Dead Man's Rock by Arthur Quiller-Couch

BOOK I
THE QUEST OF THE GREAT RUBY

CHAPTER IX
CONTAINS THE SECOND PART OF MY FATHER'S JOURNAL:
SETTING FORTH HIS ADVENTURES IN THE ISLAND OF CEYLON


"Sept. 29th, 1848.—It is a strange thing that on the very next day after reading my father's message I should have been struck down and reduced to my present condition. But so it is, and now, four months after my first entry in this Journal, I am barely able to use the pen to add to my account. As far as I remember—for my head wanders sadly at times—it happened thus: On the 23rd of May last, after spending the greater part of the day in writing my Journal, and also my first letter to my dear wife, I walked down in the cool of the evening to the city, intending to post the latter; which I did, and was returning to Mr. Sanderson's house, when I stopped to watch the sun setting in this glorious Bay of Bengal. I was leaning over a low wall, looking out on the open sea with its palm-fringed shores, when suddenly the sun shot out a jagged flame; the sky heaved and turned to blood—and I knew no more. I had been murderously struck from behind. That I was found, lying to all appearance dead, with a hideous zig-zag wound upon the scalp; that my pockets had been to all appearance rifled (whether by the assassin or the natives that found me is uncertain); that I was finally claimed and carried home by Mr. Sanderson, who, growing uneasy at my absence, had set out to look for me; that for more than a month, and then again for almost two months, my life hung in the balance; and that I owe my recovery to Mr. Sanderson's unceasing kindness—all this I have learnt but lately. I can write no more at present.

"Oct. 3rd.—I am slightly better. My mental powers are slowly coming back after the fever that followed the wound. I pass my days mostly in speculating on the reason of this murderous attack, but am still unable to account for it. It cannot have been for plunder, for I do not look like a rich man. Mr. Sanderson has his theory, but I cannot agree with him, for nobody but ourselves knew of my father's manuscript. At any rate, it is fortunate that I left it in my chest, together with this Journal, before I went down to Bombay. Margery must have had my letter by this time; Mr. Sanderson very wisely decided to wait the result of my illness before troubling her. As it is she need know nothing about it until we meet.

"Oct. 14th.—Mr. Sanderson is everything that is good; indeed, had I been a brother he could not have shown me more solicitude. But he is obstinate in connecting my attack with the Great Ruby of Ceylon; it is certainly a curious coincidence that this dark chapter of my life should immediately follow my father's warning, but that is all one can say. I shall give up trying to convince him.

"Oct. 31st.—I am now considerably better. My strength is slowly returning, and with it, I am glad to say, my memory. At first it seemed as though I could remember nothing of my past life, but now my recollection is good on every point up to the moment of my attack. Since then, for at least the space of three months, I can recall nothing. I am able to creep about a little, and Mr. Sanderson has taken me for one or two excursions. Curiously enough, I thought I saw John Railton yesterday upon the Apollo Bund. I was probably mistaken, but at the time it caused me no surprise that he should still be here, since I forgot the interval of three months in my memory. If it were really Railton, he has, I suppose, found employment of some kind in Bombay; but it seems a cruel shame for him to desert his poor wife at home. I, alas! am doing little better, but God knows I am anxious to be gone; however, Mr. Sanderson will not hear a word on the subject at present. He has promised to find a ship for me as soon as he thinks I am able to continue my travels.

"Nov. 4th.—I was not mistaken. It was John Railton that I saw on the Apollo Bund. I met him hovering about the same spot to-day, and spoke to him; but apparently he did not hear me. I intended to ask him some news of my friend Colliver, but I daresay he knows as little of his doings as I do. Mr. Sanderson says that in a week's time I shall be recovered sufficiently to start. I hope so, indeed, for this delay is chafing me sorely.

"Nov. 21st.—Mr. Sanderson has found a ship for me at last. I am to sail in five days for Colombo in the schooner Campaspe, whose captain is a friend—a business friend, that is—of my host. I shall be the only passenger, and Mr. Sanderson has given Captain Dodge full instructions to take care of me. But I am feeling strong enough now, and fit for anything.

"Nov. 23rd.—I have been down to look at the vessel, and find that a most comfortable little cabin has been set apart for me. But the strangest thing is that I met Colliver also inspecting the ship. He was most surprised at seeing me, and evidently imagined me home in England by this time. I told him of my meeting with John Railton, and he replied—

"'Oh, yes; I have taken him into my service. We are going together to Ceylon, as I have travelled about India enough for the present. I went to visit my brother at Trichinopoly, and have only just returned to Bombay. Unfortunately the captain of the Campaspe declares he is unable to take me, so I shall have to wait.'

"I explained the reasons of the captain's reluctance, and offered him a share of my cabin if Captain Dodge would consent to be burdened with Railton's company.

"'Oh, for that matter,' replied he, 'Railton can follow; but he's a handy fellow, and I daresay would make himself useful without payment.'

"We consulted Captain Dodge, who admitted himself ready to take another passenger, and even to accommodate Railton, if that were my wish. Only, he explained, Mr. Sanderson had especially told him that I should wish to be alone, being an invalid. So the bargain was struck.

"Mr. Sanderson did not seem altogether pleased when I informed him that I intended to take a companion. He asked many questions about Colliver, and was especially anxious to know if I had confided anything of my plans to him. So far was this from being the case that Colliver, as I informed my host, had never betrayed the least interest in my movements. At this Mr. Sanderson merely grunted, and asked me when I intended to learn prudence, adding that one crack in the head was enough for most men, but he supposed I wanted more. I admit that, pleasant companion as Colliver is, I should prefer to be entirely alone upon this adventure. But I could not deny the invitation without appearing unnecessarily rude, and I owe him much gratitude for having made the outward voyage so pleasant. Besides, we shall part at Colombo.

"Nov. 25th.—I make this entry (my last upon Indian soil) just before retiring to rest. To-morrow I sail for Colombo in the Campaspe. But I cannot leave Bombay without dwelling once more on Mr. Sanderson's great kindness. To-night, as we sat together for the last time upon the balcony of Craigie Cottage, I declare that my heart was too full for words. My host apparently was revolving other thoughts, for when he spoke it was to say—

"'Visited his brother in Trichinopoly, eh? Only just returned, too— h'm! What I want to know is, why the devil he returned at all? There are plenty of vessels at Madras.'

"'But Colliver is not the man who cares to follow the shortest distance between two points,' I answered. 'Why should he not return to Bombay?'

"'I'll beg ye to observe,' said Mr. Sanderson, 'that the question is not 'why shouldn't he?' but 'why should he?''

"'At any rate,' said I, 'I'll be on my guard.'

"This suspicion on my behalf has become quite a mania with my host. I thought it best to let him grumble his fill, and then endeavoured to thank him for his great kindness.

"'Don't say another word,' he interrupted. 'I owe ye some reparation for being mixed up in this at all. It's a serious matter, mark ye, for a respectable clerk like myself to be aiding and abetting in this mad chase; and, to tell the truth, Trenoweth, I took a fancy to ye when first I set eyes on your face, and—Don't say another word, I'll ask ye.'

"My friend's eyes were full of tears. I arose, shook him silently by the hand, and went to my room.

"Nov. 26th.—I am off. I write this in my cabin, alone—Colliver having had another assigned to him by Mr. Sanderson's express wish. He saw Colliver for the first time to-day on the quay, and drew me aside at the last moment to warn me against 'that fellow with the devilish eyes.' As I stood on deck and watched his stiff little figure waving me farewell until it melted into the crowd, and Bombay sank behind me as the city of a dream, I wondered with sadness on the little chance we had of ever meeting on this earth again. Colliver's voice at my elbow aroused me.

"'Odd man, that friend of yours—made up of emotion, and afraid of his life to show it. Has he done you a favour?'

"'He has,' I replied, 'as great a favour as one man can do for another.'

"'Ah,' said he, 'I thought as much. That's why he is so full of gratitude.'

"Dec. 6th.—Never shall I forget the dawn out of which Ceylon, the land of my promise, arose into view. I was early on deck to catch the first sight of land. Very slowly, as I stood gazing into the east, the pitch-black darkness turned to a pale grey, and discovered a long, narrow streak, shaped like the shields one sees in Bible prints, and rising to a point in the centre. Then, as it seemed to me, in a moment, the sun was up and as if by magic the shield had changed into a coast fringed with palms and swelling upwards in green and gradual slopes to a chain of mighty hills. Around these some light, fleecy clouds had gathered, but sea and coast were radiant with summer. So clear was the air that I could distinguish the red sand of the beaches and the white trunks of the palms that crowded to the shore; and then before us arose Colombo, its white houses gleaming out one by one.

"The sun was high by the time our pilot came on board, and as we entered the harbour the town lay deep in the stillness of the afternoon. We had cast anchor, and I was reflecting on my next course of action when I heard my name called from under the ship's side. Looking down, I spied a tall, grave gentleman seated in a boat. I replied as well as I could for the noise, and presently the stranger clambered up on deck and announced himself as Mr. Eversleigh, to whom Mr. Sanderson had recommended me. I had no notion until this moment—and I state it in proof of Mr. Sanderson's kindness—that any arrangement had been made for entertaining me at Colombo. It is true that Mr. Sanderson had told me, on the night when our acquaintance began, to send this gentleman's address to Margery, that her letter might safely reach me; but beyond this I knew nothing. Mr. Eversleigh shook me by the hand, and, to my unspeakable joy, handed me my dear wife's letter.

"I say to my unspeakable joy, for no words can tell, dear wife, with what feelings I read your letter as the little boat carried me up to the quay. How often during the idle days of my recovery have I lain wondering how you and Jasper were passing this weary time, and cried out on the weakness that kept me so long dallying. Patience, dear heart, it is but a little time now.

"I have forgotten to speak of Colliver. He has been as delightful and indifferent as ever throughout the voyage. Certainly I can find no reason for crediting Mr. Sanderson's suspicions. In the hurry of landing I missed him, not even having opportunity to ask about his plans. Doubtless I shall see him in a day or two.

"Dec. 10th.—What an entrancing country is this Ceylon! The monsoon is upon us, and hinders my journey: indeed, Mr. Eversleigh advises me not to start for some weeks. He promises to accompany me to the Peak if I can wait, but the suspense is hard to bear. Meantime I am drinking in the marvels of Colombo. The quaint names over the shops, the bright dresses of white and red, the priests with their robes of flaming yellow—all these are diverting enough, but words cannot tell of the beauty of the country here. The roads are all of some strange red soil, and run for miles beneath the most beautiful trees imaginable—bamboos, palms, and others unknown to me, but covered with crimson and yellow blossom. Then the long stretches of rice fields, and again more avenues of palms, with here and there a lovely pool by the wayside—all this I cannot here describe. But most wonderful of all is the monsoon which rages over the country, wrapping the earth sometimes in sheets of lightning which turn sea, sky and earth to one vivid world of flame. The wind is dry and parching, so that all windows are kept carefully closed at night; but, indeed, the mosquitoes are sufficient excuse for that. I have seen nothing of Colliver and Railton.

"Dec. 31st.—New Year's Eve, and, as I hope, the dawn of brighter days for us, dear wife. Mr. Eversleigh has to-night, been describing Adam's Peak to me. Truly this is a most marvellous mountain, and its effect upon me I find hard to put into words. To-day I watched it standing solitary and royal from the low hills that surround it. At its feet waved a very sea of green forest, around its summit were gathered black clouds charged with lightning. Mr. Eversleigh tells me of the worship here paid to it, and the thousands of pilgrims that wear its crags with their patient feet. Can I hope to succeed when so many with prayers so much more holy have failed? Even as I write, its unmoved face is mocking the fire of heaven. I dream of the mountain; night and day it has come to fill my life with dark terror. I am not by nature timid or despondent, but it is hard to have to wait here day after day and watch this goal of my hopes—so near, yet seemingly so forbidding of access.

"On looking back I find I have said nothing about the house where I am now staying. It lies in the Kolpetty suburb, in the midst of most lovely gardens, and is called Blue Bungalow, from the colour in which it is painted. I have made many excursions with Mr. Eversleigh on the lagoon; but for me the only object in this land of beauty is the great Peak. I cannot endure this idleness much longer. Colliver seems to have vanished: at least, I have not seen him.

"Jan. 25th, 1849.—I have been in no mood lately to make any fresh entry in my Journal. But to-morrow I start for Adam's Peak. At the last moment my host finds himself unable to go with me, much as he protests he desires it; but two of his servants will act as my guides. It is about sixty miles from Colombo to the foot of the Peak, so that in four days from this time I hope to lay my hand upon the secret. The two natives (their real names I do not know, but Mr. Eversleigh has christened them Peter and Paul, which I shall doubtless find more easy of mastery than their true outlandish titles) are, as I am assured, trusty, and have visited the mountain before. We take little baggage beyond the necessary food and one of my host's guns. I cannot tell how impatient I am feeling.

"Feb. 1st.—My journey to the Peak is over. Whether from fatigue or excitement I am feeling strangely light-headed to-day; but let me attempt to describe as briefly as I can my adventure. We set out from Colombo in the early morning of Jan. 26th. For about two-thirds of our journey the road lies along the coast, stretching through swampy rice-fields and interminable cocoanut avenues until Ratnapoora is reached. So far the scenery does not greatly differ from that of Colombo. But it was after we left Ratnapoora that I first realised the true wonders of this land. Our road rose almost continuously by narrow tracks, which in some places, owing to the late heavy rains, were almost impassable; but Peter and Paul worked hard, and so reduced the delay. We had not left Ratnapoora far behind when we plunged into a tangled forest, so dense as almost to blot out the light of day. On either hand deep ravines plunged precipitately down, or giant trees enclosed us in black shadow. Where the sun's rays penetrated, myriads of brilliant insects flashed like jewels; yellow butterflies, beetles with wings of ruby-red or gold, and dragonflies that picked out the undergrowth with fire. In the shadow overhead flew and chattered crowds of green paroquets and glossy crows, while here and there we could see a Bird of Paradise drooping its smart tail-feathers amid the foliage. A little further, and deep in the forest the ear caught the busy tap-tap of the woodpecker, the snap of the toucan's beak, or far away the deep trumpeting of the elephant. Once we startled a leopard that gazed a moment at us with flaming eyes, and then was gone with a wild bound into the thicket. From tree to tree trailed hosts of gorgeous creepers, blossoming in orange, white and crimson, or wreathing round some hapless monarch of the forest and strangling it with their rank growth. Still we climbed.

"The bridle-track now skirted a torrent, now wound dizzily round the edge of a stupendous cliff, and again plunged into obscurity. Here and there the ruins of some ancient and abandoned shrine confronted us, its graceful columns entwined and matted with vegetation; or, again, where the forest broke off and allowed our eyes to sweep over the far prospect, the guides would point to the place where stood, hardly to be descried, the relics of some dead city, desolate and shrined in desolation. Even I, who knew nothing of the past glories of Ceylon, could not help being possessed with melancholy thoughts as I passed now a mass of deserted masonry, now a broken column, the sole witnesses of generations gone for ever. Some were very richly carved, but Nature's tracery was rapidly blotting out the handiwork of man, the twining convolvulus usurping the glories of the patient chisel. Still up we climbed, where hosts of chattering monkeys swung from branch to branch, or poised screaming overhead, or a frightened serpent rose with hissing mouth, and then glided in a flash back through the undergrowth. One, that seemed to me of a pure silver-white, started almost from under my feet, and darted away before I could recover myself. We hardly spoke; the vastness of Nature hushed our tongues. It seemed presumption to raise my gun against any of the inhabitants of this spot where man seemed so mean, so strangely out of place. Once I paused to cut back with my knife the creepers that hid in inextricable tangle a solitary and exquisitely carved archway. But the archway led nowhere, its god and temple alike had perished, and already the plants have begun their tireless work again.

"Between the stretches of wilderness our road often led us across rushing streams, difficult to ford at this season, or up rocky ravines, that shut in with their towering walls all but a patch of blue overhead. Emerging from these we would find ourselves on naked ledges where the sun's rays beat until the air seemed that of an oven. At such spots the plain below spread itself out as a crumpled chart, whilst always above us, domed in the blue of a sapphire-stone, towered the goal of our hopes, serene and relentless. But such places were not many. More often a threatening cliff faced us, or an endless slope closed in the view, only to give way to another and yet another as we climbed their weary length.

"Yet our speed was not trifling. We had passed a train of white-clothed pilgrims in the morning soon after leaving Ratnapoora. Since then we had seen no man except one poor old priest at the ruined resting-house where we ate our mid-day meal. The shadow of the forest allowed us to travel through the heat of the day, and the thirst of discovery would have hurried me on even had the guides protested. But they were both sturdy, well-built men, and suffered from the heat far less than I did. So we hardly paused until, in the first swift gloom of sunset, we emerged on the grassy lawn of Diabetne, beneath the very face of the cone.

"We had to rest for the night in the ruined Ambulam, as it is called; and here, thoroughly tired but sleepless, I lay for some hours and watched the innumerable stars creep out and crown that sublime head which rose at first into a fathomless blue that was almost black, and then as the moon swept up, flashed into unutterable radiance. Nothing, I am told, can compare with the moonlight of Ceylon, and I can well believe it. That night I read clearly once again by the light of its rays my father's manuscript, that no point in it should escape my memory; then sank down upon my rugs and slept an uneasy sleep.

"In an hour or two, as it seemed, I was awakened by Peter, who shook me and proclaimed it time to be stirring if we meant to see the sunrise from the summit. The moon was still resplendent as we started across the three miles or 'league of heaven' that still lay between us and the actual cone. This league traversed, we plunged down a gully and crossed a stream whose waters danced in the silver moonlight until the eyes were dazzled, then swept in a pearly shower down numberless ledges of rock. After this the climb began in good earnest. After a stretch of black forest, we issued on a narrow track that grew steeper at every step. The moon presently ceased to help us here, so that my guides lit torches, which flared and cast long shadows on the rocky wall. By degrees the track became a mere watercourse, up which we could only scramble one by one. So narrow was it that two men could scarcely pass, yet so richly clothed in vegetation that our torches scorched the overhanging ferns. Peter led the way, and I followed close at his heels, for fear of loose stones; but every now and then a crash and a startled cry from Paul behind us told us that we had sent a boulder flying down into the depths. Beyond this and the noise of our footsteps there was no sound. We went but slowly, for the labour of the day before had nearly exhausted us, but at length we scrambled out into the moonlight again upon a rocky ledge half-way up the mountainside.

"Here a strong breeze was blowing, that made our heated bodies shiver until we were fain to go on. Casting one look into the gulf below, deepened without limit in the moonlight, we lit fresh torches and again took to the path. Before we had scrambled, now we climbed. We had left vegetation behind us, and were face to face with the naked rock that forms the actual Peak. At the foot of this Peter called a halt, and pointed out the first set of chains. Without these, in my weak state I could never have attempted the ascent. Even as it was, my eye was dazed and my head swam and reeled as I hung like a fly upon the dizzy side. But clutching with desperation the chains riveted in the living rock, I hauled myself up after Peter, and sank down thoroughly worn out upon the brink.

"It now wanted but little before daybreak would be upon us. As I gathered myself up for a last effort, I remembered that amid the growth into which we were now to plunge, stood the tree of seven trunks which was to be my mark. But my chance was small of noting it by the light of these flaring torches that distorted every object, and wreathed each tree into a thousand fantastic shapes. Plainly I must stake my hopes on the descent next day; at any rate, I would scale the summit before I began my search.

"We had plunged into the thicket of rhododendrons, whose crimson flowers showed oddly against the torches' gleam, and I was busy with these thoughts, when suddenly my ankle gave way, and I fell heavily forward. My two guides were beside me in an instant, and had me on my feet again.

"'All's good,' said Peter, 'but lucky it not happen otherwhere. Only take care for last chain. But what bad with him?'

"He might well ask; for there, full in front of my eyes that strained and doubted, glimmered a huge trunk cleft into seven—yes, seven— branches that met again and disappeared in a mass of black foliage. It was my father's tree.

"So far then the parchment had not lied. Here was the tree, 'noticeable and not to be missed,' and barely thirty-two paces from the spot where I was standing lay the key to the treasure which I had travelled this weary distance to seek. But the time for search had not yet come. By the clear light of day and alone I must explore the secret. It would keep for a few hours longer.

"Dismissing my pre-occupied manner which had caused no small astonishment to Peter and Paul, I fixed the position of the tree as firmly as I could in my mind, and gave the word to advance.

"We then continued in the same order as before, whilst, to make matters sure, I counted our steps. I had reached six hundred and twenty-though when I considered the darkness and the rough path I reflected that this was but little help—when we arrived at the second set of chains. My foot was already beginning to give me pain, but under any circumstances this would have been by far the worst of the ascent. All around us stretched darkness void and horrible, leading, for all that we could see, down through veils of curling mist into illimitable depths. In front the rock was almost perpendicular. The fascination of gazing down was wellnigh resistless, but Peter ahead continually cried 'Hurry!' and the voice of Paul behind repeated 'Hurry!' so that panting, gasping, and fit to faint, with fingers clinging to the chain until the skin was blistered, with every nerve throbbing and every muscle strained to its utmost tension, I clambered, clambered, until with one supreme effort I swung myself up to the brink, staggered rather than ran up the last few feet of rock, and as my guides bent and with outstretched palms raised the cry 'Saadoo! Saadoo!' I fell exhausted before the very steps of Buddha's shrine.

"When I recovered, I saw just above me the open shrine perched on a tiny terrace and surrounded by low walls of stone; a yard or two from me the tiny hut in which its guardians live; and all around the expanse of sky. Dawn was stealing on; already its pale light was creeping up the east, and a bar or two of vivid fire proclaimed the coming of the sun. The priests were astir to receive the early pilgrims, and as Paul led me to the edge of the parapet I could see far away below the torches of the new-comers dotted in thin lines of fire down the mountain-side. Some pilgrims had arrived before us, and stood shivering in their thin white garments about the summit.

"Presently the distant sound of measured chanting came floating up on the tranquil air, sank and died away, and rose again more loudly. Paler and paler grew the heavens, nearer and nearer swept the chanting; and now the first pilgrim swung himself up into our view, quenched his torch and bowed in homage. Others following did the same, all adoring, until the terrace was crowded with worshippers gazing eager and breathless into the far east, where brighter and brighter the crimson bars of morning were widening.

"Then with a leap flashed up the sun, the dazzling centre of a flood of golden light. Godlike and resplendent he rode up on wreaths of twirling-mist, and with one stroke sent the shadows quivering back to the very corners of heaven. As the blazing orb topped the horizon, every head bent in worship, every hand arose in welcome, every voice broke out in trembling adoration, 'Saadoo! Saadoo!' Even I, the only European there, could not forbear from bowing my head and lifting up my hands, so carried away was I with the aching fervour of this crowd. There they stood and bent until the whole fiery ball was clear, then turning, paced to the sound of chanting up the rough steps and laid their offerings on the shrine. Thrice at each new offering rang out a clattering gong, and the worshipper stepped reverently back to make way for another; while all the time the newly-risen sun blazed aslant on their robes of dazzling whiteness.

"As I stood watching this strange scene, Peter plucked me by the sleeve and pointed westward. I looked, and all the wonders I had yet viewed became as nothing. For there, disregarded by the crowd, but plain and manifest, rose another Peak, graven in shadow upon the western sky. Bold and confronting, it soared into heaven and, whilst I gazed in silent awe, came striding nearer through the void air, until it seemed to sweep down upon me—and was gone! For many a day had the shadow of this mighty cone lain upon my soul; here, on the very summit, that shadow took visible form and shape, then paled into the clear blue. Has its invisible horror left me now at last? I doubt it.

"But by this time the sun was high, and the last pilgrim with a lingering cry of 'Saadoo!' was leaving the summit. So, although my ankle was now beginning to give me exquisite pain, I gave the order to return. Before leaving, however, I looked for a moment at the sacred footprint, to my mind the least of the wonders of the Peak, and resembling no foot that ever I saw. We had gone but a few steps when I plainly guessed from the state of my ankle that our descent would be full of danger, but the guides assured me of their carefulness; so once more we attacked the chains.

"How we got down I shall never fully know; but at last and after infinite pain we stood at the foot of the cliff and entered the forest of rhododendrons. And here, to the wild astonishment of my guides who plainly thought me mad, I bade them leave me and proceed ahead, remaining within call. They were full of protestations and dismay, but I was firm. Trusty they might be, but it was well in this matter to distrust everything and everybody. Finally, therefore, they obeyed, and I sat watching until their white-clad forms disappeared in the thicket.

"As soon as I judged them to have gone a sufficient distance, I arose and followed, cautiously counting my footsteps. But this was needless; my father had described the tree as 'noticeable and not to be missed,' nor was he wrong. Barely had I counted five hundred paces when it rose into view, uncouth and monstrous. All around it spread the crimson blossoms of huge rhododendrons; but this strange tree was at once unlike any of its fellows and of a kind altogether unknown to me. Its roots were partly bare, and writhed in fantastic coils across the track. Above these rose and spread its seven trunks matted with creepers, and then united about four feet below the point where the branches began. Its foliage was of a dark, glossy green, particularly dense, and its height, as I should judge, some sixty feet.

"Taking out my compass, I started from the left-hand side of the narrow track, and at a right angle to it. The undergrowth gave me much trouble, and once I had to make a circuit round a huge rhododendron; but I fought my way through, and after going, as I reckoned, thirty-two paces, pulled up full in front of—another rhododendron.

"There must be some mistake. My father had spoken of a 'stone shaped like a man's head,' but said nothing of a rhododendron tree, and indeed this particular tree was in nowise different from its companions. I looked around; took a few steps to the right, then to the left; went round the tree; walked back a few paces; returned to the tree to see if it concealed anything; then sought the track to begin my measurement afresh.

"I was just starting again in a very discomposed mood, when a thought struck me. I had been behaving like a fool. The parchment said 'at a right angle to the left-hand edge of the track.' I had started from my left hand, but I was descending the mountain, whereas the directions of course supposed the explorer to be ascending. Almost ready to laugh at my stupidity, I tried again.

"Facing round, I got the needle at an angle of ninety degrees, and once more began counting. My heart was beginning to beat quickly by this time, and I felt myself trembling with excitement. The course was now more easily followed. True, the growth was as thick as ever, but no rhododendrons blocked my passage. Beating down the creepers that swung across my face, twined around my legs, and caught at my cap, I measured thirty-two paces as nearly as I could, and then stopped.

"Before me was a patch of velvet grass, some twelve feet square and bare of the undergrowth that crowded elsewhere; but not a trace of a stone. I looked right and left, crossed the tiny lawn, peered all about, but still saw nothing at all resembling what I sought.

"As it began to dawn on me that all my hopes had been duped, my journey vain, and my father's words an empty cheat, a sickening despair got hold of me. My knees shook together, and big drops of sweat gathered on my forehead. I roused myself and searched again; again I was baffled. Distractedly I beat the bushes round and round the tiny lawn, then flung myself down on the turf and gave way to my despair. To this, then, it had all come; this was the end for which I had abandoned my wife and child; this the treasure that had dangled so long before my eyes. Fool that I had been! I cursed my madness and the hour when I was born; never before had I heartily despised myself, never until now did I know how the lust for this treasure had eaten into my soul. The secret, if secret indeed there were, and all were not a lie, was in the keeping of the silent Peak.

"I almost wept with wrath. I tore the turf in my frenzy, and felt as one who would fain curse God and die. But after a while my passion spent itself. I sat up and reflected that after all my first direction might have been the right one; at any rate, I would try it again and explore it thoroughly. The instructions were precise, and had been confirmed in the matter of the tree. Evidently the person that wrote them had been upon the Peak, and what, if they were lies, was to be gained by the cheat?

"I pulled out the parchment again and read it through; then started to my feet with fresh energy. I was just leaving the little lawn and returning down my path, when it struck me that the bush on my left hand was of a curious shape. It seemed a mere tangled knot of creepers covered with large white blossom, and rose to about my own height. Carelessly I thrust my stick into the mass, when its point jarred upon—stone!

"Yes, stone! In a moment my knife was out and I was down on hands and knees cutting and tearing at the tendrils. Some of them were full three inches thick, but I slashed and tugged, with breath that came and went immoderately fast, with bleeding hands and thumping heart, until little by little the stone was bared and its outlines revealed themselves.

"But as they grew distinct and I saw what I had uncovered, I fell back in terror. The stone was about five feet ten inches in height, and was roughly shaped to represent a human head and neck. But the face it was that froze my heated blood in horror. Never until I die shall I forget that hellish expression. It was the smoothly-shaven face of a man of about fifty years of age, roughly carved after the fashion of many of the ruins on this mountain. But whoever fashioned it, the artist must have been a fiend. If ever malignant hate was expressed in form, it stood before me. Even the blank pupils made the malevolence seem but the more undying. Every feature, every line was horrible, every touch of the chisel had added a fresh grace of devilish spite. It was simply Evil petrified.

"As this awful face, bared of the innocent creeper that for years had shrouded its ugliness from the light of day, confronted me, a feeling of such repulsion overcame me that for several minutes I could not touch it. The neck was loosely set in a sort of socket fixed in the earth; this was all the monster's pedestal. I saw that it barely needed a man's strength to send it toppling over. Yet for a moment I could summon up none. At length I put my hands to it and with an effort sent it crashing over amid the brushwood.

"The trough in which this colossal head had rested was about four feet in depth, and narrowed towards the bottom. I put down my hand and drew out—a human thigh-bone. The touch of this would have turned me sick again, had not the statue's face already surfeited me with horror. As it was, I was nerved for any sight. The passion of my discovery was upon me, and I tossed the mouldering bones out to right and left.

"But stay. There seemed a great many in the trough. Surely this was the third thigh-bone that I held now in my hand. Yes, and below, close to the bottom of the trough, lay two skulls side by side. There were two, then, buried here. The parchment had only spoken of one. But I had no time to consider about this. What I sought now was the Secret, and as I took up the second skull I caught the gleam of metal underneath it. I put in my hand and drew out a Buckle of Gold.

"This buckle is formed of two pieces, bound to either end of a thin belt of rotten linen, and united by hook and socket. Its whole dimensions are but 3 inches by 2 inches, but inside its curiously carved border it is entirely covered with writing in rude English character. The narrowing funnel of the trough had kept it from being crushed by the statue, which fitted into a rim running round the interior. Beyond the buckle and the two skeletons there was nothing in the trough; but I looked for nothing else. Here, in my hands, lay the secret of the Great Ruby of Ceylon; my fingers clutched the wealth of princes. My journey had ended and the riches of the earth were in my grasp.

"Forgetful of my guides, forgetful of the flight of time, mindful of nothing but the Golden Buckle, I sat down by the rim of the trough and began to decipher the writing. The inscription, as far as I could gather, ran right across the clasp. It could be read easily enough and contained accurate directions for searching in some spot, but where that spot was it did not reveal. It might be close to the statue; and I was about to start up and make the attempt when I thought again of the parchment. Pulling it from my pocket, I read: ' … beneath this stone lies the secret of the Great Ruby; and yet not all, for the rest is graven on the Key which shall be already entrusted to you. These precautions have I taken that none may surprise this Secret but its right possessor… .'

"Now my father's Will had expressly enjoined, on pain of his dying curse, that this key should not be moved from its place until the Trenoweth who went to seek the treasure should have returned and crossed the threshold of Lantrig. Consequently the ruby was not buried on Adam's Peak, or to return for the key would have been so much labour wasted. Consequently, also, the Golden Buckle was valueless to anybody but him who knew the rest of my father's injunctions. Although not yet in my hand, the Great Ruby was mine. I was folding up the buckle with the parchment before rejoining the guides, when a curious thing happened.

"The sun had climbed high into heaven whilst I was absorbed in my search, and was now flooding the little lawn with light. In my excitement I had heard and seen nothing, nor noted that the heat was growing unbearable beneath the vertical rays. But as I was folding up the parchment a black shadow suddenly fell across the page. I started and looked up.

"Above me stood Simon Colliver.

"He was standing in the broad light of the sun and watching me intently, with a curious smile which grew as our eyes met. How long he had been there I could not guess, but the strangeness of meeting him on this spot, and the occupation in which I was surprised, discomposed me not a little. Hastily thrusting back the buckle and the parchment into my pocket, I scrambled to my feet and stood facing him. Even as I did so, all Mr. Sanderson's warnings came flashing into my mind.

"For full a minute we stood confronting each other without a word. He was still standing in the full blaze of the sunlight, with the same odd smile upon his face, and a peculiar light in his dark eyes that never swerved for a moment. Finally he gave a low laugh and nodding lightly, said—

"'Odd thing our meeting like this, eh? Hand of Fate or some such thing might be mixed up in it from the way we run across each other's path.'

"I assented.

"'Queer too, you'll allow, that we should both be struck with the fancy for ascending this mountain. Very few Europeans do it, so I'm told. I'm on my way up, are you? No? Coming down and taking things easily, to judge by the way I found you occupied.'

"Was the man mocking me? Or had he, after all, no suspicions? His voice was soft and pleasant as ever, nor could I detect a trace of irony in its tone. But I was on my guard.

"'This Peak seems strewn with the handiwork of the heathen,' he continued. 'But really you seem to be in luck's way. I congratulate you. What's this? Skeletons, eh? Upon my word, Trenoweth, you've unearthed a treasure. And this? A statue? Well, it's a queer place to come hunting for statues, but you've picked up an ugly-looking beggar in all conscience!'

"He had advanced to the head, which lay in the rank herbage staring up in hideous spite to heaven. Presently he turned to me and said—

"'Well, this is very remarkable. The fellow who carved this seems to have borrowed my features—not very complimentary of him, I must say. Don't you see the likeness?'

"It was solemn truth. Feature by feature that atrocious face was simply a reproduction of Colliver's. As I stared in amazement, it seemed more and more marvellous that I had not noticed the resemblance before. True, each feature was distorted and exaggerated to produce the utter malignity of its expression. But the face was the face of Colliver. Nobody could have called him a handsome man, but before this I had found Colliver not unpleasant to look upon. Now the hate of the statue's face seemed to have reflected itself upon him. I leant against a tree for support and passed my hand across my brow as if to banish a fearful dream. But it was no dream, and when he turned to speak again I could see lurking beneath the assumed expression of the man all the evil passions and foul wickedness engraved upon the stone.

"'Well,' he remarked, 'stranger things than this have happened, but not much. You seem distressed, Trenoweth. Surely I, if any one, have the right to be annoyed. But you let your antiquarian zeal carry you too far. It's hardly fair to dig these poor remains from their sepulchre and leave them to bleach beneath this tropical sun, even in the interest of science.'

"With this he knelt down and began to gather—very reverently, as I thought—the bones into a heap, and replace them in their tomb. This done, he kicked up a lump or two of turf from the little lawn and pressed it down upon them, humming to himself all the while. Finally he rose and turned again towards me—

"'You'll excuse me, Trenoweth. It's sentimental, no doubt, but I have conceived a kind of respect for these remains. Suppose, for example, this face was really a portrait of one of this buried pair. Why, then the deceased was very like me. I forgive him for caricaturing my features now; were he alive, it might be different. But this place is sufficiently out of the way to prevent the resemblance being noted by many. By the way, I forgot to ask how you chanced on this spot. For my part, I thought that I heard something moving in the thicket, so I followed the sound out of pure curiosity, and came upon you. Well, well! it's a strange world; and it's a wonderful thought too, that this may be the grave of some primaeval ancestor of mine who roamed this Peak for his daily food—an ancestor of some importance too, in his day, to judge by the magnificence of his tomb. A poet might make something out of this: to-day face to face with the day before yesterday. But that's the beauty of archaeology. I did not know it was a pursuit of yours, and am glad to see you are sufficiently recovered of your illness to take it up again. Good-bye for the present. I am obliged to be cautious in taking farewell of you, for we have such a habit of meeting unexpectedly. So, as I have to be up and moving for the summit, I'll say 'Good-bye for the present.' We may as well leave this image where it is; the dead won't miss it, and it's handy by, at any rate. Addio, Trenoweth, and best of luck to your future researches.'

"He was gone. I could hear him singing as he went a strange song which he had often sung on the outward voyage—

"'Sing hey! for the dead man's lips, my lads;
 Sing ho! for the dead man's soul.
 At his red, red lips…'

"The song died away in the distance before I moved. I had hardly opened my lips during the interview, and now had much ado to believe it a reality. But the newly-turfed grave was voucher enough for this. A horror of the place seized me; I cast one shuddering look at the giant face and rushed from the spot, leaving the silent creepers to veil once more that awful likeness from the eyes of day.

"As I emerged upon the track again I came upon Peter and Paul, who were seeking me high and low, with dismay written upon their faces. Excusing my absence as best I could, I declared myself ready, in spite of my ankle, to make all haste in the descent. Of our journey down the Peak I need say little, except that, lame as I was, I surprised and exhausted my guides in my hurry. Of the dangers and difficulties which had embarrassed our ascent I seemed to feel nothing. Except in the cool of the forest, the heat was almost insufferable; but I would hear of no delay until we reached Ratnapoora. Here, instead of returning as we had come, we took a boat down the Kalu-ganga river to Cattura, and thence travelled along the coast by Pantura to Colombo.

"The object of my journey is now accomplished: and it only remains to hasten home with all speed. But I am feeling strangely unwell as I write this. My head has never fully recovered that blow at Bombay, and I think the hours during which I remained exposed to the sun's rays, by the side of that awful image, must have affected it. Or perhaps the fatigue of the journey has worn me out. If I am going to sicken I must hide my secret. It would be safer to bury it with the Journal, at any rate for the time, somewhere in the garden here. I have a tin box that will just answer the purpose. My head is giving me agony. I can write no more."



Back | Next | Contents