Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates/Chapter 4
TOM CHIST AND THE TREASURE BOX
An Old-time Story of the Days of Captain Kidd
O tell about Tom Chist, and how he got his name, and how he came to be living at the little settlement of Henlopen, just inside the mouth of the Delaware Bay, the story must begin as far back as 1686, when a great storm swept the Atlantic coast from end to end. During the heaviest part of the hurricane a bark went ashore on the Hen-and-Chicken Shoals, just below Cape Henlopen and at the mouth of the Delaware Bay, and Tom Chist was the only soul of all those on board the ill-fated vessel who escaped alive.
This story must first be told, because it was on account of the strange and miraculous escape that happened to him at that time that he gained the name that was given to him.
Even as late as that time of the American colonies, the little scattered settlement at Henlopen, made up of English, with a few Dutch and Swedish people, was still only a spot upon the face of the great American wilderness that spread away, with swamp and forest, no man knew how far to the westward. That wilderness was not only full of wild beasts, but of Indian savages, who every fall would come in wandering tribes to spend the winter along the shores of the fresh-water lakes below Henlopen. There for four or five months they would live upon fish and clams and wild ducks and geese, chipping their arrowheads, and making their earthenware pots and pans under the lee of the sand hills and pine woods below the Capes.
Sometimes on Sundays, when the Rev. Hillary Jones would be preaching in the little log church back in the woods, these half-clad red savages would come in from the cold, and sit squatting in the back part of the church, listening stolidly to the words that had no meaning for them.
But about the wreck of the bark in 1686. Such a wreck as that which then went ashore on the Hen-and-Chicken Shoals was a godsend to the poor and needy settlers in the wilderness where so few good things ever came. For the vessel went to pieces during the night, and the next morning the beach was strewn with wreckage—boxes and barrels, chests and spars, timbers and planks, a plentiful and bountiful harvest, to be gathered up by the settlers as they chose, with no one to forbid or prevent them.
The name of the bark, as found painted on some of the water barrels and sea chests, was the Bristol Merchant, and she no doubt hailed from England.
As was said, the only soul who escaped alive off the wreck was Tom Chist.
A settler, a fisherman named Matt Abrahamson, and his daughter Molly, found Tom. He was washed up on the beach among the wreckage, in a great wooden box which had been securely tied around with a rope and lashed between two spars—apparently for better protection in beating through the surf. Matt Abrahamson thought he had found something of more than usual value when he came upon this chest; but when he cut the cords and broke open the box with his broadax, he could not have been more astonished had he beheld a salamander instead of a baby of nine or ten months old lying half smothered in the blankets that covered the bottom of the chest.
Matt Abrahamson’s daughter Molly had had a baby who had died a month or so before. So when she saw the little one lying there in the bottom of the chest, she cried out in a great loud voice that the Good Man had sent her another baby in place of her own.
The rain was driving before the hurricane storm in dim, slanting sheets, and so she wrapped up the baby in the man’s coat she wore and ran off home without waiting to gather up any more of the wreckage.
It was Parson Jones who gave the foundling his name. When the news came to his ears of what Matt Abrahamson had found he went over to the fisherman’s cabin to see the child. He examined the clothes in which the baby was dressed. They were of fine linen and handsomely stitched, and the reverend gentleman opined that the foundling’s parents must have been of quality. A kerchief had been wrapped around the baby’s neck and under its arms and tied behind, and in the corner, marked with very fine needlework, were the initials T. C.
“What d’ye call him, Molly?” said Parson Jones. He was standing, as he spoke, with his back to the fire, warming his palms before the blaze. The pocket of the greatcoat he wore bulged out with a big case bottle of spirits which he had gathered up out of the wreck that afternoon. “What d’ye call him, Molly?”
“I’ll call him Tom, after my own baby.”
“That goes very well with the initial on the kerchief,” said Parson Jones. “But what other name d’ye give him? Let it be something to go with the C.”
“I don’t know,” said Molly.
“Why not call him ‘Chist,’ since he was born in a chist out of the sea? ‘Tom Chist'—the name goes off like a flash in the pan.”
And so “Tom Chist” he was called and “Tom Chist” he was christened.
So much for the beginning of the history of Tom Chist. The story of Captain Kidd’s treasure box does not begin until the late spring of 1699.
That was the year that the famous pirate captain, coming up from the West Indies, sailed his sloop into the Delaware Bay, where he lay for over a month waiting for news from his friends in New York.
For he had sent word to that town asking if the coast was clear for him to return home with the rich prize he had brought from the Indian seas and the coast of Africa, and meantime he lay there in the Delaware Bay waiting for a reply. Before he left he turned the whole of Tom Chist’s life topsy-turvy with something that he brought ashore.
By that time Tom Chist had grown into a strong-limbed, thick-jointed boy of fourteen or fifteen years of age. It was a miserable dog’s life he lived with old Matt Abrahamson, for the old fisherman was in his cups more than half the time, and when he was so there was hardly a day passed that he did not give Tom a curse or a buffet or, as like as not, an actual beating. One would have thought that such treatment would have broken the spirit of the poor little foundling, but it had just the opposite effect upon Tom Chist, who was one of your stubborn, sturdy, stiff-willed fellows who only grow harder and more tough the more they are ill-treated. It had been a long time now since he had made any outcry or complaint at the hard usage he suffered from old Matt. At such times he would shut his teeth and bear whatever came to him, until sometimes the half-drunken old man would be driven almost mad by his stubborn silence. Maybe he would stop in the midst of the beating he was administering, and, grinding his teeth, would cry out: “Won’t ye say naught? Won’t ye say naught? Well, then, I’ll see if I can’t make ye say naught.” When things had reached such a pass as this Molly would generally interfere to protect her foster son, and then she and Tom would together fight the old man until they had wrenched the stick or the strap out of his hand. Then old Matt would chase them out of doors and around and around the house for maybe half an hour, until his anger was cool, when he would go back again, and for a time the storm would be over.
Besides his foster mother, Tom Chist had a very good friend in Parson Jones, who used to come over every now and then to Abrahamson’s hut upon the chance of getting a half dozen fish for breakfast. He always had a kind word or two for Tom, who during the winter evenings would go over to the good man’s house to learn his letters, and to read and write and cipher a little, so that by now he was able to spell the words out of the Bible and the almanac, and knew enough to change tuppence into four ha'pennies.
This is the sort of boy Tom Chist was, and this is the sort of life he led.
In the late spring or early summer of 1699 Captain Kidd’s sloop sailed into the mouth of the Delaware Bay and changed the whole fortune of his life.
And this is how you come to the story of Captain Kidd’s treasure box.
Old Matt Abrahamson kept the flat-bottomed boat in which he went fishing some distance down the shore, and in the neighborhood of the old wreck that had been sunk on the Shoals. This was the usual fishing ground of the settlers, and here old Matt’s boat generally lay drawn up on the sand.
There had been a thunderstorm that afternoon, and Tom had gone down the beach to bale out the boat in readiness for the morning’s fishing.
It was full moonlight now, as he was returning, and the night sky was full of floating clouds. Now and then there was a dull flash to the westward, and once a muttering growl of thunder, promising another storm to come.
All that day the pirate sloop had been lying just off the shore back of the Capes, and now Tom Chist could see the sails glimmering pallidly in the moonlight, spread for drying after the storm. He was walking up the shore homeward when he became aware that at some distance ahead of him there was a ship’s boat drawn up on the little narrow beach, and a group of men clustered about it. He hurried forward with a good deal of curiosity to see who had landed, but it was not until he had come close to them that he could distinguish who and what they were. Then he knew that it must be a party who had come off the pirate sloop. They had evidently just landed, and two men were lifting out a chest from the boat. One of them was a negro, naked to the waist, and the other was a white man in his shirt sleeves, wearing petticoat breeches, a Monterey cap upon his head, a red bandanna handkerchief around his neck, and gold earrings in his ears. He had a long, plaited queue hanging down his back, and a great sheath knife dangling from his side. Another man, evidently the captain of the party, stood at a little distance as they lifted the chest out of the boat. He had a cane in one hand and a lighted lantern in the other, although the moon was shining as bright as day. He wore jack boots and a handsome laced coat, and he had a long, drooping mustache that curled down below his chin. He wore a fine, feathered hat, and his long black hair hung down upon his shoulders.
All this Tom Chist could see in the moonlight that glinted and twinkled upon the gilt buttons of his coat.They were so busy lifting the chest from the boat that at first they did not observe that Tom Chist had come up and was standing there. It was the white man with the long, plaited queue and the gold earrings that spoke to him. “Boy, what do you want here, boy?” he said, in a rough, hoarse voice. “Where d’ye come from?” And then dropping his end of the chest, and
WHO SHALL BE CAPTAIN?
Tom saw in a glance that the pirates were all looking at him, and then, without saying a word, he turned and walked away. The man who had spoken to him followed him threateningly for some little distance, as though to see that he had gone away as he was bidden to do. But presently he stopped, and Tom hurried on alone, until the boat and the crew and all were dropped away behind and lost in the moonlight night. Then he himself stopped also, turned, and looked back whence he had come.
There had been something very strange in the appearance of the men he had just seen, something very mysterious in their actions, and he wondered what it all meant, and what they were going to do. He stood for a little while thus looking and listening. He could see nothing, and could hear only the sound of distant talking. What were they doing on the lonely shore thus at night? Then, following a sudden impulse, he turned and cut off across the sand hummocks, skirting around inland, but keeping pretty close to the shore, his object being to spy upon them, and to watch what they were about from the back of the low sand hills that fronted the beach.
He had gone along some distance in his circuitous return when he became aware of the sound of voices that seemed to be drawing closer to him as he came toward the speakers. He stopped and stood listening, and instantly, as he stopped, the voices stopped also. He crouched there silently in the bright, glimmering moonlight, surrounded by the silent stretches of sand, and the stillness seemed to press upon him like a heavy hand. Then suddenly the sound of a man’s voice began again, and as Tom listened he could hear some one slowly counting. “Ninety-one,” the voice began, “ninety-two, ninety-three, ninety-four, ninety-five, ninety-six, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred, one hundred and one”—the slow, monotonous count coming nearer and nearer; “one hundred and two, one hundred and three, one hundred and four,” and so on in its monotonous reckoning.
Suddenly he saw three heads appear above the sand hill, so close to him that he crouched down quickly with a keen thrill, close beside the hummock near which he stood. His first fear was that they might have seen him in the moonlight; but they had not, and his heart rose again as the counting voice went steadily on. “One hundred and twenty,” it was saying—“and twenty-one, and twenty-two, and twenty-three, and twenty-four,” and then he who was counting came out from behind the little sandy rise into the white and open level of shimmering brightness.
It was the man with the cane whom Tom had seen some time before the captain of the party who had landed. He carried his cane under his arm now, and was holding his lantern close to something that he held in his hand, and upon which he looked narrowly as he walked with a slow and measured tread in a perfectly straight line across the sand, counting each step as he took it. “And twenty-five, and twenty-six, and twenty-seven, and twenty-eight, and twenty-nine, and thirty.”
Behind him walked two other figures; one was the half-naked negro, the other the man with the plaited queue and the earrings, whom Tom had seen lifting the chest out of the boat. Now they were carrying the heavy box between them, laboring through the sand with shuffling tread as they bore it onward.
As he who was counting pronounced the word “thirty,” the two men set the chest down on the sand with a grunt, the white man panting and blowing and wiping his sleeve across his forehead. And immediately he who counted took out a slip of paper and marked something down upon it. They stood there for a long time, during which Tom lay behind the sand hummock watching them, and for a while the silence was uninterrupted. In the perfect stillness Tom could hear the washing of the little waves beating upon the distant beach, and once the far-away sound of a laugh from one of those who stood by the ship’s boat.
One, two, three minutes passed, and then the men picked up the chest and started on again; and then again the other man began his counting. “Thirty and one, and thirty and two, and thirty and three, and thirty and four”—he walked straight across the level open, still looking intently at that which he held in his hand—“and thirty and five, and thirty and six, and thirty and seven,” and so on, until the three figures disappeared in the little hollow between the two sand hills on the opposite side of the open, and still Tom could hear the sound of the counting voice in the distance.
Just as they disappeared behind the hill there was a sudden faint flash of light; and by and by, as Tom lay still listening to the counting, he heard, after a long interval, a far-away muffled rumble of distant thunder. He waited for a while, and then arose and stepped to the top of the sand hummock behind which he had been lying. He looked all about him, but there was no one else to be seen. Then he stepped down from the hummock and followed in the direction which the pirate captain and the two men carrying the chest had gone. He crept along cautiously, stopping now and then to make sure that he still heard the counting voice, and when it ceased he lay down upon the sand and waited until it began again.
Presently, so following the pirates, he saw the three figures again in the distance, and, skirting around back of a hill of sand covered with coarse sedge grass, he came to where he overlooked a little open level space gleaming white in the moonlight.
The three had been crossing the level of sand, and were now not more than twenty-five paces from him. They had again set down the chest, upon which the white man with the long queue and the gold earrings had seated to rest himself, the negro standing close beside him. The moon shone as bright as day and full upon his face. It was looking directly at Tom Chist, every line as keen cut with white lights and black shadows as though it had been carved in ivory and jet. He sat perfectly motionless, and Tom drew back with a start, almost thinking he had been discovered. He lay silent, his heart beating heavily in his throat; but there was no alarm, and presently he heard the counting begin again, and when he looked once more he saw they were going away straight across the little open. A soft, sliding hillock of sand lay directly in front of them. They did not turn aside, but went straight over it, the leader helping himself up the sandy slope with his cane, still counting and still keeping his eyes fixed upon that which he held in his hand. Then they disappeared again behind the white crest on the other side.
So Tom followed them cautiously until they had gone almost half a mile inland. When next he saw them clearly it was from a little sandy rise which looked down like the crest of a bowl upon the floor of sand below. Upon this smooth, white floor the moon beat with almost dazzling brightness.The white man who had helped to carry the chest was now kneeling, busied at some work, though what it was Tom at first could not see. He was whittling the point of a stick into a long wooden peg, and when, by and by, he had finished what he was about, he arose and stepped to where he who seemed to be the captain had stuck his cane upright into the ground as though to mark some particular spot. He drew the cane out of the sand, thrusting the stick down in its stead. Then he drove the long peg down with a wooden mallet which the negro handed to him. The sharp rapping of the mallet upon the top of the peg sounded loud the perfect stillness, and Tom lay watching and wondering what
Kidd at Gardiner’s Island Illustration from SEA ROBBERS OF NEW YORK by Thomas A. Janvier Originally published in Harper’s Magazine, November, 1894
The two white men were now stooping over the peg, the negro man watching them. Then presently the man with the cane started straight away from the peg, carrying the end of a measuring line with him, the other end of which the man with the plaited queue held against the top of the peg. When the pirate captain had reached the end of the measuring line he marked a cross upon the sand, and then again they measured out another stretch of space.
So they measured a distance five times over, and then, from where Tom lay, he could see the man with the queue drive another peg just at the foot of a sloping rise of sand that swept up beyond into a tall white dune marked sharp and clear against the night sky behind. As soon as the man with the plaited queue had driven the second peg into the ground they began measuring again, and so, still measuring, disappeared in another direction which took them in behind the sand dune where Tom no longer could see what they were doing.
The negro still sat by the chest where the two had left him, and so bright was the moonlight that from where he lay Tom could see the glint of it twinkling in the whites of his eyeballs.
Presently from behind the hill there came, for the third time, the sharp rapping sound of the mallet driving still another peg, and then after a while the two pirates emerged from behind the sloping whiteness into the space of moonlight again.
They came direct to where the chest lay, and the white man and the black man lifting it once more, they walked away across the level of open sand, and so on behind the edge of the hill and out of Tom’s sight.
Tom Chist could no longer see what the pirates were doing, neither did he dare to cross over the open space of sand that now lay between them and him. He lay there speculating as to what they were about, and meantime the storm cloud was rising higher and higher above the horizon, with louder and louder mutterings of thunder following each dull flash from out the cloudy, cavernous depths. In the silence he could hear an occasional click as of some iron implement, and he opined that the pirates were burying the chest, though just where they were at work he could neither see nor tell.
Still he lay there watching and listening, and by and by a puff of warm air blew across the sand, and a thumping tumble of louder thunder leaped from out the belly of the storm cloud, which every minute was coming nearer and nearer. Still Tom Chist lay watching.
Suddenly, almost unexpectedly, the three figures reappeared from behind the sand hill, the pirate captain leading the way, and the negro and white man following close behind him. They had gone about halfway across the white, sandy level between the hill and the hummock behind which Tom Chist lay, when the white man stopped and bent over as though to tie his shoe.
This brought the negro a few steps in front of his companion.
That which then followed happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly, so swiftly, that Tom Chist had hardly time to realize what it all meant before it was over. As the negro passed him the white man arose suddenly and silently erect, and Tom Chist saw the white moonlight glint upon the blade of a great dirk knife which he now held in his hand. He took one, two silent, catlike steps behind the unsuspecting negro. Then there was a sweeping flash of the blade in the pallid light, and a blow, the thump of which Tom could distinctly hear even from where he lay stretched out upon the sand. There was an instant echoing yell from the black man, who ran stumbling forward, who stopped, who regained his footing, and then stood for an instant as though rooted to the spot.
Tom had distinctly seen the knife enter his back, and even thought that he had seen the glint of the point as it came out from the breast.
Meantime the pirate captain had stopped, and now stood with his hand resting upon his cane looking impassively on.
Then the black man started to run. The white man stood for a while glaring after him; then he, too, started after his victim upon the run. The black man was not very far from Tom when he staggered and fell. He tried to rise, then fell forward again, and lay at length. At that instant the first edge of the cloud cut across the moon, and there was a sudden darkness; but in the silence Tom heard the sound of another blow and a groan, and then presently a voice calling to the pirate captain that it was all over.
He saw the dim form of the captain crossing the level sand, and then, as the moon sailed out from behind the cloud, he saw the white man standing over a black figure that lay motionless upon the sand.
Then Tom Chist scrambled up and ran away, plunging down into the hollow of sand that lay in the shadows below. Over the next rise he ran, and down again into the next black hollow, and so on over the sliding, shifting ground, panting and gasping. It seemed to him that he could hear footsteps following, and in the terror that possessed him he almost expected every instant to feel the cold knife blade slide between his own ribs in such a thrust from behind as he had seen given to the poor black man.
So he ran on like one in a nightmare. His feet grew heavy like lead, he panted and gasped, his breath came hot and dry in his throat. But still he ran and ran until at last he found himself in front of old Matt Abrahamson’s cabin, gasping, panting, and sobbing for breath, his knees relaxed and his thighs trembling with weakness.
As he opened the door and dashed into the darkened cabin (for both Matt and Molly were long ago asleep in bed) there was a flash of light, and even as he slammed to the door behind him there was an instant peal of thunder, heavy as though a great weight had been dropped upon the roof of the sky, so that the doors and windows of the cabin rattled.
Then Tom Chist crept to bed, trembling, shuddering, bathed in sweat, his heart beating like a trip hammer, and his brain dizzy from that long, terror-inspired race through the soft sand in which he had striven to outstrip he knew not what pursuing horror.
For a long, long time he lay awake, trembling and chattering with nervous chills, and when he did fall asleep it was only to drop into monstrous dreams in which he once again saw ever enacted, with various grotesque variations, the tragic drama which his waking eyes had beheld the night before.
Then came the dawning of the broad, wet daylight, and before the rising of the sun Tom was up and out of doors to find the young day dripping with the rain of overnight.
His first act was to climb the nearest sand hill and to gaze out toward the offing where the pirate ship had been the day before.
It was no longer there.
Soon afterward Matt Abrahamson came out of the cabin and he called to Tom to go get a bite to eat, for it was time for them to be away fishing.
All that morning the recollection of the night before hung over Tom Chist like a great cloud of boding trouble. It filled the confined area of the little boat and spread over the entire wide spaces of sky and sea that surrounded them. Not for a moment was it lifted. Even when he was hauling in his wet and dripping line with a struggling fish at the end of it a recurrent memory of what he had seen would suddenly come upon him, and he would groan in spirit at the recollection. He looked at Matt Abrahamson’s leathery face, at his lantern jaws cavernously and stolidly chewing at a tobacco leaf, and it seemed monstrous to him that the old man should be so unconscious of the black cloud that wrapped them all about.
When the boat reached the shore again he leaped scrambling to the beach, and as soon as his dinner was eaten he hurried away to find the Dominie Jones.
He ran all the way from Abrahamson’s hut to the parson’s house, hardly stopping once, and when he knocked at the door he was panting and sobbing for breath.
The good man was sitting on the back-kitchen doorstep smoking his long pipe of tobacco out into the sunlight, while his wife within was rattling about among the pans and dishes in preparation of their supper, of which a strong, porky smell already filled the air.
Then Tom Chist told his story, panting, hurrying, tumbling one word over another in his haste, and Parson Jones listened, breaking every now and then into an ejaculation of wonder. The light in his pipe went out and the bowl turned cold.
“And I don’t see why they should have killed the poor black man,” said Tom, as he finished his narrative.
“Why, that is very easy enough to understand,” said the good reverend man. “‘Twas a treasure box they buried!”
In his agitation Mr. Jones had risen from his seat and was now stumping up and down, puffing at his empty tobacco pipe as though it were still alight.
“A treasure box!” cried out Tom.
“Aye, a treasure box! And that was why they killed the poor black man. He was the only one, d’ye see, besides they two who knew the place where ’twas hid, and now that they’ve killed him out of the way, there’s nobody but themselves knows. The villains— Tut, tut, look at that now!” In his excitement the dominie had snapped the stem of his tobacco pipe in two.
“Why, then,” said Tom, “if that is so, ’tis indeed a wicked, bloody treasure, and fit to bring a curse upon anybody who finds it!”
“’Tis more like to bring a curse upon the soul who buried it,” said Parson Jones, “and it may be a blessing to him who finds it. But tell me, Tom, do you think you could find the place again where ’twas hid?”
“I can’t tell that,” said Tom, “’twas all in among the sand humps, d’ye see, and it was at night into the bargain. Maybe we could find the marks of their feet in the sand,” he added.
“’Tis not likely,” said the reverend gentleman, “for the storm last night would have washed all that away.”
“I could find the place,” said Tom, “where the boat was drawn up on the beach.”
“Why, then, that’s something to start from, Tom,” said his friend. “If we can find that, then maybe we can find whither they went from there.”
“If I was certain it was a treasure box,” cried out Tom Chist, “I would rake over every foot of sand betwixt here and Henlopen to find it.”
“‘Twould be like hunting for a pin in a haystack,” said the Rev. Hilary Jones.
As Tom walked away home, it seemed as though a ton’s weight of gloom had been rolled away from his soul. The next day he and Parson Jones were to go treasure-hunting together; it seemed to Tom as though he could hardly wait for the time to come.
The next afternoon Parson Jones and Tom Chist started off together upon the expedition that made Tom’s fortune forever. Tom carried a spade over his shoulder and the reverend gentleman walked along beside him with his cane.
As they jogged along up the beach they talked together about the only thing they could talk about—the treasure box. “And how big did you say ’twas?” quoth the good gentleman.
“About so long,” said Tom Chist, measuring off upon the spade, “and about so wide, and this deep.”
“And what if it should be full of money, Tom?” said the reverend gentleman, swinging his cane around and around in wide circles in the excitement of the thought, as he strode along briskly. “Suppose it should be full of money, what then?”
“By Moses!” said Tom Chist, hurrying to keep up with his friend, “I’d buy a ship for myself, I would, and I’d trade to Injyy and to Chiny to my own boot, I would. Suppose the chist was all full of money, sir, and suppose we should find it; would there be enough in it, d’ye suppose, to buy a ship?”
“To be sure there would be enough, Tom, enough and to spare, and a good big lump over.”
“And if I find it ’tis mine to keep, is it, and no mistake?”
“Why, to be sure it would be yours!” cried out the parson, in a loud voice. “To be sure it would be yours!” He knew nothing of the law, but the doubt of the question began at once to ferment in his brain, and he strode along in silence for a while. “Whose else would it be but yours if you find it?” he burst out. “Can you tell me that?”
“If ever I have a ship of my own,” said Tom Chist, “and if ever I sail to Injy in her, I’ll fetch ye back the best chist of tea, sir, that ever was fetched from Cochin Chiny.”
Parson Jones burst out laughing. “Thankee, Tom,” he said; “and I’ll thankee again when I get my chist of tea. But tell me, Tom, didst thou ever hear of the farmer girl who counted her chickens before they were hatched?”
It was thus they talked as they hurried along up the beach together, and so came to a place at last where Tom stopped short and stood looking about him. “’Twas just here,” he said, “I saw the boat last night. I know ’twas here, for I mind me of that bit of wreck yonder, and that there was a tall stake drove in the sand just where yon stake stands.”
Parson Jones put on his barnacles and went over to the stake toward which Tom pointed. As soon as he had looked at it carefully he called out: “Why, Tom, this hath been just drove down into the sand. ’Tis a brand-new stake of wood, and the pirates must have set it here themselves as a mark, just as they drove the pegs you spoke about down into the sand.”Tom came over and looked at the stake. It was a stout piece of oak nearly two inches thick; it had been shaped with some care, and the top of it had been painted red. He shook the stake and tried to move it, but it had been driven or planted so deeply into the sand that he could not stir it. “Aye, sir,” he said, “it must
EXTORTING TRIBUTE FROM THE CITIZENS
It was a miraculous chance that placed that paper there. There was only an inch of it showing, and if it had not been for Tom’s sharp eyes, it would certainly have been overlooked and passed by. The next windstorm would have covered it up, and all that afterward happened never would have occurred. “Look, sir,” he said, as he struck the sand from it, “it hath writing on it.”
“Let me see it,” said Parson Jones. He adjusted the spectacles a little more firmly astride of his nose as he took the paper in his hand and began conning it. “What’s all this?” he said; “a whole lot of figures and nothing else.” And then he read aloud, “‘Mark—S. S. W. S. by S.’ What d’ye suppose that means, Tom?”
“I don’t know, sir,” said Tom. “But maybe we can understand it better if you read on.”
“’Tis all a great lot of figures,” said Parson Jones, “without a grain of meaning in them so far as I can see, unless they be sailing directions.” And then he began reading again: “‘Mark—S. S. W. by S. 40, 72, 91, 130, 151, 177, 202, 232, 256, 271’—d’ye see, it must be sailing directions—‘299, 335, 362, 386, 415, 446, 469, 491, 522, 544, 571, 598’—what a lot of them there be—‘626, 652, 676, 695, 724, 851, 876, 905, 940, 967. Peg. S. E. by E. 269 foot. Peg. S. S. W. by S. 427 foot. Peg. Dig to the west of this six foot.’”
“What’s that about a peg?” exclaimed Tom. “What’s that about a peg? And then there’s something about digging, too!” It was as though a sudden light began shining into his brain. He felt himself growing quickly very excited. “Read that over again, sir,” he cried. “Why, sir, you remember I told you they drove a peg into the sand. And don’t they say to dig close to it? Read it over again, sir—read it over again!”
“Peg?” said the good gentleman. “To be sure it was about a peg. Let’s look again. Yes, here it is. ‘Peg S. E. by E. 269 foot.’”
“Aye!” cried out Tom Chist again, in great excitement. “Don’t you remember what I told you, sir, 269 foot? Sure that must be what I saw ’em measuring with the line.”
Parson Jones had now caught the flame of excitement that was blazing up so strongly in Tom’s breast. He felt as though some wonderful thing was about to happen to them. “To be sure, to be sure!” he called out, in a great big voice. “And then they measured out 427 foot south-southwest by south, and they then drove another peg, and then they buried the box six foot to the west of it. Why, Tom—why, Tom Chist! if we’ve read this aright, thy fortune is made.”
Tom Chist stood staring straight at the old gentleman’s excited face, and seeing nothing but it in all the bright infinity of sunshine. Were they, indeed, about to find the treasure chest? He felt the sun very hot upon his shoulders, and he heard the harsh, insistent jarring of a tern that hovered and circled with forked tail and sharp white wings in the sunlight just above their heads; but all the time he stood staring into the good old gentleman’s face.
It was Parson Jones who first spoke. “But what do all these figures mean?” And Tom observed how the paper shook and rustled in the tremor of excitement that shook his hand. He raised the paper to the focus of his spectacles and began to read again. “‘Mark 40, 72, 91—’”
“Mark?” cried out Tom, almost screaming. “Why, that must mean the stake yonder; that must be the mark.” And he pointed to the oaken stick with its red tip blazing against the white shimmer of sand behind it.
“And the 40 and 72 and 91,” cried the old gentleman, in a voice equally shrill—“why, that must mean the number of steps the pirate was counting when you heard him.”
“To be sure that’s what they mean!” cried Tom Chist. “That is it, and it can be nothing else. Oh, come, sir—come, sir; let us make haste and find it!”
“Stay! stay!” said the good gentleman, holding up his hand; and again Tom Chist noticed how it trembled and shook. His voice was steady enough, though very hoarse, but his hand shook and trembled as though with a palsy. “Stay! stay! First of all, we must follow these measurements. And ’tis a marvelous thing,” he croaked, after a little pause, “how this paper ever came to be here.”
“Maybe it was blown here by the storm,” suggested Tom Chist.
“Like enough; like enough,” said Parson Jones. “Like enough, after the wretches had buried the chest and killed the poor black man, they were so buffeted and bowsed about by the storm that it was shook out of the man’s pocket, and thus blew away from him without his knowing aught of it.”
“But let us find the box!” cried out Tom Chist, flaming with his excitement.
“Aye, aye,” said the good man; “only stay a little, my boy, until we make sure what we’re about. I’ve got my pocket compass here, but we must have something to measure off the feet when we have found the peg. You run across to Tom Brooke’s house and fetch that measuring rod he used to lay out his new byre. While you’re gone I’ll pace off the distance marked on the paper with my pocket compass here.”
Tom Chist was gone for almost an hour, though he ran nearly all the way and back, upborne as on the wings of the wind. When he returned, panting, Parson Jones was nowhere to be seen, but Tom saw his footsteps leading away inland, and he followed the scuffling marks in the smooth surface across the sand humps and down into the hollows, and by and by found the good gentleman in a spot he at once knew as soon as he laid his eyes upon it.
It was the open space where the pirates had driven their first peg, and where Tom Chist had afterward seen them kill the poor black man. Tom Chist gazed around as though expecting to see some sign of the tragedy, but the space was as smooth and as undisturbed as a floor, excepting where, midway across it, Parson Jones, who was now stooping over something on the ground, had trampled it all around about.
When Tom Chist saw him he was still bending over, scraping away from something he had found.
It was the first peg!
Inside of half an hour they had found the second and third pegs, and Tom Chist stripped off his coat, and began digging like mad down into the sand, Parson Jones standing over him watching him. The sun was sloping well toward the west when the blade of Tom Chist’s spade struck upon something hard.
If it had been his own heart that he had hit in the sand his breast could hardly have thrilled more sharply.
It was the treasure box!
Parson Jones himself leaped down into the hole, and began scraping away the sand with his hands as though he had gone crazy. At last, with some difficulty, they tugged and hauled the chest up out of the sand to the surface, where it lay covered all over with the grit that clung to it.
It was securely locked and fastened with a padlock, and it took a good many blows with the blade of the spade to burst the bolt. Parson Jones himself lifted the lid.
Tom Chist leaned forward and gazed down into the open box. He would not have been surprised to have seen it filled full of yellow gold and bright jewels. It was filled half full of books and papers, and half full of canvas bags tied safely and securely around and around with cords of string.
Parson Jones lifted out one of the bags, and it jingled as he did so. It was full of money.
He cut the string, and with trembling, shaking hands handed the bag to Tom, who, in an ecstasy of wonder and dizzy with delight, poured out with swimming sight upon the coat spread on the ground a cataract of shining silver money that rang and twinkled and jingled as it fell in a shining heap upon the coarse cloth.
Parson Jones held up both hands into the air, and Tom stared at what he saw, wondering whether it was all so, and whether he was really awake. It seemed to him as though he was in a dream.
There were two-and-twenty bags in all in the chest: ten of them full of silver money, eight of them full of gold money, three of them full of gold dust, and one small bag with jewels wrapped up in wad cotton and paper.
“‘Tis enough,” cried out Parson Jones, “to make us both rich men as long as we live.”
The burning summer sun, though sloping in the sky, beat down upon them as hot as fire; but neither of them noticed it. Neither did they notice hunger nor thirst nor fatigue, but sat there as though in a trance, with the bags of money scattered on the sand around them, a great pile of money heaped upon the coat, and the open chest beside them. It was an hour of sundown before Parson Jones had begun fairly to examine the books and papers in the chest.
Of the three books, two were evidently log books of the pirates who had been lying off the mouth of the Delaware Bay all this time. The other book was written in Spanish, and was evidently the log book of some captured prize.
It was then, sitting there upon the sand, the good old gentleman reading in his high, cracking voice, that they first learned from the bloody records in those two books who it was who had been lying inside the Cape all this time, and that it was the famous Captain Kidd. Every now and then the reverend gentleman would stop to exclaim, “Oh, the bloody wretch!” or, “Oh, the desperate, cruel villains!” and then would go on reading again a scrap here and a scrap there.
And all the while Tom Chist sat and listened, every now and then reaching out furtively and touching the heap of money still lying upon the coat.
One might be inclined to wonder why Captain Kidd had kept those bloody records. He had probably laid them away because they so incriminated many of the great people of the colony of New York that, with the books in evidence, it would have been impossible to bring the pirate to justice without dragging a dozen or more fine gentlemen into the dock along with him. If he could have kept them in his own possession they would doubtless have been a great weapon of defense to protect him from the gallows. Indeed, when Captain Kidd was finally brought to conviction and hung, he was not accused of his piracies, but of striking a mutinous seaman upon the head with a bucket and accidentally killing him. The authorities did not dare try him for piracy. He was really hung because he was a pirate, and we know that it was the log books that Tom Chist brought to New York that did the business for him; he was accused and convicted of manslaughter for killing of his own ship carpenter with a bucket.
So Parson Jones, sitting there in the slanting light, read through these terrible records of piracy, and Tom, with the pile of gold and silver money beside him, sat and listened to him.
What a spectacle, if anyone had come upon them! But they were alone, with the vast arch of sky empty above them and the wide white stretch of sand a desert around them. The sun sank lower and lower, until there was only time to glance through the other papers in the chest.
They were nearly all goldsmiths’ bills of exchange drawn in favor of certain of the most prominent merchants of New York. Parson Jones, as he read over the names, knew of nearly all the gentlemen by hearsay. Aye, here was this gentleman; he thought that name would be among ’em. What? Here is Mr. So-and-so. Well, if all they say is true, the villain has robbed one of his own best friends. “I wonder,” he said, “why the wretch should have hidden these papers so carefully away with the other treasures, for they could do him no good?” Then, answering his own question: “Like enough because these will give him a hold over the gentlemen to whom they are drawn so that he can make a good bargain for his own neck before he gives the bills back to their owners. I tell you what it is, Tom,” he continued, “it is you yourself shall go to New York and bargain for the return of these papers. ‘Twill be as good as another fortune to you.”
The majority of the bills were drawn in favor of one Richard Chillingsworth, Esquire. “And he is,” said Parson Jones, “one of the richest men in the province of New York. You shall go to him with the news of what we have found.”
“When shall I go?” said Tom Chist.
“You shall go upon the very first boat we can catch,” said the parson. He had turned, still holding the bills in his hand, and was now fingering over the pile of money that yet lay tumbled out upon the coat. “I wonder, Tom,” said he, “if you could spare me a score or so of these doubloons?”
“You shall have fifty score, if you choose,” said Tom, bursting with gratitude and with generosity in his newly found treasure.
“You are as fine a lad as ever I saw, Tom,” said the parson, “and I’ll thank you to the last day of my life.”
Tom scooped up a double handful of silver money. “Take it sir,” he said, “and you may have as much more as you want of it.”
He poured it into the dish that the good man made of his hands, and the parson made a motion as though to empty it into his pocket. Then he stopped, as though a sudden doubt had occurred to him. “I don’t know that ’tis fit for me to take this pirate money, after all,” he said.
“But you are welcome to it,” said Tom.
Still the parson hesitated. “Nay,” he burst out, “I’ll not take it; ’tis blood money.” And as he spoke he chucked the whole double handful into the now empty chest, then arose and dusted the sand from his breeches. Then, with a great deal of bustling energy, he helped to tie the bags again and put them all back into the chest.
They reburied the chest in the place whence they had taken it, and then the parson folded the precious paper of directions, placed it carefully in his wallet, and his wallet in his pocket. “Tom,” he said, for the twentieth time, “your fortune has been made this day.”
And Tom Chist, as he rattled in his breeches pocket the half dozen doubloons he had kept out of his treasure, felt that what his friend had said was true.
As the two went back homeward across the level space of sand Tom Chist suddenly stopped stock-still and stood looking about him. “‘Twas just here,” he said, digging his heel down into the sand, “that they killed the poor black man.”“And here he lies buried for all time,” said Parson Jones; and as he spoke he dug his cane down into the sand. Tom Chist shuddered. He would not have been surprised if the ferrule of the cane had struck something soft beneath that level surface. But it did not, nor was any sign of that tragedy ever seen again. For, whether the pirates had carried away what they had done and buried it elsewhere, or whether the storm in blowing the sand had completely leveled off and hidden all sign of that tragedy where it
“Pirates Used to Do That to Their Captains Now and Then” Illustration from SEA ROBBERS OF NEW YORK by Thomas A. Janvier Originally published in Harper’s Magazine, November, 1894
This is the story of the treasure box. All that remains now is to conclude the story of Tom Chist, and to tell of what came of him in the end.
He did not go back again to live with old Matt Abrahamson. Parson Jones had now taken charge of him and his fortunes, and Tom did not have to go back to the fisherman’s hut.
Old Abrahamson talked a great deal about it, and would come in his cups and harangue good Parson Jones, making a vast protestation of what he would do to Tom—if he ever caught him—for running away. But Tom on all these occasions kept carefully out of his way, and nothing came of the old man’s threatenings.
Tom used to go over to see his foster mother now and then, but always when the old man was from home. And Molly Abrahamson used to warn him to keep out of her father’s way. “He’s in as vile a humor as ever I see, Tom,” she said; “he sits sulking all day long, and ’tis my belief he’d kill ye if he caught ye.”
Of course Tom said nothing, even to her, about the treasure, and he and the reverend gentleman kept the knowledge thereof to themselves. About three weeks later Parson Jones managed to get him shipped aboard of a vessel bound for New York town, and a few days later Tom Chist landed at that place. He had never been in such a town before, and he could not sufficiently wonder and marvel at the number of brick houses, at the multitude of people coming and going along the fine, hard, earthen sidewalk, at the shops and the stores where goods hung in the windows, and, most of all, the fortifications and the battery at the point, at the rows of threatening cannon, and at the scarlet-coated sentries pacing up and down the ramparts. All this was very wonderful, and so were the clustered boats riding at anchor in the harbor. It was like a new world, so different was it from the sand hills and the sedgy levels of Henlopen.
Tom Chist took up his lodgings at a coffee house near to the town hall, and thence he sent by the postboy a letter written by Parson Jones to Master Chillingsworth. In a little while the boy returned with a message, asking Tom to come up to Mr. Chillingsworth’s house that afternoon at two o’clock.
Tom went thither with a great deal of trepidation, and his heart fell away altogether when he found it a fine, grand brick house, three stories high, and with wrought-iron letters across the front.
The counting house was in the same building; but Tom, because of Mr. Jones’s letter, was conducted directly into the parlor, where the great rich man was awaiting his coming. He was sitting in a leather-covered armchair, smoking a pipe of tobacco, and with a bottle of fine old Madeira close to his elbow.
Tom had not had a chance to buy a new suit of clothes yet, and so he cut no very fine figure in the rough dress he had brought with him from Henlopen. Nor did Mr. Chillingsworth seem to think very highly of his appearance, for he sat looking sideways at Tom as he smoked.
“Well, my lad,” he said, “and what is this great thing you have to tell me that is so mightily wonderful? I got what’s-his-name—Mr. Jones’s—letter, and now I am ready to hear what you have to say.”
But if he thought but little of his visitor’s appearance at first, he soon changed his sentiments toward him, for Tom had not spoken twenty words when Mr. Chillingsworth’s whole aspect changed. He straightened himself up in his seat, laid aside his pipe, pushed away his glass of Madeira, and bade Tom take a chair.
He listened without a word as Tom Chist told of the buried treasure, of how he had seen the poor negro murdered, and of how he and Parson Jones had recovered the chest again. Only once did Mr. Chillingsworth interrupt the narrative. “And to think,” he cried, “that the villain this very day walks about New York town as though he were an honest man, ruffling it with the best of us! But if we can only get hold of these log books you speak of. Go on; tell me more of this.”
When Tom Chist’s narrative was ended, Mr. Chillingsworth’s bearing was as different as daylight is from dark. He asked a thousand questions, all in the most polite and gracious tone imaginable, and not only urged a glass of his fine old Madeira upon Tom, but asked him to stay to supper. There was nobody to be there, he said, but his wife and daughter.
Tom, all in a panic at the very thought of the two ladies, sturdily refused to stay even for the dish of tea Mr. Chillingsworth offered him.
He did not know that he was destined to stay there as long as he should live.
“And now,” said Mr. Chillingsworth, “tell me about yourself.”
“I have nothing to tell, Your Honor,” said Tom, “except that I was washed up out of the sea.”
“Washed up out of the sea!” exclaimed Mr. Chillingsworth. “Why, how was that? Come, begin at the beginning, and tell me all.”
Thereupon Tom Chist did as he was bidden, beginning at the very beginning and telling everything just as Molly Abrahamson had often told it to him. As he continued, Mr. Chillingsworth’s interest changed into an appearance of stronger and stronger excitement. Suddenly he jumped up out of his chair and began to walk up and down the room.
“Stop! stop!” he cried out at last, in the midst of something Tom was saying. “Stop! stop! Tell me; do you know the name of the vessel that was wrecked, and from which you were washed ashore?”
“I’ve heard it said,” said Tom Chist, “‘twas the Bristol Merchant.”
“I knew it! I knew it!” exclaimed the great man, in a loud voice, flinging his hands up into the air. “I felt it was so the moment you began the story. But tell me this, was there nothing found with you with a mark or a name upon it?”
“There was a kerchief,” said Tom, “marked with a T and a C.”
“Theodosia Chillingsworth!” cried out the merchant. “I knew it! I knew it! Heavens! to think of anything so wonderful happening as this! Boy! boy! dost thou know who thou art? Thou art my own brother’s son. His name was Oliver Chillingsworth, and he was my partner in business, and thou art his son.” Then he ran out into the entryway, shouting and calling for his wife and daughter to come.
So Tom Chist—or Thomas Chillingsworth, as he now was to be called—did stay to supper, after all.
This is the story, and I hope you may like it. For Tom Chist became rich and great, as was to be supposed, and he married his pretty cousin Theodosia (who had been named for his own mother, drowned in the Bristol Merchant).
He did not forget his friends, but had Parson Jones brought to New York to live.
As to Molly and Matt Abrahamson, they both enjoyed a pension of ten pounds a year for as long as they lived; for now that all was well with him, Tom bore no grudge against the old fisherman for all the drubbings he had suffered.
The treasure box was brought on to New York, and if Tom Chist did not get all the money there was in it (as Parson Jones had opined he would) he got at least a good big lump of it.
And it is my belief that those log books did more to get Captain Kidd arrested in Boston town and hanged in London than anything else that was brought up against him.