“Forward!” roared Hartog, and, putting forth his great strength, he began to propel the boat, heavily laden as she was, at a rapid pace toward the entrance of the cavern. With our hearts in our throats, Janstins and I came to his assistance, and, pushing frantically together, we drove the boat through the entrance just as the bats, in a body, rose from the balancing rock, which, relieved of their weight, fell with a crash, effectually blocking the path into the cave. Fortunately we were on the right side of the obstacle, and our way was open to the sea, but a moment’s hesitation would have consigned us to a lingering death, which, I am not ashamed to say, I shuddered to contemplate.
We now took off the canvas jackets and masks we had worn as a protection against stings from the hornets, and, without further mishap, conveyed the sand we had brought away with us on board our ship, from which we washed six buckets full of gold dust. Each bucketful we reckoned, by weight, to be worth twenty thousand English pounds, so that we had ransom to pay Montbar for salvaging our vessel, besides retaining enough to make us all rich men.
Our crew, who had now become obedient to Hartog’s authority, were desirous to continue the search of the cavern, in the hope of obtaining more of the precious metal, but on being taken to the entrance to the caves, it was found that an impassable barrier of rock stood between them and their desire for boundless wealth. They were, therefore, compelled to be satisfied with a share in the gold we had already won.
And here it may be observed how wise are the ways of Providence and how watchful appeared to be the good genius who followed our destiny. Had limitless wealth been suddenly showered upon us, what evil consequences might have followed? Man is, after all, but an avaricious creature, who requires the discipline of necessity to restrain his covetous nature. The prospect of gold-getting would probably have undermined Hartog’s authority, and would most likely have ended in disaster for us all. As it was, we had enough, but not more than enough, and the discipline of our ship, so necessary to our common safety, was maintained.
We paid Montbar, according to our agreement, gold to the value of sixty thousand English pounds, that being half the value of the gold obtained, with which he expressed himself well satisfied.
“Honesty is, after all, the best policy,” he said. “Had I not restored to you your ship I would have missed this treasure, that will well repay me for my long voyage, which I had before thought profitless. I regret your decision not to accompany me to the West Indies, but since you have paid your ransom you are free to go whithersoever your fancy may lead you, without let or hindrance.”
We thanked Montbar, although I could not help smiling at the tribute which he paid to honesty when I remembered that the lockers in his cabins were crammed with the loot which he had taken as a freebooter upon the seas.