Dave Porter on Cave Island/Chapter 23

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CHAPTER XXIII


A STRANGE DISCOVERY


A half-mile was covered when, on turning a point of rocks, the boys and the captain came to a sandy cove. Here was more of the wreckage, and the whole party ran down to the beach to investigate.

Boxes, barrels, and bits of timber were strewn from one end of the cove to the other, and in the mass were a number of things of more or less value—timber, food, and some clothing. There was also a trunk, but it was open and empty.

"Look!" cried Dave, suddenly, and pointed to a small, black leather case, that rested on some of the wreckage.

"What is it?" queried Phil and Roger, in a breath.

Dave did not reply, for he was crawling over the wreckage with care. Soon he reached the spot where the black leather case rested, caught on a nail, and he picked it up. The clasp was undone and the case fell open, revealing the interior, which was lined with white plush.

"Empty!" murmured Dave, sadly. "Empty!" There was a groan in his voice as he uttered the word.

"What is it, Dave?" asked the senator's son, although he and Phil guessed the truth.

"It's the Carwith jewel-case," was the answer. "The very case that Mr. Carwith left with Mr. Wadsworth!"

"Are you certain?" demanded Phil.

"Yes, for here is the name, 'Ridgewood Osgood Carwith,' stamped in gold on the top."

"And empty," murmured the captain. "This looks bad," and he shook his head, thoughtfully.

"Maybe Jasniff and Merwell took the jewels from the case," suggested Roger, hopefully.

"It is possible, Roger. But—but—I am afraid the jewels are at the bottom of the ocean," answered Dave, and his face showed how downcast he felt.

"They might have taken the jewels and divided them between themselves," said Phil. "Maybe they put them in money-belts, or something like that. They might think that the sailors would rob them, if they saw the case."

"It's possible, Phil, and I hope you are right," answered our hero. But in his heart he was still afraid that the gems had gone to the bottom of the Atlantic.

"I think we had better climb to the top of yonder rise and take a look around the island," said the captain. "For all we know, the Golden Eagle may be on the other side. I sincerely hope she has weathered the storm."

Placing the jewel-case in a safe place between the rocks, the party commenced to climb the rise of ground the captain had pointed out. This was no easy task, since the rocks were rough and there were many openings, leading to the caves below.

"We don't want another tumble," remarked Roger to Dave.

"Hardly, Roger; once was enough."

The sun had come out strongly, consequently the water was drying away rapidly. It was very warm, and the boys were glad that they had donned thin clothing on leaving the ship.

At last they reached the top of the rise and from that elevation were able to see all but the southern end of Cave Island, which was hidden by a growth of palms.

Not a ship of any kind was in sight, much to the captain's disappointment.

"Must have had to sail away a good many miles," said Dave.

"Either that, lad, or else the storm caused more or less trouble."

From the elevation, all took a good look at every part of the island that could be seen. They saw several other rocky elevations and the entrances to caves innumerable.

"Tell you one thing," remarked Phil. "If there was any truth in that story of a pirates' treasure, the pirates would have plenty of places where to hide the hoard."

"Humph! I don't believe in the treasure and never will," returned Roger. "If the treasure was ever here, you can make up your mind that somebody got hold of it long before this."

"If those Englishmen came here, it is queer that we don't see some trace of them," said Captain Sanders.

"Maybe they are like Jasniff and Merwell, keeping out of sight," ventured Dave.

"That may be true."

"I think I see some figures moving down near the shore over there," continued Roger, after another look around. "But they are so far off I am not sure. They may be animals."

"They look like two men to me," exclaimed Dave, after a long look. "What if they should be Jasniff and Merwell! Oh, let us walk there and make sure!"

"That's a good, stiff walk," answered Captain Sanders. "We can't go from here very well—unless we want to climb over some rough rocks. It would be better to go down and follow the shore."

"Then let us do that. It won't do us any good to go back to where we left the others, now the ship isn't in sight."

But the captain demurred, and finally it was agreed to return to camp and start out for the other side of the island directly after dinner.

"Turtle soup for all hands!" announced Billy Dill, proudly. "Best ever made, too."

"It certainly smells good," answered Dave.

The turtle soup proved both palatable and nourishing, and, eaten with crackers, made a good meal.

"We'll take some crackers and fish along," said the captain, to the boys, when they were preparing to leave the camp again. "For there is no telling how soon we'll get back. It may take us longer than we think to reach the other side of this island."

"I've got a knapsack," said one of the castaway sailors. "You can take that along, filled," and so it was arranged. Dave carried his gun and the captain had a pistol.

"If there is any game, we'll have a try for it," said Dave. "Even a few plump birds would make fine eating."

"Yes, or a rabbit or hare," added Roger.

The party walked along the shore as far as they could go and then, coming to what appeared to be an old trail, took to that.

"What do you make of this path?" said Dave. "I had an idea the island was uninhabited."

"It is supposed to be," answered Captain Sanders. "But there is no reason why somebody shouldn't live here."

Presently they came to a fine spring of water. Near by lay an old rusty cup, and a little further on a broken bucket.

"Somebody has been here and that recently," was Dave's comment. "I hope we are on the trail of Merwell and Jasniflf."

They walked on a little further and then, of a sudden. Captain Sanders halted the boys and pointed up into one of the trees.

"Wild pigeons!" exclaimed Dave. "And hundreds of them! Shall I give them a couple of barrels, captain?"

"Might as well, lad. Wild pigeons are good eating, especially when you are hungry. Get as many of 'em as you can."

Dave approached a little closer and took aim with care. Bang! went the shotgun, and a wild fluttering and flying followed. Bang! went the second barrel of the weapon, and then, as the smoke cleared away, the boys and the captain saw seven of the pigeons come down to the ground. Several others fluttered around and Phil caught one and wrung its neck, and Roger laid another low with a stick he had picked up.

"Fine shots, both of them," declared Captain Sanders. "Now load up again, Dave, so as to be ready for anything else that shows up."

"I am afraid I have scared the rest of the game," declared our hero, and so it proved, for after that they saw nothing but some small birds.

They passed through a thick woods and then came rather unexpectedly to a wall of rocks, all of a hundred feet in height. At the base of the wall was an opening leading into a broad cave. Near the entrance was the remains of a campfire.

"Somebody has been here and that recently!" cried Phil, as he examined the embers.

"Must be Merwell and Jasniff!" cried Dave. "For if they were strangers they would come out and see what the shooting meant."

"Shall we go into the cave, or continue on the way to the shore?" questioned the senator's son.

"Oh, let us take a peep into the cave first," cried Phil. "It looks as if it was inhabited."

The others were willing, and lighting a firebrand that was handy, they entered the cavern. In front they found the opening to be broad and low, but in the rear the ceiling was much higher and there were several passageways leading in as many different directions.

"What an island!" murmured Roger. "Why, one could spend a year in visiting all the caves!"

"It's like a great, big sponge!" returned Phil. "Holes everywhere!"

"Take care that you don't slip down into some opening!" warned Captain Sanders.

In one of the passages they came across the remains of a meal and also some empty bottles. Then Dave saw some bits of paper strewn over the rocky floor.

"What are they, Phil?" he asked, and then both commenced to pick the pieces up. Roger helped, while the captain held the firebrand.

"Well, of all things!" cried the shipowner's son. "Now what do you make of this?"

"The chart!" cried Dave.

"Yes!"

"What chart?" queried the master of the Golden Eagle.

"The treasure chart those four Englishmen had," answered Dave. "Now what made them come here with it and tear it to pieces?"

"Hum!" mused the captain. "One of two things would make 'em do that, lad. Either they got the treasure and had no further use for the map, or else they found the whole thing was a fake and in their rage they tore the map to shreds."

"They must have gotten the gold!" murmured Roger and Phil.

"No, I think they got fooled," said Dave.

"The question is, If those Britishers were here, where did they go to?" asked the captain.

"Let us call," suggested Dave. "They may be in some part of this cave where they couldn't hear the shots from my gun."

All called out several times, and listened intently for a reply.

"Hark! I hear something!" cried Roger. "Listen!"

They strained their ears, and from what appeared to be a great distance they heard a human voice. But what was said they could not make out.

"Too many echoes here," declared the captain. "A fellow can't tell where the cry comes from."

"Well, let us investigate," said our hero.

They moved forward and backward, up one passageway and down another, calling and listening. At times the voice seemed to be quite close, then it sounded further off than ever.

"This sure is a mystery!" declared Phil. "What do you make of it, Dave?"

"I am beginning to think the call came from somewhere overhead," answered our hero. "Captain, see if you can flash a light on those rocks to the left of our heads."

Captain Sanders did as requested, and presently all in the party saw another passageway, leading up from a series of rocks that formed something of a natural stairway. Up this they went, Dave leading the van. Then they came to a small opening between two rocks.

"Help! help!" came in a half-smothered voice. "Help, please. Don't leave me here in the dark any longer!"