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A short story by Charles M. Skinner

Pass Christian

Title:     Pass Christian
Author: Charles M. Skinner [More Titles by Skinner]

Senhor Vineiro, a Portuguese, having wedded Julia Regalea, a Spaniard, in South America, found it needful to his fortunes to leave Montevideo, for a revolution was breeding, and no less needful to his happiness to take his wife with him from that city, for he was old and she was young. But he chose the wrong ship to sail on, for Captain Dane, of the Nightingale, was also young, presentable, and well schooled, but heartless. On the voyage to New Orleans he not only won the affection of the wife, but slew the husband and flung his body overboard. Vainly the wife tried to repress the risings of remorse, and vainly, too, she urged Dane to seek absolution from her church. She had never loved her husband, and she had loved Dane from the first, but she was not at heart a bad woman and her peace was gone. The captain was disturbed and suspicious. His sailors glanced at him out of the corners of their eyes in a way that he did not like. Had the woman in some unintentional remark betrayed him? Could he conceal his crime, save with a larger one?

Pass Christian was a village then. On a winter night its people saw a glare in the sky, and hurrying to their doors found a ship burning in the gulf. Smacks and row-boats put off to the rescue, but hardly were they under way ere the ship disappeared as suddenly as if the sea had swallowed it. As the night was thick the boats returned, but next morning five men were encountered on the shore-all that were left of the crew of the Nightingale. Captain Dane was so hospitably received by the people of the district, and seemed to take so great a liking for the place, that he resolved to live there. He bought a plantation with a roomy old house upon it and took his fellow-survivors there to live, as he hoped, an easy life. That was not to be. Yellow fever struck down all the men but Dane, and one of them, in dying, raved to his negro nurse that Dane had taken all the treasure from the ship and put it into a boat, after serving grog enough to intoxicate all save the trusted ones of the crew; that he and his four associates fired the ship and rowed away, leaving an unhappy woman to a horrible fate. Senhora Vineiro was pale but composed when she saw the manner of death she was to die. She brought from her cabin a harp which had been a solace of her husband and herself and began to play and sing an air that some of the listeners remembered. It was an "Ave Maria," and the sound of it was so plaintive that even Dane stopped rowing; but he set his teeth when his shoe touched the box of gold at his feet and ordered the men to row on. There was an explosion and the vessel disappeared. On reaching shore the treasure was buried at the foot of a large oak.

This story was repeated by the nurse, but she was ignorant, she had no proofs, so it was not generally believed; yet there was a perceptible difference in the treatment of Dane by his neighbors, and among the superstitious negroes it was declared that he had sold himself to the devil. If he had, was it an air from hell that sounded in his ears when he was alone?--the "Ave Maria" of a sinning but repentant woman. The coldness and suspicion were more than he could stand. Besides, who could tell? Evidence might be found against him. He would dig up his treasure and fly the country. It was a year from the night when he had fired his ship. Going out after dark, that none might see him, he stole to the tree and began to dig. Presently a red light grew through the air, and looking up he saw a flaming vessel advancing over the sea. It stopped, and he could see men clambering into a boat at its side. They rowed toward him with such miraculous speed that the ocean seemed to steam with a blue light as they advanced. He stood like a stone, for now he could see the faces of the rowers, and every one was the face of a corpse--a corpse that had been left on board of that vessel and had been in the bottom of the sea for the last twelvemonth. They sprang on shore and rushed upon him. Next morning Dane's body was found beneath the oak with his hands filled with gems and gold.

[The end]
Charles M. Skinner's short story: Pass Christian