Dead Man's Rock by Arthur Quiller-Couch
THE QUEST OF THE GREAT RUBY
TELLS HOW THE SAILOR GEORGIO RHODOJANI
GAVE EVIDENCE AT THE "LUGGER
I came gradually back to consciousness amid a buzz of voices. Uncle Loveday
was bending over me, his every button glistening with sympathy, and his face
full of kindly anxiety. What had happened, or how I came to be lying thus upon
the sand, I could not at first remember, until my gaze, wandering over my
uncle's shoulder, met the Captain's eyes regarding me with a keen and curious
He was standing in the midst of a small knot of fishermen, every now and then
answering their questions with a gesture, a shrug of the shoulders, or shake of
the head; but chiefly regarding my recovery and waiting, as I could see, for me
"Poor boy!" said Uncle Loveday. "Poor boy! I suppose the sight of this man
I caught the Captain's eye, and nodded feebly.
"Ah, yes, yes. You see," he explained, turning to the shipwrecked man, "your
sudden appearance upset him: and to tell you the honest truth, my friend, in
your present condition—in your present condition, mind you—your appearance is
perhaps somewhat—startling. Shall we say, startling?"
In answer to my uncle's apologetic hesitation the stranger merely spread out
his palms and shrugged his shoulders.
"Ah, yes. A foreigner evidently. Well, well, although our coast is not
precisely hospitable, I believe its inhabitants are at any rate free from that
reproach. Jasper, my boy, can you walk now? If so, Joseph here will see you
home, and we will do our best for the—the— foreign gentleman thus
unceremoniously cast on our shores."
My uncle seemed to regard magnificence of speech as the natural due of a
foreigner: whether from some hazy conception of "foreign politeness," or a hasty
deduction that what was not the language of one part of the world must be that
of another, I cannot say. At any rate, the fishermen regarded him approvingly as
the one man who could—if human powers were equal to it—extricate them from the
"You do not happen, my friend, to be in a position to inform us whether
any—pardon the expression—any corpses are now lying on the rocks to bear witness
to this sad catastrophe?"
Again the stranger made a gesture of perplexity.
"Dear, dear! I forgot. Jasper, when you get home, read very carefully that
passage about the Tower of Babel. Whatever the cause of that melancholy
confusion, its reality is impressed upon us when we stand face to face with one
whom I may perhaps be allowed to call, metaphorically, a dweller in
As no one answered, my uncle took silence for consent, and called him so
twice—to his own great satisfaction and the obvious awe of the fishermen.
"It is evident," he continued, "that this gentleman (call him by what name
you will) is in immediate need of food and raiment. If such, as I do not doubt,
can be obtained at Polkimbra, our best course is to accompany him thither. I
trust my proposition meets with his approval."
It met, at any rate, with the approval of the fishermen, who translated Uncle
Loveday's speech into gestures. Being answered with a nod of the head and a few
hasty foreign words, they began to lead the stranger away in their midst. As he
turned to go, he glanced for the last time at me with a strange flickering
smile, at which my heart grew sick. Uncle Loveday lingered behind to adjure Joe
to be careful of me as we went up the cliff, and then, with a promise that he
would run in to see mother later in the day, trotted after the rest. They passed
out of sight through the archway of Dead Man's Rock.
For a minute or so we plodded across the sand in silence. Joe Roscorla was
Uncle Loveday's "man," a word in our parts connoting ability to look after a
horse, a garden, a pig or two, or, indeed, anything that came in the way of
being looked after. At the present moment I came in that way; consequently,
after some time spent in reflective silence, Joe began to speak.
"You'm looking wisht."
"Am I, Joe?"
There was a pause: then Joe continued—
"I don't hold by furriners: let alone they be so hard to get along with in
the way of convarsing, they be but a heathen lot. But, Jasper, warn't it
"Why, to see the doctor tackle the lingo. Beautiful, I culls it; but there,
he's a scholard, and no mistake, and 'tain't no good for to say he ain't. Not as
ever I've heerd it said."
"But, Joe, the man didn't seem to understand him."
"Durn all furriners, say I; they be so cursed pigheaded. Understand? I'll go
bail he understood fast enough."
Joe's opinions coincided so fatally with my certainty that I held my tongue.
"A dweller in—what did he call the spot, Jasper?"
"Well, I can't azacly say as I've seen any from them parts, but they be all
of a piece. Thicky chap warn't in the way when prettiness was sarved out,
anyhow. Of all the cut-throat chaps as ever I see—Mark my words, 'tain't no
music as he's come after."
This seemed so indisputable that I did not venture to contradict it.
"I bain't clear about thicky wreck. Likely as not 'twas the one I seed all
yesterday tacking about: and if so be as I be right, a pretty lot of lubbers she
must have had aboard. Jonathan, the coast-guard, came down to Lizard Town this
morning, and said he seed a big vessel nigh under the cliffs toward midnight, or
fancied he seed her: but fustly Jonathan's a buffle-head, and secondly 'twas
pitch-dark; so if as he swears there weren't no blue light, 'tain't likely any
man could see, let alone a daft fule like Jonathan. But, there, 'tain't no good
for to blame he; durn Government! say I, for settin' one man, and him a born
fule, to mind seven mile o' coast on a night when an airey mouse cou'dn' see his
hand afore his face."
"What was the vessel like, Joe, that you saw?"
"East Indyman, by the looks of her; and a passel of lubberin' furriners
aboard, by the way she was worked. I seed her miss stays twice myself: so when
Jonathan turns up wi' this tale, I says to myself, 'tis the very same. Though
'tis terrible queer he never heard nowt; but he ain't got a ha'porth o'
gumption, let alone that by time he's been cloppin' round his seven mile o' beat
half a dozen ships might go to kingdom come."
With this, for we had come to the door of Lantrig, Joe bid me good-bye, and
turned along the cliffs to seek fresh news at Polkimbra.
Instead of going indoors at once I watched his short, oddly-shaped figure
stride away, and then sat down on the edge of the cliff for a minute to collect
my thoughts. The day was ripening into that mellow glory which is the peculiar
grace of autumn. Below me the sea, still flaked with spume, was gradually
heaving to rest; the morning light outlined the cliffs in glistening prominence,
and clothed them, as well as the billowy clouds above, with a reality which gave
the lie to my morning's adventure. The old doorway, too, looked so familiar and
peaceful, the old house so reassuring, that I half wondered if I had not two
lives, and were not coming back to the old quiet everyday experience again.
Suddenly I remembered the packet and the letter. I put my hand into my pocket
and drew them out. The packet was a tin box, strapped around with a leathern
band: on the top, between the band and the box, was a curious piece of yellow
metal that looked like the half of a waist-buckle, having a socket but without
any corresponding hook. On the metal were traced some characters which I could
not read. The tin box was heavy and plain, and the strap soaking with salt
I turned to the letter; it was all but a pulp, and in its present state
illegible. Carefully smoothing it out, I slipped it inside the strap and turned
to hide my prize; for such was my fear of the man who called himself Apollyon,
that I could know no peace of mind whilst it remained about me. How should I
hide it? After some thought, I remembered that a stone or two in the now empty
cow-house had fallen loose. With a hasty glance over my shoulder, I crept around
and into the shed. The stones came away easily in my hand. With another hurried
look, I slipped the packet into the opening, stole out of the shed, and entered
the house by the back door.
My mother had been up for some time—it was now about nine o'clock— and had
prepared our breakfast. Her face was still pale, but some of its anxiety left it
as I entered. She was evidently waiting for me to speak. Something in my looks,
however, must have frightened her, for, as I said nothing, she began to question
"Well, Jasper, is there any news?"
"There was a ship wrecked on Dead Man's Rock last night, but they've not
found anything except—"
"What was it called?"
"The Mary Jane—that is—I don't quite know."
Up to this time I had forgotten that mother would want to know about my
doings that morning. As an ordinary thing, of course I should have told her
whatever I had seen or heard, but my terror of the Captain and the awful
consequences of saying too much now flashed upon me with hideous force. I had
heard about the Mary Jane from the unhappy John. What if I had already
said too much? I bent over my breakfast in confusion.
After a dreadful pause, during which I felt, though I could not see, the
astonishment in my mother's eyes, she said—
"You don't quite know?"
"No; I think it must have been the Mary Jane, but there was a strange
sailor picked up. Uncle Loveday found him, and he seemed to be a foreigner, and
he said—I mean—I thought—it was the name, but—"
This was worse and worse. Again at my wits' end, I tried to go on with my
breakfast. After awhile I looked up, and saw my mother watching me with a look
of mingled surprise and reproach.
"Was this sailor the only one saved?"
"No—that is, I mean—yes; they only found one."
I had never lied to my mother before, and almost broke down with the effort.
Words seemed to choke me, and her saddening eyes filled me with torment.
"Jasper dear, what is the matter with you? Why are you so strange?"
I tried to look astonished, but broke down miserably. Do what I would, my
eyes seemed to be beyond my control; they would not meet her steady gaze.
"Uncle Loveday is coming up later on. He's looking after the Cap—I mean the
sailor, and said he would run in afterwards."
"What is this sailor like?"
This question fairly broke me down. Between my dread of the Captain and her
pained astonishment, I could only sit stammering and longing for the earth to
gape and swallow me up. Suddenly a dreadful suspicion struck my mother.
"Jasper! Jasper! it cannot be—you cannot mean—that it was his
"No, mother, no! Father is all right. He said—I mean—it was not his
"Oh! thank God! But you are hiding something from me! What is it? Jasper
dear, what are you hiding?"
"Mother, I think it was the Mary Jane. But it was not father's
ship. Father's all right. And, mother, don't ask me any more; Uncle Loveday will
tell all about it. And—I'm not very well, mother. I think—"
Want of sleep, indeed, and the excitement of the morning, had broken me down.
My mother stifled her desire to hear more, and tenderly saw me to bed, guessing
my fatigue, but only dimly apprehensive of anything beyond. In bed I lay all
that morning, but could get no sleep. The vengeance of that dreadful man seemed
to fill the little room and charge the atmosphere with horror. "I come on them
in bed sometimes, and sometimes from behind when they're not looking"—the words
rang in my ears, and could not be muffled by the bed-clothes; whilst, if I began
to doze, the dreadful burthen of his song—
"And the devil has got his due, my lads—
Sing ho! but he waits for
With the peculiar catch of its lilt, would suddenly make me start up, wide
awake, with every nerve in my body dancing to its grisly measure.
At last, towards noon, I dozed off into a restless slumber, but only to see
each sight and hear each sound repeated with every grotesque and fantastic
variation. Dead Man's Rock rose out of a sea of blood, peopled with hundreds of
ghastly faces, each face the distorted likeness of John or the Captain. Blood
was everywhere—on their shirts, their hands, their faces, in splashes across the
rock itself, in vivid streaks across the spume of the sea. The very sun peered
through a blood-red fog, and the waves, the mournful gulls, the echoes from the
cliff, took up the everlasting chorus, led by one silvery demoniac voice—
"Sing ho! but he waits for
Finally, as I lay tossing and tormented with this phantom horror in my eyes
and ears, the sound died imperceptibly away into the soft hush of two well-known
voices, and I opened my eyes to see mother with Uncle Loveday standing at my
"The boy's a bit feverish," said my uncle's voice; "he has not got over his
fright just yet."
"Hush! he's waking!" replied my mother; and as I opened my eyes she bent down
and kissed me. How inexpressibly sweet was that kiss after the nightmare of my
"Jasper dear, are you better now? Try to lie down and get some more
But I was eager to know what news Uncle Loveday had to tell, so I sat up and
questioned him. There was little enough; though, delivered with much pomp, it
took some time in telling. Roughly, it came to this:—
A body had been discovered—the body of a small infant—washed up on the
Polkimbra Beach. This would give an opportunity for an inquest; and, in fact,
the coroner was to arrive that afternoon from Penzance with an interpreter for
the evidence of the strange sailor, who, it seemed, was a Greek. Little enough
had been got from him, but he seemed to imply that the vessel had struck upon
Dead Man's Rock from the south-west, breaking her back upon its sunken base, and
then slipping out and subsiding in the deep water. It must have happened at high
tide, for much coffee and basket-work was found upon high-water line. This fixed
the time of the disaster at about 4 a.m., and my mother's eyes met mine, as we
both remembered that it was about that hour when we heard the wild despairing
cry. For the rest, it was hopeless to seek information from the Greek sailor
without an interpreter; nor were there any clothes or identifying marks on the
child's body. The stranger had been clothed and fed at the Vicarage, and would
give his evidence that afternoon. Hitherto, the name of the vessel was
At this point my mother's eyes again sought mine, and I feared fresh
inquiries about the Mary Jane; but, luckily, Uncle Loveday had recurred
to the question of the Tower of Babel, on which he delivered several profound
reflections. Seeing me still disinclined to explain, she merely sighed, and was
But when Uncle Loveday had broken his fast and, rising, announced that he
must drive down to be present at the inquest, to our amazement, mother insisted
upon going with him. Having no suspicion of her deadly fear, he laughed a little
at first, and quoted Solomon on the infirmities of women to an extent that made
me wonder what Aunt Loveday would have said had he dared broach such a subject
to that strong-minded woman. Seeing, however, that my mother was set upon going,
he desisted at last, and put his cart at her service. Somewhat to her
astonishment, as I could see, I asked to be allowed to go also, and, after some
entreaty, prevailed. So we all set out behind Uncle Loveday's over-fed pony for
There was a small crowd around the door of the "Lugger Inn" when we drove up.
It appeared that the coroner had just arrived, and the inquest was to begin at
once. Meanwhile, the folk were busy with conjecture. They made way, however, for
my uncle, who, being on such occasions a person of no little importance, easily
gained us entry into the Red Room where the inquiry was about to be held. As we
stepped along the passage, the landlord's parrot, looking more than ever like
Aunt Elizabeth, almost frightened me out of my wits by crying, "All hands lost!
All hands lost! Lord ha' mercy on us!" Its hoarse note still sounded in my ears,
when the door opened, and we stood in presence of the "crowner's quest."
I suppose the Red Room of the "Lugger" was full; and, indeed, as the smallest
inquest involves at least twelve men and a coroner, to say nothing of witnesses,
it must have been very full. But for me, as soon as my foot crossed the
threshold, there was only one face, only one pair of eyes, only one terrible
presence, to be conscious of and fear. I saw him at once, and he saw me; but,
unless it were that his cruel eye glinted and his lips grew for the moment white
and fixed, he betrayed no consciousness of my presence there.
The coroner was speaking as we entered, but his voice sounded as though far
away and faint. Uncle Loveday gave evidence, and I have a dim recollection of
two rows of gleaming buttons, but nothing more. Then Jonathan, the
coast-guardsman, was called. He had seen, or fancied he saw, a ship in distress
near Gue Graze; had noticed no light nor heard any signal of distress; had given
information at Lizard Town. The rocket apparatus had been got out, and searchers
had scoured the cliffs as far as Porth Pyg, but nothing was to be seen. The
search-party were returning, when they found a shipwrecked sailor in company
with a small boy, one Jasper Trenoweth, in Ready-Money Cove.
At the sound of my own name I started, and for the second time since our
entry felt the eyes of the stranger question me. At the same time I felt my
mother's clasp of my hand tighten, and knew that she saw that look.
The air grew closer and the walls seemed to draw nearer as Jonathan's voice
continued its drowsy tale. The afternoon sun poured in at the window until it
made the little wainscoted parlour like an oven, but still for me it only lit up
one pair of eyes. The voices sounded more and more like those of a dream; the
scratching of pens and shuffling of feet were, to my ears, as distant murmurs of
the sea, until the coroner's voice called—"Georgio Rhodojani."
Instantly I was wide awake, with every nerve on the stretch. Again I felt his
eyes question me, again my mother's hand tightened upon mine, as the stranger
stood up and in softest, most musical tones gave his evidence. And the evidence
of Georgio Rhodojani, Greek sailor, as translated by Jacopo Rousapoulos,
interpreter, of Penzance, was this:—
"My name is Georgio Rhodojani. I am a Greek by birth, and have been a sailor
all my life. I was seaman on board the ship which was wrecked last night on your
horrible coast. The ship belonged to Bristol, and was homeward bound, but I know
neither her name nor the name of her captain."
At this strange opening, amazement fell upon all. For myself, the wild
incongruity of this foreign tongue from lips which I had heard utter such fluent
and flute-like English swallowed up all other wonder.
After a pause, seeing the marvelling looks of his audience, the witness
"You wonder at this; but I am Greek, and cannot master your hard names. I
joined the ship at Colombo as the captain was short of hands. I was wrecked in a
Dutch vessel belonging to Dordrecht, off Java, and worked my passage to Ceylon,
seeking employment. It is not, therefore, extraordinary that I am so ignorant,
and my mouth cannot pronounce your English language, but show me your list of
ships and I will point her out to you."
There was a rustling of papers, and a list of East Indiamen was handed up to
him: he hastily ran his finger over the pages. Suddenly his face lighted up.
"Ah! this is she!—this is the ship that was wrecked last night!"
The coroner took the paper and slowly read out—"The James and
Elizabeth, of Bristol. Captain—Antonius Merrydew."
"Ah, yes, that is she. The babe here was the captain's child, born on the
voyage. There were eighteen men on board, an English boy, and the captain's
wife. The child was born off the African coast. We sailed from Colombo on the
22nd of July last, with a cargo of coffee and sugar. Two days ago we were off a
big harbour, of which I do not know the name; but early yesterday morning were
abreast of what you call, I think, the Lizard. The wind was S.W., and took us
into your terrible bay. All yesterday we were tacking to get out. Towards
evening it blew a gale. The captain had been ill ever since we passed the Bay of
Biscay. We hoisted no signal, and knew not what to do, for the captain was sick,
and the mate drunk. The mate began to cry when we struck. I alone got on to the
jib-boom and jumped. What became of the others I know not, but I jumped on to
the rock by which you found me this morning. The vessel broke up in a very short
time. I heard the men crying bitterly, but the mate's voice was louder than any.
The captain of course was below, and so, when last I saw them, were his wife and
child, but she might have rushed upon deck. I was almost sucked back twice, but
managed to scramble up. It was not until daylight that I knew I was on the
mainland, and climbed down to the sands."
As this strange history proceeded, I know not who in that little audience was
most affected. The jury, fascinated by the sweet voice of the speaker, as well
as the mystery about the vessel and its unwitnessed disappearance, leant forward
in their seats with strained and breathless attention. My mother could not take
her eyes off the stranger's face. As he hesitated over the name of the ship, her
very lips grew white in agonised suspense, but when the coroner read "the
James and Elizabeth," she sank back in her seat with a low "Thank God!"
that told me what she had dreaded, and how terribly. I myself knew not what to
think, nor if my ears had heard aright. Part of the tale I knew to be a lie; but
how much? And what of the Mary Jane? I looked round about. A hush had
succeeded the closing words of Rhodojani. Even the coroner was puzzled for a
moment; but improbable as the evidence might seem, there was none to gainsay it.
I alone, had they but known it, could give this demon the lie—I, an unnoticed
The coroner put a question or two and then summed up. Again the old drowsy
insensibility fell upon me. I heard the jury return the usual verdict of
"Accidental Death," and, as my mother led me from the room, the voice of Joe
Roscorla (who had been on the jury) saying, "Durn all foreigners! I don't hold
by none of 'em." As the door slammed behind us, shutting out at last those
piercing eyes, a shrill screech from the landlord's parrot echoed through the
"All hands lost! Lord ha' mercy on us!"