The Gloria Scott
"I have some papers here," said my friend Sherlock Holmes, as we sat
one winter's night on either side of the fire, "which I really think,
Watson, that it would be worth your while to glance over. These are the
documents in the extraordinary case of the Gloria Scott, and this is the
message which struck Justice of the Peace Trevor dead with horror when
he read it."
He had picked from a drawer a little tar
ished cylinder, and, undoing
the tape, he handed me a short note scrawled upon a half-sheet of
"The supply of game for London is going steadily up," it ran.
"Head-keeper Hudson, we believe, has been now told to receive all orders
for fly-paper and for preservation of your hen-pheasant's life."
As I glanced up from reading this enigmatical message, I saw Holmes
chuckling at the expression upon my face.
"You look a little bewildered," said he.
"I cannot see how such a message as this could inspire horror. It seems
to me to be rather grotesque than otherwise."
"Very likely. Yet the fact remains that the reader, who was a fine,
robust old man, was knocked clean down by it as if it had been the butt
end of a pistol."
"You arouse my curiosity," said I. "But why did you say just now that
there were very particular reasons why I should study this case?"
"Because it was the first in which I was ever engaged."
I had often endeavored to elicit from my companion what had first turned
his mind in the direction of criminal research, but had never caught him
before in a communicative humor. Now he sat forward in this arm-chair
and spread out the documents upon his knees. Then he lit his pipe and
sat for some time smoking and turning them over.
"You never heard me talk of Victor Trevor?" he asked. "He was the only
friend I made during the two years I was at college. I was never a very
sociable fellow, Watson, always rather fond of moping in my rooms and
working out my own little methods of thought, so that I never mixed
much with the men of my year. Bar fencing and boxing I had few athletic
tastes, and then my line of study was quite distinct from that of the
other fellows, so that we had no points of contact at all. Trevor was
the only man I knew, and that only through the accident of his bull
terrier freezing on to my ankle one morning as I went down to chapel.
"It was a prosaic way of forming a friendship, but it was effective.
I was laid by the heels for ten days, but Trevor used to come in to
inquire after me. At first it was only a minute's chat, but soon his
visits lengthened, and before the end of the term we were close friends.
He was a hearty, full-blooded fellow, full of spirits and energy,
the very opposite to me in most respects, but we had some subjects
in common, and it was a bond of union when I found that he was as
friendless as I. Finally, he invited me down to his father's place at
Donnithorpe, in Norfolk, and I accepted his hospitality for a month of
the long vacation.
"Old Trevor was evidently a man of some wealth and consideration, a
J.P., and a landed proprietor. Donnithorpe is a little hamlet just to
the north of Langmere, in the country of the Broads. The house was
an old-fashioned, wide-spread, oak-beamed brick building, with a fine
lime-lined avenue leading up to it. There was excellent wild-duck
shooting in the fens, remarkably good fishing, a small but select
library, taken over, as I understood, from a former occupant, and a
tolerable cook, so that he would be a fastidious man who could not put
in a pleasant month there.
"Trevor senior was a widower, and my friend his only son.
"There had been a daughter, I heard, but she had died of diphtheria
while on a visit to Birmingham. The father interested me extremely.
He was a man of little culture, but with a considerable amount of rude
strength, both physically and mentally. He knew hardly any books, but
he had traveled far, had seen much of the world. And had remembered
all that he had learned. In person he was a thick-set, burly man with
a shock of grizzled hair, a brown, weather-beaten face, and blue eyes
which were keen to the verge of fierceness. Yet he had a reputation for
kindness and charity on the country-side, and was noted for the leniency
of his sentences from the bench.
"One evening, shortly after my arrival, we were sitting over a glass of
port after dinner, when young Trevor began to talk about those habits
of observation and inference which I had already formed into a system,
although I had not yet appreciated the part which they were to play in
my life. The old man evidently thought that his son was exaggerating in
his description of one or two trivial feats which I had performed.
"'Come, now, Mr. Holmes,' said he, laughing good-humoredly. 'I'm an
excellent subject, if you can deduce anything from me.'
"'I fear there is not very much,' I answered; 'I might suggest that
you have gone about in fear of some personal attack within the last
"The laugh faded from his lips, and he stared at me in great surprise.
"'Well, that's true enough,' said he. 'You know, Victor,' turning to his
son, 'when we broke up that poaching gang they swore to knife us, and
Sir Edward Holly has actually been attacked. I've always been on my
guard since then, though I have no idea how you know it.'
"'You have a very handsome stick,' I answered. 'By the inscription I
observed that you had not had it more than a year. But you have taken
some pains to bore the head of it and pour melted lead into the hole so
as to make it a formidable weapon. I argued that you would not take such
precautions unless you had some danger to fear.'
"'Anything else?' he asked, smiling.
"'You have boxed a good deal in your youth.'
"'Right again. How did you know it? Is my nose knocked a little out of
"'No,' said I. 'It is your ears. They have the peculiar flattening and
thickening which marks the boxing man.'
"'You have done a good deal of digging by your callosities.'
"'Made all my money at the gold fields.'
"'You have been in New Zealand.'
"'You have visited Japan.'
"'And you have been most intimately associated with some one whose
initials were J. A., and whom you afterwards were eager to entirely
"Mr. Trevor stood slowly up, fixed his large blue eyes upon me with a
strange wild stare, and then pitched forward, with his face among the
nutshells which strewed the cloth, in a dead faint.
"You can imagine, Watson, how shocked both his son and I were. His
attack did not last long, however, for when we undid his collar, and
sprinkled the water from one of the finger-glasses over his face, he
gave a gasp or two and sat up.
"'Ah, boys,' said he, forcing a smile, 'I hope I haven't frightened you.
Strong as I look, there is a weak place in my heart, and it does not
take much to knock me over. I don't know how you manage this, Mr.
Holmes, but it seems to me that all the detectives of fact and of fancy
would be children in your hands. That's your line of life, sir, and you
may take the word of a man who has seen something of the world.'
"And that recommendation, with the exaggerated estimate of my ability
with which he prefaced it, was, if you will believe me, Watson, the very
first thing which ever made me feel that a profession might be made
out of what had up to that time been the merest hobby. At the moment,
however, I was too much concerned at the sudden illness of my host to
think of anything else.
"'I hope that I have said nothing to pain you?' said I.
"'Well, you certainly touched upon rather a tender point. Might I ask
how you know, and how much you know?' He spoke now in a half-jesting
fashion, but a look of terror still lurked at the back of his eyes.
"'It is simplicity itself,' said I. 'When you bared your arm to draw
that fish into the boat I saw that J. A. Had been tattooed in the bend
of the elbow. The letters were still legible, but it was perfectly clear
from their blurred appearance, and from the staining of the skin round
them, that efforts had been made to obliterate them. It was obvious,
then, that those initials had once been very familiar to you, and that
you had afterwards wished to forget them.'
"What an eye you have!" he cried, with a sigh of relief. 'It is just as
you say. But we won't talk of it. Of all ghosts the ghosts of our old
lovers are the worst. Come into the billiard-room and have a quiet
"From that day, amid all his cordiality, there was always a touch of
suspicion in Mr. Trevor's manner towards me. Even his son remarked it.
'You've given the governor such a turn,' said he, 'that he'll never be
sure again of what you know and what you don't know.' He did not mean
to show it, I am sure, but it was so strongly in his mind that it peeped
out at every action. At last I became so convinced that I was causing
him uneasiness that I drew my visit to a close. On the very day,
however, before I left, and incident occurred which proved in the sequel
to be of importance.
"We were sitting out upon the lawn on garden chairs, the three of us,
basking in the sun and admiring the view across the Broads, when a maid
came out to say that there was a man at the door who wanted to see Mr.
"'What is his name?' asked my host.
"'He would not give any.'
"'What does he want, then?'
"'He says that you know him, and that he only wants a moment's
"'Show him round here.' An instant afterwards there appeared a little
wizened fellow with a cringing manner and a shambling style of
walking. He wore an open jacket, with a splotch of tar on the sleeve,
a red-and-black check shirt, dungaree trousers, and heavy boots badly
worn. His face was thin and brown and crafty, with a perpetual smile
upon it, which showed an irregular line of yellow teeth, and his
crinkled hands were half closed in a way that is distinctive of sailors.
As he came slouching across the lawn I heard Mr. Trevor make a sort of
hiccoughing noise in his throat, and jumping out of his chair, he ran
into the house. He was back in a moment, and I smelt a strong reek of
brandy as he passed me.
"'Well, my man,' said he. 'What can I do for you?'
"The sailor stood looking at him with puckered eyes, and with the same
loose-lipped smile upon his face.
"'You don't know me?' he asked.
"'Why, dear me, it is surely Hudson,' said Mr. Trevor in a tone of
"'Hudson it is, sir,' said the seaman. 'Why, it's thirty year and more
since I saw you last. Here you are in your house, and me still picking
my salt meat out of the harness cask.'
"'Tut, you will find that I have not forgotten old times,' cried Mr.
Trevor, and, walking towards the sailor, he said something in a low
voice. 'Go into the kitchen,' he continued out loud, 'and you will get
food and drink. I have no doubt that I shall find you a situation.'
"'Thank you, sir,' said the seaman, touching his fore-lock. 'I'm just
off a two-yearer in an eight-knot tramp, short-handed at that, and I
wants a rest. I thought I'd get it either with Mr. Beddoes or with you.'
"'Ah!' cried Trevor. 'You know where Mr. Beddoes is?'
"'Bless you, sir, I know where all my old friends are,' said the
fellow with a sinister smile, and he slouched off after the maid to the
kitchen. Mr. Trevor mumbled something to us about having been shipmate
with the man when he was going back to the diggings, and then, leaving
us on the lawn, he went indoors. An hour later, when we entered the
house, we found him stretched dead drunk upon the dining-room sofa. The
whole incident left a most ugly impression upon my mind, and I was
not sorry next day to leave Donnithorpe behind me, for I felt that my
presence must be a source of embarrassment to my friend.
"All this occurred during the first month of the long vacation. I went
up to my London rooms, where I spent seven weeks working out a few
experiments in organic chemistry. One day, however, when the autumn was
far advanced and the vacation drawing to a close, I received a telegram
from my friend imploring me to return to Donnithorpe, and saying that
he was in great need of my advice and assistance. Of course I dropped
everything and set out for the North once more.
"He met me with the dog-cart at the station, and I saw at a glance that
the last two months had been very trying ones for him. He had grown thin
and careworn, and had lost the loud, cheery manner for which he had been
"'The governor is dying,' were the first words he said.
"'Impossible!' I cried. 'What is the matter?'
"'Apoplexy. Nervous shock, He's been on the verge all day. I doubt if we
shall find him alive.'
"I was, as you may think, Watson, horrified at this unexpected news.
"'What has caused it?' I asked.
"'Ah, that is the point. Jump in and we can talk it over while we drive.
You remember that fellow who came upon the evening before you left us?'
"'Do you know who it was that we let into the house that day?'
"'I have no idea.'
"'It was the devil, Holmes,' he cried.
"I stared at him in astonishment.
"'Yes, it was the devil himself. We have not had a peaceful hour
since--not one. The governor has never held up his head from that
evening, and now the life has been crushed out of him and his heart
broken, all through this accursed Hudson.'
"'What power had he, then?'
"'Ah, that is what I would give so much to know. The kindly, charitable,
good old governor--how could he have fallen into the clutches of such a
ruffian! But I am so glad that you have come, Holmes. I trust very much
to your judgment and discretion, and I know that you will advise me for
"We were dashing along the smooth white country road, with the long
stretch of the Broads in front of us glimmering in the red light of the
setting sun. From a grove upon our left I could already see the high
chimneys and the flag-staff which marked the squire's dwelling.
"'My father made the fellow gardener,' said my companion, 'and then, as
that did not satisfy him, he was promoted to be butler. The house seemed
to be at his mercy, and he wandered about and did what he chose in it.
The maids complained of his drunken habits and his vile language. The
dad raised their wages all round to recompense them for the annoyance.
The fellow would take the boat and my father's best gun and treat
himself to little shooting trips. And all this with such a sneering,
leering, insolent face that I would have knocked him down twenty times
over if he had been a man of my own age. I tell you, Holmes, I have
had to keep a tight hold upon myself all this time; and now I am asking
myself whether, if I had let myself go a little more, I might not have
been a wiser man.
"'Well, matters went from bad to worse with us, and this animal Hudson
became more and more intrusive, until at last, on making some insolent
reply to my father in my presence one day, I took him by the shoulders
and turned him out of the room. He slunk away with a livid face and two
venomous eyes which uttered more threats than his tongue could do. I
don't know what passed between the poor dad and him after that, but the
dad came to me next day and asked me whether I would mind apologizing to
Hudson. I refused, as you can imagine, and asked my father how he
could allow such a wretch to take such liberties with himself and his
"'"Ah, my boy," said he, "it is all very well to talk, but you don't
know how I am placed. But you shall know, Victor. I'll see that you
shall know, come what may. You wouldn't believe harm of your poor old
father, would you, lad?" He was very much moved, and shut himself up
in the study all day, where I could see through the window that he was
"'That evening there came what seemed to me to be a grand release,
for Hudson told us that he was going to leave us. He walked into the
dining-room as we sat after dinner, and announced his intention in the
thick voice of a half-drunken man.
"'"I've had enough of Norfolk," said he. "I'll run down to Mr. Beddoes
in Hampshire. He'll be as glad to see me as you were, I dare say."
"'"You're not going away in an unkind spirit, Hudson, I hope," said my
father, with a tameness which made my blood boil.
"'"I've not had my 'pology," said he sulkily, glancing in my direction.
"'"Victor, you will acknowledge that you have used this worthy fellow
rather roughly," said the dad, turning to me.
"'"On the contrary, I think that we have both shown extraordinary
patience towards him," I answered.
"'"Oh, you do, do you?" he snarls. "Very good, mate. We'll see about
"'He slouched out of the room, and half an hour afterwards left the
house, leaving my father in a state of pitiable nervousness. Night after
night I heard him pacing his room, and it was just as he was recovering
his confidence that the blow did at last fall.'
"'And how?' I asked eagerly.
"'In a most extraordinary fashion. A letter arrived for my father
yesterday evening, bearing the Fordingbridge post-mark. My father read
it, clapped both his hands to his head, and began running round the room
in little circles like a man who has been driven out of his senses. When
I at last drew him down on to the sofa, his mouth and eyelids were all
puckered on one side, and I saw that he had a stroke. Dr. Fordham came
over at once. We put him to bed; but the paralysis has spread, he has
shown no sign of returning consciousness, and I think that we shall
hardly find him alive.'
"'You horrify me, Trevor!' I cried. 'What then could have been in this
letter to cause so dreadful a result?'
"'Nothing. There lies the inexplicable part of it. The message was
absurd and trivial. Ah, my God, it is as I feared!'
"As he spoke we came round the curve of the avenue, and saw in the
fading light that every blind in the house had been drawn down. As
we dashed up to the door, my friend's face convulsed with grief, a
gentleman in black emerged from it.
"'When did it happen, doctor?' asked Trevor.
"'Almost immediately after you left.'
"'Did he recover consciousness?'
"'For an instant before the end.'
"'Any message for me.'
"'Only that the papers were in the back drawer of the Japanese cabinet.'
"My friend ascended with the doctor to the chamber of death, while I
remained in the study, turning the whole matter over and over in my
head, and feeling as sombre as ever I had done in my life. What was the
past of this Trevor, pugilist, traveler, and gold-digger, and how had he
placed himself in the power of this acid-faced seaman? Why, too, should
he faint at an allusion to the half-effaced initials upon his arm, and
die of fright when he had a letter from Fordingham? Then I remembered
that Fordingham was in Hampshire, and that this Mr. Beddoes, whom the
seaman had gone to visit and presumably to blackmail, had also been
mentioned as living in Hampshire. The letter, then, might either come
from Hudson, the seaman, saying that he had betrayed the guilty secret
which appeared to exist, or it might come from Beddoes, warning an old
confederate that such a betrayal was imminent. So far it seemed clear
enough. But then how could this letter be trivial and grotesque, as
describe by the son? He must have misread it. If so, it must have been
one of those ingenious secret codes which mean one thing while they seem
to mean another. I must see this letter. If there were a hidden meaning
in it, I was confident that I could pluck it forth. For an hour I sat
pondering over it in the gloom, until at last a weeping maid brought in
a lamp, and close at her heels came my friend Trevor, pale but composed,
with these very papers which lie upon my knee held in his grasp. He sat
down opposite to me, drew the lamp to the edge of the table, and handed
me a short note scribbled, as you see, upon a single sheet of gray
paper. 'The supply of game for London is going steadily up,' it ran.
'Head-keeper Hudson, we believe, has been now told to receive all orders
for fly-paper and for preservation of your hen-pheasant's life.'
"I dare say my face looked as bewildered as yours did just now when
first I read this message. Then I reread it very carefully. It was
evidently as I had thought, and some secret meaning must lie buried
in this strange combination of words. Or could it be that there was
a prearranged significance to such phrases as 'fly-paper' and
'hen-pheasant'? Such a meaning would be arbitrary and could not be
deduced in any way. And yet I was loath to believe that this was the
case, and the presence of the word Hudson seemed to show that the
subject of the message was as I had guessed, and that it was from
Beddoes rather than the sailor. I tried it backwards, but the
combination 'life pheasant's hen' was not encouraging. Then I tried
alternate words, but neither 'the of for' nor 'supply game London'
promised to throw any light upon it.
"And then in an instant the key of the riddle was in my hands, and I saw
that every third word, beginning with the first, would give a message
which might well drive old Trevor to despair.
"It was short and terse, the warning, as I now read it to my companion:
"'The game is up. Hudson has told all. Fly for your life.'
"Victor Trevor sank his face into his shaking hands. 'It must be that,
I suppose,' said he. "This is worse than death, for it means disgrace
as well. But what is the meaning of these "head-keepers" and
"'It means nothing to the message, but it might mean a good deal to us
if we had no other means of discovering the sender. You see that he has
begun by writing "The...game...is," and so on. Afterwards he had, to
fulfill the prearranged cipher, to fill in any two words in each space.
He would naturally use the first words which came to his mind, and
if there were so many which referred to sport among them, you may
be tolerably sure that he is either an ardent shot or interested in
breeding. Do you know anything of this Beddoes?'
"'Why, now that you mention it,' said he, 'I remember that my poor
father used to have an invitation from him to shoot over his preserves
"'Then it is undoubtedly from him that the note comes,' said I. 'It only
remains for us to find out what this secret was which the sailor Hudson
seems to have held over the heads of these two wealthy and respected
"'Alas, Holmes, I fear that it is one of sin and shame!' cried my
friend. 'But from you I shall have no secrets. Here is the statement
which was drawn up by my father when he knew that the danger from Hudson
had become imminent. I found it in the Japanese cabinet, as he told the
doctor. Take it and read it to me, for I have neither the strength nor
the courage to do it myself.'
"These are the very papers, Watson, which he handed to me, and I will
read them to you, as I read them in the old study that night to him.
They are endorsed outside, as you see, 'Some particulars of the voyage
of the bark Gloria Scott, from her leaving Falmouth on the 8th
October, 1855, to her destruction in N. Lat. 15 degrees 20', W. Long.
25 degrees 14' on Nov. 6th.' It is in the form of a letter, and runs in
"'My dear, dear son, now that approaching disgrace begins to darken the
closing years of my life, I can write with all truth and honesty that it
is not the terror of the law, it is not the loss of my position in the
county, nor is it my fall in the eyes of all who have known me, which
cuts me to the heart; but it is the thought that you should come to
blush for me--you who love me and who have seldom, I hope, had reason to
do other than respect me. But if the blow falls which is forever hanging
over me, then I should wish you to read this, that you may know straight
from me how far I have been to blame. On the other hand, if all should
go well (which may kind God Almighty grant!), then if by any chance this
paper should be still undestroyed and should fall into your hands, I
conjure you, by all you hold sacred, by the memory of your dear mother,
and by the love which had been between us, to hurl it into the fire and
to never give one thought to it again.
"'If then your eye goes on to read this line, I know that I shall
already have been exposed and dragged from my home, or as is more
likely, for you know that my heart is weak, by lying with my tongue
sealed forever in death. In either case the time for suppression is
past, and every word which I tell you is the naked truth, and this I
swear as I hope for mercy.
"'My name, dear lad, is not Trevor. I was James Armitage in my younger
days, and you can understand now the shock that it was to me a few weeks
ago when your college friend addressed me in words which seemed to imply
that he had surprised my secret. As Armitage it was that I entered a
London banking-house, and as Armitage I was convicted of breaking my
country's laws, and was sentenced to transportation. Do not think very
harshly of me, laddie. It was a debt of honor, so called, which I had
to pay, and I used money which was not my own to do it, in the certainty
that I could replace it before there could be any possibility of its
being missed. But the most dreadful ill-luck pursued me. The money which
I had reckoned upon never came to hand, and a premature examination of
accounts exposed my deficit. The case might have been dealt leniently
with, but the laws were more harshly administered thirty years ago than
now, and on my twenty-third birthday I found myself chained as a felon
with thirty-seven other convicts in 'tween-decks of the bark Gloria
Scott, bound for Australia.
"'It was the year '55 when the Crimean war was at its height, and the
old convict ships had been largely used as transports in the Black
Sea. The government was compelled, therefore, to use smaller and less
suitable vessels for sending out their prisoners. The Gloria Scott
had been in the Chinese tea-trade, but she was an old-fashioned,
heavy-bowed, broad-beamed craft, and the new clippers had cut her
out. She was a five-hundred-ton boat; and besides her thirty-eight
jail-birds, she carried twenty-six of a crew, eighteen soldiers, a
captain, three mates, a doctor, a chaplain, and four warders. Nearly a
hundred souls were in her, all told, when we set sail from Falmouth.
"'The partitions between the cells of the convicts, instead of being of
thick oak, as is usual in convict-ships, were quite thin and frail.
The man next to me, upon the aft side, was one whom I had particularly
noticed when we were led down the quay. He was a young man with a
clear, hairless face, a long, thin nose, and rather nut-cracker jaws.
He carried his head very jauntily in the air, had a swaggering style
of walking, and was, above all else, remarkable for his extraordinary
height. I don't think any of our heads would have come up to his
shoulder, and I am sure that he could not have measured less than six
and a half feet. It was strange among so many sad and weary faces to see
one which was full of energy and resolution. The sight of it was to me
like a fire in a snow-storm. I was glad, then, to find that he was my
neighbor, and gladder still when, in the dead of the night, I heard a
whisper close to my ear, and found that he had managed to cut an opening
in the board which separated us.
"'"Hullo, chummy!" said he, "what's your name, and what are you here
"'I answered him, and asked in turn who I was talking with.
"'"I'm Jack Prendergast," said he, "and by God! You'll learn to bless my
name before you've done with me."
"'I remembered hearing of his case, for it was one which had made an
immense sensation throughout the country some time before my own arrest.
He was a man of good family and of great ability, but of incurably
vicious habits, who had by an ingenious system of fraud obtained huge
sums of money from the leading London merchants.
"'"Ha, ha! You remember my case!" said he proudly.
"'"Very well, indeed."
"'"Then maybe you remember something queer about it?"
"'"What was that, then?"
"'"I'd had nearly a quarter of a million, hadn't I?"
"'"So it was said."
"'"But none was recovered, eh?"
"'"Well, where d'ye suppose the balance is?" he asked.
"'"I have no idea," said I.
"'"Right between my finger and thumb," he cried. "By God! I've got more
pounds to my name than you've hairs on your head. And if you've money,
my son, and know how to handle it and spread it, you can do anything.
Now, you don't think it likely that a man who could do anything is going
to wear his breeches out sitting in the stinking hold of a rat-gutted,
beetle-ridden, mouldy old coffin of a Chin China coaster. No, sir, such
a man will look after himself and will look after his chums. You may lay
to that! You hold on to him, and you may kiss the book that he'll haul
"'That was his style of talk, and at first I thought it meant nothing;
but after a while, when he had tested me and sworn me in with all
possible solemnity, he let me understand that there really was a plot
to gain command of the vessel. A dozen of the prisoners had hatched it
before they came aboard, Prendergast was the leader, and his money was
the motive power.
"'"I'd a partner," said he, "a rare good man, as true as a stock to a
barrel. He's got the dibbs, he has, and where do you think he is at this
moment? Why, he's the chaplain of this ship--the chaplain, no less! He
came aboard with a black coat, and his papers right, and money enough in
his box to buy the thing right up from keel to main-truck. The crew
are his, body and soul. He could buy 'em at so much a gross with a cash
discount, and he did it before ever they signed on. He's got two of the
warders and Mereer, the second mate, and he'd get the captain himself,
if he thought him worth it."
"'"What are we to do, then?" I asked.
"'"What do you think?" said he. "We'll make the coats of some of these
soldiers redder than ever the tailor did."
"'"But they are armed," said I.
"'"And so shall we be, my boy. There's a brace of pistols for every
mother's son of us, and if we can't carry this ship, with the crew at
our back, it's time we were all sent to a young misses' boarding-school.
You speak to your mate upon the left to-night, and see if he is to be
"'I did so, and found my other neighbor to be a young fellow in much
the same position as myself, whose crime had been forgery. His name was
Evans, but he afterwards changed it, like myself, and he is now a rich
and prosperous man in the south of England. He was ready enough to join
the conspiracy, as the only means of saving ourselves, and before we had
crossed the Bay there were only two of the prisoners who were not in the
secret. One of these was of weak mind, and we did not dare to trust him,
and the other was suffering from jaundice, and could not be of any use
"'From the beginning there was really nothing to prevent us from taking
possession of the ship. The crew were a set of ruffians, specially
picked for the job. The sham chaplain came into our cells to exhort us,
carrying a black bag, supposed to be full of tracts, and so often did
he come that by the third day we had each stowed away at the foot of our
beds a file, a brace of pistols, a pound of powder, and twenty slugs.
Two of the warders were agents of Prendergast, and the second mate was
his right-hand man. The captain, the two mates, two warders Lieutenant
Martin, his eighteen soldiers, and the doctor were all that we had
against us. Yet, safe as it was, we determined to neglect no precaution,
and to make our attack suddenly by night. It came, however, more quickly
than we expected, and in this way.
"'One evening, about the third week after our start, the doctor had come
down to see one of the prisoners who was ill, and putting his hand down
on the bottom of his bunk he felt the outline of the pistols. If he had
been silent he might have blown the whole thing, but he was a nervous
little chap, so he gave a cry of surprise and turned so pale that the
man knew what was up in an instant and seized him. He was gagged before
he could give the alarm, and tied down upon the bed. He had unlocked
the door that led to the deck, and we were through it in a rush. The two
sentries were shot down, and so was a corporal who came running to see
what was the matter. There were two more soldiers at the door of the
state-room, and their muskets seemed not to be loaded, for they never
fired upon us, and they were shot while trying to fix their bayonets.
Then we rushed on into the captain's cabin, but as we pushed open the
door there was an explosion from within, and there he lay with his
brains smeared over the chart of the Atlantic which was pinned upon the
table, while the chaplain stood with a smoking pistol in his hand at
his elbow. The two mates had both been seized by the crew, and the whole
business seemed to be settled.
"'The state-room was next the cabin, and we flocked in there and flopped
down on the settees, all speaking together, for we were just mad with
the feeling that we were free once more. There were lockers all round,
and Wilson, the sham chaplain, knocked one of them in, and pulled out a
dozen of brown sherry. We cracked off the necks of the bottles, poured
the stuff out into tumblers, and were just tossing them off, when in an
instant without warning there came the roar of muskets in our ears, and
the saloon was so full of smoke that we could not see across the table.
When it cleared again the place was a shambles. Wilson and eight others
were wriggling on the top of each other on the floor, and the blood and
the brown sherry on that table turn me sick now when I think of it. We
were so cowed by the sight that I think we should have given the job up
if it had not been for Prendergast. He bellowed like a bull and rushed
for the door with all that were left alive at his heels. Out we ran,
and there on the poop were the lieutenant and ten of his men. The swing
skylights above the saloon table had been a bit open, and they had fired
on us through the slit. We got on them before they could load, and they
stood to it like men; but we had the upper hand of them, and in five
minutes it was all over. My God! Was there ever a slaughter-house
like that ship! Prendergast was like a raging devil, and he picked the
soldiers up as if they had been children and threw them overboard alive
or dead. There was one sergeant that was horribly wounded and yet kept
on swimming for a surprising time, until some one in mercy blew out his
brains. When the fighting was over there was no one left of our enemies
except just the warders the mates, and the doctor.
"'It was over them that the great quarrel arose. There were many of us
who were glad enough to win back our freedom, and yet who had no wish
to have murder on our souls. It was one thing to knock the soldiers over
with their muskets in their hands, and it was another to stand by while
men were being killed in cold blood. Eight of us, five convicts and
three sailors, said that we would not see it done. But there was no
moving Prendergast and those who were with him. Our only chance of
safety lay in making a clean job of it, said he, and he would not leave
a tongue with power to wag in a witness-box. It nearly came to our
sharing the fate of the prisoners, but at last he said that if we wished
we might take a boat and go. We jumped at the offer, for we were already
sick of these bloodthirsty doings, and we saw that there would be worse
before it was done. We were given a suit of sailor togs each, a barrel
of water, two casks, one of junk and one of biscuits, and a compass.
Prendergast threw us over a chart, told us that we were shipwrecked
mariners whose ship had foundered in Lat. 15 degrees and Long 25 degrees
west, and then cut the painter and let us go.
"'And now I come to the most surprising part of my story, my dear son.
The seamen had hauled the fore-yard aback during the rising, but now as
we left them they brought it square again, and as there was a light wind
from the north and east the bark began to draw slowly away from us. Our
boat lay, rising and falling, upon the long, smooth rollers, and Evans
and I, who were the most educated of the party, were sitting in the
sheets working out our position and planning what coast we should make
for. It was a nice question, for the Cape de Verdes were about five
hundred miles to the north of us, and the African coast about seven
hundred to the east. On the whole, as the wind was coming round to the
north, we thought that Sierra Leone might be best, and turned our head
in that direction, the bark being at that time nearly hull down on our
starboard quarter. Suddenly as we looked at her we saw a dense black
cloud of smoke shoot up from her, which hung like a monstrous tree upon
the sky line. A few seconds later a roar like thunder burst upon our
ears, and as the smoke thinned away there was no sign left of the
Gloria Scott. In an instant we swept the boat's head round again and
pulled with all our strength for the place where the haze still trailing
over the water marked the scene of this catastrophe.
"'It was a long hour before we reached it, and at first we feared that
we had come too late to save any one. A splintered boat and a number of
crates and fragments of spars rising and falling on the waves showed us
where the vessel had foundered; but there was no sign of life, and we
had turned away in despair when we heard a cry for help, and saw at some
distance a piece of wreckage with a man lying stretched across it. When
we pulled him aboard the boat he proved to be a young seaman of the
name of Hudson, who was so burned and exhausted that he could give us no
account of what had happened until the following morning.
"'It seemed that after we had left, Prendergast and his gang had
proceeded to put to death the five remaining prisoners. The two warders
had been shot and thrown overboard, and so also had the third mate.
Prendergast then descended into the 'tween-decks and with his own hands
cut the throat of the unfortunate surgeon. There only remained the first
mate, who was a bold and active man. When he saw the convict approaching
him with the bloody knife in his hand he kicked off his bonds, which he
had somehow contrived to loosen, and rushing down the deck he plunged
into the after-hold. A dozen convicts, who descended with their pistols
in search of him, found him with a match-box in his hand seated beside
an open powder-barrel, which was one of a hundred carried on board, and
swearing that he would blow all hands up if he were in any way molested.
An instant later the explosion occurred, though Hudson thought it was
caused by the misdirected bullet of one of the convicts rather than the
mate's match. Be the cause what it may, it was the end of the Gloria
Scott and of the rabble who held command of her.
"'Such, in a few words, my dear boy, is the history of this terrible
business in which I was involved. Next day we were picked up by the brig
Hotspur, bound for Australia, whose captain found no difficulty in
believing that we were the survivors of a passenger ship which had
foundered. The transport ship Gloria Scott was set down by the Admiralty
as being lost at sea, and no word has ever leaked out as to her true
fate. After an excellent voyage the Hotspur landed us at Sydney, where
Evans and I changed our names and made our way to the diggings,
where, among the crowds who were gathered from all nations, we had no
difficulty in losing our former identities. The rest I need not relate.
We prospered, we traveled, we came back as rich colonials to England,
and we bought country estates. For more than twenty years we have
led peaceful and useful lives, and we hoped that our past was forever
buried. Imagine, then, my feelings when in the seaman who came to us I
recognized instantly the man who had been picked off the wreck. He had
tracked us down somehow, and had set himself to live upon our fears. You
will understand now how it was that I strove to keep the peace with him,
and you will in some measure sympathize with me in the fears which fill
me, now that he has gone from me to his other victim with threats upon
"Underneath is written in a hand so shaky as to be hardly legible,
'Beddoes writes in cipher to say H. Has told all. Sweet Lord, have mercy
on our souls!'
"That was the narrative which I read that night to young Trevor, and I
think, Watson, that under the circumstances it was a dramatic one.
The good fellow was heart-broken at it, and went out to the Terai tea
planting, where I hear that he is doing well. As to the sailor and
Beddoes, neither of them was ever heard of again after that day on which
the letter of warning was written. They both disappeared utterly and
completely. No complaint had been lodged with the police, so that
Beddoes had mistaken a threat for a deed. Hudson had been seen lurking
about, and it was believed by the police that he had done away with
Beddoes and had fled. For myself I believe that the truth was exactly
the opposite. I think that it is most probable that Beddoes, pushed to
desperation and believing himself to have been already betrayed, had
revenged himself upon Hudson, and had fled from the country with as much
money as he could lay his hands on. Those are the facts of the case,
Doctor, and if they are of any use to your collection, I am sure that
they are very heartily at your service."