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Chapter XVII WE FIND THE TREASURE
THERE was not much time for reflections; work, and pressing work too, had to be done. Under the bos'n's orders a party of men set about repairing the damaged gig and the broken rail, while on examination it was found that the broken mizzen-mast was practically unstrained beyond the actual fracture, so that, by cutting through and restepping the longest portion, a serviceable though somewhat stumpy mast would do duty until we could obtain a new spar at the nearest port. Three men under the orders of the quartermaster went off in the whaler to take soundings in the vicinity of the yacht's berth in order to become acquainted with the position of any fresh shoals or reefs; while the divers prepared to descend to try and recover the lost anchor and cable.

"I've just seen poor old Barnes," said Dr. Conolly, as he came on deck and joined us. "He's had a nasty time during the storm, and what I was afraid of has come about. He shows symptoms of blood-poisoning, and I must operate at once."

"Poor fellow! Poor fellow!" ejaculated my father. "I suppose he'll pull through?"

"He has a fighting chance, but you can rely upon me to do my very best. We must perform the operation on deck; so will you give orders for the awning to be rigged, and a screen placed athwart ship. We have plenty of fresh water, I think?"

"Yes, plenty. I'll have the awning rigged at once."

This news startled me, for when last I saw the wounded man he seemed on the fair road to recovery. But no time was to be lost. The awning was rigged, a rough table placed on the fo'c'sle, and a bucket of water, an array of surgical instruments (which the doctor had bought during our stay at Malta), and boxes of surgical dressing and linen completed the hasty preparations.

The divers were told to divest themselves of their diving-suits, and, after selecting three men to assist the doctor, my father ordered the rest away in the whaler, giving them instructions to sound carefully between the ledge of rocks and the shore, though this was merely an excuse to clear the ship during the actual operation.

Presently Barnes was brought on deck on a rough stretcher, the task of getting him through the fore-hatch proving one of great difficulty to the bearers and painful to the patient. They laid him on the table, and a nauseating smell that reminded me forcibly of old Dr. Trenoweth's surgery at Fowey seemed to fill the air.

"Clear out of this, Reggie!" said my Uncle Herbert peremptorily. "Go below and read a book, or do something. This is no place for you."

I went, but my thoughts were full of the poor sufferer lying on deck. Even the saloon reeked of the sickening odour, while through the open skylight I could hear every sound: the short, quick orders of the doctor, the splashing of the water, the convulsive movements of the insensible patient, the clatter of the instruments and even the sharp, rasping noise of the saw, and finally the distressing groans of the man as he recovered consciousness.

Then I heard the signal for the whaler, and presently the sound of the oars splashing alongside.

"Come along, my boy," exclaimed my father; "we are going off to the wreck." Gladly I left the cabin and got into the boat. Barnes still remained on deck, a bed being prepared for him under a square of canvas formed into a small tent. Dr. Conolly remained with his patient, but my father and uncle went in the whaler.

"There's a place where we can land, just on the other side of the wreck," said the bos'n; "but it's an awkward job."

This indeed it seemed, for the side of the newly made island was as steep and as smooth as polished rock, save for a few crevices and longitudinal cracks, so far apart as to be useless for climbing. A few strokes, however, brought us to the spot indicated by the bos'n, where the shattered bows of the "San Philipo" almost overhung the cliff. Here a flight of natural steps led up to within fifteen feet of the summit, but the whole of that fifteen feet was as smooth as a sheet of glass.

"Another fifty feet and the old hooker would have tumbled over the edge," observed the bos'n. "The whole place is one mass of ups and downs. Do you know, sir, that between the 'Fortuna' and the little reef astern of her—the new one, I mean—we found the bottom at a hundred fathoms, and between the reef and the shore, where there used to be from four to six fathoms, we found as much as sixty?"

"It's been a most tremendous upheaval," replied my father; "and I'm not surprised at anything after this. However, the question is: How are we to land?

"That's what I was thinking of, sir," replied Wilkins, knitting his brow. "How would bending the whaler's anchor on to a line and heaving it up do?"

"I am afraid that throwing up a twenty-four-pound anchor to a height of over twenty feet would be beyond the strength of most of us," observed my uncle, with a smile.

"Then heave the line over the wreck."

"The lead-line would not be strong enough to bear a man," objected my father. "The only thing to be done is to get a spar—the yard of our square-sail, for instance."

"A couple of young trees would do better, I'm thinking," said the bos'n. "We've plenty of lashing in the boat, and a ladder could be knocked up in a jiffey."

"The very thing, Mr. Wilkins. Make for the shore as fast as you can."

The whaler's bow grounded on the beach, and, making our way with difficulty through the debris that lined the seaward side of the grove, we selected a couple of young palm-trees. These were felled and cut to lengths of twenty feet, and the rungs firmly fastened, making a serviceable ladder. This we towed behind the boat, and on landing on the rock we scaled the perpendicular height with comparative ease.

The ladder was then hauled up and placed against the towering, weed-covered sides of the "San Philipo," and, led by my father, we all ascended and gained the deck of the wreck.

"Be careful, sir," cautioned the bos'n; "the deck may be rotten in places."

"All right, Mr. Wilkins," replied my father. "I see the divers have been hard at work, for the waist has practically been cleared."

But before attempting to go below, my father made his way aft, and, clambering cautiously over the successive breaks of the tiers of decks, reached the towering poop. Here the stump of the mizzen-mast still projected a couple of feet above the deck, while a litter of rotten rope trailed across the poop from the mizzen chains, and a rusty mass of iron alone remained to denote what had at one time been the three poop lanterns.

It was not, however, to this scene of desolation that my father's attention was directed. From the commanding position we had, for the first time, a complete view of the results of the upheaval, and to our consternation we found that the lagoon was converted into a land-locked sheet of water, huge rocks forming a massive semi-circular barrier from shore to shore. The "Fortuna" was a prisoner, and, to all intents and purposes, seemed doomed to lie within the lagoon till she rotted and sank at her moorings.

The original entrance had, as I have already mentioned, been closed up by lofty masses of rock, while throughout the whole length of the newly formed reef there was not, as far as we could see, any part less than twenty feet above the level of high water.

For several minutes my father stood looking at the scene with absolute dejection written on his face. It seemed as if all his hopes were shattered at one blow.

"Cheer up, old fellow," said his brother sympathetically, though he, too, was keenly alive to the extent of our misfortune. "It might be worse; we've got the yacht intact, the treasure under our feet, and, what is more, our lives have been miraculously preserved."

"Our lives, 'tis true. But what is the use of the treasure when the yacht is hopelessly imprisoned?"

"There's a saying, 'Don't holler till you're out of the wood'; it could have very well been added: 'Don't cry till you've tried to find a way out'; so don't worry till we've made a careful exploration of the reef. I suppose people at home have read a report in the daily papers before now, a telegram from Professor Milne to the effect that a great seismic disturbance has been recorded, the probable area affected being approximately eleven thousand miles away."

"Oh, yes," replied my father, with a slight suspicion of sarcasm. "Imagine the interest it causes to the majority of the British Public; but, so long as his pocket isn't touched, the average man doesn't care, even if half the surface of the globe is turned upside down; but let a cat or a dog scratch up his front garden——"

"Oh, for pity's sake stop moralizing. Let's make a start and explore the ship. See, the men have already nearly cleared away the mud from the main hatch."

Before long my father had shaken off his depression and was hard at work clearing the weed and sand. The hatches were forced open with crowbars, and we had our first view of the main deck. Considering the time the vessel had lain at the bottom of the sea, the amount of dirt and sand that had worked its way between decks was remarkably small; but on descending the ladder it seemed as if we were in a broad, low-roofed cave.

Through the gun-ports, now festooned with seaweed, the sunlight filtered, causing a thick, nauseating mist to rise from the sodden timbers; while on the starboard side was a tangled collection of timber and iron, the remains of the ship's ordnance, all the iron guns having been reduced to a softness resembling plumbago; but eight pieces of brass ordnance still retained their original appearance, save for the discoloration caused by the action of the salt water.

"Let's see what there is in the cabins aft," said Uncle Herbert, making for a half-open door; "I suppose no one brought a lantern?—it's pitch dark."

Even as he spoke the door creaked and moved slowly inwards, while a strange rustling noise was heard in the alley-way. Jumping backwards, my uncle raised an axe that he was carrying, and assumed a defensive attitude, while the rest of us, in breathless expectancy, awaited developments.

Again the shuffling noise was repeated, and out of the darkness projected a long, greenish hued, repulsive-looking object, terminating in a pair of formidable nippers, and in another moment a gigantic crab, fully five feet across its shell, shambled out of the gloom, turned partly over on its side to pass the doorway, and made straight for us.

"Call yourself a Cornishman, and afraid of a crab!" exclaimed my father as my uncle turned and ran for safety.

But it was not a cause for jest. One of the men stabbed at the creature with a crowbar, but, seizing the iron between its formidable claws, the monster wrenched it from the man's grasp, nearly throwing him to the deck. Another struck a heavy blow with an axe, but the steel seemed to have no effect upon the tough armour of the brute's shell, and it was clear that a man would stand little chance if caught by those powerful nippers.

"Hack off his legs!" shouted the bos'n, and, snatching an axe from one of the seamen, he put all his strength into a powerful cut at the creature's leg. The steel bit deeply into the member, but, before the bos'n could withdraw the axe, the crab spun round, swept the bos'n off his feet, and made for its prostrate antagonist, who, wedged against the ship's side, had no chance of escape. But before the hideous brute could accomplish its object, Lord, the quartermaster, made a bound, and alighted on its shell, and with his axe dealt two smashing blows at the creature's eyes. This interference caused the crab to swerve from its purpose, and, raising itself, threw the quartermaster to keep company with the bos'n.

Taking advantage of the raised position of the brute, my father fired three shots in quick succession from his revolver straight into its head, and, having had more than it cared about, the crab retreated for its den, but, before it reached the doorway, it stopped, gave a few convulsive struggles, and fell dead, a thin stream of pale-coloured blood trickling over the slimy decks into the debris on the lee side.

"Hot work while it lasted," remarked my father, ejecting the three empty cylinders and reloading his revolver. "Move the thing out of the way, and let's explore the cabins. I hope there are no more of that sort, though."

One of the men had returned with a lantern from the whaler, and by its aid we began our tour of the cabins and state-rooms. There were multitudes of crabs, large and small, though none approaching in size the one we had killed; several small cuttlefish squirmed in the mud that was ankle-deep on the floors; while overhead the mouldering beams were alive with immense worms, gliding in and out of the innumerable tunnels they had eaten in the timbers.

Most of the cabin doors were locked, but so rotten was the woodwork that a kick was sufficient to demolish them. The first five or six were practically empty, though one contained a number of brass-hilted swords, all in a more or less rust-eaten condition. At length we came to one over which were the letters "...apitan."

"This ought to contain something worth having, being the captain's," remarked my uncle, bursting open the door. Compared with the rest of the cabins this apartment was large and well-lighted, the stern window being fairly free from the trailing weeds.

Rotting curtains still hung from the walls; furniture that for nearly two centuries had floated against the once-gilded ceiling had fallen in utter confusion on the mud-covered floor, while there was the usual scurrying of swarms of shell-fish, as they sought shelter in the darker recesses of the room. In the centre stood two massive chests, bound with iron, and to these my father hastened, ignoring the crabs that impeded his footsteps.

"Hurry up with the crowbar!" he exclaimed excitedly, and, inserting the iron bar underneath the lid, he put his whole strength into the task of prizing open one of the chests.

With all his powerful efforts the lid defied him, and, calling the bos'n to his aid, both of them bent to the stout lever. The wood creaked and groaned, yet neither did the chest move nor did the lid fly open.

"There's weight in it!" exclaimed the bos'n, wiping his heated brow. "If we are not careful the whole box of tricks will fall through into the hold."

"Yes, we must look out for that," replied my father; "already the floor seems to be giving."

"More than the lid does, I'm thinking," assented the bos'n. "We must try what a sledge-hammer and wedges will do." This meant sending back to the "Fortuna"; so, while the whaler was away, we continued our exploration of the cabin. There were three silver images, blackened by sea-water, several gold and silver-mounted sword-hilts, a drawer full of gold coins, bearing dates between 1590 and 1701, tankards and plates of precious metal, and several securely sealed bottles, containing, as we afterwards found, wine.

"Ah! now we can tackle the chests," exclaimed Uncle Herbert, as the men returned with a sledge-hammer and a regular armoury of cold chisels. "This one first."

A few heavy blows and the lid flew open; then, by the aid of the crowbar, the work was completed, and the lid went back with a loud creaking sound. The chest was filled to the brim with small bars of solid gold.

"Hurrah, my lads!" shouted my father in his excitement. "This alone will repay us. You can take it from me that once we get this safely home, every man of the crew will be able to live in comfort till the end of his days."

A rousing cheer greeted this announcement; then, closing the lid, my father directed the men to burst open the other chest.

This we found to contain mostly silk-stuffs, all, of course, utterly spoiled by age and sea-water; but at the bottom was a complete set of Church plate, made of gold and blazing with precious stones.

"Some cathedral in Spain is the poorer by this," remarked Uncle Herbert, holding up a massive chalice to the glassless stern window and allowing the light to play on the dazzling stones. "What do you propose to do, Howard? I don't think we can rest at ease till the whole of this stuff is safely aboard the 'Fortuna.'"

"Neither can we. We'll explore the hold now, and directly afterwards we'll begin to tranship the contents of the chests."

"We must lose no time, then, for it will take the rest of the day."

A hasty examination of the hold showed us that the silver cargo of the "San Philipo" was no myth; the ballast was composed of solid silver "pigs."

"We'll return to the 'Fortuna' now," decided my father. "You, Herbert, had better superintend the shifting of the contents of the chests. Tomorrow, if all's well, we'll tackle the silver, and, if the gig's repaired, four men and the bos'n can explore the reef."



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