Roy Glashan's Library
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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

THE MASTER OF MAGELLAN
THE GIANT'S MOUTH

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First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 11 October 1919

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-07-29

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CHAPTER 1
News of Treasure

AS the man came across the gang plank leading from the wharf to the deck of the salvage steamer Camel, young Bob Tremayne brother of the Camel's captain, watched him. The stranger was clearly a sea-faring man, but had a shabby, down at heel look which rather puzzled Bob. Down here, at Punta Arenas, on the bleak shores of the Straits of Magellan, men were in demand, and any sailor could get a job without trouble.

The stranger reached the deck and stood, looking round. Bob went up to him.

"Looking for a job?" he asked.

"I'm looking for the skipper," replied the man. "Captain Tremayne o' the Camel."

"He is busy," said Bob. "I am his brother."

"Aye, you'll be Robert. Yes, I know. But I got to see him. You tell him I'm from Captain Harter."

"Captain Harter of the Narwhale?"

"Aye, the one as you got off o' that reef in the Seal Pit. That's him. I got a message from him for your brother."

"Wait a minute," said Bob, and went below.

David Tremayne was in the cabin, writing letters for the out-going mail. Bob told him of the visitor.

"What sort of a chap is he?" asked David.

"Can't say I think much of his looks. He's a man of about forty. Middle-sized, none too clean, walks with a sort of shamble, and looks like a loafer."

David considered a moment.

"I'll see him. Bob. Harter's a good old sort, and he may not hare been able to pick his messenger. Bring him down."

Bob did so, and left the two together.

It was more than half an hour before the pair came out of the cabin. Then the man went forward, and David called Bob in. Although Bob was a good many years younger than David, the two brothers were the best of friends, and David always consulted Robert before taking any important step.

"His name is Coppin," began David, abruptly. "He says he was one of Harter's sealers. And if the message he brings from Harter is genuine, it's big business."

He paused. Bob waited anxiously.

"His story is this," went on David, unconsciously lowering his voice. "Harter, he says, has been sealing down south, near Masterman Island. Quite by chance, he has struck the wreck of an old Spanish ship. A treasure ship, he says. He has sent me a chart of the spot where it lies, which is in a large cave called the Giant's Month. Harter suggests that we should see what we can salve from her, and if it's good enough to go on with, give him twenty-five per cent. of anything we get."

Bob's eyes were shining. "A treasure ship!" he repeated. "David, we might get thousands out of her. It might mean buying back the old place!"

"There's a chance, of course," replied David quietly. "The question in my mind is whether the message is genuine."

"Juarez, you mean?" put in Bob, swiftly.

"That's the idea. I can't help thinking that it may be a plant. You see Juarez is mad to catch us, and if he did nab us in a place like this cave, we should be absolutely at his mercy."

Bob nodded. "That's true. But couldn't we keep a watch?"

"I suppose we could. I don't like to let a chance like this slip. The trouble is that this man Coppin has not brought any letter from Harter, only the chart. What he says is, that Harter would not trust the story to writing. He was afraid that someone else might get hold of it."

"That sounds reasonable," said Bob. "See here, David, is Coppin willing to come with us?"

"Yes."

"Then I think it's good enough. We have him as hostage if there's any monkey business. We can post a watch before we enter the channel, and that will give us time to clear if El Capitan heaves in sight."

David considered a few moments, his eyes on the chart.

"Right, Bob. We'll try it at any rate. We'll get off first thing in the morning."


CHAPTER 2
A Strange Anchorage

OLD skippers will tell you that, if it isn't raining down in the Straits, then it's snowing, and if there is not a gale, why then there's a thick fog. Yet, on the November morning, when the Camel arrived off the mouth of the inlet marked on Captain Harter's chart, the sun shone as sweetly as on a June day in England, the sky was blue, the air clear, and the breeze that blew light and soft.

November, of course, is the first month of summer in the Antarctic, and for once the weather seemed to be living up to the season.

The scenery, too, was different from the usual on the shores of the Land of Fire. Instead of the usual savage cliffs, the shores of this channel were sloping, and were covered with beech scrub. This scrub is exactly the same as the so-called perpendicular scrub of Northern Tasmania. For thickness there is nothing to match it in the rest of the world. So thick is it, and so solid are the stems of the dwarfed beech trees that, if you have to cross it, it is actually easier to climb over the top than to try to force one's way along at ground level.

The Camel lay to at the mouth of the channel, a boat was dropped, and two men sent ashore with orders to make their way to the summit of a bare hill which rose about four hundred feet above the Straits, and there to wait and watch. If Juarez's black schooner was sighted they were to come down at once, and give warning. Since they would be able to see any approaching ship at seven or eight miles distance, there would be plenty of time for the Camel to get clear.

Coppin watched the boat off, then came aft to David and touched his cap civilly.

"You're putting out sentries, sir?"

"I am," replied David quietly. "There are others besides ourselves who would like to got their hands on treasure."

"Juarez, for instance, sir?"

"Quite so. You see, Coppin, I am taking no chances."

"Quite right, sir," replied the man quietly. "But I hope as I'll be able to show you, inside the next hour, that the wreck is where Cap'n Harter said it was."

He spoke so straightly that David felt almost ashamed of his suspicions. Turning away, he gave orders to proceed.

The channel, though narrow, was evidently of great depth and there was no rocks to make navigation difficult. As the Camel, with the powerful engines thudding steadily, drew up it, the banks changed and became steeper. The scrub thinned away, and presently stark cliffs towered on either side of the waterway.

A little farther and rounding a curve, they sighted the inner end of thin narrow bay.

"My word, David, did you ever see such a rum-looking place?" exclaimed Bob in amazement.

No wonder Bob Tremayne was astonished, for a stranger freak of nature could hardly have been found if you had searched the world for it. The cliffs on either side seemed to curve over and meet, forming a colossal arch—an arch so tall that a full-rigged ship might have sailed in without even her maintop touching the roof. It was like the portal of some monstrous cathedral, the floor below being smooth black water.

"That's it, sir," came Coppin's voice behind them. "That's what they calls the Giant's Mouth. It goes straight in till it shoals, and the wreck lies in the shoal water close to a ledge at the inner end. Cap'n Harter, he reckoned she must ha' been leaking bad, and they took her in to careen. Then, likely, she was too bad damaged and sunk on 'em while they was at work."

"I can see her," said Bob, sharply.

He was right. The sunlight was shining full into the mouth of the cave, and the ledge Coppin had spoken of was plainly visible. Rising out of the water, close to the ledge, was an object which looked like a half-tide rock, but which was undoubtedly the mouldering bow castle of the ancient galleon.

David rang down for quarter speed, and very slowly and cautiously the stout little ship crept in under the monstrous arch. Even David Tremayne, stolid and steady as he was, felt his heart beat quicker. He knew—none better—what treasures the great Spanish ships had carried home from the golden palaces of the Incas. Was it possible that the dream of his life might at last be coming true, and that here in this lost place at the ends of the earth he might find the means to buy back the old estates of his family?


CHAPTER 3
Mystery!

DAVID and his brother stood together in the cabin of the Camel. The sunlight streamed in through the open transom overhead, and fell upon a short thick bar which lay upon the table before them. It was as black as an old boot, and looked like a pig of lead.

David opened a clasp knife and began to scratch the metal. Bob watched with breathless eagerness. It was soft, but not so soft as lead, and as the sharp steel blade cut into it a bright gleam as a new shilling reflected the sun.

Bob gasped. "Silver?" he asked, hoarsely.

"Silver it is," replied David, quietly.

"And—and there's tons of it!" cried Bob.

"I don't know about that, Bob, but Arnott, the diver, says there is quite a lot."

"Hooray! It's our luck at last, Dave."

"I hope so, old chap. But don't be too chirpy. Arnott says that it is not easy to get at. The wood-work is rotten, and most of the cargo is down in deep water below the wreck. It's going to be a big job to raise it."

"Don't croak, David," said Bob. "I'm certain we are going to get home with our pockets full this time. Come up on dock, and let's see how much more they've got."

There were three more bars on deck, and by night-fall Arnott had got six more, making ten in all. Every soul in the ship was in a state of badly suppressed excitement. For all would have their share in this treasure which had been lying for generations in the cave.

But it was a slow job raising it, and after a day or two David told Bob that he was afraid of stores running out before they could finish. This was a blow, and the men when they heard it, volunteered to go on half-rations.

That evening Coppin came to David. "There's no reason why we should go short, sir," he said. "There's lots of fish in these here waters. If you'll let me take the boat, I can get plenty."

"Have you got any lines?" asked David. "I've better than that, sir. There's a sieve net aboard. If I sets that across the tide at the mouth of the channel, I ought to get plenty of fish."

"Right," said David. "Try it to-morrow."

Next morning Coppin went off, and returned in the middle of the afternoon with the dinghy half full of fish. The men who had been on salt pork were delighted. The fish were a sort of herring, and excellent eating.

After that Coppin went out every day, and most days came back with a good catch. And day by day the store of silver increased, until at the end of three weeks they had raised 237 bars weighing on average twenty pounds apiece. Taking these bars as being worth, roughly, 50 apiece, they had nearly twelve thousand pounds' worth of bullion aboard the Camel.

Everything was going well. The weather remained perfect. None of them had ever known such a spell since they had been in the Straits.

Arnott said that there were still a good many bars scattered among the rocks at the bottom—quite enough to make it worth while to stay on for a few days longer, so David decided to make the most of the fine weather and get all he could. Three thousand would have to go to Harter, and the crew's share would be about another two thousand. He wanted ten thousand pounds for the object that he and Bob had in view—the buying back of their old family place in South Cornwall.

On the Monday morning—it was the twenty-third day of their successful treasure hunt—Bob, coming on deck early, got a shock. On the cliff-top opposite, outlined against the sky, he saw two small, white animals. He stared and stared. "Why, they're sheep!" he exclaimed at last.

"So they be, sir," said Barstow, one of the crew. "A bit o' roast mutton wouldn't come amiss, would it, sir?"

Bob's mouth fairly watered at the thought. After you have lived on fish and tinned stuff for weeks on end, the notion of fresh meat is, to put it mildly, tempting. He rushed off to find his brother.

The latter was just sitting down to breakfast.

"I say. David," began Bob, "there are sheep on the cliff. Must be a ranch somewhere around. What price my going to look for it, and buying a few sheep? Just think of mutton chops for supper!"

David looked up from his plate. "My dear lad, the ranch may be fifty miles away. The runs here as big as an English county.

"Let me try, anyhow. If I went to the top of a hill I could soon see. There'd be smoke rising, you know."

"I know," said David dryly. "And you'd be off across miles of unknown country, and probably get lost and have the whole ship's company looking for you."

"Hang it all! I'm not such a fool as that," retorted Bob, indignantly. "See here. I'll promise that, if I don't see any house in range, I'll come back at once."

"Right, but you are not to go alone. You can take Billy Button."

"Oh, I don't mind Billy," said Bob, as he took his seat at the table.

An hour or so later he and Billy started. Billy was a native Patagonian who, having been for a time on a rich man's yacht, knew English. It was Bob who had rescued him from slavery aboard the schooner El Capitan, the piratical craft of which Pedro Juarez was owner. Billy was devoted to Bob.

There was no getting up the sheer cliff opposite. The pair had to pull some little way down the inlet to a spot where the perpendicular scrub began. There they tied the boat up and went ashore.

Alone, Bob would have never got through the scrub. It was Billy who showed him how to go over it. Billy was as active as a monkey. It took Bob all he knew to keep up with him, and even as it was the pair were a long time in reaching the crest of the slope.

Once clear of the scrub. Bob pulled up and wiped his streaming face. "Some work, eh, Billy?" he said.

"Right smart, sah," replied Billy, who had learned his English under Americans. "Now we go kill them sheep?"

"Kill them! Great Scott, Billy, you'll he hung for a sheep stealer, if you're not careful. I want to buy them. Don't you understand?"

"Don't reckon no one will miss 'em," replied Billy, gazing greedily at the distant sheep.

"Don't you dare touch them," ordered Bob. "Come up to the top of the hill and let's see if we can spot the ranch house."

The hill was steep, but when they got to the top the view was splendid. Miles and miles inland the slopes were green with grass and bright with small, but fragrant, flowers. Hundreds of sheep were visible, but not a house. Bob turned at last, and looked down at the ship lying like a toy in the mouth of the mighty cavern. Then his gaze wandered down the creek to its mouth, where Coppin fished every day. And there was the net. In the clear air Bob could spot the long line of corks. But of the dinghy or the man himself there was no sign at all.

"That's rum," said Bob. "Where has he gone?"

Billy looked round keenly. Next moment, he pointed towards the Straits. Between them and the open Straits was a dip and a rise. On the far side of the rise a little puff of smoke rose, like a ring from a giant's cigarette. Bob watched a moment. Another puff rose. He turned to Billy. "Stay here and wait for me," he ordered, curtly.


CHAPTER 4
Caught!

BOB lay flat on the top of the rise. Below him and only a few yards away was Coppin. Coppin was crouching over a small fire which he damped at intervals with an old sack, causing the smoke to rise in puffs. Out in the Straits, not more than three miles away, the long sinister shape of the black schooner El Capitan was sailing steadily inwards, before the light breeze.

Every drop of blood in Bob's body boiled. In an instant he understood everything. Coppin was Juarez's man, and Juarez had planned that the Camel should raise the treasure, then that Coppin should warn him when it was raised, then no doubt that he and this rascal should share it between them.

He was so furious that he forgot caution. He sprang to his feet. Coppin heard him. The man's mean face was convulsed with rage and fear as he spun round. Whipping out a pistol, he fired straight at Bob.

Bob's hat flew from his head. Realising what a fool he had been and the absolute necessity for getting away to warn the rest, he turned and ran for his life.

Coppin tore after him, but he had to go up hill, while Bob went down. Bob gained at first, but when he began to climb the opposite slope, the crack of the revolver echoed again through the sunlit air, and bullets thudded on the turf all around him.

If hit, it was the end of them all. Bob knew it, and gaining the top of the last ridge, made a half-turn to the right, and hurled himself into the scrub.

Safe for the moment, he glanced back. Coppin had seen him. He was tearing in pursuit. He, too, knew that, if Bob got away his plan was smashed. Bob did not wait, but scrambled wildly along the twisted trunks of the matted beech trees.

He had not seen Billy at all. He only hoped that he had realised what was up, and had gone back to the boat. For himself, once he was in the scrub, he had lost sight of the boat and everything else. All he could do was to make down hill. Unfortunately, it was impossible to go quietly, and by the crashing behind, he knew that Coppin was hard after him.

The scrub was extraordinarily thick and heavy. Some of the stunted trunks were as thick as Bob's body. It was desperately difficult to get along. Bob found himself at times twenty feet above the ground. He took the most appalling risks, but Coppin clearly knew the stuff better than he did, and he could not shake him off.

The fellow was gaining. Bob came to a gap. He made a wild leap for a trunk beyond, missed it and went crashing down through the whipping branches. This was the end—that was the thought that flashed through his mind. Next moment he was almost buried in a deep drift of dead leaves.

The crashing was closer. Bob knew he would be caught before he could climb out again. The brain, works quickly in such a desperate pass, and suddenly an idea came to Bob. Like a flash, he pulled out his matchbox, struck half a dozen matches and scattered them over the leaves.

A crackle, a roar! There had been no rain for weeks, and almost instantly the place was a furnace. Scorched and blinded, Bob plunged forward through the tangled stems.

The next few minutes were touch and go. Then just when Bob felt that he could not drag himself another step, the scrub opened and there was the water before him.

More. By a wonderful stroke of luck, he had struck the very spot where the dinghy which Coppin had been using lay tied. It was the work of a moment for Bob to spring aboard, slash the painter, and start pulling furiously up the inlet.

How he got to the ship he never knew, and when he did scramble over the side, he could not utter any sound but a sort of hoarse croak. Next thing he knew David had an arm round him and a glass of water at his lips. He drank every drop, then his voice came back, and he poured out his story.

Before he had finished, David's orders rang out. The diver was raised, the moorings cast off, and a boat was towing the Camel out, while the stokers poured oil into the furnaces in a frantic effort to raise steam quickly.

But the fires had been let out. It would be an hour at least before the engines could be set going. Bob, David, everyone knew that the case was hopeless. They were penned in this corner at the mercy of their cruel enemy.

Between them and the sea the fire rioted through the scrub. Acres were burning now, but all that could be seen was a monstrous fog of smoke, pierced with lurid tongues of leaping flame.

"We can't see her when she does come," said David in his quietest voice. Bob made no reply. Somehow he felt that it was all his fault. He grasped his rifle, determined to fight to the last. David had served out firearms all round, but he knew and so did Bob that they were almost useless, for Juarez had two guns aboard, while the Camel was not armed. More, Juarez's ship had motor power which would enable him to run right up the inlet.

The minutes dragged by and still no sign of the enemy.

"The screw is moving," snapped out Bob. "We are under way. What are you going to do, David?"

David's face hardened. "Steam out full speed. Ram her if need be."

Himself at the tiller, David steered straight down the inlet. The Camel's powerful engines were roaring at full speed. A minute later they were in the smoke fog and could barely see a ship's length ahead. Not a soul spoke, but everyone's rifle was ready.

A puff of wind. The smoke lifted.

"There she is!" said someone, hoarsely.

There she was, but what was the matter with her? The big black schooner lay with her stern towards them, motionless in the mouth of the channel.

"She's anchored!" gasped David, unable to believe his eves.

It was Bob who realised the truth.

"She's fast!" he roared, "fast in Coppin's fishing net. It's all round her screw."

It was true. El Capitan's screw was fast in Coppin's net, and Juarez was helpless. He could not even train his guns on the Camel.

In dead silence, but with every rifle pointed at the enemy, the Camel passed within biscuit throw, and stood out into the Straits. Rounding the headland, they lost sight of the enemy, and Bob turned to his brother.

"I say, David," he chuckled. "I'd give something to hear what Juarez will say to Coppin when Coppin goes aboard."

David smiled in his grave way.

"It might be amusing," he admitted. "I'll tell you something else that may amuse you, if you haven't thought of it. It was Juarez who found the ship, not Harter. So the three thousand that would have been Harter's share goes into our pockets."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.