Buried Treasure by O. Henry
There are many kinds of fools. Now, will everybody please sit still until they are called upon specifically to rise?
I had been every kind of fool except one. I had expended my patrimony, pretended my matrimony, played poker, lawn-tennis, and bucket-shops–parted soon with my money in many ways. But there remained one rule of the wearer of cap and bells that I had not played. That was the Seeker after Buried Treasure. To few does the delectable furor come. But of all the would-be followers in the hoof- prints of King Midas none has found a pursuit so rich in pleasurable promise.
But, going back from my theme a while–as lame pens must do–I was a fool of the sentimental soft. I saw May Martha Mangum, and was hers. She was eighteen, the color of the white ivory keys of a new piano, beautiful, and possessed by the exquisite solemnity and pathetic witchery of an unsophisticated angel doomed to live in a small, dull, Texas prairie-town. She had a spirit and charm that could have enabled her to pluck rubies like raspberries from the crown of Belgium or any other sporty kingdom, but she did not know it, and I did not paint the picture for her.
You see, I wanted May Martha Mangum for to have and to hold. I wanted her to abide with me, and put my slippers and pipe away every day in places where they cannot be found of evenings.
May Martha’s father was a man hidden behind whiskers and spectacles. He lived for bugs and butterflies and all insects that fly or crawl or buzz or get down your back or in the butter. He was an etymologist, or words to that effect. He spent his life seining the air for flying fish of the June-bug order, and then sticking pins through ’em and calling ’em names.
He and May Martha were the whole family. He prized her highly as a fine specimen of the racibus humanus because she saw that he had food at times, and put his clothes on right side before, and kept his alcohol-bottles filled. Scientists, they say, are apt to be absent- minded.
There was another besides myself who thought May Martha Mangum one to be desired. That was Goodloe Banks, a young man just home from college. He had all the attainments to be found in books–Latin, Greek, philosophy, and especially the higher branches of mathematics and logic.
If it hadn’t been for his habit of pouring out this information and learning on every one that he addressed, I’d have liked him pretty well. But, even as it was, he and I were, you would have thought, great pals.
We got together every time we could because each of us wanted to pump the other for whatever straws we could to find which way the wind blew from the heart of May Martha Mangum–rather a mixed metaphor; Goodloe Banks would never have been guilty of that. That is the way of rivals.
You might say that Goodloe ran to books, manners, culture, rowing, intellect, and clothes. I would have put you in mind more of baseball and Friday-night debating societies–by way of culture–and maybe of a good horseback rider.
But in our talks together, and in our visits and conversation with May Martha, neither Goodloe Banks nor I could find out which one of us she preferred. May Martha was a natural-born non-committal, and knew in her cradle how to keep people guessing.
As I said, old man Mangum was absentminded. After a long time he found out one day–a little butterfly must have told him-that two young men were trying to throw a net over the head of the young person, a daughter, or some such technical appendage, who looked after his comforts.
I never knew scientists could rise to such occasions. Old Mangum orally labelled and classified Goodloe and myself easily among the lowest orders of the vertebrates; and in English, too, without going any further into Latin than the simple references to Orgetorix, Rex Helvetii–which is as far as I ever went, myself. And he told us that if he ever caught us around his house again he would add us to his collection.
Goodloe Banks and I remained away five days, expecting the storm to subside. When we dared to call at the house again May Martha Mangum and her father were gone. Gone! The house they had rented was closed. Their little store of goods and chattels was gone also.
And not a word of farewell to either of us from May Martha–not a white, fluttering note pinned to the hawthorn-bush; not a chalk-mark on the gate-post nor a post-card in the post-office to give us a clew.
For two months Goodloe Banks and I–separately–tried every scheme we could think of to track the runaways. We used our friendship and influence with the ticket-agent, with livery-stable men, railroad conductors, and our one lone, lorn constable, but without results.
Then we became better friends and worse enemies than ever. We forgathered in the back room of Snyder’s saloon every afternoon after work, and played dominoes, and laid conversational traps to find out from each other if anything had been discovered. That is the way of rivals.
Now, Goodloe Banks had a sarcastic way of displaying his own learning and putting me in the class that was reading “Poor Jane Ray, her bird is dead, she cannot play.” Well, I rather liked Goodloe, and I had a contempt for his college learning, and I was always regarded as good- natured, so I kept my temper. And I was trying to find out if he knew anything about May Martha, so I endured his society.
In talking things over one afternoon he said to me:
“Suppose you do find her, Ed, whereby would you profit? Miss Mangum has a mind. Perhaps it is yet uncultured, but she is destined for higher things than you could give her. I have talked with no one who seemed to appreciate more the enchantment of the ancient poets and writers and the modern cults that have assimilated and expended their philosophy of life. Don’t you think you are wasting your time looking for her?”
“My idea,” said I, “of a happy home is an eight-room house in a grove of live-oaks by the side of a charco on a Texas prairie. A piano,” I went on, “with an automatic player in the sitting-room, three thousand head of cattle under fence for a starter, a buckboard and ponies always hitched at a post for ‘the missus ‘–and May Martha Mangum to spend the profits of the ranch as she pleases, and to abide with me, and put my slippers and pipe away every day in places where they cannot be found of evenings. That,” said I, “is what is to be; and a fig–a dried, Smyrna, dago-stand fig–for your curriculums, cults, and philosophy.”
“She is meant for higher things,” repeated Goodloe Banks.
“Whatever she is meant for,” I answered, just now she is out of pocket. And I shall find her as soon as I can without aid of the colleges.”
“The game is blocked,” said Goodloe, putting down a domino and we had the beer.
Shortly after that a young farmer whom I knew came into town and brought me a folded blue paper. He said his grandfather had just died. I concealed a tear, and he went on to say that the old man had jealously guarded this paper for twenty years. He left it to his family as part of his estate, the rest of which consisted of two mules and a hypotenuse of non-arable land.
The sheet of paper was of the old, blue kind used during the rebellion of the abolitionists against the secessionists. It was dated June 14, 1863, and it described the hiding-place of ten burro-loads of gold and silver coin valued at three hundred thousand dollars. Old Rundle– grandfather of his grandson, Sam–was given the information by a Spanish priest who was in on the treasure-burying, and who died many years before–no, afterward–in old Rundle’s house. Old Rundle wrote it down from dictation.
“Why didn’t your father look this up?” I asked young Rundle.
“He went blind before he could do so,” he replied.
“Why didn’t you hunt for it yourself?” I asked.
“Well,” said he, “I’ve only known about the paper for ten years. First there was the spring ploughin’ to do, and then choppin’ the weeds out of the corn; and then come takin’ fodder; and mighty soon winter was on us. It seemed to run along that way year after year.”
That sounded perfectly reasonable to me, so I took it up with young Lee Rundle at once.
The directions on the paper were simple. The whole burro cavalcade laden with the treasure started from an old Spanish mission in Dolores County. They travelled due south by the compass until they reached the Alamito River. They forded this, and buried the treasure on the top of a little mountain shaped like a pack-saddle standing in a row between two higher ones. A heap of stones marked the place of the buried treasure. All the party except the Spanish priest were killed by Indians a few days later. The secret was a monopoly. It looked good to me.
Lee Rundle suggested that we rig out a camping outfit, hire a surveyor to run out the line from the Spanish mission, and then spend the three hundred thousand dollars seeing the sights in Fort Worth. But, without being highly educated, I knew a way to save time and expense.
We went to the State land-office and had a practical, what they call a “working,” sketch made of all the surveys of land from the old mission to the Alamito River. On this map I drew a line due southward to the river. The length of lines of each survey and section of land was accurately given on the sketch. By these we found the point on the river and had a “connection” made with it and an important, well- identified corner of the Los Animos five-league survey–a grant made by King Philip of Spain.
By doing this we did not need to have the line run out by a surveyor. It was a great saving of expense and time.
So, Lee Rundle and I fitted out a two-horse wagon team with all the accessories, and drove a hundred and forty-nine miles to Chico, the nearest town to the point we wished to reach. There we picked up a deputy county surveyor. He found the corner of the Los Animos survey for us, ran out the five thousand seven hundred and twenty varas west that our sketch called for, laid a stone on the spot, had coffee and bacon, and caught the mail-stage back to Chico.
I was pretty sure we would get that three hundred thousand dollars. Lee Rundle’s was to be only one-third, because I was paying all the expenses. With that two hundred thousand dollars I knew I could find May Martha Mangum if she was on earth. And with it I could flutter the butterflies in old man Mangum’s dove-cot, too. If I could find that treasure!
But Lee and I established camp. Across the river were a dozen little mountains densely covered by cedar-brakes, but not one shaped like a pack-saddle. That did not deter us. Appearances are deceptive. A pack-saddle, like beauty, may exist only in the eye of the beholder.
I and the grandson of the treasure examined those cedar-covered hills with the care of a lady hunting for the wicked flea. We explored every side, top, circumference, mean elevation, angle, slope, and concavity of every one for two miles up and down the river. We spent four days doing so. Then we hitched up the roan and the dun, and hauled the remains of the coffee and bacon the one hundred and forty- nine miles back to Concho City.
Lee Rundle chewed much tobacco on the return trip. I was busy driving, because I was in a hurry.
As shortly as could be after our empty return Goodloe Banks and I forgathered in the back room of Snyder’s saloon to play dominoes and fish for information. I told Goodloe about my expedition after the buried treasure.
“If I could have found that three hundred thousand dollars,” I said to him, “I could have scoured and sifted the surface of the earth to find May Martha Mangum.”
“She is meant for higher things,” said Goodloe. “I shall find her myself. But, tell me how you went about discovering the spot where this unearthed increment was imprudently buried.”
I told him in the smallest detail. I showed him the draughtsman’s sketch with the distances marked plainly upon it.
After glancing over it in a masterly way, he leaned back in his chair and bestowed upon me an explosion of sardonic, superior, collegiate laughter.
“Well, you are a fool, Jim,” he said, when he could speak.
“It’s your play,” said I, patiently, fingering my double-six.
“Twenty,” said Goodloe, making two crosses on the table with his chalk.
“Why am I a fool?” I asked. “Buried treasure has been found before in many places.”
“Because,” said he, “in calculating the point on the river where your line would strike you neglected to allow for the variation. The variation there would be nine degrees west. Let me have your pencil.”
Goodloe Banks figured rapidly on the back of an envelope.
“The distance, from north to south, of the line run from the Spanish mission,” said he, “is exactly twenty-two miles. It was run by a pocket-compass, according to your story. Allowing for the variation, the point on the Alamito River where you should have searched for your treasure is exactly six miles and nine hundred and forty-five varas farther west than the place you hit upon. Oh, what a fool you are, Jim!”
“What is this variation that you speak of?” I asked. “I thought figures never lied.”
“The variation of the magnetic compass,” said Goodloe, “from the true meridian.”
He smiled in his superior way; and then I saw come out in his face the singular, eager, consuming cupidity of the seeker after buried treasure.
“Sometimes,” he said with the air of the oracle, “these old traditions of hidden money are not without foundation. Suppose you let me look over that paper describing the location. Perhaps together we might–“
The result was that Goodloe Banks and I, rivals in love, became companions in adventure. We went to Chico by stage from Huntersburg, the nearest railroad town. In Chico we hired a team drawing a covered spring-wagon and camping paraphernalia. We had the same surveyor run out our distance, as revised by Goodloe and his variations, and then dismissed him and sent him on his homeward road.
It was night when we arrived. I fed the horses and made a fire near the bank of the river and cooked supper. Goodloe would have helped, but his education had not fitted him for practical things.
But while I worked he cheered me with the expression of great thoughts handed down from the dead ones of old. He quoted some translations from the Greek at much length.
“Anacreon,” he explained. “That was a favorite passage with Miss Mangum–as I recited it.”
“She is meant for higher things,” said I, repeating his phrase.
“Can there be anything higher,” asked Goodloe, “than to dwell in the society of the classics, to live in the atmosphere of learning and culture? You have often decried education. What of your wasted efforts through your ignorance of simple mathematics? How soon would you have found your treasure if my knowledge had not shown you your error?”
“We’ll take a look at those hills across the river first,” said I, “and see what we find. I am still doubtful about variations. I have been brought up to believe that the needle is true to the pole.”
The next morning was a bright June one. We were up early and had breakfast. Goodloe was charmed. He recited–Keats, I think it was, and Kelly or Shelley–while I broiled the bacon. We were getting ready to cross the river, which was little more than a shallow creek there, and explore the many sharp-peaked cedar-covered hills on the other side.
“My good Ulysses,” said Goodloe, slapping me on the shoulder while I was washing the tin breakfast-plates, “let me see the enchanted document once more. I believe it gives directions for climbing the hill shaped like a pack-saddle. I never saw a pack-saddle. What is it like, Jim?”
“Score one against culture,” said I. “I’ll know it when I see it.”
Goodloe was looking at old Rundle’s document when he ripped out a most uncollegiate swear-word.
“Come here,” he said, holding the paper up against the sunlight. “Look at that,” he said, laying his finger against it.
On the blue paper–a thing I had never noticed before–I saw stand out in white letters the word and figures : “Malvern, 1898.”
“What about it?” I asked.
“It’s the water-mark,” said Goodloe. “The paper was manufactured in 1898. The writing on the paper is dated 1863. This is a palpable fraud.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said I. “The Rundles are pretty reliable, plain, uneducated country people. Maybe the paper manufacturers tried to perpetrate a swindle.”
And then Goodloe Banks went as wild as his education permitted. He dropped the glasses off his nose and glared at me.
“I’ve often told you you were a fool,” he said. “You have let yourself be imposed upon by a clodhopper. And you have imposed upon me.”
“How,” I asked, “have I imposed upon you ?”
“By your ignorance,” said he. “Twice I have discovered serious flaws in your plans that a common-school education should have enabled you to avoid. And,” he continued, “I have been put to expense that I could ill afford in pursuing this swindling quest. I am done with it.”
I rose and pointed a large pewter spoon at him, fresh from the dish- water.
“Goodloe Banks,” I said, “I care not one parboiled navy bean for your education. I always barely tolerated it in any one, and I despised it in you. What has your learning done for you? It is a curse to yourself and a bore to your friends. Away,” I said–“away with your water-marks and variations! They are nothing to me. They shall not deflect me from the quest.”
I pointed with my spoon across the river to a small mountain shaped like a pack-saddle.
“I am going to search that mountain,” I went on, “for the treasure. Decide now whether you are in it or not. If you wish to let a water- mark or a variation shake your soul, you are no true adventurer. Decide.”
A white cloud of dust began to rise far down the river road. It was the mail-wagon from Hesperus to Chico. Goodloe flagged it.
“I am done with the swindle,” said he, sourly. “No one but a fool would pay any attention to that paper now. Well, you always were a fool, Jim. I leave you to your fate.”
He gathered his personal traps, climbed into the mail-wagon, adjusted his glasses nervously, and flew away in a cloud of dust.
After I had washed the dishes and staked the horses on new grass, I crossed the shallow river and made my way slowly through the cedar- brakes up to the top of the hill shaped like a pack-saddle.
It was a wonderful June day. Never in my life had I seen so many birds, so many butter-flies, dragon-flies, grasshoppers, and such winged and stinged beasts of the air and fields.
I investigated the hill shaped like a pack-saddle from base to summit. I found an absolute absence of signs relating to buried treasure. There was no pile of stones, no ancient blazes on the trees, none of the evidences of the three hundred thousand dollars, as set forth in the document of old man Rundle.
I came down the hill in the cool of the afternoon. Suddenly, out of the cedar-brake I stepped into a beautiful green valley where a tributary small stream ran into the Alamito River.
And there I was started to see what I took to be a wild man, with unkempt beard and ragged hair, pursuing a giant butterfly with brilliant wings.
“Perhaps he is an escaped madman,” I thought; and wondered how he had strayed so far from seats of education and learning.
And then I took a few more steps and saw a vine-covered cottage near the small stream. And in a little grassy glade I saw May Martha Mangum plucking wild flowers.
She straightened up and looked at me. For the first time since I knew her I saw her face–which was the color of the white keys of a new piano–turn pink. I walked toward her without a word. She let the gathered flowers trickle slowly from her hand to the grass.
“I knew you would come, Jim,” she said clearly. “Father wouldn’t let me write, but I knew you would come.
What followed you may guess–there was my wagon and team just across the river.
I’ve often wondered what good too much education is to a man if he can’t use it for himself. If all the benefits of it are to go to others, where does it come in?
For May Martha Mangum abides with me. There is an eight-room house in a live-oak grove, and a piano with an automatic player, and a good start toward the three thousand head of cattle is under fence.
And when I ride home at night my pipe and slippers are put away in places where they cannot be found.
But who cares for that? Who cares–who cares?