"A mighty thin excuse," commented Tyke.
"Of course it is; and I raked Ditty fore and aft on account of it. I'm through with him after this cruise. I've only kept him on as long as I have because Mr. Parmalee wanted it so. But he finds another berth as soon as we reach New York."
"I've noticed him talking to some of the men a good deal," remarked Tyke.
"That's another thing that's worried me," said the captain. "Up to now, Ditty has always been a good bucko mate and has kept the men at a distance. Did you see the man I knocked down the other day when he started to give me some back talk?"
"Yes," grinned Tyke. "You made a neat job of it. Couldn't have done it better myself in the old days."
"But the peculiar thing about it," continued the captain, "was that I had to do it although the mate was a good deal nearer to the fellow than I was. Ordinarily, Ditty would have put him on his back by the time he'd got out the second word. But this time he had paid no attention, and I had to do the job myself."
"Well, what do you make of it all?"
"I don't know what to make of it, and that's just what's troubling me. If I could only get to the bottom of it, I'd make short work of the mystery."
"How's your second officer, Rogers? Is he a man you can depend on?"
"He's true blue. A fine, straight fellow and a good sailor."
"I wish he were mate in place of Ditty," muttered the captain.
"Well, he ain't," replied Tyke. "An' to make any change jest now with nothing more'n you've got to go on, would put you in bad with the marine court. We'll jest keep our eyes peeled for the first sign of real trouble, and' if them skunks start to make any we'll be ready for 'em."
"I wonder what the matter is with Drew and Parmalee over there!" exclaimed the captain suddenly. "More trouble?"
Tyke followed the direction the captain indicated and was astonished to see that the young men seemed to be on the verge of an altercation. Their faces were flushed and their attitude almost threatening.
The captain hurried toward them, and Tyke hobbled after him as fast as he was able.
The tension between Parmalee and Drew had been slowly but steadily tightening. Little things, trifles in themselves, had increased it until they found it hard to be civil to each other. In the presence of Ruth and the two older men, they suppressed this feeling as much as possible; and except by Ruth it had been unsuspected.
The purest accident that afternoon had brought the matter to a crisis.
Ruth was detained below by some duty she had on hand, and Drew was pacing the deck while Parmalee, leaning on his cane, was standing near the rail looking out to sea.
As Drew passed the other, the ship lurched and his foot accidentally struck the cane, which flew out of Parmalee's hand. Deprived of the support on which he relied, the latter staggered and almost lost his balance. He saved himself by clutching at the rail. Then he turned about with an angry exclamation.
Drew stooped instantly and picked up the cane, which he held out to Parmalee.
"I'm sorry," he said. "It was an awkward accident."
"Awkward, sure enough," sneered Parmalee.
"As to it's being an accident——" He paused suggestively.
Drew stepped nearer to him, his eyes blazing.
"What do you mean?" he asked. "Do you intimate that I did it purposely?"
Parmalee regretted the ungenerous sneer as soon as he spoke. But his blood was up, and before Drew's menacing attitude he would not retract.
"You can put any construction on it that you please," he flared.
Just then Tyke and the captain came hurrying up.
"Come, come, boys," said the captain soothingly, "keep cool."
"What's the trouble with you two young roosters?" queried Tyke.
They looked a little sheepish.
"Just a little misunderstanding," muttered Drew.
"I fear it was my fault," admitted Parmalee. "Mr. Drew accidentally knocked my cane out of my hand, and I flew off at a tangent and was nasty about it when he apologized."
"Nothing mor'n that?" said Tyke, with relief. "You young fire-eaters shouldn't have such hair-trigger tempers."
"Shake hands now and forget it," admonished the captain genially.
The young men did so, both being ashamed of having lost control of themselves. But there was no cordiality in the clasp, and Tyke's keen sense divined that something more serious than a trivial happening like the cane incident lay between the two.
Tyke had never seen the French motto: "Cherchez la femme," and could not have translated it if he had. But he had seen enough of trouble between men, especially young men, to know that in nine cases out of ten a woman was at the bottom of it. He thought instantly of Ruth.
He decided to have a serious talk with Drew at the earliest opportunity. But as he looked about, after the young men had departed, he saw signs of a change in the weather that in a moment drove all other thoughts out of his head. He limped into the cabin companionway to look at the barometer.
"Jumping Jehoshaphat!" he shouted, "we're going to ketch it sure! She's down to twenty-nine an' still a-dropping!"
THE STORM BREAKS
Tyke was not the only one who had noted the falling barometer. Captain Hamilton was already standing at the foot of the mainmast, shouting orders that were taken up by Ditty and Rogers and carried on to the men.
To the north, great masses of leaden-gray clouds were heaped up against the sky. The sea was as flat as though a giant roller had passed over it. A curious stillness prevailed—the wind seemed hushed, holding its breath before the tempest burst.
The hatches were battened down and the storm slides put on the companionway. Most of the sails were reefed close, and with everything snug alow and aloft, the Bertha Hamilton awaited the coming storm.
This wait was not long. A streak of white appeared along the sea line, and this drove nearer with frightful rapidity. With a pandemonium of sound, the tempest was upon them. The spars bent, groaning beneath the strain, and the stays grew as taut as bowstrings. The schooner careened until her copper sheathing showed red against the green and white of the foaming waves.
The screaming of the wind was deafening. Hundreds of tons of water crashed against the schooner's sides and poured over her stern. The sea clawed at her hull as though to tear it in pieces. Tatters of foam and spindrift swept over the deck and dashed as high as the topgallant yards. The spray was blinding and hid one end of the craft from the other.
Staggering under the repeated pounding of the tumbling, churning waves that shook her from stem to stern, the Bertha Hamilton plunged on, her bow at times buried in the surges, her spars creaking and groaning, but holding gallantly.
Ruth had been ordered by her father to go below, and he had advised Parmalee and Drew to do the same. But the fascination of the storm had been too much for the young men to resist, and they crouched in the shelter of the lee side of the deckhouse, holding on tightly while they watched the unchained fury of the waters. As for Tyke, he was in his element, and nothing could have induced him to leave the deck.
For nearly twenty-four hours the storm continued, although its chief fury was spent before the following morning. But the billows still ran high, and it was evening before the topsails could be set. Later on, as the wind subsided, the schooner, having shown her mettle, settled once more into her stride and flew along like a ghost.
Then, for the first time since the storm had begun, the captain laid aside his oil-skins and relaxed.
"That was a fierce blow," chuckled Tyke. "A little more and you might have called it a hurricane."
"It was a teaser," asserted the captain. "Did you see how the old girl came through it? Never lost a brace or started a seam. Hardly a drop of water in the hold. Didn't I tell you she was a sweet sailer, either in fair weather or foul? But the crew! Holy mackerel! what a gang of lubbers."
"You're right to be proud of the craft," assented Tyke. "Has it taken her much out of her course?"
"A bit to the north, but nothing more. For that matter, we've passed Martinique. I figure it out that we may raise the hump-backed island to-morrow, if we have luck."
A feeling of relief was experienced by the rest of the after-guard when at last the danger was past, and it was a happy, if tired, party that gathered about the captain's table that evening.
Supper over, they went on deck. The tropical night had fallen. There was no moon, and a velvety blackness stretched about the ship on every side, broken here and there by a faint phosphorescent gleam as a wave reared and broke.
The schooner still rose and plunged from the aftermath of the storm, and the slipperiness of the wet decks made the footing insecure. The captain was fearful that Ruth might have a fall, and after a while urged her to go below. Drew and Parmalee offered to accompany her, but she was very tired after the excitement and sleeplessness of the previous night, and excused herself on the plea that she thought she would retire early.
Drew and Parmalee were standing near each other just abaft the mizzenmast, while Tyke and the captain were aft, talking in low voices.
An unusually big wave struck the schooner a resounding slap on the starboard quarter, causing her to lurch suddenly. Drew was thrown off his balance. He tried to regain his footing, but the slippery deck was treacherous and he fell heavily, striking his head on the corner of the hatch cover.
How long he lay there he did not know, but it must have been for several minutes, for when he recovered consciousness his clothes were wet where they had absorbed the moisture from the deck. His head was whirling, and he felt giddy and confused. He put his hand to his forehead and felt a cut that was bleeding profusely.
Drew had a horror of scenes, and instead of reporting to Tyke or to the captain, he resolved to go quietly to his room, bind up the wound as well as he was able, and then get into his berth with the hope that a good night's rest would put him in good shape again.
He wondered in a dazed way where Parmalee was. Why had not the other young man sought to help him? He had been standing close by at the time and could not have failed to notice the accident. Was it possible that Parmalee still nourished a grudge, and had refused the slight service that humanity should have dictated? No, Parmalee was not that kind. There was no love lost between the two, but Drew refused to do him that injustice.
But Drew's wound demanded attention, and he was too confused just then to solve problems that could wait till later. So he picked his way rather unsteadily to the companionway and went down.
He had to pass the captain's cabin on his way to his own room. As he did so, the light streamed full upon him, and Ruth, who had not yet gone to her own room, looked up from her sewing and saw him. She gave a little scream and rushed toward him.
"Oh, Allen, Allen!" she cried, taking his face in her hands. "What has happened? Your head is bleeding! Are you badly hurt?"
"Don't be frightened, Ruth," he returned. "I was stupid enough to fall and cut my head a little. Bu it's nothing of any account. I'll bind it up and I'll be as right as a trivet in the morning."
"You'll bind it up!" she exclaimed. "You'll do nothing of the kind. You'll come right in here and let me fix that poor head for you."
She drew him in and he went unresistingly, glad to yield to her gentle tyranny.
Ruth found warm water, ointment, lint and bandages, and deftly bound up the wound. She was a sailor's daughter, and an adept in first aid to the wounded. Her soft hands touched his face and head, her eyes were dewy with sympathy, and Drew found himself rejoicing at the accident that had brought him this boon. She had never been so close to him before, and he was sorry when the operation was ended.
"Through so soon?" he asked regretfully.
She laughed merrily. She could laugh now.
"I can take the bandage off and start all over again if you say so," she said mischievously.
"Do," he begged.
"Be sensible," she commanded. "Go at once now and get to bed. Remember, you're my patient and must obey orders."
She shook her finger at him and tried to frown with portentous severity. But the dancing eyes and mutinous dimple belied the frown.
"If you're my nurse, I'm going to be sick for a long time," he warned her.
He tried to grasp the menacing finger, but she eluded him and playfully drove him out of the room.
The sun was shining brightly through the porthole of his room when he awoke the next morning, and on reaching for his watch he found that he had waked later than usual. He dressed himself quickly. He felt a little light-headed from the effect of his wound, but nothing more.
There was an exclamation of alarm from Tyke and the captain when they saw his bandaged head.
"Only a cut," said Allen lightly. And he briefly narrated the details of his misadventure.
"Lucky it was no worse," commented Tyke.
"Wasn't there any one near by at that time?" asked the captain.
"Why——" began Drew, and stopped. To say that Parmalee had been near him would have been an indictment of the former for his seeming heartlessness. He did not want to take advantage of his absent rival.
"If there had been, he'd have certainly picked me up," he evaded, rather lamely.
Ruth greeted him in her usual gay and gracious manner, but he sought in vain for any trace of the tenderness of the night before. She was on her guard again.
"How is my patient this morning?" she smiled.
"Fine," he answered. "If you ever want any recommendation as a nurse you can refer to me. Only I wouldn't give it," he added.
"Why not?" she asked.
"Because I want to be your only patient."
She hastened to get off perilous ground.
"I wonder what's keeping Mr. Parmalee this morning," she observed. "He's even more of a sleepy head than you are."
"Tired out, I guess," conjectured the captain. "This storm has used us all up pretty well."
Ruth summoned Namco and told him to knock on Mr. Parmalee's door. The Japanese was back in a minute.
"Honorable gent no ansler," he reported.
"That's queer," remarked the captain. "I'll step there myself."
He returned promptly, looking very grave. "He isn't there," he announced.
"Perhaps he's gone on deck to get an appetite for breakfast," suggested Drew lightly.
"It's not alone that he's absent," said the captain in a worried tone. "His bed hasn't been slept in!"
There was a chorus of startled exclamations. Drew and Tyke jumped to their feet and Ruth lost her color.
"Oh, Daddy!" she cried, "it can't be that anything's happened to him?"
"Don't get excited, Ruth," said her father soothingly. "There may be some explanation. I'll have the ship searched at once."
They all hurried on deck, and the captain summoned the mate and Mr. Rogers. He told them what he feared and ordered that the ship be searched thoroughly.
Rogers turned to obey, but the one-eyed mate, Cal Ditty, stopped him with a gesture.
"No use," he said. "Mr. Parmalee ain't here."
"How do you know?" cried the captain.
"Because he was thrown overboard last night," was the sudden grim answer.
Ruth gave a smothered shriek and the others gasped in amazement and horror.
"What do you mean?" shouted the captain.
"Just what I said."
"Who threw him overboard?"
"He did," declared Ditty, pointing to Drew.
There was a moment of terrible silence as the others looked in the direction of the mate's pointing finger.
Drew stood as though he were turned to stone. His tongue was paralyzed. He saw consternation in the faces of Tyke and the captain. He glimpsed the horror in the eyes of Ruth. Then, with a roar of rage, he hurled himself at the one-eyed mate.
"You lying hound!" he shouted. "If crime's been done, you've committed it."
Ditty slid back a step and met the younger man's charge with a coolness that showed his taunt had been premeditated and that this result was expected. As the enraged Drew closed in, the mate met him with a frightful swing to the side of his bandaged head.
Drew's head rocked on his shoulders, and for a moment he was dazed. Blood flowed from under the bandage, and in an instant his cheek and neck were besmeared with it. The bucko, with the experience of long years of rough fighting, landed a second blow before the confused Drew could put up his defense again.
But that was the last blow Ditty did land. Drew's brain cleared suddenly. Hot rage filled his heart. He forgot his surroundings. He forgot that Ruth stood by to see his metamorphosis from a civilized man into an uncivilized one. He forgot everything but the leering face of the lying scoundrel before him, and he proceeded to change that face into a bruised mask.
His skill and speed made the mate, with only brute force behind him, seem like a child. Drew closed Ditty's remaining eye, split his upper lip, puffed both his cheeks till his nose was scarcely a ridge between them, and ended by landing a left hook on the point of the jaw that knocked the mate down and out.
As Drew fell back from the fray, which had lasted only seconds, so swift was the pace, Tyke seized him.
"You've done enough, boy! You've done enough, Allen!" he exclaimed. "Leave life in the scoundrel so we can get the truth out of him."
A SEA COURT
"Mr. Rogers, take the deck!" commanded Captain Hamilton sharply. "You bullies, get forward with you!" he added to the curious men of the watch. "Don't any of you lose sight of the fact that if it were a seaman instead of a passenger who attacked Mr. Ditty, he'd be in the chain-locker now.
"Drew, you and Tyke come below with me. When you've washed your face, Mr. Ditty, I want to see you there too. Mr. Rogers!"
"Aye, aye, sir!" responded the second officer, smartly.
"Pass the word forward. Has anybody seen Mr. Parmalee or does any of them know personally what's happened to him? No second-hand tales, mind you."
"Aye, aye, sir."
With all his rage and confusion of mind, Drew realized that easy-going, peace-loving Captain Hamilton had suddenly become another and entirely different being.
Even Ruth descried no softness in her father's countenance now. She noted that his eye sparkled dangerously. He waved her before him, and she fled down the companionway steps ahead of Drew and Grimshaw.
"Now, what's all this about?" the master of the Bertha Hamilton demanded, facing Drew across the cabin table.
"Oh, Father!" gasped Ruth. "That—that—Mr. Ditty says Mr. Parmalee is murdered and that Allen did it!"
"That's neither here nor there," said the captain sternly. "I don't believe that any more than you do. But what is this between Ditty and Mr. Drew? They went at each other like two bulldogs that have nursed a grudge for a year.
"Now, I want to know what it means, Drew. I heard—Ruth told me—of the little run-in you had with Ditty the day you first met my daughter on the Jones Lane pier," pursued Captain Hamilton. "Ruth was carrying a letter to Captain Peters for me. The Normandy is bound for Hong Kong, where I'd just come from, and Peters and I have mutual friends out there. I forgot something I wanted Ruth to tell Captain Peters, and I asked Ditty, who had shore leave, to waylay her and give her my message. She'd never seen Ditty, and he startled her. He isn't a beauty, I admit. But now, what happened after that between you two, Drew?"
"Nothing at all that day," said the young man promptly. "But another day I was over there, at the Normandy, to see—er—Captain Peters, and this fellow showed up half drunk and gave me the dirty side of his tongue. I knocked him down."
"Seems to me you're mighty sudden with your fists," growled Captain Hamilton.
"And Mr. Grimshaw can tell you something about Ditty, too," Drew began; but the master of the schooner stopped him.
"Never mind about that. We're discussing your affair with Ditty. I've got to judge between you two. I'm judge, jury, and hangman in this case—until we make some port where there's a consul, at least. Now, here's the mate. No more fighting, remember or I'll take a hand in it myself."
The battered Ditty stumbled down the cabin steps. He could scarcely see out of his single eye; but that eye glittered malevolently when it fell upon Allen Drew.
"Sit down, Mr. Ditty," said the captain evenly. "We've got to get to the bottom of this business. You've said something, Mr. Ditty, that's got to go down on the log—and it's going to make you a peck of trouble if you don't prove it. You understand that?"
"I know it," snarled Ditty, through his puffed lips. "He done it."
"You lying hound!" muttered Drew.
Captain Hamilton ignored this. He said:
"What makes you say that Mr. Drew flung Mr. Parmalee overboard?"
"Because I seen him do it," answered Ditty.
Drew started for the mate again, but Tyke held him back.
"Go ahead, Mr. Ditty. Tell your story," commanded the captain curtly.
"They was both standin' abaft the mizzen," the mate began, "and I heard 'em quarrelin' about something. I went there, thinkin' to stop 'em if it was anything serious, and jest as I got near 'em I seen Mr. Parmalee up and hit Mr. Drew on the head with his cane. Then, before you could say Jack Robinson, Mr. Drew picked up Mr. Parmalee as if he had been a baby and threw him over the rail."
There was a stifled murmur from the group.
"Why didn't you give the alarm and lower a boat?" asked the captain.
"I was goin' to, but Mr. Drew turned round and saw me. He whipped a gun out of his pocket and swore he'd shoot me if I gave the alarm or said a word. He held me under the point of his gun till it was too late to lower a boat, and only let me go after I promised him I'd keep mum about the hull thing."
"You're a fine sailorman," charged the captain bitterly, "to let a man drown without doing anything to help him! Why didn't you take a chance?"
"He had the drop on me," mumbled the mate.
The captain turned to Drew.
"What about it?" he asked.
"Do I have to deny such a yarn?" the young man burst out hotly. "What can I say except that this infernal scoundrel is lying? The whole ridiculous story is as new to me as it is to you. The last time I saw Mr. Parmalee was when he was standing beside me on the deck last night. I never laid a finger on him!"
"Where were you standing?" asked the captain.
"Just where Ditty says I was," replied Drew frankly. "That part of the story is true. And it's the only thing in it that is true."
"Did you have any unfriendly words with Mr. Parmalee?"
"Not a word," was the answer.
"Ask him if he ever had any quarrel with him afore that," snarled the mate.
"I know all about that," replied the captain sharply. "I was there myself. It was just a little misunderstanding, and it blew over in a minute."
"Ev'ry one on board knows there was bad blood 'twixt 'em," put in the mate, "and they come pretty nigh to guessin' the reason for it, too," he added with a leering glance at Ruth.
"Stop, you dog!" shouted the captain in sudden rage. "If you say another word along that line I'll knock you down!"
The mate took a step backward, and mumbled an apology.
"Go on, Drew," ordered the captain. "When did you lose sight of Mr. Parmalee?"
"I slipped on the deck and struck my head on the corner of the hatch-cover. Mr. Parmalee was with me at the time. I lost my senses from the blow, and when I came to, Parmalee wasn't there. I remember thinking it strange that he hadn't helped me when I fell, but I was dizzy and confused and soon forgot about it. If I thought of him at all, it was to suppose that he had gone to his room. I fully expected to see him at the breakfast table this morning, and I was as much surprised as you were when he didn't turn up."
His story was told so frankly and simply that it carried conviction. But Ditty still had a card up his sleeve. He went over to the open companion-way.
"Give me that cane, Bill," he called to a sailor standing at a little distance.
The man obeyed, and a thrill went through the group as they recognized it as having belonged to Lester Parmalee. Ruth was making a strong effort for self-control.
"Look at the blood-stains on this cane," said Ditty triumphantly, as he handed it over to the captain.
There were, in truth, dark red stains on the end of the cane, standing out clearly in contrast with the light oak color of the stick itself.
"That's where the cut on Mr. Drew's head come from, jest as I says," proclaimed Ditty.
"And what's more," he went on, "there ain't any blood on the edge of the hatch cover."
"No, there wouldn't be," muttered Tyke, "for the deck was washed down this morning, of course."
"Do you own a pistol, Drew?" asked Captain Hamilton, after a painful pause.
"Yes," admitted the accused man. "I have an automatic. It's in my stateroom now. But I haven't carried it since I came on board the ship. I didn't have it on me last night."
The captain mused for a moment in evident perplexity.
"Well," he said, rising to his feet, "that's all, Mr. Ditty. I'll think this over and figure out what it's best to do."
"Ain't you goin' to put him in irons?" asked the mate truculently.
"That's none of your business," snapped the master of the schooner. "I'm captain of this craft, and I'll do as I think best. You are relieved from duty for the present. Lord man! but you're a sight."
Ditty wavered as though some impudent reply were forming on his tongue; but he thought better of it beneath the steady gaze of the captain's eyes and turned to go. He could not, however, forbear a parting shot.
"You can see from the way he went at me what a savage temper he's got," he said. "He'd 've killed me if he could 've. And if he'd do that to me for what I said, what would 've stopped his doin' it to a man who had already hit him?"
"That'll do, Mr. Ditty!" snapped the captain again.
Tyke left no doubt as to where he stood. Out of respect for the captain, he had left the inquiry entirely in his hands, but now he hobbled over to Drew and clapped him vigorously on the shoulder.
"Brace up, my boy!" he exclaimed. "I don't know jest what the motive of that swab is, but I know he was lying from first to last." Ruth was sobbing, and could not speak, but her little hand stole into the young man's, and he grasped it convulsively.
"I can't believe that you did it either, Drew," declared the captain; but there was a lack of heartiness in his tone that Drew was quick to detect. "I'll have to look into the whole matter as carefully as I know how. Parmalee's disappearance must be accounted for. All we know now is that he isn't to be found. I'll have the ship searched, but I have little doubt but the poor fellow has gone overboard. In itself that doesn't prove anything. He may have fallen over. But we can't get away from the fact that one man says he knows how Parmalee came to his death. He may be lying. I think he is. I hope to God he is. But the whole matter will have to be taken up by the proper authorities as soon as we get back to New York."
Drew's brain reeled. He saw himself in a court of justice, on trial for his life, charged with a horrible crime that he had no means of refuting, except by his own unsupported denial. And even if he were acquitted, the black cloud of suspicion would hang over him forever.
"But I'm going to believe you're innocent until I'm forced to believe the contrary," continued the captain; "and God help Ditty if I find he's been lying!"
"He is lying," protested Drew passionately. "I never dreamed of injuring Parmalee. Did I act like a murderer last night when you bound up my head, Ruth?"
"No! no!" sobbed the girl.
"Did I act like a murderer at the table this morning?" Drew continued, conscious that he was proving nothing, but clutching eagerly at every straw.
"You're no more a murderer than I am!" almost shouted Tyke, moved to the depth by Drew's distress.
"You're going to have the benefit of every doubt, my boy," the captain assured him soothingly. "But now you'd better go to your room and try to pull yourself together. We're all upset, and talking won't do us any good until we've got something else to go on. But you have got to promise me that you'll leave Ditty alone."
"I'll leave him alone if he leaves me alone."
"That is all I ask. I'll warn him to keep away from you."
Drew released Ruth's hand. She threw herself on her father's breast, and the young man groped his way to his room. Once there, he sat down and tried to face calmly the terrible indictment that had been made against him.
He did not delude himself as to the bits of circumstantial evidence that might be used to piece out that indictment to make it plausible.
What was Ditty's motive? He racked his brain in vain to find it. There was, to be sure, the row upon the pier, but that had been only a trifle, and the world would never believe that for anything like that a man would swear away the life of another.
The previous quarrel between him and Lester Parmalee seemed to establish the fact that there was bad blood between them. There was the cut upon his head, received at the very time that Parmalee disappeared. There were the blood stains on the cane, carrying the inference that that stick in the hand of Parmalee had inflicted his wound. He owned a revolver, which would bear out Ditty's statement that the mate had been intimidated by it. Then there was his own savage attack on Ditty, which showed his hot and impetuous temper.
He groaned as he saw what could be made of all these things in the hands of a clever district attorney. He could see the picture that would be drawn for the benefit of the jury. The old, old story—a beautiful woman with two young and ardent suitors; one quarrel already having occurred; a meeting in the dark; a renewal of the quarrel; an attack by the weaker with a cane; the blow that turned the stronger into a maddened beast and prompted him to grasp his frail rival and throw him into the sea. What was more possible? What was more probable? Jealousy had caused thousands of similar tragedies in the history of the world.
And when to these damaging circumstances was added the testimony of a declared eye-witness who seemed to have no sufficient reason for lying, what would the jury do?
Drew shuddered, and his soul turned sick within him.
And Ruth! He ground his teeth in rage at the thought of her name being dragged into the terrible story, as it certainly would be.
Even supposing that he should be given the benefit of the doubt and discharged, his life would be utterly wrecked. He could not ask her to share the life of a man who the world would believe owed his escape from the penitentiary to luck rather than to his innocence. Even if she were willing, he could not ask her to link her life with his.
All through that day and part of the next, he lived in an inferno. By tacit consent, the members of the party refrained from talking of the one thing about which all were thinking. When they met, they spoke of indifferent matters, but there was a hideous feeling of restraint that could not be dispelled, and gloom hung over them like a pall.
The morning of the second day, as they were cruising about in the longitude and latitude indicated by the map, the voice of the lookout resounded from the masthead.
"Where away?" shouted Rogers, who chanced to be officer of the deck.
"Three points on the weather bow," was the answer.
Rogers reported instantly to the captain, who came rushing on deck, followed by the other members of the party.
The captain adjusted his binoculars and looked hard and long at a black speck rising from the waves. Finally he dropped the glass.
"The hump of the whale!" he announced.
The hearts of all on board were thrilled. Crew and passengers alike were delighted, although the latter had a special reason for excitement of which the former were supposed to be ignorant.
The schooner had been proceeding under full sail, but as she approached nearer to the land whose outlines at every moment became more distinct, the topgallants were taken in until the Bertha Hamilton had just enough canvas drawing to give her good steerage way.
Before long the schooner approached near enough for those on board to see the island plainly with the naked eye. It seemed to be several miles in length. It looked like an emerald floating in the sunlight. Lush vegetation extended to within a hundred yards of the sea, and a silvery stretch of beach edged the breakers that curled and burst with an unceasing roar.
There was no sign of human habitation anywhere. No hut broke the smooth expanse of the beach or peeped out from among the trees. The impression of an uninhabited wilderness was heightened by great numbers of pelicans and cranes, who stood sleepily on one foot or stalked solemnly about pursuing their fishing in the shallows.
There was only one place where the outline of the coast was broken. At the eastern end the claws of a reef extended for about half a mile into the sea, making a barrier behind which the water was comparatively calm, though at the opening, of about two hundred yards, there ran a turbulent sea.
"That must be the inlet shown on the pirate's map," whispered Tyke, who was standing at the rail of the Bertha Hamilton close beside the captain.
"That's probably what it is," replied Captain Hamilton, his voice showing the agitation under which he was laboring. "But before we put her through the opening, I'm going to take soundings. Mr. Ditty!" he called, "heave to and lower a boat to take soundings."
"Aye, aye, sir," responded the mate.
In a twinkling the necessary orders were given, the Bertha Hamilton lost way and rounded to, and a boat manned by six sailors was dropped from the davits on the lee side.
"Pull away smartly now, my lads," called the mate as he took the tiller-ropes.
It required smart seamanship to get through that rushing raceway without capsizing; but, whatever Ditty's faults, he did not lack ability, and the work was done in a way that elicited an unwilling grunt of admiration from Tyke.
In less than two hours the requisite soundings had been taken, and Ditty came to report.
"Plenty of depth, sir," he reported. "No less than ten fathoms anywhere. And a good bottom."
"All right, Mr. Ditty," replied the captain. "Put the canvas on her now and we'll take her through."
The captain himself assumed charge of this critical operation, and under half sail the Bertha Hamilton dashed through as though welcoming the end of her journey. She made the channel without mishap, and let go her anchor within a quarter of a mile of the head of the lagoon.
Inside the breakwater the sea was almost as smooth as a mirror. The water was wonderfully transparent, and they could see hundreds of tropical fish swimming lazily at a great depth. On the beach the waves lapped in musical ripples, in striking contrast to the thundering surf on the reef.
The captain wiped his perspiring forehead and drew a long breath of relief. "So far so good," he remarked. "It won't be long now before we'll know whether we've come on a fool's errand or not."
"There's one thing about which the map hasn't lied, anyway," said Drew. "It pointed out the inlet just where we found it. That's a good omen, it seems to me."
"Let's hope the rest of the map is all right," replied the captain. "But it's nearly time for dinner now, and we'll have that before going ashore."
All were so feverishly impatient, now that they were almost in sight of their goal, that none of them paid much attention to the meal, and it was soon over.
"Do you s'pose the crew have any idee why we're stopping at this island?" asked Tyke. There was a grim look on his seamed countenance, and both the captain and Drew looked at him curiously.
"What's milling in your brain, Tyke?" asked Captain Hamilton. "I've kept my eyes peeled, and I swear I haven't seen anything more to suggest treachery. Ditty's on his best behavior——"
"Yes; that's so," agreed Tyke. "But did you spy the men he took with him in the boat jest now, when he came in here to make soundings?"
"I didn't notice," the captain confessed.
"The orneriest ones of the whole bunch. An', believe me! this is the wo'st crew of dock scrapings I ever set eyes on," growled Tyke. "Ditty did a lot of talking in the boat—I watched 'em through my glass. Them six are his close friends, Cap'n Rufe. They've laid their plans——"
"Holy mackerel!" exclaimed Captain Hamilton. "What are you saying, Tyke?"
"I've figgered out that we aren't going to have things our own way down here," the other said earnestly. "I've been waiting for you to say something, Cap'n Rufe, ever since that Bug-eye accused Allen like he did. Ditty's on to our game—has been on to it right along—an' he selected this crew of wharf-rats for a purpose."
"I agree with you, Mr. Grimshaw," Drew declared eagerly. "That's what Ditty was after when he tried to rob you at the time you were knocked down by the automobile. You were right. He did push you back in front of the machine, and then he searched your pockets while you were on the ground."
"For what?" demanded Captain Hamilton, staring.
"For the paper and the map. Ditty believed Mr. Grimshaw carried that confession in his pocket," Drew replied.
The master of the schooner rose and began to walk about in excitement.
"That's it! He was lurking outside your office door that day, Tyke, when we first found the papers in Manuel Gomez's chest. I see it now. He was aboard the schooner that very evening, too, when I told Ruth at dinner about the pirate's doubloons. He might have been eavesdropping then."
"An' I bet he flung poor Parmalee over the rail himself," said Tyke. Hamilton's expression changed and he shook his head at that.
"He'd git rid of one of the after-guard that way," urged Tyke. "Parmalee could shoot. An' if it comes to a fight——"
"My soul!" groaned Captain Hamilton suddenly. "And Ruth with us!"
"What about Ruth?" asked that young lady cheerfully, coming from her cabin. "Aren't you all ready yet? I am going ashore with you."
"Yes; you'd better come," said her father gloomily.
"Why, what is the matter?" she demanded.
"We were just wondering," said Drew quickly, assuming a casual tone to cover their real emotion, "if the crew suspected our reason for touching at this island."
Captain Hamilton picked up the ball at once.
"But I don't believe they do," he said. "Of course, it would have seemed strange to the mate and to Rogers if I hadn't given them some explanation, especially as we came out in ballast. So I dropped hints that we were out on a survey expedition that couldn't be talked of just now. They probably have the idea that we're looking up a suitable coaling station for the Government, or something of that kind. To carry that out, I've got some surveyor's instruments here that we'll take along with us, just for a blind."
"Let's hope it'll work," said Tyke dubiously. "An' it won't do any harm to take our guns along."
"There's a pair of revolvers for each of us," replied Captain Hamilton, opening the closet where he kept the arms that Drew had previously seen; "and we'll take half a dozen guns along with us in the boat. There may be snakes or wild animals on the islands."
"I must have a revolver too, Daddy," said the girl.
"Of course, my dear," agreed the captain.
"Mebbe you'd better not put any cartridges in it, Cap'n Rufe," said Grimshaw, taking Ruth playfully by the arm, "They'd be more dangerous to us than to anything else."
"It's mean of you to say that, Mr. Grimshaw," pouted Ruth. "You'll find that I can use a gun as well as anybody."
"Mebbe so, mebbe so, my dear," said Tyke indulgently.
"Hadn't we better take some provisions along?" asked Ruth, as she slipped the cartridges into her revolver and put the weapon in the pocket of the sports skirt that she had donned.
"That won't be necessary," replied the captain. "We'll be back before nightfall. This is just a little preliminary scouting. We won't have time for more than that this afternoon. The real work of searching for the treasure will begin to-morrow."
The preparations finished, the party went on deck.
"Crew had their dinner yet, Mr. Ditty?" Captain Hamilton asked of his first officer.
"My watch have, sir," was the answer. "The others are eating now."
"Pick out half a dozen men and lower the boat," ordered the captain. "We're going ashore for a few hours. We'll be back for supper."
"How long will we lay up here, sir?"
"Can't tell yet. Perhaps two or three days. Possibly a week or more."
"How about shore leave for the men, sir?"
"Beginning to-morrow, they can go ashore in batches of ten. This afternoon, Mr. Rogers and a boat's crew can take the long boat and some casks and go ashore to look for water."
"Very well, sir," replied the mate, with a curious expression on his face.
As he turned away, his one eye fell on Drew. They had not met since the fight two days before. They stared at each other for several seconds, until Ditty's eye fell before the concentrated fury in those of the young man.
Ruth, who had witnessed the interchange of looks, put her hand lightly on Drew's arm.
"Aren't you going to help me into the boat, Allen?" she asked.
His rage at Ditty vanished in an instant as he turned to her. She was trying to smile, but there was no laughter in her dewy eyes. But Drew saw there something deeper and sweeter and tenderer. There was immense sympathy and—what was that other fugitive expression that he caught before her eyelids lowered?
He bent toward her, but just then Grimshaw and the captain ranged alongside, and they had to take their places in the boat.
The members of the crew who had been told off for the service, bent to the oars, and, at a rapid pace, they approached the shore. The beach shelved gradually, and they had no trouble in making a landing. The sailors leaped out into the shallow water and drew the boat well up on the strand, and the party disembarked.
Drew wished that they had found it necessary to wade. With what delight he would have carried Ruth in those strong arms of his!
"We'll be back in an hour or two, my lads," said the captain. "You can scatter about and do as you like until we return, as long as you keep within hail of the boat."
With the captain and Tyke in the lead, and Drew following behind to help Ruth over the hard places, they plunged into the unknown forest. After all, they went slowly, for Tyke had to favor what he called his "game leg."
For all the evidence that the wood afforded, it had been untrodden for many years. Giant ceiba trees reared themselves two hundred feet into the air. Lianas hung in festoons from the boughs like monstrous boa constrictors. Parrots flew squawking from branch to branch, and humming birds and butterflies of many hues and gorgeous beauty darted like bright arrows among the flowers.
The underbrush was thick and in some places impenetrable, and the treasure seekers would have found their progress very slow if it had not been for certain irregular trails that seemed to have been hewn through the woods at intervals. In some places these trails were many yards wide, while at others they narrowed to a foot or two. Nothing grew upon them, but they were covered by dead leaves and twigs of varying depths.
"Wonder how these trails came here," said the captain. "There are no footprints on them, and yet they must have been made by animals or men."
"Better keep our eyes peeled," warned Tyke.
The captain, who had scraped away some of the accumulated leaves and rubbish, gave a sudden exclamation.
"Why, this path is made of stone!" he cried. He dropped on his knees and examined more closely. When he rose to his feet his face was grave.
"It's lava!" he stated.
"Then the island must be volcanic!" exclaimed Drew, startled by the thought.
"Nothing very surprising about that when you come to think of it," Tyke declared. "We're right down here in the earthquake zone, where the earth's liable to throw a fit any time. Like enough this old whaleback is a sleeping volcano. She may blow up again some time."
"Just as it did at Martinique," confirmed the captain. "Perhaps that may explain the absence of people hereabouts. They may have all been wiped out by some eruption, or they may have been so scared that they left the island for safer quarters."
"I don't think we have much to worry about," remarked Tyke. "There ain't any doubt but this hill we're heading for has been at some time a volcano. But likely it's been quiet for hundreds of years. An' it's not likely that it's going to git busy now jest for our special benefit. Let's hike along."
"There's one good thing about it, anyway," remarked Drew, as they resumed their march. "It's burned out these paths and made the walking easier. And it's pointed out just the way we want to go. All we have to do is to follow this path and it can't help but lead us right up to the whale's hump."
"That's the point we want to head for," replied the captain, consulting the map. "You'll notice that these circles seem to be on the slope of the hill not so very far from the top. Besides, that pirate fellow would be likely to go quite a way in from the shore to bury his loot."
Half a mile further on, a little stream ran through the forest. The party went over to it, and Drew, bending down and making a cup of his hands, bore some of the water to his lips. He made a wry face and almost choked.
"Sulphur!" he exclaimed. "It's full of it."
Captain Hamilton, too, tasted.
"Another proof, if we needed it, that the island is volcanic," he observed. Then, in a tone that only Drew heard, he added: "What I don't like about it is that it shows there's brimstone in the old whale's hump yet. If there wasn't, the water would have sweetened long ago."
Tyke and Ruth each took a few drops of the water, and then the party went on a little more soberly than before. The trees soon became more scattered, though the undergrowth was dense. Before long they emerged on a sort of plateau above which was lifted, at a height of two hundred feet or more, the whale's hump.
Its sides were heaped with masses of hardened lava in all kinds of grotesque shapes. It was utterly desolate and bare. Ruth shuddered as she looked at the weird scene.
"I don't wonder that some place around here is called the Witch's Head," she remarked. "This must be like the place where Macbeth saw the witches brewing their potions."
"Except that they brewed them 'in lightning, thunder and in rain'," said Drew. "Those are the only things that are missing."
He had scarcely spoken when there was a rumbling that sounded like thunder. Drew was startled, and Ruth grew slightly pale.
"That's funny," remarked Tyke. "Weather's as clear as a bell too. This ain't the hurricane season."
The captain was in a brown study, seemingly unheedful of the rumbling sound. In a moment he roused himself and said:
"Well, now let's scatter about and see if we can find anything that looks like The Three Sisters or the Witch's Head."
Grimshaw sat down to rest, not wishing to put too heavy a strain on the leg that had been injured, and the others wandered about for half an hour trying to discover anything that might be identified as the places named on the map. But their efforts were fruitless, and the captain, looking at his watch, called a halt.
"Nothing more doing now," he said. "We have only time to get back to the boat. But we've got our bearings and have done a good afternoon's work. To-morrow's a new day, and we'll get on the job early."
Reluctantly, the little party went back to the boat. They found the crew waiting for them and were pulled rapidly to the schooner, whose anchor lights were already gleaming like fireflies in the sudden dusk.
THE EARTH TREMBLES
It was with a feeling of relief after their surroundings of the last few hours, that the treasure seekers found themselves again on board the Bertha Hamilton and seated in the bright cabin at the appetizing and abundant meal that Wah Lee had prepared for them.
All four felt jubilant at the discoveries they had made. Drew and Ruth were sure that they were on the very brink of finding the pirate hoard, and might, that very afternoon, have uncovered it if they had had a few more hours of daylight. To-morrow, they felt sure, would find them in possession of the doubloons.
Drew's personal trouble had been for the moment obscured, although the thought of it was sure to return to torment him as soon as the excitement of the afternoon's search was past.
One thing served to delight and to torture him at the same time. He was almost sure that he had surprised a secret in the eyes of Ruth. He was thrilled as he thought of it. But the next moment he groaned in anguish as he remembered the frightful charge hanging over his head. What had he now to offer her but a wrecked career and a blackened name?
The exhilaration all had felt on their return was followed soon by reaction. Ruth withdrew early to her room, pleading weariness. Tyke was thoughtful, thinking of the thunder he had heard just before they had left the island. The captain went on deck only to find in the report of the second officer more cause for gravity.
Mr. Rogers came up to him as he emerged from the cabin.
"Couldn't get any water this afternoon, sir," he reported. "Found some; but it tasted strong of sulphur, sir."
"Yes, I know, Mr. Rogers," replied the captain. "I tasted some myself while I was ashore, and found it no good. Still, we've got plenty on board, so it doesn't matter."
Still the second officer lingered.
"What is it, Mr. Rogers?" asked the captain, who saw that the man had something on his mind.
"Why, I hardly know how to put it, sir," answered the second officer, a little confusedly. "Perhaps it's foolish to speak about it; and there may be nothing in it, after all."
"Out with it, Mr. Rogers," ordered the captain, all alert in an instant.
"Why, it's this way, sir," returned the second officer. "I don't like the way the men are acting. I never was sweet on the crew from the beginning, for the matter of that, not meaning any disrespect to Mr. Ditty, who had the choosing of most of them. There's a few of them that are smart seamen, but most of them are rank swabs that don't know a marlinspike from a backstay. Seem more like a gang of river pirates than deep-sea sailors."
"I know that most of them are a poor lot," replied the captain. "But they've managed to work the ship down here, and I guess they can get her home again."
"But it isn't only that, sir," went on the other. "There's altogether too much whispering and getting into corners when the men are off duty to suit me. And they shut up like clams when I pass near 'em. And they're surly and impudent when I give 'em orders. I've had to lick a half dozen of 'em already."
"Well, you've got Mr. Ditty to help you out," said the captain.
"That's another queer thing, sir," continued the second officer, evidently reluctant to speak against his superior. "Mr. Ditty is usually quicker with his fists than he is with his tongue; but I never saw him like he is on this voyage. Seems like at times as though he took the men's part, sir."
"That's a hard saying, Mr. Rogers," said the captain.
"True enough, sir; but you told me to speak out. I had trouble with some of the men this very afternoon, sir, when I went over to the island. They found the water tasted of sulphur, and some of 'em started in saying that the devil wasn't very far off when you could taste brimstone so plain. Of course, sailors are superstitious, and I wouldn't have thought anything of that, only it seemed as if the bad ones were just making that an excuse to get the others sore and discontented. They were growling and muttering amongst themselves all the time they were ashore.
"I've got it off my chest now, sir, and maybe you'll think it's foolish, but I thought you ought to know. There's something going on that I can't understand, and it bothers me."
"You've done quite right to tell me what you have, Mr. Rogers," replied the captain, "and I'm obliged to you. I'll think it over. In the meantime, keep your eyes wide open and let me know at once if anything comes to light. By the way, did you ever find anybody who saw what happened to Mr. Parmalee?"
"Not a man among 'em will own to having seen anything. It was a dark night," replied Mr. Rogers, touching his cap and turning away.
Captain Hamilton sought out Tyke immediately and related to him what Rogers had said.
"How many men that you know you can depend on have you got in your crew?" asked Tyke quickly.
"Not more than a dozen that I'm sure of," admitted Captain Hamilton. "That many've sailed with me on a number of voyages and they came home with me from Hong Kong. They are as good men as ever hauled on a sheet. But even some of them may have been affected by whatever it is that's brewing. It takes only a few rotten apples to spoil a barrel, you know."
"A dozen," mused Tyke reflectively. "Those, with you and Allen and me would make fifteen."
"Don't forget Rogers," put in Hamilton.
"Sixteen," corrected Tyke. "That leaves only eighteen, if Ditty's got 'em all. Counting himself, that's nineteen. Sixteen against nineteen. Considering the kind of muts they are, we ought to lick the tar out of 'em."
"We could if it came to open fighting. But if they're up to mischief, they'll know what they're after and will have the advantage of striking the first blow.
"That is," he went on, "if there's anything in it at all. Perhaps we're just imagining they mean something serious, when after all it may be only a matter of sailors' grumbling. Rogers may have only uncovered a mare's nest."
"Perhaps," admitted Tyke. "All the same, I've never trusted that rascal, Ditty, from the minute I clapped eyes on him. An' since he lied so about Allen, I know he's a scoundrel."
"I hope he did lie," said the captain doubtfully.
"Hope!" cried the old man hotly. "Don't you know? Look here, Rufe Hamilton, you an' me have been friends for going on thirty years, but we break friendship right here and now if you tell me you don't know that Ditty lied!"
"There, there, Tyke," soothed the skipper, "have it your own way. But what we have on hand just now is how to get the better of Ditty and his gang."
Gradually Tyke's ruffled feathers were smoothed and he devoted himself to the matter in hand.
They talked late and long, but in the face of only vague conjectures, could reach no definite conclusion. One thing they did decide: It was so to manage matters as to leave Rogers in command of the schooner when the captain himself should be ashore. Unless Ditty were actually deposed, and as yet there was no valid excuse for doing this, the only way they could carry out this plan was to see that Ditty was on shore at the same time that the treasure seekers were.
The next morning when the party was ready to start, Captain Hamilton spoke to Ditty.
"Mr. Ditty," he directed, "you will take ten of the men ashore on leave this morning in the long-boat. I am going myself with the crew of the smaller boat. Mr. Rogers will remain in charge of the ship. If you find sweet water, send back for the casks."
Ditty started to make an objection.
"Beg pardon, sir, but I don't care for shore leave myself. Mr. Rogers can go in my place if he wants to, sir."
"You heard what I said, Mr. Ditty. Mr. Rogers went yesterday," said the captain curtly. "Have both boats lowered at once."
There was no help for it, and Ditty yielded a surly obedience.
"What time shall I bring the men back, sir?" he asked.
"When I give you the signal," replied the captain. "Perhaps not till late afternoon. Take your dinner grub with you."
The boats left the ship's side together, and in a few minutes both reached the beach. With instructions to Ditty to keep his men on the east end of the island, the captain's party entered the jungle.
They easily found the path they had trodden the day before, and were well on their way to the whale's hump when they were startled by a queer vibration of the earth. There was no sound accompanying it. On the contrary, everything seemed hushed in a deathlike stillness. The cries of birds and the humming of insects had stopped as though by magic. Nature seemed to be holding her breath.
Then came a second quivering stronger than the first—a shock which threw the four treasure hunters violently to the ground.
"IF I WAS SUPERSTITIOUS——-"
"What is this?"
"The island is sinking!"
"We'll have to get out of this!"
Such were some of the cries of the treasure hunters as the earth trembled beneath them.
For perhaps twenty seconds the sickening vibration continued. Then it stopped as suddenly as it had begun. The swaying trees finished their dizzy dance, and the rocks that had seemed to be bowing to each other like so many mummers resumed their impassive attitudes. Their lawless frolic had ended!
Drew had caught Ruth by the arm as she went down, and thus had broken the violence of her fall. But all were jarred and shaken.
As the more agile of the quartet, the young man was first on his feet. He tenderly assisted Ruth to rise, while the others scrambled up unaided.
"Are you hurt?" Drew asked the girl solicitously.
"Not a bit," she answered pluckily, and Drew reflected on what a thoroughbred she was.
The others also had sustained no injury. But their forebodings as to their safety on the island had been quickened by this striking example of nature's restlessness. The giant in the volcano was not dead. He was uneasy and had turned in his sleep. It was as though he resented the coming of these interlopers, and was giving them warning to go away and leave him undisturbed.
"Now if I was superstitious," remarked Tyke, "I should say that something was trying to keep us from getting this treasure."
"Let it try then," said the captain grimly. "We haven't come as far as this to turn tail and run just when we're on the point of getting what we came for."
"Good for you, Daddy!" cried Ruth gaily. "We're bound to have that treasure."
They quickened their steps now. This was no time for leisurely investigation of the phenomena of earthquakes. They soon reached the point they had attained the day before. But as they had explored that section of the hillside already, they did not halt there, but pushed on to the west.
"Now," said the captain, as he and Drew disburdened themselves of the spades and mattocks they had brought along, carefully wrapped under the guise of surveyors instruments, "we'll go at this thing in a scientific way. We'll make a rough division of this whole section"—he included with a wave of his hand a space half a mile square—"into four parts. No, three parts. Tyke must rest his leg. Then each must search his section to find some rocks that look like those beauties marked on the map."
The three scattered promptly, and began the search. They looked diligently, but for a long time found nothing to reward their efforts. Drew tried as conscientiously as the rest, although at times he could not make his eyes behave, and his gaze would wander over in Ruth's direction. It was in one of these lapses from industry that he saw her lift her arm and wave eagerly in his direction. He did not wait for a second summons, but hurried over, after calling to the others to follow.
The girl was flushed and excited.
"What have you found?" Drew asked, as soon as he got within speaking distance.
"Look!" she answered. "Doesn't that big rock over there seem to you like a witch's head—wild and ragged locks, and all that?"
From where he was then standing, he could trace no resemblance, but when he reached her side and looked from the same angle he raised a shout.
"The very thing!" he cried. "There can't be any doubt of it."
The rock in question stood apart from the rest on the slope of the hill. Nature had carved it in a moment of prankishness. There were all the features of an old crone, forehead, nose, sunken mouth, nut-cracker jaws, while small streams of lava, hardening as they had flowed, gave the similitude of scanty tresses.
Tyke and the captain, soon came up, and all their doubts disappeared as they gazed.
"The Witch's Head!" they agreed exultantly.
"With that to start with, the rest will be easy," cried Drew. "The Three Sisters can't be more than a few hundred feet or so away."
Ten minutes' further search revealed a group of three rocks, which, while having no resemblance to female faces, were the only ones that stood apart from all the rest as a trio.
The hands of the three men trembled as they got out the old map and pored over it.
"Thirty-seven big paces due north from the Witch's Head; eighty-nine big paces due east from The Three Sisters," muttered the captain.
"Paces, even big paces, is rather indefinite," commented Drew. "If it were yards or feet, now, it would be different. But one man's paces differ from another's, and a short man's differ from a tall man's."
"It was very inconsiderate of that old pirate not to tell exactly how tall he was," jested Ruth.
"Well, we can't have everything handed to us on a gold plate," said the captain. "We may have to dig in a good many places before we strike the right spot."
"Let's do this," suggested Tyke. "Each one of us men will mark off the paces, taking good long strides, an' see where we bring up. Then we'll mark off a big circle that will include all three results. It's a moral certainty that it will be somewheres in that circle if it's here at all."
They acted on this suggestion, Ruth, with pencil and paper, serving as scribe, while the men did the pacing. She was elated at the part she had played in the discovery.
It was an easy enough matter to make thirty-seven big paces from one point and eighty-nine big paces from another, but, as every student of angles knows, it was very difficult to make the two lines converge at the proper point. But though their methods were rough, they succeeded at last in getting a very fair working hypothesis. A rough circle of forty feet in diameter was drawn about the stake Drew set up, and within that circle they were convinced the treasure lay.
By this time the sun had reached the zenith, and before they started to dig they retreated to the shade in the edge of the jungle and ate their lunch.
"Hadn't you better wait until it gets a little cooler by and by?" asked Ruth anxiously. "It will be frightful under this hot sun. This is the hour of siesta."
"I guess we're too impatient for that," answered her father. "But we'll work only a few minutes at a time and take long resting spells between."
Fortunately the ground was moderately soft within the circle, and their spades sank deep with every thrust. Tyke was not allowed to share in this work of excavation, much to his disgust. As for Drew and Captain Hamilton, their muscular arms worked like machines, and they soon had great mounds of earth piled around their respective pits.
But fortune failed to reward their efforts. One place after another was abandoned as hopeless.
They were toiling away with the perspiration dripping from them, when Drew was startled by a cry from Ruth. He leaped instantly out of his excavation, and ran to her. Ruth was standing in the shade of the jungle's edge; but she was staring across the barren hillside toward the west.
"What is it?" demanded the young man. "What do you see?"
"I—I don't know. I'm not sure I saw anything," she admitted. "And yet——"
"Some of the seamen?" demanded Drew. "I've been expecting that, though your father is so sure that Ditty and his gang will remain at the eastern end of the island."
"Oh, Allen! Not Ditty! Not one of the sailors! I—I could almost believe in—in ghosts," and she tried to laugh.
"What is it, my dear?" asked Tyke, who had come over. "What's happened? Did you see something?"
"Yes. It moved. It was there, and then it wasn't there. The space it stood in was empty," said the girl earnestly.
"For the love o' goodness!" cried Tyke, mopping his brow. "You've got me all stirred up. Now, if I was superstitious——"
"You will be if I tell you more about that—that thing," Ruth said. She said it jokingly, and Tyke turned away, going over to where Captain Hamilton was still at work.
"It must have been the spirit of the old pirate come back to guard his hoard," Drew said lightly.
Ruth looked at him very oddly.
"What do you think?" she whispered, when Tyke was out of hearing. "Why should the ghost of Ramon Alvarez look so much like Mr. Parmalee?"
Drew paled, and then flushed.
"Do you mean that, Ruth?" he asked, and he could not keep his voice from trembling.
"Yes," she said. Then she flashed him a sudden smile. "Of course, it was merely an hallucination. But, 'if I was superstitious——'" and she quoted Tyke with a look which she tried to make merry.
Ruth pointed out to Drew exactly where the figure that had so startled her had stood. It was down the slope of the hill to the westward, and directly between two lava boulders at the edge of the jungle.
The figure—man, apparition, what or whoever it was—had lingered in sight but a moment.
Before returning to work in his excavation, Drew went down to the spot Ruth had pointed out. There was not a sign of anybody having been there. The earth between the huge lumps of lava seemed not to have been disturbed. He could find no broken twigs or torn vines at the edge of the jungle.
"She dreamed it—that's all," muttered Drew. "Poor Parmalee!"
He thought of the man whose tragic end was so linked with his own existence—of the body buffeted by the waves somewhere in the blue expanse that stretched easterly from this little island.
Of what use would the pirate treasure, if they found it, be to Allen Drew? This bitter query obsessed him. He would gladly give every coin and jewel Ramon Alvarez had buried here, were it his to give, to see Parmalee, leaning on his cane, walk out of the jungle.
He was so lost in these gloomy musings that he started when he felt a light touch on his arm.
He looked up to find Ruth standing beside him.
"Did you find any trace of him, Allen?" she asked, in a voice from which the tremor had not entirely gone.
"Not the slightest sign," he answered. "The man or thing, whatever it was, seems to have vanished into thin air."
"It must have been mere fancy," she murmured, though without conviction.
"Our nerves play strange tricks sometimes," Drew rejoined lightly. "We are all of us in such an excited state just now that anything may happen."
"I've always felt that nerves had been left out of my composition," said Ruth, smiling faintly. "But when it comes to the pinch, I suppose I'm just as liable to them as any one else."
"No, you're not," denied Allen Drew warmly. "You're the most perfect thoroughbred of any woman I ever knew."
"Perhaps your experience has been limited," she suggested, with a flash of her old mischief.
"I'm perfectly willing it should be limited from this time on to just one woman," he was on the point of saying, but bit his lip just in time.
"It is strange that this apparition, for want of a better name, should have taken the form of Parmalee," he continued, his jealousy in spite of himself taking possession of him. "Perhaps you were thinking of him, just then," he hazarded.
"Not at all," returned Ruth frankly. "Just at that moment I'm afraid my mind was fixed on nothing else but the hunt for the pirate's treasure."
Drew felt somewhat reassured by this, and they had turned to retrace their steps when he suddenly stood stock still.
"What is it?" asked Ruth in some alarm.
"I thought I saw an opening in the side of the mountain over there," he replied. "Perhaps the ghost, or whatever it was, is hiding in that," he added jestingly. "At any rate I'm going to take a minute and see what it is."
He made a step in the direction he had indicated. Ruth sought to restrain him.
"Don't you think you had better call my father and Mr. Grimshaw before you venture in there?" she asked. "You don't know what may be lurking there."
"Nonsense," laughed the man lightly. "They'd only be vexed at being interrupted in their digging. At any rate they're within easy call—if there should be any need of them."
Ruth was silenced though only half convinced. Together they went over to a gaping rent in the side of the hill.
As a matter of precaution, Drew had taken his revolver from his belt and held it ready in his hand. He had really no expectation of meeting anything hostile in human shape and he did not believe that any animal that would be at all formidable ranged the island.
"If it's a ghost, I don't suppose this revolver would do any good," he joked, more to relieve Ruth's uneasiness than any that he felt himself. "At the very least I'd have to have a silver bullet or one that had been dipped in the river Jordan."
The opening before which they stood was irregular in shape and seemed to have been made by one of the convulsions of nature that apparently were so common to the island. It was, roughly speaking, about four feet wide and nine high, and from the glimpse they got into its depths seemed to widen out in the interior. There was nothing about it to speak of human occupancy and the ground leading to it bore no marks of footprints. Nor were there any bones scattered about that might indicate that it was the lair of wild beasts.
Drew cupped his hands to his mouth and sent forth a ringing call.
"Hello, in there!" he shouted.
There was no answer, but the reverberations of his own voice that came back to him seemed to show that the cave extended inward to a considerable depth.
"Hello!" he shouted again. "If there's any one in there, come out! We're friends and won't hurt you."
Again there was no answer.
"Doesn't seem to be sociably inclined," muttered Allen grimly.
"I guess there's nobody there," said Ruth. "Let's go back to the others, Allen. We've spent too much time already on this foolish notion of mine."
"It wasn't foolish at all," protested Drew. "As a matter of fact it may prove to be of the greatest importance. We ought to sift the matter to the bottom. If there's anybody on this island we don't know about, it ought to be our first business to find out. I think I'll take a peep into this mysterious cave."
He made a step forward, but Ruth's hand tightened on his arm and he stopped.
"Do you think you'd better risk it, Allen?" she asked. "How do you know what may be in there. Suppose—suppose——"
"Suppose what?" he asked with a whimsical smile.
"Suppose anything should happen to you?" she half whispered.
"Nothing will happen to me," he rejoined. "Not that it matters much anyway," he added bitterly, as the thought swept over him of the black cloud of suspicion that hung above him.
"Just give me a minute, Ruth," he pleaded, hating himself for his reckless words as he saw the pained look in her eyes. "I won't go in for more than twenty or thirty feet, just to see if there's anything about this place that we really ought to know. You stay here and I'll be back before you fairly know I've gone."
She reluctantly loosened her grasp of his arm and he plunged forward into the darkness.
For the first ten feet or so, the going was rendered rather difficult by projecting bits of rock that caught at his clothes and impeded his progress. But then the passage widened out steadily until he could not feel the sides even when his arms were stretched to their utmost limit.
The light that had followed him from the small entrance finally vanished, and he went forward with the utmost caution, carefully planting each foot for the next step. At any moment, for all he knew, he might find himself on the brink of a precipice.
"Black as Egypt in here," he muttered to himself, as he felt for the matches he carried in an oilskin bag in the pocket of his coat. "I guess I'd better strike a——"
But he never finished the sentence.
A deafening roar resounded through the cavern and he was thrown violently forward on his hands and knees. Again came that dizzy, sickening shaking of the earth, that nauseating sense of being lifted to a height and suddenly let fall, that squirming of the ground beneath him as though it were a gigantic reptile.
His earlier experience in the open air had been bad enough, but there at least he had had the sense of space and sunlight and companionship. Here in the darkness and confinement the horrors of the earthquake were multiplied.
For more than a minute, which seemed to him an hour, the convulsions of the earth continued. Then they gradually subsided, though it was some minutes later before the quivering finally ceased.
Dazed and bewildered, Allen Drew scrambled to his feet. His hands were scraped and bleeding, though he thought little of this in his mental perturbation.
His thought turned instantly to Ruth. What might have happened to her while he was away from her? The trees were thick near the mouth of the cave. Suppose one had fallen and caught her before she could escape?
He started to rush back to the entrance, but to his astonishment, could see no trace of the light that had marked the place where the opening had been.
He stopped short, puzzled and alarmed.
"That's queer," he muttered. "I guess that jar I got has turned me around. It must be in the other direction."
He hastily retraced his steps. But as the cave grew wider and he found no sign of the narrow passage by which he had entered, he knew that he was wrong.
"Must have had it right the first time," he thought, "but it's strange that I didn't see any light. Perhaps there was a bend in the passage that I hadn't noticed."
Again he went back, feeling his way. The path narrowed and his outstretched hand came in contact with a shred of cloth that had been torn from his coat when he had entered. This was proof positive that he was on the right track. But where then was the light?
The answer came to him with startling suddenness when he plunged violently into a mass of earth and rock that barred his way.
The entrance to the cave had vanished!
In its place was a vast mass of earth, a slice of the mountain side that had been torn loose by that last mighty writhing of tortured nature and that now held him as securely a prisoner as though he were in the center of the earth.
A DESPERATE SITUATION
Mechanically, Drew took his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the cold sweat from his brow. He tried to steady his reeling brain and bring some semblance of order into his thoughts.
This then was the end! Trapped like a rat in a cage, shut out forever from the world of men, doomed to die miserably and hopelessly,—sealed in a tomb while yet alive!
All the dreams he had cherished, all the hopes he had nourished, all the future he had planned—planned with Ruth——
The thought of her wrung his soul with anguish, but it also woke him from his torpor.
He would see her again! He would not surrender! He would not die! Not while a breath remained in his body would he give in to despair. There must be some way out. Fate would not be so cruel as to carry its ghastly joke to the very end. He would call on all his resources. He would struggle, fight, never give up for a moment.
His brain cleared and he took a grip on himself. The blood once more ran hot in his veins. His youth and manhood asserted themselves in dauntless vigor and determination.
The first thing to do was to attack the wall of fresh dirt and rock that hemmed him in. Perhaps it was less thick than it seemed. He had no implement to help him; but his muscular arms and powerful hands might suffice to dig a way to freedom.
He sought to fortify himself by calling to mind all that he had ever read about prisoners digging their way to freedom. Their cases had seemed desperate, but often they had succeeded. He too would succeed—he must succeed. Ruth was outside waiting for him, working for him, praying for him.
He set to work with a dogged resolution and fierce energy that soon had the perspiration flowing from him in streams. Behind him the dirt and debris piled up in a rapidly growing mound. His hands and nails were torn, but his excitement and absorption were so great that no sensation of physical pain was conveyed to his overwrought brain.
At times he stopped to rest a moment and to listen for the stroke of pick or shovel from the opposite side of his living grave. But no sound came to him. He seemed to be in a soundless universe except for the rasp of his own labored breathing.
It was after one of these intervals of listening that he was about to resume his frenzied efforts when he thought he heard a slight sound in the cave behind him.
His heart seemed to stand still for a moment while he strained his ears.
There was no mistake. Some living thing was in the cave besides himself!
Instinctively, his hand gripped the butt of his revolver. Then with a bitter smile he put it back in its place. Why should he hurt or kill anything that was alive? Death seemed sure enough for any occupant of that cave.
He went back stealthily until he reached the wider part of the cave, where he had been when the shock came that had entombed him.
Again that faint sound, undeniably human, came to his ears. Pacing cautiously in the direction from which it came, his foot struck against something soft. He reached down and his hand came in contact with a woman's dress.
In an instant he had gathered the yielding form in his arms.
"Ruth!" he shouted.
"Allen!" came back faintly from her parted lips.
For an instant everything reeled about Drew and his mind was awhirl. Then he laid his burden down and fell frantically to rubbing her hands. Incoherent cries came from his lips as he sought to restore her to complete consciousness.
His vigorous efforts were rewarded a few moments later when Ruth stirred and tried to sit up.
"I must have fainted," she said; "or perhaps I struck my head against the side of the cave when the shock came."
"Don't try to talk yet," said Drew. "Just lie still a few minutes till you are stronger."
She obeyed, while he sat beside her holding her hand.
"I can sit up now," she said after a few minutes. "My head is perfectly clear again."
"Are you sure you didn't hurt yourself when you fell?"
"I think not," she answered, as she passed her hand over her hair. "My head doesn't seem to be bruised or bleeding anywhere. It must have been the shock."
"Thank God it was nothing worse!" returned Drew fervently. "But tell me how you happened to be here. It seems like a miracle. The whole thing staggers me. I thought I left you outside of the cave when I went in."
"So you did," she assented with a touch of her old demureness, "but that doesn't say that I stayed there."
"I see it doesn't," he replied. "But why didn't you?"
"I guess it's because I'm not used to obeying anybody except my father," she answered evasively.
"Tell me the real reason."
"Well," she said, driven to bay, "I was afraid there might be something dangerous in here and—and—I didn't want you to have to face it alone—and"—here she paused.
Drew's heart beat wildly.
"And so you came in to stand by my side," he said with emotion. "Ruth, Ruth——"
"But now," said Ruth hastily, following up her advantage, "we must hurry and get back to the others. Father will begin to worry about me."
Anguish smote Drew. Ruth had evidently not the slightest idea that anything stood between her and freedom. How could he break the dreadful news to her? He felt like an executioner compelled by some awful fate to slay the one he loved most dearly.
"You mustn't look at me after we get outside until I've had a chance to arrange my hair," she warned him gaily. "I must look a perfect fright."
Every innocent word was a stab that went straight to the man's heart.
His mind was a tumult of warring emotions. At first there had been a wild delight when he had found himself in the presence of his heart's desire, after he feared that he would never hear her voice again. In the excitement of bringing her back to consciousness and listening to her story, the fearful peril in which they stood had been relegated to the background. Now it came back at him with re-doubled force, and he had to close his lips tightly to suppress a groan.
He could have died alone, if escape had proved impossible, and met death like a man. But to have to watch Ruth die—die perhaps after enduring unspeakable suffering—the mere thought threatened to drive him mad.
And she was here because she had feared that he might encounter danger and wanted to meet it at his side when it came. But for that courageous impulse, she might at this moment be safe and sound out under the open sky instead of being buried alive in this island tomb.
Moreover her very presence here made their danger all the greater. There was little chance now of help coming to them from the outside. No doubt Tyke and Captain Hamilton would grow uneasy at their absence and look them up—probably they were hunting for them now. But they did not know of the existence of the cave, and now that the entrance was closed there was not the slightest chance of finding them. They would explore the mountain side, search every foot of the island, but their quest would be doomed to failure from the beginning.
While these thoughts had been hurrying through his tortured brain, Ruth had arranged her disordered hair as best she could in the darkness and stood ready to go.
"Well, Allen, what are we waiting for?" she asked. "You men are always complaining that the girls keep you waiting, but this time you're the guilty one."
He tried to adopt her bantering mood, but failed miserably.
"I'll have to throw myself on your mercy," he said. "But wait here a moment, Ruth, till I see if the path is clear."
Even in the darkness, he was almost conscious that she looked at him in surprise. But he needed time to get his thoughts together and decide on the easiest way of breaking the terrible news that weighed on his heart.
He cudgeled his brain to find the gentlest, most reassuring phrases that would alarm her least and keep up her courage. But there was the stark, hideous fact that could not be blinked or dodged, and when at last his lagging steps returned, he was no nearer a solution of his problem than before.
"I declare you sound like Tyke coming along the passage," Ruth laughed merrily. "They say bad news travels fast. So your news must be good, or you wouldn't be coming so slowly."
"I only wish you were right," he said, grasping at the opening. "But to tell the truth my news isn't any too good. Oh, nothing to be alarmed about," he added hastily, as he caught her stifled exclamation. "A little loose earth seems to have come down the slope of the hill and blocked up the entrance. I'll get to work at it and clear it out in a jiffy."
He tried to throw a world of confidence into his tone, but it failed to ring true. In the darkness he heard Ruth catch her breath.
"Let's go and see just how bad it is," was all she said, and Drew with a chill in his heart, led the way.
"What is this dirt in here?" asked Ruth, as she stumbled over a mound that Allen had thrown behind him in his frantic digging.
"Oh, that's some that I've dug out already," Allen replied with assumed carelessness. "I just wanted to find out how hard the dirt was and whether it would give way easily. It's fresh and soft and we'll get the whole lot out of our way in no time."