The Island of Shadows - Fred M. White - ebook

The Island of Shadows ebook

Fred M White



Tom Armstrong, commonly known by the common name of Captain Armstrong, could boast the amount of knowledge that he had or the discoveries he made. However, he is already 5 years retired. Armstrong’s companion, named Harold Coventry, was a young man of about six-and-twenty years. Like his companion, the sea was his passion, and although he was not a very wealthy man, he managed to explore every sea. Old friends decided to get together again and go on adventures, but this time they are waiting for a very mysterious island.

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ON a fine March evening some five years ago there sat, in the bay window of an old-fashioned Greenwich hostelry, two men who were pondering deeply over a confused mass of charts and plans that lay before them. The redly-setting sun flashed upon the bosom of the river, with its picturesque mass of shipping and masts like grey needles pointing to the sky, an flooded the low-roofed oak-panelled room, in which the men were seated, with a golden glory. They had the apartment quite to themselves, no other feet disturbed the sanded floor, and no maritime reveller disturbed the hallowed sanctuary of the place.

Concerning the quiet beauty of the scene, the flashing, winding river melting away into the golden horizon, the two men saw or cared nothing. The older of the twain had the air and manner of one born to the sea, his hard, rugged face was bronzed by a thousand gales, his bright blue eyes were keen and fearless, and his white hair seemed almost out of place on a man whose frame was as muscular and powerful as it had been five-and-twenty years before. Tom Armstrong, generally known by the generic title of Captain Armstrong, might have boasted, had he been a boasting man, that there was no quarter of the globe unfamiliar to him. For nearly five years he had given up the sea and lived retired on a small competency he had amassed, devoting his time to scientific pursuits, of which he was passionately fond. Very few people knew the extent of his knowledge in this direction, and few people were aware of the really startling discoveries that lay dormant in that magnificent old sea lion’s head.

Armstrong’s companion, Harold Coventry by name, was a young man somewhere about six-and-twenty years of age. Like his companion, the sea was his passion, and, whilst being anything but a well-to-do man, he contrived to maintain a small yacht, in which he had penetrated into every sea. His friendship with Armstrong was a long one, and from him he had derived all his knowledge of seamanship, a craft to which he had taken by instinct, for Coventry belonged to a famous old naval family, whose name had been a powerful one from the days of Elizabeth onwards. More than one Coventry had found his way to fortune on the Spanish Main in company with Drake and Frobisher and Martin. But a long course of adventuring and reckless plundering in search of excitement had had its effect and now the last of the Coventrys had nothing remaining to him besides the record of family glory by sea, an income of some three hundred pounds yearly, and a mass of papers, parchment and documents which were a matter of vague curiosity to him and a source of unfailing delight to Armstrong.

They had them out now, in Armstrong’s room in “The Mermaid,” the strong spring light falling upon faded papers and yellow parchments, and more especially upon the shred of parchment Armstrong held in his hand.

“You nay make as much fun of me as you like,” he said; “but I am right.”

“So, in this instance. Though I generally find you to be correct,” Harold replied. “There is part of the cypher; the legend in our family came home to me intact concerning this fabulous treasure, and that is all I know.”

“Let me repeat the story you told me,” Armstrong said quietly. “Your ancestor, Amyas Coventry, with three other gentlemen adventurers, sailed from Plymouth in the month of June 1579, and after a successful voyage, reached Vera Cruz. He had his only daughter, Valerie, with him, a child of fourteen years. It was a strange thing to take a girl like that, but he took her. In the log-book of the Albatross, his ship, which is now in your possession, I find the following passage.”

Armstrong took up a parchment-covered volume filled with symbols and scientific signs, and turning to a well-thumbed page, read as follows:—

“March 18, 1581.—Dyd this dae take after much peryl and adventure, ye Spanish bark, Don Gonzola, a prize of exceedinge value. Amongst ye treasure we found doubloons to ye value of eighty thousand pounds English, also rix dollars to a great many more times thatte sum, and being in ye Gulf of Mexico about three degrees west of Havana and one north of the Island of Pines did land on the island called Santa Anna, and bury ye treasure, whereof ye exact spotte and ye bearing of ye same are given in ye cypher what follows.”

“Very well then,” Armstrong went on, “we know that treasure to the extent of something more than a million pounds of our money lies buried there.”

“Yes,” Coventry interrupted, “but where is the island? I was there all last summer in the Firefly, and although I went over every inch of ground there is positively no such island extant. There can be no possible mistake on this point, as log-book and observations will clearly demonstrate.”

Armstrong searched amongst his papers until he produced what he required. It was an ancient chart of the Gulf of Mexico, and upon it was fully set out the various places therein. Upon one spot he placed a bony forefinger, and as Harold looked down he saw the words “Santa Anna” marked on the yellow parchment.

“It is very strange,” he said, “and yet I am certain I am right. If that chart is correct the island must have disappeared.”

But Armstrong did not smile; he regarded his young companion gravely.

“It has disappeared,” he said, gravely. “By consulting the chart and going carefully into your observations I have satisfied myself that you must have sailed over the very place where Santa Anna was.”

“In which case we need not give ourselves any further trouble in this matter.”

“In which case,” Armstrong repeated, gravely, “the trouble is about to begin. I am going to find that island and raise it to sea level again.”

Harold laughed heartily. He knew something of Armstrong’s visionary ideas, but the suggestion of raising a submerged island out of three hundred fathoms of water was wild and romantic even for the scientist before him.

“People always laugh at what they don’t understand,” Armstrong said, quite unmoved by Harold’s laughter. “My theory is that the island was a coral one, one of those floating masses which rise to the surface and gradually accumulate matter until they become quite a respectable size. You know what vegetation in the tropics is and how rapidly things grow. Well, Santa Anna grew and spread, the birds brought the seeds there, trees grew, and the soil became fertile. But at the same time the island was a floating one, anchored to its moorings by the long tenacious fibres of weed and other marine plants like millions of ropes, each in itself fragile, but when combined, capable of keeping a continent in place. We know the island was there, we need not argue that, and for the sake of argument we admit that it was composed of coral. Now I come to a vital point. What caused it to disappear, or to speak more plainly, to sink?

“You think the island did sink then?” Harold asked.

“Beyond question, there is no other way to account for it. But why? For months I have been reading old voyages and adventures, both in manuscript and print, but at last my search has been rewarded. In the beginning of the seventeenth century, so I read in an old volume, a violent irruption took place on the island of Caraba, so violent, says the chronicle, that for fifty miles around the sea was one mass of dust and liquid fire, and no one could approach within the radius. When the irruption was over, sailors were surprised to hear that several islands round had entirely disappeared, burnt up, as they thought is their ignorance, but sank, as we know now. How far is Caraba from the spot where the island of Santa Anna ought to be?”

“Not far; certainly not more than thirty miles as the crow flies.”

“Which all tends to prove my theory,” Armstrong said, calmly. “You see that raft and the men below? If I were to pile it two feet high all over with blocks of stone, what would happen to it, do you think?”

“It would sink, Tom; even I can answer that question.”

“Precisely in the same way the volcano at Caraba sunk Santa Anna. Thousands and thousands of tons of stone were thrown upon the thin coral shell, till gradually the weight, which was naturally equally distributed, pressed it down, and it settled to the bottom. Santa Anna buried in three hundred fathoms of water.”

“It seems plausible enough,” Harold replied; “but it is gone. There is an end of it.”

“So some people would think; but I believe nothing to be impossible. So convinced do I feel of the fact that there is treasure there that I am going to put all my money into a venture to try and recover it. All we have to do is to get out to Caraba and go from thence to the island of Mea Culpa, which is within two miles of where Santa Anna used to be, and then raise the island.”

Harold glanced at his companion in astonishment, but there was no glare of madness in Armstrong’s glittering blue eyes as he puffed steadily at his pipe.

Much respect as he had for Armstrong’s wonderful scientific knowledge, Harold could not do otherwise than regard the present suggestion as the wild scheme of a visionary. But the wonderful things done by Armstrong had been so many and so strange that it was never safe to contradict him on any matter of theory.

“Even if you can do it,” Harold said, “it might take years to find the treasure.”

“It might, because you see you have only half the cypher. And now I verily believe I have discovered where the other half is. Latterly I have been spending a deal of time at the British Museum and, naturally, I have been reading all the books relating to the Gulf of Mexico, especially those bearing upon volcanic eruption. Several times lately I have noticed a Spaniard, whose name I find in Barrados, has been interested in much the same volumes. Seeing that we were both engaged in similar pursuits, I spoke to him, and though he was taciturn at first, he warmed up wonderfully when I asked him if, in the course of his reading, he had come across any mention of an island of Santa Anna. It was the very object of his own research.

“You do not mean that?” Harold said with deepest interest. “Did he say more?”

“He will be here presently to speak for himself,” Armstrong replied. “The man has in his possession the missing half of the cypher.”

An exclamation of astonishment broke from Harold. He would have asked for further information had not the door opened at that moment and a stranger entered.

He was a dark, powerful-looking individual, with handsome, but somewhat sinister features, and he glanced very suspiciously at Harold as Armstrong performed the necessary ceremony of introduction.

“Mr. Miguel Barrados, Mr. Harold Coventry,” he said. “It appears that Mr. Barrados can claim a relationship to you, although it is very slight, because Valerie Coventry, Amyas Coventry’s daughter, married an ancestor of his.”

“Perhaps I had better explain,” Barrados took up the thread.

“I know all about you, sir, from Captain Armstrong, but you know nothing of me. After the treasure was hidden at Santa Anna. Amyas Coventry fell into the hands of my father, who commanded a ship in the Spanish Navy. As a freebooter he was condemned to death, but contrived to escape, and what became of him afterwards I am unable to say.

“But we took his ship back to Spain, and in the course of time Valerie Coventry, who remained with them, married the son of the man who had captured her father’s vessel.

“There is a tradition in our family that she used to relate a story of how Amyas Coventry concealed a vast treasure at Santa Anna.

“No one was really interested in this until I discovered that at one time such an island as Santa Anna really existed.

“The story was further borne out by the fact that my ancestress, Valerie Barrados, handed down to her descendants part of a cypher written on parchment, the other half being retained by her father, she said, he having taken the precaution to divide it in case he should happen to fall into the hands of enemies.

“The coincidence, and my meeting with Captain Armstrong, is a very singular one, but as a proof that I am only speaking the truth, I will produce my half of the cypher.”

Without further preamble, Barrados drew from his pocket a little leather case, and took therefrom a dingy scrap of parchment. With some natural excitement, Armstrong unlocked an iron safe and took out another piece. of vellum-like substance, and, approaching the window so that he might have the full benefit of the light, put the ragged edges together.

“It is the missing portion,” he said, exultingly; “see for yourselves.”

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