The Great Secret/Chapter 8
Morning in the Indian Ocean, with its balmy air and sense of lightness and life.
The Rockhampton is forging along at a great rate. She has coals enough to last for three weeks, and before that time her new masters know that they will have anchored where they want to go.
Two days had passed since the explosion and massacre, and the bodies had been flung over to the sharks indiscriminately—men, women and children. A merry feast for the sharks it had been while it lasted, to which many relations had gathered, wrangling, snarling and fighting over the gifts, as so many human relations after a funeral.
But the ship had sailed away from the ensanguined waters, and once more the waves danced blue and limpid. The decks also had been washed clean down, and the saloon and gangways cleared of the horrible sights, so that only the wreckage remained to remind the monsters of the ruthless deed which they had consummated.
Pirates of old made no bones about deeds of slaughter; they gloated in torturing their victims, and enjoyed their grog and cigars better with the smell and sight of blood; they were robust and dirty-fisted rufiians, those pioneer pirates.
These modern pirates were of a different order; they did not drink rum, nor did they smoke strong tobacco. Many of them drank only sugar and water to their mild cigarettes, others imbibed gently of absinthe and claret. They were cold-blooded, clean-handed ruffians who liked the decks cleaned and white cloths on their tables, yet they were none the better for that.
The Rockhampton was going well—indeed, recklessly fast, but she was not being worked in a seaman-like manner. The new engineers were scientific men, who knew how to work machines and how to right them if they went wrong, but they were like cold-blooded hirers of horses, they only thought about how much they could get out of their machines.
The sailors were trained men, but they were not Englishmen, and therefore they cared nothing for the ship. The new captain could use the sextant and take an observation, but he was not methodical, and trusted to his compass, chronometer and charts, and as yet had taken no observations. He liked his ease, and trusted a great deal to his eyes.
There are many islands in the Southern Ocean which are not inhabited and not very well known, and, better still, lie out of the ordinary line of traffic. Captain Nelson, who understood Spanish, had heard enough of Dr Fernandez's plans on that night to form his own. He knew what these foreign seamen were capable of, and took his measures accordingly. Captain Anatole was steering with that blind faith in his own cleverness and knowledge so characteristic of his countrymen. He took his daily observations, it is true, and consulted the compass, chronometer and charts, summing up rapidly and with ready confidence that admitted of no possible doubt about the correctness of his calculations. He had never been in those waters before, and knew the island he was after, only from reading about it, but that was a trifle to his sublime conceit. He had promised to find it, as the great Corsican had promised to subdue the land of the Pharaohs and Russia, and to will was to accomplish with this dauntless sailor.
"These John Bulls are slow; they ruminate like the cows; they have no genius, no decision. They are on the rocks before they can tell where they are—bah! Two minutes suffices for me to point out where we are. Observe we are now in latitude so-and-so, longitude this—our island lies over there, one thousand five hundred and thirty-four leagues from here, and we are going there as straight as an arrow. Let us enjoy a game at cards."
All easy and confident master, careless and undisciplined men, the watches became mere pretexts, for each man was an independent Anarchist, and to wash too often either their own free persons or the decks a degradation to such lovers of universal liberty and equality.
Captain Nelson and those who were hiding with him found it an easy matter to evade those confident murderers. He groaned as he saw the slatternly state of his once trim ship decks, where men flung the debris of their feasts with prodigal and reckless carelessness. They liked to have their tiffin and breakfast on deck, and did not trouble much where they poured the dregs of their coffee cups, wine glasses, or leavings of dishes, for the men now acting as cooks and stewards were comrades, and not servants.
Still the ship went on, for they kept the fires well stoked, and being confident now that they were the sole survivors, after that first general search and the clearing away of the dead, no one troubled about the state saloons. When they reached land, they would unload, and have a fair division of the property.
Meantime they enjoyed themselves, did as little work as they possibly could, after the manner of good Anarchists, and discussed politics and plans for the removal of tyrants and the smashing up of society.
The male portion of this community numbered in all sixty-five, but they had females and children also with them—women, some of whom had been born ladies, others picked up from the slums of continental cities and prisons. The women, perhaps, were even more bitter than the men against society and respectability. The children had grown up to regard bombs as toys, explosions as amusements, and murders as ordinary incidents in their lives. They played on the decks with the nut shells which their elders pitched at them, and were happy, as any children will be under any circumstances, if they get half a chance.
Some of the women were handsome, most of them, however, were haggard and careworn; none of them were particularly virtuous, as mediocre society expects its women to be. These females had liberated themselves from the rigid trammels of society, and become spartan in their ideas. The careworn ones were perhaps the most conventional and orderly, and created less discord on board, for they were left to attend to the children, but the handsome ones caused a good deal of trouble, for even Anarchists will give way to jealousy at times, mediocre and unworthy as the feeling is amongst true comrades and brothers.
Knives were apt to be drawn, and blood spilt amongst these good brothers during this short voyage, and even the sisters did not regard one another with that benevolence and concord that Socialists ought to feel towards each other. Human nature is such a vile weed to root out of human hearts.
Dr Fernandez tried to keep peace, as did Captain Anatole, but with indifferent success. The ex-Countess de Bergamont, or the Princess Sebastopol, or Baroness von Hilda, having legitimate husbands on board, caused not a little excitement with their free ideas of women's rights.
They were right, of course, according to the Anarchical code, to do as they liked, and their husbands to be regarded as almost traitors to the commonweal to grumble at or attempt to curb or control their inclinations, yet husbands are so unreasonable, as well as wives, sometimes, even in the most perfectly organised communities, that the chosen leaders had a hard time of it, while the unseen watchers almost chuckled when they saw how affairs were progressing.
Dr Fernandez was not a ladies' man in the amorous sense, and through the whole course of their matrimonial misery, his wife had never the slightest cause for vulgar jealousy regarding him. He was a calculating devil, who regarded the other sex with contempt. He had taken his wife because he thought he might have use for her, and if, like Richard III., he did dissemble to suit his purposes, and made love with grace and fervour, she had quickly discovered how much she was to him. He was not capable of vulgar jealousy. He was a true Anarchist, body and soul; a man without a remorse or tremor of fear, who held his own life nearly as cheaply as he did those of others.
He was a scientific fiend, if we dare to compare the playful and turbulent companions and followers of the orthodox devil with such humans as Dr Fernandez, who, to discover a single scientific secret, would coldly mutilate half humanity.
The Miltonic devil is such a capricious and impulsive character compared with the embodied devils of to-day, that they, the older fiends, must surely stand like abashed schoolboys before their master, or else slink back to hell abashed. The new humour is much too complete and sardonic for such an absolute novice as poor old Mephistopheles. The old hell can only be regarded as a commonplace skittle-alley to these gentlemen. The brimstone is not strong enough for their refined palates. They quaff a more potent mixture, and play euchre or poker in a hotter place than would have satisfied dear old Faust.
Dr Fernandez was not impetuous like Dr Faustus. He had youth enough to satisfy him. No Marguerite could have tempted him, however alluring or fresh she might have been. He did not care for the petty vices of drinking, eating or ostentation, and diabolical murder hardly moved his blood, unless there was something peculiarly atrocious, original and refined about it. He was a mild-voiced, gentle epicure, who seldom lost his temper, yet withal a laborious and patient investigator, and a great, as well as earnest, inventor in his own peculiar line.
A bomb or infernal machine bursting a second of time before his calculations, even although it did its duty, caused him exquisite pain and humiliation, so finely strung was his nature and so engrossed was he in his peculiar science. While his companions extolled him upon what they considered a complete success, he would sigh heavily and murmur,—"Alas, I am but a novice; it was a failure," and withdraw, humbled and weary, to ponder upon how he could improve his system. He was an enthusiast and poet in the art of murder and destruction. To be able to annihilate Europe—nay, the entire globe—with a single touch, leaving his own sympathisers unhurt as spectators, would be an achievement worthy of his brain if accomplished at the precise instant of his calculations; these other isolated outrages were merely trifles.
Adela Austin had been a woman of mind, and seemed at one time almost worthy to be the sharer of his proud destiny. But Adela had insular prejudices, and these prejudices had ran counter with his designs—therefore he had doomed Adela, and now she was removed from his path, mercifully, for he had no hatred towards her. She was English, without a single sense about her of the new humour, yet she was honest and pure as far as she could comprehend these ethics, only she could not go far enough.
Captain Anatole was a boastful fool, yet he was doubtless a good seaman and could steer the ship. When a better man could be found. Captain Anatole would take his departure easily and painlessly.
His other companions were necessary, meanwhile, in their different ways. The burly, brutal, Americanised Hibernian, who broke down with his strength, physical obstacles. The others according to their different temperaments. They were all useful to him, and he humoured them accordingly.
The women were useful also, for some men will not work without women. They are fashioned so. The colony he was about to found would not require replenishing. If it did, they could imitate the old Romans with the Sabine women, and so get a new race. At present he only wanted women to allure and keep the men interested in their fell work. He did not want domestic sloth and content, and these women were all vicious enough to serve his purpose.
He would take them to this sterile land in the South Seas, where the Antarctic stream encircled and chilled, and there he would perfect his plans. There were forces of Nature there that suited his purposes exactly, and his followers would not be too happy, for a happy ease of life never yet made a good Anarchist. They would have to do much and suffer much to make life even endurable on that sterile land; therefore they would be eager to take their leave of it when he bade them.
As for the false and depraved Jezebels who were with them, who were more soul-wearying than the shores they were hastening towards, how gladly would the victims of their stale witcheries hail action to be rid of such companions.
The doctor smiled gently as he thought on these matters, and poured oil on the little stormy waters that so constantly bubbled up around him. He was of cleanly habits himself, and dainty and precise in his tastes, but he was too profound a philosopher to be in the least degree disgusted at the dirt about him. He liked a sumptuous chamber, yet he would be content with the commonest doss-house, for he felt Jove-like with his infernal knowledge and power.