Doubloons/Chapter 8

 

CHAPTER VIII.

As a man who had hitherto trusted to his powers of persuasion, Mannice was unfitted to cope with this cruel emergency. He was a liar himself, but he sadly feared that this brute of a Dan Sloan had a habit of keeping his word. Moreover, it would be no trouble at all to dispose of a corpse and leave never a trace behind. It was a piratical game from start to finish, and he had fallen into the hands of the most desperate freebooter of the lot. If jealousy were a motive, the abduction was a bad joke because Eudora, in spite of his ardent efforts to win her regard, had shown an increasing dislike for him—to the utter surprise of Mannice, whose vanity was great.

“I came here partly to win the little spitfire,” thought Mannice, as they hustled him toward the dory. “But, confound her, I believe she would be mean enough to give me the laugh if she saw me now. I’m in the devil of a fix unless Captain Kempton pulls off some kind of a rescue stunt.”

This was a hope to cling to. Meanwhile, the wise course was to be docile and irritate his captors no more than possible. Meekly, therefore, he suffered himself to be shoved down the rocks and dumped into the dory; nor did he have anything to say. Dan began to fear he had swung the potato masher too hard and inflicted some real injury.

“Piffle! You didn’t dent his bean,” said the unfeeling Max, as the dory moved seaward. “He’s playing possum or scared stiff. I’ll bet I could bring him to with a rope’s end.”

“No violence! I’m opposed to it,” declared Dan. “At least, not till we have held a proper court-martial.”

They steered for the bay, but drifted outside, for the moon was climbing from the sea, and already a soft radiance etched in dark relief the rugged contour of the island and trembled on the rippling water. This made it difficult to put Mannice aboard the sloop and smuggle him into the cabin without arousing the attention of those on the beach.

“Leave him in the dory with me, then,” suggested Max. “I’ll make him lie flat and stay put, if I have to fan him with the butt end of an oar.”

“I get you. Slip me alongside the sloop, and I’ll work her out with the jib until she is clear of the bay. They’ll be glad enough to see us go. The old man will think we have chucked it up.”

“Not if he knows you as well as his daughter does.”

Most of the people in the camps went early to bed, and no alarm was raised when a windlass creaked and the unwelcome sloop moved slowly toward open water until her dory appeared to take her in tow. Harvey Mattoon still sat in the door of his tent, with his leg propped upon a box. The forced inaction made him restless, and this had been an exciting evening, what with the visit of Dan Sloan and the stolen tryst with Eudora. She, too, was wakeful and disinclined to leave the beach. When the sloop began to slide away so silently, she hastened to confer with the cook, who vouchsafed:

“He wouldn’t run off and desert you, no, not for a million dollars’ worth of Peleg Peterson’s gold and diamonds. Mebbe he cal’ates it’s rash to lay too close to a hostile coast, and I told him how dreadful careless the professor was with a rifle.”

“And he will come back, you are sure, Harvey? He told me to wait for him, but I heard a scrimmage and that was the last of Dan. Tom Fallon said not to worry, but he wouldn’t explain.”

“Dan is maneuverin’,” confidently replied the cook. “He may ha’ been free with his fists in times past, but he knows when strategy is the winnin’ card in the deck. You’ve steadied him, Eudora, and afore we left Falmouth I heard his uncle was mighty well pleased with him—Henry F. Bowers, the big man of the Blue Star Towin’ and Transportation Company. If Dan gets out of this without landin’ in jail, he’s more’n likely to get a boat of his own. Cap’n Sloan, hey?”

“It’s good news, and you do know how to cheer me up,” smiled Eudora, “but poor Dan is not yet out of this. Neither are we.”

“You can sleep easier than you have in weeks,” said old Harvey. “Dan is maneuverin’, I tell ye.”

With a languid breeze, the sloop crept away from the reefs and then coasted along the western side of the island until her crew felt secure in anchoring so long as the weather should hold fair. William Marmaduke Mannice, who had been rudely flung into the cabin, was invited to present himself on deck and be sociable. His asspect was disconsolate, and he tenderly caressed his left ear. Courteously Dan waved him to a seat and observed:

“Tell a funny story. Make us laugh. Show us how your entertaining ways made such a hit with Captain Kempton.”

“Nothing doing,” was the sulky reply. “It’s your move. Supposing you explain this outrage.”

“Right you are,” briskly spoke Dan. “Straight talk, eh? I’ll put the questions, and you are the lad to give the answers. Here, Max, drop that potato masher! Don’t intimidate the witness. Now, Mr. Mannice, are you a newspaper man in good standing? I left port too quick to overhaul your record, but I have a hunch that you were fired as a crook and were shy a job when you turned up at Falmouth.”

“I found a story there that I could sell,” muttered the other. “Anything wrong in that?”

“But you sized the captain up as an easy mark and better graft?” persisted the inquisitor. “You discovered that he was daffy on this pirate’s treasure proposition before you found the chart in the Wanderer?

“You accuse me of planting it?” hotly exclaimed Mannice. “You’re thick-headed enough to believe anything.”

“Anything good of you? Wrong again. So you prefer to turn nasty and spar for time. Lead him to the pump, Max, and give him a two-hour turn at it. I didn’t see anything of the man the captain offered to lend us. Make this sundowner sweat, understand?”

“Fine! Turn in for a nap, Dan. Where did I lay that potato masher? Come along, William. Make yourself useful.”

There was no refusal. It suggested itself to Mannice that these scoundrels were stupidly playing into his hands. If he could manage to keep a stiff upper lip until daylight, his friends would miss him and at once search for the sloop. This was his chance of salvation, to avert summary justice on the heels of an enforced confession. This Dan Sloan was only guessing. He hadn’t caught him with the goods. Obediently Mannice bent over the handle of the pump and began to lift the Gulf of St. Lawrence out of this leaky basket of a sloop. At first the motion seemed absurdly easy, this slow swaying up and down with so little weight to lift. He endured the first hour of it without protest while Max Leonard, the taskmaster, lounged with his back against the mast. Then, quite unexpectedly, the labor became a torture. He faltered, tried to stand erect, and was sternly exhorted:

“Pump, you beggar, pump, or tell me the truth, so help you! Man, I’m ashamed of you, so grand and handsome, and curling up like a yellow dog. I had to stand one spell of four hours with that pump yesterday. Great exercise! Go to it!”

They were alone on deck, and Dan’s snores were audible. Mannice was taller and heavier than his lithe, sinewy tormentor, and the dory trailed along side. Overpower him, and freedom beckoned. Mannice considered it, shook his head, and knew he was a physical coward. Doggedly he resumed pumping, hating himself for his fear, and miserably conscious that he must collapse long before daylight. The gush of water from the spout became an intermittent trickle, the strokes feebly irregular. Max yawned, berated him for a worthless lubber, and invented dire threats. Mannice let the handle drop, slumped to the deck in an unsightly heap, and buried his face in his hands. He was weeping with exhaustion, pain, chagrin.

Max was profoundly disgusted, and yet he could not banish an impulse of pity. Instead of kicking the object in the ribs, he aroused Dan and announced:

“He’s all in. You were too harsh with little Willie. On the level, he is a total loss, and no insurance.”

“What! Did you break his proud spirit so soon? Is he ready to tell his right name?”

“Not to-night, Dan. He’s fast asleep by now. It has been one of those nights for Mr. Mannice. This last stunt broke him.”

This was the fact. They found him inert, wrapped in soothing slumber. By his head and his heels they carried him into the cabin, and Dan returned to the deck to stand his lonely watch. The sun had risen when Max poked a drowsy head from the hatch to say:

“Not a drop of water in the tank. I just drank the last cup. No coffee for breakfast? I can’t stand for that.”

“Then we’ll have to go ashore and look for it. It’s safe to leave Mannice. Lock him in. He is still pounding his sprained ear in earnest slumber.”

“It is wiser for the two of us to land. If they are as fond of Mannice as we are, the whole beach will be turning out to find him.”

So unobtrusive was the driftwood shack of Elmer Stackpole that they had failed to sight it from seaward, and therefore assumed that the treasure seekers were the only tenants, nor in this hasty quest for fresh water did they delay to explore the island. At random they walked inland until a patch of greener vegetation caught Dan’s eye. It was a bog surrounding a small pond of water which, although brackish, was fit for use. Bemired to the knees, after a long time for so short a distance to traverse, they filled two pails and toiled back to the shore and the carefully hidden dory.

It was very shortly after they left the sloop that Mannice had awakened with sundry groans and a dismal countenance. It would have been difficult to identify him as the debonair adventurer who had so beguiled Captain Joseph Kempton. He wondered what new disaster awaited him. The sloop was curiously silent; no voices, not a footfall on deck. He found that he had been locked in. Through the small, round windows, he was able to view the little vessel from bow to stern. Neither of his captors was visible. Waiting and listening a few minutes longer, he concluded that they had gone ashore on some errand.

In their absence, Captain Kempton might be searching along the coast and think the sloop deserted. This slender hope inspired Mannice to shout with all his might. If there had been a welkin in the neighborhood, indubitably he would have made it ring. He set up a frantic clamor like a foghorn. It rolled across the water and startled an elderly solitary in ragged overalls who just then paddled a skiff around a near-by point of land. The tide was right for catching bait, and Elmer Stackpole had crawled early out of bed. The sloop puzzled him, and the uproar proceeding from her cabin was worth looking into.

Sedately he rowed out, made fast to the stern, and hauled himself aboard. On hands and knees, he squinted into a window and was able to discern the lone occupant.

“Blazin’ bilge water!” cried the hermit, by way of profanity. “What are you a-doin’ of here? I thought you was several, jedgin’ by the sounds. Serves you right. If you want to get out, hand up my fifty dollars that was unlawfully took.”

“Will you promise to take me to my camp?” stipulated the prisoner, in no position to haggle. “Quick, now, or they’ll catch you here and——

“Not very popular with the crew?” grinned Elmer. “Tried to hold ’em up for ten dollars a day? I’m in no hurry. I’ve done nothin’ to be shet up in a cabin for. Poke my money through the window and swear you won’t make no more collections, and I dunno but what I may bust the padlock on this hatch and turn you loose. For the general good of humanity, I ought to leave you be and scuttle the sloop.”

A roll of bills was shoved through the window, and Elmer made sure the amount was correct before he bestirred himself. With an iron belaying pin, he twisted the hasp of the lock and permitted William Marmaduke to emerge. The tousled young man lowered himself into the skiff with never a word of thanks, and Elmer pulled vigorously in the direction of the camps.

“Steer in behind the rocks as soon as you can,” exhorted Mannice. “Those two fellows will chase us if they get a look at me.”

“Interestin’, not to say curious,” was the reply. “And who might they be? High-handed, ain’t they?”

“Another outfit after the treasure. They took me to be the leader of our party, and decoyed me aboard their rotten sloop.”

“Well, now, I call that quite gratifyin’ news,” beamed the thrifty fisherman. “It’ll cost ’em ten dollars a day, same as the others, and I don’t have to divide it with you any more.”

“Take my tip and don’t try to collect it,” bitterly advised Mannice. “They will make you wish you hadn’t.”

“Perhaps I’d better wait and look ’em over. They sound kind o’ different from the cap’n and the perfesser.”

The skiff had disappeared beyond the nearest point of land to the southward when Dan Sloan and his comrade returned to their dory. As they put out for the sloop, Max said contritely;

“I felt almost sorry for the big stiff when he dropped in his tracks last night. Let’s go easier with him and treat him more like a man. He is pretty near ready to tell all he knows.”

“I agree with you,” good-humoredly returned Dan.

In this praiseworthy mood, they leaped aboard the sloop, discovered that the cabin hatch had been slid back, stared into the empty cabin, and then looked at each other.

“Flown the coop!” said Max. “Who let him out?”

“Captain Kempton, of course. We bungled it. Honestly, I never dreamed they would be up and doing as soon as this.”

“Nor I. Well, we have spilled the beans. Next orders, please. Do we march against the camp?”

“Breakfast first,” decidedly replied Dan, whose expression was rueful. “This Mannice bird has certainly put it up to us.”