A Tropical Island, Part 1
My henchman, old Waldimar Fisher, had travelled about in his time, more than a bit. Among the places he had visited were the Cocos Islands, two thousand miles off Nicaragua. Having regard to the tales I had heard about these haunts of old-time “skull-and-cross-bone” men, I was greatly interested in what he himself had to say in connection with them.
It has long been rumoured there is treasure buried there. Several people have had a shot at finding it, amongst others, Admiral Palliser. This gallant gentleman and some of his colleagues fitted out an expedition and put in six weeks, so Fisher said, hunting for the hidden riches. However they found nothing worth writing home about. Fisher himself made more than one attempt. Five years after his first venture he received a note from a sick man located at Coquimbo hospital, asking him to call on him. When Fisher got there, he found the man was one whom he had befriended when he was in good circumstances. To save Lazarus from the consequences of utter despair, Fisher had made him steward on his own boat. Feeling he was now at the point of death, the poor fellow said he wished to make Fisher some return for his kindly deed. It appeared that a few years previously he had been associated with a number of adventurers who purposed to discover the Cocos treasure. They chartered a small schooner, and actually started on their voyage of discovery. To their intense disgust, they encountered such abominable weather that they were obliged to return to port and relinquish their project for the time being. Somehow and somewhere on the journey this man sneaked the chart they banked on, to show them the location of the treasure. When the loss was discovered, there was, of course, an unholy row. A vigorous search was instituted, but Fisher’s friend had hidden the document so snugly that nothing came of it. I understood he secreted it in his trunk, but knowing a bit about the keen-witted men who frequent these seas, I should beg leave to doubt that, unless maybe the box was furnished with a false bottom. Even so——! But there, it doesn’t signify where the man hid his prize. The only thing that really matters is, he got away with it all right. He said he had always intended to let Fisher into the secret, so that they two could go and have a try on their own. Now there was no possibility of their ever doing that, he had decided to give the chart to Fisher, making only this proviso, viz. when Fisher was ready to go to Cocos, he was to tell the real owner of the chart so that he might participate, if he chose.
After the ex-steward had been dead and buried a little while, Waldimar approached some of his Valparaiso friends discreetly, but could find no one willing to put up the pieces, hence he had to let the matter lie in abeyance. Subsequently he happened upon very hard times and had to postpone it indefinitely.
His undoing came about in this wise. When he decided to retire from the whaling industry, he sold his share in the undertaking for £7000. Added to what he had banked, he now commanded a capital of £11,000. So he thought he would launch out a bit. Accordingly he bought a property at English Hill, Valparaiso, for £2000, and spent a similar sum on improving it. Then he went half-shares with a fellow in a big coal business. That absorbed another £4000. Fisher hoped to make big money out of this enterprise. But alas, and alack! His partner had a brain wave; drew £7000 to go to Europe and buy an extra large collier with passenger accommodation, and—never returned. Fisher struggled along for a little while under this smashing blow, but soon went broke.
I first hit up against him when on my way to see the author of that remarkably clever book, A Merry Banker in the Far East. During the hour or so I had to wait before seeing him, I occupied myself in strolling up and down the wharf at Valparaiso. While thus engaged, I was accosted by an old sailorman, whose beard was turning grey. He told a piteous tale, and said he had no grub and was pretty nigh famished. Something about him impressed me favourably, so I gave him a third-class ticket to Vina del Mar on my train, and directed him to my stables. Before we started I saw to the requirements of his inner man.
He turned up at my establishment in due course, and I then allotted him a bunk in what I called the dosser’s room. This I had had constructed out of two of the loose boxes. The bunks were nicely fitted up with straw mattresses and bolsters and feather pillows, etc., and were well supplied with horse rugs as coverlets. I directed the cook to give him three meals per day with the lads, and then told the old man what I expected in return, viz. I should look to him to keep the yard and appurtenances quite clean and tidy. So long as he satisfied me in that connection, he could make the stables his home till something better turned up. Waldimar observed his part of the contract so entirely to my satisfaction, that when I went to Juan Fernandez I took him with me. There he proved himself so trustworthy that I left him in charge of my belongings when I sought new surroundings in connection with training operations.
After Phyllis and his men took their departure, Waldimar made me a present of the information contained in his Cocos chart, stipulating that if I ever went in search of the treasure, I should take him with me.
The last expedition in search of this treasure was led by Lord Fitzwilliam. Admiral Palliser and several others sailed with him on a boat, formerly a Donald Currie liner, the Harlech Castle, I believe. When they reached their objective, they thoroughly explored the island, and found only one inhabitant. This man, a German, had lived on Cocos sixteen years, and had tried his best to locate the treasure, without the least success. Fitzwilliam was unlucky. Soon after commencing operations, some of his party got hurt while blasting rocks. This nasty accident led to the premature abandonment of the quest. I told our mutual friend, Major Coleman, that next time his lordship made the attempt, he had better take me with him, and see whether Waldimar’s chart could put us wise.
And now I suppose it is too late, that is if one can believe the newspapers. According to them Cocos has disappeared beneath the waves, one result of recent volcanic action. Still the papers are not always to be depended upon, as witness the report they gave credence to, anent Juan Fernandez. That emanated from a skipper who had lost his bearings. He failed to locate the island, so concluded it had subsided like Cocos is supposed to have done!