Dead Man's Rock by Arthur Quiller-Couch



"Speak—speak to me! Oh, look up and tell me you are not dead!"

Down through the misty defiles and dark gates of the Valley of the Shadow of Death came these words faintly as though spoken far away. So distant did they seem that my eyes opened with vague expectation of another world; opened and then wearily closed again.

For at first they stared into a heaven of dull grey, with but a shadow between them and colourless space. Then they opened once more, and the shadow caught their attention. What was it? Who was I, and how came I to be staring upward so? I let the problem be and fell back into the easeful lap of unconsciousness.

Then the voice spoke again. "He is living yet," it said. "Oh, if he would but speak!"

This time I saw more distinctly. Two eyes were looking into mine—a woman's eyes. Where had I seen that face before? Surely I had known it once, in some other world. Then somehow over my weary mind stole the knowledge that this was Mrs. Luttrell—or was it Claire? No, Claire was dead. "Claire—dead," I seemed to repeat to myself; but how dead or where I could not recall. "Claire—dead;" then this must be her mother, and I, Jasper Trenoweth, was lying here with Claire's mother bending over me. How came we so? What had happened, that—and once more the shadow of oblivion swept down and enfolded me.

She was still there, kneeling beside me, chafing my hands and every now and then speaking words of tender solicitude. How white her hair was! It used not to be so white as this. And where was I lying? In a boat? How my head was aching!

Then remembrance came back. Strange to tell, it began with Claire's death in the theatre, and thence led downwards in broken and interrupted train until Colliver's face suddenly started up before me, and I knew all.

I raised myself on my elbow. My brain was throbbing intolerably, and every pulsation seemed to shoot fire into my temples. Also other bands of fire were clasped about my arms and wrists. So acutely did they burn that I fell back with a low moan and looked helplessly at Mrs. Luttrell.

Although it had been snowing, her bonnet was thrust back from her face and hung by its ribbons which were tied beneath her chin. The breeze was playing with her disordered hair—hair now white as the snow-flakes upon it, though grey when last I had seen it—but it brought no colour to her face. As she bent over me to place her shawl beneath my head, I saw that her blue eyes were strangely bright and prominent.

"Thank God, you are alive! Does the bandage pain you? Can you move?"

I feebly put my hand up and felt a handkerchief bound round my head.

"I was afraid—oh, so afraid!—that I had been too late. Yet God only knows how I got down into your boat—in time—and without his seeing me. I knew what he would do—I was listening behind the partition all the time; but I was afraid he would kill you first."

"Then—you heard?"

"I heard all. Oh, if I were only a man—but can you stand? Are you better now? For we must lose no time."

I weakly stared at her in answer.

"Don't you see? If you can stand and walk, as I pray you can, there is no time to be lost. Morning is already breaking, and by this evening you must catch him."

"Catch him?"

"Yes, yes. He has gone—gone to catch the first train for Cornwall, and will be at Dead Man's Rock to-night. Quick! see if you cannot rise."

I sat up. The water had dripped from me, forming a great pool at our end of the boat. In it she was kneeling, and beside her lay a heavy knife and the cords with which Simon Colliver had bound me.

"Yes," I said, "I will follow. When does the first train leave Paddington?"

"At a quarter past nine," she answered, "and it is now about half-past five. You have time to catch it; but must disguise yourself first. He will travel by it, there is no train before. Come, let me row you ashore."

With this she untied the painter, got out the sculls, sat down upon the thwart opposite, and began to pull desperately for shore. I wondered at her strength and skill with the oar.

"Ah," she said, "I see at what you are wondering. Remember that I was a sailor's wife once, and without strength how should I have dragged you on board this boat?"

"How did you manage it?"

"I cannot tell. I only know that I heard a splash as I waited under the bows there, and then began with my hands to fend the boat around the schooner for dear life. I had to be very silent. At first I could see nothing, for it was dark towards the shore; but I cried to Heaven to spare you for vengeance on that man, and then I saw something black lying across the warp, and knew it was you. I gave a strong push, then rushed to the bows and caught you by the hair. I got you round by the stern as gently as I could, and then pulled you on board somehow—I cannot remember exactly how I did it."

"Did he see you?"

"No, for he must have gone below directly. I rowed under the shadow of the lighter to which we were tied just now, and as I did so, thought I heard him calling me by name. He must have forgotten me, and then suddenly remembered that as yet I had not given him the money. However, presently I heard him getting into his boat and rowing ashore. He came quite close to us—so close that I could hear him cursing, and crouched down in the shadow for fear of my life. But he passed on, and got out at the steps yonder. It was snowing at the time and that helped me."

She pulled a stroke or two in silence, and then continued—

"When you were in the cabin together I was listening. At one point I think I must have fainted; but it cannot have been for long, for when I came to myself you were still talking about—about John Railton."

I remembered the sound which I had heard, and almost in spite of myself asked, "You heard about—"

"Claire? Yes, I heard." She nodded simply; but her eyes sought mine, and in them was a gleam that made me start.

Just then the boat touched at a mouldering flight of stairs, crusted with green ooze to high-water mark, and covered now with snow. She made fast the boat.

"This was the way he went," she muttered. "Track him, track him to his death; spare him no single pang to make that death miserable!" Her low voice positively trembled with concentrated hate. "Stay," she said, "have you money?"

I suddenly remembered that I had given all the money on me to Bagnell for getting out my boat, and told her so. At the same moment, too, I thought upon the tin box still lying under the boat's stern. I stepped aft and pulled it out.

"Here is money," she said; "money that I was to have given him. Fifty pounds it is, in notes—take it all."

"But you?" I hesitated.

"Never mind me. Take it—take it all. What do I want with money if only you kill him?"

I bent and kissed her hand.

"As Heaven is my witness," I said, "it shall be his life or mine. The soul of one of us shall never see to-morrow."

Her hand was as cold as ice, and her pale face never changed.

"Kill him!" she said, simply.

I turned, and climbed the steps. By this time day had broken, and the east was streaked with angry flushes of crimson. The wind swept through my dripping clothes and froze my aching limbs to the marrow. Up the river came floating a heavy pall of fog, out of which the masts showed like grisly skeletons. The snow-storm had not quite ceased, and a stray flake or two came brushing across my face. So dawned my Christmas Eve!

As I gained the top, I turned to look down. She was still standing there, watching me. Seeing me look, she waved her arms, and I heard her hoarse whisper, "Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!"

I left her standing so, and turned away; but in the many ghosts that haunt my solitary days, not the least vivid is the phantom of this white-haired woman on the black and silent river, eternally beckoning, "Kill him!"

I found myself in a yard strewn with timber, spars and refuse, half hidden beneath the snow. From it a flight of rickety stone steps led to a rotting door, and thence into the street. Here I stood for a moment, pondering on my next step. Not a soul was abroad so early; but I must quickly get a change of clothes somewhere; at present I stood in my torn dress trousers and soaked shirt. I passed up the street, my shoeless feet making the first prints in the newly-fallen snow. The first? No; for when I looked more closely I saw other footprints, already half obliterated, leading up the street. These must be Simon Colliver's. I followed them for about a hundred yards past the shuttered windows.

Suddenly they turned into a shop door, and then seemed to leave it again. The shop was closed, and above it hung three brass balls, each covered now with a snowy cap. Above, the blinds were drawn down, but on looking again, I saw a chink of light between the shutters. I knocked.

After a short pause, the door was opened. A red-eyed, villainous face peered out, and seeing me, grew blank with wonder.

"What do you want?" inquired at length the voice belonging to it.

"To buy a fresh suit of clothes. See, I have fallen into the river."

Muttering something beneath his breath, the pawnbroker opened his door, and let me into the shop.

It was a dingy nest, fitted up with the usual furniture of such a place. The one dim candle threw a ghostly light on chairs, clocks, compasses, trinkets, saucepans, watches, piles of china, and suits of left-off clothes arrayed like rows of suicides along the wall. A general air of decay hung over the den. Immediately opposite me, as I entered, a stuffed parrot, dropping slowly into dust, glared at me with one malevolent eye of glass, while a hideous Chinese idol, behind the counter, poked out his tongue in a very frenzy of malignity. But my eye wandered past these, and was fixed in a moment upon something that glittered upon the counter. That something was my own watch.

Following my gaze, the man gave me a quick, suspicious glance, hastily caught up the watch, and was bestowing it on one of his shelves, when I said—

"Where did you get that?"

"Quite innocently, sir, I swear. I bought it of a gentleman who came in just now, and would not pawn it. I thought it was his, so that if you belong to the Force, I hope—"

"Gently, my friend," said I; "I am not in the police, so you need not be in such a fright. Nevertheless, that watch is mine; I can tell you the number, if you don't believe it."

He pushed the watch across to me and said, still greatly frightened—

"I am sure you may see it, sir, with all my heart. I wouldn't for worlds—"

"What did you give for it?"

He hesitated a moment, and then, as greed overmastered fear, replied—

"Fifteen pounds, sir; and the man would not take a penny less. Fifteen good pounds! I swear it, as I am alive!"

Although I saw that the man lied, I drew out three five-pound notes, laid them on the table, and took my watch. This done, I said—

"Now I want you to sell me a suit of clothes, and aid me to disguise myself. Otherwise—"

"Don't talk, sir, about 'otherwise.' I'm sure I shall only be too glad to rig you out to catch the thief. You can take your pick of the suits here; they are mostly seamen's, to be sure; but you'll find others as well. While as for disguises, I flatter myself that for getting up a face—"

Here he stopped suddenly.

"How long has he been gone?"

"About half an hour, sir, before you came. But no doubt you know where he'd be likely to go; and I won't be more than twenty minutes setting you completely to rights."

In less than half an hour afterwards, I stepped out into the street so completely disguised that none of my friends—that is, if I had possessed a friend in the world—would have recognised me. I had chosen a sailor's suit, that being the character I knew myself best able to sustain. My pale face had turned to a bronze red, while over its smoothly-shaven surface now grew the roughest of untrimmed beards. Snow was falling still, so that Colliver's footprints were entirely obliterated. But I wanted them no longer. He would be at Paddington, I knew; and accordingly I turned my feet in that direction, and walked rapidly westward.

My chase had begun. I had before me plenty of time in which to reach Paddington, and the exercise of walking did me good, relaxing my stiffened limbs until at length I scarcely felt the pain of the weals where the cords had cut me. It was snowing persistently, but I hardly noticed it. Through the chill and sullen morning I held doggedly on my way, past St. Katharine's Wharf, the Tower, through Gracechurch Street, and out into St. Paul's Churchyard. Traffic was already beginning here, and thickened as I passed down Ludgate Hill and climbed up to Holborn. Already the white snow was being churned and trodden into hideous slush in which my feet slipped and stumbled. My coat and sailor's cap were covered with powdery flakes, and I had to hold my head down for fear lest the drifting moisture should wash any of the colouring off my face. So my feet carried me once more into Oxford Street. How well remembered was every house, every lamp-post, every flag of the pavement almost! I was on my last quest now.

"To-night! to-night!" whispered my heart: then came back the words of Claire's mother—"Kill him! Kill him!" and still I tramped westward, as westward lay my revenge.

Suddenly a hansom cab shot past me. It came up silently on the slushy street, and it was only when it was close behind that I heard the muffled sound of its wheels. It was early yet for cabs, so that I turned my head at the sound. It passed in a flash, and gave me but a glimpse of the occupant: but in that moment I had time to catch sight of a pair of eyes, and knew now that my journey would not be in vain. They were the eyes of Simon Colliver.

So then in Oxford Street, after all, I had met him. He was cleverly disguised—as I guessed, by the same hands that had painted my own face—and looked to the casual eye but an ordinary bagman. But art could not change those marvellous eyes, and I knew him in an instant. My heart leapt wildly for a moment—my hands were clenched and my teeth shut tight; but the next, I was plodding after him as before. I could wait now.

Before I reached Paddington I met the cab returning empty, and on gaining the station at first saw nothing of my man. Though as yet it was early, the platform was already crowded with holiday-makers: a few country dames laden with countless bundles, careworn workers preparing to spend Christmas with friends or parents in their village home, a sprinkling of schoolboys chafing at the slowness of the clock. After a minute or so, I spied Simon Colliver moving among this happy and innocent crowd like an evil spirit. I flung myself down upon a bench, and under pretence of sleeping, quietly observed him. Once or twice, as he passed to and fro before me, he almost brushed my knee, so close was he—so close that I had to clutch the bench tightly for fear I should leap up and throttle him. He did not notice me. Doubtless he thought me already tossing out to sea with the gulls swooping over me, and the waves merrily dashing over my dead face. The waiting game had changed hands now.

I heard him demand a ticket for Penryn, and, after waiting until he had left the booking office, took one myself for the same station. I watched him as he chose his compartment, and then entered the next. It was crowded, of course, with holiday-seekers; but the only person that I noticed at first was the man sitting directly opposite to me— an honest, red-faced countryman, evidently on his way home from town, and at present deeply occupied with a morning paper which seemed to have a peculiar fascination for him, for as he raised his face his round eyes were full of horror. I paid little attention to him, however, but, having the corner seat facing the engine, watched to see that Colliver did not change his compartment. He did not appear again, and in a minute or two the whistle shrieked and we were off.

At first the countryman opposite made such a prodigious to-do with his piece of news that I could not help watching him. Then my attention wandered from him to the country through which we were flying. Slowly I pondered over the many events that had passed since, not many months before, I had travelled up from Cornwall to win my fortune. My fortune! To what had it all come? I had won a golden month or two of love, and lo! my darling was dead. Dead also was the friend who had travelled up with me, so full of boyish hope: both dead; the one in the full blaze of her triumph, the other in the first dawn of his young success: both dead—and, but for me, both living yet and happy.

Suddenly the countryman looked up and spoke.

"Hav'ee seen this bit o' news? Astonishin'! And her so pretty too!"

"What is it?" I asked vacantly.

For answer he pushed the paper into my hands, and with his thumb-nail pointed to a column headed "TERRIBLE TRAGEDY IN A THEATRE."

"An' to think," he continued reflectively, "as how I saw her wi' my own eyes but three nights back—an' actin' so pretty, too! Lord! It made me cry like any sucking child: beautiful it was—just beau-ti-ful! Here's a story to tell my missus!"

I took the paper and read—

 Last evening, the performance of the new and popular tragedy,
 Francesca, at the Coliseum, was interrupted by a scene
 perhaps the most awful that has ever been presented to the
 play-going public. A sinister fate seems to have pursued this
 play from the outset. It will be within the memory of all that
 its young and gifted author was, on the very night of its
 production, struck down suddenly in the street by an unknown
 hand which the police have not yet succeeded in tracing.
 Last night's tragedy was even more terrible. Clarissa Lambert,
 whose name—"

But I wanted to read no more. To the countryman's astonishment the paper slipped from my listless fingers, and once more my gaze turned to the carriage window. On we tore through the snow that raced horizontally by the pane, through the white and peaceful country— homeward. Homeward to welcome whom? Whom but the man now sitting, it might be, within a foot of me? To my heart I hugged the thought of him, sitting there and gloating over the morrow.

The morrow! Somehow my own horizon did not stretch as far: it was bounded by to-night. Before to-morrow one of us two should be a dead man; perhaps both. So best: the world with its loves and hatreds would end to-night. So westward we sped in the grey light beneath which the snowy fields gleamed unnaturally—westward while the sun above showed only as a crimson ball, an orb of blood, travelling westward too. At Bristol it glared through a murky veil of smoke, at Exeter and through the frozen pastures and leafless woodlands of Devon dropped swiftly towards my goal, beckoning with blood-stained hand across the sky. Past the angry sea we tore, and then again into the whitened fields now growing dim in the twilight. In the carriage the talk was unceasing—talk of home, of expectant friends, of Christmas meetings and festivities. Every station was thronged, and many a happy welcome I witnessed as I sat there with no friend but hate. Friends! What had I to do with such? I had a friend once, but he was dead. Friend, parents, love—all dead by one man's hand, and he—But a little while now; but a little while!

We reached Plymouth shortly after five—the train being late—and here the crowd in the carriages grew greater. It was dark, but the moon was not yet up—the full moon by which the treasure was to be sought. How slowly the train dragged through Cornwall! It would be eight before we reached Penryn, and low water was at half-past eleven. Should we be in time?

The snow had ceased to fall: a clear north-east wind had chased the clouds from heaven, and scarcely had we passed Saltash before a silver rim came slowly rising above the black woods on the river's opposite bank. Clear into the frosty night it rose, and I fell to wondering savagely with what thoughts Colliver saluted it.

It was already half-past eight as we changed our train at Truro, and here again more time was wasted. Upon the platform I saw him again. He was heavily cloaked and muffled now, for it was freezing hard; but beneath the low brim of his hat I saw the deep, black eyes gleaming with impatience. So at last once more we started.


I looked at my watch. It was nine o'clock; more than an hour and a half late. By the light from the carriage window I saw him step out into the shadow of the platform. I followed. Here also was a large crowd bound for Helston, and the coach that waited outside was quickly thronged inside and out. Colliver was outside the station in a moment, and in another had jumped into a carriage waiting there with two horses, and was gone up the hill beneath the shadow of the bridge. In my folly I had forgotten that he might have telegraphed for horses to meet him. However, the coach was fast and I could post from Helston. I clambered up to the top, where for want of a better seat I propped myself up on a pile of luggage, and waited whilst box after box, amid vociferous cursing, was piled up beside me. At length, just as I was beginning to despair of ever starting at all, with a few final curses directed at the bystanders generally, the driver mounted the box, shook his reins, and we were off.

The load was so heavy that at first five horses were used, but we left one with his postillion at the top of the hill and swung down at a canter into the level country. The snow lay fairly deep, and the horses' hoofs were soundless as we plunged through the crisp and tingling air. The wind raced past me as I sat perched on my rickety seat, swaying wildly with every lurch of the coach. With every gust I seemed to drink in fresh strength and felt the very motion and swiftness enter into my blood. Across the white waste we tore, up a stiff ascent and down across the moorland again—still westward; and now across the stretches of the moor I could catch the strong scent of the sea upon the wind. Along the level we sped, silent and swift beneath the moon. Here a white house by the roadside glimmered out and was gone; there a mine-chimney shot up against the sky and faded back again. We were going now at a gallop, and from my perch I could see the yellow light of the lamps on the sweating necks of the leaders.

There was a company of sailors with me on the coach-top—smoking, talking, and shouting. Once or twice one of them would address a word or two to me, but got scanty answers. I was looking intently along the road for a sign of Colliver's carriage. He must have ordered good horses, for I saw no sign of him as yet. Stay! As we swept round a sharp corner and swung on to the straight road again, I thought I spied far in front a black object moving on the universal white. Yes, it must be he: and again on the wings of the wind I heard the call, "To-night! to-night! Kill him! kill him! kill—"

Crash! With a heavy and sickening lurch sideways, the coach hung for an instant, tottered, and then plunged over on its side, flinging me clear of the luggage which pounded and rattled after. As I struggled to my feet, half dazed, I saw a confused medley of struggling horses, frightened passengers and scattered boxes. Collecting my senses I rushed to help those inside the coach and then amid the moaning, cursing and general dismay, sought out my bundle, grasped it tightly and set off at a run down the heavy road. I could wait now for no man.

Panting, spent, my sore limbs weighted with snow, I gained the top of the hill and plunged down the steep street into Helston. There, at "the Angel" I got a post-chaise and pair, and set off once more. At first, seeing my dress and wondering what a sailor could want with post-chaises at that hour, they demurred, but the money quickly persuaded them. They told me also that a gentleman had changed horses there about half an hour before and gone towards the Lizard, after borrowing a pickaxe and spade. Half an hour: should I yet be in time?

I leant back in the chaise and pondered. I knew by heart the shortest cuts across the downs. When I reached them I would stop the carriage and take to my feet once more. The fresh horses were travelling fast, and as we drew near the sea I dimly noted a hundred familiar landmarks, and in each a fresh memory of Tom. How affectionately we had taken leave of them, one by one, on our journey to London! Now each seemed to cry, "What have you done with your friend?" This was my home-coming.

At the beginning of the downs I stopped the carriage, paid and dismissed the astonished post-boy and started off alone at a swinging trot across the snow. Southward hung the white moon, now high in heaven. It must be almost time. Along the old track I ran, still clutching my bundle, over the frozen ruts, stumbling, slipping, but with set teeth and straining muscles, skirted the hill above Polkimbra with just a glimpse of the cottage roofs shining in the hollow below, and raced along the cliffs towards Lantrig. I guessed that Colliver would come across Polkimbra Beach, so had determined to approach the rock from the northern side, over Ready-Money Cove.

Lantrig, my old home, was merrily lit up this Christmas Eve, and the sight of it gave me one swift, sharp pang of anguish as I stole cautiously downwards to the sands. At the cliff's foot I paused and looked across the Cove.

Sable and gloomy as ever, Dead Man's Rock soared up against the moon, the grim reality of that dark shadow which had lain upon all my life. From it had my hate started; to it was I now at the last returning. There it stood, the stern warder of that treasure for which my grandfather had sold his soul, my father had given his life, and I had lost all that made both life and soul worth having. "Blood shall be their inheritance, and Fire their portion for ever." The curse had lain upon us all.

Creeping along the shadow, I crossed the little Cove and peered through the archway on to Polkimbra Sands, now sparkling in the moonlight.

Not a soul in sight! As far as eye could see the beach was utterly deserted and peaceful. I stepped down to a small pool, left by the receding tide in the rock's shadow, removed my false hair and beard, and carefully washed away all traces of paint from my face. This done, I slipped off my shoes and holding them with the bundle in my right hand, began softly and carefully to ascend the rock. I gained the first ledge; crept out along it as far as the ring mentioned on the clasp, and then began to climb again. This needed care, for the ascent on the north side was harder at first than on the other, and I could use but one hand with ease. Slowly, however, and with effort I pulled myself up and then stole out towards the face until I could command a view of Polkimbra Beach. Still I could see nobody, only the lights of the little church-town twinkling across the beach and, far beyond, the shadowy cliffs of Kynance. I pulled out my watch. It was close on half-past eleven, the hour of dead low water.

As I looked up again I thought I saw a speck approaching over the sands. Yes, I was not mistaken. I set my teeth and crouched down nearer to the rock. Over the sands, beneath the shadow of the cliffs he came, and as he drew nearer, I saw that he carried something on his shoulder, doubtless the spade and pickaxe. A moment more and he turned to see that no one was following. As he did so, the moon shone full in his face, and I saw, stripped now of all disguises, the features of my enemy.

I opened the tin box and took out my knife. I had caused the thin sharp blade, found in my dead father's heart, to be fitted to a horn handle into which it shut with an ordinary spring-clasp. As I opened it, the moonlight glittered down the steel and lit up the letters "Ricordati."

Still in the shadow, he crept down by the rock, and once more looked about him. No single soul was abroad at that hour to see; none but the witness crouching there above. I gripped the knife tighter as he disappeared beneath the ledge on which I hung.

A low curse or two, and then silence. I held my breath and waited. Presently he reappeared, with compass in one hand and measuring-tape in the other, and stood there for a moment looking about him. Still I waited.

About forty feet from the breakers now crisply splashing on the sand, Dead Man's Rock suddenly ended on the southern side in a thin black ridge that broke off with a drop of some ten feet. This ridge was, of course, covered at high water, and upon it the Belle Fortune had doubtless struck before she reeled back and settled in deep water. This was the "south point" mentioned on the clasp. Fixing his compass carefully, he drew out the tape, and slowly began to measure towards the north-west. "End South Point, 27 feet," I remembered that the clasp said. He measured it out to the end, and then, digging with his heel a small hole in the sand, began to walk back towards the rock, this time to the north side. And still I waited.

Again I could hear him searching for the mark—an old iron ring, once used for mooring boats—and cursing because he could not find it. After a minute or two, however, he came into sight again, drawing his line now straight out from the cliff, due west. He was very slow, and every now and then, as he bent over his task, would look swiftly about him with a hunted air, and then set to work again. Still there was no sight but the round moon overhead, the sparkling stretch of sand, and the gleam of the waves as they broke in curving lines of silver: no sound but the sigh of the night breeze.

Apparently his measurements were successful, for the tape led him once more to the hole he had marked in the sand. He paused for a moment or two, drew out the clasp, which shot out a sudden gleam as he turned it in his hand, and consulted it carefully. Presumably satisfied, he walked back to the rock to fetch his tools. And still I crouched, waiting, with knife in hand.

Arrived once more at the point where the two lines met, he threw a hasty glance around, and began to dig rapidly. He faced the sea now, and had his back turned to me, so that I could straighten myself up, and watch at greater ease. He dug rapidly, and the pit, as his spade threw out heap after heap of soft sand, grew quickly bigger. If treasure really lay there, it would soon be disclosed.

Presently I heard his spade strike against something hard. Surely he had not yet dug deeply enough. The clasp had said "four feet six inches," and the pit could not yet be more than three feet in depth. Colliver bent down and drew something out, then examined it intently. As I strained forward to look, he half turned, and I saw between his hands—a human skull. Whose? Doubtless, some victim's of those many that went down in the Belle Fortune; or perhaps the skull of John Railton, sunk here above the treasure to gain which he had taken the lives of other men and lost in the end his own. It was a grisly thought, but apparently troubled Colliver little, for with a jerk of his arm he sent it bowling down the sands towards the breakers. A bound or two, a splash, and it was swallowed up once more by the insatiate sea.

With this he fell to digging anew, and I to watching. For a full twenty minutes he laboured, flinging out the sand to right and left, and every now and then stopping for a moment to measure his progress. By this time, I judged, he must have dug below the depth pointed out upon the clasp, for once or twice he drew it out and paused in his work to consult it.

He was just resuming, after one of these rests, when his spade grated against something. He bent low to examine it, and then began to shovel out the sand with inconceivable rapidity.

The treasure was found!

Like a madman he worked: so that even from where I stood I could hear his breath coming hard and fast. At length, with one last glance around, he knelt down and disappeared from my view. My time was come.

Knife in hand, I softly clambered down the south side of the rock, and dropped upon the sand.

The pit lay rather to the north, so that by creeping behind the ridge on the south side I could get close up to him unobserved, even should he look. But he was absorbed now in his prize, so that I stole noiselessly out across the strip of sand between us until within about ten feet of him; then, on hands and knees, I crawled and pulled myself to the trench's lip and peered over.

There, below me, within grasp, he sat, his back still turned towards me. The moon was full in front, so that it cast no shadow of me across him. There he sat, and in front of him lay, imbedded in the sand, a huge iron chest, bound round with a broad band of iron, and secured with an enormous padlock. On the rusty top I could even trace the rudely-cut initials A. T.

I held my breath as he drew from his pocket my grandfather's key and inserted it in the lock, after first carefully clearing away the sand. The stubborn lock creaked heavily as at last and with difficulty he managed to turn the key. And still I knelt above him, knife in hand.

Then, with a long, shuddering sigh, he lifted and threw back the groaning lid. We both gazed, and as we gazed were well-nigh blinded.

For this is what we saw:—

At first, only a blaze of darting rays that beneath the moon gleamed, sparkled and shot out a myriad scintillations of colour—red, violet, orange, green and deepest crimson. Then by degrees I saw that all these flashing hues came from one jumbled heap of gems—some large, some small, but together in value beyond a king's ransom.

I caught my breath and looked again. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, amethysts, opals, emeralds, turquoises, and innumerable other stones lay thus roughly heaped together and glittering as though for joy to see the light of heaven once more. Some polished, some uncut, some strung on necklaces and chains, others gleaming in rings and bracelets and barbaric ornaments; there they lay—wealth beyond the hope of man, the dreams of princes.

The chest measured some five feet by three, and these jewels evidently lay in a kind of sunken drawer, or tray, of iron. In the corner of this was a small space of about four inches square, covered with an iron lid. As we gazed with straining eyes, Colliver drew one more long sigh of satisfied avarice, and lifted this smaller lid.

Instantly a full rich flood of crimson light welled up, serene and glorious, with luminous shafts of splendour, that, as we looked, met and concentred in one glowing heart of flame—met in one translucent, ineffable depth of purple-red. Calm and radiant it lay there, as though no curse lay in its deep hollows, no passion had ever fed its flames with blood; stronger than the centuries, imperishably and triumphantly cruel—the Great Ruby of Ceylon!

With a short gasp of delight, Colliver was stretching out his hand towards it, when I laid mine heavily on his shoulder, then sprang to my feet. My waiting was over.

He gave one start of uttermost terror, leapt to his feet, and in an instant was facing me. Already his knife was half out of his waist-band; already he had taken half a leap forwards, when he saw me standing there above him.

Bareheaded I stood in the moonlight, the white ray glittering up my knife and lighting up my bared chest and set stern face. Bareheaded, with the light breeze fanning my curls, I stood there and waited for his leap. But that leap never came.

One step forward he took and then looked, and looking, staggered back with hands thrown up before his face. Slowly, as he cowered back with hands upraised and straining eyeballs, I saw those eyeballs grow rigid, freeze and turn to stone, while through his gaping, bloodless lips came a hoarse and gasping sound that had neither words nor meaning.

Then as I still watched, with murderous purpose on my face, there came one awful cry, a scream that startled the gulls from slumber and awoke echo after echo along the shore—a scream like no sound in earth or heaven—a scream inhuman and appalling.

Then followed silence, and as the last echo died away, he fell.

As he collapsed within the pit, I made a step forward to the brink and looked. He was now upon his hands and knees before the chest, bathing his hands in the gleaming heap of gems, catching them up in handfuls, and as they ran like sparkling rain through his fingers, muttering incoherently to himself and humming wild snatches of song.

"Colliver—Simon Colliver!" I called.

He paid no attention, but went on tossing up the diamonds and rubies in his hands and watching them as they rattled down again upon the heap.

"Simon Colliver!"

I leapt down into the pit beside him, and laid my hand upon his shoulder. He paused for a moment, and looked up with a vacant gleam in his deep eyes.

"Colliver, I have to speak a word with you."

"Oh, yes, I know you. Trenoweth, of course: Ezekiel Trenoweth come back again after the treasure. But you are too late, too late, too late! You are dead now—ha, ha! dead and rotting.

"For his glittering eyes are the salt sea's prize,
And his fingers clutch the sand, my lads.

"Aha! his fingers clutch the sand. Here's pretty sand for you! sand of all colours; look, look, there's a brave sparkle!" And again he ran the priceless shower through his fingers.

"Oh, yes," he continued after a moment, looking up, "oh, yes, I know you—Ezekiel Trenoweth, of course; or is it Amos, or Jasper? No matter, you are all dead. I killed the last of you last year—no, last night; all dead.

"And the devil has got his due, my lads!

"His due, his due! Look at it! look again! I had a skull just now. John Railton's skull, no eyes in it though,

"For his glittering eyes are the salt sea's—

"Where is the skull? Let me fit it with a bonny pair of eyes here— here they are, or here, look, here's a pair that change colour when they move. Where is the skull? Give it me. Oh, I forgot, I lost it. Never mind, find it, find it. Here's plenty of eyes when you find it. Or give it this big, red one. Here's a flaming, fiery eye!"

As he stretched out his hand over the Great Ruby, I caught him by the wrist. But he was too quick for me, and with a sharp snarl and click of his teeth, had whipped his hand round to his back.

Then in a flash, as I grappled with him, he thrust me back with his left palm, and, with a sweep of his right, hurled the great jewel far out into the sea. I saw it rise and curve in one long, sparkling arch of flame, then fall with a dropping line of fire down into the billows. A splash—a jet of light, and it was gone:—gone perhaps to hide amid the rotting timbers of what was once the Belle Fortune, or among the bones of her drowned crew to watch with its blood-red tireless eye the extremity of its handiwork. There, for aught I know, it lies to-day, and there, for aught I care, beneath the waters it shall treasure its infernal loveliness for ever.

Into its red heart I have looked once, and this was what I read:—of treachery, lust and rapine; of battle and murder and sudden death; of midnight outcries, and poison in the guest-cup; of a curse that said, "Even as the Heart of the Ruby is Blood and its Eyes a Flaming Fire, so shall it be for them that would possess it: Fire shall be their portion, and Blood their inheritance for ever." Of that quest and that curse we were the two survivors. And what were we, that night, as we stood upon the sands with that last hellish glitter still dancing in our eyes? The one, a lonely and broken man; the other—

I turned to look at Colliver. He was huddled against the pit's side, with his dark eyes gazing wistfully up at me. In their shining depths there lurked no more sanity than in the heart of the Great Ruby. As I looked, I knew him to be a hopeless madman, and knew also that my revenge had slipped from me for ever.

We were still standing so when a soft wave came stealing up the beach and flung the lip of its foam over the pit's edge into the chest. I turned round. The tide was rising fast, and in a minute or so would be upon us. Catching Colliver by the shoulder, I pointed and tried to make him understand; but the maniac had again fallen to playing with the jewels. I shook him; he did not stir, only sat there jabbering and singing. And now wave after wave came splashing over us, soaking us through, and hissing in phosphorescent pools among the gems.

There was no time to be lost. I tore the madman back, stamped down the lid, locked it, and took out the key; then caught Colliver in my arms and heaved him bodily out of the trench. Jumping out beside him, I caught up the spade and shovelled back the wet sand as fast as I could, until the tide drove us back. Colliver stood quite tamely beside me all this while and watched the treasure disappearing from his view; only every now and then he would chatter a few wild words, and with that break off again in vacant wonder at my work.

When all was done that could be, I took my companion's hand, led him up the sands beyond high-water mark, and then sat down beside him, waiting for the dawn.

And there, next morning, by Dead Man's Rock they found us, while across the beach came the faint music of Polkimbra bells as they rang their Christmas peal, "Peace on earth and goodwill toward men."

There is little more to tell. Next day, at low ebb, with the aid of Joe Roscorla (still hale and hearty) and a few Polkimbra fishermen whom I knew, the rest of my grandfather's treasure was secured and carried up from the sea. In the iron chest, besides the gems already spoken of, and beneath the iron tray containing them, was a prodigious quantity of gold and silver, partly in ingots, partly in coinage. This last was of all nationalities: moidores, dollars, rupees, doubloons, guineas, crown-pieces, louis, besides an amount of coins which I could not trace, the whole proving a most catholic taste in buccaneering. So much did it all weigh, that we found it impossible to stir the chest as it stood, and therefore secured the prize piecemeal. Strangest of all, however, was a folded parchment which, we discovered beneath the tray of gems and above the coins. It contained but few words, which ran as follows—


This, as, far as I know, was my grandfather's one and only attempt at verse; and its apparent application to the wreck of the Belle Fortune is a coincidence which puzzles me to this day.

The reader will search the chronicles of wrecks in vain for the story of that ill-fated ship. But if he comes upon the record of a certain vessel, the James and Elizabeth, wrecked upon the Cornish coast on the night of October 11th, 1849, he may know it to be the same. For that was the name given by the only survivor, one Georgio Rhodojani, a Greek sailor, and as the James and Elizabeth she stands entered to this day.

If, however, his curiosity lead him further to inquire into the after-history of this same Georgio Rhodojani, let him go on a fine summer day to the County Lunatic Asylum at Bodmin, and, with permission, enter the grounds set apart for private patients. There he may chance to see a strange sight.

On a garden seat against the sunny wall sit two persons—a man and a woman. The man is decrepit and worn, being apparently about sixty-seven or eight years old; but the woman, as the keepers will tell, is ninety. She is his mother, and as they sit together, she feeds him with sweets and fruit as tenderly as though he were a child. He takes them, but never notices her, and when he has had enough, rises abruptly and walks away humming a song which runs—

"So it's hey! for the homeward bound, my lads!
And ho! for the drunken crew,
For his mess-mates round lie dead and drowned,
And the devil has got his due, my lads—
Sing ho! but he waits for you!"

This is his only song now, and he will walk round the gravel paths by the hour, singing it softly and muttering. Sometimes, however, he will sit for long beside his mother and let her pat his hand. They never speak.

Folks say that she is as mad as her son, but she lodges in the town outside the walls and comes to see him every day. Certainly she is as remarkable to look upon, for her skin is of a brilliant and startling yellow, and her withered hands are loaded with diamonds. As you pass, she will stare at you with eyes absolutely passionless and vague; but see them as she sighs and turns to go, see them as she watches for a responsive touch of love on her son's face, and you may find some meaning in them then.

Mrs. Luttrell was never seen again from the hour when she stood below the river steps and waved her white arms to me, crying "Kill him! kill him!" I made every inquiry but could learn nothing, save that my boat had been found floating below Gravesend, quite empty. She can scarcely be alive, so that is yet one soul more added to the account of the Great Ruby.

Failing to find her mother, I had Claire's body conveyed to Polkimbra. She lies buried beside my father and mother in the little churchyard there. Above her head stands a white stone with the simple words, "In memory of C. L., died Dec. 23rd, 1863. 'Love is strong as death.'"

The folk at Polkimbra have many a fable about this grave, but if pressed will shake their heads sagely and refer you to "Master Trenoweth up yonder at Lantrig. Folks say she was a play-actor and he loved her. Anyway you may see him up in the churchyard most days, but dont'ee go nigh him then, unless you baint afeard of th'evil eye."

And I? After the treasure was divided with Government, I still had for my share what I suppose would be called a considerable fortune. The only use to which I put it, however, was to buy back Lantrig, the home of a stock that will die out with me. There again from the middle beam in the front parlour hangs my grandfather's key, covered with cobwebs as thickly as on the day when my father went forth to seek the treasure. There I live a solitary life—an old man, though scarcely yet past middle age. For all my hopes are buried in the grave where sleeps my lost love, and my soul shall lie for ever under the curse, engulfed and hidden as deeply as the Great Ruby beneath the shadow of Dead Man's Rock.

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