But at this we asked time to consider. Although we had no cause to love the Spaniards, we had no reason to hate them with the same inveterate hatred displayed by Montbar. Besides, in spite of the glamour that surrounded them, we knew the buccaneers to be no better than pirates. Still it seemed a poor return to make Captain Montbar for the service he had rendered us to refuse his request. While we hesitated between two minds what we should do, I bethought me of the gold dust at the place of the painted hands. We had never intended to abandon this treasure by reason of a swarm of insects, however numerous and venomous they might be. The fishermen from Lamakera had excuse for doing so, since they lacked the equipment to combat the pests which infested the caves, but, with the resources of a ship at our disposal, it would be strange if we could not devise some means to carry off the gold, share it with Montbar, and thus repay the obligation we owed him.
I mentioned this project to Hartog, who at once fell in with my plan.
“You are a wizard, Peter,” he said, “for finding a way out of a dilemma. If we can get this treasure, and either share it with Montbar, or give it all to him should it not prove considerable, our debt will be paid, so that we may continue our voyage whithersoever our fancy leads us, but, with the price of the ship on my conscience, I could never regard myself as a free man. Montbar knows this.
“It is the rule of the sea that captured vessels are spoils to the victor. For all his fine speeches, I feel convinced that Montbar looks upon the ship as his own, and has only come to obtain her crew also to be henceforth under his command. But, should ransom be paid, Montbar would consider us freed from all obligation.”
That evening, therefore, Hartog stated plainly our conditions to Captain Montbar, which, shortly, were that if the treasure proved to be of great value, we would divide it equally among the companies of the frigate and our ship; if not of great value, then the whole of the treasure was to go to the frigate as salvage for our vessel; and if we did not succeed in bringing the treasure away, then our ship and her company were to be at Montbar’s disposal, to do with as he thought fit.
These proposals were received by Montbar with a gravity and shrewdness which clearly proved his professed generosity in returning us our vessel was only preliminary to demanding a ransom.
“Let it be as you say, then,” he said. “Within a week we shall have ascertained the value of this treasure, when the matter may be adjusted in the manner you propose. Meanwhile, the resources of my vessel are at your disposal.”
We thanked him and withdrew, but we determined only to employ our own men on our second visit to the eaves. A fair remuneration for the salvage of our ship was all that Captain Montbar looked for or expected, and we saw no reason why we should disclose our secret to any beyond those chosen from our own company, nor did Montbar seek to pry into our business, contenting himself with our promise, at the end of the week either to pay him salvage or surrender our ship and ourselves, to be disposed of in such manner as might please him best.