A Message From Bucks
| In the forenoon we drew out from the harbor
and followed the shore line toward the southwest, bound for that neck of the Isthmus which
is known loosely as The Darien.
Before night had fallen we were rounding Brava Point into the Gulf of San Miguel, so named by Balboa because it was upon St. Michael's Day, 1513, that his eyes here first fell upon the blue waters of the Pacific.
We followed the north shore, along precipitous banks that grew higher the farther inland we went. The dense jungle came down to the water's edge and was unbroken by any sign of human habitation.
In the brilliant moonlight we passed the South and the North bays, pushing straight into the Darien Harbor by way of the Boco Chico. The tides here have a rise and fall of nearly twenty feet, but we found a little inlet close to a mangrove swamp that offered a good harborage for the night.
The warm sun was pouring over the hill when I reached the deck next morning. We were steaming slowly past the village of La Palma along a precipitous shore heavily timbered. One could not have asked a pleasanter trip than that to the head of the harbor, at which point the Rio Tuyra pours it waters into the bay. Between La Palma and the river mouth we did not see a sign of human life.
At the distance of a rifle shot from the head of the harbor we rounded a point and saw before us a long tongue of sand running into the water.
Blythe and I spoke almost together:
There could be no mistake about it. We had reached the place where Bully Evans and Nate Quinn had buried the gold ingots they had sold their souls to get. We came to anchor a couple of hundred yards from the end of the sand spit.
Neither Blythe nor I had said a word to any of the crew to indicate that we were near our journey's end, but all morning there had been an unusual excitement aboard. Now we could almost see the word run from man to man that the spot where the treasure was buried lay before us.
"You'll command the shore party today, Jack," Blythe announced.
"Do I draw shore duty?" Yeager asked eagerly.
"You do. I'll stay with the ship. Jack, you'll have with you, too, Alderson, Smith, Gallagher, and one of the stokers."
"Also James A. Garfield Welch," I added.
"Also Jimmie," he nodded.
We had no reason to expect any trouble, but we went ashore armed, with the exception of Gallagher and Barbados, as we called our white-toothed, black-faced fireman.
I had our boat beached at the neck of the peninsula. While the men were drawing it up on the sand beyond reach of the tide I called to Jimmie.
"Yes, Mr. Sedgwick."
"Take off your coat."
"Are youse going to give me that licking now?" he asked, eyes big with surprise.
"How often have I told you not to ask questions? Shuck the coat."
He twisted out of it like an eel. I took it from him, turned it inside out, and opened my pocket knife. Carefully I ripped the lining at the seams. From a kind of pocket I drew an envelope. Out of the envelope I took the map that had been so closely connected with the history of Doubloon Spit.
When I say the men were surprised, I do them less than justice. One could have knocked their eyes off with a stick.
"Crikey? I didn't know that was there," Jimmie cried.
It had been Evelyn's idea to sew the map in Jimmie's coat, since that was the last place the mutineers would think of looking for it. While he had been peacefully sleeping Miss Wallace had done so neat a piece of tailoring that Jimmie did not suspect the garment had been tampered with.
We had, however, taken the precaution to take a copy of the map. During all the desperate fighting it had been lying in a shell snugly fitted into one of the chambers of a revolver in Yeager's room.
"Beg pardon, sir. Did the boy have the map with him while he was Mr. Bothwell's prisoner?" asked Gallagher.
"He did; but he didn't know it."
"Glad he didn't, sir, because if he had that devil would have got it out of him."
"Which no doubt would have distressed you greatly," I answered dryly.
"I'm on the honest side now, sir," the sailor said quietly.
"Let's hope you stay there."
"I intend to, sir," he said, flushing at my words.
While I had been poring over this map and the directions with it in my office at San Francisco it had seemed an easy thing to follow them, but in the this dense, tropical jungle I found it quite another matter.
The vegetation and the underbrush were so rank that one found himself buried before he had gone three steps in them.
No doubt at the time when the survivors of the Mary Ann of Bristol had cached their ill-gotten doubloons a recent fire had swept this point of land so that they had found no difficulty in traversing it, but now the jungle was so thick and matted that I decided to begin by cutting roads to the palm grove and the umbrella tree.
From the yacht I got hatchets and machetes and we set to work. Before night we all had a tremendous respect for the power of resistance offered by a Panama jungle. We might almost as well have hacked at rubber.
There was none of that sturdy solidity of our northern woods. The jungle yields to every blow and springs back into place with a persistence that seems devilish. By nightfall we had made so little progress that I was discouraged.
To our right there was a mangrove swamp. As we passed its edge on the way back to the boat our eyes beheld thousands upon thousands of birds coming there to roost for the night. Among them were many aigrette herons, white as the driven snow. I think I have never seen a bird so striking as this one.
Blythe, with Neidlinger, Higgins, our engineers, and the other fireman, took the second day on shore. Morgan was doing the cooking, and so was exempt from service. Dugan, still weak from his wound was helping in the galley as best as he could.
All through the third day it rained hard, but on the fourth I and my detail were back on the job. We were making progress. By this time a path had been cut through to the palm grove and from it to the umbrella tree.
It was clear that a century ago the line of palms must have stretched farther down the hill, for now the nearest was at least fifty yards from the umbrella tree, instead of twelve as mentioned in the directions.
The only alternative to this was that the original umbrella tree had disappeared, ad this I did not want to believe. At best one of the landmarks had gone.
We could go seven paces beyond the big tree,but "beyond" is a vague word, the point from which the measurement began having vanished.
Moreover, we encountered here another difficulty.
"Take a Be line from here thirty paces through ye Forked Tree," we read on the chart, but the forked tree had apparently fallen and rotted long since. There were trees in the jungle, to be sure, but none of them were of sufficient age to have been in existence then.
The best I could do was the guess at the point seven paces beyond the umbrella tree and, using it as a center, draw a circle around it at thirty paces. Our machetes hacked a trail, and at one point of it we crossed the stump of a tree that had been in its day of some size.
The stump had rotted so that one could kick it to pieces with the heel of a boot. This might or might not be the remains of the forked tree, but since we were working on a chance, this struck us as a good one to try.
It was impossible to tell where the fork had been, but we made a guess at it and proceeded to follow directions.
"Here cut a Rite Anggel N.N.E. till Tong of Spit is lost."
This at least was specific and definite. North northeast we went by the compass, slashing our way through the heavy vines and shrubbery inch by inch. We dipped over a hillock and came out of the jungle into the sand before the end of the spit was hidden by higher ground.
"Cast three long steps Souwest to Big Rock and dig on landward side."
Three steps to the southwest brought me deeper into the sand. there was no big rock in sight.
I looked at Tom. He laughed, as he had a habit of doing when in a difficulty.
"I guess we'll have to try again, Jack."
Gallagher broke in, touching his hat in apology:
"Not meaning to butt in, Mr. Sedgwick, but mightn't the rock be covered with sand? Give a hundred years and a heap of sand would wash into this cove here."
"There's sense in that. Anyhow, we'll try out your theory, Gallagher."
I marked a space about twelve by twelve upon which to begin operations. It took us an hour and a half to satisfy ourselves that nothing was hidden there.
I marked a second square, a third, and finally a fourth. dusk fell before we had finished digging the last. Tired and dispirited we pulled back to the yacht.
During the night it came on to rain again, and for three successive days water sluiced down from skies which never seemed empty of moisture. There was a gleam of sunshine the fourth day and though the jungle was like a shower bath Blythe took his machete and shovel squad to work.
At the end of the day they were back again. Sam had picked on a great lignum vitae as the forked tree named in the chart and had come to disappointment, even as I had.
In the end it was Gallagher who set us right. By this time, of course, every member of our party had the directions on the chart by heart, though several had not read the paper. We had finished luncheon and several of the men were strolling about. I was half way through my cigar when Gallagher came swinging back almost at a run.
"Beg pardon, sir. Would you mind coming with me?"
"What is it?" I asked in some excitement.
"It may not amount to anything. I don't know. But I thought I'd tell you, Mr. Sedgwick."
He had been lying down on the sand where it ran back to the jungle from the farthest inlet. Kicking idly with his heel he had come to solid stone. An examination proved to him that he was lying on a big rock covered with sand.
"You think this is the Big Rock," I said, after I had examined it.
"That's my idea. Stand here, sir, at the edge. You can't see the tongue of the spit, can you?"
"Ho, but that doesn't prove anything. We can't see it from this inlet at all."
"Sure about that, sir? Take three steps no'eastlong ones. Can you see the point now?
"No, there's a hillock between."
"Take one step more."
I moved forward another yard. Over the top of the rise I could just see the sand tongue running into the bay.
Jimmie, the irrepressible, broke out impatiently.
"Don't see what he's getting at, Mr. Sedgwick. The map says to take three steps southwest to the big rock."
"Exactly, Jimmie, but we're starting from the big rock, so we have to reverse directions. By Jove, I believe you've hit on the spot, Gallagher."
I called to Alderson to bring the men with their spades. A tree more than a foot thick at the ground had grown up at the edge of the rock. We brought this down by digging at the roots. After another quarter of an hour's work Barbados unearthed a bottle. He was as proud of his find as if it had been a bar of gold.
We were all excited. The bottle was passed from hand to hand.
"We're getting warm," I cried. "This is the spot. Remember that every mother's son of you shares what we find. Five dollars to the man that first touches treasure."
There was a cheer. The men fell to work with renewed vigor. Presently Gallagher's spade hit something solid. A little scraping showed the top of an iron box.
"I claim that five, sir," cried Gallagher.
I jumped into the hole beside him. With our hands we scraped the dirt away from the sides.
"Heave away," I gave the word.
We lifted the box to the solid ground above. It was very rusty, of a good size, and heavy.
"Let's open it now," cried Jimmie, dancing with enthusiasm.
"Let's not," I vetoed. "We'll take it on board first. Five dollars to the man that finds the second box."
But there was no second box. We worked till dark at the hole. Before we left there was an excavation large enough for the cellar of a house. But not a trace of more treasure did we find.
Blythe had decided it best not to open the treasure before the men, and though the crew was plainly disappointed we stuck to that resolution.
Sam promised the men that they should see it before we reached San Francisco, and that they should appoint two of their number to accompany the treasure to the assay office in that city to determine the value of our find and their share.
Yeager, being handier with an ax than the rest us, broke open the lid of the chest. A piece of coarse sacking covered the contents. Blythe lifted thisand disclosed to our astonished eyes a jumble of stones and sand.
We looked at our find and at each other. Tom put our feeling into words.
"Bilked, by Moses!"
We tossed the rocks and sand upon the table and came to a piece of ragged paper folded in two. In a faint red four words were traced as if with the end of a pointed stick.
Sold, you devils!