The Black Buccaneer by Stephen W Meader
The fog held for two days. On the third morning Jeremy, on his knees by the hearth fire, was squinting down the bright barrel of a flintlock. He had been quiet for a long time. Bob felt the tenseness of the situation himself, but he could not understand the other's absolute silence. He scowled as he sat on the floor, and savagely drove a long-bladed hunting-knife into the cracks between the hewn planks. At length a low whistle from Jeremy caused him to pause and look up quickly.
"What is it?" he asked.
A look of excitement was growing in Jeremy's face.
"Say, Bob!" he exclaimed, after a second or two. "I've just remembered something that I've been trying to bring to mind ever since we crossed the island. You know the sign we saw up by the spring? Well, somewhere, once before, I knew I'd seen the word 'Watter' spelled that way. So have you--do you remember?"
Bob shook his head slowly. Then a look of comprehending wonder came into his eyes. "Yes," he cried. "It was on that old chart in Pharaoh Daggs' chest!"
"Right," said Jeremy. "And now that I think about it, I believe this is the very island! Let's see--the bay was shaped this way----" He had seized a charred stick from the hearth and was drawing on the floor.
"Two narrow points, with quite a stretch of water inside--a rounded cove up here, and a mitten-shaped cove over here. And the anchor was drawn--wait a minute--right here. Why, Bob, look here! That's the same rounded cove with the beach where the sloop anchored that night they got me!"
Bob could hardly contain himself. "I remember!" he said. "And the dot, with the word 'Watter' was one and a half finger-joints northeast of the bay. Let's see, the bay itself was about four joints long, wasn't it? Or a little over? Anyhow, that would put the spring about--here."
"Allowing for our not being able to remember exactly the shape of the bay," Jeremy put in, "that's just where the spring should be. Bob, this is the island! And now that cross-mark between the two straight lines--two finger-joints northwest of the anchorage-cove, it was. That's just about here." He marked the spot on the floor with his stick.
"Now we've got it all down. And if that cross-mark shows where the treasure is----" Jeremy paused and looked at Bob, his eyes shining.
"Where would that be--up on the hill somewhere?" asked Bob breathlessly.
"About three-quarters of a mile south of the spring--right on the ridge," Jeremy answered.
"When shall we start?" Bob asked, his voice husky with excitement.
"Wait a bit," counselled Jeremy. "We daren't tell father or Tom, for they'd think it just a wild-goose chase, and we'd have to promise not to leave the cabin. You know it is an improbable sort of yarn. Besides, we'd better go careful. Do you know who I think is at the head of that crew, over in the creek?"
"Who?" whispered Bob.
Jeremy's face was pale as he leaned close.
"Pharaoh Daggs!" He said the name beneath his breath, almost as if he feared that the man with the broken nose might hear him. And now for the first time he told Bob of the schooner that had slipped past in the dark that night in the East River.
"You're right, Jeremy," Bob agreed. "He'd lose no time getting up here if he could find a craft to carry him. You don't suppose they've found Brig's treasure yet, do you?" he added in dismay.
"They can't have reached here more than a day before us," Jeremy replied. "And if they haven't it already aboard, they won't be able to do anything while this fog holds. If it should lift tomorrow, we'll have a chance to scout around up there. But don't say a word to father."
That night the boys slept little, for both were in a fever of expectation. They were disappointed in the morning to see the solid wall of fog still surrounding the cabin. But Jeremy, sniffing the air like the true woodsman that he was, announced that there would be a change of weather before night, and set about rubbing the barrel of the flintlock till it gleamed. The day dragged slowly by. At last, about three in the afternoon, a slight wind from the northeast sprang up, and the wreaths of vapor began to drift away seaward.
Luckily for the boys' plans, both Tom and his father were inside the sheep-stockade when Bob took the pistols, powder and shot down from the wall, and with Jeremy went quietly forth.
Before the mist had wholly cleared, they were well into the woods, climbing toward the summit of the ridge. Each kept a careful watch about, for they feared the possibility that a guard might have been set to observe movements at the cabin.
They reached the top without incident, however, and turned westward along the watershed. They were increasingly careful now, for if the pirates were dependent on the spring for their water, some of them might pass close by at any moment. Bob, who was almost as expert a hunter as Jeremy, followed noiselessly in the track of the New England boy, moving like a shadow from tree to tree.
So they progressed for fifteen minutes or more. Then Jeremy paused and beckoned to Bob, whispering that they should separate a short distance so as to cover a wider territory in their search. They went on, Bob on the north slope, Jeremy on the south, moving cautiously and examining every rock and tree for some blaze that might indicate the whereabouts of the treasure.
More minutes passed. The sun was already low, and Jeremy began to think about turning toward home. Just then he came to the brink of a narrow chasm in the ledge. Hardly more than a cleft it was, three or four feet wide at its widest part, and extending deep down between the walls of rock. He was about to jump over and proceed when his eye caught a momentary gleam in the obscurity at the bottom of the crevice. He peered downward for a second, then stood erect, waving to Bob with both arms.
The other boy caught his signal and came rapidly through the trees to the spot, hurrying faster as he saw the excitement in Jeremy's face.
"What--what have you found?" he gasped under his breath.
Jeremy was already wriggling his way down between the smooth rock walls, bracing himself with back and knees. Within a few seconds he had reached the bottom, some ten feet below. It was a sloping, uneven floor of earth, lighted dimly from above and from the south, where the ledge shelved off down the hillside. The dirt was black and damp, undisturbed for years save by the feeble pushing of some pale, seedling plant. Jeremy groped aimlessly at first, then, as his eyes became accustomed to the half-light, peered closely into the crevices along either side.
Bob leaned over the edge, pointing. "Back and to the left!" he whispered. Jeremy turned as directed, felt along the earth and finally clutched at something that seemed to glitter with a yellow light. He turned his face upward and Bob read utter disappointment in his eyes.
The gleaming something which he held aloft was nothing but a bit of discolored mica that had reflected the faint light.
Bob almost groaned aloud as he looked at it. Then he took off his belt and passed an end of it down for Jeremy to climb up by. The latter took hold half-heartedly, and was commencing the ascent when his moccasined foot slipped on a low, arching hump in the damp earth. He went down on one knee and as it struck the ground there was a faint hollow thud. Astonished, the boy remained in a kneeling posture and felt about beneath him with his hands.
"What is it?" whispered Bob.
Jeremy stood erect again. "Some kind of old, slippery wet wood," he answered. "It feels like--like a barrel!"
"I'm coming down!" said the Delaware boy, and casting a cautious look around, he descended into the depths of the crevice.
With their hands and hunting-knives both boys went to work feverishly to unearth the wooden object. A few moments of breathless labor laid bare the side and part of one end of a heavily-built, oaken keg.
"Now maybe we can lift it out," said Jeremy, and taking a strong grip of the edge, they heaved mightily together. It stirred a bare fraction of an inch in its bed. "Again!" panted Jeremy, and they made another desperate try. It was of no avail. The keg seemed to weigh hundreds of pounds.
Mopping his forehead with his sleeve, Bob stood up and looked his companion in the face. "Well," he grinned, "the heavier the better!" "Right!" Jeremy agreed. "But how'll we get it home? We don't dare chop it open--too much noise--or set fire to it, for they'd see the smoke. Besides it's too damp to burn. Here--I'll see what's in it, yet!"
He crouched at the end of the barrel, whetted his hunting-knife on his palm a few times, and began to cut swiftly at a crack between two staves. Gradually the blade worked into the wood, opening a long narrow slot as Jeremy whittled away first at one side, then at the other. From time to time either he or Bob would stoop, trembling with excitement to peer through the crack, but it was pitch-dark inside the barrel.
Jeremy kept at his task without rest, and as his knife had more play, the shavings he cut from the sides of the opening grew thicker and thicker. First he, then Bob, would try, every few seconds, to thrust a fist through the widening hole.
At length Bob's hand, which was a trifle smaller than Jeremy's, squeezed through. There was a breathless instant, while he groped within the keg, and then, with a struggle he pulled his hand forth. In his fingers he clutched a broad yellow disc.
They gasped the word together.
Bob's face was awe-struck. "It's full of 'em--full of pieces like this," he whispered, "right up to within four inches of the top!"
They bent over the huge gold coin. The queer characters of the inscription, cut in deep relief, were strange to both boys. Jeremy had seen Spanish doubloons and the great double moidores of Portugal, but never such a piece as this. It was nearly two inches across and thick and heavy in proportion.
One after another Bob drew out dozens of the shining coins, and they filled their pockets with them till they felt weighted down. At length Jeremy, looking up, was startled to see that the sun had set and darkness was rapidly settling over the island. They threw dirt over the barrel, then with all possible speed clambered forth, and taking up their guns, made their way home as quietly as they had come.