Doubloons/Chapter 2

 

CHAPTER II.

It was in a Boston lodging house by no means luxurious that the accomplished journalist sat down at once to arrange his notes and write three columns of swinging prose in praise of Yankee ships and sailors that sail the seas no more. The image of Eudora was somewhat distracting but there was no time to waste, for he needed the money. With the untiring facility of long training, he drove at his task until far in the night, and was nearing the end when a brilliant idea occurred to him. He had a fatal weakness for improving on the facts. Putting it more bluntly, he felt no scruples over faking a story when he thought he could get away with it.

In this instance, he hesitated, reluctant to offend Miss Eudora, but he might be adroit enough to explain it away were he to meet her again, and sentiment must yield to necessity. For an extra fifty dollars in his pocket, he was prepared to take chances. He dared not tarry much longer in Boston. It was not far enough away from New York.

Here was this Captain Kempton, he said to himself, with the buried-treasure bee in his bonnet. Why not counterfeit a pirate’s chart, in exact imitation of the real thing, clever enough at least to fool a Sunday editor? There was the old clipper ship Wanderer rotting at the wharf. While poking about in her forecastle, so Mannice swiftly evolved the story, he had dislodged a board that was about to fall from its rusty nails above one of the bunks. Behind the board was a small space in which he discovered what looked to be an ancient, sea-stained document. It proved to be a chart, roughly drawn in ink upon a square of parchment. Some seamen had hidden it there for safe-keeping perhaps half a century ago.

So far so good. Mr. Mannice began to feel the satisfaction of an artist. The really dramatic touch, the situation, was to be in the alleged fact that he, a random visitor, should have stumbled upon this strange old chart while the custodian of the Wanderer, Captain Joseph Kempton, was dreaming his days away in the hope of discovering this very thing.

“A Sunday editor ought to fall for it,” thoughtfully reflected the scapegrace, “provided he isn’t wise to my past.”

From his trunk, he brought out several large envelopes filled with newspaper clippings, and dumped them upon the table. They had been saved from time to time as possible suggestions for special articles, grist for the mill, an assortment of odd or striking news paragraphs and the like. Recalling one in particular, he made a hasty search, and was delighted at finding it. Briefly, it referred to a certain industrious pirate, Peleg Peterson by name, who harried the New England coast in the eighteenth century and had buried his treasure on one of the Seven Islands in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, west of Anticosti, and northwest of Cape Gaspe.

“Peleg Peterson is the boy,” cheerfully observed Mr. Mannice. “And now I know where to plant his stuff. Watch me fake a chart to-morrow that will fool Captain Kempton himself when he sees it reproduced.”

The first errand was to procure a piece of genuine parchment in a little shop on Cornhill. Then, with the skill of a born forger, he inked in the crude outline of a very small island, avoiding too much detail. A tree and a big rock and a small bay served as marks, so many paces this way and so many that, according to the compass, all noted in one corner of the chart as set down by the sprawling fist of the illiterate Peleg Peterson.

Then, with candle grease and coffee stains, cobwebs and dust, did William Marmaduke Mannice proceed to age and disguise his handiwork, even to spilling rum on it, as suggested by his boyhood acquaintance with Billy Bones and other literary worthies of this ilk. The result was gratifying. It would not have deceived an expert in old manuscripts, but for the purpose intended it was amazingly clever, and Mr. Mannice virtuously commented that he had the Wanderer and Captain Kempton around which to build the narrative. They actually existed, beyond a doubt.

Plausible, self-assured, with never a pang of conscience, William Marmaduke Mannice swaggered downtown to vend his wares. While crossing Washington Street, he suddenly halted, as if detained by an unseen hand, and was almost run over by an automobile. Retreating to the pavement, he vanished into a café and ordered a cocktail while he wrestled with the inspiration that had come like a bolt from the blue. It was big—something worth while.

“Boob!” he bitterly addressed himself. “A little more and you would have sold this perfectly good chart for a song. And there is a fine old sea dog at Falmouth who yearns to get his hands on it.”

It was the spirit of Broadway that spoke, the spirit that tolerates the man who lives by his wits and regards the easy mark as fair prey. The scheme of hoaxing Captain Kempton with this bogus chart appealed to Mannice for several reasons. He hoped to share the dollars which the father of Eudora had said were ready to be staked on a treasure expedition, and he was exceedingly anxious to disappear somewhere until matters in New York looked less hostile. It was anything to tide over the crisis, to save him from being broke and stranded. Besides, he foolishly sighed to be near Eudora, and if he could not dip into the father’s little fortune by means of the treasure-hunting scheme, he might possibly feather his nest in marrying the daughter.

The plot had this charming feature—it might be full of ethical flaws, but there could be no way of enmeshing Mr. Mannice as obtaining money under false pretenses. This he was careful to elucidate to himself. It was a speculation in which he could not lose, and he saw a chance to win. As for Captain Joseph Kempton, it was doing him a kindness. He would be happy looking for treasure, whether he found it or not. People who went daffy over this sort of thing ought to be given an opportunity to get it out of their systems.

Mr. Mannice drank another cocktail, and carefully counted his cash reserve. He was near the end of his rope, but there was enough for another trip to Falmouth. He moved promptly, taking a train which landed him in that sea port shortly after nightfall of this same day. Cautiously, he made his way on foot to the corner of the harbor where the forsaken vessels lay in a row, and passed wide of the captain’s cottage. The place was unwatched at night, and, unobserved, he stumbled out upon the dilapidated wharf at which the Wanderer was moored.

A pocket flash light enabled him to find his way into the musty forecastle which he had previously explored with Captain Kempton. It was not difficult to pry aside a decayed bit of the boarding behind a tier of bunks and shove therein the crumpled parchment. Assuring himself that it looked as if it had long lain there undisturbed, he replaced the board and hammered it fast. After looking about, to make certain he had left no traces, the guileful intruder stole out of the Wanderer and sought the darkened highway to Falmouth. There a small hotel sheltered him until morning, when he prepared to call at the cottage of Captain Kempton as though just arrived from Boston.

Shortly after breakfast Eudora bethought herself of an errand, and she took the longer road to a neighbor’s house in order that she might overlook the harbor bar and the flashing sea beyond. Perhaps she would not have confessed it as a reason, but the powerful steel tug Endeavor had been reported as passing the cape, inbound from the southward, and Dan Sloan was the mate. Eudora gazed in vain, shrugged a shapely shoulder as if it made no difference whatever, and continued on her way.

Captain Kempton had gone down to the beach to oversee a gang of men who were scrapping the engines of a small steamer when Mr. William Marmaduke Mannice, having found the cottage empty, discovered him and advanced at a gait more hurried than usual. The visitor wore an air of suppressed excitement, rehearsed beforehand, and to the captain’s cordial greeting he replied:

“You’re not half as surprised as I am, my dear sir. I didn’t expect to give myself the pleasure, but a most extraordinary thing has happened—if you are too busy for a chat. I’ll wait, of course.”

The mariner’s curiosity was piqued, and he withdrew a few yards from his workmen as he said:

“I am glad you found an excuse to run down again, Mr. Mannice. Shall we sit down here on the bulwark?”

Mannice glanced to right and left, and lowered his voice. It was enough to give the interview a flavor of mystery.

“It is a matter between us. You will understand when I explain. I would rather not run any risk of being overheard.”

The captain looked puzzled, but nodded, and moved in the direction of the cottage. Mannice made no disclosures, discussing the weather and politely inquiring about Miss Kempton and her health, until they had come to the porch. The shipmaster was a man who had learned to keep his own counsel, and he awaited the import of this second pilgrimage. An ugly customer to hoodwink and be caught at it, even though his hair was silvered, reflected Mannice, as he scanned the resolute profile and glanced at the sinewy hinds. But there was no hint of misgiving in the young man’s demeanor as he smoothly began:

“Your yarns of buried treasure interested me so much that it was hard for me to think of anything else when I returned to Boston. It occurred to me that among my clippings there might be something worth sending to add to your collection. I had saved very little treasure stuff, and could dig up only one item. I must have put it away several years ago, and it was badly torn. But I pieced it together and made a typewritten copy. It’s queer, awfully queer. Captain Kempton, a hundred-to-one shot, but——

“Perhaps I have heard it from some other source,” was the quick interruption. “Most of those newspaper reports are sheer moonshine.”

“True enough,” handsomely agreed Mannice. “My only reason for paying any attention to this was what you might call a coincidence. It seems that a very old man died in a Liverpool hospital, leaving a rambling statement to the effect that he had sailed before the mast in the deep-water trade. During one of his last voyages, the deuce of a while ago, I presume, he had been laid up with yellow fever in Valparaiso. The man in the next cot, another English sailor, was almost dead, but before he cashed in he gave this chap a little packet wrapped in canvas and told him to keep it for himself. It had come down from his grandfather and was the real goods, said the owner, straight from one of the crew who had sailed with a pirate known as Peleg Peterson.”

“A chart, of course,” exclaimed Captain Kempton, springing from his chair to stride the porch. “The story has a familiar sound, but you can never tell. Please go on. There was a Peleg Peterson, a lively rascal. He was hanged at Execution Dock, with five of his men.”

The narrator felt increasing confidence, and he resumed more weightily: “This sailor lived to get out of Valparaiso in an American clipper ship. His mind weakened in old age, or sickness impaired it. At any rate, he was unable to remember the name of the ship. He did remember, however, that he had tucked the chart away behind the planking over his bunk in the forecastle, hoping some day to go looking for the treasure. He was badly smashed up in a storm on the homeward voyage and lugged ashore with a broken leg. The ship sailed away without him, and he was never able to run across her again. And so he lost his precious chart.”

“The ship may have been lost after that, Mr. Mannice. An American clipper, did you say?”

“Yes. He could recall that she was very fast and quite new at the time.”

“Anything else? What port she hailed from?” came the eager questions. “On one of his last voyages? He may have been afloat until he was sixty or more. Those old shellbacks are hard to kill. It’s not impossible that the ship is still knocking about; there are a few of them left—my old Endymion and——

“And the Wanderer!” exclaimed Mannice, choosing the right moment to drive the suggestion home. “I thought of her at once. That’s why I came to tell you about it. The odds are all against it, of course.”

Their eyes sought the wharf and the graceful hull of what had once been a queen of all the oceans. Captain Kempton’s hobby made him credulous, ready to expect a coincidence. And every man bred to the sea has beheld impossible things come true.

“Let me find an ax,” cried he. “We’ll rip out that fo’castle in a jiffy.”

He checked himself and put a finger to his lips. Secrecy was the word. Already the lure of pirate’s gold worked in him like a potent poison. Mannice smiled assent. They would keep this fascinating business to themselves. Almost by stealth, they fetched a circuit and gained the wharf from the other side, screened from the men at work on the beach. It was a zestful adventure for the mariner, and Mannice flattered himself that his stage management was excellent. Once in the forecastle of the Wanderer, he so maneuvered it that the search should be prolonged, suggesting an attack on the walls where he knew nothing was hidden. Timbers and planking flew like kindling. The captain was in a mood to hew the ship to pieces. The eager Mannice aided with a bit of iron as a crowbar. In a twinkling, they demolished a row of bunks.

Meanwhile, Eudora had come home, and was absorbed in the daily routine of keeping the cottage so neat and trim that the most exacting shipmaster could find no fault. Broom and dusting cloth were dropped as she descried through an open window her father and the important Mr, Mannice ascending the path. No wonder their aspect amazed her, for they were as battered and disheveled as a brace of tramps, collars wilted, trousers torn, coats begrimed. Some sort of elation made them gesticulate and talk with tremendous gusto. Eudora knew her father too well to suspect the demon rum, unless he had been somehow led astray by this Mannice person, and she waited with lively apprehension.

At sight of her, they paused, put their heads together, and exchanged confidential speech, as though something highly important was to be shared between them. This nettled Eudora, and her unfavorable impression of Mr. Mannice flamed into active dislike. He dropped behind, and permitted the captain to announce to his vigilant daughter:

“An old crank, was I? A rainbow chaser? I have found a pirate’s chart, Eudora, and it was hidden right under my nose. Doubloons, my dear, and rings for your fingers.”

She received the tidings calmly, but her head was in a whirl. Her eyes narrowed a trifle as she surveyed William Marmaduke Mannice, who stepped forward to add, with his jocular suavity:

“A fairy tale right out of a book. Miss Kempton, but they do come true now and then. Luck, pure luck, that couldn’t happen again in a thousand years. I stumbled on the clew, and we ran it out, tucked away in the old Wanderer, the last will and testament of Peleg Peterson, gentleman rover.”

Eudora’s intelligent face expressed a variety of emotions, but those that were uppermost she managed to dissemble. Her father seemed hurt that she failed to display enthusiasm, so she lightly replied:

“How perfectly gorgeous! I choose the rubies and emeralds, if you please, and the tall candlesticks of beaten gold from the cathedrals on the Spanish Main. But you have to find the treasure first, don’t you?”

“Unless somebody else has beat us to it, we are apt to turn up something with the pick and shovel,” declaimed Mannice. “But it’s mightly unlikely that more than one chart was left be hind by this Peleg Peterson.”

“Oh, you are already planning to look for it?” asked Eudora, a reflective finger on her chin. “You take my breath away. May I see the wonderful chart?”

“Not now. It must not be exposed to the strong light,” testily explained her father. “The ink may fade, or the parchment crumble, and then where are we?”

Something told Eudora that he was not wholly frank. They were unwilling to show her the chart for fear she could not keep a secret. She flushed, but held her temper, and demanded, with a laugh:

“You must tell me the whole story, every word. I am dying to hear it. Here I ran away for a little while and missed the most exciting thing that ever happened. Tell me, first, daddy, are you honestly going to sail in search of it? And how far away is it hidden?”

There was a note of anxiety in her voice, for a quick glance had caught Mannice unawares, and she detected on his florid lineaments a look greedy and intent before he could mask it.

“Not so far away but what I can afford to fit out a small schooner,” promptly answered the captain. “Mr. Mannice will go along, naturally, as a partner, and at my expense. This is no more than fair, for the chart really belongs to him.”

“Oh, indeed! He was very honest about it, wasn’t he? He might have sneaked aboard the Wanderer in the night without saying a word to you, and kept the treasure all to himself.”

“He has behaved handsomely,” affirmed the captain.

“But this expedition will cost a great deal of money,” protested Eudora, “and you may have to give up your position as caretaker. It seems like a sort of summer madness to me. What is your opinion, Mr. Mannice?”

“I merely helped Captain Kempton find the chart,” he replied, with a shrug. “The rest of it is up to him.”

“Let’s go into the house,” broke in the mariner. “I will show you to my room, Mr. Mannice. You want to wash and brush up. I’m sure.”

Alone with her father for a few minutes, Eudora plied him with questions blunt and insistent. He had another excuse for withholding the chart from her, and would disclose nothing more than that the treasure was buried in the Seven Islands.

“You are afraid I’ll tell Dan Sloan and he will go after it himself,” she impetuously exclaimed. “I hate the whole idea. It has changed you already. And I distrust this Mannice from the bottom of my heart. I can’t tell you why. A woman’s reasons, I suppose. He didn’t ring true to me when he was here before. Forget this absurd chart and let him keep it and the treasure, if he can find it.”

“You had better leave the decision to me,” he firmly replied. “I have been studying this thing for years. Let this go by, refuse to take a fling? I should never forgive myself. It is for you, my dear girl.”

“I am happy without it. Then, if you are bound to go, leave Mannice behind and give him his share later,” she argued. “I can’t make myself clear, but he has put a sort of spell on you. And if you insist, I go, too, to look after your interests as best I can.”

“I thought of leaving you with your aunt in Portland,” he awkwardly returned. “S-ssh! Mr. Mannice is coming downstairs.”

Eudora promptly fled the room, and scurried across the lawn to the road and led toward the outer harbor. Perhaps she was a goose to interfere and spoil her father’s ardent enjoyment. He was hard-headed and experienced, seldom swayed by impulse. However, her heart leaped for gratitude when, around the southward headland, came into view a red-funneled tug hauling her barges in from sea with a certain quiet and massive strength. Not as a lover, but certainly as a friend in need, she would welcome Dan Sloan, for she knew not where else to turn.