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The Third Evening.

East by S−½-South, under fore and main courses and upper and lower top-sails, sped the Corona with the wind on her quarter. Aft, rose great water-hills' darkly green, with white crests, seeming, as each followed each, to hang momentarily suspended over the stern and threaten to overwhelm everything; then, as the good ship rose just in the nick of time, breaking with a long surge in sheets of milky foam away for'ard.

The sun was setting sullenly behind a dense cloud-bank. An albatross or two flew screaming from one wave-crest to another right in the wake. It was a typical evening in the Southern Ocean, the long wash of whose seas reach from the foot of Cape Leuwin to the rugged cliffs of Fuego.




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‘Well,’ continued the Captain, without any preface, as he took his seat facing the waiting and expectant little party.

‘Well, stare as I might aloft, I could not discover to where this Jacob's ladder led. You see, at its best, it was only a column of dusky twilight, and the further end, from where I stood, was lost to view. As I gazed, it appeared to be gradually fading away. I rubbed my eyes; and when I again looked, all around was blacker than the blackest midnight, except where my fire still burned. For a while, I was puzzled to account for the disappearance of the light. Then the thought struck me that it might be caused by the fall of night in the upper world. Was I, I wondered, as I turned sadly to my fire, ever again to look upon the bright day, the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the wonders of that fair earth now grown so dear to me? Truly was I one of those unhappy men who, as the Psalmist says, “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron.”

‘Close to the pillar of light, just on its outside edge, I had noticed a long, slender, almost perpendicular pinnacle of lava towering upwards like the spire of a church.

‘At the base of this I securely moored my boat. Then, thinking that a cup of tea would cheer me up a little, I brewed one, and made a good meal. After this, lying down, I pondered many things, gazing always aloft.




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‘Once I imagined I saw a star; but it disappeared before I could make sure.

‘The one question uppermost in my mind was whether or not the glimmer would reappear when the morning broke above, or had it been an illusion? One thing encouraged me to hope for the best. It was perceptibly cooler, a grateful change from the warm mugginess I had encountered everywhere else. I had, by this, contracted a habit of talking aloud, and I presently caught myself saying that I would climb the lava pinnacle in the morning and try to get a better look-out.

‘ “In the morning.”

‘The utter vanity of the so familiar phrase as it fell on my ears struck me with all the force of some terrible shock, whilst the cold deadening thought seized upon me that, for me, in this world, there was to be no more morning. Through darkness was I to make the last journey towards that dread bourne whence no traveller returns? The slow death in the darkness, drifting about on the bitter waters of that secret sea—that was the thought that my soul revolted from. And strange thoughts, horrible thoughts, a man thinks placed as I was. At times his reason leaves him, his whole soul rises in impious revolt, and the devil rages freely therein, as if already his victim's bed were made in hell.

‘But, thanks be to God!’ exclaimed the Captain, fervently, ‘that the recollections of that hideous time —of the fits of doubt and despair and terror and


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madness, of which I have said but little to you— grow dimmer and weaker with the years, leaving only in enduring relief the memory of a great mercy!

‘It pleased me, though, unproved as it was, that notion of being able to distinguish between night and daylight. The very fact, pure conjecture though it might be, of having the power to say, “Night has come,” seemed to bring peace to my wearied eyes; so that I presently lay down and slept dreamlessly, and on awakening found again, to my intense joy, that mild, soft haze falling upon me.

‘Scarcely giving myself time to snatch a mouthful of biscuit and a draught of cold tea, I jumped ashore and commenced the ascent of the tapering mass of rock. It was, as I have said, nearly perpendicular, and there was no lack of foot and hand-holds— projections sharp as razors, formed by the drippings of the once molten lava. Thanks to my trained vision and the help afforded by the close proximity of the light, I could see dimly. Higher up, the projecting spurs and knobs grew scarcer, and the surface more smooth and slippery. It was terrible work. At home I had had some practice as a cragsman, and this stood to me well now. As I climbed, sometimes vertically, at others spirally, wherever I could feel the firmest hold, the atmosphere grew palpably clearer, and this infused new strength into my aching limbs as I crawled upwards, now hanging by one bleeding hand over the abyss beneath me, now with both hands breathlessly embracing some sharp spur that cut into


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my flesh, whilst my feet groped convulsively for precarious support.

‘When just about spent, I unexpectedly came to the top. I found only room enough there to sit down and pant. A wild hope had filled my breast that this rocky ladder would lead me to liberty—a hope growing stronger with every upward step. As I looked around, these hopes fell, and the old leaden weight of despair seemed to settle once more upon my soul. Slanting away from me on every side, stretched the rugged acclivities of a vast amphitheatre, converging again towards its summit, where the blue sky was distinctly visible. Picture to yourselves an hour-glass with a long tunnel-like waist. Place a straw, the end of which rests on the bottom of the lower section of the glass and reaches up through the tunnel until just on a level with the sloping-upward portion of the top section, but touching it nowhere. Now place a minute insect on the very tip of the straw, and you have my situation as nearly as I can explain it to you. And there I crouched on my lava straw, stretching out unavailing hands to those scarred cliffs of liberty, betwixt me and which spread that dark abyss, with the mournful waters of the bitter sea at its foot. The distance between where I sat on the top of the pinnacle and the sloping walls of the crater all round must have been about twenty five feet. I think it was afterwards measured as that. A hundred plans darted swiftly into my mind for crossing this little space, which meant so much to me, only to be as quickly dismissed as impracticable.




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‘Although still very far from day, it was yet light enough to let me see that the sides of the crater, nearly equi-distant around my perch, were cut and ploughed into deep furrows, and that, once there, I should have comparatively little trouble in reaching upper air.

‘Would it be possible, I wondered, to splice what remained of the oars together, and thus make some kind of a bridge along which to creep? But the idea of again facing such a climb with such an unwieldy burden made me shudder. Also, I doubted much if there was length enough to reach across, supposing I ever got them to where I was. This one amongst many other plans. All at once, as I sat gazing alternately at the far, far away patch of blue overhead, and the dark rocks opposite, there flashed across my thoughts the recollection of the boat's grapnel. I had seen nothing of it. But it might still be hanging under her bows. Attached to the stern-post by a short length of chain shackled to a ring-bolt, it would have taken a heavy shock to shift it. If I could but get a line across and, by help of the grapnel, firmly secured to the opposite side, I felt I was saved. Tearing up the light dungaree jumper I was wearing, and which, with the remainder of my clothing, was little else but a rag, I bound pieces around my stiff and wounded hands and feet, and commenced the descent. It was an awful journey, worse than the coming up. Then, my skin was whole, at the start, anyhow; now, the cuts and tears re-opened and bled and stung more than ever. At one


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time, indeed, I felt that I must give up and let go. But the thought of the grapnel appeared to endue me with fresh strength, whilst, in my mind's eye, I kept steadfastly the memory of that dear glimpse of blue sky. At length, looking down and pausing for a moment, I saw a flicker of light. It was from the dying embers of my fire, and, in a few minutes, I was in the boat. Although nearly utterly exhausted, crawling for'ard, I felt for the chain. It was there; and pulling it rapidly in, what was my delight to find the little grapnel still at its end. Replenishing my fire, I made some tea, preparatory to having something to eat, for I knew I should want all my strength presently. In hauling at the chain my hands had got wet, and, to my surprise, the bleeding had ceased, and the pain almost departed. I immediately bathed my feet, and felt wonderfully relieved thereby. Now, I had my tea, and then considered whether it might not be wiser to pass the night where I was, and take a full day for my attempt. God knows how eager I was for the moment of trial to arrive! Still, I chose the prudent side, and sat and watched the hazy column turn first to a dull green, then to ashen grey, then go out suddenly, and so I knew, certainly now, that the day was over on the earth.

‘As the darkness, thick and impenetrable, closed me in, I lay down thinking to sleep a little, but my rest was disturbed and broken. Always, as I dozed off, I was clambering painfully up that terrible rock, with bleeding hands and feet, staggering under huge burdens of rope and iron. Once I dreamt that my shipmate's


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body had floated off the islet, and was, even now, with white clammy fingers, striving to lift itself into the boat, whilst the ghastly face peered at me over the side. This effectually awoke me; but so strong was the impression, that I seized a fire-stick, and, making it blaze up, searched sharply around. I had my trouble for my pains. But further attempt at sleep for me was out of the question.

‘My dawn, such as it was, came at last. I had already detatched the grapnel from its chain, and unrove the halliards from the mast. These last I wound round and round my body, fully thirty feet of line, small “Europe” rope, but tough and strong. The disposal of my precious grapnel, which, luckily, was one of the smallest of its kind, only used, as we had used it, for a temporary holdfast, bothered me a good deal.

‘Finally, I placed my head between two of the flukes, one of which then rested on each shoulder, whilst the stock hung down my back, swinging loosely. To make sure of the flukes not slipping, I passed a piece of line from one to the other, and knotted it securely.

‘It was a most uncomfortable fixture altogether, a tight fit for my neck into the bargain, but I could think of no other way.

‘I'm not going to inflict upon you a detailed description of how I reached the top—I believe it must have been fully five hundred feet—carrying that half-hundred weight of iron, to say nothing of the rope.


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Indeed, I hardly know myself. However, get there I did; but, as you may guess, in a very evil plight.

‘I recollect, when still some thirty feet from the top, unable to bear any longer the horrible chafing of the flukes, which had broken through the skin, and were grinding against the bone, that I rested, or, rather, balanced myself on a sharp ledge, whilst casting the grapnel adrift from my shoulders, and unwinding the rope from my body. Then, making one end of the line fast to the ring in the stock, I fastened the other round my waist, the grapnel all this time resting loosely on the rock.

‘Leaving it there, and paying out the line cautiously into the void below me, away I went again, bracing myself at every step to withstand the awful-jerk should the grapnel slip off, and tighten the rope with the momentum of its fall. If such a thing had happened, and the chances were many, my fate was certain—a few scrambling clutches and annihilation. But where it went I had made up my mind to go also.

‘It was my only and last hope, that bit of crooked four-clawed iron! Death was in every step I took, and I believe that it was in those last few feet that my hair turned its colour, so terrible was the suspense and expectation.

‘But God was very good to me, and I reached the summit with a couple of feet of line to spare. Dragging the grapnel up, I crouched down on the little flat, table-like top, and fairly sobbed with pain and exhaustion.




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‘To my alarm, I felt myself growing weaker instead of stronger from my rest. The fact was that, with the awful cutting about I had received, I had lost a good deal of blood. Many of the deeper cuts on my hands and arms were bleeding still. Evidently there was no time to lose. Standing up, feeling sick and dizzy, I coiled down my line for a fair throw, and, grasping it some three feet or so above the grapnel, swung it to and fro until I thought impetus enough was attained, then hove with all my remaining strength.

‘I shut my eyes, expecting to hear every second the sound of iron clanging far beneath against the sides of the pinnacle. When I opened them again, the line was hanging in a slack bight across the chasm. The little anchor had fallen directly into one of the deep furrows, but perilously close to the edge. With trembling fingers I hauled the line in. Tighter, tighter, tighter still, then with all the force I could command. Would it support the weight of my body, or would it come?

‘Without staying to argue the question, I made it fast afresh to a round nob, the only one on the place. Then, saying a short prayer, and taking a last glance at the blue sky, I let myself slip gently off the rock, hanging with my hands on the thin, hempen line.

‘It sagged terribly. I could plainly hear my heart knocking and thumping against my ribs. It sagged and “gave” still more. Imagining that I heard the noise of the grapnel scraping and dragging, I looked


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upon myself as lost. But I still continued to drag myself across. It was a long, terrible agony, and, more than once, I thought I should have to let go. My hands almost refused to close upon the rope. But I still, almost as in a dream, worked myself along. Once I caught myself wondering if I should fall into or near the boat, and whether the dead man would be there to receive me. Then a horrible fancy seized me that I was making no progress, but that my hands were glued to the rope with blood—ever in the same spot. Then suddenly, in my now mechanical motions, my head hit with great violence against rock. This effectually aroused me. I was at the threshold of liberty—the edge of the crater, where it sloped quickly away below.

‘I hung there whilst one might count twenty, looking up. I was three feet beneath the rim. The rope had given that much.

‘I don't remember in the least pulling myself up and over that overhanging ledge. When my senses returned, I was lying in the furrow alongside the grapnel, and a rush of cold water was sweeping under me. How long I had been there I have no notion. Certainly a great many hours. The rain was pouring down in tropical torrents; thunder pealed above me, and the lightning flashed and darted in vain endeavour to pierce the lower abyss.

‘After many fruitless attempts, I staggered to my feet. I felt so dreadfully weak and faint that I thought I was about to die. But a glance aloft gave me fresh


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heart. The dark clouds of the thunderstorm were passing over, and full upon my nearly naked body fell the warm rays of the glorious sun. I almost at that moment, Parsee-like, worshipped him.

‘Painfully, stumbling at every step, I crawled upwards, with many a rest and draught of the rain water, caught in rocky hollows, until, after a weary time, and feeling as one risen from the tomb, I emerged into the full light of day once more.

‘Naked, bleeding, bruised, but free, I stood on the topmost peak of that fateful island. At first everything swam before my vision. Trees, the ocean, the far horizon, reeled and shook, advanced and receded to my dazzled eyes. The sun was low in the heavens. As things gradually assumed their natural appearance, I became conscious of a great ship lying at anchor, of a cluster of white tents not a hundred yards away from me.

‘But of these things, for a space, I took no heed. Sun, air, water and sky held my regards in ecstasy. I drank the beauty and the newness of them in till my soul was saturated with the tender loveliness of that nature to which I had been for so long a stranger. Then, and not till then, I tottered towards the clump of tents lying just below me.

‘Men were there, carpenters apparently, hammering at a tall wooden structure. Other men—men-o'-war seamen by their rig—were arriving and departing with burdens.

‘I was close upon them before they saw me. Some


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shrank back. One, I recollect, picked up a rifle and brought it to his shoulder. A man with a gold epaulette on his coat struck it up and spoke to the sailor in English.

‘Presently I was taken into a tent, a doctor appeared from somewhere, and, whilst he dressed my wounds, they gave me a cordial, and I told my story with what seemed to me like the voice of a stranger. I don't remember much afterwards until I awoke, swinging in a hammock under a shady tree close to the tents.

‘I was a mass of bandages, but sensible, though terribly weak.

‘ “You've had a narrow escape of brain fever, my lad,” said the doctor. “But we've pulled you through all right. Lucky we happened to be here, though, wasn't it? A nice time you must have had down there. We found your rope; but our men didn't care about venturing any further, as steam was beginning to come up.”

‘ “Four days,” replied the doctor, in answer to my question, “it is since you appeared on the scene and scared the camp.

‘ “The Bucephalus? Yes, curiously enough, we met her just entering Singapore Harbour. That's ten days ago. She spoke us, and asked us to keep a look-out for her boat with two seamen. We have one of them, at all events. I suppose the other poor beggar will be thrown up presently.”

‘I looked at him. “Yes,” he continued, “the old


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volcano is showing every indication of renewed activity. We came here to observe the transit of Venus, but shall have probably to pack up and form another station if those symptoms don't subside. See there!”

‘Looking in the direction of his outstretched finger, I saw several tall puffs of what seemed like white smoke issuing from the depths of the crater.

The observers were loth to shift their quarters; but, when some red-hot cinders from below set one of the tents on fire, they accepted the hint.

‘Still in my hammock, I was presently carried down the mountain and on board H.M.S. Hygeia, where, with careful and skilled attention, I soon recovered.’

The Captain ceased speaking. For a time nothing was heard except the steady blast of the ‘Roaring Forties’ overhead.

Asked a passenger presently,—

‘And did the volcano really explode after all?’

‘It did, indeed,’ replied Captain Marion; ‘but not for a month afterwards, and then so fiercely as to scatter death and destruction throughout those narrow seas, grinding the island of Krakatoa itself into cosmic dust—visible, according to scientists, nearly all over the world.’

Here ends the story proper as compiled from the notes taken by one of the passengers and jotted down in his cabin of a night as the Captain finished each section of his narrative.

Lower down on the last pages of these notes is


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gummed, however, a printed paragraph, cut from a Sydney daily newspaper, which runs as follows:—

MARION—HILLIER.—On the 29th ultimo, at St James's Church of England, Sydney, by the Rev. R. Garnsey, George Wreford Marion, master in the British Mercantile Marine, to Amy Margaret, daughter of the late John Hillier, Esq., of Pevensey, Miller's Point, Sydney, and Eurella and Whydah stations, Riverina, N.S.W.

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