"Then, in Heaven's name, let us go now!" cried Tomlin, trying to rise. She laughed in his ear again, and her soft, warm arms pressed him back in the chair with a power that amazed him. "We shall go, in good season," she whispered. "But—" The rest was murmured so faintly, yet so tremendously audible to his superheated brain, that he drew back and stared up at her with an awful expression of mingled unbelief and horror distorting his face.
"Do you know what you say?" he gasped, and shot an apprehensive glance toward Venner and Pearse.
"Surely, my friend," she crooned. "Thyself alone, of those who came in this ship, may return. If I am desirable, see to it that I can be pleased with thee." Dolores stood up, bent upon him a dazzling smile, leaned as if to kiss his lips, then with a tinkling little ripple of mirth blew a kiss instead and ran up the companion-stairs to the deck.
Tomlin stood glaring after her as if fascinated. His face, deeply flushed a moment before, had gone deathly white; his profile, turned under the lamp toward his companions, showed deeply puckered brows over stony eyes, lips parted as if to utter a cry of horror. And Venner, fuming inwardly, had seen enough to recall some of his badly scattered wits. He called Tomlin by name hoarsely, softly, and exclaimed when he looked around:
"Tomlin, shall we three be ruined body and soul by that sorceress? Come, help us out of these chains, and we will make a bid for liberty. We can reach Peters and such men as are left, by way of the alleyway to the forecastle; I know where weapons are to be got, and we'll put our fate on the cast. Come. Pearse is of a like mind, eh, Pearse?"
Pearse did not reply at once, and Tomlin saved him the trouble; for, recovering himself with a shudder, he put a hand on the companion-rail and started up the stairs with a laugh of contempt.
"I have no concern with your troubles, Venner," he said. "As for liberty, I am free as air. I believe patience is the medicine you need."
Tomlin reached the deck with tingling ears, for even Pearse came out of his reverie to curse him. But curses or benedictions counted nothing at that moment. In every patch of light he saw Dolores's devilishly lovely face; in every swing of the vessel he saw her consummate grace; he was a thirsty man seeking a spring, knowing full well that a draft must kill him. He stood alone outside the companionway, wondering at the absence of people, at the absence of Dolores. A solitary man stood at the wheel; and, looking around for others, Tomlin noticed vaguely that the black storm was broken, that watery stars were winking down, and that almost in the zenith a gibbous moon leaned like a brimming dipper of quicksilver, ready to drop from the inky cloud that had but just uncovered it.
Then voices reached his ears from forward, voices full of wondering anger, and he stepped out clear of the deck-house and peered ahead on the windward side. There, two miles away, the land loomed black and forbidding; and high up, on a crest, a great red blaze leaped and swirled against the flying clouds.
As he stood, Dolores ran aft, ignoring him utterly in her haste. Her men grouped themselves along the waist of the schooner, waiting for commands. The Feu Follette was already doing her best; that is, the best under such sail as was safe to carry. But there, to windward, and yet two miles distant, some part of the pirate village was burning, and none might say yet what part it was.
The one thing certain was that it could not be the great chamber. That was of rock; it might be destroyed by an explosion; never by fire. So there was a ring of exultation in Dolores's tone when she sent the hail along:
"Loose both topsails and set them! Caliban, thou small villain, out and loose the outer jib. Main-sheet here! Oh, haul, bullies! Flat—more yet—so, belay!"
Then the girl flung the man from the wheel, seized the spokes herself, and began to nurse the schooner to windward with truly superhuman art. Closer yet she brought the graceful craft; closer, until the luffs trembled and the seas burst fair upon the stem and volleyed stinging spray the full length of her. And as she drew nearer, the blaze seemed to diminish and blaze afresh as if fire-fighters were there indeed, but lacking weapons to fight with.
"Is it the treasure-house?" Tomlin asked anxiously, stepping beside the girl. She stood in deep shadow; the dim radiance from the lighted binnacle touched her face, breast, and arms with soft light, and her eyes, as they flashed swiftly toward the man, glittered with some subtle quality that sent a shiver running down his spine.
"Treasure-house?" she repeated, and her voice was no longer soft and alluring; it was metallic and menacing. For the second time, first in Venner, now in Tomlin, she had seen the true source of their fascination. "No, it is not the treasure-house. It is the council hall, where thou wert lodged." She snatched her gaze from the compass and fixed him with the cold, unwinking stare of a snake. "Where thou wert lodged, my friend who would renounce all for me. Where, had I cared to, I might have left two of ye, taking with me to safety only the one whose brains are not afire with soulless gold and jewels."
Tomlin grew hot and uneasy. "My brain is on fire with your beauty, Dolores," he returned, trying to force her gaze to meet his again.
"Prove it to me, then," she replied shortly, and waved him away, devoting her attention now to making the anchorage, already close to.
PEARSE ENTERS THE CAVE OF ALADDIN.
Lucky it proved that Pascherette had been left behind when the schooner sailed after Yellow Rufe. Even Dolores, with all her consummate wisdom, had forgotten the existence of the old woman she had degraded to kitchen drudge; still more utterly had she forgotten the relationship existing between the old woman and the late victim of her terrible vengeance.
Sancho had called the old crone mother, whether with blood reasons or not none knew. And at bottom, much of Sancho's rebellion had come of anger at the treatment meted out to her. And it was Sancho's despairing cry, when Milo cast him out into the Grove, that brought the old woman from her concealment in the forest. The awful plight of the unlucky wretch had aroused in the woman's withered breast a demon of revenge that knew no limits; and the departing schooner, then barely visible to her, filled her brain with the knowledge that the strangers who came in that vessel had been the indirect cause of her Sancho's fate.
She knew they had been placed in the cells behind the council hall; she knew nothing of Dolores's last-minute decision that had taken them with her. She knew nothing as to who or how many were left in the camp; but she knew, she had terrible and ever-present proof in that moaning, groping, brainless thing that was Sancho, that her mistress had shown a leaning toward the strangers at the expense of her own people, and that she herself might expect no mercy if ever caught. And with the low animal cunning that served her for intellect she knew her penalty could be no greater if she struck one blow in revenge before taking to the woods in final flight.
Her plan was simple. Watching Sancho for a while, so that she might not lose him, she searched for dry wood among the drenched underbrush, piled it against the rear of the council hall, and set fire to it, fanning the faint flame and feeding it, guarding it with her scanty garments, until the red tongues shot up in a powerful, self-supporting conflagration.
Then she had darted back to the forest fringe, found Sancho, and turned his sightless, blank face toward the blaze so that he might feel the warmth and guess the cause. But she knew nothing of his cracked brain; she knew only of his physical agonies; the utter absence of interest in him when she would have shown him what she had done shook her to the foundations of her own reason; and her eldritch scream pealed up among the trees as she flung her arms aloft and cursed the place.
It was the scream that brought Pascherette out of the hut, where she sheltered from the storm, to see the council hall in flames. It was the scream that told the little octoroon where the fire had birth. And Pascherette, too, believed that the three strangers were still within the cells. She had plans of her own that required the safety of those men, at least for a while. And her active brain gave her the solution before the old woman had ceased to curse.
Like a small, sleek panther Pascherette ran toward the old woman; she saw Sancho, too, but instinctively knew that after Milo's treatment of him he could not be dangerous; ignoring the man, she drew her knife as she ran, and with a brief, panting, "That for thee, witch!" struck the old woman down at Sancho's stumbling feet.
Now she gave all her energies to subduing the fire; and, swiftly rallying every man or woman in the camp she drove them with blows and shrill invective to beating the blaze with sodden boughs and wet sand. She set men with poles to batter down the doors to the cells; but the doors had been built to oppose that kind of entry. Frantically she drove the fire-fighters to another place, while she heaped up fresh fire against the doors in the hope of burning down what could not be burst. And it was the last up-blazing shaft of fire as the doors fell that Dolores saw in the moment she brought the schooner to anchor. Pascherette was emerging, singed and blackened, with dark rage in her glittering eyes at having found the cells empty, when Dolores and her crew arrived on the scene with Venner and Tomlin and Pearse in their midst.
"What! Pascherette again?" cried Dolores, glaring at the girl with red suspicion in her face. "Is this thy work? Speak!"
Pascherette stared in surprise at the three strangers, and her painfully scorched lips strove to answer. Her throat was dry, and at first words refused to come. But in the pause, when fifty faces glowered at the girl, something stumbled across the open in the firelight, and Milo's sharp vision distinguished it. He went up to Pascherette, with deep concern in his devoted eyes, and laid a strong arm about her trembling shoulders. She relaxed toward him, and managed to whisper to him. He flung out his free hand toward the open space, and cried to Dolores:
"There is the traitor, Sultana! This is the avenger."
Dolores looked; every eye was turned where Milo pointed; and the brutal laughter of some of the hardiest pirates mingled with the groans of the three yachtsmen, whose escape from a horrible death by fire could not reconcile them to the staggering vengeance that had overtaken the wretch who had attempted that death. Bathed in an infernal glow, grotesque as a creature of a diseased brain, the unhuman Sancho staggered across the glade and into the darkness of the forest, bearing in his handless arms a ghastly burden in which the hilt of Pascherette's dagger glittered and flashed as the firelight touched it.
"Back! Let him go!" cried Dolores; and a score of shouting ruffians returned from swift pursuit, leaving Sancho and his burden to pass into the oblivion of the great forest.
Milo examined the damage, and reported. The cells were useless now, except merely to confine captives. They did not fit in with Dolores's plans thus, and she sent Milo to a distance with John Pearse while she carried into effect a new fancy. Her crew had gone to their own places, to soothe the fatigues of their night's work in carousal; Pascherette stood near by, gazing at her mistress with mute appeal that she, too, be permitted to seek alleviation of her own sore burns.
"Wait, child," said Dolores, seeing the girl's trouble. "I'll cure thy hurts soon."
Then she separated Venner and Tomlin, taking each in turn to a vacant hut. And to each she whispered patience and faith; to each her voice imparted a renewed thrill. To Venner she said:
"Thy anger with me was foolish, good Rupert. I did but smile at thy friends to make thy task easier. Now see; I leave thee unfettered, and thus." She drew his head down and lightly kissed his hair, laughing with a little tremor: "Think of what I asked of thee, Rupert. To-morrow I shall ask thy decision."
In turn to Tomlin she whispered:
"The night has been arduous for thee. I was impatient with thee. Thy vow of devotion to me rang true, though I doubted it at the moment. To-morrow I will hear what thy heart speaks. To-night, see, I free thee. For thy own safety, though, do not venture beyond these doors save with me. My rascals are fierce creatures of jealousy and suspicion. Good night, friend." Him, too, she left tingling with her kiss, and whatever others in the camp did that night, two men found sleep elusive and vain.
Milo brought Pearse to her at her call, and together they went to the great stone before the chamber. Milo rolled back the rock, while his expression showed uneasiness. But he had learned his lesson when protesting against Pascherette's admission to the cave of mystery, and uttered no warning now.
Pascherette, in spite of her burns, bent a roguish face upon Pearse as that puzzled gentleman waited for some word or motion that should give him the reason for this unexpected favor.
Still Dolores said nothing. The rock rolled away, and Milo stood aside, she entered, touching Pearse on the arm as she passed him, and he followed meekly, Pascherette bringing up the rear with Milo after the giant replaced the great stone. Then Dolores turned back to Pearse, under the soft, red glow of the unseen lamps, and flashed a bewildering smile upon him.
"Wilt believe now that I love thee?" she whispered, and her lids drooped over swimming eyes. "Beyond that great door lies the chamber to enter which costs death. Art afraid?"
"Lead on," replied Pearse hoarsely. There was no trace of fear in his voice or in his eyes; but Dolores warmed gladly to the knowledge that here at last was a man whose thoughts were bent upon her and not on her chamber of treasures.
They stood before the massive sliding door of plate and jewels, and here the human side in John Pearse showed through for an instant. Under the great, yellow lantern the gold and silver plates, the glowing rubies, the glinting emeralds, made a picture of fabulous riches that even he could not ignore. But at the upward slide of the door his eyes left the richness of it without a flicker; he waited for the heavy velvet hangings to be drawn, and when Dolores's eyes sought his they surprised his deep, ardent gaze fastened full on herself and not upon what might next be revealed.
"Enter, man of my heart," she smiled, and stood aside to permit him to pass.
In the first steps over the threshold John Pearse saw little save a dim, cool hall, vast and full of vagrant shadows; then, when Milo had arranged the lights so that they gradually grew in power, flooding the chamber with mellow radiance, his soul seemed to burst from his throat in one choking, stupefied gasp.
"The Cave of Aladdin!" he choked, and stood open-mouthed while Dolores laughed softly at his shoulder.
"Nay," she reproved. "'Tis the Cave of Dolores. 'Tis mine, and"—she turned her face up toward his alluringly—"may be thine, if thou'rt a true man!"
With shrewd artistry she twisted away as he strove to clasp her, and there she left him standing, in the midst of untold treasures that every moment were increasingly revealed to him. Without another glance for him, or apparently another thought, she took Pascherette by the hand and led her down the chamber to the great chair. Here she busied herself with salves and lotions to assuage the scald of the girl's fresh burns, which were more painful than serious. And every moment she was thus charitably employed her gleaming eyes were fixed upon Pearse from under concealing lashes; every moment Milo's dusky face was bent upon her from the end of the chamber with an expression of absolute adoration and gratitude. For tiny Pascherette was custodian of the giant's green heart; and honest Milo never sought very deeply for motives. It was enough for him that Dolores, his Sultana, the being he worshiped as he worshiped his gods, was ministering with woman's infinite tenderness to her maid, a creature as humble as himself.
Pearse, too, even in his intoxication of senses, saw and warmed to this evidence of real womanliness in one he had small cause to think anything other than a bewilderingly alluring fury. He could not hide his thoughts, and Dolores saw them betrayed on his face; Pascherette surprised the look on her mistress's lovely face that told her the imperious beauty possessed a heart of living flesh and blood. And Pascherette shuddered nervously at the fear of what must happen should that heart ever feel humiliated.
"Keep still, child," Dolores laughed happily, mistaking the reason for the girl's shudder. "It is finished now. Thy hurts will pass in thy sleep. Go to thy big man there, and have him pet thee. I have no need of thee until I call. Go, take him away. I would be alone with my guest."
The girl ran to Milo, and together they went down to the gallery beyond the picture door. Then Dolores set out with her own fair hands wine and sweetmeats, the confections taken from the yacht, strange and new to her, but in her mind something desirable to such men as Pearse, else why had they brought such things? And again using her innate witchery, she set a chair for Pearse at a distance from her own, where she could look straight into his face or hide her own, as her fancy dictated.
"Hast seen the like before?" she smiled, looking at him over the brim of a chased gold flagon.
"Never, never, Dolores!" he said, and his eyes blazed into hers. He moved his chair close to her, and reached for her free hand.
"What! Hast thou no eyes for these things?" she exclaimed in simulated surprise, taking her hand away and indicating the wealth around the walls. "Man, thy eyes are idle; look at those gems, those paintings; hast ever seen the like of those 'Three Graces,' then, that they have no interest for thee?"
"Yes, I have seen the like, wonderful, wonderful being," he returned hoarsely. "You I have seen; you, you, I see nothing else but you, Dolores!"
She dazzled him with a seductive smile, full of fire-specked softnesses, and offered him her flagon.
"Drink, comrade. Drink here, and we shall talk of thee and me, and what concerns us both nearly. Art sure thy eyes are not blinded by the nearer beauty?"
"I am not blind! I never saw with clearer vision!" Pearse cried, taking the flagon with tremorless hand. "I care nothing for these tawdry gauds."
"Ah! Then thou'rt the man. Come, thy faithful soul deserves reward. Come, I will show thee treasures thou hast not dreamed of yet; and all shall be thine, with me—at a price."
THE TREASURE TEST.
Dolores gaily took John Pearse by the hand and led him down the chamber to the dais on which stood the vacant chair of state of the dead Red Jabez. The great canopied bed still stood there; but it was curtained in, out of sight, and unused; Dolores preferred her own low couch, with its strangely beautiful composite furnishings of silk and tiger-skins, velvet and snowy polar-bear rugs, heaped high with luxurious cushions that made it a restful lounge by day as well as a sleep-inviting couch by night.
Beside the couch, between it and the dais, Milo had set the treasure-chests, leaving the lids wide-flung, the contents but thinly concealed by silken shawls. The end of a rope of matchless pearls hung over the edge of one chest carelessly, without apparent motive; yet when she guided Pearse to the couch and seated him, Dolores scanned his face with glinting eyes that peeped out through narrow slits. She saw his look of interest; then his mouth turned upward in a smile that said plainly: "Here is a theatrical trick to impress me!"
"Now thy reward is come," whispered Dolores, leaving him with an arch smile and kneeling before the big chests. She tore away the shawls and plunged her hands into the glittering hoard to the wrists, flinging out upon the couch and the floor, upon Pearse's knees and into his hands, rubies and emeralds, diamonds and pearls, golden chains and ornaments for the hair in a bewildering, stupendous litter. And, her face turned from him, her narrowed eyes were fixed upon him, and in their gleaming depths burned a smoldering anxiety that was nearing impatience.
For John Pearse cloaked his feelings better than his fellows; he smiled at the shower of riches, met her questing glance with a smile, and smiled again with shaking head when she stood before him, aglow with yearning for his decision, and asked simply:
"Baubles, playthings, Dolores!" he laughed up at her. He seized her hands, stroked the satin-skinned forearm, and said softly: "These are not worthy of such a woman as Dolores. These are but the gauds of a beautiful woman. To fit you, they should be the adornments of a goddess!"
"Oh, then thy lips uttered truth!" she cried delightedly. She stooped swiftly to him, twined her arms about his neck, and laid her warm cheek to his. "Now I shall show thee treasures indeed, my John!"
She ran to the one chest yet unopened, and flung away the silk covering. Here were the gems of the craftsman's art. Stones of unparalleled color and size were in this chest; but their chief merit lay in their cunning settings, their consummate delicacy of workmanship. Here the art collector might find his El Dorado; in all the world such a collection could scarcely be found in one place. Here were shrines and temples, carved from single immense stones or pieces of jade; here was a woven thing of gold and silver, in which the warp and woof lay close as tapestry, portraying as no tapestry could portray it the fabled valley of "Sinbad," in which the sands were gold, the sky silver, and the gems were gems indeed.
"Is this to thy mind?" Dolores cried, tossing to him a golden ball which by some amazing internal mechanism played fairy chimes as it whirled through the air.
Her lips parted in flushed pleasure at the result of her display, for John Pearse was smitten with the collector's fever. He missed her ball through sheer inability to tear his eyes from the other treasures. And as his brain began to grasp the stupendous truth, to more readily estimate values, his eyes turned from the more gaudy works of art, and noticed, for the first time clearly, the pricelessness of many greater things of canvas and wood, ivory and glass, with which the apartment abounded.
"Now thy heart craves my treasures, too, eh?" she chided, gliding to him and laying a hand on his head. Yet she felt glad of his awakened interest. It was merely another card she might yet have to play.
"Astounding!" he gasped. His gaze fastened upon a boule bric-a-brac stand, on which stood an Aretine vase two feet high, of peerless form and glaze. The ticking of the great Peter Hele clock drew his attention to a work of ebony and ivory as scarcely could be believed as coming from man's hands.
"Now thou'rt of a kind with thy fellows!" she cried in anger. "Look at me! No, thy eyes will not deign to seek me now!"
Pearse snatched his eyes away, and answered her with a laugh that sent her blood leaping again.
"My Dolores forgets she demanded my admiration for her treasures," he said. "What would you have, splendid one? Shall I say these treasures are still paltry, when I see their countless worth? Still I say you are the treasure beyond price. These are but a little more fitting for you. That is all. Am I forgiven?"
He leaped to his feet, seized her hand, and attempted to slip an arm about her waist. She, lithe as a leopard, slipped from his grasp with a glad laugh that rippled in a low murmur to his hot ears, and intensified the glare that had come into his eyes. She failed to see that glare. It was the glare of greed; stark and utter greed, that counted no cost and brooked no opposition in driving for its ends.
"Thou art forgiven indeed!" she replied, panting and disheveled, a thing of wondrous loveliness. "So far art thou forgiven that I shall put thy heart to the grand test at once. Of thy fellows none can compare with thee for scorn of wealth and desire of me. Sit down again, my man; let us reveal our inmost hearts to each other."
She told him, keeping him at provoking distance, of her heart-hunger for the outside world, the world of art and things of beauty. She thrilled him with her vibrant voice, mesmerized him with her distant, caressing touch and glorious, limpid eyes. She made his blood pulse hotly with desire with her soft-spoken offer of self-surrender to the man who should lead her from her sovereignty over human beasts and set her feet in the high places of the earth.
"And with these my treasures, I shall make my man a king in truth," she said, slipping along the couch toward him and laying both hands clasped on his arm. She threw back her head, shaking loose her great masses of lustrous hair, and poured her soul at him from half-closed, moist eyes that gleamed like midnight pools in starlight. "Yet must my chosen man assure me of his love for me, and his contempt for my riches. For, though my treasures shall be his, yet will I be first in his heart or forget him."
"And first you are, and shall be, Dolores," whispered Pearse, leaning his chin on her forehead and glaring covetously at the littered wealth of the chests. "What man of warm blood can see any other being or thing when Dolores is by?"
"Then come. I believe thee," she said, rising slowly. "Come with me, my man above price. See here."
She swept back a piece of tapestry at the rear of the chamber, and disclosed a dark and gloomy cavern, hewn out of the solid rock, as was the greater cavern. From a brazier she took a pine splinter, lighted it, and beckoned Pearse into the cave. And as soon as his eyes adjusted themselves to the gloom, he saw the place stowed tightly from floor to ceiling with kegs and half-casks, hooped and marked with black characters.
"Gold?" he gasped, perspiration starting to his brows.
"Gold!" Her rejoinder was tense, almost savage; she glared at him from under the torch, a quivering shape of disgust.
"Why, Dolores, don't look like that," he laughed. "I did but wonder. If this were all gold, it could not enhance your worth in my eyes."
"Then the proof will be easy. This is not gold. It is gunpowder. Our whole store. My rascals are not to be trusted with more powder than they can use at once. From this store I dole them out their rounds; thus are all safe. But at this moment I have other use for this powder. Stay here; or no, help me. It will be finished the sooner."
Dolores ran out into the great chamber again, Pearse following her wonderingly. She left him in wonder but a short time; for, gathering up a great armful of treasure she started back to the cave, crying: "Come, fill thy arms, too." He paused, and she took up his hesitation swiftly, feeling again a surge of doubt and disgust rise in her breast. She called to him, scornfully: "What, art afraid? Come, faint one; beyond here is my secret outlet from this place. Now art satisfied?"
And John Pearse followed into the cave, a-tingle with the hope that he was indeed the elect. He saw her fling her riches down on the tops of the kegs; she bade him do likewise, and then led the way back for more. And so she went, and so he followed; journey after journey was completed, until the gunpowder-kegs were almost buried beneath the wealth of an empire. Then the girl stepped outside, and called Milo. The giant appeared with silent speed.
"Milo, burst me one of these kegs," she ordered, and her voice forced Pearse's attention; it was so cold, passionless, utterly controlled. The keg was burst, and a trickle of coarse cannon powder ran on the floor.
"Lay a damp train out to the ledge over the grove, Milo!"
Milo disappeared through the gallery, trickling moistened powder from his fingers as he went. Then, when his voice sounded back along the passage, Dolores again took Pearse by the arm and said, looking him full in the eyes: "Thy test, friend. Here am I. Out there is the grove, and beyond it the sea. Take this torch. Put light to the powder train, and thou and I will depart in the white schooner. We shall leave nothing for these vultures to fight over. But together we will go far away into thy world, thee and me."
"And leave my friends here?" he asked, huskily.
"Ay, my man, but not alive!" she whispered, thrusting her dark, flushed face close to his, and letting her lips breathe their fragrance upon him. "They, thy friends, are not as my beasts. They have the brains of the white kings of the earth; they have the cunning which makes of all other races slaves and dependents. Leave them here, living, and in a day they will rule these rabble and together they will hunt us down. Come, haste. Put thy fire to the train."
"Not yet! Tell me what deviltry is to be worked upon my companions."
"Hah! Then thou'rt but lukewarm in thy love. Am I not Dolores? Am I not worth thy two friends? Listen, I'll tell thee my price, friend. If thy friends are to live, then destroy this trash ere we go, so that they get it not. If thy heart is bent upon saving this treasure, then thy hand must first put thy friends into their long sleep. Nay, peace! There is no alternative. The man who mates with me shall be a man indeed; no petty, squeamish lover whose weak heart sickens at removing a rival."
"Give me until morning," he replied, dry of throat, and pallid of face. "It is a terrible thing you ask, Dolores. Yet I dare not say the cost is too high. As for destroying these treasures, that I know is but a trick to try me. You could never go out into a new world and take a low station. That you would have to do if I set fire to that train." He suddenly darted a look of fierce challenge at her, "There!" he cried. "The trial is yours!"
He flung down his torch, and the powder-train began to splutter and fizz. Dolores flashed a look of approval at him, and burst into a ringing, happy laugh. She kicked aside the torch, and trampled out and relaid the train; then ran to Pearse impulsively, and said with simple earnestness that utterly deceived him:
"Now I believe in thee again, and for ever. 'Twas but to try thee, John. We will leave nothing of worth when we go. But that makes it the more imperative that thy friends have no power to harm us afterward. Think not that Dolores will take a lower station. I shall be queen wherever I go, and my man shall be made a king by my power.
"I give thee until noon to think over thy answer. Go, and the gods protect thee and make thee faithful to me."
Calling Milo back, she bade him conduct Pearse from the great chamber, and as they passed out, little Pascherette peered up at Pearse with an impudent smile, and with her head on one side like a bird she chattered:
"White stranger, thou'rt a fool! What Dolores wills, will surely come to pass. If thy heart fails thee, and thy friends are safe at thy hands, dost think they will have like scruples? Fool again! One of them will kill thee and the other, and that man will gain a peerless mate. And, bend down thy tall head, thou imitation giant—already thy two friends are liberated, each seeking the life of the other, though neither knows of the other's freedom!"
"What?" stammered Pearse, gripping the girl's slim shoulder fiercely. "If you lie—"
"Pshaw! One need not lie to befool thee!" Pascherette retorted scornfully. "Sleep, and if thy throat is not yet slit on thy awakening, make thy decision quickly, and tell it to Dolores."
Pearse would have answered her with more questioning, but she laughed at him, and bade Milo shut him out. So the great rock fell, and Pearse wandered into the camp, not knowing where he went, and caring little. He had no place to sleep, so far as he knew; yet he felt no wonder. He walked through the sleeping-camp, across the grove, and into the forest, his brain on fire and seething with the problem before him.
"The treasure, with or without the woman!" he muttered, clenching his hands savagely. "The treasure! Ye gods! There must be the wealth of Monte Cristo there!" He broke off into a harsh laugh at thought of his challenge with the torch. "The witch!" he chuckled. "She was clever, but John Pearse overreached her. Now I know her heart. But—"
He wandered on, and his mind was centered upon Venner and Tomlin. The more he thought over the situation, the more he found his ideas forming themselves after Dolores's.
"Why should I share it?" he asked of the winking stars.
And while he communed with himself regarding her and her demands, Dolores overlooked Milo in a task that brought a sparkle to her eyes and a gleaming smile to her lips. They were repacking the great treasure chests.
PASCHERETTE DEALS AGAIN.
Dolores spent her night in slumber as peaceful as a babe's. When Milo had completed his task with the treasure chests he went to his own couch. John Pearse wandered deep into the eery forest, his brain filled with tumultuous fancies, while Craik Tomlin and Rupert Venner lay in the dark before the open doors of their separate cells, struggling for a decision with their own good and evil natures. But Dolores, before retiring called Pascherette to dress her hair and gave the little octoroon some secret instructions against the morning.
"Now to thy bed, girl, and wake with bright eyes," said Dolores, her toilet completed. "Let thy busy tongue wag its liveliest then; see to it that the strangers hear whispers and rumors, yet keep them apart and from harm a while. Thy task with the other rabble is easy. I care not how they are divided. But divided they must be; to the point of mutiny. Go, and sweet dreams to thee."
It was then that a subtle happiness stole into Dolores's face; then her great luminous eyes closed slowly in utter peace; then that she lay down with a gentle sigh on her couch of furs and slept care-free and smiling.
Dreams not of the brightest might have ruffled her calm had she seen the night watch of her maid. For the moment Pascherette was dismissed, and gave a second thought to her orders, a light of dawning hope, prospective triumph, broke over the small, gold-tinted face and sleepiness fled for the night.
"Divided they shall be!" she whispered, and hugged herself rapturously. "Divided to her disaster and—Milo's triumph!"
Then the maid wrapped herself in a robe, and went out to the camp.
Like a fantom she appeared to Venner, and as swiftly vanished; but in the moment that she bent over him she whispered in his ear that Tomlin was the chosen of Dolores; that he and Pearse were doomed at the hands of their friend.
"I tell thee, watch," she said. "By noon to-morrow the truth shall be shown to thee." And in leaving him she placed in his hands the rapier that had been taken from him by Dolores.
To Tomlin next she appeared, and his rapier also she returned; but in his ear was breathed the name of John Pearse. To find Pearse himself was harder; but she waited, and shortly before the dawn he emerged from the forest and walked dully toward his own charred cell.
"Hah, my friend," she said to him, suddenly appearing from the shades. "I fear thy tardiness has defeated thee. Now thou'lt need to look to thyself, for the man Venner has vowed thy life to Dolores, and that of Tomlin."
"Surely. Why not? Is not Dolores worthy such a sacrifice then? Hah, but Venner is a man of decision. Thy eyes saw the treasure? It's lost to thee—unless—" she whispered, peering up into his angry face.
"Unless thou prove the better man. Dolores would have thee before all the rest, friend; but she despises a waverer. I tell thee thy fortune is yet in thy hands."
"Here, I have thy sword. Take it, and keep aloof and watch. When thou canst see men carrying the treasure chests out to the white vessel, then will be the time to strike. Join thyself with the men who seem faithful to my mistress. There will be fighting; and the spoils are for the victor."
Pearse would have stayed her, but she ran from him with a tantalizing laugh and vanished into the women's quarters.
In the morning, when the men had breakfasted, a hum of activity pervaded the place which was attributable to the octoroon's subtle influence. As if by prearrangement, men drew apart into little knots, each gathering about a leader and showing indecision until each man ascertained exactly where his fellows were going. Then Dolores appeared with Milo, and she faced four distinct parties before the great stone.
The sun was metallic in its redness, rising from behind a group of low-hanging, hazy clouds, casting its fierce beams on the point and the low shores of the anchorage. A brazen sky overtopped the scene, giving to green foliage and yellow sands alike, a glare as of terrific artificial light.
As Dolores appeared, the party headed by Caliban stepped forward, muttering angrily, and every man kept hand on knife or cutlass. Caliban himself, nervous and yet determined, glared at the formidable giant and suddenly sprang out alone, shaking his first at Milo, and working himself into greater fury. A frown darkened the face of Dolores; she had commanded Pascherette to bring about a condition of unrest, but nothing like this; for in all four parties was an attitude of suspicion of herself, not of each other. She spoke in a low voice to Milo, then raised her hand and advanced toward Caliban.
"Well, whelp of a deformed dog!" she cried. "What do ye seek with me? Is this the way I've taught thee to beg?"
"I beg nothing!" screamed Caliban, pacing to and fro restlessly. "We demand, not beg!"
"Demand? Have a care for thy loose tongue!"
"My tongue's my own! We are tired of thy trumpery state. Tired of thy mystery and falsity. We know thy plot—know thy cunning scheme to carry thy favorites away from here—to carry away the treasure that is ours, not thine! Think ye we men will let ye go, to set the dogs of war-ships upon us? Here and now we demand a settlement."
"Demand, again? Good Caliban"—she said softly, and smiled upon him—"thy training has been faulty. Come, I will answer thee."
"Ye answer us all, or none. I know thee too well to trust thee. Answer these men, who ask thy reason for keeping these three strangers to the detriment of thine own people. Sancho paid dearly for his sight of thy great chamber. Did the stranger who was in there with thee last night suffer, too?"
"That's the talk; answer!" shouted the crew, led by Caliban's band and supported less vociferously by the rest.
"Silence, then; I will answer!" cried Dolores, quivering with suppressed rage. She spoke again to Milo, then turned to face the mob, her head erect, her eyes ablaze.
She flashed a keen glance toward Pearse, who had sidled over to the band led by Stumpy, who seemed less accusative than the others; she nodded faintly, approvingly, and sought the others. Venner stood aloof, on the fringe of Hanglip's crowd; Tomlin stood almost by the side of Spotted Dog.
"I will answer. I see among ye men of troubled minds, who are not yet disposed to flout my authority. Thee, Caliban, I have forgiven before; yet here thou art, venturing again to confront me with demands. I will not reply to thee, nor to any one man or party. To ye all, my people, I have my answer. In one hour, in the grove, ye shall hear and be satisfied. That is my answer now. Come Milo."
She walked slowly and steadily straight through the midst of the muttering, grumbling mob, Milo at her back like a gargantuan shadow. And looking neither to one way or the other, meeting eyes that glared in her path with cold, dignified disdain, she proceeded through the camp, across the grove, and to the ledge behind the altar. Savage curses followed her; men jostled at her heels and dared Milo to prevent them; the giant, calm and cold as his mistress, moved forward like a human Juggernaut, laying a resistless hand upon a presuming shoulder here, flinging aside a leering ruffian there.
And as the mob thinned, and Dolores entered the cool glade, something in the situation which she had failed to realize before now struck her with force; she started at the thought, then uttered a low, rippling laugh of satisfaction. For Pascherette, in her cunning scheme of double-dealing, had played into her lady's hands to an extent unhoped for by Dolores.
"Milo, the wolves are ready to tear," she said. "And they shall tear—not me, but themselves! Didst note the three strangers? Even they shall help more than I had hoped." She stepped up behind the altar, and as she waited for Milo's assistance in climbing to the secret entrance to the great chamber she asked:
"Thy blow-pipe, hast forgotten its use."
"As soon forget the use of my fingers, Sultana!" replied the giant, permitting a grim smile to wrinkle his face for an instant.
"Then get thy darts. Have thy pipe ready here, thyself concealed, and watch thy time to strike. But first light the altar fires. The rogues believe in my magic no longer; I shall teach them anew, and such magic as shall convince some of them."
From the camp arose a babel of uproar, men shouting against each other, curses and threats alike aimed broadcast. And impatient of the delay, small groups straggled into the grove to wait, Stumpy's party first, their leader striving fiercely to quiet their noise. Dolores reappeared soon, dressed in her altar robe, and her flashing eyes told her quickly that John Pearse wavered between staying with his chosen party and going in search of his companions. She caught his eye, and smiled brightly at him, beckoning him to her.
He went up to the altar slowly, his face dark and sullen. She waited for him, ignoring the mutterings of the pirates, and as he approached her she gave him her hand.
"My friend, it pleases me to see thee among my faithful ones. Hast made thy decision?"
"Decision! False woman, the decision was made while yet I was with you. The decision was yours, not mine."
"False? Why, good John, what does that mean?" she asked, frank surprise on her face.
"Have you not taken Venner for your man? Is he not your chosen mate, at the price of my life and Tomlin's?"
"Fool!" she cried, fiercely. "Thy dreams have mixed thy brains. What nonsense is this? I told thee thou wert my man, at a price. But thy decision! Time is short. Say quickly what thou wilt do."
"Prove to me that I have heard that which is untrue, and I give you my answer at the hour you demanded it—at noon."
"If thou remain here, the proof shall be shown thee," she replied, dark with passion. Not yet had she quite seen through the cunning of Pascherette. And a growing tumult beyond the trees warned her of greater stress at hand, she had no more time to spare in argument with Pearse. She waved him back, and with fire in her eyes commanded Stumpy to take his men to one side.
"Stand there! Thy rascals will not dare to flout me!"
"We don't want to, lady," growled Stumpy, sullenly. He motioned his men to follow, and took up a position at the right of the altar. But he glared fearlessly at Dolores as he went, and added: "Ye have none more faithful than Stumpy, if thy heart is still with us and for us. But things begin to look plaguey rough, Dolores, since ye spared the white schooner and her owner."
Swiftly Dolores stepped down and glided to Stumpy's side, his men drawing back involuntarily, not in sufficient numbers to be able to cast off their old awe of her.
"Thy ear, good Stumpy," she whispered. "Art for thy fellow pirates, or for me? Speak quickly."
"I'm for you, lady," he replied, shifting awkwardly on his mutilated foot. "For you, but not if what we heard is true."
"I tell thee it was false. Now art for me?" She bent upon him a smile of dazzling beauty, soft-eyed and almost tender, and the pirate's face grew ashamed; he knelt at her feet in humble obeisance, and the girl laid her hand on his head, and bade him rise.
"Then remain faithful, Stumpy, and thou and thy men shall share in my fortunes. Look well to the stranger there. Keep him with thee. I hear the vultures coming."
She returned to the altar, took her place behind the swirling smoke, and stood motionless, awaiting the arrival of the crowd whose noisy progress could be traced step by step. And presently they broke into the grove, unawed and uproarious, Caliban leading. Still the parties kept apart. Hanglip and Spotted Dog ranged themselves on either side of Caliban's gang, and every eye glared redly at the statuesque figure at the altar.
"Answer! Give us yer answer!" cried Caliban.
"Hear, my people!" Dolores cried, raising her arms for silence. "My answer is this. Among ye is a traitor. That traitor has spread lies among ye. Ye are my people, and none other. Did I not save the white ship for ye? What if I preserved her people. They are here, and here they shall remain. Had I thought to desert ye, could I not have gone in the night? Who should say no? Am I not queen of ye all? Then why this childish talk of leaving ye?"
Dolores was carefully fighting for time; she wished to dissect the feeling of the crowd before her, and while she spoke her irrelevant nothings, her keen eyes roved over every face. And Spotted Dog drew and held her gaze as no other did; his face was awork with savage unbelief, his loose lips wreathed and curled in his impatience to speak. At last his fury could not be longer restrained; he sprang to the front, and howled:
"Lies, all lies! Thy chit of a maid—"
The words were choked in his throat with terrible suddenness. Like something unearthly, reaching from the unknown, the hand of death gripped Spotted Dog and he stumbled and fell forward, gnashing his teeth and clawing futilely at his breast. Dolores did not move. Her expression did not change. Milo had again proved faithful.
But others of Spotted Dog's band, the greatest malcontents, stood forward and peered down at their fallen leader; then with a shout of rage they leaped up, faced the altar, and urged their fellows on.
"More infernal witchcraft!" they cried. "Tear the black witch and her altar down!"
A moment of frightful silence followed, for the speakers felt the same mysterious hand that had reached for and grasped their leader. One by one they dropped in their tracks, smitten none knew how or whence; and even Pearse, with Stumpy's band, shivered at the terrible uncanniness of it. Then Caliban shook off his terror, sensed human agency in the silent death, and looked around for the hand that sped it. As he glared, a dart entered his own breast; but this one, ill-sped, failed in its mission. The pirate staggered, his eyes widened, then he seized the protruding dart. For an instant he hesitated; then taking the direction indicated by the slanting missile, he flung an arm toward Stumpy's crew and howled:
"There's the dog! There's the sudden death! Tear 'em up, bullies! Pull Stumpy down!"
In an instant the grove seethed with a terrific conflict, in which Stumpy's party was set upon by three times the number. And John Pearse was carried into the thick of the fight; unwilling or not, his skilled rapier began to take toll of the roaring furies about him. And while the battle raged, and Dolores stood calmly looking on, one of the pirates whose duties had kept him at the anchorage of the schooner appeared with a rush upon the scene and shouted:
"Lads, ye're being fooled! The slaves are even now taking the treasure down to the schooner!"
WHILE VICTORY HANGS IN THE BALANCE.
The cry rang through the Grove like a trumpet call, and the fight was stayed instantly. Every eye flashed upon the bringer of the news, and behind him stood Pascherette, partly hidden by the trees, her small, eager face peering from behind a trunk. And as she took in the scene, a great terror stole into her eyes and her lips opened in a gasp.
The octoroon had played her great coup. She had carried a lie to the pirate, hoping that his telling of the treasure to his fellows would precipitate such an assault upon Dolores that nothing could survive it. Now she saw the attack already launched without her connivance; she saw the pirate, dead, and saw Stumpy and one of the strangers stoutly defending the queen.
As she stared, at a loss, Caliban staggered out in front again, clutching at his wound, and screamed:
"Satan seize ye if that witch escapes ye now! Tear her down! Tear her down! Then none can keep the treasure from ye."
His last word ended in a sob. From the hidden giant another dart was sped truer, and Caliban pitched headlong on the steps of the altar. And Pascherette, terrified now that they would leave their work incomplete, swarm after the false treasure report, and thus leave her at the mercy of the enraged Dolores, frantically sought for Milo among the press. She knew nothing of his secret duty with the blow-pipe: seeing nothing of him among the defenders, she surmised he was inside on other duty bent. In desperation she placed all upon a single hazard, and, running out into the Grove she screamed:
"The man lies! It is a lie, to make ye forego thy vengeance. There is no treasure taken away. Make thy work complete!"
A medley of conflicting cries arose as the pirates again separated into three parties. Hanglip's crew, with those of the fallen Caliban, detached themselves from the rest and from two sides threatened the altar, where Dolores stood like a statue, glaring at her maid with deadly fury. Hanglip himself seemed irresolute in the face of the maid's denial; he stood with cutlas raised, not yet sure whether to attack or first see to the treasure story. The decision was made for him; for the pirate bringing the news, seized Pascherette in a fierce grip, and with knife at her breast shouted:
"This little snake told me the loot was going, lads! Get the job over, as I do this!"
Pascherette squirmed in the pirate's grasp, but all her cunning now could not avail her. The knife flashed downward, and she fell to her knees, her tiny golden hands pressed to her side, blood trickling through her fingers. And her face froze in a mask of horror when from behind Dolores stepped Milo, armed with a great broad-ax, and bent his deep black eyes full upon her with terrible accusation in them.
The giant saw the coming storm, and knew the futility of trying to stem it with his blow-pipe. He emerged, armed with his ax, at the moment when the pirates, answering their mate's cry with a shout, surged up the altar steps with blood in their eyes.
Dolores now shook off her seeming unconcern, and with alert vision took in the tremendous crisis. Stumpy's band, with Pearse at their leader's side, had been driven back in the first attack to the rock itself; and now stood with their backs to it grimly waiting for the second onset. They had fought hitherto for her; she saw to it that they did not change their allegiance. Leaping up to the ledge behind the altar, she cried:
"Stumpy! Thou'rt my man. Bring thy fellows up here; one man may hold a score here. Milo! Make way for my faithful ones!"
With Stumpy on the ledge, and his score of men, the battle became dead for the moment. Few of the pirates had firearms, except on forays, and then their ammunition was doled out to them. By this means they had ever been kept in subjection; and now the plan was to prove their undoing; for they could not reach their prey, whose cutlas points presented an insurmountable barrier to their storming the rock. And with John Pearse up there among the defenders, Tomlin and Venner found themselves wondering just what their own position was. They, unblinded by the rage of the pirates, saw the futility of storming that rocky wall with steel, and in the momentary hush and indecision they withdrew from the mob and stood apart, thinking over what was to come.
To Dolores, the hesitation of her foes was something she could not brook, for her great hope now was to set her rascals at each other's throats to their ultimate annihilation. She whispered into Milo's ear.
"Get thy blow-pipe again. Send a dart into Hanglip's black throat, and let every man see how 'tis done."
The giant obeyed. The slender, six-inch dart sped fair to its mark, and Hanglip dropped. But as he fell his eyes saw, as did his men, whence had come the mysterious death that had already taken heavy toll among them. And Dolores saw her plan work to amazing effect; for Hanglip, with his last wheezing breath, raised himself on his elbow, and barked:
"Now ye see the magic! 'Tis but a man's breath. Up, lads, and take pay for me!"
The assault started in grim, silent fury. In waves the attackers mounted the altar; men gave comrades backs, flung them upward, only to catch them again as they recoiled from the steel of the defense like broken seas at a rock base.
But as the fight advanced, and stricken men were piled high on the great altar, attacking steel reached higher and began to reap results. Stumpy's men, now fully persuaded of their queen's regard for them, fought like paladins, roaring out their rough sea-cries as they cut and stabbed with increasing gusto. Even Pearse fell under the spell of fierce action; his rapier played among the heavier strokes of cutlas and broad-knife like summer lightning. And did a hardy pirate gain the ledge in spite of all, there stood Milo, like a bronze Fate, with deadly ax poised to turn success into death. Yet Stumpy's little band grew less; and Dolores, standing over all like an Angel of Doom, saw that something must be done speedily unless she was to be left with too great a number of survivors from this lucky conflict.
"Make a swift assault, Stumpy. Milo, swing that great ax of thine for only five minutes," she said. Then when the fight raged higher yet, she drew Pearse by the arm into the secret entrance.
"Here, friend, are muskets and pistols. Load them while I pass them out. We shall see how hungry for our blood these wolves are."
She showed him the store of arms, in a small cave next to the powder store, and musket powder and bullets were also there. As he loaded the weapons, she passed them out in armfuls, then gave Stumpy a flask of powder for priming, and told him to hold out until Milo could bring up other resources as yet unknown.
"And," she said, leading Stumpy inside for a moment, "here you see a powder-train. There, on the floor. Now hear me, my faithful one, should thy foes still beat thee back, bring all thy men along this passage, but before ye come, touch a fire to this train. I shall await thee at the end, Stumpy, and together we shall see these dogs destroyed."
She called Milo, gave him a command, and then took Pearse with her into the great chamber. Here she answered his questioning glance with a soft smile, and seated him in the great chair.
"Thy sword has done nobly, good John," she said, laying her hand on his head. "The peril is over now. Rest. In a little while Milo will have that which will fill these hungry dogs to the gullet. Rest here. I'll soon be with thee." She leaned down, laid her lips lightly on his face, and whispered: "And be of good cheer; the end is in sight for thee and me."
She left him sitting there, wrapped in his confused thoughts. Then she flew to help Milo with his new engine of war which was to decide the day. From a corner of the apartment the giant dragged a brass culverin, mounted on a swivel, stolen from the poop-rail of some tall Indiaman in years gone by. This was charged with powder, and Milo searched for effective missiles for it. He brought a handful of musket balls to Dolores; she shook her head decidedly after a moment's thought and objected: "Those round pellets are too merciful for such cattle. What do they want? Treasure! Give them treasure, good Milo—their fill of it." As she spoke she ran swiftly into the treasure chamber and seized handfuls of gold chains, while at her command Milo followed her with great gold coins in his huge hands. These they rammed into the cannon, until links of gold fell from the muzzle; then Dolores regarded the terrible thing with a mirthless laugh and bade Milo get to work with it.
"Bid thy men fall back into the gallery as if beaten," she said. "And when the vile bodies of those howling wolves fill the opening, deliver the treasure to them, and may their souls be shattered with their bodies! And that none may remain to repeat this day's mischief, when they break and fly loose, Stumpy and his dogs shall harry them and pursue them into the depths of the forest. Let the maroons finish what we so well begin. See thy gun does not harm the— Wait," she cried, "hold thy artillery until ye see me across the Grove! I shall give thee a sign, then loose thy hell-blast."
Leaving Milo, she ran again through the great chamber and out by the rock door, which was rolled aside and standing open. Then around the mass of the mountain and skirting the grove, past the prostrate Pascherette she sped, casting a glance of bitter hate at the sorely wounded octoroon, but never halting until she reached a point of the underbrush immediately behind the spot where Venner and Tomlin still ranged back and forth uneasily watching the fight.
She rustled the foliage noisily, and the two men swung around in alarm. She thrust her head through the leafy screen, and showed them her face full of tender solicitude. Her great dark eyes were very soft; her scarlet lips were parted in a rosy smile. Venner glared at her, then flashed a glance of reawakening distrust at Tomlin, who returned it tenfold.
"Peace, good friends," she said, softly, laying a finger on her lips and nodding toward the raging battle. "Come with me. Both of ye. The day goes badly with me, and I would undo much that I have done toward ye. Come quickly, and with caution."
A momentary distrust for her made them hesitate; then she whispered intensely: "Haste. This is your opportunity."
Venner first shook off his moodiness and followed her into the brush; and Tomlin was close behind him. When she had them in covert, she stepped out once more, waited to catch Milo's eye at the ledge, then gave him the sign. And the defenders fell back as if suddenly broken and beaten. She waited still, until the attackers swarmed over their own dead, stamping over her altar, and gained the entrance, where they crowded in a milling, roaring mass. Then she glided back to the underbrush and said tersely:
Venner and Tomlin walked on either side of her, not caring to meet each other's eye, for their subjection to Dolores's spell was complete whenever in close proximity to her. Hurriedly she led them around the cliff to the great entrance, beyond which they had never stepped. And they went full of tremendous hopes and suspicions, in which the hope predominated; they failed even to cast a look at their schooner, then lying free at anchor, with a few men visible on her decks. Three of the pirates' long boats lay on the shore abreast of her.
They stood in the entrance to the great chamber, sensing some of the awe that filled the mysterious place, peering into the gloom where the ruby lights now failed to cast their glow in the broader light of day entering the open aperture. Dolores led them in with a gesture and a smile, and they reached the massive plated sliding door and stood beneath the yellow lantern, gazing in speechless wonder at the richness of that barrier. And while they waited, mystified and uneasy, from beyond the mountain came the crash of Milo's gun, and the tremendous discharge reverberated through and through the rock, making the passage where they stood rumble and quake as if the mountain were about to fall.
Their faces went white, and Dolores gave them a reassuring clasp of the hand while she pressed the side-post of the door and started the pulley and weight mechanism that would give them entry.
"Welcome, friends. Enter," she smiled, standing aside to permit them to pass. And Rupert Vernier and Craik Tomlin, forgetting their gloomy thoughts regarding each other, entered the great chamber, and were brought to a sudden halt at the sight of John Pearse sitting at his ease through the strife in the high chair of state.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK. Don't forget this magazine is issued weekly, and that you will get the continuation of this story without waiting a month.
The Pirate Woman
by Captain Dingle
Author of "The Coolie Ship," "Steward of the Westward," etc.
This story began in the All-Story Weekly for November 2.
DOLORES DEMANDS A DECISION.
Milo let loose his infernal blast, and the smashing report was followed by a hush as of death. Then through the blinding and choking powder-reek came the groans and shrieks of the mutilated wretches whose evil fate had placed them in the path of the horribly despatched treasure. The eye could not penetrate the smoke that filled the narrow rock passage; Stumpy and his men were blackened and smeared with smoke and sweat, demoniacal to the ultimate degree; and these were the men Milo hurled forth now to make the debacle complete.
"Out upon them!" he cried, urging Stumpy to the ledge. "Leave not one of these dogs alive, Stumpy, and thy fortune is made. Thy Sultana will reward thee magnificently. Out with ye!"
Stumpy hitched his poor clubfoot along in brave haste, and flourished his cutlas in a hand that dripped red. For once in his stormy life the crippled pirate felt something of the glow that pervaded the heart of devoted Milo: for a moment he felt he was redeeming himself by enlisting his undoubted courage in a worthy cause.
"At 'em, lads!" he roared, leaping down through the smoke. "Dolores, Dolores! Give 'em hell, bullies!"
He stumbled and fell, his crippled foot playing him false. He sprang up with a curse of pain, bit hard on his lip, and plunged into the huddled remnants of the attackers, his roaring bullies at his heels. His onslaught was the one thing needed to put terror into the hearts of the survivors of Milo's blast. Coming through the leek like so many devils, Stumpy and his crew put their foes to flight and followed eagerly, hungrily; the forest rang and echoed with the clash of action and the smashing of underbrush in panicky flight.
Now Milo, his duty to his Sultana performed, thought of Pascherette. The little octoroon lay where she had fallen, a pitiful little huddled heap; never once had her pain-dulled eyes left the giant, or the place where he might appear. And now she saw him coming toward her, not as a ministering angel, but like a figure of wrath, swinging his great broad-ax in one hand as easily as another man might swing a cutlas. She shivered as he stood over her, accusing.
"Milo!" she panted, gazing up at his magnificent height in plaintive supplication.
"Serpent!" he replied, and the utter contempt in his voice went to her heart like a sword-thrust. "Hast a God to pray to before I send thy false soul adrift?"
"I have but one God, Milo; to Him I should not pray."
She fixed her burning gaze upon him, and in her pained eyes blazed all the tremendous love that actuated her small being.
"A God thou canst not pray to, traitor? Art afraid, then?"
"Not afraid, Milo," she whispered, and her eyelids drooped. "I cannot pray to one who looks down upon me as thou dost."
"I?" The giant's expression changed to frowning displeasure rather than anger. "I?" he repeated.
"Thee, my heart. Thou'rt my god, my all. For thee I have done this thing. For thee, who even now canst not see where lies the falsity. Milo"—her weak voice sank to a low murmur—"I beg thy forgiveness. My love for thee caused me to sin. My life is to pay the supreme price. Let me die at least in thy forgiveness."
"Forgive? Forgive thee, who worked for the destruction of the being I worship? Rather shall I speed thy soul!"
Pascherette struggled to a kneeling position, crossed her tiny hands on her panting breast, and looked full into his eyes as a wounded hart looks at the hunter. Her lip quivered, her small, gold-tinted face, once so piquant and full of allure, had taken on a gray hue from her pain, but there was no hiding the great, overwhelming love for the giant that gleamed in her eyes.
"Milo," she said, and the word was a caress, "Milo, if thou must, strike swiftly. Yet again I ask, forgive."
The giant slowly lowered his great ax, and his honest heart answered the pitiful plea. His deep chest swelled and throbbed; into his face crept the look that had been there on that day when he told Pascherette he loved her—loved her, yet worshiped Dolores as his gods. Letting the ax fall to his elbow by the thong at the haft, he stooped and tenderly picked up the girl, carrying her as a child carries a doll; yet his face was averted from Pascherette's passionate lips that sought to kiss him.
"Not yet can I forgive thee," he said. "Be content that I shall not kill thee, girl. Perhaps, if thy acts have failed in their end, I may forgive thee; not yet."
He carried her around to the great rock, and through the passage into the great chamber, bursting in upon a situation of growing intensity. Dolores sat on a corner of the table, with all her seductive lures in her beautiful face, smiling invitingly at Rupert Venner. Craik Tomlin glared at both, yet his gaze seemed hard to restrain from wandering around the gorgeous chamber, whose wealth he saw now for the first time. Venner, too, had been seized by the jewel-hunger, although neither he, nor Tomlin, guessed at the immensely greater wealth that had been revealed to Pearse. As for Pearse, he sat glowering in his chair, nervous and smoldering; ready at a hint to draw steel without caring what the object. He simply saw rivalry where fifteen minutes before he had thought his own course clear.
Milo appeared to them; carrying his sobbing burden, and the interruption brought a blaze of fury to Dolores's face. She went pale, and her hands clenched and opened nervously.
"Well, slave?" she cried, and Milo started. Never had she used that tone to him.
"Sultana, I thought thou wert alone," he replied, haltingly. "I have brought Pascherette to thee for forgiveness."
"I forgive? Pish! What care I for thy chit? Take her where ye will, and trouble me not with such trash. Out, now! Let me not see her face again, and I care not what ye do with her. But haste. I have work for thee and a score of slaves. Bring them here quickly!"
Silently Milo bore Pascherette to the small room beyond the great chamber, which had been her resting-place while not in attendance on Dolores. And there, still shaking his head to her plea, though with deepening trouble in his eyes, he left her, crying herself into a fitful slumber.
Then with slaves dragged from the corners where they had cowered during the fight, he entered the great chamber, and at Dolores's command set them to carrying out the closed treasure-chests that stood in their old places around the walls.
And the sight of the great chests actually going out brought fiery jealousy back to the eyes of the three yachtsmen. Now Dolores half-closed her own inscrutable eyes, and watched them, catlike, cunning. Pearse sprang from the great chair and began pacing the floor in a heat. Venner alone seemed to retain any vestige of control over his feelings; and he rapidly lost his color and began to peer about him.
One chest went out, and the cries of the slaves could be heard as they lowered it over the cliff. They returned for another, and now Dolores leaped to her feet and followed them, flinging over her shoulder a smile of invitation. Pearse answered instantly; the others paused. Then she laughed like a siren and held out her hands to the hesitant ones, and said softly and pleasantly:
"Have no fears, timid ones. Thy minds are indeed hard to fathom. I but want to show thee how I am repaying thee for thy sufferings here. Come."
They followed her, and together they entered the rocky tunnel. At the end of it the yellow sunlight blazed like a fire, in the circular aperture was framed a picture of wonderful beauty. The blue sky, flecked with fleecy cloudlets, filled the upper half of the circle; then the sparkling sea of deeper blue lifted its dazzling whitecaps to the kiss of the trades and formed a gem-like background for the brazen sands, the glowing green-and-purple of the Point, and the dainty ivory-and-gold of the white schooner.
It was all mellowed and diminished as seen through a glass at great distance; and on the shore the men toiling to load a great treasure-chest into a long-boat looked like tiny manikins posed about a delicate model of marine life. The second chest yet stood on the cliff-edge, slaves about it lashing double slings and tackles that led from a boulder for lowering it down.
Dolores stepped back, permitting the three men to take in the view without restriction. And she watched them again, her face enigmatic if they glanced at her, breaking into an expression of nearing triumph when they looked away, and left her free to scrutinize them. She saw John Pearse step a pace behind the others, and his fingers clutched absently at his rapier-hilt while the veins on his neck stood out and throbbed like live things.
"One more chest, perhaps two, and I shall see who will be my man!" she whispered to herself.
Then she left them without a word, and returned to the great chamber, where she snatched up an immense rope of pearls and resumed her seat on the edge of the table. There she sat, giving them no glance, when the three men came back, hastily, uneasily, one behind the other, with Tomlin bringing up the rear, scowling at Venner's back malevolently.
Idly now Dolores rolled her pearls on the table, and one by one she crushed them with her dagger-hilt—crushed in one moment the wealth of many a petty princeling, and still crushed gem after gem without so much as a flicker of interest on her cool face. The three men glared at her, and at each other, and the stress they were under could be felt like an impending electric storm. Tomlin's teeth gritted together harshly, his lips were dripping saliva, and he could stand it no longer. He stepped suddenly before Dolores, seized her hands, and cried:
"Woman, you are mad! Do you know what those things are? They are pearls, woman, pearls! Stop this crazy destruction, and in God's name let us go before you madden us."
Dolores turned her cool gaze upon him, drew her hand away easily yet without apparent effort, and crushed another pearl between her gleaming teeth.
"Pearls?" she repeated, tossing away the shattered gem. "Pearls, yes, friend. What of it? Do ye value these trifles, then? Pish! I have such things as these, aye, one for every hair on thy hot head. But let ye go—ha! That is in thy hands, my friend, thine and thy companions."
"Yes, we know your price!" gasped Venner hoarsely, staring full into her eyes. "But what is to prevent us now, when we have you alone, and that great giant is away, from binding you fast and sailing away with the treasure you have already put in my vessel?"
"What can prevent?" she echoed, simulating surprise that such a question should occur to any one. "Nothing shall prevent, my friend, if any of ye think to try it. Have I not said my treasure is for the man who wins it. Am I not waiting for the man able to take it, that I may go with him, too? Here—" She suddenly flung down the pearls at Tomlin's feet, glided close to Venner, and thrust her red lips up to him, her violet eyes like brimming pools behind her drooping lashes. "Here, tie me, my Rupert. Here are my hands; there my feet. Bind me well, and go if thou canst. What, wilt thou not? There, I knew thee better than thou knowest thyself."
She stepped back with a low laugh, and her arm brushed his cheek, sending the hot blood surging to his temples. John Pearse crouched toward Venner, as if waiting for him to lay a finger on Dolores at his peril. She smiled at all three, and stepped over to the side of the chamber, where she carelessly pointed out sacred vessels and altar furnishings, gems of art and jewel-crusted lamps.
"Here, also, is a reason why ye will not go, my friends. Your eyes, accustomed to these things in the great world outside, dare not ignore their worth. And I tell ye that all the treasure now going to the vessel could not purchase the thousandth part of my real treasure, which I will not show, until I know my man." She glanced at Pearse as she spoke, and saw rising greed in his eyes. He had seen the real treasure; he was ripe for her hand. Milo and his slaves returned for another chest, and Dolores waited until they had gone; then she glided swiftly toward the passage, and turned at the door.
"I shall return in fifteen minutes, gentlemen," she said. "Then my man must be ready, or I will drop the great rock at the entrance, and leave ye all three caged here until ye die. For go I will, mated or mateless, with all my treasure, ere the sun sinks into the western sea." And as she left them she flashed a look of appeal at John Pearse.
THE SLUMBERING SAVAGE.
Pearse followed her with his eyes until she vanished into the passage; then with muttering lips and harshly working features he strode down the chamber to the great tapestry behind which lay the powder store. The suspicion had come to him that Dolores was fooling them all regarding her real treasure; for he believed she had shown him everything, and if those heavy chests contained but a tithe of the whole, life was certain that the gems around the walls were not what she meant when she said she had still a thousand times greater riches than the chests contained.
He tore aside the tapestry, and tried to see through the gloom of the cavern. His eyes could not pierce the blackness, and he looked around for a light, while Venner and Tomlin walked toward him with sudden interest in their faces. Over the tall Hele clock a lantern hung; a gaudy thing of beaten gold, in which an oil wick burned, gleaming out in multicolored light through openings glazed with turquoise and sapphire, ruby, and emerald. He took this down, and impatiently tore away the side of it to secure a stronger light. Again he went to the powder store, and now Venner and Tomlin were at his back, peering over his shoulder or under his arms in curiosity as to his quest.
And, sensing their presence, he swung around upon them savagely, muffling the cry that answered the message of his eyes. Flinging the lantern down, he trampled it out, and with snarling teeth he faced them, his rapier flickering from the sheath like a dart of lightning.
"Back!" he barked, and advanced one foot, falling into a guard. "This is no concern of yours, Venner, nor yours, Tomlin. Back, I say!"
Tomlin stared into his furious face and laughed greedily. His keen eyes had seen a vague, shadowy something in the cavern, that filled him with the same passion which consumed Pearse.
"So you are the lucky one, eh, Pearse?" he chuckled, and his hand went to his own rapier. He stepped back a pace, and, never taking his eyes from Pearse, cried: "Venner, it's you and me against the devil and Pearse! A pretty plot to fool us, indeed; but Pearse was too eager. Peep into that hole, man, and see!"
Venner glared from one to the other, not yet inflamed as they were. But what he saw in their faces convinced him that great stakes were up to be played for, and he edged forward bent upon seeing for himself.
"Back!" screamed Pearse, presenting his rapier at Venner's breast. Venner persisted, and the steel pricked him. Then, as Tomlin's weapon rasped out, Venner's blood leaped to fighting-heat with his slight wound, and in the next instant the three-sided duel was hotly in progress.
Three-sided it became after the first exchanges. For Pearse, the most skilled in fence, applied himself to Venner as his most dangerous foe, and with the cunning of the serpent Craik Tomlin saw and seized his own opportunity. Let Pearse and Venner kill each other, or let that end be accomplished with his outside help, and there was the solution that Dolores had demanded them to work out; one of them left, to be master of the wealth of Croesus; to be the mate of a magnificent creature, who could be goddess or she-devil at will.
With a satanic chuckle Tomlin drew back, leaving his friends to fight themselves weary, his own rapier ever presented toward them, urging them on with lashing tongue. And Venner flashed a look at him as Caesar did at Brutus, and suffered for his lapse in vigilance. For with the pounce of a leopard Pearse was upon him, and his rapier grated over Venner's guard and darted straight at his throat. But Venner's time had not come yet; Tomlin flashed his own weapon in and parried the stroke for him, backing away again with a murderous snarl.
"Not yet, my friends!" he cried. "You're too strong yet, Pearse. At him, Venner; let me see you draw blood as he has, that I may see my own way clearer."
From the other end of the great chamber Dolores watched the conflict from the concealment of the velvet hangings over the door; and her hands were clasped in ecstasy, her lips parted to the swift breathing that agitated her breast; in her blazing eyes her wicked soul lurked, sending out its evil aura to envelop the combatants and instil deeper hatred into them.
The fight raged back and forth around the powder store; once a sudden onslaught by Pearse forced Venner back to the great chair; Tomlin's swift rush to keep close brought all three into a tumbled crash at the dais, and the chair was overturned in a heap of flying draperies that entangled their feet. And while Pearse and Venner struggled vainly to maintain their footing, Tomlin began to accomplish his own dire ends. Crouching, with his dark face full of evil passions, he drove his point first at one, then at the other, stabbing through the involved silk and skins.
In his furious haste to complete his murderous work, he sprang forward carelessly, his foot became entangled, and he pitched face downward upon his victims. Now Pearse seized the opening; but when he arose, stumblingly, there was a different expression on his face, a horror-stricken realization of Tomlin's treachery. Venner lay, still unable to disentangle himself, but slightly hurt, and he, too, regarded Tomlin with a look of sorrow and reawakening sanity.
"Up, murderer, and fight!" rasped Pearse, stepping astride Venner and glaring down at Tomlin. "Venner, draw aside. Let me punish this scoundrel we have called friend; then meet me if you wish."
Tomlin looked up with a snarl of baffled rage, expecting swift reprisal for his treacherous attempt. Gone was the last vestige of civilization from his face; greed of gold, jewel-hunger, blood-lust, all played about his reddened eyes and cruel, down-drawn mouth. The primitive came through the veneer of culture and showed him the man he really was. And evil though his spirit had proved, in this final test his courage showed up like that of the tiger. He leaned on one elbow, watching Pearse like a cat, then slowly knelt and stood, keeping his point down. With the bestial cunning that had overwhelmed him, he circled away from the trappings and draperies of the chair that had brought him down, and responded to Pearse's chivalrous waiting with a sneer.
"You had better have made sure while you had the chance, Pearse," he grinned, showing his teeth wolfishly. "Venner can wait. There is no treasure for three; Dolores is mine! Guard!"
With the word Tomlin made a savage attack without waiting for Pearse to fall into guard. And Dolores came from her concealment, advanced half-way down the chamber, and watched with a new intensity that was not apparent while Venner was in the fight.
Pearse avoided his opponent's thrust at the expense of a pierced left hand, which caught the other's point a hand-breadth from his breast. Then the duel dropped to equality. Swift and silent they fought, silent save for the rasp and screech of steel on steel, their feet padding noiselessly on the deep-piled carpet. Venner drew aside and watched, his eyes losing their hard glare, and some of his old expression returned to his face. It was as if his resurging emotions were bringing back to him the shame and remorse of a gentleman inveigled into performing a despicable action. He, too, saw Dolores approaching; saw the tensity of her expression; sensed some of the tremendous hopes that actuated her, now that she saw the rapid culmination of all her plots and seductions.
She stood quite near to him now, leaning forward in an attitude of utter anxiety. She saw nothing of Venner; her great, violet eyes were dusky and full of yearning, her hands clutched at her breast. And all the intensity of her gaze was fixed upon Tomlin. She responded to his momentary success when he drove Pearse back with a savage assault, with a panting little cry of joy; she fell back with widened eyes when a counter-attack forced Tomlin almost upon her. And her lips opened in a gasp when a vicious clash of steel told of a pressed onslaught, and Pearse lunged heavily forward.
In the instant when Pearse followed his first plunge, Dolores stood in uncertainty through which dawned jubilation. Then her face went white, she seemed to lose all her splendid vitality; for her astounded eyes fastened upon Pearse's rapier-point, protruding a foot from Tomlin's back, and slowly the stricken man sagged away and fell at her feet, clutching at the steel at his breast and snarling like a beast.
A hush fell over the great chamber. Then from a distance came the sound of voices, voices of men down at the shore, ringing clear and sharp on the still air, accentuating the deathly hush that clung around the actors in the scene like a heavy mantle. It startled Dolores into renewed life. She ran with feverish eagerness toward Tomlin, hurling aside the others, and crouching upon the body in dry-eyed rage.
Venner sought to catch the eye of the victor, and saw in Pearse a reflection of the feelings that had possessed himself. John Pearse showed every sign of horror and awakened sanity that had marked his own expression before the fatal fight had started. Their eyes met, and there was no challenge in them. Both dropped their gaze involuntarily upon the huddled figures at their feet; and it was Pearse, the man who had precipitated the conflict at first, who nodded with his head a silent invitation to withdraw. Venner stepped after him, softly and with bowed shoulders, shuddering violently as he passed the expiring Tomlin.
They reached the door together, and with the rocky tunnel open before them, once more holding up to their eyes the picture of absolute beauty of sea and sky and shore, they filled their lungs with fresh, wholesome air, and shook off the last of the evil spell that had held them.
"In God's name, Pearse, let us fly from this hellish place!" whispered Venner, dropping his rapier to the rocky floor with a clatter, and thrusting his hand out in reconciliation.
"Yes, Venner, and pray Heaven we may forget!" replied Pearse fervently. "But how shall we get away? The giant and his crew are yet at the schooner."
"We must wait. They will return soon for more booty. Then we must seize the chance. Is that somebody coming now?"
Milo's great shoulders reared above the cliff, and behind him came the slaves. They came directly toward the great rock, and Pearse flattened himself against the wall in the shadow of the portals, pressing Venner back also with a hand across his chest.
"Hush! Hide here. Let them enter, and we'll make one leap for the shore."
The giant swung into the passage, his black eyes blazing with some emotion that the hidden pair could not fathom. It was something on the border of fear, but of what? Fear and Milo was a combination hard of reconciliation. The slaves at his heels followed dumbly, slaves in thought and action; if their dulled brains ever awoke, it was but to the call of animal appetites; they were incapable of devotion such as Milo's, and as incapable of shock should their obedience fail reward. They passed into the great chamber, and a throaty cry of alarm burst from the giant at the sight of his Sultana prone on the floor.
"Now!" whispered Pearse, taking the lead. "Swift and silent!"
Like ghosts they ran from the tunnel, glanced around once as they reached the cliff path, then leaped down the declivity. That swift glance showed them the camp deserted except for the wondering women, who wandered idly among the empty huts, ever looking toward the forest wherein had vanished all their men, waiting with bovine patience for any one to settle their uncertainty for them.
And the forest was yet very still. The Feu Follette lay at a single anchor, heading in the light breeze fair to seaward; a few heads showed above her rail, and the stops had been cast off from her snowy sails. At her gangway a single boat lay, the painter made fast on deck; on the foreshore the other two long-boats were drawn up on the sand, planks running up to their sides in readiness for the embarkation of yet more treasure.
Venner and Pearse raced down the steep path, using little precaution, sending showers of stones and clods flying before them. And Peters, the schooner's sailing-master, saw them coming, and his voice rang out calling for hands to man the boat. Two men answered and entered the boat as the two fugitives reached the shore and ran along the Point. Pearse counted the minutes at their disposal, and saw the futility of waiting for that boat. He clutched eagerly at Venner's arm, and panted in his ear:
"Tell them to hold on! Let them get the schooner ready for swift departure. Come, we must swim for it."
Venner hesitated but a second. Then his hail went hurtling over the still haven, and the two seamen scrambled out of the boat again.
"Swim it is, Pearse," he said, leading the way down to deep water. "Swim it is, and may the ever-cleansing sea wash out of us the last traces of insanity."
Together they plunged into the blue sea and swam swiftly out to the schooner.
THE FLIGHT OF THE FEU FOLLETTE.
Dolores, flinging herself down upon Craik Tomlin, seized his face between her hands and raised his head, placing her knee beneath it. She panted like an exhausted doe, yet the fire that leaped from her eyes gave the lie to her attitude of sorrowing humility. Her lips moved feverishly, but she could not or would not speak aloud. Tomlin's eyes were closed in agony, his teeth were clenched tightly upon his under lip; he gave no sign that he knew of her presence. And a sudden fury seized her at his irresponsiveness. She shook his head between her hands savagely.
"Wake! Speak!" she cried hoarsely. "Art indeed dead, at the moment of my triumph?"
Tomlin's eyelids flickered, and his lips strove to speak. One hand went weakly to his face, to grasp her fingers. And into her anxious ear he managed to whisper:
"Evil luck fought with me, Dolores. Yet I die content if you care."
"Care!" she echoed, shaking his fingers loose impatiently. "Care? Yes, this I care, bungler: I care because of all three of thee, thou alone wert covetous enough to obey my conditions. With thee alive, there was hope of thy friends' speedy death. With thee dead, which of the others will wipe his fellow from his path for me? Why, think ye, did I fawn on John Pearse? But to arouse in thee the demon of jealousy; why did I smile on Venner, and call him my Rupert? To steel thy arm against him. And for what?"
She suddenly laid his head down on the floor, leaned over him with her lips almost brushing his cheek, and whispered fiercely: "Speak! Canst live?"
Tomlin's face lost some of its pain. The thin lips straightened into the semblance of a faint smile. His glazing eyes opened slightly.
"I am done for," he whispered. "Dolores, kiss me again. I die for you."
The beautiful fury sprang to her feet, spurning him. She glared down at his chalky face in utter scorn.
"Kiss thee? Thou die for me? Pah! I kiss no carrion. A half-hundred men have died for me this day, I hope. I kiss him who lives for me and conquers, not the weakling who dies!"
Without deigning another glance at her victim, she turned away and went to meet Milo. He now entered with his slaves.
"Where are the two strangers?" she demanded harshly.
Milo returned her stare with a look of simple surprise. He had seen nothing of them, and had thought of them being yet with his mistress.
"I saw them not, Sultana," he replied.
"Saw them not, great clod!" she blazed at him, clenching her hands in rage. "Are they here, then?"
Milo looked around in bewilderment. In all her life Dolores had been his especial care; in her many moments of temper she had perhaps pained his devoted heart, but never had she used to him the tone she now used. It seemed to his simple soul that the foundations of his faith were being wrenched loose.
"I will find them, Sultana," he said quietly, and turned to leave by the tunnel.
"Stay here, thou blind fool!" she commanded him. "I will find them myself. Here is work more fitting for a slave. How many chests are going to the ship?"
"And how many have ye yet empty here?"
"Then get them quickly. Until I return, bid thy fellows replace the treasure that is still in the powder store. And haste, for I will leave this place this day, though all the fiends say no."
She ran along the tunnel, and Milo set his men to their task. As he passed along to the powder chamber, a low moan arrested him, and he halted in sudden remorse for Pascherette, whom he now felt he had judged harshly. He left his fellows and went to the tiny alcove where the little octoroon lay, and his great heart leaped in response to the worship that shone in her dark eyes. He saw the dry and cracked lips, the flushed face, and fetched water and wine before he would speak to her. Then, with her small head and slender shoulders against his immense chest, he gave her drink, soothing her pain with soft speech and caressing hand.
Pascherette's wound was deep, and bleeding internally; a fever already burned in the tiny maid's veins. She peered up at him wistfully, all of her mischief, all her piquancy gone and replaced by a softened, humbled expression that wrung Milo's heart-strings.
"Will ye not kiss me now, Milo?" she whispered, with a pearly drop brimming from each eye, where laughter had so lately dwelt.
"Pascherette, thy fault was great," he answered, yet in his face was a look so forgiving, so excusing, that the girl shivered expectantly and closed her eyes with a happy sigh.
Yet the kiss was not given. From the great chamber the angry voice of Dolores rang out.
"Milo! Where art thou, slave!"
And the giant tenderly laid Pascherette down again, and ran in answer.
"Blind, idle dolt! While thou art fondling that serpent of thine, thy mistress's affairs may go hang! Haste with the treasure, or feel my anger. While thy useless eyes were mooning on nothing, the strangers have escaped. They are even now getting sail on the white vessel. Carry the chests down to the Point as soon as ye may. I will stay them yet, and they shall learn the cost of flouting Dolores! Hasten, I tell ye!"
Milo winced at her address; his black eyes, usually holding the utter devotion of a noble dog, glittered with tiny sparks of resentment; yet the habit of years could not be lightly cast off, and he bowed low, even while Dolores had turned her back on him, and picked up a great empty chest to carry it to the powder store. Here in the flickering light of a pine splinter the slaves worked feverishly, their abject eyes sparkling with borrowed radiance from the riches they handled.
And while they worked, Dolores emerged from the tunnel, flashed one long glance of derision at the moving schooner, and sped down the cliff to stop her flight.
The Feu Follette was poorly enough manned with Peters and his four men. With the ready help of Venner and Pearse the getting of the anchor and the hoisting of the heavy fore and main sails was an arduous job, but it was accomplished under the tremendous urge of remembrance. None wished to have the experiences of the past days repeated; Peters was anxious to get his beautiful vessel into safer waters; the Feu Follette's owner and his guest were doubly anxious to drop those blue hills of ominous memory below the horizon forever. They gave scant attention to the three great iron-bound chests that stood between the guns along the waist; getting clear occupied every faculty.
The tide setting directly on the Point, with a breeze dead in from seaward, forced the schooner perilously close to the bar that had been her undoing before; but, with the lead going, Peters speedily found that his previous mishap must undoubtedly have been due to clever misleading. After touching lightly once, and getting deeper water at the next cast over the lee side, he understood the trick of the extended false Point and stood boldly along shore.
And as the schooner gathered steerage-way, hugging the Point closely, Dolores ran out along the sandy beach and plunged into the sea abreast the moving vessel.
"Here's that vixen woman, sir!" cried Peters angrily, looking toward Venner for instructions. Peters had the helm, and owner and guest stood against the companion, ready to lend a hand at the sheets, forward or aft.
Venner and Pearse stared at the swimmer, then turned and gazed searchingly at each other. In the face of each lingered a trace of the subjection they had fallen under; neither could quite so quickly forget the allurements of this woman. Her kisses had been as sweet as her fury had been terrible; and the absence of Craik Tomlin was an additional incentive to memory.
"Shall we take her away?" asked Venner, avoiding Pearse's eye as he put the question.
"Can't you make more sail, Peters?" was Pearse's reply.
Venner laughed softly, agreeably; and the next moment Dolores hailed them. She swam swiftly, with effortless ease, slipping through the sea like a sparkling nymph in her native element. But the schooner traveled fast, and, though she lost no ground, she gained but slowly. She hailed again.
"Rupert, my Rupert!" and finished the cry with a rippling laugh. "Art stealing my treasure and leaving me?"