The Last Brush
| We resumed next morning the digging for the
treasure. The shore party was made up of Blythe, Yeager, Smith, Higgins and
Those of us left on board had a lazy time of it. I arranged watches of two to guard against any surprise on the part of the enemy either by an attack upon the yacht or by a sally along the shore upon the treasure diggers.
Having divided my men into watches, I discharged my mind of responsibility. Evelyn and I had a thousand things to tell each other. We sat on the upper deck under the tarpaulin and forgot everything except that we were lovers reunited after dreadful peril.
Youth is resilient. One would scarce have believed that this girl bubbling over with life and spirits was the same one who had been in such hopeless despair a few hours earlier.
A night's good sleep had set her up wonderfully.
Last night I had looked into tired eyes that had not yet fully escaped from the shadows of tragedy, into the sharp oval of a colorless face from which waves of storm had washed the life.
This morning the sun shone for her.
Courage had flowed back into her heart. Swift love ran now and again through her checks and tinted them.
She was herself, golden and delicate, elastic and vivid as a captured nymph.
"When I left the old Argos I thought I never wanted to see the yacht again, but now I think I could be happy here all my life," she confided.
"Wouldn't you prefer to have your cousin just a few miles farther away?"
She fell grave for a moment.
"Do you think he'll try to do more mischief?"
"He'll try. That's a safe bet. But I think we have him checkmated. By night we ought to have the bulk of the treasure on board. Once we get it the Argos will show him her heels."
Four bells sounded, six, eight. Dugan came down from the bridge to report to me.
"Captain Blythe's party coming down to the beach, sir."
Two of the men were carrying a large chest. It was so heavy that every forty or fifty yards relays relieved each other. The box was brought down to the edge of the water and loaded into a boat. Smith and Higgins took their places at the oars and Blythe stepped into the bow.
The Cargo seemed to call for tackle and ropes. I had them ready before the board reached us. Blythe superintended the hoisting of the chest, arranging the ropes so as to make a slip impossible. We hauled it safely aboard.
"Have it taken to the strong room, Sam. there's another waiting for us ashore," Blythe explained.
"Want me to go back for it?"
"No. Keep a sharp lookout for our friend up the river."
He was pulled ashore again and returned two hours later with a second chest, this time leaving Yeager and Barbados on guard at the cache. Gallagher and Alderson were sent ashore later to join Tom's party for the night watch.
A few more hours' work would be enough to lift the rest of the treasure. Already we had on board a fortune in doubloons and bars of gold, but there was still one more chest to be unearthed. We felt that we were near the end of our adventure and our spirits were high.
Blythe got out his violin and Evie sang some of her plantation songs, her soft voice falling easily into the indolent negro dialect.
My stunt was Irish stories. We dragooned the staid Morgan into playing the piano while we ragged.
It must have been close to midnight before we spoke of breaking up.
Evelyn and I took a turn on the deck. our excuse was to get a breath of fresh air, but the truth is that we were always drifting together.
Even in the company of others our eyes had a way of sending wireless messages of which we two only understood the code.
We leaned against the rail and looked across the bay. It was a night of ragged clouds behind which the moon was screened.
"Isn't that a boat over there?" Evie asked, pointing in the direction of the river mouth.
The moon had peeped out and was flinging a slant of light over the water. I looked for a long minute.
"Yes. I believe it's Bothwell's schooner. e has slipped out unnoticed. The fellow must mean mischief."
"Oh, I hope not," said Evie, and she gave a little shiver.
A sound came faintly over the water to us from the shore.
"Did you hear that?" Evelyn turned to me, her face white in the shining moonbeam.
A second pistol shot followed the first.
"Trouble at the cache!"
I turned toward the pavilion and met Blythe. Already he was flinging a crisp order to the watch.
"Lower a boat, Neidlinger. Smith will help you. That you, Higgins? rouse all hands from sleep. We've work afoot."
Again came a faint echo across the still waters, followed by two sharper explosions. Some one had brought a rifle into action.
Blythe turned to me. "It's my place to sand by the ship, jack. This may be a ruse to draw us off. I can spare you one man to go ashore and see what the trouble is. Take your pick."
I chose Smith.
"Keep a sharp lookout, Jack. He's wily as the devil, Bothwell is. Better not land at the usual place. He may have an ambush planted."
"All right, Sam."
The Englishman turned to give Stubbs orders for arming the crew.
In the darkness a groping little hand found mine.
"Must you go, Jack? Iwish you would stay here."
"My arm slid around the shoulders of my girl.
"It's up to me to go, honey."
We were alone under the awning. Her soft arms went round my neck and her fingers laced themselves.
"You'll be careful, won't you? It's all so horrible. I thought it was all over, and now Oh boy, I'm afraid!"
"Don't worry. Blythe will hold the ship."
"Of course. It isn't that. It's you. I don't want you to go. let Mr. Stubbs."
I shook my head.
"No, dear. That won't do. It's my place to go. But you needn't worry. The gods take care of lovers. I'll come back all right."
Her interlaced fingers tightened behind my neck.
"Don't be reckless, then. You're so foolhardy, I couldn't bear it ifif anything happened to you."
"Nothing will happen except that I shall come back to brag of our victory," I smiled.
"If I could be sure!" she cried softly.
The sinister sound of shots had drifted to us as we talked. The boat was by this time lowered and I knew I must be gone. Gently I unclasped the knotted fingers.
"Must you go already?" She made no other protest, but slipped a plain band ring from finger to my hand. "I want you to have something of mine with you, so that"
Her voice broke, but I knew she meant so that the gods of war might know she claimed ownership and send me back safe. For another instant she lay on my heart, then offered me her lips and surrendered me to my duty.
"Ready, Jack!" called Blythe cheerfully.
I ran across the deck and joined the man in the skiff. We pushed off and bent to the stroke. As our oars gripped the water the sound of another far, faint explosion drifted to us.
We landed a couple of hundred yards to the right of the spit and dragged our little boat into some bushes close to the shore.
I gave smith instructions to stay where he was unless he heard the hooting of an owl. If the call came once he was to advance very quietly; if twice, as fast as he could cover the ground.
The mosquitoes were a veritable plague. As I moved forward they swarmed around me in a cloud. Unfortunately I had not taken the time to bring the face netting with which we all equipped ourselves when going ashore.
Before I had covered fifty yards I heard voices raised as in anger. Presently I made out the sharp, imperious tones of Bothwell and the dogged persistent ones of Henry Fleming.
"I'll do as I please. Understand that, my man!" The words were snapped out with a steel edge to them.
"No, by thunder, you won't! I don't care about the cattleman, but Gallagher and Alderson were my shipmates. I'm no murderous pirate."
"You'll hang for one, you fool, if you're not careful. Didn't Gallagher desert to the enemy? Wasn't Alderson against us from start to finish? Didn't one of them give me this hole in my hand just now? They'll either join us or go to the sharks," Bothwell announced curtly.
From where I stood, perhaps forty yards north of the cache, I could make out that my friends were prisoners. No doubt the pirate had taken them at advantage and forced a surrender. Of Barbados I could see no sign. later I learned that he had taken to his heels at the first shot.
Twice I gave the hoot of an owl. Falling clearly on the still night, the effect of my signal was startling.
"What was that, boss?" asked a Panamanian faintly.
"An owl, you fool," retorted Bothwell impatiently. "Come, I give you one more chance, Gallagher. Will you join us and share the booty? Or shall I blow out your brains?"
Gallagher, from where he lay on the ground, spoke out firmly;
I'll sail no more with murderous mutineers."
"bully for you, partner!" boomed the undaunted voice of the cattleman.
"And you, Alderson?"
"I stand with y friends, Captain Bothwell."
"The more fool you, for you'll be a long time dead. Stand back, Fleming."
As I ran forward I let out a shout.
Simultaneously a revolver cracked.
Bothwell cursed furiously, for Henry Fleming had struck up the arm of the murderer.
The Russian turned furiously on the engineer and fired point-plant at him.
The bullet must have struck him somewhere, for the man gave a cry.
Bothwell whirled upon me and fired twice as I raced across the moonlit sand.
A flash of lightning seared my shoulder but did not stop me.
"Ha! The meddler again! Stung you that time, my friend," he shouted, and fired at me a third time.
They were the last words he was ever to utter. One moment his dark, venomous face craned toward me above the smoke of his revolver, the next it was slowly sinking to the ground in a contorted spasm of pain and rate.
For George Fleming had avenged the attempt upon his brother's life with a shot in the back.
Bothwell was dead almost before he reached the ground.
For a moment we all stood in a dead silence, adjusting our minds to the changed conditions.
Then one of the natives gave a squeal of terror and turned to run. Quick as a flash the rest of themI counted nine and may have missed one or twowere scuttling off at his heels.
George Fleming stared at the body of his chief which lay so still on the ground with the shining moon pouring its cold light on the white face.
Then slowly his eyes came up to meet mine.
In another moment he and his brother were crashing through the lush underbrush to the beach. I judged from the rapidity with which Henry moved that he could not be much hurt. From the opposite direction Smith came running up.
I dropped to my knees beside Yeager and cut the thongs that tied his hands.
"Hurt?" I asked.
"No," he answered in deep disgust at himself. "I stumbled over a root and hit my head against this tree right after the game opened. Gallagher and Alderson had to play it out alone. But Bothwell must have had fourteen men with him. He got Gallagher in the leg and rushed Alderson. You dropped in right handy, Jack."
"And not a minute too soon. by Jove! we ran it pretty fine this trip. Badly hurt, Galagher?"
"No, sir. Hit in the thigh."
I examined the wound as well as I could and found it not as bad as it might have been.
"A good clean flesh wound. You're in luck, Gallagher. The last two days have more than wiped out your week of mutiny. We're all deep in your debt."
"Thank you, sir," he said, flushing with pleasure.
Here I may put it down that this was the last word Gallagher heard about his lapse from duty. He and the other reconstructed mutineers were forgiven, their fault wiped completely off the slate.
I sent Alderson down to the spit to signal the Argos for a boat. One presently arrived with Stubbs and Higgins at the oars. The little cockney was struck with awe at the sight of the dead man.
"My heye, Mr. Sedgwick, 'e's got is at larst and none too soon. 'Ow did you do it?"
"I didn't do it. One of his friends did."
"wel, 'e 'ad it comin' to 'im, sir. But I'll sye for him that 'e was a man as well as a devil."
We helped Gallagher down to the boat and he and I were taken aboard.
The wound in my shoulder was but a scratch.
It was enough, however, to let me in for a share of the honors with Gallagher.
In truth I had done nothing but precipitate by my arrival the final tragedy; but love, they say, is blind.
It was impossible for me to persuade Evelyn that I had not been the hero of the occasion.
She could appreciate the courage of the three men who had chosen death rather than to join Bothwell in his nefarious plans, but she was caught by the melodramatic entry. I had made upon the stage.
"You were one against fourteen, but that didn't stop you at all. Of course the others were brave, but"
"Sheer nonsense, my dear. Any one can shout 'Villain, avaunt!" and prance across the sand, but there wasn't any pleasant excitement about looking Boris Bothwell in the eye and telling him to shoot and be hanged. That took sheer, cold, unadulterated nerve, and my hat's off to the three of them."
She leaned toward me out of the shadow, and the light in her eyes was wonderful.
With all the innocence of a Grecian nymph they held, too, the haunting, wistful pathos of eternal motherhood.
She yearned over me, almost as if I had been the son of her dreams.
"Boy, Jack, I'm glad it's overso gladso glad. I love youand I've been afraid for you."
Desire of her, of the sweet brave spirit in its beautiful sheath of young flesh, surged up in my blood irresistibly.
I caught her to my heart and kissed the soft corn-silk hair, the deep melting eyes, the ripe red lips.
By Heaven, I had fought for her and had won her! She was the gift of love, won in stark battle from the best fighter I had ever met.
The mad Irish blood in me sang.
After all I am not the son of a filibuster for nothing.