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The Quest of the 'Golden Hope': A Seventeenth Century Story of Adventure By Percy F. Westerman Characters: 8152

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The Madre de Dios

My father opened his eyes wide, and his mouth also, so that his pipe clattered on the oaken floor and was broken into a score of fragments.

"The Madre de Dios!" he exclaimed at length. "You speak truly--the same Madre de Dios concerning which Fergusson adventured himself in the last reign?"

"The same, Captain Hammond. I have the secret under my thumb."

"You know where the wreck lies hidden?"

"Aye, but that matters little. The treasure is not in her, but lies in a safe place."

Even I had heard the wonderful story of the Spanish treasure ship. 'Twas well known that in the last century Sir John Berkeley, during his attack upon Porto Rico, had captured a Spanish caravel, the Madre de Dios. On her he found pearls worth ten thousand ducats, gold dust, ingots, and other treasure to the value of 400,000 pounds. Of this vast spoil Sir John shipped about one-half aboard his own ship, sending the Madre under convoy for England. The caravel, overtaken by a furious north-easterly gale, was lost with all hands amongst the islands of the Lesser Antilles, and although expeditions innumerable had been sent out to discover the wreck, none had met with success. If Captain Jeremy Miles was not deceiving himself and us also, a king's ransom was almost within his grasp.

"Pardon me if I put it bluntly," said my father, "but if you know where the treasure lies, why have you not recovered it ere now?"

"That I'll explain, methinks, to your satisfaction, though 'tis a long story. Yet, to put it briefly, I was cast away on the island where the treasure lieth in the year 1674. For two years I was cut off from my fellow-men, till a Spanish barque took me off. It goes without saying that I told the Dons naught concerning the treasure; but on setting foot in England once more, I took steps to obtain command of a vessel trading with the Indies. Yet ill fortune thwarted my purpose."

"How so?"

"Head winds and pestilence. Then, though I was averse to sharing my secret, I applied to my Lord Rochester to intercede with the King; but, since I was only a plain merchant captain, and no King's officer, my lord must needs flout me and deride my statement."

"My Lord Rochester had his own views on this matter, I take it," remarked my father. "There were no less than forty applications to his late Majesty from would-be treasure seekers. Fergusson went and failed; Captain Calcott did likewise, and now Phipps has been gone these two years, spending the King's money and using his ships of war, which might be more profitably employed elsewhere. Nay, I cannot blame my Lord Rochester."

"But I do!" exclaimed Captain Miles vehemently. "Not for his refusal, mark you, for he's the loser on't, but for his churlish manner. 'Twas mainly for this reason that I set out to join Monmouth's standard, for, had all been well, I am certain he would, as a man of spirit and enterprise, have been willing to grant me aid in the search."

"The Duke will need all his spirit and enterprise to save his neck from the headsman's axe," replied my father. "But concerning this matter?"

"I have a proposal to make, Captain Hammond. But ere we go farther, 'tis worth while laying hands on the chart."

"Aye," replied my father. "The sale is fixed for to-morrow, so I'll to Lymington and secure the picture at all costs."

The subject was then dropped for the time, yet I did not fail to notice that my sire was by no means in his usual spirits, but seemed preoccupied, and inclined to irritability. Constance, too, noticed the change.

"What doth he ponder over?" she asked. "Is there fresh trouble coming upon us? Have they discovered aught of that affair on the Lyndhurst Road?" and she gave a little shudder at the remembrance of it.

"Nay," I replied. "That affair has, I hope, blown over. Something is in the wind, nevertheless, for I doubt not that our father and Captain Miles are engaging upon some profitable enterprise; it may happen that a voyage to the West Indies will restore the fortunes of our house."

"But will fat

her have to go to sea again?" she asked anxiously.

"It may so happen," I replied.

"And you----?"

"I would I could," I rejoined earnestly, for 'twas my cherished ambition to go to sea; yet I feared my father would withhold his consent.

The next day my father and I rode into Lymington, and having left our horses at the "Hart", we repaired to Jeremy's house.

It was a long, low-built, thatched-roofed building, standing at the bottom of the steep High Street, and overlooking the muddy harbour where the Lym stream joins the sea. The door and the frames of the diamond-paned windows were painted a vivid green--possibly the work of the energetic seaman; while above the porch was nailed an effigy of a woman holding an arrow in her hand--the figurehead of one of his former vessels.

Crowds of eager and curious townsfolk were gathered without the door on which the sheriff's notice of the sale was affixed, while two tip-staves, escorting a lean, pale-faced man, were trying to force their way through the press of onlookers.

"'Tis the attorney for the Crown," whispered my father, pointing to the white-faced man, who was evidently ill at ease. "'Tis fortunate for him that he has a troop of horse within ear-shot, or I'll warrant he would have a warm reception."

But even the presence of the soldiers, who were drawn up in an alley leading to the quay, did not prevent volleys of rotten eggs and street garbage being directed against the sheriff's representative, till, the door being opened, he disappeared within, followed by the incensed townsfolk. Jeremy was, as I have mentioned, a general favourite in and around Lymington; and, besides, his rash participation in the revolt was not unfavourably regarded by his fellow-townsmen, who took this opportunity of expressing their practical sympathy with the absent Captain.

By dint of much elbowing we succeeded in gaining admission to the house, and, to my inexperienced eyes, the scene within was strange and pathetically interesting, as preparations were made to dispose of our friend's goods and chattels.

By threats, entreaties, and commands the sheriff's officer obtained comparative quiet, and amidst the groans of his audience he read the proclamation setting forth that the house and goods of Captain Jeremy Miles, he having been declared a traitor to His Majesty King James, were to be sold forthwith.

Thereupon one of the tip-staves produced a long wax candle having a number of metal pegs stuck into it at regular intervals. This he proceeded to light; the first lot was announced, and the highest bid, ere the uppermost peg fell from the melted wax, secured the submitted article.

In the excitement, as bidder after bidder was outbidden, even the voices of the malcontents were hushed; while as peg after peg dropped out and rebounded from the oaken table, the clang of the hammer could scarce drown the angry remonstrances of the disappointed would-be purchasers.

Thus the auction proceeded, and from room to room we went, watching the disposal of the Captain's goods. One or two instruments of navigation my father secured, though, as I knew he already possessed similar ones, I guessed that they were for Jeremy's future use.

At length the parlour was reached, and between the heads of the crowd and the low, raftered ceiling I caught a glimpse of the fateful painting--a ship under all plain sail, set with a vivid blue sea and a cloudless sky of an almost similar colour.

My father marked it likewise, for he straightened himself, and coughed slightly once or twice to clear his throat.

"Lot Seventy-two. A painting by a worthy Neapolitan artist, Messer Tito Cozzini, of--of--I cannot decipher the place--methinks it looks like Foggia."

The taper was again applied to the candle, the feeble light flickering dimly in the dusty, crowded room. No one seemed anxious to possess the work of art, for my father, concealing his impatience, had purposely withheld his bid. The metal peg began to droop in its support of melting wax.

"A crown," said my father.

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