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“At last old Brandy died, and of course I had to look out for the family. They seemed thrown on my hands, you know, and I was too good- natured to let them suffer, although they treated me so abominably. The best thing I could think of was to ship them all off to America, where they could all get rich. So I took them to Liverpool.”

“Did they want to go?”

“They didn’t seem to have an idea in their heads. They looked and acted just like three born fools.”

“Strange!”

“I let a friend of mine see about them, as I had considerable to do, and he got them a passage.”

“I suppose you paid their way out.”

“I did, Sir,” said Potts, with an air of munificence; “but, between you and me, it didn’t cost much.”

“I should think it most have cost a considerable sum.”

“Oh no! Clark saw to that. Clark got them places as steerage passengers.”

“Young Brandon told me once that he came out as cabin passenger.”

“That’s his cursed pride. He went out in the steerage, and a devilish hard time he had too.”

“Why?”

“Oh, he was a little crowded, I think! There were six hundred emigrants on board the _Tecumseh_–“

“The what?”

“The _Tecumseh_. Clark did that business neatly. Each passenger had to take his own provisions, so he supplied them with a lot. Now what do you think he gave them?”

“I can’t imagine.”

“He bought them some damaged bread at one quarter the usual price. It was all mouldy, you know,” said Potts, trying to make Brandon see the joke. “I declare Clark and I roared over it for a couple of months, thinking how surprised they must have been when they sat down to eat their first dinner.”

“That was very neat,” rejoined Brandon.

“They were all sick when they left,” said Potts; “but before they got to Quebec they were sicker, I’ll bet.”

“Why so?”

“Did you ever hear of the ship-fever?” said Potts, in a low voice which sent a sharp trill through every fibre of Brandon’s being. He could only nod his head.

“Well, the _Tecumseh_, with her six hundred passengers, afforded an uncommon fine field for the ship-fever. That’s what I was going to observe. They had a great time at Quebec last summer; but it was unanimously voted that the _Tecumseh_ was the worst ship of the lot. I send out an agent to see what had become of my three friends, and he came back and told me all. He said that about four hundred of the _Tecumseh’s_ passengers died during the voyage, and ever so many more after the landing. The obtained a list of the dead from the quarantine records, and among them were those of the these three youthful Brandons. Yes, they joined old Cognac pretty soon–lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in death not divided. But this young devil that you speak of must have escaped. I dare say he did, for the confusion was awful.”

“But couldn’t there have been another son?”

“Oh no. There was another son, the eldest, the worst of the whole lot, so infernally bad that even old Brandy himself couldn’t stand it, but packed him off to Botany Bay. It’s well he went of his own accord, for if he hadn’t the law would have sent him there at last transported for life.”

“Perhaps this man is the same one.”

“Oh no. This eldest Brandy is dead.”

“Are you sure?”

“Certain–best authority. A business friend of mine was in the same ship with him. Brandy was coming home to see his friends. He fell overboard and my friend saw him drown. It was in the Indian Ocean.”

“When was that?”

“Last September.”

“Oh, then this one must be the other of course!”

“No doubt of that, I think,” said Potts, cheerily.

Brandon rose. “I feel much obliged. Sir John,” said he, stiffly, and with his usual nasal tone, “for your kindness. This is just what I want. I’ll put a stop to my young man’s game. It’s worth coming to England to find out this.”

“Well, when you walk him out of your office, give him my respects and tell him I’d be very happy to see him. For I would, you know. I really would.”

“I’ll tell him so,” said Brandon, “and if he is alive perhaps he’ll come here.”

“Ha! ha! ha!” roared Potts.

“Ha! ha!” laughed Brandon, and pretending not to see Potts’s outstretched hand, he bowed and left. He walked rapidly down the avenue. He felt stifled. The horrors that had been revealed to him had been but in part anticipated. Could there be any thing worse?

He left the gates and walked quickly away, he knew not where. Turning into a by-path he went up a hill and finally sat down. Brandon Hall lay not far away. In front was the village and the sea beyond it. All the time there was but one train of thoughts in his mind. His wrongs took shape and framed themselves into a few sharply defined ideas. He muttered to himself over and over the things that were in his mind: “Myself disinherited and exiled! My father ruined and broken-hearted! My father killed! My mother, brother, and sister banished, starved, and murdered!”

He, too, as far as Potts’s will was concerned, had been slain. He was alone and had no hope that any of his family could survive. Now, as he sat there alone, he needed to make his plans for the future. One thing stood out prominently before him, which was that he must go immediately to Quebec to find out finally and absolutely the fate of the family.

Then could any thing else be done in England? He thought over the names of those who had been the most intimate friends of his father– Thornton, Langhetti, Despard. Thornton had neglected his father in his hour of need. He had merely sent a clerk to make inquiries after all was over. The elder Langhetti, Brandon knew, was dead. Where were the others? None of them, at any rate, had interfered.

There remained the family of Despard. Brandon was aware that the Colonel had a brother in the army, but where he was he knew not nor did he care. If he chose to look in the army register he might very easily find out; but why should he? He had never known or heard much of him in any way.

There remained Courtenay Despard, the son of Lionel, he to whom the MS. of the dead might be considered after all as chiefly devolving. Of him Brandon knew absolutely nothing, not even whether he was alive or dead.

For a time he discussed the question in his mind whether it might not be well to seek him out so as to show him his father’s fate and gain his co-operation. But after a few moments’ consideration he dismissed this thought. Why should he seek his help? Courtenay Despard, if alive, might be very unfit for the purpose. He might be timid, or indifferent, or dull, or indolent. Why make any advances to one whom he did not know? Afterward it might be well to find him, and see what might be done with or through him; but as yet there could be no reason whatever why he should take up his time in searching for him or in winning his confidence.

The end of it all was that he concluded whatever he did to do it by himself, with no human being as his confidant.

Only one or two persons in all the world knew that he was alive, and they were not capable, under any circumstances, of betraying him. And where now was Beatrice? In the power of this man whom Brandon had just left. Had she seen him as he came and went? Had she heard his voice as he spoke in that assumed tone? But Brandon found it necessary to crush down all thoughts of her.

One thing gave him profound satisfaction, and this was that Potts did not suspect him for an instant. And now how could he deal with Potts? The man had become wealthy and powerful. To cope with him needed wealth and power. How could Brandon obtain these? At the utmost he could only count upon the fifteen thousand pounds which Compton would remit. This would be as nothing to help him against his enemy. He had written to Compton that he had fallen overboard and been picked up, and had told the same to the London agent under the strictest secrecy, so as to be able to get the money which he needed. Yet after he got it all, what would be the benefit? First of all, wealth was necessary.

Now more than ever there came to his mind the ancestral letter which his father had inclosed to him–the message from old Ralph Brandon in the treasure-ship. It was a wild, mad hope; but was it unattainable? This he felt was now the one object that lay before him; this must first be sought after, and nothing else could be attempted or even thought of till it had been tried. If he failed, then other things might be considered.

Sitting there on his lonely height, in sight of his ancestral home, he took out his father’s last letter and read it again, after which he once more read the old message from the treasure-ship:

“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.

“Ralphe Brandon”

Five days afterward Brandon, with his Hindu servant, was sailing out of the Mersey River on his way to Quebec.

CHAPTER XIX.

THE DEAD ALIVE.

It was early in the month of August when Brandon visited the quarantine station at Gosse Island, Quebec. A low, wooden building stood near the landing, with a sign over the door containing only the word “OFFICE.” To this building Brandon directed his steps. On entering he saw only one clerk there.

“Are you the superintendent?” he asked, bowing courteously.

“No,” said the clerk. “He is in Quebec just now.”

“Perhaps you can give me the information that I want.”

“What is it?”

“I have been sent to inquire after some passengers that came out here last year.”

“Oh yes, I can tell all that can be told,” said the clerk, readily. “We have the registration books here, and you are at liberty to look up any names you wish. Step this way, please.” And he led the way to an inner office.

“What year did they come out in?” asked the clerk.

“Last year.”

“Last year–an awful year to look up. 1846–yes, here is the book for that year–a year which you are aware was an unparalleled one.”

“I have heard so.”

“Do you know the name of the ship?”

“The _Tecumseh_.”

“The _Tecumseh_!” exclaimed the clerk, with a startled look. “That is an awful name in our records. I am sorry you have not another name to examine, for the _Tecumseh_ was the worst of all.”

Brandon bowed.

“The _Tecumseh_,” continued the clerk, turning over the leaves of the book as it lay on the desk. “The _Tecumseh_, from Liverpool, sailed June 2, arrived August 16. Here you see the names of those who died at sea, copied from the ship’s books, and those who died on shore. It is a frightful mortality. Would you like to look over the list?”

Brandon bowed and advanced to the desk.

“The deaths on board ship show whether they were seamen or passengers, and the passengers are marked as cabin and steerage. But after landing it was impossible to keep an account of classes.”

Brandon carefully ran his eye down the long list, and read each name. Those for which he looked did not appear. At last he came to the list of those who had died on shore. After reading a few names his eye was arrested by one–

“_Brandon, Elizabeth_.”

It was his mother. He read on. He soon came to another–

“_Brandon, Edith_.” It was his sister.

“Do you find any of the names?” asked the clerk, seeing Brandon turn his head.

“Yes,” said Brandon; “this is one,” and he pointed to the last name. “But I see a mark opposite that name. What is it? ‘B’ and ‘A.’ What is the meaning?” “Is that party a relative of yours?”

“No,” said Brandon.

“You don’t mind hearing something horrible, then?”

“No.”

The clerk drew a long breath.

“Well, Sir, those letters were written by the late superintendent. The poor man is now a lunatic. He was here last year.

“You see this is how it was: The ship-fever broke out. The number of sick was awful, and there were no preparations for them here. The disease in some respects was worse than cholera, and there was nothing but confusion. Very many died from lack of nursing. But the worst feature of the whole thing was the hurried burials.

“I was not here last year, and all who were here then have left. But I’ve heard enough to make me sick with horror. You perhaps are aware that in this ship-fever there sometimes occurs a total loss of sense, which is apt to be mistaken for death?”

The clerk paused. Brandon regarded him steadily for a moment. Then he turned, and looked earnestly at the book.

“The burials were very hastily made.”

“Well?”

“And it is now believed that some were buried in a state of trance.”

“Buried alive?”

“Buried alive!”

There was a long silence. Brandon’s eyes were fixed on the book. At last he pointed to the name of Edith Brandon.

“Then, I suppose,” he said, in a steady voice, which, however, was in a changed key, “these letters ‘B’ and ‘A’ are intended to mean something of that description?”

“Something of that sort,” replied the clerk.

Brandon drew a long breath.

“But there is no certainty about it in this particular case. I will tell you how these marks happened to be made. The clerk that was here last told me.

“One morning, according to him, the superintendent came in, looking very much excited and altered. He went to this book, where the entries of burials had been made on the preceding evening. This name was third from the last. Twelve had been buried. He penciled these letters there and left. People did not notice him: every body was sick or busy. At last in the evening of the next day, when they were to bury a new lot, they found the superintendent digging at the grave the third from the last. They tried to stop him, but he shouted and moaned alternately ‘Buried alive!’ ‘Buried alive!’ In fact they saw that he was crazy, and had to confine him at once.”

“Did they examine the grave?”

“Yes. The woman told my predecessor that she and her husband–who did the burying–had examined it, and found the body not only dead, but corrupt. So there’s no doubt of it. That party must have been dead at any rate.”

“Who was the woman?”

“An old woman that laid them out. She and her husband buried them.”

“Where is she now?”

“I don’t know.”

“Does she stay here yet?”

“No. She left last year.”

“What became of the superintendent?”

“He was taken home, but grew no better. At last he had to be sent to an asylum. Some examination was made by the authorities, but nothing ever came of it. The papers made no mention of the affair, and it was hushed up.”

Brandon read on. At last he came to another name. It was simply this: “_Brandon_.” There was a slight movement on the clerk’s part as Brandon came to this name. “There is no Christian name here,” said Brandon. “I suppose they did not know it.”

“Well,” said the clerk, “there’s something peculiar about that. The former clerk never mentioned it to any body but me. That man didn’t die at all.”

“What do you mean?” said Brandon, who could scarcely speak for the tremendous struggle between hope and despair that was going on within him.

“It’s a false entry.”

“How?”

“The superintendent wrote that. See, the handwriting is different from the others. One is that of the clerk who made all these entries; the other is the superintendent’s.”

Brandon looked and saw that this was the case.

“What was the cause of that?”

“The clerk told me that after making these next fifteen entries of buried parties–buried the evening after these last twelve–he went away to see about something. When he came back the next morning this name was written in the superintendent’s hand. He did not know what to think of it, so he concluded to ask the superintendent; but in the course of the day he heard that he was mad and in confinement, as I have told you.”

“Then you mean that this is not an entry of a death at all.”

“Yes. The fact is, the superintendent for some reason got it into his head that this Brandon”–and he pointed to Edith’s name–“had been buried alive. He brooded over the name, and among other things wrote it down here at the end of the list for the day. That’s the way in which my predecessor accounted for it.”

“It is a very natural one,” said Brandon.

“Quite so.” The clerk let it stand. You see, if he had erased it, he might have been overhauled, and there would have been a committee. He was afraid of that; so he thought it better to say nothing about it. He wouldn’t have told me, only he said that a party came here once for a list of all the dead of the _Tecumseh_, and he copied all out, including this doubtful one. He thought that he had done wrong, and therefore told me, so that if any particular inquiries were ever made I might know what to say.”

“Are there many mistakes in these records?”

[Illustration: “A STRANGE FEELING PASSED OVER BRANDON. HE STEPPED FORWARD.”]

“I dare say there are a good many in the list for 1846. There was so much confusion that names got changed, and people died whose names could only be conjectured by knowing who had recovered. As some of those that recovered or had not been sick slipped away secretly, of course there was inaccuracy.”

Brandon had nothing more to ask. He thanked the clerk and departed.

There was a faint hope, then, that Frank might yet be alive. On his way to Quebec he decided what to do. As soon as he arrived he inserted an advertisement in the chief papers to the following effect:

NOTICE:

Information of any one of the names of “BRANDON,” who came out in the ship _Tecumseh_ in 1846 from Liverpool to Quebec, is earnestly desired by friends of the family. A liberal reward will be given to any one who can give the above information. Apply to:

Henry Peters,
22 Place d’Armes.

Brandon waited in Quebec six weeks without any results. He then went to Montreal and inserted the same notice in the papers there, and in other towns in Canada, giving his Montreal address. After waiting five or six weeks in Montreal he went to Toronto, and advertised again, giving his new address. He waited here for some time, till at length the month of November began to draw to a close. Not yet despondent, he began to form a plan for advertising in every city of the United States.

Meanwhile he had received many communications, all of which, however, were made with the vague hope of getting a reward. None were at all reliable. At length he thought that it was useless to wait any longer in Canada, and concluded to go to New York as a centre of action.

He arrived in New York at the end of December, and immediately began to insert his notices in all parts of the country, giving his address at the Astor House.

One day, as he came in from the street, he was informed that there was some one in his room who wished to see him. He went up calmly, thinking that it was some new person with intelligence.

On entering the room he saw a man standing by the window, in his shirt- sleeves, dressed in coarse clothes. The man was very tall, broad- shouldered, with large, Roman features, and heavy beard and mustache. His face was marked by profound dejection; he looked like one whose whole life had been one long misfortune. Louis Brandon had never seen any face which bore so deep an impress of suffering.

The stranger turned as he came in and looked at him with his sad eyes earnestly.

“Sir,” said he, in a voice which thrilled through Brandon, “are you Henry Peters?”

A strange feeling passed over Brandon. He stepped forward.

“Frank!” he cried, in a broken voice.

“Merciful Heavens!” cried the other. “Have you too come up from the dead? Louis!”

In this meeting between the two brothers, after so many eventful years of separation, each had much to tell. Each had a story so marvelous that the other might have doubted it, had not the marvels of his own experience been equally great. Frank’s story, however, is the only one that the reader will care to hear, and that must be reserved for another chapter.

CHAPTER XX.

FRANK’S STORY.

“After you left,” said Frank, “all went to confusion. Potts lorded it with a higher hand than ever, and my father was more than ever infatuated, and seemed to feel that it was necessary to justify his harshness toward you by publicly exhibiting a greater confidence in Potts. Like a thoroughly vulgar and base nature, this man could not be content with having the power, but loved to exhibit that power to us. Life to me for years became one long death; a hundred times I would have turned upon the scoundrel and taken vengeance for our wrongs, but the tears of my mother forced me to use self-control. You had been driven off; I alone was left, and she implored me by my love for her to stand by her. I wished her to take her own little property and go with me and Edith where we might all live in seclusion together; but this she would not do for fear of staining the proud Brandon name.

“Potts grew worse and worse every year. There was a loathsome son of his whom he used to bring with him, and my father was infatuated enough to treat the younger devil with the same civility which he showed to the elder one. Poor father! he really believed, as he afterward told me, that these men were putting millions of money into his hands, and that he would be the Beckford of his generation.

“After a while another scoundrel, called Clark, appeared, who was simply the counterpart of Potts. Of this man something very singular was soon made known to me.

“One day I was strolling through the grounds when suddenly, as I passed through a grove which stood by a fish-pond, I heard voices and saw the two men I hated most of all on earth standing near me. They were both naked. They had the audacity to go bathing in the fishpond. Clark had his back turned toward me, and I saw on it, below the neck, three marks, fiery red, as though they had been made by a brand. They were these:” and taking a pencil, Frank made the following marks:

[Illustration: ^ /|\ [three lines, forming short arrow]

R [sans-serif R]

+ [plus sign] ]

Louis looked at this with intense excitement.

“You have been in New South Wales,” said Frank, “and perhaps know whether it is true or not that these are brands on convicts?”

“It is true, and on convicts of the very worst kind.”

“Do you know what they mean?”

“Yes.”

“What?”

“Only the worst are branded with a single mark, so you may imagine what a triple mark indicates. But I will tell you the meaning of each. The first (/|\) is the king’s mark put on those who are totally irreclaimable and insubordinate. The second (R) means runaway, and is put on those who have attempted to escape. The third (+) indicated a murderous attack on the guards. When they are not hung, they are branded with this mark; and those who are branded in this way are condemned to hard work, in chains, for life.”

“That’s about what I supposed,” said Frank, quietly, “only of course you are more particular. After seeing this I told my father. He refused to believe me. I determined to bring matters to a crisis, and charged Potts, in my father’s presence, with associating with a branded felon. Potts at once turned upon me and appealed to my father’s sense of justice. He accused me of being so far carried away by prejudice as not to hesitate to invent a foul slander against an honest man. He said that Clark would be willing to be put to any test; he could not, however, ask him to expose himself–it was too outrageous but would simply assert that my charge was false.

“My father as usual believed every word and gave me a stern reprimand. Louis, in the presence of my mother and sister I cursed my father on that day. Poor man! the blow soon fell. It was in 1845 that the crash came. I have not the heart to go into details now. I will tell you from time to time hereafter. It is enough to say that every penny was lost. We had to leave the Hall and took a little cottage in the village.

“All our friends and acquaintances stood aloof. My father’s oldest friends never came near him. Old Langhetti was dead. His son knew nothing about this. I will tell you more of him presently.

“Colonel Lionel Despard was dead. His son, Courtenay, was ignorant of all this, and was away in the North of England. There was Thornton, and I can’t account for his inaction. He married Langhetti’s daughter too. That is a mystery.”

“They are all false, Frank.”

Frank looked up with something like it smile.

“No, not all; wait till you hear me through.”

Frank drew a long breath. “We got sick there, and Potts had us taken to the alms-house. There we all prayed for death, but only my father’s prayer was heard. He died of a broken heart. The rest of us lived on.

“Scarcely had my father been buried when Potts came to take us away. He insisted that we should leave the country, and offered to pay our way to America. We were all indifferent: we were paralyzed by grief. The alms- house was not a place that we could cling to, so we let ourselves drift, and allowed Potts to send us wherever he wished. We did not even hope for any thing better. We only hoped that somewhere or other we might all die. What else could we do? What else could I do? There was no friend to whom I could look: and if I ever thought of any thing, it was that America might possibly afford us a chance to get a living till death came.

“So we allowed ourselves to be sent wherever Potts chose, since it could not possibly make things worse than they were. He availed himself of our stolid indifference, put us as passengers in the steerage on board of a crowded emigrant ship, the _Tecumseh_, and gave us for our provisions some mouldy bread.

“We simply lived and suffered, and were all waiting for death, till one day an angel appeared who gave us a short respite, and saved us for a while from misery. This angel, Louis, was Paolo, the son of Langhetti.

“You look amazed. It was certainly an amazing thing that he should be on board the same ship with us. He was in the cabin. He noticed our misery without knowing who we were. He came to give us pity and help us. When at last he found out our names he fell on our necks, kissed us, and wept aloud.

“He gave up his room in the cabin to my mother and sister, and slept and lived with me. Most of all he cheered us by the lofty, spiritual words with which he bade us look with contempt upon the troubles of life and aspire after immortal happiness. Yes, Louis; Langhetti gave us peace.

“There were six hundred passengers. The plague broke out among us. The deaths every day increased, and all were filled with despair. At last the sailors themselves began to die.

“I believe there was only one in all that ship who preserved calm reason and stood without fear during those awful weeks. That one was Langhetti. He found the officers of the ship panic-stricken, so he took charge of the steerage, organized nurses, watched over every thing, encouraged every body, and labored night and day. In the midst of all I fell sick, and he nursed me back to life. Most of all, that man inspired fortitude by the hope that beamed in his eyes, and by the radiancy of his smile. ‘Never mind, Brandon,’ said he as I lay, I thought doomed. ‘Death is nothing. Life goes on. You will leave this pest-ship for a realm of light. Keep up your heart, my brother immortal, and praise God with your latest breath.’

“I recovered, and then stood by his side as best I might. I found that he had never told my mother of my sickness. At last my mother and sister in the cabin fell sick. I heard of it some days after, and was prostrated again. I grew better after a time; but just as we reached quarantine, Langhetti, who had kept himself up thus far, gave out completely, and fell before the plague.”

“Did he die?” asked Louis, in a faltering voice.

“Not on ship-board. He was carried ashore senseless. My mother and sister were very low, and were also carried on shore. I, though weak, was able to nurse them all. My mother died first.”

There was a long pause. At last Frank resumed:

“My sister gradually recovered: and then, through grief and fatigue, I fell sick for the third time. I felt it coming on. My sister nursed me; for a time I thought I was going to die. ‘Oh, Edith,’ I said, ‘when I die, devote your life while it lasts to Langhetti, whom God sent to us in our despair. Save his life even if you give up your own.’

“After that I became delirious, and remained so for a long time. Weeks passed; and when at last I revived the plague was stayed, and but few sick were on the island. My case was a lingering one, for this was the third attack of the fever. Why I didn’t die I can’t understand. There was no attendance. All was confusion, horror, and death.

“When I revived the first question was after Langhetti and Edith. No one knew any thing about them. In the confusion we had been separated, and Edith had died alone.”

“Who told you that she died?” asked Louis, with a troubled look.

Frank looked at him with a face of horror.

“Can you bear what I am going to say?”

“Yes.”

“When I was able to move about I went to see if any one could tell me about Edith and Langhetti. I heard an awful story; that the superintendent had gone mad and had been found trying to dig open a grave, saying that some one was _buried alive_. Who do you think? oh, my brother!”

“Speak!”

“Edith Brandon was the name he named.”

“Be calm, Frank: I made inquiries myself at the island registry-office. The clerk told me this story, but said that the woman who had charge of the dead asserted that the grave was opened, and it was ascertained that absolute death had taken place.

“Alas!” said Frank, in a voice of despair, “I saw that woman–the keeper of the dead-house–the grave-digger’s wife. She told me this story, but it was with a troubled eye. I swore vengeance on her unless she told me the truth. She was alarmed, and said she would reveal all she knew if I swore to keep it to myself. I swore it. Can you bear to hear it, Louis?”

“Speak!”

“She said only this: ‘When the grave was opened it was found that Edith Brandon had not been dead when she was buried.'”

Louis groaned, and, falling forward, buried his head in both his hands.

It was a long time before either of them spoke. At last Louis, without lifting his head, said:

“Go on.”

“When I left the island I went to Quebec, but could not stay there. It was too near the place of horror. I went up the river, working my way as a laborer, to Montreal. I then sought for work, and obtained employment as porter in a warehouse. What mattered it? What was rank or station to me? I only wanted to keep myself from starvation and get a bed to sleep on at night.

“I had no hope or thought of any thing. The horrors through which I had passed were enough to fill my mind. Yet above them all one horror was predominant, and never through the days and nights that have since elapsed has my soul ceased to quiver at the echo of two terrible words which have never ceased to ring through my brain–‘Buried alive!’

“I lived on in Montreal, under an assumed name, as a common porter, and might have been living there yet; but one day as I came in I heard the name of ‘Brandon.’ Two of the clerks who were discussing the news in the morning paper happened to speak of an advertisement which had long been in the papers in all parts of Canada. It was for information about the Brandon family.

“I read the notice. It seemed to me at first that Potts was still trying to get control of us, but a moment’s reflection showed that to be improbable. Then the mention of ‘the friends of the family’ made me think of Langhetti. I concluded that he had escaped death and was trying to find me out.

“I went to Toronto, and found that you had gone to New York. I had saved much of my wages, and was able to come here. I expected Langhetti, but found you.”

“Why did you not think that it might be me?”

“Because I heard a threat of Potts about you, and took it for granted that he would succeed in carrying it out.”

“What was the threat?”

“He found out somehow that my father had written a letter to you. I suppose they told him so at the village post-office. One day when he was in the room he said, with a laugh, alluding to the letter, ‘I’ll uncork that young Brandy-flask before long.'”

“Well–the notice of my death appeared in the English papers.”

Frank looked earnestly at him.

“And I accept it, and go under an assumed name.”

“So do I. It is better.”

“You thought Langhetti alive. Do you think he is?”

“I do not think so now.”

“Why not?”

“The efforts which he made were enough to kill any man without the plague. He must have died.”

After hearing Frank’s story Louis gave a full account of his own adventures, omitting, however, all mention of Beatrice. That was something for his own heart, and not for another’s ear.

“Have you the letter and MS.?”

“Yes.”

“Let me read them.”

Louis took the treasures and handed them to Frank. He read them in silence.

“Is Cato with you yet?”

“Yes.”

“It is well.”

“And now, Frank,” said Louis, “you have something at last to live for.”

“What is that?”

“Vengeance!” cried Louis, with burning eyes.

“Vengeance!” repeated Frank, without emotion–“Vengeance! What is that to me? Do you hope to give peace to your own heart by inflicting suffering on our enemies? What can they possibly suffer that can atone for what they have inflicted? All that they can feel is as nothing compared with what we have felt. Vengeance!” he repeated, musingly; “and what sort of vengeance? Would you kill them? What would that effect? Would he be more miserable than he is? Or would you feel any greater happiness? Or do you mean something more far-reaching than death?”

“Death,” said Louis, “is nothing for such crimes as his.”

“You want to inflict suffering, then, and you ask me. Well, after all, do I want him to suffer? Do I care for this man’s sufferings? What are they or what can they be to me? He stands on his own plane, far beneath me; he is a coarse animal, who can, perhaps, suffer from nothing but physical pain. Should I inflict that on him, what good would it be to me? And yet there is none other that I can inflict.”

“Langhetti must have transformed you,” said Louis, “with his spiritual ideas.”

“Langhetti; or perhaps the fact that I three times gazed upon the face of death and stood upon the threshold of that place where dwells the Infinite Mystery. So when you speak of mere vengeance my heart does not respond. But there is still something which may make a purpose as strong as vengeance.”

“Name it.”

“The sense of intolerable wrong!” cried Frank, in vehement tones; “the presence of that foul pair in the home of our ancestors, our own exile, and all the sufferings of the past! Do you think that I can endure this?”

“No–you must have vengeance.”

“No; not vengeance.”

“What then?”

“Justice!” cried Frank, starting to his feet. “Justice–strict, stern, merciless; and that justice means to me all that you mean by vengeance. Let us make war against him from this time forth while life lasts; let us cast him out and get back our own; let us put him into the power of the law, and let that take satisfaction on him for his crimes; let us cast him out and fling him from us to that power which can fittingly condemn. I despise him, and despise his sufferings. His agony will give me no gratification. The anguish that a base nature can suffer is only disgusting to me–he suffers only out of his baseness. To me, and with a thing like that, vengeance is impossible, and justice is enough.”

“At any rate you will have a purpose, and your purpose points to the same result as mine.”

“But how is this possible?” said Frank. “He is strong, and we are weak. What can we do?”

“We can try,” said Louis. “You are ready to undertake any thing. You do not value your life. There is one thing which is before us. It is desperate–it is almost hopeless; but we are both ready to try it.”

“What is that?”

“The message from the dead,” said Louis, spreading before Frank that letter from the treasure-ship which he himself had so often read.

“And are you going to try this?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“I don’t know. I must first find out the resources of science.”

“Have you Cato yet?”

“Yes.”

“Can he dive?”

“He was brought up on the Malabar coast, among the pearl-fishers, and can remain under water for an incredible space of time. But I hope to find means which will enable me myself to go down under the ocean depths. This will be our object now. If it succeeds, then we can gain our purpose; if not, we must think of something else.”

CHAPTER XXI.

THE DIVING BUSINESS.

In a little street that runs from Broadway, not far from Wall Street, there was a low doorway with dingy panes of glass, over which was a sign which bore the following letters, somewhat faded:

BROCKET & CO.,
CONTRACTORS

About a month after his arrival at New York Brandon entered this place and walked up to the desk, where a stout, thick-set man was sitting, with his chin on his hands and his elbows on the desk before him.

“Mr. Brocket?” said Brandon, inquiringly.

“Yes, Sir,” answered the other, descending from his stool and stepping forward toward Brandon, behind a low table which stood by the desk.

“I am told that you undertake contracts for raising sunken vessels?”

“We are in that line of business.”

“You have to make use of diving apparatus?”

“Yes.”

“I understand that you have gone into this business to a larger extent than any one in America?”

“Yes, Sir,” said Brocket, modestly. “I think we do the leading business in that line.”

“I will tell you frankly my object in calling upon you. I have just come from the East Indies for the purpose of organizing a systematic plan for the pearl fisheries. You are aware that out there they still cling to the old fashion of diving, which was begun three thousand years ago. I wish to see if I can not bring science to bear upon it, so as to raise the pearl-oysters in larger quantities.”

“That’s a good idea of yours,” remarked Mr. Brocket, thoughtfully.

“I came to you to see if you could inform me whether it would be practicable or not.”

“Perfectly so,” said Brocket.

“Do you work with the diving-bell in your business or with armor?”

“With both. We use the diving-bell for stationary purposes; but when it is necessary to move about we employ armor.”

“Is the armor adapted to give a man any freedom of movement?”

“The armor is far better than the bell. The armor is so perfect now that a practiced hand can move about under water with a freedom that is surprising. My men go down to examine sunken ships. They go in and out and all through them. Sometimes this is the most profitable part of our business.”

“Why so?”

“Why, because there is often money or valuable articles on board, and these always are ours. See,” said Brocket, opening a drawer and taking out some silver coin, “here is some money that we found in an old Dutch vessel that was sunk up the Hudson a hundred years ago. Our men walked about the bed of the river till they found her, and in her cabin they obtained a sum of money that would surprise you–all old coin.”

“An old Dutch vessel! Do you often find vessels that have been sunk so long ago?”

“Not often. But we are always on the lookout for them,” said Brocket, who had now grown quite communicative. “You see, those old ships always carried ready cash–they didn’t use bank-notes and bills of exchange. So if you can only find one you’re sure of money.”

“Then this would be a good thing to bear in mind in our pearl enterprise?”

“Of course. I should think that out there some reefs must be full of sunken ships. They’ve been sinking about those coasts ever since the first ship was built.”

“How far down can a diver go in armor?

“Oh, any reasonable depth, when the pressure of the water is not too great. Some pain in the ears is felt at first from the compressed air, but that is temporary. Men can easily go down as far as fifteen or sixteen fathoms.”

“How long can they stay down?”

“In the bells, you know, they go down and are pulled up only in the middle of the day and at evening, when their work is done.”

“How with the men in armor?”

“Oh, they can stand it almost as well. They come up oftener, though. There is one advantage in the armor: a man can fling off his weight and come up whenever he likes.”

“Have you ever been down yourself?”

“Oh yes–oftener than any of my men. I’m the oldest diver in the country, I think. But I don’t go down often now. It’s hard work, and I’m getting old.”

“Is it much harder than other work?”

“Well, you see, it’s unnatural sort of work, and is hard on the lungs. Still, I always was healthy. The real reason why I stopped was a circumstance that happened two years ago.”

“What was that?”

Brocket drew a long breath, looked for a moment meditatively at the floor, and then went on:

“Well, there happened to be a wreck of a steamer called the _Saladin_ down off the North Carolina coast, and I thought I would try her as a speculation, for I supposed that there might he considerable money on board one way or another. It was a very singular affair. Only two men had escaped; it was so sudden. They said the vessel struck a rock at night when the water was perfectly still, and went down in a few minutes, before the passengers could even be awakened. It may seem horrid to you, but you must know that a ship-load of passengers is very profitable, for they all carry money. Besides, there are their trunks, and the clerk’s desk, and so on. So, this time, I went down myself. The ship lay on one side of the rock which had pierced her, having floated off just before sinking; and I had no difficulty in getting on board. After walking about the deck I went at once into the saloon. Sir,” said Brocket, with an awful look at Brandon, “if I should live for a hundred years I should never forget the sight that I saw. A hundred passengers or more had been on board, and most of them had rushed out of their state-rooms as the vessel began to sink. Very many of them lay on the floor, a frightful multitude of dead.

“But there were others,” continued Brocket, in a lower tone, “who had clutched at pieces of furniture, at the doors, and at the chairs, and many of these had held on with such a rigid clutch that death itself had not unlocked it. Some were still upright, with distorted features, and staring eyes, clinging, with frantic faces, to the nearest object that they had seen. Several of them stood around the table. The most frightful thing was this: that they were all staring at the door.

“But the worst one of all was a corpse that was on the saloon table. The wretch had leaped there in his first mad impulse, and his hands had clutched a brass bar that ran across. He was facing the door; his hands were still clinging, his eyes glared at me, his jaw had fallen, The hideous face seemed grimacing at and threatening me. As I entered the water was disturbed by my motion. An undulation set in movement by my entrance passed through the length of the saloon. All the corpses swayed for a moment. I stopped in horror. Scarcely had I stopped when the corpses, agitated by the motion of the water and swaying, lost their hold; their fingers slipped, and they fell forward simultaneously. Above all, that hideous figure on the table, as its fingers were loosened, in falling forward, seemed to take steps, with his demon face still staring at me. My blood ran cold. It seemed to me as though these devils were all rushing at me, led on by that fiend on the table. For the first time in my life, Sir, I felt fear under the sea. I started back, and rushed out quaking as though all hell was behind me. When I got up to the surface I could not speak. I instantly left the _Saladin_, came home with my men, and have never been down myself since.”

A long conversation followed about the general condition of sunken ships. Brocket had no fear of rivals in business, and as his interlocutor did not pretend to be one he was exceedingly communicative. He described to him the exact depth to which a diver in armor might safely go, the longest time that he could safely remain under water, the rate of travel in walking along a smooth bottom, and the distance which one could walk. He told him how to go on board of a wrecked ship with the least risk or difficulty, and the best mode by which to secure any valuables which he might find. At last he became so exceedingly friendly that Brandon asked him if he would be willing to give personal instructions to himself, hinting that money was no object, and that any price would be paid.

At this Brocket laughed. “My dear Sir, you take my fancy, for I think I see in you a man of the right sort. I should be very glad to show any one like you how to go to work. Don’t mention money; I have actually got more now than I know what to do with, and I’m thinking of founding an asylum for the poor. I’ll sell you any number of suits of armor, if you want them, merely in the way of business; but if I give you instructions it will be merely because I like to oblige a man like you.”

Brandon of course expressed all the gratitude that so generous an offer could excite.

“But there’s no use trying just yet; wait till the month of May, and then you can begin. You have nerve, and I have no doubt that you’ll learn fast.”

After this interview Brandon had many others. To give credibility to his pretended plan for the pearl fisheries, he bought a dozen suits of diving armor and various articles which Brocket assured him that he would need. He also brought Cato with him one day, and the Hindu described the plan which the pearl-divers pursued on the Malabar coast. According to Cato each diver had a stone which weighed about thirty pounds tied to his foot, and a sponge filled with oil fastened around his neck. On plunging into the water, the weight carried him down. When the diver reached the bottom the oiled sponge was used from time to time to enable him to breathe by inhaling the air through the sponge applied to his mouth. All this was new to Brocket. It excited his ardor.

The month of May at last came. Brocket showed them a place in the Hudson, about twenty miles above the city, where they could practice. Under his direction Brandon put on the armor and went down. Frank worked the pumps which supplied him with air, and Cato managed the boat. The two Brandons learned their parts rapidly, and Louis, who had the hardest task, improved so quickly, and caught the idea of the work so readily, that Brocket enthusiastically assured him that he was a natural-born diver.

All this time Brandon was quietly making arrangements for a voyage. He gradually obtained every thing which might by any possibility be required, and which he found out by long deliberations with Frank and by hints which he gained by well-managed questions to Brocket.

Thus the months of May and June passed until at length they were ready to start.

CHAPTER XXII.

THE ISLET OF SANTA CRUZ.

It was July when Brandon left New York for San Salvador.

He had purchased a beautiful little schooner, which he had fitted up like a gentleman’s yacht, and stored with all the articles which might be needed. In cruising about the Bahama Isles he intended to let it be supposed that he was traveling for pleasure. True, the month of July was not the time of the year which pleasure-seekers would choose for sailing in the West Indies, but of this he did not take much thought.

The way to the Bahama Isles was easy. They stopped for a while at Nassau, and then went to San Salvador.

The first part of the New World which Columbus discovered is now but seldom visited, and few inhabitants are found there. Only six hundred people dwell upon it, and these have in general but little intelligence. On reaching this place Brandon sailed to the harbor which Columbus entered, and made many inquiries about that immortal landing. Traditions still survived among the people, and all were glad to show the rich Englishman the lions of the place.

He was thus enabled to make inquiries without exciting suspicion about the islands lying to the north. He was informed that about four leagues north there was an island named Guahi, and as there was no island known in that direction named Santa Cruz, Brandon thought that this might be the one. He asked if there were any small islets or sand-banks near there, but no one could tell him. Having gained all the information that he could he pursued his voyage.

In that hot season there was but little wind. The seas were visited by profound calms which continued long and rendered navigation slow and tedious. Sometimes, to prevent themselves from being swept away by the currents, they had to cast anchor. At other times they were forced to keep in close by the shore. They waited till the night came on, and then, putting out the sweeps, they rowed the yacht slowly along.

It was the middle of July before they reached the island of Guahi, which Brandon thought might be Santa Cruz. If so, then one league due north of this there ought to be the islet of the Three Needles. Upon the discovery of that would depend their fate.

It was evening when they reached the southern shore of Guahi. Now was the time when all the future depended upon the fact of the existence of an islet to the north. That night on the south shore was passed in deep anxiety. They rowed the vessel on with their sweeps, but the island was too large to be passed in one night. Morning came, and still they rowed.

The morning passed, and the hot sun burned down upon them, yet they still toiled on, seeking to pass beyond a point which lay ahead, so as to see the open water to the north. Gradually they neared it, and the sea-view in front opened up more and more widely. There was nothing but water. More and more of the view exposed itself, until at last the whole horizon was visible. Yet there was no land there–no island–no sign of those three rocks which they longed so much to find.

A light wind arose which enabled them to sail over all the space that lay one league to the north. They sounded as they went, but found only deep water. They looked all around, but found not so much as the smallest point of land above the surface of the ocean.

That evening they cast anchor and went ashore at the island of Guahi to see if any one knew of other islands among which might be found one named Santa Cruz. Their disappointment was profound. Brandon for a while thought that perhaps some other San Salvador was meant in the letter. This very idea had occurred to him before, and he had made himself acquainted with all the places of that name that existed. None of them seemed, however, to answer the requirements of the writing. Some must have gained the name since; others were so situated that no island could be mentioned as lying to the north. On the whole, it seemed to him that this San Salvador of Columbus could alone be mentioned. It was alluded to as a well-known place, of which particular description was unnecessary, and no other place at that day had this character except the one on which he had decided.

One hope yet remained, a faint one, but still a hope, and this might yet be realized. It was that Guahi was not Santa Cruz; but that some other island lay about here, which might be considered as north from San Salvador. This could be ascertained here in Guahi better perhaps than any where else. With this faint hope he landed.

Guahi is only a small island, and there are but few inhabitants upon it, who support themselves partly by fishing. In this delightful climate their wants are not numerous, and the rich soil produces almost any thing which they desire. The fish about here are not plentiful, and what they catch have to be sought for at a long distance off.

“Are there any other islands near this?” asked Brandon of some people whom he met on landing.

“Not very near.”

“Which is the nearest?”

“San Salvador.”

“Are there any others in about this latitude?”

“Well, there is a small one about twelve leagues east. There are no people on it though.”

“What is its name?”

“Santa Cruz.”

Brandon’s heart beat fast at the sound of that name. It must be so. It must be the island which he sought. It lay to the north of San Salvador, and its name was Santa Cruz.

“It is not down on the charts?”

“No. It is only a small islet.”

Another confirmation, for the message said plainly an islet, whereas Guahi was an island.

“How large is it?”

“Oh, perhaps a mile or a mile and a half long.”

“Is there any other island near it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Have you ever been there?”

“No.”

Plainly no further information could be gathered here. It was enough to have hope strengthened and an additional chance for success. Brandon obtained as near as possible the exact direction of Santa Cruz, and, going back to the yacht, took advantage of the light breeze which still was blowing and set sail.

[Illustration: “AN ISLAND COVERED WITH PALM-TREES LAY THERE.”]

Night came on very dark, but the breeze still continued to send its light breath, and before this the vessel gently glided on. Not a thing could be seen in that intense darkness. Toward morning Louis Brandon, who had remained up all night in his deep anxiety, tried to pierce through the gloom as he strained his eyes, and seemed as though he would force the darkness to reveal that which he sought. But the darkness gave no token.

Not Columbus himself, when looking out over these waters, gazed with greater eagerness nor did his heart beat with greater anxiety of suspense, than that which Brandon felt as his vessel glided slowly through the dark waters, the same over which Columbus had passed, and moved amidst the impenetrable gloom. But the long night of suspense glided by at last; the darkness faded, and the dawn came.

Frank Brandon, on waking about sunrise, came up and saw his brother looking with fixed intensity of gaze at something directly in front. He turned to see what it might be.

An island covered with palm-trees lay there. Its extent was small, but it was filled with the rich verdure of the tropics. The gentle breeze ruffled the waters, but did not altogether efface the reflection of that beautiful islet.

Louis pointed toward the northeast.

Frank looked.

It seemed to be about two miles away. It was a low sand island about a quarter of a mile long. From its surface projected three rocks thin and sharp. They were at unequal distances from each other, and in the middle of the islet. The tallest one might have been about twelve feet in height, the others eight and ten feet respectively.

Louis and Frank exchanged one long look, but said not a word. That look was an eloquent one.

This then was unmistakably the place of their search.

The islet with the three rocks like needles lying north of Santa Cruz. One league due north of this was the spot where now rested all their hopes.

The island of Santa Cruz was, as had been told them, not more than a mile and a half in length, the sand island with the needles lay about two miles north of it. On the side of Santa Cruz which lay nearest to them was a small cove just large enough for the yacht. Here, after some delay, they were able to enter and land.

The tall trees that covered the island rose over beautiful glades and grassy slopes. Too small and too remote to give support to any number of inhabitants, it had never been touched by the hand of man, but stood before them in all that pristine beauty with which nature had first endowed it. It reminded Brandon in some degree of that African island where he had passed some time with Beatrice. The recollection of this brought over him an intolerable melancholy, and made the very beauty of this island painful to him. Yet hope was now strong within his heart, and as he traversed its extent his eye wandered about in search of places where he might be able to conceal the treasure that lay under the sea, if he were ever able to recover it from its present place. The island afforded many spots which were well adapted to such a purpose.

In the centre of the island a rock jutted up, which was bald and flat on its summit. On the western side it showed a precipice of some forty or fifty feet in height, and on the eastern side it descended to the water in a steep slope. The tall trees which grew all around shrouded it from the view of those at sea, but allowed the sea to be visible on every side. Climbing to this place, they saw something which showed them that they could not hope to carry on any operations for that day.

On the other side of the island, about ten miles from the shore, there lay a large brig becalmed. It looked like one of those vessels that are in the trade between the United States and the West Indies. As long as that vessel was in the neighborhood it would not do even to make a beginning, nor did Brandon care about letting his yacht be seen. Whatever he did he wished to do secretly.

The brig continued in sight all day, and they remained on the island. Toward evening they took the small boat and rowed out to the sandbank which they called Needle Islet. It was merely a low spit of sand, with these three singularly-shaped rocks projecting upward. There was nothing else whatever to be seen upon it. The moon came up as they stood there, and their eyes wandered involuntarily to the north, to that place, a league away, where the treasure lay beneath the waters.

CHAPTER XXIII.

THE OCEAN DEPTHS.

The next morning dawned and Brandon hurried to the rock and looked around. During the night a slight wind had sprung up, and was still gently breathing. Far over the wide sea there was not a sail to be seen. The brig had passed away. They were finally left to themselves.

Now at last the time of trial had come. They were eager to make the attempt, and soon the yacht was unmoored, and moved slowly out to sea in the direction of Needle Island. A light breeze still blew fitfully, but promised at any moment to stop; yet while it lasted they passed onward under its gentle impulse, and so gradually reached Needle Island, and went on into the sea beyond.

Before they had come to the spot which they wished to attain the breeze had died out, and they were compelled to take to the oars. Although early in the morning the sun was burning hot, the work was laborious, and the progress was slow. Yet not a murmur was heard, nor did a single thought of fatigue enter the minds of any of them. One idea only was present–one so overwhelming that all lesser thoughts and all ordinary feelings were completely obliterated. After two hours of steady labor they at last reached a place which seemed to them to be exactly one league due north of Needle Islet. Looking back they saw that the rocks on the island seemed from this distance closer together, and thinner and sharper, so that they actually bore a greater resemblance to needles from this point than to any thing else.

Here they sounded. The water was fifteen fathoms deep–not so great a depth as they had feared. Then they put down the anchor, for although there was no wind, yet the yacht might be caught in some current, and drift gradually away from the right position.

The small boat had all this time been floating astern with the pumping apparatus in it, so that the adventurous diver might readily be accompanied in his search and his wanderings at the bottom of the sea.

But there was the prospect that this search would be long and arduous, and Brandon was not willing to exhaust himself too soon. He had already resolved that the first exploration should be made by Asgeelo. The Hindu had followed Brandon in all his wanderings with that silent submission and perfect devotion which is more common among Hindus than any other people. He had the air of one who was satisfied with obeying his master, and did not ask the end of any commands which might be given. He was aware that they were about to explore the ocean depths, but showed no curiosity about the object of their search. It was Brandon’s purpose to send him down first at different points, so that he might see if there was any thing there which looked like what they sought.

Asgeelo–or Cato, as Brandon commonly called him–had made those simple preparations which are common among his class–the apparatus which the pearl-divers have used ever since pearl-diving first commenced. Twelve or fifteen stones were in the boat, a flask of oil, and a sponge which was fastened around his neck. These were all that he required. Each stone weighed about thirty pounds. One of these he tied around one foot; he saturated the sponge with oil, so as to use it to inhale air beneath the water; and then, standing on the edge of the boat and flinging his arms straight up over his head, he leaped into the water and went down feet foremost.

Over the smooth water the ripples flowed from the spot where Asgeelo had disappeared, extending in successive concentric circles, and radiating in long undulations far and wide. Louis and Frank waited in deep suspense. Asgeelo remained long beneath the water, but to them the time seemed frightful in its duration. Profound anxiety began to mingle with the suspense, for fear lest the faithful servant in his devotion had over-rated his powers–lest the disuse of his early practice had weakened his skill–lest the weight bound to his foot had dragged him down and kept him there forever.

At last, when the suspense had become intolerable and the two had already begun to exchange glances almost of despair, a plash was heard, and Asgeelo emerged far to the right. He struck out strongly toward the boat, which was at once rowed toward him. In a few minutes he was taken in. He did not appear to be much exhausted.

He had seen nothing.

[Illustration: “A dark, sinewy arm emerged from beneath, armed with a long, keen knife.”]

They then rowed about a hundred yards further, and Asgeelo prepared to descend once more. He squeezed the oil out of the sponge and renewed it again. But this time he took a knife in his hand.

“What is that for?” asked Frank and Louis.

“Sharks!” answered Cato, in a terrible tone.

At this Louis and Frank exchanged glances. Could they let this devoted servant thus tempt so terrible a death?

“Did you see any sharks?” asked Louis.

“No, Sahib.”

“Why do you fear them, then?”

“I don’t fear them, Sahib.”

“Why do you take this knife?”

“One may come, Sahib.”

After some hesitation Asgeelo was allowed to go. As before he plunged into the water, and remained underneath quite as long; but now they had become familiarized with his powers and the suspense was not so dreadful. At the expiration of the usual time he reappeared, and on being taken into the boat he again announced that he had seen nothing.

They now rowed a hundred yards farther on in the same direction, toward the east, and Asgeelo made another descent. He came back with the same result.

It began to grow discouraging, but Asgeelo was not yet fatigued, and they therefore determined to let him work as long as he was able. He went down seven times more. They still kept the boat on toward the east till the line of “needles” on the sand island had become thrown farther apart and stood at long distances. Asgeelo came up each time unsuccessful.

He at last went down for the eleventh time. They were talking as usual, not expecting that he would reappear for some minutes, when suddenly a shout was heard, and Asgeelo’s head emerged from the water not more than twenty yards from the boat. He was swimming with one hand, and in the other he held an uplifted knife, which he occasionally brandished in the air and splashed in the water.

Immediately the cause of this became manifest. Just behind him a sharp black fin appeared cutting the surface of the water.

It was a shark! But the monster, a coward like all his tribe, deterred by the plashing of the water made by Asgeelo, circled round him and hesitated to seize his prey. The moment was frightful. Yet Asgeelo appeared not in the least alarmed. He swam slowly, occasionally turning his head and watching the monster, seeming by his easy dexterity to be almost as much in his native element as his pursuer, keeping his eyes fixed on him and holding his knife in a firm clasp. The knife was a long, keen blade, which Asgeelo had carried with him for years.

Louis and Frank could do nothing. A pistol ball could not reach this monster, who kept himself under the water, where a ball would be spent before striking him, if indeed any aim could direct a bullet toward that swift darting figure. They had nothing to do but to look on in an agony of horror.

Asgeelo, compelled to watch, to guard, to splash the water, and to turn frequently, made but a slow passage over those twenty yards which separated him from the boat. At last it seemed as if he chose to stay there. It seemed to those who watched him with such awful horror that he might have escaped had he chosen, but that he had some idea of voluntarily encountering the monster. This became evident at last, as the shark passed before him when they saw Asgeelo’s face turned toward it; a face full of fierce hate and vengeance; a face such as one turns toward some mortal enemy.

He made a quick, fierce stroke with his long knife. The shark gave a leap upward. The water was tinged with blood. The next moment Asgeelo went down.

“What now?” was the thought of the brothers. Had he been dragged down? Impossible! And yet it seemed equally impossible that he could have gone down of his own accord.

In a moment their suspense was ended. A white flash appeared near the surface. The next instant a dark, sinewy arm emerged from beneath, armed with a long, keen knife, which seemed to tear down with one tremendous stroke that white, shining surface.

It was Asgeelo’s head that emerged in a sea of blood and foam. Triumph was in his dark face, as with one hand he waved his knife exultantly.

A few moments afterward the form of a gigantic shark floated upward to the surface, dyeing the sea with the blood which had issued from the stroke dealt by Asgeelo. Not yet, however, was the vindictive fury of the Hindu satiated. He swam up to it. He dashed his knife over and over the white belly till it became a hideous mass of gaping entrails. Then he came into the boat.

He sat down, a hideous figure. Blood covered his tawny face, and the fury of his rage had not left the features.

The strength which this man had shown was tremendous, yet his quickness and agility even in the water had been commensurate with his strength. Brandon had once seen proofs of his courage in the dead bodies of the Malay pirates which lay around him in the cabin of that ill-fated Chinese ship: but all that he had done then was not to be compared to this.

They could not help asking him why he had not at once made his escape to the boar, instead of staying to fight the monster.

Asgeelo’s look was as gloomy as death as he replied,

“They tore in pieces my son, Sahib–my only son–when he first went down, and I have to avenge him. I killed a hundred on the Malabar coast before I left it forever. That shark did not attack me; I attacked him.”

“If you saw one now would you attack him?”

“Yes, Sahib.”

Brandon expressed some apprehension, and wished him not to risk his life.

But Asgeelo explained that a shark could be successfully encountered by a skillful swimmer. The shark is long, and has to move about in a circle which is comparatively large; he is also a coward, and a good swimmer can strike him if he only chooses. He again repeated triumphantly that he had killed more than a hundred to avenge his son.

In his last venture Asgeelo had been no more successful than before. Needle Island was now to the southwest, and Brandon thought that their only chance was to try farther over toward the west, where they had not yet explored.

They rowed at once back to the point from which they had set out, and then went on about a hundred and fifty yards to the west. From this place, as they looked toward the islet, the three rocks seemed so close together that they appeared blended, and the three sharp, needlelike points appeared to issue from one common base. This circumstance had an encouraging effect, for it seemed to the brothers as though their ancestor might have looked upon those rocks from this point of view rather than from any other which had as yet come upon the field of their observation.

This time Brandon himself resolved to go down; partly because he thought that Asgeelo had worked long enough, and ought not to be exhausted on that first day, and partly on account of an intolerable impatience, and an eagerness to see for himself rather than intrust it to others.

There was the horror of the shark, which might have deterred any other man. It was a danger which he had never taken into account. But the resolve of his soul was stronger than any fear, and he determined to face even this danger. If he lost his life, he was indifferent. Let it go! Life was not so precious to him as to some others. Fearless by nature, he was ordinarily ready to run risks; but now the thing that drew him onward was so vast in its importance that he was willing to encounter peril of any kind.

Frank was aware of the full extent of this new danger, but he said nothing, nor did he attempt in any way to dissuade his brother. He himself, had he been able, would have gone down in his place; but as he was not able, he did not suppose that his brother would hesitate.

The apparatus was in the boat. The pumping-machine was in the stern; and this, with the various signal-ropes, was managed by Frank. Asgeelo rowed. These arrangements had long since been made, and they had practiced in this way on the Hudson River.

Silently Brandon put on his diving armor. The ropes and tubes were all carefully arranged. The usual weight was attached to his belt, and he was slowly lowered down to the bottom of the sea.

The bottom of the ocean was composed of a smooth, even surface of fine sand and gravel, along which Brandon moved without difficulty. The cumbrous armor of the diver, which on land is so heavy, beneath the water loses its excessive weight, and by steadying the wearer assists him to walk. The water was marvelously transparent, as is usually the case in the southern seas, and through the glass plate in his helmet Brandon could look forward to a greater distance than was possible in the Hudson.

Overhead he could see the bottom of the boat, as it floated and moved on in the direction which he wished: signals, which were communicated by a rope which he held in his hand, told them whether to go forward or backward, to the right or to the left, or to stop altogether. Practice had enabled him to command, and them to obey, with ease.

Down in the depths to which he had descended the water was always still, and the storms that affected the surface never penetrated there. Brandon learned this from the delicate shells and the still more delicate forms of marine plants which lay at his feet, so fragile in their structure, and so delicately poised in their position, that they must have formed themselves in deep, dead stillness and absolute motionlessness of waters. The very movement which was caused by his passage displaced them in all directions, and cast them down every where in ruins. Here, in such depths as these, if the sounding lead is cast it brings up these fragile shells, and shows to the observer what profound calm must exist here, far away beneath the ordinary vision of man.

Practice had enabled Brandon to move with much ease. His breathing was without difficulty. The first troubles arising from breathing this confined air had long since been surmounted. One tube ran down from the boat, through which the fresh air was pushed, and another tube ran up a little distance, through which the air passed and left it in myriad bubbles that ascended to the surface.

He walked on, and soon came to a place where things changed their appearance. Hard sand was here, and on every side there arose curiously- shaped coral structures, which resembled more than any thing else a leafless forest. These coral tree-like forms twisted their branches in strange involutions, and in some places formed a perfect barrier of interlaced arms, so that he was forced to make a detour in order to avoid them. The chief fear here was that his tube might get entangled among some of the loftier straggling branches, and impede or retard his progress. To avoid this caused much delay.

Now, among the coral rocks, the vegetation of the lower sea began to appear of more vivid colors and of far greater variety than any which he had ever seen. Here were long plants which clung to the coral like ivy, seeming to be a species of marine parasite, and as it grew it throve more luxuriantly. Here were some which threw out long arms, terminating in vast, broad, palm-like leaves, the arms intertwined among the coral branches and the leaves hanging downward. Here were long streamers of fine, silk-like strings, that were suspended from many a projecting branch, and hillocks of spongy substance that looked like moss. Here, too, were plants which threw forth long, ribbon-like leaves of variegated color.

It was a forest under the sea, and it grew denser at every step.

At last his progress in this direction was terminated by a rock which came from a southerly direction, like a spur from the islands. It arose to a height of about thirty feet overhead, and descended gradually as it ran north. Brandon turned aside, and walked by its base along its entire extent.

At its termination there arose a long vista, where the ground ascended and an opening appeared through this marine “forest.” On each side the involuted corals flung their twisted arms in more curious and intricate folds. The vegetation was denser, more luxuriant, and more varied. Beneath him was a growth of tender substance, hairy in texture, and of a delicate green color, which looked more like lawn grass of the upper world than any thing else in nature.

Brandon walked on, and even in the intense desire of his soul to find what he sought he felt himself overcome by the sublime influence of this submarine world. He seemed to have intruded into some other sphere, planting his rash footsteps where no foot of man had trodden before, and using the resources of science to violate the hallowed secrecy of awful nature in her most hidden retreats. Here, above all things, his soul was oppressed by the universal silence around. Through that thick helmet, indeed, no sound under a clap of thunder could be heard, and the ringing of his ears would of itself have prevented consciousness of any other noise, yet none the less was he aware of the awful stillness; it was silence that could be felt. In the sublimity of that lonely pathway he felt what Hercules is imagined to have felt when passing to the underworld after Cerberus,

Stupent ubi undae segne torpescit fretum,

and half expected to hear some voice from the dweller in this place:

“Quo pergis audax? Siste proserentem gradum.”

There came to him only such dwellers as belonged to the place. He saw them as he moved along. He saw them darting out from the hidden penetralia around, moving swiftly across and sometimes darting in shoals before him. They began to appear in such vast numbers that Brandon thought of the monster which lay a mangled heap upon the surface above, and fancied that perhaps his kindred were waiting to avenge his death. As this fear came full and well defined before him he drew from his belt the knife which Asgeelo had given him, and Frank had urged him to take, feeling himself less helpless if he held this in his hand.

The fishes moved about him, coming on in new and more startled crowds, some dashing past, others darting upward, and others moving swiftly ahead. One large one was there with a train of followers, which moved up and floated for a moment directly in front of him, its large, staring eyes seeming to view him in wonder, and solemnly working its gills. But as Brandon came close it gave a sudden turn and darted off with all its attendants.

At last, amidst all these wonders, he saw far ahead something which drove all other thoughts away, whether of fear, or of danger, or of horror, and filled all his soul with an overmastering passion of desire and hope.

It was a dark object, too remote as yet to be distinctly visible, yet as it rose there his fancy seemed to trace the outline of a ship, or what might once have been a ship. The presentation of his hope before him thus in what seemed like a reality was too much. He stood still, and his heart beat with fierce throbs.

The hope was so precious that for a time he hesitated to advance, for fear lest the hope might be dispelled forever. And then to fail at this place, after so long a search, when he seemed to have reached the end, would be an intolerable grief.

There, too, was that strange pathway which seemed made on purpose. How came it there? He thought that perhaps the object lying before him might have caused some current which set in there and prevented the growth of plants in that place. These and many other thoughts came to him as he stood, unwilling to move.

But at last he conquered his feelings, and advanced. Hope grew strong within him. He thought of the time on Coffin Island when, in like manner, he had hesitated before a like object.

Might not this, like that, turn out to be a ship? And now, by a strange revulsion, all his feelings urged him on; hope was strong, suspense unendurable. Whatever that object was, he must know.

It might indeed be a rock. He had passed one shortly before, which had gradually declined into the bottom of the sea; this might be a continuation of the same, which after an interval had arisen again from the bottom. It was long and high at one end, and rounded forward at the other. Such a shape was perfectly natural for a rock. He tried to crush down hope, so as to be prepared for disappointment. He tried to convince himself that it must be a rock, and could by no possibility be any thing else. Yet his efforts were totally fruitless. Still the conviction remained that it was a ship, and if so, it could be no other than the one he sought.

As he went on all the marine vegetation ceased. The coral rocks continued no further. Now all around the bottom of the sea was flat, and covered with fine gravel, like that which he had touched when he first came down. The fishes had departed. The sense of solemnity left him; only one thing was perceptible, and that was the object toward which he walked. And now he felt within him such an uncontrollable impulse that even if he had wished he could neither have paused nor gone back. To go forward was only possible. It seemed to him as though some external influence had penetrated his body, and forced him to move. Again, as once before, he recalled the last words of his father, so well remembered:

–“If in that other world to which I am going the disembodied spirit can assist man, then be sure, oh 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–“

It was Ralph Brandon who had said this. Here in this object which lay before him, if it were indeed the ship, he imagined the spirit of another Ralph Brandon present, awaiting him.

Suddenly a dark shadow passed over his head, which forced him involuntarily to look up. In spite of his excitement a shudder passed through him. Far overhead, at the surface of the sea the boat was floating. But half-way up were three dark objects moving slowly and lazily along. They were sharks.

To him, in his loneliness and weakness, nothing ever seemed so menacing as these three demons of the deep as he stared up at them. Had they seen him? that was now his thought. He clutched his knife in a firmer hold, feeling all the while how utterly helpless he was, and shrinking away into himself from the terror above. The monsters moved leisurely about, at one time grazing the tube, and sending down a vibration which thrilled like an electric shock through him. For a moment he thought that they were malignantly tormenting him, and had done this on purpose in order to send down to him a message of his fate.

He waited.

The time seemed endless. Yet at last the end came. The sharks could not have seen him, for they gradually moved away until they were out of sight.

Brandon did not dare to advance for some time. Yet now, since the spell of this presence was removed, his horror left him, and his former hope animated all his soul.

There lay that object before him. Could he advance again after that warning? Dared he? This new realm into which he had ventured had indeed those who were ready and able to inflict a sudden and frightful vengeance upon the rash intruder. He had passed safely among the horrors of the coral forest; but here, on this plateau, could he hope to be so safe? Might not the slightest movement on his part create a disturbance of water sufficient to awaken the attention of those departed enemies and bring them back?

This was his fear. But hope, and a resolute will, and a determination to risk all on this last hazard, alike impelled him on. Danger now lay every where, above as well as below. An advance was not more perilous than an ascent to the boat. Taking comfort from this last thought he moved onward with a steady, determined step.

Hope grew stronger as he drew nearer. The dark mass gradually formed itself into a more distinct outline. The uncertain lines defined into more certain shape, and the resemblance to a ship became greater and greater. He could no longer resist the conviction that this must be a ship.

Still he tried feebly to prepare for disappointment, and made faint fancies as to the reason why a rock should be formed here in this shape. All the time he scouted those fancies and felt assured that it was not a rock.

Nearer and nearer. Doubt no longer remained. He stood close beside it. It was indeed a ship! Its sides rose high over head. Its lofty stern stood up like a tower, after the fashion of a ship of the days of Queen Elizabeth. The masts had fallen and lay, encumbered with the rigging, over the side.

Brandon walked all around it, his heart beating fast, seeing at every step some new proof that this must be no other, by any conceivable possibility, than the one which he sought. On reaching the bows he saw the outline of a bird carved for the figure-head, and knew that this must be the _Phoenix_.

He walked around. The bottom was sandy and the ship had settled down to some depth. Her sides were covered with fine dark shells, like an incrustation, to a depth of an inch, mingled with a short growth of a green, slimy sea-weed.

At last he could delay no longer. One of the masts lay over the side, and this afforded an easy way by which he could clamber upward upon the deck.

In a few moments Brandon stood upon the deck of the _Phoenix_.

The ship which had thus lain here through centuries, saturated with water that had penetrated to its inmost fibre, still held together sturdily. Beneath the sea the water itself had acted as a preservative, and retarded or prevented decay. Brandon looked around as he stood there, and the light that came from above, where the surface of the sea was now much nearer than before, showed him all the extent of the ship.

The beams which supported the deck had lost their stiffness and sunk downward; the masts, as before stated, had toppled over for the same reason, yielding to their own weight, which, as the vessel was slightly on one side, had gradually borne them down; the bowsprit also had fallen. The hatchways had yielded, and, giving way, had sunk down within the hold. The doors which led into the cabin in the lofty poop were lying prostrate on the deck. The large sky-light which once had stood there had also followed the same fate.

[Illustration: “THE MASTS HAD FALLEN AND LAY, ENCUMBERED WITH THE RIGGING, OVER THE SIDE.”]

Before going down Brandon had arranged a signal to send to Frank in case he found the ship. In his excitement he had not yet given it. Before venturing further he thought of this. But he decided not to make the signal. The idea came, and was rejected amidst a world of varying hopes and fears. He thought that if he was successful he himself would be the best messenger of success; and, if not, he would be the best messenger of evil.

He advanced toward the cabin. Turning away from the door he clambered upon the poop, and, looking down, tried to see what depth there might be beneath. He saw something which looked as though it had once been a table. Slowly and cautiously he let himself down through the opening, and his feet touched bottom. He moved downward, and let his feet slide till they touched the floor.

He was within the cabin.

The light here was almost equal to that with-out, for the sky-light was very wide. The floor was sunken in like the deck of the ship. He looked around to see where he might first search for the treasure. Suddenly his eye caught sight of something which drove away every other thought.

At one end was a seat, and there, propped up against the wall, was a skeleton in a sitting posture. Around it was a belt with a sword attached. The figure had partly twisted itself round, but its bead and shoulders were so propped up against the wall that it could not fall.

Brandon advanced, filled with a thousand emotions. One hand was lying down in front. He lifted it. There was a gold ring on the bony finger. He took it off. In the dim light he saw, cut in bold relief on this seal-ring, the crest of his family–a Phoenix.

It was his ancestor himself who was before him.

Here he had calmly taken his seat when the ship was settling slowly down into the embrace of the waters. Here he had taken his seat, calmly and sternly, awaiting his death–perhaps with a feeling of grim triumph that he could thus elude his foes. This was the man, and this the hand, which had written the message that had drawn the descendant here.

Such were the thoughts that passed through Brandon’s mind. He put the ring on his own finger and turned away. His ancestor had summoned him hither, and here he was. Where was the treasure that was promised?

Brandon’s impatience now rose to a fever. Only one thought filled his mind. All around the cabin were little rooms, into each of which he looked. The doors had all fallen away. Yet he saw nothing in any of them.

He stood for a moment in deep doubt. Where could he look? Could he venture down into the dark hold and explore? How could he hope to find any thing there, amidst the ruins of that interior where guns and chains lay, perhaps all mingled together where they had fallen? It would need a longer time to find it than he had at first supposed. Yet would he falter? No! Rather than give up he would pass years here, till he had dismembered the whole ship and strewn every particle of her piecemeal over the bottom of the sea. Yet he had hoped to solve the whole mystery at the first visit; and now, since he saw no sign of any thing like treasure, he was for a while at a loss what to do.

His ancestor had summoned him, and he had come. Where was the treasure? Where? Why could not that figure arise and show him?

Such were his thoughts. Yet these thoughts, the result of excitement that was now a frenzy, soon gave rise to others that were calmer.

He reflected that perhaps some other feeling than what he had at first imagined might have inspired that grim old Englishman when he took his seat there and chose to drown on that seat rather than move away. Some other feeling, and what feeling? Some feeling which must have been the strongest in his heart. What was that? The one which had inspired the message, the desire to secure still more that treasure for which he had toiled and fought. His last act was to send the message, why should he not have still borne that thought in his mind and carried it till he died?

The skeleton was at one end, supported by the wall. Two posts projected on each side. A heavy oaken chair stood there, which had once perhaps been fastened to the floor. Brandon thought that he would first examine that wall. Perhaps there might be some opening there.

He took the skeleton in his arms reverently, and proceeded to lift it from the chair: He could not. He looked more narrowly, and saw a chain which had been fastened around it and bound it to the chair.

What was the meaning of this? Had the crew mutinied, bound the captain, and run? Had the Spaniards seized the ship after all? Had they recovered the spoil, and punished in this way the plunderer of three galleons, by binding him here to the chair, scuttling the ship, and sending him down to the bottom of the sea?

The idea of the possibility of this made Brandon sick with anxiety. He pulled the chair away, put it on one side, and began to examine the wooden wall by running his hand along it. There was nothing whatever perceptible. The wall was on the side farthest from the stern, and almost amidships. He pounded it, and, by the feeling, knew that it was hollow behind. He walked to the door which was on one side, and passed in behind this very wall. There was nothing there. It had once perhaps been used as part of the cabin. He came back disconsolately, and stood on the very place where the chair had been.

“Let me be calm,” he said to himself. “This enterprise is hopeless. Yes, the Spaniards captured the ship, recovered the treasure, and drowned my ancestor. Let me not be deceived. Let me cast away hope, and search here without any idle expectation.”

Suddenly as he thought he felt the floor gradually giving way beneath him. He started, but before he could move or even think in what direction to go the floor sank in, and he at once sank with it downward.

Had it not been that the tube was of ample extent, and had been carefully managed so as to guard against any abrupt descent among rocks at the bottom of the sea, this sudden fall might have ended Brandon’s career forever. As it was he only sank quickly, but without accident, until his breast was on a level with the cabin floor.