Next morning I was awakened bright
and early by the singing of birds. For a few
moments I imagined myself back in England; but the
ceaseless beat of the sea and the sustained, woody-toned,
chattering, chirruping squeak of an angry squirrel
on my roof gave me my proper location.
I had heard once, in a London drawing-room,
that there were no singing birds in British Columbia;
that the songsters of the East were unable to get
across the high, eternal cold and snow of the Rockies.
What a fallacy! They were everywhere around
me, and in thousands. How they got there was
of little moment to me. They were there, much
to my joy; and the forests at my back door were alive
with the sweetness of their melodies.
Early as I was, I could see a thin
column of smoke rising from the cove where Jake was.
When I went to the woodpile at the rear of my bungalow,
I found more evidence of his early morning diligence.
A heap of dry, freshly cut kindling was set out,
while the chickens had already been fed and let out
to wander at their own sweet wills.
For the first time in my very ordinary
life, I investigated the eccentricities of a cook
stove, overcame them and cooked myself a rousing breakfast
of porridge and bacon and eggs with toast. How
proud I felt of my achievement and how delicious the
food tasted! Never had woman cooked porridge
and bacon and eggs to such a delightful turn.
I laughed joyously, for I felt sure
I had stumbled across an important truth that woman
had religiously kept from the average man throughout
all the bygone ages: the truth that any man, if
he only sets his mind to it, can cook a meal perfectly
satisfactory to himself.
After washing up the breakfast dishes
without smashing any, sweeping the kitchen floor and
shovelling up nothing; there was nothing
left for me to do, for the north-going steamer was
not due until early in the afternoon. When she
should arrive and give me delivery of the freight
which she was bringing, I knew I should have enough
to occupy my attention for some days to come, getting
the cases opened up and the goods checked over, priced
and set out in the store; but, meantime, my time was
It was a glorious morning. The
sun was shining and the air was balmy as a midsummer’s
day at home. I opened the front door and gazed
on the loveliness; I stretched my arms and felt vigour
running to my finger-tips. Then I longed, how
I longed, for a swim!
And why not! I slipped out of
my shirt and trousers and got into my bathing suit.
I ran down to the end of the wharf and out on to the
The water was calm, and deep, and
of a pale green hue. I could see the rock cod
and little shiners down there, darting about on a breakfast
Filling my lungs, I took a header
in, coming up fifteen yards out and shaking my head
with a gurgling cry of pleasure. I struck out,
overhand, growing stronger and more vigorous each succeeding
moment, as the refreshing sea played over my body.
On, on I went, turning upon my breast sometimes,
sometimes on my back, lashing the water into foam
with my feet and blowing it far into the air from my
Half a mile out and I was as near
to the island, in the middle of the Bay, as I was
to the wharf. I knew I could make it, although
I had not been in the water for several weeks.
I had an abundance of time, the sea was warm, the
island looked pretty, so on I went.
I reached it at last, a trifle blown,
but in good condition.
It had not been by any means a record
swim for me. I had not intended that it should.
All the way, it had been a pleasure trip.
I made for a sandy beach, between
two rocky headlands. Soon, I got my footing
and waded ashore. After a short rest, I set out
to survey the island.
All the childhood visions I had stored
in my memory of “Coral Island,” “Crusoe’s
Island,” and “Treasure Island” became
visualised and merged into one, the island
I was exploring.
It was of fairy concept; only some
four hundred yards long and about a hundred yards
in breadth, with rugged rocks and sandy beaches; secret
caves and strange caverns; fertile over all with small
fir and arbutus trees, shrubs, ferns and turfy patches
of grass of the softest velvet pile. In the
most unlikely places, I stumbled across bubbling springs
of fresh water forcing its way through the rocks.
How they originated, was a mystery to me, for the
island was separated from the mainland by a mile,
at least, of salt water.
What an ideal spot, I thought, for
a picnic! Would not some of my eccentric acquaintances
at home, the Duke of Athlane, for instance, dearly
love to take the whole thing up by the roots and transplant
it in the centre of some of the artificial lakes they
had schemed and contrived, in wild attempts to make
more beautiful the natural beauties of their estates?
By this time, the warm air had dried
my body. I climbed to the highest point of the
island, a small plateau, covered with short
turf; a glorious place for the enjoyment of a sun
bath. I lay down and stretched myself.
My only regret then was that I did
not have a book with me to complete my Paradise.
Pillowed on a slight incline, I dreamily
watched the scudding clouds, then my eyes travelled
across to the mainland. I could see the smoke
curl upward from my kitchen fire. I saw old Jake
get into his boat, followed by the drunken rascal
of a dog, Mike. All was still and quiet but
for the seethe and shuffle of the sea.
Suddenly, on the other side of the
water somewhere, but evidently far away, a voice,
untrained, but of peculiar sweetness, broke into my
drowsing. I listened for a time, trying to catch
the refrain. As it grew clearer, I tried to
pick up the words, but they were in a tongue foreign
to me. They were not French, nor were they Italian.
At last, it struck me that they were Spanish words;
the words of a Spanish dancing song, which, when I
was a gadding-about college boy, had been popular
among us. I recalled having heard that it was
sung by the chorus of a famous Spanish dancer, who,
at one time, had been the rage of London and the Provinces,
but who had mysteriously vanished from the footlights
with the same suddenness as she had appeared there.
It was a haunting little melody, catchy
and childishly simple; and it had remained in my memory
all these years, as is so often the case with choruses
that we hear in our babyhood.
Naturally, I was more than curious
to see the singer, so I crept to the top of the grassy
knoll and peered over, searching the far side of the
island and over the water.
Away out, I discerned a small boat
making in the direction of the island. The oars
were being plied by a woman, or a girl, I
could not tell which, as her back was toward me and
she was still a good way off. She handled her
oars as if she were a part of the boat itself and the
boat were a living thing.
She stopped every now and then, rose
from her seat and busied herself with something.
I wondered what she was doing. I saw her haul
something into the boat. As she examined it in
her hand, the sun flashed upon it. I could hear
her laugh happily as she tossed it into the bottom
of the boat.
She was trolling for fish and, evidently,
getting a plentiful supply.
She rowed in as if intent upon fishing
round the island. But, all at once, she changed
her mind, turned the boat, pulled in her fishing line
and shot into a sandy beach, springing out and pulling
the boat clear of the tide.
She straightened herself as she turned
and faced the plateau on the far incline of which
I lay hidden. I saw at a glance that, though
a mere girl in years, somewhere between
sixteen and eighteen, yet she was a woman,
maturing as a June rose, as a butterfly stretching
its pretty wings for the first time in the ecstasy
of its new birth. Of medium height; her hair
was the darkest shade of brown and hung in two long,
thick braids down to her neat waist. She seemed
not at all of the countrified type I might have expected
to encounter so far in the wilds.
She was dressed in a spotless white
blouse, the sleeves of which were rolled back almost
to her shoulders; with a dark-coloured, serviceable
skirt, the hem of which hung high above a pair of small,
bare feet and neat, supple-looking ankles. I
could see her shoes and stockings, brown in colour,
lying in the bow of the boat. She reached over,
picked them up, then sat on a rock by the water’s
edge and pulled them on her feet.
But, after all, it was not her dress
that held my attention; although in the main this
was pleasing to the eye, nor yet was it the girl’s
features, for she was still rather far off for me to
observe these distinctly. What riveted me was
the light, agile rapidity of her every action; and
her evident abandonment of everything else for what,
for the moment, absorbed her.
As I watched, I became filled with
conflicting thoughts. Should I remain where
I was, or should I at once betray my presence?
I decided that the island was large
enough for both of us. She was not interested
in me, so why should I interrupt her in her lonely
I was perplexed more than a little
in trying to place where she rightfully belonged.
Naturally, I took her to be the daughter of one of
the settlers on the far side of Golden Crescent.
But there was a something in her entire appearance
that seemed to place her on a different plane from
that, a plane all by herself; while, again, there
was the Spanish song which I had heard her lilt out
on the water.
She brought my conjecturing to rather
an abrupt conclusion, for, without any warning, she
darted up over the rocks and through the ferns to
where I lay, and she had almost trodden upon me before
I had time to get out of her way.
She stepped back with an exclamation
of surprise, but gave no sign to indicate that she
I sprang to my feet.
“I am very sorry, miss,” I
“Oh! there ain’t
much to be sorry over. This ain’t my island.
Still, girls don’t much care about
men watching them from behind places,” she replied,
with a tone of displeasure.
“And I am sorry, again,”
I answered. “Please forgive me, for I could
hardly help it. I was lying here when I heard
you sing. I became curious. When you landed,
I intended making my presence known, but I said to
myself just what you have said now: ’It
is not my island.’ However, I shall go
now and leave you in possession.”
“Where is your boat?”
“Didn’t bring one with me.”
“How did you get here then?”
Her blunt questioning was rather disconcerting.
“Oh! I walked it,” I answered lightly,
with a grin.
Her voice changed. “You’re trying
to be smart,” she reprimanded.
“Sorry,” I said, in a
tone of contrition, “for I am not a bit smart
in spite of my trying. Well, I swam
across from the wharf over there.”
She looked up. “Being smart some more.”
“No! it is true.”
She measured the distance from the island to the wharf
with her eye.
I remarked, some time ago, that her
hair was of the darkest shade of brown. I was
wrong; there was a darker hue still, and
that was in her eyes; while her skin was of that attractive
combination, olive and pink.
“Gee! that was some swim.
“How are you going to get back?” she continued,
in open friendliness.
“Ain’t you tired?”
“I was winded a bit when I got
here, but I am all right again,” I answered.
“You’re an Englishman?”
“How did you guess it?”
I asked, as if I were giving her credit for unearthing
a great mystery.
Before answering, she sat down on
the grass, clasping her hands over her knees.
I squatted a short distance from her.
“Only Englishmen go swimming hereabouts in the
“Do you often stumble across
stray, swimming Englishmen?” I asked in banter.
“No! but three summers
ago there were some English people staying in that
house at the wharf that’s now closed up: the
one next Horsfal’s, and they were in the water
so much, they hardly gave the fish a chance.
It was the worst year we ever had for fishing.”
I laughed, and she looked up in surprise.
“Then we had an English surveyor
staying with us for a month last year. He was
crazy for the water. He went in for half an hour
every morning and before his breakfast, too.
You don’t find the loggers or any of the settlers
doing silly stunts like that. No, siree.
“Guess you’re a surveyor?”
“Or maybe a gentleman up for
shooting and fishing? Can’t be though,
for there ain’t any launches in the Bay.
Yes, you are, too, for I saw a launch in yesterday.”
“I hope I am always a gentleman,”
I said, “but I am not the kind of gentleman
you mean. I have no launch and no money but what
I can earn. I am the new man who is to look after
Mr. Horsfal’s Golden Crescent property.
I shall be more or less of a common country storekeeper
“Heard about that store from
old Jake. Granddad over home was talking about
it, too. It’ll be convenient for the Camps
and a fine thing for the settlers up here.”
She jumped up. “Well, I
guess I got to beat it, Mister ”
“George Bremner,” I put in.
“My name’s Rita; Rita
Clark. I stay over at the ranch there, the one
with the red-roofed houses. This island’s
named Rita, too.”
“Ya! guess so!”
She did not venture any more.
“Been here long?” I asked.
“Long’s I can remember,” she answered.
“I love it. It’s
all I got. Never been away from it more’n
three times in my life.”
There was something akin to longing in her voice.
“I love it all the same, all but
that over there.”
As she spoke, she shivered and pointed
away out to the great perpendicular rock, with its
jagged, devilish, shark-like teeth, which rose sheer
out of the water and stood black, forbidding and snarling,
even in the sunshine, to the right, at the entrance
to the Bay, a quarter of a mile or so from the far
horn of Golden Crescent.
“You don’t like rocks?”
“Some rocks,” she whispered, “but
not ‘The Ghoul.’”
“The Ghoul,” I repeated
with a shudder. “Ugh! what a
name. Who on earth saddled it with such a horrible
“Nobody on earth. Guess
it must have been the devil in hell, for it’s
a friend of his.”
Her face grew pale and a nameless horror crept into
“It ain’t nice to look on now, is
“No!” I granted.
“You want to see it in the winter,
when there’s a storm tearing in, with the sea
crashing over it in a white foam and, and, people
trying to hang on to it. Oh! I tell
you what it is, it’s hellish, that’s
all. It’s well named The Ghoul, it’s
a robber of the dead.”
“Robber of the dead! what do you
“Everybody but a stranger knows: it
robs them of a decent burial. Heaps of men, and
women too, have been wrecked out there, but only one
was ever known to come off alive. Never a body
has ever been found afterwards.” She shivered
and turned her head away.
For a while, I gazed at the horrible
rock in fascination. What a reminder it was
to the poor human that there is storm as well as calm;
evil as well as good; that turmoil follows in the wake
of quiet; that sorrow tumbles over joy; and savagery
and death run riot among life and happiness and love!
At last, I also turned my eyes away
from The Ghoul, with a strong feeling of anger and
resentment toward it. Already I loathed and hated
the thing as I hated nothing else.
I stood alongside the girl and we
remained silent until the mood passed.
Then she raised her eyes to mine and
smiled. In an endeavour to forget, which,
after all, was easy amid so much sunshine and beauty, I
reverted to our former conversation.
“You said you were seldom away
from here. Don’t you ever take a trip
“Been twice. We’re
not strong on trips up here. Grand-dad goes to
Vancouver and Victoria once in a while. Grandmother’s
been here twenty years and never been five miles from
the ranch, ’cept once, and she’s sorry
now for that once.
“Joe’s the one that gets
all the trips. You ain’t met Joe.
Guess when you do you and him won’t hit it.
He always fights with men of your size and build.”
“Who is this Joe?” I asked.
“He must be quite a man-eater.”
“I ain’t going to tell
you any more. You’ll know him when you
“I’m going now.
Would you like some fish? The trout were biting
good this morning. I’ve got more’n
We went down to the shore together.
There were between thirty and forty beauties of sea-trout
in the bottom of her boat. She handed me out
“Guess that’ll make a square meal for
you and Jake.”
Then she looked at me and laughed,
showing her teeth. “Clean forgot,”
she said. “A swimming man ain’t no
good at carrying fish.”
“Why not?” I asked.
I picked up some loose cord from her
boat, strung the trout by the gills and tied them
securely round my waist.
She watched me archly and a thought
went flashing through my mind that it did not need
the education of the city to school a woman in the
art of using her eyes.
“Guess I’ll see you off
the premises first, before I go.”
“All right!” said I.
We crossed the Island once more, and
I got on to a rock which dipped sheer and deep into
She held out her hand and smiled in
such a bewitching way that, had I not been a well-seasoned
bachelor of almost twenty-five years’ standing,
I should have lost my heart to her completely.
“Good-bye! Mister, Mister Bremner.
“Good-bye! Miss Rita.”
“Sure you can make it?” she asked earnestly.
“Yes!” I cried, and plunged in.
As I came up, I turned and waved my
hand. She waved in answer, and when I looked
again she was gone.
I struck swiftly for the wharf, allowing for the incoming
When I was half-way across, I heard
the sound of oars and, on taking a backward glance,
I saw Rita making toward me.
“Hello!” I cried, when she drew near.
“What’s the matter?”
A little shame-faced, she bent over.
“I got scared,” she said timidly, “scared
you mightn’t make it. Sure you don’t
want me to row you in?”
The boat was alluring, but my pride was touched.
“Quite sure,” I answered.
“I’m as fresh as the trout round my waist.
Thanks all the same.”
“All right! Guess I was foolish.
You ain’t a man; you’re a porpoise.”
With this half-annoyed sally, she
swung the bow of the boat and rowed away.