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No. 12.

W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. LXVI, No. 6 (Dec 1887)
pp. 477-482.



No. 12.

We Board a Charnel-Ship. – What We Found There. – The Mysterious Chest. – Carrie McDougal an Heiress. – Return of the Sea-Elephants. – Home Again.

Our feeling of eager curiosity was tempered by one of awe, I might almost say, of terror, as we threw in our oars along side the vessel. We climbed her slippery side and stood on deck. No living being greeted us; no sound met our ears but the slight creaking and rattling from aloft. All was darkness and solitude!

      McDougal threw a glance round at the position of the brig and the shore, and, as the oldest officer, at once assumed command.

      "Get an anchor off the bow at once, and rouse up the small lower chain," said he. "We must bring her up very soon, if we want to save her afloat."

      All could see as well as he, that it was no time to investigate the mystery now. So we turned to with a will. The chain was easily hauled on deck, but to clear the anchor and bend it was a work of some time, as everything and everywhere was so coated with ice. But all was ready at last, and the smaller anchor being dropped, was found sufficient to bring her up. The other was also cleared away, but held in reserve.

      "Now, then, boys,let's explore below the deck," said the captain, lighting a lantern which we had brought with us from the shore.

      Following his lead, we all crowded into the cabin. A cold chill seemed to strike each of us as we stepped within the door. I pushed my head forward between those in advance of me, who had suddenly stopped, gazing upon the dead body of a man which lay under the cabin table, as if it had been caught and become wedged there, after sliding from side to side by the rolling motion of the brig. The body was in a good state of preservation, owing to the intensely cold weather.

      I noticed a lantern hanging above the table, and pulled it down that we might have more light to pursue our investigations. But the little remnant of oil was congealed so as to be nearly useless. But with this lighted, I groped my way into the steward's pantry, and among the chaos of loose articles and small stores tumbled about in confusion, I found a box half full of tallow candles. Several of these were soon ablaze, and light was thrown upon the whole scene.

      The after-cabin was quite small—the vessel not being above two hundred tons, and had no stern windows. There were two state-rooms on each side, and a trap-door in the centre leading into the run or lazaretto, which stood open. As the dead man's legs were in the way of descending into it, it was necessary to draw him aside, and in doing so, his face came full into view from beneath the table. It had, apparently, undergone little or no change since his death, the cause of which was but too apparent.

      "Small-pox," said Captain McDougal, quietly. "That explains the dreadful mystery."

      There was an involuntary movement towards the deck on the part of several of our men at this dreadful word, but the captain spoke reassuringly.

      "I don't believe there's the least danger of infection, now," he said. "This brig has rode out a long and rugged quarantine since the last man died. If the poison is not all blown out and frozen out of her in this climate, it never will be. Come, let's have a look down the run-scuttle."

      Ashamed of our fears, we again pressed forward to look upon a scene yet more strange and revolting.

      Three others, evidently victims of the same disease, lay stiff and stark, wedged among boxes and barrels. A keg, with a spile in the head, which was found to contain liquor, occupied a central position between them. A tin cup, still firmly clutched in the hand of a corpse, with others lying near, told for what purpose these desperate and dying men had crawled into the run. With their last remaining strength they had sought and found oblivion from suffering in the fiery drink.

      "Let's get out of this!" said two or three voices. And as we fell back, Fielding pulled the spile and left the liquor running.

      "I think these are all the men we shall find," said Warner. "These are the last


that died, and the rest have been thrown or washed overboard."

      "The last deaths must have occurred since she drifted into higher latitudes," said McDougal. "A victim of small-pox would change very quickly after death, unless it were freezing cold weather."

      "That's true. And I'm rather afraid to be poking about here and handling things, even in spite of the quarantine, which, I am afraid, hasn't been so long as we supposed."

      An exclamation from one of the men who had forced back the door of a state-room and entered with a candle, now drew us all in that direction. Another man had been found lying in his berth, but in this case decomposition had made great progress before having been arrested by the frost. He had died earlier than the others, but they, being prostrated with the disease, had been unable to remove the body. It was that of a large, heavy man, and his dress, as well as certain little matters scattered about in his stateroom, indicated that he had been a passenger. But we had seen enough, and, indeed, were rather afraid to stay longer in the little room. We opened all the sidelights, as well as the glass bull's eyes in the stern, knocked up the deck skylight, and threw everything open to the blasts of heaven and the piercing frost.

      The other rooms were tenantless, and the same was true of the little, pinched-up forecastle. The five who were found had, beyond doubt, buried the rest of their shipmates, outliving them but a short time.

      "The question is, now," said Fielding, "who or what is she? I'm rather afraid to stay here, but I would like to find that out before we leave."

      "Here's something!" said one of the men, pulling a bag out of the mate's room, from which he shook out two or three little flags. These were eagerly seized and opened, but threw no light upon the vessel's nationality.

      "Nothing but little telegraphic signals, or something of that sort," was the dissatisfied murmur. "Where's her ensign? Of course she had one."

      "She did," said Captain McDougal, with a look up the open skylight hatch. "Look up there and see the halyards, with a little strip of bunting still fast! But not enough to tell of what it was once a part!"

      It was even so. Another fearful story was told by this minute scrap of rag, the last remnant of the brig's ensign. It had been set at half-mast as a signal of distress, had remained there until no one was left to care for it, and had blown away in successive gales. The brig had no name painted on her stern, as we knew in coming alongside, nor could we find one anywhere about her. This fact alone was held sufficient proof by every one that she was some "outlandishman."

      But another raid was made by Fielding upon the mate's state-room, and he soon jerked out from a promiscuous heap of articles, a book, which he threw on the table in triumph.

      "Now we have it!" he said. "Here's her log-book!"

      But one after another glanced over its pages without being any the wiser for it. It was the log-book; we could make out just enough from its general appearance and arrangement to feel sure of it. But it was written in a language unknown to us all, while the cramped chirography indicated that the ill-fated writer was no master of his art, even in his own vernacular. The decision arrived at by us was that the brig was a Russian.

      "We can name her to suit ourselves, then,'' said Bryant. "If we knew her real name, probably none of us could pronounce it without the lockjaw."

      We adjourned to the deck, taking only the log-book with us. Daylight was breaking, and our friends on shore, wild with curiosity, were assembled near us on the Point, with torches. By the light we could distinguish Carrie standing in the doorway of the Galley; as also Burdick, who had remained behind to look after the burning ruins of his house, and was now chafing with impatience at having no boat with which to join us.

      With the day, we discovered that the vessel, above-board, was in good condition, having lost only a part of her bulwarks, and had scarcely carried away a ropeyarn aloft. Sounding the well, we found only three feet of water, and even this, we had reason to believe, had been shipped by seas dashing over her, rather than from any leak. Her cargo was various, consisting of a small quantity of almost everything. It was what we should call " notions;" and, if our conclusion was correct as to her nationality, she must have been bound to some Russian port on the Kamtschatka side. How long she had been out we had no means of knowing. Our


united scholarship was not sufficient even to make out the dates in the mystic volume of scrawls.

      Despairing of learning anything further at present, and all feeling cold and hungry, we manned our boats, and joined our impatient comrades on the Point. Our prize rode safely at single anchor, but, knowing how unsafe was her position in the event of a strong wind rising, it was determined, after having refreshed ourselves, to board her in force, and, if possible, work her up to a more secure anchorage beyond the Glacier.

      Favored by fair weather, we made sail upon the brig, and the same day had the satisfaction of seeing her strongly moored in the Bight. We took her well in shore, so as to get the best possible shelter under the bend of the land. We had now done all that could be done for the vessel's safety; she must ride it out, and take her chance where she was.

      Having no urgent duty to attend to on shore, until the return of the sea-elephants, the brig naturally became a centre of attraction; and, in the gratification of our curiosity, we smothered all our fears of infection. The dead bodies were removed and buried in the sea, and everything put to rights on board; but we did not venture to carry any articles into our houses, and but few on shore.

      An examination of the various chests and bags revealed nothing beyond the few clothes and knick-knacks usually owned by sailors, nor was anything gained in the way of information touching the name of the vessel, or the circumstances of her disastrous voyage. But in the passenger's state-room was found a large chest, securely locked, which gave promise of containing matters of more importance. All our search for the key proved unavailing, as it had, beyond doubt, been buried on the person of its owner.

      "Opened it must be, at any rate," said Captain McDougal. "Drag it out into the middle of the cabin, where all hands can have a fair sight at it. Let's have everything done fair and above-board."

      The lock was forced as carefully as possible, and the lid thrown back, revealing its contents to our view as we crowded round. Many articles of clothing of fine quality, such as might have belonged to a man of considerable wealth, were lifted out.

      "This opens rich," said Bryant, aside to me. "It was no ' Jack-nasty-face' that we buried out of that state-room. His toggery don't look like a Russian, either. It has a mighty civilized appearance."

      A large book was lifted next, and opened carelessly by Fielding, for he did not expect to receive any more light from its contents than from those of the brig's log. But his eyes lighted with astonishment and pleasure at the first glance into it.

      "Here we have the clue I" said he, throwing it down, open at the first page. "Read!"

      A title, or caption, was written in English, in a bold, round hand, which all could read at once.

      "Private journal kept on board brig 'Gortschakoff,' of Cronstadt, on a voyage towards Petropaulowska. By Lachlan McDougal, passenger."

      "Lachlan!" cried the captain, dropping into a seat.

      "Did you know him?" asked Burdick.

      "He was my only brother!" he replied, seeming, for the moment, overcome by his feelings.

      A silence fell upon all the group, and the progress of our search was suspended.

      "Mightn't it be another person of the same name?" was suggested by some one.

      "No," said the captain, again, running the leaves of the book through his fingers. "The handwriting is sufficient for me; though it is more than ten years since I have seen or heard from him. Lachlan left Scotland before I did, and knocked about on the continent, doing business in various places. The last I ever knew of him was by an indirect report that he was at St. Petersburg, and was quite well-to-do in the world. Lachlan always was canny and shrewd. But there was much that was antagonistic in our characters, although we never had any positive disagreement with each other. We have never corresponded since we left the old country to seek a living in opposite quarters of the world."

      "Here's a folded paper in the book," said Fielding, handing it to McDougal. "Perhaps you had better open it yourself. It may relate to family matters."

      It was even more important than he had surmised; being no less than a sort of informal will, dated at sea, some four months back. It expressed the wishes of the testator in full, and bore the signatures of two Russians, probably officers of the vessel, as


witnesses. He left all the property of which he was possessed, to his only brother, Robert McDougal, if living, or to his daughter, Caroline.

      By comparison of dates, it appeared that this document had been written after smallpox of the most malignant lype had broken out on board, which was soon after having touched at Teneriffe. But, a few days later, the journal stopped abruptly. The imagination was left free to fill up the long and dreadful blank between the date of the last entry therein and the appearance of the brig, like a waif upon the waters, off Hurd's Island.

      There was silence for a lime among the group of mariners, while the book lay open at the last half-filled page, and each reflective mind supplied, in its own way, the horrible details of the unwritten tragedy.

      "I suppose," said Fielding, breaking the silence, " we are all satisfied that the chest and contents belong to Captain McDougal and his daughter. He will take charge of it, therefore, and examine the contents at his leisure, as it is no affair of ours."

      "But, of course," said the captain, " I am curious to know what it contains, now; and, situated as we are, I don't know that I have any secrets from you; so I shall go on as we have begun."

      More clothing was removed, and underneath it were several bags of money in gold and silver coin, as well as many small, but valuable articles of merchandise. Other papers were found in a till, by which it appeared that the deceased owned half of the brig himself, and nearly all the assorted cargo. He had, indeed, left little or nothing behind when he embarked at Cronstadt; but had ventured all under his feet, intending to take up his residence at Petropaulowska, and probably to engage in fur speculations.

      "Good for you, McDougal!" exclaimed Burdick, when all this was made known. "I'm sure we all wish you joy of your good fortune. We'll make the brig as snug as we can here, and save her if it's a possible thing. The cargo, it seems, is all yours, and half the vessel. The other half, of course, belongs to the rest of us, as salvage, but it is hardly worth talking about, to divide among so many."

      The chest and all it contained were carried on shore that night, and the vessel left to take care of herself. The more we thought of the matter, the less fear we had that any infection remained on board. But everything which was looked upon as especially dangerous, such as bedding, and clothing supposed to have been worn, was thrown overboard.

      Burdick and his party were soon comfortably housed again by the united labor of all hands; and, a few days afterwards, the first instalment of cow-elephants made their appearance. These were hailed with joy, not only for the profit to be derived from the oil, but also as forerunners of returning spring, though the weather was still as intensely cold as ever. By mutual agreement, we restrained any premature attack on themand permitted them to haul in vast numbers and from numerous " pods " on both shores of the Point before the work of killing them began.

      This, the season of parturition, proved the most profitable of all. At this time the cows form themselves into groups or communities of a hundred or more, individually, and take up their position a little above high-water mark. Each " pod," as it is professionaUy termed, also includes one, perhaps two, old bulls. Here they remain until the nurslings are strong enough to go to sea with the mothers; and, at this time, a whole pod may be easily slaughtered by a single man with a lance.

      With a little management, the hunting was now well regulated, and the animals were killed only as fast as the spoils could be secured. The heaps of blubber grew, as if by magic, and on every fair day, the sledges were in operation. The voyage was a sure thing, now, and sharp eyes were often directed seaward in quest of the returning schooners.

      The first arrival, early in September, was that of the bark " Tasman," sent out from Hobart Town, accompanied by a little schooner as tender, of which our old friend Rawlings had the command. Words are powerless to describe the joy we felt at grasping his honest hand, and receiving news from the outer world.

      The doctor had also returned in the bark; but she did not anchor at the island. After ascertaining that all was right with those on shore, she sent a few more men to assist in the work, and leaving the tender to load, sailed for Three Island Harbor.

      McDougal, since his accession to fortune, as it might be called, was, naturally, anxious to secure his property. He was glad to re-


sign all the care of the beach-duty to Rawlings and another officer sent ashore from the bark. He had already collected nearly enough to fill her, and operations were at once commenced in getting the Russian brig ready for sea. To make " assurance doubly sure," she was thoroughly fumigated and cleansed throughout. She was found to be perfectly tight, after pumping out the water which she had shipped at her anchors. A sufficient number of his old "Daphne" crew were taken on board to work her to the Cape Colony, and on the last day of September, the "Got-such-a-cough," as she was familiarly called, spread her canvas for sea, in charge of her owner.

      My friend, Bryant, was not at all pleased with the idea of parting from Carrie. But part they must; for Mr. Fielding had no authority to discharge him from his duties, however willing he might have been to do so.

      "Come, don't be anxious and glum about it, Dave," said I. "You'll meet your little sea-nymph again at Cape Town in two months from now."

      "Yes," he replied, " if no accident happens."

      "She bears a charmed life, Dave. We've helped to save her from shipwreck twice, and it's not likely she will meet with the same accident a third time. The good luck is coming now, to all of us. Who would have thought, when we helped her out of the deck-tub, drenched and shivering, that she would leave the island in the cabin of her own vessel ?—to say nothing of being heiress to all those bags of roubles, eh, Dave?"

      The "Woodlark" arrived the same day, as also the other schooners from Desolation, and they were soon loaded deeply for the return to headquarters. A good business had been done at right whaling during the winter, and it was estimated that our catchings would be amply sufficient to fill the vessels.

      For the next month the beach was lively; for we were all driving business. One or more vessels were rafting off or rafting ashore whenever the weather was suitable to do so; and the haul of young bulls was better than had been expected, though principally confined to the south-west side. There were several arrivals of new-comers, just beginning their voyage, and our old acquaintance, Morgan, had returned in the same schooner for another campaign.

      The spring was well advanced when we stowed off the "Woodlark" for the last time, and prepared to pull up stakes for home. The shanty, which had proved so snug a nest, was left where it stood for the use of others. There was little to bring off the beach besides ourselves and our few personal effects; and, followed by the cheers of a crowd of newly-arrived hunters, whose feelings were those of joy at having a clearer stage to themselves, mingled also with a dash of envy, we made sail for Desolation, accompanied by the "Ripple" and "Adelaide."

      Most welcome and pleasing to the sight of us Antarctic wanderers was the quaint old settlement of Cape Town, with its strangelooking Table Mountain in the background. The hearty salute of McDougal, who boarded us before we had swung to our moorings, was still the same, though its owner's outward man was wonderfully metamorphosed. The "Gortschakoff" and her cargo had been disposed of to good advantage, and the proceeds, added to the bags of roubles, placed him in comfortable circumstances. He was grateful, more for his daughter's sake than for his own; and took pride in a feeling of honest independence, that she would not be, by any means, a portionless bride.

      My friend had no difficulty, now, in getting his discharge; and, a few days later, I was present at the union of two loving hearts, and saluting the blushing young Scotch maiden as the wife of my tried friend.

      A clipper bark, in which Bryant's father was largely interested, was to sail in a week for New York. Passages were secured for the bridal party, including the captain, who had decided to make America his home. A merry circle of us assembled at his rooms the evening before the " Fleet Eagle " was to sail. Our old consorts had all rendezvoused at the Cape to recruit for home, and Burdick and Warner, in their go-ashore toggery, were present, as well as Fielding, to congratulate the young couple, and to bid them God-speed.

      "Well, Dave," said I, confidentially, when we were about parting at a late hour, " I suppose your sea-going days are over. At all events, I shall consider you a fool if you let your fondness for adventure run away with you again."


      "But you must remember, Joe, that my wife has passed through many wild adventures, as well as myself, and may, perhaps, have a hankering after cruises to distant isles of the sea. If Carrie takes such a start, of course I must go, to look after her."

      "Certainly. I only referred to the danger of your leaving her to pine behind, while you ran off on a wild-goose chase to the North or South Pole, like a nautical Don Quixote, as you have heretofore done, when you might have been in better business."

      "No, there's no danger of it. I have received several letters from my father here, and they are filled with good advice on that subject, and exhortations to stay at home and go into business with him. I shall endeavor to accommodate him now — settle down and be steady."

      "I presume he said nothing about your bringing home a wife to steady you?"

      "No; I shall spring a trap on him there. I have tried to imagine the old gentleman's astonishment when whe is introduced to him. But, at all events, he has no cause to be ashamed of his new daughter."

      "No," said I, "there's no fear that he will."

      "Now, Joe, I'll never forgive you if you don't come to New York as soon as you get home and wind up your voyage. I want you to promise me this, before we part tonight."

      "Of course he will," said Carrie, who had approached us and overheard the request. "Our home, such as it may be, or wherever it may be, will always be open to you. And if you forget us, I, at least, will never forget you, or the debt of gratitude which I owe you. You will promise to come?"

      Of course I made the promise, and kept it, too. I found Bryant established in the business of his father, and striving hard to interest himself in mercantile affairs.

      "I shall succeed, too," he said to me. "I shall play the knight-errant no more; unless, as I told you, my wife should seduce me away."

      It was easy for me to see that Bryant, senior, was much delighted with the change in his son, and, consequently, with his charming wife, to whom the change might justly be attributed. She won her way in the old gentleman's affections to the position she merited.

      Her father, becoming impatient of idleness, took command of a ship, and runs short voyages to European ports. On a visit to Cronstadt , he had an opportunity to gather many particulars about his brother Lachlan's history. There were no claims upon the "Gortschakoff." She had sailed uninsured, and was owned solely by his brother and the captain.

      Mr. Fielding has made two more voyages among the phoca, but he tells me they are so thinned out, now, that the business is no longer remunerative. The wreck of the brig " Daphne " still lies in its old bed, and two or three other vessels have since ended their career at various points on the sterile shores.

      The home of the Bryants is also mine whenever business or inclination may call me to the great metropolis. I have not yet become settled, and Dave takes the liberty to lecture me, in turn.

      "Depend upon it Joe, there's nothing like domestic ties to steady a man," at the same time patting the curly head of my little namesake, who inherits his mother's courage and nobility of character, as well as her "bonny blue eyes."

      "I am contented now," and shall wander no more; but I am not sorry that my wayward whim led me to make that cruise 'beyond Desolation.'"

      Mrs. Bryant says she isn't sorry, either – makes a great parade of "Baby Joe," and advises me to "go and do likewise." Well, perhaps I may, if ––

[the end]


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Beyond Desolation - No. 12.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 66, No. 6 (Dec 1887)
Pages: 477-482