CORD AND CREESE
CORD AND CREESE
JAMES DE MILLE
THE LETTER FROM BEYOND THE SEA.
On the morning of July 21 1840 the _Daily News_ announced the
arrival of the ship _Rival_ at Sydney New South Wales. As ocean
steam navigation had not yet extended so far the advent of this ship
with the English mail created the usual excitement. An eager crowd beset
the post-office waiting for the delivery of the mail; and little knots
at the street corners were busily discussing the latest hints at news
which had been gathered from papers brought ashore by the officers or
At the lower end of King Street was a large warehouse with an office at
the upper extremity over which was a new sign which showed with newly
gilded letters the words:
COMPTON & BRANDON.
The general appearance of the warehouse showed that Messrs. Compton and
Brandon were probably commission merchants general agents or something
of that sort.
On the morning mentioned two men were in the inner office of this
warehouse. One was an elderly gentleman with a kind benevolent aspect
the senior partner of the firm. The other was the junior partner and in
every respect presented a marked contrast to his companion.
He had a face of rather unusual appearance and an air which in England
is usually considered foreign. His features were regular--a straight
nose wide brow thin lips and square massive chin. His complexion was
olive and his eyes were of a dark hazel color with a peculiarity about
them which is not usually seen in the eye of the Teutonic or Celtic
race but is sometimes found among the people of the south of Europe or
in the East. It is difficult to find a name for this peculiarity. It may
be seen sometimes in the gipsy; sometimes in the more successful among
those who call themselves "spiritual mediums" or among the more
powerful mesmerizers. Such an eye belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte whose
glance at times could make the boldest and greatest among his marshals
quail. What is it? Magnetism? Or the revelation of the soul? Or what?
In this man there were other things which gave him the look of the great
Napoleon. The contour of feature was the same: and on his brow broad
and massive there might be seen those grand shadows with which French
artists love to glorify the Emperor. Yet in addition to this he had that
same serene immobility of countenance which characterized the other
which could serve as an impenetrable mask to hide even the intensest
There was also about this man a certain aristocratic air and grace of
attitude or of manner which seemed to show lofty birth and gentle
breeding the mysterious index to good blood or high training. How such
a man could have happened to fill the position of junior partner in a
commission business was certainly a problem not easily solved. There he
was however a man in appearance out of place yet in reality able to
fill that place with success; a man in fact whose resolute will
enabled him to enforce success in any calling of life to which either
outside circumstances or his own personal desires might invite him.
"The mail ought to be open by this time" said Brandon indifferently
looking at his watch. "I am somewhat curious to see how things are
looking. I noticed quotations of wool rather higher than by last mail.
If the papers are correct which I saw then we ought to do very well by
that last cargo."
Mr. Compton smiled.
"Well Brandon" said he "if it is so it will show that you are right.
You anticipated a rise about this time you know. You certainly have a
remarkable forecast about the chances of business."
"I don't think there is much forecast" said Brandon with a smile. "It
was only the most ordinary calculation made from the well-known fact
that the exportation this year had been slight. But there comes Hedley
now" he continued moving his head a little to one side so as to look
up the street. "The letters will soon show us all."
Mr. Compton looked out in the direction which Brandon indicated and saw
the clerk approaching. He then settled himself back in his chair put
his hands in his pockets threw one leg over the other and began
whistling a tune with the air of a man who was so entirely prosperous
and contented that no news whether good or evil could greatly affect his
In a short time the clerk entered the inner office and laying the
letters down upon the table nearest Mr. Compton he withdrew.
Mr. Compton took up the letters one by one and read the addresses while
Brandon looked carelessly on. There were ten or twelve of them all of
which except one were addressed to the firm. This one Mr. Compton
selected from among the others and reaching it out in his hand said:
"This is for you Mr. Brandon."
"For me?" repeated Brandon with marked surprise; and taking the letter
he looked at the address with eager curiosity.
The address was simply as follows:
Sydney New South Wales.
The letters were irregular and loosely formed as though written by a
tremulous hand--such letters as old men form when the muscles have
Mr. Compton went on opening the letters of the firm without taking any
further notice of his partner. The latter sat for some time looking at
the letter without venturing to open it. He held it in both hands and
looked fixedly at that address as though from the address itself he was
trying to extort some meaning.
He held it thus in both hands looking fixedly at it with his head bent
forward. Had Mr. Compton thought of taking a look at his usually
impassive companion he would have been surprised at the change which
had taken place in him at the mere sight of that tremulous handwriting.
For in that he had read grief misfortune perhaps death; and as he sat
there pausing before he dared to break the seal the contents of the
letter had already been conjectured.
Gloom therefore unutterable gathered upon his face; his features fixed
themselves into such rigidity of grief that they became more expressive
than if they had been distorted by passionate emotions; and over his
brow collected cloud upon cloud which deepened and darkened every
instant till they overshadowed all; and his face in its statuesque
fixedness resembled nothing so much as that which the artist gives to
Napoleon at the crisis hour of Waterloo when the Guard has recoiled
from its last charge and from that Imperial face in its fixed agony the
soul itself seems to cry "Lost!" "Lost!"
Yet it was only for a few minutes. Hastily subduing his feeling Brandon
rose and clutching the letter in his hand as though it were too
precious to be trusted to his pocket he quietly left the office and the
warehouse and walked up the street.
He walked on rapidly until he reached a large building which bore the
sign "Australian Hotel." Here he entered and walked up stairs to a
room and locked himself in. Then when alone in his own apartments he
ventured to open the letter.
The paper was poor and mean; the handwriting like that of the address
was tremulous and in many places quite illegible; the ink was pale; and
the whole appearance of the letter seemed to indicate poverty and
weakness on the part of the writer. By a very natural impulse Brandon
hesitated before beginning to read and took in all these things with a
At last he nerved himself to the task and began to read.
This was the letter.
"Brandon March 10 1846.
"My dear Boy--These are the last words which you will ever hear from
your father. I am dying my dear boy and dying of a broken heart; but
_where_ I am dying I am afraid to tell you. That bitterness I leave
for you to find out some day for yourself. In poverty unspeakable in
anguish that I pray you may never know I turn to you after a silence of
years and my first word is to implore your forgiveness. I know my noble
boy that you grant it and it is enough for me to ask it. After asking
this I can die content on that score.
"Lying as I do now at the point of death I find myself at last freed
from the follies and prejudices which have been my ruin. The clouds roll
away from my mind and I perceive what a mad fool I have been for years.
Most of all I see the madness that instigated me to turn against you
and to put against the loyal love of the best of sons my own miserable
pride and the accusation of a lying scoundrel. May God have mercy upon
me for this!
"I have not much strength dear boy; I have to write at intervals and
by stealth so as not to be discovered for I am closely watched.
_He_ must never know that I have sent this to you. Frank and your
mother are both sick and my only help is your sister my sweet Edith
she watches me and enables me to write this in safety.
"I must tell you all without reserve before strength leaves me forever.
"That man Potts whom you so justly hated was and is the cause of all
my suffering and of yours. You used to wonder how such a man as that a
low vulgar knave could gain such an influence over me and sway me as
he did. I will try to explain.
"Perhaps you remember something about the lamentable death of my old
friend Colonel Despard. The first that I ever heard of this man Potts
was in his connection with Despard for whom he acted partly as valet
and partly as business agent. Just before Despard left to go on his
fatal voyage he wrote to me about his affairs and stated in
conclusion that this man Potts was going to England that he was sorry
to lose him but recommended him very earnestly to me.
"You recollect that Colonel Despard was murdered on this voyage under
very mysterious circumstances on shipboard. His Malay servant Uracao was
convicted and executed. Potts distinguished himself by his zeal in
avenging his master's death.
"About a year after this Potts himself came to England and visited me.
He was as you know a rough vulgar man; but his connection with my
murdered friend and the warm recommendations of that friend made me
receive him with the greatest kindness. Besides he had many things to
tell me about my poor friend and brought the newspapers both from
Manilla and Calcutta which contained accounts of the trial.
"It was this man's desire to settle himself somewhere and I gave him
letters to different people. He then went off and I did not see him for
two years. At the end of that time he returned with glowing accounts of
a tin mine which he was working in Cornwall. He had bought it at a low
price and the returns from working it had exceeded his most sanguine
expectations. He had just organized a company and was selling the
stock. He came first to me to let me take what I wished. I carelessly
took five thousand pounds' worth.
[Illustration: "EDITH SHE WATCHES ME AND ENABLES ME TO WRITE THIS IN
"On the following year the dividend was enormous being nearly sixty per
cent. Potts explained to me the cause declaring that it was the richest
mine in the kingdom and assuring me that my L5000 was worth ten times
that sum. His glowing accounts of the mine interested me greatly.
Another year the dividend was higher and he assured me that he expected
to pay cent. per cent.
"It was then that the demon of avarice took full possession of me.
Visions of millions came to me and I determined to become the richest
man in the kingdom. After this I turned every thing I had into money to
invest in the mine. I raised enormous sums on my landed estate and put
all that I was worth and more too into the speculation. I was
fascinated not by this man but by the wealth that he seemed to
represent. I believed in him to the utmost. In vain my friends warned
me. I turned from them and quarreled with most of them. In my madness I
refused to listen to the entreaties of my poor wife and turned even
against you. I can not bear to allude to those mournful days when you
denounced that villain to his face before me; when I ordered you to beg
his pardon or leave my roof forever; when you chose the latter
alternative and became an outcast. My noble boy--my true-hearted son
that last look of yours with all its reproach is haunting my dying
hours. If you were only near me now how peacefully I could die!
"My strength is failing. I can not describe the details of my ruin.
Enough that the mine broke down utterly and I as chief stockholder was
responsible for all. I had to sell out every thing. The stock was
worthless. The Hall and the estates all went. I had no friend to help
me for by my madness I had alienated them all. All this came upon me
during the last year.
"But mark this my son. This man Potts was _not_ ruined. He seemed
to have grown possessed of a colossal fortune. When I reproached him
with being the author of my calamity and insisted that be ought to
share it with me the scoundrel laughed in my face.
"The Hall and the estates were sold for unfortunately though they
have been in our family for ages they were not entailed. A feeling of
honor was the cause of this neglect. They were sold and the purchaser
was this man Potts. He must have bought them with the money that he had
plundered from me.
"Now since my eyes have been opened I have had many thoughts; and
among all that occurs to me none is more prominent than the mysterious
murder of my friend. This man Potts was with him at the time. He was
chief witness against the Malay. The counsel for the defense bore down
hard on him but he managed to escape and Uracao was executed. Yet this
much is evident that Potts was largely benefited by the death of
Despard. He could not have made all his money by his own savings. I
believe that the man who wronged me so foully was fully capable of
murder. So strong is this conviction now that I sometimes have a
superstitious feeling that because I neglected all inquiry into the
death of my friend therefore he has visited me from that other life
and punished me by making the same man the ruin of us both.
"The mine I now believe was a colossal sham; and all the money that I
invested in stocks went directly to Potts. Good God! what madness was
"O my boy! Your mother and your brother are lying here sick; your sister
attends on us all though little more than a child. Soon I must leave
them; and for those who are destined to live there is a future which I
shudder to contemplate. Come home at once. Come home whatever you are
doing. Leave all business and all prospects and come and save them.
That much you can do. Come if it is only to take them back with you to
that new land where you live where they may forget their anguish.
"Come home my son and take vengeance. This perhaps you can not do
but you at least can try. By the time that you read these words they
will be my voice from the grave; and thus I invoke you and call you to
"But at least come and save your mother your brother and your sister.
The danger is imminent. Not a friend is left. They all hold aloof
indignant at me. This miscreant has his own plans with regard to them I
doubt not; and he will disperse them or send them off to starve in some
foreign land. Come and save them.
"But I warn you to be careful about yourself for their sakes. For this
villain is powerful now and hates you worse than any body. His arm may
reach even to the antipodes to strike you there. Be on your guard. Watch
every one. For once from words which fell from him hastily I gathered
that he had some dark plan against you. Trust no one. Rely on yourself
and may God help you!
"Poor boy! I have no estate to leave you now and what I do send to you
may seem to you like a mockery. Yet do not despise it. Who knows what
may be possible in these days of science? Why may it not be possible to
force the sea to give up its prey?
"I send it at any rate for I have nothing else to send. You know that
it has been in our family for centuries and have heard how stout old
Peter Leggit with nine sailors escaped by night through the Spanish
fleet and what suffering they endured before they reached England. He
brought this and it has been preserved ever since. A legend has grown
up as a matter of course that the treasure will be recovered one day
when the family is at its last extremity. It may not be impossible. The
writer intended that something should come of it.
"If in that other world to which I am going the disembodied spirit can
assist man then be sure O my son I will assist you and in the crisis
of your fate I will be near if it is only to communicate to your spirit
what you ought to do.
"God bless you dear boy and farewell.
"Your affectionate father.
This letter was evidently written by fragmentary portions as though it
had been done at intervals. Some parts were written leisurely--others
apparently in haste. The first half had been written evidently with the
greatest ease. The writing of the last half showed weakness and
tremulousness of hand; many words would have been quite illegible to one
not familiar with the handwriting of the old man. Sometimes the word was
written two or three times and there were numerous blots and unmeaning
lines. It grew more and more illegible toward the close. Evidently it
was the work of one who was but ill able to exert even sufficient
strength to hold a pen in his trembling hand.
In this letter there was folded a large piece of coarse paper evidently
a blank leaf torn from a book brown with age which was worn at the
folds and protected there by pieces of cotton which had been pasted
upon it. The paper was covered with writing in ink that was much faded
though still quite legible.
Opening this Brandon read the following:
[Illustration: Facsimile of handwritten page reading:
"One league due northe of a smalle islet northe of the Islet of Santa
Cruz northe of San Salvador----I Ralphe Brandon in my shippe Phoenix am
becalmed and surrounded by a Spanish fleete----My shippe is filled with
spoyle the Plunder of III galleons----wealth which myghte purchase a
kyngdom-tresure equalle to an Empyr's revenue----Gold and jeweles in
countless store----and God forbydde that itt shall falle into the hands
of the Enemye----I therefore Ralphe Brandon out of mine owne good wyl
and intente and that of all my men sink this shippe rather than be taken
alyve----I send this by my trusty seaman Peter Leggit who with IX others
tolde off by lot will trye to escape in the Boate by nighte----If this
cometh haply into the hands of my sonne Philip let him herebye knowe
that in this place is all this tresure----which haply may yet be gatherd
from the sea----the Islet is knowne by III rockes that be pushed up like
III needles from the sande.
A LIFE TRAGEDY.
Not a word or a gesture escaped Brandon during the perusal but after he
had finished he read the whole through twice then laying it down he
paced up and down the room. His olive skin had become of a sickly tawny
hue his eyes glowed with intense lustre and his brow was covered with
those gloomy Napoleonic clouds but not a nerve was shaken by the shock
of this dread intelligence.
Evening came and night; and the night passed and morning came but it
found him still there pacing the room.
Earlier than usual next morning he was at the office and waited for
some time before the senior partner made his appearance. When he came in
it was with a smile on his face and a general air of congratulation to
all the world.
"Well Brandon" said he cordially "that last shipment has turned out
finely. More than a thousand pounds. And it's all your doing. I
objected but you were right. Let me congratulate you."
Something in Brandon's face seemed to surprise the old gentleman and he
paused for a moment. "Why what's the matter my boy?" he said in a
paternal voice. "You have not heard any bad news I hope in that
letter--I hope it's nothing serious?"
Brandon gave a faint smile.
"Serious enough" said he looking away with an abstracted gaze "to put
a sudden end to my Australian career."
"Oh no--oh no!" said the other earnestly; "not so bad as that."
"I must go home at once."
"Oh well that may be but you will be back again. Take a leave of
absence for five years if you wish but don't quit for good. I'll do the
business and won't complain my boy. I'll keep your place comfortable
for you till your return."
Brandon's stern face softened as he looked at the old man whose
features were filled with the kindest expression and whose tone showed
the affectionate interest which he felt.
"Your kindness to me Mr. Compton" said he very slowly and with deep
feeling "has been beyond all words. Ever since I first came to this
country you have been the truest and the best of friends. I hope you
know me well enough to believe that I can never forget it. But now all
this is at an end and all the bright prospects that I had here must
give way to the call of the sternest duty. In that letter which I
received last night there came a summons home which I can not neglect
and my whole life hereafter must be directed toward the fulfillment of
that summons. From mid-day yesterday until dawn this morning I paced my
room incessantly laying out my plans for the future thus suddenly
thrust upon me and though I have not been able to decide upon any thing
definite yet I see plainly that nothing less than a life will enable me
to accomplish my duty. The first thing for me to do is to acquaint you
with this and to give up my part in the business."
Mr. Compton placed his elbow on the table near which he had seated
himself leaned his head upon his hand and looked at the floor. From
Brandon's tone he perceived that this resolution was irrevocable. The