WHH Short Fiction: “The Island of the Crossbones”

Review: “The Island of the Crossbones”, William Hope Hodgson, 1913.

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

This a fun pirate story.

The story opens with Captain Gaskelt talking about when he was on a voyage as “a bit of a lad”, and he tells about his captain that saw the legendary island where “crossbones are cut in the side of the mountain”.

He’s not believed though. It’s just another sea story. His First Mate Maulk, since he’s morose and unsociable, doesn’t react much when he hears the story.

A bit later, Gaskelt disappears. So, later, does another man on watch three nights later.

Maulk helpfully takes many watches at the wheel.

One of the apprentices disappears later.

Double watches are posted at the wheel at night, and Maulk goes to relieve a watch at midnight.

The next day, the captain’s punt is gone, and Maulk has disappeared.

Eventually the Captain and the two apprentices are found bound and gagged in the lazarette.

Maulk, in the missing punt, is followed to the Island of Crossbones.

On the island, Maulk, hidden in trees, tells them he doesn’t want to harm them, but he will if they interfere with him getting the treasure.

A confrontation ensues with Maulk unsuccessfully, with a cannon left on the island, trying to sink their ship.

The story ends with Gaskelt finding a bag of gold in the ship’s stern. (He doesn’t tell the crew which makes him one of those greedy ship’s captains that often shows up in Hodgson.) Perhaps Maulk put it there as a present.

Maulk, we find out, seems to maybe be a bit unbalanced. When the men are escaping the island, Maulk fires the cannon at them. It’s loaded with gold coin.

The story ends with Maulk’s fate unknown. Perhaps he took his boat off the island.

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