TWENTY SHORT STORIES.|1897-01-30|The North Wales Times - Welsh Newspapers Online
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TWENTY SHORT STORIES.

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[COPYRIGHT. ] TWENTY SHORT STORIES. 12. THE OLD WRECK. BY HUME NISBET, "Author oj Bail Up," &c., die. I did not get my holidays until nearly the close of September that year, as I had some work to finish which kept me pretty close during the dog- days, but as soon as it was finished I packed my sketching paraphernalia, and rushed oft to my old haunts on the Kentish coast, resolved to have a good time of it. The weather was simply delicious, and the place almost my own, for the summer visitors had left, and only a few invalids and respectable families remained. St. Abbs was not a fashionable place at any time, although it had its share of customers during the busy season. It was situated too far distant from any railway station to be generally known, and as the whole land was owned by an ancient and strictly Conservative family, the building fiend could not get hold of it. The place was old-fashioned and restful in its character, with little of change or excitement unless when the stormy season set in and a wrecked vessel came ashore. Yet it had a charm of its own that fashionable resorts, with their glaring new brick and mortar monstrosities, could never hope to reach. The wandering minstrel seldom passed that way, the brass bands of the Salvation Army had not yet discovered it, so that the natives were left to pre- pare themselves for the better world in the old orthodox and peaceful way. The murmur of the waves against the sands in summer, or the break- ing of the ocean against the chalk cliff's in winter, were the only sounds that entered the ears of those who cared to listen. A little cluster of red-tiled and thatched cot. tages, each with its garden attached, comprised the village, which ciouched under the shelter of a hill and by the tide of a small creek where lay the fleet of fishing boats with their picturesque rigging, patched red saiis, and purple nets. The banks of the creek were picturesque also, if not over savoury with the remains of fish and other odds and ends which are scattered so freely about a fishing village, while the natives went about their daiiy business with the perfect indifference to costume which fishermen and their women-folk always display when they are not much troubled by strangers. They were a simple and slow-moving set, con- tented with their small earnings and ocean harvest, not at all averse to an occasional wreck, and as yet had not been educated in the art of living upon visitors. One might walk about or lie on the sands all day without being asked once to hire a boat, and- when the stranger did come they gave him or her pot-luck and left the reckoning to their own discretion. The spirits at the little public-bouse were unadul- ,cs terated, and if some of it did not pity duty it was none the weaker for that, the brandy being unde- niably cognac, and much cheaper than the whisky, for the good hostess paying less for it, set smaller value on it; the ale also was country brewed and wholesome, and the bar-parlour comfortable, if homely. In that: cosy parlour I had passed many a pleasant night listening to stories and legends, and feeling as if London were only a livid night- mare and the result of a bad fit of indigestion. Beyond the village the creek had been dredged and deepened and took a turn round the cliiis: before it reached the sea, so that although the storm might be raging outside, the boats and cottages were safely sheltered from its fury. In olden days a good deal of safe smuggling had been conducted here, for the cliffs formed a pretty bay and the landing was a safe one. The cliffs were lofty, and worn in many places with caverns through which one could penetrate and reach the hill-top. Some of these passages were, however, choked up, and only used as hiding-places for the children. At low tide, the sands spread firm and hard half a mile sea ward, along which one could walk for miles in either direction watching the ocean stretching blue and level, or the ships coursing their way with their sails shining whitely in the sunlight. I bad spent many a day on these sands and sketched almost every point of interest for miles, yet always dis- cerned something fresh whenever I came to look aLou two, with, the ever-changing lights and altera- tions of -colour and effect. One of my favourite studies was an old wreck which had drifted ashore and stuck fast in a safe part of the sands, some years before. The crew had bean saved during the storm, and the hull very little. damaged, yet being an old craft and almost past service when she stuck, the owner of the land had-purchased her for a trifle and left her to rest and decay at her leisure as she made a picturesque break in the otherwise level monotony. The Mary Ann was the modest title she had worn on her stern during her last voyage, and her cargo had been coal, which the honest fishermen had long ago cleared, even to the last vestige of black dust which their wives had shept carefully out of the hold and carried away to back their fires with. She lay with bows facing the shore, hoary with age yet solid enough still to resist the many tempests which swept over her, with heavy bul- warks jjkopier-beads, and massive planks so thickly coated with pitch that they defied the iuiluence of sun, wind and waves. She must luwe-been a slug- gish sailor with all that armour of pitch upon her and i hoe ungainly patches of let- old age,—an uncomfortable home, in a rough sea with her, unwieldy but she would have wonder- ful staying powers, if sullen to answer the wheel. Her age it was well-nigh impossible to guess at, for she had been repaired so often that probably tew of her original planks remained, and her shape aiso must have been altered with'these frequent patchings since the far-off days when she first left the builder's yard, possibly then a spank young thing in the. way of fast-going ships. I uad sketched her often, and speculated in an idle fashion on what she might have been in her palmy days. Her bows, now half embedded in the sand, were lofty, bulging, and rounded like the ships of the seventeenth century; indeed, she had a certain galleon-like appearance about her strangely suggestive of the days of those gentie bliecaneers who scoured the Spanish main, and brought home ducats and doubloons galore —those winsome and roving blades whom King James the Second of England so often anointed with pitch and hung in chains by the side of the broad Thames as reward for their me ry aud virtuous actions. Shewas decked now heavily with pitch as they had been at the end of their days, but doubtless she had been gaudy enough once with colours and gold as they, her masters, had been with their velvets, silks, chains, and laces, and as frequently dyed with gore. The place for the figure-head still remained, a broad space with massive stanchions leading from it, but the image or images had long since vanished, so that her former majesty could only be guessed at through her present uncouth busi- ness.. She lay about a mile and half from the cliSs in one of the most sheltered parts of the bay, and at low tide one could get to within a quarter of a mile of her without being wst, but to reach her meant a wade up to the waist; at high tide the water reached to the portholes in the mddle portion, and almost level with the poop at the stern.. She stood grandly out of the waters at low tide, and made a picture at once impressive and pathetic with her massive shape, countless weather stains, and blood-like rust runnings. I had watched and dr¡,¡,wu her already in all positions and in every phase of effect—sunrise, mid-day, sunset,1 mo n- .ight, when the waves rose- whitely and savagely over her. and when the mist half shrouded her sia(.Io%vy. ] had also climbed her < and nxploied her empty dis- mantled cab i] ¡"rte,lsÜe arid hold,sotbutt knew almost evei v I MI at d C uid have rebuilt her figure 1 u 1 it, toicrt YLr(],s .and.tigging 4o t i t she taken pos- ,se-sioti of my atkfl I oil (beamt of ht. < « don Chambers, wliei-e saw in" ei ew i her <>i v Sho was the friend 1 h id dw s j. i 1 1 i st visit to when I cllme to Sl.. lesL she rniglJt¡ have broker u[ ''n1 <t pleasure when I saw h-r 11. :1'6; v,<r ixiiu dei.ututol L,¡i';e On this occasion 1 reached the little village late IJA fcbe.aiteraoQU oi a September day, and as soon I as I had secured my bedroom, had some tea with the fry of delicious fresh fish which my host always welcomed me with, I lit my pipe and went oil to see my old "Mary Ann." The moon had already risen as I reached the mouth of the creek, and I saw with satisfaction that the tide was well out. A soft mist crept over the sea, through which the mellow September moon shone softly yet lustrously, and through this tender mist the old wreck could be seen looming in grander proportions than ever. As I walked on rapidly and examined her, an irresistible desire came upon me to wade out and board her. I had forgotten to ask about the tides, but I could see as I advanced that it would soon be on* the turn. There would be time enough for me to reach the wreck, yet if I did so I should have to make up my mind to stay on board till early morn- ing. Would I go ? I recalled the stories the honest but superstitious fishermen so often told in the bar-parlour of her being a haunted ship, how that strange lights and ghostly forms had been seen by them, both from the shore and from the sea as they passed her at a respectful distance, and the recollection of these absurdities determined me to spend the night on board, so that I might have a laugh at them when I goa back. The weather was calm and settled therefore I had no fear about being caught in a storm. The air also was balmy and soft for it was too early yet in the season for frost, so that the worst I need fear was a fast and a giant's appetite for break- fast therefore without any more hesitation, I slipped off my boots, stockings and trousers, and, slinging them round my neck, began my wade cheerfully. The day-light still lingered in the west, and over against me, with the wreck between, lay the round golden moon, with the gauzy mist making the vessels pitchy hulk a soft violet, a tender picture of peace and delicate colour. The same old rusty chain, up which I had so often climbed, still hung over the side and into the water. In another minute I was standing on the deserted deck and drying my limbs preparatory to re-dressing. After I was once more presentable, I got out my tobacco-pouch and again filling my pipe, lit it, laughing to myself as I watched the glare of my wax-match, and thinking tlH.t if any one on shore saw that glare and my spectral figure, there would be another ghost-story ready for me when I got back from my adventure. I stopped short in my laughing as that ghostly idea crossed my mind, and tried to push it out, for although I might have indulged it during the day and on shore, it seemed a mighty unpleasant thought here in the gathering darkness and on this silent and lonely wreck not that I was at all afraid, only that somehow it seemed out of place. One might as well laugh in a lonely graveyard, or amongst the ruins of all ancient castle, as on board an unknown wreck when the shadows of night are creeping down on one 3.r.')1 the moon-iight makes fantastic shadows, weird lights, and curious mysteries of the most commonplace objects. 'There were, however, not many objects left, on this wreck to make mystery out of, for it had been pretty well dismantled, with the exception of this rusty chain which trailed its lioky length to the dilapidated capstan. I noticed that the bulwarks showed increased signs of decay since my former visit here and there gaps appeared where patches had fctllen away or had been torn off, and through these the moon- beams began to play, making white and black pat- terns of the deck. I walked briskly over the boards, waking dull echoes as I went, first to the forecastle within which I only glanced, for it was already too dusky to s-c much then I had a look down the dark hold from the uncovered hatchways, after which passed into the cab-in, and here, striking another match, gazed, round curiously. In the coaling decline of the ship, the cabin had been partitioned and curtailed. in size so as to accommodate the skipper and his two mates, but now these partitions had been taken away, one could get a better idea of its original size, and see where the berths had been-a roomy cabin, square in shape, or rather wider than it was long, with vast recesses where the stern windows had been. Yawning and empty as a disused barn it looked, with the broken planka; through which the moon- light glinted as the1 k-tbr relief to the otherwise monotony and drearir.e^Je-ycs, its force of resist- ance was about spent now. I could see as I looked round, another winter or two, a,nd only the ribs would be left to go piece by piece. By the time I reached the deck, the tide had pub it past my rower to go, even if I wanted to, but I did niv*, f. ->uiy confidence had returned, and I was prepa,tea .to enjoy my prison; therefore I went up to tie forecastle deck, and taking my seat on the bows, away leIsurely while I watched the tide racrjgr p. shore with the gleaming surf leaping farther ^I»J farther each second. Very soo t t^h-, "JjVyls were covered and the cliffs all but bidder ige night mist, while the moon increased in and flooded the ocean with it§ white radiant ■_ a magical scene, particu- larly to a fond •« 1 l.f I then was, and I straight- way gave ",Lo thoughts of the girl wnorn some day, when Ix'1earned enough, I hoped to make my wife. 1. 'i She was waiting ijr that time, as I was, and as we had done for the past three years, but the happy time seemed still to be far distant, for money came slowly and had to be worked very hard for. As I thosftjht over her tenderly and counted up the smallp:um.l had managed to save, I sighed bitterly and mur'n^ured hopelessly 0,1 for some of those ducats ssid doubloons which this good ship must have carried." A slight touch-,at my elbow, roused me with a start, as I murmu|d this vuii, to and glancing round quickly Is Iitiieiit e. at my side, yon ;g. foeaui i!u! .id singularly re sembling the gir' I "was t -nkn_ ab'> She was costlimecl in a fashion of the past, rich and stately, and looked in the moonlight a shim- mer of satin, gold, and lace on her head she wore, by way of covering, a Landauna turban, front which her dark hair fell in thick and rippling masses to her waist. When I saw her, I sprang to my feet with a cry of surprise, dropping my pipe as I did so. This exclamation, however, she checked by putting her finger So her lips as a sign to me to be siient; then, holding out a long dark-coloured mantle and cam- bric like beayer hat she signalled for me to put them on and follow her. It was all so strange and unexpected, that I felt I must be dreaming, yet so real that I could hardly think so either. I saw the moon on the water, and the distant cliffs misty and grey. The hulk also on which we stood was a reality in its bareness and decay. No, that was changed since my last looking at it. It was no longer a stranded wreck, but a full- rigged ship riding at anchor, with the heavy yards and sails breaking up the sky, and the bow- sprit reaching out beyond me and above the gilded lion which was the figure head. The decks were no longer bare and deserted, but covered with articles of use and warfare; round- shot lay piled up by the sides of the bronze guns; casks were lashed to the blilwarh-s the hatchways covered the hold; while in the forecastle and cabin I could hear loud voices. Obedient to that signal, I disguised myself with the beaver and cloak, and followed the woman as >ihe glided along the .deck until we reached the waist," wlierv<%rope ladder led down to the boat. Still following ]. got into the boat which was laden with packages and boxes, and taking my place at the stern l crouched down, as she indicated I should do, and waited for the next development of the strange drama.. Keep silent, watch and remember," she whis- pered to me after she had seen me safely placed then she retreated up the rope ladder, and I was left alone. Presently, a3 I lay rocking at the bottom of the boat, and amongst the packages, seven bearded and bold-looking bucaneers all richly costumed in velvets, fine linen and high boots, came over the side and took their places, six of them at the oars, and the seventh, who seemed the leader, sitting down close to me at the tiller, then they cast ofl silently and began rowing for the shore. The leader steered straight ior one of the enormous caves that I had already explored, and as the tide was now full, in they got right up to its entrance, where, making the boat fast, they leapt ashore and began to unload. Fortii.nate.ly for me, they took the nearest pack- ages first, their leader who had now lit a lantern showing, them the way, and the men, each two carrying a box between them. As soon as I had seen them safe into the cave, I followed at a dis- creet distance, the glare from the lantern in front guiding me as well as them. It was a long cavern with several angles and twists, and they went pretty far into it. At last they reached the end where they set down their loads and returned for others. It was easy to dodge them as they passed me, for they seemed to be quite unsuspicious of any one watching them, and there were crevices enough for me to hide myself, until they passed. Three times they went past my hiding-place and returned carrying these small, but strongly bound and heavy cases, making twelve boxes in all, with other packets which they bore under their arms, and on the final trip from the boat they brought with them pickaxes and spades. Then they set to work picking out a grave-like hole in the soft chalk floor, while I looked on their labours with vast interest. They worked dili- gently, their leader holding the lantern for them until they had reached a depth of about eight or ten feet, when they left off excavating, and packing the boxes and parcels closely in, they began filling up the hole and trampling the chalk upon it until it appeared to be as solid as the other portions of the floor. This done, they scattered the rest of the chalk which they could not trample down, and, shouldering their implements, marched to the cave entrance, boarded their boat, and rowed away under the moonlight towards the full-rigged ship that had been a wreck so long. Ah What a dream to be sure," I said aloud as woke up to find myself still on the forecastle of the Mary Ann with the early morning air chilling me. A splendid dream if it could only be realised. "If?" I rose to my feet with eagerness, and looked towards the shore. The sands were once more firm and dry and the cavern I had dreamt about faced me. Suppose that part of the dream about the buried treasure was real! Stranger things had chanced than this. At the least before indulging in any wild hopes I would try, now that I knew the spot, a day or so of diggiug which would do me a world of good. Quickly I left the wreck and went back to the village, getting into my room before anyone was up, and so escaping any questioning then, after breakfast, with a pick and spade, which I managed to borrow from the garden without being observed, I made my way to the cave, and lighting a candle that I ha taken from my room I examined the ground carefully. There was a slight depression at one portion of the rugged floor, and that I decided was the place to excavate, so casting off my coat and vest I began my labour. No one came to interrupt me that day, so I worked hard all the forenoon; and after dinner, buying a couple more candles, I worked on till nearly night. At last I was rewarded and the first of the boxes lay before me—my dream had not been an idle vision after all I covered the box with some loose chalk and went home that night in a fever. Next day, at dawn, I was at the cave again and had four of the boxes, now so far decayed that they fell asunder with a stroke of the pick and revealed the treasure in gold and silver pieces of ancient date lying thickly before me. After that I had a busy time of it going to and from London with my portmanteau crammed as I went up and empty as I came back. The honest fishermen did not suspect anything for they had grown accustomed to seeing me go about, and I felt that this legacy ought to ijn tlIyown since it had been revealed to me so strangely and I had found it, yet I did not try to soothe my conscience with reasons about the right or wrong of the posses- sion-all my w-ts were centred on getting it quietly smuggled away. A fortnight did this, and then when the hole had been cleared out, I covered it carefully as the silent pirates had done, and" then, saying farewell o St. Abba with a fervent blessing on the lucky ."1\1.1.IY Ann, began my negociations with tha money changers, to find myself ten thousand pounds the richer for my little sea-side trip. The packages must have been silks and soft go. ds, for they had become dust, but the gold and silver were all right. In six weeks after this I took my bride dowr. to St. Abbs to spend the hotjitymoon and show her the old wreck. It is strange, Jack, that you should have had the (beam about Umtwoman so like me," she said as wn stood on the shore iooking afc the hulk "for (have heard my grandmother tell that her great grandmother was the daughter of a biH.-c.-uicer who was hanged, for piracy or, the high While we were at the village a savage gale swept on the coast which lasted furiously for three days and proved too strong for the endurance of the "iVIary Ann," for when the weather cleared, a few ribs were all that remained of the old wreck.

PHOTOGRAPHER AND MUSIC. HALL…

-------ALLEGED ROBBERIES AT…

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-----LLANRWST.

--APPEAL FROM THE LLANRWST…

COUNTY COURT.

PRESTATYN. -.......---."'-../--------

. RURAL DISTRICT COUNCIL,…

(larkmng.

!.FEBRUARY.

"=----_-------HAWARDEN BOARD…

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