Doubloons/Chapter 9

 

CHAPTER IX.

Before undertaking another campaign, it was necessary to pay some attention to the battered sloop which displayed more and more unwillingness to stay afloat. Accordingly they shifted her to the sand bank which lay a little farther out to sea and let the falling tide leave her resting on the gently shelving bottom. As boys, they had built and patched, and tinkered with boats of their own, and they went to work with the handiness of sailors who knew how to make the best of the tools at hand. With strips of canvas soaked in a pail of old paint, they plugged the seams that needed it most. Then with block and tackle rigged to the mast-head, they canted her over and stopped the worst of the cracks on the other side of the hull.

The flooding tide compelled them to knock off in the afternoon, and the sloop was towed to her anchorage. In Dan’s opinion, after careful deliberation, it was advisable to attempt another meeting with Eudora and ask her advice. By this time, she might have persuaded her misguided parent to declare an armistice. If he would consent to an interview, these two unselfish argonauts were confident of their ability to adjust the absurd misunderstanding. They had come to help, not to hinder him.

With this pacific intention, they started ashore after an early supper, but sought a landing place at the extreme end of the island in order to avoid being intercepted. It surprised them to sight a half-decked power boat idly rocking offshore, and Leonard exclaimed:

“What do you know about that! Has she been here all the time, or did she come up from the east’ard to-day?”

“More treasure hunters. This is the original madhouse,” replied Dan.

They beached the dory, and had walked a short distance when a blue thread of smoke above the rocks caused one of them to say:

“Does anybody live here, or is that a camp that we overlooked? Let’s reconnoiter.”

Laying a course by the wisp of smoke, they came upon the lonely dwelling of Elmer Stackpole. On the chance of information, and hoping to bargain for provisions, Dan approached the closed door, but halted and motioned to his companion. Inside could be heard two voices in earnest dialogue. A snatch or two, and Dan comprehended that it was no sin to wait and listen. Elmer’s intonations were peevish, and he was interrupted by a younger man who waxed impatient.

“It’s this way, Johnny,” said the hermit. “You’re bright and enterprisin’, and I give you credit. I ought to be proud of a nephew like you. But I never did agree to give you that much money.”

“That was my share last year,” protested the nephew. “And this Professor Bodge was a lot harder to fool. He’s a pretty sharp coot. It was a month before I got a nibble. And then I had to work it through a man in an old bookstore where Bodge used to rummage around.”

“I set here drawin’ them pirates’ charts in the winter, an’ buryin’ brass buckles and rusty cutlasses in the sand every spring,” complained the uncle, “and it was my scheme in the fust place.”

“Didn’t I write that piece about the old sailor that had Peleg Peterson’s chart handed down in his family and was robbed of it in Nova Scotia? And didn’t I get it printed in a newspaper and stir up a lot of talk about it?”

“That was last summer’s party,” corrected Uncle Elmer. “An’ you was paid for that.”

“But you are raking in extra money from this Captain Kempton,” persisted Johnny. “He is all velvet.”

“You can’t claim no credit for him. He just accidentally happened,” was the fretful response. “And he’s liable to quit any day. There’s two men come in a sloop to make a fuss and interfere with my business that’s been regular established for several seasons.”

“Yes, I’ve placed four of your charts for you, and now you squeal about a few dollars,” cried the nephew. “What brought this Captain Kempton to the island? I never sawed one of ’em off on him.”

“Somebody else stole your patent,” grinned the old man. “Interestin’, not to say curious. There’s a smooth, fat rascal with the cap’n, and his name is Mannice. He told me their chart was a fake, and he knew all about it.”

“Why did he give it away? Did he put up the job?”

“He was inclined to brag about it, Johnny. He bullied me into givin’ him half my profits, but I got ’em back again. Naturally I wasn’t liable to tell the cap’n on him.”

Dan Sloan opened the door and walked in without apology. Elmer’s dingy features were contorted, and the nephew turned pale. A clock ticked loudly on a shelf. There was no other sound. Then Max Leonard snickered. The tableau appealed to him as immensely ludicrous. Dan scowled ferociously, but his eyes twinkled as he said:

“Write it down and sign your names, both of you. Then we’ll all pay a visit to Professor Bodge and Captain Kempton.”

“Write w-what?” stammered the uncle.

“Get out of here!” declaimed the quaking nephew.

“With pen and ink, and we’ll sign as witnesses,” explained Dan, stepping nearer. “Make it short. You hatched one scheme, and Mannice confessed he was responsible for the other. Say, but you are a talented bunch. Peleg Peterson was a greenhorn.”

“You are desprite men, and there’s weapons in your clothes, no doubt of it,” sighed Elmer. “An’ your manners are dreadful bad, or you wouldn’ ha’ snooped outside. The law can’t tech us. I’m owner of this island and entitled to charge rent to landin’ parties.”

“Not this summer. Give up the coin you grafted from the professor and the skipper.”

Sorrowfully Elmer disgorged, after which Dan dictated while the nephew plied a tremulous pen. Their surrender was unconditional. Gloomily they affixed their signatures, and Dan pocketed the document. Escorting Mr. Stackpole by the arm, he led the procession while Max grasped Johnny by the collar and propelled him onward. In this manner, they crossed the island and marched out on the tented beach.

Eudora was first to meet them, and her triumphant champion rapidly explained matters. Her father was aboard his schooner, said she, and was there any way of breaking it to him gently? It would be a severe shock. Dan cogitated, and meanwhile William Marmaduke Mannice had approached, not too near, but close enough to become aware that the fat was in the fire. He cared to hear no more than mention of a confession and something about birds of a feather. And Dan Sloan was inquiring for him. He concluded that he had best absent himself from the excitement. Without delay he faded into the interior of the island.

“I just knew you couldn’t fail, Dan,” was Eudora’s eulogy. “Now let me help. I have been perfectly useless so far. You can tell father that you have all the evidence, but don’t show him the written confession, and say nothing about his chart. Let him think that Professor Bodge has been hoaxed——

“And you will inform the professor that the joke is on your dad?”

“Exactly. I’ll run right over to see Mrs. Bodge. She’s a trump. And then, when these two dear, deluded men get together——

“You have it, Eudora. I do want to let them down easy.”

The tidings spread to the faithful followers of Captain Kempton, and there were no signs of grief. All hands had tired of this bootless, tangled enterprise. Dan Sloan sculled out to the schooner and boldly climbed over the side. The skipper met him at the rail and signified that he was prepared to repel boarders. From the beach, the pantomime was both vigorous and eloquent, the young man explanatory, the older one expostulating and incredulous. The victory was with Dan, for he was permitted to walk aft and linger beneath the awning. Gradually the shipmaster’s gusty anger subsided. He found a chair and chewed a cigar while the narrator finished.

Wonderful to witness. Captain Kempton threw back his head and slapped his knee, while to those ashore was borne his hearty guffaw. He turned to glance at the professor’s camp, and again his mellow laugh carried joy to the heart of Eudora.

Simultaneously Mrs. Bodge was telling her gleeful husband: “Miss Kempton suspected it all along, but she had no proof. Oh, yes, it’s absolutely true. This sailor sweetheart of hers has the signed confession in his pocket. That odious Mannice deliberately deceived her father——

“I knew his chart was bogus,” shouted Professor James Hyssop Bodge, “but you couldn’t tell him anything. Stubborn as a mule. Now he will clear out and let us alone, Ellen. He ought to have taken my word for it that our information was genuine. Can you imagine me being tricked as easily as that? Ha, ha, the joke is on Kempton, poor soul! He will feel badly cut up. But I mustn’t rub it in.”

Presently Captain Kempton disembarked, and Dan Sloan rowed him to the beach. The skipper was still jovial, but he managed to pull a sober face as he confided:

“Bodge will be a comical sight when you break the news. It would be indecent for me to crow over him. He was wrong and I was right, but you couldn’t beat any common sense into him with a capstan bar. And so this old rip of a Stackpole and his precious nephew palmed off a homemade chart on him, and he swallowed it, hook, line, and sinker! And a college professor, at that! He had no business meddling with it.”

“I know, sir,” demurely replied Dan, “but don’t be too hard on him. He is a landlubber. It would do no harm to sympathize with him. There’s no fun in hitting a man when he’s down.” .

“Right you are, my boy. I shall go over to see him at once.” Professor Bodge was already striding from his tent, and he met the captain halfway, at the rampart of sand which separated the rival excavations. Dan and Eudora followed, and Mrs. Bodge joined them. Smilingly the two leaders shook hands, and exchanged sentiments as follows:

“It is tough luck, Professor Bodge. You stood by your guns like a man, but those rogues had misled you.”

“What a pity, Captain Kempton, that Mannice was so untrustworthy and carried you off on this wild-goose chase after——

They paused, gazed rather wildly at each other, and began again:

“There appears to be some misunderstanding, Captain Kempton.”

“Your language sounds hindside foremost, Professor Bodge.”

“I was referring to your unfortunate fiasco, sir.”

“And I was soft-hearted enough to want to express my regrets for your disappointment.”

The skipper’s face was growing scarlet, and he mopped it with a handkerchief. The professor’s spectacles flashed ominously, and he stood stiffly erect. This was the precise moment for the intervention of Eudora and Mrs. Bodge. They bade the bewildered disputants be silent. Dan fished out the confession and read it aloud slowly, with convincing emphasis. A signal to Max Leonard, and the drooping hermit and his pallid nephew were moved into the foreground. There ensued an interval of trying suspense while the spectators awaited an explosion on the rampart. The captain glared and the professor frowned. They were too flabbergasted for speech. Soon the meaning of the situation began to dawn on them. They were tarred with the same brush, two idiots who should have known better, and the joke was colossal.

"And so Mannice told that old scalawag that my chart was a fraud?” thundered the skipper. “Mannice made it himself, did he?”

“And the old scalawag made mine?” cried the professor. “And he buried the brass buckle? My dear man, if we permit ourselves to be sorry or angry, we shall make the greatest mistake in the world.”

“There is something in that,” admitted the skipper. “Every time I think of you and your chart, I shall laugh to the day of my death.”

“And you won’t mind, captain, if I enjoy my recollections of you?”

“I am older than you, Professor Bodge, and I should have known better.”