Bret Harte.

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now what perhaps I must not say to-morrow."

They were silent for a moment, and then by a common instinct turned
together into a narrow trail, scarce wide enough for two, that diverged
from the straight practical path before them. It was indeed a
roundabout way home, so roundabout, in fact, that as they wandered on
it seemed even to double on its track, occasionally lingering long and
becoming indistinct under the shadow of madroño and willow; at one time
stopping blindly before a fallen tree in the hollow, where they had
quite lost it, and had to sit down to recall it; a rough way, often
requiring the mutual help of each other's hands and eyes to tread
together in security; an uncertain way, not to be found Without
whispered consultation and concession, and yet a way eventually
bringing them hand in hand, happy and hopeful, to the gate of Madroño
Cottage. And if there was only just time for Rosey to prepare to take
the boat, it was due to the deviousness of the way. If a stray curl was
lying loose on Rosey's cheek, and a long hair had caught in Renshaw's
button, it was owing to the roughness of the way; and if in the tones
of their voices and in the glances of their eyes there was a maturer
seriousness, it was due to the dim uncertainty of the path they had
traveled, and would hereafter tread together.


IX.

When Mr. Nott had satisfied himself of Renshaw's departure, he coolly
bolted the door at the head of the companion-way, thus cutting off any
communication with the lower deck. Taking a long rifle from the rack
above his berth, he carefully examined the hammer and cap, and then
cautiously let himself down through the forehatch to the deck below.
After a deliberate survey of the still intact fastenings of the hatch
over the forehold, he proceeded quietly to unloose them again with the
aid of the tools that still lay there. When the hatch was once more
free he lifted it, and, withdrawing a few feet from the opening, sat
himself down, rifle in hand. A profound silence reigned throughout the
lower deck.

"Ye kin rize up out o' that," said Nott gently.

There was a stealthy rustle below that seemed to approach the hatch,
and then with a sudden bound the Lascar leaped on the deck. But at the
same instant Nott covered him with his rifle. A slight shade of
disappointment and surprise had crossed the old man's face, and clouded
his small round eyes at the apparition of the Lascar, but his hand was
none the less firm upon the trigger as the frightened prisoner sank on
his knees, with his hands clasped in the attitude of supplication for
mercy.

"Ef you're thinkin' o' skippin' afore I've done with yer," said Nott
with labored gentleness, "I oughter warn ye that it's my style to drop
Injins at two hundred yards, and this deck ain't anywhere more 'n
fifty. It's an uncomfortable style, a nasty style - but it's _my_ style.
I thought I'd tell yer, so yer could take it easy where you air.
Where's Ferrers?"

Even in the man's insane terror, his utter bewilderment at the question
was evident. "Ferrers?" he gasped; "don't know him, I swear to God,
boss."

"P'r'aps," said Nott, with infinite cunning, "yer don't know the man ez
kem into the loft from the alley last night - p'r'aps yer didn't see an
airy Frenchman with a dyed mustache, eh? I thought that would fetch
ye!" he continued, as the man started at the evidence that his vision
of last night was a living man. "P'r'aps you and him didn't break into
this ship last night, jist to run off with my darter Rosey? P'r'aps yer
don't know Rosey, eh? P'r'aps yer don't know ez Ferrers wants to marry
her, and hez been hangin' round yer ever since he left - eh?"

Scarcely believing the evidence of his senses that the old man whose
treasure he had been trying to steal was utterly ignorant of his real
offense, and yet uncertain of the penalty of the other crime of which
he was accused, the Lascar writhed his body and stammered vaguely,
"Mercy! Mercy!"

"Well," said Nott, cautiously, "ez I reckon the hide of a dead Chinee
nigger ain't any more vallyble than that of a dead Injin, I don't care
ef I let up on yer - seein' the cussedness ain't yours. But ef I let yer
off this once, you must take a message to Ferrers from me."

"Let me off this time, boss, and I swear to God I will," said the
Lascar eagerly.

"Ye kin say to Ferrers - let me see" - deliberated Nott, leaning on his
rifle with cautious reflection. "Ye kin say to Ferrers like this - sez
you, 'Ferrers,' sez you, 'the old man sez that afore you went away you
sez to him, sez you, "I take my honor with me," sez you' - have you got
that?" interrupted Nott suddenly.

"Yes, boss."

"'I take my honor with me,' sez you," repeated Nott slowly. "'Now,' sez
you - 'the old man sez, sez he - tell Ferrers, sez he, that his honor
havin' run away agin, he sends it back to him, and ef he ever ketches
it around after this, he'll shoot it on sight.' Hev yer got that?"

"Yes," stammered the bewildered captive.

"Then git!"

The Lascar sprang to his feet with the agility of a panther, leaped
through the hatch above him, and disappeared over the bow of the ship
with an unhesitating directness that showed that every avenue of escape
had been already contemplated by him. Slipping lightly from the
cutwater to the ground, he continued his flight, only stopping at the
private office of Mr. Sleight.

When Mr. Renshaw and Rosey Nott arrived on board the Pontiac that
evening, they were astonished to find the passage before the cabin
completely occupied with trunks and boxes, and the bulk of their
household goods apparently in the process of removal. Mr. Nott, who was
superintending the work of two Chinamen, betrayed not only no surprise
at the appearance of the young people, but not the remotest recognition
of their own bewilderment at his occupation.

"Kalkilatin'," he remarked casually to his daughter, "you'd rather look
arter your fixins, Rosey; I've left 'em till the last. P'r'aps yer and
Mr. Renshaw wouldn't mind sittin' down on that locker until I've
strapped this yer box."

"But what does it all mean, father?" said Rosey, taking the old man by
the lappels of his pea-jacket, and slightly emphasizing her question.
"What in the name of goodness are you doing?"

"Breakin' camp, Rosey dear, breakin' camp, jist ez we uster," replied
Nott with cheerful philosophy. "Kinder like ole times, ain't it? Lord,
Rosey," he continued, stopping and following up the reminiscence, with
the end of the rope in his hand as if it were a clue, "don't ye mind
that day we started outer Livermore Pass, and seed the hull o' the
Kaliforny coast stretchin' yonder - eh? But don't ye be skeered, Rosey
dear," he added quickly, as if in recognition of the alarm expressed in
her face. "I ain't turning ye outer house and home; I've jist hired
that 'ere Madroño Cottage from the Peters ontil we kin look round."

"But you're not leaving the ship, father," continued Rosey,
impetuously. "You haven't sold it to that man Sleight?"

Mr. Nott rose and carefully closed the cabin-door. Then drawing a large
wallet from his pocket, he said, "It's sing'lar ye should hev got the
name right the first pop, ain't it, Rosey? but it's Sleight, sure
enough, all the time. This yer check," he added, producing a paper from
the depths of the wallet, "this yer check for 25,000 dollars is wot he
paid for it only two hours ago."

"But," said Renshaw, springing to his feet furiously, "you're duped,
swindled - betrayed!"

"Young man," said Nott, throwing a certain dignity into his habitual
gesture of placing his hands on Renshaw's shoulders, "I bought this yer
ship five years ago jist ez she stood for 8,000 dollars. Kalkilatin'
wot she cost me in repairs and taxes, and wot she brought me in since
then, accordin' to my figgerin', I don't call a clear profit of 15,000
dollars much of a swindle."

"Tell him all," said Rosey, quickly, more alarmed at Renshaw's
despairing face than at the news itself. "Tell him everything,
Dick - Mr. Renshaw; it may not be too late."

In a voice half choked with passionate indignation Renshaw hurriedly
repeated the story of the hidden treasure, and the plot to rescue it,
prompted frequently by Rosey's tenacious memory and assisted by her
deft and tactful explanations. But to their surprise the imperturbable
countenance of Abner Nott never altered; a slight moisture of kindly
paternal tolerance of their extravagance glistened in his little eyes,
but nothing more.

"Ef there was a part o' this ship, a plank or a bolt, ez I don't know,
ez I hevn't touched with my own hand, and looked into with my own eyes,
thar might be suthin' in that story. I don't let on to be a sailor like
_you_, but ez I know the ship ez a boy knows his first boss, as a woman
knows her first babby, I reckon thar ain't no treasure yer, onless it
was brought into the Pontiac last night by them chaps."

"But are you mad? Sleight would not pay three times the value of the
ship to-day if he were not positive! And that positive knowledge was
gained last night by the villain who broke into the Pontiac - no doubt
the Lascar."

"Surely," said Nott, meditatively. "The Lascar! There's suthin' in
that. That Lascar I fastened down in the hold last night unbeknownst to
you, Mr. Renshaw, and let him out again this morning ekally
unbeknownst."

"And you let him carry his information to Sleight - without a word!"
said Renshaw, with a sickening sense of Nott's utter fatuity.

"I sent him back with a message to the man he kem from," said Nott,
winking both his eyes at Renshaw significantly, and making signs behind
his daughter's back.

Rosey, conscious of her lover's irritation, and more eager to soothe
his impatience than from any faith in her suggestion, interfered. "Why
not examine the place where he was concealed? he may have left some
traces of his search."

The two men looked at each other. "Seein' ez I've turned the Pontiac
over to Sleight jist as it stands, I don't know ez it's 'zactly on the
square," said Nott doubtfully.

"You've a right to know at least _what_ you deliver to him,"
interrupted Renshaw, brusquely. "Bring a lantern."

Followed by Rosey, Renshaw and Nott hurriedly sought the lower deck and
the open hatch of the forehold. The two men leaped down first with the
lantern, and then assisted Rosey to descend. Renshaw took a step
forward and uttered a cry.

The rays of the lantern fell on the ship's side. The Lascar had, during
his forced seclusion, put back the boxes of treasure and replaced the
planking, yet not so carefully but that the quick eye of Renshaw had
discovered it. The next moment he had stripped away the planking again,
and the hurriedly restored box which the Lascar had found fell to the
deck, scattering part of its ringing contents. Rosey turned pale;
Renshaw's eyes flashed fire; only Abner Nott remained quiet and
impassive.

"Are you satisfied you have been duped?" said Renshaw, passionately.

To their surprise Mr. Nott stooped down, and picking up one of the
coins handed it gravely to Renshaw. "Would ye mind heftin' that 'ere
coin in your hand - feelin' it, bitin' it, scrapin' it with a knife, and
kinder seem' how it compares with other coins?"

"What do you mean?" said Renshaw.

"I mean that that yer coin - that _all_ the coins in this yer box, that
all the coins in them other boxes - and thar's forty on 'em - is all and
every one of 'em counterfeits!"

The piece dropped unconsciously from Renshaw's hand, and striking
another that lay on the deck gave out a dull, suspicious ring.

"They waz counterfeits got up by them Dutch supercargo sharps for
dealin' with the Injins and cannibals and South Sea heathens ez bows
down to wood and stone. It satisfied them ez well ez them buttons ye
puts in missionary boxes, I reckon, and, 'cepting ez freight, don't
cost nothin'. I found 'em tucked in the ribs o' the old Pontiac when I
bought her, and I nailed 'em up in thar lest they should fall into
dishonest hands. It's a lucky thing, Mr. Renshaw, that they comes into
the honest fingers of a square man like Sleight - ain't it?"

He turned his small, guileless eyes upon Renshaw with such child-like
simplicity that it checked the hysterical laugh that was rising to the
young man's lips.

"But did any one know of this but yourself?"

"I reckon not. I once suspicioned that old Cap'en Bowers, who was
always foolin' round the hold yer, must hev noticed the bulge in the
casin', but when he took to axin' questions I axed others - ye know my
style, Rosey? Come."

He led the way grimly back to the cabin, the young people following;
but turning suddenly at the companion way he observed Renshaw's arm
around the waist of his daughter. He said nothing until they had
reached the cabin, when he closed the door softly, and looking at them
both gently, said with infinite cunning:

"Ef it is n't too late, Rosey, ye kin tell this young man ez how I
forgive him for havin' diskivered THE TREASURE of the Pontiac."

* * * * *

It was nearly eighteen months afterwards that Mr. Nott one morning
entered the room of his son-in-law at Mandroño Cottage. Drawing him
aside, he said with his old air of mystery, "Now ez Rosey's ailin' and
don't seem to be so eager to diskiver what's become of Mr. Ferrers, I
don't mind tellin' ye that over a year ago I heard he died suddenly in
Sacramento. Thar was suthin' in the paper about his bein' a lunatic and
claimin' to be a relation to somebody on the Pontiac; but likes ez not
it's only the way those newspaper fellows got hold of the story of his
wantin' to marry Rosey."








Online LibraryBret HarteFrontier Stories → online text (page 32 of 32)