Way Down East; or, Portraitures of Yankee Life/Chapter VIII
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The Money-Diggers and old Nick
Chapter VIII The Money-Diggers and old Nick
This is a money digging world of ours; and, as it is said, "there are more ways than one to skin a cat," so are there more ways than one of digging for money. But, in some mode or other, this seems to be the universal occupation of the sons of Adam. Show me the man who does not spend one half of his life long in digging for money, and I will show you an anomaly in the human species. "Hunger will break through a stone wall," but love of money will compass earth and sea, and even brave heaven and hell, in pursuit of its object. The dark and bloody highwayman, in the silent hours of night, seeks a lonely pass on the public road, waits the approach of the coming traveller, puts a pistol to his breast and a hand to his pocket, takes his treasure, and flies to seek another spot and another opportunity for a repetition of his crime, and that is his mode of digging for money. The less daring robber takes his false keys, and makes his way at midnight into the store of the merchant, or the vaults of the bank, bears away his booty, and hides it in the earth; then, pale and haggard, creeps away to his restless couch, and rises in the morning to tremble at every sound he hears, and to read suspicion on the countenance of every one that approaches him---and that is his mode of digging for money.
Step with me into the courts of justice. Listen to that learned barrister, pleading for his client. What eloquence! what zeal! what power! How admirably does he "make the worse appear the better reason!" The patient judges sit from morning till night, waiting for his conclusion, and still it comes not. The evening waxeth late, and still he goes on citing case after case, and rule after rule, diving into huge piles of old volumes and musty records of the law, as eagerly as if his own life depended on the issue of the trial. What is it that impels him to all this exertion? I trow he is digging for money.
And then, do you see that restless politician? The whole weight of the government is resting on his shoulders. The salvation of the country depends upon the election of his candidates. How he rides from town to town, stirring up the voters! How he claps the speakers at the public caucus, and with what assiduity does he seize his neighbor by the button and lead him to the polls! What is it that gives such fire to his patriotic zeal, and keeps him in such continual commotion? The answer is short; he is only digging for money.
And so it is with all; the merchant in his counting-house, the mechanic in his workshop, and the farmer in his field, all are digging for money.
But, laying aside all figures of speech, and all circumlocution, let us speak of money-diggers proper--- bonâ fide money-diggers---men who dig holes in the ground, and delve deep into the bowels of the earth, in search of pots of money and kettles of gold and silver coin. For such there are, and probably have been in all countries and all ages.
On the rough and rocky coast of Maine, about ten miles to the eastward of Portland harbor, lies Jewell's Island. It is a bright and beautiful gem on the ocean's breast, full of various and romantic scenery. It has its green pastures, its cultivated fields, and its dark shaggy forests. Its seaward shore is a high and precipitous mass of rock, rough, and ragged, and projecting in a thousand shapes into the chafing ocean, whose broken waves dash and roll into its deep fissures, and roar and growl like distant thunder. On the inland side of the island, there is a grassy slope down to the water's edge, and here is a little, round, quiet, harbor, where boats can ride at anchor, or rest on the sandy beach in in perfect security. The island has been inhabited by a few fishermen, probably for a century, and, recently works have been erected upon it for the manufacture of copperas and alum, the mineral from which these articles are produced having been found there in great abundance.
This island has been renowned as a place for money-digging ever since the first settlements were planted along the coast; and wild and romantic are the legends related by the old dames, in the cottages of the fishermen, when some wind-bound passenger, who has left his vessel to spend the evening on shore, happens to make any inquiry about the money-diggers. But of all these wild legendary narratives, probably there is none more authentic, or supported by stronger or more undoubted testimony, than the veritable history herein recorded and preserved.
Soon after the close of the revolutionary war, when the country began to breathe somewhat freely again, after its long deathlike struggle, and the industry of the inhabitants was settling down into its accustomed channels, a sailor, who had wandered from Portland harbor some forty or fifty miles back into the country, called at the house of Jonathan Rider, and asked for some dinner. "But shiver my timbers," he added, "if I've got a stiver of money to pay for it with. The last shot I had in the locker went to pay for my breakfast."
"Well, never mind that," said Jonathan, "I never lets a fellow creetur go away hungry as long as I've got anything to eat myself. Come, haul up to the table here, and take a little of such pot-luck as we've got. Patty, hand on another plate, and dip up a little more soup."
The sailor threw his tarpaulin cap upon the floor, gave a hitch at his waistband, and took a seat at the table with the family, who had already nearly finished their repast.
"What may I call your name, sir, if I may be so bold?" said Jonathan, at the same time handing a bowl of soup to the sailor.
"My name is Bill Stanwood, the world over, fair weather or foul; I was born and brought up in old Marblehead, and followed fishing till I was twenty years old, and for the last ten years I've been foreign viges all over the world."
"And how happens you to get away so far from the sea now, jest as the times is growing better, and trade is increasing?"
"Oh, I had a bit of a notion," said Bill, "to take a land tack a few days up round in these parts."
"Maybe you've got some relations up this way," said Jonathan, "that you are going to visit?"
"Oh no," said Bill, "I haint got a relation on the face of the arth, as I know on. I never had any father, nor mother, nor brother, nor sister. An old aunt, that I lived with when I was a little boy, was all the mother that ever I had; and she died when I was on my last fishing cruise; and there was n't nobody left that I cared a stiver for, so I thought I might as well haul up line and be off. So I took to foreign viges at once, and since that I have been all round the West Indies, and to England, and France, and Russia, and South America, and up the Meditterranean, and clear round the Cape of Good Hope to China, and the deuce knows where."
"But you say you haint got no relations up this way?"
"Nor acquaintances nother?"
"Then, if I may be so bold, what sent you on a cruise so fur back in the country, afoot and alone, as the gal went to be married?"
"Oh, no boldness at all," said Bill; "ask again, if you like. Howsomever," he added, giving a knowing wink with one eye, "I come on a piece of business of a very particular kind, that I don't tell to everybody."
"I want to know!" said Jonathan, his eyes and mouth beginning to dilate a little. "Maybe, if you should tell me what 'tis, I might give you a lift about it."
"By the great hocus pocus!" said Bill, looking his host full in the face, "If I thought you could, I'd be your servant the longest day I live."
"You don't say so?" said Jonathan, with increasing interest; "it must be something pretty particular then. I should like mighty well to know what 'tis. Maybe I might help you about it."
"Well, then," said Bill, "I'll jest ask you one question. Do you know anything of an old school-master, about in these parts, by the name of Solomon Bradman?"
"Never heard anything of him?" said Bill, with earnestness.
"Not a word," said Jonathan? "why, what about him?"
"It is deuced strange," said Bill, "that I never can hear a word of that man. I'd work like a slave a whole year for the sake of finding him only one hour. I was told, the last he was heard on, he was in some of these towns round here, keeping school."
"Well, I never heard of him before," said Jonathan; "but what makes you so mighty anxious to find him? Did you go to school to him once, and have you owed him a licking ever since? Or does he owe you some money?"
"No, I never set eyes on him in my life," said Bill; "but there's nobody in the world I'd give half so much to see. And now we've got along so fur, jest between you and me, I'll ask you one more question; but I would n't have you name it to anybody for nothing."
"No, by jings," said Jonathan, "if you're a mind to tell me, I'll be as whist about it as a mouse."
"Well, then," said Bill, "I want to know, if you know of anybody, that knows how to work brandy-way? "
"Brandy-way? what's that?" said Jonathan. "If you mean anybody that can drink brandy-way, I guess I can show you one," he continued, turning to a stout, red-faced, blowzy looking man, who sat at his right hand at table. "Here's my neighbor, Asa Sampson, I guess can do that are sort of business as fast as anybody you can find. Don't you think you can, Asa?"
Asa Sampson was a hard one. He was helping Mr. Rider do his haying. He had been swinging the scythe, through a field of stout clover, all the forenoon, during which time he had taken a full pint of strong brandy, and now had just finished a hearty hot dinner. Mr. Sampson's face, therefore, it may well be supposed, was already in rather a high glow. But at this sudden sally of Mr. Rider, the red in Asa's visage grew darker and deeper, till it seemed almost ready to burst out into a blue flame. He choked and stammered, and tried to speak. And at last he did speak, and says he:---
"Why, yes, Mr. Rider, I guess so; and if you'll jest bring your brandy bottle on, I'll try to show you how well I can do that are sort of business."
Mr. Rider, thinking his joke upon Asa was rather a hard one, as the most ready means of atoning for it, called upon Mrs. Rider to bring forward the bottle at once.
"Come," said Mr. Rider, "let's take a drop," turning out a glass himself, and then passing the bottle to the sailor and Mr. Sampson.
"I can drink brandy all weathers," said Bill Stanwood, filling up a good stiff glass; "but if I could only jest find somebody that could show me how to work brandy-way, I should rather have it than all the brandy that ever was made in the world."
"But what do you mean by this brandy-way you talk about?" said Jonathan. "Seems to me that's a new kind of a wrinkle; I don't understand it."
"Why, I mean," said Bill, "I want to know how to measure brandy-way; that is, how to measure off so many rods on the ground brandy-way. I never heard of but one man that fully understood it, and that was Master Bradman; and I've been told that he knew it as well as he did the multiplication table. I've been hunting for that man a fortnight, all round in these towns about here, and it's plaguey strange I can't hear nothing of him."
"Well, I don't know anything about your measuring brandy-way," said Jonathan, "and as for Master Bradman, I'm sure there haint nobody by that name kept school in this town these twenty years. For I've lived here twenty years, and know every schoolmaster that's kept school here since I came into the town. But, if I may be so bold, what makes you so anxious to learn about this brandy-way business?"
"Why, I've reasons enough," said Bill; "I'll tell you what 'tis, shipmate," he added, giving Jonathan a familiar slap on the shoulder, "if I could only learn how to measure fifteen rods brandy-way, I would n't thank king George to be my grandfather. I should have as much money as I should want, if I should live to be as old as Methusaleh."
"You don't say so?" said Jonathan, his eyes evidently growing larger at the recital. "I should like mighty well to know how that's done."
"Well, I should a good deal rather see the money than hear about it," said Asa Sampson, whose ideas were somewhat waked up by the effects of the brandy.
"Then you don't believe it, do you?" said Bill. "I could convince you of it in five minutes, if I'd a mind to; for I've got the evidence of it in my pocket. If I could only measure brandy-way, I know where I could go and dig up lots and lots of money, that have been buried in the earth by pirates."
"Are you in arnest?" said Jonathan.
"To be sure I am; I never was more in arnest in my life."
"Well, now do tell us all about it, for if it's true, and you'll give me a share of it, I would n't valley taking my old horse and wagon, and going round a few days with you to help hunt up Master Bradman. And if we can't find him, perhaps we can find somebody else that knows how to do it. But do you know pretty near where the money is?"
"Yes, I know within fifteen rods of the very spot."
"And you are sure there's money buried there?"
"Yes, I'm sure of it. I've got the documents here in my pocket that tells all about it. I'm most tired of hunting alone for it, and, if you're a mind to take hold and follow it up with me, I've a good mind to let you into the secret, and let you go snacks with me; for, somehow or other, I kind of take a liking to you, and don't believe I shall find a cleverer fellow if I sail the world over."
"That's what you wont," said Mrs. Rider, who began to feel a strong interest in the conversation of the sailor. "I've summered and wintered Mr. Rider, and know just what he is; and I don't think you'll find anybody that would help you more in looking for the money, or any cleverer man to have a share of it after you've found it."
"Well, that's jest what I want," said Bill; "so, if you say so, it's a bargain."
"Well, I say so," said Jonathan; "now let's see your documents."
Bill Stanwood deliberately drew from his pocket an old rusty pocket-book, carefully tied together with a piece of twine. He opened it, and took from its inmost fold a paper much worn and soiled.
"There," said he, "that's the secret charm. That's worth more than King George's crown; if 'twas n't for that plaguey little botheration about measuring fifteen rods brandy-way. Now I'll tell you how I come by this ere paper. About three years ago, we was on a vige round the Cape of Good Hope, and we had an old Spanish sailor with us that was a real dark faced old bruiser. He was full of odd ways. It seemed as if he'd got tired of the world and every body in it, and did n't care for nobody nor nothin'. And every soul on board almost hated him, he was so crabbed-like. At last he was took sick, and grew very bad. Day after day he lay in his berth, and only grew worse. The captain used to send him some medicine every day, but never would go near him, and none of the hands did n't go nigh him, only jest to hand him the medicine when the captain sent it. And he would take the medicine without saying a word, and then lay down again, and you wouldn't know but what he was dead all day, if it was n't once in a while you would hear him fetch a hard breath, or a groan. I began to pity him, and I went and stood, and looked on him. The cold sweat stood in drops on his forehead, he was in so much distress. And says I, `Diego, can't I do something for you?' And I s'pose I looked kind of pitiful on him, for he opened his eyes and stared in my face a minute, as if he heard some strange sound, and then the tears come into his eyes, and his chin quivered, and says he,
"`Bill, if you'll only jest get me a drink of cold water, for I'm all burning up inside.'
"And I went and got him some water, and he drinked it, and it seemed to revive him a little. And says he to me, `Bill, I'm jest going off upon my last long vige.' And then he put his hand in his pocket, and took out this very paper, and handed it to me; and says he,
"`I meant to have kept this in my pocket, and let it be throwed with my old carcase into the sea; but you have been kind to me, and you may have it; and if ever you go into that part of the world again, it will show you where you can get as much money as you want.'
"That night poor Diego died, and we took and wrapped him in his blanket, and put a stone to his feet, and threw him overboard; and that was the end of poor Diego."
"Poor soul," said Mrs. Rider, brushing a tear from her eye, "how could you bear to throw him overboard?"
"Oh, we could n't do nothin' else with him, away off there to sea. When a poor fellow dies a thousand miles from land, there's no other way but to souse him over, and let him go. I pitied the creetur at the last, but no doubt he'd been a wicked wretch, and I suppose had lived among pirates. He had scars on his face and arms, that showed he'd been in some terrible battles."
"Well, what was in the paper?" said Jonathan, beginning to grow a little impatient for the documents.
"I'll read it to you," said Bill.
So saying, he opened the paper, which was so much worn at the folds as to drop into several pieces, and read from it as follows:---
In the name of Captain Kidd, Amen. ---On Jewell's Island, near the harbor of Falmouth, in the District of Maine, is buried a large iron pot full of gold, with an iron cover over it, and also two large iron pots full of silver dollars and half dollars, with iron covers over them; and also one other large iron pot, with an iron cover over it, full of rich jewels, and gold rings and necklaces, and gold watches of great value. In this last pot is the paper containing the agreement of the four persons who buried these treasures, and the name of each one is signed to it with his own blood. In that agreement it is stated that this property belongs equally to the four persons who buried it, and is not to be dug up or disturbed while the whole four are living, except they be all present. And in case it shall not be reclaimed during the lifetime of the four, it shall belong equally to the survivors, who shall be bound to each other in the same manner as the four were bound. And in case this property shall never be dug up by the four, or any of them, the last survivor shall have a right to reveal the place where it is hid, and to make such disposition of it as he may think proper. And in that same paper, the evil spirit of darkness is invoked to keep watch over this money, and to visit with sudden destruction any one of the four who may violate his agreement. This property was buried at the hour of midnight, and only at the hour of midnight can it ever be reclaimed. And it can be obtained only in the most profound silence on the part of those who are digging for it. Not a word or syllable must be uttered from the time the first spade is struck in the ground, till a handful of the money is taken out of one of the pots. This arrangement was entered into with the spirit of darkness, in order to prevent any unauthorized persons from obtaining the money. I am the last survivor of the four. If I shall dispose of this paper to any one before my death, or leave it to any one after I am gone, he may obtain possession of this great treasure by observing the following directions. Go to the north side of the island, where there is a little cove, or harbor, and a good landing on a sandy beach. Take your compass and run by it due south a half a mile, measuring from high-water mark. Then run fifty rods east by compass, and there you will find a blue stone, about two feet long, set endwise into the ground. From this stone, measure fifteen rods brandy-way, and there, at the depth of five feet from the surface of the ground, you will find the pots of money.
(Signed) Diego Zevola.
When Bill Stanwood had finished reading his `document,' there was silence in the room for the space of two minutes. Jonathan's eyes were fixed in a sort of bewildered amazement upon the sailor, and Mrs. Rider's were riveted intently upon her husband; while Asa Sampson's were rolling about with a strange wildness, and his mouth was stretched open wide enough to swallow the brandy bottle whole. At last, says Bill,
"There you have it in black and white, and there's no mistake about it. It's all as true as the book of Genesis. I've been on to the ground, and I've measured off the half a mile south, and I've measured the fifty rods east, and I've found the blue stone, but how to measure the fifteen rods brandy-way, I'll die if I can tell."
"Well, that's a tremendous great story," said Asa Sampson; "but, according to my way of thinking, I should rather have it in black and white, than to have it in red and white. Somehow or other, I never should want to have anything to do with papers that are signed with men's blood. I should n't like to be handling that paper that's buried up in one of them pots."
"Poh, that paper's nothing to us," said Bill; "we didn't write it. I should as lives take that paper up and read it, as to read the prayer-book."
"Mercy on us," said Mrs. Rider; "read a paper that's writ with men's blood, and when the old Nick is set to watch it too? I would n't do it for all the world, and husband shan't do it neither."
"But does it say we must have anything to do with the paper, in order to get the money?" said Jonathan.
"Not a word," said Bill. "I tell you that paper has no more to do with us, than it has with the man in the moon."
"But," said Mrs. Rider, "it does say the old evil one is set there to watch the money. And do you think I'd have my husband go and dig for money right in the face and eyes of old Nick himself? I should rather be as poor as Job's cat all the days of my life."
"There's no trouble about that," said Bill; "all we've got to do is to hold our tongues, while we're digging, and the old feller 'll keep his distance, and won't say a word to us. At any rate, I'm determined to have the money, if I can find it, devil or no devil.
"But that confounded brandy-way, I don't know how to get over that. That's worse than forty Old Nicks to get along with."
"Well, I'll tell you what 'tis," said Jonathan, "if you can get within fifteen rods of the money, I can find it without any help of your brandy-way, that you tell about."
"You can?" said Bill, eagerly.
"Yes; if you'll carry me within fifteen rods of where the money is, I'll engage to find the very spot where it is buried in less than one hour."
"You will?" said Bill, springing on his feet, and giving Jonathan a slap on his shoulder, "Can you do it? Do tell us how."
"Yes, I can find it with a mineral rod."
"What's a mineral rod?" said Bill. "Now none of your humbugs; but if you can do it, tell us how."
"There's no humbug about it," said Jonathan, tartly. "I know how to work a mineral rod, and I believe I can find the money."
"But what is a mineral rod?" said Bill.
"Why, don't you know? It's a green crotched branch of witch-hazel, cut off about a foot and a half or two foot long. And them that has the power to work 'em, takes the ends of the branches in each hand, and holds the other end, where the branches are joined together, pointing up to the sky. And when they come near where there's minerals, or gold, or silver, buried in the ground, the rod will bend that way; and when they get right over the spot, the rod will bend right down and point towards the ground."
"Now, is that true?" said Bill.
"True? yes, every word of it. I've seen it done many a time, and I've done it myself. The mineral rod won't work in everybody's hands, but it 'll work in mine, and once I found a broad-axe by it that was lost in the meadow."
"Well, then," said Bill, "let us be off forthwith, and not let that money lie rusting in the ground any longer. Why not start off to-night?"
"Well, I don't know but we could start towards night," said Jonathan; "but I shall have to go out first and hunt up a witch-hazel tree to get some mineral rods."
"It's my opinion," said Asa Sampson, "you had better wait a day or two, and finish getting in your hay before you go; for if you should come back with your wagon filled with money, you'll be too confounded lazy ever to get it in afterwards."
"No, you shan't stir one step," said Mrs. Rider, "till that hay is all got in. There's two loads out that's made enough to get in now, and you know there's as much as one load to mow yet."
Mrs. Rider's will was all the law or gospel there was about the house. Of course her husband did not undertake to gainsay her dictum, but told Bill they could not possibly get ready to start before the next night, as that hay would have to be taken care of first.
"Well, then," said Bill, "call all hands, and let's go at it. Come, where's your scythe? I'll go and finish mowing that grass down in the first place."
"But can you mow?" said Jonathan, doubtingly.
"Mow? I guess you'd think so, if you should see me at it. I worked on a farm six weeks once, when I was a boy, and learnt to pull every rope in the ship."
All hands repaired to the field. Bill Stanwood took a scythe and went to thrashing about as though he were killing rattlesnakes. He soon battered up one scythe against the rocks, and presently broke another by sticking it into a stump. It was then agreed that he should change works with Asa Sampson, and help get the hay into the barn, while Asa mowed. The business then went on briskly. The boys and girls were out spreading and raking hay, and Mrs. Rider herself went on to the mow in the barn to help stow it away. The next day the haying was finished, and all things were in preparation to start for Jewell's Island. Mrs. Rider, however, whose imagination had been excited by the idea of Old Nick being set to guard the money, was still unwilling her husband should go; and it was not till he had solemnly promised to bring her home a new silk gown, and a new pair of morocco shoes, and some stuff to make her a new silk bonnet, that she finally gave her consent. When the matter was finished, she took a large firkin and filled it with bread and cheese, and boiled beef, and doughnuts, for them to eat on their way; and Bill said there was a great plenty to last till they got down to the pots of money, and after that they could buy what they wanted.
Asa Sampson, who was at work for Mr. Rider, agreed to go with them for his regular daily pay, with this proviso: if they got the money, they were to make him a present outright of a hundred dollars, which he said would be as much money as he should ever know what to do with.
As a parting caution, Mrs. Rider charged them to remember and not speak while they were digging, and told them, lest some word might slip out before they thought of it, they had better each of them tie a handkerchief over their mouths when they begun to dig, and not take it off till they got down to the money. They all agreed that it would be an excellent plan, and they would certainly do it.
Mr. Rider's old horse was tackled into the wagon, the baggage was put on board, and the three fortune-hunters jumped in and drove off for Falmouth. It was a long and lonesome road, but the bright visions of the future, that were dancing before their eyes, made it seem to them like a journey to Paradise.
"Now, Mr. Rider," said Bill, "what do you mean to do with your half of the money, when we get it?"
"Well, I think I shall take two thousand dollars of it," said Jonathan, "and buy Squire Dickinson's farm, that lives next neighbor to me. He's always looked down upon me with a kind of contempt, because I was n't so well off in the world as he was; and I should like mighty well to get him out of the neighborhood. And I guess he's drove for money too, and would be glad to sell out. And now, neighbor Stanwood, I'll tell you what I think you better do. You better buy a good farm right up there alongside of me, and we'll build each of us a large nice house, just alike, and get each of us a first rate horse, and we'll live together there, and ride about and take comfort."
"By the hocus pocus!" said Bill, "I hope you don't call that taking comfort. No, none of your land-lubber viges for me. I'll tell you what I mean to do. As soon as I get my money I mean to go right to Boston and buy the prettiest ship I can find---one that will sail like the wind---and I'll have three mates, so I shan't have to stand no watch, but go below just when I like; and I'll go cap'n of her, and go away up the Mediterranian, and up the Baltic. And then I'll make a vige straight round the world, and if I don't beat Captain Cook all to nothin', I think it's a pity. And now you better sell out your old farm up there among the bushes, and go with me. I'll tell you what 'tis, shipmate, you'd take more comfort in one month aboard a good vessel, than you could on a farm in a whole year. What comfort is there to be found on a farm, where you never see any thing new, but have the same thing over and over forever? No variety, no change but everything always the same---I should get as tired as death in a month."
"Well, now, neighbor," said Jonathan, "you are as much mistaken, as if you had burnt your shirt. There's no business in the world that has so much variety and so many new things all the time, as farming. In the first place, in the spring comes ploughing time, and then comes planting time, and after that hoeing and weeding; and then comes haying time; and then reaping time; and then getting in the corn and potatoes. And then, to fill up with a little fun once in a while, we have sheep washing in the spring, and huskings in the fall, and breaking out the roads after a snow storm in the winter; and something or other new most all the time. When your crops are growing, even your fields look new every morning; while at sea you have nothing new, but the same things over and over, every day from morning till night. You do nothing but sail, sail, all the time, and have nothing to look at but water from one week's end to another."
Here Bill Stanwood burst into a broad loud laugh, and says he:---
"Well done, shipmate. I must say you are the greenest horn I've met with this long time. No variety and nothing new to be seen in going to sea! If that aint a good one! The very place, too, to see everything new and to learn everything that there is in the world. Why, only jest in working the ship there's more variety and more to be seen than there is in working a whole farm, to say nothing about going all over the world, and seeing everything else. Even in a dead calm you can see the whales spouting and the porpoises rolling about. And when the wind is slack, you have enough to do to stick on your canvas. You run up your topgallan-sels, and your rials, and out with your studden-sels, and trim your sheets, and make all the sails draw. And then you walk the deck and watch the changes of the wind, and if a vessel heaves in sight what a pleasure there is in taking your spy-glass and watching her motions till she's out of sight again; or, if she comes near enough, how delightful 'tis to hail her and learn where she's from, and where she's bound, and what her captain's name is! And when it comes on a blow, what a stirring time there is! All hands are out to take in the light sails; down goes the topgallan' yards; and if the wind increases you begin to reef; and if it comes on to blow a real snorter, you furl all sails and scud away under bare poles. And sometimes, when the storm is over, you come across some poor fellows on a wreck, half starved or half froze to death, and then you out with your boat and go and take 'em off, and nurse 'em up and bring 'em to. Now here's some life in all this business, some variety, and something interesting, compared with what there is on a farm. You better pull up stakes when we get our money, sell your old farm and go to sea along with me."
"Well," said Jonathan, "I'll tell you what 'tis neighbor, I'll leave it out to Mr. Sampson here to say which is the best and pleasantest business, farming or going to sea. If he says farming, you shall pay the toddy at the next tavern, and if he says going to sea, I'll pay it."
"Done," said Bill. "Now, Asa, give us your opinion."
"Well," said Asa, "all I can say is, if going to sea isn't pleasanter business than farming there isn't much pleasure in it, that's all."
"But that aint deciding anything at all," said Bill; "you must tell us right up and down which is the best business."
"Well, if I must say," said Asa, "I should say going to sea was the best and the pleasantest."
"There, I told you so," said Bill. "Now how fur is it to the next tavern? I want that toddy."
"It's jest to the top of this hill," said Jonathan; "and bein' the hill's pretty steep, we'll jump out and walk up, and give the old horse a chance to breathe."
So out they jumped, and Jonathan drove the horse up the hill, while Bill and Asa loitered along a little behind.
"How upon arth," said Bill, "come you to decide in favor of going to sea? Did you ever go to sea?"
"I? No I never set foot aboard a vessel in all my life."
"Then how come you to know so much about going to sea?"
"Poh!" said Asa, "all I knew about it was, I knew Mr. Rider had some money, and I knew you had n't, and I wanted the toddy. How could I decide any other way?"
"True enough," said Bill; "you was exactly right."
When they reached the tavern, Mr. Rider paid the toddy, and, after giving the old horse a little provender and a little time to breathe, the trio pursued their journey with renewed spirits and livelier hopes. When they reached the sea-shore at Falmouth, the sun was about an hour high. They immediately hired a small row boat for two or three days, leaving their horse and wagon in pawn for it, and prepared to embark for Jewell's Island, which was about ten miles distant. Jonathan was a little fearful about being out upon the water in the night, and was for waiting till next morning and taking the day before them for the voyage to the island. But Bill said no, "they could go half the distance before sunset, and as there was a good moon, there would be no difficulty in going the other half after sunset; and he was determined to be on the island that night, let the consequence be what 'twould."
They accordingly put their baggage on board, and jumped in, and rowed off. Bill first took the helm, and Jonathan and Asa sat down to the oars. But being totally unaccustomed to a boat, they made sad work of rowing, and in spite of all of Bill's teaching and preaching, scolding and swearing, their oars splashed up and down alternately in the water, resembling more in their operation two flails upon the barn floor than two oars upon the ocean. Their little bark made but slow headway, and Bill soon got out of patience, and told Jonathan to take the helm and he would row himself. Jonathan, however, succeeded no better at the helm than at the oar; for the boat was soon heading in all directions, and making as crooked a track as was ever made by the veritable sea-serpent himself. So that Bill was obliged to call Jonathan from the helm, and manage to keep the boat as straight as he could by rowing. The slow progress they made under all these disadvantages brought it to midnight before they reached the island. They however succeeded at last in gaining the little harbor, and it being about high water they drew their boat upon the beach, and walked up on the island towards a fisherman's hut, which Bill had frequented upon his former visit to the place. The moon had set, and the night was now somewhat dark. As they wound their way along through the bushes and under the tall trees, not a sound was to be heard, save the low sullen roar of the ocean, which came like delicious music to the ears of Bill Stanwood, while to Jonathan and Asa it added a still deeper gloom to the silence and darkness of the night.
They had walked but a short distance when a dim light glittered through the trees, and told them that the fisherman's hut was near.
"Ah," said Bill, "old Mother Newbegin is up. I believe she never goes to bed; for go there what time of night you will, you will always find her padding about the room with an old black night-cap on, putting dishes to rights in the closet, or sweeping up the floor, or sitting down and mending her husband's clothes. She looks more like a witch than she does like a human creetur, and sometimes I've almost thought she had something to do about guarding the money that's buried on the island."
"Well, ain't there some other house about here," said Asa, "that we can go to? Somehow, it seems to me I should n't like to get quite so near that old hag, if there's any witchcraft about her."
"There's no other house very near," said Bill; "and, besides, I think it's best to go in and see old Mother Newbegin. For if she is a witch, it's no use to try to keep out of the way of her; and if we keep the right side of her and don't get her mad, maybe she may help us a little about finding the money."
They approached the house, and as they passed the little low window, they saw by the red light of a pitch knot, that was burning on the hearth, the old woman sitting and roasting coffee, which she was stirring with a stout iron spoon. They stopped a little and reconnoitered. The glare of the light fell full on the old woman's face, showing her features sharp and wrinkled, her skin brown, and her eyes black and fiery. Her chin was leaning on one hand, and the other was busily employed in stirring the coffee, while she was talking to herself with a solemn air, and apparently with much earnestness. Her black night-cap was on, and fastened with a piece of twine under her chin, and the tight sleeves of her frock sat close to her long bony arms, while her bare feet and bird-claw toes projected out in full view below the bottom of her dress.
"I swow," said Asa, "I believe she has got a cloven foot. Let's be off; I should rather go back and sleep in the boat than to go in here to-night."
"Poh!" said Bill, "that's only the shadow of her foot you see on the floor; she has n't got any more of a cloven foot than you have. Come, I'm going in whether or no."
With that he gave a loud rap at the door.
"Who's there?" screamed the old woman.
"A friend," said Bill.
"Well, who be ye? What's your name? I shan't open the door till I know who you be."
"Bill Stanwood," said the sailor.
"Oh, is it you, Bill? Come in then," said the old woman unfastening the door, and throwing it open.
"So you're after money again, aint ye?" said the old woman, as they entered the house; "and you've brought these two men with you to help you, and that's what you are here for this time of night."
"I swow," said Asa, whispering to Bill Stanwood, "let's be off, she knows all about it."
"Hold your tongue, you fool," said Bill; "if she knows all about us we may as well be here as any where else."
Asa trembled a little, but finally took a seat on a bench near the door, ready to run, in case matters should grow desperate.
"Well," said the old woman, "if you get the money, you'll have to work hard for it. There's been a good many tried for it before you; and there's been two men here hunting all over the island since you was here before. They dug round in a good many places, and my old man thinks they found some, for they give him half a dollar for fetching their boat back when she went adrift, and he said the half dollar was kind of rusty, and looked as though it had been buried in the ground. But I've no idea they got a dollar. It isn't so easy a matter; Old Nick takes better care of his money than all that comes to."
"Where is your old man," said Bill. "Seems to me he's always away when I come."
"The Lord knows where he is," said the old woman; "he's been out a fishing this three days, and was to a been home last night. I've been down to the shore three times to day to see if his boat was in sight, but could n't see nothin' of him."
"Well, aint you afraid he's lost?" said Bill.
"What! old Mike Newbegin, my old man, lost? No, not he. The wind always favors him when he gets ready to come home, let it be blowing which way 'twill. If it's blowing right dead ahead, and he pulls up anchor and starts for home, it will come round in five minutes and blow a fair wind till he gets clear into the harbor."
Here Asa whispered to Bill again, declaring his opinion that the old woman was a witch, if nothing worse, and proposing to leave the house and seek shelter for the night somewhere else. But Bill resolutely opposed all propositions of the kind, and Asa, being too timid to go alone, was compelled to stay and make the best of it."
"Well, come, old lady," said Bill, "you can give us a berth to lay down and take a nap till morning."
"Why, yes," said the old woman, "there's room enough in 'tother room. If anybody wants to sleep, I always let 'em, though, for my part, I can't see what good it does 'em. I think it's throwing away time. I don't think there's any need of any body's sleeping more than once or twice a week, and then not more than an hour at once; an hour of sleep is as good as a month at any time."
This strange doctrine about sleep caused Asa's knees to tremble worse than ever, as he followed Bill and Jonathan into the other room, where they found a mattress of straw and some blankets, and laid down to rest. Bill and Jonathan soon fell into a comfortable snore, but Asa thought if there was no sleep for Mother Newbegin there was none for him. At least he felt little inclined to trust himself asleep in the house while she was awake. Accordingly he turned and rolled from side to side, for two long hours, but could get no rest. He sat up in bed. By a crack under the door he perceived there was a faint light still glimmering in the other room. He walked softly towards the door and listened. He could occasionally hear the catlike footsteps of the old woman padding across the floor. Once he thought she came close to the door, and he drew back lightly on his tiptoes to the bedside. He wondered how Bill and Jonathan could sleep so quietly, and stepping to the other side of the room, he seated himself on a chest by a low window containing three panes of seven by nine glass, the rest of the space being filled up with boards. Here he sat revolving over in his mind the events of the day, and of the night thus far, and more and more wishing himself safely at home, money or no money The night was still dark and gloomy, but he could now and then see a star as he looked from the little window, and---
Oft to the east his weary eyes he cast, And wish'd the lingering dawn would glimmer forth at last.
And at last it did glimmer forth; and presently the grey twilight began to creep into the room, and trees, and bushes, and rocks, as he looked from the window, began to appear with distinctness. Asa roused his companions, and they prepared to sally forth for their day's enterprise. In leaving the house, they had to go through the room in which they had left mother Newbegin when they retired. On entering this room they found the old woman appearing precisely as they had left her, gliding about like a spirit, apparently busy, though they could hardly tell what she was doing. She seemed a little surprised at their rising so early, and told them if they would wait half an hour she would have some breakfast for them. They gave her many thanks, but told her they had provisions with them, and, as their business was important, they must be moving.
"Ah, that money, that money," said the old woman shaking her head; "look out sharp, or Old Nick will make a supper of one of you to-night."
The party left the house and started for the little harbor. Asa seemed rather wild at this last remark of the old woman, and looked back over his shoulder as they departed, till they had gone several rods from the house. When they reached the harbor, they found the boat and all things as they had left them, and proceeded forthwith to commence the important work of the day. They set their compass at high-water mark at the highest point of the harbor, and took a rod pole and measured off half a mile from that point due south. They then set their compass at this place and measured off fifty rods due east. And here they found the blue stone, as described in the "documents" which Bill Stanwood had received from the pirate. The eyes of the whole party brightened as they came to it.
"There 'tis," said Bill, "so fur, exact as I told you, aint it?"
"Yes, fact, to a hair's breadth," said Jonathan.
"Well, now if you can get the fifteen rods brandy-way, you'll find the rest jest as I told you," said Bill.
They then measured of fifteen rods from the blue stone in various directions, and set up little stakes, forming a sort of circle round the stone at fifteen rods distance from it.
"Now," said Jonathan, "I'll take my mineral rod and walk round on this ring, and if the money is here I shall find the spot."
He then took his green crotched witch-hazel bough, and holding the top ends of the twigs in his hand, so that the part where they joined would point upward, began his mysterious march round the circle, while Bill and Asa walked, one on each side of him, at a little distance, and watched the mineral rod. Sometimes it would seem to incline a little one way, and sometimes a little the other, but nothing very remarkable occurred till they had gone about three-quarters round the circle, when the rod seemed to be agitated somewhat violently, and began to bend perceptibly towards the ground, and at last it bent directly downwards.
"There," said Jonathan, "do you see that? My gracious, how strong it pulls! Here's the place for bargains; drive down a stake."
"I swow," said Asa, "I never see the like of that before. I begin to think there's something in it now."
"Something in it!" said Bill Stanwood, slapping his hands together; "did n't I tell you if we could only find the fifteen rods brandy-way, I would n't thank King George to be my grandfather? Now, Mr. Rider, jest hand out your brandy bottle. We have n't had a drop to-day; and since we've worked brandy-way so well your way, I should like now to work it in Asa's way a little."
"I second that motion," said Asa, "for I'm as dry as a herrin'."
They accordingly took a social drink of brandy and water, and drank health and success to him who should first hit the pot of money; and having sat down under a tree and eaten a hearty meal from their basket, they returned to mother Newbegin's to prepare for the labors of the coming night. They brought from their boat three shovels, a pick-axe, and a crowbar. The old woman eyed these preparations askance, and as she turned away, Asa thought he could discern on her features the deep workings of a suppressed laugh. The afternoon wore away slowly, for they were impatient to behold their treasures; and twice they walked to the spot, which was to be the scene of their operations, to consult and decide on the details to be observed. They concluded, in order to be sure of hitting the pots, it would be best to make their excavation at least ten or twelve feet in diameter, and in order to afford ample time to get down to them at about midnight, they decided to commence operations soon after dark.
"And now, about not speaking after we begin to dig," said Bill; "how shall we work it about that? for, you know, if one of us happens to speak a word, the jig is up with us."
"I think the safest way would be," said Asa, "to cut our tongues out, and then we shall be sure not to speak. Howsomever, whether we cut our tongues out or not, if you won't speak, I'll promise you I won't; for I've no idea of giving the old feller a chance to carry me off, I can tell you."
"Well," said Jonathan, "I guess we better tie some handkerchiefs tight round our mouths, as my wife said, and we shan't be so likely to forget ourselves."
This arrangement was finally concluded upon, and they returned to the house. That night they took supper with mother Newbegin, and endeavored, by paying her a liberal sum for the meal, and by various acts of courtesy, to secure her good graces. She seemed more social than she had been before, and even, at times, a sort of benevolent expression beamed from her countenance, which caused Asa to pluck up a comfortable degree of courage. But when it became dark, and they shouldered their tools to depart, the old woman fixed her sharp eyes upon them with such a wild sort of a look, that Asa began to cringe and edge along towards the door, and when she added, with a grave shake of the head, that they had better look out sharp, or the Old Nick would have them before morning, his knees trembled, and he once more wished himself at home.
The party arrived at the spot. And first, according to previous arrangements, they tied handkerchiefs over their mouths. They then measured a circle round the stake, of twelve feet in diameter, and took their shovels and commenced throwing out the earth. The night was still and calm, and though the atmosphere was not perfectly clear, the starlight was sufficient to enable them to pursue their labors with facility. They soon broke ground over the whole area which they had marked out, and diligently, shovelful by shovelful, they raised the gravelly soil and threw it beyond the circle. In half an hour they had sunk their whole shaft nearly two feet, and were getting along so far quite comfortably, with bright hopes and tolerably quiet nerves. No sound broke upon the stilness around them, save the sound of their own shovels against the stones and gravel, and the distant roar of the chafing ocean. But at this moment there rose a wild and powerful wind, which brushed down upon them like a tornado. The trees bent and quivered before it, the leaves flew, and dust and gravel, and light substances on the ground, were whirled into the air, and carried aloft and abroad with great rapidity. Among the rest, Asa Sampson's straw hat was snatched from his head and flew away like a bird in the air. Asa dropt his shovel, and sprang from the pit, and gave chase with all his might. After following it about fifty rods, it touched the ground, and he had the good fortune to catch it. He returned to his companions, whom he found standing awe-struck, holding their own hats on, and rubbing the dust from their eyes. It was but a few minutes, however, before the extreme violence of the wind began to abate and they were enabled to pursue their labors. Still the wind was wild and gusty. They had never known it to act so strangely, or to cut up such mad pranks before. Sometimes it would be blowing strongly in one direction, and in one minute it would change and blow as powerfully in the other; and sometimes it would whisk round and round them like a whirlwind, making the gravel they had thrown but fly like hailstones. Black, heavy, and angry looking clouds kept floating by, and sometimes they heard the distant rumbling of thunder. They had never seen such clouds before. They appeared to them like huge living animals, that glared at them, as they flew over, with a hundred eyes. Asa sometimes thought they looked like monstrous great sea-turtles, and he fancied he could see huge legs and claws extending from their sides; and once he was just on the point of exclaiming to his companions, and telling them to look out, or that monstrous turtle would hit them with his claw as he went over; but the handkerchief over his mouth checked him, and reminded him that he must not speak, and he only sank down close to the bank where he was digging. The clouds grew thicker and darker, but instead of adding to the darkness of the night, they seemed to emit a sort of broken, flickering twilight, sufficient to enable them to see the changes in each other's countenances, and to behold objects rather indistinctly at some rods' distance. Each perceived that the others were pale and trembling, and each endeavored, by signs and gestures, and plying his shovel with firmness and resolution, to encourage his fellows to perseverance.
It was now about eleven o'clock, and having measured the depth they had gone they found it to be good four feet. One foot more would bring them to the money; and they fell to work with increased vigor. At this moment a heavy crash of thunder broke over their heads, and big drops of rain began to spatter down. Though nearly stunned by the report, they recovered in a minute and pursued their labors. The rain increased rapidly, and now began to pour down almost in one continued sheet. Although the earth below them was loose and open, and drank in the water very fast, still so powerfully did the rain continue to descend, that in a short time they found it standing six inches round their feet. One of them now took a pail and dipped out water, while the others continued to shovel gravel. Their resolution seemed to increase in proportion to the obstacles they met, and gravel and water were thrown out in rapid succession. The force of the rain soon began to abate, and they would in a short time have accomplished the other foot of digging, had not the loose soil on the sides of the shaft begun to come in by means of the wet, and accumulate at the bottom faster than they could throw it out. Several times it gained upon them, in this way, to the depth of some inches. While they were battling with this difficulty, and looking up at the bank to see where it would come in next, a tremendously great black dog came and stood upon the brink, and opened his deep red jaws, and began to bark with terrific power. They shrunk back from the hideous animal, and raised their shovels to fright him off; but a second thought told them they had better let him alone and stick to their work.
They measured their depth again, and found it in some places four feet and a half, and in others almost five. They again plied their shovels with all diligence, and as they stepped to and fro at their work, that deep-mouthed dog kept up his deafening bark, and leaping round the verge of the pit, and keeping on the side nearest them, whenever they approached the side to throw out a shovelful of earth, he would spring and snap at their heads like a hungry lion. Asa seized the pickaxe, partly with a view of defending himself against the dog, and partly for the purpose of striking it down to see if he could hit the pots. He commenced driving the sharp point of it into the earth, passing round from one side of the pit to the other, till at last he hit a solid stone; and striking round for some distance they perceived the stone was large and flat. Bill and Jonathan made their shovels fly, and soon began to lay the surface of the stone bare. They noticed when they first struck the stone that the dog began to bark with redoubled fierceness, and as they proceeded to uncover it, he seemed to grow more and more enraged. As he did not jump down into the pit, however, they continued to keep out of his reach and pursue their work. Having laid the stone bare, and dug the earth away from the edges, they found it to be smooth and flat, about four feet square, and six or eight inches in thickness. They got the crow-bar under one side, and found they could pry it up. They gradually raised it about six inches, and putting something under to hold it, they began, by means of a stick, to explore the cavity beneath it. In moving the stick round amongst the loose sand under the stone, they soon felt four hard round substances, which they were sure must be the four iron pots. Presently they were enabled to rattle the iron covers, which gave a sound that could not be mistaken. At last they got the stick under one of the covers and shoved it into the pot, and they heard the jingle of money. Each one took hold of the stick and tried it; there was no mistake; they all poked the money with the stick, and they all heard it jingle. All that now remained was to remove the great stone. It was very heavy, but they seized it with resolute determination, and all got hold on one side with the intention of turning it up on the edge. They lifted with all their might, and were but just able to start it. They however made out to raise it slowly till they could rest it a little on their knees, where it became stationary. It seemed doubtful whether they would possibly be able to raise it on the edge, and it seemed almost equally difficult to let it down without crushing their own feet. To add to their embarrassment, the dog was barking and snapping more fiercely than ever, and seemed just upon the point of springing upon them. At this critical moment, a person came up to the edge of the pit, and bid the dog "Get out." The dog was hushed, and drew back.
"I say, neighbors," continued the stranger, "shall I give you a lift there?"
"Yes, quick," said Asa, "I can't hold on another minute."
The stranger jumped down behind them and put his hand against the stone. In a moment the ponderous weight of the stone was changed to the lightness of a dry pine board, and it flew out of the pit, carrying the three money diggers with it, head over heels, to the distance of two rods.
They picked themselves up as speedily as they could, and ran for their lives towards the house When they arrived they found mother Newbegin up, as usual, and trotting about the room. They called to her and begged her to open the door as quick as possible. As the old woman let them in, she fixed her sharp eyes upon them and exclaimed,
"Well, if you've got away alive you may thank me for it. I've kept the Bible open for you, and a candle burning before it, ever since you left the house; and I knew while the candle was shining on the Bible for you he could n't touch you."
They were too much agitated to enter into conversation on the subject, and being exceedingly exhausted, they laid down to rest, but not to sleep. The night passed wearily away, and morning came. The weather was clear and pleasant, and after taking some refreshments they concluded to repair again to the scene of their labors, and see if the money was still there and could be obtained. Asa was very reluctant to go, "He did n't believe there was a single dollar left." But Bill Stanwood was resolute. Go he would. Jonathan said "he might as well die one way as another, for he never should dare to go home again without carrying his wife's new gown and morocco shoes."
So, after due consultation, they started again for the money-hole. On arriving there, they found their tools and the general appearance of the place just as they had left them. There was the great flat stone, lying about two rods from the pit. And on looking into the pit, they observed, under the place where the stone had laid, four large round holes in the sand, all of which were much stained with iron rust. They got down and examined the place. There had evidently been iron vessels there; but they were gone, money and all.
"Come," said Asa, "this place smells rather too strong of brimstone; let us be going."