Monday, 18 November 2013

They Found Gold Ch 3 and 4

THEY FOUND GOLD
The Story of SUCCESSFUL TREASURE HUNTS

By A HYATT VERRILL
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, November 2013 
Chapter III.
THE TREASURE-TROVE OF CASCO BAY. 22
The strange story of a Maine treasure.

Chapter IV.
THE GOLDEN BOOKS OF THE MAYAS. 31
An amazing tale and a treasure hunt in the Yucatan jungles.

CHAPTER III
The Treasure-Trove of Casco Bay

THE mere thought of buried treasures creates visions of tropic seas, palm-fringed keys and the Spanish Main, which is quite natural, for the Caribbean and the tropics were the haunts of the buccaneers and pirates, and piratically-inclined gentlemen and hidden hoards of precious metal and precious stones are ever associated in the public mind. Yet by no means all the sunken, hidden and buried treasures are confined to the favorite haunts of the freebooters and the seas where-on Spanish plate ships sailed and came to grief. And while the rock-ribbed coast of Maine would be about the last place where one might expect to find hidden treasures, yet, if we can believe history and tradition, many a cached hoard lies buried in Maine soil, and more than one Maine treasure-trove has been recovered. To be sure, most of the treasures found in Maine have been comparatively small, scarcely valuable enough to merit being called treasures; but at least one has been wrested from its hiding place which not only was a veritable treasuretrove, but in addition was surrounded with all the mystery, the romance, the tragedy and the secrecy which make tales of treasure and treasure hunting so fascinating.
For generations, from the days of the earliest settlers, there had been a tradition that a treasure was hidden somewhere on Jewell's Island in Casco Bay. The oldest inhabitant could not recall when the oldest inhabitant of his memory could remember who was the originator of the tale. Neither could any one recall when the first seekers for the hidden gold dug and delved for the reputed treasure. But for at least two hundred years people had searched for the treasure, without success. Who had buried the hoard, or what its origin, no one knew; but it was generally agreed that it was pirates' loot and, as in the minds of the islanders, one pirate was as good, or as bad, as another, it was always referred to as "Captain Kidd's Treasure" regardless of the fact that poor, timid, much-maligned Captain Kidd never went near the Maine coast nor possessed treasure to bury.
Being, like many fisherfolk and islanders, somewhat prone to superstition, the people embroidered their tales of the treasure by adding stories of ghostly guardians, spectral pirates and terrifying apparitions which watched over the hoard of gold and frightened away those who sought for it. And as a result, many a treasure seeker sought to checkmate the guardian spirits by employing occult or supernatural means of locating the legendary hoard.
Lambs were slaughtered and their fresh blood was scattered on the areas where it was planned to dig. Charms and talismans of various kinds were used as aids in locating and securing the treasure, and one man even brought a famed mesmerist and a girl subject to the island, his idea being that when under a hypnotic spell the young woman could locate the gold. But neither charms, talismans, fresh lamb's blood, divining rods nor a mesmerized maiden resulted in finding a cent's worth of treasure on the island.
And then, one day, a stranger arrived. To be sure, strangers were not so unusual upon an island within sight of Portland as to cause any particular comment; but this particular visitor made no bones of announcing that he had come to Jewell's Island for the express purpose of recovering the traditional treasure and, so he declared, he possessed a chart which showed exactly where the treasure was buried. He had come, he said, from St. Johns, Newfoundland, where, according to his tale, he had obtained the precious document from an aged negro who had recently died. The deceased African, it seemed, had once been the devoted and faithful body-servant of a notorious pirate, who, upon his death bed, had given the chart showing the hiding place of his treasure to the negro. Unable to read or write, and, needless to say, without means, the black man had never attempted to secure the loot; but had safeguarded the chart until, when he in turn was passing away, he presented the map to the man who had befriended him and who had now arrived at the island.
One would have expected that a man having a chart which allegedly indicated precisely where the treasure was concealed, would have lost no time in getting to work to dig it up. But instead of hurrying to secure the treasure, the owner of the precious chart hung about, and volunteered the information that he was awaiting the arrival of Captain Jonathan Chase, the skipper of a Jewell Island schooner, giving as his reason that Captain Chase was the only inhabitant of the island who possessed an accurate mariners' compass and who could "shoot the sun," both the instrument and the ability being essential to the finding of the treasure.
Naturally tongues began to wag. How did the man from St. Johns know of Captain Chase? Had they once been shipmates or old friends? And why, the people asked one another, hadn't the stranger provided himself with a compass and acquired a knowledge of taking an observation before he started on his treasure hunt?
But no one could find an answer to these logical questions, and no one ever knew whether or not the possessor of the chart had ever before met Captain Jonathan; although from the events which transpired it may be quite reasonably assumed that the two were not strangers.
Once an element of mystery had been injected into the matter, rumor and gossip added more. Captain Chase, it seemed, bore a far from savory reputation. In hushed tones it was noised about that he himself had once been a pirate. Every one knew that he made the greater part of his money by smuggling, and there were lurid tales of strange goings-on in the big rambling house where he dwelt. But as smuggling was not considered in the light of a crime by the islanders, and as the captain when at home led a law-abiding, moral life and regularly attended "meeting," and as he was a hearty, friendly sort, he was regarded in a most favorable light by his fellow islanders.
In due course of time Captain Chase's rakish little schooner came beating up Casco Bay and dropped anchor off the island. And scarcely had the skipper stepped ashore and, after the usual greetings, entered his home when the stranger from St. Johns knocked at the heavy oak door and was at once admitted.
What took place within the residence of Captain Jonathan, what was said, no one of course will ever know, although many an islander would have given his or her "eye teeth" as they would have expressed it, to have been able to overhear the conversation that took place between Captain Chase and his visitor from Newfoundland.
There was one thing certain, however: the Captain must have been convinced that the stranger possessed a valuable and trustworthy clue to the hiding place of the traditional treasure, for after a few hours the two men appeared, carrying a shovel and pick, the captain's compass and sextant, and without speaking to any one, they vanished in the woods. Of course no one followed them—the burly captain was not one to deal lightly with snoopers if caught, and the man from St. Johns was not the type to be trifled with either. Hence no one knew where they had gone or how long they were absent, for, oddly enough, no one on the island saw them return. Yet, a few days later, Captain Chase was pottering about his garden as usual and when, in quite a casual manner, neighbors mentioned the stranger from St. Johns, the captain either ignored the matter altogether or made non-committal replies and opined that the fellow's chart wasn't worth a tinker's darn and that, finding he was on a wild goose chase, he'd probably cleared out. But on a small spot such as Jewell's Island a man's movements are pretty well known, especially if he is a stranger, and as nothing had been seen of the Newfoundlander since he had set out with Captain Jonathan, and as he could not have left the island without taking a boat—which he assuredly had not—another mystery was scented by the islanders. And when, shortly after his reappearance, Captain Chase sailed away on another trading voyage, and the man with the chart had not shown up, tongues began to wag with a vengeance. He had not been seen about the island or the village, he had certainly not been aboard the captain's schooner when she had sailed, no small boat was missing, and no one had rowed or sailed him ashore. Every one was soon asking every one else: "What became of the man with the pirate's chart?"
It was a delectable mystery, but mystery soon changed to suspicion, and, the captain being out of the way, the people decided it was high time to do a little investigating on their own account. But even if they found no traces of the missing man they did find something else.
On the Southeastern shore of the island was a deep, freshly-dug hole, and in the soft earth and sand at the bottom of the cavity was the rectangular impression left by a chest or box! It was quite obvious to all that some one had dug the hole and had removed a chest from its hiding place, and no one doubted that the chest had contained treasure and that Captain Chase and the man from Newfoundland had been the lucky ones to lift "Captain Kidd's Treasure" from the spot where it had rested so many years. That, in the minds of the islanders, explained everything. It was quite natural, they reasoned, that the stranger should have departed secretly carrying his share of the loot, and unquestionably, they decided, he had left in one of Captain Jonathan's dories, the captain owning a number. And no doubt, they thought, Captain Chase had quietly placed his portion of the treasure aboard his schooner and had sailed away to deposit it in some large town on the mainland.
So, satisfied that they had solved the mystery, and that the long-sought treasure had been found at last, the islanders again resumed their placid lives and forgot all about the man with the pirate's chart. And when, in due course of time, Captain Chase returned, and abandoning the sea, settled down and lived in ease and comfort in his big house, the people accepted his change of life as a further proof that he had found the treasure, and forbore questioning him as to the source of his sudden affluence.
Years went by. Captain Chase passed away, respected as a well-to-do, substantial citizen and the island's wealthiest inhabitant should be. But he had left no will as far as known, he had neither kith nor kin, and when, after due formalities, the properly constituted officials took possession of the deceased captain's home they discovered a number of strange things. Everywhere within the place were secret compartments, sliding panels, underground passages and similar devices such as no honest man would need. But there was nothing of an incriminating nature other than a goodly store of casks and bottles of liquor, cigars and other goods which had paid no customs duties; and the inconsiderable amount of money that had been left by the dead captain was in ordinary currency.
Captain Chase had been dead and buried for several years, his house and contents had been disposed of at public auction, and the islanders had lost all interest in the tale of the famous treasure and its lucky finders when a hunter made a most exciting and gruesome discovery. In a dense patch of woods not far from the "treasure pit," he came upon a human skeleton lying in a deep and narrow crevice between two ledges of rock.
Years of sun and rain, of snow and ice had left no traces of perishable garments other than a few bits of cracked, rotten leather that had once been boots, and a few fragments of a so'wester. But among the bleached bones were buttons and a silver finger ring that identified the remains beyond all question. The skeleton was all that remained of the man from St. Johns!
That he had met death by violence was obvious, for in the back of the skull, near the nape of the neck, and evidently inflicted as the man had been bending over, was a clean square hole such as would have been made by a blow of a pick. Of course, in the light of this discovery, no one doubted that Captain Jonathan had murdered the stranger when, by the aid of his chart, they had secured the treasure chest. All the known circumstances, as recalled by those who were living at the time, pointed to the crime having been committed. But there was nothing to be done about it. Captain Chase was as dead as the skeleton of the unfortunate man from Newfoundland, and no one knew if the murdered man had relatives, or if so, where they could be located in order to notify them of the discovery of his mortal remains. So the bones were duly interred in the graveyard, not far from all that was earthly of Captain Jonathan, and there the matter ended as far as the islanders were concerned. But for many years in fact up to the present time there are hair-raising tales of strange noises and mysterious lights seen and heard about the Chase house at dead of night, and all the treasures of all the pirates would not induce any islander to visit the vicinity of the "treasure pit" or the spot where the skeleton was found, after nightfall.

CHAPTER IV
The Golden Books of the Mayas

IT was a fascinating story that the little aviator told, a story that sounded more like the pages of a fiction magazine than fact, yet told in such a convincing and simple manner that it had the ring of truth.
It began with the ill-starred Escobar revolution in northern Mexico when the rebels ordered six aeroplanes from a firm in the States. Under the contract, the planes were to be flown across the border by American pilots and delivered to the Escobar forces, and the little aviator who was narrating his amazing adventures had undertaken to deliver one of the planes. But when the miniature flying squadron had landed safely within the rebel lines it was discovered that the Mexicans were two pilots short, and when General Escobar offered seventy-five dollars in gold a day for the services of American pilots, our aviator friend and his buddy jumped at the chance.
For a time all went well; the planes were employed solely in scouting and observing, and the promised salaries were paid promptly. But gradually payments fell off, and when several weeks had passed with no money forthcoming, and with all demands met by profuse apologies and excuses, the two Americans decided it was time to quit. That, however, was easier said than done. Being unfamiliar with the Spanish language they had unwittingly signed papers binding themselves to serve the rebel forces for the duration of the revolution, and to attempt to desert and fly across the border was hopeless, for never were they permitted to take off unless accompanied by a Mexican officer. But at length the two men devised a scheme which they felt might work. The next morning when they were ordered to make a flight the motors missed and sputtered and after tinkering with them for some time without improving matters, the two men informed the commandant that the machines required a complete overhauling. And when this wholly unnecessary work had been ostensibly completed, they declared that a "tuning-up flight" was essential and that to test out the planes with an extra man aboard would be dangerous. Shrugging his shoulders at the seemingly inevitable, the officer gave his consent, and elated at the success of their ruse and thoughts of soon seeing the last of Mexico, the two men took off with fuel and oil tanks filled to their capacity.
Once in the air they separated. Where his friend went or what became of him, our aviator could not say; but as he himself had heard that there was need of an American pilot in El Salvador, he headed southward.
Thousands of feet beneath him the terrain of Mexico was spread like a vast map. Deserts and plains, jungles and haciendas, ranches and cities, mountains and valleys, unrolled like a gigantic panorama, until to the east the coastline and the sea appeared.
Unfamiliar with the country, and fearful of being compelled to make a landing and being instantly seized as a rebel, the fugitive followed the shore, hoping to reach the borders of Guatemala or British Honduras before his fuel was exhausted.
All went well until he had passed Carmen Island off the coast of Campeche, and swinging westward high above the lagoon, he set a course for the boundary.
And then, when safety seemed certain, when the worst of his long flight was over, his engine began to miss.
It was no temporary or minor trouble, but a broken oil line, and he realized that a landing was inevitable. Below him stretched the primeval jungle. To crash among the giant vine-entangled trees meant certain death or worse. Far off on either side he could see the silvery gleam of rivers, but already he had lost much of his altitude, and was too low to glide to either stream.
With tensed nerves and set face he stared at the endless sea of green forest, searching for some spot where there would be one chance in ten thousand of coming down without being killed or crippled. Each second that he dropped his peril increased; the engine was coughing and spitting, and at any instant it might "go dead." Then, when, as he expressed it, he had "kissed the world goodby," he saw a clearing in the heart of the jungle. It was not an open field by any means, but a large rectangular area where there were no big trees, a space that might have been an old clearing grown up to low brush and rank weeds. There was no time to consider the chances; all he could do was to "pancake" the plane and hope for the best. But luck was with him; the plane tore through the brush for a few yards, swung sharply to one side, ripped off a wing, and then slowly turned turtle.
Shaken but uninjured, the aviator crawled from under the wrecked plane. But as he glanced about he realized that he might almost as well have crashed in the jungle and finished everything. He was miles—he had no idea how many miles—from the nearest settlements, he had no food other than his emergency rations which would serve for a day; he had no weapons, not even an axe or a machete, and on every side stretched unbroken, uninhabited forest. But standing beside the wreck of his plane was merely wasting time, and securing his electric torch, his emergency ration and the compass, he examined his surroundings, seeking the most open spot at which to enter the jungle. A few yards from where he stood was a low hillock or mound, and thinking the slight elevation might provide a better survey, he pushed through the brush towards it. It was covered with a tangle of weeds and vines, and he shuddered involuntarily as he thought what an ideal spot it afforded for snakes. But in the face of his greater and more concrete peril his inordinate dread of reptiles did not prevent him from forcing his way recklessly up the slope.
Suddenly the ground seemed to open beneath his feet. He shot downward and, amid a shower of earth, stones and leaves, came to an abrupt and jarring stop. Dazed and shaken, he gazed about. He was in an underground chamber or vault, and behind him a flight of stone steps led up to the aperture through which he had fallen. Above his head arched a stone roof, and on the farther side of the room, dimly outlined in the semi-darkness, he could see an immense sculptured idol and a square stone table.
Rising, he stepped toward the great stone god, and as he passed close to the table-like affair of stone he noticed that it was hollowed into a deep trough from which hung curious-looking objects resembling gigantic fish-hooks with discs in place of eyes.
Wondering what they were, he examined them closely, and discovered that, threaded on to the ends resting in the trough, were numbers of square leaves or plates of metal. Scraping away the bat guano that covered them, he was amazed to find the plates covered with incised glyphs and figures. And as he raised the uppermost and exposed the surface of the plate below, he could scarcely believe his eyes. The surface gleamed dull yellow—it was solid gold!
Still unable to credit the evidence of his eyes, he attempted to lift one of the affairs from the trough. But he could barely move it, for the hook-like rod with its attached plates weighed over two hundred pounds! And there were fourteen of the things—fourteen immense hooks, each bearing eleven sheets of beaten, engraved gold!
Abruptly he burst into peals of wild laughter. He was standing beside a fortune, half a million dollars' worth of gold at least, yet of as little value to him as the great stone idol in the shadows. At that moment he gladly would have traded all that precious metal for a square meal, or a gun. Cursing his luck, he dropped the metal back into the trough, and climbing the stairs he plunged into the forest.
Realizing that if he went north he must eventually reach a stream which would lead him to the coast, he headed in that direction. But could he survive long enough to make the nearest river? Torn by thorns, beset by swarms of the terrible rodederos or biting gnats of Yucatan, he tramped doggedly on. Without a machete to hew a pathway, he was compelled to make long detours around dense tangles and swampy spots. Conserving his meager rations until he was faint with hunger, and never stopping to rest, he stumbled forward.
For seventeen hours all through the night he pushed onward, keeping as nearly as possible to a compass course, until, almost at the end of his strength, he burst from the forest into a small clearing surrounding a chicle camp. The rest was easy. Well fed and rested, and accompanied by a guide, he mounted a mule and rode to the nearest village, whence by packet-boat and steamship, he returned to the States.
Such was the story the little aviator told, strange, fantastic, to be sure, but, paradoxically, reasonable by its very incredibility. Naturally he had tried to interest some one to finance an expedition to return with him to the scene of his discovery and secure the treasure. Among others he approached a fellow aviator—a wealthy young man whom he had met at an aviation school, and who was willing to finance an expedition. But neither he nor his friends knew anything about the tropics or the jungles, none of them spoke Spanish, and none of them possessed any archaeological knowledge. For this reason they got in touch with me and asked if I would take charge of the party in return for a share in whatever they found.
Although, when I first heard the aviator's story, I was skeptical, yet as I weighed and measured his statements my doubts began to dissolve. The fellow was absolutely ignorant of archaeology or the ancient Mayan civilization, yet he had correctly described the appearance of the almost legendary Maya "books." And he could not have imagined anything of the sort nor could he have read of them, for no book, pamphlet or magazine article describing similar objects had ever been published as far as I could ascertain. Only in rare, almost unknown writings of the old Spanish priests and conquerors was there any reference to the traditional, or supposedly fabulous, golden books containing the secret history of the Maya race and civilization. Nevertheless, it seemed far too remarkable a coincidence that an aviator, crashing haphazard in the Yucatan jungles, should have happened to fall in the exact spot where the most valuable of Mayan treasures had been concealed. Still, truth at times is far stranger than fiction. I knew by experience that amazing coincidences do occur far more often than is generally believed, and I decided to secure the opinion of a friend, who is perhaps the best known authority on Mayan objects, before coming to a final decision.
His reply astonished me, for I had rather expected a practical hardheaded scientist would scoff at the whole story. Instead, he wrote to me as follows: "I am convinced of the sincerity of the aviator, and I believe that he has found something there, probably of great interest. ... Of course, we could not take part in the expedition officially, as it would spoil our cordial relations with the Mexican Government. As far as the objects described are concerned they are unique. ... Whether gold or not, they would be of extraordinary archaeological value, and I am extremely interested in the proposition. I hope you will be able to help unravel this intriguing problem."
That decided me; I agreed to accompany the treasure hunters and take charge of the expedition. But there were many difficulties to be overcome and many details to be attended to before we could start. First of all we had to secure a proper boat for the trip. This had to be large enough to accommodate our party and our outfit, staunch enough to weather the gales and heavy seas of the Gulf of Mexico, yet it must be of shallow draught to navigate the lagoons and rivers, and equipped with both sails and motor. Most important of all, we needed a captain and crew whom we could trust and who were of the adventurous type.
At last we found a vessel that seemed to possess all the essential requirements. She was sloop-rigged, forty feet in length, drew four feet of water, had a beam of thirteen feet and was equipped with a fifty horse-power gasoline motor. She had had a varied career; sponger, rum-runner, fisherman and smuggler in turn; and her grizzled, leather-faced Norwegian owner, who also acted as captain, asked no inconvenient questions.
Then came the matter of outfit supplies, medical stores, camping outfits, arms and ammunition. But at last all was ready and our search for the Maya treasure began.
We were rather crowded, for eight of us went aboard at Havana, while the aviator, who had gone ahead by steamer, for he was a poor sailor, was to be picked up at Progreso. Our party consisted of the captain, the mate who also acted as engineer, the cook who was likewise the radio operator; Dick, Pete, George, Bob and myself; about as varied an assortment as could have been found. The skipper, a hawk-nosed old fellow who would have made an ideal pirate, but in whose veins the Viking blood had turned to water and very thin water as we later discovered. The engineer-mate, an ex-naval man. Sparks, the ne'er-do-well scion of a wealthy family of note. Dick, young, exuberant, enthusiastic and an amateur yachtsman. Pete, who thought himself almighty hunter and a dead shot, who constantly read wild west thrillers and was provided with a veritable arsenal of rifles, shot guns and revolvers. Bob, big, blonde and British, a husky young giant who had gone through the World War. George, a well-known author and novelist, a treasuretrove fan, and possessing a tendency towards communism and a dry humor, and finally, myself. With everything in readiness, tanks filled with water, refrigerator packed with ice, extra drums of gasolene on deck, we moved bag and baggage aboard and waited impatiently for the weather to permit us to start, for the Gulf of Mexico in winter is a treacherous sea and on the morning we had planned to leave a howling "norther" was thundering across the Gulf. Mountainous seas came rolling in to burst in up-flung foam and spray above the Malecon, and no ships other than the ocean liners dared venture forth. But the next day dawned dear and sunny, and although the seas were still running mountain-high beyond the Morro we cast off moorings and headed for the harbor mouth. For a few moments, as we reached the open sea, I thought certain that our expedition would end then and there, for it seemed impossible that the Vigilance could live through such a sea. Between the waves even the highest buildings of Havana were invisible, and friends ashore told us later that each time we vanished in the trough of the seas they never expected to see us rise again. But the little craft managed to survive and even made good time.
By mid-afternoon there was only a moderate sea running, and as we were all dog-tired and it would have been dangerous to attempt navigating the channels of the barrier-reef, we put into Bahia Honda for the night.
A mile or so from the entrance of the great landlocked harbor, a boat came pulling alongside, its occupants two Cubans, one in khaki shirt and trousers, barefooted and bare-legged; the other clad in dirty white, and both wearing heavy revolvers and cartridge belts. He of the khaki introduced himself as a sergeant in the Cuban Army and his comrade as a soldado, and explained that they had been fishing, and offered to pilot us to the port in return for their passage. At the port, which consisted of a weather-beaten, ramshackle building that served for a barracks, an even more tumble-down shed that did duty as a warehouse, and a rickety wharf, a group of Negroes and a few slouching soldiers had gathered on the dock. But there was no official to receive us, and we were informed that in order to comply with the law we must go to the "City" ten miles inland, the port being only a landing place. And, looking as if he had been waiting for us ever since we had left Havana, a grinning colored fiend sat in the remains of what once had been a Ford car.
"Good Lord!" I ejaculated when I saw the ancient conveyance. "That's nothing but a wreck."
The chauffeur grinned the wider. "Si, senor," he agreed. "But it's the best wreck in Bahia Honda!"
There was no alternative, so the six of us crowded into the battered tin Lizzie, a ragamuffin cranked the motor, and with a rattle and bang it woke into life. Off we went and never have I had such a wild ride! As if ruts, stones, holes, fallen branches and other natural objects were not enough, our maniac driver seemed to take supreme delight in seeing how close he could come to running down stray cattle, by how narrow a margin he could miss barbed wire fences and trees and how fast he could take a corner on two wheels. But eventually, by nothing less than a miracle, we reached the town. It was a miserable apology of a place with horrible streets filled with mud-puddles, with a bare dusty plaza, a church that stood drunkenly awry, sundry unpainted shacks and hovels and with mangy, starving curs, naked black and brown children and repulsive black vultures everywhere. In response to our knocks at his door, the Captain of the Port appeared clad in filthy pajamas. He was a surly looking rascal, black-browed and muddy-skinned, and calmly informed us that if we wished to make entry we must return to the port and there await his pleasure to receive us.
We had thought the up trip a nightmare, but it was nothing compared with the return journey, for another "wreck" having materialized from nowhere, our driver decided to make it a race, and how we escaped death still remains a mystery to us all. Like madmen the two black fiends drove their protesting, rattling, tortured cars; leaping the bowlders and the obstructions, plunging through swamp-holes, crashing through brush, skidding around corners, and yelling like wild Indians. But by the grace of God we reached the port in safety. Eventually, also, the Captain of the Port put in his appearance, quite gorgeously arrayed in spotless white uniform, gold lace and brass buttons, and a peaked blue cap, and accompanied by a bodyguard of half a dozen soldiers in full service equipment including rifles and bayonets. Having glanced over our papers he proceeded to "hold us up" by declaring we had violated several of the Cuban maritime laws, that we were liable to a heavy fine for not having taken on a qualified pilot, etc. In vain I argued that as there was no pilot available we could not have taken him aboard, and that our authority from Havana permitted us to alter and leave any Cuban port without paying dues. Very arrogantly the rascal informed us that the absence of a pilot had no bearing on the case. The law decreed that pilotage was compulsory, but it made no provision for having a pilot. It reminded me of the story of the collegiates who, when driving a car without a windshield, were held up by a traffic policeman, and when they protested that the law did not compel a windshield on a car the cop agreed that might be the case, but reminded them that the law made it compulsory for a car to be provided with a windshield-cleaner, and thereupon handed them a ticket. There was no use trying to convince the Cuban official, but he did admit that as we were strangers and Gringos, and hence ignorant of the law, we probably had not violated them deliberately, and hence he would overlook the fine if we paid him fifteen dollars which was the pilotage fee. Then, as an afterthought, he added that there would be a further charge of five dollars to pay for his services for coming aboard. It was out-and-out robbery we knew, but he had the local section of the Cuban Army to support him so there was nothing to be done but to submit.
At dawn we bade Bahia Honda farewell and heading westward found smooth water inside the reefs, and late in the afternoon dropped anchor in the lee of Jutia Cay. A short distance from us was a dingy, patched Cuban fishing smack, and hardly were our sails furled when a boat put off from her and came alongside. Its occupants were the two blackest, raggedest, dirtiest Cubans I have ever seen, but they grinned amiably, announced themselves the captain and mate of the Angel Blanca (White Angel). Ye gods! was ever a vessel more inappropriately named! And presented us with half a dozen fine lobsters. Naturally this called for a return, and with our visitors puffing American cigarettes, and with friendly relations thus established, the schooner's skipper informed us that the neighboring bay was fairly swarming with the jutias. "Ah, senor, you have but to load and fire Bam! Bam! Bam!" he cried, gesturing vividly. For the benefit of those who do not know, let me explain that the jutia is a large rodent, weighing twelve to twenty-five pounds, resembling a giant guinea pig in appearance, with the fur of a raccoon and the tail of a rat, and more or less arboreal in habits. As its flesh is most delectable, the dusky skipper's information resulted in immediate preparations for a jutia hunt.
Landing upon the cay in company with the two Cubans who had volunteered to act as guides and to carry back the bag of jutias we found ourselves faced by an impenetrable barrier of dense thorny brush and vines. But our guide assured us that farther on there was an opening where we might penetrate to the interior where the gaunt limbs and trunks of dead trees marked the alleged haunt of the creatures we sought The "opening" proved merely a slightly less impenetrable wall of jungle. But we managed to get through or rather Bob and I did, for the others gave up after the first few yards and with clothes torn and legs scratched and bleeding we emerged from the entanglement into more open country where a jungle of small trees bordered a dark, dismal swamp filled with dead trees and with swarms of hungry mosquitoes. Slapping at the vicious insects, splashing through black mud, dodging thorn trees, we pressed on; but with no sign of the jutias that were supposed to infest the place. And then, suddenly, an enormous jutia dashed from a thicket ahead. I threw up my gun to shoot, but before I could press the trigger the Cuban near me uttered a yell like a Comanche, and waving his machete rushed after the beast directly in my line of fire. The next instant both man and beast vanished in the brush, whence, presently, the Cuban returned ruefully picking thorns from his bare feet and cursing volubly. And that was the only jutia we saw. Tired and disgusted we tramped back to the boat and vowed never again to believe anything a Cuban told us.
Before sunrise we were again on our way. The day passed uneventfully and just as the sun sank below the western horizon we passed Cape San Antonio light and headed across the channel for distant Yucatan.
A strip of dazzling snow white beach above a sea of liquid beryl, and beyond the beach a wall of malachite-green verdure and waving palms such was our first vision of Yucatan as we dropped anchor off Holbox Cay (pronounced All bosh). Had it not been for the boats moored close inshore, and the throng of people gathered upon the beach, the island might have been uninhabited, for there was no sign of village or house. Directly the keel of our dinghy touched bottom, a dozen men rushed knee-deep into the water and literally lifted our boat high and dry onto the sand. Then, laughing and chattering, the people crowded about us, as curious as though we had been beings from Mars. And no wonder, for never before had Gringos visited the cay and never before had any of the inhabitants seen an outboard motor. In fact we were the first strangers of any kind who had visited Holbox in more than twenty years!
All were Mayas or partly Maya, spotlessly clean and neat, the men wearing drill trousers, the typical Yucatan shirt much ruffled and tucked and worn outside the trousers and high-crowned palm leaf sombreros; the women in the low-cut ruffled and richly embroidered Mayan dresses.
Greetings and introductions over, and with the Alcalde of Holbox leading the way, the procession escorting us marched along a straight sandy path between walls of jungle and nodding palms. Two hundred yards inland and suddenly, unexpectedly, we were in the "town." Perhaps it should not be called that; rather it might be deemed a mere village, for its total population would not number three hundred. But as it is the only settlement on the island, as it is the metropolis and the port as well as the capital, with its essential officials, why not dignify it by referring to it in the fond terms applied by its delightful citizens?
Though its streets were merely thoroughfares of sand, all were named, and although the buildings were all of thatch, all were numbered, all were spotless, and many were painted. There was a tiny plaza, and, quite true to form, on one side was the alcaldia and the church. Although the church was a tiny affair, and while neither priest nor cleric dwells at Holbox, yet loving care was lavished upon it, and very impressive was the deep reverence the people showed for it. And even if the alcaldia was of thatch, yet it was the largest of the buildings and served not only as the seat of government, but also as a schoolhouse and a ballroom as occasion demanded. But there were two things that I missed. I saw no jail, no calaboose, and I saw no one who appeared to be a policeman. In answer to my queries I was told, quite as a matter of course, that neither policemen nor a jail were required. Neither did Holbox possess a lawyer, a doctor, a judge nor even an undertaker.
"Do the people never die are they never ill?" I asked the roly-poly, brown-faced alcalde. For a brief instant he removed the long, crooked cigar from his mouth in order to reply.
"It is a most healthy place my island," he informed me. "Perhaps it is that we of Holbox eat so much of the fish, quien sabe?" he shrugged his shoulders. "And never have we required a medico. And only the very young and the very old die, senor."
I glanced about, children barely able to toddle, kiddies of both sexes and all ages, were everywhere in evidence, and in the blazing sunlight, spreading copra to dry, were two men whose snow-white hair and beards spoke most eloquently of age.
"And what, Señor Alcalde, do you consider very young and very old?" I asked him.
He grinned. "Until they can creep about and after they can no longer creep," he replied. Then, indicating one of the ancients busy with the copra, "There, senor, is my great-grandfather. He is one hundred and two, yet he still carries his load of wood as well as any one. And there with him is Pablo Gonzales whose ninety-eighth birthday was but last week, and who celebrated by taking to himself a new wife. Ah, a lovely bride, senor; muy guapa, and only ninety-six!"
Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Holbox and its people is cleanliness, and this is the more astonishing as the inhabitants are engaged in one of the dirtiest of trades, for the sole industry of the people is shark-fishing! I doubt if any other community of equal size anywhere is supported entirely by sharks; but sharks not only provide a livelihood for the three hundred odd inhabitants of Holbox, but enable them to live very well indeed.
To be sure, nobody is rich, but neither is anybody poor. All are independent, all are content and there are no social distinctions, no jealousy. One might think that shark-fishing would be a hazardous occupation; but I was assured by the alcalde and others that never in the history of Holbox had a man been killed or badly injured by a shark. "Not that the sharks are not dangerous," the alcalde explained, "but because we of Holbox are most careful."
Of course our visit called for a fiesta which lasted until dawn when, accompanied by practically all the inhabitants, we wended our way to the beach, bade farewell to our charming, happy hosts, and boarding the Vigilance, set sail for Progreso where we arrived late that night. Next morning we prepared to receive the port officials, but hour after hour passed with no sign of anybody bothering about us. But at last a boat arrived and its two swarthy occupants informed us that we were to go alongside the dock to be received. As we hove up anchor and prepared to get under way I picked up a line with the idea of throwing it to the fellows and giving them a tow.
"No! no, señor!" they cried in unison. "We cannot touch a rope until you have been passed by the sanidad (doctor). If we did we would be arrested, fined and cast into prison."
A moment later as I was hauling in the trolling-line, one of the fellows called to me, a broad grin on his face: "The law says nothing about a fishing-line, senor." So, at the end of our trolling-line the boat was towed to shore, thus complying with the letter, if not with the spirit, of the regulations.
We soon discovered that the boatmen were not the only experts at circumventing the maritime laws of Mexico. As we neared the dock a man waved his arms wildly, yelling for us to keep off. Here was a pretty how-do-you-do! One moment we were told to come to the dock; the next we were told not to. But the seeming impasse was solved by one of the assembled officials shouting to us to come alongside a tug moored to the dock. Mexican rules may prohibit a vessel touching the dock until passed by the health-officer and Customs, but they say nothing about mooring to another ship lying at a dock!
We had planned to stop at Progreso only long enough to secure fresh water and provisions and to pick up our aviator, but Fate decreed otherwise, for a norther sweeping down across the treacherous Gulf lashed the harbor into a maelstrom and held us prisoners ashore for three days while the port remained closed to all shipping. Time, however, did not hang heavily on our hands, for there was Merida only a few miles inland, with the amazing ruins of Chichen Itza and other ancient Maya cities and temples within easy reach.
When at last the norther had blown itself out we once more resumed our journey toward the site of the aviator's strange discovery. Stopping in at Campeche we were received as hospitably and effusively as at Progreso and we were asked by the postmaster if we would carry two bags of mail to Puerto Aguada. Anxious to accommodate him, but fearing that it might result in some entanglement in the intricacies of Mexican red tape, I explained that we had cleared for Carmen and that as Aguada was not a port of entry, we could not legally put in there. But he assured me that it was quite all right. "You will be carrying the national mails, senor," he said. "Si, I will provide you with an official flag. And you need not land. If you but blow the whistle a boat will come to you from the shore and receive the correo."
So, temporarily, we became a mail packet, and by so doing raised as much of a commotion in Mexican officialdom as though we had smuggled a cargo of munitions of war into Aguada.
Leaving Campeche and headed for the Laguna de Terminos we felt that we were "getting warm" as they say in "hunt the thimble," for up one of the rivers that empty into the big shoal lagoon was the wrecked plane and the golden books of the Mayas. But scarcely had we entered the lagoon, having duly delivered the mail to the boat at Aguada, when Fate began to interfere with our plans. Though we were directly in the channel—as plotted on the charts—we went hard and fast aground on a mud flat. Pushing, poling and kedging proving fruitless so we gave up and settled ourselves to await the rising tide, meanwhile sending Dick and Bob in the small boat to Aguada to secure a pilot. With the Maya practice aboard we had no further trouble, until we approached the fringe of mangroves with the mouth of the Candelaria River marked by a primitive lighthouse on a flooded point of land. But here our local pilot came to grief. Like all the rivers of the district the visible mouth of the Candelaria is barely one hundred feet wide and barred by sand banks and oyster reefs between which, somewhere, was a reputed channel. But to find the channel was like hunting for the proverbial needle in a haystack and only after going aground a dozen times did we succeed in entering the river's mouth and drew up to a flimsy bamboo wharf near the lighthouse where a couple of thatched huts were perched on posts above the mud and water among the mangroves. Upon the landing stage two men awaited us, one gray-haired and gray-bearded, clad in heavy woolen mackinaw and canvas trousers; the other, almost as venerable, dressed in a patchwork of odds and ends. That any human beings could exist in such a spot seemed incredible. There was no dry land, no fresh water, no firewood nothing but stinking mud, sprawling mangroves, hordes of pelicans, ibis and herons, and oysters, growing by millions on the mangrove roots and bed of the stream. But he of the mackinaw, who declared himself to be eighty-four, informed us that he had lived in this spot for sixty years and never had been ill for a single day. By this time our skipper had acquired the pilot habit and as our practice from Aguada admitted total ignorance of the river channels, we hired the ancient with the mackinaw, who claimed to be familiar with every bend, shoal, current and twist of the stream. The fact that he was the tender of the lighthouse and that he would be deserting his post did not trouble him in the least "The light, senor," he informed me, "has been here but thirty years. Before then, for God knows how many years, there was no light. Yet all that time boats came and went. For Dios, senor, can it not then be spared for a few days? And—," he added as a final argument, "few boats come this way, and those that do know the channel without the light and, of a truth, much of the time I bother not to light it anyway."
Our aviator treasure-finder had assured us that the Candelaria was the stream he had noted just before he had crashed and that he could easily identify the proper place to search because of a conspicuous sharp "S" bend of the stream due south of the spot where he had crashed. But as we chugged up the great river between interminable mangroves and impenetrable jungles, we were unwittingly traveling not nearer but farther from the treasure that we sought. And very soon it became obvious to all that we were on the wrong river.
The aviator insisted that he had not sighted a house, village or even a clearing other than the deserted spot where he had come to earth. Yet along the Candelaria there were clearings galore, houses and settlements, and even two good-sized villages! However, having come thus far, we decided to keep on. Possibly, we thought, the aviator had been farther inland than he had believed, and that the upper reaches of the river might be uninhabited. Anyway, we'd have a look, do a bit of exploring and satisfy ourselves one way or the other before deciding on our next move. But when we were a few miles above the largest settlement—which most appropriately bore the name of Suspiro or "The Last Gasp," our pilot informed us that we could go no farther in the Vigilance. Just ahead were rapids a whole series, hundreds of them. So, running in under the banks, we moored our little ship to a tree, and lowering our dinghy with its outboard motor, I prepared to discover for myself what lay beyond. George, it appeared, had a mortal terror of snakes and firmly believed the Yucatan jungle fairly swarmed with venomous serpents. Pete, too, held back, for he shared George's fear of deadly reptiles.
And as the aviator had already decided that for some inexplicable reason he had made a mistake, and hence took no further interest in the river, only Dick, Bob and myself embarked in the small boat and headed up stream.
The first rapid didn't amount to much, and with little trouble our motor forced the boat through the swift broken water. But the second rapid was an entirely different proposition. Foaming and roaring, the stream came plunging over the rocks with terrific force. But I had had years of experience with tropical rapids, and selecting a chute-like stretch of black water, I shouted to Dick to give the motor full speed and head for it. With a rush we were at it. For a moment the boat hesitated; then slowly, inch by inch, it moved up the liquid slope and emerged in the smooth water beyond. At the third rapid, however, we very nearly came to grief. Despite the full power of the motor, the boat remained stationary in the terrific grip of the current, and even when Bob and I pulled with all our strength at the oars, we could make no headway. Realizing that the struggle was hopeless, I yelled to Dick to slow the motor down and permit the boat to drop back. But I had forgotten to warn him that the eddies and whirlpools below the rapids were more dangerous than the falls themselves. Instead of letting the dinghy drift with the current, until well clear of all danger, Dick opened the throttle and swung the boat about. Instantly we were in the grip of the whirlpool. The dinghy careened perilously, water poured over the gunwale, and she spun like a top. For a moment I thought nothing could save us; but fortunately Dick heard my frenzied: "Stop her!" in time.
He shut off the motor and the boat righted and swung with the current.
But it was a mighty dose shave!
Next morning, completely beaten by the series of rapids, and thoroughly convinced that we were on the wrong river, we returned downstream and again moored to the lightkeeper's wharf. After discussing every possible angle of the situation, and cross-questioning the aviator and consulting maps and charts of the district none of which were anywhere near correct we decided that our only course was to try the next river. So with our venerable mackinaw-clad pilot at the helm we left the Candelaria and headed across the lagoon for the Chumpum River. But before we sighted the mouth of that stream, another norther came howling down, whipping the shoal water into ugly seas. To be caught in the height of the storm on a lee shore without harbor or shelter would have meant certain disaster, and our only hope was to head across the bay and anchor in the lee of Carmen island. It was lucky for us that we did not delay, for we barely made it.
Green seas broke completely over the decks, the little ship seemed actually to stand on end at times; and each time she dropped from the crest of a wave she came down with a sickening crash that threatened to knock the bottom out of her. Even with her powerful motor at full speed she made barely three knots in the face of the terrific gale, and six terrible hours were consumed in crossing that eighteen-mile strip of bay to where, at last, we were able to drop anchor in comparatively smooth water. By the next day the worst of the norther was over, and as we were in need of fresh water and provisions, we decided to put into port before returning to ascend the river.
A crowd was awaiting us as we approached the dock at Carmen, and to our surprise we discovered that we had innocently and unwittingly created more commotion and excitement than anything since the last revolution. In fact we had been the cause of a serious controversy between officials that had for a time threatened to disrupt the peace of the district, we had caused official despatches to keep the wires hot between Carmen and Mexico City, and we had very narrowly escaped being chased by an armed force, arrested and thrown into prison! And all because of those sacks of mail from Campeche which we had delivered to the boat at Aguada!
Our stop at Aguada had been reported; the port captain at Carmen had been advised from Campeche that we had cleared for Carmen, and instantly he had gone up in the air, so to speak. He had sent a scathing and denunciatory message to the commandante at Aguada in which he accused that official of having violated the law by allowing us to enter the port, and hinted that he was aiding and abetting revolutionists or filibusters, or at the least an American secret mission, to enter Mexican territory illegally. Following this, the irate and excitable port captain had sent a wireless message to Mexico City asking for the arrest and imprisonment of the poor Aguada commandante. The latter had countered by wiring to the capital that as we carried mail from Campeche to Aguada, and had had the mail flag, the authorities must have expected us to touch at Aguada, and he quite logically argued that had he not permitted us to enter he would have been interfering with the Government mails. In the meantime, frenzied word had been sent that an "American gunboat"—Ye gods! the Vigilance being mistaken for such—had been seen ascending the Candelaria River after kidnaping the keeper of the lighthouse! The excitable natives and the imaginative port captain could think of but one explanation. The Americanos had designs on Yucatan! And the fact that the local press had been filled with hot-headed denunciations of the "Yanquis" in connection with the Lower California episode, lent color to the idea. Thereupon the port captain had been on the point of radioing for a gunboat and a company of soldiers to capture us when an American resident of the town had received word from our "agent" in Campeche informing him that as we had taken out "cabotaje" or coasting papers we had a perfect right to stop at Aguada or anywhere else. Thereupon every one concerned was satisfied. The tempest in a teapot was over. The port captain and the commandante exchanged mutual regrets over the misunderstanding. Mexico City was duly notified that a mistake had been made, amicable relations were once more established all around, and when we arrived we were welcomed effusively, and literally with open arms. "But," suggested the fiercely-mustached and pompous port captain, as he patted me on the back and embraced me, "it would be wise if the Americanos did not fly their flag on the 'yate' except when entering a port."
Even if all suspicions of our gun-running mission had been allayed, still the romantically-minded Yucatecans could not be satisfied with such tame and everyday reasons as we offered in explanation of our presence, not of course mentioning our search for the Maya treasure. To their minds there must be something far more advenurous to have induced Gringos to voyage so far in such a small boat. And as they knew nothing of the Maya treasure-trove that the aviator had discovered, their active, imaginative minds sought for some sinister and ulterior reason for our being there. As a result, when we were at last ready to sail, our local "agent" informed us that the port captain would not issue clearance papers unless we were accompanied by an officer. Moreover, we were not only required to supply bed and board to the unwelcome official, but were to pay him for his time also. It was crowded enough aboard the Vigilance as it was, we had no intention of supporting an officer in comparative luxury and paying him in addition, and with an officer on board it would be impossible to get away with the treasure. Finally, we decided, it was just a new scheme for squeezing a few more dollars from us, and angry and disgusted I hurried off to beard the port captain in his den. As I entered his office he sprang to his feet, welcomed me cordially and patted me on the back like the dearest of friends. And when, still seething, I demanded why he had given such an order, and added that if that was his idea of courtesy we'd clear for Progreso forthwith, he instantly disclaimed all intentions of causing us the slightest inconvenience and actually appeared to be as "desolated" as he claimed to be because I should have misjudged him.
"But, senor mio!" he exclaimed. "I am your friend, your compadre, your servant. I kiss your hand, excelencia, I obey your slightest wish. I am here to show you and your companions every courtesy, to make everything easy, to render you every service. Of a truth, amigo mio, anything within my poor power will I do to make you remember Carmen with nothing but delight. The order—" he chuckled, embraced me and beamed "the order, senor, was but my little joke. You are at liberty to go where and when you so desire without hindrance, amigo. But—" he winked—"I must show my authority at times. Your agent—" he shrugged—"must be made to know his place. He would have you Americanos think that only he can arrange matters. So to him I give the order so that you will come to me and I may thereupon prove my desire to be of service, while your agent may thus know that he is not such a great man as he may think himself. Ah, si, excelencia, it is in such manner that we must make small those who feel themselves to be great. Si, of a truth, senor, we must now and then prick the bubbles so that they may burst—Pff ! Is it not so, excelencia? And now, mi amigo, do me the honor to accept my most humble apologies that you have been so inconvenienced. And may you go with God, senor!"
Grinning, I left his presence. There was something very ludicrous in his scheme for calling down the agent by issuing an order aimed at us and which did not affect the agent in the least. In fact it reminded me forcibly of old Blackbeard the pirate who, having pistoled two of his officers, remarked that if he "didn't shoot an officer now and then his crew would forget who he was."
The water over the bar at the river's mouth proved too shallow for the Vigilance, so she was anchored outside and we ferried ourselves and belongings ashore in the dinghy and made ourselves at home in the ranch house of a huge estate whose owner had given us letters to his Mexican manager. Here, once again, George's terror of snakes caused him to decide to remain at the ranch rather than tempt Fate in the jungles, and, as usual, Pete followed suit. So, with a grinning, brown-skinned Mayan to serve as guide, camp-boy and man-of-all-work, Dick, Bob, the aviator and myself started up river in hopes of finding the hidden treasure.
As an excursion or a hunting trip the voyage was all any one could have wished. There were no houses, no settlements. Everywhere was jungle containing countless forms of bird-life. Alligators and crocodiles basked on logs beside the banks. There were deer, peccary, jaguars, pumas, ocelot, tapir and wild turkeys in the forests. And, basking in the sunshine upon the tops of the low trees that lined the river banks, were hundreds of gigantic iguanas, dragon-like monsters eight to nine feet in length and striped like tigers with brilliant orange and black.
Possibly iguanas should not be dignified by the name of game; but if any one thinks that these giant lizards cannot provide sport and excitement let him try shooting iguanas with a rifle while standing in a fifteen-foot boat. And to see and hear an eight-foot dragon come crashing down at the report of one's rifle gives one no small thrill. Moreover, the creatures are good to eat, and with three of the big fellows in our boat I anticipated a toothsome stew when we camped for the night. At last, a short time before sundown, we swung around a bend and Encantada was before us, a deserted camp-like dwelling once used as barracks by the vaqueros and chicle gatherers of the ranch. In its entrancing setting of luxuriant tropical vegetation, flaming flowers, golden fruit-laden orange trees, waving palms and background of virgin forest its name, meaning "The Enchanted," seemed most appropriate. But no sooner had we stepped ashore than we realized how misleading was the name and why the place had been abandoned. Instantly we were enveloped in a perfect cloud of the terrible rodederos or day-flying biting gnats of Yucatan. In vain we thrashed about, slapped, brushed, smoked and cursed. They filled our ears, crawled up our noses, blundered into our eyes and drew blood from every inch of our exposed skin. Madly we raced up the steep bank, hoping the pests might be confined to the lowland. But they were as thick if not thicker there, and to make matters worse, they were reinforced by swarms of equally vicious mosquitoes. It was humanly impossible to withstand the united attack, and we dashed for the tumble-down building that had once served as a kitchen, hoping that by kindling a smoky fire we might find relief. But scarcely had we entered when we were in full retreat, for the kitchen was fairly alive with vermin. We were between the devil and the deep sea, so to speak, but sulphur candles and spraying with formalin decreased the flea army in the kitchen to some extent, and to our vast relief we found that the rodederos abandoned their offensive in the semi-darkness of the building, while the pungent smoke from green leaves had the desired effect upon the mosquitoes.
With sundown, both rodederos and mosquitoes vanished, but we looked forward with anything but pleasure to exploring the jungle the next day. In the morning, however, a brisk wind was blowing, and although the jungle teemed with mosquitoes, and we were compelled to cover our heads and faces with improvised nets, to stuff cotton in ears and nostrils and smear our hands and arms with a mixture of vaseline and creosote, we managed to do fairly well. Throughout that day we explored the river, cruising for miles upstream, searching for the aviator's peculiar S-shaped bend by which we hoped to locate the treasure. Time after time we would come to a bend which he declared must be the right one. Landing, we would take compass bearings and hew our way into the jungle with machetes. And such jungles! Never in my forty years' experience in the West Indies, Central and South America, have I seen anything to equal them. It was impossible to move five feet in any direction without cutting a path. Palms with trunks covered with great black spines, wiry bushes armed with crooked thorns, twisted, tangled briars, razor-edged saw-grass, prickly agaves, acacias and cacti, with fallen limbs and leaves, knee-deep vegetable debris and slimy trunks of wild plantains all formed an almost solid wall, while underfoot the ground was a sea of sticky black ooze in which we sank to our ankles. It was obvious that the aviator, with no machete, could never have forced his way at night through such a barrier, and according to him the vegetation about the ancient clearing was not dense. In fact it couldn't have been, for he had walked through the forest for seventeen hours with no means of cutting a trail. But there was the chance that the character of the jungle might change a short distance from the river, and the only way of determining what lay inland was to hew a way in. It was terrible work, and bitterly disheartening, to toil for hours cutting through the tangle, tearing flesh and garments, in agonies from biting insects, only to find no large trees or open forest.
But so positive was the aviator that we were on the right stream, so certain he seemed of his distance from the coast and river and his compass bearings when he had first found his engine missing, and so sincere in his statements, that despite discouragement after discouragement, despite the fact that he "identified" fully a dozen bends as the right one, we kept at it. But at last, after days of futile, fearful labor, after weary hours of hacking and hewing through the jungle, the aviator was forced to admit that he had made a mistake somewhere, that he was totally at a loss. The river, he argued, when viewed from a boat upon its surface did not look the same as when seen from the air, and also, he pointed out, although he had spotted only one S-bend there were scores which, in all probability, had been hidden from his view by the forest. All our hopes were dashed. The one man who knew or claimed to know the secret of the Mayas' treasure had failed us. And at last, bitterly disappointed and utterly discouraged, we abandoned the search and returned downstream.
We arrived at the ranch to find George tremendously elated. He actually had seen a snake! During all the time we had been upriver and in the jungles we had not seen a trace of a serpent, yet hare at the ranch, a snake and a venomous snake at that had been killed in the kitchen patio. And I still maintain that the little viper wriggled from the jungle and into the patio and sacrificed its life for the express purpose of satisfying George that there really were snakes in Yucatan.
Perhaps it was lucky for us that we did not find the Mayan treasure, for when we reached Carmen we were boarded by my friend the port captain and half a dozen soldiers who with profuse apologies and begging ten thousand pardons thoroughly searched the Vigilance from stem to stern. Evidently they had their suspicions, and had the Mayan treasure been found on board who can say what might have been the result as far as we were concerned? But it was not until we were about to sail, and the port captain had invited Bob and myself to drink a farewell toast in a native liquor which, he affirmed, was compounded of sulphuric acid and gunpowder, and which tasted as if it might have been, that I learned why our vessel had been searched.
During the last ill-starred revolution, an airplane, bearing a fleeing rebel leader and laden with gold coin and incriminating documents, had crashed somewhere within the jungle, and that, so the officials surmised, was what we had been seeking.
Here was an entirely new angle, a new development. By some strange and almost incredible coincidence had two rebel airplanes crashed in the same jungle-covered area? Was our aviator the pilot of the ill-fated plane freighted with revolutionary documents, revolutionist funds and a revolutionary leader? If so, had the little aviator really stumbled upon the underground hiding place of the golden books of the Mayas, or had he invented the tale in hopes of luring an expedition in search of a mythical treasure in order that he might locate the plane and secure the papers for which the Mexican Government would pay a small fortune? Quien sabe? as the Spaniards say. It is a mystery we have never solved. Unquestionably, somewhere in the jungle, rests the wreckage of an .airplane containing the skeleton of a rebel leader, thousands of dollars in minted gold and paper which, if in the possession of the Mexican Government, would result in many a man facing a firing squad. And possibly, not far distant, the golden books of the Mayas still lie hidden in their subterranean chamber, a treasure whose value is beyond all estimate.
Link to next chapter of They Found Gold - Ch 5-6

No comments:

Blog Archive

Countries we have visited

About Me

My photo

As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.