Bibliographic Information

The Plough Boy Journals

The Journals and Associated Documents

The Plough Boy Anthology

19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. LIII, No. 1 (Jan 1881)
pp. 30-37.

30 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

. . . .



      Those who now visit the little island of Nantucket for aquatic sport and recreation during the heated term can scarcely imagine the place to have been the mart of industry that it was forty years ago. In the days of my boyhood, we had never heard of such innovations as water-pipes under our streets, or a narrow-gauge railroad along our sea-shore to meet the requirements of elegant leisure or to carry on the work of active idleness. But our well kept wharves were then lined with stout ships, arriving from and departing upon long voyages, while the fleet of fore-and-afters in the coasting trade far exceeded in number the fleet of little pleasure boats which now, with the exception of a solitary steamer, are the only craft that vex the waters of our harbor. The boys, in those days, took to the water as naturally as ducks, and many of us became practical boatmen before we were stout enough to get a berth for a voyage round Cape Horn. Half a dozen of us "North-Shorers" who were sworn friends and comrades in all sorts or aquatic adventures had scraped our united savings into a common stock and bought an old whale-boat for a few dollars, and by hook or by crook, had picked up a complement of old oars for her.

      The Sea-Shell – for she answered to that name in large Roman capitals rudely done in red chalk both upon her bow and quarter – had made a voyage quite round the globe before she came into our ownership; and had encountered some hard knocks in her many battles with leviathan. But scarred and patched as she was, no champions of Harvard or Yale were ever more proud of their gaudy craft on a racing day than we were of the Sea-Shell when we pulled away out beyond the Bar to test her qualities in a seaway, and pulled all the way back again with hungry stomachs and blistered hands, declaring that she was the most perfect sea-boat that ever swam, and as to her leaking, why one boy could keep her free and not bail more than half the time. Many were the cruises we made up harbor in this old boat, often visiting the old hut of Abraham Quady, the half-breed, who was the last know descendant of the once powerful Nantucket tribe.

      But even Abraham himself, possessing as

The Mystery Of Shubael Wyer. 31

he did the strongly marked characteristics of the Indian race, was not invested with more interest in our juvenile minds than was old Shubael Wyer, the hermit of Coatue. It was plain enough to us that Shubael was of our own Caucasian stock, and it was even said that he had some near relatives in town, but they never talked of relationship, while he himself avoided the haunts of men and seldom went out of sight of his own queer little home. We could never have any words with him, for as often as we appeared we were warned off by gestures unmistakable, showing that no communication was desired, and the sinister appearance of the man, added to the fact that he never stirred abroad without a gun or a long heavy rake for digging quahaugs, usually carrying both, was sufficient to enforce his warning and keep boys hovering off at a respectful distance.

      We could make him out a tall, cadaverous, wary-looking old man, with an aquiline cast of countenance and heavy gray beard. In the summer-time, the season when our visit that way were most frequent, we always saw him in his shirt-sleeves, with his gaunt arms bared to the shoulders, and his grizzly head topped by a broad Payta hat, or a slouched Sou'wester according as the weather might be sunny or overcast. Often when cruising around the point or lying on our oars, we heard the crack of his fowling-piece in the distance; at least we always gave him credit for all the shots we heard fired, for no one ever poached upon his manor, and he had become, so far as a certain extent of beach was concerned, a sort of Selkirk, "monarch of all he surveyed." We thought Coatue Point was about the last place that any civilized man should have chosen for a dwelling, but that was his own affair, and if our parents knew anything of the man's past history, they did not choose to be communinative to the younger member of the family.

      Shubael's shanty in which he dwelt, though not commodious in size, looked as if it might be comfortable enough. I used to think that to see the interior of it I would have given anything I possessed except perhaps my undivided fractional interest in the Sea-Shell. Old Wyer had a small dory or skiff of his own in which he came across the harbor to town when necessary to purchase supplies; but this was very seldom, for he picked up most of his living from the sea, the air, and the sands of the beach, and would purchase enough at one of his visit to last him for a considerable period. He paid for everything in gold, gave brief and cold answers to all questions, wasted no words, and never asked for aid or charity from any, man or woman. He was surly and rude to all who came near his hermitage to gratify curiosity, and gave every one to understand that he desired to be left entirely alone.

      Of course it seemed to us boys that he must have lived in this manner from time immemorial and might still continue to do so for another century; but the real fact was that this Crusoe life covered only the last twenty years of Shubael Wyer's earthly career. And at last one day, when we were out in the Sea-Shell, – that was when I was fourteen, the last summer before I shipped for my first Cape Horn voyage, – on approaching Coatue Point, we saw some one on the beach near the shanty, making the most frantic signals for us to draw near, but the figure was not that of old Wyer himself. Obeying the call, we ventured in, and soon made it out to be Harvey Burgess, a young man well known to us all. He explained that old Wyer was lying in his house stricken down with paralysis, and urged us to pull for the town as fast as possible. He did not think much could be done even by old Doctor Bartlett with all his reputed skill, for it seemed to be a death stroke with the old hermit, but at any rate no time was to be lost. He, Burgess, had come over to Coatue on a gunning cruise, and it was by the merest accident that he had learned the truth. His own skiff was a long way further up the Point, where he had first landed, and besides with our whale-boat and full crew we could make much greater haste, while he himself would remain with the helpless man until the doctor's arrival.

      We waited no second bidding, for our generous sympathies lent strength to our young muscles. A human being, even though it was old Shubael Wyer, was in need of medical, and the Sea-Shell had never skimmed the smooth waters of the harbor more swiftly since her boy owners rowed her, than she did on that morning.

      When she touched the dock I jumped ashore and ran at full speed for Dr. Bartlett's house, while my companions remained by the boat ready for a start. I was lucky enough to find the doctor at home, and in a very few minutes we were on our return; but although doing our very best, death had not delayed his work to await our coming. The old physician at a glance and a touch pronounced the patient to be quite dead.

      "But a little sooner or later would have made no difference," he said. "He was probably beyond any skill of mine even when you first discovered him. By the way, how did it happen? For I think it was seldom that any person but Wyer himself ever entered this door."

      "Why, I was shooting about here, and it struck me as a little queer that I did not see the hermit abroad with his gun as he always had been before at that hour, and it occurred to me that perhaps he might be ailing in some way, and I ventured to come and try the door of the shanty. I found him here on

32 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

his bed, alive, but looking very much as he does now, and he has shown no signs of consciousness at any moment since."

      "And now, doctor," continued Burgess, "do you know anything of his history? Of course he is a puzzle to all the young folks, though it is said that he is a native and has relatives here."

      "So he has," replied the doctor. "But he hasn't troubled himself about them for many years, nor they about him. I knew Shubael Wyer when he was a smart young man, and he commanded a ship when about twenty-six years old, but I know nothing of the middle period of his life, and cannot say why he came here to bury himself in a desert. I have had some surmises on the subject, but don't know anything that I would care to put into words. If you will stay a while with the body, Mr. Burgess, I'll employ these lads to take me back to town, and I will then report to the coroner, and also notify some of Wyer's relatives."

      The scene in the shanty that day left a strong impression which was anything but a pleasant one upon my memory. The romance connected with its interior where I had so long desired to get a peep was now quite dissipated, for everything was so common-place and insignificant to say nothing of the disorder and dirt. But there was a stove in which there had been a fire that morning, and there were provisions in the house, so that nothing indicated want or distress, and it would seem that the hermit had always lived comfortably enough in his way. But the principal object that fascinated me was the old man lying there in a half-doubled-up attitude with the tangled gray hair and beard partially masking the distorted features of the face. He was dressed as if ready to start out, and everything showed that he had risen that morning in his usual health, and been suddenly stricken down. There was a kind of hideous attraction about the scene from which it seemed an effort to tear myself away, and yet I was not sorry to breathe the outer air and to be again afloat on our return.

      That night at dusk when we made fast the Sea-Shell at her moorings, I lingered on the wharf for a yarn with old Zimri Clark, the watchman, who had come on duty for the night. Uncle Zimri was a veteran mariner who had had his share of beating the seas from Cape Horn to Kamtschatka in the days of his youth, but was hale, hearty and alert at threescore and ten. He was always ready with some story of adventure such as boys delight in, and did not mind beguiling the time in that way while he guarded the property on the wharf against fire and night prowlers. Thus I often used to walk back and forth with him for an hour or two, keeping close to his side and listening with greedy ears.

      On this occasion I was full of importance as I related to him the adventure of the morning, and enlarged upon all I knew concerning the death of old Wyer. He listened to it all with only a nod of the head now and then, and when I had finished he only replied: –

      "Well, I reckon it has been a rough voyage with him for the last forty-five years or so, and I'm glad for him that it is ended. It isn't easy for us short-sighted mortals to say what sort of port he'll make at the end of it."

      "Why, do you really know anything about his life, Uncle Zimri?" I asked with eager curiosity. "Do you know any reason that he had for living that way like Robinson Crusoe?"

      "Why, yes," returned the old man a little curiously. "I suppose I do. I should say, as Doctor Bartlett did, that I know little about the middle part of his life beyond what has been picked up from casual rumor; but, as a young man, I knew Shubael Wyer for as smart a fellow as ever jumped. I sailed a voyage with him, and I know the very day that he put the blot on his logbook."

      "Oh! he did something wicked then that clung to him ever afterwards," said I, for I was quite accustomed to Uncle Zimri's nautical figures of speech, and generally understood their meaning pretty well.

      "Yes, it was remorse that charged the whole drift of his life. No one knows that better than I do, for I was nearer to him and more associated with him than any one else at the time of his great wrong. But there are enough elderly people here, who, like the doctor, guess at the fact in a vague and general way; but never care to talk about it. But now that the man has gone, I suppose it doesn't matter so much, and I suppose the case will be generally talked over, so I may as well tell you how it was."

      I kept closer than ever to the side of Uncle Zimri as we paced back and forth across the wharf, at a point where we could see way up into the street, and could not fail to see any person coming down, while he proceeded to relate the story of old Wyer, which I shall give substantianally[sic] in his own words.

      It was in the year '94 that I arrived home from my last voyage to Walwich Bay, in the old Faith, and felt not a little proud when I was offered a second mate's berth in the Jasper, then fitting to go into the Pacific Ocean. It was only three years before, that the Beaver had made the pioneer trip round Cape Horn, but since then several ships had been that route, and returned with good fares, reporting abundance of both sperm and right whales in the Pacific. The Jasper was a good stout ship, and well appointed; for Shubael Wyer, who was to command her, had the name of a crack

The Mystery Of Shubael Wyer. 33

whaleman, although a young man, but two years older than myself, and Peter Joy, whom he had shipped as his mate, was also a high-killer, and was well known to me, for I had made a short voyage with him to the coast of Brazil. Sixteen hundred barrels would fill the Jasper, for we did not build large ships for the business in those days, and we apprehended no difficulty in soon getting the quantity of oil where whales were plenty.

      Mr. Joy had been married, a few weeks before we sailed, to Dinah Bunker, who was one of the best as well as the prettiest girls of her generation, and that is saying enough. I don't think we have improved any upon women-kind since that day. Of all who were present at the wedding, Captain Wyer was the most discontented and disappointed man, though he tried his best to hide it.

      He had offered himself to Dinah, but she was firm in declining his offer, because she preferred and really loved the young man who was going out as his mate. So the captain apparently swallowed his disappointment like a man, and no one had cause to suppose that he would not in time make up his mind, like most others in such cases, that there are just as good fish in the sea as ever were caught.

      Well, we had a good passage round the Horn in the Jasper, and our voyage was now in a fair way to be a prosperous one if we struck down among the sperm whales off the coast of Chili.

      We got on very well together in our end of the ship, though I always fancied that dark and bitter thoughts showed themselves in the old man's face whenever Mr. Joy happened to talk about his wife. I suppose you know, my boy, that "the old man" means the captain of the ship – that is, of your own ship that you belong to – and he is always called so, even by men old enough to be his father. Sometimes when sitting at the cabin table in the first watch below, Mr. Joy would get the picture of Dinah out of his sea-chest, look at it a while so fond and proud-like, and the old man would always take it and look at it too, and his eyes would flash, and then I always fancied I could read the dark and bitter thoughts stirring in him. The picture, I must say, was a very good likeness, though it was only a painted daub, for this new idea of making the sun paint your pictures had not been thought of in those days. In less than a year after we doubled the Horn; we had our hold nearly full of sperm oil, and wanted only two or three whales to chock off the hatchways and then point the Jasper's head toward home. We had worked way off shore, and were cruising far to the westward of Masafuera, when we spoke the Leander, only five months from home, and got some letters.

      Mr. Joy had one, of course, from his young wife, and he was so delighted with it, that he read the most of it aloud, in her very words, in the hearing of the captain. And while the mate was on deck that night, I myself saw the old man go and get the letter out of the mate's stateroom, and read it all through, and when he had finished and put the letter back in its place, there was a look on his face such as I had never seen on a human face before, as if the very Evil One himself had full possession of him.

      I thought I would tell Mr. Joy of his meanness as soon as the watch was relieved at midnight; but then I took a second thought, and determined to put it off, as some future time would do just as well, and it was of no use stirring up a row between them.

      The next day we raised a school of whales, and all three boats went down in chase of them, everybody in high spirits at the prospect of soon having a full ship. The old man struck the first whale, a forty-barrel bull, and Mr. Joy was soon harnessed to another, which proved to be a racer, and started off to windward with him, making such speed that a stern chase seemed out of the question. As the rest of the school had made off out of sight, I soon gave up pulling to windward, and turned my attention to helping the old man.

      It was nearly sundown when we got the whale killed, and the twilight was short, so that by the time we had manoeuvred the ship to the whale, hauled him alongside, and got the fluke-rope on, it was shutting down dark. The ship-keeper reported that the mate's boat when last seen was a little forward of the weather-beam, or right dead in the wind's eye from us, and that the whale was still spouting clear and strong, and working to windward.

      This was before the ship had run off and luffed to again for fluking our whale. By estimation, the mate must now be at least six or seven miles to the windward of us, and our signal lantern, with its small, dim light, could not be seen by him. It was of no use trying to beat up dragging the whale in the fluke-rope, and the safest course was to lie hove-to where we were. We had, in those old days, no carriage gun to fire signals with, and, indeed, nothing bigger than a couple of old revolutionary muskets. But one thing better than all we could easily do, and this was to make a fire with scraps on the top of the try-works, and the blaze could be seen a long distance, I was about ordering this to be done, when, to my astonishment, the old man interfered, and countermanded the order.

      "Don't begin to worry yet about Mr. Joy," he said in a careless tone. "Of course he can find the ship easy enough, and he has

34 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

      either killed his whale or cut from him, long ago. Let the men get their suppers, and all turn in but one boat's crew. I'll take the first watch myself. Keep the signal lantern up at the gaff, and that will be enough."

      I looked up at the speck of light swinging aloft, and it seemed like a mockery, when I thought of men several miles off looking for it. I felt rather anxious about the mate and his boat's crew, but I must say that the old man's easy confidence had its weight with me. I knew that Peter Joy was not the man to cut from any whale so long as he had daylight to work in, but after dark he certainly would. With the fire-light on the tryworks he ought to find the ship without much trouble, but without it he might just as easily go astray. When I had swallowed my hasty supper, I ventured to make the suggestion again.

      "Don't fret, Mr. Clark; there is no need of bothering with any scrap-fire. He'll find us fast enough."

      "If he has killed his whale, you don't think he would undertake to tow him leeward, do you, sir?"

      "Not he; he isn't a fool. He has cut from his whale, dead or alive, before this, and he will be here directly, so don't worry."

      "But if he don't know positively that we have got a whale alongside, he may have killed his, and then lay by him, waiting for the ship to beat up. We ought certainly to make all the signals we can."

      "Oh, of course he knows, he must have seen her manoeuvring," returned the old man testily. "You can ring the bell or pound on an empty cask if you think there's any need of it. Or I'll have it done myself; you had better turn in, and I'll take the first watch."

      I went below feeling somewhat anxious and dissatisfied, and soon after I heard the tolling of the ship's bell, but it was a small one compared to what our ships carry now-a-days, and could not be heard any distance, against the wind. This was continued only a few minutes, and then there was some pounding on an empty cask, but not very loud, and only by fits and starts as if nobody took much interest in it. Of course, if the officer is easy, Jack before the mast will never burden himself with much care, for his rule is to do what he is told to do, and leave responsibility to those who are better paid for it.

      In a short time the noises ceased, all but the tramp of the old man's feet fore and aft the quarter deck, directly over me, and as I was very tired I fell asleep, though not very soundly, for I seemed to be dreaming all the time, and to be in all sorts of queer and uneasy situations.

      I must have slept about two hours, for the old silver watch in Mr. Joy's stateroom pointed to ten o'clock when I awoke and jumped out of my bunk. Judging by the roll of the ship and the rushing sound, we must be running off free. Of this I was sensible as soon as I put my head a little way up the cabin stairs. I saw no one moving on deck, but presently the old man, who appeared to have been at the tiller himself, came along with the spy-glass in his hand, as he had heard me moving.

      "Keep a sharp lookout forward there! I have been running off a few minutes, Mr. Clark," he said to me; "for I saw, as I thought, a small light off the lee quarter, but I have lost it again, so we may as well come to the wind, and lie still until daylight. I'll call Worth at eleven o'clock, and give you the morning watch. I haven't troubled the men, excepting one on the lookout, as we had the cutting-gear already aloft, and there was no work to do."

      I could now perceive that Captain Wyer was nervous and fidgety, that he seemed anxious to say something, he did not know what, and a horrible suspicion was growing upon me. The ship had luffed to again, for the helm had been put down just as I showed my head above deck. But why should the old man be so very considerate of his men as to be at the helm himself! He was not wont to be so as a general thing. You will understand that the ship had been lying by the whale, having, as is usual, the head-yards braced in aback, and the top-sails, excepting the mizzen, lowered down upon the lifts, so that she would lie as nearly still as possible, making only a lee drift. When I awoke, she was off before the wind, and would probably make about four knots an hour with what canvas she had, and that on a course directly away from where the mate's boat was last seen! How long she had been thus running off of course I could not know, but the old man had appeared to have the deck all to himself, and his excuses were too suspicious.

      The idea of the boat's light seen off the lee quarter was too ridiculous, as a boat there would have seen our signal-lantern at the gaff long before her own light could have been seen from the ship. I again suggested making a fire on the try-works, and the old man gave his consent, but much as if he could no longer find an excuse for not allowing it. The blaze was soon started, and its glare lighted up the sea for a space around us, but where were poor Mr. Joy and his boat's crew now? There was to be no more sleep for me that night, and at eleven o'clock when Worth was called, I remained on deck with him, while the captain went below, and remained in his stateroom, brooding in the dark, but I think he never closed his eyes, for he came up several times before morning, and, indeed, after midnight he either

The Mystery Of Shubael Wyer. 35

      was, or pretended to be, thoroughly alarmed. We kept up the scrap-fire all night, banged away upon the empty casks, fired the muskets, and rang the ship's bell, but this was all we could do, for it was better to lie still in one position, than to make sail and steer anywhere at random. We would be quite as likely to be running away from, as toward, our lost men.

      The darkness wore away, and we had seen nothing, heard nothing of them. At the first streak of daylight, eager eyes were at the mast-heads scanning the surface of the sea, and the whole round of the horizon, but no signs of a boat were to be seen. But there were two ships in sight five or six miles under our lee, one of them boiling, as we could see the smoke from his try-fires.

      The captain and I stood side by side in the maintopmast cross-trees after our scrutiny of the horizon, satisfied that the mate's boat was nowhere in sight. He seemed irresolute and undecided what to do, and as I was roused by my suspicions, I took it upon myself to speak out.

      "Of course," said I, "the only thing for us to do is to cut away the whale, pack on sail, and beat up to where we were yesterday."

      "But I thought," said he, "it would be as well to run off and speak these ships to leeward. They might know something about our boat."

      "Nonsense!" I snapped out, forgetting in my rage all respect to my superior officer. "There isn't one chance in a million that Mr. Joy has gone away down there, and besides if either of those ships had our boat and men, wouldn't she be making all sorts of frantic signals to communicate with us?"

      The captain had no logic to answer me with, and I was more and more satisfied that he had the night before basely abandoned Mr. Joy, not only by refusing to make the proper signals at nightfall, but by actually running away with the ship. But perhaps it might not yet be too late, and I resolved that all should now be done to save the mate if possible, even if I had to carry my point by open mutiny, for I felt convinced that in such a case most of the crew would support me.

      I swung myself into the rigging, and came down two or three ratlines at a jump, while Captain Wyer followed me, but more slowly. I seized a long cutting spade, and rushed to the side, but for a moment I paused, and looked back at the old man.

      "What say you, sir? Shall I cut away?"

      "Yes, yes," he answered, in a crestfallen kind of way.

      But then, as if recollecting himself, he changed his whole tone suddenly, and took charge of the work, giving the orders to masthead the topsails and make all sail.

      I did not wait to unjoint the whale, but with two or three blows of the spade, cut the strands of the fluke-rope, and our prize was given to the sharks and the sea-birds. In a few minutes we had packed on sail to our three to'gallant sails, and were lying sharp by the wind, with a good seaman at the helm, and several pairs of sharp eyes aloft, and the old Jasper was doing her best, as if she were conscious of something wrong, and wanted to make up for lost time.

      All that day we beat to the windward, making short stretches, and just before sundown raised the waif of a dead whale. I lowered my boat and went to it, cut one of the irons out, and satisfied myself, by the marks upon it, that this was the same whale which Mr. Joy had struck. There was also a small waif flying on a short pole, which we knew to be ours, and this waif, as well as the fact that the line had been cut close up to the iron, showed that the mate had succeeded in killing the whale before he left him, and, in all probability, before dark.

      I estimated the distance we had beat up to be not less than twenty miles, as the wind had favored us; thus making due allowance for her drift the night before, there were still some miles of distance to be accounted for. I felt quite sure now that Shubael Wyer was a murderer, and that he had been running the ship off at the very time when the mate was pulling in search of her, and that, too, with no signal but the miserable old lantern, a very mockery of darkness at the distance of a mile.

      I said nothing of my thoughts to any one, nor did I hear any word spoken by others, whatever they might have thought. But no one else knew all that I did about the circumstances, and the suspicion seemed to me too horrible to be ever shaped into words.

      We lay to that night, and the following two days we cruised the ground over, zig-zaging on various courses, the old man now playing the hypocrite to perfection and really seeming to be quite anxious and distressed about the fate of Mr. Joy. On the third day we were all willing to give up the search, and bear away for home. We were, of course, short-handed for whaling, and we could not run into port and ship men as can be done now-a-days. But our crew was quite sufficient for merely working the ship, and we brought her home nearly full of oil, to that she made a good paying voyage after all.

      During the passage the old man often talked about the loss of the mate, and seemed anxious to smooth matters over, acknowledging that he had made a mistake in not building a fire on the try-works earlier than he did, and also for running off a few minutes for what he thought was a boat's light,

36 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

      though he did not think this last circumstance could have made any difference. I made but little answer to all this, as it was a subject I did not care to talk about, and I was quite sure that he knew my suspicion.

      It was a sad, heart-breaking day for Dinah Joy when the Jasper dropped her anchor at Nantucket Bar, and the fatal news was carried into her home. I called upon her but once during my short stay on shore, and then my speech was chiefly in praise of her husband, which I knew would please her, and I said as little as possible about the details of his loss. She, poor girl, knew that he went away from the ship in the discharge of his duty, that he never came back, that we had done what we could to find him, and that he could not be found. This, perhaps, was enough for her to be told about the sad affair.

      I soon went out again as mate of the same ship, under another captain, and from the day we sailed I never saw Shubael Wyer again, until he returned here, and took the hermitage on Coatue Point, and then both he and I were elderly men. I knew, by hearsay, that he declined to go into the Pacific again, preferring a shorter voyage, and that soon after we sailed he took command of the brig Vulture for a voyage on the Brazil Banks.

      He was absent rather more than a year, and on his return renewed his attentions to the Widow Joy, now that a suitable time of widowhood had passed away. As you well know, long-voyage sailors make short courtships; indeed, they must do so from the very nature of the case. A year and a half will do wonders in blunting the edge of grief, and then Shubael Wyer was called a likely man, and could get a ship whenever he might say the word. And Dinah Joy, though she had a prattling son, was still as lovely and as loving and seemingly as young as ever.

      No tidings had ever been received about the lost mariner, and all hope had long ago been given up. It so happened that all the rest of the boat's crew were strangers to the island, and little was known of them, and there had been but one house of mourning in town by reason of this disaster. Now the cloud was to be lifted from that one, and all the friends of the parties were ready to signify their approval. Surely so young a widow ought not to bury her heart forever in the depths of the Pacific Ocean, when she had a chance to do better.

      The guests had already been bidden to the marriage, and the time for the ceremony was less than twenty-four hours off in the future.

      Dinah and the fond captain were sitting together in her cozy little room, and talking of the new life that lay before them, when, without a word of warning, Peter Joy, in all the strength and vigor of his young manhood, stood before them.

      I was not there, and if I had been, I suppose it would have been impossible to describe just what happened; but of course Dinah fell fainting into the arms of her husband, and when he was ready to turn his attention to any one else, Captain Wyer had vanished. The sea appeared literally to have given up its dead, and he had not resolution to face the man whom he had murdered. He made inquiries of one of the crew of the sloop in which his mate had just arrived from the mainland, and learned the story as they had learned it from Mr. Joy's own lips.

      It appeared that having killed his whale, and perceiving by the manoeuvres of the ship that she was taking another alongside, and could not possibly beat up to him, he had taken his whale in tow, expecting of course to see the fire-light directly after dark, and that another boat would be sent up to windward to meet him and assist in towing. But being disappointed when he saw and heard nothing, he had thought it prudent to abandon the whale, and try to find the ship; and he was actually pulling with might and main all the time during which I had reason to know that the Jasper was really running away from him! Two or three hours of this work was sufficient to tire and discourage his boat's crew, and then it was impossible to do anything with any chance of safety, if no one could determine whether they might be going too far or not far enough, while a deviation of a point or two from the true course would carry them quite out of all sight and sound of the ship. So the young man took the only prudent course, to heave to and lie still until daylight. When morning broke they found themselves alone on the ocean.

      It was decided to make their way eastward, toward the coast, as the only chance of safety, for to run westward was only to go off into unknown seas. They could not again find their waifed whale, though they kept a sharp lookout for it, and as it was idle to think of pulling to windward, the boat was put on the southeastern tack under sail, and the most rigid allowance was put upon the very small stock of food and water. The dreadful history of the succeeding days you must imagine for yourself, for I think it would sound much like the tale of the survivors of the Essex, which I presume you have read.

      When picked up four weeks later by an English ship, the mate and one other man were still alive, but in the last stages of exhaustion and weakness. The two were tenderly cared for, but one died, even after he had reached the English ship alive. Peter Joy was the sole survivor out of six; his fine

The Mystery Of Shubael Wyer. 37

      constitution carried him through, and gave him strength to rally. But another day would have been too late to save even him. There had been no opportunity for him to reach home or get aboard an American vessel, and thus he had made the voyage in the English whaler, and gone home in her to London.

      The sloop which brought Peter Joy to Nantucket left again next day, taking Shubael Wyer as a passenger, and from that day his history for more than twenty years is a sealed book to all of us. This strange disappearance of course caused much talk for a while; but it was a nine-days' wonder, and most people thought his disappointment in love, occurring for the second time in connection with the same woman, was sufficient explanation. He had gone away for a while to wear off the keen edge of it, and would, no doubt, soon return. But the real truth lay deeper than this. He had indeed been disappointed and thwarted in the one point which was a kind of mania with him, – his passion for Dinah Bunker. He had seen her own chosen husband restored as it were from his ocean grave, and the act for which his soul must burn with life-long remorse had involved the murder of five other men. His crime had been a wholesale one; while in its sole object it had proved an utter failure.

      Peter Joy himself, in the midst of his great happiness, had many a tender thought for his old commander, for no idea of treachery had ever entered his mind. He had thought it strange that he could not find the ship that night, or see any lights, but the horrible idea of having been intentionally abandoned had never entered his thoughts. He received the first hint of it from myself, when we accidentally met each other round the other side of the Horn a year or two later. Putting all the facts together, he was entirely convinced of the truth of my suspicions, but to no other person have I ever told all the circumstances until to-night, now that Wyer has gone to his final account. It was a matter which it could do no good to talk about, nor do I think that Peter Joy ever mentioned it again, unless, may be, to his wife. He and Dinah had both gone to rest, and their two sons, who are both now in command of ships, are probably as ignorant of the details as the average of our people are. Suspicious whispers there have been, which would account for the guarded words of Doctor Bartlett this morning, for others of the Jasper's crew did talk and hint, but none of them knew all of the matter.

      It is rather more than twenty years since Shubael Wyer appeared here as suddenly as he had left, and immediately settled into that strange way of life at Coatue. He bought that shanty of some fellows who had put it there for convenience on gunning cruises, and he improved upon it, and also bought himself a dory. I have now and then run foul of him during his short and far-between visits to town, but he evidently knew and avoided me, and we have never exchanged a word with each other since I sailed on my second voyage in the Jasper, leaving him here at home.

      It can do you no harm, my boy, to know the truth of the story; and the moral will not be thrown away upon you, I hope. You see how a man may blast his whole life by letting foolish passions get the mastery of him for a single hour, for the worm of remorse has been gnawing at Shubael Wyer's heartstrings for five-and-forty years.

      The tale told by Uncle Zimri has always appeared to me like something related in confidence, and though he did not specially enjoin secrecy upon me, I have seldom spoken of it to any one.

      Now that I am getting gray myself, and nearly three generations have passed on since that tragedy occurred, there can be no harm in making it public.

      Whatever worldly goods the hermit left behind were taken in charge by his nearest relatives, but I think nothing of great value was found. There were queer rumors about his having been a pirate during what was called the cast-away period of his life which included all the years of his prime, and strange dreams about fabulous amounts of gold coin buried in Coatue Point after the fashion of Kyd and other free-booters of classic memory. But no such dreams were ever realized, as but a small amount of money was found among his effects. Before I went to sea the next year the shanty had been removed from the ground, and there was nothing left on that sterile neck of land to mark the site where Shubael Wyer, the man of mystery, had spent the last twenty years of his blighted life.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: The Mystery Of Shubael Wyer.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 53, No. 1 (Jan 1881)
Pages: 30-37