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首页 » 经典英文小说 » The Mercer Boys on a Treasure Hunt » CHAPTER II THE STORY OF THE PHANTOM GALLEON
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CHAPTER II THE STORY OF THE PHANTOM GALLEON
“Well,” answered the professor, slowly. “Up until a very short time Ned, and others, thought that it was only a legend. He hadn’t been in the country very long before he heard it, and he put it down as one of those semi-historic tales that consist of half truth and half fancy. The tale had been handed down for centuries and always by word of mouth, and this is the story:

“On a certain evening, hundreds of years ago, a huge, lumbering Spanish galleon, loaded with treasure, fled along the coast of Lower California, pursued by three English barks. In the long run there was not a chance that the gold ship would get away, for the light English barks were much faster, and it was only a question of time before they hauled down on her and boarded. The way they were situated was this: one ship was in the rear of the Spaniard, one was coming up in front of it, and a third was moving in from the open sea. It was a regular trap, you see, and merely a matter of time.
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“But fortunately—or unfortunately, I don’t know which—for the galleon, one of those rare tropical storms came up at that moment when capture seemed assured for the gold ship. There was a furious rush of the wind, the sky grew black and lowering, and finally, in one great maelstrom of confusion the three ships and the galleon were blotted out of sight. The storm only lasted for some half hour, which is unusually long for some of them, and when it lifted the galleon was nowhere to be seen. The English barks had had all they could handle and had been so busy holding their own against the elements that they hadn’t time to keep up the pursuit, and their conclusion was that the Spaniard had gone to the bottom of the sea. As it was built much higher and was much harder to handle than the lighter ships, the conclusion was justified, and the pursuers drew off and left the shore.
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“As I told you, that had happened in the evening, just as dusk was coming down over the shore and the sea, and the high decked galleon, with its spread of strained canvas and yellow streamers, its lofty rigging and its ornamental work, looked like some strange phantom as it fled down the coast. I don’t know who saw it or how many saw it, but to this day the story, half legend as it is, has persisted concerning the phantom galleon. Some fantastic tales still linger about it appearing on dusky nights and sailing swiftly along the shore, but they are idle stories to which no one with intelligence pays any attention. Ned never gave the whole thing much credit until a remarkable circumstance brought it forcefully to his mind.

“Near his little ranch there is a large old estate which belongs to a once noble family of mixed Spanish and Mexican blood, and although they keep pretty much to themselves, out of a lofty sense of pride, they have been rather friendly to Ned, in their stately and exacting way. There was an old man who was head of the place, his daughter, and one or two servants. Lately the old gentleman died, and Ned kindly helped out with the funeral and the management of the ranch affairs until a permanent overseer was brought over from Mexico, and in her gratitude the young senorita allowed him to roam pretty much around the house. I suspect from his letter that he has of late become rather more than friendly with the young lady, but that doesn’t make much difference either way. It seems that she had been left with quite a library, reading being an important business in such a lonely place, and some of the volumes were pretty precious, being hand written works of early settlers and priests, who thus left interesting historic records. One of these books attracted Ned’s attention strongly.
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“It had been written by a priest in the year 1571, and it described the Spanish treasure hunts, some of which were plain plundering expeditions, and this particular book related them in detail. Ned wasn’t unusually interested until he came across the part relating to a chase that the galleon had had from three English ships. According to the author they had loaded with something like 100,000 pesos and a fortune in gold and silver bars, to say nothing of jewels, and had sailed for Upper California. But near the shores of Lower California the galleon had been sighted by an English bark, which had instantly given chase. The galleon, which had a good start, fled, but its chances of escape suddenly became less as another English ship appeared before it, and another bore down on it from the open sea. It was growing dark, wrote the priest, and there was some hope that it would slip away in the darkness, but something more to the point stepped in when a tropical storm wrapped the nearby world in temporary darkness. The Don Fernando, that was the name of the galleon, slipped into a nearby creek or small river and ran hard and fast aground, the lofty masts and spars crashing down, a total ruin. The creek seems to have been far enough back for the wreck to have escaped the notice of the English, for they were not molested, and the crew, after assuring themselves that the treasure was safe, tried to make their way inland for help.
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“But somehow or other—the writer does not say how—they all perished, and he alone escaped to Mexico, there to write down the story of the flight of the galleon. He affirms positively in his journal that the treasure was not touched, and he planned to raise enough men to go and get it. Whether he did or not no one knows, but if he didn’t that treasure is still somewhere in a creek, in the wreck of that galleon, perhaps buried below the level of the sand which has shifted. Ned thinks that it is nearby and that is why he has written to me.

“The tragedy of the thing is this: the priest wrote everything except the name of the creek down which the phantom galleon fled. There are several pages missing from his book, and it breaks off like this: ‘The ship with its fortune in gold and precious stones, its coin and bars, is still buried in the sand in a creek called——’ and there it unfortunately ends. If the name was only there we could tell something, for it is always probable that someone can be found who will recall the name, no matter how ancient it may be, but as the name is lost, Ned faces a blank wall. He inquired from Senorita Mercedes just where she had obtained that book, but she knew nothing outside of the fact that it had apparently always been in their house.”
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“That certainly is interesting,” said Don, as the professor stopped. “Your son Ned thinks that it is somewhere near his place?”

“Yes, he believes it is somewhere within a radius of a hundred miles. The legend has it that the galleon vanished somewhere right on that very shore, and that would indicate that the galleon ran up some creek very near to his place. If no one ever did get back and take that treasure it is probably in the rotted hold of the treasure ship, buried more or less deeply in the sand, just waiting for some lucky one to discover it. Much of the land near Ned’s ranch has never been thoroughly explored, and it may be that it is nearer to him than he has any idea of.”

“Has he made any effort to find it?” inquired Jim.

“A somewhat feeble one, yes. He endeavored to enlist the aid of some nearby ranch men, some half breed Mexicans, but although they started with some enthusiasm they soon gave it up. They are the kind who would not mind sharing in the rewards if someone else does the work. So he gave it up, except that he patiently read every other book in Senorita Mercedes’ library in the hope of obtaining some clue, but the missing pages were not to be located and he is still no nearer to finding out the name of that creek than he was at first.”
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“And he never did find out how that book came to be in the library of the Spanish ranch?” asked Don.

“No, but we can hazard a guess as to that. The Mercedes family have lived in Lower California for at least a hundred years, but before that they came from Mexico. It is very possible that the priest had escaped to Mexico and fallen in some way in with this ancient Spanish family, perhaps dying there and leaving the book with them. How the last few leaves of the book came to be missing no one knows. But perhaps you can see the possibilities?”

“What do you mean?” asked Jim.

“I mean that perhaps someone has already read that book, tore out the sheets with the information on them, and has already found that treasure!” was the startling answer.



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