DOCKSIDE, NEW ENGLAND—Witnesses were reportedly baffled by both the provenance and contents of a mysterious box which, constructed of stout heart-of-oak and bound in cold iron, was brought the quay Thursday night by the H.M.S. Redoubtable, arriving from London after a passage fraught with misadventure.
The crate, standing roughly high as a man's chest and somewhat wider than a span of arms, has instilled in those who spoke to reporters a sense of great disquiet and foreboding, with many alleging the object to be possessed of strange properties that defy easy reckoning.
"Be right glad to be shut of that, whatsoever it may hold," said the captain of the Redoubtable, pointing to the box, about whose odd geometry a fog had curled in unclean tendrils. "That haze arrived the same minute we winched it aboard—upon my soul, it did. And the very next morrow we found the boson sprawled out aside it, knocked cold from stumbling against it in the gloom of night."
Added he, "When once more he found his feet, why, he was struck mute, and his hair turned to the white of a codfish belly."
Shipman and stevedore alike confirmed that the crate is unpleasantly cold to the touch, and none reportedly wished to remain in its presence for long.
According to entries in the captain's log, when the puzzling cargo was first brought aboard in Liverpool, the ship's cat would not cease in its hissing and hid amongst the ballast the journey entire; and indeed, all aboard the Redoubtable were, to a man-jack, loathe to pass near the crate.
In addition, when the ship put into Galway for coal, three Turkmen among the crew are believed to have slipped over the side, never to return, and many spoke of a thick, low-lying murk following the vessel throughout its stormy oceanic passage.
"I thinks yon crate's a Jonah," the first mate, by all accounts a credulous and sober soul, told longshoremen before making haste with arrangements for the ship's early departure. "The men are restive, and I yearn to make rid of it. If I were you, I'd sink it full fathom deep off the Grand Banks, so I would."
Fellows of the Institute—that body of learned Bostonian gentlemen to whom the crate was addressed—acknowledged they were uncertain what to make of the delivery. In their attempts to inspect it, many said they found themselves succumbing to distraction, their mental faculties unable to grapple with what it might signify or contain. Others claimed to feel an unnatural presence gripping at something within their minds.
"At sea, two of my men came to blows when they couldn't agree on what exact color the box was," said the Redoubtable's cargo-master, stepping hurriedly past the object. "None will speak of it, nor around it. It has a listening quality to it. I dasn't even wonder what it has inside. Some things are best not wotted of."
"What? 'Ere, wasn't we just walking straight away from the dashed thing?" the cargo- master added as the crate loomed once more out of the fog. "Sure an' it's right before us again! I'll have naught more to do with it, sirs, begging your pardon as gentlemen of quality, but the Mark is upon yon box and no mistake. I'm shut of it, you hear me? Shut and done!"
Determined investigation of the crate by men fortified in their courage by a tot of best brandy reportedly showed it to be covered with labels and seals from Cathay, the Bight of Benin, Outer Calcutta, Tangiers, Algiers, and Sumatra. Though no consensus upon its origins could be had, a majority agreed the box most likely began its dark pilgrimage in the dusky Orient.
According to shipboard sources, the coats-of-arms of three separate monarchs were visible beneath divers stains, gouges, and odd discolorations.
Hired men tasked with loading the crate for carriage to Boston reportedly stride up to its sides doughty of purpose, but the very act of seeking to displace it seems to lead them into a reverie in which they mutter and dissemble, appearing to forget themselves altogether before eventually wandering off.
At the time the type was being set to print this broadside, Fellows of the Institute said the crate had most probably been sent at the behest of Reginald Fortescue, the founder of their society of knowledge, whose passing under unusual circumstances was noted in the winter of last year. Mere weeks ago, they confirmed, the Institute was in receipt of a letter from the late Fortescue, which contained a passage that in hindsight may portend the strange cargo's arrival:
I feel that my time fast approaches, and my Great Endeavor remains unfinished. Thus I fear I must relinquish the burden of its possession to you, my enlightened colleagues, though the act brings me no joy, nor even the slightest salvation. No, alas, 'tis far too late for salvation now. As I fade I can hear Her calling, yes, even in my waking hours. You must not weaken nor turn aside at the thinning of the veil!
I remain, yr hmbl svt,
Reginald Fortescue, Esq.