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The Pirate of Panama - A Tale of the Fight for Buried Treasure
by William MacLeod Raine
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"Keep a lookout, Alderson," the captain ordered, while he unbuttoned my coat. "Tom, you'd better take a look around and size up the damage."

"Mott is dead. I found his body in the cabin," I told our chief.

"I was afraid of it. With Mott gone and Dugan wounded we were short two men at the beginning of the scrimmage. Eight to fourteen—devilish long odds. Easy with that sleeve there. Here you, Billie Blue, get me a sponge and a basin of water. And tell Miss Wallace to bring her sticking plaster."

Morgan, very white, was sitting on the opposite lounge trying to stop with a handkerchief the blood from a scalp wound. From where I lay I could see the body of Williams just outside the saloon. A stray bullet from one of the retreating mutineers had killed him at the very close of the battle.

Altogether that left us five sound men, counting Blue as a man, and three wounded ones. The pirates had suffered more. One I had disposed of at the first rush, just before they reached the cabin, and the flunky had wounded one of the firemen.

Yeager had picked off Johnson in the run for the bridge, and Sam had wounded Caine. In addition to these at least two more had been blooded in the scrimmage at close quarters outside the wheelhouse.

"Eight of them left against five of us, not counting the wounded on either side," Yeager summed up.

"What has become of Philips?" I asked, remembering that I had not seen him since the row began.

"Thought I saw him run down stairs when the beggars poured in on us here, sir," Alderson answered.

Later the poor fellow was found in his berth, trembling like an aspen leaf. He had locked his door and buried his face in the pillows.

A shock of red hair above a very white face appeared at the head of the companionway. "Is—is it all over?" gasped a small voice.

"Yes, Jimmie, right now it is. And you'll notice that we're still sticking to the saddle, son, and not pulling leather either," observed the plainsman cheerfully.

"I—I didn't know it would be like this," murmured the boy. "I thought——" His voice tailed out and he dropped limply into a seat, his fascinated eyes fixed on my bleeding arm.

Yeager clasped a hand on the boy's shoulder.

"Brace up, kid. The first round is ours, strong. We've had to hustle, but I reckon we've given them a hectic time of it. They'll not bother us for quite some hours. Captain Bothwell is busy explaining to a real sore outfit just why his plans miscarried."

"Is Mr. Sedgwick—killed?" asked the boy, swallowing hard.

I laughed faintly.

"He's worth a dozen dead men yet, Jimmie."

And to prove it I fell back among the pillows, unconscious.



CHAPTER XV

THE MORNING AFTER

My opening eyes fell upon Evelyn. She was putting the last touches to the bandage on my arm, which was already dressed and bound. Evidently I had been unconscious some time.

"It's all right. We won," were my first words to her.

"I know," she answered with a faint glow of color. "Thanks to the brave men who risked their lives for us!"

"Poor Williams was killed, and Morgan was hurt. Has his wound been looked to?"

"On the job now," sang out Yeager. "When I get through with him he'll be as good as new. Eh, Morgan?"

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," returned that impassive individual.

"Where's Sam?" I asked.

"Back at the wheel."

"Alone?"

"Alderson is with him. Don't worry about them. You couldn't dynamite that bunch of pirates on deck just now. There'll be nothing doing until they get Dutch courage from the bottle. We jolted them a heap harder than they did us," Tom rejoined lightly.

It was all very well for him to keep up his cheerful talk to raise the spirits of our friends, but I did not forget the fact that since the beginning of hostilities we had lost as many men as they had in killed, and only one less in wounded. To be sure, with the exception of Dugan, their disabled were in worse condition than ours. Morgan had only a scratch, and a day or two of rest would set me right.

"Time is fighting for us too, you bet," continued Tom briskly. "We're a unit, and I'll bet they're pulling already every which way. We've got them traveling south, Miss Wallace."

Perhaps his cheerful, matter-of-fact talk was the best possible tonic for the depression which had settled upon us. I could not help think what a blessing it was that we had picked up at Los Angeles this competent frontiersman whose strong, brown hands could make or dress a wound with equal skill.

It was plain to me that during the next few hours I would not be of much use. Out of ten thousand, Tom Yeager was the one I would have picked to take charge of the defense in my absence.

When a few minutes later the beat of the screw began again the sound of it was like wine to me. It meant that, for the present, the mutineers had had enough. They would join in a tacit truce while the yacht was being worked south.

"Help Mr. Sedgwick down to his cabin, Morgan, and then both of you turn in for a few hours' sleep. We'll look out for trouble. Won't we, Jimmie? You and I and Billie Blue, eh?"

"Yes, Mr. Yeager."

"You'll call us if another attack threatens?" I asked.

"Sure."

The steady throb—throb—throb of the propeller was again shaking the yacht as she took up her journey. This might be a ruse to throw us off our guard, but I did not think so. The enemy was badly demoralized, and the chances were that Bothwell would welcome a chance to whip his forces into shape again.

"Is the door from the galley to the main deck locked and nailed up, Billie?" I asked of the flunky.

"Yes, sir."

"Nail planks across the window too. Philips will help you get dinner if you can find him. I'll expect you to see that our party is well fed."

"Yes, sir," the young fellow promised.

"You must go to your room at a moment's notice, Miss Wallace. Have Philips nail up your porthole. You need not be a bit afraid. We hold a very safe position at present. Get all the sleep you can to-night."

"That's good advice, Mr. Sedgwick. Take it yourself," she returned with a little flicker of a wan smile.

For an instant her hand, warm and firm, rested in mine. If I had not been sure of my love before, there was no uncertainty now. While her brave eyes met mine I seemed to drown fathoms deep in the blue of them. Trouble was what I read in them, but part of that trouble was for me. I gloried in that certainty.

She might not love me—it was presumptuous to suppose she did—but at least I held a place in her regard. That was the thought I carried with me down-stairs, and it stayed pleasantly with me till I fell asleep in spite of the pain in my arm.

About nine o'clock I was awakened by a knock on the door. Philips had brought me dinner on a tray.

His eye would not meet mine. He was ashamed because he had shown the white feather in the scrimmage.

"I—I've got a wife and three little children, sir," he blurted out before he left.

I nodded pleasantly at him.

"You're going to see them again. But you must help us beat those ruffians. You see we can do it. We've done it once."

"Yes, sir. I—hope to do better next time."

"I'm sure you will, Philips."

We shook hands on it.

I must have fallen asleep again almost immediately. When I opened my eyes it was day. I pushed the electric bell. Philips presently appeared.

"All well?" I asked him.

"Yes, sir. No more trouble. The yacht is still on her course. Doing about nine knots I should judge."

"Heard from Dugan this morning?"

"He isn't doing just what you could call first rate, sir. I think he is delirious. Miss Wallace and Miss Berry are taking care of him by turns."

"And Morgan?"

"Quite all right, sir. Your arm must be stiff. Shall I shave you this morning? I used to be a barber, sir."

"Thanks. If you have time."

Breakfast was served in the English fashion, for it was necessary to keep some one on guard all the time. The Arizonian was making play with a platter of bacon and fried eggs when I joined him.

"How d'ye do? Ready for the round-up again?" he asked cheerfully, with his mouth full.

"My arm's stiff, and when I move there's a pain jumps in it. Otherwise I'm fit as a fiddle. Anything new in the way of trouble?"

"Not a thing. We've arranged a code of signals with our friends at the wheel. You'll find the code pasted up in the saloon. Say, what do you think? That girl slipped out with breakfast for Cap. Blythe and Alderson while I wasn't looking."

"Crossed the deck with it?"

"That's whatever, and sauntered back as cool as you please. Two or three of them were on the forecastle deck, but they didn't lift a hand to hurt her."

I drew a long breath.

"We mustn't let her do it again."

"Not while I'm in the game. She's an ace-high trump just the same. Wonder if she would have any use for a maverick rancher from the alkali country? I got a pretty good outfit in the Flying D."

"Better ask her."

"I'm going to," he answered coolly. "Drift that butter down this way, will you?"

"Where is she now?" I asked.

"Not up yet. She took a two-hour turn watching while we slept. Then she sat by Dugan for a while. You'd ought to have seen her at the piano singing 'My Maryland' and 'Dixie' to us just as if she had starred in a mutiny every week of her life. She was doing it for what they call the moral effect, and it sure did keep up the nerve of the boys. I could see Jimmie and Billie get real gay again. Used to live in Tennessee, you know."

"Jimmie or Billie?" I asked innocently.

"You know who I mean all right, you old son of a gun. Try this bacon. It's the genuine guaranteed article. That Billie boy is some cook. Seems her mother was a Southerner before Wallace married her."

"What was she afterward?"

"My, you're a humorist! Say, do you reckon that little bald spot on the crown of my haid would be objectionable to her? I've never monkeyed with these here hair tonics, but I'd be willing to take a whirl at them."

"Here she comes now. You can ask her."

"Did you sleep well?" the young woman asked, after we had exchanged morning greetings.

"Clear round the clock and then some more. You must have had a fine night's rest yourself from what I hear. On watch till one, and nursing Dugan from one. Wasn't that about it?"

"Not quite. I had three hours' sleep. Is your arm paining you much?"

"Don't waste any sympathy on him, Miss Evelyn," the cowman interrupted. "His arm's just as good as a new wooden one, and his repartee is as sharp as the cutlas that broke the skin on it."

She smiled as she began on her grapefruit. "Are you boys quarreling?"

"He hasn't had time to quarrel. He has been making a dreary waste of what was once a platter of eggs and bacon."

"Now I like that," Tom protested.

"So I judge. Never mind, Miss Wallace. Billie can cook you some more."

"Who is on guard?" Evelyn asked.

"The kid. He's a scout for fair too; imagines he's Apache Jim, the terror of the Navajos, or some other paper-backed hero. I hope his gun won't go off and shoot him up."

We made a lively breakfast of it till Yeager had to leave. You may think it strange that we could laugh and jest on that death ship, but one gets accustomed to the strain and on the reflex from anxiety arrives at a temporary gaiety.

After the cattleman had taken his breezy departure a constraint fell upon us. Evelyn's eyes were shy, and mine not a great deal bolder. Yesterday we could have chatted away with the most delightful freedom; to-day we were confined to the veriest commonplaces.

And all because our eyes had met for one long instant the evening before and hinted at something in the unspoken language of young people the world over.

The arrival of Jimmie Welch with a very robust appetite helped things a good deal, and we were presently ourselves again. After breakfast Miss Wallace went to relieve her aunt at the bedside of the wounded carpenter while I mounted to the bridge to take Blythe's place, Tom doing the same for Alderson.

It struck me as a piece of grim satire that I should be ringing orders down to the men in the engine room with whom a few hours before we had been battling for life, and probably soon would be again.

It was beyond doubt that we would have to measure strength with them a second time. Bothwell would never let us run into port at Panama if he could help it. The men were probably not anxious for another brush after the drubbing they had received, but the situation forced their hands. They must either take the ship or let us give them up to the authorities as mutineers.

My opinion is that if Bothwell had not been recognized by Jimmie he would have waited until we were actually on the treasure ground, and perhaps even until we had lifted it.

From the sounds that came forward to us from the forecastle it was plain that the enemy were drinking pretty steadily. More than once I saw an empty bottle flung through a porthole into the sea. Occasionally some one appeared on the deck aft, and from the drunken shouts bawled up and down the hatchway the condition of the crew could be guessed.

Blythe and I agreed that this probably meant an attack after darkness had fallen. Fortified by the courage which comes from whisky, they would try and slip up on us in the night and win by a surprise.



CHAPTER XVI

THE NIGHT ATTACK

The captain and I were in the wheelhouse when the attack came. It must have been an hour past midnight of a gentle starry night, without the faintest breath of wind in the air. Ever since dark the vibration of the propeller had ceased.

No doubt the charge was intended for a surprise, but we had half a minute of warning. Dimly I could make out figures moving tiptoe at the head of the stairway. Three times I flashed a lantern in signal to our friends. Almost simultaneously came the rush along the deck.

This time they took cover as they advanced, scattering like a covey of young quail. One dropped behind a boat here, another there. Some crouched close to the deckhouse. Bullets sang about our ears from invisible foes.

It looked as if their intention was to pick us off without exposing themselves. The thing could be done too. For a rifle ball would tear through the flimsy woodwork of our shelter as if it had been paper.

"We've got to get out of here," I told my friend.

"Confound it, yes. But where shall we go?"

"What's that? Listen, Sam."

From below and to the left of us there came a sound as of some one moving. We could hear stealthy voices in animated whisper.

"I see their game," Blythe murmured in my ear. "Those fellows on deck are to keep us busy pot-shotting us while the rest climb up from below and close with us when we're not looking."

A bullet zipped through a window and left a little round hole. It must have passed between our heads.

"Hot work," said the Englishman coolly, putting down his rifle and taking up a revolver and a cutlas. "We'd better sally out and have a look at the gentlemen who are climbing up the stanchions. You take that side and I'll take this."

We were not a moment too soon. As I peered over the bridge rail an outstretched hand was reaching for a hold. Instantly it was withdrawn. The moonlight poured like a spotlight on the uplifted face of the sailor Neidlinger. Never have I seen a look more expressive of stupid, baffled surprise. His mouth was open, his eyes popping. But when I made a motion to aim my revolver he slid down the stanchion with a rush, knocking over the fellow supporting him from below.

I paid no more attention to him, for the feet of those who had been shooting at us were already scurrying forward.

"Blythe," I called in warning.

But the captain was engaged with a mutineer who had climbed up in the way Neidlinger had attempted. A second man—and I saw in an instant that it was Caine—was astride the rail on his way to support the first. Half way over he had stopped to take a shot at Sam.

I fired from my hip without waiting to take aim. It was the luckiest shot of my life. The boatswain's shoulders sagged, his fingers relaxed so that the weapon clattered on the floor, and slowly his figure swayed outward. There was no grip to his knees. He toppled overboard, head first. I heard the plop as his body dived into the sea.

Blythe cut down his man at the same instant.

"Back to the wheelhouse," I shouted.

We were barely in time. They came crowding in on us pell-mell. We had already switched off the light. Now the lantern was dashed to pieces by trampling heels.

I was flung back against the wheel and the revolver knocked from my hand. Sinewy fingers gripped my throat and forced me down until I thought my back would break. Close to my ear a gun exploded. The pressure on my jugular relaxed instantly. The body of my opponent sank slowly to the floor and lay there limp.

I took a long breath, leaped across the prostrate figure, and flung myself upon another. We struggled. I became aware that we had the room to ourselves. The others were fighting outside.

The vessel had fallen into the trough of the waves. In one of its lurches the moon flooded the place with light.

"Sam!" I cried, and he "Jack!"

In the darkness we had mistaken each other for the enemy.

Catching up a cutlas I followed him into the open. Our friends had come and gone again. To say that they were going would be more accurate. For they were now in full flight, the pack of wolves in chase.

A few moments earlier and we might have saved the day. Now we could only pursue the pursuers.

Blythe leaped down the steps, revolver in hand. I followed, but my foot caught on a body lying at the foot of the ladder. A hand caught my coat.

"Gimme a lift, partner," asked a voice.

"You, Tom?" I cried, helping him up. "Hurt, are you?"

"Knocked in the head. A bit groggy. That's all."

The delay made me a witness rather than an actor in the denouement. Our friends had disappeared within the saloon and slammed the door. The foremost mutineer reached it, tried the handle, and threw his weight against the panels. The others came to his assistance. A revolver shot through the door dropped one of them. The others fell back at once.

They met Blythe. A stoker swung a cutlas and rushed for him. Full in the forehead a bullet from the captain's revolver crashed into his brain. Like a football tackler the body plunged forward to Sam's feet.

For a moment nobody moved or spoke. Then,

"My God!" groaned Henry Fleming.

I cannot account for it. These men had been brave enough in the thick of the fight while facing numbers not so very inferior to their own. But now, standing there three to one, it seemed as if some wave of horror sickened them at sight of the lifeless body plunging along the deck.

They stood there with eyes distended, while Blythe, grimly erect, faced them as motionless as a statue.

"Gawd, I've 'ad enough," the cook gasped, and got his fat bulk to the stairway with incredible swiftness.

The others were at his heel, fighting for the first chance down.

A bullet clipped the deck in front of me. I looked up hastily to see Bothwell's malevolent face in the wheelhouse window.

"Turn about, Mr. Sedgwick," he jeered, and let fly again.

Half dragging him with me, I got Yeager into the shadow.

"Got a revolver?" I whispered.

"Yes." He felt for it in the darkness. "Damn! I must 'a dropped it when Bothwell hit me over the coconut."

"Are you good for a run to the saloon? He'll pick us off just as soon as the moon comes out from behind that cloud."

A bullet took a splinter from the rail beside me.

"We'd better toddle," agreed the cattleman. "Go ahead."

I scudded for safety, Yeager at my heels. We reached the door of the saloon just as the captain did.

"Let us in. Captain Blythe and friends," I cried, hammering on a panel.

Some one unlocked the door. It was Dugan.

"You here?" I exclaimed.

"Yes, sir. I heard the shooting and came up just in time to lock the door on Mack. Think I wounded him through the door afterward, sir."

"Any of our men short?" Blythe asked quickly, glancing around with the keen, quiet eye of a soldier.

Alderson spoke up.

"Fleming cut Blue down as we tried to force the steps, sir."

"Killed him, you think?"

"No doubt of it, sir."

"Any more lost?"

We did not notice it till a few minutes later, but little Jimmie Welch was missing. None of us was seriously wounded in the scrimmage, though nearly all had marks to show. Even Philips had a testimonial of valor in the form of a badly swollen eye.

"They've suffered more than we have. Check up, my men. Mack, dead or badly wounded, shot by Dugan. Can you name any, Alderson?"

"Only Sutton, sir, that you killed out here. There was a man lying on the bridge when we got there. Don't know who, sir."

"Tot Dennis," answered Blythe, who had cut him down at the same time when I disposed of the boatswain.

I mentioned Caine.

"Didn't you finish another in the wheelhouse, Jack?"

"I didn't. You did."

The captain shook his head.

"You're wrong about that. Must have been you."

This puzzled me at the time, but we learned later that the man—he turned out to be the stoker Billie Blue had dirked in the first fight—had been killed by an unexpected ally who joined us later.

"Counting Mack, they've lost five to our one," Sam summed up.

"Hope they've got a bellyful by this time," I said bitterly.

"They've won the wheel—for the present. But that's unimportant. Bothwell can't hold it. We'll starve him out. Practically it's our fight."

What our captain said was quite true. Even if Bothwell could have solved the food problem and the question of sleep, he dared not leave his allies too long alone for fear they might make terms and surrender.

For we had beaten them again. They had left now only seven men (not counting Mack), at least two of whom were wounded. This was exactly the same number that we had. Whereas the odds had been against us, now they were very much in our favor when one considered morale and quality.

At Blythe's words we raised a cheer. I have heard heartier ones, for we were pretty badly battered up. But that cheer—so we heard later—put the final touch to the depression of the mutineers.

"Mr. Sedgwick, will you kindly step down-stairs and notify the ladies that the day is ours? Get me some water, Morgan, and I'll take a look at Mr. Yeager's head. Philips, find Jimmie. Alderson, will you keep guard for the present? You'd better get back to bed, Dugan. I want to say that each one of you deserves a medal. If the treasure is ever found I promise, on behalf of Miss Wallace, that every honest man shall share in it."

At this there was a second cheer and we scattered to obey orders.

When I knocked on the door of Miss Wallace's stateroom a shaky voice answered.

"Who is there?"

"It is I—Sedgwick."

The door opened. Evelyn, very pale, was standing before me with a little revolver in her hand. She wore a kind of kimono of some gray stuff, loose about the beautifully modeled throat, in which just now a pulse was beating fast. Sandals were on her feet, and from beneath the gown her toes peeped.

"What is it? Tell me," she breathed in a whisper, her finger on her lips.

I judged that her aunt had slept through the noise of the firing.

"They attacked us on the bridge again. We had the best of it."

"Is anybody—hurt?" she asked tremulously.

"Five of them have been killed or badly wounded. We lost Billie Blue, poor fellow."

"Dead?" her white lips framed.

"I'm afraid so."

"Nobody else?"

I hesitated.

"Little Jimmie is missing. We are afraid——"

Tears filled her eyes and brimmed over.

"Poor Jimmie!"

I'll not swear that the back of my eyes did not scorch with hot tears too. I thought of the likable little Arab, red-headed, freckled and homely, and I blamed myself bitterly that I had ever let him rejoin us at Los Angeles.

"He wouldn't have come if it hadn't been for me. I asked you to let him," the young woman reproached herself.

"It isn't your fault. You meant it for the best."

Of a sudden she turned half from me and leaned against the door-jamb, covering her face with her hands. She was sobbing very softly.

I put my arm across her shoulders and petted her awkwardly. Presently she crowded back the sobs and whispered brokenly, not to me, but as a relief to her surcharged feelings.

"This dreadful ship of death! This dreadful ship! Why did I ever lead true men to their deaths for that wicked treasure?"

I do not know how it happened, but in her wretchedness the girl swayed toward me ever so slightly. My arms went round her protectingly. For an instant her body came to me in sweet surrender, the soft curves of her supple figure relaxed in weariness. Then she pushed me from her gently.

"Not now—not now."

I faced a closed door, but as I went up the companionway with elastic heels my heart sang jubilantly.



CHAPTER XVII

A TASTE OF THE INQUISITION

It could have been no more than five minutes after I left her that Evelyn followed me to the upper deck saloon. Yet in the interval her nimble fingers had found time to garb her in a simple blue princess dress she had found near to her hand.

Without looking at me she went straight to Blythe, who was sponging the wrist of Alderson.

"You'll let me help, won't you?" she asked, with such sweet simplicity that I fell fathoms deeper in love.

"Of course. You're our chief surgeon. Eh, Alderson?"

The sailor grinned. Though he was a little embarrassed he was grateful for the addition to the staff.

After they had finished I brought her water to wash her hands. For the first time since she had entered the room our gaze met.

Braver eyes no woman ever had, but the thick lashes fluttered down now and a wave of pink beat into her cheeks. Moved as she was by a touch of shy confusion, the oval of her face stirred delicately as if with the spirit of fire, she seemed a very blush rose, a creature of so fine a beauty as to stir a momentary fear.

But I knew her to be strong, even if slight, and abrim with health. When she walked away with that supple, feathered tread of hers, so firm and yet so light, the vitality of her physique reasserted itself.

"Some one slipping this way in the shadows, Captain Blythe," spoke up Morgan, who was on guard.

Sam had been reloading his revolver. At once he stepped to the door.

"Who goes there? Hands up! I have you covered. Move forward into the light. Oh, it's you, Smith! What do you want?"

"I've come to give myself up, sir. I'm sick of it. Very likely you won't believe me, sir, but I joined under compulsion to save my life. I didn't dare leave them so long as Captain Bothwell——"

"Mr. Bothwell," corrected Blythe sharply.

"Mr. Bothwell, sir, I meant. He watched me as if I were a prisoner."

"I think I noticed you on my bridge with a revolver in your hand," the Englishman told him dryly.

"Yes, sir. But I fired in the air, except once when I shot the fireman who was killing Mr. Sedgwick over the wheel."

I turned in astonishment to Blythe.

"That explains it. Some one certainly saved me. If you didn't it must have been Smith."

"That's one point to your credit," Blythe admitted. "So now you want to be an honest man?"

"I always have been at heart, sir. I had no chance to come before. They kept me unarmed except during the fighting."

His head bandaged with a blood-soaked bandanna, his face unshaven and bloodstained, Smith was a sorry enough sight. But his eye met the captain's fairly. I don't think it occurred to any of us seriously to doubt him.

Sam laughed grimly.

"You look the worse for the wars, my friend."

Smith put his hand to the bound head and looked at the captain reproachfully.

"Your cutlas did it at the pilot-house, sir."

"You should be more careful of the company you keep, my man."

"Yes, sir. I did try to slip away once, but they brought me back."

"Let me look at your head. Perhaps I can do something for it," Evelyn suggested to the sailor.

While she prepared the dressings I put the question to Smith.

"Jimmie. Oh, yes, sir. He's down in the f'c'sle. Gallagher ran across him and took him down there."

This was good news, the best I had heard since the mutiny began. It seemed that the boy had slipped out to get a shot at the enemy, and that his escape had been cut off by the men returning from the attack.

Judging from what Smith said the men were very down-hearted and in vicious spirits. They were ready to bite at the first hand in reach, after the manner of trapped coyotes.

"How many of them are there?" I asked.

"Let's see. There's the two Flemings, sir, and Gallagher, and the cook, and Neidlinger, and Mack, but he won't last long."

"Do you think they're likely to hurt the boy?"

"Not unless they get to drinking, sir. They want him for a hostage. But there has been a lot of drinking. You can't tell what they will do when they're in liquor."

I came to an impulsive decision. We couldn't leave Jimmie to his fate. The men were ready to give up the fight if the thing could be put to them right. The time to strike was now, in the absence of Bothwell, while they were out of heart at their failure.

Why shouldn't I go down into the forecastle and see what could be done? That there was some danger in it could not be denied, but not nearly so much as if the Russian had been down there.

I was an officer of the ship, and though that would have helped me little if they had been sure of victory it would have a good deal of weight now.

Blythe would, I knew, forbid me to go. Therefore I did not ask him. But I took Yeager aside and told him what I intended.

"I'll likely be back in half an hour, perhaps less. I don't want you to tell Sam unless he has to know. Don't let him risk defeat by attempting a rescue in case I don't show up. Tell him I'm playing off my own bat. That's a bit of English slang he'll understand."

"Say! Let me go too," urged the cattleman, his eyes glistening.

"No. We can't go in force. I'm not even going to take a weapon. That would queer the whole thing. It's purely a moral and not a physical argument I'm making."

He did not want to see it that way, but in the end he grumblingly assented, especially when I put it to him that he must stay and keep an eye on Bothwell.

While Blythe was down in his cabin getting a shave I watched my chance and slipped down to the main deck. Cautiously I ventured into the forecastle, tiptoeing down the ladder without noise.

"Dead as a door nail. That makes seven gone to Davy Jones's locker," I heard a despondent voice say.

"'E could sing a good song, Mack could, and 'e carried 'is liquor like a man, but that didn't 'elp 'im from being shot down like a dog. It'll be that wye with us next."

"Stow that drivel, cookie," growled a voice which I recognized as belonging to the older Fleming. "You're nice, cheerful company for devils down on their luck. Ain't things bad enough without you croaking like a sky pilot?"

"That's wot I say, says I; we'll all croak before this blyme row is over," Higgins prophesied.

I sauntered forward with my hands in my pockets.

"Looks that way, doesn't it? Truth is, you've made a mess of it from first to last. Whichever way you look at it the future is devilishly unpleasant. Even if you live to be hanged—which isn't at all likely—one can't call it a cheerful end."

Conceive, if you can, a more surprised lot of ruffians than these. They leaped to their feet and stared at me in astonishment. I'll swear four revolvers jumped to sight while one could bat an eyelid.

I leaned on the edge of the table and gave them the most care-free grin I could summon. All the time I was wondering whether some fool would perhaps blaze away at me and do his thinking afterward.

"How did you get down here?" the senior engineer demanded.

"Walked down. I'm really surprised at you, Fleming. What would Bothwell think of you? Why, I might have shot half of you before Higgins could say Jack Robinson."

It showed how ripe they were for my purpose that at the mention of Bothwell's name two or three growled curses at him.

"He got us into this, he did; promised us a fortune if we'd join him," Gallagher said sulkily.

"And no blood shed, Mr. Sedgwick. That's wot 'e promised," whined the cook.

"Probably he meant none of ours," I explained ironically.

"He was going to wait till you'd got the treasure and then put you in a boat near the coast," Gallagher added.

Neidlinger spat sulkily at a knot in the floor. His eyes would not meet mine. It was a fair guess that he was no hardened mutineer, but had been caught in a net through lack of moral backbone.

"Afraid Bothwell isn't a very safe man to follow. He's let you be mauled up pretty badly. I've a notion he'll slip away and leave you to be hanged without the comfort of his presence."

"You don't need to rub that in, Mr. Sedgwick," advised George Fleming. "And perhaps, since you're here, you will explain your business."

It must be said for George Fleming that at least he was a hardy villain and no weakling. The men were like weather-vanes. They veered with each wind that blew.

"That's right," chimed in Gallagher. "We didn't ask your company. If we go to hell I shouldn't wonder but you'll travel the road first, sir. Take a hitch and a half turn on this. We're in the same boat, you and us. Now you take an oar and pull us out of the rough water, Mr. Sedgwick."

I laughed.

"Not I, Gallagher. You made your own bed, and I'm hanged if I'll lie in it, though I believe it is bad taste to refer to hanging in this company. I didn't start a little mutiny. I didn't murder as good a mate as any seaman could ask for. It isn't my fault that a round half dozen of you are dead and gone to feed the fishes."

Higgins groaned lugubriously. Neidlinger shifted his feet uneasily. Not one of them but was impressed.

Harry Fleming glanced at his brother, cleared his throat, and spoke up.

"Mr. Sedgwick, spit it out. What have you to offer? Will Captain Blythe let this be a bygone if we return to duty? That's what we want to know. If not, we've got to fight it out. A blind man could see that."

I told them the truth, that I had no authority to speak for Blythe. He would probably think it his duty to give them up to the authorities if they were still on board when we reached Panama.

It was pitiful to see how they clutched at every straw of hope.

"Well, sir, what do you mean by that if? Will he stand back and let us escape?"

"All of you but Bothwell. Mind, I don't promise this. Why not send a deputation to the captain and ask for terms?"

Higgins slapped his fat thigh.

"By crikey, 'e's said it. A delegation to the captain. That's the bloomin' ticket."

Pat to his suggestion came an unexpected and startling answer.

"Fortunately it won't be necessary to send the delegation, since your captain has come down to join you."

The voice was Bothwell's; so, too, were the ironic insolence, the sardonic smile, the air of contemptuous mastery that sat so lightly on him. He might be the greatest scoundrel unhanged—and that was a point upon which I had a decided opinion—but I shall never deny that there was in him the magnetic force which made him a leader of men.

Immediately I recognized defeat for my attempt to end the mutiny at a stroke. His very presence was an inspiration to persistence in evil. For though he had brought them nothing but disaster, the fellow had a way of impressing himself without appearing to care whether he did or not.

The careless contempt of his glance emphasized the difference between him and them. He was their master, though a fortnight before none of them had ever seen Bothwell. They feared and accepted his leadership, even while they distrusted him.

The men seemed visibly to stiffen. Instead of beseeching looks I got threatening ones. Three minutes before I had been dictator; now I was a prisoner, and if I could read signs one in a very serious situation.

"I'm waiting for the deputation," suggested Bothwell, his dark eye passing from one to another and resting on Higgins.

The unfortunate cook began to perspire.

"Just our wye of 'aving a little joke, captain," he protested in a whine.

"You didn't hear aright, Bothwell. A deputation to the captain was mentioned," I told him.

"And I'm captain of this end of the ship, or was at last accounts. Perhaps Mr. Sedgwick has been elected in my absence," he sneered.

"You bet he ain't," growled Gallagher.

"It's a position I should feel obliged to decline. No sinking ship for me, thank you. I've no notion of trying to be a twentieth century Captain Kidd. And, by the way, he was hanged, too, wasn't he, captain?"

"That's a prophecy, I take it. I'll guarantee one thing: You'll not live to see it fulfilled. You've come to the end of the passage, my friend."

"Indeed!"

"But before you pass out I've a word to say to you about that map."

His eye gave a signal. Before I could stir for resistance even if I had been so minded, George Fleming and Gallagher pinned my back to the table. Bothwell stepped forward and looked down at me.

A second time I glimpsed the Slav behind his veneer of civilization. Opaque and cruel eyes peered into mine through lids contracted to slits. Something in me stronger than fear looked back at him steadily.

His voice was so low that none, I think, except me caught the words. In his manner was an extraordinary bitterness.

"You're the rock I've split on from the first. You stole the map from me—and you tried to steal her. By God, I wipe the slate clean now!"

"I've only one thing to say to you. I'd like to see you strung up, you damned villain!" I replied.

"The last time I asked you for that map your friend from Arizona blundered in. He's not here now. I'm going to find out all you know. You think you can defy me. Before I've done with you I'll make you wish you'd never been born. There are easy deaths and hard ones. You shall take your choice."

With that fiend's eyes glittering into mine it was no easy thing to keep from weakening. I confess it, the blood along my spine was beginning to freeze. Fortunately I have a face well under control.

"You have a taste for dramatics, Captain Kidd." I raised my voice so that all might hear plainly. "You threaten to torture me. You forget that this is the year 1913. The inquisition is a memory. You are not in Russia now. American sailors—even mutineers—will draw the line at torture."

His face was hard as hammered iron.

"Don't flatter yourself, Mr. Sedgwick. I'm master here. When I give the word you will suffer."

I turned my head and my eyes fell upon Henry Fleming. He had turned white, shaken to the heart. Beyond him was Neidlinger, and the man was moistening his gray lips with his tongue. The fat cockney looked troubled. Plainly they had no stomach for the horrible work that lay before them if I proved resolute.

To fight for treasure was one thing, and I suppose that even in this they had been led to believe that a mere show of force would be sufficient; to lend their aid to torture an officer of the ship was quite another and a more sinister affair.

The Slav in Bothwell had failed to understand the Anglo-Saxon blood with which he was dealing.

I faced the man with a dry laugh.

"We'll see. Begin, you coward!"

Pinned down to the table as I was, he struck me in the face for that.

"You lose no time in proving my words true," I jeered.

An odd mixture is man. Faith, one might have thought Bothwell impervious to shame, but at my words the fellow flushed. He could not quite forget that he had once been a gentleman.

In the way of business he could torture me, wipe me from his path without a second thought, but on the surface he must live up to the artificial code his training had imposed upon him.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Sedgwick. Were there time I would give you satisfaction for that blow in the customary manner. But time presses. I shall have to ask you instead to accept my apologies. I have the devil of a temper."

"So I judge."

"It flares like powder. But I must not waste your time in explanations." From his vest pocket he drew three little cubes of iron. "You still have time, Mr. Sedgwick. The map!"

I flushed to the roots of my hair.

"Never, you Russian devil!"

He selected the hand pinned down by Fleming, perhaps because he was not sure that he could trust Gallagher. Between my fingers close to the roots he slipped the cubes. His fingers fastened over mine and drew the ends of them together slowly, steadily.

An excruciating pain shot through me. I set my teeth to keep from screaming and closed my eyes to hide the anguish in them.

"You are at liberty to change your mind—and your answer, Mr. Sedgwick," he announced suavely.

"You devil from hell!"

Again I suffered that jagged bolt of pain. It seemed as if my fingers were being rent asunder at the roots. I could not concentrate my attention on anything but the physical agony, yet it seems to me now that Gallagher was muttering a protest across the table.

Bothwell released my hand. I saw a flash of subtle triumph light his eyes.

"A wilful man must have his way, Mr. Sedgwick," he nodded to me, then whispered in the ear of George Fleming, who at once left the room.

They pulled me up from the table and seated me in a chair. Bothwell whistled a bar or two of the sextet from Lucia until he was interrupted by the entrance of the engineer with Jimmie Welch.

In a flash I knew what the man meant to do, and the devilish ingenuity of it appalled me. He had concluded that I was strung up to endure anything he might inflict.

Now he was going to force me to tell what I knew in order to save the boy from the pain I had myself found almost unendurable.

What must I do? I beat my wits for a way out. One glance around the room showed me that the scoundrel's accomplices would not let him go much further.

The weak spot in his leadership was that he did not realize the humanity which still burned in their lost souls. But at what point would they revolt? I could not let little Jimmie go through the pain I had undergone.

The boy gave a sobbing cry of relief when he saw me and tried to break away to my side. He was flung on the table just as I had been. Gallagher looked at me imploringly while Bothwell fitted the cubes.

Neidlinger stole a step nearer. His fingers were working nervously. Harry Fleming had turned away so as not to see what would follow.

"Mr. Sedgwick, what are they going to do with me?" the frightened little fellow called in terror.

Bothwell took the lad's fingers in his. I opened my lips to surrender—and closed them again. Neidlinger had drawn still another step nearer. The big blond Scandinavian had reached his limit.

The Slav gave a slight pressure and Jimmie howled. Crouched like a panther, Neidlinger flung himself upon his chief and bore him back to the wall. Bothwell, past his first surprise, lashed out with a straight left and dropped the man.

Simultaneously Gallagher closed with him, tripping Bothwell so that the two went down hard together. Neidlinger crawled forward on hands and knees to help his partner.

Shaking off the grip of the irresolute men holding me, I was in time to seize George Fleming, who had run forward to aid the captain.

From the hatchway a crisp order rang out.

"Back there, Fleming!"

I turned. Blythe and Yeager were standing near the foot of the ladder; behind them Alderson, Smith, Morgan, and Philips. All six were armed. Their weapons covered the mutineers.

"Gallagher—Neidlinger, don't release that man. You are prisoners—all of you," Sam announced curtly.

Taken by surprise, the two sailors had ceased to struggle with Bothwell. I could see the master villain's hand slip to the butt of his revolver.

My foot came down heavily on his wrist and the fingers fell limp. A moment, and the revolver was in my hand.

Bothwell was handcuffed and disarmed before the eyes of his followers, who in turn had to endure the same ignominy.

The mutiny on the Argos was quelled at last.



CHAPTER XVIII

ANCHORED HEARTS

Our rescue had been due to the vigilance of Tom Yeager. He had seen Bothwell slip down from the bridge and follow me to the forecastle.

The first impulse of the Arizonian had been to step out and end the campaign by a fighting finish with the Slav. But second thoughts brought wiser counsels. Blythe, called hurriedly upstairs, had agreed to his proposal to try and determine the mutiny at a stroke.

To both of them it had been clear that Bothwell surrendered the bridge because he was afraid to let me have a talk with the men alone. That my life was in great danger neither doubted.

Swiftly the men had been gathered for the sortie into the forecastle, Evelyn having volunteered to take the wheel until relieved. The success of the plan had been beyond the expectations of any.

Bothwell was the first of the prisoners to speak.

"Let me offer my congratulations, Captain Blythe," he said with suave irony.

The lean, brown face of the Englishman expressed quiet scorn.

"Not necessary at all. It is the only result I have considered from the first. One doesn't expect to be driven from his ship by wharf rats, no matter how numerous they may be."

Bothwell laughed, debonair as ever.

"True enough, captain. My scoundrels made an awful botch of it. They played a good hand devilish badly or we should have won out."

"The devil you would! We beat you from first to last at odds against of two to one nearly. I reckon, Mr. Pirate, you undertook too big a round-up," grinned the cattleman.

"Fortunately there is always a to-morrow," retorted Bothwell with a bow.

"Sometimes it's mortgaged to Jack Ketch."

"I'll wager he doesn't foreclose, Mr. Yeager," answered Boris with a lip smile.

Blythe cut short the repartee.

"We'll put this man in a stateroom and lock him up, Sedgwick. The rest will stay here guarded by Alderson. If one of them makes a suspicious move, shoot him down like a mad dog. Understand, my man?"

"Yes, sir. I'll see they make no trouble," Alderson answered resolutely.

I made a suggestion to our captain. After a moment's consideration he accepted it.

"Very good, Mr. Sedgwick. Have Gallagher, Neidlinger, and Higgins freed. See that they clean the ship up till she is fresh as paint."

The first thing we did was to gather the bodies of the poor fellows who had fallen in the struggles for the ship. Blythe read the burial service before we sank the weighted corpses into the sea.

Under my direction the men then swabbed the decks, washed the woodwork, and scoured the copper plates until they shone.

It was not until luncheon that I found time for more than a word with Evelyn. None of us, I suppose, had suffered more than she and Miss Berry, but they made it their business to help us forget the nightmare through which we had lately passed.

I remember that Miss Wallace looked round from a gay little sally at Jimmie with a smile in her eyes. I was reaching for some fruit when her glance fell upon my hand.

"What's the matter with your fingers?" she asked quickly.

I withdrew my hand promptly. The flesh was swollen and discolored from the attentions of Boris Bothwell.

"I had a little accident—nothing of importance," was my inadequate answer.

Her gaze circled the table, passed from Sam's face to that of Jimmie and from Jimmie to Higgins, who was waiting on us. She must have read a confirmation of her intuition of a secret, for she dropped the subject at once.

"Jack crushed his hand against a piece of iron," explained the captain.

At which Miss Evelyn murmured. "Oh!" and inquired how long it would probably be before we reached the Bay of Panama.

"Using only our canvas we may reach there to-morrow night, and we may not. We can't make very good time till we start the engines again," Blythe said.

"And when are you going to start them?" Miss Berry asked.

"Don't quite know. I'm shy of engineers. The only ones I have are on a vacation," Sam answered with a smile.

They were not to enjoy one very long, however. About sunset the Argos began to rock gently on a sea no longer glassy.

"Cap says we're going to have trouble," Yeager informed me. "When you get this sultry smell in the air and that queer look in the sky there is going to be something doing. She's going to begin to buck for fair."

I noticed that Blythe was taking in sail and that the wind was rising.

"Knock the irons off the Flemings and send Gallagher down into the engine room to stoke for them. We'll need more hands. This thing is going to hit us like a wall of wind soon," he told me.

When I returned from the forecastle the sea had risen. As I was standing on the bridge a voice called my name. I looked down to see Evelyn on the promenade deck in a long, close-fitting waterproof coat, her hair flying a little wildly in the breeze. In the face upturned to mine was a very vivid interest.

"We're in for it. There's going to be a real squall," she cried delightedly.

I stepped down and tucked her arm under mine, for the deck was already tipping in the heavy run of seas.

Most of our canvas was in, and the booming wind was humming through the rest with growing power. The Argos put her nose into the whitecaps and ran like a racer, for the engines were shaking the yacht as she plowed forward.

The young woman turned to me an eager, mobile face into which the wind had whipped a rich color.

"What would you take to be somewhere else? Back in your stuffy old law office, say?"

The lurch of the staggering yacht threw her forward so that the lithe, supple body leaned against me and the breath of the dimpling lips was in my nostrils.

Just an instant she lay there, with that smile of warm eyes and rose-leaf mouth to tantalize me, before she recovered and drew back.

"Not for a thousand dollars a minute," I answered, a trumpet peal of indomitable happiness ringing in my heart.

From the wheelhouse Blythe shouted a warning to be careful. His voice scarcely reached us through the singing of the wind. I nodded and took hold of the little hand that lay close to mine.

"You must be a rich man to value the pleasure of the hour so highly," she answered lightly, with a look quick and questioning at me.

The squall that had flung itself across the waters hit us in earnest now. We went down into the yawning troughs before us with drunken plunges and climbed the glassy hills beyond to be ready for another dive.

"The richest man alive if last night was not a dream."

Our fingers interlaced, palms kissing each other.

"Does it seem to you a dream?" she asked, deep in a valley of the seas.

From the top of the next comber I answered:

"It did until you joined me here, but now I know you belong to me forever, both in the land of dreams and waking."

"Did the storm teach you that?"

I looked out at the flying scud and back at the storm-bewitched girl with laughter rippling from her throat and the wild joy of a rare moment in her eyes.

"Yes, the storm. It brought you to my arms and your heart to mine."

"I think it did, Jack; the wee corner of it that was not yours already."

Her shy eyes fell and I drew her close to me. In the dusk that had fallen like a cloak over the ship her lips met mine with the sweetest surrender in the world.

So in the clamorous storm our hearts found safe anchorage.



CHAPTER XIX

SENSE AND NONSENSE

The squall passed as suddenly as it had swept upon us, and left in its wake a night of stars and moonbeat.

Apparently there was no question of returning the mutineers to the irons from which we had freed them. Alderson, Smith, Neidlinger, and Higgins were grouped together on the forecastle deck in amiable chat.

Blythe was still at the wheel, and our cheerful friend from the cattle country at the piano bawling out the identical chorus I had interrupted so ruthlessly just before the first blow of the mutiny was struck.

He was lustily singing as Evelyn and I trod the deck.

"Tom sings as if with conviction. I hope it may not be deep-rooted," I laughed.

"If you mean me——"

"I don't mean Miss Berry."

To my surprise she took the words seriously.

"It isn't so, Jack. Say it isn't so."

"Does that mean that it is?" I asked.

"No-o. Only I can't bear to think that our happiness will make anybody else unhappy."

"It doesn't appear to be making him unhappy."

"But he doesn't know—yet."

"Then he's really serious? I wasn't quite sure."

She sighed.

"I wish he wasn't. How girls can like to make men fall in love with them I can't conceive. He's such a splendid fellow, too."

"He's a man, every inch of him," I offered by way of comfort. "It won't hurt him to love a good woman even if he doesn't win her. He'll recover, but it will do him a lot of good first."

"Would you feel so complacent if it were you?" she asked slyly, with a flash of merry eyes.

We happened to be in the shadow of the smokestack. After the interlude I expounded my philosophy more at length.

"He's young yet—at least his heart is. A man has to love a nice girl or two before he is educated to know the right one when he meets her. I don't pity Yeager—not a great deal, anyhow. It's life, you know," I concluded cheerfully.

"Oh, I see. A man has to love a nice girl or two as an educative process." Her voice trailed into the rising inflection of a question. "Then the right girl ought to thank me for helping to prepare Mr. Yeager for her—if I am."

"That's a point of view worth considering," I assented.

"But I suppose she will never even know my name," she mused.

"Most likely not," was my complacent answer.

Whereupon she let me have her thrust with a little purr of amusement in her voice.

"Any more than I shall know what nice girls prepared you for me."

"Touche," I conceded with a laugh. "I didn't know you were the kind of young woman that lays traps for a fellow to tumble into."

"And I didn't know you were a war-worn veteran toughened by previous campaigns," she countered gaily. "You've been very liberally educated, didn't you say?"

"No, I didn't say. This is how I put it to myself: A boy owes something to the nice girls all about him. One would not like to think, for instance, that the youths of Tennessee had been so insensible as never to have felt a flutter when your long lashes drifted their way," I diplomatically suggested.

"How nicely you wrap it up," she said with her low, soft laugh. "And must my heart have fluttered, too, for them? Unless it has, I won't be properly educated for you, shall I?"

"Ah, that's the difference. You are born perfect lovers, but we have to acquire excellence through experience."

"Oh!"

An interjection can sometimes express more than words. My sweetheart's left me wondering just what she meant. There was amusement in it, but there was, too, a demure suppression to which I had not the key.

She, too, I judged, had known a few love episodes in her life. Perhaps she had been engaged before, as is sometimes the custom among Southern girls. The thought gave me a queer little stab of pain.

Yeager came out of the deck pavilion as we passed.

"I say, let's have some music, good people."

I looked at my watch.

"My turn at the wheel. Maybe Blythe will join you."

He did. From the pilot-house I could hear his clear tenor and Evelyn's sweet soprano filling the night with music. Presently they drifted into patriotic songs, in which Tom came out strong if not melodious. But when the piano sounded the notes of "Dixie" Evelyn's voice rose alone, clear and full-throated as that of a lark.

After being relieved by Alderson I turned in and slept round the clock. The tune of drumming engines was in my ears when I woke.

"Sam is making her walk," I thought, and when I reached the deck I learned that we had entered the Gulf of Panama. A long, low line showed dimly in the foggy distance to the left. We were running parallel with it, Prieto Point directly in front of us.

With the exception of the older Fleming, who had been transferred to the same cabin as Bothwell, all the crew were at work. Only the true men, however, were armed. From the looks cast by the former mutineers toward the blurred shore line it was plain that they looked forward to Panama with anxiety.

In the canal zone, with the flag of the United States flying to the breeze, the law would give them short shrift. We observed that whenever their duties permitted it, they drew uneasily together in earnest talk.

Blythe smiled grimly.

"Our friends don't like the wages of sin, now that pay day is at hand. I'll give you two to one, Jack, that before an hour is up you'll see a delegation to the captain."

He was right. As Sam stepped down from the bridge, having turned the wheel over to Alderson, he was approached timidly by Neidlinger and Gallagher. Higgins, in partial payment for his share in the revolt, was taking a turn at shoveling coal in the stifling furnace room.

Gallagher touched his hat humbly.

"We'd like a word with you, Captain Blythe."

"I thought Bothwell was your captain?"

The sailor flushed.

"No, sir. We're through with him."

"Now that he's a prisoner?" suggested Sam.

"We wish we'd never let him bamboozle us, sir. It would 'a' been a sight better for a lot of poor fellows if we'd never seen him. That man's a devil, sir."

"Indeed!"

As he stood there, a lean brown man straight as a ramrod, efficient to the last inch of him, it struck me that the mutineers would get justice rather than mercy from our captain.

The sailor moistened his dry lips and went on.

"Captain Blythe, we—we're sorry we let ourselves be led into—into——"

Gallagher stumbled for a word. Sam supplied it quietly:

"Mutiny."

"Yes, sir; if you want to put it that way, sir."

"How else can I put it?"

"We were led astray by that man Bothwell, sir. He promised there would be no bloodshed. We're sorry, sir."

"I don't doubt it," the Englishman assented dryly.

"Begging your pardon, sir, we asks to be taken back and punished by you. Whatever you give us we'll take and not a word out of our heads. Say a flogging and we'll thank you kindly, sir. But don't turn us over to the law."

"Didn't I tell you what would come of it, Gallagher?"

"Yes, sir; you warned us straight. But that man Bothwell had us bewitched."

"If you're taken ashore at Panama you'll be hanged."

"We know that, sir."

Blythe considered for a minute and announced his decision sharply.

"I'll give you another chance—you two and Higgins and young Fleming. I'll not let you off scot-free, but your punishment will depend on how faithful you are for the rest of the cruise."

Once I saw a man acquitted of murder in a courtroom. The verdict was such a relief that he fainted. The captain's unexpected clemency took these men the same way, for virtually he had untied the noose from their necks. Tears started to their eyes. Plainly they were shaken with emotion.

"You'll not regret it, sir. We'll be true to the death, Captain Blythe," the Irishman promised, his white lips trembling.

After Alderson's turn at the wheel came mine. Evelyn presently joined me in the pilot-house.

"When shall we get ashore?" she asked me.

We were at the time, I remember, passing Taboga Island.

"Not till morning. We'll have to be inspected. To-night we'll lie in the harbor."

"How is your hand?" she asked, glancing at my bruised fingers.

I flashed a look quickly at her.

"My hand! Oh, it's all right now."

"Jimmie's is better, too," she said quietly.

In the language of my boyhood I was up a stump. So I played for time.

"Jimmie's?"

"Yes. I have been taking care of it for him. His fingers were not bruised much, though. It's odd, isn't it, that both of you were hurt in exactly the same place—by accident?"

I murmured that it was strange.

"So I had a little talk with him," she went on quietly.

"Yes?"

"And he told me all about it. Oh, Jack, I didn't think even Boris would do a thing like that!" She looked up at me with bright, misty eyes. "I asked Gallagher and Neidlinger about it. They both told me how brave you were."

"I'm grateful for their certificate of valor," I answered lightly.

Before I knew what she was at my sweetheart had stooped to kiss the bruises above my knuckles. I snatched my hand away.

"Don't do that," I said gruffly. "It isn't exactly—you know—right."

"Why not?" She looked at me with head flung back in characteristic fashion. "Why not? They suffered for us, the poor, bruised fingers. Why shouldn't I honor them with my poor best?"

"Oh, well!" I shrugged, embarrassed by her shining ardor, even though in my heart it pleased me.

She came close to me.

"I love you better every day, Jack. You're splendid. Life is going to be a great, big thing for me with you."

"Even though we don't find the treasure?" I asked, thrilling with the joy of her confession.

"We've found the treasure," she whispered. "I don't give that"—she snapped her fingers with a gesture of scorn—"for all the gold that was ever buried compared to you, laddie. I just spend my time thanking God for you with all my heart."

"But you mustn't idealize me. I'm full of faults."

"Don't I know it? Don't I love your faults, too, you goose? Who wants a perfect man?"

"I know, I know."

The wheel was getting very little attention, for my darling was in my arms and I was kissing softly her tumbled hair and the shadows under her glorious eyes.

"Love is like that. It doesn't want perfection. I care more for you because you're always wanting your own way. The tiny, powdered freckles on the side of your nose are beauty marks to me."

"You are a goose," she laughed. "But it's true. I've seen lots of handsomer men than you—Boris, for example; but I've never seen one so good looking."

"And that's just nonsense," I told her blithely.

"Of course it's nonsense. But there is no sense so true as nonsense."

I dare say we babbled foolishly the inarticulate rhapsody all lovers find so expressive.



CHAPTER XX

THE BIG DITCH

Darkness had fallen before we dropped anchor in the harbor of Panama. It was such a night as only the tropics can produce, the stars burning close and brilliant, the full moon rising out of a silent sea. In front of us the lights of the city came twinkling out. Behind them lay the mystery of conquest.

No spot in all the western hemisphere held so much of romance as this. Drake and Pizarro had tarried here in their blustering careers, Morgan had captured and burned the city.

Many times in the past centuries the Isthmus had been won and lost, but never had such a victory been gained as that our countrymen had secured in the past half dozen years.

They had overcome yellow fever and proved that the tropics might be made a safe place for the Anglo-Saxon to live. They had driven a sword through the backbone of the continent and had built a canal through which great liners could climb up and down stairs from one ocean to another.

The dream of the centuries had become a reality through the skill and resolution with which the sons of Uncle Sam had tackled the big ditch.

It may be guessed how anxious all of us were to get ashore. There was little sleep aboard the Argos that night. It was long past midnight before any of us left the deck.

The truth is that the yacht had become a prison to us just as it had to Bothwell. The thought of a few days on land, where we need not watch every moment to keep our throats from being slit, was an enormous relief.

But Blythe was taking no chances with the vessel. It had been decided among us that either he, Yeager, or I should remain in charge of the Argos every minute of our stay.

I had volunteered for the first day and Yeager was to relieve me on the second.

All three of us were firmly resolved, though we had not yet broached the subject to Evelyn, that the ladies should remain in the canal zone while we continued down the coast to lift the treasure.

Before Bothwell was taken ashore he had the effrontery to ask for a talk with his cousin. Blythe did not even submit his request to her. Fleming and he were removed from the vessel while the ladies were eating breakfast with Yeager, so that they did not even know until afterward that the men had been turned over to the authorities.

None of the reconstructed mutineers asked for shore leave. Each of them knew that if he left the ship he would be liable to arrest for a capital offense and preferred to take his chance of any punishment the captain might inflict.

The day was an endless one, but it wore away at last. The cattleman was to relieve me at breakfast time. I was up with the summer sun and had bathed, shaved, and eaten long before the city showed any sign of activity around the harbor.

"You'll like Panama," Yeager assured me after he had clambered aboard. "It's a city of madmen, plumb daffy about the big ditch. The men can't talk anything but cuts, dams, cubic feet, steam plows, and earth slides. But, by Moses, when I see what they've done it makes me glad I'm an American. Everything is the biggest in the world—the dam, the locks, the cuts, the lake, the machinery, the whole blessed works. They've set a new mark for the rest of the earth."

"What is Sam doing about getting a crew in place of our precious mutineers?" I asked.

"He's picked up several fellows already. A Yankee named Stubbs is chief engineer. Sam is shipping Jamaica niggers for firemen."

No schoolboy out for a holiday could have been half so keen to be free as I was. At the wharf I picked up a coche and was driven to the Tivoli, the hotel in the American quarter where our party was staying.

The mud and the mosquitoes of former years were gone, though the natives were as indolent as ever. It is a town of color, due largely to the assorted population. I was told by a young engineer from Gatun that forty languages are spoken on the Isthmus at present, a condition due to the number of Caribbean islanders employed by our government.

I found that the program for the day included a trip to Colon on the Isthmus railroad. Miss Berry preferred to rest quietly at the hotel, so her niece, Sam, and I set out to see the great canal.

As I look back on it now Panama means to me a series of panoramic pictures. To give more than a cursory description of our impressions is impossible. The fact is that one obliterated another so swiftly as to leave a sense only of confusion.

Take Culebra Cut, for instance, where the monsters of man's invention are biting into the mountain sides, ripping down with giant jaws loose dirt, and hauling it away on a maze of tracks.

Great hoses, under tremendous pressure, are tearing at hills and washing them down. All the time there is a deafening noise, the crash of the continent's spine being rent by dynamite, the roar of trains, the shrieks of dirt shovels blowing off steam, the stab and hammer of drills.

Man is making war on nature with amazing energy on a titanic scale. The disorder seemed hopeless, but one realized that these little figures moving about it in the man-made canon were achieving the seemingly impossible none the less.

"Isn't it wonderful?" Evelyn asked for the tenth time, as we looked down on a machine which had just seized a section of track and hoisted it up, rails and ties complete, to swing it over to another place.

I quoted to her Damon Runyon's verses:

We are ants upon a mountain, but we're leavin' of our dent, An' our teeth-marks bitin' scenery they will show the way we went; We're a liftin' half-creation, and we're changin' it around, Just to suit our playful purpose when we're diggin' in the ground.

"You Americans take the cake," Blythe admitted. "You never tire of doing big things."

His eyes had come back to a group of young engineers who had just entered the car. The grimy sweat had dried on their sooty faces and their hands were black and greasy. They wore no coats and their shirts, wet from the perspiration drawn by the hot Panama sun, stuck to the muscular shoulders.

They looked like tramps from their attire, but Olympians could not have carried in their manner a blither confidence. These boys—I'll swear the oldest could have been no more than twenty-five—had undertaken to cut asunder what God has joined.

It did not matter to them in the least that they looked like coal miners. The only thing of importance was the work, the big ditch. Yet I knew that these were just such splendid fellows as our technical schools are turning out by thousands.

A few years before their thoughts had been full of cotillions and girls and the junior prom. The Isthmus had laid hold of them and hardened their muscles and bronzed their faces and given them a toughness of fiber that would last a lifetime.

They had taken on responsibility as if they had been born to it. A glow of pride in them flushed me. I was proud of the country that could fling out by hundreds of thousands such young fellows as these.

Empire, Gorgona, Gatun. From one to another we were hurried, passing through jungles such as we of the North never dream exist. In that humid climate vegetation is prodigal beyond belief, gorgeous with spattered greens and yellows and crimsons bizarre enough to take the breath.

We ate luncheon at Colon and were back across the Isthmus at Panama a few hours later. After dinner we strolled around the city and saw the Parque de la Catedral, the Plaza Santa Ana, and the old sea wall.

It did my heart good to see broad-shouldered, alert young Americans walking with wholesome girls from home and making love to them in the same fashion their friends were doing up in "God's country."

Bothwell and his bunch of pirates began to lose themselves in the background of my mind. There was a dance at the hotel that evening. Before I had waltzed twice with Evelyn her buccaneer cousin had dissolved into a myth.

When Yeager came ashore next morning he brought a piece of news. Henry Fleming had taken a boat during the night and escaped.

"If I run across him I'll curl his hair for him," Tom promised with a look that made me think he would keep his word.

But I was not sorry Fleming had taken French leave. Neidlinger could be trusted now, and neither Higgins nor Gallagher would go far astray without a leader.

But both the engineers had known of Bothwell's plans from the first. If I could have foreseen what effect the desertion of our second engineer was to have upon the expedition I would not have taken his disappearance so easily.

Our stay on the canal zone was a delightful one, though we were busy every minute of the time enjoying ourselves or making preparations for departure. With some difficulty Blythe picked up two engineers and a couple of firemen from Barbados and Jamaica, the latter of whom were natives. Philips was to stay at Panama until our return.

I had my share of duty aboard the Argos to do, but every minute that was my own I spent in the old city or on the works.

Evelyn surprised us by making no objection to our decree that she should remain at Panama while we took the Argos down to San Miguel Bay to lift the doubloons. In spite of her courage she was a woman. She confessed to me that she had seen bloodshed enough on the way down from California to last her a lifetime. The thought of returning so soon to the yacht had been a dreadful one to her.

On the afternoon of our last day at Panama, Evelyn and I went out to the old sea wall for an hour together. The tide was in and from the parapet we watched the waves beat against the foot of the wall.

Away to our right was Balboa, above which rested a smoke pall from tugs, dredges, and tramp west coasters. Taboga we could just make out, and closer in a group of smaller islands the names of which I have forgotten. Beyond them all stretched the endless Pacific.

Evelyn was quieter than usual, but I had never seen her look so lovely. The poise of my dear girl's burnished head, the untutored grace of her delicate youth, the gleam of tears behind the tremulous smile, all made mighty appeal to me.

"I'm afraid for you, Jack. That's the truth of it. We've just found each other—after all these years. I don't want to run the risk of losing you again." Ever so slightly her voice broke.

"You'll not lose me. Do you think anything could keep me away—with the sweetest girl in the world waiting for me here?"

"I know," she smiled, a little drearily. "It sounds foolish, but I think of that dreadful man."

We had been following the cement promenade on top of the wall. I led her across it to the landward side, from which we could look down into the yard of a prison. Under the eyes of an armed guard some prisoners were crossing to their cells. Two of them were in stripes, the third was not.

"Look," I told her. "Bothwell is down there, locked up and guarded. He can't escape."

The little group below came closer. I had noticed that the prisoner not in uniform was a white man and not a native. He carried himself with a distinction one could not miss. Even before he looked up both of us knew the man was Boris Bothwell.

He stopped in his tracks, white-lipped, a devil of hatred and rage burning out of his deep-set eyes. A dullard could not have missed his thoughts. He was a prisoner in this vile hole, while I had brought the woman he loved to mock at him. The girl and the treasure would both be mine. Before him lay no hope.

I felt a sense of shame at being an unexpected witness of his degradation. As I started to draw Evelyn back a guard prodded the Slav with his bayonet point. Bothwell whirled like a tiger and sprang for the throat of the fellow. They went down together. Other guards rushed to the rescue of their companion.

We waited to see no more.

It must have been a minute before either of us spoke.

"Bad as he is, I can't help being sorry for him. It's as if a splendid lion were being worried to death by a pack of coyotes," Evelyn said with a shudder.

"Yes, there's something big even in his villainy. But you may take one bit of comfort: He can't get free to interfere with us—and he deserves all he'll get."

"I know. My reason tells me that all will be well now, but I have a feeling as if the worst were not yet over."

I tried to joke her out of it.

"It hasn't begun. You're not married to Jack Sedgwick yet."

"No; but, dear, I can't get away from the thought that you are going into danger again," she went on seriously.

"Tis dangerous to take a cold, to sleep, to drink," I quoted lightly.

"I dare say I'm a goose," she admitted.

"You are. My opinion is that you're in as much danger as we shall be."

"Is that why you are leaving me here?" she flashed back.

I laughed. In truth I did not quite believe what I had said. For I could see no danger at all that lay in wait for her. But the events proved that I had erred only in not putting the case strongly enough. Before we returned to civilization she was to be in deadly peril.



CHAPTER XXI

A MESSAGE FROM BUCKS

In the forenoon we drew out from the harbor and followed the shore line toward the southwest, bound for that neck of the Isthmus which is known loosely as The Darien.

Before night had fallen we were rounding Brava Point into the Gulf of San Miguel, so named by Balboa because it was upon St. Michael's Day, 1513, that his eyes here first fell upon the blue waters of the Pacific.

We followed the north shore, along precipitous banks that grew higher the farther inland we went. The dense jungle came down to the water's edge and was unbroken by any sign of human habitation.

In the brilliant moonlight we passed the South and the North bays, pushing straight into the Darien Harbor by way of the Boco Chico. The tides here have a rise and fall of nearly twenty feet, but we found a little inlet close to a mangrove swamp that offered a good harborage for the night.

The warm sun was pouring over the hill when I reached the deck next morning. We were steaming slowly past the village of La Palma along a precipitous shore heavily timbered. One could not have asked a pleasanter trip than that to the head of the harbor, at which point the Rio Tuyra pours its waters into the bay. Between La Palma and the river mouth we did not see a sign of human life.

At the distance of a rifle shot from the head of the harbor we rounded a point and saw before us a long tongue of sand running into the water.

Blythe and I spoke almost together:

"Doubloon Spit."

There could be no mistake about it. We had reached the place where Bully Evans and Nat Quinn had buried the gold ingots they had sold their souls to get. We came to anchor a couple of hundred yards from the end of the sand spit.

Neither Blythe nor I had said a word to any of the crew to indicate that we were near our journey's end, but all morning there had been an unusual excitement aboard. Now we could almost see the word run from man to man that the spot where the treasure was buried lay before us.

"You'll command the shore party to-day, Jack," Blythe announced.

"Do I draw shore duty?" Yeager asked eagerly.

"You do. I'll stay with the ship. Jack, you'll have with you, too, Alderson, Smith, Gallagher, and one of the stokers."

"Also James A. Garfield Welch," I added.

"Also Jimmie," he nodded.

We had no reason to expect any trouble, but we went ashore armed, with the exception of Gallagher and Barbados, as we called our white-toothed, black-faced fireman.

I had our boat beached at the neck of the peninsula. While the men were drawing it up on the sand beyond reach of the tide I called to Jimmie.

"Yes, Mr. Sedgwick."

"Take off your coat."

"Are youse going to give me that licking now?" he asked, eyes big with surprise.

"How often have I told you not to ask questions? Shuck the coat."

He twisted out of it like an eel. I took it from him, turned it inside out, and opened my pocket knife. Carefully I ripped the lining at the seams. From a kind of pocket I drew an envelope. Out of the envelope I took the map that had been so closely connected with the history of Doubloon Spit.

When I say the men were surprised, I do them less than justice. One could have knocked their eyes off with a stick.

"Crikey! I didn't know that was there," Jimmie cried.

It had been Evelyn's idea to sew the map in Jimmie's coat, since that was the last place the mutineers would think of looking for it. While he had been peacefully sleeping Miss Wallace had done so neat a piece of tailoring that Jimmie did not suspect the garment had been tampered with.

We had, however, taken the precaution to take a copy of the map. During all the desperate fighting it had been lying in a shell snugly fitted into one of the chambers of a revolver in Yeager's room.

"Beg pardon, sir. Did the boy have the map with him while he was Mr. Bothwell's prisoner?" asked Gallagher.

"He did; but he didn't know it."

"Glad he didn't, sir, because if he had that devil would have got it out of him."

"Which no doubt would have distressed you greatly," I answered dryly.

"I'm on the honest side now, sir," the sailor said quietly.

"Let's hope you stay there."

"I intend to, sir," he said, flushing at my words.



The chart that Tom and I looked at was a contour map of the spit and the territory adjacent to it. No doubt it had in the old days been roughly accurate, but now the tongue of sand was wider than it had been by nearly a hundred years of sand deposits washed up by the tide.

Both on the map and the spit a salient feature was the grove of palms that stood on the hill just beyond the neck of the peninsula. Here plainly was the starting point of our quest. With Yeager I led the way to the clump, followed by my men carrying spades and shovels.

"Ye Grove" the clump of palms was labeled, and the great drooping tree to one side some fifty yards farther down the hill must be "Ye Umbrela Tree."

Beneath the map were the directions for finding the treasure, written in the angular hand of Nat Quinn. In order that you may understand I give these just as he had written them.

HOW TO FIND ITTE:

From inlet nearest shore go 200 paces to summit where Grove is. From most eastern palm measure 12 steps to Ye Umbrela Tree and seven beyond. Take a Be line from here thirty paces throu ye Forked Tree. Here cut a Rite Anggel N. N. E. till Tong of Spit is lost. Cast three long steps Souwest to Big Rock and dig on landward side.

(Sined)

Bully Evans X (His Mark) Nat Quinn

While I had been poring over this map and the directions with it in my office at San Francisco it had seemed an easy thing to follow them, but in this dense, tropical jungle I found it quite another matter.

The vegetation and the underbrush were so rank that one found himself buried before he had gone three steps in them.

No doubt at the time when the survivors of the Mary Ann of Bristol had cached their ill-gotten doubloons a recent fire had swept this point of land so that they had found no difficulty in traversing it, but now the jungle was so thick and matted that I decided to begin by cutting roads to the palm grove and the umbrella tree.

From the yacht I got hatchets and machetes and we set to work. Before night we all had a tremendous respect for the power of resistance offered by a Panama jungle. We might almost as well have hacked at rubber.

There was none of that sturdy solidity of our northern woods. The jungle yields to every blow and springs back into place with a persistence that seems devilish. By nightfall we had made so little progress that I was discouraged.

To our right there was a mangrove swamp. As we passed its edge on the way back to the boat our eyes beheld thousands upon thousands of birds coming there to roost for the night. Among them were many aigrette herons, white as the driven snow. I think I have never seen a bird so striking as this one.

Blythe, with Neidlinger, Higgins, our engineers, and the other fireman, took the second day on shore. Morgan was doing the cooking, and so was exempt from service. Dugan, still weak from his wound, was helping in the galley as best as he could.

All through the third day it rained hard, but on the fourth I and my detail were back on the job. We were making progress. By this time a path had been cut through to the palm grove and from it to the umbrella tree.

It was clear that a century ago the line of palms must have stretched farther down the hill, for now the nearest was at least fifty yards from the umbrella tree, instead of twelve as mentioned in the directions.

The only alternative to this was that the original umbrella tree had disappeared, and this I did not want to believe. At best one of the landmarks had gone.

We could go seven paces beyond the big tree, but "beyond" is a vague word, the point from which the measurement began having vanished.

Moreover, we encountered here another difficulty.

"Take a Be line from here thirty paces throu ye Forked Tree," we read on the chart, but the forked tree had apparently fallen and rotted long since. There were trees in the jungle, to be sure, but none of them were of sufficient age to have been in existence then.

The best I could do was to guess at the point seven paces beyond the umbrella tree and, using it as a center, draw a circle around it at thirty paces. Our machetes hacked a trail, and at one point of it we crossed the stump of a tree that had been in its day of some size.

The stump had rotted so that one could kick it to pieces with the heel of a boot. This might or might not be the remains of the forked tree, but since we were working on a chance, this struck us as a good one to try.

It was impossible to tell where the fork had been, but we made a guess at it and proceeded to follow directions.

"Here cut a Rite Anggel N. N. E. till Tong of Spit is lost."

This at least was specific and definite. North northeast we went by the compass, slashing our way through the heavy vines and shrubbery inch by inch. We dipped over a hillock and came out of the jungle into the sand before the end of the spit was hidden by higher ground.

"Cast three long steps Souwest to Big Rock and dig on landward side."

Three steps to the southwest brought me deeper into the sand. There was no big rock in sight.

I looked at Tom. He laughed, as he had a habit of doing when in a difficulty.

"I guess we'll have to try again, Jack."

Gallagher broke in, touching his hat in apology:

"Not meaning to butt in, Mr. Sedgwick, but mightn't the rock be covered with sand? Give a hundred years and a heap of sand would wash into this cove here."

"There's sense in that. Anyhow, we'll try out your theory, Gallagher."

I marked a space about twelve by twelve upon which to begin operations. It took us an hour and a half to satisfy ourselves that nothing was hidden there.

I marked a second square, a third, and finally a fourth. Dusk fell before we had finished digging the last. Tired and dispirited we pulled back to the yacht.

During the night it came on to rain again, and for three successive days water sluiced down from skies which never seemed empty of moisture. There was a gleam of sunshine the fourth day and though the jungle was like a shower bath Blythe took his machete and shovel squad to work.

At the end of the day they were back again. Sam had picked on a great lignum vitae as the forked tree named in the chart and had come to disappointment, even as I had.

In the end it was Gallagher who set us right. By this time, of course, every member of our party had the directions on the chart by heart, though several had not read the paper. We had finished luncheon and several of the men were strolling about. I was half way through my cigar when Gallagher came swinging back almost at a run.

"Beg pardon, sir. Would you mind coming with me?"

"What is it?" I asked in some excitement.

"It may not amount to anything. I don't know. But I thought I'd tell you, Mr. Sedgwick."

He had been lying down on the sand where it ran back to the jungle from the farthest inlet. Kicking idly with his heel he had come to solid stone. An examination proved to him that he was lying on a big rock covered with sand.

"You think this is the Big Rock," I said, after I had examined it.

"That's my idea. Stand here, sir, at the edge. You can't see the tongue of the spit, can you?"

"No, but that doesn't prove anything. We can't see it from this inlet at all."

"Sure about that, sir? Take three steps nor'east—long ones. Can you see the point now?"

"No, there's a hillock between."

"Take one step more."

I moved forward another yard. Over the top of the rise I could just see the sand tongue running into the bay.

Jimmie, the irrepressible, broke out impatiently.

"Don't see what he's getting at, Mr. Sedgwick. The map says to take three steps southwest to the big rock."

"Exactly, Jimmie, but we're starting from the big rock, so we have to reverse directions. By Jove, I believe you've hit on the spot, Gallagher."

I called to Alderson to bring the men with their spades. A tree more than a foot thick at the ground had grown up at the edge of the rock. We brought this down by digging at the roots. After another quarter of an hour's work Barbados unearthed a bottle. He was as proud of his find as if it had been a bar of gold.

We were all excited. The bottle was passed from hand to hand.

"We're getting warm," I cried. "This is the spot. Remember that every mother's son of you shares what we find. Five dollars to the man that first touches treasure."

There was a cheer. The men fell to work with renewed vigor. Presently Gallagher's spade hit something solid. A little scraping showed the top of an iron box.

"I claim that five, sir," cried Gallagher.

I jumped into the hole beside him. With our hands we scraped the dirt away from the sides.

"Heave away," I gave the word.

We lifted the box to the solid ground above. It was very rusty, of a good size, and heavy.

"Let's open it now," cried Jimmie, dancing with enthusiasm.

"Let's not," I vetoed. "We'll take it on board first. Five dollars to the man that finds the second box."

But there was no second box. We worked till dark at the hole. Before we left there was an excavation large enough for the cellar of a house. But not a trace of more treasure did we find.

Blythe had decided it best not to open the treasure before the men, and though the crew was plainly disappointed we stuck to that resolution.

Sam promised the men that they should see it before we reached San Francisco, and that they should appoint two of their number to accompany the treasure to the assay office in that city to determine the value of our find and their share.

Yeager, being handier with an ax than the rest of us, broke open the lid of the chest. A piece of coarse sacking covered the contents. Blythe lifted this—and disclosed to our astonished eyes a jumble of stones and sand.

We looked at our find and at each other. Tom put our feeling into words.

"Bilked, by Moses!"

We tossed the rocks and sand upon the table and came to a piece of ragged paper folded in two. In a faint red four words were traced as if with the end of a pointed stick.

Sold, you devils! BUCKS.



CHAPTER XXII

TREASURE-TROVE

Tom broke the silence again.

"Now will some one tell me who the devil is Bucks?"

It was the question in all our minds and our eyes groped helplessly in those of each other for an answer.

"Bucks! Bucks! I've heard his name somewhere."

Blythe spoke up like a flash.

"So have I, Jack. He was one of the sailors that took the Santa Theresa. Quinn gave a list of them in his story. This fellow must have escaped somehow when the ship was blown up."

"Or from the gig that set out to pursue the long boat. Perhaps when the Truxillo pounded the boat to pieces he swam to shore," I suggested.

"Yes, but Quinn does not mention that Bucks got ashore. That's funny too, because he says that he was the only man from the Santa Theresa left alive after Bully Evans was shot."

"That is queer. But it's plain Bucks did escape. Don't you think it might be this way? When he got to shore he ran forward to tell the four who had landed with the treasure about the coming of the Truxillo. But before he reached the top of the hill he heard shots and suspected danger. So he stole forward cautiously and saw what had happened to Wall and Lobardi. Of course he wouldn't dare show himself then, for he was probably unarmed. So he kept hidden while the two survivors buried the treasure."

"Of course. Like a wise man too," assented Tom. "And when Quinn and the mate had pulled their freights he steps out and buries the gold in another place."

"Probably he waited till the Truxillo was out of the harbor," amended the Englishman.

"Sure. But the big point that sticks out like a sore thumb is that Bucks didn't fool Evans and Quinn, but us. The treasure's gone. That's a rock-bottom fact," Yeager commented.

"I'm not so sure about that," I reflected aloud. "Look here. If Bucks dug the gold up he had to rebury it somewhere. He had no way of taking the doubloons with him. He couldn't have hauled the other boxes far. Therefore, it follows that he buried them close to where he found them. The one thing we don't know is whether he came back later and got the treasure. I'll bet he didn't. The man was a common sailor and had no means."

"Even if we give you the benefit of every doubt, the treasure is hidden. We don't know where. In a year we might not find it."

"True enough, Sam. And we might stumble on it to-morrow. Look at the facts. He was alone, probably superstitious, certainly in fear lest Bully Evans might return and find him there. More than that, he had no provisions. To get away and reach the Indians to get food would be his main thought. It was a case of life and death with him. So you can bet he chose easy digging when he transferred the treasure. That means he buried it in the sand not far from where he found it."

"You have it figured out beautifully," Sam laughed. "Well, I wish you luck."

"But you don't expect any for me. Just you wait and see."

We called the crew in and showed them what we had found, explaining the facts and our deductions from them. For we thought it better they should know just how matters stood. Their disappointment was keen, but to a man they were eager to search further.

Hitherto we had staked our chances for success upon the map, but it was now manifest that the chart was no longer of any use. I decided first to take a look along the shore from the point where we had discovered the first box.

Fortune is a fickle jade. We had spent a week here and met only disappointment, working on careful calculations made from the directions left by Quinn. By chance Gallagher had hit on the first cache. By chance I hit on the second.

Fighting my way through the jungle just adjacent to the beach I stumbled over what I took to be a root. In some annoyance I glanced hastily at the projection—and then looked again. My foot had been caught by a bone sticking out of the ground. The odd thing was that it looked like a human bone.

I plied my machete. Within a quarter of an hour I had cleared a small square of ground and was digging with a pick. What I presently uncovered were the remains of a skeleton. An old sack, more brittle than paper, lay beneath these. This I removed. There, lying in the sand, were three bars of gold.

My heart jumped, lost a beat, hammered furiously. I looked around quickly. Alderson and Gallagher were the only men I had brought ashore with me. They were digging at haphazard in the sand a hundred yards away. With one stroke of the pick I upended several more yellow bars.

That was enough for me. I laid aside the first three and covered the others with sand, using my foot as a spade. The three original bars I buttoned under my coat and then walked down hill to the beach.

"I'm going aboard," I told the men.

"Gallagher, you may row me out. I'll be back presently, Alderson."

I was under a tremendous suppressed excitement. Blythe met me as I came aboard and his eyes questioned mine. Without a word we moved toward the bridge pavilion and down into the saloon.

"I've had another message from Mr. Bucks," I told him.

"The deuce you say!"

"He delivered it in person this time."

The Englishman's eyes danced, but otherwise his face was immobile.

"Did he say his name was Bucks?"

"No. I'm not dead sure I have him identified correctly. As Tom would say, the brand is worn out."

"I never was any good at riddles," he admitted.

"I stumbled over a thigh bone in the jungle. It was sticking out of the ground, where in the course of time the sand had buried the rest of the body. I have reason to think it belonged to Bucks because——"

I paused for dramatic effect, my arms folded across my chest to keep the treasure from slipping down.

"Just so, because——?"

He was as cool as an iced melon, the drawl in his voice not quickening in the least. But his eyes gave away his tense interest.

"Why, because I found a lot of these in the sand, all of them measuring up to sample." From under my coat I drew the shining yellow bars and handed them to him.

"Gold!" he cried softly. "By Jove, this is a find."

"And a lot more where those came from, or I miss my guess. There is a mound there that looks to me like a cache."

"But what was Bucks doing there?"

"That's a guess. Here is mine. It doesn't cost you a cent even if you don't accept it. After he had made the cache we'll say that he hiked off to try to find a settlement. Very likely he had no idea where to look and he found progress through the jungle impossible. After a while he wandered back, half starved and exhausted. Perhaps his idea may have been that the Truxillo was still on the ground. If so, he may have wanted to offer the gold in exchange for his life. Anyhow, back he comes, to find that he is too late. The brig has gone. In his delirium he has some notion of digging up the treasure to buy food. He gets the first sack of bullion up and then quits, too weak to do any more."

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