The Black Opal. A Romance of Thrilling Adventure - Fenton Ash - ebook

The Black Opal. A Romance of Thrilling Adventure ebook

Fenton Ash

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The Black Opal. A Romance of Thrilling Adventure” was written by Fenton Ash and was first published in 1906. It is a lost race adventure novel set in a medieval kingdom in the Sargasso Sea. Fenton Ash is the first and main pseudonym of UK civil engineer and author Francis Henry Atkins (1847-1927) who was a writer of „pulp fiction”, in particular science fiction aimed at younger readers. He was involved in a scandal at the turn of the century and sentenced to nine months imprisonment for obtaining money by deception. After leaving prison he dropped the name Frank Aubrey and – in his early 60s, following a three-year hiatus – began writing as Fenton Ash.

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Liczba stron: 398

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Contents

I. CAPTAIN WOODHAM'S MARVELLOUS TALE

II. THE CROWN OF THE BLACK OPAL

III. THE MYSTERIOUS CHANNEL

IV. A HIDDEN CITY

V. THE RED FIREBALLS

VI. THE FATAL MIST

VII. THE TREACHEROUS ISLAND

VIII. THE RIVER OF DEATH

IX. LORONTO STRUCK DOWN

X. A FLIGHT BY NIGHT

XI. THE MAN IN THE CAGE

XII. A DARING ADVENTURE

XIII. THE GUARDIANS OF THE TREE

XIV. CAPTURED!

XV. DEMUNDAH

XVI. IN THE ARENA

XVII. FRIENDS IN NEED

XVIII. RALPH'S RUSE

XIX. A SURPRISE

XX. HOW RALPH ESCAPED

XXI. A NIGHT MARCH

XXII . THE TOWER BY THE SHORE

XXIII. THE FIRST ATTACk

XXIV. IN DESPERATE STRAITS

XXV. THE SECRET PASSAGE

XXVI. A GREAT NAVAL BATTLE

XXVII. THE END OF THE FIGHT

XXVIII. THE LAND BEYOND THE "BARRIER"

XXIX. AGRELDA THE TERRIBLE

XXX. KING ALMANDA

XXXI. THE STORMING OF THE CASTLE

XXXII. THE SECRET OF THE RIVER

XXXIII. A GENEROUS OFFER

XXXIV. THE GOLDEN TEMPLE AGAIN

XXXV. THE HONOURABLE SOCIETY OF FROGS

XXXVI. HOW THE PRISONERS WERE SAVED

XXXVII. TRAITORS

XXXVIII:—DEMUNDAH'S AWFUL FATE

XXXIX. CONCLUSION

I. CAPTAIN WOODHAM’S MARVELLOUS TALE

“Well, here I am, Lorry! Now tell me what on earth is the meaning of your mysterious message! Why, man, how serious you look! What’s up? Anything wrong?”

Thus spoke, or rather shouted, Ralph Playfair, a tall, muscular youth, with a bright, good-looking face, and merry eyes, as he came bursting in upon his chum. Even while speaking his eager eyes roved about scrutinising everything around, as if he thought he might gather some notion of what was “up” by scanning the furniture.

The one addressed as Lorry was also tall and athletic-looking, with a handsome face and a splendid figure. The two young fellows had been at school together, where they had left behind them “records” in athletics, by the performance of feats which were likely to live as traditions in the school so long as it remained in existence.

Lorry, though a little taller, appeared to be rather the younger of the two. He was a veritable young giant; darker in complexion, and somewhat more thoughtful in manner than his volatile, high-spirited friend. But if Ralph was slightly less in height he was broader and sturdier in build, and looked, with his fair, curling hair and laughing eyes, a typical Britisher.

“To-morrow, Ralph,” said Lorry, stretching his muscular arms, and taking a deep breath, “to-morrow I shall be twenty years of age–so I’m given to understand, and––”

“Is that all–why you might have told me that in your letter without bringing me all this way! Well, good-bye. I’m awfully pleased to hear it, and, maybe, to-morrow I’ll look in again.”

“And to-day,” continued Lorry, disregarding the interruption, “Captain Woodham, my dear, kind, foster-father, has promised to tell me my own history–who I am, what I am, and where I came from–of which, as you are aware, I’ve known no more than the man in the moon.

“Further, the Captain has intimated to me that I shall have to make up my mind about a very important matter–to come to a momentous decision about something or other. So, as you are the best friend I have in the world–next to him–I asked permission for you to be present to hear the wonderful communication–for wonderful I understand it is really to be. The hints he has already let drop are enough to rouse the curiosity and fire the imagination of even a wooden image were they whispered into its wooden ears. Now, will you stay, or are you still in such a hurry to be off?”

“I’ll stay, you bet! And I guess I shan’t have to wait long, for here comes the Captain himself, and I can see he’s bursting with the secret. See how tight his reefer looks on him to-day!”

As Ralph spoke, a big, burly figure, with the unmistakable rolling gait of a seaman, passed the window of the little cottage by the sea where this conversation took place. They heard the outer door open and shut, and a moment later Captain Woodham strode into the room.

He stood for a moment in the doorway looking at the two without speaking. He was almost Herculean in build; his form filled up the whole doorway, and he had to stoop as he came through it. In manner he was bluff, but hearty and honest-looking, and though his seamed and weather-beaten complexion and grizzled hair and beard made his face, when in repose, appear hard and stern, yet, when he spoke, his eyes would often twinkle with a light that was half-kindly, half-humorous.

“Ah! So you’re here, Ralph,” he said, and he extended his hand and took that of the visitor in a grasp which made even that young athlete wince. “You’ve come to hear the yarn I’ve promised to tell to-day, eh? Well, first, give me your promise that you’ll regard it as a sacred confidence about which you’re never to breathe a word to a living soul without permission. Then give me time to light my pipe, and I’m ready.”

Ralph gave the assurance required and presently, when the three were seated round the table, the Captain started his pipe, took a few preliminary puffs, gazing thoughtfully the while through the window out over the sea, where the afternoon sun was nearing the horizon, and began his promised “yarn”:

“It had been just such an afternoon as this–only far hotter, with a more fiery sky–that I lay becalmed in my ship, the Foam, in the Caribbean Sea–or rather upon the outer edge of what is known as the Sea of Sargasso–that is ‘Sargasso Weed.’ I don’t suppose you youngsters know where that is. In school geographies they don’t say much about it–”

“I’ve heard of it,” Ralph put in. “An old sailor once told me something about it. He said that it is a most strange, mysterious region, a vast, desolate expanse––”

“Desolate! It’s the most desolate spot on earth,” broke in the Captain, bringing his fist down on the table to emphasise his words, “unless, perhaps, it may be the Polar regions–and as to its being mysterious–well, wait till ye’ve heard my story, then ye’ll allow there’s mystery enough to make a dozen ordinary sea yarns sound weak and commonplace by comparison.

“I’d been trading among the West Indian Islands, but had met with bad luck, and consequently I wasn’t in a very good temper when the wind fell light and I found myself drifting about just outside that dreary waste of Sargasso Weed.”

“Tell me what it’s like,” Lorry asked. “I don’t quite understand.”

“It’s a tract,” the Captain proceeded to explain, “many thousands of square miles in extent, where the sea appears to be, for the most part, comparatively shallow, and it is everywhere covered with a tangled mass of Sargasso weed brought down originally by the well-known Gulf Stream. No doubt there are rocks just under water, or, maybe, just awash in places, to which the weed clings. But you can’t tell what is there or what isn’t, really, because the weed is so thick, nobody can go far into it to see. You can’t get very far beyond the outer edge or fringe. People who have tried to penetrate into it have got stuck fast and nearly lost their lives. Precious glad they were–and precious lucky too–if they managed to struggle back to open water again.”

“Then,” said Lorry thoughtfully, “no one can tell what there may be in the middle of this great tract?”

“Precisely,” was the Captain’s answer, and as he spoke he looked hard and curiously at the young man. “There may be inhabited land there,” he continued slowly, “for anything that the rest of the world can tell. For all that our geographers know, there may be a thriving country hidden away in its midst, filled with the survivors of some ancient, long-forgotten race, who, through the slow accumulation of weed brought down by the great Gulf Stream during successive ages, may have been cut off from all communication with the outer world for a thousand years or longer.”

“By Jove! What a fascinating idea!” exclaimed Ralph, his eyes lighting up with enthusiasm. “What a wonderful field it opens up to the imagination! What a chance for some fortunate explorer!”

“Ye’re right there, lad, it is so,” returned Captain Woodham with the same slow manner and curious look. “Is it the sort of adventure that would tempt you, d’ye think, if it were shown that there was any reasonable ground for suspecting the existence of such a country at the present day?”

There was no hesitation in giving a reply to this query, and no doubt as to its sincerity. The two listeners were as one, and declared they would only be too delighted to meet with any chance of joining in such an adventure.

The Captain eyed them both keenly, but made no comment; and resumed his narrative:

“It was after a very hot day, as I have said, that I found my vessel drifting almost without enough wind to give us steerage-way upon the very verge of this vast sea of weed. As the sun set, a mist had closed in upon us; but presently the moon rose. It was nearly full, and was gloriously brilliant, shining with a splendour that one finds only in the tropics. Then the mist cleared away almost entirely, and I saw before me a wide, open channel stretching right away up into the expanse of weed till it was lost in the haze which still hung over the extreme distance.

“Now this in itself was a remarkable discovery; for no sailor or navigator knew of such a channel or had heard of such a thing, so far as I was aware. But there was something yet more surprising to come.

“The night had become one of the most beautiful I ever remembered. Save, as I have said, for the distant horizon, everything was exceptionally clear. The moon hung above, poised in a cloudless sky of deepest blue, and shone straight down the strange channel, from which its bright rays were reflected as from burnished glass. Looking through my glasses I could make out distinctly numbers of the vessels which are at all times to be seen entangled in the weed. They are derelicts, for the most part, which have been abandoned at sea, and which, after perhaps years of lonely drifting, find here their final resting-place. Scientists account for this by telling us that the whole Atlantic Ocean is revolving slowly round and round, like a gigantic whirlpool, of which the Sea of Sargasso is the centre. Hence, numbers of vessels which have been abandoned hundreds–thousands–of miles away, if they should fail to sink at sea, are drifted, sooner or later, into this centre, and once there the weed seizes on ‘em and holds ‘em fast. And, strange to say, when there they do not seem to rot and go to pieces as they would elsewhere. Some suppose that the weed impregnates the water with some preservative principle; and no doubt, in any case, it lays hold of the timbers and binds ‘em, and so helps to preserve the hulks. Also, where the weed is no waves can break, or foam and tumble; and in a general way there is not much wind. It is a region of calms and fogs and desolation, and there are no forces at work to aid in the break-up of these derelicts. So there they are, by the hundred, and by the thousand, some of ‘em of very ancient build and rig; so that it is quite possible to believe there may be some foundation for the yarns which declare that old Spanish galleons are still to be met with there, laden with gold and treasure, if one could only get at them.

“Well, all the old yarns of this character that I had ever heard came crowding into my mind as I stood on the deck staring in stupid wonder at the long, clear strip of open water running right into the midst of the weed. Here, I thought to myself, is a means of testing some of these old legends. It might be worth while to get a boat out and row up yonder channel and investigate.

“And then, while I gazed and marvelled, there came into view, in the distance, a dark speck floating down the channel towards the sea, evidently drifting upon a current which was flowing in our direction.

“By degrees the speck increased in size, and I watched it through my glasses with intense curiosity, for it seemed to me that it was gradually assuming the shape of one of those ancient war-galleys of past ages of which one sees pictures in books.

“As it came nearer, this curious idea forced itself more and more upon my mind. I could see that the queer craft had a very high, curved prow, with the open jaws of some terrible monster by way of figure-head. It was battered and war-worn, and yet, somehow, appeared to be still strong and serviceable. Indeed it might very well have belonged to one of the navies of the ancient world when Greeks and Romans fought their sea-battles in vessels of somewhat similar design.

“Slowly, silently, the strange, weird-looking craft drifted on its way. Very uncanny, very ghostly, it seemed, floating there in the bright moonlight; and again there rushed into my mind various wild tales I had heard, at various times, as to the mysterious unknown region from the heart of which this queer, old-world vessel must have somehow escaped.

“Just as I was calculating how long the queer vessel might take to reach the open water where the Foam then was, a puff of wind blowing across the channel drifted it to the side, where it became entangled in a thick mass of weed. It seemed then pretty certain that its voyage was ended, and that if I wished to make closer acquaintance with it, it would be necessary to get out a boat; and I accordingly ordered one to be lowered.

“A few minutes later I was on my way in my gig, with a couple of stout rowers, to overhaul the stranger. So far, there had been nothing to indicate that there was anyone aboard of her; nor did it enter my mind for one moment that there was likely to be. My idea was that she was just a queer old relic of ancient days which had been entangled in the weed, and, after being thus strangely preserved for goodness only knows how many years, she had now somehow accidentally broken loose and drifted down towards the sea. As an antiquarian curiosity, the find might be worth looking at, and even, perhaps, worth securing and taking back to England. But beyond that I had no expectation of meeting with anything to pay for the trouble I was taking.

“In this frame of mind I approached the relic, and I was surprised to find that she was much larger than I had imagined. As we drew alongside I stood up and tried to peer over her side, so high was she out of the water. Finding I could not see much that way, I climbed up; and, without more ado, sprang on board.

“The next moment I had almost jumped hack again but that wonder held me fast; and I remained staring down in horror and astonishment at the scene that was there revealed!”

II. THE CROWN OF THE BLACK OPAL

Captain Woodham paused for a while and remained silent and contemplative, as though the remembrance of the scene he had spoken of had still power to call up some unusual emotion in his mind. His listeners also remained silent, waiting with eager interest for what was to come.

“What I then saw,” the narrator presently went on, “was so unexpected, so unaccountable, so utterly bewildering, that even now, at times, I find myself almost wondering whether it really happened or whether the whole affair was not a troubled dream.

“At such times I have to remind myself of the solid proofs of its reality which still exist. They, as you will presently learn, are too tangible, too real, for a doubt to exist in either my own mind or in that of anyone else who may come to know the true facts.

“What I saw, then, was this: I saw that the vessel I had boarded was in very truth a war galley built upon the ancient model. She had two decks, the lower one being for rowers. Lying about on the upper deck were several dead bodies.”

“Dead bodies!” cried his hearers in a breath.

“Aye, dead bodies! That sounds queer enough, doesn’t it–but queerer still, they were nearly all dressed in armour.”

“Armour!” burst from the two eager auditors.

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