Read Chapter XXX - Amateur divers of A Runaway Brig / An Accidental Cruise, free online book, by James Otis, on ReadCentral.com.

The details of the work had been decided upon during the conversation held the evening previous; therefore there was nothing to prevent them from putting into immediate execution the plan proposed by Bob.

Walter went around to the left shore of the harbor to reach his lonely post of duty, while the others made their way in the opposite direction to where the raft had been partially pulled up on the beach.

“It’s a case of swimmin’; but I think we had better keep on our trousers and shirts, otherwise the flies and mosquitoes will make matters too lively for us,” Bob said, as he removed a portion of his clothing, and then waded into the water to launch the raft.  “On a hot day like this we shall soon dry off an’ be none the worse for the bath.”

The work was to be done entirely by diving, as a matter of course; and since the laborers would be out of the water a greater portion of the time, the old sailor’s advice was very good.  To expose their bare skins to the fervent rays of the sun and the attacks of insects would cause great suffering.

They carried with them nothing but a piece of the heaving-line and two lengths of iron pipe, which had been taken from the burning steamer only because they chanced to be on deck.  These last would serve as a weight to hold them down in the water, and also as a poor apology for shovels in digging away the ballast covering the treasure; but Joe hoped to find the long fire-hoe, a tool which would lessen their labors very materially.

The two elder members of the party waded out in advance, pulling the raft after them while the boys pushed on the timbers until the depth of water made swimming a necessity, when Harry and Jim allowed themselves to be towed.

Not more than half an hour was spent getting the collection of timbers into position, and then they were made fast to the charred rail near the bow, opposite that portion of the hull where the treasure was supposed to be.

If the machinery had fallen toward the stern there was every chance the work would be successful; but in case it tumbled forward when the wooden supports were burned, all hope was vain, because the heavy metal could not be hoisted out with the limited means at their command.

The boiler remained upright, held in position by the bolts and bands of iron which were fastened to the keel itself; and Joe said, as the excited party stood a moment on the raft to survey the scene: 

“Six feet forward of the boiler is where we must search, and I’d better make the first attempt, for I can tell just what part of the machinery is in our road, while the rest of you wouldn’t know so much about it.”

“Lower yourself by the timbers.  It won’t do to dive head foremost until we’re sure everything is clear,” and Bob held out his hand to assist the engineer in making the descent.

Joe fastened the heaving-line to the iron pipes that he might have weight enough to hold him at the bottom while making the investigation, when those on the raft could haul up the metal to be used again, and, swinging clear of the rail with Bob’s aid, he sunk beneath the surface.

Never had a hundred seconds appeared so long to Harry as now.  It seemed that the diver had been out of sight fully five minutes, and he was beginning to fear some accident had happened, when Joe reappeared, gasping for breath but looking very happy.

“There’s nothing to interfere with our working,” he said, as soon as it was possible to speak.  “Nearly everything has fallen aft, and, with the exception of some light fittings, the ballast is as free as when we left it.”

“Is the raft in the right position?” Bob asked.

“As near as I can make out it should be run ahead, ten or a dozen feet.  I pulled away five or six of the largest rocks; but a fellow can’t do very much work when it’s impossible to breathe.”

Bob was eager to make the descent, and after Jim had pulled in the pipe-weights he hauled the raft ahead where Harry and Joe made her fast again as the old sailor disappeared beneath the surface.

He remained below several seconds longer than had the engineer, and on coming up confirmed the first report.

“It’s only a matter of time before we’ll have our hands on that gold once more,” he said.  “I reckon Joe begun in the right place, an’ we must all work on the same hole.  Jim, you go over, and leave Harry to ’tend to the weights.”

“What’s to be done when I’m down there?”

“Pull away the rocks an’ gravel as we’ve done.  Don’t try to stay too long at a time, but work lively while you are there.”

Jim was too good a swimmer to be afraid, and he leaped in from the rail, since there was no further fear in making the descent.  He looked red in the face when Harry saw him again, but appeared to be in high glee.

“It’s nothin’ more’n I’ve done down to the Isle of Shoals lots of times when the fellers have tried to see who could stay under water the longest,” he said as Harry pulled in the weight and Joe took possession of it at once, that the work might not be delayed.

“I thought it was my turn;” and Harry looked disappointed because he had not been allowed to follow Jim.

“You’ll have plenty of chances after awhile,” Bob replied.  “Although it don’t seem very much to do, none of us can keep it up a great while.  ’Tend to the weights ‘till Jim needs a rest, an’ then take his place.”

But little time was spent in conversation, now that the work had fairly begun.  In rapid succession the divers leaped from the raft until each had made a dozen descents, when it became necessary for them to rest, and Harry was allowed to do his share.

He performed but little work during the first descent, because by the time he had looked about him with no slight degree of curiosity it became necessary to rise to the surface for air.  He was surprised, however, with the progress made.  The ballast had been dug and pushed away until a deep excavation could be seen, and it seemed certain the greater portion of the treasure’s covering had been removed.

To his delight it was reserved for him to raise the first package of the precious metal.  While the others were stretched out on the raft resting from the fatiguing work, he went down four times in rapid succession, and then electrified his companions by shouting as he came to the surface: 

“I’ve got one bag out; but can’t bring it up!”

During the next two or three moments the divers cheered until Walter must have heard the noise, and then Joe said, as he took from his pocket a stout piece of wire bent in the form of a hook: 

“While you fellows were talking last night I made this.  We’ll bend it on one end of the heaving-line, and it will only be necessary to stick the wire into the canvas when those on the raft can pull up the bag.”

Harry was eager to have the credit of taking out the first lot of treasure, and, recognizing his right, the others waited until he had fastened on the hook, Joe hauling in the coin, at the same time the diver’s head appeared above the surface.

Another prolonged cheer greeted this first tangible result of their labors, and it was so hearty that Walter appeared from around the point, having evidently come for the purpose of learning the cause of the noise.

He was too far away for the happy divers to enter into any lengthy conversation with him, and Joe held up the bag of gold where it could be seen.

There was no question but that he understood the good news, for during the next five minutes he capered around the beach in the most extravagant fashion, and not until the others turned to resume their labors did he go back to his post of duty.

Since only one nineteenth of the treasure had been recovered there was yet considerable work to be performed, more especially as each could remain below but a few seconds at a time, and the task was continued with redoubled energy.

When the divers were forced to rest again two more bags had been hoisted on to the raft, and after the number was increased to five, Bob said: 

“We must knock off until later in the day.  It won’t do to stay in the water too long, or this gold will cost the lives of some of us.  We’ll call Walter in, have dinner, and try again when the sun gets lower.”

Jim did not fancy ceasing work until the entire amount of treasure had been recovered, although he needed rest as much as either of the others.

“It’ll take two days at this rate if we keep diving all the time,” he said disconsolately, “an’ I think it ought to be finished right up.”

“The hardest part is done now that the ballast is well cleared away, an’ I reckon we’ll come mighty nigh endin’ the job by sunset,” Bob replied.  “But no matter how long it lasts we’ve got to look out for ourselves, an’ too much water is as bad as not enough.  Halloo, Walter!  Walter!”

The remainder of the party joined in the cry until the sentinel appeared from around the point staggering under the weight of some heavy load which was carried on his back.  By gestures the boy was made to understand that he should come to the camp, and the others speculated as to the nature of his burden while they pulled the raft and its precious cargo ashore.

“Perhaps he’s found more gold,” Jim suggested.

“I reckon it’s oysters.  There are some on the south side of the point, an’ most likely that’s how he has been fillin’ up his time.”

In this supposition Bob was correct.  Walter had occupied himself in gathering a quantity of the tiny bivalves, which he brought to camp by converting his coat into a bag; and a most welcome and appetizing meal did they make for the divers, who were too weary to spend any time fishing.

The sentinel was profuse in his expressions of joy that the task of recovering the treasure had proved to be comparatively such a simple one, and he insisted on carrying every bag to the tent, that the divers might gain the greatest possible amount of rest before continuing their work.

After a big fire had been built the tiny oysters were thrown on the coals, and drawn out with split sticks when they showed signs of being roasted.  This was such delicious food that twice the number Walter brought could have been eaten, although the supply formed a reasonably hearty meal, and it was decided unanimously to spend at least one day gathering these delicacies as soon us the operations at the wreck were concluded.