By Greg Clark, September 25, 1943
“You’re just in time,” cried Jimmie Frise, delightedly.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“There’s an old chap coming in,” hurried Jim, “an old sailor, who has got the most extraordinary story. About buried treasure.”
“Ho, ho, ho,” I scoffed.
“This,” cried Jim, “is the real thing. You’ll realize it the minute you see the old boy. He’s absolutely genuine.”
“Ha, ha, ha,” I said, settling down to my desk to earn my daily bread.
“Listen,” said Jim, “I’m no fool. I wouldn’t be taken in by any fake. I tell you, this old boy is the real stuff. And he’s got the most fascinating story I’ve ever listened to.”
“Was it gold coins,” I inquired sarcastically, “or just ordinary gold bricks?”
“I tell you,” declared Jim, that he held me absolutely spellbound for over an hour. He’s gone home to get some more documents, now that I’m interested. But I told him to hurry back because I wanted you to hear it from his own lips.”
“What kind of a man is he?” I asked.
“He’s an old sailor,” related Jim breathlessly. “He’s a big, stout, elderly fellow, with white hair and a big, round, ruddy face. His hands are all tattooed in red and blue, and you can fairly smell the salt off him.”
“I suppose,” I offered, “that he walks with rolling gait, like all sailors in stories?”
“Just you wait,” said Jim. “He isn’t the talkative plausible type at all. He’s a big, slow-speaking, bashful old man, who blushes and struggles with his words. He’s been trying to get up nerve enough to approach us ever since the summer, when he came to Toronto to visit his granddaughter.”
“And what’s he got?” I inquired
“He’s got,” said Jim, hastily collecting his thoughts, an ancient chart …”
“Phew,” I said. “It smells, Jim. It’s the old Spanish prisoner racket in a new guise.”
“Listen,” cried Jim hotly, “I saw this chart. It’s as old as the hills. It’s at least 200 years old.”
“Paper or parchment?” I demanded.
“Paper,” said Jim.
“And how it preserved?” I asked shrewdly.
“It’s pasted on leather,” explained Jim. “Old, old dried and withered leather of some kind …”
An Exciting Story
“How did he come by it?” I inquired.
“It was given to him by a native woman, down in the South Seas, when he was a young man,” related Jim, romantically. “This native girl loved him and gave him the chart, which she said was a secret possession of her family, handed down from her great-great-grandfather, a white man.”
“Probably a pirate,” I suggested.
“That’s what the old sailor thinks, too,” said Jim.
“Then why has he never done anything about it?” I submitted.
“That’s the exciting part of the whole thing,” cried Jim. “This is the part that makes me believe every word he says. And this is the story. When he left the South Seas, he left on a little trading schooner. He had the chart in his seaman’s box. He thought nothing of it. It was just a curio his girl had given him. He didn’t believe a word of the story she told about any buried treasure. On the trading schooner he came to blows with the master, and at the first port of call he quit the schooner and waited for a steamer. This was a tramp steamer engaged in some illegal traffic, and when they reached San Francisco the whole ship’s company, captain officers and crew, were all arrested, including this old boy – then a lad of about 25.”
“Go ahead,” I urged.
“He was in jail about a week,” went on Jim, “and when he got out and went back to the ship for his gear the ship’s cook, who had not been arrested, had gone through all the property of the crew, stealing anything of value that he found. And among the things he took from our friend’s sea chest was this old chart.”
“H’m,” said I.
“Fifteen years went by,” related Jimmie, “and our friend never even thought of the old chart. Never even thought of it. That’s how little he valued it. Then, in 1912 …”
Jim crouched down at his drawing-board and fixed me with a maritime eye.
“In 1912,” hissed Jim, “our friend, now an old sailor of 40 years of age, signed aboard a rich man’s yacht in New York. It was a pleasure cruise, going in search of buried treasure in the Caribbean.
“Ah,” I pleaded.
“And naturally among the crew and the members of the party,” said Jim, “the talk was all buried treasure. The yacht owner had dozens of books, pamphlets and old charts and old references and letters to all the buried treasure there ever were. And naturally our friend, in the course of talk as they cruised south, spoke up and told about the ancient yellow chart, backed with leather, that his girl had given him years before in the South Sea Islands.”
“So?” I begged.
“On this old chart,” whispered Jim mysteriously, as you will see in a few minutes, there is written, in ancient faded ink, the name Jos. Hawkins. When our friend described the chart and mentioned the name Jos. Hawkins, the yacht owner nearly went crazy with excitement. It appears he had records of the existence not only of that very chart, but of an enormous treasure, in gold, silver and jewels, buried on an island in the South Pacific.”
“What a coincidence,” I breathed.
“Naturally,” said Jim. “they quit their pleasure cruise and headed as fast as they knew how for San Francisco to try to pick up trace of that thieving ship’s cook or of the stolen chart.”
“When was this?” I asked.
“In 1912,” said Jim. “They went to San Francisco and with the help of the wealthy yacht owner they delved into the old records, they hunted through hundreds of sailors boarding-houses, for any trace of the cook. But never the slightest trace did they find. It was hopeless.”
“What happened?” I asked,
“Our friend,” said Jim, whose name is Smith, left the yacht’s crew and remained behind in San Francisco to continue the search. The yacht owner financed him for two years. He haunted the wharfs, searched the sailors’ hangouts. Then, in 1914, the wealthy yacht owner died. All alone, without any further means of support, Smith continued the search. He had to take jobs, and he went on short voyages, always returning to San Francisco. But about 1917 he finally gave up the search after five years. By now he was getting into his fifties. He went on a freighter to England and from there, during the hard years after the war, he took such jobs as he could get. But never did he forget the chart and that cook. He spent all his idle time searching sailor hangouts, searching second-hand shops, looking through the contents of sailors’ sea chests in second-hand stores. Then one day …”
“Please hurry,” I begged.
“One day in Rio de Janeiro,” said Jim, with a catch in his voice, “Smith walked into a little restaurant at the dockside, and there, at a table, was the cook!”
“What a moment!” I agreed.
“Smith was very clever,” said Jim. “He controlled himself. He simply sat down and shook hands with the thief and asked him what he had done with the chart which Smith said he valued as a gift from an old sweetheart. The cook said it had lain in the bottom of his chest for several years but that he had left the chest at a certain sailors’ boarding house in San Francisco. It was there yet, as far as he knew.”
“Not much chance,” I suggested. “After 20 years.”
“Yes,” said Jim, listening to hear if Smith’s footsteps were approaching. “Poor Smith. He had to make his way to San Francisco. It took him seven months. On account of the war merchant seamen can’t just go where they please. When he reached San Francisco he went at once to the boarding house. The house had changed hands several times. It took Smith a whole month to trace down the owner at the time the cook left the box. He lived in Chicago. Smith went to Chicago, riding freight trains. There he spent weeks tracing the old boarding house owner, who finally told him, at last, that he had sold the chest to a dealer in such junk.”
“What a treasure hunt itself,” I marvelled.
“Back to San Francisco went Smith, only this past summer,” said Jim. “He is, as you will see, an elderly man, though well preserved. In San Francisco he went straight to the junk dealer’s who, 10 years before, had bought a sea chest from a bankrupt boarding-house. Down cellar they went and searched amongst the gathering debris of the years. And there, in five minutes, they found the cook’s sea chest. Smith bought it for 50 cents.”
“Fifty cents?” I exclaimed.
“And down in the bottom,” exulted Jim, “was the chart, undamaged, exactly as Smith had last seen it.”
“What a remarkable thing,” I agreed.
How Lovely to Go Voyaging
“Smith,” continued Jim, “beat his way directly to New York, to try and dig up any connections with that yachting party of 1912. Any children or friends of the yacht owner. He couldn’t find any trace of them whatever. He used up all his money. He was absolutely checkmated. He was on the point of approaching some stranger and putting the proposition up to him, when he remembered his granddaughter here in Toronto. He decided, before taking any risks, to come and visit his granddaughter, whom he had never seen, and the only living soul left to him in the world. When you get old you turn back to your own.”
“So he came to Toronto?” I urged.
“He has been here a month,” said Jim. “He revealed his secret to the young woman. They talked the thing over from every angle. And finally the granddaughter suggested you and me. She reads our articles every week, and she just thought we were the adventurous type who might be interested. And she believes we are honest men. And discreet.”
“Jim,” I said shakily, “did Smith give you any idea of the size of the treasure?”
“He has no idea,” replied Jim. “All he knows is that it is in a most inaccessible region in the South Pacific, that it consists of a very great quantity of Spanish gold coins silver bars and jewels.”
“Did he not put a value on it?” I quivered
“He thinks he recollects hearing the yacht owner say,” said Jim, “that it amounted to $2,000,000.”
“Oh, my gosh,” I gasped.
“With the war on,” said Jim, “there isn’t much hope of getting near it.”
“Let’s cross our bridges when we come to them,” I counselled.
“It wouldn’t take a great deal,” said Jim, agitated. “Smith thinks $1,000 would make a start. We could let 10 friends in, for $100 apiece. And we could get leave of absence from the office for a few weeks.”
“I need a winter holiday,” I proclaimed.
“Smith should be back before this,” said Jim, looking at his watch. “He said he would be back right away. And that is two hours ago.”
Jim glared at a bit of paper on his drawing-board.
“Have you got his address?” I cried. “Let’s go at once and see if he’s all right. An elderly man. Maybe something has happened. And, anyway, imagine him carrying that precious chart around in his pocket. Why, Jim, he may have been waylaid…”
Jim reached for his hat.
“He lives,” said Jim, “with his granddaughter at a boarding-house on Jarvis. I’ll just leave a note for him to wait in case he comes while we’re gone.”
“We won’t be 15 minutes,” I pointed out.
With all speed we drove to the address on Jarvis street.
“Amongst sailors,” I pointed out, as we speeded, there are a lot of shady characters. Suppose somebody has caught on to the old man …”
Jim stepped on the gas.
“My interest in this,” I submitted, “is more to help the dear old fellow realize his dream than any hope of personal gain. Imagine all the years . . .”
At the Jarvis street address a thin woman in a wrapper answered the door. When we asked for Mr. Smith she opened the door agitatedly and said:
“Go right up.”
“Is everything all right?” I inquired.
“Certainly, certainly,” said the thin lady with increased agitation. “The first door on your left.”
We rapped. The door was instantly, opened by a very large man wearing his hat and coat.
“Step in,” he commanded.
Another large man was sitting on the bed.
“What’s your name, who are you and what do you want?” demanded this latter gentleman.
We explained we wanted Mr. Smith. We further explained that Mr. Smith had been going to call at our office re a little matter of business, but having failed to turn up we had called on him instead.
“Did you give him any money?” demanded one of the large gentlemen.
“No,” we said.
“All right, Bill,” said one to the other, “you go back with these birds to their office and I’ll wait here. But I don’t expect well see him.”
The larger gentleman ushered us out and downstairs and out into our car with us.
He’s called The Sailor,” explained the detective, for such he was. “He travels all over America with his so-called granddaughter, spilling this story about the buried treasure.”
“Good heavens,” we gasped.
“And it would astonish you,” said the cop, “how many people fall for it. Hundreds of dollars, some of them.”
“How silly of them,” I said, “to be taken in by such a tale.”
“The world’s full of them,” said Jimmie, contemptuously.
Editor’s Note: The Spanish Prisoner, would now be more notably known as the Nigerian Prince.