Part 4 out of 4
"Ah'm not a conch!" he rasped, his voice sounding as rusty as
an unused hinge. "Ah'm a Caesar, yo' dirty Yank! Tuhn me
loose, yo'! Ah ain't hurt nuthin'."
"How did you get in here?" bellowed Milo, advancing threateningly
on the youth, and swinging aloft one of his hamlike fists.
The intruder stiffened into silence and stolid rigidity.
Unflinchingly, he eyed the oncoming giant. Brice motioned
"No use," said he. "I know the breed. They've been kicked
and beaten and hammered about, till a licking has no terrors
for them. This sweet soul will stay in the silences, till--"
Again, he broke off speaking. And again on account of Simon
Cameron. The cat, recovering from the indignity of being
brushed from in front of the opening door, had returned to his
former post of watching, and now stood, tail erect and back
arched, staring up at the prisoner out of huge round green
eyes. The sight of a stranger had its wonted lure for the
The lad's impotently roving glance fell upon Simon Cameron.
And into his sullen face leaped stark terror. At sight of it,
Gavin Brice hit on a new idea for wringing speech from the
He knew that the grossly ignorant wreckers and fisherfolk of
the keys had never set eyes on such an object as this, nor had
so much as heard of Persian cats' existence. The few cats
they had seen were of course of the alley-variety, lean and of
short and mangy coat. Simon Cameron's halo of wide-fluffing
silver-gray fur gave him the appearance of being double his
real size. His plumed cheeks and tasseled ears and dished
profile and, above all, the weirdly staring green eyes--all
combined to present a truly frightful appearance to a youth so
unsophisticated as this and to any one as superstitious and as
fearful of all unknown things as were the conchs in general.
"Standish," said Brice, "just take my place for a minute as
holder of this conch's very ragged shirt collar. So! Now
He stepped back, and picked up Simon Cameron in his arms. The
cat did not resent the familiarity, Gavin still being enough
of a stranger in the house to be of interest to the Persian.
But the round green eyes still remained fixed with unwinking
intensity upon the newer and thus more interesting arrival.
Which is the way of a Persian cat.
Brice held Simon Cameron gingerly, almost respectfully,
standing so the huge eyes were able to gaze unimpeded at the
gaping and shaking boy. Then, speaking very slowly, in a deep
and reverent voice, he intoned:
"Devil, look mighty close at that conch, yonder. Watch him, so's
you'll always remember him! Put the voodoo on him, Devil. Haunt
him waking, haunt him sleeping. Haunt him eating, haunt him
drinking. Haunt him standing and sitting, haunt him lying and
kneeling. Rot his bones and his flesh and--"
A howl of panic terror from the youth interrupted the solemn
incantation. The prisoner slumped to his knees in Standish's
grasp, weeping and jabbering for mercy. Brice saw the time
was ripe for speech and that the captive's stolid nerve was
gone. Turning on him, he said, sternly:
"If you'll speak up and answer us, truthfully, I'll make this
ha'nt take off the curse. But if you lie, in one word, he'll
know it and he'll tell me, and--and then I'll turn him loose on
you. It's your one chance. Want it?"
The youth fairly gabbled his eagerness to assent.
"Good!" said Brice, still holding Simon Cameron, lest the
supposed devil spoil everything by rubbing against the
prisoner's legs and purring. "First of all:--how did you get
The boy gulped. Gavin bent his own head toward the cat and
seemed about to resume his incantation. With a galvanic jump,
the youth made answer:
"Came by the path. Watched till the dawg run out in the road
to bark at suthin'. This man," with a jerk of his head toward
his captor, "this man went to the road after him. I cut across
the grass, yonder, and got in. They come back. I hid me in
"H'm! Why didn't you come by way of the tunnel, like the
"Pop tol me not to. Sent me ahead. Said mebbe they moughtn't
git in here if the doors was locked early. Tol' me to hide me
in the house an' let 'em in, late, ef they-all couldn't git in
no earlier, or ef they couldn't cotch one of the two cusses
outside the house."
"Good strategy!" approved Brice. "That explains why they
haven't rushed us, Standish. They came here in force, and
most likely (if they've gotten out of the enclosure, yet)
they've surrounded the house, waiting for you or Hade to come
in or go out. If that doesn't work, they plan to wait till
you're asleep, and then get in, by this gallant youngster's
help, and cut your throat at their leisure and loot the house
and take a good leisurely hunt for the treasure. It calls for
more sense than I thought they had .... How did they find the
tunnel?" he continued, to the prisoner.
"They been a-huntin' fer it, nigh onto one-half of a year,"
sulkily returned the boy. "Pop done found it, yest'dy.
Stepped into it, he did, a walkin' past."
"The rumor of that tunnel has been hereabout for over a
century," explained Brice, to the Standishes. "Just as the
treasure-rumors have. I heard of it when I was a kid. The
Caesars must have heard it, a thousand times. But, till this
game started, there was no impetus to look for it, of course.
The tunnel is supposed to have been dug just after that
Seminole warparty cut off the refugees in the path. By the
way, Miss Standish, I didn't mention it while we were still
there, but the mangrove-swamp is supposed to be haunted by the
ghosts of those killed settlers."
Brother and sister glanced at each other, almost in guilt, as
it seemed to the observing Brice. And Claire said, shortly:
"I know. Every one around here has heard it. Some of the
negroes and even some of the more ignorant crackers declare
they have heard screams from the swamp on dark nights and that
white figures have been seen flitting--"
"So?" queried Brice. "Back in the boat, you were starting to
tell me how you sat on the veranda, one night, and heard a cry
in the swamp and then saw a white figure emerge from the path.
Yes? I have a notion that that white figure was responsible
for the cry, and that your brother and Rodney Hade were
responsible for both. Wasn't that a trick to scare off any
chance onlookers, when some of the treasure was to be brought
"Yes," admitted Claire, shamefacedly, and she added: "Milo
hadn't told me anything about it. And Rodney thought I was at
a dance at the Royal Palm Hotel, that evening. I had expected
to go, but I had a headache. When the cry and the white form
frightened me so, Milo had to tell me what they both meant.
That was how I found out, first, that they--"
"Claire!" cried Standish in alarmed rebuke.
"It's all right, Standish," said Gavin. "I know all about it.
A good deal more than she does. And none of it from her,
either. We'll come to that, later. Now for the prisoner."
Turning to the glumly scowling youth, he resumed:
"How many of them are there in this merry little midnight
"I dunno," grunted the boy.
"Devil, is that true?" gravely asked Gavin, bending again
toward Simon Cameron.
"Six!" babbled the lad, eagerly. "Pop and--"
"Never mind giving me a census of them," said Brice. "It
wouldn't do me any good. I've left my copies of 'Who's Who'
and Burke's Peerage at home. And they figured Mr. Standish
and Mr. Hade would both be here, to-night?"
"Most nights t'other one comes," said the boy. "I laid out
yonder and heern him, one night. Whistles like he's a
mocking-bird, when he gits nigh here. I told Pop an' them
about that. They--"
"By the way," asked Gavin, "when your Pop came back from
finding the tunnel, last night, was he in pretty bad shape?
Hey? Was he?"
"He were," responded the captive, after another scared look at
Simon Cameron. "He done fell into the tunnel, arter he step
down it. An' he bust hisself up, suthin' fierce, round the
haid an' the th'oat. He--"
"I see," agreed Brice.
Then, to Standish:
"I think we've got about all out of the charming child that we
can expect to. Suppose we throw him out?"
"Throw him out?" echoed Milo, incredulously. "Do you mean,
set him free? Why, man he'd--"
"That's exactly what I mean," said Gavin. "I agree with
Caesar--Julius Caesar, not the pirate. Caesar used to say
that it was a mistake to hold prisoners. They must be fed and
guarded and they can do incalculable mischief. We've turned
this prisoner inside out. We've learned from him that six men
are lurking somewhere outside, on the chance that you or
Rodney Hade may come out or come in, so that they can cut you
both off, comfortably, out there in the dark, and carry on
their treasure-hunt here. Failing that, they plan to get in
here, when you're asleep. All this lad can tell them is that
you are on your guard, and that there are enough of us to hold
the house against any possible rush. He can also tell them,"
pursued Gavin, dropping back into his slowly solemn diction,
"about this devil--this ha'nt--that serves us, and of the
curse--the voodoo--he can put on them all if they try to harm
us. We'll let him go. He was sent on by the path because he
went some time ahead of the rest, and he didn't know the
secret of the tunnel. In fact, none of them could have known
just where it ended here. But they'll know by now. He can
join them, if they're picketing the house. And he can tell
them what he knows."
Strolling over to the front door, he unbarred it and opened it
wide, standing fearlessly in its lighted threshold.
"Pass him along to me," he bade Standish. "Or, you can let
him go. He won't miss the way out."
"But," argued Milo, stubbornly retaining his grip on the
ragged shirt collar, "I don't agree with you. I'm going to
keep him here and lock him up, till--"
He got no further. The sight of the open door leading to
freedom was too much for the youth's stolidity. Twisting
suddenly, he drove his yellow teeth deep into the fleshy part
of Standish's hand. And, profiting by the momentary slackening
of Milo's grasp, he made one wildly scrambling dive across the
hall, vaulting over the excited Bobby Burns (and losing a handful
of his disreputable trousers to the dog's jaws in the process)
and volleying over the threshold with the speed of an express
While Standish nursed his sorely-bitten hand, Brice watched
the lad's lightning progress across the lawn.
Then, still standing in the open doorway, he called back,
laughingly to the two others: "Part of my well-built scheme
has gone to smash. He didn't stop to look for any of his
clansmen. Not even the redoubtable Pop. He just beat it for
the hidden path, without hitting the ground more than about
once, on the way. And he dived into the path like a rabbit.
He'll never stop till he reaches the beach. And then the
chances are he'll swim straight out to sea without even
waiting to find where the Caesars' boats are cached .... Best
get some hot water and iodine and wash out that bite,
Standish. Don't look so worried, Miss Standish! I'm in no
danger, standing here. In the first place, I doubt if they'll
have the nerve to rush the house at all,--certainly not yet,
if they didn't recognize our fast-running friend. In the
second, they're after Hade and your brother. And in this
bright light they can't possibly mistake me for either of
them. Hello!" he broke off. "There went one of them, just
then, across that patch of light, down yonder. And, unless my
eyes are going back on me, there's another of them creeping
along toward the head of the path. They must have seen--or
thought they saw--some one dash down there, even if it was too
dark for them to recognize him. And they are trying to get
some line on who he is .... The moon is coming up. That
won't help them, to any great extent."
He turned back into the room, partly shutting the door behind
him. But he did not finish the process of closing it.
For--sweet, faint, yet distinct to them all--the soaring notes
of a mocking-bird's song swelled out on the quiet of the
"Rodney Hade!" gasped Standish. "It's his first signal. He
gives it when he's a hundred yards from the end. Good Lord!
And he's going to walk straight into that ambush! It's--it's
sure death for him!"
THE FIGURE IN WHITE
For a moment none of the three spoke. Standish and his sister
stared at each other in dumb horror. Then Milo took an
uncertain step toward the door. Brice made no move to check
him, but stood looking quietly on, with the detached
expression of a man who watches an interesting stage drama.
Just within the threshold, Standish paused, irresolute, his
features working. And Gavin Brice, as before, read his
emotions as though they were writ in large letters. He knew
Milo was not only a giant in size and in strength, but that in
ordinary circumstances or at bay he was valiant enough. But
it is one thing to meet casual peril, and quite another to
fare forth in the dark among six savage men, all of whom are
waiting avidly for the chance to murder.
A braver warrior than Milo Standish might well have hesitated
to face sure death in such a form, for the mere sake of saving
a man whom he feared and hated, and whose existence threatened
his own good name and liberty.
Wherefore, just within the shelter of the open door, the giant
paused and hung back, fighting for the nerve to go forth on
his fatal errand of heroism. Gavin, studying him, saw with vivid
clearness the weakness of character which had made this man the
dupe and victim of Hade, and which had rendered him helpless against
the wiles of a master-mind.
But if Standish hesitated, Claire did not. After one look of
scornful pity at her wavering half-brother, she moved swiftly
past him to the threshold. There was no hint of hesitation in
her free step as she ran to the rescue of the man who had
ruined Milo's career. And both onlookers knew she would brave
any and all the dire perils of the lurking marauders, in order
to warn back the unconsciously oncoming Hade.
As she sped through the doorway, Brice came to himself, with a
start. Springing forward, he caught the flying little figure
and swung it from the ground. Disregarding Claire's violent
struggles, he bore her back into the house, shutting and
locking the door behind her and standing with his back to it.
"You can't go, Miss Standish!" he said, in stern command, as
if rebuking some fractious child. "Your little finger is
worth more than that blackguard's whole body. Besides," he
added, grimly, "mocking birds, that sing nearly three weeks
ahead of schedule, must be prepared to pay the bill."
She was struggling with the door. Then, realizing that she
could not open it, she ran to the nearest window which looked
out on the lawn and the path-head. Tugging at the sash she
flung it open, and next fell to work at the shutter-bars. As
she threw wide the shutters, and put one knee on the sill,
caught her by the shoulder. Roughly drawing her back into the
room, he said:
"Brice is right. It's not your place to go. It would be
suicide. Useless suicide, at that. I'd go, myself. But-
"'They that take up the sword shall perish by the sword,'"
quoted Gavin, tersely. "The man who sets traps must expect to
step into a trap some day. And those Caesars will be more
merciful assassins than the moccasin snakes would have been
.... He's taking plenty of time, to cover that last hundred
yards. Perhaps he met the conch boy, running back, and had
sense enough to take alarm."
"Not he," denied Standish. "That fool boy was so scared, he'd
plunge into the brush or the water, the second he heard
Rodney's step. Those conchs can keep as mum as Seminoles.
He'd never let Rodney see him or hear him. He--"
Standish did not finish his sentence. Into his slow-moving
brain, an idea dawned. Leaning far out of the window and
shouting at the top of his enormous lungs, he bawled through
"Hade! Back, man! Go back! They'll kill you!"
The bull-like bellow might have been heard for half a mile.
And, as it ceased, a muffled snarling, like a dog's, came from
the edge of the forest, where waited the silent men whose
knives were drawn for the killing.
And, in the same instant, from the head of the path, drifted
the fluting notes of a mocking bird.
Disregarding or failing to catch the meaning of the
thickly-bellowed warning, Rodney Hade was advancing
nonchalantly upon his fate. The three in the hallway crowded
into the window-opening, tense, wordless, mesmerized, peering
aghast toward the screen of vines which veiled the end of the
The full moon, which Brice had glimpsed as it was rising, a
minute or so before, now breasted the low tops of the orange
trees across the highroad and sent a level shaft of light
athwart the lawn. Its clear beams played vividly on the dark
forest, revealing the screen of vines at the head of the path,
and revealing also three crouching dark figures, close to the
ground, at the very edge of the lawn, not six feet from the
And, almost instantly, with a third repetition of the mocking
bird call, the vine screen was swept aside. Out into the
moonshine sauntered a slight figure, all in white, yachting
cap on head, lighted cigarette in hand.
The man came out from the black vine-screen, and, for a
second, stood there, as if glancing carelessly about him.
Milo Standish shouted again, at the top of his lungs. And
this time, Claire's voice, like a silver bugle, rang out with
his in that cry of warning.
But, before the dual shout was fairly launched, three dark
bodies had sprung forward and hurled themselves on the
unsuspecting victim. There was a tragically brief struggle.
Then, all four were on the ground, the vainly-battling white
body underneath. And there was a gruesome sound as of angry
beasts worrying their meat.
Carried out of his own dread, by the spectacle, Milo
Standish vaulted over the sill and out onto the veranda. But
there he came to a halt. For there was no further need for
him to throw away his own life in the belated effort at
The three black figures had regained their feet. And, on the
trampled lawn-edge in front of them lay a huddle of white,
with darker stains splashed here and there on it. The body
lay in an impossible posture--a posture which Nature neither
intends nor permits. It told its own dreadful story, to the
most uninitiated of the three onlookers at the window.
With dragging feet, Milo Standish turned back, and reentered
the house, as he had gone out of it.
"I am a coward!" he said, heavily. "I could have saved him.
Or we could have fought, back to back, till we were killed.
It would have been a white man's way of dying. I am a
He sank down in a chair and buried his bearded face in his
hands. No one contradicted him or made any effort at comfort.
Claire, deathly pale, still crouched forward, staring blindly
at the moveless white figure at the head of the path.
"Peace to his soul!" said Brice, in a hushed voice, adding
under his breath: "If he had one!"
Then, laying his hand gently on Claire's arm, he drew her away
from the window and shut the blinds on the sight which had so
"Go and lie down, Miss Standish," he bade her. "This has been
an awful thing for you or any other woman to look on. Take a
double dose of aromatic spirits of ammonia, and tell one of
the maids to bring you some black coffee .... Do as I say,
please!" he urged, as she looked mutely at him and made no
move to obey. "You may need your strength and your nerve.
And--try to think of anything but what you've just seen.
Remember, he was an outlaw, a murderer, the man who wrecked
your brother's honorable life, a thorough-paced blackguard, a
man who merits no one's pity. More than that, he was one of
Germany's cleverest spies, during the war. His life was
forfeit, then, for the injury he did his country. I am not
heartless in speaking this way of a man who is dead. I do it,
so that you may not feel the horror of his killing as you
would if a decent man had died, like that. Now go, please."
Tenderly, he led her to the foot of the stairs. The house man
was just returning from the locking of the upstairs shutters.
To him Brice gave the order for coffee to be taken to her room
and for one of the maids to attend her there.
As she passed dazedly up the stairs, Gavin stood over the
broken giant who still sat inert and huddled in his chair,
face in hands.
"Buck up!" said Brice, impatiently. "If you can grieve for a
man who made you his slave and--"
"Grieve for him?" repeated Standish, raising his haggard face.
"Grieve for him? I thank God he's dead. I hated him as I
never hated any one else or thought I could hate any one! I
hated him as we hate the man in whose power we are and who
uses us as helpless pawns in his dirty game. I'd have killed
him long ago, if I had had the nerve, and if he hadn't made me
believe he had a charmed life. His death means freedom to me-
-glorious freedom! It's for my own foul cowardice that I'm
grieving. The cowardice that held me here while a man's life
might have been saved by me. That's going to haunt me as long
as I live."
"Bosh!" scoffed Gavin. "You'll get over it. Self-forgiveness
is the easiest blessing to acquire. You're better of it,
already, or you couldn't talk so glibly about it. Now, about
this treasure-business: You know, of course, that you'll have
to drop it,--that you'll have to give up every cent of it to
the Government? If you can't find the cache, up North, where
Hade used to send it when he lugged it away from here, it is
likely to go a bit hard with you. I'm going to do all I can
to get you clear. Not for your own sake, but for your
sister's. But you'll have to 'come through, clean,' if I'm to
help you. Now, if you've got anything to say--"
He paused, invitingly. Milo gaped at him, the big bearded
face working convulsively. Nerves wrenched, easily dominated
by a stronger nature, the giant was struggling in vain to
resume his pose of not understanding Brice's allusions.
Presently, with a sigh, that was more like a grunt of
hopelessness, he thrust his fingers into an inner pocket of
his waistcoat, and drew forth a somewhat tarnished silver
dollar. This he held toward Gavin, in his wide palm.
Brice took the coin from him and inspected it with
considerable interest. In spite of the tarnish and the
ancient die and date, its edges were as sharp and its surface
as unworn as though it had been minted that very year.
Clearly, this dollar had jingled in no casual pockets, along
with other coins, nor had it been sweated or marred by any
sort of use.
"Do you know what that is?" asked Milo.
"Yes," said Brice. "It is a United States silver dollar,
"Do you know its value?" pursued Milo. "But of course you
don't. You probably think it is worth its weight in silver
and nothing more."
"It is, and it isn't," returned Gavin. "If I were to take
this dollar, to-night, to the right groups of numismatists,
they would pay me anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 for it."
"Oh!" exclaimed Standish, in visible surprise. "You know
something about numismatics, then?"
"Just a little," modestly admitted Brice. "In my work, one
has to have a smattering of it. For instance--if I remember
rightly--there are only three of these 1804 silver dollars
generally known to be in existence. That is why collectors
are ready to pay a fortune for authentic specimens of them, in
good condition. Yes, a smattering of numismatics may come in
handy, at times. So does sailor lore. It did, for instance,
with a chap I used to know. He had read up, on this special
dollar. He was dead-broke. He was passing the Gloucester
waterfront, one day, and saw a dockful of rotting old schooners
that were being sold at auction for firewood and for such bits
of their metal as weren't rusted to pieces. He read the catalog.
Then he telegraphed to me to wire him a loan of one hundred
dollars. For the catalog gave the date of one schooner's
building as 1804. He knew it used to be a hard-and-fast
custom of ship-builders to put a silver dollar under the
mainmast of every vessel they built, a dollar of that
particular year. He bought the schooner for $70. He spent
ten dollars in hiring men to rip out her mast. Under it was
an 1804 dollar. He sold it for $3,600."
"Since you know so much about the 1804 dollar," went on Milo,
catechizingly, "perhaps you know why it is so rare? Or
perhaps you didn't add a study of American history to your
"The commonly accepted story goes," said Brice, taking no heed
of the sneer, "that practically the whole issue of 1804
dollars went toward the payment of the Louisiana Purchase
money, when Uncle Sam paid Napoleon Bonaparte's government a
trifle less than $15,000,000 (or under four cents an acre) for
the richest part of the whole United States. Payment was made
in half a dozen different forms,--in settlement of anti-French
claims and in installment notes, and so forth. But something
between a million and two million dollars of it is said to
have been paid in silver."
"Are you a schoolmaster, Mr. Brice?" queried Milo, who seemed
unable to avoid sneering in futile fashion at the man who was
dominating his wavering willpower.
"No, Mr. Standish," coolly replied the other. "I am Gavin
Brice, of the United States Secret Service."
Standish's bearded jaw dropped. He glanced furtively about
him, like a trapped rat. Gavin continued, authoritatively:
"You've nothing to fear from me, as long as you play straight.
And I'm here to see that you shall. Two hours ago, I was for
renouncing my life-work and throwing over my job. Never mind
why. I've changed my mind, now. I'm in this thing to the
finish. With Hade out of the game, I can see my way through."
"Now I'll finish the yarn you were so gradually leading up to
with those schoolboy questions of yours. French statesmen
claimed, last year, that something over a million dollars of
the Louisiana purchase money was never paid to France. That
was money, in the form of silver dollars, which went by sea.
In skirting the Florida coast--probably on the way from some
mint or treasury in the South--one or more of the treasure
ships parted from their man-o'-war escorts in a hurricane, and
went aground on the southeastern Florida reefs. The black
pirate, Caesar, and his cutthroats did the rest.
"This was no petty haul, such as Caesar was accustomed to, and
it seems to have taken his breath away. He and his crew
carried it into Caesar's Estuary--not Caesar's Creek--an
inlet, among the mangrove swamps. They took it there by
night, and sank it in shallow water, under the bank. There
they planned to have it until it might be safe to divide it
and to scatter to Europe or to some place where they could
live in safety and in splendor. Only a small picked crew of
Caesar's knew the hiding place. And, by some odd coincidence,
every man of them died of prussic acid poisoning, at a
booze-feast that Caesar invited them to, at his shack down on
Caesar's creek, a month later. Then, almost at once
afterward, as you've probably heard, Caesar himself had the
bad luck to die with extreme suddenness.
"The secret was lost. Dozens of pirates and of wreckers
--ancestors of the conchs--knew about the treasure. But none
of them could find it.
"There was a rumor that Caesar had written instructions about
it, on the flyleaf of a jeweled prayer book that was part of
some ship's loot. But his heirs sold or hocked the
prayer-book, at St. Augustine or Kingston or Havana, before
this story reached them. None of them could have read it,
anyhow. Then, last year, Rodney Hade happened upon that book,
(with the jewels all pried out of the cover, long ago), in a
negro cabin on Shirley Street, at Nassau, after hunting for
it, off and on, for years. The Government had been hunting
for it, too, but he got to it a week ahead of us. That was
how we found who had it. And that is why we decided to watch
him .... Do you want me to keep on prattling about these
things, to convince you I'm what I say I am? Or have you had
"For instance, do you want me to tell you how Hade wound his
web around a blundering fool whose help and whose hidden path
and tunnel and caches he needed, in order to make sure of the
treasure? Or is it enough for me to say the dollars belong to
the United States
Government, and that Uncle Sam means to have them back?"
Standish still gaped at him, with fallen jaw and bulging eyes.
Gavin went on:
"Knowing Hade's record and his cleverness as I do, I can guess
how he was going to swing the hoard when he finished
transporting all of it to safety. Probably, he'd clear up a
good many thousand dollars by selling the coins, one at a
time, secretly, to collectors who would think he was selling
them the only 1804 dollar outside the three already known to
be in existence. When that market was glutted, he was due to
melt down the rest of the dollars into bar silver. Silver is
high just now, you know. Worth almost double what once it
was. The loot ought to have been much the biggest thing in
his speckled career. How much of it he was intending to pass
along to you, is another question. By the way--the three
canvas bags he left out by the kiosk ought to do much toward
whetting the Caesars' appetite for the rest. It may even key
them up to rushing the house before morning."
"We'll be ready for them!" spoke up Standish, harshly, as
though glad to have a prospect of restoring his broken
self-respect by such a clash.
"Quite so," agreed Gavin, smiling at the man's new ardor for
battle. "It would be a pleasant little brush--if it weren't
for your sister. Miss Standish has seen about enough of that
sort of thing for one night. If she weren't a thoroughbred,
with the nerves of a thoroughbred and the pluck as well, she'd
be a wreck, from what has happened already. More of it might
be seriously bad for her."
Standish glowered. Then he lifted his bulky body from the low
chair and crossed the hall to the telephone. Taking the
receiver from the hook, he said sulkily to Brice:
"Maybe you're right. I have a couple of night watchmen
patrolling the road, above and below. I'll phone to the
agency to send me half a dozen more, to clear the grounds.
I'd phone the police about it, but I don't like--"
"Don't like to lock the stable door after the horse is
stolen?" suggested Brice. "Man, get it into that thick skull
of yours that the time for secrecy is past! Your game is up.
Hade is dead. Your one chance is to play out the rest of this
hand with your cards on the table. The Government knows you
are only the dupe. It will let you off, if the money is--"
"What in blue blazes is the matter with Central?" growled
Milo, whanging the receiver-hook up and down in vexation. "Is
Gavin went over to him and took the receiver out of his hand.
Listening for a moment, he made answer:
"I don't believe Central is dead. But I know this phone is.
Our Caesar friends seem to be more sophisticated than I
thought. They've cut the wires, from outside."
"H'm!" grunted Milo. "That means we've got to play a lone
hand. Well, I'm not sorry. I--"
"Not necessarily," contradicted Gavin. "I'd rather
have relied on the local watchmen, of course. But their
absence needn't bother us, overmuch."
"What do you mean?"
Before Gavin could answer, a stifled cry from the hallway
above brought both men to attention. It was followed by a
sound of lightly running feet. And Claire Standish appeared
at the stair-top. She was deathly pale, and her dark eyes
were dilated with terror.
Gavin ran up the steps to meet her. For she swayed perilously
as she made her way down toward the men.
"What is it?" demanded Milo, excitedly. "What's happened?"
Claire struggled visibly to regain her composure. Then,
speaking with forced calmness, she said:
"I've just seen a ghost! Rodney Hade's ghost!"
The two looked at her in dumb incomprehension. Then, without
a word, Milo wheeled and strode to the window from which they
had watched the tragedy. Opening the shutter, he peered out
into the moonlight.
"Hade's still lying where he fell," he reported, tersely.
"They haven't even bothered to move him. You were dreaming.
"I wasn't asleep," she denied, a trace of color beginning to
creep back into her blanched cheeks. "I had just lain down.
I heard--or thought I heard--a sound on the veranda roof. I
peeped out through the grill of the shutter. There, on the
roof, not ten feet away from me, stood Rodney Hade. He was
dressed in rags. But I recognized him. I saw his face, as
clearly as I see yours. He--"
"One of the Caesars," suggested Brice. "They found the lower
windows barred and they sent some one up, to see if there was
any ingress by an upper window. The porch is easy to climb,
with all those vines. So is the whole house, for that matter.
"It was Rodney Hade!" she insisted, shuddering. "I saw his
face with the moonlight on it--"
"And with a few unbecoming scratches on it, too, from the
underbrush and from those porch vines," chimed in a suave
voice from the top of the stairs. "Milo, next time you bar
your house, I suggest you don't forget and leave the cupola
window open. If it was easy for me to climb up there from the
veranda roof, it would be just as easy for any of our friends
Down the stairs--slowly, nonchalantly,--lounged Rodney Hade.
His classic mask of a face was marred by one or two scratches
and by a smudge of dirt. But it was as calm and as eternally
smiling as ever. In place of his wontedly correct, if garish,
form of dress, he was clad in ragged calico shirt and soiled
drill trousers whose lower portions were in ribbons. All of
which formed a ludicrous contrast to his white buckskin
yachting shoes and his corded white silk socks.
Claire and the two men stood staring up at him in utter
incredulity. Bobby Burns broke the spell by bounding
snarlingly toward the unkempt intruder.
Brice absentmindedly caught the dog's collar as Bobby streaked
past him on his punitive errand.
"Hade!" croaked Standish, his throat sanded with horror.
'"'Hade! I--we--we saw you--murdered!"
Hade laughed pleasantly.
"Perhaps the wish was father to the thought?" he hinted, with
an indulgent twinkle in his perpetual smile. "I hate
mysteries. Here's an end to this one I was on my way along the
path, when a young fellow came whirling around a bend and collided
with me. The impact knocked him off his feet. I collared him.
He didn't want to talk. But," the smile twisting upward at one
corner of the mouth in a look which did not add to the beauty of
the ascetic face, "I used persuasion. And I found what was going
on here. I stripped off my outer clothes, and made him put them
on. Then I put my yachting cap on him and pulled it low over
his eyes. And I bandaged his mouth with my handkerchief, to
gag him. Then I walked him along, ahead of me. I gave the
signal. And I stuck my cigarette in his hand and shoved him
through the screen of vines. They finished him, poor fool! I
had no outer clothes of my own. So I went back and put on
his. Then I slipped through that chuckle-headed aggregation
out there and--here I am."
As he finished speaking, he turned his icy smile upon Gavin
"Roke signaled a fruit boat, Mr. Brice," said he, "and came
over to where my yacht was lying, to tell me you had gotten
loose. That was why I came here, tonight. He seems to think
you know more than a man should know and yet stay alive. And,
as a rule, he is apt to be right. He--"
"Miss Standish," interposed Gavin, "would you mind very much,
going into some other room? This isn't a pleasant scene for
"Stay where you are, for a minute, Claire!" commanded Milo,
shaking off a lethargy of wonder which had settled upon him,
at sight of his supposedly dead tyrant. "I want you to hear
what I've got to say. And I want you to endorse it. I've had
a half hour of freedom. And it's meant too much to me, to let
me go back into the hell I've lived through, this past few
He wheeled about on the newcomer and addressed him, speaking
loudly and rapidly in a voice hoarse with rage:
"Hade, I'm through! Get that? I'm through! You can foreclose
on my home here, and you can get me sent to prison for that
check I was insane enough to raise when I had no way out of the
hole. But I'm through. It isn't worth it. Nothing is worth
having to cringe and cheat for. I'm through cringing to you.
And I'm through cheating the United States Government. You
weren't content with making me do that. You tried, to-day, to
make me a murderer--to make me your partner in the death of the
man who had saved my life. When I found that out--when I learned
what you could stoop to and could drag me to,--I swore to myself
to cut free from you, for all time. Now, go ahead and do your
dirtiest to me and to mine. What I said, goes. And it goes for
my sister, too. Doesn't it, dear girl?"
For answer, Claire caught her brother's big hand in both of
hers, and raised it to her lips. A light of happiness
transfigured her face. Milo pulled away his hand, bashfully,
his eyes misting at her wordless praise for his belatedly
"Good!" he approved, passing his arm about her and drawing her
close to him. "I played the cur once, this evening. It's
good to know I've had enough pluck to do this one white thing,
to help make up for it."
He faced Gavin, head thrown back, giant shoulders squared,
"Mr. Brice," he said, clearly. "Through you, I surrender to
the United States Government. I'll make a signed confession,
any time you want it. I'm your prisoner."
Gavin shook his head.
"The confession will be of great service, later," said he,
"and, as state's evidence, it will clear you from any danger
of punishment. But you're not my prisoner. Thanks to your
promise of a confession. I have a prisoner, here. But it is
"No?" suavely queried Hade, whose everlasting smile had not
changed and whose black eyes remained as serene as ever,
through the declaration of rebellion on the part of his
satellite. "If Standish is not your prisoner, he'll be the
State of Florida's prisoner, by this time to-morrow, when I
have lodged his raised check with the District Attorney.
Think that over, Standish, my dear friend. Seven years for
forgery is not a joyous thing, even in a Florida prison.
Here, in the community where your family's name has been
honored, it will come extra hard. And on Claire, here, too.
Mightn't it be better to think that over, a minute or so,
before announcing your virtuous intent? Mightn't--"
"Don't listen to him, Milo!" cried the girl, seizing
Standish's hand again in an agony of appeal, and smiling
encouragingly up into his sweating and irresolute face.
"We'll go through any disgrace, together. You and I. And
after it's all over, I'll give up my whole life to making you
happy, and helping you to get on your feet again."
"There'll be no need for that, Miss Standish," said Brice.
"Of course, Hade can foreclose his mortgage on your half-
brother's property and call in Standish's notes,--if he's in a
position to do it, which I don't think he will be. But, as
for the raised check, why, he's threatening Standish with an
empty gun. Hade, if ever you get home again, look in the
compartment of your strongbox where you put the red-sealed
envelope with Standish's check in it. The envelope is still
there. So are the seals. The check is not. You can verify
that, for yourself, later, perhaps. In the meantime, take my
word for it."
A cry of delight from Claire--a groan from Standish that
carried with it a world of supreme relief--broke in upon
Gavin's recital. Paying no heed to either of his hosts, Brice
walked across to the unmovedly smiling Hade, and placed one
hand on the latter's shoulder.
"Mr. Hade," said he, quietly, "I am an officer of the Federal
Secret Service. I place you under arrest, on charges of--"
With a hissing sound, like a striking snake's, Rodney Hade
shook off the detaining hand. In the same motion, he leaped
backward, drawing from his torn pocket an automatic pistol.
Brice, unarmed, stood for an instant looking into the squat
little weapon's black muzzle, and at the gleaming black eyes
in the ever-smiling white face behind it.
He was not afraid. Many times, before, had he faced leveled
guns, and, like many another war-veteran, he had outgrown the
normal man's dread of such weapons.
But as he was gathering his strength for a spring at his
opponent, trusting that the suddenness and unexpectedness of
his onset might shake the other's aim, Rodney Hade took the
situation into his own hands.
Not at random had he made that backward leap. Still covering
Gavin with his pistol, he flashed one hand behind him and
pressed the switch-button which controlled the electric lights
in the hallway and the adjoining rooms.
Black darkness filled the place. Brice sprang forward through
the dark, to grapple with the man. But Hade was nowhere
within reach of Brice's outflung arms. Rodney had slipped,
snakelike, to one side, foreseeing just such a move on the
part of his foe.
Gavin strained his ears, to note the man's direction. But
Milo Standish was thrashing noisily about in an effort to
locate and seize the fugitive. And the racket his huge body
made in hitting against furniture and in caroming off the
walls and doors, filled the hall with din.
Remembering at last the collie's presence in that mass of
darkness, Gavin shouted:
"Bobby! Bobby Burns! Take him!"
From somewhere in the gloom, there was a beast-snarl and a
scurry of clawed feet on the polished floor. At the same time
the front door flew wide.
Silhouetted against the bright moonlight, Brice had a
momentary glimpse of Hade, darting out through the doorway,
and of a tawny-and-white canine whirlwind flying at the man's
But Brice's shout of command had been a fraction of a second
too late. Swiftly as had the collie obeyed, Rodney Hade had
already reached and silently unbarred the door, by the time
the dog got under way. And, as Bobby Burns sprang, the door
slammed shut in his face, leaving the collie growling and
tearing at the unyielding panels.
Then it was that Claire found the electric switch, with her
groping hands, and pressed the button. The hall and its
adjoining rooms were flooded with light, revealing the
redoubtable Bobby Burns hurling himself again and again at the
Gavin shoved the angry dog aside, and opened the portal. He
sprang out, the dog beside him. And as they did so, both of
them crashed into a veranda couch which Hade, in escaping,
had thrust across the closed doorway in anticipation of
just such a move.
Over went the couch, under the double impetus. By catching at
the doorway frame, Gavin barely managed to save himself from a
nasty fall. The dog disentangled himself from an avalanche of
couch cushions and made furiously for the veranda steps.
But Brice summoned him back. He was not minded to let Bobby
risk life from knife-cut or from strong, strangling hands, out
there in the perilous shadows beyond the lawn. And he knew
the futility of following Hade, himself, among merciless men
and through labyrinths with whose' windings Rodney was far
more familiar than was he. So, reluctantly, he turned back
into the house. A glance over the moonlit lawn revealed no
sign of the fugitive.
"I'm sorry," he said to Standish, as he shut the door behind
him and patted the fidgetingly excited Bobby Burns on the
head. "I may never have such a good chance at him again. And
your promise of a confession was the thing that made me arrest
him. Your evidence would have been enough to convict him.
And that's the only thing that could have convicted him or
made it worth while to arrest him. He's worked too skillfully
to give us any other hold on him .... I was a thick-witted
idiot not to think, sooner, of calling to Bobby. I'd stopped
him, once, when he went for Hade, and of course he wouldn't
attack again, right away, without leave. A dog sees in the
dark, ten times as well as any man does. Bobby was the
solution. And I forgot to use him till it was too late. With
a collie raging at his throat, Hade would have had plenty of
trouble in getting away, or even in using his gun. Lord, but
I'm a dunce!"
"You're--you're,--splendid!" denied Claire, her eyes soft and
shining and her cheeks aglow. "You faced that pistol without
one atom of fear. And I could see your muscles tensing for a
spring, right at him, before the light went out."
Gavin Brice's heart hammered mightily against his ribs, at her
eager praise. The look in her eyes went to his brain.
Through his mind throbbed the exultant thought:
"She saw my muscles tense as he aimed at me. That means she
was looking at me! Not at him. Not even at the pistol. She
couldn't have done that, unless--unless--"
"What's to be done, now?" asked Milo, turning instinctively to
Gavin for orders.
The question brought the dazedly joyous man back to his
senses. With exaggerated matter-of-factness, he made reply:
"Why, the most sensible thing we can all do just now is to eat
dinner. A square meal works wonders in bracing people up.
Miss Standish, do you think you can rouse the maids to an
effort to get us some sort of food? If not, we can forage for
ourselves, in the icebox. What do you think?"
* * * * * * *
Two hours later--after a sketchy meal served by trembling-handed
servants--the trio were seated in the music-room. Over and over,
a dozen times, they had reviewed their position, from all angles.
And they had come to the conclusion that the sanest thing to do
was to wait in comfortable safety behind stoutly shuttered windows
until the dawn of day should bring the place's laborers back to
work. Daylight, and the prospect of others' presence on the
grounds, was certain to disperse the Caesars. And it would be
ample time then to go to Miami and to safer quarters, while Gavin
should start the hunt after Rodney Hade. The two men had agreed
to divide the night into watches.
"One of the torpedo-boat destroyers down yonder, off Miami,
can ferret out Hade's yacht and lay it by the heels, in no
time," explained Brice. "His house is watched, always,
lately. And every port and railroad will be watched, too.
The chief reason I want to get hold of him is to find where he
has sent the treasure. You have no idea, either of you?"
"No," answered Milo. "He explained to me that he was sending
it North, to a place where nobody could possibly find it, and
that, as soon as it was all there, he'd begin disposing of it.
Then we were to have our settlement, after it was melted down
"Who works with him? I mean, who helps him bring the stuff
here? Who, besides you, I mean?"
"Why, his yacht-crew," said Milo. "They're all picked men of
his own. Men he has known for years and has bound to himself
in all sorts of ways. He has only eleven of them, for it's a
small yacht. But he says he owns the souls of each and every
one of the lot. He pays them double wages and gives them a
fat bonus on anything he employs them on. They're nearly all
of them men who have done time, and--"
"A sweet aggregation for this part of the twentieth century!"
commented Gavin. "I wish I'd known about all that," he added,
musingly. "I supposed you and one or two men like Roke were
"Roke is more devoted to him than any dog could be," said
Claire. "He worships him. And, speaking of dogs, I left
Bobby Burns in the kitchen, getting his supper. I forgot all
She set down Simon Cameron, who was drowsing in her lap, and
got to her feet. As she did so, a light step sounded in the
hallway, outside. Gavin jumped up and hurried past her.
He was just in time to see Rodney Hade cross the last yard or
so of the hallway, and unlock and open the front door.
The man had evidently entered the house from above, though all
the shutters were still barred and the door from the cupola
had later been locked. Remembering the flimsy lock on that
door, Gavin realized how Hade could have made an entrance.
But why Hade was now stealing to the front door and opening
it, was more than his puzzled brain could grasp. All this
flashed through Brice's mind, as he caught sight of his enemy,
and at the same time he was aware that Hade was no longer clad
in rags, but wore a natty white yachting suit.
Before these impressions had had full time to register
themselves on Gavin's brain, he was in motion. This time, he
was resolved, the prey should not slip through his fingers.
As Brice took the first forward-springing step, Hade finished
unfastening the door and flung it wide.
In across the threshold poured a cascade of armed men.
Hard-faced and tanned they were, one and all, and dressed as
Then Gavin Brice knew what had happened, and that his own life
was not worth a chipped plate.
THE GHOST TREE
Claire Standish had followed Brice to the curtained doorway of
the library. She, too, had heard the light step in the hall.
Its sound, and the galvanizing effect it had had on Gavin,
aroused her sharp interest.
She reached the hallway just in time to see Hade swing open
the door and admit the thronging group of sailors from his
But not even the sight of Hade, and these ruffians of his,
astounded her as did the action of Gavin Brice.
Brice had been close behind Hade as the door swung wide. His
incipient rush after his enemy had carried him thus far, when
the tables had so suddenly been turned against him and the
Now, without pausing in his onward dash, he leaped past Hade
and straight among the in-pouring sailors.
Hade had not been aware of Brice's presence in the hall. The
sailors' eyes were momentarily dazzled by the brightness of
the lights. Thus, they did not take in the fact of the
plunging figure, in time to check its flight.
Straight through their unprepared ranks Gavin Brice tore his
way. So might a veteran football halfback
smash a path through the rushline of a vastly inferior team.
Hade cried out to his men, and drew his pistol. But even as
he did so, the momentarily glimpsed Gavin was lost to his
view, amid the jostling and jostled sailors.
Past the loosely crowding men, Brice ripped his way, and out
onto the veranda which he cleared at a bound. Then, running
low, but still at top speed, he sped around the bottom of the
porch, past the angle of the house and straight for the far
He did not make for the road, but for the enclosure into which
he had peeped that morning, and for the thick shade which shut
off the moon's light.
Now, he ran with less caution. For, he knew the arrival of so
formidable a body of men must have been enough to send the
Caesars scattering for cover.
Before he reached the enclosure he veered abruptly to one
side, dashing across a patch of moonlit turf, and heading for
the giant live oak that stood gauntly in its center.
Under the "Ghost Tree's" enormous shade he came to a stop,
glancing back to see if the direction of his headlong flight
had been noted. Above him towered the mighty corpse of what
had once been an ancestral tree. He remembered how it had
stood there, bleakly, under the morning sunlight,--its myriad
spreading branches and twigs long since killed by the tons of
parasitical gray moss which festooned its every inch of
surface with long trailing masses of dead fluff.
Not idly had Brice studied that weird tree and its
position. Now, standing beneath its black shade, he drew
forth a matchbox he had taken from the smoking table after
Cautiously striking a match and shielding it in his cupped
palms, he applied the bit of fire to the lowest hanging spray
of the avalanche of dead gray moss.
A month of bone-dry weather had helped to make his action a
success. The moss ignited at first touch of the match. Up
along the festoon shot a tongue of red flame. The nearest
adjoining branch's burden of moss caught the fiery breath and
burst into blaze.
With lightning speed, the fire roared upward, the branches to
either side blazing as the outsputtering flames kissed them.
In a little more than a breath, the gigantic tree was a
roaring sheet of red-and-gold-fire, a ninety-foot torch which
sent its flood of lurid light to the skies above and made the
earth for a radius of two hundred yards as bright as day.
Far out to sea that swirling tower of scarlet flame hurled its
illumination. For miles on every hand it could be seen. The
sound of its crackle and hiss and roar was deafening. The
twigs, dry and dead, caught fire from the surrounding blaze of
moss, and communicated their flame to the thicker branches and
to the tree's towering summit.
And thus the fierce vividness of blazing wood was added to the
lighter glare of the inflammable moss.
The spectacle was incredibly beautiful, but still more awesome
and terrifying. The crackle and snap of burning wood broke
forth on the night air like the purr of fifty machine guns.
But Gavin Brice had not waited to gaze on what was perhaps the
most marvelous display of pyrotechnics ever beheld on the
Florida coast. At first touch of flame to the first festoon
of moss, he had taken to his heels.
Claire Standish gazed in unbelieving horror at the seemingly
panic flight of the man who had so strangely dominated her
life and her brother's, during these past few hours. He had
faced death at Rodney Hade's pistol, he had been lazily calm
at the possibility of a rush from the Caesars. He had shown
himself fearless, amusedly contemptuous of danger. Yet here
be was fleeing for his very life and leaving the Standishes at
the mercy of the merciless!
More,--unless she had deceived herself, grossly, Claire had
seen in his eyes the lovelight that all his assumption of
indifference had not been able to quench. She had surprised
it there, not once but a score of times. And it had thrilled
her, unaccountably. Yet, in spite of that, he was deserting
her in her moment of direst peril!
Then, through her soul surged the gloriously, divinely,
illogical Faith that is the God-given heritage of the woman
who loves. And all at once she knew this man had not deserted
her, that right blithely he would lay down his life for her.
That, somehow or other, he had acted for her good. And a
feeling of calm exultation filled her.
Hade stood in the doorway, barking sharp commands to several
of his men, calling to them by name. And at each call, they
obeyed, like dogs at their master's bidding. They dashed off
the veranda, in varying directions, at a lurching run, in
belated pursuit of the fleeing Brice.
Then, for the first time, Hade faced about and confronted the
unflinching girl and Standish who had lumbered dazedly out of
the library and who stood blinking at Claire's side.
Lifting his yachting cap, with exaggerated courtesy, Hade
bowed to them. The eternal smile on his face was intensified,
as he glanced from one to the other of the pair.
"Well," he said, and his black eyes strayed as if by accident
to Claire's face, "our heroic friend seems to have cracked
under the strain, eh? Cut and ran, like a rabbit. Frankly,
my dear Milo, you'd do better to put your reliance on me. A
man who will run away,--with a woman looking on, too--and
leaving you both in the lurch, after promising to--"
There was a clatter on the veranda, and Roke's enormous bulk
shouldered its way through what was left of the group of
sailors, his roustabout costume at ugly variance with their
"Did you find him?" demanded Hade, turning at the sound.
"No!" panted Roke, in keen excitement. "But we'd better clear
out, Boss! All Dade County's liable to be here in another
five minutes. The old Ghost Tree's on fire. Listen! You can
He finished his staccato speech by lifting his hand for
silence. And, in the instant's hush could be heard the
distant roar of a million flames.
"He didn't desert us!" cried the girl, in ecstatic triumph.
"I knew he didn't! I knew it! He--"
But Hade did not stop to hear her. At a bound he reached the
veranda and was on the lawn below, running around the side of
the house with his men trailing at his heels.
Out in the open, he halted, staring aghast at the column of
fire that soared heavenward and filled the night with lurid
brightness. Back to him, one by one, came the four sailors he
had sent in pursuit of Gavin. And, for a space, all stood
gazing in silence at the awesome spectacle.
Roke broke the spell by tugging at Hade's coat, and urging
"Best get out, at the double-quick, Boss! This blaze is due
to bring folks a-runnin', an'--!"
"Well?" inquired Hade, impatiently. "What then? They'll find
us looking at a burning tree. Is there any law against that?
I brought you and the crew ashore, to-night, to help shift
some heavy furniture that came from up North last week. On
the way, we saw this tree and stopped to look at it. Where's
the crime in that? You talk like a--"
"But if the Standishes blab--"
"They won't. That Secret Service sneak has bolted. Without
him to put backbone in them, they'll eat out of my hand.
Don't worry. They--"
"Here comes some of the folks, now," muttered Roke, as running
figures began to appear from three sides. "We'd be safer to--"
His warning ended in a gurgle of dismay.
From three points the twenty-five or thirty new arrivals
continued to run forward. But, at a word from some one in
front of them, they changed their direction, and wheeled in
triple column, almost with the precision of soldiers.
The shift of direction brought them converging, not upon the
tree, but upon the group of sailors that stood around Hade.
It was this odd change of course which had stricken Roke dumb.
And now he saw these oncomers were not farmhands or white-clad
neighbors, and that there were no women among them. They were
men in dark clothes, they were stalwart of build and
determined of aspect.. There was a certain confident teamwork
and air of professionalism about them that did not please Roke
at all. Again, he caught at his master's arm. But he was too
Out of nothingness, apparently, darted a small figure,
directly behind the unsuspecting Hade. It was as though he
had risen from the earth itself.
With lightning swiftness, he attached himself to Rodney's
throat and right arm, from behind. Hade gave a convulsive
start, and, with his free hand reached back for his pistol.
At the same time Roke seized the dwarfish stranger.
Then, two things happened, at once.
Roke wallowed backward, faint with pain and with one leg numb
to the thigh, from an adroit smiting of his instep. The
little assailant's heel had come down with trained force on
this nerve center. And, for the moment, Roke was not only in
agony but powerless.
The second thing to happen was a deft twist from the
imprisoning arm that was wrapped around Hade's throat from
behind. At the pressure, Rodney's groping hand fell away from
his pistol pocket, and he himself toppled, powerless, toward
the ground, the skilled wrench of the carotid artery and the
nerves at the side of the throat paralyzing him with pain.
Roke, rolling impotently on the earth, saw the little fellow
swing Hade easily over his shoulder and start for the house.
At the same time, he noted through his semi-delirium of agony
that the stalwart men had borne down upon the knot of gaping
sailors, and, at pistol-muzzle, had disarmed and handcuffed
It was all over in less than, fifteen seconds. But not before
Roke's beach combing wits could come to the aid of his
tortured body. Doubling himself into a muscular ball, he
rolled swiftly under the shadow of a sprawling magnolia
sapling, crouching among the vine roots which surround it.
There, unobserved, he lay, hugging the dark ground as
scientifically as any Seminole, and moving not an eyelash.
From that point of vantage, he saw the dark-clothed men line
up their sullen prisoners and march them off to the road,
where, a furlong below, the fire revealed the dim outlines of
several motor cars. Other men, at the direction of the same
leader who had commanded the advance, trooped toward the
house. And, as this leader passed near the magnolia, Roke
knew him for Gavin Brice.
From the edge of the veranda, Claire and Standish had
witnessed the odd drama. Wordless, stricken dumb with
amazement, they gazed upon the fire-illumined scene. Then,
toiling across the grass toward them came the little man who
had overcome Rodney Hade. On his shoulders, as unconcernedly
as if he were bearing a light sack, he carried the inert body
of his victim. Straight past the staring brother and sister
he went, and around the house to the front steps.
Milo started to follow. But Claire pointed toward a clump of
men who were coming along not far behind the little burden-bearer.
At their head, hurried some one whose figure was silhouetted
against the waning tree-glare. And both the watchers recognized
Nearing the veranda, Brice spoke a few words to the men with
him. They scattered, surrounding the house. Gavin came on
alone. Seeing the man and girl above him, he put his hands up
to the rail and vaulted lightly over it, landing on the floor
"Come!" he said, briefly, leading the way around the porch to
the front door.
They followed, reaching the hallway just in time to see the
little man deposit his burden on the couch. And both of them
cried-out in astonishment. For the stripling who had reduced
Rodney Hade to numb paralysis was Sato, their own recreant
At sight of them, he straightened himself up from the couch
and bowed. Then, in flawless English,--far
different from the pigeon-talk he had always used for their
benefit,--he said respectfully, to Gavin:
"I brought him here, as you said, sir. He's coming around,
all right. After the pressure is off the carotid, numbness
doesn't last more than two minutes."
"Sato!" gasped Claire, unbelieving, while Milo gurgled,
wordless. The erstwhile butler turned back to the slowly
recovering Hade. Brice laughed at their crass astonishment.
"This is one of the best men in the Service," he explained.
"It was he who took a job under Hade and who got hold of that
raised check. Hade passed him on to you, to spy for him.
"But," blithered Standish, "I saw him tackle Hade, before all
the crew. He was playing with death. Yet, when you tackled
him, this evening, he was scared helpless."
"He was 'scared' into coming into the room and asking in
Japanese for my orders," rejoined Brice. "I gave the orders,
when you thought I was airing my Jap knowledge by bawling him
out. I told him to collect the men we'd posted, to phone for
others, and to watch for the signal of the burning tree. If
the Caesars weren't going to attack in force, I saw no need in
filling the house with Secret Service agents. But if they
should attack, I knew I could slip out, as far as that tree,
without their catching me. When Hade's tea-party arrived,
instead, I gave the signal. It was Sato who got my message
across to the key, this morning, too. As for my pitching him
out of here, this evening,--well, it was he who taught me all
I know of jiu-jutsu. He used to be champion of Nagasaki. If
he'd chosen to resist, he could have broken my neck in five
seconds. Sato is a wonder at the game."
The Jap grinned expansively at the praise. Then he glanced at
Hade and reported:
"He's getting back his powers of motion, sir. He'll be all
right in another half-minute."
Rodney Hade sat up, with galvanic suddenness, rubbing his
misused throat and darting a swift snakelike glance about him.
His eye fell on the three men between him and the door. Then,
at each of the two hallway windows, he saw other men posted,
on the veranda. And he understood the stark helplessness of
his situation. Once more the masklike smile settled on his
"Mr. Hade," said Brice, "for the second time this evening, I
beg to tell you you are my prisoner. So are your crew. The
house is surrounded. Not by Caesars, this time, but by
trained Secret Service men. I warn you against trying any
charlatan tricks on them. They are apt to be hasty on the
trigger, and they have orders to shoot if--"
"My dear Brice," expostulated Hade, a trifle wearily, "if we
were playing poker, and you held four aces to my two deuces-
-would you waste breath in explaining to me that I was
hopelessly beaten? I'm no fool. I gather that you've marched
my men off to jail. May I ask why you made an exception of
me? Why did you bring me back here?"
"Can't you imagine?" asked Brice. "You say you're no fool.
Prove it. Prove it by -"
"By telling you where I have cached as much of the silver as
we've jettisoned thus far?" supplemented Hade. "Of course,
the heroic Standish will show you where the Caesar cache is,
down there in the inlet. But I am the only man who knows
where the three-quarter million or more dollars already
salvaged, are salted down. And you brought me here to argue
me into telling? May I ask what inducements you offer?"
"Certainly," said Gavin, without a moment's hesitation.
"Though I wonder you have not guessed them."
"Lighter sentence, naturally," suggested Hade. "But is that
all? Surely it's a piker price for Uncle Sam to pay for a
gift of nearly a million dollars. Can't you better it?"
"I am not the court," returned Brice, nettled. "But I think I
can promise you a fifty per cent reduction in what would be
the average sentence for such an offense, and a lighter job in
prison than falls to the lot of most Federal criminals."
"Good," approved Hade, adding: "But not good enough. I'm
still in the thirties. I'm tougher of constitution than I
look. They can't sentence me for more than a span of years.
And when my term is up, I can enjoy the little batch of 1804
dollars I've laid by. I think I'll take my chance, unless you
care to raise the ante."
Brice glanced around at the men who stood on the veranda.
Then he lowered his voice, so as not to be heard by them.
"You are under courtmartial sentence of death as a spy, Mr.
Hade," he whispered. "The war is over. That sentence won't
be imposed, in full, I imagine, in times of peace. But your
war record will earn you an extra sentence that will come
close to keeping you in Atlanta Penitentiary for life. I
believe I am the only member of the Department who knows that
Major Heidenhoff of the Wilhelmstrasse and Rodney Hade are the
same man. If I can be persuaded to keep that knowledge from
my superiors, in return for full information as to where the
1804 dollars are cached--those you've already taken from the
inlet--and if the mortgage papers on this place are destroyed
"H'm!" mused Hade, his black eyes brooding and speculative.
"H'm! That calls for a bit of rather careful weighing. How
much time will you give me to think it over and decide? A
"Just half an hour," retorted Gavin. "My other men, who took
your silly band of cutthroats to jail, ought to be back by
then. I am waiting here till they report, and no longer. You
have half an hour. And I advise you to make sane use of it."
Hade got slowly to his feet. The smile was gone from his
lips. His strange black eyes looked indescribably tired and
old. There was a sag to his alert figure.
"It's hard to plan a coup like mine," he sighed, "and then to
be bilked by a man with not one-tenth my brain. Luck was with
you. Blind luck. Don't imagine you've done this by your
As he spoke he shuffled heavily to the adjoining music-room, and
let his dreary gaze stray toward its two windows. On the veranda,
framed in the newly unshuttered window-space, stood four Secret
Service men, grimly on guard.
Hade strode to one window after the other, with the cranky
mien and action of a thwarted child, and slammed the shutters
together, barring out the sinister sight of his guards. Gavin
did not try to prevent him from this act of boyish spite. The
master-mind's reaction, in its hour of brokenness, roused his
From the windows, Hade's gloomy eyes strayed to the piano. On
it lay a violin case. He picked it up and took out an
"I think clearer when I play," he said, glumly, to Brice.
"And I've nearly a million dollars' worth of thinking to do in
this half hour. Is it forbidden to fiddle? Milo's father
paid $4,000 for this violin. It's a genuine Strad. And it
gives me peace and clear vision. May I play, or--?"
"Go ahead, if you want to," vouchsafed Gavin, fancying he read
the attempt of a charlatan to remain picturesque to the end.
"Only get your thinking done, and come to a decision before
the half hour is up. And, by the way, let me warn you again
that those men out there have orders to shoot, if you make a
move to escape."
"No use in asking you to play my accompaniments, Claire?"
asked Hade, in pathetic attempt at gayety as he walked to the
hallway door. "No? I'm sorry. Nobody else ever played them
as you do."
He tried to smile. The effort was a failure. He yanked the
curtains shut that hung between music room and hall. Then,
at a gesture from Gavin, he pulled them halfway open again, and,
standing in the doorway, drew his bow across the strings.
Gavin sat down on the long hall couch, a yard outside the
music-room door, beside Claire and the still stupefied Milo.
The Jap took up his position back of them, alert and tense as
a fox terrier. The three Secret Service men in the front
doorway stood at attention, yet evidently wondering at the
prisoner's queer freak.
From under the deftly wielded bow, the violin wailed forth
into stray chords and phrases, wild, unearthly, discordant.
Hade, his face bent over the instrument, swayed in time with
its undisciplined rhythm.
Then, from dissonance and incoherence, the music merged into
Gounod's Ave Maria. And, from swaying, Hade began to walk.
To and fro, urged by the melody, his feet strayed. Now he was
in full view, between the half-open curtains. Now, he was
hidden for an instant, and then he was crossing once more
before the opening.
His playing was exquisite. More--it was authoritative,
masterly, soaring. It gripped the hearers' senses and
heartstrings. The beauty and dreaminess of the Ave Maria
flooded the air with loveliness. Brice listened, enthralled.
Down Claire's cheek rolled a teardrop, of whose existence she
was not even aware.
The last notes of the melody throbbed away. Brice drew a long
breath. Then, at once the violin spoke again. And now it sang
forth into the night, in the Schubert Serenade,--gloriously sweet,
a surge of passionate tenderness.
Back and forth, under the spell of his own music, wandered
Hade. Then he stopped. Gavin leaned forward. He saw that
Hade was leaning against the piano, as he played. His head
was bowed over the instrument as though in reverence. His
black eyes were dreamy and exalted. Gavin sat back on the
couch and once more gave himself over to the mystic
enthrallment of the music. The Serenade wailed itself into
silence with one last hushedly exquisite tone. Brice drew a
long breath, as of a man coming out of a trance.
Simon Cameron had jumped into Claire's lap. But, receiving no
attention from the music-rapt girl, the cat now dropped to the
floor, and started toward the stairs.
At the same time, the violin sounded anew. And Gavin frowned
in disappointment. For, no longer was it singing its heart
out in the magic of an immortal melody. Instead, it swung
into the once-popular strains of "Oh, Promise Me!"
And now it seemed as though Hade were wantonly making fun of
his earlier beautiful playing and of the effect he must have
known it had had upon his hearers. For he played heavily,
monotonously, more like a dance-hall soloist than a master.
And, as though his choice of an air were not sharp enough
contrast to his other selections, he strummed amateurishly and
without a shred of technique or of feeling.
Jarring as was the result upon Brice, it seemed even
more so on Simon Cameron. The cat had stopped in his progress
toward the stairs, and now stared round-eyed at the music-room
doorway, his absurd little nostrils sniffing the air. Then,
deliberately, Simon Cameron walked to the doorway and sat down
there, his huge furry tail curled around round him, staring
with idiotic intentness at the player.
Gavin noted the cat's odd behavior. Simon Cameron was far too
familiar with Hade's presence in the house to give Rodney a
second glance. Indeed, he had only jumped up into Claire's
lap, because the fascinatingly new Secret Service men at the
front door smelt strongly of tobacco,--the smell a Persian cat
hates above all others. But now, he was gazing in delighted
interest at the violinist.
At the sight, a wild conjecture flashed into Gavin's brain.
With a sharp order to the Jap, he sprang up and rushed into
the music room.
Leaning against the piano, playing the rebellious violin, was
Rodney Hade had vanished.
The windows were still shuttered. No other door gave exit
from the music room. There were no hangings, except the
door-curtains, and there was no furniture behind which a child
could hide unseen. Yet Hade was no longer there.
Roke laid aside his violin, at sight of Gavin and the Jap. At
the former's exclamation of amaze, two more of the Secret
Service men left their post at the front door and ran in. The
tramp of their hurrying feet made the guards outside the open
windows of the music room fling wide the closed shutters.
Clearly, Hade had not escaped past them.
Folding his arms, and grinning impudently at the astounded
cordon of faces, Roke drawled:
"I just dropped in to say 'Howdy' to Mr. Standish. Nobody was
around. So I made bold to pick up the fiddle and have a
little spiel. I ain't done any harm, and there's nothing
you-all can hold me on."
For ten seconds nobody answered. Nobody spoke or moved.
Then, Gavin Brice's face went crimson with sudden fury at his
own outwitting. He recalled the musical afternoon at
Roustabout Key which his presence had interrupted, and Roke's
fanatical devotion to Hade.
"I begin to understand," he said, his voice muffled in an
attempt to subdue his anger. "You and Hade were fond of the
violin, eh? And for some reason or other you long ago worked
up a series of signals on it, as the mind-reader with the
guitar-accompanist used to do in the vaudeville shows. Those
discordant phrases he started off with were your signal to
come to the rescue. And you came. But how did you come? And
how did he go? Both by the same way, of course. But--there
isn't even a chimney-piece in the room."
Once more, Roke grinned broadly. "I ain't seen hide nor hair
of Mr. Hade, not since this afternoon," said he. "I been
spendin' the evenin' over to Landon's. Landon is a tryin' to
sell me his farm. Says the soil on it is so rich that he
ships carloads of it up North, to use for fertilizer. Says--"
"Sato!" broke in Brice. "Can you make him talk? Miss
Standish, will you please go somewhere else for five minutes?
This is not going to be a pretty sight."
As the girl turned, obediently yet reluctantly, from the room,
the Jap, with a smile of perfect bliss on his yellow face,
advanced toward Roke.
The big man wheeled, contemptuously, upon him. Sato sprang at
him. With a hammerlike fist, Roke smote at the oncoming
pigmy. The arm struck, to its full length. But it did not
reach its mark, nor return to the striker's side. By a
queerly crablike shift of his wiry body, the Jap had eluded
the blow, and had fastened upon the arm, above the elbow and
at the wrist.
A cross-pull wrench of the Jap's body brought a howl of pain
from Roke and sent him floundering helplessly to his knees,
while the merest leverage pressure from his conqueror held him
there. But the Jap was doing more. The giant's arm was
bending backward and sideways at an impossible angle. Nor
could its owner make a move to avert the growing unbearable
torture. It was one of the simplest, yet one of the most
effective and agonizing, holds in all jiujutsu.
Thirty seconds of it, and Roke's bull-like endurance went to
pieces under the strain. Raucously and blubberingly he
screeched for mercy. The Jap continued happily to exert the
"Will you speak up?" queried Brice, sickened at the sight, but
steeling himself with the knowledge of the captive's crimes
and of the vast amount at stake.
Roke rolled his eyes horribly, grinding his yellowed teeth
together to check his own cries. Then, sobbingly, he blurted:
"Yes! Lemme loose!"
"Not till you tell," refused Gavin. "Quick, now!"
"Second panel from left-hand window," moaned the stricken and
anguished Roke. "Push beading up and then to right. He's--
he's safe away, by now, anyway," he blubbered, in
self-justification of the confession which agony had wrung
from him. "All you'll get is the--the--"
And, the pain having eaten into his very brain, he yelled
Ten minutes later, Milo Standish sought out his sister, in the
upper room whither she had fled, in fear, to escape from the
racket of Roke's outcries.
"Listen!" he jabbered boyishly, in utter excitement. "Brice
made him tell how Rodney got out! How d'you s'pose? One of
the old panels, in the music room, slides back, and there's a
flight of stone steps down to a cellar that's right alongside
our regular cellar, with only a six inch cement-and-lath wall
between. It leads out, to the tunnel. Right at that turn
where the old-time shoring is. The shoring hides a little
door. And we never dared move the props because we thought it
held up the tunnel-roof. It's all part of the old
Indian-shelter stunts that this house's builders were so daft
about, a hundred years ago. Hade must have blundered on it or
studied it out, one of those times when he used to go poking
around in the tunnel, all by himself. And--"
"Did Mr. Brice find him?" interposed Claire.
"Not he!" said Milo, less buoyantly. "Rodney had a good ten
minutes start of us. And with a start like that, they'll never
lay hands on him again. He's got too much cleverness and he
knows too many good hiding places. But Brice found the next best
thing. You'd never guess! Rodney's secret cache for the treasure
was that walled-up cellar. It's half full of canvas bags. Right
under our feet, mind you, and we never knew a thing about it. I
supposed he was shipping it North in some way. Roke says that
Rodney kept it there because, when he got it all, he was going to
foreclose and kick us out, and then dispose of it at his leisure.
"The crypt seems to have been a part of our own cellar till it
was walled off. It--"
"But how in the world did Roke?"
"He was with the crew. Rodney and he went together to the
yacht for them. The Secret Service men didn't get him, in the
round-up. He crept as close to the house as he dared. And he
heard Rodney sounding the signal alphabet they had worked up,
on the violin. He got into the tunnel and so to the cellar,
and then sneaked up, and took Rodney's place at fiddling. He
seems to have been as willing to sacrifice himself for his
master as any dog would have been. Or else he counted on
Brice's not having any evidence to hold him on.
"By the way, do you remember that conch, Davy, over at
Roustabout Key? Brice says he's a Secret Service man. He and
Brice used to fish together, off the keys, when they were
boys. Davy volunteered for the war. And Brice made good use
of him, over there, and got him into the Secret Service when
they came back. It's all so queer--so--!"
"Is Mr. Brice still downstairs?" interrupted Claire, her eyes
straying involuntarily toward the door of the room.
"No. He had to go. He left his good-byes for you. His work
here is done. And he has to start for Washington on the 2
A.M. train from Miami. By the way, the best part of it all
is that he says a fugitive from justice can't bring legal
proceedings in a civil court. So Rodney can never foreclose
on us or take up those notes of mine. Lord, but that chap,
Brice, is a wonder!"
Vital as was the news about the notes and the mortgage, Claire
scarce heard it. In, her ears, and through the brain and
heart of her, rang drearily the words:
"He had to go. He left his good-byes for you. His work here
His work was done! Yes. But was that to be all? Had the
light in his eyes and the vibrant tremor in his voice as he
talked with her--had these been part of his "work," too? Was
it all to end, like this,--and before it had begun?
To her own surprise and to her brother's greater astonishment,
the usually self-contained Claire Standish burst into a
tempest of weeping.
"Poor, poor little girl!" soothed Milo. "It's all been too
much for you! No one could have stood up under such a strain.
I'll tell you what we're going to do: We're going to Miami,
for a week or two, and have a jolly time and make you try to
forget all this mystery and excitement. We'll go to-morrow
morning, if you say so."
The Miami season was at its climax. The half-moon driveway
outside the front entrance to the Royal Palm Hotel was crowded
thick with waiting motor cars, whose occupants were at the
hotel's semi-weekly dance. On the brightlit front veranda men
in white and in dinner-clothes and women in every hue of
evening dress were passing to and fro. Elderly folk, sitting
in deep porch chairs, watched through the long windows the
gayly-moving dancers in the ballroom. Out through wide-open
doors and windows pulsed the rhythmic music.
Above hung the great white stars in the blue-black Southern
skies. The bay stretched glimmering and phosphorescent away
from the palm-girt hotel gardens. The trade-winds set the
myriad dry palm-fronds to rustling like the downpour of summer
Up the steps from the gardens drifted promenaders and dancers,
in groups or in twos and threes. Then, up the stairway moved
a slender, white-clad figure, alone.
Claire Standish had sought to do as her brother had wished,
and to forget, in the carefree life of the White City, the
happenings she had been through. Dutifully she had come to
Miami with him. Dutifully, for the past three days, she had
joined him in such gayeties as he had suggested. Dutifully,
to-night, she had come with him to this dance. And all the
time her heart had been as heavy as lead.
Now, getting rid of her partner on some pretext, she had gone
out into the softly illumined gardens to be alone with the
yearning and heartache she could not shake off. Then, fearing
lest Milo, or some other of the men she knew, might come in
search of her and wonder at her desire to mope alone under the
stars, she had turned back to the hotel.
As she mounted the last stair to the veranda, a man in dinner
clothes stepped forward from one of the porch's great white
pillars, and advanced to meet her.
"There's a corner table at the Cafe de la Paix, in Paris," he
greeted her, striving to control his voice and to speak
lightly, "that every one on earth must pass by, sooner or
later. The front veranda of the Royal Palm is like that.
Soon or late, everybody crosses it. When I got back this
afternoon, I heard you had left home and that you were
somewhere in Miami. I couldn't find you. So I came here--and
Claire had halted, at first sound of Gavin Brice's pleasantly
slow voice, and she stood facing him, wide-eyed and pale, her
"I had to go to Washington to make my report," said he,
speaking low and fast. "I came back to you by the first train
I could catch. Didn't you know I would?"
"Yes," she breathed, her gaze still lost in his. "Yes. I--I
And now she realized she had known, even while she had told
herself she would never see him again.
"Come!" he said, gently, holding out his hand to her.
Unashamed, under the battery of a hundred curious eyes, she
clasped the proffered hand. And, together, they turned back
toward the sheltering dimness of the gardens.