Dead Man's Rock by Arthur Quiller-Couch



It was indeed my father's Journal, thus miraculously preserved to us from the sea. As we sat and gazed at this inanimate witness, I doubt not the same awe of an all-seeing Providence possessed the hearts of both of us. Little more than twenty-four hours ago had my dead father crossed the threshold of his home, and now his voice had come from the silence of another world to declare the mystery of his death. It was some minutes before Uncle Loveday could so far control his speech as to read aloud this precious manuscript. And thus, in my father's simple language, embellished with no art, and tricked out in no niceties of expression, the surprising story ran:—

"May 23rd, 1848.—Having, in obedience to the instructions of my father's Will, waited upon Mr. Elihu Sanderson, of the East India Company's Service, in their chief office at Bombay, and having from him received a somewhat singular communication in my father's handwriting, I have thought fit briefly to put together some record of the same, as well as of the more important events of my voyage, not only to refresh my own memory hereafter, if I am spared to end my days in peace at Lantrig, but also being impelled thereto by certain strange hints conveyed in this same communication. These hints, though I myself can see no ground for them, would seem to point towards some grave bodily or spiritual peril; and therefore it is my plain duty, seeing that I leave a beloved wife and young son at home, to make such provision that, in case of misadventure or disaster, Divine Providence may at least have at my hands some means whereby to inform them of my fate. For this reason I regret the want of foresight which prevented my beginning some such record at the outset; but as far as I can reasonably judge, my voyage has hitherto been prosperous and without event. Nevertheless, I will shortly set down what I can remember as worthy of remark before I landed at this city of Bombay, and trust that nothing of importance has slipped my notice.

"On the 3rd of February last I left my home at Lantrig, travelling by coach to Plymouth, where I slept at the 'One and All' in Old Town Street, being attracted thither by the name, which is our Cornish motto. The following day I took passage for Bombay in the Golden Wave, East Indiaman, Captain Jack Carey, which, as I learnt, was due to sail in two days. It had been my intention, had no suitable vessel been found at Plymouth, to proceed to Bristol, where the trade is much greater; but on the Barbican—a most evil-smelling neighbourhood—it was my luck to fall in with a very entertaining stranger, who, on hearing my case, immediately declared it to be a most fortunate meeting, as he himself had been making inquiries to the same purpose, and had found a ship which would start almost immediately. He had been, it appeared, a lawyer's clerk, but on the death of his old employer (whose name escapes my memory), finding his successor a man of difficult temper, and having saved sufficient money to be idle for a year or two, had conceived the wish to travel, and chosen Bombay, partly from a desire to behold the wonders of the Indies, and partly to see his brother, who held a post there in the East India Company's service. Having at the time much leisure, he kindly offered to show me the vessel, protesting that should I find it to my taste he was anxious for the sake of the company to secure a passage for himself. So very agreeable was his conversation that I embraced the opportunity which fortune thus threw in my way. The ship, on inspection, proved much to our liking, and Captain Carey of so honest a countenance, that the bargain was struck without more ado. I was for returning to the 'One and All,' but first thought it right to acquaint myself with the name of this new friend. He was called Simon Colliver, and lived, as he told me, in Stoke, whither he had to go to make preparation for this somewhat hasty departure, but first advised me to move my luggage from the 'One and All' (the comfort of which fell indeed short of the promise of so fair a name) to the 'Welcome Home,' a small but orderly house of entertainment in the Barbican, where, he said, I should be within easy distance of the Golden Wave. The walk to Old Town Street was not far in itself, but a good step when traversed five or six times a day; and, moreover, I was led to make the change on hearing that the landlord of the 'Welcome Home' was also intending to sail as seaman in this same ship. My new acquaintance led me to the house, an ill-favoured-looking den, but clean inside, and after a short consultation with John Railton, the landlord, arranged for my entertainment until the Golden Wave should weigh anchor. This done, and a friendly glass taken to seal the engagement, he departed, congratulating himself warmly on his good fortune in finding a fellow-traveller so much, as he protested, to his taste.

"I must own I was not over-pleased with John Railton, who seemed a sulky sort of man, and too much given to liquor. But I saw little of him after he brought my box from the 'One and All.' His wife waited upon me—a singularly sweet woman, though sorely vexed, as I could perceive, with her husband's infirmity. She loved him nevertheless, as a woman will sometimes love a brute, and was sorry to lose him. Indeed, when I noticed that evening that her eyes were red with weeping, and said a word about her husband's departure, she stared at me for a moment in amazement, and could not guess how I came to hear of it, 'for,' said she, 'the resolution had been so suddenly taken that even she could scarce account for it.' She admitted, however, that it was for the best, and added that 'Jack was a good seaman, and she always expected that he would leave her some day.' Her chief anxiety was for her little daughter, aged seven, whom it was hard to have exposed to the rough language and manners of a public-house. I comforted her as best I could, and doubt not she has found her husband's absence a less misfortune than she anticipated.

"The Golden Wave weighed anchor on the 6th of February, and reached Bombay after a tedious voyage of 103 days, on the 21st of May, having been detained by contrary winds in doubling the Cape. I saw little of Simon Colliver before starting, though he came twice, as I heard, to the 'Welcome Home' to inquire for me, and each time found me absent. On board, however, being the only other passenger, I was naturally thrown much into his society, and confess that I found him a most diverting companion. Often of a clear moonlight night would we pace the deck together, or watch in a darker sky the innumerable stars, on which Colliver had an amazing amount of information. Sometimes, too, he would sing—quaint songs which I had never heard before, to airs which I suspect, without well knowing why, were of his own composition. His voice was of large compass—a silvery tenor of surpassing' purity and sweetness, inasmuch as I have seen the sailors stand spellbound, and even with tears in their eyes, at some sweet song of love and home. Often, again, the words would be weird and mysterious, but the voice was always delicious whether he spoke or sang. I asked him once why with such a gift he had not tried his fortune on the stage. At which he laughed, and replied that he could never be bound by rules of art, or forced to sing, whatever his humour, to an audience for which he cared nothing. I do not know why I dwell so long upon this extraordinary man. His path of life has chanced to run side by side with my own for a short space, and the two have now branched off, nor in all likelihood will ever meet again. My life has been a quiet one, and has not lain much in the way of extraordinary men, but I doubt if many such as Simon Colliver exist. He is a perfect enigma to me. That such a man, with such attainments (for besides his wonderful conversation and power of singing, he has an amazing knowledge of foreign tongues), that such a man, I say, should be a mere attorney's clerk is little short of marvellous. But as regards his past he told me nothing, though an apt and ready listener when I spoke of Lantrig and of Margery and Jasper at home. But he showed no curiosity as to the purpose of my voyage, and in fact seemed altogether careless as well of the fate as of the opinions of his fellow-men. He has passed out of my life; but when I shook hands with him at parting I left with regret the most fascinating companion it has been ever my lot to meet.

"Our voyage, as I have said, was without event, though full of wonders to me who had seldom before sailed far out of sight of Pedn-glas. But on these I need not here dwell. Only I cannot pass without mention the exceeding marvels of this city of Bombay. As I stood upon deck on the evening before last and watched the Bhor Ghauts (as they are called) rise gradually on the dim horizon, whilst the long ridge of the Malabar Hill with its clustered lights grew swiftly dyed in delicate pink and gold, and as swiftly sank back into night, I confess that my heart was strangely fluttered to think that the wonders of this strange country lay at my feet, and I slept but badly for the excitement. But when, yesterday morning, I disembarked upon the Apollo Bund, I knew not at first whither to turn for very dismay. It was like the play-acting we saw, my dear Margery, one Christmas at Plymouth. Every sight in the strange crowd was unfamiliar to my Cornish eyes, and I felt sorely tempted to laugh when I thought what a figure some of them would cut in Polkimbra, and not less when I reflected that after all I was just as much out of place in Bombay, though of course less noticed because of the great traffic. As I strolled through the Bazaar, Hindoos, Europeans, Jews, Arabs, Malays, and Negro men passed me by. Mr. Elihu Sanderson has kindly taught me to distinguish some of these nations, but at the time I did not know one from another, fancying them indeed all Indians, though at a loss to account for their diversity. Also the gaudy houses of red, blue, and yellow, the number of beautiful trees that grew in the very streets, and the swarms of birds that crowded every roof-top and ventured down quite fearlessly among the passers-by, all made me gasp with wonder. Nor was I less amazed to watch the habits of this marvellous folk, many of them to me shocking, and to see the cows that abound everywhere and do the work of horses. But of all this I will tell if Heaven be pleased to grant me a safe return to Lantrig. Let me now recount my business with Mr. Elihu Sanderson.

"I said farewell to the captain of the Golden Wave and my friend Colliver upon the quay, meaning to ask Mr. Sanderson to recommend a good lodging for the short time I intended to stay in Bombay. Captain Carey had already directed me to the East India Company's office, and hither I tried to make my way at once. Easy as it was, however, I missed it, being lost in admiration of the crowd. When at last I arrived at the doors I was surprised to see Colliver coming out, until I remembered that his brother was in the Company's employ. It seems, however, that he had been transferred to Trichinopoly some months before, and my friend's labour was in vain. I am bound to say that he took his disappointment with great good-humour, and made very merry over our meeting again so soon, protesting that for the future we had better hunt in couples among this outlandish folk; and so I lost him again.

"After some difficulty and delay I found myself at length in the presence of this Mr. Elihu Sanderson, on whom I had speculated so often. I was ushered by a clerk into his private office, and as he rose to meet me, judged him directly to be the son of the Elihu Sanderson mentioned in my father's Will—as indeed is the case. A spare, dry, shrivelled man, with a mouth full of determination and acuteness, and a habit of measuring his words as though they were for sale, he is in everything but height the essence of every Scotchman I remember to have seen.

"'Good day,' said he, 'Mr.—I fancy I did not catch your name.'

"'Trenoweth,' said I.

"'Indeed! Trenoweth!' he repeated, and I fancy I saw a glimmer of surprise in his eyes. 'Do I guess your business?'

"'Maybe you do,' I replied, 'for I take it to be somewhat unusual.'

"'Ah, yes; just so; somewhat unusual!'—and he chuckled drily— 'somewhat unusual! Very good indeed! I suppose—eh?—you have some credentials—some proof that you really are called Trenoweth?'—Here Mr. Sanderson looked at me sharply.

"In reply I produced my father's Will and the little Bible from my jersey's side. As I did so, I felt the Scotchman's eyes examining me narrowly. I handed him the packet. The Will he read with great attention, glanced at the Bible, pondered awhile, and then said—

"'I suppose you guess that this was a piece of private business between Amos Trenoweth, deceased, and my father, also deceased. I tell ye frankly, Mr. Trenoweth—by the way, what is your Christian name, eh? So you are the Ezekiel mentioned in the Will? Are you a bold man, eh? Well, you look it, at any rate. As I was saying, I tell ye frankly it is not the sort of business I would have undertaken myself. But my father had his crotchets—which is odd, as I'm supposed to resemble him—he had his crotchets, and among them was an affection for your father. It may have been based on profit, for your father, Mr. Trenoweth, as far as I have heard, was not exactly a lovable man, if ye'll excuse me. If it was, I've never seen those profits, and I've examined my father's papers pretty thoroughly. But this is a family matter, and had better not be discussed in office hours. Can you dine with me this evening?'

"I replied that I should be greatly obliged; but, in the first place, as a stranger, would count it a favour to be told of some decent lodging for such time as I should be detained in Bombay.

"Mr. Sanderson pondered again, tapped the floor with his foot, pulled his short crop of sandy whiskers, and said—

"'Our business may detain us, for aught I know, long into the night, Mr. Trenoweth. Ye would be doing me a favour if ye stayed with me for a day or two. I am a bachelor, and live as one. So much the better, eh? If you will get your boxes sent up to Craigie Cottage, Malabar Hill—any one will tell ye where Elihu Sanderson lives—I will try to make you comfortable. You are wondering at the name 'Craigie Cottage'—another crotchet of my father's. He was a Scotchman, I'd have ye know; and so am I, for that matter, though I never saw Scotch soil, being that prodigious phenomenon, a British child successfully reared in India. But I hope to set foot there some day, please God! Save us! how I am talking, and in office hours, too! Good-bye, Mr. Trenoweth, and'—once more his eyes twinkled as I thanked him and made for the door—'I would to Heaven ye were a Scotchman!'

"Although verily broiled with the heat, I spent the rest of the day in sauntering about the city and drinking in its marvels until the time when I was due to present myself at Craigie Cottage. Following the men who carried my box, I discovered it without difficulty, though very unlike any cottage that came within my recollection. Indeed, it is a large villa, most richly furnished, and crowded with such numbers of black servants, that it must go hard with them to find enough to do. That, however, is none of my business, and Mr. Sanderson does not seem the man to spend his money wastefully; so I suppose wages to be very low here.

"Mr. Sanderson received me hospitably, and entertained me to a most agreeable meal, though the dishes were somewhat hotly seasoned, and the number of servants again gave me some uneasiness. But when, after dinner, we sat and smoked out on the balcony and watched the still gardens, the glimmering houses and, above all, the noble bay sleeping beneath the gentle shadow of the night, I confess to a feeling that, after all, man is at home wherever Nature smiles so kindly. The hush of the hour was upon me, and made me disinclined to speak lest its spell should be broken—disinclined to do anything but watch the smoke-wreaths as they floated out upon the tranquil air."

"Mr. Sanderson broke the silence.

"'You have not been long in coming.'

"'Did you not expect me so soon?'

"'Why, you see, I had not read your father's Will.'

"I explained to him as briefly as I could the reasons which drove me to leave Lantrig. He listened in silence, and then said, after a pause—

"'You have not, then, undertaken this lightly?'

"'As Heaven is my witness, no, whether there be anything in this business or not.'

"'I think,' said he, slowly, 'there is something in it. My father had his crotchets, it is true; but he was no fool. He never opened his lips to me on the matter, but left me to hear the first of it in his last Will and Testament. Oddly enough, our fathers seem both to have found religion in their old age. Mine took his comfort in the Presbyterian shape. But it is all the same. There was some reason for your father to repent, if rumours were true; but why mine, a respectable servant of the East India Company, should want consolation, is not so clear. Maybe 'twas only another form of egotism. Religion, even, is spelt with an I, ye'll observe.

"'An odd couple,' he continued, musing, 'to be mixed up together! But we'll let them rest in peace. I'd better let you have what was entrusted to me, and then, mayhap, ye'll be better able to form an opinion.'

"With this he rose and stepped back into the lighted room, whilst I followed. Drawing a bunch of keys from his pocket, he opened a heavy chest of some dark wood, intricately carved, which stood in one corner, drew out one by one a whole pile of tin boxes, bundles of papers and heavy books, until, almost at the very bottom of the chest, he seemed to find the box he wanted; then, carefully replacing the rest, closed and fastened the chest, and, after some search among his keys, opened the tin box and handed me two envelopes, one much larger than the other, but both bulky.

"And here, my dear Margery, with my hand upon the secret which had cost us so much anxious thought and such a grievous parting, I could not help breathing to myself a prayer that Heaven had seen fit to grant me at last some means of comforting my wife and little one and restoring our fallen house; nor do I doubt, dear wife, you were at that moment praying on your knees for me. I did not speak aloud, but Mr. Sanderson must have divined my thoughts, for I fancied I heard him utter 'Amen' beneath his breath, and when I looked up he seemed prodigiously red and ashamed of himself.

"The small envelope was without address, and contained 50 pounds in Bank of England notes. These were enclosed without letter or hint as to their purpose, and sealed with a plain black seal.

"The larger envelope was addressed in my father's handwriting—"


'Mem.—To be burned in one hundred years from this date, May 4th, in the year of our Lord MDCCCV.'

"It likewise was sealed with a plain black seal, and contained the manuscript which I herewith pin to this leaf of my Journal."

[Here Uncle Loveday, who had hitherto read without comment, save an occasional interjection, turned the page and revealed, in faded ink on a large sheet of parchment, the veritable writing of my grandfather, Amos Trenoweth. We both unconsciously leaned further forward over the relic, and my uncle, still without comment, proceeded to read aloud as follows:—]

"From Amos Trenoweth, of Lantrig, in the Parish of Polkimbra and County of Cornwall; to such descendant of mine as may inherit my wealth.

"Be it known to you, my son, that though in this parchment mention is made of great and surpassing Wealth, seemingly but to be won for the asking, yet beyond doubt the dangers which beset him who would lay his hand upon this accursed store are in nature so deadly, that almost am I resolved to fling the Secret from me, and so go to my Grave a Beggar. For that I not only believe, but am well assured, that not with out much Spilling of Blood and Loss of Human Life shall they be enjoyed, I myself having looked in the Face of Death thrice before ever I might set Hand upon them, escaping each time by a Miracle and by forfeit of my Soul's Peace. Yet, considering that the Anger of Heaven is quick and not revengeful unduly, I have determined not to do so wholly, but in part, abandoning myself the Treasure unrighteously won, if perchance the Curse may so be appeased, but committing it to the enterprise of another, who may escape, and so raise a falling House.

"You then, my Son who may read this Message, I entreat to consider well the Perils of your Course, though to you unknown. But to me they are known well, who have lived a Sinful Life for the sake of this gain, and now find it but as the fruit of Gomorrah to my lips. For the rest, my Secret is with God, from whom I humbly hope to obtain Pardon, but not yet. And even as the Building of the Temple was withheld from David, as being a Shedder of Blood, but not from Solomon his son, so may you lay your Hand to much Treasure in Gold, Silver, and Precious Stones, but chiefly the GREAT RUBY OF CEYLON, whose beauty excels all the jewels of the Earth, I myself having looked upon it, and knowing it to be, as an Ancient Writer saith, 'a Spectacle Glorious and without Compare.'

"Of this Ruby the Traveller Marco Polo speaks, saying, 'The King of Seilan hath a Ruby the Greatest and most Beautiful that ever was or can be in the World. In length it is a palm, and in thickness the thickness of a man's arm. In Splendour it exceedeth the things of Earth, and gloweth like unto Fire. Money cannot purchase it.' Likewise Maundevile tells of it, and how the Great Khan would have it, but was refused; and so Odoric, the two giving various Sizes, and both placing it falsely in the Island of Nacumera or Nicoveran. But this I know, that in the Island of Ceylon it was found, being lost for many Centuries, and though less in size than these Writers would have it, yet far exceeding all imagination for Beauty and colour.

"Now this Ruby, together with much Treasure beside, you may gain with the Grace of Heaven and by following my plain words. You will go from this place unto the Island of Ceylon, and there proceed to Samanala or Adam's Peak, the same being the most notable mountain of the Island. From the Resting House at the foot of the Peak you will then ascend, following the track of the Pilgrims, until you have passed the First Set of Chains. Between these and the Second there lies a stretch of Forest, in which, still following the track, you will come to a Tree, the trunk of which branches into seven parts and again unites. This Tree is noticeable and cannot be missed. From its base you must proceed at a right angle to the left-hand edge of the track for thirty-two paces, and you will come to a Stone shaped like a Man's Head, of great size, but easily moved. Beneath this Stone lies the Secret of the Great Ruby; and yet not all, for the rest is graven on the Key, of which mention shall already have been made to you.

"These precautions I have taken that none may surprise this Secret but its right possessor; and also that none may without due reflection undertake this task, inasmuch as it is prophesied that '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.'

"This prophecy I had from an aged priest, whose bones lie beneath the Stone, and upon whose Sacred clasp is the Secret written. This and all else may God pardon. Amen.

"A. T."

"He visiteth the iniquity of the Fathers upon the Children unto the third and fourth generation."

[To this extraordinary document was appended a note in another handwriting.]

"There is little doubt that the Ruby now in the possession of Mr. Amos Trenoweth is the veritable Great Ruby of which the traveller Marco Polo speaks. But, however this may be, I know from the testimony of my own eyes that the stone is of inestimable worth, being of the rarest colour, and in size greatly beyond any Ruby that ever I saw. The stone is spoken of, in addition to such writers as Mr. Trenoweth quotes, by Friar Jordanus (in the fourteenth century), who mentions it as 'so large that it cannot be grasped in the closed hand'; and Ibn Batuta reckons it as great as the palm of a man's hand. Cosmos, as far back as 550, had heard tell of it from Sopater, and its fame extended to the sixteenth century, wherein Corsali wrote of 'two rubies so lustrous and shining that they seem a flame of fire.' Also Hayton, in the thirteenth century, mentions it, telling much the same story as Sir John Maundevile, to the effect that it was the especial symbol of sovereignty, and when held in the hand of the newly-chosen king, enforced the recognition of his majesty. But, whereas Hayton simply calls it the greatest and finest Ruby in existence, Maundevile puts it at afoot in length and five fingers in girth. Also—for I have made much inquiry concerning this stone—it was well known to the Chinese from the days of Hwen T'sang downward.

"Mr. Trenoweth has wisely forborne for safety from showing it to any of the jewellers here; but on the one occasion when I saw the gem I measured it, and found it to be, roughly, some three and a half inches square and two inches in depth; of its weight I cannot speak. But that it truly is the Great Ruby of Ceylon, the account of the Buddhist priest from, whom Mr. Trenoweth got the stone puts out of all doubt."

"E. S."

"As I finished my reading, I looked up and saw Mr. Sanderson watching me across the table. 'Well?' said he.

"I pushed the parchment across to him, and filled a pipe. He read the whole through very slowly, and without the movement of a muscle; then handed it back, but said never a word.

"'Well,' I asked, after a pause; 'what do you think of it?'

"'Why, in the first place, that my father was a marvellously honest man, and yours, Mr. Trenoweth, a very indiscreet one. And secondly, that ye're just as indiscreet as he, and it will be lucky for ye if I'm as honest as my father.'

"I laughed.

"'Aye, ye may laugh; but mark my words, Mr. Trenoweth. Ye've a trustful way with ye that takes my liking; but it would surprise me very much, sir, did ye ever lay hands on that Ruby.'"

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