STORIES BY ENGLISH AUTHORS
THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURE OF A CHIEF MATE BY W. CLARK RUSSELL QUARANTINE ISLAND BY SIR WALTER BESANT THE ROCK SCORPIONS ANONYMOUS THE MASTER OF THE "CHRYSTOLITE" BY G. B. O'HALLORAN "PETREL" AND "THE BLACK SWAN" ANONYMOUS MELISSA'S TOUR BY GRANT ALLEN VANDERDECKEN'S MESSAGE HOME ANONYMOUS
THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURE OF A CHIEF MATE
BY W. CLARK RUSSELL
In the newspapers of 1876 appeared the following extracts from the log of a merchantman: "VOLCANIC ISLAND IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC. —The ship Hercules, of Liverpool, lately arrived in the Mersey, reports as follows: March 23, in 2 deg. 12' north latitude, 33 deg. 27' west longitude, a shock of earthquake was felt, and shortly afterward a mass of land was hove up at a distance of about two miles from the ship. Michael Balfour, the chief officer, fell overboard. A buoy was thrown to him, the ship brought to the wind, and a boat lowered within fifteen minutes of the occurence. But though the men sought the chief mate for some time, nothing could be seen of him, and it is supposed that he sank shortly after falling into the sea. Masters of vessels are recommended to keep a sharp lookout in approaching the situation of the new island as given above. No doubt it will be sighted by other ships, and duly reported."
I am Michael Balfour; I it was who fell overboard; and it is needless for me to say here that I not drowned. The volcanic island was only reported by one other ship, and the reason why will be read at large in this account of my strange adventure and merciful deliverance.
It was the evening of the 23d of March, 1876. Our passage to the equator from Sydney had been good, but for three days we had been bothered with light head winds and calms, and since four o'clock this day the ocean had stretched in oil-smooth undulations to its margin, with never a sigh of air to crispen its marvellous serenity into shadow. The courses were hauled up, the staysails down, the mizzen brailed up; the canvas delicately beat the masts to the soft swing of the tall spars, and sent a small rippling thunder through the still air, like a roll of drums heard at a distance. The heat was great; I had never remembered a more biting sun. The pitch in the seams was soft as putty, the atmosphere was full of the smell of blistered paint, and it was like putting your hand on a red-hot stove to touch the binnacle hood or grasp for an an instant an iron belaying-pin.
A sort of loathing comes into a man with a calm like this. "The very deep did rot," says the poet; and you understood his fancy when you marked the blind heave of the swell to the sun standing in the midst of a sky of brass, with his wake under him sinking in a sinuous dazzle, as though it was his fiery glance piercing to the green depths a thousand fathoms deep. It was hot enough to slacken the nerves and give the imagination a longer scope than sanity would have it ride by.
That was why, perhaps, I found something awful and forbidding in the sunset, though at another time it might scarcely have detained my gaze a minute. But it is true, nevertheless, that others besides me gaped at the wonderful gushings of hot purple,—arrested whirlpools of crimson haze, they looked,—in the heart of which the orb sat rayless, flooding the sea with blood under him, so magnificently fell was the hue, and flushing the sky with twenty dyes of gold and orange, till, in the far east, the radiance fainted into the delicacy of pale amber.
"Yon's a sunset," said Captain Matthews, a North of England man, to me, "to make a fellow think of the last day."
"I'm looking at it, sir," said I, "as though I had never seen a sunset before. That's the oddest part of it, to my mind. There's fire enough there to eat a gale up. How should a cat's-paw crawl then?" And I softly whistled, while he wetted his finger and held it up; but to no purpose; the draught was all between the rails, and they blew forward and aft with every swing of the sails.
When the dusk came along, the silence upon the sea was something to put all sorts of moods into a man. The sky was a hovering velvet stretch of stars, with a young moon lying curled among them, and winkings of delicate violet sheet-lightning down in the southwest, as though some gigantic-tinted lantern, passing, flung its light upon the dark blue obscure there. The captain went below, after a long, impatient look round, and I overhung the rail, peering into the water alongside, or sending my gaze into the frightful distance, where the low-lying stars hung. With every soft dip of the ship's side to the slant of the dark folds, there shot forth puffs of cloudy phosphor, intermixed with a sparkling of sharper fires now and again, blue, yellow, and green, like worms of flame striking out of their cocoons of misty radiance. The noise of the canvas on high resembled the stirring of pinions, and the cheep of a block, the grind of a parrel, helped the illusion, as though the sounds were the voices of huge birds restlessly beating their pinions aloft.
Presently the man at the wheel startled me with an observation. I went to him, and he pointed upward with a long, shadowy arm. I looked, and saw a corposant, as it is called at sea,—a St. Elmo's fire,—burning at the end of the crossjack-yard. The yard lay square, and the polished sea beneath gave back the reflection so clearly that the mystic fire lay like a huge glow-worm on the black mirror.
"There should be wind not far off," said the helmsman, in a subdued voice; for few sailors can see one of these lights without a stirring of their superstitious instincts, and this particular exhalation hung close to us.
"I hope so," said I, "though I don't know where it's to come from."
As I spoke, the light vanished. I ran my eye over the yards, expecting its reappearance; but it returned no more, and the sails rose pale and phantom-like to the stars. I was in an odd humour, and this was an apparition not to brighten one up. Of course one knows all about these maritime corpse-candles, and can explain their nature; but nevertheless the sudden kindling of them upon the darkness of the night, in the dead hush of the calm or amid the fury of the shrieking hurricane, produces feelings which there is nothing in science to resolve. I could have laughed to find myself sending a half-awed look aloft, as if I expected to see some visionary hand at work upon another one these graveyard illuminations-with a stealing out of some large, sad face to the melancholy glow; but I returned to the side very pensive for all that, and there stood watching the fiery outline of a shark subtly sneaking close to the surface (insomuch that the wake of its fin slipped away in little coils of green flame) toward the ship's bows.
Half an hour later the dark curl of a light air of wind shattered the starlight in the sea, and our canvas fell asleep. I called to the watch to trim sail, and in a few moments the decks were busy with the figures of men pulling and hauling and surging out at the ropes in sulky, slumberous growlings. The captain arrived.
"Little worth having in this, I fear," said he. "But make the most of it—make the most of it. Get the foretopmast stunsail run up. If she creeps but a league, it is a league to the good."
The sail was sleepily set. Humbugging about with stunsails to the cat's-paws little pleased the men, especially at night. For three days they had been boxhauling the yards about to no purpose, and it was sickening work running stunsail-booms out to airs that died in their struggles to reach us. However, here was a draught at last, and the old gurgling and moaning sounds of the breathless, sluggish swell washing heavily like liquid lead to the sides were replaced by the tinkling noises of waters parting at the bows with a pretty little seething of expiring foam, and the hiss of exploding froth-bells. At eleven o'clock the light breeze was still holding, and the ship was floating softly through the dusk, the paring of moon swaying like a silver sickle over the port mizzen topsail yard-arm, everything quiet along the decks, no light save the sheen from the lamps in the binnacle, and nothing stirring but the figure of a man on the forecastle pacing athwartships, and blotting out at every step a handful of the stars which lay like dust on the blackness, under the yawn of the forecourse. On a sudden a steamer's lights showed on the starboard bow—a green beam, and a yellow one above, with the water on fire beneath them, and sparks floating away upon her coil of smoke, that made you think of the spangles of a falling rocket. She went past swiftly, at no great distance from us. There was not a moan in the hot breeze to disturb the wonderful ocean stillness, and you almost thought you caught the beating of the iron heart in her, and the curious monotonous songs which engines sing as they work. She swept past like a phantom, running a line of illuminated windows along, which resembled a row of street-lamps out in the darkness; and as she came on to our quarter she struck seven bells (half-past eleven), the rich metallic notes of which I clearly heard; and with the trembling of the last stroke upon the ear her outline melted.
At that instant a peculiar thrill ran through the ship. It may be likened to the trembling in a floor when a heavy waggon passes in the street outside. It was over in a breath, but I could have sworn that it was not my fancy. I walked aft to the wheel, and said to the man, "Did you notice anything just now?"
"Seemed to me as if the vessel trembled like," he replied.
As he spoke the ship shook again, this time strongly. It was something more than a shudder; the sensation was for all the world as though she had scraped over a shoal of rock or shingle. There was a little clatter below, a noise of broken glass. The watch, who had been dozing on deck, sprang to their feet, and their ejaculations of surprise and fear rolled in a growl among them. The captain ran out of the companionway in his shirt and trousers.
"What was that, Mr. Balfour?" he bawled.
"Either the shock of an earthquake," said I, "or a whale sliding along our keel."
"Get a cast of the lead! get a cast of the lead!" he shouted.
This was done to the full scope of the hand-line, without bottom, of course. By this time the watch below had tumbled up, and all hands were now on deck, staring aloft or over the side, sniffing, spitting, muttering, and wondering what had happened.
"There's that bloomin' compreesant come again!" exclaimed a hoarse voice; and, sure enough, a light similar to the one that had hung at the crossjack yard-arm now floated upon the end of the upper maintopsail-yard.
"The devil's abroad to-night!" exclaimed the captain. "There's sulphur enough about," and he fell a-snuffling.
What followed might have made an infidel suppose so; for scarce were the words out of his mouth when there happened an astonishing blast of noise, as loud and violent as that of forty or fifty cannons fired off at once, and out of the black sea no farther than a mile broad on the starboard beam rose a pillar of fire, crimson as the light of the setting sun and as dazzling too; it lived while you might have counted twenty, but in that time it lighted up the sea for leagues and leagues, put out the stars, and made the sky resemble a canopy of yellow satin; we on the ship saw one another's faces as if by daylight; the shrouds and masts and our own figures cast jet-black shadows on the deck; the whole ship flashed out to that amazing radiance like a fabric sun-touched. The column of fire then fattened and disappeared, and the night rolled down upon our blinded eyes as black as thunder.
There was no noise—no hissing as of boiling water. If the furious report that preceded the leap of the fire had rendered its coming terrible, its extinction was made not less awful by the tomb-like stillness that attended it. I sprang on to the rail, believing I could perceive a dark mass—like a deeper dye upon the blackness that way—upon the water, and to steady myself caught hold of the mizzen loyal backstay, swinging out to my arm's length and peering with all my might. My excitement was great, and the consternation that posessed the ship's crew was upon me. As I leaned, the vessel heeled violently to a large swell caused by the volcanic disturbances. The roll was extraordinarily severe, heaving the vessel down to her covering-board; and the great hill of water running silent and in darkness through the sea, so that it could neither be viewed nor heard, made the sickening lurch a dreadful surprise and wonder.
It was in that moment that I fell overboard. I suppose my grip of the backstay relaxed when the ship lay down; but, let the thing have happened how it would, in a breath I was under water. It is said that the swiftness of thought is best shown by dreams. This may be so; yet I cannot believe that thought was ever swifter in a dream than it was in me ere I came to the surface; for in those few seconds I gathered exactly what had befallen me, wondered whether my fall had been seen, whether I should be saved, realised my hopeless condition if I had not been observed, and, above all, was thinking steadfastly and with horror of the shark I had not long ago watched stemming in fire past the ship. I was a very indifferent swimmer, and what little power I had in that way was like to be paralysed by thoughts of the shark. I rose and fetched a breath, shook the water out of my eyes, and looked for the ship. She had been sliding along at the rate of about four knots an hour; but had she been sailing at ten she could not seem to have gone farther from me during the brief while I was submerged. From the edge of the water, where my eyes were, she appeared a towering pale shadow about a mile off. I endeavoured to scream out; but whether the cold of the plunge had bereft me of my voice, or that I had swallowed water enough to stop my pipes, I found I could utter nothing louder than a small groan. I made several strokes with my arms, and suddenly spied a life-buoy floating almost twenty yards ahead of me. I made for it in a transport of joy, for the sight of it was all the assurance I could ask that they knew on the ship that I had tumbled overboard; and, coming to the buoy, I seized and threw it over my head, and then got it under my arms and so floated.
The breeze, such as it was, was on the ship's quarter, and she would need to describe a considerable arc before she rounded to. I could hear very faintly the voices on board, the flinging down of coils of rope, the dim echoes of hurry and commotion. I again sought to exert my lungs, but could deliver no louder note than a moan. The agony of mind I was under lest a shark should seize me I cannot express, and my strained eyeballs would come from the tall shadow of the ship to the the sea about me in a wild searching of the liquid ebony of it for the sparkling configuration of the most abhorred of all fish. I could have sworn that hours elapsed before they lowered a boat from the ship, that seemed to grow fainter and fainter every time I looked at her, so swallowing is the character of ocean darkness, and so subtle apparently, so fleet in fact, the settling away of a fabric under canvas from an object stationary on the water. I could distinctly hear the rattle of the oars in the rowlocks, and the splash of the dipped blades, but could not discern the boat. It was speedily evident, however, that they were pulling wide of me; my ear could not mistake. Again I tried to shout, but to no purpose. Manifestly no one had thought of taking my bearings when I fell, and I, who lay south, was being sought for southwest.
Time passed; the boat never approached me within a quarter of a mile. They must instantly have heard me, could I have halloed; but my throat refused its office. I reckoned that they continued to row here and there for about half an hour, during which they were several times hailed by the captain, as I supposed; the sound of the oars then died. A little later I heard the very faint noises made by their hoisting the boat and hauling in upon the braces, and then there was nothing for me to do but to watch, with dying eyes, the shadow of the ship till it faded, and the stars shone where she had been.
The sky shed very little light, and there was no foam to cast an illumination of its own. However, by this time, as you will suppose, I was used to my situation; that is to say, the horror and novelty of my condition had abated, and settled into a miserable feeling of despair; so that I was like a dying man who had passed days in an open boat, and who languidly directs his eyes over the gunwale at the sea, with the hopelessness that is bred by familiarity with his dreadful posture. It was some time after the ship had melted into the airy dusk that I seemed to notice, for the first time since I had been in the life-buoy, the lump of blackness at which I had been straining my eyes when the vessel heeled and I fell. It had the elusiveness of a light at sea, that is best seen (at a distance) by gazing a little on one side of it. It lay, a black mass, and whether it was a vast huddle of weeds, or a great whale killed by the earthquake, or solid land uphove by the volcanic rupture, was not conjecturable. It hung, still and not very tall, for I could not see that it put out any stars, and was about a mile distant. Whatever it might prove, I could not be worse off near or on or amid it than i was here; so, setting my face toward it, I began to strike out with my legs and arms.
The water was so fiery, it chipped in flashes to every blow of my hands. I swam in the utmost terror, never knowing but that the next moment I should be feeling the teeth of a shark upon my legs, for the sparkling of the sea to my kicks and motions was signal enough for such a beast if it was a league distant; but I may as well say here that there is no doubt the shock of earthquake and the flame effectually cleared the sea in its neighbourhood of every kind of fish that floated in it, though the hope of such a thing could yield me but very little comfort while I swam.
I continued to make good progress, and presently approaching the block of blackness, for so it looked, perceived that it was certainly land,—a solid rock, in short,—the head of some mountainous submarine formation lifted ten or twelve feet above the sea. I could now discern a faintness of vapour circling up from it and showing like steam against the stars. Its front stretched a length of a few hundred feet; how far it went behind I could not tell. A small sound of creaming waters came from it, produced by the light swell washing its shelter side. It lay all in a line of grayish darkness even when I was quite close, and I could see nothing but the shapeless body of it. Of a sudden my feet struck ground, and I waded thirty paces along a shelf that was under water till my paces lifted to the dry beach. But by this time I was fearfully exhausted; I could scarcely breathe. My legs and arms were numbed to the weight of lead. The atmosphere was warm, but not unbearably so—not hotter than it had been at noon in the ship. Steam crawled up from every pore, like the drainings of smoke from damp straw, but it did not add to the distress of my breathing. I made shift to stagger onward till I had gone about fifty feet from the wash of the sea. Nature then broke down; my knees gave way, I stumbled and fell—whether in a swoon or whether in a death-like slumber, I cannot say; all I can tell is that when I awoke, or recovered my senses, the sun stood fifteen degrees above the horizon, and I opened my eyes upon a hot and dazzling sky.
I sat up in the utmost amazement. My mind for some time was all abroad, and I could recollect nothing. Memory then entered me with a bound, and I staggered to my feet with a cry. The first thing I took notice of was that my clothes were nearly dry, which was not very reconcilable with the steam that was still issuing from the island, though it was as I say. My bones ached cruelly, but I was not sensible of any particular languor. The brilliance was so blinding that I had to employ my eyes very warily in order to see; and it was not until I had kept opening and shutting them and shading them with my hands for some minutes that they acquired their old power. The island on which I stood had unquestionably been hove up in the night by the earthquake. I cannot figure it better than by asking you to imagine a gigantic mass of pumice-stone, somewhat flat on top, and shelving on all sides very gently to the water, lying afloat but steady on the sea. It was of the hue of pumice, and as clean as an egg-shell, without a grain of calcined dust or any appearance of scoriae that I could anywhere observe. It was riddled with holes, some wide and deep—a very honeycomb; and that I did not break my neck or a limb in staggering walk from the beach in the darkness, I must ever account the most miraculous part of my adventure.
But what (when I had my whole wits) riveted my attention, and held me staring open-mouthed, as though in good truth the apparition of the devil had risen before me, was the body of a ship leaning on its bilge, at not more than a gunshot from where I stood, looking toward the interior. When my eyes first went to the thing I could not believe them. I imagined it some trick of the volcanic explosion that had fashioned a portion of the land or rock (as it may be called) into the likeness of a ship, but, on gazing steadfastly, I saw that it was indeed a vessel, rendered extraordinarily beautiful and wonderful by being densely covered with shells of a hundred different kinds, by which her bulk was enlarged, though her shape was preserved. Bright fountains of water were gushing from fifty places in her, all these waterfalls shone like rainbows, and showed surprisingly soft and lovely against the velvet green of the moss and the gray and kaleidoscopic tints of the shells upon her. Lost in amazement, I made my way toward her, and stood viewing her at a short distance. She had three lower masts standing—one right in the bows, and the mizzen raking very much aft. All three masts were supported by shrouds, and that was all the rigging the sea had left. She looked to be made of shells and moss; her shrouds and masts were incrusted as thickly as her hull. She was a mere tub of a ship in shape, being scarce twice as long as she was broad, with great fat buttocks, a very tall stern narrowing atop, and low bows with a prodigious curve to the stem-head. I am not well versed in the shipping of olden times, but I would have willingly staked all I was worth in the world that the fabric before me belonged to a period not much later than the days of Columbus, and that she had been sunk at least three centuries below the sea; and it was also perfectly clear to me that she had risen in the daylight, out of her green and oozy sepulchre, with the upheaval of the bed on which she lay to the convulsion that had produced this island.
But my situation was not one to suffer me to stand long idly wondering and staring. The moment I brought my eyes away from the ship to the mighty desolation of the blue and gleaming ocean, a horror broke upon me, my heart turned into lead, and in the anguish of my spirits I involuntarily lifted my clinched hands to God. What was to become of me? I had no boat, no means of making anything to bear me, nothing but the life-buoy, that was no better than a trap for sharks to tear me to pieces in. I was thirsty, but there was no fresh water on this steaming speck of rock, and I tell you, the knowing that there was none, and that unless rain fell I must die of thirst, had like to have driven me mad. Where the ship was, and beyond it, the island rose somewhat in the form of a gentle undulation. I walked that way, and there obtained a view of the whole island, which was very nearly circular, like the head of a hill, somewhat after the shape of a saucepan lid. It resembled a great mass of sponge to the sight, and there was no break upon its surface save the incrusted ship, which did, indeed, form a very conspicuous object. Happening to look downward, I spied a large dead fish, of the size of a cod of sixteen or eighteen pounds, lying a-dry in a hole. I put my arm down and dragged it out, and, hoping by appeasing my hunger to help my thirst somewhat, I opened my knife and cut a little raw steak, and ate it. The moisture in the flesh refreshed me, and, that the sun might not spoil the carcass, I carried it to the shadow made by the ship, and put it under one of the waterfalls that the play might keep it sweet. There was plenty more dead fish in the numerous holes, and I picked out two and put them in the shade; but I knew that the great heat must soon taint them and rot the rest, whence would come a stench that might make the island poisonous to me.
I sat down under the bends of the ship for the shadow it threw, and gazed at the sea. Perhaps I ought to have felt grateful for the miraculous creation of this spot of land, when, but for it, I must have miserably perished in the life-buoy, dying a most dreadful, slow, tormenting death, if some shark had not quickly despatched me; but the solitude was so frightful, my doom seemed so assured, I was threatened with such dire sufferings ere my end came, that, in the madness and despair of my heart, I could have cursed the intervention of this rock, which promised nothing but the prolongation of my misery. There was but one live spark amid the ashes of my hopes; namely, that the island lay in the highway of ships, and that it was impossible a vessel could sight so unusual an object without deviating from her course to examine it. That was all the hope I had; but God knows there was nothing in it to keep me alive when I set off against it the consideration that there was no water on the island, no food; that a ship would have to sail close to remark so flat and little a point as this rock; and that days, ay, and weeks might elapse before the rim of yonder boundless surface, stretching in airy leagues of deep blue to the azure sky at the horizon, should be broken by the star-like shining of a sail.
Happily, the wondrous incrusted bulk was at hand to draw my thoughts away from my hideous condition; for I verily believe, had my eye found nothing to rest upon but the honeycombed pumice, my brain would have given way. I stood up and took a long view of the petrified shell-covered structure, feeling a sort of awe in me while I looked, for it was a kind of illustration of the saying of the sea giving up its dead, and the thing stirred me almost as though it had been a corpse that had risen to the sun, after having been a secret of the deep for three hundred years.
It occurred to me that if I could board her she might furnish me with a shelter from the dew of the night. She had channels with long plates, all looking as if they were formed of shells; and stepping round to the side toward which she leaned, I found the fore channel-plates to be within reach of my hands. The shells were slippery and cutting; but I was a sailor, and there would have been nothing in a harder climb than this to daunt me. So, after a bit of a struggle, I succeeded in hauling myself into the chains, and thence easily dragged myself over the rail on to the deck.
The sight between the bulwarks was far more lovely and surprising than the spectacle presented by the ship's sides. For the decks seemed not only formed of shells of a hundred different hues; there was a great abundance of branching corals, white as milk, and marine plants of kinds for which I could not find names, of several brilliant colours; so that, what with the delicate velvet of the moss, the dark shades of seaweed of figurations as dainty as those of ferns, and the different sorts of shells, big and little, all lying as solid as if they had been set in concrete, the appearance of the ship submitted was something incredibly fantastic and admirable. Whether the hatches were on or not I could not tell, so thickly coated were the decks; but whether or not, the deposits and marine growths rendered the surface as impenetrable as iron, and I believe it would have kept a small army of labourers plying their pickaxes for a whole week to have made openings into the hold through that shelly coating of mail.
My eye was taken by a peculiar sort of protuberance at the foot of the mainmast. It stood as high as I did, and had something of the shape of a man, and, indeed, after staring at it for some time, I perceived that it had been a man; that is to say, it was a human skeleton, filled up to the bulk of a living being by the shells and barnacles which covered it. Ashore, it might have passed for some odd imitation in shells of the human figure; but, viewing it as I did, in the midst of that great ocean, amid the frightful solitude of the great dome of heaven, in a ship that was like the handiwork of the sea-gods at the bottom of the deep—I say, looking at it as I did, and knowing the thing had had life in centuries past, and had risen thus wildly garnished out of the unfathomable secret heart of the ocean, it awed me to an extent I cannot express, and I gazed as though fascinated. In all probability, this was a man who, when the ship foundered, had been securely lashed to the mast for safety or for punishment.
I turned away at last with a shudder, and walked aft. The wreck was unquestionably some Spanish or Portuguese carrack or galleon as old as I have stated; for you saw her shape when you stood on her deck, and her castellated stern rising into a tower from her poop and poop-royal, as it was called, proved her age as convincingly as if the date of her launch had been scored upon her.
What was in her hold? Thousands of pounds' worth of precious ore in gold and silver bars and ingots, for all I knew; but had she been flush to her upper decks with doubloons and ducats, I have exchanged them all for the sight of a ship, or for a rill of fresh water. I searched the horizon with feverish eyes; there was nothing in sight. The afternoon was advancing; the sun was burning unbearably midway down the western sky, and my thirst tormented me. I dropped over the side and cut another steak of fish; but though the moisture temporarily relieved me, the salt of the water flowing upon it dried into my throat and increased my sufferings. There was a light air blowing, and the sea trembled to it into a deeper hue of blue, and met in a glorious stream of twinkling rubies under the setting sun. I counted half a score of wet black fins round about the island, and understood that the sharks had recovered from their scare, and had returned to see if the earthquake had cast up anything to eat.
When the sun sank, the night came along in a stride; the curl of the moon looked wanly down upon me, and the sky flashed with starshine, so rich and magnificent was the glow of the nearer luminaries. I reentered the ship and stepped to the cabin front, over which extended a "break" or penthouse, under which I might find some shelter from the dew that was already falling like rain, and squatted down, lascar-fashion, with my back against the shell-armoured bulkhead. Great Father! never had I known what solitude was till then. There was no sound save the quiet foaming of waters draining from the wreck, and the purring of the very light swell softly moving upon the beach, and the faint, scarce audible whispering of the dew-laden draught of air stirring in the stony, fossilised shrouds. My throat felt like hot brass; I tried to pray, but could not. Imagination grew a little delirious, and I would sometimes fancy that the terrible shape at the foot of the mainmast moved as if seeking to free itself and approach me. There was a constant glancing of shooting stars on high, swift sparklings and trailings of luminous dust, and, as on the previous night, here and there upon the horizon a dim violet play of sheet-lightning. It was like being at the bottom of the sea, alive there, to be in this black, shelly, weed-smelling ship. Whether my thoughts came to me waking or sleeping I cannot tell, but I know some mad fancies possessed me, and upon the sable canvas of the night, imagination, like a magic lantern, flung a dozen febriletinctured pictures, and I particularly recollect conceiving that I was my own soul at the bottom of the ocean in the ship; that, in the green twilight of the valley in which I was, I saw many forms of dead men standing or lying or sitting, preserving the postures in which they had come floating down into the darkly gleaming profound—figures of sailors of different centuries clad in the garb of their times, intermixed with old ordnance making coarse and rusty streaks upon the sand, the glitter of minted money, the gleam of jewels, and fish brightly apparelled and of shapes unknown to man floating round about like fragments of rainbow. My dreams always wound up with imaginations of babbling drinks, and then I'd wake with the froth upon my lips. However, I got some ease by leaving my handkerchief to soak in the dew and then sucking it.
Several times during the night I had got on to the upper poop—the deck above the poop anciently termed the poop-royal—and looked around me. But there was nothing to see, not a shadow to catch the eye. The breeze freshened somewhat about midnight, and the air was made pleasant by the musical noises of running waters. I fell asleep an hour before dawn, and when I awoke the early ashen line was brightening in the east. The birth of the day is rapid in those parallels, and the light of the morning was soon all over sea and sky. I turned to search the ocean, and the first thing I saw was a brig not above half a mile from the island. She had studding sails set, and was going north, creeping along before the breeze. The instant I saw her I rushed on to the poop, where my figure would be best seen, and fell to flourishing my handkerchief like a maniac. I sought to shout, but my voice was even weaker than it had been after I fell overboard. I have no power to describe my feelings while I waited to see what the brig would do. I cursed myself for not having kept a lookout, so that I might have had plenty of time to signal to her as she approached. If she abandoned me I knew I must perish, as every instant assured me that I had neither mental nor physical power to undergo another day and night without drink and without hope upon the island.
On a sudden she hauled up the lee clew of her mainsail, boom-ended her studding sails, and put her helm over. I knew what this signified, and, clasping my hands, I looked up to God.
Presently a boat was lowered and pulled toward the island. I dropped over the side, tumbling down upon my nose in my weakness, and made with trembling legs to the beach, standing, in my eagerness, in the very curl of the wash there. There were three men in the boat, and they eyed me, as they rowed, over their shoulders as if I had been a spectre.
"Who are you, mate, and what country is this?" exclaimed the man who pulled stroke, standing up to stretch his hand to me.
I pointed to my throat, and gasped, "Water!" I could barely articulate.
Nothing in this wide world moves sailors like a cry to them for water. In an instant the three men had dragged me into the boat, and were straining like horses at their oars, as they sent the boat flashing through the rippling water. We dashed alongside.
"He's dying of thirst!" was the cry.
I was bundled on deck; the captain ran below, and returned with a small draught of wine and water.
"Start with that," said he. "You'll be fitter for a longer pull later on."
The drink gave me back my voice; yet for a while I could scarce speak, for the tears that swelled my heart.
"Are there any more of ye?" said the captain.
I answered, "No."
"But what land's this?" he inquired.
"An island uphove by an earthquake," said I.
"Great thunder!" he cried. "And what's that arrangement in shells and weeds atop of it?"
"A vessel that's probably been three hundred years at the bottom," I answered.
"The quake rose it, hey?"
"Just as it is," said I.
"Well, boil me," cried the worthy fellow, "if it don't seem too good to be true! Mr. Fletcher, trim sail, sir. Best shove along—shove along. Come, sir, step below with me for a rest and a bite, and give me your tale."
A warily eaten meal with another sup of wine and water made me a new man. We sat below a long while, I telling my story, he making notes and talking of the credit he would get for bringing home a report of a new country, when suddenly the mate put his head into the skylight.
"The island's gone, sir."
"What d' ye mean? that we've sunk it?"
"No, by the Lord; but that it's sunk itself."
We ran on deck, and where the island should have been was all clear sea.
The captain stared at the water, with his mouth wide open.
"Nothing to report after all!" he cried.
"I saw it founder!" exclaimed the mate. "I had my eye on it when it sank. I've seen some foundering in my day; but this beats all my going a-fishing!"
"Well," said the captain to me, "we didn't come too soon, sir."
I hid my face in my hands.
The Susan Gray was the name of the brig that rescued me. The Hercules saw the first of the island, and the Susan Gray the last of it. Hence, as I said at the start, it was reported by two vessels only.
BY SIR WALTER BESANT
"No!" he cried, passionately. "You drew me on; you led me to believe that you cared for me; you encouraged me! What! can a girl go on as you have done without meaning anything? Does a girl allow a man to press her hand—to keep her hand—without meaning anything? Unless these things mean nothing, you are the most heartless girl in the whole world; yes—I say the coldest, the most treacherous, the most heartless!" It was evening, and moonlight; a soft and delicious night in September. The waves lapped gently at their feet, the warm breeze played upon their faces, the moon shone upon them—an evening wholly unfit for such a royal rage as this young gentleman (two and twenty is still young) exhibited. He walked about on the parade, which was deserted except for this solitary pair, gesticulating, waving his arms, mad with the madness of wounded love.
She sat on one of the seaside benches, her hands clasped, her head bent, overwhelmed and frightened and remorseful. He went on: he recalled the day when first they met; he reminded her of the many, many ways in which she had led him on to believe that she cared for him; he accused her of making him love her in order to laugh at him. When he could find nothing more to say, he flung himself upon the bench,—but on the other end of it,—and crossed his arms, and dropped his head upon them. So that there were two on the bench, one at either end, and both with their heads dropped—a pretty picture in the moonlight of a lovers' quarrel. But this was worse than a lovers' quarrel. It was the end of everything, for the girl was engaged to another man.
She rose. If he had been looking up, he would have seen that there were tears in her eyes and on her cheek.
"Mr. Fernie," she stammered, timidly, "I suppose there is nothing more to say. I am no doubt all that you have called me. I am heartless; I have led you on. Well, but I did not know—how could I tell that you were taking things so seriously? How can you be so angry just because I can't marry you? One girl is no better than another. There are plenty of girls in the world. I thought you liked me, and I—but what is the use of talking? I am heartless and cold; I am treacherous and vain and cruel, and—and—won't you shake hands with me once more, Claude, before we part?"
"No! I will never shake hands with you again; never—never! By heavens! nothing that could happen now would ever make me shake hands with you again. I hate you, I loathe you, I shudder at the sight of you, I could not forgive you—never! You have ruined my life. Shake hands with you! Who but a heartless and worthless woman could propose such a thing?"
She shivered and shook at his wild words. She could not, as she said, understand the vehemence of the passion that held the man. He was more than half mad, and she was only half sorry. Forgive the girl. She was only seventeen, just fresh from her governess. She was quite innocent and ignorant. She knew nothing about the reality and vehemence of passion; she thought that they had been very happy together. Claude, to be sure, was ridiculously fond of taking her hand; once he kissed her head to show the depth of his friendship. He was such a good companion; they had had such a pleasant time; it was a dreadful pity that he should be so angry. Besides, it was not as if she liked the other man, who was old and horrid.
"Good-bye, then, Claude," she said. "Perhaps when we meet again you will be more ready to forgive me. Oh," she laughed, "it is so silly that a man like you—a great, strong, clever, handsome man—should be so foolish over a girl! Besides, you ought to know that a girl can't have things her own way always. Good-bye, Claude. Won't you shake hands?" She laid her hand upon his shoulder,—just touched it,—turned, and fled.
She had not far to go. The villa where she lived was within five minutes' walk. She ran in, and found her mother alone in the drawing-room.
"My dear," the mother said, irritably, "I wish to goodness you wouldn't run out after dinner. Where have you been?"
"Only into the garden, and to look at the sea."
"There's Sir William in the dining-room still."
"Let him stay there, mother dear. He'll drink up all the wine and go to sleep, perhaps, and then we shall be rid of him."
"Go in, Florence, and bring him out. It isn't good for him, at his age, to drink so much."
"Let the servants go," the girl replied, rebellious.
"My dear, your own accepted lover! Have you no right feeling? O Florence! and when I am so ill, and you know—I told you—"
"A woman should not marry her grandfather. I've had more than enough of him to-day already. You made me promise to marry him. Until I do marry he may amuse himself. As soon as we are married, I shall fill up all the decanters, and keep them full, and encourage him to drink as much as ever he possibly can."
"My dear, are you mad?"
"Oh no! I believe I have only just come to my senses. Mad? No. I have been mad. Now, when it is too late, I am sane. When it is too late—when I have just understood what I have done."
"Nonsense, child! What do you mean by being too late? Besides, you are doing what every girl does. You have accepted the hand of an old man who can give you a fine position and a great income and every kind of luxury. What moree can a girl desire? When I die—you know already—there will be nothing—nothing at all for you. Marriage is your only chance."
At this moment the door opened, and Sir William himself appeared. He was not, although a man so rich, and therefore so desirable, quite a nice old man to look at—not quite such an old man as a girl would fall in love with at first sight; but perhaps under the surface there lay unsuspected virtues by the dozen. He was short and fat; his hair was white; his face was red; he had great white eyebrows; he had thick lips; his eyes rolled unsteadily, and his shoulders lurched; he had taken much more wine than is good for a man of seventy.
He held out both hands and lurched forward. "Florenshe," he said, thickly, "letsh sit down together somewhere. Letsh talk, my dear."
The girl slipped from the proffered hands and fled from the room.
"Whatsh matter with the girl?" said Sir William.
Out at sea, all by itself, somewhere about thirty miles from a certain good-sized island in a certain ocean, there lies another little island—an eyot—about a mile long and half a mile broad. It is a coral islet. The coral reef stretches out all round it, except in one or two places, where the rock shelves suddenly, making it possible for a ship to anchor there. The islet is flat, but all round it runs a kind of natural sea-wall, about ten feet high and as many broad; behind it, on the side which the wall protects from the prevailing wind, is a little grove of low, stunted trees, the name and kind of which the successive tenants of the island have never been curious to ascertain. I am therefore unable to tell you what they are. The area protected by the sea-wall, as low as the sea-level, was covered all over with long, rank grass. At the north end of the islet a curious round rock, exactly like a martello tower, but rather higher, rose out of the water, separated from the sea-wall by twenty or thirty feet of deep water, dark blue, transparent; sometimes rolling and rushing and tearing at the sides of the rock, sometimes gently lifting the seaweed that clung to the sides. Round the top of the rock flew, screaming all the year round, the sea-birds. Far away on the horizon, like a blue cloud, one could see land; it was the larger island, to which this place belonged. At the south end was a lighthouse, built just like all lighthouses, with low white buildings at its foot, and a flagstaff, and an enclosure which was a feeble attempt at a flower-garden. You may see a lighthouse exactly like it at Broadstairs. In fact, it is a British lighthouse. Half a mile from the lighthouse, where the sea-wall broadened into a wide, level space, there was a wooden house of four rooms—dining-room, salon, and two bedrooms. It was a low house, provided with a veranda on either side. The windows had no glass in them, but there were thick shutters in case of hurricanes. There were doors to the rooms, but they were never shut. Nothing was shut or locked up or protected. On the inner or land side there was a garden, in which roses (a small red rose) grew in quantities, and a few English flowers. The elephant-creeper, with its immense leaves, clambered up the veranda poles and over the roof. There was a small plot of ground planted pineapples, and a solitary banana-tree stood under the protection of the house, its leaves blown to shreds, its head bowed down,
Beyond the garden was a collection of three or four huts, where lived the Indian servants and their families.
The residents of this retreat—this secluded earthly paradise—were these Indian servants with their wives and children; the three lighthouse men, who messed together; and the captain, governor, or commander-in-chief, who lived in the house all by himself because he had no wife or family.
Now the remarkable thing about this island is that, although it is so far removed from any other inhabited place, and although it is so small, the human occupants number many thousands. With the exception of the people above named, these thousands want nothing: neither the light of the the day or the warmth of the sun; neither food nor drink. They lie side by oide under the rank grass, without headstones or even graves to mark their place, without a register or record of their departure, without even coffins! There they lie,—sailors, soldiers, coolies, negroes,—forgotten and lost as much as if they had never been born. And if their work lives after them, nobody knows what that work is. They belong to the vast army of the Anonymous. Poor Anonymous! They do all the work. They grow our corn and breed our sheep; they make and mend for us; they build up our lives for us. We never know them, nor thank them, nor think of them. All over the world, they work for their far-off brethren; and when one dies, we know not, because another takes his place. And at the last a mound of green grass, or even nothing but an undistinguished strip of ground!
Here lay, side by side, the Anonymous—thousands of them. Did I say they were forgotten? Not quite; they are remembered by the two or three Indian women, wives of the Indian servants, who live there. At sunset they and their children retreat to their huts, and stay in them till sunrise next morning. They dare not so much as look outside the door, because the place is crowded with white, shivering, sheeted ghosts! Speak to one of these women; she will point out to you, trembling, one, two, half a dozen ghosts. It is true that the dull eye of the Englishman can see nothing. She sees them—distinguishes them one from the other. She can see them every night; yet she can never overcome her terror. The governor, or captain, or commander-in-chief, for his part, sees nothing. He sleeps in his house quite alone, with his cat and dog, windows and doors wide open, and has no fear of any ghosts. If he felt any fear, of course he would be surrounded and pestered to death every night with multitudes of ghosts; but he fears nothing. He is a doctor, you see; and no doctor ever yet was afraid of ghosts.
How did they come here—this huge regiment of dead men? In several ways. Cholera accounts for most, yellow fever for some, other fevers for some, but for the most cholera has been the destroyer. Because, you see, this is Quarantine Island. If a ship has cholera or any other infectious disease on board, it cannot touch at the island close by, which is a great place for trade, and has every year a quantity of ships calling; the infected ship has to betake herself to Quarantine Island, where her people are landed, and where they stay until she has a clear bill; and that sometimes is not until the greater part of her people have changed their berths on board for permanent lodgings ashore. Now you understand. The place is a great cemetery. It lies under the hot sun of the tropics. The sky is always blue; the sun is always hot. It is girdled by the sea. It is always silent; for the Indian children do not laugh or shout, and the Indian women are too much awed by the presence of the dead to wrangle; always silent, save for the crying of the sea-birds on the rock. There are no letters, no newspapers, no friends, no duties—none save when a ship puts in; and then, for the doctor, farewell rest, farewell sleep, until the bill of health is clean. Once a fortnight or so, if the weather permits and if the communications are open,—that is, if there is no ship there,—a boat arrives from the big island with rations and letters and supplies. Sometimes a visitor comes, but not often, because, should an infected ship put in, he would have to stay as long as the ship. A quiet, peaceful, monotonous life for one who is weary of the world, or for a hermit; and as good as the top of a pillar for silence and for meditation.
The islet lay all night long in much the same silence which lapped and wrapped it all the day. The water washed musically upon the shore; the light in the lighthouse flashed at intervals; there was no other sign of life. Toward six o'clock in the morning the dark east grew gray; thin, long white rays shot out across the sky, and then the light began to spread. Before the gray turned to pink or the pink to crimson, before there was any corresponding glow in the western sky, the man who occupied the bungalow turned out of bed, and came forth to the veranda, clad in the silk pajamas and silk jacket which formed the evening or dress suit in which he slept. The increasing light showed that he was a young man still, perhaps about thirty —a young man with a strong and resolute face and a square forehead. He stood under the veranda watching, as he had done every day for two years or more. the break of day and the sunrise. He drank in the delicious breeze, cooled by a thousand miles and more of ocean. No one knows the freshness and sweetness of the air until he has so stood in the open and watched the dawn of a day in the tropics. He went back to the house, and came out again clad in a rough suit of tweeds and a helmet. His servant was waiting for him with his morning tea. He drank it, and sallied forth. By this time the short-lived splendour of the east was fast broadening to right and left, until it stretched from pole to a pole. Suddenly the sun leaped up and the colours fled and the splendour vanished. The sky became all over a deep, clear blue, and round about the sun was a brightness which no eye but that of the sea-bird can face and live. The man in the helmet turned to the sea-shore, and walked briskly along the natural mound or sea-wall. Now and then he stepped down upon the white coral sand, picked up a shell, looked at it, and threw it away. When he came to the sea-birds' rock, he sat down and watched it. In the deep water below, sea-snakes, red and purple and green, were playing about; the bluefish, who are not in the least afraid of the snakes, rolled lazily round and round the rock; in the recesses lurked unseen the great conger-eel, which dreads nothing but the thing of long and horny tentacles, the ourite or squid: round and round the rock darted the humourous tazaar, which bites the bathers in shallow waters all for fun and mischief, and with no desire at all to eat their flesh; and besides these a thousand curious creatures, which this man, who had trained his eyes by days and days of watching, came here every day to look at. While he stood there the sea-birds took no manner of notice of him, flying close about him, lighting on the shore close at his feet. They were intelligent enough to know that he was only dangerous with a gun in his hand. Presently he got up and continued his walk. All round the sea-wall of the island measures about three miles. He took this walk every morning and every evening in the early cool and the late. The rest of the time he spent indoors.
When he got back it was nearly seven, and the day was growing hot. He took his towels, went down to the shore, to a place where the coral reef receded, leaving a channel out to the open. The channel swarmed with sharks, but he bathed there every morning, keeping in the shallow water while the creatures watched him from the depths beyond with longing eyes. He wore a pair of slippers on account of the laf, which is a very pretty little fish indeed to look at; but he lurks in dark places near the shore, and he is too lazy to get out of the way, and if you put your foot near him he sticks out his dorsal fin, which is prickly and poisoned; and when a man gets that into the sole of his foot he goes home and cuts his leg off, and has to pretend that he lost it in action.
When he had bathed, the doctor went back to his house, and performed some simple additions to his toilet. That is to say, he washed the salt water out of his hair and beard; not much else. As to collars, neckties, braces, waistcoats, black coats, rings, or any such gewgaws, they were not wanted on this island. Nor are watches and clocks; the residents go by the sun. The doctor got up at daybreak, and took his walk, as you have seen, and his bath. He was then ready for his breakfast, a solid meal, in which fresh fish, newly caught that morning, and curried chicken, with claret and water, formed the principal part. A cup of coffee came after, with a cigar and a book on the veranda. By this time the sun was high, and the glare of forenoon had succeeded the coolness of the dawn. After the cigar the doctor went indoors. The room was furnished with a few pictures, a large bookcase full of books, chiefly medical, a table covered with papers, and two or three chairs. No curtains, carpets, or blinds; the doors and windows wide open to the veranda on both sides.
He sat down and began writing; perhaps he was a novel. I think no one could think of a more secluded place for writing a novel. Perhaps he was doing something scientific. He continued writing till past midday. When he felt hungry, he went into the dining-room, took a biscuit or two, and a glass of vermuth. Then, because it was now the hour for repose, and because the air outside was hot, and the sea-breeze had dropped to a dead calm, and the sun was like a red-hot glaring furnace overhead, the doctor kicked off his boots, threw off his coat, lay down on a grass mat under the mosquito-curtain, and instantly fell fast asleep. About five o'clock he awoke and got up; the heat of the day was over. He took a long draught of cold tea, which is the most refreshing and the coolest drink in the world. The sun was now getting low, and the air was growing cool. He put on his helmet, and set off again to walk round his domain. This done, he bathed again. Then he went home as the sun sank, and night fell instantly without the intervention of twilight. They served him dinner, which was like his breakfast but for the addition of some cutlets. He took his coffee; he took a pipe—two pipes, slowly, with a book; he took a whisky-and-soda; and he went to bed. I have said that he had no watch; it hung idly on a nail; therefore he knew not the time, but it would very likely be about half-past nine. However that might be, he was the last person up in this ghostly Island of the Anonymous Dead.
This doctor, captain-general, and commandant of Quarantine Island was none other than the young man who began this history with a row royal and a kingly rage. You think, perhaps, that he had turned hermit in the bitterness of his wrath, and for the faults of one simple girl had resolved on the life of a solitary. Nothing of the kind. He was an army doctor, and he left the service in order to take this very eligible appointment, where one lived free, and could spend nothing except a little for claret. He proposed to stay there for a few years in order to make a little money by means of which he might become a specialist. This was his ambition. As for that love-business seven years past, he had clean forgotten it, girl and all. Perhaps there had been other tender passages. Shall a man, wasting in despair, die because a girl throws him over? Never! Let him straightway forget her. Let him tackle his work; let him put off the business of love—which can always wait—until he can approach it once more in the proper spirit of illusion, and once more fall to worshipping an angel.
Neither nature nor civilisation ever designed a man's life to be spent in monotony. Most of us have to work for our daily bread, which is always an episode, and sometimes a pretty dismal episode, to break and mark the day. One day there came such a break in the monotonous round of the doctor's life. It came in the shape of a ship. She was a large steamer, and she steamed slowly.
It was early in the morning, before breakfast. The doctor and one of the lighthouse men stood on the landing-place watching her.
"She's in quarantine, doctor, sure as sure," said the man. "I wonder what's she's got. Fever, for choice; cholera, more likely. Well, we take our chance."
"She's been in bad weather," said the doctor, looking at her through his glass. "Look; she's lost her mizzen, and her bows are stove in. I wonder what's the meaning of it. She's a transport." She drew nearer. "Troops! Well, I'd rather have soldiers than coolies."
She was a transport. She was full of soldiers, time-expired men and invalids going home. She was bound from Calcutta to Portsmouth. She had met with a cyclone; driven out of her course and battered, she was making for the nearest port when cholera broke out on board.
Before nightfall the island was dotted with white tents; a hospital was rigged up with the help of the ship's spars and canvas. The men were all ashore, and the quarantine doctor, with the ship's doctor, was hard at work among the cases, and the men were dropping in every direction.
Among the passengers were a dozen ladies and some children. The doctor gave up his house to them, and retired to a tent or to the lighthouse or anywhere to sleep. Much sleep could not be expected for some time to come. He saw the boat land with the ladies on board; he took off his hat as they walked past. There were old ladies, middle-aged ladies, young ladies. Well, there always is this combination. Then he went on with his work. But he had a curious sensation, as if something of the past had been revived in his mind. It is, however, not an uncommon feeling. And one of the ladies changed colour when she saw him.
Then began the struggle for life. No more monotony in Quarantine Island. Right and left, all day long, the men fell one after the other; day after day more men fell, more men died. The two doctors quickly organised their staff. The ship's officers became clinical clerks; some of the ladies became nurses. And the men, the rough soldiers, sat about in their tents with pale faces, expecting. Of those ladies who worked there was one who never seemed weary, never wanted rest, never asked for relief. She was at work all day and all night in the hospital; if she went out, it was only to cheer up the men outside. The doctor was but conscious of her work and of her presence; he never spoke to her. When he came to the hospital, another nurse received him; if he passed her, she seemed always to turn away. At a less troubled time he would have observed this. At times he felt again that odd sensation of a recovered past, but he regarded it not; he had other things to consider. There is no time more terrible for the courage of the stoutest man than a time of cholera on board ship or in a little place whence there is no escape; no time worse for a physician than one when his science is mocked and his skill avails nothing. Day after day the doctor fought from morning till night, and far on to the morning again; day after day new graves were dug; day after day the chaplain read over the new-made graves the service of the dead for the gallant lads who thus died, inglorious, for their country.
There came a time, at last, when the conqueror seemed tired of conquest; he ceased to strike. The fury of the disease spent itself; the cases happened singly, one or two a day instead of ten or twenty. The sick began to recover; they began to look about them. The single cases ceased; the pestilence was stayed; and they sat down to count the cost. There had been on board the transport three hundred and seventy-five men, thirty-two officers, a dozen ladies, a few children, and the ship's crew. Twelve officers, two of the ladies, and a hundred men had perished when the plague abated.
"One of your nurses is ill, doctor."
"Not cholera, I do hope."
"No; I believe a kind of collapse. She is at the bungalow. I told them I would send you over."
"I will go at once."
He left a few directions, and walked over to the house. It was, he found, the nurse who had been of all the most useful and the most active. She was now lying hot and feverish, her mind wandering, inclined to ramble in her talk. He laid his hand upon her temples; he felt her pulse; he looked upon her face; the odd feeling of something familiar struck him again. "I don't think it is very much," he said. "A little fever. She may have been in the sun; she has been working too hard; her strength has given way." He still held her wrist.
"Claude," murmured the sick girl, "you are very cruel. I didn't know—and a girl cannot always have her own way."
Then he recognised her.
"Good heavens!" he cried, "it is Florence!"
"Not always have her own way," she repeated. "If I could have had my own way, do you think I would—"
"Florence!" he said again; "and I did not even recognise her. Strange!"
Another of the ladies, the colonel's wife, was standing beside him.
"You know her, doctor?"
"I knew her a long time ago—some years ago —before she married."
"Married? Florence is not married. You must be thinking of some one else."
"No. This is Florence Vernon, is it not? Yes. Then she was formerly engaged to marry a certain Sir William Duport."
"Oh, I believe there was some talk about an old man who wanted to marry her. But she wouldn't have him. It was just before her mother died. Did you know her mother?"
"I knew her mother a little when they were living at Eastbourne. So she refused the old man, did she? and has remained unmarried. Curious! I had almost forgotten her. The sight of her brings back the old days. Well, after she has pulled so gallantly through the cholera, we cannot have her beaten by a little fever. Refused the old man, did she?"
In the dead of night he sat watching by the bedside, the colonel's wife with him.
"I had almost forgotten," whispered the lady, "that story of the old baronet. She told me about it once. Her mother was ill, and anxious about her daughter because she had next to nothing except an annuity. The old man offered; he was an unpleasant old man, but there was a fine house and everything. It was all arranged. The girl was quite a child, and understood nothing. She was to be sold, in fact, to this old person, who ought to have been thinking of his latter end instead of a pretty girl. Then the mother died suddenly, and the girl broke it off. She was a clever girl, and she has been teaching. For the last three years she has been in India; now she is going home under my charge. She is a brave girl, doctor, and a good girl. She has received half a dozen offers, but she has refused them all; so I think there must be somebody at home."
"Claude," murmured the girl, wandering, "I never thought you would care so much. If I had thought so, I would not have encouraged you. Indeed, indeed, I would not. I thought we were only amusing ourselves."
"Claude is a pretty name. What is your own Christian name, doctor?" asked the colonel's wife, curiously.
"It is—in fact—it is Claude," he replied, blushing; but there was not enough light to see his blushes.
"Dear me!" said the colonel's wife.
A few days later the patient, able to sit for a while in the shade of the veranda, was lying in a long cane chair. Beside her sat the colonel's wife who had nursed her through the attack. She was reading aloud to her. Suddenly she stopped. "Here comes the doctor," she said; "and, Florence, my dear, his name, you know, is Claude. I think you have got something to talk about with Claude besides the symptoms." With these words she laughed, nodded her head, and ran into the salon.
The veranda, with its green blinds of cane hanging down, and its matting on the floor, and its easy-chairs and tables, made a pretty room to look at. In the twilight, the fragile figure, pale, thin, dressed in white, would have lent interest even to a stranger. To the doctor, I suppose, it was only a "case." He pushed the blinds aside and stepped in, strong, big, masterful. "You are much better," he said; "you will very soon be able to walk about. Only be careful for a few days. It was lucky that the attack came when it did, and not a little earlier when we were in the thick of the trouble. Well, you won't want me much longer, I believe."
"No, thank you," she murmured, without raising her eyes.
"I have had no opportunity," he said, standing over her, "of explaining that I really did not know who you were, Miss Vernon. Somehow I didn't see your face, or I was thinking of other things. I suppose you had forgotten me. Anyhow, it was not until the other day, when I was called in, that I remembered. But I dare say you have forgotten me."
"No; I have not forgotten."
"I thought that long ago you had become Lady Duport."
"No; that did not take place."
"I hear that you have been teaching since your mother's death. Do you like it?"
"Yes; I like it."
"Do you remember the last time we met—on the sea-shore? Do you remember, Florence?" His voice softened suddenly. "We had a quarrel about that old villain; do you remember?"
"I thought you had forgotten such a little thing as that long ago, and the girl you quarrelled with."
"The point is rather whether you remember. That is of much more importance."
"I remember that you swore that you would never forgive a worthless girl who had ruined your life. Did I ruin your life, Dr. Fernie?"
He laughed. He could not honestly say that she had. In fact, his life, so far as concerned his work, had gone on much about the same. But then, such a man does not allow love to interfere with his career.
"And then you went and threw over the old man. Florence, why didn't you tell me that you were going to do that? You might have told me."
She shook her head. "Until you fell into such a rage, and called me such dreadful names, I did not understand."
"Why didn't you tell me, Florence?" he repeated.
She shook her head again.
"You were only a little innocent, ignorant child then," he said; "of course you could not understand. I was an ass and a brute and a fool not to know."
"You said you would never forgive me. You said you would never shake hands with me again."
He held out his hand. "Since," he said, "you are not going to marry the old man, and since you are not engaged to anybody else, why—then—in that case—the old state of things is still going on; and—and—Florence—but if you give me your hand, I shall keep it, mind."
"Dear me!" said the colonel's wife, standing in the doorway. "Do quarantine doctors always kiss their patients? But you told me, doctor dear, that your Christian name was Claude; didn't you? That explains everything."
The ship, with those of her company whom the plague had spared, presently steamed away, and, after being repaired, made her way to Portsmouth dockyard. But one of her company stayed behind, and is now queen or empress of the island of which her husband is king, captain, commandant, and governor-general, and also resident quarantine doctor.
THE ROCK SCORPIONS
The screw steamer Jenny Jones was lying alongside a coal-hulk at Gibraltar one October afternoon. By three o'clock her bunkers were nearly filled, and the captain was getting ready for casting off, when one of the natives came on board. Captain Hindhaugh looked about for something to throw at the visitor, and only the difficulty of selecting an efficient missile from a large and varied assortment prevented him from letting fly at once.
The "Scorpion" said, "Ah, no, no, Capeetan! No been throw nothin' at myself. Beesiness! I'se been com' for beesiness. Big thing, Capeetan!"
The last phrase was spoken with such a profound wink that Hindhaugh held his hand, and, addressing the man as one would an ill-conditioned dog, said, "Don't keep bowing and scraping there, you tastrel! Get it out sharp!"
The Scorpion whispered, "No been talk up here. Keep ship one hour, two hour, three hour. You'se been com' with me, and I speak you somethin' myself."
Like many of his tribe, this interesting native spoke a kind of English which is not heard anywhere else on the Mediterranean shore. A few of the people on the Rock learn to talk very well to our men, but most of those who come about the ships use a picturesque lingo in which "myself" the place of quite a variety of parts of speech.
Hindhaugh invited the man below, and asked him to explain himself. The fellow leaned over the table and chattered on, throwing quick side glances at every few words.
"This been big thing, Capeetan. You get away a little; drop your anchor a little. Then three felucca com' alongside, and you'se been hoist bales. Then you 'se go where agent say you. Very big thing. Five thousand sovereign."
"What is it? tobacco?"
"That been it."
"I'm not going out of Portuguese waters at no price."
"Ah, no, no, Cheesu, Capeetan—no! Five mile. We have felucca there ready. I 'se been see him myself."
"What's the figure? what's the money?"
"You com' 'shore and see agent with myself."
Hindhaugh put a revolver in his pocket and went on deck; the Scorpion got ashore, and hung about with an air of innocence. The captain was about to follow when the man in charge of the hulk called out, "Do you intend to keep bumping us like this all night? Why don't you cast off? You're knocking us all to flinders."
Hindhaugh beckoned. "Look here, my good chap, it won't matter to you for a couple of hours. Let us lie till dusk, and then I'll get away. I've got important business ashore."
"That's very well, Captain. But look here; if there's anything on, I'm in it. You understand —I'm in it."
"You understand that, do you? Well then, I'll tell you to keep your mouth shut just now, or never another ton of coal will you put aboard of us as long as I run here."
"All right, Captain. No need to be nasty. You'll do the square thing, I bet."
Then Hindhaugh went ashore, and the Scorpion walked on ahead, gazing on architectural beauties with easy interest. Presently the two men came to a narrow stairway, and the Englishman gripped his revolver. A dark-eyed Spaniard was waiting on a landing, and held up two fingers when the guide passed. The Scorpion knocked at a greasy door, and an ugly fellow, with a cowl on, looked out and nodded. Hindhaugh stepped into a room that reeked with garlic and decay. Two men sat in the steamy dusk at the far side. An oily gentleman rose and bowed. "I'm the interpreter, Captain. You and this merchant must do your business through me. What'll you take to drink?"
"Get through your business, mister. I'm not wanting any drink."
In brief, jerky sentences the interpreter explained what was wanted.
"You steam slowly till you're near the Fleet. Then put all your men on and get the stuff up. This man goes with you, and he'll tell you where to go. Lie five miles off Huelva."
"I sha'n't go except to Portuguese waters."
"Good. Then the lighters will come and the men will discharge you."
"And now," said the captain, "what about me? How much?"
"One hundred and twenty pounds."
"Can't be done. Make it two hundred and fifty."
After some haggling, a bargain was made for two hundred and twenty. Then Hindhaugh went further: "I want one hundred and ten down before we start, and the balance before you take an ounce of tobacco out of us."
This was settled; the merchant bowed, and the skipper went away, still keeping his hand on the revolver. Every cranny in the walls seemed fit to hide a murderer—seemed made for nothing else; and Hindhaugh thought what a fool he must have been to venture under that foul arch.
On getting aboard, the captain sent for his brother, who sailed as mate with him. He said, "Now, Jack, I'm going to run some risk. You take this pistol, and get her oiled and put right. When you see three feluccas coming alongside, get all the chaps on deck—the Dora's crew as well as ours." (Hindhaugh was taking home a ship-wrecked crew, and he was very grateful just then for that accession of force.) "Whack on everything you know, and get the bales up sharp. Tell the engineers to stand by for driving her, and leave the rest to me. If we're nailed we'll be detained, and I don't know what may happen; so you'll have to look slippy."
Jack replied, "All right, sir!" Quarter-deck manners were punctiliously observed by one of the brothers.
The shadows fell low, and the crown of the Rock grew dim. The creeping wind stole over the Pearl Rock, and set the sinister ripples dancing; the bugles sang mysteriously through the gloom, and the mystery of the night was in the air. The Jenny Jones stole quietly toward the broad sheet of water where the vessels of the Fleet heaved up their shadowy bulk above the lapping flood. All the English sailors were stripped to the shirt, and a low hum of excited talk came from amidships. Suddenly the raking yard of a felucca started out from amid the haze; then came another, and another. A sailor slipped a cork fender over the side, and there was a muffled bump and a slight scrape. Jack, the mate, whispered, "Now, you cripples!" and a brief scene of wild hurry and violent labour ensued. Bale after bale was whisked aboard; the Englishmen worked as only English sailors can, and the Scorpions excelled themselves under the influence of fear and black wine. When the last bale was up, Hindhaugh said to the man who first boarded him, "Who's got the money?"
"Me, Capeetan. All right. Honest man myself. You'se been have every dollar."
"Well then, it's neck or nothing. We have half an hour to clear out into the Gut. Come below, and shell out."
The Scorpion counted out one hundred pounds in gold, and then asked, "That be enough? Other money all right other end."
"Deuce a bit! Down with the other ten or I sliver you."
The Scorpion did not know what "sliver" meant, but the gleam of the skipper's cold eye was enough for him. He paid up and went on deck.
Hindhaugh had just said to the engineer, "Now, rive the soul out of her," when a low, panting sound was heard, and a white shape appeared gliding over the water. The captain had let the feluccas go, and the Jenny Jones was moving. He waved for the mate. "It's all up. Here's a mess. You must go home overland; suppose you swim ashore. Steady the men down."
Jack performed one or two steps of a dance, and placed his finger against his nose. He rather enjoyed a scrape, did this frivolous chief officer. The white shape came nearer, and a sharp whistle sounded. Hindhaugh had known well enough that it was a steam-launch that made the panting noise, and he got ready for the worst. The launch drew right across the bows of the steamer, and then the throbbing of the little engines ceased. Again the whistle sounded; the launch gave a bound forward; then she struck away into the darkness, and Hindhaugh drew a long breath.
In an instant every possible ounce of steam was put on, and the Jenny Jones went away at eleven knots toward the Gut. All night long the firemen were kept hard at it, and before morning the Rock was far astern of the driving steamboat.
Three of the Scorpions had stayed aboard, and Captain Hindhaugh noticed that they earned their knives. He noticed, too, that the cringing manner which the fellows had shown before the Rock was cleared had given place to a sort of subdued swagger.
About noon the engines were slowed down almost to nothing, and the Jenny Jones crept gently on toward the shore. By four o'clock the vessel was well into Portuguese waters, and Hindhaugh was prepared to defy any quantity of Spanish coast-guards. When the sun had dipped low the Scorpion-in-chief came aft, and pointed mysteriously to the northeast.
"You'se been look where I point myself. Feluccas! You'se follow them in and drop anchor."
Hindhaugh smiled. "Do you think you're talking to a fool? Come you below there, and let me have that other money sharp."
"Ah, Capeetan, wait till agent's man come with felucca. I'se been have no money myself."
Hindhaugh was not a person to be trifled with. He quietly took out his revolver. "Now, do you see that pretty thing? First shot for you. Look at that block forrad, and see how much chance you'll have if I fire at you." The pop of the revolver sounded, and then Hindhaugh went forward, pulling the Scorpion with him. "Do you see that hole, you image? How would you like if that was your gizzard? Now, no games, my joker."
The Scorpion begged for time, and Hindhaugh was so sure of his man that he made no further objection. He had another conference with Jack, and, to that worthy man's great delight, he expressed certain forebodings.
"We're going to have a fight over this job," said the skipper. "I'm dead sure of it. Go down and load the two muskets, and give them to the safest men. When the lighters DO come, borrow the fireman's iron rods. I've lent the steward my bowie that I got at Charleston, and you can try and hold that old bulldog straight. We mustn't show the least sign of funking."
Then Hindhaugh and his brother called for tea, and fed solidly.
The Scorpion whispered down the companion, "They'se been com'," and the captain went on deck. Two large felucca-rigged lighters hove up slowly through the dusk, and the chief Scorpion's signal was answered. Hindhaugh saw both lighters draw near, he felt the usual scraping bump, and then he heard a sudden thunder of many feet. The second mate sung out, "Here's half a hundred of these devils, sir. They're all armed to the teeth." And sure enough, a set of ferocious-looking rapscallions had boarded the steamer. They looked like low-class Irishmen browned with walnut-juice. Each man had a heavy array of pistols in his sash, and all of them carried ugly knives. The Scorpion waved to the gang, and they arranged themselves around the pile of bales that stuck out through the after-hatch. Hindhaugh had fully discounted all the chances, and had made up his mind to one thing: he wouldn't be "done."
The Scorpion imperiously observed, "Come below, Capeetan," and Hindhaugh went. Then the defiant native of the Rock put his back against the cabin door, heaved out his chest in a manly way, and said, "Now, Capeetan, you no have more money. You speak much, and I'se been get your throat cut myself."
"You've got no money?"
"No; not a damn dollar."
"You won't keep to your bargain?"
"No; you come 'shore for your money if you want him."
Hindhaugh made up his mind in a flash. In spite of his habit of wearing a frock-coat and tall hat, he was more than half a pirate, and he would have ruffled it, like his red-bearded ancestors, had fighting been still the usual employment of Norsemen. He marked his man's throat, and saw that the insolent hands could not get at a knife quickly. Then he sprang at the Scorpion, gripped him by the windpipe, and swung him down. The fellow gurgled, but he couldn't cry out. Hindhaugh called the steward, and that functionary came out of his den with the long bowie. "Sit on him," said the captain. "If he stirs cut his throat. Now, you, if you move a finger you're done." The steward straddled across the Scorpion, and held the knife up in a sarcastic way.
Hindhaugh went swiftly on deck, and stepped right among the jabbering Spaniards. He smiled as though nothing had happened, but when he saw one man lay hold of a bale he pulled him back. "Tell them I'll shoot the first man that tries to lift a bale till I'm ready."
This message brought on a torrent of talk, which gave the captain time. He whispered to Jack, "Sneak you round through the engine-room. That lighter's made fast forrad; the second one's fast here. Get a hatchet from the carpenter, and set him alongside of the second rope. When I whistle twice, both of you nick the ropes, and we'll jink these swindling swine." The engineer also received orders to go full speed ahead on the instant that the whistle sounded.
Hindhaugh kept up his air of good-humour, although the full sense of the risk he ran was in his mind. His threat of shooting had made the Spaniards suspicious, although they were used to big talk of the kind. One peep into the cabin would have brought on a collision, and although the Englishmen might have fought, there was nothing to gain by a fight. Everything depended on swiftness of action, and Hindhaugh determined grimly that if rapidity could do anything he would teach the "furriners" a lesson for trying to swindle him.
He said, very politely, "We're all ready now. You get your men aboard the lighters, and we'll soon rash your cargo over the side." This was transmitted to the smugglers, and immediately they swarmed aboard their own boats. They had rather expected a quarrel, and this pacific solution pleased them. As Jack afterward said, "They blethered like a lot o' wild geese."
All the foreigners were gone but three. Hindhaugh stepped quietly up to the interpreter, and said, very low, "I'm covering you with my revolver from inside my pocket. Don't you stir. Is that other money going to be paid?"
The interpreter had been innocent of all knowledge of the wild work in the cabin. He stammered, "I thought by your way it was all right. Where's our man?"
"I've got him safe enough. Ask those fellows in the lighters if any of them can pay the freight for the job. If you tell them to fire they may miss me, and I can't miss you."
No one, not even the consignee's man, had any money; the smugglers meant to trick the Revenue, and the English captain as well. Hindhaugh whistled, and then roared out, "Lie down, all of you! Ram her ahead!" The hatchets went crack, crack; the steamer shuddered and plunged forward; and the lighters bumped swiftly astern.
"Over the side, you animals, or I'll take you out to sea and drown you."
The three Spaniards rushed to the side, and took flying leaps into the lighters. Hindhaugh stooped low and ran to the companion. "Let that beggar up," he shouted. The Scorpion scuttled on deck. "Now, mister, I'll let you see if you'll take me in. Over you go. Over the stern with you, and mind the propeller doesn't carve you." Two shots were fired, but they went wild. The Scorpion saw the whole situation; he poised for a second on the rail, and then jumped for it, and Hindhaugh laughed loudly as his enemy came up blowing. Jack performed a triumphal war-dance on the steamer's bridge, and the Jenny Jones was soon far out of pistol range.
All that night Captain Hindhaugh did not sleep a wink. He was quite persuaded that he had acted the part of an exemplary Briton. What is the use of belonging to the ruling race if a mere foreigner is to do as he likes with you? But the adventurous skipper had landed himself in a pretty mess, and the full extent of his entanglement grew on him every minute. At twelve o'clock, when the watch was relieved, Jack came aft in a state of exultation that words cannot describe. He chuckled out, "Well, sir, we've made our fortunes this time." Hindhaugh damped his spirits by saying, slowly, "Not too fast; that 'baccy's got to go overboard, my boy." Jack's mental processes became confused. He had been measuring the cubic contents of the smuggled goods, and the thought of wasting such a gift of the gods fairly stunned him. Had it been cotton, his imagination would not have been touched. But 'baccy! and overboard! It was too much, and he groaned. He was ready with expedients at once.
"Why not run it to Holland?"
"Can't be done; where's our bill of lading?"
"Make up one yourself; you have plenty of forms."
"And suppose the luck goes the wrong way. What's to happen to me—and to you too for that matter?"
"Run to a tobacco port, and warehouse the stuff in your own name."
"We're not bound for a tobacco port. What's to be done about the cargo of ore that we are carrying? No, John; the whole five thousand pounds must go over the side."
Next morning broke joyously. The sea looked merry with miles of brisk foam, and the little Portuguese schooners flew like butterflies hither and thither. Every cloud of spray plucked from the dancing crests flashed like white fire under the clear sun. It was one of the mornings when one cannot speak for gladness. But Hindhaugh's thoughts were fixed on material things. The rich bales lay there, and their presence affected him like a sarcasm. The men were called aft, and the shovels used for trimming grain were brought up. Then the captain said, "Now each of you take a pound or two of this tobacco, and then break the bales and shovel the rest overboard." The precious packages were burst, and the sight of the beautiful leaf, the richness of the tender aroma, affected the sailors with remorse. It was like offering up a sacrifice. But the captain's orders were definite; so until near noon the shovels were plied smartly, and one hundredweight after another of admirable tobacco drifted away on the careless sea.
Hindhaugh watched grimly until at last his emotions overcame him. He growled, "Confound it, I can't do it! Belay there, men; I'll have another think over this job." And think he did, with businesslike solemnity, all day long. He saw that he might make a small fortune by risking his liberty, and the curious morality of the British sailor prevented him from seeing shades of right or wrong where contraband business was concerned. Had you told him that the tobacco was stolen, he would have pitched you overboard; he felt his morality to be unimpeachable; it was only the question of expediency that troubled him. For three days it was almost unsafe to go near him, so intently did he ponder and plan. On the fifth day he had worked his way through his perplexities, and was ready with a plan. A pilot cutter came in sight, and Hindhaugh signalled her. The pilot's boat was rowed alongside, and the bronzed and dignified chief swaggered up to the captain with much cordiality. No one is so cordial as a pilot who has secured a good ship. The two men exchanged news, and gradually slid into desultory talk. Suddenly Hindhaugh said, "Are you game for a bit of work? Do you ever DO anything?"
The pilot was virtuously agitated. He drew himself up, and, taking care that the mate should hear, answered, "Me! Not for the wurrrld, Cap'n. I've got a wife and children, sir."
"All right, Pilot, never mind; come down and have some tea."
Then Hindhaugh gradually drew his man out, until the pilot was absolutely confidential. The captain knew by the very excess of purity expressed in the pilot's first answer that he was not dealing with a simpleton; but he carefully kept away from the main subject which was in his (and the pilot's) mind. At last the man leaned over and gave a masonic sign. "What was that job you was speaking about, Cap'n? We're near home now, you know. Better not go too near."
Hindhaugh played a large card. He smiled carelessly. "Fact is, I've just told the fellows to shy the stuff overboard; I shall risk no more."
"Mercy me, Cap'n! You're mad. How did I know who you were? I see all about it now, but I did not know what game you might have on with me. I'm in it, you know, if the dimes is right!"
"Why, if the job's big enough. You stand off for a day; go down to the Sleeve, and hang round, and I'll find you a customer."
"If you do, I pay you three hundred pound as soon as his money's down."
"Done, then. My boat's not gone far. Whistle her, and I'll go slap for Bristol. Never you mind for a day or two. How's your coals?"
"They're all right. You scoot now, and fetch your man over this way. I'll go half-speed to the sou'west for twelve hours, another twelve hours half-speed back. You'll find us."
In thirty-six hours the pilot cutter came back, and a Hebrew gentleman boarded the Jenny Jones from her. After a long inspection, the visitor said, "Now look here, I must have a hundred per cent. margin out of this. What's your figure?"
"Two thousand five hundred."
"Won't do. Say two thousand, and you pay the jackal out of that."
"Done. And how do you manage?"
"I'll split the lot up among three trawlers. You wait off, and give the jackal an extra fifty for bringing the boats down. I risk the rest."
Another night passed, and the dawn was breaking coldly when the dirty sails of the trawlers came in sight. Ship after ship had hailed Hindhaugh, and offered to tow him if anything had happened to his engines. He knew he would be reported as lying off apparently disabled, and he was in a feverish state of excitement. The Hebrew speculator watched the last bale down the side, and then handed over the money, had a glass of brandy with the pilot, and departed—whither Hindhaugh neither knew nor cared. The Jenny Jones ran for her port. She had just slowed down, and the great waves of smoke from the town were pouring over her, when two large boats, heavily laden with men, came off to her. The men swarmed up the side, and the officer in command shouted, "Bring up the pickaxes, and go to work!" The hatches were pulled off before the steamer had taken up her moorings, and the men went violently to work among the ore. Hindhaugh looked innocent, and inquired, "What's all this about, officer?"
"Fact is, Captain, we've got a telegram from Gibraltar to say you have contraband on board. You may save all trouble if you make a clean breast."
"Contraband! Who told you that?"
"Oh, we should have known without the wire. That gentleman on the quay there came overland, and he put us up to you."
Hindhaugh looked ashore, and saw a dark face that he knew well. He whistled and smiled. Then he said to the officer, "You may just as well stop those poor beggars from blistering their hands. You won't find anything here except what the men have in the forecastle. You're done this journey fairly. Come away down and liquor, and I'll tell you all about it." Then Hindhaugh gave an artistic account of the whole transaction, and put the matter in such a light that the custom-house officer cordially congratulated him on having escaped without a slit weasand.
The Jenny Jones went back to Gibraltar, and Captain Hindhaugh was very careful never to go ashore without a companion. One day he was passing a chandler's shop when a sunken glitter of dark eyes met him. His old acquaintance, the chief Scorpion, was looking stilettos and poison at him. But Hindhaugh went by in his big, burly way, and contented himself with setting on three watchmen every night during his stay. To this day he is pleased with himself for having given the foreigners a lesson in the elements of morality, and he does not fear their knives one whit.
THE MASTER OF THE "CHRYSOLITE"
BY G. B. O'HALLORAN
Captain Anderson stood alone in the world. But he was one who COULD stand alone, for his will was strong and his affections were weak. Those who thought they knew him best said he was hardy. The remainder said he was hard, his heart a stone. Still he was a human being, for, like others, he cherished hobbies. His hobbies, however, were not of that class which is compassed about by rest and roses. Instead, they were clothed with a stern delight born of defiance and danger. To work his ship across the Bay in the teeth of an adverse gale; to weather a lee shore; to master a rebellious crew single-handed—these were the wild diversions which satisfied him. Once, in the China seas, his men grew mutinous, said the ship was "leaking like a lobster-pot," and straightway put her about for Singapore; swore they did not care what the skipper thought—in fact, would like to talk to him a bit. The skipper was below when the first mate brought down the news and a very pale face as well.
"Tell the men to muster!"
So soon as the mate's back was turned, John Anderson took a revolver from a locker and charged it; then, ascending the companion-ladder, he walked to the break of the poop, with his hands buried in the pockets of a pea-jacket. Down below him were the men, lolling about in a sullen crowd on the weather side of the quarter-deck. They were thirty or forty in number, and were a vicious-looking set.
"Now then, my men! Half an hour ago we were steering due northeast. Who was it dared to lay the ship's nose the other way?"
The burly boatswain swung his way out of the crowd, planted his foot on the first step of the poop-ladder, and stared up at the captain.
"I did, and be damned to you!" roared he. There was a loud report. The boatswain dropped, shot in the leg. And the crew shivered under a gleaming eye and a gleaming weapon.
"All hands 'bout ship!" cried the master. The wounded boatswain, raising himself for a moment on one hand, piped faintly, and fell back unconscious. But the men were already at their stations, and in five minutes more the Chrysolite was heading northeast again.