The author wishes apologize for this in advance. The idea would not step aside for a better one, and time was pressing.
“They’ve twigged to us, Captain! Milling around like an anthill!”
The shout came down from the maintop, where young John had been sent with the best glass on the ship. Simmonds sighed. The wind had failed in the night, not a flat calm, but such a mere breath that he had debated sending the boats out to tow, in hopes of presenting the village with a sudden apparition of the sloop Bounty’s Darling slipping into their little harbour before dawn.
But if the rumours about the hoard of old Inca gold were right, he didn’t want the men doubly tired, not only sleepless with anticipation while their watch was below but also destroyed from pulling on an oar, with a fight likely at the end of it. He could not imagine the villagers not putting up a fight to keep a vast chest of treasure. Better to have them fresh, he had decided. They could still over-awe the landsmen with the sloop’s guns, a dozen long six-pounders and an eighteen-pound carronade up on the quarterdeck.
But now, as the sloop’s approach brought the village over the horizon, Simmonds began to wonder if he had erred. Looking through his own glass, the activity John had described was certainly underway, but it seemed that the rag-tag militia he’d expected to meet the landing was going to be nothing but old men. A couple of dozen were doddering around on the shore, at the obvious landing spot, carrying scythes and pitchforks. Such a handful would melt like a sandcastle, even if he didn’t fire the guns on them first.
The youngsters of the village were just still visible, through gaps in the trees, dashing inland, men and women both. It made a sort of sense, Simmonds knew, given the hunger of the sugar plantations for labour. Would they flee like that, though, that if the rumours had substance? Simmonds felt his avaricious heart sinking.
“Sir!” John’s voice, floating down from the masthead once more. “Look by the church!”
Simmonds scanned the collection of buildings. The church was not much larger than any of the other hovels, only a little broader, and made taller by a slanting belfry. Before it, four muscular youths struggled with a small litter, two long bars supporting a box no more than two feet on a side.
Only two things were so heavy for that size, Simmonds knew, and no one would make a fuss about lead at a time like this.
“They’re bringing our treasure out to us, lads,” Simmonds called, and his three-score rascals raised a cheer, some of the sharper-eyed ones able to point at the box-carriers even at this distance.
As they stood in for shore, it became clear that the box was not coming to the strand. The elderly coast guard was still there and had pulled some of the fishing boats around to give themselves paltry cover. The burly quartet was hustling, as well as they could manage, along a little path that ran along the foot of a jutting headland, a lance of rock that formed part of that small harbour’s protection.
“God above,” Simmonds said, realization taking his breath. “They mean to dump it into the ocean.” He cleared his throat, and said in the usual seagoing roar, “Master gunner, will grape fetch those men on the headland?”
Old reliable Martinez, standing by the aft-most long six, squinted over the water. “By the time we’s drawn number one and reloaded it, it should make the range.”
“Hop to it, then. Sharpshooters aloft! We need to stop that box!”
Musket balls were striking flakes of rock near the feet of the four carriers by the time Martinez had the gun laid. The sloop had to yaw, to lose some way, to bring it to bear, and after the shot the smoke hung between gun and target for long seconds. When it dispersed, it was clear the aim had been off. One of the carriers was rushing to rejoin the other three as they struggled to support their burden, bloody from a dozen gouges left by rock splinters, but inconvenienced rather than disabled.
Before the gun was reloaded, the box was at the end of the headland. The porters seemed unnaturally protected from the furious musket fire, fully a dozen men in both tops now blazing away but not one hitting the mark. They pulled the bars free of the box, which was now close enough to see in the glass as a basket of iron straps around gleaming gold.
It would, Simmonds thought as they rolled it off the end of the rock, be the least buoyant thing in the world.
Their work done, the four men threw themselves into the water on the far side of the little headland, one pausing long enough despite the musketry to wave a rude gesture toward Bounty’s Darling. The next rise of the ship showed a glimpse of the last one paddling industriously to safety around the edge of the headland.
There was no noise on the sloop but the sound of wind in the rigging. Simmonds felt all eyes upon him. He looked at the weather-signs in the sky. If they kept standing in, they might find the freshening wind pressing them onto the shore for days, in a village which promised no useful diversions for the crew.
“We’ll send a salute into those codgers on the shore, and then work back out to sea.” He stood at the railing, remembering how a small error not much more vexing than this had cost Captain Dunbar his spot. Pirate crews could be horribly democratic, and the vote was always for change.
A week later, when the people of the village had all filtered back, and the lookout on the heights had reported no sign of ships, the four men who had carried the box returned to the little spit. They took up the bars they had dropped there a week ago, then carefully slid off the rock and into the ocean. In short order they would have the box back ashore, and they laughed at the pirates who, like others before them, had been fooled by their simple ruse.
Had Simmonds but troubled to look, he would have found that the booty was only shin-deep.
“Inktober 2019 – Treasure” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.