The Crumbling Silver





There is a clay bank on Little Neck, Long Island, where metallic nodules

are now and then exposed by rain. Rustics declare them to be silver, and

account for their crumbling on the theory that the metal is under a

curse. A century ago the Montauks mined it, digging over enough soil to

unearth these pellets now and again, and exchanging them at the nearest

settlements for tobacco and rum. The seeming abundance of these lumps of

silver aroused the cupidity of one Gardiner, a dweller in the central

wilderness of the island, but none of the Indians would reveal the source

of their treasure. One day Gardiner succeeded in getting an old chief so

tipsy that, without realizing what he was doing, he led the white man to

the clay bed and showed him the metallic spots glittering in the sun.

With a cry of delight Gardiner sprang forward and tore at the earth with

his fingers, while the Indian stood by laughing at his eagerness.



Presently a shade crossed the white man's face, for he thought that this

vast treasure would have to be shared by others. It was too much to

endure. He wanted all. He would be the richest man on earth. Stealing

behind the Indian as he stood swaying and chuckling, he wrenched the

hatchet from his belt and clove his skull at a blow. Then, dragging the

body to a thicket and hiding it under stones and leaves, he hurried to

his house for cart and pick and shovel, and returning with speed he dug

out a half ton of the silver before sunset. The cart was loaded, and he

set homeward, trembling with excitement and conjuring bright visions for

his future, when a wailing sound from a thicket made him halt and turn

pale. Noiselessly a figure glided from the bush. It was the Indian he had

killed. The form approached the treasure, flung up its arm, uttered a few

guttural words; then a rising wind seemed to lift it from the ground and

it drifted toward the Sound, fading like a cloud as it receded.



Full of misgiving, Gardiner drove to his home, and, by light of a

lantern, transferred his treasure to his cellar. Was it the dulness of

the candle that made the metal look so black? After a night of feverish

tossing on his bed he arose and went to the cellar to gloat upon his

wealth. The light of dawn fell on a heap of gray dust, a few brassy

looking particles showing here and there. The curse of the ghost had been

of power and the silver was silver no more. Mineralogists say that the

nodules are iron pyrites. Perhaps so; but old residents know that they

used to be silver.





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