by Captain W. E. Johns
4. MYSTERY UPON MYSTERY (Pages 49 – 66)
Worrals and Frecks have a meal of biscuits, tinned butter, sardines and jam. They then set off exploring the reef around where they have landed. On the seaward side, the rollers sweep in with great ferocity. Worrals finds some cartridge cases on the dead coral, proving that bullets were fired. In the distance something disappears into the palms. The girls think it was a brown human being, possibly a native. Frecks notices sharks in the lagoon. They walk up the silver beach and just past a high bank of coral that initially obstructs their view, they find a ship! It is a ship of some size and it is wedged between two submerged shelves of coral that rises from the bottom of the lagoon. It had once been a yacht and where it was once painted white; it is now all brown and grey, blistered and peeling and rusty. The name of the ship is painted on the bows – “Cleopatra”. “I know what you were thinking,” said Frecks. “What?” “You thought it was the missing yacht, ‘Vanity’.” Quite right, I was,” admitted Worrals. Worrals says she is going onboard. However, she notices the coral is wet where it shouldn’t be. As if someone had climbed out of the water at that spot. Worrals concludes that someone has been there, the person they caught sight of earlier. “From inside the wreck came a long drawn out cry, so heart-rending, so melancholy in anguish, that Frecks went cold all over. Her skin turned goose-flesh, to use the common expression”. Swimming over to the boat and climbing onboard they hear the same noise. Frecks wants to leave. “And spend the rest of our lives wondering what made that noise?” sneered Worrals. “Not likely”. They go into the ship and find a locked metal door. They use a rusty iron spike to force it open and a black and white object streaks past them, out of the ship and jumps into the water. It was a woman, with long black hair and the rags of an ancient pinafore. “I’d put her age at about sixteen – but, of course, a girl of that age is a woman in this part of the world”. Worrals tells Frecks that this part of the South Sea Islands is divided up into Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia, these zones being determined by the racial characteristics of the inhabitants. Worrals thinks the girl she saw was not Polynesian. She saw her running up the beach afterwards and thinks she had whip marks on her back. Walking around the rubbish strewn deck, Worrals finds a lifebelt. On it, almost obliterated by sun and sea-water is the still legible word “Vanity”. Walking over to the bow and rubbing off blistered paint, it can be seen that ‘Vanity’ has been painted out and ‘Cleopatra’ superimposed on top. “Honest mariners don’t change the name of their ship on the high seas” says Worrals. “Come on, let’s get ashore”.