Part 1 out of 11
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CORD AND CREESE.
BY THE AUTHOR OF "THE DODGE CLUB."
BY PROF. JAMES DE MILLE.
CORD AND CREESE.
THE LETTER FROM BEYOND THE SEA.
On the morning of July 21, 1840, the _Daily News_ announced the
arrival of the ship _Rival_ at Sydney, New South Wales. As ocean
steam navigation had not yet extended so far, the advent of this ship
with the English mail created the usual excitement. An eager crowd beset
the post-office, waiting for the delivery of the mail; and little knots
at the street corners were busily discussing the latest hints at news
which had been gathered from papers brought ashore by the officers or
At the lower end of King Street was a large warehouse, with an office at
the upper extremity, over which was a new sign, which showed with newly
gilded letters the words:
COMPTON & BRANDON.
The general appearance of the warehouse showed that Messrs. Compton and
Brandon were probably commission merchants, general agents, or something
of that sort.
On the morning mentioned two men were in the inner office of this
warehouse. One was an elderly gentleman, with a kind, benevolent aspect,
the senior partner of the firm. The other was the junior partner, and in
every respect presented a marked contrast to his companion.
He had a face of rather unusual appearance, and an air which in England
is usually considered foreign. His features were regular--a straight
nose, wide brow, thin lips, and square, massive chin. His complexion was
olive, and his eyes were of a dark hazel color, with a peculiarity about
them which is not usually seen in the eye of the Teutonic or Celtic
race, but is sometimes found among the people of the south of Europe, or
in the East. It is difficult to find a name for this peculiarity. It may
be seen sometimes in the gipsy; sometimes in the more successful among
those who call themselves "spiritual mediums," or among the more
powerful mesmerizers. Such an eye belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte, whose
glance at times could make the boldest and greatest among his marshals
quail. What is it? Magnetism? Or the revelation of the soul? Or what?
In this man there were other things which gave him the look of the great
Napoleon. The contour of feature was the same: and on his brow, broad
and massive, there might be seen those grand shadows with which French
artists love to glorify the Emperor. Yet in addition to this he had that
same serene immobility of countenance which characterized the other,
which could serve as an impenetrable mask to hide even the intensest
There was also about this man a certain aristocratic air and grace of
attitude, or of manner, which seemed to show lofty birth and gentle
breeding, the mysterious index to good blood or high training. How such
a man could have happened to fill the position of junior partner in a
commission business was certainly a problem not easily solved. There he
was, however, a man in appearance out of place, yet in reality able to
fill that place with success; a man, in fact, whose resolute will
enabled him to enforce success in any calling of life to which either
outside circumstances or his own personal desires might invite him.
"The mail ought to be open by this time," said Brandon, indifferently,
looking at his watch. "I am somewhat curious to see how things are
looking. I noticed quotations of wool rather higher than by last mail.
If the papers are correct which I saw then we ought to do very well by
that last cargo."
Mr. Compton smiled.
"Well, Brandon," said he, "if it is so it will show that you are right.
You anticipated a rise about this time, you know. You certainly have a
remarkable forecast about the chances of business."
"I don't think there is much forecast," said Brandon, with a smile. "It
was only the most ordinary calculation made from the well-known fact
that the exportation this year had been slight. But there comes Hedley
now," he continued, moving his head a little to one side so as to look
up the street. "The letters will soon show us all."
Mr. Compton looked out in the direction which Brandon indicated and saw
the clerk approaching. He then settled himself back in his chair, put
his hands in his pockets, threw one leg over the other, and began
whistling a tune with the air of a man who was so entirely prosperous
and contented that no news whether good or evil could greatly affect his
In a short time the clerk entered the inner office and, laying the
letters down upon the table nearest Mr. Compton, he withdrew.
Mr. Compton took up the letters one by one and read the addresses, while
Brandon looked carelessly on. There were ten or twelve of them, all of
which, except one, were addressed to the firm. This one Mr. Compton
selected from among the others, and reaching it out in his hand said:
"This is for you, Mr. Brandon."
"For me?" repeated Brandon, with marked surprise; and taking the letter
he looked at the address with eager curiosity.
The address was simply as follows:
Sydney, New South Wales.
The letters were irregular and loosely formed, as though written by a
tremulous hand--such letters as old men form when the muscles have
Mr. Compton went on opening the letters of the firm without taking any
further notice of his partner. The latter sat for some time looking at
the letter without venturing to open it. He held it in both hands, and
looked fixedly at that address as though from the address itself he was
trying to extort some meaning.
He held it thus in both hands looking fixedly at it, with his head bent
forward. Had Mr. Compton thought of taking a look at his usually
impassive companion, he would have been surprised at the change which
had taken place in him at the mere sight of that tremulous handwriting.
For in that he had read grief, misfortune, perhaps death; and as he sat
there, pausing before he dared to break the seal, the contents of the
letter had already been conjectured.
Gloom therefore unutterable gathered upon his face; his features fixed
themselves into such rigidity of grief that they became more expressive
than if they had been distorted by passionate emotions; and over his
brow collected cloud upon cloud, which deepened and darkened every
instant till they overshadowed all; and his face in its statuesque
fixedness resembled nothing so much as that which the artist gives to
Napoleon at the crisis hour of Waterloo, when the Guard has recoiled
from its last charge, and from that Imperial face in its fixed agony the
soul itself seems to cry, "Lost!" "Lost!"
Yet it was only for a few minutes. Hastily subduing his feeling Brandon
rose, and clutching the letter in his hand as though it were too
precious to be trusted to his pocket, he quietly left the office and the
warehouse and walked up the street.
He walked on rapidly until he reached a large building which bore the
sign "Australian Hotel." Here he entered, and walked up stairs to a
room, and locked himself in. Then when alone in his own apartments he
ventured to open the letter.
The paper was poor and mean; the handwriting, like that of the address,
was tremulous, and in many places quite illegible; the ink was pale; and
the whole appearance of the letter seemed to indicate poverty and
weakness on the part of the writer. By a very natural impulse Brandon
hesitated before beginning to read, and took in all these things with a
At last he nerved himself to the task and began to read.
This was the letter.
"Brandon, March 10, 1846.
"My dear Boy,--These are the last words which you will ever hear from
your father. I am dying, my dear boy, and dying of a broken heart; but
_where_ I am dying I am afraid to tell you. That bitterness I leave
for you to find out some day for yourself. In poverty unspeakable, in
anguish that I pray you may never know, I turn to you after a silence of
years, and my first word is to implore your forgiveness. I know my noble
boy that you grant it, and it is enough for me to ask it. After asking
this I can die content on that score.
"Lying as I do now at the point of death, I find myself at last freed
from the follies and prejudices which have been my ruin. The clouds roll
away from my mind, and I perceive what a mad fool I have been for years.
Most of all I see the madness that instigated me to turn against you,
and to put against the loyal love of the best of sons my own miserable
pride and the accusation of a lying scoundrel. May God have mercy upon
me for this!
"I have not much strength, dear boy; I have to write at intervals, and
by stealth, so as not to be discovered, for I am closely watched.
_He_ must never know that I have sent this to you. Frank and your
mother are both sick, and my only help is your sister, my sweet Edith,
she watches me, and enables me to write this in safety.
"I must tell you all without reserve before strength leaves me forever.
"That man Potts, whom you so justly hated, was and is the cause of all
my suffering and of yours. You used to wonder how such a man as that, a
low, vulgar knave, could gain such an influence over me and sway me as
he did. I will try to explain.
"Perhaps you remember something about the lamentable death of my old
friend Colonel Despard. The first that I ever heard of this man Potts
was in his connection with Despard, for whom he acted partly as valet,
and partly as business agent. Just before Despard left to go on his
fatal voyage he wrote to me about his affairs, and stated, in
conclusion, that this man Potts was going to England, that he was sorry
to lose him, but recommended him very earnestly to me.
"You recollect that Colonel Despard was murdered on this voyage under
very mysterious circumstances on shipboard. His Malay servant Uracao was
convicted and executed. Potts distinguished himself by his zeal in
avenging his master's death.
"About a year after this Potts himself came to England and visited me.
He was, as you know, a rough, vulgar man; but his connection with my
murdered friend, and the warm recommendations of that friend, made me
receive him with the greatest kindness. Besides, he had many things to
tell me about my poor friend, and brought the newspapers both from
Manilla and Calcutta which contained accounts of the trial.
"It was this man's desire to settle himself somewhere, and I gave him
letters to different people. He then went off, and I did not see him for
two years. At the end of that time he returned with glowing accounts of
a tin mine which he was working in Cornwall. He had bought it at a low
price, and the returns from working it had exceeded his most sanguine
expectations. He had just organized a company, and was selling the
stock. He came first to me to let me take what I wished. I carelessly
took five thousand pounds' worth.
[Illustration: "EDITH SHE WATCHES ME, AND ENABLES ME TO WRITE THIS IN
"On the following year the dividend was enormous, being nearly sixty per
cent. Potts explained to me the cause, declaring that it was the richest
mine in the kingdom, and assuring me that my L5000 was worth ten times
that sum. His glowing accounts of the mine interested me greatly.
Another year the dividend was higher, and he assured me that he expected
to pay cent. per cent.
"It was then that the demon of avarice took full possession of me.
Visions of millions came to me, and I determined to become the richest
man in the kingdom. After this I turned every thing I had into money to
invest in the mine. I raised enormous sums on my landed estate, and put
all that I was worth, and more too, into the speculation. I was
fascinated, not by this man, but by the wealth that he seemed to
represent. I believed in him to the utmost. In vain my friends warned
me. I turned from them, and quarreled with most of them. In my madness I
refused to listen to the entreaties of my poor wife, and turned even
against you. I can not bear to allude to those mournful days when you
denounced that villain to his face before me; when I ordered you to beg
his pardon or leave my roof forever; when you chose the latter
alternative and became an outcast. My noble boy--my true-hearted son,
that last look of yours, with all its reproach, is haunting my dying
hours. If you were only near me now how peacefully I could die!
"My strength is failing. I can not describe the details of my ruin.
Enough that the mine broke down utterly, and I as chief stockholder was
responsible for all. I had to sell out every thing. The stock was
worthless. The Hall and the estates all went. I had no friend to help
me, for by my madness I had alienated them all. All this came upon me
during the last year.
"But mark this, my son. This man Potts was _not_ ruined. He seemed
to have grown possessed of a colossal fortune. When I reproached him
with being the author of my calamity, and insisted that be ought to
share it with me, the scoundrel laughed in my face.
"The Hall and the estates were sold, for, unfortunately, though they
have been in our family for ages, they were not entailed. A feeling of
honor was the cause of this neglect. They were sold, and the purchaser
was this man Potts. He must have bought them with the money that he had
plundered from me.
"Now, since my eyes have been opened, I have had many thoughts; and
among all that occurs to me none is more prominent than the mysterious
murder of my friend. This man Potts was with him at the time. He was
chief witness against the Malay. The counsel for the defense bore down
hard on him, but he managed to escape, and Uracao was executed. Yet this
much is evident, that Potts was largely benefited by the death of
Despard. He could not have made all his money by his own savings. I
believe that the man who wronged me so foully was fully capable of
murder. So strong is this conviction now that I sometimes have a
superstitious feeling that because I neglected all inquiry into the
death of my friend, therefore he has visited me from that other life,
and punished me, by making the same man the ruin of us both.
"The mine, I now believe, was a colossal sham; and all the money that I
invested in stocks went directly to Potts. Good God! what madness was
"O my boy! Your mother and your brother are lying here sick; your sister
attends on us all, though little more than a child. Soon I must leave
them; and for those who are destined to live there is a future which I
shudder to contemplate. Come home at once. Come home, whatever you are
doing. Leave all business, and all prospects, and come and save them.
That much you can do. Come, if it is only to take them back with you to
that new land where you live, where they may forget their anguish.
"Come home, my son, and take vengeance. This, perhaps, you can not do,
but you at least can try. By the time that you read these words they
will be my voice from the grave; and thus I invoke you, and call you to
"But at least come and save your mother, your brother, and your sister.
The danger is imminent. Not a friend is left. They all hold aloof,
indignant at me. This miscreant has his own plans with regard to them, I
doubt not; and he will disperse them or send them off to starve in some
foreign land. Come and save them.
"But I warn you to be careful about yourself for their sakes. For this
villain is powerful now, and hates you worse than any body. His arm may
reach even to the antipodes to strike you there. Be on your guard. Watch
every one. For once, from words which fell from him hastily I gathered
that he had some dark plan against you. Trust no one. Rely on yourself,
and may God help you!
"Poor boy! I have no estate to leave you now, and what I do send to you
may seem to you like a mockery. Yet do not despise it. Who knows what
may be possible in these days of science? Why may it not be possible to
force the sea to give up its prey?
"I send it, at any rate, for I have nothing else to send. You know that
it has been in our family for centuries, and have heard how stout old
Peter Leggit, with nine sailors, escaped by night through the Spanish
fleet, and what suffering they endured before they reached England. He
brought this, and it has been preserved ever since. A legend has grown
up, as a matter of course, that the treasure will be recovered one day
when the family is at its last extremity. It may not be impossible. The
writer intended that something should come of it.
"If in that other world to which I am going the disembodied spirit can
assist man, then be sure, O my son, I will assist you, and in the crisis
of your fate I will be near, if it is only to communicate to your spirit
what you ought to do.
"God bless you, dear boy, and farewell.
"Your affectionate father.
This letter was evidently written by fragmentary portions, as though it
had been done at intervals. Some parts were written leisurely--others
apparently in haste. The first half had been written evidently with the
greatest ease. The writing of the last half showed weakness and
tremulousness of hand; many words would have been quite illegible to one
not familiar with the handwriting of the old man. Sometimes the word was
written two or three times, and there were numerous blots and unmeaning
lines. It grew more and more illegible toward the close. Evidently it
was the work of one who was but ill able to exert even sufficient
strength to hold a pen in his trembling hand.
In this letter there was folded a large piece of coarse paper, evidently
a blank leaf torn from a book, brown with age, which was worn at the
folds, and protected there by pieces of cotton which had been pasted
upon it. The paper was covered with writing, in ink that was much faded,
though still quite legible.
Opening this Brandon read the following:
[Illustration: Facsimile of handwritten page reading:
"One league due northe of a smalle islet northe of the Islet of Santa
Cruz northe of San Salvador----I Ralphe Brandon in my shippe Phoenix am
becalmed and surrounded by a Spanish fleete----My shippe is filled with
spoyle the Plunder of III galleons----wealth which myghte purchase a
kyngdom-tresure equalle to an Empyr's revenue----Gold and jeweles in
countless store----and God forbydde that itt shall falle into the hands
of the Enemye----I therefore Ralphe Brandon out of mine owne good wyl
and intente and that of all my men sink this shippe rather than be taken
alyve----I send this by my trusty seaman Peter Leggit who with IX others
tolde off by lot will trye to escape in the Boate by nighte----If this
cometh haply into the hands of my sonne Philip let him herebye knowe
that in this place is all this tresure----which haply may yet be gatherd
from the sea----the Islet is knowne by III rockes that be pushed up like
III needles from the sande.
A LIFE TRAGEDY.
Not a word or a gesture escaped Brandon during the perusal, but after he
had finished he read the whole through twice, then laying it down, he
paced up and down the room. His olive skin had become of a sickly tawny
hue, his eyes glowed with intense lustre, and his brow was covered with
those gloomy Napoleonic clouds, but not a nerve was shaken by the shock
of this dread intelligence.
Evening came and night; and the night passed, and morning came, but it
found him still there pacing the room.
Earlier than usual next morning he was at the office, and waited for
some time before the senior partner made his appearance. When he came in
it was with a smile on his face, and a general air of congratulation to
all the world.
"Well, Brandon," said he, cordially, "that last shipment has turned out
finely. More than a thousand pounds. And it's all your doing. I
objected, but you were right. Let me congratulate you."
Something in Brandon's face seemed to surprise the old gentleman, and he
paused for a moment. "Why what's the matter, my boy?" he said, in a
paternal voice. "You have not heard any bad news, I hope, in that
letter--I hope it's nothing serious?"
Brandon gave a faint smile.
"Serious enough," said he, looking away with an abstracted gaze, "to put
a sudden end to my Australian career."
"Oh no--oh no!" said the other, earnestly; "not so bad as that."
"I must go home at once."
"Oh well, that may be, but you will be back again. Take a leave of
absence for five years if you wish, but don't quit for good. I'll do the
business and won't complain, my boy. I'll keep your place comfortable
for you till your return."
Brandon's stern face softened as he looked at the old man, whose
features were filled with the kindest expression, and whose tone showed
the affectionate interest which he felt.
"Your kindness to me, Mr. Compton," said he, very slowly, and with deep
feeling, "has been beyond all words. Ever since I first came to this
country you have been the truest and the best of friends. I hope you
know me well enough to believe that I can never forget it. But now all
this is at an end, and all the bright prospects that I had here must
give way to the call of the sternest duty. In that letter which I
received last night there came a summons home which I can not neglect,
and my whole life hereafter must be directed toward the fulfillment of
that summons. From mid-day yesterday until dawn this morning I paced my
room incessantly, laying out my plans for the future thus suddenly
thrust upon me, and though I have not been able to decide upon any thing
definite, yet I see plainly that nothing less than a life will enable me
to accomplish my duty. The first thing for me to do is to acquaint you
with this and to give up my part in the business."
Mr. Compton placed his elbow on the table near which he had seated
himself, leaned his head upon his hand, and looked at the floor. From
Brandon's tone he perceived that this resolution was irrevocable. The
deep dejection which he felt could not be concealed. He was silent for a
"God knows," said he, at last, "that I would rather have failed in
business than that this should have happened."
Brandon looked away and said nothing.
"It comes upon me so suddenly," he continued. "I do not know what to
think. And how can I manage these vast affairs without your assistance?
For you were the one who did our business. I know that well. I had no
head for it."
"You can reduce it to smaller proportions." said Brandon; "that can
easily be done."
The old man sighed.
"After all," he continued, "it is not the business. It's losing you that
I think of, dear boy. I'm not thinking of the business at all. My grief
is altogether about your departure. I grieve, too, at the blow which
must have fallen on you to make this necessary."
"The blow is a heavy one," said Brandon; "so heavy that every thing else
in life must be forgotten except the one thought--how to recover from
it; and perhaps, also," he added, in a lower voice, "how to return it."
Mr. Compton was silent for a long time, and with every minute the deep
dejection of his face and manner increased. He folded his arms and shut
his eyes in deep thought.
"My boy," said he at last, in that same paternal tone which he had used
before, and in a mild, calm voice. "I suppose this thing can not be
helped, and all that is left for me to do is to bear it as best I may. I
will not indulge in any selfish sorrow in the presence of your greater
trouble. I will rather do all in my power to coincide with your wishes.
I see now that you must have a good reason for your decision, although I
do not seek to look into that reason."
"Believe me," said Brandon, "I would show you the letter at once, but it
is so terrible that I would rather that you should not know. It is worse
than death, and I do not even yet begin to know the worst."
The old man sighed, and looked at him with deep commiseration.
"If our separation must indeed be final," said he, at last, "I will take
care that you shall suffer no loss. You shall have your full share of
"I leave that entirely to you," said Brandon.
"Fortunately our business is not much scattered. A settlement can easily
be made, and I will arrange it so that you shall not have any loss. Our
balance-sheet was made out only last month, and it showed our firm to be
worth thirty thousand pounds. Half of this is yours, and--"
"Half!" interrupted the other. "My dear friend, you mean a quarter."
The old man waved his hand.
"I said half, and I mean half."
"I will never consent."
"You shall. Why, think of the petty business that I was doing when you
came here. I was worth about four thousand. You have built up the
business to its present dimensions. Do you suppose that I don't know?"
"I can not allow you to make such a sacrifice," said Brandon.
"Stop," said Mr. Compton. "I have not said all. I attach a condition to
this which I implore you not to refuse. Listen to me, and you will then
be able to see."
Mr. Compton rose and looked carefully out into the office. There was no
one near. He then returned, locked the door, and drawing his chair close
to Brandon, began, in a low voice:
"You have your secrets and I have mine. I don't wish to know yours, but
my own I am going to tell to you, not merely for the sake of sympathy,
but rather for the sake of your assistance. I am going to tell you who I
am, and why I came out here.
"My name is not Compton. It is Henry Lawton. All my early life was
passed at York. There I married, had a son, and lived happily for years
--in fact, during the childhood of my boy.
"It was that boy of mine, Edgar, that led to all my troubles. I suppose
we indulged him too much. It was natural. He was our only child, and so
we ruined him. He got beyond our control at last and used to run about
the streets of York. I did what I could to save him, but it was too
"He went on from bad to worse, until at last he got in with a set of
miscreants who were among the worst in the country. My God! to think how
my boy, once a sweet child, could have fallen so low. But he was weak,
and easily led, and so he went on from bad to worse.
"I can not bear to go into particulars," said the old man, after a long
pause. "I will come at once to point. My poor, wretched boy got in with
these miscreants, as I was telling you, and I did not see him from one
month's end to another. At last a great burglary took place. Three were
arrested. Among these two were old offenders, hardened in vice, the one
named Briggs, the other Crocker; the third was my unhappy boy."
The old man was silent for some time.
"I do not think, after all, that he was guilty: but Briggs turned King's
Evidence, and Crocker and my son were condemned to transportation. There
was no help.
"I sold out all I had in the world, and in compliance with the
entreaties of my poor wife, who nearly went mad with grief, I came out
here. I changed my name to Compton. My boy's term was for three years. I
began a business out here, and as my boy behaved well he was able to get
permission to hire out as a servant. I took him nominally as my servant,
for no one knew that he was my son, and so we had him with us again.
"I hoped that the bitter lesson which he had learned would prove
beneficial, but I did not know the strength of evil inclinations. As
long as his term of imprisonment lasted he was content and behaved well;
but at last, when the three years were up, he began to grow restive.
Crocker was freed at about the same time and my boy fell again under his
evil influence. This lasted for about a year, when, at last, one morning
a letter was brought me from him stating that he had gone to India. My
poor wife was again nearly distracted. She thought of nothing but her
boy. She made me take her and go in search of him again. So we went to
India. After a long search I found him there, as I had feared, in
connection with his old, vicious associates. True, they had changed
their names, and were trying to pass for honest men. Crocker called
himself Clark, and Briggs called himself Potts."
"Potts," cried Brandon.
"Yes," said the other, who was too absorbed in his own thoughts to
notice the surprise of Brandon. "He was in the employ of Colonel
Despard, at Calcutta, and enjoyed much of his confidence."
"What year was this?" asked Brandon.
"1825," replied Mr. Compton. "Crocker," he continued, "was acting as a
sort of shipping agent, and my son was his clerk. Of course, my first
efforts were directed toward detaching my son from these scoundrels. I
did all that I could. I offered to give him half of my property, and
finally all, if he would only leave them forever and come back. The
wretched boy refused. He did not appear to be altogether bad, but he had
a weak nature, and could not get rid of the influence of these men.
"I staid in India for a year and a half, until I found at last that
there was no hope. I could find nothing to do there, and if I remained I
would have to starve or go out to service. This I could not think of
doing. So I prepared to come back here. But my wife refused to leave her
son. She was resolved, she said, to stay by him till the last. I tried
to dissuade her, but could not move her. I told her that I could not be
a domestic. She said that she could do even that for the sake of her
boy. And she went off at once and got a situation as nurse with the same
Colonel Despard with whom Briggs, or, as he called himself, Potts, was
"What was the Christian name of this Potts?" asked Brandon, calmly.
Brandon said nothing further, and Compton resumed.
"Thus my wife actually left me. I could not stay and be a slave. So I
made her promise to write me, and told her that I would send her as much
money as I could. She clung to me half broken-hearted as I left her. Our
parting was a bitter one--bitter enough: but I would rather break my
heart with grief than be a servant. Besides, she knew that whenever she
came back my heart was open to receive her.
"I came back to my lonely life out here and lived for nearly two years.
At last, in September 1828, a mail arrived from India bringing a letter
from my wife and Indian papers. The news which they brought well-nigh
drove me mad."
Compton buried his face in his hands and remained silent for some time.
"You couldn't have been more than a child at that time, but perhaps you
may have heard of the mysterious murder of Colonel Despard?"
He looked inquiringly at Brandon, but the latter gave no sign.
[Illustration: "THERE'S SOME MYSTERY ABOUT IT WHICH I CAN'T FATHOM."]
"Perhaps not," he continued--"no: you were too young, of course. Well,
it was in the _Vishnu_, a brig in which the Colonel had embarked
for Manilla. The brig was laden with hogshead staves and box shooks, and
the Colonel went there partly for his health, partly on business, taking
with him his valet Potts."
"What became of his family?" interrupted Brandon.
"He had a son in England at school. His wife had died not long before
this at one of the hill stations, where she had gone for her health.
Grief may have had something to do with the Colonel's voyage, for he was
very much attached to his wife.
"Mails used only to come at long intervals in those days and this one
brought the account not only of the Colonel's fate, but of the trial at
Manilla and the execution of the man that was condemned.
"It was a very mysterious case. In the month of July a boat arrived at
Manilla which carried the crew and one passenger from the brig
_Vishnu_. One of the men, a Malay named Uracao, was in irons, and
he was immediately given up to the authorities."
"Who were the others?"
"Potts, as he called himself, the Colonel's valet, Clark, three Lascars,
and the Captain, an Italian named Cigole. Information was at once laid
against the Malay. Potts was the chief witness. He said that he slept in
the cabin while the Colonel slept in an inner state-room; that one
morning early he was roused by a frightful shriek and saw Uracao rushing
from the Colonel's state-room. He sprang up, chased him, and caught him
just as he was about to leap overboard. His creese covered with blood
was in his hand. The Colonel, when they went to look at him, had his
throat cut from ear to ear. Clark swore that he was steering the vessel
and saw Potts catch Uracao, and helped to hold him. The Captain, Cigole,
swore that he was waked by the noise, and rushed out in time to see
this. Clark had gone as mate of the vessel. Of the Lascars, two had been
down below, but one was on deck and swore to have seen the same. On this
testimony Uracao was condemned and executed."
"How did they happen to leave the brig?"
"They said that a great storm came up about three days' sail from
Manilla, the vessel sprang a leak, and they had to take to the boat.
Their testimony was very clear indeed, and there were no contradictions;
but in spite of all this it was felt to be a very mysterious case, and
even the exhibition of the Malay creese, carefully covered with the
stains of blood, did not altogether dispel this feeling."
"Have you got the papers yet, or are there any in Sydney that contain an
account of this affair?"
"I have kept them all. You may read the whole case if you care about
"I should like to, very much," said Brandon, with great calmness.
"When I heard of this before the mail was opened I felt an agony of fear
lest my miserable boy might be implicated in some way. To my immense
relief his name did not occur at all."
"You got a letter from your wife?" said Brandon, interrogatively.
"Yes," said the old man, with a sigh. "The last that I ever received
from her. Here it is." And, saying this, he opened his pocket-book and
took out a letter, worn and faded, and blackened by frequent readings.
Brandon took it respectfully, and read the following:
"CALCUTTA, August 15, 1828.
"MY DEAREST HENRY,--By the papers that I send you, you will see what has
occurred. Our dear Edgar is well, indeed better than usual, and I would
feel much cheered if it were not for the sad fate of the poor Colonel.
This is the last letter that you will ever receive from me. I am going
to leave this country never to return, and do not yet know where I will
go. Wherever I go I will be with my darling Edgar. Do not worry about me
or about him. It will be better for you to try and forget all about us,
since we are from this time the same as dead to you. Good-by forever, my
dearest husband; it shall be my daily prayer that God may bless you.
"Your affectionate wife, MARY."
Brandon read this in silence, and handed it back.
"A strange letter," said Compton mournfully. "At first it gave a bitter
pang to think of my Mary thus giving me up forever, so coldly, and for
no reason: but afterward I began to understand why she wrote this.
"My belief is, that these villains kept my son in their clutches for
some good reason, and that they had some equally good reason for keeping
her. There's some mystery about it which I can't fathom. Perhaps she
knew too much about the Colonel's affairs to be allowed to go free. They
might have detained her by working upon her love for her son, or simply
by terrifying her. She was always a timid soul, poor Mary. That letter
is not her composition: there is not a word there that sounds like her,
and they no doubt told her what to write, or wrote out something, and
made her copy it.
"And now," said Compton, after another long pause, "I have got to the
end of my story. I know nothing more about them. I have lived here ever
since, at first despairing, but of late more resigned to my lot. Yet
still if I have one desire in life it is to get some trace of these dear
ones whom I still love as tenderly as ever. You, my dear boy, with your
ability may conjecture some way. Besides, you will perhaps be traveling
more or less, and may be able to hear of their fate. This is the
condition that I make. I implore you by your pity for a heart-broken
father to do as I say and help me. Half! why, I would give all that I
have if I could get them back again."
Brandon shuddered perceptibly at the words "heart-broken father;" but he
quickly recovered himself. He took Compton's hand and pressed it warmly.
"Dear friend, I will make no objection to any thing, and I promise you
that all my best efforts shall he directed toward finding them out."
"Tell them to come to me, that I am rich, and can make them happy."
"I'll make them go to you if they are alive," said Brandon.
"God bless you!" ejaculated the old man, fervently.
Brandon spent the greater part of that day in making business
arrangements, and in reading the papers which Compton had preserved
containing an account of the Despard murder.
It was late at night before he returned to his hotel. As he went into
the hall he saw a stranger sitting there in a lounging attitude reading
the Sydney _News_.
He was a thin, small-sized man, with a foreign air, and quick, restless
manner. His features were small, a heavy beard and mustache covered his
face, his brow was low, and his eyes black and twinkling. A sharp,
furtive glance which he gave at Brandon attracted the attention of the
latter, for there was something in the glance that meant more than idle
Even in the midst of his cares Brandon's curiosity was excited. He
walked with assumed indifference up to the desk as though looking for
the key of his room. Glancing at the hotel book his eye ranged down the
column of names till it rested on the last one.
--Cigole! the name brought singular associations. Had this man still any
connection with Potts? The words of his father's letter rushed into his
mind--"His arm may reach even to the antipodes to strike you. Be on your
guard. Watch every one. He has some dark plan against you."
With these thoughts in his mind Brandon went up to his room.
"A MAN OVERBOARD!"
In so small a town as Sydney then was Brandon could hope to learn all
that could be learned about Cigole. By casual inquiries he learned that
the Italian had come out in the _Rival_, and had given out that he
was agent for a London house in the wool business. He had bought up a
considerable quantity which he was preparing to ship.
Brandon could not help feeling that there was some ruse about this. Yet
he thought, on the other hand, why should he flaunt his name so boldly
before the world? If he is in reality following me why should he not
drop his name? But then, again, why should he? Perhaps he thinks that I
can not possibly know any thing about his name. Why should I? I was a
child when Despard was murdered. It may be merely a similarity of names.
Brandon from time to time had opportunities of hearing more about
Cigole, yet always the man seemed absorbed in business.
He wondered to himself whether he had better confide his suspicions to
Mr. Compton or not. Yet why should he? The old man would become excited,
and feel all sorts of wild hopes about discovering his wife and son.
Could it be possible that the Italian after so many years could now
afford any clew whatever? Certainly it was not very probable.
On the whole Brandon thought that this man, whoever he was or whatever
his purpose might be, would be encountered best by himself singly. If
Mr. Compton took part he would at once awaken Cigole's fears by his
Brandon felt quite certain that Mr. Compton would not know any thing
about Cigole's presence in Sydney unless he himself told him. For the
old man was so filled with trouble at the loss of his partner that he
could think of nothing else, and all his thoughts were taken up with
closing up the concern so as to send forward remittances of money to
London as soon as possible. Mr. Compton had arranged for him to draw
L2000 on his arrival at London, and three months afterward L3000-L10,000
would be remitted during the following year.
Brandon had come to the conclusion to tell Mr. Compton about Cigole
before he left, so that if the man remained in the country he might be
bribed or otherwise induced to tell what he knew; yet thinking it
possible that Cigole had designed to return in the same ship with him,
he waited to see how things would turn out. As he could not help
associating Cigole in his mind with Potts, so he thought that whichever
way he turned this man would try to follow him. His anticipations proved
correct. He had taken passage in the ship _Java_, and two days
before the vessel left he learned that Cigole had taken his passage in
her also, having put on board a considerable quantity of wool. On the
whole Brandon felt gratified to hear this, for the close association of
a long sea voyage would give him opportunities to test this man, and
probe him to the bottom. The thought of danger arising to himself did
not enter his mind. He believed that Cigole meant mischief, but had too
much confidence in his own powers to fear it.
On the 5th of August the ship _Java_ was ready, and Mr. Compton
stood on the quarterdeck to bid good-by to Brandon.
"God bless you, dear boy! You will find the money coming promptly, and
Smithers & Co.'s house is one of the strongest in London. I have brought
you a parting gift," said he, in a low voice. He drew from his pocket a
pistol, which in those days was less known than now--indeed, this was
the first of its kind which had reached Australia, and Mr. Compton had
paid a fabulous price for it. "Here," said he, "take this to remember me
by. They call it a revolver. Here is a box of patent cartridges that go
with it. It is from me to you. And mind," he continued, while there came
over his face a vengeful look which Brandon had never seen there before
--"mind, if ever you see John Potts, give him one of those patent
cartridges, and tell him it is the last gift of a broken-hearted
Brandon's face turned ghastly, and his lips seemed to freeze into a
smile of deadly meaning.
"God bless you." cried Compton, "I see by your face that you will do it.
He wrung Brandon's hand hard and left the ship.
About six feet away stood Cigole, looking over the stern and smoking a
cigar. He was near enough to hear what had been said, but he did not
appear to have heard it. Throwing his cigar into the water, he plunged
his hands into his pockets, and began whistling a lively air.
"Aha, Capitano," said he, in a foreign accent, "I have brought my wool
off at last."
Brandon paced the deck silently yet watchfully.
The good ship _Java_ went out with a fine breeze, which continued
for some days, until at last nothing could be seen but the wide ocean.
In those few days Brandon had settled himself comfortably on board, and
had learned pretty well the kind of life which he would have to lead for
the next six months or so. The captain was a quiet, amiable sort of a
person, without much force of character; the mate was more energetic and
somewhat passionate; the crew consisted of the average order of men.
There was no chance, certainly, for one of those conspiracies such as
Mr. Compton had hinted at as having taken place on the _Vishnu_;
for in his account of that affair he evidently believed that Uracao had
been made a scape-goat for the sins of the others.
Brandon was soon on the best of terms with the officers of the ship. As
to Cigole it was different. The fact of their being the only passengers
on board might of itself have been a sufficient cause to draw them
together; but Brandon found it difficult to pass beyond the extremest
limits of formal intercourse. Brandon himself considered that his
purposes would be best served by close association with this man; he
hoped that in the course of such association he might draw something
from Cigole. But Cigole baffled him constantly. He was as polite and
courteous as all Italians are; he had an abundance of remarks all ready
about the state of the weather, the prospects of the voyage, or the
health of the seamen; but beyond these topics it was difficult to induce
him to go. Brandon stifled the resentment which he felt toward this man,
in his efforts to break down the barriers of formality which he kept up,
and sought to draw him out on the subject of the wool trade. Yet here he
was baffled. Cigole always took up the air of a man who was speaking to
a rival in business, and pretended to be very cautious and guarded in
his remarks about wool, as though he feared that Brandon would interfere
with his prospects. This sort of thing was kept up with such great
delicacy of management on Cigole's part that Brandon himself would have
been completely deceived, and would have come to consider him as nothing
more than a speculator in wool, had it not been for a certain deep
instinct within him, which made him regard this man as one who was
actuated by something far deeper than mere regards for a successful
Cigole managed to baffle the most dextrous efforts and the most delicate
contrivances of Brandon. He would acknowledge that he was an Italian,
and had been in all parts of Italy, but carefully refrained from telling
where he was born. He asserted that this was the first time that he had
been in the Eastern seas. He remarked once, casually, that Cigole was a
very common name among Italians. He said that he had no acquaintances at
all in England, and was only going there now because he heard that there
was a good market for wool. At another time he spoke as though much of
his life had been passed in Marseilles, and hinted that he was a partner
of a commercial house there.
Cigole never made any advances, and never even met half-way those which
Brandon made. He was never off his guard for one instant. Polite,
smiling, furtive, never looking Brandon fairly in the face, he usually
spoke with a profusion of bows, gestures, and commonplaces, adopting, in
fact, that part which is always at once both the easiest and the safest
to play--the non-committal, pure and perfect.
It was cunning, but low cunning after all, and Brandon perceived that,
for one who had some purpose to accomplish, with but a common soul to
sustain him, this was the most ordinary way to do it. A villain of
profounder cunning or of larger spirit would have pursued a different
path. He would have conversed freely and with apparent unreserve; he
would have yielded to all friendly advances, and made them himself; he
would have shown the highest art by concealing art, in accordance with
the hackneyed proverb, "Ars est celare artem."
Brandon despised him as an ordinary villain, and hardly thought it worth
his while to take any particular notice of him, except to watch him in a
general way. But Cigole, on the contrary, was very different. His eyes,
which never met those of Brandon fairly, were constantly watching him.
When moving about the quarter-deck or when sitting in the cabin he
usually had the air of a man who was pretending to be intent on
something else, but in reality watching Brandon's acts or listening to
his words. To any other man the knowledge of this would have been in the
highest degree irksome. But to Brandon it was gratifying, since it
confirmed his suspicions. He saw this man, whose constant efforts were
directed toward not committing himself by word, doing that very thing by
his attitude, his gesture, and the furtive glance of his eye. Brandon,
too, had his part, but it was infinitely greater than that of Cigole,
and the purpose that now animated his life was unintelligible to this
man who watched him. But Cigole's whole soul was apparent to Brandon;
and by his small arts, his low cunning, his sly observation, and many
other peculiarities, he exhibited that which is seen in its perfection
in the ordinary spy of despotic countries, such as used to abound most
in Rome and Naples in the good old days.
For the common spy of Europe may deceive the English or American
traveler; but the Frenchman, the German, the Spaniard, or the Italian,
always recognizes him.
So Brandon's superior penetration discovered the true character of
He believed that this man was the same Cigole who had figured in the
affair of the _Vishnu_; that he had been sent out by Potts to do
some injury to himself, and that he was capable of any crime. Yet he
could not see how he could do any thing. He certainly could not incite
the simple-minded captain and the honest mate to conspiracy. He was too
great a coward to attempt any violence. So Brandon concluded that he had
simply come to watch him so as to learn his character, and carry back to
Potts all the knowledge that he might gain.
This was his conclusion after a close association of one month with
Cigole. Yet he made up his mind not to lose sight of this man. To him he
appeared only an agent in villainy, and therefore unworthy of vengeance;
yet he might be made use of as an aid in that vengeance. He therefore
wished to have a clew by which he might afterward find him.
"You and I," said he one day, in conversation, "are both in the same
trade. If I ever get to England I may wish some time to see you. Where
can I find you?"
Cigole looked in twenty different directions, and hesitated for some
"Well," said he at last, "I do not think that you will wish to see me--"
and he hesitated; "but," he resumed, with an evil smile, "if you should
by any possibility wish to do so, you can find out where I am by
inquiring of Giovanni Cavallo, 16 Red Lion Street, London."
"Perhaps I may not wish to," said Brandon, coolly, "and perhaps I may.
At any rate, if I do, I will remember to inquire of Giovanni Cavallo, 16
Red Lion Street, London."
He spoke with deep emphasis on the address. Cigole looked uncomfortable,
as though he had at last made the mistake which he dreaded, and had
So the time passed.
After the first few days the weather had become quite stormy. Strong
head-winds, accompanied often by very heavy rains, had to be
encountered. In spite of this the ship had a very good passage
northward, and met with no particular obstacle until her course was
turned toward the Indian Ocean. Then all the winds were dead against
her, and for weeks a succession of long tacks far to the north and to
the south brought her but a short distance onward. Every day made the
wind more violent and the storm worse. And now the season of the equinox
was approaching, when the monsoons change, and all the winds that sweep
over these seas alter their courses. For weeks before and after this
season the winds are all unsettled, and it seems as if the elements were
let loose. From the first week in September this became manifest, and
every day brought them face to face with sterner difficulties. Twice
before the captain had been to Australia; and for years he had been in
the China trade; so that he knew these seas well; but he said that he
had never known the equinoctial storms begin so early, and rage with
Opposed by such difficulties as these the ship made but a slow passage--
the best routes had not yet been discovered--and it was the middle of
September before they entered the Indian Ocean. The weather then became
suddenly calm, and they drifted along beyond the latitude of the western
extremity of Java, about a hundred miles south of the Straits of Sunda.
Here they began to encounter the China fleet which steers through this
strait, for every day one or more sails were visible.
Here they were borne on helplessly by the ocean currents, which at this
place are numerous and distracted. The streams that flow through the
many isles of the Indian Archipelago, uniting with the greater southern
streams, here meet and blend, causing great difficulties to navigation,
and often baffling even the most experienced seaman. Yet it was not all
left to the currents, for frequently and suddenly the storms came up;
and the weather, ever changeful, kept the sailors constantly on the
Yet between the storms the calms were frequent, and sometimes long
continued, though of such a sort as required watchfulness. For out of
the midst of dead calms the storm would suddenly rise in its might, and
all the care which experience could suggest was not always able to avert
"I don't like this weather, Mr. Brandon. It's the worst that we could
have, especially just here."
"Why just here?"
"Why, we're opposite the Straits of Sunda, the worst place about these
"Pirates. The Malays, you know. We're not over well prepared to meet
them, I'm afraid. If they come we'll have to fight them the best way we
can; and these calms are the worst thing for us, because the Malay proas
can get along in the lightest wind, or with oars, when we can't move at
"Are the Malays any worse than usual now?" asked Brandon.
"Well, no worse than they've been for the last ten years. Zangorri is
the worst of them all."
"Zangorri! I've heard of him."
"I should think you had. Why, there never was a pirate in these seas
that did so much damage. No mortal knows the ships that devil has
captured and burned."
"I hope you have arms for the seamen, at any rate."
"Oh, we have one howitzer, and small-arms for the men, and we will have
to get along the best way we can with these; but the owners ought never
to send us here without a better equipment."
"I suppose they think it would cost too much."
"Yes; that's it. They think only about the profits, and trust to luck
for our safety. Well, I only hope we'll get safely out of this place--
And the captain walked off much more excited than usual.
They drifted on through days of calm, which were succeeded by fierce but
short-lived storms, and then followed by calms. Their course lay
sometimes north, sometimes south, sometimes nowhere. Thus the time
passed, until at length, about the middle of September, they came in
sight of a long, low island of sand.
"I've heard of that sand-bank before," said the captain, who showed some
surprise at seeing it; "but I didn't believe it was here. It's not down
in the charts. Here we are three hundred and fifty miles southwest of
the Straits of Sunda, and the chart makes this place all open water.
Well, seein's believin'; and after this I'll swear that there is such a
thing as Coffin Island."
"Is that the name?"
"That's the name an old sea-captain gave it, and tried to get the
Admiralty to put it on the charts, but they wouldn't. But this is it,
and no mistake."
"Why did he call it Coffin Island?"
"Well, he thought that rock looked like a coffin, and it's dangerous
enough when a fog comes to deserve that name."
Brandon looked earnestly at the island which the captain mentioned, and
which they were slowly approaching.
It lay toward the north, while the ship's course, if it had any in that
calm, was southwest. It was not more than six miles away, and appeared
to be about five miles long. At the nearest extremity a black rock arose
to a height of about fifty feet, which appeared to be about five hundred
feet long, and was of such a shape that the imagination might easily see
a resemblance to a coffin. At the farthest extremity of the island was a
low mound. The rest of the island was flat, low, and sandy, with no
trace of vegetation perceptible from the ship, except a line of dingy
green under the rock, which looked like grass.
The ship drifted slowly on.
Meanwhile the captain, in anticipation of a storm, had caused all the
sails to be taken in, and stood anxiously watching the sky toward the
There a dense mass of clouds lay piled along the horizon, gloomy,
lowering, menacing; frowning over the calm seas as though they would
soon destroy that calm, and fling forth all the fury of the winds. These
clouds seemed to have started up from the sea, so sudden had been their
appearance; and now, as they gathered themselves together, their forms
distended, and heightened, and reached forward vast arms into the sky,
striving to climb there, rolling upward voluminous cloud masses which
swiftly ascended toward the zenith. So quick was the progress of these
clouds that they did not seem to come from the banks below; but it was
rather as though all the air suddenly condensed its moisture and made it
visible in these dark masses.
As yet there was no wind, and the water was as smooth as glass; but over
the wide surface, as far as the eye could reach, the long swell of the
ocean had changed into vast rolling undulations, to the motion of which
the ship yielded, slowly ascending and descending as the waters rose and
fell, while the yards creaked, and the rigging twanged to the strain
Every moment the sky grew darker, and as gloom gathered above so it
increased below, till all the sea spread out a smooth ebon mass.
Darkness settled down, and the sun's face was thus obscured, and a
preternatural gloom gathered upon the face of nature. Overhead vast
black clouds went sweeping past, covering all things, faster and faster,
till at last far down in the northern sky the heavens were all obscured.
But amidst all this there was as yet not a breath of wind. Far above the
wind careered in a narrow current, which did not touch the surface of
the sea but only bore onward the clouds. The agitation of the sky above
contrasted with the stillness below made the latter not consoling but
rather fearful, for this could be none other than that treacherous
stillness which precedes the sudden outburst of the hurricane.
For that sudden outburst all were now looking, expecting it every
moment. On the side of the ship where the wind was expected the captain
was standing, looking anxiously at the black clouds on the horizon, and
all the crew were gazing there in sympathy with him. From that quarter
the wind would burst, and it was for this assault that all the
preparations had been made.
[Illustration: "HE PUSHED HIM HEADLONG OVER THE RAIL AND HELPLESSLY INTO
For some time Brandon had watched the collecting clouds, but at length
he turned away, and seemed to find a supreme fascination in the sand-
bank. He stood at the stern of the ship, looking fixedly toward the
rock, his arms folded, and his thoughts all absorbed in that one thing.
A low railing ran round the quarter-deck. The helmsman stood in a
sheltered place which rose only two feet above the deck. The captain
stood by the companion-way, looking south at the storm; the mate was
near the capstan, and all were intent and absorbed in their expectation
of a sudden squall.
Close by the rudder-post stood Cigole, looking with all the rest at the
gathering storm. His face was only half turned, and as usual he watched
this with only a furtive glance, for at times his stealthy eyes turned
toward Brandon; and he alone of all on board did not seem to be absorbed
by some overmastering thought.
Suddenly a faint, fluttering ripple appeared to the southward; it came
quickly: it seemed to flash over the waters; with the speed of the wind
it moved on, till a quick, fresh blast struck the ship and sighed
through the rigging. Then a faint breathing of wind succeeded; but far
away there rose a low moan like that which arises from some vast
cataract at a great distance, whose roar, subdued by distance, sounds
faintly, yet warningly, to the ear.
At this first touch of the tempest, and the menacing voice of its
approach, not a word was spoken, but all stood mute. Brandon alone
appeared not to have noticed it. He still stood with folded arms and
absorbed air, gazing at the island.
The roar of the waters in the distance grew louder, and in the direction
from which it came the dark water was all white with foam, and the
boiling flood advanced nearer in myriad-numbered waves, which seemed now
like an army rushing to the charge, tossing on high its crested heads
and its countless foam-plumes, and threatening to bear down all before
At last the tornado struck.
At the fierce blast of the storm the ship rolled far over, the masts
creaked and groaned, the waves rushed up and dashed against the side.
At that instant Cigole darted quickly toward Brandon, and the moment
that the vessel yielded to the blow of the storm he fell violently
against him. Before Brandon had noticed the storm or had time to steady
himself he had pushed him headlong over the rail and helplessly into the
"--liquidae projecit in undas
Cigole clung to the rail, and instantly shrieked out:
The startling cry rang through the ship. The captain turned round with a
face of agony.
"Man overboard!" shouted Cigole again. "Help! It's Brandon!"
"Brandon!" cried the captain. "He's lost! O God!"
He took up a hen-coop from its fastenings and flung it into the sea, and
a couple of pails after it.
He then looked aloft and to the south with eyes of despair. He could do
nothing. For now the storm was upon them, and the ship was plunging
furiously through the waters with the speed of a race-horse at the touch
of the gale. On the lee-side lay the sand-bank, now only three miles
away, whose unknown shallows made their present position perilous in the
extreme. The ship could not turn to try and save the lost passenger; it
was only by keeping straight on that there was any hope of avoiding that
All on board shared the captain's despair, for all saw that nothing
could be done. The ship was at the mercy of the hurricane. To turn was
impossible. If they could save their own lives now it would be as much
as they could do.
Away went the ship--away, farther, and farther, every moment leaving at
a greater distance the lost man who struggled in the waters.
At last they had passed the danger, the island was left behind, and the
wide sea lay all around.
But by this time the storm was at its height; the ship could not
maintain its proper course, but, yielding to the gale, fled to the
northwest far out of its right direction.
SINKING IN DEEP WATERS.
Brandon, overwhelmed by the rush of waters, half suffocated, and
struggling in the rush of the waves, shrieked out a few despairing cries
for help, and sought to keep his head above water as best he could. But
his cries were borne off by the fierce winds, and the ship as it
careered madly before the blast was soon out of hearing.
He was a first-rate swimmer, but in a sea like this it needed all his
strength and all his skill to save himself from impending death.
Encumbered by his clothes it was still more difficult, yet so fierce was
the rush of wind and wave that he dared not stop for a moment in his
struggles in order to divest himself of his clothing.
At first, by a mere blind instinct, he tried to swim after the ship, as
though by any possibility he could ever reach her again, but the
hurricane was against him, and he was forced sideways far out of the
course which he was trying to take. At last the full possession of his
senses was restored, and following the ship no longer, he turned toward
the direction where that sand island lay which had been the cause of his
disaster. At first it was hidden from view by the swell of waves that
rose in front, but soon rising upon the crest of one of these he
perceived far away the dark form of the coffin-shaped rock. Here then
before him lay the island, and toward this both wind and wave impelled
But the rock was far to the right, and it might be that the island did
not extend far enough to meet him as he neared it. It was about five
miles in length, but in his efforts he might not be able to reach even
the western extremity. Still there was nothing else to do but to try.
Resolutely, therefore, though half despairingly, he put forth his best
strength, and struggled manfully to win the shore.
That lone and barren sand-bank, after all, offered but a feeble chance
for life. Even if he did reach it, which was doubtful, what could he do?
Starvation instead of drowning would be his fate. More than once it
occurred to him that it would be better then and there to give up all
efforts and let himself go. But then there came the thought of those
dear ones who waited for him in England, the thought of the villain who
had thrown him from the ship, and the greater villain who had sent him
out on his murderous errand. He could not bear the idea that they should
triumph over him so easily and so quickly. His vengeance should not be
taken from him; it had been baffled, but it still nerved his arm.
A half hour's struggle, which seemed like many hours, had brought him
much nearer to the island, but his strength was almost exhausted. His
clothes, caught in the rush of the waves, and clinging to him, confined
the free action of his limbs, and lent an additional weight. Another
half hour's exertion might possibly bring him to the shore, but that
exertion hardly seemed possible. It was but with difficulty now that he
could strike out. Often the rush of the waves from behind would
overwhelm him, and it was only by convulsive efforts that he was able to
surmount the raging billows and regain his breath.
Efforts like these, however, were too exhaustive to be long continued.
Nature failed, and already a wild despair came over him. For a quarter
of an hour longer he had continued his exertions; and now the island was
so near that a quarter of an hour more might bring him to it. But even
that exertion of strength was now no longer possible. Faintly and
feebly, and with failing limbs and fiercely-throbbing heart, he toiled
on, until at last any further effort seemed impossible. Before him was
the mound which he had noticed from the ship. He was at the western
extremity of the island. He saw that he was being carried in such a
direction that even if he did struggle on he might be borne helplessly
past the island and out into the open sea. Already he could look past
the island, and see the wide expanse of white foaming waves which
threatened to engulf him. The sight weakened what little strength was
left, and made his efforts even feebler.
Despairingly he looked around, not knowing what he sought, but seeking
still for something, he knew not what. In that last look of despair his
eyes caught sight of something which at once gave him renewed hope. It
was not far away. Borne along by the waves it was but a few yards
distant, and a little behind him. It was the hen-coop which the Captain
of the _Java_ had thrown overboard so as to give Brandon a chance
for life. That last chance was now thrown in his way, for the hen-coop
had followed the same course with himself, and had been swept along not
very far from him.
Brandon was nerved to new efforts by the sight of this. He turned and
exerted the last remnants of his strength in order to reach this means
of safety. It was near enough to be accessible. A few vigorous strokes,
a few struggles with the waves, and his hands clutched the bars with the
grasp of a drowning man.
It was a large hen-coop, capable of keeping several men afloat. Brandon
clung to this and at last had rest. Every minute of respite from such
struggles as he had carried on restored his strength to a greater
degree. He could now keep his head high out of the water and avoid the
engulfing fury of the waves behind. Now at last he could take a better
survey of the prospect before him, and see more plainly whither he was
The sand-bank lay before him; the mount at the western extremity was in
front of him, not very far away. The rock which lay at the eastern end
was now at a great distance, for he had been swept by the current
abreast of the island, and was even now in danger of being carried past
it. Still there was hope, for wind and wave were blowing directly toward
the island, and there was a chance of his being carried full upon its
shore. Yet the chance was a slender one, for the set of the tide carried
him beyond the line of the western extremity.
Every minute brought him nearer, and soon his fate would be decided.
Nearer and nearer he came, still clinging to the hen-coop, and making no
efforts whatever, but reserving and collecting together all his
strength, so as to put it forth at the final hour of need.
But as he came nearer the island appeared to move more and more out of
the line of his approach. Under these circumstances his only chance was
to float as near as possible, and then make a last effort to reach the
Nearer and nearer he came. At last he was close by it, but the extreme
point of the island lay to the right more than twenty yards. This was
the crisis of his fate, for now if he floated on any longer he would be
carried farther away.
The shore was here low but steep, the waters appeared to be deep, and a
heavy surf dashed upon the island, and threw up its spray far over the
mound. He was so near that he could distinguish the pebbles on the
beach, and could see beyond the mound a long, flat surface with thin
Beyond this point was another a hundred yards away, but farther out of
his reach, and affording no hope whatever. Between the two points there
was an inlet into the island showing a little cove; but the surf just
here became wilder, and long rollers careered one past another over the
intervening space. It was a hopeless prospect. Yet it was his last
Brandon made up his mind. He let go the hen-coop, and summoning up all
his strength he struck out for the shore. But this time the wind and sea
were against him, bearing him past the point, and the waves dashed over
him more quickly and furiously than before. He was swept past the point
before he had made half a dozen strokes; he was borne on still
struggling; and now on his left lay the rollers which he had seen. In
spite of all his efforts he was farther away from the island than when
he had left the hen-coop. Yet all hope and all life depended on the
issue of this last effort. The fifteen or twenty minutes of rest and of
breathing-space which he had gained had been of immense advantage, and
he struggled with all the force which could be inspired by the nearness
of safety. Yet, after all, human efforts can not withstand the fury of
the elements, and here against this strong sea the strongest swimmer
could not hope to contend successfully.
"Never I ween was swimmer
In such an evil case."
He swam toward the shore, but the wind striking him from one side, and
urging on the sea, drove him sideways. Some progress was made, but the
force of the waters was fearful, and for every foot that he moved
forward he was carried six feet to leeward. He himself saw this, and
calculating his chances he perceived with despair that he was already
beyond the first point, and that at the present rate there was no
possibility of gaining the farther point.
Already the waves leaped exultingly about him, dashing over him now more
wildly, since he was exposed more than before to their full sweep.
Already the rollers lay close beside him on his left. Then it seemed as
though he would be engulfed. Turning his head backward with a last faint
thought of trying to regain the hen-coop, so as to prolong life
somewhat, he saw it far away out of his reach. Then all hope left him.
He was now at the outermost line of rollers. At the moment that he
turned his head a huge wave raised him up and bore him forward. He
struggled still, even in that time of despair, and fought with his
enemies. They bore him onward, however, none the less helplessly, and
descending carried him with them.
But now at last, as he descended with that wave, hope came back, and all
his despair vanished.
For as the wave flung him downward his feet touched bottom, and he stood
for a moment erect, on solid, hard sand, in water that scarcely reached
above his knees. It was for a moment only that he stood, however, for
the sweep of the water bore him down, and he fell forward. Before he
could regain himself another wave came and hurled him farther forward.
By a violent effort he staggered to his feet. In an instant he
comprehended his position. At this western end the island descended
gently into the water, and the shoal which it formed extended for miles
away. It was this shoal that caused the long rollers that came over them
so vehemently, and in such marked contrast with the more abrupt waves of
the sea behind.
In an instant he had comprehended this, and had taken his course of
Now he had foothold. Now the ground beneath lent its aid to his
endeavor; he was no longer altogether at the mercy of the water. He
bounded forward toward the shore in such a direction that he could
approach it without opposing himself entirely to the waves. The point
that stretched out was now within his reach. The waves rolled past it,
but by moving in an oblique direction he could gain it.
[Illustration: "HE STAGGERED UP A FEW PACES UPON THE SANDY DECLIVITY."]
Again and again the high rollers came forward, hurling him up as they
caught him in their embrace, and then casting him down again. As he was
caught up from the bottom he sustained himself on the moving mass, and
supported himself on the crest of the wave, but as soon as his feet
touched bottom again he sprang forward toward the point which now became
every minute more accessible. Wave after wave came, each was more
furious, each more ravenous than the preceding, as though hounding one
another on to make sure of their prey. But now that the hope of life was
strong, and safety had grown almost assured, the deathlike weakness
which but shortly before had assailed him gave way to new-born strength
and unconquerable resolve.
At length he reached a place where the rollers were of less dimensions.
His progress became more rapid, until at length the water became
exceedingly shallow, being not more than a foot in depth. Here the first
point, where the mound was, protected it from the wind and sea. This was
the cove which he had noticed. The water was all white with foam, but
offered scarcely any resistance to him. He had but to wade onward to the
That shore was at last attained. He staggered up a few paces upon the
sandy declivity, and then fell down exhausted upon the ground.
He could not move. It was late; night came on, but he lay where he had
fallen, until at last he fell into a sound sleep.
THE MYSTERY OF COFFIN ISLAND.
When Brandon awaked on the following morning the sun was already high in
the sky. He rose at once and walked slowly up, with stiffened limbs, to
a higher spot. His clothes already were partly dry, but they were
uncomfortable and impeded his motion. He took off nearly every thing,
and laid them out on the sand. Then he examined his pistol and the box
containing cartridges. This box held some oil also, with the help of
which the pistol was soon in good order. As the cartridges were encased
in copper they were uninjured. He then examined a silver case which was
suspended round his neck. It was cylindrical in shape, and the top
unscrewed. On opening this he took out his father's letter and the
inclosure, both of which were uninjured. He then rolled them up in a
small compass and restored them to their place.
He now began to look about him. The storm had ceased, the waves had
subsided, a slight breeze was blowing from the sea which just ruffled
the water and tempered the heat. The island on which he had been cast
was low, flat, and covered with a coarse grass which grew out of the
sand. But the sand itself was in many places thrown up into ridges, and
appeared as though it was constantly shifting and changing. The mound
was not far away, and at the eastern end of the island he could see the
black outline of the rock which he had noticed from the ship. The length
he had before heard to be about five miles; the width appeared about one
mile, and in its whole aspect it seemed nothing better than the
abomination of desolation.
At the end where he was the island terminated in two points, between
which there was the cove where he had found refuge. One of these points
was distinguished by the mound already mentioned, which from where he
stood appeared of an irregular oblong shape. The other point was low,
and descended gently into the water. The island itself appeared to be
merely the emergence of some sand-bank which, perhaps, had been formed
by currents and eddies; for here the currents of the Strait of Sunda
encounter those from the Southern and Indian oceans, and this bank lay
probably near their point of union.
A short survey showed him this. It showed him also that there was but
little if any hope of sustaining life, and that he had escaped drowning
only perhaps to perish by the more lingering agonies of starvation.
Already hunger and thirst had begun to be felt, and how to satisfy these
wants he knew not. Still he would not despair. Perhaps the _Java_
might return in search of him, and his confinement would only last for a
day or so.
He understood the act of Cigole in a way that was satisfactory to
himself. He had thrown him overboard, but had made it appear like an
accident. As he fell he had heard the shout "Man overboard!" and was now
able to account for it in this way. So a faint hope remained that the
captain of the _Java_ would not give him up.
Still subsistence of some kind was necessary, and there was nothing to
be done but to explore the sandy tract before him. Setting forth he
walked toward the rock along the sea-shore. On one side toward the north
the shore was shallow and sloped gently into the water; but on the
southern side it descended more abruptly. The tide was out. A steep
beach appeared here covered with stones to which myriads of shell-fish
were attached. The sight of these suggested the idea to him that on the
opposite side there might be clams in the sand. He walked over there in
search of them. Here the slope was so gradual that extensive flats were
left uncovered by the receding tide.
When a boy he had been sometimes accustomed to wander on sand flats near
his home, and dig up these clams in sport. Now his boyish experience
became useful. Myriads of little holes dotted the sand, which he knew to
be the indications of these molluscs, and he at once began to scoop in
the sand with his hands. In a short time he had found enough to satisfy
his hunger, and what was better, he saw all around an unlimited supply
of such food.
Yet food was not enough. Drink was equally necessary. The salt of these
shell-fish aggravated the thirst that he had already begun to feel, and
now a fear came over him that there might be no water. The search seemed
a hopeless one; but he determined to seek for it nevertheless, and the
only place that seemed to promise success was the rock at the eastern
end. Toward this he now once more directed his steps.
The island was all of sand except the rocks on the south beach and the
cliff at the eastern end. Coarse grass grew very extensively over the
surface, but the sand was fine and loose, and in many places thrown up
into heaps of many different shapes. The grass grew in tufts or in
spires and blades, thinly scattered, and nowhere forming a sod. The soil
was difficult to walk over, and Brandon sought the beach, where the damp
sand afforded a firmer foothold. In about an hour and a half he reached
It was between five hundred and six hundred feet in length, and about
fifty in height. There was no resemblance to a coffin now as Brandon
approached it, for that likeness was only discernible at a distance. Its
sides were steep and precipitous. It was one black solid mass, without
any outlying crags, or any fragments near it. Its upper surface appeared
to be level, and in various places it was very easy to ascend. Up one of
these places Brandon climbed, and soon stood on the top.
Near him the summit was somewhat rounded; at the farther end it was flat
and irregular; but between the two ends it sank into a deep hollow,
where he saw that which at once excited a tumult of hope and fear. It
was a pool of water at least fifty feet in diameter, and deep too, since
the sides of the rock went down steeply. But was it fresh or salt? Was
it the accumulation from the showers of the rainy season of the tropics,
or was it but the result of the past night's storm, which had hurled
wave after wave here till the hollow was filled?
With hasty footsteps he rushed toward the margin of the pool, and bent
down to taste. For a moment or so, by a very natural feeling, he
hesitated, then, throwing off the fever of suspense, he bent down,
kneeling on the margin, till his lips touched the water.
It was fresh! Yes, it was from the heavens above, and not from the sea
below. It was the fresh rains from the sky that had filled this deep
pool, and not the spray from the sea. Again and again he quaffed the
refreshing liquid. Not a trace of the salt-water could be detected. It
was a natural cistern which thus lay before him, formed as though for
the reception of the rain. For the present, at least, he was safe.
He had food and drink. As long as the rainy season lasted, and for some
time after, life was secure. Life becomes doubly sweet after being
purchased by such efforts as those which Brandon had put forth, and the
thought that for the present, at least, he was safe did not fail to fill
him with the most buoyant hope. To him, indeed, it seemed just then as
if nothing more could be desired. He had food and drink in abundance. In
that climate shelter was scarcely needed. What more could he wish?
The first day was passed in exploring the rock to see if there was any
place which he might select for his abode. There were several fissures
in the rock at the eastern end, and one of these he selected. He then
went back for his clothes, and brought them to this place. So the first
All the time his eyes wandered round the horizon to see if a sail might
be in sight. After two or three days, in which nothing appeared, he
ceased his constant watch, though still from time to time, by a natural
impulse, he continued to look. After all he thought that rescue might
come. He was somewhat out of the track of the China ships, but still not
very much so. An adverse wind might bring a ship close by. The hope of
this sustained him.
But day succeeded to day and week to week with no appearance of any
thing whatever on the wide ocean.
During these long days he passed the greater part of his time either
under the shelter of the rock, where he could best avoid the hot sun, or
when the sea-breeze blew on its summit. The frightful solitude offered
to him absolutely nothing which could distract his thoughts, or prevent
him from brooding upon the hopelessness of his situation.
Brooding thus, it became his chief occupation to read over and over his
father's letter and the inclosure, and conjecture what might be his
course of action if he ever escaped from this place. His father's voice
seemed now to sound to him more imploringly than ever; and the winds at
night, as they moaned round the rock, seemed to modulate themselves, to
form their sounds to something like a wild cry, and wail forth, "Come
home!" Yet that home was now surely farther removed than ever, and the
winds seemed only to mock him. More sad and more despairing than Ulysses
on the Ogygian shore, he too wasted away with home-sickness.
[Greek: kateibeto se glukus aion noston oduromeno.]
Fate thus far had been against him, and the melancholy recollections of
his past life could yield nothing but despondency. Driven from home when
but a boy, he had become an exile, had wandered to the other side of the
world, and was just beginning to attain some prospect of a fortune when
this letter came. Rising up from the prostration of that blow, he had
struggled against fate, but only to encounter a more over-mastering
force, and this last stroke had been the worst of all. Could he rally
after this? Could he now hope to escape?
Fate had been against him; but yet, perhaps, here, on this lonely
island, he might find a turning-point. Here he might find that turning
in the long lane which the proverb speaks of. "The day is darkest before
the morn," and perhaps he would yet have Fate on his side.
But the sternest and most courageous spirit can hardly maintain its
fortitude in an utter and unmitigated solitude. St. Simeon Stylites
could do so, but he felt that on the top of that pillar there rested the
eyes of the heavenly hosts and of admiring mankind. It is when the
consciousness of utter solitude comes that the soul sinks. When the
prisoner thinks that he is forgotten by the outside world, then he loses
that strength which sustained him while he believed himself remembered.
It was the lot of Brandon to have this sense of utter desolation: to
feel that in all the world there was not one human being that knew of
his fate; and to fear that the eye of Providence only saw him with
indifference. With bitterness he thought of the last words of his
father's letter: "If in that other world to which I am going the
disembodied spirit can assist man, then be sure, O my son, I will assist
you, and in the crisis of your fate I will be near, if it is only to
communicate to your spirit what you ought to do."
A melancholy smile passed over his face as he thought of what seemed to
him the utter futility of that promise.
Now, as the weeks passed, his whole mode of life affected both mind and
body. Yet, if it be the highest state of man for the soul to live by
itself, as Socrates used to teach, and sever itself from bodily
association, Brandon surely had attained, without knowing it, a most
exalted stage of existence. Perhaps it was the period of purification
and preparation for future work.
The weather varied incessantly, calms and storms alternating; sometimes
all the sea lying dull, listless, and glassy under the burning sky; at
other times both sea and sky convulsed with the war of elements.
At last there came one storm so tremendous that it exceeded all that
Brandon had ever seen any where.
The wind gathered itself up from the south-east, and for a whole day the
forces of the tempest collected themselves, till at last they burst in
fury upon the island. In sustained violence and in the frenzy of its
assault it far surpassed that first storm. Before sundown the storm was
at its height, and, though yet day, the clouds were so dense and so
black that it became like night. Night came on, and the storm, and roar,
and darkness increased steadily every hour. So intense was the darkness
that the hand, when held close by the face, could not be distinguished.
So restless was the force of the wind that Brandon, on looking out to
sea, had to cling to the rock to prevent himself from being blown away.
A dense rain of spray streamed through the air, and the surf, rolling
up, flung its crest all across the island. Brandon could hear beneath
him, amidst some of the pauses of the storm, the hissing and bubbling of
foaming waters, as though the whole island, submerged by the waves, was
slowly settling down into the depths of the ocean.
Brandon's place of shelter was sufficiently elevated to be out of the
reach of the waves that might rush upon the land, and on the lee-side of
the rock, so that he was sufficiently protected. Sand, which he had
carried up, formed his bed. In this place, which was more like the lair
of a wild beast than the abode of a human being, he had to live. Many
wakeful nights he had passed there, but never had he known such a night
There was a frenzy about this hurricane that would have been
inconceivable if he had not witnessed it. His senses, refined and
rendered acute by long vigils and slender diet, seemed to detect audible
words in the voice of the storm. Looking out through the gloom his sight
seemed to discern shapes flitting by like lightning, as though the
fabled spirits of the storm had gathered here.
It needed all the robust courage of his strong nature to sustain himself
in the presence of the wild fancies that now came rushing and thronging
before his mind. The words of his father sounded in his ears; he thought
he heard them spoken from the air; he thought he saw an aged spectral
face, wan with suffering and grief, in front of his cave. He covered his
eyes with his hands, and sought to reason down his superstitious
feeling. In vain. Words rang in his ears, muffled words, as though
muttered in the storm, and his mind, which had brooded so long over his
father's letter, now gave shape to the noise of winds and waves.
"--In the crisis of your fate I will be near."
"I shall go mad!" cried Brandon, aloud, and he started to his feet.
But the storm went on with its fury, and still his eyes saw shapes, and
his ears heard fantastic sounds. So the night passed until at last the
storm had exhausted itself. Then Brandon sank down and slept far on into
When he awaked again the storm had subsided. The sea was still
boisterous, and a fresh breeze blew which he inhaled with pleasure.
After obtaining some shell-fish, and satisfying his appetite, he went to
the summit of the rock for water, and then stood looking out at sea.
His eye swept the whole circuit of the horizon without seeing any thing,
until at length he turned to look in a westwardly direction where the
island spread out before him. Here an amazing sight met his eyes.
The mound at the other end had become completely and marvelously
changed. On the previous day it had preserved its usual shape, but now
it was no longer smoothly rounded. On the contrary it was irregular, the
northern end being still a sort of hillock, but the middle and southern
end was flat on the surface and dark in color. From the distance at
which he stood it looked like a rock, around which the sand had
accumulated, but which had been uncovered by the violent storm of the
At that distance it appeared like a rock, but there was something in its
shape and in its position which made it look like a ship which had been
cast ashore. The idea was a startling one, and he at once dismissed it
as absurd. But the more he looked the closer the resemblance grew until
at last, unable to endure this suspense, he hurried off in that
During all the time that he had been on the island he had never been
close to the mound. He had remained for the most part in the
neighborhood of the rock, and had never thought that a barren sand
hillock was worthy of a visit. But now it appeared a very different
object in his eyes.
He walked on over half the intervening distance, and now the resemblance
instead of fading out, as he anticipated, grew more close. It was still
too far to be seen very distinctly: but there, even from that distance,
he saw the unmistakable outline of a ship's hull.
There was now scarcely any doubt about this. There it lay. Every step
only made it more visible. He walked more quickly onward, filled with
wonder, and marveling by what strange chance this vessel could have
reached its present position.
There it lay. It could not by any possibility have been cast ashore on
the preceding night. The mightiest billows that ever rose from ocean
could never have lifted a ship so far upon the shore. To him it was
certain that it must have been there for a long time, and that the sand
had been heaped around it by successive storms.
As he walked nearer he regarded more closely the formation of this
western end. He saw the low northern point, and then the cove where he
had escaped from the sea. He noticed that the southern point where the
mound was appeared to be a sort of peninsula, and the theory suggested
itself to him by which he could account for this wonder. This ship, he
saw, must have been wrecked at some time long before upon this island.
As the shore was shallow it had run aground and stuck fast in the sand.
But successive storms had continued to beat upon it until the moving
sands which the waters were constantly driving about had gathered all
around it higher and higher. At last, in the course of time, a vast
accumulation had gathered about this obstacle till a new bank had been
formed and joined to the island; and the winds had lent their aid,
heaping up the loose sand on high till all the ship was covered. But
last night's storm had to some extent undone the work, and now the wreck
was once more exposed.
Brandon was happy in his conjecture and right in his theory. All who
know any thing about the construction and nature of sand islands such as
this are aware that the winds and waters work perpetual changes. The
best known example of this is the far-famed Sable Island, which lies off
the coast of Nova Scotia, in the direct track of vessels crossing the
Atlantic between England and the United States. Here there is repeated
on a far larger scale the work which Brandon saw on Coffin Island. Sable
Island is twenty miles long and about one in width--the crest of a vast
heap of sand which rises out of the ocean's bed. Here the wildest storms
in the world rage uncontrolled, and the keepers of the light-house have
but little shelter. Not long ago an enormous flag-staff was torn from
out its place and hurled away into the sea. In fierce storms the spray
drives all across, and it is impossible to venture out. But most of all,
Sable Island is famous for the melancholy wrecks that have taken place
there. Often vessels that have the bad fortune to run aground are broken
up, but sometimes the sand gathers about them and covers them up. There
are numerous mounds here which are known to conceal wrecked ships. Some
of these have been opened, and the wreck beneath has been brought to
view. Sometimes also after a severe gale these sandy mounds are torn
away and the buried vessels are exposed.
[Illustration: "GREAT HEAVENS!" CRIED BRANDON, STARTING BACK--"THE
Far away in Australia Brandon had heard of Sable Island from different
sea captains who had been in the Atlantic trade. The stories which these
men had to tell were all largely tinged with the supernatural. One in
particular who had been wrecked there, and had taken refuge for the
night in a hut built by the British Government for wrecked sailors, told
some wild story about the apparition of a negro who waked him up at dead
of night and nearly killed him with horror.
With all these thoughts in his mind Brandon approached the wreck and at
last stood close beside it.
It had been long buried. The hull was about two-thirds uncovered. A vast
heap of sand still clung to the bow, but the stern stood out full in
view. Although it must have been there for a long time the planks were
still sound, for they seemed to have been preserved from decay by the
sand. All the calking, however, had become loose, and the seams gaped
widely. There were no masts, but the lower part of the shrouds still
remained, showing that the vessel was a brig. So deeply was it buried in
the sand, that Brandon, from where he stood, could look over the whole
deck, he himself being almost on a level with the deck. The masts
appeared to have been chopped away. The hatchways were gone. The hold
appeared to be filled with sand, but there may have been only a layer of
sand concealing something beneath. Part of the planking of the deck as
well as most of the taffrail on the other side had been carried away.
Astern there was a quarter-deck. There was no skylight, but only dead-
lights set on the deck. The door of the cabin still remained and was
All these things Brandon took in at a glance. A pensive melancholy came
over him, and a feeling of pity for the inanimate ship as though she
were capable of feeling. By a natural curiosity he walked around to the
stern to see if he could read her name.
The stern was buried deep in the sand. He had to kneel to read it. On
the side nearest him the letters were obliterated, but he saw some
remaining on the opposite side. He went over there and knelt down. There
were four letters still legible and part of a fifth. These were the
"Great Heavens!" cried Brandon, starting back--"the _Vishnu!_"
THE DWELLER IN THE SUNKEN SHIP.
After a moment of horror Brandon walked away for a short distance, and
then turning he looked fixedly at the wreck for a long time.
Could this be indeed _the_ ship--_the Vishnu_? By what
marvelous coincidence had he thus fallen upon it? It was in 1828 that
the _Vishnu_ sailed from Calcutta for Manilla. Was it possible for
this vessel to be preserved so long? And if so, how did it get here?
Yet why not? As to its preservation that was no matter in itself for
wonder. East Indian vessels are sometimes built of mahogany, or other
woods which last for immense periods. Any wood might endure for eighteen
years if covered up by sand. Besides, this vessel he recollected had
been laden with staves and box shooks, with other wooden materials which
would keep it afloat. It might have drifted about these seas till the
currents bore it here. After all it was not so wonderful that this
should be the _Vishnu_ of Colonel Despard.
The true marvel was that he himself should have been cast ashore here on
the same place where this ship was.
He stood for a long time not caring to enter. His strength had been worn
down by the privations of his island life; his nerves, usually like
steel, were becoming unstrung; his mind had fallen into a morbid state,
and was a prey to a thousand strange fancies. The closed doors of the
cabin stood there before him, and he began to imagine that some
frightful spectacle was concealed within.
Perhaps he would find some traces of that tragedy of which he had heard.
Since the ship had come here, and he had been cast ashore to meet it,
there was nothing which he might not anticipate.
A strange horror came over him as he looked at the cabin. But he was not
the man to yield to idle fancies. Taking a long breath he walked across
the island, and then back again. By that time he had completely
recovered, and the only feeling now remaining was one of intense
This time he went up without hesitation, and climbed on board the
vessel. The sand was heaped up astern, the masts gone, and the hatchways
torn off, as has been said. The wind which had blown the sand away had
swept the decks as clean as though they had been holy-stoned. Not a rope
or a spar or any movable of any kind could be seen.
He walked aft. He tried the cabin door; it was wedged fast as though
part of the front. Finding it immovable he stepped back and kicked at it
vigorously. A few sturdy kicks started the panel. It gradually yielded
and sank in. Then the other panel followed. He could now look in and see
that the sand lay inside to the depth of a foot. As yet, however, he
could not enter. There was nothing else to do except to kick at it till
it was all knocked away, and this after some patient labor was
He entered. The cabin was about twelve feet square, lighted by dead-
lights in the deck above. On each side were two state-rooms probably
intended for the ship's officers. The doors were all open. The sand had
drifted in here and covered the floor and the berths. The floor of the
cabin was covered with sand to the depth of a foot. There was no large
opening through which it could enter: but it had probably penetrated
through the cracks of the doorway in a fine, impalpable dust, and had
covered every available surface within.
In the centre of the cabin was a table, secured to the floor, as ships'
tables always are; and immediately over it hung the barometer which was
now all corroded and covered with mould and rust. A half dozen stools
were around, some lying on their sides, some upside down, and one
standing upright. The door by which he had entered was at one side, on
the other side was another, and between the two stood a sofa, the shape
of which was plainly discernible under the sand. Over this was a clock,
which had ticked its last tick.
On some racks over the closet there were a few guns and swords,
intended, perhaps, for the defensive armament of the brig, but all in
the last stage of rust and of decay. Brandon took one or two down, but
they broke with their own weight.
The sand seemed to have drifted more deeply into the state-rooms, for
while its depth in the cabin was only a foot, in these the depth was
nearly two feet. Some of the bedding projected from the berths, but it
was a mass of mould and crumbled at the touch.
Brandon went into each of these rooms in succession, and brushed out the
heavy, wet sand from the berths. The rotten quilts and blankets fell
with the sand in matted masses to the floor. In each room was a seaman's
chest. Two of these were covered deeply; the other two but lightly: the
latter were unlocked, and he opened the lids. Only some old clothes
appeared, however, and these in the same stage of decay as every thing
else. In one of them was a book, or rather what had once been a book,
but now the leaves were all stuck together, and formed one lump of slime
and mould. In spite of his most careful search he had thus far found
nothing whatever which could be of the slightest benefit to him in his
solitude and necessity.
There were still two rooms which he had not yet examined. These were at