The next day the work of removing the treasure from the caves to the vesse_egan in good earnest. The Miranda was anchored not far from the little pier,
which was found in good order, and Shirley, with one negro, was left on board,
while the captain and Burke took the three others, loaded with coffee-bags, t_he caves.
For the benefit of the minds of the black men, the captain had instructed Mak_o assure them that they would not be obliged to go anywhere where it wa_eally dark. But it was difficult to decide how to talk to Burke. This man wa_uite different from Shirley. He was smaller, but stout and strong, with _ark complexion, and rather given to talk. The captain liked him well enough,
his principal objection to him being that he was rather too willing to giv_dvice. But, whatever might be the effect of the treasure on Burke, th_aptain determined that he should not be surprised by it. He had tried that o_hirley, and did not want to try it again on anybody. So he conversed freel_bout the treasure and the mound, and, as far as possible, described it_ppearance and contents. But he need not have troubled himself about th_ffect of the sight of a wagon-load of gold upon Burke's mind. He was glad t_ee it, and whistled cheerfully as he looked down into the mound.
"How far do you think it goes down?" said he to the captain.
"Don't know," was the reply. "We can't tell anything about that until we ge_t out."
"All right," said Burke. "The quicker we do it, the better."
The captain got into the mound with a lantern, for the gold was now too lo_or him to reach it from above, and having put as many bars into a coffee-ba_s a man could carry, he passed it up to Burke, who slid it down to the floor,
where another lantern had been left. When five bags had been made ready, th_aptain came out, and he and Burke put each bag into another, and these wer_ied up firmly at each end, for a single coffee-bag was not considered stron_nough to hold the weighty treasure. Then the two carried the bags into th_art of the cave which was lighted by the great fissure, and called th_egroes. Then, each taking a bag on his shoulder, the party returned to th_ove. On the next trip, Shirley decided to go with the captain, for he said h_id not care for anything if he did not have to look down into the mound, fo_hat was sure to make him dizzy. Maka's place was taken by the negro who ha_een previously left in the vessel. Day by day the work went on, but whoeve_ight be relieved, and whatever arrangements might be made, the captain alway_ot into the mound and handed out the gold. Whatever discovery should be mad_hen the bottom of the deposit was reached, he wanted to be there to make it.
The operations were conducted openly, and without any attempt at secrecy o_oncealment. The lid of the mound was not replaced when they left it, and th_ags of gold were laid on the pier until it was convenient to take them to th_essel. When they were put on board, they were lowered into the hold, and too_he place of a proportionate amount of ballast, which was thrown out.
All the negroes now spoke and understood a little English. They might thin_hat those bags were filled with gold, or they might think that they containe_ mineral substance, useful for fertilizer; but if by questioning or b_ccidental information they found out what was the load under which the_oiled along the beach, the captain was content. There was no reason why h_hould fear these men more than he feared Burke and Shirley. All of them wer_ecessary to him, and he must trust them. Several times when he was crouche_own in the interior of the mound, filling a bag with gold, he thought ho_asy it would be for one of the sailors to shoot him from above, and for them,
or perhaps only one of them, to become the owner of all that treasure. Bu_hen, he could be shot in one place almost as well as in another, and if th_egroes should be seized with the gold fever, and try to cut white throats a_idnight, they would be more likely to attempt it after the treasure had bee_ecured and the ship had sailed than now. In any case, nothing could be gaine_y making them feel that they were suspected and distrusted. Therefore it wa_hat when, one day, Maka said to the captain that the little stones in th_ags had begun to make his shoulder tender, the captain showed him how to fol_n empty sack and put it between the bags and his back, and then also told hi_hat what he carried was not stones, but lumps of gold.
"All yourn, cap'n!" asked Maka.
"Yes, all mine," was the reply.
That night Maka told his comrades that when the captain got to the end of thi_oyage, he would be able to buy a ship bigger than the _Castor_ , and tha_hey would not have to sail in that little brig any more, and that he expecte_o be cook on the new vessel, and have a fine suit of clothes in which to g_n shore.
For nearly a month the work went on, but the contents of the mound diminishe_o slowly that the captain, and, in fact, the two sailors, also, became ver_mpatient. Only about forty pounds could be carried by each man on a trip, an_he captain saw plainly that it would not do to urge greater rapidity or mor_requent trips, for in that case there would be sure to be breakdowns. Th_alk from the cove to the caves was a long one, and rocky barriers had to b_limbed, and although now but one man was left on board the vessel, onl_hirty bags a day were stored in its hold. This was very slow work.
Consultations were held, and it was determined that some quicker method o_ransportation must be adopted. The idea that they could be satisfied wit_hat they already had seemed to enter the mind of none of them. It was _oregone conclusion that their business there was to carry away all the gol_hat was in the mound.
A new plan, though rather a dangerous one, was now put into operation. Th_rig was brought around opposite the plateau which led to the caves, an_nchored just outside the line of surf, where bottom was found at a moderat_epth. Then the bags were carried in the boats to the vessel. A line connecte_ach boat with the ship, and the negroes were half the time in the water,
assisting the boats backward and forward through the surf. Now work went o_ery much more rapidly. The men had all become accustomed to carrying th_eavy bags, and could run with them down the plateau. The boats were hauled t_nd from the vessel, and the bags were hoisted on board by means of blocks an_ackle and a big basket. Once the side of the basket gave way, and severa_ags went down to the bottom of the sea, never to be seen again. But there wa_o use in crying over spilt gold, and this was the only accident.
The winds were generally from the south and east, and, therefore, there was n_igh surf; and this new method of working was so satisfactory that they al_egretted they had not adopted it from the first, notwithstanding the risk.
But the captain had had no idea that it would take so long for five men t_arry that treasure a distance of two miles, taking forty pounds at a time.
At night everybody went on board the brig, and she lay to some distance fro_he shore, so as to be able to run out to sea in case of bad weather, but n_uch weather came.
It was two months since the brig had dropped anchor in the Rackbirds' cov_hen the contents of the mound got so low that the captain could not hand u_he bags without the assistance of a ladder, which he made from some stuff o_oard the brig. By rough measurement, he found that he should now be near th_evel of the outside floor of the cave, and he worked with great caution, fo_he idea, first broached by Ralph, that this mass of gold might cove_omething more valuable than itself, had never left him.
But as he worked steadily, filling bag after bag, he found that, although h_ad reached at the outer edge of the floor of the mound what seemed to be _avement of stone, there was still a considerable depth of gold in the centr_f the floor. Now he worked faster, telling Shirley, who was outside, that h_ould not come out until he had reached the floor of the mound, which wa_vidently depressed in the centre after the fashion of a saucer. Working wit_everish haste, the captain handed up bag after bag, until every little bar o_old had been removed from the mound.
The bottom of the floor was covered with a fine dust, which had sifted down i_he course of ages from the inside coating of the mound, but it was not dee_nough to conceal a bar of gold, and, with his lantern and his foot, th_aptain made himself sure that not a piece was left. Then his whole soul an_ody thrilled with a wild purpose, and, moving the ladder from the centre o_he floor, he stooped to brush away the dust. If there should be a movabl_tone there! If this stone should cover a smaller cavity beneath the grea_ne, what might he not discover within it? His mind whirled before the idea_hich now cast themselves at him, when suddenly he stood up and set his teet_ard together.
"I will not," he said. "I will not look for a stone with a crack around it. W_ave enough already. Why should we run the risk of going crazy by trying t_et more? I will not!" And he replaced the ladder.
"What's the matter in there?" called Shirley, from outside. "Who're yo_alking to?"
The captain came out of the opening in the mound, pulled up the ladder an_anded it to Shirley, and then he was about to replace the lid upon the mound.
But what was the use of doing that, he thought. There would be no sense i_losing it. He would leave it open.
"I was talking to myself," he said to Shirley, when he had descended. "I_ounded crack-brained, I expect."
"Yes, it did," answered the other. "And I am glad these are the last bags w_ave to tie up and take out. I should not have wondered if the whole three o_s had turned into lunatics. As for me, I have tried hard to stop thinkin_bout the business, and I have found that the best thing I could do was to tr_nd consider the stuff in these bags as coal—good, clean, anthracite coal.
Whenever I carried a bag, I said to myself, 'Hurry up, now, with this bag o_oal.' A ship-load of coal, you know, is not worth enough to turn a man'_ead."
"That was not a bad idea," said the captain. "But now the work is done, and w_ill soon get used to thinking of it without being excited about it. There i_bsolutely no reason why we should not be as happy and contented as if we ha_ach made a couple of thousand dollars apiece on a good voyage."
"That's so," said Shirley, "and I'm going to try to think it."
When the last bag had been put on board, Burke and the captain were walkin_bout the caves looking here and there to take a final leave of the place.
Whatever the captain considered of value as a memento of the life they had le_ere had been put on board.
"Captain," said Burke, "did you take all the gold out of that mound?"
"Every bit of it," was the reply.
"You didn't leave a single lump for manners?"
"No," said the captain. "I thought it better that whoever discovered tha_mpty mound after us should not know what had been in it. You see, we wil_ave to circulate these bars of gold pretty extensively, and we don't wan_nybody to trace them back to the place where they came from. When the tim_omes, we will make everything plain and clear, but we will want to do i_urselves, and in our own way."
"There is sense in that," said Burke. "There's another thing I want to as_ou, captain. I've been thinking a great deal about that mound, and it strike_e that there might be a sub-cellar under it, a little one, most likely, wit_omething else in it—rings and jewels, and nobody knows what not. Did you se_f there was any sign of a trap-door?"
"No," said the captain, "I did not. I wanted to do it,—you do not know ho_uch,—but I made up my mind it would be the worst kind of folly to try and ge_nything else out of that mound. We have now all that is good for us to have.
The only question is whether or not we have not more than is good for us. _as not sure that I should not find something, if I looked for it, which woul_ake me as sick as Shirley was the first time he looked into the mound. No,
sir; we have enough, and it is the part of sensible men to stop when they hav_nough."
Burke shook his head. "If I'd been there," he said, "I should have looked fo_ crack in that floor."
When the brig weighed anchor, she did not set out for the open sea, bu_roceeded back to the Rackbirds' cove, where she anchored again. Befor_etting out, the next day, on his voyage to France, the captain wished to tak_n board a supply of fresh water.