The Silent Sea (2010), стр. 2

The pump was the heaviest piece of gear, and Nick had devised a sling with two carrying polls like he'd seen on Saturday-matinee serials when natives carried the movie's hero back to their camp. The poles were lengths of timber taken from a construction site, and the four older boys hoisted them on their shoulders and lifted the engine from the rowboat. It swung and then steadied, and they started the first mile-long trek across the isle.

It took forty-five minutes to haul all of their equipment across the island. The pit was located on a bluff above a shallow bay that was the only feature to mar its otherwise perfect heart shape. Waves smashed into the coast, but with the weather so fair only an occasional drop of white spume had the energy to climb the cliffs and land near the pit.

Kevin, Nick said, a little out of breath after their second trip to the boat and back to the bluff, you and Jimmy go get wood for a fire. And not driftwood either, it burns too fast.

Before his order could be carried out, natural curiosity made all five of the Ronish brothers edge closer to the pit for a quick look.

The vertical shaft was approximately six feet to a side and perfectly square, and for as far down as they could see it was ringed with age-darkened timbers oak, in fact, most likely cut on the mainland and brought to the island. Cold, clammy air climbed from the depths in an eerie caress that for a moment dampened their enthusiasm. It was almost as if the pit were breathing raspy, echoing exhalations, and it didn't take much imagination to think it came from the ghosts of the men who had died trying to wrest secrets out of the bowels of the earth.

A rusted metal grate had been laid over the mouth of the pit to prevent anyone from falling in. It was anchored with chains looped around metal pegs drilled into the rock. They had found the key to the padlock in their father's desk drawer under the holstered broom-handled Mauser he had captured during the Great War. For a moment Nick feared it would break in the lock, but eventually it turned and the hasp clicked open.

Go on and get that firewood, he ordered, and his youngest siblings took off with a raucous Amelia in tow.

With the twins' help, Nick dragged the heavy grate away from the opening and set it aside. Next up was the erection of a wooden frame over the pit so the rope would dangle directly into the hole from a tackle system that would allow two of the boys to easily hoist a third. This was done with the wooden carrying poles and some metal pins fitted into predrilled holes. The butt ends of the lengths of lumber were nailed directly into the oaken balks ringing the shaft. Despite its age, the old timber was more than strong enough to bend a few nails.

Nick took charge of tying the knots that would literally make the difference between life and death while Don, the most mechanically inclined, tinkered with the pump until it was purring sweetly.

By the time everything was ready, Kevin and Jimmy had a nice-sized fire going ten yards from the pit and enough extra wood to keep it going for a couple of hours. They all sat around it, eating sandwiches they had packed earlier and drinking canteens filled with sweetened iced tea.

The trick's gonna be timing the tide just right, Nick said around a mouthful of baloney sandwich. Ten minutes before and after it's lowest is about all we've got before the pit floods faster than our pump can keep up. When they tried back in 'twenty-one, they never got it cleared below two hundred feet, but they knew from when they plumbed it that the pit bottoms out at two-forty. Because we're on a bluff, I figure the bottom will be maybe twenty feet below the low-tide mark. We should be able to plug wherever the water's coming in, and the pump'll do the rest.

I bet there's a big ol' chest just bursting with gold, Jimmy said, wide-eyed at the prospect.

Don't forget, Don replied, the pit's been dragged a hundred times with grappling hooks, and no one ever brought up anything.

Loose gold doubloons, then, Jimmy persisted, in bags that rotted away.

Nick got to his feet, wiping crumbs from his lap. We'll know in a half hour.

He put on thigh-high rubber boots and slung the battery pack for his miner's helmet over his shoulder before zipping into an oilskin jacket, feeding the power cord out his collar. He slung a second satchel of equipment over his other shoulder.

Ron lowered a cork bob down the pit on a string marked off at ten-foot increments. One-ninety, he announced when the line went slack.

Nick donned a web harness and clipped it to the loop at the end of their thick rope. Lower the hose for the pump but don't fire it up yet. I'm going down.

He tugged the rope sharply to test the tackle block's brake, and it held perfectly. Okay, you guys, we've been practicing for this all summer. No more screwing around, right?

We're ready, Ron Ronish told him, and his twin nodded.

Jimmy, I don't want you coming within ten feet of the pit, you hear? Once I'm down there, there won't be nothing to see.

I won't. I promise.

Nick knew the value of his youngest brother's word, so when he shot Kevin a knowing look, Kevin gave him a thumbs-up. He would make sure Jimmy stayed out of the way.

Two hundred feet, Ron said, checking his bob once again.

Nick grinned. We're already at the deepest anyone's managed to get and we didn't have to lift a finger. He tapped the side of his head. It's all in the brains.

Without another word he stepped off the rim of the pit and dangled over the mouth of the precipice, his body twisting kinks out of the rope until coming to stop. If he felt any fear, it didn't show on his face. It was a mask of concentration. He nodded to the twins, and they pulled a little on the line to release the brake and then fed rope through the tackle. Nick sank a few inches.

Okay, test it again.

The boys pulled again, and the brake reengaged.

Now, pull, Nick ordered, and his brothers effortlessly raised him up those same few inches.

No problem, Nick, Don said. I told you this thing's foolproof. Hell, I bet even Jimmy could haul you up from the bottom.

Thanks but no thanks. Nick took a couple deep breaths, and said, All right. This time for real.

In smooth, controlled motions, the twins let gravity slowly draw Nick into the depths. He called up to them to halt when he was just ten feet into the pit. At this shallow depth, they could still converse. Later, when Nick approached the bottom, they had devised a series of coded tugs on the plumb bob.

What is it? Don yelled down.

There are initials carved on the oak timber here. ALR.

Uncle Albert, I bet, Don said. I think his middle name is Lewis.

Next to it is Dad's JGR, and it looks like TMD.

That'll be Mr. Davis. He worked with them when they tried to reach the bottom.

Okay, lower away.

Nick turned on his miner's lamp at forty feet where the wooden supports gave way to native rock. The stone looked natural, as if the shaft had been formed millions of years ago when the island was created, and was damp enough to support slimy green mold even though it was well above the tide line. He cast the beam past his dangling legs. It was swallowed by the abyss just a few yards beyond his feet. A steady breeze blew past Nick's face, and a single uncontrollable shiver shook his body.

Down he went, deeper into the earth, with nothing to support him but a rope and his faith in his brothers. When he looked up, the sky was just a tiny square dot high overhead. The walls weren't exactly closing in on him, but he could feel their proximity. He tried not to think about it. Suddenly, below him, he could see a reflection, and as he sank lower he realized he'd reached the high-tide mark. The stone was still damp to the touch. By his calculations he was a hundred and seventy feet belowground. There was still no sign of any way water could reach the pit from the sea, but he didn't expect to see it until the two-hundred-foot mark.