Chapter Thirty-One: One Man's Junk is Another's Treasure
Captured Oriental Junk, South Coast of Mauritius
Pam and Dore climbed the wide, stair-like ladder out of the cool shadows of the lower decks to stand blinking beneath the Tropic of Capricorn's blazing sun. Squinting against the glare, Pam saw Dore looking wistfully back down toward the wonderful galley they had discovered—the height of luxury and abundance after their long sojourn marooned on a remote shore. Pam smiled at Dore's almost child-like eagerness to play with her new toys and motioned her to follow. "Okay, pal-o-mine, you'll have your chance to do your thing in there soon enough. Let's go check out the upper cabins."
The junk was cruising slowly down the coast of their cove, pushed along by a summery breeze in her slatted crimson sails, engaged in another practice run. Sailors rushed to and fro, sometimes pausing to puzzle over her unfamiliar designs. The bosun's voice could be heard on the foredeck, by turns roundly cursing any man who was slow to grasp the intricacies of the foreign rigging, then damning the mad heathens who had built such an unusual craft in the first place. Pam had full faith that her crew would manage; they were moving forward in any case, which must surely be a good sign. Now that they had a ship, she didn't want to dally. The fate of the colonists weighed heavily on her, as it did on all aboard, and all possible haste would have to be made.
Their eyes somewhat adjusted to the brightness, she and Dore headed to the high aft tower that Pam thought of as "the castle deck." Standing in its shade, they peeked into the bottom cabin. The windows had been opened to freshen the air inside, which had a pleasant woody scent. Earlier, the sailors had reported that they had performed a very thorough cleanup, removing all evidence that the pirates had ever lived aboard. One of the cleaning-crew sailors, Hake, had remarked that the heathen pirates had been remarkably neat and clean, except for some bloodstains here and there, very likely from tortured captives; "Once they've dried, they're hell to remove." Pam had grimaced at that, but didn't fault the fellow for his honesty.
"Let's go inside!" Pam said, Dore nodding eagerly in reply.
The cabin was no disappointment even after the delights to be found in the galley. These were the quarters the bosun had suggested for Gerbald and Dore. The door opened near the bottom of the castle deck's ladder. As the only married couple of the expedition, they would be given the second-nicest room on the ship, the first being reserved for the captain. They found a spacious, wood-paneled apartment, elegantly furnished with the same kind of heavy and ornately carved lacquered-wood furniture found in the lobbies of fancier Chinese restaurants. It most certainly had been reserved for distinguished guests, or perhaps used by high-ranking ship's officers. They found fresh bed linens neatly folded and ready for use in sandalwood scented cabinets. Pam was very pleased to see they were made of silk. The bed was, much like the Redbird's, built into the walls. It was a lot wider, yet a bit shorter than what they were accustomed to. There were plenty of large cushions and pillows if they needed to spread out onto the carpeted floor.
After the initial inspection, Dore wrung her hands and exclaimed, "We can't possibly stay here!" She was obviously shocked by the level of opulence. "This is a room for a prince or a duke, not a washerwoman and her old soldier husband!"
"Nonsense," Pam replied firmly. "You're the chief cook and Gerbald is my personal bodyguard as well as an acting sergeant in our fighting force, so you get the good stuff. Enjoy it!" Dore looked unconvinced but Pam added "That's an order!" and gave her friend a playful grin.
Pam wasn't surprised when the upper quarters were double the grandeur and four times the space, occupying the entire floor of the tower. Pam looked around and quickly decided she would make the area near the door the dining room and office. The back third of the capacious room would be made private, since that was where the bed was, as well as the bathroom. She was pleased to see those facilities were a bit more advanced than on the ships of Europe. There was more than enough space for her needs. Placed along the dark-stained wooden walls were many beautifully painted movable screens. These would be perfect for dividing the room.
The two friends grinned like fools at their change of fortune. To go from roughing it, stranded on a deserted shore, to occupying ship's quarters that oozed with comfort was a pleasant kind of shock. Pam shook her head slowly, gazing at the luxurious space as if she were in a dream, daring it to be solid. Pam and Dore began rearranging the place to suit Pam's needs, taking one of the decorated screens from the wall and placing it in front of her bunk, to make it a sleeping alcove. The wood bases of the five-foot screens were quite heavy and certainly designed to stay upright even in the worst storms. Pam was pleased to find that this ship would provide a gentler ride than poor old Redbird had. They were under way at a fair clip now and she could barely feel it. As they went for another screen, Pam bumped into a pile of pillows leaning against the wall and knocked them over. When she leaned down to straighten them, she noticed there was an opening in the wall—a thin, dark crack running from the floor to a height of about three feet.
"Hmm, what do you suppose this is?" She pushed the pillows away and felt along the crack with her fingers. It was actually a small, hidden door that had been left just slightly ajar. A thrill rose in her. So, our lovely craft has secrets. Wonderful!
"Dore! Try to find a knife or something we can use to pry this open!" Dore began to scurry around the room in search of a suitable implement. Pam kept tugging and pushing here and there until she discovered a tiny spot the size of a man's thumb that appeared to have been worn smooth by years of touch. She pushed it and the door popped open as neat as could be. "Never mind, Dore. Bring a candle!"
Dore, well-practiced with the flint and steel she carried in her apron pockets, had a candle lit faster than Pam could strike a match. She handed it to Pam and they both got down on their hands and knees to peer into the space they had revealed.
To Pam's amazement, there was a deep closet here, a secret room. Among the various fascinating items within the dark space, the one that caught her eye above all was a large wooden box reinforced with metal bands. Crawling over to it, she tried to pull it toward the door. It wouldn't budge. There was something about the thing . . . . The very heaviness of it made the teeny-tiny hairs at the nape of her neck stand up and do the mambo. Sticking out of an ornate-looking brass lock was the back end of a tarnished silver key. Apparently its last user had left in a hurry . . . possibly the fat, turbaned pirate captain? The box looked like a certain kind of container all right, built like a safe, massive and thick. It was darkly age-stained and covered in a faded but flowing white script. She didn't dare think the words that were screaming to be heard in the back of her mind. It simply couldn't be . . .
"Open it, Pam! Let us see!" Dore urged her on, her voice a bit higher-pitched than normal, more like that of a child's than a serious-minded, late-middle-aged woman of God. Pam marveled once again at the amazing youthening effect adventure was having on her friend. They kneeled in front of the mysterious box, both giggling, holding on to each other for support.
Pam hesitated with her hand trembling near the key until Dore gave her a gentle push. They both jumped a bit, their nerves as taut as guitar strings.
"Oh, we are so silly!" Dore said, laughing "It's probably full of ship's papers, all written in that ridiculous squiggle these Easterners use instead of decent letters." Even so, her face was still full of expectation.
"Right!" Pam agreed. "It's not like we would actually find anything valuable on a real pirate ship! This isn't a movie, right?" They both laughed while Pam turned the key. There was a muffled click deep within the mechanism, then the lid popped up a few inches as it released from a spring. Pam and Dore's eyes were as big and round as harvest moons as they gazed at what lay within.
"No, it's a real treasure chest!" Pam announced with comic nonchalance. "Holy shit," she murmured as she raised the chest's heavy lid until it caught some kind of stop and held open. "Holy shit," she said again as her hands touched cool metal and smooth stone. Despite her amazement at such an unexpected discovery, Dore managed to give Pam a quick look of disapproval over her choice of language. Suddenly Pam's mouth was a bit too dry and she nearly croaked, "I can't believe this."
Dore murmured something incomprehensible as she peered over Pam's shoulder. This was replaced by a funny kind of squealing noise and she held onto Pam to steady herself. Scarcely believing what she was seeing, no, touching, Pam filled her hands with a shining mixture of gold and silver coins, glittering jewels and pearls. The box surely held a fortune, a small one perhaps, but a fortune nonetheless. As if to make sure it wasn't a figment of her imagination, she pried one of Dore's hands from its painfully tight grip on her arm and poured lucre into it. They knelt there staring silently into the chest's gleaming contents for a very long time.
"It's real. A real treasure chest on a real pirate ship. Yo-ho-ho." Pam's voice was hushed and full of wonder.
"One might say that our fortunes have changed," Dore said, her head shaking slowly as if to dispel her disbelief.
"Go fetch Gerbald!" Pam told Dore, now feeling dizzy as if she were on some kind of wild carnival ride, the thrill switching to terror and back to thrill again. She dug deeper into the chest, scooping the contents to one side. Besides the coins and gems there were some larger pieces buried within: tiaras, combs and other less easy to identify objects, all a-glitter with precious stones.
Dore ran for the door so fast that she might have shot off the top floor like a cannonball if she hadn't caught herself. Pam had never seen her friend move like that, but then chalked it up to her years surviving in the rough following Gerbald in and out of battles. Dore was certainly full of surprises, but then these days surprises had become the norm.
Shortly a huffing, puffing Dore arrived with an amused Gerbald hurrying after. His ever-present goofy hat was knocked from his head by the low door casing as Dore literally pushed him through. Before he could bend down to retrieve the hat, he froze in place, seeing Pam holding a double palm-full of treasure. His eyes widened and he just stood there staring while Dore picked up his hat, long the object of her scorn, taking care to scrunch and twist its seemingly indestructible mustard yellow felt between her strong hands with great disdain. Failing to make much of a dent, she stood on her tip-toes and plopped it back onto his head where it looked no worse for the attempted wear and tear. "There, he is speechless! If only we had one of those video cameras to record the moment for ages to come."
Pam smiled to see a bit of the feisty old Dore back in play.
Gerbald straightened the much-abused and well-loved hat over his salt-and-pepper hair, taking a moment to digest what he was seeing. With a regal sweep of her arm, Pam escorted him to the closet, which he crawled into with easy grace. He pushed the box to gauge its considerable weight and was able to move it a quarter of an inch. Then he scratched his chin and grinned.
Pam grinned back at him. "I think this must have belonged to that fat, old pirate captain. The writing on it looks more like that swirly Arabic script than Chinese characters. This wasn't the first ship he'd captured, I'll bet. We are probably looking at years of plunder here. I guess you really can't take it with you."
Dore, who had managed to compose herself, quoted scripture in her old familiar Christian soldier's tones: "Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death. The Lord will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish: but he casteth away the substance of the wicked. Proverbs 10:2-3."
Gerbald nodded politely in agreement with his pious wife, buying some always useful good will with the gesture, then turned to Pam. "Pam, when your luck changes it really changes. What do you intend to do with all this?"
"I've decided already," Pam said, while letting a handful of gleaming coins slowly fall back into the chest with a musical tinkling. "We should divide it equally among everybody on this ship."
Dore nodded in staunch approval.
"That is the right thing to do, my Pam!" Dore told her. "We are all in this together. Shall I summon the bosun now?"
"Allow me to tell him," Gerbald cut in. "After all, I missed out on the thrill of first discovery. I would very much like to see our good friend's face when he hears of this windfall. I will tell only him for now. We can divide it all up and then pass it out to the men before tonight's party. I'll bet they will be over the moon."
"Tonight's party?" Pam asked. She saw Dore deliver what must have been a painful blow to the small of her husband's back.
"Oops," Gerbald said in English with a long-suffering sigh.
"Spiller of the beans!" Dore growled at him, also in English. After many years together they used English and German interchangeably, and sometimes mixed the two together in one sentence, despite their best efforts not to. Pam mused that this habit was evolving into a creole some were calling "Amideutch." Dore continued in German, which would always be the most comfortable for her, "It matters not. We have all had enough of surprises by now anyway. We have earned a bit of fun after our many troubles and so tonight is for celebration!" she said expansively, her face alight with pleasure.
"Who are you and what have you done with Dore?" Pam said but Dore didn't seem to hear. She was now pushing her husband toward the door. "Go now, oaf. We must make ourselves presentable. Now that our Pam is a captain, she can't go about dressed in these rags! Out with you!"
Gerbald didn't resist. This time he was careful to duck and keep his hat on.
"Maybe you can buy a new hat now," Pam called after him. It never hurt to hope.
"What? Waste such riches on everyday items? No, I shall use my share of the riches to do something truly wonderful. I shall buy my own television set."
"Not until I have a decent house you won't, foolish man. If the Lord has seen fit to gift us with riches, we must use them wisely!" Jumping, Dore took a swipe at the much-hated hat, but Gerbald was too fast. Her hand flew through thin air as Gerbald disappeared from sight, launching himself out the door and dropping from sight in a blur. No crash or injured call for help came, so Dore and Pam, now giggling like schoolgirls again, began rummaging through the room's many drawers and cabinets, laying out exotic garments on the bed and divans as they went.
Chapter Thirty-Two: Counting their Blessings
Soon after, the bosun was brought in to view their unexpected bounty. He let out a long whistle as he squatted in front of the brimming chest. "I've sailed the seas since I was ten years old," he said, "and never have I seen this kind of wealth. I will be able to buy some land and retire with such a bounty. Truly, your generosity is great to share it, Captain. We would never ask it of you." His eyes glistened moistly.
"You've earned it, my friend," Pam told him. "You all have. Let's count it out, the four of us, and the l öjtnant as witness, equal shares for all." The bosun nodded, but Pam still had some idea that she would somehow end up with more. The men of the sea had ways of doing things, and she knew the captain traditionally got a larger share of the booty, a much larger share. She intended to protest, of course, but wheels were already turning. Pam had projects lined up for years to come, and now she had that most critical of all resources: funding. One thing was certain, the first thing she would do with her share of the take was to make damn sure her colony succeeded, which went hand in hand with saving the dodo.
When the l öjtnant arrived, he expressed much the same sentiments as the bosun had, but Pam told him to just accept what was coming to him and be happy. He smiled and replied, "As you wish, Captain," obviously as glad to get his hands on such a large chunk of change as they all were.
Together, Gerbald and the löjtnant managed to drag the chest out of its closet and bring it over to the large table Dore had cleared of Oriental knickknacks for the purpose.
"Okay, here's what I think we ought to do," Pam said, after considering the situation for a few minutes. "Let's start with the coins. We will group them by types first and then the ones that don't match any others we can group by material and weight." She reached into the chest to scoop up a double handful of coins which she piled onto the table's surface.
"Here, these two are the same, they look like copper and they have square holes in the middle. Chinese, maybe. I bet they're not worth much." She pushed them off into their own area. The next coin she held up to the light, and made a long whistle. "If this isn't a gold doubloon, I'll eat Gerbald's hat. I always think of the Spaniards hanging out in the Caribbean, but I guess I remember reading something about the Philippines as I was getting ready for this trip. Let's hope there's more of these."
It turned out they weren't able to recognize most of the coins, but the bosun had an old sailor's eye for metals and was able to make what Pam thought were pretty good guesses about the value of each. Gerbald, as an ex-soldier, had also seen his share of coin and did his best to help the bosun make identifications. They sorted the coins into gold, silver and other less identifiable metals or blends of metals. Piles sprung up around the table as they worked. Pam could scarcely believed they were engaged in such a project. Once they finished with the coins they turned their attention to the loose precious stones.
"Could this be a ruby, Pam?" Dore held up a red gem the size of her thumb.
"Well, maybe. I really don't know much about this stuff." As it turned out, no one else in the group did, either. "Where the hell is a jeweler when you need one?" she muttered. They ended up grouping the gems into pretty little mounds by color. Overall, the coins were quite a bit more numerous, but they still ended up with a respectable amount of possibly precious stones.
Next came the jewelry. The löjtnant carefully handed Pam a fanciful gold tiara encrusted with what must surely be blue sapphires. Pam placed it on her head and grinned.
"Look, I'm Wonder Woman! Now we just need to find the bullet-proof bracelets!" Gerbald, a dedicated student of American pop culture, laughed. Dore just rolled her eyes to signify "How much of such foolishness must I endure?" while the Swedes wore the painful smile of wanting to show approval for a joke they just didn't get. Pam tried to explain Wonder Woman and the concept of a super-hero to them in Swedish. She was getting pretty good at the language, but would need a lot more time to really become fluent. Finally, after several long minutes of word searching and gesturing, the bosun and the löjtnant both nodded with the satisfaction of understanding.