HotFreeBooks.com
Pieces of Eight
by Richard le Gallienne
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5
Home - Random Browse

"Calypso! Calypso!" I cried. "Calypso!"—and it seemed as though a giant's strength were in me—that I could rend the rocks apart. I made a mighty effort, and, whether or not my relaxing had made a readjustment of my position, I found that for some reason I could move forward again, and, with one desperate wriggle, I had my head through the narrow space. To wrench my shoulders and legs after it was comparatively easy, and, in a moment, I was safe on the outer side, where, as I had surmised, the aperture did widen out again. Within a few moments, I was on the edge of the sea, had dived, and was swimming madly toward—

But let me tell what I had seen, as I hung there, so helpless, in that crevice in the rocks.



CHAPTER XVII

Action.

I had seen, close in shore, a two-masted schooner under full sail sweeping by, as if pursued, and three negroes kneeling on deck, with levelled rifles. As I looked, a shot rang out, from my right, where I could not see, and one of the negroes rolled over. Another shot, and the negro next him fell sprawling with his arms over the bulwark.

At that moment, two other negroes emerged from the cabin hatchway, half dragging and half carrying a woman. She was struggling bravely, but in vain. The negroes—evidently acting under orders of a white man, who stood over them with a revolver—were dragging her toward the mainmast. Her head was bare, her hair in disorder, and one shoulder from which her dress had been torn in the struggle, gleamed white in the sunlight. Yet her eyes were flashing splendid scornful fires at her captors; and her laughter of defiance came ringing to me over the sea. It was then that I had cried "Calypso!" and wrenched myself free.

The next moment there came dashing in sight a sloop also under full canvas, and at its bow, a huge white man, with a levelled rifle that still smoked. At a glance, I knew him for Charlie Webster. He had been about to fire again, but, as the man dragged Calypso for'ard, he paused, calm as a rock, waiting, with his keen sportsman's eyes on Tobias—for, of course, it was he.

"You—coward!" I heard his voice roar across the rapidly diminishing distance between the two boats, for the sloop was running with power as well as sails.

Meanwhile, the men had lashed Calypso to the mast, and even in my agony my eyes recorded the glory of her beauty as she stood proudly there—the great sails spread above her, and the sea for her background.

"Now, do your worst," cried Tobias, his evil face white as wax in the sunlight.

"Fire, fire—don't be afraid," rang out Calypso's voice, like singing gold. At the same instant, as she called, Tobias sprang toward her with raised revolver.

"Another word, and I fire," shouted the voice of the brute.

But the rifle that never missed its mark spoke again. Tobias's arm fell shattered, and he staggered away screaming. Still once more, Charlie Webster's gun spoke, and the staggering figure fell with a crash on the deck.

"Now, boys, ready," I heard Charlie's voice roar out again, as the sloop tore alongside the schooner—where the rest of the negro crew with raised arms had fallen on their knees, crying for mercy.

All this I saw from the water, as I swam wildly toward the two boats, which now had closed on each other, a mass of thundering canvas, and screaming and cursing men—and Calypso there, like a beautiful statue, still lashed to the mast, a proud smile on her lovely lips.

Another moment, and Charlie had sprung aboard, and, seizing a knife from one of the screaming negroes, he cut her free.

His deep calm voice came to me over the water.

"That's what I call courage," he said. "I could never have done it."

The "King" had been right. He knew his daughter.

By this I was nearing the boats, though as yet no one had seen me. They were all too busy with the confusion on deck, where four men lay dead, and three others still kept up their gibberish of fear.

I saw Calypso and Charlie Webster stand a moment looking down at the figure of Tobias, prostrate at their feet.

"I am sorry I had to kill him," I heard Charlie's deep growl. "I meant to keep him for the hangman."

But suddenly I saw him start forward and stamp heavily on something.

"No, you don't," I heard him roar—and I learned afterward that Tobias, though mortally wounded, was not yet dead, and that, as the two had stood looking down on him, they had seen his hand furtively moving toward the fallen revolver that lay a few inches from him on the deck. Just as he had grasped it, Charlie's heavy boot had come down on his wrist. But Tobias was still game.

"Not alive, you English brute!" he was heard to groan out, and, snatching free his wrist too swiftly to be prevented, he had gathered up all his remaining strength, and hurled himself over the side into the sea.

I was but a dozen yards away from him, as he fell; and, as he rose again, it was for his dying eyes to fix with a glare upon me. They dilated with terror, as though he had seen a ghost. Then he gave one strange scream, and fell back into the sea, and we saw him no more.

* * * * *

It will be easier for the reader to imagine, than for me to describe, the look on the faces of Calypso and Charlie Webster when they saw me appear at almost the same spot where poor Tobias had just gone bubbling down. Words I had none, for I was at the end of my strength, and I broke down and sobbed like a child.

"Thank God you are safe—my treasure, my treasure!" was all I could say, after they had lifted me aboard, and I lay face down on the deck, at her feet. Swiftly she knelt by my side, and caressed my shoulder with her dear hand.

All of which—particularly my reference to "my treasure"—must have been much to the bewilderment of the good simple-hearted Charlie, towering, innocent-eyed, above us. I believe I stayed a little longer at her feet than I really had need to, for the comfort of her being so near and kind; but, presently, we were all aroused by a voice from the cliffs above. It was the "King," with his bodyguard, Erebus and the crew of the Flamingo—no Samson, alas! The sound of the firing had reached them in the woods, and they had come hurrying to discover its cause.

So we deferred asking our questions, and telling our several stories, till we were pulled ashore.

As Calypso was folded in her father's arms, he turned to me:

"Didn't I tell you that I knew my daughter?" he said.

"And I told you something too, O King," I replied—my eyes daring at last to rest on Calypso with the love and pride of my heart.

"And where on earth have you been, young man?" he asked, laughing. "Did Tobias kidnap you too?"

It was very hard, as you will have seen, to astonish the "King."



CHAPTER XVIII

Gathering Up the Threads.

But, though it was hard to astonish and almost impossible to alarm the "King," his sense of wonder was quite another matter, and the boyish delight with which he listened to our several stories would have made it worth while to undergo tenfold the perils we had faced. And the best of it was that we each had a new audience in the others—for none of us knew what had happened to the rest, and how it chanced that we should all come to meet at that moment of crisis on the sea. Our stories, said the "King," were quite in the manner of "The Arabian Nights," dovetailing one into the other.

"And now," he added, "we will begin with the Story of the Murdered Slave and the Stolen Lady."

Calypso told her story simply and in a few words. The first part of it, of which the poor murdered Samson had been the eloquent witness, needed no further telling. He had done his brave best—poor fellow—but Tobias had had six men with him, and it was soon over. Her they had gagged and bound and carried in a sort of improvised sedan-chair; Tobias had done the thing with a certain style and—she had to admit—with absolute courtesy.

When they had gone a mile or two from the house, he had had the gag taken from her mouth, and, on her promise not to attempt to escape (which was, of course, quite impossible) he had also had her unbound, so that her hurried journey through the woods was made as comfortable as possible. Certainly it had not been without its spice of romance, for four of the men had carried lanterns, and their progress must have had a very picturesque effect lighting up the blackness of the strange trees.

Tobias had walked at her side the whole way, without speaking a word.

They were making, she had gathered—and as we had surmised—for the northern shore, and, after about a three hours' march, she heard the sound of the sea. On the schooner she had found a cabin all nicely prepared for her—even dainty toilet necessaries—and an excellent dinner was served, on some quite pretty china, to her alone. Poor Tobias had seemed bent on showing—as he had said to Tom—that he was not the "carrion" we had thought him.

After dinner, Tobias had respectfully asked leave for a few words with her. He had apologised for his action, but explained that it was necessary—the only way he had left, he said, of protecting his own interests, and safeguarding a treasure which belonged to him and no one else, if it belonged to any living man. It had seemed to her that it was a monomania with him. His eyes had gleamed so, as he spoke of it, that she had felt a little frightened for the first time—for he seemed like a madman on the subject.

While he had been talking, she had made up her mind what she would do. She would tell him the plain truth about her doubloons, and offer him what remained of them as a ransom. This she did, and was able at last half to persuade him that, so far as any one knew, that was all the treasure there was, and that the digging among the ruins of the old house was a mere fancy of her father's. There might be something there or not—and she went so far as to give her word of honour that, if anything was found, he should have his share of it.

It was rather a woman's way, she admitted, but she thought that, so long as she kept Tobias near the island, some favouring incident might happen at any moment—that the proffered ransom, in fact, might prove the bait to a trap.

Tobias had seemed impressed, and promised his answer in the morning, leaving her to sleep—with a sentry at her cabin door. She had slept soundly, and wakened only at dawn. As soon as she was up, Tobias had come to her, saying that he had accepted her offer, and asking her to direct him to her treasure.

This she had done, and, to avoid passing the settlement, they had taken the course round the eastern end of the island. As they had approached the cave (and here Calypso turned a quizzical smile on me, which no one, of course, understood but ourselves), a sloop was seen approaching them from the westward ... and here she stopped and turned to Charlie Webster.

"Now," said the "King," "we shall hear the Story of Apollo—or, let us say, rather Ajax—the Far-Darter—He of the Arrow that never missed its mark."

And Charlie Webster, more at home with deeds than words, blushed and blushed through his part of the story, telling how—having called at the settlement—he had got our message from Sweeney, and was making up the coast for the hidden creek. He had spied what he felt sure was Tobias's schooner—had called on him "In the King's Name" to surrender—("I had in my pocket the warrant for his arrest," said Charlie, with innocent pride—"the d——d scoundrel") but had been answered with bullets. He had been terribly frightened, he owned, when Calypso had been brought on deck, but she had given him courage—he paused to beam on her, a broad-faced admiration, for which he could find no words—and, as he had never yet missed a flying duck at—I forget how many yards Charlie mentioned—well ... perhaps he oughtn't to have risked it—And so his story came to an end, amid reassuring applause.

"Now," said the "King," "for the Story of the Disappearing Gentleman and the Lighted Lantern."

And then I told my story as it is already known to the reader, and I have to confess that, when I came to the chestful of doubloons and pieces of eight, I had a very attentive audience. But, at first, the "King" shook his head with an amused smile.

"Ulysses is romancing for the benefit of my romantic second childhood," he said, and then, after his favourite manner he added—

"I might not this believe Without the sensible and true avouch of mine own eyes ..."

Then, he was for starting off that very night. But, reminded of the difficult seclusion in which the treasure still lay, he was persuaded to wait till the morrow.

"At dawn then," he said, "to-morrow—'what time, the rosy-footed dawn' ... so be it. And now I am going to talk to Ajax the Far-Darter of duck-shooting."

"But wait!" I cried. "Why did 'Jack Harkaway' go to Nassau?"

Calypso blushed. The "King" chuckled.

"I prefer not to be known in Nassau, yet some of my business has to be done there. Nor is it safe for beauty like Calypso's to go unprotected. So from time to time, 'Jack Harkaway' goes for us both! And now enough of explanations!"; and he launched into talk of game and sport in various parts of the world, to the huge delight of the great simple-hearted Charlie.

But, after a time, other matters claimed the attention of his other auditors. During the flow of his discourse night had fallen. Calypso and I perceived that we were forgotten—so, by an impulse that seemed to be one, we rose and left them there, and stole out into the garden where the little fountain was dancing like a spirit under the moon, and the orange trees gave out their perfume on the night breeze. I took her hand, and we walked softly out into the moonlight, and looked down at the closed lotuses in the little pool. And then we took courage to look into each other's eyes.

"Calypso," I said, "when are you going to show me where you keep your doubloons?"—and I added, in a whisper, "Jack—when am I going to see you in boy's clothes again?"

And, with that, she was in my arms, and I felt her heart beating against my side.

"O! my treasure," I said—ever so softly—"Calypso, my treasure."



POSTSCRIPT

Now, such readers as have been "gentle" enough to follow me so far in my story, may possibly desire to be told what lay behind those other locked doors in the underground gallery where I so nearly laid my bones.

I should like nothing better than to gratify their legitimate curiosity. But, perhaps, they will not have forgotten my friend John Saunders, Secretary to the Treasury of His Britannic Majesty's Government at Nassau.

John is a good friend, but he is a man of very rigid principles and a great stickler in regard to any matters pertaining to the interests and duties of his office. Were I to divulge—as, I confess, my pen is itching to do—the dazzling—I will even say blinding—contents of these other grim compartments (particularly if I were to give any hint of their value in bullion), no feelings of friendship would for one second weigh with him as against his duty to the august Government he so faithfully serves. He may suspect what he likes, but, so long as he actually knows nothing, we may rely on his inactivity. In fact, I know that he has no wish to be told—so far he will go with us, but no further—and, as we wish neither to sully his fine probity, nor, on the other hand, to disgorge our "illgotten gains"—for which, after all, each one of us risked his life (and for which one life, most precious of all, was placed in such terrible jeopardy)—gains too which His Britannic Majesty is quite rich enough to do without—the readers must pardon me my caution, and draw upon his imagination for what I must not tell him.

This, however, I will say: he cannot well imagine too vividly or too magnificently, and that, in fact, he may accept those hyperboles fancifully indulged in by the "King" as very slightly overshooting the mark. We do not, indeed, go disguised in cloth of gold, nor are we blinding to look upon with rings and ropes of pearls. It does not happen to be our western fashion to be so garmented. But—well—I won't say that we couldn't do so if we were so minded.

Nor will I say, either, that the "King" does not occasionally, in private, masquerade in some such splendour; though, as a rule, he still prefers that shabby tatterdemalion costume which we have still to accept as a vagary of his fantastic nature. He is still the same Eternal Child, and his latest make-believe has been to fit up those caverns, through which so miserably I wormed my way, with the grandiose luxury of the Count of Monte Cristo; that, as he says, the prophecy might be fulfilled which said: "Monte Cristo shall seem like a pauper and a penny gaff in comparison with the fantasies of our fearful wealth."

Those caverns, we afterward discovered, did actually communicate with Blackbeard's ruined mansion, and the "King," who has now rebuilt that mansion and lives in it in semi-feudal state with Calypso and me, is able to pass from one to the other by underground passages which are an unfailing source of romantic satisfaction to his dear, absurd soul.

As to whether or not the mansion and the treasure were actually Blackbeard's—that is, Edward Teach's—we are yet in doubt, though we prefer to believe that they were. At all events, we never found any evidence to connect them at all with Henry P. Tobias, whose second treasure, we have every reason to think, still remains undiscovered.

As for the sinister and ill-fated Henry P. Tobias, Jr., we have since learned—through Charlie Webster, who every now and again drops in with sailors from his sloop and carries off the "King" for duck-shooting—that his real name was quite different; he must have assumed, as a nom de guerre, the name we knew him by, to give colour to his claim. I am afraid, therefore, that he was a plain scoundrel, after all, though it seemed to me that I saw gleams in him of something better, and I shall always feel a sort of kindness toward him for the saving grace of gallant courtesy with which he invested his rascally abduction of Calypso.

Calypso.... She and I, just for fun, sometimes drop into Sweeney's store, and, when she has made her purchases, she draws up from her bosom a little bag, and, looking softly at me, lays down on the counter—a golden doubloon; and Sweeney—who, doubtless, thinks us all a little crazy—smiles indulgently on our make-believe.

Sometimes, on our way home, we come upon Tom in the plantations, superintending a gang of the "King's" janissaries—among whom Erebus is still the blackest—for Tom is now the Lord High Steward of our estate. He beams on us in a fatherly way, and I lay my hand significantly on my leftside—to his huge delight. He flashes his white teeth and wags his head from side to side with inarticulate enjoyment of the allusion. For who knows? He may be right. In so mysterious a world the smallest cause may lead up to the most august results and there is nothing too wonderful to happen.



EPILOGUE BY THE EDITOR

It remains for me, as sponsor for the foregoing narrative, reluctantly to add a second postscript to that of its author, bringing the fortunes of himself and his friends a little nearer to the present year of grace. Not that anything untoward has happened to any of them. Their lives are still lived happily in the sun, and their treasure is still safe—somewhere carefully out of the sun. But neither their lives nor their treasure are where my friend's postscript left them. They are, indeed, very much nearer New York than at that writing.

As a matter of fact, after King Alcinoues had played but a short time at being the Count of Monte Cristo in his underground palace, it gradually was borne in upon his essentially common-sense mind, as upon the minds of Calypso and her husband, that their secret was known to too many for its absolute safety. Kindly coloured people indeed, and a very friendly "Secretary to the British Treasury" ... still, there was no knowing, and, on all accounts, they gradually came to the unromantic conclusion that the safe deposit vaults of New York were more reliable than limestone caverns filled with the sound of sea. This conclusion explains the presence of my friend and his Lady of the Doubloons in the box of the Punch and Judy Theatre that, to me, eventful evening.

Since then, I myself have made a pilgrimage to all the places that play a part in this romance. I have crawled my way through those caves in which my friend came so near to leaving his bones, looked into those vaults once glittering with pieces of eight and all that other undivulged treasure-trove, wedged myself as far as I dared into that slit in the rocks, looking out like a narrow window on the sea.

All those places are real; any one, with a mind to, can find them; but, should any one care to undertake the pilgrimage, he will note, as I did, that those baronial halls of Edward Teach—for a while the playground of King Alcinoues—are rapidly being reclaimed by the savage wilderness, fiercely swallowed minute by minute by the fanged and serpentine vegetation—which, after all, was only stayed for a moment, and which, humanly speaking, will now submerge them for all eternity.

Once more, to employ one of the favourite quotations of King Alcinoues, "I PASSED BY THE WALLS OF BALCLUTHA, AND THEY WERE DESOLATE." The King, I may be allowed to add, finds New York quite a good place to talk in—though he is frank in saying that he prefers a coral island.

R. Le G.

THE END



Transcriber's Notes: List of A.L. Burt Company's Popular Copyright Fiction removed. Dash lengths standardised. Page 262: Changed intance to instance Page 295: Changed Monto Cristo to Monte Cristo. Page 102: Changed mooonlit (non dialogue) to moonlit.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5
Home - Random Browse