Chapter XXVI. A Dismaying Discovery
 

The announcement that the treasure cave must be just ahead of them filled the entire party with renewed energy, and regardless of the rain, which was now coming down heavily, they pushed on behind Bahama Bill in a close bunch, each eager to be the first to behold the sought for spot.

There was no longer any trail, and they had to pick their way over rough rocks and through brushwood and vines which were thick regardless of the fact that they had little or no rooting places.

"I guess we've got to earn that treasure if we get it," said Sam, as he paused to get his breath.

"It certainly looks that way," answered Dick, as he wiped the rain and perspiration from his face. "I wonder how much further we have to go?"

That question was answered almost immediately, for Bahama Bill, turning the corner of several extra large rocks, came to a halt with a grunt of dissatisfaction.

"Well, what now?" questioned Anderson Rover.

"It's gone!"

"What, the cave?" asked several.

"Yes--she's gone, swallowed up, busted!" answered the old tar. "Thet air earthquake done it an' no error," he went on. "It jest shook thet pile o' rock wot made the cave into a heap, and there's the heap."

Bahama Bill pointed in front of him, where a large quantity of rocks lay in a scattered mass, many of them ten and twenty tons in weight. At one point was what he said had been the entrance to the cave, but this was completely blocked by the stones.

"Vot's der madder, can't ve get in?" queried Hans, with a look of real concern on his honest face.

"That doesn't look like it," answered Fred. "Too bad, and after coming so far for this treasure, too!"

"We must get in there somehow!" cried Dick.

"Why can't we blow up the rocks with dynamite," suggested Tom.

"We can--but it will take time," said his father. He turned to Bahama Bill. "About how far into the cave was the treasure placed?"

"Oh, at least a hundred feet maybe two hundred."

Anderson Rover heaved a deep sigh, which was echoed by his sons. To get down into that mass of rocks a distance of from one to two hundred feet would surely be a herculean task, if not an impossible one. And then, too, there was a question whether or not the treasure had not dropped down through some hole in the bottom of the cave after the earthquake.

"I'll have to think this over," said Anderson Rover, after an examination of the rocks. "We'll have to try to locate the treasure and then see if we can raise enough dynamite to blow the rocks away. More than likely, if we undertake the task, it will take a long time--perhaps weeks and months."

"What, as long as that?" cried Sam, in dismay.

"Well, if the treasure is as valuable as reported it will be worth it," answered Dick.

"But in the meantime, what of Sid Merrick and his gang?" asked Tom. "More than likely they will make us seven kinds of trouble and do their best to get the treasure away from us."

"We shall have to protect ourselves as well at we can," said Mr. Rover.

After that it rained so hard they were forced to seek shelter under a thick bunch of palms. The rain continued for half an hour longer and then the sun came out strongly, and the jungle became steaming hot.

With Bahama Bill to guide them, they walked around what had been the top of the treasure cave. From some landmarks which had not been totally destroyed by the earthquake the old tar felt certain that there could be no mistake and that the treasure must be buried beneath them.

"But how far down you'll have to go to reach it I can't tell," he added. "It's like them ile well diggers--sometimes they strike ile near the top o' the ground, an' then ag'in they have to bore putty deep down. It's my hope ye won't have to roll away more'n two or three rocks to git into the hole an' put your hands on the boxes with the gold and jewels."

"If we only had to roll away two or three rocks I'd be for doing the rolling right now!" cried Tom.

"I'd like to see you roll a rock weighing ten or fifteen tons," observed Songbird. "You'd want about twenty horses to even start it."

Now that the first disappointment was over, the Rovers began to consider getting down into the cave from a purely practical point. They looked over all the big rocks with care, making a note of such as ought to be blasted away and of others that could be removed with the aid of a rope and pulleys.

"Let us see if we cannot gain the shore of the bay in a straight line from here," said Mr. Rover, after the examination of the ground had come to an end. "If we can it will make it so much easier to go back and forth from the steam yacht."

They had a compass with them, and leaving the vicinity of the shattered cave, struck out in a direct line for Horseshoe Bay. Much to their surprise they found an easy path, and came out on the sandy beach almost before they knew it.

"Well, I never!" cried Dick. "If we had known of this before, what a lot of trouble we might have saved ourselves."

"Well, we know it now," answered Tom. "And as we marked the path it will be an easy matter in the future to go back and forth from the cave to the bay."

It took them some time to get their boat, and it was almost nightfall before they reached the steam yacht. It can readily be imagined that the Stanhopes and Lanings awaited their coming with interest.

"What success, Dick?" cried Dora eagerly.

"Not so very much as yet," he answered, soberly, for he hated to disappoint the girl who was so dear to him. And then he told her of all that had happened. She shuddered when she found he had been a prisoner of Sid Merrick and his followers.

"Oh, Dick, I am so thankful you escaped," she cried, with tears in her eyes. "You must not get into such a situation again! Why, the whole treasure isn't worth it."

"But I want to get that money and the jewels for you, Dora."

"Yes, but I don't want money and jewels if--if you are--are going to get hurt," she answered, and her deep eyes looked him through and through.

"I'll be careful after this--but we are going to get the treasure, sure thing," he added, stoutly.

"I was afraid an earthquake might have played pranks with that cave," was Captain Barforth's comment. "An earthquake can shake down the top of a cave quicker than it can shake down anything else. It doesn't take much to do it."

The captain said he had a fair quantity of powder on board, to be used in the cannon for saluting and signalling. If they wanted dynamite, however, he'd have to run over to one of the big islands for it.

"And then we may have trouble getting it," he added. "We'd probably have to buy up the supply of some contractor who happened to have it on hand."

"I don't like to think of leaving the island while Merrick and his crowd are around," answered Anderson Rover.

On the following morning Mr. Rover and Captain Barforth went ashore, taking Dick, Tom and Sam along. The steam yacht was left in charge of Asa Carey, and the mate was told to remain close to the mouth of the reef and to send some of the others ashore armed if there came a signal of distress.

"We have enemies on this isle," said Captain Barforth. "And they may try to do us harm."

"I'll watch out," answered the mate, shortly. And then he turned away with a thoughtful look on his sour countenance. That there was something on his mind was evident.

The small boat was brought ashore at the point where the path led directly to the sunken cave. Although there was a lively breeze blowing, those landing did so without mishap. They had with them some tools for digging, and also a rock drill and some powder.

"It will do no harm to blast one or two of the rocks and see what is underneath," said Anderson Rover. "We may possibly be lucky enough to find some entrance into the cave, although I must confess I doubt it."

When they got to the vicinity of the shattered cave they found everything as they had left it. Even a pick Tom had forgotten remained undisturbed.

"Evidently the Merrick crowd has not yet found its way here," said Dick.

"We shall have to be on our guard when we go to blasting," answered his parent. "For the noise may bring that rascal and his gang here in a hurry."

And then all set to work with vigor to see if by some means they could not get down under the rocks and to the spot where the precious treasure had been deposited so many years before.