Dutch the Diver; Or, A Man's Mistake, Page 2George Manville Fenn
STORY ONE, CHAPTER TWO.
The last words of his employer had such an effect upon Dutch Pugh thathe leaped from his stool, and began to pace the office excitedly, forthis was beyond his wildest dreams. Partner in such a business, wherehe knew that many thousands were netted every year! He could hardlybelieve it. At one moment he was all exhilaration, thinking of thedelight it would afford his young wife; at the next, he felt a strangesensation of depression, as of coming trouble. It was as if thesunshine of his life had been crossed by a black shadow; and minute byminute this increased upon him, till he shuddered, started, and turnedround, to glance uneasily about the office, as if expecting to seetrouble there.
And then it seemed to him as if the three goblinlike figures werelaughing and blinking at him weirdly, menacing him with crowbar andhatchet; and, as if in a dream for the next few moments, he seemed tosee himself engaged in some dangerous diving experiment, and at themercy of an enemy who sought his life, while his young wife pleaded forhim and in vain.
It was all misty and strange; his brain was confused, and he could thenext minute no more have analysed this waking dream, or idealised theactors therein, than have flown; but there, for a few brief moments, wasthe impression upon him of coming trouble--trouble so horrible that itmenaced his life and the honour of her he most dearly loved. That wasthe impression; but how, when, where, he could not comprehend.
"Am I going mad?" he exclaimed, dashing his hand to his forehead. "Whatan idiot I am!" he cried, with a forced laugh. "That old rascal hasmade the place like an oven, and the blood has flown to my head. There,only to think what trifles will upset a man, and, if he is weak-minded,make him superstitious and fanciful. Some men would have reallybelieved that a terrible calamity was about to befall them, when it wasonly--"
"Here's a gentleman to see you," said Rasp, barking out his words, andushering in a stranger.
Dutch Pugh involuntarily started, for he seemed to be in the presence ofa stranger, and yet somehow the face was familiar to him. It was thatof an exceedingly handsome man of about thirty, who took off a softsombrero hat, and loosened the folds of a heavy black cloak, one end ofwhich was thrown over his shoulder. He was evidently a foreigner, forhis complexion was of a rich creamy tinge, his crisp black hair curledclosely round a broad, high forehead, his dark eyes glittered beneathstraight black brows, his nose was slightly aquiline, and the lower partof his face was covered with a thick, silky, black beard.
As he loosened the cords of his heavy cloak with his carefully-glovedhand, Dutch Pugh saw that he was faultlessly dressed, and, as he smiledand showed his white teeth, he said in good English, but with aperceptible foreign accent--
"Mr Parkley, I learn, is out. I address Mr Pugh?"
"The same," said Dutch, who seemed fascinated by his look. "Will youtake a chair?"
A cold chill came over the speaker as the visitor smiled and seatedhimself, but only to be succeeded by a feeling of suffocation; and foran instant his brain swam, and the dreamy feeling seemed about toreturn, but it passed off instantly, as, rousing himself, Dutch said--
"You will find this room too hot, perhaps. Shall I open--"
"Hot!" laughed the stranger, taking out a card and letter ofintroduction. "My dear sir, it is comfortable after your chillystreets. I am from Cuba, where we see the sun."
As he spoke he handed a card, upon which was printed--"Senor ManuelLaure."
"You will open the letter?" he continued, passing the one he held in hishand. "No?"
"Mr Parkley will be here shortly," said Dutch. "Would you prefer tosee him?"
"Yes--no," said the stranger. "I should like to see him, but I amcontent to talk to you. You Englishmen are so intelligent, and thosewho sent me here told me that their fellow-countrymen would be ready tohelp my designs."
"May I ask what they are?" said Dutch, who began to feel suspicious ofthe stranger.
"Yes, for I shall betray nothing. First, am I right? Yes," he said,glancing round, and pointing at the diving suits. "I see I am right.You work under water--dive?"
"That is our business, and the making of apparatus."
"Apparatus? Oh, yes, I understand. Would you--would Mr Parkley liketo make a great fortune?"
"Not a doubt about it," said Mr Parkley, entering, all hat andcomforter. "How do?" he continued, bluffly, as the visitor rose andbowed, and then scanned him searchingly, as hat and comforter wereplaced once more upon the diving suit.
"This is Mr Parkley, the head of this establishment."
"I am delighted," said the stranger, raising his eyebrows, andhalf-closing his eyes. "Will you, then, read?"
"Thinks I don't look it, Pugh," said Mr Parkley aside, as he took theletter handed him, opened it, glanced at the contents andsuperscription, and then handed it to Dutch.
"Sit down, sir," he said, sharply, as he perched himself on a stool asjerkily as the stranger resumed his full of grace. "Read it aloud, MrPugh."
Dutch still felt troubled; but he read, in a clear voice, the letterfrom a well-known English firm at Havana.
"Dear Sir,--The bearer of this, Senor Manuel Laure, comes to you with our earnest recommendation. He has certain peculiar projects that he will explain. To some people they would seem wild and visionary; but to you, with your appliances, they will doubtless appear in a very different light. He is a gentleman of good position here, and worthy of your respect. If you do not see fit to carry out his wishes, kindly place him in communication with some other firm, and do what you can to prevent his being imposed upon.--Faithfully yours,--
"Roberts and Moore.
"To Mr Parkley, Ramwich."
"Glad to see you, sir," said Mr Parkley, upon whom the letter wrought acomplete change. "Good people, Roberts and Moore. Supplied them with acomplete diving apparatus. So you've come over on purpose to offer me afortune?"
"Yes," said the visitor, "a great fortune. You smile, but listen. Do Ithink you a child, sir? Oh, no. I do not tell you I want to make agreat fortune for you only, but for myself as well."
"Of course," said Mr Parkley, smiling, and showing in his manner howthoroughly business-like he was. "I thought that had to come."
"See here, sir--This Mr Pugh is in your confidence?"
"Quite. Go on."
"See, then: I have travelled much, boating--yachting you would call itin England--all around the shores of the Great Gulf of Mexico. I knowevery island and piece of coast in the Carib Sea."
"Yes," said Mr Parkley, drumming on the desk.
"I have made discoveries there."
"Mines?" said Mr Parkley. "Not in my way."
"No, sir--better than mines; for the gold and silver are gathered andsmelted--cast into ingots."
"Buried treasure, eh? Not in my way, sir--not in my way."
"Yes, buried treasure, Mr Parkley; but buried in the bright, clear sea,where the sun lights up the sand and rocks below."
"Sea, eh? Well, that is more in our way. Eh, Pugh?"
"Read the old chronicles of the time, sir, two or three hundred yearsago," said the Cuban, rising, with his eyes flashing, and his handsomeface lit up by his glowing excitement, "and you shall find that goldships and plate-ships--ships laden with the treasures of Mexico andPeru, taken by the Spaniards, were sunk here and there upon thosewondrous coasts."
"Old women's tales," said Mr Parkley, abruptly. "Cock-and-bullstories."
"I do not quite understand," said the Cuban, haughtily, "except that youdoubt me. Sir, these are truths. I doubted first; but for five yearsin a small vessel I have searched the Carib Sea, and I can take you towhere three ships have been wrecked and sunk--ships whose existence isonly known to me."
"Very likely," said Mr Parkley; "but that don't prove that they wereladen with gold."
"Look," said the Cuban, taking from a pocket in his cloak a packet, and,opening it out, he unwrapped two papers, in one of which was a smallingot of gold, in the other a ba
r of silver. They were cast in a veryrough fashion, and the peculiarity that gave strength to the Cuban'sstory was that each bar of about six inches long was for the most partencrusted with barnacle-like shells and other peculiar sea growths.
"Hum! Could this have been stuck on, Pugh?" said Mr Parkley, curiouslyexamining each bar in turn.
"I think not, sir, decidedly," said Pugh. "Those pieces of metal musthave been under water for a great length of time."
"You are right, Mr Pugh," said the Cuban, whose face brightened. "Youare a man of sound sense. They have been under water three hundredyears."
He smiled at the young Englishman as he spoke, but the other feltrepelled by him, and his looks were cold.
"How did you get those bars and ingots?" said Mr Parkley, abruptly.
"From amongst the rotten timbers of an old galleon," said the Cuban."But where?"
"That is my secret. Thirty feet below the surface at low water."
"Easy depth," said Mr Parkley, thoughtfully. "But why did you not getmore?"
"Sir, am I a fish? I practised diving till I could go down with astone, and stay a minute; but what is that? How could I tear awayshell, and coral, and hard wood, and sand, and stones. I find six suchbars, and I am satisfied. I seek for years for the place, and I knowthree huge mines of wealth for the bold Englishmen who would fit out aship with things like these"--pointing to the diving suits--"with bravemen who will go down with bars, and stay an hour, and break a way to thetreasure, and there load--load that ship with gold and silver, andperhaps rich jewels. Sir, I say to you," he continued, his facegradually glowing in excitement, "are you the brave Englishman who willfit out a ship and go with me? I say, make a written bond of agreementto find all we shall want in what you call apparatus and brave men. Ishow you the exact place. I take your ship to the spot to anchor, andthen, when we get the treasures, I take half for myself, and you takehalf for yourselves. Is it fair?"
"Yes, it sounds fair enough," said Mr Parkley, rubbing his nose with apair of compasses. "What do you say, Pugh?"
"I hardly know what to say, sir. The project is tempting, certainly;but--"
"But it is a monstrous fortune," said the Cuban. "It is an opportunitythat cannot come twice to a man. Do you hear? Great ingots of gold andbars of silver. Treasures untold, of which I offer you half, and yetyou English people are so cold and unmovable. Why, a Spaniard or aFrenchman would have gone mad with excitement."
"Yes," said Mr Parkley, "but we don't do that sort of thing here."
"No," said the Cuban, "you are so cold."
"It takes some time to warm us, sir," said Dutch, sternly; "but when weare hot, we keep so till our work is done. Your Frenchman and Spaniardsoon get hot, and are cold directly."
"That's right, Pugh, every word," said Mr Parkley, nodding his head.
"Then you refuse my offer?" said the Cuban, with a bitter look ofcontempt stealing over his face.
"Do I?" replied Mr Parkley.
"Yes, you are silent--you do not respond."
"Englishmen don't risk ten thousand pounds without looking where it isto go, my fine fellow," said Mr Parkley, drumming away at the desk. "Idon't say I shall not take it up, and I don't say I shall."
"You doubt me, then. Are not my papers good?"
"Is not the half of the wondrous wealth enough for you? You who onlytake out your ship and divers to get what it has taken me years to find.I tell you there are cargoes of this rich metal lying there--hundredsof thousands of pounds--a princely fortune; and yet you hesitate."
"Are there any volcanoes your way?" said Mr Parkley, drily.
"I thought so," said the sturdy Englishman.
"It is enough," cried the Cuban, haughtily. "You play with me, andinsult me."
And, as he spoke, with flashing eyes, he snatched at the two ingots, andbegan to wrap them up, but with a smile of contempt he threw them backon the desk.
"No, we do not," said Mr Parkley quietly; "only you are so red hot. Imust have time to think."
"Time to think?"
"Yes. I like the idea, and I think I shall accept your offer."
"You believe in my papers, then?"
"Oh, yes, they are beyond suspicion," said Mr Parkley, holding out hishand. "Only there are so many tricks played that one has to gocarefully. Well, how are you? Glad to see you, and hope we shall begood friends."
"My great friend!" exclaimed the Cuban, throwing his arms round thesturdy little man, and nearly oversetting him, stool and all, in hisfervid embrace. "They were right: you are the true enterprising man ofenergy after all."
"I say, don't do that again, please," said Mr Parkley. "We shake handshere, and save those hugs for the other sex--at least the young fellowsdo."
"But I am overjoyed," exclaimed the Cuban, enthusiastically. "Here, Iwill be English," he cried, holding out his hand and shaking that ofDutch most heartily. "We two shall be great friends, I see. You willcome too. You are young and full of energy, and you shall be as rich ashe. You shall both draw up gold in heaps and be princes. Thank youboth--thank you. And now we will make our plans."
"Gently, gently," exclaimed Mr Parkley; "this all takes time. If thattreasure has lain for three hundred years at the bottom of the sea, itwill be safe for a few months longer."
"Ah, yes, yes."
"Then we must take our time, and, if we go, make plenty of preparation."
"Yes, yes," said the Cuban; "take plenty of diving suits and a divingbell."
"Don't you fidget about that, sir," said Mr Parkley, proudly. "I thinkwe can find such appliances as will do the trick. Eh, Pugh?"
Dutch nodded, and then looked uneasily at the Cuban, whose presenceseemed to fill him with a vague trouble.
"I've got an important contract on too," continued Parkley.
"A contract?" said the Cuban. "A new machine?"
"No, no; a bond such as we must have to do certain work."
"Yes, yes. I see."
"I've got to empty a ship off the coast here. She went down, laden withcopper."
"I must see that," cried the Cuban, excitedly. "Where is it? Let usgo. I must see the men go under water."
"All in good time, sir--all in good time; for I must finish that jobfirst. Well, Rasp," he continued, as that worthy came in.
"It's Mrs Pug, sir. Shall I show her in?"
"No, no," exclaimed Dutch, eagerly.
But he was too late; for, as he spoke, a lady-like figure entered theroom, and the bright, fair, girlish face, with its clustering curls ofrich dark-brown hair, turned from one to the other in a timid,apologetic way.
"I am sorry," she faltered. "You are engaged. My husband arranged--"
"Come in, my dear--come in," said Mr Parkley, hopping off his stool,taking her hands, and patting them affectionately, as he placed her in achair. "We've about done for to-day; and if we had not, there's nothingyou might not hear. I'll be bound to say, Pugh keeps nothing from you."
"But she is beautiful!" muttered the Cuban, with sparkling eyes, as hislips parted, and a warm flush came into his creamy cheeks; while Dutchturned pale as he saw his admiration, and the vague feeling of dreadcame once more in combination with one of dislike.