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- Jack Tier or The Florida Reef - 80/93 -
of the Dry Tortugas. They imagined themselves happy in having thus made a sufficient provision against the most formidable of all the dangers that beset them, at the very moment when the best laid plan for their destruction was on the point of being executed. In this respect, they resembled millions of others of their fellows, who hang suspended over the vast abyss of eternity, totally unconscious of the irretrievable character of the fall that is so soon to occur. Spike, as has been just stated, was highly pleased with his own expedient, and he pointed it out with exultation to the Seņor Montefalderon, as soon as it was completed.
"A nicer fit was never made by a Lunnun leg-maker, Don Wan," the captain cried, after going over the explanations connected with the shores--"there she stands, at an angle of fifty, with two as good limbs under her as a body could wish. I could now cast off everything, and leave the wreck in what they call `_statu quo,_' which, I suppose, means on its pins, like a statue. The tafferel is not six inches below the surface of the water, and half an hour of heaving will bring the starn in sight."
"Your work seems ingeniously contrived to get up one extremity of the vessel, Don Esteban," returned the Mexican; "but are you quite certain that the doubloons are in her?"
This question was put because the functionary of a government in which money was very apt to stick in passing from hand to hand was naturally suspicious, and he found it difficult to believe that Mulford, Jack Tier, and even Biddy, under all the circumstances, had not paid special attention to their own interests.
"The bag was placed in one of the transom-lockers before the schooner capsized," returned the captain, "as Jack Tier informs me; if so, it remains there still. Even the sharks will not touch gold, Don Wan."
"Would it not be well to call Jack, and hear his account of the matter once more, now we appear to be so near the Eldorado of our wishes?"
Spike assented, and Jack was summoned to the quarter-deck. The little fellow had scarce showed himself throughout the day, and he now made his appearance with a slow step, and reluctantly.
"You've made no mistake about them 'ere doubloons, I take it, Master Tier?" said Spike, in a very nautical sort of style of addressing an inferior. "You _know_ them to be in one of the transom-lockers?"
Jack mounted on the breech of one of the guns, and looked over the bulwarks at the dispositions that had been made about the wreck. The tafferel of the schooner actually came in sight, when a little swell passed over it, leaving it for an instant in the trough. The steward thus caught a glimpse again of the craft on board which he had seen so much hazard, and he shook his head and seemed to be thinking of anything but the question which had just been put to him.
"Well, about that gold?" asked Spike, impatiently.
"The sight of that craft has brought other thoughts than gold into my mind, Captain Spike," answered Jack, gravely, "and it would be well for all us mariners, if we thought less of gold and more of the dangers we run. For hours and hours did I stand over etarnity, on the bottom of that schooner, Don Wan, holdin' my life, as it might be, at the marcy of a few bubbles of air."
"What has all that to do with the gold? Have you deceived me about that locker, little rascal?"
"No, sir, I've _not_ deceived you--no, Captain Spike, _no_. The bag is in the upper transom-locker, on the starboard side. There I put it with my own hands, and a good lift it was; and there you'll find it, if you'll cut through the quarter-deck at the spot I can p'int out to you."
This information seemed to give a renewed energy to all the native cupidity of the captain, who called the men from their suppers, and ordered them to commence heaving anew. The word was passed to the crew that "it was now for doubloons," and they went to the bars and handspikes, notwithstanding the sun had set, cheerfully and cheering.
All Spike's expedients admirably answered the intended purposes. The stern of the schooner rose gradually, and at each lift the heels of the shores dropped in more perpendicularly, carried by the weights attached to them, and the spars stood as firm props to secure all that was gained. In a quarter of an hour, most of that part of the stern which was within five or six feet of the tafferel, rose above the water, coming fairly in view.
Spike now shouted to the men to "pall!" then he directed the falls to be very gradually eased off, in order to ascertain if the shores would still do their duty. The experiment was successful, and presently the wreck stood in its upright position, sustained entirely by the two spars. As the last were now nearly perpendicular, they were capable of bearing a very heavy weight, and Spike was so anxious to relieve his own brig from the strain she had been enduring, that he ordered the lashings of the blocks to be loosened, trusting to his shores to do their duty. Against this confidence the boatswain ventured a remonstrance, but the gold was too near to allow the captain to listen or reply. The carpenter was ordered over on the wreck with his tools, while Spike, the Seņor Montefalderon, and two men to row the boat and keep it steady, went in the yawl to watch the progress of the work. Jack Tier was ordered to stand in the chains, and to point out, as nearly as possible, the place where the carpenter was to cut.
When all was ready, Spike gave the word, and the chips began to fly. By the use of the saw and the axe, a hole large enough to admit two or three men at a time, was soon made in the deck, and the sounding for the much-coveted locker commenced. By this time, it was quite dark; and a lantern was passed down from the brig, in order to enable those who searched for the locker to see. Spike had breasted the yawl close up to the hole, where it was held by the men, while the captain himself passed the lantern and his own head into the opening to reconnoitre.
"Ay, it's all right!" cried the voice of the captain from within his cell-like cavity. "I can just see the lid of the locker that Jack means, and we shall soon have what we are a'ter. Carpenter, you may as well slip off your clothes at once, and go inside; I will point out to you the place where to find the locker. You're certain, Jack, it was the starboard locker?"
"Ay, ay, sir, the starboard locker, and no other."
The carpenter had soon got into the hole, as naked as when he was born. It was a gloomy-looking place for a man to descend into at that hour, the light from the lantern being no great matter, and half the time it was shaded by the manner in which Spike was compelled to hold it.
"Take care and get a good footing, carpenter," said the captain, in a kinder tone than common, "before you let go with your hands; but I suppose you can swim, as a matter of course?"
"No, sir, not a stroke--I never could make out in the water at all."
"Have the more 'care, then. Had I known as much, I would have sent another hand down; but mind your footing. More to the left, man--more to the left. That is the lid of the locker--your hand is on it; why do you not open it?"
"It is swelled by the water, sir, and will need a chisel, or some tool of that sort. Just call out to one of the men, sir, if you please, to pass me a chisel from my tool-chest. A good stout one will be best."
This order was given, and, during the delay it caused, Spike encouraged the carpenter to be cool, and above all to mind his footing. His own eagerness to get at the gold was so great that he kept his head in at the hole, completely cutting off the man within from all communication with the outer world.
"What's the matter with you?" demanded Spike, a little sternly. "You shiver, and yet the water cannot be cold in this latitude. No, my hand makes it just the right warmth to be pleasant."
"It's not the water, Captain Spike--I wish they would come with the chisel. Did you hear nothing, sir? I'm certain I did!"
"Hear!--what is there here to be heard, unless there may be some fish inside, thrashing about to get out of the vessel's hold?"
"I am sure I heard something like a groan, Captain Spike. I wish you would let me come out, sir, and I'll go for the chisel myself; them men will never find it."
"Stay where you are, coward! are you afraid of dead men standing against walls? Stay where you are. Ah! here is the chisel--now let us see what you can do with it."
"I am certain I heard another groan, Captain Spike. I cannot work, sir. I'm of no use here--_do_ let me come out, sir, and send a hand down that can swim."
Spike uttered a terrible malediction on the miserable carpenter, one we do not care to repeat; then he cast the light of the lantern full in the man's face. The quivering flesh, the pallid face, and the whole countenance wrought up almost to a frenzy of terror, astonished, as well as alarmed him.
"What ails you, man?" said the captain in a voice of thunder. "Clap in the chisel, or I'll hurl you off into the water. There is nothing here, dead or alive, to harm ye!"
"The groan, sir--I hear it again! _Do_ let me come out, Captain Spike."
Spike himself, this time, heard what even _he_ took for a groan. It came from the depths of the vessel, apparently, and was sufficiently distinct and audible. Astonished, yet appalled, he thrust his shoulders into the aperture, as if to dare the demon that tormented him, and was met by the carpenter endeavouring to escape. In the struggle that ensued, the lantern was dropped into the water, leaving the half-frenzied combatants contending in the dark. The groan was renewed, when the truth flashed on the minds of both.
"The shores! the shores!" exclaimed the carpenter from within. "The shores!" repeated Spike, throwing himself back into the boat, and shouting to his men to "see all clear of the wreck!" The grating of one of the shores on the coral beneath was now heard plainer than
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