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The First Evening.

In the south-east trades, and the big ship moving steadily through the water with every sail full. Not a quiver of the tightly-strained canvas, not the rattle of a reef-point, broke the stillness aloft.

A glorious evening in the South Atlantic, with the sun setting, as is often his wont in those latitudes, in a bed of crimson, gold and amethyst. The passengers, who had been watching the many-hued passing of the day-king, went below as the cool night breeze began to whistle with a shriller note through the top-hamper and the water to swish more loudly along the sides, and fall back with a louder plop. Very comfortable, snug, and home-like the Corona's cabin looked. It was a cabin, remember, not a ‘saloon.’

There was nothing of the modern curse of varnish and veneer about it. Everything was handsome, also substantial, from the dark mahogany casing of


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the mizzen-mast to the highly-polished, solid pannelling of rosewood, relieved with only a narrow gold beading. The cabin might aptly have been termed a study in brown and gold, so predominant was this combination. Even the curtains in front of each berth door were of brown damask, with gold fringe. The general effect, if a little sombre, was good.

Especially good it seemed this evening to the passengers as they came trooping in with talk and laughter; especially snug and home-like, with its three big swinging moderator lamps, its long table covered with odds and ends of female work, books, papers, etc., etc., its piano, and its comfortable couches scattered here and there.

The Corona's great beam had been utilised to some purpose, and, thus, her cabin was not, like the saloons of so many sailing ships, a sort of stage drawing-room, all white paint, gilding, glass, spindle-shanked chairs, and turn-over-at-a-touch tables.

The company suited the cabin. There were only a dozen or so of them, mostly middle-aged married folk, who had left their grown-up families in Australia whilst they took a trip ‘Home,’ and were now returning to their adopted country. Amongst them, however, were two or three single ladies of uncertain ages, bound to the Land of the Golden Fleece in search of fortune, even if it should only come in the shape of a husband. There was, also, Miss Amy Hillier, an Australian heiress in her own right, returning to


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her native land with an uncle and an aunt. This is another man's story; so that I am not going to take up space by a description of Amy Hillier's charms; suffice it to say here that she was young and pretty, and as good as she was young and pretty.

Wonderful to relate, the company of passengers fitted each other. Each seemed to have discovered in another his or her affinity, and, up to this, there had been none of the usual backbitings, heart-burnings, and malicious tittle-tattle usually so inseparable from a sea voyage in a sailing ship.

Miss Hillier had seated herself at the piano, and was playing something from Lohengrin, when a remarkable - looking man, entering the cabin, doffed his gold - banded cap, and made his way to her side.

Strongly, yet gracefully built, upright as the royal pole, active in all his movements, one would have taken him to be scarce arrived at middle-age, but for the fact that his thick, closely-cropped hair shone a dead white under the lamplight. His features were regular and good, albeit they wore, in general, a rather serious expression. Altogether, it was a strong, pleasant face, full of energy, confidence, and the power to command.

As he rested one hand on the corner of the instrument, it might be noticed that, from wrist to finger tips, it was covered by the white cicatrices of long-healed scars. In spite, however, of his grey hair and disfigured hands, Captain Marion, of the Corona,


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Australian liner, was called by many people a handsome man.

‘Sing me my favourite, please,’ asked the Captain presently.

‘On condition,’ was the reply, ‘that you will tell us a story in return.’

‘It's a bargain,’ said the Captain. ‘I'll relate the legend of Vanderdecken, the Flying Dutchman. Thoroughly appropriate it will be, too, as we are just entering his domains.’

‘We don't want to hear about the Flying Dutchman,’ answered the girl promptly.

‘Well, then,’ continued the Captain, ‘what do you say if I tell you how I was cast away in '69, on the coast of—’

‘No, no, Captain Marion,’ interrupted she, smiling shyly up at him, ‘we don't want that either.’

‘Ah, I see!’ exclaimed the Captain, after a pause, ‘a conspiracy! Well,’ he went on, after a still longer hesitation, ‘I don't care much about it. The telling, I mean, of how I got this’ (touching his hair) ‘and these’ (spreading out his hands), ‘for, of course, that is what you wish to hear. It reminds me of a time I would rather not recall.

‘No, Miss Hillier’—for the girl had risen in dismay and almost tears at her thoughtlessness, and was attempting to apologise incoherently enough—‘it doesn't matter a bit. Besides, I somehow feel in the vein for story-telling this evening; and as well that as anything else. With some passengers, I find that I


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have to put a stopper on their curiosity rather abruptly. But' (with a grave smile and a bow to the group) ‘it being a rare thing, indeed, to meet so well-assorted and pleasant a party as we are this trip, I'll spin you the yarn, such as it is. And now, Miss Hillier, my song.’

‘What would you like—the same as usual, I suppose—“The Silent Land?” ’

‘Yes,’ answered the Captain; ‘your rendering puts a new interpretation on Salis’ words for me, and I seem to bear with me more strongly than ever the promise, as I listen, that he

Who in life's battle firm doth stand
Shall bear Hope's tender blossoms
Into the Silent Land!

‘It is,’ commenced Captain Marion, the song finished, and taking his accustomed seat, whilst the others gathered round him—‘It is nearly fourteen years ago that the strange, and what many may deem improbable, adventure happened which I am about to relate. I was then about twenty-two years of age, an able-bodied seaman on board a ship called the Bucephalus, belonging to Liverpool. It was my first voyage before the mast, for, although I had duly served my apprenticeship with the firm who owned her, and also passed my exam. as second mate, there was no vacancy just then open. They, indeed, offered me a post as third; but, knowing that I should be none the worse for a month or two in the fok's'le, I


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preferred to ship as an A.B. The Bucephalus was an Eastern trader, and on this trip was bound for Singapore and China. All went well with us until we entered the Straits of Sunda. Then, one afternoon, the ship lying in a dead calm off one of the many lovely islands which abound in those narrow seas, the passengers, chiefly military officers with their families, asked the captain to let them have a boat and a run ashore.

‘He was a good-natured man, and consented. Luckily for me, as it afterwards proved, the gig, a very old boat, was full of lumber, fruit, fowls, etc., procured at Anjer, and so the life-boat, a stanch, nearly new craft, was put into the water instead.

‘At the last moment some one suggested that a cup of tea might be acceptable on the island. Not tea alone, but provisions for an ample meal were at once handed in, together with a keg of fresh water. This also was, as you will discover presently, another lucky or—ought I not to say?—providential, chance for me.

‘With myself, three more seamen, and eight or nine ladies and gentlemen, we pushed off towards the verdant, cone-shaped island. Landing without any difficulty on a shell-strewn beach which ran up between two lofty and abrupt headlands, all hands, except myself and an elderly seaman known as Tom, jumped ashore and went climbing and scampering about like so many schoolboys out for a holiday. For my part, I had been on scores of similar islands, or imagined I had, and felt no particular wish to explore this one. Neither, apparently, did my companion. So, hauling


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off a little from the shore, we threw the grapnel overboard and prepared to take things easy, each in his own fashion, he with a pipe, and I with a book lent me by one of the cabin passengers.

‘We made a rough sort of awning with the boat's sail, and I lay in the stern-sheets, my companion between the midship thwarts, under its grateful shelter. It was a drowsy afternoon and a very hot one. To our ears the shouts and laughter of those ashore came at intervals, gradually growing fainter as they made their way towards the summit of the mountain, for such one might say the island was.

‘Presently, looking up from my book, I saw that old Tom was fast asleep, his pipe still in his mouth. Very shortly afterwards I dozed, and heard the book drop from my hand on to the grating without making any effort to recover it. I fell asleep in the broad sunlit day, between ship and land, in the motionless boat, with the voices of my kind still in my ears, and awoke in thickest darkness, moving swiftly along in utter silence, save for, at times, an oily gurgle of water under the bows. Not that I realised even so much all at once. It took me some time. I thought I must be still dreaming, and lay there staring into the blackness with unbelieving eyes. Then I pinched myself and struck my hands sharply against the thwarts. But it was of no use. I could not convince myself that I was not the victim of some ghastly nightmare. Then the idea came into my mind that, although awake, I had suddenly become blind; that Tom had gone ashore


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for a stroll, and that the boat, drifting, had been carried out to sea by some current. Under the influence of this notion, I leaped to my feet, only to be at once struck down again, as if by a hand of iron. Although not completely stunned, I was, for a few minutes, quite bewildered. I could feel, too, that my head was bleeding freely. Sitting cautiously up, I called “Tom!’ I listened intently, but nothing was audible save the faint gurgling sound of the water. I called repeatedly, but there was no answer. Suddenly I recollected that in my pocket was a large metal box full of matches—long wax vestas.

‘Striking one, I held it aloft and gazed eagerly about me. I thanked God that I was not blind. But, so far as I could see, I was alone.

‘On each side, and a foot or so above my head, barely visible in the feeble glimmer, were swiftly passing walls of dripping rock, covered, in many places, with hugh clusters of shiny weeds. So amazed was I at my perfectly inexplicable situation that I stared until the match burned my fingers and dropped into the water, whilst I fell back quite overcome by astonishment and fright.

‘Then, after a bit, I struck more matches. But things were just the same. Always the rocky weed-grown sides, sometimes within touch, at others seeming to widen out; always the rocky, dripping roof, sometimes at my head, at others out of sight; always the darkness, the hurrying boat, and the water like liquid pitch.




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‘Unable to see thoroughly over the boat, I presently crawled for'ard, feeling, as I went, under the sail which had fallen over the thwarts. As I feared, I found no one.

‘Groping about, I picked up Tom's pipe. And then I feared the worst for him.

‘The darkness was horrible. It was so thick that one seemed to swallow mouthfuls of it. The atmosphere was close and muggy, with a smell reminding me strongly of a tannery. Although lightly clad, I was bathed in perspiration as I half sat, half crouched, at the boat's stern, straining my eyes ahead, and now and again lighting one of my matches. Time nor distance had any meaning for me, now; and I have no idea how long I had been voyaging in this unnatural fashion, when there fell on my ears the loud threatening roar of many waters. Commending my soul to God, I laid myself in the boat's bottom. The next minute she seemed to stand nearly upright and then shoot downward like a flash, whilst thick spray flew in showers over me, and the imprisoned waters roared and howled with deafening clamour adown the narrow chasm, so narrow that more than once, in her headlong course, I heard splinters fly from the boat's timbers, whilst masses of dank weeds detached by the blows fell upon me.

‘I now,’ continued the Captain, after a pause, during which he glanced from the ‘tell-tale’ compass overhead to the attentive, wondering faces of


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his audience—‘I now gave myself up for lost, or, at least, imagined that I did so. But the love of life is strong indeed within us; so that when after shooting this subterranean cataract, or whatever it might have been, I found my boat once more steadily gliding along, ever with the same dull gurgle of cleft water at her bows, a faint ray of hope took the place of despairing calm. I was young, remember; healthy, too, powerful and agile beyond the common, and I felt it would be hard indeed to die like a rat in that black hole. What accentuated the hope I speak of was the fact that the lessening roar of the torrent I had just passed sounded as if directly overhead. In vain I told myself that it was but a deceptive echo. Hope would have her say, and buoyed me up, though ever so little, with the idea, incredible as it seemed, that this horrible underground river had doubled back beneath itself, and was making for the sea once more. It has well been said that drowning men will clutch at straws! This one, indeed, was soon to fail me; for presently, to my utter despair, the noise of tumultuous waters ahead gave warning of another cataract—another, or the same one, for, what with the din and the darkness, I became quite confused. The passage was a repetition of the last one, only, if anything, rougher; and, crushed in spirit, all courage flown, I sank back, listening to the rush of the falling water dying away overhead again. Was I, I wondered, descending to even


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lower depths of earth's bowels in this fashion, or merely driven to and fro at the caprice of some remorseless current in what was to prove my tomb! I believe that, for a time, under the stress of ideas like this, my mind wandered; for I have a vague remembrance of singing comic songs, of shouting defiance to fate, the darkness, and things generally; behaving, in fact, like the lunatic I must have become. Whether I descended any more rapids or not I cannot say. I have no recollection whatever of the last part of my strange journey. When, however, I came to my sober senses again I was at the end of it. The boat was motionless, and I was standing upright in her.’

At this point in the Captain's story, and while the interest of his hearers was at its height, the chief officer came quietly in, and, catching his superior's eye, as quietly made his way out again.

Now, four bells struck, and the Captain exclaimed, ‘What, ten o'clock already! My yarn has somewhat spun itself out, and I'm afraid the rest must keep for another evening.’

At this there was quite a chorus of remonstrance. ‘It was cruel to have excited their curiosity and leave it unsatisfied,’ was the general verdict.

‘No sleep for me to-night,’ said Miss Hillier; ‘I shall be wandering through that horrid place in my thoughts, and puzzling my brain to discover how you got out, unless I know the sequel.’

‘It grieves me to think of your disturbed rest,’


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replied the Captain, with a bow and a quizzical smile, ‘although honoured by the cause of it. I am afraid, however, I must refuse even you. I saw heavy weather just now in Mr Santley's eye; and the ship, you know, before all.’

Then the sound of ropes thrown heavily on deck was heard, together with tramp of feet and shouting, the ship heeled over, and the Captain went out, and was not again seen that night by his passengers.

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