Up to this
time, and outwardly, at least, we were still only a party of winter
loiterers, pleasurers, decently grateful to our host and decently and
conventionally well-behaved. If there were any plots or conspiracies
of the money-hunting sort in the air, they were not suffered to become
unpleasantly obtrusive.

But for one member of the party I was conscious of a great and growing
contempt. In former days we of the younger set had known Holly Barclay
as a sort of reincarnation of the Beau Brummell type; an idler of the
clubs who lived upon his wife's money, and who was much too indolent to
be even manfully vicious. Good-looking, in a way, self-centered, and
even more finically careful for the creature comforts and luxuries than
Major Terwilliger, I remember it had seemed grossly incredible to us
younger folk that he could be the father of the thoughtful, high-minded
and convincingly beautiful young woman who paid him the compliment of
being his daughter.

From the beginning of the voyage Barclay's attitude had been
sufficiently apparent to me, or I thought it was. I decided that he
was somewhat anxiously weighing the pros and cons as between Van Dyck
and Ingerson in the matrimonial scale; weighing them strictly with
reference to the results as they might affect him, individually, and
quite without concern for his daughter's future happiness. That Bonteck
was a clean man and a gentleman, while his rival was everything that
Van Dyck was not, appeared to cut no figure.

It was hugely farcical, if one could but shut his eyes to the possible
tragedies involved. Holly Barclay had joined the _Andromeda's_ company
to dispose of his daughter. Ingerson had come as a cold-blooded buyer
to the market. Miss Mehitable was hoping to corner the major and
Gerald Dupuyster; and Mrs. Van Tromp, yielding precedence, of course,
to Barclay and his schemings, had come on the chance of dividing the
spoils, since one of the two chief matrimonial prizes would be left
after Madeleine--or rather Madeleine's father--had secured the other.

That Mrs. Van Tromp's armament was only a secondary battery might
have been denied by some. Alicia, the oldest of the trio, was, as
I may have said, an attractive young woman of the athletic type, a
rider to hounds, a champion swimmer, and a good comrade where men were
concerned. In the modern meaning of the term she was a man's woman,
with a sort of compelling charm that was all her own.

Beatrice, the second daughter, had, as has been noted, a bookish turn.
If she had chosen to study surgery she would have been a ruthless
vivisector. As a result of this inquiring bent, she had an astonishing,
and sometimes rather disconcerting, knowledge of things as they are.
But to offset the touch of the blue-stocking, she owned a pair of
long-lashed eyes that kindled quickly at any torch of sentiment, and
they were set in a face of uncommon sweetness--winsomeness, one would
say, if the word were not so desperately outworn.

Edith, for whose sake Billy Grisdale was cutting a good half of his
Sophomore year, was a replica, in rounder lines and easier curves, of
her sister Alicia. Having been carefully held back to give her older
sisters a clear field, she was still something of a tomboy, but her
very roughnesses were lovable, and Billy's callow folly found, it must
be admitted, its full and sufficient excuse in its object.

It was Edie Van Tromp, roaming the yacht like a restless bit of
misdirected energy, as was her custom, who came to fling herself into
the steamer chair next to mine; this in the afternoon of the day when
John Grey had given me still less cause to love Miss Mehitable Gilmore.

"I'm bored, Mr. Richard Preble--bored to extinction!" she gasped,
fanning herself with a vigor that was all her own. "Is nothing ever
going to happen on this tiresome ship?"

"There are things happening all the time, if we only have eyes to
perceive them," I told her, laughing. "In your own case, for example,
there is Billy Grisdale. To an interested and sympathetic onlooker
like myself it would seem that he is constantly happening in as many
different ways as he can devise."

"Oh, Billy--yes," she admitted, with pouting emphasis. Then, with a
great show of confidence: "Uncle Dick--I may call you Uncle Dick, if I
want to, mayn't I?--if you were only a little older and grayer I might
tell you something."

"Tell me anyhow," I urged. "I am old enough to be perfectly safe, don't
you think?"

"It's Billy, and you started it," she went on pertly. "That boy is
fairly worrying the life out of me. Positively, I'm getting the
dreadful habit of carrying my head on my shoulder. He--he's always just
there, you know, if I look around."

"Is that why you are bored?"

"I suppose it is; it must be. Nothing can ever come of it, of course.
Billy is nothing but just a handsome, good-natured, sweet-tempered
_boy_. It would be years and years, and then more years before----"

"So it would," I agreed. "And, besides, Billy has three brothers and
two sisters coming along, and Grisdale _père_ is only moderately
well-to-do, as fortunes go nowadays."

Instantly Miss Edith's straight-browed eyes flashed blue fire.

"Money--always and forever money!" she flamed out. "I haven't heard
anything else all my life! One would think that heaven itself was
paved with it and that the angels wear gold coins for charmstrings. I
_hate_ it!"

"Oh, no, you don't," I hastened to say. "It's a good, broad-backed
little beast, and you can always count upon it for carrying the load.
And Billy will probably have to make his own way, without even so much
as a loan of the little beast."

"I don't care! I think it is perfectly frightful the way we bow down
and kowtow to your beast--the great god Cash! I'd rather wash dishes
and make bread--for two!"

This seemed to be verging toward the edge of things serious. I knew
that Mrs. Van Tromp was suffering Billy only because he was so absurdly
young as to be supposedly harmless. But if Edith, the healthy-bodied
and strong-willed, were even beginning to take notice, there was
trouble ahead.

"We can none of us afford to defy the conventions, my dear girl," I
cautioned, taking the avuncular rôle she had tried to thrust upon me.
"And we mustn't let ourselves get into narrow little ruts. The play's
the thing, and we are only a part of the audience--you and I."

"The play?" she echoed doubtfully. "You mean the--the----"

"I mean the great human comedy, of course. It is going on all around
us, all the time."

"I don't get you," she said, in the free phrase which may have been her
own, or may have been a Billy Grisdale transplantation.

"You are too young and inexperienced," I asserted in mock gravity.
"Otherwise you could hardly have lived a week in the _Andromeda_
without realizing that the stage is set, with the call-boy making his
last hasty round, beating upon the doors of the dressing-rooms and
summoning the people of the play to come and take their places."

"I can't understand a word you say!" she protested petulantly. "Do you
mean Conetta and Jerry Dupuyster?"

"Miss Kincaide and Jerry are only two, and the cast of characters is
large. Wait patiently, Edie, and you shall see. Meanwhile, if I am not
mistaken, that long, low streak in the west--you can just make it out
if you shade your eyes from the sun glare on the water--is land."

She was up and gone at the word, flying to the bridge and crying her
discovery--or mine. What the land was, I could not tell. Van Dyck
had made a joking mystery of the yacht's course, which, naturally,
none of us could determine with any degree of accuracy merely by
looking now and then at the telltale compass in the cabin ceiling. I
fancied that Van Dyck's object in keeping us in the dark was chiefly
to add something to the zest of the cruise, the interest lying in the
uncertainty as to what landfall we should first make. As to this,
however, nobody seemed to care greatly where we were going, or when
we should arrive, so, as one may say, the small mystery had hitherto
fallen flat.

But now there was a stir among the after-deck idlers, and Major
Terwilliger, thrifty grasper at opportunity, immediately made a
pool upon the name of the landfall--with Jack Grey whispering
to me that the major had already fortified himself by casually
questioning the hard-faced sailing-master as to the yacht's latest
quadrant-reading--from which he had doubtless been able privately to
prick off the latitude and approximate position of the _Andromeda_ upon
the cabin chart.



V

ANY PORT IN A STORM


AS an easy matter of course, Major Terwilliger won the pool. The land
sighted proved to be Cape Gracias á Dios, the easternmost point of
Nicaragua. It would say itself that the Mosquito Coast, low, swampy,
and with only three practicable harbors along its three-hundred-mile
sweep, could have no attractions for a party of winter pleasurers, and
we were leaving Cape Gracias astern when the _Andromeda's_ course was
suddenly changed and she was headed for land.

Climbing to the bridge a little later, where I found Van Dyck setting
the course for the Madeira-man who had the wheel, I learned the reason
for the unannounced change.

"Trouble in the engine-room," Van Dyck explained. "The port propeller
shaft is running hot and threatening to quit on us. We'll have to lay
up for a few hours until Haskell can find out what has gone wrong."

"The shaft hasn't been giving any trouble heretofore, has it?" I asked.

"No; Haskell says it began to heat all at once, shortly after we
sighted land."

"You'll put in at Gracias?"

He nodded. "The harbor isn't much, and the town is still less. But we
don't need anything but an anchorage. Haskell thinks we won't be held
up very long."

That was a cheering prediction, but the event proved it to be too
optimistic. The mechanical trouble turned out to be in the thrust
bearing of the propeller shaft, and it was more serious than Haskell,
chief of the engine-room squad, had supposed it would be. The bearing
which, like everything else on the yacht, had been cared for with
warship thoroughness, had apparently run dry and it was badly scored
and "cut," as a machinist would say. The repair called for hours
of patient scraping and filing, and Haskell, who had served as an
assistant engineer in the Navy, was properly humiliated.

"It sure gets my goat, Mr. Preble," he confided to me when I climbed
down into his bailiwick some three or four hours after we had dropped
anchor in Gracias á Dios harbor. "It looks as if it was on me, and
maybe it is, but I've never had anything like this happen to me
before--not since I began as an oiler on one of the old Cunarders.
We have automatic lubrication; all the latest wrinkles; and yet that
cussed shaft's tore up like it had been runnin' dry for a week. You're
an engineer--I just wish you'd look at it."

To oblige him I donned overalls and crawled down into the shaft
tunnel. A glance at the excoriated bearing showed that Haskell hadn't
exaggerated. Quinby, Haskell's first assistant, was scraping and
smoothing in a space that was too confined to let a man take the kinks
out of his back, and in which there was no room for two men to work.

"That is no hurry job," I told Haskell, after I had crawled out. "I
think I may safely tell our people that they may have shore leave, if
they want it."

"You can that," Haskell grinned. "We'll be right here to-morrow
morning, and blamed lucky if we can heave up the mud hook by some time
to-morrow afternoon."

It was too late to spread the news after I left the engine-room. When I
reached the main deck all of our ship's company had apparently turned
in, though there were lights in the smoking-room to hint that the
card-players were still at their favorite pastime. But as I went aft to
smoke a bed-time pipe I found Madeleine Barclay curled up in one of the
deep wicker chairs.

"Pardon me," I said; "I didn't know there was any one here. Don't let
me disturb your maiden meditations. I'll vanish."

"You needn't," she returned quite amiably; then, seeing the pipe: "And
you may smoke if you want to. You know well enough that I don't mind.
How long do we stay here?"

"That is upon the knees of the gods. I've just been below, and I should
say we are good for twenty-four hours, or maybe more, though Haskell
thinks we may get out by to-morrow afternoon."

"Do we go ashore?"

I shook my head. "The others may if they want to; I shan't."

"Why not?"

"The _Andromeda_ after-deck is much more comfortable than anything to
be found ashore in this corner of Nicaragua."

"You have been here before?"

"Yes; I came around here once, something over a year ago, on a steamer
from Belize. We made a stop of a few hours and I was besotted enough
to leave the ship. I shan't make any such mistake again."

"Gracias á Dios," she said musingly. "I wonder who said it first--and
why he was thanking God--particularly?"

I laughed. "Some storm-tossed mariner of the early centuries, I
imagine, who was glad enough to make a landfall of any sort."

"Storm-tossed," she repeated. "Aren't we all more or less storm-tossed,
Richard?"

"I suppose we are, either mentally, morally, or physically. It's a sad
enough world, if you want to take that angle."

"But I don't want to take that angle. When I do take it, it's because I
have to."

Being as much of a hypocrite as any of those whom Van Dyck had proposed
putting under his analytical microscope, I said: "But there are no
constraining influences at work upon any of us aboard this beautiful
little pleasure ship--there can't be."

"Do you think not?" she threw in; and then, without warning: "How about
you and Conetta, Richard?"

In common justice to Conetta I had to feign an indifference I was far
from feeling--which was more of the hypocrisy.

"That was all over and done with three years ago, as you must know,
Madeleine. She wasn't aware of the fact that I was to be in the
_Andromeda_ party; and I didn't know she was to be--at least, not
until after I had committed myself to Bonteck. Of course we promptly
quarreled the moment we met. Perhaps you may have noticed that we've
been quarreling ever since."

She smiled soberly.

"You have made it obvious--both of you; perhaps a little too obvious."
Then, after a momentary silence: "Did Miss Mehitable give the real
reason for that other and mortal quarrel, three years ago, Richard?"

"The reason she gave was enough, wasn't it?"

"Some of us thought it wasn't. I don't know how you were acting, but
Conetta didn't give a very good imitation of a person who has 'agreed
to disagree.'"

"I can fill out the picture for you," I said grimly. "I was acting like
a man who had been fool enough to lose his temper at the invitation
of a crabbed and rather spiteful person who was old enough to be his
mother."

"Ah!" she said; "I thought it was Miss Mehitable." Then: "Was it
because you had lost your money?"

"Yes," I said, merely because the simple affirmative seemed to afford
the easiest way of brushing aside explanations which might not explain.

It was then that Miss Madeleine Barclay became a plagiarist, stealing
the very words uttered so hotly by Edie Van Tromp only a few hours
earlier.

"Money--always money! I _hate_ it, Dick Preble!"

I did not answer her as I had answered Edith.

"It is a holy hatred, Madeleine. The love of money, and what money will
buy, has proved the undoing of--but I don't need to preach to you.
Let's talk about something pleasant. Have you ever seen a finer night
than this?"

"A fine night, and ideal conditions. In a way, we've almost left the
strugglesome, toiling, avariciously dollar-chasing old world behind us,
haven't we?"

"You say 'almost'; why not quite?"

She made a little gesture inclusive of the _Andromeda_ as a whole.

"Too many reminders of the money and what it will buy. We'd need to be
shipwrecked upon some uninhabited island to make the isolation perfect.
As that isn't going to happen, I think I'll make the most of what we
have and go to bed. Good-night." And she left me.

My pipe had gone out and I refilled it. While I had called the night
fine, it was measurably warm. With the yacht at anchor there was little
breeze, and what little there was came from sea. My stateroom was on
the port side, and as the _Andromeda_ was lying with that side toward
the land, I was reluctant to leave the open air for the closer quarters
between decks.

It was while I was smoking a second pipe in comfortable solitude that
I fell asleep. The lapse into unconsciousness seemed only momentary,
but when I picked up the pipe which had fallen into my lap there was no
fire in it and the bowl had grown cold. Also, in the interval, long or
short, the yacht's lights had been switched off and the after-deck was
shrouded in the soft darkness of the tropical night. From somewhere in
the under-depths came a faint clatter of tools to tell me that Haskell
and his men were still at work on the disabled shaft, but apart from
this the silence was unbroken.

Descending the cabin stair I groped my way to the door of my room,
which was the farthest forward on the port side, and I remembered
afterward that I thought it odd that the saloon lights were all off.
On all other occasions when I had been up late I had found a single
incandescent left on; one, at least.

Inside of the luxurious little sleeping-room that had been assigned
to me I felt for the wall switch and snapped it. Nothing happened.
I snapped it back and on again, and still nothing happened. Down in
the machinery hold I could hear the fluttering murmur of the small
auxiliary engine which ran the lighting dynamo, and since it was
running, there seemed to be no reason why the lights shouldn't come on.
But they wouldn't.

While I was speculating upon this curious failure of the lighting
system and wondering if it were worth while to go below to ask Haskell
what was the matter with the cabin circuit, sounds like the subdued
splashing of oars cautiously handled came floating in through the
open port. Since I judged it must be midnight or worse, it was only
natural that I should want to know why a boat should be coming off to
the _Andromeda_ after all the yacht's people save myself were abed and
asleep. Not being able to see anything from the stateroom port-light,
I hurried back through the darkened saloon and up to the deck. From
the rail on the shoreward side I could make out the dim shape of the
approaching craft. As nearly as I could determine, it was a large
row-boat with at least four men in it; at all events there were four
oars. I could see and count the phosphorescent swirls as the blades
were dipped.

It was evident at once that the boat was coming off to the _Andromeda_.
We were anchored well out in the harbor, and there was nothing beyond
us; nothing but the harbor mouth and the open sea. Visions of banditry
began to flit through my brain. When I had been last in the Caribbean,
some three months earlier, Nicaragua had been in the throes of one of
its perennial guerrilla wars. A rich man's yacht, offering dazzling
loot, might easily be a tempting bait to any lawless band happening to
be within striking distance.

While I was straining my eyes to get a better sight of the approaching
boat, and deliberating as to whether or not I hadn't better call Van
Dyck or the sailing-master, a voice at my elbow said: "So you are up
late, too, are you, Dick?" and I faced about with a prickling shock of
surprise to find Bonteck standing beside me.

"I must be getting weak-kneed and nervous," I said. "I thought I was
the only person awake at this end of things, and you gave me a start.
What boat is that?"

"A shore boat, I suppose," he answered evenly. "After I found that we
were likely to be delayed until to-morrow, I told Goff he might give
some of his men shore leave for a few hours. They were asking for it."

"But that isn't one of the _Andromeda's_ boats," I objected.

"No; they didn't take one of our boats; they hailed a harbor craft
of some sort. I fancied they'd make a night of it, but it seems they
didn't."

"What time is it now?" I asked.

"Two bells in the middle watch--otherwise one o'clock."

While we were talking, the boat was pulled up to the port bows of
the yacht and a number of men, some half-dozen or more, came aboard.
We could see dark figures climbing the rail, but since the yacht was
painted white, and Van Dyck and I were both wearing yachting flannels,
I suppose we were invisible to the group at the bows. In a minute or so
the boat pushed off, cut a clumsy half circle in turning, and headed
for the shore, and there was just enough of my foolish nervousness left
to suggest that the oarsmen were still trying not to make any more
noise than they could help. But the second thought made me smile at the
remains of the nervousness. What more natural than that our returning
shore-leave men had cautioned the boatmen against making a racket and
waking everybody on the _Andromeda_?

"I take it you've been down with Haskell," I said to Bonteck, after the
shore boat had become a vanishing blur in the darkness.

"Yes. He is as sore as a boil about that propeller shaft. Says he never
had anything like that happen to him before, and that it reflects upon
him as chief. He tried to tell me how unaccountable it was, but I
hardly know enough about mechanical things to keep me from spoiling."

"It is rather unaccountable," I offered. "I was down a few hours ago
and crawled into the shaft tunnel to have a look at it. Ordinarily,
when a bearing as large as that begins to run dry, it gives warning
some little time beforehand. But Quinby, Haskell's second, says he put
his hand on it less than an hour before it began to complain, and it
was perfectly cool."

"Oh, well," was Van Dyck's easy-going rejoinder, "such things are all
in a life-time. We're in luck that it didn't 'seize,' as Haskell says,
and twist itself off. You're yawning as if you were sleepy. Better turn
in and get whatever this hot night will let you have. Good-night."

That was the end of the day for me, save that when I went to my
stateroom and once more tried the wall switch the lights came on as
usual.

The next morning, after a breakfast so early that I sat alone at the
long table in the white-lacquered saloon, I went below and offered my
services as those of a highly educated jack-of-all-trades to Haskell.

"By golly, you're saving my life, Mr. Preble," said our chief mechanic,
whose eyes were looking like two burned holes in a blanket. "If you'll
boss the job and let me get about a couple of hours in the hay----"

"Sure," I agreed; and crawling into the extra suit of overclothes, I
proceeded to do it, becoming so mechanically interested in a short time
that I not only neglected to call Haskell when his two hours were up,
but also let the luncheon hour go by unheeded.

By keeping faithfully at it, our gang got the recalcitrant thrust
bearing in shape by the middle of the afternoon, the fires were broken
out and the blowers put on, and by four o'clock the _Andromeda_ was
once more under way and pointing her sharp nose for the open water. As
I came up out of the engine-hold to make a bolt for a bath and clean
clothes, I saw that Van Dyck had the wheel and was apparently heading
the ship straight out toward the Mosquito Cays. As the trim little
vessel--which was little only by comparison with the great liners of
which it was a copy in the small--went shearing its way at full speed
through the heaving ground swell with the westering sun fairly astern,
I could not help wondering what our next port of call would be, and if
it would be a disabled piece of machinery which would drive us into it.



VI

A SEA CHANGE


WITH the Nicaraguan coast fairly astern, and the _Andromeda_ picking
her way gingerly among the cays and reefs which extend from fifty to
one hundred miles off the eastern hump of the Central American camel,
we soon made the open Caribbean, and our course was once more laid
indefinitely to the south and east. If we were to hold this general
direction we should bring up in due time somewhere upon the Colombian
or Venezuelan coast of South America.

Watching my opportunity, I cornered Van Dyck on the bridge at a moment
when he had relieved the man at the wheel; this on our second evening
out from Gracias á Dios. As I came up, he was changing the course more
to the southward, and I asked him if we were slated to do the Isthmus
and the Canal.

"I hadn't thought very much about it," he answered half-absently. "Do
you think the others would like it?"

"The Isthmus is pretty badly hackneyed, nowadays," I suggested; "and
for your particular purpose----"

"Forget it!" he broke in abruptly. And then: "It's a hideous failure,
Dick, as you have doubtless found out for yourself."

"Which part of it is a failure--your experiment, or the other thing?"

"I don't know what you mean by 'the other thing'," he bit out.

"Then I'll tell you: You thought it wouldn't be such a bad idea to show
Madeleine Barclay what a vast difference there is between yourself and
Ingerson as a three-meal-a-day proposition; as a steady diet, so to
speak, in an environment which couldn't very well be changed or broken.
Wasn't that it?"

"Something of the sort, maybe," he admitted, rather sheepishly, I
thought.

"And it isn't working out?"

"You can see for yourself."

"What I see is that you are giving Ingerson a good bit more than a
guest's chance."

"You don't understand," he returned gloomily.

"Naturally. I'm no mind reader."

While the _Andromeda_ was shearing her way through three of the long
Caribbean swells he was silent. Then he said: "I'm going to tell you,
Dick; I shall have a fit if I don't tell somebody. Madeleine has turned
me down--not once, you know, but a dozen times. It's the cursed money!"

"But Ingerson has money, too," I put in.

"I know; but that is different. Can't you conceive of such a thing as
a young woman's turning down the man she really cares for, and then
letting herself be dragooned into marrying somebody else?"

"You are asking too much," I retorted. "You want me to believe that a
sane, well-balanced young woman like Madeleine Barclay will refuse a
good fellow because he happens to be rich, and marry the other kind of
a fellow who has precisely the same handicap. It may be only my dull
wit, but I can't see it."

"I could make you see it if you were a little less thick-headed,"
he cut in impatiently. And then he added: "Or if you knew Mr. Holly
Barclay a little better."

It was just here that I began to see a great light, with Madeleine
Barclay threatening to figure as a modern martyr to a mistaken sense of
duty. Did she know that her father would make his daughter's husband
his banker? And was she generously refusing to involve the man she
loved?

"It ought to make you all the more determined, Bonteck," I said, after
I had reasoned it out. "It is little less than frightful to think
of--the other thing, I mean. Ingerson will buy her for so much cash
down; that is about what it will amount to."

"Don't you suppose I know it?" he exclaimed wrathfully. "Good Lord,
Dick, I've racked my brain until it is sore trying to think up some
way of breaking the combination. You don't know the worst of it. Holly
Barclay is in deep water. Strange as it may seem, his sister, Emily
Vancourt, named him, of all the incompetents in a silly world, as
her executor and the guardian of her son. The boy is in college in
California, and next year he will come of age."

"And Barclay can't pay out?"

"You've said it. He has squandered the boy's fortune as he has
Madeleine's. I don't know how he did it, but I fancy the bucket-shops
have had the most of it. Anyway, it's gone, and when the fatal day of
accounting rolls around he will stand a mighty good chance of going to
jail."

"Does Madeleine know?" I asked.

"Not the criminal part, you may be sure. She merely knows that her
father is in urgent need of money--a good, big chunk of it. And she
also knows, without being told, that the man who marries her will be
invited to step into the breach. Isn't it horrible?"

"You have discovered the right word for it," I agreed. And then: "You
are not letting it stand at that, are you?"

He did not reply at once. From the after-deck came sounds of cheerful
laughter, with Alicia Van Tromp's rich contralto dominating; came also
the indistinguishable words of a popular song which Billy Grisdale
was chanting to his own mandolin accompaniment. Presently Jack Grey's
mellow tenor joined in, and in the refrain I could hear Conetta's
silver-toned treble. It jarred upon me a little; and yet I tried to
make myself believe that I was glad she was happy enough to sing. True
to her word, she had consistently maintained the barrier quarrelsome
between us; and Jerry Dupuyster was playing his part like an obedient
little soldier.

"You'd say it was a chance for a man to do something pretty desperate,
wouldn't you, Dick?" Van Dyck said, breaking the long pause in his own
good time.

"I think you would be justified in considering the end, rather than the
particular means," I conceded.

"I have had a crazy project up my sleeve--a sort of forlorn hope, you
know. But after working out all of the details time and again, I've
always weakened on it."

"Perhaps some of the details are weak," I suggested, willing to be
helpful if I could.

"One of them is, and I can't seem to build it up so that it will seem
reasonably plausible. Of course you know that I'd pay the father out
of the prison risk in the hollow half of a minute if I could make it
appear as anything less than sheer charity. But I can't do anything
like that openly; and if I should do it in any other ordinary way,
Madeleine would be sure to find out about it and argue that I was
merely lowering myself to Ingerson's plane--paving the way with the
money that she despises. And she'd turn me down again--with some show
of reason. I am still sane enough to foresee that."

"If Miss Barclay only had some money of her own with which to buy her
release from that unspeakable father of hers," I began.

"That would break the combination easily," he said. "And she did have
money once; half of her mother's fortune was left to her--with her
father as trustee. It went the same way as Barclay's own half, and the
Vancourt trust fund."

With Conetta's voice in my ears I couldn't think straight enough
to help him much. What I said was more an echo of my own growing
determination regarding Conetta than anything else.

"I'd fight for my own, Bonteck; and I'd do it with whatever weapon came
handiest," I declared; and then the return of the steersman whom Van
Dyck had relieved put an end to the confidences for the time being.

With the sea routine resumed, and the _Andromeda_ once more steaming
free and footloose, a night and a day elapsed before I again had
private speech with Van Dyck. As before, it was after dinner in the
evening, and Van Dyck had sent one of the cabin stewards to ask me to
join him in his stateroom. It was a matchless night, and I was lounging
with the younger members of the ship's company on the after-deck when
the steward came and whispered to me. We were all singing college songs
with Billy Grisdale's mandolin for an accompaniment, and I was able to
slip away unnoticed.

I found Van Dyck sitting at his table, stepping off distances on a
spread-out chart with a pair of compasses, and somehow I fancied that
the air of the luxuriously fitted little den was surcharged with the
electricity of portent.

"You sent for me?" I queried.

"Yes; sit down and light your pipe," and he motioned me to a chair.
"What are the others doing?"

"The young people, with the Greys, are on the after-deck, caterwauling
with Billy, as you can hear. There is a bridge table in full blast in
the saloon, with Mrs. Van Tromp, Aunt Mehitable, Holly Barclay and
Ingerson sitting in. The Sanfords have disappeared--gone to bed, I
imagine; and the major is in the smoking-room, guzzling hot toddies."

"Good!" was the brief rejoinder. "Everything quiet up forward?"

"Why, yes--for all I know to the contrary," I answered in some little
surprise. "Why shouldn't it be quiet?"

For a moment Van Dyck seemed embarrassed. And his explanation, when he
made it, was half halting.

"There has been some little trouble with--er--the crew, you know.
Quite likely you haven't seen any signs of it. I--I've been trying to
keep it under cover as well as I could."

"Trouble?--of what sort?" I demanded.

"Why--er--the only kind one ever has with a crew; something like a
threatened mutiny, I believe."

I laughed aloud.

"A mutiny on a private yacht? Why, heavens and earth--your men don't
have anything to do but to draw their pay and their breath!"

"I know; that is the way it would appear. But there is something
behind--something you don't understand. If I should tell you that the
_Andromeda_ left New York with a quarter of a million dollars in her
hold----"

"What's that?" I ejaculated, shocked into sudden and lively attention.

"You must forgive me, Dick, if I don't go into the particulars," he
went on hastily. "I might say, with a good degree of truth, that it
isn't altogether my own secret. But--but the fact remains."

"A quarter of a mil--Great Caesar!" I gasped. Then the deductive part
of my brain began to fit the fragmentary admissions into a probable
whole. All summer there had been flying rumors in the West India
ports of a revolution brewing in one of the South American republics;
an upheaval which was to be financed--in the interests of a great
importing corporation--by New York capital. Could it be possible that
Van Dyck had foolishly allowed his yacht to be made use of as a money
transport?

"You don't mean to say that we have that money on board now?" I
protested, when the possible consequences began to make themselves
manifest.

"As it happens, we haven't," he replied, quite calmly. "That is why it
took the _Andromeda_ so long to make the run from New York to Havana. I
was getting rid of the impedimenta."

"But if you've gotten rid of it, why should your crew--"

"That is just the point," he explained patiently. "The thing had to
be done quietly, and proper precautions were taken at both ends of
the line to keep anybody and everybody from finding out that we were
carrying a small fortune between-decks. Still, I am afraid it did leak
out. That little black-mustached fellow who turned up at Havana, and
again in New Orleans----"

"That reminds me of something that occurred to me no longer ago than
this morning's breakfast-time," I broke in; "a thing that I've been
meaning to ask you about ever since. Manuel, the mulatto boy who
usually serves breakfast, was invisible this morning, and he had a
substitute."

"Well?"

"I was going to say that, if I'm not greatly mistaken, you have that
same mysterious little man--minus the mustaches--on your payroll at
this moment, Bonteck. He is the under-steward who goes by the name of
Lequat; he was the man who substituted for Manuel this morning, and he
was the man who came to me just now to tell me that you wanted me."

It was now Van Dyck's turn to sit up and take notice and he did both,
emphatically.

"That fellow?--In the _Andromeda_?" he exclaimed.

"As I say--if I'm not much mistaken. I had a pretty good chance to
familiarize myself with his face that night in the hotel dining-room in
New Orleans, and I have a fairly decent memory for faces."

Van Dyck fell into a muse, breaking the silence finally to say: "By
Jove, Dick, that may prove to be a horse of another color, don't you
know!"

Waiving the question as to what the color of the original horse might
have been, I stuck to the point at issue.

"If, as you say, you have gotten rid of the money, the situation can't
be very alarming. Including engineers, firemen and cabin servants, you
can't have over thirty-five or forty men in the crew, all told. There
are nine of us in the cabin, and Haskell and the Americans will all
stand with us. If we get together and put up a good front----"

Van Dyck interrupted hastily--over-hastily, I thought, for a man of his
inches and determination in other fields.

"It is not to be thought of, Dick; not for a single moment, with all
these women aboard. Besides, we have no arms. We'd be shot down in cold
blood if it should come to blows."

This was so singularly unlike the Bonteck Van Dyck I had known best in
the college days that it fairly made me gasp.

"Why, Bonteck!" I exclaimed; "what has come over you? You don't mean to
say that you would calmly hand the yacht over to those fellows if they
should ask you for it?"

"It might easily be the only thing to do," he asserted, half
mechanically. "Of course, as I say, we haven't the money, and they
would have their trouble for their pains, after all. Still, it might
be difficult to convince them that the gol--the money has been actually
disposed of. If they learned in New York that we really took it on
board, and didn't learn afterward that it was disembarked elsewhere ...
well, you see how it stacks up, don't you?"

"I see that you are making mountains out of molehills," I retorted.
"What does Goff say about this potential mutiny?"

Van Dyck shook his head as if the mention of Goff merely added to the
difficulties of the situation.

"That is another thing: Goff may be in it himself. He is an awful
tough-looking old pirate. Don't you think so?"

"What I think is that you must have been completely off your head
when you changed from your Atlantic-liner master and crew to this old
fisherman and his Portuguese."

"Er--somebody recommended him; I forget just who it was," he went on
to explain. "I needed a sailing-master who knew the Caribbean well,
and who would do what he was told to do and ask no questions. You see
the--er--shipping of the quarter million made some difference, and I
couldn't afford to have too much intelligence aboard."

Again there was a pause, during which I was trying to persuade myself
that this half-hearted young man across the stateroom table from me was
really the same Bonteck Van Dyck who had coached crews, captained the
'Varsity football, and had otherwise proved himself a man and a leader
of men--the sort of leader who fights to the final gasp, and even then
doesn't know when he is beaten. The inability to do it put a little
unconscious scorn into my summing-up of the situation.

"It is up to you, of course," I said. "We are merely your guests, and
what you say is what we shall do. At the same time, I think--in fact I
know--that you could count upon practically every man in our much-mixed
passenger list to help you put down a mutiny."

"That is it--that is just why I sent for you, Dick," he cut in eagerly.
"I knew you would be all for making a fight, and that you would
probably lead it. For the sake of the women there mustn't be any scrap,
you know. It would scare them into hysterics, naturally. If it should
come to a showdown we must just make up our minds to take it easy--take
the line of the least resistance--if you get what I mean. At the very
worst, the mutineers couldn't well do more than to put us ashore
somewhere, so that they might have a chance to search the yacht for the
money. I have had that in mind all along, and when you came in just now
I was trying to figure out our present latitude and longitude. Have you
any idea where we are?"

"Trying to figure out?" I echoed. "Do you mean to tell me calmly that
you--a navigator yourself and the owner of this ship--don't _know_
where we are?"

"I'm ashamed to admit that I don't know--precisely. Goff keeps the
reckoning, you see, and I have thought that perhaps he wasn't giving me
the correct figures."

If any additional evidence had been needed, here was another and still
more startling proof of the devastating change which had somehow been
wrought in the Bonteck Van Dyck I had been thinking I knew. One of his
hobbies in the past had been the study of practical navigation, and on
more than one long cruise he had been his own sailing-master. That he
should deliberately turn the _Andromeda_ over to a man who had been
merely "recommended" by some one whose name was already forgotten was
little short of astounding.

"I truly hope there is nothing worse than an ordinary, every-day mutiny
in store for us," I said grimly. "Judging from our course--which Goff
may have changed every night, for all you seem to know--we ought to be
somewhere in the southern half of the Caribbean. The steamer lanes are
well charted, but there are a good many cays and islands outside of
them--places where the bones of the _Andromeda_ might lie until they
rotted before anybody would ever discover them."

"And not all of the islands are inhabited, I take it," said Van Dyck,
peering down at his chart as if he hoped to identify some of them.

"You know that as well as I do--or better," I snapped. And then: "What
in the name of common sense has turned you into such a milk-blooded
shuffler, Bonteck? You talk and act as if you weren't more than
half----"

"Listen!" he said hastily, holding up a warning finger.

The stringy tinkle of Billy Grisdale's mandolin had stopped, and with
it the singing. Above the murmuring diapason of the yacht's engines
we both heard Edie Van Tromp's shrill cry of "Land-o-o-o!" As if the
cry had been a pre-concerted signal, it was followed instantly by
a confused trampling of feet on the deck over our heads, a sudden
slackening of the yacht's speed, and more cries and foot-tramplings.

I was upon my feet and was reaching for the door-knob when Mrs. Van
Tromp's throaty scream came from the adjoining saloon where the bridge
players were sitting. Before I could turn the knob the door was thrust
open, and the under-steward, whose ship name was Lequat, backed by two
evil-faced fore-deck men armed with rifles, stood in the doorway. At
the appearance of this warlike demonstration I was glad to see that Van
Dyck, for once in a way, seemed genuinely shocked.

"You?" he demanded. "How is this? Where is Mr. Goff?"

The little man's smile and bow were like those of a dancing master.

"Ze captaine is sand me to inform you zat you are both ze prisonaire,
_oui_. You vill sit down in ze chair and wait patient', M'sieu' Van
Dyck--and you, Mistaire Preb'. Zis ees w'at you call all cut-and-dry,
and----"

I suppose I sprang at his throat; it was the only thing for a live man
to do. But the little beggar was quicker than a cat, and he brought me
up all standing, with a huge pistol thrust into my face.

"Aha! you vill choke me, ees it? By gar, Mistaire Preb', eet is possib'
I make you--how you say it?--walk ze board--ze plank, yes? You vill
sit down on ze chair and tek eet easy. Ze sheep ees belong to h-us,
and your fran's 'ave all been lock' up in ze staterooms. You can do
notting; _moi_, Alphonse Lequat, vill tek ze comman'."

It was not until after all of this had happened that Van Dyck found his
voice.

"Is this--is this a mutiny, Lequat?" he asked, as mild as mush.

"Eet is vat you vill be please' to call heem, M'sieu' Van Dyck,
_certainement_. For fifteen, twanty, feefty minute' you vill sit on ze
chair, and Pedro, he is stay outside ze door and keel you eef you make
noises. Bam-by, _moi_, Alphonse Lequat, s'all come back to tell you vat
eet is you s'all do." And then to his men: "_Allons, mes garçons!_"

And with that he backed out of the owner's private cabin, and shut and
locked the door.



VII

SHORE LEAVE


COINCIDENT with the taking over of the yacht by the mutineers, the
engines stopped; but after Lequat had locked us in and left us, the
trampling tune of the machinery began again, though it presently became
apparent that we were proceeding at something less than half speed. At
first I thought the creeping progress might be Haskell's way of showing
his reluctance to obey his new masters; but after the engines had made
a few of the slow revolutions we heard the sing-song cry of a seaman in
the main chains taking soundings.

"Feeling for an anchorage," said Van Dyck, speaking for the first time
since he had asked Lequat that mush-mild question as to whether or not
the outbreak was a mutiny. "Wouldn't you put it up that way?"

His query seemed too trivial to merit an answer.

"I haven't any time to waste on the guesses," I said, and most likely
the tone was as crabbed as the words. Then: "Are you fully awake
at last? Do you realize that you've been held up and robbed of a
five-hundred-thousand-dollar yacht?"

His shrug was perfectly spineless.

"'What can't be cured must be endured'," he quoted, handing me the
time-worn maxim as if it sufficiently accounted for everything. "Of
course, as the person chiefly responsible, I'm all kinds of sorry for
you and the others. It's a horribly rude interruption to our pleasure
jaunt, and I take it there is no telling what these fellows may do to
us." Then, with still more of the air of the completest detachment:
"The nervy beggars! Who would ever have suspected it of them? And to
carry it off so neatly, too."

"It was all plotted and planned beforehand, of course. Didn't this man
Lequat say that it was cut-and-dried? Goff is the head and front of it,
isn't he?"

"Heaven knows. You wouldn't imagine it of Goff--or would you?"

"I can easily imagine him breaking rock in a Federal prison--which is
what he will do--if he succeeds in keeping his leathery old neck out of
the hangman's noose!"

"Naturally," Van Dyck agreed easily. "But that is an after
consideration. The present realities are what concern us just now. I'm
wondering what their next move will be."

"You don't seem to be letting your wonderment disturb you very much."
I was still warm, both over the bootless little tussle with Lequat,
and because Van Dyck had so ignominiously failed to rise to the
occasion--and was still continuing to fail.

"What's the use?" he queried. "We are like the harmless and inoffensive
citizen who wakes up in the middle of the night to find a burglar's
spot-light shining in his eyes and the burglar's gun shoved in his
face. Discretion is always the better part of valor. Haven't you
learned that invaluable lesson, knocking about in this harsh old world?
But getting back to things present and pressing--there goes our
anchor."

The brief roar of the cable running through its hawse-hole told us that
the _Andromeda_ was in comparatively shallow soundings. We could feel
the snub of the anchor as the yacht's way was checked, and a little
later the sounds overhead advertised the fact that the mutineers were
lowering one of the boats.

Beyond the slap of the lowered boat as it took the water, the noises
were less easily definable. There were bumpings and bangings which
seemed to come from forward of the bridge, muffled sounds like those of
a busy baggage-room at train-time, the shrilling of blocks and tackle,
and a skirling chatter suggestive of a steam winch in action. Following
these we could hear the low humming of the motor in the dropped
electric launch; a murmur which gradually died away as we listened.

Somewhat farther along, after the buzzing motor murmur had come and
gone often enough to tell us that the launch was plying industriously
between the yacht and some other destination, Van Dyck said: "You'd
say they were taking an entire cargo ashore, wouldn't you?--provided
the _Andromeda_ carried any cargo." Then: "I've cornered a guess,
Dick--which you may have for what it is worth. I believe these fellows
are meaning to take a leaf out of the book of the old buccaneers of the
Spanish Main and maroon us."

"What makes you think that?" I demanded.

"Putting two and two together. That is the hoist winch making all the
clatter up forward. They are unloading the forehold--of our dunnage
and some part of the provisions, we'll say--and lightering the stuff
ashore in the launch. Assuming that they expect to find a quarter of
a million dollars hidden away somewhere in the _Andromeda_, they'll
figure that they need to get rid of us, and run fast and far to make
their get-away, won't they?"

"That sounds sufficiently barbarous to fit in with the rest of it," I
fumed.

"Right-o. That being the case, they have only to stow us away in some
safe place--where we won't be found and rescued too soon--and then up
stick and away; put steam to the yacht and vanish. Once they get going,
they'll be safe enough. The _Andromeda_ will outrun anything of her
inches, short of the torpedo chasers and the hydroplanes, when she is
pushed to it. What do you say?"

"I'm not saying anything," I returned crustily. "I'm too busy wondering
what in Heaven's name has thinned your blood to the milk-and-water
consistency, Bonteck. I've heard a few queer things about you during
the past three years, but I wasn't told that you had gone completely
dippy. Why, man alive! if your guess is right, you stand to lose a cool
half-million in the value of the yacht--to say nothing of what may
happen to the bunch of us if we are marooned on some lonesome island in
the southern Caribbean!"

"Yes, there is the marooning to be considered, of course," he said
coolly, filling his pipe and lighting it. "But we needn't cross that
bridge until we come to it. As to the possible loss of the yacht, that
is the least of my troubles, just now. She'll turn up again somewhere,
I guess; if they don't smash or sink her."

It seemed utterly hopeless to try to arouse him to any adequate sense
of the enormity of the thing that had befallen us, and I jumped up
and began to pace the narrow limits of the little cabin. Van Dyck's
attitude seemed explainable only upon the hypothesis that he had lost
his mind, and I wondered if his brooding over the wretched dilemma into
which his love for Madeleine Barclay had plunged him hadn't thrown him
off his balance. It was certainly beginning to look that way.

While I was tramping back and forth in a fever of gloomy rage and
helplessness, with Van Dyck sitting at the table and calmly smoking
his pipe, the ship's noises took new forms. There was much tramping
up and down the saloon stairs, a rattling of keys in locks, opening
and shutting of doors, and the like. Again and again the motor launch
repeated its short trips, and between two of them there were voices
raised in the adjoining saloon; Ingerson's in savage and profane
protest, and Mrs. Van Tromp's in tearful inquiry as to what had been
done with Mr. Van Dyck. In due course of time our own turn came, and it
was Lequat who unlocked and opened our door.

"Ze momment ees come," he announced, with a bow and a smirk. "Ze anchor
ees--vat ees it you say?--hove short, and ze launch ees wait' for you
zhentleman. You vill come peaceab'?--or ees it that ve have to asseest
you?"

It was now or never, if we meant to try conclusions with this little
scoundrel, and I looked to Van Dyck for the answer. He had put on his
cap, slung a cased field-glass over his shoulder, and was closing and
locking the drawers of the writing-table. As I have said, it was his
final chance for making some show of resistance, and he was weakly
letting it go.

When we reached the deck, guarded closely by four or five of the
mutineers, it became evident that we were the last of the ship's
company to be summoned. The night was fine, with a sickle of a moon
in its first quarter, and the sea undisturbed by so much as a ripple.
The _Andromeda_ was at anchor a short distance from one of the many
cays with which the southern Caribbean is dotted; a long, low-lying
island plumed with palms and densely jungled with tropical undergrowth.
The yacht lay within a stone's throw of an outer reef, and the reef
enclosed a broad lagoon reflecting the shadows of the palms like
a silver mirror under the shimmering moonlight; and the shadowy
background of foliage was made blacker by contrast with a ribbon of
white sand beach.

Though there was a passage through the reef just opposite the
_Andromeda's_ temporary berth, the mutineers had apparently been too
cautious to try to enter it with the yacht. They had merely felt their
way with the sounding line to within bottoming distance on the outside
of the reef, and dropped the anchor. There was little question now as
to their intention. They were stopping only long enough to get rid of
us.

In ominous silence Van Dyck and I were herded toward the accommodation
ladder, at the foot of which lay the electric launch. Up to the final
moment I was hoping to see Bonteck reassert himself, at least to the
extent of protesting against the high-handed crime these scoundrels
were committing. When it became apparent that he was not going to say
anything, I took a chance for myself.

"I suppose you know what you are doing, Lequat," I barked, after we had
taken our places in the launch. "This is piracy on the high seas, and
you don't have to be much of a sailorman to know what that means."

"You vill not be trouble you'self 'bout me, Mistaire Preb'," he
returned politely. Then, as the man at the ladder foot pushed us
off: "_Bon voyage_, M'sieu' Van Dyck. _Bon soir_, and--how you say
it?--G-o-o-d-by!"

The launch, manned by a crew numerous enough to have thrown us
overboard if we had raised a hand in rebellion, sped silently across to
the narrow inlet in the reef and entered the peaceful lagoon. Almost at
once a sickening, terrifying conviction began to force itself upon me.
From the first out-of-door glance at the surroundings there had been
something familiar in the appearance of the reef, the pond-like lagoon,
and the low-lying island. As we were passing through the inlet the
moonbeams struck out the black and shattered remains of a wreck hanging
upon the outer reef a short distance on our right, and then I _knew_!

"The Lord have mercy!" I gasped; and Van Dyck looked up quickly.

"What is it?" he asked.

"The wreck of the _Mary Jane_!" I whispered, pointing to the black
skeleton on the rocks. "This is the island I told you about--the
horrible place where we were shipwrecked a year ago last winter!"

"You don't say so!" he returned; and then, to make the reply still more
trite: "What a remarkable coincidence!"

His indifference was maddening, and my temper--the temper that had once
cost me any shadow of a chance that I might have had in persuading Miss
Mehitable Gilmore that, money or no money, Conetta's happiness, as
well as my own, was of more importance than any mere fortune lost or
gained--this flyaway temper got the better of me and I said things for
which I was sorry the moment they were said.

"Pile it on as thick as you please, old man," Van Dyck rejoined,
meekly, after I had abused him like an angry fishwife. "It is coming to
you--and to the others, as well. What they will do to me presently will
doubtless be good and plenty, and you'll have your revenge."

Two minutes later the launch was nosing the white sand of the beach,
and the man at the tiller made motions for us to get out. Van Dyck
stepped ashore and I followed him. A few yards away, at the edge of the
jungle thicketing, our cabin castaways were huddled around a great pile
of luggage and ship's stores. Their greeting of Van Dyck when he joined
them was all that his most vindictive accuser could have desired;
cries and reproaches, eager questionings and sobbing protests from the
women; and from the men a fierce storm of demandings led by the major
and Holly Barclay. Since Jerry Dupuyster made no move to do it, I drew
Conetta quickly out of the Babel and walked her beyond earshot. Major
Terwilliger was so far forgetting himself as to swear savagely at his
late host, and Ingerson's language was brutal.

"Tell me, reasonably and sanely, if you can, Dick, just what has
been done to us," urged my companion, with a little shiver of fright
or disgust--or possibly of both; this when we paused to watch the
retreating launch cleave its way across the lagoon to the waiting yacht.

"I don't know very much more about it than you do," I told her. "There
is a mutiny, with a plot to steal the _Andromeda_, it seems, and it
is quite evident the thing was carefully planned. I was below when it
climaxed and so saw nothing of what was happening on deck. They didn't
hurt anybody, did they?"

"I think not. It came so suddenly that they didn't need to use force.
We were under the awning, just as you left us. Edie Van Tromp saw
this island and called out 'Land-o,' and the next thing we knew a
lot of men with guns had surrounded us and were ordering us to go
to our staterooms and to be quick about it. That little dark-faced
under-steward who talks so brokenly seemed to be the leader. He was
polite enough about it, but when Jack Grey and Billy began to protest,
he made four of his men grab them."

"Then you were hustled below?"

"Yes. When we got down to the saloon, more of the armed men were
shoving the bridge players into the staterooms, and Hobart Ingerson was
swearing awfully. So was the major when they dragged him out of the
smoking-room."

"They are swearing yet," I said. "What did your aunt say?"

"She didn't say a single word; she just walked into our stateroom ahead
of me, as stiff as a poker, and I couldn't get a word out of her. I
don't know whether she was scared, or just too angry for words. She sat
on the edge of her bed like a frozen statue until they came to take
us ashore. What are the wretches going to do?--leave us here on this
deserted little strip of an island?"

The answer to her question was at that very moment shaping itself
before our eyes. While its propeller was still churning idly, the
electric launch was hooked and hoisted to its davits, the anchor was
broken out, and the _Andromeda_ began to forge slowly ahead, again with
a man in the bow heaving the lead and calling out the soundings.

"We are marooned," I said soberly enough, I guess. "It may be for a
day, a week, a month or a year. I happen to know this island only too
well. I was shipwrecked upon it once. Those are the bones of our old
schooner, the _Mary Jane_, out yonder on the reef."

She gave a little gasp of shocked surprise.

"You shipwrecked?--and I never heard of it!" she exclaimed. "How long
were you here, Dick?"

"Nearly a month. A tramp steamer, blown out of its course between Colon
and La Guaira by a hurricane, saw our signals and took us off."

She glanced over her shoulder apprehensively.

"There are no--no savages, are there?" she shuddered.

I shook my head. "Hardly; not in the twentieth century. For that
matter, I doubt if there ever were any. The place isn't big enough to
support much of a population."

We were walking again now, keeping to the hard sands, and turning our
backs resolutely upon the vanishing white phantom which was the ship
that was deserting us.

"There are eighteen of us," Conetta said, after a time. "Doesn't that
mean starvation, sooner or later?"

"There were six of us who were washed ashore from the _Mary Jane_," I
said. "We lived on shell fish and cocoanuts--just barely, as you might
say. There is a tradition that we were not the first, and that the
others, the crew of a Spanish treasure ship marooned by the old English
sea rovers, did starve."

"Heavens!" she breathed. "The place ought to be full of ghosts! But you
don't believe those terrible old tales, do you?"

"They were true enough, doubtless; but we needn't go out of our way to
localize them. In the present instance----" I was about to tell her of
the remains of the ancient wreck farther down the beach, but I thought
better of it and switched--"in the present instance we are not going to
starve, for a while, at least. The mutineers have given us a fighting
chance by dividing the ship's stores with us. Didn't you hear the
launch going back and forth before you were taken off?"

"Yes, I heard it," she acknowledged. "That must have been part of the
plan, too." Then she stopped and faced me suddenly. "Where was Bonteck
while all the rest of us were being hustled out of the way?"

"He was a prisoner in his stateroom, locked in, and with a man on
guard."

She looked me squarely in the eyes after a disconcerting fashion which
might have been acquired from her downright aunt.

"Do you know that, Dick? Or is it only a friendly guess?"

"I know it because I was locked in with him. The mutineers had given
us our orders--told us that we were down and out, you know."

"And you made no resistance--you two?"

I didn't say anything about my futile attempt to choke Lequat.

"Bonteck seemed to be afraid of a general massacre, or something of
that sort, if we should put up a fight."

"I'm not satisfied," she returned promptly. "It is too absurd. Could a
thing like this have been planned without some hint of it getting to
Bonteck? And then there is Mr. Goff: you don't mean to tell me that
that crabbed, sour, shrimmy old piece of New England honesty and prying
curiosity could be kept from finding out."

"Bonteck hints that Goff may be heading the mutiny."

"That," said Conetta, with calm conviction, "is simply nonsense. I
wouldn't believe it, not if Mr. Goff told me so himself." And then:
"Shall we go back to the others now? The storm seems to have blown
itself out: and we mustn't forget--you and I--that we have agreed to
disagree."

Her use of Aunt Mehitable's phrase touched off that cursed temper of
mine again, and if I had made any reply at all it would have been one
that I should have repented of. So we walked back to the haphazard
landing place in sober silence.

When we joined the main body of castaways it seemed that Van Dyck had
contrived by some means to stem the storm of question and reproach
and to quiet it, for the time, at least. The women were sitting apart
on the boxes of canned things, and Grey and Grisdale, under Bonteck's
directions, and with his help, were setting up the three tents which
the mutineers' generosity, or chivalry, had included in our dunnage.
Somebody had kindled a small fire on the beach, but the night was so
warm that, apart from the cheer of it, the blaze served no purpose
other than to light up the somber faces turned toward it.

After the tent-pegging--in which I hastened to share a part when I
saw what was toward--we four made an attack upon the boxed stores.
There were provisions in plenty; meats in canvas and meats in tins,
vegetables fresh and vegetables in cans, ship's biscuit, and a variety
of the other more ornamental--and less filling--kind; tea, coffee,
sugar and evaporated cream; all of the calories to make a balanced
ration. Last, but not least, there was a beaker of fresh water, though
as to this, there were two good springs on the island, and a rill from
one of them was trickling into the lagoon a few yards from our landing
place.

Besides the necessary proteins, hydrocarbons and the like, there were
a few of the luxuries; a case of liquors, a box of candles, another of
cigars, cigarettes and tobacco, soap and towels, and even a couple of
mirrors ravished from the bulkheads of the _Andromeda_--these last, I
dare swear, a thought of the dancing-master Lequat's.

For beds there was a bale of canvas hammocks; and somebody's chivalric
promptings--Lequat's or another's--had gone the length of including the
baggage-hold-stored steamer trunks of the women, though we men had only
the clothes we stood in.

Before our amateur camp was fully pitched the dark cloud of dismay and
disheartenment began to show rifts here and there. After all was said,
we were all alive and well, with plenty to eat and drink, and with no
immediate prospect of hardship. Perhaps it was no matter for surprise
that Sanford, the absent-minded professor of mathematics, was the first
to rise to the philosophical demands of the occasion.

"I dare say there isn't a civilized human being in the world who
hasn't, at one time or another, wished to be situated just as we find
ourselves at the present moment," he began, after Grey and Billy
Grisdale and the Van Tromp girls had goaded him into his proper
class-room-lecturer's attitude. "For the time being--which we may very
properly hope will not be unduly extended beyond the pleasant and
profitable limit--we shall be able to live in a little world of our
own making. If we have any resources of our own to fall back upon--and
I trust none of us is wholly lacking in that respect--we may prove
and try them, and quite possibly we may discover that, after all,
environment, the conventions, the social machinery with which our
civilization has surrounded us, are by no means strictly necessary to
the sane, normal human being. Let us, therefore, eat and drink, and
be thankful that things are no worse with us than we are at present
finding them."

As if he had been an after-dinner speaker rising to express his
pleasure at being among us, the professor was heartily applauded, and,
following his suggestion, we had a bed-time snack of biscuits and
tea around the handful of camp-fire. And, such is the force of good
example, by the time the second pannikin of water was boiling, the
younger members were making a jest of the most serious adventure that
had ever befallen any of them. Jerry Dupuyster was pouring tea for
Beatrice Van Tromp; Conetta had deliberately left her aunt's side to
come and sit on the sand between Annette Grey and me; and Madeleine
Barclay, as fetchingly beautiful in her white yachting flannels as
she had ever appeared in her richest dinner gown, was listening
patiently--nay, sympathetically, I thought--to Bonteck's well-worn
explanation (which did not explain) of how it had all come about.

To offset these cheerful ameliorations there were a sufficient
number of death's heads at the feast, as a matter of course. Major
Terwilliger, contemplating a prospect which promised little in the way
of his cherished diversions, sat apart and grumbled peevishly because
the tea tasted smoky. Holly Barclay, robbed at one sheer stroke of all
the little refinements and luxuries which made the sum of his aimless
and worthless life, was still in the bickering stage; and Ingerson,
with the few restraints which he recognized stricken away, was a
plain brute, taking no pains to conceal his angry disgust, and making
snappish bids to be let alone when any one was charitable enough to
speak to him.

As for the women, the three who would be the first to feel the pinch
of any privations that might come upon us were behaving beautifully,
putting the major's gloom and Barclay's pettishness and Ingerson's
grumpy rage to shame. Mrs. Van Tromp--a most easy-going soul when
she could forget for the moment that she had three marriageable,
and as yet unmarried, daughters on her hands--had already forgotten
her reproachful complainings. Conetta's Aunt Mehitable was arguing
peacefully with the professor on the philosophical aspect of the
situation, though quite without prejudice, I fancied, to the sharp eye
she was keeping upon Conetta in her new juxtaposition between Annette
Grey and me. Mrs. Sanford, who, in spite of her motherliness, was a
frail little body physically, was apparently regarding the hammock beds
with some degree of trepidation; nevertheless, she went on sipping her
tea with evident relish, and she found time and the spirit to smile
understandingly across the circle at Billy Grisdale and Edie Van Tromp,
and to stoop and pat Billy's bull pup, when the dog, finding that his
master had no present use for him, wandered from one to another to
stick his extremely _retroussé_ nose into any hospitable palm that
offered.

"Shall we be able to keep this up, do you suppose?" Conetta whispered
to me, between the last two bites of her biscuit.

"I think the moonlight, what there is of it, is entrancingly beautiful,
don't you?" I laughed. "'Sufficient unto the day (or night)----' You
know the rest of it. I'm willing to let to-morrow take care of itself.
Are you?"

"Maybe I am." Then, with a return to the old-time dartings aside: "What
do you imagine Jerry is finding so alluring in Bee Van Tromp? He has
never read a book in his life."

"Beatrice isn't all book," I retorted. "On this voyage which has come
to such an abrupt halt I have been finding her a very charming young
woman. Her eyes, now."

"Shush! Any woman can make eyes at a man. If you'll look around at me,
I'll show you."

"Not any more," I said, and the saying was purely in self-defense.

"Wait," she teased. "The island is small--you said it was, didn't
you?--and you can't always look the other way." Then: "Can't we even
quarrel decently, Dickie Preble?"

Mrs. Van Tromp was rising stiffly and I was saved the necessity of
replying.

"Time to go to bed, my dears," said the mother of three with great
good-nature. And then to me: "Dick Preble, are you sure you fastened
my hammock securely? Because, if you didn't--well, you know--I'm
dreadfully heavy. There now! Wild horses wouldn't have dragged that
admission out of me at home. Conetta, you rogue, you're laughing at
me, but you're blushing, as well, and that's one of the conventions,
too. Never mind. I'm afraid every second step will be on a crab, or a
scorpion, or some other hideous thing. Good-night, all!"



VIII

INTO THE PRIMITIVE


IT was I who told Edie Van Tromp that the name, or legendary name, of
our island was "Pirates' Hope," and when she announced it at our first
camp breakfast it was acclaimed with a cheerful unanimity which went
far to show how, after a night's rest, we were able to make a jest out
of what had figured, only a few hours earlier, as a crude calamity.

After breakfast, Van Dyck, throwing off the lethargy which had
apparently bound him hand and foot when a little decision might have
turned the tables upon the mutineers, took his place energetically and
capably as the governor of our little colony. Under his directions a
signal was set at the nearer, or western, end of the island, enough
of the jungle was cleared to enable us to pitch the tents under the
shade of the palms, a cooking camp was established, and a rude thatched
shelter was built to protect the stores and luggage.

In these various industries there were only three idlers among the
men--the major, Holly Barclay, and Hobart Ingerson; and Edie Van Tromp,
volunteering to go with me to start a smoke fire at the signal cape,
was furious.

"Wouldn't that set your back teeth on edge, seeing those three
able-bodied gentlemen sunning themselves on the beach while everybody
else is getting blisters on their hands!" she flamed out, with a fine
disregard for the little grammatical inaccuracies. "I'd be ashamed!"

"You shouldn't deny the gentlemen the privilege of smoking their
after-breakfast cigars in comfort," I protested, grinning. "Perhaps,
after the cigars are all gone, and we come down to just plain pipes and
plebeian cut-plug tobacco----"

"I don't care! It's perfectly horrid of them, _I_ think. Mother got
us women together this morning while you men were fixing the tents,
and we all agreed to do the cooking, taking turns at it. When it comes
my turn, I shall tell those three loafing gentlemen that they can
undertake to wash the dishes, or go hungry!"

"Good!" I applauded. "You are a real, honest-to-goodness human woman,
under the skin, aren't you, Edie?"

She stuck out a pretty under lip at me.

"Did you ever, for one little fraction of a minute, doubt it, Mr.
Richard Preble?"

"No; it is only fair to say that I have never doubted it. You and Billy
are the real thing, whatever may be said for the remainder of us."

"Billy is a darling!" she declared enthusiastically. "Last night, when
those pirates rushed us with their guns, you know, I wanted to cry;
boo-hoo right out like a silly baby. It was just plain scare. A grown
man would have tried to comfort me, I suppose, but Billy joshed me and
made fun of me until I was too mad to be scared. Isn't it a thousand
pities that he's so young, and so--so----"

"So poor?" I finished for her. "It is; a thousand pities. But there
is hope on ahead, my dear child. Billy will outgrow his infancy some
time; and you mustn't lose sight of the fact that, so far as poverty
and riches are concerned, we all look very much alike, just now."

In such light-hearted banterings back and forth we put the quarter-mile
of beach behind us and got busy with our smudge-fire building at the
foot of the stripped palm-tree which carried one of Madeleine Barclay's
knitted shoulder wraps for a distress signal. With a few palmetto
leaves and bits of rotting wood to crisp and smoulder in the blaze we
soon had our smoke column erected; and beyond this there was nothing
much to do save to scan the horizon for the hoped-for sail.

"Do you really believe we shall be taken off before long, Dick Preble?"
was Miss Edith's soberly put query, this after the fire was well
established, and we were doing the horizon-sweeping stunt.

"Do you want the bald truth, or some nice little hopeful fiction?" I
asked.

"You may save the fictions for Conetta and Madeleine and Annette, if
you please. As you were kind enough to admit, a few minutes ago, I am a
woman grown."

"Then I shall tell you plainly, Edie. I know this island. It is quite
some distance from the nearest of the steamer lanes. It may be a long
time before any one finds us."

She was silent for a little while, but the resolute, girlish eyes were
quite unterrified. When she spoke again it was of a different matter.

"Dick," she began earnestly, "do you believe there is anything more
than foolishness at the bottom of all the talk we bear about a woman's
intuition?"

"All sober-minded people admit that there is, don't they?" I said.

"There is something behind all this that is happening to us," she
asserted gravely; "something that I can feel, and can't grasp or
understand. It is as real to me as the breeze in those palms, or this
staring sunshine, and is as intangible as both."

"You have been talking with Conetta," I said shortly.

"About this? No, I haven't. What makes you say that?"

"No matter; go on with your intangibility."

"This sudden mutiny and the way it was hurled at us: it is all so
strange and unaccountable. Who ever heard of the sailing-master of a
private yacht turning pirate? And especially a dear, cross old Uncle
Elijah, whose ancestors probably came over in the _Mayflower_?"

"Is Bonteck saying that Goff headed the mutiny?" I asked.

"He is letting the others say it, which is just the same."

"As you say, it is fairly incredible. Yet the fact remains. We are
here, and the _Andromeda_, with Goff on board, has vanished."

"I know; but the mystery isn't to be solved in any such easy way as
that. What possible use can Uncle Elijah or his crew of Portuguese and
mixed-bloods make of the _Andromeda_, which is probably known in every
civilized harbor of the world as Mr. Bonteck Van Dyck's private yacht?"

I hesitated to tell her the story of the treasure-carrying. That was
Van Dyck's secret, so long as he chose to make a secret of it.

"As to the object of the mutiny, we are all entitled to a guess," I
said. Then I offered one which was plausible or not, as one chose to
view it: "Suppose we suppose that some one of the Central or South
American countries is on the edge of a revolution; that isn't very hard
to imagine, is it?"

"No."

"Very well. The sharpest need of the rebels in any revolution is for
arms and ammunition; next to this, a fast ship to carry the arms
and ammunition. If there should happen to be money enough in the
revolutionary war-chest, isn't it conceivable that even an Uncle Elijah
might be tempted?"

She turned and looked me squarely in the eye.

"Is that your guess, Dick Preble?" she demanded.

"It is as good as any, isn't it?" I replied evasively.

When she said: "It doesn't satisfy me; it is too absurd," her
repetition of Conetta's protest of the previous night was almost
startling.

"There are times when you women are almost uncanny," I told her, but
she merely laughed at that.

"The absurdity isn't my only hunch," she went on, after the
frank-speaking manner of her kind. "This Robinson Crusoe experience is
going to be a dreadful thing, in a way. There won't be any illusions
left for any of us, I'm afraid--any more than there were for the people
of the Stone Age."

That sage remark brought on more talk, and we speculated cheerfully on
the death of the illusions and what might reasonably be expected as the
results thereof. My chatty companion had a lively imagination, and her
forecastings of the changes that would ensue in the different members
of our colony were handsomely entertaining.

"And you," she said, when she had worked her way around to me in the
prophesying; "I can just see what an unlivable person you will become."

"Why should I be so particularly unlivable?" I asked.

"That awful temper of yours," she went on baldly. "With all the
civilized veneer cracked and peeling off--my-oh!"

Now it is one thing to be well assured, in one's own summings-up,
of the possession of a violent temper, and quite another to be told
bluntly that the possession is a commonly accepted fact among one's
friends and acquaintances. Edie Van Tromp's assertion of the fact as
one that had--or might have been--published in the newspapers came with
a decided shock.

"Am I as bad as all that?" I protested.

"Everybody knows what a vile temper you have," she replied coolly.
"Anybody who couldn't get along with Conetta Kincaide without
quarreling with her------"

"Oh; so she has told you I have quarreled with her?"

"There you go," she gibed. "One has only to mention Conetta to you to
touch off the powder train. What makes you quarrel with her, Uncle
Dick?"

"What makes you think I am quarreling with her?"

"Hoo! I've got eyes, I guess. Of course, you've been decently polite to
her, but a blind person could see that it was just put on. The veneer
wasn't cracked then. I shudder to think what will happen when it gets
all cracked and peelly."

I thought it was time for a diversion, so I turned the tables upon her.

"How will it be with you after the veneer glue lets go?"

"Oh, me?--I'm just a crude little brute, anyway. I don't just see how
I _could_ change for the worse. I'm saying this because I know it is
what you are thinking. But there's one comfort. Billy won't see any
difference in me, no matter what I do. And Billy himself won't change;
he's too obvious."

We prolonged our watch until nearly noon, when the professor and his
wife came out to relieve us. It may say itself that during our two
hours or more of horizon-searching we saw no signs of a rescue vessel.
In the wide three-quarters of a circle visible from the western point
of the island--a point where I had spent many weary hours after the
shipwreck of the _Mary Jane_--there had been only the calm expanse of
sea and sky with nothing to break the monotony.

At the camp under the palms we found things settling into some sort of
routine. A fire was going in the rude fire place built of rough chunks
of the coral, and Mrs. Van Tromp and her athletic eldest were cooking
dinner. The major and Holly Barclay were still loafing on the beach,
both of them smoking as though we had a Tampa cigar factory to draw
upon instead of a strictly limited supply of Van Dyck's "perfectos."
Madeleine and Beatrice Van Tromp, working together, were trying to
fashion a basket out of stripped palm fronds--though just what purpose
a basket would serve I couldn't imagine.

Billy Grisdale, suddenly become useful, was gathering bits of wood
for the cooking fire. Jack Grey, who, besides being a rising young
attorney, had a flair for building things, was adding to the thatch
of the dunnage shelter, and Annette was helping him. Ingerson was
invisible, and so was Van Dyck. Miss Mehitable, whose health may or
may not have been all that it should be, was lying in her hammock, and
Conetta, ever dutiful, was fanning her with a broad palmetto leaf.
Among the workers it was Jerry Dupuyster who appeared in the most
original rôle. In the nattiest of one-piece bathing suits--supplied, as
I made no doubt, out of the luggage of one of the Van Tromp girls--he
had swum the lagoon to the wreck of the _Mary Jane_, where he now
appeared, a symphony in cerise stripes and bare legs, hacking manfully
at the wreck with a hand-axe to the end that we might increase our
scanty stock of firewood.

After the noon meal, at which Van Dyck appeared just as we were sitting
down to it, Jerry and I were told off to go on sentry duty at the
eastern end of the island, where we were to establish another distress
signal.

"Us for the sentry-go, old chappie," said Jerry cheerfully, and
together we took the beach trail for our post.

Reaching the eastern extremity of things after a walk of perhaps
three-quarters of a mile along the beach, we presently had an
improvised flag flying from a lopped tree, and after we had lighted a
smoke smudge there was nothing more to do but to watch for the sail
which I, for one, did not expect to see.

"Jolly rum old go, what?" said Jerry, casting himself full length upon
the sand when our labors were ended. "Shouldn't mind it so much, don't
y' know, if we didn't have the women along. Smoke?" and he handed me
his tobacco bag.

"The women, and one or two others," I qualified, filling my pipe.

"Haw, yes: Hob Ingerson, for one. Actin' like a bally cad, Ingerson is.
Needs to have some chappie give him a wallop or so, what?"

"Yes; and when it comes to the show-down, I rather hope I'll be the
'chappie'," I said.

"Not if I see him first," Jerry cut in, and this, indeed, was a new
development.

"You're under weight, Jerry; you wouldn't make two bites for Ingerson
if you should try to mix it with him."

"Eh, what?" exclaimed the transformed--or transforming--one, sitting
up suddenly. "If he doesn't stop his dashed swearin' before the women,
I'll take him on; believe me, I will, old dear."

"What makes you think you'd last out the first half of the first round
with a big bully like Ingerson?" I asked, grinning at him.

"Number of little things, old top; this, for one," and he opened his
shirt to show me something that looked like a ten-dollar gold piece
suspended by a silken cord around his neck.

"And what might that be?" I inquired, mildly curious.

He pulled the string off over his head and handed me the gold disk. It
proved to be a medal, struck by some gentlemen's boxing club of London,
testifying to the facts that Mr. Gerald Dupuyster was a member in good
standing, and that he had won the medal by reason of his being the
top-notcher in the club's series of light-weight matches.

"I never would have suspected it of you, Jerry," I commented, returning
the medal. "In fact, I should have said you were the last person on
earth to go in for the manly art of self-defense. What made you?"

"Oh, I say!--all the chappies with any red blood in 'em go in for it
over there, y' know. Jolly good sport, too; what?"

"Here's to you, if you conclude to try it on with Ingerson," I laughed.
"I'll be your towel-holder. But Ingerson isn't the only one we could do
without on this right little tight little island of ours, Jerry."

"You're dashed right. There's Barclay, for another."

"Yes; and----"

"Say it, old dear. Don't I know that the old uncle is cuttin' up rusty?
Grousing because he can't sit in an easy-chair and swig toddies no end!
Makes me jolly well ashamed, he does."

Here was another astonishing revelation. From what I had seen on
shipboard--from what we had all seen--there had been ample grounds for
the supposition that Jerry was a mere pawn in any game his uncle might
choose to play. But now there seemed to be quite a different Jerry
lying just under the cracking crust of the conventions. The discovery
took a bit of the bitterness out of my soul. If I couldn't have Conetta
for myself, it was a distinct comfort to know that she wasn't going
to draw a complete blank in the great lottery. Under all of Jerry's
Anglomaniacal fripperies there was apparently a man.

At the refilling of his pipe this changed, or changing, Jerry spoke of
my former immurement on the island, saying that Conetta had told him
a bit about it, and asking if I wouldn't tell him a bit more. So once
again I told the story of the ill-fated voyage of the _Mary Jane_ and
its near-tragic sequel for six poor castaways.

"Rummy old go, that," he commented, when the tale was told. "Dashed
easy to see how a chap might lose out on all the little decencies when
the belly-pinch takes hold. Are we likely to come a cropper into that
ditch before some bally old tub turns up to take us off?"

"I'm hoping not," I said.

He was silent for a time, and when he spoke again it was to say: "We've
eighteen mouths to fill, old dear; how long can we fill 'em out of the
blooming tins; eh? what?"

I shook my head. "Van Dyck and I checked the provisions over this
morning while we were storing them. We shall do well enough for two or
three weeks; maybe longer, if we're careful not to waste any of the
food."

At this my fellow watcher swore roundly in good, plain American.

"Saw Holly Barclay turn up his damned nose and pitch his ship's
biscuits into the lagoon this morning," he explained. "Said something
about their not bein' fit for a human being to eat, by Jove!"

"He'll sing another tune if we have to come down to cocoanuts and
sea worms," I prophesied. Even this early in the game it was plainly
evident that Barclay, the major, and Hobart Ingerson were going to be
our sorest afflictions when the pinch should come.

In such fashion we wore out the afternoon, blinding our eyes, as I had
many times blinded mine in other days, with fruitless searchings of the
unresponsive waste of waters. At dusk we built up the signal fire to
make it last as long as possible and returned to the camp at the other
end of the island. When we came in sight of it, Mrs. Van Tromp and two
of her girls were putting the supper for the eighteen of us on a clean
tarpaulin spread upon the beach. Van Dyck met us just before we joined
the others.

"Nothing?" he queried.

"Nothing," we answered.

And the evening and the morning were the first day.



IX

THE BULLY


THAT remark of Edith Van Tromp's, to the effect that the illusions
would all be swept away, had its confirmation before we had tholed
through the first week of our island captivity. Little by little the
masks slipped aside, and some of the revealments of the true character
hiding behind them--some of the revelations, but not all--were grimly
illuminating.

Before the week's end I saw the major slyly slip the last box of the
precious cigars under his coat when he thought no one was looking and
go off to hide it in a shallow hole scooped in the dry sand of the
beach edge at a safe distance from the camp. Later, I came upon him
as he was burying a couple of bottles of the diminishing supply of
liquor in the same place--and he lied to me and said he was digging for
shell-fish.

Two or three days earlier than this, Holly Barclay had taken to his
hammock bed in a fit of purely imaginary illness, exacting constant
attendance and pampering in which he made a toiling slave of his pretty
daughter. When the pampering began and continued with no sign of
abatement in the querulous demands Barclay was making upon Madeleine,
Van Dyck grew gloomy and snappish, and I knew that the day was only
postponing itself when Bonteck would flame out at the sham invalid and
tell him exactly and precisely what a selfish malingerer he was.

Still lower in the unmasking scale came Ingerson--the real
Ingerson--who had lapsed into a sullen barbarian; unshaven, unbathed,
and with the coarse warp and woof of him showing at every threadbare
seam. What time he had free access to the liquor, he drank himself
ugly at least once in every twenty-four hours; and when Mrs. Van Tromp
finally shamed him out of his daylight attacks upon the liquor chest,
he took to raiding it after the camp was asleep, keeping this up until
one night when he found that the remainder of the bottled stuff had
disappeared. After this he became a morose threat to everybody, and
even Mrs. Van Tromp ignored his millions and turned a cold shoulder
upon him.

Three nights after his unsuccessful effort to turn up another bottle of
whiskey in the stores, the drink maniac tried it again, and this time
Van Dyck awoke and caught him at it.

"Looking for something you haven't lost, Ingerson?" he said, speaking
quietly to keep from disturbing the others.

Ingerson backed out of the palmetto-thatched store shelter and whirled
upon Van Dyck with a face which, as the firelight showed it to me, was
that of a devil denied.

"Where have you hid it?" he demanded hoarsely. "Tell me, or I'll wring
your damned neck!"

Van Dyck's smile was almost as devilish as Ingerson's teeth-baring
snarl.

"You needn't make a racket and wake the camp," he said in the evenest
of tones. "I did hide it, and it was partly to give you a decently
fair chance. Come with me." And he got up and the pair of them
disappeared among the palms.

Not trusting Ingerson any more than I would have trusted a snake, I
rose silently and followed them into the shadows, coming in sight of
them again as they entered a little open glade on the opposite side of
the island. Ingerson had halted and was gesticulating angrily.

"I want to know here and now what you meant by that 'decent chance'
break you made at me!" he was saying. "If you mean Madge Barclay, I can
tell you right off the bat that you're a dead one!"

"We will leave Miss Barclay quite out of it, if you please," said
Bonteck, still apparently as cool as Ingerson was hot. "You want
liquor, and I've brought you here to give it to you."

"We'll settle that other little thing first," Ingerson broke in
truculently. "You put up this winter cruise, that you've bungled and
turned into a starvation picnic, with the notion that you were going to
corner the market for yourself, I suppose. I'm here to tell you that
you lose out. Barclay makes this deal without any brokers, and I hold
an option on him."

"You will have to make that part of it a little plainer, I'm afraid,"
said Van Dyck; and now there was a dangerous softness in his voice.

"You can have it straight, if you want it that way. Barclay's in a hole
for money; he's always in a hole. I've agreed to pay him out, once for
all, and he's accepted the bid."

"And the price?" queried Bonteck gently--very gently.

"You can ask Madge about that," was the surly rejoinder. And then: "Get
a move: where have you hid that whiskey?"

"You shall have the whiskey presently, Ingerson; but first I'm going
to give you something you've been needing a good bit worse for a long
time. Put up your hands, if you know how!"

It was a very pretty fight, out there in the moonlit glade, with the
camp far enough removed to make the privacy of it safe, and with no
ring-side audience, so far as either of the combatants knew, to hiss
or applaud. Ingerson was no coward, neither was he lacking in bull
strength, nor in the skill to make fairly good use of it. Though he
went in at the beginning with a handicap of blind rage, the first few
passes steadied him and for a minute or so it looked as if Bonteck had
taken on a full load.

But, as a very ordinary prophet might have foretold, Ingerson's late
prolonged soak--for it was nothing less--presently got in its work.
Twice Van Dyck landed swinging body blows; and though neither of
these would have winded a sober man, the second left Ingerson gasping
and with his jaw hanging. I thought that settled it, and it did,
practically, though the bully was still game. Handling himself as
coolly as if he were giving a boxing lesson on a gymnasium floor, Van
Dyck landed again and again, and each blow was sent home with an impact
that sounded like the kick of a mule.

Ingerson stood up to it as long as he could, and when his wind was
gone he went into a clinch. Bonteck broke the clinch with a volley of
short-arm jabs that was little less than murderous, and when he was
hammered out of the clinch, Ingerson staggered and went down. I looked
to see him stay down, but he didn't. After a moment of breath-catching
he was up and at it again, and it took three more of the well-planted
body blows to drive him into a second clinch. As before, he failed to
pinion Van Dyck's right arm, and I made sure he tried to set his teeth
in Van Dyck's shoulder.

At this, Bonteck shifted his short-arm jabs from the ribs and swung
upon the unguarded jaw; whereupon Ingerson lost his grip and curled up
on the ground like some huge worm that had been stepped on.

Van Dyck stood over him, breathing hard.

"Have you had enough?" he demanded; and when the vanquished one made
some sort of grunting acknowledgment, Bonteck brought water from the
near-by spring in a folded leaf of a giant begonia and held it while
Ingerson struggled to his knees and bathed the battered jaw.

"Now I'll get you your whiskey," said Van Dyck shortly; and leaving
Ingerson to dabble his hands in the cooling water, he went aside into
the jungle, returning after a minute or so with a case-bottle. "Here
you are," he said, giving the bottle to the beaten bully; "take it and
make a brute of yourself, if that's what you want to do." And then I
had to hurry to be before Bonteck in the camp clearing; to be in my
place beside the handful of night fire before he should return and
catch me out of it. For I had no notion of marring the perfect joy of
victory which I knew must be filling his soul.

After this there were other days merging slowly into weeks; days of
back-slippings into deeper depths of the primitive, a retrogradation
in which we all participated more or less; days in which we stolidly
maintained the signal fires at either extremity of the island and wore
out the dragging hours as best we could, scanning the horizon for the
coming sail of rescue, though each succeeding day with less hope of
seeing it, I think.

More and more markedly the conventions withdrew into a past which was
daily growing to seem more like life in a former avatar than a reality
once ours to possess. From merely slipping aside now and again, the
masks were carelessly dropped and suffered to remain where they fell.
Seen in the new perspective, there were many surprising changes, and
not all of them were disappointing. For example: Mrs. Eager Van Tromp,
in her normal state a good lady driven to distraction by her efforts
to hold her footing on the social ladder and so to marry her daughters
adequately, became, _en séquestre_, the good-natured, plain-spoken
mother of us all, and a past mistress in the fine art of camp
cooking--a specialty in which she was ably seconded by all three of her
daughters, also, when she would permit it, by Mrs. Sanford, Annette
Grey and Conetta.

Courageous fortitude best describes the change that had come over
Madeleine Barclay. With her irritable father to placate and wait upon,
and with Ingerson's attitude toward her coming to be that of blunt
possessorship, she was by turns the patient nurse to the malingerer
and the cheerful heartener of the rest of us. Never, in all those
depressing days of hope deferred, did I hear her complain; and always
she had a steadying word for the despairing ones: if a ship didn't come
for us to-day, it would come to-morrow, and into the most dejected she
could put new life--for the moment, at least.

In John Grey and Annette, and in the professor and his wife, the
changes were the least marked. For the newly married couple nothing
much seemed to matter so long as they had each other. Once or twice,
indeed, I surprised Grey with a look in his eyes that told of the dread
undercurrent that must have been underlying his every thought of the
future and what it might hold for Annette, but that was all. And as
for the older couple--well, perhaps they had attained to a higher and
serener plane than any to which we younger ones could climb. Day in and
day out, when he was not doing his apportioned share of the common camp
tasks, the professor was immersed to the eyes in a study of the lush
flora of the island, thumbing a little pocket Botany until its leaves
were worn and frayed with much turning. And where he wandered, his wife
wandered with him.

In Miss Mehitable, too, a transformation of a sort was wrought. For
many days she held sourly aloof and had bitter words for Van Dyck, and
black looks for me when by any chance I was able to deprive her for a
time, long or short, of Conetta's caretaking and coddling. But with the
lapse of time I fancied that even this crabbed lady was beginning to
lose her sense of the mere money distinctions, and I was rash enough to
say as much to Conetta on a day when I was so fortunate as to secure
her for a companion in the signal-fire watch which Bonteck still made
us maintain.

"You shouldn't say such things about poor Aunt Mehitable," was the
reproof I got. "This is a very terrible experience for her--as it would
be for any woman of her age--and she is really more than half sick."

"Don't mistake me," I made haste to say. "I meant it wholly in a
congratulatory sense."

"She has changed," Conetta admitted, adding: "But dear me! we have all
changed."

"'All the world's queer, excepting thee and me, and sometimes
even thee's a little queer'," I quoted. "What changes have you
remarked--particularly?"

"For one, Major Terwilliger is just a selfish, peevish old man, utterly
impossible to live with," she said calmly.

"Amen to that. Yet, one of these days you will probably have to reckon
with him as a member of your household. Go on."

She went on, paying no attention to what I had said about householding
the major.

"The professor is a dear, just as you'd expect him to be, and so is
Mrs. Professor. Annette is as brave as brave, and the way she is
keeping up is only equaled by Jack's adorable care of her, which is at
the bottom of his constant breezy assurances that each day will be the
last of our Crusoeing."

"And Billy?" I prompted.

"Billy is a dear, too. He has changed less than any one, I think.
Yesterday, at supper-time, he nearly broke my heart. Perhaps you
remember that he got up and went away while we were eating, saying that
he'd forgotten something. A few minutes later I went back to the spring
to get some fresh water for Aunt Mehitable and found him sharing his
supper with Tige. He'd heard what Major Terwilliger had said about our
wasting food on the dog when we'd probably need it ourselves. Wouldn't
that make you weep?"

"The dog is much more worthy of his rations than the major is of what
he consumes," I averred. "Tige is at least willing to do his best if
anybody will show him how. Any more transmogrifications?"

"Lots of them. Possibly you've noticed that Mrs. Van Tromp no longer
tries to shoo Billy away from Edie. That's a miracle in itself. Then
there is Madeleine: I have always thought her rather--um--well, you
know; rather stand-offish and maybe a bit self-centered. Dick, she is
an angel! The way she devotes herself, body and soul, to that father of
hers, and still finds time and the heart to chirk the rest of us up, is
beyond all praise."

"You can't get a quarrel out of me on that score," I returned.
"Madeleine is all that you say she is, and more. As for her father, I
guess we can pass him up. Between us two, he is no more sick than I am.
And I don't believe he has changed a particle; we are merely coming to
know him better as he really is, and always has been."

"I have known him for a long time," Conetta said thoughtfully. Then she
agreed with me: "We'll leave him out; he cancels himself on the minus
side of the equation, as you used to say of certain people we knew in
the old days at home."

I wasn't half sure enough of myself to be willing to have her drag
in the old days, so I urged her to go on with her cataloguing of our
fellow castaways, saying: "You haven't completed the list yet."

"There is one more to be omitted--Hobart Ingerson," she said soberly,
with a shadow of deep disgust coming into her eyes.

"Will Madeleine omit him?" I asked quickly.

"If she doesn't--after what we've been compelled to see and feel and
endure! Dick, it's dreadful; simply dreadful!"

"Yet she will marry him," I insisted--purely to hear what my companion
would say to that.

"It is unbelievable. What possible motive could she have in doing such
an unspeakable thing?"

"A few minutes ago you called her an angel; perhaps it will be the
angelic motive. Her father needs money; needs a very considerable sum
of money, and needs it badly. She knows of the need--though I think she
doesn't know the immediate and exciting cause of it--and she also knows
that Ingerson is willing to buy and pay."

"How perfectly horrible!" said my watchmate, with a shudder. And then:
"What a pity it is that Madeleine's money was all swallowed up in that
bank failure out West."

I smiled when she said that. Madeleine's fortune hadn't gone in any
bank failure, neither out West nor back East. This was only another of
Holly Barclay's plausible little fictions.

"You mean?--" I suggested.

"I mean that if she had money of her own she might buy her freedom. I
imagine it is purely a financial matter with Mr. Holly Barclay. If she
could only find some of the Spaniards' gold--find it for herself so
that it would belong to her.... Wouldn't that be splendid!"

This was something entirely new to me, and I said: "What gold is this
you are talking about?"

She looked around at me with wide-open eyes.

"Why--haven't you heard?" Then: "Oh, I remember; Bonteck was telling
us the story last evening, while you and the professor were out at the
other signal fire." And thereupon she repeated the old tale of the
siege and wreck of the Spanish galleon in Queen Elizabeth's reign, with
the tradition of the hidden treasure whose hiding place the survivors
had refused to betray--paying for their refusal with their lives.

"Of course, that is only a sea yarn--one of the many that are told
about those old days and the doings in them," was my comment. "You knew
that while you were listening to it, didn't you?"

"Oh, yes; I supposed it wasn't true. I kept telling myself that Bonteck
was only trying to start some new interest that would keep us from
going stark mad over this wretched imprisonment, and the watching and
waiting that never amounts to anything. It's serving a purpose, too.
Most of the young ones are turning treasure hunters--going in couples.
Jerry Dupuyster was trying to persuade Beatrice to slip away just as we
left the camp. I heard him."

That small reference to Jerry and his disloyalty--which was becoming
daily more and more apparent, and which I may have omitted to
mention--moved me as one of the Yellowstone Park geysers is said to be
moved by the dropping into it of a bar of soap.

"One of these fine days I'm going to beat Jerry Dupuyster until his
best friend wouldn't recognize him," I said savagely.

Conetta laughed; the silvery little laugh that I was once besotted
enough to believe that she kept especially for me.

"There goes your temper again. That is one thing that hasn't changed,"
she said. And then: "Poor Jerry! You'd have to have one hand tied
behind you, wouldn't you?--just to be reasonably fair, you know."

There had been a time when I should have admitted that her gibe hit the
mark, but that was before the transformed--or transforming--Jerry had
been revealed to me.

"Nothing like that," I said. "He may not have confided it to you, but
Jerry is a man of his hands. Hasn't he ever shown you the medal he won
in England?"

She shook her head. "There are lots of things Jerry hasn't shown
me--yet."

"Well, he has the medal, and it says he was the top-notcher in his
class in some London boxing club. I give him credit for that; but just
the same, there have been times during the past few days when I've had
a curious longing to see how near I could come to throwing him bodily
across the lagoon."

Again she said, "Poor Jerry!" and had the calm assurance to ask me what
he had done to incur my ill will.

"Done!" I exclaimed. "What hasn't he done? If he thinks he is going to
be allowed to play fast and loose with you for a chit of a girl like
Beatrice Van Tromp----"

Once more her silvery laugh interrupted.

"Beatrice will be twenty-three on her next birthday. She is quite well
able to fight her own battles, Mr. Dickie Preble."

"Oh, confound it all; you know what I mean!" I fumed hotly. "He has
asked you to marry him, hasn't he?"

"He has," she replied quite calmly.

"Well, isn't that enough?"

"Don't be silly," she said. "You must try to control that dreadful
temper of yours. You're miles too touchy, Dickie, dear."

That remark was so true that I was constrained to wrench the talk aside
from Jerry and the temperamental things by main strength.

"This treasure-hunting business," I said. "I'm wondering if that is
what Bonteck has had on his mind? He has been acting like a man half
out of his senses for the past few days. Surely you have noticed it?"

"Yes; and I've been setting it down as one of the most remarkable of
the changes we have been talking about. You know how he was at first;
he seemed to take everything as a matter of course, and was able to
calm everybody's worries. But lately, as you say, he has been acting
like a man with an unconfessed murder on his soul. I was so glad when
he told us that galleon story last night. He was more like himself."

"He feels his responsibility, naturally," I suggested, "and it grows
heavier the longer we are shut up here. While I think very few of us
blame him personally for what has happened to us, he can't help feeling
that if he hadn't planned the cruise and invited us, the thing wouldn't
have happened at all."

"Of course; anybody would feel that way," she agreed, and after that
she fell silent.

The weather on this day of our morning watch under the western
palm-tree signal staff was much like that of all the other days;
superlatively fine, and with the sun's warmth delightfully tempered by
the steady fanning of the breeze which was tossing miniature breakers
over the comb of the outer reef. Conetta's gaze was fixed upon the
distant horizon, and when I looked around I saw that her eyes were
slowly filling with tears.

We had been comrades as well as lovers in the old days; which was
possibly why I took her hand and held it, and why she did not resent
the new-old caress.

"Tell me about it," I urged. "You used to be able to lean upon me once,
Conetta, dear."

"It's just the--the loneliness, Dick," she faltered, squeezing the
tears back. "We've all been dropping the masks and showing what we
really are; but there is one mask that we never drop--any of us. We
laugh and joke, and tell one another that to-morrow, or the next day at
the very farthest, will see the end of this jolly picnic on Pirates'
Hope. But really, in the bottom of our hearts, we know that it may
never end--only with our lives. Isn't that so?"

I did not dare tell her the bald truth; that it might, indeed, come to
a life-and-death struggle with starvation before our slender chance of
rescue should materialize.

"I don't allow myself to think of that," I said quickly--and it was
a lie out of the whole cloth. "And you mustn't let your small anchor
drag, either, Connie, girl."

"I know; but I can't help hearing--and seeing. This morning early,
before most of them were up, I saw Billy and Jack Grey trying to make
some fishing lines and hooks; they were jollying each other about the
fun they were going to have whipping the lagoon for a change of diet
for us. And yesterday I happened to overhear the professor telling
Bonteck that he had made a careful search of the island for the edible
roots that grow wild in the tropics, and hadn't been able to find any.
Naturally, I knew at once what these things meant. The provisions are
running low."

I nodded. It didn't seem worth while to try to lie to her.

"How far has it spread?" I asked. "Mrs. Van Tromp has been trying to
keep the scarcity in the background. Does any one else know?"

"I can't say. But I do know that Mrs. Van Tromp is anxious to hide it
from her girls--and from Madeleine."

"Why from Madeleine in particular?"

Again Conetta let her honest eyes look fairly into mine.

"Because Bonteck will not have Madeleine told. He means to spare her to
the very last, no matter how much she has to waste upon her father's
finicky appetite. Only this morning, she had to throw his entire
breakfast away--after he'd messed with it and spoiled it--and get him
another one!"

This was growing serious; much more serious than I had suspected; and
I made a mental resolve to get the men of our party together on a
short-rations basis at once. We had been hideously reckless with our
stores; no one could deny that.

"This smudge will smoke for an hour or so longer," I pointed out,
rising and helping Conetta to her feet. "Suppose we take a walk around
on the south beach and look over toward my old stamping ground in
Venezuela."

She made no objection, and once we were in motion we kept on, since the
southern horizon was just as likely to yield the hopeful sign for which
we were straining our eyes as any other. I am morally certain that I
had no hunch to prompt the change of view-point, and if my companion
had, she didn't mention it. Nevertheless, when we had measured
something less than half the length of the island, tramping side by
side in sober silence over the white sands, the thing we had looked for
in vain through so many weary hours appeared, and we both saw it at the
same instant--the long, low smoke trail of a steamer blackening the
line where sea and sky came together.

There was nothing to be done; absolutely nothing that we could do to
attract the attention of those people who were just out of sight below
the blurred horizon. For so long as we could distinguish the slowly
vanishing harbinger of rescue we stood transfixed, hardly daring to
breathe, hoping against hope that the steamer's course was laid toward
us instead of away from us. But when the black of the smoke trail had
faded to gray, and the gray became so faint that it was no longer
separable from the slight haze of the sky-line, Conetta turned and
clung to me, sobbing like a hurt and frightened child. It was too much,
and I took her in my arms and comforted her, as I had once had the
right to do.

And at that climaxing moment, out of the jungle thicketing behind us
came Jerry Dupuyster and Beatrice Van Tromp. Beatrice was laughing
openly, and on Jerry's face there was an inane smile that made me wish
very heartily to kill him where he stood.



X

THE BONES OF THE "SANTA LUCIA."


CONETTA'S assertion, made in half-confidence to me, to the effect that
Bonteck's attitude had changed, had ample backgrounding in the fact,
and the cause--at least, so it appeared to me--was a sharp and growing
anxiety.

Time and again I had surprised him sweeping the horizon with the
field-glass, which was the only thing he had taken from his cabin
stateroom when Lequat had come for us; and while there was nothing
especially remarkable about this, I remembered that he had heretofore
been turning this duty carelessly over to the various watchers at
the signal fires. To be sure, the diminishing supply of eatables was
a sufficient cause for any amount of anxiety, but I could not help
thinking that there was something even bigger than the prospective food
shortage gnawing at him. And that conclusion was confirmed on the day
after Conetta and I had seen the steamer smoke, when I came upon him
sitting on the beach at the farthest extremity of the island, with his
head in his hands--a picture of the deepest dejection.

But with all this, he was still unremitting in his efforts to keep us
from stagnating and slipping into that pit of despair which always
yawns for the shipwrecked castaway. His revival of the legendary tale
of the old Spanish plate ship, with its sequel of the starving crew and
the buried treasure, was one of the expedients; and though gold was the
one thing for which our marooned ship's company had the least possible
use, the story served an excellent purpose.

Treasure-trove became, as one might say, the stock joke of the moment.
Even the Sanfords went strolling about the island, prodding with sticks
in the soft sand and turning up the fallen leaves in the wood; and Grey
proposed jocularly that we stake off the beach in the vicinity of the
skeleton wreck of the old galleon and fall to digging systematically,
each on his own mining claim.

It was while this treasure-hunting diversion was holding the center of
the stage that a thing I had been anticipating came to pass. Van Dyck
suddenly broke over the host-and-guest barriers and read the riot act
to Holly Barclay. I happened to be within earshot at the cataclysmic
moment--it was one of the rare moments when Madeleine wasn't dancing
attendance upon the sham invalid--and what Van Dyck said to Barclay was
quite enough, I thought, to kill any possible chance he might have had
as a suitor, with a father who stood ready to purchase immunity from
just punishment at the price of his daughter's happiness.

"You are acting like a spoiled child, Barclay; that is the plain
English of it," was Bonteck's blunt charge. "You are not sick, and if
you were, it would be no excuse for the way you are tying your daughter
down. Hereafter there will be a new deal. Madeleine must have some time
every day for exercise and recreation."

"She won't take it," retorted the malingerer.

"She will if you tell her to; and you are going to insist upon it."

"I won't be bullied by you, Bonteck Van Dyck! You haven't anything to
say--after the way you've let us in for this hellish nightmare. What
business is it of yours if Madge chooses to make things a little less
unbearable for me?"

"I am making it my business, and what I say goes as it lies. You turn
Madeleine loose for her bit of freedom mornings and evenings. If you
don't, I shall tell her what I know about her cousin's fortune, and
what you have done with it."

Barclay crumpled up like a man hit in the stomach by a soft-nosed
bullet, and the faded pink in his cheeks turned to a sickly copper
yellow.

"Don't!" he gasped. "For God's sake, don't do that, Van Dyck! She may
go--I'll make her go. I--I'm a sick man, I tell you, and you're trying
to kill me! Go away and let me alone!"

Van Dyck came out of the palm clump where Barclay's hammock was
swung--and found me eavesdropping.

"That was a piker's trick--listening in on me, Dick," he remonstrated
half-impatiently. But, after all, I think he was glad he had a witness
to Barclay's promise.

As may be imagined, Madeleine got her freedom, or some measure of it,
immediately. It was Alicia Van Tromp who told me that a miracle had
been wrought.

"I think Mr. Holly Barclay must be near his end," she said, with fine
scorn. "He is insisting that Madeleine go for a walk. Wouldn't that
shock you?"

When Madeleine made her appearance, I looked to see Bonteck monopolize
her, as he had earned the right to do; but what he did was to thrust me
into the breach.

"You heard what I said to Holly Barclay and you know why I said it,"
was the way he put it up to me. "Madeleine hasn't been out of shouting
distance of her father's hammock half a dozen times since the night
we were marooned. Trot her all around the shop and make her think of
something different. I'll square things for you with Conetta."

"You are about three years too late to square me with Conetta," I said
sourly. "Have you anything else up your sleeve?"

"Several things; but I'm not going to show them to you just now. Be
a good sport and help me out. I'd do as much for you, any day; in
fact, I've done a good bit more as it is, if you only knew it. Here
she comes; don't let Ingerson get in ahead of you. Take her around
the south beach and come back the other way. Jump for it, you crabbed
old woman-hater! It isn't every day in the week that you have such a
privilege jammed down your throat."

It was no very difficult task--the capturing of Madeleine. She fell
in promptly and amiably with my suggestion that we go on an exploring
tramp around the beach line of the island, and I took her the
roundabout way, as Bonteck had directed, to make her release last as
long as possible.

I don't recall what we talked about at first, only I know that it was
all perfectly innocuous. We had common ground enough--the people we
both knew at home, a summer fortnight on the North Shore when she was a
débutante and we were fellow guests in the same house group, a winter
tour in California when we had both chanced to be members of the same
party. But inevitably, and in spite of all I could do to turn it aside,
the talk eventually drifted around to the present with its more than
dubious possibilities.

"Conetta tells me that you were once ship-wrecked on this same bit of
coral, Dick," was the way she switched from the North Shore house party
to Pirates' Hope. "Doesn't it seem a most remarkable coincidence that
you should have the misfortune to have to repeat that experience?"

"Compared with the other experience, this is a vacation pleasure camp,"
I said, trying to keep the serious aspect of things in the background.
"We came ashore in a hurricane, the six of us who were not drowned, and
had to live on cocoanuts and raw fish. We hadn't even the makings of a
fire."

"How dreadful it must have been!" she exclaimed. "I should think that
the memory of that terrible time would color every minute of the day
for you now, with all the reminders there must be."

"Not a bit of it," I denied cheerfully. "'The mill doesn't grind with
the water that has passed,' you know. And, besides, the _Mary Jane's_
survivors were taken off in due time--which we may take as an earnest
that we shall be picked up, sooner or later."

We had reached the extreme eastern point of the islet by this time, and
she stopped and faced me.

"Are you really believing that, Dick?" she asked, with a little
trembling of the pretty lips that she could not wholly control, though
a blind man might have seen that she was trying to, hard enough.

"Of course I am."

"I'm afraid you wouldn't admit it to me if you weren't. You see, I
can't forget that those others stayed here and starved--long ago, you
know--the crew of the _Santa Lucia_."

"You have been listening to Bonteck's ghost stories," I jested. "You
mustn't take them for matters of fact."

"But there _is_ a wreck," she insisted; "I mean besides the one on the
reef opposite our camp."

"Oh, yes; there is a bare suggestion of an older wreck," I said. "We'll
go and have a look at it, if you like. It's on the north beach, and we
can go back that way. Would you care to see it?"

She nodded, and we strolled on in sober silence for another half-mile.
I was afraid I was not making much of a success of the job of keeping
her spirits up, and was beginning to wish very heartily that I had made
Bonteck do his own jollying. Just why she should be looking upon the
blue side of things at last, after she had been the one to do most of
the cheering in the past, I couldn't imagine at first, but a bit later
the solution--or a possible solution--came to me. Perhaps the invalid,
knowing that he was going to lose some of his hold upon her through
Van Dyck's insistence upon more freedom for her, had been pressing the
Ingerson claim still harder.

The wreck of the galleon--if, indeed, the few bits of barnacled timber
and rusting ironwork could, by any stretch of imagination, be dated
back to a period so remote as that of the conquest of Peru--was in the
bight of a little bay, well sheltered by the tallest of the palms,
which effectually screened it from our camp end of the island. It
wanted possibly half an hour of sunset when we came upon the few dumb
relics, and the shadows of the palms were making weird traceries upon
the white sand of the beach.

Assuming that the largest of the charred and blackened "bones" was
the stem of the ancient wreck, it was to be inferred that the ship
had entered the lagoon bay through the seaward opening in the outer
reef, had been beached bows on, and had so lain and burned, or rotted.
Assuming, again, that the vessel had really been one of the old,
high-bowed galleons, it was apparent that the beaching had been done
with considerable force; a drive so hard that the bowsprit of the ship
must have been thrust like a huge pointing finger into the jungle
thicketing, which, at this point, ran well down to the edge of the
lagoon.

It was Van Dyck who made this hypothetical platting of the beaching of
the vessel for us; Bonteck himself, who had slipped ghost-like out of
the palm shadows to join us while we were trying to trace the skeleton
outline of the ship's timbering in the obliterating sands.

"I've been all over this ground before," he explained, and for once in
a way he seemed to have thrown off the burden, whatever it was, that
had been weighing him down. "More than that, I've waded around here
when the tide was out and made good on some of the guesses."

"Are you counting upon finding the lost treasure?" I joked; and he took
me up promptly.

"Why not? Stranger things than that have happened, haven't they?"

"You don't really believe that part of the story, do you, Bonteck?"
said Madeleine, with an amused smile.

"All or none," he answered cheerfully. "And, again, I say, why not?
Don't you want to take a few shares in the Great Galleon Treasure
Company, Unlimited?"

I thought it a happy circumstance that she could meet him playfully in
the open field of badinage.

"Of course I do," she returned. "If I had a spade, I'd dig somewhere.
Only I shouldn't know where to dig."

"Suppose we figure out the probabilities," Bonteck suggested, and if
his enthusiasm wasn't real, it was an exceedingly good imitation. "The
first requirement, of course, is to take the old story at its face
value. Just imagine Sir Francis Drake's _Pasha_, or it might have been
the _Swan_, out yonder on the other side of the reef, pouring hot shot
into the poor, old, stranded _Santa Lucia_ here on the beach. The
Spaniards would take the treasure out over the bows, because that would
be the only sheltered place, don't you see? Does that suggest anything?"

I think I have already said that Miss Barclay's gift, or rather one of
them, was an acutely responsive mentality; or if I haven't, I meant to.
She was standing with Van Dyck upon the exact spot the Spaniards--real
or mythical--must have stood to be out of cannon-shot reach in
unloading the treasure. Without a moment's hesitation she took up the
thread of Bonteck's imaginings.

"If they started from here they would run for the nearest woods,
wouldn't they?--keeping their ship between them and the English
cannons. That is what I should have done." And then, purely in a spirit
of keeping up the fiction, I am sure: "Let us follow them and see where
they went."

Bonteck agreed at once. "Come on," he said; and the three of us set
out to cross the island in a diagonal line, looking back from time to
time to keep the fancied direction of the Spaniards retreating from
their burning ship.

It was in a little open space in the midst of a palm and palmetto
thicket that we paused.

"This is the place," Madeleine announced calmly. "Meaning to hide our
treasure chest, we wouldn't go all the way across to the other beach.
We'd hurry and scrape away the leaves and things here in the thickest
part of the woods, and dig a hole, and----"

"Well?" said Bonteck, with what seemed a certain breathless eagerness;
"Go on and pick out your place. We'll dig for you--Preble and I."

"You haven't anything to dig with," she laughed, and then the laugh
died, and I saw her eyes widen and her lip begin to tremble. But in an
instant she was laughing again.

"I believe I had almost hypnotized myself," she confessed, with a
little grimace of self-consciousness. "Do you see that white stone over
there under the vines? The thought came to me like a flash, '_That
stone was put there to mark the spot!_' You have been making it all too
uncannily real, Bonteck."

Van Dyck crossed the little open space and pulled away a mass of
trailing vines so that we could examine the stone. It was a fragment of
white coral the size, and approximately the shape, of a ship's capstan.

"It's a bit odd, anyway," Bonteck commented, still apparently in the
grip of the curious eagerness. "There are no loose stones anywhere else
on the island, so far as I know, excepting the small pieces we used in
building our camp fireplace. You'd say this is a chunk of the outer
reef, wouldn't you, Dick?"

"Why--yes, possibly," I answered. "But in that case it must have been
quarried and carried ashore in some way, and----"

Bonteck straightened up and turned quickly to Madeleine.

"Suppose we try to be serious for a minute or so, if we can," he
offered, with what appeared to me to be forced soberness. "There is
about one chance in a hundred million that there really was a buried
treasure. That hundred millionth chance is yours, Madeleine. Neither
Dick nor I would have noticed this piece of coral hidden under the
vines if you hadn't pointed it out. Shall we turn it over for you?"

"I should never forgive you if you didn't," she laughed back.

"All right. But it must be distinctly understood that if there should
happen to be a gold mine under it, the treasure is all yours. Do you
agree to that?"

"Of course it will be mine," she answered in cheerful mockery. "I'll
take Dick, here, for my witness. He will testify that it was I who
first saw the stone--won't you, Dick? But we must make haste. It is
growing dark, and I must go back to father."

We heaved at the coral boulder, Bonteck and I, and rolled it aside out
of its bed in the soft, sandy soil. I was about to say that we couldn't
dig very far with only our bare hands for tools, when Bonteck produced
a huge clasp-knife of the kind that sailors carry.

"Where shall we dig--right where the stone lay?" he asked, with a queer
grin.

"Right exactly where the stone lay," said the young woman, charmingly
precise and mandatory.

We went down on our knees and fell to work as soberly as if the entire
thing were not a poor flimsy bit of comedy designed to push the growing
anxieties and fear tremblings a trifle farther into the background.
Bonteck loosened the friable soil with the blade of his big knife, and
I scooped it out, dog-fashion, with my hands. In a few minutes we had
a hole knee-deep, and as we went on enlarging it, I saw, or thought I
saw, a strange transformation taking place in Van Dyck. The playful
manner had fallen away from him like a cast-off garment. His jaw was
set and he was breathing hard. And when he took his turns in the little
pit he dug like a madman.

It was not until after we had dug down to the pure white sand of the
subsoil that he gave over and turned to Madeleine with a look in his
eyes that mirrored, or seemed to mirror, a shock of half-paralyzing
astoundment. I had never suspected him of having any histrionic
ability, but if he were not really shocked, he was certainly giving a
faultless rendering of a man completely dazed.

"It's--it's gone!" he exclaimed mechanically. "You've been robbed,
Madeleine; it was yours--all yours, by the right of discovery--and--and
it's gone!"

"What sheer nonsense!" she retorted lightly. "You are the one who is
hypnotized now, Bonteck." And then, carrying out the little comedy to
its proper curtain: "Of course, it is very singular that we shouldn't
find the hidden treasure; singular, and dreadfully disappointing--after
one has worked one's imagination up to the point of believing anything
and everything. But we've had our laugh out of it, and that is worth
while, isn't it? Now we must really be getting back to the others. It
will be dark before long, and we mustn't keep Mrs. Van Tromp's dinner
waiting."

Van Dyck was standing at the edge of the hole, still figuring as one
helplessly dumfounded--and I wondered why he persisted in throwing
himself so extravagantly into the part-playing. While Madeleine was
speaking, I stooped to pass some of the sand of the pit bottom through
my fingers. It was almost as fine as flour, and quite as white, but
upon closer inspection I saw that it was flecked in spots with bits of
black humus--humus like that formed by well-rotted wood.

"Hold on a minute," I said, seized suddenly with a notion that was to
the full as absurd as that which had led us to follow the imagined
trail of the Spaniards retreating from their burning ship; and catching
up Van Dyck's dropped clasp-knife I stepped into the shallow hole we
had dug.

There is no twilight to speak of in the tropics, and the sunset glow
was fading rapidly, but there was still light enough to show the place
in the pit bottom where the bits of black humus were thickest. At
sight of them I became, in my turn, a foolish madman, postulating a
frantic gopher with a time limit set in which he may hope to outdig the
scratching dogs in his burrow. But there was at least a saving grain
of method in my madness. Every fresh stab of the knife brought up more
of the rotted wood, and presently the blade struck something hard and
unyielding.

"Hold your breath, you two," I gasped, and groping hastily in the
loosened sand with my hands I found the hard thing that the knife blade
had struck; found and unearthed it and straightened up to lay it at
Madeleine's feet.

It was a rudely cast ingot of dull-colored metal, and its weight, in
proportion to its size, was sufficient proof of its quality. It was
unmistakably a billet of gold.



XI

FINDERS KEEPERS


FOR the next few minutes after the discovery of the bar of gold I think
no one of the three of us was wholly sane. Van Dyck and I fell over
each other in our eagerness to find out if there were more of them, and
as we dug deep in the treasure grave Madeleine knelt at the edge of it
and was to the full as daft as either of us.

Digging and groping by turns, we flung out bar after bar of the
precious metal until there was a heap of forty of them piled up in the
little glade. Forty was the exact number. When it was complete we found
that we had penetrated to the under-layer of humus which told us that
we had come to the rotted bottom of the chest in which the treasure had
been buried.

I think Madeleine was the first to break the spell of breathless
silence that had fallen upon us while we were digging and
dog-scratching in the soft sand.

"It can't be true! I can't believe it!" she said, over and over again.
"We are dreaming; we _must_ be dreaming--all of us!"

Bonteck had hoisted himself out of the pit and was poising one of the
gold bars in his hands.

"It is a gloriously substantial dream, Madeleine, dear," he said
gravely, ignoring me as if I were deaf and dumb and blind, or
altogether of no account. "For a rough guess, I should say that these
bars will weigh thirty-five or forty pounds apiece, if not more--say
a quarter of a million, in round numbers, for the lot. It isn't a
fortune, dear, but it will serve to--to buy you----"

She broke in with a frantic little cry of protest.

"But it isn't mine, Bonteck! It's--it's----"

It was at this crisis that Van Dyck deigned to take notice of me as
being present and able to answer to my name.

"She says it isn't hers, Preble. Tell her; make her understand."

"It is most unquestionably yours, Madeleine," I assured her. "You
will remember that Bonteck told you there was one chance in a hundred
million. That chance has won out, and it has fallen to you, incredible
as it may seem. By all the laws of the treasure seekers, the find is
yours."

"But it must have belonged to some one, at some time!" she objected,
honest to the core.

I nodded. "It really belonged to the poor Peruvians from whom the
Spaniards looted it. We are three or four centuries too late to restore
it to the unfortunate Incas. I'm afraid you'll have to take it and keep
it for your own."

"Of course she will keep it!" Bonteck thrust in. "The only question is,
what shall be done with it now?"

At this we held a hurried consultation over the disposition of the
discovery, with Madeleine insisting that we two ought at least to share
the miraculous treasure with her.

"Dick hates money, and I have too much of it, as it is," was the manner
in which Bonteck disposed of the sharing suggestion; and then we
decided hastily upon two reasonable immediacies; we would rebury the
gold, replace the coral boulder, and leave things as nearly as might
be as we had found them. And for the second reasonable conclusion it
was agreed that we should say nothing to any of the other castaways
at present. It could do no good to tell them; and, as Bonteck sagely
argued, it might do a good bit of harm by stirring up things at a time
when we all needed to sit tight in the boat.

We were working by starlight by the time we got the hole filled up and
the chunk of coral rolled back into place, and we could hardly see
well enough to be certain that we had removed all traces of our late
activities. Hoping that we had, and promising ourselves that we would
return in daylight to make sure, we set out upon the shortest way back
to the camp, which was along the north beach.

Madeleine hadn't said anything more about the ownership of the treasure
while we were reinterring it, but now she began again.

"I hope you're not sweeping me off my feet--you two," she said. "I
still can't make myself believe that I have any better right to that
gold than you have--or as much."

"Of course you have," Bonteck insisted. "Didn't you point out the stone
to us, I'd like to know?"

"But I should never have been there to point it out if you hadn't shown
the way," she asserted.

"We needn't split hairs over that part of it," I put in. "And your
argument doesn't hold, at that. It was your suggestion that we follow
the trail, or the imaginary trail, from the old wreck to the--also
imaginary--place where the Spaniards would be likely to hide their
gold. Don't you remember?"

"Oh," she laughed; "if I'm to be held accountable for every silly thing
I say----"

Once more Bonteck went over the equities patiently and painstakingly.
We, he and I, were only bystanders. In no possible viewing of the
circumstances could either of us lay claim to any essential part in
the miraculous discovery. Waxing eloquently argumentative, he made the
establishment of her right and title to the gold fill up the entire
time of our return, and if he didn't succeed in fully convincing her,
he was at least able to talk her down and silence her.

At the camp under the palms at the western extremity of our kingdom
we found wild excitement in the saddle, and our delayed return passed
unremarked. Just at sunset, Billy Grisdale and Edith Van Tromp, who
had been on watch at the western signal fire, had seen the smoke of a
steamer. They had lost the hopeful sight in the gathering dusk, and had
raced in to spread the good news; racing back again almost immediately,
with a snatched supper in their hands, to build the signal fire higher.

With this announcement to upset monotonous routine, the meal,
which, for the sake of preserving the most foolish of the civilized
conventions, we were still calling "dinner," was late, and it was
eaten by the more sanguine as the children of Israel ate their first
Passover, in haste and with staff in hand. Both Billy and Edith had
been hopefully positive that the ship they had seen was headed toward
the island, and the bare prospect of an early rescue was enough to key
excitement to the unnerving pitch.

But as time passed and nothing happened, the inevitable reaction set
in, and I think we all sank deeper into the pit of depression for the
sudden awakening of hope. While Annette and Alicia and Beatrice Van
Tromp were clearing away the remains of the belated meal, Grey drew me
aside.

"You've kept your head better than any of us, Preble," he began, "and
there is a thing that ought to be threshed out before it gets any
older. They are saying now that Bonteck is either crazy in his head, or
else he is the greatest villain unhung."

"Who is saying it?" I demanded.

"I don't know where it started, but with Ingerson and the major and
Barclay to reckon with, it wouldn't be very hard to trace it back
to its source. The charge is that Van Dyck has been robbing the
commissary--spiriting the provisions away a little at a time and hiding
them out."

I knew that this was true, so far as the liquors were concerned, but I
kept my mouth shut about that.

"What motive is assigned?" I asked.

"It is only hinted at, but the hint is gruesome enough, the Lord knows.
They say we are coming to the end; to a time when there will be nothing
left but a survival of the strongest. And they say, also, that if
Bonteck isn't a bit off his head, he is cold-bloodedly fixing things so
that he will be able to outlive the remainder of us."

I thrust an arm through Grey's and led him off up the beach in the
direction of the bay of the Spaniards.

"You're not trying to tell me that you believe any such hideous rot as
that, are you?" I exploded, after we had left the camp well to the rear.

"God knows, I don't want to believe it, Preble; I pointedly don't
believe the villainy charge. But the other hint--that Bonteck may be
losing his grip on himself: we've all noticed it; you must have noticed
it. And it is scaring the women no end. It is bad enough to have
Ingerson around, licking his lips and wolfing every drop of liquor he
can get his hands on; to have Barclay whining, and Miss Gilmore showing
her claws, and the major grabbing for a little more than his share when
he thinks nobody is looking. I have been trying hard to keep Annette
from seeing and hearing. She has a perfectly childish horror of crazy
people, Preble, and I--and we----" he broke down and choked over the
thing that he was afraid to say, and I tightened my grip on his arm.

"Brace up!" I broke out harshly. "We don't have to say die until we're
dead! You've got to brace up for Annette's sake. If she sees you
crumbling it'll be all up with her--you know that much. Past that, you
kill off this idiotic blether about Van Dyck every time you hear it.
It's rot--the wildest tommyrot! Bonteck has his load to carry, and it's
a good bit heavier than yours--or than mine, for that matter. He isn't
losing his mind, and he hasn't been raiding the commissary. Say those
two things over to yourself and to Annette until they sound real to
you!"

Grey pulled his arm free, and I could fancy him swallowing hard once or
twice.

"I want to be a man, in--in your sense of the word, Preble," he blurted
out. "I used to be, I think, before--before Annette came and snuggled
down into the empty place in my heart and made me see that it was up
to me to carry the full cup of her sweet life without spilling a drop
of it. But now--now when I look into her eyes and see the awful thing
lying at the back of them--the thing that she's trying every minute of
the day to keep me from seeing----"

He got this far before he choked up again, and now I couldn't be savage
with him--which was what he was most needing.

"I know," I said, with a far keener sympathy than he suspected, for I,
too, was seeing things in a pair of slate-blue eyes--eyes that were
braver than Annette Grey's. "But we mustn't let down, John; we can't
let down, you and I. When the pinches come, it's the man's privilege to
buck up and carry the double load. That is one of the things we were
made for." Then I tried to turn him aside from the most intimate of the
threatenings. "About this smoke trail that the children saw: could they
really tell which way it was heading?"

He shook his head.

"I am afraid not. They didn't see the ship; only the smoke. It was just
at dusk, you know, and they wouldn't have seen anything at all but for
the sunset glow in the west. It was quite dark when they came running
back to the camp, and they were both so excited they couldn't talk
straight."

"But they did see a smoke?"

"I don't know. No doubt they thought they did. But we've all been
straining our eyes and stirring up the little hope blazes until I think
none of us can be really certain of anything any more. I guess there
wasn't any ship."

"We needn't be too sure of that," I qualified. "There was a ship of
some sort on the southern offing no longer ago than last Friday." And I
told him what Conetta and I had seen.

"And you never told us!" he said reproachfully.

"It was only a disappointment, as it turned out, and sharing
disappointments doesn't make them any lighter. But you may tell
Annette, if you think it will help."

"It will help; I'll go back to camp and do it now. Are you coming
along?"

At first I thought I would. Then the remembrance of what Grey had told
me--about Van Dyck's newest trouble--came to oppress me, asking for
solitude and some better chance of clarifying itself.

"I think I'll stay here and smoke a pipe," I said; and so we parted.

The pipe smoking had progressed no farther than the lighting of the
match when I saw some one coming along the beach. I thought it was Grey
returning to say something that he had forgotten to say, but when Billy
Grisdale's dog came to sniff in friendly fashion at me, I knew that the
approaching figure must be Billy.

"Jack Grey told me where I'd be likely to find you," said the infant,
coming up to cast himself down upon the sand at my side. "Don't happen
to have another pinch of tobacco in your inside pocket, do you?"

I had, and when his need was supplied he rolled a cigarette in a bit of
brown paper saved from some of the provision wrappings and lighted it
at the glowing dottel of my pipe.

"Tough old world, isn't it?" he mourned, stretching himself out
luxuriously with his hands locked under his head. "Edie and I thought
we were sittin' on top of it when we saw that smoke trail just after
sunset, but it was only a false alarm."

"You are sure you saw a smoke?"

"Oh, yes; there was no doubt about that. We could see it as long as
we could see anything. But I guess we just joshed ourselves into
thinking that it was coming our way." He sat up to nurse his knees and
was silent for a little time. When he began again it was to say: "You
know these seas better than any of us; is there any chance at all that
we'll ever be taken off?... Lie down, Tige, old boy, and take it easy.
There's nothing to bite in these diggings--more's the pity."

I answered Billy's question cheerfully as a duty incumbent upon me, and
I fancied he took the forced optimism for exactly what it was worth.
While I was expatiating upon the law of lucky chances, the bull pup was
refusing to lie down and take it easy; he was standing stiffly with
his crooked forelegs braced and his cropped ears cocked as if at the
approach of an enemy.

"What is the matter with the dog, Billy?" I asked, and as I spoke, we
both thought we saw the answer in the lagoon at our feet. A triangular
black fin split the mirror-like surface for a brief instant, and a
twist of some huge under-sea body turned the darkling water into
lambent phosphorescent flames. It was not the first shark we had seen,
but they seldom penetrated this far into the lagoon.

"Ah!" said Billy, stroking down the rising hackles on the dog's back,
"there's a quick way out of it for you, little doggie, when the clock
strikes thirteen. One jump, and you'll never know what hurt you. You
won't jump, eh? You're foolish, in your brain, old boy. It'll be much
easier than starving to death."

"Still in the doldrums, Billy?" I asked.

"Who wouldn't be? But I didn't chase out here to swap glooms with you,
Uncle Dick. I wanted to ask you if you believe in this wild tale of the
Spaniards' buried treasure."

"I'll believe anything that will help to pass the time," I replied
evasively.

"Huh!" he said; "that is what you might call the retort meaningless.
Supposing there _was_ a treasure, and supposing you should stumble
across it: would it be yours?"

"Why not?"

"I didn't know. I was just asking for information. You wouldn't feel
obliged to chop it up into eighteen separate pieces and pass it
around--like a watermelon at a picnic?"

"Why should I?"

"Oh, just on general principles, I thought maybe; all for one and one
for all, and that sort."

With the miraculous discovery of the day--and Madeleine's rights--fresh
in mind, it seemed a moment in which to tread carefully.

"Finders are keepers, the world over, Billy," I said. "I am a poor man,
and I should probably hog the treasure if I should find it."

"That's better," he returned. "We're all growing so desperately inhuman
that a fellow can't tell where to draw the line any more. If I find
the Spaniards' gold, you needn't expect me to whack up with you. I'm
going to put my feet in the trough and keep 'em there. Come on, old
doggie; let's go and hunt us a hole to burrow in. There's another day
coming, or if there isn't, we shan't have anything more to worry about."

He got up to go back to the camp, whistling to the dog as he moved off.
For the second time the bull pup braced himself, showing his teeth and
growling a bit, and this time there was no disturbance in the lagoon to
account for it. But Billy whistled again and the dog started to follow
his master, looking back from time to time, as if he went reluctantly;
and once more I wondered what he saw or heard or smelled.

As it fell out, the answer to this wondering query did not keep me
waiting. Billy Grisdale's shadowy figure had barely disappeared in
the down-shore distance when another and much more substantial one
broke out of the jungle just behind me, and I got upon my feet to find
Ingerson confronting me.

"What's all this talk about things being buried?" he demanded morosely.

"Listening, were you?" said I, taking small pains to keep the contempt
out of my voice.

He threw himself down on the sand and sat with his arms resting on his
knees and his hands locked together.

"I'm in hell, Preble," he muttered. Then he unclasped his hands and
held one of them up. "Look at that."

Dark as it was I could see the upheld hand shaking like a leaf in the
wind.

"What is the matter with you?" I asked.

"You know well enough; I'm over the edge. Van Dyck's killing me by
inches. He wants to kill me."

"Liquor, you mean?"

His answer was a groan. "I haven't had one good drink in three
days--not enough to make one good drink. It's got me, Preble. I didn't
know. I've always had it when I wanted it. If you've got a heart in
you, you'll show me where he's hiding the stuff. I'll go mad if you
don't."

I wanted to tell him that it would be small loss to the rest of us if
he should, but I didn't. As a person who is strictly the architect of
his own misery, a drink maniac may command little commiseration, but
his sufferings are none the less real, for all that. Sitting there on
the sands, with the fires of the drunkard's Gehenna burning inside of
him, Ingerson was a pitiable object. Still, remembering some of the
brutal things that had been charged up to his account, and not less
the cold-blooded bargain he was seeking to drive with Holly Barclay, I
didn't waste much sympathy upon him.

"It is a good time in which to show that you are a human being, and not
a beast, Ingerson," I said. "Thus far, you've been merely a clog on
the wheels, and the day is coming, if, indeed, it isn't already here,
when those of us who are men will have to remember that there are nine
helpless women on this island whose wants must be supplied before ours
are."

He looked up at me. "You mean that the food's going--or gone?"

"Yes."

He was silent for a moment, and then he laughed. It was the cracked
laugh of a man on the brink.

"Eighteen mouths to fill, and nothing to fill 'em with. You've said
it, Preble; I'm nothing but a dead weight in the boat--a bump on a log.
I'll remove one of the hungry mouths," and before I had the slightest
idea of what he meant, he sprang up and hurled himself into the lagoon.

Thinking that the plunge was only the mad impulse of a half-crazed
drunkard denied, and hoping that a salt-water soaking would bring him
to his senses, I made no move at first. But when I saw him deliberately
wade out over his depth and strike out with strong swimming strokes for
the reef over which the ground swell was breaking, I remembered the
black fin Grisdale and I had seen and shouted a warning.

"Come back here, you fool!" I called. "There's a man-eater in there!
Come back, I say!"

I don't suppose he heard me; if he did, he paid no attention. I
confess, with decent shame, that I hesitated when it became evident
that he meant to carry out his threat of effacing himself. His life
was of little benefit, to himself or to others, and if he lived, it
would only be to add the care of a madman to our other calamities. I
have been glad a thousand times since that this was merely a passing
thought. The real motivating impulse came from the sight of a V-shaped
ripple racing diagonally across the lagoon to intercept the swimmer;
a ripple plainly discernible on the starlit surface of the reef-bound
inlet. It was the shark again.

What happened after that will remain a nightmare to me as long as
memory serves. I was stripping my coat and kicking off my shoes when
Van Dyck came bursting out of the wood behind me.

"Who is that out there?" he gasped.

"Ingerson--he's gone off his head!"

Without another word Van Dyck ran down to the shore and took the water
in a clean dive. When he came up he was within arm's reach of the
dipsomaniac. There was a fierce grapple and both men went under. My
heart was in my mouth. I made sure the shark had taken one or the other
of them. But the end was not yet. As I waded out armpit deep, splashing
and making all the noise I could in the hope of scaring the great fish,
two heads bobbed up a few yards away, and I saw that Bonteck had either
choked or drowned the would-be suicide into submission and was swimming
in with him.

A few quick strokes gave me my chance to help, and together we dragged
Ingerson ashore. He was half-drowned and was otherwise little more than
a bedraggled wreck of a man. While we were working over him, Van Dyck
explained--briefly. Edith Van Tromp had told him that she had seen
Ingerson creeping into the wood on all fours, with a knife in his hand,
and he--Bonteck--had followed. All day he had been suspecting that
Ingerson was on the edge of delirium.

"You'll have to give him some of the hair of the dog that bit him, or
we'll have a frantic maniac in our midst," I said. "Is there any liquor
left?"

"A little. Stay with him and I'll go and get it."

He was gone only a few minutes, and by the time he came back, Ingerson
was able to sit up. We fed him brandy in small doses, and as the fiery
stuff got in its work some degree of sanity returned. Apparently he
knew quite well what he had tried to do, and was surlily regretful that
the attempt had failed.

"You made a bonehead play, Van Dyck," he shivered. "I was trying to do
a decent thing to wind up with, and you blocked it. You'd better have
let me alone."

Van Dyck did not reply, and the drink maniac went on monotonously:

"I wanted to wind it up. Old John B.'s got me. I didn't believe it, but
the last three days have shown me where I was heading in. As long as
you can keep me half lit up ... but you can't do that forever."

"No," said Bonteck gravely; "this is the last bottle."

Ingerson's head had fallen forward upon his breast.

"One more--little nip, and then--perhaps--I--can--go--to--sleep," he
mumbled; and at this we gave him the sleeping potion and in another
half-minute he was dead to the world.

Hard-hearted as it may seem, we made short work of disposing of him.
We were a long quarter of a mile from the camp, and, short of carrying
him, there was no way to get him there. So we merely dragged his limp
and sodden bulk up to a little open space under the trees and left it.

"I'm beginning to think he was more than half right about the bonehead
play," said Van Dyck sourly as he carefully hid the last of the brandy
bottles. "It is only a question of a little time--and his swigging of
the last thimbleful of the stuff--when we'll have to hog-tie him in
self-defense. Let's do a sentry-go around to the far end of things. We
may as well dry out tramping as any other way."

And it was not until he said this that I realized that we, too, were as
sodden as the limp figure we had hauled up under the palms.



XII

BONTECK UNLOADS


WALKING briskly to give our soaked clothes a chance to drip and dry out
a bit, Van Dyck and I passed around the bay of the ancient wreck and in
due course of time came to the heel of the sandspit in which the island
terminated eastward. Here we found our signal rag hanging motionless on
its tree mast, but the fire at the foot of the tree had gone out, and
as our matches were wet we could not rekindle it.

I proposed going back to camp for more matches, but Bonteck said no,
that it was hardly worth while and, pointing to a hazy gray mist bank
in the east which was slowly rising to blot out the stars in that
quarter of the heavens, he added: "That cloud means weather; most
likely the kind that would put the fire out if we should make one. If
you're not too chilly, sit down and put your back to a tree. There's a
thing that needs to be hammered out between us, Dick, before we get any
farther along."

I found a place where the sand was dry and warm, and sat down, and he
squatted beside me. I wanted to smoke, and was absent-minded enough
to fill my pipe with damp tobacco before I remembered that there were
no matches. As to the chilliness, even the wet clothes merely gave
the effect of a steam bath. Within the half-hour the night had grown
oppressively hot and the dead air was like that of an oven.

"Go ahead with your hammering," I said, adding: "There are several
little matters that need explaining--from my point of view."

"It's coming to you--and to the others," he returned promptly. "I've
been standing it off from day to day, hoping that the explanations
might be made after the fact, instead of in the thick of it. But I've
about reached the end of my rope. Mrs. Van Tromp told me after dinner
this evening that she could serve possibly half a dozen more meals for
the eighteen of us."

"Six meals; two days. We should have gone on reduced rations long ago.
We've been wasting like drunken sailors."

"I know it. But I kept putting that off, too. Hoping against hope, I
guess you'd call it. You know what a scare it would have thrown into
everybody if the food scarcity had been made public."

"Quite so. But the scare will have to come now, and the suddenness of
it won't make it any lighter."

"That is one of the things that is grinding me, but only one. I've
been carrying a pretty heavy back-load, Dick, and the time has come
when I've got to shift some of it--if I'm to keep from going the way
Ingerson did a little while ago. But first, a word about that treasure
find we made a few hours back; you'll stand by me in that, won't you?"

"In the matter of convincing Madeleine of the justice of taking the
treasure for her own? Certainly."

"Thanks. I thought I could count upon your help there. It is a godsend
to her, Dick. Don't you see that it is?"

"I see that it will enable her to pay her father out of his theft debt,
and by that means to purchase her own freedom," I rejoined. Then I
added: "But I can't surround the miraculous part of it, Bonteck. In
fact, I'm afraid I shall have to see and handle the gold again before
I can be sure I'm not dreaming--as Madeleine said we all three were.
There are too many impossibilities."

He was silent for a full minute before he said: "Yes, there are
impossibilities--a good few of them. And yet there are not so many as
there appeared to be." Another pause, and then: "Dick, I've had the
shock of my life."

"I can believe it," I said; "so had I. But just what do you mean?"

Once more he seemed to be trying to shape things in his mind so that
they should issue in some sort of orderly array.

"I'll tell you presently: that is why I wanted to get you by yourself.
But there is something else that has to be told first. As I say, I've
put it off as long as I can. You will want to tie a stone around my
neck and heave me into the sea when you've heard what I have to say,
and I shan't blame you. As the thing has turned out, I'm a cold-blooded
assassin--no less."

"Open confession is good for the soul," I commented, but even as I
spoke, all the surmises and half-suspicions that had been troubling me
for days and weeks came tumbling in to make a mental chaos where there
should have been calm judgment and a fair weighing of motives.

"To begin at the beginning, then," he went on doggedly. "So far as
I knew at the time, there was no mutiny on board the _Andromeda_. It
was a plant from start to finish. I had two objects in view. The first
and craziest was the notion that I handed you that night at dinner in
New Orleans--the notion of cutting out a little bunch of people from
the world--my world--and making them pull off their masks. It was a
barbarous idea; a crudely savage one, if you like; only I couldn't
see that side of it. I meant to make it a sort of unexpected picnic,
providing carefully against all of the real hardships, but at the same
time letting the shock do what it might towards the unmasking."

"I am trying to give you what credit I can for the carefully planned
ameliorations," I said. "But that doesn't excuse your appallingly
selfish motive. Go on. It was all prearranged with Goff, I take it?"

"Thoughtfully prearranged. And the motive wasn't wholly selfish, as
you will find out a little farther along. Goff was to steer for this
island, the longitude and latitude of which, as I told you, I had
obtained from the captain of the tramp steamer that rescued you and
the other survivors of the _Mary Jane_, and at the critical moment
there was to be a fake mutiny and a real marooning. It was by my
instructions that Goff didn't appear in the marooning mix-up. I wanted
him to be able to show a clean bill of health when the play was over.
He was to pick his men for the mutiny demonstration and the marooning
job, leaving the marooned ones to infer that he, and the handful of
Americans in the engine-room and fire-hold, had been overpowered."

Again I said, "Go on," and tried to hold judgment in suspense until
after the evidence should all be in.

"We were to be left here for three weeks, and at the end of that period
the yacht was to come back and take us off; Goff with a sailor's yarn
of how he had finally got the better of the rebellion and resumed his
command."

"Good--excellent good!" I applauded cynically. "And the three weeks
were up just an even fortnight ago yesterday."

"That is why I had to tell you!" he burst out. "It is killing me by
inches, Dick! Something has gone wrong; something must have gone
frightfully wrong. I was only stalling when I led you to believe that
I didn't know Goff, personally; I do know him; I have known him for
years, and I'd wager my life that he is as true as steel. I began
to be scared when I found that the little black-eyed devil of an
under-steward, Lequat, had been picked to play the part of the heavy
villain. I couldn't imagine--I can't yet imagine--why Goff should have
chosen him."

Again a silence came and sat between us. While Bonteck had been
talking, the night had grown still hotter and more stifling. As yet,
the stars were burning in a clear sky overhead, but there was a gray,
shadowy blur in the east behind which a late moon was struggling to
rise. The blur, cloud-bank or a gathering fog, had been growing and
extending by almost imperceptible degrees as we sat staring afar at it.
In any latitude it would have presaged a change of weather; in that of
our island it might well be the forerunner of a tropical storm. Still,
there was no breath of air stirring, and the surface of the inclosed
lagoon was like that of burnished metal. And the heat, as I have said,
was terrific.

"You once told me a tale about a certain fabulous sum of money that had
been shipped in the _Andromeda_," I said at length. "Was that another
of your romantic little inventions?"

"No; I suppose I shall have to confess that part of it, as well,"
he returned, more than half shamefacedly, I thought. "You know the
criminal trap Holly Barclay has set for himself by squandering young
Vancourt's fortune, and how he was purposing to get out of the trap. It
is precisely as I told you when we spoke of it before; he is ready to
sell Madeleine to the highest bidder. That is a pretty brutal way to
put it, but stripped of all the civilized masqueradings that is exactly
what it amounts to. And he had already given the option to Hobart
Ingerson; I know it--knew it before I left New York. Do you get that?"

"Yes."

"I nearly went wild trying to think up some scheme that would break the
Ingerson combination and at the same time pass muster with Madeleine.
She loves me, Dick; she has admitted it; and if this miserable money
tangle were out of the way, she'd marry me. But she wouldn't let me buy
her freedom; she said if she had to be sold like a slave on the auction
block, it certainly wouldn't be to the man she loved. God bless her
sweet soul! I don't blame her for that. Do you?"

"Not in the least. But you found a way to whip the devil round the
stump?"

"The maddest way you ever heard of--a perfectly idiotic way, you will
say; and this winter cruise in the yacht was the chief move in it. I
had to have Madeleine in the party, and, of course, I couldn't have
her without her father. Including him meant including Ingerson. It says
itself that Barclay, with the threat of a prison sentence hanging over
him, wouldn't be willing to lose sight of his one best bet."

"I know," I nodded; "know more than you think I do, perhaps. Get on
with your story."

"Reading a story is what put the notion into my head, in the beginning.
In an old book of the Elizabethan voyages and discoveries I came across
this tale of a burned galleon and a treasure that was never found. What
I wanted to do was to put enough money into Madeleine's hands--money
that she would believe was unquestionably her own--to square up her
father's crooked accounts. This 'Treasure Island' business seemed to
offer the means. About that time I ran across Captain Svenson, the
commander of your rescue ship, and besides giving me the latitude and
longitude of this island, he told me that he believed it to be the
'Lost Island' of the old English privateers, and the same which was
known later, in the buccaneers' time, as 'Pirates' Hope.' Also, he told
me that you had told him of the existence of the old wreck. Don't let
me bore you with too much detail."

"I am too greatly infuriated to be bored. What is the rest of it?"

"Mere romantic flubdub, you'll say. I bought from the subtreasury a
quarter of a million dollars in gold bars--and had a devil of a time
cooking up a reasonable excuse for the purchase, as you would imagine.
These bars I had remelted and cast into rough ingots of about forty
pounds each. As a matter of secrecy, and to make them easily portable,
each of the ingots was packed in a box by itself, the boxes were marked
'Ammunition,' and it was as ammunition that the stuff was secretly put
aboard the _Andromeda_ at her North River anchorage."

"Sure!" I derided. "When ostriches do a much less naïve thing we call
them silly birds. I'd be willing to bet largely that any number of New
York crooks knew what was in your cartridge boxes long before you ever
got them overside in the _Andromeda_. What next?"

"Next, I cleared the yacht for Havana, having first made arrangements
to have the winter-cruise party meet me in New Orleans some three weeks
later. I'll admit now that I was a bit shaky about some part of my
crew. I had told Goff that I didn't want too much intelligence aboard,
and after we put to sea it struck me that he had rather overdone the
thing. We had a few Provincetown Portuguese who were all right, but the
lot Goff picked up in New York--foreigners to a man--didn't look very
good to me; nothing especially desperate, you know, but with the gold
on board it seemed up to me to keep a weather eye open."

"Some glimmerings of common sense now and then: you're to be
congratulated," I said.

"Rub it in; I've got it coming to me. Holding that cautious notion in
mind, I made the southward voyage look as much like a pleasure jaunt
as possible, touching at Havana, again at Port au Prince, and a little
later at Kingston. From Jamaica we shot across to South American
waters, and at Curaçao I gave the bulk of the crew shore leave for
two days. Then, with the bunch stripped down to Goff, the engine-
and fire-room squads, and two or three of the Portuguese, we made a
fly-by-night run to this island. You've got my notion by this time,
haven't you?"

"Partly; but go on."

"We made land about two o'clock in the morning, rounded this point of
the island, and dropped anchor just off the inlet opening to Spaniards'
Bay. With all hands off duty for the night, Goff and I got the electric
launch overside and landed the gold--which was some job for just the
two of us; something over fifteen hundred pounds in the lot. But, as I
say, we got it ashore, lugged it piecemeal to the little inland glade,
and there, by the light of a ship's lantern, we buried it, taking the
precaution to mark the place with that chunk of coral."

"Um," said I. "So the chunk of coral was there, waiting for you, was
it? Didn't it occur to you then to wonder how it got there?"

"It didn't. I'll confess I was pretty well wrought up. A dark,
deep-laid plot--even one that you have framed up yourself--gets hold
of you at the climax, and all I thought of at the time was the need
for getting the job finished without letting anybody but Goff into the
secret of it."

"You had taken Goff into your confidence?"

"To some extent, of course; I had to. He knew we were burying a small
fortune, but he didn't know, and doesn't yet know, what my object was.
After we had buried the gold, we filled the boxes with sand so they
wouldn't advertise too plainly the fact that they'd been tampered with,
nailed them up, ferried them aboard, and stowed them in the forehold in
the place from which we had taken them."

I chuckled. The whole thing was so childishly romantic that it sounded
like a tale lifted bodily from the pages of a dime thriller. Moreover,
it was so absurdly out of character with the Van Dyck I knew, or
thought I had been knowing. Yet I fancy the wildly romantic vein lies
but shallowly buried even in the soberest of us; and in Bonteck's case
the incredulities were put out of court by the fact itself: he had
actually done the incredible thing.

"It is all plain enough now," I said; "all but the silly childishness
of the entire transaction. You were meaning to sow the seed by telling
the old Spanish galleon fairy tale to the assembled company, taking a
chance of inducing Madeleine to join in the treasure hunt--as you did
this afternoon, most successfully, as I must admit."

"Yes; but hold on. We buried the gold and marked the place with the
chunk of coral, as I have said; and that was the end of it until this
afternoon. For the past fortnight I've been manoeuvering to get you
and Madeleine together and away from the others, so that I could work
the rabbit's foot of the old galleon story upon her, with you for a
witness. When the chance came, it worked out just as I'd planned to
have it--up to a certain point. Madeleine saw the stone, and she is
persuaded she saw it first. We rolled it aside and dug the hole. It was
after we had got down about two feet that my shock came along and hit
me. I don't mind admitting that I nearly had a full-blown case of heart
failure. Dick, _my_ gold was gone!"

"Ha!" I exclaimed; "so that was what was the matter with you, was it?
What is the answer? Did Goff come back after you'd gone to bed on the
night of the funeral and disinter the corpse?"

Van Dyck shook his head. "He is one of the few men in this world whom I
would trust to the limit, Richard. I can't believe it of him."

"Yet the deductions point plainly in his direction," I ventured. "Your
gold is gone, you say, and he was the only person besides yourself
who knew where to look for it. Past that, the yacht is gone, and it
doesn't come back to take us off. How do you explain these two small
inconsequences?"

"I can't explain them. There is only one explanation that I can think
of--and that is merely a raw guess. There is a bare possibility that
the mutiny was real instead of a fake. Lequat's part in it makes it
look a bit that way. If you've got his identity right, I'm certain he
didn't ship with us at New York, and equally certain that I saw him on
shore in Havana. As you'd imagine, I've been trying mighty hard not
to accept that solution of the thing. If a bunch of real pirates have
captured the yacht, we stand a pretty poor chance of ever seeing it
again."

While he was speaking, the first few precursor whiffs of wind came out
of the rising cloud bank in the east. With the moon and a full half
of the stars blotted out, the darkness had increased until the only
thing visible to seaward was the white line of surf curling over the
outer reef. I wasn't accepting Bonteck's belief in Goff's impeccability
entirely at its face value. A quarter of a million dollars, in a form
that couldn't possibly be traced--namely, in unmarked gold bars--was a
pretty big temptation to any man.

"Are you quite sure that the gold we dug up wasn't your own hoard,
merely buried a bit deeper than you thought it was?" I asked.

"Altogether sure," was the prompt reply. "The bars are not quite the
same shape, and they are rougher and look immeasurably older. No;
unbelievable as it may seem, the hundred-millionth chance shook itself
out of the box at the first throw. It was the galleon's gold that we
found."

"But wait a minute," I said. "Were the two lots buried under the same
stone?"

"Why not?" he queried. "Why shouldn't they be? Goff and I found the
stone there and rolled it aside and dug a shallow hole under it. When
we were through, we rolled it back. If we had gone a little deeper
we would have found what we three found this afternoon. The one
unaccountable thing is the disappearance of my plant. It's gone; there
is no question about that."

"What do you care for a quarter of a million dollars, so long as
Madeleine has been put in the way of purchasing her freedom?" I mocked.
"I don't imagine you are going to quarrel with the sheerly miraculous
part of it. The thing that is worrying me most, just now, is the fear
that the miracle won't go on miracling. Madeleine's gold bars won't do
her much good if we've all got to stay on this cursed island and starve
to death. And that brings us down to the threadbare old seam again. You
say we have only six full meals left; if we all go on short commons at
once we may live a week longer before we have to fall back upon the
shell-fish and cocoanuts."

"Yes," he returned gloomily, "that is what it is coming to." Then:
"What ought I to do, Dick?--go and tell the others what I have told you
and let them burn me at the stake? It's about what I deserve."

His manner of saying this carried me swiftly back to an older time,
reincarnating for me the Bonteck Van Dyck who had been my college chum;
generous, large-hearted, always quick to admit himself in the wrong
when he was in the wrong. Even with the knowledge that Conetta must
suffer with the rest of us, I could not flay him as he deserved.

"You are not all bad, Bonteck," I remarked. "Billy Grisdale and Edie
owe you something, and I'm beginning to wonder if I'm not in your debt,
too. You had a purpose in including Conetta and her aunt, and Jerry
Dupuyster, didn't you?"

"Of course I had. It seemed a thousand pities that you and Conetta
couldn't get together on some sort of a living basis."

"It happens to be too late to do me any good; Dupuyster has already
asked her," I said. "Just the same, I'm grateful for the intention; so
grateful that I'm not going to be the one to tie you to the stake when
the others pass sentence upon you. But all this is dodging the main
question. What are we going to do? We men, or at least the six of us
who call ourselves men, can't stand by and let the other twelve simply
curl up and die when the food is gone."

"I haven't any plan," he replied. "As I said a while back, I've just
been hanging on and hoping against hope. There is still a chance, you
know. The yacht's engines may have broken down. Goff may have had to
put in somewhere--at some one of the European-owned islands--and is
having difficulty in getting permission to sail. That might easily
happen, since he is only a sailing-master and has no written authority
to show. Taking that view of it, any one of a dozen things might have
got in the way to keep him from reaching us at the appointed time."

"True enough. But that hope is based upon the supposition that
your original plan is still in the saddle. It ignores the other
alternative--that the mutiny may have been a real one. Also, it ignores
the disappearance of the quarter million--your quarter million--which,
taken by itself, has a pretty dubious look. I know you don't care
anything about the money part of it, now that Madeleine has been
provided for by a miracle; but the evanishment of your gold bars would
seem to have a very pointed bearing upon our present situation. I
can't take your trust in Goff at par. If he didn't come back here and
get that gold an hour or so after it was buried, he did the next best
thing--which was to come ashore and move the landmark."

"Yes; but, man alive! don't you see what that presupposes? You are
assuming that in moving the chunk of coral he placed it exactly over
the other mess of gold bars. I grant you that such a thing might
happen, but you know well enough that it wouldn't happen--that there
are a thousand chances to one against its happening."

I had to admit that my second hypothesis was too lame to have a leg
to stand on, though it was the more hopeful one of the two. If Goff
hadn't resurrected the lately buried quarter million--if he had only
moved the marking stone--with due and careful measurements so that he
could find the place again--there was some chance of his coming back
to the island--after we were all safely starved to death. But these
speculations weren't getting us anywhere, and I said so.

"We're talking in circles," I complained. "All the gold there is lying
under that nubbin of coral, added to the truck-load you've lost and
can't find, wouldn't buy a single meal for this crowd of ours after
the provisions are gone. Let's get to work and do something. There is
enough timber left in the wreck of the _Mary Jane_ to build a raft, and
we have an axe--if Jerry hasn't lost it while he was chopping firewood.
You have the latitude and longitude of this prison of ours. How far is
it to somewhere--anywhere?"

Van Dyck did not reply at once. The wind was coming in little catspaws
now, and the curious haze, which was by this time obscuring the entire
heavens, was shot through with a sort of ghostly half light that was
neither lightning nor a reflection from the darkling sea. When Van
Dyck spoke, it was not in answer to my question about the latitude and
longitude.

"Hurricane conditions, I should say; wouldn't you?" he said, getting
upon his feet. "If they are, we'd better be hiking back to the other
end of the island. Our camp is too near the beach to be safe, even if
the wind should come straight out of the east. What do you think about
it? You know more about tropical storms than I do."

I was about to reply that a man might live half a life-time in the
tropics and still have much to learn about weather conditions, when he
suddenly reached down and gripped my arm.

"Look!" he jerked out. "No, not there--right here--close in--just
outside of the reef!"

I looked and saw what he saw. A short quarter of a mile to the
southeastward, with no lights showing and with her slowly turning
engines making no sound that we could hear, a ship, ghostly white and
shadowy in the curious light, was creeping, phantom-like, toward the
south shore of the island. It was the _Andromeda_.



XIII

THE WIND AND THE WAVES ROARING


MOST naturally, the reappearance of the yacht, at a moment when we
had practically worked our way around to the conclusion that it was
extremely doubtful if we should ever see her again, quickly put the
reasoned deductions to flight. But a second glance threw all the
hopeful machinery violently into the reverse. The _Andromeda's_
stealthy approach with all lights hidden, and the evident intention
on the part of whoever was in command to make land on the side of the
island farthest removed from the place of our debarkation, gave no
promise of rescue.

"The gold!" I exclaimed; and the two words collided with Van Dyck's:
"They are coming back after it!"

"But hold on," I interjected. "_Your_ gold is gone, and they don't
know--can't know--anything about the Spanish treasure. If it's buried
treasure they're coming after, somebody on board the yacht has the
wrong tip, to a dead moral certainty."

Van Dyck made a gesture like a man groping in the dark.

"There were the sand-filled boxes," he offered. "They've opened them.
They know that the gold has been unshipped somewhere, and I suppose it
wasn't impossible for them to find out that the yacht made a flying
trip to this island after the greater part of the crew had been given
shore leave at Willemstadt."

"You needn't go so far afield for an explanation," I countered. "Goff
knew where the gold was unshipped; and, by the same token, he is
probably the only man aboard of the yacht who knows the latitude and
longitude of Pirates' Hope. None of the others could have found the way
back here."

"But a few minutes ago you were accusing Goff of making away with the
gold on the night of its burial," was the quick retort.

"Wait," I interposed. "I said he did one of two things: dug your gold
up and took it aboard after you were asleep, or else he came ashore and
moved that block of coral. Evidently the latter half of the guess was
the correct one."

At this, he began to give ground a little.

"You may be right. Still, I can't believe it of Goff. There is a chance
that, notwithstanding my thinning out of the crew at Willemstadt, we
still had a traitor aboard. In that case we may have been spied upon
when we landed the gold--Goff and I. I'm still hanging to the belief
that there was a real mutiny, and in that case Goff may have been given
a choice between steering them back here or walking the plank."

This purely academic discussion of the whys and wherefores went on
while the _Andromeda_ was edging nearer and nearer to the outer reef
barrier, still as silently as a ghost ship, and still without showing
a sign of life on deck or bridge, so far as we could make out. Within
a stone's throw of the reef she slowed to a stand, and not until then
did we hear the low rumbling of her engines as they were reversed to
check her headway.

Since the yacht's approach had been from the eastward, she lay
broadside on to the island. We could see the electric motor launch
hanging in its davit tackle on the starboard side, but there was no
move made to lower it.

"They are not using any steam winches to-night," was Van Dyck's
muttered comment upon this. "Too much noise. Listen!"

There was a splash, apparently on the port side of the vessel, faint
sounds as of oars feathering in muffled rowlocks, and a little later
the yacht's yawl crept out around the sharp stem of the _Andromeda_ and
headed for a narrow inlet through the reef. There were seven or eight
men in the small boat; four at the oars, one in the bow and either two
or three aft.

At sight of this landing party Bonteck came alive with gratifying
promptness.

"Whether your guess is the right one or not, Dick, there is one thing
certain: If we let those fellows go to digging around in our bullion
patch, they will find what we found, and Madeleine will lose out, after
all. We can't let it stand that way. What do you say?"

I had whipped out my pocket-knife and was cutting a club, or trying to,
though the sapling mahogany, or whatever it was I was hacking at, was
tougher than a leather whipstock.

"I'm not thinking so much about the gold," I said. "It's up to us
to capture this yawl crew first, and the _Andromeda_ afterward. Get
yourself a weapon of some sort--quick!"

"Of course," he agreed at once, feeling in his pocket for the big
clasp-knife which he had used for a digging tool a few hours earlier.
"Something of that kind is what I meant. Shall we rush 'em when they
beach the yawl? Or had we better wait a bit and see what they mean to
do?"

In our excitement I think neither of us saw the absurdity of two men
armed only with clubs proposing to attack seven or eight who were
probably provided with firearms.

"We'd better wait," I said; but we made good in the matter of time
saving by hurrying through the wood to post ourselves handily in a
palmetto thicket on the southward-fronting beach edge near the place
toward which the yawl, now entering the lagoon, was headed.

The dash through the wood from our observation point at the heel of
the eastern sandspit seemed to me the hottest sprint I had ever made.
Once more the breeze had died out, and with little or no air stirring
in the open, in the forest the atmosphere was absolutely lifeless. I
don't know how near the running dash came to winding Van Dyck, but when
we reached the palmetto thicket the perspiration was pouring out of me
in trickling streams, and I was fairly gasping for breath. There was
a half-paralyzing portent in the stillness and the terrible heat. It
was as if subterranean fires had been kindled under the island, and
that curious back-lighting of the haze by the rising moon seemed now to
have a faintly lurid glow as if it were catching the reflection of the
unseen fires.

"Heavens--but this is awful!" Van Dyck muttered under his breath--from
which I argued that he was suffering no whit less from the heat than I
was. "If we get the weather that this is promising to give us----"

"Hush!" I whispered.

The yawl, pulled strongly by its four oarsmen, was sweeping up to the
beach, skimming the surface of the lagoon like some gigantic water
bug. But a moment later we found that we had miscalculated the landing
place. After coming within a pebble's toss of the shore--to be the
better hidden by the palm shadows, as we supposed--the helmsman swung
the yawl parallel to the beach with a low-toned word to his oarsmen,
and the boat drifted slowly past our hiding place, as if its crew might
be scanning the forest fringe for some determining landmark.

"Seven of them," said Van Dyck, with his lips at my ear. "At least
one of them will stay by the yawl when they land. That will cut the
odds down a bit, though I shouldn't mind if they'd divide up a little
evener."

I did not reply. My eyes were smarting painfully from the sweat which
was running down into them, and I was trying to get clear vision enough
to enable me to distinguish between the figures in the slowly drifting
boat. Though I couldn't make sure, I thought that the man at the yawl's
tiller was the ex-steward, Lequat.

A landing was made a little way down the beach from us, in a small
indentation too shallow to be called a bay. Noiselessly the yawl's oars
were unshipped, and then we heard the gentle grating of the boat's keel
upon the sand. In the debarking it became apparent that Bonteck had
considerably underrated the caution of the invaders. Three of the men
stayed by the yawl, leaving only four for whatever landward expedition
was toward. Oddly enough, as we thought, the four did not make
directly for the glade where the gold had been hidden. Instead, they
moved off down the beach, marching silently in single file and keeping
well within the shadow of the wood.

It was Van Dyck who flung a guess at their intention.

"They are going to take a look-in at our camp, first--to get the lay of
the land and to make sure that they won't be interrupted," he hazarded,
adding: "Which simplifies matters somewhat. The farther they get away
from their boat and the yacht, the easier it will be for us to clap an
extinguisher upon them without giving the alarm. Let's run for it and
head them off!"

It seemed easy enough to make a quick detour through the forest to a
point at which we could lie in wait for the marching four, and it was
not until after we had begun it that we realized how dark it was under
the trees, and how much the darkness was going to cut our speed. A
few minutes of this woodland race proved enough for both of us. "Head
for the beach and we'll run them down in the open," was Van Dyck's
modifying order, after we had stumbled and fallen half a dozen times
and got ourselves well torn and stabbed by the little bayonet palms
that grew thickly among the larger trees; and this we did, issuing from
the wood a hundred yards or so beyond the beached yawl, and possibly a
like distance behind the men we were trying to overtake.

To chase the four men openly from that point was to give the alarm in
both directions at once; in other words, to invite a front and rear
attack that we couldn't hope to repel with our primitive weapons. So
we fell back into the wood, changing our plan again and deciding to
wait until the four were out of sight, when we could turn and fall upon
the three at the boat and stand some chance of overcoming them and
possessing ourselves of whatever arms they might have.

But even this alternative was to be denied us. While we halted,
breathing hard from the hot struggle with the impeding jungle, Van Dyck
said, "Listen!" again. Afar to the eastward there was a sound like the
flapping of a thousand wings; a low drumming that seemed to fill the
dead air with jarring vibrations and to play upon the senses with the
maddening insistence of a single musical note too long sustained.

Before we had time to realize what the ominous warning portended, a
pistol shot cracked from the _Andromeda's_ bridge, and for a brief
instant the blinding glare of the searchlight swept the island beach.

"Calling them in," I said. "Whatever they're minded to do, the storm
is going to beat them to it." And that the shot and flash were signals
summoning the boat's crew to come aboard was quickly made apparent. The
expeditionary four wheeled and came running back along the beach, while
the three boat guards were tumbling hastily into the yawl and shipping
the oars.

Van Dyck gripped his club. "We mustn't let them get away, or get
together again!" he rapped out. "Wait until I give the word!"--and as
the four runners were about to pass our hiding place--"Now!"

What I did had to be done on the spur of the moment. At the climaxing
instant, I flung my arms around him and dragged him down and held him
helpless; at which it was only natural that he should fall to cursing
me like a fishwife.

"You fool!" I panted, when I had the breath to spare. "Let them go!
They'll come back. Don't you hear that wind coming? The yacht will be
lost if she hangs on outside of that reef five minutes longer!"

As I let him get up, a hurtling volley of great raindrops tore through
the foliage over our heads, and a blast, carrying with it the dank,
unwholesome breath of an upheaved watery underworld, swept across the
surface of the lagoon. Like mad-men the racing four hurled themselves
into the waiting yawl, the boat shoved off, and with the men at the
oars pulling with much more energy than skill, a frantic dash was made
for the passage through the reef.

It bade fair to be a shrewd case of touch and go; an open question
as to whether or not the yawl could reach the yacht before the yacht
would have to claw off the island in sheer self-preservation. Dark as
it had grown, we could see the black smoke of freshly fueled fires
pouring from the _Andromeda's_ funnels to be caught up and whirled
away to leeward, and above the shrieking of the blast we could hear
the trampling chant of her powerful engines. Whoever was in command
was proving himself a daring captain. With a Caribbean hurricane
fairly upon him, and a jagged reef lying within a cable's length, he
was backing and filling and holding his ground stubbornly to give the
yawl, tossing now like a cockleshell on a heaving sea which was already
surging over the reef, time to reach him.

Van Dyck burst out in an ecstasy of rage.

"Damn him!" he yelled, apostrophizing the unknown manoeuverer on the
_Andromeda's_ bridge, "he'll put the yacht on the rocks, and that'll be
the end of all of us!"

It certainly looked that way. More rain was coming, not in huge drops,
as at first, but in a fine, mist-like spray, driving horizontally and
drenching instantly everything it touched. Though the rising moon was
completely blotted out by the rain and the high cloud wrack, there was
still light enough in the open to enable us to see the _Andromeda_ and
the yawl. The returning boat's crew seemed fully alive to the need for
haste; the men at the oars were splashing mightily and digging deep.
But enthusiasm, even the enthusiasm of fear, is but a poor substitute
for mariner skill. The little boat had safely negotiated the dangerous
reef passage and was half-way out to the yacht when an oar broke, and
it could have been only the cleverest dexterity on the part of the
helmsman that kept the yawl from falling into the trough of the rising
seas and capsizing when the man at the broken oar tumbled over backward
and so crippled for the moment the remainder of the yawl's motive power.

But the small accident settled matters definitely for the yacht's
captain, whoever he was. As if the snapping ash had been the signal for
which he was waiting--and a convincing proof that it was no use for him
to wait any longer--he called for full speed ahead, jammed his helm
hard down, and with a lurch to port so abrupt that it seemed as if it
must surely put her upon her beam ends, the _Andromeda_ fled, vanishing
like a white wraith in the spume and smother to leeward, and leaving
the luckless landing party to do what it pleased, or could, toward
saving itself.

What the boat's steersman did--most naturally--was to try to make land
again. By some means he got the disabled yawl around without swamping
it and headed it for the narrow reef passage which was now all but
hidden by the tumbling seas. Badly handicapped as he was by the loss of
one of the four oars, it still seemed as if he might make the inlet.
Steered as fine as a racing shell rounding the turning buoy, the light
little craft leaped for the opening. But at the balancing instant,
when another tug at the oars might have sent it through into the
comparatively calmer waters of the lagoon, the yawl was caught on the
lift of a billow, flung aside like a bit of driftwood, and dropped with
a crash of splintering timbers on the rocks.

Under the conditions--a tropical hurricane coming on apace, seas
dashing over a half-submerged coral reef, and their boat reduced to
kindling wood--all seven of the mutineers, pirates, gold-robbers, or
whatever they were, should have been swept away and drowned as we
looked. At first we thought that was what had happened--was necessarily
bound to happen. And it apparently did happen to two of the seven. For
a moment later, when we saw bobbing heads dotting the heaving swells in
the lagoon, we could count but five, and there were only five sodden
figures to come crawling out a bit later, one after another, upon the
beach. Van Dyck stooped and picked up his club, which he had dropped in
the excitement of watching the struggles of the swimmers.

"Dick, it's murder, and in cold blood ... but we can't let those men
run loose on the island. We'll be starving presently, and so will
they. Are you with me?"

I suppose he took my answer for granted, for he started to run toward
the group of wearied swimmers, and I ran with him. As he had said, it
was a good bit like murder. Two of the exhausted ones were too far gone
to make any attempt at resistance; they merely rolled over on their
faces on the sand, spreading their arms wide in token of surrender.

But the three others, with Lequat to head them, did their best. Pistols
cracked, and in the fray I got a kick, delivered after the best manner
of the French foot-boxer, that nearly knocked the breath out of me.
But we were fresh, and the three were practically in the last ditch of
exhaustion when we fell upon them. So long as the pistols were fired
without aim, there could be but one issue to the hand-to-hand battle.
When it was over, the three fighting men were groveling with the
others, two of them with cracked heads and the other with a crippled
wrist to his firing hand.

Van Dyck was as ruthless in victory as he had been in the attack.

"Search them!" he ordered, and like a pair of highwaymen we went
through the pockets of the vanquished boat's crew. Three pistols, two
of them modern automatics, and one an old-fashioned Navy weapon, a
couple of murderous knives, and a few cartridges comprised the loot;
these, and a coil of light line which one of the men had wound around
his body--for what object we didn't inquire. But the rope came in play
handily. With it, while the increasing gale tore savagely at us, we
bound the captives hand and foot, and dragged them one by one up into
the wood; and the transfer was not made any too quickly, at that, for
by now the great seas were leaping the barrier reef to come rushing
down the lagoon upon the unprotected beach.

It seemed horribly cruel to leave five men, three of them pretty sorely
wounded, to lie bound and helpless under the palms and wholly at the
mercy of the storm, but self-preservation knows no law. Van Dyck put
the constraining necessity tersely when he said, shouting to make
himself heard above the din and clamor of the elements: "That's all we
can do here, and we're needed at the other end of things. This gale
will be ripping our camp up by the roots."

Together we turned our backs upon the prisoners and started toward our
own end of the island. The beach was by this time quite impassable.
Huge seas were leaping the reef to hurl themselves in thunder
crashings far up into the fringing wood. So we were forced to strike
off diagonally inland, feeling our way blindly from tree to tree, and
judging the direction only by keeping the wind at our backs. Even so,
we were unable to hold anything like a straight course. Once we came
out upon the south beach, and were well battered and bruised and all
but drowned before we could claw back to the partial shelter of the
jungle. Farther on we were lost again, and this time we stumbled out
upon the north beach somewhere between the bay of the Spanish wreck
and our camp. Over this lagoon frontage, like that on the south shore,
the sea was running in huge billows, clearing the outer barrier as if
it were not there, and the pounding crashes seemed to shake the small
island to its foundations.

As was to be expected, we found a most pitiable state of affairs at
the camp when we finally won through. The fire had been drowned in
the first downpour of the rain, and the small clearing was in murky
darkness. Two of the tents had been blown down, and the third, into
which the women were crowded, was straining at the peg ropes. Worse
still, there was no longer any beach, with its stretch of sand, to
fence off the sea. The conditions as we had found them farther to the
eastward were repeated at the camp site, only they were worse, if
anything. The great seas, rolling down the lagoon at a sharp angle with
the shore line, were flinging their spray high over the small clearing,
each upsweeping surge giving us notice that its follower was likely to
engulf us.

It was in such a crisis as this that Van Dyck showed at his best as
a man and a leader. Before I had had time to wipe the salt spray out
of my eyes he had gathered the available men of the party and was
energetically at work moving the camp back into the most sheltered of
the inland glades. By heroic battlings, in which even Holly Barclay and
the major bore a part, we got the two dismantled tents set up in the
new location. It was in the transferring of the women that I became a
deserter. Miss Mehitable Gilmore, with the dragoness outer shell all
cracked and broken to reveal a very human and distracted old woman
beneath it, was calling piteously for Conetta.

"Oh, Richard Preble--find her--find her!" she gasped. "She's gone and
she'll be drowned--I know she'll be drowned!"

A hurried question or two elicited the alarming facts. Billy Grisdale
and Edith Van Tromp had not come in from their post at the western
signal point, and Conetta had flown to warn them. That was enough for
me. With a blunt word to Van Dyck, I deserted.

It was only a short quarter of a mile to the western extremity of the
island, and I covered it in a stumbling rush, with the wind knocking me
down and forcing me to scramble on hands and knees when it got a fair
sweep at me. Reaching the point where we had built our fire and flown
our distress signal from the lopped palm, nothing was recognizable in
the darkness, but as nearly as I could make out, the tree was gone and
the breakers were running man-head deep over the place where the fire
had been. I had a bad minute or two until I had shouted and groped
around and found the three missing ones crouching in the shelter of the
nearest jungle growth. It had been horribly easy to fancy them blown
into the sea from the bare sandspit.

Billy was doing his best, as any one who knew him would have predicted.
He had wattled the bushes together behind the two women, and had
stripped off his coat to add it to the shelter. Nevertheless, he made
no secret of his relief when he heard my shout at his ear.

"By Jove," he choked; "misery likes company, you know. Cuddle down
here, Uncle Dick, and tell us we're only dreaming when we think we're
soaked to the skin. A little more and I believe it would really make up
its mind to rain! What's the show for getting back to camp? I couldn't
do it with two of 'em--tried it and we all came near being washed away."

"No show at all at present; we'll have to wait a bit," I said; and then
I took my part in the sheltering. In the dash from the dismantled camp
I had caught up a square of canvas that had served as part of a tent
fly, and with Grisdale's help, it was rigged as a sort of rain break to
windward.

"I knew you'd come," said Conetta quite calmly, when there was nothing
more to do or to be done, and the four of us were cowering under the
canvas. And then, with the calmness somewhat shaken: "The others? Are
they all alive?"

"Alive and unhurt, so far as I could tell in the dark," I hastened to
say. "They are moving the camp back into the wood. Ingerson was the
only one who was missing."

"What has become of him?"

I didn't tell her that Van Dyck and I had left him asleep under the
trees on the north shore of the island some two hours earlier. It
didn't seem at all necessary to harrow her with the story of Ingerson's
miring in the drink demoniac's morass.

"I don't know just what has become of him," I said, which was strictly
true as to the bare fact. "He'll doubtless turn up all right in the
morning."

"You say they are moving the camp. Will it be safer in the wood?"

"There was no choice. The seas are breaking over the other place by
now."

"Poor Aunt Mehitable!" she said brokenly. "At the very first lull we
must go back to her, Dick."

"There is no special hurry," I offered. "She is all right, and she sent
me out to find you; begged me to go."

"She sent you?"

"Yes; me, and not Jerry Dupuyster."

There was silence for a little time; such silence as the shrieks of
the hurricane and the crashing of the seas permitted. Then she said
drearily: "We can't go back and begin all over again, you and I,
Richard. It's too late, now."

Most naturally, I could take this declaration only in one sense. She
had admitted that Jerry had asked her to marry him, and her saying that
it was too late was merely an indirect way of telling me that she was
promised to him. And that thought set me boiling inwardly again. For in
the hubbub of camp moving Jerry had been doing his impractical best to
shelter Beatrice Van Tromp; this when he must have known that Conetta
was somewhere out in the storm.

"I shall have a good-sized bone to pick with Jerry, if we ever get back
to normal again," I said, and because I didn't take the trouble to try
to whisper the threat, Edie Van Tromp cut in.

"Stop it, you two!" she commanded. "I can't hear what you're saying,
but I know you are quarreling."

Billy Grisdale groaned. "If I only had my mandolin!" he lamented. "Get
down, Tige"--this to the bull pup who was trying to climb into his
master's lap for better protection from the storm. And then to me: "How
long do these little summer sprinkles last, Uncle Dick?"

I declined to commit myself, It didn't strike me as a Christian thing
to do to make the women more miserable by telling them that the storm
might last for days, and that our best hope was for a cessation of the
pouring rain floods.

As it turned out, in this one respect we were favored. After about
an hour the rain was coming only in driving squalls and the thick
darkness was a little broken. Overhead the moon showed faintly through
the masses of cloud wrack hurling themselves westward on the high crest
of the gale, and there was a pallid promise of a clearing sky.

But with the ceasing of the downpour the wind increased to hurricane
fury, and the pounding of the seas upon the reef and upon the island
itself was like a succession of earthquake shocks. As far as our
limited range of vision could reach, the sea was heaving and tossing in
mountain-like billows with valleys between in which the tallest ship
would have been hidden, and it was plainly evident that a new danger
was threatening. Our island was low and flat; in its highest spots it
was scarcely more than eight or ten feet above the normal sea level. If
the gale should blow long enough and hard enough, it could be only a
question of time until the catapulting seas would break down the jungle
barriers and sweep the island from end to end.

"Time for us to move!" Grisdale sang out, as a particularly vicious
"seventh wave" broke just behind us and reached for our shelter spot in
its tumultuous torrenting across the sands; and we took the hint.

"You two fight for yourselves," I called back, and the battle with the
pouring gale was begun.

It was a battle royal. For every foot of the quarter mile we had to
fight desperately. Even in the wood it was impossible at times to stand
against the wind, and again and again we had to fling ourselves prone,
clinging to whatever hold offered itself. And at every step the palm
fronds above our heads were crackling and snapping like whips, and the
air was full of flying missiles.

We held together for the better part of the time, Grisdale and Edie
locking arms and facing the blasts in the fresh strength of youth and
health, and taking their buffetings with a laugh. So battling and
creeping by turns, we came at last to the breathless home stretch,
and I was unspeakably relieved to find the white tents still standing
intact in the glade which Van Dyck had chosen for their latest pitching
place.

"Keep your good nerve just a few minutes longer," I said to Conetta,
who was clinging to me with a grip that I think no hurricane blast
could have broken. "We are almost there."

I had a glimpse in the starlight of her face upturned to mine, and
saw her lips move as if in reply. But what she was saying I did not
hear. For at that moment one of the flying missiles--it was a broken
tree-top, they told me afterward--came between and blotted me out.



XIV

HAND TO MOUTH


THE blow from the broken tree-top must have been a fairly forceful one.
When I began to get acquainted with current affairs again, I was lying
in a hammock swung between two trees, the gale had blown itself out,
and the sun was shining.

At a little distance I could see the tents of the new camp, but there
seemed to be nobody stirring. Overhead the bedraggled fronds of the
palms were waving in a gentle breeze aftermath of the great storm, and
the thunder of the surf on the reef told me that the sea had not yet
fully subsided.

I moved a bit and put a leg over the hammock's edge, meaning to get up,
but at that, Van Dyck materialized from somewhere and put the leg back
again.

"No hurry about turning out, old man," he said gently. "How are you
feeling by now?"

I took stock of myself and answered accordingly.

"Head feeling as big as a bushel basket, but I'm otherwise normal, I
guess. What happened to me?"

He told me about the crack on the head from the falling tree-top. "You
were knocked out by the blow, and when you came to, you were wandering
a bit in your mind and talked too much. It was making it rather awkward
for Conetta--the things you were saying--so I took the liberty of
giving you a small sleeping-shot with the emergency needle."

"Thanks," I yawned. "The next thing to being able to do a good turn for
yourself is to have a kind friend at your elbow to do it for you. I
feel as though I had slept the clock around. What makes it so quiet?"

"Nobody at home," he answered evasively. "Professor Sanford has formed
a class in natural science, and it is out doing field stunts."

"Otherwise?" I queried.

"Otherwise foraging for breakfast. It has come, Dick. We didn't get
action swiftly enough last night to save the few provisions there were
left in the commissary, and the seas made a clean sweep. Tell me a
few of the natural-history things that you and the other survivors of
the _Mary Jane_ must have learned while you were trying to keep from
starving to death after your shipwreck."

I closed my eyes and took the needful plunge into the dismal memories.

"There were always the cocoanuts, of course--and I've never been able
to abide the taste of one since. Then there is, or was, a kind of
oyster, too big to be eatable unless you were powerfully hungry. We
got them by wading in the lagoon shallows. There are plenty of crabs,
as you know; they would probably be good if they were cooked. But we
of the _Mary Jane_ had no fire. The lagoon is full of fish; some good
for food, and some deadly. You try them and if you survive they are all
right. If you don't survive, they are poisonous."

"How did you catch the fish?" Van Dyck wanted to know.

"We didn't catch many of them. A diet of raw fish doesn't appeal very
strongly unless one is nearer starvation than we could be while the
cocoanuts lasted."

"No edible roots?"

"None that we ever discovered; and, anyway, they wouldn't have been
edible raw. But, say; we're missing something. How about those
trussed-up pirates? Won't the professor's natural-science class stumble
upon them and have a shock?"

At this question Van Dyck looked a trifle foolish.

"I thought we tied those fellows securely enough last night," he
offered. "Didn't you?"

"I did, indeed. Are you trying to tell me that they've picked the
locks?"

"They are not where we left them; that is one sure thing. I went out
there early this morning, meaning to make them talk and tell me what's
what on the _Andromeda_. They had disappeared."

"They are loose on the island?" I gasped.

"That would be the natural inference, you'd say. But I couldn't find
any trace of them--haven't yet found any."

"Then the _Andromeda_ must have come back to take them off."

Van Dyck's eyes narrowed.

"I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is impossible. But the seas
are still running pretty high, and if the yacht's people were able to
make a landing with either of the power launches before dawn, they are
better sailormen than I've been giving them credit for being."

"They'd come back for their men if it were humanly possible," I
ventured, "and they might have good hopes of being able to find them
alive. The wreck of the yawl happened after the yacht had disappeared,
you remember. But if they did come back, how about the treasure trove?
Would they go away again without digging up your plantation? But
perhaps they did dig it up?"

He shook his head.

"No; that is the first thing I thought of when the five men turned up
missing. The block of coral is just where we left it. Nothing has been
disturbed."

"But if that is what the landing party came for last night----"

"I know; it's a mystery, but in the heart of it lies our best hope, I
believe. They meant to dig when they made that landing last night. I
found a shovel this morning. In their hurry to get away, the yawl crew
left it on the beach and the seas had washed it up under the trees."

"Whereabouts is the hope?" I inquired.

"It is all guess-work," he admitted. "Assuming that they came last
night to dig--and didn't dig--and assuming again that they came back in
the dark hour before dawn, and still didn't dig, it is a fair inference
that we haven't seen the last of the _Andromeda_--or isn't it?"

"I don't know," I said. "The plot has grown much too complicated for
me. Meanwhile, I suppose we ought to be thankful that we haven't five
additional mouths to fill--with nothing to fill them with. You wouldn't
have let those five pirates starve, would you, Bonteck?"

The look that came into his eyes was handsomely gloomy.

"I meant to come just as near doing it as I could, and get by without
serving a sentence for manslaughter." And with that, he pulled his
cap over his eyes and walked away, coming back presently with a still
gloomier look in his eyes.

"It's hell, Dick," he broke out grittingly. "I've got to tell these
people of ours what's been done to them. It is the least I can do now.
There is starvation just ahead of us; and from what we saw last night,
it is perfectly plain that if the _Andromeda_ comes back, it won't be
for the purpose of taking us off."

"Not to take us off, perhaps, but the other motive--the motive that
brought her here last night--still exists. If she came to dig up your
buried 'ammunition' which has so mysteriously disappeared, she will
come again. You may depend upon that."

"Just the same, I've got to tell them," he said doggedly, going back to
the conscientious part of it; adding: "And I'd much rather be shot. It
was such an asinine thing, even as I had it shaped up in the beginning.
How can I ever make it appear to them as it appeared to me?--as a
harmless little practical joke, with no particular sting in its tail?
In the light of what has happened, I can never hope to make it look
that way; not even to you or to Madeleine, I'm afraid."

I rose upon an elbow.

"Why not wait a little longer?" I argued. "The _Andromeda_ will surely
turn up again, and when she does, it will be up to us to recapture her
at all hazards. When that is done, you can tell the others, if you
still think it necessary."

"But I owe it to you, at least, to tell them now."

"Why to me, especially?"

"For Conetta's sake."

"I'll answer for Conetta."

He sat down on the biscuit box, where he had been sitting when I came
awake, and put his back against a tree.

"I'm a wholesale murderer, Dick; that is about what it comes to!" he
groaned. "I have brought the woman I'd die for down into this devil's
sea to starve her to death. I know you'll say that I meant it all the
other way about, and so I did. But in this world it is only results
that count. I'm a bloody assassin."

I tried sitting up in the hammock, and found that it could be done.
Then I tried standing, and found that this, too, was possible.

"Supposing we go and join the breakfast chase," I suggested, meaning to
interpose a saving distraction; and we did it.

This was the beginning of the fourth act--the most disheartening fourth
act--in our gladsome little Caribbean comedy which was turning out so
tragically. For a day or two we were able to make light of the sudden
change of diet, and even of its scantiness, and to extract some sort of
forced fun out of the oyster dredging and the crabbing; also, out of
our not too successful attempts to vary the menu by fishing, with bent
hat-pins for hooks, in the crystal-clear waters of the lagoon. But in a
short while the laugh came less readily, and the eyes of some--of the
younger women, at least--grew strained from much staring at dazzling,
but empty, horizons, and filled easily with tears.

Yet, on the whole, the revelation of inner egos brought about by this
face-to-face fronting of a desperate extremity was not disappointing.
Stripped now of all the maskings of make-believe, we saw one
another as we were, and much that had been hidden was found to be
heart-mellowing and even inspiring when it was dragged out into the
unsparing light of a common disaster.

The courage of the women, in particular, was the finest thing
imaginable. There were nine of them starving heroically with us, and
they were doing it with a measure of cheer that was beyond all praise.
Even Miss Mehitable refused to figure as an exception. "We must be good
losers," she said to Conetta and me one evening when we were trying to
tempt her with a bit of broiled fish without seasoning. And she did not
resent it when Alicia Van Tromp, thrusting a laughing face in at the
open tent flap, called her "a dear, dead-game old sport."

For the men there is less to be said; partly because it is a man's job
to endure hardness anyway, and partly because three of our nine were
not living up to their privileges. Ingerson was doing a little better,
to be sure; for one thing, he was no longer thrusting himself upon
Madeleine. During the night of the hurricane he had lain out in all
the fury of it, and possibly the pouring deluge had washed some of the
brute out of him. At all events, he was less obnoxious, holding himself
aloof in a half-surly way, and seeming--or so we hoped--to be fighting
a morose battle with his appetite. Once, when I spoke of his changed
attitude to Conetta, she quoted Scripture at me: "'This kind goeth not
out but by fasting and prayer.' I doubt if he is praying much, but he
is certainly fasting."

Major Terwilliger, on the other hand, grew even more contemptible as
the pinch nipped the harder. Ranging the island for edible things, as
we all did, he discovered a wild mango in bearing, and though the
fruit would have been a grateful boon to all as a change, he kept the
discovery to himself for two whole days before Billy Grisdale, who
was trailing him, made him give up and share what was left on the
tree. Holly Barclay had given up his pretense of illness and was less
exacting than before; but he was still utterly useless in any practical
way.

During this interval, in which we were maintaining night and day
watches and patrolling the beaches, Bonteck was still holding his
peace as I had counseled him to, though I could see that his load was
growing heavier day by day. As to the events of the hurricane night,
it was by agreement that no mention of the _Andromeda's_ visit had
been made to the others. This was Bonteck's idea. Since nothing had
come of the yacht's return and our adventure with the five men who
had so mysteriously disappeared, he argued that no good could result
from spreading the news; that the news couldn't well be spread without
adding explanations which I, myself, had advised him to withhold.

It was a week, or perhaps a day or so more than that, after the night
of alarms that Van Dyck took me aside and showed me a piece of light
rope such as is used for signal halliards on board ship; a piece, I
said, but I should have said two short pieces tied together in a hard
knot.

"Do you recognize it?" he asked.

I shook my head.

"Of course, I couldn't swear to it," he said, "but it looks like a bit
of the flag halliards from the yacht. In other words, a bit of the rope
with which we tied the five pirates."

"Well?" I queried.

"I forgot to say that when I went to look for those fellows the next
morning, I didn't find any of these rope lashings. They didn't leave
even that much of a trace of themselves when they made off."

"Well?" I said again.

"I suppose you are pretty well convinced by this time that the
_Andromeda_ came back and took them off, and so am I. Taking that view
of it, you'll know what it means when I tell you that I found this
piece of knotted rope in the bushes a few yards from our camp--lost out
of somebody's pocket, for a guess."

Truly, I did know. It meant that the _Andromeda_ had come a second
time, and that, in addition to rescuing the survivors of the yawl's
crew, the rescuing party had crept up upon us; had been near enough to
massacre the lot of us as we slept after the strenuous exertions of the
forepart of the night.

"Um," said I; "why didn't they kill us all off while the killing was
good? Perhaps you can answer me that."

"There may have been reasons. Possibly the landing party--the second
one--wasn't big enough to attempt it with safety. Besides, what was the
use of their troubling themselves when the lapse of a little time would
take the job off their hands?"

Here was a ready explanation for all that had happened, or hadn't
happened, since the night of the storm. The mutineers were merely
giving us time to starve to death. Their spying expedition had
doubtless shown them that our stores were gone, and they could easily
argue that in a few days we, too, would be gone--at least gone past
the point at which we could interfere with anything they wished to do
on the island.

It was on a crabbing expedition when, as it chanced, I was paired with
the youngest of the Van Tromp trio, that Edith asked a question which I
knew must be trembling continually upon the lips of every woman in our
forlorn company.

"How long can it last, Uncle Dick? How long can we live on just
cocoanuts and hope, after the horrid great oysters are all gone, and
these creepy, leggy crabs have grown too cunning to let us catch them?"

"We must try not to dwell upon that," I told her. "Our problem is to
live from day to day."

"But there will come a day," she asserted. "I can see it in Billy's
eyes, when I can get him to look at me."

"Ouch!" I said, purposely letting a crab nip my finger for the sake of
making a diversion. But the tribe to which Miss Edith belongs rejoices
in its ability to cling, limpet-like, to a matter in hand.

"The Caribs were cannibals, weren't they?--in the long ago?" she went
on. "Are we coming to that, Richard Preble? If we should, Billy and I
will draw straws. We're both young and tender, you know."

"Hush!" I commanded; "that isn't a pretty joke." And later that same
day, when I was able to get hold of Billy Grisdale, I read the riot act
to him.

"You want to rub the O-Lord-pity-us look out of your eyes, young man,
and put a little more ginger into your conversation with Edie," I
suggested. "She is beginning to see things in the back part of your
brain, and that isn't good for little girl Crusoes."

"Take it to yourself!" he retorted spitefully. "I saw you looking at
Conetta not fifteen minutes ago with a scare in your eyes big enough to
set an innocent bystander's teeth on edge."

"I'll reform," I promised, "and so must you, Billy. Take Bonteck for
your model; not me."

"Bonteck's got something up his sleeve," he said morosely. "He's been
going through the bunch for weapons. Think of it--nine men of us here
three thousand miles out of reach of a policeman, and not so much as
one poor little potato-popgun among us."

This was a mistake on Billy's part, of course. We still had the
three pistols taken from the men we had waylaid on the night of the
storm, but of these no mention had been made to Billy or any of the
others, since to speak of them would have called for the story of the
night's adventures--a story which Van Dyck and I were still keeping to
ourselves.

But Billy's remark about the inquiry for weapons was news of a sort.
Had Van Dyck caught a fresh glimpse of the _Andromeda's_ smoke plume on
the horizon he was always sweeping with the field-glass?

"Bonteck wasn't trying to disarm anybody, was he?" I asked.

"Oh, no. He talked sort of vaguely about a scrap of some kind, and
being prepared for it; wanted to know if the professor and Grey and
Dupuyster and I would put ourselves under orders, and do what he might
tell us to, sight unseen. Said maybe he'd be able to explain more fully
a little later on."

I thought I saw what was in Van Dyck's mind. His secret was gnawing the
life out of him, and, sooner or later, it would have to come out. I
knew well enough that he was not hesitating from any cowardly motive;
it was rather because I had urged him to wait, holding out the hope
that a more auspicious time for the telling of the plot would come--or
at least that a less auspicious time than this starvation period could
hardly come.

In the waiting interval, and as in some sense still our host and
leader, he had been obliged to busy himself with something, and apart
from the daily effort to make the hardships less grinding upon all of
us, and the women in particular, he had organized the six of us men who
were willing into four-hour watches of two men each to patrol the two
beaches, urging our daily decreasing food supply as a reason for the
increased vigilance, and insisting that we must not allow the smallest
chance of discovery to escape us. If a ship were sighted in the night,
the two watchers making the discovery were to arouse the other four
instantly, and without giving a general alarm.

Though he had not confided it to me in detail, his plan was obvious
enough. He was still expecting another return of the _Andromeda_, and
was determined to make a desperate effort to regain possession of the
yacht when the chance should offer. For this attempt, hazardous as it
would surely prove to be, he could count definitely upon only six of
our nine. Barclay was certainly out of it, and the major's age exempted
him. Ingerson was a doubtful quantity--very doubtful from my point of
view--and I questioned if Van Dyck would call upon him or make him a
party to any plan that might be determined upon when the time for
action should arrive. Still, outnumbered as we must be, a recapture of
the yacht appeared to be our only hope. We might all starve a thousand
times over before any chance ship should sight our isolated island;
sight it and approach near enough to make out our distress signals.

Just how much or how little Van Dyck would confess to the others, if
a time should come when he would no longer be able to keep silence,
was a question that was puzzling me. To tell the assembled castaways
that there had probably been a real mutiny where only a sham one was
intended would cut no figure as news, since sixteen of our eighteen
already believed it to have been real. That being the case, the only
encouraging thing to be revealed was the burial of the golden hoard,
and the reasonable hope it gave us that the _Andromeda_ would come
back, sooner or later, in order to search for it.

As to this, however, I was quite confident that Bonteck would never go
so far as to tell the others about the gold planting. That he would
publish the bald truth about his generous and lover-like little plot,
the object of which was to enable Madeleine Barclay to buy her freedom
of choice in matters matrimonial, was simply unthinkable. And if the
gold-burying episode were to be left out of his confession, in what
other manner could he account to the others for his belief that the
yacht would eventually return?

As it came about, the answers to all these questioning reflections were
already marshaling themselves for a descent upon us at the moment when
I was undertaking to show Billy Grisdale that a man's eyes should be
kept decently shuttered when his brain is conjuring up pictures of the
terrible things that may happen to the loved one.

On this same evening Professor Sanford and I were paired to take the
first watch for the patrolling of the beach, and at eight o'clock we
set out from the camp in the glade, leaving the other members of our
Crusoe company sitting around the dying embers of the cooking fire.
Following the regular sentry-go routine, Sanford and I parted at the
camp; he was to take the south beach and I the north, and we were to
meet at the sandspit in which the island terminated to the eastward. As
I tramped along upon my solitary watch round I was sorrier than ever
for Van Dyck. All that day he had been going about like a man with a
dozen murders on his conscience, and it was plain to be seen that each
added day--days in which he was obliged to see some of us actually
going hungry because we hadn't been able to gather enough to satisfy
eighteen normal and healthy appetites--was crowding him nearer to the
brink of the humiliating confession chasm. From advising him not to
tell, I was coming around to the opposite point of view and wishing
that I hadn't tried to stop him. As matters stood, he was like a man
facing a deferred surgical operation. It was true, the operation might
prove fatal; but there were opportunities for the dying of any number
of anticipatory deaths during the interval of suspense.

Skirting the northern edge of the island without seeing anything to mar
the mirror-like surface of the starlit sea, I was first at the sandspit
rendezvous by a good half-hour. Since there was no reason for haste,
and the sandy cape commanded a wide view of the watery waste in all
directions save one, I filled my pipe with the final shakings of my
last sack of tobacco, and after poking in the ashes of the neglected
signal fire and finding no live coals among them, I lighted the pipe
with one of the few precious matches we were hoarding, and sat down on
the sands to wait. In due course of time the professor appeared, a dark
figure trudging along aimlessly; and when he came nearer I saw that he
had his hands clasped behind him and was walking with his head down
like a person buried in the deepest thought--the very antitype of an
alert coast guardsman on the watch for a sail. When he descried me he
came over and sat down beside me, still thoughtfully abstracted.

"I was beginning to wonder what had become of you, Professor," I said,
merely to start things going.

"Yes; I was detained. Mr. Van Dyck called me back shortly after you
left," he explained half-absently. Then he opened up: "Mr. Preble, I
have been listening to a most astounding--er--confession, I suppose you
might call it. I wonder if you know what it is?"

"I do," I answered shortly. "Van Dyck has been telling you that a
harmless little comedy planned by him to break the monotony of our
cruise has turned into a potential tragedy, with all the attendant
hardships and horrors."

"You are quite right. He was very manly about it, and he blames himself
unsparingly. It was an exceedingly difficult thing for him to do--to
tell us of it. He realized fully that the present conditions must make
any explanation seem wretchedly inadequate."

"They do," I agreed, and then I asked the one burning question: "The
others, Professor Sanford? How did they take it?"

"A-a-hem-hem--h'm; each after his or her kind, Mr. Preble. The
women are pretty generally sympathetic. They see only the immense
responsibility which Mr. Van Dyck freely acknowledges, and are very
humanly and generously sorry for him. I wish I might say as much for
the men. Grey and young Grisdale are both loyal, though it was plainly
evident that Grey had to fight for his loyalty, since the unhappy
outcome involves his wife. Ingerson talked and acted like a surly
ruffian, as you would imagine; and Major Terwilliger's language was
scarcely less reprehensible. Dupuyster played the man. He rebuked his
uncle quite sharply and went across to grip Van Dyck's hand and to
say what a manly fellow might say in the circumstances. And Miss Van
Tromp--the second Miss Van Tromp--went with him."

"Of course," I said crustily--and made another mark on the score that I
meant to settle with one Gerald Dupuyster if we should ever attain to a
time when personal scores could be audited and settled. Then I reminded
the professor that he had omitted Mr. Holly Barclay.

"I wish to continue omitting him," was the reply, and the professor's
tone was a measure of his disgust. "Let it be sufficient to say that he
made his daughter blush for very shame with his puerile accusations. He
even went so far as to intimate that Mr. Van Dyck was not telling the
truth; that the entire affair was a deep-laid plot designed to involve
Miss Madeleine in some way."

"That was to be expected--from Holly Barclay," I said. "But you are
omitting one more: Professor Abner Sanford, Ph. D."

I was relighting my pipe with another of the precious matches, and in
the momentary flare the professor's plain-song face revealed itself.
There was a half-quizzical smile wrinkling at the corners of the quiet
gray eyes.

"Mrs. Sanford and I are Mr. Van Dyck's guests," he qualified. "But,
apart from that, I was content to wait and hear what might develop
further. As it appears, Mr. Van Dyck has not entirely lost hope. If
there were a real mutiny--and, indeed, there seems little doubt of
that--Van Dyck still has confidence in the resourcefulness of Goff, the
sailing-master. He insists that, sooner or later, the _Andromeda_ will
return."

In the little interval of silence that followed I was turning the
professor's story over thoughtfully in my mind. There had evidently
been no mention made of the gold-burying episode. Van Dyck had dodged
it very cleverly, it seemed, letting it be understood that his hope
of the yacht's return was based upon the loyalty, in the last resort,
of Elijah Goff. It was better that way. So long as the hope had been
definitely held out to the others, there was no need of terrifying the
women by telling them that if we should be lucky enough to regain our
ship it would be by hard knocks and a rather forlorn-hope fight against
overwhelming odds as to numbers and arms.

"There is still one vote outstanding, Mr. Preble--your own," said the
professor, breaking into my reverie.

"You have already taken that for granted," I returned. "If Bonteck
had confided in me before the fact--which I assure you he did not--I
should certainly have vetoed his plan for a fortnight's picnic on this
God-forsaken bit of coral in the middle of nowhere. Yet, as his nearest
friend, I can understand, perhaps better than any one else, why he
was impelled to do it. Also, I can understand that he had no reason
whatever to foresee the remotest possibility of any such tragic turn as
things have taken."

"Of course, of course; I think we shall all understand that after
we have duly weighed and considered." The professor had locked his
fingers over his knees and was regarding me thoughtfully. "Do you
know," he went on, quite as if the main problems had been worked out
and definitely wiped from the blackboard, "do you know, I am sometimes
a little regretful that I didn't learn to smoke tobacco in my younger
days? You gentlemen of the pipe and cigar seem to get so much comfort
out of it."

"It is never too late to mend--or mar," I told him; and with that
we got up to resume our respective sentry beats by which, under the
established routine, each of us would return to the camp end of the
island by the route over which the other had come.

When we parted it was with the agreement to meet again at the western
extremity of the island, and I ventured to call my watchmate's
attention to the fact that a lookout's duty was to look out.

"Why, bless me!--of course it is," he laughed. "Now that you mention
it, I remember that I wasn't very faithful on the way over here. I'll
reform, Mr. Preble, I will, truly." And he went on his way around the
north beach toward the bay of the galleon wreck.

It is probably a rare thing for a crisis in the affairs of a group
of nearly a score of people to turn upon so trivial a matter as the
tobacco habit. There was still an unburned dottel in my pipe, and I
could not think of wasting it. If I had not stopped and felt in my
pockets for my one remaining match while the professor was still a
trudging shadow on the white sands of the northern beach, the crisis
might have come and gone undiscovered by any soul of our eighteen.

For, just as I had found the match and was in the act of striking it,
the ghost-like bulk of a ship loomed silently in the starlight a short
half-mile to the eastward; a ship headed directly for the island and
showing no lights. It was the _Andromeda_ again.



XV

THE MERRY WAR


PUTTING the unlighted match carefully away in my pocket, I made a quick
dash down the north beach to overtake the professor.

I told him what I had seen, and he exclaimed, "Dear me--you don't say
so!" much as if I had rushed up to assure him that the exact value of
_pi_ in the circle-squaring problem had finally been ascertained. And
then, quite placidly: "What do we do next, Mr. Preble?"

I didn't want to tell him that, in all probability, the _Andromeda_
mutineers were merely coming back to dig for gold. That was still Van
Dyck's personal secret. But it was not difficult to convince him that
the yacht's errand was not friendly to us.

"They are creeping up quietly, at the wrong end of the island, and
with no lights showing," I pointed out. "Which means that they are not
coming to take us off. If you will stay here and keep in touch with
them while I run back to camp and give the alarm----"

"Certainly," he agreed. Then: "I'm not to show myself?"

"By no manner of means. Don't let them see you or hear you, but keep
them in sight if you can do it without exposing yourself. I shan't be
gone any longer than I can help."

It was the better part of a mile down the beach to a point opposite
the glade where our camp was pitched, and the night was warm; but I
took small thought for either the distance or the heat. At the camp
everybody but Van Dyck had turned in; at least, none of the others was
in sight. Bonteck was sitting beside the expiring embers of the bit of
cooking fire, with his head in his hands and his gaze fixed upon the
patch of white ashes with its center spot of red coals.

I came up behind him, touched his shoulder, and hastily whispered the
news: "The _Andromeda_ is clawing up to the other end of the island
just as she did before--at half speed, and with no lights showing."

"Thank God she is back at last!" he muttered, starting up quickly. "It
falls in at the right minute, Dick. I was just saying to myself that
I'd go dippy if I couldn't fight somebody or something. Turn out the
squad, as quietly as you can."

Moving cautiously so as not to awaken any of the non-combatants, I
aroused Grey, Dupuyster and Billy Grisdale and told them what was
to the fore. Van Dyck herded us quickly out of the camp circle, and
on the beach he groped under the palmettos and uncovered our scanty
arsenal; the three pistols and the two knives we had taken from our
former captives. If our lately awakened recruits were surprised at the
appearance of the weapons they said nothing, nor was there any comment
made when, out of the same hiding place, Bonteck drew a half-dozen
stout, serviceable clubs and distributed them as he had the more modern
weapons.

"Now then, if you are all ready," he said, giving the word. "Set the
pace, Dick, and we'll try to keep up with you." And a moment later we
were running silently in single file along the north beach toward the
eastern-point lookout where I had posted Sanford.

In making me the pace-setter, Bonteck builded more wisely than he
knew--more wisely than any of us knew at the time. Having just
completed a mile dash at the best speed I could compass, I was fain to
set an easy dog-trot for the return, so we were all comparatively fresh
when we reached the scene of action and found the professor.

Our lookout's report was brief and to the point. The _Andromeda_ had
steamed up silently and was lying off the south shore at no great
distance from us, and as yet there was no movement aboard; at least,
the professor said he hadn't been able to see anything stirring on her
decks. But Van Dyck, making a hasty reconnaissance, came back with
better information.

"They are lowering the electric launch by hand," he announced. Then
he outlined the situation for us in a few brittle words. "You all
understand, I take it, that they have not come back--secretly, this
way--to rescue us. We may ignore their real object for the present and
come to the immediate necessities. If we get possession of the yacht,
we shall doubtless have to fight for it."

"Just say when and how," Billy Grisdale cut in tersely, trying the
strength of his club over his knee.

Van Dyck sketched his plan rapidly, and it was evident that he had
worked out the details in advance, basing his conclusions upon what he
and I had seen on the night of the storm.

"They will land a party in the launch, and our first move will be to
capture every man of that landing party, dead or alive, and without
making any noise. So don't use the firearms. If their boat's crew
doesn't return within a reasonable time, they'll send again to find out
what has become of it. When they do that, we'll repeat, and by eating
them up a little at a time--but you get the idea, I'm sure." And to me:
"Dick, will you take the command? You are better qualified than any of
the rest of us."

"You are doing very well, yourself," I told him. "Show us the way and
we'll stay with you."

"All right," he agreed briefly. "I think we all understand that this
is likely to be our last chance, so far as the yacht is concerned.
There are nine women up at the other end of the island who will, in all
human probability, starve to death if we bungle this thing and let the
_Andromeda_ get away from us. Keep that in mind when you hit, and hit
hard!"

Since the choice of position was one of the few advantages we should
have in the coming struggle, we picked our way silently across the
point to the wood fringe from which Van Dyck and I had witnessed the
earlier landing. Judging from the little we could see in the starlight,
the mutineers were making hard work of the job of clearing away the
electric launch without the aid of the steam winch. In spite of Mr.
Edison's continued and most ingenious efforts to find a substitute for
the lead in them, storage batteries are still heavy contrivances; and
at the end of it the weighty little tender got away from the men at
the davit tackles and dropped into the sea with a resounding slap that
might have been heard half-way around the island.

For a minute or two the small boat lay chafing against the side of the
yacht, and there was no attempt made to man it; from which we inferred
that the mutineers were waiting to ascertain if the crash of the sudden
launching had given the alarm. In view of the fact that the invaders
had every reason to believe that we were all either dead or dying
from starvation by this time, it struck me that they were excessively
cautious, and I spoke of this to Van Dyck.

"That is the 'spiggotty' of it," he commented in low tones. "Lequat's
name is French, but I'd be willing to bet that he and his backers
are of the mongrel breed--dock-rats who will fight only when they're
cornered."

"Will they be well armed, do you think?" I asked.

"Heaven knows. Every man that Goff picked up in New York may have been
a walking arsenal, for all I know to the contrary. As for the yacht
itself, there were only a few sport guns in the cabins, as you saw for
yourself."

Whether they were over-cautious, or only prudently careful, the
intending invaders waited fully ten minutes, I should say, before
making another move. But at last, silhouetting themselves as black
shadows against the white paint of the _Andromeda's_ side, a boat's
crew came over the rail, dropping man by man into the launch. We
counted the shadowy figures slipping over the yacht's side. As in the
yawl's crew, there were seven; a man apiece for us, and one extra, for
good measure.

"I'll take that odd man," Billy Grisdale whispered in my ear. "I can't
go back to Edie with less than two scalps at my belt, you know."

"Shut up!" I hissed. "They'll hear you, and then you won't get even
one."

The launch got under way at once and presently came skimming through
the gap in the reef, the narrowness of which had proved the undoing of
the yawl on the night of the hurricane. The electrically driven boat
made no sound other than the purring murmur of its motor and the soft,
ripping sheer of the sharp cutwater as it turned a tiny bow wave. Once
within the lagoon, the launch was steered straight for the beach. This
time, as it appeared, there was to be no shilly-shallying.

A landing was made within a few yards of our covert. Six of the men
got out when the tender's prow slid up on the sand, and the remaining
man rummaged under the thwarts and heaved a pick and a shovel ashore.
Then a curious thing happened. Without a word uttered, the six men on
the sands became suddenly involved in a fierce and mysterious struggle.
Twice one of the six broke away, only to be instantly caught and
dragged back by the others; and it was not until the brief battle was
over, and five of the men were shoving the sixth ahead of them into the
wood, that Van Dyck found the answer and passed the word to the rest of
us.

"That's Goff, and they're making him show them the way! Come on!"

We followed, and there was no need for any great amount of caution
on our part. The men ahead of us were trampling through the jungle
undergrowth with little heed for the noise they made, and we were
close upon them when they halted in the small open space marked by the
lump of coral. Since it was well-nigh pitch dark in the tree-shadowed
glade, a light of some sort was a necessity, and one of the men knelt
to kindle the wick of a ship's lantern. The sputtering flare of the
match illuminated a striking tableau for us. Lequat, hatless, and with
a red bandanna bound around his head in true buccaneer fashion, stood
aside, leaning upon the bared blade of a huge weapon, half sabre and
half machete. Two of the others held Goff pinioned by his arms, and the
odd man had the pick and shovel.

Van Dyck held us back until the lantern was fairly alight and the
kneeling man was about to rise. Then, at his whispered "_Now!_" we
rushed the silent group.

It is a worn saying that a man knows no more of a battle than that
small portion of it which may fall to his share. My share in the
sharp struggle which followed was simple enough. Out of the confused
tangle of legs and arms and writhing bodies I dragged my man, one
of Goff's pinioners whom I had picked out in the brief flare of the
lantern-lighting match. That, and a quieting tap from the butt of the
big Navy pistol which had fallen to me in the distribution of weapons,
was all there was to it. Before I could get in again, the fight was
over, and Van Dyck was stooping to put a match to the wick of the
ship's lantern which had been kicked aside and had gone out in the
scuffling battle.

The scene revealed by the renewed lantern light was not without its
element of grim humor. Our victory had been sweepingly complete,
and the small open space was strewn with the prone figures of the
vanquished. Van Dyck had been thoughtful enough to bring a coil of
light tent rope with him from our camp, and Grey and Grisdale were
already at work like trained thief-takers binding and gagging the
captives. Over in the edge of the glade the professor was trying
mercifully to replace the dislocated shoulder of a small man who was
groaning and squirming under him, and begging in broken English to be
spared; the patient pleading while the amateur surgeon was assuring him
blandly that the disabled arm would be pulled out by the roots if he
raised his voice above a whisper.

It was Elijah Goff, fully reinstated now as a victim of circumstances
like ourselves, who went to the professor's assistance.

"Lemme sit on his head while you yank, Professor," he said with dry
humor. "I'm owin' that tarnation little rat suthin' f'r the way he's
been keelhaulin' me." And thereupon we saw that the professor's capture
was the ex-steward, Lequat, whose formidable weapon the mild-mannered
old scholar had actually broken off short at the hilt with the same
shrewd bludgeon stroke that had crippled the ex-steward's sword arm.

After our five prisoners were safely trussed up and silenced with
primitive gags made of knotted rope, we wasted no more time upon them.
The man left with the boat remained to be secured, and his removal
from the scene was a bit of routine. He had come ashore to stand by
the bow of the beached launch, and apparently he mistook us for his
own people returning. Anyway, he made scarcely a show of resistance
when we surrounded him, and Billy Grisdale garroted him with the bit of
knotted rope which was presently forced between his teeth to keep him
quiet while we bound and dragged him back into the wood to the general
rendezvous.

The launch's manning thus disposed of, we held a sober council of
war, with Goff on the witness stand. The old skipper told his story
briefly, and in the main it accorded fairly well with Van Dyck's
prefigurings. The mutiny and seizure of the yacht had been real enough,
and the conspirators had chosen the moment when the sham uprising
was to have been staged; namely, the evening when Edie Van Tromp's
cry of "Land-o-o-o!" had announced the _Andromeda's_ approach to the
island. Goff had been overpowered on the bridge, and the Americans,
Haskell, Quinby and the others, had been imprisoned in the engine-room
and fire hold, where, so Goff told us, they were still confined. The
skipper could not say how many members of the crew proper were in the
conspiracy, but those who were not had doubtless been overawed by
threats of violence; given the choice between obedience and submission,
and walking the plank.

"All I know is it ain't a sailormen's crowd," said the grizzled old
Gloucesterman in summing up. "It's mostly cooks and cabin stewards, and
that kind of riff-raff, with that fat Frenchman, Bassinette, at the
head of 'em. Near as I could figger, they're revolutionaries o' some
sort. They got an idee there was big money some'ere's aboard, and I
cal'late they've dum near tore the insides out o' the yacht lookin' for
it."

"Bassinette, the _chef_?" Van Dyck queried. "Then this fellow Lequat
wasn't the ringleader?"

"No more 'n I be," said Goff. "He's nothin' but an understrapper,
carryin' out orders. But he's a navigator--of a sort."

"Where has the yacht been all this time?" It was Grey who wanted to
know.

"Been mostly standin' off and on over to the Central American coast,
unloadin' a cargo of guns and ammynition that was picked up off the
Isle o' Pines," was the calm reply. "When they got through with that,
Bassinette told me he was comin' back here to take you folks off. I
mistrusted he was lyin' like a whitehead about what he was comin' for,
but it looked 's if any chance was better 'n none, so I give him his
bearin's, which I suspicion Lequat wa'n't sailorman enough to figger
out f'r himself. There was bad weather brewin' when we got here, and
they had to cut and run f'r it afore a gale o' wind."

"Did they try to land at all?" Billy Grisdale asked.

"Couldn't prove nothin' by me," said Goff, and I got the idea he was
trying to fight off from the question. "They had me locked up in one o'
the cabins."

At this, Grey broke in again.

"You say you mistrusted that these fellows were not coming back to take
us off, Captain Goff: what were they coming for, then? And what were
they planning to do back here in the wood with a pick and shovel just
now when we closed in on them?"

I saw Van Dyck's hand shoot out to grip the sailing-master's arm. If it
were a warning, the old skipper was quick to act upon it.

"There's an old yarn about a buried gold-mine some'res in these
waters," he drawled. "I guess putty near everybody's heard it, fust 'r
last. Shouldn't wonder if Bassinette and his crowd think they've got a
pointer on it. Maybe they thought that was what we was headin' here
for. Wouldn't supprise me a mite."

The explanation was certainly an ingenious one, and it fully proved
the justice of Van Dyck's trust in the old fisherman skipper. But the
questioner was still unsatisfied. In his proper environment, as I have
said, Mr. John Grey figured as an able young lawyer, and when he could
forget Annette and his new-found happiness long enough, the lawyer
gifts came easily to the front.

"What made them bring you ashore, Captain Goff?" he asked shrewdly.

But Goff proved to be far too old a bird to be caught napping.

"Maybe they was cal'latin' to have me do the diggin'," he returned with
a sly chuckle. "Wouldn't put it a mite beyond 'em."

It was Van Dyck who brought the talk back to things present and
pressing.

"We know definitely now what we are up against," he said. "How many of
the men are in this with Bassinette, Captain 'Lige?"

"They kep' me too close to tell. Maybe half of 'em, 'r maybe more. And
another thing--they've got guns and pistols, plenty of 'em."

Some earnest of this we had had in the taking of the prisoners in the
glade. They were all armed, but the weapons were for the most part
out of date; pistols and knives, one repeating rifle of an old model,
a pair of brass knuckles, a wicked looking "life-preserver"--a short
leather club, lead-loaded in the striking end. But we found only a
scattering score or so of cartridges for the firearms.

These weapons we now shared impartially among ourselves, and when the
professor volunteered to go back in the wood and stand guard over
the prisoners, Van Dyck suggested that it was time we were making a
reconnaissance in force in the enemy's direction, the war council
having been held at a point about half-way between the glade and the
beach. Nobody could say certainly what move the mutineers on the yacht
would make next, and in spite of Goff's assurances to the contrary, Van
Dyck was afraid they might take the alarm and run away, abandoning the
launch's crew to whatever fate had befallen it.

"Not much danger o' that," Goff insisted; and after Grisdale, Grey and
Dupuyster had been posted in the forest fringe with instructions to
keep a sharp lookout for renewed activities upon the _Andromeda_, Van
Dyck drew Goff and me aside and went straight to the heart of things.

"Mr. Preble and I were here on the beach that night when the yacht came
up and then had to make a run for it, Captain 'Lige," he began. "Didn't
you know they sent a boat's crew ashore that night?"

Goff nodded. "Didn't know how much 'r how little you wanted t'other
folks to know. Had me locked up in a cabin on the starb'd side and I
saw the yawl get off--and saw that it didn't get back. Maybe you can
tell me what happened to that boat-load o' scamps?"

Van Dyck told our part in the happenings briefly, and the old Banksman
chuckled delightedly.

"Good stroke o' business--catchin' 'em that way when they was all
fagged out with swimmin',"--adding vindictively: "only you ought to 've
knocked every single one on 'em in the head, when you had 'em. As it
was----"

"Yes," said Van Dyck; "as it was?----"

"As it was, we clawed back here just afore day the next mornin', and
with the seas putty near rollin' the yacht's rail under, Bassinette
made out to get ashore with the gasoline launch when it was just about
as much as any man's life was worth to try it. He fetched back five o'
the seven men that went ashore in the yawl. You said two of 'em was
drowned, didn't you?"

"They were," said I.

"This man Bassinette," Van Dyck broke in. "He is the cook you picked up
in New York. Did you know anything about him when you shipped him?"

Goff shook his head. "Somethin' kind o' queer about that big lummux,"
he averred. "If I didn't know better, I'd 'most be willin' to go into
court and swear he isn't the man I shipped in New York. Looks as much
like him as two peas, but that's all. If we'd been anywheres to get rid
o' him and pick up his double----"

"Wait," I interposed. "We laid up for a day at Gracias á Dios with a
disabled propeller shaft. Didn't some of the men have shore leave that
day?"

"By gravy, I b'lieve you've hit it, Mr. Preble!" Goff exclaimed. "It
was after we left Gracias that I took to noticin' that Bassinette
seemed sort o' different, somehow; didn't grin same as he used to when
I'd stick my head into his galley. And he was consider'ble thick with a
bunch o' them outlandishmen we picked up in New York ha'bor. Look 's if
we'd all ought to be bored f'r the hollow-horn, Mr. Van Dyck!"

It was beginning to look that way to me, too, but Van Dyck didn't push
the inquiry any further.

"We can let that part of it rest for the present," he said, and at his
suggestion we joined the other three in the ambush at the beach edge.

Up to this time there had been no further sign of life on board the
yacht. Though there were no premonitory symptoms of a storm brewing,
the night was oppressively warm and there was hardly a breath of air
stirring. Nevertheless, there is always some little movement in the
sea, and during the interval which had elapsed since the launch party
had left her, the _Andromeda_ had drifted a bit nearer in and was
now fairly opposite the narrow reef inlet, and not more than a short
cable's length outside of it.

"If we could only contrive some means of making them come to anchor,"
Van Dyck muttered. "A bit of breeze would turn the trick, but there is
no promise of that."

"He'd be too foxy to anchor, even if 'twas blowin' half a gale," was
Goff's reply to this. "What I say is to take the launch and board
him. There's six of us, and we've got the tools, such as they are. I
cal'late if we could fight our way to the engine-room hatch and let
Haskell and his gang out----"

"I am afraid to risk the boarding," Van Dyck admitted. "Not for
ourselves, but for the women who will be left if we shouldn't succeed.
There are good glasses on board, and those fellows probably know how
to use them. If it were only a little darker, so that we might stand
some chance of getting out to them before they could recognize us--but
they'd be sure to, and put steam to the yacht."

I guess the suspense was getting on our nerves. I am sure it was on
mine. The very silence was oppressive, and it seemed as if the lapping
of the little waves on the sands and the rise and fall of the gentle
swell on the reef were hushed. Then, too, the white yacht in the near
offing grew more and more like a ghost ship as we strained our eyes
watching her for some sign of life. It was Dupuyster who broke the
spell.

"I say, Bonteck, old dear, don't you know, I'm the only original human
fish, when it comes to swimmin'," he whispered. "Toss me the sharpest
knife in the lot, and I'll toddle out there and anchor the _Andromeda_
for you--dashed if I don't."

Of course, there was a low-toned chorus of protest. Sharks occasionally
came into the lagoon, as we all knew, and since ships usually have a
following of them in tropical waters, there would certainly be one
or more of the man-eaters in the deeper water beyond the reef. Also,
admitting that a swimmer could reach the _Andromeda_ without having a
leg or an arm bitten off on the way, there were mechanical difficulties
to be overcome. The anchors were catted at the bows of the yacht, with
the slack of the cables taken in, and the anchor flukes themselves
triced up in heavy hempen slings in man-o'-war style. It would be a
man's job to cut the slings with anything short of a sharp axe.

Our arguments nugatory were hurried but thorough. If Dupuyster should
live to reach the yacht and climb aboard, he would certainly be
discovered from the bridge before he could cut the lashings to free
an anchor. And, admitting that the thing could be done, what would be
gained? What was to prevent the mutineers from throwing the steam
winch into gear and heaving the anchor up again?

While we were expostulating, Jerry--not the carefully Anglicized
clubman we had known, but a most surprisingly red-blooded reincarnation
of him--was calmly preparing to get himself shark-bitten.

"I say, by Jove, you chappies had better hedge on some of those bets
you're making," he drawled. "If Uncle Jimmie were here, he'd take you,
don't you know. Find me that knife, and a couple of the biggest pistol
cartridges. That's all I want."

Provided with his simple armament, Jerry, stripped to the buff, and
with the knife and the cartridges secured in an impromptu belt made of
his discarded undershirt, wormed his way down to the beach and took the
water under the bilge of the stranded launch as silently as a fish.
When he came up from the long dive we could trace him by the faint
phosphorescence showing now and then in the ripples of his wake.

It was a horrible strain, watching him as he worked his way across the
lagoon to the inlet through the reef. Every instant we were expecting
to see the disturbance which would mark the lunge and back-roll of
an attacking man-eater, and I could not help wondering which of the
two women, Conetta or Beatrice Van Tromp, would reproach us the more
bitterly for letting him go to his death.

We lost trace of him after his faintly luminous trail disappeared at
the gap in the reef. Just then the windless calm was broken by a mere
breath of air stirring out of the southeast, and the _Andromeda_, still
a dead hulk swinging gently to the slow heave and dip of the scarcely
perceptible swell, was now drifting landward by more than the measured
inchings; she had decreased her earliest distance by considerably more
than half. It could be only a matter of minutes before whoever was in
command would have to give her sternway with the engines to keep her
from going on the reef, in which case Dupuyster would have taken his
life in his hand for nothing. A half-dozen backward turns of the big
twin screws would take the yacht out of his reach, and would probably
take her out of soundings so that a dropped anchor would find no bottom.

Van Dyck whispered all this to me while we were holding our breath
and making our eyes water in the effort to get another glimpse of the
swimmer's trail.

"He'll never make it--never in this world!" Van Dyck concluded in the
stifled whisper. "We were criminal fools for letting him try it. It's
sheer suicide, and we all knew it!"

"I have forgiven him," I said grimly.

"Forgiven him? For what?"

"For playing fast and loose with Conetta. He has asked her, you know,
and she has said 'Yes.' And in spite of that, he has been making open
love to Beatrice Van Tromp ever since we were put ashore here."

"Don't make a damned jealous idiot of yourself!" was the hot retort.
"If you weren't bat-blind in both eyes----"

The interruption was the thunderous racket we had by this time given
up all hope of hearing. With a mighty splash and a deafening clamor
from the paying-out cable, the _Andromeda's_ starboard anchor let go,
and from the shortness of the uproar we knew that it had taken ground
upon the outer ledges of the reef. Following the rattling clamor, we
heard the pad-pad of running men, and were able to guess that the slack
discipline of the mutineers had been responsible for a deserted forward
deck. There was a barked-out order in a foreign tongue from the bridge,
a hissing of steam, and the power capstan was promptly set in motion to
break the anchor out of its hold.

At the second or third turn of the capstan something happened; a
snapping explosion up forward, and a prolonged hammering and grinding,
as if the steam hoisting machinery were patiently and painstakingly
wrecking itself. In the midst of this new turmoil we saw a slender
white figure shoot over the yacht's bow in a headlong dive, and heard
the crackling spatter of a pistol fusillade opened upon the diver from
the bridge.

"We'll hang the last living man of them if they got him!" Van Dyck
declared vindictively, when the velvety silence of the tropical night
had settled down again, and we had looked earnestly but in vain for
some sign of the diver from the yacht's bows. Then he turned to Grey:
"Jack, you'd better drop out and run back to camp. It is hardly
possible that the women are sleeping through all this war noise. You'll
know what to say. Tell them to keep together and to make no noise.
They're out of the danger zone, and we'll make it our business to try
to prevent the scrapping from drifting down to that end of the island.
Don't say anything about Jerry. We won't give him up until we have to.
That's all; but hurry back. We'll probably be needing you by the time
you've made the round trip."

Grey slipped off silently, doubling the sandspit point of the island in
order to have the unmenaced north beach for his speedway. After he was
gone there was a terrible wait for the four of us left crouching in the
shadow of the palms. For what seemed like an age there was no sign of
our forlorn-hope swimmer. As nearly as we could judge from the noises
on board the yacht, the mutineers were trying to repair the disabled
capstan. Apparently it didn't suit them to be tied by the leg and
unable to run away.

"Let me have that old rifle, Billy," said Van Dyck; this after the
capstan noises had been located. Lying flat, Bonteck aimed as well as
he could in the uncertain light, and we distinctly heard the clang of
the bullet as it penetrated the metal bulwarks of the yacht's stem. The
single shot did the business, and we heard no more hammerings at the
crippled machinery.

Beyond this, we waited again while the minutes dragged on,
leaden-winged, slowly but surely extinguishing the hope that Dupuyster
had escaped. But, after hope was quite dead in the four hearts of us,
and a hot thirst for vengeance was beginning to take its place, we saw
Jerry in our own edge of the lagoon, swimming slowly and rolling from
side to side with his stroke, like a man utterly spent.

I think all four of us dashed wildly into the shallows to drag him out
and rush him to cover in the jungle edge. He was gasping for breath,
and even in the poor light we could see a long red splash on one thigh;
a cut from which the blood was still oozing. Van Dyck stripped his
own shirt to bandage the wound, and the reincarnated one protested
manfully.

"Bally lot of trouble you're takin' over a scratch," he gurgled.
"Bleedin' will stop of its own accord when it gets ready. But if any
gentleman should--er--happen to have a drop of cognac about him----"

Grisdale hadn't, and I hadn't, and I was pretty sure Van Dyck hadn't.
But at a three-handed chorus of "Sorry, old man," Elijah Goff, the one
dyed-in-the-wool teetotaller of the _Andromeda's_ company, produced a
pocket flask, and Dupuyster took a single swallow from it; swallowed,
choked a bit over whatever fiery liquor it was, and then told us his
story while we were giving him a rough-handed rub-down and helping him
into his clothes.

"No, the swim wasn't anything, but I had a perishin' lot of trouble
climbin' aboard the old tub. After that, it was easy; all I had to do
was to cut a lot of the rope things you told me about and stand clear,
what?"

"But the capstan?" Billy Grisdale wanted to know. "How the dickens did
you contrive to put that out of commission?"

"Dynamited it, old dear; stuck the two bally pistol cartridges into
the cogwheels, don't you know, and hoped they'd do their bit when the
wheels began to turn. If you'll believe me, the shop was fairly dizzy
with bits of iron and things when they put the steam on. I didn't wait
to see the third act. His Jaglets was waitin' for me, and I took a
header to get a fair start of him, don't you see."

"A shark!" gasped Billy.

"You've named him. The perishin' beggar had followed me all the way
out to the yacht and couldn't quite make up his mind to try it on. But
comin' back he got his nerve screwed up, by Jove. It was under the edge
of the reef, and when he turned for the snap I stuck the bloomin' knife
into him and left it there."

"But--but he bit you in the leg!" said Billy, and I knew he was
swelling up like the frog in the fable with a huge access of
hero-worship.

"Chuck it, Billy," said the shark fighter good-naturedly, and for once
in a way the British accent was lacking. "Let's say that I scratched
the leg climbin' over the reef. It'll sound better."

Just then Grey came back, having cut across the island from the north
beach by way of the glade where the prisoners had been left. His report
was reassuring. The women, and two of the men, the major and Holly
Barclay, had been awakened by the firing, but there was no panic--proof
positive that we had finally vanquished the greater part of the
civilized conventions. Ingerson was still asleep, and Grey suspected
that he had found the last of the brandy bottles, the one which Van
Dyck had been jealously hoarding against an emergency. Grey admitted
that he had lied freely to the non-combatants, particularly in assuring
his wife and Conetta, Madeleine and Beatrice Van Tromp and Edie, that
none of us was taking any chance of getting hurt. He had repeated Van
Dyck's instructions, and they had promised not to scatter, and to stay
under cover--such cover as the wood afforded. Finishing up, Grey spoke
of the professor and his guard-mounting over the six pirates.

"He has the lantern between his knees, and I found him dissecting some
leaves he had picked up, and poring over that little pocket Botany of
his," he chuckled. "He didn't see me at all until I came up and said
'Scat!' to him."

This part of the report was rather disconcerting. With the professor
engrossed in his favorite study, anything might happen in the way of a
jail delivery, and I said as much.

"Go and see about it, Dick," was Van Dyck's order, and I was about to
obey when Billy Grisdale gripped my arm and pointed toward the yacht.
On the deck of the _Andromeda_, where everything had been quiet since
the firing of the shot which had driven the capstan repairers from
their job, a dimly defined group of toilers were hoisting some heavy
object to the roof of the raised deck house. I couldn't make out what
they were doing, but Bonteck's eyes were better than mine.

"Duck and scatter!" he commanded sharply. "It's the little signal gun,
and they're training it on us!"

We had dodged and run nimbly to right and left before the little brass
signal piece belched fire and sent a volley of nondescript missiles
hurtling into the scrub palmettos under which we had been crouching.
What the desperate chief cook of the _Andromeda_ hoped to accomplish
by this haphazard bombardment of the jungle which, so far as he knew,
sheltered a half-dozen of his own men as well as whatever enemy he
thought he was firing at, was a mystery unexplained until after our
scattered force was reassembled safely out of range.

But we were made to understand quickly enough. Under cover of the
cannon fire, the electric launch slid out from its landing place upon
the placid waters of the lagoon, cut a swift half-circle and headed
for the open sea and the yacht. While we were watching and waiting,
some one of the mutineers had emulated Dupuyster's daring example, and
had swum ashore to steal the launch, thus putting an end to any notion
we may have had of fighting the little war to a conclusion on the
_Andromeda's_ deck.



XVI

A MARATHON AND AN ULTIMATUM


CALLING this bold cutting-out of the electric launch the close of the
first bout, we were obliged to admit that the enemy had taken a hard
fall out of us at the finish. As matters now stood, the advantage was
with the mutineers. To be sure, we had six of their men, including
their first mate and navigator, safely laid by the heels; and Jerry
Dupuyster's plucky adventure had tied up the yacht, temporarily, at
least. But without a boat we could not press the fighting, and the
six hostages were more likely to prove a burden than a forfeit with
which to bargain. Bassinette, or whoever it was who was commanding the
mutineers, would know that he was dealing with men who would neither
starve nor slay their prisoners; though he should have known, and
doubtless did know, that we ourselves were by this time in dire straits
for food. And as to the tethering anchor chain, they would surely be a
witless lot aboard of the _Andromeda_ if they should not remember that
they could compel Haskell and his mechanician assistants to cut the
cable.

It soon developed, however, that the amateur pirates were not thinking
of running away. Shortly after the electric launch had whisked to
safety under the stern of the yacht, it appeared again with a new
crew to man it. At first we thought the militant chief cook was going
to attempt a sortie and a rescue of the prisoners, but he had a better
scheme than that, as we were presently to learn. Keeping outside of
the enclosing reef, he sent the launch slowly westward, holding it
far enough out to be beyond pistol range, but paralleling the reef
as if seeking for another inlet. Elijah Goff hazarded a guess at his
intention.

"You folks 've got a camp o' some sort, hain't ye?" he asked; and when
Van Dyck gave the expected affirmative: "I guess maybe he's spyin'
'round to find that camp. He cal'lates that'll be your weak spot, if
you've got one."

That was enough to set us swiftly in motion, of course, and by
hastening we kept abreast of the launch all the way along the south
side of the island, though with no little difficulty, since, under
the fair certainty that the boat's crew had firearms, we dared not
show ourselves on the beach. At the western end of the island Grey cut
across to carry word to the women, while the rest of us fought with the
jungle and so kept the launch in sight all the way around the point.

Doubling the western reef ledge, the reconnoitering boat party
proceeded to pass the northern shore of the island in review; and again
we kept the pace, watching each inlet through the reef narrowly as
the launch approached it, and hoping, rather than fearing, that the
mutineers would turn in and attempt a landing and so bring matters to
a crisis. It was grueling work keeping abreast of the motor-driven
tender, and by the time we had made the complete circuit of the island,
we were wringing wet with perspiration, and spent with running.

It was not until after a second circuit of the island was begun, with
the launch still dribbling along outside of the reef, that we came to
the full knowledge of what the mutineer chief was doing. He assumed
that we would be following him and keeping him in sight, and he meant
to run us to death; in other words, to keep us running until we could
run no more. He doubtless knew, or guessed, that our camp was at the
opposite end of the island from the treasure plantation, and that we
couldn't guard both at the same time.

The second lap of the Marathon was a sheer fight for life, or, rather,
for the breath to sustain life. If we could have kept to the beach
without drawing the fire of the launch it would not have been so bad,
but a single attempt to do this brought a flash and crack from the sea,
and we had to dive to cover again. By the time we reached the camp end
of the island this second time, Grey was reeling and tripping like a
drunken man, and Van Dyck ordered him out of the running ranks.

"Stay by the women!" was the gasped-out command, and thereupon we lost
Grey.

The completion of the second lap practically finished the five of us
who were still in the race. When we came in sight of the _Andromeda_ we
were staggering and stumbling and caroming helplessly against the trees
and other obstacles. Unless we should be given a breathing space we all
knew that the game was up, so far as we were concerned; but happily the
breath-catching interval was given us. Reaching the inlet opposite the
yacht, the mutineers steered the motor-driven tender boldly through it
and headed for the island beach. The chief was evidently taking it for
granted that he had worn us out and left us behind, and was making a
quick dash to gain possession of the island.

Van Dyck kept his head, in spite of the maddening fatigue that was
fairly killing every man of us.

"Down!" he panted hoarsely. "Get ready and hold your fire until you can
see their faces--then let 'em have it!"

At the most, we wouldn't have had to wait more than a minute or so;
but Billy Grisdale was too young and too excited to wait. While the
launch was still so far out as to make a shot a mere guess hazard in
the starlight, Billy pulled the trigger of the pistol which had fallen
to him in the distribution of the captured weapons, and the mischief
was done. Of course, we all banged away at the crack of Billy's pistol,
but there was every reason to believe that the volley went wide of the
mark. In a twinkling the tender's motor was reversed, and there was
a wild scramble aboard of her to get the emergency oars out to help
her around. In the thick of it Van Dyck took a long-distance chance
with the old-model rifle. There was a shrill scream and a flash of
blue-and-green electric fire from the boat's motor to follow the shot,
and the power went off. Goff's chuckle was like the creaking of a rusty
door-hinge.

"I cal'late they won't run the legs off'n us any more with _that_ push
boat," he said; and since the launch's crew paddled hurriedly out to
the _Andromeda_ with the motor still dead, the prophecy seemed to be in
the way of fulfilling itself.

Shortly after the last man had disappeared over the yacht's rail, the
empty launch, apparently towed from the deck above, also disappeared
around the stern of the _Andromeda_, by which we inferred that the
mutineers had some notion of trying to repair it, or at least of
determining to what extent its motor was crippled. Pending another
move, we waited again, and were glad enough of a chance to lie quiet
and have a breathing spell.

While we were resting, Grey came up, pluckily refusing to be left out
of the forefront of things. As before, he had skirted the northern
beach and had crossed through the treasure glade to come up behind us
as we lay watching the yacht. Sanford, he reported, was still holding
the lantern upon the pages of his Botany book, and was only mildly
curious to know what all the running and racing and shooting portended.

At "Camp Hurricane," as Edie Van Tromp had named our storm-driven
refuge, there was plenty of excitement, and quite naturally a good bit
of alarm. Of the three men who might be said to be posing as "home
guards," only one, Major Terwilliger, Grey told us, had offered to join
the fighting force. Barclay was again playing sick, and Ingerson was
sleeping, log-like, through it all.

"I took it upon myself to turn the major down," said Grey. "He is too
old to keep the pace we've been setting, so I told him to stay by the
women, and left my pistol with him to chirk him up a bit. But I doubt
if he'd put up much of a fight, for all his military title."

"Ow, I say, old dear; you're off, there," Jerry put in quickly. "Uncle
Jimmie will fight like a dashed old billy goat if he's pushed to it,
don't you know!" And we were obliged to take Jerry's word for it.

After the disappearance of the electric launch around the stern of the
_Andromeda_ there were no sounds for a time; nothing that would enable
us to guess what the mutineers' next move would be. But later there
came a creaking of tackles, and the clanking of a steam winch--one of
the smaller winches operating the boat falls.

"Taking the tender aboard for repairs," I suggested; but Van Dyck
said they were more likely lowering the long-boat, which was also
motor-driven with a small gasoline engine for its propelling power.

"How about it, Captain 'Lige?" he queried; and the sailing-master
confirmed the guess, saying:

"That's about the way of it. That con-dummed Frenchman is layin' off to
give us another chance to play ring-around-the-rosy with him."

Billy Grisdale had kept quiet for five full minutes, which was little
less than miraculous.

"Say," he broke in, "I've been hearing something like a file or a saw
going out there on the yacht ever since the scrimmage was called off.
Listen!"

We did listen, and the sound was unmistakable. Van Dyck clicked the
lever of the repeating rifle and sent a shot whistling over the
_Andromeda's_ bow. There was a clatter as of hastily dropped tools and
the filing noise ceased.

"It'll begin again, just as soon as he's toled us away from here," Goff
predicted. "He's got to gnaw himself loose from that anchor, and he
knows it."

Van Dyck took the hint.

"We are going to keep as much as we've got," he declared. And then to
Grey: "How well do you shoot, Jack?"

"Couldn't hit the side of a barn, not even if it were painted white,"
confessed the rising young lawyer.

It was at this conjuncture that Jerry Dupuyster surprised us again.

"Me for the bally old pot-shotting. I'm fairly good at the birds, don't
you know. Took the blue ribbon over the field at Lord Erpin'am's last
fall--what? Give me the gun, and say when and where."

Bonteck passed the rifle over to the reincarnated club idler.

"You heard what Goff said. That infernal French sea cook will begin
to run us again as soon as he gets the long-boat over the side. When
that happens, you stay here and keep your ear out for that anchor-chain
filing. If it begins again, aim a little high and invite them to quit."

"I'm on," said Dupuyster. "But I'm dashed if I know why you want me to
hold high on the perishers."

"For the simple reason that they may be forcing Haskell or Quinby to do
the work, and we don't want to kill any of our friends," was Bonteck's
explanation.

While he was speaking we heard the first broken sputterings of the
long-boat's gasoline engine, and a little later the boat itself
slid out like a white shadow past the _Andromeda's_ stem, and a
third circumnavigation of the island was begun. Van Dyck stood up,
tightened his belt and groaned. "We're in for another ride on the
merry-go-round!" he lamented. "Fall in, you fellows."

We fell in, and the word was well-chosen. Lying by for the half-hour
or so after doing the double Marathon had stiffened every weary leg
muscle. Cursing the mutineers for the lack, or seeming lack, of
originality which was leading them to repeat an expedient that had
failed, we ran on, taking to the beach now, and risking a volley from
the long-boat for the sake of having a better running track.

So running, and keeping cannily abreast of the white shadow in the
offing, we had covered possibly half of the distance to the western
end of the island when the crack of a rifle from the rear, followed
instantly by a scattering fusillade, halted us abruptly.

The rifle was replying spitefully to the fusillade as Van Dyck, who had
been leading the race, wheeled, spread his arms and herded us into the
back track.

"They've played it on us!" he yelled. "There's only one man in that
long-boat, and the others are trying to put something over on Jerry!"

They were; and the trick had almost succeeded when we reached the strip
of beach that Dupuyster was defending. The crippled electric launch,
propelled by oars, and carrying possibly a dozen men, was half-way
across the lagoon, heading straight for the beach, and coming on
regardless of Jerry's rifle. Above the din of battle we could hear the
shrill, squeaky voice of the fat cook encouraging his men. "Pull on ze
oar, _mes braves! Sacré tonnerre!_ eet is but wan man dat shoot ze gon!"

But when we came up there were five more to shoot, and instant and
utter demoralization fell upon the attacking force. Shrieks of
surrender in half a dozen different languages rent the still night air,
and in a mad endeavor to turn the boat an oar was lost overboard.

If our situation had not been so critically desperate, there was enough
of the comic-opera element in the frantic attempt to retreat to have
brought down the house. As it was, Van Dyck stopped the firing and
shouted to the mutineers to come ashore and surrender. Some of the
men were evidently sick of their bargain and wanted to quit, but the
squeaky cries of the chief robber dominated the tumult, and under a
renewal of our bombardment the launch was got around and headed back to
the yacht with much splashing and hard swearing. Also, when the goal
of safety was reached, we could make out dimly that the accommodation
ladder was let down, and that two or three members of the boat's crew
had to be helped aboard.

A few minutes after this, we had audible proof of the correctness of
Van Dyck's guess about the long-boat and the ingenious ruse to draw us
off. The gasoline craft was coming back, as we could determine by the
increasing loudness of its exhaust. Following its return to the yacht
we were given another little breathing spell, and John Grey's quality
of professional curiosity had an opportunity to show itself again.

"I can't understand for the life of me why these fellows should come
back here and fight us so desperately for a chance to get ashore," he
protested. "You can't make me believe that they're doing it on the
strength of a silly yarn that is three hundred years old."

"What do you think about it, Captain 'Lige?" said Bonteck, ungenerously
handing the tangle over to Goff.

"I wouldn't put it a mite apast 'em," was the skipper's guarded reply.
"There was a good deal o' talk among the men about buried gold-mines
and such on the way down from New Orleans. I ain't no gre't hand at the
foreign lingoes, myself, but I picked up a word or two here and there."

"I don't more than half believe it, just the same," Grey persisted. "I
tell you, these fellows are not fighting for the bare chance of proving
or disproving that old story about the _Santa Lucia's_ buried treasure.
They've got inside information of some sort, and I'll bet on it."

"Maybe they have," said Goff, in a tone which said plainly that the
matter was one not worth worrying about.

Grey got upon his feet.

"We have six of these pirates back here in the woods: why can't we make
them talk and tell us what they are trying to do?"

At this, Van Dyck took a hand.

"They would lie about it, as a matter of course," he interjected.
"Besides, their particular object doesn't make any vital difference to
us. They are here, and our present business is to see to it that they
don't get away again--with the yacht."

Grey sat down again, grumbling.

"I don't see that we are getting ahead very fast," he complained. "What
in Sam Hill do you suppose they're waiting for now?"

The answer to Grey's impatient query was at that moment coming around
the _Andromeda's_ stern. It was the disabled electric launch again
this time with only one man in it, and he was sculling it with an oar
over the stern, slowly working his way toward the gap in the reef.
When it came a bit nearer we could see that the loom of a broken oar
had been rigged as a mast in the bow, with a white flag of some sort
dangling from it.

"A parley," I said; and Goff grunted acquiescence. But Jerry Dupuyster
worked the lever of his rifle to reload.

"Don't shoot, Jerry," Bonteck cautioned in low tones; whereat the
emancipated idler chuckled.

"Couldn't if I wanted to, by Jove; the bally cartridges are all gone,
what?"

The huge lump of a man in the stern of the launch stopped sculling when
he was within easy calling distance of the shore, and the boat lost way.

"Ahoy ze island!" he hailed, in a voice ridiculously out of proportion
to his barrel-girthed bigness.

"Get to work with that oar and come ashore!" was Van Dyck's brusque
command, to which he added: "We've got you covered."

"_Non, non!_ it ees ze flag of ze truce!" shrilled the voice. And then
the fat cook handed out an argument that was much more binding: "Ve haf
ze enchineers in ze hold shut up, and eef you shoot wiz ze gon, zey
will be keel!"

"Talk it out, then," said Van Dyck. "What do you want?"

"Ve make ze proposal--w'at you call ze proposition. It ees zat you vill
all go to ze ozzer end of zis island, _immédiatement_. W'en you do zat,
ve leave you ze long-boat to go 'way, w'erever you like to go. W'at you
do wiz Lequat and hees mens?"

"Lequat and his men are where you won't find them in a hurry," was
Bonteck's answer. "As to your demand that we go away and let you steal
the yacht again, there's nothing doing."

"_Sacré bleu!_ It ees ze--w'at you call heem?--ze ooltimatum. W'en
ees come daylight, ve put ze leetle cannon on ze long boat and keel
all--_oui_!"

At this savage pronouncement we held a whispered consultation, the
fat pirate sitting back in the stern sheets of the launch and calmly
lighting a cigarette. Could we, dare we, take the risk of a daylight
bombardment, even though the single piece of artillery were only the
yacht's little brass muzzle-loading signal piece, with such iron scraps
as the mutineers might be able to find or manufacture for the missiles?
It was a dubious question. Though our island was nearly if not quite a
mile in length, its greatest width did not exceed four or five hundred
yards, and the little gun would easily put it under a cross-fire from
either side.

"Have they powder?" I asked of Goff.

"Tain't likely they haven't--with them a-handlin' all that war stuff
from the Isle o' Pines."

"But nothing that would answer for grape-shot?"

"Pots and kittles in the galley, and a hammer to smash 'em with," said
the old Gloucesterman. "That's good enough, I cal'late."

"Speak up, all of you," said Van Dyck. "Shall I try to drive a bargain
with him for the long-boat? If he gives us enough gasoline, we might
be able to make Willemstadt, on the island of Curaçao--with fair
weather and a smooth sea. That is the nearest inhabited land, but it is
something over a hundred-and-fifty-mile run."

Grey was the first to "speak up."

"I have more at stake than any of you," he said, thereby showing that
the married lover may be stone blind to all things extraneous to his
own particular and private little Eden. "Just the same, I say, fight it
out."

"Here, too," echoed Billy Grisdale; and Jerry Dupuyster also came
up promptly in his carefully acquired accent: "Ow, I say! we cawn't
knuckle down to a lot of bally cooks and sailormen, what?"

"And you, Preble?" queried Van Dyck, turning to me.

I refused to vote, merely saying: "You know I'm with you, either way."

It was Goff's turn, but instead of taking it, he leaned over to whisper
hoarsely: "Make him talk some, Mr. Van Dyck; tell him to work his
proposition off ag'in, and say it slow. That boat's a-driftin' in, and
if it comes a leetle mite nearer----"

Van Dyck stood up and called to the maker of ultimatums.

"State your proposal again, and let us have it in detail. Will
you leave a supply of gasoline in the long-boat? Will you give us
provisions, and a compass and sextant?"

The fat _chef_ flung his cigarette away and we heard the little hiss of
the spark as the water quenched it.

"Ze proposal ees zis: zat you take your fran's and go back to ze
ladees. Again I h-ask you w'at you done wiz Monsieur Lequat and hees
men?"

"They are here."

"_Bien!_ You vill all go back to ze camp and ze ladees. You vill leave
ze prisonaire; _aussi_, you will leave ze Captain Goff wiz ze rope tie
on hees hand and on hees feets. To-morrow you come back on zis place,
and you vill find ze longboat wiz ze gasoline, ze provisionments, _et_
ze compass _et_ ze sextant, to make ze voyage to La Guaira, to Curaçao,
to anyw'ere you like to gone. _Voila!_ dat ees all."

Again we took hasty counsel among ourselves, and whatever design
Goff had been nursing in asking Van Dyck to prolong the parley was
frustrated by another turn of the launch's drift. The boat was now
edging farther out from the beach. One and all we were for refusing
the detailed terms point blank, if for no other reason than that we
were required to leave one of our number bound and at the mercy of the
mutineers; one and all, I say, but Goff himself said nothing.

"We can't consider the proposal in its entirety for a minute," said
John Grey, voicing the sentiments of at least five of us. But now Goff
cut in.

"You're my owner, Mr. Van Dyck: if I could have a little over-haulin'
of things with you----"

Van Dyck promptly went aside with the skipper. They didn't go so far
but what we could hear their voices--though not the words--and Goff
seemed to be doing all the talking, and to be doing it very earnestly.
But when they came back, as they did very shortly, it was Bonteck who
told us the outcome.

"Captain Goff has explained to me that the mutineers are obliged to
make the terms include his surrender. Lequat is only a rule-of-thumb
navigator, and if they don't have Goff they are likely to make a mess
of themselves and of the yacht. For the sake of those whom we must
consider first of all--the women--he is willing to take his chance
again as a prisoner. If I thought there was any doubt about this fat
devil carrying out his threat to bombard the island, I'd say 'No,' and
fight for it. But we must remember that he can hardly fail to get some
of us with the gun, or, if he shouldn't do that, he can keep us away
from our water supply until we all die of thirst."

Grey raised the only question that seemed to be worth considering.

"We shall have only this scoundrel's word for it that the long-boat and
provisions will be left for us," he objected.

Van Dyck put the suggestion aside hastily; rather too hastily, I
fancied.

"We are obliged to take some chances, of course. Goff, here, will
insist upon the fulfilment of the treaty terms. If they are not
fulfilled to the letter, he will put the _Andromeda_ on the reef and
take the consequences." Then he called once more to the man in the
boat: "One word with you before we close this deal. This is piracy
on the high seas. I suppose you know what that means when you are
caught--as you will be, sooner or later?"

We could see a big arm waving in airy bravado.

"Eet is not'ing, Monsieur Van Dyck. I blow it away--_pouf!_ In Santa
Cruz you vill h-ask ze gr-r-eat liberador w'at he shall tell you about
'Gustave Le Gros.' W'en you shall h-ask heem zat, you shall know it ees
not'ing."

"All right," Bonteck returned. "We'll fall back and leave the
prisoners. Captain Goff will be with them, and he will surrender when
you come ashore. But he will not be bound, and he will be armed, so you
can govern yourself accordingly."

The fat man waved an arm again and took up his sculling oar, raising no
objection to the single modification of the ultimatum--that relating to
the way Goff should be left. We waited until we saw the disabled launch
creep out through the gash in the reef. Then we fell back upon the
professor, who was still reading quietly by the miserable light of the
ship's lantern.

In a few words we explained the new situation, and the mild-eyed rider
of an engrossing hobby got up and carefully dusted his trousers.

"You gentlemen were on the ground, and you doubtless knew what was best
to be done," he said in gentle resignation. "Shall we go back to the
ladies?"

We left Elijah Goff to watch over the trussed-up figures in the little
open glade and set out upon our retreat, taking the northern beach for
our route. Just before we came opposite the camp at the farther end
of the island, we heard the renewed sputterings and poppings of the
gasoline engine in the long-boat. The amateur pirates were landing,
this time without let or hindrance.



XVII

CAPTAIN ELIJAH SCORES


REACHING the camp under the palms we found a "state of affairs," as
Conetta phrased it. The small fire had been kindled--not for any
needed warmth, to be sure, but solely for the heartening effect of it,
I imagined--and the women were huddled about it in various attitudes
of more or less hysterical suspense, for which there was undeniably
sufficient excuse, heaven knows.

There were sobs and gaspings of relief when we came in with our
original number undiminished; and I let the others answer the
inevitable outburst of eager and anxious questions and drew Conetta out
of the fire circle to tell her briefly what had transpired, and what we
had failed to do.

"And those horrid men are actually on the island with us now--at this
very moment?" she breathed, the slate-blue eyes dilating. "What are
they here for? What are they doing?"

"They have come to get the boat-load that we captured; the six that
Goff brought ashore," I evaded, still trying to keep Bonteck's foolish
secret intact.

"Then they will go away again?"

"That is one comfort; and very soon, I should say."

"But I don't understand. If they are not going to take us in the
_Andromeda_, why have they come back to the island?"

I hated to go on prevaricating to her, but until Bonteck should give me
leave, I was not at liberty to tell her the whole truth.

"Suppose we give them the credit of being at least partly human," I
suggested. "Possibly they couldn't find it in their hearts to let us
stay here and famish slowly. You mustn't forget that they've promised
to leave us the long-boat and some eatables."

I could see well enough that she wasn't satisfied with that answer. She
was far too clear-headed to take any such niggardly part for the whole.

"You're not making it very plausible," she said. "How far is it to
where we're going in the long-boat?"

"Oh, it's quite some little distance," I replied, as easily as I could.
"But with the sea as calm as it is now----"

"It may not stay calm," she broke in; and then: "You say Captain Elijah
was with you. Where is he now?"

"He--er--he had to let himself be taken again, you know. The pirates
insisted upon that. They have no real navigator in their outfit. That
is probably the reason why they didn't put him ashore with us in the
beginning."

"Then Bonteck was right? Captain Elijah wasn't one of them?"

"No, indeed. I'm frank to say I did him an injustice. He was
overpowered and made a prisoner, along with Haskell and Quinby and the
other Americans."

"But why did that first six that you had the fight with bring the
captain ashore with them?"

Again I had to evade. "Goff didn't tell us that."

She was silent for a moment. Then I got it hot and heavy.

"Dick Preble, do you mean to stand there with a face like a Hindoo idol
and tell me that six of you made a bargain with that wretched French
cook to give old Uncle Elijah up?"

"It was Goff's own proposal," I hastened to say, "and he insisted upon
it--wouldn't have it any other way. Let us hope that he knew what he
was doing--that he has some plan that may turn out better for us than
a voyage in the long-boat." Then I switched forcibly, endeavoring to
drag the talk away from the vicinity of Bonteck's secret. Thus far it
had been kept hidden through all the various vicissitudes, and I didn't
intend to be the first to betray it. "Goff's play was heroic, and all
that, but not a bit more so than Jerry Dupuyster's swim out to the
yacht. I'm taking back all the insulting things I've been saying about
that young man, Conetta, dear. In spite of the frills and the idleness
and the English apings, he is a man, a grown man, and altogether worthy
of a good woman's love and respect. Now I've said it and I feel better."

She looked up quickly, with that pert little cocking of her head that I
had always loved.

"Worthy of _my_ love and respect, do you mean?"

I bowed. "Yes; that is what I mean."

"And you want me to marry him?" It was a dreadful thing for her to ask
at such a time and in such a place, with the others almost within
arm's-reach. But they were all talking at once, and nobody was paying
much attention to anybody else.

"You are promised," I reminded her; "and if you can forgive him for
chasing around after another woman----"

"Hush!" she commanded, with a sudden retreat into the arms of
discreetness. "They will hear you and say things about you--behind your
back. What are we to do now--just lie down and go calmly to sleep,
forgetting all about these horrid pirates at the other end of our
island? I can't quite see us doing that. Can you?"

It was just here that Bonteck cut in, saving me the necessity of
answering.

"When you are quite through making Dick jump the hurdles for you,"
he said to Conetta; and then he explained. We were not to take the
mutineers wholly at their word regarding the implied promise not to
molest us. The six of us who had been on the firing front were to do
picket duty while the others tried to get a little sleep. The professor
and Billy were to take the north beach, Jerry Dupuyster and Grey the
south, and Bonteck and I were to vibrate between the two beaches,
keeping in touch with the shoreward couples on either hand, thus
maintaining a guard line all across the island.

It was not until after this rather elaborate picketing plan had been
put in train, and Van Dyck and I were cautiously feeling our way toward
the agreed-upon frontier half-way down the island, that I ventured to
find fault.

"I don't know why you should make six of us unhappy when one or two
would be enough," I complained. "You know well enough that our fat
cook is asking nothing but to be let alone until he can make off with
the loot. He's not going to trouble us any more."

His reply was a cryptic generality.

"I am hoping we are not entirely through with the fat cook, yet, Dick;
in fact, I'm almost certain we're not."

"What's gnawing at you now?" I asked sourly.

"Just a suggestion," he answered half-absently, I thought. "We have
something at our end of the island that is much more valuable--and
desirable--than anything the pirates will find where they are digging
now."

The way in which he said it, as much as the thing itself, made my blood
run cold.

"The women, you mean?"

"It's only a suggestion," he hastened to say; "a suggestion based upon
a name. Let's forget it, if we can."

We had groped our way for another hundred yards before I said: "It's
a beautiful muddle! They won't find _your_ gold--the whereabouts of
which seems to be a lot more mythical than any of the old Spanish sea
tales--and they _will_ find the tidy little fortune we turned up for
Madeleine."

"Of course; they'll be sure to find that," he agreed, still speaking
half-absently.

"You talk as if you didn't care," I snapped. "Is Madeleine's dilemma
any less sharp pointed now than it was when you cooked up this romantic
scheme of yours for helping her?"

"You shouldn't hit a man when he's down, Dick," he replied soberly.
"You know how I was planning to play the god-in-the-car to this little
bunch of people, and what a chaotic, heart-breaking mess I've made
of it. With all sorts of horrors staring us in the face, you can't
blame me if I go batty now and then. You'd do it yourself if you were
staggering under my load. I'm to blame for all this, Dick; I, and
nobody else."

It doesn't do any particular good to rub salt into a wound--even a
foolish wound. So I contented myself with asking a sort of routine
question:

"Does Madeleine know how she is being robbed?"

"She does. I was obliged to tell her that much."

"How did she take it?"

"Like the angel that she is, Dick. She says the gold doesn't belong to
her, any more than it does to anybody else who might dig it up; and
that, anyway, it doesn't matter when there are so many more important
things at stake."

"She is quite right about that," I agreed. "With a chancy voyage in an
open boat ahead of us----"

"We'll never make that voyage, Dick," he said solemnly. "I think you
know that as well as I do."

"Why won't we?"

"Because we are never going to be given the chance. You are not
confiding enough to believe that this fat devil is going to keep his
promise, to us, are you?"

"But, good heavens--you're keeping our promise to him, aren't you?" I
burst out.

"To the letter--exactly and precisely to the letter," was his calm
reply. "You heard what the Frenchman asked, and what I agreed to. He
made three conditions; we were to go back to our camp; he was to be
permitted to land in peace; and Goff was to be given up. We have kept
faith in all three particulars. But he isn't meaning to keep faith
with us at all."

"You mean that he won't leave us the boat?" I gasped.

"Not on your life. Goff told me we couldn't put the slightest
dependence in anything he might say; and if I had been inclined to give
him the benefit of the doubt over Goff's warning, his own boasting
would have turned the scale against him. Did you remark what he said,
just as he was leaving?--about Santa Cruz and the liberator?"

I don't know why the fat man's boast hadn't made the proper impression
upon me when he shrilled it out at us, or why I had failed to recall
the name he had given as that of a Nicaraguan bandit whose cruelty and
rapacity had long been a byword in the Central American republics.
There must have been a blind spot in my memory at the moment, for
the name and ill fame of Gustave the Fat were known even in distant
Venezuela.

"That fiend!" I choked. And then: "You never shipped Gustave Le Gros in
New York as cook on the _Andromeda_!"

"Oh, no. We shipped the real Bassinette, doubtless. Where and how the
change was made--unless our repair stop at Gracias á Dios gave them
their chance--I don't know."

"Wait a minute," said I. "Isn't it occurring to you now that the
Gracias á Dios stop might have been prearranged? Haskell couldn't
account for that propeller shaft running dry, and neither could I,
after I had examined it. It had every appearance of having been
tampered with; sand or some other abrasive put into it. If such a
thing were done, and timed so that we'd have to put in at Gracias----"

"Sure!" he replied. "And the gold--my gold--was probably the
main-spring of the whole plot. The secret of it must have leaked out
some way in New York, and it was handed on to this bandit bunch; with
Lequat to trail us, first to Havana, and afterwards to New Orleans. But
that's all ancient history now. Our original job is still before us,
and that is not to let them get away with the yacht and leave us as we
were."

We had reached the appointed picket line, and short detours to right
and left put us in touch with Dupuyster and Grey on the south beach
and Sanford and Billy Grisdale on the north. Grey had scouted ahead
a little way, and he told us that the long-boat and the disabled
electric launch were lying at the beach at the place which had been
our late battle-ground, with two men guarding them. And Grisdale and
the professor had a similar report to make concerning the mutineers'
vigilance. Billy had also made a forward reconnaissance, and he had
seen two sentries pacing back and forth on the sands in the little
indentation which we had named "Spaniards' Bay."

Van Dyck made no comment until after we had gone back to our mid-island
post in the wood. Then he said abruptly: "How long do you think it will
take them to dig up those gold bars and carry them down to the boat,
Dick?"

"Why, I don't know; with the number of men they've probably got on the
job it oughtn't to take more than half an hour or so," I returned.

"Thirty minutes; it's short--frightfully short," he said, as if he were
thinking aloud. Then; "It's this suspense that takes the heart out of
a man."

It seemed a little odd that he should lament the shortness of the time
in one breath, and in the next give the impression that he wished it
were shorter.

"What difference does their speed or slowness make to us?" I asked.

"It is just a chance--just the rawest of all chances," he went on,
ignoring my query. "I suppose I ought not to have let it hang upon such
a weak thread; but there was no choice--no choice at all."

"If you would describe the thread I might be able to come a little
nearer guessing what you are talking about," I retorted.

"Goff has a plan of some sort, but he couldn't take the time to go into
details. As I've told you, he warned me that no dependence whatever
could be placed upon the Frenchman's promise to leave the long-boat and
the provisions. He advised me to accept the terms as they stood, and
to make a show of keeping our part of them--as we have. Past that, we
were to get in touch again, holding ourselves in readiness for whatever
might happen."

"And you don't know what is going to happen?"

"No more than you do. You know how secretive Goff is, and, as I say,
our time was short. I can't, for the life of me, see what Goff can
possibly do to help out. I don't need to tell you the real reason why
Le Gros insisted upon our surrendering him. He is the one man besides
myself who knows, or is supposed to know, where my gold bars are
buried, and Le Gros meant to make him point out the spot--has probably
done so before this time. What Goff hoped to gain by putting himself
into their hands, I don't know, but we may be sure that he has some
scheme in his clever old head. He told me to watch the beaches, both of
them, and to be ready to bunch our fighting half-dozen at any point,
and at any minute."

"Well, we're here and we're ready," I said, and the words were scarcely
out of my mouth before Grey came over from the southern beach, groping
his way blindly in the thicker darkness of the palm shadows.

"Van Dyck--Preble!" he called cautiously, and then he stumbled fairly
into our arms. "Something doing," he told us hurriedly. "One of the
boats--the smaller one--is adrift and moving down this way. It doesn't
seem to have anybody in it."

"But I thought you said a few minutes ago that there were two men
guarding the boats," I struck in.

"There were, but they've gone somewhere. Jerry and I supposed they
were sitting down in the tree shadows where we couldn't see them, but
I guess they must have gone up into the woods with the others. If
they were still on the beach they wouldn't let that launch drift away
without trying to catch it."

"That drifting boat is probably our cue," said Bonteck, instantly
alert. Then to me: "Hurry over to the other shore and get Sanford and
Billy, Dick--quick! Strike straight across the island with them, and
work your way along the south beach until you find us!"

I established contact with the professor and Billy without any
difficulty and transmitted Van Dyck's order. Billy wanted to know what
good the disabled electric launch would do us, even if it should drift
ashore at some point where we could capture it, but I couldn't tell him
that.

"That's a future," I said. "Our job just now is to obey orders. Come
on."

Together the three of us plunged into the wood on a direct line across
the island, and in a very few minutes we found Van Dyck, Grey and Jerry
Dupuyster crouching in the shadows of the tree fringe on the south
shore. Far up the white line of the beach we could see the dark bulk
of the long-boat at rest, and in the nearer distance was the electric
launch, still drifting down the lagoon toward us.

"What's your guess, Dick?" said Van Dyck, as we came up. "There isn't a
particle of current in that lagoon--you know there isn't."

There wasn't, as we had proved many times, and yet the drifting boat
was moving steadily in our direction. It was Billy Grisdale's eyes--the
youngest pair of the half-dozen--that solved the mystery.

"There's somebody in the boat--paddling," he declared. "Look steadily
and you'll see his arm reaching over the side. He's lying down or
kneeling so that you can't see anything but the arm."

In a short time we could all see the propelling arm making its rhythmic
swing over the side of the boat, and while we looked, the man in the
boat sat up and went at his task in more vigorous fashion, beaching the
boat presently in a small cove within a stone's throw of our crouching
place.

"It's Goff," said Van Dyck, when the paddler stepped out of the
launch, and we made a rush for him.

The old skipper had little enough to say for himself, save that he had
improved a chance to slip away from the mutineers in the darkness,
and had stolen the launch with the idea of getting it into our hands.
Questioned by Grey as to how he had been able to get away with the boat
without giving the alarm, the sailing-master gave such an evasive reply
that I was set to wondering if he hadn't slain the two boat guards out
of hand. But as to that, he was too full of his plan for our rescue to
go into the particulars of his own adventure.

Briefly, the plan he had evolved turned upon his success in securing
one of the boats. For obvious reasons he had picked upon the launch,
which the mutineers had towed ashore--probably because there were men
left on the _Andromeda_ whom they were afraid to trust and they wished
to keep in their own hands all means of communication between the yacht
and the island.

"Couldn't start the long-boat without that pop-engine makin' a racket
that'd wake the dead," he explained; "and, besides, she's up on the
sand till it'll take half a dozen men to shove her off. And the
way they're out o' their heads, I cal'lated they wouldn't miss the
launch--not first off, anyways."

"I suppose they've all gone crazy digging for the Spanish gold,"
Bonteck said, meaning, as I made sure, to give the captain a lead upon
which he was at liberty to enlarge in the hearing of the rest of us.

"'Crazy' ain't a big enough word f'r it. You'd think the whole kit
and b'ilin' of 'em was just out of a 'sylum. That's how it comes they
hain't missed me yet. But we'll have to talk sort o' middlin' fast, I
guess. When they do miss me, I shouldn't wonder a mite if there'd be
blood on the moon. Now you've got a boat, what you goin' to do, Mr. Van
Dyck?"

With a boat, even a disabled one, in our hands we were once more upon
a fighting basis. Goff had quickly confirmed Bonteck's assumption that
Le Gros hadn't the smallest idea of keeping his word to us about the
turning over of the long-boat, so we were justified in declaring war
again if we chose. Bonteck's first proposal was to load our fighting
squad into the launch, in which we could paddle our way through the
nearest reef gap and around to the _Andromeda_, on the chance of taking
the yacht by a surprise attack with Haskell and his engine-room and
stoke-hold contingent to help us if we could contrive to liberate them.

To this expedient Goff raised a very pertinent objection, which was
immediately sustained by all. While we should be fighting to gain
possession of the yacht, the women would be left practically undefended
on the island--hostages whom Le Gros would immediately seize, and for
the restoring of whom--not to mention any worse thing that he might
do--he could exact any price he might ask us to pay.

"No, that won't do," said Goff, when we were brought up standing by
the insurmountable objection; "lemme get in with my notion. There's
three oars in the launch, and a piece of another. By crowdin' the folks
up a mite, you can get 'em all in at one load. S'pose you do it, and
paddle round outside o' the reef and board the yacht, the whole kit
and caboodle of ye. There won't be much fightin' to do. That pirate's
got most of his bullies ashore with him. That's why he towed the
launch--didn't want to leave it behind f'r the shaky ones to get hold
of."

Van Dyck drew a long breath.

"That will do, if we're given time. But we shan't have time, Captain
'Lige. Long before we can paddle this dead weight of a tender down to
the other end of the island, get our people aboard, and paddle back to
the yacht with a load that will put us fairly down to the gunwales, it
will be too late. The yacht will be gone."

"Meanin' that these scamps'll get through with their job and beat you
to it?" said the old Gloucesterman. "I been figgerin' that it's my job
to see that they don't. While you're doin' your little do, I'll tack
back to that place up in the woods and see if I can't keep 'em busy at
the diggin' f'r a while longer. If you folks can make your turn and get
things quieted down on the _'Meda_, all you got to do then is to slip
that anchor cable quick as you can and put to sea. You're a navigator,
Mr. Van Dyck, and you can take her anywhere that I could."

"And leave you behind in the hands of these scoundrels who would burn
you at the stake in revenge?" Bonteck exclaimed; a protest that was
echoed instantly by every man of us. But the brave old skipper wouldn't
listen.

"There has come a time more 'n once afore this when it was a ch'ice
between one life and a-many," he said, in his clipped New England
drawl. "You folks go ahead and do your part, and I'll do mine."

And before we could stop him he was gone.



XVIII

UNDER A GIBBOUS MOON


BEING thus committed by Goff's capture of the electric launch to what
promised to be the most chanceful of all the hazards of that strenuous
night, we lost no time in setting about it. With all the good will in
the world, the old skipper might not be able to do much for us in the
way of delaying the return of the mutineers to the _Andromeda_, and it
said itself that our one slender hope of success lay in capturing the
yacht while it was, in a certain measure, undefended.

Luckily, the launch's painter was long enough to serve as a tow line,
and with five of us towing, and Billy Grisdale steering against the
shoreward drag with an oar, we soon had the launch out of the danger
zone. Once fairly out of sight of the long-boat and the beach of peril,
we ran like flying fugitives, as jealous of the flitting moments as
a miser of his gold. To save the utmost number of these precious
moments, Van Dyck and Jerry Dupuyster dropped out of the towing rank
after we were well down toward the western end of the island and cut
across through the wood to arouse the camp, leaving four of us to take
the launch around to the point at which the embarkation could be most
quickly made.

Having but a comparatively short distance to go after Van Dyck and
Jerry left us, we arrived first at the agreed rendezvous, and I went
aboard the launch to try to determine how we were going to handle and
propel it with eighteen people crowded into its narrow limits. As Goff
had said, there were three good oars, and the broken halves of another;
but rowing from the thwarts, with the jammed lading we should have,
was clearly out of the question. And the alternative--two or three
of us standing up to use the oars as paddles--seemed to be quite as
clearly impracticable. If the launch would suffice to float eighteen of
us, trimming it as carefully as we could and sitting as tight as the
shipwrecked sailors in the old song, we could hardly ask more of it.

"Small room for so many of us, Mr. Preble--is that what is troubling
you?" asked the professor, standing by while Grey and Billy Grisdale
ran up to the camp in the glade to hasten the laggards.

"Little space, and still less tonnage," I said. "I'm doubtful if she
will float all of us at once."

"Those useless storage batteries," he pointed out; "they are quite
heavy, aren't they? Can't we lighten the boat by taking them out?"

It was a good thought, and I set about acting upon it. But the
batteries were built in snugly, and without a wrecking tool of some
sort they could not be dislodged. There was a locker under the stern
sheets, and rummaging in this for tools, I came upon a leather-cased
object which proved to be far more serviceable than any wrecking
crow-bar. It was an electric flashlight, and a touch of the switch
showed that its batteries were alive and in working order.

"Let's have a look at this driving mechanism before we jettison it," I
said; and the professor held the light while I looked to see what Van
Dyck's disabling rifle shot had done to the motor.

To my great joy I found that the bullet had not short-circuited
the motor, as we supposed; it had merely smashed the switch of
the controlling rheostat. Working rapidly while Sanford held the
flashlight, I was able to make a temporary repair that would enable us
to utilize the motor, and I was giving the propeller shaft a few trial
turns when Van Dyck and Jerry, and Grey and Billy came down to the
beach with the hastily gathered ship's company; sixteen of them and the
bull pup--for which latter Billy had been shrewd enough to make Edie
Van Tromp sponsor and special pleader.

As I had feared we should be, the eighteen of us and the dog were a
frightful overload for the small launch, this though Van Dyck had made
the fugitives leave every ounce of dead-weight behind in the camp.
In addition, there was honest terror to make the hurried embarkation
almost a panic. We had no assurance that the mutineer-pirates would
take our quiescence for granted; we knew they wouldn't if the loss of
the launch should be discovered. Every instant I was half expecting
to see the fat bandit and his mongrel crew burst out of the shadowy
wood to charge down upon us. In which event, there would be a bloody
massacre; it could hardly be less.

Fortunately, the attack did not materialize. In feverish haste we
packed the small boat, with beseechings to all and sundry to sit close
and sit tight, and even Ingerson, roused only a few minutes earlier
from his brutish sleep, helped as he could, planting himself stolidly
at the launch's gunwale and lending a hand like a man ashamed. When
we were ready to put to sea, and I had shoved off and climbed in
cautiously over the stern of the heavily laden boat, it became quickly
apparent that the rehabilitation of the motor was the only thing that
made the venture even tentatively possible. With the crowding there
would have been no slightest chance of using the oars in any manner
whatsoever.

I am quite sure that the memory of that perilous boat voyage across the
lagoon, out through the nearest break in the reef and along the seaward
edge of the barrier coral to the point at which we had our first sight
of the _Andromeda_ lying a bulking gray shadow in the light of a
gibbous moon which was just rising, will stand out clear-cut for every
soul of our little ship's company long after all other pictures have
grown dim.

Happily for us, the sea was as quiet as an inland lake; the open water
hardly less than that of the sheltered lagoon. In passing through the
gap in the reef the launch shipped a few bucketfuls, and for the moment
I thought we must founder--as we should have if any one of us had
stirred or grown panicky. But upon giving the silent little motor a bit
more current we weathered the passage, and out beyond, where the gentle
swell lifted and subsided evenly, we rode dry again.

It was after we had passed the miniature surf line and were creeping
eastward at the best speed I dared give the launch that I whispered to
Bonteck, who was crouching with me over the motor controls.

"How much have you told the others?" I asked.

"Nothing more than that we were going aboard the yacht, and that there
might be an attempt made to drive us off."

"You could scarcely have said less. Is Goff still holding the treasure
hunters, do you think?"

"Something is holding them. We'd be hearing from them if there wasn't."

"If we're lucky enough to reach the yacht without being seen and fired
upon, how are we going to get aboard--with this crowd?"

"The accommodation ladder is down."

"I know. But it's on the starboard side--toward the shore. We can't
rush it, not if there is any sort of defense--with the moon rising."

"Don't throw chocks under the wheels!" he bit out. "It isn't a thing to
be speculated upon; it's a thing to be done!"

Somehow, I felt better after he said that. This was the old
Bonteck--the Bonteck I knew best--coming to the front again, with the
indomitable spirit that had once made him a leader who never knew when
he was beaten--or rather a leader who refused to be beaten. Like all
the rest of us, he, too, had suffered his sea-change and was the better
and bigger man for it.

Why we were not seen from the deck of the yacht long before we could
come within striking distance was a circumstance for which we could not
at the moment account. As I have said, the night was crystal clear;
clearer, if possible, than at that earlier hour when the _Andromeda_
had come creeping up out of the east. Besides, the shrunken moon
was now something more than a hand's-breadth above the horizon, and
while its light was pale, it was enough to cast long shadows of the
motionless vessel far out toward us. Yet there was no stir on the
yacht's decks, and no alarm raised as our deeply laden boat stole along
the outer edge of the coral reef, giving the rocks only so much margin
as would serve to keep the low gunwales out of the back wash of the
slight swell breaking over the barrier.

As we drew nearer, with the motor running as silently as a murmur
of bat's wings, we saw the reason for our temporary immunity from
discovery. The treasure diggers were returning to the island beach
with their spoil, or rather they were coming and going in a double
procession, like an endless chain of roustabouts loading a Mississippi
River steamboat, and, quite naturally, all eyes on board the yacht
would be turned in that direction. A fire had been kindled on the beach
to give light for the loading of the gold bars into the long-boat, and
its red glow made boat and men and the backgrounding jungle stand out
with sharp distinctness. Conetta, squeezed in next to Van Dyck, leaned
over to whisper: "Are we back in the days of the old buccaneers? Have
we been only dreaming that we were living in the twentieth century?"

"What you are seeing is no dream," said Bonteck. "It's the real thing,
and you'll probably never look upon its like again." Then to me: "A
little more speed if she'll take it, Dick. They are rushing that
boat-loading business, and what we do will have to be done swiftly or
we'll be too late."

I gave the boat's motor another notch of the electric throttle, and the
bat's-wing murmur increased to a low humming. As if drawn by invisible
hands the laden launch approached the yacht's bow on the seaward side.
The need for haste was pricking me as sharply as it was Van Dyck, but
prudent care came first. As matters stood, we were as helpless as a
packed pleasure boat. One armed man at the yacht's rail could have held
us off, encumbered as we were. Until we could have room in which to
spread out a bit we were like a lot of shackled prisoners. So, when the
yacht's bulk came between us and the fire-lighted scene on the beach, I
switched the power off and let the launch drift by slow inchings until
Dupuyster, crouching in the bow, was fending with his hands to keep us
from bumping against the side of the _Andromeda_.

So far so good. We had made contact, as the modern militarists say,
but what the next move should be, I couldn't imagine. Above, and
overhanging us, since our point of contact was under the flaring
out-sheer of the yacht's bow, stretched the smooth white wall of the
_Andromeda's_ body plating, with the bulwarks and rail far beyond the
reach of the tallest of us. True, the accommodation ladder had been let
down on the starboard side, and was probably still down; but with the
moon rising, and the light of the beach fire playing full upon that
side of the yacht, it would be simply inviting defeat to try for that.

Fortunately for us, we had an inspired leader, and he knew exactly what
he meant to do. Amidships on our side of the yacht the davit falls by
which the long-boat had been lowered were still hanging as they had
been left when the boat was put overside. Van Dyck passed a whispered
word to Dupuyster to hand the launch along toward these hanging
tackles, and I held my breath. Quite possibly six of us--counting
Ingerson as one of the half-dozen--were young enough and agile enough
to climb the tackles one at a time, but I couldn't see the barest
chance of carrying out any such manoeuver as that with the overloaded
launch for a take-off.

"What's the notion?" I asked Van Dyck. "We can't board by way of those
boat tackles. We shall swamp the launch, as sure as fate!"

"Wait," he whispered back. "You've forgotten the coaling port."

His reminder was entirely justified. But if I had remembered the two
square openings, one on either side of the ship, through which the
bunkers were filled, I should have dismissed their possibilities at
once. The rawest landsman in our company would know that these openings
would be closed from the inside--closed and gasketed and bolted to make
them water-tight.

"But how----" I began; but Van Dyck interrupted quickly. We were
nearing the hanging tackles and he whispered his commands hurriedly.
"Here is the port," he said, pointing out the joint lines of the coal
opening. "Hand the launch back to it after I'm gone." And, as the boat
falls came within reach: "Catch the tackle and steady her, and be ready
to trim ship when I take my weight out."

Mechanically I grasped the ropes as we drifted up to them, and with the
cat-like agility of a practiced sailor, Van Dyck lifted himself gently
out of our cockleshell and went up the dangling tackle to disappear
silently over the yacht's rail. His purpose was evident enough now. He
was going to try to get below and open the fuel port for us.

Passing the word along to Dupuyster to hand the launch back to the
coaling port, I helped as I could with the blade of the broken oar.
Motionless presently under the outline of the square opening, we
entered upon a period of breathless suspense. Being on the seaward side
of things, we could not see how the long-boat loading was progressing,
but every moment I was expecting to hear the pop-pop of the gasoline
motor which would tell us that the gold robbers were putting off for
the yacht.

We could easily visualize the obstacles Bonteck would have to overcome
in trying to reach the other side of the bunker port. He must make his
way undiscovered to the engine-room hatch--which might or might not
be guarded--get into communication with the imprisoned engineers and
firemen and direct them to open the port for us. Past that, it was
entirely within the possibilities that certain tons of coal might have
to be moved before the port could be opened--an undertaking which would
devour still more time, and which could hardly be carried out without
giving the alarm to whatever ship's guard the fat pirate had left on
board.

Knowing all this, we waited in nerve-racking trepidation, hardly
daring to breathe. Once, while we hugged the side of the yacht and
held the launch immovable, there were footsteps on the deck above us.
Hearing the faint click of a pistol, I knew that Grey or Dupuyster
or Billy Grisdale was preparing for the worst, and I was in an agony
of apprehension lest one of them should fire before this last-resort
measure became actually necessary. But the footsteps died away, and
nothing happened.

All through this most trying wait, during which we could hear plainly
the noises on shore, the shouts and cries, the crackling of the fire,
and the men plunging through the bushes and dumping their burdens into
the long-boat, the fortitude of the women huddled in our frail craft
was heroic. There was never a whisper or a murmur, that I could hear.
Only once, Conetta, whose place in the launch, now that Bonteck was
gone, was next to mine, reached over and put a cold little hand in mine.

It was Jerry Dupuyster who gave us the first word of encouragement. At
the risk of losing his balance and going overboard he had laid an ear
against the _Andromeda's_ side plating. "They're working on it," was
the whispered word that came back to us in the breathless suspense; and
a little later the coaling port began to open by cautious inchings to
show us a widening breach in the yacht's side.

It may easily say itself that there were thrillings and
breath-catchings a-many to go with that desperate midnight unloading
of the crowded launch through the bunker opening in the _Andromeda's_
side. The coal port was fully man-head high above the water line, and
we had no anchorage save our finger holds upon the edge of the opening.
How we managed it I hardly know. The women had to be lifted and passed
up one by one, and I remember that it took two of us, Ingerson and
myself, to get Mrs. Van Tromp hoisted up to the rescuing hands thrust
out of the opening. I don't suppose she weighed much above two hundred
pounds--no great weight for two able-bodied men to handle--but our
insecure footing easily added another two hundred to the effort. While
we labored, the increasing shore clamor told us that our time was
growing critically short, and in the fiercer spurt of haste that ensued
we came within an ace of swamping our frail foothold.

"Quick!" said Bonteck, leaning far out to give me a hand when I was the
last man left in the launch. But I had another thing in mind.

"Elijah Goff has set a good example and I'm going to follow it," I
whispered hurriedly. "There is a chance that I can get this pushboat
back to the beach before the Frenchman finds out that it is gone. If I
succeed, you can take him unawares when he comes off to the yacht and
have the advantage of a complete surprise. I'll be with you when the
clock strikes--if I don't get killed too soon." And I shoved off before
he could reach down and grab me, as he tried to do.

With the silent electric drive turning at its slowest speed, I edged
the launch seaward, and after a little distance was gained, gave the
propeller its full power. In our many patrollings of the beach I had
marked an opening through the barrier reef at the extreme eastern end
of the island, and through this passage I presently drove the launch,
heading it down the lagoon toward the pirates' landing place.

Hugging the shore, I made the approach as cautiously as might be.
Everything favored the undertaking. The bonfire had been built a few
yards down-beach from the long-boat, and its blaze served to make
objects less easily discernible in the wan moonlight outside of the
ruddy zone of firelight. The treasure diggers were carrying the last
of the precious cargo down from the wood, and Le Gros himself was
directing its loading with many gesticulations and a babblement
of shrill oaths. Slowly the launch drifted up to the stern of the
long-boat and I crawled forward and made the painter fast. The thing
was done.

It was done none too soon. There was barely time for me to flatten
myself in the bow of the launch before the mutineers began to crowd
into the bigger boat. I had only time to make sure that Goff was not
among them before the popping engine set up its clamor, and the fat
chief flung himself down beside the tiller, so near that I could have
reached up and touched him.

"Shove off, then, _mes braves_!" he yelled; and in some confusion we
got away and headed for the yacht, the long-boat towing the presumably
empty electric launch.

Taking it as a matter of course that Van Dyck and the others, with the
help of Haskell and the liberated prisoners, had by this time gained
possession of the _Andromeda_, I had an exceedingly bad half-minute
when, as the long-boat lost way at the foot of the accommodation
ladder, Le Gros got up, stumbled forward, and climbed the ladder to
the yacht's deck, unopposed, and, taking his place at the rail, began
to screech out his orders to the boat's crew. What had happened during
my brief absence? Had somebody discovered the presence of our boarding
party and clapped the hatch down upon it before Van Dyck could lead it
out of the bunker hold? It looked very much that way.

Meanwhile, my own situation had suddenly become embarrassing, not
to say perilous. I had confidently expected to see the fat villain
surrounded and overpowered the moment he set foot on the yacht's deck.
Since nothing of the kind had taken place, I knew it could be only a
few minutes at the farthest before I should be discovered and either
summarily knocked on the head or thrown to the sharks--or both. Yet
there was nothing to be done, or if there were, it didn't occur to me,
though, as the dullest imagination would prefigure, I was trying mighty
hard to make it occur.

While I crouched and cowered in the bottom of the launch, endeavoring
to make myself look as much as possible like a heap of cast-off
clothes, the unloading of the gold bars was begun, with the fat fiend
leaning over the yacht's rail to shrill curses at his men. This time
there was no roustabout procession. _Sacré_-ing and swearing like a man
possessed, Le Gros got his crew strung out in a long line leading from
the accommodation grating up the ladder and forward to some point on
the yacht's fore-deck, and along this line the gold ingots were passed
from hand to hand. Judging from the internal thunderings that began
when the mounting stream of heavy chunks of metal got fairly in motion,
I gathered that the fore-hold was to be made to serve as the pirates'
strong-room. And still our attacking party, if we had one, made no move.

I was sweating like a patient in the hot room of a Turkish bath when
the last of the apparently interminable string of gold bars went up the
ladder and the fat bandit gave the order which proved his calculated
perfidy, and, incidentally, let me know that my time was come.

"Br-ring dose boat to ze davit and 'oist dem aboard!" he commanded;
and then, as if this final order had been the signal for which it had
been waiting, pandemonium broke loose on the _Andromeda's_ fore-deck.
A confused clamor of shots, yells, curses and bludgeon blows rose upon
the midnight air, and, hasten as I might and did, the battle was as
good as fought and won before I could clamber over the long-boat and
dart up the ladder and hurl myself into it.

Upon reaching the deck I saw that I might have spared myself a large
share of the anxieties if I had had a little more confidence in Van
Dyck's gift of leadership. Like a good general he had been merely
waiting for the propitious moment. He had posted his force, which
included, besides the engineers and firemen, a good handful of the
Provincetown Portuguese who had yielded only to force of numbers when
the mutineers took the yacht, at various points of advantage, and
choosing the instant when, with its job completed, the long-boat's
crew was hurrying forward to man the hand winch and get the anchor up,
the yacht's searchlight was turned on and the rush was made. When I
got in, the _Andromeda's_ fore-deck was--well, not exactly a shambles,
perhaps, but something resembling a bull-ring after the banderilleros
and picadores and chulos have been tossed hither and yon and butted and
horned into cowering submission, with Van Dyck just tackling the fat
chief in a whirlwind grapple that brought assailed and assailant to the
deck with a crash that was like the fall of a house.

"What have you done with Captain Goff?" bellowed the victor in
the grapple, with his knee in the fat one's stomach; and from the
gurgling sounds that issued we gathered that the stout-hearted old
Gloucesterman had been made to pay a bitter penalty for his loyalty to
us.

"'Ee is mak' us to deeg wiz ze peek-axe in ze wr-rong places!" gasped
the fat bandit in extenuation.

Van Dyck got up and turned Le Gros over to Haskell and two of the
Portuguese, who proceeded to tie him and truss him like an enormous
fowl.

Bonteck wheeled upon me.

"Dick, take a couple of our men in the launch and go after the old
skipper. If they've killed him, I'm going to be judge, jury and sheriff
for this fat devil and every man who stood in with him!" he raged. And
I went quickly, taking two of Haskell's men to help.

Fortunately for Le Gros and his accomplices, upon whom I am sure Van
Dyck would have wreaked a swift and terrible vengeance, Goff was not
dead. So far from it, when we reached the inland glade, where the
forgotten ship's lantern still spread its little circle of yellow
light, we found the old man on his knees in one of the numerous shallow
holes dug by the gold-seekers, clawing the earth with his bare hands
like a crazy old marmot. He had been brutally mishandled and was
covered with blood, but when we laid hold of him and dragged him out of
his burrow, he fought us madly to get back.

"Mr. Van Dyck's gold--it's gone, slick and clean!" he croaked. "I
cal'late I've got to find it afore I c'n go aboard."

My two helpers took his mutterings for the ravings of a man who had
been beaten and left for dead--as they were in good part--and among us
we pacified him and got him down to the launch. Van Dyck was at the
foot of the accommodation ladder when we reached the yacht, so I had a
chance to give him a cautionary word.

"Keep the old man quiet until he comes to himself," I warned. "If you
don't, he'll publish your little gold-bar plot to the whole ship's
company," and I briefed the pathetic little scene we had broken in upon
when we found Goff.

"Plucky old duffer!" said Bonteck warmly, when Quinby and his mate had
half led and half carried Goff up the ladder. "I've been telling you
all along that he was the right sort. But come aboard. We're going to
hold a drumhead court-martial and try these amateur pirates right here
and now."

"You don't need me for that," I objected. "Let me have a couple of the
Portuguese sailormen and I'll take the long-boat and go around to our
abandoned camp for the dunnage we left behind."

"Oh, damn the dunnage--let it go!" he broke out impatiently; but he
changed his tune when I reminded him that since the abandoned luggage
was made up chiefly of the women's steamer trunks, it would be wise for
us to salvage it if only in the interests of peace and quietness.

"All right; go to it," he yielded; and after I had picked my crew of
two, I took the long-boat and set about the salvaging.

It was a short horse, soon curried. The gasoline boat was fairly
speedy, and the run down the lagoon was quickly made. With two huskies
to do the porterage, little time was lost in stripping the camp of
everything that was worth carrying away, and well within the hour we
were back at the _Andromeda's_ accommodation ladder. Waiting only long
enough to see the trunks going overside in a whip tackle that had been
rigged for the purpose, I went aboard and found that the sea court had
been in session, that the yacht's anchor was catted, and that the stage
was set for the final act in the drama of the night of alarms.

"We were waiting for you--or rather for that long-boat," said Van Dyck,
after I had climbed to the bridge from which he was directing the
luggage bestowal.

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

"Wait and you will see," he replied; and then he told me the findings
of the drumhead court. The mutineers, with Le Gros for their leader,
were members of a Central American revolutionary junta which had its
headquarters in New York. At first, the intention had been to capture
the _Andromeda_ and use her as a means of transportation for arms and
ammunition, and, as Goff had told us, one cargo of the munitions had
already been carried and landed. But the secret of Van Dyck's buried
gold--which, as it appeared, was no secret at all so far as Lequat and
the bandit chief were concerned--had brought them back to the island.

"Goff says they made no bones about telling him that they were killing
time in the ammunition shipment, with the cold-blooded purpose of
letting us starve in the interval," Van Dyck said in conclusion. "It
was not Le Gros's intention to give us any provisions at all when
we were marooned, but Goff, who was shrewd enough not to make any
resistance when he found it would be useless, overpersuaded him."

"How could he do that?"

"Very easily. He told Le Gros about my silly plot, and showed him
how, if that plot were carried out exactly as it had been planned,
the secret of the real mutiny could be kept indefinitely. He argued,
quite plausibly, as you will see, that in due course of time I would be
obliged to confess my plot, in which case, even if we should chance to
be rescued by some passing ship, the onus would still rest upon me."

I laughed. "The old skipper is something of a plotter himself, and we
all owe him a lot more than we can ever pay. What are you going to do
to these pirates?"

"I gave Gustave his choice; to be landed, with his fellow bandits, at
the nearest port of call where his country has a consul, or to be set
ashore here on the island."

"Good Lord!" I ejaculated. "Surely it didn't take him long to decide
against the excellent chance of starving to death in this horrible
death trap!"

Van Dyck's smile was grim.

"No; the deciding part of it didn't take him long." He led me to the
starboard bridge-end and pointed to the accommodation ladder, where
the mutineers, in single file, and each man carrying his allotment
of provisions in a sack, were descending to take their places in the
long-boat--this under an armed guard with Haskell and Quinby in command.

"They know the tender mercies of their countrymen," Bonteck went on,
"and they elected, very promptly, to take the chance they made us take,
rather than to be turned over to the authorities. The name of the
island fits, after all; it is still 'Pirates' Hope,' you see. Just the
same, I'll drop a word somewhere to have them picked up after they've
served their time for stealing my yacht."

The anchor, broken out by the hand capstan, was apeak, and the
blowers were roaring in the _Andromeda's_ tall funnels when the
long-boat returned, to be quickly hoisted to its chocks on the roof
of the deck-house. Van Dyck had the wheel, and at his signal to the
engine-room the big propellers began to thrash in the backward motion
and the yacht drew away from her late anchorage. I stood by until the
miniature liner was set upon her course and was leaving the island
astern. Then I took the wheel forcibly out of Bonteck's hands.

"You've had it harder than any of us, and I couldn't go to sleep if my
life depended upon it," I told him. "If you'll give me the course, I'll
take the first trick and you can relieve me after you've had your forty
winks."

He protested generously, of course, but yielded at last when he found
me obstinate. After he left me, I signaled the engine-room for full
speed ahead and a few minutes later turned the wheel over to one of our
Portuguese loyalists whom Van Dyck had sent up to act as my steersman.
Freed thus from the mechanical duty, I took time for a backward look.
The white ribbon of beach, with its dot of fire surrounded by a huddle
of motionless figures, had disappeared, and the island itself was
becoming a mere blot dimly outlined in the pale moonlight. It was
like the waving of the magic wand in an extravaganza. By a few score
revolutions of the _Andromeda's_ twin screws we had been whisked out
of the age of romance and daring-do to be set down once more among the
common-places--and conventions--of the twentieth Christian century.



XIX

THE FORWARD LIGHT


DAWN was just breaking over a sea that was like a caldron of
half-cooled molten metal for its colorings when Van Dyck came to take
his turn on the _Andromeda's_ bridge, and he rated me soundly for not
having called him earlier.

"It is one thing to be generous, and quite another to be a
self-immolating ass," was one of the compliments he handed me. Then:
"By a streak of luck, one of our Portuguese fishermen turns out to be
a passable cook. Get below and you'll find breakfast of a sort waiting
for you in the saloon. Fill up, and then go to bed and sleep until
you've caught up with the procession."

Being by this time in a receptive mood on both counts, I obeyed
the double injunction literally, and ten seconds after rolling,
full-stomached, into the comfortable bunk in the stateroom which
had been mine before the age of romance took us in hand, I was dead
to the world and so continued while the clock-hands made a complete
revolution, with some hour or so added thereto.

When I awoke it was pitch dark in the little stateroom cabin, and
somebody was knocking at the door. It proved to be Fernando, the new
cook, and he was telling me in broken English that he had my dinner on
a tray, by which I was made to understand that I had slept past the
regular dinner hour.

Turning out for a bath, a shave, and the first change of clothing that
had been vouchsafed me in many a long day, I ate the hand-in dinner
with the ravenous appetite of the half-famished, and fared forth.
Stepping into the brightly lighted saloon, it was hard to realize that
Pirates' Hope and all that it stood for in the lives of eighteen of us
had ever existed.

If the mutineers had left any traces of their short reign in our dining
saloon they had all been carefully expunged. At one of the sections of
the divisible dining-table Mrs. Van Tromp, Aunt Mehitable, Madeleine
Barclay's father and Ingerson were playing bridge. Through the open
door of the smoking-room opposite I could see Major Terwilliger
lounging at ease in the deepest wicker chair, with a glass and a bottle
and the ingredients for mixing his favorite after-dinner beverage
on the card table at his elbow. At another section of the divisible
dining-table the professor and his wife were at work classifying a lot
of leaves and roots gathered on the island.

Down the companion stair came the tinkle-tinkle of Billy Grisdale's
mandolin to tell me that the younger members of the ship's company
had already slipped back into the aforetime habit of whiling away the
evenings under the after-deck awning. I smiled as I went forward to
look for Van Dyck, and the smile wasn't as cynical as it might have
been on the other side of the island avatar. The prompt rebound to the
normal and the conventional was merely an example of human nature at
its most resilient--and best.

Van Dyck was on the bridge, or, more strictly speaking, in the little
chart room, pricking out the yacht's course with a pair of dividers,
and one of the Provincetown loyalists was at the wheel.

"You, Dick?" Bonteck said, when I drifted in and took the stool across
from him. "Had a good nap?"

"If I haven't, it wasn't your fault," I returned. "Whereabouts are we
by this time?"

"Off the Venezuelan coast, and only a few hours run from La Guaira.
It's the majority vote of the ship's company that we ought not to be
cheated out of the best part of our winter cruise, and we'll put in
at La Guaira and take a run up to Caracas while Goff is refitting the
yacht and laying in stores. I hope that falls in with your notion."

I let my vote stand over until I could ask about Goff.

"Uncle Elijah isn't out of commission, then?"

"Uncle Elijah is made of better stuff than most of us younger fry.
He'll be up and around in a day or so; wanted to get up to-day and take
over his job, but I wouldn't let him. But how about you? Will the La
Guaira stop fit in with your longings?"

"Admirably. There is a revived copper mining prospect about to be
exploited near Aroa, and with your kind permission I'll quit you at La
Guaira and run over to Tucacas. There's a railway from that port to
Aroa, and I heard, while I was waiting for you in New Orleans, that
there might be an opening for an American engineer."

"Um," he grunted, without looking up, "so you're planning to desert,
are you?"

"If you call it desertion, yes. I know when I've had enough, Bonteck."

"I don't think you do," he said with a queer grimace. "But let that
stand over for a minute or so. Don't you want to be brought up to date
in the treasure-trove adventure? I should think you would."

"If there is anything remaining that I haven't seen and felt and
tasted," I returned.

"There is," he chuckled. "As the older novelists would remark, the half
has not been told. Item Number One is a small problem in arithmetic.
You helped me dig up Madeleine's ransom, and you counted the pieces,
didn't you?"

"I did."

"You'd be willing to go into court and swear that there were forty of
the gold bars; no more and no less; wouldn't you?"

"I should."

"And we dug them all out--all there were in that particular spot,
didn't we?"

"I thought we did."

"Good. So did I. Yet the fact remains that there are eighty-three gold
bars safely stowed away in the yacht's fore-hold; forty of one kind and
forty-three of another. How do you account for that?"

I laughed. "It simply means that Le Gros was more thorough than we
were. He found your planting, as well as that of the _Santa Lucia's_
crew."

"He did. But the double find was due to Goff's effort to gain time for
us, rather than to the fat bandit's thoroughness. When we left Goff
waiting for his recapture, the first thing he did was to heave the
chunk of coral out of the way so that there wouldn't be any landmark.
Then, when Le Gros and his men came, Goff pointed out first one place
and then another, until he had them digging all over the glade. That is
why they beat him so savagely; and it was after he was knocked out that
they stumbled upon both hoards."

"Both in the same place?" I asked.

"Goff says they were not. He was just coming back to consciousness when
they were starting to carry the stuff down to the beach. There were two
heaps of it. In his battered condition Goff didn't realize the truth;
he merely thought he was seeing double. Afterward, so he says, he got a
crazy notion in his head that the pirates hadn't found my gold at all,
and that it was up to him to find it. That was what he was trying to do
when you went after him."

"I know," I said; "Are there any more knots in the tangle?"

"Just one. When I went below last night to turn in, Billy Grisdale was
waiting for me with tears in his eyes; said he'd lost all his hopes of
heaven, and begged me to turn back to the island and let him have men
enough to go ashore and dig some more in the gold plantation--that we
were leaving Edie's dowry behind. I asked him what he meant, and he
told me. He and Edie had been the first to take fire when I told the
old story of the Spanish treasure ship, and they had gone about looking
for landmarks and digging haphazard in one place and another."

"And, of course, they stumbled upon the chunk of coral, rolled it away,
and dug under it," I filled in, recalling instantly what Billy had said
to me about buried treasure and the ownership thereof on the night of
Ingerson's attempted suicide.

"You've said it. Naturally, it was my planting that they uncovered--not
the Spaniards', but never having so much as heard of my earlier visit
to the island, there was nothing to make them suspect that it was not
the _Santa Lucia_ hoard that they had unearthed. Their first impulse
was to run back to camp and shout the good news; but the cannier second
thought prevailed. They reburied the stuff in the hole they had made,
marked the place as well as they could--but not with the chunk of coral
they had rolled aside,--and came away and left it, meaning to part with
their secret only when a rescue ship should come along."

"What did you tell Billy?"

He grinned. "I took him into the fore-hold and showed him the pile of
gold bars. As you would imagine, he was paralyzed when he counted and
found there were eighty-three of them. 'There were forty-three--I'm
sure there were only forty-three,' he kept saying over and over."

"Wait a minute," I interposed; "you are going too fast for me. Are
you asking me to believe that it was only by chance that they rolled
the piece of coral over to the exact spot where, we may suppose, it
originally stood--marking the place of the _Santa Lucia_ burial?"

"Chance and nothing else--excepting, perhaps, it may have rolled more
easily that way than any other. It was Goff and I who moved it in the
first place, you remember, when we took it to mark our gold grave."

"Now we may come back to Billy," I said. "What more did you tell him?"

"What could I tell him, save to hint that the Spaniards might have
split their treasure and buried it in two places?--that, and to josh
him a bit for having stopped too soon in his digging venture?"

"Then you told him that the remaining forty pieces belong to Madeleine?"

"I did; I have told them all. She found it, and it is hers. More than
that, I have taken Jack Grey into my confidence in the matter of
Barclay's shortage in his guardian accounts, and he will see to it that
the Vancourt trust fund is made whole again."

"But, see here," I protested; "that is _your_ quarter million that
Billy and Edie are making off with!"

He laughed boyishly.

"I'm robbed," he declared; "Held up and cleaned out in the house of my
friends. I couldn't claim the stuff if I wanted to--without giving the
whole snap away. But I don't mean to claim it. It is going to be put
right where it will do the most good, Dick--which it wasn't going to
be, if my romantic plot had worked out as it was planned. If Madeleine
had found _my_ money, I should never have been able to look her
straight in the eyes again--never in this world. You know I shouldn't.
That was the weak detail I told you about. But what she did find is her
own, her very own, you see; and mine goes to the two kiddies. Billy's
father couldn't stake him, neither now nor two or three years hence,
when these two babies will take things into their own hands and get
married, money or no money. And with another of her girls due to marry
a poor man, Mrs. Van Tromp would be in despair."

"Another of her girls--you mean Beatrice?" I asked, dry-lipped.

"Sure thing. Jerry's a pauper; or if he isn't quite that now, he will
be when Major Terwilliger's last will and testament is read."

"But Conetta!" I gasped. "He is promised to her, Bonteck."

"Is he?" he said; and that is all he did say.

"Isn't he?" I demanded.

"How should I know? You'd better go and ask him or her--or both of
them."

For a flitting instant I found myself desperate enough to do that very
thing; but I, too, had suffered my sea change. Curiously enough the
hotheaded impulse died within me before I could rise from my seat on
the three-legged stool.

"Well, why don't you?" Van Dyck inquired satirically, meaning, I
supposed, why didn't I go and make a fool of myself to the two people
in question. Then: "What has come over you, Richard? Have you lost
all of that fiery impetuosity that used to make you the worry of your
friends, and put the fear of God into your enemies?"

It wasn't worth while to answer the gibe. I had other and better things
to think of just then. Mellowing things.

"I know now why you dragged me in on this winter cruise, Bonteck," I
said, humbly enough. "In the goodness of your heart you thought Conetta
and I might be able to bridge the three-year gap and come together
again. It was a kindly thought, and I shall always remember it. It
wasn't your fault that the chance came too late. Don't you want me to
take your trick here and let you go down to the others? True, Ingerson
was at the bridge table when I came through, but he may not stay
there."

"Ingerson is out of it," he said shortly. "He leaves us at La Guaira,
to take the regular steamer for Havana and home."

"Nevertheless, my offer holds good. Give me the course and I'll relieve
you."

"Later on, perhaps; the night is yet young. Just now, you'll be wanting
to get Conetta and Jerry together so you can fire that question of
yours at them. Better toddle along and have it over with, while the
thing is fresh in your mind."

I turned to go, but at the door of the chart-room I paused to give him
his due.

"You are a kindly sort of villain, after all, Bonteck," I said. "But
how about the little experiment in the humanities that was at the
bottom of all these things that have happened to us? Did it turn out as
you expected it would? Are we worse than you feared--or better than you
hoped?"

"Neither, Dick," he returned quite soberly. "We are all pretty much the
same, I guess; brothers and sisters under the skin; just men and women
'of like passions'. I think I've known it as well as I needed to, all
along, but it suited my humor to pose as a--a----"

"As a pragmatic ass," I snorted, helping him out. "Whenever you are
tempted to bray again----"

"I'll just think back a few lines and remember this little Caribbean
slip-up," he laughed. "But don't let me keep you. I know you are
perishing to go and stick pins into poor old Jerry and Conetta."

That final remark of his was as far as possible from the truth; so far,
indeed, that, upon leaving the bridge, I descended to the main deck by
way of the forward ladder for the express purpose of keeping out of
the way of the group under the awning on the after-deck lounge.

Since the _Andromeda_ was now quite short-handed, the forward deck
was deserted by all save a single man at the bow. I crossed to the
port rail and stood for a time looking out upon the starlit sea and
listening to the sibilant song of the yacht's sharp cutwater as it
sheared its way through the gently heaving seas.

I had not been talking merely for effect in telling Bonteck that I
should leave the yacht at La Guaira. On all accounts it seemed only the
just and decent thing to do. Now that I came to think of it soberly, it
seemed quite possible that my presence in the yacht party might have
been the provoking cause of Jerry Dupuyster's disloyalty, or apparent
disloyalty, to Conetta. He knew that we had once been engaged, and
while there had been no more than fellow-passenger intimacy on the
cruise, we had been together more or less on the island.

Though it was removed by the better part of the length of the ship, the
tinny tinkle of Billy's mandolin was still audible, and presently there
were voices joining in a rollicking college song; John Grey's clear
tenor, Alicia Van Tromp's rich contralto, and even the professor's
bass. It seemed incredible that the reaction from our late privations
could have swept us all so swiftly back to the ordinary and the
commonplace; and yet the fact remained: a fact demonstrating beyond all
question the irresistible impulse in the normal human being to revert
quickly to the usual and the accustomed.

Perhaps it was the reflective mood to which this philosophizing vein
led that made me insensible of Conetta's approach. At any rate, I had
no warning; I was still supposing that she was with the others on the
after-deck when I felt her touch on my arm.

"You?" I said.

"Yes, me," she admitted, with the cheerful disregard for grammar which
usually marked her flippant moods. "What are you doing up here, all by
yourself?"

"What should I be doing? But if you really want to know, I'm gazing out
toward the country where I'm likely to spend the next few years of my
life--Venezuela."

"Yes," she said quite calmly. "I've just been up on the bridge with
Bonteck. He told me you were going to bury yourself again in the South
American wilds." Then, with what seemed to be a tinge of mocking
malice: "Is it the Castilian princess?--but no; you told me she is
married, didn't you?"

"No," I returned crabbedly; "it's you, this time, Conetta. I don't
want to be on the same side of the earth with you when you marry Jerry
Dupuyster."

She laughed as though I had said something humorous. "Jerry!" she
scoffed. "Where are your eyes, Dickie Preble? Don't you see that I
haven't the littlest chance in the world in that quarter? I should
think you might."

"That is all right," I retorted. "I'll have a thing or two to say to
Jerry before I quit this neat little ship at La Guaira!"

"Please don't!" she pleaded.

"Don't tell Jerry where to head in, you mean?"

"No; I didn't mean that. I mean please don't slip back, like all the
rest of us have. Don't you know you were awfully dear while we were on
the island? There were times--times when you were so patient and good
with Aunt Mehitable--when I could have hugged you."

"Humph! I wonder what Jerry would have said to that?"

"Can't we leave Jerry out of it, just for a few minutes? But you _were_
good, you know, and you were really making me begin to believe that
your horrible temper, the temper that once made us both pay such a
frightful price, was your servant instead of your master."

"Temper?" I said, fairly aghast at this bald accusation.

"Yes, temper. Have you been like everybody else--unable to recognize
your own dearest failing? Don't you know that even as a little boy they
used to say of you that you'd rather fight than eat? Are all red-headed
men like that?"

"Never mind the other red-headed men," I returned. "What price did my
temper make us pay?--and when?"

"I wonder if you went through it all without knowing--without
realizing?" she said musingly. "Do you remember one night when you were
taking Aunt Mehitable and me to the theater and some lobby lounger made
a remark that you didn't like?"

"Yes, I remember it. I would have killed the beast if they hadn't
pulled me off him. That remark was made about you, Conetta."

"I know. But you--you scandalized poor Aunt Mehitable. She began to
say, right then, that I could never hope to have a happy married life
with a man who had such an ungovernable temper. Wasn't it more or less
true, Dick?"

Back of the island period and its tremendous revelations I should
probably have said that it wasn't true. But now I only asked for better
information.

"Once upon a time your aunt made two wills; made one, and revoked it
with another within a week. Was that done to find out how much I would
stand for?"

"I--I'm afraid it was." She admitted it reluctantly.

"Since it is all dead and buried long ago, you might tell me a little
more about it. What she said to me was that she had heard of the loss
of my property, and that she thought it was only fair to tell me that,
under the terms of her will, you wouldn't inherit anything but a small
legacy. She added that, of course, under such conditions our marriage
was out of the question; that the only thing for me to do was to set
you free."

"What did you say to her?"

"I don't remember. I probably raved like a maniac."

"You did. Miss Stebbins, the secretary, was in the library alcove, and
she took short-hand notes. It was terrible, Dick. You must have been
quite mad to say such things as you said to Aunt Mehitable."

"I was mad. Look at it from my side for a moment, if you can. I had
just heard of the smash in the Western mines, and right upon the heels
of that I was calmly asked to give you up. Did she show you the
short-hand notes?"

"She did, after you had vanished without saying a word to me or even
writing a line to tell me what had become of you. She did it to prove
what she had said many times before--that your ferocious temper would
make it impossible for any peaceable person to live with you."

"And you--what did you do?"

"What could I do? I had to go on living; one has to do that in any
case. And after a time----"

"After a time, Jerry stepped in. I'm not blaming anybody, Conetta,
dear. If Jerry would only break away from Beatrice Van Tromp and treat
you as he ought to treat the woman he is going to marry, I wouldn't say
a word."

She turned away, and for the length of time that it took the
_Andromeda_ to sheer through three of the long Caribbean swells she
was silent. Then, as if she were speaking to the wide expanse of sea
and starry sky: "It would be a tragedy if Jerry should break away from
Beatrice. They have been engaged for ever and ever so long."

"What!" I exclaimed. "And you've known it all the time?"

"I think you are the only one who hasn't known it."

"But you said you and Jerry----"

"No," she interrupted coolly, "I didn't say it. I merely let you go on
believing what you seemed to want to believe."

"But you did say that Jerry had asked you."

"That was a long time ago; and I think he did it only because his uncle
told him to."

Slowly the incredible thing battered its way into my brain. Conetta
was free; free, and she hadn't been any better able to forget than I
had. I slipped an arm around her.

"It's an awful gap--three years; could you--do you suppose we could
bridge it--and let Aunt Mehitable make another will, if she wants to?"

Just then, Bonteck, or whoever had the wheel, must have let the
_Andromeda_ fall off a bit. There was a plunge, a splash, and the spray
of the curling bow wave showered us both. She let me wipe her face with
my handkerchief, and then put it up to be kissed.

"There has never been any gap, Dick, dear," she said softly.
"I--I guess I'm just a silly little one-love fool. I've just been
waiting--and waiting ... and Aunt Mehitable ... she's sorry, dear;
she's been sorry ever since that dreadful day three years ago when she
made you swear at her and call her a mercenary old harridan...."

Time being the merest abstraction in such circumstances, it might have
been either minutes or hours after this that the tubular chime which
answered for a ship's bell on the _Andromeda_ began to strike. Conetta
counted, and as the last note was dying away she chanted happily:

"Eight bells; the forward light is shining bright, and all's well! Kiss
me again, Dickie, dear, and we'll go and find Aunt Mehitable--if she
hasn't gone to bed."

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Page 13, "entére" changed to "entrée" (_entrée_ to the best house)

Page 67, "role" changed to "rôle" to match other usage (rôle she had
tried)

Page 141, "Dyke" changed to "Dyck" (place in Van Dyck)

Page 168, "maneuvering" changed to "manoeuvering" to match rest of
usage in text (fortnight I've been manoeuvering)

Page 172, "hypothssis" changed to "hypothesis" (second hypothesis was)

Page 180, superfluous comma removed after "well" (file and keeping well)

Page 193, final period added to last line on page (blotted me out.)

Page 204, "hestitating" changed to "hesitating" (was not hesitating
from)

Page 224, "a" changed to "á" (Gracias á Dios with a disabled)

Pagem 246, "Curacao" changed to "Curaçao" (the island of Curaçao)

Page 257, "Grácias a Dios" changed to "Gracias á Dios" to match rest of
usage (repair stop at Gracias á Dios)

Page 248, "Curacao" changed to "Curaçao" (Curaçao, to anyw'ere you)





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