Doubloons/Chapter 7

 

CHAPTER VII.

A black shadow of foreboding enveloped William Marmaduke Mannice. It might be possible to postpone the crisis, but sooner or later the implacable and muscular lover of Eudora would get him if he didn’t watch out. As a profitable holiday season, life on the island had lost its charms. It behooved him to have other plans in readiness. At a pinch, he might pretend illness and persuade Captain Kempton, who could not be deaf to the dictates of humanity, to send him to the mainland in the schooner. And, while he warily awaited the turn of events, and kept one eye on the menacing sloop in the bay, he would endeavor to increase his emergency funds. He had done fairly well before leaving Falmouth, thanks to the captain’s high regard, what with padding expense bills and extracting loans. But every little bit helped, and a modern gentleman of fortune could not afford to overlook the humble opportunities.

The moon rose late, and he therefore made an unostentatious exit from the camp while the night was still obscure. Blundering with difficulty across the island, barking his shins and swearing often, he discerned at length a lighted window of Elmer Stackpole’s hut which served him as a beacon. The ragged lord of the isle was mending a net and contentedly humming that salt water classic, “Whisky Johnny.” At the entrance of Mr. Mannice, he produced a bottle of the same and two teacups.

“I was comin’ over after supper, but my rheumatics is bad again,” said he. “Fetched it to me, did ye? Ten dollars lawful money for your crew? Pay as you go is my motto.”

“Guess again,” sociably smiled the visitor, as he let three fingers gurgle into the teacup. “Happy days, old top. It occurred to me to talk a little business to you. We are both practical men. With a proper start, you would have made a high-class grafter.”

“Meanin' to say I charge ’em more’n I ought for ransackin’ my premises?” protested Mr. Stackpole.

“Twenty dollars a day is too much,” he was earnestly informed. “You never knew there was so much money in the world. Let me see. That first haul of yours amounted to a hundred, didn’t it? And every twenty-four hours you ring the bell again. It won’t do, Elmer.”

“It was all settled with the cap’n and the perfesser, an’ they didn’t kick no more’n was natural, Mr. Mannice. You are wastin’ your breath.”

“Not much. We split it fifty-fifty. That means the roll in your jeans and the daily holdup hereafter. I shall stroll over in the evening and collect.”

The businesslike announcement staggered the honest fisherman. He pinched his nose with a pair of tarry fingers, then solemnly gulped down another drink and querulously declaimed:

“A pirate couldn’t use no awfuller language. Jokin’, be ye? Red licker affects you that way? It was all settled an’ agreed. I’ll report this to the cap’n, that’s what I’ll do, as sure as guns.”

“You will look pleasant and shut up,” briskly replied Mannice. “And you will also put up now at once.”

“What if I don’t?” And there was an ugly note in the other man’s voice.

“That’s easy. The captain’s pirate’s chart is a fake. If he finds it out, he will quit the island. In that case, the professor will soon dig up the rest of the beach and pass up the job in disgust. Then you lose both parties. With my arrangement, you can still get your rake-off of twenty per, and net half of it.”

“His pirate’s chart is a fake—it don’t amount to nothin’?” demanded Mr. Stackpole. “You’re afraid to tell him so.”

“I’ll find a way to get out from under. That’s my affair. It’s safe to be frank with you, for you won’t peep. Spill the secret, and it’s all off.”

Cupidity blinded the fisherman, and, besides, he was impressed by Mannice’s air of importance. Even ten dollars a day was affluence. Reluctantly he reached for his wallet, but paused to say:

“It’s to your interest to keep ’em all here as long as you can. S’posin’ we call it an understandin’ by which you use your influence to patch up the quarrel between ’em, so as all hands go on diggin’ a few weeks longer. An’ I’m payin’ you as a kind o’ silent partner.”

“It sounds a bit less raw,” agreed the young man. “Thank you. The amount is correct. The drinks are on you.”

During the course of this interesting interview, a dory moved out from the sloop in the bay and vanished behind a promontory with no more noise than a ghost. Like a gray shadow, it slid seaward, safe from the observation of a shore patrol, and then drifted while the two occupants looked and listened. Again the oars dipped gently in the muffled tholepins. The dory was guided among the submerged rocks by a kind of sixth sense, the quick ear detecting the murmuring wash of the tide where the eye failed to see through the gloom. The keel grated at length, and Dan Sloan waded to land, Leonard at his heels. Straight for the camp they headed, to approach it in the rear. There was no misadventure until they had drawn near enough to glimpse the flicker of a fire on the beach.

Dan halted and peered at something which moved in the undergrowth. Three strides, and he collided with the sailor who had been detailed to watch this landward side. The tussle was silent and exceedingly brief. The back of the man’s neck smote the earth as his heels flew up, and a hand was clapped across his mouth.

“Stay with him and sit on his head, Max,” whispered the victor. “If he acts fussy, poke him in the stomach.”

“Leave me your necktie, you dude,” replied the willing shipmate. “I’ll rig a stopper for his jaw tackle. Good luck! Give her my regards.”

That wounded sea cook, Harvey Mattoon, had been given a tent to himself. It stood at one end of the camp, a little removed from the others. He was sitting in a canvas chair with his leg propped up on a box, thinking his own thoughts, which were more distressful than ever. Another crew of treasure seekers to snarl the situation! Apart from this, he had nothing against Dan Sloan, a good-natured lad who had often tossed him a line and towed him into Falmouth with his lobster pots. Just then Harvey’s sleeve was twitched, and he knew it was Dan himself that said;

“Steady! I made you out by the light of the fire. They can’t see me through the wall of the tent.”

“Jerusalem the Golden!” was the old man’s epithet as he twisted himself in the chair. “The devil himself couldn’t surprise me worse.”

“I am a man of peace, Harvey, so don’t yell for help. I want to see Miss Eudora. Will you pass her the word to slip out of the camp and—— But what’s wrong with your leg? Docked for repairs? Gout, you rascal?”

“I was durned near assassinated, Dan—smack through this poor old leg of mine. The lunatic professor done it. Miss Eudora has had to take charge of the cookin’. Don’t get mixed up in this mess, whatever you do. It’s discouragin’ enough now.”

“A squabble over a treasure they haven’t found?” grinned Dan. “It’s high time I took a hand and discouraged them some more. And so you can’t take a message to Miss Eudora?”

“I can call her over here,” answered the cook, groping for a wooden potato masher beside the cot. “She hung a tin pan close by me, so I could whack it when I needed her. A clever girl, and kind as can be.”

“The wisest ever,” promptly agreed the infatuated young man. “And wisdom seems to be at a premium in this ship’s company. Sound the alarm, Harvey. I’m pressed for time.”

The cook struck the tin pan, and Dan Sloan could have sworn that his heart was beating even louder. A graceful figure detached itself from the group seated upon logs around the fire and came swiftly toward the tent. In the eyes of old Harvey, she was a ministering angel, but the mate of the Endeavor saw the maid of his desire, very human, warm, and true and tender but not yet won.

“Are you uncomfortable? What can I do to cheer you up?” she said, outside the tent.

“S-ssh! Steady it is!” chuckled the cook. “If you want to do me a favor, take this worthless roustabout of a Dan Sloan off somewhere and lose him.”

Eudora’s hand flew to her breast; she swayed a little and stared into the shadowy tent. Dan murmured a greeting. No explanation was needed. Without a word, she followed him until they were safely away from the beach, among the gray boulders and the twisted firs. Too much the gentleman was this bold sailor of hers to demand a hearing for himself. Eudora’s sense of obligation he felt to be a barrier, and it was unfair to take advantage of her gratitude. Let his presence speak for itself, his service plead bis cause. Her arm brushed his sleeve, and her face was turned up to his as they halted. Her nearness troubled him, but his honor was strong to withstand temptation, and he fought down the words he longed to say.

“Oh, Dan! Did you really come because I needed you?” whispered Eudora, with a sigh like that of a contented child.

“Of course you thought I would light my pipe with your letter and promptly forget it?” he asked, in his masterful way. “It found me in Boston, and I made two jumps, one to say good-by to the skipper and the other to reach the dock.”

“I didn’t imagine you would linger very long,” she honestly confessed. “Whom did you bring with you?”

“An old pal, Max Leonard. We used to sail out of Falmouth together as boys in a four-master. He volunteered for this cruise, on leave from the navy. I’d introduce him, Eudora, but he is busy sitting on the head of one of your father’s crew, out here in the bushes somewhere.”

“How awkward for both of them, Dan! Then I must stay only a minute.”

“Oh, don’t worry about us,” was the careless reply. “We enjoy it. Now tell me about your troubles.”

“They have all flown away,” said Eudora, with a low, happy laugh. “I feel as though you had taken command.”

“That’s my humble intention, as soon as I get my bearings,” he declared, not in a boasting manner. “You see, my dear, Leonard and I have come too far to loaf and look on. He is strong for kidnaping this swab of a Mannice and dumping him where the walking is poor. Would that help?”

“I don’t know, Dan. He deserves it, but the mischief is done. My father is determined to stay here. This ridiculous Professor Bodge has a pirate’s chart which I am quite sure is genuine. At least he found an old brass shoe buckle in the sand. And there is no reason to suspect his chart, while I am more and more skeptical about ours. But father flies off the handle if I dare hint at it.”

“Then why not shanghai your father?” hopefully ventured the briny cavalier. “Snatch him away from the island, and he may get over these delusions. Max and I can turn the trick as easy as falling overboard. Wait until he happens to be in your schooner. He goes off to her every day, I presume. We’ll lay alongside in our dory, slam the companion hatch shut while the skipper is below, cut the cable, and make sail for Halifax. You can be with him, Eudora, and if you’ll tend the wheel now and then we can handle the schooner after a fashion.”

“But that is out-and-out piracy,” mirthfully objected the girl. “And what becomes of the crew?”

“Let Professor Bodge fetch them away in his vessel. It’s in a good cause, and what’s another pirate more or less?”

“If you could only convince him that Mannice is a fraud! I am sure of it because he acts like one. Father is so honest that if this could be proved he would think he had no right to interfere with Professor Bodge. But what about you, Dan? It is so selfish of me to talk about our troubles when you and your splendid friend, Mr. Leonard, are even worse off.”

“How do you figure that?” he blithely demanded. “We are busy and happy.”

“They are bound to keep you off the island, and your boat looks as if she had made her last voyage.”

“Oh, that frigate of ours has a few kicks left in her. We passed a sand bank a little to the west of here. We can beach her at low water and calk the seams.”

Dan wheeled and stood listening, his head up, his tall figure tautly poised. There was a noise of floundering in the bushes and the rattle of loose stones. Surmising that Max was in difficulties with his prisoner, Dan begged Eudora to wait for him, and ran to the rescue. To his great surprise, he found the twain precisely where he had left them, and, instead of pounding each other’s countenances, they sat amicably side by side, and two cigarettes glowed like sparks.

“Ahoy, there! Is that you, Dan?” queried the naval aid. “It’s all right. I’ve met this lad before. I put a kink in his windpipe, but he managed to cuss a few, and I guessed him as Tom Fallon. He owes me money.”

“Out of Falmouth, is he? The red-headed dock rat! Wasn’t he a deck hand in the Dauntless tug three years ago?”

“Sure I was, Mr. Sloan,” huskily muttered the captive, rubbing his throat. “Why didn’t you tell me you had come to call on a young lady? I’d ha’ kept clear.”

“He has to, Dan,” said Leonard, “until he pays me that fourteen dollars,” said Leonard. “I’ve got him sewed up. There’s a spark of decency in him.”

“Then what was the racket I heard? Listen! Somebody is coming from the other side of the island, and he's making heavy weather of it. Shut up, you two, and let me investigate!”

Mr. William Marmaduke Mannice had set out on the return journey after the business interview with Elmer Stackpole, and was indeed finding progress arduous. Once he wandered into a bog, and again the darkness so confused him that he mistook the direction and all but fell down a steep slope into the sea. Clumsily he trudged and groped until voices were heard; and, with a grunt of relief, he believed himself almost within sight of camp. Then a towering shape, of the dimensions of a giant to his affrighted vision, appeared athwart his path. Mannice stood as if petrified for a moment, remembered the sentry, and nervously exclaimed:

“It’s all right, Tom. By Jove, you loomed up as big as a house. Spooky out here.”

The apparation scratched a match to make sure of the fact. He had a distasteful recollection of that blandly patronizing voice. The flare illumined one face, florid, heavy, a little flabby, the other intrepid, candid, and humorous. Mannice yelped and dodged, his arm upraised. It was enough to upset a chap’s nerves, this meddlesome sailor being positively the last person in the world whom he desired to meet alone in the dark. He tried to shout for reënforcements, but Dan Sloan was too quick for him. The mate of the Endeavor had been trained to action instantaneous and efficient. In his pocket was the wooden potato masher which he had thoughtfully purloined from the tent of Harvey Mattoon in the event of collision with more sentries. It was beneath his dignity to offer Mannice a fair fight. The slippery blackguard didn’t deserve it. Deftly, therefore, he jumped to meet the awkward lunge and swung the humble potato masher. It tapped Mr. Mannice just behind the right ear, as intended, and he sat down violently. His eyes were full of stars, comets, and asteroids, not to mention rockets and pinwheels.

“If I have to do it again, I am liable to crack your crust,” he heard young Mr. Sloan remark in a matter-of-fact manner, and the voice seemed to come from a great distance. “If I wasn’t making a record for peace and order. I’d jolt the head clean off shoulders.”

The dizzy William Marmaduke put his hands to his head, as if to assure himself that it was still there. He was under the impression that nothing less weighty than a boulder had hit him. The sailor stopped to prod him in the ribs with the handle of the potato masher, suggesting that he set his engines going as they must be starting for the beach.

“Me? Go with you? What the——” Mannice expostulated.

“Not so loud, my boy. Please don’t give me an excuse to put your friends in mourning.”

Mightily jerked to his feet, Mr. Mannice tottered in the direction indicated by the grip of calloused fingers which were using his left ear in the fashion of a rudder. A twinge more acute, and he obediently veered to starboard, the fear of death in his heart. It was far worse than humiliating. Max Leonard called out cautiously to discover whether these were friends or foes, and Dan informed him:

“Great luck! It’s the fat villain of the piece. I stopped his flow of language, and he is coming along with us. Go back to your camp, Tom Fallon, or parade up and down and earn your pay. This is no business of yours.”

“Tom is neutral, fourteen dollars’ worth,” said the gunner. “And he loves this Mannice.”

“I’m a cross-eyed Finn if I don’t hope you murder him,” devoutly exclaimed Fallon, with which he showed a nice tact and withdrew from the scene.

“Forward march!” commanded Dan. “Give me a lift, Max. His knees have begun to sag, the big kettle of mush! We’ll throw him into the dory.”

“Aye, aye, admiral. Do we tie a weight to his feet, or does he walk the plank?”

“He would look ornamental hanged at the yardarm, Max. Let’s get him aboard the sloop first. Then we shall have to sail out of the bay with what wind there is and find another anchorage. We want no interference while we are prying the truth out of this festive beach comber.”