Epoch the Third
Chapter XVI. In the Treasure House
 

The canoes and tender kept husking up and down among the Shallows, finding nothing. At last one morning they pushed out from the side of the Bridgwater Merchant, more limp than ever. The stroke of the oars was listless, but a Boston sailor of a merry sort came to a cheery song:

              "I knows a town, an' it's a fine town,
               And many a brig goes sailin' to its quay;
               I knows an inn, an' it's a fine inn,
               An' a lass that's fair to see.
               I knows a town, an' it's a fine town;
               I knows an inn, an' it's a fine inn
               But O my lass! an' O the gay gown,
               Which I have seen my pretty in!

              "I knows a port, an' it's a good port,
               An' many a brig is ridin' easy there;
               I knows a home, an' it's a good home,
               An' a lass that's sweet an' fair.
               I knows a port, an' it's a good port,
               I knows a home, an' it's a good home
               But O the pretty that is my sort,
               That's wearyin' till I come!

              "I knows a day, an' it's a fine day,
               The day a sailor man comes back to town.
               I knows a tide, an' it's a good tide,
               The tide that gets you quick to anchors down.
               I knows a day, an' it's a fine day,
               I knows a tide, an' its' a good tide
               And God help the lubber, I say,
               That's stole the sailor man's bride!"

The song had its way with them and they joined in and lay to their oars with almost too much goodwill. Gering, his arms upon the side of the canoe, was looking into the water idly. It was clear far down, and presently he saw what seemed a feather growing out of the side of a rock. It struck him as strange, and he gave word to back water. They were just outside the Boilers in deep water. Drawing back carefully, he saw the feather again, and ordered one of the divers to go down. They could see the man descend and gather the feather, then he plunged deeper still and they lost sight of him. But soon he came up rapidly, and was quickly inside the boat, to tell Gering that he had seen several great guns. At this the crew peered over the boat-side eagerly. Gering's heart beat hard. He knew what it was to rouse wild hope and then to see despair follow, but he kept an outward calm and told the diver to go down again. Time seemed to stretch to hours before they saw the man returning with something in his arm. He handed up his prize, and behold it was a pig of silver!

The treasure was found; and there went up a great cheer. All was activity, for, apart from the delight of discovery, Phips had promised a share to every man. The place was instantly buoyed, and they hastened back to the port with the grateful tidings to Phips. With his glass he saw them coming and by their hard rowing he guessed that they had news. When they came within hail they cheered, and when they saw the silver the air rang with shouts.

As Gering stepped on board with the silver Captain Phips ran forwards, clasped it in both hands, and cried: "We are all made, thanks be to God!"

Then all hands were ordered on board, and because the treasure lay in a safe anchorage they got the ships away towards it.

Bucklaw, in the surgeon's cabin, was called out of delirium by the noise. He was worn almost to a skeleton, his eyes were big and staring, his face had the paleness of death. The return to consciousness was sudden-- perhaps nothing else could have called him back. He wriggled out of bed and, supporting himself against the wall, made his way to the door, and crawled away, mumbling to himself as he went.

A few minutes afterwards Phips and Gering were talking in the cabin. Phips was weighing the silver up and down in his hands.

"At least three hundred good guineas here!" he said. There was a shuffling behind them, and, as Phips turned, a figure lunged on him, clutched and hugged the silver. It was Bucklaw.

"Mine! mine!" he called in a hoarse voice, with great gluttonous eyes. "All mine!" he cried again. Then he gasped and came to the ground in a heap, with the silver hugged in his arms. All at once he caught at his throat; the bandage of his wound fell away and there was a rush of blood over the silver. With a wild laugh he plunged face forward on the metal --and the blood of the dead Bucklaw consecrated the first-fruits of the treasure.

As the vessel rode up the harbour the body was dropped into the deep.

"Worse men--worse men, sir, bide with the king," said Phips to Gering. "A merry villain, that Bucklaw." The ship came to anchor at the buoys, and no time was lost. Divers were sent down, and by great good luck found the room where the bullion was stored. The number of divers was increased, and the work of raising the bullion went on all that day. There is nothing like the lust for gold in the hearts of men. From stem to stern of the Bridgwater Merchant and the Swallow, this wild will had its way. Work went on until the last moment of sun. That night talk was long and sleep short, and work was on again at sunrise. In three days they took up thirty-two tons of bullion. In the afternoon of the third day the store-room was cleared, and then they searched the hold. Here they found, cunningly distributed among the ballast, a great many bags of pieces-of-eight. These, having lain in the water so long, were crusted with a strong substance, which they had to break with iron bars. It was reserved for Phips himself to make the grand discovery. He donned a diving-suit and went below to the sunken galleon. Silver and gold had been found, but he was sure there were other treasures. After much searching he found, in a secret place of the captain's cabin, a chest which, on being raised and broken open, was found stocked with pearls, diamonds, and other precious stones.

And now the work was complete, and on board the Bridgwater Merchant was treasure to the sum of three hundred thousand pounds, and more. Joyfully did Phips raise anchor. But first he sent to the handful of people in the port a liberal gift of money and wine and provisions from the ship's stores. With a favourable breeze he got away agreeably, and was clear of the harbour and cleaving northwards before sunset--the Swallow leading the treasure-ship like a pilot. All was joy and hilarity; but there remained one small danger yet: they had raised their treasure unmolested, but could they bring it to Boston and on to England? Phips would have asked that question very seriously indeed had he known that the Maid of Provence was bowling out of the nor'-east towards the port which he had just left.

The Maid of Provence had had a perilous travel. Escaping the English war-ships, she fell in with a pirate craft. She closed with it, plugged it with cannon-shot, and drew off, then took the wind on her beam and came drifting down on her, boarded her and, after a swift and desperate fight, killed every pirate-rogue save one--the captain--whom for reasons they made a prisoner. Then they sank the rover, and got away to Port de la Planta as fast as they were able. But by reason of the storm and the fighting, and drifting out of their course, they had lost ten days; and thus it was they reached the harbour a few hours after the Bridgwater Merchant and the Swallow had left.

They waited till morning and sailed cautiously in to face disappointment. They quickly learned the truth from the natives. There was but one thing to do and Iberville lost no time. A few hours to get fresh water and fruit and to make some repairs, for the pirate had not been idle in the fight--and then Berigord gave the nose of the good little craft to the sea, and drove her on with an honest wind, like a hound upon the scent. Iberville was vexed, but not unduly; he had the temper of a warrior who is both artist and gamester. As he said to Perrot: "Well, Nick, they've saved us the trouble of lifting the treasure; we'll see now who shall beach it."

He guessed that the English ships would sail to Boston for better arming ere they ventured to the English Channel. He knew the chances were against him, but it was his cue to keep heart in his followers. For days they sailed without seeing a single ship; then three showed upon the horizon and faded away. They kept on, passing Florida and Carolina, hoping to reach Boston before the treasure-ships, and to rob them at their own door. Their chances were fair, for the Maid of Provence had proved swift, good-tempered, and a sweet sailer in bad waters.

Iberville had reckoned well. One evening, after a sail northwards as fine as the voyage down was dirty, they came up gently within forty miles of Boston, and then, because there was nothing else to do, went idling up and down all night, keeping watch. The next morning there was a mist in the air, which might become fog. Iberville had dreaded this; but he was to have his chance, for even when Berigord's face lowered most the look- out from the shrouds called down that he sighted two ships. They were making for the coast. All sail was put on, they got away to meet the newcomers, and they were not long in finding these to be their quarry.

Phips did not think that any ship would venture against them so near Boston, and could not believe the Maid of Provence an enemy. He thought her an English ship eager to welcome them, but presently he saw the white ensign of France at the mizzen, and a round shot rattled through the rigging of the Bridgwater Merchant.

But he was two to one, and the game seemed with him. No time was wasted. Phips's ships came to and stood alongside, and the gunners got to work. The Bridgwater Merchant was high in the water, and her shot at first did little damage to the Maid of Provence, which, having the advantage of the wind, came nearer and nearer. The Swallow, with her twenty-odd guns, did better work, and carried away the foremast of the enemy, killing several men. But Iberville came on slowly, and, anxious to dispose of the Swallow first, gave her broadsides between wind and water, so that soon her decks were spotted with dying men, her bulwarks broken in, and her mainmast gone. The cannonade was heard in Boston, from which, a few hours later, two merchantmen set out for the scene of action, each carrying good guns.

But the wind suddenly sank, and as the Maid of Provence, eager to close with the Bridgwater Merchant, edged slowly down, a fog came between, and the firing ceased on both sides. Iberville let his ship drift on her path, intent on a hand-to-hand fight aboard the Bridgwater Merchant; the grappling-irons were ready, and as they drifted there was silence.

Every eye was strained. Suddenly a shape sprang out of the grey mist, and the Maid of Provence struck. There was a crash of timbers as the bows of the Swallow--it was she--were stove in, and then a wild cry. Instantly she began to sink. The grappling-irons remained motionless on the Maid of Provence. Iberville heard a commanding voice, a cheer, and saw a dozen figures jump from the shattered bow towards the bow of his own ship intent on fighting, but all fell short save one. It was a great leap, but the Englishman made it, catching the chains, and scrambling on deck. A cheer greeted him-the Frenchmen could not but admire so brave a feat. The Englishman took no notice, but instantly turned to see his own ship lurch forwards and, without a sound from her decks, sink gently down to her grave. He stood looking at the place where she had been, but there was only mist. He shook his head and a sob rattled in his throat; his brave, taciturn crew had gone down without a cry. He turned and faced his enemies. They had crowded forwards--Iberville, Sainte-Helene, Perrot, Maurice Joval, and the staring sailors. He choked down his emotion and faced them all like an animal at bay as Iberville stepped forwards. Without a word Gering pointed to the empty scabbard at his side.

"No, pardon me," said Iberville drily, "not as our prisoner, monsieur. You have us at advantage; you will remain our guest."

"I want no quarter," said Gering proudly and a little sullenly.

"There can be no question of quarter, monsieur. You are only one against us all. You cannot fight; you saved your life by boarding us. Hospitality is sacred; you may not be a prisoner of war, for there is no war between our countries."

"You came upon a private quarrel?" asked Gering.

"Truly; and for the treasure--fair bone of fight between us."

There was a pause, in which Gering stood half turned from them, listening. But the Bridgwater Merchant had drifted away in the mist. Presently he turned again to Iberville with a smile defiant and triumphant. Iberville understood, but showed nothing of what he felt, and he asked Sainte-Helene to show Gering to the cabin.

When the fog cleared away there was no sign of the Bridgwater Merchant and Iberville, sure that she had made the port of Boston, and knowing that there must be English vessels searching for him, bore away to Quebec with Gering on board.

He parted from his rival the day they arrived--Perrot was to escort him a distance on his way to Boston. Gering thanked him for his courtesy.

"Indeed, then," said Iberville, "this is a debt--if you choose to call it so--for which I would have no thanks--no. For it would please me better to render accounts all at once some day, and get return in different form, monsieur."

"Monsieur," said Gering, a little grandly, "you have come to me three times; next time I will come to you."

"I trust that you will keep your word," answered Iberville, smiling.

That day Iberville, protesting helplessly, was ordered away to France on a man-of-war, which had rocked in the harbour of Quebec for a month awaiting his return. Even Frontenac himself could not help him, for the order had come from the French minister.