Read CHAPTER V of Our Pirate Hoard 1891 , free online book, by Thomas A. Janvier, on

Two or three days later I happened to meet Old Jacob as I was coming away from the post-office in Lewes, and I was both pained and surprised to perceive that the old man was partially intoxicated. When he caught sight of me he came at me with such a lurch that had I not caught him by the arm he certainly would have fallen to the ground. At first he resented this friendly act on my part, but in a moment he forgot his anger and insisted upon shaking hands with me with most energetic warmth. Then he swayed his lips up to my ear, and asked in a hoarse whisper if that old cousin chap of mine had got home safely the night before; and wanted to know, with a most mysterious wink, if things was all right now.

I was grieved at finding Old Jacob in this unseemly condition, and I also was ruffled by his very rude reference to my cousin. I endeavored to disengage my hand from his, and replied with some dignity that Mr. Wilkinson at present was in New York, whither he had returned several days previously. But Old Jacob declined to relinquish my hand, and, with more mysterious winks, declared in a muzzy voice that I might trust him, and that I needn’t say that my cousin was in New York, when he and him had been a-ridin’ around together to the bay and back ag’in only the day before. And then he went off into a rambling account of this expedition, which in its main features resembled the expedition that we all three had taken together, but which displayed certain curious details as it advanced that I could not at all account for. By all odds the most curious of these details was that they had taken along with them a large tin vessel, Old Jacob’s description of which tallied strangely closely with that of the churn-wash-boiler, and that they had left it behind them when they returned. But as he mixed this up with a lot of stuff about having shown my cousin the course of an old creek that a storm had filled with sand fifty years and more before, I could not make head nor tail of it.

Yet somehow there really did seem to be more than mere drunken fancy in what he was telling me; for in spite of his muzzy way of telling it, his story had about it a curious air of truth; and yet it all was so utterly preposterous that belief in it was quite out of the question. To make matters worse, when I begged the old man to try to remember very carefully whether or not he really had made a second trip to the bay, or only was telling me about the trip that the three of us had made together, he suddenly got very angry, and said that he supposed I thought he was drunk, and if anybody was drunk I was, and he’d fight me for five cents any time. And then he began to shake his old fists at me, and to go on in such a boisterous way that, in order to avoid a very unpleasant scene upon the public streets, I had to leave him and come home.

When I told Susan the queer story that Old Jacob bad told me she was as much perplexed and disturbed by it as I was. To think of Gregory Wilkinson driving around the lower part of the State of Delaware in this secret sort of way, in company with Old Jacob and the churn-wash-boiler, as she very truly said, was like a horrible dream; and she asked me to pinch her to make sure that it wasn’t.

“But even pinching me don’t prove anything,” she said, when I had performed that office for her. “For don’t you see? I might dream that I was dreaming, and asked you to pinch me, and that you did it; and I suppose,” she went on, meditatively, “that I might even dream that I woke up when you pinched me, and yet that I might be sound asleep all the while. It really is dreadfully confusing, when you come to think of it, this way in which you can have dreams inside of each other, like little Chinese boxes, and never truly know whether you’re asleep or awake. I don’t like it at all.”

Without meaning to, Susan frequently talks quite in the manner of a German metaphysician.

The next day we received a letter from Gregory Wilkinson that we hoped, as we opened it, would clear up the mystery. But before we had finished it we were in such a state of excitement that we quite forgot that there was any mystery to clear up. My cousin wrote from his home in New York, and made no allusion whatever to a second visit to Lewes, still less to a second expedition with Old Jacob to Rehoboth Bay. After speaking very nicely of the pleasant time that he had passed with us, he continued:

“I enclose a memorandum that seems to have a bearing upon the whereabouts of the hidden family fortune. I am sorry, for Susan’s sake, that it is neither invisible nor undecipherable; but I think that for practical purposes visible ink and readable English are more useful. I advise you to attend to the matter at once. It may rain.”

The enclosure was a scrap of paper, so brown with age that it looked as though it had been dipped in coffee, on which was written, in astonishingly black ink, this brief but clear direction:

Sheer uppe ye planke midwai atween ye oake and ye hiccorie saplyngs 7 fathom Est of Pequinky crik on ye baye. Ytte is all there.

There was no date, no signature, to this paper, but neither Susan nor I doubted for a moment that it was the clew to my great-great-great-uncle’s missing fortune. With a heart almost too full for utterance, Susan went straight across the room to the big dictionary (Gregory Wilkinson had given it to us at Christmas, with a handy iron stand to keep in on), and in a trembling voice the dear child told me in one single breath that a fathom was a measure of length containing six feet or two yards, generally used in ascertaining the depth of the sea. Then, without waiting to close the dictionary, she throw herself into my arms and asked me to kiss her hard!

Susan wanted to start right off that afternoon she was determined to go with me this time, and I had not the heart to refuse her; but I represented to her that night would be upon us before we could get across to the bay, and that we had better wait till morning. But I at once went over and hired the light wagon for the next day, and then we got together the things which we deemed necessary for the expedition. The tape-measure, of course, was a most essential part of the outfit. Susan declared that she would take exclusive charge of that herself; it made her feel that she was of importance, she said. During all the evening she was quite quivering with excitement and so was I, for that matter and I don’t believe that we slept forty winks apiece all night long.

We were up bright and early, and got off before seven o’clock after Susan had given the colored girl a great many directions as to what she should and should not do while we were gone. This was the first time that we ever had left the colored girl alone in the house for a whole day, and Susan could not help feeling rather anxious about her. It would be dreadful, she said, to come home at night and find her bobbing up and down dead at the bottom of the well.

As we drew near the bay I asked several people whom we happened to meet along the road if they knew where Pequinky Creek was, and I was rather surprised to find that they all said they didn’t. At last, however, we were so fortunate as to meet with quite an old man who was able to direct us. He seemed to be a good deal astonished when I put the question to him, but he answered, readily:

“Yes, yes, o’ course I knows where ’tis ’tain’t nowhere. Why, young man, there hain’t ben any Pequinky Crik fur th’ better part o’ sixty year not sence thet gret May storm druv th’ bay shore right up on eend an’ dammed th’ crik short off, an’ turned all th’ medders thereabouts inter a gret nasty ma’sh, an’ med a new outlet five mile an’ more away t’ th’ west’ard. Not a sign o’ Pequinky Crik will you find at this day an’ w’at I should like ter know is w’ere on yeth a young feller like you ever s’ much as heerd tell about it.”

This was something that I had not counted on, and I could see that Susan was feeling very low in her mind. But by questioning the old man closely I gradually got a pretty clear notion of where the mouth of the creek used to be; and I concluded that, unless the oak and hickory had been cut down or washed away, I stood a pretty good chance of finding the spot that I was in search of. Susan did not take this hopeful view of the situation. She was very melancholy.

Following the old man’s directions, I drove down to the point on the road that was nearest to where the Pequinky in former times had emptied into the bay; then I hitched the horse to a tree, and with Susan and the tape-measure began my explorations, They lasted scarcely five minutes. With no trouble at all I found the oak and the hickory grown to be great trees, as I had expected and with the tape-measure we fixed the point midway between them in no time. Then I went back to the wagon for the spade and the other things, Susan going along and dancing around and around me in sheer delight. It is a fortunate trait of Susan’s character that while her spirits sometimes do fall a very long distance in a very short time, they rise to proportionate heights with proportionate rapidity.

The point that we had fixed between the trees was covered thickly with leaves, and when I had cleared these away and had begun to dig, I was surprised to find that the soil came up freely, and was not matted together with roots as wood soil ought to be. I should have paid more attention to this curious fact, no doubt, had I not been so profoundly stirred by the excitement incident to the strange work in which I was engaged. As for Susan, the dear creature said that she had creeps all over her, for she knew that the old pirate’s ghost must be hovering near, and she begged me to notify her when I came to the skeleton, so that she might look away. I told her that I did not expect to find a skeleton, but she replied that this only showed how ignorant I was of pirate ceremonial; that it was the rule with all pirates when burying treasure to sacrifice a human life, and to bury the dead body over the hidden gold. She admitted, however upon my drawing her attention to the fact that the treasure which we were in the act of digging up had been placed here by my relative only for temporary security that in this particular instance the human sacrifice part of the pirate programme might have been omitted.

Just as we had reached this conclusion which disappointed Susan a little, I think my spade struck with a heavy thud against a piece of wood. Clearing the earth away, I disclosed some fragments of rotten plank, and beneath these I saw something that glittered! Susan, standing beside me on the edge of the hole, saw the glitter too. She did not say one word; she simply put both her arms around my neck and kissed me.

I rapidly removed the loose earth, and then with the pickaxe I heaved the plank up bodily. But what we saw when the plank came away was not a chest full of doubloons, pieces-of-eight, moidores, and other such ancient coins, mingled with golden ornaments thickly studded with precious stones; no, we saw the very bright lid of a tin box, a circular box, rather more than two feet in diameter. There was a small round hole in the centre of the lid, into which a little roll of newspaper was stuffed presumably to keep the sand out and beside this hole I noticed, soldered fast to the lid, a small brass plate on which my eye caught the word “Patented.” It was strange enough to find the tin box in such perfect preservation while the stout oak plank above it had rotted into fragments; but the wisp of newspaper, and the brass plate with its utterly out-of-place inscription, were absolutely bewildering. My head seemed to be going around on my shoulders, while something inside of it was buzzing dreadfully. Suddenly Susan exclaimed, in a tone of disgust and consternation: “It’s it’s that perfectly horrid churn-wash-boiler!”

As she spoke these doomful words I recalled Old Jacob’s drunken story, which I now perceived must have been true, and the dreadful thought flashed into my mind that Gregory Wilkinson must have gone crazy, and that this dreary practical joke was the first result of his madness. Susan meanwhile had sunk down by the side of the hole and was weeping silently.

As a vent to my outraged feelings I gave the wretched tin vessel a tremendous poke with the spade, that caved in one side of it and knocked the lid off. I then perceived that within it was an oblong package carefully tied up in oiled silk, and on bending down to examine the package more closely I perceived that it was directed to Susan. With a dogged resolve to follow out Gregory Wilkinson’s hideous pleasantry to the bitter end, I lifted the package out of the box it was pretty heavy and began to open it. Inside the first roll of the cover was a letter that also was directed to Susan. She had got up by this time, and read it over my shoulder.

“My dear Susan, I have decided not to wait until I die to do what little good I can do in the world. You will be glad, I am sure, to learn that I have made arrangements for the immediate erection of the steam-laundry at the asylum, as well as for the material improvement in several other ways of that excellent institution.

“At the same time I desire that you and your husband shall have the benefit immediately of the larger portion of the legacy that I always have intended should be yours at my death. It is here (in gov’s), and I hope with all my heart that your trip to Europe will be a pleasant one. I am very affectionately yours,

“Gregory Wilkinson.”

“And to think,” said Susan as we drove home through the twilight, bearing our sheaves with us and feeling very happy over them “and to think that it should turn out to be your cousin Gregory Wilkinson who was the family pirate and had a hoard, and not your great-great-great-uncle, after all!”