The Man With The Secret
| This was the terrible story old
Cap Nat, as he was commonly called, told to Robert Wallace one night in a grog shop at San
Francisco nearly forty years after the events had taken place. Only one point he
omittedthe fact that Bucks had escaped from the long
boat and witnessed the caching of the plunderand this only because he was not aware
During all those forty years Quinn had kept it as a fixed purpose to return to the scene of his crime and possess himself of the wealth he had lost his soul to gain.
But to outfit an expedition of the necessary proportions took much money. On this rock the man's purpose had always split. Periodically he was a hard drinker. He would live hard and close for a year, saving every cent he could, and then spend the whole amount in one grand debauch.
Had he been willing to confide his story to some capitalist of California it is likely he might have raised the needed funds, but the nature of the man was both suspicious and secretive and he had guarded his knowledge al these years with jealousy.
Wallace was acquainted with the owner and mate of a tramp schooner which had a doubtful reputation along the water front. Jim Slack had been an opium smuggler and was watched so closely by the revenue officers that he jumped at the chance of a trip to parts where no government officials could reach him.
Cautiously Wallace broached the subject to him, hinting at treasure but leaving the details dark. He drew a map which was a facsimile of the one made by Quinn, except that the latitude and longitude were omitted, and one or two details altered.
the result was that two weeks later the three men, together with a crew of five, were beating their way along the coast of Lower California in the notorious Jennie Slack. A bargain had been struck by which the owner of the vessel was to get one-third of the gold, out of which share he was to pay all the expenses of the cruise.
Each of the three leaders of the expedition was pledged to secrecy, but before they had been a week out of the Golden Gate Wallace discovered by accident not only that the crew knew the story, but that they were implicated with the master of the boat in a plot to obtain the whole treasure for themselves.
He told what he had learned to Quinn under cover of an evening smoke on deck. The old pirate took it without winking an eyelash, for he could see Slack and on of his men watching them.
"Six to two. Long Odds, boy," he said, knocking the ashes from his pipe.
To keep up appearances Bob Wallace laughed.
"I'm to be got rid of just before we land. It is to be made to look like an accident. You're safe until you have uncovered the treasure. Then it's good-by Cap Nat, too."
Quinn's laugh rang loudly, for the old man could play the game with any of them.
"We can't go back. If we suggested that the row would begin at once. No, we must choose our time instead of letting them choose theirs. And we can't wait too long, because they would see we were taking precautions against being surprised. We'll strike tonightand hard."
No doubt Cap Nat was right in his strategy, but the scruples of the boy's conscience lost them the advantage of a sudden attack. He would fight to save his life, but he would not take advantage of his enemies.
Perhaps it would be nearer the truth to say that he could not. Something stuck in his throat at the thought of falling upon men unexpectedly and dealing murder broadcast. Nor could the arguments of the old man shake him.
Dreadfully frightened though he was, the boy stuck doggedly to his position. He would die before he would do such a thing. And indeed he counted himself as no better than dead.
The two shared the same cabin, so that they were able to see each other alone several times during the day. Neither of them went out without being armed with a brace of pistols and a dirk, though these they kept hidden under their rough coats.
During Slack's watch that evening Quinn and his friend made their final preparation for defense. The captain's cabin was larger than theirs, and offered better points of defense. furthermore, here were kept the arms and the ammunition of the ship. Quinn volunteered to get food and water into it while Wallace held the cabin.
Three trips were made by the old salt to the cook's gallery. The first time he brought back a keg of water, the second time a large tin into which he had crammed a varied assortment of food. It was while he was away on the third journey that a scream rang out in the stillness.
The boy heard a rush of feet, followed by a shot. Bob ran out of the cabin toward the galley. Up the steps from the lower deck came Quinn, blood streaming from his head. In one hand he carried a knife, in the other a copper kettle full of beans still steaming.
"Back, lad, back! Hell's broke loose," the old man cried.
"What happened" Are you badly hurt?"
"I killed cookie. Caught me in the galley and I knifed him," panted the old man.
A bullet whistled past. Wallace turned, caught sight of Slack's head above the hatchway, and fired. The head disappeared. A few moments and they were safe in the cabin.
"You are wounded," Bob cried.
"A bullet grazed my head. Get ready for them. Never mind me."
He tied a bandanna over the wound while the young man arranged on the bunk cutlasses, their spare pistol, and the musket.
Slack was the first of the enemy to appear. He carried with him a white napkin for a flag. Ostensibly he had come to find out the cause of this outbreak, ready to learn how well prepared the defenders were. Cap Nat sent him to the right about briskly. "Get out, traitor! Step lively now, or I'll pepper you!"
From his breast Slack whipped a pistol and fired at the bald head of the old buccaneer. A shot from Wallace rang out in answer. Slack ran for cover, but at the stairs waved a derisive gesture.
For half an hour everything was quiet. Then came the sound of stealthy whispers and softly padding feet.
Quinn swung his cutlass to test it.
"Stand by for a rush. They're coming," he said.
Almost before had finished speaking feet pattered swiftly along the deck. The night was suddenly broken with shouts and curses. The stars that had been shining through the window were blotted out with smoke.
The door crashed in and men poured pell mell through the opening. The details of what followed were always blurred into a medley of carnage in the mind of Wallace. He knew that both he and Quinn fired, and that the cabin filled with smoke.
Fierce arms gripped him. He hacked into the smoke with his knife. Twice bodies thudded to the floor. A cutlass slashed his left arm. He was dragged from the cabin to the open deck and found himself struggling with a red-bearded giant who tossed him about as if he had been a child.
The fellow had a knife in his belt which he was trying to draw. Robert fought to the last ounce of strength in him to prevent this. But the sailor was too strong for him. Inch by inch he went down. The other's knee drove into his chest, his sinewy hand closed on the lad's throat. Wallace saw the knife flash and for the moment lost his senses.
When his eyes opened again the vise at his throat had withdrawn, the knee on his chest was relaxing. The giant was dropping like a log. Above him stood Quinn, a ghastly sight, in his hand a streaming cutlass.
Wallace rose and looked about him. Two men lay huddled in the cabin, a third was staggering away with both hands clapped to his head. The giant made four, the cook five. This left only Captain Slack against them.
"By Heaven, we've beat them" the boy cried.
"Yes, lad, we've beat them," grinned Quinn, leaning heavily against the door. "But it's Nat's last fight. I've got a bellyfulmore than I can carry. The old man is bound for Davy Jones's locker."
Slowly he slid to the deck.
Robert carried him into the cabin, bleeding from a dozen wounds. He was badly hacked, and from a gunshot wound in the vitals he was bleeding to death.
His comrade forced liquor between his teeth and offered to examine his wounds. Old Nat waved him aside.
"No use. I'm for hell." He smiled and began to sing in a quavering voice the chorus of the grim old buccaneers' song.
|It's bully boys, ho! and a deck splashed red
The devil is paid, quo' he, quo' he,
A knife in the back and a mate swift sped!
Heave yo ho! and away with me.
It must have been weird to hear the man, after so wicked and turbulent a life, troll from ashen lips the godless song of the old seadogs with whom he had broken all the commandments.
Only once after this did his mind come back to the present. A few minutes before the end the old pirate's eyes opened. He tried to whisper something, but could not. Feebly his hand tapped at something hard about his heart. Robert took from next the skin a package wrapped in oilcloth. Quinn's eyes lit.
In this was the map of Doubloon Spit.
Imagine now the situation on this ship of death. Three men only were left alive and one of these so badly wounded that he leaped overboard in madness before morning. Of the remaining two, neither could sleep without the fear of murder in his heart.
Two days wore away, one holding the upper and the other the lower deck. Meanwhile the ship drifted, a derelict on the face of the Pacific.
At length an agreement was patched up. Slack and Wallace sailed the ship together, each with one eye on the other. It is certain that neither slept without locked and bolted doors.
On the fourth day after truce had been declared, land was sighted. While it was the boy's watch and the captain was asleep Wallace managed to lower a boat and paddle to the shore. He had scarcely reached the beach when a tropical storm swept across the waters. At daybreak the Jennie Slack was no longer in sight. Neither schooner nor owner was ever seen again.
Robert Wallace was picked up several days later by a Mexican sheepherder. In time he worked his way back to San Francisco. At the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad he left California for the South.
Here he engaged in business, forsook his vagabond habits, and in course of time married. No doubt it was always in his mind to have another try at the treasure, but time slipped away without his doing so. His happy marriage fettered him. Before he realized it, he was an old man. The most he could do was to leave the secret for his daughter.
The package was found by his executor sealed in a safety deposit box. He left instruction that it was to be opened by his daughter upon her twenty-first birthday.
A week before the events told in the first chapter he had reached her majority. In the presence of Boris Bothwell, whom she had lately met for the first time, the oilcloth package had been opened.
He had agreed to finance the expedition to Doubloon Spit and she had come to San Francisco with her aunt to make the voyage with him. Meanwhile, letters had reached her from Scotland which made clear the true character of Bothwell.
He had attempted twice to get possession of the map. His personal attention displeased her. They had quarreled, finally, on the morning of the episode of the second-story window.