The "Gloria Scott" is one of the short stories about Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in The Strand Magazine in 1894. It is now in the public domain. It has been transferred to electronic text by optical character recognition, and this copy has been reformatted for E2 and cleaned of OCR errors by rootbeer277. A paper version can be found in a collection of short stories called Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
The "Gloria Scott" relates the tale of Sherlock Holmes' first adventure, taking place while he was still at university engaged in the various odd branches of study which made up what was then just his hobby. The story is related to us third-hand for most of is length, as Holmes' friend tells Holmes who tells Watson who tells us the events that took place.
Although interesting from a historical perspective as the first case of the world's most famous detective, Sherlock doesn't really do much detecting of note in this one. He infers a few trifles surrounding the case, and manages to decode a simple cipher, but otherwise the solution to the case is literally handed to him as a written confession. As with The Stock-Broker's Clerk, the case is not so much solved as it is reported.
Previous Story: The Stock-broker's Clerk
Next Story: The Musgrave Ritual
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 tarnished cylinder, and.
undoing the tape, he handed me a short note scrawled upon a
half-sheet of slate-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
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 endeavoured 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 humour.
Now he sat forward in his armchair 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, and 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, widespread, 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
"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 travelled 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 countryside, 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-humouredly. '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 twelvemonth.'
"The laugh faded from his lips, and he stared at me in great
" '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 the straight?'
" 'No,' said I. 'It is your ears. They have the peculiar flattening and thickening which marks the boxing man.'
" 'Anything else?'
" '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.'
" 'Right again.'
" 'You have visited Japan.'
" 'Quite true.'
" 'And you have been most intimately associated with someone whose initials were J. A., and whom you afterwards were
eager to entirely forget.'
"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
"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
" '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
" '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 loves are the worst. Come into the billiard-room and
have a quiet cigar.'
"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, an incident occurred which proved in the sequel to be of
"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. Trevor.
" '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
" '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 surprise.
" '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 forelock.
'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 Mr. 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 remarkable.
" '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
" '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 the best.'
"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 flagstaff which marked the
" '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
his 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 household.
" ' "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 writing
" '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 daresay."
" ' "You're not going away in an unkind spirit, Hudson, I
hope," said my father with a tameness which made my blood
" ' "I've not had my 'pology," said he sulkily, glancing in
" ' "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 snarled. "Very good, mate.
We'll see about that!"
" '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
" 'And how?' I asked eagerly.
" 'In a most extraordinary fashion. A letter arrived for my
father yesterday evening, bearing the Fordingham postmark. 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, traveller, 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 described 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 was 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
"I daresay 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 backward, 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
" '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 "hen-pheasants"?'
" '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 fulfil 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 every autumn.'
" '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 men.'
" '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 this way.
" '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 has 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, be 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 honour, 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 the '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 snowstorm. I was glad, then, to find that he
was my neighbour, 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 for?"
" '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
" ' "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?"
" ' "No. "
" ' "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 you through."
" '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 trusted."
" 'I did so and found my other neighbour 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 to us.
" '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 stateroom, 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 stateroom 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 someone 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 blood-thirsty 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 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 anyone. 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 the 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
" '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 travelled, 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 his tongue.'
"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."
Previous Story: The Stock-broker's Clerk
Next Story: The Musgrave Ritual