Doubloons/Chapter 6

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CHAPTER VI.

The big tug Endeavor had encountered trouble and delay in towing the crippled steamer which she was sent out from Falmouth to rescue. Strong head winds kicked up an uncomfortable sea, hawsers parted, and twice the tug was compelled to let go and stand by until the weather moderated. It was all in the day’s work, but the mate grew impatient and was poor company at mess. Dan had left Eudora in trouble, and he yearned for some word. A minor regret was that he had not punched the head of William Marmaduke Mannice, who had so disturbed the peace of the white cottage by the harbor.

A week of battering struggle, and the Endeavor hauled her prize in past the Boston Light. At the agents’ office, Dan Sloan found a letter forwarded from Falmouth, and his frank eyes were suffused as he read Eudora’s message in which she had tried to hide the appeal to his courage and devotion. Wasting no time, he raced back to the Endeavor and interviewed her master as follows:

“I shall have to ask for a month’s leave, if you please, sir. If you can’t hold the berth for me, I’ll have to ship in some other boat when I come back. This is a hurry call.”

“Somebody sick, or have the police caught up with you, Dan?”

“Personal business, sir. And where the dickens are the Seven Islands? Ever hear of them?”

“If I bumped into ’em, I didn’t know it. On the level, are you in trouble again? No, you wouldn’t blush if you were, you hardened young sinner. Well, I hate to lose you. Come back as soon as you can. I’ll find some kind of a mate to fill in with. We’ll be idle, anyhow, for a couple of weeks. This last stunt plumb near jerked the engines out of her.”

Dan thanked him and jumped for a roll of charts in the wheelhouse. Coastwise, said Eudora, and a short voyage. It couldn’t be to the southward, for he knew his way through to the Florida Straits. Nova Scotia? The hasty search was in vain. He would try the hydrographic office and the government charts. Ramming some clothes into a bag, he waved his hand to the amused skipper, who assumed that a girl was at the bottom of it, and the Endeavor saw him no more. As he dashed into the hall of a building familiar to mariners, a spruce chap in a blue uniform hailed him gladly. Dan halted to smite his friend on the back and exclaim:

“Max Leonard, you loafer! How's the navy? Somebody told me battleships were hollow. Have you learned that much?”

“Promoted twice, you roughneck. Gunner’s mate, second class, and eating up the book stuff in the hope of winning out an ensign’s commission. Still in the Endeavor?

“On and off, Max. Glory, I wish you were foot-loose for a few weeks. I need a pal.”

"I am,” grinned the petty officer. “My enlistment runs out to-morrow, and there’s a furlough coming to me before I take another hitch. Name the proposition.”

“To capture a schooner and a few little things like that. Come into the hydrographic office with me. I’m on a blind course so far.”

“Sure, Dan,” replied the gunner’s mate, who appeared to take life as it came. “The lieutenant in charge is a friend of mine—not one of the chesty kind that tries to put it all over an enlisted man. We were in a destroyer together. I’m on my way to see him now.”

They were affably received; and, better still, the lieutenant showed himself an expert navigator by finding the Seven Islands after pawing over several charts. He suggested:

“Go to Prince Edward Island and pick up some sort of a sailing craft or power boat from there. Drop me a line, will you, Leonard? It’s a safe bet you are up to something. Two of a kind, at a guess.”

“The St. John’s steamer sails to-morrow,” said Dan. “We are much obliged, lieutenant. Come along, Max. We’ll eat and discuss things.”

When the chivalrous mission had been confided to him, the navy man insisted on sharing the expenses of the relief expedition, but confessed that his balance with the paymaster at the Charlestown Yard was painfully small.

“It’s not up to you to spend a solitary cent,” warmly protested Dan. “This is my picnic. The saving habit didn’t take hold of me until lately, but I’m a couple of hundred strong. We’ll go as far as we can and swim the rest of the way.”

A week later, they were bargaining with an amphibious citizen of George town for the hire of a leaky sloop which looked unfit to take to sea. They could afford nothing better after reserving cash enough for provisions. So long as this dilapidated tub could stay afloat and carry sail, they saw no cause for worry. Notwithstanding the verdict of Eudora, a reckless lover had his advantages. A prudent one would have remained at home.

Light-heartedly they hoisted a threadbare jib and a rotten mainsail and filled away in a wind that pelted them with spray. This was sheer romance, and they loved it for its own sake, because they were in the lusty twenties. The sloop had a cabin for shelter, two bunks, and an oil stove. While one man steered, the other struggled with the frying pan and coffeepot; and at night they kept her going watch and watch. When the straining seams took in too much water, they fell to with a hand pump and a bucket. A few days of this, and Max Leonard was haggard and heavy-eyed, for he was of a lighter build than the deep-chested mate of the Endeavor. But there were no complaints, and never a sign of shirking. The sloop held together, thanks to good luck and better seamanship, and they were putting the miles over her stern every day. What more could a man ask?

“It begins to look as if we might really fetch somewhere with this bundle of boards, Dan,” said the gunner, as he sprawled in the cockpit for a brief respite and rolled a cigarette. “Far be it from me to crab the game, but your plans are a bit hazy. If it’s a case of sealed orders, isn’t it about time to pipe all hands aft and loosen up?”

Mr. Sloan rubbed his head and appeared perplexed as he replied: “Eudora wants to see me. That’s the answer. She’s not the kind to borrow trouble. After we get ashore, do you mean, Max? I had no time to size this Mannice up, barring the fact that he left a bad taste in my mouth. Wait till we live with him a day or two.”

“Get his number, eh? Is he bad medicine? Will he start something? How many men are there in the outfit?”

“Enough to make it squally for us if he has fooled them as he did Captain Kempton,” said Dan; “but we’ll drop in pleasant and peaceful for a friendly visit. I don’t propose to queer myself with Eudora by hurting anybody unless I have to. She has a funny idea that I like disturbances. It was this way, Max. Towboat hands are a hard lot, and whenever I disciplined a roustabout, he would think it his duty to muster his friends in the next port and try to give me a trimming.”

“Sure. You’re a peace congress,” scoffed the other, “and we are bound for Seven Islands on a diplomatic mission, all grape juice and kind words.”

 

While the sloop labored on her course, the embattled treasure seekers were deadlocked in an armed truce. The only sane solution, of course, was for them to join forces and agree to divide the spoils, as suggested by Mrs. Bodge. The professor and Captain Kempton objected because each believed himself to be the possessor of the only genuine document bequeathed to posterity by the red-handed Peleg Peterson. Sentries continued to guard the excavations in which the eager shovels no longer made the sand fly. The sailors from the two schooners were ready to renew hostilities at the drop of the hat.

It was early in this lull that the owner of the island wandered over to pay his respects and transact business. Captain Kempton was in a testy mood, and this complication annoyed him. Elmer Stackpole hitched up his overalls, bit off a sector of plug cut, and pleasantly reiterated:

"Ten dollars a day for each and every day from when you landed. I dunno as I ought to be so liberal. Accordin’ to the laws of this here Dominion of Canady, the treasure belongs to me; but I’m not a graspin’ man and money is the root of all evil.”

“But we’re not digging, and I don’t see any way to tackle it again without killing a few of those other fools,” rapped out the skipper.

“Makes no difference to me, cap’n. Settle your own squabbles. You’re here, and you look like a man that is sot in his ways. Be on my island some time longer, won’t ye?”

“I intend to wear that addle-headed professor out,” declared the mariner.

“Then I’ll collect to date,” cheerfully replied Mr. Stackpole. “No use to fuss. You ought to seen me before you come here and landed. I’m a poor man, but there’s justice for all in the Dominion of Canady.”

“How do I know you own this island?”

“Step across and see my house, and I’ve got papers to prove it. Ten dollars a day is terrible reasonable.”

With a sigh, Captain Kempton counted out the money. When not led astray by the glitter of pirates’ gold, he had an instinctive respect for the rights of property. And he had troubles enough. He chuckled as Elmer Stackpole trudged along the beach to collect tribute from Professor Bodge.

Toward nightfall of this same day, a shabby sloop, her sails torn, crept toward the island. A gale had almost finished her, but no distress signal flew from the mast. Slowly she drifted into the bay and came to anchor between the two schooners. Two men jumped into a dory and pulled for the beach. Eudora’s glad cry of recognition startled her father, who roughly exclaimed:

“I wasn’t quite sure of it. Dan Sloan? What’s he doing here? You told him, did you? He is after the treasure.”

“How absurd! He—he never dared to call me a treasure,” and she colored vividly, for her thoughts had betrayed her.

“I don’t trust him,” returned the captain, who was a man of one idea. “He may have half a dozen men hiding in the cabin of that sloop. I have heard some hard things said of Dan Sloan. He wouldn’t stop at a thing like this. He must have figured that he could get here ahead of us.”

William Marmaduke Mannice, uneasily hovering within earshot, had been smitten with a sense of panic. He took no stock in the captain’s mad and foolish surmise, for he knew better. This formidable Dan Sloan had come to square accounts with him. Eudora had sent him some word, before leaving home, that she was unhappy and afraid and suspicious of the voyage. The island was not large enough to hide Mr. Mannice, and he therefore summoned his wits to aid him. The captain’s outburst gave him a cue. Slipping away from the group, he hastened along the beach, crossed the barrier, and sought an interview with Professor Bodge.

The latter gentleman backed away as though expecting to be assaulted, but Mannice flourished a white handkerchief and explained;

“It’s for your interests as well as ours. If we allow the men from that sloop to come ashore, there will be hell to pay and more of it. I know one of them. He got the tip before we sailed. Do you want another party in this quarrel?”

“God forbid!” the professor ejaculated. “Are you sure of this? They look like tough customers.”

“No doubt of it. Captain Kempton thinks there are more of them aboard the sloop. This Dan Sloan, the leader, would rather scrap than eat. He comes from Falmouth, the captain’s home town. Do you get me?”

“And your advice is to bury the hatchet and act together in the face of this mutual danger?”

“You’re on. If they need food or repairs, all right. Our sailors can fit them out to make the next port. But they mustn’t set foot on the island, understand?”

“I quite agree with you,” assented Professor Bodge, who saw no reason to doubt the word of the enemy.

Mannice turned to look at the dory which had halted at some distance from the beach and was lifting on the small swells that rolled in from outside. Dan Sloan rested on his oars, and his fond vision searched out Eudora, who stood apart from the others.

“I came as fast as the wind would let me,” he shouted to her across the water. “Are you all safe and sound?”

“Oh, thank you, thank you, Dan!” the dearly remembered voice came back to him. “I didn’t expect you to——

Captain Kempton waved an impatient arm and interrupted: “It won’t do, Sloan. Go back to your vessel. This place is overcrowded.”

“Well, you have turned pirate for fair,” was the reply. “And the other bunch of outlaws is swarming over to join you. Warned off, am I?”

“You are welcome to stay anchored in the bay. And I’ll send whatever you need.”

“Lend a man, then, to pump the old coffin out. Our backs are broken. A dozen of you against us? We seem to be outvoted.”

Ingloriously Dan whirled the dory about, and, with unhurried stroke, rowed back to the forlorn sloop. It was an anticlimax, but Max Leonard accepted it like a philosopher, observing, as he scrubbed the frying pan:

“No landing party is supposed to storm a position against odds like that. What’s the other outfit, the lanky gent with the gold glims? Who opened the door of his cage, I wonder? All bug-house, Dan. Here’s this Captain Joseph Kempton. A lovely father-in-law he’ll make, unless he comes to. He treats you like a burglar.”

“Captain Kidd sounds more like it,” said Dan, with a trace of resentment. “I was never any too popular with him, but this is the limit. They intend to patrol the island to keep us from sneaking ashore anywhere. Mannice will look after that. He is scared to death.”

“Do we beat it, or do we stand pat?”

“We take the dory after dark, and we run the blockade, Max. Do you expect me to sit out here and twiddle my thumbs while the finest girl in the world is no farther away than that? Shame on you! Beat it? Is that what they teach you in the navy?”