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Captain’s Island is not far from civilisation as one measures space. Dealing with the less tangible medium of custom, it is—or was—practically beyond perception.

James Miller didn’t know this. When he had thought at all of his friend Anderson’s new winter home he had pictured the familiar southern resort with hotels and cottages sheltering Hammonds peerage, and a seductive bathing beach to irritate the conservative.

That background, indeed, was given detail by his own desires. For he had received Anderson’s letter concerning the new move while still in bed with a wearisome illness. Now, after two months’ convalescence in quiet waterways, he was ready to snare pleasure where it was most alluring before returning to the North and Wall Street. So he sent a telegram from Allairville, instructing Anderson to meet him in Martinsburg and conduct him to the revels of his tropical resort. As a matter of fact it was this wire, despatched with such smiling anticipation, that became the leash by which he was drawn into the erratic, tragic, and apparently unaccountable occurrences which at the time added immeasurably to the lonely island’s evil fame.

Still it went, and Miller, ignorant of what he faced, went after it as quickly as he could, which was with the speed of a snail. It took his small cruising launch forty-eight hours, including a minimum of rest, to conquer the fifty miles between Allairville and Martinsburg. Because of this aversion of his boat to anything approximating haste he had caused the name Dart to be painted across the stern in arresting letters.

As the droll craft loafed down into the busy roadsteads of the southern metropolis this warm May morning. Miller, in perfect consonance with its bland indifference, lay in a steamer chair on the upper deck. Clothed in white flannels and smoking a pipe, he surveyed with gentle calm a petulant, unreasonable world. He smiled pleasantly at enraged tug-boat and barge captains. Crawling through the railroad drawbridge, he waved a greeting free from malice at the keeper, who, arms akimbo, chin uptilted, bawled his expectations of a train by midnight and his reasonable ambition to clear the draw before that hour.

Nor did the native, leaning against the wheel forward, respond even by a glance to these studied incivilities. His ears seemed to be occupied exclusively by the engine as capricious symptoms; his eyes, by his goal, at last within view; his hands, by the wheel as he coaxed the Dart to the urgencies of traffic.

Miller eyed the fellow approvingly. By rare good luck he had hired him down the state when he had bought this boat as the first ingredient of the doctor’s prescription for a long rest in the South. At the start the man had proved his fitness by exposing an abnormal affection for diseased gasoline motors. Since then he had served Miller acceptably as captain, engineer, deck-hand, cook, and, in a sketchy sense, valet. Moreover he knew obscure, uncharted channels. He had a special intuition for the haunts of fish and game. In the villages where they paused for supplies he out-bargained the storekeepers almost without words. Miller appreciated that it was due only to his devotion and ingenuity that the Dart at present indifferently blocked traffic in the river before Martinsburg. With the inexcusable confidence most of us bring to the contemplation of the immediate future he regretted his early parting with this admirable Crichton.

When the Dart was made fast to her appointed place at the dock Miller lowered his legs, arose, and stretched himself to his full height comfortably. He glanced at his watch. It was noon. He had wired Anderson to meet him at the boat at one o’clock. For the first time he realised he had made a thoughtless rendezvous. Why had he not mentioned an hotel? This thriving town might have offered comparative culinary splendour after the plainness to which he had abandoned himself on the Dart. As it was he must offer his hospitality to Anderson at that hour, and Anderson, no doubt, after two months of heavy luxury at his winter resort, would gratefully accept.

“Tony,” he said, “you deserve the rest of the day. Why should injustice always trouble the deserving?”

Tony, standing below, leaned his elbows on the break of the upper deck. His eyes behind the bushy brows expressed no positive emotion—certainly not chagrin or revolt.

“I’ve asked some one to meet me here at one o’clock,” Miller went on. “I must offer him luncheon unless you strike, in which case I wouldn’t be much annoyed. In fact I’d take you back tonight. Do as you wish. I’m going up-town.”

Tony lowered his bearded face and slid down the companionway. Miller stepped to the dock.

“Tony!” he called.

The native thrust his head through the hatch and waited impassively. Miller handed him some silver.

“For what we lack in case your sense of duty throttles commonsense.”

A brown hand closed over the money. The emotionless face was withdrawn.

Miller strolled through the city. After his months of exile from so familiar a setting he experienced a sense of elation at the thud of a hard pavement beneath his feet, at the cacophony of street noises, at the air of badly-guarded impatience given out by these men and women who crowded him at the crossings. It was good to be well, to be on the threshold of that vaster, more selfish hubbub of his own city. No more days and nights on the boat in lonely places, he reminded himself. And he was glad.

This was the frame of mind in which he returned to the dock to meet his first dampening and significant disappointment. He saw Tony leaning, sphinx-like, against the rail of the Dart, but there was no sign of Anderson.

“Any word from the guest?” he asked Tony as he came up.

The native drew a crumpled, soiled envelope from his pocket. He handed it over the rail.

As he took the envelope Miller recognised his friend’s writing. While he read the brief note a frown drove the satisfaction from his face, leaving bewilderment.

Anderson had commenced in his customary affectionate manner, but beyond that everything was unexpected’, puzzling.

“It is far from convenient for me to leave Molly” the letter ran; and Miller could frame no satisfactory explanation for that except the serious illness of Anderson’s wife. Yet the rest of the letter said nothing of illness; did not even suggest it.

“For heaven’s sake,” it went on, “or more strictly for our own, come down to Captain’s Island, Jim. Come this afternoon if it is humanly possible. Anchor in the inlet if you can get anybody to steer you through. The channel is hard to negotiate, but you won’t find that the chief difficulty in hiring a pilot. I’ll watch for you. If you make it I’ll row out immediately and tell you the rest. Then you can decide if you want to help us out of this mess and back to commonsense. Molly sends her anxious best.”

Miller read the letter twice before returning it to the soiled envelope. The only clear fact was that Anderson and Molly were in trouble. Anderson had written that he would tell him the rest on his arrival. But the rest of what! For he had told him nothing.

“How did this come?” he asked Tony.

The native pointed to a steamboat, diminutive and unkempt, made fast to a neighbouring dock.

“Boy brought it over,” he mumbled.

Miller glanced at his watch. Curiosity was useless. His friends needed him. He would leave at the earliest possible moment.

“This letter, Tony,” he said, “is unexpected and important. If you’ve the usual plans of seafaring men while in port banish them.”

He swung on his heel.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

He hurried from the dock to a telegraph office which he had noticed during his walk. He saw only one operator on duty and he found himself the only patron. He wrote a despatch to Anderson, saying he was leaving at once, and handed it to the agent, a good-natured young fellow in his shirt sleeves.

The man glanced at the address, raised his eyes quickly to Miller’s face, and let the yellow slip flutter to the counter.

“Well!” Miller demanded.

“Can’t send that to Captain’s Island.”

“Place censored or quarantined?” Miller asked impatiently.

“Might as well be quarantined—for the yellow fever,” the agent drawled, “but the main point is there isn’t any wire there. Of course I can send a messenger boy down on the little boat to Sandport this afternoon. He might get somebody to row him across the river, and he could walk the three miles or so. Sent one down to Mr. Anderson that way yesterday. But this doesn’t seem important, and you can figure the expense.”

Miller’s preconceived notions of Captain’s Island began to crumble.

“Not worth it,” he said.

“Besides,” the agent went on, “it’s hard to get anybody to walk that island at night. Since you’re going yourself—”

Again he stared curiously and with a sort of wonder at Miller.

“I don’t want to pry, but mighty few people go—”

Miller laughed.

“It seems to me my question comes first. What’s the matter with Captain’s Island?”

The agent picked the yellow form up and handed it to Miller.

“And you ask me I—I don’t know. Nobody knows. People been asking that for a good many more years than I am old.”

Miller tore the message up. He glanced around the somnolent office.

“I’m not good at riddles either,” he said, “but if you’ll let me have this one I’ll try. You see I’m going there.”

The agent shuffled uncomfortably from one foot to the other.

“It’s this way,” he said at last. “It’s all talk, but it’s been going on a long while, as I said, and we understand it down here. Now you’re from the North. I don’t want to make myself a laughing stock!”

Miller smiled. Then he recalled the troubled tone of Anderson’s letter and his smile died,

“I promise I won’t laugh,” he said. “Of course I can guess. Superstition?”

“That’s it,” the agent answered. “The neg***s and the fishermen around Sandport have given the island a bad name. They won’t go near it if they can help themselves, and even the people here have got in the habit of leaving it a wide berth. I went down one Sunday with a crowd of wild boys, and I’ve never wanted to go back—not that I saw anything. Don’t think that. But there’s a clammy, damp, unhealthy feeling about the place. I’ll say this much: if there’s such things as ghosts that’s the proper place to look for them.”

“Probably climate. Close to the ocean, isn’t it?”

“Yes. It’s like most of these sea islands—marshes on one side, an inlet on the other, across that, rolling sand dunes for maybe a quarter of a mile, and nothing beyond but the everlasting ocean. They say in the old days it was a hang-out of the buccaneers. And lonely! I can’t tell you how lonely that place looks. Besides it’s got a bad reputation for rattlesnakes—no worse in the state that I know of, but that isn’t why people stay away.”

“Superstition,” Miller said, “always comes out on top. It’s funny how these yarns get started.”

“Not so funny when you think of all that’s happened on Captain’s Island,” the agent answered. “Trouble is, everybody knows its history. Guess they scare the children with it still. They did when I was a youngster. I’ve behaved myself many a time because they said if I didn’t old Noyer would chain me up.”

“Old Noyer!”

“A giant of a brute from Louisiana, who laid the island out as a plantation in the thirties to raise sea island cotton. They say he carried fifty or sixty slaves, and was a big dealer on the side. Ruins of the quarters are still there if you’ve got the nerve to go look ‘em over. I started, but I didn’t get far. The island was a jungle, and I tell you it didn’t feel right to me. I’m not superstitious, but you’re kind of looking for something all the time there. Anyway, old Noyer was a regular king. He ruled that island and the inlet and that lonely coast. Wasn’t accountable to anybody. When the law made it a crime to import any more slaves into the country, he laughed in his sleeve, and ran raving shiploads in just the same. He kept the poor devils prisoners in the quarters until he could scatter the ones that didn’t die or go stark crazy around the biggest markets. Those quarters have got a right to be haunted, I reckon. Seems a pure-blooded Arab girl was brought over with a shipload of blacks. They say she was the daughter of a chief, and somebody in Africa had reasons for getting rid of her. Even Noyer didn’t dare try to sell her. They say he took a fancy for her, and by and by married her. He built a coquina house for her about a mile and a half from the plantation.”

“A coquina house! What’s that?”

“Coquina? It’s a shell deposit they used a lot in the old days for building, Noyer fixed it up in fine style for this Arab girl. She lived there until one night that giant took it into his head without reason that he ought to be jealous of her. He didn’t wait to find out he was wrong. He cut her throat as she lay in bed. That’s the house where this man, Mr. Anderson lives—the man you wanted to send the telegram to.”

Miller started. Yet he could not accept the agent’s story of this ancient crime in Anderson’s house as a credible explanation of his friend’s note. Anderson and Molly were both normal and healthy. He had been in more or less constant touch with them since he had first met Anderson in Paris ten years before when he had been on the threshold of manhood. During that time he had seen no display of abnormality or of any exceptional surrender to nerves. The question that troubled principally now was why Anderson had ever chosen such a spot.

“You knew then,” he asked the agent, “about Mr. Anderson’s living there?”

“Sure. It’s natural everybody should get wind of that. You see his house and the plantation house are the only two on the island, and until this winter they’ve both stood empty since the Civil War. Oh, yes, everybody heard of it right away.”

“Queer they aren’t in ruins, too,” Miller said.

“No,” the agent explained. ” Property’s still in the hands of Noyer’s family, I believe. They’ve let it all go back to the wilderness except those two houses. Kept them in repair, figuring, I reckon, somebody might be foolish some day and rent them. Sure enough, this winter along comes a man named Morgan who takes the plantation house, and this man, Mr. Anderson who takes the other. Of the two give me the big place. It’s more open and less gruesome than the coquina house. Yes, people would know about that naturally. Been saying Captain’s Island would grow civilised again, but I don’t hear of any patties going down, and I expect both the Morgans and the Andersons have friends in Martinsburg.”

Miller smiled.

“The invasion begins. I’m running down in my small boat this afternoon. How far is it?”

“About twenty-five miles altogether, but if you get a strong tide behind you it doesn’t take long.”

“My boat needs a water fall.”

The agent picked up a paper and turned to the marine page.

“Tide’s on the turn now. It runs three to four miles an hour between here and the mouth of the river.”

“Then I could make it by night,” Miller said. “I suppose I need a pilot?”

“Yes. There’s no entrance directly from the river. You have to take a channel across the marshes.”

The agent hesitated.

“They call it the Snake.”

He cleared his throat, adding apologetically:

“That’s because it twists and turns so.”

“What about a pilot?” Miller asked.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” the agent answered. ” Might get one to take you by the island in the day time, but I doubt if you can persuade any of these ignorant rivermen to guide you into that inlet at night to anchor.”

“That’s silly,” Miller said irritably.

“Lots of silly things there’s no accounting for,” the agent replied. “And you can’t realise the reputation the island’s got around this part of the country. And, see here! Don’t you be putting me down as foolish too. I’ve told you what they say. I don’t know anything about spooks—never saw one. All I do claim is, there’s a kind of a spell on Captain’s Island that reaches out for you and—and sort of scares you. That’s all I say—a sort of spell you want to get away from. Maybe you’re right and it’s just the climate, and that jungle, and the loneliness.”

“And I,” Miller said, “have been picturing it as a popular winter resort.”

“You’ll have to ask the snakes and the spooks about that,” the agent laughed.

He turned to an entering customer.

Miller went back to the Dart, telling himself that the problem of Anderson’s note was as undecipherable as ever. He would have to wait for an explanation until he had seen Anderson that night. Therefore he was all the more anxious to start. He had had enough experience with the natives to accept as final the agent’s prophecy about the pilots. Tony, who knew so much river lore, however, might furnish a means if he were handled properly. As soon as he had stepped aboard he called to the man.

The native’s bearded face appeared in the companionway. He climbed to the deck, wiping his hands on a ball of waste.

“Tony,” Miller said, “do you know the Snake channel?”

Tony started. His hands ceased tearing at the waste.

“It’s near the mouth of the river,” Miller added.

Tony nodded. He moved uneasily. His eyes questioned.

“Think you could get us through without piling us on an oyster bank?”

The native waited a moment before nodding again with a jerky motion.

These signs were not lost on Miller.

“I’ve altered my plans,” he said. ” Instead of abandoning you and the Dart here in a few days as I had intended, I’ve decided to go a little farther north by water.”

Tony’s satisfaction was apparent in a smile.

Miller felt it was important to let that impression, which was more or less true, stand-It would explain his desire to navigate the Snake. Once through the Snake and in the inlet he would find ways to laugh Tony out of his superstitious fears.

“So we’ll cast off,” he said, “and go through the Snake this afternoon.”

Tony’s smile faded. The bearded lips half opened as though he was about to speak. But his eyes caught the high sun and evidently he changed his mind, for he went down the ladder, and after a moment the engine was indignantly thrashing.

Miller sighed.

Tony reappeared, cast off, took his place at the wheel, and backed the Dart into the river.

Miller seated himself in his deck chair. The city, whose warm, hurried life had just seemed to welcome him, let him go now indifferently to a far greater loneliness than that with which he had thought himself done. He realised this with surprise before three o’clock. The short distance between Captain’s Island and the metropolis had deceived him. He had been unable to conceive the desolate nature of that narrow stretch. He had not dreamed of anything like the precipitate loneliness that crowded the last shanty outpost of the great factories.

A little after three the smoke of these factories was a vague haze on the horizon. The high ground on which they stood had fallen abruptly to flat, wet, uninhabitable marshes. These were relieved only by repellent swamps of palmettos or an occasional pine tree which stretched itself, gaunt and gibbet-like, from the waving grass.

Miller’s half amused reception of the agent’s talk had not been a pose. He had no belief in the supernatural, nor would he admit for an instant that its vapoury rumours would ever have the power to materialise for him into any startling fact Yet this landscape could not fail to impress him as a barren neutral ground between activity and stagnation, between the familiar and the unsounded. It forced him, indeed, to call upon his exceptional will power to fight back a mental inertness, a desire to abandon himself to melancholy. And his will was not altogether victorious. He became ill-at-ease, restless. He glanced at Tony. The native leaned forward, clutching the wheel with both hands as though engaged in a physical attempt to aid the swift tide and the engines. His pipe had, for once, gone out, and remained neglected.

Miller began anxiously to look for signs of the Snake channel. But to either side the dreary marshes swept away apparently unbroken.

At five o’clock, however, Tony turned the Dart towards the left bank of the river. Miller could see a narrow opening in the marsh grass through which glassy water flowed reluctantly. Beyond it, in the direction of the sea, he made out a line of low trees, probably palmettos and cedars. It stretched northward from the river across the marshes for, perhaps, five miles. He pointed at the opening.

“The Snake?” he asked.

Tony nodded. He shifted his feet restlessly. After manipulating his levers until the engine slowed down he faced Miller.


Miller arose and walked to the break of the deck.

“Certainly not. I said we were going through the Snake tonight.”

Tony shuffled nearer. He spread his hands towards the sky.

“You mean,” Miller said, “That it will be dark in an hour or so? I know it. What of it?”

Tony opened his lips. He spoke with painful effort.

“Too late to get past. Would have to anchor by Captain’s Island.”

He pointed at the low, dense mass of trees which Miller had noticed.

“Naturally,” Miller answered. “That’s my wish—to anchor in Captain’s Inlet.”

The threatened change in Tony became complete. It startled. He placed his hands tremblingly on the break of the deck at Miller’s feet. His cheeks above the heavy beard had grown white. His eyes showed the first glimmer of revolt Miller had ever detected. But strangest of all, the native, whose habitual silence was broken only by the most imperative demands, burst suddenly into torrential speech.

Miller started back, unwilling to believe, because this man, who on occasion had displayed the most uncalculating physical bravery, was now exposing a shocking cowardice. And why? He scarcely seemed to know himself. The words ran one into the other with the guttural accent of terror. It was something to do with Captain’s Island. It didn’t pay to anchor there at night. He backed this opinion with a flood of testimony—creeping, lying tales. Miller knew it while he tried to shut his ears to them.

He raised his hand to stop this cruel exhibition. He stared into the frightened eyes. For only a moment the wills of. the two men battled, then the stronger, the more intelligent, conquered. Tony’s eyes wavered. His guttural voice ceased.

“Tony,” Miller said quietly, “with you or without you, if she can be coaxed through the channel, the Dart will anchor in Captain’s Inlet tonight. There’s the dingy. Take it if you wish and row to Sandport. You can bring it around tomorrow by daylight. I’ll have your money ready.”

Tony hesitated. After a visible struggle he turned back to the wheel. The engine gathered speed again. The Dart’s nose was pointed for the opening.

“And, Tony,” Miller added,” since you seem inclined to stand by the ship, you must understand that this nonsense cannot be repeated.”

Tony didn’t answer, yet, knowing him, Miller felt satisfied. But he noticed that the broad shoulders shook a little.

The boat was entering the Snake. Miller raised his eyes. Perhaps it was the waning light—for the sun was setting—or some atmospheric trick, but all at once Captain’s Island seemed to have come nearer. The dense mass of its foliage cut into a flaming sky. Stealthy shadows slipped from it across the bent marsh grass. Miller had a fancy that it was reaching out slowly and surely. For what!

The agent’s talk of a spell came back to him. Was it the spell of the place already reaching out for him? He felt suddenly cold. He shivered. If it was the spell of the place it had found him, for his customary cheerfulness was finally throttled by a black, heavy depression. He knew, unless the agent had lied, that monstrous things had happened there. Was it possible that Anderson’s, letter referred to their fancied, incorporal survivals? The fact that the question persisted troubled him. Unthinkingly, he accepted the challenge of the island. Closing his fist, he raised it against the line of forest. The absurdity of his gesture failed to impress him. He descended to the forward deck. He stepped close to Tony. He tried to speak-naturally.

“Better hurry her, Tony. It mightn’t be a bad plan to get settled in Captain’s Inlet before dark.”


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The Darf crept on through the Snake, twisting and turning in the narrow channel between the marshes. Miller, contrary to his usual custom, remained forward with Tony, his eyes fixed on the sombre island, which little by little they approached.

The sun had set quickly, but its flames still smouldered in the west. Aside from the island, caught in the heart of this barbaric afterglow, nothing served to draw the eye except an occasional melancholy clump of Spanish bayonets or palmettos. The only signs of life came from the dwellers of the marsh—the flapping of a heron, disturbed by their passing, or the far-away, mournful cries of unseen birds.

Miller regretted the thickening dusk. All at once the agent’s gossip had become comprehensible. Yet he did not speak to Tony. To have done so would have assumed an undesirable quality of sympathy, of confession. He forced himself against his inclination to return to his steamer-chair on the upper deck. As he climbed the ladder he saw the native send a startled glance after him.

At last the boat took a sweeping curve to the east. The Snake widened and straightened, disclosing an unobstructed vista past the northern end of the island, to sand dunes, piled against the gloomy ashes of the sunset.

A swifter current caught them. It appeared to hurry the Dart, resisting, into the jaws of the inlet.

Miller started up. Tony was straining at the wheel. He seemed to be trying to turn the boat over by the marshes opposite the island, but the current was too strong for him, or the engines too inefficient. In spite of all he could do the Dart kept near the land. Leaning against the rail. Miller watched the struggle and its issue with a feeling of helplessness. Almost before he knew, it they were drawn very near—so near that, even in this rapidly waning light, the dark mass defined itself a little for him.

He saw that the bank at that end was higher than he had anticipated. This appearance of height was increased by a heavy growth of cedars, whose tops had been beaten by the prevailing wind from the dunes and the sea into an unbroken, upward slope. Beneath this soft, thick, and green roof the ancient trunks writhed and twisted like a forest setting for some grim, Scandinavian folk tale.

Behind the cedars palmettos thrust their tufted tops in insolent contrast; and here and there one of those gibbet-like pines lifted itself, dignified, isolated, suggestive.

That first close inspection made Miller feel that it was a place of shadows, offering with confident promise shelter for things that would hide, for things that should be hidden. It carried to him, moreover, a definite menace for the disturber of that to which the island had opened its refuge. To land, to penetrate this jungle, would call for more than physical courage; would, in short, demand a moral resolution, which, without warning; he found himself wondering if he possessed.

Suddenly the line was broken. An opening nearly a hundred yards wide had been torn through the dense mass. A small pier stretched from it to the channel, and from the shore the clearing sloped gently upward to a colonial dwelling. The building was indistinct in this fading light, but Miller knew it for the plantation house where Noyer had lived and ruled before the war.

It was painted white. The main portion was two stories high with a sloping attic roof from the centre of which a square cupola arose. High, slender columns supported the roof of a wide verandah. Wings of one story, curved at the ends, stretched from either side.

That houses absorb and retain a personality is scarcely debatable. The passing of these eighty years—the activities and rumoured cruelties of the earlier ones, the silence and desertion of the later—had given to this house an air of weary sorrow which reached Miller almost palpably. A single light in the left hand wing, yellow, glimmering, like a diseased eye, increased this sensation.