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expressed—not hostile, but keenly provocative. Ban Hoag had faced the world alone, unguided; the other boy had not. It was a call to a heritage.
That night Rick went aft.
CHAPTER XV IN THE SKIPPER'S ROOM
THE swinging lamp cast fitful lights and shadows into dim corners of the forecastle. A shapeless hulk of blanket on a bunk showed where Hamlin was sleeping, before his night
watch. Across from Rick, Ban Hoag lay motionless, pretending sleep. The clock on the bulkhead struck twice. It was the time. Rick slid softly to the deck and stood up. Hoag gave no sign. From the dim gray hulk came a very peaceful sigh. The big man stirred, changing his position; thrust an arm over the edge of his bunk; was still again. Rick waited, to make sure, one hand pressed tightly over a bundle that lay cool against the skin of his chest. Then Ban's whisper sounded in his ear: “Go get ’em—Rick!” So his bare feet started noiselessly toward the ladder. He mounted stealthily and came out into the night. There was no fog, but it was very dark. The schooner lay close-hauled on a gentle, wet northeasterly. One could never tell where sea stopped and sky began. The world was the inside of a pitch-black dome in which the Laughing Lass seemed to swim suspended, a vague gray mass of wood and shadowy canvas.
Rick felt his way aft along the weather rail. He saw the wan glow of the binnacle light, and, framed in it, the pinched and anxious face of Dutchy, who had heard him, apparently, and was peering into the gloom. “”T 's only me.” The face took on a relieved look at a familiar voice. Rick went on: “Late on me dishes to-night. Manuel through yet?” “Must be, by now. They're in the cabin I guess—settin' over the empty dishes. I hears 'em talkin' together a spell back.” “Don’t care to leave dishes till mornin’. I 'll slip down an’ get them.” Dutchy turned back solicitously to his wheel and the compass-card, and Rick edged into the companion. There was no light on the steps or in the passage. The door into the after cabin was closed; but through the cracks above and beneath it, there shone a thin line of yellow brilliance; and from behind it came a hum of conversation. The boy clung to the starboard side of the companionway and felt his way softly along the passage. M'Guire's door was open. He groped inside and over to the table. With a mighty relief, an unwarrantable elation, he drew the wallet from his shirt and laid it very gently on the table. Almost immediately he heard M'Guire's voice through the shallow bulkhead beside him: “Manuel, just lay open that door—it's hot here. They 're all abed, anyways, but the helmsman, an' he can't hear us.” There came a shuffling sound, the scrape of a chair, and light footsteps—the snap of a latch. Then the blackness that had wrapped him became faint twilight; and through the skipper's open door Rick saw a shaft of gold flooding the passageway and the stairs. He was trapped! Despair caught and tried to hold him. That baleful yellow streak beyond the doorway in his eyes—he instinctively threw out a hand to the table to steady himself. It fell upon a leather holster.
Skipper and He had never used a gun, had hardly ever held one in his hands before. But eagerly he clutched at M'Guire's revolver, slipping it out of the case. His palm curled naturally around the butt, and a finger slipped out over the guard and rested lightly on the trigger. How did one know whether or not the thing was loaded? Rick had no idea, and he doubted the wisdom of experiments—they might be noisy. But he contented himself with the protective feel of it; and he crouched down under the table and laid his ear to the bulkhead. M’Guire and his mate had been talking all this time, of course; and their voices had been plainly audible. Rick had not heard a word; his ears had been deaf to everything but the slight rustle of his own movements. Now he listened. Manuel was speaking: “Can thees stuff be handle easy, Capitan Fortee?” Rick heard the other's grunt. “Like pie, Manuel, like pie. It 's in blocks the size of ornery clay bricks—heftier, but not too bad to handle. Each one o' them weighs goin' on sixty pound—an easy load fur a man. An' how much d’ ye think one of them bricks is worth? Just give a guess, Manuel,” said the skipper. “Don’t be makin’ it no million, 'cause that don’t stand to reason. An' don't make it so small, or I'll be laffin' atyer.” There was silence for a minute. Then Manuel's quiet voice came slowly to the ear, hushed with tension: “I don’ rightlee know a-tall, mio capitan. You tell me—no?” “Fif-teen-thou-san'-dol-lars!” said M'Guire. Again silence. Then, “Don’t ye believe it?” roared the captain. “Eet seem a quite beeg value.” A chair went back against the locker with a bang. Rick heard M'Guire's defiant mutter—then the heavy scuffle of his feet. The footsteps stopped. From his place under the table Rick saw a huge shadow loom up into the doorway, pause there. For some unaccountable reason the boy felt those small eyes fastened upon him, piercing the weird half-darkness.
CHAPTER XVI THE TRUTH
BUT M'Guire's eyes were blinded by the sudden shadows; he groped his way across to the bunk and leaned over it, reaching about. Rick heard a book being withdrawn from
its place between others, and then saw the skipper's towering form pass out into the brilliance of the passage. The boy prayed that he would shut the door—in vain. A chair squeaked again. “Now listen here, you.” Turned pages rustled. M'Guire started reading: “‘A bullion bar o' gold is usually about the size of an ordinary building brick, an' weighs about eight hunderd troy ounces.” Now stan' by —there's more yet: “The price o' gold is fixed by internat'nal agreement at $20.67 per ounce.’ There, Manuel! Can ye multiply eight hunderd by that figger? I done it last night. It gives sixteen thousan' five hunderd an' thirty-six dollars. I says fifteen thousan’ fur a round sum. There!” The pause that followed was so long that Rick feared the discussion was closed. But then he thought that Manuel would be retracing the printed words with his skinny forefinger, and waited. He was right. The book was closed and laid on the table. “That ees a good sum, capitan—feefteen t’ousan' dollar. Eenough for to make soft bed for one man, two—three men, all they lifes, yes? “Steel—I don’ see quite the plan. How does one know thees sheep come? How can one fin' her? An' thees brick of gold—shall they not be guard so careful? Ees eet not a quite beeg”— “Now hold on!” There was heavy annoyance in the captain's voice. “Don’t be buzzin’ in me ear with them scairt questions —I ain't told ye the story yet. Now keep yer mouth shet till that I tells ye from the start. Now listen careful. “This here Glendale–I was third officer aboard of her fur two year. I knows every rivet an' stanchion in her. She 's got a new skipper—name 's Baldwin–since I was aboard; but that don't matter none. I could find me way aboard of her, from forepeak to poop, in the dark—an' have. I knows where her radio shack lays, just at the after break o' the superstructure an' for’d o’ number four hold. I knows the stuff 'll be in number four —Keefe put weight cargo there always; she sets better. An' this Baldwin 'll do likewise. An' listen, Manuel. They 's a door cut in the steel bulkhead o' number four hold. She 's a fire door, an she leads up a ladder to a gratin' on deck 'longside that shack. D'ye begin to see? Now wait.” Rick's body was strung tense as a steel wire. He wiped the palm of his right hand on his trousers and grasped the gun again. “I’ll go clean back to the start o' things, to make it plain to ye, Manuel. The Glendale's last trip this side they bounced me. This Bolles, the manager, says I stole ten cases o' spice. He lied. It 's twelve I got whiles they's on shore leave—an’ made good money on them too, from a friend o' mine on India Wharf. Never mind that. Just after this, Bolles gives me the hook, I hears him an' some others talkin' as how the Glendale will bring this stuff along on her next trip. So I gets the schooner with what I'd made on the spices, an' I gets ye an' the rest. But I tells ye nothin'. I ships ye because ye knows the hang o' radio work an’ such—that 's the only part I could n’t figger meself. But I tells ye nothin’ nor them neither. I knows what I’m about, an' I plans accordin'. “This here Glendale will take the westbound summer track, which brings her off just so'th'd o' the Banks an' past Cape Sable. I got charts an’ books tells me that, an' I ben aboard of her fur fifteen trips. But I ain’t goin' to shoot out there an' stand by. She might be delayed an’ leave me cruisin' around fur nothin’, or they might ship the stuff by another boat, they might. That way ain’t sure enough, not by a hang sight. So I puts in along the coast an' reads the papers. Ye seen me go. An' last Thursday night I finds that bit. I knowed it 'd be there, soon 's she put out from Liverpool. Them ciphers abaft the dollar sign, an’ Baldwin sayin' he don’t give a snap of his finger—that makes good readin'. So I finds it an' I shows it to ye an' tells ye there 's our bloomin' fortunes, mine an' yours an’ thems up for’d—for the takin'. An’ ye tells me ye don’t see how!” On the last word M'Guire's hand hit the table-top so that the dishes clashed. “Yes, yes, capitan—so far, good. But—” “Wait, ye lunkhead! Ye’ve but heard the half of it.” “I listen, capitan.” “We 're due to meet that sea-wagon tomorrow night, accordin’ to my reckonin’— an’ I’ve figgered to a hair. To-morrow afternoon we gets the hands aft an’ we tells them this. They can either bear a hand an’ take they share o' the profit, or they can stick their hands an’ feet in irons an’ lay quiet whiles we do the job—in which case they gets nothin' but a free passage to South Americky an’ the boot upon arrival. But they 'll come. I knows Gabe Hamlin an' I knows that snipe they calls Dutchy. The two brats may whimper—they ain't needed, anyways.
“So we gets 'em with us. Now listen. We meets this Glendale. I can tell her by her lights—they 's on the after corners o' the bridge, instead of for’d like most. Ye takes command o' the schooner. I 'm a deck-hand. Dutchy 's dead sick with fits, say. Ye hails the Glendale an' asks permission to run 'longside fur a doctor. We lays 'longside of her just so 's our main topmast is flush with the after break of her superstructure, right by that radio shack an’ the gratin’. “We hist's Dutchy aboard an’lays him in a cabin, which 'll be in the for’d end o' the superstructure, out o' the way. Whiles ye're talkin’—they 'll all be gathered round him— I sneaks to the shack. “I’ve rigged a block an’ basket on a line over the main truck to Gabe on deck. He passes me the end an' I makes it fast. I ducks into the shack right there an' I lays out the wireless like ye told me—an’ ef they 's a operator there I lays him out too, workin’ fast but quiet. “Ye got to keep ’em talkin', up for’d there. Dutchy 's got to carry on somethin' fearful an’ keep ’em interested. I takes that line an’ basket into number four hold an' I loads her just once—with four hunderd pounds o' gold. Gabe hauls away. I ease her over the gratin'. We lowers very gentle to the deck, an' 'e unloads. Ef they 's time, we goes again—I’ll have sneaked for'd to see. If not, well enough. “Bimeby Dutchy 'll get over his fits, with the medicine, maybe. I've passed the line back an’ shet the gratin’. The door to the radio shack is closed tight on the mess in there. We all climbs back aboard, ye thankin' Baldwin kindly, me layin' low in the shadder. No chance him nor no one else knowin' me. I’ll have shaved clean. “I 'll lay a hunderd to one they don't notice them missin' bricks till they hits the dock an’ opens hatches. In time they'll find the radio shack. Ef the operator 's able to speak, -an’ that 's not sartin after I’ve done with him, they 'll know. But that 's all the good it 'll do them, with a smashed wireless gear an' us gone. Ef he don’t talk, the hull thing 's just a bloomin’ mystery, like, until they makes port an’ notes a busted case or two in number four hold. Then some
smart Aleck’ll have a cute idea. An' they'll know. “But listen. Where 'll we be? Headin'
straight fur Los Perevas on the Platte, maybe there a'ready ef the wind holds good. In Los Perevas gold is gold an' no questions asked. Could ye use yer share, Manuel?” Throughout this narrative Rick's hopes had sunk. True, the plan was wildly risky. Any one of a thousand things might occur that would block the scheme or reveal it and make capture easy. M'Guire was relying on vacant decks, on the absence of guards, on his ability to put the wireless and the operator out of commission silently, on the inability of the ship's doctor to see through Dutchy's sham, on the chance that Manuel could center attention on the sick man long enough to effect the theft. The entire project was one wild, desperate gamble. Granted. But there seemed nothing insane about it. Provided luck smiled, the thing seemed humanly possible of achievement—at least as far as getting away from the Glendale's sides was concerned. And fifteen thousand for one gold brick! Rick could see Gabe Hamlin's eyes glitter, could hear him grunt his willingness to take the chance. Yet the boy knew that big ships carry spare parts for almost everything. He had heard of a radio shack being carried clean overboard and a new set installed in the chartroom in two days. If that could happen, then destroyers would comb the seas. The Laughing Lass had no power. She would be helpless. But M’Guire had not thought of this, and the bos’n therefore would not consider it. They had, perhaps, never seen tall men with silver badges and steel shackles. Their eyes would be filled with the yellow light of gold. They would look at nothing but their dreams. But Manuel was speaking. “I see now, capitan. Eetees a good plan, I theenk. Eet ees what you say—reesky— yes? But who would not take the reesk for that beautiful gold! Eetees one good plan, Capitan Fortee. But one thing steel I don’ see. How shall you meet thees Glendale? Shall she not get by us on the wide ocean, een the dark?” Rick heard the dishes clatter as M'Guire's arm swept a place clear on the table. “Look at this here chart, ye coot! D’ ye mean to tell me I ain’t man enough to figger distance? I knows that hooker's speed— she 'll make fourteen in the weather we ben havin’. Now look at that red line—that 's the summer route from Ushant to this side, an' everything takes it. Baldwin 'll hold her nose to it as Keefe allus did. Now what day 'd she leave Liverpool? Where 's that bit
from the newspaper—I got it here in my—” Rick's heart stood still. A chair grated on the cabin deck, and M'Guire's heavy feet came quickly down the passage. Again that big shadow obscured the doorway. “I must of left my wallet in here,” the skipper called back. “Stand by, Manuel, whiles I gets it.” This time M'Guire felt his way over to the table. The big hands moved about in the litter just above Rick's head. “Here she is. Now you wait.” The clumsy footsteps slouched away, out of the room, down the corridor, into the after cabin, where they stopped; and a vague movement indicated the man had regained his chair. “Now look here—” Rick waited. He knew perfectly well what was coming. M'Guire would refer to the date on the clipping, do over his computations for Manuel's benefit, and show him they had been correct. Rick waited, expecting this, not understanding the delay. There was a sudden wild shout of blasphemous wrath. Then silence; and finally, after endless waiting, the skipper's voice again, a slow and ominous drawl. “Manuel they was nigh on seven hunderd dollars in that wallet. It 's gone. Ain't that strange! Only one man besides me knowed I carried money, Manuel. Only one man knowed where. Only one. Manuel, have ye any sort o’ notion as to where that money's gone—ye black, thievin', furrin dog?” A chair crashed. Silence. The words were like a death-knell to the boy behind that thin partition. His mind groped and floundered with this monstrous thing. He caught the meaning of M'Guire's accusation; knew that so far as the money went, he himself was safe. But a sickening suspicion gnawed at a corner of his brain. Manuel could not possibly have stolen the money. Rick had seen the wallet slipped under Ban Hoag's bunk mattress. There was just one living soul, besides himself, who knew its whereabouts; and that was the man, the boy, who had put it there. The first inkling of his friend's treachery struck Rick with the physical shock of a knife-thrust. He waited, sick with misery, while nothing happened. He waited, because there was nothing else to do but wait. Yet all at once the grim silence of those rooms grew strangely ominous. He felt suddenly that something, he could not say what, was going on—some