The Treasure in the Forest

The canoe was now approaching the land. The bay opened out, and a gap in
the white surf of the reef marked where the little river ran out to the
sea; the thicker and deeper green of the virgin forest showed its course
down the distant hill slope. The forest here came close to the beach. Far
beyond, dim and almost cloudlike in texture, rose the mountains, like
suddenly frozen waves. The sea was still save for an almost imperceptible
swell. The sky blazed.

The man with the carved paddle stopped. “It should be somewhere here,” he
said. He shipped the paddle and held his arms out straight before him.

The other man had been in the fore part of the canoe, closely scrutinizing
the land. He had a sheet of yellow paper on his knee.

“Come and look at this, Evans,” he said.

Both men spoke in low tones, and their lips were hard and dry.

The man called Evans came swaying along the canoe until he could look over
his companion’s shoulder.

The paper had the appearance of a rough map. By much folding it was
creased and worn to the pitch of separation, and the second man held the
discolored fragments together where they had parted. On it one could
dimly make out, in almost obliterated pencil, the outline of the bay.

“Here,” said Evans, “is the reef, and here is the gap.” He ran his
thumb-nail over the chart.

“This curved and twisting line is the river–I could do with a drink
now!–and this star is the place.”

“You see this dotted line,” said the man with the map; “it is a straight
line, and runs from the opening of the reef to a clump of palm-trees. The
star comes just where it cuts the river. We must mark the place as we go
into the lagoon.”

“It’s queer,” said Evans, after a pause, “what these little marks down
here are for. It looks like the plan of a house or something; but what all
these little dashes, pointing this way and that, may mean I can’t get a
notion. And what’s the writing?”

“Chinese,” said the man with the map.

“Of course! _He_ was a Chinee,” said Evans.

“They all were,” said the man with the map.

They both sat for some minutes staring at the land, while the canoe
drifted slowly. Then Evans looked towards the paddle.

“Your turn with the paddle now, Hooker,” said he.

And his companion quietly folded up his map, put it in his pocket, passed
Evans carefully, and began to paddle. His movements were languid, like
those of a man whose strength was nearly exhausted.

Evans sat with his eyes half closed, watching the frothy breakwater of the
coral creep nearer and nearer. The sky was like a furnace, for the sun was
near the zenith. Though they were so near the Treasure he did not feel the
exaltation he had anticipated. The intense excitement of the struggle for
the plan, and the long night voyage from the mainland in the unprovisioned
canoe had, to use his own expression, “taken it out of him.” He tried to
arouse himself by directing his mind to the ingots the Chinamen had spoken
of, but it would not rest there; it came back headlong to the thought of
sweet water rippling in the river, and to the almost unendurable dryness
of his lips and throat. The rhythmic wash of the sea upon the reef was
becoming audible now, and it had a pleasant sound in his ears; the water
washed along the side of the canoe, and the paddle dripped between each
stroke. Presently he began to doze.

He was still dimly conscious of the island, but a queer dream texture
interwove with his sensations. Once again it was the night when he and
Hooker had hit upon the Chinamen’s secret; he saw the moonlit trees, the
little fire burning, and the black figures of the three Chinamen–silvered
on one side by moonlight, and on the other glowing from the firelight–and
heard them talking together in pigeon-English–for they came from
different provinces. Hooker had caught the drift of their talk first, and
had motioned to him to listen. Fragments of the conversation were
inaudible, and fragments incomprehensible. A Spanish galleon from the
Philippines hopelessly aground, and its treasure buried against the day of
return, lay in the background of the story; a shipwrecked crew thinned by
disease, a quarrel or so, and the needs of discipline, and at last taking
to their boats never to be heard of again. Then Chang-hi, only a year
since, wandering ashore, had happened upon the ingots hidden for two
hundred years, had deserted his junk, and reburied them with infinite
toil, single-handed but very safe. He laid great stress on the safety–it
was a secret of his. Now he wanted help to return and exhume them.
Presently the little map fluttered and the voices sank. A fine story for
two, stranded British wastrels to hear! Evans’ dream shifted to the moment
when he had Chang-hi’s pigtail in his hand. The life of a Chinaman is
scarcely sacred like a European’s. The cunning little face of Chang-hi,
first keen and furious like a startled snake, and then fearful,
treacherous, and pitiful, became overwhelmingly prominent in the dream. At
the end Chang-hi had grinned, a most incomprehensible and startling grin.
Abruptly things became very unpleasant, as they will do at times in
dreams. Chang-hi gibbered and threatened him. He saw in his dream heaps
and heaps of gold, and Chang-hi intervening and struggling to hold him
back from it. He took Chang-hi by the pig-tail–how big the yellow brute
was, and how he struggled and grinned! He kept growing bigger, too. Then
the bright heaps of gold turned to a roaring furnace, and a vast devil,
surprisingly like Chang-hi, but with a huge black tail, began to feed him
with coals. They burnt his mouth horribly. Another devil was shouting his
name: “Evans, Evans, you sleepy fool!”–or was it Hooker?

He woke up. They were in the mouth of the lagoon.

“There are the three palm-trees. It must be in a line with that clump of
bushes,” said his companion. “Mark that. If we, go to those bushes and
then strike into the bush in a straight line from here, we shall come to
it when we come to the stream.”

They could see now where the mouth of the stream opened out. At the sight
of it Evans revived. “Hurry up, man,” he said, “or by heaven I shall have
to drink sea water!” He gnawed his hand and stared at the gleam of silver
among the rocks and green tangle.

Presently he turned almost fiercely upon Hooker. “Give _me_ the
paddle,” he said.

So they reached the river mouth. A little way up Hooker took some water in
the hollow of his hand, tasted it, and spat it out. A little further he
tried again. “This will do,” he said, and they began drinking eagerly.

“Curse this!” said Evans suddenly. “It’s too slow.” And, leaning
dangerously over the fore part of the canoe, he began to suck up the water
with his lips.

Presently they made an end of drinking, and, running the canoe into a
little creek, were about to land among the thick growth that overhung the
water.

“We shall have to scramble through this to the beach to find our bushes
and get the line to the place,” said Evans.

“We had better paddle round,” said Hooker.

So they pushed out again into the river and paddled back down it to the
sea, and along the shore to the place where the clump of bushes grew. Here
they landed, pulled the light canoe far up the beach, and then went up
towards the edge of the jungle until they could see the opening of the
reef and the bushes in a straight line. Evans had taken a native implement
out of the canoe. It was L-shaped, and the transverse piece was armed with
polished stone. Hooker carried the paddle. “It is straight now in this
direction,” said he; “we must push through this till we strike the stream.
Then we must prospect.”

They pushed through a close tangle of reeds, broad fronds, and young
trees, and at first it was toilsome going, but very speedily the trees
became larger and the ground beneath them opened out. The blaze of the
sunlight was replaced by insensible degrees by cool shadow. The trees
became at last vast pillars that rose up to a canopy of greenery far
overhead. Dim white flowers hung from their stems, and ropy creepers swung
from tree to tree. The shadow deepened. On the ground, blotched fungi and
a red-brown incrustation became frequent.

Evans shivered. “It seems almost cold here after the blaze outside.”

“I hope we are keeping to the straight,” said Hooker.

Presently they saw, far ahead, a gap in the somber darkness where white
shafts of hot sunlight smote into the forest. There also was brilliant
green undergrowth and colored flowers. Then they heard the rush of water.

“Here is the river. We should be close to it now,” said Hooker.

The vegetation was thick by the river bank. Great plants, as yet unnamed,
grew among the roots of the big trees, and spread rosettes of huge green
fans towards the strip of sky. Many flowers and a creeper with shiny
foliage clung to the exposed stems. On the water of the broad, quiet pool
which the treasure-seekers now overlooked there floated big oval leaves
and a waxen, pinkish-white flower not unlike a water-lily. Further, as the
river bent away from them, the water suddenly frothed and became noisy in
a rapid.

“Well?” said Evans.

“We have swerved a little from the straight,” said Hooker. “That was to be
expected.”

He turned and looked into the dim cool shadows of the silent forest behind
them. “If we beat a little way up and down the stream we should come to
something.”

“You said–” began Evans.

“_He_ said there was a heap of stones,” said Hooker.

The two men looked at each other for a moment.

“Let us try a little down-stream first,” said Evans.

They advanced slowly, looking curiously about them. Suddenly Evans
stopped. “What the devil’s that?” he said.

Hooker followed his finger. “Something blue,” he said. It had come into
view as they topped a gentle swell of the ground. Then he began to
distinguish what it was.

He advanced suddenly with hasty steps, until the body that belonged to the
limp hand and arm had become visible. His grip tightened on the implement
he carried. The thing was the figure of a Chinaman lying on his face. The
_abandon_ of the pose was unmistakable.

The two men drew closer together, and stood staring silently at this
ominous dead body. It lay in a clear space among the trees. Near by was a
spade after the Chinese pattern, and further off lay a scattered heap of
stones, close to a freshly dug hole.

“Somebody has been here before,” said Hooker, clearing his throat.

Then suddenly Evans began to swear and rave, and stamp upon the ground.

Hooker turned white but said nothing. He advanced towards the prostrate
body. He saw the neck was puffed and purple, and the hands and ankles
swollen. “Pah!” he said, and suddenly turned away and went towards the
excavation. He gave a cry of surprise. He shouted to Evans, who was
following him slowly.

“You fool! It’s all right. It’s here still.” Then he turned again and
looked at the dead Chinaman, and then again at the hole.

Evans hurried to the hole. Already half exposed by the ill-fated wretch
beside them lay a number of dull yellow bars. He bent down in the hole,
and, clearing off the soil with his bare hands, hastily pulled one of the
heavy masses out. As he did so a little thorn pricked his hand. He pulled
the delicate spike out with his fingers and lifted the ingot.

“Only gold or lead could weigh like this,” he said exultantly.

Hooker was still looking at the dead Chinaman. He was puzzled.

“He stole a march on his friends,” he said at last. “He came here alone,
and some poisonous snake has killed him… I wonder how he found the
place.”

Evans stood with the ingot in his hands. What did a dead Chinaman signify?
“We shall have to take this stuff to the mainland piecemeal, and bury it
there for a while. How shall we get it to the canoe?”

He took his jacket off and spread it on the ground, and flung two or three
ingots into it. Presently he found that another little thorn had punctured
his skin.

“This is as much as we can carry,” said he. Then suddenly, with a queer
rush of irritation, “What are you staring at?”

Hooker turned to him. “I can’t stand him …” He nodded towards the
corpse. “It’s so like—-”

“Rubbish!” said Evans. “All Chinamen are alike.”

Hooker looked into his face. “I’m going to bury _that_, anyhow,
before I lend a hand with this stuff.”

“Don’t be a fool, Hooker,” said Evans, “Let that mass of corruption bide.”

Hooker hesitated, and then his eye went carefully over the brown soil
about them. “It scares me somehow,” he said.

“The thing is,” said Evans, “what to do with these ingots. Shall we
re-bury them over here, or take them across the strait in the canoe?”

Hooker thought. His puzzled gaze wandered among the tall tree-trunks, and
up into the remote sunlit greenery overhead. He shivered again as his eye
rested upon the blue figure of the Chinaman. He stared searchingly among
the grey depths between the trees.

“What’s come to you, Hooker?” said Evans. “Have you lost your wits?”

“Let’s get the gold out of this place, anyhow,” said Hooker.

He took the ends of the collar of the coat in his hands, and Evans took
the opposite corners, and they lifted the mass. “Which way?” said Evans.
“To the canoe?”

“It’s queer,” said Evans, when they had advanced only a few steps, “but my
arms ache still with that paddling.”

“Curse it!” he said. “But they ache! I must rest.”

They let the coat down, Evans’ face was white, and little drops of sweat
stood out upon his forehead. “It’s stuffy, somehow, in this forest.”

Then with an abrupt transition to unreasonable anger: “What is the good of
waiting here all the day? Lend a hand, I say! You have done nothing but
moon since we saw the dead Chinaman.”

Hooker was looking steadfastly at his companion’s face. He helped raise
the coat bearing the ingots, and they went forward perhaps a hundred yards
in silence. Evans began to breathe heavily. “Can’t you speak?” he said.

“What’s the matter with you?” said Hooker.

Evans stumbled, and then with a sudden curse flung the coat from him. He
stood for a moment staring at Hooker, and then with a groan clutched at
his own throat.

“Don’t come near me,” he said, and went and leant against a tree. Then in
a steadier voice, “I’ll be better in a minute.”

Presently his grip upon the trunk loosened, and he slipped slowly down the
stem of the tree until he was a crumpled heap at its foot. His hands were
clenched convulsively. His face became distorted with pain. Hooker
approached him.

“Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!” said Evans in a stifled voice. “Put the
gold back on the coat.”

“Can’t I do anything for you?” said Hooker.

“Put the gold back on the coat.”

As Hooker handled the ingots he felt a little prick on the ball of his
thumb. He looked at his hand and saw a slender thorn, perhaps two inches
in length.

Evans gave an inarticulate cry and rolled over.

Hooker’s jaw dropped. He stared at the thorn for a moment with dilated
eyes. Then he looked at Evans, who was now crumpled together on the
ground, his back bending and straightening spasmodically. Then he looked
through the pillars of the trees and net-work of creeper stems, to where
in the dim grey shadow the blue-clad body of the Chinaman was still
indistinctly visible. He thought of the little dashes in the corner of the
plan, and in a moment he understood.

“God help me!” he said. For the thorns were similar to those the Dyaks
poison and use in their blowing-tubes. He understood now what Chang-hi’s
assurance of the safety of his treasure meant. He understood that grin
now.

“Evans!” he cried.

But Evans was silent and motionless, save for a horrible spasmodic
twitching of his limbs. A profound silence brooded over the forest.

Then Hooker began to suck furiously at the little pink spot on the ball of
his thumb–sucking for dear life. Presently he felt a strange aching pain
in his arms and shoulders, and his fingers seemed difficult to bend. Then
he knew that sucking was no good.

Abruptly he stopped, and sitting down by the pile of ingots, and resting
his chin upon his hands and his elbows upon his knees, stared at the
distorted but still quivering body of his companion. Chang-hi’s grin came
into his mind again. The dull pain spread towards his throat and grew
slowly in intensity. Far above him a faint breeze stirred the greenery,
and the white petals of some unknown flower came floating down through the
gloom.

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