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Chapter 7
The wonderful Story of Oak Island.—The Circle in the Forest.—Digging for Gold.—Exciting Discoveries.—Far down in the Depths of the Earth.—The Treasure touched at last.—The Treasure snatched away.—A new Search, and its Results.—Boring through the Chest of Gold.—A Company.—A new Pit made.—The Drain.—New Efforts.—The Coffer Dam.—New Companies.—Captain Kidd too much for them.

||I BELIEVE.” said the landlord, “there’s always been a talk, among the people around here, that Captain Kidd used this place as a kind of headquarters; and this idea seems to me to have come down from old settlers who might have been here in his own day,—French and others,—though Chester wasn’t actually settled till long after his time. At any rate, there it was, and everybody used always to believe that Captain Kidd hid his money somewhere in this bay. Well, nothing very particular happened till some sixty years ago, when a man, on visiting Oak Island, just by chance saw something which seemed to him very curious.

“The island was overgrown with oaks and other trees intermixed. Now, right in the midst of these trees, he came to a queer-looking place. It was circular, and about fifteen feet in diameter. Trees grew all around it. Just on this circular spot, however, nothing grew at all, not even moss or ferns. It looked as if it had been cursed, or blasted. The trees were all around it—some oak and some maple; but among them was one,—pine or spruce, I don’t know which,—and this one looked a good deal older than the others. One of the boughs of this old pine tree projected right over the blasted circular spot in a very singular fashion, and on this the man noticed something that looked like very queer growth for a pine tree. He climbed up, and found that it was a pulley, which was so rotten that it might have been hanging there a hundred years. It was fastened to the bough by a chain, and this was so rusty that it broke in his hands. This pulley and rusty chain the man removed and took with him.

“Of course, as you may imagine, he was a good deal struck by the appearance of things. He had always heard that Captain Kidd had once frequented Mahone Bay, and had buried treasure somewhere about; and here he had discovered this blasted spot with a pulley over it, in the very midst of the woods on a lonely island—a place that looked as though no one had ever been there but himself since that pulley was last used. Of course he asked himself what the meaning of all this was; and to him it seemed most likely that the circular space marked some pit in the ground, and that the pulley had been used to lower things down into this pit.

“Well, he went home, and didn’t say anything about it to a living soul, except his son, a young man, whom he wanted to help him. He determined to examine deeper, and after talking it over with his son, he was more determined than ever. So the very next day they began their preparations, taking over picks, and spades, and ropes, and provisions, and everything that could be needed for their purpose.

“They went to work and dug away for a little distance, when they came to something hard. It was a stone hewn,—not very smooth,—a kind of sandstone, and on this they saw some marks that looked like strange letters. They were ignorant men, but they knew the alphabet, and they knew that this was no kind of English letters at all; but it seemed to them that they might be letters of some strange alphabet. They took this stone away, and it’s been preserved ever since, and it’s there yet on the island, built into the wall of a cottage there for safe keeping. I’ve seen it myself dozens of times. That’s what I mean when I say I’ve seen the traces of Captain Kidd, for it’s my solemn conviction that he cut that inscription on the stone in some foreign letters, or perhaps in some secret cipher.

“After taking out that stone, they went on digging harder than ever, and about two feet down they came to a sort of wooden flooring. The wood was in good preservation, and consisted of large logs, a dozen feet long, laid across side by side, and rough-hewed about six inches square. They thought that they had come to the money-hole now, for sure, and pulled up the logs quick enough, you’d better believe; but they didn’t know what was before them. After taking up the beams, they found they had to dig deeper; and so they went on digging away deeper and deeper. It took a long time, for they had to stay up the earth as they dug down, to prevent it from falling in, and they soon found that the job was a bigger one than they had bargained for; but what they had already found excited them, and cheered them on day after day.

“Of course they couldn’t do this all in one day. One day’s work couldn’t take them far into that hole, though they worked like beavers. Well, they dug on this way, and at last, about five or six feet farther down,—some say ten; but it don’t make any difference,—they found another flooring just like the first, only the logs were smaller. These they took up, and then went on digging as before, day after day. They now found bits of things that looked favorable; they found cocoa husks, and West India grass, and bits of cane, all of which showed that the people who worked here must have had something to do with the West Indies and the Spanish Main. These things never grew in Nova Scotia. They had been brought here by the men that made the hole, and had got mixed up with the earth that they shovelled in. They also found shavings or chips made with tools. Well, about the same distance down that the second flooring had been from the first, they found a third flooring, which was just like the second.

“At this third flooring there was a fresh disappointment, just as there had been at the other two; but the very fact that there was this flooring encouraged them to go on, and so they continued to dig. After a time they came to another flooring, and continuing on, they came to another, and yet another; and at every place they had the same disappointment and encouragement. All the way they found the same signs, that the soil had once been turned up by people who had dealings with the Spanish Main, for the cocoa-nut husks and the West India grasses were mixed with the soil all the way. All the time they had to keep staying up the sides, and the deeper they went, the more careful they had to be, for the soil seemed loose and dangerous just here.

“Well, they worked this way for about three months, and at last had got ever so far down—I have heard some say that they got down as much as a hundred feet, and that would be about seventy feet below the level of the sea at low tide, for the island is only a small one, and doesn’t rise more than twenty-five feet at the highest point. All the way down they had found the signs continuing, showing that diggers had been here before, and that the soil had been turned up. This it was that led them on to such a depth.

“Well, now it was down at this depth that they touched the treasure. It was evening, and quite dark down there. They had been digging all day, and were about to just knock off. The son, before going, took his crowbar, and drove it with all his might into the ground. It was soft, loose, and gravelly just here, and the iron sank for about a foot into the soil, and struck something hard. Their attention was attracted by this at once, and they tried it again and again. Each time it struck something hard. It seemed like wood. At one or two places it seemed like metal. They tried this a good many times, until at length they became convinced that this was a wooden box with iron hoops or fastenings, and that this box contained the treasure for which they were searching. But by this time it was too late to do any more. To get at that chest would require a good day’s work. To hoist it up would not be possible. They saw that they would have to break or cut into it as it lay, and empty it of its contents. They were also worn out with their long day’s work, and in addition to this, they did not feel comfortable down in that particular place after dark. So, for all these reasons, they concluded to postpone the completion of their work till the following day. After all, there was no reason why they shouldn’t. No one could come and take it. It would be there unmoved till they might want to remove it themselves. And so the long and the short of it is, they went up, and went off to sleep in the hut where they lived.

“That night they slept soundly, and waked a little later than usual on the following day. They at once rushed to the money-hole; they did this the moment they waked, without waiting for breakfast, or taking anything to eat. They both felt anxious, for everything was at stake, and the sleep of both, though sound, had been marked by unpleasant and harassing dreams.

“Well, they reached the place, and there an awful sight met them—a sight that meant ruination to their hopes, and to all the hard work that they’d put forth in that place. The hole was gone; the earth had all fallen in; the stays had all given way: and there was nothing there now but a basin-shaped hollow, and bits of board projecting. What was worse, it was all mixed with water, and so soft, that in attempting to walk into it, they sank up to their knees in the mud. And that was the end of this first digging after Kidd’s treasure; for though they tried to dig again, they found it impossible on account of the water. It seemed to come straight from the sea, and they couldn’t do anything at all. So they had to give up at last, and go home.

“Now, some people think that the staying wasn’t strong enough, and the sides caved in on that account; others, again, talk about Kidd’s ghost baffling these diggers; but, from what was discovered afterwards, I feel perfectly sure that they themselves somehow let in the water of the sea into the hole by a drain or channel underground that Kidd himself had made. I think those knocks on the chest with the crowbar loosened some stopper, and the water poured in at once. It was this rush of sea water that destroyed everything, and made the hole cave in altogether. As to the drain, that was a contrivance of Kidd’s to prevent the treasure from being dug up by outsiders. He had it made underground from the shore of the island at low-water mark to the bottom of the money-hole. He himself, or any one in the secret, would know how to dig and get the treasure; but any one who didn’t know the secret would be sure to do something that would let in the sea water. And that’s just what these first diggers did.

“Well, after this nothing was done for a long time. These two, father and son, went home, and for a while they kept the whole business a secret; but after some years the old man died, and the son married, and so the whole story leaked out, till everybody knew all about it. Everybody went then to see the place, and the story soon got to be as well known as the alphabet all over the bay; and I won’t swear but that some additions were made to the story as it passed from mouth to mouth, for that would only be natural, after all; but at any rate, that story lived, and people didn’t forget the treasure on Oak Island. And so time passed, and the son died at last, and the grandson grew up, and this one thought that he would make a dash at the treasure. This was as much as forty years after the first digging. He went with a few friends, and they tried to dig, but couldn’t. The money-hole remained as it had been left by the first diggers,—all sand, and gravel, and water,—more like a quicksand than anything else. They put a pump in it, and set it to work, but couldn’t do anything that way. So they gave it up.

“Well, these operations got known everywhere, and the whole story came up again. A lot of men formed themselves into a company, the grandson was one of them. They bought the island, and resolved to go to work on a grand scale. They rigged a pump which was worked by a horse in a very peculiar fashion, and had a hoisting apparatus worked by another horse to lift up the dirt. They got a lot of wood on the place for stayings to the hole, and went to work. Before they began, they bored down for a hundred and twenty feet. On taking out the auger, they saw on the lowest part scraps of wood, then bright scrapings that looked like gold, then wood again. And this showed that the auger had gone clean through the chest, and had brought back signs of the chest itself, and of the treasure inside. This created the greatest excitement, and the company went to work as eagerly and as industriously as the original diggers. Well, they kept at it, and dug, and hoisted, and pumped for a whole summer; but it was no go. As fast as they pumped, the water poured in, and faster too; and in fact, they couldn’t make the slightest impression on the water in the money-hole, do what they would. So they gave up.

“Well, after this, another company started. The new company bought out from the old all its rights, and started on a new plan. Many of the old company belonged to the new one, and these had learned by experience the impossibility of doing anything by digging in the money-hole itself. The new plan consisted in digging a new hole altogether. In the operations of the old company they had discovered that though the money-hole was all sand and gravel, yet all around it the soil was a hard blue clay, quite impervious to water, and very easy to work in. They thought by digging alongside the money-hole, as near as the clay would allow, they might go down to the same depth, and then tunnel along at the bottom till they reached the treasure chest. So they went to work about thirty feet away from the money-hole, digging in the clay. They had no trouble in digging. The soil was free from stones, firm clay, impervious to water, and they made first-rate progress to a certain extent. They got down about a hundred feet, and then ventured to tunnel towards the money-hole. They worked very carefully, for it was rather dangerous, as they were under the level of the sea, and were therefore exposed to a rush of water at any false movement that they might make. But in spite of all their care, they failed at last; for one day they went up to dinner, and on going back again, they found the new hole filled with water to within thirty feet or so of the top. It was a sore disappointment, and they could only console themselves by the thought that they had been so fortunate as to have left the hole at that particular time. They tried to pump out the water, and made some faint efforts to continue their work, but it was no use. The failure had been too great, and this attempt broke down.

“Well, they now concluded that there was a drain, the same one I spoke of a while ago,—reaching from the shore of the island at low-water mark, or beneath it, down to the bottom of the money-hole, and that they had somehow broken into this drain, the waters of which had poured into the new hole, and flooded it. This discovery created fresh excitement: and as this company gave up, a new one was formed, which bought out all previous rights, and on the following summer proceeded to make a fresh attempt. Each one of these companies which had been bought out still retained, however, a claim on the profits that might be made; sometimes twenty per cent, and sometimes ten per cent, of the treasure. The new company, even if it had succeeded, could only have received about one fifth, or perhaps one fourth, of the treasure, the rest being all forfeited, or mortgaged, so to speak, to the old companies. Still the new company had many members who belonged to the old companies, and who still stuck to the enterprise through thick and thin, so that their undertaking, under such circumstances, is not so surprising, after all.

“This new company, using the experience and discoveries of the preceding ones, went on a new principle. The idea now was, that, first of all, the drain should be discovered, and the supply of water intercepted. If this were done, they would be able to get to the bottom of the original money-hole itself without any trouble. So they set to work, and explored the whole shore of the island. They found one place where at low tide there was a great bubbling in the water, and this they took for the place where the drain began. Here they built a coffer dam, and then tried to find the drain itself. On the shore they met with no success; so they dug pits at intervals along a line stretching from the coffer dam to the money-hole. The soil in all these places consisted of that same tenacious blue clay which I have already mentioned. I don’t know how many of these were dug, but there were several, at any rate. Now, whenever they attempted to strike the drain, the water was invariably too much for them, and rushed in, giving them nothing to do but to fly as fast as they could. In other places they were afraid to venture too near the drain. The end of it was, that this last company was as unsuccessful as the others, though it had spent ten times as much as any of them.”


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