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A published in
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 20 June 1906

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-10-25
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

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HE was a Spanish Cuban, and he came to Espiritu Santo in a trading schooner with a stowaway's certificate as his only credential. When he said that his name was Sebastian de Quiros I looked at him sharply and smiled. He was dressed in cheap trade clothes, and wore a wide-brimmed panama that would have sheltered an elephant. His eyes were like bits of hot metal set in a face of bronze.

He had no business in Santo; he slept on the beach, and sometimes under the trade house verandah; also he loafed with the solemnity of a cat, and secretly watched me and the big German trader, Carl Schultz.

The name De Quiros sounded strangely in my ears, it revivified schoolboy memories when the deeds of Columbus, Cook, Bass, and De Gonnville lightened my lessons and filled me with admiration for the men who had sailed ships across wide oceans into the unknown.

When Carl Schultz offered the young beachcomber work, he sat in the sand and laughed immoderately at the suggestion; then he would make diabolical faces behind the German's big back until the natives shrieked with laughter.

He came frequently to the trade house verandah, and smoked the German's cigarettes while we listened to the boom of the surf across the outer reefs.

'Vat is your business in Santo?' said the German one night.

The young Spaniard moved uneasily, and I caught the gleam of his white teeth in the dark of the verandah.

'I want to see a leetal of the world,' he answered quickly. 'Then I return to Madrid and die happy. Et is a beautiful night,' he said with a sudden indrawing of breath. 'Listen!'

Through the everlasting silence we heard the seas breaking with the sound of gun-wheels across the bay. The night was full of tropic stars, and the crested palms thrashed softly in the S.E. trade.

'Vas you efer in dese parts before, señor?' asked the German suddenly.

Sebastian de Quiros stood beside me, and his eyes were sharp as pointed jewels.

'It is three hundred years since the Capitana and Almiranta anchored over there.' He pointed across the bay of Santo. A strange pallor overspread his features. 'Do you know, gentlemen,' he said turning to us quickly, 'I can almost hear the slow beat of the anchor-chains as they plunged into the water, three hundred years ago.' He breathed sharply, and his thin, womanish hands came together tightly. 'This is the Terra Australis del Espiritu Santo—the southern land of the Holy Spirit.'

He paced the wide verandah with a certain tigerish energy that was not lost upon the big German trader.

'Come away,' he whispered to me. 'Dot boy haf something on his mind.'

We retired to the trade room, and a native servant placed an oil lamp on the table. I sat on an unopened bale of cotton goods while the German smoked dreamfully; the sound of distant breakers fell lazily on our ears.

'Who was der first navigator in dese parts?' he asked slowly.

'De Quiros was among the first flight,' I answered. 'Maybe our young Spanish beachcomber is in some way connected with the famous old sea captain.'

'Tree hundred years was a long time to go broodin' about ancestors,' he laughed. 'Most beople's forget a lot of uncles und faders in such a time.'

'A Portuguese or Spaniard does not forget,' I said. 'From King Sancho to Philip II is but a day in the annals of Spanish ancestry.'

'Der was blenty of openin' at der South Pole for a Government explorer,' guffawed the German. 'All der oder blaces haf got der electric trams.'

THE following day was full of incident. At dawn the smoke of a steamer blew up from the skyline. Later, a narrow-beamed white- hulled steam yacht stood across the bay and dropped anchor. At midday a cushioned dinghy painted blue and gold put off from the yacht and landed a clean-shaved spotlessly-dressed American at the pier steps. I was standing on the trade-house verandah scanning the yacht's lines and the Stars and Stripes flaunting in the south-east wind.

The American turned swiftly and approached the trade house like one with urgent business on hand. The German watched him inquisitively.

'It was not efery day a white an' gold yacht drop her anchors into Santo,' he muttered. Then he bowed courteously as the newcomer entered the palisade and crossed to the verandah. Raising his hat slightly he addressed us in a somewhat high- pitched voice. 'My sailing master informs me that this place is called Espiritu Santo,' he said quickly.

'Dis vas Santo, all right, sir!'

The German heaved his big bulk across the verandah and pushed a chair invitingly near his visitor.

'My name is Valentine K. de Quiros.' The new-comer dropped into the chair and drew out a gold-mounted cigar case. 'I am an American citizen with a mission,' he said cheerfully.

'Der vas a lot ob De Quiroses about choost now,' grinned the German. 'Vas you lookin' for a new world, sir?' he asked good- humouredly 'because we do nod keep dem in stock now.'

The American frowned slightly. A big diamond lit up his long manicured forefinger. He sat back in the chair and nibbled the end of a small cheroot.

'You see,' he began, nervously, 'I am a bit of a dollar king in my own country. I own canals and pork factories and bean stores. I've got everything to hand except an ancestor. I'm of Spanish-Portuguese descent, and since the pride of ancestry got hold of me my lawyers, acting upon certain information received, have been looking up the archives of Manilla, New York, and Madrid. They have discovered,' he continued rapidly, 'that I am a true descendant of Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, who landed here three hundred years ago, with a nobleman named Torres.'

'I'll sell you dis part 'of de island if id vas any goot,' broke in the German. 'Id vas hereabouts your famous ancestor landed. You can have de corner block for 2000 dollars.'

The American shook his head impatiently. 'I wish to be frank with you,' he said, quietly. 'I am in quest of an old marae, or sacred grove, situated on the north-west corner of the bay. Here's the map.' He drew a faded navigator's chart from his valise and spread it on the verandah floor.

'The marae is marked quite plainly, as you will see,' he went on. 'It is between two hills, and faces the east. The sacred grove is of interest to me, because Pedro de Quiros concealed something within which was never afterwards reclaimed.'

'Tree hondred years haf not altered Santo much,' growled the German, glancing at the outspread chart. 'If de article you vas after vas of great value, depend upon it, sir, id vill nod be dere now.'

'My friend, I will be brief with you.' The American smoked thoughtfully for a few moments, then looked at Carl Shultz keenly. 'Three hundred years ago my ancestor, Pedro de Quiros, concealed a small silver crucifix under the sacred stone of the marae, marked here on the chart. I want to recover it.

'How much vas it vort?' The German eyed him curiously. 'Silver crosses vas cheap dese times.'

The American shrugged his shoulders im patiently. 'I am not concerned with its intrinsic value, my friend. It is a family heirloom I desire most earnestly to recover. I want to have it in my house. I want to say to the New York Four Hundred: 'Here is something that a Columbus might be proud to wear: it belonged to Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, the man who bore a lamp across unknown seas, and lit up the shipless tracks around Australia.'

He paused a moment, his face glowing with excitement.

'If either of you gentlemen will help me to recover the little silver cross I will—I will—'

'I go mit you at once!' cried the German. 'I vill take a couple of servants to show us der way. Gif me der chart, Valentine de Quiros. I tink der vas an old marae someveres in der hills.'

At the German's request I stayed in the trade house, listening to the dull booming of distant surf. A crescent moon hung low in the eastern sky.

From time to time the sound of a tangi crying song came up from the distant village. A flare of candle-nut torches illumined the hills beyond.

LONG past midnight I was awakened by the crunching of feet on the gravel outside. Slipping to the verandah, I saw the German and Valentine de Quiros standing near the palisade talking excitedly. The American was flushed and angry, like a man who had been robbed or misled. Turning suddenly from the trade-house, he hurried towards the village. The German came panting to tin verandah, wiping his heated face.

'Did you find the silver cross?' I asked, earnestly. 'What is the matter?'

'De oder De Quiros vas dere before us,' growled Schultz. 'The ground under der sacred stone ob der marae haf been freshly dug. By Shimminy! id look as if de Spanish de Quiros vas here on der same business. Dey vas strangers to one anoder anyhow. Id vas funny dot dey should be here at der same time, eh? What you tink, eh?'

The German tramped up and down the verandah sullenly.

'After tree hundred years dese two de De Quiroses come to Santo after a leedle silver cross. Dey both get sudden information at the one time, eh? By Shimminy!'

He laughed, with his big hands resting on both hips.

'Why did Pedro de Quiros conceal the cross here in Santo?' I asked.

'Id vas left here as an omen, I tink,' answered Schultz. 'Der American fellow told me dat Captain de Quiros intended to coom back und see de big island continent dot he shoost missed. His letter to King Philip, says der American, vas proof ob dot de silver cross vas buried in der Southern Land of de Holy Spirit as a proof dot he vud keep his word. Poor Captain de Quiros!'

The German leaned from the verandah and smoked furiously for half a minute.

'Dese two descendants ob his will be at each oders' trotes tonide. Der Spaniard is in der village und der American haf gone to look him up and ask him about de cross he took from der marae.'

It occurred to me suddenly that the Spanish beachcomber was aware of the American's movements. How had these two strange men, descendants of the famous navigator, managed to be at Espiritu Santo at the same moment and for the same purpose? The little silver cross concealed by Pedro de Quiros had lain untouched under the sacred stone for centuries. Yet both visitors had measured each other's coming to an hour.

THERE was something supernatural in the adventure. I could not sleep that night. I felt as though the wings of Tragedy were beating around Espiritu Santo.

Suddenly, through the stillness, came the crunching of gravel and the pattering of naked feet. Then a revolver shot split the silence and brought me to the verandah peering into the velvet night.

'Throw up your hands, Señor Sebastian! The American's voice rang sharp and insistent. In the deep shadows of the verandah palms I beheld the young Spanish beachcomber half crouching among the banded lianas and ferns.

The American was standing near the palisade, a heavy revolver gripped in his right hand.

'Señor Sebastian.' His voice was cold and without mercy. 'You have in your possession a silver crucifix, which I value highly. I have crossed three oceans to find it.' He coughed hoarsely, and thrust out his chin fiercely. 'I will give you ten seconds to hand it over. One two.'

He began to count slowly.

'The cross is mine, Valentine de Quiros!'

The voice came from the tangle of liana; and it was full of snarling hatred. Only the eyes were visible, and they shone with a luminous ferocity.

'Three,' snapped the American coldly. 'Four—five—six.'

The Spanish beachcomber rose and stood rigid in the starlight, his arms folded over his breast.

'Shoot!' he said bitterly; 'the world is full of dogs and spying Americans.'

I heard a soft footfall behind me. The German, wearing sandals of banyan bark, stepped silently from the trade-room, and in a flash covered the American with a Winchester rifle.

'Hands down, friendt Valentine. Dis trade-house ob mine vas not a ranch or a Yankee poker saloon. Down hands, qvick!'

The American lowered his arm smartly without turning his head.

'Thank you.' The big German smiled grimly. 'I vud like to be arbitrator here, gentlemens; und dis goot rifle ob mine vill make my award final. Do you onderstand, gentlemens?'

The American shrugged his shoulders and remained silent. The beachcomber peered forward, his face alive with anger and curiosity.

'Put your revolver on de verandah rail, please, und I vill begin,' said Shultz, slowly.

The American obeyed, and folded his arms. 'Now—' Shultz watched the two men closely—'both you gentlemens vas named De Quiros, und you both claim der leedle silver crucifix left here by an old sea captain, tree hundred years ago.'

'Mine by right of birth!' broke in the American, hoarsely. 'Mine to have and keep.'

'Dios!' The beachcomber smote himself over the heart with his fist. 'The blood of Pedro de Quiros is here. I am unarmed, but a Spaniard knows how to die for his name.'

'Dis vas all very pretty,' laughed the German across his levelled Winchester. 'It was like a comic opera duet, eh? Come, come, gentlemens, und sit in my trade room. One of you vas a millionaire, de odder a poor sailor midout food.'

He paused a moment and signalled the Spaniard to enter the house.

'Come, you, too, Valentine de Quiros,' he said genially, 'und be generous to your poor kinsman.'

The affair was settled before dawn. The young Spaniard and American faced each other across the table, while the German composed his huge, catlike limbs in a low chair, watching them closely. It was decided that Valentine de Quiros should hand over $10,000 to Sebastian the beachcomber in exchange for the little silver crucifix. The young Spaniard consented sullenly. With white lips and trembling hand he drew from his breast pocket the tiny, age-worn cross, which he had unearthed, only a few hours previously, from its resting-place under the sacred stone of the marae.

* * * * *

THREE years later, while standing on the Quai de la Transportation at Île Nou, a big canoe rowed by twelve convicts swept alongside the pier. Swart, villainous fellows they were, with apish brows and cruel mouths. One face only relieved the sullen line of downcast heads: he sat in the bows, his chest thrown forward. In the shift of an eye he saw me and nodded. It was Sebastian de Quiros.

I learned afterwards from the Governor of the penitentiary that the young Spaniard had been at the head of a gang of conspirators and forgers. He had been deported from France only a year before, on a charge of barratry on the high seas. By the grace of the chief surveillant, I was permitted a few moments conversation with Sebastian—his real name was Miguel Carot.

We met in the Quartier Disciplinaire; he smiled in my face, and saluted briskly. His ugly prison clothes failed to rob him of his debonair appearance or his pitiless laugh.

'Touching the little silver cross you unearthed at Espiritu Santo,' I began slowly. 'And the clean-shaved American named Valentine de Quiros. I fancied you had the best of the deal,' I said, encouragingly.

The convict's eyes seemed to dance for a moment, and before I could protest he clapped a hand on my shoulder gaily, and winked at the white-helmeted surveillant standing by.

'The little silver cross. Dios! How well I remember! I put it there myself while my confederates in New York notified him from the archives of Manilla that a small document had been unearthed which proved beyond doubt that Valentine de Quiros, millionaire and financier, was a descendant of Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, the navigator. The story of the cross buried under the sacred stone within the marae reached him from another source— through me. The whole business was nicely put up for the millionaire, and—' he laughed and winked again, 'so was I.'

'Did the American discover the fraud?' I asked.

'Never, señor. He is still congratulating himself on his bargain.'

The convict turned for a moment, winked at the surveillant, saluted me sharply, and marched back to his comrades in the canoe.

'A genial blackguard, m'sieur.' The surveillant swung after him, nursing his rifle carelessly on his left arm. Half-an-hour later the big canoe swept past as the steamer bore me from Noumea harbour. The Spaniard raised his cap politely.

'Some day, when I am not too busy,' he shouted, 'I shall come and discover Australia!'

I never saw him again.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.