Tales of Fishes
Tales of Fishes
II. THE ISLAND OF THE DEAD
STRANGE wild adventures fall to the lot of a fisherman as well as to that of a hunter. On board the Monterey , from Havana to Progreso, Yucatan, I happened to fall into conversation with an English globe-trotter who had just come from the Mont Pelée eruption. Like all those wandering Englishmen, this one was exceedingly interesting. We exchanged experiences, and I felt that I had indeed much to see and learn of the romantic Old World.
In Merida, that wonderful tropic city of white towers and white streets and white-gowned women, I ran into this Englishman again. I wanted to see the magnificent ruins of Uxmal and Ake and Labna. So did he. I knew it would be a hard trip from Muna to the ruins, and so I explained. He smiled in a way to make me half ashamed of my doubts. We went together, and I found him to be a splendid fellow. We parted without knowing each other's names. I had no idea what he thought of me, but I thought he must have been somebody.
While traveling around the coast of Yucatan I had heard of the wild and lonely Alacranes Reef where lighthouse-keepers went insane from solitude, and where wonderful fishes inhabited the lagoons. That was enough for me. Forthwith I meant to go to Alacranes.
Further inquiry brought me meager but fascinating news of an island on that lonely coral reef, called Isla de la Muerte (the Island of the Dead). Here was the haunt of a strange bird, called by Indians rabihorcado , and it was said to live off the booby, another strange sea-bird. The natives of the coast solemnly averred that when the rabihorcado could not steal fish from the booby he killed himself by hanging in the brush. I did not believe such talk. The Spanish appeared to be rabi , meaning rabies, and horcar , to hang.
I set about to charter a boat, and found the great difficulty in procuring one to be with the Yucatecan government. No traveler had ever before done such a thing. It excited suspicion. The officials thought the United States was looking for a coaling-station. Finally, through the help of the Ward line agent and the consul I prevailed upon them to give me such papers as appeared necessary. Then my Indian boatmen interested a crew of six, and I chartered a two-masted canoe-shaped bark called the Xpit .
The crew of the Hispaniola , with the never-to-be-forgotten John Silver and the rest of the pirates of Treasure Island, could not have been a more villainous and piratical gang than this of the bark Xpit . I was advised not to take the trip alone. But it appeared impossible to find any one to accompany me. I grew worried, yet determined not to miss the opportunity.
Strange to relate, as I was conversing on the dock with a ship captain and the agent of the Ward line, lamenting the necessity of sailing for Alacranes alone, some one near by spoke up, "Take me!"
In surprise I wheeled to see my English acquaintance who had visited the interior of Yucatan with me. I greeted him, thanked him, but of course did not take him seriously, and I proceeded to expound the nature of my venture. To my further surprise, he not only wanted to go, but he was enthusiastic.
"But it's a hard, wild trip," I protested. "Why, that crew of barefooted, red-shirted Canary-Islanders have got me scared! Besides, you don't know me!"
"Well, you don't know me, either," he replied, with his winning smile.
Then I awoke to my own obtuseness and to the fact that here was a real man, in spite of the significance of a crest upon his linen.
"If you'll take a chance on me I'll certainly take one on you," I replied, and told him who I was, and that the Ward-line agent and American consul would vouch for me.
He offered his hand with the simple reply, "My name is C--."
If before I had imagined he was somebody, I now knew it. And that was how I met the kind