Part 4 out of 5
They did not answer me; but after a little more, when my expostulations
had become more positive, Handy Solomon dropped the halliard, and drew me
to one side.
"Look here, you," he snarled, "you'd better just stow your gab. You're
lucky to be here yourself, let alone botherin' your thick head about
anybody else, and you can kiss the Book on that! Do you know why you ain't
with them carrion?" He jerked his thumb toward the beach. "It's because
Solomon Anderson's your friend. Thrackles would have killed you in a
minute 'count of his bit hand. I got you your chance. Now don't you be a
fool, for I ain't goin' to stand between you and them another time.
Besides, he won't last long if that volcano keeps at it."
He left me. Whatever truth lay in his assumption of friendship, and I
doubted there existed much of either truth or friendship in him, I saw the
common sense of his advice. I was in no position to dictate a course of
After the sails were on her we gathered at the starboard rail to watch the
shore. There the hills ran into inky blackness, as the horizon sometimes
merges into a thunder squall. A dense white steam came from the creek bed
within the arroyo. The surges beat on the shore louder than the ordinary,
and the foam, even in these day hours, seemed to throw up a faint
phosphorescence. Frequent earthquakes oscillated the landscape. We
watched, I do not know for what, our eyes straining into the murk of the
island. Nobody thought of the chest, which lay on the cabin table aft. I
contributed maliciously my bit to their fear.
"These volcanic islands sometimes sink entirely," I suggested, "and in
that case we'd be carried down by the suction."
It was intended merely to increase their uneasiness, but, strangely
enough, after a few moments it ended by imposing itself on my own fears. I
began to be afraid the island would sink, began to watch for it, began to
share the fascinated terror of these men.
The suspense after a time became unbearable, for while the portent--
whether physical or moral we were too far under its influence to
distinguish--grew momentarily, our own souls did not expand in due
correspondence. We talked of towing, of kedging out, of going to any
extreme, even to small boats. Then just as we were about to move toward
some accomplishment, a new phenomenon chained our attention to the shore.
In the mouth of the arroyo appeared a red glow. A moment later a wave of
lava, white-hot, red, iridescent, cooling to a black crust cracked in
incandescence, rolled majestically out over the grassy plain. Each instant
it grew in volume, until the ravine must have been flowing half full.
Before its scorching the grasses even at the edge of the sea were smoking,
and our camp had already burst into flames. We had to shield our faces
against the heat, and the wooden railing under our hands was growing warm.
Pulz turned an ashy countenance toward us.
"My God," he screamed. "What's going to happen when she hits the sea?"
She hit the sea, and immediately a great cloud of steam arose, and the
hissing as of a thousand serpents. We felt the strong suction under our
keel, and staggered under the jerk of the ship's cable as she swung toward
the beach. The paint was beginning to crackle along the rail. We could see
nothing for the scalding white veil that enveloped us; we could hear
nothing for the roar of steam, the bombardment of explosions, and the
crash of thunder; but our nostrils were assaulted by a most unearthly
medley of smells.
"Hell's loose," growled Thrackles.
We were clinging hard as the ship reeled. Huge surges were racing in from
seaward, growing larger with each successive billow.
Handy Solomon raised his head, listened intently, and struck his forehead.
"Wind," he screamed at the top of his voice, and jumped for the halliards.
Thrackles followed him, but no one else moved. In an instant the two were
back, striking and kicking savagely, rousing their companions to the
danger. We all laid into the canvas like mad, and in no time had snugged
down to a staysail and the peak of our mainsail. Thrackles drew his knife
and jumped for the cable, while Handy Solomon, his eyes snapping, seized
We finished just in time. I was turning away after tying the last gasket
on the foresail, when the deck up-ended and tipped me headforemost into
the starboard scupper. At the same time a smother of salt water blew over
the port rail, now far above me, to drench me as thoroughly as though I
had fallen overboard. I brushed out my eyes to find the ship smack on her
beam ends, and the wind howling by from the sea.
I had company enough in the scuppers. Only Handy Solomon clung desperately
to the wheel, jamming his weight to port in the hope she might pay up:
Thrackles, too, his eye squinted along some bearing of his own, was
waiting for her to drag. Presently it became evident that she was doing
so, whereupon he drew his knife across our hawser.
"My God," chattered Pulz at my ear. "If we go ashore--"
He did not need to finish. Unless the _Laughing Lass_ could recover before
the squall had driven her to leeward a scant half mile, we should be
cooked alive in the boiling cauldron at the shore's edge.
For an interminable time, as it seemed to me, we lay absolutely
motionless. The scene is stamped indelibly on my memory--the bulwarks high
above me, the steep, sleek deck, the piratical figure tense at the wheel,
the snarling water racing from beneath us, the lurid glow to landward
crawling up on us inch by inch like a hungry wild beast. Then almost
imperceptibly the brave schooner righted. The strained lines on Handy
Solomon's carven features relaxed little by little. Thrackles, staring
over the side, let out a mighty roar.
"Steerage way," he shouted, and executed an awkward clog dance on the
She moved forward, there was no doubt of that, for gradually we were
eating toward the wind--but we made considerable leeway as well. Handy
Solomon, taut as the weather rigging, took his little advantages one by
one like precious gifts. Light there was none; the land was blotted out by
the steam and murk which had crept to sea and now was hurled back by the
wind. All we could do was to hang there, tasting the copper of excitement,
waiting for these different forces to adjust themselves. Inch by inch we
crept forward: foot by foot we made leeway. The intensest of the lava glow
worked its way from directly abeam to the quarter. By this we knew we must
be nearly opposite the cove. At once a new doubt sprang up in our minds.
A moment ago all the energy of our desires had gone up in the ambition to
avoid being cast on the beach. Now we saw that that was not enough. It was
necessary to squeeze around the point where lay the _Golden Horn_, in
order to avoid the fate that had overtaken her. Handy Solomon yelled
something at us. We could not hear, but our own knowledge told us what it
must be, and with one accord we turned to on the foresail. With the peak
of it hoisted we moved a trifle faster, though the schooner lay over at a
perilous angle. A moment later the fogs parted to show us the cliffs
looming startlingly near. There were the donkey engine and the works we
had constructed for wrecking--and there beside them, watching us
reflectively, stood Percy Darrow.
For ten minutes we stared at him fascinated, during which time the ship
laboured against the staggering winds, gained and lost in its buffeting
with the great surges. The breakers hurling themselves in wild abandon
against the rocks sent their back-wash of tumbling peaks to our very
bilges. The few remains of the _Golden Horn_, alternately drenched and
draining, seemed to picture to us our inevitable end.
I think we had all selected the same two points for our "bearings," a rock
and a drop of the cliff bolder than the ordinary. If the rock opened from
the cliff to eastward, we were lost; if it remained stationary, we were at
least holding our own; if it opened out to westward, we were saved. We
watched with a strained eagerness impossible to describe. At each
momentary gain or rebuff we uttered ejaculations. The Nigger mumbled
charms. Every once in a while one of us would snatch a glance to leeward
at the cruel, white waters, the whirl of eddies where the sea was beaten,
only to hurry back to the rock and the point of the cliff whence our
message of safety or destruction was to be flung. Once I looked up. Percy
Darrow was leaning gracefully against a stanchion, watching. His soft hat
was pulled over his eyes; he stroked softly his little moustache; I caught
the white puff of his cigarette. During the moment of my inattention
something happened. A wild shout burst from the men. I whirled, and saw to
my great joy a strip of sky westward between the cliff and the rock. And
at that very instant a billow larger than the ordinary rolled beneath us,
and in the back suction of its passage I could dimly make out cruel,
dangerous rocks lying almost under our keel.
Slowly we crept away. Our progress seemed infinitesimal, and yet it was
real. In a while we had gained sea room; in a while more we were fairly
under sailing way, and the cliffs had begun to drop from our quarter. With
one accord we looked back. Percy Darrow waved his hand in an indescribably
graceful and ironic gesture; then turned square on his heel and sauntered
away to the north valley, out of the course of the lava. That was the last
I ever saw of him.
As we made our way from beneath the island, the weight of the wind seemed
to lessen. We got the foresail on her, then a standing jib; finally little
by little all her ordinary working canvas. Before we knew it, we were
bowling along under a stiff breeze, and the island was dropping astern.
From a distance it presented a truly imposing sight. The centre shot
intermittent blasts of ruddy light; explosions, deadened by distance,
still reverberated strongly; the broad canopy of brown-red, split with
lightnings, spread out like a huge umbrella. The lurid gloom that had
enveloped us in the atmosphere apparently of a nether world had given
place to a twilight. Abruptly we passed from it to a sun-kissed, sparkling
sea. The breeze blew sweet and strong; the waves ran untortured in their
natural long courses.
At once the men seemed to throw off the superstitious terror that had
cowed them. Pulz and Thrackles went to bail the extra dory, alongside,
which by a miracle had escaped swamping. The Nigger disappeared in the
galley. Perdosa relieved Handy Solomon at the wheel; and Handy Solomon
came directly over to me.
He approached me with a confidence that proclaimed the new leader. A brace
of Colt's revolvers swung from his belt, the tatters of his blood-stained
garments hung about him.
"Well, here we are," he remarked.
I nodded, waiting for what he had to disclose.
"And lucky for you that you're here at all, say I," he continued. "And now
that you're here, w'at are you going to do? That's the question--w'at are
you going to do?" He cocked his head sidewise and looked at me
speculatively as a cat might look at a rather large mouse. "We been a
little rough," he went on after a moment, "and some folks is strait-laced.
There might be trouble. And you know a heap too much."
"What do you want of me?" I demanded.
"It's just this," he returned briskly. "If you'll lay us our course to San
Salvador, we'll let you go as one of us and no questions asked."
"If not?" I inquired.
He shrugged his shoulders. "I leave it to you."
"There's always the sea," I suggested.
"And it's deep," he agreed.
We looked out to the horizon in a diplomatic silence. I did not know
whether to be angry, amused, or alarmed that the man estimated my
cleverness so slightly. Why, the hook was barely concealed, and the bait
of the coarsest. That I would go safe to a sight of San Salvador I did not
doubt: that I would never enter the harbour I was absolutely certain. The
choice offered me was practically whether I preferred being thrown
overboard now or several hundred miles to southeastward.
I thought rapidly. It might be possible to announce a daily false
reckoning to the crew, to sail the ship within rowing distance of some
coast; and then to escape while the men believed themselves many hundred
miles at sea. It would take nice calculation to prevent suspicion, but as
it was the only chance I resolved upon it immediately.
"That's all very well," I said firmly, "but you can't get anywhere without
me, and I'm not going to put in two years and then keep my mouth shut for
nothing. I want a share in the swag--an even share with the rest of you."
"Oh, that'll be all right," he cried; "you can have it."
If anything was needed to convince me of the man's sinister intentions,
this too ready acquiescence would have been enough. I knew him too well.
If he had had the slightest intention of permitting me to go free, he
would have bargained.
The Nigger called us to mess. We ate in the after cabin. The chest was
locked and the men had as yet been unable to break into it. Pulz professed
some skill in locksmithing and promised to experiment later. After mess we
went on deck again. The island had dropped down to the horizon and showed
as a brilliant glow under a dark canopy. I leaned over the rail looking at
it. Below me the extra dory bumped along. The idea came to me that if I
could escape that night, I could row back to Percy Darrow. The two of us
could make shift to live on fish and shellfish and mutton. The plan
rapidly defined itself in my brain. From the remains of the _Golden Horn_
we could construct some kind of a craft in which to run free to the summer
trades. Thus we might in time reach some one or another of the Sandwich
Islands, whence a passing trader could take us back to civilisation. There
were many elements of uncertainty in the scheme, but it seemed to me less
desperate than trusting to the caprices of these men, especially since
they now had free access to the liquor stores.
While I leaned over the rail engrossed in these thoughts, one of the black
thunder clouds that had been gathering and dissipating over the island
during the entire afternoon suddenly glowed overhead with a strange white
incandescence startlingly akin to Darrow's so-called "devil fires."
Strangely enough, this illumination, unlike the volcanic glows, appeared
to be cast on the clouds from without rather than shot through them from
within, as were the other volcanic emanations. At the same instant I
experienced a sharp interior revulsion of some sort, most briefly
momentary, but of a character that shook me from head to toe.
I had no time to analyse these various impressions, however, for my
attention was almost instantly distracted. From the cabin came the sound
of a sharp fall, then a man cried out, and on the heels of it Pulz darted
from the cabin, screaming horribly. We were all on deck, and as the little
man rushed toward the stern Handy Solomon twisted him deftly from his
"My God, mate, what is it?" he cried, as he pinned the sufferer to the
But Pulz could not answer. He shivered, stiffened, and lay rigid, his eyes
"Fits," remarked Thrackles impatiently.
The excitement died. Rum was forced between the victim's lips. After a
little he recovered, but could tell us nothing of his seizure.
After the dishes had been swept aside from supper, Handy Solomon announced
a second attempt to open the chest.
"Pancho, here, says he's been a mechanic," said he. "I right well know
he's been a housebreaker. So he's got the _sabe_ for the job, and you can
kiss the Book on that."
Perdosa, with a grin, leaned over the cover from behind and began to pick
away at the lock with a long, crooked wire. The others drew close about. I
slipped nearer the door, imagining that in their riveted interest I saw my
opportunity. To my surprise I caught a glimpse of legs disappearing up the
companion. I took stock. Pulz had gone on deck.
This surprised me, for I should have thought every man interested enough
in the supposed treasure to wish to be present at its uncovering; and it
annoyed me still more--the success of my plan demanded a clear deck.
However, there was nothing for it now but to trust that Pulz had wished to
visit the forecastle, and that I might find the afterworks empty.
I paused at the foot of the companion and looked back. A breathlessness of
excitement held the pirates in a vise. From above, the hanging lamp threw
strong shadows across their faces, bringing out the deep lines,
accentuating the dominant passions. With their rags and blood, their
unshaven faces, their firearms, their filth, they showed in violent
antithesis to the immaculate white of Old Scrubs's cabin, its glittering
brass, and its shining leather. I darted up the steps.
The contrast of the starry night with the glare of the cabin lamp dazzled
my eyes. I stood stock still for a moment, during which the only sounds
audible were the singing of the winds through the rigging, the wash of the
sea, and the small, sharp click of Perdosa's instrument as he worked at
Presently I could see better. I looked forward and aft for Pulz, but could
see nothing of him, and had just about concluded that he had gone forward
when I happened to glance aloft. There, to my astonishment, I made him
out, huddled in silhouette against the stars, close to the main truck.
What he was doing there I could not imagine. However, I did not have time
to bother my head about him, further than to rejoice that he could not
I should very much have liked to get hold of a rifle and ammunition, or at
least to lay in biscuit and water, but for this there was no time. It was
not absolutely essential. The dull glow of the island was still visible. I
had my pillar of fire and smoke to guide me.
Without further delay I jerked loose the painter and drew the extra dory
I had proceeded just so far in my movements, when the most extraordinary
thing happened. I shall try to tell you of it as accurately as possible,
and in the exact order of its occurrence. First a long, straight shaft of
white light shot straight up through the cabin roof to a great height. It
shone through the wooden planks as an ordinary light shines through glass.
By contrast the surrounding blackness was thrown into a deeper shade, and
yet the shaft itself was so brilliant as almost to scotch the sight.
Curiously enough, it was defined accurately, being exactly in shape like
one of the rectangular tin air-shafts you see so often in city hotels. At
the instant of its appearance, the wind fell quite calm.
Almost immediately the rectangle on the roof through which the light made
its passage began to splay out, like lighted oil, although the column
retained still the integrity of its outline. The fire, if such it could be
called, ran with incredible rapidity along the seams between the planks,
forward and aft, until the entire deck was sketched like a pyrotechnic
display in thin, vivid lines of incandescence. From each of these lines
then the fire began again to spread, as though soaking through the planks.
All took place practically in an instant of time. I had no opportunity to
move nor to cry out; indeed, my perceptions were inadequate to the task of
mere observation. Up to now there had been no sound. The wind had fallen;
the waters passed unnoticed. A stillness of death seemed to have descended
on the ship. It was broken by a sharp double report, one as of the fall of
a metallic substance, the other caused by the body of Pulz, which, shaken
loose from the truck by a heavy roll, smashed against the rail of the ship
and splashed overboard. Someone cried out sharply. An instant later the
entire crew struggled out from the companionway, rushed in grim silence to
the side of the vessel, and threw themselves into the sea.
My own ideas were somewhat confused. The fire had practically enveloped
the ship. I thought to feel it; and yet my skin was cool to the touch. The
ship's outlines became blurred. A dizziness overtook me; and then all at
once a great desire seized and shook my very soul. I cannot tell you the
vehemence of this desire. It was a madness; nothing could stand in the way
of its gratification. Whatever happened, I must have water. It was not
thirst, nor yet a purpose to allay the very real physical burning of which
I was now dimly conscious; but a craving for the liquid itself as
something apart from and unconnected with anything else. Without
hesitation, and as though it were the most natural thing in the world, I
vaulted the rail to cast myself into the ocean. I dimly remember a last
flying impression of a furnace of light, then a great shock thudded
through me, and I lost consciousness.
IN THE WARDROOM
Over the wardroom of the _Wolverine_ had fallen a silence. It held after
Slade had finished. Captain Parkinson, stiff and erect in his chair,
staring fixedly at a spot two feet above the reporter's head, seemed to
weigh, as a judge weighs, the facts so picturesquely, set forth. Dr.
Trendon, his sturdy frame half in shadow, had slouched far down into
himself. Only the regard of his keen eyes fixed upon Slade's face,
unwaveringly and a bit anxiously, showed that he was thinking of the
narrator as well as of the narrative. The others had fallen completely
under the spell of the tale. They sat, as children in a theatre, absorbed,
forgetful of the world around them, wrapped in a more vivid element. At
the close, they stirred and blinked, half dazed by the abrupt fall of the
Slade had told his story with fire, with something of passion, even. Now
he felt the sharp reflex. He muttered uncertainly beneath his breath and
glanced from one to another of the circled faces.
"That's all," he said unsteadily.
There passed through the group a stir and a murmur. Someone broke into
sharp coughing. Chairs, shoved back, grated on the floor.
"Well, of all the extraordinary--" began a voice, ruminatingly, and broke
short off, as if abashed at its own infraction of the silence.
"That's all," repeated Slade, a note of insistence in his voice. "Why
don't you say something? Confound you, why don't you say something?" His
speech rose husky and cracked. "Don't you believe it?"
"Hold on," said the surgeon quietly. "No need to get excited."
"Oh, well," muttered the reporter, with a sudden lapse. "Possibly you
think I'm romancing. It doesn't matter. I don't suppose I'd believe it
myself, in your place."
"But we're heading for the island," suggested Forsythe.
"That's so," cried Slade. "Well, that's all right. Believe or disbelieve
as much as you like. Only get Percy Darrow off that island. Then we'll
have his version. There are a few things I want to find out about,
"There are several that promise to be fairly interesting," said Forsythe,
under his breath.
Slade turned to the captain. "Have you any questions to put to me, sir?"
he asked formally.
"Just one moment," interrupted Trendon. "Boy, a pony of brandy for Mr.
The reporter drank the liquor and again turned to Captain Parkinson.
"Only about our men," said the commanding officer, after a little thought.
Slade shook his head.
"I'm sorry I can't help you there, sir."
"Dr. Trendon said that you knew nothing about Edwards."
"Edwards?" repeated Slade inquiringly. His mind, still absorbed in the
events which he had been relating, groped backward.
Trendon came to his aid. "Barnett asked you about him, you remember. It
was when you recovered consciousness. Our ensign. Took over charge of the
"Oh, of course. I was a little dazed, I fancy."
"We put Mr. Edwards aboard when we first picked up the deserted schooner,"
explained the captain.
"Pardon me," said the other. "My head doesn't seem to work quite right
yet. Just a moment, please." He sat silent, with closed eyes. "You say you
picked up the _Laughing Lass_. When?" he asked presently.
"Four--five--six days ago, the first time."
"Then you put out the fire."
The circle closed in on Slade, with an unconscious hitching forward of
chairs. He had fixed his eyes on the captain. His mouth worked. Obviously
he was under a tensity of endeavour in keeping his faculties set to the
problem. The surgeon watched him, frowning.
"There was no fire," said the captain.
Slade leaped in his chair. "No fire! But I saw her, I tell you. When I
went overboard she was one living flame!"
"You landed in the small boat. Knocked you senseless," said Trendon.
"Concussion of the brain. Idea of flame might have been a retroactive
"Retroactive rot," cried the other. "I beg your pardon, Dr. Trendon. But
if you'd seen her as I saw her--Barnett!"
He turned in appeal to his old acquaintance.
"There was no fire, Slade," replied the executive officer gently. "No sign
of fire that we could find, except that the starboard rail was blistered."
"Oh, that was from the volcano," said Slade. "That was nothing."
"It was all there was," returned Barnett.
"Just let me run this thing over," said the free lance slowly. "You found
the schooner. She wasn't afire. She didn't even seem to have been afire.
You put a crew aboard under your ensign, Edwards. Storm separated you from
her. You picked her up again deserted. Is that right?"
"Day before yesterday morning."
"Then," cried the other excitedly, "the fire was smouldering all the time.
It broke out and your men took to the water."
"Impossible," said Barnett.
"Fiddlesticks!" said the more downright surgeon.
"I hardly think Mr. Edwards would be driven overboard by a fire which did
not even scorch his ship," suggested the captain mildly.
"It drove our lot overboard," insisted Slade. "Do you think we were a pack
of cowards? I tell you, when that hellish thing broke loose, you had to
go. It wasn't fear. It wasn't pain. It was--What's the use. You can't
explain a thing like that."
"We certainly saw the glow the night Billy Edwards was--disappeared,"
"And again, night before last," said the captain.
"What's that!" cried Slade. "Where is the _Laughing Lass_?"
"I'd give something pretty to know," said Barnett.
"Isn't she in tow?"
"In tow?" said Forsythe. "No, indeed. We hadn't adequate facilities for
towing her. Didn't you tell him, Mr. Barnett?"
"Where is she, then?" Slade fired the question at them like a cross-
"Why, we shipped another crew under Ives and McGuire that noon. We were
parted again, and haven't seen them since."
"God forgive you!" said the reporter. "After the warnings you'd had, too.
It was--it was--"
"My orders, Mr. Slade," said Captain Parkinson, with quiet dignity.
"Of course, sir. I beg your pardon," returned the other. "But--you say you
saw the light again?"
"The first night they were out," said Barnett, in a low voice.
"Then your second crew is with your first crew," said Slade, shakily. "And
they're with Thrackles, and Pulz and Solomon, and many another black-
hearted scoundrel and brave seaman. Down there!"
He pointed under foot. Captain Parkinson rose and went to his cabin. Slade
rose, too, but his knees were unsteady. He tottered, and but for the swift
aid of Barnett's arm, would have fallen.
"Overdone," said Dr. Trendon, with some irritation. "Cost you something in
strength. Foolish performance. Turn in now."
Slade tried to protest, but the surgeon would not hear of it, and marched
him incontinently to his berth. Returning, Trendon reported, with growls
of discontent, that his patient was in a fever.
"Couldn't expect anything else," he fumed. "Pack of human interrogation
points hounding him all over the place."
"What do you think of his story?" asked Forsythe.
The grizzled surgeon drew out a cigar, lighted it, took three deliberate
puffs, turned it about, examined the ash end with concentration, and
"Man's telling a straight story."
"You think it's all true?" cried Forsythe.
"Humph!" grunted the other. "_He thinks it's all true_."
An orderly appeared and knocked at the captain's cabin.
"Beg pardon, sir," they heard him say. "Mr. Carter would like to know how
close in to run. Volcano's acting up pretty bad, sir."
Captain Parkinson went on deck, followed by the rest.
THE JOLLY ROGER
Feeling the way forward, the cruiser was soon caught in a maze of cross
currents. Hither and thither she was borne, a creature bereft of volition.
Order followed order like the rattle of quick-fire, and was obeyed with
something more than the _Wolverine's_ customary smartness. From the bridge
Captain Parkinson himself directed his ship. His face was placid: his
bearing steady and confident. This in itself was sufficient earnest that
the cruiser was in ticklish case. For it was an axiom of the men who
sailed under Parkinson that the calmer that nervous man grew, the more
cause was there for nervousness on the part of others.
The approach was from the south, but suspicious aspects of the water had
fended the cruiser out and around, until now she stood prow-on to a bold
headland at the northwest corner of the island. Above this headland lay a
dark pall of vapour. In the shifting breeze it swayed sluggishly, heavily,
as if riding at anchor like a logy ship of the air. Only once did it show
any marked movement.
"It's spreading out toward us," said Barnett to his fellow officers,
"Time to move, then," grunted Trendon.
The others looked at him inquiringly.
"About as healthful as prussic acid, those volcanic gases," explained the
The ship edged on and inward. Presently the sing-song of the leadsman
sounded in measured distinctness through the silence. Then a sudden
activity and bustle forward, the rattle of chains, and the _Wolverine_ was
at anchor. The captain came down from the bridge.
"What do you think, Dr. Trendon?" he asked.
More explicit inquiry was not necessary.
The surgeon understood what was in his superior's mind.
"Never can tell about volcanoes, sir," he said.
"Of course," agreed the captain. "But--well, do you recognise any of the
"Want me to diagnose a case of earthquake, sir?" grinned Trendon. "She
might go off to-day, or she might behave herself for a century."
"Well, it's all chance," said the other, cheerfully. "The man _might_ be
alive. At any rate we must do our best on that theory. What do you make of
that cloud on the peak?"
"Poisonous vapours, I suppose. Thought we'd have a chance to make sure
just now. Seemed to be coming right for us. Wind's shifted it since."
"There couldn't be anything alive up there?"
"Not so much as a bug," replied the doctor positively.
"Yet I thought when the vapour lifted a bit that I saw something moving."
"When was that, sir?"
"Ten or fifteen minutes back."
"We'll see soon enough, sir," put in Forsythe. "The wind is driving it
down to the south'ard."
Sullenly, reluctantly, the forbidding mass moved across the headland. All
glasses were bent upon it. Without taking his binocular from his eyes,
Trendon began to ruminate aloud.
"If he could have got to the beach.... No vapour there.... Signal,
though.... Perhaps he hadn't time.... And I'd hate to risk good men on
that hell's cauldron.... Just as much risk here, perhaps. Only it seems--"
"There it is," cried Forsythe. "Look. The highest point."
Dull, gray wisps of murk, the afterguard of the gaseous cloud, were
twisting and spiraling in a witch-dance across the landscape, and, seen by
snatches and glimpses through it, something flapped darkly in the breeze.
Suddenly the veil parted and fled. A flag stood forth in the sharp gust,
rigid, and appalling. It was black.
"The Jolly Roger, by God! They've come back!" exclaimed Forsythe.
"And set up the sign of their shop," added Barnett.
"If they stuck to their flag--good-bye," observed Trendon grimly.
"Dr. Trendon," said Captain Parkinson, "you will arm yourself and go with
me in the gig to make a landing."
"Yes, sir," responded the surgeon.
"Should we be overtaken by the vapour while on the highland and be unable
to get back to the beach, you are to send no rescuing party up there until
the air has cleared."
"But, sir, may we not--"
"Do you understand?"
"In case of an attack you will at once send in another boat with a
"Dr. Trendon, will you see Mr. Slade and inquire of him the best point for
"I suppose it would hardly do to take him with us?" pursued the commanding
"If he is roused now, even for a moment, I won't answer for the
consequences, sir," said the surgeon bluntly.
"Surely you can have him point out a landing place," said the captain.
"On your responsibility," returned the other, obstinately. "He's under
"Be it so," said Captain Parkinson, after a time.
Going in, they saw no sign of life along the shore. Even the birds had
deserted it. For the time the volcano seemed to have pretermitted its
activity. Now and again there was a spurtle of smoke from the cone,
followed by subterranean growlings, but, on the whole, the conditions were
"Penny-pop-pinwheel of a volcano, anyhow," remarked Trendon,
disparagingly. "Real man-size eruption would have wiped the whole thing
off the map, first whack."
As they drew in, it became apparent that they must scale the cliff from
the boat. Farther to the south opened out a wide cove that suggested easy
beaching, but over it hung a cloud of steam.
"Lava pouring down," said Trendon.
Fortunately at the point where the cliff looked easiest the seas ran low.
Ropes had been brought. After some dainty manoeuvring two of the sailors
gained foothold and slung the ropes so that the remainder of the
disembarcation was simple. Nor was the ascent of the cliff a harsh task.
Half an hour after the landing the exploring party stood on the summit of
the hill, where the black flag waved over a scene of utter desolation. The
vegetation was withered to pallid rags: even the tiniest weedling in the
rock crevices had been poisoned by the devastating blast.
In the midst of that deathly scene, the flag seemed instinct with a
sinister liveliness. Whoever had set it there had accurately chosen the
highest available point on that side of the island, the spot of all others
where it would make good its signal to the eye of any chance farer upon
those shipless seas. For the staff a ten-foot sapling, finely polished,
served. A mound of rock-slabs supported it firmly. Upon the cloth itself
was no design. It was of a dull black, the hue of soot. Captain Parkinson,
standing a few yards off, viewed it with disfavour.
"Furl that flag," he ordered.
Congdon, the coxswain of the gig, stepped forward and began to work at the
fastenings. Presently he turned a grinning face to the captain, who was
scanning the landscape through his glass.
"Beggin' your pardon, sir," he said.
"Well, what is it?" demanded Captain Parkinson.
"Beggin' your pardon, sir, that ain't rightly no flag. That's what you
might rightly call a garment, sir. It's an undershirt, beggin' your
"Black undershirt's a new one to me," muttered Trendon.
"No, sir. It ain't rightly black, look."
Wrenching the object from its fastenings, he flapped it violently. A cloud
of sooty dust, beaten out, spread about his face. With a strangled cry the
sailor cast the shirt from him and rolled in agony upon the ground.
"You fool!" cried Trendon. "Stand back, all of you."
Opening his medicine case, he bent over the racked sufferer. Presently the
man sat up, pale and abashed.
"That's how poisonous volcanic gas is," said the surgeon to his commanding
officer. "Only inhaled remnants of the dust, too."
"An ill outlook for the man we're seeking," the captain mused.
"Dead if he's anywhere on this highland," declared Trendon. "Let's look at
He examined the staff. "Came from the beach," he pronounced. "Waterworn.
H'm! Maybe he ain't so dead, either."
"I don't quite follow you, Dr. Trendon."
"Why, I guess our man has figured this thing all out. Brought this pole up
from the beach to plant it here. Why? Because this was the best
observation point. No good as a permanent residence, though. Planted his
flag and went back."
"Why didn't we see him on the beach, then?"
"Did you notice a cave around to the north? Good refuge in case of fumes."
"It's worth trying," said the captain, putting up his glass.
"Hold on, sir. What's this? Here's something. Look here."
Trendon pointed to a small bit of wood rather neatly carved to the shape
of an indicatory finger, and lashed to the staff, at the height of a man's
face. The others clustered around.
"Oh, the devil!" cried Trendon. "It must have got twisted. It's pointing
"Strange performance," said the captain. "However, since it points that
way--heave aside those rocks, men."
The first slab lifted brought to light a corner of cardboard. This, on
closer examination, proved to be the cover of a book. The rocks rolled
right and left, and as the flag-staff, deprived of its support, tottered
and fell, the trove was dragged forth and handed to the captain. While the
ground jarred with occasional tremors and the mountain puffed forth its
vaporous threats, he and the surgeon, seated on a rock, gave themselves
with complete absorption to the reading.
Outwardly the book accorded ill with its surroundings. In that place of
desolation and death, it typified the petty neatness of office processes.
Properly placed, it should have been found on a desk, with pens, rulers,
and other paraphernalia forming exact angles or parallels to it. It was a
quarto, bound in marbled paper, with black leather over the hinges. No
external label suggested its ownership or uses, but through one corner,
blackened and formidable in its contrast to the peaceful purposes of the
volume, a hole had been bored. The agency of perforation was obvious. A
bullet had made it.
"Seen something of life, I reckon," said Trendon, as the captain turned
the volume about slowly in his hands.
"And of death," returned Captain Parkinson solemnly. "Do you know,
Trendon, I almost dread to open this."
"Pshaw!" returned the other. "What is it to us?"
He threw the cover back. Neatly lettered on the inside, in the fine and
slightly angular writing characteristic of the Teutonic scholar, was the
Karl Augustus Schermerhorn,
1409-1/2 Spruce Street,
[Illustration: With a strangled cry the sailor cast the shirt from him]
The opposite page was blank. Captain Parkinson turned half a dozen leaves.
"German!" he cried, in a note of disappointment, "Can you read German
"After a fashion," replied the other. "Let's see. _Es wonnte sechs--und--
dreissig unterjacke_," he read. "Why, blast it, was the man running a
haberdashery? What have three dozen undershirts to do with this?"
"A memorandum for outfitting, probably," suggested the captain. "Try
"Chemical formulae," said Trendon. "Pages of 'em. The devil! Can't make a
thing of it."
"Well, here's something in English."
"Good," said the other. "_By combining the hyper-sulphate of iridium with
the fumes arising from oxide of copper heated to 1000 C. and combining
with picric acid in the proportions described in formula x 18, a reaction,
the nature of which I have not fully determined, follows. This must be
performed with extreme care owing to the unstable nature of the benzene
"Picric acid? Benzene compounds? Those are high explosives," said Captain
Parkinson. "We should have Barnett go over this."
"Here's a name under the formula. _Dr. A. Mardenter, Ann Arbor, Mich_.
That explains its being in English. Probably copied from a letter."
"This must have been one of the experiments in the valley that Slade told
us of," said the captain, thoughtfully. "Why, see here," he cried, with
something like exultation. "That's what Dr. Schermerhorn was doing here.
He has the clue to some explosive so terrific that he goes far out of the
world to experiment with its manufacture. For companions he chooses a gang
of cutthroats that the world would never miss in case anything went wrong.
Possibly it was some trial of the finished product that started the
eruption, even. Do you see?"
"Don't explain enough," grunted Trendon. "Deserted ship. Billy Edwards.
Mysterious lights. Slade and his story. Any explosives in those? Good
enough, far as it goes. Don't go far enough."
"It certainly leaves gaps," admitted the other.
He turned over a few more pages.
"Formulas, formulas, formulas. What's this? Here are some marginal
"Unbehasslich," read Trendon. "Let's see. That means 'highly
unsatisfactory,' or words to that effect. Hi! Here's where the old man
loses his temper. Listen: _'May the devil take Carroll and Crum for
careless'_--h'm--well, _'pig-dogs.'_ Now, where do Carroll and Crum come
"They're a firm of analytical chemists in Washington," said the captain.
"When I was on the ordnance board I used to get their circulars."
"Fits in. What? More English? Worse than the German, this is."
The writing, beginning evenly enough at the top of a page, ran along for a
line or two, then fell, sprawling in huge, ragged characters the full
length. Trendon stumbled among them, indignantly.
"_June 1, 1904_," he read. "_It is done. Triumph_. (German word.) _Eureka.
Es ist gefillt. From the_ (can't make out that word) _of the
inspiration--god-like power--solution of the world-problems_. Why, the
old fool is crazy! And his writing is crazier. Can't make head or tail of
The captain turned several more pages. They were blank. "At any rate, it
seems to be the end," he said.
"I should hope so," returned the other, disgustedly.
He took the book on his knees, fluttering the leaves between thumb and
finger. Suddenly he checked, cast back, and threw the book wide open.
"Here beginneth a new chapter," said he, quietly.
No imaginable chirography could have struck the eye with more of contrast
to the professor's small and nervous hand. Large, rounded, and rambling,
it filled the page with few and careless words.
_June 2, 1904. On this date I find myself sole occupant and absolute
monarch of this valuable island. This morning I was a member of a
community, interesting if not precisely peaceful. To-night I am the last
leaf. 'All his lovely companions are faded and gone,' the sprightly
Solomon, the psychic Nigger, the amiable Thrackles, the cheerful Perdosa,
the genial Pulz, and the high-minded Eagen. Undoubtedly the social
atmosphere has cleared; moreover, I am for the first time in my life a
landed proprietor. Item: several square miles of grass land; item: several
dozen head of sheep; item: a cove full of fish; item: a handsomely
decorated cave; item: a sportive though somewhat unruly volcano. At times,
it may be, I shall feel the lack of company. The seagulls alone are not
distrustful of me. Undoubtedly the seagull is an estimable creature, but
he leaves something to be desired in the way of companionship. Hence this
diary, the inevitable refuge of the empty-minded. Materially, I shall do
well enough, though I face one tragic circumstance. My cigarette material,
I find, is short. Upon counting up--"_
"Damn his cigarettes!" cried the surgeon. "This must be Darrow. Finicky
beast! Let's see if it's signed."
He whirled the leaves over to the last sheet, glanced at it, and sprang to
his feet. There, sprawled in tremulous characters, as by a hand shaken
with agony or terror, was written:
_Look for me in the cave.
The bullet hole in the corner furnished a sinister period to the
Trendon handed the ledger back to the captain, who took one quick look,
closed it, and handed it to Congdon.
"Wrap that up and carry it carefully," he said.
"Aye, aye, sir," said the coxswain, swathing it in his jacket and tucking
it under his arm.
"Now to find that cave," said Captain Parkinson to the surgeon.
"The cave in the cliff, of course," said Trendon. "Noticed it coming in,
"On the north shore, about a mile to the east of here."
"Then we'll cut directly across."
"Beg your pardon, sir," put in Congdon, "but I don't think we can make it
from this side, sir."
"No beach, sir, and the cliff's like the side of a ship. Looks to be deep
water right into the cave's mouth."
"Back to the boat, then. Bring that flag along."
The descent was swift, at times reckless, but the party embarked without
accident. Soon they were forging through the water at racing speed, the
boat leaping to the impulsion of the sailorman's strongest motives,
curiosity and the hope of saving a life.
THE TWIN SLABS
Within half an hour the gig had reached the mouth of the cave. As the
coxswain had predicted, the seas ran into the lofty entrance. Elsewhere
the surf fell whitely, but through the arch the waves rolled unbroken into
a heavy stillness. Only as the boat hovered for a moment at the face of
the cliff could the exploring party hear, far within, the hollow boom that
told of breakers on a distant, subterranean beach.
"Run her in easy," came the captain's order. "Keep a sharp lookout for
To the whispering plash of the oars they moved from sunlight into
twilight, from twilight into darkness. Of a sudden the oars jerked
convulsively. A great roar had broken upon the ears of the sailors; the
invisible roof above them, the water heaving beneath them, the walls that
hemmed them in, called, with a multiplication of resonance, upon the name
of Darrow. The boat quivered with the start of its occupants. Then one or
two laughed weakly as they realised that what they had heard was no
supernatural voice. It was the captain hailing for the marooned man.
No vocal answer came. But an indeterminable space away they could hear a
low splash followed by a second and a third. Something coughed weakly in
front and to the right. Trendon's hand went to his revolver. The men sat,
stiffened. One of them swore, in a whisper, and the oath came back upon
them, echoing the name of the Saviour in hideous sibilance.
"Silence in the boat," said the captain, in such buoyant tones that the
men braced themselves against the expected peril.
"Light the lantern and pass it to me," came the order. "Keep below the
As the match spluttered: "Do you see something, a few rods to port?" asked
the captain in Trendon's ear.
"Pair of green lights," said Trendon. "Eyes. _Seals!_"
"_Seals! Seals! Seals_!" shouted the walls, for the surgeon had suddenly
released his voice. And as the mockery boomed, the green lights
disappeared and there was more splashing from the distance. The crew sat
The lantern spread its radiance. It was reflected from battlements of
fairy beauty. Everywhere the walls were set, as with gems, in broad wales
of varied and vivid hues. Dazzled at first, the explorers soon were able
to discern the general nature of the subterranean world which they had
entered. In most places the walls rose sheer and unscaleable from the
water. In others, turretted rocks thrust their gleaming crags upward. Over
to starboard a little beach shone with Quaker greyness in that spectacular
display. The end of the cavern was still beyond the area of light.
"Must have been a swimmer to get in here," commented Trendon, glancing at
"Unless he had a boat," said the captain. "But why doesn't he answer?"
"Better try again. No telling how much more there is of this."
The surgeon raised his ponderous bellow, and the cave roared again with
the summons. Silence, formidable and unbroken, succeeded.
"House to house search is now in order," he said. "Must be in here
somewhere--unless the seals got him."
Cautiously the boat moved forward. Once she grazed on a half submerged
rock. Again a tiny islet loomed before her. Scattered bones glistened on
the rocky shore, but they were not human relics. Occasional beaches
tempted a landing, but all of these led back to precipitous cliffs except
one, from the side of which opened two small caves. Into the first the
lantern cast its glare, revealing emptiness, for the arch was wide and the
cave shallow. The entrance to the other was so narrow as to send a visitor
to his knees. But inside it seemed to open out. Moreover, there were fish
bones at the entrance. The captain, the surgeon, and Congdon, the
coxswain, landed. Captain Parkinson reached the spot first. Stooping, he
thrust his head in at the orifice. A sharp exclamation broke from him. He
rose to his feet, turning a contorted face to the others.
"Poisonous," he cried.
"More volcano," said Trendon. He bent to the black hole and sniffed
"I'll go in, sir," volunteered Congdon. "I've had fire-practice."
"My business," said Trendon, briefly. "Decomposition; unpleasant, but not
Pushing the lantern before him, he wormed his way until the light was
blotted out. Presently it shone forth from the funnel, showing that the
explorer had reached the inner open space. Captain Parkinson dropped down
and peered in, but the evil odour was too much for him. He retired,
gagging and coughing. Trendon was gone for what seemed an interminable
time. His superior officer fidgeted uneasily. At last he could stand it no
"Dr. Trendon, are you all right?" he shouted.
"Yup," answered a choked voice. "Cubbing oud dow."
Again the funnel was darkened. A pair of feet appeared; then the surgeon's
chunky trunk, his head, and the lantern. Once, twice, and thrice he
"Phew!" he gasped. "Thought I was tough, but--Phee-ee-ee-ew!"
"Did you find--"
"No, sir. Not Darrow. Only a poor devil of a seal that crawled in there to
The exploration continued. Half a mile, as they estimated, from the open,
they reached a narrow beach, shut off by a perpendicular wall of rock.
Skirting this, they returned on the other side, minutely examining every
possible crevice. When they again reached the light of day, they had
arrived at the certain conclusion that no living man was within those
"Would a corpse rise to the surface soon in waters such as these, Dr.
Trendon?" asked the captain.
"Might, sir. Might not. No telling that."
The captain ruminated. Then he beat his fist on his knee.
"The other cave!"
"What other cave?" asked the surgeon.
"The cave where they killed the seals."
"Surely!" exclaimed Trendon. "Wait, though. Didn't Slade say it was
between here and the point?"
"Yes. Beyond the small beach."
"No cave there," declared the surgeon positively.
"There must be. Congdon, did you see an opening anywhere in the cliff as
we came along?"
"No, sir. This is the only one, sir."
"We'll see about that," said the captain, grimly. "Head her about. Skirt
the shore as near the breakers as you safely can."
The gig retraced its journey.
"There's the beach, as Slade described it," said Captain Parkinson, as
they came abreast of the little reach of sand.
"And what are those two bird-roosts on it?" asked Trendon. "See 'em? Dead
against that patch of shore-weed."
"Bits of wreckage fixed in the sand."
"Don't think so, sir. Too well matched."
"We have no time to settle the matter now," said the captain impatiently.
"We must find that cave, if it is to be found."
Hovering just outside the final drag of the surf, under the skilful
guidance of Congdon, the boat moved slowly along the line of beach to the
line of cliff. All was open as the day. The blazing sun picked out each
detail of jut and hollow. Evidently the poisonous vapours from the volcano
had not spread their blight here, for the face of the precipice was bright
with many flowers. So close in moved the boat that its occupants could
even see butterflies fluttering above the bloom. But that which their
eager eyes sought was still denied them. No opening offered in that
smiling cliff-side. Not by so much as would admit a terrier did the mass
of rock and rubble gape.
"And Slade described the cave as big enough to ram the _Wolverine_ into,"
Up to the point of the headland, and back, passed the boat. Blank
disappointment was the result.
"What is your opinion now, Dr. Trendon?" asked the captain of the older
"Don't know, sir," answered the surgeon hopelessly. "Looks as if the cave
might have been a hallucination."
"I shall have something to say to Mr. Slade on our return," said the
captain crisply. "If the cave was an hallucination, as you suggest, the
seal-murder was fiction."
"Looks so," agreed the other.
"And the murder of the captain. How about that?"
"And the mutiny of the men," added the surgeon.
"And the killing of the doctor. Your patient seems to be a romantic
"And the escape of Darrow. Hold hard," quoth Trendon. "Darrow's no
romance. Nothing fictional about the flag and ledger."
"True enough," said the captain, and fell to consideration.
"Anyway," said Trendon vigorously, "I'd like to have a look at those bird-
roosts. Mighty like signposts, to my mind."
"Very well," said the captain. "It'll cost us only a wetting. Run her in,
With all the coxswain's skill, and the oarsmen's technique, the passage of
the surf was a lively one, and little driblets of water marked the trail
of the officers as they shuffled up the beach.
The two slabs stood less than fifty yards beyond high water tide. Nearing
them, the visitors saw that each marked a mound, but not until they were
close up could they read the neat carving on the first. It ran as follows:
_who murdered his employer,
his captain, and his shipmates,
and was found, dead
of his deserts, on these shores,
June 5, 1904.
This slab is erected as a
memento of admiring esteem
the last of his victims.
"And you can kiss the
Book on that."_
"Percy Darrow _fecit_," said the surgeon. "You can kiss the Book on
"Then Slade was telling the truth!"
"Apparently. Seems good corroboration."
The captain turned to the other mound. Its slab was carved by the same
_Sacred to the memory of an
Ensign of the U. S. Navy,
whose body, washed upon this
coast, is here buried with all
reverence, by strange hands;
whose soul may God rest.
"The seas shall sing his
requiem." June the Sixth,
"Billy Edwards," said the captain, very low.
He uncovered. The surgeon did likewise. So, for a space, they stood with
bared heads between the twin graves.
THE PINWHEEL VOLCANO
The surgeon spoke first.
"Another point," said he. "Darrow was alive within a few days."
Captain Parkinson turned slowly away from the grave. "You are right," he
said, with an effort. "Our business is with the living now. The dead must
"Hide and seek," growled Trendon. "If he's here why don't he show
The other shook his head.
"Place is all trampled up with his footprints," said Trendon. "He's
plodded back and forth like a prisoner in a cell."
"The ledger," said the captain. "I'd forgotten it. That grave drove
everything else out of my mind."
"Bring the book here," called Trendon.
Congdon unwrapped it from his jacket and handed it to him. The sailors
cast curious glances at the two headstones.
"Mount guard over Mr. Edwards's grave," commanded the captain.
The coxswain saluted and gave an order. One of the sailors stepped forward
to the first mound.
"Not that one," rasped the officer. "The other."
The man saluted and moved on.
"With your permission, sir," said Trendon.
On a nod from his superior officer he opened the ledger and took up
"Here it is. Entry of June 3d."
"_Everything lovely. Schooner lost to sight. Query--to memory dear? Not
exactly. Though I shouldn't mind having her under orders for a few days.
Queer glow in the sky last night: if they've been investigating they may
have got what's coming to them. Volcano exhibiting fits of temper. Spouted
out considerable fire about nine o'clock. Quite spectacular, but no harm
done. Can foresee short rations of tobacco. Lava in valley still too hot
for comfort. No sign of Dr. Schermerhorn. Still sleep on beach_.
"Not much there," sniffed Trendon. "Go on," said the captain.
"_June 3. Evening. Thick and squally weather again. Local atmospheric
conditions seem upset. Volcano still leading strenuous life. Climbed the
headland this afternoon. Wind very shifty. Got an occasional whiff of
volcanic output. One in particular would have sent a skunk to the camphor
bottle. No living on the headland. Will explore cave to-morrow with a view
to domicile. Have come down to an allowance of seven cigarettes per diem.
"June 4. Explored cave to-day. Full of dead seals. Not only dead, but all
bitten and cut to pieces. Must have been lively doings in Seal-Town. Not
much choice between air in the cave and vapours from the volcano. Barring
seals, everything suitable for light housekeeping, such as mine. Undertook
to clean house. Dragged late lamented out into the water. Some sank and
were swept away by the sea-puss. Others, I regret to say, floated. Found
trickle of fresh water in depth of cave, and little sand-ledge to sleep
on. So far, so good: we may be 'appy yet. If only I had my cigarette
supply. Once heard a botanist say that leaves of the white shore-willow
made fair substitute for tobacco. Fair substitute for nux vomica! Would
like to interview said botanist_.
"The fellow is a tobacco maniac," growled Trendon, feeling in his breast
pocket. "The devil," he cried, bringing forth an empty hand.
Silently the captain handed him a cigar. "Thank you, sir," he said,
lighted it, and continued reading.
"_June 5. Had a caller to-day. Climbed the headland this morning. Found
volcano taking a day off. Looking for sign of _Laughing Lass_, noticed
something heliographing to me from the waves beyond the reef. Seemed to be
metal. I guessed a tin can. Caught in the swirl, it rounded the cape, and
I came down to the shore to meet it. Halfway down the cliff I had a better
view. I saw it was not a tin can. There was a dark body under it, which
the waves were tossing about, and as the metal moved with the body, it
glinted in the sun. Suddenly it was borne in upon me that an arm was doing
the signalling, waving to me with a sprightly, even a jocular
friendliness. Then I saw what it really was. It was Handy Solomon and his
steel hook. He was riding quite high. Every now and again he would bow and
wave. He grounded gently on the sand beach. I planted him promptly. First,
however, I removed a bag of tobacco from his pocket. Poor stuff, and water
soaked, but still tobacco. Spent a quiet afternoon carving a headstone for
the dear departed. Pity it were that virtues so shining should be
uncommemorated. Idle as the speculation is, I wonder who my next visitor
will be. Thrackles, I hope. Evidently some of them have been playing the
part of Pandora. Spent last night in the cave. Air quite fresh.
"June 6. Saw the glow again last night."_
The surgeon paused in his reading. "That would be the night of the 5th:
the night before we picked her up empty."
"Yes," agreed Captain Parkinson. "That was the night Billy Edwards--Go
"_Saw the glow again last night. Don't understand it. Once should have
been enough for them. This matter of hoarding tobacco may be a sad error.
If Old Spitfire keeps on the way she has to-day I shan't need much more.
It would be a raw jest to be burned or swallowed up with a month's supply
of unsmoked cigarettes on one. Cave getting shaky. Still, I think I'll
stick there. As between being burned alive and buried alive, I'm for the
respectable and time honoured fashion of interment. Bombardment was mostly
to the east to-day, but no telling when it may shift.
"June 7. This morning I found a body rolling in the surf. It was the body
of a young man, large and strongly built, dressed in the uniform of an
ensign of our navy. Surely a strange visitor to these shores! There was no
mark of identification upon him except a cigarette case graven with an
undecipherable monogram in Tiffany's most illegible style of arrow-headed
inscription. This I buried with him, and staked the grave with a
headboard. An officer and a gentleman, a youth of friendly ways and kindly
living, if one may judge by the face of the dead; and he comes by the same
end to the same goal as Handy Solomon. Why not? And why should one
philosophise in a book that will never be read? Hold on! Perhaps--just
perhaps--it may be read. The officer was not long dead. Ensigns of the U.
S. navy do not wander about untraversed waters alone. There must be a
warship somewhere in the vicinity. But why, then, an unburied officer
floating on the ocean? I will smoke upon this, luxuriously and
plentifully. (Later.) No use. I can't solve it. But one thing I do. I put
up a signal pole on the headland and cache this record under it this
afternoon. From day to day, with the kindly permission of the volcano, I
will add to it.... Bad doings by Old Spitfire. The cloud is coming down on
me. Also seems to be moving along the cliff. I will retire hastily to my
private estate in the cave_.
"That's all, except the scrawl on the last page," said Trendon. "Some
action of the volcano scared him off. He just had time to scrawl that last
message and drop the book into the cache. The question is, did he get back
"I doubt it," said the captain. "We will search the headland for his
"But the cave," insisted the surgeon. "We ought to have found some sign of
"Slade is the solution," said the captain. "We must ask him."
They put back to the ship. Barnett was anxiously awaiting them.
"Your patient has been in a bad way, Dr. Trendon," he said.
"What's wrong?" asked Trendon, frowning.
"He came up on deck, wild-eyed and staggering. There was a sheet of paper
in his hand which seemed to have some bearing on his trouble. When he
found you had gone to the island without him he began to rage like a
maniac. I had to have him carried down by force. In the rumpus the paper
disappeared. I assumed the responsibility of giving him an opiate."
"Quite right," approved Trendon. "I'll go down. Will you come with me,
sir?" he said to the captain.
They found Slade in profound slumber.
"Won't do to wake him now," growled Trendon. "Hello, what's here?"
Lying in the hollow of the sick man's right hand, where it had been
crushed to a ball, was a crumpled mass of tracing paper. Trendon smoothed
it out, peered at it and passed it to the captain.
"It's a sketch of an Indian arrow-head," he exclaimed in surprise, at the
first glance. "What are all these marks?"
"Map of the island," barked Trendon. "Look here."
The drawing was a fairly careful one, showing such geographical points as
had been of concern to the two-year inhabitants. There was the large
cavern, indicated as they had found it, and at a point between it and the
headland the legend, "Seal Cave."
"But it's wrong," cried Captain Parkinson, setting finger to the spot. "We
passed there twice. There's no opening."
"No guarantee that there may not have been," returned the other. "This
island has been considerably shaken up lately. Entrance may have been
closed by a landslide down the cliff. Noticed signs myself, but didn't
think of it in connection with the cave."
"That's work for Barnett, then," said the captain, brightening. "We'll
blow up the whole face of the cliff, if necessary, but we'll get at that
He hurried out. Order followed order, and soon the gig, with the captain,
Trendon, and the torpedo expert, was driving for the point marked "Seal
Cave" on the map over which they were bent.
MR. DARROW RECEIVES
"You say the last entry is June 7th?" asked Barnett, as the boat entered
the light surf.
"That was the night we saw the last glow, and the big burst from the
volcano, wasn't it?"
"The island would have been badly shaken up."
"Not so violently but that the flag-pole stood," said the captain.
"That's true, sir. But there's been a good deal of volcanic gas going. The
man's been penned up for four days."
"Give the fellow a chance," growled Trendon. "Air may be all right in the
cave. Good water there, too. Says so himself. By Slade's account he's a
pretty capable citizen when it comes to looking after himself. Wouldn't
wonder if we'd find him fit as a fiddle."
"There was no clue to Ives and McGuire?" asked Barnett presently.
"None." It was the captain who answered.
The gig grated, and the tide being high, they waded to the base of the
cliff, Barnett carrying his precious explosives aloft in his arms.
"Here's the spot," said the captain. "See where the water goes in through
"Opening at the top, too," said Trendon.
He let out his bellow, roaring Darrow's name.
"I doubt if you could project your voice far into a cave thus blocked,"
said Captain Parkinson. "We'll try this."
He drew his revolver and fired. The men listened at the crevices of the
rock. No sound came from within.
"Your enterprise, Mr. Barnett," said the commander, with a gesture which
turned over the conduct of the affair to the torpedo expert.
Barnett examined the rocks with enthusiasm.
"Looks like moderately easy stuff," he observed. "See how the veins run.
You could almost blow a design to order in that."
"Yes; but how about bringing down the whole cave?"
"Oh, of course there's always an element of uncertainty when you're
dealing with high explosives," admitted the expert. "But unless I'm
mistaken, we can chop this out as neat as with an axe."
Dropping his load of cartridges carelessly upon a flat rock which
projected from the water, he busied himself in a search along the face of
the cliff. Presently, with an "Ah," of satisfaction, he climbed toward a
hand's breadth of platform where grew a patch of purple flowers.
"Throw me up a knife, somebody," he called.
"Take notice," said Trendon, good-naturedly, "that I'm the botanist of
"Oh, you can have the flowers. All I want is what they grow in."
Loosening a handful of the dry soil, he brought it down and laid it with
the explosives. Next he called one of the sailors to "boost" him, and was
soon perched on the flat slant of a huge rock which formed, as it were,
the keystone to the blockade.
"Let's see," he ruminated. "We want a slow charge for this. One that will
exert a widespread pressure without much shattering force. The No. 3, I
"How is that, Mr. Barnett?" asked the captain, with lively interest.
"You see, sir," returned the demonstrator, perched high, like a sculptor
at work on some heroic masterpiece, "what we want is to split off this
rock." He patted the flank of the huge slab. "There's a lovely vein
running at an angle inward from where I sit. Split that through, and the
rock should roll, of its own weight, away from the entrance. It's held
only by the upper projection that runs under the arch here."
"Neat programme," commented Trendon, with a tinge of sardonic scepticism.
"Wait and see," retorted Barnett blithely, for he was in his element now.
"I'll appoint you my assistant. Just toss me up that cartridge: the third
one on the left."
The surgeon recoiled.
"Supposing you don't catch it?"
"Well, supposing I don't."
"It's dynamite, isn't it?"
"Something of the same nature. Joveite, it's called."
Still the surgeon stared at him. Barnett laughed.
"Oh, you've got the high explosives superstition," he said lightly.
"Dynamite don't go off as easy as people think. You could drop that stuff
from the cliffhead without danger. Have I got to come down for it?"
With a wry face Trendon tossed up the package. It was deftly caught.
"Now wet that dirt well. Put it in the canvas bag yonder, and send one of
the men up with it. I'm going to make a mud pie."
Breaking the package open, he spread the yellow powder in a slightly
curving line along the rock. With the mud he capped this over, forming a
little arched roof.
"To keep it from blowing away," surmised Trendon.
"No; to make it blow down instead of blowing up."
"Oh, rot!" returned the downright surgeon. "That pound of dirt won't make
the shadow of a feather's difference."
"Won't it!" retorted the other. "Curious thing about high explosives. A
mud-cap will hold down the force as well as a ton of rock. Wait and see
what happens to the rock beneath."
He slid off his perch into the ankle-deep water and waded out to the boat.
Here he burrowed for a moment, presently emerging with a box. This he
carried gingerly to a convenient rock and opened. First he lifted out some
soft padding. A small tin box honey-combed inside came to light. With
infinite precaution Barnett picked out an object that looked like a 22-
calibre short cartridge, wadded some cotton batten in his hand, set the
thing in the wadding, laid it on the rock, carefully returned the small
box to the large box and the large box to the boat, took up the cartridge
again and waded back to the cliff. They watched him in silence.
"This is the little devil," he said, indicating his delicate burden.
"Fulminate of mercury. This is the stuff that'll remove your hand with
neatness and despatch. It's the quickest tempered little article in the
business. Just give it one hard look and it's off."
"Here," said Trendon, "I resign. From now on I'm a spectator."
Barnett swung the fulminate in his handkerchief and gave it to a sailor to
hold. The man dandled it like a new-born infant. Back to his rock went
Barnett. Producing some cord, he let down an end.
"Tie the handkerchief on, and get out of the way," he directed.
With painful slowness the man carried out the first part of the order; the
latter half he obeyed with sprightly alacrity. Very slowly, very
delicately, the expert drew in his dangerous burden. Once a current of air
puffed it against the face of the rock, and the operator's head was
hastily withdrawn. Nothing happened. Another minute and he had the tiny
shell in hand. A fuse was fixed in it and it was shoved under the mud-cap.
Barnett stood up.
"Will you kindly order the boat ready, Captain Parkinson?" he called.
The order was given.
"As soon as I light the fuse I will come down and we'll pull out fifty
yards. Leave the rest of the Joveite where it is. All ready? Here goes."
He touched a match to the fuse. It caught. For a moment he watched it.
"Going all right," he reported, as he struck the water. "Plenty of time."
Some seventy yards out they rested on their oars. They waited. And waited.
"It's out," grunted Trendon.
From the face of the cliff puffed a cloud of dust. A thudding report
boomed over the water. Just a wisp of whitish-grey smoke arose, and
beneath it the great rock, with a gapping seam across its top, rolled
majestically outward, sending a shower of spray on all sides, and opening
to their eager view a black chasm into the heart of the headland. The
experiment had worked out with the accuracy of a geometric problem.
"That's all, sir," Barnett reported officially.
"Magic! Modern magic!" said the captain. He stared at the open door. For
the moment the object of the undertaking was forgotten in the wonder of
its exact accomplishment.
"Darrow'll think an earthquake's come after him," remarked Trendon.
"Give way," ordered the captain.
The boat grated on the sand. Captain Parkinson would have entered, but
Barnett restrained him.
"It's best to wait a minute or two," he advised. "Occasionally slides
follow an explosion tardily, and the gases don't always dissipate
Where they stood they could see but a short way into the cave. Trendon
squatted and funnelled his hands to one eye.
[Illustration: "Sorry not to have met you at the door," he said
"There's fire inside," he said.
In a moment they all saw it, a single, pin-point glow, far back in the
blackness, a Cyclopean eye, that swayed as it approached. Alternately it
waned and brightened. Suddenly it illuminated the dim lineaments of a
face. The face neared them. It joined itself to reality by a very solid
pair of shoulders, and a man sauntered into the twilit mouth of the
cavern, removed a cigarette from his lips, and gave them greeting.
"Sorry not to have met you at the door," he said, courteously. "It was you
that knocked, was it not? Yes? It roused me from my siesta."
They stared at him in silence. He blinked in the light, with unaccustomed
"You will pardon me for not asking you in at once. Past circumstances have
rendered me--well--perhaps suspicious is not too strong a word."
They noticed that he held a revolver in his hand.
Captain Parkinson came forward a step. The host half raised his weapon.
Then he dropped it abruptly.
"Navy men!" he said, in an altered voice. "I beg your pardon. I could not
see at first. My name is Percy Darrow."
"I am Captain Parkinson of the United States cruiser _Wolverine_," said
the commander. "This is Mr. Barnett, Mr. Darrow. Dr. Trendon, Mr. Darrow."
They shook hands all around.
"Like some damned silly afternoon tea," Trendon said later, in retailing
it to the mess. A pause followed.
"Won't you step in, gentlemen?" said Darrow, "May I offer you the makings
of a cigarette?"
"Wouldn't you be robbing yourself?" inquired the captain, with a twinkle.
"Oh, you found the diary, then," said Darrow easily. "Rather silly of me
to complain so. But really, in conditions like these, tobacco becomes a
"So one might imagine," said Trendon drily. He looked closely at Darrow.
The man's eyes were light and dancing. From the nostrils two livid lines
ran diagonally. Such lines one might make with a hard blue pencil pressed
strongly into the flesh. The surgeon moved a little nearer.
"Can you give me any news of my friend Thrackles?" asked Darrow lightly.
"Or the esteemed Pulz? Or the scholarly and urbane Robinson of Ethiopian
"Dead," said the captain.
"Ah, a pity," said the other. He put his hand to his forehead. "I had
thought it probable." His face twitched. "Dead? Very good. In fact ...
really ... er ... amusing."
He began to laugh, quite to himself. It was not a pleasant laugh to hear.
Trendon caught and shook him by the shoulder.
"Drop it," he said.
Darrow seemed not to hear him. "Dead, all dead!" he repeated. "And I've
outlasted 'em! God damn 'em, I've outlasted 'em!" And his mirth broke
forth in a strangely shocking spasm.
Trendon lifted a hand and struck him so powerfully between the shoulder
blades that he all but plunged forward on his face.
"Quit it!" he ordered again. "Get hold of yourself!"
Darrow turned and gripped him. The surgeon winced with the pain of his
grasp. "I can't," gasped the maroon, between paroxysms. "I've been living
in hell. A black, shaking, shivering hell, for God knows how long.... What
do you know? Have you ever been buried alive?" And again the agony of
laughter shook him.
"This, then," muttered the doctor, and the hypodermic needle shot home.
During the return Darrow lay like a log in the bottom of the gig. The
opiate had done its work. Consciousness was mercifully dead within him.
Rest and good food quickly brought Percy Darrow back to his normal poise.
One inspection satisfied Dr. Trendon that all was well with him. He asked
to see the captain, and that gentleman came to Ives's room, which had been
assigned to the rescued man.
"I hope you've been able to make yourself comfortable," said the
"It would be strange indeed if I could not," returned Darrow, smiling.
"You forget that you have set a savage down in the midst of luxury."
"Make yourself free of Ives's things," invited Captain Parkinson. "Poor
fellow; he will not use them again, I fear."
"One of your men lost?" asked Darrow. "Ah, the young officer whose body I
found on the beach, perhaps?"
"No; but we have to thank you for that burial," said the captain.
Darrow made a swift gesture. "Oh, if thanks are going," he cried, and
paused in hopelessness of adequate expression.
"This has been a bitter cruise for us," continued the captain. He sighed
and was silent for a moment. "There is much to tell and to be told," he
"Much," agreed the other, gravely.
"You will want to see Slade first, I presume," said the captain.
"One of your officers whom I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting?"
The captain stared. "Slade," he said. "Ralph Slade."
"Apparently there's a missing link. Or--I fear I was not wholly myself
yesterday for a time. Possibly something occurred that I did not quite
"Perhaps we'd better wait," said Captain Parkinson, with obvious
misgiving. "You're not quite rested. You will feel more like--"
"If you don't mind," said Darrow composedly, "I'd like to get at this
thing now. I'm in excellent understanding, I assure you."
"Very well. I am speaking of the man who acted as mate in the _Laughing
Lass_. The journalist who--good heavens! What arrant stupidity! I have to
beg your pardon, Mr. Darrow. It has just occurred to me. He called himself
Eagen with you."
"Eagen! What is this? Is Eagen alive?"
"And on this ship. We picked him up in an open boat."
"And you say he calls himself Slade?"
"He is Ralph Slade, adventurer and journalist. Mr. Barnett knows him and
vouches for him."
"And he was on our island under an assumed name," said Darrow in tones
that had the smoothness and the rasp of silk. "Rather annoying. Not good
form, quite, even for a pirate."
"Yet, I believe he saved your life," suggested the captain.
Darrow looked up sharply. "Why, yes," he admitted. "So he did. I had
hoped--" He checked himself. "I had thought that all of the crew went the
same way. You didn't find any of the others?"
Darrow got to his feet. "I think I'd like to see Eagen--Slade--whatever he
"I don't know," began the captain. "It might not be--" He hesitated and
Darrow drew back a little, misinterpreting the other's attitude. "Do I
understand that I am under restraint?" he asked stiffly.
"Certainly not. Why should you be?"
"Well," returned the other contemplatively, "it really might be regarded
as a subject for investigation. Of course I know only a small part of it.
But there have certainly been suspicious circumstances. Piracy there has
been: no doubt of that. Murder, too, if my intuitions are not at fault. Or
at least, a disappearance to be accounted for. Robbery can't be denied.
And there's a dead body or two to be properly accredited." He looked the
captain in the eye.
"You'll find my story highly unsatisfactory in detail, I fancy. I merely
want to know whether I'm to present it as a defence, or only an
"We shall be glad to hear your story when you are ready to tell it--after
you have seen Mr. Slade."
"Thank you," said Darrow simply. "You have heard his?"
"Yes. It needs filling in."
"When may I see him?"
"That's for Dr. Trendon to say. He came to us almost dead. I'll find out."
The surgeon reported Slade much better, but all a-quiver with excitement.
"Hate to put the strain on him," said he. "But he'll be in a fever till he
gets this thing off his mind. Send Mr. Darrow to him."
After a moment's consideration Darrow said: "I should like to have you and
Dr. Trendon present, Captain Parkinson, while I ask Eagen one or two
"Understand one thing, Mr. Darrow," said Trendon briefly. "This is not to
be an inquisition."
"Ah," said Darrow, unmoved. "I'm to be neither defendant nor prosecutor."
"You are to respect the condition of Dr. Trendon's patient, sir," said
Captain Parkinson, with emphasis. "Outside of that, your attitude toward a
man who has twice thought of your life before his own is for you to
No little cynicism lurked in Darrow's tones as he said:
"You have confidence in Mr. Slade, alias Eagen."
"Yes," replied Captain Parkinson, in a tone that closed that topic.
"Still, I should be glad to have you gentlemen present, if only for a
moment," insisted Darrow, presently.
"Perhaps it would be as well--on account of the patient," said the surgeon
"Very well," assented the captain.
The three went to Slade's cabin. He was lying propped up in his bunk.
Trendon entered first, followed by the captain, then Darrow.
"Here's your prize, Slade," said the surgeon.
Darrow halted, just inside the door. With an eager light in his face Slade
leaned forward and stretched out his hand.
"I couldn't believe it until I saw you, old man," he cried.
Darrow's eyebrows went up. Before Slade had time to note that there was no
response to his outstretched hand, the surgeon had jumped in and pushed
him roughly back upon his pillow.
"What did you promise?" he growled. "You were to lie still, weren't you?
And you'll do it, or out we go."
"How are you, Eagen?" drawled Darrow.
"Not Eagen. I'm done with that. They've told you, haven't they?"
Darrow nodded. "Are you the only survivor?" he inquired.
"The Nigger? Pulz? Thrackles? The captain? All drowned?"
"Not the captain. They murdered him."
"Ah," said Darrow softly. "And you--I beg your pardon--your--er--friends
disposed of the doctor in the same way?"
"Handy Solomon," replied Slade with shaking lips. "Hell's got that fiend,
if there's a hell for human fiends. They threw the doctor's body in the
"You didn't notice whether there were any papers?"
"If there were they must have been destroyed with the body when the lava
poured down the valley into the sea."
"The lava: of course," assented Darrow, with elaborate nonchalance. "Well,
he was a kind old boy. A cheerful, simple, wise old child."
"I would have given my right hand to save him," cried Slade. "It was so
"Better to have saved him than me," said Darrow. He spoke with the first
touch of feeling that he exhibited. "I have to thank you for my life,
Eagen--I beg your pardon: Slade. It's hard to remember."
Dr. Trendon arose, and Captain Parkinson with him.
"Give you two hours, Mr. Darrow," said the surgeon. "No more. If he seems
exhausted, give him one of these powders. I'll look in in an hour."
At the end of an hour he returned. Slade was lying back on his pillow.
Darrow was talking, eagerly, confidentially. In another hour he came out.
"The whole thing is clear," he said to Captain Parkinson. "I am ready to
report to you."
"This evening," said the captain. "The mess will want to hear."