As soon as the darkness had closed down sufficiently to conceal our movements, I filled away again upon the schooner, and stood in until we were within two miles of the southern extremity of the island,—which also forms the southern headland of the harbour mentioned by Garcia,— when, having run well in behind the head, I again hove-to and, launching the dinghy, proceeded toward the harbour's mouth; my crew being two men who, like myself, were armed to the teeth.
We pulled in with muffled oars, and in due time arrived within a stone's throw of the shore. The coast here proved to be precipitous and rocky, the swell which set round the southern extremity of the island breaking with great violence upon the shore and rendering landing absolutely impossible; moreover, the night was so dark that—although in every other respect admirably suited for my purpose—it was impossible to clearly see where we were going, and two or three times we inadvertently got so close to the rocks that we narrowly and with the utmost difficulty avoided being dashed upon them. At length, however, we rounded the southernmost head and entered the harbour, and almost immediately afterwards made out a narrow strip of sandy beach, upon which I landed without difficulty, leaving the two men to look after the dinghy and lay off a few yards from the shore, ready to pull in again and take me aboard at a moment's notice if necessary.
Having landed, I ascended a rather steep, grassy slope, some seventy or eighty feet high, and stood to look about me. The harbour was quite a spacious affair, the entrance being about half a mile wide, while the harbour itself seemed—so far as I could make out in the darkness—to be quite two miles long. The general shape of this inlet immediately suggested to me the conviction that if, as Garcia had informed me, Morillo really had established his headquarters here, he would be almost certain to have constructed a couple of batteries—one on each headland—to defend the place; and I at once set about the task of ascertaining how far my conjecture might happen to be correct. Toward the eastward from where I had halted the land continued to rise in a sort of ridge, culminating in what had the appearance of a knoll, and it struck me that, if a battery really existed on that side of the harbour, I ought to find it not far from this spot. I accordingly wended my way toward it as best I could, forcing a passage for myself through the grass and scrub, with a most unpleasant conviction that I might at any moment place my hand or foot upon a venomous snake or reptile of some sort; and finally, after about twenty minutes of most unpleasant scrambling, found myself alongside the "knoll," which, as I had more than half suspected, now proved to be nothing less than a rough earthwork, mounting four thirty-two pounders.
My devious path had brought me to the face of the battery, so I had to clamber up the steep face of the slope before I could get a view of the interior. This I did, entering the battery through one of the embrasures, when I found myself standing upon a level platform constituting the floor of the battery. Keeping carefully within the deep shadow of the gun, and crouching down upon my hands and knees, I at once proceeded to reconnoitre the place, and presently made out a couple of huts, the smaller of which I concluded must be the magazine, while the larger probably accommodated the garrison. Both were in utter darkness, however, and my first impression was that they were untenanted; but, to make quite certain, I crept very softly up to the larger building, and, finding a closed door, listened intently at it. For a few seconds I heard nothing save the sough of the night breeze through the branches of some cotton-wood trees that grew close at hand, but presently I detected a sound of snoring in the interior, which, as I listened, grew momentarily more distinct and unmistakable. The sounds certainly emanated from more than one sleeper; I thought that there were probably at least three or four of them at work, but my hearing was not quite keen enough to enable me to accurately differentiate the sounds and thus arrive at the correct number of those who emitted them. They were, however, sound asleep, and therefore not likely to be disturbed by a slight noise. Moreover, the hut was well to windward, and the sough and swish of the wind through the cotton-woods seemed powerful enough to drown such slight sounds as I might be likely to make; so I stole softly across the open area to the nearest gun, which I at once proceeded to carefully spike with the aid of some nails and a leather-covered hammer with which I had provided myself. Despite the deadening effect of the leather the hammer still made a distinct "clink," which to my ears sounded loud enough to wake the dead; but a few seconds' anxious work sufficed to effectually spike the first gun, and as nobody appeared to have heard me, I then proceeded to spike the next, and the next, until I had rendered all four of them harmless. This done, I slipped out of the same embrasure by which I had entered, and successfully made my way back to the beach and to the spot off which the dinghy lay awaiting me.
The presence of a battery on the south head of the harbour entrance convinced me that there must also be a similar structure on the north head. As soon, therefore, as I found myself once more aboard the dinghy, I headed her straight across the mouth, reaching the northern side in about twenty minutes. Half an hour's search enabled me to find the battery which I was looking for,—which proved to be a pretty exact counterpart of the one I had already visited,—and here again I succeeded in spiking all four of the guns without discovery. This I regarded as a fairly successful night's work; so, as we should have to be stirring pretty early in the morning, I now returned to the schooner, and, having hove her to with her head off shore, turned in and had a good night's rest.
At daybreak on the following morning I was called by Black Peter, and within ten minutes I was on deck. We were then some eight miles off the land, with the schooner heading to the eastward; but we at once wore round and bore straight away for the harbour's mouth, clearing for action and making all our arrangements as we went.
An hour's run, with the wind well over our starboard quarter, brought us off the mouth of the harbour, which we at once entered; and as soon as we were fairly inside, the schooner was hove-to, and two boats were lowered, each carrying eleven men armed to the teeth, in addition to the officer in command. One of the boats was commanded by Christie and the other by Lindsay; and their mission was to capture the two batteries commanding the harbour's mouth, and blow them up before the spiked cannon could be again rendered serviceable. I brought the telescope to bear upon the batteries as soon as we were far enough inside the harbour to get a sight of them, and was amused to observe that there was a terrible commotion going on in both. Our presence had been promptly discovered, and the first attempt to open fire upon us had resulted in the discovery that their guns were all spiked. Of course it was by no means an easy matter to estimate the strength of the garrisons of these batteries, but I calculated that it would probably total up to about thirty men to each battery; and as they would be nearly or quite all Spaniards, I felt that the boats' crews which I had sent away would be quite strong enough to satisfactorily account for them. Nor was I disappointed; for although the pirates opened a brisk musketry fire upon our lads the moment that they were fairly within range, the latter simply swarmed up the hill and carried the two batteries with a rush, the pirates retreating by the rear as the Terns clambered in through the embrasures. The moment that the boats shoved off from the schooner's side I saw that the spirit of emulation had seized upon the two crews, for they both went away at a racing pace, and their actions throughout were evidently inspired by this same spirit; the result of which was that the two batteries were destroyed within five minutes of each other, while the whole affair, from the moment when the boats shoved off to the moment when they arrived alongside again, was accomplished within an hour and a quarter, and that, too, without any loss whatever on our side, or even a wound severe enough to disable the recipient. The pirates were less fortunate, their loss in the two batteries amounting to five killed, and at least seven wounded severely enough to render them incapable of escaping. These seven were brought on board by our lads, and secured below immediately upon their arrival.
Meanwhile I had not been idle, for while the boats were away I had employed my time in making, with the aid of the telescope, a most careful inspection of this piratical stronghold; and I was obliged to admit to myself that it would be difficult to imagine—and still more difficult to find—a spot more perfectly adapted in every way for its purpose. The harbour itself was spacious enough to hold a fleet, and almost completely land-locked, so that, once inside, a ship was perfectly concealed; while the fact that the opening faced in a south- westerly direction rendered it absolutely safe in all weathers. And, so far as enemies were concerned, the two batteries at the harbour's mouth were so admirably placed that they ought to have proved amply sufficient for the defence of the place; and no doubt they would have so proved in other hands, or had a proper lookout been kept. That they had fallen so easily to us was the fault, not of Morillo, but of the man whom he had left in command.
At the bottom of the bay or inlet—for it partook of the nature of the latter rather than of the former—lay the settlement that Morillo had established, consisting of no less than seventeen buildings. There was also a small wharf, with a brig lying alongside it.
The moment that the boats arrived alongside I ordered the men out of them, and had them dropped astern, when sail was made and we stood down toward the settlement, with our ensign flying at the gaff-end. As we drew near I was able to make out that here too our presence was productive of a tremendous amount of excitement; and presently fire was opened upon us from a battery of six nine-pounders that had been constructed on the rising ground immediately to the rear of the wharf, while the black flag was boldly run up on a flagstaff close at hand. It did not suit my purpose, however, to engage in a running fight; I therefore bore down upon the brig—discharging our port broadside at the battery when we were within pistol-shot of it—and, running alongside, grapnelled her. This done, every man Jack of us swarmed ashore, Lindsay holding the wharf with a dozen of our lads, while Christie and I, with the remainder of the crew, made a rush for the battery and took it. Ten minutes sufficed us to spike the guns and blow up the magazine, which done, we found ourselves masters of the whole place, the inhabitants having taken to flight the moment that this third battery fell into our hands.
We now proceeded to make a leisurely inspection of the place, with the result that we discovered it to be quite a miniature dockyard, with storehouses, mast-houses, rigging and sail-lofts all complete; in fact, there was every possible convenience for repairing and refitting a ship. Nor was this all; there was also a large magazine full of ammunition, quite an armoury of muskets, pistols, and cutlasses, and several dismounted guns, ranging from six-pounders to thirty-two pound carronades; while the storehouses were well stocked with provisions and stores of every possible description. One large building immediately facing the wharf was apparently used as a receptacle for plunder, for we found several bales of stuff that had evidently formed part of a cargo, or cargoes, but there was surprisingly little of it, which was accounted for, later on, by the discovery that the brig was full of plunder to the hatches. In addition to the buildings which were in use as stores, there were two most comfortably fitted up as barracks, while at the back of the settlement and well up the side of the hill stood a little group of seven handsome timber dwelling-houses, each standing in its own garden and nestling among the lofty trees that clothed the hillside.
Having secured complete possession of the place, my first care was to have the small amount of plunder that lay in the storehouse, and the guns, conveyed on board the Tern and sent down her main hatchway. This job took us about two hours, during which a few shots were occasionally fired at us from the woods; but as the bullets all fell short, we did not trouble ourselves to go in pursuit of the individuals who were firing upon us. Our next act was to blow up the magazine, thus destroying the whole of the pirates' stock of ammunition; and when this had been successfully accomplished, we went systematically to work, and set fire to the whole of the storehouses and barracks, one after the other, until the whole place was in flames. Finally, we turned our attention to the seven dwelling-houses on the hillside. These proved, to our astonishment, to be most elegantly and sumptuously furnished in every respect, the only peculiarity noticeable being a lack of uniformity among the articles contained in some of the houses, plainly showing that they had been gathered together at different times and from different places. Evidences of female influence were abundantly present in all these houses, from which we assumed that they formed the abode of Morillo and his most important subordinates during their short sojourns in port. The six largest of these buildings we set fire to, leaving the seventh as a refuge for the unfortunate women, who were doubtless concealed at no great distance in the adjacent woods.
The burning of these houses completed the destruction of the settlement, which was accomplished absolutely without casualties of any kind on our side. We waited until the houses were well ablaze, and then retreated in good order to the harbour, a few shots being fired at us here and there from ambush as we went; but as we were well out of range I took no notice of them, and in due time we arrived once more on the wharf.
Our next business was to take possession of the brig, which we did forthwith, Christie, with eight hands, going on board her as a prize crew. She was a beamy, bluff-bowed, motherly old craft named the Three Sisters, hailing out of Port-of-Spain, and was evidently British built, her whole appearance being that of a sober, honest, slow-going trader, such as one constantly meets with, doing business among the islands. Her hold, however, was full of booty; and I conjectured that Morillo had, through his agents, purchased her in a perfectly straightforward manner for use in the conveyance of booty from Cariacou to such ports as afforded opportunity for its disposal without the asking of too many inconvenient questions.
It was the work of but a few minutes for the prize crew to transfer their few belongings from the schooner to the brig; and, this done, we got both craft under way and stood out to sea—the brig under every stitch of canvas that she could show to the breeze, while the schooner, under topsail, foresail, and jib, had to heave-to at frequent intervals to wait for her.
My first intention was to send the brig to Port Royal in charge of the prize crew alone, remaining off the island in the Tern until Morillo should appear—as he would be certain to do, sooner or later—in his brigantine. A little reflection, however, caused me to alter my plans and to determine upon escorting the Three Sisters to her destination, lest she should haply encounter Morillo on the way, in which case the fate of her defenceless prize crew would probably be too dreadful to bear thinking about. As soon, therefore, as we were clear of the harbour I set the course for Jamaica, and away we both went, cheek by jowl, the brig—with a roaring breeze over her starboard quarter— reeling off her six and a half knots per hour with as much fuss and splutter as though she were going fifteen!
For the first two days nothing of any importance occurred. On the third night out from Cariacou, however,—or, to be strictly accurate, about two o'clock in the morning,—it being my watch on deck, the night dark and somewhat overcast, two sails were sighted on our starboard bow, heading to the eastward on the port tack, and steering a course which would bring them close to us. One of them was a craft of considerable size, the other a small vessel; and from the moment that these two facts became apparent, I made up my mind that one was the prize of the other, though which of the two was the captor, there was just then no means of ascertaining. The smaller craft was perhaps a privateer, and the big one her prize; or—quite as likely—the big craft might be a frigate, and the small craft her prize. In either case, however, it behoved me to be very careful; for one of the two was almost certain to be an enemy, and if she happened to be also the captor of the other it was more than probable she would tackle us. From the moment, therefore, when we first sighted them, I never allowed the night-glass to be off them for more than a few seconds at a time.
When first discovered, they were hull down, and only just distinguishable in the darkness as two vague blots of black against the lowering gloom of the night sky; but the trade wind was piping up rather stronger than usual that night, while we and the strangers were approaching each other on a nearly straight line. We consequently closed each other rapidly, and within about twenty minutes from the moment of their discovery we were able to make out that one of the twain was a full-rigged ship, while the other seemed to be a large brigantine; and a few minutes later I discovered that the ship was showing a much broader spread of canvas than the brigantine, thus proving the latter to be the faster craft of the two. It was scarcely likely, therefore, that the ship was a frigate; and if not that, she must be a merchantman, and doubtless the prize of the brigantine.
At this point, the question suggested itself to me: Might not the brigantine be Morillo's craft? She appeared to be about the same size, so far as it was possible to distinguish in the darkness; and if so, it would fully account for the boldness with which she held on upon her course, instead of heaving about and endeavouring to avoid a possible enemy—for doubtless they had made us out almost if not quite at the same time as we had discovered them. I most fervently hoped it might be as I surmised, for, if so, I should have the fellow at advantage, inasmuch as he would doubtless have put a fairly strong prize crew on board the ship, which would proportionately weaken his own crew. Full of the hope that this Ishmael of the sea might be about to place himself within my power, I caused all hands to be called, and, having first made sail, sent them to quarters, the gunner at the same time descending to the magazine and sending up a plentiful supply of powder and shot. By the time that we were ready, the brigantine and her consort had neared us to within a couple of miles, the two craft closing meanwhile, doubtless for the purpose of communicating instructions. That they were quite prepared to fight aboard the brigantine was perfectly evident, for we could see that her deck was lit up with lanterns, the light of which, shining through her ports, enabled me to ascertain that she mounted six guns of a side. Both craft held their luff, but it was now quite clear that the brigantine was much the faster and more weatherly of the two, she walking away out to windward of the big fellow as though the latter had been at anchor the moment that she made sail in answer to our challenge.
And now ensued a little bit of manoeuvring on both sides, with the twofold object of discovering whether the stranger happened to be an enemy, and if so, to secure the weather-gage of him. We had the advantage, however, as we were running free and could haul our wind at any moment; and this advantage I kept by hauling up on the starboard tack and then heaving in stays with the topsail aback, waiting for the brigantine to close; which she presently did, ranging up within biscuit- toss of our lee quarter. She was now so close to us that, despite the darkness, it was quite possible to make out details; and it was with a feeling of mingled disgust and disappointment that I discovered that, whatever she might be, she certainly was not Morillo's beautiful but notorious brigantine.
She was, however, in all probability an enemy,—it seemed to me that, so far as I could make out in the uncertain light of the partially clouded stars, she had a French look about her,—so, with the idea of securing the advantage of the first hail, I sprang upon the rail as she ranged up alongside, and hailed, in Spanish—
"Ho, the brigantine ahoy! What vessel is that?"
"The Belle Diane, French privateer. What schooner is that?" came the reply, also in Spanish of the most execrable kind, uttered with an unmistakable French accent.
"His Britannic Majesty's schooner Tern, monsieur, to which ship I must request you to surrender, or I shall be under the painful necessity of blowing you out of the water," answered I, firmly persuaded of the policy of rendering oneself as formidable as possible to one's enemy.
But my well-meant endeavour proved to be a signal failure; the enemy was not in this case to be so easily frightened.
"Les Anglais! mille tonneres!" I heard the Frenchman in the brigantine's main rigging exclaim, as he waved his clenched fist in the air. Then he retorted, in what he doubtless believed to be the purest English—
"Vat is dat you say, Monsieur Angleeshman? If I do not surrendaire, you vill blow me out of de vattar? Ha, ha! Sacre! It is I, monsieur, who vill blow dat footy leetle schooner of yours into ze sky, if you do not surrendaire yourshelf plus promptement, eh!"
"All right, monsieur; blaze away, then, as soon as you like!" retorted I, in the best attempt at French I could muster. Then, to my own people, who were at quarters—
"Stand by, starboard guns! Wait until she rolls toward us. Now, fire!"
Our imposing broadside of three guns rang out at the precise moment when the brigantine rolled heavily toward us, exposing her deck to our fire; and I heard the shot go crashing through her bulwarks to the accompaniment of sundry yells and screams, that told me they had not been altogether ineffective. Almost at the same instant three of her guns replied; but their muzzles were so deeply depressed, and she was just then rolling so heavily toward us, that the shot struck the water between her and ourselves, and we neither saw nor felt any more of them. Meanwhile, our square canvas being aback, our antagonist swept rapidly ahead of us; seeing which, I filled upon the schooner and bore up under the brigantine's stern, raking with our port broadside as we crossed her stern, immediately hauling my wind and making a half-board across her stern again to regain my position upon her weather quarter. Our starboard guns were by this time reloaded, and we gave her the three of them, double-shotted, as we recrossed her; and the tremendous clatter, with the howls and shrieks that followed this discharge, showed that we had wrought a considerable amount of execution among the Frenchmen.
"There's something gone aboard of him, but what it is I can't make out," exclaimed Lindsay, who was standing close beside me. "Ah!" he continued, "I see what it is now; it is her mainboom that we have shot away. I can see the outer end of it towing overboard. And see, she is paying off; with the loss of their after-sail they can no longer keep their luff!"
It was even as Lindsay had said; we had shot away the brigantine's mainboom, and thus rendered her big, powerful mainsail useless; so that, despite the lee helm that they were giving her, she was gradually falling off, until within a minute or two she was nearly dead before the wind. This placed her almost completely at our mercy, for we were now enabled to sail to and fro athwart her stern, raking her alternately with our port and starboard guns, and with our nine-pounder as well, while she could only reply with two guns which her people had run out through her stern ports. Still, although disabled, she was by no means beaten, her plucky crew keeping up a brisk fire upon us from these two guns until by a lucky broadside we dismounted them both. But even then they would not give in; despite the relentless fire that we continued to pour into them, they contrived after a time to get two more guns into position, with which they renewed their fire upon us as briskly as ever. This sort of thing, however, could not continue for very long; our fire was so hot and our guns were so well aimed, that we fairly drove the plucky fellows from the only two guns that they could bring to bear upon us, and within a couple of minutes of the cessation of their fire, a lantern was waved aboard the brigantine, and someone hailed that they surrendered, while at the same moment all sheets and halliards were let go and her canvas came down by the run, as a further intimation that they had had enough of it.
Upon this we of course at once ceased firing, and ranged up alongside the prize, hailing her that we would send a boat aboard. Then, for the first time, we discovered that both our large boats were so severely damaged that neither of them would float; whereupon Lindsay offered to board the prize in the dinghy, with two hands, and take possession. Accordingly, the little cockleshell of a craft was dropped over the side, and in less than two minutes my chum hailed to say that he was safely aboard, and that the execution wrought by our fire had been terrible, the brigantine having lost nearly half her crew, both the captain and the chief mate being among the killed. He added that the brigantine's long-boat was undamaged, and that he proposed to hoist her out, with the assistance of the prisoners, and send her to us by the two hands who had manned the dinghy, if we would look out to pick her up in the event of their being unable to bring her alongside. To this I of course agreed; and a quarter of an hour later the boat was safely alongside us, with a prize crew of twelve picked men tumbling themselves and their traps into her.
Meanwhile, what had become of the Three Sisters and the big ship? I looked round for them, and behold! there they both were, about half a mile to windward, and bearing down upon us in company!
"Phew!" thought I, "here is a nice business! While we have been playing the game of hammer and tongs down here, the big ship—doubtless manned by a strong prize crew—has run alongside the old brig and taken her! And yet—can it be so? Christie has eight hands with him, and I believe the fellow would make a stout fight for it before giving in. I cannot understand it; but we shall soon see. If they have captured him we shall have to recapture him, that is all!" Then, turning to the men, who were busy securing the guns and repairing such slight damage as had been inflicted upon our rigging, I said—
"Avast, there, with those guns! Load them again, lads, for we may have to fight once more in a few minutes. Here is the big ship running down upon us, and it looks very much as though she had taken the brig. Fill your topsail, and let draw the headsheets!"
Getting sufficient way upon the schooner, we tacked and stood toward the new-comers, passing close under the stern of the ship, with the intention of hailing her. But before I could get the trumpet to my lips, a figure sprang into the ship's mizzen rigging, and Christie's well-known voice hailed—
"Tern ahoy! is Mr Courtenay aboard?"
"Ay, ay," I answered; "I am here, Mr Christie. What are you doing aboard there?"
"Why," answered Christie, "I am in charge, you know. Seeing you busy with the brigantine, I thought I might as well try my luck at the same time; so I managed somehow to put the brig alongside this ship, and— and—well, we just took her!"
"Well done, Mr Christie!" I shouted; but before I could get out another word, my voice was drowned in the roaring cheer that the Terns gave vent to as they heard the news, told in Christie's usual gentle, drawling tones; and by the time that the cheers had died away the two craft had drawn so far apart that further conversation was, for the moment, impossible.
I BECOME THE VICTIM OF A VILLAINOUS OUTRAGE.
Making room, Christie presently hauled to the wind and hove-to; and some ten minutes later he presented himself on board the schooner—brought alongside by the ship's gig, manned by four of the ship's crew—to report his own share in the incidents of the night. From this report I gathered that, like myself, at first he had mistaken the French privateer for Morillo's brigantine, and had also arrived at the conclusion that the ship was a prize of the latter. He had kept a keen watch upon the movements of the schooner until it had become apparent that we intended to attack the supposed pirate, when he at once turned his attention to the ship, with the object of ascertaining whether, with such a phenomenally slow craft as the Three Sisters, anything could be done with her. He believed that, with luck, it could, as he felt pretty certain that the attention of the ship's prize crew would be fully occupied in watching the manoeuvres of the brigantine and the schooner; and, trusting to this, he hauled his wind until he had placed the brig in position the merest trifle to windward of the course that the ship was steering, when, taking his chance of having thus far escaped observation, he clewed up and furled everything, afterwards patiently awaiting the development of events.
And now ensued a very curious and amusing thing, it having transpired that the French prize crew of the ship had seen the brig, and had at once jumped to the conclusion that she was a prize to the schooner. The curious behaviour of the Three Sisters had puzzled them not a little at the outset, but when we opened fire upon the brigantine they knew at once that we must be an enemy; and, supposing that the prize crew of the brig—whom they rashly judged to be their own countrymen—had taken advantage of our preoccupation to rise and recapture their vessel, they immediately bore down to their assistance. This lucky mistake enabled Christie to fall alongside the ship without difficulty, when, laying aside for the nonce his gentle, lady-like demeanour, he led his eight men up the ship's lofty sides and over her high bulwarks on to her deck, where the nine of them laid about them with such good will that, after about a minute's resistance, the astounded Frenchmen were fain to retreat to the forecastle, where, in obedience to Christie's summons, they forthwith flung down their arms and surrendered at discretion. Then, clapping the hatch over them, and stationing two men with drawn cutlasses by it as a guard, Christie proceeded to liberate the imprisoned crew of the ship,—which he discovered to be the British West Indiaman Black Prince, homeward-bound at the time of her capture, two days previously, with an exceedingly valuable general cargo,—and then sent his own men back to the Three Sisters, which had all this time been lying alongside, secured to the Indiaman by grapnels. The brig then cast off, and the two craft forthwith bore down upon us to report, the fight between ourselves and the brigantine being by that time over.
By the time that our own and the brigantine's damages had been repaired it was daylight, and we were all ready for making sail once more. But before doing so I caused the whole of the Frenchmen to be removed to the schooner, where they were first put in irons and then clapped safely under hatches; after which I visited first the Belle Diane and then the Indiaman. I must confess I was astonished when I beheld the effect of our fire upon the former; I could scarcely credit that so much damage had been inflicted by our six-pounders in so short time, her stern above the level of the covering-board being absolutely battered to pieces, while the shot had also ploughed up her decks fore and aft in long, scoring gashes, so close together and crossing each other in such a way as showed what a tremendous raking she had received. She began the action with fifty-seven men, all told, out of which eighteen had been killed outright, and the remainder, with one solitary exception, more or less seriously wounded. Looking upon the paths our shot had ploughed along her deck, I was only surprised that any of her people were left alive to tell the tale. In addition to this, five of her twelve guns were dismounted, and her rigging had been a good deal cut up; but this was now of course all knotted and spliced by Lindsay's people. She was a very fine vessel, of three hundred and forty-four tons measurement, oak built, copper fastened, and copper sheathed to the bends, very shallow—drawing only eight feet of water—and very beamy, with most beautiful lines. Her spars looked enormously lofty compared with our own, as I stood on her deck and gazed aloft, and her canvas had evidently been bent new for the voyage. She had only arrived in West Indian waters a week previously, from Brest, and the Black Prince was stated to be her first prize.
Having given the Diane a pretty good overhaul, and satisfied myself that her hull was sound, I gave Lindsay his instructions, and then proceeded on board the Black Prince, where I arrived in good time for breakfast, and where I made the acquaintance, not only of her skipper—a fine, grey-headed, sailorly man named Blatchford—but also of her thirty-two passengers, eighteen of whom were males, while the remainder were of the gentler sex, the wives and daughters mostly of the male passengers. There were no young children among them, fortunately. My appearance seemed to create quite a little flutter of excitement among the petticoats, and also not a little astonishment, apparently; for I overheard one of the matrons remark to another, behind her fan, "Why, he is scarcely more than a boy!"
The Black Prince was a noble ship, of twelve hundred and fifty tons, frigate-built, and only nine years old, splendidly fitted up, and full to the hatches of coffee, tobacco, spices, and other valuables; she also had a reputation for speed, which had induced her skipper to hazard the homeward voyage alone, instead of waiting for convoy. The poor old fellow was of course dreadfully cut up at his misfortune—for, having been in the enemy's hands more than twenty-four hours, she was a recapture in the legal sense of the term, and, as such, we were entitled to salvage for her. However, unfortunate as was the existing state of affairs, it was of course vastly better than that of a few hours before, and he interrupted himself in his bemoanings to thank me for having rescued him out of the hands of those Philistines, the French privateersmen. I informed him that it would be my duty to take him into Fort Royal, but he received the news with equanimity, explaining that even had I not insisted on it, he should certainly, after his recent experience, have availed himself of my escort to return to Kingston, and there await convoy. I breakfasted with him and his passengers, and then, leaving Christie aboard as prize master, returned to the schooner; and we all made sail in company, arriving at Port Royal five days later, without further adventure.
The admiral was, as might be expected, immensely pleased at our appearance with three prizes in company, and still more so when I reported to him the discovery and destruction of Morillo's headquarters.
"You have done well, my boy, wonderfully well; better even than I expected of you," said he, shaking me heartily by the hand. "Go on as you have begun, and I venture to prophesy that it will not be long before I shall feel justified in giving you t'other 'swab,'" pointing, as he spoke, to my single epaulet.
To say that I was delighted at my reception but very feebly expresses the feelings that overwhelmed me as the kind old fellow spoke such generous words of appreciation and encouragement. Of course I knew that I had done well, but I regarded my success as due fully as much to good fortune as to my own efforts, and I was almost overwhelmed with joy at so full and complete a recognition of my efforts. So astonished indeed was I, that I could only stammer something to the effect that our success was due quite as much to the loyalty with which Christie and Lindsay had seconded me, and the gallantry with which the men had stood by me, as it was to my own individual merits.
"That's right, my boy," remarked the admiral; "I am glad to hear you speak like that. No doubt what you say is true, but it does not detract in the least from the value of your own services. I always think the better of an officer who is willing to do full justice to the merits of those who have helped him, and your promotion will not come to you the less quickly for having helped your shipmates to theirs. You have all done well, and I will see to it that you are all adequately rewarded— Christie and Lindsay by getting their step, and you by getting a somewhat better craft than the little cockleshell in which you have already done so well. I am of opinion that all you require is opportunity, and, by the Piper, you shall have it."
And the old gentleman kept his word; for when I went aboard the Tern on the following day—I dined and slept at the house of some friends a little way out from Kingston that night—Christie and Lindsay met me with beaming faces and the information that the former had got his step as master, while Lindsay had received an acting order as lieutenant pending his passing of the necessary examination. The only drawback to this good news was the intelligence that the man Garcia had mysteriously disappeared during the night, leaving not a trace of his whereabouts behind him.
An hour or two later I went ashore and waited upon the admiral at his office, in accordance with instructions received from him on the previous day; and upon being ushered into his presence, he at once began to question me relative to the qualities of the Diane. I was able to speak nothing but good of her; for indeed what I had seen of her, during the passage to Port Royal, had convinced me that she was really a very fine vessel in every respect, a splendid sea-boat, wonderfully fast, and, I had no doubt, a thoroughly wholesome, comfortable craft in bad weather.
"Just so," commented the admiral, when I had finished singing her praises; "what you have said quite confirms my own opinion of her, which is that, in capable hands, she may be made exceedingly useful. Moreover, she is more nearly a match for Morillo's brigantine than is the little Tern, eh? Well, my lad, I have been thinking matters over, and have made up my mind that she is good enough to purchase into the service; so I will have it seen to at once, and of course I shall give you the command of her. She will want a considerable amount of attention at the hands of the shipwrights after the mauling that you gave her, but you shall supervise everything yourself, and they shall do nothing without your approval; so see to it that they don't spoil her. I notice that she mounts six sixes of a side. Now I propose to alter that arrangement by putting four long nines in place of those six sixes, with an eighteen-pounder on her forecastle; and with such an armament as that, and a crew to match, you ought to be able to render an exceedingly good account of yourself. What do you think of my idea?"
I replied truthfully that I considered it excellent in every way; and we then launched into a discussion of minor details, with which I need not weary the reader, at the end of which I went aboard the Tern and paid off her crew, preparatory to her being turned over to the shipwrights, along with her prize.
It happened that just about this time there was an exceptionally heavy press of work in the dockyard; for there had been several frigate actions of late, and the resources of the staff were taxed to the utmost to effect the repairs following upon such events and to get the ships ready for sea again in the shortest possible time; with the result that such small fry as the Diane and the Tern were obliged to wait until the heaviest of the work was over and the frigates were again ready for service. It thus happened that, although I contrived to worry the dockyard superintendent into putting a few shipwrights aboard the Diane, three weeks passed, and still the brigantine was very far from being ready for sea. During this time I made my headquarters at "Mammy" Wilkinson's hotel in Kingston,—that being the hotel especially affected by navy men,—although I was seldom there, the planters and big-wigs of the island generally proving wonderfully hospitable, and literally overwhelming me with invitations to take up my abode with them. But about the time that I have mentioned it happened that certain alterations were being effected aboard the brigantine, which I was especially anxious to have carried out according to my own ideas; I therefore spent the whole of the day, for several days in succession, at the dockyard, going up to Kingston at night, and sleeping at the hotel.
It was during this interval that, one night about ten o'clock, a negro presented himself at the hotel, inquiring for me; and upon my making my appearance in the entrance-hall, the fellow—a full-blooded African, dressed very neatly in a white shirt and white duck trousers, both scrupulously clean, for a wonder—approached me, and, ducking his head respectfully, inquired—
"You Massa Courtenay, sar, cap'n ob de man-o'-war schoonah Tern?"
"Well, yes," I replied, "my name is Courtenay, and I commanded the Tern up to the time of her being paid off; so I suppose I may fairly assume that I am the individual you have been inquiring for. What is it you want with me?"
"You know a genterman, nam'd Lindsay, sar?" asked the negro, instead of replying to my question.
"Certainly I do," answered I; "what of him?"
"Why, sar, he hab got into a lilly scrape down on de wharf, and de perlice hab put him into de lock-up. Dey don' beliebe dat he am man-o'- war bucra, and he say, 'Will you be so good as to step down dere an' identerfy him an' bail him out?'"
"Lindsay got into a scrape?" repeated I incredulously. "I cannot believe it! What has he been doing?"
"Dat I cannot say, sar," answered the black; "I only know dat a perliceman come out ob de door ob de lock-up as I was passin' by, and asked me if I wanted to earn fibe shillin'; and when I say 'yes,' he take me into de lock-up and interdooce me to young bucra, who say him name am Lindsay, and dat if I will take a message to you he will gib me fibe shillin' when I come back wid you."
"It is very extraordinary," I muttered; "I cannot understand it! But I will go with you, of course. Wait a moment until I fetch my cap."
So saying, I left the fellow and hastened to my room, where, closing the door, I opened my chest and furnished myself with a supply of money, and then, closing and locking the chest, I hastened away to where the negro was waiting for me. As I passed through the hall several men of my acquaintance were lounging there, smoking, and one of them hailed me with—
"Hillo, Courtenay! whither away so fast, my lad?"
It was on the tip of my tongue to explain to them my errand, but I bethought me just in time that if Lindsay had been doing anything foolish he might not care to have the fact blazoned abroad; so I kept my own counsel, merely replying that I was called out upon a small matter of business, and so effected my escape from them into the dark street.
"Oh, here you are!" exclaimed I, as the negro emerged, at my appearance, from the deep shadow of the hotel portico. "Now, then, which way? Is Mr Lindsay in the town jail?"
"No, sar, no; he am in de harbour lock-up," answered my guide. "Dis way, sar; it am not so bery far."
"The harbour lock-up?" queried I. "Where is that? I didn't know that there was such a place."
"Oh yes, sar, dar am. You follow me, sar; I show you de way, sar," answered the negro.
"All right, heave ahead then," said I; and away we went a little way down the main street, and then turned to the right, plunging into one of the dark, narrow side streets which then intersected the town of Kingston.
"Keep close to de wall, sar," cautioned my guide; "dere am a gutter in de middle ob de road, and if you steps into dat you go in ober your shoes in muck."
I could well believe this, for although it was too dark in this narrow lane to see anything, the abominable odour of the place told me pretty well what its condition must be. We plodded on for nearly ten minutes, winding hither and thither, and penetrating deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of dark, crooked lanes, but gradually edging nearer to the harbour, while, as I thought, working our way a considerable distance to the westward. Presently my guide, who had been humming some negro melody to himself, lifted up his voice in a louder key and began to chant the praises of a certain "lubly Chloe, whose eyes were like the stars, and whose 'breaf' was like the rose!" The fellow had a wonderfully melodious voice, and in listening to him as he strode easily along at a swinging pace, improvising verse after verse in honour of the unknown Chloe, I lost my bearings as well as my count of time, and was only brought back to a consciousness of the present by suddenly finding my head closely enveloped in what seemed to be a blanket, while at the same instant my feet were tripped from under me, so that I should have fallen forward but for the restraining influence of the blanket and of a pair of arms that gripped mine tightly behind my back, so that I was instantly overpowered and effectually precluded from making the slightest effort to free myself. Then, before I had time to realise what was happening, I was lifted off my feet, and, despite my desperate struggles and ineffectual efforts to shout for assistance, carried in through an open doorway and flung upon my face upon the ground, where someone at once knelt upon me and securely lashed my hands behind my back, some other individual at the same instant lashing my ankles firmly together.
"Dere, dat will do, Peter; I t'ink him cannot do much harm now," remarked the voice of my whilom guide; and as the fellow spoke I was relieved of the very considerable weight that had been pressing upon me and holding me down. Then I was rolled over on my side, and, as the blanket that enveloped my head and very nearly suffocated me was cautiously removed, I felt the prick of something sharp against my left breast, and the same voice that had spoken before observed—
"Massa Courtenay, we hab no wish to hurt you, sah; but it am my painful duty to warn you dat, if you sing out, or make de slightest attempt to escape, I shall be obleeged to dribe dis lilly knife ob mine home to yo' heart, sar. So now you knows what you hab to expec'. Does you understan' what I say, sah?"
"Certainly I do," answered I, with suppressed fury, "your meaning is clear enough, in all conscience. But beware what you do, my fine fellow. You were seen by several of my friends at the hotel, who will have no difficulty in identifying you; and I warn you that you will be made to pay dearly for this outrage to a British naval officer. What is the meaning of it all? Have you any idea of the enormity of your offence?"
"Oh yes, sah," answered my guide cheerfully, "we hab a very clear idea ob dat, haben't we, Peter?" addressing another big, powerful negro of somewhat similar cut to himself, but attired in much less respectable garments.
Peter grinned affirmatively, but said nothing; whereupon his companion continued—
"Now, Peter, where am dat gag? Just bring it along, and let us fix it up, so as to make all safe. It would be a most drefful misfortune if Massa Courtenay was to sing out, and force me to split him heart wid dis knife ob mine; so we will just make it onpossible for him to do any such foolis' t'ing."
All this time the knife—a formidable dagger-shaped blade fully a foot long—was kept pressed so firmly to my breast that it had drawn blood, the stain of which was now dyeing the front of my white shirt, so the moment was manifestly inopportune for any attempt at escape or resistance even; I therefore submitted, with the best grace I could muster, to the insertion of the gag between my teeth, reserving to myself the right to make both ruffians smart for their outrage upon me at the first available opportunity. But before the gag was placed between my teeth, I contrived to repeat my inquiry for an explanation.
"Nebber you mind, Massa Courtenay; you will find out all about dat in good time, sah," answered the leading spirit of the twain; and with that reply I was perforce obliged to be content for the moment.
Having made me perfectly secure, the two negroes squatted down upon their haunches, and, with much deliberation, produced from their pockets a short clay pipe each, a plug of tobacco, and a knife; and, after carefully shredding their tobacco and charging their pipes, proceeded to smoke, with much gravity and in perfect silence. It struck me that possibly they might be waiting for someone, whose appearance upon the scene would, I hoped, throw some light upon the cause of this extraordinary outrage, and give me an inkling as to what sort of an end I might expect to the adventure. Meanwhile, having nothing else to do, I proceeded to take stock of the place, or at least as much of it as I could command in my cramped and constrained position.
There was little or nothing, however, in what I saw about me of a character calculated to suggest an explanation of the motive for my seizure. The building was simply one of those low, one-storey adobe structures, thatched with palm leaves, such as then abounded in the lower quarters of Kingston, and which were usually inhabited by the negro or half-breed population of the place. The interior appeared to be divided into two apartments by an unpainted partition of timber framing, decorated with cheap and gaudy coloured prints, tacked to the wood at the four corners; and as a good many of these pictures were of a religious character, in most of which the Blessed Virgin figured more or less prominently, I took it that the legitimate occupant of the place was a Roman Catholic. The furniture was of the simplest kind, consisting of a table in the centre,—upon which burned the cheap, tawdry, brass lamp that illumined the apartment,—a large, upturned packing-case, covered with a gaudy tablecloth, and serving as a table against the rear wall of the building, and three or four old, straight- backed chairs, that had evidently come down in the world, for they were elaborately carved, and upholstered in frayed and faded tapestry. A few more cheap and gaudy coloured prints adorned the walls; a heavy curtain, so dirty and smoke-grimed that its original colour and pattern was utterly unrecognisable, shielded the unglazed window; two or three hanging shelves—one of which supported a dozen or so of dark green bottles—depended from the walls; and that was all. The floor upon which I lay was simply the bare earth, rammed hard, thick with dust and swarming with fleas,—as I quickly discovered,—and the whole place reeked of that hot, stale smell that seems to pervade the abodes of people of uncleanly habits.
The two negroes smoked silently and gravely for a full half-hour, about the end of which time my captor slowly and with due deliberation knocked the ashes from his pipe, and, rising to his feet, yawned and stretched himself. In so doing his eye fell upon the shelf upon which stood the bottles, and, sauntering lazily across the room, he laid his hand upon one of the bottles and placed it on the centre table. Then, lifting up the cloth which covered the packing-case, he revealed a shelf within the interior, from which he withdrew a water monkey, two earthenware mugs, and a dish containing a most uninviting-looking mixture, which I presently guessed, from its odour, to be composed of salt fish and boiled yams mashed together, cold. These he placed upon the table, and, still without speaking, the pair drew chairs up to the table and, seating themselves opposite each other, proceeded to make a hearty meal, helping themselves alternately, with their fingers, from the central dish, and washing down the mixture with a mug of rum and water each.
They were still thus agreeably engaged when the distant sound of rumbling wheels and clattering hoofs became audible, rapidly drawing nearer, and accompanied by the persuasive shouts and ejaculations of a negro driver.
"Dat am de boy Moses wid de cart, I 'spects," remarked the negro whose name I had not yet learned. "What a drefful row de young rascal makes! Dat nigger won't nebber learn discreshun," he continued, wiping his fingers carefully on a flaming red handkerchief which he drew from his breeches pocket.
Peter grunted an unintelligible reply, and the next moment the vehicle pulled up sharply at the door; the cessation of its clatter being immediately followed by the entrance of a negro lad, some eighteen years of age.
"I'se brought de cart, as you tole me, Caesar," he remarked. "Am it all right?"
"It am, sar," remarked Caesar—the hitherto unnamed negro—loftily; "when did you ebber know me to fail in what I undertooken, eh, sar?"
"Nebber, sah, nebber," answered Moses appreciatively. "An' so dat am de gebberlum, am it?" pointing at me with his chin, as I lay huddled up on the floor.
"Yes, sar, it am," answered Caesar curtly, in a tone of voice which was evidently intended to cut short all further conversation. "An' now, Peter," he continued, "if you has finished yo' supper we better be movin'. Nebber mind about puttin' de t'ings away; de ole 'oman will see to dat when she comes home in de mornin'. Now den, Peter, you take hold ob de genterman's legs, and help me to carry him out; does you hear?"
Peter the Silent grunted an affirmative, stooping as he did so and seizing my legs, while Caesar raised me by the shoulders in his powerful arms, remarking, as he did so—
"Massa Courtenay, jus' listen to me, if you please, sah. We am goin' to take you for a nice, pleasant lilly dribe in a cart, and I am goin' to sit on you, so dat you may not fall out. Now I still has my knife wid me, and if I feels you begin to struggle, I shall be under de mos' painful necessity ob drivin' it into you to keep you quiet; so I hope dat you will lie most particular still durin' yo' little journey. You sabbe?"
I nodded my head.
"Dat's all right, den," resumed Caesar. "Now, Peter up wid him, and away we goes."
And therewith the two black rascals raised me carefully, and carrying me into the open, placed me in a mule cart, covered me with a thick layer of green forage, and—Caesar coolly carrying out his threat to sit upon me—drove away.
IN THE POWER OF THE ENEMY.
Our drive was a most unpleasant one for me, for the cart had no springs, and the boy Moses, like Jehu, drove furiously. It fortunately lasted only some five-and-twenty minutes or so, however; and at the end of that period we pulled up on what I guessed, from the running of the vehicle and the sound of rippling water, to be a sandy beach. My conjecture proved to be correct, for when presently I was hauled out from underneath the forage, and stood upon my feet, more dead than alive, I found that we were on the margin of a tiny creek or cove, about three- quarters of a mile to the westward of the outskirts of Kingston. A small canoe lay hauled up on the sand, and in the bottom of this craft I was carefully deposited; after which she was run down into the water, when Caesar and Peter sprang lightly into her, giving her a final shove to seaward as they did so, and paddled away, leaving Moses and his cart to make the best of their way back to the town.
Lying upon my back in the bottom of the canoe, with my face turned upward to the stars, I was able to see that we were heading eastward toward Kingston harbour; and about half an hour later the canoe glided up alongside a small felucca, of some thirty tons burden and was made fast by her painter. The canoe secured to his satisfaction, the negro Caesar climbed over the felucca's low bulwarks, and I heard his bare feet pattering along the deck until, as I supposed, he reached the companion, when the sounds became muffled, and were presently lost.
Then I caught the sound of voices,—Caesar's and others'—but so indistinctly that I was unable to distinguish what was being said. The conversation, however, was brief, for in three or four minutes the tread of Caesar's bare feet again became audible, accompanied by that of others; and I then discovered that a conversation, of which I was the subject, was being conducted in Spanish! This seemed to suggest that I had fallen into the hands of the enemy, though why the Spaniards should wish to kidnap so very unimportant a personage as myself I could not for the life of me imagine, unless they had adopted some new system of warfare, one element of which consisted in kidnapping as many of the enemy's officers as possible, without much reference to their importance or otherwise!
But of course I should soon see; for as I lay there in the bottom of the canoe, cogitating to this effect, I became aware, from the remarks interchanged by those on deck, that I was about to be transferred to the felucca; and if the Spaniards had adopted the novel system of kidnapping British officers, I should doubtless find some of my fellow-officers on board in the same plight as myself.
Presently Caesar swung himself over the felucca's bulwarks and down into the canoe, when he at once seized me by the shoulders, and, calling upon his friend Peter to lend him a hand, proceeded to pass me up over the felucca's rail to the three Spanish-speaking individuals who stood on deck stretching out their arms to receive me. They were very careful not to hurt me unnecessarily during the process of transfer, from which circumstance I derived a certain amount of comfort; the inference being that, whatever might be their motive in thus seizing me, no bodily harm to me was intended. Having safely transferred me from the canoe to the deck of the felucca, my abductors next conveyed me below to the hot, stuffy little cabin of the craft, where, outstretched upon a locker that was barely long enough to accommodate my length, they left me without a word, and returned to the deck, carefully closing the doors and drawing over the slide at the head of the companion ladder, and then as carefully closing both flaps of the hitherto open skylight. This done, their conversation with Caesar and his satellite was continued in a leisurely, desultory fashion for about half an hour,—the burden of it being unintelligible to me through the closed skylight,—when I heard the two negroes descend into their canoe and shove off, wishing the others a quick and pleasant passage. Then followed some leisurely movements on deck, accompanied by the throwing down of a rope or two, the creaking of blocks and parralls, a few quiet ejaculations as of men pulling and hauling, the clink of windlass pawls, the loud slatting of loose canvas in the strong land-breeze that was blowing; and finally—as the latter sounds ceased—I felt the felucca heel strongly over to port, and heard the increasing gurgle and wash of water along the bends and under the counter of the little craft, accompanied by an occasional call from for'ard to the helmsman, by which I knew that we were under way, and standing down the harbour toward Port Royal.
By and by I felt the felucca come upright, there was a warning cry on deck, a sudden, violent flap of canvas overhead, and the felucca heeled slightly over to starboard; by which I knew that she had squared away, jibed over, and was running out of the harbour. A few minutes later I felt her beginning to rise and fall over the gathering seas as she skimmed away off the land; the motion steadily grew stronger, merging into a swift, floating, forward rush, as the seas came up astern of her, followed by a long, dragging pause as the crest swept past; and presently the companion slide was pushed back, the doors at the head of the ladder were flung open, and a man—one of those who had helped to convey me below—descended into the cabin.
"Phew! senor, you are warm down here!" he exclaimed, in perfect English, as he stood gazing thoughtfully down upon me. I could of course make no reply, as I was still gagged; but he probably observed the dreadful condition that the gag and the lashings round my wrists and ankles had reduced me to, for he continued, as he stooped over me—
"We are now at sea; and as it is therefore impossible for you to raise an alarm, or effect your escape, I think I may safely make you a little more comfortable. You look terribly distressed, amigo; and my orders are imperative that you are to be delivered safe and sound. There!" as he removed the gag and cast off the lashings, "that ought to be more to your liking."
"For pity's sake," I ejaculated, "give me something to drink! That horrible gag has all but suffocated me!"
"Something to drink? With pleasure, senor. What shall it be—plain water or 'grog,' as you English call it? I think it had better be grog, for I cannot recommend the water we carry in our scuttle-butt."
So saying, he went to a little cupboard alongside the companion ladder, and produced therefrom a water monkey, two tin pannikins, and a bottle of rum, all of which he placed on the cabin table.
"There, senor, help yourself freely; the little Josefa and all that she contains is yours!"
"Thanks, senor," I replied, as I poured out with a shaking hand and benumbed fingers a generous modicum of rum, filling up the pannikin with evil-smelling water, "I drink to our better acquaintance."
So saying, I emptied the pannikin at a gulp, and set it down upon the table. "And now, senor," I continued, as my companion, in turn, proceeded to help himself and to pledge me, "perhaps you will kindly inform me, first, whom I have the honour to address; secondly, why I have been brought aboard this felucca; and, thirdly, to what place you propose to convey me?"
"Assuredly, senor," answered the Spaniard; "it will afford me much happiness to gratify so very natural and reasonable a request. In the first place, senor, I am your Excellency's most humble servant, Juan Dominguez, captain of this felucca. In the next place, you are here by order of my excellent friend and patron, Don Pedro Morillo, captain of the brigantine Guerrilla; and, in the third place, I am conveying you—also by Don Pedro's orders—to Cariacou, an island which I understand you have already visited, under certain memorable circumstances."
So that was it, was it? I was kidnapped, not in accordance with some wild scheme of the Spaniards to cripple our too active navy by robbing it of every officer that they could lay hands upon, but in order that a cowardly, bloodthirsty pirate might at leisure, and in safety, wreak his revenge upon me for the injury that I, in the exercise of my duty, had done him. Speaking in all frankness, I do not believe I am a coward; but I confess that the information thus calmly communicated to me by this Spaniard—who was most probably a naturalised British subject— caused my blood to run cold; for I had heard quite enough of Morillo to feel tolerably well assured that if his motive in causing me to be kidnapped was revenge, he would not be satisfied with merely shooting me, or stabbing me to the heart; he would undoubtedly exercise his utmost ingenuity to render my passage out of this world as lingering and painful as possible; and, from all accounts, he was quite an adept in the art of torture!
"You seem disturbed at my intelligence, amigo," remarked my companion, gazing upon me with a smile of amusement. "Well," he continued, "perhaps you have cause to be; who knows? I have heard that it was you who, taking advantage of my friend's absence at sea, visited Cariacou and destroyed poor Morillo's batteries and buildings there, carrying off his brig and everything else that you and your crew could lay hands upon. I hope, for your sake, that Morillo was misinformed, and that you will be able to demonstrate to his complete satisfaction your entire freedom from all complicity in that very ill-advised and malicious transaction; he may then be content to simply hang you at his yardarm. But if you fail to convince him—phew! I sincerely pity you; I do indeed, senor."
"Thanks, very much," retorted I, with the best attempt at sarcasm that I could muster,—for I began to perceive that this fellow was amusing himself by endeavouring to frighten me, and I did not intend to afford him very much gratification in that way,—"your pity is infinitely comforting to me, especially as it is evident to me that the feeling is genuine. May I ask whether your share in this present transaction is undertaken purely out of friendship for Morillo, or is it being carried out upon a business basis?"
"Well, to be strictly truthful, there is a little of both," answered Dominguez. "Why do you inquire, if it is not an indiscreet question?"
"Now," thought I, "I wonder whether this question of his is intended to indicate that he is open to a bribe—a bribe to put me ashore again, safe and sound, provided that I make him a sufficiently liberal offer. Perhaps the attempt may be worth making; it will, at all events, enable me to judge what are my chances, so far as he is concerned." So I replied—
"To be candid with you, friend Dominguez, it occurred to me that you had undertaken this little adventure as much with the object of turning a more or less honest penny as for any other reason. Now, supposing that I should experience any difficulty in satisfying Morillo upon the point that you just now referred to, what do you imagine will be the result? Something exceedingly unpleasant for me, I assume, since you were good enough to express pity for me."
"Something exceedingly unpleasant?" he repeated, with a laugh. "Well, yes, that is one way of putting it, certainly, but it is a very mild way; so ridiculously mild that it suggests no idea of what was in my mind when I said I pitied you. Flaying alive is unpleasant, so is being roasted alive over a slow fire, so is gradual dismemberment—a finger or a toe at a time, then a hand or a foot, and so on until only the trunk remains,—all these are unpleasant, exceedingly so, I should imagine, from what I have seen of the behaviour of those who have undergone those operations at my friend's hand; but in the contingency you just now suggested, I fancy that Morillo would do his best to devise something considerably better—or worse, whichever you please to call it—for you."
I shuddered, and a feeling of horrible sickness swept over me. Strive as I would, I could not help it, as this inhuman wretch spoke, with evident gusto, of the torments to which I might—failing Morillo's ability to devise still greater refinements of cruelty—be subjected. But by the time that he had finished speaking, I had succeeded in rallying my courage sufficiently to remark—
"Thanks; your reply to my question leaves nothing to be desired in the way of lucidity. Now, supposing I should happen to feel some repugnance to those delicate attentions on Morillo's part that you have just alluded to, what inducement would be sufficient to persuade you to 'bout ship, and land me on the wharf at Kingston, instead of at Cariacou?"
"Ah," replied Dominguez, "that is a question that is not to be answered off-hand; there are several points that occur to me as requiring careful consideration before I could name the sum that would induce me to act as you wish. Of course you will understand that I have no personal animus against you; you have never injured me, and therefore I have no feeling of revenge to gratify by delivering you into Morillo's power. But, on the other hand, Morillo is my friend, and I am always glad to oblige him when I can, particularly when, as in the present case, I am well paid for it. Now, if I were to act as you suggest, I should be thwarting, instead of obliging him; I should convert him from a friend into an enemy; and I think that you are now in a position to understand what that means. It means that I should be compelled to disappear as completely as though the ground had opened and swallowed me; because it is one of Morillo's characteristics that, while he is a staunch and generous friend, he is also a bitter and relentless enemy. He never forgives; so long as his enemy lives, he will never rest until he has been revenged upon him. And this reminds me that if you and I should succeed in coming to an arrangement, you must not regard the matter between yourself and Morillo as settled; I warn you that you will have to maintain a ceaseless watch, for so long as you and he live he will never relax his efforts to get you into his power. Afloat, and with a greatly superior force, you may reckon yourself to be reasonably safe; but ashore—no! Very well. Now, what I have told you will enable you to understand my position in relation to this matter: at present I am his friend, but I have his enemy in my power; and if I aid and abet that enemy to escape I become his enemy, which will necessitate my prompt retreat to the other side of the world, to begin life afresh, with the haunting feeling that, go where I will and do what I may, I am never safe! That alone points to a necessary demand on my part of a considerable sum—a very considerable sum—from you as compensation for the many serious inconveniences and dangers that must inevitably follow upon my falling in with your proposal. But that is not all. There is my mate, Miguel, and the lad Luis, for'ard; both of them would require some very substantial inducement to lead them to fall in with our views. Altogether, I should say that what you propose would probably cost you—well, at least, ten thousand pounds."
"Ten thousand pounds?" I ejaculated. "Nonsense, man; you must be dreaming. Why, I could no more raise ten thousand pounds than I could fly."
"No?" he queried coolly; "not even to save yourself from—"
"Not even to save myself from the utmost refinement of cruelty that your friend Morillo is capable of devising," I answered decisively.
"Pardon me, senor, but I can scarcely believe you," retorted Dominguez, with that hateful, sneering smile of his. "You have been exceptionally fortunate in the matter of prizes since your arrival in these waters, and I feel convinced that in prize money alone you must now have a very handsome sum standing to your credit. Then, if I am correctly informed, you have made many friends. You are, for instance, a great favourite with the admiral, who would doubtless be willing to advance a very considerable sum to help you out of your present exceedingly disagreeable predicament; and I have no doubt there are others who would be equally willing to help you if your position were clearly laid before them."
"But, man alive, I cannot do it," I exclaimed angrily. "So far as prize money is concerned, I suppose three thousand pounds is the very utmost that I possess. And as for the admiral, I am no more to him than any other officer, and I am certain that he would absolutely refuse to advance a single penny-piece for such a purpose as you suggest; to do so would simply be offering an inducement to you—and others like you—to kidnap officers, and then hold them to ransom. But I tell you what it is," I continued; "you may rest assured of this, that if any harm befalls me,—if, in short, you deliver me into Morillo's power,—the admiral will make you suffer as severely for it as Morillo himself could possibly do. So there you are, between two fires; and, if you care for my opinion, it is that the admiral is likely to prove a worse enemy to you than even Morillo over this business."
"That, possibly, might be the case if the admiral happened to discover that I have been implicated in it," replied my companion, with exasperating composure. "But then, you see, he never will! I have taken every possible precaution against that."
"How about Caesar and Peter, the two negroes who brought me aboard here?" I inquired.
"Pshaw!" answered Dominguez impatiently, "do you suppose they would inform against me? Not they. Why, they are both—well, never mind what they are, except that I feel perfectly safe, so far as they are concerned."
"Very well," I retorted, "time will show whether your confidence in them is well founded or not. Meanwhile, my position is such that three thousand pounds is the outside figure I can offer you as my ransom, and you may take it or leave it as you please."
"Then I fear, amigo, that your days are numbered," replied Dominguez composedly, as he rose from his seat preparatory to returning on deck. "I am sorry for you," he continued, "very sorry; but I must think of myself before all else, and three thousand is not nearly tempting enough. Possibly when you have had a little longer to think it over you will be able to see your way to make a very considerable advance upon that sum. There is plenty of time; the Josefa is a grand little ship, but she has one fault, she is slow, and I do not expect that we shall reach Cariacou in less than a full week. You have therefore six or seven days before you in which to consider the matter; and should you see your way to raise the ten thousand, at any time before we sight the island, I shall be happy to talk with you again. Meanwhile, there is your bunk. Will you turn in at once, or would you prefer to take a turn on deck first?"
"Thanks," answered I, with alacrity, delighted to discover that I was not to be confined to the cabin. "I think I will go on deck for half an hour or so, to get a breath of fresh air; it is rather close down here."
"As you will," returned Dominguez, amicably enough; "I have no fear of your attempting to escape. You are scarcely likely, I think, to go overboard and offer yourself as a meal to the sharks. Do you smoke? I can recommend these," as he drew from a locker a box of cigars.
I helped myself to one mechanically, and lit it, Dominguez following my example, and then politely offering me precedence up the companion ladder. I accepted the courtesy, and made my way somewhat stiffly up the steep steps; for my limbs were still cramped from the compression of the ligatures wherewith I had been bound. After what I had passed through it was an inexpressible relief to me to find myself once more breathing the free, pure air of heaven, with the star-spangled sky arching grandly overhead.
It was a brilliantly fine night,—or morning rather, for it was by this time past two o'clock a.m.,—the sky cloudless save for a small shred of thin, wool-like vapour skimming rapidly athwart the stars; the trade wind was blowing a moderate breeze, and the felucca was bruising along on an easy bowline with long, swinging plunges and soarings over the low, jet-black, glistening surges at a pace of some five and a half knots perhaps, with a perfect thunder of roaring, breaking seas under her bluff bows, and a belt of winking, sparkling sea-fire, a couple of fathoms wide, sweeping past her lee rail and swirling into the broad, short wake that she trailed behind her. The land was still clearly in sight on our port quarter, the range of the Liguanea Mountains towering high into the star-lit sky and gradually sloping away to the eastward in the direction of Morant Point. Beside Dominguez and myself there was but one other figure visible on deck, that of the man at the helm—a long, thin, weedy-looking figure, so far as I could make out in the ghostly starlight, but one who had evidently used the sea for some time, if one might judge by the easy, floating poise of his figure on the plunging deck as he stood on the weather side of the tiller, with the tiller rope lightly grasped in his right hand, swaying rhythmically to the leaps and plunges of the little hooker. As Dominguez followed me out on deck he stepped aft to the small, dimly lighted binnacle, glanced into it, made some brief remark in a low tone to the silent helmsman, walked forward and took a long look ahead and on both bows, and then, returning aft, excused himself to me for turning in, upon the plea that it would soon be his watch on deck, and so dived below and left me.
Left thus to myself, I fell to mechanically pacing the short deck of the felucca for a few minutes, smoking thoughtfully the while and turning over in my mind the disquieting conversation that had just passed between Dominguez and myself; then, my gaze happening to wander aft to the solitary figure at the tiller, I sauntered aft and endeavoured to strike up a conversation with him. The fellow, however, proved to be so boorish and saturnine in his manner that I quickly abandoned the attempt and, pitching my half-smoked cigar over the rail, retired below and tumbled, "all standing," into the bunk that Dominguez had indicated as mine, where, despite the food for serious reflection that the occurrences of the night afforded me, I soon fell into a sound sleep.
The week that succeeded my abduction was so utterly barren of events that it may be passed over with the mere remark that throughout the whole of the time we had perfect weather, with a steady, moderate trade wind, under the impulsion of which the felucca bruised along upon her proper course, reeling off her five to six knots per hour with the regularity of a clock; and during the whole of that time, strange to say, we sighted not a single sail. I had been by no means idle during this time, however, as may well be supposed; for every day at noon saw the little hooker a hundred and thirty to a hundred and fifty miles nearer the spot where, if nothing happened in the interim to prevent it, I was to be delivered into the hands of a fiend in human form, whose hatred of me was so intense and vindictive that he had taken a considerable amount of trouble, and put himself to considerable expense, merely to get me into his power and wreak a blood-curdling revenge upon me.
But to tamely submit to be thus handed over to Morillo's tender mercies was the very last thing that I contemplated. I had every reason to believe that the picture drawn by Dominguez of the form which Morillo's revenge would probably take was a tolerably truthful one; and while I was prepared to face death in any form at a moment's notice in the way of duty, I had not the remotest intention of permitting myself to be tortured to death merely to gratify the ferocity of a piratical outlaw, if I could possibly help it. So for the first three or four days I devoted myself wholly to the task of endeavouring to bribe my custodians to forego their intention of handing me over to Morillo, and to land me upon the nearest British territory instead. But I by and by made the discovery that my efforts in this direction were doomed to failure; Dominguez was clearly so profoundly impressed with Morillo's power, and with his tenacious memory for injuries, that the conviction had borne itself in upon him that if he yielded to my persuasions it would be absolutely necessary to his safety, not only to buy over the whole of those engaged upon the business of my abduction, but also to place the whole width of the globe between himself and Morillo; and to execute these little matters satisfactorily would, according to his own calculations, necessitate the disbursement on my part of the modest amount of ten thousand pounds sterling, a sum which, as I explained to him over and over again, it was utterly beyond my power to raise. It was not that Dominguez was grasping or avaricious; it was simply that he regarded a certain course of action necessary to his own safety and well-being, in the event of his consenting to yield to my wishes; and as he had no intention of suffering any pecuniary or other loss or damage by so yielding, it appeared to him that the thing could not be done under the sum he had named, and there was the whole matter in a nut- shell. The attempt at bribery having thus resulted in failure, there remained to me but one other alternative, that of a resort to force— myself against Dominguez and the two men who formed his crew. For, come what would, I was firmly resolved never to suffer myself to be delivered alive into Morillo's hands; if it was my doom to die at the end of this adventure, I would die fighting. So, while feigning to yield to the inexorable force of circumstances, I began to meditate upon the most promising means whereby to escape from the exceedingly unpleasant dilemma in which I found myself involved; and after giving the whole matter my most careful attention, I came to the conclusion that my simplest plan would be to take—or attempt to take—the felucca from Dominguez and his associates, and, having done so, make for the nearest British harbour.
I SEIZE THE FELUCCA.
Having come to this conclusion, the next thing was to devise a plan of some sort; but upon attempting to do this, I soon discovered that it was wholly impossible, so much depending upon circumstances over which I had no control whatever, that I might have formed a dozen plans with never a chance to carry any one of them through. The only thing, therefore, was to await an opportunity, and be prepared to seize it the moment that it presented itself. Perhaps the most difficult part of my task was to preserve all through this trying time such a demeanour as would effectually conceal from Dominguez the fact that I was alert and on the watch for something; but I managed it somehow, by leading him to believe that, rather than suffer torture, I had determined to provoke Morillo into killing me outright; a plan of which Dominguez highly approved, while expressing his doubts as to the possibility of its achievement.
In suggesting—as I find I have in the above paragraph—that I had no plan whatever, I have perhaps conveyed a wrong impression; what I intended the reader to understand was that I had no finished scheme, complete in all its details, to depend upon. A plan of a sort I certainly had, but it was of the vaguest and most nebulous kind, consisting in nothing more specific than the mere determination to seize the felucca at the first favourable opportunity, and sail her, single- handed, to the nearest British port; but of how this was to be accomplished I had not the most remote idea. The only point upon which I was at all clear was that it would be inadvisable, for two reasons, to make my attempt too early: my first reason for arriving at this conclusion being that, the longer I deferred action the nearer should we be to Barbadoes, for which island I intended to make; while my second reason was that, should Dominguez perchance suspect me of any sinister design, the longer the delay on my part the less suspicious and watchful would he be likely to become. Fortunately for my purpose, we were making rather a long passage of it, the little hooker not being by any means a particularly weatherly craft; consequently our first land-fall— on our sixth day out—was the curious shoal and accompanying group of rocky islets called Los Roques, or The Roccas, off La Guayra, close to which we hove about and stood to the northward on the starboard tack.
This occurred during the early morning, about an hour after sunrise. The trade wind was then blowing steadily but moderately, and the weather was, as usual, fine and clear. Toward noon, however, it became noticeable that the wind was very decidedly softening down; and when Dominguez took his meridian observation of the sun, we were not going more than four knots. It was the custom aboard the felucca to dine in the middle of the day, as soon as Dominguez had worked out his calculations, the skipper and I dining first, and then going on deck while Miguel, the mate, took his meal. While Miguel was below Dominguez usually took the tiller, but of late I had occasionally relieved him— with a vague idea that possibly it might, at some opportune moment, be an advantage for me to be at the helm. And, as it happened, I chanced to be first on deck on this particular day, and, without any premeditation, went aft and relieved Miguel; so that, when a few minutes later Dominguez came on deck, he found me in possession of the tiller, and staring intently at some floating object about a quarter of a mile away, and slightly on our weather bow, that kept rising into view and vanishing again as the long, lazy undulations of the swell swept past it.
"What are you staring at so hard, Senor Courtenay? Do you see anything?" demanded Dominguez, as he sauntered aft toward me from the companion, cigar in mouth.
"Yes," answered I, replying to his last question first, "there is something out there, but what it is I cannot for the life of me make out. There—there it is! You can see it now lifting on the back of the swell, about a point on the weather bow."
"Ay," he answered eagerly, "I see it, and, unless I am greatly mistaken, I know what it is. Keep her away a little, senor, if you please; let her go off a point. I do not want to pass too close to that object if it be what I imagine."
"And pray what do you imagine it to be, senor, if one may be permitted to ask the question?" inquired I, as I gave a pull upon the tiller rope and kept the felucca away, as requested.
"A turtle! a sleeping turtle, and an unusually fine one, too!" answered Dominguez, in a low voice, as he stood staring out away over the weather bow, with one hand shading his eyes while the other held his smouldering cigar.
As Dominguez spoke a little thrill of sudden excitement swept over me, for I thought, "Just so; I know what he means. He intends to make an effort to capture that turtle,—probably by means of the boat,—and, if he does, my chance will have come!" But I steadied myself instantly, and returned, in a perfectly nonchalant tone of voice—
"And supposing that it be, as you imagine, a sleeping turtle, what then, senor?"
"Hush, senor, I pray you!" replied Dominguez, in a low, excited whisper. "Keep silence; you will soon see!"
Presently the object lifted into view again, only some ten or a dozen fathoms away; and as it went drifting quietly past, we got so distinct and prolonged a view of it as to render its identity unquestionable. It was, as Dominguez had imagined, a sleeping turtle of enormous size.
"Holy Virgin, what a magnificent fellow!" ejaculated Dominguez, as the creature vanished in the trough on our weather quarter, "we must have him! Senor, if we lower the sail, so that the felucca cannot drift far, will you have any objection to being left by yourself for a few minutes, while Miguel and I and the boy go after that turtle with the boat?" he demanded eagerly.
So my chance had come, if I could but so demean myself for a few minutes as not to arouse the suspicions of this man by any ill-timed exhibition of eagerness or too earnest assent to his proposal. I took a second or two to steady my nerves, and then asked—
"Cannot we all go in the boat together? I have never yet seen a turtle captured, and should greatly like to witness the operation."
"No, senor; I am sorry, but it is out of the question," answered Dominguez hastily. "The boat is but small, and I am very doubtful whether she will be capable of carrying three of us and that great brute—if we are so fortunate as to catch him. I would send Miguel and Luis only, but that I know they would not be able to secure him unaided. We shall not be gone long, senor, and the felucca cannot drift far in this light breeze and with so little swell running."
"N-o, I suppose not," I answered, with just the slightest imaginable show of reluctance. "All right, senor," I continued, "away with you, by all means; I should be sorry to spoil your sport for you. Shall I lower the sail?"
"Not just for a moment, senor," answered Dominguez; "we must creep far enough away that the flapping of the canvas may not wake our friend yonder, or we shall lose him." Then, poking his head through the open skylight, he called softly, in Spanish—
"Miguel! Miguel! come on deck at once, friend; there is a large turtle out here floating, fast asleep, and I want to catch him."
Miguel mumbled a reply of some sort,—what it was I could not tell,—and Dominguez briskly withdrew his head from the skylight and sprang upon the rail, looking away out on the weather quarter for the turtle. It was still visible, at intervals, but fully a quarter of a mile astern now.
"There, that will do; we are far enough away now, I think," he muttered, stepping lightly off the felucca's low rail to the deck. "Here, Miguel," as that worthy emerged from the companion, wiping his lips with the back of his hand, "help me to lower the sail, quick! And you, Senor Courtenay, will you do me the favour to haul taut the sheet as the sail comes down, so that it may not flap about and make more noise than we can help?"
"Certainly," I answered cheerfully, letting go the tiller rope and seizing the fall of the sheet. "Lower away whenever you like."
The single lateen sail, stretched upon its long, heavy, tapering yard, came sliding down the mast, rustling heavily, despite all that I could do to prevent it; and presently it lay quiescent, stretched along the deck, with the after yardarm projecting far over the taffrail. I sprang up on the companion slide to see whether the turtle was still visible, and was rejoiced to find that he was,—floating, an unconspicuous and unrecognisable object by this time,—nearly half a mile away, apparently quite undisturbed by the rustling sounds of the canvas.
"Is he still there, senor?" demanded Dominguez, in an eager half- whisper.
I nodded, pointing silently to where I could see the creature appearing at intervals on the ridges and backs of the swell.
"Good!" ejaculated Dominguez. "Now, where is Luis? Oh, here you are!" as that individual poked his head up through the fore-scuttle to see what was going on, his still working jaws betraying that he too had been disturbed during the process of consuming the midday meal. "Just look into the boat, Luis, my son, and see that the oars and baler are in her, while Miguel and I unship the gangway. Can you still see him, Senor Courtenay?"
"Yes," I replied, "he is still there, but a long way off now. I think I had better keep my eye on him, and direct you by an occasional wave of the hand, as you pull down, or you will have a job to find him."
"Thank you," answered Dominguez; "if it will not be troubling you too much I shall be greatly obliged."
"Oh, no trouble at all," responded I. "I should stand here to watch the fun in any case."
Dominguez and Miguel soon managed, between them, to unship the gangway, which done, they lifted the boat—a mere dinghy—out of her chocks on top of the main hatchway, slued her bows round toward the gangway, and ran her over the side, fisherman fashion, the three of them immediately jumping in and shoving off from the felucca's side; Dominguez, who steered the boat, looking round at me from time to time for directions as to the way in which he was to head the boat.
Released now from the scrutiny of the Spaniard's eyes, it was no longer necessary for me to maintain that painful self-restraint which had cost me so severe an effort in order that I might not by look or gesture arouse the ghost of a suspicion as to my intentions; so, while I continued to mechanically wave the boat to the right or the left, as circumstances demanded, I now gave my mind to the task of determining the details of my proposed line of action.
To begin with, I was fully resolved that Dominguez and his companions having left the felucca, they should never again return to her, if I could possibly prevent it. At the right moment I would make sail upon the little craft and head her for Barbadoes, leaving them to get ashore as best they could. And here my conscience pricked me a little, for I had already had experience of a voyage in an open boat, and knew what it meant. On the other hand, however, my life was at stake; for it had by this time become perfectly apparent to me that unless I could raise the sum of ten thousand pounds demanded by Dominguez—which was a simple impossibility—that individual would most certainly deliver me over to Morillo; in which case there was every reason to believe that I should die a cruel and lingering death of torment—which I considered myself quite justified in avoiding by every means in my power. Moreover, we were not very far from the land. The Roccas were only some twenty-five miles away, at the utmost, and could easily be reached by Dominguez before midnight; and the weather was fine, and the water smooth. The voyage of the dinghy was therefore not likely to be of a very adventurous or dangerous character; so that, by taking possession of the felucca and turning the Spaniard and his companions adrift, I should only be inflicting upon them a very mild punishment for their unlawful seizure of my person, especially when the cruel object of that seizure came to be taken into consideration. I would not leave them, however, wholly without provisions and water, if I could help it. My first thought, therefore, was how I might be able to convey to them a small supply of each without affording them an opportunity to regain possession of the felucca; and after a few minutes' deliberation I thought I could see a way by which this might be accomplished.