With the camp freed from the presence of the pirates all need of watchfulness was over. The prisoners in the cave were provided with no implements but spades, whereas dynamite and crowbars would be necessary to force a way through the debris which choked the mouth of the tunnel. A looking over of the ground at the daily feeding time would be enough.
To-morrow’s sun would see our hopes crowned and all our toil rewarded by the recovery of the treasure from the Island Queen.
’TWIXT CUP AND LIP
Next morning an event occurred sufficiently astonishing to divert our thoughts from even the all-important topic of the Island Queen. Cookie, who had been up on the high land of the point gathering firewood, came rushing back to announce that a steamer had appeared in the offing. All the party dropped their occupations and ran to look. That the Rufus Smith had returned at an unexpectedly early date was of course the natural explanation of the appearance of a vessel in these lonely seas. But through the glass the new arrival turned out to be not the tubby freighter but a stranger of clean-cut, rakish build, lying low in the water and designed for speed rather than carrying capacity.
A mile offshore she lay to, and a boat left her side. Wondering and disquieted, we returned to the beach to await her coming. Was it another pirate? What possible errand could bring a steamer to this remote, unvisited, all but forgotten little island? Had somebody else heard the story of the Bonny Lass and come after the doubloons, unknowing that we were beforehand with them? If so, must we do battle for our rights?
The boat shot in between the points and skimmed swiftly over the rippling surface of the cove, under the rhythmic strokes of half a dozen flashing oars. The rowers wore a trim white uniform, and in the stern a tall figure, likewise white-clad, turned toward us a dark face under a pith helmet.
As the oarsmen drove the boat upon the beach the man in the stern sprang agilely ashore. Dugald Shaw stepped forward, and the stranger approached, doffing his helmet courteously.
“You are the American and English party who landed here some weeks ago from the Rufus Smith?”
His English was easy and correct, though spoken with a pronounced Spanish accent. His dark high-featured face was the face of a Spaniard. And his grace was the grace of a Spaniard, as he bowed sweepingly and handed Mr. Shaw a card.
“Senor Don Enrique Gonzales,” said Dugald, bowing in his stiff-necked fashion, “I am very happy to meet you. But as you represent His Excellency the President of the Republic of Santa Marina I suppose you come on business, Senior Gonzales?”
“Precisely. I am enchanted that you apprehend the fact without the tiresomeness of explanations. For business is a cold, usually a disagreeable affair, is it not so? That being the case, let us get it over.”