Meanwhile the dinghy went drifting rapidly away astern, propelled by Miguel and Luis, who stood up at their oars, looking ahead, while Dominguez stood up in the stern-sheets, looking over their shoulders and occasionally glancing back at me for guidance. At length, however, he caught sight for himself of the turtle, and thenceforward kept his attention wholly fixed upon it. As soon as I became fully satisfied of this I jumped down off the companion, for the moment for action on my part had now arrived.
The first thing was to get sail upon the felucca again; and to masthead the long, heavy lateen yard, with its big sail, was no easy task for one man. There was, however, a little winch affixed to the fore part of the mast, chiefly used for this very purpose; so, upon jumping down off the companion, my first act was to assure myself that the mainsheet was securely belayed, after which I rushed forward, and, setting hand-taut the main halliard, threw two or three turns of the fall round the barrel of the winch. I then ran aft again and sprang once more upon the companion to see what was happening aboard the dinghy. She was by this time drawing pretty close up to the sleeping turtle, and the whole attention of the trio aboard her appeared to be absorbed in the effort to get alongside the creature without waking him. Now, therefore, was my time for action. I accordingly dashed forward to the mast, and, shipping the crank handle of the winch, hove away upon the halliard for dear life. The yard and sail crept slowly—oh, how very slowly—up the mast, the canvas rustling in the wind noisily enough to wake the dead, still more to reach the ears and give the alarm to those in the dinghy. But, having once begun, there was nothing now for it but to go on with the work, and get the yard mastheaded and good way upon the felucca before those in the dinghy could pull back and get alongside.
At length, after what seemed to be an interminable time,—although the rapid click, click of the pawls told me that in reality I was accomplishing my task very smartly,—I managed to get the yard some two- thirds of the way up the mast, when I took a turn with the halliards and once more rushed aft to get a look at the boat. As I had expected, the slatting of the canvas had reached and given them the alarm, and the boat was now round and heading back after the felucca, Miguel and Dominguez straining frantically at the oars, while Luis had taken the place of the latter at the tiller. The little craft was being pushed furiously along—as I could tell by the manner in which her nose dipped and the white foam boiled round it at every stroke of the oars; but the felucca was gathering way, and with the wind square abeam and her imperfectly hoisted sail ramping full, seemed to be quite holding her own. I seized the tiller and kept her away another point, carefully watching both her progress and that of the boat, and ten minutes later I experienced the satisfying, conviction that she was steadily leaving her pursuers. Once fully assured of this, I lashed the tiller, and once more running forward, completed the setting of the sail, when I let the little hooker come up to "full and by."
The next matter demanding my attention was that of conveying a supply of food and water to the luckless occupants of the dinghy without permitting them to come alongside. There were several small breakers of fresh water on deck, constituting the supply of the felucca, and one of these would be ample for the occupants of the dinghy until they could get ashore or were picked up—indeed, the boat had not capacity for more than one. They were all carefully bunged with cork and canvas, so I could safely launch one of them overboard for the dinghy to pick up. I therefore proceeded to unlash one and roll it toward the still open gangway; and then came the question of provisions. There was a large wash-deck tub on the forecastle which I knew to be water-tight, and it struck me that this might be utilised to float the dry provisions until the dinghy could pick them up; so—first making sure of the position of the boat—I dived below and routed out of Dominguez' bunk a large canvas ditty-bag that I had often seen there, and, emptying out the clothing which it contained, proceeded to fill it with bread and such other provisions as I could most readily lay hands on. This, when full, I tied securely at the neck and took on deck, placing it in the wash-deck tub after I had dragged the latter conveniently close to the gangway. Then, going below again, I brought up three plates, some knives and forks, three tin pannikins, and a few other oddments that I knew would be useful, and placed them in the wash-deck tub with the provisions. Then, when I thought that all was ready, the boat's mast and sail caught my eye as it lay upon the hatchway,—having been flung there by Luis when he cleared out the boat,—and this I determined they should also have, as, while quite resolved to abandon them, I was most anxious that they should be afforded every opportunity to reach the shore alive and well. Then, everything being ready, I once more ran aft to see whereabout the boat now was.
She was a long way astern—quite two miles—and, as I looked, it appeared as though Dominguez had already given up the pursuit, for the boat did not seem to be moving. Her occupants were, however, all on their feet, staring hard in my direction and waving their arms frantically. I therefore put the helm up, and, jibing round, proceeded to run down toward them. This was rather a risky thing to do, but I thought that with care I could accomplish what I wanted, and still evade recapture. When they saw me returning for them—as they doubtless thought—they started pulling again for a minute or two, then once more lay upon their oars, watching. On my part I also was careful to keep a keen watch upon their movements, my intention being to pass within hailing distance of them, if possible, without giving them a chance to dash alongside. That this was their intention I soon became aware, for as the felucca swept down toward them I could see that their oars were in the water and that they were quietly manoeuvring to get the dinghy head-on and as close as possible to the spot over which they expected me to pass. But I was not to be quite so easily caught napping; so, carefully measuring the distance with my eye, I again put the helm up, just at the right moment, and, sweeping past the dinghy within half a dozen fathoms, hailed her discomfited occupants somewhat to this effect:—
"Dinghy ahoy! I am not going to allow you to come alongside again, so I would recommend you to make the best of your way to the Roccas, which, as you know, bear south-south-west, some twenty-five miles distant. I have no doubt that, if you can reach them, you are certain to be taken off sooner or later. Meanwhile, I do not wish you to starve, so I am going to launch overboard some provisions and water for you to pick up; also the boat's mast and sail. The weather promises to hold fine, so you ought to make a fairly good and quick passage of it."
Meanwhile, the moment that Dominguez became aware of what I was doing he swept the boat round with a couple of powerful strokes of his oar, and once again they gave chase with might and main, Dominguez at the same time shouting to me that if I would allow them to return on board they would land me wherever I pleased, and never ask so much as a penny-piece by way of ransom. Could I have trusted the fellow, I would willingly have acceded to his proposal; but I could not. He had already shown himself to be so coldly callous, so absolutely indifferent to the fearful fate to which he had undertaken to consign me, that I felt it would be the sheerest, most insane folly to place myself in his power again. I therefore kept the felucca away until I found that she was rather more than holding her own in the race, when I once more lashed the tiller, and, calling to Dominguez to look out for the things that I was about to launch overboard, ran to the gangway, and first successfully set the wash-deck tub afloat, then rolled the breaker of water out through the open gangway, and finally sent the mast and sail adrift; after which I returned to the tiller and watched the process of picking up the several articles, as I gradually brought the felucca to her former course, close-hauled upon the starboard tack.
The provisions, water, and the mast and sail were all successfully secured by the occupants of the boat, after which Dominguez, to my great satisfaction, made sail to the southward, and in another hour his tiny speck of canvas had vanished beyond the horizon. This left me free to attend to my own necessities without further anxiety on the score of being boarded; I therefore once more lashed the tiller in such a position that the felucca would practically steer herself, and then, having first taken a good look round, to see if anything was in sight, proceeded below, found the chart which Dominguez had been using, and ascertained the bearing and distance of the island of Barbadoes. A careful study of this chart revealed the rather disconcerting fact that, taking into consideration the circumstance that Barbadoes was to windward, while Jamaica lay well to leeward of me, it would be almost as quick to return to the latter as it would be to beat out to the former. On the other hand, however, there was this to be taken into consideration, that, on a wind, the felucca might be made to practically steer herself, as I had already ascertained by experiment, while it was quite certain that she could not be persuaded to do any such thing while running off the wind. Moreover, by ratching far enough to the northward to enable the felucca to fetch Barbadoes on the next tack, I should be stretching away in a fairly promising direction for being picked up by one of the many British cruisers that were watching the principal outlets from the Caribbean to the Atlantic. After mature deliberation, therefore, I arrived at the conclusion that I could not do better than adhere to my original determination of trying for Barbadoes.
The next question was, how I was to dispose of my time, or rather, what portion of my time it would be best to devote to sleep. One fact stared me in the face at the outset, namely, that until I was once more safe ashore I should have to make shift with the smallest possible amount of sleep, the care of the felucca calling for my almost constant attention; consequently, I should have to so arrange my periods of rest that they would coincide with the times when the felucca could best be left to take care of herself. These periods would obviously occur during the hours of daylight, when it would be possible to take a good look round, and if nothing was in sight, or likely to approach within dangerous proximity for an hour or two, lie down on deck in the shadow of the sail, snatch a short nap, and then take another look round; repeating the process as often as possible throughout the day, in order that I might be fresh and lively for an unbroken watch through the hours of darkness. Having arrived at this conclusion, I forthwith proceeded to carry out my plan, and found it to act fairly well; the only drawback being, that, for want of watching, the felucca evinced a tendency to run a little off the wind, while, when I attempted to remedy this by lashing the helm an inch or two less a-weather, she erred to about the same extent in the other direction by gradually coming-to until her sail was all shaking, and I had to jump hurriedly to my feet and jam the helm hard up to prevent her from coming round upon the other tack. Little by little, however, I remedied both these defects, so that by sunset I had her going along just "full and by," almost as steadily as though I had been standing at the tiller and steering her.
Meanwhile, the wind, which had been very moderate all day, with a distinctly perceptible disposition to become still lighter, had gradually softened down until the little hooker was barely doing her three knots per hour, while the sea had dwindled away until only the long, regular undulations of the swell were left, these being overrun by a wrinkling of those small, uncrested wavelets that frequently precede the setting-in of a calm. Yet there was no reason why a calm should be anticipated, for I was in a region where the trade wind blows all the year round, except when, for a few hours, it gives place to one of the hurricanes that occasionally sweep over the Caribbean with devastating effect. Could it be possible that such a phenomenon was about to happen? There was no especial reason why it might not be so, for it was the "hurricane season." But there was no sign in the heavens of any approaching atmospheric disturbance—unless, indeed, that faint, scarcely perceptible, hazy appearance up aloft had a sinister meaning!
When the sun had declined to within a few minutes of his setting, I shinned up the mast and took a good look round; but there was nothing in sight. Waiting, therefore, until the sun had sunk below the horizon,— which he did in the midst of a thin, smoky haze, through which the rayless luminary glowed like a ball of red-hot iron,—I descended to the deck and forthwith set to work to prepare myself such a supper as the meagre resources of the felucca permitted; after discussing which, as the stars were shining brilliantly overhead, and the little craft was steering herself, I again stretched myself out on deck to snatch another nap.
I this time slept for several hours, for when I was at length awakened by the rustling of the sail it was close upon midnight. Starting to my feet, I first glanced aloft and then around me; but there was nothing to be seen, the darkness being so profound that it needed but a very small stretch of the imagination to persuade me that it might absolutely be felt! It was the thick, opaque darkness that I remembered having once experienced when, as a boy, I went exploring some Devonshire caverns and clumsily allowed my candle to fall and become extinguished in a pool of water. It seemed to press upon me, to become palpable to the touch, to so closely wrap me about that my very breathing became impeded. And oh, how frightfully hot and close it was! The air was absolutely stagnant, and the slight draught created by the uneasy motion of the felucca seemed to positively scorch the skin. Moreover, there was no dew; the deck-planks, the rail, everything that my hand came into contact with, was dry and warm. I groped my way to the rail and looked abroad over the surface of the ocean, and it will perhaps convey—at all events to those who have used the sea—some idea of the intensity of the darkness when I say that not the faintest glimmer of reflected light came to me from the polished undulations of the slow-creeping swell. The water, however, was highly phosphorescent, for alongside the felucca, and all round her as she rolled and pitched with a quick, jerky, uneasy motion, there extended a narrow band or cloud of faint greenish-blue sea-fire, in the midst of which flashed and glittered millions of tiny stars, interspersed here and there with less luminous patches, in the forms of rings and discs, that vanished and grew into view again at quick intervals in the most weird and uncanny manner.
I groped my way to the companion, and from thence below into the little cabin, where I lighted the lamp and seated myself at the table, well under its cheerful if somewhat smoky beams; for the grave-like darkness of the deck had oppressed me with a feeling very nearly akin to horror, and even the dull yellow light of the lamp seemed inexpressibly cheerful in comparison with it. There was no barometer aboard the felucca, so I had nothing to guide me to the meaning of the weather portents, but I was convinced that something out of the common—something more than a mere thunder-squall—was brewing; and, if so, I should probably have my hands full in taking care of the felucca, with nobody to help me. Still, so awkward a condition of affairs was preferable to that of being delivered over to Morillo, for him to work his fiendish will upon me.
The cabin was much too hot to be comfortable, so, having quickly conquered the feeling of depression produced by the darkness that had preceded the lighting of the cabin lamp, I helped myself to one of Dominguez' excellent cigars, and, lighting it, went on deck, where the dull gleam of the lamp, issuing from the small glazed skylight, now made quite a pleasant little patch of yellow radiance on the deck and bulwarks immediately adjacent. I was by this time broad awake, having secured all the rest and sleep I just then needed; so I fell to pacing to and fro over the small patch of illuminated deck, determined to watch the matter out.
I might have been thus engaged for about an hour, when I became aware that the darkness was no longer so densely and oppressively profound as it had been; there was just the faintest imaginable gleam of light in the sky, whereby it was possible to barely distinguish that the firmament was packed with vast, piling masses of heavy, menacing cloud. Very gradually the light strengthened, assuming, as it did so, a lowering, ruddy tint, until in the course of half an hour the whole sky had the appearance that is seen when it reflects a great but distant conflagration. And now I knew of a surety that a hurricane was brewing; for that fearful ruddy light in the sky was the self-same appearance that I had once before beheld when in the Althea's gig I had been attempting to make my way to Bermuda. There was no mistaking the sign, for it was one that, once seen, could never be forgotten.
And now, the storm-fiend having unfurled his fiery banner, and thus given warning of impending war, my time of inaction was over; for there was plenty to do before the felucca could be considered as prepared to engage in the coming struggle. And, at the best, the preparation could only be a partial one; for the craft was not only small, she was old, crazy, and miserably weak for the ordeal that lay before her; and it was not in my power to remedy so serious a defect as tint. All that I could do was to take in the great lateen sail and secure it, and substitute for it, if I could, some very much smaller piece of canvas, that, while sufficient to save her from being overrun by the furious sea, would not be too big for the felucca to carry. Fortunately, there was such a sail on board,—a small lug-sail made of stout canvas, and nearly new,—which was intended to be substituted for the lateen on those rare occasions when the little craft might be caught in heavy weather; and this sail I now proceeded to drag up from below and bend to its yard; after which I lowered away the lateen, laid it fore and aft the deck, and made it up, securing it as well as I could by passing innumerable turns of a light warp round it; after which I firmly lashed it to the bulwarks with as many lashings as I could find pins or cleats for. My next job was to close-reef and set the lug, which I did with the aid of the winch; and this done, I went forward, and, beginning with the fore-scuttle, proceeded to carefully batten down every opening in the deck, bringing the cabin lamp on deck in order that I might have a sufficiency of light to work by. The skylight I secured as well as I could by passing lashings over the cover to a couple of ring-bolts conveniently placed in the deck, and I finished up by backing the companion doors with a couple of stout pieces of timber, which I sawed to the proper length and wedged in between the uprights, rendering it practically impossible for the doors to be forced open by a sea, while, by drawing over the slide, I could at the last moment effectually close all access to the cabin. This completed my labours, with which I was fairly well satisfied, the only portion of my defences about which I had any serious doubt being the skylight, the glazed panels of which might easily be smashed by a sea; but I was obliged to take my chance of that, being unable to find anything with which to protect them.
And now, all that remained was to watch and wait. Nor had I to wait very long; for when, having completed my preparations, I found time to again glance aloft at the frowning sky, I observed that the heavy masses of fiery cloud, that had hitherto seemed to be practically motionless, so stealthy were their movements, were now working with a restless, writhing motion, while ever and anon some small detached fragment of vapour would come sweeping rapidly out from the westward athwart the twisting masses, as though caught and torn off from the main body by some sudden, momentary, partial, but violent movement in the atmosphere. These small, scurrying fragments of cloud, the vanguard of the approaching tempest, rapidly increased in size and in number, while the twisting and writhing of the great cloud masses momentarily grew more rapid and convulsive, until it appeared as though the entire firmament were in the throes of mortal agony, the suggestion soon becoming intensified by the arising in the atmosphere of low, weird, moaning sounds, that at intervals rose and strengthened into a wail as of the spirits of drowned sailors lamenting the coming havoc. And as the wailing sounds arose and grew in volume, sudden stirrings in the stagnant air became apparent, first in the form of exaggerated cats'- paws, that smote savagely upon the glassy surface of the water, scourging it into a sudden flurry of foam, and then dying away again, and then in sudden gusts that swept screaming past the felucca hither and thither, sometimes high enough aloft to leave the water undisturbed, at other times striking it and, as it were, rebounding from the surface, leaving in its path streaks and patches of ruffled water that had scarcely time to subside ere another gust went howling past, to leave them more disturbed than before. These sudden scurryings of wind were the forerunners of the hurricane itself, and only sprang up a short five minutes before the low, hoarse murmur of the gale itself became audible. As this sound arose I looked away to the westward,—the quarter from which it came,—and saw, by the faint, sombre, ruddy light of the unnaturally glowing sky, a thin white line appear upon the horizon, lengthening and thickening as I watched, until it became a rushing wall of foam, bearing down upon the felucca at terrific speed, while behind it the heavens grew pitchy black, and the murmur became a low, deep roar, and the roar grew in volume to a bellow, and the bellow rose to an unearthly howl, and the howl to a yelling shriek, as the hurricane leapt at the felucca—which, happily, was lying stern-on to it—and seized her in its grip, causing the stout, close-reefed lug-sail to fill with a report like that of a cannon, and burying her bows deep in the creamy, hissing smother ere she gathered way, while the scud-water flew over her in blinding, drenching sheets. For a moment, as I gripped the tiller convulsively, I thought the little hooker was about to founder bows first, but after a shuddering pause of a few breathless seconds of horrible suspense, she gathered way, and in another instant was flying before the gale like a frightened thing, at a speed which I dare venture to say she had never before attained.
It was a wild scene in the midst of which I now found myself. With the outburst of the gale the supernatural, ruddy glow of the sky had suddenly faded, to be succeeded by a frightful gloom, which yet was not actual darkness, for the whole surface of the sea had in a few brief seconds become a level sheet of boiling foam, so strongly phosphorescent that it emitted light enough for me to see, with tolerable distinctness, the hull, mast, and sail of the felucca, and to make out the position and character of the principal objects about her deck; and this same weird, ghostly light it probably was that, reflected from the clouds, enabled me also to discern their forms and to distinguish that they were no longer the rounded, swelling masses that they had hitherto been, but were now rent and tattered and ragged with the mad fury of the wind that had seized upon them and was dragging them at headlong speed athwart the arch of heaven. The air, too, was full of spindrift, to perhaps double the height of the felucca's mast, and that too was luminous with a faint, green, misty light that imparted a weird, unreal aspect to everything it shone upon; an effect which was further heightened by the unearthly screaming and howling of the gale.
There was nothing for it but to keep the felucca running dead before the gale; and, fortunately for me, this was by no means a difficult feat, as the craft steered as is easily as a boat,—indeed she almost steered herself. For the first half-hour or so nothing special occurred, the hurricane continuing to blow as furiously as at its first mad outfly, while the felucca sped before it as smoothly and steadily as though mounted on wheels and running upon a perfectly smooth and level road; my only fear just then being that the mast would go over the bows, or the sail be blown out of its bolt-ropes. The spar, however, was a good one, and well stayed, while the sail was practically new, and the gear was good; everything therefore held, although I could feel that the little craft was straining to an alarming extent. But about half an hour, or thereabout, after the gale first struck us, a movement of the hull— gentle and easy at first, but rapidly increasing—told me that the sea was beginning to rise; and soon after that my troubles commenced in earnest, for the sea got up with astounding rapidity, and as it did so the steering became increasingly difficult, especially when the stern of the little hooker was thrown up on the crest of a sea, at which periods, for a few breathless seconds, the rudder seemed to lose its grip on the water, and the felucca was hurled irresistibly forward, with her bows buried deep in the boiling foam, while she seemed hesitating whether to broach-to to starboard or to port, either alternative of which would have been equally disastrous, since in either case she must have assuredly capsized and gone down. But, by what seemed nothing short of a series of interpositions on the part of a merciful Providence, in every case, just at the moment when a broach-to seemed imminent and inevitable, I felt the rudder take a fresh grip on the water, and we were again safe until the next sea overtook us. And so it continued throughout the remaining hours of that dreadful night, with grim Death threatening me at every upward heave of the little craft, until at length—after what seemed to have been a very eternity of anxiety—the day broke slowly and sullenly ahead, by which time I had grown absolutely callous and indifferent. My nerves had been kept in a state of acute tension so long that they seemed to have become incapable of any further feeling of any kind, and I had ceased to care whether I survived or not; or rather, I had become so thoroughly convinced of the absolute impossibility of ultimate escape, that there seemed to be nothing left worth worrying about. Moreover, I was by this time utterly exhausted with the tremendous exertion of keeping the little craft running straight for so long a time; for at the critical moments of which I have spoken, the helm seemed to so nearly lose its power that it became necessary to jam the tiller hard over, first to this side and then to that, as the felucca seemed actually starting on a wild sheer that must have flung her broadside-on to the sea, and so have abruptly finished her career and mine at the same moment.
Thus was it with me when the dull and sullen dawn at length came oozing through the mirky blackness ahead, gradually spreading along the horizon, grey, dismal, and lowering, bringing the tattered shapes and sooty hues of the wildly flying clouds into stronger relief, and revealing a horizon serrated with the frenzied leapings of the angry waters that hissed and roared around the straining felucca, chasing her like angry wolves about to leap upon their prey. At first I thought I was alone in this scene of mad turmoil; but presently, when the light grew stronger, as the felucca hung poised for an instant upon the crest of a foaming comber, that boiled in over both rails amidships and flooded the deck knee-deep, I caught a momentary glimpse of a large craft, some nine miles away on the larboard bow, running, like myself, before the gale. She was hull down, of course, and very probably in the hollow of a sea when first I caught sight of her; for I saw only the heads of her lower masts, with the three topmasts rising above them, the topgallant masts either struck or carried away. She was running under a close-reefed maintopsail and goose-winged foresail, and I took her to be a frigate, though whether one of our own or an enemy, she was too far off for me to be enabled to judge; but, of whatever nationality she may have been, she was undoubtedly a fast vessel, for she soon ran out of sight, although I estimated the speed of the felucca to be quite nine knots.
About an hour later I became sensible of a distinct abatement in the fury of the hurricane, which, in the course of another hour, had still further moderated, until it had become no more than an ordinary heavy gale. Yet so callous had I now become that the change afforded me scarcely any satisfaction; I had grown so utterly indifferent that I had long ceased to care what happened. But I was worn out with fatigue; my limbs ached as though I had been severely beaten, my hands were blistered and raw with the chafe of the tiller, and my eyes were smarting for want of sleep. Rest I felt that I must have, and that soon, come what might of it. So, as the gale had moderated somewhat, I determined to heave-to. I believed the felucca would now bear the weight of her small, close-reefed lug even when brought to the wind, and if she did not—well, it did not matter. Nothing mattered just then, except that I must have rest. So, the sail being set on the starboard side of the mast, I watched my opportunity, and, availing myself of a "smooth," brought the felucca to on the starboard tack, with no worse mishap than the shipping of a sea over the weather bow—as she came up with her head pointing to windward—that swept away the whole of the port bulwarks, from abreast the windlass to the wake of the companion. As she came to, the little craft laid over until the water was up to the lee coamings of her main hatchway, and for a second or two I thought she was going to turn turtle with me; but, once fairly round and head-on to the sea, she rode wonderfully well, especially after I had lashed the helm a-lee and got the mainsheet aft. The latter was a heavy job, but I managed it in about half an hour, with the assistance of the watch- tackle, and, that done, the craft could take care of herself. I therefore slid back the top of the companion, swung myself heavily in through the opening, stumbled down the ladder, staggered across the little cabin, and flung myself, wet to the skin as I was, into my bunk, where I instantly lost consciousness, whether in a swoon or only in a profound sleep I never knew.
THE LAST OF THE FELUCCA.
I was awakened, some five hours later, by the sound water washing heavily to and fro, and upon looking over the edge of the bunk I discovered that the cabin was all afloat, the floor being covered to a depth of nearly a foot, so that I looked down upon a miniature sea, violently agitated by the furious leaping and plunging and rolling of the felucca. I could tell, by the roar of the wind and the hissing of the sea, with the frequent heavy fall of water on deck, that it was still blowing heavily, and my first impression was that the water had come down through the companion,—the slide of which I had left open,— but a few minutes of patient observation convinced me that, although a slight sprinkling of spray rained down occasionally, it was not nearly sufficient to account for the quantity that surged and splashed about the cabin. The only other explanation I could think of was that the felucca had sprung a leak; and, leaping out of the bunk, I made my way on deck to ascertain the truth of this conjecture.
It was a dismal and dreary scene that presented itself when I swung myself out on deck through the companion top. It was still blowing with the force of a whole gale; the sky to windward was as black and threatening as ever; and the sea was running so high and breaking so heavily that, as every succeeding comber came sweeping down upon the felucca, with its foaming, hissing crest towering above her to nearly the height of her masthead, it appeared to me—new to the scene as I was—that the next sea must inevitably overwhelm her. Yet, deep in the water as I instantly noticed her to be, the little craft still retained buoyancy enough to climb somehow up the steep slope of each advancing wave, though not to carry her fairly over its crest, every one of which broke aboard her—usually well forward, as luck would have it; with the result that while I had been sleeping below the whole of the lee bulwarks and the forward half of them on the weather side had been swept away, leaving her deck open to the sea, which had swept away every movable thing, leaving nothing but the mast and the splintered ends of the stanchions standing.
This constant sweeping of the deck by green seas rendered the task of moving about extremely dangerous, for the rush of water over the fore part of the deck was quite heavy enough to lift a man off his feet and carry him overboard. But I wanted to sound the well; so, securing the pump-rod, which, for convenience, was hung in beckets in the companion, I watched my opportunity, and, rushing forward, succeeded in dropping the rod down the well and getting a firm grip upon the fall of the main halliard before the next sea broke aboard. Then, as the water poured off the deck, I quickly drew the rod out of the well and dashed aft with it to the shelter of the companion in time to escape the next sea. An inspection of the rod then sufficed to realise my worst fears; the little craft had upwards of three feet of water in her hold! Evidently she was leaking badly, and the sooner I could devise some means of relieving her of the weight of water in her the better it would be for me. Had I made this discovery half a dozen hours earlier I should probably have regarded it with perfect indifference; but those five hours of death—like sleep had so greatly refreshed me that I now felt a new man. My state of indifference had passed away with the intensity of my fatigue, and the instinct of self-preservation was once more asserting itself.
My first idea was to rig the pump; but this was instantly discarded, for I had but to stand in the companion-way for a couple of minutes, and watch the heavy rush of water athwart the deck, to be convinced of the absolute impossibility of maintaining my position at the pump; for, even if lashed there, my utmost efforts would barely suffice to prevent myself from being swept overboard, while to work the pump would be quite out of the question. Then I remembered that the lazarette hatch was situated immediately at the foot of the companion ladder; and I thought that, by raising the cover, I might get a sort of well from which to bale, and in this way at least keep the leak from gaining upon me, even if I found it impossible to reduce it. For time was what I now wanted. I had a conviction that the felucca's seams were opening, through the violent straining of her in the heavy sea and through the tremendous pressure of the wind upon her sail; and I felt tolerably confident that, if I could succeed in keeping her afloat until the gale had blown itself out, all would be well.
But at this point of my meditations it suddenly occurred to me that I was hungry and thirsty; so I descended the companion ladder and made my way to the small pantry, in search of something to eat and drink. It was a small place, scarcely larger than a cupboard, and very imperfectly lighted by a single bull's-eye let into the deck; but it had one merit, it was well provided with good wide shelves, upon which everything that could possibly spoil was stowed; and here I was lucky enough to find an abundance of food—such as it was—and several bottles of the thin, sour wine which Dominguez and his crew drank instead of coffee. I ate and drank there in the pantry, standing up to my knees in water, and when I had finished, went to work with a bucket and rope to bail the water out of the lazarette, standing out on deck, on the lee side of the companion, and drawing the water out of the lazarette as out of a well. I stuck doggedly to this work throughout the whole afternoon and well on into the night, until I could bail no longer for very weariness; and then—having convinced myself that I had succeeded in checking the rise of the water—I took a final look round to ascertain whether anything happened to be in sight, but could see nothing, the night being again dark as pitch, came to the conclusion that it was blowing a trifle less hard than it had been, and that the felucca would live through the night even though I should cease to bale; and so descended to the cabin and again flung myself into my bunk, where I dropped sound asleep as my head touched the pillow.
When I next returned to consciousness my awakening was brought about through the agency of water splashing in over the side of my bunk, the felucca having steadily filled during the period of my sleep until the cabin was fully three feet deep in water. It was broad day, and oh, blessed change! the sun was shining brilliantly down through the skylight, while the wind had evidently dropped to a pleasant breeze. A heavy sea, however, was still running,—as I could tell by the movements of the felucca,—and I could hear the water well and gurgle up the side of the little craft and go pouring across her deck from time to time, although not so frequently as before I turned in.
I rolled reluctantly out of my bunk—for I seemed to be aching in every joint of my body, and my head was burning and throbbing with a dull pain like what would be occasioned by the strokes of a small hammer—and waded, waist deep in water, to the companion ladder, up which I crawled, and so out on deck.
The gale had blown itself out, the wind having subsided to a very gentle breeze, that I soon discovered was fast dying away to a calm—although what little wind there was still came breathing out from the westward. The sky was perfectly clear, of a rich, deep, pure blue colour, without a shred of cloud to be seen in the whole of the vast vault; and in the midst of it, about two hours high, hung the morning sun, a dazzling globe of brilliance and heat. The sea, I now found, had subsided almost entirely, but a very heavy swell was still running, over which the felucca rode laboriously, the water in her interior occasionally pinning her down to such an extent that the quick-running swell would brim up over her bows and pour in a perfect cataract athwart her deck. This, however, I was not surprised at, for—as nearly as I could judge—the felucca showed barely nine inches of freeboard! Still the little hooker seemed surprisingly buoyant, considering her water-logged condition, and now that the seas no longer broke over her, there seemed to be no reason why, given enough time, I should not be able to pump her dry, and resume my voyage to Barbadoes.
So I rigged the pump and went to work, hoping that, as the gale had now abated and the sea had gone down, the straining of the hull and the opening of the seams had ceased, and that consequently the felucca was no longer in a leaky condition. I toiled on throughout the whole of that roasting morning, with the sun beating mercilessly down upon me, while the water swirled athwart the deck and about my legs, until noon, and then, utterly exhausted with my labour, my skin burning with fever and my hands raw and bleeding, I was fain to cry "spell ho!" and give up for a time, while I sought somewhat to eat and drink. I had worked with a good will, sanguinely hoping that when I felt myself compelled to knock off I should discover that I had sensibly diminished the amount of water in the felucca's interior; but this hope was cruelly disappointed, for when I reached the companion, on my way below, I found that there was no perceptible difference in the height of the water in the cabin from what it had been before I turned to; indeed the water seemed to have risen rather than diminished, a sure indication that the hull was still leaking, and that by no effort of mine could I hope to keep the craft much longer afloat.
And now, as I descended to the cabin, and noted the violence with which the water surged hither and thither with the rolling and pitching of the little vessel, a wild fear seized upon me that I might find all the provisions in the pantry spoiled. A moment later and my surmise was changed to certainty, for as I opened the door of the small, cupboard- like apartment, a recoiling wave surged out through the doorway, its surface bestrewed with the hard, coarse biscuits that sailors speak of as "bread." The water had risen high enough to flood the shelf upon which the eatables had been stowed, and everything was washed off and utterly spoiled. Worse still, there was no possibility of obtaining a further supply, for the lazarette, or storehouse, was beneath the cabin floor and had been flooded for hours. Moreover, it was unapproachable. Fortunately I did not feel very hungry; I was, however, consumed with a burning thirst which—all the water-casks having been washed overboard— I quenched by draining a whole bottle of the thin, sour wine of which I have before spoken. Then I went to work to collect all the biscuit I could secure, and carried it up on deck to dry in the sun, spreading it out on a cloth on the top of the companion; and while engaged upon this task, and also in removing my small stock of wine to the deck—for the cabin was by this time uninhabitable—I began to consider what I could do to save my life when the felucca should founder, as founder she must, now that I had demonstrated my inability to keep the leaks under. The question was not a very knotty one, or one demanding very profound consideration; obviously there was but one thing to do, and that was to build a raft with such materials as offered themselves to my hand. And just at this point the first difficulty presented itself in the shape of the question: what available materials were there? For, as I have already mentioned, the deck had been swept of every movable thing, including the big lateen yard, which had doubtless gone overboard when the bulwarks were carried away. There seemed to be absolutely nothing, unless I set to work to break up the felucca herself! Yet stay, there was the mast, the yard that spread and supported the lug- sail, the tiller—a good, stout, serviceable stick of timber—and—yes, certainly, the hatches—which could now be safely taken off, as the sea no longer swept over the deck heavily enough to pour over the coamings. Surely with those materials I ought to be able to construct a raft buoyant enough to support me, even although it would be obviously necessary for me to construct it on the deck, and then patiently wait until the felucca sank and floated it off—for it would be quite impossible for me to launch it.
So to work I went, my first task being to descend into the flooded forecastle and grope about for an axe that I knew was kept there somewhere; and I was fortunate enough to find it almost at once. Then, returning to the deck, I lowered away the lug-sail and cut the canvas adrift from the yard, carefully lashing the latter, that it might not roll or be washed overboard. Then I began to cut away the mast, chopping a deep notch in it close to the deck, and when I heard it beginning to complain, I cut the lanyards of the weather rigging, when away it went over the side with a crash. This gave me a good deal of trouble, for I wanted the spar on deck, not overboard; so I had to go to work to parbuckle it up the side, which I managed pretty well by watching the lift of the seas. Then I cut the mast in halves, laid the two halves parallel athwart the deck, and secured the yard and the tiller to them, as cross-pieces, with good stout lashings. And finally, to these last I firmly lashed four of the main hatch covers, when I had a platform of some twelve feet long and eight feet wide to support me. All that now remained to be done was to secure my provisions and wine, which I did by stowing the whole in a double thickness of tarpaulin, the edges of which I gathered together and tightly lashed with spun-yarn, finally securing the bundle to the raft by a short end of rope, so that it might not be washed away when the felucca should take her final plunge; and I had then done everything that it was possible for me to do.
By the time that my task was finished the sun had sunk to within a hand's breadth of the western horizon, while the wind had dwindled away until it had become the faintest zephyr, scarcely to be distinguished save by the slight ruffling of the water here and there where it touched, it being so nearly a flat calm that already great oily-looking patches of gleaming smoothness had appeared and were spreading momentarily through the faint blue ripplings that still betrayed a movement in the air. As for me, I was utterly exhausted with my long day's toil under the roasting sun; every bone in my body was aching; I was in a burning fever, and was sick with the smart of my raw and bleeding hands. The old feeling of callousness and indifference to my fate was once more upon me, and as I gazed at the crazy-looking raft which I had constructed with such a lavish expenditure of painful toil, I smiled in grim irony of myself that I should have done so much to preserve that life which now seemed of such little worth, and which promised soon to become an unendurable burden to me. A reaction from the excitement that had sustained me during my labours had set in, and I am persuaded that had any further exertion been necessary for the preservation of my life I should not have undertaken it.
Meanwhile the felucca had sunk nearly to her covering-board, and might be expected to founder at any moment. I climbed laboriously upon the top of the closed skylight and took a last, long look round to ascertain whether anything had drifted into my range of view while I had been engaged upon the raft, but there was nothing; the horizon was bare throughout its entire circumference; so I climbed down again, and, staggering to the raft, flung myself down upon it, with my bundle of provision as a pillow, and patiently awaited the evanishment of the felucca.
Poor little craft! what a forlorn, weather-beaten, sea-washed wreck she looked, as she lay there wallowing wearily and—as it seemed to me— painfully upon the long, creeping, glassy undulations of the swell! How different from the trim, sturdy little hooker that had sailed seaward so confidently and saucily out of Kingston harbour a few years—no, not years, it must be months, or—was it only days—a few days ago? It seemed more like years than days to me, and yet—why, of course it could only be days. Heaven, how my head ached! how my brain seemed to throb and boil within my skull! and surely it was not blood—it must be fire that was coursing through my veins and causing my body to glow like white-hot steel! A big, glassy mound of swell came creeping along toward the felucca, and, as she rolled toward it, curled in over her covering-board and poured in a heavy torrent across her deck, swirling round my raft and shifting it a foot or two nearer the side; and as it swept past I dabbled one of my hands in it, and was dully surprised that the contact did not cause the water to hiss and boil! Another mountain of water came brimming over the deck of the shuddering craft and shifted the raft so far that it fairly overhung the covering-board, so that when the felucca rolled in the opposite direction the end of the raft not only dipped in the water but actually lifted and floated, the heave of the water sucking it perhaps another foot off the deck. The next two or three undulations passed harmlessly by,—the swing and roll of the felucca was such that she just happened to meet them at the right moment, though lagging a little at the last,—and then came another great liquid hill, towering high above the horizon, until the sinking sun was utterly obscured. On it swept toward the felucca, which had now slewed so that she faced the coming swell nearly stem-on, the water in her meanwhile rushing forward as she sank down into the trough until her stem-head was completely buried. Now she was meeting the breast of the on-coming swell, her bows still pinned down by the rush of water in her interior, and now the glistening green wave was upon her, sweeping aft along and athwart her deck, mounting over the coamings of the main hatchway and pouring down the opening in a smooth, hissing, four-sided cataract, snatching up the raft in its embrace and shooting it half a dozen fathoms clear of the doomed craft, and rushing along the deck until even the companion and the skylight were submerged. By that time the hull was full, the curious rectangular hollow in the surface of the water that marked the position of the main hatchway was filled, the hull was completely hidden save for a splintered stanchion that projected above water here and there. Then, as the wave passed, the bows of the felucca emerged, gleaming and dripping with snowy, foaming cascades, that poured off the uncovered portion of the deck. Higher and higher rose the bows out of the water, until some ten feet in length of the felucca was revealed, the deck gradually sloping until it assumed an almost perpendicular inclination, when slowly, silently, and glidingly, without a sob or gurgle of escaping air, the wreck slid backward and downward until it vanished beneath the waters, now gleaming in gold and crimson with the last rays of the setting sun. A few seconds later the great luminary also vanished, a sudden grey pallor overspread the ocean, and I found myself alone indeed, swaying upon that vast, heaving expanse, with nothing between me and death save the clumsy structure that I had so laboriously put together, and which now looked so insignificantly small that I caught myself wondering why my weight did not sink it.
But it did not; on the contrary, the raft proved to be surprisingly buoyant, riding over the great, glassy, round-backed hills of swell as dry as a bone, with a gentle, swaying movement that somehow seemed to soothe my fever-racked frame, so that the condition of semi-delirium that had possessed me just before the felucca foundered passed away and left me sufficiently self-possessed to recognise the necessity for eating and drinking, if I was to survive and get the better of my misfortunes. So I carefully opened my bundle and extracted from it a small quantity of sun-dried biscuit—which, thanks to the curiously gentle manner in which the raft had been launched, had received no further wetting—and proceeded to make such a meal as I could, washing it down with a sparing draught of wine. But although the biscuit had dried superficially, it was still wet and pasty in the middle, and horribly nauseous to the palate, so that I made but a poor meal; after which I stretched myself at full length upon the raft, and endeavoured to find relief in sleep. But, exhausted though I was, sleep would not come to me; on the contrary, my memory and imagination rapidly became painfully excited. I thought of Dominguez, and wondered whether he and his companions had escaped the hurricane; then I thought of Morillo and his fiendish hatred of me; and so my thoughts and fancies chased one another until they became all mingled together in an inextricable jumble; and through it all I heard myself singing, shouting, laughing, arguing upon impossible subjects with wholly imaginary persons, and performing I know not what other mad vagaries, until finally, I suppose, I must have become so utterly exhausted as to have subsided into a restless, feverish sleep.
Consciousness returned to me with the sensation of soft, delicate light impinging upon my closed eyelids, and I opened my eyes upon the picture of a sky of deepest, richest, purest blue, studded with wool-like tufts of fleecy cloud, opalescent with daintiest tints of primrose and pink as they sailed overhead with a slow and gentle movement out from the north- east. The eastern horizon was all aglow with ruddy orange light, up through which soared broad, fan-like rays of white radiance—the spokes of Phoebus' chariot wheels—that, through a scale of countless subtle changes of tincture, gradually merged into the marvellously soft richness of the prismatic sky. A gentle breeze, warm and sweet as a woman's breath, lightly ruffled the surface of the sea, that heaved in long, low hills of deep and brilliant liquid sapphire around me; and here and there a sea-bird wheeled and swept with plaintive cries, and slanting, motionless pinions, in long, easy, graceful curves over the slowly undulating swell.
I sat up and looked about me vaguely and wonderingly, for the moment forgetful of the circumstances that had placed me in so novel a situation, and at the instant a glowing point of golden fire flashed into view upon the eastern horizon, as the upper rim of the sun hove above the undulating rim of the sea; and in a moment the rippling blue of the laughing water was laced with a long, broadening wake of gleaming, dancing, liquid gold, as the great palpitating disc of the god of day left his ocean couch, and entered upon his journey through the heavens.
My forgetfulness was but momentary; as the radiance and warmth of the returning sun swept over the glittering, scintillating, golden path that stretched from the horizon to the raft, the memory of all that had gone before, and the apprehension of what still haply awaited me, returned, and, as quickly as my cramped and aching limbs would allow, I staggered to my feet, flinging anxious, eager glances all around me in search of a sail. The horizon, however, was bare, save where the long, narrow pinion of a wheeling sea-bird swiftly cut it for a moment here and there; and I sighed wearily as I resumed my recumbent position upon the raft, wondering whether rescue would ever come, or whether it was my doom to float there, tossing hour after hour and day after day, like the veriest waif, until thirst and starvation had wrought their will upon me, or until another storm should arise, and the now laughing ocean should overwhelm me in its fury.
And indeed I cared very little just then what fate awaited me; for I was so ill, my frame was so racked with fever and my head so distracted with the fierce throbbing and beating of the wildly coursing blood in it, that the only thing I craved for was relief from my sufferings. It was a matter of the utmost indifference to me at that moment whether the relief came from death or from any other source, so long as it came quickly. My strength was leaving me with astounding rapidity, and I was quite aware that if I wished to husband the little that still remained to me I ought to eat; but the mere idea of eating excited so violent a repugnance, that it was with the utmost difficulty I resisted the almost overwhelming temptation to pitch my slender stock of sea-sodden biscuit overboard. On the other hand, I was consumed with a torturing thirst that I vainly strove to assuage by so reckless a consumption of my equally slender stock of wine, that at the end of the day only two bottles remained. Such recklessness was of course due to the fact that I was unaccountable for my actions; I was possessed of a kind of madness, and I knew it, but I had lost all control over myself, and cared not what happened. More than once I found myself seriously considering the advisability of throwing myself off the raft, and so ending everything without more ado; and I have often wondered why I did not do so; it was certainly not the fear of death that prevented me. As the day wore on my sufferings steadily increased in intensity; my brain throbbed and pulsated with pain so acute that it seemed as though a million wedges were being driven into my skull; a host of weird, outrageous, and horrible fancies chased each other through my imagination; I became possessed of the idea that the raft was surrounded and hemmed in by an ever-increasing multitude of frightful sea monsters, who fought with each other in their furious efforts to get within reach of me; day and night seemed to come and go with bewildering rapidity; and finally everything became involved in a condition of hopelessly inextricable confusion, that eventually merged into oblivion.
My next consciousness was that of a sound of gurgling, running water, and of a buoyant, heaving, plunging motion; of flashing sunshine coming and going upon my closed eyelids; of the vibrant hum of wind through taut rigging and in the hollows of straining canvas; of a murmur of voices, and of the regular tramp of footsteps to and fro on the planking overhead; and for the moment I thought that I was aboard the Tern, and just awaking from a sleep during which I had been haunted with an unusually long series of peculiarly unpleasant dreams. But as I opened my eyes and looked with somewhat languid interest upon my surroundings, I became aware that I was in a small, plain, but fairly snug cabin, of which I seemed to possess no previous knowledge; and at the same moment a confused but rapidly clearing memory of what had happened came to me, together with the knowledge that I had been rescued from the raft, and was feeling very much better. But an attempt to move, preliminary to turning out, revealed the disconcerting fact that I was as weak and helpless as a new-born infant, so I was perforce obliged to remain where I was; and in a short time I dozed off into a light sleep again, soothed thereto by the hum of the wind, the gurgling wash of water along the side of the ship, close to my ear, and the gentle heave and plunge of the fabric that bore me.
From this nap I was awakened by the somewhat noisy opening of my cabin door; and upon opening my eyes I beheld a swarthy and somewhat dirty- looking individual bending over me. From his appearance I at once set him down as a Frenchman; and as I gazed up into his face with mild curiosity, this impression became confirmed by his exclaiming in French—
"Ah, monsieur, so you have come to your senses at last, eh? Good! I knew I could save you, although Francois declared you to be as good as dead when he brought you aboard! And now, mon ami, what do you say; can you eat something?"
"Thank you," replied I, in the same language; "now that you come to mention it, I think I can."
"Good!" ejaculated the unknown: "rest tranquil for but a short time, and I will see what that rascal cook of ours can do for you. Stay! another dose of quinine will do you no harm, just by way of precaution, you know, although I think I have driven the fever out of you at last. Permit me."
And, so saying, he laid a rather grimy hand upon my forehead for a moment, and then transferred it to my wrist, remarking—
"Good! the skin is cool and moist, the pulse normal again. Ha, ha, my friend, you will do, you will do; henceforth the cook must be your doctor. All you need now is plenty of good nourishing food to restore your strength. Now, drink this, and as soon as you have swallowed it I will away to the galley."
While speaking, this individual had been busying himself with a bottle, from which he extracted a small quantity of white powder, which he mixed with water and then handed me the mixture to drink.
"Thank you," said I, handing him back the glass. "And now, monsieur, do me the favour to tell me your name, in order that I may know to whom I am indebted for my preservation."
"My name?" he repeated, with a laugh. "Oh, that will keep, monsieur, that will keep. At present your most urgent necessity is food, which I am now going to get for you. When I return I will tell you all you may wish to know, while you are eating. For the present, adieu, monsieur. If you feel disposed to sleep again, do so; sleep is nearly as valuable as food to you just now. When I have some of the latter ready for you I will wake you, never fear."
So saying, and before I could utter another word, he vanished, slamming the cabin door after him.
His retirement caused me a sensation of distinct relief, at which I was very greatly annoyed with myself; for had not this man doubly saved my life, first by rescuing me from the raft, and afterwards by nursing me through what I believed had been a serious illness? Yet, ingrate that I was, even in the brief interview that I have just described I had taken an unmistakable dislike to the man! It was not so much that he was unclean in person and attire,—it was possible that there might be a good and sufficient excuse for that,—but what had excited my antipathy, when I came to analyse the feeling, was a certain false ring in his voice, a subtle something in his manner suggestive of the idea that his friendliness and heartiness were not natural to him—were assumed for a purpose. Yet why it should be so, why he should have rescued me from the raft and afterwards troubled himself to fight and drive out the fever that threatened to destroy me, unless from a feeling of humanity and compassion for my pitiable condition, I could not imagine; yet there had been—or so I fancied—a fierce, shifty gleam in his coal-black eyes during the few brief minutes that he had bent over me as I lay there in my bunk, that seemed to reveal cruelty and treachery, rather than pity and good-will. Let me describe the man. Standing there beside my bunk, he had conveyed to me the impression of an individual nearly six feet in height,—I afterwards found his stature to be five feet ten inches in his stockings,—broad across the shoulders in proportion, and big boned, but lean almost to the point of emaciation. His skin was dry, of an unwholesome yellow tint, and shrivelled, as though he had once been stout and burly of form but had now become thin, while his skin had failed to shrink in the same proportion as his flesh. His eyes were, as I have said, black, small, and deeply sunken in his head; his hair was a dull, dead black, and was worn cropped close to his head; his black beard was trimmed to a point; and he wore a moustache, the long ends of which projected athwart his upper lip like a spritsail yard. His hands were thin, showing the tendons of the fingers working under the loose skin at every movement of them, while the fingers themselves were long, attenuated, ingrained with dirt, and furnished with long, talon-like yellow nails, that looked as though they never received the slightest attention. Finally, his clothing consisted of a cotton shirt, that looked as though it had been in use for at least a month since its last visit to the laundress, a pair of grimy blue dungaree trousers, and a pair of red morocco slippers.
As I lay there in the bunk, recalling the appearance of my rescuer, and trying to evolve therefrom some definite impression of the man's character, I became aware that the duty of the ship seemed to be carried on with a very unnecessary amount of vociferation and contumelious language. An Englishman will sometimes, in critical or urgent moments, garnish his orders with an expletive or two by way of stimulus to the crew; but upon the occasion to which I am now referring there was not the slightest excuse for anything of the kind. The weather was fine, the wind moderate, and we were evidently not engaged upon the performance of some feat of complicated or difficult navigation; for the course remained constant, and there was neither making nor shortening of sail. It simply appeared that the officer of the watch happened to be one of those distressing and trouble-making individuals who regard it as incumbent upon themselves to continually "haze" the men; for he was constantly bawling some trifling order, and accompanying it with a running fire of abuse that must have been furiously exasperating to the person addressed.
After an absence of about half an hour, the man who had already visited me returned, this time bearing a large bowl of smoking broth, and a plate containing three large ship biscuits of the coarsest kind. The broth, however, exhaled a distinctly appetising odour, which had the effect of again reminding me that I was hungry; so, with my visitor's assistance, I contrived to raise myself into a sitting posture, and forthwith attacked the contents of the bowl, previously breaking into it a small quantity of biscuit. The "broth" proved to be turtle soup, deliciously made, and, taking my time over the task, I consumed the whole of it, my companion meanwhile giving an account of himself, his ship, and the circumstances attending my rescue.
"My name, monsieur," he said, in reply to a question of mine, "is Lemaitre—Jean Lemaitre; a native of Fort Royal, in the island of Martinique, and owner as well as Captain of La belle Jeannette—the schooner which you are now honouring with your presence. I am in the slave-trade, monsieur,—doing business chiefly with the Spaniards,—and exactly a month ago to-day I sailed from Havana for the Guinea coast. We came west and south about, round Cape San Antonio, stretching well over toward the Spanish Main, in order to avoid, if possible, those pestilent cruisers of yours, which seem to be everywhere, and are always ready to snap up everything that they can lay their hands upon. By great good fortune we managed to dodge them, and got through without being interfered with; but it threw us into the track of the hurricane, and necessitated our remaining hove-to for twenty-six hours. Four days later, as we were sailing merrily along, we saw something floating ahead of us, and ten minutes later we all but ran down your raft, on which we saw you lying face downwards, while the sharks were righting each other in their efforts to get at you and drag you off. Francois, my mate, was for leaving you where you were,—asserting that you must surely be dead, and that to pick up a dead man would make the voyage unlucky,—but I am a humane man, monsieur, and I insisted upon heaving-to and sending away a boat to bring you aboard. The boat's crew had a hard job of it to drive off the sharks, and to get you safely into the boat, monsieur; and, even so, the creatures followed the boat alongside—to the number of seventeen, for I counted them myself. Francois suggested that we should throw you to them, declaring that you were as good as dead already, and that it was a shame to disappoint the sharks after they had waited so patiently for you; but I am a humane man, monsieur,—as I believe I have already mentioned,—and I would not listen to his proposal. So I had you brought down below and placed in this spare cabin, where I have attended to you ever since,—that was ten days ago,—and now, behold, the fever has left you, your appetite has returned, and in another week, please the good God we shall have you on deck again, as well as ever you were."
"Thank you, monsieur," said I. "I am infinitely obliged to you for the humanity that prompted you to pick me up—despite the dissuasions of your mate, Francois—and also for the trouble you have taken in nursing me through my illness. Fortunately, I am in a position to make substantial recognition of my gratitude; and upon my return to Jamaica— as to which I presume there will be no difficulty—it shall be my first business to take such steps as shall insure you against all pecuniary loss on my account."
"Ah, monsieur," exclaimed Lemaitre, "I beg that you will say no more on that score; it hurts me that you should think it necessary to mention so mercenary a word as that of 'reward.' We are both sailors, and although we have the misfortune to be enemies, that is no reason why one brave man should not aid another in distress, without looking for a reward. As to your return to Jamaica, no doubt that can be managed upon our return voyage—"
"Your return voyage!" I interrupted. "Can you not manage it forthwith, captain? I can make it quite worth your while to up helm and run me back at once. It is of the utmost importance to me to return to Port Royal with the least possible delay, and—"
"Alas, monsieur, it cannot be done," interrupted Lemaitre, in his turn. "A cargo of slaves is even now awaiting me in the Cameroon River, and my patrons in Havana are impatiently looking forward to their delivery. If I were to disappoint them I should be ruined, for I have many competitors in the trade to contend with, especially since all this talk has arisen about making slave-trading illegal. No; I regret to be obliged to refuse you, monsieur, but there is no help for it."
"At least," said I, "you will transfer me to a British man-o'-war, should we chance to fall in with one?"
"And be myself captured, and lose my ship for my pains!" exclaimed Lemaitre. "Oh no, monsieur; we will give your ships a wide berth, if we fall in with them, and trust to our heels."
"Nonsense, monsieur," I returned. "Surely you cannot suppose I would be so ungrateful as to permit any such thing. I am a British officer, and should, of course, make a point of seeing that, in such a case, you were held exempt from capture. My representations would be quite sufficient to secure that for you."
"Well, monsieur, we will see, we will see," answered Lemaitre; and therewith he took the empty soup bowl from my hand, and retired from the cabin, slamming the door, as usual, behind him.
For the next three days I continued to occupy my bunk, my strength returning slowly; but on the fourth I made shift, with Lemaitre's assistance, to get into my clothes, and crawl on deck; and from that moment my progress toward recovery was rapid. Meanwhile, the "hazing" of which I have spoken continued at regular intervals, day and night, and I soon ascertained that the individual responsible for it was none other than the Francois who so kindly suggested that I should be hove overboard to the sharks. This fellow was evidently a born bully; he never opened his mouth to deliver an order without abusing and insulting the men, and as often as not the abuse was accentuated with blows, the sounds of which, and the accompanying cries of the men, I could distinctly hear in my cabin. That, however, was hardly the worst of it; for I soon discovered that Lemaitre, the skipper of this precious craft in which such doings were permitted, was a drunkard; for every night, at about nine o'clock, I used to hear him come below, and order out the rum and water; after which he and Francois, or the second mate,—according to whose watch below it happened to be,—would sit for about an hour, drinking one against the other, until the language of both became incoherent, when the pair of them would stagger and stumble off to their respective staterooms.
This was my first experience of a slaver, and a most unpleasant experience it was. The vessel herself,—a schooner of one hundred and twenty tons register,—although superbly modelled, a magnificent sea- boat, and sailing like a witch, was rendered uncomfortable in the extreme as an abode by her filthy condition. Cleanliness seemed to be regarded by Lemaitre as a wholly unnecessary luxury, with the result that no effort was made to keep in check the steady accumulation of dirt from day to day, much less to remove that which already existed. Even the daily washing down of the decks—which, with the British sailor, has assumed the importance and imperative character of a religious function—was deemed superfluous. Nor were the crew any more careful as to their own condition or that of their clothing. It is a fact that during the whole period of my sojourn on board La belle Jeannette I never saw one of her people attempt to wash himself or any article of clothing; and, as a natural result of this steadfast disregard of the most elementary principles of cleanliness, the little hooker simply swarmed with vermin.
But, bad as it was, this was not the worst. The crew, from Lemaitre downward, were a low, brutal, quarrelsome gang, always wrangling together, and frequently fighting; while, as I have already mentioned, the one predominating idea of Francois, the chief mate, was that they could only be kept in order by constantly and impartially rope's-ending them all round. Possibly he may have been right; at all events, I found it far easier to excuse his behaviour after I had seen the crew than I had before.
All this time Lemaitre had been behaving toward me with a rough, clumsy, off-hand kindness that his personal appearance would have led no one to expect, and which, try as I would, I could not bring myself to regard as genuine, because, through it all, there seemed now and then to rise to the surface an underflow of repressed malignity, not pronounced enough to be certain about, yet sufficiently distinct to provoke in me a vague sensation of uneasiness and distrust. To put the matter concisely, although Lemaitre was by no means effusive in his expressions of good- will toward me, and although there was a certain perfunctory quality in such attentions as he showed me, there was with it all a curious subtle something, so intangible that I found it utterly impossible to define or describe it, which yet impressed me with the feeling that it was all unreal, assumed, a mockery and a pretence; though why it should be so, I could not for the life of me divine.
A DOUBLE TRAGEDY.
I had been up and about for a full week, and had during that period observed in Lemaitre's manner toward me not only a steadily decreasing solicitude for my welfare—which was perhaps only natural, now that my health was rapidly improving—but also a growing disposition to sneer and gibe at me, covert at first but more pronounced and unmistakable with every recurring day, that strongly tended to confirm the singular suspicion I have endeavoured to bring home to the mind of the reader in the preceding chapter. Then one night an incident occurred that in a moment explained everything, and revealed to me the unpleasant fact that, so far as my enemy Morillo was concerned, I was still in as great danger as when on board the felucca, although in the present case the danger was perhaps a trifle more remote.
I have already mentioned Lemaitre's habit of drinking himself into a state of intoxication every night. This habit, and the obscene language that the man seemed to revel in when in such a condition, was so disgusting to me that not the least-prized advantage afforded by my convalescence was the ability to remain on deck until the nightly saturnalia was at an end and Lemaitre and his companion had retired to their cabins. On the particular night, however, of which I am about to speak, a slight recurrent touch of fever caused me to slip quietly below and turn in before the orgy began; not that I expected to get to sleep, but simply because I believed the warmth and dryness of my bunk would be better for me than the damp night air on deck.
Punctually at nine o'clock Lemaitre and his chief mate came noisily clattering down the companion ladder, glasses and a bottle of rum were produced, and the carouse began. It had not progressed very far before it became apparent to me, as I lay there in my hot bunk, tossing restlessly, that Lemaitre was in an unusually excited and quarrelsome condition, and that Francois, the chief mate, was rapidly approaching a similar condition as he gulped down tumbler after tumbler of liquor. They were always argumentative and contradictory when drinking together, but to-night they were unusually so. At length Francois made some remark as to the extraordinary good fortune they had met with on this particular voyage, in having come so far without falling in with a British cruiser; at which Lemaitre laughed scornfully declaring that there was not a British cruiser afloat that could catch La belle Jeannette; and that, even if it were otherwise, he should have no fear of them this voyage. "For," said he, "have we not a guarantee of safety in the presence of that simple fool Courtenay on board? Have we not saved his life by rescuing him from the raft? And do you suppose they would reward our humanity, ha, ha! by making a prize of the schooner? Not they! If there is one thing those asses of British pride themselves upon more than another it is their chivalrous sense of honour—a sentiment, my child, that they would not outrage for the value of fifty such schooners as this. All the same," he added, with an inflection of deep cunning in his voice, "I do not want to meet with a British cruiser at close enough quarters to be compelled to hand the dear Courtenay over to his countrymen; oh no!"
"Why not?" demanded Francois; "what advantage is it to you to keep him on board? Is it because you are so fond of his company? Pah! if you had eyes in your head, you would see that, despite his gratitude to you for saving his life, he despises you. What do you mean to do with him? Are you going to turn him adrift among the negroes when we arrive upon the coast? I never could understand why you insisted upon saving him at all."
"No?" queried Lemaitre, with a sneering laugh. "Ah, that is because you are a fool, Francois, mon enfant, a more arrant fool even than the dear Courtenay himself. Do you suppose I did it out of pity for his condition, or because I love the British? No. I will tell you why, idiot. It is because he will fetch a good five hundred dollars at least in the slave-market at Havana."
"So that is what you intend to do with him, is it?" retorted Francois. "Well, Lemaitre, I always knew you for an ass, but, unless you had told me so with your own lips, I would never have believed you to be such an ass as to sell a man for five hundred dollars when you can just as easily get a thousand for him. Yet you call me fool and idiot! Pah, you sicken me!"
"Oh, I sicken you, do I?" growled Lemaitre, by this time well advanced toward intoxication. "Take care what you are saying, my friend, or I shall be apt to sicken you so thoroughly that you will be fit for nothing but a toss over the lee bulwarks. No doubt it is I who am the fool, and you who are the clever one; but I should like to hear by what means you would propose to get a thousand dollars for the fellow. True, he is young and stalwart, and will be in prime condition by the time that we get back to Havana,—I will see to that,—but I have known better men than he sold for less than five hundred dollars; ay, white men too, not negroes."
"Did I not say you are an ass?" retorted Francois. "Who talks of selling him at Havana? You, not I. Do you not know who this Courtenay is, then? I will tell you, most wise and noble captain. He is the youth who attacked and destroyed Morillo's settlement at Cariacou,—I remember the name perfectly well,—and I was told at Havana, by one who ought to know, that Morillo had given it out among his friends that he would pay one thousand dollars to anyone who should bring Courtenay to him alive. And that is not all, either. You know what Morillo is; he has declared a feud against this miserable, meddlesome Englishman, and not only will he gladly pay a thousand dollars for the privilege of wreaking his vengeance upon him, but the man who delivers your friend Courtenay into his hands will be free to sail the seas without molestation from Morillo as long as he lives. What think you of that, Captain Lemaitre?"
"Is this true?" demanded Lemaitre. "Ay," answered Francois, "as true as that you and I are sitting here in this cabin."
"Why did you not tell me of this before, Francois, my friend?" asked Lemaitre, in a wheedling tone.
"Why did I not tell you before?" echoed Francois. "Ask rather why I tell you now, and I will answer that it is because I am such a fool that I cannot keep a good thing to myself when I have it. Sac-r-r-re! what need was there for me to make you as wise as myself, eh? However, I am not going to let you have this choice little bit of information for nothing. I have told you how to make a clear five hundred dollars over and above what you could have earned without the information I have been idiot enough to give you, and you must pay me half the amount; do you understand?"
"Ay, I understand," answered Lemaitre, with a sudden return to his former sneering, aggressive manner; "but I should like to know—just for the satisfaction of my curiosity—how you propose to compel me to pay you that two hundred and fifty dollars that you talk about."
"Why, easily enough," snarled Francois, with sudden fury, as he realised that Lemaitre intended to evade the extortion if he could. "If you do not pay me immediately after receiving the reward from Morillo, I will denounce you to him. I will say that you intended to have yielded up your prisoner to the British, in order that you might curry favour with them and secure immunity from capture by them; and that you would never have given him up to Morillo at all but for my threats. And I suppose you know what that will mean for you, eh?"
"Oh, so that is what you would do, is it, my friend?" returned Lemaitre, with a harsh laugh. "Well, well, it will be time enough for you to threaten when I refuse to pay you the two hundred and fifty dollars. Until then, there is no need for us to quarrel; so fill up your glass, Francois, and let us drink to the health of the dear Courtenay, who, after all, was quite worth picking up off the raft, don't you think?"
Then followed a gurgling sound as the two topers filled their glasses. A gulping and smacking of lips, succeeded by a banging of the empty tumblers upon the table, came clearly to me through the latticed upper panel of my door; and then certain staggering sounds, as the two struggled to their feet, were followed by Lemaitre thickly bidding his companion good-night, as the pair reeled and stumbled away to their respective berths.
I slept badly that night, the fever, with the intelligence I had just acquired, combining to make me restless and wakeful; but after tossing from side to side, until about two bells in the morning watch, I gradually sank into a troubled sleep, from which I was startled by a sudden outbreak of loud, excited shouts, succeeded by a sound of fierce scuffling, accompanied by a volley of oaths and exclamations, the stamp of feet, a heavy fall, a rush of footsteps up the companion ladder, and a sudden, heavy splash alongside. Then followed a terrific outcry on deck, with the hurrying rush of feet on the planking overhead, the furious slatting of canvas as the schooner shot into the wind, more excited shouts, ending in a sort of groaning mingled with ejaculations of dismay, a sudden silence, and then a terrific jabbering, suggestive of the idea that all hands had incontinently taken leave of their senses.
I sprang out of my bunk and hurriedly proceeded to dress, rushing on deck bare-footed to see what was the matter; and as I emerged from the companion-way I saw all hands gathered aft, most of them staring hard over the taffrail, while one man was busily engaged in binding up the left arm of the second mate.
"Hillo, Monsieur Charpentier!" I exclaimed, "what is the matter? Has anything happened?"
"Happened, monsieur? I should think so!" exclaimed the second mate, turning to me a white and ghastly face; "a most awful thing has happened. When I went below just now to call Francois I was unable to make him hear, although I called several times and knocked ever so hard at his door. So I ventured to turn the door handle and enter his cabin, and what do you think I saw, monsieur? Why, poor Francois lying dead in his bunk, his clothes soaked with blood, and a great gaping wound in his breast, right over his heart! I was so horrified, monsieur, that I scarcely knew what to do; but, collecting myself with a mighty effort, I went to call the captain; and when I reached his cabin I found the door wide open and Monsieur Lemaitre crouched in a corner of it, with a great bloodstained knife in his hand, his eyes glaring, and his lips mumbling and muttering I know not what. I saw that there was something wrong with him, monsieur,—I believed he had gone mad,—and I was about to turn away and call for help; but he saw me, and, before I was aware, sprang upon me, seizing me with one hand by the throat while with the other he aimed blow after blow at me with his terrible knife. I defended myself as well as I could, monsieur, fighting bravely for my life; but what can one do against a madman? The captain seemed to possess the strength of twenty men; he forced me irresistibly back against the bulkhead, and then drove his knife through my arm. Believing that he had killed me, I relaxed my hold upon him; whereupon he hurled me to the deck, sprang over my fallen body, and bounded up on deck, and from thence overboard! And now they tell me, monsieur, that he had scarcely struck the water when a shark rose, seized him, and dragged him under! See, monsieur, look astern! He is gone; there is nothing to be seen of him! What shall we do? oh, mon Dieu, what shall we do?"