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选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
Chapter 10
The Isle of the Pirates.—The Oaks and the Mounds.—A Survey.—The flooded Pits.—The empty Pit.—The Staying.—The Money-hole.—The Hut and its Contents.—The Stone with the Inscription.—Preparations for a Descent.—The Rope and the Beam.—Pat’s Plan with the Pickaxe.—Bart goes down.—All right.—Come along.—Pat goes down.—Terrific Result. The Sword of Damocles.

THE bows of the boat grated on the pebbled beach, and Bart and Pat stepped ashore. On landing, their first thought was to secure the boat. This was not a difficult task.

Close by them was a tree, growing near the beach, and all that they had to do was to draw the boat up for a short distance, and fasten a line around the tree. After this, they stood by the boat for a little while, and looked at the island upon which they had landed.

It was small, not over a quarter of a mile across, and rose gently from the sea to a height of not more than thirty feet. Oak trees, planted at considerable intervals, grew over the surface, none of them being of any very great size. Under these there was, in some places, a thick turf, which looked as though the ground had once been cultivated, and had run out, while in other places it was rough, and rose in those mossy mounds or cradles which characterize soil that has been cleared, but has never been subject to cultivation.

As they stood here and looked at the scene before them, they saw, not very far away, a mound of earth. They had seen this from the boat as they approached, and had at once thought that it might be the very ground removed from the earth in forming one of the numerous pits. In digging these pits the earth would be raised, and thrown on one side.

“Sure that’s what I towld ye,” said Pat. “Ye know there must be a deep hole from the height of it.”

“Yes,” said Bart. “There must be a hole there. Come, let’s have a look at it.”

With these words the two started forward, and walked towards the heap of earth. As they came up, they noticed that the soil consisted of clay of a dull bluish tinge, like pale slate, and they recognized at once the bluish clay of which the landlord had spoken. The heap of earth was of considerable dimensions. They both walked up it, and on reaching the top, they saw on the other side an opening in the ground. Hurrying down towards it, they recognized in it at once one of those pits made by some one of the companies digging here. The mouth of it was about six feet long and four feet wide. The sides were stayed up by planks. They could not see far down, however, for the pit contained water, which came to within a dozen feet of the surface. How deep the pit was they could not see; but they at once conjectured that this was one of those pits mentioned by the landlord, where the diggers in search of the “drain” had broken into it, and had thus been compelled to fly from the waters that poured in upon them. This pit was flooded (as the landlord had said) from “Kidd’s drain.”

After examining this pit, they proceeded farther, and saw another mound not far away. It was just like this, of about the same dimensions, and consisting of the same bluish clay. To this they directed their steps, knowing now that another pit might be expected here, and in this expectation they were not disappointed. There was a pit here of precisely the same appearance as the one which they had just examined, stayed up in the same way around the sides by stout planks, and of about the same size. Like the other, it was also full of water. Here too, then, as they thought, the diggers had broken into the “drain,” and had flooded the pit. The occurrence of these two pits, both full of water, showed them, in a very striking and very significant manner, the difficulties that those encountered who sought to penetrate to the hidden treasure.

But the boys were curious to see some pit that might not be full of water, so as to see with their own eyes the depth of these excavations. The landlord had mentioned a hundred feet. Such a depth as that, they knew, exceeded the height of an ordinary church spire, and they both wondered whether it would be possible for them to descend. They, therefore, turned away from this pit after a slight examination, and looked around for others.

Several mounds appeared not very far away, and they at once went off to the nearest of these. Here, then, was a pit which was also flooded. The sight of this third pit, full of water, made them fear that this was the condition of all of them, and their discouragement was consequently great; however, they had not yet examined all, and two or three other mounds yet remained to be visited. They went on, therefore, to the next; and here, on reaching the pit which adjoined it, they found, to their great delight, that it was dry.

Dry and deep. The hundred feet which the landlord had spoken of seemed to be a moderate estimate for this pit. Its length and width at the mouth were the same as those of the others; and the staying of the sides with stout planks was the same. On looking down, they could see no bottom. Bart took a stone and dropped it, and the time which was taken up in the fall to the bottom seemed to fully warrant the estimate above mentioned. But such a pit as this did not appear to offer much chance of descending into it. None of the pulleys or windlasses which must once have been used here to lower the workmen, or hoist up the earth, now remained. The planks used as staying were over an inch apart, and these offered occasional spaces which might possibly be used as a foothold. Still, to climb down here without some sort of a rope was not to be thought of, and though Bart and Pat were both excellent climbers, they both saw at once that this was a task beyond their powers. And they had not brought a rope with them.

On looking around once more, they saw at no very great distance a staging, which at once reminded them of the directions given them by the man on the shore, and also of the words of the landlord. This staging they had also noticed as they approached the island in the boat. They now set out for this, and reached it in a short time. This staging was about the highest point on the island, and was in the midst of an immense collection of mounds of earth, and sand, and blue clay. As they stood here, they could see several pits around them; but their attention was at once arrested by one place close by the staging. It was a hollow in the earth, shaped like a bowl, about twenty feet in diameter, and perhaps the same depth. At once the landlord’s description of the present appearance of the “money-hole” flashed across their memories.

This, then, must be the place,—this bowl-shaped hollow. There could be no doubt about it. This must be the spot chosen by the buccaneers for that pit in which they were to hide their treasure. Here beneath,—far beneath,—lay concealed the plunder of the Spanish Main. Here was that blasted circular spot, with the blighted tree, and the decayed pulley, which had revealed the secret to the first diggers. Here those two had worked who had so nearly reached the treasure, and this bowl-shaped cavity showed them what appeared to the eyes of those first diggers, when, after they had just touched the treasure, they went forth on the following morning to see their labor destroyed, and all their toil wasted.

Around this were the signs of other labors, and the unmistakable traces of all the toilers, who in succession had labored here. Some pits had caved in, like the original “money-hole.” Others had filled with water. The sand, gravel, and clay, that had been drawn up out of these various excavations, covered a large space. Close by a pit, which lay nearest to the “money-hole,” rose the staging which had attracted them. On examining this, its purpose was at once evident. It was erected so as to allow of the working of pumps by horse-power. The circle was there which the horses traversed, and all the machinery was in perfect order. They understood the purpose of this machine at once from the landlord’s story. It had been intended to reach the bottom of the “money-hole” by a new pit, and this pit was to be kept dry by pumping. The pit must evidently be the one which immediately adjoined the “money-hole.” But how completely this plan had failed, was now evident to them from this pit itself, which, like the others that they had first seen, was full of water. This pit had proved of no avail against “Kidd’s drain.” Horse-power had been weak against the tides of the sea. Here was the melancholy result—a failure complete and utter; a pit flooded; engines useless; costly works deserted. Would the attempt ever be made again? or if so, would steam succeed when pitted against the waters of the ocean?

They went down into the bowl-shaped cavity which marked the “money-hole,”—they did so cautiously, for they had vague fears of quicksand. But their fears were idle. The ground seemed as hard and as solid as on any other part of the island. They stood there, and stamped, and jumped, but the firm soil yielded not. They could scarcely believe that this was the very central point affected by the waters of the sea. And yet this must be so, for this was the point to which the “drain” had been directed, and far down the waters guarded the treasure from the hand of man.

After remaining here for a time, they emerged from the cavity, and their attention was next attracted by a hut not far away. To this they directed their steps. They found the door wide open, and entered. Inside they saw two rooms divided by a board partition, with a chimney rising in the middle. This had been the place where the workmen lived, for signs of these occupants were still visible around. The two rooms were filled with spades, and chains, and boxes, and a miscellaneous collection of articles that had probably been used by the last excavators, and had been left here in anticipation of further use. Among these they saw a quantity of ropes in coils of different sizes; and they saw at once that if they wished to go down into any one of the pits, a way of descending was now supplied.

The chimney at once suggested to their minds the remarks of the landlord about the stone with the inscription. To the boys that stone seemed the most important part of the whole story, and offered a more direct evidence as to its truth than anything else. They wished to see it, and judge for themselves. They accordingly examined the chimney on every side, but, to their very great disappointment, could not see anything of the kind. At length Bart found a place in the chimney from which a portion seemed to have been detached, and he at once declared that this must have been the place where the stone was, and that it had probably been taken away, so as to be made use of for the purpose of affecting the public mind, and inducing people to take stock in the new company.

The sight of the ropes at once awakened within them a desire to put in practice their intention of descending into one of the pits. It did not seem to them to be dangerous. Bart was as active as a cat in climbing, especially when he had anything to do with ropes; while Pat, though not equal to him in this respect, was still quite able to do any ordinary work of the kind. One of the pits, as they had seen, was dry, but it was a little too far away. They wished to find one which was rather nearer the “money-hole,” where there might be some chance of putting into practice Pat’s idea about the tunnel. No thought of danger entered into their minds, no dread of the treacherous waters which had broken through into the other holes, and flooded them. They prepared to put their scheme into execution as calmly as if it was no more than climbing a tree.

But first they must seek a pit nearer the “money-hole;” and with this intention they went back to that central spot, where they examined the pits in its neighborhood. To their great joy they soon found one. It was on the side opposite to that where the staging had been erected, and was quite dry. This they knew by dropping stones down, and listening to the sound made when they struck. All of them fell with a dull thud, and without any splashing noise, such as would have been produced had water been there.

This at once decided them in favor of the pit just mentioned: and the next thing was, how to arrange the rope so as to make the descent. One could not lower the other; and if such a thing had been possible, neither one would have been willing to stay up. There was therefore nothing for them to do but to adopt the simple plan of climbing down by means of a rope secured to the top. First of all they had to select the rope. This they did without much delay. Among the various coils in the hut, one seemed suitable from size and quality. It had been used, like all the others; it seemed perfectly strong enough; and it was also sufficiently soft and smooth to the hands. This coil was therefore selected and brought to the place. A stone was quickly attached to one end, and was thrown down. The rope fell all the way to the bottom without being more than half expended. The rest of the coil lay at the edge of the pit.

And now how were they to secure this, so as to descend? Something was needed which might bear their weight. At first they thought of tying the upper part of the rope to one of the planks which formed the staying of the sides of the pit; but this did not seem strong enough. They then went off to hunt up something. In the house there was a crowbar, which was strong enough, yet not long enough, to satisfy them. But outside of the house there was a large beam, fully twelve feet long and eight inches thick. This seemed to be the very thing. It was apparently sound and strong, and, as far as they could see, was quite able to support ten times the weight to which it would be subjected. This beam therefore was chosen without the slightest hesitation, and Bart and Pat, taking it up in their arms, carried it to the mouth of the pit; then they laid it across, and tied the rope about it as securely as possible.

All now seemed perfectly safe, and nothing remained but to make the descent. Bart went first. The planks used for staying around the sides of the pit were far enough apart to offer here and there interstices in which the feet might be inserted, though in many of these places the earth bulged through so as to prevent a foothold. They thus afforded assistance; and Bart, as he began his descent, availed himself of it. As he went down, Pat watched him anxiously from above. Before his head had disappeared, he said,—

“O, by the way, Pat! throw down that pickaxe.”

For Pat had brought a pickaxe from the hut, in order to make his tunnel; and it was now lying on the ground, close by.

“Sure, but I was goin to wait till you got down.”

“What! and throw it on my head! No, thank you.”

“Sure an I niver thought of that at all at all,” said Pat; “and it’s lucky for you that you thought of it just now.”

With these words Pat dropped the pickaxe into the pit, and it fell with a dull thud far down at the bottom.

Bart now continued his descent, and Pat watched him all the way. At length a voice came up from far below,—

“All right! Come along!”

Upon this Pat descended, and went down cautiously and carefully, clinging with feet and hands to the rope and to the sides of the pit. He was not so dexterous as Bart, and once or twice he lost his foothold on the side of the pit, and slid for several feet, the rope cutting his hands; but still he kept on, for Bart was waiting for him, and encouraging him.

At length, when about thirty feet from the bottom, where Bart was standing, he found a place where he could stick his foot, and waited for a moment to look down through the darkness. He could see nothing. As he looked, his foot slipped from the place, and he fell with a jerk, the rope sliding painfully through his chafed hands. At that very instant it seemed to him that the rope itself was falling. From above there came a dull creaking sound, and from below a cry of horror burst from Bart. At that instant, Pat’s feet touched the bottom of the pit.

Bart grasped his arm convulsively, and pointed upward.

“The beam! the beam!” he almost screamed. “It’s broke. O, what shall we do!”

 Pat looked up; and there, clearly defined against the sky, he saw the beam around which the rope was fastened, no longer lying straight across the mouth of the pit, but sagging down in the middle at a sharp angle. It had been rotten in the middle. It had cracked at that last jerk occasioned by his fall from his foothold; and it now hung broken midway, still clinging together by a few fibres, but suspended there above them, like the sword of Damocles, as if by a single hair, and threatening every instant to fall and crush them.

The rope and the beam had both been rotten, and the jerk which had been given when Pat lost his foothold had cracked the one and broken the other. There, about thirty feet above them, hung the end of the rope where it had parted. The rest of it was still in Pat’s hands.


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