“And then, ladies—at first I thought of no danger to myself, but ran for the gate, still groping as I went, for my eyeglasses; stumbled across the lane somehow, and over the stile in vain chase of the man I had glimpsed two minutes before. I say a vain chase, for I had not plunged twenty yards into the plantation before—short-sighted mole that I am—I had lost the track. I pulled up, on the point of shouting for help, and with that there flashed on me the thought of the Major’s guineas in my pocket. If I called for help I called down suspicion on myself, and suspicion enough to damn me. How could I explain my presence in the garden? How could I account for the money—straight from the Major’s cashbox?”
Captain Branscome paused and gazed around upon us as if caught once more in that terrible moment of choice. Miss Belcher met his gaze and nodded.
“So the upshot was that you ran for it? Well, I can’t say that I blame you. But, as it happens, if you had stood still the cashbox might have helped to clear you; for it was found next morning, half a mile away in the brook, below my lodge-gate.”
“And there’s one thing,” said Plinny, “we may thank God for, if it is possible to be thankful for anything in this dreadful business. The murderer, whoever he was, got little profit from his crime, for I know pretty well the state of your poor father’s finances, Harry; and if, as Captain Branscome tells us, he had taken ten guineas from the box, there must have been very few left in it.”
“My good soul,” said Miss Belcher, “the man wasn’t after money! He wanted the map this Captain Coffin had left in the Major’s keeping. That’s as plain as the nose on your good, dear face. If the map happened to be in the cashbox, and I’ll bet ten to one it wasn’t—”
“You may bet ten thousand to one!” I cried. “It was never in the cashbox at all. It was wrapped up in the flag my father carried into the house.”
“Bless the boy,” said Miss Belcher; “he’s not half a fool, after all! Yes, yes—where is the flag?”
“On the flagstaff,” said I. “I hoisted it there this morning.”
“And here,” I panted, jumping up in my excitement, “here is Captain Coffin’s map!”
I heard Miss Belcher breathing hard as I lugged out the oilskin packet, tore open the knotted string which bound it, and, drawing forth the parchment, spread it, with shaking fingers, on the table.
THE CHART OF MORTALLONE.
While the others drew their chairs closer, and while I spread flat the parchment—which was crinkled (by the action of salt water, maybe)—I had time to assure myself that this was the selfsame chart of which Captain Coffin had once vouchsafed me a glimpse. I remembered the shape of the island, the point marked “Cape Alderman,” the strange, whiskered heraldical monster depicted in the