A Tropical Island, Part 5
There is plenty of provender for cattle on Juan Fernandez—any amount of grass and wild oats, also excellent tobacco which has a nice nutty flavour all its own.
The temperature is very equable. De Rodht showed me his book, in which he had set down particulars for sixteen years, of readings taken daily at 8 a.m., 9 p.m., and noon. From this I learnt the average temperature at 8 a.m. was 62 degrees, and at noon 72 degrees.
According to tradition five ship-loads of treasure lie buried somewhere near French Bay. Only a very small portion has ever been discovered. This was found by a Dane, who lighted on enough “red stuff” to keep him in luxury till the end of his days. He bought a nice three-masted auxiliary yacht with part of the proceeds, and gave the man who put him on the right track a lot of provisions and £2000. I came across this other man one day, in fact, I did him a service—I cured him of his rheumatism. In return he disclosed to me the exact spot where the big hoard lies concealed. Owing to a family disagreement he had kept it secret from his sons.
I lost no time in waiting about, but at once commenced making preparations for the fray. I fitted up my two donkeys with a kind of pannier for the conveyance of the necessary tools and cargo, and made up my mind to take Fisher with me and camp out near the spot indicated, so that I could explore the locality thoroughly at my leisure. Unfortunately, just as I had completed my arrangements, Mariano Penny sent a note by the Chilian transport Angamos, the purport of which was, that as Zavala was giving up his horses, the writer would like to know what remuneration I would require to take his place. Thinking I might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb, I replied “£100 a month,” and then dismissed the matter from my mind, never expecting to hear about it again. My surmise was wrong, however, for ten days later Penny’s schooner hove in sight with another letter for me. Like the first it was written by his wife. It ran thus: “Mariano says if you will come at once, leaving the day after you receive this, he is willing to pay you £80 a month, plus 50 per cent. on all prizes the horses win. In addition he will give you £200 a year to look for old mines for him and Minchin, during December, January, and February. If you don’t care to do the prospecting, then you will have to go somewhere where there is snow and ice so that you can keep yourself fit for the next racing season, as Mariano doesn’t want any sick man messing about with his horses. As regards entering horses, you can enter them wherever and whenever you like; but you must clearly understand, that if any horse, so entered, fails to get into the first three, Samuel Navarette, Mariano’s secretary, has strict orders to deduct £10 from your salary, each time it occurs, unless the jockey is proved to have been at fault, or something has happened in the race to prejudice the horse’s chance. This, of course, doesn’t apply to any animal entered at Mariano’s special request, or Minchin’s. Any horse outside his own that you may train with his approval, you will receive £10 a month for, plus 25 per cent., or £5 a month and 50 per cent.”
On the face of it, the job looked a good one; but one requiring very careful handling. I determined to accept it, and at the same time, made up my mind to be most circumspect.