Albert Payson Terhune.

Black Caesar's Clan : a Florida Mystery Story online

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dated '1804.'"

"Do you know its value?" pursued Milo. "But of course you
don't. You probably think it is worth its weight in silver
and nothing more."

"It is, and it isn't," returned Gavin. "If I were to take
this dollar, to-night, to the right groups of numismatists,
they would pay me anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 for it."

"Oh!" exclaimed Standish, in visible surprise. "You know
something about numismatics, then?"

"Just a little," modestly admitted Brice. "In my work, one
has to have a smattering of it. For instance - if I remember
rightly - there are only three of these 1804 silver dollars
generally known to be in existence. That is why collectors
are ready to pay a fortune for authentic specimens of them, in
good condition. Yes, a smattering of numismatics may come in
handy, at times. So does sailor lore. It did, for instance,
with a chap I used to know. He had read up, on this special
dollar. He was dead-broke. He was passing the Gloucester
waterfront, one day, and saw a dockful of rotting old schooners
that were being sold at auction for firewood and for such bits
of their metal as weren't rusted to pieces. He read the catalog.
Then he telegraphed to me to wire him a loan of one hundred
dollars. For the catalog gave the date of one schooner's
building as 1804. He knew it used to be a hard-and-fast
custom of ship-builders to put a silver dollar under the
mainmast of every vessel they built, a dollar of that
particular year. He bought the schooner for $70. He spent
ten dollars in hiring men to rip out her mast. Under it was
an 1804 dollar. He sold it for $3,600."

"Since you know so much about the 1804 dollar," went on Milo,
catechizingly, "perhaps you know why it is so rare? Or
perhaps you didn't add a study of American history to your
numismatics?"

"The commonly accepted story goes," said Brice, taking no heed
of the sneer, "that practically the whole issue of 1804
dollars went toward the payment of the Louisiana Purchase
money, when Uncle Sam paid Napoleon Bonaparte's government a
trifle less than $15,000,000 (or under four cents an acre) for
the richest part of the whole United States. Payment was made
in half a dozen different forms, - in settlement of anti-French
claims and in installment notes, and so forth. But something
between a million and two million dollars of it is said to
have been paid in silver."

"Are you a schoolmaster, Mr. Brice?" queried Milo, who seemed
unable to avoid sneering in futile fashion at the man who was
dominating his wavering willpower.

"No, Mr. Standish," coolly replied the other. "I am Gavin
Brice, of the United States Secret Service."

Standish's bearded jaw dropped. He glanced furtively about
him, like a trapped rat. Gavin continued, authoritatively:

"You've nothing to fear from me, as long as you play straight.
And I'm here to see that you shall. Two hours ago, I was for
renouncing my life-work and throwing over my job. Never mind
why. I've changed my mind, now. I'm in this thing to the
finish. With Hade out of the game, I can see my way through."

"But - "

"Now I'll finish the yarn you were so gradually leading up to
with those schoolboy questions of yours. French statesmen
claimed, last year, that something over a million dollars of
the Louisiana purchase money was never paid to France. That
was money, in the form of silver dollars, which went by sea.
In skirting the Florida coast - probably on the way from some
mint or treasury in the South - one or more of the treasure
ships parted from their man-o'-war escorts in a hurricane, and
went aground on the southeastern Florida reefs. The black
pirate, Caesar, and his cutthroats did the rest.

"This was no petty haul, such as Caesar was accustomed to, and
it seems to have taken his breath away. He and his crew
carried it into Caesar's Estuary - not Caesar's Creek - an
inlet, among the mangrove swamps. They took it there by
night, and sank it in shallow water, under the bank. There
they planned to have it until it might be safe to divide it
and to scatter to Europe or to some place where they could
live in safety and in splendor. Only a small picked crew of
Caesar's knew the hiding place. And, by some odd coincidence,
every man of them died of prussic acid poisoning, at a
booze-feast that Caesar invited them to, at his shack down on
Caesar's creek, a month later. Then, almost at once
afterward, as you've probably heard, Caesar himself had the
bad luck to die with extreme suddenness.

"The secret was lost. Dozens of pirates and of wreckers - ancestors
of the conchs - knew about the treasure. But none
of them could find it.

"There was a rumor that Caesar had written instructions about
it, on the flyleaf of a jeweled prayer book that was part of
some ship's loot. But his heirs sold or hocked the
prayer-book, at St. Augustine or Kingston or Havana, before
this story reached them. None of them could have read it,
anyhow. Then, last year, Rodney Hade happened upon that book,
(with the jewels all pried out of the cover, long ago), in a
negro cabin on Shirley Street, at Nassau, after hunting for
it, off and on, for years. The Government had been hunting
for it, too, but he got to it a week ahead of us. That was
how we found who had it. And that is why we decided to watch
him .... Do you want me to keep on prattling about these
things, to convince you I'm what I say I am? Or have you had
enough?

"For instance, do you want me to tell you how Hade wound his
web around a blundering fool whose help and whose hidden path
and tunnel and caches he needed, in order to make sure of the
treasure? Or is it enough for me to say the dollars belong to
the United States
Government, and that Uncle Sam means to have them back?"

Standish still gaped at him, with fallen jaw and bulging eyes.
Gavin went on:

"Knowing Hade's record and his cleverness as I do, I can guess
how he was going to swing the hoard when he finished
transporting all of it to safety. Probably, he'd clear up a
good many thousand dollars by selling the coins, one at a
time, secretly, to collectors who would think he was selling
them the only 1804 dollar outside the three already known to
be in existence. When that market was glutted, he was due to
melt down the rest of the dollars into bar silver. Silver is
high just now, you know. Worth almost double what once it
was. The loot ought to have been much the biggest thing in
his speckled career. How much of it he was intending to pass
along to you, is another question. By the way - the three
canvas bags he left out by the kiosk ought to do much toward
whetting the Caesars' appetite for the rest. It may even key
them up to rushing the house before morning."

"We'll be ready for them!" spoke up Standish, harshly, as
though glad to have a prospect of restoring his broken
self-respect by such a clash.

"Quite so," agreed Gavin, smiling at the man's new ardor for
battle. "It would be a pleasant little brush - if it weren't
for your sister. Miss Standish has seen about enough of that
sort of thing for one night. If she weren't a thoroughbred,
with the nerves of a thoroughbred and the pluck as well, she'd
be a wreck, from what has happened already. More of it might
be seriously bad for her."

Standish glowered. Then he lifted his bulky body from the low
chair and crossed the hall to the telephone. Taking the
receiver from the hook, he said sulkily to Brice:

"Maybe you're right. I have a couple of night watchmen
patrolling the road, above and below. I'll phone to the
agency to send me half a dozen more, to clear the grounds.
I'd phone the police about it, but I don't like - "

"Don't like to lock the stable door after the horse is
stolen?" suggested Brice. "Man, get it into that thick skull
of yours that the time for secrecy is past! Your game is up.
Hade is dead. Your one chance is to play out the rest of this
hand with your cards on the table. The Government knows you
are only the dupe. It will let you off, if the money is - "

"What in blue blazes is the matter with Central?" growled
Milo, whanging the receiver-hook up and down in vexation. "Is
she dead?"

Gavin went over to him and took the receiver out of his hand.
Listening for a moment, he made answer:

"I don't believe Central is dead. But I know this phone is.
Our Caesar friends seem to be more sophisticated than I
thought. They've cut the wires, from outside."

"H'm!" grunted Milo. "That means we've got to play a lone
hand. Well, I'm not sorry. I - "

"Not necessarily," contradicted Gavin. "I'd rather
have relied on the local watchmen, of course. But their
absence needn't bother us, overmuch."

"What do you mean?"

Before Gavin could answer, a stifled cry from the hallway
above brought both men to attention. It was followed by a
sound of lightly running feet. And Claire Standish appeared
at the stair-top. She was deathly pale, and her dark eyes
were dilated with terror.

Gavin ran up the steps to meet her. For she swayed perilously
as she made her way down toward the men.

"What is it?" demanded Milo, excitedly. "What's happened?"

Claire struggled visibly to regain her composure. Then,
speaking with forced calmness, she said:

"I've just seen a ghost! Rodney Hade's ghost!"

The two looked at her in dumb incomprehension. Then, without
a word, Milo wheeled and strode to the window from which they
had watched the tragedy. Opening the shutter, he peered out
into the moonlight.

"Hade's still lying where he fell," he reported, tersely.
"They haven't even bothered to move him. You were dreaming.
If - "

"I wasn't asleep," she denied, a trace of color beginning to
creep back into her blanched cheeks. "I had just lain down.
I heard - or thought I heard - a sound on the veranda roof. I
peeped out through the grill of the shutter. There, on the
roof, not ten feet away from me, stood Rodney Hade. He was
dressed in rags. But I recognized him. I saw his face, as
clearly as I see yours. He - "

"One of the Caesars," suggested Brice. "They found the lower
windows barred and they sent some one up, to see if there was
any ingress by an upper window. The porch is easy to climb,
with all those vines. So is the whole house, for that matter.
He - "

"It was Rodney Hade!" she insisted, shuddering. "I saw his
face with the moonlight on it - "

"And with a few unbecoming scratches on it, too, from the
underbrush and from those porch vines," chimed in a suave
voice from the top of the stairs. "Milo, next time you bar
your house, I suggest you don't forget and leave the cupola
window open. If it was easy for me to climb up there from the
veranda roof, it would be just as easy for any of our friends
out yonder."

Down the stairs - slowly, nonchalantly, - lounged Rodney Hade.

His classic mask of a face was marred by one or two scratches
and by a smudge of dirt. But it was as calm and as eternally
smiling as ever. In place of his wontedly correct, if garish,
form of dress, he was clad in ragged calico shirt and soiled
drill trousers whose lower portions were in ribbons. All of
which formed a ludicrous contrast to his white buckskin
yachting shoes and his corded white silk socks.

Claire and the two men stood staring up at him in utter
incredulity. Bobby Burns broke the spell by bounding
snarlingly toward the unkempt intruder.

Brice absentmindedly caught the dog's collar as Bobby streaked
past him on his punitive errand.

"Hade!" croaked Standish, his throat sanded with horror.
'"'Hade! I - we - we saw you - murdered!"

Hade laughed pleasantly.

"Perhaps the wish was father to the thought?" he hinted, with
an indulgent twinkle in his perpetual smile. "I hate
mysteries. Here's an end to this one I was on my way along the
path, when a young fellow came whirling around a bend and collided
with me. The impact knocked him off his feet. I collared him.
He didn't want to talk. But," the smile twisting upward at one
corner of the mouth in a look which did not add to the beauty of
the ascetic face, "I used persuasion. And I found what was going
on here. I stripped off my outer clothes, and made him put them
on. Then I put my yachting cap on him and pulled it low over
his eyes. And I bandaged his mouth with my handkerchief, to
gag him. Then I walked him along, ahead of me. I gave the
signal. And I stuck my cigarette in his hand and shoved him
through the screen of vines. They finished him, poor fool! I
had no outer clothes of my own. So I went back and put on
his. Then I slipped through that chuckle-headed aggregation
out there and - here I am."

As he finished speaking, he turned his icy smile upon Gavin
Brice.

"Roke signaled a fruit boat, Mr. Brice," said he, "and came
over to where my yacht was lying, to tell me you had gotten
loose. That was why I came here, tonight. He seems to think
you know more than a man should know and yet stay alive. And,
as a rule, he is apt to be right. He - "

"Miss Standish," interposed Gavin, "would you mind very much,
going into some other room? This isn't a pleasant scene for
you."

"Stay where you are, for a minute, Claire!" commanded Milo,
shaking off a lethargy of wonder which had settled upon him,
at sight of his supposedly dead tyrant. "I want you to hear
what I've got to say. And I want you to endorse it. I've had
a half hour of freedom. And it's meant too much to me, to let
me go back into the hell I've lived through, this past few
months."

He wheeled about on the newcomer and addressed him, speaking
loudly and rapidly in a voice hoarse with rage:

"Hade, I'm through! Get that? I'm through! You can foreclose
on my home here, and you can get me sent to prison for that
check I was insane enough to raise when I had no way out of the
hole. But I'm through. It isn't worth it. Nothing is worth
having to cringe and cheat for. I'm through cringing to you.
And I'm through cheating the United States Government. You
weren't content with making me do that. You tried, to-day, to
make me a murderer - to make me your partner in the death of the
man who had saved my life. When I found that out - when I learned
what you could stoop to and could drag me to, - I swore to myself
to cut free from you, for all time. Now, go ahead and do your
dirtiest to me and to mine. What I said, goes. And it goes for
my sister, too. Doesn't it, dear girl?"

For answer, Claire caught her brother's big hand in both of
hers, and raised it to her lips. A light of happiness
transfigured her face. Milo pulled away his hand, bashfully,
his eyes misting at her wordless praise for his belatedly
manly action.

"Good!" he approved, passing his arm about her and drawing her
close to him. "I played the cur once, this evening. It's
good to know I've had enough pluck to do this one white thing,
to help make up for it."


He faced Gavin, head thrown back, giant shoulders squared,
eyes alight.

"Mr. Brice," he said, clearly. "Through you, I surrender to
the United States Government. I'll make a signed confession,
any time you want it. I'm your prisoner."

Gavin shook his head.

"The confession will be of great service, later," said he,
"and, as state's evidence, it will clear you from any danger
of punishment. But you're not my prisoner. Thanks to your
promise of a confession. I have a prisoner, here. But it is
not you."

"No?" suavely queried Hade, whose everlasting smile had not
changed and whose black eyes remained as serene as ever,
through the declaration of rebellion on the part of his
satellite. "If Standish is not your prisoner, he'll be the
State of Florida's prisoner, by this time to-morrow, when I
have lodged his raised check with the District Attorney.
Think that over, Standish, my dear friend. Seven years for
forgery is not a joyous thing, even in a Florida prison.
Here, in the community where your family's name has been
honored, it will come extra hard. And on Claire, here, too.
Mightn't it be better to think that over, a minute or so,
before announcing your virtuous intent? Mightn't - "

"Don't listen to him, Milo!" cried the girl, seizing
Standish's hand again in an agony of appeal, and smiling
encouragingly up into his sweating and irresolute face.
"We'll go through any disgrace, together. You and I. And
after it's all over, I'll give up my whole life to making you
happy, and helping you to get on your feet again."

"There'll be no need for that, Miss Standish," said Brice.
"Of course, Hade can foreclose his mortgage on your half-brother's
property and call in Standish's notes, - if he's in a
position to do it, which I don't think he will be. But, as
for the raised check, why, he's threatening Standish with an
empty gun. Hade, if ever you get home again, look in the
compartment of your strongbox where you put the red-sealed
envelope with Standish's check in it. The envelope is still
there. So are the seals. The check is not. You can verify
that, for yourself, later, perhaps. In the meantime, take my
word for it."

A cry of delight from Claire - a groan from Standish that
carried with it a world of supreme relief - broke in upon
Gavin's recital. Paying no heed to either of his hosts, Brice
walked across to the unmovedly smiling Hade, and placed one
hand on the latter's shoulder.

"Mr. Hade," said he, quietly, "I am an officer of the Federal
Secret Service. I place you under arrest, on charges of - "

With a hissing sound, like a striking snake's, Rodney Hade
shook off the detaining hand. In the same motion, he leaped
backward, drawing from his torn pocket an automatic pistol.

Brice, unarmed, stood for an instant looking into the squat
little weapon's black muzzle, and at the gleaming black eyes
in the ever-smiling white face behind it.

He was not afraid. Many times, before, had he faced leveled
guns, and, like many another war-veteran, he had outgrown the
normal man's dread of such weapons.

But as he was gathering his strength for a spring at his
opponent, trusting that the suddenness and unexpectedness of
his onset might shake the other's aim, Rodney Hade took the
situation into his own hands.

Not at random had he made that backward leap. Still covering
Gavin with his pistol, he flashed one hand behind him and
pressed the switch-button which controlled the electric lights
in the hallway and the adjoining rooms.

Black darkness filled the place. Brice sprang forward through
the dark, to grapple with the man. But Hade was nowhere
within reach of Brice's outflung arms. Rodney had slipped,
snakelike, to one side, foreseeing just such a move on the
part of his foe.

Gavin strained his ears, to note the man's direction. But
Milo Standish was thrashing noisily about in an effort to
locate and seize the fugitive. And the racket his huge body
made in hitting against furniture and in caroming off the
walls and doors, filled the hall with din.

Remembering at last the collie's presence in that mass of
darkness, Gavin shouted:

"Bobby! Bobby Burns! Take him!"

From somewhere in the gloom, there was a beast-snarl and a
scurry of clawed feet on the polished floor. At the same time
the front door flew wide.

Silhouetted against the bright moonlight, Brice had a
momentary glimpse of Hade, darting out through the doorway,
and of a tawny-and-white canine whirlwind flying at the man's
throat.

But Brice's shout of command had been a fraction of a second
too late. Swiftly as had the collie obeyed, Rodney Hade had
already reached and silently unbarred the door, by the time
the dog got under way. And, as Bobby Burns sprang, the door
slammed shut in his face, leaving the collie growling and
tearing at the unyielding panels.

Then it was that Claire found the electric switch, with her
groping hands, and pressed the button. The hall and its
adjoining rooms were flooded with light, revealing the
redoubtable Bobby Burns hurling himself again and again at the
closed door.

Gavin shoved the angry dog aside, and opened the portal. He
sprang out, the dog beside him. And as they did so, both of
them crashed into a veranda couch which Hade, in escaping,
had thrust across the closed doorway in anticipation of
just such a move.

Over went the couch, under the double impetus. By catching at
the doorway frame, Gavin barely managed to save himself from a
nasty fall. The dog disentangled himself from an avalanche of
couch cushions and made furiously for the veranda steps.

But Brice summoned him back. He was not minded to let Bobby
risk life from knife-cut or from strong, strangling hands, out
there in the perilous shadows beyond the lawn. And he knew
the futility of following Hade, himself, among merciless men
and through labyrinths with whose' windings Rodney was far
more familiar than was he. So, reluctantly, he turned back
into the house. A glance over the moonlit lawn revealed no
sign of the fugitive.

"I'm sorry," he said to Standish, as he shut the door behind
him and patted the fidgetingly excited Bobby Burns on the
head. "I may never have such a good chance at him again. And
your promise of a confession was the thing that made me arrest
him. Your evidence would have been enough to convict him.
And that's the only thing that could have convicted him or
made it worth while to arrest him. He's worked too skillfully
to give us any other hold on him .... I was a thick-witted
idiot not to think, sooner, of calling to Bobby. I'd stopped
him, once, when he went for Hade, and of course he wouldn't
attack again, right away, without leave. A dog sees in the
dark, ten times as well as any man does. Bobby was the
solution. And I forgot to use him till it was too late. With
a collie raging at his throat, Hade would have had plenty of
trouble in getting away, or even in using his gun. Lord, but
I'm a dunce!"

"You're - you're, - splendid!" denied Claire, her eyes soft and
shining and her cheeks aglow. "You faced that pistol without
one atom of fear. And I could see your muscles tensing for a
spring, right at him, before the light went out."

Gavin Brice's heart hammered mightily against his ribs, at her
eager praise. The look in her eyes went to his brain.
Through his mind throbbed the exultant thought:

"She saw my muscles tense as he aimed at me. That means she
was looking at me! Not at him. Not even at the pistol. She
couldn't have done that, unless - unless - "

"What's to be done, now?" asked Milo, turning instinctively to
Gavin for orders.

The question brought the dazedly joyous man back to his
senses. With exaggerated matter-of-factness, he made reply:

"Why, the most sensible thing we can all do just now is to eat
dinner. A square meal works wonders in bracing people up.
Miss Standish, do you think you can rouse the maids to an
effort to get us some sort of food? If not, we can forage for
ourselves, in the icebox. What do you think?"

* * * * *

Two hours later - after a sketchy meal served by trembling-handed
servants - the trio were seated in the music-room. Over and over,
a dozen times, they had reviewed their position, from all angles.
And they had come to the conclusion that the sanest thing to do
was to wait in comfortable safety behind stoutly shuttered windows
until the dawn of day should bring the place's laborers back to
work. Daylight, and the prospect of others' presence on the
grounds, was certain to disperse the Caesars. And it would be
ample time then to go to Miami and to safer quarters, while Gavin
should start the hunt after Rodney Hade. The two men had agreed
to divide the night into watches.

"One of the torpedo-boat destroyers down yonder, off Miami,
can ferret out Hade's yacht and lay it by the heels, in no
time," explained Brice. "His house is watched, always,
lately. And every port and railroad will be watched, too.
The chief reason I want to get hold of him is to find where he
has sent the treasure. You have no idea, either of you?"

"No," answered Milo. "He explained to me that he was sending
it North, to a place where nobody could possibly find it, and
that, as soon as it was all there, he'd begin disposing of it.
Then we were to have our settlement, after it was melted down
and sold."

"Who works with him? I mean, who helps him bring the stuff
here? Who, besides you, I mean?"

"Why, his yacht-crew," said Milo. "They're all picked men of
his own. Men he has known for years and has bound to himself
in all sorts of ways. He has only eleven of them, for it's a
small yacht. But he says he owns the souls of each and every


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Online LibraryAlbert Payson TerhuneBlack Caesar's Clan : a Florida Mystery Story → online text (page 13 of 15)