"Empty, of course--no more brown bags. But oh, Dugald, had ever a girl such a wonderful bride's chest as this? O--oh!"
"Nothing, only there is a crack in the bottom, running all the way along where it joins the side."
"Warped a bit, I suppose. No matter, it can be easily repaired--crack? I say, la.s.sie, look here!"
Under the pressure of Dugald's fingers the floor of the chest was swinging upward on an invisible hinge. Between it and the true bottom was a s.p.a.ce of about three inches in depth. It seemed to be filled with a layer of yellowed cotton-wool.
For a long moment we held our breath, gazing at each other with eyes which asked the same question. Then Dugald lifted a corner of the sheet of cotton and plucked it away.
At once all the hues of the rainbow seemed to be flashing and sparkling before us. Rubies were there like great drops of the blood that the chest and its treasure had wrung from the hearts of men; sapphires, mirroring the blue of the tropic sky; emeralds, green as the island verdure; pearls, white as the milk of the cocoanuts and softly luminous as the phosph.o.r.escent foam which broke on the beach in the darkness. And there were diamonds that caught gleams of all the others' beauty, and then mocked them with a matchless splendor.
Some of the stones lay loose upon their bed of cotton; others were in ma.s.sive settings of curious old-time workmanship. Every gem was of exceptional size and beauty, the pearls, I knew at once, were the rarest I had ever looked upon. They were strung in a necklace, and had a very beautiful pendant of mingled pearls and diamonds.
There were nine heavy bracelets, all jewel-set; twenty-three rings, eight of them for the hand of a man. Some of these rings contained the finest of the diamonds, except for three splendid unset stones.
There were numbers of elaborate old-fashioned earrings, two rope-like chains of gold adorned with jewels at intervals, and several jeweled lockets. There was a solid gold snuff-box, engraved with a coat of arms and ornamented with seventeen fine emeralds. There were, besides the three diamonds, eighty-two unset stones, among them, wrapped by itself in cotton, a ruby of extraordinary size and l.u.s.ter. And there was a sort of coronet or tiara, sown all over with clear white brilliants.
There is the inventory, not entirely complete, of the treasure which we found hidden under the false bottom of the chest, a treasure whose existence none of those who had striven and slain and perished for the sake of the Spanish doubloons can have suspected. The secret of it died with the first guardian of the chest, the merchant of Lima who went overboard from the _Bonny La.s.s_ on that stormy night ninety years ago. Now sea and sun and sand had done their work and warped the wood of the chest enough to make us masters of its mystery. And we sat in the sand-heaped c.o.c.k-pit of the wrecked sloop, playing like children with our sparkling toys.
Ours? Yes, for whether or not there were an infection of piracy in the very air of the island, so that to seize with the high hand, to hold with the iron grasp, seemed the law of life, we decided without a qualm against the surrender of our treasure-trove to its technical owners. Technical only; for one felt that, in essence, all talk of ownership by this man or that had long ago become idle.
Fate had held the treasure in fee to give or to withhold. Senor Gonzales had had his chance at the chest, and he had missed the secret of the hidden h.o.a.rd, had left it to lie forgotten under the sand until in some tropic storm it should be engulfed by the waters of the cove. More than this, had he not most specifically made over to me the _Island Queen_ and all that it contained? This was a t.i.tle clear enough to satisfy the most exacting formalist. And we were not formalists, nor inclined in any quibbling spirit to question the decrees of Fortune. As treasure-hunters, we had been her devotees too long.
So after all it was not my scornful skepticism but the high faith of Miss Higglesby-Browne which was justified by the event, and the Harding-Browne expedition left the island well repaid for its toils and perils. Plus the two bags of doubloons, which were added to the spoils, the treasure brought us a sum so goodly that I dare not name it, for fear of the apparition of Senor Gonzales and the Santa Marinan navy looming up to demand rest.i.tution. Like true comrades, we divided share and share alike, and be sure that no one grudged Cookie the percentage Which each was taxed for his benefit.
Certain of the rarest; jewels were not sold, but found their way to me as gifts of the Expedition severally and collectively. The brightest of the diamonds now shines in my engagement ring.
Cuthbert, by the way, showed up so splendidly when I explained to him about the engagement--that the responsibility was entirely mine, not Dugald's--that I earnestly wished I were twins so that one of me could have married the beautiful youth--which indeed I had wished a little all the time.
And now I come to the purpose of this story--for though well concealed it has had one from the beginning. It is to let Helen, whoever and wherever she may be, if still of this world, know of the fate of Peter, and to tell her that when she asks for them she is to have my most cherished relics of the island, Peter's journal and the silver shoe-buckle which he found in the sand of the treasure-cave and was taking home to her.
Only, she must let me keep Crusoe, please.
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