GLEN bade Roper take the handkerchief from my mouth, and when that was done his creased face smiled at me over the lantern.
“About the Royal Fortune?” he said smoothly.
Peter Tortue nodded, and absently cleaned the blade of his knife upon the thighs of his breeches. There was no reply for me to make, and I waited.
“You were over to St. Mary’s to-day?”
“What did you do there?”
“I bought a pair of silk stockings and some linen.”
George Glen sniggered like a man that leaves off a serious conversation to laugh politely at a bad joke.
“But it’s true,” I cried.
“Did you speak of the Royal Fortune?”“No,” and, as luck would have it, I had not—not even to the Rev. Mr. Milray.
“Not to a living soul?”
“Did you go up to Star Castle?”
“Did you speak to Captain Hathaway? ‘*
“‘There’s poor old George,’ you said. ‘ Old George Glen,’ says you, ‘ what was quartermaster with Cap’n Roberts on the Royal——’”
“No,” I cried.
“Did you mention Peter Tortue?” said the Frenchman.
“No. Would you be sitting here if I had? There would be a company of soldiers scouring the island for you.”
“That’s reasonable,” said Tortue, and the rest echoed his words. In a little there was silence. Tortue set to work again with his knife. It flashed backwards and forwards, red with the candle light as though it ran blood. It shone in my eyes and dazzled me, and somehow, there came back to me a recollection of that hot night in Clutterbuck’s rooms when everything had glittered with an intolerable brightness, and Dick Parmiter had been setupon the table to tell his story. I was vaguely wondering what they were all doing at this moment in London, Clutterbuck, Macfarlane, and the rest, when the questions began again.
“You came back from St. Mary’s to New Grimsby?”
“Did you tell Parmiter?”
“From St. Mary’s you crossed the island to Merchant’s Point?”
“Did you tell the girl?”
Here a lie was obviously needful, and I did not scruple to tell it.
Peter Tortue leaned forward to me with a shrewd glance in his keen eyes.
“You are her lover,” he said. “You told her.”
I lifted my eyes from his knife, looked him in the eyes, and sustained his glance.
“I am not her lover,” I said; “that is a damned lie.”
He did not lose his temper, but repeated:
“You told her,” and George Glen looked in aeain with his whole face screwed into a wink.
“You said to her, ‘ My dear,’ says you, ‘ there’s old George,’” and at that I lost my temper.
“I said nothing of the kind,” I cried. “Am I a parrot that I cannot open my lips without old George popping out of them? But what’s the use of talking. Do what you will, I have done. If I had betrayed your secret, do you think I should be walking home alone, and you upon the island? But I have done. I had a bargain to strike with you, I thought to find you all at the inn—but I have done.”
To tell the truth, I had no longer any hope of life. Glen, for all his winks and smiles, would stop short of no cruelty. Peter Tortue quietly polished his knife upon his thigh. He was a big Brittany man, with shrewd eyes and an unchanging face. The rest squatted and stared curiously at me. The light of the lantern fell upon their callous faces, they were lookers-on at a show, of which perhaps, they had seen the like before, they were not concerned in this affair of the Royal Fortune nor how it ended.
“So you told no one.”
I closed my eyes and leaned back against the partition. I was utterly helpless in their hands, and I hoped they would be quick. I remember that I regretted very much I could send no word to the girl at Merchant’s Rock, and that I was very glad she had not delayed her music till tomorrow night, but both regret and gladness were of a numbed and languid kind.
Then Glen asked me another question, and it spurred my will to alertness.
“How did you know that I was quartermaster on the Royal Fortune?” I could not remind him that he had let the ship’s name drop from his lips four years ago. It would be as much as to say that Helen had told me. It would confess that I had spoken with her of the Royal Fortune. Yet I must answer, and without the least show of hesitation. I caught at the first plausible reason which occurred to me. I said: “Cullen Mayle told me,” and that answer saved my life. For Glen remarked, “Yes, he knew,” and nodded to Tortue: Tortue lifted the knife in his hand, and again I closed my eyes. But the next thing I heard was a snap as the blade shut into the handle, and the next thing after that Tortue’s voice deliberately speaking:
“George Glen, you never had the brains of a louse. You can smirk and wriggle, and you’re handy with a weapon, but, you never had no brains.”
I opened my eyes pretty wide at that, and I saw that the three younger faces were now kindled out of their sluggishness. It was that mention of Cullen Mayle which had wrought the change. These three took no particular interest in the Royal Fortune, but they had every interest in the doings of Cullen Mayle, and they now alertly followed all that Tortue said. George Glen leaned forward.
“Who’s cap’en here, Peter Tortue?” said he. “Was you with us on the Sierra Leone River? Nat Roper there, Blads, you James Skyrm, speak up, lads, was he with us?”
“My son was,” said Tortue calmly.
“And what sort of answer is that? ’Tis lucky for you Cap’en Roberts isn’t aboard this shed. He wouldn’t have understood that language, not he—and he wouldn’t have troubled you for an explanation neither. Here’s a fine thing, lads! If a man dies, his father, what’s been lying in the lap of luxury at home, is to have his share. That’s a nice new rule for gentlemen adventurers, and not content with his share, wants to set up for cap’en. I have a good mind to learn you modesty, Peter, just as Roberts would have learnt you.”
He was talking quite smoothly, with a grin all over his face, but I never saw a man that looked so dangerous. Peter Tortue, however, was in no way discomposed.
“Why, you blundering fool,” he answered, “where would you ha’ been but for me? No, I wasn’t on the Sierra Leone River with you, or you wouldn’t be eating your hearts and your pockets empty upon Tresco. No, I am not your captain, or you wouldn’t never have lost track of Cullen Mayle at Wapping.”
There were four faces now alertly watching Peter Tortue, and the fourth was mine. It was not merely that my life hung upon his predominance, but there was the best of chances now that I might get to the bottom of the mystery of their watching.
“You talk of Roberts,” he continued, “well you’re not the only man that knew Roberts, and would Roberts have let Cullen Mayle slip through his fingers—at Wapping too? Good Lord, it makes me sick to look at you, George Glen!” and he turned to Roper, “Who was it found the track for you; was it him or me?” he cried. “Who was it found the nigger and sailed from the port o’ London to Penzance, ay, and would ha’ found out the nigger’s message if he hadn’t had the sickness on him. Was it him or was it me? Why the nigger knowed you all! Would he ha’ sailed to Penzance on that boat if he had seen a face on board that he had known? not he.”
“That’s true,” said Roper.
“Who brought you all to Tresco, eh? Who hindered you from rushing the house, ay, hindered you in the face of your captain, and a deal you’ld ha’ found if you had rushed the house. A lot he knows, your captain. P’raps he thought Adam Mayle was the man to leave a polite note on his mantelshelf, telling us where to look. Who told you to wait for Cullen Mayle?”
“We have waited,” answered Glen. “How long are we to wait? Where is Cullen Mayle?”
Peter Tortue threw up his hands.
“No wonder you all dry in the sun at the end of it,” he cried, “my word! We haven’t got Cullen Mayle, but haven’t we got the man as knows him? What’s he doing at Tresco if he wasn’t sent by Cullen Mayle who daren’t show his face because we’re here? Not worth my share, ain’t I? and you that can’t add two and two! See here! Dick Parmiter goes to London, don’t he? He goes after the nigger come; what for, but to find Cullen Mayle, and say as we’re here? He knows where Cullen’s to be found, and down comes the stranger here. And we ha’ got him tucked up comfortable, and we know tricks that Roberts taught us to make him speak, don’t we? And you want to jab a knife into him. You make me sick, George Glen—fair sick! Suppose you do jab a knife into him, and bury him here under the stones, do you think the girl ’ll take it quite easy and natural? Or will you go down the hill and rush the house? And then if you please, what’ll you all be doing to-morrow? Well, you are captain, George Glen, but what has your crew to say to this? Come! Am I to talk to Mr. Berkeley, or will you set your own course, and steer for execution dock?”
There was no hesitation in the answer. With one accord they leaned to Tortue’s proposal.
I could not see that I was in a much better case. Tortue was to put to me questions, the very questions which I wished to ask, and I was expected to answer them. I should have to answer them if I was to come off with my life. The men sat hungrily about me awaiting my answers. It would not take them long to discover that I was tricking them, that I had no knowledge whatever about their concerns beyond that one dangerous item that Glen and Tortue had sailed on the Royal Fortune, and when that discovery was made, why, out of mere resentment they would let Glen have his way.
However, I was still alive, and the girl was still at Merchant’s Point. These men were plainly growing impatient of their long stay upon the island; and once I was out of the way, who was to stand between them and the girl?
I summoned my wits together, and ran quickly over my mind what I did know. I had a few fresh hints from Tortue’s arguments to add to my knowledge. I knew why they were watching for Cullen Mayle. He was to show them where to look for something. It was that something about which Glen had talked to Adam Mayle the night Cullen was driven away; Cullen had overheard, and he had gone out in search of it to the Sierra Leone River. Glen and his companions had done likewise. It was in some degree apparent now what that something was: namely, treasure of some sort from the Royal Fortune, and buried on the banks of the Sierra Leone River. They had not found it, and their presence here, and certain words, told me why. Adam Mayle had been first with them.
So much I could venture to think of. For the rest I must wait upon the questions; and, fortunately for me. Glen was a man of much garrulity.
“You spoke of a bargain,” said Tortue. “What do you propose?”
“Halves!” said I, as bold as brass.
There was an outcry against the proposal, and it mightily relieved me, for it proved to me I was right. It was treasure they were after, but of what kind? I had now to puzzle my brains over that. Was it specie? Hardly, I thought, for Adam Mayle would not have hidden money upon Tresco. Was it a treasure of jewels, then?
“Halves,” said George Glen with a titter. “A very good proposal, Mr. Berkeley, by daylight, with a company of soldiers within call.”
Jewels, I thought: yes, jewels—jewels that might be recognized, jewels that Adam Mayle would keep hidden to himself so long as there was no pressing need to dispose of them.
“As it is,” continued Glen, “we take all, but we give you your life. That’s a fair offer.”
“Yes, that’s fair,” said Roper.
I hazarded it.
“Very well,” said I. “You can find your jewels for yourselves.”
I expected an explosion of wrath; I met with only mute surprise.
“Jewels!” said Roper at length.
“Well, isn’t the cross thick with them?” said Tortue to Roper.
“It wouldn’t be of much use to us without,” sniggered Glen. “Lord, but that was a clever stroke of Roberts’—the cleverest thing he ever done. Right under the guns of the African Comp’ny’s fort she lay in Sierra Leone harbour—a Portuguese ship of twenty guns. At a quarter to eleven there was her crew, as many as might be—we could hear ’em singing and laughing as we pulled across the water to ’em—and at ten minutes past three there wasn’t a mother’s son of them all alive; and no noise, mind you. Rich she was, too. Sugar—we had run short of sugar for our punch, and welcome it was—sugar, skins, tobacco, ninety thousand moidors, and this cross with the diamonds for the King of Portugal. Roberts himself said he had never seen stones like it, and he was a good judge of stones was Roberts. He was quick, too. Why, we had that cross on the dinghy and were well up the Sierra Leone River before daybreak, just the three of us—Roberts, me, and Adam Mayle—Kennedy he called himself then, being a gentleman born and with more sense than the rest of us. He buried the cross, two days sail up the Sierra Leone River, and Roberts made a chart of its bearings. He gave it to me on the deck of the Royal Fortune when he was mortally wounded, and I kept it all the time we were in prison. I showed it to Adam Mayle when we escaped, but we had no means to get at it—at least, I hadn’t. Adam, he was a gentleman born, and had got his savings placed all safe in his own name.”
I hoped Glen would go on in this strain until my slip was forgotten. I was, besides, acquiring information. But Roper cut him short.
“It was a cross—it wasn’t jewels,” said he, suspiciously; and suddenly Tortue interrupted.
“‘Halves’ was what you said, I think,” he remarked, rather quickly, and I could almost have believed that he was trying to cover up my mistake. I took advantage of his interruption as quickly as he had made it.
“Half for you, half for Cullen,” said I; and immediately Tortue flung out in an extravagant passion. He threatened me, he threatened Cullen, he opened his knife and gesticulated, he cursed, until I began to wonder: was he acting? Was this anger a pretence to divert attention finally from my unlucky guess? I could not be sure. I could conceive no reason for such a pretence. But certainly, whether he intended it or not, he brought about that result; for his companions began to fear he would make an end of me before they had got the information where the cross was hid, and so busied themselves with appeasing him. He permitted himself at the last to be appeased, and George Glen took up the argument.
“Look you here, Mr. Berkeley,” said he, “we’re reasonable men, and it’s no more than fair you should be reasonable too, seeing as how you are uncomfortably placed. That was took up by Adam Mayle, and he never meant his son to finger it. ‘A damned ungrateful, supercilious whelp,’ says he to me in the lad’s own bedroom; yes, in his own bedroom”—for, as may be imagined, I had started. Here was the explanation of how Cullen discovered George Glen’s business. I hoisted myself up against the partition as well as I could. How I prayed that Glen would go on! He was sufficiently garrulous, if only he was not interrupted, andhe was arguing for all of them. “‘A damned ungrateful, supercilious whelp,’ he said; ‘and George,’ said he, as I read out the chart, ‘I’d sooner let the cross rot to pieces in the Sierra Leone mud than fetch it home for him to have a share of. I’ve enough for myself and the girl. I’ll not stir a finger,’ says he, ‘and if it was here now I’d have it buried with me.’ Those were his very words, which he spoke to me not half an hour after he had driven Cullen from the house, and in the lad’s own bedroom, where we couldn’t be overheard.”
“But you were overheard,” said I, “Cullen Mayle overheard you.” Glen jumped on to his feet, his mouth dropped, he stood staring at me in a daze, and then he thumped one fist down into the palm of the other.
“By God it’s true,” he said, “he was in the curtains.”
“He was in bed,” said I.
“By God it’s true,” repeated Glen, and he sat down again on the floor. “So that’s how Cullen Mayle found out. I was mightily astonished to find him at Sierra Leone on the same business as ourselves. But it’s true. I remember there was a noise, and I cried out, ‘What’s that?’ with a sort of jump, and Adam he says, pleasant like, ‘It’s the hangman, George;’ but it wasn’t, it was Cullen Mayle.”
I think that every one laughed as Glen ended, except myself. I could even at that moment, but be sensible what a strange picture it made; those two old rufifians sitting over against each other in the bedroom, and Cullen waked up from his sleep in bed to lie quiet and overhear them.
“So you see, it isn’t reasonable Cullen should have half since his father never meant him to have any,” he continued.
“But without Cullen you would get nothing at all,” said I.
“Why not since we have you?”—and then I made a slip—I answered: “But Cullen Mayle told me where the cross is.”
“But Cullen Mayle doesn’t know,” said Roper, “else would he have gone hunting to Sierra Leone for it?”
“Told him where to look for the plan, he means.” Tortue interrupted again. This time I could not mistake. He glanced at me with too much significance. For some reason, he was standing my friend.
“Of course,” said I, “where to look for the plan.”
So it was a plan they needed, a plan of the spot where Adam Mayle had buried the cross. Where could that plan be, in what unlikely place would Adam have hid it?
I ran over my mind the rooms, and the furniture of the house. There was no bureau, no secretaire. But I had to make up my mind. This last slip had awakened my captor’s suspicions. The faces about me menaced me. “Well, where is the plan?” I thought over all that Glen had said to-night—was a clue to be got there?
“I haven’t it,” said I, to gain time. “But where are we to look for it?” again asked Roper, and he put his hand in his coat-pocket.
“Speak up,” said Tortue, and I read his meaning in the glance of his eyes. He meant—“Name some spot, any spot!” But I knew! It had come upon me like an inspiration, I had no shadow of doubt where that plan was. I said:
“Where are you to look for the plan? Glen has told you. Adam Mayle would rather have had the cross buried with him than that Cullen should have it. He couldn’t have the treasure buried with him, but he could and did the plan. Look in Adam Mayle’s grave. You will find a stick with a brass handle to it—a sword stick, but the sword’s broken off short. In the hollow of that stick you’ll find the plan.” Tortue nodded at me with approval. The rest jumped up from the ground.
“We have time to-night,” said Roper, and stretching out a hand he pulled my watch from my fob. “It is eleven o’clock,” and he put the watch in his own pocket. “Where’s Adam Mayle buried?” asked another.
“In the Abbey Grounds,” said I.
“But we want spades,” objected Tortue, “we want a pick.”
“They are here,” said Glen, with an evil smile, “we had them ready,” and he grinned at me. “Mr. Berkeley comes with us, I think,” said he smoothly, “untie his legs.”
“Yes,” said Roper with an oath. He was in a heat of excitement. “And if he has told us wrong, good God, we’ll bury him with Adam Mayle.”
But I had no doubt that I was right. I remembered what Clutterbuck had told me of Adam’s vindictiveness. He would hide that plan if he could, and he could have chosen no surer place. No doubt he would have destroyed that plan when he knew that he was dying, but he was struck down with paralysis, and could not stir a finger. He could only order the stick to be buried with him.
They unfastened my legs. Roper blew out the lantern, and we went out of the shed, on to the hillside. Glen despatched Blads upon some errand, and the man hurried up the hill towards New Grimsby. Glen leisurely walked along the the slope of the hill. I followed him, and the rest behind me. The moon had gone down, and the night, though clear enough, was dark. We walked on for about five minutes, until some one treading close upon my heels suddenly tripped me up. My hands were still tied behind my back, so that I could not save myself from a fall. But Tortue picked me up, and as he did so whispered in my ear:
“Is the plan there?”
I answered, “Yes.”
I would have staked my life upon it; in fact, I was staking my life upon it.