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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Quest of the 'Golden Hope': A Seventeenth Century Story of Adventure By Percy F. Westerman Characters: 6857

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The Chart

"And sixpence."

A voice like the bellowing of a bull burst from the corner of the room, while its owner began to force his way vigorously through the crowd towards the rostrum.

"Six shillings."

The peg gave a decided jerk, but still remained in the wax.

"Six shillings and sixpence."

"Seven shillings."

Ping! The metal pin tinkled on the table, the hammer descended, and the picture was ours.

A muttered oath caused me to turn my head and look behind. The unsuccessful bidder was a short, bull-necked man, with clean-shaven, red complexioned features, closely cropped hair, save for a bob hanging over his neck; and powerfully-built shoulders and arms.

With a violent effort to conceal his disappointment, the stranger backed his way through the crowd, and was lost to view.

To disarm suspicion, we remained for nearly another hour; then, having paid the sheriff's clerk the amount of the purchase money, my father took possession of the painting and the nautical instruments, and handed them over to the care of a lad, with instructions to follow us.

Having mounted our horses, we rode them at a walking pace, the youth panting at our heels, for the day was excessively warm.

As we were passing Buckland Rings I chanced to glance over my shoulder at our follower, and in so doing I caught sight of a man stealing cautiously along in the shadow of the trees at about two hundred paces off. It was the unsuccessful bidder for Captain Miles's picture.

"How say you?" asked my father. "The rascal means no good;" and abruptly wheeling his steed, he trotted back to the edge of the clump of pines that stand betwixt the highway and those relics of paganism commonly known in the district as "The Rings".

Yet though we searched the clump and the far side of the hillock as well, our efforts were in vain.

"Your eyes have deceived you, Clifford," said my sire, as we cantered along the road to overtake the lad with his precious burden. Though I felt certain on the point, I refrained from insisting that I was right, and without further happening we reached our house, though I was continually turning in the saddle to see if we were followed by the discomfited rogue.

Having to attend the Verderers' Court that afternoon, my father could devote no time to his purchase until the evening, though I was burning with impatience to see the chart revealed, and felt certain my parent was in a like state.

"'Tis well done," exclaimed Captain Jeremy with undisguised delight, when he saw the painting. "Now, Captain Hammond, we'll cut the canvas and get the chart."

"Nay," remonstrated my father, laughing; "the picture cost me seven shillings, and 'tis a pity to spoil it for the sake of being overhasty. Bring a mallet and chisel, Clifford, and we'll prise open the back."

This was accordingly done, and as the heavy boards were removed from the frame a musty piece of parchment, creased in several places, was disclosed to view.

"Here 'tis," declared Captain Jeremy, pointing with his yellow finger. "There lies the Madre treasure."

The chart was a good yard in length, and about three spans in breadth. It had evidently been drawn with a considerable amount of care, the names being neatly inserted. In the top right corner, spanned by a compass, was a scale of leagues, while in the left was a representation of the mariner's compass. Three strange-looking vess

els, with towering forecastles and poops, and a veritable network of rhumb-lines, covered all the portion of the chart that was supposed to represent the ocean. In the bottom left-hand corner, which had been greatly thumb-marked, were the letters "...go Ribero", and the date "1529"; and marked by a rough circle, drawn, it seemed, at a later date, was the position of an island, against which appeared the words: "Much golde here--Madre de Dios, 1599".

"This is an old Spanish chart," said Captain Miles, "yet 'tis accurate enough for our purpose. Even Generals Penn and Venables, when they took Jamaica, freely acknowledged that none of our making could equal it."

"'Tis a sovereign piece of work," assented my father. "But methinks you said the position was known only to you? How comes it, therefore, that this chart has the spot marked fair and legibly?"

"Therein have many men been deceived," replied Captain Jeremy. "That was placed thereon for the purpose. Mark you a small cross on the island?--'tis a good two leagues from the wrongly marked spot. On my word of honour, I can testify that there lieth the treasure. Now, what say you, Captain Hammond? Will you join with me in prosecuting a search? for freely in my gratitude will I share the gains with you. Yet 'tis but fair to give you full warning, though I heed it not. 'Tis said that the treasure of the Madre de Dios is under a curse, and only through bloodshed and fire can it be regained. This was the curse of the Friar Pedro Lopez, whom, 'tis avowed, Sir John Berkeley threw overboard with his own hands."

"The matter is a weighty one," replied my father, as he proceeded to replace the back of the frame. "I Even should the treasure be yet undiscovered, there arises the question of the cost of fitting out a ship. Were I a man of wealth I'd not be averse from adventuring a round sum. As for the friar's curse, I heed it not."

"Neither have I much wealth, seeing that my house and goods were in the sheriff's hands this day," observed Captain Jeremy, with a grim smile. "Yet, as I have said heretofore, I have hidden a certain sum. This, though 'tis my all, I would gladly devote to the enterprise; and, forsooth, a man could not give better pledge of his sincerity."

"'Tis not that I doubt your sincerity, and I crave your pardon should I have touched upon a tender spot. Now, I pray you, explain the chart, inasmuch as it concerns the treasure island."

Thus encouraged, Captain Jeremy carefully filled his long clay pipe, and resting the glowing bowl on the edge of the table (somewhat, I fear, to my father's displeasure, though he made no sign on 't), he proceeded to point out the characteristics of the island, the shoals and currents in its vicinity, the secure anchorage, and where a boat could make a landing without hazard to itself or its crew.

To all this I listened intently, my eyes glistening with excitement; but, greatly to my disappointment, just as Captain Miles was about to explain how and where the Madre treasure lay hidden, my father exclaimed:

"The hour is late, Clifford, therefore bid us good night and go to bed."

There was no help for it; I retired from the room reluctantly, pausing for one instant to gaze upon the scene, as the two bronzed-faced seamen bent eagerly over the musty parchment, the key to the undertaking that was, we hoped, to restore the house of Hammond to its former affluence.

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