And now another event occurred to add to our perplexities. The kelp around the vessel suddenly became alive with a small species of black crab. These creatures must have scented the food from our vessel, and they came in millions to besiege us in order to devour it. The deck was soon black with them, and they swarmed below in ever-increasing numbers. Nothing escaped them, and most of our provisions were quickly demolished. We killed them in thousands, and the stench from their crushed bodies almost drove us out of our minds, but other thousands quickly filled their places, and the crustaceans continued to pour down the hatches like black streams of evil-smelling water.
But this visitation, dreadful though it was, eventually proved our salvation. The weed, now alive with marine life, lost its density, and when, at length, the breeze came, we could feel we were making headway. But had we not been able to force our passage into the open I verily believe we would all have been devoured alive by black crabs, which swarmed upon us. As it was, many of the men suffered severely from the bites of these creatures, and weeks elapsed before the ship was clear of them and the stench which they had brought aboard. But when the breeze freshened from the right quarter, and we felt our vessel moving toward the open sea, we were too thankful for our escape from a horrible death to think of the lesser evils from which we suffered, though the destruction of such a considerable quantity of our stores was a serious loss, and set Hartog thinking as to whether our immediate return to Amsterdam was not imperative.
“I had made up my mind for another year in these latitudes, Peter,” he said, “and I am loath to go back without setting foot upon the Island of Gems, but man is but a straw in the hands of Destiny, and who am I to set myself against the decrees of Fate?” So with mixed feelings of disappointment and pleasure we once more found ourselves homeward bound.
I had hoped that from this voyage I might return a rich man, able to make honourable proposals to Count Holstein for his daughter’s hand, but it seemed now that fortune was not to be won so easily. My share of the treasure found on Cortes’ island might enrich me sufficiently to buy a small interest in my master’s business, but this was all I could hope for, and the bright dreams which Hartog and I had formed of the Island of Gems seemed about to dissolve, as is the way with phantoms, into thin air.
But who can trace the course of Destiny, or fathom the mysteries of Fate?
THE ISLAND OF GEMS