a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
Title: Douchard's Island Author: Aidan de Brune * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1700901h.html Language: English Date first posted: Sep 2017 Most recent update: Sep 2017 This eBook was produced by Terry Walker, Colin Choat and Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE
THIS book is a product of a collaborative effort undertaken by Project Gutenberg Australia, Roy Glashan's Library and the bibliophile Terry Walker to collect, edit and publish the works of Aidan de Brune, a colourful and prolific Australian writer whose opus is well worth saving from oblivion.
"THAT chart's been altered!"
Matthew Bowman, master of the barque Lilith, spoke with certainty.
"For what reason?" The girl, seated in the steamer chair, under the awning, asked curiously. She glanced, as she spoke, at the third member of the party, a tall, lean, athletic-looking man, aged about twenty-five years.
"Can't say, missie." Bowman turned again to a perusal of the chart. "It's a rough thing, anyhow, but there's no doubt of the alterations. Two hands have been engaged on this."
"Then we may take it that the chart is not authentic?" the girl, Grace Dormer, asked regretfully. Her large grey eyes were staring out over the wide harbour in which the barque swung on to the tail of a lazy tide. Away to the south, on a high promontory, stood a long, low stone building, of some age, surrounded by a mass of greenery, amid which showed carefully tended lawns. A little sigh escaped her lips.
"I'm not saying that, Miss Grace." The old sailor looked up, with a smile on his bearded lips. "There's many a chart comes into the hands of landsmen that's been through three or four hands, all of them adding something to it. Then it has been cast on one side and been lost. Yet, it was..."
"The experiences of several people," Frank Dormer spoke languidly.
Three years senior to his sister, there was still a remarkable resemblance between them. He glanced at her quizzically. "In spite of what Captain Bowman says, Grace, I think we'll have to say goodbye to our hopes."
"Hopes?" The seaman rose from his seat and placed the chart on the girl's knees. "Hopes of what, young feller? You said nothing when you came on board except that you had found that piece of paper among your uncle's things, and wondered what it was."
"There we were wrong, captain," the girl answered, regretfully. "But we...we had hopes...and...were afraid."
"Afraid of what?" Bowman turned swiftly. A short, squat man with a long, lean body and thighs and legs of enormous thickness, he yet moved with panther-like smoothness. His arms were long, reaching well towards his knees when he let them hang loose. For that reason he usually stood with his thumbs hooked in his belt. His head was round, set on a short, thick neck, mostly covered with grey hair, worn rather long. What could be seen of his complexion was baked almost black from long exposure to southern seas. From above a thin, well-hooked nose, a pair of eyes, surprising in their keenness, stared.
The girl blushed and looked down at the chart resting on her knees, where the seaman had placed it. For a moment she hesitated, but before she could speak, Frank interposed.
"Grace is right, Captain Bowman. We should have told you. There's evidence—not much of it, true, but it's straight evidence—that there's—"
A light lit in the strange blue eyes of the seaman.
"Treasure, yes; of some nature," the young man answered gravely. "Exactly what it is we can't guess. But that chart means something."
Again the swift cat-like movement of the man. He caught up the chart from the girl's knees, peering at it closely for some seconds.
"There's nothing on it indicating treasure." he observed after a time. "Except—"
He paused, turning the paper in his hand. "Where's the letter that was attached to it?"
"Here, captain." Grace spoke. She opened her handbag and handed the man a piece of notepaper, yellow and torn. "You will notice that the pin that bound letter and chart is still in the paper."
"And that's all you've to go on?"
"Plenty, isn't, it, captain?" Frank smiled.
"Plenty!" Bowman snorted, disdainfully. "What do you call that for a clue? There ain't one in all that jumble of words. What's more this ain't been written by a sailor."
"Nor the chart drawn by one," Grace laughed, "We are children of the sea, captain, although we live on land. You know us well; you have known our family since you were a child. Do you think that chart puzzled us for 24 hours?"
"I don't, Miss Grace." The keen blue eyes twinkled. "You've sat on my knees when your legs showed longer than the rest of you, and learned to splice your first rope, held in my old fingers. I knew your uncle, Major Dormer—and a fine old fellow he was, in spite of the fact that he chose to fight on land instead of on the Dormers' natural element. I knew your father—a sailor—as fine a man as ever trod board; and your mother, a real sweet sailor's lady. That chart didn't puzzle you one moment—nor your brother. If it had, I'd have keel-hauled the pair of you."
"An old threat, captain." Frank laughed.
"Pity I never carried it out." The bearded lips broke into a rumble of laughter. "I've threatened it often enough—and only got saucy looks in exchange. Well, come on, what's the story? I'm safe, you know that."
"We found that chart among uncle's things." Grace spoke after a moment's hesitation. "Of course, we knew that it was not a seaman's chart, but we wondered. It certainly is a chart of an island, but there's not a mark on it to show where that island is situated We—we think—"
She stopped, undecided, and then continued, with a glance at her brother. "We think it belonged to dad."
"And that your uncle obtained it from your father?" the seaman asked.
"We think so," Grace answered.
"The chart was in uncle's desk."
Frank took up the tale. "You know dad left everything he possessed to Grace and me, under Uncle Robert's trusteeship. When uncle died he left a similar will. He left Grace and me all his property. Our father's trust had expired, and I came into my share of the joint inheritances. For the time, Grace is under my trusteeship—that is, until next March, when she becomes twenty-one."
"What's that got to do with the chart?" Bowman asked brusquely.
"Quite a lot," Frank smiled quietly. He was used to the old seaman's manner. "I was trying to explain how we found the chart and believed that it had belonged to dad. You know, he was always in touch with sailors from an over the world. They used to come to him—"
"What of that?" Grace chimed in. "Dad was a rich man and a sailor, and he loved sailors."
"If he was rich, then why are you worrying your pretty head about that scrap of paper? Do you want more money?"
"No." The brother and sister exchanged glances. "We want adventure."
"And you think you'll get it through that?"
"Frank thinks so."
"I hope so."
"Yet you have only the drawing of an island, without even a point of the compass, a latitude or longitude, to identify it."
"There's the mystery."
The girl swung her legs down to the deck and stood up, a tall, lithe figure in a short, straight frock that revealed slim legs up to the knees. She clasped her bare arms at the back of her neck and stretched.
Bowman looked up at her, a strange expression in his eyes. Here was the girl he had taken from her mother's arms, a mite a few days old. Again and again, as he returned to port from his wanderings over the waters of the world, he had resumed his comradeship with her, watching her grow from a toddler, through adolescent school-days, to a really beautiful young woman. Always he had concealed his feelings—his adoration of this beautiful young creature he had watched grow to womanhood. He had thought of her as his child—the child of a wanderer who had never settled to the home life, but continually dreamed of.
"Well, what of the mystery?" The captain spoke shortly.
"That." She pointed to the chart, now in the seaman's hand. "And this letter."
"The letter—a lot of gibberish," Bowman snorted. "Thought you had more sense than to be taken in by that sort of thing."
"Uncle Matt! Did you read that letter?"
"Course I did. You gave it me for that purpose." Bowman faced the girl angrily. "Do you think I'd cut you off anything that'd benefit you two? Not on your life, Missie Grace. I'd go off this deck and rake the bottom of this harbour if I thought it'd do you any good..."
"Of course you would, old dear." The girl linked her arm in the old seaman's. "I haven't forgotten my first sweetheart to that extent. Now, sit down there and listen. I'm going to read that letter to you. If you don't listen—that's mutiny."
"On board me own ship!" Bowman grinned. "All right, me girl, fire away."
Grace held out her hand for the letter, which her brother held. Standing before the two men she read it slowly and gravely:
"There is not much hope of getting away alive. Been here eleven weeks and tucker's gone. Water is drying up. Someone'll find this one day and send it to you. Can hang on until November 5th. You count from there and you will know when I passed out. Not chancing things. All I write is for you to take the trip and put me away respectable. Remember, I don't ask much that ain't reasonable. It'll pay you all, that trip. Don't you fail. Come here and gather what I place today. It's not much, perhaps, but it's yours.
"There!" The girl looked up from the paper. "What do you make of that?"
"Nothing. Just nothing." Captain Bowman laughed shortly. "I know what you're thinking. That someone found buried treasure and left that note for your father, as a guide."
"What else can it be?" The girl spoke, impatiently.
"He writes he's short of water and food—'tucker' he calls if, and no seaman ever used that word, to my knowledge. I guess be was crazy for water and began seeing things. Anyhow, take an old salt's tip and let it fade out."
The girl stamped impatiently and walked to the side of the vessel. For a moment she looked down at the rippling water, then turned and faced the men. "Tell him the rest, Frank." She spoke more quietly now, yet a little pucker still showed between her brows.
"It isn't much." The young man spoke with a short laugh. "We found that note on Saturday—Sis and I. Sunday, someone got in at the library window and searched the place. Funny thing, didn't take a thing, although there are quite a number of valuable articles around the room. Monday, a seafaring man came and asked for a packet of papers Uncle Robert was taking care of for him. He couldn't describe the packet and we advised him to go to Mr. Kempton, our solicitor. He didn't. Grace had the curiosity to ring Kempton up, and he said he hadn't seen any seafaring man. Wednesday night, the house was entered again. It was then that Sis told me that she had had a feeling all that day that she was being followed—and when I came to think of it, I remember seeing a strange-looking fellow continually throughout the day. Then..."
"That's to-day," Grace interrupted. "I saw the man at the back door, talking to our cook. She said he had called to beg tucker, but added that he had asked quite a lot of questions about Frank and me. Frank said that he saw a man hanging about the road outside the gate, and..." She paused, glancing at a nearby lifeboat on the deck.
Frank followed the direction of her glance. He hesitated a moment, then sprang towards the boat.
A man rose to his feet from the far side of the boat, hesitating. Frank sprang forward, and the man turned and dived into the harbour.
Captain Bowman uttered a bellow of rage. In a couple of jumps he was at the chart-room door. He emerged, armed with a formidable revolver and ran to the side of the ship, shooting at the black head bobbing in the water. The man dived. When he came to the surface again he was some distance from the ship—out of range of the captain's weapon.
"What the hell!" The seaman was spluttering with anger. "And on my ship! I'll ..." He caught Grace's laughing eyes and subsided. "Beg pardon, missie. Shouldn't have sworn before you." Then, as if anxious to change the subject. "Say, where's that letter and chart?"
The girl held them up. Bowman took them and for some time studied them in silence; the girl and young man watched him.
"Make anything of them, captain?" Frank asked.
"Not a line. But, I'm going to." He hesitated. "You bet your sweet life. After what's happened, Captain Bowman's going to find out all about Douchard's Island."
"Douchard's Island?" The girl questioned, excitedly. "Where do you get that name, Uncle Matt?"
"'Cause it's there." The stubby forefinger stabbed at the letter. "And call me a fool for not remembering. But your talk sort of put me off. I never thought of that man."
"What man?" Grace shook the seaman's arm, impatiently, in her excitement. "What man are you talking about?"
Bowman laughed. "Of course, Louis Douchard! Why didn't I think of him before? But it's years since your father came to me with Douchard—more years than I care to remember."
"Who was Louis Douchard?" Grace questioned.
"Hanged if I know." Bowman scratched his head. "S'far as I remember he was a tall, thin, loose-shanked fellow with a mop of red hair, turning grey. Seemed to think a lot of your father; couldn't keep his eyes off him and..."
He paused and took a few turns along the deck. At length, he came back to where the young people were impatiently awaiting him. "You'll have to give me time to think this out, missie," he said, patting the hand Grace laid on his arm. "There's quite a number of years intervening and I've get to search back. Give me time. That's all I ask. Time, and I'll tell yon all I know."
"But..." Grace hesitated. Then: "Who was Louis Douchard?"
"I've told you; I can't remember. All I know is—that he wasn't a sailor."
GRACE could not shift Captain Bowman from his determination. He would take time to think over past days; the days when Arthur Dormer frequented his ship when in port, bringing with him men be thought would appeal to the old seaman.
At the ship's gangway lay the Fairy, a speedy, outboard motorboat.
Grace ran down to it and almost before Frank could jump aboard had it speeding for the jetty at the bottom of the big garden under the bluff. Almost in silence she ran the boat beside the jetty and waited while her brother secured it. Then, she linked her arm in his, as they ascended the steep grade to the terrace that ran along the harbour side of the house.
"What do you think, Frank?" She stopped at the foot of the last flight of steps. "Douchard's Island! I like the name. You are older than I. Do you remember Louis Douchard?"
The young man shook his head thoughtfully. "I don't know," he paused. "Now I have heard Captain Bowman I begin to believe I remember him coming to see dad; but it's a long while ago. I've got to think..."
"Like Uncle Matt." the girl laughed. "Oh, you men! Listen—'Tall, thin, loose-shanked, mop of red hair, turning grey!' There you are. Can't you remember? Why, if a woman had seen a man like that she would have remembered him to the end of her life."
"Well, I'm not a woman." Frank grinned.
"No-o-" Then the girl laughed. "Frank, everyone says that we are alike. What sort of a girl do you think you would have made?"
"That would have been a question better asked of my best boy." A mock frown came on the young man's brow. "No girl understands herself until she has had at least two serious flirtations."
"Are flirtations serious?" Grace raised her eyebrows. Then, with a little laugh, "Psychology is out of order and..."
"Tea is in order." Frank nodded to the table spread beneath the overhanging trees at the edge of the lawn. "Why didn't you bring Captain Matt, back with you, Grace?"
"I for—no, I didn't. For the time I wanted him to stay aboard and think. Tea would be a disturbing element with him. Now he is alone he will go into the chart room and mix a stiff glass of grog. That will excite his brain. Years will turn back and in the fumes of the ardent spirit..."
"He will recite poetry—like my sister—in flights of fancy to..."
"Douchard's Island." The girl had reached the tea-table and was busy with the equipage. Frank took his cup and helped himself liberally, to the sugar. For a moment he devoted himself to an obstinate lump which refused to melt. Then:
"Why are you so anxious about Douchard's Island, Grace?"
"I want to find it."
Again the girl hesitated. She frowned and bit her lip. "I hardly know," she said at length. "I was intrigued, at first. Then came the inexplicable happenings of the nights..."
"The lure of gold?"
"It may be that, to other people. To me it is...is just..."
"More than that, Frank. Why are these men so anxious to find Douchard's Island? This house is getting haunted..." She shivered slightly. "...two burglaries and a strange caller—I'm leaving out cookie's visitor—in a week. Sonny boy, there's something up."
"There will be, if you call me that again," Frank threatened, drawing the sugar-bowl towards him.
"You don't want more sugar in that tea, surely."
"No, but blessed be the man who invented lump-sugar—when sisters go to see sob-sister films."
Grace nodded, and laughed. "That doesn't answer my proposition," she countered.
"And, you haven't answered mine." The young man stretched his legs before him. "I want to know why you are so anxious about this island business. Do you propose that we go and settle there—in respect to the late lamented Douchard?"
"Absurd!" Grace laughed again. "No, but I'm intrigued."
"By the thoughts of an enormous treasure?"
"By the thought that the map and letter are of especial interest to one, or several persons."
"If Uncle Matt discovers anything I am going through to the end of this.'
"By going to Douchard Island? I hope you don't count me in on the journey?"
The girl nodded; then rose and went to the house. Frank watched her curiously.
Grace was certainly intrigued with the letter they had discovered in their uncle's desk. But was she more intrigued with the papers than with the circumstances surrounding them?
They had found the map in one of the drawers, pinned to the letter and both of them enclosed in an unmarked foolscap envelope. They had been curious, for the moment—but, their curiosity had soon died. Then it had been revived by the burglary—an abortive one, true—followed by the seafaring man's strange call. The caller had not followed the advice given him—to see the solicitor for the estate—but had disappeared. His call had been followed by another burglary, equally abortive.
They had wondered what the intruder had sought. In the library, the scene of the midnight raid, had been plenty of plunder for the ordinary burglar. But, he had disdained old silver and a wonderful collection of old coins. He had attacked the safe and thrown out the contents. A strong-box containing jewellery worth many thousands of pounds had been forced. The jewels had been left, scattered over the library desk.
It had been Grace who had first thought of the letter and map. The burglar had missed the map by a fluke. During the afternoon Grace had chanced on it again and had taken it to her room to study. She had insisted that her unconscious act had foiled the burglar. She had insisted that the two pieces of paper be safely hidden.
Frank was lost in speculation regarding Douchard's Island when a low, penetrating whistle brought him alert.
He looked up, to see Grace standing on the terrace of the house, waving to him. "Quick, boy!" The girl called to him, excitedly. "Someone wants to see you."
She took his arm and guided him to the library. Close by the desk stood a small man, clad in correct morning attire, somewhat faded. In his hand he held a soft straw hat, gloves and a thin cane. At their entrance he turned to face them, showing a long, thin face, decorated with a rather large moustache and a neat beard cut to an imperial. He bowed from the hips, in a rather theatrical manner.
"This is my brother, M. Latour." Grace spoke coldly. She crossed the room and seated herself in a lounge chair with her back to the window. Something in her attitude showed that she intended to be present through the interview. The man showed embarrassment.
"If ma'amselle will excuse us," he hinted.
"Ma'amselle is interested." Grace spoke quickly. "My brother and I have no secrets and if this is a matter of our father's, or uncle's estates, I am as much interested as he."
The man bowed again, yet seemed still disturbed. "It is a matter of the estate. May I say that I am a solicitor of this city..."
"Then you represent a client in this matter?" the girl interjected.
"Certainly, ma'amselle. I have a client."
"And a claim against one or the estates?"
"One could hardly call it a claim. Shall I say, a withdrawal of a trust?"
"Against my father or my uncle?" Frank asked.
"I believe your uncle, the lamented Major Robert Dormer, was executor and trustee for the estate of your esteemed father, Mr. Arthur Dormer. He was guardian, under the will of your respected father for you—" Grace had a suspicion that the man had intended to finish his sentence with the word "children." She flushed slightly, and, as the man paused, suggested, "Heirs."
"Thank you ma'amselle." The man bowed again. "He, your greatly respected uncle, was guardian for your lamented father's heir and heiress."
"What has that to do with the matter?" Frank had taken a dislike to the man and wished to bring the interview to a head.
"A small matter." Latour turned to the young man, as if seeking to ignore the girl. "My client has a claim-"
"Has your client a name?" Grace asked with suspicious sweetness.
"Again I ask pardon." The man flushed. "I should have introduced him—Mr. Samuel Partridge—a gentleman who for many years has followed the calling of the sea..."
"Ma'amselle is correct." Latour paused, as if to collect his thoughts. "The matter is difficult to explain. I ask your pardons."
"Perhaps I can assist you." Frank's voice was dangerously cool. "A—er—gentleman of the sea called here a couple of days ago and claimed certain papers from my uncle's estate. I advised him to seek an interview with Mr. John Kempton, of Messrs. Kempton, Kempton and Wallis, assuring him that if there were any documents belonging to him among either my father's or my uncle's estates they would be returned to him. It is evident he misunderstood my advice. I mentioned Mr. John Kempton, not Mr.—" He glanced down at the card in his hand. "Not Mr. Charles Latour."
"A thousand pardons!" Latour nearly bent double, to achieve a bow of due humility. "Mr.—er—Samuel Partridge in not a man of business. You—he believed you instructed him to apply through a solicitor. He came to me and...Viola!"
"And your call then, is due to a misapprehension?" Frank looked towards the door, suggestively.
"A delightful misapprehension!" Latour spread his hands. "For has it not gained for me the privilege..."
"Of asking for the documents personally; of dealing with two young people of little business experience, rather than with their man of affairs," Grace interjected.
"It is unfortunate..."
"And the documents you claim, M. Latour?" suggested Frank.
"Of a mere nothing." The solicitor waved the question aside as of little consequence. "Two ordinary pieces of paper; dirty, ragged, and torn."
"That is hardly sufficient description," Grace laughed. "One may suggest that there are many such among the papers of the estate?"
"That is true," Frank answered gravely. "I am afraid that you will have to be a little more explicit, M. Latour."
"Shall I suggest a map." Grace dared, smiling across the room at her brother. "A map and a letter."
"Ma'amselle is psychic." Latour turned and bowed.
"Hardly psychic when two burglaries and a claim for such documents have been made within the past few days." Frank caught the hint his sister had thrown him.
"Burglaries?" Latour greeted the word with raised brows.
"Yes." The young man spoke gravely. "Burglars who disdain a few thousand pounds in jewels; a rare collection of old silver, and a numismatic collection that is said to be unique. But you said that, your client was a seafaring man. Perhaps he has little knowledge of those subjects."
"Are you suggesting, m'sieu—"
"Suggesting?" Frank raised his brows. "I have been suggesting that this interview is quite a waste of time."
"Mr. Latour." The young man was impassively grave. "When you favoured me with this call I was engaged in a matter of deep speculation..." he hesitated.
"Yes." The solicitor leaned slightly forward.
"On the relationship of lump sugar to sob-sister films—and its use as a deterrent."
Grace choked. She rose hurriedly and went to the window. Almost at once she returned to her brother. "Frank!" she exclaimed. "Here is..."
"Pardon me, ma'amselle." The solicitor stepped quickly forward. "I instructed him to keep to the front of the house. It is awkward—incredible—I tender my sincere apologies on his and my behalf. But—as it is so, then may I be permitted to introduce to our interview my client?" With a deep bow to the girl and the man, and a dramatic flourish, Latour flung open the French windows and stepped to one side.
"Tony!" Frank stared at the young man, who entered immediately.
"What the devil...?"
"What's the matter?" Tony Westhorp stared about him, amazed. He limped to where Grace leaned against the window, convulsed with laughter. "Say Grace, what's the joke?"
"Our friend, the enemy!" The girl gasped. "Oh Tony. Tony, you will be the death of me!"
"Look here, old man..." The newcomer turned to Frank, to find his arm gripped by the little solicitor.
"What have you done with him?"
"What have you to do with this scoundrel?" Frank strode forward and seized Tony's other arm. "Look here, Tony, if this is one of your practical jokes, I'm going to tell you..."
"Jokes?" Tony gasped. "Here, someone! Tell me if I've wandered into an asylum..."
"I never knew you to be a seafaring man, Tony." Grace spoke in mock reproach. "And the day I took you outside the heads in the Fairy you were really too ill to pay the proper attention."
"But...What have you done with him?"
Latour forced himself before Tony, clutching at the lapels of the young man's coat. "If you've..."
"Done what? To whom?"
"To Mr. Samuel Partridge." Grace spoke between spasms of laughter. "Mr. Samuel Partridge, a gentleman of seafaring aspect ."
"Oh! him!" Tony spoke as if a sudden light had dawned on his bewildered brain. "Oh, yes, just so! Y'see when I came in at the gates I found a queer sort of customer hanging about the front of the house. Remembering what you had told me about the burglaries and that strange fellow who called on you, I advised our friend to skedaddle, vamoose, trip it, and all that, y'know."
"And then?" Grace questioned with forced calmness.
"Oh, he tried to argue a bit—and then he got cheeky. So I helped him to the gates—gently, y'know."
"Head-foremost, I hope," pleaded Frank; his eyes resting thoughtfully on the little solicitor.
"Well, hardly, old bean. I think he sat down in the middle of the road."
Then Tony added more hopefully, "But a passing motorist nearly flattened him out, y'know."
"So that's the answer." Frank stepped back a pace, to lounge, against the desk. He looked at the little solicitor. "What do you propose to do, Mr Latour?"
"There are damages..." The man commenced aggressively. "My client is assaulted and—"
"Damages! Good word that," Tony grinned at the girl. "Now, if that car had..."
"Mr. Latour," Grace spoke quickly. She thought the situation was getting out of hand. "You claim that your client is the owner of a map and a letter to be found among my father's, or my uncle's, possessions. Are you prepared to prove ownership?"
"Ma'amselle sees clearly." The little lawyer bowed from the hips. "We have proof...convincing proof..."
"Of what nature?" The girl spoke evenly.
"A letter, ma'amselle. A letter from M. Douchard to my client, instructing him to apply to your deeply respected father for the papers left in his charge."
"For the papers left in his charge." The girl mused. "Does that letter state the nature of the papers?"
"Unfortunately, no, ma'amselle."
"Yet you claim a letter and a map. How did your client come by that knowledge?"
"Because of information he previously possessed. M. Douchard, before he set out on his last journey—the journey that ended so lamentably—informed my client of the purposes of that journey..." The solicitor hesitated.
"And that purpose, M. Latour?"
"The discovery of certain pearl fisheries. I may say no more."
"Then, in fact, M. Douchard constituted your client his heir?"
Latour nodded. His face had brightened, for he felt that he was well retrieving a difficult situation.
"Your client is...was a seaman?" asked Frank, after a short pause.
"He followed the calling of the sea—yes."
"And, Louis Douchard?"
"He was a friend—what you call a...a..."
"Shipmate?" suggested the girl.
"That is it—a shipmate." Latour nodded, briskly. "For many years they were together, like brothers, like cousins ..."
"Like lovers?" Tony spoke innocently.
"But yes...no, that is not the word. True, they loved each other like brothers and..."
"I think we have heard enough," Grace interrupted. "Mr. Latour had better see Mr. Kempton."
Frank nodded; the conversation was leading nowhere. The little solicitor was lying, he knew that. Whatever authority this unknown client held, it certainly was not for the handing over of the map of Douchard's Island.
"Then you refuse our just request?" The little man sprang to his feet, excitedly.
"We haven't refused—and we don't comply," Frank grinned. "We are giving you an address for your next performance."
"So, come along, little man." Tony, six feet two in his sox and proportionately broad, urged the solicitor to the door. "Your client is waiting for you y'know, out on the road."
Muttering vague threats under his breath, Latour allowed himself to he conducted to the door and to the gates of the grounds. A few minutes later Tony re-entered the room, throwing himself in a chair, in an apparently breathless state.
"Getting fat, old dear?" Grace inquired, affectionately.
"The inevitable fate of bachelorhood." There was a reminiscent flicker in the humourous grey eyes, searching the girl's face. "A man wants a wife to keep him thin—worrying about the other men hanging about her skirts."
"And a wife retains her figure through the infidelities of her lord, and master," the girl evaded, neatly. "I told you once, Tony, that I would never marry a man who could not make love to me in the Fairy, outside the heads."
"Oh, if you two are going to spoon..." grumbled Frank, going to the door.
"Spoon!" Tony groaned. "Spooning with Grace must be next of kin to toying with a...a..."
"Hedgehog in a prickly temper?" suggested Frank.
"I prefer toying with a man-size drink in a prohibition country." Tony grinned. "But, none of this applies to the little love scene I was so fortunate as to interrupt. Who's our friend wearing the furze-bush?"
Explanations were inevitable. Grace and Frank started to give the young man an account of the day, together. With deliberate ostentation, Tony turned his back on his chum, giving ail his attention to the girl. A brief ten minutes and the band of two adventurers had gained a new and enthusiastic adherent.
"Great!" Tony cheered. "I'm in this, y'know—right up to the eyebrows. That is, if Grace will have me."
"As a fellow-adventurer," the girl warned.
The young man flushed. "Any terms, old dear." He spoke somewhat uncertainly.
"That's four of us."
"Four?" Tony questioned.
"You, Captain Matt, Frank and I," she explained. "Now to settle our plans."
She went to a bookshelf and from between the leaves of a ponderous tome brought out the map and letter relating to Douchard's Island, placing them on the desk. For some time the three heads were close together, studying the papers.
"Looks pretty desperate," Tony remarked, after a long pause.
"Right up the little old fig-tree," Frank assented.
"Oh, I don't know." Grace spoke meditatively. "Everything depends on uncle Matt. If he can give us but a single clue..."
"From the charts of the world? Rather hopeless, old dear."
"But he knew Louis Douchard," Grace urged.
"Who was a sailor and yet not a sailor." Her brother laughed.
"A sailor to the lawyer and a landsman to uncle Matt." The girl frowned. "I think I'll back uncle Matt."
"So will I, dear." Frank was emphatic. "He knew dad—and dad took Douchard to him."
"Then we have to wait for Captain Bowman's opinion—made after due cogitation?"
Grace nodded. For some moments she sat back in her chair, thinking deeply. She chanced to look up. Something drew her eyes to the windows. Pressed against the glass was the face of the lawyer!
"TONY! Frank!" She snatched up the map and the letter from the table. "Look! The window! That lawyer!"
Tony was first out on the terrace. He stared around him in amazement. There was ho one in sight.
"You are sure you saw him?" He turned to the girl, anxiously.
"Quite." Grace swept the waterfront with her eyes. "Where has he gone to?"
"That's something to guess at." Frank turned and eyed the girl, gravely. "You haven't taken' to imagining things, Grace?"
"Don't be silly, sonny boy." The girl laughed. "If you'd looked up a moment sooner you'd have seen him."
"Grace doesn't see things." he said, gravely. "I thought that fellow was more interested in the map and letter than his client was. Now he's come back here, spying. Humph!"
With a shrug of his shoulders, Frank turned to the house again. For some moments the girl and man lingered on the terrace, watching the harbour and the grounds surrounding the house. They could discover nothing.
"I must have imagined it." Grace sighed. "But even now I believe I saw that face at the window. Tony, what is behind all this?"
"Does it matter?" The man leaned against one of the pillars of the terrace. "You've got all the money you want, Grace. Frank's got more than his wife—when he gets one—will manage to spend. I'm...I'm not a pauper..."
"Your money..." Graces eyebrows arched. The young man flushed.
"Thought I was in on this hunt for Douchard's Island," he said lamely.
"Yes." The girt laughed gently. "Tony, you're a dear, but you're not a diplomat. Or is it that I have got so used to you proposing that now I see an offer in every word you utter?"
Tony shrugged. The girl glanced at him quizzically; then, for a moment her expression softened.
Through the house boomed the dinner-gong. Tony looked down at the girl with a little smile.
"So moments pass," he half whispered. "This time. Grace, I really thought you were going to say..."
"Stay to dinner, Tony." She laughed up at him. "You will, won't you?"
"If I am absolved from the treason of forcing an invitation," he countered.
The girl made a little moue and led into the house.
For some unstated reason, Douchard's Island was not mentioned throughout the meal. Tony had a feeling that when almost on the point of success, Fate had decreed that he should lose ground. For some time he was silent, content to listen to the girl's chatter; watching her; trying to discover what this new mood meant.
Grace had altered. Why? Tony drew his brows together in a puzzled frown. She had changed: something had come into her life since he had been with her last. Was it this strange hunt for an island, for the secret of the disappearance of a man who had sent her father a map and a letter?
Soon after dinner Tony left Dormer House, making an excuse that he forgot almost as soon as it was uttered. Outside the big gates, on the road, he stood and pondered.
He had gone to the house; quite an ordinary event, for he spent most of his leisure time with Grace and her brother. He had found a man lurking about the front grounds and had questioned him. The man had been uncommunicative, insolent. He had put him out of the grounds, not too gently: In fact, flinging him into the road.
Then, at the house he had found adventure—the story of the map and the letter—and the little lawyer with the French name. A rogue, that man! Tony shrugged. What would the man have looked like without that beard and moustache—without that dead, pallid skin. Almost he shuddered at the picture he conjured up. He pictured the man as the incarnation of evil.
There was Douchard—the man they had discussed—the man who had drawn the chart of the island. From the wording of the letter, it was apparent that Douchard had found himself in difficulties on some island. He was facing death and had a secret he wanted preserved. He had composed a letter—leaving it for some chance wanderer to pick up and carry to its destination.
Grace had become intrigued with the thoughts of Douchard's Island. She had been caught by the spirit of adventure and was leading her brother with her. Why?
That letter! Tony was certain that Arthur Dormer had received it. Then, why had he not made use of the information in it? Had it been that he could not decipher the cipher contained in the letter? That was the only possible explanation why he had not attempted to search out this secret island—and carry out his friend's last request. Because he had been unable to solve the mystery surrounding the map and letter, he had placed them in an envelope—to fall into the hands of his brother, whom he had appointed trustee and guardian for his children.
Into the picture came Douchard—Louis Douchard—the man who had drawn the map and written the letter. Douchard...
He remembered Douchard. From their early days he and Frank had been schoolmates and chums. He had always had the run of Dormer House. It was during his school-days that he had met Louis Douchard.
Why had not Frank remembered the man? That was explainable. He was three years older than Frank. When Douchard had come to Dormer House, Frank had been a very young schoolboy.
Douchard! Louis Douchard! Tony remembered him well. A tall, thin man with a mop of fiery, red hair. Yes, even then there had been grey in it. Louis Douchard had come to see Arthur Dormer. They had spent hours in close conference in the library.
Always there had been something secretive about the man. Dormer had taken him to interview certain people. Tony remembered the occasion on which Dormer bad taken Douchard to Captain Bowman, on board hie ship. He and Frank had been of the party. Dormer, Douchard and Bowman had retired to the chart-room and had closed the door. He and Frank had been left to their own devices.
What had been Douchard's business with Dormer and the captain? The seaman must remember the man and his business, quite well. Yet Grace had said that Bowman had asked for time to think—to refresh his memory regarding the mystery man. Tony shrugged. If things were as he began to suspect, then the ship-master had remembered quite well, and from the beginning. Why had he, then, made excuses?
The little scoundrel of a solicitor had claimed Douchard a sailor. Tony shook his head. That did not fit with his recollection of the man. Douchard, in his memory, had more the build and habits of a bushman than a sailor. Bowman was certain that the man had never been a sailor.
Tony found himself standing outside the tall building in which he occupied a flat. He hesitated. Should he go in? Some instinct barred his entrance. What then? The night was young. Something made him continue his stroll.
Almost without his own volition he found that he had turned and was striding back towards Dormer House. He had a presentiment that something was to happen that evening. What it was he could not guess—but he feared.
At the gates he paused and looked at his watch. It was late, almost midnight. For some moments he stood in the shadows, watching, then slipped through the gates into the shelter of the shrubbery.
Taking advantage of every point of cover, he circled the house. Every window was in darkness. With a shrug he made for the gates again, determined to return home—to halt and draw back into the deeper shadows.
There was a light in the library—a small light, uncertain and wavering. It moved strangely about the room.
Moving with the utmost caution, Tony crossed the lawns and came to the shelter of the terrace. Mounting the steps, he went to the house wall and moved along it until he could peer in at the french-windows.
Grace was in the library, moving about it restlessly, as if searching for something by the light of a small electric torch. For some moments Tony stood and watched her. What was the girl looking for? The sound of a twig breaking, in the garden, brought him alert.
Stepping back some paces from the window, he found shelter behind one of the stone pillars. For some minutes he stood, patiently watching. He was certain he had not been mistaken; that he had heard someone moving in the garden. Someone was watching the house. They would see the light in the library window and come to investigate. Then...
The watcher was ensconced in the shrubbery opposite the library windows. He thought he could see a movement in the dense bank of shadows. A moment, and a man stepped out on to the lawns, making at high speed for the terrace. Tony slipped around the pillar. He would watch and discover what the man wanted.
Something crashed down on his head with terrific force. The gardens and harbour blazed for a solitary second in a maze of brilliant light, then darkness settled over him and he slipped to the cold stone, unconscious.
GRACE had been worried about Tony during the latter part of the evening. He had been distrait and silent during dinner. She wondered if she had been too abrupt during the few minutes they had been alone on the terrace, before the dinner-gong sounded.
Tony had been her childhood sweetheart. She, Tony and her brother had formed an ideal group; the girl holding regal sway over the two boys. Then, as the years passed they had gone from her—to college and, later, into the world of work—to return, men—while she was passing from girlhood into womanhood.
Then she had looked with new eyes on Tony. He was no longer the boy she had teased and fought. He was now dominant male and, her swift woman's intuition told her, potential lover. She found that she liked him, even better than when they were children. She found that she feared him—trembled at his casual touch. She felt that she had to hold herself aloof—to shroud herself in coldness, through which, sometimes, she allowed to peep a little of the old-time camaraderie. Why?
Grace was candid with herself. She knew that she liked Tony, immensely—even while she feared him. She knew that he loved her; that she had but to lower her guard one single inch and he would storm her reserve—and she could not deny him. Yet, she doubted. Was she in love with him?
She doubted herself. Long thinking over her problem had obsessed her with the value of what a woman had to give in marriage. She forgot what a man had to give. Few women ever think of that side of the sex problem. A woman feels that she is giving up her freedom, but is she not taking a greater freedom? She forgets that in love a man gives up a far greater freedom than a woman can possibly possess—a freedom of wider outlooks, of more temptations. For a man to hold faith in love takes a far greater honesty than any woman can possess.
Tony had left the house early and, hesitating, doubtful and not at all happy, Grace had said goodnight to her brother and sought her room. For a long time she sat meditating. What should she do—with Tony? Then had followed the thought of the map and the letter. Somehow she coupled up the two problems in her mind; to try and put them both from her. She would rely on time. Tony was enthusiastic about the map and the letter—Douchard's Island. She would seek out the solution of that problem with him. Perhaps, during that search something would happen that...that would solve her more personal problem.
Douchard's Island! She sprang to her feet. What had she done with the map and the letter? Had she left them on the library desk when she ran to the window on seeing Latour peeping into the room?
She did not remember restoring the papers to their hiding-place. Had Frank done so? Throwing a robe over her night attire she ran to her brother's room. It took some minutes to make him understand her questions. No, he had not seen the map or the letter. He had thought that she had placed them in their hiding-place before going into the dining-room.
Grace went back to her room and found a pocket-torch. With it in her hand she went down to the library, careful not to disturb the household. For some time she searched, without result. The papers had disappeared!
The papers had lain on the desk; she was certain of that. Then had come the face at the window. She had called out and Tony had run to the window. She and Frank had followed him, to look out on a silent peaceful night.
The papers had remained on the desk. They had been placed there while they had eaten dinner. Grace remembered that they had not returned to the library that evening. Tony had left within an hour of their leaving the dining-room. Then she had gone to her room. Frank had remained downstairs—but he had said he had not seen the papers—that he had not gone into the library.
Someone had stolen into the house and stolen the papers. The girl thought of the two burglaries and of the strange man who had called, demanding the papers. Were the burglaries and the caller connected? If so, then what connection had they with the scoundrelly lawyer who had called on Frank that afternoon?
Filled with thoughts of her problem she went to the window and looked out on the moon-drenched lawns. For some time she stood, fully occupied with her thoughts, then something attracted her attention to the shrubbery opposite. Something was stirring in there. She drew back Into the shelter of the curtains and waited. At length, a man came into view. She gasped as he entered the moonlight. Surely she knew that short, squat figure with the long pendant arms! It was Captain Matthew Bowman—her uncle Matt!
She undid the fastenings of the french-window, with fingers that trembled. What did uncle Matt want in the gardens of Dormer House at that time of night? Why had he not come openly to the house? She suddenly realised that he had been loitering in the shrubbery for some time.
The window was scarcely free in her hand when she heard the sounds of a heavy fall on the terrace, followed by a low groan. She flung the window open and darted out on the terrace. For a moment she glimpsed a man's figure running across the lawns towards the house. Then her eyes moved, almost involuntarily, to the left. By one of the pillars lay a long, dark thing. She turned the light of her torch on it—to see it was the form of a man.
She went closer and let the light play on the man's features. It was Tony!
Grace dropped to her knees by the young man, trying to discover where he was wounded. There was a growing swelling on the back of his head. She bent lower. Was he dead? No. Her hand sought his heart and lingered there. She could feel the pulse under her fingers. She bent lower, searching his face. His eyes were closed and his lips drawn, as if in pain. Something made her bend lower until, for a brief moment, her lips rested on his. She sprang to her fed, blushing hotly. What had she done?
The girl glanced quickly on to the lawns. The man—uncle Matt, she believed him to be—was running down to the cliffs that bordered the harbour, running quicker than she had thought those short, muscular legs could travel. What was he running for? She bent over the balustrade of the terrace, watching him. She could only see him—no other person was in sight.
Again she glanced down at Tony, at her feet. He was breathing more easily. It was only a matter of time before he came to consciousness again. She ran to the steps and down on the lawns. Who was uncle Matt, pursuing? She must know!
Almost as she reached the lawns the old sailor came striding back to the house, slightly winded. She ran to meet him.
"Uncle Matt! What are you doing here? What is the matter?"
"Matter?" The old seaman spoke angrily. "Some landlubber trying to get into your house. Say, girl, what are you doing out here, like that?"
Grace looked down at her costume and laughed. The gay, thin-silk pyjamas were barely covered by the flimsy robe. Then, she thought of the moment when she knelt beside Tony—and the swift colour mounted to her face and throat.
"Come quickly." She caught the sailing master's hand. "Someone struck down Tony."
"On the terrace—just outside the library windows."
"I don't think so." The girl hesitated. "He is still insensible." Again she caught at him, dragging him up on the terrace.
Tony had recovered his senses by the time they came to him and was sitting up, gingerly feeling the bruise on his head. He smiled, wryly, as the girl and seaman approached.
"Someone put in a winner, Grace. Hullo, captain!"
"Hullo, yourself." The old sailor spoke gruffly. "What are you doing round here, on a lady's terrace, at this time of night?"
"Answer your own question, old bean." Tony grinned. "I never thought to see you chasing moths around Dormer House at something ack emma."
"Moths?" A wide smile came on the bearded lips. "That's what you call them. Well, one of your moths gave you a nasty crack, young feller."
"Gosh, and I thought it was you." Tony struggled to his feet. "Say Grace, what were you doing in the library, at this time of night?"
"Looking for the map and the letter," the girl answered involuntarily; then suddenly remembered. "Tony, someone's stolen them."
"I guessed that something like that was going to happen." The young man moved to the library, to halt and swing round on the seaman. "What are you doing here, captain?"
"Let's have your tale first," Captain Bowman, retorted.
"Mine? That's easy." He paused to gingerly feel his head again. "I went home and, at the door, came to the conclusion that all was not right in the State of Denmark, otherwise Dormer House. So I came back. I saw a light in the library and came up on the terrace to investigate..."
"That was me," Grace explained. "I had forgotten the papers when I went up to bed and came down to get them. They had disappeared..."
"Disappeared?" Tony echoed. "You mean someone's stolen them?"
"Get on with your yarn," Captain Bowman interposed. "If you must know, the letter and map have disappeared."
"Well," The young man looked from one to the other of his companions, puzzled. "Then I thought I saw someone in the shrubbery."
"So did I," interjected Grace.
"So I hid behind one of the pillars. It seems someone was watching me and that gave him his opportunity. He came up behind me and belted me over the head."
"I was the person in the shrubbery." The captain spoke briefly. "I've had that map and letter in my mind all the afternoon and evening. More'n that, I've got a trail on Louis Douchard. Then something told me that something was going to break, somewhere. I dropped into a skiff and rowed myself ashore. Came up here and saw someone watching the house..."
"Were you coming up to the house, uncle Matt?"
"Too late for that, missie," the old man chuckled. "There wasn't a light in the place. No, I just wanted to satisfy myself that all was right."
"Then you were watching me?" queried Tony.
"Think I don't know your length of ugliness?" Bowman laughed. "I've watched it grow from about four feet in height."
"Then, who?" The young man spoke quickly.
"Darned if I know." The sailor scratched his head. "It wasn't you, Tony. The man I was watching could give you a couple of inches, easily."
"That man, Samuel Partridge, who came and demanded the map and letter wan taller than Tony," interjected Grace.
"Might have been him. Never seen the bli...gentleman." Bowman coughed. "Tall, thin—and he could move those long legs of his. I hadn't a chance to catch him."
"He wields a nifty sandbag." Tony rubbed his head. Grace shivered in the cold night air.
"Here you, get inside, missie." The captain spoke peremptorily. "You'll catch your death of cold out here, in those glad rags."
The girl laughed, but moved towards the library windows. There she turned and beckoned to the men.
"Came in, uncle Matt. You'll have to play chaperon to Tony and me. He can't go home until his head's dressed."
Bowman grunted and, taking the young man's arm, moved towards the windows. Grace turned to enter, to be violently flung aside, as a tall, thin figure of a man dashed out on to the terrace.
Tony sprang forward, trying to tackle the man; to miss and fall heavily, rolling down the steps to the lawns. Captain Bowman managed to avoid the fallen man and started in pursuit. The thief was, however, a good runner and quickly gained the shelter of the shrubbery. At its edge he turned and, snatching off the cap he wore, waved it ironically at the trio.
"Uncle Matt!" The girl caught at the captain's arm. "Did you see him? Tony...Tony, he had red hair!"
"Red as hell!" the old sailor affirmed. "Tall, thin and with red hair, turning grey. No, it wasn't. It was as red as a phoenix's nest!"
"Louis Douchard!" The girl whispered the name under her breath.
"Louis Douchard, hell!" the captain exploded. Yet his voice held a doubtful note.
Tony glanced at the old man curiously. Was it Louis Douchard who had been at Dormer House that night? But, what did the man want there? Louis Douchard had perished on Douchard's Island. They had his letter to prove that. Through the few lines rang a note of sincerity. The man had written that he could not live many days; food and water were at an end. A few days, perhaps only a few hours, and he had to die!
If Louis Douchard had perished on his island, then what was he doing at Dormer House? The thing was impossible! Yet, Tony knew that the captain was certain that he had seen the man! He shrugged. The idea seemed too absurd!
"You think that man was Douchard, captain?" Tony spoke positively. He turned to the girl. "Grace, was that man Samuel Partridge?"
"It was like him," the girl answered, slowly. "I think it was. But, what was he doing here, at this time of night?"
"What are we all doing here?" Bowman growled. "We're mad, the lot of us. If that was Douchard..."
"You think it was." Again Tony let the positive note creep into his voice. He was certain that Captain Bowman knew something he had not mentioned yet; not even to Frank and his sister.
"What does Louis Douchard want with that map and letter?" The seaman spoke almost under his breath. "If he lived the time he infers on that island he could draw it with his eyes shut."
"You think that man was Samuel Partridge?" Tony, insistently, turned to the girl.
"Are you trying to make out that Louis Douchard and Samuel Partridge are the same person?" Bowman turned on the young man.
"There's something in that," Tony mused, thoughtfully. He turned to the girl. "There's an idea glimmering in my mind. Perhaps it will show a light when the captain chooses to tell us what he thinks."
"What do you mean by that, young feller?" Bowman turned, angrily.
"Just what I say," Tony answered indolently. "There's a lot to be told all round. Before I speak I'll hear what others have to say." He looked down at Grace. "Come on, old dear. It's far too cold for you to be out here in that costume."
He took her arm and guided her up the steps to the library windows, followed by the captain, who was grinning, uneasily. Just inside the window Tony released the girl's arm and crossed to the electric switches. Pressing down the levers, he flooded the room with light.
A sharp exclamation came from the girl, followed by a bellow of rage from the seaman. Tony turned hastily.
In a chair by the desk sat Latour, bound and gagged. For a moment the young man looked at him in blank amazement. Then he strode across the room to face the man.
"Now, what the blazes are you doing here?"
The man gurgled, looking up. His eyes were bloodshot and filled with fear.
"I might ask that question, myself." Frank spoke from the door. "What sort of party is this—and why didn't I receive an invitation?"
"FRANK!" Grace turned to her brother. "What are you doing here?"
"Might well ask you that, old dear." The young man strolled into the room, clad in pyjamas over which was draped a flamboyant dressing-gown. "Nice time of night to be entertaining company—I'll say nothing of your costume. Hullo, cap., playing gooseberry? And who is our Houdini friend?"
He sauntered across to where Latour sat, still bound and gagged. A deliberate survey of the prisoner and he turned and laid the revolver he carried on the desk.
"No introductions needed," Frank continued, casually. "Our bright little caller of this afternoon! Don't like the company you keep, Grace." "Sorry! Thought he was your friend." The girl spoke nonchalantly. "You seemed strangely attracted, this afternoon."
"I was. He held a terrible fascination for me," The young man leaned forward and dragged the gag from the little solicitor's mouth. "He talks, I know! But, what is one to do? Curiosity is insatiable."
Latour gave a little gasping sigh when the gag was removed. Yet he did not speak. A quick glance passed between the young men, and Tony went to a cupboard and brought out whiskey and glasses. In silence he mixed a drink and gave it to the man. Latour gulped it down, eagerly.
"Better?" .Frank spoke softly. "Good! Now, what are you doing here?"
The man did not answer.
"Tongue-tied!" Frank glanced at his chum. "Find him like that—tied up? Or, some example of your artistry?"
"Not guilty." The young man laughed. "I've been wondering if he was the gent who biffed me over the head just now. If so, how did he manage to run in here and tie himself up so quickly?"
"Biffed you?" Frank looked up quickly. "How interesting! No, Tony, boy, don't eat him. It wasn't him. Guessing again, I'll say there were two of the beauties about. Eh, captain?"
"Easy," Bowman growled. "I chased one of them. Tall fellow with ginger hair. We all saw him, plainly. He sand-bagged Tony and, I guess, tied up this fellow."
"What for?" asked Frank.
"Oh, don't you understand?" Grace was watching the bound man as she spoke. "He came here this afternoon, ostensibly to claim the map and letter for his client; really to spy out where we kept them. When he left, he hung about. You remember that I saw someone peeping in at the window. It was him. He must have seen me take the papers from the book."
"So thought you would replace them in that hiding-place, and came here to-night to get them. But, how did he get tangled up in that rope?"
"I'll guess that someone else came after the map, also." Grace never took her eyes from the man. She could read by his expression that she was close to the truth. "There was a dispute and...No." She changed her reading. "The other man had watched him and thought he had obtained the map. He overpowered him and tied him up, then searched him. He didn't find the map, so left him for us to release."
"That the truth?" Captain Bow man caught the man by the should er, shaking him. "Come on! Out with it!"
"Who is solicitor Latour?" Tony asked, quietly.
"Eh?" For a moment Frank stared at his chum; then went to a bookcase and took out a Law Almanack. "We'll soon find out that."
No La tour was registered in the book under the title of "solicitor" Frank grinned as he announced his discovery. He crossed the room and stood looking down on their prisoner, a thoughtful gleam in his eyes. Latour flinched, visibly.
"Another mystery, Tony." The young man spoke quietly. "They're gathering. Now, what about it?"
"Solving one of the mysteries, just for practice!"
The captive's eyes showed fear; he wriggled within his bonds, uncomfortably, glancing from one to the other of the persons surrounding him, as if seeking help.
"I thought you'd agree." Frank's smile was serene. "Grace, dear, I'm sure it is time you were in bed."
"What are you going to do?" the girl asked, inquisitively, a trace of fear in her voice.
"Not much. Just question our friend, but..." He made a significant gesture. "...he may not like it."
"Frank! You wouldn't?"
"Blame our degenerate age, m'dear. Or, if you prefer, our atavism. Someone told me that meant the science of foisting all that is brutal and beastly in our modern natures on the shoulders of our forefathers, poor dears. I'll hate to have to do it, but..."'fraid I must. You see, girlie, he's not a solicitor—never was, as the good book here tells us. Therefore, he is fair game. No closed season for solicitors, y'know. That means he's neither fish, flesh, fowl or good red-tape. Wonder what he'll smell like before he chooses to talk? Got a match, captain? No, thanks! Just apply it to that fire; lucky it's laid. Tony, ever valeted a solicitor who wasn't one?"
"Frank! Tony!" The girl's lips were white. "Oh, you...you...you daren't!"
"My dear sister! Consider the exigencies of the case! Loss of memory! Loss of speech, due to brutal handling by some unknown thug. A major operation is certainly indicated. We shall try to apply a counter-shock. Let me illustrate. Our patient suffers from loss of memory and speech. The seat of these—er—troubles, lies in the head. Now, modern surgery calls for a counter-shock—at the other end; to wit, the feet. By the way, captain, how's that fire? The poker and the...No, the poker will be sufficient, I think."
The prisoner choked, turning purple in the face. Tony went to him and patted him on the back.
"Cheer up, old man. It may be a bit painful, but—-think how fit you'll feel afterwards. Able to talk and entertain your friends, like you did this afternoon. Why, I quite missed your cheerful voice when you left us."
"But..." The girl hesitated. Then she caught Tony's eyes and gurgled, deliriously. She suppressed her mirth and for some seconds stood studying Latour, thoughtfully. Then, with dramatic suddenness, she tottered forward until she faced the captive; wringing her hands, tears streaming down her face. She held out her hands, imploringly.
"Mr. Latour! Oh, don't let them! Oh, what can I do? They won't heed me. I...I..." She covered her face with her hands, moaning artistically. "Oh, speak! Speak!"
The man paled and trembled. Little beads of perspiration started from his brow. Yet his lips were firmly compressed.
"What the devil are we to do?"
Frank spoke in Tony's ear. "We can't carry the farce much farther without turning it into a damned tragedy—or that scoundrel will be calling our bluff."
Tony shook his head. For the moment he was nonplussed. Then he saw that the man's eyes were fixed on the girl. So that was it! Latour realised that they would not go to extremes while the girl was in the room. He turned sharply, knocking against a chair. Grace looked up, Quickly. He nodded towards the door.
"No good, Frank," he said gruffly. "The bounder won't talk without some—er—persuasion. Send your sister to bed; she won't be able to stand what's go...you know! Now, captain, talk has ended. How's that fire? Irons hot, yet?"
Bowman growled something that might have been taken for assent and made a clatter with the fire-irons. Frank moved suddenly, catching Grace round the waist and half carrying her towards the door. The girl shrieked and struggled.
Tony went to the captive and knelt before him. Without a word he removed the man's boots and sox.
He stood up and looked down on the man with what he intended to be a ferocious grin.
"Got anything to say, Latour? We mean business, y'know."
"What do you want me to say?" The man spoke just above his breath.
"Just tell the truth. That's all we want. What did you come here for, to-night?"
"You know. The map."
"Did you find it?"
The man nodded. Tony suppressed a start of surprise.
"On the desk."
"When?" The young man was impatient. "Go on, man! Tell the tale, can't you?"
"I came back here and hung about until I saw this room was empty. Then I got in at the window and...and the map was lying on the desk, the letter beside it. I pocketed it and was just clearing out when I saw that someone was watching from the shrubbery on the other side of the lawn. I..."
"Who was watching?"
"I don't know."
"How long was that after you looked in at the window and my sister saw you?" asked Frank, quickly.
"About a couple of hours, maybe more."
Tony thought. If the man had only waited a couple of hours, before entering the room, then he had not seen him watching the house. Who had been the watcher?
"What was he like?" he asked, abruptly.
"I didn't get a fair view of him." Latour spoke sullenly.
"Of course not. Don't give a pal away! Shall I suggest that your client hasn't the fullest faith in you and—well—watched you?"
The man did not answer. A dull flush suffused his face.
"Come on, man." Frank was impatient. "You were in the library with the papers in your pocket Someone was watching for you, in the garden. That's so, isn't it. Yes. Well, what did you do?"
"I managed to close and fasten the windows without him seeing me, then..."
"Well, what then?"
"I heard someone coming to the library."
"From the terrace?"
"From inside the house. I hid."
"That was me," Grace whispered. "I remembered that I had left the papers on the desk and came downstairs for them."
"Who was it?" Tony frowned, over the man's head, at the girl.
"Miss Dormer. She searched the room for the papers, but, of course, couldn't find them. Then she heard someone on the terrace and opened the window. I went to it, but she was too near, bending over someone on the ground. I waited and and..."
"Talk, man!" Tony took a step forward, his fists clenched. "By the Lord Harry, I'll make you, if—"
"Then he...he came in..."
"Who is 'he'?"
Latour did not answer. He closed, his lips, obstinately.
For a moment Grace thought Tony would strike the man. Suddenly, he laughed.
"You're an obstinate devil, Latour. Now, let's get down to facts. You're not a solicitor?"
"Why did you come here and pose as one?"
"He offered me a share in the papers if I got them. I thought it easier to come as a solicitor."
"'He' again!" The young man hesitated. "No, I'm not going to ask you who 'he' is, just yet. What are you? What is your business?"
The man remained silent.
"What was 'he' going to do with the papers?" Again Tony altered his ground of inquiry.
"Why..." Latour looked up, surprised. "Find treasure, of course."
"Oh! So there is a treasure? Where?"
"The map shows that."
"Does it? Well, it baffled me."
A thin smile came on the man's face; almost a sneer.
"You didn't read the letter?" he said.
"The letter! That collection of gibberish!" For some moments the young man stared over the man's head, thoughtfully; then he lowered his eyes.
"The letter supplies the clues missing from the map. Now I understand. Say, Latour...By the way, what is your name?"
"Latour will do."
"Ashamed of your name? No, You're ashamed of the mire you have dragged your name in."
"Let it go at that, Tony," Frank interposed. "We know now that Latour took the map and when Grace undid the window and went out to you someone slipped in and tackled Latour. S'pose he took the papers from you?" The last sentence was addressed to the prisoner.
"Dirty tyke! Say, Latour, what would he have done if we had handed over the map and letter to you, this afternoon—as you so kindly suggested?"
"He was waiting for me at the gate."
"And he would have taken them from you. What about your share of the plunder?"
A baffled took came in the man's eyes. The young man laughed, slightly. He could read the prisoner's thoughts. By whatever means Latour managed to obtain the papers, his confederate planned to swindle him out of his share of the treasure. The man's bold venture, to steal them, immediately after his visit to the house, played into the major crook's hands. It was easier to rob his fellow scoundrel and then claim he had never had possession of the papers..
"So he planned to diddle you." Tony laughed, gently. "You are a fool, Latour. What do you think we are going to do with you?"
The man looked anxious. To encourage him. Bowman made a terrific clatter with the fire-irons.
"We could let you go, Latour," Frank interposed. "But, what would be the good when we don't know who has the papers.
"Tall, thin and with red hair, I think you said. Captain?" Frank spoke across the man's head. "Do you know that reminds me greatly of your description of Louis Douchard, this afternoon."
"And, Louis Douchard is here, gentlemen." A voice spoke from the windows. "No, don't hurry—except to raise your hands, well, above your heads."
"STRAIGHT up, please." The voice was low and somewhat pleasant. "Of course, I am excusing friend Latour. Circumstances, unfortunately, prevent him complying with my request."
"Whew!" Tony thrust his hands into his pockets and swung round on his heels, slowly. "So you are Louis Douchard?"
"At your service, m'sieu."
"Louis Douchard, who was stranded on an unknown island and lived there for at least eleven weeks—then died?"
"M'sieu has been correctly informed."
"Leaving behind him a strange letter and a map. He then he comes and demands the map at the point of a gun. Strange isn't it?"
"I have the map, m'sieu." The man spoke suavely,
"Then why this melodrama?" Tony laughed. "Why the anxiety to obtain possession of the map and the letter—you already possess? Louis Douchard—that is not your name, but...but it will suffice for the time—I think you are a thundering liar."
The man flushed, slightly, and his eyes gleamed evilly. For a moment he hesitated.
"M'sieu proposes to be facetious?"
"No, only inquisitive. I am trying to reconcile the fact that, the drawer of the map considers it advisable to obtain possession of it—at the end of a gun."
"The map is mine."
"Mr. Latour claims that you took it from him—and left him in this interesting position. Oh, by the way, have you any objection to me relieving him of his bonds? We have obtained all the information be possesses—supplemented by your call, of course."
"Put your hands up."
"Thanks, they are quite comfortable where they are. I hate my blood running down from my wrists."
For the moment the man hesitated. His restless eyes passed from one to the other of the persons in the room. He shrugged.
"If ma'amselle will be so good!" The revolver held steadily in the man's hand was trained on the girl. "Ma'amselle will come to this side of the room."
Grace glanced from her brother to Tony. She realised that they could not help her. Then her eyes caught sight of the gun Frank had brought into the room with him. It lay on the edge of the desk some three feet from where Tony stood. As she caught sight of it, the young man moved slightly nearer the weapon, perhaps a couple of inches. The movement was so imperceptible that only one on watch could have noticed it.
"If you please, ma'amselle!" The man spoke quietly, yet with decision.
The girl shrugged her shoulders and went to where the man stood, taking her station, under command, on his left hand. With a sudden movement Douchard passed behind her, then thrust the revolver against her side.
"Ma'amselle is wise." He grinned broadly. "Now, gentlemen, we may proceed to business. You may lower your hands. But..." he paused, dramatically, "...should one of you make a hasty movement I regret to say that I am a very nervous man. Can you blame me if my nerves quiver, if my trigger finger contracts...? Ah, the gentleman with his hands in his pockets understands."
"You damned scoundrel!"
"Words!" the man laughed. "Witness. Ma'amselle fears not. She stands bravely—knowing that her friends will not harm her—that they will not attack me save with words."
For a moment there was silence in the room. Frank spoke suddenly.
"What do you want, damn you? Speak your mind and get it over."
"I want the map and the letter."
"Your friend, Latour, says that he stole them and that you took them from him."
"You stated a moment ago that you had the map."
"I lied, m'sieu—with reason."
"Why come to us?" Frank shrugged. "We have neither map nor letter. If you had overheard our conversation after your friend, Latour, you would have realised that. They have been stolen from us."
"That is true." Grace spoke quietly: "I remembered that I had left them on the desk and came down for them. They were gone. Mr. Latour told us that he had taken them and that you had robbed him and then tied him to that chair."
The girl's eyes were on Tony. He had managed to gain some more inches towards where the revolver lay. She struggled to think. Tony would get to the revolver. Already his body was between the man and the weapon. If Douchard saw him move now, he would not be able to guess his intentions.
When Tony reached the gun, what did he intend to do? The scoundrel stood by her side, his revolver pressed against her. If Tony tried to shoot him, he would only sacrifice her.
She knew that he would not do that. Then, what plan was in his mind? Tony would reach the gun. What did he expect her to do? How could he hold up the man beside her unless she helped—and how could she assist him?
"The map and the letter are somewhere." The man beside the girl spoke easily, "I want them—and I want them before I leave this room. I must find them, or..."
"Re-draw the map?" Frank laughed, sarcastically. "Do you take us for fools, you who call yourself Louis Douchard? If that map held anything of importance, then Louis Douchard would not have forgotten it. He could reconstruct it from memory. The letter—why, that was a lot of piffle."
Grace looked at her brother in surprise. Why was Frank talking like that? Then she laughed, slowly and silently. Of course, he had seen Tony's movements and had interpreted them rightly. His talk was only cover—to draw attention away from his chum.
"There are accidents, m'sieu..." Douchard spoke, haltingly.
"There are." Frank laughed. "You made one when you claimed to be Louis Douchard."
"If m'sieu will permit me to speak?" Grace felt the muzzle of the revolver pressing more strongly against her side.
For a moment her eyes wandered to where Tony stood. He was now within reach of the gun. His right hand was behind his back, groping slowly and cautiously for the weapon, his body tensed so that no sign of his arm movement should betray him to the man. She laughed quietly, strung to a pitch of excitement as the moment for action drew near.
She must watch carefully. Tony would give her some sign. She must act on the instant. Already his body had stiffened. He was staring straight at her.
She wondered why she was not frightened. Tony would shoot the man—and the man had his gun pressed against her body. He would fire—at her. She knew that. She sensed the ruthlessness of the scoundrel. He would have his way, or he would sacrifice her for his own safety.
Tony trusted her. She could see his eyes fixed on her without anxiety in them. And, she trusted him, fully and freely. She wondered. This was a new Tony, not the playfellow of her childhood. He had altered strangely—or was she seeing him from a new angle; an angle of pure trust and faith without end?
She had known him all her life her playfellow and slave. She had teased and tormented him; using him as her whim dictated. Now some inner sense told her that those days were over. Never again would she be able to dominate him. He would give and give freely to her—but it would be reasoned gifts, not the blind adoration of adolescence.
If Tony touched her now! If he held her to him in that comradely clasp, as he had often done! She knew that she could not now bear it; that she would have to turn her lips to him; surrender herself freely and, oh, so willingly.
She looked across the room into his steady eyes—and a feeling of awe came over her. Tony had altered. Now she almost feared him—and was glad!
He was trying to convey some message to her, with his eyes. She laughed slightly, under her breath. Then, some thought passed from his brain to hers. A moment, while she caught her breath, then she threw herself prone to the floor. She heard the roar of a gun just above her head. One shot! Where had it gone to? Who had fired it?
She twisted sideways and looked up. Douchard was standing close by, his gun pointing down at her. Yet, his eyes were on Tony, standing dejected and downcast on the other side of the room, the revolver dangling idly from his fingers.
"Very pretty!" Douchard laughed; yet there was a trace of nervousness in his voice. "Lucky for me, m'sieu, that your revolver was not loaded—and ma'amselle ..."
He looked down at the girl at his feet, a strange glitter in his eyes,
"Ma'amselle is brave, very brave. Few women would trust a man so far. I thought I was safe; that if any overt act was made against me that ma'amselle's patience would be my safety. My revolver, it was at her side, touching her body—and she beat me!"
Again he paused, glancing from one to the other of the party. He shifted his gun to his left hand and held out his right to the girl.
"If ma'amselle will permit me?" He lifted her to her feet and the girl wondered at the strength in that long, lean body. "There! It is a fact! If ma'amselle will examine she will find the bullet.—the only one fired—in the wall, there!" He pointed past the girl. "I shot—threatened to shoot and I shot, as I promised I would."
Douchard paused, again, glancing from one to the other of the men before him. He smiled, slightly.
"I think I would like my friend, Latour, to be released." His voice held a purr. "Latour is valuable, though indiscreet. He must learn to obey and...and I will teach him."
"What's this leading to?" Captain Bowman came forward, heavily.
"To a...regrettable accident, if m'sieu becomes impetuous." The man smiled, "M'sieu," he turned to Tony. "Will you oblige me by untying M. Latour?"
Tony shrugged, but obeyed. He had played his ace and had failed to take the trick. For one moment his eyes met the girl's. His were full of self-reproach for the danger he had brought her into. She smiled, faintly, trying to show him that she could not blame—only trust.
Latour, free, struggled to his feet, leaning on the back of a chair. He was stiff and dazed. For some minutes he stood, rubbing his cramped limbs, then straightened and gazed at Douchard with malevolence in his eyes.
"So!" The word was more a hiss. "M'sieu, the lawyer."
Frank laughed, shortly. "Really, I am intrigued. Lawyer and client!"
A gleam of amusement came into Douchard's eyes. For a moment he scanned the four men opposite him; then he turned and gazed full at the girl.
"Four men and a girl!" He spoke under his breath. "And of the five, one brave—the girl. Messieurs, I congratulate you!"
"You damned scoundrel!" Tony took a step forward, to halt at a menacing gesture from the revolver.
'"I believe m'sieu has made that observation before." The man's eyes gleamed. "I forgive him, for..."
A strange expression came in the man's eyes. Again he glanced at the girl, his face full of speculation.
Something was in the man's mind—some evil over which he gloated. What could it be? Tony tried to think.
So far, he believed, matters were at a stalemate. Douchard held them under his gun, but he could not get away without exposing himself to attack. Yet the man had a plan—some scheme was forming in his mind, behind those small, black twinkling eyes.
Tony glanced at his friends. If only Frank had forced the girl to go to her room when they attempted to bluff Latour into telling the truth!
Without the girl in the room they had a chance. Douchard might shoot; no doubt he would. One of them might be wounded. What would that matter, so long as the girl was not in the room—in danger?
"I am intrigued." The low, pleasant voice of the scoundrel broke the silence. "May I suggest, messieurs, that you form a line. First, there—" The revolver indicated a spot on the floor—"M'sieu the captain; then M. Frank Dormer; again M Latour; and lastly our friend who shoots with an empty gun—pardon, he is, I believe. M. Tony. So—"
They were forced to obey, linking up before the tall library windows. Douchard surveyed them with satisfaction.
"And, ma'amselle." He turned with a low bow to the girl. "Ma'amselle will permit that she leads the way."
"What do you mean?" Tony started forward, beads of perspiration springing to his forehead; damping the palms of his hands.
"Has m'sieu objection?" With a swift movement he was beside the girl; revolver at her side. "Beware, it is that I am nervous and that—that ma'amselle suffers."
"What are you going to do?" Frank asked hoarsely.
"Arrange a safe-conduct." The man chuckled quietly. "Messieurs will remain where they now stand. Ma'amselle will lead me—to safety."
He backed to the window, drawing the girl with him. Tony sprang forward, to have a bullet strike the floor at his feet. He hesitated at a call from the girl.
"Tony, be careful! He will shoot you! Tony, oh, Tony! If you love me, dear, be careful!"
Douchard had reached the window and pulled the girl through, keeping her between him and the men in the room. For a moment he waited, then spoke swiftly in her ear.
Grace nodded. For a moment she remained motionless, gazing at her friends before her; then suddenly she slipped to the night, leaving Douchard with raised revolver facing the room.
For the space that a man could count fifty, the scoundrel dominated the room. Then he sprang back, and disappeared.
Tony raced to the window. Out on the lawn he could see the tall, lean form of the Frenchman racing down to the little cliff that fronted the harbour. He reached the belt of shrubbery and disappeared.
The four men ran after him. They came to the edge of the cliff and looked about them. Douchard was no longer in sight. They strained their eyes out over the placid waters of the harbour. No boat broke the stillness of the moonlight stream. Where had the man gone to? What had he done with the girl? There was not a single clue to follow. The man had apparently, disappeared into thin air, taking Grace with him.
FOR some time the four men remained on the edge of the cliff, searching and wondering. The man who had named himself Douchard had disappeared as if the earth had opened and swallowed him up. And he had taken Grace with him.
What had he said to the girl to induce her to accompany him, willingly. They knew that he had used no physical compulsion. When they had stood just without the library windows he had bent and whispered to the girl. Almost without consideration, she had answered with a short nod. Immediately she had turned and ran into the night. A few seconds and the man had followed her.
Who was the man? He had called himself Louis Douchard—but that man was dead. He had perished on some unknown island, sending a last message to Arthur Dormer. But, had he escaped from the island?
That was possible. The man might have been rescued by some vessel, blown far out of its proper course. Douchard might have been insensible when the vessel arrived. The crew might have taken him on board their vessel, leaving the letter behind—to be picked up later by some other ship.
But, that did not explain the anxiety of the man to retrieve the map and letter. He could certainly have re-drawn the map from memory. If the letter had contained cipher, then the concealed message would certainly have lived in his memory.
There was only one conclusion. The man who called himself Douchard was a fraud. Tony had been certain of that from the moment he set eyes on him; yet the man was remarkably like Captain Bowman's description of the real man. Again the thought recurred to the young man. What foul means—what specious argument—had he used to persuade the girl to accompany him?
For more than an hour Tony kept watch from the head of the cliffs, while the other men searched the grounds surrounding the house. Nowhere could even the slightest clue to the fugitive be found. At length, they re-gathered around Tony, at the head of the cliffs.
"Where's Latour?" he asked, suddenly.
The others looked around, anxiously. The little solicitor had disappeared.
"He was with us a while ago," Frank answered, after a moment's thought.
"That's true," Tony interjected. "There wasn't anyone more eager to find Douchard than Latour."
"Who saw him last?" Captain Bowman spoke. "I remember him being close beside me when we thrashed the shrubbery by the big gates."
No one could remember a later occasion on which the little solicitor had been seen. It was evident that he had taken the occasion of being near the gates, and the attention of his companions centred on the discovery of Douchard, to slip through on to the streets. Frank groaned.
"A fine pack of idiots, we!" he exclaimed. "We let a solitary man hold us up in our own home and then run away with a half-dressed girl. Lord! Grace will catch her death of cold if he takes her any distance in that costume."
"Damn the costume!" Tony spoke savagely. "Where has he taken her?"
No one could answer that question. From the moment Douchard had been seen running to the edge of the cliff he had dropped out of sight.
"What about that fellow Partridge?" Frank asked, suddenly. "You saw him, Tony. Is he the man who calls himself Douchard?"
"No." The reply was positive. "He is about the same height and build—but there the resemblance ceases. Douchard is not a man who would let me run him down to the gates and kick him into the road without putting up a fight. He's not a coward. I'll say that for him."
"And the man on the barque?"
Frank turned to the captain.
"Tall, black hair and swarthy," Bowman, answered, promptly. "Nothing like that blankety, blazing scoundrel."
"Then we're up against a crowd—three, at least, if we don't count Latour—and that man, Douchard, is the leader."
"What of Latour?" Tony asked, curiously.
"I'm not going to claim he's on our side." Frank was doubtful. "But, he's right up against Douchard, anyone can see that. I guess that he will now try and get back on Douchard, on his own or with some mob he will gather. One thing is certain, he won't join in with us."
"And the map?"
"That's another matter." The young man became thoughtful. "Douchard is after the map, although he said, at first, that he'd got it. Partridge made a claim for it. Latour had it, according to the story he told us in the library. I don't think he has, and I believe he will strain every nerve to get it from whoever has it. I believe that, for the moment, all these men are acting independently, but that won't last. Soon Douchard will gather Partridge, and the man who was on the barque, under his leadership. Then something will happen."
"He will fight for his own hand. We've got to be prepared for attack from at least two sides."
"Why?" questioned the captain. "We haven't got the map."
"Neither have they." Tony laughed. "According to their own accounts it stands thus: All parties believe the other fellow has it. For the moment we are the party who, officially, has the papers. Until they are certain we haven't got them we must be prepared for attack. They mean to get possession of that treasure."
"Treasure?" Captain Bowman laughed scornfully. "I don't believe in no treasure, lads. All the hidden treasures of the world have been discovered, years ago. So far we re up against talk..."
"There's Grace." Tony spoke in a low voice.
A silence fell on the party. Tony was conning the words Grace had uttered a moment before she disappeared in the custody of the rogue. "If you love me!" If he loved her? He groaned. Could he not but love her? The very thought of her sweetness shook his whole being.
"You're right, lad." The seaman spoke unsteadily. "We've been talking about a treasure of gold and jewels and forgotten the best treasure of the lot. Shame on us, I say. Let the bastards keep the map. We want Grace back."
Frank nodded. "What are we going to do?" he asked.
"We're going to the Lilith." The seaman spoke with decision.
"And the house?"
"The map's not there?"
"Well, let it take care of itself. The servants can take charge for a time. Anyway, until we know more we should all be together, and the 'Lilith's' the best place to protect ourselves." Bowman hesitated. "Either of you fellows know anything about electricity?"
"Tony is an engineer." Frank spoke listlessly.
"Good enough." Bowman said "There's a powerful searchlight aboard the Lilith, cased. Tony, can you erect it?"
"Have you dynamos on board!
"Of course. There's a good lighting plant. I may use sail instead of steam, but I don't blind and poison myself with oil lamps."
Tony nodded. He turned abruptly, and led down to the jetty. There they found the skiff in which the captain had rowed ashore. In silence, they embarked and pulled out to the barque..
Once on board Tony became all energy. Except for the cook and steward they formed the crew of the barque, for the time. Captain Bowman had given his men leave of absence for a few days.
First, the vessel had to be warped into position closer to Dormer House. Tony went below and soon had steam raised for the winches, and the dynamos humming. They managed to hoist sufficient sail to manoeuvre the little vessel. Half an hour's heavy toil and the ship lay within a hundred and fifty yards of Dormer House. Then the packing case containing the searchlight was hoisted from the hold and Tony became electrical engineer, leaving the boilers to Captain Bowman.
A short interval of time and Tony touched a lever and a long ray of light shot out over the harbour. A few seconds and it was centred on Dormer House, shining on every nook and cranny, turning it into a veritable fairy castle, set in a forest of silver-leafed trees.
Some twenty feet from the searchlight, Captain Bowman took his stand, a pair of powerful binoculars held to his eyes. Carefully he swept the grounds surrounding the house, the house itself and its approaches. He could see nothing suspicious.
"There's only one thing to do," he said at length, lowering the glasses. "We've got to stand watches. If we all stay up here, on watch, we shan't be fit for action when the time comes. It's watch and watch from now on, boys. Tony, you've had the brunt of the work. Turn in. I stand first watch with Frank. In two hours he'll wake you and turn in. Two hours later I'll take a dose. Two on deck and one asleep, right through the night. Get me?"
Tony nodded and made for the couch in the chart-room. He knew that it would be useless to oppose Captain Bowman on board his own ship; and he wanted sleep. He knew that unless he slept he would be of little value in the search that would follow the coming day.
Yet, sleep seemed far from his mind. His brain whirled at the thought of Grace in the power of that monster. Why had he taken the girl? Tony closed his eyes and again she stood before him, framed in the library window, the moon-lit garden behind her. Again he heard her cry: "Tony, if you love me!"
God, how he loved her! He had thought he loved her when at almost regular intervals he had asked her to marry him. She had laughed at his pleadings, telling him that she was certain that he was not in love with her, nor she with him. He had protested, tamely, bowing to the girl's imperious will.
He knew now that she had been mistaken; that she had not read what was in both their hearts. She had said that she liked him, but had insistently declaimed that her feelings had any part with love.
Then she had known. Her last cry, "Tony, if you love me!", had shown the girl her own heart; it had shown her his heart. The truth had stared out of her eyes as she spoke. She had appealed to his love for her; taking for granted the fact that he would read the unspoken words—her love for him.
Tony knew—knew as he lay on the hard couch in the chart-room of the barque, watching the light from the powerful searchlight shine through the windows. No longer would her imperiousness—her sweet, fearing shyness—he allowed to part them. She was his—and he would lake her, stifling her tremors, stirring them to glorious passion.
Then sleep came. He was awakened by a hand on his shoulder, not a minute, it seemed, after he had closed his eyes. He looked up to see Frank standing beside him. With a quick motion he was on his feet, tightening his belt, feeling for his shoes. Frank lay down and Tony strode out on the deck.
Captain Bowman stood beside the searchlight, his glasses in his hand. Tony wandered down to the stoke-hold and made up the furnace fires, checking the gauges of the boilers and testing the pumps. He returned to the deck, to stand and watch the old house, shining under the strong light.
"Anything happened?" he asked, at length. Why he spoke almost in a whisper he could not have explained.
"Not a thing." The captain's usually loud voice was strangely subdued. "There's not been a sign of anyone about the house."
"Anything on the water?"
"Only a fisherman passed. I got him to take a note ashore, to my mate."
"To get the crew together. I'm taking no chances, in this game."
Tony walked forward. If only he had not taken chances! He had risked Grace's freedom, perhaps her life, by taking chances, when he had Latour in his power. If he had acted as ruthlessly as the man would have acted, if their positions had been reversed, the girl would still be in her room at Dormer House.
The time passed slowly, Tony pacing the ship's deck from end to end; the captain standing squat, almost motionless beside the searchlight, every now and again sweeping the house and grounds with his powerful glasses. At length, Bowman turned and beckoned him; handing over the binoculars with a brief, and useless, injunction to keep a strict watch. He went to the chart-room and in a few seconds returned with Frank; then retired to his own cabin.
Frank was still sleepy and silent. Tony stood rigid by the searchlight, the glasses to his eyes, searching the house and grounds, lying bare under the brilliant light.
The long hours passed, and into the east stole the first grey of morning. Frank glanced at his watch. It wanted only a minute or two of five o'clock.
"Time to call the others, old man," he said quietly, as he passed Tony.
"Let them rest," the young man answered, tersely.
"Captain will be wild if we let him oversleep."
"Wild, be damned!" Tony turned savagely. "Do you think I want to live in the midst of a crowd?"
Frank shrugged and turned aft, pacing the deck slowly. Tony was taking It hard, very hard.
For some time he had known how his sister stood to his chum. He ardently desired that they should come to an understanding. Grace was his pet; he would have done anything for her; he would be sorry to lose her, but—
He sensed that a woman could not be content with her natural family all her life. Woman was always the creator—the eternal mother. In her hands lay the future of the races—the family. She came from the family, imbibing its traditions, its axioms, its beliefs; to carry them into an alien family and there blend them with other ideals, axioms and traditions to something more perfect and wonderful. Only through woman could race perfection be attained and the unknown, unseen end of human endeavours be obtained.
Ever changing, eternal and unending, making for higher and still higher development—and always in the hands of the women of the race. Love and passion were but ingredients that, passing through their hands, were moulded in the young of the race. For their work—the unconscious work to which they were born—they must ever step out into the unknown—the adventures of this world. Weak, faint and fearful, they must lead down the long aeons of years, sowing and reaping in bodies and souls; adding always to the complexities that make up humanity. And...and always by their side the stronger, more simple males; flesh of their flesh, bones of their bones, but never full mate in thought and complex feelings.
A sound on the deck made him turn swiftly. Captain Bowman had come out of the chart-room. Frank turned and paced to the searchlight, now dimming in the rising morn of the new day. A few minutes and Tony would touch the lever, breaking the circuit, and the light would cease—to give place to the greater light of the dawning day.
"Get below, you boys." The seaman spoke gruffly. "You know where the shower is. A sprinkle of cold water'll freshen you up."
Frank nodded and led to the companion-way, Tony following more leisurely. In the captain's state-room Frank stripped and passed to the shower. Ten minutes later he re-entered the cabin, to find Tony standing half-naked, some papers in his hand. He turned as his chum entered.
"Frank!" Tony's voice was full of suppressed excitement. "I have found the map and the letter. They were in my jacket pocket. How did they come there?"
TONY continued to stare down at the papers in his hands, in intense excitement. How had they come in his jacket pocket? He was certain that he had not placed them there. He had not seen them since he had left the library of Dormer House with Grace, to go to the dining room.
Then someone had placed the papers in his pocket. Who could that be? Latour had claimed that be had found the map and letter and that Douchard had taken them from him. He had known that was not true. The man had lied.
Grace had sought for the letter and map, unsuccessfully, up to the time when they had found Latour bound and gagged in the library. Had she found them after that? Had she taken opportunity to place them in his pocket when Douchard came to the library and held them up at the muzzle of his gun? That was possible. Tony remembered that for one moment, immediately the man entered the room, she had leaned heavily against him.
If this theory was true, then where had the girl found the papers? She had sought unsuccessfully for them in the library. Had she found them later? Tony could not answer his questions. The matter appeared insoluble. Only the fact remained that the papers had been returned—and to him.
"Who put them in your pocket?" Frank asked, wide-eyed with astonishment.
"I don't know." Tony frowned. "When I drew off my jacket something made me place my hand in my breast pocket. I was astounded to find the papers there."
"Whew!" Frank looked at the papers, as if at something strange. "They're uncanny, man."
"Uncanny or not, they'll do one thing." Tony's voice was full of suppressed excitement. "They'll bring Douchard back to us."
Frank nodded. That was possible. Douchard had taken Grace, possibly with the idea that he could hold her to ransom against the papers. Yet, he had not approached them with any offer of an exchange. But, that was explainable. He had not had time to formulate his schemes. Perhaps he thought that the papers were still missing and was waiting for them to be found, before coming forward to claim them.
"Yes, they'll bring Douchard back to us," Frank repeated. "But only when he knows that we've got them. Now we've got to get that knowledge to him."
Tony nodded. They would have to get in touch with Douchard and offer him the papers in return for Grace's liberty. That was a matter that did not appeal to him. He disliked, Intensely, any thought of dealing with the scoundrel. He would prefer to fight him—fight to the limit. But, he could not do that with the girl in Douchard's power.
"Well, what are we going to do?" he asked, savagely,
"Sit down and wait." Frank shrugged. "Get to your bath, man. There's nothing to worry about, at the moment."
Tony had just emerged from the shower when Captain Bowman hailed them to come to breakfast. They were hungry, with the hard work of the previous evening and the long watches of the past night. After the meal they went up on deck, immediately their eyes turned to the old house. It lay calm and silent under the morning sun.
"Nothing doing there," Frank reported, after a prolonged scrutiny through the glasses.
"Someone had better go and have a look through the place," the seaman suggested.
Frank nodded and pulled the skiff to the gangway. The two young men rowed ashore and strolled up to the house. The servants were not yet about. They gained entry to the house through the still open library windows and searched the building, hoping against hope to find some signs of the girl; hoping that, in some manner, she had broken away from her captors and returned home.
There were no signs of Grace in the house. Frank scribbled a note, telling the housekeeper that he and his sister would be away for a few days. Then they tidied up all signs of the disturbance in the library the previous evening and returned to the barque.
"No luck?" Bowman made a wry face. "Now, where the hell's he taken the girl to?"
Neither of the young men attempted to answer his question. For the moment they faced an impasse. Douchard had taken the girl and, apparently, disappeared into thin air. What could they do? How could they get on the scoundrel's track?
"Blinking blazes!" Frank swung round at the captain's exclamation. A man was ascending the gangway. Frank stared at him in astonishment. It was Latour.
"What do you want here?" The young man strode to the solicitor angrily.
"Pardon me, m'sieu." Latour turned and assisted a tall, thin man to climb to the deck. He turned to Frank. "May I be permitted to introduce my client, M. Samuel Partridge?"
"Client?" Bowman spoke aggressively. "How can you have a client when you ain't a lawyer?"
"Again, my friend, you are wrong." Latour laughed gently, "It happens that I have practised the law."
"Not in this country," Frank interjected.
Latour shrugged. "Does that matter?" He looked about the deck. "Is there no private place where we can confer?"
"Is a conference necessary?" Tony drawled. In spite of his lazy tones Frank saw that his chum's muscles were taut and that it was with difficulty that he kept his hands off the man.
"I believe a conference is necessary." The little solicitor spoke with dignity.
"Then why didn't you bring the rest of your crowd with you?" Frank exclaimed, angrily. "If there's to be a conference then we want that scoundrel Douchard here."
"Douchard is no friend of mine." Latour spoke, a flush of anger rising to his cheeks.
"Yet you ran away with him, last night?" Tony countered.
"I walked out of the grounds through the big gates, as a gentleman should." The man drew himself up indignantly.
"Without the formality of saying farewell," Frank added.
"Messieurs were otherwise engaged."
For answer Frank strode over to the little solicitor and shook him by the shoulder, rocking him, angrily.
"You know that your devil-friend, Douchard, stole my sister?"
"I regret." Latour bowed. "Has that anything to do with my client, M. Partridge. Perhaps..."
"Perhaps, what?" Tony held Frank back. "Come. Mr. Latour, you know we are very anxious about Miss Dormer. From your behaviour yesterday we came to the conclusion that you and Douchard were—well, very friendly."
"When he bound and gagged me and left me for you to find?" The man shrugged.
"That might have been arranged." Frank smiled. "But don't forget that you had informed us that you had found the map and the letter, and that Douchard had taken them from you."
"True, you did not mention his name—but we inferred it." The young man was annoyed. "Perhaps you referred to Mr. er—Partridge?"
"Oh," Frank interrupted, his face blazing with anger. "What's the use of bandying words with him?" He turned to the lawyer. "Come, what do you want here?"
"I am claiming the map and the letter on behalf of my client, M. Partridge."
"And what is his title to the papers?"
"He claims them as a gift from Louis Douchard."
"Indeed!" Tony elevated his eyebrows. "We supposed that the letter attached to the map was the last word from Louis Douchard."
"M. Douchard wrote another letter, which he left with the envelope containing the map and the letter. That later letter was addressed to my client and instructed him to apply to M. Arthur Dormer, of Dormer House, for a packet of papers sent to his trust."
"And that letter?"
"Is here." The little lawyer produced a stained envelope and carefully extracted a sheet of notepaper from it. With a low bow he handed it to Tony.
The wording of the letter bore out the lawyer's claims. It was a request to Arthur Dormer, signed by Louis Douchard, to hand over a packet of papers in his charge to Samuel Partridge. The young man read the letter carefully. For a moment his hand went to his breast pocket to bring out the letter and compare it with the one he held. He hesitated and withdrew his hand. It would not do, yet, to allow these scoundrels to believe they knew where the lost papers were.
"You know this letter is valueless." Tony spoke without expression. "We shall have to find the original letter from Louis Douchard and compare the writings before we can admit its authenticity."
"And the letter and the map, m'sieu?"
"Are at present missing." Tony was becoming exasperated at the insistence of the man. "Don't be a fool, Latour. You know that either you, or Douchard, took those papers from the library of Dormer House last night. Now you come here and claim them, on the strength of a letter whose authenticity it is impossible to prove."
"M'sieu is angry." Latour spread deprecating hands. "I am in the interests of my client."
"And I am speaking for my friends, Mr. Dormer and Captain Bowman. We believe that Douchard is holding Miss Dormer a prisoner to exchange for the map and the letter."
"Then M. Douchard has applied to m'sieu?"
"He has not."
"M'sieu believes that he will hear from Douchard to that effect?"
"I think so."
"And m'sieu has the letter and the map to exchange for ma'amselle?"
"I am not giving any information, Mr. Latour."
"Then m'sieu has the map." An excitement grew in the lawyer's eyes. He hesitated, then: "Perhaps my client can assist m'sieu in his search for ma'amselle?"
"In what manner?"
"I will consult my client." He made to move up the deck with the lanky individual who, so far, had not uttered a word, then stopped. "M'sieu is prepared to treat with M. Douchard?"
"I have not said so."
"And, if m'sieu is prepared to treat with M. Douchard for an exchange of ma'amselle for the map and the letter, he is also prepared to treat with my client?"
"What has your client to do with it?"
Latour shrugged and turned away. For the moment Tony was startled. What had the man in mind? He tried to fathom his purpose.
Douchard had taken Grace, certainly to hold her against the map and letter, Latour, immediately after her abduction, had helped search for the girl, enthusiastically. Later, he had disappeared. Now he hinted that it might be possible for him and his so-called client to restore the girl to her friends.
Tony did not believe that the man could accomplish what he hinted at. Douchard would not send the little lawyer with such an offer. He would come himself. But—what if Latour was in league with Douchard and yet had brought the proposition on his own account?
"Can you discover where my sister, Grace, is?" Frank asked suddenly.
"Has m'sieu the letter and the map?" the little solicitor countered.
"We may be able to find the documents within a few days," Tony interjected swiftly. He was not yet prepared to admit possession of the documents.
"In that case..." Latour hesitated. He drew his client to one side and whispered to him, hastily.
"M. Partridge suggests that we await the discovery of the papers."
"Or of Louis Douchard?" Tony taunted
"Or of Louis Douchard, certainly." Latour smiled secretly.
"In the meantime, what of my sister?" Frank asked hotly.
"Ma'amselle is safe. Perhaps she is happy." A slight smile came on his thin lips. "It is for messieurs to say."
"By stating the time for the delivery of the map and letter—in exchange for information regarding Miss Dormer."
"Is that all?"
"What would messieurs? M. Douchard took the girl—we did not. If the young ma'amselle was our guest we should be most happy to..."
"Treat for her release?" Frank suggested, when the man paused.
"Obviously." Latour smiled. "As it is, we have to thank m'sieu for his courtesy and bid him farewell."
He turned and moved toward the gangway, motioning Patridge to follow him. Almost as he reached the head of the steps Tony strode forward and barred the way.
"M'sieu! We are your guests."
"I not aware of that," Tony grinned, unpleasantly.
"What do you propose?" A hint of fear crept into the man's voice.
"With you, Mr Latour, nothing." The young man's tone was inflexible. "With your client, er—"
"He will remain with us, until Miss Dormer comes and releases him."
For more than a minute there was silence. Latour was puzzled. He glanced from Tony to his client, then back again. A slow smile came on his lips, and he bowed.
"M'sieu is clever. And the papers?"
Tony thought quickly. "When Miss Dormer is here, your client and the papers will be handed to you."
Again the little lawyer bowed. As he straightened, a startled look came his eyes. He raised his hand, pointing across the deck towards the centre of the harbour.
"Mon Dieu! Look!" The others followed the line of his pointing finger.
A small steam vessel was making down the harbour to to the entrance. On its bridge stood three persons. Tony immediately recognised Douchard, and beside him, a girl.
As he stared she turned and, seeing the group on the deck of the steamer, waved her hand. Frank jumped forward.
"My God! Grace!"
THE men on the deck of the Lilith watched the little steamer churn down to the mouth of the harbour.
They could see the girl standing on the bridge, close to Douchard, looking back at them and every now and again waving a handkerchief in their direction.
What did her conduct mean? Grace had been taken from her home by the man who had held them under the muzzle of his gun in the library of Dormer House. She had been taken under compulsion—yet they had seen her on the deck of the steamer, apparently free and happy. Where was the man taking her? From appearances they could only believe that, in some manner, Douchard had solved the problem of the locality of Douchard's Island—that he was then bound there, taking the girl with him.
But, how had Douchard solved the problem? He had neither the map nor the letter, although at one time Latour had claimed that he had taken them from him. Tony knew now that claim was not correct. In the breast pocket of his jacket rested map and letter, placed there, he believed, by Grace.
Captain Bowman stood on the deck of the barque and cursed under his breath as he watched the steamer go down towards the open sea.
He looked up at the sky, and smiled; then fixed his eyes on the public landing stage, some quarter of a mile up the harbour. He was straining to obtain a glimpse of his crew. Late the previous evening he had sent a message ashore for them to attend duty, immediately.
If they would only arrive! Captain Bowman cast a glance over his shoulder at the steamer, now receding into the distance. He measured with his eyes the power of the wind. He knew that outside the heads a brisk, favourable wind was blowing. If his crew arrived on board soon, he could set sail and follow the steamer. He was certain that, with the wind at his disposal, he could soon overhaul the steamer—a tubby, heavy boat that would make heavy weather in more than a capful of wind.
They glanced at Latour. He was staring down the harbour, his lips working in excitement. He wondered if the solicitor was cursing Douchard. Certainly, the sight of Grace standing on the bridge of the steamer had settled for all time the claim of the man, and his supposed client, to possession of the letter and map.
A shout from the captain turned all eyes landwards. A boat was putting out from the jetty—a boat filled with men. The Lilith's crew were returning on board. The captain immediately became ail energy. Under his quick succession of orders the young men, including Latour and his client, turned to and began to prepare the vessel for sea.
Immediately the sailors arrived on board, the anchor was broken out. A moment later and the Lilith commenced to move slowly down the harbour in the wake of Douchard's steamer, dancing gaily over the rippling tide, pointing her spit to the narrow opening between the high heads.
It was not until the little vessel was feeling the surge of the open sea that Latour realised that he was being carried to sea on board the barque. Immediately he sought Tony.
"M'sieu, I wish to land, with my client."
The young man smiled quietly. To ask Captain Bowman to stay his vessel now was to ask for trouble. The sailor had eyes only for what lay ahead of his vessel; his only thoughts to overhaul the steamer and take from it the girl who was the daughter of his dream-years.
"I am afraid that is impossible, Mr. Labour," he answered, quietly.
"But..." The lawyer was staggered. "You say it is impossible. That is not right. I must go ashore. I have my work. My client has his work..."
"I thought your work was the recovery of the papers left in Mr. Arthur Dormer's charge by Louis Douchard?" the young man suggested.
"That is so."
"Then you are on your way to your work," Tony laughed. "You saw Douchard on that boat. I don't think he would have left in such a hurry if he had not had pressing business—and that business I believe to be the discovery of Douchard's Island."
"Then he has the map and the letter?".
For the moment Tony hesitated. He looked round and caught Frank's eyes, beckoning slightly. The young man sauntered across to him.
"What's the matter, Tony?"
"Mr. Latour wants to land."
"I am afraid that Captain Bowman would object."
"I have been trying to explain that." Tony laughed gently. "Mr. Latour wants to know if Douchard has the map and letter with him?"
"I am afraid..." Frank hesitated. "It looks to me as if he knows something. I don't think he would have got away in such a desperate hurry unless he had some information."
"I don't think he has, though," Tony ventured.
"But Mr. Latour told us last night that Douchard had taken them from him."
"To almost immediately eat his words and say that he never had them." Again Tony laughed. "I am somewhat inclined to believe his last statement.
"Why?" Frank looked doubtful.
"Don't humbug, old man." Tony's laugh rang out. "I am going to confide in Mr. Latour. I have the map and the letter."
For a moment the lawyer frowned, then smiled.
"Of course, m'sieu! Then you will hand them to my client."
"Not so fast, my friend." Frank spoke quickly. "There's going to be a lot of explanations before we decide anything. Look here, Tony, we're getting into breezy waters. We can't talk out here. Let's get into the chart-room. If Mr. Latour likes to come clean, we'll listen to what he has to say."
Tony nodded. He looked at the solicitor. "For a moment Latour hesitated. He glanced at his client, who nodded.
"We shall be pleased to join you, messieurs." The solicitor made a little bow.
Frank led to the chart-room and, from one of the cupboards, produced a bottle of whiskey and glasses.
"Now, Mr. Latour." Tony spoke when the party were seated. "We give you the floor."
"The floor, m'sieu?" The little man looked puzzled. Then his-face cleared. "Oh, you wish me to speak."
Tony nodded. "I think you owe us an explanation."
"That is so, m'sieu." The lawyer sipped at his glass with evident enjoyment. A twinkle came in his eyes. "You certainly treat your prisoners well, M. Tony."
"That all depends on them," Frank answered. "But we've come here for a definite purpose. You realise that my sister is in the power of a dangerous scoundrel. Only by you giving us all the information in your power may we hope to rescue her."
The little man nodded.
"First, your name?" Tony asked.
"Latour is my name." A slight flush stained the lawyer's cheeks.
"And you are really a solicitor of this city?"
"I was." The man hesitated.
"Ah, disbarred." Tony nodded. "Forgive me, Mr. Latour, if I speak candidly."
The man nodded assent. "I was unfortunate," he added.
"Yet you still have clients?"
"There is nothing else for me, m'sieu. It is the only profession that I know."
"So far, good." Tony leaned forward. "Now, as to Mr. Samuel Partridge. Has he a legitimate claim on the map and the letter?"
"He has a claim, m'sieu."
"And the person who calls himself Douchard?" added' Frank.
"Him I do not understand." Latour frowned. "He came to me and asked me for the map and the letter. I said that I had them not, and he laughed."
"Did he give you his name as Douchard?"
"Do you believe that to be his name?"
Again the little lawyer hesitated. He turned and faced Partridge. The man grinned.
"I believe his name to be Douchard." Latour spoke slowly. Then, as Tony was about to speak, he added: "I think if I were allowed to tell my story, instead of answering questions."
Frank made a gesture of assent.
"I told you that I was a solicitor," the little man commenced, slowly. "I said that I had been unfortunate." For a time he remained without speaking, a faraway look in his eyes.
"I was a man of good practice, dealing with many of my compatriots in this country. I made money, but I wanted more—much more. I tried..." He paused. "...m'sieu, I was not so very unfortunate—I was unlucky...to be discovered.
"There are those of the city who care not to do their business with lawyers who live in big offices. They like the little man whom they can meet in the manner intimate. After I was...shall we say again, unfortunate, I found with them a living; for there is much law that does not go to court. Among them I chanced on M. Partridge."
"And Douchard?" Frank questioned. "You haven't told us who Douchard really is?"
"I believe he is brother of Louis Douchard, who found the lost island."
"What do you mean by the 'lost island?'" Tony questioned.
Latour laughed. "If you practised along the waterfronts of any city in the southern seas, m'sieu, you would hear of the lost island'—the island where treasure abounds. Every sailor talks of it. It is their dream to be wrecked on that island—alone; to discover the treasure; to be rescued and to come back to their city with their pockets full of...Bah! anything!"
"You think Douchard's Island is the 'lost island?'"
"Douchard thinks so," was the quiet retort.
"I think we are interrupting the run of Mr. Latour's story," interposed Tony.
"That is so." The solicitor nodded. "Let me tell you." He paused and continued in a different tone.
"I met M. Partridge. He told me of being with a ship's company and landing on an island and discovering there a skeleton of a man. Close by was a tin box containing papers. They opened it—or should I say, my client did. In it was a letter addressed to 'the finder'. That letter bade him go to M. Arthur Dormer and claim a certain packet. The dead man had written that if the finder carried out those instructions he would benefit considerably."
"That is the letter you showed me to-day?" Tony said quietly.
"That is so."
"You have that letter here—of course." Tony smiled at his own question. He paused a moment, then continued: "That letter constitutes your client's claim on the map and the letter entrusted to Mr. Dormer?"
"That is all." Latour's face betrayed that he knew how slender his case was.
"Then a comparison of the handwriting of the two letters will prove Mr. Partridge's case," Tony added.
He produced from his breast pocket an envelope and from it drew the letter and map. He placed them on the table and looked-up at the lawyer.
Latour hesitated before he produced the letter he had shown Tony early that morning. Then, with a little toss of his head, he spread it out beside the one Tony had produced. The writings were entirely dissimilar.
"Well, Latour?" Frank asked, with a smile.
The lawyer shrugged. He picked up the letter he had held on the table, folded it, and handed it to Partridge.
"I think Mr. Partridge owes us an explanation," suggested Tony.
"That is for him. I, myself, have finished." Latour shrugged again.
"Then..." Frank looked inquiringly at the tall man.
"I found the letter as my solicitor has said..." the man commenced. "I..."
The sudden exclamation drew all eyes to the door. Bowman was leaning against the lintel, staring at the lanky man. "You call yourself Partridge. I call you Martin...Tom Martin. Martin of the Arathusa, Don't you remember me, Martin; don't you! Yet I sailed as second mate in that tub, when you were a damned ordinary seaman—a damned ordinary seaman, believe me! Now, you scum! Jump to it! What's the game?"
The man was on his feet in an instant, a hang-dog expression darkening his face.
"Got you right, haven't I?" Bowman strode across the cabin and thrust his face close to the man's. "Got you with the goods, eh? Now, what the hell are you doing in this chart-room, posing as a fine gentleman? Out with you, you lazy, thieving scum. Get forward, there! While you're on this ship you'll work! Understand? Work! Work, I say!"
The man stood, muttering under his breath for a moment then sidled past the captain, as if expecting to be hit or kicked. Another moment, and be had disappeared from view.
"So exits Samuel Partridge." Tony laughed. He turned to Latour. "Satisfied?"
A moment's hesitation and the solicitor stood up and bowed.
"Messieurs will accept my apologies?" He paused, then added: "I regret that for some time I have lost...lost what little reputation I once possessed. I...I can only say...I did not know."
"Good enough!" Frank crossed the cabin, and held out his hand to the little man. "There's little beyond that, any of us can do. If we all had the pluck...well, there'd be finer men and women in the world. That's all!"
Latour flushed. For a moment he stood looking down at the table; then sat, suddenly.
"The map and the letter!" He stretched out his hand towards the papers, then drew it back. "Is it permitted that I observe?"
"Sure!" Tony shoved the papers across the table. Latour seized them, eagerly. For long moments he pored over them. Then, deliberately, he unpinned the letter from the map.
"For the moment," he murmured. He passed the map to Tony, retaining the letter before him. "The two confuse."
"What's the idea, Mr. Latour?" Frank asked eagerly.
"I know not." The little man did not look up. "But..." He hesitated. "...here is the question, I think ..."
Again he turned to his examination of the paper only to, after a time, put it from him with a regretful sigh.
"Messieurs will permit me to think—perhaps think long." He rose to his feet and stretched. "Yes, that is it. I must think."
"You think there is something there which will solve our problem?" Frank asked.
"There is much there, m'sieu." The solicitor frowned. "Is it that the messieurs trust me? Bon! Then I will think hard. But..."
"What?" asked Tony, inquisitively.
"The one big problem is not there."
"What is that?" Captain Bowman leaned forward, eagerly.
"The big, big problem. Why did Douchard sail from the harbour without that paper? Tell me that! It is...is the problem that baffles."
DAY succeeded day as the Lilith sped southwards under the urge of a strong breeze, bearing the adventurers on the track of Douchard's steamer. Latour had recognised the vessel. It was named the Vixen and belonged to three brothers who bore a sinister reputation along the city's waterfront.
From the time the Lilith left harbour all eyes had been strained to catch a glimpse of the Vixen, but without success. Captain Bowman was certain that the steamer had turned southwards on leaving the harbour and could not be more than an hour or so ahead of them. He was certain that the Lilith had the heels of the Vixen in anything like a breeze—yet hours and days passed and never a sign of the ship they were following.
Where had the Vixen gone? So far, their voyage had lain down the coast, southwards. They were running into unknown seas, bordered by unknown lands. To the east rolled the waves of the Pacific, breaking on countless islands. Was it among these archipelagos and solitary islands that they were to find Douchard's Island? If so, then they were hugging the coastline of the continent too closely.
But Captain Bowman refused to take his ship far from the coast. Why? At times Frank and Tony questioned him, receiving only shrugs and short words in reply. They came to gather that the seaman was following some "hunch." He did not believe that the Vixen was ocean-bound. The island they sought was somewhere close off the mainland, probably adjacent to one of the huge stretches of unexplored land and coast to the south. Yet, as day succeeded day the young men saw that Bowman was becoming worried.
Latour had slipped into place as a member of the expedition. The little solicitor was none too honest; but in his dishonesty he had an engaging quality. He had shown that he was prepared to go far to serve the interests of anyone he called a client; but that client had to be honest with him—allow him to guide him in any dishonesty that was necessary. There Partridge had failed the little man. The result of exposure was immediate repudiation.
Yet, in forsaking his reputed client and throwing in his lot with the adventurers who sought more to rescue Grace from her captivity than to discover Douchard's Island, Latour never attempted to betray Partridge—or Martin, as the captain and crew insistently called him. The ex-seaman had been sent forward and passed a very unenviable time amid the crew that swore by their captain. In consequence he became morose and silent, answering gibes with black looks and threats. A powerful man, he fought his way to a certain respect in the crew's quarters; yet be made no friends nor showed any desire to do so.
Gradually the weather changed. They were approaching seas noted for their treacherous weather, uncharted currents and unknown soundings. Bowman began to show, openly, that he was worried. They had been days on the journey southwards and had seen nothing of the Vixen. It was impossible that the squat, heavy steamer could out-sail the trim, speedy barque when the wind was favouring the latter.
At the end of the sixth day southwards, Captain Bowman brought the Lilith to anchor in a little bay to the north of Cape Norton. The country along the coast showed wild and bare, almost entirely sand-hills and sand-plains—country that had rarely been crossed by white men; almost entirely unexplored.
A bare, inhospitable coast, bordered by low cliffs, broken at places where the sands of the inland ran down and mingled with the sands of the shore. Cape Norton was a low, wind-swept promontory jutting far out into the sea, crowned by two knolls of sand continually changing shape. Inland the ground rose slightly and continuously to meet two high ranges of hills about ten to fifteen miles distant from the sea-coast. At the end of one of these ranges rose a tall peak that might in courtesy be described as a mountain. On the bare charts the adventurers continually pored over, this peak was dignified as Mt. Mann.
In the angle formed by the two ranges of hills showed a. wide expanse of vegetation, almost tropical in its luxuriance when viewed through the glasses. It was the only pleasant spot to view in many weary miles of sand-plain country.
Under the flapping awning, in the cool breeze of the evening, the four adventurers held an informal conference. Four men, for now Latour had been admitted to their full confidence, and was accepted as a member of the party, whose principal objective was the rescue of Grace Dormer from the clutches of Douchard. Frank had been the first to adopt him; to some extent almost vouching for him to the other members of the party.
Tony accepted the man with reservations and safeguards. Captain Bowman was for long openly hostile. Yet he had to allow that Latour was doing his best to solve the secret of Douchard's Island.
"We've come as far down this coast as I care to go." Bowman opened the discussion abruptly. "I'm responsible. I played my hunch—and lost." He shrugged.
"It is a country that intrigues, my captain." Latour smiled. "More, to me it fascinates."
"Sand and sand-hills." Tony laughed. "There seems to be some sort of oasis over there."
"It intrigues." The little lawyer appeared to be murmuring to himself. "The hills, with the one tall peak standing above them. More hills to the south and between us and the big hill. In the angle a mass of vegetation, overflowing in what is a wide basin."
Abruptly he took from his pocket a copy of the letter and map. Latour was rarely seen without them. He studied the map carefully, muttering to himself.
Tony laughed at the little solicitor, winking at his companions.
"What is the next move, captain?" he asked.
"I don't know."
An obstinate frown settled on the seaman's face. He had come so far south, following he believed the line Douchard would take. He had anchored in the bay under Cape Norton convinced that he had come to the limit in that direction. What was he to do now?
"The place, it intrigues," Latour murmured under his breath. Suddenly, he looked up. "The map...no, what you call it...the chart, my captain. Will you oblige?"
Bowman stared at the little man, in astonishment. But now there was something different in him. He had lost his air of deference. He spoke with authority—with a tinge of excitement in his voice. A moment's hesitation and Bowman went into the chart-room and brought out the chart of the coast.
"It is! It is, the place!" The lawyer took only one look at the chart; then excitement grew on his face. "Look, messieurs! Here is the cape against which the Lilith leans. Here is the mountain and the hills.
"There—" He pointed, dramatically, to the trees in the far distance. "There is the lagoon! Voila!"
Captain Bowman took one look at map and chart, then seized the former and ran up the rigging. For some time he stayed there comparing, through the glasses, the contours of the land. At length he descended, slowly. Without a word he joined the group under the awning.
"Well?" Tony asked, his voice quivering.
"Can't understand it!" Bowman frowned. "We've been talking of an island and looking for one. Now we're on the mainland—and find a place that is just the image of the map. What does it mean?"
"M'sieu said that M. Douchard was not a seaman?" Latour spoke softly.
"Neither was he." Bowman's answer was gruff.
"What was he?" asked Frank.
The captain looked at Tony, who shook his head.
"I should believe he was a landsman," the young man answered, lamely.
"A landsman—of the city?" the lawyer asked.
"No." The captain spoke shortly.
"A man of the country?" Again the lawyer questioned.
"A bushman..." Frank sat up, quickly. "Yes, that is it! A bushman. A prospector! Why, that explains a lot!"
"In what manner?" asked Latour.
"You say that this is the place drawn in the map." Frank spoke slowly. "If this is a map of an island, then Douchard must have been a seaman." He paused and held out his hand. "Tony, let me have the original map for a moment."
The young man loosened his clothing and drew from under his shirt the leather belt. From one of the pockets he took the roll of oilskin containing the map and letter. He handed them to his chum. For a moment Frank sat, studying them.
"It seems to fit," he said, at length. "If we take the captain's word that Douchard was not a sailor, then it is possible that this is part of the coastline of the continent."
"Yet the map is a drawing of a piece of land entirely surrounded by sea," Tony observed.
"Is it?" Latour sprang to his feet. "Look messieurs! At either side of the paper there are lines which run off the paper. Then there are other lines, but they are not lines like those around the cape where we are sitting."
"Looks like it." Bowman nodded. "But there is that coastline along the top of the paper."
"Is it so?" the solicitor questioned. "No, it may not be so. Is it not that Douchard drew that line to mark the limitation of the country he drew in the map? Is it not that..."
"Then the map is a sketch of a huge cape of which we are sheltering under the peak—Cape Norton." Tony caught the spark of enthusiasm. "If we take those lines running off the paper on either side as continuations of the coastline, then we have to find a new meaning for the lines on the top of the paper."
"They are different," insisted Latour.
"These are cliff markings." Bowman indicated the lines around Cape Norton. "These are not. But, what the hell are they?"
"Douchard was a bushman, not a sailor," Tony theorised. "If he found anything—as the letter seems to indicate; something of value—then—"
"He would make a map of it," Frank interjected.
"And mark off that part of the country that did not interest him," Tony supplemented.
For some time there was silence. Suddenly Tony reached forward and took the map.
"We've agreed that this is the sea-coast of the map. We've—or rather Captain Bowman—has identified the main points of the country. Now, captain, what is the condition of the country along the coast, north and south from here? What is supposed to be the nature of the country inland?"
"Sand," the captain answered, laconically.
"Then, that line we have been puzzling over was put there by Douchard to indicate that this was the oasis of land to which he wanted to draw attention, together with the part of the sea-coast necessary to identify it."
It was a lame explanation, but they had to accept ft for want of a better.
"There's a chance of testing that." Bowman took the map. "Look here. That lagoon is evidently fed from the two ranges of hills. See the creeks coming down from the hills to the lagoon. Now here," his finger indicated another part of the map. "Here's a river running from the lagoon to the sea, about twenty or thirty miles north of Cape Norton. Where's that chart?"
The seaman took the chart and studied it for a moment. He looked up with a smile.
"The river's there, all right," he announced. "Boys, we've had some luck. We've drifted right on to Douchard's Island—which isn't one."
"And which happens to be part of our mainland." Tony laughed. "What's the next move, captain?"
"To find the river." Bowman looked up at the sky. "Turn in, lads. You'll be routed out at daybreak."
They parted for the night, filled with conflicting emotions.
FOR SOME time after he reached his cabin, Tony was thoughtful. They had started in pursuit of Grace and her abductor—to find the island they had intended to search for after her rescue. That island had proved to be part of the mainland.
What was the secret they were to discover there? He was certain that Latour and the captain had read the map rightly. Before them was the land in which Douchard had perished. They had solved that problem; they had reached the land. Now they had to discover what secret the man had left behind him.
The letter was the clue to that question. Tony took out the map and letter and fell to studying them. He put the map on one side. That had been solved. The letter only now remained. What meaning could there be in that sequence of irresponsible sentences?
Douchard wrote that he appeared to have little chance of leaving the place alive. Why? Tony could have understood better if the man had written from an island. But, behind him was the solid continent. Why had he sat down there to die? Why not have attempted to gain some part of the civilised country?
How had he come to that land? Certainly not from the sea. No, he had come overland; through the wastes of the sand country the captain said lined the coast and extended far inland. Then, perhaps in his wanderings he had become lost in the sand wastes. He had struggled on towards the coast, his provisions almost exhausted—to come to the land they had named Douchard's Island. He had thought of rescue from the sea—to be disappointed. Then he had written of his probable fate to his friend, Arthur Dormer.
What had he asked of his friend? "To put him away respectable." But surely the man would have known that anyone who found him and the letter would perform the last rites over him before leaving the country.
Again he had written: "It'll pay you all that trip." A trip to bury a lost bushman? No, there was some other meaning to the words. Tony's eyes wandered along the lines and stopped. "Come here and gather what I place to-day." What had he placed?
For some time the young man paced the cabin. If only he could read a logical meaning into those three sentences. One he could guess the meaning of. The other two were ambiguous.
Yet they held a meaning; Tony was certain of that He believed that Douchard had intended to say "Come here when you get this letter, which will be forwarded to you by whoever finds me. Gather—find—what I have discovered and take it for yourself."
The night was hot and Tony's head ached with much thought. He filled a glass from the water-bottle. The water tasted tank-stained. He went to his kit-bag and pulled out a flask of whiskey, adding some to the water, and drank deeply; then threw off his clothing and turned into his bunk.
He was very sleepy, heavy and tired. Yet he could not sleep—only doze. For what seemed like hours he lay, trying to woo sleep; then gradually, when he had given up hopes, sleep overcame him.
How long he slept lie did not know. He awoke to a feeling that someone was in the cabin with him. He tried to pierce the darkness with his eyes, but could see nothing. For some time he watched, then determined to rise and investigate. Now he found that his limbs refused to obey his will—he felt as if bound hand and foot. He tried to shout, but no sounds came from his lips.
He was certain that someone was moving silently about the cabin. Once he thought he saw a shadow pass between him and the porthole. He lay waiting, striving to throw off the lethargy that possessed him.
The intruder was standing beside his bunk. He thought he could trace the outline of the man's figure against the lighter darkness about the portholes. He strove to roll over, but something prevented him from moving.
A hand touched his body, under the bedclothes. For a time it fumbled at his waist, and was then withdrawn. The shadow disappeared from the side of the bed, and after another minute he sensed that he was alone again.
He lay quiescent; he could not even think. Something had happened, but he did not care. After a time he rolled over and fell asleep.
The morning light was streaming in at the portholes when he awoke. Someone was knocking at the door. Heavily, tiredly, he rolled out of the bunk and went to answer the knock.
"Hurry up, Tony! The boat is getting away in half-an-hour, for the river." Frank spoke.
"Right!" The young man threw off his pyjamas; then stared down at his bare body.
The belt containing the map and the letter had been taken from him during the night!
TONY said nothing of his loss when he joined his friends at the breakfast table. He wanted time to think. Who had been in his cabin, taking the belt from him, during the night?
Two men were in his mind. First, Latour, the so-called solicitor. But, for days they had trusted the man with the map and letter. He had copies of both. Why should he want to get hold of the originals? He knew that every member of the party possessed copies of the papers.
The other man was Labour's late client—Samuel Partridge or, as Captain Bowman rated him, Tom Martin, ordinary seaman. Again came the question, what did the man want the papers for? He could make no use of them. He was on the ship, true, but virtually a prisoner. Whatever inducements he offered, the crew would not side with him against their captain.
And, even if he escaped from the ship to land, what could he do with the papers? He might succeed where they had failed and trace down the meaning of the map and letter; perhaps find the treasure, if one really existed. But there he would end his success. He could not get away from that lonely land. He would have to sit down and await a chance ship; possibly perish, as Louis Douchard had.
The barque was moving northwards when the young man went on deck. An hour later they dropped anchor in a smaller bay. Tony strained his eyes towards the coast, but could find no signs of a river-mouth.
Captain Bowman had a boat lowered immediately the anchor was dropped. Tony joined Frank in the stern sheet and was immediately followed by the captain. To his astonishment he saw that Partridge made one of the crew. A word from Bowman and the boat was pulled, lustily, towards the shore; the captain standing up, watching for the mouth of the river.
A little search and the river-mouth was found. It was not a large river, though contained in a deep channel. A few minutes' exploration convinced the captain that he could not take the boat up the river. He steered for the beach and motioned for the young men to jump ashore.
Most of the morning was engaged in bringing from the barque the stores necessary to explore the inland. It was late in the afternoon before they were ready to start. Then, Bowman called for one of the crew to accompany him—and Partridge sprang forward. For a moment the captain looked dubious, then nodded assent.
The loose sand made walking difficult. Some two miles from the coast they caught sight of the hills again. A long trail and then the tops of the trees surrounding the lagoon came in sight. They came to the top of a sand-ridge and looked down on an enormous shallow basin in which rested the great lagoon drawn on Douchard's map.
For hour after hour they plodded on over the burning sands. At length, the ground grew firmer and they found their way barred by the shores of the lagoon.
It was more a swamp than a lagoon. Huge belts of trees amid which grew mazes of thick vegetation surrounded by little pools of water. The trees were alive with birds of glorious plumages; while on the ground were traces of game.
For some time they explored the borders of the great lagoon, trying to discover a way to pass it. Between the tree-tops they could see the crests of the hills beyond, and the tall peak of Mt. Mann. But the lagoon was impassable. Wherever water and vegetation failed the ground was so soft that they sank above their knees in it.
They had to skirt the lagoon, and that would mean many weary miles of travelling, possibly taking some days. With a shrug, Captain Bowman led southwards. To the north lay the river they had failed to explore that morning. It was unwise to venture in that direction; they could not know what difficulties lay over there.
Night fell rapidly. As the sun set, the captain sought a place to camp. There was plenty of dead wood for a fire, bordering the belt of trees. In a short while the evening meal was ready and afterwards they lay on their "naps" and talked of their coming adventure.
Tony lay silent. Where was Grace? They had come southwards, following what they supposed to be the course of the Vixen over the trackless seas. They had come southwards to rescue Grace from Douchard's clutches, even if they had to give up map and letter in exchange for the girl. They had lost the Vixen, but had found Douchard's Island!
What did Douchard's Island and any treasure matter, beside the safety of the girl? Why had they landed and wandered inland, in chase of some myth born in the dying brain of a lost bushman? Tony cursed himself for a fool! He should not have allowed his comrades to come an this wild goose-chase. They should have sailed north again, searching for the girl. That was their business; not hunting vague treasure theories. They should have returned home and advertised; offering Douchard the papers in return for Grace's safety.
The night wore on and Tony became aware that all but ,hbe were asleep in the camp. Yet he could not sleep. His thoughts were obsessed by the girl—and the man who had captured her. He raised himself on his elbow, to fall back quickly, watching.
One of the seamen had risen from his place and was watching the sleepers, furtively. For some time the man remained, crouching low; then came to his feet and stretched. He looked at the lagoon, and then up at the sky, nodding; then rolled his "nap" and swung it on his back; striking across the sands, southwards.
Who was the man? Tony watched him until he was almost swallowed up in the night darkness. He believed it was Partridge. He waited a few moments longer and then' rose to his feet, to make the circle of the camp, peering into the face of each sleeper.
The man who had left the camp was Partridge. Then it was Partridge who had been in his cabin the previous night; it was Partridge who had stolen the map and the letter.
But what did the man intend to do? He could not make his way to the treasure, if one existed, and take it. The next morning Captain Bowman would lead the party to the hut where they presumed Douchard had perished, and discover the secret. They would find Partridge there and take him prisoner.
Tony returned to his "nap" and found his revolver; then he set out on the trail of the man. He did not intend to catch up to him—only to watch him.
A hundred yards from the camp and Tony halted. He turned back, and by the light of the camp-fire scribbled a note. This he pinned to the captain's blanket. He did not want to alarm the camp and set the whole party on the man's trail. Of a certainty the man would come to realise that he was being followed. Then he would double back to the camp, making some excuse for his absence, and they would have failed to discover what objective he had in mind.
Partridge took a course that brought him to the edge of the lagoon. There he turned more southwards, skirting the swamp closely. Tony kept well in the rear. In spite of the fact that close to the lagoon the travelling was better—the ground harder—yet, even in the night-light he could trail the man by the marks of his boots.
The man moved fast, walking with long steady strides that put the young man on his mettle to keep up with. For hours the man went on, without stopping to rest. At length, the stars showed Tony that they had ceased to travel southwards and were bending to the west. He thought he could distinguish, some distance ahead, the steep slopes of the hills.
Another couple of miles and Tony was certain that they were approaching the hills. Now he could distinguish their thicker darkness against the pale darkness of the sky. He glanced at the line of trees and vegetation bordering the swamp. He thought that, at the foot of the hills, lagoon and high rocky ground would meet. What would the fugitive do then?
The huge darkness of the hills grew nearer, until Tony had to stare almost straight up to see the dark blueness of the sky. Now the lagoon seemed to recede from the hills and the young man saw that between the lagoon and foothills lay a patch of firm ground barely a hundred yards wide. A turn around a low hillock and he caught sight of a fire.
Tony halted under the shelter of a belt of trees and carefully examined his surroundings. He was about a hundred and fifty yards from the fire. Who had lit it? Could there be natives in that inhospitable country? Yet a tribe could live on the game abounding in and about the lagoon.
But, would Partridge come to that spot to meet natives? That was improbable. Then, what did the man expect to find there? He ventured forward, carefully, watching the man's spoor. The sailor must have seen the fire from this spot, yet he had gone on boldly, without apparent hesitation.
Who had lit the fire? Whoever had lit it had done so as a guide for the seaman. Then, into Tony's mind came the single word—Douchard.
Douchard had trailed them from port to this lonely coast—while they had been deluding themselves that they were following him. In some way Douchard had learned what had happened on board the Lilith and of the exposure of Partridge. He had got in touch with the man and had bribed him to steal letter and map and to bring them to him under the shadow of the southern hills. Then, if Douchard was at that fire, where was Grace?
If Douchard was at that fire! Had he brought Grace inland, or left her with his friends on board the steamer? The young man guessed on the southern side of Cape Norton.
Again Tony moved forward, using the utmost precaution. At the far side of the belt of trees he found that he was within sight of the camp. He watched carefully. He could see men lying about the fire. He counted them. Four men, but he could not see a girl. Who were the men? He believed Douchard and his three friends—owners of the steamer. Then, where was Partridge? He went forward a few yards, intent on a closer view.
Something rustled in the tree under which he was standing. Tony looked up. A moment, and a dark mass fell from the tree, crushing him to the ground. A weapon struck his head and he lost consciousness.
TONY CAME TO himself to find that he was lying close to the camp fire, under some high sheltering rocks, his head resting on some soft substance. He looked up—into Grace's grave eyes. When she saw that he was conscious she bent over him, placing her finger to her lips, in a sign for silence.
He turned his head, with a little sigh of satisfaction, to watch the men around the camp fire. He had found Grace; but they were in the hands of Douchard and his friends.
Close to the fire were two men, bending over something lying on the ground. For a moment Tony was puzzled. Who were the men and what were they doing? Then, one of the men raised his head and the young man recognised Partridge.
Partridge and Douchard were bending over the map and letter. Partridge had discovered that he was trailing him and had set an ambush to capture him. Partridge had taken the map and letter from him the previous night, and they were now intent on deciphering the riddle.
Three other men sat beside the two men, but they did not appear to be taking any part in the discussion between Douchard and Partridge. For some time it continued, then Douchard rose to his feet and came to Tony and Grace.
"How is the invalid, Miss Dormer?" The man spoke easily.
"I think he is conscious," Grace answered, shortly.
"Is he?" Douchard bent and looked into Tony's face, closely. "Well, M. Tony, how are you now?"
"Sore," Tony grinned. "But not half so sore as you will be when I have finished with you."
The man laughed.
"You must expect hard knocks if you will wander into the enemy's camp."
"How did you come here?" Tony was keeping his temper with difficulty, for he wanted information."
"Asking questions now?" Douchard laughed again. "Well, I don't mind telling you. We followed the trail of the Lilith."
"But we were following you!" Tony stared, in amazement.
"Were you?" There was mockery in the man's voice. "I don't think so. True, we came out of the harbour first, but it was easy to hide and let the Lilith pass us. You went south and we followed—and all the time you thought you were chasing us we were following you."
The man sat back on his haunches and roared with laughter. Tony could not blame him. They had been outwitted, and by the simplest of tricks. Almost he laughed with the man.
"Well, now you've found out where we went, what do you want?" Tony spoke easily. He knew that he could only get Grace and himself out of their present predicament by using all the wits he had been born with.
"What do I want?" Douchard laughed again. "Only the solution of the map and the letter, m'sieu."
"I don't know them."
"Is that so?" Douchard became grave quickly. He frowned, staring down at the young man with a glint in his eyes. "Then, tell me, friend, how came you so directly to this spot, unless you first read the cypher contained in that letter?"
DOUCHARD had asked a question Tony could not answer. He and his companions had come to Cape Norton following what they supposed to be the route of the Vixen, bearing Douchard and Grace. Chance had led them to Douchard's Island—the land the man had pictured on his map.
How could he answer the man? The fact that they had come direct to this place was against him. Douchard would not believe that chance bad led him there. He had he gain time; in some way to plan to forestall this man. He turned, abruptly, to Grace.
"What are you doing here, Grace, with this man?" he asked. "We have been looking for you, everywhere."
"Miss Dormer?" Douchard spoke when the girl did not reply. "M. Tony forgets. You knew I had taken her—for my own safety."
Tony had to fight to conquer the impulse to fly at the man's throat. But, what good would violence do, now? He conquered his temper. In some way he must satisfy this man, for the time, and plan to get Grace away to the barque.
"A man would hardly want a girl's protection." Tony threw all the scorn he could muster into his voice. "Especially one who boasts of his ability to dodge danger, as you do."
"Sore, eh?" The man laughed. "Sore because I made you and your friends lead me to this spot. Sore, because I fooled you and your crowd at the house overlooking the harbour. Bah, it was easy!"
"How?" The young man was willing to flatter the man's vanity, if by doing so he could gain time.
"You saw Miss Dormer run down the lawns to the cliffs." Douchard sat back on his haunches, speaking reminiscently. "Well, when I thought it was safe I followed her. At the head of the cliffs I drew her into the shelter of the bushes, and waited. As I expected, you followed me to the cliffs." He paused and waved his hand, airily. "Then we—Miss Dormer and myself:—went through the shrubbery to the road—at our leisure. You never thought of following us there."
Tony groaned within himself at the simplicity of the trick. It had been fully half-an-hour after Douchard had left the library before one of them thought of going to the gates on the road. By that time Douchard had carried the girl far beyond pursuit.
"Why did you go with him, Grace?" He turned to the girl.
"He threatened to shoot you, Tony, if I did not go with him to the cliff, so that he could get away. When he caught up to me there, he pulled me into the shrubbery and gagged me. He carried me to the gates, where he had a car down the road and..."
"Miss Dormer will pardon me," Douchard interrupted. "I am sure the details will not interest M. Tony."
For long minutes there was silence. Tony would not speak and the pressure of his hand held the girl silent. The longer things remained as they were, the stronger their position became. Soon day would dawn. Captain Bowman, would find the note he had pinned to his blanket. He would follow the trail and then...
"The map, m'sieu?" Douchard spoke suddenly
"What of it?" Tony looked up indolently.
The man turned and whistled. One of his companions seated by the fire came to him. A short, whispered order and the man went to Partridge and took from him map and letter. He brought them to Douchard.
"Here are the map and letter, M. Tony." The man's eyes glittered as he spoke. "I will be obliged if you will read the riddle to me."
"I have told you, Douchard, I cannot decipher map or letter."
"Cannot, or will not?"
"I have tried and failed."
"Yet you guided your friends to this place?"
"Chance guided us. We were following what we believed to be your route." Tony smiled. "We thought you were leading us to the location of the treasure."
For a time the man pondered, frowning thoughtfully. Tony had spoken with a simplicity that carried conviction.
"I am afraid that I shall want proof, m'sieu." Douchard spoke at length.
"That is a matter I shall have to consider." The man showed his teeth in a wolfish grin. "Have I m'sieu's word that he will make no attempt to escape? If not, then the cords..."
"I shall give no promise." Tony shook his head.
"I regret." The man hesitated. "Perhaps..." he laughed gently. "No, the cords are not necessary. Ma'amselle is here and M. Tony will not forsake her. Soon the dawn comes and we...we have far to go."
The man's finger moved across the map and came to rest on the second hut under the hill.
"There, m'sieu; there my genie tells me that I will find the treasure of—"
"Of whom?" Tony asked, curiously.
"Of my brother, Louis."
"Louis Douchard was your brother?"
"Yes, m'sieu. I am Charles, the younger of twins. Louis was my brother, my elder by half-an-hour. Thus we are alike—very much—as you have observed."
"Do you think that your brother would have abducted Arthur Dormer's daughter? Do you think that he would have subjected her to the hardships you have done?"
The man raised his eyebrows, inquiringly.
"Ma'amselle has been treated with all respect. That has been my will. That the impetuosity of yourself and your friends have made it necessary for me to require her help—that is for regrets, but it was necessary."
"For you to attempt to steal the letter and the map?" Tony paused. "Do you realise, Douchard, that they were sent to Mr. Dormer as a gift, not a trust?"
"M'sieu is correct." Douchard came to his feet and bowed. "But it is that I am my brother's heir. He had no right to make gifts beside me. M. Dormer was a rich man—a very rich man. His children are wealthy. I am poor, very poor and—"
"You think that the treasure, when found, should be yours?".
"Then why not have gone to Mr. Dormer, or his heirs, and said so? Neither Miss Dormer nor her brother were after the treasure, for the gold, only for the love of adventure. Had you told them what you now tell me, they would have dealt fairly with you."
"Who deals fairly in this world?" The man laughed, mirthlessly. "In the cities, in the wilderness, it is every man for himself. I...you...know of men of wealth, and so called honour, who never scruple to add to their wealth—so long as they are not discovered doing wrong. So, you would have had me go, cap in hand, to ask for what is my own? To be laughed at, scorned. No, I am strong. I, Charles Douchard, I take that which is mine."
"And, if there is nothing to take?" Tony laughed gently.
"There is treasure." The man spoke boldly, yet Tony noticed that there was now less conviction in his words.
"Why should there be treasure here?" The young man sat up. "Remember, Douchard, this country is not part of the Spanish Main, where treasure ships drove ashore and were looted. This is not the Barbary Coast where pirate captains buried their loot, for future generations to find. This..." He hesitated.
"What is on m'sieu's mind?" The man spoke inquisitively.
"This." Tony spoke after a long pause. "There may be treasure here—treasure of enormous dimensions. But it is treasure that only rich men find—it is not treasure that a poor man can scoop up in his hands and pocket. Here there can be no treasure of pieces of eight; no golden candlesticks from ravished altars; no jewels wrenched from white necks. No, the treasure that lies here is—of Mother Earth, alone."
"Will m'sieu be more explicit?" The man was interested.
"I may be so, later." Tony laughed, gently. "You say we are to move and shortly. I suppose you mean when it is light. Perhaps at the end of this day's journey I can tell you more. At present..."
"I have told you. I cannot read the map; there is no cipher in the letter for my eyes..But I may learn much through the day. If I do..."
"Your knowledge will be at my service, m'sieu?".
"Such as it is. I do not think it will please you."
"And—m'sieu will not give his word?"
"You are five men; I am one man; and with a girl to look after. Bind me if you wish."
Douchard stood undecided for some minutes, then, with a shrug turned and walked back to his companions. Tony noticed that he left the letter and map lying on the ground beside him. For a time he let them lie. Had Douchard left them there on purpose?
Now he had to plan to get Grace away from the gang, and to the barque, or at least into Captain Bowman's charge. He turned on his side and looked up into her face.
"Grace," he whispered, "Captain Bowman is only about twenty miles back on the track."
"Frank, Latour and the captain. Three resolute men. They can do much."
"But there are five men here."
"Does that matter? Douchard has left me unbound. When our friends come I shall be with them, it is of you that I am thinking."
"What of me, Tony?" The girl spoke in a whisper; her tone very subdued.
"Of your safety, dear..."
"'Tony, if you love me.'" The young man spoke in a whisper.
The rich colour flooded the girl's face and throat. For a moment she sat, looking down at her hands, then raised her eyes to his.
"What of that, Tony?" She hesitated as she spoke.
"Would you have said that, if you had not meant it?"
The girl hesitated before answering; then slowly shook her head.
"But, you know, dear..."
"What can I know if...if you will not tell me?" She laughed gently.
Tony stared at her in astonishment.
"Grace, I've asked you to marry me a dozen times."
"And...how many times have you told me that you loved me?" For an instant her eyes met his. "Not once, Tony, and...and you can't expect me to...to guess...everything."
"But, you knew."
"Yes." The word was hardly a whisper. "But...but you demanded marriage without...love and...and I want...both."
In an instant, heedless of the group around the fire, Grace was in his arms. A long interval and she raised her head from his shoulder.
"Tony, have you nothing to ask me?"
"To marry me?"
She shook her head, gravely.
"You've done so, so often, dear." She sighed, deliciously.
For the moment the young man was puzzled. Then, taking her in his arms so that she lay across his breast, he whispered lowly. Her arms went up around his neck; she raised herself until her lips met his, laughing sweetly.
"Tony," she said, very gravely, "I do believe when you have to propose to your third wife you may...may accomplish it properly. Your first attempt was...was awful."
Slowly the dawn broke in the east. Tony looked down at the girl, still in his arms, her eyes closed, asleep. He smiled as his eyes wandered to the recumbent figures around the dying camp-fire. Douchard had been remiss. That night he had lost the desperate game he had played.
The girl awoke and released herself, putting her hands to her head.
"Tony, have I been asleep?"
"Yes, dear." For a moment he watched around him carefully. "Grace, will you remain here until I call you?"
She nodded, wonder-eyed. With a little laugh, Tony sprang to his feet and strode to where the men lay. He seated himself on the ground before Douchard.
"Charles Douchard." He spoke very quietly, yet his voice penetrated the man's slumbers. "The game has ended and you have lost."
The man stirred uneasily, and then opened his eyes.
"That the play has ended. Are you prepared to pay?"
"When?" The man shrugged and sat up.
"Now." The young man's voice was very grave. "Look behind you, Douchard."
As he spoke three men stepped out from under the trees and advanced on the camp, covering Douchard and his sleeping companions with their revolvers. For the moment Tony thought the man would make a fight for it; but he shrugged and crossed his hands around his knees.
"M'sieu wins." He turned and watched while Grace walked over to the camp in answer to Tony's beckoning hand.. He watched while Captain Bowman and his companions entered the camp and disarmed his companions. He handed his guns to Tony with a little bow. "Will M'sieu explain?"
"Explain what?" Tony laughed. "Explain that before I set out to track Partridge here I pinned a note on Captain Bowman's blanket telling him where I had gone and to follow. Douchard, fate stacked the cards against you when you chose to take the law into your own hands. Fate decided that you should chase a treasure that you cannot take."
"Will m'sieu read the riddle he makes?" The man spoke easily.
"The riddle of the letter?" Tony laughed. "No, Miss Dormer shall read that to you. Douchard you had the key in your hands and did not see it."
"I?" Grace looked amazed. "I cannot read the cipher, Tony."
"Yet, you shall, if only through my eyes." The young man laughed gently. "Listen, dear. First fold the letter so that the bottom half covers the top half, of writing. So." He folded the letter and handed it to the girl. "Now hold it up to the light. See, the pin-pricks on the blank part of the paper now cover letters of the writing. Read out the letters and I will write them down."
The girl held the folded paper to the sunlight and carefully spelled out the secret message.
T E N M I L E S I N L A N D
C N O R T O N O A S I S
F O O T M T M A N N
P L A T I N U M D E P O S I T
For a few minutes Tony conned the letters he had written. He added a few marks and handed his notebook to Douchard. Almost automatically the man read the message aloud:
"Ten miles inland C. Norton oasis foot Mt. Mann platinum deposit."
"There is the clue to the treasure, Douchard," Tony spoke whimsically. "The treasure that only a rich man can obtain—for the cost of mining, even platinum, at this distance from civilisation, will be enormous. Charles Douchard, it was for that reason your brother sent letter and map to Mr. Dormer, for only a man of wealth could hope to find and obtain this treasure."
He paused a moment, seeking the girl's smiling eyes; then continued:
"Are you satisfied, Charles Douchard? Your brother knew that Arthur Dormer would deal fairly by him, if he managed to escape from this hungry country to safety and civilisation. He knew that, if he perished, that Arthur Dormer would deal fairly by his relations. Are you content, when I tell you that, as the father would have dealt, so will the son and daughter?"
A long pause followed. Tony rose to his feet and gave his hand to Grace.
"Come, dear. It is time for the journey home to commence. First, we have to get to the huts and discover if those who came here and found letter and map, dealt fairly with what remained of Louis Douchard. Then..."
Side by side with the girl he led the way into the hills, towards the huts the old bushman had built on the side of Mt. Mann.
"Platinum!" Grace whispered, awestruck. "Tony, platinum is far more valuable than gold."
"Yet of principal use for one great purpose." Tony laughed as he took her left hand in both his.
She flashed him a questioning glance, then blushed. Her fingers closed over his, very gently, while she whispered:
"You mean, Tony?"
"For a wedding-ring, sweetheart."
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia