The Jumping-Off Place
The Jumping-Off Place
by Harold Lamb
TWO black rocks rising out of the sea. And the sea, here on the under side of the world, is never still. Nor is the wind ever still; and seldom does the sun—far to the north—break through the gray clouds.
These two rocks are the Evangelistas. They are the twin evil sentinels at the Pacific entrance of Magellan Strait down at the bottom of South America.
To the east of the Evangelistas, close at hand, are the rocky islands that fringe Magellan Strait. To the west, the Pacific.
The sea is gray, the fogs are gray. The gray curtain of rain shuts in the Evangelistas and the lighthouse that stands on one of the rocks.
When food is brought to the keepers of the light it is hauled up by a rope when the weather is fair and a whaleboat can approach the rock. Once the vessel bringing supplies to the Evangelistas waited forty days for fair weather.
So you understand that the Evangelistas are very much like a prison and the keepers of the light are the prisoners.
“The Good Book says,” John Bruce repeats, “that God, when He made the world, separated the water from the land; but when He did that He must have forgot Tierra del Fuego.”
It was the holiday season in the upper world—which means late spring in Magellan Strait—when Dave Thornton, citizen of New York City, approached the bar in one of the water-front saloons of Punta Arenas.
Punta Arenas, sometimes called the Jumping Off Place, was enjoying its holiday season. It was carnival time, A dancing floor had been installed in the saloon; a phonograph jangled merrily.
There were two reasons for celebration in Punta Arenas. The gold fever was running high; conquistadors had washed the metal by hand from the coastal barranca, and found it rich indeed. This had brought Dave Thornton to Punta. Also, a party of Norwegian scientists had come to study the strait. Women, hearing of the gold fever, had come hastily by steamer from Buenos Aires and Valparaiso. These women were mestizos, for the most part; but many were half-castes of Paris and Rio, handsome women, well dressed, for Punta had its rich men.
Some of them had been on the steamer that brought Dave Thornton and the celebrated Norwegians; they had not looked at him, except perhaps curiously. For one thing, he was palpably penniless; and in his sharp, young face was the wisdom of the world that lives by its wits.
“I want,” said Dave Thornton to the negro behind the bar, “one job, Smoke. Know of any?”
A Jamaica black has a sense of dignity and is not accustomed to being addressed as Smoke.
“Hi sye,” retorted the negro shrilly, “what a little man hit is, to be sure!”
Sheer surprise held Thornton’s resentment in abeyance. As a stowaway on a British freighter he had come into conflict with unknown types; but he had never heard a negro talk like a Cockney.
“If you’re twins,” he grinned, “where’s the other one?”
The barkeep was not much older than Dave. “Hi’m a Jamaica gentleman, sah!”
A negro would always rather chuckle than quarrel. A glance into Dave’s alert, gray eyes rendered the black prudent. He smiled back, and before the evening was far advanced the two were friends. Jamaica admitted that jobs were plentiful, and Dave had visions of becoming personal assistant to a conquistador at one of the claims.
Contemptuously the young American surveyed the mob of Chinamen, Italians, Poles, and Kanakas, and the violently painted mestizos in the^ place. These folk were not what he sought; yet the night was passing, and he had urgent need of a bed. At this point Dave perceived a rear room and, through half-drawn curtains, four men seated about a table.
Money was stacked on the table.
Dave walked to the door, and as he did so the barkeep, who was busy for the moment, called to him sharply. But the boy stepped noiselessly inside; straightway three of the four looked up. Dave recognized the glance. He had often indulged in craps in vacant lots of a Sunday.
Yet there was no law against gambling in Punta. In fact, there were very few laws at all in those days. A man’s past was his own affair.
Dave’s lean face was wistful and guileless. So two of the four poker-players did not suspect that the boy who watched them from a near-by box had noticed that they dealt often from the bottom of the pack.
He was far too wise to comment on this fact. Once he had spoken unwisely during a fo’c’s’le game, and had limped for a week from a lascar’s knife-thrust. Dave duly noted that the two—Spiggotty swells, he classified the colorfully dressed, dark-faced Chileans—who dealt from the bottom of the pack were winning. They answered to the names of Manuel and Pedro. One of the others, an Englishman with a turkey-red face, who was addressed politely as Señor Juan, was deeper in drink and was fast losing the pile of tiny gold nuggets that had been in front of him.
It was the fourth man who spoke to Dave.
“You are looking for a job? You said so, yes?”
Dave surveyed him. He was Dom Calbuco, an elderly Portuguese. He had friendly black eyes and well-kept hands. His careless play showed that it meant little to him to lose.
Dave reflected that Calbuco must have heard him talking to the barkeep.
“Maybe,” he admitted. “I’d like to get out to the gold fields.”
Calbuco tossed, faces down, three queens into the discard. Now, Dave had seen that Señor Juan, the Englishman, who took the pot, had held a lonely pair of tens. It struck him as curious; but bis mind was intent on Calbuco’s offer.
“Certainly,” the Portuguese agreed. “I need a watchman—a guard. I will pay well.” His black eyes scanned the young American appraisingly. “Ten pounds a month, when your job is ended. You can handle a revolver. You have one, yes?”
Dave carried an old Colt that he had bought after the painful experience with the lascar’s knife. He had been raised among the gangs of the lower West Side, in New York, and fighting had been perforce a part of his education.
So it was agreed that Dave was to work for Calbuco for one month. For this he was to receive fifty dollars, gold. He would leave Punta on a coastal steamer for the place on the morrow at sunup. Meanwhile he could sleep on the vessel.
“You’re sure it’s out on a mining claim, Mr. Calbuco?” he insisted warily.
Calbuco smiled indulgently.
“A landmark, Thornton. Every one in the strait is bound for it.”
When the game broke up the three others went out, Calbuco nodding cordially to Dave; but Mr. John remained slumped in his chair. He had lost a good deal to the two Chileans, and Calbuco had advanced him some money to make his settlement.
Dave glanced around cautiously and shook him by the shoulder.
“Say, you. Those two Spiggotties was dealing off the bottom of the pack. Get me? Watch your step next time.”
Mr. John yawned and opened haggard, bloodshot eyes. His thin face was furtive, yet not bad-looking.
“My friends, my lad,” he murmured. “Help me home, will you? Much obliged.”
He smiled good-naturedly and tapped his head.
“A fortune there, you know. Mus’ be careful.” Gripping Dave’s shoulder, he walked through the saloon tolerably steadily. The boy looked for the Jamaica barkeep, thinking to question him concerning Calbuco and his affairs. But the negro had been relieved and was no longer in the place.
“What sort of a guy is this Calbuco?” inquired Dave of his new companion as they passed out into the rain.
“Guy? Oh, a decent sort, a bit of all right.”
Mr. John’s voice was husky. Dave guessed that he was a sheep-herder or perhaps a prospector, an educated man, now down on his luck.
“Calbuco’s shipping magnate—dragnet, that’s the word. Hires men like a reg’lar dragnet.” He stopped in the mud of a street-crossing and scowled as if trying to focus his mind on something. “If he’s hired you—may be dangerous, no end.”
Dave did not mind that especially. Twenty-two years of hard knocks had not altogether quenched his desire for adventure. The two avoided a drenched police officer huddled in his cloak under one of the dim lamp-posts. Passing a small hotel on the shore, they saw the Norwegian explorers busied about their luggage on the veranda, heedless of the music and uproar of the saloons and the quieter revelry in the plaza and at the one club in Punta.
He was startled when they reached the door of Mr. John’s shanty to see the door flung open and the dark face of an Indian peering at them.
Dave’s reaction was a swift move toward his revolver. Quickly as he acted, the figure at the door had darted aside and merged into the night before he could speak.
“Looks like a second-story man to me,” he muttered; “only there ain’t any second story.”
Mr. John was peering after the fleeing form. Dave heard him chuckle. “Thousands of pounds right here in my head. That’s what he missed. Mus’ be careful—”
He stepped inside the shanty, and Dave heard clumsy fingers barring the door.
“Guess he’s all right’ now,” considered the boy, turning back toward the docks and his new ship. All told, he had passed an interesting evening. He had seen a poker-player—Calbuco—lay down a winning hand for no apparent reason. And he had seen another poker player—Mr. John—borrow money to square his reckoning and at the same time carry what he called a fortune about with him. As for the Indian—a Patagonian thief was commonplace enough.
Some days later Dave was surprised to perceive that his new job was to be on an island at the western end of the strait. At least so it seemed to him. A whaleboat from the steamer rowed in to an immense black rock in mid-channel, and supplies from the boat were hauled up to the top of the rock by a long rope. Then Dave was hauled up.
“I’ll try anything once,” muttered Dave, when the Portuguese bosun failed to answer his question as to what was on the top of the rock. So, gripping a note from Calbuoo, the boy was hoisted to the Evangelistas and the tender mercies of the keeper of the light.
Dave was quick of wit. Scarcely had he surveyed the top of the rock when he yelled for the whaleboat to come back. The sailors grinned up at him. The two keepers hardly looked at him as they checked off the supplies.
For the next month his domicile was several hundred yards of dank cliff-top, overgrown with moss, and a single bare cabin that he shared with two Chileans, the keepers, who could not speak English, and who read the note from Calbuco with a grim smile.
The note said Dave was to be kept indefinitely.
“Calbuco was right,” thought Dave. “This is a landmark, and ’most every ship in the strait heads for it, one way or the other. Guess I’m shanghaied all right.”
Before the first few days of the month had passed he saw why it was necessary to use strong measures to induce helpers to serve on the Evangelistas.
There was no boat attached to the light, because there was no place to moor a boat. The head keeper had a scrofulous disease; the other Chilean was suffering from melancholia, and deaf. He seldom heard a word spoken. In order to escape beatings he made the best of the matter, and worked for the two.
In the first month he counted five clear days. For the rest, fog, rain, and hail, and always wind. Sometimes the spray filled the air so that he could hardly breathe outside the house. By persistent questioning he found that he was expected to serve indefinitely, as the deaf Chilean was “sick.” Also that vessels called irregularly every two or three months—no oftener.
In the fog he could hear the sirens of passing craft and on a clear day could glimpse an occasional coaster or limejuicer slouching along. These, naturally, gave the Evangelistas a wide berth. Dave set his jaw and waited, perched on the platform by the light. The cold ate into his slim body, and the desolation worked on his mind.
“And the dirty, sneaking heathens unlimbered my artillery,” he muttered to himself. His revolver had been deftly removed in the whaleboat when he started to climb the rope to the cliff-top.
He knew that he would be given no opportunity to leave the Evangelistas when the next supply-boat came. And that might be two months. So Dave waited for three things—dear weather, an English or American vessel, and daylight. Meanwhile he thought about benevolent Calbuco, and the way that the Portuguese had tricked him.
These three things never happened as he hoped.
But at the end of five weeks he saw the schooner. It was a dirty-looking craft moving down the coast toward the strait, half visible in the brief twilight.
Within half an hour of sighting the vessel and marking its course Dave had descended ostentatiously into the cabin where the two keepers sat smoking, and had slipped out when darkness closed in. He had reached the edge of the rock and clambered down as far as there was foothold. Overhead the beam of the light shot out against the black sky.
Dave strained his eyes until he could make out the lights of the schooner; then he stripped off coat and shoes and jumped—as he bad often jumped from the iron piers of the lower West Side, when swimming in the Hudson.
Half-way to the schooner he was exhausted. But his shouts had attracted attention. A boat put out.
Dave told the Chilean captain that he had drifted out of the strait in a whaleboat and lapsed into unconsciousness. This was because he had no desire to be questioned further.
He was lying on the after-deck at the time, a lantern beside him, and from under his eyelids he saw a strange thing. A child stood talking to the skipper, a young girl in a gray cloak of a kind that seemed vaguely familiar to Dave.
She bent over him until a strand of long, black hair touched his throat. Her face seemed the hue of gold, and her eyes were black as the night itself. Dave could feel her breath warm against his cheek.
That was how he met Señorita Clara.
He learned her name the next day, also that she was a passenger on the Chilote, bound for Punta. When the skipper would have set him to waiting on table Dave rebelled, vowing to himself that he would work for no more Chileans. Aloud he said:
“I’m Señor Calbuco’s huilliche. You sabe that, capataz mio?”
The Spanish language was nearly a closed book to the boy, but he possessed the gift of making himself understood as well as making friends.
“I am going to Señor Calbuco’s house,” observed the young girl in good English as the skipper turned away with a shrug.
Dave surveyed her voluminous gray garments, her delicate olive face and dark eyes, and wondered if she were not Calbuoo’s daughter. Having leisure now for conversation and some one to talk to, he questioned her as the two snatched a brief blessing of sunlight on the poop-deck. And he learned the reason for her somber dress and her invincible shyness that would not let her talk with him unless the captain was near by.
Clara was not quite seventeen. She had been left by her father in a Catholic seminary for four years, up the coast at Ancud. Now her father had sent for her, and she had been put in charge of the captain, a good Catholic. Her mother, a Spaniard, had been dead for many years. Had Dave seen her father in Punta?
“Sure, I saw him.”
“He is a very fine man. He has become rich.”
“That’s what I heard,” admitted Dave. His quarrel was not with the daughter of Calbuco, if Clara was Calbuco’s daughter. She smiled and showed him the letter she had received. It had come at Christmas, she said, when she had been very lonely.
Reluctantly Dave glanced at the missive.
I have made arrangements with our friends in Ancud for you to come to Punta. We can leave Punta very soon because I have made a fortune for you. Then we will go home. I have located a claim that I have called after your mother—the Isabella. It is so rich that gold can be washed by hand on the barranca—but you do not understand such things. I am living now in a big white house on the plaza that you will like.
The name signed to the letter was Señor Juan. On the envelope Dave saw an inscription:
From John Bruce, Cuerpo de Bomberos, Punta Arenas.
“Is your father an Englishman?” asked Dave. “Ain’t he got gray eyes?” And he added: “Why are you going to Calbuco’s?”
“That is where my father is staying, with his friend Señor Calbuco.”
It was all quite clear. Bruce had left his daughter with the nuns at Ancud while he tried his luck in Punta at sheep-herding or prospecting. He had been carrying in his head the secret of the location of the mining claim, the Isabella, that was so rich in gold, when Dave had encountered him. And Calbuco was Bruce’s friend.
But the Portuguese was by no means Dave’s friend.
During the slow run along the tide-beset strait, between barren mountains, Clara spent much of her time on deck watching the circling condors, and the distant snow-peaks. She smiled at everything and every one, including Dave.
The boy was even more shy than she, until the girl persuaded him to tell her about the great city of New York, where the haciendas were like the cliffs of Magellan and a railroad ran on a bridge through the streets. Dave was homesick for the rattle of the Elevated at Chatham Square.
She confided in him that John Bruce had wandered with her after the death of her mother to Bermuda and Valparaiso, and that they had been very poor. One morning she threw him a kiss, and the boy’s heart swelled in his chest.
“She’s, a good-looker, all right,” he thought, “even if she is part dago.” And he took Clara Bruce into the select circle of his friends, to be admired and fought for.
Clara had assured him that John Bruce would meet her at the jetty at Punta. But Dave, peering from the break of the poop when they reached the jetty, saw that a large woman with a velvet hat and expensive furs approached the girl on the dock, and took her to a waiting carriage. The woman, the captain of the schooner informed him, was the wife of Señor Calbuco.
Whereupon Dave shadowed the carriage through the few streets of the town to a granite house fronting the central plaza. Then he trotted back to the saloon where his Jamaica friend was to be found.
“You got a gun?” he whispered. “Lend it to me.”
“Hindeed not,” returned the barkeep.
“Listen, Jamaica,” wheedled Dave, “I got to have a gun. I’ll pay you ten dollars for it.”
“ ’Ave you the ten dollars, Hamurrica?” grinned the black. And as Dave assured him that the money would be forthcoming within two days be grinned the more. “Ow did ye get hoff the Evangelistas?”
Jamaica’s conscience had troubled him. He had meant to warn Dave to steer dear of Calbuco, but he had not been able to find him.
Calbuco, the black admitted, was a fishhawk—the kind of hawk that waited until a patient sea-bird had secured a fish, and then bullied its victim into giving up the prize. So Jamaica confided under his breath, adding that Calbuco had been driven out of Rio not so long ago.
“Look here!” demanded Dave. “Tell me, where’s John Bruce?”
The Jamaican polished a tumbler in silence and glanced warily at the saloon door. Conflicting emotions crossed his ebony face.
“ ’E’s gorn awye. Been gorn a week.”
Dave shook his head.
“Nix. He was waiting for his girl. He’s in Punta, and I’ve got to find him.”
“You won’t find ’im. Hi sye, don’t ye know when ye’re bloomink well off? Take my word for hit—leave the bleeding place on the P. S. N. C. steamer, with the Norwegians, my lad.” The negro’s voice dwindled to a shrill whisper. “Calbuco hain’t gorn on yer looks. ’E don’t like to be spied on when ’e’s at ’is little games, with Pedro and ’is mate.”
“Pedro and Manuel are Calbuco’s men?” Dave thought quickly. “Maybe I know more’n you think, rummy. See if I don’t! Calbuco wants to do Bruce outer his mine, see? He stacks the Britisher up against a set of cheaters until Bruce owes him a heap of coin. Get me? Meanwhile the Spiggotties slip an Indian into Bruce’s shack to look for information. Bruce is made to sell out to them, and then—”
“That’s where you’re mistaken, my lad. Mr. Bruce refused to sell ’is claim, and ’e did for the Hindian right and proper. ’Oo cares? They ’ad ’im jailed for that, but ’e wouldn’t give in.”
“And now he’s missing—hey?”
The negro nodded cautiously.
“Look here, Jamaica, you’re a good guy. Bruce’s girl is here, and Calbuco has her.”
“Han English lydy?”
“Sure.” Dave strained a point. “She’s a lady, all right. And that’s more’n Mrs. Calbuco is.”
Jamaica was profoundly disturbed. He had been born under the British flag, and an Englishwoman was sacrosanct in his eyes. A few words from him assured the American that the Calbuco woman had kept a house of bad repute in Rio de Janeiro before migrating to Punta, and that many of her associates had found lodging in the white house on the plaza. So Dave got his gun, a blunt-nosed .32.
“Not so worse,” he thought.
That evening Sefior Calbuco was entertaining friends at cards in a quiet room opening upon the balcony of his fine house. The balcony, by the way, ran clear around the building, and was shaded by the branches of a large tree.
The Portuguese, who was in excellent humor, had just announced to his friend the alcalde that he held three queens against two pair for the alcalde. And he was raking in the pot when another man spoke.
“If you are interested in mining claims, my friend Calbuco, I can tell you what we learned during our examination of the Tierra del Fuego shore near the western end of your strait.”
It was one of the Norwegians, a giant of a man with merry blue eyes. His name was Walstrom, and he had come with his companion to pay Calbuco for the guides the Portuguese got them—at a price.
Walstrom and Quensel were not playing; they had been interested for some time in certain sounds resembling the sobbing of a woman not far away. They were too polite to ask questions.
“Yes,” agreed Calbuco, “you were saying that you saw—”
Here he was interrupted quite abruptly by the sight of a blue revolver pointed at his head from the open French window that gave access to the balcony.
“Put up your hands, all of you,” urged Dave Thornton. “Back away from the table to the other side of the room.”
They did so—Pedro and Manuel and Calbuco and the alcalde and another man. Walstram and Quensel uttered a forceful oath and sat still. They were by no means afraid. Moreover, the intruder did not seem to be looking at them.
“Fifty dollars, Calbuco.”
Dave moved cautiously forward to the table.
“That’s what you owe me for one month’s work. I’ll collect it myself from your pile, see?”
Watching them the while, Dave sorted out with his fingers a number of silver dollars and bank-notes.
The stout alcalde spluttered something in Spanish about thieves.
“Keep your hands up like I said, Spiggotty,” Dave advised him. “Now, Calbuco, you lied to me. You robbed an American citizen of his gun. That’s right, ain’t it? Well, I’m telling you that you have a lot more coming to you. Don’t forget that. Stop wiggling your hands, Pedro—I ain’t talking to you.”
Dave pocketed the money and moved back toward the window.
“Tell your friends to turn around, Calbuco, and look at the wall. You do it, too.”
Walstrom and Quensel looked at each other and grinned involuntarily. There was something humorous in the sight of five grown men plastered against the wall.
When they glanced at Dave again they saw only the double windows closing softly.
Pedro’s knife hurtled across the room and through a glass pane. The Chilean was not a coward. Drawing a revolver, he slipped to the window and looked out into the darkness.
Manuel darted from the room toward the stairs. The alcalde, after a discreet interval, left to summon his police.
Calbuco wiped his brow; then he smiled.
“He will not get away, gentlemen. It will be impossible for him to leave Punta if he escapes from the house. He is a fool. You heard him threaten me?”
“He seemed,” acknowledged Walstrom, who had no great fancy for Calbuoo’s type, and had been forced to pay high for his peons, “to mean what he said.”
The Norwegians noticed that the woman was no longer sobbing.
A moment later Señorita Clara Bruce was startled when she saw the dark figure of a man enter the window of her room that opened upon the balcony. The night had brought real fear upon her—a fear that was no less real because she could not put it into words.
She had not been able to see her father. Instead, she was locked in her room and the wife of Calbuco had scolded her. Calbuco himself had told her that John Bruce was drinking; that he was a dishonest man; and that she must help them to make him give up some mine he had stolen.
It was quite a surprise to discover that the man who had come into her room in the dark was the young American she had met on the schooner, and Clara stopped crying, to huddle down farther into the bedclothes.
“Listen here,” said Dave in a whisper, “you got to get outer here. I’ll take you to your old man. They’re keeping you here to make him give in to them. Understand?”
Whimpering, Clara admitted that she did not. She asked him, uncertainly, to leave the room.
“I can’t,” said Dave truthfully. “Anyway, you hurry up and dress. I’ll be over by the window and I can’t see nothing in the dark. Hurry.”
Peering, out through the shutters, he could make out men passing back and forth along the balcony and lights bobbing in front of the house. Presently the balcony was quiet and the lights moved out into the plaza as the pursuit drew further afield.
“You know where the back stairs is, don’t you?” he grunted. “Well, come along. Oh—rats, don’t worry. I’m taking you to a priest.”
Gripping her slim hand in his, he moved out on the now deserted balcony to the rear of the house. A minute or two later they arrived at the Catholic Church fronting the plaza, passing unseen behind the buildings. Here the priests consented to take her in, as Dave had expected.
“Don’t you worry about me,” he answered her anxious question. “No cop that wears a dago sword can pinch me.”
When Dave said this he was quite alone in the town except for Clara and the timorous negro. He had committed a grave offense against the law; moreover, Calbuco had determined to blot him out.
Yet that night Calbuco and his men, with the men of the alcalde, ransacked the town and the boats in the harbor. Punta has few streets and not so many buildings. It would have been impossible for Dave to leave without being stopped. The next morning every near-by ranch was visited, equally without result.
Dave was in the one place Calbuco did not think to look for him.
Walstrom and Quensel were really annoyed when they were held up on entering their quarters in the Kosmos Hotel hear the water-front by the same man who had visited Calbuco’s establishment.
“I don’t want to hurt you gents,” he informed them—Walstrom spoke good English. “But I got some talking to do, and I want you to listen.”
“Very well,” assented the giant explorer amusedly. “We don’t owe you anything, though. Won’t you have a cigarette?”
“Sure. Look here, Walstrom, all you have to do to land me in the Punta cooler is to yell; But you’re a square man—I came down on the schooner with you. I’ll put away the gun if you’ll gimme your word to sit quiet and see we ain’t interrupted.”
“I agree,” Walstrom smiled. “But I advise you to do your best to leave Punta while it’s dark. There is no American consul within a thousand miles, or any countryman. You’ve—ah—held up an alcalde and robbed Calbuco, who has a good deal of money and influence, besides a ship or two.”
“He’s my meat.” Dave puffed at his cigarette seriously. “You was talking about the Tierra del Fuego mines when I busted in this evening. Did you see anything of the claim of John Bruce when you was over there?”
“The Isabella? Quensel, on one of his solitary rambles in search of fossiliferous deposits, saw the claim-stakes on the shore of the strait.”
“Does it look like a paying proposition to you?”
Walstrom yawned and laughed.
“That is just what I was about to remark to your friend Calbuco. These so-called mines were discovered by amateurs. There are no actual gold deposits in Tierra del Fuego. We examined one or two of the sites.”
“I didn’t think Bruce could pick a winner,” the boy sighed. “But he showed gold nuggets.”
“Gold particles. My young brigand—I don’t know your name—the gold of Tierra del Fuego can, literally, be picked up or rather washed by hand. It is produced solely by the action of the sea on the sands along the coastal barranca. The sea has been washing down that sand for hundreds of years. After a storm Quensel and I would light our pipes and go out and gather a little along the beach. But the gold itself would not pay the cost of tools or formation of a company—”
Walstrom shrugged. “Every decade or so the gold craze strikes Punta, and new sociedads auriferas are formed, only to be bankrupt. Now, am I o be shot or not?”
Dave met his searching blue eyes fairly. The boy was thinking that the gold mine of the Bruces was a myth, after all, and they were badly off as ever.
“You’re a square man, Walstrom, the only one I know in Punta. I got a girl friend, and she’s in trouble in this burg. Say, you come with me and hear her tell what she’s up against. They won’t stop me, in the dark, if I’m with you, see?”
“My lad,” objected the explorer impatiently, “I have other things to do. Such as sleep. We are sailing to-morrow.”
Quensel, who had been staring at Dave askance, also growled out an irritated oath. “Clear out!” he said.
“Calbuco’s holding her old man a prisoner,” pleaded the boy. “And her father discovered the Isabella.”
“If that is the case, I’ll assure Señor Calbuco that the mine has no real value, and he will release this man.” Walstrom did not desire to be involved in a quarrel in Punta; he had witnessed ugly terminations to such quarrels. But Dave’s thin face, lined by hunger, was a mask of determination.
“No, sir,” he responded promptly. “That —— dive-keeper has Bruce in his debt, and he can use Clara. He’ll promise you anything, and forget it as soon as you sail. Clara and her old man have got to go on the ship with you. They’re my friends, and I’m going to stick to them.”
Walstrom shook his head grimly. “I heard you say you had a score to settle with Calbuco. What would the Norwegian Geological Society say if I helped a thief to even his score—besides, how am I to believe you?”
Dave’s quick wit detected the slight note of indecision.
“You’ll believe the girl. She’s sitting up for you in one of the cathedral chapels that’s open all night. You heard her crying, in Calbuco’s place. You’re a square sport, Walstrom. Listen to her, anyway.”
Gray dawn was creeping into the drawn shutters of the Kosmos, and Quensel had been snoring like the healthy animal he was for some time when Walstrom returned and woke him up to explain what he had promised the American boy and the outcast girl.
“It was the only way to be rid of him,” he answered Quensel’s growl “God’s thunder, man!” he burst into a hearty laugh. “It will be a good comedy, anyway.”
“It’s lucky we sail to-morrow,” muttered the other.
At this point in the proceedings Dave Thornton had made a second friend in Punta, the first being the negro. Moreover, he had formed his plan, while pleading with Walstrom.
It was then the hour in early dawn when crimson was streaking the cloudy sky behind the bare hills overlooking the tin roofs of the sleeping town. A fresh breeze was sweeping in from the roads. Dave guessed that his pursuers were sleeping for a space. The solitary policeman on his route to the waterfront saloon was easily dodged.
And Jamaica, awakened in his cubby in the rear of the saloon, rubbed his eyes at the feel of fifty dollars in good silver and bills.
“That’s yours,” whispered Dave in the dark, “if you take me to Mr. Bruce. It’ll be dead easy—they’re all pounding their ears.”
John Bruce was more or less drunk when the two boys got to him in a locked cabin in one of the water-logged schooners laid up at a near-by jetty. The door being locked and barred from the outside, the sailors who were his captors had been enjoying a good night’s rest.
Dave plied the Englishman with coffee at the saloon. But what the boy had to say about his daughter sobered Bruce within a moment. His red face paled and his weak lips tightened.
“I’ll shoot him down, like the dog he is!” Bruce snarled.
“No,” said Dave. “We’ll do better ’n that. I got it fixed.”
Three or four hours later in broad daylight the carriage of the alcalde who was the friend of Calbuco—the carriage that had been placed at the service of the Norwegians—rolled down to the water-front, and Walstrom picked up Bruce. Then they drove to the church, where Clara joined them.
Dave Thornton was still invisible.
Rumor of what was happening reached Calbuco through his men. Pedro and Manuel and others gathered at the mansion of the Portuguese to learn what was going to happen and to guard their patron against Bruce, who was known to be reckless.
Within the hour the victoria arrived at Calbuco’s door. Four persons entered the house—Walstrom, Clara, John Bruce, and the alcalde. Calbuco received them politely, and Pedro and others waited in an adjoining room.
“Good morning, Señor Calbuco,” said the girl timidly.
“Good day, Señor Calbuco,” nodded Walstrom. “I have come to say good-by. My steamer weighs anchor at noon.”
John Bruce said nothing, but his gray eyes were savage. The Portuguese looked at them all and licked his thick lips. He saw Bruce, apparently on good terms with Walstrom—Bruce, whom he had left locked in one of his schooners the night before. He bowed to Clara, who had been captive in one of his bedrooms twelve hours ago.
You see, Cabuco could not know what Clara had told her father, nor what John Bruce had told Walstrom. And he could not guess what the three of them might have confided in the alcalde.
He was powerless, in his present situation, to molest father or daughter. The Norwegian consul general had run down from the Chile coast to say farewell to the explorers, who were terminating their brief stay in Punta to seek the richer field of the upper Amazon; and the alcalde himself had been commissioned to do honor to the Scandinavians.
“And your friends,” Calbuco nodded affably at Bruce and his daughter, “do they also sail on the steamer?”
“Assuredly.” Walstrom took it on himself to reply. “Mr. Bruce has information regarding the mineral deposits of the straits—most interesting information.”
And he looked at the Portuguese. Calbuco squirmed, thinking of the Isabella claim and the nuggets he had seen. He had never succeeded in bullying the information he wanted from the Englishman. Moreover, his conscience made him afraid. Imprisoning Bruce might be explained to the authorities; but kidnaping the Englishman’s daughter was quite a different matter. Calbuco felt that a sword was suspended over his head; yet it was his own imagination that visioned it.
If he had held his peace he might have suffered nothing. But even in his fear his greed rose up and voiced itself. While Walstrom was making his adieus Calbuco stepped nearer to Bruce.
“I was anxious to help you,” he whispered. “Do not misunderstand me, my friend. What are you going to do with your claim?”
Bruce’s gray eyes were hostile.
“I’ve been talking to Walstrom about that. I don’t want to talk to you. You are a dog and a thief.”
Calbuco, out of the corner of his eye, made certain that the alcalde had not heard this. He put his plump hand that quivered with anxiety on the other’s shoulder. Mention of the Norwegian geologist in connection with the Isabella, coupled with the abrupt departure of the two men together, could mean only one thing in his mind. Bruce was selling out to Walstrom.
“I’ll pay you more,” he whispered, “if you’ll show me the claim and let me examine it.”
“How much of a fool do you think I am?” Bruce laughed. “You’ll pay my price now.”
Walstrom and the alcalde turned around. Calbuco read their faces and imagined that an enormous fine would be inflicted upon him—if Bruce had made complaint against him. The flame of his greed Still warmed his brain.
“How much, Walstrom,” he demanded, “do you think Señor Bruce’s claim is worth?”
The Norwegian shrugged.
“Three thousand pounds,” said Bruce, “to you, Calbuco.”
The Portuguese still watched Walstrom, whose beard was strangely agitated, as if he were profoundly moved.
“If you work it long enough,” amended the Norwegian.
“I’m selling you the biggest thing in the strait,” growled Bruce. “It’s on one of the western islands.”
Walstrom looked at his watch and raised his brows.
“We must go,” he said.
That was what decided Calbuco. If he could tempt Bruce, who was penniless, with ready cash, unseen by Walstrom, he might make the Englishman sell out. If Bruce took his money, no claim for damages could be brought against him. So he reasoned, impelled alike by caution and greed. The others, still queerly non-committal, were watching him.
At the dock Calbuco tendered Bruce a hastily drawn-up title deed to sign, and another paper indicating the location of his claim. Bruce was to sell all riparian and mineral and other rights.
Bruce signed the deed without a smile and filled in the directions by which Calbuco was to find his new purchase, starting from a given point on the western end of the strait—on the shore where a claim-stake marked the Isabella. Calbuco’s lawyer, Pedro and others witnessed this.
Walstrom did not see it because he was busy smuggling a young American aboard the steamer’s launch.
When the steamer got under weigh and Punta vanished around the bend in the strait, John Bruce and his daughter sought for Dave Thornton and did not find him. Nor did Walstrom know where he was.
It was not until they assembled in the dining saloon in the evening that they discovered Dave in the white jacket of a messboy. John Bruce went straight to him.
“You helped us out,” the Englishman said. “We’re going home with a good deal of money, you know. What part of the three thousand pounds is yours?”
“Bosh!” Dave- replied. “I’m working my way back to N’Yawk. Say, you don’t want me to lose my job, do you—talking this way? I guess not.”
One thing Dave wanted badly. He desired to see Calbuco’s face when the man sought out the location that had been given him and found that he had bought the Evangelistas, lighthouse and all.