Part 3 out of 4
first that came that terrible night. They have given me many since.
But I won't wear one of them - not one!"
How her eyes flashed! I forgot all about Jose.
"I suppose you know why they hadn't room for you in the gig?" she
"No, I don't know, and I don't care. They had room for you," said
I; "that's all I care about." And to think she could not see I
"But do you mean to say you don't know that these - murderers - set
fire to the ship?"
"No - yes! I heard you say so last night."
"And you don't want to know what for?"
Out of politeness I protested that I did; but, as I live, all I
wanted to know just then was whether my love loved me - whether she
ever could - whether such happiness was possible under heaven!
"You remember all that mystery about the cargo?" she continued
eagerly, her pretty lips so divinely parted!
"It turned out to be gunpowder," said I, still thinking only of her.
"No - gold!"
"But it was gunpowder," I insisted; for it was my incorrigible
passion for accuracy which had led up to half our arguments on the
voyage; but this time Eva let me off.
"It was also gold: twelve thousand ounces from the diggings. That
was the real mystery. Do you mean to say you never guessed?"
"No, by Jove I didn't!" said I. She had diverted my interest at
last. I asked her if she had known on board.
"Not until the last moment. I found out during the fire. Do you
remember when we said good-by? I was nearly telling you then."
Did I remember! The very letter of that last interview was cut deep
in my heart; not a sleepless night had I passed without rehearsing
it word for word and look for look; and sometimes, when sorrow had
spent itself, and the heart could bleed no more, vain grief had
given place to vainer speculation, and I had cudgelled my wakeful
brains for the meaning of the new and subtle horror which I had
read in my darling's eyes at the last. Now I understood; and the
one explanation brought such a tribe in its train, that even the
perilous ecstasy of the present moment was temporarily forgotten in
the horrible past.
"Now I know why they wouldn't have me in the gig! " I cried softly.
"She carried four heavy men's weight in gold."
"When on earth did they get it aboard?"
"In provision boxes at the last; but they had been filling the boxes
"Why, I saw them doing it!" I cried. "But what about the gig? Who
picked you up?"
She was watching that open door once more, and she answered with
notable indifference, "Mr. Rattray."
"So that's the connection!" said I; and I think its very simplicity
was what surprised me most.
"Yes; he was waiting for us at Ascension."
"Then it was all arranged?"
"And this young blackguard is as bad as any of them!"
"Worse," said she, with bitter brevity. Nor had I ever seen her
look so hard but once, and that was the night before in the old
justice hall, when she told Rattray her opinion of him to his face.
She had now the same angry flush, the same set mouth and scornful
voice; and I took it finally into my head that she was unjust to
the poor devil, villain though he was. With all his villainy I
declined to believe him as bad as the others. I told her so in as
many words. And in a moment we were arguing as though we were back
on the Lady Jermyn with nothing else to do.
"You may admire wholesale murderers and thieves," said Eva. "I
"Nor I. My point is simply that this one is not as bad as the rest.
I believe he was really glad for my sake when he discovered that I
knew nothing of the villainy. Come now, has he ever offered you
any personal violence?"
"Me? Mr. Rattray? I should hope not, indeed!"
"Has he never saved you from any?"
"I - I don't know."
"Then I do. When you left them last night there was some talk of
bringing you back by force. You can guess who suggested that - and
who set his face against it and got his way. You would think the
better of Rattray had you heard what passed."
"Should I?" she asked half eagerly, as she looked quickly round at
me; and suddenly I saw her eyes fill. "Oh, why will you speak about
him?" she burst out. "Why must you defend him, unless it's to go
against me, as you always did and always will! I never knew anybody
like you - never! I want you to take me away from these wretches,
and all you do is to defend them!"
"Not all," said I, clasping her hand warmly in mine. "Not all - not
all! I will take you away from them, never fear; in another hour
God grant you may be out of their reach for ever!"
"But where are we to go?" she whispered wildly. "What are you to
do with me? All my friends think me dead, and if they knew I was
not it would all come out."
"So it shall," said I; "the sooner the better; if I'd had my way
it would all be out already."
I see her yet, my passionate darling, as she turned upon me, whiter
than the full white moon.
"Mr. Cole," said she, "you must give me your sacred promise that
so far as you are concerned, it shall never come out at all! "
"This monstrous conspiracy? This cold blooded massacre?"
And I crouched aghast.
"Yes; it could do no good; and, at any rate, unless you promise
I remain where I am."
"In their hands?"
"Decidedly - to warn them in time. Leave them I would, but betray
them - never!"
What could I say? What choice had I in the face of an alternative
so headstrong and so unreasonable? To rescue Eva from these
miscreants I would have let every malefactor in the country go
unscathed: yet the condition was a hard one; and, as I hesitated,
my love went on her knees to me, there in the moonlight among the
"Promise - promise - or you will kill me!" she gasped. "They may
deserve it richly, but I would rather be torn in little pieces
than - than have them - hanged! "
"It is too good for most of them."
"To hold my tongue about them all?"
"Yes - promise!"
"When a hundred lives were sacrificed - "
"I can't," I said. "It's wrong."
"Then good-by!" she cried, starting to her feet.
"No - no -" and I caught her hand.
"I - promise."
So I bound myself to a guilty secrecy for Eva's sake, to save her
from these wretches, or if you will, to win her for myself. Nor
did it strike me as very strange, after a moment's reflection, that
she should intercede thus earnestly for a band headed by her own
mother's widower, prime scoundrel of them all though she knew him
to be. The only surprise was that she had not interceded in his
name; that I should have forgotten, and she should have allowed me
to forget, the very existence of so indisputable a claim upon her
loyalty. This, however, made it a little difficult to understand
the hysterical gratitude with which my unwilling promise was
received. Poor darling! she was beside herself with sheer relief.
She wept as I had never seen her weep before. She seized and even
kissed my hands, as one who neither knew nor cared what she did,
surprising me so much by her emotion that this expression of it
passed unheeded. I was the best friend she had ever had. I was
her one good friend in all the world; she would trust herself to
me; and if I would but take her to the convent where she had
been brought up, she would pray for me there until her death, but
that would not be very long.
All of which confused me utterly; it seemed an inexplicable
breakdown in one who had shown such nerve and courage hitherto,
and so hearty a loathing for that damnable Santos. So completely
had her presence of mind forsaken her that she looked no longer
where she had been gazing hitherto. And thus it was that neither
of us saw Jose until we heard him calling, "Senhora Evah! Senhora
Evah!" with some rapid sentences in Portuguese.
"Now is our time," I whispered, crouching lower and clasping a
small hand gone suddenly cold. "Think of nothing now but getting
out of this. I'll keep my word once we are out; and here's the
toy that's going to get us out." And I produced my Deane and
Adams with no small relish.
A little trustful pressure was my answer and my reward; meanwhile
the black was singing out lustily in evident suspicion and alarm.
"He says they are coming back," whispered Eva; "but that's
"Because if they were he couldn't see them, and if he heard them
he would be frightened of their hearing him. But here he comes!"
A shuffling quick step on the path; a running grumble of
unmistakable threats; a shambling moonlit figure seen in glimpses
through the leaves, very near us for an instant, then hidden by
the shrubbery as he passed within a few yards of our hiding-place.
A diminuendo of the shuffling steps; then a cursing, frightened
savage at one end of the rhododendrons, and we two stealing out
at the other, hand in hand, and bent quite double, into the long
"Can you run for it?" I whispered.
"Yes, but not too fast, for fear we trip.'
"Come on, then! "
The lighted open doorway grew greater at every stride.
"He hasn't seen us yet - "
"No, I hear him threatening me still."
"Now he has, though! "
A wild whoop proclaimed the fact, and upright we tore at top speed
through the last ten yards of grass, while the black rushed down
one of the side paths, gaining audibly on us over the better
ground. But our start had saved us, and we flew up the steps as
his feet ceased to clatter on the path; he had plunged into the
grass to cut off the corner.
"Thank God!" cried Eva. "Now shut it quick."
The great door swung home with a mighty clatter, and Eva seized
the key in both hands.
"I can't turn it! "
To lose a second was to take a life, and unconsciously I was
sticking at that, perhaps from no higher instinct than distrust
of my aim. Our pursuer, however, was on the steps when I clapped
my free hand on top of those little white straining ones, and by
a timely effort bent both them and the key round together; the
ward shot home as Jose hurled himself against the door. Eva bolted
it. But the thud was not repeated, and I gathered myself together
between the door and the nearest window, for by now I saw there was
but one thing for us. The nigger must be disabled, if I could
manage such a nicety; if not, the devil take his own.
Well, I was not one tick too soon for him. My pistol was not
cocked before the crash came that I was counting on, and with it
a shower of small glass driving across the six-foot sill and
tinkling on the flags. Next came a black and bloody face, at
which I could not fire. I had to wait till I saw his legs, when I
promptly shattered one of them at disgracefully short range. The
report was as deafening as one upon the stage; the hall filled with
white smoke, and remained hideous with the bellowing of my victim.
I searched him without a qualm, but threats of annihilation instead,
and found him unarmed but for that very knife which Rattray had
induced me to hand over to him in town. I had a grim satisfaction
in depriving him of this, and but small compunction in turning my
back upon his pain.
"Come," I said to poor Eva, "don't pity him, though I daresay he's
the most pitiable of the lot; show me the way through, and I'll
follow with this lamp."
One was burning on the old oak table. I carried it along a narrow
passage, through a great low kitchen where I bumped my head against
the black oak beams; and I held it on high at a door almost as
massive as the one which we had succeeded in shutting in the nigger's
"I was afraid of it!" cried Eva, with a sudden sob.
"What is it?"
"They've taken away the key!"
Yes, the keen air came through an empty keyhole; and my lamp, held
close, not only showed that the door was locked, but that the lock
was one with which an unskilled hand might tamper for hours without
result. I dealt it a hearty kick by way of a test. The heavy timber
did not budge; there was no play at all at either lock or hinges;
nor did I see how I could spend one of my four remaining bullets
upon the former, with any chance of a return.
"Is this the only other door?"
"Then it must be a window."
All the back ones are barred."
"Then we've no choice in the matter."
And I led the way back to the hall, where the poor black devil lay
blubbering in his blood. In the kitchen I found the bottle of wine
(Rattray's best port, that they were trying to make her take for
her health) with which Eva had bribed him, and I gave it to him
before laying hands on a couple of chairs.
"What are you going to do?"'
"Go out the way we came."
"But the wall?"
"Pile up these chairs, and as many more as we may need, if we can't
open the gate."
But Eva was not paying attention any longer, either to me or to
Jose; his white teeth were showing in a grin for all his pain; her
eyes were fixed in horror on the floor."
"They've come back," she gasped. "The underground passage!
Hark - hark!"
There was a muffled rush of feet beneath our own, then a dull but
very distinguishable clatter on some invisible stair.
"Underground passage!" I exclaimed, and in my sheer disgust I
forgot what was due to my darling. "Why on earth didn't you tell
me of it before?"
"There was so much to tell you! It leads to the sea. Oh, what
shall we do? You must hide - upstairs - anywhere!" cried Eva,
wildly. "Leave them to me - leave them to me."
"I like that," said I; and I did; but I detested myself for the
tears my words had drawn, and I prepared to die for them.
"They'll kill you, Mr. Cole!"
"It would serve me right; but we'll see about it."
And I stood with my revolver very ready in my right hand, while
with the other I caught poor Eva to my side, even as a door flew
open, and Rattray himself burst upon us, a lantern in his hand,
and the perspiration shining on his handso me face in its light.
I can see him now as he stood dumfounded on the threshold of the
hall; and yet, at the time, my eyes sped past him into the room
It was the one I have described as being lined with books; there
was a long rent in this lining, where the books had opened with
a door, through which Captain Harris, Joaquin Santos, and Jane
Braithwaite followed Rattray in quick succession, the men all
with lanterns, the woman scarlet and dishevelled even for her. It
was over the squire's shoulders I saw their faces;, he kept them
from passing him in the doorway by a free use of his elbows; and
when I looked at him again, his black eyes were blazing from a face
white with passion, and they were fixed upon me.
"What the devil brings you here?" he thundered at last.
"Don't ask idle questions," was my reply to that.
"So you were shamming to-day!"
"I was taking a leaf out of your book."
"You'll gain nothing by being clever!" sneered the squire, taking a
threatening step forward. For at the last moment I had tucked my
revolver behind my back, not only for the pleasure, but for the
obvious advantage of getting them all in front of me and off their
guard. I had no idea that such eyes as Rattray's could be so fierce:
they were dancing from me to my companion, whom their glitter
frightened into an attempt to disengage herself from me; but my arm
only tightened about her drooping figure.
"I shall gain no more than I expect," said I, carelessly. "And I
know what to expect from brave gentlemen like you! It will be
better than your own fate, at all events; anything's better than
being taken hence to the place of execution, and hanged by the
neck until you're dead, all three of you in a row, and your bodies
buried within the precincts of the prison!"
"The very thing for him," murmured Santos. "The - very - theeng!"
"But I'm so soft-hearted," I went insanely on, "that I should be
sorry to see that happen to such fine fellows as you are. Come out
of that, you little fraud behind there!" It was my betrayer
skulking in the room. "Come out and line up with the rest! No,
I'm not going to see you fellows dance on nothing; I've another
kind of ball apiece for you, and one between 'em for the
Well, I suppose I always had a nasty tongue in me, and rather
enjoyed making play with it on provocation; but, if so, I met
with my deserts that night. For the nigger of the Lady Jermyn
lay all but hid behind Eva and me; if they saw him at all, they
may have thought him drunk; but, as for myself, I had fairly
forgotten his existence until the very moment came for showing
my revolver, when it was twisted out of my grasp instead, and a
ball sang under my arm as the brute fell back exhausted and the
weapon clattered beside him. Before I could stoop for it there
was a dead weight on my left arm, and Squire Rattray was over the
table at a bound, with his arms jostling mine beneath Eva Denison's
"Leave her to me," he cried fiercely. "You fool," he added in a
lower key, "do you think I'd let any harm come to her?"
I looked him in the bright and honest eyes that had made me trust
him in the beginning. And I did not utterly distrust him yet.
Rather was the guile on my side as I drew back and watched
Rattray lift the young girl tenderly, and slowly carry her to the
door by which she had entered and left the hall just twenty-four
hours before. I could not take my eyes off them till they were
gone. And when I looked for my revolver, it also had disappeared.
Jose had not got it - he lay insensible. Santos was whispering to
Harris. Neither of them seemed armed. I made sure that Rattray had
picked it up and carried it off with Eva. I looked wildly for some
other weapon. Two unarmed men and a woman were all I had to deal
with, for Braithwaite had long since vanished. Could I but knock
the worthless life out of the men, I should have but the squire and
his servants to deal with; and in that quarter I still had my hopes
of a bloodless battle and a treaty of war.
A log fire was smouldering in the open grate. I darted to it, and
had a heavy, half-burned brand whirling round my head next instant.
Harris was the first within my reach. He came gamely at me with
his fists. I sprang upon him, and struck him to the ground with
one blow, the sparks flying far and wide as my smoking brand met
the seaman's skull. Santos was upon me next instant, and him, by
sheer luck, I managed to serve the same; but I doubt whether either
man was stunned; and I was standing ready for them to rise, when I
felt myself seized round the neck from behind, and a mass of fluffy
hair tickling my cheek, while a shrill voice set up a lusty scream
for the squire.
I have said that the woman Braithwaite was of a sinister strength;
but I had little dreamt how strong she really was. First it was
her arms that wound themselves about my neck, long, sinuous, and
supple as the tentacles of some vile monster; then, as I struggled,
her thumbs were on my windpipe like pads of steel. Tighter she
pressed, and tighter yet. My eyeballs started; my tongue lolled;
I heard my brand drop, and through a mist I saw it picked up
instantly. It crashed upon my skull as I still struggled vainly;
again and again it came down mercilessly in the same place; until
I felt as though a sponge of warm water had been squeezed over my
head, and saw a hundred withered masks grinning sudden exultation
into mine; but still the lean arm whirled, and the splinters flew,
till I was blind with my blood and the seven senses were beaten out
It must have been midnight when I opened my eyes; a clock was
striking as though it never would stop. My mouth seemed fire; a
pungent flavor filled my nostrils; the wineglass felt cold against
my teeth. "That's more like it!" muttered a voice close to my ear.
An arm was withdrawn from under my shoulders. I was allowed to
sink back upon some pillows. And now I saw where I was. The room
was large and poorly lighted. I lay in my clothes on an old
four-poster bed. And my enemies were standing over me in a group.
"I hope you are satisfied!" sneered Joaquin Santos, with a flourish
of his eternal cigarette.
"I am. You don't do murder in my house, wherever else you may do
"And now better lid 'im to the nirrest polissstation; or weel you
go and tell the poliss yourself?" asked the Portuguese, in the same
tone of mordant irony.
"Ay, ay," growled Harris; "that's the next thing!"
"No," said Rattray; "the next thing's for you two to leave him to
"We'll see you damned!" cried the captain.
"No, no, my friend," said Santos, with a shrug; "let him have his
way. He is as fond of his skeen as you are of yours; he'll come
round to our way in the end. I know this Senhor Cole. It is
necessary for 'im to die. But it is not necessary this moment; let
us live them together for a leetle beet."
"That's all I ask," said Rattray.
"You won't ask it twice," rejoined Santos, shrugging. "I know this
Senhor Cole. There is only one way of dilling with a man like that.
Besides, he 'as 'alf-keeled my good Jose; it is necessary for 'im
"I agree with the senhor," said Harris, whose forehead was starred
with sticking-plaster. "It's him or us, an' we're all agen you,
squire. You'll have to give in, first or last."
And the pair were gone; their steps grew faint in the corridor; when
we could no longer hear them, Rattray closed the door and quietly
locked it. Then he turned to me, stern enough, and pointed to the
door with a hand that shook.
"You see how it is?"
"They want to kill you!"
"Of course they do."
"It's your own fault; you've run yourself into this. I did my best
to keep you out of it. But in you come, and spill first blood."
"I don't regret it," said I.
"Oh, you're damned mule enough not to regret anything!" cried
Rattray. "I see the sort you are; yet but for me, I tell you
plainly, you'd be a dead man now."
"I can't think why you interfered."
"You've heard the reason. I won't have murder done here if I can
prevent it; so far I have; it rests with you whether I can go on
preventing it or not."
"With me, does it?"
He sat down on the side of the bed. He threw an arm to the far
side of my body, and he leaned over me with savage eyes now staring
into mine, now resting with a momentary gleam of pride upon my
battered head. I put up my hand; it lit upon a very turban of
bandages, and at that I tried to take his hand in mine. He shook
it off, and his eyes met mine more fiercely than before.
"See here, Cole," said he; "I don t know how the devil you got wind
of anything to start with, and I don't care. What I do know is that
you've made bad enough a long chalk worse for all concerned, and
you'll have to get yourself out of the mess you've got yourself into,
and there's only one way. I suppose Miss Denison has really told
you everything this time? What's that? Oh, yes, she's all right
again; no thanks to you. Now let's hear what she did tell you.
It'll save time.
I repeated the hurried disclosures made by Eva in the rhododendrons.
He nodded grimly in confirmation of their truth.
"Yes, those are the rough facts. The game was started in Melbourne.
My part was to wait at Ascension till the Lady Jermyn signalled
herself, follow her in a schooner we had bought and pick up the gig
with the gold aboard. Well, I did so; never mind the details now,
and never mind the bloody massacre the others had made of it before
I came up. God knows I was never a consenting party to that, though
I know I'm responsible. I'm in this thing as deep as any of them.
I've shared the risks and I'm going to share the plunder, and I'll
swing with the others if it ever comes to that. I deserve it hard
enough. And so here we are, we three and the nigger, all four fit
to swing in a row, as you were fool enough to tell us; and you step
in and find out everything. What's to be done? You know what the
others want to do. I say it rests with you whether they do it or
not. There's only one other way of meeting the case."
"Be in it yourself, man! Come in with me and split my share!"
I could have burst out laughing in his handsome, eager face; the
good faith of this absurd proposal was so incongruously apparent;
and so obviously genuine was the young villain's anxiety for my
consent. Become accessory after the fact in such a crime! Sell
my silence for a price! I concealed my feelings with equal
difficulty and resolution. I had plans of my own already, but
I must gain time to think them over. Nor could I afford to quarrel
with Rattray meanwhile.
"What was the haul?" I asked him, with the air of one not unprepared
to consider the matter.
"Twelve thousand ounces!"
"Forty-eight thousand pounds, about?"
"And your share?"
"Fourteen thousand pounds. Santos takes twenty, and Harris and I
fourteen thousand each."
"And you offer me seven?"
"I do! I do!"
He was becoming more and more eager and excited. His eyes were
brighter than I had ever seen them, but slightly bloodshot, and a
coppery flush tinged his clear, sunburnt skin. I fancied he had
been making somewhat free with the brandy. But loss of blood had
cooled my brain; and, perhaps, natural perversity had also a share
in the composure which grew upon me as it deserted my companion.
"Why make such a sacrifice?" said I, smiling. "Why not let them do
as they like?"
"I've told you why! I'm not so bad as all that. I draw the line
at bloody murder! Not a life should have been lost if I'd had my
way. Besides, I've done all the dirty work by you, Cole; there's
been no help for it. We didn't know whether you knew or not; it
made all the difference to us; and somebody had to dog you and find
out how much you did know. I was the only one who could possibly
do it. God knows how I detested the job! I'm more ashamed of it
than of worse things. I had to worm myself into your friendship;
and, by Jove, you made me think you did know, but hadn't let it out,
and might any day. So then I got you up here, where you would be
in our power if it was so; surely you can see every move? But this
much I'll swear - I had nothing to do with Jose breaking into your
room at the hotel; they went behind me there, curse them! And when
at last I found out for certain, down here, that you knew nothing
after all, I was never more sincerely thankful in my life. I give
you my word it took a load off my heart."
"I know that," I said. "I also know who broke into my room, and
I'm glad I'm even with one of you."
"It's done you no good," said Rattray. "Their first thought was to
put you out of the way, and it's more than ever their last. You
see the sort of men you've got to deal with; and they're three to
one, counting the nigger; but if you go in with me they'll only be
three to two."
He was manifestly anxious to save me in this fashion. And I suppose
that most sensible men, in my dilemma, would at least have nursed or
played upon good-will so lucky and so enduring. But there was always
a twist in me that made me love (in my youth) to take the unexpected
course; and it amused me the more to lead my young friend on.
"And where have you got this gold?" I asked him, in a low voice so
promising that he instantly lowered his, and his eyes twinkled
naughtily into mine.
"In the old tunnel that runs from this place nearly to the sea,"
said he. "We Rattrays have always been a pretty warm lot, Cole,
and in the old days we were the most festive smugglers on the
coast; this tunnel's a relic of 'em, although it was only a
tradition till I came into the property. I swore I'd find it, and
when I'd done so I made the new connection which you shall see. I'm
rather proud of it. And I won't say I haven't used the old drain
once or twice after the fashion of my rude forefathers; but never
was it such a godsend as it's been this time. By Jove, it would
be a sin if you didn't come in with us, Cole; but for the lives
these blackguards lost the thing's gone splendidly; it would be a
sin if you went and lost yours, whereas, if you come in, the two
of us would be able to shake off those devils: we should be too
strong for 'em."
"Seven thousand pounds!" I murmured. "Forty-eight thousand
"Yes, and nearly all of it down below, at this end of the tunnel,
and the rest where we dropped it when we heard you were trying to
bolt. We'd got it all at the other end, ready to pop aboard the
schooner that's lying there still, if you turned out to know
anything and to have told what you knew to the police. There was
always the possibility of that, you see; we simply daren't show
our noses at the bank until we knew how much you knew, and what
you'd done or were thinking of doing. As it is, we can take 'em
the whole twelve thousand ounces, or rather I can, as soon as I
like, in broad daylight. I'm a lucky digger. It's all right.
Everybody knows I've been out there. They'll have to pay me over
the counter; and if you wait in the cab, by the Lord Harry, I'll
pay you your seven thousand first! You don't deserve it, Cole, but
you shall have it, and between us we'll see the others to blazes!"
He jumped up all excitement, and was at the door next instant.
"Stop!" I cried. "Where are you going?"
"Downstairs to tell them."
"Tell them what?"
"That you're going in with me, and it's all right."
"And do you really think I am?"
He had unlocked the door; after a pause I heard him lock it again.
But I did not see his face until he returned to the bedside. And
then it frightened me. It was distorted and discolored with rage
"You've been making a fool of me!" he cried fiercely.
"No, I have been considering the matter, Rattray."
"And you won't accept my offer?"
"Of course I won't. I didn't say I'd been considering that."
He stood over me with clenched fists and starting eyes.
"Don't you see that I want to save your life?" he cried. "Don't
you see that this is the only way? Do you suppose a murder more
or less makes any difference to that lot downstairs? Are you
really such a fool as to die rather than hold your tongue?"
"I won't hold it for money, at all events," said I. "But that's
what I was coming to."
"Very well!" he interrupted. "You shall only pretend to touch it.
All I want is to convince the others that it's against your interest
to split. Self-interest is the one motive they understand. Your
bare word would be good enough for me."
"Suppose I won't give my bare word?" said I, in a gentle manner
which I did not mean to be as irritating as it doubtless was. Yet
his proposals and his assumptions were between them making me
irritable in my turn.
"For Heaven's sake don't be such an idiot, Cole!" he burst out in
a passion. "You know I'm against the others, and you know what they
want, yet you do your best to put me on their side! You know what
they are, and yet you hesitate! For the love of God be sensible;
at least give me your word that you'll hold your tongue for ever
about all you know."
"All right," I said. "I'll give you my word - my sacred promise,
Rattray - on one condition."
"That you let me take Miss Denison away from you, for good and all!"
His face was transformed with fury: honest passion faded from it
and left it bloodless, deadly, sinister.
"Away from me?" said Rattray, through his teeth.
"From the lot of you."
"I remember! You told me that night. Ha, ha, ha! You were in
love with her - you - you!"
"That has nothing to do with it," said I, shaking the bed with my
anger and my agitation.
"I should hope not! You, indeed, to look at her!"
"Well," I cried, "she may never love me; but at least she doesn't
loathe me as she loathes you - yes, and the sight of you, and your
So I drew blood for blood; and for an instant I thought he was
going to make an end of it by incontinently killing me himself.
His fists flew out. Had I been a whole man on my legs, he took
care to tell me what he would have done, and to drive it home with
a mouthful of the oaths which were conspicuously absent from his
"You take advantage of your weakness, like any cur," he wound up.
"And you of your strength - like the young bully you are!" I
"You do your best to make me one," he answered bitterly. "I try
to stand by you at all costs. I want to make amends to you, I
want to prevent a crime. Yet there you lie and set your face against
a compromise; and there you lie and taunt me with the thing that's
gall and wormwood to me already. I know I gave you provocation.
And I know I'm rightly served. Why do you suppose I went into this
accursed thing at all? Not for the gold, my boy, but for the girl!
So she won't look at me. And it serves me right. But - I say - do
you really think she loathes me, Cole?"
"I don't see how she can think much better of you than of the crime
in which you've had a hand," was my reply, made, however, with as
much kindness as I could summon. "The word I used was spoken in
anger," said I; for his had disappeared; and he looked such a
miserable, handsome dog as he stood there hanging his guilty head
- in the room, I fancied, where he once had lain as a pretty,
"Cole," said he, "I'd give twice my share of the damned stuff never
to have put my hand to the plough; but go back I can't; so there's
an end of it."
"I don't see it," said I. "You say you didn't go in for the gold?
Then give up your share; the others'll jump at it; and Eva won't
think the worse of you, at any rate."
"But what's to become of her if I drop out?
"You and I will take her to her friends, or wherever she wants to go."
"No, no!" he cried. "I never yet deserted my pals, and I'm not going
"I don't believe you ever before had such pals to desert," was my
reply to that. "Quite apart from my own share in the matter, it
makes me positively sick to see a fellow like you mixed up with such
a crew in such a game. Get out of it, man, get out of it while you
can! Now's your time. Get out of it, for God's sake!"
I sat up in my eagerness. I saw him waver. And for one instant a
great hope fluttered in my heart. But his teeth met. His face
darkened. He shook his head.
"That's the kind of rot that isn't worth talking, and you ought to
know it," said he. "When I begin a thing I go through with it,
though it lands me in hell, as this one will. I can't help that.
It's too late to go back. I'm going on and you're going with me,
Cole, like a sensible chap!"
I shook my head.
"Only on the one condition."
"You - stick - to - that?" he said, so rapidly that the words ran
into one, so fiercely that his decision was as plain to me as my own.
"I do," said I, and could only sigh when he made yet one more effort
to persuade me, in a distress not less apparent than his resolution,
and not less becoming in him.
"Consider, Cole, consider!"
"I have already done so, Rattray."
"Murder is simply nothing to them!"
"It is nothing to me either."
"Human life is nothing!"
"No; it must end one day."
"You won't give your word unconditionally?"
"No; you know my condition."
He ignored it with a blazing eye,his hand upon the door.
"You prefer to die, then?"
"Then die you may, and be damned to you!"
THIEVES FALL OUT
The door slammed. It was invisibly locked and the key taken out.
I listened for the last of an angry stride. It never even began.
But after a pause the door was unlocked again, and Rattray
Without looking at me, he snatched the candle from the table on
which it stood by the bedside, and carried it to a bureau at the
opposite side of the room. There he stood a minute with his back
turned, the candle, I fancy, on the floor. I saw him putting
something in either jacket pocket. Then I heard a dull little
snap, as though he had shut some small morocco case; whatever it
was, he tossed it carelessly back into the bureau; and next minute
he was really gone, leaving the candle burning on the floor.
I lay and heard his steps out of earshot, and they were angry enough
now, nor had he given me a single glance. I listened until there
was no more to be heard, and then in an instant I was off the bed
and on my feet. I reeled a little, and my head gave me great pain,
but greater still was my excitement. I caught up the candle, opened
the unlocked bureau, and then the empty case which I found in the
My heart leapt; there was no mistaking the depressions in the case.
It was a brace of tiny pistols that Rattray had slipped into his
Mere toys they must have been in comparison with my dear Deane and
Adams; that mattered nothing. I went no longer in dire terror of
my life; indeed, there was that in Rattray which had left me feeling
fairly safe, in spite of his last words to me, albeit I felt his
fears on my behalf to be genuine enough. His taking these little
pistols (of course, there were but three chambers left loaded in
mine) confirmed my confidence in him.
He would stick at nothing to defend me from the violence of his
bloodthirsty accomplices. But it should not come to that. My legs
were growing firmer under me. I was not going to lie there meekly
without making at least an effort at self-deliverance. If it
succeeded - the idea came to me in a flash - I would send Rattray
an ultimatum from the nearest town; and either Eva should be set
instantly and unconditionally free, or the whole matter be put
unreservedly in the hands of the local police.
There were two lattice windows, both in the same immensely thick
wall; to my joy, I discovered that they overlooked the open premises
at the back of the hall, with the oak-plantation beyond; nor was the
distance to the ground very great. It was the work of a moment to
tear the sheets from the bed, to tie the two ends together and a
third round the mullion by which the larger window was bisected.
I had done this, and had let down my sheets, when a movement below
turned my heart to ice. The night had clouded over. I could see
nobody; so much the greater was my alarm.
I withdrew from the window, leaving the sheets hanging, in the hope
that they also might be invisible in the darkness. I put out the
candle, and returned to the window in great perplexity. Next moment
I stood aghast ---between the devil and the deep sea. I still
heard a something down below, but a worse sound came to drown it.
An unseen hand was very quietly trying the door which Rattray had
locked behind him.
"Diablo!" came to my horrified ears) in a soft, vindictive voice.
"I told ye so," muttered another; "the young swab's got the key."
There was a pause, in which it would seem that Joaquin Santos had
his ear at the empty keyhole.
"I think he must be slipping," at last I heard him sigh. "It was
not necessary to awaken him in this world. It is a peety."
"One kick over the lock would do it," said Harris; "only the young
"Not perhaps while he is dancing attendance on the senhora. Was
it not good to send him to her? If he does hear, well, his own
turn will come the queecker, that is all. But it would be
better to take them one at a time; so keeck away, my friend, and
I will give him no time to squil."
While my would-be murderers were holding this whispered colloquy,
I had stood half-petrified by the open window; unwilling to slide
down the sheets into the arms of an unseen enemy, though I had no
idea which of them it could be; more hopeful of slipping past my
butchers in the darkness, and so to Rattray and poor Eva; but not
the less eagerly looking for some hiding-place in the room. The
best that offered was a recess in the thick wall between the two
windows, filled with hanging clothes: a narrow closet without a
door, which would shelter me well enough if not too curiously
inspected. Here I hid myself in the end, after a moment of
indecision which nearly cost me my life. The coats and trousers
still shook in front of me when the door flew open at the first
kick, and Santos stood a moment in the moonlight, looking for the
bed. With a stride he reached it, and I saw the gleam of a knife
from where I stood among the squire's clothes; it flashed over my
bed, and was still.
"He is not 'ere!"
"He heard us, and he's a-hiding."
"Make light, my friend, and we shall very soon see."
Harris did so.
"Here's a candle," said Santos; "light it, and watch the door.
Perro mal dicto! What have we here?"
I felt certain he had seen me, but the candle passed within a yard of
my feet, and was held on high at the open window.
"We are too late!" said Santos. "He's gone!"
"Are you sure
"Look at this sheet."
"Then the other swab knew of it, and we'll settle with him."
"Yes, yes. But not yet, my good friend - not yet. We want his
asseestance in getting the gold back to the sea; he will be glad
enough to give it, now that his pet bird has flown; after that - by
all mins. You shall cut his troth, and I will put one of 'is dear
friend's bullets in 'im for my own satisfaction."
There was a quick step on the stairs-in the corridor.
"I'd like to do it now," whispered Harris; "no time like the present."
"Not yet, I tell you!"
And Rattray was in the room, a silver-mounted pistol in each hand;
the sight of these was a surprise to his treacherous confederates,
as even I could see.
"What the devil are you two doing here?" he thundered.
"We thought he was too quite, said Santos. "You percive the rizzon."
And he waved from empty bed to open window, then held the candle
close to the tied sheet, and shrugged expressively.
"You thought he was too quiet!" echoed Rattray with fierce scorn.
"You thought I was too blind - that's what you mean. To tell me
that Miss Denison wished to see me, and Miss Denison that I wished
to speak to her! As if we shouldn't find you out in about a minute!
But a minute was better than nothing, eh? And you've made good use
of your minute, have you. You've murdered him, and you pretend
he's got out? By God, if you have, I'll murder you! I've been
ready for this all night!"
And he stood with his back to the window, his pistols raised, and
his head carried proudly - happily - like a man whose self-respect
was coming back to him after many days. Harris shrank before his
fierce eyes and pointed barrels. The Portuguese, however, had
merely given a characteristic shrug, and was now rolling the
"Your common sense is almost as remarkable as your sense of
justice, my friend," said he. "You see us one, two, tree meenutes
ago, and you see us now. You see the empty bed, the empty room,
and you imagine that in one, two, tree meenutes we have killed a
man and disposed of his body. Truly, you are very wise and just,
and very loyal also to your friends. You treat a dangerous enemy
as though he were your tween-brother. You let him escape - let
him, I repit - and then you threaten to shoot those who, as it is,
may pay for your carelessness with their lives. We have been always
very loyal to you, Senhor Rattray. We have leestened to your advice,
and often taken it against our better judgment. We are here, not
because we think it wise, but because you weeshed it. Yet at the
first temptation you turn upon us, you point your peestols at your
"I don't believe in your loyalty," rejoined Rattray. "I believe
you would shoot me sooner than I would you. The only difference
would be than I should be shot in the back!"
"It is untrue," said Santos, with immense emotion. "I call the
saints to witness that never by thought or word have I been
disloyal to you" - and the blasphemous wretch actually crossed
himself with a trembling, skinny hand. "I have leestened to you,
though you are the younger man. I have geeven way to you in
everything from the moment we were so fullish as to set foot on this
accursed coast; that also was your doeeng; and it will be your fault
if ivil comes of it. Yet I have not complained. Here in your own
'ouse you have been the master, I the guest. So far from plotting
against you, show me the man who has heard me brith one treacherous
word behind your back; you will find it deeficult, friend Rattray;
what do you say, captain?"
"Me?" cried Harris, in a voice bursting with abuse. And what the
captain said may or may not be imagined. It cannot be set down.
But the man who ought to have spoken - the man who had such a chance
as few men have off the stage - who could have confounded these
villains in a breath, and saved the wretched Rattray at once from
them and from himself - that unheroic hero remained ignobly silent
in his homely hiding-place. And, what is more, he would do the
The rogues had fallen out; now was the time for honest men. They
all thought I had escaped; therefore they would give me a better
chance than ever of still escaping; and I have already explained
to what purpose I meant to use my first hours of liberty. That
purpose I hold to have justified any ingratitude that I may seem
now to have displayed towards the man who had undoubtedly stood
between death and me. Was not Eva Denison of more value than many
Rattrays? And it was precisely in relation with this pure young
girl that I most mistrusted the squire: obviously then my first
duty was to save Eva from Rattray, not Rattray from these traitors.
Not that I pretend for a moment to have been the thing I never was:
you are not so very grateful to the man who pulls you out of the
mud when he has first of all pushed you in; nor is it chivalry
alone which spurs one to the rescue of a lovely lady for whom,
after all, one would rather live than die. Thus I, in my corner,
was thinking (I will say) of Eva first; but next I was thinking of
myself; and Rattray's blood be on his own hot head! I hold,
moreover, that I was perfectly right in all this; but if any think
me very wrong, a sufficient satisfaction is in store for them, for I
was very swiftly punished.
The captain's language was no worse in character than in effect:
the bed was bloody from my wounded head, all tumbled from the haste
with which I had quitted it, and only too suggestive of still fouler
play. Rattray stopped the captain with a sudden flourish of one of
his pistols, the silver mountings making lightning in the room; then
he called upon the pair of them to show him what they had done with
me; and to my horror, Santos invited him to search the room. The
invitation was accepted. Yet there I stood. It would have been
better to step forward even then. Yet I cowered among his clothes
until his own hand fell upon my collar, and forth I was dragged to
the plain amazement of all three.
Santos was the first to find his voice.
"Another time you will perhaps think twice before you spik, friend
Rattray simply asked me what I had been doing in there, in a white
flame of passion, and with such an oath that I embellished the truth
for him in my turn.
"Trying to give you blackguards the slip," said I.
"Then it was you who let down the sheet?"
"Of course it was."
"All right! I'm done with you," said he; "that settles it. I make
you an offer. You won't accept it. I do my best; you do your worst;
but I'll be shot if you get another chance from me!"
Brandy and the wine-glass stood where Rattray must have set them,
on an oak stool beside the bed; as he spoke he crossed the room,
filled the glass till the spirit dripped, and drained it at a gulp.
He was twitching and wincing still when he turned, walked up to
Joaquin Santos, and pointed to where I stood with a fist that shook.
"You wanted to deal with him," said Rattray; "you're at liberty to
do so. I'm only sorry I stood in your way."
But no answer, and for once no rings of smoke came from those
shrivelled lips: the man had rolled and lighted a cigarette since
Rattray entered, but it was burning unheeded between his skinny
fingers. I had his attention, all to myself. He knew the tale
that I was going to tell. He was waiting for it; he was ready for
me. The attentive droop of his head; the crafty glitter in his
intelligent eyes; the depth and breadth of the creased forehead;
the knowledge of his resource, the consciousness of my error, all
distracted and confounded me so that my speech halted and my
voice ran thin. I told Rattray every syllable that these traitors
had been saying behind his back, but I told it all very ill; what
was worse, and made me worse, I was only too well aware of my own
failure to carry conviction with my words.
"And why couldn't you come out and say so asked Rattray, as even I
knew that he must. "Why wait till now?"
"Ah, why!" echoed Santos, with a smile and a shake of the head; a
suspicious tolerance, an ostentatious truce, upon his parchment
face. And already he was sufficiently relieved to suck his
cigarette alight again.
"You know why," I said, trusting to bluff honesty with the one of
them who was not rotten to the core: "because I still meant escaping."
"And then what?" asked Rattray fiercely.
"You had given me my chance," I said; "I hould have given you yours."
"You would, would you? Very kind of you, Mr. Cole!"
"No, no," said Santos; "not kind, but clever! Clever, spicious,
and queeck-weeted beyond belif! Senhor Rattray, we have all been
in the dark; we thought we had fool to dii with, but what admirable
knave the young man would make! Such readiness, such resource, with
his tongue or with his peestol; how useful would it be to us! I am
glad you have decided to live him to me, friend Rattray, for I am
quite come round to your way of thinking. It is no longer necessary
for him to die!"
"You mean that?" cried Rattray keenly.
"Of course I min it. You were quite right. He must join us. But
he will when I talk to him.
I could not speak. I was fascinated by this wretch: it was reptile
and rabbit with us. Treachery I knew he meant; my death, for one;
my death was certain; and yet I could not speak.
"Then talk to him, for God's sake," cried Rattray, "and I shall be
only too glad if you can talk some sense into him. I've tried, and
"I shall not fail," said Santos softly. "But it is better that he
has a leetle time to think over it calmly; better steel for 'im to
slip upon it, as you say. Let us live 'im for the night, what there
is of it; time enough in the morning."
I could hardly believe my ears; still I knew that it was treachery,
all treachery; and the morning I should never see.
"But we can't leave him up here," said Rattray; "it would mean one
of us watching him all night."
"Quite so," said Santos. "I will tell you where we could live him,
however, if you will allow me to wheesper one leetle moment."
They drew aside; and, as I live, I thought that little moment was
to be Rattray's last on earth. I watched, but nothing happened;
on the contrary, both men seemed agreed, the Portuguese
gesticulating, the Englishman nodding, as they stood conversing at
the window. Their faces were strangely reassuring. I began to
reason with myself, to rid my mind of mere presentiment and
superstition. If these two really were at one about me (I argued)
there might be no treachery after all. When I came to think of it,
Rattray had been closeted long enough with me to awake the worst
suspicions in the breasts of his companions; now that these were
allayed, there might be no more bloodshed after all (if, for example,
I pretended to give in), even though Santos had not cared whose
blood was shed a few minutes since. That was evidently the character
of the wretch: to compass his ends or to defend his person he would
take life with no more compunction than the ordinary criminal takes
money; but (and hence) murder for murder's sake was no amusement to
My confidence was further restored by Captain Harris; ever a gross
ruffian, with no refinements to his rascality, he had been at the
brandy bottle after Rattray's example; and now was dozing on the
latter's bed, taking his watch below when he could get it, like the
good seaman he had been. I was quite sorry for him when the
conversation at the window ceased suddenly, and Rattray roused the
"Watches aft!" said he. "We want that mattress; you can bring it
along, while I lead the way with the pillows and things. Come on,
"Where to?" I asked, standing firm.
"Where there's no window for you to jump out of, old boy, and no
clothes of mine for you to hide behind. You needn't look so
scared; it's as dry as a bone, as cellars go. And it's past three
o'clock. And you've just got to come."
A MAN OF MANY MURDERS
It was a good-sized wine-cellar, with very little wine in it; only
one full bin could I discover. The bins themselves lined but two
of the walls, and most of them were covered in with cobwebs,
close-drawn like mosquito-curtains. The ceiling was all too low:
torpid spiders hung in disreputable parlors, dead to the eye, but
loathsomely alive at an involuntary touch. Rats scuttled when we
entered, and I had not been long alone when they returned to bear
me company. I am not a natural historian, and had rather face a
lion with the right rifle than a rat with a stick. My jailers,
however, had been kind enough to leave me a lantern, which, set
upon the ground (like my mattress), would afford a warning, if not
a protection, against the worst; unless I slept; and as yet I had
not lain down. The rascals had been considerate enough, more
especially Santos, who had a new manner for me with his revised
opinion of my character; it was a manner almost as courtly as that
which had embellished his relations with Eva Denison, and won him
my early regard at sea. Moreover, it was at the suggestion of
Santos that they had detained me in the hall, for much-needed meat
and drink, on the way down. Thereafter they had conducted me
through the book-lined door of my undoing, down stone stairs leading
to three cellar doors, one of which they had double-locked upon me.
As soon as I durst I was busy with this door; but to no purpose; it
was a slab of solid oak, hung on hinges as massive as its lock. It
galled me to think that but two doors stood between me and the secret
tunnel to the sea: for one of the other two must lead to it. The
first, however, was all beyond me, and I very soon gave it up. There
was also a very small grating which let in a very little fresh air:
the massive foundations had been tunnelled in one place; a rude
alcove was the result, with this grating at the end and top of it,
some seven feet above the earth floor. Even had I been able to
wrench away the bars, it would have availed me nothing, since the
aperture formed the segment of a circle whose chord was but a very
few inches long. I had nevertheless a fancy for seeing the stars
once more and feeling the breath of heaven upon my bandaged temples,
which impelled me to search for that which should add a cubit to my
stature. And at a glance I descried two packing-cases, rather small
and squat, but the pair of them together the very thing for me. To
my amazement, however, I could at first move neither one nor the
other of these small boxes. Was it that I was weak as water, or
that they were heavier than lead? At last I managed to get one
of them in my arms - only to drop it with a thud. A side started;
a thin sprinkling of yellow dust glittered on the earth. I fetched
the lantern: it was gold-dust from Bendigo or from Ballarat.
To me there was horror unspeakable, yet withal a morbid fascination,
in the spectacle of the actual booty for which so many lives had
been sacrificed before my eyes. Minute followed minute in which
I looked at nothing, and could think of nothing, but the stolen
bullion at my feet; then I gathered what of the dust I could,
pocketed it in pinches to hide my meddlesomeness, and blew the rest
away. The box had dropped very much where I had found it; it had
exhausted my strength none the less, and I was glad at last to lie
down on the mattress, and to wind my body in Rattray's blankets.
I shuddered at the thought of sleep: the rats became so lively the
moment I lay still. One ventured so near as to sit up close to the
lantern; the light showed its fat white belly, and the thing itself
was like a dog begging, as big to my disgusted eyes. And yet, in
the midst of these horrors (to me as bad as any that had preceded
them), nature overcame me, and for a space my torments ceased.
"He is aslip," a soft voice said.
"Don't wake the poor devil," said another.
"But I weesh to spik with 'im. Senhor Cole! Senhor Cole!"
I opened my eyes. Santos looked of uncanny stature in the low
yellow light, from my pillow close to the earth. Harris turned
away at my glance; he carried a spade, and began digging near the
boxes without more ado, by the light of a second lantern set on one
of them: his back was to me from this time on. Santos shrugged a
shoulder towards the captain as he opened a campstool, drew up his
trousers, and seated himself with much deliberation at the foot of
"When you 'ave treasure," said he, "the better thing is to bury it,
Senhor Cole. Our young friend upstairs begs to deefer; but he is
slipping; it is peety he takes such quantity of brandy! It is
leetle wikness of you Engleesh; we in Portugal never touch it, save
as a liqueur; therefore we require less slip. Friend squire
upstairs is at this moment no better than a porker. Have I made
mistake? I thought it was the same word in both languages; but I
am glad to see you smile, Senhor Cole; that is good sign. I was
going to say, he is so fast aslip up there, that he would not hear
us if we were to shoot each other dead!"
And he gave me his paternal smile, benevolent, humorous, reassuring;
but I was no longer reassured; nor did I greatly care any more what
happened to me. There is a point of last, as well as one of least
resistance, and I had reached both points at once.
"Have you shot him dead?" I inquired, thinking that if he had, this
would precipitate my turn. But he was far from angry; the parchment
face crumpled into tolerant smiles; the venerable head shook a
playful reproval, as he threw away the cigarette that I am tired of
mentioning, and put the last touch to a fresh one with his tongue.
"What question I" said he; "reely, Senhor Cole! But you are quite
right: I would have shot him, or cut his troth" (and he shrugged
indifference on the point), "if it had not been for you; and yet it
would have been your fault! I nid not explain; the poseetion must
have explained itself already; besides, it is past. With you two
against us - but it is past. You see, I have no longer the excellent
Jose. You broke his leg, bad man. I fear it will be necessary to
destroy 'im." Santos made a pause; then inquired if he shocked me.
"Not a bit," said I, neither truly nor untruly; "you interest me."
And that he did.
"You see," he continued, "I have not the respect of you Engleesh
for 'uman life. We will not argue it. I have at least some respect
for prejudice. In my youth I had myself such prejudices; but one
loses them on the Zambesi. You cannot expect one to set any value
upon the life of a black nigger; and when you have keeled a great
many Kaffirs, by the lash, with the crocodiles, or what-not, then a
white man or two makes less deeference. I acknowledge there were too
many on board that sheep; but what was one to do? You have your
Engleesh proverb about the dead men and the stories; it was necessary
to make clin swip. You see the result."
He shrugged again towards the boxes; but this time, being reminded
of them (I supposed), he rose and went over to see how Harris was
progressing. The captain had never looked round; neither did he
look at Santos. "A leetle dipper," I heard the latter say, "and,
perhaps, a few eenches - " but I lost the last epithet. It followed
a glance over the shoulder in my direction, and immediately preceded
the return of Santos to his camp-stool.
"Yes, it is always better to bury treasure," said he once more; but
his tone was altered; it was more contemplative; and many smoke-rings
came from the shrunk lips before another word; but through them all,
his dark eyes, dull with age, were fixed upon me.
"You are a treasure!" he exclaimed at last, softly enough, but
quickly and emphatically for him, and with a sudden and most
"So you are going to bury me?"
I had suspected it when first I saw the spade; then not; but since
the visit to the hole I had made up my mind to it.
"Bury you? No, not alive," said Santos, in his playfully reproving
tone. "It would be necessary to deeg so dip!" he added through his
few remaining teeth.
"WeIl," I said, "you'll swing for it. That's something."
Santos smiled again, benignantly enough this time: in contemplation
also: as an artist smiles upon his work. I was his!
"You live town," said he; "no one knows where you go. You come
down here; no one knows who you are. Your dear friend squire
locks you up for the night, but dreenks too much and goes to slip
with the key in his pocket; it is there when he wakes; but the
preesoner, where is he? He is gone, vanished, escaped in the night,
and, like the base fabreec of your own poet's veesion, he lives no
trace - is it trace? - be'ind! A leetle earth is so easily bitten
down; a leetle more is so easily carried up into the garden; and a
beet of nice strong wire might so easily be found in a cellar, and
afterwards in the lock! No, Senhor Cole, I do not expect to 'ang.
My schims have seldom one seengle flaw. There was just one in the
Lady Jermyn; there was - Senhor Cole! If there is one this time,
and you will be so kind as to point it out, I will - I will run the
reesk of shooting you instead of - "
A pinch of his baggy throat, between the fingers and thumbs of both
hands, foreshadowed a cleaner end; and yet I could look at him; nay,
it was more than I could do not to look upon that bloodless face,
with the two dry blots upon the parchment, that were never withdrawn
"No you won't, messmate! If it's him or us for it, let a bullet do
it, and let it do it quick, you bloody Spaniard! You can't do the
other without me, and my part's done."
Harris was my only hope. I had seen this from the first, but my
appeal I had been keeping to the very end. And now he was leaving
me before a word would come! Santos had gone over to my grave, and
there was Harris at the door!
"It is not dip enough," said the Portuguese.
"It's as deep as I mean to make it, with you sittin' there talkin'
And the door stood open.
"Captain!" I screamed. "For Christ's sake, captain!"
He stood there, trembling, yet even now not looking my way.
"Did you ever see a man hanged ?" asked Santos, with a vile eye for
each of us. "I once hanged fifteen in a row; abominable thifs.
And I once poisoned nearly a hundred at one banquet; an
untrustworthy tribe; but the hanging was the worse sight and the
worse death. Heugh! There was one man - he was no stouter than
you are captain -"
But the door slammed; we heard the captain on the stairs; there was
a rustle from the leaves outside., and then a silence that I shall
not attempt to describe.
And, indeed, I am done with this description: as I live to tell the
tale (or spoil it, if I choose) I will make shorter work of this
particular business than I found it at the time. Perverse I may be
in old age as in my youth; but on that my agony - my humiliating
agony - I decline to dwell. I suffer it afresh as I write. There
are the cobwebs on the ceiling, a bloated spider crawling in one:
a worse monster is gloating over me: those dull eyes of his, and
my own pistol-barrel, cover me in the lamp-light. The crucifix pin
is awry in his cravat; that is because he has offered it me to kiss.
As a refinement (I feel sure) my revolver is not cocked; and the
hammer goes up - up -
He missed me because a lantern was flashed into his eyes through
the grating. He wasted the next ball in firing wildly at the light.
And the last chamber's load became suddenly too precious for my
person; for there were many voices overhead; there were many feet
upon the stairs.
Harris came first - head-first - saw me still living as he reeled
- hurled himself upon the boxes and one of these into the hole
- all far quicker than my pen can write it. The manoeuvre, being
the captain's, explained itself: on his heels trod Rattray, with
one who brought me to my feet like the call of silver trumpets.
"The house is surrounded," says the squire, very quick and quiet;
"is this your doing, Cole?"
"I wish it was," said I; "but I can't complain; it's saved my life."
And I looked at Santos, standing dignified and alert, my still
smoking pistol in his hand.
"Two things to do," says Rattray - "I don't care which." He strode
across the cellar and pulled at the one full bin; something slid
out, it was a binful of empty bottles, and this time they were
allowed to crash upon the floor; the squire stood pointing to a
manhole at the back of the bin. "That's one alternative," said he;
"but it will mean leaving this much stuff at least," pointing to
the boxes, "and probably all the rest at the other end. The other
thing's to stop and fight!"
"I fight," said Santos, stalking to the door. "Have you no more
ammunition for me, friend Cole? Then I must live you alive; adios,
Harris cast a wistful look towards the manhole, not in cowardice,
I fancy, but in sudden longing for the sea, the longing of a poor
devil of a sailor-man doomed to die ashore. I am still sorry to
remember that Rattray judged him differently. "Come on, skipper,"
said he; "it's all or none aboard the lugger, and I think it will
be none. Up you go; wait a second in the room above, and I'll
find you an old cutlass. I shan't be longer." He turned to me
with a wry smile. "We're not half-armed," he said; "they've caught
us fairly on the hop; it should be fun! Good-by, Cole; I wish
you'd had another round for that revolver. Good-by, Eva!"
And he held out his hand to our love, who had been watching him all
this time with eyes of stone; but now she turned her back upon him
without a word. His face changed; the stormlight of passion and
remorse played upon it for an instant; he made a step towards her,
wheeled abruptly, and took me by the shoulder instead.
"Take care of her, Cole," said he. "Whatever happens - take care
I caught him at the foot of the stairs. I do not defend what I
did. But I had more ammunition; a few wadded bullets, caps, and
powder-charges, loose in a jacket pocket; and I thrust them into
one of his, upon a sudden impulse, not (as I think) altogether
unaccountable, albeit (as I have said) so indefensible.
My back was hardly turned an instant. I had left a statue of
unforgiving coldness. I started round to catch in my arms a
half-fainting, grief-stricken form, shaken with sobs that it broke
my heart to hear. I placed her on the camp-stool. I knelt down
and comforted her as well as I could, stroking her hands, my arm
about her heaving shoulders, with the gold-brown hair streaming
over them. Such hair as it was! So much longer than I had dreamt.
So soft - so fine - my soul swam with the sight and touch of it.
Well for me that there broke upon us from above such a sudden din
as turned my hot blood cold! A wild shout of surprise; an ensuing
roar of defiance; shrieks and curses; yells of rage and pain; and
pistol-shot after pistol-shot as loud as cannon in the confined
I know now that the battle in the hall was a very brief affair;
while it lasted I had no sense of time; minutes or moments, they
were (God forgive me!) some of the very happiest in all my life.
My joy was as profound as it was also selfish and incongruous.
The villains were being routed; of that there could be no doubt
or question. I hoped Rattray might escape, but for the others no
pity stirred in my heart, and even my sneaking sympathy with the
squire could take nothing from the joy that was in my heart. Eva
Denison was free. I was free. Our oppressors would trouble us no
more. We were both lonely; we were both young; we had suffered
together and for each other. And here she lay in my arms, her head
upon my shoulder, her soft bosom heaving on my own! My blood ran
hot and cold by turns. I forgot everything but our freedom and my
love. I forgot my sufferings, as I would have you all forget them.
I am not to be pitied. I have been in heaven on earth. I was
there that night, in my great bodily weakness, and in the midst of
blood-shed, death, and crime.
"They have stopped!" cried Eva suddenly. "It is over! Oh, if he
And she sat upright, with bright eyes starting from a deathly face.
I do not think she knew that she had been in my arms at all: any more
than I knew that the firing had ceased before she told me. Excited
voices were still raised overhead; but some sounded distant, yet
more distinct, coming through the grating from the garden; and none
were voices that we knew. One poor wretch, on the other hand, we
heard plainly groaning to his death; and we looked in each other's
eyes with the same thought.
"That's Harris," said I, with, I fear, but little compassion in my
tone or in my heart just then.
"Where are the others ?" cried Eva piteously.
"God knows," said I; "they may be done for, too."
"If they are!"
"It's better than the death they would have lived to die."
"But only one of them was a wilful murderer! Oh, Mr. Cole - Mr.
Cole - go and see what has happened; come back and tell me! I dare
not come. I will stay here and pray for strength to bear whatever
news you may bring me. Go quickly. I will - wait - and pray!"
So I left the poor child on her knees in that vile cellar, white
face and straining hands uplifted to the foul ceiling, sweet lips
quivering with prayer, eyelids reverently lowered, and the swift
tears flowing from beneath them, all in the yellow light of the
lantern that stood burning by her side. How different a picture
from that which awaited me overhead!
MY GREAT HOUR
The library doors were shut, and I closed the secret one behind me
before opening the other and peering out through a wrack of bluish
smoke; and there lay Captain Harris, sure enough, breathing his last
in the arms of one constable, while another was seated on the table
with a very wry face, twisting a tourniquet round his arm, from
which the blood was dripping like raindrops from the eaves. A third
officer stood in the porch, issuing directions to his men without.
"He's over the wall, I tell you! I saw him run up our ladder.
After him every man of you - and spread!"
I looked in vain for Rattray and the rest; yet it seemed as if only
one of them had escaped. I was still looking when the man in the
porch wheeled back into the hall, and instantly caught
sight of me at my door.
"Hillo! here's another of them," cried he. "Out you come, young
fellow! Your mates are all dead men."
"They're not my mates."
"Never mind; come you out and let's have a look at you."
I did so, and was confronted by a short, thickset man, who
recognized me with a smile, but whom I failed to recognize.
"I might have guessed it was Mr. Cole," said he. "I knew you were
here somewhere, but I couldn't make head or tail of you through the
"I'm surprised that you can make head or tail of me at all," said I.
"Then you've quite forgotten the inquisitive parson you met out
fishing? You see I found out your name for myself!"
"So it was a detective!"
"It was and is," said the little man, nodding. "Detective or
Inspector Royds, if you're any the wiser.
"What has happened? Who has escaped?" "Your friend Rattray; but
he won't get far."
"What of the Portuguese and the nigger?"
I forgot that I had crippled Jose, but remembered with my words,
and wondered the more where he was.
"I'll show you," said Royds. "It was the nigger let us in. We
heard him groaning round at the back - who smashed his leg? One of
our men was at that cellar grating; there was some of them down
there; we wanted to find our way down and corner them, but the fat
got in the fire too soon. Can you stand something strong?
Then come this way."
He led me out into the garden, and to a tangled heap lying in the
moonlight, on the edge of the long grass. The slave had fallen on
top of his master; one leg lay swathed and twisted; one black hand
had but partially relaxed upon the haft of a knife (the knife) that
stood up hilt-deep in a blacker heart. And in the hand of Santos
was still the revolver (my Deane and Adams) which had sent its last
ball through the nigger's body.
"They slipped out behind us, all but the one inside," said Royds,
ruefully; "I'm hanged if I know yet how it happened - but we were
on them next second. Before that the nigger had made us hide him
in the grass, but the old devil ran straight into him, and the one
fired as the other struck. It's the worst bit of luck in the whole
business, and I'm rather disappointed on the whole. I've been
nursing the job all this week; had my last look round this very
evening, with one of these officers, and only rode back for more
to make sure of taking our gentlemen alive. And we've lost three
out of four of 'em, and have still to lay hands on the gold! I
suppose you didn't know there was any aboard ?" he asked abruptly.
"Not before to-night."
"Nor did we till the Devoren came in with letters last week, a
hundred and thirty days out. She should have been in a month before
you, but she got amongst the ice around the Horn. There was a
letter of advice about the gold, saying it would probably go in the
Lady Jermyn; and another about Rattray and his schooner, which had
just sailed; the young gentleman was known to the police out there."
"Do you know where the schooner is ?"
"Bless you, no, we've had no time to think about her; the man had
been seen about town, and we've done well to lay hands on him in the
"You will do better still when you do lay hands on him," said I,
wresting my eyes from the yellow dead face of the foreign scoundrel.
The moon shone full upon his high forehead, his shrivelled lips,
dank in their death agony, and on the bauble with the sacred device
that he wore always in his tie. I recovered my property from the
shrunken fingers, and so turned away with a harder heart than I ever
had before or since for any creature of Almighty God.
Harris had expired in our absence.
"Never spoke, sir," said the constable in whose arms we had left
"More's the pity. Well, cut out at the back and help land the
young gent, or we'll have him giving us the slip too. He may
double back, but I'm watching out for that. Which way should you
say he'd head, Mr. Cole?"
"Inland," said I, lying on the spur of the moment, I knew not why.
"Try at the cottage where I've been staying."
"We have a man posted there already. That woman is one of the
gang, and we've got her safe. But I'll take your advice, and have
that side scoured whilst I hang about the place."
And he walked through the house, and out the back way, at the
officer's heels; meanwhile the man with the wounded arm was swaying
where he sat from loss of blood, and I had to help him into the
open air before at last I was free to return to poor Eva in her
place of loathsome safety.
I had been so long, however, that her patience was exhausted, and
as I returned to the library by one door, she entered by the other.
"I could bear it no longer. Tell me - the worst!"
"Three of them are dead."
She had crossed to the other door, and would not have me shut it.
So I stood between her and the hearth, on which lay the captain's
corpse, with the hearthrug turned up on either side to cover it.
"Harris for one," said I. "Outside lie Jose and - "
Her face was as though the name meant nothing to her.
"And Mr. Rattray?" she cried. "And Mr. Rattray -"
"Has escaped for the present. He seems to have cut his way through
the police and got over the wall by a ladder they left behind them.
They are scouring the country - Miss Denison! Eva! My poor love!"
She had broken down utterly in a second fit of violent weeping; and
a second time I took her in my arms, and stood trying in my clumsy
way to comfort her, as though she were a little child. A lamp was
burning in the library, and I recognized the arm-chair which Rattray
had drawn thence for me on the night of our dinner - the very night
before! I led Eva back into the room, and I closed both doors. I
supported my poor girl to the chair, and once more I knelt before
her and took her hands in mine. My great hour was come at last:
surely a happy omen that it was also the hour before the dawn.
"Cry your fill, my darling," I whispered, with the tears in my own
voice. "You shall never have anything more to cry for in this world!
God has been very good to us. He brought you to me, and me to you.
He has rescued us for each other. All our troubles are over; cry
your fill; you will never have another chance so long as I live, if
only you will let me live for you. Will you, Eva? Will you? Will
She drew her hands from mine, and sat upright in the chair, looking
at me with round eyes; but mine were dim; astonishment was all that
I could read in her look, and on I went headlong, with growing
impetus and passion.
"I know I am not much, my darling; but you know I was not always
what my luck, good and bad, has left me now, and you will make a
new man of me so soon! Besides, God must mean it, or He would not
have thrown us together amid such horrors, and brought us through
them together still. And you have no one else to take care of you
in the world! Won't you let me try, Eva? Say that you will!"
"Then - you - ove me?" she said slowly, in a low, awe-struck voice
that might have told me my fate at once; but I was shaking all over
in the intensity of my passion, and for the moment it was joy enough
to be able at last to tell her all.
"Love you?" I echoed. "With every fibre of my being! With every
atom of my heart and soul and body! I love you well enough to live
to a hundred for you, or to die for you to-night!"
"Well enough to - give me up?" she whispered.
I felt as though a cold hand had checked my heart at its hottest,
but I mastered myself sufficiently to face her question and to
answer it as honestly as I might.
"Yes!" I cried; "well enough even to do that, if it was for your
happiness; but I might be rather difficult to convince about that."
"You are very strong and true," she murmured. "Yes, I can trust
you as I have never trusted anybody else! But - how long have you
been so foolish?" And she tried very hard to smile.
"Since I first saw you; but I only knew it on the night of the fire.
Till that night I resisted it like an idiot. Do you remember how we
used to argue? I rebelled so against my love! I imagined that I had
loved once already and once for all. But on the night of the fire I
knew that my love for you was different from all that had gone before
or would ever come again. I gave in to it at last, and oh! the joy
of giving in! I had fought against the greatest blessing of my life,
and I never knew it till I had given up fighting. What did I care
about the fire? I was never happier - until now! You sang through
my heart like the wind through the rigging; my one fear was that I
might go to the bottom without telling you my love. When I asked
to say a few last words to you on the poop, it was to tell you my
love before we parted, that you might know I loved you whatever came.
I didn't do so, because you seemed so frightened, poor darling! I
hadn't it in my heart to add to your distress. So I left you
without a word. But I fought the sea for days together simply to
tell you what I couldn't die without telling you. When they picked
me up, it was your name that brought back my senses after days of
delirium. When I heard that you were dead, I longed to die myself.
And when I found you lived after all, the horror of your surroundings
was nothing to be compared with the mere fact that you lived; that
you were unhappy and in danger was my only grief, but it was nothing
to the thought of your death; and that I had to wait twenty-four
hours without coming to you drove me nearer to madness than ever I
was on the hen-coop. That's how I love you, Eva," I concluded;
"that's how I love and will love you, for ever and ever, no matter
Those sweet gray eyes of hers had been fixed very steadily upon me
all through this outburst; as I finished they filled with tears, and
my poor love sat wringing her slender fingers, and upbraiding herself
as though she were the most heartless coquette in the country.
"How wicked I am!" she moaned. "How ungrateful I must be! You
offer me the unselfish love of a strong, brave man. I cannot take
it. I have no love to give you in return."
"But some day you may," I urged, quite happily in my ignorance.
"It will come. Oh, surely it will come, after all that we have gone
She looked at me very steadily and kindly through her tears.
"It has come, in a way," said she; "but it is not your way, Mr. Cole.
I do love you for your bravery and your - love - but that will not
quite do for either of us."
"Why not?" I cried in an ecstasy. "My darling, it will do for me!
It is more than I dared to hope for; thank God, thank God, that you
should care for me at all!"
She shook her head.
"You do not understand," she whispered.
"I do. I do. You do not love me as you want to love."
"As I could love -"
"And as you will! It will come. It will come. I'll bother you no
more about it now. God knows I can afford to leave well alone! I
am only too happy - too thankful - as it is!"
And indeed I rose to my feet every whit as joyful as though she had
accepted me on the spot. At least she had not rejected me; nay, she
confessed to loving me in a way. What more could a lover want? Yet
there was a dejection in her drooping attitude which disconcerted me
in the hour of my reward. And her eyes followed me with a kind of
stony remorse which struck a chill to my bleeding heart.
I went to the door; the hall was still empty, and I shut it again
with a shudder at what I saw before the hearth, at all that I had
forgotten in the little library. As I turned, another door opened
- the door made invisible by the multitude of books around and upon
it - and young Squire Rattray stood between my love and me.
His clear, smooth skin was almost as pale as Eva's own, but pale
brown, the tint of rich ivory. His eyes were preternaturally bright.
And they never glanced my way, but flew straight to Eva, and rested
on her very humbly and sadly, as her two hands gripped the arms of
the chair, and she leant forward in horror and alarm.
"How could you come back?" she cried. "I was told you had escaped!"
"Yes, I got away on one of their horses."
"I pictured you safe on board!"
"I very nearly was."
"Then why are you here ?"
"To get your forgiveness before I go."
He took a step forward; her eyes and mine were riveted upon him;
and I still wonder which of us admired him the more, as he stood
there in his pride and his humility, gallant and young, and yet
shamefaced and sad.
"You risk your life - for my forgiveness?" whispered Eva at last.
"Risk it? I'll give myself up if you'll take back some of the
things you said to me - last night - and before."
There was a short pause.
"Well, you are not a coward, at all events!"
"Nor a murderer, Eva!"
"Then forgive me for everything else that I have been - to you!"
And he was on his knees where I had knelt scarce a minute before;
nor could I bear to watch them any longer. I believed that he
loved her in his own way as sincerely as I did in mine. I believed
that she detested him for the detestable crime in which he had been
concerned. I believed that the opinion of him which she had
expressed to his face, in my hearing, was her true opinion, and I
longed to hear her mitigate it ever so little before he went. He
won my sympathy as a gallant who valued a kind word from his
mistress more than life itself. I hoped earnestly that that kind
word would be spoken. But I had no desire to wait to hear it. I
felt an intruder. I would leave them alone together for the last
time. So I walked to the door, but, seeing a key in it, I changed
my mind, and locked it on the inside. In the hall I might become
the unintentional instrument of the squire's capture, though, so far
as my ears served me, it was still empty as we had left it. I
preferred to run no risks, and would have a look at the subterranean
"I advise you to speak low," I said, "and not to be long. The place
is alive with the police. If they hear you all will be up."
Whether he heard me I do not know. I left him on his knees still,
and Eva with her face hidden in her hands.
The cellar was a strange scene to revisit within an hour of my
deliverance from that very torture-chamber. It had been something
more before I left it, but in it I could think only of the first
occupant of the camp-stool. The lantern still burned upon the floor.
There was the mattress, still depressed where I had lain face to
face with insolent death. The bullet was in the plaster; it could
not have missed by the breadth of many hairs. In the corner was the
shallow grave, dug by Harris for my elements. And Harris was dead.
And Santos was dead. But life and love were mine.
I would have gone through it all again!
And all at once I was on fire to be back in the library; so much so,
that half a minute at the manhole, lantern in hand, was enough for me;
and a mere funnel of moist brown earth - a terribly low arch propped
with beams - as much as I myself ever saw of the subterranean conduit
between Kirby House and the sea. But I understood that the curious
may traverse it for themselves to this day on payment of a very modest
As for me, I returned as I had come after (say) five minutes'
absence; my head full once more of Eva, and of impatient anxiety
for the wild young squire's final flight; and my heart still singing
with the joy of which my beloved's kindness seemed a sufficient
warranty. Poor egotist! Am I to tell you what I found when I came
up those steep stairs to the chamber where I had left him on his
knees to her? Or can you guess?
He was on his knees no more, but he held her in his arms, and as I
entered he was kissing the tears from her wet, flushed cheek. Her
eyelids drooped; she was pale as the dead without, so pale that her
eyebrows looked abnormally and dreadfully dark. She did not cling
to him. Neither did she resist his caresses, but lay passive in
his arms as though her proper paradise was there. And neither heard
me enter; it was as though they had forgotten all the world but one
"So this is it," said I very calmly. I can hear my voice as I write.
They fell apart on the instant. Rattray glared at me, yet I saw
that his eyes were dim. Eva clasped her hands before her, and looked
me steadily in the face. But never a word.
"You love him ?" I said sternly.
The silence of consent remained unbroken.
"Villain as he is?" I burst out.