StoriesPoetry.com Home Collection of Stories Famous Stories Short Stories Wales Poetry Yiddish Tales

Stories

The Woman At The Bath
By Philippe De Laon. _Of an inn-keeper at Saint Omer who p...

The Right Moment
By Mahiot D'auquesnes. _Of a damsel of Maubeuge who gave h...

Nailed! [85]
By Monseigneur De Santilly. _Of a goldsmith, married to a ...

Tit For Tat
By Monseigneur de la Roche _Of a youth of Picardy who live...

The Calf
By Monseigneur de la Roche _Of a Dutchman, who at all hour...

Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention
By Monseigneur De Commensuram. _Of a gentleman of Picardy ...

The Child Of The Phalanstery
"Poor little thing," said my strong-minded friend compassio...

A Good Dog
_Of a foolish and rich village cure who buried his dog in the...

Beyond The Mark
By Monseigneur De Lannoy. _Of a shepherd who made an agree...

The Duel With The Buckle-strap
By Philippe De Laon. _The fifth story relates two judgment...

A Cure For The Plague
By Monseigneur De Villiers. _Of a girl who was ill of the ...

Foolish Fear
By Monseigneur Philippe Vignier. _Of a young man of Rouen,...

The Lost Ass Found
By Michault De Changy. _Of a good man of Bourbonnais who w...

Indiscretion Reproved, But Not Punished
By The Provost Of Wastennes. _Of a woman who heard her hus...

The Abbess Cured [21]
By Philippe De Laon. _Of an abbess who was ill for want of...

Two Lovers For One Lady
By Monseigneur De La Barde. _Of a squire who found the mul...

The Bagpipe
By Monseigneur De Thalemas. _Of a hare-brained half-mad fe...

The Child With Two Fathers
By Caron. _Of a gentleman who seduced a young girl, and th...

The Husband Pandar To His Own Wife
By Monseigneur _Of a knight of Burgundy, who was marvellou...

The Reverend John Creedy
I. "On Sunday next, the 14th inst., the Reverend John Cr...



The Foundering Of The Fortuna








I.

I am going to spin you the yarn of the foundering of the Fortuna
exactly as an old lake captain on a Huron steamer once span it for me by
Great Manitoulin Island. It is a strange and a weird story; and if I
can't give you the dialect in which he told it, you must forgive an
English tongue its native accent for the sake of the curious Yankee tale
that underlies it.

Captain Montague Beresford Pierpoint was hardly the sort of man you
would have expected to find behind the counter of a small shanty bank at
Aylmer's Pike, Colorado. There was an engaging English frankness, an
obvious honesty and refinement of manner about him, which suited very
oddly with the rough habits and rougher western speech of the mining
population in whose midst he lived. And yet, Captain Pierpoint had
succeeded in gaining the confidence and respect of those strange
outcasts of civilization by some indescribable charm of address and some
invisible talisman of quiet good-fellowship, which caused him to be more
universally believed in than any other man whatsoever at Aylmer's Pike.
Indeed, to say so much is rather to underrate the uniqueness of his
position; for it might, perhaps, be truer to say that Captain Pierpoint
was the only man in the place in whom any one believed at all in any
way. He was an honest-spoken, quiet, unobtrusive sort of man, who walked
about fearlessly without a revolver, and never gambled either in mining
shares or at poker; so that, to the simple-minded, unsophisticated
rogues and vagabonds of Aylmer's Pike, he seemed the very incarnation of
incorruptible commercial honour. They would have trusted all their
earnings and winnings without hesitation to Captain Pierpoint's bare
word; and when they did so, they knew that Captain Pierpoint had always
had the money forthcoming, on demand, without a moment's delay or a
single prevarication.

Captain Pierpoint walked very straight and erect, as becomes a man of
conspicuous uprightness; and there was a certain tinge of military
bearing in his manner which seemed at first sight sufficiently to
justify his popular title. But he himself made no false pretences upon
that head; he freely acknowledged that he had acquired the position of
captain, not in her Britannic Majesty's Guards, as the gossip of
Aylmer's Pike sometimes asserted, but in the course of his earlier
professional engagements as skipper of a Lake Superior grain-vessel.
Though he hinted at times that he was by no means distantly connected
with the three distinguished families whose names he bore, he did not
attempt to exalt his rank or birth unduly, admitting that he was only a
Canadian sailor by trade, thrown by a series of singular circumstances
into the position of a Colorado banker. The one thing he really
understood, he would tell his mining friends, was the grain-trade on the
upper lakes; for finance he had but a single recommendation, and that
was that if people trusted him he could never deceive them.

If any man had set up a bank in Aylmer's Point with an iron strong-room,
a lot of electric bells, and an obtrusive display of fire-arms and
weapons, it is tolerably certain that that bank would have been promptly
robbed and gutted within its first week of existence by open violence.
Five or six of the boys would have banded themselves together into a
body of housebreakers, and would have shot down the banker and burst
into his strong-room, without thought of the electric bells or other
feeble resources of civilization to that end appointed. But when a
quiet, unobtrusive, brave man, like Captain Montague Pierpoint, settled
himself in a shanty in their midst, and won their confidence by his
straightforward honesty, scarcely a miner in the lot would ever have
dreamt of attempting to rob him. Captain Pierpoint had not come to
Aylmer's Pike at first with any settled idea of making himself the
financier of the rough little community; he intended to dig on his own
account, and the role of banker was only slowly thrust upon him by the
unanimous voice of the whole diggings. He had begun by lending men money
out of his own pocket--men who were unlucky in their claims, men who had
lost everything at monte, men who had come penniless to the Pike, and
expected to find silver growing freely and openly on the surface. He had
lent to them in a friendly way, without interest, and had been forced to
accept a small present, in addition to the sum advanced, when the tide
began to turn, and luck at last led the penniless ones to a remunerative
placer or pocket. Gradually the diggers got into the habit of regarding
this as Captain Pierpoint's natural function, and Captain Pierpoint,
being himself but an indifferent digger, acquiesced so readily that at
last, yielding to the persuasion of his clients, he put up a wooden
counter, and painted over his rough door the magnificent notice,
"Aylmer's Pike Bank: Montague Pierpoint, Manager." He got a large iron
safe from Carson City, and in that safe, which stood by his own bedside,
all the silver and other securities of the whole village were duly
deposited. "Any one of the boys could easily shoot me and open that safe
any night," Captain Pierpoint used to say pleasantly; "but if he did,
by George! he'd have to reckon afterwards with every man on the Pike;
and I should be sorry to stand in his shoes--that I would, any time."
Indeed, the entire Pike looked upon Captain Pierpoint's safe as "Our
Bank;" and, united in a single front by that simple social contract,
they agreed to respect the safe as a sacred object, protected by the
collective guarantee of three hundred mutually suspicious
revolver-bearing outcasts.

However, even at Aylmer's Pike, there were degrees and stages of
comparative unscrupulousness. Two men, new-comers to the Pike, by name
Hiram Coffin and Pete Morris, at last wickedly and feloniously conspired
together to rob Captain Pierpoint's bank. Their plan was simplicity
itself. They would go at midnight, very quietly, to the Captain's house,
cut his throat as he slept, rob the precious safe, and ride off straight
for the east, thus getting a clear night's start of any possible
pursuer. It was an easy enough thing to do; and they were really
surprised in their own minds that nobody else had ever been cute enough
to seize upon such an obvious and excellent path to wealth and security.

The day before the night the two burglars had fixed upon for their
enterprise, Captain Pierpoint himself appeared to be in unusual spirits.
Pete Morris called in at the bank during the course of the morning, to
reconnoitre the premises, under pretence of paying in a few dollars'
worth of silver, and he found the Captain very lively indeed. When Pete
handed him the silver across the counter, the Captain weighed it with a
smile, gave a receipt for the amount--he always gave receipts as a
matter of form--and actually invited Pete into the little back room,
which was at once kitchen, bedroom, and parlour, to have a drink. Then,
before Pete's very eyes, he opened the safe, bursting with papers, and
placed the silver in a bag on a shelf by itself, sticking the key into
his waistcoat pocket. "He is delivering himself up into our hands,"
thought Pete to himself, as the Captain poured out two glasses of old
Bourbon, and handed one to the miner opposite. "Here's success to all
our enterprises!" cried the Captain gaily. "Here's success, pard!" Pete
answered, with a sinister look, which even the Captain could not help
noting in a sidelong fashion.

That night, about two o'clock, when all Aylmer's Pike was quietly
dreaming its own sordid, drunken dreams, two sober men rose up from
their cabin and stole out softly to the wooden bank house. Two horses
were ready saddled with Mexican saddle-bags, and tied to a tree outside
the digging, and in half an hour Pete and Hiram hoped to find themselves
in full possession of all Captain Pierpoint's securities, and well on
their road towards the nearest station of the Pacific Railway. They
groped along to the door of the bank shanty, and began fumbling with
their wire picks at the rough lock. After a moment's exploration of the
wards, Pete Morris drew back in surprise.

"Pard," he murmured in a low whisper, "here's suthin' rather
extraordinary; this 'ere lock's not fastened."

They turned the handle gently, and found that the door opened without an
effort. Both men looked at one another in the dim light incredulously.
Was there ever such a simple, trustful fool as that fellow Pierpoint! He
actually slept in the bank shanty with his outer door unfastened!

The two robbers passed through the outer room and into the little back
bedroom-parlour. Hiram held the dark lantern, and turned it full on to
the bed. To their immense astonishment they found it empty.

Their first impulse was to suppose that the Captain had somehow
anticipated their coming, and had gone out to rouse the boys. For a
moment they almost contemplated running away, without the money. But a
second glance reassured them; the bed had not been slept in. The
Captain was a man of very regular habits. He made his bed in civilized
fashion every morning after breakfast, and he retired every evening at a
little after eleven. Where he could be stopping so late they couldn't
imagine. But they hadn't come there to make a study of the Captain's
personal habits, and, as he was away, the best thing they could do was
to open the safe immediately, before he came back. They weren't
particular about murder, Pete and Hiram; still, if you could do your
robbery without bloodshed, it was certainly all the better to do it so.

Hiram held the lantern, carefully shaded by his hand, towards the door
of the safe. Pete looked cautiously at the lock, and began pushing it
about with his wire pick; he had hoped to get the key out of Captain
Pierpoint's pocket, but as that easy scheme was so unexpectedly foiled,
he trusted to his skill in picking to force the lock open. Once more a
fresh surprise awaited him. The door opened almost of its own accord!
Pete looked at Hiram, and Hiram looked at Pete. There was no mistaking
the strange fact that met their gaze--the safe was empty!

"What on airth do you suppose is the meaning of this, Pete?" Hiram
whispered hoarsely. But Pete did not whisper; the whole truth flashed
upon him in a moment, and he answered aloud, with a string of oaths,
"The Cap'n has gone and made tracks hisself for Madison Depot. And he's
taken every red cent in the safe along with him, too! the mean, low,
dirty scoundrel! He's taken even my silver that he give me a receipt for
this very morning!"

Hiram stared at Pete in blank amazement. That such base treachery could
exist on earth almost surpassed his powers of comprehension; he could
understand that a man should rob and murder, simply and naturally, as he
was prepared to do, out of pure, guileless depravity of heart, but that
a man should plan and plot for a couple of years to impose upon the
simplicity of a dishonest community by a consistent show of
respectability, with the ultimate object of stealing its whole wealth at
one fell swoop, was scarcely within the limits of his narrow
intelligence. He stared blankly at the empty safe, and whispered once
more to Pete in a timid undertone, "Perhaps he's got wind of this, and
took off the plate to somebody else's hut. If the boys was to come and
catch us here, it 'ud be derned awkward for you an' me, Pete." But Pete
answered gruffly and loudly, "Never you mind about the plate, pard. The
Cap'n's gone, and the plate's gone with him; and what we've got to do
now is to rouse the boys and ride after him like greased lightnin'. The
mean swindler, to go and swindle me out of the silver that I've been and
dug out of that there claim yonder with my own pick!" For the sense of
personal injustice to one's self rises perennially in the human breast,
however depraved, and the man who would murder another without a scruple
is always genuinely aghast with just indignation when he finds the
counsel for the prosecution pressing a point against him with what seems
to him unfair persistency.

Pete flung his lock-pick out among the agave scrub that faced the bank
shanty and ran out wildly into the midst of the dusty white road that
led down the row of huts which the people of Aylmer's Pike
euphemistically described as the Main Street. There he raised such an
unearthly whoop as roused the sleepers in the nearest huts to turn over
in their beds and listen in wonder, with a vague idea that "the Injuns"
were coming down on a scalping-trail upon the diggings. Next, he hurried
down the street, beating heavily with his fist on every frame door, and
kicking hard at the log walls of the successive shanties. In a few
minutes the whole Pike was out and alive. Unwholesome-looking men, in
unwashed flannel shirts and loose trousers, mostly barefooted in their
haste, came forth to inquire, with an unnecessary wealth of expletives,
what the something was stirring. Pete, breathless and wrathful in the
midst, livid with rage and disappointment, could only shriek aloud,
"Cap'n Pierpoint has cleared out of camp, and taken all the plate with
him!" There was at first an incredulous shouting and crying; then a
general stampede towards the bank shanty; and, finally, as the truth
became apparent to everybody, a deep and angry howl for vengeance on the
traitor. In one moment Captain Pierpoint's smooth-faced villany dawned
as clear as day to all Aylmer's Pike; and the whole chorus of gamblers,
rascals, and blacklegs stood awe-struck with horror and indignation at
the more plausible rogue who had succeeded in swindling even them. The
clean-washed, white-shirted, fair-spoken villain! they would have his
blood for this, if the United States Marshal had every mother's son of
them strung up in a row for it after the pesky business was once fairly
over.

Nobody inquired how Pete and Hiram came by the news. Nobody asked how
they had happened to notice that the shanty was empty and the safe
rifled. All they thought of was how to catch and punish the public
robber. He must have made for the nearest depot, Madison Clearing, on
the Union Pacific Line, and he would take the first cars east for St.
Louis--that was certain. Every horse in the Pike was promptly
requisitioned by the fastest riders, and a rough cavalcade, revolvers in
hand, made down the gulch and across the plain, full tilt to Madison.
But when, in the garish blaze of early morning, they reached the white
wooden depot in the valley and asked the ticket-clerk whether a man
answering to their description had gone on by the east mail at 4.30, the
ticket-clerk swore, in reply, that not a soul had left the depot by any
train either way that blessed night. Pete Morris proposed to hold a
revolver to his head and force him to confess. But even that strong
measure failed to induce a satisfactory retractation. By way of general
precaution, two of the boys went on by the day train to St. Louis, but
neither of them could hear anything of Captain Pierpoint. Indeed, as a
matter of fact, the late manager and present appropriator of the
Aylmer's Pike Bank had simply turned his horse's head in the opposite
direction, towards the further station at Cheyenne Gap, and had gone
westward to San Francisco, intending to make his way back to New York
via Panama and the Isthmus Railway.

When the boys really understood that they had been completely duped,
they swore vengeance in solemn fashion, and they picked out two of
themselves to carry out the oath in a regular assembly. Each contributed
of his substance what he was able; and Pete and Hiram, being more
stirred with righteous wrath than all the rest put together, were
unanimously deputed to follow the Captain's tracks to San Francisco, and
to have his life wherever and whenever they might chance to find him.
Pete and Hiram accepted the task thrust upon them, con amore, and went
forth zealously to hunt up the doomed life of Captain Montague Beresford
Pierpoint.


II.

Society in Sarnia admitted that Captain Pierpoint was really quite an
acquisition. An English gentleman by birth, well educated, and of
pleasant manners, he had made a little money out west by mining, it was
understood, and had now retired to the City of Sarnia, in the Province
of Ontario and Dominion of Canada, to increase it by a quiet bit of
speculative grain trading. He had been in the grain trade already, and
people on the lake remembered him well; for Captain Pierpoint, in his
honest, straightforward fashion, disdained the vulgar trickiness of an
alias, and bore throughout the string of names which he had originally
received from his godfathers and godmothers at his baptism. A thorough
good fellow Captain Pierpoint had been at Aylmer's Pike; a perfect
gentleman he was at Sarnia. As a matter of fact, indeed, the Captain was
decently well-born, the son of an English country clergyman, educated at
a respectable grammar school, and capable of being all things to all men
in whatever station of life it might please Providence to place him.
Society at Sarnia had no prejudice against the grain trade; if it had,
the prejudice would have been distinctly self-regarding, for everybody
in the little town did something in grain; and if Captain Pierpoint
chose sometimes to navigate his own vessels, that was a fad which struck
nobody as out of the way in an easy-going, money-getting, Canadian city.

Somehow or other, everything seemed to go wrong with Captain Pierpoint's
cargoes. He was always losing a scow laden with best fall wheat from
Chicago for Buffalo; or running a lumber vessel ashore on the shoals of
Lake Erie; or getting a four-master jammed in the ice packs on the St.
Clair river: and though the insurance companies continually declared
that Captain Pierpoint had got the better of them, the Captain himself
was wont to complain that no insurance could ever possibly cover the
losses he sustained by the carelessness of his subordinates or the
constant perversity of wind and waters. He was obliged to take his own
ships down, he would have it, because nobody else could take them safely
for him; and though he met with quite as many accidents himself as many
of his deputies did, he continued to convey his grain in person, hoping,
as he said, that luck would turn some day, and that a good speculation
would finally enable him honourably to retrieve his shattered fortunes.

However this might be, it happened curiously enough that, in spite of
all his losses, Captain Pierpoint seemed to grow richer and richer,
visibly to the naked eye, with each reverse of his trading efforts. He
took a handsome house, set up a carriage and pair, and made love to the
prettiest and sweetest girl in all Sarnia. The prettiest and sweetest
girl was not proof against Captain Pierpoint's suave tongue and handsome
house; and she married him in very good faith, honestly believing in him
as a good woman will in a scoundrel, and clinging to him fervently with
all her heart and soul. No happier and more loving pair in all Sarnia
than Captain and Mrs. Pierpoint.

Some months after the marriage, Captain Pierpoint arranged to take down
a scow or flat-bottomed boat, laden with grain, from Milwaukee for the
Erie Canal. He took up the scow himself, and before he started for the
voyage, it was a curious fact that he went in person down into the hold,
bored eight large holes right through the bottom, and filled each up, as
he drew out the auger, with a caulked plug made exactly to fit it, and
hammered firmly into place with a wooden mallet. There was a ring in
each plug, by which it could be pulled out again without much
difficulty; and the whole eight were all placed along the gangway of the
hold, where no cargo would lie on top of them. The scow's name was the
Fortuna: "sit faustum omen et felix," murmured Captain Pierpoint to
himself; for among his other accomplishments he had not wholly neglected
nor entirely forgotten the classical languages.

It took only two men and the skipper to navigate the scow; for lake
craft towed by steam propellers are always very lightly manned: and when
Captain Pierpoint reached Milwaukee, where he was to take in cargo, he
dismissed the two sailors who had come with him from Sarnia, and
engaged two fresh hands at the harbour. Rough, miner-looking men they
were, with very little of the sailor about them; but Captain Pierpoint's
sharp eye soon told him they were the right sort of men for his purpose,
and he engaged them on the spot, without a moment's hesitation. Pete and
Hiram had had some difficulty in tracking him, for they never thought he
would return to the lakes, but they had tracked him at last, and were
ready now to take their revenge.

They had disguised themselves as well as they were able, and in their
clumsy knavery they thought they had completely deceived the Captain.
But almost from the moment the Captain saw them, he knew who they were,
and he took his measures accordingly. "Stupid louts," he said to
himself, with the fine contempt of an educated scoundrel for the
unsophisticated natural ruffian: "here's a fine chance of killing two
birds with one stone!" And when the Captain said the word "killing," he
said it in his own mind with a delicate sinister emphasis which meant
business.

The scow was duly loaded, and with a heavy cargo of grain aboard, she
proceeded to make her way slowly, by the aid of a tug, out of Milwaukee
Harbour.

As soon as she was once clear of the wharf, and while the busy shipping
of the great port still surrounded them on every side, Captain Pierpoint
calmly drew his revolver, and took his stand beside the hatches. "Pete
and Hiram," he said quietly to his two assistants, "I want to have a
little serious talk with you two before we go any further."

If he had fired upon them outright instead of merely calling them by
their own names, the two common conspirators could not have started more
unfeignedly, or looked more unspeakably cowed, than they did at that
moment. Their first impulse was to draw their own revolvers in return;
but they saw in a second that the Captain was beforehand with them, and
that they had better not try to shoot him before the very eyes of all
Milwaukee.

"Now, boys," the Captain went on steadily, with his finger on the
trigger and his eye fixed straight on the men's faces, "we three quite
understand one another. I took your savings for reasons of my own; and
you have shipped here to-day to murder me on the voyage. But I
recognized you before I engaged you: and I have left word at Milwaukee
that if anything happens to me on this journey, you two have a grudge
against me, and must be hanged for it. I've taken care that if this scow
comes into any port along the lakes without me aboard, you two are to be
promptly arrested." (This was false, of course; but to Captain Pierpoint
a small matter like that was a mere trifle.) "And I've shipped myself
along with you, just to show you I'm not afraid of you. But if either of
you disobeys my orders in anything for one minute, I shoot at once, and
no jury in Canada or the States will touch a hair of my head for doing
it. I'm a respectable shipowner and grain merchant, you're a pair of
disreputable skulking miners, pretending to be sailors, and you've
shipped aboard here on purpose to murder and rob me. If you shoot
me, it's murder: if I shoot you, it's justifiable homicide. Now,
boys, do you understand that?"

Pete looked at Hiram and was beginning to speak, when the captain
interrupted him in the calm tone of one having authority. "Look here,
Pete," he said, drawing a chalk line amidships across the deck; "you
stand this side of that line, and you stand there, Hiram. Now, mind, if
either of you chooses to step across that line or to confer with the
other, I shoot you, whether it's here before all the eyes of Milwaukee,
or alone in the middle of Huron. You must each take your own counsel,
and do as you like for yourselves. But I've got a little plan of my own
on, and if you choose willingly to help me in it, your fortune's made.
Look at the thing, squarely, boys; what's the use of your killing me?
Sooner or later you'll get hung for it, and it's a very unpleasant
thing, I can assure you, hanging." As the Captain spoke, he placed his
unoccupied hand loosely on his throat, and pressed it gently backward.
Pete and Hiram shuddered a little as he did so. "Well, what's the good
of ending your lives that way, eh? But I'm doing a little speculative
business on these lakes, where I want just such a couple of men as you
two--men that'll do as they're told in a matter of business and ask no
squeamish questions. If you care to help me in this business, stop and
make your fortunes; if you don't, you can go back to Milwaukee with the
tug."

"You speak fair enough," said Pete, dubitatively; "but you know, Cap'n,
you ain't a man to be trusted. I owe you one already for stealing my
silver."

"Very little silver," the Captain answered, with a wave of the hand and
a graceful smile. "Bonds, United States bonds and greenbacks most of it,
converted beforehand for easier conveyance by horseback. These, however,
are business details which needn't stand in the way between you and me,
partner. I always was straightforward in all my dealings, and I'll come
to the point at once, so that you can know whether you'll help me or
not. This scow's plugged at bottom. My intention is, first, to part the
rope that ties us to the tug; next, to transfer the cargo by night to a
small shanty I've got on Manitoulin Island; and then to pull the plugs
and sink the scow on Manitoulin rocks. That way I get insurance for the
cargo and scow, and carry on the grain in the slack season. If you
consent to help me unload, and sink the ship, you shall have half
profits between you; if you don't, you can go back to Milwaukee like a
couple of fools, and I'll put into port again to get a couple of
pluckier fellows. Answer each for yourselves. Hiram, will you go with
me?"

"How shall I know you'll keep your promise?" asked Hiram.

"For the best of all possible reasons," replied the Captain, jauntily;
"because, if I don't, you can inform upon me to the insurance people."

In Hiram Coffin's sordid soul there was a moment's turning over of the
chances; and then greed prevailed over revenge, and he said,
grudgingly--

"Well, Cap'n, I'll go with you."

The Captain smiled the smile of calm self-approbation, and turned half
round to Pete.

"And you?" he asked.

"If Hiram goes, I go too," Pete answered, half hoping that some chance
might occur for conferring with his neighbour on the road, and following
out their original conspiracy. But Captain Pierpoint had been too much
for him: he had followed the excellent rule "divide et impera" and he
remained clearly master of the situation.

As soon as they were well outside Milwaukee Harbour, the tug dragged
them into the open lake, all unconscious of the strange scene that had
passed on the deck so close to it; and the oddly mated crew made its
way, practically alone, down the busy waters of Lake Michigan.

Captain Pierpoint certainly didn't spend a comfortable time during his
voyage down the lake, or through the Straits of Mackinaw. To say the
truth, he could hardly sleep at all, and he was very fagged and weary
when they arrived at Manitoulin Island. But Pete and Hiram, though they
had many chances of talking together, could not see their way to kill
him in safety; and Hiram at least, in his own mind, had come to the
conclusion that it was better to make a little money than to risk one's
neck for a foolish revenge. So in the dead of night, on the second day
out, when a rough wind had risen from the north, and a fog had come over
them, the Captain quietly began to cut away at the rope that tied them
to the tug. He cut the rope all round, leaving a sound core in the
centre; and when the next gust of wind came, the rope strained and
parted quite naturally, so that the people on the tug never suspected
the genuineness of the transaction. They looked about in the fog and
storm for the scow, but of course they couldn't find her, for Captain
Pierpoint, who knew his ground well, had driven her straight ashore
before the wind and beached her on a small shelving cove on Manitoulin
Island. There they found five men waiting for them, who helped unload
the cargo with startling rapidity, for it was all arranged in sacks, not
in bulk, and a high slide fixed on the gangway enabled them to slip it
quickly down into an underground granary excavated below the level of
the beach. After unloading, they made their way down before the breeze
towards the jagged rocks of Manitoulin.

It was eleven o'clock on a stormy moonlight night when the Fortuna
arrived off the jutting point of the great island. A "black squall," as
they call it on the lakes, was blowing down from the Sault Ste. Marie.
The scow drove about aimlessly, under very little canvas, and the boat
was ready to be lowered, "in case," the Captain said humorously, "of any
accident." Close to the end of the point the Captain ordered Pete and
Hiram down into the hold. He had shown them beforehand the way to draw
the plugs, and had explained that the water would rise very slowly, and
they would have plenty of time to get up the companion-ladder long
before there was a foot deep of water in the hold. At the last moment
Pete hung back a little. The Captain took him quietly by the shoulders,
and, without an oath (an omission which told eloquently on Pete), thrust
him down the ladder, and told him in his calmest manner to do his duty.
Hiram held the light in his hand, and both went down together into the
black abyss. There was no time to be lost; they were well off the point,
and in another moment the wreck would have lost all show of reasonable
probability.

As the two miners went down into the hold, Captain Pierpoint drew
quietly from his pocket a large hammer and a packet of five-inch nails.
They were good stout nails, and would resist a considerable pressure. He
looked carefully down into the hold, and saw the two men draw the first
plug. One after another he watched them till the fourth was drawn, and
then he turned away, and took one of the nails firmly between his thumb
and forefinger.

Next week everybody at Sarnia was grieved to hear that another of
Captain Pierpoint's vessels had gone down off Manitoulin Point in that
dreadful black squall on Thursday evening. Both the sailors on board had
been drowned, but the Captain himself had managed to make good his
escape in the jolly boat. He would be a heavy loser, it was understood,
on the value of the cargo, for insurance never covers the loss of grain.
Still, it was a fortunate thing that such a delightful man as the
Captain had not perished in the foundering of the Fortuna.


III.

Somehow, after that wreck, Captain Pierpoint never cared for the water
again. His nerves were shattered, he said, and he couldn't stand danger
as he used to do when he was younger and stronger. So he went on the
lake no more, and confined his attention more strictly to the "futures"
business. He was a thriving and prosperous person, in spite of his
losses; and the underwriters had begun to look a little askance at his
insurances even before this late foundering case. Some whispered
ominously in underwriting circles that they had their doubts about the
Fortuna.

One summer, a few years later, the water on Lake Huron sank lower than
it had ever been known to sink before. It was a very dry season in the
back country, and the rivers brought down very diminished streams into
the great basins. Foot by foot, the level of the lake fell slowly, till
many of the wharves were left high and dry, and the vessels could only
come alongside in very few deep places. Captain Pierpoint had suffered
much from sleeplessness, combined with Canadian ague, for some years
past, but this particular summer his mind was very evidently much
troubled. For some unaccountable reason, he watched the falling of the
river with the intensest anxiety, and after it had passed a certain
point, his interest in the question became painfully keen. Though the
fever and the ague gained upon him from day to day, and his doctor
counselled perfect quiet, he was perpetually consulting charts, and
making measurements of the configuration which the coast had now
reached, especially at the upper end of Lake Huron. At last, his mind
seemed almost to give way, and weak and feverish as he was, he insisted,
the first time for many seasons, that he must take a trip upon the
water. Remonstrance was quite useless; he would go on the lake again, he
said, if it killed him. So he hired one of the little steam pleasure
yachts which are always to let in numbers at Detroit, and started with
his wife and her brother, a young surgeon, for a month's cruise into
Lake Superior.

As the yacht neared Manitoulin Island, Captain Pierpoint insisted upon
being brought up on deck in a chair--he was too ill to stand--and swept
all the coast with his binocular. Close to the point, a flat-topped
object lay mouldering in the sun, half out of water, on the shoals by
the bank. "What is it, Ernest?" asked the Captain, trembling, of his
brother-in-law.

"A wreck, I should say," the brother-in-law answered, carelessly. "By
Jove, now I look at it with the glass, I can read the name, 'Fortuna,
Sarnia.'"

Captain Pierpoint seized the glass with a shaking hand, and read the
name on the stern, himself, in a dazed fashion. "Take me downstairs," he
said feebly, "and let me die quietly; and for Heaven's sake, Ernest,
never let her know about it all."

They took him downstairs into the little cabin, and gave him quinine;
but he called for brandy. They let him have it, and he drank a glassful.
Then he lay down, and the shivering seized him; and with his wife's hand
in his, he died that night in raving delirium, about eleven. A black
squall was blowing down from the Sault Ste. Marie; and they lay at
anchor out in the lake, tossing and pitching, opposite the green
mouldering hull of the Fortuna.

They took him back and buried him at Sarnia; and all the world went to
attend his funeral, as of a man who died justly respected for his wealth
and other socially admired qualities. But the brother-in-law knew there
was a mystery somewhere in the wreck of the Fortuna; and as soon as
the funeral was over, he went back with the yacht, and took its skipper
with him to examine the stranded vessel. When they came to look at the
bottom, they found eight holes in it. Six of them were wide open; one
was still plugged, and the remaining one had the plug pulled half out,
inward, as if the persons who were pulling it had abandoned the attempt
for the fear of the rising water. That was bad enough, and they did not
wonder that Captain Pierpoint had shrunk in horror from the revealing of
the secret of the Fortuna.

But when they scrambled on the deck, they discovered another fact which
gave a more terrible meaning to the dead man's tragedy. The covering of
the hatchway by the companion-ladder was battened down, and nailed from
the side with five-inch nails. The skipper loosened the rusty iron with
his knife, and after a while they lifted the lid off, and descended
carefully into the empty hold below. As they suspected, there was no
damaged grain in it; but at the foot of the companion-ladder, left
behind by the retreating water, two half-cleaned skeletons in sailor
clothes lay huddled together loosely on the floor. That was all that
remained of Pete and Hiram. Evidently the Captain had nailed the hatch
down on top of them, and left them there terror-stricken to drown as the
water rushed in and rose around them.

For a while the skipper and the brother-in-law kept the dead man's
secret; but they did not try to destroy or conceal the proofs of his
guilt, and in time others visited the wreck, till, bit by bit, the
horrible story leaked out in its entirety. Nowadays, as you pass the
Great Manitoulin Island, every sailor on the lake route is ready to tell
you this strange and ghastly yarn of the foundering of the Fortuna.




Next: The Backslider

Previous: My New Years Eve Among The Mummies



Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
ADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 1772