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CHAPTER XVI THE SUN-DOLLAR
“My word! it’s stamped with a sunburst on one side, on the other with a ship.”

“Yes, and with a burning mountain an’ a horn thrown in!” Kenjo’s tongue clicked against the roof of his mouth with excitement as he replied to the shrieked comment from Miles.

“A sunburst and a ship!” Jessica clasped her hands wildly; she too began to foot it upon the sandy hillside, to dance, not lightly as a foam-chicken, but heavily as a very wet and draggled one on the skirts of the still dripping vegetation. “Oh, wasn’t it queer that I should be the one to find it, for our Camp Fire Girls’ symbol is the Sun—and I have always loved ships?” She did not mention the source of her affection for sailing ships in the glamor that surrounded the figure of her great-grandparent, as she looked eagerly, greedily at the large silver coin lying on Stack’s brown palm, winking up at a fellow-sunburst in the sky where fair weather was beginning to reassert itself.

A large, antique silver coin of a size and stamp such as neither Boy Scout nor Camp Fire Girl had ever seen before.

But the Eagle Scout showed no inclination to hand over to her the coin. He only began to gesticulate and explain the situation to Toiney whose tassel had, forthwith, a bobbing spasm.

“Houp-e-la! Ciel! he fin’ de dolla’—de silvare dolla’—l’argent blanc.” Now it was Toiney’s turn to waltz on the hillside, with his tassel. “He fin’ l’argent blanc! Ain’ he de smarty?” looking excitedly at Stack. “Ciel! I’ll go forre dig, too, me. Oh!
“Rond! Rond! Rond!
Petit pie pon ton!”

With this wild roundelay, which had no sane meaning whatever, upon his lip, Toiney turned his clay pipe which had about an inch and a half of stem—his petit boucane, as he called it—upside down between his lips and fell to clawing at the sands with his swarthy hands as if he would root the very heart out of this rich sand-hill.

That was the digging signal for the other three!

The Camp Fire Girl forgot that she was wet through and that others must be anxious about her. Stack forgot that he had ever roosted on one leg in quicksands. Kenjo forgot that he was Kenjo and possessed a red head. One and all they clawed with their fingers, dug and scraped with heels and toes, until the sodden sand-hill looked as if a regiment of roosters, each with an attendant flock of hens, had pecked and wallowed there for a week.

“There must—must be more where this coin came from!” Such was their battle-cry; now and again one or other of them sounded it.

Now and again, too, each one had a lucid interval of demanding to see the sunburst coin anew, to examine afresh its stamp and half-obliterated inscription.

Miles—otherwise Stack—would then take it from his vest pocket and turn it over on his palm; he did not want it to go out of his keeping, which Jessica privately thought was very mean of him, as she claimed the distinction of seeing it first and had paid dearly for that initial glimpse, too.

“And I persuaded myself it was only a piece of glass or a bright shell!” she exclaimed from time to time, having the feminine trick of reverting to mistakes. “Can you make out the date on it?” she demanded very practically after one such reversion.

“No, I can’t!” Stack examined the coin more critically than he had yet taken the time to do in his frantic eagerness to find more. “The last figures look like a 3 and an 8. But it might be 1638 or 1838—date’s partly worn off. Houp-la! wasn’t it somewhere about 1638 that Captain Kidd was flourishing? My history’s hazy. Gee—if we’re on the track of some of his buried treasure when other people have been digging for ages and consulting all sorts of fake fortune-tellers and never even got upon the trail of a hoard!”

“We consulted the Indian top.” Kenjo’s voice had a thrill of semi-superstition.

“Yes, but the Kullibígan couldn’t make up its mind which of us would dig up a fortune from the sands; you came in on it, so did I, so did Arline—that’s nothing!” Thus Jessica laughed him down. “Wait a minute!” She caught at Miles’s arm. “I want to see if I can make out more of the inscription before you put it—the coin—back into your pocket again. You needn’t be so afraid that some one is going to snap it out of your hand!” haughtily.

Thus shamed, Stack suspended digging for an age-long interval of a minute and held the coin on lingering exhibition, right and obverse sides.

“Oh! isn’t it a dandy sunburst, with stars above it?” So Jessica gloated over its ancient stamp. “I can partly make out the inscription over the sunburst, too: it’s Repub—then something else, and then Peruana. I can read that clearly, but not the rest.”

“Underneath the letters look like CUZCO,” spelled out Kenjo. “And—oh! don’t be stingy, Stack; let’s look at it a minute longer—and in the middle of the sunburst there are a few black dots that seem to be meant for the two eyes, the nose and mouth of a face—a queer sun-face! Oh! Ha! Ha!” Ken’s boyish laugh rang out with a fire that matched his hair.

“Now for the reverse side: the ship is on that,” pleaded Jessica hungrily.

“Yes, and the volcano and the horn—an’ something like a castle!” muttered Miles. “But we’re wasting time!” The coin vanished again into his pocket. “It’s me for digging, I tell you—digging hard! If we can find some more—a hoard of them—our fortune’s made.... I’d be glad to have my fortune made for me,” he continued, presently, out of the heart of a sand-spout; “I enter ‘Tech’ in the fall and for the next four years I’ll have to work all vacation-time in order to push myself through—help pay college expenses. Oh, goody, if this coin and others would only lend me a boost!”

“I need a ‘boost,’ as you call it, too; I’ll have to earn my own living when I graduate from high school, with no one to help me,” quavered Jessica, shivering all over in her wetness, beginning to realize that, back of frenzied excitement, she was very clammy and exhausted. “And—and I can’t earn my living in the way I’d like to do unless I get hold of some money!” She fell to scratching like a wet hen.

Stack looked at her through the sand-squall which he was raising; this was the second time that he had seen her and on both occasions her clothing looked as if she had been dragged through a river, but he decided that if she were ever dry she’d be pretty, and if, after he entered Tech, he was duly elected to his chosen fraternity, she should be his guest during Frat week when the freshmen entertained their friends.

Here he came out of fairy-land, fortune-land, for a moment, to hear the distant, strong chug, chug of a motor-boat upon the river above the Neck.

“If I get rich out of this, I’m going to have a motorcycle,” burst forth Kenjo, that distant chug shaping his dream.
“Rond! Rond! Rond!”

chanted Toiney; he did not open his heart like the young people, but as he incessantly clawed and dug, he had dreams, pathetic in their grandeur, about swaggering back to a rural spot near Quebec, where his old mother still clattered round in wooden shoes, as one who had made “beeg fortune on United State’.”

Never before were such silvery air-castles constructed out of so little metal as that contained in one tarnished coin—a coin of a goodly size, however, larger than a fifty-cent piece, almost as big as an American dollar.

Suddenly through the glittering halls of those castles in the air resounded an earthly shout that, momentarily, shattered them; it was accompanied by a swish of oars; the chug, chug of the power-boat had ceased.

“Ahoy there! For heaven’s sake! have you all turned into a passel of hens?” It was Captain Andy’s amazed shout as he landed from his rowboat on a point of the sands which experience had taught him to be safe. “I’m after one hen, to take her back with me!” pointing to the scratching Jessica. “A nice scare she’s given us all—I found the dory bobbing up the river. An’ by gracious! my heart’s been in my mouth since. What in thunder are you diggin’ like that for? Mad as March hares, all of you!”

“Humph! Perhaps we’re not so crazy as you think. Look at that!” With a lordly air Stack drew out the coin and held it forth in its silver beauty, stained and worn by long burial, for the captain to see, as he drew near. “What d’you think of our madness now?” He gulped and gasped.

“Why! Why! It’s one of those old sun-dollars!” Captain Andy, receiving it upon his own palm and turning it over (Stack was not afraid to trust it to him), looked pleased, highly pleased, and interested, but not wildly carried away as befitted one who held the first-fruit of a fortune in his hand.

“One of those old Peruvian sun-dollars from the wreck that took place here between sixty an’ seventy years ago, when I was a small boy!” he exclaimed again. “It’s a handsome coin, all right! But if you dig till all’s blue, I’ll warrant you’ll never find another of ’em, or if you should, ’twould be only one at a time an’ far between; the river isn’t giving back enough of them together to make anybody rich; an’ the river only got one bag of those coins when the old brig went to pieces!”

“Sun-dollar! Wreck! Brig! What wreck?” The challenging cries were hurled at him by two stiffening, defiant boys and one clucking, scratching girl. “Come to think of it, that old clam-hunter did mumble something about a wreck!” added Stack in crestfallen reflection.

“Yes, it’s goin’ on for seventy years ago, now, that a sailing vessel, a brig from South Peru, which had many bags of these an’ other Peruvian coins, both gold an’ silver, aboard—was rich in specie, as they say—was wrecked in the bay, outside the bar. The gale drove her up the river; I’ve often heard about it; my father was one o’ the men who put off in rowboats to rescue the crew an’ they did save ’em all, though ’twas night, and saved most o’ the money-bags, too. But one bag of coins fell into the river, when they were lowering it in the dark into a boat. Folks dragged the channel with nets for it afterward, but that river-channel,” pointing out toward the middle of the heaving tide where his motor-boat rocked, moored to a stump-buoy, “is so ‘studdled’ up with hollows an’ gullies that you never can recover anything from it that it doesn’t give up of its own accord, when wind and tide make it.”

Captain Andy looked from the sunburst coin to the three young faces—sorry at heart that with his cruel crowbar of truth he must shatter their castles—and at Toiney digging still, digging patiently on.

“Storm-wind and tide did make the river-bed give up a few of those coins, three or four, maybe; they were picked up near this spot by a man I know a long time after the wreck took place. Now! you’ve found another, but I guess that’s all you’ll find if you dig till Doomsday. This is a pretty souvenir, though! Who’s to keep it?” Captain Andy turned the coin over in his hand and looked at Jessica who had hopelessly given up scratching and was ready to accompany him to the rowboat, thence out to the waiting motor-boat and from there, in a quick run, back to the Sugarloaf, her Camp Fire Sisters and Camp Morning-Glory.

“I saw it first,” proclaimed the girl, eagerly eyeing the sun-dollar.

“I picked it up,” said the boy, with greed in his claiming eye—in spite of the fact that he was eighteen years old and an Eagle Scout.

He had risked his life for the girl by dashing out among the quicksands at her cry. He had come very near giving it by sinking altogether when he refused to be rescued first. And yet he was unwilling that she should have the treasure trove, the sunburst coin. He took it from Captain Andy’s hand, from Captain Andy whose code of chivalry, now and always, might be summed up in three words: “Skirts go ahead;” in land speech, “Ladies have the preference!”

“I don’t care! He can keep it if he wants to!”

Jessica tossed her head with its loose tangle of wet hair.

So indignant was she at this greed for possession, this covetousness on the part of an Eagle Scout, or any other Scout, that she marched off down to the rowboat, ahead of Captain Andy, without thinking of saying good-bye to Toiney, her rescuer, and without as much as casting a glance at the miserly Miles who had played the acrobat on one leg amid quicksands for her sake!

“Well! if he isn’t the Meanest Thing!” So spoke Betty Ayres as she twirled an egg-beater upon the following morning before a glowing stove in the kitchen of Camp Morning-Glory. “Eagle Scout, indeed! I’d like to whip him instead of these yolks.”

“Yes, keeping that beautiful, big old silver coin after you had seen it first! And he seemed so—so different when he worked over that dumb child to bring her to!” flamed Sally.

“Oh! you never can tell about boys; you never can understand them,” sighed Arline, airing the time-worn complaint of each sex about the other.

“I understand a lot about them; I’ve three brothers and I cured the Astronomer,” maintained Penelope sturdily. “I doubt if Tenderfoot Tommy would have acted like that.”

“A letter for somebody! A Scout gave it to me to give to you!” Captain Andy—otherwise “Standing Tall,” ducked his head through the broad screen door and handed a thick envelope to Jessica, who looked pale, red-eyed and snuffled a little, but, beyond that, was none the worse for yesterday’s experiences. “The chap who gave it to me got up early an’ rowed over from the opposite dunes. There’s something in it, I think!” added Menokigábo, with a twinkle in his eye.

“Girls! it’s the coin—the silver sunburst coin!” Jessica tore open the envelope; inside were some hastily written lines, without any conventional beginning:

“The sun-dollar belongs to you. You saw it first. Sorry I behaved like a chump yesterday! I have put your initials in a little monogram under the sunburst and got in the date of this year, too, when it was found, in tiny figures at the side.

“I found out what the name-letters were from Kenjo who says that he heard your name in full on the evening that he signaled to us from your camp.

“A Scout is honorable!
“Miles.”

“Well—if he isn’t splendid!”

“He must be a fine fellow!”

“We want to meet him.”

“So you will when the Camp Fire Girls of the Twin-Light Tribe give that party at the hotel on the mainland!”

Captain Andy withdrew, smiling to himself at the new feminine flutter, the abrupt change of tune.

“But if that isn’t just like a boy”—this from Betty—“a boy’s one idea of owning anything is to carve initials upon it! I believe he’d scratch them on the pearly gates of heaven if he could only find his way there and set up a claim for himself or somebody else!”

“Never mind! Isn’t it a beautiful old sunburst coin?” Jessica winked away a bright drop of moisture as she passed the sun-dollar round for inspection. “It really was quite too awfully good of him to give it up, wasn’t it?” with a little catch of delight in her throat.

“I believe that, in his place, I’d have been tempted to think that possession is nine points of the law,” laughed Olive. “But for a Camp Fire Girl belonging to a society whose general symbol is the sun, that silver sunburst coin is the loveliest souvenir of her camping-out time—so appropriate!”

“So appropriate,” echoed its lucky possessor, smiling like the gayest morning-glory that ever fluttered in a morning gust which awoke it to the sun, “so appropriate that do you know what I’m going to do, girls?” rising on ecstatic tiptoe.

“I know!” nodded fair-haired Betty with the air of a cynic. “You’re thinking of getting Captain Andy to bore a little hole in it and wearing it round your neck for a while. ’Fess, now!”

“Ha! Betty means to insinuate that if a boy’s one idea of owning a thing is to carve a name or initials upon it, a girl’s first thought is to use it to make her look more ‘fetching’—eh?” Sally pointed an accusing finger at Betty. “I wouldn’t be sarcastic if I were you, ‘Holly’!”

“But that’s just what I did think of doing with it,” owned Morning-Glory, subsiding to the soles of her feet again. “With the exception of my Fire Maker’s bracelet,” holding up her rounded right arm, “and my fagot ring, I have little or no jewelry, as the rest of you girls have. If it was only forty or fifty years ago, now, I could wear that beautiful old miniature of my great-grandfather—it’s set in real gold. As I can’t, I’d like to wear this,” gloating over the large silver disc from which Miles had removed the stain of long burial ere he finely engraved or, rather, scratched the girl-owner’s monogram upon it with the sharpest blade of his penknife so skilfully that it really did not mar by incongruity the quaint beauty of the radiating sunburst, having the queer old sun-face, like a microscopic mask in the center.

“Well, I’d wear it as a pendant if I wanted to! I’ve got a thin little silver chain, Jess, that I’ll lend you while we’re here,” volunteered Arline. “Pouf!” blowing scorn on Betty’s sarcastic scruples. “Why! it’s hardly any bigger than the silver medals which some of the high school girls wear in the spring in honor of their boy friends, in athletics, who have won them on the track team or in the high jump or some other event.”

“To be sure! People will only think that I have a friend who came in second in the mile or half-mile at ‘interscholastics.’” Morning-Glory fluttered gaily again upon the highest tendril of joy’s vine. “I paid dearly for being the first to see the old coin,” with a momentary shudder. “Now I may have the pleasure of wearing it to that party which the Twin-Light Tribe is going to give at which we’ll play old-fashioned games—dance old-fashioned dances—all the girls who don’t belong to our ‘Morning-Glory Tribe’ will just keep guessing and guessing as to what sort of new-fangled athletic medal it is!”



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