Lost Island/Chapter 24
THE PRIZE IS WON
"That's queer!" Tempest exclaimed, coming to his side and prodding aimlessly into the bank of sand with his foot. "It must be some poor beggar who died here after the Hatteras came to grief."
"Sure to be," agreed the boy, quietly. "I wonder if he—if it happened when he was alone. Why, here's a piece of timber—a beam!"
He scooped the sand away with his hands, and revealed another beam running parallel with the first one.
"It looks like a hut that has been covered over with sand," said the boy.
"That's it, sure enough," agreed Tempest. "I wonder how long this chap existed after he was marooned. Ugh! It's gruesome. Let's get back on board."
They found the Nautilus had dragged her anchor in the storm and nearly been beached; but she was unharmed, and they soon had her back in her old moorings. Shortly after midnight the trio were asleep, with only the moon to watch peacefully over the dead, the living, and the scene of Tai-o-Vai's unsolved mystery. Dave slept fitfully, however, the events of the last few days crowding into his brain every time he awoke. He tossed and turned in his narrow bunk, thinking of what might have been the fate of Flagg in the storm, wondering when he would set foot in Brooklyn again, guessing what secret the skeleton might reveal if it could but speak, and above all trying to imagine what could have happened to the treasure that had vanished from the Hatteras, for vanished it obviously had. At last, weary in mind and body, he dozed off, and did not awaken until broad daylight.
It was a rather subdued party that sat down to their last breakfast in the beautiful lagoon of Tai-o-Vai. Jim was, as usual, apparently immersed in his own thoughts and uncommunicative. The reaction after the recent excitement had left even Tempest quiet. He kept casting a professional eye at the sky, and seemed engrossed only in the thought of their long run back. Dave glanced occasionally in the direction of the silvery beach. His grey eyes were thoughtful. This was the end of their adventures, and the least satisfactory part of them because it involved failure. And failure was a thing which rankled in the minds of all the Hallards. Like his father and his grandfather, Dave hated to be beaten, whatever object he had set his mind on.
"You look mighty pensive, sonny," Tempest observed, dipping a hard biscuit into his coffee and munching it. "Always remember there are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it."
"It's not the size of the fish I am concerned about, so much as losing it," the boy replied. "Tempest, I'm really sorry now that I ever mentioned this rotten treasure to you. You 've been fine right through. I do wish you could have got a fortune out of it."
"A fortune!" said his friend. "I'd be as miserable as a yellow pup with a tin can tied to its tail if I had a fortune."
"Well, half of what we might have found, anyway," said Dave.
"That would have depended on the amount of the treasure," mused Tempest. "If I had a lot of money, I should be unhappy till it was all gone except about five thousand dollars. That's the share of the treasure I should have taken—just enough to let me settle down on a small farm in South Carolina where I was reared. I wouldn't have touched another penny, not only because I shouldn't want it, but because I shouldn't feel I had any right to accept more. You see, I'm only one of your crew, the same as Jim, really. However, that's neither here nor there now. When you're quite ready we will make a move. There's a fair breeze."
Dave, however, was not inclined to hurry away.
"I can't get the idea of that hut out of my mind," he said slowly.
"What about it?"
"Well, suppose some of the people off the Hatteras got ashore here, don't you think they would have made an effort to fetch the platinum off the bark as soon as they had a chance?"
"Why, yes, I suppose they would," agreed Tempest, wrinkling his brows. "I've thought of that already. Even at this minute it may be buried somewhere on Tai-o-Vai, but we're not out exactly on a mining expedition. You are not proposing digging all over the island, are you?"
"No, Tempest," said Dave, seriously, "but I surely would like to see exactly what there is in that hut. It wouldn't take us very long to dig it out, would it?"
"Certainly not. I'm game. Let's take the shovels ashore and get to work."
Tempest had not much faith in the new venture, and he worked more to satisfy the boy's curiosity than anything else. Prior to the storm, sand had evidently sifted over the hut to a considerable depth, but the upheaval had made the task of the treasure-hunters easier. The roof of the hut was now covered with only a couple of feet of sand, and this they cleared off quickly. The next problem was to find the entrance, and this involved much hard work, but eventually they found an opening. For over an hour they delved steadily, gradually emptying the place, after digging a hole and placing the skeleton in it.
There was but little to reward their search—a few rusty tins, the handle of a knife, and the case of a silver watch, blackened with age.
"It looks to me like a place built for one man," commented Tempest, during a momentary pause in their labors.
"It may have been the man who owned the platinum," said Dave.
"More than likely. I can quite imagine that if he did land with the stuff, and the crew wanted to make Christmas Island in an open boat, he might prefer to stop on dry land with his blessed treasure until they sent a steamer of some kind to pick him up."
"If that's what did happen," said Dave, "the dory they went off in must have been lost, and that accounts for nobody ever hearing what happened to the Hatteras."
"'Pon my word, Dave, you're getting me quite excited about the thing again!" declared Tempest. "It's only a theory, but it fits in with the facts perfectly. I don't know who the chap was who died here, but I do wish he'd been considerate enough to leave a message of some sort corked up in a bottle, giving us instructions how to find his old treasure."
"Perhaps he did," said Dave. "Anyway, let's go on till we get the cabin emptied of sand. If we don't find anything, then we will chuck it."
Again they plied the shovels vigorously, until nothing remained within the bare walls of the rudely constructed cabin.
"That settles it," commented Tempest, at last. "Now are you satisfied, Dave?"
"I suppose so," said the boy ruefully, straightening his back and resting on his shovel. "There's nothing more to be done, is there?"
"No, I'm afraid this is the finish. Not even the message in a bottle to lure us on."
"But," Dave exclaimed, with a touch of impatience, "what the dickens can the man have done with the platinum? He couldn't eat it."
"Buried it somewhere, I guess. People generally do bury treasure, you know."
"Maybe he buried it under the floor here," said Dave, casually digging his shovel deep into the sand. There was a metallic click as the steel struck something hard.
"Gosh! That's funny!" the boy exclaimed, looking round at his friend as he lifted out the sand on the shovel. "Tempest, do you suppose—"
"Rock, I expect," said Tempest, not waiting a second, however, before he too had his shovel at work on the same spot.
"Rock be hanged!" shouted Dave, a moment later, as the unmistakable sound of metal striking metal reached their ears. "Tempest, it can't be—it can't be—"
"Can't it, though!" replied Tempest, joyously. "It's a metal-bound box, or my name's Joe Flagg. Now don't get so excited. Wait a minute till we get it out."
Dave was excited, however—wildly excited. He and Tempest fell on their knees and tugged at the box, but its weight was considerable, and they could not lift it out until Jim gave them a hand. It was a small chest made of oak or some other hard wood, encircled with solid bands of iron which had almost rusted through in places. The woodwork was in a fair state of preservation.
"It's the treasure—it's the treasure!" Dave sang out gleefully.
"Well, if it isn't, it ought to be," said Tempest, trying in vain to prize off one of the metal bands with his shovel. "Jim, streak to the Nautilus for an ax—a couple of axes—a dozen—before I burst!"
The Kanaka shot across the water in the dory, and returned in a few minutes.
Even with the aid of an ax it was not easy to burst the chest open, for there were hinges and a lock to force, beside the iron bands.
At last, with a creak, the lid was lifted, and Dave and Tempest stared at the contents of the box, fascinated.
Lying neatly stacked in rows were bars and bars of silvery-white metal which, in spite of their long burial in the sand, shone as brightly as when placed there years before by the man who had mined and molded them.
Tempest laughed at the Kanaka's comical expression of disappointment He had evidently expected something much more exciting. Dave stooped and took one of the small bars in his hand with a curious thrill.
"You don't suppose it's just—just lead or something like that?" he asked anxiously. "It's frightfully heavy!"
"It would be," answered Tempest, striving to keep the excitement from his voice. "It's platinum all right, and it's worth a fortune, Dave."
"A fortune!" repeated the boy, gazing down in awe at the serried rows of silvery bars. "Yes, it must be, for it's worth more than a hundred dollars an ounce. Tempest, we—we're rich!""You are," said Tempest. "All I'll accept is that five thousand for my little farm in Carolina. Gee! I never saw anything that pleased me so much in all my life!"
He weighed the bar in his hand.
"There's a good sixteen ounces in that, I fancy: maybe more," he added. "Let's see how many bars there are."
With trembling fingers they laid the metal out on the sandy counting as they did so.
"Twenty-seven!" they said at last in chorus.
"Over four hundred ounces, sure as you're alive!" Tempest added. "I reckon it must be worth between forty and forty-five thousand dollars altogether, if it's worth a cent!"
"Goodness!" Dave exclaimed. "Enough to buy back my dad's place ten times over."
Three pairs of eyes were staring from the Nautilus at an old tramp steamer which, two days later, had overhauled the little sailing-boat in a dead calm.
"That's a stroke of luck," said Tempest, while the vessel was bearing down upon them. "Somehow, I don't fancy Mr. Cresswell will ever get his Nautilus back after all."
"What are you going to do?" Dave asked.
"Do? Why, I'm going to heave this treasure on to that tramp steamer and sit on it till we reach civilization."
"What about the Nautilus?"
"Let her go adrift. She isn't worth much, anyhow, and Mr. Cresswell will be the surprisedest man living when he receives a check for five hundred dollars—or make it a thousand, if you like, for overweight. We owe him a debt of gratitude."
The steamer was now within a cable's length of them, with her engines stopped. A dozen faces appeared over her rail.
"You look lonely there. Want any help?" called a deep voice.
"Glad of a passage," Tempest replied, as a rope ladder was slung over the side. "Lower a rope, will you? There's a box here I'd like to take along with me."
The crew of the Seven Seas stared with curiosity as the trio scrambled on board. One sees strange things in those lonely waters, but not often such a strange thing as two men and a boy at the mercy of the waves in a cockle-shell of a boat.
"Been on a little pleasure-trip?" asked the captain, coming forward with a smile.
The engines had already started again, and the Nautilus, left to her doom, was dropping astern.
"Shipwrecked," Tempest replied briefly. "Much obliged to you for picking us up, Cap'n. May I ask where you are bound?"
"Frisco the next stop. We've got a pretty full crew, but I don't doubt we can keep you busy till we hit America."
Tempest exchanged glances with Dave, and laughed.
"I think, sir," he said, "for once we'll enjoy the luxury of being passengers, if it's all the same to you. We've had rather a rough time, one way and another, and just at present there's no shortage of funds. But that's another story. I'll tell you all about it later. Meanwhile, if you could oblige us with a decent square meal, we'd appreciate it a whole lot."
"Sure!" said the captain, turning to one of the hands. "Slip below and tell Bill Barnes to fix these men up with something special as a treat."
"Barnes!" repeated Dave, with a puzzled look. "He doesn't happen to be a comical-looking chap with one tooth and bushy eyebrows, does he?"
"I guess that's his photograph," said the skipper, amused. "Do you know him?"
Dave, hardly waiting to reply, dived after the sailor to the galley, and astonished his old friend of the Pacific Queen by bursting in upon him.
"Great Mackerel, kid! sha'n't I ever get clear of you?" exclaimed that worthy, wiping his greasy hands as he came toward the boy. "Who in thunder would have thought of this? Jerusalem, but I am glad to see you! What d'you mean by bobbing up out of the sea like this?" His face had grown red with astonishment, and he was performing gymnastics with his mighty eyebrows.
"Been treasure-hunting, dear Barnsey," said Dave. "Come on, pour out some of that stew. We're starved. Haven't had a proper sailor's meal since goodness knows—"
"Treasure-hunting!" spluttered the cook, as he filled a dish with savory-smelling stew. "You've got the brains of a caterpillar. Haven't you learnt yet to stick to your job? Treasure-hunting, indeed!" he snorted.
"Wait till we've finished dinner, Barnsey," said Dave, "and then I'll tell you something that will make you sing a different tune!"
Nearly four weeks later the Seven Seas entered the Golden Gate, and deposited Dave, Tempest, and the Kanaka at San Francisco, where Tempest immediately took steps to turn the platinum into money. He found that he had slightly underestimated its value. After deducting the five thousand dollars for his farm, he placed the balance in a bank in Dave's name, and it was a proud moment for the boy when he made out one check for Mr. Cresswell, one for the passage-money on the Seven Seas, and one for current expenses. Jim was arrayed in bright colors, such as gladden the heart of his kind, and his cup of joy was filled when Dave and Tempest showed him the sights of the city in a fleet taxicab. He soon grew weary of city life, however, and on the second day insisted on joining an outward-bound steamer for China.
"Tempest," the boy said when they had seen him off, "I'm going to ask a favor of you. We'll be traveling together as far as Chicago, anyway. Won't you come on to New York and stop a few days with me before you go south? Dad will want to see you, and—and I want you to meet him; and Aunt Martha, too. Will you?"
"Well, it's a long time, Dave, since I've mingled in polite society," replied Tempest, with a smile; "but I'd like mighty well to see your folks, and so, if you think they won't mind entertaining a tramp—"
"Tramp!" Dave exclaimed, indignantly. "Don't be silly! And anyway," he added, laughing, "tramps don't buy five-thousand-dollar farms!"
"That's so," replied Tempest. "After this I'm a regular farmer. And you're a—a—what are you, by the way, with all that money in the bank?"
"I'm—" Dave hesitated. Then, "I'm just your chum," he finished shyly. "Come on, let's beat it for the train!"