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首页 » 经典英文小说 » The Mercer Boys on a Treasure Hunt » CHAPTER XVIII TREASURE AND TREACHERY
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The boys slept late the next morning and when they awoke the Mexican was still lying on his blanket, not sleeping but still not working. Feeling that they should do something to earn the hospitality of their new-found friend the two boys brought wood from the thicket and kindled the fire. The Mexican gave them some beans and they speedily made enough for all of them.

After they had eaten they started off in the direction of Senorita Mercedes’ ranch, the Mexican riding slowly and the boys walking beside him. They had managed to dry out their clothes and put them on, and although they were a mass of wrinkles and ridges they did well enough. Their shoes had shrunk somewhat and walking was not easy, but they stuck to the task manfully, plodding along mile after mile without complaint.

Several times during the trip the overseer got down from his horse and insisted that one of the boys mount and ride for a few miles, and although they protested he would not listen to them. So they rode gratefully, in this way saving themselves from a good many aches and pains. The Mexican was not used to walking but he said nothing, trudging along on one side or the other of the horse cheerfully.

They stopped once for dinner and then pressed on again. The foreman of the ranch was sure that they would reach the Mercedes place in two days, or late on the following day, so they pushed on eagerly. In the early afternoon they were forced to take a rest from the heat of the sun, but covered a few miles before it was time to make camp for the night.

They were near the coast at the time and their camp was pitched in the hollow formed by two small hills. They had looked for a favorable location, for this one had no wood near it, as the country was mostly barren, and thickets few and far between. Some green bushes grew nearby and they resolved to use these as a final resource, but before doing so Jim and Terry started out to see it they could find anything more promising. Terry went over the top of one hill and Jim over the top of the other, while the overseer prepared for their supper.

Jim had a small axe which Alaroze had given him and he walked along the ridge of the small hill looking carefully around. On the opposite side of the hill he found a long depression in the soil which looked as though it might have been the bed of a stream at one time, perhaps some creek which had originally flowed from the distant mountains. He wandered down it aimlessly, convinced that his quest for wood was not likely to be very successful. A vast stillness lay over the country and he felt very much alone. A mile or more to the east of him he could hear the sound of the ocean.

There was no use in walking down the defile, he decided, so he started for the slope of the slight hill which was beside him. As he did so his foot struck something solid. He bent down to see what it was and found a small stick of wood protruding from the sand at his feet. He cleared the sand away around the stick, to find that it was quite large and that it ran into the sand for some little distance. When he had finally drawn it from its sheath be examined it with curiosity.

It was a piece of mahogany and it showed the hand of civilization. Although it was now black with age it had at one time been varnished. It was a large splinter and he wondered how it ever got there. Examining it closely he detected signs which led him to believe that it had been burned at some time. There was a thin line running across it that suggested carving.

“That’s funny,” he reflected. “Somebody once had a fire here and used good wood for it. Perhaps there is more nearby.”

With this thought in mind he dug his axe deeper in the sand and began to scoop it out. Before many minutes had passed he ran across another piece of wood, but this one he could not get out. It seemed to have no end and he set to work in earnest to uncover it. But after he had uncovered about twenty-five running feet he stopped in perplexity.

“This must be a house!” he cried. “Every bit of it burned, too.”

The top of the long section of wood had been burned. It was thick wood and he tried to dig down under it. But after he had dug sand out to the depth of four feet he stopped and looked puzzled. It was a straight wooden wall, extending down into the valley of sand.

Jim stopped his work and walked to the top of the rise, where he slowly looked up and down the pass. He looked toward the ocean, calculated thoughtfully and then looked toward the mountains. Then, looking down toward the long strip of black wood which he had uncovered he voiced his thought.

“That’s a ship down there, evidently burned to the water’s edge and later covered up by shifting sand. Now, I wonder——?”

Without finishing his thought he hurried down to the trench and once more went to work. Digging some five feet down beside the wall of wood he came to a flooring of hard planks, just what he had been looking for. It was the deck of a ship, and he began feverishly to dip out sand. In this task he was finally surprised by Terry and the overseer.

Terry had returned to the camp with a few dead bushes and they had waited around for Jim to return, but as he did not do so they became alarmed and set out to find him. Their first glimpse of him was an odd one. When they topped the rise some distance back of him they saw him standing in a deep trench, facing a four foot wall of wood, busily engaged in scooping sand from the hole and throwing it as far away as he could. With cries of astonishment they hurried up to the long trench which he was making.

“Jim!” Terry cried, while the Mexican looked on with bulging eyes. “What is this?”

Jim started slightly as he straightened up. “It is the remains of a sunken ship,” he cried. “See, this is evidently the rail, a solid wall of wood, and I’m just uncovering the deck. It was burned to the edge of the water, and later covered up with sand.”

“Well, I’ll be jiggered!” shouted Terry. “Do you think it is the treasure ship?”

“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t doubt it. As you can see, I have uncovered about twenty-five feet of this rail. The deck seems to be good and I’m trying to uncover enough of it to find a hatchway, so that we can see if it is empty down below.”

Terry and the Mexican jumped down beside him. The Mexican understood enough of English to know that they thought the ship beneath them might be a treasure ship, and he set to work with a sincere will to scoop sand. They could not make much progress, however, for it was rapidly growing dark, and at last they were forced to give it up until the next day.

“That is the best we can do,” Jim decided, peering about him in the dark. “Let’s chop some of this wood and then we’ll go back to camp.”

With his axe he hacked off enough wood to last them through the night and the three companions carried it back to their camp, where, amid much talking, they built the fire and cooked the supper. The Mexican was told the whole story and he replied that he knew the legend of the phantom galleon. The boys were not averse to telling him the story for they felt that they owed him much and knew that his future help would mean everything. It was late that night before they lay down to sleep, and with the rising of the sun they were up and at work on the buried wreck.

It took them all the morning to clear the solid deck of the ancient ship for a space of several feet and at last they came to a hatchway, covered by a heavy door which was flush with the deck. There was a bolt on the door but one blow of the axe broke it in pieces, and the three united all their strength to pulling the hatch open. It came upward at last, releasing a flood of stale and poisonous air that sent them reeling backward with all possible speed.

“Diable!” gasped Alaroze. “I think all the fiends are closed inside!”

When the air had cleared sufficiently they all peered down the open hatchway, to discover a wide flight of stairs leading down into the hold of the ship. There was now no longer any doubt but what it was the phantom galleon, for it was built on a magnificent scale. They realized that had it not been burned the rear of the galleon would never have been covered up, for the rear of the Spanish ships were composed of high after-deck houses, but this ship had been burned and only the deck, which had been below the water, had remained.

“The hold must be full of water and sand,” Terry commented.

Jim swung his feet over the edge of the deck and gingerly felt the step below. “Full of sand, yes, but not of water. The sand will be wet, though. Now be careful on these stairs.”

The stairs were solid and safe, but they did not go far. Originally the ship had run aground and filled with water, and in time the sand had filled up the hold of the galleon. A space of about six feet only was open, and in this space the foul air had been held. The three companions found a bed of moist sand cutting off any further progress.

“If there is any gold in this ship, it is below the sand,” Alaroze said in Spanish.

“Yes, senor,” nodded Jim. “I think we had better not walk on this sand for fear of falling into some pit. If we ever sank in this wet stuff, that would be the end of us.”

“It surely would,” remarked Terry. “What is this sticking up out of the sand? A piece of brass?”

It was a dull strip of brass, but when Jim scraped the sand from it they found that it was long and finally discovered that it was the edge of a brass-bound chest.

“Oh, somebody’s trunk!” said Terry, indifferently.

But the eyes of the Mexican were glittering and Jim himself was excited. “More likely the top of a treasure chest!” he retorted, and dealt the chest top a slashing blow with his axe.

With a shuddering, sucking sound the paper-like substance tore off, revealing to the three in the hold a sight which took away their breath. Gold in the form of coins of all sizes was revealed, gold which lay and still gleamed in the interior of the trunk. The Mexican talked furiously to himself in his native language, and the boys simply stared.

“Gold, the gold of the treasure ship!” gasped Jim, scarcely able to believe his eyes.

Terry picked up some of it and examined it curiously. “It is gold, sure enough,” he agreed, dazzled. “Wish we had the professor here to tell us just what it represents.”

“Perhaps there is more around,” Jim suggested. He began to dig his axe into the sand, while the Mexican stood back of him, his eyes gone suddenly black and calculating. But Jim found that there was no more.

“Probably this chest was brought up here, while the rest of the treasure is still below. At any rate, even if there is no more, there is enough to make us all rich.” He turned to Alaroze with a smile. “Well, senor, it was lucky for us when we ran across you, and lucky for you when you agreed to guide us home. Your share from this will make you a rich man.”

“Yes, yes, senor,” agreed the overseer, breaking into a smile. “I bless the day we met! May the saints reward you!”

“We’ve been rewarded pretty well already!” grinned Jim. “Well, what shall we do? We can’t do much of anything until we return home, get the rest of the party and return here to go to work. Suppose we take along some of the gold and start out for the ranch.”

They took several of the largest coins, the hands of the Mexican trembling as he did so, and made their way up on deck again. Terry demanded of Jim if he was going to leave the galleon ruins uncovered.

“Yes,” replied Jim. “There isn’t much chance of anyone coming this way, and it would take us hours to cover it up. Let’s spend that time on our homeward journey.”

“All I hope is that we run across the others in quick order, then,” said Terry. “I’d hate to lose time while this treasure is lying uncovered.”

Leaving the galleon they returned to camp and prepared to start back for the ranch. The Mexican went to his horse, picked up his rifle and looked at it, and then placed it against a tiny mound of sand. With averted face he picked up the blanket and his few supplies.

Terry and Jim were conferring earnestly. “It will take a large force of men to dig down into that wreck,” Terry said. “We’ll let the professor and Ned decide what is best to do.”

“Sure,” agreed Jim, swinging around. “Well, I guess we’re ready to go.”

Then, both boys stopped suddenly. Standing before them, with his rifle levelled straight at them, stood the Mexican overseer. There was a hard light in his black eyes and his mouth was a straight line, the lips white.

“What—what’s the matter?” asked Jim, smiling slightly, and thinking that there was some joke in the wind.

“Nothing is wrong, senor,” came the reply. “But since you two know so well where the gold is, I shall regret the necessity of killing you both so that it will be all mine!”


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