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A Treasure Of The Galleon








From: Colonel Starbottle's Client And Other Stories

Her father's house was nearly a mile from the sea, but the breath of
it was always strong at the windows and doors in the early morning, and
when there were heavy "southwesters" blowing in the winter, the wind
brought the sharp sting of sand to her cheek, and the rain an odd taste
of salt to her lips. On this particular December afternoon, however, as
she stood in the doorway, it seemed to be singularly calm; the southwest
trades blew but faintly, and scarcely broke the crests of the long
Pacific swell that lazily rose and fell on the beach, which only
a slanting copse of scrub-oak and willow hid from the cottage.
Nevertheless, she knew this league-long strip of shining sand much
better, it is to be feared, than the scanty flower-garden, arid and
stunted by its contiguity. It had been her playground when she first
came there, a motherless girl of twelve, and she had helped her father
gather its scattered driftwood--as the fortunes of the Millers were not
above accepting these occasional offerings of their lordly neighbor.

"I wouldn't go far to-day, Jenny," said her father, as the girl stepped
from the threshold. "I don't trust the weather at this season; and
besides you had better be looking over your wardrobe for the Christmas
Eve party at Sol. Catlin's."

"Why, father, you don't intend to go to that man's?" said the girl,
looking up with a troubled face.

"Lawyer Miller," as he was called by his few neighbors, looked slightly
embarrassed. "Why not?" he asked in a faintly irritated tone.

"Why not? Why, father, you know how vulgar and conceited he is,--how
everybody here truckles to him!"

"Very likely; he's a very superior man of his kind,--a kind they
understand here, too,--a great trapper, hunter, and pioneer."

"But I don't believe in his trapping, hunting, and pioneering," said
the girl, petulantly. "I believe it's all as hollow and boisterous as
himself. It's no more real, or what one thinks it should be, than he
is. And he dares to patronize you--you, father, an educated man and a
gentleman!"

"Say rather an unsuccessful lawyer who was fool enough to believe that
buying a ranch could make him a farmer," returned her father, but half
jestingly. "I only wish I was as good at my trade as he is."

"But you never liked him,--you always used to ignore him; you've
changed, father"--She stopped suddenly, for her recollection of her
father's quiet superiority and easy independence when he first came
there was in such marked contrast to his late careless and weak
concession to the rude life around them, that she felt a pang of vague
degradation, which she feared her voice might betray.

"Very well! Do as you like," he replied, with affected carelessness;
"only I thought, as we cannot afford to go elsewhere this Christmas, it
might be well for us to take what we could find here."

"Take what we could find here!" It was so unlike him--he who had always
been so strong in preserving their little domestic refinements in their
rude surroundings, that their poverty had never seemed mean, nor their
seclusion ignoble. She turned away to conceal her indignant color. She
could share the household work with a squaw and Chinaman, she could
fetch wood and water. Catlin had patronizingly seen her doing it, but to
dance to his vulgar piping--never!

She was not long in reaching the sands that now lay before her,
warm, sweet-scented from short beach grass, stretching to a dim rocky
promontory, and absolutely untrod by any foot but her own. It was this
virginity of seclusion that had been charming to her girlhood; fenced
in between the impenetrable hedge of scrub-oaks on the one side, and the
lifting green walls of breakers tipped with chevaux de frise of white
foam on the other, she had known a perfect security for her sports
and fancies that had captivated her town-bred instincts and native
fastidiousness. A few white-winged sea-birds, as proud, reserved, and
maiden-like as herself, had been her only companions. And it was now
the custodian of her secret,--a secret as innocent and childlike as her
previous youthful fancies,--but still a secret known only to herself.

One day she had come upon the rotting ribs of a wreck on the beach. Its
distance from the tide line, its position, and its deep imbedding of
sand, showed that it was of ancient origin. An omnivorous reader of all
that pertained to the history of California, Jenny had in fancy often
sailed the seas in one of those mysterious treasure-ships that had
skirted the coast in bygone days, and she at once settled in her mind
that her discovery was none other than a castaway Philippine galleon.
Partly from her reserve, and partly from a suddenly conceived plan,
she determined to keep its existence unknown to her father, as careful
inquiry on her part had found it was equally unknown to the neighbors.
For this shy, imaginative young girl of eighteen had convinced herself
that it might still contain a part of its old treasure. She would dig
for it herself, without telling anybody. If she failed, no one would
know it; if she were successful, she would surprise her father and
perhaps retrieve their fortune by less vulgar means than their present
toil. Thanks to the secluded locality and the fact that she was known
to spend her leisure moments in wandering there, she could work without
suspicion. Secretly conveying a shovel and a few tools to the spot the
next day, she set about her prodigious task. As the upper works were
gone, and the galleon not large, in three weeks, working an hour or two
each day, she had made a deep excavation in the stern. She had found
many curious things,--the flotsam and jetsam of previous storms,--but as
yet, it is perhaps needless to say, not the treasure.

To-day she was filled with the vague hope of making her discovery before
Christmas Day. To have been able to take her father something on that
day--if only a few old coins--the fruit of her own unsuspected labor and
intuition--not the result of vulgar barter or menial wage--would have
been complete happiness. It was perhaps a somewhat visionary expectation
for an educated girl of eighteen, but I am writing of a young
Californian girl, who had lived in the fierce glamour of
treasure-hunting, and in whose sensitive individuality some of its
subtle poison had been instilled. Howbeit, to-day she found nothing.
She was sadly hiding her pick and shovel, as was her custom, when she
discovered the fresh track of an alien foot in the sand. Robinson Crusoe
was not more astounded at the savage footprint than Jenny Miller at this
damning proof of the invasion of her sacred territory. The footprints
came from and returned to the copse of shrubs. Some one might have seen
her at work!

But a singular change in the weather, overlooked in her excitement, here
forced itself upon her. A light film over sea and sky, lifted only by
fitful gusts of wind, seemed to have suddenly thickened until it became
an opaque vault, narrowing in circumference as the wind increased. The
promontory behind her disappeared, as if swallowed up, the distance
before her seemed to contract; the ocean at her side, the color of
dull pewter, vanished in a sheet of slanting rain, and by the time she
reached the house, half running, half carried along by the quartering
force of the wind, a full gale was blowing.

It blew all the evening, reaching a climax and fury at past midnight
that was remembered for many years along that coast. In the midst of it
they heard the booming of cannon, and then the voices of neighbors in
the road. "There was," said the voices, "a big steamer ashore just afore
the house." They dressed quickly and ran out.

Hugging the edge of the copse to breathe and evade the fury of the wind,
they struggled to the sands. At first, looking out to sea, the girl saw
nothing but foam. But, following the direction of a neighbor's arm, for
in that wild tumult man alone seemed speechless, she saw directly before
her, so close upon her that she could have thrown a pebble on board, the
high bows of a ship. Indeed, its very nearness gave her the feeling that
it was already saved, and its occasional heavy roll to leeward, drunken,
helpless, ludicrous, but never awful, brought a hysteric laugh to her
lips. But when a livid blue light, lit in the swinging top, showed a
number of black objects clinging to bulwarks and rigging, and the sea,
with languid, heavy cruelty, pushing rather than beating them away, one
by one, she knew that Death was there.

The neighbors, her father with the others, had been running hopelessly
to and fro, or cowering in groups against the copse, when suddenly they
uttered a cry--their first--of joyful welcome. And with that shout,
the man she most despised and hated, Sol. Catlin, mounted on a "calico"
mustang, as outrageous and bizarre as himself, dashed among them.

In another moment, what had been fear, bewilderment, and hesitation
was changed to courage, confidence, and action. The men pressed eagerly
around him, and as eagerly dispersed under his quick command. Galloping
at his heels was a team with the whale-boat, brought from the river,
miles away. He was here, there, and everywhere; catching the line thrown
by the rocket from the ship, marshaling the men to haul it in, answering
the hail from those on board above the tempest, pervading everything
and everybody with the fury of the storm; loud, imperious, domineering,
self-asserting, all-sufficient, and successful! And when the boat was
launched, the last mighty impulse came from his shoulder. He rode at the
helm into the first hanging wall of foam, erect and triumphant! Dazzled,
bewildered, crying and laughing, she hated him more than ever.

The boat made three trips, bringing off, with the aid of the hawser,
all but the sailors she had seen perish before her own eyes. The
passengers,--they were few,--the captain and officers, found refuge in
her father's house, and were loud in their praises of Sol. Catlin. But
in that grateful chorus a single gloomy voice arose, the voice of a
wealthy and troubled passenger. "I will give," he said, "five thousand
dollars to the man who brings me a box of securities I left in my
stateroom." Every eye turned instinctively to Sol.; he answered only
those of Jenny's. "Say ten thousand, and if the dod-blasted hulk holds
together two hours longer I'll do it, d--n me! You hear me! My name's
Sol. Catlin, and when I say a thing, by G-d, I do it." Jenny's disgust
here reached its climax. The hero of a night of undoubted energy and
courage had blotted it out in a single moment of native vanity and
vulgar avarice.

He was gone; not only two hours, but daylight had come and they
were eagerly seeking him, when he returned among them, dripping
and--empty-handed. He had reached the ship, he said, with another; found
the box, and trusted himself alone with it to the sea. But in the surf
he had to abandon it to save himself. It had perhaps drifted ashore, and
might be found; for himself, he abandoned his claim to the reward. Had
he looked abashed or mortified, Jenny felt that she might have relented,
but the braggart was as all-satisfied, as confident and boastful as
ever. Nevertheless, as his eye seemed to seek hers, she was constrained,
in mere politeness, to add her own to her father's condolences. "I
suppose," she hesitated, in passing him, "that this is a mere nothing
to you after all that you did last night that was really great and
unselfish."

"Were you never disappointed, Miss?" he said, with exasperating
abruptness.

A quick consciousness of her own thankless labor on the galleon, and
a terrible idea that he might have some suspicion of, and perhaps the
least suggestion that she might have been disappointed in him, brought a
faint color to her cheek. But she replied with dignity:--

"I really couldn't say. But certainly," she added, with a new-found
pertness, "you don't look it."

"Nor do you, Miss," was his idiotic answer.

A few hours later, alarmed at what she had heard of the inroads of the
sea, which had risen higher than ever known to the oldest settler, and
perhaps mindful of yesterday's footprints, she sought her old secluded
haunt. The wreck was still there, but the sea had reached it. The
excavation between its gaunt ribs was filled with drift and the seaweed
carried there by the surges and entrapped in its meshes. And there, too,
caught as in a net, lay the wooden box of securities Sol. Catlin had
abandoned to the sea.

This is the story as it was told to me. The singularity of coincidences
has challenged some speculation. Jenny insisted at the time upon sharing
the full reward with Catlin, but local critics have pointed out that
from subsequent events this proved nothing. For she had married him!





Next: Out Of A Pioneer's Trunk

Previous: In A Pioneer Restaurant



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