Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
If any one cares to buy the yawl Siren, he may have her for 200 pounds, or a trifle less than the worth of her ballast, as lead goes nowadays. For sufficient reasons--to be disclosed in the course of this narrative--I am unable to give her builder's name, and for reasons quite as sufficient I must admit the figures of her registered tonnage (29.56), cut on the beam of her forecastle, to be a fraud. I will be perfectly frank; there is a mystery about the yacht. But I gave 400 pounds for her in the early summer of 1890, and thought her dirt cheap. She was built under the old "Thames rule," that is, somewhere between 1875 and 1880, and was therefore long and narrow to begin with. She has been lengthened since. Nevertheless, though nobody could call her a dry boat, she will behave herself in any ordinary sea, and come about quicker than most of her type. She is fast, has sound timbers and sheathing that fits her like a skin, and her mainmast and bowsprit are particularly fine spars of Oregon pine; her mizzen doesn't count for much. Let me mention the newest of patent capstans--I put this into her myself--cabins panelled in teak and pitch-pine and cushioned with red morocco, two suits of sails, besides a big spinnaker that does not belong to her present rig, a serviceable dinghy--well, you can see for yourselves without my saying more, that, even to break up, she is worth quite double the money.
In what follows I shall take leave here and there to alter a name or suppress it. With these exceptions you shall hear precisely how the Siren came into my hands.
Early in 1890 I determined, for the sake of my health, to take a longer holiday than usual, and spend the months of July, August, and September in a cruise about the Channel. My notion was to cross over to the French coast, sail down as far as Cherbourg, recross to Salcombe, and thence idle westward to Scilly, and finish up, perhaps, with a run over to Ireland. This, I say, was my notion: you could not call it a plan, for it left me free to anchor in any port I chose, and to stay there just as long as it amused me. One fixed intention I had, and one only-- to avoid the big regattas. Money had to be considered, and I thought at first of hiring. I wanted something between twenty-five and forty tons, small enough to be worked by myself and a crew of three or at most three men and a boy, and large enough to keep us occupied while at sea.
Of course, I studied the advertisement columns, and for some time found nothing that seemed even likely to suit. But at last in The Field, and in the left-hand bottom corner--where it had been squeezed by the lists of the usual well-known agencies--I came on the following:--
"YAWL, 35 tons. For immediate SALE, that fast and comfortable cruiser Siren. Lately refitted and now in perfect condition throughout. Rigging, etc., as good as new. Cabin appointments of unusual richness and taste. 400 pounds. Apply, Messrs. Dewy and Moss, Agents and Surveyors, Portside Street, F--."
On reading this I took Lloyd's Yacht Register from its shelf, and hunted for further details. Sirens crowd pretty thickly in the Register; only a little less thickly than Undines. Including Sirenes and Sirenas, I found some fourteen--and not a yawl amongst them, nor anything of her tonnage. There were two more in Lloyd's List of American Yachts--one a centre-board schooner, the other a centre-board sloop; and, in a further list, I came upon a Siren that had changed her name to Mirage--a screw-schooner of one hundred and ninety tons, owned by no less a person than the Marquis of Ormonde. On the whole it seemed pretty clear that Lloyd knew not of the existence of this "fast and comfortable cruiser" of thirty-five tons.
However, if half the promises of the advertisement were genuine, the chance ought not to be lost for lack of further inquiry. So I sat down there and then and wrote a letter to the poetically-named Dewy and Moss, asking some questions in detail about the boat, and, in particular, where she was to be seen.
The answer came by return of post. The boat had been laid up since the autumn in a sheltered creek of the F-- River, about three-quarters of a mile up from the harbour side, where Messrs. Dewy and Moss transacted business. The keys lay at their office, and she could be inspected at any time. Her sails, gear, and movable furniture were stored in a roomy loft at the back of Messrs, Dewy and Moss's own premises. Their client was a lady who wished to keep her name concealed--at any rate during the preliminaries; but they had full power to conduct the sale. The yacht was a bargain. The lady wished to be rid of it at once; but they might mention that she would not take a penny less than the quoted price of 400 pounds. They would be happy to deal with me in that or any other line of business; and they enclosed their card.
The card bore witness to the extraordinary versatility of Messrs. Dewy and Moss, if to nothing else. Here is the digest of it:-- "Auctioneers; Practical Valuers; House and Estate Agents; Business Brokers; Ship Brokers; Accountants and Commission Merchants; Servants' Registry Office; Fire, Life, Accident, and Plate Glass Insurance Effected; Fire Claims prepared and adjusted; Live Stock Insured; Agents for Gibson's Non-Slipping Cycles; Agents for Packington's Manures, the best and cheapest for all crops; Valuations for Probate; Emigration Agents; Private Arrangements negotiated with Creditors; Old Violins cleaned and repaired; Vice-Consulate for Norway and Sweden."
I cannot say this card produced quite the impression which its composers no doubt desired. It seemed to me that Messrs. Dewy and Moss had altogether too many strings to their bow. And the railway journey to F-- was a long one. So I hesitated for two days; and on the late afternoon of the third found myself some three hundred miles from home, standing in a windy street full of the blown odours of shipping, and pulling at a bell which sounded with terrifying alacrity just on the other side of the door. A window was thrown up, right above me, and a head appeared (of Dewy, as it turned out), and invited me to come upstairs.
Mr. Dewy met me on the landing, introduced himself, and led me into his office, where a fat young woman sat awkwardly upon a wooden chair several inches too high for her. Hastily reviewing the many professional capacities in which Mr. Dewy could serve her, I decided that she must be a cook in search of a place. The agent gave me the only other chair in the room--it was clear that in their various feats of commercial dexterity the firm depended very little upon furniture-- and balanced himself on the edge of his knee-hole table. He was a little, round man, and his feet dangled three inches from the floor. He looked honest enough, and spoke straightforwardly.
"You have come about the yacht, sir. You would wish to inspect her at once? This is most unfortunate! Your letter only reached us this afternoon. The fact is, my partner, Mr. Moss, has gone off for the day to N-- to attend a meeting of the Amateur Bee-keepers' Association--my partner is an enthusiast upon bee-culture."
The versatility of Moss began to grow bewildering. "--and will not be back until late to-night. As for me," he consulted his watch, "I am due in half an hour's time to conduct the rehearsal of a service of song at the Lady Huntingdon's Chapel, down the street, where I play the harmonium."
The diversity of Dewy dazed me.
"You are staying the night at F--?" he said.
"Why, yes. I sleep at the Ship Inn, but hoped to leave early to-morrow."
"Of course you could inspect the sails and gear at once; they are in the loft behind." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder.
"So I understand, but it would be better to see the boat first."
"Naturally, naturally. I hope you see how I am placed? You would not desire me, I feel sure, to disappoint the chapel members who will be waiting presently for their rehearsal. Stay . . . perhaps you would not greatly object to rowing up and inspecting the yacht by yourself? Here are the keys, and my boat is at your disposal; or, if you prefer it, a waterman--"
"Nothing would suit me better, if you don't mind my using the boat."
"It will be a favour, sir, your using her, I assure you. This way, if you please."
He jumped down from the table and led the way downstairs, and through some very rickety back premises to the quay door, where his boat lay moored to a frape. As I climbed down and cast off, Mr. Dewy pulled out his watch again.
"The evenings are lengthening, and you will have plenty of time. Half an hour to high water; you will have the tide with you each way. The keys will open everything on board. By the way, you can't miss her--black, with a tarnished gilt line, moored beside a large white schooner, just three-quarters of a mile up. You can tie up the boat to the frape on your return; to-morrow will do for the keys; at your service any time after nine a.m. Good evening, sir!"
Mr. Dewy turned and hurried back to his client, whose presence during our interview he had completely ignored.
The sun had dropped behind the tall hills that line the western shore of the beautiful F-- River; but a soft yellow light, too generously spread to dazzle, suffused the whole sky, and was reflected on the tide that stole up with scarcely a ripple. A sharp bend of the stream brought me in sight of the two yachts, not fifty yards away--their inverted reflections motionless as themselves; I rested on my oars and drifted up towards them, conning the black yawl carefully.
She struck me as too big for a 35-tonner, fore-shortened though she lay--a wall-sided narrow boat, but a very pretty specimen of her type. Her dismantled masts were painted white, and her upper boards had been removed, of course.
There was a man standing on her deck.
She lay with her nose pointing up the river and her stern towards me. The man stood by her wheel (for some idiotic reason, best known to himself, her builder had given her a wheel instead of a tiller), which was covered up with tarpaulin. He stood with a hand on this tarpaulin case, and looked back over his shoulder towards me--a tall fellow with a reddish beard and a clean-shaven upper lip. I was drifting close by this time--he looking curiously at me--and I must have been studying his features for half a minute before I hailed him.
"Yacht ahoy!" I called out. "Is that the Siren?"
Getting no answer, I pulled the boat close under the yacht's side, made her fast, and climbed on board by way of the channels.
"This is the Siren, eh?" I said, looking down her deck towards the wheel.
There was no man to be seen.
I stared around for a minute or so; ran to the opposite side and looked over; ran aft and leaned over her taffrail; ran forward and peered over her bows. Her counter was too short to conceal a man, and her stem had absolutely no overhang at all; yet no man was to be seen, nor boat nor sign of a man. I tried the companion: it was covered and padlocked. The sail-hatch and fore-hatch were also fastened and padlocked, and the skylights covered with tarpaulin and screwed firmly down. A mouse could not have found its way below, except perhaps by the stove-pipe or the pipe leading down to the chain-locker.
I was no believer in ghosts, but I had to hit on some theory there and then. My nerves had been out of order for a month or two, and the long railway journey must have played havoc with them. The whole thing was a hallucination. So I told myself while pulling the coverings off the skylights, but somehow got mighty little comfort out of it; and I will not deny that I fumbled a bit with the padlock on the main hatchway, or that I looked down a second time before setting foot on the companion ladder.
She was a sweet ship; and the air below, though stuffy, had no taste of bilge in it. I explored main cabin, sleeping cabins, forecastle. The movable furniture had been taken ashore, as I had been told; but the fixtures were in good order, the decorations in good taste. Not a panel had shrunk or warped, nor could I find any leakage. At the same time I could find no evidence that she had been visited lately by man or ghost. The only thing that seemed queer was the inscription "29.56" on the beam in the forecastle. It certainly struck me that the surveyor must have under-registered her, but for the moment I thought little about it.
Passing back through the main cabin I paused to examine one or two of the fittings--particularly a neat glass-fronted bookcase, with a small sideboard below it, containing three drawers and a cellaret. The bookcase was empty and clean swept; so also were the drawers. At the bottom of the cellaret I found a couple of flags stowed--a tattered yellow quarantine-signal tightly rolled into a bundle, and a red ensign neatly folded. As I lifted out the latter, there dropped from its folds and fell upon the cabin floor--a book.
I picked it up--a thin quarto bound in black morocco, and rather the worse for wear. On its top side it bore the following inscription in dingy gilt letters:--
JOB'S HOTEL, PENLEVEN,
J. JOB, Proprietor.
Standing there beneath the skylight I turned its pages over, wondering vaguely how the visitors' book of a small provincial hotel had found its way into that drawer. It contained the usual assortment of conventional praise and vulgar jocosity:--
Mr. and the Hon. Mrs. Smith of Huddersfield, cannot speak too highly of Mrs. Job's ham and eggs.--September 15, 1881.
Arrived wet through after a 15-mile tramp along the coast; but thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Job were soon steaming over a comfortable fire.--John and Annie Watson, March, 1882.
Note appended by a humorist:
Then you sat on the hob, I suppose.
There was the politely patronising entry:
Being accustomed to Wolverhampton, I am greatly pleased with this coast.--F. B. W.
The poetical effusion:
Majestic spot! Say, doth the sun in heaven Behold aught to equal thee, wave-washed Penleven? etc.
Here I came to take my ease, Agreeably disappointed to find no fl-- Mrs. Job, your bread and butter Is quite too utterly, utterly utter!
J. Harper, June 3rd, 1883.
The contemplative man's ejaculation:
It is impossible, on viewing these Cyclopean cliffs, to repress the thought, How great is Nature, how little Man! (A note: So it is, old chap! and a reproof in another hand: Shut up! can't you see he's suffering?)
The last entry was a brief one:
J. MacGuire, Liverpool. September 2nd, 1886.
Twilight forced me to close the book and put it back in its place. As I did so, I glanced up involuntarily towards the skylight, as if I half expected to find a pair of eyes staring down on me. Yet the book contained nothing but these mere trivialities. Whatever my apprehension, I was (as "J. Harper" would have said) "agreeably disappointed." I climbed on deck again, relocked the hatch, replaced the tarpaulins, jumped into the boat and rowed homewards. Though the tide favoured me, it was dark before I reached Mr. Dewy's quay-door. Having, with some difficulty, found the frape, I made the boat fast. I groped my way across his back premises and out into the gaslit street; and so to the Ship Inn, a fair dinner, and a sound night's sleep.
At ten o'clock next morning I called on Messrs. Dewy and Moss. Again Mr. Dewy received me, and again he apologised for the absence of his partner, who had caught an early train to attend a wrestling match at the far end of the county. Mr. Dewy showed me the sails, gear, cushions, etc., of the Siren--everything in surprising condition. I told him that I meant business, and added--
"I suppose you have all the yacht's papers?"
He stroked his chin, bent his head to one side, and asked, "Shall you require them?"
"Of course," I said; "the transfer must be regular. We must have her certificate of registry, at the very least."
"In that case I had better write and get them from my client."
"Is she not a resident here?"
"I don't know," he said, "that I ought to tell you. But I see no harm-- you are evidently, sir, a bona fide purchaser. The lady's name is Carlingford--a widow--residing at present in Bristol."
"This is annoying," said I; "but if she lives anywhere near the Temple Mead Station, I might skip a train there and call on her. She herself desired no delay, and I desire it just as little. But the papers are necessary."
After some little demur, he gave me the address, and we parted. At the door I turned and asked, "By the way, who was the fellow on board the Siren last night as I rowed up to her?"
He gave me a stare of genuine surprise. "A man on board? Whoever he was, he had no business there. I make a point of looking after the yacht myself."
I hurried to the railway station. Soon after six that evening I knocked at Mrs. Carlingford's lodgings in an unattractive street of Bedminster, that unattractive suburb. A small maid opened the door, took my card, and showed me into a small sitting-room on the ground floor. I looked about me--a round table, a horsehair couch, a walnut sideboard with glass panels, a lithograph of John Wesley being rescued from the flames of his father's rectory, a coloured photograph--
As the door opened behind me and a woman entered, I jumped back almost into her arms. The coloured photograph, staring at me from the opposite wall above the mantelshelf, was a portrait--a portrait of the man I had seen on board the Siren!
"Who is that?" I demanded, wheeling round without ceremony.
But if I was startled, Mrs. Carlingford seemed ready to drop with fright. The little woman--she was a very small, shrinking creature, with a pallid face and large nervous eyes--put out a hand against the jamb of the door, and gasped out--
"Why do you ask? What do you want?"
"I beg your pardon," I said; "it was merely curiosity. I thought I had seen the face somewhere."
"He was my husband."
"He is dead, then?"
"Oh, why do you ask? Yes; he died abroad." She touched her widow's cap with a shaking finger, and then covered her face with her hands. "I was there--I saw it. Why do you ask?" she repeated.
"I beg your pardon sincerely," I said; "it was only that the portrait reminded me of somebody--But my business here is quite different. I am come about the yacht Siren which you have advertised for sale."
She seemed more than ever inclined to run. Her voice scarcely rose above a whisper.
"My agents at F-- have full instructions about the sale."
"Yes, but they tell me you have the papers. I may say that I have seen the yacht and gear and am ready to pay the price you ask for immediate possession. I said as much to Mr. Dewy. But the papers, of course--"
"Are they necessary?"
"Certainly they are. At least the certificate of registry or, failing that, some reference to the port of registry, if the transfer is to be made. I should also like to see her warrant if she has one, and her sailmaker's certificate. Messrs. Dewy and Moss could draw up the inventory."
She still hesitated. At length she said, "I have the certificate; I will fetch it. The other papers, if she had any, have been lost or destroyed. She never had a warrant. I believe my husband belonged to no Yacht Club. I understand very little of these matters."
She left the room, and returned in five minutes or so with the open document in her hand.
"But," said I, looking over it, "this is a certificate of a vessel called the Wasp."
"Ah, I must explain that. I wished the boat to change her name with the new owner. Her old name--it has associations--painful ones--I should not like anyone else to know her as the Wasp."
"Well," I admitted, "I can understand that. But, see here, she is entered as having one mast and carrying a cutter rig."
"She was a cutter originally. My husband had her lengthened, in 1886, I think by five feet, and turned her into a yawl. It was abroad, at Malaga--"
"A curious port to choose."
"She was built, you see, as long ago as 1875. My husband used to say she was a broad boat for those days, and could be lengthened successfully and turned into quite a new-looking vessel. He gave her an entirely new sheathing, too, and all her spars are new. She was not insured, and, being in a foreign port, it was understood he would have her newly registered when he returned, which he fully intended. So no alterations were made in the certificate here, and, I believe, her old tonnage is still carved up somewhere inside her."
This was true enough. The figures on the certificate, 29.56, were those I had seen on the beam in the forecastle.
"My husband never lived to reach England, and when she came back to F--, though she was visited, of course, by the Custom House officer and coastguard, nobody asked for her certificate, and so the alterations in her were never explained. She was laid up at once in the F-- River, and there she has remained."
Certain structural peculiarities in the main cabin--scarcely noted at the time, but now remembered--served to confirm Mrs. Carlingford's plainly told story. On my return to London that night I hunted up some back volumes of Hunt, and satisfied myself on the matter of the Wasp and her owner, William Carlingford. And, to be short, the transfer was made on a fresh survey, the cheque sent to Mrs. Carlingford, and the yawl Siren passed into my hands.
All being settled, I wrote to my old acquaintance, Mr. Dewy, asking him to fit the vessel out, and find me a steady skipper and crew--not without some apprehension of hearing by return of post that Dewy and Moss were ready and willing to sign articles with me to steer and sail the yacht in their spare moments. Perhaps the idea did not occur to them. At any rate they found me a crew, and a good one; and I spent a very comfortable three months, cruising along the south-western coast, across to Scilly, from Scilly to Cork and back to Southampton, where on September 29, 1891, I laid the yacht up for the winter.
Thrice since have I applied to Messrs. Dewy and Moss for a crew, and always with satisfactory results. But I must pass over 1892 and 1893 and come to the summer of 1894; or, to be precise, to Wednesday, the 11th of July. We had left Plymouth that morning for a run westward; but, the wind falling light towards noon, we found ourselves drifting, or doing little more, off the entrance of the small fishing haven of Penleven. Though I had never visited Penleven I knew, on the evidence of many picture-shows, that the place was well worth seeing. Besides, had I not the assurances of the Visitors' Book in my cabin? It occurred to me that I would anchor for an hour or two in the entrance of the haven, and eat my lunch ashore at Mr. Job's hotel. Mr. Job would doubtless be pleased to recover his long-lost volume, and I had no more wish than right to retain it.
Job's hotel was unpretending. Mrs. Job offered me ham and eggs and, as an alternative, a cut off a boiled silver-side of beef, if I did not mind waiting for ten minutes or so, when her husband would be back to dinner. I said that I would wait, and added that I should be pleased to make Mr. Job's acquaintance on his return, as I had a trifling message for him.
About ten minutes later, while studying a series of German lithographs in the coffee-room, I heard a heavy footstep in the passage and a knock at the door; and Mr. Job appeared, a giant of a man, with a giant's girth and red cheeks, which he sufflated as a preliminary of speech.
"Good day, Mr. Job," said I. "I won't keep you from your dinner, but the fact is, I am the unwilling guardian of a trifle belonging to you." And I showed him the Visitors' Book.
I thought the man would have had an apoplectic fit there on the spot. He rolled his eyes, dropped heavily upon a chair, and began to breathe hard and short.
"Where--where--?" he gasped, and began to struggle again for breath.
I said, "For some reason or other the sight of this book distresses you, and I think you had better not try to speak for a bit. I will tell you exactly how the book came into my possession, and afterwards you can let me have your side of the story, if you choose." And I told him just what I have told the reader.
At the conclusion, Mr. Job loosed his neckcloth and spoke--
"That book, sir, ought to be lyin' at the bottom of the sea. It was lost on the evening of September the 3rd, 1886, on board a yacht that went down with all hands. Now I'll tell you all about it. There was a gentleman called Blake staying over at Port William that summer--that's four miles up the coast, you know."
". . . staying with his wife and one son, a tall young fellow, aged about twenty-one, maybe. They came from Liverpool--and they had a yacht with them, that they kept in Port William harbour, anchored just below the bridge. She would be about thirty tons--a very pretty boat. They had only one hired hand for crew; used to work her themselves for the most part; the lady was extraordinary clever at the helm, or at the sheets either. Very quiet people they were. You might see them most days that summer, anchored out on the whiting grounds. What was she called? The Queen of Sheba--cutter-rigged-quite a new boat. It was said afterwards that the owner, Mr. Blake, designed her himself. She used often to drop anchor off Penleven. Know her? Why of course I'd know her; 'specially considerin' what happened.
"'What was that?' A very sad case; it made a lot of talk at the time. One day--it was the third of September, '86--Mr. and Mrs. Blake and the son, they anchored off the haven and came up here to tea. I supposed at the time they'd left their paid hand, Robertson, on board; but it turned out he was left home at Port William that day, barkin' a small mainsail that Mr. Blake had bought o' purpose for the fishin'. Well, Mrs. Blake she ordered tea, and while my missus was layin' the cloth young Mr. Blake he picks up that very book, sir, that was lyin' on the sideboard, and begins readin' it and laffin'. My wife, she goes out of the room for to cut the bread-and-butter, and when she comes back there was the two gentlemen by the window studyin' the book with their backs to the room, and Mrs. Blake lyin' back in the chair I'm now sittin' on, an' her face turned to the wall--so. The young Mr. Blake he turns round and says, 'This here's a very amusin' book, Mrs. Job. Would you mind my borrowing it for a day or two to copy out some of the poetry? I'll bring it back next time we put into Penleven.' Of course my wife says, 'No, she didn't mind.' Then the elder Mr. Blake he says, 'I see you had a visitor here yesterday--a Mr. MacGuire. Is he in the house?' My wife said, 'No; the gentleman had left his traps, but he'd started that morning to walk to Port William to spend the day.' Nothing more passed. They had their tea, and paid for it, and went off to their yacht. I saw that book in the young man's hand as he went down the passage.
"Well, sir, it was just dusking in as they weighed and stood up towards Port William, the wind blowing pretty steady from the south'ard. At about ten minutes to seven o'clock it blew up in a sudden little squall--nothing to mention; the fishing-boats just noticed it, and that was all. But it was reckoned that squall capsized the Queen of Sheba. She never reached Port William, and no man ever clapped eyes on her after twenty minutes past six, when Dick Crego declares he saw her off the Blowth, half-way towards home, and going steady under all canvas. The affair caused a lot of stir, here and at Port William, and in the newspapers. Short-handed as they were, of course they'd no business to carry on as they did--'specially as my wife declares from her looks that Mrs. Blake was feelin' faint afore they started. She always seemed to me a weak, timmersome woman at the best; small and ailin' to look at."
"And Mr. Blake?"
"Oh, he was a strong-made gentleman: tall, with a big red beard."
"Took after his father, only he hadn't any beard; a fine upstanding pair."
"And no trace was ever found of them?"
"Not a stick nor a shred."
"But about this Visitors' Book? You'll swear they took it with them? See, there's not a stain of salt-water upon it."
"No, there isn't; but I'll swear young Mr. Blake had it in his hand as he went from my door."
I said, "Mr. Job, I've kept you already too long from your dinner. Go and eat, and ask them to send in something for me. Afterwards, I want you to come with me and take a look at my yacht, that is lying just outside the haven."
As we started from the shore Mr. Job, casting his eyes over the Siren, remarked, "That's a very pretty yawl of yours, sir." As we drew nearer, he began to eye her uneasily.
"She has been lengthened some five or six feet," I said; "she was a cutter to begin with."
"Lord help us!" then said Mr. Job, in a hoarse whisper. "She's the Queen of Sheba. I'd swear to her run anywhere--ay, or to that queer angle of her hawse-holes."
A close examination confirmed Mr. Job that my yacht was no other than the lost Queen of Sheba, lengthened and altered in rig. It persuaded me, too. I turned back to Plymouth, and, leaving the boat in Cattewater, drove to the Millbay Station and took a ticket for Bristol. Arriving there just twenty-four hours after my interview with Mr. Job, I made my way to Mrs. Carlingford's lodgings.
She had left them two years before; nothing was known of her whereabouts. The landlady could not even tell me whether she had moved from Bedminster: And so I had to let the matter rest.
But just fourteen days ago I received the following letter, dated from a workhouse in one of the Midland counties:--
I am a dying woman, and shall probably be dead before this reaches you. The doctor says he cannot give me forty-eight hours. It is angina pectoris, and I suffer horribly at times. The yacht you purchased of me is not the Wasp, but the Queen of Sheba. My husband designed her. He was a man of some property near Limerick; and he and my son were involved in some of the Irish troubles between 1881 and 1884. It was said they had joined one of the brotherhoods, and betrayed their oaths.
This I am sure was not true. But it is certain we had to run for fear of assassination. After a year in Liverpool we were forced to fly south to Port William, where we brought the yacht and lived for some time in quiet, under our own names. But we knew this could not last, and had taken measures to escape when need arose. My husband had chanced, while at Liverpool, upon an old yacht, dismantled and rotting in the Mersey--but of about the same size as his own and still, of course, upon the register. He bought her of her owner--a Mr. Carlingford, and a stranger--for a very few pounds, and with her--what he valued far more--her papers; but he never completed the transfer at the Custom House. His plan was, if pressed, to escape abroad, and pass his yacht off as the Wasp, and himself as Mr. Carlingford. All the while we lived at Port William the Queen of Sheba was kept amply provisioned for a voyage of at least three weeks, when the necessity overtook us, quite suddenly-- the name of a man, MacGuire, in the Visitors' Book of a small inn at Penleven. We left Penleven at dusk that evening, and held steadily up the coast until darkness. Then we turned the yacht's head, and ran straight across for Morlaix; but the weather continuing fine for a good fortnight (our first night at sea was the roughest in all this time), we changed our minds, cleared Ushant, and held right across for Vigo; thence, after re-victualling, we cruised slowly down the coast and through the Straits, finally reaching Malaga. There we stayed and had the yacht lengthened. My husband had sold his small property before ever we came to Port William, and had managed to invest the whole under the name of Carlingford. There was no difficulty about letters of credit. At each port on the way we had shown the Wasp's papers, and used the name of Carlingford; and at Lisbon we read in an English newspaper about the supposed capsizing of the Queen of Sheba. Still, we had not only to persuade the officials at the various ports that our boat was the Wasp. We knew that our enemies were harder to delude, and our next step was to make her as unlike the Wasp or the Queen of Sheba as possible. This we did by lengthening her and altering her rig. But it proved useless, as I had always feared it would. The day after we sailed from Malaga, a Spanish-speaking seaman, whom we had hired there as extra hand, came aft as if to speak to my husband (who stood at the wheel), and, halting a pace or two from him, lifted a revolver, called him by name, and shot him dead. Before he could turn, my son had knocked him senseless, and in another minute had tumbled him overboard.
We buried my husband in the sea, next day. We held on, we two alone, past Gibraltar-- I steering and my son handling all the sails--and ran up for Cadiz. There we made deposition of our losses, inventing a story to account for them, and my son took the train for Paris, for we knew that our enemies had tracked the yacht, and there would be no escape for him if he clung to her. I waited for six days, and then engaged a crew and worked the yacht back to F--. I have never since set eyes on my son; but he is alive, and his hiding is known to myself and to one man only--a member of the brotherhood, who surprised the secret. To keep that man silent I spent all my remaining money; to quiet him I had to sell the yacht; and now that money, too, is gone, and I am dying in a workhouse.
God help my son now! I deceived you, and yet I think I did you no great wrong. The yacht I sold you was my own, and she was worth the money. The figures on the beam were cut there by my husband before we reached Vigo, to make the yacht correspond with the Wasp's certificate. If I have wronged you, I implore your pardon.--
Well, that is the end of the story. It does not, I am aware, quite account for the figure I saw standing by the Siren's wheel. As for the Wasp, she has long since rotted to pieces on the waters of the Mersey. But the question is, Have I a right to sell the Siren? I certainly have a right to keep her, for she is mine, sold to me in due form by her rightful owner, and honestly paid for. But then I don't want to keep her!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.