Dead Man's Rock by Arthur Quiller-Couch



Whatever claims this story may have upon the notice of the world, they will rest on no niceties of style or aptness of illustration. It is a plain tale, plainly told: nor, as I conceive, does its native horror need any ingenious embellishment. There are many books that I, though a man of no great erudition, can remember, which gain much of interest from the pertinent and appropriate comments with which the writer has seen fit to illustrate any striking situation. From such books an observing man may often draw the exactest rules for the regulation of life and conduct, and their authors may therefore be esteemed public benefactors. Among these I, Jasper Trenoweth, can claim no place; yet I venture to think my history will not altogether lack interest—and this for two reasons. It deals with the last chapter (I pray Heaven it be the last) in the adventures of a very remarkable gem—none other, in fact, than the Great Ruby of Ceylon; and it lifts, at least in part, the veil which for some years has hidden a certain mystery of the sea. For the moral, it must be sought by the reader himself in the following pages.

To make all clear, I must go back half a century, and begin with the strange and unaccountable Will made in the year of Grace 1837 by my grandfather, Amos Trenoweth, of Lantrig in the County of Cornwall. The old farm-house of Lantrig, heritage and home of the Trenoweths as far as tradition can reach, and Heaven knows how much longer, stands some few miles N.W. of the Lizard, facing the Atlantic gales from behind a scanty veil of tamarisks, on Pedn-glas, the northern point of a small sandy cove, much haunted of old by smugglers, but now left to the peaceful boats of the Polkimbra fishermen. In my grandfather's time however, if tales be true, Ready-Money Cove saw many a midnight cargo run, and many a prize of cognac and lace found its way to the cellars and store-room of Lantrig. Nay, there is a story (but for its truth I will not vouch) of a struggle between my grandfather's lugger, the Pride of Heart, and a certain Revenue cutter, and of an unowned shot that found a Preventive Officer's heart. But the whole tale remains to this day full of mystery, nor would I mention it save that it may be held to throw some light on my grandfather's sudden disappearance no long time after. Whither he went, none clearly knew. Folks said, to fight the French; but when he returned suddenly some twenty years later, he said little about sea-fights, or indeed on any other subject; nor did many care to question him, for he came back a stern, taciturn man, apparently with no great wealth, but also without seeming to want for much, and at any rate indisposed to take the world into his confidence. His father had died meanwhile, so he quietly assumed the mastership at Lantrig, nursed his failing mother tenderly until her death, and then married one of the Triggs of Mullyon, of whom was born my father, Ezekiel Trenoweth.

I have hinted, what I fear is but the truth, that my grandfather had led a hot and riotous youth, fearing neither God, man, nor devil. Before his return, however, he had "got religion" from some quarter, and was confirmed in it by the preaching of one Jonathan Wilkins, as I have heard, a Methodist from "up the country," and a powerful mover of souls. As might have been expected in such a man as my grandfather, this religion was of a joyless and gloomy order, full of anticipations of hell-fire and conviction of the sinfulness of ordinary folk. But it undoubtedly was sincere, for his wife Philippa believed in it, and the master and mistress of Lantrig were alike the glory and strong support of the meeting-house at Polkimbra until her death. After this event, her husband shut himself up with the tortures of his own stern conscience, and was seen by few. In this dismal self-communing he died on the 27th of October, 1837, leaving behind him one mourner, his son Ezekiel, then a strong and comely youth of twenty-two.

This brings me to my grandfather's Will, discovered amongst his papers after his death; and surely no stranger or more perplexing document was ever penned, especially as in this case any will was unnecessary, seeing that only one son was left to claim the inheritance. Men guessed that those dark years of seclusion and self-repression had been spent in wrestling with memories of a sinful and perhaps a criminal past, and predicted that Amos Trenoweth could not die without confession. They were partly right, from knowledge of human nature; and partly wrong, from ignorance of my grandfather's character.

The Will was dated "June 15th, 1837," and ran as follows:—

"I, Amos Trenoweth, of Lantrig, in the Parish of Polkimbra and County of Cornwall, feeling, in this year of Grace Eighteen hundred and thirty-seven, that my Bodily Powers are failing and the Hour drawing near when I shall be called to account for my Many and Grievous Sins, do hereby make Provision for my Death and also for my son Ezekiel, together with such Descendants as may hereafter be born to him. To this my son Ezekiel I give and bequeath the Farm and House of Lantrig, with all my Worldly Goods, and add my earnest hope that this may suffice to support both him and his Descendants in Godliness and Contentment, knowing how greatly these excell the Wealth of this World and the Lusts of the Flesh. But, knowing also the mutability of earthly things, I do hereby command and enjoin that, if at any time He or his Descendants be in stress and tribulation of poverty, the Head of our Family of Trenoweth shall strictly and faithfully obey these my Latest Directions. He shall take ship and go unto Bombay in India, to the house of Elihu Sanderson, Esquire, or his Heirs, and there, presenting in person this my last Will and Testament, together with the Holy Bible now lying in the third drawer of my Writing Desk, shall duly and scrupulously execute such instructions as the said Elihu Sanderson or his Heirs shall lay upon him.

"Also I command and enjoin, under pain of my Dying Curse, that the Iron Key now hanging from the Middle Beam in the Front Parlour be not touched or moved, until he who undertakes this Task shall have returned and have crossed the threshold of Lantrig, having duly performed all the said Instructions. And furthermore that the said Task be not undertaken lightly or except in direst Need, under pain of Grievous and Sore Affliction. This I say, knowing well the Spiritual and worldly Perils that shall beset such an one, and having myself been brought near to Destruction of Body and Soul, which latter may Christ in His Mercy avert.

"Thus, having eased my mind of great and pressing Anguish, I commend my soul to God, before Whose Judgment Bar I shall be presently summoned to stand, the greatest of sinners, yet not without hope of Everlasting Redemption, for Christ's sake. Amen.


Such was the Will, written on stiff parchment in crabbed and unscholarly characters, without legal forms or witnesses; but all such were needless, as I have pointed out. And, indeed, my father was wise, as I think, to show it to nobody, but go his way quietly as before, managing the farm as he had managed it during the old man's last years. Only by degrees he broke from the seclusion which had been natural to him during his parents' lifetime, so far as to look about for a wife—shyly enough at first—until he caught the dark eyes of Margery Freethy one Sunday morning in Polkimbra Church, whither he had gone of late for freedom, to the no small tribulation of the meeting-house. Now, whether this tribulation arose from the backsliding of a promising member, or the loss of the owner of Lantrig (who was at the same time unmarried), I need not pause here to discuss. Nor is it necessary to tell how regularly Margery and Ezekiel found themselves in church, nor how often they caught each other's eyes straying from the prayer-book. It is enough that at the year's end Margery answered Ezekiel's question, and shortly after came to Lantrig "for good."

The first years of their married life must have been very happy, as I gather from the hushed joy with which my mother always spoke of them. I gather also that my first appearance in this world caused more delight than I have ever given since—God forgive me for it! But shortly after I was four years old everything began to go wrong. First of all, two ships in which my father had many shares were lost at sea; then the cattle were seized with plague, and the stock gradually dwindled away to nothing. Finally, my father's bank broke—or, as we say in the West, "went scat!"—and we were left all but penniless, with the prospect of having to sell Lantrig, being without stock and lacking means to replenish it. It was at this time, I have since learnt from my mother, that Amos Trenoweth's Will was first thought about. She, poor soul! had never heard of the parchment before, and her heart misgave her as she read of peril to soul and body sternly hinted at therein. Also, her best-beloved brother had gone down in a squall off the Cape of Good Hope, so that she always looked upon the sea as a cruel and treacherous foe, and shuddered to think of it as lying in wait for her Ezekiel's life. It came to pass, therefore, that for two years the young wife's tears and entreaties prevailed; but at the end of this time, matters growing worse and worse, and also because it seemed hard that Lantrig should pass away from the Trenoweths while, for aught we knew, treasure was to be had for the looking, poverty and my father's wish prevailed, and it was determined, with the tearful assent of my mother, that he should start to seek this Elihu Sanderson, of Bombay, and, with good fortune, save the failing house of the Trenoweths. Only he waited until the worst of the winter was over, and then, having commended us both to the care of his aunt, Elizabeth Loveday, of Lizard Town, and provided us with the largest sum he could scrape together (and small indeed it was), he started for the port of Plymouth one woeful morning in February, and thence sailed away in the good ship Golden Wave to win his inheritance.

Next | Contents