The adventures of Captain Horn/Chapter 42

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The next day the work of loading the Arato with the bags of gold was begun, and it was a much slower and more difficult business than the unloading of the Miranda, for the schooner lay much farther out from the beach. But there were two men more than on the former occasion, and the captain did not push the work. There was no need now for extraordinary haste, and although they all labored steadily, regular hours of work and rest were adhered to. The men had carried so many bags filled with hard and uneven lumps that the shoulders of some of them were tender, and they had to use cushions of canvas under their loads. But the boats went backward and forward, and the bags were hoisted on board and lowered into the hold, and the wall of gold grew smaller and smaller.

"Captain," said Burke, one day, as they were standing by a pile of bags waiting for the boat to come ashore, "do you think it is worth it? By George! we have loaded and unloaded these blessed bags all down the western coast of South America, and if we've got to unload and load them all up the east coast, I say, let's take what we really need, and leave the rest."

"I've been at the business a good deal longer than you have," said the captain, "and I'm not tired of it yet. When I took away my first cargo, you must remember that I carried each bag on my own shoulders, and it took me more than a month to do it, and even all that is only a drop in the bucket compared to what most men who call themselves rich have to do before they make their money."

"All right," said Burke, "I'll stop growling. But look here, captain. How much do you suppose one of these bags is worth, and how many are there in all? I don't want to be inquisitive, but it would be a sort of comfort to know."

"No, it wouldn't," said the captain, quickly. "It would be anything else but a comfort. I know how many bags there are, but as to what they are worth, I don't know, and I don't want to know. I once set about calculating it, but I didn't get very far with the figures. I need all my wits to get through with this business, and I don't think anything would be more likely to scatter them than calculating what this gold is worth. It would be a good deal better for you—and for me, too—to consider, as Shirley does, that these bags are all filled with good, clean, anthracite coal. That won't keep us from sleeping."

"Shirley be hanged!" said Burke. "He and you may be able to do that, but I can't. I've got a pretty strong mind, and if you were to tell me that when we get to port, and you discharge this crew, I can walk off with all the gold eagles or twenty-franc pieces I can carry, I think I could stand it without losing my mind."

"All right," said the captain. "If we get this vessel safely to France, I will give you a good chance to try your nerves."

Day by day the work went on, and at last the Arato took the place of the Miranda as a modern Argo.

During the reëmbarkation of the treasure, the captain, as well as Shirley and Burke, had kept a sharp eye on Garta. The two mates were afraid he might run away, but, had he done so, the captain would not have regretted it very much. He would gladly have parted with one of the bags in order to get rid of this encumbrance. But the prisoner had no idea of running away. He knew that the bags were filled with treasure, but as he could now do nothing with any of it that he might steal, he did not try to steal any. If he had thoughts of the kind, he knew this was no time for dishonest operation. He had always been a hard working sailor, with a good appetite, and he worked hard now, and ate well.

The Miranda's stores had not been injured by water, and when they had been put on board, the Arato was well fitted out for a long voyage. Leaving the Miranda on the beach, with nothing in her of much value, the Arato, which had cleared for Callao, and afterwards set out on a wild piratical cruise, now made a third start, and set sail for a voyage to France. They had good weather and tolerably fair winds, and before they entered the Straits of Magellan the captain had formulated a plan for the disposition of Garta.

"I don't know anything better to do with him," said he to Shirley and Burke, "than to put him ashore at the Falkland Islands. We don't want to take him to France, for we would not know what to do with him after we got him there, and, as likely as not, he would swear a lot of lies against us as soon as he got on hore.

"We can run within a league of Stanley harbor, and then, if the weather is good enough, we can put him in a boat, with something to eat and drink, and let him row himself into port. We can give him money enough to support himself until he can procure work."

"But suppose there is a man-of-war in there," said Shirley, "he might say things that would send her after us. He might not know where to say we got our treasure, but he could say we had stolen a Chilian vessel."

"I had thought of that," said the captain, "but nothing such a vagrant as he is could say ought to give any cruiser the right to interfere with us when we are sailing under the American flag. And when I go to France, nobody shall say that I stole a vessel, for, if the owners of the Arato can be found, they shall be well paid for what use we have made of their schooner. I'll send her back to Valparaiso and let her beclaimed."

"It is a ticklish business," said Burke, "but I don't know what else can be done. It is a great pity I didn't know he was going to surrender when we had that fight."

They had been in the Straits less than a week when Inkspot dreamed he was in heaven. His ecstatic visions became so strong and vivid that they awakened him, when he was not long in discovering the cause which had produced them. The dimly lighted and quiet forecastle was permeated by a delightful smell of spirituous liquor. Turning his eyes from right to left, in his endeavors to understand this unusual odor of luxury, Inkspot perceived the man Garta standing on the other side of the forecastle, with a bottle in one hand and a cork in the other, and, as he looked, Garta raised the bottle to his mouth, threw back his head, and drank.

Inkspot greatly disliked this man. He had been one of the fellows who had ill-treated him when the Arato sailed under Cardatas, and he fully agreed with his fellow-blacks that the scoundrel should have been shot. But now his feelings began to undergo a change. A man with a bottle of spirits might prove to be an angel of mercy, a being of beneficence, and if he would share with a craving fellow-being his rare good fortune, why should not all feelings of disapprobation be set aside? Inkspot could see no reason why they should not be, and softly slipping from his hammock, he approached Garta.

"Give me. Give me, just little," he whispered.

Garta turned with a half-suppressed oath, and seeing who the suppliant was, he seized the bottle in his left hand, and with his right struck poor Inkspot a blow in the face. Without a word the negro stepped back, and then Garta put the bottle into a high, narrow opening in the side of the forecastle, and closed a little door upon it, which fastened with a snap. This little locker, just large enough to hold one bottle, had been made by one of the former crew of the Arato solely for the purpose of concealing spirits, and was very ingeniously contrived. Its door was a portion of the side of the forecastle, and a keyhole was concealed behind a removable knot. Garta had not opened the locker before, for the reason that he had been unable to find the key. He knew it had been concealed in the forecastle, but it had taken him a long time to find it. Now his secret was discovered, and he was enraged. Going over to the hammock, where Inkspot had again ensconced himself, he leaned over the negro and whispered:

"If you ever say a word of that bottle to anybody, I'll put a knife into you! No matter what they do to me, I'll settle with you."

Inkspot did not understand all this, but he knew it was a threat, and he well understood the language of a blow in the face. After a while he went to sleep, but, if he smelt again the odor of the contents of the bottle, he had no more heavenly dreams.

The next day Captain Horn found himself off the convict settlement of Punta Arenas, belonging to the Chilian government. This was the first port he had approached since he had taken command of the Arato, but he felt no desire nor need to touch at it. In fact, the vicinity of Punta Arenas seemed of no importance whatever, until Shirley came to him and reported that the man Garta was nowhere to be found. Captain Horn immediately ordered a search and inquiry to be made, but no traces of the prisoner could be discovered, nor could anybody tell anything about him. Burke and Inkspot had been on watch with him from four to eight, but they could give no information what ever concerning him. No splash nor cries for help had been heard, so that he could not have fallen overboard, and it was generally believed that, when he knew him self to be in the vicinity of a settlement, he had quietly slipped into the water and had swum for Punta Arenas. Burke suggested that most likely he had formerly been a resident of the place, and liked it better than being taken off to unknown regions in the schooner. And Shirley considered this very probable, for he said the man had always looked like a convict to him.

At all events, Garta was gone, and there was no one to say how long he had been gone. So, under full sail, the Arato went on her way. It was a relief to get rid of the prisoner, and the only harm which could come of his disappearance was that he might report that his ship had been stolen by the men who were sailing her, and that some sort of a vessel might be sent in pursuit of the Arato, and, if this should be the case, the situation would be awkward. But days passed on, the schooner sailed out of the Straits, and no vessel was seen pursuing her.

To the northeast Captain Horn set his course. He would not stop at Rio Janeiro, for the Arato had no papers for that port. He would not lie to off Stanley harbor, for he had now nobody to send ashore. But he would sail boldly for France, where he would make no pretensions that his auriferous cargo was merely ballast. He was known at Marseilles. He had business relations with bankers in Paris. He was a Californian and an American citizen, and he would merely be bringing to France a vessel freighted with gold, which, by the aid of his financial advisers, would be legitimately cared for and disposed of.

One night, before the Arato reached the Falkland slands, Maka, who was on watch, heard a queer sound in the forecastle, and looking down the companionway, he saw, by the dim light of the swinging lantern, a man with a hatchet, endeavoring to force the blade of it into the side of the vessel. Maka quickly perceived that the man was Inkspot, and as he could not imagine what he was doing, he quietly watched him. Inkspot worked with as little noise as possible, but he was evidently bent upon forcing off one of the boards on the side of the forecastle. At first Maka thought that his fellow- African was trying to sink the ship by opening a seam, but he soon realized that this notion was absurd, and so he let Inkspot go on; being very curious to know what he was doing. In a few minutes he knew. With a slight noise, not enough to waken a sound sleeper, a little door flew open, and almost immediately Inkspot held a bottle in his hand.

Maka slipped swiftly and softly to the side of the big negro, but he was not quick enough. Inkspot had the neck of the bottle in his mouth and the bottom raised high in the air. But, before Maka could seize him by the arm, the bottle had come down from its elevated position, and a doleful expression crept over the face of Inkspot. There had been scarcely a teaspoonful of liquor left in the bottle. Inkspot looked at Maka, and Maka looked at him. In an African whisper, the former now ordered the disappointed negro to put the bottle back, to shut up the locker, and then to get into his hammock and go to sleep as quickly as he could, for if Mr. Shirley, who was on watch on deck, found out what he had been doing, Inkspot would wish he had never been born.

The next day, when they had an opportunity for an African conversation, Inkspot assured his countryman that he had discovered the little locker by smelling the whiskey through the boards, and that, having no key, he had determined to force it open with a hatchet. Maka could not help thinking that Inkspot had a wonderful nose for an empty bottle, and could scarcely restrain from a shudder at the thought of what might have happened had the bottle been full. But he did not report the occurrence. Inkspot was a fellow-African, and he had barely escaped punishment for his former misdeed. It would be better to keep his mouth shut, and he did.

Against the north winds, before the south winds, and on the winds from the east and the west, through fair weather and through foul, the Arato sailed up the South Atlantic. It was a long, long voyage, but the schooner was skilfully navigated and sailed well. Sometimes she sighted great merchant-steamers plying between Europe and South America, freighted with rich cargoes, and proudly steaming away from the little schooner, whose dark-green hull could scarcely be distinguished from the color of the waves. And why should not the captain of this humble little vessel sometimes have said to himself, as he passed a big three-master or a steamer:

"What would they think if they knew that, if I chose to do it, I could buy every ship, and its cargo, that I shall meet between here and Gibraltar!"

"Captain," said Shirley, one day, "what do you think about the right and wrong of this?"

"What do you mean?" asked Captain Horn.

"I mean," replied Shirley, "taking away the gold we have on board. We've had pretty easy times lately, and I've been doing a good deal of thinking, and sometimes I have wondered where we got the right to clap all this treasure into bags and sail away with it."

"So you have stopped thinking the bags are all filled with anthracite coal," said the captain.

"Yes," said the other. "We are getting on toward the end of this voyage, and it is about time to give up that fancy. I always imagine, when I am near the end of a voyage, what I am going to do when I go ashore, and if I have any real right to some of the gold down under our decks, I shall do something very different from anything I ever did before."

"I hope you don't mean going on a spree," said Burke, who was standing near. "That would be something entirely different."

"I thought," said the captain, "that you both understood this business, but I don't mind going over it again. There is no doubt in my mind that this gold originally belonged to the Incas, who then owned Peru, and they put it into that mound to keep it from the Spaniards, whose descendants now own Peru, and who rule it without much regard to the descendants of the ancient Peruvians. Now, when I discovered the gold, and began to have an idea of how valuable the find was, I knew that the first thing to do was to get it out of that place and away from the country. Whatever is to be done in the way of fair play and fair division must be done somewhere else, and not there. If I had informed the government of what I had found, this gold would have gone directly into the hands of the descendants of the people from whom its original owners did their very best to keep it, and nobody else would have had a dollar's worth of it. If we had stood up for our rights to a reward for finding it, ten to one we would all have been clapped into prison."

"I suppose by that," said Burke, "that you looked upon the stone mound in the cave as a sort of will left by those old Peruvians, and you made yourself an executor to carry out the intentions of the testators, as the lawyers say."

"But we can set it down as dead certain," interrupted Shirley, "that the testators didn't mean us to have it."

"No," said the captain, "nor do I mean that we shall have all of it. I intend to have the question of the ownership of this gold decided by people who are able and competent to decide such a question, and who will be fair and honest to all parties. But whatever is agreed upon, and whatever is done with the treasure, I intend to charge a good price—a price which shall bear a handsome proportion to the value of the gold—for my services, and all our services. Some of this charge I have already taken, and I intend to have a great deal more. We have worked hard and risked much to get this treasure—"

"Yes," thought Burke, as he remembered the trap at the bottom of the mound. "You risked a great deal more than you ever supposed you did."

"And we are bound to be well paid for it," continued the captain. "No matter where this gold goes, I shall have a good share of it, and this I am going to divide among our party, according to a fair scale. How does that strike you, Shirley?"

"If the business is going to be conducted as you say, captain," replied the first mate, "I say it will be all fair and square, and I needn't bother my head with any more doubts about it. But there is one thing I wish you would tell me: how much do you think I will be likely to get out of this cargo, when you divide?"

"Mr. Shirley," said the captain, "when I give you your share of this cargo, you can have about four bags of anthracite coal, weighing a little over one hundred pounds, which, at the rate of six dollars a ton, would bring you between thirty and forty cents. Will that satisfy you? Of course, this is only a rough guess at a division, but I want to see how it falls in with your ideas."

Shirley laughed. "I guess you're right, captain," said he. "It will be better for me to keep on thinking we are carrying coal. That won't bother my head."

"That's so," said Burke. "Your brain can't stand that sort of badger. I'd hate to go ashore with you at Marseilles with your pocket full and your skull empty. As for me, I can stand it first-rate. I have already built two houses on Cape Cod,—in my head, of course,—and I'll be hanged if I know which one I am going to live in and which one I am going to put my mother in."