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Title: The Return of Clubfoot
Author: Williams, Valentine
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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THE RETURN OF CLUBFOOT


BY

VALENTINE WILLIAMS



AUTHOR OF

"THE MAN WITH THE CLUBFOOT"



HERBERT JENKINS LIMITED

YORK STREET LONDON S.W.1.



     A
  HERBERT
  JENKINS'
   BOOK



POPULAR EDITION.



Printed In Great Britain at the Athenæum Printing Works. Redhill.



WHAT THIS STORY IS ABOUT

Whilst spending a holiday in a small Central American Republic, Desmond
Okewood, of the Secret Service, learns from a dying beachcomber of a
hidden treasure.

With the assistance of a millionaire, he sets out for Cock Island, in
the Pacific.  To his astonishment he discovers that the Man with the
Clubfoot, whom he had regarded as dead, has anticipated him.  It is
obvious to Okewood that his old enemy is also in search of the hidden
gold, and there ensues a thrilling sequence of adventures, in which the
millionaire's pretty daughter takes a prominent part.

Okewood has the cipher, and the Man with the Clubfoot determines to
secure it, for without that cipher it is impossible to discover the
hiding-place of the treasure; but there is something that the Man with
the Clubfoot does not know, whereas Okewood does.



_BY THE SAME AUTHOR_

  THE MAN WITH THE CLUBFOOT
  THE SECRET HAND
  THE YELLOW STREAK
  THE ORANGE DIVAN
  CLUBFOOT THE AVENGER



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

     I.  DOÑA LUISA
    II.  IN WHICH A GENTLEMAN PAYS HIS DEBT
   III.  THE MESSAGE
    IV.  A FOOTSTEP IN THE LANE
     V.  THE GIRL IN THE SMOKE-ROOM
    VI.  I RECEIVE AN INVITATION
   VII.  THE VICE-CONSUL'S WARNING
  VIII.  DR. CUSTRIN
    IX.  CONCERNING A LONG DRINK
     X.  THE GRAVE IN THE CLEARING
    XI.  A VOICE IN THE FOREST
   XII.  I MEET AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
  XIII.  EL COJO
   XIV.  "DIE FÜNF-UND-ACHTZIGER"
    XV.  MARJORIE'S ADVENTURE
   XVI.  BLACK PABLO MAKES HIS PREPARATIONS
  XVII.  THE ESCAPE
 XVIII.  A FACE AMONG THE FERNS
   XIX.  WHICH PROVES THAT TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
    XX.  THE BURIAL CHAMBER
   XXI.  A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS AND WHAT CAME OF IT
  XXII.  I INTERRUPT A TÊTE-À-TÊTE
 XXIII.  CAPITULATION
  XXIV.  ULRICH VON HAGEL'S TREASURE
   XXV.  THE END OF A DREAM
  XXVI.  IN WHICH A BLACK BOX PLAYS A DECISIVE PART



The Return of Clubfoot



CHAPTER 1

DOÑA LUISA

As I was sitting on the verandah of John Bard's bungalow, glancing
through a two-month old copy of _The Sketch_, I heard the clang of the
iron gate below where I sat.  I raised my eyes from the paper and
looked down the gardens.  At my feet was stretched a dark tangle of
palms and luxuriant tropical verdure, beyond them in the distance the
glass-like surface of the sea, on which a great lucent moon threw a
gleaming path of light.

The night was very tranquil.  From the port at the foot of the hill, on
which my old friend, John Bard, had built his bungalow in this earthly
paradise, the occasional screech of a winch was wafted with astonishing
clearness over the warm air.  Somewhere in the distance there was the
faint monotonous thrumming of guitars.  To these night noises of the
little Central American port the sea murmured faintly a ceaseless
accompaniment.

I heard voices in the garden.  Within the house a door swung to with a
thud; there was the patter of slippered feet over the matting in the
living-room and Akawa, Bard's Japanese servant, was at my elbow.  His
snow-white drill stood out against the black shadows which the moon
cast at the back of the verandah.  He did not speak; but his mask-like
face waited for me to notice him.

"Well, Akawa?" said I; "what is it?"

"Doña Luisa ask for the Señor Commandante, excuse me!" announced the
Jap stolidly.

Comfortably stretched out in a cane chair, a cold drink frosting its
long glass in the trough at my side, I turned and stared at the butler.
I was undoubtedly the Señor Commandante, for thus, in the course of a
lazy, aimless sort of holiday on the shores of the Pacific, had my rank
of Major been hispaniolised.

But what lady wanted me?  Who could possibly know me here, seeing that
only the day before one of John Bard's fruit ships had landed me from
San Salvador?

Doña Luisa!  The name had an alluring, romantic ring, especially on
this gorgeous night, the velvety sky powdered with glittering stars,
the air heavy with perfumes exhaled from the scented gardens.  That
broad strain of romance in me (which makes so much trouble for us
Celts) responded strongly to the appeal of my environment.  Doña Luisa!
The distant strains of music seemed to thrum that soft name into my
brain.

I swung my feet to the ground, stood up and stretched myself.

"Where is the lady?" I demanded.  "In the sitting-room?"

"No, sir," replied the Japanese.  "In the garden!"

More and more romantic!  Had some lovely señorita, in high comb and
mantilla, been inflamed by a chance sight of the Inglez as I had walked
through the grass-grown streets of the city with John Bard that
morning, and pursued me to my host's gardens to declare her love?  The
thought amused me and I smiled.  Yet I don't mind admitting that, on my
way through the sitting-room in Akawa's wake, I glanced at a mirror and
noted with satisfaction that my white drill was spotless, and my hair
smooth.  I adjusted my tie and with that little touch of swagger which
the prospect of a romantic rendezvous imparts to the gait of the most
modest of us men, I passed out of the room to the corridor which led to
the door into the gardens.

The passage was brightly lit so that, on emerging into the darkness
again, my eyes were dazzled.  At first I could only discern a vast
black shape.  But presently I made out the generous proportions of an
enormously stout, coal-black negress.

She was wearing a torn and filthy cotton dress and about her head was
bound a spotted pink and white handkerchief.  With her vast bosom and
ample span of hip she looked almost as broad as she was long.  On
seeing me she bobbed.

"You'm _Señor Commandante_?" she asked in English in her soft negro
voice.

"Yes," I replied, rather taken aback by this droll apparition.  "What
did you want with me?"

"I has a letter for you, suh!"

She plunged a brown hand into the unfathomable depths of her opulent
corsage.

"From Doña Luisa?" I asked expectantly.

The negress stopped her groping and grinned up at me with flashing
teeth.  Her eyeballs glistened white as her face lit up with a broad
smile.  Then she tapped herself with a grimy paw.

"_I_ is Doña Luisa!" she announced with pride.

I staggered beneath the shock of this revelation.  My vision of a
sloe-eyed damsel in a mantilla vanished in smoke.

"I has a fine Spanish name," remarked the lady resuming her spasmodic
searchings of her person, "but I wus riz in N'Awleans.  That's how I
talks English so good!  Ah!"

With a grunt she fished out a folded sheet of dirty note-paper and
handed it to me.

"You're certain this is meant for me?" I asked, racking my brains to
recall who was likely to send me messages by such an intermediary and
at such an hour.

"I sure is!" responded Doña Luisa with authority.

Stepping back into the lighted corridor I unfolded the note and read:--


"To Major Desmond Okewood, D.S.O.

"Do you remember the beach-comber to whom you did a good turn at San
Salvador a few weeks back?  I now believe I am in a position to repay
it if you will accompany the bearer of this note.  I wish to see you
_most urgently_ but I am too ill to come to you.  Don't dismiss this
note as merely an ingenious attempt on my part to raise the wind.
Perhaps, by the time you have received it, I shall have already escaped
from the disgrace and infamy of my present existence.  Therefore come
at once, I beg you.

"And _make haste_."


The note was written in pencil in rather a shaky hand.  There was no
signature.  But I remembered the writer perfectly and his signature
would have availed me nothing; for I never knew his name.

Our meeting happened thus.  I was visiting the jail at San Salvador and
in the prison-yard I remarked among the shambling gang of prisoners
taking exercise a pallid, hollow-eyed creature whose twitching mouth
and fluttering hands betrayed the habitual drunkard recovering from a
bout.  I should have dismissed this scarecrow figure from my mind only
that, suddenly evading the little brown warder, he plucked me by the
coat and cried:--

"If you're a _sahib_, man, you'll get me out of this hell!"

He spoke in English and there was a refined note in his voice which,
coupled with the haggard expression of his face, decided me to inquire
into his case.  I discovered that the man, as, indeed, he had avowed
himself in the letter, was a beach-comber, a drunken wastrel, a dope
fiend.  In short, he was one of the unemployable, and every Consulate
in the Central Americas was closed to him.  But he was an Englishman;
more, by birth an English gentleman.  One of the officials at our
Consulate told me that he was, undoubtedly, of good family.

Well, one doesn't like to think of one of one's own kith and kin locked
up with a lot of coffee-coloured cut-throats among the cockchafers and
less amiable insects of a Dago calaboose.  So I interested myself in
Friend Beach-comber and he was set free.  His incarceration was the
result of a tradesman's plaint and a few dollars secured his release.
A few more, as it appeared in the upshot, had ensured his lasting
gratitude; for I gave him a ten dollar bill to see him on his way, the
State stipulating, as a condition of his liberation, that he should
leave the city forthwith.

The outcast's letter was in my hand.  I looked at Doña Luisa and
hesitated.  Would it not be simpler to give the woman a couple of
dollars and send her about her business?  Surely this note was nothing
more than a subterfuge to obtain a further "loan" with which to buy
drink or drugs--the dividing line between the two is none too clearly
defined in the Central Americas.

But I found myself thinking of the beachcomber's eyes.  I recalled a
certain wistfulness, a sort of lonely dignity, in their mute appeal.  I
glanced through the note a second time.  I rather liked its independent
tone.  So in the end I bade the woman wait while I fetched my hat.  But
as I took down my panama from its peg I paused an instant, then,
running into my room, picked my old automatic out of my dressing-case
and slid it into my jacket pocket.  I had long since learnt the lesson
of the Secret Service that a man may only once forget to carry arms.

As soon as I stepped out into the gardens the old negress waddled off
down the path, her bare feet pattering almost noiselessly on the hard
earth.  She made no further effort at conversation; but, with a
swiftness surprising in one of her prodigious bulk, paddled rapidly
through the scented night down the hill towards the winking lights of
the port.  As we left the pleasant height on which John Bard's bungalow
stood, I missed the cooling night breeze off the Pacific.  The air grew
closer.  It was steamy and soon I was drenched in perspiration.

Doña Luisa skirted the quays softly lapped by the sluggish,
phosphorescent water, and plunged into a network of small streets
fringed by the little yellow houses.  Most of them were in darkness;
for it was getting late, but here and there a shaft of golden light,
shining through a heart-shaped opening cut in the shutters, fell
athwart the cobbled roadway.  There was something subtly evil,
something _louche_, about the quarter.  From behind the barred and
bolted windows of one such shuttered house came strains of music, fast
and furious, endlessly repeated accompanied by the rhythmic stamp of a
Spanish dance and the smart click of castanettes.  Over the door a red
light glowed dully....

But presently we left the purlieus of the port and after passing a long
block of warehouses, black and forbidding, came upon a kind of township
of tumbledown wooden cabins on the outskirts of the city.  The stifling
air was now heavy with all manner of evil odours; and heaps of refuse,
dumped in the broken roadway, reeked in the hot night.  The houses were
the merest shanties, most of them in a dilapidated condition.

But the place swarmed with life.  Black faces grinned at the unglazed
casements; dark figures hurried to and fro; while from many cabins came
chattering voices raised high in laughter or dispute.  In the distance
a native drum throbbed incessantly.  To me it was like entering an
African village.  I knew we were in the negro quarter of the city.

Suddenly Doña Luisa stopped and when I was beside her said in a low
voice:--

"We'm mos' there!"--and struck off down a narrow lane.

Somewhere behind one of the shacks, in a full, mellow tenor, a man,
hidden by the night, was singing to the soft tinkling accompaniment of
a guitar.  He sang in Spanish and I caught a snatch of the haunting
refrain:--

  "_Se murio, y sobre su cara
  "Un panuelito le heche...._"


But the next moment the negress, after fumbling with a key, pushed me
through a big door and the rest of the song was lost in the slamming of
a great beam she fixed across it.  The door gave access to a little
square yard with adobe walls, an open shed along one side, a low shanty
along the other.  Doña Luisa pushed at a small wooden door in the wall
of the shanty.  Instantly a thin, quavering voice called out in
English:--

"Have you brought him?"

The woman murmured some inaudible reply and the voice went on:--

"Have you barred the door?  Then send him in!  And you, get out and
leave us alone!"

With a little resigned shrug of the shoulders the negress stepped back
into the yard and pushed me into the cabin.



CHAPTER II

IN WHICH A GENTLEMAN PAYS HIS DEBT

The first thing I saw on entering the room was my beach-comber.  For
the rushlight, which was the cabin's sole illuminant, stood on a
soap-box beside the couch on which the outcast lay.  Dressed in a
shrunken and dirty cotton suit, he was propped up against the rough mud
wall, a grimy and threadbare wrap thrown across his knees.  Despite the
awful stuffiness of the place, he shivered beneath this ragged
coverlet, although his face and chest glistened with perspiration.

Once upon a time, I judged as I measured him with my eye, he must have
been a fine figure of a man.  Though now coarse and bloated, with white
and flabby flesh, it would easily be seen that he was tall beyond the
ordinary with the narrow hips of the athlete.  His eyes were deeply
sunk in his head; and in them flickered wanly that strange, restless
light which one sees so often in the faces of those whom Death is soon
to claim.  Even amid the ravages which under-nourishment, drink and
drugs had made in his features, the influence of gentle birth might yet
be marked in the straight, firm pencilling of the eyebrows and the
well-shaped aquiline nose.  I thought the man looked dreadfully ill and
I noted about nose and mouth that pinched look which can never deceive.

The whole shack appeared to consist of the one room in which I found
myself.  It was pitiably bare.  A table on which stood some
unappetising remnants of food was set against the wall beneath the
unglazed window which faced the sick man's couch.  A broken stool and a
couple of soap-boxes, one furnished with a tin basin and a petrol can
of water, completed the furniture.

"There's a bar to go across the door," said a weak voice from the
corner where the sick man lay; "would you be good enough to put it
down?  I don't want us to be disturbed...."

He cast an apprehensive glance at the window.  I fitted the rough beam
across the door and approached the couch.  It was merely a bed of maize
stalks.

"You're very ill, I'm afraid," I said pulling over one of the boxes and
seating myself by the Englishman.  "Have you seen a doctor?"

The vagrant waved his hand in a deprecatory manner.

"My dear fellow," he said--and again I noted the refinement in his
voice,--"no sawbones can help _me_.  I never held with them much
anyway.  Luisa got paid to-day--she washes at Bard's, you know (it was
she who told me you were here)--and so I've got some medicine...."--he
touched a little pannikin which stood on the floor at his side--"it's
all that keeps me alive now that I can't get the 'snow!'"

I recognised the name which the drug traffic gives to cocaine.

The sick man was rent by a spasm of coughing.

"It's paradoxical," he gasped out presently, "but the more I take of my
life-giving elixir here the quicker the end will come.  All I live for
now, it seems to me, is to shorten as much as possible the intervals
between the bouts."

I've seen something in my time of the cynical resignation of your
chronic drunkard.  So I wasted no good advice on the poor devil, but
held my peace while he swallowed a mouthful from the pannikin at his
elbow.

"You went out of your way to do me a good turn once, Okewood," he said,
setting the vessel down and wiping his mouth on his soiled sleeve.  "I
know your name, you see.  I made some inquiries about you before they
ran me out of San Salvador.  You got a D.S.O. in the war, I think?"

"They gave away so many!" I said idiotically.  But that sort of remark
always engenders an idiotic reply.

"No, no," he insisted.  "Yours was one of the right ones, Okewood; I
can see that by looking at you.  You're the real type of British
officer.  And, although you may not think it to see me now, I know what
I'm talking about.  You fellows had your chance in the war and by Gad,
sir, some of you took it...."

I knew he was an army man and said so.

He nodded.

"Cavalry," he answered.  "You might be in the cavalry, too, by your
build!"

I told him I was a field-gunner--or used to be, and then I asked him
his name.

He smiled wanly at that.

"No names, no court-martials!" he quoted.

He drank from his pannikin again.

"Call me Adams!" he said.

There was a moment's silence.  The sick man moved restlessly on his
rustling couch and I heard his teeth rattle in his head.  Outside, the
pulsating life of the negro quarter shattered the brooding stillness of
the tropical night.  The sound of low, full-throated laughter, mingling
with the jangling of guitars, drifted up from the lane.

"Broken as a major," the sick man said abruptly.  "A bad business,
very.  Yes, they jailed me over it.  And when I came out it was to find
every man's hand against me.  It's been against me ever since!  Ah,
it's a bad thing to make an enemy of England!  When I think of the
humble pie I've eaten from some of these blasted counter-jumping
finnicking consuls of ours along this coast only to be thrown out of
doors at last by their Dago servants!  Once go down and out in England,
and God help you!  You'll never come back!  Ah! it's not your own folk
who'll lend you a hand then.  It's the humble people, like Luisa here
on whom I sponge, who keeps me, Okewood, who is proud to keep me...."

His voice quavered and broke.  Tears welled up in his sunken eyes.  One
hates to see a man break down, so I looked away.  And the beachcomber
went to his pannikin for solace.

"That day at the calaboose at San Salvador," he said presently, "I
wanted to tell you who I was.  Twenty-five years ago I buried my real
name.  But what you did for me.... well, it was a white thing to do.  I
wanted to say to you: 'Race tells, sir!  You have helped one of your
own breed and upbringing.'  It shall be written in our family records
that 'Such-a-one (meaning myself) of Blank in the County of So-and-So,
being in sore distress in the hands of the foreigner, was succoured by
the chivalrous intervention of Major Desmond Okewood.'"

He sighed, then added:--

"But I doubt if you would have understood my meaning!"

I found myself becoming extraordinarily interested in this grotesque
wastrel who, though sunk to the lowest depths a man may touch, managed
to cling so desperately to his pride of birth.

The outcast spoke again.

"I mustn't waste your time.  But it's so rare to find one of my own
world to talk to.  Listen to me, now!  You stood up for me at San
Salvador and in return....  You're not a rich man, Okewood?"

I laughed.

"I have to work for my living, Adams," I answered.

"Good, good!  Then you will appreciate the more the fortune I am going
to put in your way.  An Eldorado to make you rich beyond the dreams
of...."

He broke off, racked by a terrible fit of coughing.  The spasm left him
weak and gasping.

His talk about fortunes and the rest made me think he was a trifle
light-headed.  So I made to rise from my seat.

"You're talking too much," I said soothingly.  "I think I'll leave you
now and come back another day!"

But the beach-comber thrust out a hand--such a thin and wasted
hand!--and clutched my sleeve.  He could not speak for the moment, but
he cast me a despairing look eloquent in its appeal to me to stay.

"A fortune," he gasped out when his breath began to come back to him.
"I'll make you rich!  I want to show my gratitude to the man who knows
what is due to a.... a.... a gentleman!"

He fell back with livid face.  I raised his head and held the pannikin
to his lips.  It was half full of some terrible-looking, dark-brown
liquor.  He drank a little, then lay back with closed eyes.  He lay so
still that, with his sunken eyes and hollow cheeks, you might have
taken him for a corpse.

In a little while he was better and spoke again.

"Okewood," he said--and this time his voice was hardly above a whisper,
"I believe I know where treasure's hid.  For more than a year now I've
carried my secret round with me, for the chance to get back there,
waiting to find the partner I could trust.  And now Fate (with whom
I've quarrelled all my life) has played me a dirty trick to finish up.
I've found my partner when it's too late for me to share!"

He relapsed into silence again.  His head drooped and his eyes were
closed so that for the moment, I thought he had fainted.  But presently
he asked abruptly:--

"Have you ever heard of Cock Island?"

"Cock Island?" I repeated.  "No, I don't think so.  Where is it?"

"In the Pacific, about 400 miles out at sea.  Many months ago--the
summer after the Armistice it was--I was serving before the mast in a
Dutch schooner--the _Huis-ten-Bosch_, her name was.  I signed on at
Papeete to run to Callao with a cargo of copra.  The crew were all
Kanakas, natives, you know, except for one other man who signed on with
me--Dutchey, they called him.  We were on the beach together in
Tahiti...."

His fit of weakness seemed to have passed and his voice grew stronger
and his eyes brighter as he proceeded with his tale.

"Well, something went amiss with our fresh water supply," he went on,
"so we laid off at Cock Island to replenish our casks.  It was a jolly
little place--you know the sort of thing, all wavy coconut palms and
wooded peaks running up steeply from the fore-shore.  And, of course,
the very dickens of a surf bar.  The skipper sent me and Dutchey with a
gang of Kanakas to fill up with water.  We found a way in through the
bar and having landed, set the Kanakas to work to fill the casks at a
fine spring of water, cold and clear, which fell from the hillside.
Then Dutchey and I had a look round.

"I had asked our old man--the captain, you know--about Cock Island.  He
had told me that, according to the Sailing Directions, it was
uninhabited.  Therefore, as Dutchey and I were pushing our way through
the undergrowth to get to the high central upland, we were a bit taken
aback to come upon a grave in a clearing.

"It was a regular grave cut out of the rough grass with a mound and a
cross all shipshape and proper.  The cross, which was merely two bits
of stout deal lashed together with wire, was a bit weatherbeaten and
polished smooth by the sand blown against it.  It had no inscription.
Against the cross a small mirror was propped up, while in front of it
stood a bottle half embedded in the earth.  The bottle contained some
writing on a piece of folded oil-silk."

"We used to bury fellows that way in France," I remarked.  "One stuck
the name and particulars on a piece of paper and shoved it in a bottle
until they had time to put a cross up, don't you know?"

"I had no idea what this was," said the beach-comber, "the writing was
a fearful scrawl and rather faint at that.  I couldn't make head or
tail of it.  I just slipped it into my pocket, meaning to have a look
at it another time.  While I had been examining the grave, the fellow
with me, the man we called Dutchey, had been rooting about in the
clearing.  Presently he emerged from behind a bush with a whole
collection of junk which he laid on the ground at my feet.  There was
an old newspaper, a piece of dirty packing paper and a cigar-box.

"He was a queer chap, this Dutchey.  We never could quite make him out.
Personally, I thought he wasn't all there.  He spoke very rarely but,
when he opened his lips, he talked some kind of German-American double
Dutch.  He was very taciturn; the sort of man you know, who gives no
confidences and invites none.  That was really what attracted him to me
when we chummed up on the beach at Papeete.  We went through a rough
time there together, too!...."

The sick man broke off musingly.  Then the cough took him again and it
was some minutes before he resumed speaking.

"Dutchey laid all this junk out in front of me rather like a dog
bringing you a stick you've thrown it.  Then he said:--

"'Dat bunch o' toughs from San Salvador bin here!'

"Dutchey's conversational bursts generally opened enigmatically and I
knew from experience that it was no use interrupting him to ask for
enlightenment.  One could only hope it might come in due course.

"Dutchey lifted up the newspaper.

"'De _Heraldo_ of San Salvador of nineteen eighteen--you see de date
March Seventeen?'

"He raised up the piece of wrapping paper.

"'You savvy Jose Garcia's store at San Salvador?'

"(I should say I did, Okewood.  He was the swine that jugged me over
his rotten bill!)

"'Dis from Garcia's store!  You see de name printed on it?'

"Finally he picked up the cigar-box and opening it displayed a row of
mouldy cigars with a yellow band.

"'Black Pablo!' he said.

"'How do you mean, Dutchey?' I asked.

"'Dere ain't but the one man in San Salvador smoke dese ceegyars,' he
answered, 'and dat's Black Pablo.  Jose Garcia smuggles dem in express
for him.  Dis sure is fonny!'

"He broke into a fit of laughter, dribbling a good deal.

"'Dis um de l'il island!' he exclaimed and went off again.

"'But who is Black Pablo?' I demanded.  'Is he the head of this gang?'

"'Is he.... hell?' cried Dutchey.  'Dere ain't no one amounts to a row
o' beans since El Cojo come along.  Black Pablo, Neque, Mahon....
dere's not one of them dawg-gorn four-flushers dare open deir face when
El Cojo's round.  Dey shoot off deir mouth to me 'bout deir l'il
island.  Pretty goddam mysterious 'bout it, too.  No blab to Dutchey,
dey say.  El Cojo won't have it.  But Dutchey knows.  Blarst me
sowl....'

"Dutchey had a great flow of language.  And he let it rip as he told me
the way he meant to crow over El Cojo and his gang when he got back to
San Salvador."

Adams had warmed to his story and a little red had crept into his
cheeks.  He was an excellent _raconteur_ and he seemed to enjoy
reproducing the extraordinary lingo of his friend Dutchey.

"We rowed over to the ship again," he resumed, "and as soon as I had a
moment alone I had another look at the writing on the oilsilk.  But I
could make nothing of it.  I thought I'd keep it, though, just for
luck, so I strung it round my neck and forgot all about it until one
day in the calaboose at San Salvador I overheard a very curious
conversation.  Can you reach the pannikin?  Thanks!"

The outcast drank and wiped his mouth on the back of his dirty white
cuff.

"You know the way they lock one up in these Dago jails--all in a common
room together.  Well, a day or two after I got in I was sitting on the
floor with my back against the wall taking a bit of a siesta when
suddenly I heard the name 'Neque.'  I recollected at once that Dutchey
had spoken of 'Neque' as one of El Cojo's gang because once, years ago,
I had a Spanish pal whose nickname was 'Neque'--I used to play polo
with him in Madrid--and the name was familiar to me.

"I opened my eyes and saw two of the prisoners sitting on the floor
within a yard of me talking together in Spanish.  Everybody else was
asleep.  The one whom I discovered to be Neque was a young fellow of
about twenty-five, very slim and wiry.  His companion was a dark man
with a yellow face, a broken nose, and a patch over one eye.  I closed
my eyes quickly again and pretended to be asleep.

"'Such accursed luck!' the younger man said, 'five hundred thousand
dollars in gold and you and I will not be there to share it!'

"'_Caraco_!' replied the fat man, 'but who shall say it is there?'

"'Imbecile!' exclaimed Neque.  'I was with El Cojo when he examined the
Kanaka.  Did not this Kanaka sail in the ship which brought the
foreigner and the gold to Cock Island?  He was one of those, this
Kanaka, who survived the influenza sickness that swept the vessel.  He
told El Cojo--I, Neque, heard it with my own ears--how the foreigner
was landed alone with the gold, how he remained by himself on the
island for two days and how, when the Kanakas rowed in from the ship to
fetch him, they found him with death on his face--the mauve death, you
and I have seen it, per Dios, eh?  And the boxes of gold gone!  The
foreigner gave them a bottle with a writing in it, bidding them swear
that they would put it on his grave or he would haunt them.  Then he
died and the Kanakas buried him and having placed this object on the
grave as he had ordered, fled from the island in the ship!'

"The fat man spat.

"'Who shall believe a Kanaka?' he said contemptuously.

"'The foreigner was the only white man with these natives,' argued
Neque.  'They feared him and they did as he bade them lest his spirit
should torment them.  Besides the grave has been seen on the island
since....'

"At that the fat man woke up and became interested.

"'Never!' he exclaimed in astonishment.

"And then Neque told him of a conversation El Cojo had had with a 'mad
seaman,' in whom it was not difficult to recognise Dutchey, who had
landed with a companion from a Dutch schooner and had seen the grave
and on it a bottle.  The other man, the 'loco' (madman) had said, had
taken out of the bottle a piece of writing.

"'This other man,' questioned his companion.  'Who was he?'

"'An Inglez,' replied Neque, 'but the mad seaman did not know his name
and had not seen him since they had landed.'

"At that the fat man spat again.

"'Bah!' he said, 'these _locitos_ are cunning.  There was no _Inglez_.
The mad seaman has that writing which tells where the gold lies as sure
as men call me Black Pablo....'

"The name brought back to me Cock Island in a flash; I seemed to see
Dutchey, with his puzzled, woe-begone expression, holding a handful of
mouldy cigars, the cigars that Jose Garcia imported for Black Pablo.
And looking at the fellow with his single eye and his hideous twisted
nose I couldn't help feeling glad, my friend, that he doubted my
existence...."

The beach-comber stopped and looked at me.  Then he thrust a lean hand
inside the bosom of his ragged jacket.

"You've now heard the tale for what it's worth, Okewood," said he, "and
here's that dead man's message!  Take good care of it!  It may mean a
fortune for you!...."

He pulled out a greasy package which hung on a cord round his neck.  He
unfastened the cord and handed me a flat, narrow parcel.  I was going
to open it; but he stayed my hand.

"Not here," he enjoined in a low whisper.  Then, with a wistful smile,
he added:--

"I'm afraid it's a dangerous present I'm making you, old man!"

"Why do you say that?" I demanded.

The sick man turned his head and looked at the unglazed window
protected only by a pair of rough-carpentered wooden shutters.  In the
street outside someone was lightly thrumming a guitar.  Now and then
came the sound of soft laughter.  Otherwise the negro village had sunk
to rest.  All was still without and the plaintive chords resounded
distinctly through the hot night.

"A week after I was shipped from San Salvador," he said, "they found
Dutchey's body in the dock with a noose round his neck.  Poor old
Dutchey who never harmed anybody!  Listen!"

The rich, full-throated tenor voice, which I had heard as I was
following Doña Luisa through the negro quarter, suddenly burst into
song quite close at hand.  On a sad and plaintive melody it sang with a
liquid enunciation which made every chord distinct:--

  "_Se murio, y sobre su cara
  "Un panuelito le heche
  "For que no toque la tierra
  "Esa bocca que yo bese!_"


The beach-comber held up his hand as the melody died away on a minor
key.

"It is time for you to go!" he whispered.  "The door over there,
opposite the one by which you came in, leads to the yard at the back.
Cross the yard, take the path through the plantation, bear always to
the right and you will strike the main road to the docks.  Go as
quietly as you can and don't dawdle on the way....  Ah!"

Again the singer in the lane sent his plaintive melody soaring to the
stars.  He chanted his little verse through once more.  Feebly, the
sick man beat time with his hand.

"He's been singing on and off all the evening, Okewood," he murmured.
"Always the same song.  I Englished it while I was waiting for you.
Listen!"

In a soft, quavering voice he whispered rather than sang:--

  "_She died and on her face
  I laid a napkin fine
  Lest the cold earth should touch
  Those lips I pressed to mine...._"


"Ah!" he sighed as the song died away and silence fell on us once more;
"when the hour strikes for me, Okewood, there'll be no one, except,
maybe, old Mammie Luisa there, to lay a pretty thought like that in my
coffin!"

He held out his hand.

"Now go!" he bade me.  "And good luck go with you!"

I took his proffered hand.

"I will come again and see you, Adams," said I.  "I expect you'll want
to hear what I've made of the message!"

He was looking at me whimsically.

"No, Okewood," he said, shaking his head, "I'm thinking we shan't meet
again!"

I was thinking the same; for, in truth, the man looked at death's door.

The unseen singer had attacked another verse.

  "_Mir a si seria bella...._"

The opening words came resonantly to me as I quietly stole from the
room.  At the door I turned for a last look at the beachcomber.  The
candle was guttering away and its trembling light illuminated only the
pinched, worn features and the sombre, suffering eyes.  The grossness
of that broken body was mercifully swallowed up in the shadows.  To and
fro across the candle's feeble gleam the hands moved in cadence with
the song....



CHAPTER III

THE MESSAGE

I was loth to leave him.  What he had told me of the fate of his
friend, the man called Dutchey, made me feel a trifle apprehensive of
his own safety.  And I had had a kind of feeling that, for all his
apparent calm, he was frightened.  On looking back at my interview that
night with the beach-comber in his wretched shack, I realise there must
have been something unusually sweet about his personality.  Its flavour
seemed to linger; for I left him, as I have said, reluctantly, and I
have thought of him many times since.

The back door led straight into a kind of open shed which, from the
stove and stacked-up wood pile, I judged to be Doña Luisa's
cooking-place.  The shed gave on a dusty yard, small and narrow,
smelling horribly of poultry, with a high mud wall.  In this wall I
saw--for the moonlight made everything as bright as day--a wooden door.
On reaching it I found that it was locked.

For a moment I had a mind to go back to the front and home by the way I
had come.  But I felt doubtful as to whether I should be able to follow
in the opposite direction the intricate route by which Doña Luisa had
brought me, and I had no desire to be lost in the negro quarter at
night.  So without more ado I scaled the mud wall and, dropping to
earth on the other side, found myself in the plantation of which the
beach-comber had spoken.

Here I was alone with the noises of the tropical night.  Of human being
there was neither sound nor sign.  However, I had Adams's directions
firmly in my head; and by following them to the letter came back at
last without incident, but very hot and sticky, to John Bard's bungalow.

The verandah was empty, the house very quiet.  I looked at my watch.
It was half past eleven.  Bard had gone down to the club for his usual
evening rubber of bridge but I had excused myself for I had meant to
write letters.  I knew it would be at least an hour before Bard
returned; for he was a late bird.  So I went through to my room, had a
sponge down and changed into pyjamas and made my way to the living-room.

It was a delightfully airy apartment, one side, glazed, opening on to
the verandah, the other walls distempered a pale green.  There were
native mats on the floor and comfortable chairs stood about the room.
I went over to the writing desk in the corner, switched on the
reading-lamp and lit a cigar.  Then I pulled out of my pocket the
package which I had received from the beach-comber.

The outer covering was a piece of greasy flannel which looked as if it
had been torn off an old shirt.  With my knife I slit up the
stitches--it had been lightly tacked across with thread--and pulled out
a narrow pad of oilskin folded once across.  Spread out it made a piece
roughly about nine inches long by six wide.  Across it stood written
some lines hastily scribbled in indelible pencil.  The hand was crabbed
and irregular, the writing indistinct and, in some places, almost
completely effaced.  But I could distinguish enough to recognise that
both the hand and the words were German.

At this I felt my pulse quicken.  A faint instinct of the chase began
to stir in my blood.  For three long months I had dawdled deliriously;
for, in turning my face towards the sunshine of the New World, I had
deliberately turned my back on the thrills and disappointments, the
dangers and the _ennuis_ of the Secret Service.  This almost
undecipherable scrawl, with here and there a German word clearly
protruding itself (I could read "_Kiel_" and "_siehst Du_") and, above
all, the indelible pencil, in whose pale mauve character gallant young
men wrote the real history of the war, brought back to me with vivid
clearness, memorable moments of those half-forgotten campaigning days.
I fumbled in a drawer of the desk for Bard's big magnifying glass, drew
up my chair and set myself stolidly--as I had so often done in the
past!--to the deciphering of what is in all circumstances, easily the
most illegible handwriting in the world.

In truth, no writing is harder to read than the German.  In his
intercourse with the foreigner, the brother Boche, it is true, not
infrequently employs the Latin character.  But, for communications
among themselves, the Germans continue to use their own damnable
hieroglyphics.  I have often wondered to see how the most unintelligent
German will read off with ease a closely written scrawl of German
handwriting looking as though a spider, after taking an ink-bath, had
jazzed up and down the page.

This particular specimen of the Hun fist was a proper Chinese puzzle.
Where in places it was beginning to be decipherable, the heavy
indelible ink had run (under the influence of damp, I suppose) and
where the writing was not a mass of smears it was illegible in a degree
to make one despair.

Well, I got down to it properly.  My knowledge of German (which I know
about as well as English) was a great help.  Finally, with the
assistance of Bard's magnifying-glass, a deduction here and a guess
there, after nearly an hour's hard work, I produced what was, as nearly
as I could make it, an accurate version of the original.  My greatest
triumph lay, I think, in establishing the fact that an unusually
baffling row of cryptic signs at the bottom of the thing was, in
reality, four bars of music.

But when I had set it all down (on a sheet of John Bard's expensive
glazed note-paper), I scratched my head and, despite my aching eyes,
took another good look at the original.  For I could make no sense of
the writing at all.

The message (for such it seemed to be) was signed with the single
letter "U."  And this is what I got:--

      Mittag.  18/11/18.
  "Primmer', Simmer' viel
  "Die Garnison von Kiel
  "Mit Kompass dann am besten
  "Denk' an den Ordensfesten
  "Am Zuckerhut vorbei
  "Siehst Du die Lorelei
  "Und magst Du Schätzchen gern.

[Illustration: music fragment]


Blankly I stared at this doggerel.  Then I took down from the rack
another sheet of paper and jotted down a rough English translation:--

        Noon.  18/11/18.
  "Flash, flash much
  "The garrison of Kiel
  "Then with the compass is best
  "Think of the Feast of Orders
  "Past the Sugar-Loaf
  "You'll see the Lorelei
  "And if you desire the sweetheart.
                U."


Leaning back in my chair, I cast my mind over the strange tale I had
heard that night from Adams, the story, whispered in the fierce noonday
heat of the calaboose of San Salvador, of the ship which had brought
the solitary white man and his gold out of the Unknown to Cock Island,
of the Unknown's death and of the message he had left so oddly behind
him.  And, lest anyone should think that I was paying too much heed to
a rambling yarn told me at second-hand by a drunken outcast, a yarn,
moreover, based on a statement by a Kanaka deck-hand, let me say that
my whole training in the Intelligence had taught me never to reject any
statement, however improbable it sounded, until it had failed to
withstand an elaborate series of tests.  Indeed, the major satisfaction
of this poorly paid and sometimes dangerous profession of ours is the
rare delight of seeing emerge out of some seemingly impossible tale a
solid basis of fact.

And, behind the beach-comber's rambling story, there _were_ certain
solid facts which, from the moment of discovering that the message was
in German, I could not afford to neglect.  When William the Second
launched the world war like a big stone dropped in a pond, the ripples
reached to the uttermost ends of the earth.  In many a lonely island of
the Seven Seas there had been, I knew, mysterious comings and goings,
connected with gun-running, submarine work and dark conspiracies of all
kinds.  Did this scrap of stained oilsilk, picked off a lonely grave in
the Southern Seas, lead back to a secret adventure of this kind?  I
decided that it might.

I turned to the message again.  It was obviously written _by_ a German
and _for_ a German, it was fair to presume....  for some specific
German, furthermore, who would hold the key to the conventional code in
which this message was almost certainly written.  Consequently, the
solitary stranger of Cock Island had expected to meet a German on the
island, _ergo_, the island was a meeting-place, some secret rendezvous
of the busy German conspirators in the war.  This was borne out by the
remarkable evidence laid before Adams by Dutchey on their visit to Cock
Island to prove that some gang of desperadoes from San Salvador had
previously been there.  The names mentioned by Dutchey were undoubtedly
Spanish--Black Pablo and Neque, for instance--but there might have been
Germans with them.  El Cojo was also Spanish, to judge by the name; but
apparently he had put in an appearance later and had not visited the
island.

To what did the message refer?  What would the solitary German, with
the hand of Death at his throat, wish to tell the man whom he was to
have met?  Might it not be, as Adams had said, the whereabouts of the
gold, brought to the island by the Unknown, which, from the observation
of Adams' fellow prisoners at the calaboose, was apparently still on
the island?  Various geographical indications in the message--the
Sugar-Loaf, the Lorelei (the latter the well-known crag on the Rhine)
seemed to confirm this.

But the message had remained in its bottle on the grave until, months
later, Adams and Dutchey had found it.  It was, therefore, to be
presumed that the unknown German's friend, probably someone in El
Cojo's gang, had not kept the appointment.  Why?

I stared in perplexity at the dead man's scrawl.  Every one of my
deductions, I perceived all too clearly, led to a question to which I
was unable to supply an answer.  I began to regret that I had not read
the message at Adams' hut and cross-examined him on it before I left.
But I realised I should never have been able to decipher the scrawl by
the flickering light of the oil-lamp in the shack.  I resolved to go
down to the negro quarter and see Adams again in the morning.

I suddenly began to feel restless and rather unhappy.  I knew the
symptoms.  In me they always presage a burst of activity after a spell
of idleness.  This infernal riddle had altogether upset me.  I had no
desire to go to bed; the very idea of sleep was repugnant to me.

I measured myself out a "peg" of whisky and splashed the soda into it.
My eyes, roaming round the room, fell on the upright piano in the
corner.  I crossed to the instrument and opening the lid, put on the
music rest the little square of oilskin.  Then, summoning back to my
mind with an effort the hazy musical knowledge of my early school days,
with considerable deliberation I picked out on the piano the notes
indicated in the four bars of music appended to the end of the message.

I got the melody at once, or rather one movement of a melody which was
dimly familiar to me.  It fitted itself to no words or voice in my
mind; but as I hummed it over, a silly little jingle, I suddenly had a
mental picture of a cheap German dance-hall such as you find in the
northern part of Berlin, with a blaring orchestra and jostling couples
redolent of perspiration and beer.  I _knew_ the tune; but it was, I
thought, the words that were wanted to complete the dead man's message.
And they came not.

I was laboriously pounding the piano with one finger when I heard
Bard's heavy step on the verandah.  The next moment he came into the
room, a big figure of a man in a tussore silk suit with a panama hat.
Somehow the sight of him made me feel easier in my mind.  That sublime
sense of superiority, which we British suck in with our mother milk, is
a heartening thing when you find it in your fellow Britisher abroad,
thousands of miles from home.  And John Bard, though, with his small
pointed beard and rather pallid face, he looked like a Spaniard, was
through and through British.  Trader, merchant, financier and, on
occasion, statesman, his massive body bore scars which told of
thrilling years spent among the cannibals and head-hunters of the
Pacific islands.

But long years of exile had only served to make John Bard more
resolutely British.  An uncompromising bachelor, abstemious in his
habits and puritanical in his outlook, his mental attitude towards his
fellow-man in this tiny republic of the Spanish Main was exactly what
it would have been had he been a London suburbanite suddenly translated
from his native Brixton to these distant shores.  He was an eminently
common-sensible person who was generally reputed to run the miniature
republic of Rodriguez in which he had elected to settle down after his
adventurous life.

His unshakable phlegm lent him a reposeful air which I believe was the
first thing that drew me to him when, a few months before, for the
first time for many years, I had met him again in a New York hotel.
Six months' leave, unexpectedly offered, found me at a loose end and I
gladly accepted his invitation to travel down by one of his ships and
visit him in his Central American home.  His cheery self-possession, as
he stepped through the open doors of the verandah, seemed to put to
flight the unpleasant shape which my mind's eye had seen rising from
the little piece of oilsilk.

Bard crossed the room without speaking and filled himself a glass of
soda-water from a syphon on the side-table.  He tossed his soft panama
hat on a chair and brushed back his closely cut crop of iron-grey hair
from his temples.  With his glass in his hand he dropped into a seat at
my side.

"There's a yacht in the harbour," he said.  "That's what made me late.
She's called for some stuff they've got waiting for her at the
Consulate.  Fordwich--that's the Consul, you know--is down with a go of
fever so I went round with his clerk to see about this consignment.
Whew!  But it's warm walking!"

"What's the yacht?" I asked.

"Name of _Naomi_.  She's come through the Canal".... "the Canal" in
these parts is, of course, the Panama Canal.... "and is going across to
Hawaii, I believe!"

He yawned and stretched his big frame.  He drained his glass and stood
up.

"Heigho," he said, "it's after two.  I'm for bed!"

Now between John Bard and me exists that sort of uncommunicative
friendship which is often found between two men who have knocked about
the world a good deal.  Though I could tell by Bard's elaborate
affection of nonchalance that he noticed I was preoccupied, I knew he
would never demand the cause of this.  If I wanted his advice I should
have to ask for it.

"John," said I, "just a minute.  Who's El Cojo?"

I pronounced it in the English fashion but Bard gave the word its
rasping Spanish aspirate as he repeated it.

"El Cojo?" he queried.  "That's a nickname, isn't it?  What is he?  A
bull-fighter, or a cigar?"

"I gather," I remarked, "that he's a gentleman of fortune!"

Bard laughed.

"The production of that type is an old industry in these parts, my
boy," he riposted.  "And even _I_ don't know 'em all.  I never heard of
your pal.  Is he a citizen of this illustrious republic?"

I shook my head.

"I haven't an idea," I answered.  "I only know that a man called Black
Pablo is mixed up with him...."

John Bard whistled softly.

"'_Dime con quien andas, decirte de quien eres_,'" he quoted.  "That is
to say, tell me whom you go with and I'll tell you who you are.  If
your pal is a friend of Black Pablo then he's 'no freend o' mine'!"

"Why?"

"Because," said John Bard slowly, and I noticed that his mocking air
had altogether disappeared, "because Black Pablo is the greatest
scoundrel on this coast.... and that's going some!  During the war,
when, after a good deal of pressure, our most illustrious President
ultimately kicked out Schwanz, the German Consul, Black Pablo became
Germany's unofficial agent.  He was mixed up with running guns for the
Mexicans to annoy the Yanks, and supplies for the Hun commerce raiders
to worry the British and every other kind of dirty work.  As long as he
was merely a smuggler, a cut-throat and a hired assassin, as he was
before the war....  Bien!  I had nothing to say to him.  But when the
fellow had the blasted impudence to come butting into our war on the
wrong side, by George! one had to do something.  The Americans were
devilish decent about it, I must say, and, with their support, we ran
the skunk out of here P.D.Q.  That was around January, 1918, and I have
never heard of our friend since.  But I'll give you a word of advice,
young fellow my lad.  If you come across Black Pablo, give him a wide
berth.  And mind his left!  He keeps his knife in that sleeve!"

I pointed at the open cigar-box.

"Light up, John Bard," said I, "for I want to tell you a story and get
your advice!"

So, while, in the garden, trees and bushes stirred lazily to a little
breeze before dawn, I told him, as briefly as might be, the story I had
heard from Adams.  My host never once interrupted me but sat and smoked
in silence till my tale was done.  Even after I had finished he
remained silent for a spell.

At length he said musingly:--

"Cock Island, eh?  Yes, it surely would be a good spot for a quiet
rendezvous."

"You know it then?" I asked eagerly.

"Aye," he averred.  "I know it by name.  But I was never there.  It
lies off the beaten trade routes, you see.  But I remember hearing once
that it had been a port of call for some of the old buccaneers like
Kidd and Roberts who plied their trade in these parts.  And so you
think there's German gold hidden there, eh?"

"This"--I held up the fragment of oilsilk--"looks as if it might answer
that question.  If only one could read it," I said.  And I spread it
out before him.  We put our heads together, under the lamp, while I
read out my rough translation.  Then Bard, shrugging his shoulders,
leaned back in his chair and blew out a cloud of smoke.

"What are you going to do about it, Desmond?"

"Well," I said slowly, "if there were any sort of certainty about it
not being absolutely a wild goose chase...."

"You'd go after it, eh?"

"It'd be a devilish amusing way of finishing up my leave."

John Bard smiled indulgently.

"It might be more exciting than amusing," he said, "if Black Pablo has
anything to do with this affair."

"Do you think there is anything in it?" I asked.

"In the latter stages of the war," my host replied, "I heard vague
rumours about some island off the coast where German commerce-raiders
used to rendezvous for supplies.  But I never heard this island named.
It seems to me that the first thing to be done is to see your friend,
Adams, again.  After all, he's been to the island.  He might be able to
tell us more about it.  Besides...."

He broke off and flicked the ash from his cigar.  His manner had
suddenly become rather grave.

"Besides what?" I demanded.

"If Black Pablo and his friends are after that plan or whatever it is,
Adams is in pretty considerable danger."

"He knows it himself, I believe," I replied.  "I didn't like leaving
him to-night, and that's a fact.  He seemed to be frightened about
something.  There was a man in the lane outside the hut who was singing
and...."

"A man singing?" Bard queried sharply.

"Yes, to a guitar," I answered, surprised by his tone.  "He sang very
well, too!"

John Bard rose to his feet suddenly.  He stepped to the verandah and
held up his hand for silence.

"Were you followed when you came back from Adams's?" he asked me.

"No, not as far as I know."

Bard was listening intently.  All was quiet in the gardens below, save
for the murmurings of the sea breeze in the palms.

"Get into your clothes and come along, Okewood," he said, turning away
from the window.  "And leave that damned plan behind."

"Why, what...."

"Hurry, man, or we shall be too late."

"But, damn it, John, explain!" I cried in exasperation.

"Black Pablo is renowned all along the coast for his exquisite singing
to the guitar.  Be quick, be quick, old man, and don't forget your
gun!...."



CHAPTER IV

A FOOTSTEP IN THE LANE

The moon had paled and a greyness in the sky, as we hurried down the
hill, betokened the approach of day.  At length the city had sunk to
rest; the port slumbered and in the red light quarter behind the docks
the laughter and the guitars were stilled.  How through that maze of
mean streets and lanes I found the way back to Doña Luisa's cabin I
don't know; but I expect that a kind of instinct for marking a route
once traversed, which, with me, is inborn, stood me in good stead.

The negro quarter was wrapped in silence.  The swift rustling of a rat,
a distant cock-crow from the sleeping city, were the only sounds to
break the stillness of the night.  At length we reached the narrow lane
in which the shanty stood.  It was almost dark; for the moon had gone
in behind a bank of clouds and the day was not yet come.

The big wooden door stood wide.  Across the little yard dimly we saw
the dark outline of the shack.  The mud surface of the court was wet
and sticky and my rubber-soled shoes slipped on it as we crossed the
threshold of the enclosure.  John Bard touched my arm.

"Man alive," he whispered, "look at your shoes!"

I did as I was bid and recoiled in horror.  The white buckskin was
deeply smeared with crimson.

We dashed across the yard.  The shanty door stood open.

Within, amid a scene of hideous confusion, the body of the beach-comber
hung head downwards from the rough couch, the throat cut from ear to
ear.  And behind the door in another welter of blood lay the corpse of
Doña Luisa.

The place was a shambles.  The hut had been turned upside-down and the
few poor belongings of the outcast were scattered all over the floor.
The very maize cane on which his dead body lay had been tossed about.
And the blood was smeared everywhere as though the murderer or
murderers had brought it in on their boots.

John Bard's face was anxious.

"We'll do well to clear out of here," he said, "before it gets light.
They mustn't find us here.  Let's go out by the back and return by the
way you came...."

I gladly acquiesced in his suggestion.  To tell the truth, I was
feeling a little sick.  The fetid odours of the negro quarter reeked to
heaven in the freshening morning air, and mingled with them was a
suspicion of some unutterably horrid taint arising from the two corpses
which had lain there all through the warm night.

We had reached the threshold of the back door when suddenly a heavy
footstep sounded from the front.  In the absolute stillness all round
the sound rang out clearly.  It was as though a heavy man were stumping
slowly across the hard pounded earth of the front yard.  He came with a
step and a stump, a step and a stump, like a lame man walking with a
stick or crutches.

John Bard made as though to bolt.  But I restrained him.  I felt I must
see this mysterious visitant.  And John Bard, loyal friend as he is,
though he had nothing to gain by my rashness, stopped dead in his
tracks and with me drew behind the cover of the back door.  Through the
chink between the door and jamb we surveyed the entrance to the shack.

A huge black shape stood on the threshold.  It was too dark within the
hut to note the newcomer's features or his dress.  One had only the
sensation of a great form that bulked largely, immensely, in the
doorway.

I turned noiselessly to Bard.  He divined the unspoken proposal on my
lips for he shook his head curtly and his grip on my sleeve tightened.
At the same moment the great form in the doorway moved and the next
instant was swallowed up in the shadows of the courtyard.  We heard the
clip-clop of his limping step as he crossed the enclosure and, little
by little, die away as he stumped up the lane.

"Smear some earth over your shoes!"

John Bard was speaking to me.  Blindly I did as he bade me and rubbed
dust over the damp, dark stains on the white buckskin.  Then gripping
me by the arm my friend ran me through the backyard and out by the door
which now stood open.

In the freshness of the plantation, away from the stenches of the
village and the nameless taint of that house of slaughter, my senses
came back to me and I felt ashamed of he rashness which might have had
disastrous consequences for both of us.  But, when at length we stood
once more in the bungalow and Bard poured me out a stiff dose of
brandy, I noticed that, contrary to his invariable rule, he had one
himself as well.

"And now," said he, and in his voice was a note of decision, "the
sooner you leave Rodriguez, Desmond, the better for you.  I don't want
to appear inhospitable or I might add, the better for me too.  That
poor devil, Adams, is dead and you can do nothing for him by staying.
You are sufficiently acquainted, I take it, with the mentality of my
distinguished fellow-citizens to realise that very little fuss will be
made over the untimely demise of Adams and his coloured lady.  In the
meantime you are in the greatest danger here.

"I don't see why I should worry," I argued.  "If they had known of my
visit to Adams they would have raided the hut and butchered the three
of us to get hold of the document.  But they didn't; and they don't
even know me by sight...."

"They evidently didn't know of your visit _at the time_," remarked John
Bard gravely.  "But obviously something happened after your departure
to put them wise.  Hence the attack on the house.  You were either seen
going to the house or Doña Luisa gave you away.  It looks to me as
though they had only just traced the document to Adams.  Black Pablo
was set to watch but, after the happy-go-lucky fashion of Latin
America, he whiled away the time by serenading some of the dusky belles
in the vicinity and failed to observe your arrival."

I recalled the soft laughter I had heard, mingling with the strains of
the guitar in the lane, and nodded.

"You think that this fellow Black Pablo was put on guard to see that
Adams did not leave the house?...."

"Precisely," agreed my friend, "while El Cojo was sent for.

"El Cojo, the head of the gang?"

"Himself and no other.... the lame man who came to the door of the
shack after the crime had been committed.  In Spanish 'El Cojo' means
'the lame man,' 'he who goes with a limp'...."

John Bard went on talking but I have no recollection of what he said.
For my thoughts had flown back to another "lame man" who had dominated
the most thrilling episode in the whole of my life, the giant and
ape-like cripple, head of the Kaiser's personal Secret Service in the
days of Germany's greatness, who had dogged my brother Francis and
myself until he had met his end at our hands in the château on the
German-Dutch frontier.  Old Clubfoot, as men called him in his heyday,
had been in his grave these four years past; yet once again I found the
path of adventure barred at its outset by a great lame man.  I thought
of that huge figure blocking up the narrow doorway of the reeking hut
and, as so often in the past, I felt welling up within me admiration
for the extraordinary ingenuity of old man Destiny....

"....This gang of El Cojo's," John Bard was saying impressively,
leaning across the table at me, hands palms downwards before him, "is a
tremendous organisation with a network of spies as widespread and
efficient as the Camorra and Mafia in Italy or the Carbonados in
Portugal and Brazil.  I have long suspected that there was at the head
of it a man much bigger and abler than that murdering ruffian, Black
Pablo, and now we have the proof of it.  I know a bit about men,
Desmond and that hulking dot-and-carry-one scoundrel we saw to-night
gives me a damned unpleasant feeling.  You mark my words; whether you
were actually spotted or not they'll trace that plan to you and if you
stay here, they'll get you!  And I _know_!"

He appeared to reflect for a moment whilst I considered him with
attention; for I had never before seen old John so worked up.  But
there is nothing like the Unknown for getting on a fellow's nerves.

Then he drove his fist into his palm as if a sudden idea had struck him.

"The _Naomi_," he said; "the very thing for you!"

"The _Naomi_?" I repeated.

"Yes.  The yacht that came in last evening.  She's going down to
Honolulu.  We ought to be able to fix it for you so they'll take you
with them...."

"What is this yacht?" I asked.

"She belongs to Sir Alexander Garth.  By George!  She's a beauty,
Desmond!  White paint and a gold line, green and white deck awnings,
everything slap up.  He's a millionaire, they say!"

"I don't know the name."

"We looked him up in the 'Who's Who' at the club to-night.  He's a
baronet, and a big man in cotton.  J.P. and D.L. of the county.  What
brings him here I don't know, except that cruising to the Southern Seas
seems to be a fashionable rest-cure for millionaires whose nerves have
been jaded by piling up money during the war."

"But, see here, John," I expostulated, "I can't go butting into a
private pleasure cruise like this, I really can't.  It isn't done, you
know!  And you can't expect these prosaic English folk to swallow a
long yarn about my life being in danger!"

"Desmond," said Bard--and now his voice was very stern.  "You can take
it from me that if you don't clear out at once, you'll get your throat
cut and probably mine into the bargain.  There won't be a steamer for
Colon for at least a fortnight.  This yacht is a heaven-sent
opportunity for making you lucky.  If you wait for the steamer it's a
ten to one chance you'll go up the gangway in your coffin neatly packed
in ice!  Do you get that?  For the Lord's sake, burn that damned
rigmarole and beat it!"

We Celts have a broad strain of contrariness in our nature which
probably accounts for my strong inclination to disregard Bard's advice.
But his manner was so impressive for one of his unemotional disposition
that I could not but feel convinced.

"Perhaps you're right, old man," I said.  "I won't burn the 'rigmarole'
as you call it, but otherwise I will follow your suggestion.  But it
will be on one condition and one condition only.  That is, that we part
here and now and that, should by any chance, your plan for my forcing
my company upon the excellent cotton-spinner and his party fail, you
will not associate with me or in any way acknowledge me as long as I am
in the city...."

I held out my hand.  But Bard laughed and put his two hands on my
shoulders.

"No, no," he protested, "it's not so bad as all that.  I'm coming down
to the harbour to fix it up with Garth for you.  He will probably call
at the Consulate this morning any way to fetch the stores we are
holding for him."

"John," said I, "I've dragged you far enough into this mess.  It's
early enough yet for me to go down to the harbour and on to that yacht
without attracting much attention.  So let's part here and ever so many
thanks again for all your kindness...."

"Desmond,"--John Bard's voice trembled a little--"I wouldn't hear of
it...."

"My dear old man," I said.  "I'm in a proper mess and I've no intention
of pulling you into it after me.  And I'd like to say one thing more.
You might have rubbed it in that the whole of this trouble was brought
on us by my initial folly in accompanying an unknown messenger to the
purlieus of the city in the middle of the night.  You have never
alluded to it; but I'd like you to know that your forbearance did not
escape me...."

I stretched forth my hand again.  This time John Bard took it.

"I'll send your things down to the Consulate," he said; "they can go on
board with Garth's stores."

And so, in perfect understanding, we settled it.  At the verandah door
I turned and said:--

"And do you think now that there's anything in Adams' story?"

"Yes," my host replied, "I do!"

Then he added, with his little indulgent smile:--

"Are you going after it?"

I shrugged my shoulders.

"I might!" said I.

But already fermenting in my brain was the germ of a great idea.  The
next moment the iron gate of the gardens clanged behind me and I was
off at a good pace down the hill.



CHAPTER V

THE GIRL IN THE SMOKE-ROOM

The sun was up; but the air was still delightfully fresh and the
verdure yet glistened with the heavy night dews.  Beyond the fringe of
wavy palms which marked the shore the sea glittered and sparkled, its
deep blue melting to a paler shade where on the horizon sea mingled
with sky.  Past the tangle of white and yellow houses where the city
stood, a creamy dead-white edging of foam, like ermine laid on an azure
mantle, marked the intricate windings of the coast until once more
ocean, shore and sky imperceptibly blended in the glorious blue.

It was a morning on which one was glad to be alive.  The champagne-like
quality of the air sent a zest for action thrilling through my veins.
The world seemed very fair and, as I crossed the market-place, I paused
an instant to gaze with utter satisfaction on that brilliant mass of
colour, the scarlet umbrellas of the stalls, the country-women with
their heads enveloped in kerchiefs of flaming hues, the bold reds and
greens and yellows of the masses of fruit and vegetables set forth in
magnificent profusion for sale.

I felt that I was standing on the threshold of a great adventure.  The
strain of romance which Celtic blood bestows leaped to answer its
appeal.  In my head ran the mysterious jingle in which, as I was now
convinced, a treasure lay concealed.  So engrossed was I with my
thoughts that, on mounting the broad flight of steps which led to the
long, cool verandah of the British Consulate, I collided violently with
a man who was coming out.

He was a short, stocky fellow, enormously strongly built, so massive in
bulk, indeed, that one might almost say of him that he was as broad as
he was long.  His clean-shaven face, big and smooth and freckled, was
tanned a deep brick-red and, especially about the good-natured, firm
mouth, was lined with innumerable creases.  The hair visible beneath
his rather battered yachting-cap was close-cropped and a flaming red
tint and his tufted eyebrows were of the same shade.  A pair of brave
and honest eyes shone very bluely out of his sunburnt face.  He was
wearing a clean but somewhat creased suit of white drill and in his
hand he carried a sheaf of papers.

The mere sight of him carried me straight away back to Southsea or
Plymouth or one of those queer steep little towns of the Isle of Wight
where so many masters of our merchant marine have their homes.  From
the crown of his head to the sole of his foot he was British, a type
that, I imagine, has scarcely changed through the ages.

"Sorry!" he said, as though realising that in the impact it could only
be my less substantial frame which could suffer, and, taking a step
back, scrutinised me.

"My fault!" said I, rubbing my head, for I felt as if I had butted it
against a stone wall.

"If you're going to see the Consul," said the big man--and in his
speech was a pleasant touch of the Hampshire burr--"you'll not find
him.  And the Vice-Consul's not in, either!  He don't come to the
office before 9 o'clock; leastwise that's what I figured out the Dago
within was tryin' to tell me!  They don't overwork in the Government
offices!"

With the perfect complacency of the Britisher he addressed me in
English, probably assuming, were I a foreigner, that I would understand
him.

He stood on the steps and mopped his brow.

"I wonder whether you could tell me," I said, "where the steam yacht
_Naomi_ is lying?"

The big man smiled and crinkled his face into a thousand fresh creases.

"Aye," he replied.  "That I can!  She's lying about a hundred yards off
the Customs House jetty--a white craft flying the Thames Yacht Club
burgee.  You can't mistake her!  Do you know anybody aboard?"

"Not exactly," said I.  "But I wanted to call on Sir Alexander Garth,
the owner."

"Then you come right along with me," placidly observed the big man.
"I'm captain of the _Naomi_--I sail her for Sir Alexander.  I've got
our mail here and I'm going straight back on board.  I left the launch
at the steps!  And, by the way, my name is Lawless--Harvey Lawless...."

"I should be delighted to come with you," I replied.  "My name is
Okewood!"

We turned our backs on the Consulate and crossing the Cathedral Square,
followed a shabby, grass-grown street which rejoiced in the grandiose
name of the Avenida de la Liberacion.  As we strolled along in the
shade Captain Lawless entertained me to some of his ideas on the
shortcomings of the Central American republics and, in particular, of
the State whose hospitality we were then enjoying.  But with becoming
reticence he did not question me as to the object of my desire to call
upon his employer nor, on the other hand, did he volunteer any
information about that gentleman or his friends.

Presently we emerged into a great white square on the sea, a place of
blinding glare and whirling dust.  Here at the foot of some white stone
steps a trim motor launch was heaving to and fro in the bright green
swell under the silent gaze of a knot of loafers.  Two men were in the
launch, one wearing a white jersey with "S.Y. _Naomi_" embroidered in
blue and a round sailor's cap with the yacht's name on the ribbon.  The
other was in a blue suit and wore a yachting cap.

"You'll want to bring the launch back in a couple of hours' time,
Parsons," said the captain, addressing the man in the yachting cap.
"The Vice-Consul won't be there till then.  You'll have to get a move
on him about those fittings.  Mr. Mackay will not be very pleased, I'm
thinking!  He expected me to bring 'em back with me."

I stood a little to one side during the brief dialogue which ensued and
feasted my eyes on the picturesque scene.  Viewed from the water the
city presented a beautiful spectacle.  The houses rose in tiers amid
masses of greenery which rested the eye from the pitiless glare of the
sea.  In the distance I noted the pleasant green hill where the long
low line of John Bard's bungalow was just discernible among the trees.
The square in which we stood was in itself a wonderful picture with its
great white warehouses, public buildings and the like built over deep
high arcades where with shrill cries newspaper boys and boot-blacks
plied their trade and lemonade sellers and beggars drowsed in the cool
shadows.

The little knot of spectators fringing the quayside were as picturesque
a bunch of picaroons as I have ever set eyes on.  Their complexions ran
through the whole series of shades from light coffee to Brunswick
black.  Their attire was as varied as their colour; but for the most
part it consisted in a ragged panama hat, a dirty vest and a pair of
thin striped cotton trousers.

I noticed one unusually striking figure, a stunted negro with a
pock-marked face who wore a gaudy yellow handkerchief bound about his
head and heavy gold rings in his ears.  I observed this sportsman
looking hard at me, and was a little nonplussed to see him ostensibly
draw the attention of the man at his side to my appearance.  The
negro's companion was a swarthy lissom young fellow with handsome
features and a pair of bold black eyes.  The negro nudged him and broke
into a torrent of words.  I was not near enough to make out what was
said (and, if I had been, I doubt if I should have understood their
rapidly-spoken lingo).  But I felt tolerably certain that the black man
was speaking about me; for twice he nodded his head in my direction.
The upshot of it was that the swarthy young man turned and--a
remarkable thing in this indolent population--sprinted hard away in the
direction of the city.

I must say I felt disquietened.  Since I had left John Bard's house
that morning, I had kept a careful watch to see if I were followed.
But no one had appeared to take any notice of me whatsoever and I felt
reasonably sure that I was not shadowed.  But now it distinctly looked
as though I had been recognised.  And in that moment, I believe, there
hardened into determination in my mind the great resolve which had come
into my head as I was taking leave of John Bard.

But the captain was summoning me to step into the launch.  I dropped
in, he followed, and in a moment we were "teuf-teufing" through the
rolling green swell of the harbour towards the long and graceful shape
of the _Naomi_ as she tugged at her moorings over against the battered
white bulk of the Customs House.  It was with feelings of profound
satisfaction that I saw the square with its fringe of loafers, the
white houses and the tufted palms recede as the natty little boat
cleaved a foaming path through the green water.  I had got clear away.
It was up to me to secure for myself an invitation to join the party on
Sir Alexander Garth's yacht.

She was a beautiful craft, with a good turn of speed, to judge by her
design.  As we drew nearer, I could see, by the many evidences of
comfort displayed, that her owner must be a man of wealth.  The snowy
decks, the burnished brass and copper fittings, the clean, well
turned-out sailors who were busy on the deck beneath the striped
sun-awnings, the neat gangway let down over the side with its clean
white hand-rope--the whole impression given was one of luxury
regardless of cost.  As we turned to run alongside, I found myself
wondering what manner of man this Sir Alexander Garth was.  Was he a
wealthy industrialist of pre-war England or merely one of the new rich?
If the latter he would be less easy to handle than the former, I
reflected; besides, I reckoned, a war profiteer would not wear well on
a long cruise to the South Seas!  The next moment I stood on the deck
of the _Naomi_ in the modulated light which penetrated through the
green-and-white awning.

The captain bade the man he had addressed as Parsons, whom I found to
be the head steward, take me to the smoke-room while he asked "Sir
Alexander" if he would receive me.  Treading almost noiselessly on his
rubber soles the steward led me along the deck to the back of the
bridge where a door hooked back revealed a glimpse of a long
low-ceilinged saloon set about with comfortable settees and club chairs
in soft green Morocco leather, the portholes screened against the
blinding light from without.

Even below the awning the light outside was so much stronger than the
comparative obscurity within the smoke-room that at first I could not
distinguish much.  Parsons left me at the door and I was about to sit
down when I discovered to my surprise that I was not alone.  At a desk
set in one of the two recesses which flanked the doorway a girl was
sitting.  She was dressed in a plain white silk tennis shirt and white
piqué skirt and her panama hat lay on a chair by her side.  She was
writing letters.  In the stillness of the room I could hear her pen
scratching across the paper.  So engrossed was she in her writing that
she did not turn round.

I felt a little embarrassed.  I felt it would be too farcical to cough
mildly, in the manner of a stage comedian, in order to announce my
presence; while, on the other hand, to make some violent noise like
dropping on the floor one of the books which were lying around might, I
conceived, unduly frighten the young lady.  So I sat where I was,
enjoying the pleasant half-light of the room after the heat and glitter
outside, and amused myself by guessing at the appearance of the
stranger from her back.

She had beautiful hair of a glossy golden brown, "bobbed" after the
modern fashion, but so exquisitely brushed and tended that I decided
she must have a good maid.  Her figure was admirable, her neck very
white and slender and matchless in the grace of its poise as she
inclined her head to the paper.  Her clothes, simple as they were, were
faultless both in their cut and the way she wore them.  I suppose there
are fashions in a tennis blouse and skirt the same as there are in
other kinds of women's clothes.  At any rate, there was a flawless
_chic_ about this girl's appearance which told me that she was
Paris-clad.

Presently the scratching of the pen stopped.  A white hand stole up and
patted the golden brown hair.

Then some intuitive sense told me that the girl knew there was someone
in the room.  It was as though our two minds communed in that still,
cool place.  At the same moment she swung round on her chair and,
seeing me, rose abruptly to her feet.

As she confronted me I realised that I must have divined her beauty;
for it came as no surprise to me to find her extremely good-looking.  I
have met many women in my time and, as is not uncommon in my
profession, many were of the "charmer" order.

But the girl who stood facing me, a little perturbed, somewhat
nonplussed by the unexpected apparition, had an indefinite quality of
beauty which would have made her remarkable in any society.  A
beautifully shaped head, an oval face, delicately pencilled eyebrows
throwing into relief the large grey eyes, a fine white skin and
unusually good teeth--all these attributes of beauty she possessed.
But with them went a curiously strong attraction, some quality of
magnetism, which, to speak quite personally, made me want to see her
radiantly happy, to conjure up a smile which I felt must be unusually
sweet.

"Oh," she exclaimed and blushed very prettily, "I didn't hear you come
in.  How do you do?  I am Marjorie Garth.  Does Daddy know you're here?"

With the _empressement_ of the exiled Briton, to whom the vision of a
fresh young English girl is as the first violets of spring or the
fragrance of the forest after summer rain, I took the slim, cool hand
she offered me.

"The steward," I said, "has gone to tell him!"

"I'm afraid," she went on, scrutinising me dispassionately after the
manner of the modern young girl, "that you're in for a very slow time.
There's nobody but just Daddy and me.  Of course, that was the idea of
this cruise.  Daddy overworked terribly in the war and the doctors told
him he'd never get his nerves right unless he dropped business
absolutely for a whole year."

I wondered how she had divined the nature of my mission to her father.
Perhaps the captain had jumped to conclusions and had imparted them to
her.  But her next remark puzzled me horribly.

"Of course, I'm perfectly fit," she observed, and smiled with a glint
of white teeth.  "But Daddy is very difficult to handle.  He has cables
sent to him at every port, and when we're in harbour his cabin looks
like his office at the Manchester Cotton Exchange.  You'll have to be
very severe with him about it...."

"I don't know really," I replied, very puzzled, "whether I should feel
justified...."

"Oh," laughed the girl, "that's no way to handle Daddy.  He's from the
North, remember!  He made his money by knowing when to say 'No'; at
least, that's what he says.  And _you'll_ have to say 'No' to him.  And
to me, as well.  I'm like Daddy.  I adore having my own way.  And I
usually get it...."

"That I'm fully prepared to believe!" I answered, and we both laughed.
It was as though we were old friends.  Then, growing serious on a
sudden, the girl very deliberately started rolling up the left sleeve
of her blouse.  I gazed at her in bewilderment.  What was coming now?
I asked myself.  With the utmost composure she unbared to the shoulder
a firm, round and very white arm.

"Don't give me away to Daddy," she observed confidentially.  "But my
idiotic French maid burnt my arm the day before yesterday with the
electric tongs and it's rather sore.  I wish you would just have a look
at it.  I haven't said a word to Daddy, for, if he knew, he would
insist on dismissing Yvonne.  Would you mind....?"

She extended her left arm to me whilst I, like an idiot, blushed
furiously in my embarrassment and vainly cudgelled my brains to
discover who this charming girl thought I was.  And why the devil
should I look at the burn on her arm?

A calm voice at the doorway delivered me from my dilemma.

"Sir Alexander will see you, sir!"

The steward, Parsons, was there.  Marjorie Garth pulled her sleeve down.

"Don't keep Daddy waiting!" she warned, and added: "You shall dress my
arm afterwards!"

I said "Oh, _rather_!" or something equally idiotic and followed the
steward out.  As I passed the girl, she leant forward and whispered;

"Mind you stand up to him!"

As we crossed the blinding sunshine of the deck and went down a
companion-way Parsons confided to me that the owner was at breakfast.
My heart sank rather.  It is poor tactics to ask a man for favours
before noon.

The saloon, which was panelled in some light-coloured wood, maple or
birch, resembled, with its little domed sky-light, the restaurant of a
liner in miniature.  It was a small, snug little place with
rose-coloured silk curtains and carpet and a profusion of silver and
flowers.  At the far end was a door which, I imagined, led to the
cabins.

At the sound of my entrance Sir Alexander Garth looked up from his egg.
As he stood up to greet me, I saw he was a tall, heavily-built man in
the fifties with a heavy iron-grey moustache.  He had about him an air
I have noticed in other prosperous business people--a sort of "moneyed
manner" which reveals itself in a great deal of self-confidence with
just a touch of parade.  The hard grey eyes and the firm chin denoted
the man of action; but the physiognomist in me (which my work has
considerably developed) took mental stock of the arched nostril and the
downward dip to the corners of the mouth which are the unmistakable
signals of a violent temper.

These and other little details I noticed about him as we shook hands
and he asked me if I had breakfasted.  And because I was really pretty
peckish and because I believe one can always do business best over a
meal, I accepted his invitation and started in on a luscious
grape-fruit.  When he had poured out my coffee, pushed the toast-rack
at me and generally put me at my ease, Sir Alexander Garth, who had
been scrutinising me rather closely, remarked:

"I should never have taken you for a doctor!"

"I'm not a doctor, sir!" I answered.

"I see--not taken your degree, eh?  Well, well, I told our New York
office in my cable to do the best they could; indeed, I wasn't at all
sure that our manager could manage it in the time.  But Lowry's a spry
chap--he don't come from Bolton for nothing--and he knows that when
th'oud man gives an order he expects it to be carried out.  Did you
meet Lowry, doctor?"

Now I understood Miss Garth's inexplicable and embarrassing desire to
show me her burnt arm.

"I'm afraid you've made a mistake, Sir Alexander," I said.  "I'm not a
doctor...."

"Eh?" ejaculated the baronet, sitting back in his chair and looking at
me.  "Then who the devil are you?"

"My name is Okewood, Major Desmond Okewood," I replied as boldly as
might be, though my host's countenance was hoisting all manner of storm
signals in the shape of a reddening of the cheeks and a twitching of
the nostrils, "and I have rather a strange request to make...."

But I got no farther for Garth exploded.

"Damn it!" he exclaimed, pounding the table with his big, sun-burnt
hand, "I knew it.  You're from Allan's.  My Manchester office turned
their proposition down without reference to me, and as soon as I heard
about it, I wrote and confirmed the decision.  And they've done nothing
but badger me about it ever since.  At every port there's been a cable.
And now you have the brass to come interfering with my holiday, asking
yourself to breakfast under false pretences....  Parsons!"

He yelled for the steward, at the same time putting forth his hand to
pound a bell that stood on the table at his side.

"Stop!" I said.

"Will you stop me from ringing for my own servants?" he demanded
truculently.

"I'll stop you from making yourself look a fool before your own
steward," I retorted, "if you'll quit shouting and listen to me for a
minute.  I have nothing to do with Allan's or any other business
concern...."

At the first glimpse of this resolute-looking cotton-spinner I knew
that, to achieve my end, I should have to take him more fully into my
confidence than either my inclination allowed or my instructions
warranted.  I took my letter-case from my pocket and extracting a
folded blue paper, laid it before Sir Alexander on the white damask
table-cloth.  These were my credentials which we are only supposed to
show in moments of direst necessity.

"Will you read that?" I said.

The baronet looked questioningly at me, then slowly put on a pair of
horn-rimmed spectacles which he took from a case in his pocket.  He
carefully perused my blue paper and then handed it back to me.

"Eh," he remarked without a trace of apology in his manner, "and we all
thought you were the doctor I ordered our New York office to send to
join the yacht at Rodriguez.  Well, young man, and what can I do for
you?"

With the utmost candour I told him.  Thereafter, for ten minutes or
more, our heads were close together.  Then he rang the bell.

"My compliments to Captain Lawless," he said to the steward, "and I
should be obliged if he could spare me a few minutes!  We will come to
him in the chart-house!"

He gave the steward the start of us by lingering to offer me a cigar
and to light one for himself.  Then we made our way up on deck and
presently entered the chart-house, a room abaft the bridge and above
the smoke-room.  Here the captain, looking very red and shaggy without
his cap, awaited us.

"Ah, captain!" said our host, "let me make you acquainted with Major
Okewood, who is coming on a cruise with us.  I want you to show me on
the chart Cock Island in the Eastern Pacific.  And let's hear, too,
what the 'Sailing Directions' have to say about it!"

Thus I learnt that my pleading had prevailed with him and that, behind
a hard and business-like exterior, there flickered a little spark of
romance that had burst into flame at the magic tale of treasure trove I
had poured into his ears.  As the skipper spread out upon the mahogany
top of the chart-locker the section in which, amid weird whorls and
lines signifying tides and depths, Cock Island figured, I felt once
more the strong tug at my heart from that secluded islet whence at the
foot of volcanic peaks an enigmatic grave seemed to beckon....



CHAPTER VI

I RECEIVE AN INVITATION

Garth appeared to be a seaman of no mean order.  With the charts spread
out before them he and the skipper promptly became immersed in a maze
of technicalities.  My ignorance of matters nautical is abysmal; and I
listened in some bewilderment to talk of winds and tides and channels,
of soundings and of reefs.  I can reconstruct the scene now--the
prelude to so many strange adventures!--as the three of us pored over
the chart; the long, low chart-house with its clean smell of paint, the
holland sun-blinds rattling smartly in the breeze which blew in through
the open port-holes, Garth in his loose tussore suit, with his eager
face and keen eyes, a fragrant cigar thrust in his mouth, Lawless,
rather awed by the other and consequently a trifle formal, stubbing the
chart with a huge and podgy thumb.

When they pulled down the big orange-coloured volume of "Sailing
Directions" for the Eastern Pacific and opened the page at Cock Island,
I could better follow them.

"'The island is mountainous,'" Garth read out in his pleasant, deep
voice, "'and entirely volcanic, rising to several peaks, of which the
highest reaches 2,856 feet.  These peaks are probably volcanoes, but
the interior is unexplored and almost impenetrable owing to its steep,
rugged and often precipitous nature, the many rushing streams and the
dense vegetation.  There are small areas of comparatively level ground
surrounding Sturt and Horseshoe Bays....'"

He turned the page and skipped a mass of detail.

"'There are only two harbours,'" he read, "'Sturt and Horseshoe Bays.
Horseshoe Bay is larger than Sturt Bay but is less sheltered, as it
opens to the west and so has a heavy swell during the early months of
the year.  Moreover, the slopes surrounding the bay are much more
abrupt and the area of level land in its neighbourhood is much less
considerable.'"

Adams, I recollected, had spoken of the man Dutchey and himself coming
upon the grave in a clearing in the undergrowth close to the shore.  He
had mentioned, too, that their ship's boat had had to find a way in
through the bar.  It looked to me, therefore, as though they had landed
in Horseshoe Bay where the upward slopes began closer to the shore than
in Sturt Bay.

We read on.  The island, it seemed, had never had any permanent
population.  It was "the resort of buccaneers in the seventeenth
century, and later was a watering-place for whalers."  It had "little
animal life"; but there were wild pigs, descendants of those left by
Captain Martin of the frigate _Rover_ in 1774, and rats, introduced by
calling ships.  Mention had been made, we were told, by various
explorers of huge carved images reputed to exist in the interior of the
island, similar to those for which Easter Island is famous; but there
was no certain knowledge of their existence.

There were a lot of particulars about attempts to colonise the island,
of stray parties of mariners who had landed, with the intention of
settling there; but in a year or two had gone away in a passing ship or
died off.  And there was a string of names, British and foreign, of
naval men or of explorers who, landing to fill up with water or to kill
some fresh meat, had jotted down a few observations about the island
and then sailed away again across the boundless Pacific.

"And now, Okewood," said Garth pleasantly, "you and I and all of us,
you know, are merely passengers on the high seas of Captain Lawless
here, and with your permission I propose that we should tell him who
you are and what you have just confided to me.  You have no objection,
I take it?"

"None whatever," said I.

"Then tell him yourself!" urged Garth, dropping on to the leather
settee.  So, sitting between the two on the softly padded seat, I
unfolded my plan while the yacht gently swayed at her moorings, and the
awnings without cracked like a whip in the breeze.

When I had finished, Garth said:

"You'll agree, I'm sure, that we can spare a week!"

"I'm entirely in your hands, Sir Alexander!" returned the captain.
"But there is one condition I should like to make, and that is that
this matter remains strictly between us three.  I have a very decent
lot of men as crew, Sir Alexander, hard-working, reliable chaps and
every one personally known to me for years.  I'd go so far as to say
you've got the pick of the Solent in the _Naomi_.  But this isn't a
man-o'-war, gentlemen, nor yet even a merchant vessel.  In a pleasure
yacht like this there isn't rightly speaking the discipline that you'd
find in either, and, to be plain-spoken, I don't want the major here to
go upsetting the men with his treasure tales.  Lay off at Cock Island,
go ashore by all means, and have a 'look see' but don't, for God's
sake, blab about it or you'll rot the finest crew that ever shipped!
Let's keep this thing to ourselves; indeed, I'll go further than that.
Leave me out of it!  Then the men, should they hear anything, can't say
that I'm in it while they are not!  And to tell you the truth,
gentlemen, I've had a strict upbringing, my people being chapel-goers,
and I was taught to believe that no blessing rests on money that we
have not earned with the sweat of our brow and the work of our strong
right hand.  You two gentlemen take your week ashore and I'll look
after the ship!"

Garth turned to me.

"I don't want to leave Captain Lawless out," he said, "but I can't help
feeling he's right about the crew!"

"And about everybody else on board, Sir Alexander!" Lawless broke in.

"You mean the women?"

"I mean _everybody_ else on board, just as I said, sir!" reiterated the
skipper very firmly and with meaning.  "What's everybody's secret is
nobody's secret!  Mum's the word or you'll have trouble!  Mum's the
word, I say!"

"Well!" said Garth, "so be it!  Mum's the word!"

Then came an unlooked-for interruption.

"Why 'mum'?  What's the secret?"

A clear young voice rang out from the door.  The three of us scrambled
hastily to our feet.  On the threshold stood the girl of the smoke-room.

"Morning, Marjie!" said Garth.

He wore something of a hang-dog look.  So did I, I think, as I did my
best to secrete myself behind them.  I was wondering what the girl
would think of me when she discovered my involuntary deception.
Fortunately Lawless's huge frame completely obliterated me.

"What are you two talking secrets about?" she demanded bluntly.  "And
why 'mum's the word'?"

Garth looked at Lawless and Lawless looked at Garth; but neither
answered her question.  Then she looked at the skipper.  His air
reminded me of a pickpocket caught red-handed.

"Good morning, Miss Garth!" he mumbled and made a stiff little bow.
That bow was my undoing; for the captain disclosed me behind him.

"Oh!" cried the girl with a little gurgle of amusement, "it's the
doctor!  Well, did you take my advice?"

"Yes," I answered.  Then, taking the plunge, I faltered:

"But I'm not the doctor...."

On that the girl coloured up a little.  I knew what she was thinking of
and our eyes met.  I felt relieved to see the glint of humour creep
into them.

Then Garth, who had turned to speak to the captain, broke in.

"I should have introduced you.  Major, this is my daughter--Marjie,
Major Okewood, who is coming as far as Honolulu with us.  Would you see
Carstairs about getting a cabin ready for him?"

With a graceful little nod to her father and a smile to me which had
its hidden meaning for us two alone, Marjorie Garth went out again on
to the sunlit deck.  We three men plunged into our deliberations again
and when at length the gong sounded for luncheon we had evolved a rough
plan of campaign.

I told Garth quite frankly that the message found on the grave at Cock
Island was so far unintelligible to me that I had no certainty of ever
being able to decipher it.  What I proposed to do, was to examine the
grave and the island generally to see whether I could find anything on
the spot to throw any light on the message.  We arranged, therefore,
that in reaching Cock Island, Garth and I should take a camping outfit
and go ashore for a period not to exceed a week; that if at the end of
that time, my investigations had led to no result I should abandon the
enterprise and return with him to the yacht.

It was settled that we should sail that night, as soon as ever the
spare parts required by Mr. Mackay, the engineer, were aboard; for I
informed Garth of Bard's advice to me to make myself scarce without
delay.  The captain reckoned that, taking things easy, we should make
Cock Island on the fifth day out.  We finally decided to put ashore at
Horseshoe Bay, as both Lawless and Garth agreed with me that this
landing tallied best with the beach-comber's description.

As we crossed the deck to go down to the saloon the spare parts were
being hoisted into the yacht from a barge.  A hard-faced little man
with a rasping Scottish accent, whom I took to be Mr. Mackay, the
engineer, was in charge of the operation which was accompanied by some
fine, full-flavoured swearing in broad Clydebank and a torrent of
epileptic Latin American blasphemy from various parties unseen in the
lighter.  Small boats piled up to their thwarts with poultry, fruit,
vegetables and bread, were bobbing about in a wide semi-circle about
the yacht and the air rang with the shrill cries of the vendors.

As we passed the engineer the captain said: "You'll let none of this
scum aboard, Mr. Mackay!"

"But the steward was wishful...."

"I don't give a hoot for the steward.  I'll have none of these Dagoes
aboard my ship.  Have you got that clear?"

"Verra guid, sir!" replied the Scotsman resignedly.

I appreciated the skipper's motive and looked at him gratefully.  I was
beginning to have an admiration for Captain Lawless.  Besides being a
man of character he was plainly a person of quick perception.

It was now very hot.  The pitch was soft in the seams of the deck and
the broken white line of the port buildings on shore swam in a tremor
of heat.  It was a relief to escape from the dazzling sunlight into the
shaded seclusion of the saloon, where two purring electric fans kept
the atmosphere cool and ice tinkled melodiously in crystal jugs of
cider cup.

The girl Marjorie was already seated at the table.  With her demurely
cropped brown hair gleaming golden where the sunshine touched it, her
serene beauty and her white dress, she reminded me of some Florentine
Madonna, the shining white port-hole like a halo framing her face
against a background of deep azure sky.

"'Le Medecin malgré Lui'!" she exclaimed as I came in, "come and sit by
me and tell me how you managed to captivate Daddy so completely!  And I
promise," she added, smiling up at me deliciously, "that I won't ask
you for any more medical advice!"

The girl's attractive presence, the pleasant cool of the saloon, the
quiet efficient service made it difficult for me to realise that, only
a very few hours before, I had stumbled through blood into a dark and
perilous adventure.  As I looked into Marjorie Garth's friendly grey
eyes, I found the present so attractive that it was no effort to me to
thrust into the background the enigma of the future.

My adventure, I decided, was opening under the most pleasant auspices.



CHAPTER VII

THE VICE-CONSUL'S WARNING

The _Naomi_ was fitted out with the greatest luxury imaginable.  She
was not a large vessel, but she was so well designed that every inch of
space was utilised.  The cabin allotted to me was small but beautifully
compact and tastefully furnished.  There was a proper brass bedstead,
not a bunk; pile carpet, silk curtains, silver-plated toilet fittings
and an electric fan.  My traps had been unpacked and my clothes stowed
away in a cunningly contrived wardrobe.  Carstairs, Garth's man, showed
me where everything was.  He was a nice, fresh-faced young fellow, of
smart military appearance.  He told me he had served in the war with
the Royal Engineers.

Luncheon ended, Marjorie Garth left us to go and write letters to be
sent ashore in the launch for posting.  I repaired to my cabin to
snatch a little sleep in the siesta hour; for I was very tired after
our disturbed night.  But though the gently whirring fan kept the
atmosphere nicely cool and my bed invited repose, I could not sleep.
Now that I was alone again, I found my thoughts continually recurring
to the slip of oilsilk with its enigmatic message.

I have always found that short commons of sleep is an excellent mental
tonic.  Though I was physically worn out, my brain was alive and active
and, pulling from my pocket the dead man's message (for so I designated
it to myself) I fell to studying it with renewed zest.

I had it already by heart even to the bars of music (though for music I
have little ear); but I read it over again.  What absolute rot it
sounded!

"Noon.  18/11/18."

I considered the date for an instant.  Why, by November 18th, 1918, the
war was over!  The Armistice had been signed seven days earlier.  And
at once a light dawned on me.  The dead man, I had surmised, had an
appointment with someone at Cock Island, probably with El Cojo's gang.
Realising that he was about to die the Unknown had left this message
for his friends; but, probably knowing that an occasional ship touched
at the island, he had coded his instructions to prevent them from
falling into the wrong hands.  The date of the message seemed to give
the clue as to why his friends had failed to keep their appointment, so
that the message had remained on the grave until it was found months
later by Adams.  The Armistice had been signed; Germany was beaten; and
consequently the services of such obliging "neutrals" as El Cojo and
Co. had abruptly ceased.

With growing excitement, for I felt certain that, this time, my
deductions were not at fault, I read on:--

  "Flash, flash, much
  "The garrison of Kiel"


This absolutely defeated me and I passed on.

  "With the compass is best
  "Think of the Feast of Orders"


_Der Ordensfest_!  Unconsciously, as I repeated the words to myself,
the clean white panels of the cabin melted away, and there rose before
my mind a dim picture, a study in grey, an outdoor scene across which
swept the wintry wind with biting blast....  A leaden sky, grey
buildings, their roofs deep-thatched with snow, and grey-clad troops,
masses of them, set about a vast square.  It was a blurred picture
with, here and there, a detail clear, the rime glistening on an
officer's _pelisse_, the plume of a helmet blown out in the icy
breeze....  Ah!  I had it!  Berlin....  The Feast of Orders, with the
annual ceremony of the so-called nailing of the Colours.  I had seen it
once, that famous winter parade, as a boy when my brother Francis and I
had been on a visit to a cousin of ours, who was secretary at the
Berlin Embassy....

But what did it mean in this connection?  What had the Feast of Orders,
the annual bestowal on the old Prussian bureaucracy of thousands of
crosses and stars and medals, as an economical substitute for increases
in salary, what had it to do with a compass?

Then it came to me with a flash....  A compass argued a compass
bearing, and this bearing was there concealed in this phase!  "Der
Ordensfest!"  Stay!  The date.  What was the date?  And that came back
to me too....  January 27th, "Kaisers Geburtstag," the Emperor's
birthday.

By Jove!  At last a beam of light was piercing the darkness.

Those two lines meant indubitably: "Take a compass bearing of 27
degrees!"

The next two lines:--

  "Past the Sugar-Loaf
  "You'll see the Lorelei"

obviously referred to those "peaks" of which the "Sailing Directions"
had spoken.

  "If you desire the sweetheart."


_Schätzchen_ was the German word.  But, ye gods, _Schatz_ of which
_Schätzchen_ is the diminutive, properly speaking, means "treasure"!
By what form of physical and mental blindness had I been smitten to
have failed to see this direct reference to treasure in the cipher?

The four bars of music brought me up with a jerk.  I hummed the tune
which I had strummed out on John Bard's piano.  It seemed, as I said,
vaguely familiar as a German ditty of the popular sort but what or
where....  I....

On this I must have fallen asleep.  I awoke with a start, as one does
from an afternoon nap, and stared round blankly, trying to recollect
where I was.  There was a little sidelong motion in the cabin as the
yacht rose and fell at anchor to the swell and the electric fan purred
gently as it revolved.  Someone was tapping at the door.

"Come in!" I cried and Carstairs put his face in.

"Sir Alexander begs pardon for disturbing you, sir," the man said, "but
could you make it convenient to go to him at once in his cabin?  He
said as how it was urgent...."

"Of course.  Tell Sir Alexander I'll be with him immediately."

Garth had a little suite at the far end of the saloon consisting of a
small state-room, very handsomely furnished, with sleeping apartment
and bath off it.  I found him seated in a swivel-chair at his desk in
conversation with a dark young man, his face yellowed from the tropics,
in a creased white duck suit.

"Ah, major," said the baronet, "I'm sorry to have had to spoil your
forty winks.  But a rather curious thing has happened.  They're getting
a warrant out against you for murder.  The British Vice-Consul here has
been good enough to come off and give us the tip...."


"It's a most singular thing," said the Vice-Consul.  "Last night a poor
white, a drunken Englishman who lived with a negress in the native
quarter, had his throat cut.  He was a worthless creature, called
himself Adams; I knew him well.  In fact, it's only about a fortnight
ago that we threw him out of the Consulate.  Well, an information has
been laid against you by two citizens who swear that they saw you leave
this man Adams's shack in the early hours of the morning.

"Now in the ordinary way nobody in Rodriguez makes any bones about a
plain murder like this.  But our friend Adams--or his black lady who,
incidentally, was also killed--seemed to have had some amazing
political pull.  The Procurator-General of the Republic in person came
down to the office half an hour ago to see me about it.  He seemed
scared out of his life, told me he would certainly lose his job unless
he could produce you for trial.  Now----"--the Vice-Consul cleared his
throat and drew hard on the black cigar he was smoking, "I don't know
anything about you, major, or your business,"--he looked sharply at me,
"and I'm not inquiring.  But I do know that, while straightforward
murder in Rodriguez is scarcely a penal offence, dabbling in politics
is a very serious matter.  What I came off to tell you was to beat it
while the going's good....  That's all!"

"It's extremely kind of you to have taken the trouble," I replied, "and
I highly appreciate your discretion in the matter.  But surely, if the
warrant is out, it will be served at once.  After all, we're within the
three-mile limit...."

The Vice-Consul waved his hand.

"In this illustrious Republic," he remarked dryly, "no business of any
description is ever done in the siesta hours.  Even during our
periodical revolutions there's a truce every day between noon and 4
p.m.  But you'll want to hurry; for, as soon as it cools off, you'll
have a bunch of coffee-coloured dons alongside in the harbour-master's
launch!"

"I'll see about getting under way at once!" said Garth, and hastened
out.

The Vice-Consul picked up his panama and approached me.  He looked
cautiously about him and lowered his voice as he spoke.

"I'm risking my job by doing this," he said, "for the Consul's down
with fever and I'm acting on my own responsibility.  But Bard was
telling us about you at the Club, about your D.S.O. and that in the
war, and it's the least a fellow can do who didn't fight--I'm rotten
through and through with malaria, you know--to help a chap who did.
Now, listen!  You're in great danger.  You've run up against the
biggest bunch of crooks in Central America...."

"You mean El Cojo and his gang?"

"Aye...."

"Who is this man, El Cojo?"

"No one knows.  No one ever sees him.  No one knows where he lives.
Some say he is a Mexican.  But his power is tremendous and his
vengeance swift and terrible.  I could tell you stories....  You should
be safe on this yacht.  But take my advice and don't leave it until you
can go ashore under the American or the British flag!"

He gave me his hand.

"I shan't forget this service," I said warmly, "if there's anything I
can ever do in return...."

"Well," he answered slowly, "I was recommended for the M.B.E. once.
But the F.O. turned it down.  If you had any influence...."

"If Sir Robert is still my friend," I assured him, "you shall have it.
And perhaps it might be an O.B.E.  Write me down your name and
address...."

As we emerged on the deck the crew were busy getting the yacht ready
for sea.  There was a bit of commotion at the gangway.  Garth and
Captain Lawless stood at the head of the ladder in animated
conversation with a very trim young man, beautifully dressed in
spotless white drill.

"Hullo," said the Vice-Consul, "it's Custrin, your new doctor!"

"It's no good," Garth was saying as we approached the group, "we'll
have to be away in ten minutes, doctor, and there's so much work going
forward on deck that your friends would only be in the way...."

"But, sir," the young man urged, "they need only stay for a minute.  As
distinguished residents of Rodriguez they wished to have the honour of
meeting you, of showing you courtesy.  They set great store by such
things here and if you refuse I'm very much afraid they'll take it
amiss...."

I glanced over the side.  In a row-boat at the foot of the ladder sat
three swarthy gentlemen in frock-coats, their large dark eyes turned
appealingly up to the deck of the _Naomi_.

"You'll tell your friends," said the baronet, "how much I appreciate
their great attention and how much I regret that circumstances prevent
me from receiving their visit on board.  Captain Lawless, the
Vice-Consul's launch!"

Lawless gave an order and while the doctor descended the ladder and
spoke to the party in the boat, the Vice-Consul took his leave and
boarded his launch.

Five minutes later the _Naomi_, curtseying to the long green swell,
pointed her bows towards the fronded headlands which marked the
entrance to the harbour.  As we passed out between the bluffs, the dull
report of a gun drifted out to us over the freshening breeze.  At the
same moment, in a smother of spray, a launch came tearing out of the
port, a mere speck in the shimmering green sea far astern.

At my side on the bridge, Garth laughed.

"Here comes the warrant!" he said.  "Captain, is that launch back
yonder going to overhaul us?"

Lawless took his freckled hand off the engine-room telegraph and looked
back.

"Huh!" he grunted, "not on this side of hell.  Or any other!"



CHAPTER VIII

DR. CUSTRIN

It was not until dinner that evening that I had the opportunity of
meeting Dr. Custrin.  The _Naomi_ was steaming along amid the gorgeous
pageantry of sunset and the warm glow of the dying day was warring with
the soft lights of the electric candles on the dinner-table when I came
in to the saloon.  Garth introduced me to the doctor.  He was a sleek,
smooth young man with hair like black satin and a beautifully trained
small black moustache.  His hands and feet were small and well-made and
there would have been a touch of effeminacy about him but for his
otherwise manly bearing, his bold black eyes and pleasant voice.  A
certain narrowness of the eyes and a curl of the nostrils told me, who
have an eye for such things, that, probably, as his name indicated, he
was of Jewish extraction.  In conversation I elicited that he had been
born in Mauritius, educated at Cape Town, and had taken his degree at
King's College Hospital in London.  Garth's New York office it
appeared, had picked him up at Colon where he was studying Colonel
Goethals' wonderful arrangements for the extermination of yellow fever
and malaria.

Lawless and Mackay, the chief engineer, a sententious Scot, who opened
his mouth only to utter a platitude or to put food or drink into it,
dined with us.  Garth made me sit next to Marjorie who looked ravishing
in a white lace evening frock.

"Put the two war veterans together!" the baronet commanded.  "My little
girl here," he explained to me, "drove a car at the front.  She has the
Military Medal."

"Daddy!" expostulated Marjorie and a warm flush coloured her cheeks.

"I would never have given my consent," Garth added, "but she just
didn't ask me for it!"

"My dear old thing," said the girl.  "You make me look ridiculous by
bragging about my silly little trips around the bases when I'm sure Dr.
Custrin or Major Okewood saw a hundred times more of the war than I
ever did!"

"I never got out of the base at the Cape," said the doctor.  "The East
African campaign kept us too busy for anybody to be spared."

"And I," was my retort, "never went back to France after the Somme!"

"Were you wounded?" asked Garth.

"Badly?" questioned Marjorie in reply to my nod.

"Nothing to write home about," I answered.  "When I came out of
hospital I went into the Intelligence."

"How fearfully thrilling!" exclaimed the girl.  "Wasn't it frightfully
exciting?"

"It wasn't the front," I replied.

After dinner on the deck under a vast span of velvet sky spangled with
stars I found myself alone with Marjorie Garth.  A broad band of yellow
light shone out from the smoke-room where the others sat and talked
over their coffee.  Above us on the bridge the form of the man at the
wheel bulked black.

We strolled up and down in silence.  For myself I was quite overcome by
the majesty of the tropical night at sea.

"The Intelligence," asked Marjorie suddenly, "that's the Secret
Service, isn't it?"

"Yes," I agreed.

"You were very modest about it at dinner," she remarked.

I shrugged my shoulders.

"I only stated the plain truth," I returned.  "In the fighting troops,
remember, every fifth man became a casualty and three months was the
average run of the platoon officer!"

"Yet," commented the girl, "you seem like a man who has been in tight
places.  I shouldn't say to look at you that you've had a placid or
easy existence.  Like mine, for instance.  Sometimes I think it's only
men of action like you who know how to grapple with life.  Can you
imagine me in an emergency for instance?"

"Yes," I said.  "I believe I can.  You've got a brave eye, Miss Garth.
I think one can judge people's temperaments, as one judges horses, by
the eye."

She shook her head and laughed.

"What does this sort of life teach anybody?  This beautiful ship, these
well-trained sailors, the splendid service that Daddy's money can buy?
My dear man, it's no good flattering me about my brave eye.  Money
makes a solid barrier between my life and any really thrilling crisis!
I shall be kept in cotton-wool till the end of the chapter."

"What a strange person you are!" I exclaimed.  "Girls of your age with
your position and your.... your.... attractions don't find time for
philosophising as a rule.  You ought to be enjoying your youth instead
of meditating about life.  I don't mean to be inquisitive; but.... are
you unhappy?"

We had halted near the rail.  We were standing very close together and
I felt the touch of her warm young body against my arm.

She turned and looked at me.  Again I told myself that this girl was
the most beautiful, the most unspoiled creature I had ever met.

"I've only once been thoroughly happy," she answered rather wistfully,
"and that was when I was with the army in France.  I loved the romance,
the adventure of it all, the good comradeship not only between the
women but also between the men and the women.  Money wasn't everything
then.  I was an individual with my own personality, my own friends.
But what am I now?  The daughter of Garth, the millionaire.  And they
print my picture in the weekly papers because one day I shall have a
great deal of money which Daddy has worked all his life to make.  I've
never had any brothers and sisters and my mother has been dead for
years.  I've had to live my whole life with money as my companion.  And
money's not a bit companionable!"

She smiled whimsically at me, then gazed down abstractedly at the
phosphorescent water thumping against the side of the ship.

"This yacht!----" she went on.  "I have everything a girl could
possibly require here--everything except my freedom!"

"Good Lord!" I observed, "you'll have that too, when you marry!  You've
plenty of time for that!"

Marjorie Garth laughed.

"My dear man," she protested, "don't you know it's easier to marry off
a girl with no money than one who will have as much as I shall?  To
Daddy every young man I meet is a fortune-hunter.  If I run a boy home
from the golf-club in my car I am cross-questioned regarding his
'intentions'; if a man takes me out dancing in the afternoon there's a
scene.  And Daddy's taste in men is vile; I'm not alluding to you--I
mean at home!  But I've no use for the second generation of
millionaires and I've told Daddy so.  I'd rather marry a beggar than
some of the rich men's sons he tries to throw in my way...."

Lucky beggar, I thought.

"I don't know why I've told you all this," the girl concluded.  "You
seem to draw me out.  Or perhaps it's the night.  Oh, look!  Wish!"

A star fell gleaming across the sky.

"I have," I said; (it was one of those idle wishes which a poor man
must not admit even to himself).

"Was it about your trip to Cock Island?"

"I'll lose my wish if I tell!" I replied.  "As a matter of fact it was
not!"

Suddenly she put a warm soft hand on mine.  Her touch made my heart
beat faster.

"Is it a Secret Service mission?" she asked.

Caution is second nature to a man who has served his apprenticeship in
the silent corps.  In that balmy air, beneath a brilliant moon hanging
like some great lamp in the sky, it was hard to refuse a woman's
pleading, especially a girl like this, bending forward with sparkling
eyes and parted lips so close to me that I could detect the fragrance
of her hair.  I put my other hand over hers as it rested on mine on the
rail.

"You can trust me," she pleaded.  "I am sure there is something
mysterious about your trip to this tiny island.  I know you are not
going on Government survey" (this was the pretext which Garth had given
out for my visit to Cock Island) "for the Navy always do that sort of
work.  Tell me your secret!"

I had to catch hold of myself; for she was almost irresistible.  I
looked away from her, steeling myself to a refusal.  What I might have
done I cannot say for what man can account for actions performed under
the magic of the tropical moon?  But at that moment my nose detected
the scent of a cigarette quite close.

I glanced quickly round.  To all appearances we were alone.  Behind us
the white smoke stack of the _Naomi_ reared itself into the night; on
either hand the deck was quite deserted; the only human being visible
was the black form of the man at the wheel silhouetted against the
faint glow of the binnacle light.  But the acrid fragrance of Turkish
tobacco stole up my nostrils and the possibility of a listener within
earshot brought me swiftly back to earth.

"I'm afraid there's no mystery about my little jaunt," said I, turning
to the girl, "you know all there is to know!"

I spoke as nonchalantly as possible.  But I would not meet the
reproachful gaze she turned upon me.  Then she snatched her hand away.

"I'm afraid you must think me horribly inquisitive!" she observed
coldly.

There was a footstep on the deck.  Dr. Custrin stood behind us.
Between his fingers a cigarette sent up a little spiral of blue smoke;
across his arm he carried a shining silver wrap.

"Sir Alexander asked me to tell you to put this round your shoulders,"
he said to Marjorie and unfolded the silver scarf.  "The wind is
freshening."

The girl drew the wrap about her shoulders.  The doctor looked at the
two of us.

"What a wonderful night!" he remarked.  "In these latitudes the moon
seems to exercise a strange influence upon us.  For example, your
father has been telling me the whole story of his early life, Miss
Garth, and I believe I have been unbosoming my aspirations and
ambitions to him.  But confidences under the moon one is apt to regret
in the morning, eh, major?"

He spoke perfectly suavely and with no trace of impertinence in his
manner.  But there was a hint of double meaning in his words (which
clearly indicated that he had overheard at any rate the end of our
conversation) that jarred on me.

"You need have no fears about Major Okewood," replied Marjorie with
just the faintest touch of scorn in her voice.  "I am sure he is the
pattern of discretion.  I think," she added, "I am feeling the tiniest
bit chilly.  You promised to play for me, doctor.  Won't you come into
the saloon?  There is a piano there!"

Her gaze travelled proudly past me as she turned to Custrin.  She made
it as clear as was compatible with the laws of hospitality that her
invitation did not include me.  It was her woman's way of getting her
own back.  I loved her for it; but I took a violent dislike to Custrin.

I mumbled some excuse about having to go to the chart-room and they
left me.  Presently from the saloon came the rhythmic strains of the
_Rosen-Kavalier_, most sensual, most entrancing, of all Strauss's
music, played with a master-hand.  The _Liebestod_, Grieg, Massenet's
_Air des Larmes_, Schumann--Custrin ran from one to the other while the
_Naomi_ stolidly thumped her way through the hissing sea.  And always,
curse his impudence! the fellow played love-music....

One by one members of the crew drifted to the head of the companion-way
until there was quite a company of them outlined against the yellow
light that shone up from the cosy saloon.  I remained leaning against
the rail, my chin on my chest, my pipe in my mouth, and let my thoughts
drift....  Adams coughing over his pannikin, John Bard, his honest face
troubled, looking round that house of death, the yellow-faced
Vice-Consul pulling on his black cigar.

But always I found my mind harking back to that ungainly silhouette
framed in the doorway of the hut and to the sinister echo of his
footsteps in the yard as the stranger turned his back on the scene of
slaughter which, I doubted not, had been of his contriving.  What had
the Vice-Consul said?  "His power is tremendous, his vengeance swift
and terrible!"  Who was this lame man whom nobody saw yet whom
everybody feared?  There was something of the insistence of a nightmare
in the way in which the glimpse I had had of him hung in my thoughts,
confounding itself with the ineffaceable image of that club-footed man
whom I had seen fall lifeless--how many years ago it seemed
now!--before my brother's smoking automatic.  Well, whoever El Cojo
was, Mexican or South American, I was out of his clutches now.  The
rail of the _Naomi_, quivering beneath my hand to the leap of the seas,
gave me confidence.  I knocked the ashes out of my pipe and went below.



CHAPTER IX

CONCERNING A LONG DRINK

The weather continued magnificent.  The barometer on the chart-house
wall was high and steady, the sea like a sheet of painted glass.  On
board the _Naomi_ the perfect luxury, the admirable efficiency of the
service might have led one to fancy oneself at Cowes but for the
boundless expanse of the Pacific surrounding us.  The sun-burnt faces,
the natty white caps and the spotless white drill of the crew, the
brass-work polished until the blaze of the fierce sun upon it made the
eyes ache, the long chairs set out invitingly under the striped deck
awnings--it all brought back Regatta Week to me so vividly that I
sometimes imagined one had only to look over the ship's side to see the
boats setting down the visitors at the Squadron steps.

There were deck quoits, shuffleboard and various other ship's games for
our amusement.  But it was too hot for violent exercise.  The men
rigged up a huge canvas bath, contrived out of a mainsail, in the bows
forward, and here, each morning before breakfast, Garth, Custrin and I
used to disport ourselves like young seals in their tank at the Zoo.
For the rest, the day passed very pleasantly with a little gossip, a
little music, a little bridge.  We three men, following a custom which
Garth had established, took our trick at the wheel and when Custrin had
finished his watch, Marjorie reported for duty and proved herself the
best helmsman of us all.

As a matter of fact, I had no time to be bored.  I spent many hours in
the chart-house with Garth and Lawless settling the details of our
contemplated expedition.  There was, in truth, much to plot out and
arrange.  The captain was more emphatic than ever against the idea of
anybody beyond us three being let into the secret of the treasure-hunt.
In fact, as our discussions proceeded, he showed himself increasingly
reluctant to grant us as long as a week on the island.

"It's asking too much, Sir Alexander," he said, shaking his red head,
"to expect the crew to remain cooped up in the yacht in sight of green
land and not a man allowed ashore.  I might hold 'em in hand for a
couple of days; but after that it will be difficult, very difficult, as
well you and the major here must know!"

It was Garth, with his quick business mind, who made the suggestion
which solved the problem.  Raising his head from the chart which he had
been studying while Lawless, in an aggrieved tone, was presenting his
case, he said:--

"I've got it.  You can maroon us!"

"Maroon you?" repeated the captain in a puzzled voice.

"Aye!  Dump us ashore and then take the yacht to Alcedo!"

Alcedo, he explained to us with chart and "Sailing Directions," was an
islet lying some ninety miles west of Cock Island, a small, uninhabited
rock, the home of seabirds of all kinds.

"You can get some shooting," Sir Alexander added, "and, if the 'Sailing
Directions' speak true, good fishing.  There's a fair landing on the
north face, it says here, and a run ashore will do the men all the good
in the world.  You won't have above two or three days at the most at
the rock before it will be time to put about and sail back and fetch us
off!"

Lawless raised various objections, all of which did him the greatest
credit.  He didn't like leaving us.  Suppose something happened to the
_Naomi_?  But Garth swept all objections aside.  Then Lawless played
his last trump.

"And what about Miss Garth?" he queried.  "How will she like leaving
you ashore on an uninhabited island?  Or do you propose to take her
with you?"

Garth rubbed his nose rather sheepishly.

"H'm," he mused.  Then, "Okewood," he remarked, "this will be a little
difficult.  How about taking Marjie ashore at Cock Island with us?"

But I promptly negatived this idea.

"Out of the question," I retorted.  "We're going to rough it, Sir
Alexander.  And it will be no life for your daughter.  Why, we aren't
even taking a servant!"

Garth jibbed at that.  It would be bad enough leaving Marjie, he
grumbled, and how he would face her he didn't know.  But he must have
his man with him.  He must have Carstairs.  In that I was inclined to
support him.  I had taken a fancy to Carstairs.  I liked his honest,
sensible face; he knew Garth and his ways; besides, he seemed a
knowledgeable sort of chap and I had an idea that his experience with
the sappers in the war might prove uncommonly useful when we pitched
our little camp.  It was ultimately decided that Carstairs should
accompany us.

Then Garth suggested that we should take Custrin as well.

"Capital fellow, the doctor," he remarked, "what the Americans call a
good mixer.  I like Custrin.  And he'll be useful, you know, Okewood,
in the case of snake-bite or anything like that, eh?"

Now, as I have explained, I hadn't particularly cottoned to Custrin.
Since that first night out he had made famous progress with Marjorie
and while Garth and I were sweltering in the hold, assembling equipment
and supplies for our expedition, she and the doctor had sat for hours
at the piano in the saloon.  I have always tried to be honest with
myself and I may as well admit that I was envious of Custrin's
delightfully easy manner.  He was never gauche or sheepish with
Marjorie and I knew what a boor she had set me down in her estimation.

So I demurred from the proposal of Sir Alexander.  The party was big
enough, I urged; to add another mouth would mean seriously increasing
the amount of supplies we should have to take with us.

"But Custrin's a first-class geologist as well," pleaded the baronet,
"and his knowledge should prove most valuable in our quest!"

I felt a very unpleasant suspicion dawn within me.  Was it possible
that Garth had told Custrin about the grave on the island and the clue
that lay in my letter-case?

"Have you told Custrin about the treasure?" I asked bluntly.

Garth looked decidedly uncomfortable.

"The doctor's a most reliable fellow and highly recommended, very
highly recommended to me.  You can see his references if you wish,
major.  He is quite one of us, you know, and I did not think there was
any harm....  Really, I think he'd be a distinct asset.  Besides, he'll
be horribly disappointed now if we don't take him!"

Then, of course, I knew that Garth had told Custrin the whole story and
had definitely promised him into the bargain that he should join our
party.  I remembered now that the two had been in the smoke-room alone
together for an hour or more after lunch.  I breathed a little prayer
of thanksgiving that in my almost wholly Irish nature a little store,
an isolated stronghold, as it were, of caution, legacy of some unknown
ancestor, was included.  Throughout my career in the Secret Service I
have made it a practice, when disclosure is necessary, to disclose only
as much as is absolutely essential to the business in hand.  My brother
Francis, probably the greatest secret agent our country has ever had,
gave me this tip.

Accordingly, I had told Garth nothing of El Cojo, the man of mystery,
of his appearance at Adams's hut or of the Vice-Consul's warning.
Apart altogether from this cautious instinct of mine, I knew next to
nothing of this romantic cut-throat, and until I did I had no intention
of jeopardising my chances of sailing with Garth by alarming the owner
of the _Naomi_.  I now realised that everything I might have told Garth
about El Cojo, the baronet would have inevitably passed on to the
doctor.

As for Custrin, I had nothing whatever against him.  But he was a
stranger--and in our job, if we don't necessarily "'eave 'arf a brick"
at the stranger, we are exceedingly cold to him.  Custrin was a
perfectly civil, unassuming Englishman; but in my career I have refused
confidence to many a fellow-countryman far more patently trustworthy
than he.  His rather mixed upbringing would, for one thing, have
prompted me to wariness and Garth's ready confidence in him really
rather horrified me.  I was quite determined not to have him on the
island with me and I said so as frankly as possible.  On that, with
rather an ill-grace, Garth capitulated.

The _Naomi_ carried a small camp equipment with two light and portable
Armstrong huts in sections.  There was a fold-up camp bedstead for
Garth, while I had my battered old Wolseley valise and my flea-bag from
France.  In addition to our provisions, such as biscuits, tinned food
of all kinds, groceries and a suitable stock of drinks including a case
of soda-water, we added, as general stores, some electric torches, a
couple of ship's lamps and a good supply of candles, a large picnic
basket, some mosquito netting, a medicine chest, a couple of axes, and
two spades and two picks which Lawless extracted from the stokehold.
There were kitchen utensils for Carstairs, who, it appeared, was an
excellent cook.  Garth had a pair of shot-guns and a Winchester and the
three of us had an automatic pistol apiece.  This constituted our
armoury.  I thought of those "volcanic peaks" of which the "Sailing
Directions" spoke and sighed for a box of gun-cotton, a tube of primers
and some lengths of fuse such as we used to carry with the battery in
France.  But well-equipped as she was, the _Naomi_ did not run to H.E.

This happened on our third day out of Rodriguez.  At dinner that
evening the captain announced that, if all went well, we ought to sight
Cock Island about dawn two days hence.

      *      *      *      *      *

In the chart-house that evening Custrin pleaded with me to reconsider
my decision not to take him ashore with us.  I told him as nicely as
possible that all our arrangements were made and could not now be
altered.  He then asked me to let him see the message.  Now I had not
shown this to Garth (nor to anybody else except Bard) nor had I
vouchsafed to our host any information whatever on the subject.  I was
still very largely in the dark as to its meaning and I was appreciative
of Garth's tact in not pressing me on the subject.  So I told Custrin
that I was still working on the message and was not showing it to
anybody just then.

"I'm sorry," he said at once, "I didn't mean to be tactless, Okewood.
But I'm a pretty fair hand at languages, French or Spanish or Dutch or
German and that kind of thing, you know.  I thought I might be useful.
Or perhaps it's in cipher?"

Custrin's affectation of nonchalance was very well done.  But I have
had so much of this kind of spell-binding tried on me in my time that I
detected without difficulty a little note of anxiety in his voice.  A
very inquisitive young man, was my mental note.  But aloud I said:--

"Thanks for the offer, doctor.  I'll bear it in mind.  When I think two
heads are better than one on this thing I'll let you know!"

That was straight enough, one would have thought.  But he was a
persistent beggar, was Custrin.  I'm dashed if he didn't get Garth to
tackle me.  Our worthy host's rather elephantine attempts at diplomacy,
however, were not difficult to counter and I had my way about keeping
the message to myself without, I think, offending his _amour propre_.
I should have dismissed the incident from my mind but for a strange and
rather disquietening event which took place the following night.

I had gone below, preparatory to turning in, after another disastrous
encounter with Marjorie.  When I came off the bridge after taking my
turn at the wheel, I found her standing alone at the rail.  Since our
little passage at arms the first night out, while she had not
ostensibly avoided me, she had not given me the opportunity of another
_tête-à-tête_.  Her father, it appeared, had told her that she could
not go ashore with us on Cock Island and she wanted me, as leader of
the expedition, to intercede with him.

We were going to rough it on the island and a woman would have been
impossible.  And so I told her.  I also thought it quite likely that
the surf-bar mentioned by Adams (one always finds something of the sort
round isolated islets like this) would make landing dangerous and we
should be lucky, I surmised, if we escaped with nothing worse than a
good soaking.

Marjorie was at first pleading, then indignant and at last angry.
There was a good deal of the plethoric temperament of her father in the
toss of her head with which, in disgust at my obstinacy, she turned and
left me on the deck.  And I, feeling the criminal every man feels when
he has displeased a charming girl, slunk below to my bunk.

I had changed into pyjamas when Custrin, who had the cabin next to
mine, put his head in the door.

"I'm just going up to get a 'peg,'" he said.  "You look as though you
could do with one yourself.  Shall I bring you one down?"

A drink was emphatically what I needed in the frame of mind in which I
found myself, so I gratefully accepted his offer.

"And make it a stiff one!" I called out after him.  Then Carstairs, who
had been working like a Trojan all the evening, packing, oiling guns
and greasing boots, fetched me away to the little sort of pantry-place
at the end of the flat which was his especial domain, to consult me
about the clothes I was taking.  When I got back to my cabin my drink
in a long glass stood on the chest of drawers.  There was no sign of
Custrin.

Carstairs, in shirt and trousers, was simply dripping with
perspiration.  He looked absolutely all in.

"Here," I said, "you seem to be more in need of a 'peg' than I am,
Carstairs.  Suppose you take hold of that glass and show what you can
do with it!"

The offer was scarcely in accordance with the discipline of the _Naomi_
and Carstairs glanced cautiously up and down the corridor before he
seized the glass and with a whispered "Here's luck, sir!" drained it.

      *      *      *      *      *

I don't know how long I had been asleep when I awoke with the
impression that my cabin door had opened.  Then I remembered, with a
flash, that on going to lock it as usual before getting into my bunk I
had found the key to be missing.  I had searched the floor of the cabin
and the corridor for it in vain.  Carstairs had turned in and I was
loath to disturb him after his heavy day.

There was no moon on this night and my cabin was quite dark.  The
_Naomi_ trembled to the thump of the propeller and at the wash-basin
some fitting or other rattled a merry little jig.  Otherwise, all was
still.  I was about to turn over on my side and go to sleep again when
a slight noise caught my ear.  My hand flashed instantly to the
electric switch and the cabin was flooded with light.

Custrin stood in the doorway.  He was in his pyjamas, bare-footed.  His
eyes were closed and one hand rested on the chest of drawers just
inside the door.  He was muttering to himself.  As I sprang out of my
bunk he turned round and, still muttering, made his own way back to his
room next door.

I dashed after him.  The corridor was quite dark and by the time I had
found the switch in Custrin's cabin, the doctor was in his berth, to
all intents and purposes sleeping peacefully.

"Trust all men; but cut the pack!" is a favourite saying of my brother
Francis.  With that document in my possession I had no desire to be
disturbed by surprise visitors, even though they walked in their sleep.
I now blamed myself for my slackness in not making Carstairs find the
key of my door.  I went straight off to his bunk.

Carstairs was asleep on his back, snoring merrily.  I tapped on the
side of the bunk and finding that this failed to awaken him, shook him
by the arm.  He never budged.  The snoring stopped; but he slept on.

I shook him violently again.  Never had I seen a man sleep like this!
I put my two hands under his shoulders, raised him up and jerked him to
and fro.  But he remained a dead weight in my grip, sunk in deep sleep.

There was a step in the corridor outside.  I put my head out.  Mackay,
the engineer, was there on his way to his bunk.

"Hsst!" I whispered.  "Mackay, what do you make of this?  I can't wake
Carstairs...."

Mackay thrust his grizzled head into the cabin.  He bent down over the
sleeping man and sniffed audibly.

"The man's drunk!" he remarked casually.

My conscience smote me.  But then I reflected.  Could one "peg" have
reduced the model Carstairs to this state?  Unless, of course, he had
already been drinking that evening.  I had detected no signs of it
about him....

"I wonder if I should fetch the doctor...." I began.

"Hoots!" broke in the engineer, "let the man bide.  He's a gude lad
but, mon, he'll have a sore heid to-morrow!  I'm thinkin' Sir Alec wull
gie him all the doctorin' he wants!"

"After all," said I, "I don't think we need disturb the doctor!"

Custrin's curiosity about the message, the inexplicable disappearance
of my key, the drink the doctor had prepared for me which I had given
to Carstairs and the servant's drunken stupor, Custrin's visit to my
cabin.... my mind sprang from rung to rung in this ladder of curious
happenings.  What had John Bard told me about El Cojo's gang?.... "a
tremendous organisation with an immense network of spies as widespread
and efficient as the Mafia of Italy!"

My hand went instinctively to the inside pocket of my pyjamas, a pocket
with a button-up flap specially designed, which has rendered me good
service in sleeping-cars and cabins half round the world.  I felt
beneath my fingers the crackle of the oilskin in its flannel cover.

I held my secret still guarded.  I congratulated myself on my firmness
in refusing to let this persistent Master Custrin accompany the
expedition.  But we had not yet reached the island.  I must be
watchful, watchful....

      *      *      *      *      *

Half an hour later, as I sat on the edge of my bunk smoking a
cigarette, there came a tap at the door.  Garth, looking strangely big
and unwieldy in his pyjamas, stood outside.

"Come up at once!" he whispered.  "Don't trouble to dress.  There's no
one about!"

He glided away.  When I emerged on deck the eastern sky was streaked
with light.  Lawless was on the bridge, Garth at his side.

Silently the captain pointed to the horizon.  Away on the port bow a
faint grey blur rested lightly on the straight edge of the ocean like a
wisp of mist on a lake at dawn.

"Cock Island!" said the skipper.



CHAPTER X

THE GRAVE IN THE CLEARING

"Till Monday then!" said Garth as Lawless stepped into the launch.

"To-day week it is, sir!" returned the captain as Carstairs cast him
the painter.

"You might fire the gun to let us know you're back," cried the baronet.

"Right-o!"

Lawless turned to bend over the engine.  Then he looked round quickly
and grinned.

"Good luck!" he cried, "and good hunting!" and waved a friendly hand.
With that he pushed over the lever and with a mighty flurry of
propeller and vast bustle among the sea-birds on the foreshore, the
_Naomi's_ launch throbbed her way out into the bay towards where,
spanning as it seemed the harbour's narrowest part, a creamy band of
white spume marked the surf-line.  Silently we watched the pretty
craft, her paint and brass-work flashing in the morning sun, gliding
through the green water.  Then Lawless raised an arm in a parting
greeting, and the white launch melted into the spume and spray of the
open sea.

We stood on a long sloping beach of gleaming white sand shut in on all
sides save the sea by lofty grey rocks.  Their jagged points out-topped
the bright-green fronds of the waving palm-trees which grew almost down
to the water's edge.  Their column-like appearance, coupled with the
singular silence of the island, gave me a sort of solemn feeling, like
being in a cathedral.

Some three hundred yards from where the foam-crested rollers beat their
thunderous measure on the beach, the ground rose abruptly.  The sand
ended and became emerged in a tangle of coarse grass.  Alternating with
a wild and luxuriant undergrowth of a great variety of tree ferns and
other plants, it formed a kind of tasselling to a great curtain of
greenery which rose, as it seemed, sheer from the sea.

The verdure was so dense that it completely hid the bases of the
pointed cliffs which, clustered together like a bundle of faggots,
formed the high central part of the island.  From some hidden source a
clear cold stream of water came plunging down from the cliff, rushing
and gurgling until it lost itself in the sea.

It was the first time I had ever set foot on an uninhabited shore.  It
was a curious sensation.  The sea-birds wheeled aloft with their harsh
melancholy cries; among the trees above the beach there was sometimes
the flash of a brilliantly-plumaged bird and here and there some animal
rustled in the undergrowth.  But otherwise a deep silence brooded over
the island.  There was an atmosphere of expectancy about the place
which rather intrigued me.

I lost no time in setting about choosing a site for our camp.  The
appearance of the foreshore, exposed to the full force of the wind in
unfavourable weather, did not impress me favourably, nor, owing to the
danger from lightning in the thunderstorms that spring up so suddenly
in these climes, did the obvious solution of erecting our huts under
the shelter of the trees higher up on the shore commend itself.
Moreover, I knew very little about conditions on Cock Island and, were
there any wild animals about, it would be as well, I reflected, to
pitch our camp in some spot not easily accessible to attack.

After exploring round a bit I came, behind a mantle of hanging creeper,
upon the mouth of a cave.  Set in the lofty grey rocks dominating the
beach, it was well clear of high-tide level and clean and dry into the
bargain.  The roof sloped somewhat, but there was ample clearance for
Garth's six feet when he stood erect and the cave ran back for some
twenty feet into the rock.

So we plumped for the cave.  Having stripped to vest and trousers,
Garth and I started carrying up our stores from where the launch of the
_Naomi_ had deposited them on the beach.  While we stacked the various
boxes neatly at the back of the cave, Carstairs was busy fitting up
what he called his "field-kitchen."  Higher up the rocks, in a little
cavity well-sheltered from the wind, he installed his Primus stove,
cook-pots and other impedimenta.

It was with the utmost reluctance that I spared the time for this
tiring but necessary fatigue.  I was on fire to be off into the
interior of the island and locate the grave.  Garth, too, was as keen
as mustard, and fairly jumped at my proposal that, as soon as the
stores were stowed away, we should set forth on a voyage of discovery.

It was a long job; for the cases were heavy and the going was bad, but
when I stood on the beach below and, with the roar of the ocean in my
ears, looked up at our temporary home, I felt rather pleased.
Absolutely no trace of our presence was discernible.  Though I was
aware that perhaps not one vessel in two years called at the island, I
have always had a very healthy respect for the long arm of coincidence.
I did not wish my investigations at Cock Island to become the mark of
prying eyes.

It was past three o'clock and the sun very warm when Garth and I set
out.  We took with us a flask of cold tea apiece, some biscuits and
some dates and a shot-gun each.  With a wave of the hand to Carstairs,
our guns slung across our backs, we plunged into the tangle of steep
woods growing down to the shore.

The climate of the island seemed to be temperate enough.  The air was a
little steamy but mild and at first there was a pleasant breeze off the
sea to cool us.  To be equipped for the rocky nature of the island both
of us had brought stout hob-nailed boots, and we praised our
circumspection when we realised that only by boulder-climbing should we
gain access to the higher parts of the island.

The climbing was arduous (for neither of us was in form) but not too
difficult.  I kept a sharp look-out for any traces of former visitors.
Once I found some sheep droppings and again a large bleached bone which
looked as if it might have come from a sheep.  But of man there was no
trace.

The scrub soon gave way to forest and for a good half hour we toiled up
the jungle-clad slopes.  Great trees formed an almost impenetrable roof
over our heads through which the sunshine fell but sparsely.  We went
forward in a dim and mysterious twilight with no sounds in our ears
other than the swift rushing of the stream which gave us our direction,
our laboured breathing and the rattle of our nailed boots on the
boulders.  It was an eerie place which somehow filled me with
misgivings.

Suddenly Garth, who was leading, gave a shout.  He stood on the flat
top of a rock, a dozen feet above my head, and pointed excitedly in
front of him.  I scrambled to his side.

We were looking down into a deep circular depression shaped like a
basin.  It reminded me of a quarry, but I imagine it was in reality the
crater of some small extinct volcano.  What had brought the shout to
Garth's lips was the sight of a ruined hut which thrust its broken roof
from out of a tangle of gigantic ferns.

So breathless were we with our climb that we were past speech.  In
silence we slithered and scrambled down into the hollow, the long
tendrils of the plants twisting themselves round our legs and the
thorns catching in our coats.

It was a rude timber shack with a door and a window, the interior
choked roof-high with growing ferns.  The timber flooring had rotted
away and through the mouldering planks the jungle had thrust its shoots
profusely as though to claim its own.  But in one corner, where a
roughly-carpentered bedstead of timber stood, some attempt had
apparently been made to thin out the ferns for a space.  On the bed
there lay a rotting blanket; on the floor close by some empty canned
beef tins red with rust.  The blanket practically fell to pieces at the
touch.  It was not marked and, though we groped pretty thoroughly among
the ferns, that was all we found in the hut.

"There's nothing here," I said at last.  "Let's have a look round
outside.  I am wondering...."

The words died away on my lips.  I had reached the hut door, my face
turned towards the farther edge of the crater, the opposite side from
that by which we had descended.  A hundred and fifty yards from where I
stood a large timber cross was planted in the ground.  Between it and
the hut lay a great isolated boulder which had probably concealed the
cross from our view when we had climbed down into the hollow.

For a moment I could hardly speak.  I have seen the proud loneliness of
Cecil Rhodes' resting-place in the Matoppos; I have stood (like
everybody else) in the amber light that bathes Napoleon's tomb "on the
banks of the Seine among this French people I have loved so well."  But
I have never seen a sight more impressive than that solitary grave on
that desert island set down beneath the little round canopy of blue sky
which seemed to be borne by the lofty frowning cliffs towering all
around.  Beneath that plain wooden cross, I told myself, in a silence
unbroken by Man, lies the Unknown.  It was a mighty impressive thought.

A rudimentary path, still to be discerned through the all-pervading
undergrowth, led, round the boulder of which I have spoken, to the
cross.  The grave lay out in the open in a little patch which had been
cleared of ferns.  As we came up to it I noted, with an odd little
trick of the memory, that the grey and weather-beaten surface of the
cross was highly polished, even as the beach-comber had described, by
the action of the sand grains blown by the wind from the seashore.

Fashioned out of two baulks of timber wired together and solidly
implanted in the ground, the cross stood at the head of a long hillock
of earth.  On the grave lay, face upwards, a small round mirror and, a
little beyond it, an empty bottle, uncorked, which had fallen on its
side.

"You see," I remarked to Garth, "it's just as Adams said!"

I stooped to pick up the mirror.  Then to my surprise I saw that it was
wired to a timber cross-piece which ran out from the cross as a
support.  It was a little glass set in a metal frame.

"It looks like a shaving-glass!" said Garth.

I did not undeceive him.  I am not a secretive person by nature but by
training.  The very character of Intelligence work--the careful sifting
of every apparently insignificant scrap of evidence, the lengthy
process of surmise and deduction--tends to make one discreet, even when
dealing with one's familiars, until a plain statement of fact can be
drawn up.  So I did not tell my host that, the moment I saw that the
glass was attached to the cross, my brain leaped at the first clear
clue to the Unknown's baffling cipher.

For the sight of the mirror, loosely wired so that it faced the foot of
the grave, immediately brought into my mind the first line of that
bewildering doggerel:

  "Flimmer', flimmer' viel."


The reference to flashing surely indicated that the mirror was to be
used as a heliograph.  The next line--that about "the garrison of
Kiel"--still utterly floored me; but, I reflected, since we had a
heliograph, the following lines which I surmised to give a compass
bearing of 27 degrees ("The Feast of Orders" _i.e._, Jan. 27), might
well furnish the direction in which--for reasons still unknown to
me--the sun's rays were to be flashed.  The wiring of the mirror to the
timber indicated the direction in which the bearing was to be taken.
It looked to me as though the Unknown must have set up his own cross
and wired the mirror to it before he died.

I opened the little leathern case which hung at my belt and drew out my
prismatic compass, trusty friend of my campaigning days in France.  The
grave faced practically due north.  I laid the compass on the mirror
and took a bearing of 27 degrees.  The white arrow on the floating
centre of the compass swung round.  The mark of the 27th degree pointed
towards a gaunt and barren pile of rock on the far side of the crater.
I took as my line of direction a tall bush aflame with some gorgeous
flower on the edge of the clearing.

Some cautious instinct made me detach the mirror.  Holes had been bored
on either side of the frame through which strands of copper wire were
passed and knotted to holes bored in the timber cross-piece.  I removed
wire and all and slipped the mirror into my pocket.  Garth did not
notice the action; for he was busy pottering about the clearing.  From
the luxuriant undergrowth he ultimately collected a cigar box which, I
made no doubt, was the identical one from which the man Dutchey had
established the fact that Black Pablo and his friends had visited the
island.  It was curious to find everything in the same state as it had
been left more than a year ago.  I felt rather like a man must feel who
violates a grave.

"There's a path beyond," Garth said, pointing over to the left.  "It
leads to the spring.  I found an old bucket on the bank.  But otherwise
there's no sign of our Unknown friend here.  In fact the whole place
looks as if it had been undisturbed since the flood.  Whew! but it's
hot!  Okewood, I believe we're going to have a storm!"

The air was indeed strangely oppressive.  The patch of sky which
thatched the clearing was now flecked with daubs of white cloud and
there was a curiously menacing stillness in the atmosphere.  On trees
and bushes the leaves hung motionless without a tremor.  We sat down to
cool off a bit.

"It doesn't look too good to me," I answered.  "Garth, I shouldn't
wonder if we were in for a soaking to-night!"

Sir Alexander Garth, Bart., who had never slept out in the rain in his
life, smiled in rather superior fashion.

"I shouldn't wonder," he returned.  "As a matter of fact, I rather like
roughing it.  It's a devilish healthy life, my boy!  What's the next
move?  Has the grave given you any ideas for the location of the
treasure?"

I pointed at the scarlet bush.

"Do you see that plant with the red flowers?" said I.  "I have a fancy
to take a stroll in that direction and see how far we can get up the
cliff."

Garth struck his palm with his clenched fist.

"Okewood!" he exclaimed, "By Jove!  I believe you're on to something!"

"I am!" I answered rashly and cursed myself for a babbling fool.  For
Garth, his curiosity afire, forthwith plied me with questions.

"Don't press me just yet!" I countered.  "I'm still groping in the
dark.  You shall know all in good time!"

But he would not be pacified.  Two heads were better than one, he
argued, and very often a clear-sighted, shrewd man of business could
see a deal farther than an expert.

"Well," I said, "for all that, I think I'll keep my own counsel until
we've looked round a bit more!"

At that Garth became huffy.  We were partners in this venture, he
reminded me, and we must have no secrets.  He did not think he should
have to recall that fact to my mind.

The stifling heat and the fatigue of our long climb had made us both a
bit cross, I suppose.  At any rate I was pretty short with him.

"My dear fellow," I said, and rose to my feet by way of putting an end
to the conversation, "all in good time.  In this sort of work one must
work alone, at any rate in the initial stages.  Give me a little
breathing space!"

Garth followed my example and stood up.

"Shall we go on?" he asked.

He spoke without heat, but there was a look in his face which reminded
me that at our first meeting, I had noticed signs of temper about his
nose and mouth.  Garth was a man who obviously did not like to be
thwarted.  Now I thought I knew where Marjorie got her proud temper
from.

A little puff of hot wind came whirling into the hollow.  The trees
swayed to it as it rustled through the leaves with a melancholy sound.

"We don't want to go too far," remarked Garth, cocking an eye at the
sky, "or we shall have this storm on us before we can get under cover
at the camp."

At the first blush the cliff on the far side of the hollow looked
perfectly inaccessible.  But handy to my bush with the red flowers a
succession of flat boulders, like a giant's staircase, enabled us to
scramble up until we found ourselves on a plateau of rock dominated on
one side by an immense crag which towered above our heads in a
succession of shelving ledges.  In front of us the ground dropped to a
steep nullah from which rose a sheer wall of rock and barred the way.

It was a desolate scene.  Neither tree nor shrub nor anything green
grew in this barren landscape of grey and friable volcanic rock.  The
bare and frowning heights oppressed me.  I turned to Garth.

"This looks like the end of things," said I, "unless we can find a way
up by these terraces.  What do you say?  Shall we have a try?"

"If we could manage to reach that first shelf," my companion answered,
"we could at any rate get a view.  There's nothing to be seen from
here."

I had to give Garth a back to do it and his sixteen stone I felt
convinced, punched a pretty pattern of his hobnails into my skin.
However, at the cost of my back and sundry abrasions of his hands and
knees, Garth at last gained a footing on the sheer face of the rock and
then, giving me a hand, swung me up beside him.  After a vertiginous
climb, which at one time brought us on to a ledge a hundred feet above
the nullah, we struck something like a steep track that eventually
landed us on the first terrace.

The view was disappointing.  We were still too low to clear the
frowning cliffs encircling the nullah and we looked forth on the same
gloomy prospect of grey volcanic peaks that had confronted us from
below.  The shelf on which we stood was only about thirty feet wide and
ran for a distance of sixty yards across the face of the cliff and then
stopped abruptly.  It had obviously been cut by the hand of man out of
the friable rock; for a number of caves scooped out of the back wall
showed that cave-dwellers must have lived here in that remote period
when the island had been inhabited.  The ledge was in fact nothing but
a street for communication between the different cave-houses.  The
caves were low-roofed and empty.  By craning our necks upward we saw
that the whole face of the cliff was thus honeycombed with
cave-dwellings in a succession of terraces.  At the far end the steep
track, by which we had gained access to the first terrace, wound its
way upward to the higher levels.  There were three terraces in all.

We rested for a while on our rocky shelf and ate some biscuits and
chocolate.  From our post of vantage we looked down on to the grave in
the clearing.  The sun had gone in but it was still oppressively
sultry.  The sky had assumed a forbidding leaden tinge.  It looked like
some great furnace door radiating a fierce heat from the fire within.

Whilst we ate our frugal lunch we discussed our plans.  We decided
that, in view of the weather, we would break off our exploration for
the day, return to camp and get comfortably installed and make an early
start the next morning in order to visit the upper ledges of the rock.
Garth had apparently quite recovered his equanimity after our little
breeze.

The descent from the rock was a thrilling business.  In places the
track had crumbled away and more than once we found ourselves, held
only by the nails of our boots, on a slippery slope overhanging a sheer
deep drop.  I have a poor head for heights and to me it was a nightmare
experience.  The result was that our progress was slow and it took us a
full hour to make the descent.  By the time we had reached the rocky
plateau the wind was whirling the grey volcanic dust in great pillars
about our heads.  The sky had grown perceptibly darker with an eerie
yellow glow and a few big drops of rain splashed down on the bushes.
With startling suddenness a long drawn-out rumble of thunder awakened a
thousand echoes as it reverberated among the lonely island peaks.

"By George," said Garth turning up his coat collar, "we're going to
catch it, Okewood.  We'll have to steer clear of these trees."

"We'd better make a bolt for the hollow," I counselled.  "The hut is
out in the open.  If it stands the wind it will give us some shelter!"

We started to run while the light perceptibly diminished, like a
lighting effect on the stage.  We were actually crossing the hollow
when the storm broke.  There was a blinding glare of lightning, a
deafening peal of thunder and the light went out while, with a
whooshing and rushing and crashing, the rain suddenly descended in what
seemed to be a dense sheet of water.

"The hut!" I shouted in Garth's ear.

Well it was that we were just upon it or in that inky darkness we
should never have found it.  Over the wooden bedstead in the corner the
roof was whole and solid and it kept the worst part of the rain off us,
though we were splashed by the cataract of water which poured off the
roof into the centre of the hut.  The air was so highly charged that
one could almost smell the electricity in the atmosphere as the
lightning rent the sky in blinding flashes which illuminated the whole
clearing and the trees and cliffs all round with the brightness of
daylight.

The storm was at its height; the thunder was echoing in and out of the
rocky hollows of the island and in the moments of stillness the
gurgling and splashing of the rain filled our ears.  Then came a
blinding lightning flash, brighter and more enduring than the rest.  It
lit up the whole clearing and revealed the cross over the grave of the
Unknown standing out hard and black against a fantastic background of
bending, straining tree-trunks with branches and leaves blown out in
the wind.  And by its light, before the brightness died, I saw the
figure of a man standing with bowed head at the grave.



CHAPTER XI

A VOICE IN THE FOREST

I saw only him for the fraction of a second, a young man, tall and slim
and very blonde, in a shirt open at the neck and riding-breeches, his
head bared to the storm.  The water streamed off his face and clothing;
but he stood perfectly still in an attitude of reverence.  In that wild
setting of tempest-swept rocks the apparition seemed like some spectre
of the Brocken.  Or one might have thought that the storm had summoned
forth the Unknown himself from his grave.

The vision fairly staggered me; for my mind was imbued with the idea
that the island was uninhabited.  But my brain keyed up by the events
of the day, did not dwell for an instant on any supernatural
explanation of the apparition.  I promptly asked myself whether, after
all, there were people living on the island or whether the man I had
seen had, like ourselves, landed from some passing ship.

But then, without warning, there came an ear-shattering metallic crash,
as though a big shell had exploded beside us, the earth shook and a
perfect tornado of wind and water descended upon the clearing, clawing
and tearing at the hut until it seemed as though the beams of the
flimsy structure to which we desperately clung would be wrenched from
our grasp.  The inky-black sky appeared to split across in a jagged
band of light which again showed up the clearing as bright as day.  But
now the tall wooden cross stood aloft in solitary majesty once more.
The figure at the graveside had vanished and the clearing was entirely
deserted.  I asked myself whether the apparition had not, after all,
been the figment of my imagination.  Garth had seemingly remarked
nothing so I resolved to say nothing about it unless he should ask me.

But now, amid the grumbling and rumbling of the thunder receding into
the distance, the storm was passing.  The air reeked with the stench of
sulphur and I guessed that the appalling crash we had heard had marked
the fall of a thunderbolt.  Slowly the light was coming back and,
though the rain yet descended in torrents, the downpour was much less
heavy.

We were in a sorry plight, the pair of us.  Our thin garments clung to
us like wet swimming suits and our teeth chattered in our heads.

"We appear to have timed things very badly," grumbled Garth, wringing
the water out of a corner of his tussore jacket.  "We had plenty of
warning of this storm.  I should have thought we might have managed to
have got back to the camp in time to escape it...."

I wiped the water out of my eyes and grinned.

"Oh," I said lightly, "a ducking won't hurt us!  Look, the rain's
stopping already...."

"I am not complaining about getting wet," observed Garth with an air of
dignity which went ill with his bedraggled appearance--he was squatting
on his hunkers squeezing out his hat--"I can, I believe, put up with
the hardships of an expedition like this as well as any man.  But I do
think the--er, staff work this afternoon leaves something to be
desired.  To be wet to the skin an hour's tramp from camp may amuse
you, Major Okewood, but the prospect of a heavy chill does not strike
_me_ as being funny in the least!"

In high dudgeon he placed upon his head the shapeless mass of soggy
felt which had once been a hat.

"I vote we make a move for the camp," he proposed.  "That is, if
anything is left of it.  I should not be in the least surprised to find
the cave under water, our stores ruined and Carstairs drowned--or
struck by lightning, as like as not.  I don't wish to seem inquisitive,
Major Okewood, but might I inquire what progress this afternoon's
unfortunate jaunt has brought to your investigations?"

I was rather nettled by the line he was taking, and the way he
manhandled my name irritated me.

"You needn't worry," I retorted curtly.  "I'm perfectly satisfied so
far!"

"Indeed," replied the baronet--he was struggling to free himself from a
giant creeper which had firmly fixed itself about his sodden clothes.
"I am sorry I cannot share your optimism.  But then I'm wholly in the
dark--maybe, it's just as well--about this infernal wild-goose chase.
Damn it," he cried suddenly, "can't you lend me a hand to get this
blasted root off my legs?"

I hastened to release him, fuming and fretful.

"We shall be home in no time," I said soothingly to humour him, for he
was like a spoilt child, "and you'll see what marvels Carstairs has
accomplished in the way of making us comfortable.  And you needn't
worry about the cave.  It's splendidly sheltered.  Not a drop of water
will get in!"

Night was falling by the time we emerged from the steamy atmosphere of
the sopping woods and made for the faint glow of light which shone from
our cave.  Carstairs met us at the entrance.  He had fully justified my
prophecy to Garth.

Our beds were made up, one on either side of the cave, and our washing
and shaving kit laid out on toilet tables improvised out of boxes
neatly covered with clean white paper.  Hot water steamed in our
wash-basins and a dry change of clothing was laid out on the beds.  In
the centre of the cave, on packing-cases covered by a white damask
cloth, the table was set for dinner.  A hurricane lamp, placed in the
centre, was flanked by enamel cups from the picnic basket filled with
bright flowers and on the ground a bottle of Garth's excellent
champagne was cooling in a bucket of spring-water.

We lost no time in changing, and within a quarter of an hour were
sitting down to what was, in the circumstances, an extraordinarily
well-cooked meal.  Garth's ill-temper melted perceptibly and it was
with the utmost cordiality that he raised his glass and pledged the
success of the expedition.  The ingenuity of the incomparable Carstairs
had so completely reproduced the atmosphere of civilisation that it was
difficult to believe we three were dining on a lonely islet in the
middle of the Pacific.

After dinner Garth yawned expansively and opined that he would turn in.
The unwonted exercise of the afternoon, he declared, had fagged him
out.  But I had no mind for bed.  My brain, stimulated by the
unaccustomed environment, was active.  The apparition at the graveside
during the storm had profoundly disquieted me and I wanted to think.
So I strolled outside for a solitary pipe beneath the stars.

On the shore I found Carstairs, pipe in mouth, contemplating the sea.
I love the old-time Regular, such as Carstairs, with his twelve years'
service in the Sappers, was, his loyalty, his quiet efficiency, his
eminent common sense.  And as between two professional soldiers a bond
of silent sympathy had established itself between Carstairs and me.  We
had not even discussed the incident of the drink I had given him that
night on board the yacht.  Having ascertained that Carstairs was
practically a total abstainer, I gave Mackay a hint to forget all about
his nocturnal diagnosis.  I had my own theory about that drink and
perhaps Carstairs had his; anyway, we did not discuss it.

"Grand night, sir!" said Carstairs, taking his pipe out of his mouth as
I approached over the sand.

"Wonderful!" I commented.  "Good spot this, Carstairs!"

The man did not reply.  He was sucking on his pipe which did not seem
to be drawing well.

"It's a uncanny kind o' place, as you might say, sir!" he remarked
presently.

"Well," I observed, "it's a bit lonesome, I suppose.  But all desert
islands are that!"

"Lonesome?" retorted the man.  "I wouldn't have nothing to say agin it
if it were lonesome.  I'm partial to the moors and such-like places
meself.  I never was a one for the towns, sir.  But I don't like all
these tall rocks and all these quiet trees at the back of one.  They
give me the fair 'ump!"

I laughed.

"You want the desert, Carstairs," I said.  "Nothing but sand and then
some.  No trees looking at you there!"

"It ain't altogether the trees an' the cliffs!"

The man paused and scratched his head with the stem of his pipe.

"There's something sort o' creepy about this place, sir!"

"How do you mean?"

"Well," he said slowly, "it's a funny thing, but all the blessed
evening I've had a kind o' feeling as if I was being watched.  You know
how it was in the war, sir--w'en you was workin' out in No Man's Land
on a pitch-black night, scared to death you was walkin' into Fritz's
line, tellin' yerself all through 'If you can't see him, he can't see
you' but feelin'--well, as though there was nothin' but eyes starin' at
you all around!"

He shook himself.

"It fair gives me the creeps!" he finished.

Now Carstairs was a plain honest-to-God Englishman from the New Forest,
the very incarnation of the soldier from the English shires whose sheer
lack of imagination and consequent inability to accept defeat in any
circumstances clear broke the German spirit in the war.  There was no
associating that good-humoured face, that big mouth and button nose,
with the idle fears of an overheated imagination.  There are some
people--I am one--who, even though they see nothing, have the faculty
of detecting the presence of human beings in their vicinity.  I
recalled the eerie sensation I myself had had on landing but, of
course, above all I thought of that bowed figure which the lightning
had shown me standing by the grave in the clearing.

I was filled with the deepest foreboding.  If there were people on the
island, surely they must have remarked the arrival of the _Naomi_.
Would they not have announced themselves to us?  What object could they
have, supposing Carstairs was not mistaken, in slinking round the camp?

Well, it was no part of my plans as yet to communicate my fears to
Carstairs.  So I rallied him gently.

But Carstairs stuck to his guns.

"It come over me so strong w'en you and the guv'nor was away this
evening," Carstairs said, "that no less than four times I left my
cook-pots to have a look round...."

"Well, and did you see anybody?"

"Not a blessed soul!"

"Did you hear anything?"

"No, sir!"

Yet the man was not to be shaken.

"W'en I was servin' dinner jes' now," he persisted, "I was as sure as
sure there was a chap watchin' me from just about there,"--he turned
and indicated the black shape of a palm on the fringe of the
shore,--"not doin' anything but jes' settin' there, spyin'!"

The man knocked out his pipe.

"I'm to call you gentlemen at four, sir.  If you didn't mind, I think
I'll get down to it!"

This little bit of trench slang (which, being interpreted means to
retire for the night), uttered in our romantic surroundings, amused me
not a little.

"Good night, Carstairs!"

"Good night, sir!"

He plodded up the beach, his feet making no sound on the soft sand, a
white, ghostly figure against the dark foliage.  Then he was swallowed
up in the mystery and silence of the night.

There was no moon, but in compensation such a prodigious display of
stars as only the tropics can show, blazing and twinkling in their
myriads till one could almost believe the heavens were in motion.  On
the open shore there was yet a kind of half-light but beyond, where the
woods began, the blackness of the night was Stygian.

Carstairs was right.  This island was an eerie place.  The absolute
stillness of the night, marred only by the mournful rhythm of the
waves, seemed to accentuate that air of expectancy about it which I had
already remarked.  I found myself thinking of the island as of a stage
set for the performance of some play.

Here, perhaps, I reflected, the Unknown, destined for that nameless
grave I had come to seek, had landed, carried ashore, maybe, by his
native crew.  I tried to picture him, with death in his face, painfully
scrawling the message which had so strangely come into my hands.  What
manner of man was this Unknown?   A German officer, a naval officer
probably (as the reference to Kiel seemed to indicate).  And for whom
did he write?  For Germans, for a German.  Yet there were no Germans,
as far as I knew, in the gang that had taken two men's lives to get the
message now reposing in my pocket.  Black Pablo, Neque, El Cojo....
these were Spanish names.

El Cojo?  "He who goes with a limp."  _Der Stelze_, Clubfoot, had been
the nickname of that other cripple, the man of might in that Imperial
Germany which sank to destruction in the fire and smoke of the
Hindenburg Line, whose ways lay in dark places, whom everybody feared
but whom so few had ever seen....  If he could rise from his grave and
seek me out on the island, then, indeed, might my imagination, like
poor old Carstairs', people these darkling woods with hidden spies!

Sunk in my thoughts I had wandered on heedlessly, going ever deeper
into the tangle of the forest.  But now the undergrowth, growing
thicker, barred my further progress and I came to an abrupt halt with
the thick tendril of some creeping plant wound about my body.  On it
blossomed a gaudy flower with a heavy, musky scent.  The touch of the
creeper on my bare arm made me shrink.

It was as dark as pitch in that jungle-like forest.  A phrase I had
read somewhere about "opaque blackness" flashed into my mind.  I
realised I stood an extremely good chance of being lost, and cursed
myself for a dreamy fool.  Fortunately, I had the orientation of our
camp--I had taken it that afternoon on the beach--and I knew that, by
striking west, I should roughly hit Horseshoe Harbour where we had put
ashore.

I took out my compass and opening the lid, bent over the luminous
needle.  I stood absolutely still to allow the pointer to swing to
rest.  Then, from the black depths of the forest all about me, a gentle
droning fell upon my ear.  I listened.  No mistake was possible.  It
was undoubtedly a human voice.  And it was softly humming, as a man
might hum quietly to himself, to pass away the time.  I listened again.
The voice rose and fell, with now and then a break, but always on a
muted note.  Suddenly, I caught the melody, a melancholy, haunting
refrain with a phrase, as in a folksong, that came again and again.
And I felt the perspiration break out on my brow, my heart grow cold
within me, as I recognised the air....

  "_Se murio, y sobre su cara_
    "_Un panuelito le heche...._"


It was the song of Black Pablo, the singer in the lane.



CHAPTER XII

I MEET AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE

I remained rooted to the spot.  The droning chant went on.  How far the
singer was from me, it was impossible to estimate; for a voice carries
far at night--he might be anything from twenty to a hundred yards away.
There was nothing to do but retire;.... in that clammy, steamy darkness
any idea of stalking a man was out of the questions.

All the events of the past week came tumbling into my brain.  They had
tracked me down, then, and now I was at grips with El Cojo's famous
organisation....  But this was no time for speculation or surmise.  I
could think matters out afterwards; for the moment I must keep my mind
clear and concentrate on getting out of this dense jungle quietly and
quickly.

Now the humming had ceased.  Did it mean that the singer was moving
forward?  I strained my ears but could catch no sound other than the
rustle of the leaves as they dripped moisture.  To move in silence
through the clinging undergrowth was, I knew, a thing impossible.  An
old memory of capercailzie shooting in Russia came to my aid.  One
stalked the male bird perched on a tree-top as he uttered his love-call
to the females at the foot.  When he called one moved; when he stopped,
one halted.

The droning recommenced.  Did my ears mislead me?  It certainly sounded
nearer now.  My compass lying flat in my left palm, I moved swiftly
forward, heading for the west.  When the humming ceased, I stood still
and pushed on again as soon as it was resumed.

A horrid thought assailed me.  Was the singer the spy whose unseen
presence had impressed itself on Carstairs that evening?  Or were there
others?  Had the cordon let me through only to draw in upon me as I
returned?  I had no weapon; for I had given Carstairs my revolver to
clean and oil on our return from camp that evening after our wetting.

The crooning chant had grown much fainter.  I must be drawing away from
it.  I paused an instant to wipe away the sweat which was pouring into
my eyes.  Then came a sudden crash in the undergrowth close to hand.  I
steeled myself to the encounter, getting my back to a tree and
striving--but how vainly?--to pierce with my eyes that bewildering pall
of darkness.  Another heavy crash, a frightened squawk, and I breathed
again.  It was only one of the island pigs whose nocturnal rambles I
had disturbed.

And now for full five minutes I had heard the singer no more.  The
forest was getting lighter, and like blissful music there came to my
ears the distant surge of the sea.  Presently, without further
incident, I stepped out on the beach not more than twenty paces from
our cave.

A black shape rose out of the darkness at my feet.  It was Carstairs.
I put my hand over his mouth and drew him into the cave.  The place
re-echoed with Garth's rhythmic snoring.

"You were quite right, Carstairs," I whispered.  "There is someone in
the woods back there!  Have you heard or seen anything?"

"No, sir!" the man returned.  "But I was that certain sure there was
somebody round the place that I nipped in and got a pistol to sit up
and wait for you...."

He showed me the automatic in his hand.

"I don't like the look of things at all, Carstairs," said I, "and
that's a fact.  I'm not getting the wind up over a lot of shadows; but
I don't propose to risk having the camp rushed.  You've got some
bread-bags and the like, haven't you?  Well, get one of the shovels and
start filling 'em with sand, will you?  If we can run up a bit of cover
round the entrance to the cave, one man ought to be able to hold it
against all-comers.  Meanwhile, I'll wake Sir Alexander here!...."

It is a little embarrassing to rouse a man up out of his beauty sleep
and tell him you have been keeping essential facts from his knowledge.
However, I could at least honestly claim that, until that moment, I had
nothing stronger than suspicions to go upon.

Propped up on his elbow, Garth heard my whole tale just as I have set
it down here, from the moment that John Bard identified Black Pablo
with the man who had kept watch outside Adams' hut down to the strange
happening in the woods that night.

"Just what we are up against, Sir Alexander," I concluded, "I don't
know.  But we're here for a specific purpose and I feel sure you will
agree with me that we should not allow a band of filthy cut-throats to
deter us from it!"

"Certainly not, my boy, certainly not!" declared the baronet.  "As a
matter of fact, I cannot really believe that these fellows really
intend us any harm.  After all, we're British subjects and a little of
Britain goes the deuce of a long way in these parts...."

"Very possibly, sir," I replied, "but you must remember we do not know
how strong this party is.  Force is the ultimate sanction of the law,
they say; but on this particular island British prestige is backed up
by exactly three very imperfectly armed Britishers...."

"If you'll allow me to say so," Garth broke in pompously, "you go
rather fast.  From the accident that you overheard on an island which
we previously believed to be uninhabited a song you heard sung (in
peculiar circumstances, I grant you) at Rodriguez, you appear to assume
that the men who murdered Adams have landed on this island.  Your song
may be a popular favourite in Rodriguez; everybody may be singing it.
Have you thought of that?

"If this figure you saw at the grave and this man whom you heard
humming in the forest belong to this mysterious gang led by El
What's-his-name, then they must have followed us here.  But how did
they come?  We have seen no steamer.  If, on the other hand, the song
incident is capable of some simple explanation such as I have
suggested, your last valid link of evidence connecting these mysterious
visitors of Cock Island with El Thingumybob's gang snaps."

This was very ingenious.  But it didn't convince me.  The intonation of
the singer in the forest was identical with that of the man in the
lane.  Of that I was sure.  Besides, in the back of my mind lurked a
half-formed suspicion about Custrin which I had not as yet thought
proper to communicate to the worthy cotton-spinner.  And, as for having
seen no steamer, I recollected that launch which had put out from
Rodriguez after us.

"I'll tell you something else," Garth resumed, "that perhaps you don't
know, major.  Many of these Pacific islands do contain treasure; not
doubloons but something almost equally valuable; phosphates.
Adventurers are always roaming about the Pacific prospecting for guano
deposits and mighty shy they are, many of 'em, of casual visitors.  Now
you mark my words, these chaps who have been behaving so oddly are in
all probability just a band of shysters from Rodriguez--without any
concession, of course--dropped here by a ship to look for phosphates.
They think we've come to jump their claim...."

I felt very perplexed.  Garth was a hard-headed Lancashire business man
and there seemed to be a good deal of horse sense in what he said.  And
yet somehow....

I walked to the entrance of the cave and looked out.  In awe-inspiring
majesty the sun came rolling up from the east and the glistening beach
was dyed in the hues of the morning.  A few paces away Carstairs was
shovelling sand for dear life.  Already he had filled a dozen stout
cotton bags.

"You may be right, Sir Alexander," I said at length.  "I hope you are.
But even if these gentry are concession-hunters we have to bear in mind
that they are a cut-throat lot.  They are quite capable of shooting
first and of asking your name afterwards.  I'm going to run up a little
sand-bag parapet at the mouth of this cave.  It commands a fine field
of fire and will allow you or Carstairs to challenge anybody who comes
within thirty yards.  As soon as we've put the place in a proper state
of defence I'm going out to do a little reconnoitring on my own...."

"My dear fellow," remarked Garth, sitting up in bed and nursing his
toes, "to hear you talk you'd think the blessed old British Empire had
ceased to count in the world.  Foreigners can't go about murdering
British subjects, you know.  They'd have the Foreign Office on them
damned quick, send a cruiser and all that sort of thing.  However," he
finished indulgently, "I'm quite prepared to hold the fort while you
have a look round.  I'm not sorry to have a lazy morning for, to tell
you the truth, I'm so stiff from our climb yesterday that I can
scarcely move!"

Rather with the air of Daddy helping his little boy to build
sand-castles, Garth assisted me to erect a parapet at the mouth of the
cave.  There were not many sand-bags, but we helped out with some cases
of tinned provisions, putting the sand-bags on top and then a layer of
sand scooped out from the foot of our fortification.  The screen of
creeper across the entrance to the cave, while it obscured the view
from outside, was not so dense as to prevent anybody within from
commanding the approach to our stronghold.

Carstairs brought coffee and sandwiches and at my request filled my
flask with brandy and brought me my automatic pistol and a couple of
charges of ammunition.  Then, turning my back on the sea, I once more
struck out into the woods.

My plan was to make for the grave in the clearing.  This should be the
test.  If our mysterious visitors were after the treasure I made sure I
would come upon them in the vicinity of the grave.  For, as far as I
knew, the grave was the only indication they had to guide them in their
hunt.  It was still very early, and if I could gain the clearing
unobserved, I would post myself at some convenient point, perhaps on
the high ground beyond the grave, and await events.

I went forward very cautiously, my pistol cocked in my hand.  I stopped
repeatedly and listened; but, save for the hubbub of the birds in the
trees, all was still around me.  The burbling stream that fell from the
high ground of the island to the beach gave me my direction.

I had reached a narrow ravine at the end of which was that flat rock
whence, on the previous evening, Garth had described the ruined hut.
On a slab which formed a convenient step to mount the boulder something
white caught my eye as I came down the nullah.  To my unbounded
surprise it proved to be one of those cheap cigar-holders made of
cardboard which so many Germans use.

I stooped to examine it.  The holder with its quill mouth-piece, was
quite clean and obviously brand-new.  Therefore, it was no relic of the
former visitors to the island.  _And it had not been there yesterday_.
I had mounted by this very slab to stand by Garth on the flat rock and
if the holder had been there, I could not possibly have failed to see
it.

It looked as though it might have dropped out of a man's pocket as he
was scrambling up the rock.  The name of a popular firm of
cigar-merchants, with branches all over Germany, was printed on it.
"Loeser und Wolff, Berlin.  S.W.  Friedrich-Strasse," I read.  I knew
the shop well.  I had bought cigars there scores of times in the
past....

A sudden feeling of uneasiness, an acute sense of danger, came over me.
To be shadowed is an almost everyday experience on our job and one
develops a kind of sixth sense in detecting it.  I had the distinct
impression that somebody was watching me.

My brain worked swiftly.  I was in the open, without cover, liable to
be shot down with impunity from the edge of the ravine.  To keep
perfectly calm, to show no signs of fluster and, above all things, to
spot your man without his knowing that he has been seen, is the only
safe course in moments like this.  My grip tightened on my pistol as,
very slowly, I began to raise my head....

The top of the rock above me was level with my eyes.  As I lifted them
my gaze fell upon a monstrous mis-shapen boot, projecting awkwardly
over the edge.  For the moment, I had no eyes for the huge figure that
stood there resting on the rubber-shod stick.  I could only stare, like
one transfigured, at that sinister club-foot, as a voice, a
well-remembered voice that for months had haunted me in dreams, cried
out sharply:

"Stay as you are and raise your hands!  Quick!  And drop that gun!"

I glanced up and as I lifted my arms, my pistol rattled noisily on the
slab below.

Over the barrel of a great automatic clasped in a huge hairy hand, the
Man With the Clubfoot was looking at me.



CHAPTER XIII

EL COJO

Well, I was up against it now.  In vain my memory protested against the
credibility of the evidence which my eyes could not repudiate.  Grundt
was dead these four years; had I not seen him, dimly through the blue
haze of smoke from my brother's automatic, sink back lifeless on the
carpet in the billiard-room of that frontier Schloss?  Had I not even
read his obituary in the German newspapers?

Yet here he stood before me again, the man as I had known him in the
past, ruthless-looking, formidable, sinister in his clumsy, ill-fitting
suit of black.  Again I noted the immense bulk which, with the overlong
sinewy arms, the bushy eyebrows and the black-tufted cheek-bones
irresistibly suggested some fierce and gigantic man-ape.  Beneath the
right eye a red and angry scar, a deep indentation in the cheek-bone,
solved at a glance the mystery which had almost paralysed my brain.  My
brother's aim had failed.  That hideous cicatrice, accentuating the
leer of the bold menacing eyes and of the cruel mouth, told me beyond
all possibility of doubt, that, out of the dim, dark past, Clubfoot had
again arisen to confront me.

A sort of cold despair settled down upon me.  That Clubfoot would, in
his good time, shoot and shoot to kill I made no doubt; for we had been
mortal enemies and quarter did not ever come into Grundt's reckoning.
All kinds of odd scenes from my crowded life swarmed into my mind; dear
old Francis serving in the tennis-court at Prince's; a juggler on the
Maidan at Calcutta, when I was a subaltern in India; Doña Luisa,
standing in Bard's gardens and rolling her white eyeballs at me....

Then Clubfoot laughed, a dry mirthless chuckle.  The sound was
forbidding enough but it braced me like a tonic.  I had beaten this man
before; I would beat him again.  I dropped my eyes, seeking to locate
my pistol.

"Five paces back, if you please, Herr Major," rang out a commanding
voice from the rock.  "And, to save misunderstanding, let me say that
it would add to the decorum of the proceedings if you renounced any
attempt to find your weapon...."  He spoke in German in accents of
deadly suavity.  "On the occasion of our last meeting you--or was it
your brother?--showed that your hand is the prompt servant of your
brain, an invaluable asset (let me add in parenthesis) to the big-game
hunter, but disconcerting in civilised society...."

What a commanding presence this man had!  Again I was conscious of it
as, before his slow and searching gaze, I fell back as ordered.  He
seemed to fill that narrow glen.  This effect was not produced by his
bulk (which was considerable) but by his amazing animal vitality, the
mental and physical vigour of some great beast of prey.

Keeping me covered with his pistol, he lowered himself to a sitting
position on the rock and with surprising agility in one crippled as he
was, dropped heavily on to the slab.  In a lightning motion he stooped
and whipped up my automatic which, with a whirling motion of the left
hand, he sent flying away into the bush.

"Now, Okewood," he remarked, "you can sit down!  But be good enough to
keep your hands above your head!"

He gave me the lead by seating himself on the rocky slab.  I followed
his example and dropped on to the ground.

"Would you mind," I asked, "if I clasped my hands behind my head?
Otherwise, the position is fatiguing...."

"Not in the least," retorted Clubfoot, baring his teeth with a gleam of
gold, "as long as you remember that I shoot quickly--and straight!"

He measured the distance between us with his eye and then, as though in
deliberate challenge, laid his pistol down on the rock beside him.  He
produced a cigar case from his pocket.

"I seem to recollect that you are a cigar-smoker!" he began.

"Thanks," I retorted, remembering the holder I had picked up, "I don't
smoke German cigars!"

Clubfoot chuckled amiably.

"Nor do I!" he rejoined.  "I believe you will find these as good as any
that ever came out of Havana.  Not long ago I was a highly respected
member of the Club there!"

And he tossed his case across to me, after selecting a cigar for
himself.  I let it lie.  I was not taking favours from this man.

Grundt raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders.  But he made no
comment on my ungraciousness.

"Herr Major!" he said as he bit off the end of his cigar, "I must once
more congratulate you on the supreme excellence of your country's
Secret Service!  The intelligence system which located this remote
island as the hiding-place, real or imaginary, of treasure, is
remarkable!  The resource you displayed in acquiring the document which
now rests in the letter-case in your pocket does credit both to the
service and yourself.  My congratulations!"

Here he paused to light his cigar from a pocket-lighter and with lips
pursed up, noisily exhaled a long puff of smoke, cocking his head to
watch the smoke drift aloft.  It was nonchalantly done.  But I knew
that in reality he was watching me.

I felt puzzled.  Obviously, he was feeling his way; _ergo_, he was not
sure of his ground.  And he had no inkling, apparently, of the aimless
way in which I had stumbled upon this amazing adventure.  He seemed to
believe that I was _en service commandé_.  Well, I could put up a bit
of bluff on that....

"You will at least do us the justice," he resumed, "of not withholding
your admiration of the way in which, as the result of careful planning,
this pleasant reunion of to-day was achieved.  The luck was on your
side that night at Rodriguez, Herr Major; if my orders had been carried
out, we should have spared ourselves--and you--this cruise in the
Pacific...."

"You mean," I retorted, "that, if your spy had done his work properly,
he would have cut my throat as well as that other poor fellow's and the
woman's...."

"I can honestly say," observed Clubfoot, blinking his eyes benignly at
me, "that I should have sincerely deplored such an eventuality...."--he
paused and smiled expansively;--"at hands other than my own...."

My brain was working rapidly.  Grundt was apparently alone.  But,
knowing the man, I guessed he had help in the vicinity to summon at
need.  Therefore, even if I could get past that gun of his, a frontal
attack was out of the question.  I wondered whether, if my return to
camp were over-long delayed, Garth or Carstairs would come out in
search of me.  At best we were only three.  Against how many?  So far I
only knew of two, the stranger at the graveside and Black Pablo.  But
to have brought a ship here from Rodriguez argued a crew.  In any case
we were hopelessly outnumbered....

Curiously enough, Clubfoot himself answered my unspoken question.

"Now, Okewood," he said leaning forward and looking sharply at me, "I
don't have to tell a man of your intuition and.... and imagination that
the game is up.  I shall be quite frank with you, _jawohl_.  We are
fourteen against you and your two companions.  I am well acquainted
with your movements, you see.  And, to remove any misapprehension from
your mind, let me say at once that I am not the only German in our
company.  You are not dealing exclusively with men of the calibre of
Black Pablo whose minds are a confusion of murder and the soft
allurements of love.  You will be wise to capitulate gracefully and
hand over that message which, incidentally, was never meant for you.
And perhaps, since two heads are better than one--and, I have, as you
know, the highest opinion of your intelligence--I might consider
allowing you to help in working out the clue...."

Again that note of doubt!  Then I realised that I was, after all, the
only man, barring Dutchey who was dead, who had spoken to Adams.
Apparently Clubfoot believed that I might have information as to the
hiding-place of the treasure additional to the indications in the
message.  Now I began to understand the meaning of his honeyed words,
his deadly suavity.  And I guessed that he could not _afford_ to kill
me--at least, not yet.

"Grundt," said I, speaking with all the decision I could command, "if
you think I'm going to work in with you, you're making a big mistake.
On the contrary, I'm going to show you what it means for a German,
after the Armistice, to lay hands on an Allied subject.  Your knowledge
of our Intelligence service will tell you that it does not leave its
agents unprotected...."

I broke off significantly and looked at him.  Mine were brave words
enough, though, the Lord knows, my heart was in my boots.  But bluff, I
have often noticed, has a heartening effect upon the bluffer; and I was
summoning all my strength to face whatever dark fate was in store for
me.  For I realised that, whether Grundt and his merry men found the
treasure or not, either way my chances at long last of leaving the
island alive were of the smallest.

Very coolly Clubfoot flicked the ash off his cigar.

"Quite, quite!" he observed carelessly.  "But for the time being, my
friend, let us not forget that you have to forgo that protection.  An
_Engländer_ in the hand is worth two light cruisers in the Pacific.
You take me?"

With his cigar thrust out at a defiant angle from his mouth, he planked
his hairy hands palms downwards on his knees.

"I'll put the situation quite plainly before you!" he said.  "You're in
grave danger, Okewood.  I've a rough lot of shipmates and they've got
the treasure fever in their blood.  My German companions have no liking
for their dear English cousins.  We have some survivors of von Spee's
squadron; they are absurdly prejudiced against you and your race.  The
brother of the gentleman who wrote that message in your pocket is with
me.  He was an officer of the _Gneisenau_ sunk by your Admiral Sturdee
at the Falkland Islands...."

There came into my mind the picture of that blonde youth as I had seen
him in the storm standing with bowed head at the grave.

"....We have the bo'sun of the _Nürnberg_, her sister vessel, and a
couple of _Blaujacken_ of the _Dresden_ who swam ashore after your Navy
destroyed their ship off Juan Fernandez, besides various army veterans
from France.  And, my dear Okewood, I need scarcely tell you that,
after the Somme and the Hindenburg Line, our brave 'eighty-fivers'
dislike you British even as much as our sailormen do...."

A little tremor ran through me.  My hands were shaking with excitement
behind my head.

I shrugged my shoulders.

"You must let me take my hands down, Herr Doktor," I said.

He glanced sharply at me, then picked up his pistol.

"Why?" he demanded fiercely.

"To get out my letter-case!"

Clubfoot nodded sagely.

"So, so!" he murmured, and his fleshy lips bared his yellow teeth in a
cunning smile.  "You have taken my advice.  _Gut, gut_!"

But then he flashed at me a look full of suspicion and menace.

"No tricks!" he warned in a harsh voice of command.
"_Himmelkreuzsakrament nochmal_!  If you play me false, you dog, I'll
blow your brains all over the ravine!  Now, bring your hands slowly
down and remember, one suspicious gesture will cost you your life!"

"Calm yourself, Herr Doktor!" I rejoined.  "I know when I am beaten!"

And I made to pitch the letter-case on to the slab at his side.

Ah, but he was the cautious one, was old Clubfoot.... cautious with
that deadly thoroughness of the Germans that gave a fellow who fell
into their hands in the war such a very slender chance.  He was taking
no risks.  With an imperious gesture he stopped me and made me take out
the message from the case myself.

"Now throw it on the ground in front of you and turn about!"

I dropped the little flannel-encased package at his feet and swung
round.  I heard the cripple grunt with excitement as he stooped; I
could picture to myself the eagerness with which he snatched up the
message.  A moment's silence;--then he bade me face him again.

"I think you acted wisely," he said with his slow smile.  "Bah!  You
hadn't a dog's chance.  See....!"

He blew three short blasts on a silver whistle he drew from his
waistcoat pocket.  Immediately a little cloud of men broke out from the
cover of the trees at his back.

There were, perhaps, half-a-dozen of them.  They were a
villainous-looking lot with the exception of a fresh-faced, clean-cut
young man whose pink-and-white complexion and fair hair were in
striking contrast with the swarthy features and stubbly chins of his
companions.  I knew him again for the man at the graveside.  Another I
particularly noticed was a squat, obese fellow with a patch over one
eye, the other dull and malevolent.  On his yellow jaundiced face a
mass of blue-black stubble extended from the cheek-bones down to the
loose folds of his double chin, while a twisted and flattened nose,
which looked as though a heavy hand had tweaked it, lent a crowning
touch of distortion to a face which was, I think, the vilest I have
ever seen.  From Adams's description I recognised Black Pablo.

Grundt halted them with an imperious gesture.

"Herr Major," he remarked sleekly, "I need not detain you further.  A
word of advice to you, however, the counsel of a friend.  Now that you
will have the leisure to devote yourself to that Government survey work
on which, of course, you came to Cock Island, I would suggest that you
confine your activities to the shores of.... let me see, what was the
name?.... ah yes, of Horseshoe Bay.  The interior of this delightful
island, so they tell me, is most unhealthy and I should be desolated
were any accident to befall you."

He paused and meditatively fingered his heavy chin.

"_Noch eins_!  If you should be tempted by some slight feeling of
irritation at anything I have said or done to contemplate reprisals or
anything calculated to interfere with the.... er, research work of
myself and my companions, let me warn you that I have the means of very
quickly bringing you...."--he stopped and added significantly,--"_and_
your friend to your senses!  _Kinder_!"

His voice rang triumphantly as he turned to his companions.

"_Ich hab's!_"

With a whoop of excitement the ragged band gathered about him.  They
had forgotten all about me, seemingly.  I had a last glimpse of Grundt,
leaning heavily on his stick, holding aloft in one great hairy paw the
little square of oilsilk.

Dejectedly I slunk away.



CHAPTER XIV

"DIE FÜNF-UND-ACHTZIGER"

My back view, head sunk forward, shoulders humped up, gave, I believe,
a convincing picture of utter abasement as I slowly retraced my steps
down the ravine.  But the moment I was out of sight of the ill-favoured
group about the rock, I darted into the thickest part of the jungle
and, after dragging myself painfully through the undergrowth for about
a hundred yards, sank down hot and breathless.

I did not care whether I was followed or not.  I wanted to be alone to
compose my thoughts, to think.  My brain was still reeling beneath the
shock of my stupendous good fortune.  Five minutes since I would
scarcely have given a sixpence for my chances of life.  Yet here I had
regained my freedom of action, had lulled old Clubfoot, by giving him
an easy victory, into a false sense of security and, at the same time,
had obtained the solution of the knottiest point of the whole cipher
message.  At the thought that it was Grundt himself who had given me
the clue which, till then, I had vainly sought, I leant back and
laughed.

"After the Somme and the Hindenburg Line," he had said, "our brave
'eighty-fivers' dislike you British even as much as our sailor-men
do...."

"_Unsere braven Fünf-und-Achtziger_" .... he had used the German phrase
and in a flash brought back to my mind a bit of German naval slang
which I had heard so long ago that I had forgotten it!  "_Die
Fünf-und-Achtziger!_"  What memories of pre-war days the phrase
awakened!  Dinner at Kiel in the ward-room of the German flagship, the
tables ablaze with blue and gold uniforms sparkling with decorations,
guest night in the mess of the Kaiser Franz Hussars at Stettin.... and
always army and navy "shop" the staple theme of our table talk.  To the
Imperial Navy the German Army was (slightly superciliously, for the
rivalry between the two was intense) "_die Fünf-und-Achtziger_" because
the 85th Infantry Regiment composed the garrison of Kiel, Germany's
premier war-harbour.

The garrison of Kiel!  Clubfoot, like all his master's _entourage_, was
in closest touch with the Fleet, the Kaiser's own creation.  That scrap
of navy slang came naturally to his lips and in uttering it, he had
sent with a flash the cipher to my mind.

  "Flimmer', flimmer' viel"
  "Die Garnison von Kiel"


The garrison of Kiel represented the figure "85."  How, then, did the
cipher run _en clair_?

  Heliograph
  85
  Compass bearing of 27 degrees.


Eighty-five, I realised at once, was the angle for the heliograph.  The
message, therefore, read:--

"Turn the heliograph at an angle of 85 degrees (_i.e._, from the
horizontal since it had been wired so as only to be raised or lowered)
on a compass bearing of 27 degrees...."

The weight of the little mirror in my jacket pocket heartened me
immensely.  Clubfoot, I knew, would see the figure "85" in the allusion
to the Kiel garrison.  But the mirror was the starting-point for the
whole cipher.  _And he had never known that a mirror was on the grave_!
The mirror, fixed in position as I had found it, made the first half of
the message as clear as day.  Without this essential pointer the cipher
itself would be useless to Clubfoot.  Even if his remarkably astute
brain should divine the allusion to a heliograph in that first line, he
would not have the mirror....

In any case, his investigations would be delayed.  And I was playing
for time.  Six days must elapse, I reflected, before the yacht could
return.  For how many of these would I continue to enjoy my liberty?
For as soon as Clubfoot realised that he had been fooled, I knew that
he would once again stretch out that long arm of his to seize me.  I
should have to find a secure hiding-place--I thought of the high ground
of the island, somewhere among those lofty volcanic peaks, in this
connection--but the present need was for action.  In the light of the
fresh clue I had obtained, I must push on with my investigation at the
grave itself and that without a moment's delay.  For the rest of the
cipher, notably those baffling bars of music, which were firmly fixed
in my mind,--well, sufficient for the day is the evil thereof!

I looked at my watch.  It was twenty minutes past eleven.
"Mittag"--noon--the message was dated, clearly an indication of the
time at which the experiment with the heliograph was to be made.  If I
were to act, I must act at once.  Fortunately, the grave could not be
far from where I lay.  But what of Clubfoot?

The sound of voices came as if in answer to my query--of voices close
at hand.  Parting the foliage in front of me, I saw a file of men
winding their way through the forest not twenty paces away.  They
appeared to be following some kind of path; for they marched steadily,
one behind the other.

I pressed myself flat behind my protecting bush, only my head raised to
observe the men as they went by.  Now scraps of German came to my ears.
There was talk of someone they called "Red Itzig," a Jew, who was to
read the cipher for them.  Itzig was apparently ill for there was some
chaff about "the Jew" being cured as soon as he could hear that the
treasure was within their grasp.

Did this mean that they were going back to their camp?  And that the
coast was clear for that pressing work I had to do.  Five minutes, I
calculated, would suffice for my purpose.

I kept a sharp eye open for Clubfoot.  Here he came, the eighth in the
party, hobbling along in the rear, with set face, grim and silent.  The
line halted for a moment.  The man in front of Clubfoot, a small, dark
man, doffed his panama to sponge his face.  To my amazement it was
Custrin....  Custrin, whom I had last seen, at the side of Marjorie
Garth, standing at the head of the _Naomi's_ ladder waving us farewell
as the launch took us ashore....

Now I had the solution of something that had greatly puzzled
me--Clubfoot's exact knowledge of where I kept the cipher message, his
allusion to my "Government survey work" on Cock Island.  Then Custrin
was one of El Cojo's spies!  With a little shiver I thought of that
hocussed drink.  What would have been my fate that night but for the
merciful intervention of Providence?  I could make a pretty shrewd
guess.  They would have found me insensible in my berth and Custrin
gone in the morning--in one of the ship's boats.  I wondered vaguely
what had become of the doctor whose papers he must have appropriated....

The voices had died away now and Clubfoot, the last of the line, had
disappeared from my sight.  I had counted eight in the party.  All,
therefore, seemed to have passed.  Softly I began to wriggle myself
forward....

I reached the path which the party had followed.  It was a well-marked
track through the forest.  The trees were not so dense here, and above
my head I caught at intervals a glimpse of dazzling blue sky.  The sun
was very hot.

Quietly and quickly I went down the track, heading for the direction
from which Clubfoot and his men had come.  I went warily, bitterly
conscious of my defenceless state.  But I met no one and presently I
stood on the edge of the clearing, the grave of the Unknown below me.

The clearing was all a-quiver with heat; gorgeous-hued butterflies
danced from bush to bush amid flaming flowers; the drone of insects was
in the air.  I skirted the edge of the basin, then silently dropped
down to the grave.

I took out the little mirror and gave it a good rub-up with my
handkerchief.  Then, going down on my knees, I laid it on the grave as
I had originally found it--face upwards with the holes in the frame
aligned with the holes in the timber baulk beneath.  With my compass I
took my bearing of 27 degrees, adjusted the mirror's position to the
line it gave and then raised the glass on its base until it stood, as
far as one might reckon by the eye, at an angle of 85 degrees from the
horizontal.

I looked at my watch.  It marked five minutes to twelve.

A gleaming speck of light flamed on the mirror's polished surface as it
caught the sun, danced on fern and bush and boulder as I raised the
glass and then, as I steadied it, came tremulously to rest on the
topmost pinnacle of that terraced rock which Garth and I had climbed on
the previous afternoon.

From where I stood I could see the edges of the three shelves which had
been cut by some forgotten generation of cave-dwellers out of the
friable volcanic rock.  The speck of light trembled on the crag on a
level with the topmost terrace.  It rested on a tall, flat stone which
stood out from the rest of the weather-beaten face of the rock because
its surface was smooth while all the rest was jagged and serrated.
Only the upper part of this pillar-like stone was visible to me; for
the projecting edge of the terrace cut off the rest from my sight.  As
far as I could judge the pillar must have been hewn out of the face of
the rock on the highest shelf.

The stone was easy to identify.  I felt a little thrill of excitement.
What should I find on scaling the rock?  From the first terrace on
which Garth and I had rested before the thunderstorm there had been, I
now recalled, a little winding path leading aloft.  What did the cipher
say?

  "Past the Sugar-Loaf you see the Lorelei
  "And if you want the little treasure"

I quoted to myself and realised, with a pang, that I was still without
the key to the riddle of those four bars of music.  Well, the next
thing to do was to climb to that topmost shelf....

Suddenly Garth and Carstairs came into my mind.  With a little twinge
of conscience I became aware that, in the excitement of the morning's
events, I had completely forgotten them.  I was sorely tempted to push
on with my quest.  But I thrust the temptation aside.  My encounter
with Clubfoot had put an entirely new complexion on the situation.  I
should have to consider seriously with my companions what we were going
to do.  After all it was I who had brought Garth into this business....
With a last regretful glance at that terraced crag where all my hopes
were centred, I turned my back on the grave and set my face for the
shore.  When I emerged at the top of the beach, the first thing I saw
was the _Naomi's_ launch drawn up on the shining white sand.

Garth, followed by Carstairs, tumbled out of the cave at my approach.

"Okewood," cried the baronet and his face was very grave, "what does
this mean?"

He pointed at the launch.

"It means," said I, "that Dr. Custrin fooled us, Sir Alexander.  You
say he presented letters of recommendation?"

"Certainly.  From my New York manager!"

"Well, they were stolen.  I have just seen Custrin in the forest.  He
obviously took the yacht's launch to come ashore and join his
employer...."

"His employer?"

"El Cojo!"

Then I told him about my meeting with Grundt and of the previous
history of the man, of Custrin's attempts to get me to show him the
message and of the opiate he had put in my drink.  Garth listened
without interruption but his eyes began to bulge and his cheeks to
redden in an ominous way.

"Dang it!" he burst out at length, and the northern burr crept into his
speech as it did when he got angry, "I'll see this club-footed man and
learn him to send his spies on to my yacht.  A German, too!  I'll talk
to him.  I'll...."

I observed that they were fourteen to three.

"It will be at least six days before the _Naomi_ calls for us," I
pointed out, "and for that time we are practically at their mercy...."

"And to think that those damned doctors wouldn't let me have the
wireless on the yacht!" exclaimed the baronet.  "Wait till I get a
cable-instrument.  If I don't have a warship here within a week...."

"We've got to do something _now_, Sir Alexander!" I broke in.  "If
Grundt realises that he has been tricked before we are out of his
clutches all a British warship can do is to give us a military funeral.
Do you understand me?  Now I had thought of withdrawing our guns and
stores to the upper part of the island and trying to find a safe
hiding-place there until the _Naomi_ comes back.  But the sight of the
launch has given me a better idea than that.  By the way, where did you
find her?"

"About half a mile down the coast, under some branches she was!" said
Carstairs.  "I was having a bit of a look round and I came upon her.
She'd had a rough time, by the look of her.  There was a lot of water
in her afore I baled her out.  I brought her round and beached her...."

"Is there any petrol in her?" I asked him.

"She always carries a reserve of forty gallons," Garth replied.  "And
that's intact.  And her tank's half full!"

"Then," said I broaching my idea, "why shouldn't you and Carstairs take
her and fetch the _Naomi_ back?  Alcedo is only a matter of a hundred
miles or so.  You could be back here with the yacht to-morrow or the
next day.  You've got the chart, haven't you?"

"Aye," rejoined Garth slowly, "I've got the chart and a compass.  But
we're not leaving you here?"

"Yes," I said, "you are."

And I drew him aside.

"With luck," I told him, "I may have twenty-four hours--not more--in
which to work undisturbed on the clearing-up of the cipher.  I have no
right to throw this chance away.  If I were to go with you and to find,
on our return, that Clubfoot and his gang had stolen a march of us and
found the treasure, I should never forgive myself....  And there's
another thing!  I've brought you into this mess, Garth, and, believe
me, I take it very kindly of you that you have never once reproached
me, as was your right, with my responsibility in the matter.  Knowing
that you are out of the island I shall have my mind easy on that score.
Besides, I shall be able to reckon on your being back within
forty-eight hours and can lay my plans accordingly!"

I had a lot of trouble to overcome his resistance; for he was a
stout-hearted fellow.  But my mind was made up.  All my life I have
played a lone hand and I knew that I should face the future with
greater confidence by myself.  In the end I had my way and the three of
us immediately set about filling up the launch with stores and water.

In half an hour all was ready.  We pushed the launch down into the
water and shook hands all round.

"If I don't show up when you land," was my parting injunction to Garth,
"occupy the beach here and wait for me.  I shall always have the cave
to come back to.  And fire a gun, when you sight the island, to let me
know you're here!"

With that Carstairs started the engine and churning up the green water,
the launch glided out into the harbour.  I did not wait to see her fade
out of sight in the spray of the surf-bar for I had not a moment to
lose.  I made at once for the cave to collect a few provisions for my
change of camp.

      *      *      *      *      *

I had filled a knapsack and was strapping it when a sudden sound
brought me hastily to the mouth of the cave.  The launch had
disappeared and the bay lay deserted before me.

Somewhere in the woods behind me I had heard a woman scream.



CHAPTER XV

MARJORIE'S ADVENTURE

It was the high-pitched cry of a woman in terror.  It rang out sharply
over the ominous silence, resting on that quiet island.  And it was not
far away.  Clapping my hand to my pocket to make sure I had the
automatic pistol which Carstairs had pressed upon me before he left, I
dropped the knapsack and darted from the cave.

I had no clear purpose in my mind, I think.  Did not Edmund Burke tell
us that the age of chivalry is dead?  But half the battle in this
curious work of ours is knowing what the other fellow is up to and I
have never been able to sit down quietly under uncertainty.

Swiftly I mounted the rocky slope from the shore.  Behind me the gulls
uttered their mournful cries as they hung above the placid sea and in
the woods around me there was the loud chatter of birds.  But there was
no sound of human voice.

Then suddenly I came upon Marjorie Garth in a little open space between
two moss-grown boulders.  Though I could hardly believe my own eyes
there was no mistake about it; for her face was turned towards me.  And
she was struggling in the arms of Custrin.  Her face was very pale and
in her grey eyes was a look of despair which I shall not easily forget.
She was wearing no hat and her gold-brown hair tossed to and fro as
with one hand thrust in her opponent's face, she fought desperately to
keep him off.

It all happened in a flash.  The next thing I knew, I felt the bite of
my knuckles in Custrin's damp neck as, my hand firmly clutching his
collar, I tore him backwards.  All my resentment against this false,
sleek, smooth-spoken creature welled up within me and I exulted to feel
him stagger and wilt, then crumple up in a grasp which I willed to be
as violent and brutal as mind and muscle could make it.

Caught unawares he reeled backwards inert, for a fraction of a second a
dead weight in my hold.  But then he reacted.  I felt his wiry frame
stiffen as he struggled to elude me.  But I held fast and swinging him
round, gave him my fist in his face.

It was the force of my own blow that sent him from my
hands,--staggering against a rock which brought him up standing.  A
single word he spoke.

"_Herr!_" he cried and the word burst in a kind of sob from his throat.
In the crisis his native tongue came to his lips and in that moment I
knew Dr. Custrin for a German.

There was murder in his quick, black eyes.  His hand clawed for his
hip-pocket but I was at him at once, driving for his face again.  This
time he dodged the blow and I felt my wrist rasp on the rough boulder
behind him.  For all his pretty drawing-room ways he was game enough,
and with outstretched hands made at my throat.

But I drew back swiftly and as he came at me, let fly with my left to
the point of the chin.  He stopped dead, his eyes goggling, his head
sagging on his shoulders.  Then he crumpled up in a mass at my feet.

I turned to Marjorie.  She stood, where I had found her, against the
other boulder, dabbing at her lips with her handkerchief, her breath
coming and going in quick gasps.

"The beast!" she said and her voice broke.  "The beast!"

Then, plaintively like a little child, she cried:--

"Where is Daddy?  Oh, please, will you take me to him...."

"Your father has gone to fetch the yacht," I answered and broke off in
sheer perplexity.  Where _was_ the _Naomi_?  The unexplained appearance
of Marjorie on the island complicated matters horribly.  Alone I was
content to face the prospect of eluding Clubfoot and the vengeance he
would surely try to wreak on me.  But with a woman....!

There was nothing for it but to put into execution the plan I had
already formed.  I must find--and that without an instant's delay--a
hiding-place and withdraw there with the girl.  That must be my first
care.  The future must look after itself.

And the cipher?  My intention had been to scale the terraced rock to
follow up the next clue.  There were caves there in which we could
shelter and the topmost terrace would surely afford a view over the sea
and enable us to sight the _Naomi_ as soon as she appeared off the
island.

We would make for the terraces and lie, snugly hidden there, until the
yacht came back.  And in this way I might also continue to follow up
the clue to the treasure.  But we must have food and arms.  We should
have to go back to the cave on the shore.

I looked at Custrin.  He lay like a log.

"Come," I said to Marjorie, who was now looking at me curiously.

I glanced down at my clothes and realised that my appearance must be
nothing less than forbidding--my face grimy and unshaven, my white
drill torn and stained and my boots all soggy with sea-water.

"You look so tired.... and so grave," she said.  "What can have
happened?"

"Let us go back to the camp," I rejoined, "and I'll tell you as we go."

"What about.... him?" she asked and looked at the prone form of the
doctor.

"He'll sleep it off!" said I, "and the longer his slumbers last the
better I shall be pleased!"

"But we can't go away and leave him like this!" she expostulated.

"When you have heard my story," I rejoined, "you will think as I do.
He'll be all right.  He's stirring already.  Come!  Let's go back to
the shore!"

As we turned in the direction of the beach, I said:--

"But how on earth did you come to be here?  What has happened to the
_Naomi_?"

A little red crept into the girl's cheeks and she bit her lip.

"I wasn't going to be left behind.  I told Captain Lawless so.  I
insisted on joining Daddy on shore.  There was an awful row,
but"--triumphantly--"I had my own way in the end.  It was really Dr.
Custrin who managed it for me.  He said he would take the
responsibility of explaining to Daddy that I _would_ come.  And, as the
captain was anxious to be off, he said he would let us keep the launch.
The _Naomi_ went on to Alcedo...."

"But," I said, "where have you been since yesterday?"

Marjorie laughed mischievously.

"Daddy will be out of his mind when I tell him," she replied.  "I spent
the night at a prospector's camp.  Dr. Custrin found that he knew some
of the men there."

I stared at her in astonishment.

"Was the leader a club-footed man?" I asked.

"Yes!" rejoined the girl in a bubble of laughter.  "Such a funny old
thing.... a German.  There were lots of Germans there.  It was quite
extraordinary.... like a dream!"

"But," I protested, "why didn't you land on our beach?  Why was it
necessary to spend the night with these people?  A girl like you,
alone!"

"Oh," she laughed back at me, "you needn't be so scandalised.  I can
take care of myself.  I meant to bring Yvonne, my maid, you know, with
me, but the silly creature lost her courage when it came to dropping
into the launch and she wouldn't come.  Just as we were through the
surf-bar we were caught in that tremendous thunderstorm and we had to
run straight for the shore.  We tied up the launch and started to walk
through the woods.  Then we came upon this party of prospectors.  Dr.
Custrin seemed very surprised to find them there.  He said it would be
impossible to locate your camp in the dark and we should have to stay
the night.  They were all very nice to me and I had a room in a sort of
wooden hut just above the beach."

Mentally, I took off my hat to Custrin.  Not only had he contrived to
get ashore without arousing suspicions but he had brought with him a
most valuable hostage.  Grundt had spoken of having the means of
bringing us to our senses.  Now I knew what he had had in mind....

"When I woke up this morning," Marjorie continued, "I found that
everybody, including Dr. Custrin, had gone.  A hideous-looking negro
was left in charge.  There was some man ill, too, in one of the huts.
The negro seemed to be watching me all the time and I got horribly
frightened.  So, after waiting a long time for the doctor to come back,
I decided to start off and find Daddy and you for myself.  The sick man
called the negro into the hut for a moment and I got away.  Then I met
Dr. Custrin in the woods and he tried to stop me.  He wanted to kiss
me, too...."

She paused and looked at me curiously.

"You hit him very hard, didn't you?" she remarked.

"I'd have twisted his neck clean off," I answered savagely, "If I'd
known then what I know now!"

"I thought you were going to kill him," said the girl.  "You must have
a very bad temper, Major Okewood," she added sedately.

After what I had already gone through that day, it galled me to think
of the two of us chatting away as inconsequently as though we were on
the lawns at Ascot.  No man, I grant you, could have had a more
charming companion than Marjorie Garth and she was as pretty as a
picture in the plain tussore riding costume she wore with a rakish
little brown felt hat.

But I was in no mood for badinage.  I was haunted by the imminent peril
of our position and weighed down by my responsibility for the safety of
this girl.  So bluntly, for my nerves were on edge and every flowering
bush seemed to conceal an enemy, I told her how things stood.  She
listened very quietly but when I had finished I noticed that her little
air of raillery had gone.

"If you only knew," I concluded, "how bitterly I reproach myself for
bringing you into this...."

"When you came on board the _Naomi_," Marjorie said gently, "you could
not tell that you would be followed to the island."

"That," I rejoined rather forlornly, "is my only excuse."

We halted in the woods on coming in sight of the sea.  The beach was
deserted, as we had left it, with the sea-birds wheeling ceaselessly
over the bay and the tide lapping gently on the white sand.

The light was mellowing.  My watch showed it to be five o'clock.

"We shall have to hurry," I warned, "for we must be in our new retreat
before it is dark."

I bade her wait there while I fetched from the cave the knapsack I had
packed and the Winchester.

I advanced cautiously down the shore.  I wondered what Grundt was
doing.  How oppressive the island silence was!  It unsettled me.  I
thought of the strange unnatural hush which is said to precede an
earthquake.

I bent down and lifted the pall of creeper screening the mouth of the
cave.  As I entered a bulky form rose up from one of the beds.  There
was no mistaking that massive figure, its slow, deliberate movement.  I
sprang back but the creeper hampered my movements and before I could
gain the open, my shoulders were firmly grasped, my arms pinioned.  I
sought to twist myself free but I was held by those who must have held
a man before and I could barely struggle in that iron grip.  As I thus
stood helpless I heard Marjorie cry out.



CHAPTER XVI

BLACK PABLO MAKES HIS PREPARATIONS

They pushed me into the cool dimness of the cave.  An odour of unwashed
humanity, which blended gratefully with a searching smell of garlic,
hung about my unseen captors.

"Herrgott!" cried Grundt, "it's as dark as pitch in this hole.  Cut
away this cursed plant, some of you, and let's have some light!"

The creeper fell away.  The golden sunlight that flooded the cave
showed me Clubfoot, his black-tufted hands folded across the crutch
handle of his heavy stick, grim and lowering.

Black Pablo and a regular Hercules of a man, a broad-chested,
yellow-bearded giant, a good type of the German bluejacket from the
Frisian seaboard, were holding me.  Grundt made a quick gesture of the
hand.

"Take away his gun!" he ordered.

The fair young man I had seen at the graveside stepped forward.
Roughly, vindictively, he ran his hands over me.  He found Carstairs'
automatic in my side pocket and transferred it to his own.

"You see these men," said Clubfoot, bending his bushy eyebrows at me.
"Their orders are to shoot to kill in the event of any attempt on your
part to escape.  And whatever your private views on suicide may be you
will probably bear in mind that Miss Garth--the charming Miss
Garth--will, in any case, be left to mourn you...."

This allusion to Marjorie frightened me.  There was no suavity about
Clubfoot now.  He was in his blackest, most menacing mood.  His face
was positively baleful; and there was a twitching of his black-bristled
nostrils which warned me that he was on the verge of a paroxysm of fury.

"Leave me alone with him!" he commanded brusquely--his voice was harsh
and snarling--"but remain outside within call!"

I felt the blood rush back into my numbed arms as the men relaxed their
grip and withdrew.

Nervously Grundt's great fist beat a little tattoo on his open palm.
He appeared to be making an effort to control himself.

"You would play a double game with me, would you?" he said.  "No man
has ever double-crossed me and got away with it, do you hear?  My
master may be in exile, my country fallen from greatness; but _I_ am
king here.  Do you understand that?"

His pale lips trembled and he stuttered as he strove to master his
rising passion.

"This cipher message is useless, as well you know.  Without the
preliminary indication, it is unintelligible.  So Itzig, who in his day
was the greatest cipher expert the Russian Okhrana ever had, has
reported to me.  And you knew it, you.... you...."

He pawed the air with his huge hand, the fingers outstretched.

"They have examined his grave again.  There are signs that something
was attached to the timber-work.  What that was the drunken Englishman
who first visited the grave must have known.  And he confided it to
you.  'I know when I'm beaten, Herr Doktor'; and 'I'll give you the
cipher,' say you!  You thought you were too clever for old Clubfoot,
the cripple, the beaten Hun.  But I'm master here, Herr Major, and you
shall do my bidding!...."

"You are misinformed, Herr Doktor!" I said, trying to speak calmly.  My
lips were dry and my heart-beats thumped in my ears.  But I was not
thinking of myself.  I was tormented with anxiety for
Marjorie--Marjorie in the hands of those men.

"Don't answer hastily!" counselled Grundt changing to a tone of deadly
calm that struck chill on my heart.  "Ulrich von Hagel, who wrote that
message, left it for one who should come after him, who would be a
naval officer like himself.  He wrote it so that it should be
unintelligible to the casual person into whose hands it might fall, yet
as clear as day to one of his own caste.  And you would tell me that
the message as it stands is all he left behind!  _Nein, nein, Herr
Major, es geht nicht_!  I know that you have this information"--he
crashed his fist into his open hand--"and you are going to give it to
me!"

I shrugged my shoulders.  I would not speak yet.  Sooner or later, I
knew, they would use Marjorie to break my silence.  Then it would be
time to speak.  Till then I must await developments.  After all, time
was on my side.

My gesture seemed to rekindle all Grundt's rage.  Slowly the colour
faded out of his face, leaving it livid save where that hideous scar
beneath the cheek-bone made an angry patch of red.  His bushy eyebrows
drew together and his mouth trembled.

"So you'd still play with me, would you, you scum?" he shouted, his
voice rising to a roar.  "You'd pit your wits against mine, would you?
_Herrgott_, I have an account to settle with you and that brother of
yours, and, by God!  I'm going to settle it!  And you shall pay double
for the pair of you!  Do you know...."--his voice dropped to a savage
whisper--"that these German seamen of mine would cheerfully abandon all
claim to the treasure for the pleasure of taking vengeance on you for
all your country has made them suffer in these long years, hunted,
degraded, outcast?

"Do you realise that I have but to raise my hand and you're a doomed
man, and not the whole might of the British Empire could save you?  But
we shall take our time.  You will not die too soon, my friend.  First
you shall speak!  And if you remain obstinate, there is always the
charming English girl...."

He clapped his hands.  On a sudden the cave seemed filled with angry,
shouting men.  My head swam for I was worn out with want of sleep and
faint with hunger.  Something struck me on the back of the neck a
violent blow.  I felt myself falling, falling....

      *      *      *      *      *

How long I remained unconscious I don't know.  When I regained my
senses it was to find myself in semi-darkness in a long, low-roofed
shed.  It was dimly lit by a ruddy light which fell through some kind
of grating in the roof.  I could see no windows.  The atmosphere was
stifling and the floor and walls fairly swarmed with enormous
cockroaches.

They had laid me down on a pile of sail-cloth in a corner.  My head was
splitting and I had a raging thirst.  My pockets had been rifled and my
brandy-flask was gone.  I leaned back on my hard couch, my head against
the rough wall of planks, and idly watched the flickering reddish light
that filtered through the grating.  I was vaguely aware of some
unpleasant news that lurked, like a robber in ambush, in some
unfrequented corner of my brain ready to pounce out upon my first
conscious thought....

Somewhere outside a guitar was thrumming random passages of Spanish
dances, punctuated, now and then, by a little burst of castanets.  The
soft murmur of voices became audible every time the guitar stopped,
with here a laugh and there an exclamation.  Presently a voice called
"Pablo!": the lilting rhythm of a dance theme stopped--suddenly in the
middle of a bar--and the click of the castanets was stilled.  Then, to
soft, plaintive chords heavily stressed, an exquisite liquid tenor
voice began to sing.

  "Se murio, y sobre su cara"
  "Un panuelito le heche...."
  "Por que no toque la tierra...."
  "Esa bocca que yo bese!...."


The chords broke off abruptly on a single string that sung
reverberatingly.  There was laughter, applause, the confusion of men
speaking together.  Then a voice said distinctly in German:

"He hadn't come round when I looked in ten minutes ago.  Karl knows how
to send them to sleep with that blow of his...."

"He'll come out of dreamland quick enough when _der Stelze_ gives Black
Pablo the word!" another voice replied.

"O Pablo," cried one in Spanish, "O Pablo!  You shall try your little
persuasions on the Señor!"

"_Si, si_," came from many throats.

"_Madre de Dios_," answered a voice in guttural Spanish.  "He shall
speak for me, _muchachos_!  And if he will not speak, then, _caramba_!
maybe he'll sing for us and for the lovely _Señorita_ as well!"

Then followed a roar of acclamation.  Then Black Pablo said:

"Patience a little while, _amigos_, until the chief comes.  I go to
make ready the fire!...."

I sprang to my feet.  I heard no more of the talk outside, the cries,
the laughter, the chaff.  The time had come for action.  I must decide
at once between complete capitulation to Grundt or one last bid for
liberty.

But what guarantees had I that Grundt, with the heliograph in his
possession, would respect any promise he might give me as the price of
surrender?  None.  I could not trust him and, as he had told me, he had
an old score to pay off.  And if anything should happen to me before
the yacht returned what would become of Marjorie?  Free I might help
her; therefore any risk was justifiable to secure my escape.

Escape?  But how?

The shed was solidly built of heavy logs, the door the only visible
means of egress.  The grating which admitted the air was a steel-bound
frame too narrow, as I could see at a glance, to admit the passage of
my body.  I scrutinised the floor.  It was of planking, well-made and
seemingly in good condition.  It struck hollow to the foot and I
surmised that, as is generally the case with sheds of this kind, the
structure was laid on a concrete foundation.

In the course of my examination of the boarding I moved the pile of
sail-cloth.  Beneath it was a plank in which an iron ring was sunk.
The sheer unexpectedness of my discovery, the prospect of escape it
opened to me, left me with brain numbed, irresolute.  The talk and
laughter had died down outside, but, from time to time, my ear caught a
measured foot-tread as though a guard were walking up and down before
the shed....

The plank came up easily enough.  My heart sank within me.  It revealed
merely a shallow trough about three feet deep going down to the
foundations of the shed which, as I had guessed, were set in concrete.

I got down into the hole and crawled in under the floor.  It was
pitch-dark and abominably hot down there under the boards with a strong
smell of rats.  Face downwards, my head frequently scraping the planks
above me, I crawled along the concrete bed, hoping against hope that I
might find some hole, where the outer wall of the shed rested on the
concrete base, which would enable me to scramble through to freedom.

But I was doomed to disappointment.  Here and there I found a cranny
wide enough for the flat of my hand to pass.  But nowhere was there an
opening large enough to take anything bigger than a cat.  I could only
conclude that the trap I had found was made for the purpose of allowing
repairs to be effected to the lower woodwork of the shed.

Half-suffocated with the heat and almost blinded with dust, I was
painfully crawling back to my trap when my head hit a plank along the
wall with more than usual violence.  The beam, seemingly rotten
underneath, eaten perhaps by ants, splintered like touch-wood and my
head came up through the floor.  I found myself looking into the shed.

Then germinated in my mind the seed of a great idea.  The next best
thing to escaping is to give the appearance of having escaped, a theory
which many of our war prisoners in Germany turned to good account.  If
my captors were not acquainted with the construction of the shed, if,
as I calculated, they would, from the discovery of a large hole in the
floor, jump to the conclusion, without further investigation, that I
had burrowed my way out under the floor, the guard over the shed would
be relaxed and I should, at any rate, have a little breathing-space in
which to think out the next move.  There were a lot of "ifs" about my
plan.  But it was the only one I could think of for the moment and I
set about putting it into operation at once.

Where the rotten plank had given way I enlarged the hole as much as
possible.  Then I climbed back through it into the shed, replaced the
plank with the ring and covered it up again with the pile of
sail-cloth, and without further delay dived down again through the hole
I had made under the floor.  I crawled away among the beams and joists
as far as I could go in the direction of the other side of the shed and
then lay still.



CHAPTER XVII

THE ESCAPE

Good fortune, I have always contended, comes to those who make ready to
receive it.  I can well imagine the Foolish Virgins of the parable
spending the rest of their lives lamenting their hard fate and
attributing their wise sisters' preparedness not to prevision but to
good luck.  Throughout my life I have always tried to leave nothing to
chance but the _dénouement_.  It is in the _dénouement_ that Fate lies
in ambush, waiting to slay or to spare....

I had done what I could, I reflected as I lay up in my stuffy hole.
Now Fate must take a hand.  I had no settled plan.  In course of time
they would come to look for me and if they did not drag me forth by the
heels from my hiding-place, I should watch for the best opportunity
that presented itself for my dash into liberty....

I think I may have dozed off; for I did not hear the shed door above me
open.  What brought me to my senses with a shock and set my nerves
a-tingling was the stump of a heavy footstep, a well-remembered halting
step, that made my heart stand still.

Then came the hubbub of excited voices, the glare of torch-light
filtering through the interstices of the floor and the roar of
Clubfoot's voice shouting orders.  A long beam of white light clove the
darkness of my lair.  Someone had climbed down into the hole.  I held
my breath and wondered whether against the white concrete on which I
lay my drill suit might escape notice.

Heavy feet trampled above my head; a door slammed violently and a
whistle shrilled thrice.  Again there came that clumping tread, shaking
the very fabric of the hut.  Then silence fell and I breathed again.

Suddenly a voice spoke, almost in my ear, as it seemed, from outside
the shed.

"He may have tunnelled," the speaker said in German.

"If he has," replied a voice in the same language, "he can't have gone
far.  He hadn't time!"

The voices moved away.

The speakers were obviously going to make the round of the shed on the
outside to see where I had escaped.  They would find no opening and I
should be caught like a rat in a trap.  If I were to make a bolt for
it, it must be now or never.  I began to shuffle my way backwards
towards the hole in the floor....

The shed was empty and, oh! thank God! the door stood wide.  Beyond it
I had a glimpse of an open space surrounded by half a dozen wooden
huts, a fire burning low in the centre.  I tiptoed to the door.

The night was very dark.  I could hear men crashing about on the
outskirts of the camp.  One of them carried a torch and its red and
smoky glare flickered over the trees and bushes.  But the little clear
space between the huts was deserted.  Once I could get away from the
light thrown by the fire....

Now I was through the door.  I could hear them on the far side of the
shed.  In three silent bounds I was past the fire and across the open.
Then I was brought up short by a low building lying directly in my
path.  As I halted, nonplussed for the instant, a door facing me opened
and a mulatto poked his head out.  He recognised me for a stranger at
once.  He rolled his eyes at me in surprise and would have cried out.

But I leapt at him, my fingers at his throat, and as he toppled over
backwards across the threshold of the door, I tightened my grip until I
felt the breath choking out of him.  However, having got him down, I
released my hold and ran my hands over his filthy clothes.

In the hip-pocket of his striped cotton trousers I found a Browning and
a large key.  I thrilled at the touch of the pistol in my hand.  After
successfully travelling the first stage on the road to freedom I had
now a weapon to help me over the next!  Surely things were coming my
way!

The mulatto, upon whose chest my knee pressed hard, was grey with fear.
He was a picturesque-looking ruffian with rings in his ears and a gaudy
bandana handkerchief bound about his brows.  I tore off his head-dress
and unceremoniously crammed it into his mouth.  There seemed to be
about three yards of it and it was far from clean.  But the yellow-boy
gobbled it down and by the time I had pushed the end of it past his
thick lips he appeared to be very effectively gagged.  Then I strapped
his hands together behind his back with his own belt and tethered his
legs with an end of rope which I found in a corner.  He made no attempt
at resistance.

This job satisfactorily accomplished, I rose to my feet and looked
about me.  Where was Marjorie?  Had any harm befallen her?  In my
mind's eye there arose the picture of her as I had left her standing on
the fringe of the forest, a slim, girlish figure, a little thrilled but
making such a brave show of calm.  What had they done with her?  In
which of these squalid huts was she confined?

The room in which I found myself, dimly lit by a single candle stuck in
a bottle, was obviously the cook's galley.  There was a stove in one
corner and remnants of food on the table.  The mulatto, of course,
would be the cook.  Then there crept into my memory something Marjorie
had said about a hideous negro in whose custody she had been left
before I met her with Custrin in the forest.  And I turned over in my
hand the key which I had taken from the mulatto's pocket.

At the back of the kitchen was a door.  It was locked but that key
fitted it.  As I softly turned the lock and swung the door back, there
was a little cry, a flutter of something white, and Marjorie stood in
the pool of yellow light thrown by the guttering candle across the
threshold.  I beckoned to her and put my finger to my lips.

She was very pale and her face looked as though she had been crying.
But her splendid courage never failed her.  She seemed to take in at a
glance the disordered room and the yellow-skinned mulatto trussed up on
the floor.

"My dear!" she whispered softly as she came out and stood by my side as
though awaiting orders.

The galley door gaped wide as I had left it.  The open space about the
fire was still deserted; but I yet heard the sound of voices and the
crash of feet in the undergrowth beyond the circle of light flung by
the dying embers.  And I noticed with growing anxiety that the eastern
sky was growing light.

"We can't afford to wait!" I whispered to the girl.  "We shall have to
run for it.  If only we can make our way in the dark to the grave!  I
can find myself to rights after that...."

"There's a path through the forest to the grave," rejoined Marjorie.
"I followed it this morning.  I can show you where it is."

I made her drink a cup of rum from a wicker-bound jar that stood on the
floor and took a dram myself.  It was wicked stuff, raw and almost
proof, but I felt a great deal the better for it.  I also pocketed some
cold meat and bread.  Famished as I was, I would not stop to eat; but I
meant us to make a meal at the first opportunity.

Suddenly, from somewhere quite close at hand, voices reached my ear.
Swiftly I drew the galley door towards me and peeped through the crack.
Silhouetted against the firelight two figures were striding rapidly
towards the hut.  One of them, a great black shape, went with a limp.

In a flash, without a noise, I pulled the door to and flattening my
palm on the candle, extinguished it, plunging the galley into darkness.

"We must get out by the back," I whispered to Marjorie at my side.

"There is no way!" she replied.  "There is not even a window in the
back room!"

"Then stay here behind the door!" I told her.  "And, whatever
happens.... whatever happens, do you understand?.... don't make a sound
but leave things to me.  And when I say 'Run,' run!...."

In a bound I was at the mulatto's side and had dragged him by the feet
into the inner room.  It was a fetid, black hole.  I felt the outline
of a truckle bed against the farther wall.  I flung the cook down on it
and spread a blanket over him.  I was back in the galley at Marjorie's
side just as a heavy footstep rang on the hard earth without.

Then the hut door was violently flung open.

"Pizarro!" called a thick voice in Spanish.  "Pizarro!  _Nombre de
Dios_!  Is the man deaf?"

We pressed ourselves flat against the wall as the door swung inwards.
A white gleam of light pierced the darkness of the room and showed up
clearly the rough panels of the door at the other end.

"Well!" said the thick voice, in German this time, "the door's shut
anyway!"

The hut shook to his heavy tread as he stumped in, the fair young
German, the brother of the Unknown, at his heels.  Noiselessly I
slipped out behind them.

They stopped suddenly.  Clubfoot was at the door.  If they turned round
now, I should have to fight for it....

"_Na nu!_" ejaculated Grundt, without looking back.  "The key's in the
door.  Show a light, Ferdinand!"

I heard the door creak on its hinges, saw the flash-light pick out the
vague shape beneath the coverlet on the bed.  And then the full force
of my error broke upon me.  I had left the mulatto's head exposed and,
instead of Monica's soft golden-brown hair, Ferdinand's lamp showed us
a coal-black woolly thatch.

Clubfoot, half across the threshold, swung round to the young German
who was close behind him.  But, before he could speak, I pitched myself
with every ounce of weight I could command at Ferdinand's back and
propelled him and Clubfoot violently into the inner room.  I heard the
loud crash as they fell in a heap on the floor and a smothered screech
from the bed as I slammed the door and locked it.

"Now," I cried to Marjorie, "run!...."



CHAPTER XVIII

A FACE AMONG THE FERNS

In my ears rang angry shouting, the sound of heavy blows rained upon
that inner door, as I dashed out of the hut.  Marjorie flashed by the
front of the sheds and took a rocky path which led off steeply to the
left.  As I tore after her a man stepped out quickly from the angle of
the hut to bar my passage.  But without faltering in my stride I drove
my elbow into his face and he slipped backwards, striking his head
against the split log facing of the shed with a horrid crack.  I did
not stop to see what became of him but ran on, congratulating myself
that I had laid him out without using the pistol which my right hand
clutched in my pocket.  For I knew that the sound of a shot would bring
the whole horde buzzing about our ears.

Daylight was coming now with great strides.  The morning mists clung
sluggishly about the lower part of the steep incline leading up from
the hollow where the camp was situated.  As we topped the path we came
into view of the shores of a little cove and glimpsed a long, grey
motor-launch that lay at anchor.  This, as Marjorie told me afterwards,
was Sturt Bay which, I remembered, the "Sailing Directions" had
mentioned as the only practicable landing-place other than Horseshoe
Bay on the island.  In that deep hollow the sheds must have been
invisible both from the land and the sea side.  When, later on,
Marjorie told me that Clubfoot's men, in their talk among themselves,
always referred to the huts as "The Petrol Store," I thought I
understood why such care had been taken to conceal the camp from prying
eyes.

Now we were in the forest following a winding track.  Though, on
looking back, it seems to have been the height of foolhardiness, I do
not think we could have acted otherwise.  For it was essential that we
should reach the high ground undiscovered before it was fully light and
we might have wasted hours trying to find the way through these dense
woods where, though day was at hand, the shadows of the night yet
lingered.

The noises I had heard on the outskirts of the camp had ceased.  The
silence made me uneasy.  We relaxed our pace to a walk and went along
swiftly and softly, our feet making no sound on the spongy ground.
Suddenly, from a clump of rich green ferns, not a pace away from me, a
man's head arose.  I did not require to see the heavily bruised
features to recognise Custrin.  If ever the intent to kill peered out
of a man's face, it did from the quick, black eyes of the doctor of the
_Naomi_.

It happened far quicker than it takes to write it down.  I could not
see his hands; but there was a warning rustle of the ferns, a sudden
change in the face, which told me he was going to shoot.  The index
finger of my right hand was crooked round the trigger of my pistol as
it lay in the side pocket of my jacket....

We fired together.  Something "whooshed" by my ear.  In accents of
shrill surprise Custrin cried out: "Oh!" stared at me stupidly for the
fraction of a second through the blue haze that drifted on the air
between us, then pitched forward on his face into the clump of ferns.
There was a horrid gush--a convulsive movement of the hands--and the
body lay still.  The woods seemed to ring with the report, and there
was a smell of singed cloth in the air.  The pocket of my jacket was
smouldering....

Now silence descended once more upon the forest, broken only by a
faintly audible drip! drip! from the drooping head at my feet.  Then
suddenly a distant hallo went echoing through the woods; another shout,
much nearer at hand, answered it and was answered by another until the
whole forest rang again.

I turned to Marjorie.  White to the lips, she stood with her face
averted from that limp form sprawling in the ferns.

"We must make a dash for it, partner!" said I.

Docilely, like a little child, she thrust her hand in mine.

"Don't go too fast!" she pleaded, "I'm--I'm--afraid of being left
behind...."

Hand-in-hand, like the Babes in the Wood, we set off again through the
forest, pelting headlong down the track.  Unmolested we reached the lip
of the clearing and dropped down into the hollow where the grave lay
bathed in the lemon-coloured light of the new day.  In front of us
towered the rugged mass of rock for which we were making and my eye
sought on the topmost terrace that pillar of dressed stone which held,
as I firmly hoped, the secret of the treasure.

Panting we scrambled up the shelving slabs of stone which led to the
foot of the crag.  In order to reach the first shelf I had given Garth
a back; but I guessed that the track I had seen winding aloft from the
first terrace must, somehow, find its way to the ground.

We followed the base of the rock round till, presently, we came upon a
tiny, zigzag foot-path, crumbling and precipitate, leading upwards.  By
this we were out of sight of the clearing, but the sounds of pursuit
drifted across to us more plainly every minute.... the noisy passage of
men through the undergrowth, raucous shouts.  They seemed to be beating
the jungle, keeping in touch with each other by calling.

The attack, when it came, would come from the rear.  Therefore, I made
Marjorie go first up the path.  I looked at her anxiously.  She was
game all through, this girl; but her eyes were wistful and her mouth
drooped pathetically.  The path, winding its way across the face of the
rock, brought us on to the first shelf and thence, from the far end,
pursued its course aloft.  As we stepped out on the terrace a shout
rang out from below and at the same moment a bullet hit the rock with a
rebounding thwack right next to my ear while another whined shrilly
over our heads.

"Go on, go on!" I cried to Marjorie.  Together we dashed across the
terrace and then the winding of the path brought us under cover again.
We toiled on, the path growing steeper and steeper.  I kept looking
round to see if we were followed; but the grey path below us remained
deserted.

As we mounted higher I noticed that the shelves cut out of the rock
face grew narrower.  The second terrace was scarcely more than twelve
feet wide.  Since we had left the first terrace we had looked out over
a stern landscape of barren rock and lonely crag without a vestige of
green.  But, when we were within measurable distance of the third and
topmost terrace, the path suddenly bent to the left and a magnificent
panorama of land and sea burst upon our gaze.

Far below us the belt of green jungle was spread out at our feet; the
waving green trees sloped down to the cliff-sheltered anchorage where
the white wings of sea-birds flashed in the sun; a broad belt of deep
blue sea ran out to the horizon all round.  In the foreground our
narrow path zigzagged to and fro, like a fluffy grey ribbon gummed to
the rock.  Just beyond we looked into the cup-shaped hollow with the
grave.  Tiny figures, every detail clear-cut and distinct in that
limpid air, were dotted about the clearing.  One leant heavily upon a
stick which, as we stood and gazed upon the view, he raised and with it
pointed aloft.

"Hurry, hurry!" I cried to Marjorie, but almost before I spoke a rifle
again rang out in the hollow below and the dust spurted at my feet.  It
was some thirty yards to where the path, turning once more, would bring
us out of sight and we scrambled forward with the bullets "zipping"
angrily in the dust or noisily flattening themselves out on the rock.
Several of the men in the clearing seemed to be firing, for the bullets
came pretty fast.

It was a harrowing experience to be shot at at that height, perched on
a precipitate path like flies on a ceiling.  I plunged forward, my
heart in my mouth.  Now Marjorie had reached the bend and having
rounded it into cover, had halted, waiting for me to draw level.  A
bullet struck the ground between us splashing the grey volcanic dust
knee-high and the next moment I had scrambled into safety.  Then I saw
that the topmost terrace was only a few yards from us.

I turned to the girl.  She had gone very white and she seemed to be
leaning for support on the rocky wall at her side.  Before I could
speak she heaved a little sigh and pitched forward.  I caught her in my
arms.



CHAPTER XIX

WHICH PROVES THAT TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE

I don't think she fainted.  It was just that her forces had failed her.
She lay quite motionless in my arms, her red-brown hair a splash of
colour against the white sleeve of my coat.  But a few yards, as I have
said, separated us from the shelf, so I lifted her up.  I felt a soft
arm steal round my neck as she steadied herself.  I glanced at her
face.  Her eyes were open.

"Hold tight," I bade her, "and whatever you do don't look down!"--for
at that height the clear drop down the side of the cliff was enough to
make an Alpine guide dizzy.  Looking steadfastly ahead and fighting
down a horrible feeling of giddiness I carried the girl up the path and
at length stood upon the ledge.

It curved round the face of the rock, a mere shelf not more than two
paces wide but slanting inwards, which improved one's foothold.  From
it the face of the cliff dropped sheerly to the nullah hundreds of feet
below.  I ventured a peep over the side and my brain fairly swam; for I
am no hand at heights.  From somewhere above us a great bird suddenly
went up with a vast flutter and, with a few strokes of its powerful
wings, propelled itself through the air until level with us it hovered
motionless at an immense height above the stony valley.

"I'm going to set you down now," I said to the girl.  "Lie quite still
and don't move until I come back.  I'm going along the ledge a bit to
see if it broadens out at all or if there's a cave."

As gently as I could I put her down.  The wind blew invigoratingly on
the pinnacle of the crag and I hoped it would revive her.  I stood and
listened.  No sound came from below.  But I knew that until I found a
spot from which we could survey the ascent we should not be safe.

I edged my way along the shelf as it curved round the rock.  A few
steps brought me in sight of its termination.  It ended in nothing; but
what caught my eyes was the tall pillar chiselled out of the rock upon
which the flash from my mirror had rested.  Beside it was a low opening
in the back wall of the cliff.

The pillar was merely a high expanse of "dressed" stone, as the masons
say, which had been carved out of the soft surface of the peak.  From
pictures I had seen of the images on Easter Island I knew it to be the
first state of one of those uncouth effigies, relics of a departed era,
which are found in more than one island of the Southern Seas.  The
pillar was not inscribed or carved in any way.  It stood just as some
native mason had left it waiting for the sculptor's hand.

A touch on my shoulder; Marjorie stood at my side.

"I'm a poor kind of soldier, partner," she said, "to fail you at the
critical moment.  I was at the last gasp when you picked me up.  How
ever did you manage to bring me up here?"

"Don't ask me," I laughed.  "I was terrified for fear you'd look over
and get scared...."

"I don't mind heights," the girl rejoined simply, "we live a great part
of the year in our place in Wales, you know, and I've done quite a lot
of climbing in my time.  Oh!  Look!  Did you ever see anything so
wonderful?"

We were side by side on the ledge with our backs to the pillar and as
she spoke she stretched forth her hand and pointed across the valley.
Above the jagged crests of various isolated peaks in the foreground a
gigantic solitary image raised its tall black form against the deep
azure of the ocean which was spread out to the horizon.  Its back set
to the sea, its features, stern and enigmatic in expression, turned
towards us, and clearly visible in that transparent atmosphere, it
dominated the little rocky plateau on which it stood, dwarfing the
tremendous blocks of stone strewn about its base.  Before it, as if
from a sacrificial altar, a thin spiral of black smoke slowly mounted
aloft against the blue sky.  It seemed to rise from the ground at the
foot of the effigy.

It was, in truth, a wonderful sight, a spectacle of sheer majesty.
That lonely Colossus with its cruel face seemed to embody the
suggestion of sinister mystery which, I had felt from the first,
brooded over Cock Island....

Marjorie gave a little shudder.

"This island frightens me!" she said.  "To think of that awful-looking
image standing there gazing out across the valley for all these
hundreds of years as if it were waiting for something.  Somehow it
reminds me of that club-footed man, so hard, so ruthless, so....
_patient_!  Grundt makes my blood run cold!...."

He had not molested her, it appeared.  When I had left her to enter our
cave on the beach, men had suddenly surrounded her and carried her away
to the sheds.  There she had been handed to the custody of the mulatto
who had locked her in the room behind the galley where I had found her.

"At meal-times," she added, "they brought me out to their open-air mess
in the space between the huts.  No one spoke to me.  But they eyed me
silently, especially Dr. Grundt.  He always seems to be thinking, that
man, and I'm sure his thoughts are wicked.  And the man they call Black
Pablo!  He kept edging towards me and leering with his one eye.  Oh!
It was horrible...."  She had seen nothing of Custrin since her
encounter with him in the forest.

Clubfoot, she told me, had had some trouble with his men.  They were
grumbling at him for having let me go.  The Germans, especially the
blonde young officer, were particularly bitter.  But Clubfoot had
rounded on them and said that, as long as there were trees on the
island to hang mutineers on, he would have no questioning of his
authority.

Somewhere in the green tangle of woods far below us a single shot rang
out sharply.  The report went reverberating down the valley and from
the tree-tops a cloud of birds swooped up affrighted.  I did not hear
the flight of the bullet so I could not see that the shot was meant for
us.  Yet there were only Clubfoot's men on the island now.  Was Grundt
asserting his authority?

The girl had dropped to her knees, and now seated herself cross-legged
on the ground.

"If you and I are partners," said she, "don't you think the time has
come to take me into your confidence?"

She invited me with a gesture to seat myself by her side.  I glanced
down at the valley.  Below us and to the left the ascending path twice
wound into view.  From our coign of vantage one might infallibly pick
off anyone who tried to push our position from the path.  Though I was
inclined to think that the gang had had their fill of fighting for the
day, I was glad to be in a position from which their next move must be
unerringly revealed to me.

I followed the girl's invitation; for I was very weary.  To tell the
truth, I welcomed the chance of resting quietly for a spell.  I needed
to think out the grave difficulties besetting us.  It was clear that we
could not stay where we were, for I had only five rounds of ammunition
left.  And Marjorie, who sat by my side, her rich brown hair blowing
out in the wind, her eyes fixed dreamily on the hideous image staring
sardonically across the valley at us; I had to think of her.
Henceforth, any risk I took must inevitably imperil her safety.... it
was a horrid thought.

When would the _Naomi_ come back?  And could we risk holding out till
the promised gun announced her return?  She could not arrive at the
earliest before the evening, I calculated.

I brought out the meat and bread I had taken from the galley and we ate
it together, side by side.  Although the sun had not long risen, there
was already a heat in its rays which warned me of what its noon-day
fierceness would be.  And I was keenly alive to the fact that we had no
water.

"I can see by your face," said Marjorie suddenly, "that you are
worrying about me.  And I want to be a help, not an impediment.  I made
you an offer of partnership once before!"

"I know," I rejoined, "but I didn't know you then...."

"I was so anxious to help," she said.  "And you would tell me nothing!"

"I'm afraid I don't know much about women," I said.

"Major Okewood," exclaimed the girl, turning round and looking me full
in the face, "you surprise me!"

"It's true...." I began.

But Marjorie laughed merrily.

"You're too delightful for words," she said.  "Why, my dear man, if you
understood women you'd have...."

She broke off hastily and added:

"There are only two kinds of men: those who say they do understand
women and don't and those who admit they don't and don't.  But all the
same don't you think it's rather insulting to one's intelligence to
find a man locking up his secrets in his heart simply because he's read
or heard somewhere that a woman is not to be trusted?"

I looked at her with interest.  This young girl, with her ridiculous
clump of reddish brown hair, her slim straight limbs, her calm
child-like eyes, made me feel like a naughty little boy being
reprimanded by his mummy.

"Yes," I said limply.  "I suppose it is!"

For a minute her eyes encountered mine, and in them I read her
reproach.  She dropped them almost at once and a sort of embarrassment
silenced us.  Then it suddenly occurred to me that she and I were
alone; I wondered to find that neither the prospect of spending the
night, maybe several nights, in the company of a man of whom she knew
next to nothing, nor the danger to which she was exposed, had shaken
her out of her serenity.  This girl was full of character.  My wish,
that poor man's wish which I had hardly dared to admit to myself on
board the _Naomi_, rose to my mind with such force that I felt the
blood mount to my face.

But Marjorie took my hand and patted it as she might have patted a
child's.

"Tell me about your mission!" she said.

I kept her hand and seated at her side in the shade of that ancient
pillar, with the fresh breeze caressing our faces, I told her how Fate
had put into my hands the message left by Ulrich von Hagel for Clubfoot
and his gang.  I described to her my efforts to unravel the cipher
which I repeated to her.

"How does it go in German?" she asked; for I had given her the English
version.

"You know German?" said I.

She nodded.

"I used to have a German Fräulein," she answered.  "She was a dear old
thing and as a small girl I often went over to Boppard to stay with her
people.  I knew German rather well."

"Well," said I, "here goes!"

And I repeated the rhyme which had hammered its jingling measure into
my brain:

  "Flimmer', flimmer' viel
  "Die Garnison von Kiel
  "Mit Kompass dann am besten
  "Denk' an den Ordensfesten
  "Am Zuckerhut vorbei
  "Siehst Du die Lorelei...."


I broke off suddenly.

"By Jove!" I exclaimed.  "By--Jove!"

I have spoken of the peaks which stood up in the valley between us and
the stone image.  The words of von Hagel's doggerel sent my gaze roving
interrogatively across the open space and presently it fell upon a tall
slender rock with a smoothly rounded crest which raised itself erect in
the foreground.  And it dawned upon me that there was The Sugar Loaf of
which von Hagel spoke.

I glanced across the valley from right to left, past the image frowning
through the wisp of smoke at its foot, to where other peaks raised
their crests aloft to the blue sky.

Suddenly I turned to Marjorie.

"If you've been to Boppard," I said, "you must know the Lorelei.  Look
where I am pointing and tell me if you see any rock which resembles it!"

Leaning over until her hair brushed my cheek the girl followed my
pointing finger.

"Why, yes!" she exclaimed, "that square grey rock leaning over is
rather like the Lorelei...."

At last I felt that I was within measurable distance of the end of my
quest.  But between me and my goal was interposed that unsurmountable
four-barred obstacle, those enigmatical notes of music.

I had identified the peaks, but what did they signify?  What bearing
had they on the hiding place of the treasure?  I felt utterly
nonplussed and, for the first time, discouraged.

"What does it mean?" asked Marjorie at my elbow.  "What has the Lorelei
to do with the treasure?"

I laughed rather bitterly.

"If I were a musician," I answered, "I should probably be able to tell
you.  As I am not...."

"Please don't be mysterious," the girl bade me.  "Tell me what you
mean."

I told her of the four bars of music.

"They're part of some German tune or other," I told her.  "It's vaguely
familiar to me, but I'm blessed if I can put any words to it.  And I
take it that the words are the thing!"

"Can you hum the melody over to me?" asked Marjorie.

Singing is not my forte.  A combination of bashfulness and a
cigarette-smoker's throat produce from my larynx when I attempt to sing
sounds which I have always felt must be acutely distressing to my
hearers.  But Marjorie listening gravely with her head on one side,
made me repeat my performance.

Then she said:

"But do you know you're trying to sing a song that was all the rage in
Germany when I was there just before the war.  Listen!  I'll sing it to
you!"

And in a clear young voice she sang:

  "Püppchen, Du bist mein Augenstern
  "Püppchen, hab' Dich zum Essen gern."


Then she checked herself suddenly and clutched my arm.  "'Püppchen!'"
she said.  "Oh, partner, don't you see?"

"No!" I replied dejectedly.  "I confess I don't!  I know that
'püppchen' means a 'doll' or a 'little doll' but I really don't see...."

Marjorie raised her hand and pointed a slender finger at the saturnine
image on the opposite side of the valley, seen between the Lorelei on
the left and the Sugar Loaf on the right.

"There's your doll!" she said.

And I knew at last that the riddle was read.



CHAPTER XX

THE BURIAL CHAMBER

Much good the discovery did us, I reflected bitterly.  A thousand, two,
three thousand yards--in that thin atmosphere it was impossible to
gauge distances accurately--of pathless mountain lay between us and the
idol.  Indeed, I hardly gave the solving of the riddle more than a
passing thought now; for my mind was engaged in the more urgent problem
of how to extricate Marjorie in safety from the perilous pass to which
I had brought her.

We could not remain on the rock indefinitely; that much was clear to
me.  Already, under the influence of the sun's rays beating down ever
more fiercely on that exposed ledge, the pangs of thirst were making
themselves felt.  It was Marjorie who mentioned it first.  She asked if
we could find water anywhere.  At our level I thought it was doubtful
and told her so.  Marjorie Garth, I discovered, was a girl who liked to
be told the truth.

"What about that cave beyond the pillar?" she asked, leaning across me
to point at the low opening I had remarked in the back wall of our
ledge.

"While it's light," I answered, "one of us must remain and guard the
path.  I don't know what their inaction means.... but we must be
prepared for anything.  Why don't you have a look at the cave?  But go
carefully; the roof seems very low."

I gave her my hand and helped her up.  She stepped across me, turned
round and gave me a little smile, then bending down disappeared into
the cave opening.  And I, with my automatic in my hand, while I keenly
watched the two little ribands of path below me, racked my brains to
find a way out of our impasse.

I would try and hold out till dark.  If, by then, the _Naomi_ had not
come, we would endeavour, under cover of the night, to reach our cave
on the shore and wait for her.  If, in the meantime, we were
overpowered, I would capitulate and tell Clubfoot all I knew.  In the
meantime, I should have to abandon my hunt for the treasure.

A faint sound behind me made me start.  It was shrill but distant.  I
listened.  I heard it again and this time I recognised the call.

"Coo.... eee!"

It was Marjorie calling from the interior of the cave.  With a quick
glance at the path below, I scrambled to my feet.  The entrance to the
cave was not more than four feet high and I had to bend almost double
to enter.  Within, for a few feet from the opening there was enough
light to see that the floor, brittle and crumbly, sloped down into a
dark void.  I felt my way cautiously along the side of the cave foot by
foot, stooping low to avoid the roof and seeing nothing.  Then from
somewhere far below, as it seemed at my very feet, the girl's cry went
forth again:

"Coo.... eee!"

I stopped.

"Right!" I shouted.  "Where are you?"

From far below the cry came up, faint and a little quavery.

"Down here in the dark and I don't like it!  But I've found water!
There are some steps cut in the rock!"

The lure of the water was irresistible.  I glanced at the path, above
which hung a trembling curtain of heat.  It was still deserted.  I
judged that I might safely risk a quick dash into the cave to quench my
burning thirst.

The cave narrowed as it receded into the rock, and presently my foot
shot out into space.  I groped a bit and struck a shallow step.  Then I
suddenly remembered that I had a stump of candle in my pocket.  I had
picked it up on the previous evening when we had been loading the
launch.  An old campaigner never leaves candle ends lying about.  They
are apt to come in useful--as witness this case.

So I struck a match and lit my bit of candle and peered down.  The
feeble ray only illuminated a black void, a dark narrow shaft; but I
saw that the steps descended almost sheer down one side.  I was now
able to stand erect, so clutching the side of the rock with one hand
and bearing my lighted candle in the other, I started the descent.  And
I counted as I went.

I had counted fourteen steps when suddenly the ground appeared to give
way beneath my feet.  I clutched wildly at the side of the rock, my
hand slipped over the smooth surface, and with a soft rumble the whole
of the steps seemed to slide away.  My light was extinguished and in a
shower of crumbling rock and a cloud of acrid dust, I slithered
headlong into the black shaft.

Well, I was blown sky-high once by a shell in France and I remember
struggling madly with mind and body, as it seemed when I looked back on
the incident afterwards, against the invincible force which bore me
upwards until I gave up the struggle.... and never even remembered the
subsequent bump.  But in this case, though I fought all the way to
check my headlong fall, I never lost consciousness, and I felt in every
bone of my body the terrific jar I received on landing on my back on a
hard, rocky floor.

Some lingering echo told me that the girl had screamed, though I don't
think I really heard her voice.  But the next thing I was aware of was
a little whimpering sound.  Then from the darkness the girl's voice
said:

"Oh, Desmond!"

And I heard a little sob.

I felt dazed and shaken, but I staggered to my feet.

"Marjorie!" I called, "where are you?  I'm all right.  There's no
damage done...."

I heard a footstep, then a hand was thrust into mine, a small warm hand
that entwined its fingers in mine and wrung them hard.  Then, scarcely
realising what I was doing or why I did it, I drew her to me and put my
arms about her, felt the caress of her soft hair against my cheek as
her head rested on my shoulder.  And so we remained a minute or more in
that inky darkness because we were glad to have found one another again.

By some miracle I had kept the candle in my hand all through my fall.
When presently Marjorie drew away from me, I fished out my matches and
rekindled the stump.

We found ourselves standing in a long, narrow chamber with a roof
which, low to start with, sloped down until it stood not more than four
feet from the floor.  The place smelt damp and musty and here and there
the walls gleamed wet where the light of the candle struck them.  Along
one side of the cave was a kind of stone slab.

Just behind where we stood was the narrow shaft by which we had
descended, at its foot a jumble of débris.  I raised the candle aloft
and strained my eyes to see up the shaft.  I stared into blackness; but
I noted that where the stairs had been cut there now remained nothing
but the sheer overhanging wall of rock.  I took Marjorie's arm and
pointed to the wet glistening on the walls.

"Let's drink first!" I said.

My voice sounded strangely hollow in the vaulted place.  I turned and
led her to the rock.  The water was dead cold and delightfully fresh to
the touch.  The girl put her lips to the wall and drank.  I followed
her example.  She finished before I was through; for it seemed to me
that the sun on that ledge outside had drained every drop of moisture
out of my system and I drank and drank again.  But suddenly she plucked
my sleeve and whispered in an awed voice:

"What....  What is that?"

She pointed at the stone slab of which I have spoken.  It resembled a
rough altar built up of big stones laid together like an Irish wall.
And on it lay three or four long and shrunken-looking packets.  The
rays of my candle picked out a round substance that gleamed brightly
through the wrappings of the nearest of these objects.

Even before I stepped up to the stone table to get a closer inspection
I knew what they were.  Here lay the bones of that forgotten race which
had once inhabited Cock Island, the sculptors of the idol which had
frowned at us across the valley.  We had blundered into one of the
island burial-places scooped out of the heart of the rock.  The high
light which my candle had caught up came from a hip-bone which had worn
its way through the bark envelope.  The girl saw it, recognised it for
what it was, and shrank away.

"Let's get away quickly from here!" said Marjorie, nervously.
"These.... these mummies frighten me dreadfully.  Desmond, take me out
into the sunshine again."

Her voice pleaded piteously and it went to my heart.  For I was
wondering....

"Good Lord!" I said, "they're naught but a handful of dust.  There's
nothing to be frightened of!  Come and sit at the bottom of the shaft
while I see about finding a way up!"

I sat her down on a pile of débris and gave her the candle to hold
while, mounting as high as I could on the heaped-up rubbish, I sought
for a means of scaling the shaft.  But the face of the rock, from which
the stairs had broken away under my weight, was now overhanging and so
high that I could not see the top.  The rest of the shaft was smooth
and hard, and try as I would I could not get hand or foot-hold anywhere.

My initial surmise had proved all too correct.  To return by the way we
had come was impossible.  To reach the top we should require to be
hauled up by a rope.  But, in order not to frighten the girl, I kept on
trying to find a way to clamber aloft.  And all the time I was thinking
that, failing any other egress, those blackened mummies were to be our
companions until....

At last, with torn hands and slashed boots, I climbed down again to
where she sat.

"No good," I said.

She stared at me in a dazed sort of way.

"Oh," she exclaimed wearily, "there must be a way up!  We can't stay
here!"

She sprang to her feet and clambered up on the débris, peering aloft.
I reached up and took her hand.

"We'll explore the cave and see if there's another way out," I said
soothingly.

Marjorie turned and looked down on me.

"And if there isn't...." she began.  "Oh," she added hastily, "don't
think me a coward, but I have such a horror of shut-in places.  And
you've altered so much since we came down here, your voice is so grave,
it scares me.  Oh, Desmond, we're not caught here for good....!"

I smiled up at her.

"How you run on!" I said as cheerfully as I could.  "God bless my soul,
we're not at the end of our tether yet.  There's certain to be another
exit at the far end of the cave...."

There was an opening of sorts; for one of the first things I had done
on landing in the subterranean chamber was to see what means of escape
it afforded other than that by which we had entered.  But it was a
slit, a mere air-hole in the living rock which, to judge by a cursory
examination, would scarcely afford passage for a dog.

I have been in some tight corners in my time and it has always seemed
to me that the most frightening thing about death is not the prospect
of death itself, but rather the realisation--and it usually comes upon
one suddenly and without warning--of the inexorability of fate, the
utter impotence of man to escape his destiny.  And very soon after
crashing down into the cave I had understood that our chances of escape
were reduced almost to the vanishing-point.

We had no food, only water and air.  Death by slow starvation awaited
us unless we could attract attention and secure help.  Clubfoot and his
people might be willing enough, in their own interest, to rescue us.
But what chance had we, immured in the bowels of the earth as we were,
of letting him know where we were?  And how was Garth to find us when
the _Naomi_ came back?

Marjorie had risen to her feet.  Her face was a little flushed and
there was a glitter of excitement in her eyes.

"That's it!" she cried, "there must, of course, be another way out!"

And picking up the candle-end she darted across the cave.

I hadn't the heart to follow her.  Better, I thought, that she should
realise for herself our true situation.  Sooner or later she must
understand.  I saw the yellow glimmer of light at the end of the rock
chamber and watched great shadows flicker across the roof as she moved
the candle to and fro.  Then she was beside me again, the candle
between us, and I knew by the convulsive movement of her shoulders that
she was weeping.

What could I do?  What hope had I to offer?  I stretched out my hand
and she clasped it.  Then, to spare our sole illuminant I put out the
candle.  I had thirty-four wax matches left.

Thus hand-in-hand we sat for some time in silence.  The darkness was
thick and clammy like a black velvet pall, the sort of darkness of
which the city-dweller has no experience.  Presently the girl grew
calmer, and with one or two shuddering sighs her sobs ceased.

"My dear," said I, "I want you to have faith in me.  I have been up
against it so often; yet always in the end I have come out all
right...."

I broke off; it was hard to speak with conviction.

"I am afraid," the girl moaned, "so terribly afraid.  At the front I
used to be proud of having less nerves than the other girls.  But to
sit still, in the dark, and wait for death....  I never imagined
anything so terrible.  Do.... do you know that I have to keep a tight
hold on myself to keep myself from screaming?"

"Yes," I said, "and I want to tell you, Marjorie, that I think it's
wonderful how well you take it.  I've seen men get hysterical with much
less reason!"

"And you?" asked Marjorie, "aren't you afraid of death?"

"When it comes, yes," I answered.  "But this job of ours, my dear,
teaches us to live for the present and let the future take care of
itself.  At the front the worst part of a push was the waiting for it;
when the whistles went and the barrage lifted one forgot all one's
doubts and fears.  And the only way to get through that bad afternoon
before zero hour was to live for the moment, concentrate on the petty
fatigues and annoyances of humdrum life and to decline to cross one's
bridges until one came to them...."

"But aren't you fond of life?"

"It's no good being fond of anything on this earth," I told her,
"because you're irredeemably compelled to lose it in the end...."

The girl was silent.  Somewhere in the cave there echoed the melancholy
drip of water.

"Have you ever been in love?" she asked suddenly.

Of course I have, the same as everybody else.  But she was not content
with generalities.  I had to tell her about a girl at Darjeeling, when
I was a young sub., whose abrupt change of mind had once and for all
put all idea of matrimonial bliss out of my head.

"Have _you_ ever been in love?" I challenged by way of changing the
conversation.  But she evaded the question.

"You'd marry if you met the ideal woman?" she queried.

"Perhaps circumstances would prevent it again!" said I.

"What is your ideal woman like?"

Again I heard that sad splash of water from the darkness and it brought
me back with a pang to our position.  I smiled to think of us two,
imprisoned in this death-chamber of the Southern Seas, calmly
discussing the eternal question of life.

"She's tall and slim and clean in mind and body," said I; "she must
trust me and be a companion as well as a lover!"

"Have you ever met her.... since the girl at Darjeeling?"

"My dear," I said, "the girl at Darjeeling is now a stout _divorcée_,
who, as the price of her husband's freedom from her shocking temper,
retains the custody of the children whom she neglects disgracefully...."

The girl laughed a low little laugh.

"How severe you are!" she commented.  Then she asked:

"But have you met your ideal since?"

"Yes," said I, knowing full well whither the conversation was drifting.

"Then why don't you marry her?"

"I haven't asked her," I said.

"But why not, if she is your ideal?"

"Because," I replied, throwing caution to the winds--and, after all,
what was convention to us in our circumstances?--"she is too rich!"

"You don't ask _me_," said the girl after a pause, "whether I have an
ideal?"

"Naturally," I retorted, "since you evaded answering my question when I
asked you if you had ever been in love...."

"The man I marry," she said in a low voice, "must make me feel such
confidence in him that even in the hour of death I shall not be
afraid...."

I dropped her hand and stood up.  It's all very well to be
philosophical about meeting death when you have no attachment on earth;
but this slim, proud girl with the grey eyes and the clustering brown
hair was stimulating in me the desire to live.

I struck a match and lit the candle.

"It's now a quarter to four in the afternoon," I said.  "In order to
spare our forces as much as possible, we will shout once in turn every
quarter of an hour in case there should be anybody above on the shelf.
I'll start now!"

And raising my head up the shaft I halloed.  My voice started the
echoes ringing through the cave but no human voice responded.

"And now," I said, "I believe we'll have another look at that air-hole.
Some of this volcanic rock is very brittle, and we might be able to
enlarge the opening...."

We crossed the cave together, bending as the roof sloped down towards
the farther end.  The opening was a long narrow slit, not two feet
deep, the top-side jagged with snags of rock.  The candle guttered as I
held it in the orifice, and I felt the cool air on my face.

It was undoubtedly an outlet into the fresh air; but how could one hope
to worm one's way through that narrow vent?  I thrust my hand with the
candle into the opening and my arm went in up to the shoulder.  It
seemed to be a passage; for my hand encountered no resistance and the
roof, if it did not get any higher, was not any lower.  The rock was
hard and solid.

I drew back and scanned the opening.  It reminded me of the entrance of
some caves where we used to scramble at school.  "Cox's Hole" had just
such a narrow squeeze at the entrance which, however, opened up into
quite a stately grotto beyond.  I peeled off my jacket, then took off
my collar and tie.

"Where I can go," I said to Marjorie, "you can!  I'm going to have a
shot to get through!"

The girl made no comment.  She knelt on the hard floor of the cavern,
her hands clasped in front of her.  But she smiled as though to
encourage me.

I didn't get far.  My head went through all right; but a jutting edge
of rock hanging down caught my shoulders and pinned me tight.  Wriggle
and thrust as I would I could make no progress at all and at length, in
order not to stick inextricably, I had to give it up.

As I turned and looked at her an idea struck me.  Marjorie Garth was
slim and very supple, and but for her softly rounded throat and the
gentle swell of her bosom one might have taken her for a boy.

"My dear," said I, "you must have a try.  It's only my breadth of
shoulders that prevents me from getting through.  I believe you'll
manage all right...."

The girl looked at me open-eyed.

"And leave you here?" was all she said.

I took her hand.

"Listen to me!  The yacht must be back very soon.  You can hide
somewhere near the shore and when you hear the gun, make your way to
our cave on the beach and wait for the _Naomi's_ launch.  You run the
risk, I know, of falling into Clubfoot's hands again.  But you have a
sporting chance.  Believe me, if you stay here, you haven't even
that...."

With a quick gesture the girl sank her face in her hands.

"No!" she exclaimed.  "No, no!  I can't do it!  I can't leave you like
this!"

Gently I drew her hands away from her tear-stained face.

"Fate has sent us this chance," I reminded her, "and we must take it.
I told you I always come out on top in the end and this is our
opportunity.  Isn't it better to have a run for your life than to stay
here and die like a rat in a hole?  If there should prove to be a way
out you can always come back to the air-hole and report to me.  If
there isn't we can be together again...."

Marjorie nodded silently.

"If Grundt," she said presently, "should capture me again, he may
cross-examine me about the cipher...."

"Tell him nothing!" I answered promptly.

"But if he makes it a condition for rescuing you...."

"Then I have told you nothing.  That is my secret, Marjorie.  If
Clubfoot is to be told, I shall tell him myself.  We are so near the
end of our adventures that I'm willing to risk everything till the
yacht appears.

"Clubfoot will never guess that you know unless you tell him.  Remember
he is a German and therefore has no opinion of women.  He would never
imagine that I have told you anything about the hiding-place of the
treasure.  Trust me, my dear!  Our luck is in again!  If you get out, I
shall, too, somehow--depend on me!"

Then while she took off her shoes I divided the candle in two.  I
thrust her shoes, together with her half of the candle, as far as I
could reach into the opening.  I gave her half of my store of matches.
Then I turned and we faced one another in the darkness.

"Good luck, partner," I said, "we shall meet again soon!"

"I feel that I am abandoning you," she answered in a low voice.
"Supposing I should fail!"

"You'll have made me very happy in the knowledge that you've escaped!"

With a little catch in her voice she demanded:

"Don't you think of yourself at all?"

"It's more pleasant to think of you!"

She made a little pause.  Then she softly whispered:

"Money doesn't count down here!"  And lifted her face to mine.

I took her in my arms and kissed her whilst she clung to me in the
darkness.  Then she dropped to her knees and crawled into the opening.
For a few instants the yellow glimmer of the candle was obscured and I
heard her breathing hard.  Then the faint glimmer of light reappeared
and I heard her voice from the other side.

"There's a winding passage and the air is quite fresh.  The wind is
blowing in my face.  Good-bye, Desmond dear!"

"Au revoir, my dear!" I cried out of the darkness and silence fell
again.

I stood there listening for a spell, then, following the advice of the
French sage who said that he who sleeps dines, I stretched myself out
on the rocky floor and soon fell into a heavy slumber.

      *      *      *      *      *

When I awoke I relit my stump of candle.  My watch had stopped.  In
that clammy darkness it was impossible to tell whether it was night or
day.  I sat up and stretched myself with no other sensation save that I
was ravenously hungry.  The silence was oppressive.  I lay back against
the rocky wall and waited....



CHAPTER XXI

A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS AND WHAT CAME OF IT

As I learned from Marjorie later, the slit extended for only a few
feet.  Then the roof sloped up again.  Marjorie found herself in a
narrow passage with the fresh breeze blowing on her face.  In fact, the
draught was so great that the candle went out directly and she had to
put on her shoes and grope her way forward in pitch darkness.

Her great fear was that the passage might lead to others and that
before she knew it, she would be involved in a maze of subterranean
galleries and, if the worst came to the worst, not even be able to
rejoin me.  She tried to maintain her direction by keeping always close
to the right-hand wall and by counting her steps.  But the gallery was
so dark and it twisted so frequently that she soon lost count.  At last
she went blindly along, stopping at intervals to satisfy herself that
she still felt the wind on her cheek.

She had halted irresolute and was thinking about turning back when, out
of the darkness in front of her, a little glow appeared.  At first a
mere suggestion of light, it grew to a steady yellow radiance that lit
up, though but dimly, the rocky roof of the corridor.  The light itself
appeared to be concealed by a bend in the gallery.

Marjorie remained perfectly still, her heart beating fast.  Foot-steps
were approaching; then the murmur of voices reached her ear.  Her first
instinct was to turn tail and flee; but then the foot-steps stopped and
the light stood still.

"Four and twenty hours already are they away," said a deep rumbling
voice in German, "and not back yet!  Der Stelze is too confident, Herr
Leutnant...."

"Yet the doctor described exactly where he tied up the launch,"
answered another voice, hard and metallic, with a more refined
enunciation.  "Do you know what I think, Schröder?  This English
nobleman and his orderly have seized the launch----"

"_Aber nein_, Herr Leutnant?"

"And gone off to fetch their yacht back.  She only went to Alcedo, at
least so the doctor told us...."

"Then the yacht may be back quite soon, Herr Leutnant?"

"Certainly!  That's my conviction.  And to think that Grundt had this
cursed _Engländer_ in his power and let him go!"

"Bah!" said Schröder, "he grows old, _der Stelze_!  Here three days are
gone and not a trace of the treasure.  In a little while, who knows?
these damned _Engländer_ will be here and our chance of making our
fortunes will be gone for ever...."

"You speak true, Schröder!  If only I had any support I would depose
Grundt and take charge myself.  But with these filthy Spanish
monkeys...."

"Speak softly, Herr Leutnant...."

Intent as she was upon this conversation, Marjorie did not notice the
light advancing until it was too late.  Round the bend in the passage
came a big, yellow-bearded German sailor swinging a ship's lantern, the
blonde young German officer, Ferdinand von Hagel, at his heels.  In an
instant they were on her and gripping her by the wrists dragged her
down the gallery in the direction from which they had come.  In silence
they hustled her along for some hundred paces, then stopped at a bend.

"Wait here!" whispered the officer to Schröder, an evil smile on his
face, "I go to reconnoitre.  This will be a pleasant surprise for our
comrades...."

He tip-toed away.  Suddenly, from without, a harsh voice cried loudly:--

"You idle rascals, the launch must be there!"

There was a confused murmur and the voice spoke again:--

"Then the English yacht may be back at any time now...."

Von Hagel appeared in the gallery.

"Bring her along!" he ordered softly, beckoning with his hand.

The harsh voice shouted:--

"Well, we shall have to fight for it yet!"

"No, Herr Doktor!" said von Hagel at the mouth of the gallery, "No!
There need be no fight!"

They had emerged into a rocky hollow, flooded with brilliant sunshine
which almost blinded Marjorie coming from the dank, dark recesses of
the cliff.  An arm of vivid green tree hung across the opening of the
passage and beyond it there was a glimpse of gorgeous-hued bushes, over
which the painted butterflies hovered, of bright blue sky and, in the
distance, sparkling green sea.  And across the scene the keen
sea-breeze romped, blowing the hair about the girl's eyes, a breath of
life after the clammy atmosphere of the cave.

His back to a tree, a ragged blanket cast across his knees, the Man
with the Clubfoot lay.  His face was pallid and his huge body shook
with ague.  Before him stood two uncouth figures, each with a rifle and
blanket slung, poncho-fashion, across him, the centre of an excited,
gesticulating group.

"Sir Garth," the German lieutenant added, bringing Marjorie forward,
"will surely listen to reason when he hears that his charming daughter
is the guest of Herr Dr. Grundt!  And, maybe, even the spy, Okewood,
will come to terms...."

"_So, so!_"

Clubfoot's thick lips bared his yellow teeth in a grim smile.

"_Das ist ja hoechst interessant!  Jawohl!_"

He raised his eyes to the girl, dark eyes that burnt with fever
beetling from under the enormously bushy eyebrows, eyes that gleamed
hard and menacing.

But now the crowd, which had fallen back at von Hagel's dramatic
interruption, surged about him and Marjorie, shouting and
gesticulating.  The hollow rang with German and Spanish.

"Where is the Englishman?" they yelled.  "Grundt, what of the treasure
you promised us?  The girl knows!  Make the girl tell!...."

Grundt raised a great hand and, for the moment, the hubbub was stilled.

"Old Clubfoot is not at the end of his resources.  _Kinder_, we have a
hostage, a hostage we mean to keep.  Let the yacht return; as long as
the gnädiges Fräulein is our guest, we shall have no trouble from the
stupid Englishmen.  And as for our clever young friend, Okewood....
Herr Leutnant!"

"Herr Doktor?"

"The _Engländer_ was last seen in company with the girl.  Take two men
and search the gallery!"

Von Hagel coloured up at the brusqueness of Grundt's tone.

"Schröder here," he said without a shred of respect in his manner, "has
explored the gallery.  It leads to a small air-hole through which he
believes the girl crawled.  No man, he says, could possibly get
through...."

"Then," said Clubfoot, "the _Engländer_ will be in one of the caves on
the topmost terrace.  Unless he has escaped?....

And he shot a quick glance at the officer.

"Impossible," replied the other.  "There is only the one practicable
descent and it is guarded...."

Clubfoot nodded.  Then he raised his hand.

"Go now," he said, "and leave me with the girl!"

On that von Hagel bent down and spoke softly in his ear.  He seemed to
be urging something with great insistence.  Suddenly one of the
Spaniards--a short man with a fat grey face covered with blue stubble
and little pig eyes--danced to the front of the group.  He burst into a
torrent of voluble Spanish, shaking his fist repeatedly at Clubfoot.
The latter did not move a muscle but looked at the speaker with
contempt in every line of his face.

It was not until some of the Germans broke in, that Marjorie could
understand what the scene was about.

"We're sick of being fooled," cried the big seaman they called
Schröder.  "The Kaiser's deposed, d'ye hear, and we're all equal!
You've bungled things long enough, Grundt.  You let the cursed English
spy slip through your fingers with the hiding-place of the treasure in
his head!  You're past your work, Grundt!  You've botched our business
long enough!"

"_Ganz recht!_" ejaculated another German.  "And poor Neque got a
bullet in the guts for saying as much to you in the woods yesterday!"

This explained the single shot we had heard in the forest when we were
on the rock.

"And the doctor murdered by this _verdammt Engländer_!" shouted a voice
from the rear.

"Three days we've waited here and not a sign of the treasure," said von
Hagel, looking round the group.  "What have you to say to that, Grundt?"

Clubfoot, who had remained impassive under all this abuse, now
staggered to his feet.  No man lent a hand to help him.  He stood and
faced them, towering above them all.  Ill though he was, his
personality dominated every man in that place.  A flame of colour
mounted in his haggard face; two veins stood out like knots in his
temples and his eyes blazed.  His two hands, crossed on the crutch of
his stick shook.

"Are you a candidate for my succession, Herr Leutnant?"

He addressed himself to von Hagel alone and his voice was calm and
steady.  But then his feelings seemed to overcome him and with a roar
he shouted:--

"You insubordinate rascal!  I can afford to let these curs yelp but
when the whipper-in joins them, it's time for the master to use the
lash!"

With that he raised his heavy stick and struck the other full across
the face.  With a scarlet weal barring his pink-and-white cheek von
Hagel sprang at his aggressor, but a big automatic which Grundt had
plucked from his pocket brought him up short.

"I used only one bullet on Neque," Clubfoot warned him in a quiet, grim
voice.  "There's one left for you, Herr Leutnant, aye, and more to
spare for other mutinous blackguards like you...."

Von Hagel stepped back, broken, cowed.  And Clubfoot cried:--

"While this puppy wastes our time, the man we want, the man who can
lead us to the five hundred thousand dollars in gold, is skulking
trapped in a cave not a thousand yards away.  Fools that you are, don't
you understand that you have but to let him know that the English girl
is in our hands and he will throw up the sponge?  Otherwise...."

He paused deliberately and looked at Marjorie from under his heavy
brows.  The crowd shouted back at him in German the word on which he
had rested.

"_Sonst?_"

"Otherwise he must know that I shall hand this delicate English lady to
the tender mercies of any of our brave companions who has fallen a
victim to her beauty--Black Pablo, for instance, or our handsome
steward, Pizarro...."

At that the crowd roared approval.  Black Pablo, his guitar slung
across his back, a squat, toad-like creature, obese and disgusting,
slouched over to the girl.  He contrived to summon up from the depths
of his single dull and fish-like eye an expression which made her
shrink back in horror.  Then, amid a burst of laughter, "handsome"
Pizarro, the stunted mulatto cook, was pushed out of the grass.  He
shambled towards Marjorie, his eyeballs flashing white in his yellow
pock-marked face.

"Go, children!" cried Clubfoot.  "Drag this spy from his hole and bring
him to me.  This time he shall speak, by God!--or we shall finish with
it once and for all!"

Again he looked at Marjorie.  The gold in his teeth flashed as he
smiled with cruel malice.  Then, as though overcome by the demand he
had made on his strength, he dropped back on his blankets once more.

The hollow was all astir as the men set out.  They had camped at the
foot of the terraced rock on the high ground overlooking the clearing
with the grave, beyond it the broad sweep of Horseshoe Bay between the
curved arms of land enclosing the lagoon.

"Take ropes!" counselled Clubfoot from his bed beneath the tree.  "You
may have to descend into the caves...."

The seaman, Schröder, brought out some lengths of rope and hurried
after the string of men, who, in Indian file, streamed out of the
hollow, talking and laughing like a pack of schoolboys.  Not a man
remained behind.  Even Pizarro, the coloured cook, went along.  Black
Pablo, the leader of the party, who was the last to go, wanted to leave
a guard over Marjorie.  But Clubfoot would not hear of it.

"_Amigo mio_," he said.  "El Cojo is not so old as that young
jackanapes would make out.  I cannot climb while this cursed fever is
on me.  But I can look after myself--and anybody else who does me the
honour of spending this pleasant afternoon in company...."

Black Pablo laughed stridently.  They heard his feet ring sharply on
the rocky ground.  The next moment he was gone, and the peace of a
summer afternoon descended upon the hollow, the soothing quiet of
droning insects, of a little breeze stirring gently in the thick
foliage, the distant drumming of the sea.

Clubfoot began to speak to Marjorie.



CHAPTER XXII

I INTERRUPT A TÊTE-À-TÊTE

"An unpleasant scene of violence, mein liebes Fräulein," he remarked,
dabbing his forehead with a red handkerchief, "which might so easily
have been avoided.  But, when men take passion instead of reason for
guide--_was wollen Sie_?  The war destroyed logical thinking.  To-day
it is rare to find anyone capable of taking a perfectly dispassionate
view of life.  _Jawohl_!...."

Marjorie wondered vaguely what he meant.  His manner was ingratiating;
but she was conscious that he was watching her closely to mark the
effect of his words.

"We Germans lost the war.  Therefore, a man like your friend Okewood
believes that everywhere and in all circumstances, the German must be
in a state of inferiority.  How short-sighted, meine Gnädige!  And what
a blemish this want of logic signifies in an otherwise remarkable
character!  To go no farther a-field in search of an illustration than
this delightful island;--war or no war, the fact remains that the
strength of my little party puts the Herr Major in an inferiority of
thirteen to one.  How much wiser on his part it would have been to have
recognised this fact yesterday!  Let us hope that you will not be so
ill-advised as to ignore it!  You take my meaning?  How quick you
are!...."

For a minute his thick fingers drummed on the blanket thrown across him.

"Your Herr father has gone to fetch the yacht, _nicht wahr_?"

"It is no use asking me," replied Marjorie.  "I have not seen my father
since I landed on the island...."

"_So, so_!" placidly observed Grundt, "another question for friend
Okewood presently.  But perhaps you can tell me what has become of Herr
Okewood?  Where exactly did you leave him?"

Marjorie was thinking desperately.  It was merely a matter of time,
probably of minutes now, she reflected, before I should be captured and
dragged out of the cave.  But some instinct prompted her, as she told
me afterwards, to give no information about me until she had actually
seen me once more in Grundt's power.  So she simply shrugged her
shoulders.

"I trust that this gesture does not imply," said Clubfoot, "that you do
not know where you left Major Okewood, for that would be acting a lie.
And lying, meine Gnädige, would do you no good in your present
predicament.  You must not take advantage of our good nature, _o,
nein_!  Do not forget that on a desert island man is apt to sink back
into his primitive state...."

His voice was gentle and caressing; but the implication in his words
was horrible.

"You come to us unbidden.  You throw yourself upon our chivalry.  _Ja!_
that is all very well.  But have you made sure that the conventions of
civilised life obtain in this little island republic of which I am
president?  _Hein, hein_, had you thought of that?  But won't you
please sit down?"

"I prefer to stand," replied the girl shortly.

"You make me do discredit to our old German courtesy, liebes Fräulein.
I cannot sit while you remain standing, and in this hot sun ....
_bitte_!"

With his spade-like hand he smoothed out a place on the grass under the
shade of his tree.  Dully, almost against her will, Marjorie sank down.

A gleam awoke in the cripple's eyes as he pawed the girl's bare arm.

"Listen!" he said, lowering his voice confidentially and leaning
towards her.  "The Spaniards of my party come without exception from
the lowest scum of the Central American sea-board.  Their table-talk is
enlivened with anecdotes of their--shall we say conquests?--which fill
even me with disgust and dismay.  And my Germans, yes,--I, a good
German, must admit it--they, too, have forgotten something of the
conventions of civilised life.  For five years or more they have been
outlaws, dirty Boches, the rejected of mankind--they who are of that
race,"--his voice rang out triumphant but then trembled and
broke--"_Gott!_ that is the salt of the earth!"

For an instant he seemed to be genuinely moved.  Bitter memories
kindled a spark of anger in his fierce, dark eyes.  But the mood passed
swiftly and his voice was gentle, his manner sleek as before when he
resumed.

"You make it difficult, very difficult for me.  You come here, a
delicate, fair young maid and you expect to live unscathed in a camp of
rough men; for I do not conceal from you the fact, Miss Garth, that
unless your father is reasonable you may be with us for many days...."

He broke off suggestively.  The girl dared not look at him for fear of
the thought unspoken she might read in his leering eyes.

"Would you be surprised to learn? it is always best to be frank, _nicht
wahr_?--that it will require an armed guard to keep these men away from
you at night?...."

At that Marjorie revolted.  She sprang to her feet and walked away,
sickened at the picture he had suggested to her by every word.  Grundt
made no attempt to follow her.

"I am sure you will be reasonable," he murmured.

A man burst turbulently into the hollow.  It was von Hagel.  He was
smeared all over with grey dust and his heavy boots showed white gashes
where the rocks had cut them.  He was pale and the livid weal across
his right cheek seemed to distort his features.

"Well?" said Grundt sternly.

The young man made a helpless gesture of the hands.  Slowly Clubfoot
sat up erect and a heavy scowl drew his eyebrows together.  One could
almost see the young German quake as he stood before his leader, dumb,
confused, aimlessly moving his hands.  At last he faltered out:--

"He is not there!"

A convulsion of anger seemed to shake the huge cripple.  The
close-shaven hair of his scalp moved, his heavy nostrils twitched as
solidly, viciously, his great jowl set.

"Not there!" he ejaculated hoarsely, his voice strangling with anger.
"What do you mean 'not there'?  Black Pablo's orders were to bring him
down to me.  Why has he not done so?  Himmelkreuzdonnerwetter!"--his
hairy hands beat on his knee with rage--"why don't you answer me?"

"We.... we.... gained the top shelf unobserved," stammered out von
Hagel.  "It was deserted.  There is only one cave.... with a clear drop
down.  The steps appear to have quite recently broken away.  Pablo,
Schröder and I went with torches--they let us down with ropes.  We came
to a lower chamber where some native dead are buried.  At the end was
the narrow air-slit through which the girl escaped...."

"And the _Engländer_ was not there, you say?"

"No!"

"_Schafskopf_!  He was never there!"

"We saw him enter it.  Besides, we found burnt matches on the ground
and the ashes of his pipe...."

"Then he went out by the air-hole...."

"It is too narrow.  Ramon, who is slightly built, could not get
through...."

"And there is no other cave?"

"No!"

"Evidently he left by the way he entered, and escaped under the noses
of your sentries...."

"Impossible, Herr Doktor!  By the way he went in, without ropes, both
ascent and descent are out of the question!  And since early morning
the path, which is the only means of access to the cliff, has been
guarded...."

Shaking with ague, Clubfoot was struggling to regain his self-control.

"_Erlauben Sie_!" he said in a voice half-suffocated with rage, "let us
get this right.  I do not admit miracles.  We know that the _Engländer_
and the girl took refuge in this cave.  _Gut_!  The girl, we know, came
out through the air-hole.  Where is then the man?"

Von Hagel looked at Marjorie.

"Why not ask the girl?" he suggested.

"You've heard what he said," screamed Clubfoot, whipping round and
shaking his finger at Marjorie.  "Where did you leave this man?"

Then Marjorie told them she had left me in the cave.

"_Sehen Sie?_" roared Clubfoot.  "He's escaped under your very snouts,
_schweinhunde_ that you are!  He's in that cave yet!  Get out of my
sight, you dog!  And send Black Pablo here!  Tell him he has to reckon
with me now!  And by God if I have to go to him myself----"

Von Hagel had turned and fled.  The cripple had risen to his knees.
The perspiration poured off his face as, with trembling limbs, he
vainly strove to overcome the weakness that mastered him, while he
mouthed and mumbled a stream of threats.

Then from the sea a gun spoke, a single report that broke the brooding
silence of the island and went echoing and clanging among the tall,
grave rocks.  Clubfoot's babble ceased on the instant.  He desisted
from his attempt to rise to his feet and remained immobile save for the
trembling of his great torso.  Slowly he turned his head and looked at
Marjorie who, transfixed with fear, was watching him.

Thus I found them as, a moment later, I stepped into the hollow.

"Sit down, Grundt!" I said.



CHAPTER XXIII

CAPITULATION

Racked with fever though he was, his presence of mind did not forsake
him.  In a flash his whistle was at his lips and three shrill blasts
rang piercingly among the rocks.  With the other hand he snatched up
his automatic.

It was done with such lightning speed that he had me at a disadvantage.
Though I had my pistol in my hand when I challenged Grundt, I was
completely thrown off my balance by the glimpse I had of Marjorie who,
with the blood drained from her face, stood swaying against a boulder
as if about to faint.  For a fraction of a second I took my eyes off
the cripple and in that instant he had me covered.

"Move and you're dead!" he snarled at me.  "Drop that gun!  Drop it,
d'ye hear?"

"You're welcome to it," I said as I pitched it on a tussock between us.
"I've come to capitulate, Grundt!  You win!"

"Very clever!  Oh, very clever, indeed!" he sneered.  "You imagine, I
suppose, that Clubfoot, the stupid old Boche, did not hear that gun
from the sea just now?  Your friends may have arrived back, Herr Major.
But little good they'll do you.  I am going to kill you!"

Even as he spoke, into the turquoise horseshoe of sea at his back the
_Naomi_ came steaming, the sun flaming here and there on her polished
brass-work, a glittering white ship as snowy as the spume that creamed
in her wake.  So clear was the atmosphere that I could see the
white-clad figures running about her decks.  I strained my ears to
catch if I might the clang of her engine-room telegraph ringing her
down to "slow."  But the wind was off the land and no sound came from
the _Naomi_.  She might have been a phantom ship, such a spectre as,
they say, visits a man in the hour of death.

And, in truth, it seemed as though for me the hour of death were at
hand.  Grundt's evil eyes and grim mouth set above the gleaming blue
barrel of the great automatic were ample evidence that his words were
no idle threat.  He shifted his grip to get a better aim and I looked
away, away from that sinister face, away from the _Naomi_ and her
promise of home, away from the glistening sea and the swaying green
palms, to Marjorie.  She stood like a white marble statue.  Only her
eyes seemed yet to live and they were wide with terror.

Again Clubfoot's whistle rang out.  I turned to see his forehead
puckered in a questioning frown.  I shrugged my shoulders.

"What chance has the _Naomi_ against you and your men, Grundt?" I
asked.  "A pleasure yacht is not equipped to send off cutting-out
expeditions, you know!  You are fully armed and well-entrenched in the
island!  It seems to me that your fears are exaggerated!...."

"Fine words, fine words!" he muttered.  "Nevertheless in a minute you
are going to die!...."

He took out his watch and laid it on the blanket before him.

"When I told you I had come to capitulate," I rejoined.  "I spoke the
truth.  I have found the treasure.  And there is proof!"

I opened my left hand and flung at his feet a handful of gold.
Twenty-mark pieces, they dropped softly on the blankets and lay there
gleaming in the sunshine, the Kaiser's head and the Imperial Eagle
plain for him to see.

I had shaken him.  I knew it at a glance.  He looked down at the gold,
his eyes narrowing with suspicion.

"_Also doch!_" he murmured--that conveniently elastic German phrase
which means "By Jove, he's done it!" or, "Well, I never!" or "I'd never
have thought it!" or anything, more or less along these lines, you care
to fit to it.

"Let Miss Garth and me go free to rejoin the yacht," I said, "and I'll
tell you where the treasure's hid!"

He stiffened up at once.

"It is not for you to dictate to me, you scum," he cried.
"Unconditional surrender is the only kind of surrender I understand.
Say what you have to say and I will then decide what I shall do with
you...."

I glanced seaward.  And my heart stood still.  The _Naomi_ had
vanished.  Had it been but a vision after all?

"Come on!" urged Grundt, scowling.  "I have given you a respite.  But I
now grow impatient...."

I noticed that the ague had taken him again and that, do what he might,
he was trembling violently all over.

"If you will allow me to put my left hand in my jacket pocket," I said,
"I can show you something that will explain everything."

"_Bitte sehr_!  But remember that I can stretch you dead before you
will have time to shoot, even through your pocket...."

From my jacket I produced the little mirror.  The sun caught its
polished surface as I brought it out and it flashed and flashed again.

Between the curving arms of Horseshoe Bay the launch of the _Naomi_
came flying.  I could see the white spray thrown up in two curving
sheets as her bows cut the green water.  To my ears stole faintly the
quick chug-chug of her propeller.  I wondered if Grundt had heard it.
But he was staring fixedly at the little mirror which I kept turning
over in my hands so that it flashed and flashed....

"This was wired to the grave, Grundt," said I.  "It was what failed you
to read the cipher.  You remember the line 'Flimmer', flimmer' viel'?
That was the indication to throw a spot-light thus!"--I caught the
sun's rays in the glass and flashed it seaward to the bay----"from the
mirror set at an angle of 85 degrees; 'the garrison of Kiel,' 'die
Fünf-und-Achtziger', you know, Herr Doktor!  Incidentally it was you
yourself who were good enough to recall the allusion to my mind!...."

And I reminded him of our talk in the ravine in the forest.

Savagely he bit his lip.

"So that was what made you willing to hand me the message," he
commented.  "I wondered what it was.  But continue!  We waste valuable
time!...."

"The compass bearing indicated by 'the Feast of Orders' was, of course,
27, from January 27th, the date of the celebration, as you probably
guessed for yourself.  The spotlight thrown along this line fell upon a
peculiar pillar in the topmost terrace which your men are now
searching.  From this pillar, between two crags, the Sugar Loaf and the
Lorelei, both quite easily identified.  I saw the great image indicated
by 'Püppchen' in the message.  I don't know whether you know the song
'Püppchen, Du bist mein Augenstern?'

"_Augenstern_--star of my eyes--refers to the idol.  It has one eye
hollow.  By mounting from the hill-side at the back you can look
through the eye and see the little cairn of stones which Ulrich von
Hagel, with the hand of death upon him, built to mark the hiding place
of the gold.  At the foot of the image the treasure lies buried.  From
a box at the surface I took this handful of gold.  I could not move the
rest for I had neither pick nor spade and the ground is hard and rocky.
And that, I think, is all!"

For the first time Grundt relaxed his forbidding expression.

"Your story sounds plausible, Herr Major," he said.  "This time, I
believe, you are telling the truth...."

I gazed out into the bay.  The launch had disappeared.  She must have
gone in under the cliffs out of sight.

"In any case," Clubfoot was saying, "I propose to risk it.  Being a
practical man you will realise that I cannot afford to chance the
valuable information you have acquired falling into the possession of
your friends.  Furthermore, I bear you a grudge, Okewood.  It has been
the rule of my life that no man shall beat me and live.  Therefore, I
am going to shoot you now...."

A little cry and even as I turned Marjorie pitched forward and fell
prone on the grass between Grundt and me.

"Bah!" said Clubfoot, "let her lie!  She will...."

He never finished the sentence.  Quick as thought the girl half raised
herself, two deafening reports rang out all but simultaneously, then,
with a snarling cry, Grundt snatched at his wrist.

The next moment Garth and Lawless burst into the hollow.  But I was
staring at Marjorie who had fallen motionless on her face.



CHAPTER XXIV

ULRICH VON HAGEL'S TREASURE

For me in that moment the world seemed to end.  I had plucked this girl
from a placid, unruffled existence and plunged her into a vortex of
adventure.  Was she to leave her life, laid down for mine, in this
desolate island while I, the author of all the mischief, was to escape
unharmed?

Lawless was at Clubfoot's throat, worrying him like a terrier with a
rat.  Then, of a sudden, Carstairs and Mackay were there, twisting
together with a leathern thong those great hairy wrists, one of which
dripped blood.  I stood helpless, watching, as in a dream, Garth raise
up his daughter and rock her still form in his arms.  In her right hand
she still clasped my automatic with which she had saved my life.

There was a shrill cry from the entrance of the hollow.  With skirts
flying Yvonne, Marjorie's French maid, darted in.  "O, ma chérie!  Ma
chérie!" she moaned as with tears rolling down her face, she dropped to
her knees by the girl's side.  Now Garth was holding a flask to his
daughter's lips.  Presently to my unspeakable relief, she stirred
slightly, then opened her eyes.

"I'm all right," she murmured, "quite all right really!  Ah!  Yvonne!"

And she closed her eyes again.

Garth stood up, a tall and commanding figure of a man in his spotless
white drill, and looked at me, tatterdermalion that I was, with a four
days' growth of beard and unkempt hair, my clothes torn and stained, my
boots gashed almost to ribbons by those cruel rocks.

"Is she.... is she.... wounded?" I faltered.

The baronet shook his head and gulped.

"She's only fainted," he replied.  "My poor, poor lass...."

Then, swallowing his feelings, he demanded fiercely:

"Where is this man Custrin?"

"Dead," I answered.  "I shot him...."

What had happened in the forest had seemed natural enough.  But, with
the _Naomi_, civilisation had returned to Cock Island and my admission
sounded horribly cold-blooded in my ears.  As briefly as might be, but
without concealing any salient fact, I told Garth the story of what had
supervened after his departure with Carstairs.  With ill-concealed
impatience and with reddening cheeks he listened to my tale; but he
grew too angry to hear me to the end.  When I told him how I had come
upon Marjorie in the room behind the galley he burst out in fury.

"So this is the end of your wild-goose chase!  My little girl, alone
and unprotected, in the hands of these savages!  By God, Major Okewood,
if any harm has come to her through your doing...."

"When I asked your help to get to Cock Island, Sir Alexander," I
answered, "I had no means of knowing where this adventure would lead
us.  Nor had I any suspicion that I would, that I could, be followed.
Otherwise I should never...."

He cut me short with an angry gesture of the hand.

"I don't want to hear any more.  It is no thanks to you that my poor
girl has not lost her life through your reckless folly.  I had my
doubts all along as to how far I could trust myself to your judgment.
If I had any idea that you and that blackguardly doctor between you
would have dragged my little girl into it...."

This was too much even from a distraught parent.

"It was none of my doing that Miss Garth came ashore," I retorted
hotly.  "And as for Custrin, it was you who unhesitatingly accepted him
at face value.  You even suggested that he should join our
expedition...."

"But for you, Custrin would never have come on board.  You'll not
contest that, I suppose?  I wish to Heaven the _Naomi_ had never seen
you...."

"I can only say how very deeply I regret the terrible experience Miss
Garth had to undergo," I began.

But he only snorted.

"I don't want to hear any more from you!" he retorted and walked away.

I was keenly aware of the hostile atmosphere he radiated and it added
to my utter sense of forlornness.  But Lawless was speaking to me, as I
stood dumbfounded, clapping me on the back, asking if I were all right.

"The gang's hooked it," he chuckled.  "With the report of the _Naomi's_
gun they must have just bolted off to their launch in Sturt Bay, way
across the island, leaving their skipper to his fate.  A dangerous man,
that, major!  We saw the launch.... it's a sea-going submarine
chaser.... crossing the bar and making for the open sea.  Sir Alexander
was all for my going after 'em.  But I told him it was no good with
their start...."

Then he told me of the immense surprise which the appearance of the
_Naomi's_ launch had occasioned on board the yacht as she lay off
Alcedo Rock.

"When the old man found that I had let Miss Garth ashore with the
doctor," the captain continued, "I thought he was going out of his
mind.  He raged like a wild man.  Whew! but it was hot work for a bit.
He called me every name he could lay his tongue to and I'm damned if I
know whether I'm in his service yet or know.  I've been carpeted once
or twice in my time and talked to rough but I never did see such a dido
as Sir Alexander raised!  And he's fighting mad with you, too....."

"I have the same impression myself!" I answered.

"We put about at once," Lawless resumed, "and ran for the island.  Jock
Mackay crammed on every ounce of steam he could raise.  He had
nightmare every night thinking of the coal-bill!  We dropped anchor off
the bar and took the launch ashore at once.  As we came in through the
lagoon, I caught through my glasses the flash of your heliograph from
the cliffs in the centre of the island.  So directly we landed we made
for the high ground...."

"I hadn't a notion how to let you know where we were," said I, "until I
thought of the mirror.  It was rather a forlorn hope because, as you
saw, things were getting a bit pressing when you arrived...."

Someone touched my elbow.  Mackay stood there.

"Yon great Gairman is asking to speak with you!"

They had stretched Clubfoot out on his blankets beneath the tree.  I
hate to see a man trussed up anyway, and a queer sort of misguided pity
stole into my heart as I looked down on Grundt, whom I had feared so
greatly, strapped hand and foot.

At my approach he opened his eyes.  They were still grim and fearless.

"If my men had come," he said truculently, "you would never have
escaped.  But they ran and left me,--von Hagel, a German officer, with
the rest.  Truly, I begin to think the sun has set on my unfortunate
country!"

He checked and seemed to think.

"Young man, young man, that you had known me in my prime!  But the
foundations of my life have been knocked away.  Okewood, I am getting
old!"

The perspiration was damp on his brow.  I could see the sweat glisten
on the bristles of his iron-grey hair.

"In my day, in the years of Germany's greatness, I was all-puissant!  I
had but one master--the Emperor himself!  No one--_no one_, do you
understand?--not the Imperial Chancellor nor even the head of the Civil
Cabinet, who was a greater man than he--dare give me--_der Stelze_,
orders!  Yet I had no official position!  My name was in no
_Rang-Liste_ and I held no decorations.  _Der Stelze_ was not to be
bought by those glittering crosses and stars with which so many of my
fellow-countrymen loved to hang themselves!  No, I was the secret power
of the throne, the instrument of His Majesty.  And, with this one
exception, the highest in the land trembled at my name...."

His voice sounded tired; and it seemed to me that, of a sudden, he had,
in truth, become an old man.  His figure had relaxed; he appeared to
have grown grosser of body than of yore; the flesh of his face was
sagging and his cheeks had fallen in.

"This was to have been the last adventure," he resumed and stared at me
defiantly, "the last of how many?  Friends of my master told me of this
hoard and delegated me to proceed to Central America to track it down.
What they would have given me for my pains would have sufficed to
enable me to realise my dream of settling down on a little property I
have in Baden, and of passing the evening of my days in peace...."

"And what did your friends want the money for?" I asked.

"That," retorted Grundt proudly, "is the business of my master!"

His words gave me my answer; for I knew of the existence of secret
funds destined to bring the Hohenzollerns back to the throne which they
had so shamefully abandoned.

"You matched yourself against me, Okewood," Grundt said suddenly, "at a
time when already the axe was laid at the roots of the German oak.  In
the long seclusion which followed my wound--they found it necessary, as
you know, to give out that I was dead--I used sometimes to think that
our duel was a miniature reproduction of the struggle between Germany
and England.  And in neither case am I quite clear as to why the
_Engländer_ won!"

"Perhaps it was a case of conscience, Herr Doktor?"

The German looked up at me in surprise.

"Conscience!" he exclaimed.  "But that is not a means of warfare!"

Lawless at my side uttered a loud exclamation.  He was bending down
over the blankets.

"The treasure!" he exclaimed, "by gum, you've found it!"

And he held up a shining piece of gold.

Funny, I had forgotten all about it.

"On those blankets, captain," said I, "you'll find all the treasure
we're ever likely to get out of Cock Island.  I located the
hiding-place all right.  But the treasure's gone.  There are fifteen
gold-pieces there--I counted them.  That's all that's left of it...."

Then Grundt spoke.

"So you were bluffing to the end!" he said and was silent.

"Then that was why the gang was in such a hurry to be off!" cried
Lawless.

I shook my head.

"They didn't find the treasure either," I replied.  "Somewhere
scattered among the rocky ravines and valleys of this island, a hundred
thousand pounds in American eagles and German twenty-mark pieces are
lying.  Old Man Destiny had it in for us, captain.  He sent a volcanic
eruption which blew the treasure sky-high!"

"Jimini!" exclaimed Lawless in a hushed voice.

"It's an awfu' pity!" ejaculated Mackay mournfully.

Yvonne came.  Marjorie was asking for me, she said.  I found her
sitting up, Garth at her side.  The light was slowly mellowing and the
sinking sun cast long shadows across the hollow.  The sky was all
marbled with red and gold flecks.

Rather shyly Marjorie thrust a slim white hand into mine.  It may have
been my fancy; but I think I saw Garth wince.

"So you did come out on top after all?" she said.  "Sit down there
beside Daddy and tell me all about it from the beginning.  You found
the treasure then?"

"I found where it had been hid," I replied.  "But it had vanished...."

"Vanished?" cried Marjorie, and I swear there was dismay in her voice.

"Vanished?" echoed Garth.

"But the gold pieces you threw to Grundt," queried the girl.  "I don't
understand...."

"That was part of one box which had survived the volcanic eruption
which scattered Ulrich von Hagel's horde to the four winds.  You
remember that wisp of smoke we saw rising from the hillside in front of
the great image?  Well, I discovered that it came from a deep fissure
in the mountainside at the foot of the idol.  From the little cairn of
stones, which still stands on the edge of the cliff, it was clear that
the treasure had been stored in a cave which appears to have been
hollowed out of the rock in front of the idol.

"Where that cave was is now a yawning hole belching forth smoke and
streams of lava.  In fact, as far as I can judge, the treasure was
blown clean out of the mountainside.  That this surmise is correct is
shown, I think, by my discovery of the remains of a wooden box in which
were still a few gold pieces.  Other fragments of charred wood were
scattered around.  For the rest the treasure is gone and will never be
recovered!"

Marjorie's eyes rested mournfully on my face; but I could not meet her
gaze.

"But how did you discover all this?"

"The passage by which I escaped from the burial-chamber brought me out
within a hundred yards of the image.  The sulphur fumes from the fresh
cone of the volcano caught me by the throat directly I emerged into the
open.  My one idea was to find you.  So I crammed the gold pieces in my
pocket and made for Horseshoe Bay to see if the yacht had returned.
Finding no sign of her or you I started to reconnoitre.  I guessed that
Clubfoot and his party would be watching somewhere near the terraced
rock and sure enough, as I was prowling in the undergrowth near here, I
saw the whole gang file out towards the rock.  I watched where they had
come from and creeping up saw you and Grundt in conversation.  The only
thing that mattered then was to get you out of Grundt's clutches.  I
saw no signs of any guards but I made sure that Clubfoot would have
help within easy reach.  As I was turning things over in my mind I
heard the _Naomi's_ gun.  So I decided to risk everything on a final
bluff and I acted at once...."

"When they told me you were not in the cave," said Marjorie, "I
couldn't believe my ears.  How on earth did you manage to escape?"

"Well," I replied, "you remember that stone table on which the mummies
lay?  Under one of them I found, let in the table, a flat stone carved
with a turtle.  I don't know whether you realise the significance of
that sign.  The turtle was the mark of that celebrated buccaneer,
Captain Roberts, who, in the old days, was a great man in these waters.
The buccaneers are known to have used Cock Island for obtaining fresh
meat and water--you can read about it in the 'Sailing Directions'--so
the sign of the turtle set me thinking.

"I tried to get the stone up but it was firmly cemented in the table.
However, in my pushing and thrusting I leant against the table edge and
suddenly the whole top swung round outwards into the cave leaving a
hole about five feet deep.  The hole was the opening of a passage
several hundred yards long which led into the open air----"

"But how did you manage to close the opening behind you?"

"Quite simply.  I arranged the mummies as they were before, covering
the turtle stone, then standing in the hole I drew the table-top back
into place again.  It is quite solid and does not ring hollow--the
simplest and neatest device of its kind I ever saw.  Roberts and his
men must have used the burial-chamber for some sort of secret meetings,
I imagine.  Perhaps in their day Cock Island was inhabited...."

There was so much I had to ask, so much I would have said.  But the
presence of her father, dour and intractable, threw an invisible bar
between us.  I felt embarrassed and miserable--because I realised I
suppose, that our island dream was at an end.

"It is getting dark," said Garth, standing up.  "Come, Marjie, it's
time we were back on board!"

He did not include me in the summons.  Yet I should have to sail with
him again.  He could not maroon me there.

"You're coming with us?" said my dear Marjorie with her ready tact.

"Only as far as the beach," I replied.  "We have to decide what's to be
done with our friend yonder...."

In truth the problem of Grundt was beginning to obtrude itself in my
mind.

"I'll come on board later," I said, "if Sir Alexander will allow me...."

"We must, of course, take Major Okewood back with us to Rodriguez,"
Garth observed stiffly.

At that Marjorie flared up.

"Daddy!" she cried indignantly.

We went down to the shore in silence.  As we emerged from the woods,
John Bard came striding up the beach.



CHAPTER XXV

THE END OF A DREAM

I don't think I was ever so glad in my life before to see anyone.
There he was in the flesh, dear old John, tall and grave and courteous,
like any Spanish don, in a clean tussore suit and the inevitable cigar
stuck in a corner of his mouth.

"John!" I exclaimed.  "How on earth did you ever get here?"

He stared at me in astonishment.  It was obvious that, for the moment,
he did not recognise me.  Well might he wonder who this begrimed tramp
might be who greeted him so familiarly.  But then he cried out and
clapped me on the back.

"Desmond, by all that's holy!  Man, you've given us an anxious time!
What have you been up to to get yourself in that condition?"

"It's a long story now ended," I answered soberly, "and it'll keep!  At
present I can't get over your turning up here!...."

"From inquiries I made about El Cojo and his gang after you left I got
seriously alarmed about you," said this most faithful friend.  "But
when I heard that the Government coastal defence motor-boat, the
fastest craft in these waters, was missing, I decided it was time I
came to look for you.  One of my fruit-ships, the _Cristobal_, happened
to be in harbour, so I came along in her.  She's lying outside now.
Before we do any more talking I suggest you come aboard with me and
have a clean-up.  And you look as though you could do with a drink as
well!...."

I explained the difficulty I was in regarding the disposal of Grundt.

"El Cojo, eh?" commented Bard and whistled.  "That's some capture
you've got there, Desmond.  We'll take him back with us to Rodriguez.
He's hand in glove with the President, I believe, and I should like to
give his Excellency a lesson."

So we settled it.  Bard arranged to send a boat ashore to fetch
Clubfoot to the _Cristobal_.  He promised to see to it that my enemy
was safely bestowed.

So I turned my back on Cock Island and left it brooding sadly beneath
the stars with the terraced rock and the image and the little
bowl-shaped clearing where Von Hagel slept.  I went on board the
_Cristobal_ and for a good half-hour, with a long "peg" within easy
reach of my hand, lay and soaked the stiffness out of my bones in a
boiling hot bath.  John had volunteered, in the meantime, to send a
boat over to the _Naomi_ to fetch my luggage; for I had told him how
things stood between me and Garth, and he assumed that I would remain
on the _Cristobal_.  I had hesitated an instant before replying; for I
desperately wanted to see Marjorie again.  But, I reflected, a
millionaire's daughter was not for me--and it was better we should part
thus.  So I scribbled a note for the coloured steward to take to her:
just a line to say good-bye and to thank her for her action that had
saved my life.

They brought me some food in my cabin and while, attired in a
voluminous dressing-gown of my friend's, I ate, John Bard told me what
he had learnt regarding the connection of El Cojo's gang with Cock
Island.

"During the war," he said, "the island was the depôt for certain
important gun-running operations carried out by Black Pablo and his
friends for the Mexican insurgents.  The idea of the scheme, which was
directed by the German espionage heads in the United States, was to
keep things humming on the American border and to detain United States
troops there.

"In those days Black Pablo had a ship of his own.  He used to call
periodically and collect arms and ammunition deposited on the island by
some German commerce-raiders or other--there is talk of a mysterious
vessel under the Swedish flag that used to stand off here--and take
this contraband to Rodriguez.  Here in port, under cover of night, it
was transferred to a Mexican steamer which ultimately ran it ashore
somewhere on the Mexican coast.  On the outward trip to Cock Island,
Black Pablo used to carry large stocks of gasoline for German craft
operating in these waters...."

"There's a group of sheds on the other side of the island which
Clubfoot's men called 'The Petrol Store,'" I put in.

"Precisely," said Bard.  "There was a regular traffic here.  The island
is, after all, conveniently enough situated for the work they had in
hand; not too far from the Central American coast yet well off the
trade routes.  It was naturally, as you might say, selected as the
rendezvous in connection with what was intended to be Germany's biggest
coup against the Americans in the war.... the destruction of the Panama
Canal!"

"By George!" I commented.

"If it hadn't been for the Armistice," Bard continued, "I believe they
would have pulled it off.  They spent months on the preparations;
everything was worked out to the last detail.  The most vulnerable
points were to be dynamited; the Gatun Lock and the Culebra Cut, I
know, were mentioned.  The big bang was planned for November, '18...."

"I see!  And the Armistice spoilt it?"

"Exactly.  The H.E. had been passed by Black Pablo and Co. to the
parties appointed to carry out the explosion, and it was agreed that,
as soon as the coup had come off, Black Pablo should make for the
island rendezvous to receive his pay from a trusted German emissary who
would await him there.  The sum was one hundred thousand pounds in
American gold dollars and German gold marks.  But the Armistice, as you
say, knocked the whole thing on the head.  The entire German fabric
collapsed, its plots and intrigues with it, including the canal coup.
The Allies took a very firm hand with the Rodriguez Government and
forced them to expel Black Pablo and confiscate his ship.  Pablo went
to San Salvador and did his best to charter a vessel there.  But there
was a heavy slump in German stock and everybody had the wind up.  So
nothing was done...."

"And Grundt--El Cojo?"

"I did not succeed in finding out a great deal about his movements; for
the people from whom I inquired either did not or would not know
anything about him.  But apparently he turned up from Havana some
months ago.  The rest of the story--how they got on to Dutchey and his
tale of the message taken by the Englishman from the grave--you
know...."

There was a tap at the cabin-door.  The dark-skinned steward of the
_Cristobal_ was there with my kit from the _Naomi_.  "El Cojo," he told
us, had just come on board.  Bard threw a questioning glance at me.

"I leave him to you, John," I said.  "I don't want to see him again...."

My friend grinned understandingly and left the cabin.  In silence the
steward laid out some clean clothes for me.  He said nothing about my
note to Marjorie.  Had she had it?  Surely she would have answered....

"You left my letter for the Señorita?" I asked at last.

"Si, si, Señor Commandante," the man replied.  "The Señorita was on the
deck with the rich Inglez, her father, and I gave the Señor
Commandante's note into her own hands!"

"And she read it?"

"Si, Señor!"

"And there was.... no reply?"

"No, Señor!"

Well, that settled it.  I had my congé.  Cock Island and those wonder
days with Marjorie must go into the store-house of past memories....
Yet there was a tug at my heart as for a moment I thought of her as I
had held her in my arms in the burial-chamber and she had raised her
face to mine.  "Money doesn't count down here!" she had whispered; but
now we were back in the work-a-day world where money could prove an
insuperable barrier between true lovers....

In moody silence I dressed and went above.  A crescent moon hung low
down on the horizon and the deck was eerie with fantastic shadows.  No
one was about.  On our starboard bow the rugged mass of Cock Island was
a black blur against the stars.

It is one of the failings of the Celtic temperament that its moments of
the highest elation are apt to be followed by phases of the deepest
depression.  Reaction had come upon me after our days of high adventure
and floored me utterly.  All the spice, so it seemed to me in that dark
hour beneath the moon on the _Cristobal's_ deserted deck, had gone out
of the romance of my profession and left me with an ill taste in my
mouth.  As I paced up and down I revisualised the scenes through which
I had passed in my quest; Adams gasping for breath in his hovel, Garth
and I scrambling through the steaming jungle, that storm-tossed figure
by the grave, Marjorie pillowing her gold-brown head on my chest in the
darkness of the cave.

From every one of the pictures which passed across my mind her face
seemed to look out, the narrow pencilled eyebrows above the clear grey
eyes, the great tenderness of her mouth....  Within a few hours, I
pondered sadly, I had found my love and lost her just as I had found
and lost the treasure....

A voice was hailing us out of the gloom that hung over the opalescent
sea.

"_Cristobal_ ahoy!"

The sound of oars came to me and presently a ship's boat emerged from
the night, a white figure in the stern.  A few minutes later Marjorie
Garth, wrapped in a white blanket coat, stepped out of the boat that
rocked in the swell at the foot of the _Cristobal's_ companion and
mounted to the deck.

"You would have left me like this?" she said, and stood close by my
side.

I shrugged my shoulders.

"It was not a friendly thing to do.... partner," she added in a
breathless sort of way.

"Your father...." I began.

"Oh!" she cried in a low voice, "I was ashamed of him.  After what you
risked to save me.  But you must make allowances.  I am all he has, you
know.  He'll be all right in a day or two.  We're going back to Panama
and home by way of America.  And I've come to fetch you back to the
_Naomi_!...."

I shook my head.

"No!" I said.

"If I ask you to come.  And I'll make Daddy apologise, if you like...."

She laid her hand on my arm.

"No!" I said again.

Hurt, she withdrew her hand.

"Your stupid pride...." she began.

"Don't let us quarrel," I pleaded.  "Let me keep a wonderful dream
unspoiled, Marjorie.  But dreams can't last for ever, my dear.  One has
to wake up some time, you know!"

Questioningly her eyes sought mine.

"Even if Sir Alexander had not told me I was not wanted on the
_Naomi_," I continued, "I think I should yet have parted from you here.
My dear, my dear, don't you see it's hopeless?  I care far too much for
you to be able to know you merely as a friend.  I must make an end of
it.  The barrier between us is insurmountable...."

"Barrier?" she repeated.  "What barrier?"

"Money!  You're too rich, Marjorie, for me to ask you the question
which, almost from the moment I first saw you in the smoke-room of the
_Naomi_, I have wanted to put to you.  I make enough out of this odd
trade of mine to keep a wife.  But as long as I'm in the Secret Service
I'd ask no woman to marry me.  It wouldn't be playing the game by
her--or by the service, either!...."

She listened to me in silence.  Then she said quite simply:

"Desmond, if you'll ask me, I'll be your wife.  I've never met a man
I'd marry before; but I'd marry you.  Why should you let money stand
between us?  I shall have enough for both...."

I loved her for her words.  But I shook my head again.

"It won't do, my dear," said I.  "And you know it won't do.  If I'd
found that cursed treasure, things might have been different.  But now
I've only to tell you I shall never forget that you paid me the
greatest compliment a woman can pay a man.... and to say good-bye...."

With a sob, she turned from me and, ignoring my arm, ran down the
ladder and stepped into the boat.

Before morning Clubfoot had escaped.  Loud shouts from Cock Island
where, by Garth's permission, some of the crew of the _Naomi_ had spent
the night ashore, discovered the news to us.  The _Naomi's_ launch,
which they had drawn up on the beach, was missing, and at the companion
of the _Cristobal_ a severed length of rope showed that the painter of
one of the ship's boats which had been tied up there had been cut.

Bard held an inquiry.  But his crew came from Rodriguez, "and," he told
me, "they have a holy fear of El Cojo.  He simply blustered his way out
of the lamp-room where I had him imprisoned!  I'm not sure," he added
with a grin, "that old Clubfoot has not himself presented us with the
simplest solution of a very difficult problem!"



CHAPTER XXVI

IN WHICH A BLACK BOX PLAYS A DECISIVE PART

A smear of smoke on the horizon was all that was left to denote the
presence of the _Naomi_ when John Bard came to me as I sat in the shade
of the after-deck of the _Cristobal_, going through the mail he had
brought me from Rodriguez.  He dropped into a chair at my side.

"Captain Lawless and that Scots engineer of his," he said, "spent the
greater part of the night ashore grubbing for gold round the image.
But they didn't find as much as a dollar.  And then to discover they
had lost their launch.  Gee! they were as sick as mud!"

"Bah!" I answered.  "I'm fed up with the whole place.  The sooner we're
at sea again the better I shall be pleased.  I want to get back to
work, John...."

"We're sailing at four o'clock," my friend replied.  "But before we up
anchor, Desmond, old man, I should like to have a look at that
burial-chamber and the passage by which you escaped.  What do you say
to taking me ashore now and showing me round?"

"Anything to pass the time," I said wearily.  "When do we start?"

"Right now.  And I'll bring a pick and spade.  If there's time we might
have another grub for gold in the lava round the idol...."

"You bet the canny Scot hasn't left an inch of soil unturned," I
laughed as old John went off.

Half an hour later we were pushing our way across the rocky valley at
the end of which, against the mountainside, the great idol was set.  We
skirted the smoking volcano and at length stood before the narrow
fissure, half-hidden by a gigantic boulder, through which I had emerged
from the burial-chamber.

We had borrowed a couple of lanterns from the ship and Bard carried a
pick-axe while I shouldered a spade.  We left our tools at the entrance
and lit our lamps.  Then I led the way into the passage.  At the end I
found the solid masonry of the table hanging down into the passage.  A
steady heave swung it round and there, above our heads, was the black
square opening of the death-chamber.

And now I struck.  The place had too poignant memories for me.  I
hoisted Bard up into the hole, but I declined to accompany him.
Swinging my lamp in my hand, I wandered back along the passage towards
the cleft by which we had entered.

I had gone perhaps a hundred yards from the cave when the light of my
lantern, striking low, revealed a square flag set in the floor of the
passage.  It sounded hollow to the foot.  Setting down my lamp I
stooped to examine it and then I saw that the stone was roughly carved.
The carving was worn and filled in with dust.  I scraped it clear as
best I could with my hands and then saw that the stone was carved with
the likeness of a turtle, the counterpart of the turtle carved on the
table in the cave.  I could see the head and tail and the four flippers
roughly hewn.

"John!" I shouted.  "Here, John!"

My voice reverberated weirdly in the low-roofed passage.  I dropped to
my knees and tried to heave the stone up.  But it was firmly set and
resisted all my efforts.  Then I heard Bard's footsteps echoing along
the passage.

"Will you look at that?" I said as he came up.

"By George!" he exclaimed.  "Captain Roberts, his mark!  Can you heave
it up?  Wait!  I'll get the tools!"

And he darted off along the passage.

With the aid of the pick we prised the stone up.  A slot had obviously
been cut for it in the rock.  A shallow opening was revealed and at the
bottom stood a black box.

It was of black leather, discoloured but apparently in good condition,
the corners bound with some dull metal which I took to be brass.  It
was about four foot long, with a rounded lid studded with nails.  Bard
lifted up one of the lanterns whilst I, lying on my face, dropped an
arm into the hole.  My fingers closed on a handle at the side of the
box.  I heaved.  The box was immensely heavy and I found that I could
barely lift it.  I managed, however, to push it to one side, thus
making room for my feet.  Then I dropped into the hole, up-ended the
casket and by dint of our combined exertions we landed it on the floor
of the passage.

I looked at Bard and he looked at me.

"You--open it!" I said hoarsely.

The box seemed to be of Spanish manufacture for the leather was
handsomely tooled in the Cordova fashion.  It was fitted with an
elaborately chased iron or steel lock with a hasp that rattled to
Bard's touch.  Without further ceremony he inserted the point of the
pick under the hasp, wrenched, and the nails giving way in the rotten
leather, the whole lock came off.  Then he threw up the lid and we saw
a layer of discoloured brown canvas.  This I pulled aside and we fell
back in amazement.

For the box was filled to the brim with magnificent gold and silver
vessels, interspersed with them richly chased pistols and a couple of
daggers with hilts studded with gems.  There were, amongst other
things, a superbly wrought ewer and basin, both of which seemed to be
of solid gold, a flat gold dish set with diamonds and rubies, a
gem-laden crucifix, the Christ in pure gold, and an enormous variety of
gold and silver forks and spoons.  We laid all these treasures out on
the floor of the passage and then, beneath some folded lengths of rich
crimson brocade, came upon a long ebony box in which, wrapped loosely
in a cambric scarf yellowed with age, was a superb collection of gems.
There were no less than three magnificent _parures_ of pearls, such as
great ladies in the days of the Merry Monarch wore upon their neck and
bosom, a number of diamond and pearl drops such as were worn on the
forehead, diamond ear-rings, a huge emerald set as a brooch, several
heavy gold chains, and some diamond buckles.  Beside the ebony box,
enveloped in a flowered silk wrap, was a curiously fashioned silver
globe richly set with different precious stones to represent the
various capitals of the world.

Bard heaved a deep sigh and looked at me.

"My word, old boy!" he exclaimed, "you've done it at last!"

"What--what do you suppose it's worth?" I asked rather unsteadily.

"A hundred thousand, two hundred thousand pounds," answered Bard.  "Who
can say?  The antiquarian value, altogether apart from the intrinsic,
of some of these things--that crucifix and that globe, for example must
be very considerable.

"That emerald and those brilliants, for instance.... but you aren't
listening."

I wasn't.  A sudden vision had come to me of clear grey eyes trustfully
raised to mine, of a tangle of copper-coloured hair that rested against
my coat, of a slim warm body that clung confidingly to me.  The
discoloured leather trunk which lay at our feet was destined to change
the whole course of my life.  Hope, to which, with Marjorie, I had said
good-bye, came surging back into my heart.  Our island dream was not at
an end.... unless good fortune had come to me too late.

"When will the _Naomi_ reach Panama?" I suddenly asked.

"In about a week or ten days," John replied.  "Why?"

"Because," I said, "I _must_ reach her by cable!...."

It was ultimately from Rodriguez that my message was sent.  Akawa,
Bard's Japanese butler, took it down the hill to the cable office.  I
was prostrate with a bad bout of malaria, which I must have contracted
in the steamy woods of Cock Island.  My cable was to Marjorie, and this
is what it said:

"The barriers are down.  When will you marry me?  DESMOND."

But no reply came.  All through the feverish days of my illness, a
shadowy cable addressed to me flitted through my tortured mind.
Sometimes, when I was light-headed, as Bard told me afterwards, I would
fancy that Marjorie had replied, that Akawa was handing me the
message....  But when consciousness returned, I awoke to a dark world
which even the leather trunk locked away in Bard's strong-room could
not illumine....

It was weeks before I could travel to New York, where I placed the
treasure in the hands of a firm of antiquaries.  They advised that it
should only come on the market gradually, piece by piece, in order not
to depreciate its value.  I do not, therefore, know even now exactly
how much it will realise; but from what they tell me I am quite
justified in regarding myself as a comparatively wealthy man.  Bard
will not touch a cent of the treasure.  He does not need it, he says,
and it belongs to me....

A cable from the Chief, to whom I had communicated my New York address,
awaited me on my arrival from Panama.  It directed me to go to
Washington for instructions.  The treasure disposed of, I accordingly
boarded the train and proceeded to the capital.

From my hotel at Washington I telephoned to my old friend, Vincent
Pargett, at the Embassy, and invited myself to dinner.  Vincent made me
welcome in his very comfortable bachelor apartment, and over the
cocktails produced a batch of cables.

"You'd better read this one first, Desmond," he said.  "It came only
this morning.  The rest have been here a week," and he tossed over the
envelope.

It was from Marjorie.  My heart seemed to stop beating as my eyes fell
on her name printed at the foot of the message.  It was from London,
and I realised that my cable must have missed her at Panama and
followed her home.  This was her reply:

"Whenever you like.--Your MARJORIE."

There are moments which justify even the Secret Service agent in
abandoning his wonted habit of reticence.  With Marjorie's dear message
in my hand I told old Vincent, whom I had known all my life, the news
which it contained.

"Three cheers!" exclaimed my friend, then raised his glass.

"I drink," said he with mock solemnity, "to the passing of England's
premier sleuth!"

      *      *      *      *      *

I wonder!  Shall I, in the stay-at-home Government billet which the
Chief procured for me and happy in the possession of Marjorie as my
wife, always be able to resist the beckoning finger of romance luring
towards high adventure and spirited endeavour?  Shall I, to the end of
the chapter, remain deaf to the call of the blood, aloof from the
thrill of the man-hunt?  _Quien sabe_?  Who knows?

Of Clubfoot I never heard again, and to this day I do not know whether,
weak as he was and single-handed in that little launch, he ever made
the land.  Garth, inclined to be difficult at first, resigned himself
at the last with a good grace to our matrimonial projects.  I think the
argument that my share of Captain Roberts' treasure would remain in the
family made a distinct appeal to his Lancashire horse-sense.  Carstairs
is with us still and is developing into an excellent butler.

For the Vice-Consul at Rodriguez, whose friendly services I had not
forgotten, the Chief procured the C.B.E.  I am told that he wears it
very impressively, dangling from its purple ribbon on his shirt front,
when, in evening dress, according to the protocol, he attends the
President of Rodriguez at the opening of the Legislature....



THE END



VALENTINE WILLIAMS' NOVELS.


THE MAN WITH THE CLUBFOOT

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