The Last Voyage of the Overett

Part One


Waves are like memories, each passing second they form and then fade away. I remember the day we set sail from London town. Bleak mist covered the ship and the wood below me creaked like an ancient, unoiled door. The crew began the journey rather joyfully, I suspected it had to do with the rum they drank prior to boarding. Before I had only sailed once briefly, across the channel to France. It was bearable but the sea held no interest to me. Still, I found myself on the deck of a trade ship, employed by the honourable East India company.

I have an uncommon name, at least when it comes to Britain. My parents dubbed me Cornelius as an homage to our German heritage. Our family name: Faust. Reminiscent of that literary figure who fell so greatly. I had an uneventful childhood, an only child with absentee parents and joyless nannies. My father’s fortune held no comfort for me in adulthood, for my progenitor threatened to disown me unless I learn a respectable trade. I chose the accounting profession, and it held no dull moments, for I enjoyed the quiet company of numbers. I was hired by the East India company after my graduation. The pay was generous and the hours bearable. I could live in moderate comfort, and perhaps because of pride I have rejected aid from my parents and rented a room alone.

After nearly a year of employment my desk job was cut short. A seasoned company employee who was tasked to oversee a trade mission on board a vessel had suddenly fallen ill. Gonorrhoea, they said. I myself had no such issues, since I avoided all contact with brothels and courtesans. Some would say I was saving myself for marriage as a good Christian. In truth I was simply uninterested in the company of ladies, or people in general. The position of my ill colleague was of great importance. My superiors lifted me from my comfortable position, and placed me on the deck of a rocking frigate. The Overett served as a warship before it was acquired by the East India Company.


It was purchased with its retiring captain in tow, the distinguished Mr. Hawkright. A salty seadog if I’d ever seen one. On land his back hunched and his legs limped. On sea, aboard his beloved ship he became invigorated and straight as a stake. His face and brow were raked thoroughly by ocean winds. He appeared to be an old man, but in fact he was only seven years my senior.


Our mission was to facilitate trade with the natives of the isle of Mundroga. Four years ago another East India ship, the Valiant had found a cluster of islands by accident. Their compass malfunctioned and they ran off course, the distraught captain wished to correct course but a boy in the crow’s nest spotted land. The Mundroga natives were of Caribbean descent, black to brownish skin, armed with spears made from island trees. They did not attack on sight, instead the captain established relations with the tribe. The crew stayed for two weeks, and traded mostly random items from aboard the Valiant in exchange for pearls. The natives turned out to be excellent swimmers, masters in the art of holding breath. They dived into the shark infested waters and returned from the deep with bulky and large clams. The pearls that some of these shells cultivated held little value to the tribe, they gladly traded them. There were a barbaric people, lacking education and culture. The pearls that the Valiant obtained held such unique and rare beauty that each of them sold for a fortune.

The Overett had to trace back the voyage of the Valiant to the island. We stocked up our reserves with items that the natives reacted well to: fabrics and cloths, blankets and shirts, tobacco and gin (which was kept under lock and key, separately from the rum reserves), silverware, rugs and small hand mirrors. We also had some furnitures, mainly desks and mundane chairs. These items of civilisation were revered by the people of Mundroga as gifts from god according to the Valiant’s captain. However, some other crew members mentioned hearing cries of pain and anguish echoing from the shaded grottos of the island. Some even spoke of the native tendencies towards cannibalism. Therefore we packed an ample supply of muskets, sabres and gunpowder for safety.


My job was to assure that the trade is fair, mostly of course from the point of view of the East India company. This entailed keeping watch on both the captain and his crew. Just in case they feel entitled to a greater share of the proceeds, then what the company is willing to pay them. This caused tension between myself and the other occupants of the vessel. Captain Hawkright looked at me with clear disdain and at times the crew even spit at my feet when I walked by.

Besides myself we had another outsider appointed to the ship. This person however was treated with more respect than I, much more indeed. This could be attributed to the gown the man wore, but it has to be said that the priest had a stern and commanding quality about him as well. Father O’Furi was an Irish Catholic clergyman, serving his duties in a small church in London. He prayed with and preyed upon a community of Irish immigrants, who were unlucky to be his congregation. Father O’Furi was to the jovial and respectful vicars of the Church of England like a Bengal tiger compared to a snail.


The reverend sniffed for heresy like a hound and his nose worked around the clock. I saw him looking at the waves, standing closely to the side of the ship. He eyed the ocean for any sight of weakness or perhaps the devil’s appearance in waves. His chin held so tight that his jaw muscles shook like maggots in a festering wound. The ordained gown embedded him like it was moulded on his figure, and he never let his thick bible be separated from his person. O’Furi paced along the deck back and forth from dawn to dusk. He chatted with the crew whenever an unfortunate soul accidentally stepped in his way. I heard echoes of his words carried by the wind towards me. All I could make out was talk of sin, fire and brimstone, babble of upcoming final judgement. The crew repented and prayed and held their heads down. Seasoned veterans of ocean storms and countless voyages returned to their infant form in the sight of this Irish inquisitor.

The captain was the only one who didn’t submit to the priest’s judgmental gaze. In fact, O’Furi regularly ate together with Hawkright in the captains quarters. I myself ate alone in my tiny cabin. At nights when I went below the deck to collect my portion of stew I heard the crew talking. They often spoke of our voyage, of the cannibals awaiting us, and of course about the riches that we may get from them. Sometimes however they spoke of O’Furi. Rumours persisted that the priest’s mission was not actually shepherding the natives towards the almighty presence of god, but rather his place on our ship was actually punishment. A skinny and sunburnt crewman told us loudly: he knew O’Furi, and heard the man was banished from his parish on account of inappropriate relations with girls from his congregation, quite young girls in fact. I could not say if this was true, but the priest still looked trough me like I was air whenever his stony gaze happened upon me.

It seemed I had no friends aboard, but that was not the whole truth. I had a strange companion: Rufus the Rat-catcher. The Overett was once a warship, it had wide decks and many creaky corners filled with shadows. We had a sizeable stock of food; grain, salted fish, dried meat, assorted vegetables and another seafaring provisions. The large interior of our ship allowed many stowaway rats to hide in the crevices and holes of the Overett. These resourceful vermin boarded her by scurrying along the many ropes tying us to the shore while the ship was docked. The rats ate whatever they could get their crooked little teeth on and caused a nearly unsolvable problem for the crew. Captain Hawkright detested feline creatures, so no cat was allowed onboard. I had seen one of the rats when I was inspecting the Overett prior to our launch. It was almost as large as the meanest and most grizzled London street cat I have seen. I suspected that no such cat would have been of help.


Then came Rufus and his master, Mr. Baddock. Rufus was a mutt, for certain a bit of Irish Wolfhound blood coursed in his veins, but the rest was unidentifiable. He was hairy, ragged, slobbering and viciously friendly. Mr. Baddock was an amputee, a war veteran, his body harrowed and scarred by battle.


He specialized in long naval voyages and training his dog for catching rats aboard. Rufus took to the hunt almost as a game. He was fed proper food regularly by Mr. Baddock, who always sat on a plank by the main deck. He whistled and sent the mutt to pursue. Minutes or sometimes even hours passed but eventually Rufus returned with a lifeless, torn rat in his jaws. He did not eat the vermin, only caught and shook them to death. Mr. Baddock then rewarded Rufus with a treat of dried meat and a playful pat on the head. I spoke to Mr. Baddock quite often, since he had nothing to fear from my vigilant eyes. He was a salt of the earth type and we had no overlapping interests outside of Rufus’s work.

He told me how he found the pup on the streets of Greenwich. He once fell, breaking his crutch. The small dog came and licked his face. It was love at first sight according to of Mr. Baddock. Rufus was trained in the art of rat hunting, first at his master’s lodgings which was dirt cheap and had many vicious gutter rats infesting it’s walls. Rufus had an innate instinct to hunt the vermin and Baddock used this willingness. He trained the mutt with rewards and affection. In the end Rufus’s talents allowed for a business his master could run with his crippled leg – err, no pun intended. Rufus was of great interest to me. Not only because he seemed to like me more then the rest of the crew combined, but also because observing the methods of his hunt was the only thing outside of writing my journal that kept me from going insane.

The first week of our journey was relatively pleasant. Ship food was edible – even tough just barely – and I have accompanied Rufus on many of his hunts. I marvelled at his method of mapping the entire ship interior, especially the most rat infested areas. He seemed aware of thresholds he could not fit into, and avoided chasing rats any further than was necessary. He waited for the rats to appear, bolted into their ranks, and caught an unlucky furball before it could scurry away. Rufus entertained me greatly and I grow quite fond of him. God and his earthly servant may say that dogs have no mortal souls, but looking into those amber eyes I saw benevolence in Rufus. He often came to me for affection, mostly in the form of gentle pats on the head, sometimes he even chose to sleep in my cabin. He learned how to open my door with his snout and crawled next to my bed to slumber. Mr. Baddock did not mind our relationship as long as it didn’t hamper Rufus’s work.


Unfortunately for me the end of the first week was the last of my good times aboard the Overett. The seas were kind and gentle, the weather miraculously pleasant, yet my stomach turned ill. I heaved and hurled over the edge of the ship. The crew took joy in my misery, but it all stopped when I kept rejecting my food for three consecutive days. It was hard for me to keep water down. They suspected an illness among us, but no other sailor got sick. I remained confined to my cabin, my bed became a cold cradle, my personal hell on earth. I laid in cold sweat, hallucinating and muttering. Dread and great terror shook my emaciated body. The captain came to see me. He told me straight that if I die, he would be better off, and he’d have my corpse thrown overboard for the sharks. This didn’t lift my spirits. Father O'Furi came as well after five days. He told me he saw the chariot of death ride atop the waves in a fiery blaze, he thought the reaper might come for my soul. Yet – he added with cold disdain – I should not beg for last rites, since he considered me an enemy of god. When or what I have done to earn his ire I had no idea.

Other than that only Rufus appeared from time to time, pushing my door in and gently crawling up to me. He usually put his head on my arm to be pet, and he would nudge my battered body for attention. That dog was my only company and possibly the only being that cared about me aboard that hellish vessel.

After a week I could finally keep down some stew and I drank more fresh rainwater. Mr. Baddock brought some rum for me and I swallowed it as well. I was still bedridden and in near total atrophy. My door was kept open to let fresh air in.


I heard from the crew that we were finally nearing Mundroga. The captain held a short speech about our objective, the priest spoke after him:
  – We are the few, the blessed, those who are in sight of our god. The lord is not a benevolent protector, nor a sheepish grandfather. He is the force of nature, the immeasurable weight and movement of the world, the very thought and soul that churns this black ocean beneath us. Hear me men, hear the word of god, and stand tall in your faith. We shall ride this glorious vessel trough the treacherous sea. We shall stand to the savages so that we may show them the way, the only way, the proper way, the way of our true god. But beware! For the men of the island will be black as night, from the inside and on the outside. Vigilance! Do not let their words mislead you brothers, for god not only rewards the meek, but those as well who carry their swords in his name!

When the speech was over I thought that the men roared with fervour, but instead it was the sea groaning. The ocean had heard Father O’Furi’s words and was clearly not impressed. Our ship began to rock back and forth. The patch of sky I could see turned black, grey clouds flew at us with frightening speed. Men were screaming, the captain and the first mate were shouting orders. Ropes were tightened and sails rose. In an hour we had reached the eye of the storm. The echoing roars in the beginning were only just the outskirts of the maelstrom. I hope to think that Hawkright wished to avoid certain death and ordered to steer us away from the tempest. I do not know what truly happened outside my room. In the end the storm caught us anyhow. Perhaps god himself guided it personally for his own satisfaction.


I remained in my bed while the boat was abuzz with sailors trying to tie everything down. Rufus bolted in my room whimpering, shivering at the sound of thunder. He jumped up on my bed and I tried to hold him, but then the boat rocked left and we both fell off. The door got ripped from it’s hinges and the bed frame flipped around, it’s legs stuck into the opening of my room, barring me and Rufus inside. I only remember water after that. An invisible force tucked and turned my body while my nose and mouth filled with salty liquid. Darkness swallowed me whole and spat me out on a sandy beach. I awoke to the smell of wet dog and shrieks of seagulls from nearby. I stood up, still dizzy and weak. It was miracle that I remained alive.


Rufus was licking my bare feet viciously in appreciation. I spied the stern of the Overett nearby. The body of our vessel cracked in two and the rear part planted itself into a sandbank. Shallow water surrounded the wreckage and I spotted greyish fins cruising in the nearby waves. I chose to walk inland rather than swim to it. It was clear to me that we ended up near or even perhaps on Mundroga. Rufus ran ahead a bit, he sniffed around the coastline and barked back to me. I followed him. The island had large amounts of vegetation. Many foreign looking trees sprouted towards the clear sky, tall grass and stunted bushes formed around them.


Tiny shells were cracking under my feet as I tread the sand. Rufus found broken barrels, clothes and rubble washed up on the beach. Clear tracks showed evidence that we were not the only survivors. We hurried towards the inner part of the isle. It’s geography turned out to be quite vertical. Cliffs, hills and even a mountain rose up high. I had to climb stones and rocks which appeared to be volcanic in nature.

Rufus seemingly enjoyed the romp and showed no concern about our dire situation. He sniffed the air and barked forward. After conquering an incline filled with jagged rocks we finally found life. Driftwood and torn clothes were scattered all around. A fire was burning, set over shavings of nearby trees. Half naked men sat around with eyes fixated at the flames. They were the remainder of the Overett's crew. Non seemed to notice my approach, perhaps they simply didn't care. I looked around, captain Hawkright was nowhere to be seen, same as Mr. Baddock. Looking at Rufus I told him that I suspected both men had been lost to the sea. He didn’t mind this at all. The shaggy dog ran around camp greeting each stunned sailor with tail wagging harshly, until a pair of stern feet stopped him in his tracks.


Father O'Furi survived the waves. Most of his gown was intact, however the bottom of the cloth was torn, appearing as if bitten off by sharks. He stared at me, from between his dried lips a gravely voice boomed:

– So god decided to take the strong and courageous, but kept the ill and weak alive. He truly does work in mysterious ways. I have scoured the whole island and scouted the waters nearby for our captain, but I'm afraid his soul is in front of saint Peter as we speak. But for such a wretched clerk to tread the tides of hell and live, I'm actually impressed Cornelius!

I did not respond to him, in fact I didn't speak to anyone much any more after that, except for Rufus. The priest quickly took charge of the survivors. He ordered shelters to be built, graves to be dug, and formed exploration parties. A group of men found a series of caves nearby with a stream of fresh water inside.


We made shoddy constructs of driftwood and leaves to hide from the sun, but at night when the rain came we all walked into the caverns to sleep. Rufus never left my side and laid next to me. In his sleep he whined and his feet were moving, I think he dreamt of the storm and of the dead. I think we all did. We were weak, stunned, ravaged by the many deaths around us. We found no natives, no animals, no fruits, only the caves and the stream. Bodies continued to wash up on the shore and as we buried them into the hard sand we became more and more hungry.

The men were trying to catch small crabs and clams to devour, but the sea seemed especially cruel on those days, for they caught none. Some of the sailors took knives and swam deep into the sea to dive for fish. We stood at the shore as a congregation, father O'Furi knee deep in the water, observing the ordeal. One man never came back to the surface, another only breached to scream. Blood tainted the waves red and a dismembered arm floated to the shore, greyish fins circled closer and closer towards us. We dared to swim no more. From the northern corner of our nameless Island we saw another landmass. It seemed larger and we thought it might be the main Isle of Mundroga. The priest organised a raft to be built, and two volunteers started paddling the shoddy construct a way to the other shore. We had no containers to fill with water, so they had to hurry to cross. A rouge wave flipped the flimsy raft, and none of the men made it back to land.


The remaining sailors became agitated. They combed every inch of the island, hunting bugs, and eyeing the top of the strange trees for fruits. They were also looking hungrily at Rufus, so I took him for long walks along the shoreline. I myself took to hunger better, since I was already in such an emaciated state. I saw my stomach go inwards and my ribs protruding. I was pale as a sheet despite the constant barrage of sunlight and I must have had the visage of a shaggy scarecrow. Rufus was also quite hungry I imagine. He went ahead sniffing vigorously. I had heard scampering nearby and my canine companion rushed out. When he came back he held a dead rat in his jaws. I pet him and hugged him and spoke softly to him.

I removed the vermin from Rufus's mouth, and used a sharp rock to cut it in half. I was so hungry that the dead rat appeared as a culinary feast. We hid behind some large stones, and I encouraged the pup to eat his share. As he was munching away I took the upper half of the dead rat in my mouth. I thought it would be foul, I thought I would throw up and gag, but I didn’t. It could have been shepherd’s pie or black pudding, it felt so warm and comforting. I ate the raw flesh, blood streamed over my cheeks. I tore apart and devoured the rat. Rufus ate his half, swallowing fur and limbs alike. I dug out most of the meat I could from the critters insides, then gave the remaining puffs of fur and bones to my dog.

  I wondered where the rat came from.