Story type: Literature
I. THE SEARCH
She was only a big gulf yawl, which a man and a boy could manage at a pinch, with old-fashioned high bulwarks, but lying clean in the water. She had a tolerable record for speed, and for other things so important that they were now and again considered by the Government at Quebec. She was called the Ninety-Nine. With a sense of humour the cure had called her so, after an interview with her owner and captain, Tarboe the smuggler. When he said to Tarboe at Angel Point that he had come to seek the one sheep that was lost, leaving behind him the other ninety-and-nine within the fold at Isle of Days, Tarboe had replied that it was a mistake–he was the ninety-nine, for he needed no repentance, and immediately offered the cure some old brown brandy of fine flavour. They both had a whimsical turn, and the cure did not ask Tarboe how he came by such perfect liquor. Many high in authority, it was said, had been soothed even to the winking of an eye when they ought to have sent a Nordenfeldt against the Ninety-Nine.
The day after the cure left Angel Point he spoke of Tarboe and his craft as the Ninety-and-Nine; and Tarboe hearing of this–for somehow he heard everything–immediately painted out the old name, and called her the Ninety-Nine, saying that she had been so blessed by the cure. Afterwards the Ninety-Nine had an increasing reputation for exploit and daring. In brief, Tarboe and his craft were smugglers, and to have trusted gossip would have been to say that the boat was as guilty as the man.
Their names were much more notorious than sweet; and yet in Quebec men laughed as they shrugged their shoulders at them; for as many jovial things as evil were told of Tarboe. When it became known that a dignitary of the Church had been given a case of splendid wine, which had come in a roundabout way to him, men waked in the night and laughed, to the annoyance of their wives; for the same dignitary had preached a powerful sermon against smugglers and the receivers of stolen goods. It was a sad thing for monsignor to be called a Ninety-Niner, as were all good friends of Tarboe, high and low. But when he came to know, after the wine had been leisurely drunk and becomingly praised, he brought his influence to bear in civic places, so that there was nothing left to do but to corner Tarboe at last.
It was in the height of summer, when there was little to think of in the old fortressed city, and a dart after a brigand appealed to the romantic natures of the idle French folk, common and gentle.
Through clouds of rank tobacco smoke, and in the wash of their bean soup, the habitants discussed the fate of “Black Tarboe,” and officers of the garrison and idle ladies gossiped at the Citadel and at Murray Bay of the freebooting gentlemen, whose Ninety-Nine had furnished forth many a table in the great walled city. But Black Tarboe himself was down at Anticosti, waiting for a certain merchantman. Passing vessels saw the Ninety-Nine anchored in an open bay, flying its flag flippantly before the world–a rag of black sheepskin, with the wool on, in profane keeping with its name.
There was no attempt at hiding, no skulking behind a point, or scurrying from observation, but an indolent and insolent waiting–for something. “Black Tarboe’s getting reckless,” said one captain coming in, and another, going out, grinned as he remembered the talk at Quebec, and thought of the sport provided for the Ninety-Nine when she should come up stream; as she must in due time, for Tarboe’s home was on the Isle of Days, and was he not fond and proud of his daughter Joan to a point of folly? He was not alone in his admiration of Joan, for the cure at Isle of Days said high things of her.
Perhaps this was because she was unlike most other girls, and women too, in that she had a sense of humour, got from having mixed with choice spirits who visited her father and carried out at Angel Point a kind of freemasonry, which had few rites and many charges and countercharges. She had that almost impossible gift in a woman–the power of telling a tale whimsically. It was said that once, when Orvay Lafarge, a new Inspector of Customs, came to spy out the land, she kept him so amused by her quaint wit, that he sat in the doorway gossiping with her, while Tarboe and two others unloaded and safely hid away a cargo of liquors from the Ninety-Nine. And one of the men, as cheerful as Joan herself, undertook to carry a little keg of brandy into the house, under the very nose of the young inspector, who had sought to mark his appointment by the detection and arrest of Tarboe single-handed. He had never met Tarboe or Tarboe’s daughter when he made his boast. If his superiors had known that Loco Bissonnette, Tarboe’s jovial lieutenant, had carried the keg of brandy into the house in a water-pail, not fifteen feet from where Lafarge sat with Joan, they might have asked for his resignation. True, the thing was cleverly done, for Bissonnette made the water spill quite naturally against his leg, and when he turned to Joan and said in a crusty way that he didn’t care if he spilled all the water in the pail, he looked so like an unwilling water-carrier that Joan for one little moment did not guess. When she understood, she laughed till the tears came to her eyes, and presently, because Lafarge seemed hurt, gave him to understand that he was upon his honour if she told him what it was. He consenting, she, still laughing, asked him into the house, and then drew the keg from the pail, before his eyes, and, tapping it, gave him some liquor, which he accepted without churlishness. He found nothing in this to lessen her in his eyes, for he knew that women have no civic virtues. He drank to their better acquaintance with few compunctions; a matter not scandalous, for there is nothing like a witty woman to turn a man’s head, and there was not so much at stake after all. Tarboe had gone on for many a year till his trade seemed like the romance of law rather than its breach. It is safe to say that Lafarge was a less sincere if not a less blameless customs officer from this time forth. For humour on a woman’s lips is a potent thing, as any man knows that has kissed it off in laughter.
As we said, Tarboe lay rocking in a bight at Anticosti, with an empty hold and a scanty larder. Still, he was in no ill-humour, for he smoked much and talked more than common. Perhaps that was because Joan was with him–an unusual thing. She was as good a sailor as her father, but she did not care, nor did he, to have her mixed up with him in his smuggling. So far as she knew, she had never been on board the Ninety-Nine when it carried a smuggled cargo. She had not broken the letter of the law. Her father, on asking her to come on this cruise, had said that it was a pleasure trip to meet a vessel in the gulf.
The pleasure had not been remarkable, though there had been no bad weather. The coast of Anticosti is cheerless, and it is possible even to tire of sun and water. True, Bissonnette played the concertina with passing sweetness, and sang as little like a wicked smuggler as one might think. But there were boundaries even to that, as there were to his love-making, which was, however, so interwoven with laughter that it was impossible to think the matter serious. Sometimes of an evening Joan danced on deck to the music of the concertina–dances which had their origin largely with herself fantastic, touched off with some unexpected sleight of foot–almost uncanny at times to Bissonnette, whose temperament could hardly go her distance when her mood was as this.
Tarboe looked on with a keener eye and understanding, for was she not bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh? Who was he that he should fail to know her? He saw the moonlight play on her face and hair, and he waved his head with the swaying of her body, and smacked his lips in thought of the fortune which, smuggling days over, would carry them up to St. Louis Street, Quebec, there to dwell as in a garden of good things.
After many days had passed, Joan tired of the concertina, of her own dancing, of her father’s tales, and became inquisitive. So at last she said:
“Father, what’s all this for?”
Tarboe did not answer her at once, but, turning to Bissonnette, asked him to play “The Demoiselle with the Scarlet Hose.” It was a gay little demoiselle according to Bissonnette, and through the creaking, windy gaiety Tarboe and his daughter could talk without being heard by the musician. Tarboe lit another cigar–that badge of greatness in the eyes of his fellow-habitants, and said:
“What’s all this for, Joan? Why, we’re here for our health.” His teeth bit on the cigar with enjoyable emphasis.
“If you don’t tell me what’s in the wind, you’ll be sorry. Come, where’s the good? I’ve got as much head as you have, father, and–“
“Mon Dieu! Much more. That’s not the question. It was to be a surprise to you.”
“Pshaw! You can only have one minute of surprise, and you can have months of fun looking out for a thing. I don’t want surprises; I want what you’ve got–the thing that’s kept you good-tempered while we lie here like snails on the rocks.”
“Well, my cricket, if that’s the way you feel, here you are. It is a long story, but I will make it short. Once there was a pirate called Brigond, and he brought into a bay on the coast of Labrador a fortune in some kegs–gold, gold! He hid it in a cave, wrapping around it the dead bodies of two men. It is thought that one can never find it so. He hid it, and sailed away. He was captured, and sent to prison in France for twenty years. Then he come back with a crew and another ship, and sailed into the bay, but his ship went down within sight of the place. And so the end of him and all. But wait. There was one man, the mate on the first voyage. He had been put in prison also. He did not get away as soon as Brigond. When he was free, he come to the captain of a ship that I know, the Free-and-Easy, that sails to Havre, and told him the story, asking for passage to Quebec. The captain–Gobal–did not believe it, but said he would bring him over on the next voyage. Gobal come to me and told me all there was to tell. I said that it was a true story, for Pretty Pierre told me once he saw Brigond’s ship go down in the bay; but he would not say how, or why, or where. Pierre would not lie in a thing like that, and–“
“Why didn’t he get the gold himself?”
“What is money to him? He is as a gipsy. To him the money is cursed. He said so. Eh bien! some wise men are fools, one way or another. Well, I told Gobal I would give the man the Ninety-Nine for the cruise and search, and that we should divide the gold between us, if it was found, taking out first enough to make a dot for you and a fine handful for Bissonnette. But no, shake not your head like that. It shall be so. Away went Gobal four months ago, and I get a letter from him weeks past, just after Pentecost, to say he would be here some time in the first of July, with the man.
“Well, it is a great game. The man is a pirate, but it does not matter–he has paid for that. I thought you would be glad of a fine adventure like that, so I said to you, Come.”
“If you do not like you can go on with Gobal in the Free-and-Easy, and you shall be landed at the Isle of Days. That’s all. We’re waiting here for Gobal. He promised to stop just outside this bay and land our man on us. Then, blood of my heart, away we go after the treasure!”
Joan’s eyes flashed. Adventure was in her as deep as life itself. She had been cradled in it, reared in it, lived with it, and here was no law-breaking. Whose money was it? No one’s: for who should say what ship it was, or what people were robbed by Brigond and those others? Gold–that was a better game than wine and brandy, and for once her father would be on a cruise which would not be, as it were, sailing in forbidden waters.
“When do you expect Gobal?” she asked eagerly. “He ought to have been here a week ago. Maybe he has had a bad voyage, or something.”
“He’s sure to come?”
“Of course. I found out about that. She’s got a big consignment to people in Quebec. Something has gone wrong, but she’ll be here–yes.”
“What will you do if you get the money?” she asked. Tarboe laughed heartily. “My faith! Come play up those scarlet hose, Bissonnette! My faith, I’ll go into Parliament at Quebec. Thunder! I will have sport with them. I’ll reform the customs. There shan’t be any more smuggling. The people of Quebec shall drink no more good wine–no one except Black Tarboe, the member for Isle of Days.”
Again he laughed, and his eyes spilt fire like revolving wheels. For a moment Joan was quiet; her face was shining like the sun on a river. She saw more than her father, for she saw release. A woman may stand by a man who breaks the law, but in her heart she always has bitterness, for that the world shall speak well of herself and what she loves is the secret desire of every woman. In her heart she never can defy the world as does a man.
She had carried off the situation as became the daughter of a daring adventurer, who in more stirring times might have been a Du Lhut or a Rob Roy, but she was sometimes tired of the fighting, sometimes wishful that she could hold her position easier. Suppose the present good cure should die and another less considerate arrive, how hard might her position become! Then, she had a spirit above her station, as have most people who know the world and have seen something of its forbidden side; for it is notable that wisdom comes not alone from loving good things, but from having seen evil as well as good. Besides Joan was not a woman to go singly to her life’s end.
There was scarcely a man on Isle of Days and in the parish of Ste. Eunice, on the mainland, but would gladly have taken to wife the daughter of Tarboe the smuggler, and it is likely that the cure of either parish would not have advised against it.
Joan had had the taste of the lawless, and now she knew, as she sat and listened to Bissonnette’s music, that she also could dance for joy, in the hope of a taste of the lawful. With this money, if it were got, there could be another life–in Quebec. She could not forbear laughing now as she remembered that first day she had seen Orvay Lafarge, and she said to Bissonnette: “Loce, do you mind the keg in the water-pail?” Bissonnette paused on an out-pull, and threw back his head with a soundless laugh, then played the concertina into contortions.
“That Lafarge! H’m! He is very polite; but pshaw, it is no use that, in whisky-running! To beat a great man, a man must be great. Tarboe Noir can lead M’sieu’ Lafarge all like that!”
It seemed as if he were pulling the nose of the concertina. Tarboe began tracing a kind of maze with his fingers on the deck, his eyes rolling outward like an endless puzzle. But presently he turned sharp on Joan.
“How many times have you met him?” he asked. “Oh, six or seven–eight or nine, perhaps.”
Her father stared. “Eight or nine? By the holy! Is it like that? Where have you seen him?”
“Twice at our home, as you know; two or three times at dances at the Belle Chatelaine, and the rest when we were at Quebec in May. He is amusing, M’sieu’ Lafarge.”
“Yes, two of a kind,” remarked Tarboe drily; and then he told his schemes to Joan, letting Bissonnette hang up the “The Demoiselle with the Scarlet Hose,” and begin “The Coming of the Gay Cavalier.” She entered into his plans with spirit, and together they speculated what bay it might be, of the many on the coast of Labrador.
They spent two days longer waiting, and then at dawn a merchantman came sauntering up to anchor. She signalled to the Ninety-Nine. In five minutes Tarboe was climbing up the side of the Free-and-Easy, and presently was in Gobal’s cabin, with a glass of wine in his hand.
“What kept you, Gobal?” he asked. “You’re ten days late, at least.”
“Storm and sickness–broken mainmast and smallpox.” Gobal was not cheerful.
Tarboe caught at something. “You’ve got our man?” Gobal drank off his wine slowly. “Yes,” he said. “Well?–Why don’t you fetch him?”
“You can see him below.”
“The man has legs, let him walk here. Hello, my Gobal, what’s the matter? If he’s here bring him up. We’ve no time to lose.”
“Tarboe, the fool got smallpox, and died three hours ago–the tenth man since we started. We’re going to give him to the fishes. They’re putting him in his linen now.”
Tarboe’s face hardened. Disaster did not dismay him, it either made him ugly or humourous, and one phase was as dangerous as the other.
“D’ye mean to say,” he groaned, “that the game is up? Is it all finished? Sweat o’ my soul, my skin crawls like hot glass! Is it the end, eh? The beast, to die!”
Gobal’s eyes glistened. He had sent up the mercury, he would now bring it down.
“Not such a beast as you think. Alive pirate, a convict, as comrade in adventure, is not sugar in the teeth. This one was no better than the worst. Well, he died. That was awkward. But he gave me the chart of the bay before he died–and that was damn square.”
Tarboe held out his hand eagerly, the big fingers bending claw-like.
“Give it me, Gobal,” he said.
“Wait. There’s no hurry. Come along, there’s the bell: they’re going to drop him.”
He coolly motioned, and passed out from the cabin to the ship’s side. Tarboe kept his tongue from blasphemy, and his hand from the captain’s shoulder, for he knew only too well that Gobal held the game in his hands. They leaned over and saw two sailors with something on a plank.
“We therefore commit his body to the deep, in the knowledge of the Judgment Day–let her go!” grunted Gobal; and a long straight canvas bundle shot with a swishing sound beneath the water. “It was rough on him too,” he continued. “He waited twenty years to have his chance again. Damn me, if I didn’t feel as if I’d hit him in the eye, somehow, when he begged me to keep him alive long enough to have a look at the rhino. But it wasn’t no use. He had to go, and I told him so.
“Then he did the fine thing: he give me the chart. But he made me swear on a book of the Mass that if we got the gold we’d send one-half his share to a woman in Paris, and the rest to his brother, a priest at Nancy. I’ll keep my word–but yes! Eh, Tarboe?”
“You can keep your word for me! What, you think, Gobal, there is no honour in Black Tarboe, and you’ve known me ten years! Haven’t I always kept my word like a clock?”
Gobal stretched out his hand. “Like the sun-sure. That’s enough. We’ll stand by my oath. You shall see the chart.”
Going again inside the cabin, Gobal took out a map grimed with ceaseless fingering, and showed it to Tarboe, putting his finger on the spot where the treasure lay.
“The Bay of Belle Amour!” cried Tarboe, his eyes flashing. “Ah, I know it! That’s where Gaspard the pilot lived. It’s only forty leagues or so from here.” His fingers ran here and there on the map. “Yes, yes,” he continued, “it’s so, but he hasn’t placed the reef right. Ah, here is how Brigond’s ship went down! There’s a needle of rock in the bay. It isn’t here.”
Gobal handed the chart over. “I can’t go with you, but I take your word; I can say no more. If you cheat me I’ll kill you; that’s all.”
“Let me give a bond,” said Tarboe quickly. “If I saw much gold perhaps I couldn’t trust myself, but there’s someone to be trusted, who’ll swear for me. If my daughter Joan give her word–“
“Is she with you?”
“Yes, in the Ninety-Nine, now. I’ll send Bissonnette for her. Yes, yes, I’ll send, for gold is worse than bad whisky when it gets into a man’s head. Joan will speak for me.”
Ten minutes later Joan was in Gobal’s cabin, guaranteeing for her father the fulfilment of his bond. An hour afterwards the Free-and-Easy was moving up stream with her splintered mast and ragged sails, and the Ninety-Nine was looking up and over towards the Bay of Belle Amour. She reached it in the late afternoon of the next day. Bissonnette did not know the object of the expedition, but he had caught the spirit of the affair, and his eyes were like spots of steel as he held the sheet or took his turn at the tiller. Joan’s eyes were now on the sky, now on the sail, and now on the land, weighing as wisely as her father the advantage of the wind, yet dwelling on that cave where skeletons kept ward over the spoils of a pirate ship.
They arrived, and Tarboe took the Ninety-Nine warily in on a little wind off the land. He came near sharing the fate of Brigond, for the yawl grazed the needle of the rock that, hiding away in the water, with a nose out for destruction, awaits its victims. They reached safe anchorage, but by the time they landed it was night, with, however, a good moon showing.
All night they searched, three silent, eager figures, drawing step by step nearer the place where the ancient enemy of man was barracked about by men’s bodies. It was Joan who, at last, as dawn drew up, discovered the hollow between two great rocks where the treasure lay. A few minutes’ fierce digging, and the kegs of gold were disclosed, showing through the ribs of two skeletons. Joan shrank back, but the two men tossed aside the rattling bones, and presently the kegs were standing between them on the open shore. Bissonnette’s eyes were hungry–he knew now the wherefore of the quest. He laughed outright, a silly, loud, hysterical laugh. Tarboe’s eyes shifted from the sky to the river, from the river to the kegs, from the kegs to Bissonnette. On him they stayed a moment. Bissonnette shrank back. Tarboe was feeling for the first time in his life the deadly suspicion which comes with ill-gotten wealth. This passed as his eyes and Joan’s met, for she had caught the melodrama, the overstrain; Bissonnette’s laugh had pointed the situation; and her sense of humour had prevailed. “La, la,” she said, with a whimsical quirk of the head, and no apparent relevancy:
“Lady-bird, lady-bird, fly away home,
Your house is on fire, and your children all gone.”
The remedy was good. Tarboe’s eyes came again to their natural liveliness, and Bissonnette said:
“My throat’s like a piece of sand-paper.”
Tarboe handed over a brandy flask, after taking a pull himself, and then sitting down on one of the kegs, he said: “It is as you see, and now Angel Point very quick. To get it there safe, that’s the thing!” Then, scanning the sky closely: “It’s for a handsome day, and the wind goes to bear us up fine. Good! Well, for you, Bissonnette, there shall be a thousand dollars, you shall have the Belle Chatelaine Inn and the little lady at Point Pierrot. For the rest, you shall keep a quiet tongue, eh? If not, my Bissonnette, we shall be the best of strangers, and you shall not be happy. Hein?”
Bissonnette’s eyes flashed. “The Belle Chatelaine? Good! That is enough. My tongue is tied; I cannot speak; it is fastened with a thousand pegs.”
“Very good, a thousand gold pegs, and you shall never pull them. The little lady will have you with them, not without; and unless you stand by me, no one shall have you at any price–by God!”
He stood up, but Joan put out her hand. “You have been speaking, now it is my turn. Don’t cry cook till you have the venison home. What is more, I gave my word to Gobal, and I will keep it. I will be captain. No talking! When you’ve got the kegs in the cellar at Angel Point, good! But now–come, my comrades, I am your captain!”
She was making the thing a cheerful adventure, and the men now swung the kegs on their shoulders and carried them to the boat. In another half-hour they were under way in the gaudy light of an orange sunrise, a simmering wind from the sea lifting them up the river, and the grey-red coast of Labrador shrinking sullenly back.
About this time, also, a Government cutter was putting out from under the mountain-wall at Quebec, its officer in command having got renewed orders from the Minister to bring in Tarboe the smuggler. And when Mr. Martin, the inspector in command of the expedition, was ordered to take with him Mr. Orvay Lafarge and five men, “effectively armed,” it was supposed by the romantic Minister that the matter was as good as done.
What Mr. Orvay Lafarge did when he got the word, was to go straight to his hat-peg, then leave the office, walk to the little club where he spent leisure hours, called office hours by people who wished to be precise as well as suggestive,–sit down, and raise a glass to his lips. After which he threw himself back in his chair and said: “Well, I’m particularly damned!” A few hours later they were away on their doubtful exploit.
II. THE DEFENCE
On the afternoon of the second day after she left Labrador, the Ninety-Nine came rippling near Isle of Fires, not sixty miles from her destination, catching a fair wind on her quarter off the land. Tarboe was in fine spirits, Joan was as full of songs as a canary, and Bissonnette was as busy watching her as in keeping the nose of the Ninety-Nine pointing for Cap de Gloire. Tarboe was giving the sail full to the wind, and thinking how he would just be able to reach Angel Point and get his treasure housed before mass in the morning.
Mass! How many times had he laughed as he sat in church and heard the cure have his gentle fling at smuggling! To think that the hiding-place for his liquor was the unused, almost unknown, cellar of that very church, built a hundred years before as a refuge from the Indians, which he had reached by digging a tunnel from the shore to its secret passage! That was why the customs officers never found anything at Angel Point, and that was why Tarboe much loved going to mass. He sometimes thought he could catch the flavour of the brands as he leaned his forehead on the seat before him. But this time he would go to mass with a fine handful of those gold pieces in his pocket, just to keep him in a commendable mood. He laughed out loud at the thought of doing so within a stone’s throw of a fortune and nose-shot of fifty kegs of brandy.
As he did so, Bissonnette gave a little cry. They were coming on to Cap de Gloire at the moment, and Tarboe and Joan, looking, saw a boat standing off towards the mainland, as if waiting for them. Tarboe gave a roar, and called to Joan to take the tiller. He snatched a glass and levelled it.
“A Government tug!” he said, “and tete de Diable! there’s your tall Lafarge among ’em, Joan! I’d know him by his height miles off.”
Joan lost colour a trifle and then got courage. “Pshaw,” she said, “what does he want?”
“Want? Want? He wants the Ninety-Nine and her cargo; but by the sun of my soul, he’ll get her across the devil’s gridiron! See here, my girl, this ain’t any sport with you aboard. Bissonnette and I could make a stand for it alone, but what’s to become of you? I don’t want you mixed up in the mess.”
The girl was eyeing the Government boat. “But I’m in it, and I can’t be out of it, and I don’t want to be out now that I am in. Let me see the glass.” She took it in one hand. “Yes, it must be M’sieu’ Lafarge,” she said, frowning. “He might have stayed out of this.”
“When he’s got orders, he has to go,” answered her father; “but he must look out, for a gun is a gun, and I don’t pick and choose. Besides, I’ve no contraband this cruise, and I’ll let no one stick me up.”
“There are six or seven of them,” said Joan debatingly.
“Bring her up to the wind,” shouted Tarboe to Bissonnette. The mainsail closed up several points, the Ninety-Nine slackened her pace and edged in closer to the land. “Now, my girl,” said Tarboe, “this is how it stands. If we fight, there’s someone sure to be hurt, and if I’m hurt, where’ll you be?”
Bissonnette interposed. “We’ve got nothing contraband. The gold is ours.”
“Trust that crew–but no!” cried Tarboe, with an oath. “The Government would hold the rhino for possible owners, and then give it to a convent or something. They shan’t put foot here. They’ve said war, and they’ll get it. They’re signalling us to stop, and they’re bearing down. There goes a shot!”
The girl had been watching the Government boat coolly. Now that it began to bear on, she answered her father’s question.
“Captain,” she said, like a trusted mate, “we’ll bluff them.” Her eyes flashed with the intelligence of war. “Here, quick, I’ll take the tiller. They haven’t seen Bissonnette yet; he sits low. Call all hands on deck–shout! Then, see: Loce will go down the middle hatch, get a gun, come up with it on his shoulder, and move on to the fo’castle. Then he’ll drop down the fo’castle hatch, get along to the middle hatch, and come up again with the gun, now with his cap, now without it, now with his coat, now without it. He’ll do that till we’ve got twenty or thirty men on deck! They’ll think we’ve been laying for them, and they’ll not come on–you see!”
Tarboe ripped out an oath. “It’s a great game,” he said, and a moment afterwards, in response to his roars, Bissonnette came up the hatch with his gun showing bravely; then again and again, now with his cap, now without, now with his coat, now with none, anon with a tarpaulin over his shoulders grotesquely. Meanwhile Tarboe trained his one solitary little cannon on the enemy, roaring his men into place.
From the tug it seemed that a large and well-armed crew were ranging behind the bulwarks of the Ninety-Nine. Mr. Martin, the inspector, saw with alarm Bissonnette’s constantly appearing rifle.
“They’ve arranged a plant for us, Mr. Lafarge. What do you think we’d better do?” he asked.
“Fight!” answered Lafarge laconically. He wished to put himself on record, for he was the only one on board who saw through the ruse.
“But I’ve counted at least twenty men, all armed, and we’ve only five.”
“As you please, sir,” said Lafarge bluntly, angry at being tricked, but inwardly glad to be free of the business, for he pictured to himself that girl at the tiller–he had seen her as she went aft–in a police court at Quebec. Yet his instinct for war and his sense of duty impelled him to say: “Still, sir, fight!”
“No, no, Mr. Lafarge,” excitedly rejoined his chief. “I cannot risk it. We must go back for more men and bring along a Gatling. Slow down!” he called. Lafarge turned on his heel with an oath, and stood watching the Ninety-Nine.
“She’ll laugh at me till I die!” he said to himself presently, as the tug turned up stream and pointed for Quebec. “Well, I’m jiggered!” he added, as a cannon shot came ringing over the water after them. He was certain also that he heard loud laughter. No doubt he was right; for as the tug hurried on, Tarboe ran to Joan, hugged her like a bear, and roared till he ached. Then she paid out the sheet, they clapped on all sail, and travelled in the track of the enemy.
Tarboe’s spirit was roused. He was not disposed to let his enemy off on even such terms, so he now turned to Joan and said: “What say you to a chase of the gentleman?”
Joan was in a mood for such a dare-devil adventure. For three people, one of whom was a girl, to give chase to a well-manned, well-armed Government boat was too good a relish to be missed. Then, too, it had just occurred to her that a parley would be amusing, particularly if she and Lafarge were the truce-bearers. So she said: “That is very good.”
“Suppose they should turn and fight?” suggested Bissonnette.
“That’s true–here’s m’am’selle,” agreed Tarboe. “But, see,” said Joan. “If we chase them and call upon them to surrender–and after all, we can prove that we had nothing contraband–what a splendid game it’ll be!” Mischief flicked in her eyes.
“Good!” said Tarboe. “To-morrow I shall be a rich man, and then they’ll not dare to come again.”
So saying, he gave the sail to the wind, and away the Ninety-Nine went after the one ewe lamb of the Government.
Mr. Martin saw her coming, and gave word for all steam. It would be a pretty game, for the wind was in Tarboe’s favour, and the general advantage was not greatly with the tug. Mr. Martin was now anxious indeed to get out of the way of the smuggler. Lafarge made one restraining effort, then settled into an ironical mood. Yet a half-dozen times he was inclined to blurt out to Martin what he believed was the truth. A man, a boy, and a girl to bluff them that way! In his bones he felt that it was the girl who was behind this thing. Of one matter he was sure–they had no contraband stuff on board, or Tarboe would not have brought his daughter along. He could not understand the attitude, for Tarboe would scarcely have risked the thing out of mere bravado. Why not call a truce? Perhaps he could solve the problem. They were keeping a tolerably safe distance apart, and there was no great danger of the Ninety-Nine overhauling them even if it so willed; but Mr. Martin did not know that.
What he said to his chief had its effect, and soon there was a white flag flying on the tug. It was at once answered with a white handkerchief of Joan’s. Then the tug slowed up, the Ninety-Nine came on gaily, and at a good distance came up to the wind, and stood off.
“What do you want?” asked Tarboe through his speaking-tube.
“A parley,” called Mr. Martin.
“Good; send an officer,” answered Tarboe.
A moment after, Lafarge was in a boat rowing over to meet another boat rowed by Joan alone, who, dressed in a suit of Bissonnette’s, had prevailed on her father to let her go.
The two boats nearing each other, Joan stood up, saluting, and Lafarge did the same.
“Good-day, m’sieu’,” said Joan, with assumed brusqueness, mischief lurking about her mouth. “What do you want?”
“Good-day, monsieur; I did not expect to confer with you.”
“M’sieu’,” said Joan, with well-acted dignity, “if you prefer to confer with the captain or Mr. Bissonnette, whom I believe you know in the matter of a pail, and–“
“No, no; pardon me, monsieur,” said Lafarge more eagerly than was good for the play, “I am glad to confer with you, you will understand–you will understand–” He paused.
“What will I understand?”
“You will understand that I understand!” Lafarge waved meaningly towards the Ninety-Nine, but it had no effect at all. Joan would not give the game over into his hands.
“That sounds like a charade or a puzzle game. We are gentlemen on a serious errand, aren’t we?”
“Yes,” answered Lafarge, “perfect gentlemen on a perfectly serious errand!”
“Very well, m’sieu’. Have you come to surrender?” The splendid impudence of the thing stunned Lafarge, but he said: “I suppose one or the other ought to surrender; and naturally,” he added with slow point, “it should be the weaker.”
“Very well. Our captain is willing to consider conditions. You came down on us to take us–a quiet craft sailing in free waters. You attack us without cause. We summon all hands, and you run. We follow, you ask for truce. It is granted. We are not hard–no. We only want our rights. Admit them; we’ll make surrender easy, and the matter is over.”
Lafarge gasped. She was forcing his hand. She would not understand his oblique suggestions. He saw only one way now, and that was to meet her, boast for boast.
“I haven’t come to surrender,” he said, “but to demand.”
“M’sieu’,” Joan said grandly, “there’s nothing more to say. Carry word to your captain that we’ll overhaul him by sundown, and sink him before supper.”
Lafarge burst out laughing.
“Well, by the Lord, but you’re a swashbuckler, Joan–“
“Oh, nonsense! I tell you, nonsense! Let’s have over with this, my girl. You’re the cleverest woman on the continent, but there’s a limit to everything. Here, tell me now, and if you answer me straight I’ll say no more.”
“M’sieu’, I am here to consider conditions, not to–” “Oh, for God’s sake, Joan! Tell me now, have you got anything contraband on board? There’ll be a nasty mess about the thing, for me and all of us, and why can’t we compromise? I tell you honestly we’d have come on, if I hadn’t seen you aboard.”
Joan turned her head back with a laugh. “My poor m’sieu’! You have such bad luck. Contraband? Let me see? Liquors and wines and tobacco are contraband. Is it not so?” Lafarge nodded.
“Money? No; of course not, and you know it. Why won’t you be sensible? You’re getting me into a bad hole, and–“
“I want to see how you’ll come out. If you come out well–” She paused quaintly.
“Yes, if I come out well–“
“If you come out very well, and we do not sink you before supper, I may ask you to come and see me.”
“H’m! Is that all? After spoiling my reputation, I’m to be let come and see you.”
“Isn’t that enough to start with? What has spoiled your reputation?”
“A man, a boy, and a slip of a girl.” He looked meaningly enough at her now. She laughed. “See,” he added; “give me a chance. Let me search the Ninety-Nine for contraband,–that’s all I’ve got to do with,–and then I can keep quiet about the rest. If there’s no contraband, whatever else there is, I’ll hold my tongue.”
“I’ve told you what there is.”
He did not understand. “Will you let me search?” Joan’s eyes flashed. “Once and for all, no, Orvay Lafarge. I am the daughter of a man whom you and your men would have killed or put in the dock. He’s been a smuggler, and I know it. Who has he robbed? Not the poor, not the needy; but a rich Government that robs also. Well, in the hour when he ceases to be a smuggler for ever, armed men come to take him. Why didn’t they do so before? Why so pious all at once? No; I am first the daughter of my father, and afterwards–“
“What to-morrow may bring forth.”
Lafarge became very serious. “I must go back. Mr. Martin is signalling, and your father is calling. I do not understand, but you’re the one woman in the world for my money, and I’m ready to stand by that and leave the customs to-morrow if need be.”
Joan’s eyes blazed, her cheek was afire. “Leave it to-day. Leave it now. Yes; that’s my one condition. If you want me, and you say you do, come aboard the Ninety-Nine, and for to-day be one of us-to-morrow what you will.”
“What I will? What I will, Joan? Do you mean it?”
“Yes. Pshaw! Your duty? Don’t I know how the Ministers and the officers have done their duty at Quebec? It’s all nonsense. You must make your choice once for all now.”
Lafarge stood a moment thinking. “Joan, I’ll do it. I’d go hunting in hell at your bidding. But see. Everything’s changed. I couldn’t fight against you, but I can fight for you. All must be open now. You’ve said there’s no contraband. Well, I’ll tell Mr. Martin so, but I’ll tell him also that you’ve only a crew of two–“
“Of three, now!”
“Of three! I will do my duty in that, then resign and come over to you, if I can.”
“If you can? You mean that they may fire on you?”
“I can’t tell what they may do. But I must deal fair.”
Joan’s face was grave. “Very well, I will wait for you here.”
“They might hit you.”
“But no. They can’t hit a wall. Go on, my dear.” They saluted, and, as Lafarge turned away, Joan said, with a little mocking laugh, “Tell him that he must surrender, or we’ll sink him before supper.”
Lafarge nodded, and drew away quickly towards the tug. His interview with Mr. Martin was brief, and he had tendered his resignation, though it was disgracefully informal, and was over the side of the boat again and rowing quickly away before his chief recovered his breath. Then Mr. Martin got a large courage. He called on his men to fire when Lafarge was about two hundred and fifty feet from the tug. The shots rattled about him. He turned round coolly and called out, “Coward-we’ll sink you before supper!”
A minute afterwards there came another shot, and an oar dropped from his hand. But now Joan was rowing rapidly towards him, and presently was alongside.
“Quick, jump inhere,” she said. He did so, and she rowed on quickly. Tarboe did not understand, but now his blood was up, and as another volley sent bullets dropping around the two he gave the Ninety-Nine to the wind, and she came bearing down smartly to them. In a few moments they were safely on board, and Joan explained. Tarboe grasped Lafarge’s unmaimed hand,–the other Joan was caring for,–and swore that fighting was the only thing left now.
Mr. Martin had said the same, but when he saw the Ninety-Nine determined, menacing, and coming on, he became again uncertain, and presently gave orders to make for the lighthouse on the opposite side of the river. He could get over first, for the Ninety-Nine would not have the wind so much in her favour, and there entrench himself; for even yet Bissonnette amply multiplied was in his mind–Lafarge had not explained that away. He was in the neighbourhood of some sunken rocks of which he and his man at the wheel did not know accurately, and in making what he thought was a clear channel he took a rock with great force, for they were going full steam ahead. Then came confusion, and in getting out the one boat it was swamped and a man nearly drowned. Meanwhile the tug was fast sinking.
While they were throwing off their clothes, the Ninety-Nine came down, and stood off. On one hand was the enemy, on the other the water, with the shore half a mile distant.
“Do you surrender?” called out Tarboe.
“Can’t we come aboard without that?” feebly urged Mr. Martin.
“I’ll see you damned first, Mr. Martin. Come quick, or I’ll give you what for.”
“We surrender,” answered the officer gently.
A few minutes later he and his men were on board, with their rifles stacked in a corner at Bissonnette’s hand.
Then Tarboe brought the Ninety-Nine close to the wreck, and with his little cannon put a ball into her. This was the finish. She shook her nose, shivered, shot down like a duck, and was gone.
Mr. Martin was sad even to tears.
“Now, my beauties,” said Tarboe, “now that I’ve got you safe, I’ll show you the kind of cargo I’ve got.” A moment afterwards he hoisted a keg on deck. “Think that’s whisky?” he asked. “Lift it, Mr. Martin.” Mr. Martin obeyed. “Shake it,” he added.
Mr. Martin did so. “Open it, Mr. Martin.” He held out a hatchet-hammer. The next moment a mass of gold pieces yellowed to their eyes. Mr. Martin fell back, breathing hard.
“Is that contraband, Mr. Martin?”
“Treasure-trove,” humbly answered the stricken officer.
“That’s it, and in a month, Mr. Martin, I’ll be asking the chief of your department to dinner.”
Meanwhile Lafarge saw how near he had been to losing a wife and a fortune. Arrived off Isle of Day; Tarboe told Mr. Martin and his men that if they said “treasure-trove” till they left the island their live would not be worth “a tinker’s damn.” When they had sworn, he took them to Angel Point, fed then royally, gave them excellent liquor to drink, and sent them in a fishing-smack with Bissonnette to Quebec where, arriving, they told strange tales.
Bissonnette bore a letter to a certain banker in Quebec, who already had done business with Tarboe, and next midnight Tarboe himself, with Gobal, Lafarge, Bissonnette, and another, came knocking at the banker’s door, each carrying a keg on his shoulder and armed to the teeth. And, what was singular two stalwart police-officers walked behind with comfortable and approving looks.
A month afterwards Lafarge and Joan were married in the parish church at Isle of Days, and it was said that Mr. Martin, who, for some strange reason, was allowed to retain his position in the customs, sent a present. The wedding ended with a sensation, for just as the benediction was pronounced a loud report was heard beneath the floor of the church. There was great commotion, but Tarboe whispered in the curb’s ear, and he blushing, announced that it was the bursting of a barrel. A few minutes afterwards the people of the parish knew the old hiding-place of Tarboe’s contraband, and, though the cure rebuked them, they roared with laughter at the knowledge.
“So droll, so droll, our Tarboe there!” they shouted, for already they began to look upon him as their Seigneur.
In time the cure forgave him also.
Tarboe seldom left Isle of Days, save when he went to visit his daughter, in St. Louis Street, Quebec, not far from the Parliament House, where Orvay Lafarge is a member of the Ministry. The ex-smuggler was a member of the Assembly for three months, but after defeating his own party on a question of tariff, he gave a portrait of himself to the Chamber, and threw his seat into the hands of his son-in-law. At the Belle Chatelaine, where he often goes, he sometimes asks Bissonnette to play “The Demoiselle with the Scarlet Hose.”