A TALE OF SINGAPORE TOLD BY THE THIRD MATE.
By Alfred Slade.
Illustrated by Ernest Prater.
It isn't my yarn at all by rights; the Second Mate commenced it, and
pushed me in, in the middle. So I've annexed it; and the Second won't
mind—for he's dead.
The Mother Carey was not a ship to be proud of. I never knew anyone
to blow about belonging to her, not even the donkeyman.
We had worked her round to Sydney all right. Then the Health
Authorities ordered us off: after which we went and lay off Thursday
Island till the firm who had chartered us could wire instructions.
In desperation, our people wired us to go to Singapore in ballast and
get any sort of cargo there we could.
I was sorry to leave Thursday Island; the telegraph stationmaster there
had a daughter. Her first name was Mary, and, if I can manage it, one
of these days her second will be the same as mine.
We got a move on us and were well in the Straits by eight bells that
afternoon, and it being the First Mate's watch, the Second Mate came to
my cabin to smoke a bit.
"Ever been to Singapore?" he asked.
"No," I said; "never went further than Calcutta that way. Have you?"
"Yes," he answered; "it'll be just about three years ago."
"Nice place?" I asked.
"Terrible hole," he answered. "See that stone? I got that there."
I took the ring off his finger and examined it; it was worth looking
at, too. Not for the mounting, which was ordinary enough, but for the
jewel it held. I had never seen a stone like it before, and never again
since—but I'll tell that part by-and-by.
It was something like a catseye, this jewel; but the outside was
perfectly white, the interior was peculiarly greenish, and right in the
centre was a spot of dazzling red like a speck of living blood. The
general effect was one of a baleful fascination, repellent and at the
same time invincibly attractive; and as I looked, I shuddered, yet
could not turn my eyes away.
"That's the way it serves me," said the Second, who was observing. "I
hate the thing, and yet I can't throw it away. And ever since I've had
it, it's brought nothing but bad luck.
"I was on the Sardanapalus when I had the stone first; we were caught
in a monsoon in the Indian Ocean, and had to put in at Point de Galle
an absolute wreck. My next ship was the Golden Horn; the cargo caught
fire off Pernambuco, and we were taken off by one of the Brazilian
Royal Mails. This'll be third trip; and I shall not live to finish it.
I only hope you others'll get through all right."
"How did you come by it?" I asked, beginning, I confess, to feel a
"It was a rum go," answered the Second, "and I don't much like talking
about it. But," he added after a moment's reflection, "I'll tell you,
in case anything happens to me there." And he nodded ahead, where lay
"The last time I was there," he went on, "I ran amuck. It was one of
Libby's liners I was in, and you know what they are. Rations according
to the Act, and as much rum as you can put on a mosquito's left eyelid.
So when I went ashore with a couple of dollars I'd subbed from the
skipper, I didn't want much to upset me. A bottle of Hamburg
square-face soon did the trick; and before I knew where I was I found
myself half-seas over.
"It was in one of those shanties back of the garrison barracks where
I'd got the stuff; in the daytime respectable merchants' depôts, at
night half grog-shop and half opium-den. The long, low, narrow room was
divided into two by strips of bamboo matting; I was in the front part
at a sort of rude table, alone with my square-face; the back was filled
with a crowd of Parsees, squatting in a circle, and gabbling. Between
us was a hole for the ladder that went to the cellar, whence came the
oppressing fumes of opium; and at the back of the inner room was a door
in the wooden wall, opening on a staircase that led to the apartments
"I remember all that distinctly; but I don't remember much else. Alone
with the noise and smoke and the intoxicating smell of the East that
lay all around me, and stupefied by the atmosphere no less than by
drink, I must have rested long in a sort of dream.
"I seemed to wake and shiver, and, sitting up, saw the dawn rising in
flames of gold. On the floor were people sleeping. I tried to stand up,
but felt languid and oppressed, and I sank in my seat, and would have
gone to sleep again.
"Then the door from above opened, and a girl came down. And all at
once, in spite of myself, and in a manner I cannot explain, all my
languor left me and a fever filled my veins. I rose, and, walking
across the sleeping bodies, went near to her, threw aside her veil,
bent down, and kissed her on the mouth.
"She did not move or speak; only a shudder went through her, and it was
not of fear or aversion.
"I drew from her at last, and, the light creeping up through the
windows, could look at her.
"She was not a Malay; she was not, I thought, a Hindoo: something of a
Cingalese, a Cingalese of the hill-tops, nearly white, of features
almost classic, a nose finely Hebraic, and eyes of an Aryan gipsy.
"'I have been watching you,' she said, in perfect English; 'watching
and waiting. Did you not feel the incense in your nostrils—that was my
love-spell. And it has worked.'
"Again I stooped and kissed her.
"'I like that,' she said, with a little laugh. 'It is a good thing of
the white men's. See, I will try to act thus also,' and she in her turn
had reached up and kissed me.
"I leaned forward to seize her, but she slid through my grasp and had
flown up the stairs.
"'To-night,' she whispered, 'by the old pagoda, I will weave you
"I THREW ASIDE HER VEIL AND KISSED HER."
"Then she came down a step. 'Look well to yourself here,' she
whispered again; 'there is danger. Take this—it is an amulet—it will
protect you,' and she had flown away out of sight, leaving in my hand a
tiny square of ivory hollowed through the centre.
"I stood for a minute as in a trance; between my feet I saw a body,
and, as I looked, one of its eyes, it seemed, was watching me.
"Had it been there all the while? I did not think so. Yet, looking
again, it was not watching me at all; its eyes were firmly closed, and
it was sleeping. Yet a fear crept into my heart, and instinctively I
felt in my belt for my revolver. It was not there; it was not on the
table; it was nowhere.
"And all my courage went from me, and I staggered across the sleeping
men and burst through the fragile door and fell out into the sun. And
without stopping I ran as hard as I could to the ship, sweating with a
terror I dare not think about.
"I BURST THROUGH THE DOOR AND RAN AS HARD AS I COULD."
"The boatswain was washing down with the steam hose; I stripped and
stood in front of it and took a bath that way. It steadied my nerves,
and the bright sea and the bright sunshine did the rest.
"I was at the pagoda that night, sober, without even a cigar, but with
another pistol in my belt. It was a weird place.
"Not a soul was in sight. The pagoda was dark and empty. The only sound
I could hear was the ripple of the waves on the distant shore.
"All sorts of fancies crept into my brain; I tried in vain to put them
away. At last I tried to go. I could not; I was as if rooted to the
"I looked around and fancied I was going mad, and I laughed. And the
echoes came back from all around, so that the air seemed full of
mocking devils, and I turned round and round to see whence came the
"There was a figure bowing before me, and a voice said: 'Salaam,
Sahib,' and in front, by the light of the moon, I saw a man.
"'I have a token for my lord,' he said, 'from one he loves, who begs
him to accept it and so depart,' and he handed me the stone you have
"'Stop,' I cried, taking it. 'Are you her servant?'
"'The Flower of the Cinnamon was my daughter,' he answered, 'but
"'What do you mean?' I cried again.
"'The Flower of the Cinnamon is not,' he said; 'and in your hand you
hold the token.'
"The moonlight caught the glitter of his evil eye, and I saw then it
was the man who had lain between my feet. I sprang forward to seize
him, and he was gone; gone like the wind, with not a trace behind.
"In my hand I still clenched the pebble; I took it in my fingers to put
it in my pocket. There was the other token, my amulet of ivory. I took
it out to look at it, and its veins were red—red with the streaks of
"So I went back to the ship, walking warily and looking behind my
shoulder; but I saw nothing and felt nothing—nothing but the stone the
man had given me, that lay like a weight on my heart. It was there next
morning, but my ivory amulet I could not find; it was gone, and with
it, I knew, my salvation."
"That is all?" I asked the Second, as he stopped to wipe the sweat from
"All—at present," he answered, "for we sailed that same morning. And I
have never seen her since. And I never shall see her," he added, in a
tone that made me feel cold to hear.
"But you kept the stone?" I asked again.
"I could not get rid of it," he replied. "Once—you may believe me or
not, as you like—once, I took it from my waistcoat pocket and threw it
over the bulwarks. It did not touch the sea; next morning it was there
again in my pocket. So I made the best of what I knew was a bad job; I
got it mounted in London in a ring, and I wear it so in defiance."
There was more of fear than defiance in his eyes just then; he swung on
his heel and turned away; nor did any further allusions to the subject
pass between us.
We reached Singapore shortly afterwards; and I noticed the Second Mate
getting more and more nervous. He tried to hide it and to conquer it,
he worked harder than any man on the boat.
At last we had got our cargo in and had finished coaling; the next
morning we should (machinery permitting) clear out for home. The Second
seemed easier that evening, but he had scarcely been in my cabin half
an hour when a convulsive spasm seemed to shoot through him. He stood
up, as if in agony, and cried out in a thick guttural voice: "I've got
to go," and made towards the alley-way.
I tried to stop him; he dragged me along as easily as if I had been a
child. Then, nearing the gangway, he shook me off and cried: "You had
better keep out of it; I shall be enough," and passed over the gangway
to the quay.
I went after him, just speaking to the watchman; yet even this delay
put me far behind, and I had to run to overtake him, so quickly did he
At last we reached the house, and the room he had described: he ordered
liquor, which I took care not to drink; and in desperate defiance let
his hand lie on the table, stretching out the finger that held the
Strive as I might to keep my head clear, I felt the fumes of the place
suffocating me; yet, stupefied as I was, I had a consciousness that
myriad eyes were around and watching us.
Below, through the hole where the ladder went, I saw the opium smokers;
at the back where the staircase mounted, I saw the door open.
A woman entered, and at once the place seemed empty, save for her and
The Second was looking too, and started suddenly. He got up and walked
towards her and threw her heavy veil aside. Then, in a voice so calm
that it astonished me, he said—
"You are not Flower of the Cinnamon?"
"No," she answered, "the Flower is not. But when she was, she was my
And she pressed forward towards me. "I am called," she said, to me, not
to him, "I am called the Sheen of Morning." And she made a low
obeisance towards me.
I did not speak, but looked towards her, looked passed her and saw into
the cellar. I saw a man, dark-skinned, yet no Hindoo, kindle a fire on
the ground; and as the flames leaped red, he sprinkled a powder on them
and the fire burnt green, and the smoke came through the opening.
The woman was still bowed before me and watching me with entreating
eyes; but now the lustre went out of her eyes and they had no more life
in them than a sleep-walker's. Then she rose stiffly and walked
backward to the staircase door and so passed through; and the door shut
of itself, for I saw no one to shut it.
And the man, or devil, in the cellar put more powder on his fire, and
the flames burnt red, red as a bullock's blood. And the Second turned
slowly round and walked from the room into the street; and, looking
neither to the right nor the left, took his way still further across
the marsh. And I followed, shivering in my heart.
Nothing before or around us but the darkness and the heat of the night
that brought up the fever-fog; and from the distance came the horrid
noise of a Chinese sing-song.
And we still walked on, till, in the darkness of the night, there
loomed another darkness, thicker and more compact: and I saw it was the
shadow of a pagoda.
The Second led the way right to the entrance; as we reached the
threshold, a light sprang up within.
The Second was mounting the steps; I seized his arm and with my whole
force tried to retain him; he did not even pause, but dragged me after
him as if my strength were nothing. And so we went into the temple.
The light shone from the other end: we drew closer to it and stood in
front. There, on a shrine, was an enormous figure of Buddha, sitting
cross-legged, with six arms extended. The light shone from his eyes;
and, glancing along his nostrils, on one side sparkled back. In his
nose was a jewel the duplicate of that the Second wore; on the other
side was a space for a second jewel, which was the Second's.
As I looked, I cried aloud and started back; my hand was still on the
Second's arm, and so great was my terror that I drew him back with me a
space. At that moment the pavement in front of us opened where but an
instant before we had both been standing; and in the void revealed, I
felt and smelt, rather than saw, the fœtid moisture of a bottomless
water-pit. And the light in the idol's eyes burnt red.
A little finger touched my left hand: I turned. It was a woman, the
same woman of the hut; who whispered, so that none but I could hear—
"Come, my lord, and quickly. Leave him to his fate, for he is doomed.
But thou, while there is yet time, come."
"Yes," I said to her; "but not alone. He must come too."
"Does my lord command it?" she asked.
"Yes," I said again.
"Then I will try," she whispered; "yet it is Death we three look in the
She raised her hand and rubbed my lips with something she held,
something that was cold like menthol, and bitter as gall. She did
likewise to the Second, who at that seemed to awake from sleep and
stare about him bewildered. And taking me by the hand, and I the
Second, she led us to the door; and the door was shut and barred, and
the light in the idol went out.
"There is another way," she said at last, and led us on; till behind a
pillar she stopped and stooped, and, groping for some time, found at
last a rude staple in the stonework.
"Pull," she said, "for you are strong." And I pulled, and the stone
came round on invisible hinges. In the opening there disclosed I felt
rough-hewn steps that went down, and pushing myself through I
descended. Three steps I counted, and then there were no more; and I
lost my hand-hold and fell. I threw out my hands wildly in search of
some support; my head swung forward and struck against a projection;
and, insensible, I still fell—down, down....
When I came to myself I was lying on the ground, my head in the woman's
lap; and her hair had torn loose and was swathing my temples; and as
she bent to kiss me, I felt that her eyes were wet.
"HE DRAGGED ME ALONG AS EASILY AS A CHILD."
But between her and me came the memory of Mary, and the promise the
moon had seen at Rockhampton; and I did not kiss her back, but took her
hand, and said, "My sister, my sister." And so she understood, and
raised me up, and put something on my head that cured its aching; and
the Second came to my side and held me, and we went on down the
There was no light to guide us; but the walls shone with phosphorescent
drawings, and all the vile gods of Buddha's Pantheon served us as
horrid guides. We went on—the woman in tears, I in pain, and the
Second in terror and dismay—till there came some rough-hewn steps, and
these mounted, some stairs of wood; there the woman left us and bade us
Presently she returned and led us still upward, and lifted a flap and
let in a flood of light. And springing through, we were in the room of
the grog-shop—all alone, save for the invisible eyes that I knew were
watching us all around.
And we sat at the table; and I gave my hand to the woman, and said
again, "My sister," and she fell to weeping afresh.
I looked towards the Second, and his brow was wet with sweat, and on
his finger gleamed ominously the cursed stone.
I tried to get the ring off. It clung till with a wrench I had twisted
it and had it off, and left his finger free; and then, before the woman
could prevent me, had put it on my own. At that she shrank, shivering;
but I knocked the table loudly in summons.
"I PULLED, AND THE STONE CAME ROUND ON INVISIBLE HINGES."
A coolie came in, and I ordered two bottles of Bass; but in knocking
and ordering and talking I took care to show my ring. He saw, and
smiled maliciously; and coming back with the beer looked again. The
woman had disappeared, spirited away again by some invisible power.
So the Second and I drank—he hugely, I scarcely at all. And then I
told him my scheme: that he must go back to the ship alone, for without
the ring I felt he had nothing to fear. He was reluctant to do so, for
he was a brave man; yet his terror was so great that in the end he
So I was left alone with the ring; and waiting till I thought it time,
began to reproach myself for running in danger when my life belonged to
Mary. Then I thought again: and I knew at last that Mary herself would
have me to do this. So I kept up a stout heart, and ostentatiously
leaving a dollar on the table, passed out.
There was a shadow in front of me—it was the woman, who fell at my
"Fool," she said, "and foolhardy. Throw it away lest it kill you. For
it is a vampire that drinks men's blood."
And she took hold of my finger and tried to wrench the ring away; but
the flesh was closed up tightly round it, and it would not budge.
"It is the spell already winding round you," she said. "Yet it was not
you that my father cursed. What shall I do, my love, my love?
"Better throw away your finger than your soul," she said again; "cut
it off and so escape."
I searched for the knife in my belt, but my sheath was empty; and we
looked into each other's eyes in hollow despair.
"I would bite it," she cried, "but I cannot—I cannot; for I love you."
"You must not say that," I answered; "and you must not come with me."
"My lord commands?" she asked, in pained humility.
And I said "Yes." And she disappeared into the darkness.
I strode on quickly across the swamp towards the quay, and already I
saw the lights gleam in the harbour. Yet even now I could not feel at
ease, and would glance round furtively and yet see nothing—until
suddenly the moon shot out from behind a cloud, and in front of my eyes
was a gleam that was not of light, but a reflection of light. I quickly
put out my left hand, and jagged steel pierced it, and I shrieked
With my right hand I seized my assailant, who was anointed with oil and
slipped through my fingers like an eel. Yet he did not run, but
remained at a little distance, waiting to attack me again, and there
were others with him. By their stiffened upright black hair I saw they
were Malays; but the one who seemed their leader was the devil of the
cellar. And my heart thumped and thumped, as I waited.
Then a soft hand again touched me, and a voice said, "It is I," and the
woman had taken my finger that held the ring, and saying, "Yet I must
do it, because I love him," had bitten it clean through. And shouting
to the men in a tongue I knew not, she hurled it in their midst; and
their leader seized it, and yelled aloud in triumph, and showed it to
the others running round him.
"TAKING THE FINGER THAT HELD THE RING, SHE BIT IT CLEAN
And the woman spoke again, and to some purpose, for then the men
departed with the prize. And the moon went in again behind the clouds.
"Do not slay me, my lord," the woman was saying, "for your life is not
She tore the veiling from her face and bandaged the stump that had been
my finger; and then she took my other hand, and, withdrawing the
dagger, sucked softly at the poison of the wound. But the pain was too
much for me, and I just leaned over and fell fainting to the ground.
Next morning, I found myself in my bunk, and the Second was watching
over me, and the woman was crouching on the floor.
"That's right, old man," said the Second, "and now I'll fetch the
The doctor was the chief engineer, who forthwith came aft with a hot
iron and seared the stump of my finger.
"And now, laddie, ye'll do," he said; "and I must awa, for there is
some leetle difficulty with the boilers."
"She carried you here," said the Second, answering my eyes, "though how
she managed it I can't say. And she had sucked the poison clean from
your wound, and Mac said there was no danger left. Though, mind you,
the kriss had enough on it to kill twenty men.
"Yes," he went on, "I'm all right, and you shall tell me how it
happened to you afterwards. Now you must swallow this sleeping draught
Mac's left for you."
And I swallowed the medicine he gave me.
But I did not sleep; I fell into a stupor. I could not move or speak;
yet I could hear and understand.
The sailors were clearing the decks above me; at intervals the steam
whistle sounded; we were preparing to get under way.
At last came the cry, "All strangers leave the ship," and there was a
bustle across the gangway.
The woman in the corner rose, came to my bunk and kissed me on the
lips, opened the door, went into the alley-way and on to the deck. She
mounted to the poop above my head, then a shadow passed for a moment
athwart my port-hole. I heard a splash—and she had done suttee for her
love of me.
The blade of the propeller began to revolve, and the ship to forge
slowly forward. My tongue was parched and my temples throbbing, and the
delirium of fever came over me.
My eyes still open looked far away forward, into the pagoda of
Singapore. And before the Buddha knelt the throng of worshippers, and
the idol looked down upon them in content and triumph, and in his
nostrils were now the catseyes, sparkling on either side. And a shadowy
form that I knew for the ghost of the woman came before the god and
fell prostrate, and lay there praying for me; and the idol did not
frown, but gazed still content; and I knew that the curse was lifted
Then my eyes could close, and the fire went from them, and the darkness
came and gentle sleep.
"SHE MOUNTED THE POOP AND JUMPED INTO THE WATER."
The next thing I knew was that Mac was pouring quinine down my throat,
and we were out at sea and the sun was shining. And at Aden, where we
coaled, was a letter from Mary; and I was well again.
The Second met the fate he feared. You know from the papers how the
voyage ended; no one knows, and only I can guess, how it came to end as
it did. It was off Ushant, almost in sight of home. The Second had the
watch. The moon was at its full; there was not a cloud to cast a
shadow. The man at the wheel saw a huge rock loom on the starboard bow.
He veered off a point to give it a wide berth; the Second came towards
him and took the wheel himself. And then, the man declares, he headed
straight for the rock, his eyes fixed intently in front of him, his
hands a-tremble with unavailing fear. The man thought he was mad, and
tried to tear the spokes away; the Second, with strength almost
supernatural, with one hand lifted him up, and hurled him to the lower
deck. Then the ship forged on, straight to the rock ahead.
The boats were lowered and quickly filled, and were casting off. I
sprang up to the bridge—I touched the Second's arm and took his hand
As I hurried him down the gangway and across the forehold, a boom of
the winch pinned him to the deck and he could not move.
Then, as I live, I saw a woman—a black woman—holding him in her arms,
holding him down. There came a rush of water. The vessel slid back into
the trough of the sea. The woman kissed him—he shrieked aloud—and the
waves sucked them in together.
The curse of the catseye was completed.