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- Jack Tier or The Florida Reef - 70/93 -
within a yard of the door of the house, where they paused, enabling those within not only to see their persons and the working of their countenances, but to hear all that was said; this last the more especially, since Spike never thought it necessary to keep his powerful voice within moderate limits.
"It's hardly worth while, Don Wan, for you to go into the light-house," said Spike. "'T is but a greasy, dirty place at the best, and one's clothes are never the better for dealin' with ile. Here, Bill, take the lantern, and get a filled can, that we may go up and trim and fill the lamp, and make a blaze. Bear a hand, lads, and I'll be a'ter ye afore you reach the lantern. Be careful with the flame about the ile, for seamen ought never to wish to see a lighthouse destroyed."
"What do you expect to gain by lighting the lamps above, Don Esteban?" demanded the Mexican, when the sailors had disappeared in the light-house, taking their own lantern with them.
"It's wisest to keep things reg'lar about this spot, Don Wan, which will prevent unnecessary suspicions. But, as the brig stretches in toward the reef to-night, on our way back, the light will be a great assistance. I am short of officers, you know, and want all the help of this sort I can get."
"To be sincere with you, Don Esteban, I greatly regret you _are_ so short of officers, and do not yet despair of inducing you to go and take off the mate, whom I hear you have left on a barren rock. He was a fine young fellow, Seņor Spike, and the deed was not one that you will wish to remember a few years hence."
"The fellow run, and I took him at his word, Don Wan. I'm not obliged to receive back a deserter unless it suits me."
"We are all obliged to see we do not cause a fellow creature the loss of life. This will prove the death of the charming young woman who is so much attached to him, unless you relent and are merciful!"
"Women have tender looks but tough hearts," answered Spike, carelessly, though Mulford felt certain, by the tone of his voice, that great bitterness of feeling lay smothered beneath the affected indifference of his manner; "few die of love."
"The young lady has not been on deck all day; and the Irish woman tells me that she does nothing but drink water--the certain proof of a high fever."
"Ay, ay, she keeps her room if you will, Don Wan, but she is not about to make a dupe of me by any such tricks. I must go and look to the lamps, however, and you will find the graves you seek in the rear of this house, about thirty yards behind it, you'll remember. That's a very pretty cross you've made, seņor, and the skipper of the schooner's soul will be all the better for settin' it up at the head of his grave."
"It will serve to let those who come after us know that a Christian sleeps beneath the sand, Don Esteban," answered the Mexican, mildly. "I have no other expectation from this sacred symbol."
The two now separated, Spike going into the light-house, little in a hurry, while Don Juan Montefalderon walked round the building to its rear in quest of the grave. Mulford waited a moment for Spike to get a short distance up the stairs of the high tower he had to ascend, when placing the arm of Rose within his own, he opened the door in the rear of the house, and walked boldly toward the Mexican. Don Juan was actually forcing the pointed end of his little cross into the sand, at the head of his countryman's grave, when Mulford and his trembling companion reached the spot. Although night had shut in, it was not so dark that persons could not be recognised at small distances. The Seņor Montefalderon was startled at an apparition so sudden and unexpected, when Mulford saluted him by name; but recognising first the voice of Harry, and then the persons of himself and his companion, surprise, rather than alarm, became the emotion that was uppermost. Notwithstanding the strength of the first of these feelings, he instantly saluted the young couple with the polished ease that marked his manner, which had much of the courtesy of a Castilian in it, tempered a little, perhaps, by the greater flexibility of a Southern American.
"I _see_ you," exclaimed Don Juan, "and must believe my eyes. Without their evidence, however, I could scarce believe it can be you two, one of whom I thought on board the brig, and the other suffering a most miserable death on a naked rock."
"I am aware of your kind feelings in our behalf, Don Juan," said Mulford, "and it is the reason I now confide in you. I was taken off that rock by means of the boat, which you doubtless have missed; and this is the gentle being who has been the means of saving my life. To her and Jack Tier, who is yonder, under the shadows of the house, I owe my not being the victim of Spike's cruelty."
"I now comprehend the whole matter, Don Henriquez. Jack Tier has managed the boat for the seņorita; and those whom we were told were too ill to be seen on deck, have been really out of the brig!"
"Such are the facts, seņor, and from _you_ there is no wish to conceal them. We are then to understand that the absence of Rose and Jack from the brig is not known to Spike."
"I believe not, seņor. He has alluded to both, once or twice to-day, as being ill below; but would you not do well to retire within the shade of the dwelling, lest a glance from the lantern might let those in it know that I am not alone."
"There is little danger, Don Juan, as they who stand near a light cannot well see those who are in the darkness. Beside, they are high in the air, while we are on the ground, which will greatly add to the obscurity down here. We can retire, nevertheless, as I have a few questions to ask, which may as well be put in perfect security, as put where there is any risk."
The three now drew near the house, Rose actually stepping within its door, though Harry remained on its exterior, in order to watch the proceedings of those in the light-house. Here the Seņor Montefalderon entered into a more detailed explanation of what had occurred on board the brig, since the appearance of day, that very morning. According to his account of the matter, Spike had immediately called upon the people to explain the loss of the boat. Tier was not interrogated on this occasion, it being understood he had gone below and turned in, after having the look-out for fully half the night. As no one could, or would, give an account of the manner in which the boat was missing, Josh was ordered to go below and question Jack on the subject. Whether it was from consciousness of his connection with the escape of Jack, and apprehensions of the consequences, or from innate good-nature, and a desire to befriend the lovers, this black now admitted that Jack confessed to him that the boat had got away from him while endeavouring to shift the turns of its painter from a cleet where they ought not to be, to their proper place. This occurred early in Jack's watch, according to Josh's story, and had not been reported, as the boat did not properly belong to the brig, and was an incumbrance rather than an advantage. The mate admired the negro's cunning, as Don Juan related this part of his story, which put him in a situation to throw all the blame on Jack's mendacity in the event of a discovery, while it had the effect to allow the fugitives more time for their escape. The result was, that Spike bestowed a few hearty curses, as usual, on the clumsiness of Jack Tier, and seemed to forget all about the matter. It is probable he connected Jack's abstaining from showing himself on deck, and his alleged indisposition, with his supposed delinquency in this matter of the boat. From that moment the captain appeared to give himself no further concern on the subject, the boat having been, in truth, an incumbrance rather than a benefit, as stated.
As for Rose, her keeping her room, under the circumstances, was so very natural, that the Seņor Montefalderon had been completely deceived, as, from his tranquillity on this point, there was no question was the case with Spike also. Biddy appeared on deck, though the widow did not, and the Irish woman shook her head anxiously when questioned about her young mistress, giving the spectators reason to suppose that the latter was in a very bad way.
As respects the brig and her movements, Spike had got under way as soon as there was light enough to find his course, and had run through the passage. It is probable that the boat was seen; for something that was taken for a small sail had just been made out for a single instant, and then became lost again. This little sail was made, if made at all, in the direction of the Dry Tortugas, but so completely was all suspicion at rest in the minds of those on the quarter-deck of the Swash, that neither Spike nor the Mexican had the least idea what it was. When the circumstance was reported to the former, he answered that it was probably some small wrecker, of which many were hovering about the reef, and added, laughingly, though in a way to prove how little he thought seriously on the subject at all, "who knows but the light-house boat has fallen into their hands, and that they've made sail on _her;_ if they have, my word for it, that she goes, hull, spars, rigging, canvas, and cargo, all in a lump, for salvage."
As the brig came out of the passage, in broad day, the heads of the schooner's masts were seen, as a matter of course. This induced Spike to heave-to, lower a boat, and to go in person to examine the condition of the wreck. It will be seen that Jack's presence could now be all the better dispensed with. The examination, with the soundings, and other calculations connected with raising the vessel, occupied hours. When they were completed, Spike returned on board, run up his boat, and squared away for the Dry Tortugas. Seņor Montefalderon confirmed the justice of Jack Tier's surmises, as to the object of this unexpected visit. The brig had come solely for the chain and anchor mentioned, and having secured them, it was Spike's intention to get under way and beat up to the wreck again as soon as the moon rose. As for the sloop-of-war, he believed she had given him up; for by this time she must know that she had no chance with the brig, so long as the latter kept near the reef, and that she ran the constant hazard of shipwreck, while playing so near the dangers herself.
Before the Seņor Montefalderon exhausted all he had to communicate, he was interrupted by Jack Tier with a singular proposition. Jack's great desire was to get on board the Swash; and he now begged the Mexican to let Mulford take the yawl and scull him off to the brig, and return to the islet before Spike and his companions should descend from the lantern of the light-house. The little fellow insisted there was sufficient time for such a purpose, as the three in the lantern had not yet succeeded in filling the lamps with the oil necessary to their burning for a night--a duty that usually occupied the regular keeper for an hour. Five or six minutes would suffice for him; and if he were seen going up the brig's side, it would be easy for him to maintain that he had come ashore in the boat. No one took such precise note of what was going on; as to be
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