Part 3 out of 7
You can leave out all the loving and confidential parts, but give us his
explanations. I never was so anxious to know anything in all my life."
"I will read you the whole of it," said Edna. "Here, Ralph."
Her brother came running up. "That man is in an awful hurry to get away,"
he said. "We ought to go up to the caves and get our things."
"Stay just where you are," said Mrs. Cliff. "Before we do anything
else, we must know what Captain Horn intends to do, and what he wants
us to do."
"That's so!" cried Ralph, suddenly remembering his guardianship. "We
ought to know what he says about leaving that mound. Read away, Edna."
The three stood at some little distance from the sailors, who were now
talking with Cheditafa, and Edna read the letter aloud:
"Lima, May 14, 1884.
"MY DEAR WIFE: I reached this city about ten days ago. When I left you
all I did not sail down the coast, but stood directly out to sea. My
object was to reach a shipping-port, and to do this my best plan was to
get into the track of coasting-vessels. This plan worked well, and in
three days we were picked up by a Mexican guano brig, and were taken to
Callao, which is the port of Lima. We all arrived in good health and
"This letter will be brought to you by the bark Mary Bartlett, which
vessel I have engaged to stop for you, and take you and the whole party
to Acapulco, which is the port of the City of Mexico, from which place I
advise you to go as soon as possible to San Francisco. I have paid the
passage of all of you to Acapulco, and I inclose a draft for one thousand
dollars for your expenses. I would advise you to go to the Palmetto
Hotel, which is a good family house, and I will write to you there and
send another draft. In fact, I expect you will find my letter when you
arrive, for the mail-steamer will probably reach San Francisco before you
do. Please write to me as soon as you get there, and address me here,
care of Nasco, Parmley & Co."
An exclamation of impatience here escaped from Mrs. Cliff. In her
opinion, the reasons for the non-appearance of the captain should, have
been the first thing in the letter.
"When I reached Lima, which is six miles from Callao," the letter
continued, "I disposed of some of the property I brought with me, and
expect to sell it all before long. Being known as a Californian, I find
no difficulty in disposing of my property, which is in demand here, and
in a very short time I shall have turned the whole of it into drafts or
cash. There is a vessel expected here shortly which I shall be able to
charter, and as soon as I can do so I shall sail in her to attend to the
disposition of the rest of my property. I shall write as frequently as
possible, and keep you informed of my operations.
"Of course, you understand that I could not go on the Mary Bartlett to
join you and accompany you to Acapulco, for that would have involved too
great a loss of time. My business must be attended to without delay, and
I can get the vessel I want here.
"The people of the _Mary Bartlett_ will not want to wait any longer than
can be helped, so you would all better get your baggage together as soon
as possible and go on board. The two negroes will bring down your
baggage, so there will be no need for any of the sailors to go up to the
caves. Tell Ralph not to forget the charge I gave him if they do go up.
When you have taken away your clothes, you can leave just as they are the
cooking-utensils, the blankets, and _everything else._ I will write to
you much more fully by mail. Cannot do so now. I hope you may all have a
quick and safe voyage, and that I may hear from you immediately after you
reach Acapulco. I hope most earnestly that you have all kept well, and
that no misfortune has happened to any of you. I shall wait with anxiety
your letter from Acapulco. Let Ralph write and make his report. I will
ask you to stay in San Francisco until more letters have passed and plans
are arranged. Until further notice, please give Mrs. Cliff one fourth of
all moneys I send. I cannot insist, of course, upon her staying in San
Francisco, but I would advise her to do so until things are more settled.
"In haste, your husband,
"Upon my word!" ejaculated Mrs. Cliff, "a most remarkable letter! It
might have been written to a clerk! No one would suppose it the first
letter of a man to his bride! Excuse me, Edna, for speaking so plainly,
but I must say I am shocked. He is very particular to call you his wife
and say he is your husband, and in that way he makes the letter a
valuable piece of testimony if he never turns up, but--well, no matter."
"He is mighty careful," said Ralph, "not to say anything about the gold.
He speaks of his property as if it might be Panama stock or something
like that. He is awfully wary."
"You see," said Edna, speaking in a low voice, "this letter was sent by
private hands, and by people who were coming to the spot where his
property is, and, of course, it would not do to say anything that would
give any hint of the treasure here. When he writes by mail, he can speak
"I hope he may speak more plainly in another way," said Mrs. Cliff. "And
now let us go up and get our things together. I am a good deal more
amazed by the letter than I was by the ship."
"Ralph," said Edna, as they were hurrying up to the caves, "you must do
everything you can to keep those sailors from wandering into the lake
basin. They are very different from the negroes, and will want to explore
every part of it."
"Oh, I have thought of all that," said Ralph, "and I am now going to run
ahead and smash the lantern. They won't be so likely to go poking around
in the dark."
"But they may have candles or matches," said Edna. "We must try to keep
them out of the big cave."
Ralph did not stop to answer, but ran as fast as his legs would carry him
to the plateau. The rest of the party followed, Edna first, then the
negroes, and after them Mrs. Cliff, who could not imagine why Edna should
be in such a hurry. The sailors, having secured their boat, came
straggling after the rest.
When Edna reached the entrance to the caves, she was met by her brother,
so much out of breath that he could hardly speak.
"You needn't go to your room to get your things," he exclaimed. "I have
gathered them all up, your bag, too, and I have tumbled them over the
wall in the entrance back here. You must get over as quick as you can.
That will be your room now, and I will tell the sailors, if they go
poking around, that you are in there getting ready to leave, and then, of
course, they can't pass along the passage."
"That is a fine idea," said Edna, as she followed him. "You are getting
very sharp-witted, Ralph."
"Now, then," said he, as he helped her over the wall, "take just as long
as you can to get your things ready."
"It can't take me very long," said Edna. "I have no clothes to change,
and only a few things to put in my bag. I don't believe you have got them
"But you must make it take a long time," said he. "You must not get
through until every sailor has gone. You and I must be the last ones to
leave the caves."
"All right," said Edna, as she disappeared behind the wall.
When Mrs. Cliff arrived, she was met by Ralph, who explained the state of
affairs, and although that lady was a good deal annoyed at the scattered
condition in which she found her effects, she accepted the situation.
The mate and his men were much interested in the caves and the great
stone face, and, as might have been expected, every one of them wanted to
know where the narrow passage led. But as Ralph was on hand to inform
them that it was the entrance to Mrs. Horn's apartment, they could do no
more than look along its dusky length, and perhaps wonder why Mrs. Horn
should have selected a cave which must be dark, when there were others
which were well lighted.
Mrs. Cliff was soon ready, and explained to the inquiring mate her
notion that these caves were used for religious purposes, and that
the stone face was an ancient idol. In fact, the good lady believed
this, but she did not state that she thought it likely that the
sculptured countenance was a sort of a cashier idol, whose duty it
was to protect treasure.
Edna, behind the stone barrier, had put her things in her bag, though she
was not sure she had found all of them in the gloom, and she waited a
long time, so it seemed to her, for Ralph's summons to come forth. But
although the boy came to the wall several times, ostensibly to ask if she
were not ready, yet he really told her to stay where she was, for the
sailors were not yet gone. But at last he came with the welcome news that
every one had departed, and they soon came out into the daylight.
"If anything is lost, charge it to me," said Ralph to Mrs. Cliff and his
sister, as they hurried away. "I can tell you, if I had not thought of
that way of keeping those sailors out of the passage, they would have
swarmed over that lake bed, each one of them with a box of matches in his
pocket; and if they had found that mound, I wouldn't give two cents for
the gold they would have left in it. It wouldn't have been of any use to
tell them it was the captain's property. They would have been there, and
he wasn't, and I expect the mate would have been as bad as any of them."
"You are a good fellow, Ralph," said Mrs. Cliff, "and I hope you will
grow up to be an administrator, or something of the kind. I don't
suppose there was ever another boy in the world who had so much wealth
"You can't imagine," exclaimed Ralph, "how I hate to go away and leave
it! There is no knowing when the captain will get here, nor who will drop
in on the place before he does. I tell you, Edna, I believe it would be a
good plan for me to stay here with those two black fellows, and wait for
the captain. You two could go on the ship, and write to him. I am sure he
would be glad to know I am keeping guard here, and I don't know any
better fun than to be on hand when he unearths the treasure. There's no
knowing what is at the bottom of that mound."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Edna. "You can put that idea out of your head
instantly. I would not think of going away and leaving you here. If the
captain had wanted you to stay, he would have said so."
"If the captain wanted!" sarcastically exclaimed Ralph. "I am tired of
hearing what the captain wants. I hope the time will soon come when those
yellow bars of gold will be divided up, and then I can do what I like
without considering what he likes."
Mrs. Cliff could not help a sigh. "Dear me!" said she, "I do most
earnestly hope that time may come. But we are leaving it all behind us,
and whether we will ever hear of it again nobody knows."
One hour after this Edna and Mrs. Cliff were standing on the deck of the
Mary Bartlett, watching the plateau of the great stone face as it slowly
sank into the horizon.
"Edna," said the elder lady, "I have liked you ever since I have known
you, and I expect to like you as long as I live, but I must say that, for
an intelligent person, you have the most colorless character I have ever
seen. Whatever comes to pass, you receive it as quietly and calmly as if
it were just what you expected and what you happened to want, and yet, as
long as I have known you, you have not had anything you wanted."
"You are mistaken there," said Edna. "I have got something I want."
"And what may that be?" asked the other.
"Captain Horn," said Edna.
Mrs. Cliff laughed a little scornfully. "If you are ever going to get any
color out of your possession of him," she said, "he's got to very much
change the style of his letter-writing. He has given you his name and
some of his money, and may give you more, but I must say I am very much
disappointed in Captain Horn."
Edna turned suddenly upon her companion. "Color!" she exclaimed, but she
did not finish her remark, for Ralph came running aft.
"A queer thing has happened," said he: "a sailor is missing, and he is
one of the men who went on shore for us. They don't know what's become of
him, for the mate is sure he brought all his men back with him, and so am
I, for I counted them to see that there were no stragglers left, and all
the people who were in that boat came on board. They think he may have
fallen overboard after the ship sailed, but nobody heard a splash."
"Poor fellow!" exclaimed Mrs. Cliff, "and he was one of those who came
to save us!"
At this moment a wet and bedraggled sailor, almost exhausted with a swim
of nearly a mile, staggered upon the beach, and fell down upon the sand
near the spot from which the Mary Bartlett's boat had recently been
pushed off. When, an hour before, he had slipped down the side of the
ship, he had swum under water as long as his breath held out, and had
dived again as soon as he had filled his lungs. Then he had floated on
his back, paddling along with little but his face above the surface of
the waves, until he had thought it safe to turn over and strike out for
land. It had been a long pull, and the surf had treated him badly, but he
was safe on shore at last, and in a few minutes he was sound asleep,
stretched upon the sand.
Toward the end of the afternoon he awoke and rose to his feet. The warm
sand, the desiccating air, and the sun had dried his clothes, and his nap
had refreshed him. He was a sharp-faced, quick-eyed man, a Scotchman, and
the first thing he did was to shade his face with his hands and look out
over the sea. Then he turned, with a shrug of his shoulders and a grunt.
"She's gone," said he, "and I will be up to them caves." After a dozen
steps he gave another shrug. "Humph!" said he, "those fools! Do they
think everybody is blind? They left victuals, they left cooking-things.
Blasted careful they were to leave matches and candles in a tin box. I
watched them. If everybody else was blind, I kenned they expected
somebody was comin' back. That captain, that blasted captain, I'll wager!
Wi' sae much business on his hands, he couldna sail wi' us to show us
where his wife was stranded!"
For fifty yards more he plodded along, looking from side to side at the
rocks and sand.
"A dreary place and lonely," thought he, "and I can peer out things at me
ease. I'll find out what's at the end o' that dark alley. They were so
fearsome that we'd go into her room. Her room, indeed! When the other
woman had a big lighted cave! They expected somebody to come back, did
they? Well, blast their eyes, he's here!"
AT THE RACKBIRDS' COVE
It was about six weeks after the _Mary Bartlett_ had sailed away from
that desolate spot on the coast of Peru from which she had taken the
shipwrecked party, that the great stone face might have seen, if its
wide-open eyes had been capable of vision, a small schooner beating in
toward shore. This vessel, which was manned by a Chilian captain, a
mate, and four men, and was a somewhat dirty and altogether disagreeable
craft, carried Captain Horn, his four negroes, and three hundred and
thirty bags of guano.
In good truth the captain was coming back to get the gold, or as much of
it as he could take away with him. But his apparent purpose was to
establish on this desert coast a depot for which he would have nothing to
pay for rent and storage, and where he would be able to deposit, from
time to time, such guano as he had been able to purchase at a bargain at
two of the guano islands, until he should have enough to make it worth
while for a large vessel, trading with the United States or Mexico, to
touch here and take on board his accumulated stock of odorous
It would be difficult--in fact, almost impossible--to land a cargo at
the point near the caves where the captain and his party first ran their
boats ashore, nor did the captain in the least desire to establish his
depot at a point so dangerously near the golden object of his
undertaking. But the little bay which had been the harbor of the
Rackbirds exactly suited his purpose, and here it was that he intended to
land his bags of guano. He had brought with him on the vessel suitable
timber with which to build a small pier, and he carried also a lighter,
or a big scow, in which the cargo would be conveyed from the anchored
schooner to the pier.
It seemed quite evident that the captain intended to establish himself in
a somewhat permanent manner as a trader in guano. He had a small tent and
a good stock of provisions, and, from the way he went to work and set his
men to work, it was easy to see that he had thoroughly planned and
arranged all the details of his enterprise.
It was nearly dark when the schooner dropped her anchor, and early the
next morning all available hands were set to work to build the pier, and,
when it was finished, the landing of the cargo was immediately begun.
Some of the sailors wandered about a little, when they had odd moments to
spare, but they had seen such dreary coasts before, and would rather rest
than ramble. But wherever they did happen to go, not one of them ever got
away from the eye of Captain Horn.
The negroes evinced no desire to visit the cave, and Maka had been
ordered by the captain to say nothing about it to the sailors. There was
no difficulty in obeying this order, for these rough fellows, as much
landsmen as mariners, had a great contempt for the black men, and had
little to do with them. As Captain Horn informed Maka, he had heard from
his friends, who had arrived in safety at Acapulco; therefore there was
no need for wasting time in visiting their old habitation.
In that dry and rainless region a roof to cover the captain's stock in
trade was not necessary, and the bags were placed upon a level spot on
the sands, in long double rows, each bag on end, gently leaning
against its opposite neighbor, and between the double rows there was
room to walk.
The Chilian captain was greatly pleased with this arrangement. "I see
well," said he, in bad Spanish, "that this business is not new to you. A
ship's crew can land and carry away these bags without tumbling over each
other. It is a grand thing to have a storehouse with a floor as wide as
A portion of the bags, however, were arranged in a different manner. They
were placed in a circle two bags deep, inclosing a space about ten feet
in diameter. This, Captain Horn explained, he intended as a sort of
little fort, in which the man left in charge could defend himself and the
property, in case marauders should land upon the coast.
"You don't intend," exclaimed the Chilian captain, "that you will leave a
guard here! Nobody would have cause to come near the spot from either
land or sea, and you might well leave your guano here for a year or more,
and come back and find it."
"No," said Captain Horn, "I can't trust to that. A coasting-vessel might
put in here for water. Some of them may know that there is a stream
here, and with this convenient pier, and a cargo ready to their hands, my
guano would be in danger. No, sir. I intend to send you off to-morrow, if
the wind is favorable, for the second cargo for which we have contracted,
and I shall stay here and guard my warehouse."
"What!" exclaimed the Chilian, "alone?"
"Why not?" said Captain Horn. "Our force is small, and we can only spare
one man. In loading the schooner on this trip, I would be the least
useful man on board, and, besides, do you think there is any one among
you who would volunteer to stay here instead of me?"
The Chilian laughed and shook his head. "But what can one man do," said
he, "to defend all this, if there should be need?"
"Oh, I don't intend to defend it," said the other. "The point is to have
somebody here to claim it in case a coaster should touch here. I don't
expect to be murdered for the sake of a lot of guano. But I shall keep my
two rifles and other arms inside that little fort, and if I should see
any signs of rascality I shall jump inside and talk over the guano-bags,
and I am a good shot."
The Chilian shrugged his shoulders. "If I stayed here alone," said he, "I
should be afraid of nothing but the devil, and I am sure he would come to
me, with all his angels. But you are different from me."
"Yes," said Captain Horn, "I don't mind the devil. I have often camped
out by myself, and I have not seen him yet."
When Maka heard that the captain intended staying alone, he was greatly
disturbed. If the captain had not built the little fort with the
guano-bags, he would have begged to be allowed to remain with him, but
those defensive works had greatly alarmed him, for they made him believe
that the captain feared that some of the Rackbirds might come back. He
had had a great deal of talk with the other negroes about those bandits,
and he was fully impressed with their capacity for atrocity. It grieved
his soul to think that the captain would stay here alone, but the captain
was a man who could defend himself against half a dozen Rackbirds, while
he knew very well that he would not be a match for half a one. With tears
in his eyes, he begged Captain Horn not to stay, for Rackbirds would not
steal guano, even if any of them should return.
But his entreaties were of no avail. Captain Horn explained the matter to
him, and tried to make him understand that it was as a claimant, more
than as a defender of his property, that he remained, and that there was
not the smallest reason to suspect any Rackbirds or other source of
danger. The negro saw that the captain had made up his mind, and
mournfully joined his fellows. In half an hour, however, he came back to
the captain and offered to stay with him until the schooner should
return. If Captain Horn had known the terrible mental struggle which had
preceded this offer, he would have been more grateful to Maka than he had
ever yet been to any human being, but he did not know it, and declined
the proposition pleasantly but firmly.
"You are wanted on the schooner," said he, "for none of the rest can
cook, and you are not wanted here, so you must go with the others; and
when you come back with the second load of guano, it will not be long
before the ship which I have engaged to take away the guano will touch
here, and then we will all go north together."
Maka smiled, and tried to be satisfied. He and the other negroes had been
greatly grieved that the captain had not seen fit to go north from
Callao, and take them with him. Their one desire was to get away from
this region, so full of horrors to them, as soon as possible. But they
had come to the conclusion that, as the captain had lost his ship, he
must be poor, and that it was necessary for him to make a little money
before he returned to the land of his home.
Fortune was on the captain's side the next day, for the wind was
favorable, and the captain of the schooner was very willing to start. If
that crew, with nothing to do, had been compelled by adverse weather to
remain in that little cove for a day or more, it might have been very
difficult indeed for Captain Horn to prevent them from wandering into the
surrounding country, and what might have happened had they chanced to
wander into the cave made the captain shudder to conjecture.
He had carefully considered this danger, and on the voyage he had made
several plans by which he could keep the men at work, in case they were
obliged to remain in the cove after the cargo had been landed. Happily,
however, none of these schemes was necessary, and the next day, with a
western wind, and at the beginning of the ebb-tide, the schooner sailed
away for another island where Captain Horn had purchased guano, leaving
him alone upon the sandy beach, apparently as calm and cool as usual, but
actually filled with turbulent delight at seeing them depart.
IN THE GATES
When the topmasts of the Chilian schooner had disappeared below the
horizon line, with no reason to suppose that the schooner would put back
again, Captain Horn started for the caves. Had he obeyed his instincts,
he would have begun to stroll along the beach as soon as the vessel had
weighed anchor. But even now, as he hurried on, he walked prudently,
keeping close to the water, so that the surf might wash out his footsteps
as fast as he made them. He climbed over the two ridges to the north of
Rackbirds' Cove, and then made his way along the stretch of sand which
extended to the spot where the party had landed when he first reached
this coast. He stopped and looked about him, and then, in fancy, he saw
Edna standing upon the beach, her face pale, her eyes large and
supernaturally dark, and behind her Mrs. Cliff and the boy and the two
negroes. Not until this moment had he felt that he was alone. But now
there came a great desire to speak and be spoken to, and yet that very
morning he had spoken and listened as much as had suited him.
As he walked up the rising ground toward the caves, that ground he had
traversed so often when this place had been, to all intents and purposes,
his home, where there had been voices and movement and life, the sense of
desertion grew upon him--not only desertion of the place, but of himself.
When he had opened his eyes, that morning, his overpowering desire had
been that not an hour of daylight should pass before he should be left
alone, and yet now his heart sank at the feeling that he was here and no
one was with him.
When the captain had approached within a few yards of the great stone
face, his brows were slowly knitted.
"This is carelessness," he said to himself. "I did not expect it of
them. I told them to leave the utensils, but I did not suppose that
they would leave them outside. No matter how much they were hurried in
going away, they should have put these things into the caves. A passing
Indian might have been afraid to go into that dark hole, but to leave
those tin things there is the same as hanging out a sign to show that
people lived inside."
Instantly the captain gathered up the tin pan and tin plates, and looked
about him to see if there was anything else which should be put out of
sight. He did find something else. It was a little, short, black, wooden
pipe which was lying on a stone. He picked it up in surprise. Neither
Maka nor Cheditafa smoked, and it could not have belonged to the boy.
"Perhaps," thought the captain, "one of the sailors from the _Mary
Bartlett_ may have left it. Yes, that must have been the case. But
sailors do not often leave their pipes behind them, nor should the
officer in charge have allowed them to lounge about and smoke. But it
must have been one of those sailors who left it here. I am glad I am the
one to find these things."
The captain now entered the opening to the caves. Passing along until he
reached the room which he had once occupied, there he saw his rough
pallet on the ground, drawn close to the door, however.
The captain knew that the rest of his party had gone away in a great
hurry, but to his orderly mariner's mind it seemed strange that they
should have left things in such disorder.
He could not stop to consider these trifles now, however, and going to
the end of the passage, he climbed over the low wall and entered the cave
of the lake. When he lighted the lantern he had brought with him, he saw
it as he had left it, dry, or even drier than before, for the few pools
which had remained after the main body of water had run off had
disappeared, probably evaporated. He hurried on toward the mound in the
distant recess of the cave. On the way, his foot struck something which
rattled, and holding down his lantern to see what it was, he perceived an
old tin cup.
"Confound it!" he exclaimed. "This is too careless! Did the boy intend to
make a regular trail from the outside entrance to the mound? I suppose he
brought that cup here to dip up water, and forgot it. I must take it with
me when I go back."
He went on, throwing the light of the lantern on the ground before him,
for he had now reached a part of the cave which was entirely dark.
Suddenly something on the ground attracted his attention. It was
bright--it shone as if it were a little pale flame of a candle. He
sprang toward it, he picked it up. It was one of the bars of gold he had
seen in the mound.
"Could I have dropped this?" he ejaculated. He slipped the little bar
into his pocket, and then, his heart beginning to beat rapidly, he
advanced, with his lantern close to the rocky floor. Presently he saw two
other pieces of gold, and then, a little farther on, the end of a candle,
so small that it could scarcely have been held by the fingers. He picked
up this and stared at it. It was a commonplace candle-end, but the sight
of it sent a chill through him from head to foot. It must have been
dropped by some one who could hold it no longer.
He pressed on, his light still sweeping the floor. He found no more gold
nor pieces of candle, but here and there he perceived the ends of burnt
wooden matches. Going on, he found more matches, two or three with the
heads broken off and unburnt. In a few moments the mound loomed up out of
the darkness like a spectral dome, and, looking no more upon the ground,
the captain ran toward it. By means of the stony projections he quickly
mounted to the top, and there the sight he saw almost made him drop his
lantern. The great lid of the mound had been moved and was now awry,
leaving about one half of the opening exposed.
In one great gasp the captain's breath seemed to leave him, but he was a
man of strong nerves, and quickly recovered himself; but even then he did
not lift his lantern so that he could look into the interior of the
mound. For a few moments he shut his eyes. He did not dare even to look.
But then his courage came back, and holding his lantern over the opening,
he gazed down into the mound, and it seemed to his rapid glance that
there was as much gold in it as when he last saw it.
The discovery that the treasure was still there had almost as much effect
upon the captain as if he had found the mound empty. He grew so faint
that he felt he could not maintain his hold upon the top of the mound,
and quickly descended, half sliding, to the bottom. There he sat down,
his lantern by his side. When his strength came back to him,--and he
could not have told any one how long it was before this happened,--the
first thing he did was to feel for his box of matches, and finding them
safe in his waistcoat pocket, he extinguished the lantern. He must not be
discovered, if there should be any one to discover him.
Now the captain began to think as fiercely and rapidly as a man's mind
could be made to work. Some one had been there. Some one had taken away
gold from that mound--how much or how little, it did not matter. Some one
besides himself had had access to the treasure!
His suspicions fell upon Ralph, chiefly because his most earnest desire
at that moment was that Ralph might be the offender. If he could have
believed that he would have been happy. It must have been that the boy
was not willing to go away and leave all that gold, feeling that perhaps
he and his sister might never possess any of it, and that just before
leaving he had made a hurried visit to the mound. But the more the
captain thought of this, the less probable it became. He was almost sure
that Ralph could not have lifted that great mass of stone which formed
the lid covering the opening of the mound, for it had required all his
own strength to do it; and then, if anything of this sort had really
happened, the letters he had received from Edna and the boy must have
been most carefully written with the intention to deceive him.
[Illustration: Holding his lantern over the opening he gazed down into
The letter from Edna, which in tone and style was a close imitation of
his own to her, had been a strictly business communication. It told
everything which happened after the arrival of the Mary Bartlett, and
gave him no reason to suppose that any one could have had a chance to
pillage the mound. Ralph's letter had been even more definite. It was
constructed like an official report, and when the captain had read it, he
had thought that the boy had probably taken great pride in its
preparation. It was as guardian of the treasure mound that Ralph wrote,
and his remarks were almost entirely confined to this important trust.
He briefly reported to the captain that, since his departure, no one had
been in the recess of the cave where the mound was situated, and he
described in detail the plan by which he had established Edna behind the
wall in the passage, so as to prevent any of the sailors from the ship
from making explorations. He also stated that everything had been left in
as high a condition of safety as it was possible to leave it, but that,
if his sister had been willing, he would most certainly have remained
behind, with the two negroes, until the captain's return.
Much as he wished to think otherwise, Captain Horn could not prevail upon
himself to believe that Ralph could have written such a letter after a
dishonorable and reckless visit to the mound.
It was possible that one or both of the negroes had discovered the
mound, but it was difficult to believe that they would have dared to
venture into that awful cavern, even if the vigilance of Edna, Mrs.
Cliff, and the boy had given them an opportunity, and Edna had written
that the two men had always slept outside the caves, and had had no call
to enter them. Furthermore, if Cheditafa had found the treasure, why
should he keep it a secret? He would most probably have considered it an
original discovery, and would have spoken of it to the others. Why
should he be willing that they should all go away and leave so much
wealth behind them? The chief danger, in case Cheditafa had found the
treasure, was that he would talk about it in Mexico or the United
States. But, in spite of the hazards to which such disclosures might
expose his fortunes, the captain would have preferred that the black men
should have been pilferers than that other men should have been
discoverers. But who else could have discovered it? Who could have been
there? Who could have gone away?
There was but one reasonable supposition, and that was that one or more
of the Rackbirds, who had been away from their camp at the time when
their fellow-miscreants were swept away by the flood, had come back, and
in searching for their comrades, or some traces of them, had made their
way to the caves. It was quite possible, and further it was quite
probable, that the man or men who had found that mound might still be
here or in the neighborhood. As soon as this idea came into the mind of
the captain, he prepared for action. This was a question which must be
resolved if he could do it, and without loss of time. Lighting his
lantern,--for in that black darkness it was impossible for him to find
his way without it, although it might make him a mark for some concealed
foe,--the captain quickly made his way out of the lake cavern, and,
leaving his lantern near the little wall, he proceeded, with a loaded
pistol in his hand, to make an examination of the caves which he and his
party had occupied.
He had already looked into the first compartment, but stopping at the
pallet which lay almost at the passage of the doorway, he stood and
regarded it. Then he stepped over it, and looked around the little
room. The pallet of blankets and rugs which Ralph had used was not
there. Then the captain stepped into the next room, and, to his
surprise, he found this as bare of everything as if it had never been
used as a sleeping-apartment. He now hurried back to the first room,
and examined the pallet, which, when he had first been looking at it,
he had thought to be somewhat different from what it had been when he
had used it. He now found that it was composed of all the rugs and
blankets which had previously made up the beds of all the party. The
captain ground his teeth.
"There can be no doubt of it," he said. "Some one has been here since
they left, and has slept in these caves."
At this moment he remembered the innermost cave, the large compartment
which was roofless, and which, in his excitement, he had forgotten.
Perhaps the man who slept on the pallet was in there at this minute. How
reckless he had been! To what danger he had exposed himself! With his
pistol cocked, the captain advanced cautiously toward the innermost
compartment. Putting his head in at the doorway, he glanced up, down, and
around. He called out, "Who's here?" and then he entered, and looked
around, and behind each of the massive pieces of rock with which the
floor was strewn. No one answered, and he saw no one. But he saw
something which made him stare.
On the ground, at one side of the entrance to this compartment, were five
or six pieces of rock about a foot high, placed in a small circle so that
their tops came near enough together to support a tin kettle which was
resting upon them. Under the kettle, in the centre of the rocks, was a
pile of burnt leaves and sticks.
"Here he has cooked his meals," said the captain--for the pallet made up
of all the others had convinced him that it had been one man who had been
here after his party had left. "He stayed long enough to cook his meals
and sleep," thought the captain. "I'll look into this provision
business." Passing through the other rooms, he went to a deep niche in
the wall of the entrance passage where his party had kept their stores,
and where Edna had written him they had left provisions enough for the
immediate use of himself and the men who should return. Here he found tin
cans tumbled about at the bottom of the niche, and every one of them
absolutely empty. On a little ledge stood a tin box in which they had
kept the matches and candles. The box was open, but there was nothing in
it. On the floor near by was a tin biscuit-box, crushed nearly flat, as
if some one had stamped upon it.
"He has eaten everything that was left," said the captain, "and he has
been starved out. Very likely, too, he got out of water, for, of
course, those pools would dry up, and it is not likely he found the
Now the captain let down the hammer of his revolver, and put it in his
belt. He felt sure that the man was not here. Being out of provisions, he
had to go away, but where he had gone to was useless to conjecture. Of
another thing the captain was now convinced: the intruder had not been a
Rackbird, for, while waiting for the disappearance of the Chilian
schooner, he had gone over to the concealed storehouse of the bandits,
and had found it just as he had left it on his last visit, with a
considerable quantity of stores remaining in it. If the man had known of
the Rackbirds' camp and this storehouse, it would not have been necessary
for him to consume every crumb and vestige of food which had been left in
"No," said the captain, "it could not have been a Rackbird, but who he
was, and where he has gone, is beyond my comprehension."
When Captain Horn felt quite sure that it was not Ralph, that it was not
Cheditafa, that it was not a Rackbird, who had visited the treasure
mound, he stood and reflected. What had happened was a great
misfortune,--possibly it was a great danger,--but it was no use standing
there thinking about it. His reason could not help him; it had done for
him all that it could, and it would be foolish to waste time in looking
for the man, for it was plain enough that he had gone away. Of course, he
had taken some gold with him, but that did not matter much. The danger
was that he or others might come back for more, but this could not be
prevented, and it was needless to consider it. The captain had come to
this deserted shore for a purpose, and it was his duty, without loss of
time, to go to work and carry out that purpose. If in any way he should
be interfered with, he would meet that interference as well as he could,
but until it came he would go on with his work. Having come to this
conclusion, he got over the wall, lighted his lantern, and proceeded to
On his way he passed the tin cup, which he had forgotten to pick up, but
now he merely kicked it out of the way. "If the man comes back," he
thought, "he knows the way. There is no need of concealing anything."
When the captain had reached the top of the mound, he moved the stone lid
so that the aperture was entirely uncovered. Then he looked down upon the
mass of dull yellow bars. He could not perceive any apparent diminution
of their numbers.
"He must have filled his pockets," the captain thought, "and so full that
some of them dropped out. Well, let him go, and if he ventures back here,
we shall have it out between us. In the meantime, I will do what I can."
The captain now took from the pocket of his jacket two small canvas bags,
which he had had made for this purpose, and proceeded to fill one of them
with the gold bars, lifting the bag, every now and then, to try its
weight. When he thought it heavy enough, he tied up the end very firmly,
and then packed the other, as nearly as possible, to the same extent.
Then he got down, and laying one of the bags over each shoulder, he
walked about to see if he could easily bear their weight.
"That is about right," he said to himself. "I will count them when I take
them out." Then, putting them down, he went up for his lantern. He was
about to close the lid of the mound, but he reflected that this would be
of no use. It had been open nobody knew how long, and might as well
remain so. He was coming back as often as he could, and it would be a tax
upon his strength to lift that heavy lid every time. So he left the
treasures of the Incas open to the air under the black roof of the
cavern, and, with his lantern in his hand and a bag of gold on each
shoulder, he left the cave of the lake, and then, concealing his lantern,
he walked down to the sea.
Before he reached it he had thoroughly scanned the ocean, but not a sign
of a ship could be seen. Walking along the sands, and keeping, as
before, close to the curving line of water thrown up by the surf, he
said to himself:
"I must have my eyes and ears open, but I am not going to be nervous or
fidgety. I came here to be a pack-mule, and I intend to be a pack-mule
until something stops me, and if that something is one man, he can look
out for himself."
The bags were heavy and their contents were rough and galling to the
shoulders, but the captain was strong and his muscles were tough, and as
he walked he planned a pair of cushions which he would wear under his
golden epaulets in his future marches.
When the captain had covered the two miles of beach and climbed the two
rocky ridges, and reached his tent, it was long after noon, and throwing
his two bags on the ground and covering them with a blanket, he proceeded
to prepare his dinner. He laid out a complete working-plan, and one of
the rules he had made was that, if possible, nothing should interfere
with his regular meals and hours of sleep. The work he had set for
himself was arduous in the extreme, and calculated to tax his energies to
the utmost, and he must take very good care of his health and strength.
In thinking over the matter, he had feared that the greed of gold might
possess him, and that, in his anxiety to carry away as much as he could,
he might break down, and everything be lost.
Even now he found himself calculating how much gold he had brought away
in the two bags, and what would be its value in coined money, multiplying
and estimating with his food untouched and his eyes fixed on the distant
sea. Suddenly he clenched his fist and struck it on his knee.
"I must stop this," he said. "I shall be upset if I don't. I will not
count the bars in those bags. I will not make any more estimates. A rough
guess now and then I cannot help, but what I have to do is to bring away
all the gold I can. It will be time enough to find out what it is worth
when it is safe somewhere in North America."
When the captain had finished his meal, he went to his tent, and opened
one of the trunks which he had brought with him, and which were supposed
to contain the clothes and personal effects he had bought in Lima. This
trunk, however, was entirely filled with rolls of cheap cotton cloth,
coarse and strong, but not heavy. With a pair of shears he proceeded to
cut from one of these some pieces, rather more than a foot square. Then,
taking from his canvas bags as many of the gold bars as he thought would
weigh twelve or fifteen pounds, trying not to count them as he did so, he
made a little package of them, tying the corners of the cloth together
with a strong cord. When five of these bundles had been prepared, his
gold was exhausted, and then he carried the small bundles out to the
He had bought his guano in bulk, and it had been put into bags under his
own supervision, for it was only in bags that the ship which was to take
it north would receive it. The bags were new and good, and Captain Horn
believed that each of them could be made twelve or fifteen pounds heavier
without attracting the attention of those who might have to lift them,
for they were very heavy as it was.
He now opened a bag of guano, and thrusting a stick down into its
contents, he twisted it about until he had made a cavity which enabled
him, with a little trouble, to thrust one of the packages of gold down
into the centre of the bag. Then he pressed the guano down firmly, and
sewed up the bag again, being provided with needles and an abundance of
necessary cord. When this was done, the bag containing the gold did not
differ in appearance from the others, and the captain again assured
himself that the additional weight would not be noticed by a common
stevedore, especially if all the bags were about the same weight. At this
thought he stopped work and looked out toward the sea, his mind
involuntarily leaping out toward calculations based upon the happy chance
of his being able to load all the bags; but he checked himself. "Stop
that," he said. "Go to work!"
Five guano-bags were packed, each with its bundle of gold, but the task
was a disagreeable, almost a distressing, one, for the strong ammoniacal
odor sometimes almost overpowered the captain, who had a great dislike
for such smells. But he never drew back, except now and then to turn his
head and take a breath of purer air. He was trying to make his fortune,
and when men are doing that, their likes and dislikes must stand aside.
When this task was finished, the captain took up his two empty canvas
bags and went back to the caves, returning late in the afternoon, loaded
rather more heavily than before. From the experiences of the morning, he
believed that, with some folded pieces of cloth on each shoulder, he
could carry without discomfort a greater weight than his first ones. The
gold he now brought was made up into six bundles, and then the captain
rested from his labors. He felt that he could do a much better day's work
than this, but this day had been very much broken up, and he was still
Day after day Captain Horn labored at his new occupation, and a toilsome
occupation it was, which no one who did not possess great powers of
endurance, and great hopes from the results of his work, could have
undergone. In about a month the schooner was to be expected with another
load of guano, and the captain felt that he must, if possible, finish his
task before she came back. In a few days he found that, by practice and
improvements in his system of work, he was able to make four trips a day
between the cove of the Rackbirds and the caves. He rose very early in
the morning, and made two trips before dinner. Sometimes he thought he
might do more, but he restrained himself. It would not do for him to get
back too tired to sleep.
During this time in which his body was so actively employed, his mind was
almost as active, and went out on all sorts of excursions, some of them
beneficial and some of them otherwise. Sometimes the thought came to him,
as he plodded along bearing his heavy bags, that he was no more than a
common thief, carrying away treasures which did not belong to him. Then,
of course, he began to reason away these uncomfortable reflections. If
this treasure did not belong to him, to whom did it belong? Certainly not
to the descendants of those Spaniards from whom the original owners had
striven so hard to conceal it. If the spirits of the Incas could speak,
they would certainly declare in his favor over that of the children of
the men who, in blood and torture, had obliterated them and their
institutions. Sometimes such arguments entirely satisfied the captain;
but if they did not entirely satisfy him, he put the whole matter aside,
to be decided upon after he should safely reach the United States with
such treasure as he might be able to take with him.
"Then," he thought, "we can do what we think is right. I shall listen to
all that may be said by our party, and shall act justly. But what I do
not take away with me has no chance whatever of ever falling into the
But no matter how he might terminate such reflections, the captain always
blamed himself for allowing his mind to occupy itself with them. He had
fully decided that this treasure belonged to him, and there was no real
reason for his thinking of such things, except that he had no one to talk
to, and in such cases a man's thoughts are apt to run wild.
Often and often he wondered what the others were thinking about this
affair, and whether or not they would all be able to keep the secret
until he returned. He was somewhat afraid of Mrs. Cliff. He believed her
to be an honorable woman who would not break her word, but still he did
not know all her ideas in regard to her duty. She might think there was
some one to whom she ought to confide what had happened, and what was
expected to happen, and if she should do this, there was no reason why
he should not, some day, descry a ship in the offing with
treasure-hunters on board.
Ralph gave him no concern at all, except that he was young, and the
captain could foretell the weather much better than the probable actions
of a youth.
But these passing anxieties never amounted to suspicions. It was far
better to believe in Mrs. Cliff and Ralph, and he would do it; and every
time he thought of the two, he determined to believe in them. As to Edna,
there was no question about believing in her. He did so without
consideration for or against belief.
The captain did not like his solitary life. How happy he would have been
if they could all have remained here; if the guano could have been
brought without the crew of the schooner knowing that there were people
in the caves; if the negroes could have carried the bags of gold; if
every night, after having superintended their labors, he could have gone
back to the caves, which, with the comforts he could have brought from
Lima, would have made a very habitable home; if--But these were
reflections which were always doomed to banishment as soon as the captain
became aware of the enthralment of their charm, and sturdily onward,
endeavoring to fix his mind upon some better sailor's knot with which to
tie up his bundles, or to plant his feet where his tracks would soon be
obliterated by the incoming waves, the strong man trudged, bearing
bravely the burden of his golden hopes.
HIS PRESENT SHARE
With four trips a day from the caves to the cove, taking time for rests,
for regular meals, and for sleep, and not working on Sundays,--for he
kept a diary and an account of days,--the captain succeeded in a little
over three weeks in loading his bags of guano, each with a package of
golden bars, some of which must have weighed as much as fifteen pounds.
When this work had been accomplished, he began to consider the return of
the schooner. But he had no reason to expect her yet, and he determined
to continue his work. Each day he brought eight canvas bags of gold from
the caves, and making them up into small bundles, he buried them in the
sand under his tent. When a full month had elapsed since the departure
of the schooner, he began to be very prudent, keeping a careful lookout
seaward, as he walked the beach, and never entering the caves without
mounting a high point of the rocks and thoroughly scanning the ocean.
If, when bearing his burden of gold, he should have seen a sail, he
would have instantly stopped and buried his bags in the sand, wherever
he might be.
Day after day passed, and larger and larger grew the treasure stored in
the sands under the tent, but no sail appeared. Sometimes the captain
could not prevent evil fancies coming to him. What if the ship should
never come back? What if no vessel should touch here for a year or two?
And why should a vessel ever touch? When the provisions he had brought
and those left in the Rackbirds' storehouse had been exhausted, what
could he do but lie down here and perish?--another victim added to the
millions who had already perished from the thirst of gold. He thought of
his little party in San Francisco. They surely would send in search of
him, if he did not appear in a reasonable time. But he felt this hope
was a vain one. In a letter to Edna, written from Lima, he had told her
she must not expect to hear from him for a long time, for, while he was
doing the work he contemplated, it would be impossible for him to
communicate with her.
She would have no reason to suppose that he would start on such an
expedition without making due arrangements for safety and support, and
so would hesitate long before she would commission a vessel to touch
at this point in search of him. If he should starve here, he would die
months before any reasonable person, who knew as much of his affairs
as did Edna, would think the time had arrived to send a relief
expedition for him.
But he did not starve. Ten days overdue, at last the Chilian
schooner appeared and anchored in the cove. She had now no white men
on board but the captain and his mate, for the negroes had improved
so much in seamanship that the economical captain had dispensed with
his Chilian crew.
Captain Horn was delighted to be able to speak again to a fellow-being,
and it pleased him far better to see Maka than any of the others.
"You no eat 'nough, cap'n," said the black man, as he anxiously scanned
the countenance of Captain Horn, which, although the captain was in
better physical condition than perhaps he had ever been in his life, was
thinner than when Maka had seen it last. "When I cook for you, you not so
long face," the negro continued. "Didn't us leave you 'nough to eat? Did
you eat 'em raw?"
The captain laughed. "I have had plenty to eat," he said, "and I never
felt better. If I had not taken exercise, you would have found me as fat
as a porpoise."
The interview with the Chilian captain was not so cordial, for Captain
Horn found that the Chilian had not brought him a full cargo of bags of
guano, and, by searching questions, he discovered that this was due
entirely to unnecessary delay in beginning to load the vessel. The
Chilian declared he would have taken on board all the guano which
Captain Horn had purchased at the smaller island, had he not begun to
fear that Captain Horn would suffer if he did not soon return to him,
and when he thought it was not safe to wait any longer, he had sailed
with a partial cargo.
Captain Horn was very angry, for every bag of guano properly packed with
gold bars meant, at a rough estimate, between two and three thousand
dollars if it safely reached a gold-market, and now he found himself with
at least one hundred bags less than he had expected to pack. There was no
time to repair this loss, for the English vessel, the _Finland,_ from
Callao to Acapulco, which the captain had engaged to stop at this point
on her next voyage northward, might be expected in two or three weeks,
certainly sooner than the Chilian could get back to the guano island and
return. In fact, there was barely time for that vessel to reach Callao
before the departure of the _Finland_, on board of which the captain
wished his negroes to be placed, that they might go home with him.
"If I had any men to work my vessel," said the Chilian, who had grown
surly in consequence of the fault-finding, "I'd leave your negroes here,
and cut loose from the whole business. I've had enough of it."
"That serves you right for discharging your own men in order that you
might work your vessel with mine," said Captain Horn. He had intended to
insist that the negroes should ship again with the Chilian, but he knew
that it would be more difficult to find reasons for this than on the
previous voyage, and he was really more than glad to find that the matter
had thus arranged itself.
Talking with Captain Horn, the Chilian mate, who had had no
responsibility in this affair, and who was, consequently, not out of
humor, proposed that he should go back with them, and take the English
vessel at Callao.
"I can't risk it," said Captain Horn. "If your schooner should meet
with head winds or any other bad luck, and the _Finland_ should leave
before I got there, there would be a pretty kettle of fish, and if she
touched here and found no one in charge, I don't believe she would take
away a bag."
"Do you think they will be sure to touch here?" asked the mate. "Have
they got the latitude and longitude? It didn't seem so bad before to
leave you behind, because we were coming back, but now it strikes me it
is rather a risky piece of business for you."
"No," said Captain Horn. "I am acquainted with the skipper of the
_Finland,_ and I left a letter for him telling him exactly how the matter
stood, and he knows that I trust him to pick me up. I do not suppose he
will expect to find me here all alone, but if he gives me the slip, I
would be just as likely to starve to death if I had some men with me as
if I were alone. The _Finland_ will stop--I am sure of that."
With every reason for the schooner's reaching Callao as soon as possible,
and very little reason, considering the uncordial relations of the two
captains, for remaining in the cove, the Chilian set sail the morning
after he had discharged his unsavory cargo. Maka had begged harder than
before to be allowed to remain with Captain Horn, but the latter had made
him understand, as well as he could, the absolute necessity of the
schooner reaching Callao in good time, and the absolute impossibility of
any vessel doing anything in good time without a cook. Therefore, after a
personal inspection of the stores left behind, both in the tent and in
the Rackbirds' storehouse, which latter place he visited with great
secrecy, Maka, with a sad heart, was obliged to leave the only real
friend he had on earth.
When, early the next morning, Captain Horn began to pack the newly
arrived bags with the bundles of gold which he had buried in the sand, he
found that the bags were not at all in the condition of those the
filling of which he had supervised himself. Some of these were more
heavily filled than others, and many were badly fastened up. This, of
course, necessitated a good deal of extra work, but the captain sadly
thought that probably he would have more time than he needed to do all
that was necessary to get this second cargo into fair condition for
transportation. He had checked off his little bundles as he had buried
them, and there were nearly enough to fill all the bags. In fact, he had
to make but three more trips in order to finish the business.
When the work was done, and everything was ready for the arrival of the
_Finland_, the captain felt that he had good reason to curse the
conscienceless Chilian whose laziness or carelessness had not only caused
him the loss of perhaps a quarter of a million of dollars, but had given
him days--how many he could not know--with nothing to do; and which of
these two evils might prove the worse, the captain could not readily
As Captain Horn walked up and down the long double rows of bags which
contained what he hoped would become his fortune, he could not prevent a
feeling of resentful disappointment when he thought of the small
proportion borne by the gold in these bags to the treasure yet remaining
in the mound. On his last visit to the mound he had carefully examined
its interior, and although, of course, there was a great diminution in
its contents, there was no reason to believe that the cavity of the mound
did not extend downward to the floor of the cave, and that it remained
packed with gold bars to the depth of several feet. It seemed silly,
crazy, in fact, almost wicked, for him to sail away in the _Finland_ and
leave all that gold behind, and yet, how could he possibly take away any
more of it?
He had with him a trunk nearly empty, in which he might pack some
blankets and other stuff with some bags of gold stowed away between them,
but more than fifty pounds added to the weight of the trunk and its
contents would make it suspiciously heavy, and what was fifty pounds out
of that vast mass? But although he puzzled his brains for the greater
part of a day, trying to devise some method by which he could take away
more gold without exciting the suspicions of the people on board the
English vessel, there was no plan that entered his mind that did not
contain elements of danger, and the danger was an appalling one. If the
crew of the _Finland_, or the crew of any other vessel, should, on this
desert coast, get scent of a treasure mound of gold ingots, he might as
well attempt to reason with wild beasts as to try to make them understand
that that treasure belonged to him. If he could get away with any of it,
or even with his life, he ought to be thankful.
The captain was a man who, since he had come to an age of maturity, had
been in the habit of turning his mind this way and that as he would turn
the helm of his vessel, and of holding it to the course he had
determined upon, no matter how strong the wind or wave, how dense the
fog, or how black the night. But never had he stood to his helm as he
now stood to a resolve.
"I will bring away a couple of bags," said he, "to put in my trunk, and
then, I swear to myself, I will not think another minute about carrying
away any more of that gold than what is packed in these guano-bags. If I
can ever come back, I will come back, but what I have to do now is to get
away with what I have already taken out of the mound, and also to get
away with sound reason and steady nerves."
The next day there was not a sail on the far horizon, and the captain
brought away two bags of gold. These, with some clothes, he packed in his
"Now," said he, "this is my present share. If I permit myself to think of
taking another bar, I shall be committing a crime."
HIS FORTUNE UNDER HIS FEET
Notwithstanding the fact that the captain had, for the present, closed
his account with the treasure in the lake cave, and had determined not to
give another thought to further drafts upon it, he could not prevent all
sorts of vague and fragmentary plans for getting more of the gold from
thrusting themselves upon him; but his hand was strong upon the tiller of
his mind, and his course did not change a point. He now began to consider
in what condition he should leave the caves. Once he thought he would go
there and take away everything which might indicate that the caves had
been inhabited, but this notion he discarded.
"There are a good many people," he thought, "who know that we lived
there, and if that man who was there afterwards should come back, I would
prefer that he should not notice any changes, unless, indeed,"--and his
eyes glistened as a thought darted into his mind,--"unless, indeed, he
should find a lake where he left a dry cave. Good! I'll try it."
With his hands in his pockets, the captain stood a few moments and
thought, and then he went to work. From the useless little vessel which,
had belonged to the Rackbirds he gathered some bits of old rope, and
having cut these into short pieces, he proceeded to pick them into what
sailors call oakum.
Early the next morning, his two canvas bags filled with this, he started
for the caves. When he reached the top of the mound, and was just about
to hold his lantern so as to take a final glance into its interior, he
suddenly turned away his head and shut his eyes.
"No," he said. "If I do that, it is ten to one I'll jump inside, and what
might happen next nobody knows."
He put the lantern aside, lifted the great lid into its place, and
then, with a hammer and a little chisel which he had brought with him
from the tools which had been used for the building of the pier, he
packed the crevices about the lid with oakum. With a mariner's skill he
worked, and when his job was finished, it would have been difficult for
a drop of water to have found its way into the dome, no matter if it
rose high above it.
It was like leaving behind a kingdom and a throne, the command of armies
and vast navies, the domination of power, of human happenings; but he
When he reached the portion of the cave near the great gap which opened
to the sky opposite the entrance to the outer caves, the captain walked
across the dry floor to the place where was situated the outlet through
which the waters of the lake had poured out into the Rackbirds' valley.
The machine which controlled this outlet was situated under the
overhanging ledge of the cave, and was in darkness, so that the captain
was obliged to use his lantern. He soon found the great lever which he
had clutched when he had swum to the rescue of Ralph, and which had gone
down with him and so opened the valve and permitted egress of the water,
and which now lay with its ten feet or more of length horizontally near
the ground. Near by was the great pipe, with its circular blackness
leading into the depths below.
"That stream outside," said the captain, "must run in here somewhere,
although I cannot see nor hear it, and it must be stopped off by this
valve or another one connected with it, so that if I can get this lever
up again, I should shut it off from the stream outside and turn it in
here. Then, if that fellow comes back, he will have to swim to the
mound, and run a good chance of getting drowned if he does it, and if
anybody else comes here, I think it will be as safe as the ancient
Peruvians once made it."
With this he took hold of the great lever and attempted to raise it. But
he found the operation a very difficult one. The massive bar was of
metal, but probably not iron, and although it was not likely that it had
rusted, it was very hard to move in its socket. The captain's weight had
brought it down easily, but this weight could not now be applied, and he
could only attempt to lift it.
When it had first been raised, it was likely that a dozen slaves had
seized it and forced it into an upright position. The captain pushed up
bravely, and, a few inches at a time, he elevated the end of the great
lever. Frequently he stopped to rest, and it was over an hour before the
bar stood up as it had been when first he felt it under the water.
When this was done, he went into the other caves, looked about to see
that everything was in the condition in which he had found it, and that
he had left nothing behind him during his many visits. When he was
satisfied on these points, he went back to the lake cave to see if any
water had run in. He found everything as dry as when he had left it, nor
could he hear any sound of running or dripping water. Considering the
matter, however, he concluded that there might be some sort of an outside
reservoir which must probably fill up before the water ran into the cave,
and so he came away.
"I will give it time," he thought, "and come back to-morrow to see if it
That night, as he lay on his little pallet, looking through the open
front of his tent at the utter darkness of the night, the idea struck him
that it was strange that he was not afraid to stay here alone. He was a
brave man,--he knew that very well,--and yet it seemed odd to him that,
under the circumstances, he should have so little fear. But his reason
soon gave him a good answer. He had known times when he had been very
much afraid, and among these stood preeminent the time when he had
expected an attack from the Rackbirds. But then his fear was for others.
When he was by himself it was a different matter. It was not often that
he did not feel able to take care of his own safety. If there were any
danger now, it was in the daytime, when some stray Rackbirds might come
back, or the pilferer of the mound might return with companions. But if
any such came, he had his little fort, two pistols, and a repeating
rifle. At night he felt absolutely safe. There was no danger that could
come by land or sea through the blackness of the night.
Suddenly he sat up. His forehead was moist with perspiration. A shiver
ran through him, not of cold, but of fear. Never in his life had he been
so thoroughly frightened; never before had he felt his hands and legs
tremble. Involuntarily he rose and stood up in the tent. He was
terrified, not by anything real, but by the thought of what might happen
if that lake cave should fill up with water, and if the ancient valves,
perhaps weakened by his moving them backward and forward, should give way
under the great pressure, and, for a second time, a torrent of water
should come pouring down the Rackbirds' ravine!
As the captain trembled with fear, it was not for himself, for he could
listen for the sound of the rushing waters, and could dash away to the
higher ground behind him; but it was for his treasure-bags, his fortune,
his future! His soul quaked. His first impulse was to rush out and carry
every bag to higher ground. But this idea was absurd. The night was too
dark, and the bags too heavy and too many. Then he thought of hurrying
away to the caves to see if the lake had risen high enough to be
dangerous. But what could he do if it had? In his excitement, he could
not stand still and do nothing. He took hold of one end of his trunk and
pulled it out of his tent, and, stumbling and floundering over the
inequalities of the ground, he at last got it to a place which he
supposed would be out of reach of a sudden flood, and the difficulties of
this little piece of work assured him of the utter futility of
attempting to move the bags in the darkness. He had a lantern, but that
would be of little service on such a night and for such a work.
He went back into his tent, and tried to prevail upon himself that he
ought to go to sleep--that it was ridiculous to beset himself with
imaginary dangers, and to suffer from them as much as if they had been
real ones. But such reasoning was vain, and he sat up or walked about
near his tent all night, listening and listening, and trying to think of
the best thing to do if he should hear a coming flood.
As soon as it was light, he hurried to the caves, and when he reached the
old bed of the lake, he found there was not a drop of water in it.
"The thing doesn't work!" he cried joyfully. "Fool that I am, I might
have known that although a man might open a valve two or three
centuries old, he should not expect to shut it up again. I suppose I
smashed it utterly."
His revulsion of feeling was so great that he began to laugh at his own
absurdity, and then he laughed at his merriment.
"If any one should see me now," he thought, "they would surely think I
had gone crazy over my wealth. Well, there is no danger from a flood,
but, to make all things more than safe, I will pull down this handle, if
it will come. Anyway, I do not want it seen."
The great bar came down much easier than it had gone up, moving, in fact,
the captain thought, as if some of its detachments were broken, and when
it was down as far as it would go, he came away.
"Now," said he, "I have done with this cave for this trip. If possible, I
shall think of it no more."
When he was getting some water from the stream to make some coffee for
his breakfast, he stopped and clenched his fist. "I am more of a fool
than I thought I was," he said. "This solitary business is not good for
me. If I had thought last night of coming here to see if this little
stream were still running, and kept its height, I need not have troubled
myself about the lake in the cave. Of course, if the water were running
into the caves, it would not be running here until the lake had filled.
And, besides, it would take days for that great lake to fill. Well, I am
glad that nobody but myself knows what an idiot I have been."
When he had finished his breakfast, Captain Horn went to work. There was
to be no more thinking, no more plans, no more fanciful anxieties, no
more hopes of doing something better than he had done. Work he would, and
when one thing was done, he would find another. The first thing he set
about was the improvement of the pier which had been built for the
landing of the guano. There was a good deal of timber left unused, and he
drove down new piles, nailed on new planking, and extended the little
pier considerably farther into the waters of the cove. When this was
done, he went to work on the lighter, which was leaky, and bailed it out,
and calked the seams, taking plenty of time, and doing his work in the
most thorough manner. He determined that after this was done, and he
could find nothing better to do, he would split up the little vessel
which the Rackbirds had left rudderless, mastless, and useless, and make
kindling-wood of it.
But this was not necessary. He had barely finished his work on the
lighter, when, one evening, he saw against the sun-lighted sky the
topmasts of a vessel, and the next morning the _Finland_ lay anchored off
the cove, and two boats came ashore, out of one of which Maka was the
first to jump.
In five hours the guano had been transferred to the ship, and, twenty
minutes later, the _Finland_, with Captain Horn on board, had set sail
for Acapulco. The captain might have been better pleased if his
destination had been San Francisco, but, after all, it is doubtful if
there could have been a man who was better pleased. He walked the deck of
a good ship with a fellow-mariner with whom he could talk as much as he
pleased, and under his feet were the bags containing the thousands of
little bars for which he had worked so hard.
AT THE PALMETTO HOTEL
For about four months the persons who made up what might be considered as
Captain Horn's adopted family had resided in the Palmetto Hotel, in San
Francisco. At the time we look upon them, however, Mrs. Cliff was not
with them, having left San Francisco some weeks previously.
Edna was now a very different being from the young woman she had been.
Her face was smoother and fuller, and her eyes seemed to have gained a
richer brown. The dark masses of her hair appeared to have wonderfully
grown and thickened, but this was due to the loose fashion in which it
was coiled upon her head, and it would have been impossible for any one
who had known her before not to perceive that she was greatly changed.
The lines upon her forehead, which had come, not from age, but from
earnest purpose and necessity of action, together with a certain
intensity of expression which would naturally come to a young woman who
had to make her way in the world, not only for herself, but for her young
brother, and a seriousness born of some doubts, some anxieties, and some
ambiguous hopes, had all entirely disappeared as if they had been
morning mists rolling away from a summer landscape. Under the rays of a
sun of fortune, shining, indeed, but mildly, she had ripened into a
physical beauty which was her own by right of birth, but of which a few
more years of struggling responsibility would have forever deprived her.
After the receipt of her second remittance, Edna and her party had taken
the best apartments in the hotel. The captain had requested this, for he
did not know how long they might remain there, and he wanted them to have
every comfort. He had sent them as much money as he could spare from the
sale, in Lima, of the gold he had carried with him when lie first left
the caves, but his expenses in hiring ships and buying guano were heavy.
Edna, however, had received frequent remittances while the captain was at
the Rackbirds' cove, through an agent in San Francisco. These, she
supposed, came from further sales of gold, but, in fact, they had come
from the sale of investments which the captain had made in the course of
his fairly successful maritime career. In his last letter from Lima he
had urged them all to live well on what he sent them, considering it as
their share of the first division of the treasure in the mound. If his
intended projects should succeed, the fortunes of all of them would be
reconstructed upon a new basis as solid and as grand as any of them had
ever had reason to hope for. But if he should fail, they, the party in
San Francisco, would be as well off, or, perhaps, better circumstanced
than when they had started for Valparaiso. He did not mention the fact
that he himself would be poorer, for he had lost the _Castor_, in which
he was part-owner, and had invested nearly all his share of the proceeds
of the sale of the gold in ship hire, guano purchases, and other
Edna was waiting in San Francisco to know what would be the next scene in
the new drama of her life. Captain Horn had written before he sailed from
Lima in the Chilian schooner for the guano islands and the Rackbirds'
cove, and he had, to some extent, described his plans for carrying away
treasure from the mound; but since that she had not heard from him until
about ten days before, when he wrote from Acapulco, where he had arrived
in safety with his bags of guano and their auriferous enrichments. He had
written in high spirits, and had sent her a draft on San Francisco so
large in amount that it had fairly startled her, for he wrote that he had
merely disposed of some of the gold he had brought in his baggage, and
had not yet done anything with that contained in the guano-bags. He had
hired a storehouse, as if he were going regularly into business, and from
which he would dispose of his stock of guano after he had restored it to
its original condition. To do all this, and to convert the gold into
negotiable bank deposits or money, would require time, prudence, and even
diplomacy. He had already sold in the City of Mexico as much of the gold
from his trunk as he could offer without giving rise to too many
questions, and if he had not been known as a California trader, he might
have found some difficulties even in that comparatively small
The captain had written that to do all he had to do he would be obliged
to remain in Acapulco or the City of Mexico--how long he could not tell,
for much of the treasure might have to be shipped to the United States,
and his plans for all this business were not yet arranged.
Before this letter had been received, Mrs. Cliff had believed it to be
undesirable to remain longer in San Francisco, and had gone to her home
in a little town in Maine. With Edna and Ralph, she had waited and waited
and waited, but at last had decided that Captain Horn was dead. In her
mind, she had allowed him all the time that she thought was necessary to
go to the caves, get gold, and come to San Francisco, and as that time
had long elapsed, she had finally given him up as lost. She knew the
captain was a brave man and an able sailor, but the adventure he had
undertaken was strange and full of unknown perils, and if it should so
happen that she should hear that he had gone to the bottom in a small
boat overloaded with gold, she would not have been at all surprised.
Of course, she said nothing of these suspicions to Edna or Ralph, nor did
she intend ever to mention them to any one. If Edna, who in so strange a
way had been made a wife, should, in some manner perhaps equally
extraordinary, be made a widow, she would come back to her, she would do
everything she could to comfort her; but now she did not seem to be
needed in San Francisco, and her New England home called to her through
the many voices of her friends. As to the business which had taken Mrs.
Cliff to South America, that must now be postponed, but it could not but
be a satisfaction to her that she was going back with perhaps as much
money as she would have had if her affairs in Valparaiso had been
Edna and Ralph had come to be looked upon at the Palmetto Hotel as
persons of distinction. They lived quietly, but they lived well, and
their payments were always prompt. They were the wife and brother-in-law
of Captain Philip Horn, who was known to be a successful man, and who
might be a rich one. But what seemed more than anything else to
distinguish them from the ordinary hotel guests was the fact that they
were attended by two personal servants, who, although, of course, they
could not be slaves, seemed to be bound to them as if they had been born
into their service.
Cheditafa, in a highly respectable suit of clothes which might have been
a cross between the habiliments of a Methodist minister and those of a
butler, was a person of imposing aspect. Mrs. Cliff had insisted, when
his new clothes were ordered, that there should be something in them
which should indicate the clergyman, for the time might come when it
would be necessary that he should be known in this character; and the
butler element was added because it would harmonize in a degree with his
duties as Edna's private attendant. The old negro, with his sober face,
and woolly hair slightly touched with gray, was fully aware of the
importance of his position as body-servant to Mrs. Horn, but his sense of
the responsibility of that position far exceeded any other sentiments of
which his mind was capable. Perhaps it was the fact that he had made Edna
Mrs. Horn which gave him the feeling that he must never cease to watch
over her and to serve her in every possible way. Had the hotel taken
fire, he would have rushed through the flames to save her. Had robbers
attacked her, they must have taken his life before they took her purse.
When she drove out in the city or suburbs, he always sat by the side of
the driver, and when she walked in the streets, he followed her at a
Proud as he was of the fact that he had been the officiating clergyman at
the wedding of Captain Horn and this grand lady, he had never mentioned
the matter to any one, for many times, and particularly just before she
left San Francisco, Mrs. Cliff had told him, in her most impressive
manner, that if he informed any one that he had married Captain Horn and
Miss Markham, great trouble would come of it. What sort of trouble, it
was not necessary to explain to him, but she was very earnest in assuring
him that the marriage of a Christian by a heathen was something which was
looked upon with great disfavor in this country, and unless Cheditafa
could prove that he had a perfect right to perform the ceremony, it might
be bad for him. When Captain Horn had settled his business affairs and
should come back, everything would be made all right, and nobody need
feel any more fear, but until then he must not speak of what he had done.
If Captain Horn should never come back, Mrs. Cliff thought that Edna
would then be truly his widow, and his letters would prove it, but that
she was really his wife until the two had marched off together to a
regular clergyman, the good lady could not entirely admit. Her position
was not logical, but she rested herself firmly upon it.
The other negro, Mok, could speak no more English than when we first met
him, but he could understand some things which were said to him, and was
very quick, indeed, to catch the meanings of signs, motions, and
expressions of countenance. At first Edna did not know what to do with
this negro, but Ralph solved the question by taking him as a valet, and
day by day he became more useful to the youth, who often declared that he
did not know how he used to get along without a valet. Mok was very fond
of fine clothes, and Ralph liked to see him smartly dressed, and he
frequently appeared of more importance than Cheditafa. He was devoted to
his young master, and was so willing to serve him that Ralph often found
great difficulty in finding him something to do.
Edna and Ralph had a private table, at which Cheditafa and Mok assisted
in waiting, and Mrs. Cliff had taught both of them how to dust and keep
rooms in order. Sometimes Ralph sent Mok to a circulating library. Having
once been shown the place, and made to understand that he must deliver
there the piece of paper and the books to be returned, he attended to the
business as intelligently as if he had been a trained dog, and brought
back the new books with a pride as great as if he had selected them. The
fact that Mok was an absolute foreigner, having no knowledge whatever of
English, and that he was possessed of an extraordinary activity, which
enabled him, if the gate of the back yard of the hotel happened to be
locked, to go over the eight-foot fence with the agility of a monkey, had
a great effect in protecting him from impositions by other servants.
When a black negro cannot speak English, but can bound like an
india-rubber ball, it may not be safe to trifle with him. As for trifling
with Cheditafa, no one would think of such a thing; his grave and
reverend aspect was his most effectual protection.
As to Ralph, he had altered in appearance almost as much as his sister.
His apparel no longer indicated the boy, and as he was tall and large for
his years, the fashionable suit he wore, his gay scarf with its sparkling
pin, and his brightly polished boots, did not appear out of place upon
him. But Edna often declared that she had thought him a great deal
better-looking in the scanty, well-worn, but more graceful garments in
which he had disported himself on the sands of Peru.
THE CAPTAIN'S LETTER
On a sofa in her well-furnished parlor reclined Edna, and on a table near
by lay several sheets of closely written letter-paper. She had been
reading, and now she was thinking--thinking very intently, which in these
days was an unusual occupation with her. During her residence in San
Francisco she had lived quietly but cheerfully. She had supplied herself
abundantly with books, she had visited theatres and concerts, she had
driven around the city, she had taken water excursions, she had visited
interesting places in the neighborhood, and she had wandered among the
shops, purchasing, in moderation, things that pleased her. For company
she had relied chiefly on her own little party, although there had been
calls from persons who knew Captain Horn. Some of these people were
interesting, and some were not, but they all went away thinking that the
captain was a wonderfully fortunate man.
One thing which used to be a pleasure to Edna she refrained from
altogether, and that was the making of plans. She had put her past life
entirely behind her. She was beginning a new existence--what sort of an
existence she could not tell, but she was now living with the
determinate purpose of getting the greatest good out of her life,
whatever it might be.
Already she had had much, but in every respect her good fortunes were but
preliminary to something else. Her marriage was but the raising of the
curtain--the play had not yet begun. The money she was spending was but
an earnest of something more expected. Her newly developed physical
beauty, which she could not fail to appreciate, would fade away again,
did it not continue to be nourished by that which gave it birth. But what
she had, she had, and that she would enjoy. When Captain Horn should
return, she would know what would happen next. This could not be a
repetition of the life she was leading at the Palmetto Hotel, but
whatever the new life might be, she would get from it all that it might
contain for her. She did not in the least doubt the captain's return, for
she believed in him so thoroughly that she felt--she knew--he would come
back and tell her of his failure or his success, and what she was to do
next. But now she was thinking. She could not help it, for her tranquil
mind had been ruffled.
Her cogitations were interrupted by the entrance of Ralph.
"I say, Edna," said he, throwing himself into an easy-chair, and placing
his hat upon another near by, "was that a returned manuscript that
Cheditafa brought you this morning? You haven't been writing for the
magazines, have you?"
"That was a letter from Captain Horn," she said.
"Whew!" he exclaimed. "It must be a whopper! What does he say? When is he
coming here? Give me some of the points of it. But, by the way, Edna,
before you begin, I will say that I think it is about time he should
write. Since the letter in which he told about the guano-bags and sent
you that lot of money--let me see, how long ago was that?"
"It was ten days ago," said his sister.
"Is that so? I thought it was longer than that. But no matter. Since that
letter came, I have been completely upset. I want to know what I am to
do, and, whatever I am to do, I want to get at it. From what the captain
wrote, and from what I remember of the size and weight of those gold
bars, he must have got away with more than a million dollars--perhaps a
million and a half. Now, what part of that is mine? What am I to do with
it? When am I to begin to prepare myself for the life I am to lead when I
get it? All this I want to know, and, more than that, I want to know what
you are going to do. Now, if I had got to Acapulco, or any other
civilized spot, with a million dollars in solid gold, it would not have
been ten days before I should have written to my family,--for I suppose
that is what we are,--and should have told them what I was going to do,
and how much they might count on. But I hope now that letter does tell?"
"The best thing to do," said Edna, taking up the letter from the table,
"is to read it to you. But before I begin I want to say something, and
that is that it is very wrong of you to get into these habits of
calculating about what may come to you. What is to come will come, and
you might as well wait for it without upsetting your mind by all sorts of
wild anticipations; and, besides this, you must remember that you are
not of age, and that I am your guardian, and whatever fortune may now
come to you will be under my charge until you are twenty-one."
"Oh, I don't care about that," said Ralph. "We will have no trouble
about agreeing what is the best thing for me to do. But now go ahead
with the letter."
"'I am going to tell you'" (at the beginning of the second paragraph)
"'of a very strange thing which happened to me since I last wrote. I will
first state that after my guano-bags had all been safely stored in the
warerooms I have hired, I had a heavy piece of work getting the packages
of gold out of the bags, and in packing the bars in small, stout boxes I
found in the City of Mexico and had sent down here. In looking around for
boxes which would suit my purpose, I discovered these, which had been
used for stereotype plates. They were stamped on the outside, and just
what I wanted, being about as heavy after I packed them with gold as they
were when they were filled with type-metal. This packing I had to do
principally at night, when I was supposed to be working in a little
office attached to the rooms. As soon as this was done, I sent all the
boxes to a safe-deposit bank in Mexico, and there the greater part of
them are yet. Some I have shipped to the mint in San Francisco, some have
gone North, and I am getting rid of the rest as fast as I can.
"'The gold bars, cast in a form novel to all dealers, have excited a good
deal of surprise and questioning, but for this I care very little. My
main object is to get the gold separated as many miles as possible from
the guano, for if the two should be connected in the mind of any one who
knew where the guano was last shipped from, I might have cause for
anxiety. But as the bars bear no sort of mark to indicate that they were
cast by ancient Peruvians, and, so far as I can remember,--and I have
visited several museums in South America,--these castings are not like
any others that have come down to us from the times of the Incas, the
gold must have been cast in this simple form merely for convenience in
transportation and packing. Some people may think it is California gold,
some may think it comes from South America, but, whatever they think,
they know it is pure gold, and they have no right to doubt that it
belongs to me. Of course, if I were a stranger it might be different, but
wherever I have dealt I am known, or I send a good reference. And now I
will come to the point of this letter.
"'Three days ago I was in my office, waiting to see a man to whom I hoped
to sell my stock of guano, when a man came in,--but not the one I
expected to see,--and if a ghost had appeared before me, I could not have
been more surprised. I do not know whether or not you remember the two
American sailors who were the first to go out prospecting, after Mr.
Rynders and his men left us, and who did not return. This man was one of
them--Edward Shirley by name.'"
"I remember him perfectly!" cried Ralph. "And the other fellow was George
Burke. On board the _Castor_ I used to talk to them more than to any of
the other sailors."
"'But astonished as I was,'" Edna went on to read, "'Shirley did not seem
at all surprised, but came forward and shook hands most heartily. He said
he had read in a newspaper that I had been rescued, and was doing
business in Acapulco, and he had come down on purpose to find me. I told
him how we had given up him and his mate for lost, and then, as he had
read a very slim account of our adventures, I told him the whole story,
taking great care, as you may guess, not to say anything about the
treasure mound. He did not ask any questions as to why I did not come
back with the rest of you, but was greatly troubled when he heard of the
murders of every man of our crew except himself and Burke and Maka.
"'When I had finished, he told me his story, which I will condense as
much as possible. When he and Burke started out, they first began to
make their way along the slope of the rocky ridge which ended in our
caves, but they found this very hard work, so they soon went down to the
sandy country to the north. Here they shot some little beast or other,
and while they were hunting another one, up hill and down dale, they
found night was coming on, and they were afraid to retrace their steps
for fear they might come to trouble in the darkness. So they ate what
they had with them, and camped, and the next morning the mountains to the
east seemed to be so near them that they thought it much easier to push
on instead of coming back to us. They thought that when they got to the
fertile country they would find a settlement, and then they might be able
to do something for the rest of the party, and it would be much wiser to
go ahead than to turn back. But they found themselves greatly mistaken.
Mountains in the distance, seen over a plain, appear very much nearer
than they are, and these two poor fellows walked and walked, until they
were pretty nearly dead. The story is a long one as Shirley told it to
me, but just as they were about giving up entirely, they were found by a
little party of natives, who had seen them from a long distance and had
come to them.
"'After a great deal of trouble,--I believe they had to carry Burke a
good part of the way,--the natives got them to their huts at the foot of
the mountains, and took care of them. These people told Shirley--he knows
a little Spanish--that it was a piece of rare good luck that they found
them, for it was very seldom they went so far out into the desert.
"'In a day or two the two men went on to a little village in the
mountains, and there they tried to get up an expedition to come to our
assistance. They knew that we had food enough to last for a week or two,
but after that we must be starved out. But nobody would do anything, and
then they went on to another town to see what they could do there.'"
"Good fellows!" exclaimed Ralph.
"Indeed, they were," said Edna. "But wait until you hear what they did
"'Nobody in this small town,'" she read on, "'was willing to join Burke
and Shirley in their proposed expedition, and no wonder; for crossing
those deserts is a dangerous thing, and most people said it would be
useless anyway, as it would be easier for us to get away by sea than by
land. At this time Burke was taken sick, and for a week or two Shirley
thought he was going to die. Of course, they had to stay where they were,
and it was a long time before Burke was able to move about. Then they
might have gone into the interior until they came to a railroad, and so
have got away, for they had money with them, but Shirley told me they
could not bear to do that without knowing what had become of us. They did
not believe there was any hope for us, unless the mate had come back with
assistance, and they had not much faith in that, for if a storm had come
up, such as had wrecked the Castor, it would be all over with Mr.
"'But even if we had perished on that desolate coast, they wanted to
know it and carry the news to our friends, and so they both determined,
if the thing could be done, to get back to the coast and find out what
had become of us. They went again to the little village where they had
been taken by the natives who found them, and there, by promises of big
pay,--at least, large for those poor Peruvians,--they induced six of
them to join in an expedition to the caves. They did not think they had
any reason to suppose they would find any one alive, but still, besides
the provisions necessary for the party there and back, they carried
"'Well, they journeyed for two days, and then there came up a
wind-storm, hot and dry, filling the air with sand and dust, so that
they could not see where they were going, and the natives said they
ought all to go back, for it was dangerous to try to keep on in such a
storm. But our two men would not give up so soon, and they made a camp
in a sheltered place, and determined to press on in the morning, when
they might expect the storm to be over. But in the morning they found
that every native had deserted them. The wind had gone down, and the
fellows must have started back before it was light. Then Shirley and
Burke did not know what to do. They believed that they were nearer the
coast than the mountains, and as they had plenty of provisions,--for the
natives had left them nearly everything,--they thought they would try to
push on, for a while at least.
"'There was a bit of rising ground to the east, and they thought if they
could get on the top of that they might get a sight of the ocean, and
then discover how far away it was. They reached the top of the rising
ground, and they did not see the ocean, but a little ahead of them, in a
smooth stretch of sand, was something which amazed them a good deal more
than if it had been the sea. It was a pair of shoes sticking up out of
the sand. They were an old pair, and appeared to have legs to them. They
went to the spot, and found that these shoes belonged to a man who was
entirely covered by sand, with the exception of his feet, and dead, of
course. They got the sand off of him, and found he was a white man, in
sailor's clothes. First they had thought he might be one of our party,
but they soon perceived that this was a mistake, for they had never seen
the man before. He was dried up until he was nothing but a skeleton with
skin over it, but they could have recognized him if they had known him
before. From what they had heard of the rainless climate of the Peruvian
coast, and the way it had of drying up dead animals of all sorts, they
imagined that this man might have been there for years. He was lying on
his back, with his arms folded around a bundle, and when they tried to
move this bundle, they found it was very heavy. It was something wrapped
up in a blanket and tied with a cord, and when they opened the bundle,
they were pretty nearly struck dumb; for they saw it held, as Shirley
expressed it, about a peck of little hunks of gold.
"'They were utterly astounded by this discovery, and utterly unable to
make head or tail of it. What that man, apparently an English sailor, had
been doing out in the middle of this desert with a bundle of gold, and
where he got it, and who he was, and where he was going to, and how long
he had been dead, were things beyond their guessing. They dragged the
body out of its burrow in the sand, and examined the pockets, but there
was nothing in the trousers but an old knife. In the pocket of the shirt,
however, were about a dozen matches, wrapped up in an old envelope. This
was addressed, in a very bad hand, to A. McLeish, Callao, Peru, but they
could not make out the date of the postmark. These things were all there
was about the man that could possibly identify him, for his few clothes
were such as any sailor would wear, and were very old and dirty.
"'But the gold was there. They examined it and scraped it, and they were
sure it was pure gold. There was no doubt in their minds as to what they
would do about this. They would certainly carry it away with them. But
before they did so, Burke wanted to hunt around and see if they could not
find more of it, for the mass of metal was so heavy he did not believe
the sailor could have carried it very far. But after examining the
country as far as the eye could reach, Shirley would not agree to this.
They could see nothing but wide-stretching sands, and no place where it
seemed worth while to risk their lives hunting for treasure. Their best
plan was to get away with what they had found, and now the point was
whether or not they should press on to the coast or go back; but as they
could see no signs of the sea, they soon came to the conclusion that the
best thing to do if they wanted to save their lives and their treasure
was to get back to the mountains.
"'I forgot to say that as soon as Shirley began to talk about the dead
man and his gold, I left the warehouse in charge of Maka, and took him to
my hotel, where he told me the rest of his story in a room with the door
locked. I must try to take as many reefs in what followed as I can. I
don't believe that the finding of the gold made any difference in their
plans, for, of course, it would have been foolish for them to try to get
to us by themselves. They cut the blanket in half and made up the gold
into two packages, and then they started back for the mountains, taking
with them all the provisions they could carry in addition to the gold,
and leaving their guns behind them. Shirley said their loads got heavier
and heavier as they ploughed through the sand, and it took them three
days to cover the ground they had gone over before in two. When they got
to the village, they found scarcely a man in the place, for the fellows
who had deserted them were frightened, and kept out of sight. They stayed
there all night, and then they went on with their bundles to the next
village, where they succeeded in getting a couple of travelling-bags,
into which they put their gold, so that they might appear to be carrying
"'After a good deal of travel they reached Callao, and there they made
inquiries for A. McLeish, but nobody knew of him. Of course, he was a
sailor who had had a letter sent there. They went up to Lima and sold a
few pieces of the gold, but, before they did it, they got a heavy hammer
and pounded them up, so that no one would know what their original shape
was. Shirley said he could not say exactly why they did this, but that
they thought, on the whole, it would be safer. Then they went to San
Francisco on the first vessel that sailed. They must have had a good deal
of talk on the voyage in regard to the gold, and it was in consequence of
their discussions that Shirley wanted so much to find me. They had
calculated, judging by the pieces they had sold, that the gold they had
with them was worth about twelve thousand dollars, and they both thought
they ought to do the right thing about it. In the first place, they tried
in San Francisco to find out something about McLeish, but no one knew of
such a man. They then began to consider some persons they did know about.
They had heard in Lima that some of the people of the _Castor_ had been
rescued, and if any of them were hard up, as most likely they were,
Shirley and Burke thought that by rights they ought to have some of the
treasure that they had found. Shirley said at first they had gone on the
idea that each of them would have six thousand dollars and could go into
business for himself, but after a while they thought this would be a mean
thing to do. They had all been shipwrecked together, and two of them had
had a rare piece of good luck, and they thought it no more than honorable
to share this good luck with the others, so they concluded the best thing
to do was to see me about it. Burke left this business to Shirley,
because he wanted to go to see his sister who lives in St. Louis.
"'They had not formed any fixed plan of division, but they believed that,
as they had had the trouble, and, in fact, the danger, of getting the
gold, they should have the main share, but they considered that they had
enough to help out any of the original party who might be hard up for
money." Of course, we must always remember," said Shirley, in finishing
up his story, "that if we can find the heirs of McLeish, the money
belongs to them. But, even in that case, Burke and I think we ought to
keep a good share of it to pay us for getting it away from that beastly
desert." Here I interrupted him. "Don't you trouble yourself any more
about McLeish," I said. "That money did not belong to him. He stole it."
"How do you know that, and who did he steal it from?" cried Shirley.
"He stole it from me," said I.
"'At this point Shirley gave such a big jump backward that his chair
broke beneath him, and he went crashing to the floor. He had made a start
a good deal like that when I told him how the Rackbirds had been swept
out of existence when I had opened the flood-gate that let out the waters
of the lake, and I had heard the chair crack then. Now, while he had been
telling me about his finding that man in the sand, with his load of gold,
I had been listening, but I had also been thinking, and almost any man
can think faster than another one can talk, and so by this time I had
made up my mind what I was going to say to Shirley. I would tell him all
about my finding the gold in the mound. It touched me to think that these
poor fellows, who did all that they could to help us escape, and then,
when they got safely home, started immediately to find us in order that
they might give us some of that paltry twelve thousand dollars--give to
us, who are actually millionaires, and who may be richer yet! It would
not do to let any of the crew get ahead of their captain in fair dealing,
and that was one reason why I determined to tell him. Then, there was
another point. Ever since I have been here, selling and storing the gold
I brought away, I have had a heavy load on my mind, and that was the
thought of leaving all the rest of the gold in that mound for the next
person who might come along and find it.
"'I devised plan after plan of getting more of it, but none of them would
work. Two things were certain: One was that I could not get any more away
by myself. I had already done the best I could and all I could in that
line. And the second thing was that if I should try for any more of the
treasure, I must have people to help me. The plan that suited me best was
to buy a small vessel, man it, go down there, load up with the gold, and
sail away. There would be no reasonable chance that any one would be
there to hinder me, and I would take in the cargo just as if it were
guano, or anything else. Then I would go boldly to Europe. I have looked
into the matter, and I have found that the best thing I can do, if I
should get that gold, would be to transport it to Paris, where I could
distribute it better than I could from any other point. But the trouble
was, where could I get the crew to help me? I have four black men, and I
think I could trust them, as far as honesty goes, but they would not be
enough to work the ship, and I could not think of any white men with whom
I would trust my life and that gold in the same vessel. But now they
seemed to pop up right in front of me.
"'I knew Shirley and Burke pretty well when they were on the _Castor_,
and after what Shirley told me I knew them better, and I believed they
were my men. To be sure, they might fail me, for they are only human, but
I had to have somebody to help me, and I did not believe there were any
other two men who would be less likely to fail me. So by the time Shirley
had finished his yarn I was ready to tell him the whole thing, and
propose to him and Burke to join me in going down after the rest of the
treasure and taking it to France.'"
At this point Ralph sprang to his feet, his eyes flashing. "Edna!" he
cried, "I say that your Captain Horn is treating me shamefully. In the
first place, he let me come up here to dawdle about, doing nothing, when
I ought to have been down there helping him get more of that treasure. I
fancy he might have trusted me, and if I had been with him, we should
have brought away nearly twice as much gold, and at this minute we
should be twice as well off as we are. But this last is a thousand times
worse. Here he is, going off on one of the most glorious adventures of
this century, and he leaves me out. What does he take me for? Does he
think I am a girl? When he was thinking of somebody to go with him, why
didn't he think of me, and why doesn't he think of me now? He has no
right to leave me out!"
"I look at the matter in a different light," said his sister. "Captain
Horn has no right to take you off on such a dangerous adventure, and,
more than that, he has no right to take you from me, and leave me alone
in the world. He once made you the guardian of all that treasure, and now
he considers you as my guardian. You did not desert the first trust, and
I am sorry to think you want to desert the other."
"That's all very fine," said Ralph. "You blow hot and you blow cold at
the same time. When you want me to keep quiet and do what I am told, you
tell me I am not of age, and that you are my guardian; and when you want
me to stay here and make myself useful, you tell me I am wonderfully
trusty, and that I must be your guardian."
Edna smiled. "That is pretty good reasoning," she said, "but there isn't
any reasoning needed in this case. No matter what Captain Horn may say or
do, I would not let you go away from me."
Ralph sat down again. "There is some sense in what you say," he said. "If
the captain should come to grief, and I were with him, we would both be
gone. Then you would have nobody left to you. But that does not entirely
clear him. Even if he thought I ought not to go with him, he ought to
have said something about it, and put in a word or so about his being
sorry. Is there any more of the letter?"
"Yes," said Edna, "there is more of it," and she began to read again:
"'I intended to stop here and give you the rest of the matter in another
letter, but now, as I have a good chance to write, I think it is better
to keep on, although this letter is already as long as the pay-roll of
the navy. When I told Shirley about the gold, he made a bounce pretty
nearly as big as the others, but this time I had him in a stout
arm-chair, and he did no damage. He had in his pocket one of the gold
bars he spoke of, and I had one of mine in my trunk, and when we put them
together they were as like as two peas. What I told him dazed him at
first, and he did not seem properly to understand what it all meant, but,
after a little, a fair view of it came to him, and for hours we talked
over the matter. Who the man was who had gone there after we left did not
matter, for he could never come hack again.
"'We decided that what we should do was to go and get that gold as soon
as possible, and Shirley agreed to go with me. He believed we could trust
Burke to join us, and, with my four black men,--who have really become
good sailors,--we would have a crew of seven men altogether, with which
we could work a fair-sized brig to Havre or some other French port.
Before he went away our business was settled. He agreed to go with me as
first mate, to do his best to help me get that gold to France, to
consider the whole treasure as mine, because I had discovered it,--I
explained the reason to him, as I did to you,--and to accept as regular
pay one hundred dollars a day, from then until we should land the cargo
in a European port, and then to leave it to me how much more I would give
him. I told him there were a lot of people to be considered, and I was
going to try to make the division as fair as possible, and he said he was
willing to trust it to me.