THE SHIP OF CORAL.*
Ma. STACPOOLE'S new romance of tropical seas makes very good reading for summer weather. It is full of adventure,. colour, and emotion, but involves no intellectual exertion on the part of the reader. Here are no problems such. as embarrass the representatives of a sophisticated civiliza- tion. The characters for the most part live, as Aristotle- says of children, aaT.3 irciees, though Marie, the Caribbean Atalanta, was animated by a keen sense of duty, and Gaspard,. when he left Martinique on his treasure hunt, gave signs ot altruism in making provision for his sweetheart. But in Gaspard, in spite of some fine qualities, it took very little to- rouse the savage. Cast ashore on a coral island with one- other survivor of the crew of a French steamer, Gaspard is. unable to forget his grievance against his shipmate, though * The Ship of Coral. By H. de Vere Stacpoole. London : Hutchinson and Co. [6s,3 Yves was a helpful companion and grateful to Gaspard for saving his life. Yves is a man who, up to a certain point, always succeeds, and his success follows him even on the desert island, where be discovers a sunken vessel half turned to coral and a belt with gold coins. Gaspard quarrels with him over the distribution of the treasure, and in an access of passion kills him by a chance blow. He is smitten with unavailing remorse, but Mr. Stacpoole makes it perfectly clear that his remorse is but a short- lived emotion, that he does not really repent the deed, and that he is far more deeply affected by terror—by the sense of his loneliness and the conviction that the island is haunted by Yves and the spirits of the crew of the coral ship. Hence his overmastering desire to escape from the island and the wild baste with which he takes to the open sea in a small boat, miraculously washed ashore to meet his need. He is soon picked up, for the coral islet, lying south of the Caicos and S.W. of Seal (Jays, was not far from a trade track ; but by evil chance his rescuer was none other than Captain Sagesse, of the Belle Arlesienne,' a trader who had made money by smuggling, gun-running, and every kind of disreputable transaction in which a ehip's keel could find a place. Sagesse is an interesting scoundrel, a thorough faux borthOmm.e with an astonishing power of playing the waiting game. As Mr. Stacpoole puts it in a happy phrase, "he had the art, almost a horrible art, of packing away in his mind ill-feeling, distrust, suspicion against a man, keeping them cool and fresh till they were wanted. . . . He had the power of closing a door on all sorts of passions and hang- ing the key up, just as a visitor to an hotel bangs the key of his room up, forgetting it, or, rather, putting it out of his mind till, the business of the day over, he remembers the key and enters his room." Gaspard has not been long aboard the Belle Arlesienne ' before the interested hospitality of Sagesse elicits from him in his cups the secret of the treasure, the coral ship, and the death of Yves, and Sagesse, human spider that he is, does not easily relax the hold this knowledge gives him over his guest. On their arrival in Martinique Gaspard makes many friends, falls in love with Marie, the beautiful porteuse, and learns from a wealthy merchant, to whom he renders timely assistance when menaced by a deadly snake, the true character of his new partner. He also learns the grim story of the pirate and slaver, Simon Serpente, whose skeleton he had found on the coral island, and is more than ever convinced that the island is haunted, and can only bring evil to those who visit it. But he has pledged his word to go through with the business, and returns with Sagesse, who has purchased a diving outfit. They quarrel on the voyage, and on arrival Sagesse drugs Gaspard, digs up the treasure from a cache, and leaves his partner marooned on the island. The sequel tells how the elements conspired to thwart Sageese, drove his ship back on the reefs, drowned him and all his crew, and restored the treasure to Gaspard ; how Gaspard was taken off by a passing steamer and returned to Martinique just after the eruption of Mont Pelee; and how Marie was lost and found.
The story, good in itself, is greatly enhanced by Mr. Stacpoole's manner of telling it. We have spoken of his aptitude for dealing with primitive emotions and unsophisti- cated natures. Gaspard has no petty vices : he is generous, truthful, but at the same time revengeful and superstitious. Sagesse is a much more complex character, and even tortuous in his methods, but he is at heart a man-eating tiger, his special distinguishing mark, as we have seen, being a genius for dissembling his hostility. With this interest in elemental psychology Mr. Stacpoole combines a great love of beauty and a remarkable feeling for colour and sound. He revels in describing the pageantry of tropical sunsets and sunrises, the magic of the submarine seascape, the plumage and cries of the sea-birds, the luxuriant vegetation of Mar- tinique, and the chatter and glitter of the street life in St. Pierre. The minute particularity with which he describes the "glittering battalions" of Gaspard's treasure is most impressive. Lastly, discarding the laborious quest of the sovereign word, Mr. Stacpoole writes in an easy, natural, and picturesque style, which has generally a touch of the poetic quality and occa- sionally reaches a level of distinction. "As a curious and beautiful poem leads you to read on, so the coloured and sunlit street leads you to follow it." What Mr. Stacpoole fays of St. Pierre applies to his own narrative. The ch: rm of incident and, above all, of colour leads us on from page to page till we find, all too soon, that the entertainment is ended.