Next the rifles and revolvers were carefully cleaned and loaded, and the ammunition distributed.
"How are we off for cartridges?" Drew asked.
"None too well," answered the captain. "If these fellows were sure shots, there'd probably be all we'd need. But they'll waste a lot. I've got several hundred in a box under my berth—and clips for the automatics, too. I certainly wish I'd brought 'em along."
"S'pose Ditty's gobbled 'em?" inquired Grimshaw.
"I don't think he'd find them. But they're no good to us now," groaned the captain.
At this moment Rogers came hurrying up.
"They're putting off from the ship," he reported breathlessly.
"How many of them?" asked the captain.
"Ten in the longboat and seven in the other," was the answer.
"Seventeen in all," mused the captain. "I wonder where the rest are."
"Probably dead or prisoners," put in Tyke. "The men who wouldn't join him he's likely killed or triced up an' left 'em under guard of one or two of the gang."
"That's probably so," agreed the master of the Bertha Hamilton. "Well, that reduces the odds somewhat; but they're heavy enough just the same. We'll have action now 'most any time."
They had been so excited and absorbed in their preparations that they had not thought of food. Now the captain insisted upon their eating what Wah Lee had put up for them that morning. But he portioned out water from the cask very sparingly.
Another hour passed, and still they heard no tread of approaching feet. It would soon be dark. But suddenly they were startled when a voice hailed them. It came from the direction of a big ceiba tree a hundred yards down the forest path.
"Ahoy, yourself!" shouted back the captain.
A stick was thrust from behind the tree. A white cloth was tied to the end of it.
"This is Ditty talkin'," came the voice.
"I know it is, you scoundrel," roared the captain.
"No hard words, Cap'n," came the answer. "It'll only be the worse for you. I want to have a confab with you."
"Come along then and say your say," replied Captain Hamilton.
"You won't shoot?"
"Not you," promised the captain. "I hope to see you hung later on."
"No tricks, now," said Ditty cautiously
"I said I wouldn't and that's enough," responded the captain. "You can take it or leave it."
The mate emerged fully from behind the tree and came into the open space. At fifty paces from the fortress he halted.
"There's guns coverin' you from behind them trees, if anything happens to me," he said in further warning.
"I don't wonder you think that every man's a liar, Ditty," the captain replied bitterly. "You judge them out of your own black heart. Now, what do you want? Why have you seized my ship? Why have you killed one of my men?"
"I hain't seized your ship," answered Ditty sullenly. "You left me in charge of it. An' I didn't kill any of your men. Sanders got drunk an' fell overboard."
"Don't lie to me, you rascal," returned the captain. "We heard the shooting and saw the man shot as he leaped overboard. You'll hang for that yet, if I don't kill you first. You're a bloody mutineer and you know it. Now stow your lies and get to the point. What do you want?"
"We want them doubloons!" fairly shouted Ditty, stung by the captain's contempt, "an' we're goin' to have 'em."
"Doubloons? What do you mean?" asked the captain.
"The treasure you come here to dig for," answered Ditty. "You can't fool me. I've been on to your little game ever since before the schooner left New York. I got sharp ears, I have," pursued the mate, his one eye gleaming balefully as he looked at the heads above the line of the breastwork. "I know you found a map an' some sort of a paper what explained about that old pirate treasure. It was in a sailorman's chest in Tyke Grimshaw's office. Like enough Tyke stole it from the poor feller. An' I heard you tellin' Miss Ruth about it that night at dinner," he added, with a leering glance at the pale-faced girl.
"So that's why you shipped me such a lot of scum and riffraff, was it, you villain?" Captain Hamilton asked.
"You can think as you like about that," answered Ditty. "But this here kind of chinning won't git us anywhere. I know all about the map and that paper, an' I know that you come here lookin' for that loot. An' I bet you've found it a'ready. Now, to put it short an' sweet, me an' my mates want it."
"Suppose you got it?" parleyed the master of the Bertha Hamilton. "It wouldn't do you any good. The schooner is landlocked and can't get away."
"Even so it'll do us as much good as it will you," countered Ditty. "We've got the longboat an' we can easily make one of the islands near by where we can find a ship to take us to the States."
"And suppose I have the treasure and refuse to give it to you?" pursued the captain.
"Then we'll take it!" threatened Ditty, his one eye glowing with malevolence. "We'll take it if we have to kill every last one of you to git it!
"Hey! Barker! Olsen! The rest of you bullies!" he added, raising his voice, "you know blamed well the after-guard won't do nothin' for you fellers but let you git shot. You better come with us.
"We're nearly two to one, anyway, an' you've got no chance," he added to Captain Hamilton.
"We haven't, eh?" exploded the captain, his pent-up rage finding vent. "Do your worst, you black-hearted hound! And if you're not behind that tree in one minute, may God have mercy on your soul!"
A DARING VENTURE
With an expression of baffled rage convulsing his features, Ditty turned and made for shelter. Once safely there, he hurled back the wildest threats and imprecations. So vile they were that Ruth shuddered and put her hands to her ears.
"I said I'd kill you all!" the mate shouted. "I'll take that back. I'll kill all but one!"
The threat was easily understood. Captain Hamilton's face went white, and he glanced hastily at Ruth. But he only said:
"Keep down out of sight, men. They know where we are, but we don't know where they are. They may try to rush us, but I don't think they will at first. Aim carefully and shoot at anything that offers a fair target, but don't waste the ammunition."
He had hardly finished speaking before there came a volley, and the bullets pattered against the rocks. They came from several directions. Ditty had arranged his men in the form of a semicircle. They had ample cover, and the only chance for the besieged lay in the chance that one of the enemy should protrude his head or shoulder too far from behind his tree.
Many times in the next hour the fusilade was repeated. It was plain that the mutineers were armed only with pistols.
"Probably Ditty laid in a stock before he left New York," the captain muttered to Tyke. "Automatics, too."
"His ammunition won't last long if he keeps wasting it this way," replied Tyke. "An' an automatic ain't always a sure shot."
Just then a cry from Olsen showed that the mutineers' cartridges had not been wholly wasted. A bullet had caught the Swede in the shoulder. He dropped, groaning.
Ruth was by his side in an instant. She bound up his wound as best she could, and, putting a coat beneath his head, made him as comfortable as possible.
"One knocked out," muttered the captain. "I wonder who'll be the—— Ah! Good boy, Allen!" he cried delightedly.
One of the enemy had thrown up his hands and, with a yell, had crashed heavily to the ground. He lay there without motion.
"Leaned his head out a little too far," remarked Drew composedly. "That was the cockney, Bingo."
"An' a dirty rat," Tyke said grimly. "That evens up the score."
"Not exactly," replied Drew. "We'll have to pot two of them to every one they get, to keep the score straight. And they'll be more careful now about exposing themselves."
He was right; for in the short moments of daylight that remained they lessened no further the number of their foes. Nor did any bullet find its billet in the body of any of the besieged. But one ball knocked a splinter from a rock and drove it against the knuckles of Binney's right hand, making it difficult for him to use his rifle.
Now darkness fell, and the enemy seemed to have withdrawn.
"The real fight will come to-morrow," prophesied Captain Hamilton. "This was only a skirmish to feel us out."
"Do you think they'll try to do anything to-night?" asked Drew thoughtfully.
"I don't believe so," was the reply; "but we'll post sentinels, and if they come they won't take us by surprise."
"As a matter of fact," the captain went on, "I wish they would adopt rushing tactics. Then they'd be out in the open and we could get a good crack at them. As it is, we're concentrated and they're scattered, and their bullets have a better chance than ours of finding a mark. These sniping methods are all in their favor, if Ditty has sense enough to stick to them."
"They've gained already by this afternoon's work," pondered Tyke. "When they started in we were seventeen to 'leven. Now, as far as we know, they're sixteen to our nine, for neither Olsen nor Binney's what you might call able-bodied. The odds are getting bigger against us."
"All the ammunition we have spent has accounted for only one man," added the captain. "Their cover has served 'em well. And our ammunition is short. I figure out that we haven't much more than thirty cartridges apiece left for the rifles. That won't last us long."
"Why not dash out and charge them?" suggested Drew.
"We will when our cartridges get low," agreed the captain. "But I'm hoping they'll charge us first in the morning. We could drop a bunch of 'em before they closed in on us, and then we'd have a better chance in hand-to-hand fighting."
After dark the captain posted three men some distance within the forest, with the promise that they should be relieved at midnight and with strict injunctions to keep a vigilant watch and report to him at once should anything seem suspicious.
Rogers was delegated to make his way down to the beach, where it was supposed the mutineers would encamp for the night, to see if he could gain any information as to their plan of attack on the morrow.
To Ruth this whole situation was a most terrifying one; but nobody displayed more bravery than she.
She had attended to the two wounded men skilfully. She had been obliged to arrange a tourniquet on Olsen's shoulder, or the man would have bled to death; and she had done this as well as a more practised nurse. The wound was a clean one, the bullet having bored right through the shoulder.
Binney's wound was merely painful, and he could not use his rifle effectively. But he could handle an automatic with his left hand.
The departure of the mutineers and the coming of night released their minds and hearts from anxiety to a certain degree. Night fowls in the forest shouted their raucous notes back and forth, and there were some squealings and gruntings at the edge of the jungle that betrayed the presence of certain small animals that might add to their bill of fare could they but capture them.
"We'll forage for grub to-morrow," said Captain Hamilton. "It's too dark to-night to tell what you were catching, even if you went after those creatures. Ruth says she doesn't want agouti because they're too much like rats; but maybe there are creatures like polecats here—and they'd be a whole lot worse."
A daring idea came into Drew's mind, but he did not mention it to Tyke or the captain because he felt sure that they would not approve. He acknowledged to himself that it was a forlorn hope, but he knew, too, that forlorn hopes often won by their very audacity.
He knew that the moon rose late that night, and as darkness was essential to the execution of his plan, he rose shortly and said:
"Think I'll go out and do a little scouting on my own account."
The captain looked at him in some surprise.
"Well," he said slowly, "we can't get any too much information; but we're fearfully short of men, and you're the best shot we have. Better be careful."
"Yes, do be careful, Allen!" exclaimed Ruth. "For my sake," she added in a whisper.
"Do you care very much?" he responded, in the same tone.
"Care!" she repeated softly. It was only one word, but it was eloquent and her eyes were suspiciously moist.
He pressed her hand and she did not try to withdraw it.
"I'll be careful," he promised, releasing it at last. Another moment and he had surmounted the barrier and was swallowed up in the gloom of the forest.
From his repeated trips over the trail, Drew had a pretty good idea of the locality, and had it not been for the fallen trees that had been torn up by the cataclysm of the morning, he would have had little difficulty in gaining the beach. But again and again he had to make long detours, and as the darkness was intense he had to rely entirely on his sense of touch; so his progress was slow.
Nearly two hours elapsed before he caught sight of a light beyond the trees that he thought must come from the campfire of the mutineers. He crept forward with exceeding care, for at any moment he might stumble over some sentinel. But, with the lack of discipline that usually accompanies such lawless ventures and relying upon their preponderance in numbers, the mutineers had neglected such a precaution.
With the stealth of an Indian on a foray, Drew approached the beach until he was not more than a hundred yards from the fire. There he sheltered himself behind a massive tree trunk and surveyed the scene.
He saw Rogers nowhere about. The mutineers had made a great fire of driftwood, more for its cheerful effect than for any other reason, for the night was oppressively warm. At some distance from it the men were sitting or lying in sprawling attitudes. Some were sleeping, some singing, while one tall man, whom Drew recognized as Ditty, was engaged in earnest conversation with two others, probably his lieutenants.
Drew counted them twice to make sure there was no mistake. There were sixteen in all. Only one, then, had been accounted for that afternoon. And there were but nine able-bodied men in the fort, counting Binney as able-bodied.
Sixteen to nine! Nearly two to one! And men who would fight desperately because in joining this mutiny they knew that they stood in peril of the hangman's noose or the electric chair.
Drew's resolution hardened. The fire cast a wide zone of light on the beach and the surrounding water. But over the eastern end of the lagoon darkness hung heavily. Keeping in the shelter of the palms, he went northward, following the contour of the lagoon until he reached the point where vegetation ceased and the reef began.
Although this reef was volcanic (indeed the whole island had undoubtedly been thrown up from the floor of the sea by some subterranean convulsion in ages past), the coral insects had been at work adding to the strength of the lagoon's barriers. The recent quake that had lifted the reef had ground much of this coral-work to dust. Drew found himself wading ankle deep in it as he approached the water.
The little waves lapped at his feet. There was a shimmering glow on the surface of the lagoon, as there always is upon moving water. Outside, the surf sighed, retreated, advanced, and again sighed, in unchanging and ceaseless rotation.
Drew disrobed slowly. He could not see the schooner, but he knew about where she lay. Indeed, he could hear the water slapping against her sides and the creaking of her blocks and stays. She was not far off the shore.
And yet he hesitated before wading in. He was a good swimmer, and the water was warm; the actual getting to the schooner did not trouble his mind in the least. But, as he scanned the surface of the lagoon, there was a phosphorescent flash several fathoms out. Was it a leaping fish, or——
His eyes had become accustomed to the semi-darkness. Drifting in was some object—a small, three-cornered, sail-like thing. Another flash of phosphorescence, and the triangular fin disappeared. Drew shuddered as he stood naked at the water's edge. He could not fail to identify the creature. Something besides the Bertha Hamilton had been shut in the lagoon by the rising reef.
"And I venture to say that that shark is mighty hungry, too—unless he found poor Sanders," muttered the shivering Drew.
He then waded into the water.
THE BATTLE IN THE FORECASTLE
Making as little disturbance as possible, Drew sank to his armpits in the pellucid waters, and then began to swim. He believed the shark had started briskly for some other point in the lagoon; but he knew the eyes of the creature were sharp.
All about him, as the young man moved through the water, there were millions of tiny organisms that would betray his presence, as they had the shark's, at the first ripple. These minute infusorians would glow with the pale gleam of phosphorescence if the water were ruffled. Therefore, he had to swim carefully and slowly, when each second his nerves cried out for rapid, panic-stricken action.
He came at last to the schooner's stern without mishap. He could see her tall hull and taller spars above him. There was no light in the after part of the vessel; nor was there even a riding light. The mutineers whom Ditty had left aboard had evidently thrown off all discipline.
Finding no line hanging from the rail aft, Drew swam around the schooner to her bows. Here was the anchor chain, and up this he clambered nimbly to the rail.
Cautiously he raised his head above the rail and looked about him. There was a light in the forecastle, but most of the deck was in deep shadow. Very slowly he pulled himself inboard and dropped down in the bows. Then, on hands and knees and avoiding any spot of light, he crept noiselessly toward the forecastle and looked in.
By the light of the lamp swinging in its gimbals, he could see five men seated on the floor with their hands tied behind them. At a little distance two other men were seated, both with revolvers thrust in their belts.
The nearest of the guards was talking at the moment, and Drew easily heard what was said.
"You're a bloomin' fool, I tell you, Trent," he was saying to one of the prisoners. "Ditty has got the old man dead to rights. The after-guard hain't got the ghost of a chance. You'd better pitch in an take your luck along with the rest of us."
"You're a lot of bloody murderers," growled the one addressed, "and you'll swing for this business yet."
"Not as much chance of our swingin' as there is of you gittin' what Sanders got," retorted the other. "He's 'bout eat up by the sharks by this time. An' when Ditty comes back with the loot; he ain't goin' to let you live to peach on 'im. No, siree, he ain't. Dead men tell no tales."
Drew waited no longer. He had no weapon with him, not even a knife. But he counted on the advantage of surprise. He gathered himself together, and, with the agility of a panther, leaped upon the shoulders of the man seated beneath him. They went to the deck with a crash. The fellow was stunned by the shock, and lay motionless; but Drew was on his feet in a second.
The other mutineer leaped up, but when he saw the white and dripping figure of the unexpected visitor he dropped the automatic and fell back against the mess table, shaking and with his hands before his eyes.
"It's a ghost!" yelled Trent, no less frightened than the others, but more voluble. "It's Sanders been an' boarded us!"
The prisoners, crowded together on the deck of the forecastle, glared at the apparition of the naked man in horror. After all, the mutineer had the most courage.
"Blast my eyes!" he suddenly shouted. "Sanders wasn't never so big as him; 'nless he's growed since he was sent to the sharks."
He sprang forward to peer into Drew's face. The latter's fist shot out and landed resoundingly on the fellow's jaw.
"Nor he don't hit like Sanders, by mighty!" yelled the fellow. "Nor like no ghost. It's that blasted Drew—I knows 'im now."
"And you're going to know more about me directly," said Drew, between his teeth, following the fellow up for a second blow.
But the mutineer had recovered himself, both in mind and body. He was a big, beefy chap, weighing fifty pounds heavier than Drew, despite the latter's bone and muscle. No man, no matter how well he can spar, can afford to give away fifty pounds in a rough and tumble fight and expect not to suffer for it.
The fellow put up a good defense, and Drew suddenly became aware that he himself was at a terrible disadvantage. He was a naked man against one clothed and booted. He could defend himself from the flail-like blows of his antagonist and could get in some of his own swift hooks and punches. But when he was at close quarters the fellow played a deadly trick on him.
As Drew stepped in to deliver a short-armed jolt to the mutineer's head, the latter took the punishment offered, but, with all his weight, stamped on Drew's unprotected foot.
The groan that this forced from the young man's lips brought a diabolical grin to the mutineer's face. Even the satisfaction of changing that grin to a bloody smear, as he did the very next moment by giving a fearful blow to the mouth, did not relieve Drew's pain.
He had to keep the fellow at arm's length, and that was not advantageous to his own style of fighting. He could make a better record in close-up work. But the mutineer wore heavy sea-boots, and Drew already felt himself crippled. His own footwork was spoiled. He limped as badly as had Tyke Grimshaw for a while.
There was not room for a fair field in the crowded forecastle, at best. The big sailor was very wary about stepping near the five prisoners, but he forced Drew, time and again, against the body of the prone and unconscious man on the deck. Three times his naked antagonist all but sprawled over this obstruction.
In fact, Drew was not getting much the best of it, although few of the mutineer's blows landed. This fighting at arm's length never yet brought a quick decision. And that was what Allen Drew was striving for. For all he knew, Ditty might take it into his head to come off to the schooner before bedtime. If he were caught in this plight, he would be utterly undone.
This thought harried the young man's very soul. All he had risked in swimming out to the schooner would go for nothing. Not only would his object in coming fail of consummation, but if Ditty caught him, the besieged party up on the side of the whale's hump would lose its best shot.
Thus convinced of the necessity for haste, Drew suddenly rushed in. He stifled a cry as the heavy boot crunched down on his foot once again. This was no time for fair fighting. He seized his antagonist by the collar of his shirt, jerked him forward, and at the same time planted a right upper-cut on the point of the jaw.
The fellow crashed to the deck—down and out without a murmur. Drew, panting and limping, leaving a trail of blood wherever he stepped, secured some lengths of spun yarn and tied both mutineers hand and foot before he gave any attention to the murmuring prisoners.
"Now, men," he said, turning to the five, "you know me. I'm Mr. Drew and I'm no ghost."
"You don't hit like no ghost," grinned Trent. "I'm mighty glad you come, Mr. Drew. It would have been all up with us when old Bug-eye come back if you hadn't."
"You're fine fellows and all right to stand up for your captain," replied Drew; "and you'll find that you've not only been on the right side, but on the winning side. However, we've got to hurry. Where's a knife?"
"You'll find one in that fellow's belt," said Whitlock, pointing to one of the mutineers.
Drew secured it and cut the ropes that bound the prisoners. They fell to rubbing their arms and legs to get the blood to circulating.
"As soon as you can move about, get the dinghy ready," directed Drew. "Stow in it all the provisions it will hold together with some casks of water. And you'd better bring Wah Lee and the Jap along. I've got to go to the captain's cabin, but I'll be back before you're ready. Smart, now, for we don't know what minute Ditty may take a notion to come aboard."
Drew hurried aft and into his own room where he quickly got into some clothing and bandaged his crushed foot. Then he pushed into the captain's stateroom. There was no light there, but he dropped on his hands and knees and felt under the berth.
His hand touched the sharp corner of a box. He dragged it out and hurried up the companionway where he could examine it by the light of a lantern. He recognized at once the label of a well-known ammunition company, and knew that these must be the cartridges of which the captain had spoken. That box perhaps spelled salvation for the treasure seekers.
With his heart throbbing with elation and tightly clutching the precious box, Drew hastened to the rail where the men were preparing to launch the boat. Wah Lee and Namco stood by, blinking with true Oriental stolidity. They betrayed neither eagerness nor reluctance, nor was there the slightest trace of curiosity. For them it was all in the day's work.
The seamen heaped in all the provisions and water that the boat would hold and still leave room for its occupants. Drew advised muffling the oars, and with barely a sound the craft moved toward the shore. Heavily laden at is was, the progress was slow. They kept cautiously out of the zone of light cast by the mutineers' campfire, which now, however, was dying out. Finally the craft grated on the sand.
Under Drew's whispered directions, the men shouldered the stores, and the party commenced the toilsome march inland to the little fort.
It was fully midnight when they were challenged by the sentinels at the edge of the wood.
"Ahoy, there!" called Drew, hailing the fort.
"Ahoy, yourself!" came back the answer. "Is that you, Allen?"
"Yes. And some friends with me."
"Friends?" There was surprise in the tone. "Who are they?"
"I'll let you see for yourself."
The besieged, whose sleep had been fitful, had all been aroused by the colloquy, and they crowded to the front of the barricade. The moon had now risen, and their faces could be clearly discerned. Ruth lovelier every time he saw her, Allen thought, stood beside her father.
"Why, it's Whitlock!" cried Captain Hamilton jubilantly. "And Gunther—and Trent—and Ashley—and Barnes!" he went on in ever-increasing wonderment and excitement, as he recognized the weather-beaten faces. "And blest if here isn't that old heathen, Wah Lee! And the Jap! Glory hallelujah!"
There was a moment of wild exclamations and handshakings.
"Bully lads!" cried the master of the Bertha Hamilton, with deep emotion. "So you broke away and came to help your captain, did you? Good lads."
"We didn't exactly break away, Cap'n," said Gunther. "Though God knows we wanted to bad enough. But it's Mr. Drew you want to thank for our bein' here. He done it all."
"I knowed it! I knowed it!" cried Tyke. "I felt it in my bones when I first saw 'em! Glory be!"
"He did it all?" inquired the captain. "What do you mean? Tell us, Allen."
"Oh, there isn't much to tell," replied Drew. "I was lucky enough to reach the schooner and I found the men there with their hands tied. I cut the ropes and brought them along."
"You reached the schooner!" the captain repeated. "How?"
"Did you git the boat from under the eyes of them fellers?" asked Tyke.
"No. I swam over."
"Swam!" ejaculated the captain.
Ruth gave a little shriek and put her hand to her heart.
"Oh!" she cried. "The sharks!"
"Haven't I always told you that boy was a wonder?" chuckled Tyke.
But here Whitlock touched his cap.
"Beggin' your pardon, Cap'n," he said apologetically, "but if Mr. Drew was as slow with his fists as he is with tellin' his story, meanin' no disrespec', me an' my mates wouldn't be here."
"Go ahead, Whitlock," said the captain. "It is like pulling teeth to get anything from Mr. Drew."
Whitlock told the story, which lost nothing in the telling.
There was a pause, tense with emotion, and all eyes were turned on Drew. Tyke's hand clapped him on the shoulder, but the old man did not trust himself to speak. Ruth's eyes were wet, but the tears could not obscure a look that made the young man's heart thump wildly.
"Allen," said the captain, taking his hand, "it was the pluckiest thing I ever heard of. If we get out of this place alive, we shall owe it all to you."
"You make too much of it," disclaimed Drew, red and confused. "But hadn't we better stow away these things the men have brought along? Here's the box of cartridges I found under your berth."
The captain fairly shouted.
"That puts the cap sheaf on!" he exulted. "Now Ditty and his gang are done for. They can't come too soon."
The camp quieted down after a time. In one corner, Ruth had a shelter of rugs which had been brought up from the boat, and she retired to this after helping her father dress and rebandage Drew's foot.
The captain, as so many skippers are, was a good amateur surgeon; and as far as he could discern there were no bones broken. But the foot was so very painful that the young man could not coax the drowsy god. He tossed restlessly on the hard bed of lava rock, and, though his eyes closed at times, they opened again as though fitted with springs.
The exciting events of the day and the chances he had taken were repeated over and over in his mind. For the first time in his life he had aimed a deadly weapon at another human being.
He knew that Bingo had fallen by his hand. But, oddly enough, that fact did not sear his conscience. He had been accused of drowning Lester Parmalee, and the thought of that accusation now made him shrink and writhe.
He was guiltless of Parmalee's awful end; still, he shuddered at the thought that he might have been guilty. At one time he had felt such rage and animosity, through jealousy, that he might have struck Parmalee a fatal blow.
Drew had considered the missing man his rival for Ruth's affection. Fate had removed that rival from his path. Yet, in doing this, fate had likewise raised a barrier to Drew's own happiness with Ruth.
The man groaned aloud at this thought. Then, fearing that some of the others would be disturbed, that Ruth might hear him, he arose and hobbled to the barrier.
He felt in a pocket of the coat he had put on while aboard the schooner and found pipe and tobacco. He filled the pipe and fell to smoking, hoping to soothe his jumping nerves, while he stared out across the moonlit open.
The tropical moonlight revealed every object to the edge of the jungle as clearly as though it were broad day. It was a peaceful scene—so peaceful that it was hard to imagine that daybreak might change it to a place of carnage.
Suddenly he took his pipe from his lips and peered more closely at a spot near the edge of the jungle. Something had moved there.
It could not be one of the sentinels. Attack was not expected from the west. Nor was it one of the small, night-roaming animals of the forest. Drew was sure there were no beasts of prey on this island. It was too far from the mainland and the larger islands.
The something which he had seen moved farther out from the line of verdure. It was a man.
Although the distance was fully a cable's length, Drew's eyes were keen. The moonlight for a full minute shone on the face of the figure before it moved again.
The sight of the pallid countenance, with the black hair above it, smote Drew with an emotion akin to terror. He could not understand the apparition—he could scarcely believe his eyes; yet that face was Lester Parmalee's!
In a moment more the man had disappeared. The figure seemed to have melted into the black background of the jungle.
Without a grain of superstition in his being, Allen Drew felt that he was in the presence of the supernatural. He had not imagined the figure. It was no figment of a waking dream.
This was what Ruth had seen. This was what had so startled her on the occasion of the treasure seekers' first visit to the whale's hump. She thought she had imagined the appearance of Lester Parmalee. Drew knew he had seen it!
He was tempted to arouse Captain Hamilton. Yet he shrank from that. He could not utter the missing man's name to Ruth's father, knowing, as he did, that the captain was doubtful of his, Drew's, innocence in connection with Parmalee's disappearance.
He whispered to the man on guard that he was going outside, and quickly surmounted the barrier. He had his automatic revolver; and, anyway, he did not think any of the mutineers were in the neighborhood.
Having marked well the spot where the ghostly figure had presented itself to his startled vision, Drew hobbled directly to it, forgetting in his excitement the painful foot. He did not halt to search for foot-prints, but looked instead for an opening in the jungle, into which the figure could have disappeared.
It was there—one of those strange lava paths through the thick vegetation. The moonlight scarcely illuminated it, for it was narrow; but Drew entered boldly. This matter must be brought to a conclusion. He felt that the mystery had to be solved without delay.
There was light enough to show him the black wall of the jungle on either side of the path. There were no openings. Tropical undergrowth is not like that of a northern forest. Here the lianas and thorns intermingled with strong brush, make an impervious hedge. One could not penetrate it without the aid of a machete.
Drew heard no sound as he went on. The man he followed was not struggling through the jungle in an attempt to escape pursuit. Allen hastened his footsteps, his hand on his revolver. Was that a figure moving through the semi-dusk ahead? Should he call? His lips formed the name of Parmalee, but no sound came from them.
Suddenly he came to a clearing, perhaps a dozen yards across. Here the lava had formed a pool and cooled in this circular patch. The moonlight now revealed all.
A figure—the same he had seen upon the edge of the jungle—was crossing this opening in the forest. The pursuer sprang forward.
"Wait!" he gasped. "It's I—Drew! Wait!"
The other whirled. He held only a club as a means of defense. He was in rags. His black hair hung in dank locks about his pale brow.
"Who are you?" he cried. "Keep off!"
Allen Drew rushed in, making light of the club, and seized the other in his arms.
"My God, man! don't you know me? How came you here? Are you real?" he chattered.
"Is it you, Drew?" queried the other, brokenly. "Lord! don't take my breath, old fellow."
"They accuse me of taking your life!" ejaculated Drew, with hysterical laughter. "Don't mind a little thing like being hugged. Gad, Parmalee! how glad I am to see you!"
"Accused you of taking my life!" the other exclaimed, amazed.
"Ditty, the black-hearted hound, accused me of throwing you overboard. Said he saw me do it. Captain Hamilton half believes it yet. Heavens, Parmalee, but you're a sight to put heart into a man!
"Only," Drew added, "you quite took the heart out of me just now when I saw you standing there at the edge of the forest staring at the fort."
"The fort. Yes. That's what puzzled me," Parmalee said. "I wasn't sure which party was defending it. The sailors mutinied, didn't they? You're fighting them?"
"I should say we are, the——"
He got no further. In their eagerness, the two men had been talking in ordinary tones and had paid no attention to their surroundings. A voice suddenly crackled through the other sounds of the night.
"Well, we've got two of 'em. Hands up, or we'll blow your heads off!"
It was Ditty with half a dozen of the mutineers at his back. They held Drew and Parmalee under the muzzles of their automatics.
It was useless to attempt to escape. Even Drew, reckless as he had shown himself at times, would not take his life so lightly in his hands. And, besides, he knew well that Ditty would be only too glad to shoot him.
His hands, as well as Parmalee's, went up promptly. One of the seamen, laughing a little, came forward and searched them both, taking away Drew's weapon. Parmalee had dropped his useless club.
The young men, so suddenly made captives by the mutineers, stood with their backs to the strong moonlight, their faces in the shadow. The moon was now sinking behind a buttress of the volcano. As yet, neither had been recognized by their captors. But now Ditty came forward, and first of all thrust his face into that of Parmalee.
"Who the devil are you?" he demanded.
The young man lifted his head and stared into the mate's pale eye. Ditty started back with a shriek.
"What—what—— Who is it?" chattered the mate. His henchmen gazed at him in amazement. Suddenly Ditty came forward again, and whirled Parmalee around so that he faced the sinking moon.
"Mr. Parmalee!" he whispered.
The latter smiled faintly.
"It's Parmalee, all right," he said. "You didn't expect to see me again, I imagine, Mr. Ditty."
The sound of the man's voice seemed to reassure the mate. The other mutineers chattered their surprise. Finally Ditty, licking his dry lips, stammered:
"I—I thought that you—you were——"
"No thanks to you that I'm not drowned, Mr. Ditty, if that's what you mean," said Parmalee bitterly. "You tried your best to murder me."
"Not me!" declared Ditty, with a gesture of denial, turning his single eye away from the other's accusing gaze. "It was that swab, Drew, threw you overboard."
"Liar," declared Parmalee evenly. "Drew lay on the deck unconscious from his fall. I was stooping to help him. Though you crept up behind me, I knew you when you seized me in your arms, you villain. And I hope to see you punished for it."
Ditty, with a curse, would have struck Parmalee, but Drew stepped between them and received the blow intended for his comrade.
"If you must hit a man, hit one of your own size," he said quietly.
"Drew! Drew himself!" shouted the mate, recognizing the second captive. "The very one we wanted! Hi, bullies! we've got the whip-hand now. We've got the old man's right bower! An' him an' the gal an' Tyke Grimshaw will pay us our price for the freedom of this laddy-buck, to say nothin' of Parmalee. Bring 'em along!"
THE BATTLE IS ON
Helpless and almost hopeless, the two captives were led deeper into the forest paths. Drew realized that they were skirting the barren hillside and gaining a position nearer to the treasure seekers' fort.
Finally they saw a fire in the now dark wood, and soon came to a stockade. Several fallen trees formed this barrier, and in addition to the protection they afforded, a number of branches had been so arranged as to form an abattis. The work had been hastily done; but with determined men behind it, it would offer a formidable obstacle to an attacking party.
At a fire in the further end of the enclosure the mutineers were preparing their breakfast. Ditty went over and talked earnestly with some of his men, but finally broke off abruptly and came back to the prisoners, who had both been tied, wrist and ankle.
"So I've got you where I've wanted you at last, have I?" he taunted Drew. "Little moonlight walks don't always pan out as you expect."
Drew disdained to reply.
"You wont talk, eh?" the mate snarled, kicking him in the ribs with his heavy boot. "Well, I know some cunnin' little ways of makin' people talk when I want 'em to. But I'm goin' to wait a while before I try 'em on you. I want somebody here to see you cringe and hear you howl. Bless her pretty eyes, how she'll enjoy it!"
Then Drew's eyes flashed and he strained at his bonds.
"You vile scoundrel!" he cried. "If my hands were free I'd choke the life out of you!"
"So you can talk, after all?" sneered the mate, his cold eye becoming still more reptilian.
"And more than talk—give me the chance," Drew flung back at him.
"Smart boy," jeered the mate. "Smart enough to translate Spanish and the pirate's old map, eh? An' now you're goin' to smart more when you see me an' my mates walk off with the doubloons," and he laughed.
"Yes. When I do!" the young man said boldly. "You'll be a deal older when that happens, Ditty."
"I'll show you!" ejaculated the mate, and kicked him again.
"The brute!" gasped Parmalee.
"Parmalee," Drew said in a trembling voice, "I never wanted the use of my hands so much as I do now. When I do get free, I shall be tempted to kill that fellow."
"He deserves it—the double-dyed villain!" groaned Parmalee. "And he threw me overboard."
"I knew he must have done so," said Drew. "But why did he do it? Not just to put the crime on me? How were you saved and how did you get here? Let's hear it all."
"I had overheard the rascal plotting with some of the men," returned Parmalee. "Ditty must have caught a glimpse of me. I suppose he felt the time was not ripe for exposure; so he put me out of the way. He must have been lurking near us that night when you fell. I was stooping to help you when he grabbed me and flung me over the rail. I didn't have time to cry out.
"I'm a good swimmer—one of the few active accomplishments I possess—and I swam as long as I could. Just as I lost strength, my hand touched a cask lashed to a grating that must have fallen from some vessel, or been thrown from it. That held me up till morning. By that time I was about all in. But just then a sloop—a turtle catcher she was—bore down on me, sighted me, and answered my frantic appeal, and picked me up. It was a terrible experience."
"It must have been," breathed the other. "Go on. How did you get here to this very island where the doubloons were buried?"
"Are they here?" asked Parmalee eagerly. "Do you know?"
"Sh!" whispered Drew. "Don't say a word. We have 'em—pecks of them! And jewels and other stuff besides—enough to make us all as rich as Midas."
"Humph!" commented Parmalee, with sudden gravity. "And he had asses' ears. I'm afraid this mess we're all in shows that we did an asinine thing in coming down here after the doubloons. What is wealth compared to life itself?"
"True," murmured Drew. "And what we've been through besides. But go on. Tell the rest."
"When those turtle catchers landed here I had no idea that this island was the one marked on the pirate's map which Captain Hamilton showed me," pursued Parmalee. "I was treated well enough. But I happened to have no money in my pockets, and the men disbelieved my claim that I would pay them if they would get me to a civilized port! So they made me work. That was all right, but the work was too heavy for me; so I went off into the interior of the island to see if there were not some inhabitants. Then the first earthquake came. It frightened those half-breeds and negroes blue. They set off in the sloop, leaving me behind.
"Day before yesterday I came up this way. I guessed that the fortification must have been thrown up by one party from the Bertha Hamilton and that this was the island we had been seeking; but hesitated to come nearer, unarmed as I was, fearing that Ditty and his gang of cut-throats were fortified here."
"Ruth saw you," Drew volunteered. "She thought you were an apparition. And so did I, this morning. But you must have had a frightful time of it."
"I've been keeping myself alive on fruit and shell-fish since the turtle catchers deserted me. It's not a satisfying diet," Parmalee said with a little laugh.
During this low-voiced conversation between the two prisoners, the mutineers had been eating breakfast. They offered the young men none; but neither Drew nor Parmalee was thinking of his appetite.
"Sit up close behind me, Parmalee," whispered Drew. "I believe I can work on that cord that fastens your wrists. If I can get you free, you can free me."
"Good! We'll try it," said the other confidently.
"That will do. Get close to me and let me pick away at this knot. Ditty's too busy to come over here now. Besides, they're getting ready to attack our people, I think. He believes we're safe here, and he'll need all his men with him."
"You're getting it, Drew, old fellow," whispered Parmalee eagerly.
"Bet your life! One of the easiest knots a seaman ever tied. Now try mine."
Parmalee did as directed, and the knot that fastened Drew's wrists soon yielded. But the latter still kept his hands behind him and assumed a pose of deep dejection, his companion doing the same.
As Drew had conjectured, Ditty had made up his mind to attack. He was still unaware of what had taken place on the schooner during the night, and was confident that he outnumbered the besieged by about two to one. Time was pressing, for a ship might appear at any time. He resolved to hazard all his chances on one throw.
At the head of his band he left the stockade. Drew and Parmalee waited till they felt sure that all had gone and that no guard left behind was stealthily watching them through the trees. Drew then got out his pocket knife and severed their ankle lashings.
At that moment a volley of shots was heard in the direction of the barricade. It was followed by another and still another. The fight had begun.
"Come on!" cried Drew excitedly, and he dashed out of the stockade followed by Parmalee.
Day was just breaking. Overhead the twittering of doves, the squeaking of parrakeets, the countless sounds of bird and insect life, welcomed the sun.
But the fusilades of gun shots hushed the clamor of wild life, and sent the birds and the animals shrieking away from the vicinity.
Great was the consternation in the little fortress when it was discovered that Drew was absent. And as the time dragged by and he did not return, his friends knew that either he had been killed or was a prisoner in the hands of the mutineers. And if the latter, they knew only too well what mercy he had to expect from the mate. One murder more or less was nothing to that scoundrel now.
Grimshaw and Captain Hamilton were abnormally grave, and Ruth's eyes were wild with anguish and terror. She no longer had any doubt of her feeling for Allen. She knew that she loved him with all her heart.
At the first sign of daylight, the master of the Bertha Hamilton put his little band on a war footing. The ammunition was distributed, and he rejoiced to see how abundant it was. That he had Drew to thank for. Ruth prepared lint and bandages for the wounded from supplies which Allen had also brought, then she stood ready to reload the extra rifles and small arms, or, at need, to use a revolver herself. Her eyes were clear and dauntless, and if her father looked at her with grave anxiety, it was also with pride.
Breakfast despatched, the men took the places assigned to them. The captain had formed his plan of battle.
"They'll rush us after a few volleys," he asserted. "Wait till they get within thirty feet before you fire. Then let them have it, and aim low. If they waver, and I think they will, jump over the breastworks when I give the word, and we'll charge in turn. If we once get them on the run, they'll never rally and we'll hunt them down like rats until they surrender. We're going to win, my lads!"
The answer was a cheer, and Captain Hamilton had no doubt as to the spirit with which his little force was going into the fray.
The outposts came hurrying in with the news that the mutineers were coming. And not long after, this was confirmed by a spatter of bullets against the rocks.
The defenders made a spirited reply, and several volleys were exchanged. But the mutineers were in the shelter of the wood.
Ditty knew that the pistol bullets of his men would do little damage at long range.
There came an ominous pause.
"They're getting ready now," said Captain Hamilton quietly. "Mind what I told you, my lads, about shooting low. And when you see me jump over the rocks, come close on my heels. I'll be up in front."
It was a nerve-trying wait. Then, suddenly, the mutineers emerged from the wood and rushed toward the fort, yelling as they came.
They had covered nearly half the distance when Captain Hamilton gave the word and the rifles spoke. Some of the bullets went high and wide, but several of the attacking force staggered and went down. Their comrades hesitated for a second, and the master of the Bertha Hamilton seized his opportunity.
"Follow me!" he yelled. "Come on!"
He leaped over the rocky breastwork, and with a cheer the seamen followed him.
The check of the mutineers had been only temporary. Ditty raged and stormed and swore at them and they regained some semblance of order. By the time the captain and his force had fairly cleared the lava barricade and had got into the full momentum of their charge, the mutineers had reformed. In another instant the lines had met and were locked in deadly combat.
There was no longer any pretense of discipline. When their guns were empty, every man singled out his antagonist and grappled with him. The forces were now about evenly divided, and for a time the issue was doubtful.
Then came a diversion.
Out from the wood leaped Drew, whirling a heavy club, his eyes blazing with rage and the lust of battle. Here was the chandlery clerk, metamorphosed indeed! He was followed by Parmalee, plucky, but for the moment breathless from the struggle through the jungle.
"Shoot him, you bullies! Pull him down!" yelled Ditty, seeing the charging Drew.
He aimed his own revolver at the young man and fired. Drew felt as though his head had been seared by a red-hot iron. He staggered, but, nevertheless, kept on, charging directly at the one-eyed mate.
They met. As Drew struck at his enemy with the club, the latter flung his emptied revolver full in the face of the younger man. Drew ducked, but could not avoid it. But the bodies of the two came together, and they clenched.
Back and forth they strained, each struggling for a wrestler's hold in order to enable him to throw the other. For half a minute or more neither was successful.
But the mate was the better man in the rough-and-tumble fight. He suddenly lifted Drew from the ground and flung him to the ground. But Ditty fell too, landing heavily on his victim.
The shock almost deprived Drew of breath. The wound in his head had confused him. His grasp on Ditty relaxed, and with a yell of triumph the latter released himself, leaped to his feet, seizing the club as he arose.
"Now I've got you!" he yelled, and swung the club aloft.
At that moment Captain Hamilton shot Ditty through the breast. With a snarl, the mate, losing the club, hurled himself toward the captain and grappled with him. They went down, the latter's head striking the ground so that he was dazed for a moment.
The mutineer jerked the knife from his belt and raised it to strike; but Tyke Grimshaw, who had been fighting furiously, kicked the knife from his hand and the captain, recovering, threw his enemy from him and arose.
Ditty did not rise. The remaining mutineers wavered when their leader fell, then turned to flee.
"After them, my lads!" cried Captain Hamilton. "We've got 'em on the run!"
But the battle ended abruptly.
In the excitement of the fight, none had noticed the black cloud shooting up from the crater so close at hand. There was a stupendous roar, and the earth shook again as though twisted between the fingers of a Titan. The crashing of trees in the forest, and the bursting of hot lava spewed out of the volcano, grew into a cannonade.
Prone on the ground, terrified and bewildered before this awful seismic phenomenon, neither belligerent party thought of fighting. Not until the uproar and quaking had subsided some minutes later, could they reconcile themselves to the conviction that by a miracle only were they alive.
The mutineers crept away into the forest unmolested. Gradually the others regained self-control. Tyke nursed the lame foot which had done such timely service in thwarting Ditty, while the captain tallied up his losses. Two of the faithful seamen were dead, Ashley and Trent, and several were rather badly wounded, while none had emerged from the struggle without some injury. Five of the mutineers had been killed, and three more were severely though not mortally wounded.
Drew had at first thought that the wound inflicted by Ditty's bullet was slight. But suddenly a deadly weakness came over him. He seemed to be falling into a stupor from which he tried desperately to save himself. Ruth was bandaging his wound when she noticed his growing faintness. She cried out in alarm.
"Allen, dear, Allen!" she begged. "Rouse up! Don't faint!"
"I—I'm going, Ruth," he answered.
"No, no;" she cried desperately. "I won't let you!"
"I'm going," he muttered, clinging to her.
"You mustn't!" she exclaimed wildly. "Don't go, Allen! Not until I tell you——"
But the next moment Drew slipped into unconsciousness.
When he awoke to find himself between snowy sheets in his old berth with Ruth's cool hand upon his forehead and her tender eyes looking into his, he had many things to learn. She pieced out for him the happenings after that stark fight on the island. She told how Parmalee had picked up a revolver from the field and played his part in the fight; how, after the burial of the dead and aid to the wounded, the treasure chest had been transferred to the schooner; how the remnant of the mutineers had evaded capture and had fled to the remote parts of the island; and, greatest of all, how that last earthquake shock had tipped the reef again and made a new opening in the barrier that had hemmed in the schooner. She told him, too, that in an hour the Bertha Hamilton would be ploughing the waves of the Caribbean.
To all these things he listened with unutterable content and peace beyond all telling. He was alive! His name was stainless! His future was secure! And Ruth was beside him! It was heaven just to lie there, drinking in the beauty of her eyes and breathing the fragrance of her hair when she bent over to adjust his pillow.
"And we shall soon have bidden good-bye to Earthquake Island!" Ruth exclaimed gaily.
"Is that what you've dubbed it?" he asked, smiling. "It couldn't be better christened. Earthquakes seem to be its chief stock in trade."
"Except doubloons," she reminded him. "Don't be ungrateful."
Tyke came in and sat patting Drew's hand, too deeply moved at first to trust himself to speak. The captain, too, was a visitor, confidently attributing the salvation of the party to Drew's pluck and daring. And Parmalee—a vastly stronger and healthier Parmalee than before he had been compelled to "rough it"—showed himself exceedingly friendly.
"It has been a great voyage for me," he said. "I'm open to congratulations, Drew. My health is so much improved, that I shall be married as soon as we reach New York."
Drew's heart suddenly turned to ice. He knew he ought to say something, but for the life of him he could not speak. He looked unseeingly at Parmalee, his face the color of ashes.
"Her name is Edith," continued Parmalee, with the egotism of a lover. "Beautiful name, don't you think? We've been engaged for more than a year, but I didn't want to marry until I was stronger."
The blood flowed into Drew's face once more.
"Beautiful?" he cried. "I should say it was! And I bet she's as beautiful as her name. Parmalee, I congratulate you. With all my heart I congratulate you. You're a lucky dog. Shake hands."
Parmalee's eyes twinkled.
"Upon my word! you're a fellow of sudden and wonderful enthusiasms," he exclaimed. "But I can guess why. I'm not blind. Go in and win, old fellow."
Ruth came back just then, gay and radiant.
"Seems to me there's a lot of noise here for a sick man's room," she remarked, looking smilingly from one to the other. "I'll have to drive you out, Mr. Parmalee, if you get my patient too greatly excited," she went on, shaking her finger at him with mock severity.
"I imagine I haven't done him any harm," laughed Parmalee slyly.
"Harm!" cried Drew. "You've given me a new lease on life. I'll get well now in no time. I've just got to get well!"
"I was telling him about Edith," explained Parmalee.
"Edith!" exclaimed Ruth. "Isn't she just the dearest girl? So you've taken Allen into the secret too? Go and get her picture and let him see what a darling she is."
Parmalee, nothing loth, rose and left the room.
"You'll simply fall in love with her when you see her picture," prophesied Ruth, as she adjusted the pillow.
"No, I won't," declared Drew with emphasis.
"She's one of the dearest friends I have," Ruth continued, teasingly keeping her hand just out of Allen's reach. "Of course, I knew all about their engagement, and Mr. Parmalee's talked to me a lot about her during this voyage. The poor fellow was so lonely without her that I suppose he had to have some one to confide in."
A great light broke upon Drew's mind.
"So that's what you two used to talk about when I was so——" he hesitated, seeking for a word.
"So what?" she asked demurely, with a glint of the old mischief in her eyes.
"Oh, you know," he answered, hardly knowing how to proceed. He was doing his best to catch her eye but could not.
He raised up and caught her by the forearm, but he was too weak to hold her and she drew herself gently away.
"I told Mr. Parmalee that he must not excite you, and now I'm acting just as badly," she said. "You must rest or you'll never get well."
"Oh, I'm bound to get well now!" he declared. At that moment Tyke Grimshaw's face appeared at the doorway.
"How are you making it, Allen?" he questioned.
"First rate," was the answer. The young man was rather put out over the interruption, yet he could not help but remember what Grimshaw had done for him and he gave the old man a warm look of gratitude.
"We're going to have some rough sailing for a little while," announced Grimshaw. "We're going to sail through that there gap in the reef—if it can be done."
From a distance they could hear the voice of Mr. Rogers giving orders. And the stamp of the seamen's feet announced that the Bertha Hamilton was getting under way. Short-handed as she was, never did sailors swing into the ancient chantey in better tune and with more cheerfulness.
"Oh, haul the bowline, Katy is my darling, Oh, haul the bowline, the bowline haul!
"Oh, haul the bowline, London girls are towing, Oh, haul the bowline, the bowline haul!
"Oh, haul the bowline, the packet is a-rolling, Oh, haul the bowline, the bowline haul!"
With anchor apeak, topsails jerked aloft and flattened, the schooner took the wind. Although the earthquake had subsided, the waters both inside the reef and outside were much troubled. Where the two jaws of the rocky barrier still remained, the waves pounded and foamed furiously.
Would they be able to get out safely? That was the question in the mind of every man who trod the deck of the schooner. Soundings had been made, and they had learned that the lane to safety was both narrow and winding.
"If we hit, it will be all up with us," said one of the tars to his mates.
"We got ter take a chance," was the answer. "Keelhaul me, if I want to stay at this island any longer!"
Closer and closer to the jaws of the reef sped the Bertha Hamilton. Then up and down like a cork danced the schooner. For one brief instant as she plunged through the waves and the foam, scattering the flying spray in all directions, it looked as if nature might force her upon the rocks, there to be battered into a shapeless hulk. But then, as if by a miracle, she righted herself, answered her helm, and shot through the miraculously opened lane into the blue waters of the ocean beyond.
They were homeward bound.
A week later as the schooner was running up the Florida coast, Drew, who had gained strength magically after his enlightening interview with Parmalee, was standing with Ruth near the rail. Dusk was coming on, and a crescent moon was already showing its horns in the sky, still touched by the sun's aftermath.
In the hush of the twilight they had fallen silent. Ruth's hand was resting on the rail. Allen reached over gently and took it in his own. It was quivering, but she did not withdraw it.
"Ruth, look at me," he said, somewhat huskily. She lifted her eyes to his, but dropped them instantly.
"Ruth," he continued, "when I was hurt and was losing consciousness on the island, do you remember what you said to me?" She was silent. "Tell me, Ruth," he urged. "Do you?"
"How can I?" she said evasively. "I—I said so many things. I was so excited——"
"I remember," he said softly. "I will never forget. You said: 'Don't go, Allen, not until I tell you——' What was it you wished to tell me, Ruth?"
"Don't make me say it, Allen," she murmured, her gaze downcast.
"Was it this?" he asked; and now his voice was shaking. "Was it: Don't go, Allen, not until I tell you that I love you? Was that it, Ruth?"
She looked at him then, and her eyes were wonderful.
With a stifled cry he opened his arms, and she crept into them in shy and sweet surrender.
His lips met hers.
He had gained the Doubloons—and the Girl.