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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Adventures Of Captain Horn - Chapter 33. The "Miranda" Takes In Cargo
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The Adventures Of Captain Horn - Chapter 33. The 'Miranda' Takes In Cargo Post by :Truman Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :620

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The Adventures Of Captain Horn - Chapter 33. The "Miranda" Takes In Cargo

CHAPTER XXXIII. THE "MIRANDA" TAKES IN CARGO

The next day the work of removing the treasure from the caves to the vessel began in good earnest. The Miranda was anchored not far from the little pier, which was found in good order, and Shirley, with one negro, was left on board, while the captain and Burke took the three others, loaded with coffee-bags, to the caves.

For the benefit of the minds of the black men, the captain had instructed Maka to assure them that they would not be obliged to go anywhere where it was really dark. But it was difficult to decide how to talk to Burke. This man was quite different from Shirley. He was smaller, but stout and strong, with a dark complexion, and rather given to talk. The captain liked him well enough, his principal objection to him being that he was rather too willing to give advice. But, whatever might be the effect of the treasure on Burke, the captain determined that he should not be surprised by it. He had tried that on Shirley, and did not want to try it again on anybody. So he conversed freely about the treasure and the mound, and, as far as possible, described its appearance and contents. But he need not have troubled himself about the effect of the sight of a wagon-load of gold upon Burke's mind. He was glad to see it, and whistled cheerfully as he looked down into the mound.

"How far do you think it goes down?" said he to the captain.

"Don't know," was the reply. "We can't tell anything about that until we get it out."

"All right," said Burke. "The quicker we do it, the better."

The captain got into the mound with a lantern, for the gold was now too low for him to reach it from above, and having put as many bars into a coffee-bag as a man could carry, he passed it up to Burke, who slid it down to the floor, where another lantern had been left. When five bags had been made ready, the captain came out, and he and Burke put each bag into another, and these were tied up firmly at each end, for a single coffee-bag was not considered strong enough to hold the weighty treasure. Then the two carried the bags into the part of the cave which was lighted by the great fissure, and called the negroes. Then, each taking a bag on his shoulder, the party returned to the cove. On the next trip, Shirley decided to go with the captain, for he said he did not care for anything if he did not have to look down into the mound, for that was sure to make him dizzy. Maka's place was taken by the negro who had been previously left in the vessel. Day by day the work went on, but whoever might be relieved, and whatever arrangements might be made, the captain always got into the mound and handed out the gold. Whatever discovery should be made when the bottom of the deposit was reached, he wanted to be there to make it.

The operations were conducted openly, and without any attempt at secrecy or concealment. The lid of the mound was not replaced when they left it, and the bags of gold were laid on the pier until it was convenient to take them to the vessel. When they were put on board, they were lowered into the hold, and took the place of a proportionate amount of ballast, which was thrown out.

All the negroes now spoke and understood a little English. They might think that those bags were filled with gold, or they might think that they contained a mineral substance, useful for fertilizer; but if by questioning or by accidental information they found out what was the load under which they toiled along the beach, the captain was content. There was no reason why he should fear these men more than he feared Burke and Shirley. All of them were necessary to him, and he must trust them. Several times when he was crouched down in the interior of the mound, filling a bag with gold, he thought how easy it would be for one of the sailors to shoot him from above, and for them, or perhaps only one of them, to become the owner of all that treasure. But then, he could be shot in one place almost as well as in another, and if the negroes should be seized with the gold fever, and try to cut white throats at midnight, they would be more likely to attempt it after the treasure had been secured and the ship had sailed than now. In any case, nothing could be gained by making them feel that they were suspected and distrusted. Therefore it was that when, one day, Maka said to the captain that the little stones in the bags had begun to make his shoulder tender, the captain showed him how to fold an empty sack and put it between the bags and his back, and then also told him that what he carried was not stones, but lumps of gold.

"All yourn, cap'n!" asked Maka.

"Yes, all mine," was the reply.

That night Maka told his comrades that when the captain got to the end of this voyage, he would be able to buy a ship bigger than the _Castor_, and that they would not have to sail in that little brig any more, and that he expected to be cook on the new vessel, and have a fine suit of clothes in which to go on shore.

For nearly a month the work went on, but the contents of the mound diminished so slowly that the captain, and, in fact, the two sailors, also, became very impatient. Only about forty pounds could be carried by each man on a trip, and the captain saw plainly that it would not do to urge greater rapidity or more frequent trips, for in that case there would be sure to be breakdowns. The walk from the cove to the caves was a long one, and rocky barriers had to be climbed, and although now but one man was left on board the vessel, only thirty bags a day were stored in its hold. This was very slow work. Consultations were held, and it was determined that some quicker method of transportation must be adopted. The idea that they could be satisfied with what they already had seemed to enter the mind of none of them. It was a foregone conclusion that their business there was to carry away all the gold that was in the mound.

A new plan, though rather a dangerous one, was now put into operation. The brig was brought around opposite the plateau which led to the caves, and anchored just outside the line of surf, where bottom was found at a moderate depth. Then the bags were carried in the boats to the vessel. A line connected each boat with the ship, and the negroes were half the time in the water, assisting the boats backward and forward through the surf. Now work went on very much more rapidly. The men had all become accustomed to carrying the heavy bags, and could run with them down the plateau. The boats were hauled to and from the vessel, and the bags were hoisted on board by means of blocks and tackle and a big basket. Once the side of the basket gave way, and several bags went down to the bottom of the sea, never to be seen again. But there was no use in crying over spilt gold, and this was the only accident.

The winds were generally from the south and east, and, therefore, there was no high surf; and this new method of working was so satisfactory that they all regretted they had not adopted it from the first, notwithstanding the risk. But the captain had had no idea that it would take so long for five men to carry that treasure a distance of two miles, taking forty pounds at a time.

At night everybody went on board the brig, and she lay to some distance from the shore, so as to be able to run out to sea in case of bad weather, but no such weather came.

It was two months since the brig had dropped anchor in the Rackbirds' cove when the contents of the mound got so low that the captain could not hand up the bags without the assistance of a ladder, which he made from some stuff on board the brig. By rough measurement, he found that he should now be near the level of the outside floor of the cave, and he worked with great caution, for the idea, first broached by Ralph, that this mass of gold might cover something more valuable than itself, had never left him.

But as he worked steadily, filling bag after bag, he found that, although he had reached at the outer edge of the floor of the mound what seemed to be a pavement of stone, there was still a considerable depth of gold in the centre of the floor. Now he worked faster, telling Shirley, who was outside, that he would not come out until he had reached the floor of the mound, which was evidently depressed in the centre after the fashion of a saucer. Working with feverish haste, the captain handed up bag after bag, until every little bar of gold had been removed from the mound.

The bottom of the floor was covered with a fine dust, which had sifted down in the course of ages from the inside coating of the mound, but it was not deep enough to conceal a bar of gold, and, with his lantern and his foot, the captain made himself sure that not a piece was left. Then his whole soul and body thrilled with a wild purpose, and, moving the ladder from the centre of the floor, he stooped to brush away the dust. If there should be a movable stone there! If this stone should cover a smaller cavity beneath the great one, what might he not discover within it? His mind whirled before the ideas which now cast themselves at him, when suddenly he stood up and set his teeth hard together.

"I will not," he said. "I will not look for a stone with a crack around it. We have enough already. Why should we run the risk of going crazy by trying to get more? I will not!" And he replaced the ladder.

"What's the matter in there?" called Shirley, from outside. "Who're you talking to?"

The captain came out of the opening in the mound, pulled up the ladder and handed it to Shirley, and then he was about to replace the lid upon the mound. But what was the use of doing that, he thought. There would be no sense in closing it. He would leave it open.

"I was talking to myself," he said to Shirley, when he had descended. "It sounded crack-brained, I expect."

"Yes, it did," answered the other. "And I am glad these are the last bags we have to tie up and take out. I should not have wondered if the whole three of us had turned into lunatics. As for me, I have tried hard to stop thinking about the business, and I have found that the best thing I could do was to try and consider the stuff in these bags as coal--good, clean, anthracite coal. Whenever I carried a bag, I said to myself, 'Hurry up, now, with this bag of coal.' A ship-load of coal, you know, is not worth enough to turn a man's head."

"That was not a bad idea," said the captain. "But now the work is done, and we will soon get used to thinking of it without being excited about it. There is absolutely no reason why we should not be as happy and contented as if we had each made a couple of thousand dollars apiece on a good voyage."

"That's so," said Shirley, "and I'm going to try to think it."

When the last bag had been put on board, Burke and the captain were walking about the caves looking here and there to take a final leave of the place. Whatever the captain considered of value as a memento of the life they had led here had been put on board.

"Captain," said Burke, "did you take all the gold out of that mound?"

"Every bit of it," was the reply.

"You didn't leave a single lump for manners?"

"No," said the captain. "I thought it better that whoever discovered that empty mound after us should not know what had been in it. You see, we will have to circulate these bars of gold pretty extensively, and we don't want anybody to trace them back to the place where they came from. When the time comes, we will make everything plain and clear, but we will want to do it ourselves, and in our own way."

"There is sense in that," said Burke. "There's another thing I want to ask you, captain. I've been thinking a great deal about that mound, and it strikes me that there might be a sub-cellar under it, a little one, most likely, with something else in it--rings and jewels, and nobody knows what not. Did you see if there was any sign of a trap-door?"

"No," said the captain, "I did not. I wanted to do it,--you do not know how much,--but I made up my mind it would be the worst kind of folly to try and get anything else out of that mound. We have now all that is good for us to have. The only question is whether or not we have not more than is good for us. I was not sure that I should not find something, if I looked for it, which would make me as sick as Shirley was the first time he looked into the mound. No, sir; we have enough, and it is the part of sensible men to stop when they have enough."

Burke shook his head. "If I'd been there," he said, "I should have looked for a crack in that floor."

When the brig weighed anchor, she did not set out for the open sea, but proceeded back to the Rackbirds' cove, where she anchored again. Before setting out, the next day, on his voyage to France, the captain wished to take on board a supply of fresh water.

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