Doubloons/Chapter 1

 

CHAPTER I.

CAPTAIN JOSEPH KEMPTON had commanded one of the last of the stately square-rigged ships that flew the Stars and Stripes on blue water. It was the ignoble fate of this Endymion of his to be dismantled and cut down for a coal barge while still in her prime. No more would she lift topsail yards to the breath of the Pacific trades or nobly storm across the Western Ocean. In the battle for trade, she was unable to survive the rivalry of sooty tramp freighters that roamed for cargo everywhere.

In such ships as this had her master learned his trade and served his years. He was left without a calling, a man hale and efficient, but too old to begin again in steam. His savings amounted to a few thousand dollars, not enough to live on, besides which idleness was hateful to contemplate. At length he found a berth as watchman or caretaker in a nautical graveyard on the New England coast, where vessels no longer worth repairing found their last resting place, to rot, or to be burned for the metal in their hulls, or broken up for junk.

It was a rather melancholy haven for one who loved the sea and ships and had briskly lorded it on his own quarter-deck. There were times when Captain Kempton winced and sighed at the sight of the nodding, rusty funnels and shabby deck houses beside the weedy wharves, and the gaunt fabrics of abandoned schooners resting on the mud flats. He was a brooding, disappointed man, but the bright presence of his daughter saved his thoughts from bitterness.

At nineteen, Eudora Kempton viewed life as anything else than a finished chapter, and this nautical graveyard was less sad than romantic, a place for dreaming dreams adventurous or pensive. Gifted with a serene optimism, she found contentment in her duty, which was to make the white cottage by the harbor as pleasant a home as possible for her father. These two comprised the household. There were estimable young men in the port of Falmouth who would have been glad to make other arrangements for Eudora, for they thought her exceeding fair; but she declared that her heart was fancy-free.

This was a feminine evasion, pardonable enough because it would never do to let a certain Dan Sloan think anything else. He was Eudora’s problem, to be handled with care. She dared not reveal too much, by a smile or a glance, for a masterful wooer was this mate of the big seagoing tug Endeavor which fetched the coal-laden barges coastwise from Norfolk. Stalwart, alert, and a native gentleman, he had a fine reputation afloat, but, alas! a some what tempestuous one ashore. Plaintively he recited his troubles to Eudora, but she was not easily persuaded. Other young men of twenty-three were old enough to behave themselves and avoid rows and ructions. It was always Dan Sloan who had whipped three sailors or blackened the eye of a policeman. In short, the impetuous mate was severely on probation, and his footing with Eudora was that of a rather precarious friendship, nothing more.

It was on a day in early summer when a visitor sought this picturesque corner of the harbor and wandered among the untenanted vessels. Curiously he scanned them, halting now and then to scribble in a notebook. His appearance suggested neither a seafaring man nor a dealer in marine junk, and his behavior interested Captain Kempton, who was enjoying a pipe on the porch of the cottage. He was about to saunter to the wharf and accost this harmless trespasser when Eudora, who was plying a hoe in her flower garden, paused to remark:

“You might think he owned the place. Such a grand manner! Please find out who he is and what he wants.”

“A summer boarder from along shore somewhere, most likely,” said her parent. “But I can’t make out why he is so infernally busy with a pencil. An artist, maybe; but they are rigged different.”

Eudora turned to her flowers, which were much more important that a mere man, and the captain moved in the direction of the water front. A closer view disclosed to him that the stranger was thirty or thereabouts, rather heavy-featured, and of a portly figure. His complexion was florid, his taste in dress slightly so. As the shipmaster approached him, he clambered down from the hulk of a river steamer and heartily exclaimed, with hand outstretched:

“Captain Kempton? They told me about you in Falmouth this morning. I want to ask you a lot of questions. Bully stuff, this!”

“An unsightly mess, it seems to me. I get tired of looking at it,” was the friendly reply. “What can I do for you?”

“Tell me the stories of some of these relics, and something about your own career,” smiled the other. “Mannice is my name—William Marmaduke Mannice. You may have seen some of my signed features in the Sunday sheets. I got wind of this salt-water bone yard of yours, and ran up from Boston to look it over for a special story. Color and human interest! I doped it out right. It’s all here.”

Now this happened to be a true statement, but Mr. Mannice had often found it inconvenient to tell the whole truth. Several metropolitan editors could vouch for his talent as a reporter, but they preferred not to discuss him otherwise. Their language was apt to be come heated. In their milder moments, they called him lazy and unreliable and foresaw his finish. So accurate was this prediction that the gifted William Marmaduke Mannice, again dismissed for cause, had been forced into the ranks of the unemployed. His exit from New York had been hastened by the failure of an attempt to raise funds which skirted too near the edge of blackmail, and he uneasily surmised that he had not heard the last of it.

With a very few dollars, he was marooned in Boston, a free lance who had to peddle his stuff from one office to another until he could find a chance to employ his wits to better advantage. The trip to Falmouth was in the nature of a foraging expedition. With photographs, and done in his breezy style, here was a story that ought to sell.

His type of man was unfamiliar to Captain Joseph Kempton, who had the sailor’s fine simplicity of character. Shrewd in his own domain, he had dealt mostly with those who hit straight from the shoulder, whose vices and virtues were plain to read. This affable journalist made a pleasant diversion in the monotony of his existence, and it was flattering to have him display an interest in the career of one of the last of the true-blue Yankee shipmasters.

Vivid were the episodes he was moved to recall, with the tang of briny seas and strong winds, as they lingered upon the wharf, and Mr. Mannice was a sympathetic listener. At length they boarded a forlorn wooden hull whose shapely prow still bore the white figure head of some chaste goddess and whose name, Wanderer, was discernible in a gilded scroll.

“A sister ship to my Endymion," said Captain Kempton. “They were launched from the same yard in Bath, and my uncle sailed this one in the China trade. I raced him from Shanghai to Liverpool once, and we finished six hours apart, for a bet of a thousand dollars. It was a record passage. We both carried away all our spare spars and lost men overboard, several of them.”

Mannice glanced at the well-knit, keen-eyed mariner, so mild of mien and quiet of speech, and found it difficult to realize that he belonged to a vanished era of splendid endeavor. What he had seen and done thrilled one’s fancy, and the reporter was genuinely sincere as he said:

“People have forgotten, and they don’t care whether or not American shipping be crowded off the high seas. To find a man like you, with this back ground and all that—well, there is more of a punch to it than I could dig out of a barrel of statistics.”

“Why not come up to the house and sit down?” said the captain, greatly pleased. “I’ll be glad to have you stay for dinner, Mr. Mannice. It’s quite a walk to a hotel in Falmouth, and we can talk at our leisure.”

Possibly because he had caught a distant glimpse of Eudora, the visitor accepted with instant alacrity. Misfortune had not dulled a belief in his prowess with the ladies. The captain’s daughter was singing in the kitchen, for she was an old-fashioned girl who enjoyed the fine art of cookery, nor did she whisk off the white apron as she went to meet the guest. Courteous was her welcome as a hostess, but Mr. Mannice noted that her gaze was fearlessly direct and that she was trying to appraise him for herself. Always at ease, he made himself agreeable, taking no pains to hide his admiration. Eudora’s lovely color was all her own, and the years of her girlhood at sea in the Endymion had given her fine figure a carriage singularly graceful and reliant.

While the trio sat at dinner, the guest was reminded of a fantastic sea tale which had been going the rounds of the newspapers. It concerned a buried treasure, a lonely Pacific islet, and an expedition fitting out at San Francisco.

“I presume you ran across these legends during your voyages. Captain Kempton,” said Mannice. “Odd that people should take stock in them, don’t you think?”

“I see nothing odd in it.” And the reply was unexpectedly emphatic. The mariner straightened himself in his chair, his strong face glowed with feeling, and he was like a younger man as he continued: “The pirates and the buccaneers hid their hoards, no doubt. Their booty was immense, more than they could have squandered. The Captain Kidd tradition is a myth, exploded long ago; but in many other instances——

“You have started my father off on a hobby of his, Mr. Mannice,” laughingly interrupted Eudora. “He has been collecting material for years. Perhaps he will show you some of his rare books and prints.”

“A fascinating subject,” replied the reporter, scenting another marketable story. "Do you mind telling me, sir, where some of this plunder is buried?”

“Fourteen millions of it is on Cocos Island, saved from the sack of Lima,” promptly answered the shipmaster. “I once sighted volcanic little Trinidad off the coast of Brazil, where more of the Spanish loot was left, but the sea was too heavy for me to send a boat ashore. Why, in twenty ports, from Manila to Rio, I have heard yarns like these, too circumstantial to be waved aside. They can’t be pure invention, or sane men would not be spending fortunes every year to send out vessels to search for treasure.”

“We are ever so much more sensible,” came from Eudora. “Father and I dream our treasure finding right here at home and then plan how we shall spend it.”

Captain Kempton silenced her with a gesture of annoyance, as though this were a theme too serious for jesting. She regarded him a little anxiously, and would have talked of something else, but Mannice persisted:

“But did those gay old cutthroats really leave any charts with the crosses and compass bearings all marked down? And if they didn’t, how the deuce does anybody know where to look?”

“There are such charts,” seriously affirmed the skipper. “They have been handed down from survivors who were not drowned or hanged. I have heard of one or two perfectly well authenticated. A party that chartered a schooner out of Havana three years ago had one of them. I knew the man they hired as master. He wrote me about it.”

“And did they find the stuff?” queried the incredulous Mannice.

“If they did, they would keep mum. It might be claimed by some government or other as treasure-trove. But if they didn’t, the chart might not have been to blame. Landmarks change or vanish in two or three centuries, and the sea may shift a coast line beyond recognition.”

“And it’s a good gamble that somebody will turn up the jewels and the pieces of eight if they dig long enough?” cried the reporter, who was becoming excited.

“Provided they are equipped with a proper chart,” and Captain Kempton smote the table with his fist. “Why, if I were lucky enough to stumble on a document of this kind, I wouldn’t hesitate a minute to spend some money on it—go take a look, I mean.”

“And put us in the poorhouse?” chided Eudora, who had returned from the kitchen to stand at his elbow like a guardian angel. “There would be a mutiny in his family.”

“I’m not joking,” asserted her father, addressing himself to Mannice. “I know what I am talking about. I have enough laid by to fit out a vessel, and a man might as well stake it all on one throw as to molder his life away with the other hulks in this graveyard.”

Mannice stared, and was silent. He had stirred unsuspected currents of emotion. It was easy to read that the captain was in rebellion against his tragic destiny and hoped to find some way of escape. His mind unoccupied, his normal activity thwarted, he dreamed of treasure and adventure for lack of anything more tangible. This made the story so much the better, reflected William Marmaduke Mannice, whose attitude toward his fellow man was essentially selfish. While Eudora washed the dishes, he sat on the porch and smoked with Captain Kempton, who needed no persuasion to pursue the same subject At his fingers’ ends was an amazing amount of lore and legend, of facts that denoted a profound historical research, of conclusions worked out with the utmost ingenuity.

Reluctantly, at length, the journalist asked the time of day, for a pawn ticket reposed where his own watch should have been. Another half hour and he must think of taking a train to Boston. Eudora was among her flowers, and he desired to know her better before departing. His heart may have been calloused, but there was no denying the fact that it beat a trifle faster whenever he looked at the captain’s winsome daughter. He became aware that he was still capable of an infatuation.

Eudora greeted him with a certain dignified aloofness, and appeared more interested in the weeds in the pansy bed. This he laid to feminine coyness. It was a way the pretty creatures had, but trust a man of the world to play the game with patience and finesse. Blandly, he exclaimed, hat in hand:

“May I beg a few forget-me-nots for remembrance, Miss Kempton? This has been one of those days—well, a sort of inspiration.”

“Yes, my father can be very entertaining,” she crisply replied, disregarding his plea. “Tell me, do you intend to put him in a newspaper?”

“Er—he appeals to me as a striking personality. Yes, I should like to describe him.”

“Oh, I don’t mind what you may say about his life and service. I’m sure it will please him, Mr. Mannice. But about his lost-treasure hobby—I forbid that, you know. He take it too seriously now, and he mustn’t be encouraged.”

The journalist hesitated, and plausibly lied: “Your word is law. I could promise you anything if you would let me come to see you again.”

“Again? You didn’t come to see me to-day,” quoth the unsatisfactory Eudora. “By the way, you are not allowing yourself any too much time to catch that train. You are rather stout for rapid walking.”

This was an insult deliberate and cutting. Mr. Mannice turned quite red, bit his lip, and for once was taken aback. With a low bow and a murmured farewell, he clapped his hat on his head and passed grandly from the garden. Eudora smiled, and overtook her parent, who was pacing the path to the wharf.

“An uncommonly pleasant visitor,” said he. “He woke me up a bit. Able in his own line, I should say. How did you like him?”

“Not as much as he likes himself,” was her analysis. “He impressed me as the least bit gone to seed. His clothes were not really shabby, and I couldn’t call his face dissipated, but—perhaps I’ll have to call if intuition. A cable length would be far enough to trust Mr. William Marmaduke Mannice, I think.”

This seemed to ruffle Captain Kempton, usually so affectionate, and he hastily retorted:

“That sounds critical and unkind, Eudora. I don’t agree with you at all. Really, I have so few pleasures, and——

“And it is horrid of me,” she penitently broke in. “It was lots of fun. Did you give him your photograph?”

“Yes. My old friends will be glad to see it published. I shall want some extra copies of the paper. I urged Mr. Mannice to drop in again.”

“He will,” was the verdict of Eudora, who had her own private opinion. William Marmaduke was an admirer not easily suppressed.