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Chapter XXI CHECKMATE
"I WANT to ask your advice upon a certain matter, Mr. Herbert," said the bos'n to my uncle that same evening. The "Fortuna" still remained at anchor, for we were unwilling, owing to the changes caused by the seismic disturbance, to make a passage in the darkness through the shoals that surrounded the island.

My uncle and I were seated in deck chairs enjoying the cool of the evening as well as our depressed spirits would allow, when Mr. Wilkins approached, holding a bundle of papers in his hand.

"Well, what is it, Mr. Wilkins?"

"I've just been overhauling poor Dirham's ditty-box, sir, and there's something queer about these letters. I thought I'd best show them to you before I mention the matter to Mr. Trevena."

"They are all from the same individual, I notice," remarked Uncle Herbert as he glanced at the address. "This, I take it, is the first."

It was a plain envelope, on which was written, "Mr. J. Dirham, Yacht 'Fortuna,' Malta." Taking out the contents, Uncle Herbert held a sheet of closely written paper up to the light of a deck lamp. On the top of the paper was the heading, The Yachtsman's Fortnightly Journal, with an address at Plymouth.
DEAR SIR. (it ran),—
We are in receipt of your letter of the 21st ult., and note the
information given of "Fortuna" yacht as arranged. Kindly let us
know as soon as can be ascertained the lat. and long. of the island
to which you go. A further sum of five shillings has been placed to
your credit in our ledgers.
Yours very truly,
JAMES TICKET (Editor).

"There's something fishy about this, Mr. Wilkins. In the first place, I don't believe there is such a journal as The Yachtsman's Fortnightly, and, secondly, no editor would pen such un-English jargon."

"That's what I thought, sir; now read this one."

The second communication was addressed to the yacht at Point de Galle, Ceylon, and thanked the recipient for the information regarding the position of San Philipo Island. Curiously enough, it was signed "James Trickett," a difference of two letters to the signature of the previous epistle.

"Do you think we might show them to Mr. Trevena?" asked the bos'n. "I don't like to worry him, seeing him so cut up just at present.

"I don't think it will do him any harm," replied my uncle. "If anything, it will give him something to occupy his mind. I am of the opinion that some underhand business is afloat, and that Dirham was an agent in the matter. However, we'll see what my brother has to say about it."

So saying, he led the way to the cabin, where my father was sitting brooding over the calamities of the day. Without speaking, my uncle handed him the packet of letters, which my father carelessly took, but before he had read the first two or three his face lighted up with animated interest.

"What do you make of the business?" asked my uncle. "It seems a bit of a mystery?"

"A mystery? My word!—the whole affair is as clear as daylight. An interested party, or parties, must have been trying to find out the destination of the 'Fortuna' in order to try, and cut her out, as it were. What surprises me is that a rival expedition has not appeared on the scene before now; but let them come," he added bitterly; "they are welcome to what's left."

"Then you think the Yachtsman's Fortnightly Journal is a myth!"

"Undoubtedly. There never was such a periodical, and it is merely a blind. Dirham was a traitor, though perhaps he acted in ignorance of the jeopardy, in which he might have placed us, thinking that he was merely giving commonplace information to a yachting paper; and I am convinced that, judging by the orthographical and grammatical errors in these letters, the author is none other than your Brazilian friend, the fellow you shot when he broke into our house."

"Your explanation seems plausible."

"Nothing could be more simple. The Brazilian received the particulars of the position of the island from Dirham, who, judging by the postmarks and addresses on these envelopes, sent the information from Port Said or Suez. It was after we left Malta, you remember, that the latitude and longitude of the island became an open secret. No doubt the villain, who may be a man of wealth or at least of considerable means, knew far more about the treasure than we are aware. He might have wormed part of the secret from Ross Trevena or his son during their residence near Pernambuco. However, he receives the information, for, as you see here, he acknowledges the receipt of it, and I'll be greatly surprised if a private steam-yacht has not been chartered to try and carry off the treasure before we arrived at the island."

"I should like to witness their disappointment," remarked my uncle.

"It would not be greater than mine is," replied my father, relapsing into a depressed tone at the thought of our ill-fortune. "Two poor fellows have been sacrificed to the lust of gold, and the bulk of the treasure lies at the bottom of the sea."

"You may recover it yet, 'sir," exclaimed the bos'n. "The divers are willing to make the attempt, and it may be that there is less water at the spot where the whaler sank than we know of."

"No, Mr. Wilkins," replied my father emphatically, "I'll have no more lives risked in the matter. The stuff can stay where it is. After all, we have not done so badly, if we do not take into consideration the two deplorable fatalities. The two large chests, four boxes of specie, and the gold plate are not to be sneezed at, and, as I have already announced to the crew, every man will be well provided for when the treasure is shared out. Even now we have done better than most of the treasure-hunting syndicates that have been formed in recent years, for we have a substantial balance in hand."

"Then we'll weigh anchor to-morrow, sir?" asked the bos'n. "Everything is shipshape—stores, water, and ballast are aboard."

"You must have worked well," exclaimed my father enthusiastically. "Yes, to-morrow at daybreak."
* * * * *

The rasping of the windlass and the clinking of the cable as it came slowly inboard were the welcome sounds that greeted my ears early the next morning, and, jumping out of my bunk, I proceeded to dress in order to have a glimpse of San Philipo Island before it was lost to view. But before I was half-way through that operation a hoarse voice shouted "Sail-ho!"

"What can that be?" I asked myself.

The next instant the bos'n came running down the companion, and, knocking at the door of my father's cabin, he exclaimed—

"A large steam-yacht approaching, sir!"

"Any flag?"

"No, sir; she shows no colours."

"How far away is she?"

"About two miles to the south-east, and she's making straight for the island."

"The rival treasure-seekers!" I exclaimed excitedly. "Now for some excitement," and, hastily completing my toilet, I rushed on deck, where Uncle Herbert, Dr. Conolly, and the crew, save those who manned the windlass, were intently watching the approach of the strange craft. Presently we were joined by my father.

The vessel, which had apparently been making about eleven knots, was now within half a mile, and her engines were eased down preparatory to anchoring. She was about two hundred tons displacement, with schooner bows, and carried two pole masts. With a telescope I saw the crew, clustered up for'ard, regarding us with the same curiosity that we were bestowing upon them. They were mostly dark-featured, some being black, and were rigged out in white canvas clothing and red-stocking caps. On the bridge were five or six men, evidently officers, in dark-blue uniforms; plentifully embellished with gold lace and buttons. A more inappropriate uniform for the tropics would be hard to obtain, unless it were a motor-coat; but it seemed evident from their love of finery; that these men came from a Latin nation—Italy or Spain, or one of their offshoots.

"Up and down!" shouted the bos'n, who was superintending the weighing of the anchor, referring to the fact that the chain had already taken the weight of our ground-tackle off the bottom'.

"Avast heaving!" he continued, at a sign from my father, and the clanking of the winch ceased, the dripping anchor hanging just clear of the surface. In the tideless sea, with not a breath of wind to ruffle the absolutely calm water, the "Fortuna" lay motionless, awaiting the approach of her rival.

"Blest if I don't know 'er!" exclaimed one of the crew. "Why, if she ain't the old 'Ermyhony' that used ter lie off Priddy's. 'Ard when I was in the 'Nelson' I'll eat my 'at."

"The what did he say?" I asked the doctor.

"The 'Hermione' I suppose he means," he replied with a smile.

"Hoist our colours," ordered my father, and the blue ensign was run up to the mizzen-truck, where it hung motionless in the still atmosphere.

The strange yacht still held on her course, and slowly, so slowly that it seemed like an exhibition of sulky reluctance, her ensign was hoisted, and simultaneously, with a heavy splash and a loud rattle of chain, the anchor was let go.

To me, her colours, as they hung in folds from her mainmast head, appeared to be a mixture of blue, green, and yellow, but my ignorance of their nationality was dispelled by a general exclamation, "The Brazilian ensign!"

"There you are! Am I not right?" said my father.

"Yes," replied Uncle Herbert, who was studying the group on the bridge through a glass. "And see that fellow by the chart-house door, the second from the end? I would know him anywhere in spite of his brass-bound togs. It's our old acquaintance, alias James Ticket, right enough. But see him scowl!"

"They're signalling, sir," said Lord, the quartermaster, as a string, of bunting fluttered up from her bridge.

"International code: 'I want to communicate,'" reported the bos'n.

"Reply in the negative," repeated my father; "and give my compliments to the Editor of the Yachtsman's Fortnightly."

The motor throbbed, and the "Fortuna," gathering way, showed her stern to the Brazilian yacht, the crew of which were dividing their attention between the vessel that had baulked their enterprise and the gaunt outlines of the hulk of the "San Philipo," as, raised on the summit of the reef, she stood out boldly against the cliffs of the treasure island.

In another hour we had caught a favouring breeze, and the scene of our many and varied adventures had disappeared beneath the horizon. The "Fortuna" was homeward bound.
* * * * *

Little remains to be said concerning the "San Philipo" treasure. The "Fortuna" had a long, though pleasant, passage home, Dr. Conolly leaving the yacht at Singapore, where he received a cablegram from London offering him his long-desired post as medical officer on a liner.

Yadillah took his discharge at Suez, and, with a fair share of the spoils, announced his intention of setting up as a bumboatman at that port.

Eighteen months after our departure the "Fortuna" entered Fowey Harbour, where an enthusiastic welcome awaited us.

Once more we were back in our home at Polruan, Alec Johnston remaining as a trusted servant. The rest of the crew of the "Fortuna" have scattered far and wide, but we frequently hear from most of them, while the bos'n and the quartermaster, who have bought pretty little cottages near Falmouth, often pay us a welcome visit.

The proceeds of the residue of the treasure have been judiciously invested, and the only thing that apparently troubles my father is the importunities of the Inland Revenue authorities.

One link serves to remind me forcibly of the past. Over the door of the now rebuilt summer-house that had played an important part in this story is fixed the huge graven image which we had brought from the treasure island; and I never look at it without vividly recalling the terrifying ordeal I underwent when lying bound and helpless before the figure-head of the "San Philipo."

The End


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