About six o'clock, thoroughly worn out, we returned to the spot where the boat was waiting for us. What was to be done? We could not for obvious reasons leave the island and abandon the old gentleman to his fate, and yet it seemed useless to remain there looking for him, when he might have been spirited away elsewhere.
Suddenly one of the crew, who had been loitering behind, came into view waving something in his hand. As he approached we could see that it was a sheet of paper, and when he gave it into my hands I read as follows:—
"If you cross the island to the north beach you will find a small cliff in which is a large cave, a little above high-water mark. There you will discover the man for whom you are searching."
There was no signature to this epistle, and the writing was quite unfamiliar to me, but I had no reason to doubt its authenticity.
"Where did you discover this?" I inquired of the man who had brought it.
"Fastened to one of them prickly bushes up on the beach there, sir," he answered.
"Well, the only thing for us to do now is to set off to the north shore and hunt for the cave. Two of you had better take the boat back to the yacht and ask the captain to follow us round."
As soon as the boat was under weigh we picked up our rifles and set off for the north beach. It was swelteringly hot by this time, and, as may be imagined, we were all dead tired after our long night's work. However, the men knew they would be amply rewarded if we could effect the rescue of the man for whom we had been searching, so they pushed on.
At last we turned the cape and entered the bay which constituted the north end of the island. It was not a large beach on this side, but it had, at its western end, a curious line of small cliffs, in the centre of which a small black spot could be discerned looking remarkably like the entrance to a cave. Towards this we pressed, forgetting our weariness in the excitement of the search.
It was a cave, and a large one. So far the letter was correct. Preparing ourselves, in case of surprise, we approached the entrance, calling Mr. Wetherell's name. As our shouts died away a voice came out in answer, and thereupon we rushed in.
A remarkable sight met our eyes. In the centre of the cave was a stout upright post, some six or eight feet in height, and securely tied to this was the Colonial Secretary of New South Wales.
In less time almost than it takes to tell, we had cast loose the ropes which bound him, and led him, for he was too weak to stand alone, out into the open air. While he was resting he inquired after his daughter, and having learned that she was safe, gave us the following explanation. Addressing himself to me he said:
"When you cried 'Make for the boats,' I ran up the hill with the others as fast as I could go; but I'm an old man and could not get along as quickly as I wanted to, and for this reason was soon left far behind. I must have been half-way down the hill when a tall man, dressed in white, stepped out from behind a bush, and raising a rifle bade me come to a standstill. Having no time to lift my own weapon I was obliged to do as he ordered me, and he thereupon told me to lay down my weapon and right-about face. In this fashion I was marched back to the huts we had just left, and then, another man having joined my captor, was conducted across the island to this beach, where a boat was in waiting. In it I was pulled out to a small schooner lying at anchor in the bay and ordered to board her; five minutes later I was conducted to the saloon.
"'Good-evening, Mr. Wetherell. This is indeed a pleasure,' said a man sitting at the farther end of the table. He was playing with a big black cat, and directly I heard his voice I knew that I was in the presence of Dr. Nikola.
"'And how do you think I am going to punish you, my friend, for giving me all this trouble?' he said when I made no reply to his first remark.
"'You dare not do anything to me,' I answered. 'I demand that you let me go this instant. I have a big score to settle with you.'
"'If you will be warned by me you will cease to demand,' he answered, his eyes the while burning like coals. 'You are an obstinate man, but though you have put me to so much trouble and expense I will forgive you and come to terms with you. Now listen to me. If you will give me——'
"At that moment the little vessel gave a heavy roll, and in trying to keep my footing on the sloping deck I fell over upon the table. As I did so the little Chinese stick slipped out of my pocket and went rolling along directly into Nikola's hands. He sprang forward and seized it, and you may imagine his delight. With a cry of triumph that made the cat leap from his shoulder, he turned to a tall man by his side and said:
"'I've got it at last! Now let a boat's crew take this man ashore and tie him to the stake in the cave. Then devise some means of acquainting his friends of his whereabouts. Be quick, for we sail in an hour.' Having given these orders he turned to me again and said:
"'Mr. Wetherell, this is the last transaction we shall probably ever have together. All things considered, you are lucky in escaping so easily. It would have saved you a good deal if you had complied with my request at first. However, all's well that ends well, and I congratulate you upon your charming daughter. Now, good-bye; in an hour I am off to effect a coup with this stick, the magnitude of which you would never dream. One last word of advice: pause a second time, I entreat, before you think of baulking Dr. Nikola.'
"I was going to reply, when I was twisted round and led up on deck, where that scoundrel Baxter had the impudence to make me a low bow. In less than a quarter of an hour I was fastened to the post in that cave. The rest you know. Now let us get on board; I see the boat is approaching."
As soon as the surf-boat had drawn up on the beach we embarked and were pulled out to the yacht. In a few moments we were on deck, and Phyllis was in her father's arms again. By mid-day the island had disappeared under the sea line, and by nightfall we were well on our way back to Sydney.
That evening, after dinner, Phyllis and I patrolled the deck together, and finally came to a standstill aft. It was as beautiful an evening as any man or woman could desire. All round us was the glassy sea, rising and falling as if asleep, while overhead the tropic stars shone down with their wonderful brilliance.
"Phyllis," I said, taking my darling's hand in mine and looking into her face, "what a series of adventures we have both passed through since that afternoon I first saw you in the Domain! Do you know that your father has at last consented to our marriage?"
"I do. And as it is to you, Dick, I owe my rescue," she said, coming a little closer to me, "he could do nothing else; you have a perfect right to me."
"I have, and I mean to assert it!" I answered. "If I had not found you, I should never have been happy again."
"But, Dick, there is one thing I don't at all understand. At dinner this evening the captain addressed you as Sir Richard. What does that mean?"
"Why, of course you have not heard!" I cried. "Well, I think it means that though I cannot make you a marchioness, I can make you a baronet's wife. It remains with you to say whether you will be Lady Hatteras or not." Then I explained how I had inherited the title and estates.
Her only reply was to kiss me softly on the cheek.
She had scarcely done so before her father and Beckenham came along the deck.
"Now, Phyllis," said the former, leading her to a seat, "supposing you give us the history of your adventures. Remember we have heard nothing yet."
"Very well. Where shall I begin? At the moment I left the house for the ball? Very good. Well, you must know that when I arrived at Government House I met Mrs. Mayford—the lady who had promised to chaperone me—in the cloak-room, and we passed into the ball-room together. I danced the first dance with Captain Hackworth, one of the aides, and engaged myself for the fourth to the Marquis of Beckenham."
"The sham Marquis, unfortunately," put in the real one.
"It proved to be unfortunate for me also," continued Phyllis. "As it was a square we sat it out in the ante-room leading off the drawing-room, and while we were there the young gentleman did me the honour of proposing to me. It was terribly embarrassing for me, but I allowed him to see, as unmistakably as possible, that I could give him no encouragement, and, as the introduction to the next waltz started, we parted the best of friends. About half an hour later, just as I was going to dance the lancers, Mrs. Mayford came towards me and drew me into the drawing-room. Mr. Baxter, his lordship's tutor, was with her, and I noticed that they both looked supernaturally grave.
"'What is the matter?' I asked, becoming alarmed by her face.
"'My dear,' said she, 'you must be brave. I have come to tell you that your father has been taken ill, and has sent for you.'
"'Papa ill!' I cried. 'Oh, I must go home to him at once'
"'I have taken the liberty of facilitating that,' said Mr. Baxter, 'by ordering the servants to call up your carriage, which is now waiting for you at the door. If you will allow me, I will conduct you to it?'
"I apologized to my partner for being compelled to leave him, and then went to the cloak-room. As soon as I was ready I accompanied Mr. Baxter to the door, where the brougham was waiting. Without looking at the coachman I got in, at the same time thanking my escort for his kindness. He shut the door and cried 'Home' to the coachman. Next moment we were spinning down the drive.
"As I was far too much occupied thinking of you, papa, I did not notice the direction we were taking, and it was not until the carriage stopped before a house in a back street that I realized that something was wrong. Then the door was opened, and a gentleman in evening dress begged me to alight. I did so, almost without thinking what I was doing.
"'I am sorry to say your father is not at all well, Miss Wetherell,' said the person who helped me out. 'If you will be good enough to step into my house I will let the nurse take you to him.'
"Like a person in a dream I followed him into the dwelling.
"'Where is my father? and how is it that he is here?' I cried, beginning to get frightened.
"'You will know all when you see him,' said my companion, throwing open the door of a bedroom. I went in, and that door was also shut upon me. Then I turned and faced the man."
"What was he like?" cried Wetherell.
"He was the man you were telling us about at dinner—Dr. Nikola."
"Ah! And then?"
"He politely but firmly informed me that I was his prisoner, and that until you gave up something he had for years been trying to obtain he would be compelled to detain me. I threatened, entreated, and finally wept, but he was not to be moved. He promised that no effort should be spared to make me comfortable, but he could not let me go until you had complied with his request. So I was kept there until late one night, when I was informed that I must be ready to leave the house. A brougham was at the door and in this, securely guarded, I was conducted to the harbour, where a boat was in waiting. In this we were rowed out to a schooner, and I was placed on board her. A comfortably furnished cabin was allotted to me, and everything I could possibly want was given me. But though the greatest consideration in all other matters was shown me, I could gather nothing of where we were going or what my fate was to be, nor could I discover any means of communicating with the shore. About midnight we got under weigh and commenced our voyage. Our destination was the island where you found me."
"And how did Nikola treat you during the voyage and your stay on Pipa Lannu?" I asked.
"With invariable courtesy," she replied. "A more admirable host no one could desire. I had but to express a wish, and it was instantly gratified. When we were clear of the land I was allowed on deck; my meals were served to me in a cabin adjoining my own, and a stewardess had been specially engaged to wait upon me. As far as my own treatment went, I have nothing to complain of. But oh, you can't tell how thankful I was to get away; I imagined all sorts of horrors."
"Well, God be thanked, it's all done with now," I said earnestly.
"And what is more," said Wetherell, "you have won one of the best husbands in the world. Mr. Hatteras, your hand, sir; Phyllis, my darling, yours! God bless you both."
A week later the eventful voyage was over, and we were back in Sydney again.
Then came our marriage. But, with your kind permission, I will only give you a very bare description of that. It took place at the cathedral, the Primate officiating. The Marquis of Beckenham was kind enough to act as my best man, while the Colonial Secretary, of course, gave his daughter away.
But now I come to think of it, there is one point I must touch upon in connexion with that happy occasion, and that was the arrival of an important present on the evening prior to the event.
We were sitting in the drawing-room when the butler brought in a square parcel on a salver and handed it to Phyllis. "Another present, I expect," she said, and began to untie the string that bound it.
When the first cover was removed a layer of tissue paper revealed itself, and after that a large Russia leather case came into view. On pressing the spring the cover lifted and revealed a superb collet—as I believe it is called—of diamonds, and resting against the lid a small card bearing this inscription:—
"With heartiest congratulations and best wishes to Lady Hatteras, in memory of an unfortunate detention and a voyage to the Southern Seas,
"From her sincere admirer, "Dr. Nikola."
What do you think of that?
Well, to bring my long story to a close, the Great Event passed off with much eclat. We spent our honeymoon in the Blue Mountains, and a fortnight later sailed once more for England in the Orizaba. Both Mr. Wetherell—who has now resigned office—and the Marquis of Beckenham, who is as manly a fellow as you would meet anywhere in England, accompanied us home, and it was to the latter's seaside residence that we went immediately on our arrival in the mother country. My own New Forest residence is being thoroughly renovated, and will be ready for occupation in the spring.
And now as to the other persons who have figured most prominently in my narrative. Of Nikola, Baxter, Eastover, or Prendergast I have never heard since. What gigantic coup the first-named intends to accomplish with the little Chinese stick, the possession of which proved so fatal to Wetherell, is beyond my power to tell. I am only too thankful, however, that I am able to say that I am not in the least concerned in it. I am afraid of Nikola, and I confess it. And with this honest expression of my feelings, and my thanks for your attention and forbearance, I will beg your permission to ring the curtain down upon the narrative of my BID FOR FORTUNE.