CHAPTER XXII

Treasure-Trove

     Tom broke the silence again.
     "Now will some one tell me who the devil is Bucks?"
     It was the question in all our minds and our eyes groped helplessly in those of each other for an answer.
     "Bucks!  Bucks!  I've heard his name somewhere."
     Blythe spoke up like a flash.
     "So have I, Jack.  He was one of the sailors that took the Santa Theresa.  Quinn gave a list of them in his story.  This fellow must have escaped somehow when the ship was blown up."
     "Or from the gig that set out to pursue the long boat.   Perhaps when the Truxillo pounded the boat to pieces he swam to shore," I suggested.
     "Yes, but Quinn does not mention that Bucks got ashore.   That's funny too, because he says that he was the only man from the Santa Theresa left alive after Bully Evans was shot."
     "That is queer.  But it's plain Bucks did escape.   Don't you think it might be this way?  When he got to shore he ran forward to tell the four who had landed with the treasure about the coming of the Truxillo.   But before he reached the top of the hill he heard shots and suspected danger.   So he stole forward cautiously and saw what had happened to Wall and Lobardi.   Of course he wouldn't dare show himself then, for he was probably unarmed.  So he kept hidden while the two survivors buried the treasure."
     "Of course.  Like a wise man too," assented Tom.  "And when Quinn and the mate had pulled their freights he steps and buries the gold in another place."
     "Probably he waited till the Truxillo was out of the harbor," amended the Englishman.
     "Sure.  But the big point that sticks out like a sore thumb is that Bucks didn't fool Evans and Quinn, but us.  The treasure's gone.   That's a rock-bottom fact," Yeager commented.
     "I'm not so sure about that," I reflected aloud.   "Look here.  If Bucks dug the gold up he had to rebury it somewhere.   He had no way of taking the doubloons with him.  He couldn't have hauled the other boxes far.  Therefore, it follows that he buried them close to where he found them.  The one thing we don't know is whether he came back later and got the treasure.  I'll bet he didn't.  the man was a common sailor and had no means."
     "Even if we give you the benefit of every doubt, the treasure is hidden.  We don't know where.  In a year we might not find it."
     "True enough, Sam.  And we might stumble on it tomorrow.  Look at the facts.  He was alone, probably superstitious, certainly in fear lest Bully Evans might return and find him there.  More than that, he had no provisions.  To get away and reach the Indians to get food would be his main thought.   It was a case of life and death with him.  So you can bet he chose easy digging when he transferred the treasure.  That means he buried it in the sand not far from where he found it."
     "You have it figured out beautifully," San laughed.  "Well, I wish you luck."
     "But you don't expect any for me.  Just you wait and see."
     We called the crew in and showed them what we had found, explaining the facts and our deductions from them.  For we thought it better they should know just how matters stood.  Their disappointment was keen, but to a man they were eager to search further.
Hitherto we had staked our chances for success upon the map, but it was now manifest that the chart was no longer of any use.  I decided to take a look long the shore from the point where we had discovered the first box.
     Fortune is a fickle jade.  We had spent a week here and met only disappointment, working on careful calculations made from the directions left by Quinn.  by chance Gallagher had hit on the first cache.  By chance I hit on the second.
     Fighting my way through the jungle just adjacent to the beach I stumbled over what I took to be a root.  In some annoyance I glanced hastily at the projectionand then looked again.  My foot had been caught by a bone sticking out of the ground.  The odd thing was that it looked like a human bone.
     I plied my machete.  Within a quarter of an hour I had cleared a small square of ground and was digging with a pick.  What I presently uncovered were the remains of a skeleton.  An old sack, more brittle than paper, lay beneath these.  This I removed.  There, lying in the sand, were three bars of gold.

    
My heart jumped, lost a beat, hammered furiously.   I looked around quickly.  Alderson and Gallagher were the only men I had brought ashore with me.  They were digging at haphazard in the sand a hundred yards away.  With one stroke of the pick I upended several more yellow bars.
     That was enough for me.  I laid aside the first three and covered the others with sand, using my foot as a spade.  The three original bars I buttoned under my coat and then walked down hill to the beach.
     "I'm going aboard," I told the men.
     "Gallagher, you may row me out.  I'll be back presently, Alderson."
     I was under a tremendous suppressed excitement.  Blythe met me as I came aboard and his eyes questioned mine.  Without a word we moved toward the bridge pavilion and down into the saloon.
     "I've had another message from Mr. Bucks," I told him.
     "The deuce you say!"
     "He delivered it in person this time."
     The Englishman's eyes danced,but otherwise his face was immobile.
     "Did he say his name was Bucks?"
     "No.  I'm not dead sure I have him identified correctly.  As Tom would say, the brand is worn out."
     "I never was any good at riddles," he admitted
     "I stumbled over a thigh bone in the jungle.  It was sticking out of the ground, where in the course of time the sand had buried the rest of the body.  I have reason to think it belonged to Bucks because
     I paused for dramatic effect, my arms folded across my chest to keep the treasure from slipping down.
     "Just so, because—?"
     His was as cool as an iced melon, the drawl in his voice not quickening in the least.  But his eyes gave away his tense interest.

     "Why, because I found a lot of these in the sand, all of them measuring up to sample."  From under my coat I drew the shining yellow bars and handed them to him.
     "Gold!"  he cried softly.  "By Jove, this is a find."
     "And a lot more where those came from, or I miss my guess.  There is a mound there that looks to me like a cache."
     "But what was Bucks doing there?"
     "That's a guess.  Here is mine.  It doesn't cost you a cent even if you don't accept it.  After he had made the cache we'll say that he hiked off to try to find a settlement.  Very likely he had no idea where to look and he found progress through the jungle impossible.  After a while he wandered back, half starved and exhausted.  Perhaps his idea may have been that the Truxillo was still on the ground.  If so, he may have wanted to offer the gold in exchange for his life.  Anyhow, back he comes, to find that he is too late.  the brig has gone.  In his delirium he has some notion of digging up the treasure to buy food.   He gets the first sack of bullion up and then quits, too weak to do any more."
     "Sounds reasonable enough.  The chief point is that you've found the gold.  I'll order a force ashore to help you."
     There is something in the very thought of treasure-trove that unsettles the most sane.  Not a word was said to anybody except Tom about what I had found, but everybody on board was sure the bullion had been found.
     Before the eyes of each man danced shining yellow ingots and pieces of eight.  We could tell it by the eagerness with which they volunteered for shore duty.
     I chose Yeager, the chief engineerhe was a lank Yankee named Stubbs—and Jamaica Ginger, as we called our second fireman.   With us we took ashore a stout box, in which to pack the loose gold.
     Those left on board cheered us as we pulled toward the beach, and we answered lustily their cheer.  Every man jack of us was in the best of spirits.

     By this time it was late in the afternoon, but the sun was still very hot.  I was careful not to let anybody work long at a stretch.  As the bars of gold were uncovered we packed them in the box brought for the purpose.   Every time a shovel disclosed a new find there was fresh jubilation.
     While Alderson and I were resting under the shade of a mangrove the sailor made a suggestion.
     "You don't expect to get all the treasure out tonight, do you, sir?"
     "No.  Perhaps not by tomorrow night.  It is hard digging among so many roots.  And Mr. Bucks does not seem to have put it al together."
     "Will you keep a guard here, Mr. Sedgwick?"
     "Yes.  It looks like a deserted neck of the woods, but we'll take no chances."
     "That is what I was thinking, sir.  Last night I couldn't sleep for the heat and I strung a hammock on deck.  About three o'clock this morning a boat passed on its way to the mouth of the river."
     "Cholo Indians, likely."
     "No, sir.  This was a schooner.  It was some distance away, but I could make that out."
     "Well, we'll keep this place under our eye till the treasure is lifted."
     About sunset I sent Gallagher, Stubbs, and Jamaica Ginger aboard with the box of treasure, the Arizonian being in charge of the boat.  While I waited for its return I took a turn up the beach to catch the light breeze that was beginning to stir.
     I walked toward the head of the harbor, strolling farther in that direction than any of us had yet gone.   I went possibly an eighth of a mile above the spit, carrying my hat in my hand and moving in a leisurely way.
     In truth I was at peace with the world.  We had succeeded in our quest and found the treasure.  In a few days at most I should be back at Panama with my slim sweetheart in my arms.  What more could rational man ask?
     Then I stopped in my stride, snatched into a sudden amazement.   For there before me in the sand was the imprint of a boot made since the tide went out a few hours earlier in the day.
     No flat-footed Indian had left the track.  It was too sharp, too decisive, had been left plainly by a shoe of superior make.
     No guess of the truth came to me, but instinctively I eased the revolver in the scabbard by my side.  Of this much I was sure, that whereas I had supposed no white man except those of our party to be within many miles, there was at least one in the immediate vicinity.
     What, then, was he doing here?  How had he come?  Had he any intimation that there was treasure to be found?  It was altogether likely that whoever this man was he had not come to this desolate spot without companions and without a very definite purpose.
     Where were they, then?  And how did it happen we had not seen them?  the very secrecy of their presence seemed to suggest a sinister purpose.
     Should I go on and follow the tracks.  Or should I go back and notify Blythe at once?  The latter no doubt would be the wiser course, but my impulse was to push forward and discover something more definite.  As luck would have it, the decision was taken out of my hands.
     Out of the jungle a man came straight toward me.  the very sight of that strong, erect figure moving swiftly with easy stride tied, as it were, a stone to my heart.  The man was Boris Bothwell.  I was sure of it long before his face was distinguishable.
     He waved a hand at me with debonair insouciance.
     I waited for him without moving, my fingers on the butt of the revolver at my side.
     "So happy to meet you again, dear friend," he jeered as soon as he was within hail.
     "What are you doing here?  How did you get out?" I demanded.
     "My simple-minded youth, money goes a long way among the natives.  I bought my way out, since you are curious to know."
     "And you've followed us down here to make more trouble?"
     "To renew our little private war.  How did you guess it?"
     "So you haven't had enough yet.  You have come back to take another licking."
     "It's a long land that has no turning," he assured me gaily.  "I give you my word that I've reached the bend, Mr. Sedgwick."
     His confident audacity got on my nerves.  On the surface we had all the best of the game.  the trouble was that he knew the cards I held, whereas I could only guess at his.
     "You are the most unmitigated villain not yet hanged!"   I cried in rage.
     He bowed, rakish and smiling, with all the airs of a dancing master.
     "I fear you flatter me, sir."
     "I warn you to keep your hands off.  We're ready for you."
     "I thought it only fair to warn you.  That is why I am here and have the pleasure of talking with you."
     "More lies.  You showed yourself only cause you knew I had seen your footprints."
     He gave up the point with an easy laugh.
     "But really I did want to talk with you.  We have many interests in common.  Our taste in women, for instance.  Bu the way, did you leave Evie well?"
     Triumph swam in the eyes, narrowed to slits, through which he watched me.  I could not understand his derisive confidence.
     "We'll not discuss that," I told him bluntly.
     "As you say.  I come to another common interest—the treasure.  Is it running up to our hopes?"
     So he knew that we had found it.  No doubt he had been watching us all day through the telescope that hung at his side.
     "We don't recognize any hopes you may have."
     "But why not face facts?  I intend to own the treasure when you have dug it p for me."
     "You're of a sanguine temperament."
     "Poof!  Life is a game of cards.  First you hold trumps, then they fall to me.  It chances that now I hold the whip and ride on the crest of fortune's wave.  Hope you don't mind mixed figures."
     "You'll ride at the end of the hangman's rope," I prophesied.
     "Let us look on the bright side."
     "I'm trying to do that."
     The man knew something that I did not.  I was not bandying repartee with him for pleasure, but because I knew that if he talked long enough he would drop the card hidden up his sleeve.
     What was his ace of trumps?  How could he afford to sit back and let us dig up the gold?  He could not be merely bluffing, for the man had been laughing at me from that first wave of the hand.
     "It is unfortunate that you and I don't pull together, Mr. Sedgwick.  We'd make an invincible team.  You're the best enemy I ever met."
     "And you're the worst I've met."
     "Same thing, I assure you.  We both mean compliments.    But what I want to say is that it is against the law of conservation of energy for us to be opposing each other.  I propose combination instead of competition."
     "Be a little more definite, please."
     "Chuck your friends overboard and go into partnership with me."
     "Are you speaking literally, or in metaphor, captain?"
     He shrugged.
     "That's a mere detail.  If you have compunctions we'll maroon them."
     "Just what you promised the crew last time," I scored.
     "Wharf rats!"  He waved the point aside magnificently.  "I'm proposing now a gentleman's agreement."
     "Which you'll keep as long as it suits you."
     "I thought you knew me better."
     "What have you to offer?  My friends and I can keep the treasure.  Why should I ditch them for you?  What's the quid pro quo?"
     "You and Evie and I will go shares, third and third alike.   The better man of us two will marry her.  If it should be you, that will give you two-thirds."
     "You're very generous."
     "Oh, I intend to marry her if I can.  But I'll play fair.  If she has the bad taste to prefer you—"
     "In the event that I should happen to be alive still," I amended.  "You know how dangerous yellow fever is in the Isthmus, captain.   I am afraid that it would get me before we reached the canal zone again."
     He chuckled.
     "If you have a fault, my friend, it lies on the side of suspicion.  When I give my word I keep it—that is, when I give it to a gentleman."
     "I don't want to lead you into the temptation of revising your opinion of me and deciding that I am no gentleman."
     "Come Mr. Sedgwick.  We're not two fishwives to split hairs over a trifle.  I offer a compromise.  Do you accept it?"
      "You offer me nothing I haven't got already.  'A' share of the treasure—that will be mine, anyhow, as soon as we have it assayed and weighed.
     "You forget Evie."
     "Who is safe at Panama, beyond your reach, you scoundrel.   Why should I fear you as a rival since your life is forfeit s soon as you show your head?"
     He could not have spoken more insolently himself.  It was hot shot, but I poured it in for a purpose.  The mask fell from his face.  One could see the devil in his eyes now.
     "You reject my offer," he said, breathing hard to repress his rising passion.
     A second man had come out of the jungle and was moving toward us.   It was time to be going.  I moved back a step o two, my fingers caressing the butt of a revolver.
     "Yes, since I don't want to commit suicide, captain."
     He suddenly lost his temper completely and hopelessly.  He glared at me in a speechless rage, half of a mind to fight our quarrel out on the spot.    But the advantage lay with me.  All I had to do to blaze away was to tilt the point of my revolver at him without drawing it from the scabbard.  Then words came, poured out of him in a torrent.  He cursed me in Russian, in French, in English.
     I backed from him, step by step, till I was out of range.   Then swiftly as his rage had swept upon him it died away, leaving him white and shaken.  He leaned heavily upon the man who had now joined him.
     Unless I was much mistaken the man was George Fleming.