Doubloons/Chapter 10

 

CHAPTER X.

There was no enmity between the treasure camps. The ghost of Peleg Peterson was laid, and no more would the dreams of his bloodstained booty trouble the minds and spoil the tempers of these estimable men. They were themselves again.

Cheerily the sailors began to pull down the tents and other shelters and bundle them aboard the two schooners. Harvey Mattoon had whittled himself a crutch and tried to help pack the kitchen gear. He bore the professor no more ill will. In his simple philosophy, all was well that ended well, and he would have a thrilling yarn to spin and a scar to show. He was the hero of the expedition, whatever Eudora might think of Dan Sloan.

With so many willing hands, a few hours sufficed to clear the beach. A calm was on the sea, and through the afternoon the trim schooners waited for a breeze. Twilight came, and the air was still warm and breathless. Dan and Eudora sauntered along the deserted beach, and she was pleading with him;

“But you mustn’t take the risk of sailing back in that wretched little sloop. Haven’t I been worried enough? Father has begged you to go with us in the Challenge, and you act so queer about it.”

“Max is game to make the return voyage if I say so,” he replied, after a pause. “Of course, if we abandoned the sloop, it wouldn’t cost much to square it with the owner. He said as much. But I couldn’t stand it to be in the same vessel with you and—and—well, you know why.”

“I want you to be happy, Dan. You have earned happiness.” And the girl’s voice was thrilling. “If you only knew how grateful I am——

“I was afraid of that. I must have a tremendous lot more than thanks. I sail home with you on one condition.”

“Tell me, Dan, I shall be glad to hear it.”

“That the treasure belongs to me; the treasure I came to find.”

They were standing at the edge of the pit in the sand where Captain Kempton had dug in vain. What Eudora might have replied was postponed because the loose stuff gave way beneath her feet and she slid to the bottom, Dan plunging after her. It seemed quite the fitting place in which to claim a treasure, and he was about to say as much when Eudora caught a glimpse of a small object which the shifting sand had disclosed.

“Another brass buckle?” she exclaimed, stooping to pick it up.

“No,” said Dan. “The real thing this time.”

He held it to the failing light. Tarnished and incrusted, it was recognizable as a bracelet, and the pure gold gleamed dully when he scraped it with his knife. Small but massy, to fit a slender wrist, it was studded with stones, and as he rubbed them in the sand they glowed one by one like blood.

“Rubies!” gasped Eudora. “I never saw anything so gorgeous. And they are real? Oh, they must be!”

“Not much doubt of that. This bracelet was made long, long ago. And Elmer Stackpole planted no imitation jewelry, only buckles and rusty cutlasses. I heard him say so.”

“Then the pirate buried it, Dan? Shall I run and call father ashore? Perhaps Peleg Peterson did come here, after all.”

Unheeding his reply, she sped along the beach. Her lover sighed and began to clear away the sand with a broken shovel which had been left at the brink of the pit. The schooner awoke with sudden noise and stir, and her company filled the yawl in a twinkling, Captain Kempton standing in the stern with a lantern in his fist. Aboard the other schooner, the professor and his wife observed the excitement and followed in excited haste. Harvey Mattoon, left behind, stumped aft on his crutch and sadly exclaimed:

“They’re all off again to a good start, durn ’em!”

Eudora was waiting to display the bracelet, and her parent delayed only to glance at it as he sped to the excavation. Dan Sloan raised a warning hand and bade him descend carefully. The others held back while the captain lowered himself and the lantern. The shovel had by this time revealed the bones of a skeleton which had been scattered almost not at all. Blackened and fragile, ready to break and crumble at a touch, the pitiful relics possessed a certain dignity of repose, as though it were unkind to disturb this lonely resting place. So small and slender were the bones that Captain Kempten, said, his gray head uncovered:

“A woman, and this bracelet was on her wrist! Washed ashore from a wreck, perhaps from a ship that struck on one of these Seven Islands. Some grand lady of France in the days of the seigneurs? God knows.”

It was agreed, without dissension, to wait for daylight before digging in quest of more jewels. Dan and Eudora lingered behind the others, and she told him;

“I should like to keep just one ruby for myself. Would you like to have it mounted in a ring for me? Now will you sail home with me? Faithful and true, Dan. I am sure of it.”

There was no need to announce the tidings of this betrothal. Captain Kempton was aware of it as soon as they went on board. It made him young at heart. Luckier than he, his daughter had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Eudora and her bold young seafarer possessed a treasure of greater value than all the doubloons ever buried, and they viewed the voyage as brilliantly successful; but their shipmates, less fortunate, were eager to wield their shovels anew where the bones of the poor lost lady of the bracelet had been covered by the shifting sand of centuries. Another day they toiled without result, while Professor Bodge looked on and made no attempt to interfere. When they finally abandoned the excavation, he announced, in his most impressive manner:

“You fail to realize, Captain Kempton, that in discovering that bracelet you have made yourself and your daughter and your prospective son-in-law more than comfortably well off. My researches in organic chemistry have given me some acquaintance with precious stones. These rubies, probably Burmese, are genuine, I am ready to swear to that, and they are also of the true pigeon’s blood color and marvelously matched. They are worth a fortune. I doubt if the sea chest of Peleg Peterson would have contained booty as valuable.”

The shipmaster looked amazed, and then, like, the gentleman that he was at heart, he exclaimed with gusto:

“Share and share alike, my dear sir. It’s the only proper wind-up of the cruise. As a pair of fools, there was nothing to choose between us, and I don’t propose to see you sail home empty-handed. My daughter and Dan Sloan agree with me. We divide the rubies,”

The professor protested, but the mariner was as stubborn as usual. Soon a cool breeze stole in from the south, the white sails climbed the masts, and the anchors were lifted to a musical chorus. On the beach, in the light of the moon, appeared the figure of a solitary man who raised his arms beseechingly and shouted to attract attention.

Captain Kempton called to him from the taffrail:

“Good-by, and fare you well, Mr. William Marmaduke Mannice. We didn’t forget you. We left you behind because we remembered you.”

“Marooned!” observed Dan Sloan. “If he is really anxious to quit the island, he is welcome to our sloop.”

“Homeward bound!” cried Captain Kempton, as his schooner slid out to meet the open sea.

“And the Bodges have promised to come to the wedding,” exclaimed his winsome daughter, which summed up the whole matter.