IN PERIL IN AFRICA
The attempt to open up new countries, the natives of which object to the process, naturally leads to adventures, often of a very dangerous kind. Nevertheless, explorers and traders take their lives in their hands, considering the possible results well worth the risk.
So does the missionary. In place of worldly fame and wealth, his efforts are likely to bring him suffering and death; but, while facing these, he may spread the faith which is dearer to him than life; he may bring the news of the love of God, with its uplifting power, to those who, sunk in ignorance and degradation, tremble before idols; and he, too, feels that personal dangers are not worth weighing in comparison with the glorious cause in which they are dared. As Bishop Hannington said just before going out as a missionary—
"If I lose my life in Africa, no one must think it has been wasted. The lives that have been already given for the cause are not lost. They are filling up the trench so that others may the more easily pass over to take the fort in the name of the Lord!"
That is the spirit in which he went out and in turn laid down his life—helping to fill the trench to such good purpose that his own son, in after years, baptised the son of his murderer! Hannington's life in Africa was a constant succession of dangers faced, difficulties overcome, and hardships endured, all of which his intense faith, and his gift of humour, enabled him to go through cheerfully.
He was a keen sportsman, ever eager to add to his collection of rare creatures, and his letters home give vivid account of some of his adventures. On one or two occasions he had narrow escapes from death—
"This part of the country abounds with game. On one occasion a herd of antelopes crossed the path as tamely as if they had been sheep, and tracks of giraffe and larger game were frequently seen. Guinea-fowl were so plentiful that one of the white men at Mpwapwa told us that he did not trouble to fire at them unless he could ensure killing two or three at a shot.
"I had two narrow escapes in one of my walks with a gun in search of game. I came to a belt of jungle so dense that the only way to get through it was to creep on all fours along the tracks made by hyenas and smaller game; and as I was crawling along I saw close in front of me a deadly puff-adder; in another second I should have been on it.
"The same day, on my return, I espied in one of these same tracks a peculiar arrangement of grass, which I at once recognised to be over a pitfall; but though I had seen it I had already gone too far, and fell with a tremendous crash, my double-barrel gun full-cocked in my hand. I had the presence of mind to let myself go and look out only for my gun, which fortunately did not explode. On arriving at the bottom I called out to my terrified boy, 'Mikuke Hapana,' 'There are no spears,' a most merciful providence; for they often stake these pitfalls in order to ensure the death of animals that fall into them. The pitfall could not have been less than ten feet deep, for when I proceeded to extricate myself I found that I could not reach the top with my uplifted hands.
"Undaunted by my adventures, and urged on by the monotony of nothing but tough goat on the sideboard, I started before the break of next morning in pursuit of game, and was soon to be seen crawling on hands and knees after antelope, I am afraid unmindful of puff-adders and pitfalls.
"By and by the path followed the bed of a narrow stream, which was completely ploughed with the tracks of buffalo and giraffe, as fresh as fresh could be. Our impression was, and probably it was right, that the former were lurking in the dense thicket close by. The breathless excitement that such a position keeps you in does much to help along the weary miles of the march, and to ward off attacks of fever. All experienced hands out here recommend that men should, while not losing sight of their one grand object, keep themselves amused.
"Your cousin Gordon and I, with our boys, had led the van all the morning. He, having lately had fever, complained of being tired, and begged me to continue in pursuit of game alone, merely taking my one faithful boy with me to carry my gun; but I refused to leave him, for never had I complained of an ache or pain but what he was at my side to help and comfort me. We sat down and rested, and the other brethren, with a party of a dozen or fourteen, marched on ahead. They had not gone many hundred yards before I heard the whiz of a bullet. 'They have found game,' said I. Bang went a second shot. 'It's a herd.' Then another. 'Yes, it must be a herd.' Then a fourth, and it dawned on me that they were attacked by robbers—the far-famed Ruga-Ruga.
"'Stay where' you are,' I cried, and dashed off, closely followed by my boys. The bangs had now reached seven, and we had not the slightest doubt it was an attack of robbers, and so it proved to be. My anxiety was relieved by seeing our men all intact, standing together at bay with a foe that was nowhere to be beheld. I soon learnt that as they were quietly proceeding a party of the savage Wahumba tribe had swooped down upon them; but seeing white men with rifles had fled with the utmost precipitation, without even discharging a poisoned arrow. To make their flight more rapid the white men had fired their rifles in the air; and one in grabbing his gun from his boy had managed to discharge it in such a manner as to blow off the sight of his neighbour's rifle. Finding that danger was at an end for the time being, I begged them to remain as they were, ready to receive an attack, while I returned with my boys to Gordon, and got the stragglers together, after which we all proceeded in a body. I have always thought that it was I who had the greatest escape of all; for had I gone on, as Gordon proposed, with only one, or at the outside two boys, I should most probably have been attacked."
A little later the Bishop had an even narrower escape from a justly-enraged lion and lioness—
"Presently, while hunting for insects in short mimosa tangle up to the knee, I disturbed a strange-looking animal, about the size of a sheep, brownish colour, long tail, short legs, feline in aspect and movement, but quite strange to me. I took my gun and shot it dead—yes, quite dead. Away tore my boy as fast as his legs would carry him, terrified beyond measure at what I had done! What, indeed? you may well ask. I had killed the cub of a lioness! Terror was written on every line and feature of the lad, and dank beads of perspiration stood on his face. I saw it as he passed me in his flight, and his fear for the moment communicated itself to me. I turned to flee, and had gone a few paces, when I heard a savage growl, and a tremendous lioness—I say advisedly a tremendous one—bounded straight at me.
"In spite of the loaded gun in my hand, it seemed to me that I was lost. The boy knew more about lions than I did, and his fear knew no bounds. I began to realise that I was in a dangerous situation, for a lioness robbed of her whelp is not the most gentle creature to deal with. I retreated hastily. No; I will out with it, children, in plain language—I ran five or six steps; every step she gained upon me, and the growls grew fiercer and louder. Do I say she gained?—they gained, for the lion was close behind her, and both were making straight for me. They will pause at the dead cub? No; they take no notice of it; they come at me. What is to be done?
"It now struck me that retreat was altogether wrong. Like a cat with a mouse, it induced them to follow. Escape in this manner was impossible. I halted, and just at that moment came a parting yell from my boy, 'Hakuna! Kimbia!'
"I thought he had seen and heard the lion and lioness, and that, speaking as he does bad Kiswahili, he had said, 'Kakuna Kimbia!' which might be roughly, though wrongly, translated, 'Don't run away!' instead of which he meant to say—in fact, did say—'No! Run away!'
"I have no hesitation in saying that a stop wrongly read but rightly made saved my life. I had in the second or two that had elapsed determined to face it out; and now, strengthened as I thought by his advice, I made a full stop and turned sharply on them. This new policy on my part caused them to check instantly. They now stood lashing their tails and growling, and displaying unfeigned wrath, but a few paces from me.
"I then had time to inspect them. They were a right royal pair of the pale sandy variety, a species which is noted for its fierceness, the knowledge of which by no means made my situation more pleasant. There we stood; both parties evidently feeling that there was no direct solution to the matter in hand. I cannot tell you exactly what passed through their minds, but they evidently thought that it was unsafe to advance upon this strange and new being, the like of which they had never seen before. I cannot tell you either how long a time we stood face to face. Minutes seemed hours, and perhaps the minutes were only seconds; but this I know, my boy was out of hearing when the drama was concluded.
"And this is how it ended: After an interval I decided not to fire at them, but to try instead what a little noise would do. So I suddenly threw up my arms in the air, and set up a yell, and danced and shouted like a madman. Do you know, the lions were so astonished to see your sober old uncle acting in such a strange way that they both bounded into the bushes as if they had been shot, and I saw them no more!
"As the coast was now clear I thought I might as well secure my prize, a real little beauty. So I seized it by its hind legs and dragged it as quickly as I could along the ground, the bushes quite keeping it out of sight. When I had gone what I had deemed a sufficient distance I took it up and swung it over my back, and beat a hasty retreat, keeping a sharp eye open in case the parents should lay claim to the body, for I should not have been dishonest enough not to let them have it had they really come to ask for it!
"I soon found the cub was heavier than I bargained for, being about the size of a South Down sheep, so I shouted for my boy. It was a long time, however, before I could make him hear. I began to be afraid I must abandon my spoil. At length I saw him in the far distance. Fortunately for me he did not know his way back to the camp, otherwise his intention was to return to the camp, and ask the men to come and look for my remains.
"The arrival of the cub caused a tremendous sensation among the natives; dozens of men came to see it, nor would they believe until they had seen the skin that I had dared to kill a 'child of the lioness,' it being more dangerous than killing a lion itself. I do not think that I was wise in shooting; but the fact was it was done, and I was in the scrape before I knew where I was, and having got into trouble, of course the question then was how best to get out of it."
"In some of the places I passed through they had never seen a white man before. They would gather round me in dozens, and gaze upon me in the utmost astonishment. One would suggest that I was not beautiful—in plainer language, that I was amazingly ugly. Fancy a set of hideous savages regarding a white man, regarding your uncle, as a strange outlandish creature frightful to behold. You little boys that run after a black man in the park and laugh at him, think what you may come to when you grow old! The tables may be turned on you if you take to travelling, just as they were with me.
"As with other travellers, my boots hardly ever failed to attract attention.
"'Are those your feet, white man?'
"'No, gentlemen, they are not. They are my sandals.'
"'But do they grow to your feet?'
"'No, gentlemen, they do not, I will show you.'
"So forthwith I would proceed to unlace a boot. A roar of astonishment followed when they beheld my blue sock, as they generally surmised that my feet were blue and toeless. Greater astonishment still followed the withdrawal of the sock, and the revelation of a white five-toed foot. I frequently found that they considered that only the visible parts of me were white, namely, my face and hands, and that the rest of me was as black as they were. An almost endless source of amusement was the immense amount of clothing, according to their calculation, that I possessed. That I should have waistcoat and shirt and jersey underneath a coat, seemed almost incredible, and the more so when I told them that it was chiefly on account of the sun I wore so much.
"My watch, too, was an unfailing attraction: 'There's a man in it,' 'It is Lubari; it is witch-craft,' they would cry.' He talks; he says, Teek, teek, teek,' My nose they would compare to a spear; it struck them as so sharp and thin compared to the African production, and ofttimes one bolder than the rest would give my hair and my beard a sharp pull, imagining them to be wigs worn for ornament. Many of them had a potent horror for this white ghost, and a snap of the fingers or a stamp of the foot was enough to send them flying helter-skelter from my tent, which they generally crowded round in ranks five deep. For once in a way this was amusing enough; but when it came to be repeated every day and all day, one had really a little too much of a good thing."
Of the discomforts of an African march the Bishop made light, his sense of humour often enabling him to enjoy a good laugh at occurrences which would have irritated some men almost beyond endurance. Of some of the hardships, however, his letters and diary give glimpses—
"Our first experience in this region was not a pleasant one. We had sent our men on before while we dallied with our friends at Mpwapwa. When we reached the summit of the pass we could see various villages with their fires in the plains below, but nowhere was the camp to be discerned. It was a weary time before we could alight on it, and when we did, what a scene presented itself to our gaze!
"The wind was so high that the camp fires were extinguished, and the men had betaken themselves to a deep trench cut through the sandy plain by a mountain torrent, but now perfectly dry; hence our difficulty in making out where the camp was. Two of the tents were in a prostrate condition, while the others were fast getting adrift. Volumes of dust were swamping beds, blankets, boxes, buckets, and in fact everything; and a more miserable scene could scarcely be beheld by a party of benighted pilgrims. It was no use staring at it. I seized a hammer and tent pegs, forgot I was tired, and before very long had things fairly to rights; but I slept that night in a dust-heap.
"Nor did the morning mend matters, and to encourage us the Mpwapwa brethren prophesied this state of things all through Ugogo. It is bad enough in a hot climate to have dust in your hair and down your neck, and filling your boxes; but when it comes to food, and every mouthful you take grates your teeth, I leave you to imagine the pleasure of tent-life in a sandy plain.
"A day or two after this we arrived at a camp where the water was excessively bad. We had to draw it for everybody from one deep hole, and probably rats, mice, lizards, and other small animals had fallen in and been drowned, and allowed to remain and putrefy. The water smelt most dreadfully, no filtering or boiling seemed to have any effect upon it, and soup, coffee, and all food were flavoured by it.
"That afternoon I went for a stroll with my boy and two guns to endeavour to supply the table with a little better meat than tough goat. I soon struck on the dry bed of a masika (wet season) torrent. Following this up a little way I saw a fine troop of monkeys, and wanting the skin of one of them for my collection I sent a bullet flying amongst them, without, however, producing any effect beyond a tremendous scamper. My boy then said to me, 'If you want to kill monkey, master, you should try buck-shot'; so returning him my rifle I took my fowling-piece.
"Perhaps it was fortunate I did so, for about a hundred yards farther on the river bed took a sharp turn, and coming round the corner I lighted on three fine tawny lions. They were quite close to me, and had I had my rifle my first impulse might have been too strong for me to resist speeding the parting guest with a bullet. As it was, I came to a sudden halt, and they ran away. In vain my boy begged me to retreat. I seized the rifle and ran after them as fast as my legs would carry me; but they were soon hid in the dense jungle that lines the river banks; and although I could hear one growling and breathing hard about ten yards from me, I could not get a shot."
Like Moses of old, Bishop Hannington did not enter the land he had come so far to reach. The people of Uganda were alarmed and angry at his approaching their country from the north-east, which they called the back door to their land. Worn out with fever he was seized, dragged backwards over stony ground, and kept a prisoner for some days. On October 29, 1885, he was conducted to an open space outside the village and placed among his followers, having been falsely told on the previous day that King Mwanga had sent word that the party was to be allowed to proceed.
But he was soon undeceived. With a wild shout the savage warriors fell upon the Bishop's enfeebled followers, and their flashing spears speedily covered the ground with dead and dying. As the natives told off to murder him closed round, Hannington drew himself up and bade them tell the king that he was about to die for the people of Uganda, and that he had purchased the road to their country with his life. Then as they still hesitated he pointed to his own gun, which one of them fired and Hannington fell dead.
His last words to his friends—scribbled by the light of some camp-fire—were—
"If this is the last chapter of my earthly history, then the next will be the first page of the heavenly—no blots and smudges, no incoherence, but sweet converse in the presence of the Lamb!"
KEEPING THE TRYST
Maharaj was a very big elephant and Alec was a half-grown boy—an insignificant human pigmy—in spite of which disparity they were great pals, for Alec admired that mountain of strength as only an imaginative boy can, and elephants can appreciate admiration.
When Alec came across Maharaj he had taken up his quarters temporarily in the mango tope opposite the bungalow. He was pouring dust upon his head and blowing it over his back, both because he enjoyed a dust bath and because it helped to keep off the flies. With the quick perception of a boy, Alec noticed he had used up all the dust within reach, so he got him a few hatfuls from the roadside, for which he was very grateful, and immediately sent a sand blast over his back that annihilated quite a colony of mosquitoes. Then he admitted Alec to his friendship, and they became pals.
Hard by the mahout was cooking his dinner under a tamarind-tree.
"Did the Sahib ask if he was clever? Wait, and the Sahib shall see. Here are his six chapaties of flour that I am baking. Out of one only I shall keep back a handful of meal. How should he detect so small a quantity missing? But we shall see."
The elephant driver put on the cakes to bake—pancake-shaped things, eighteen inches across and an inch thick. They took their time to cook, for the fireplace was small, being only three bricks standing on the ground. When they were ready he placed the cakes before Maharaj, who eyed them suspiciously.
"He has been listening," explained the driver. "Those big ears of his can hear talk a mile away. Go on, my son, eat. What is there wrong with the food?"
Maharaj slowly took up a chapatie in his trunk, carefully weighed it and put it on one side, took up another and did the same. The fourth chapatie was the light one; this he found out at once and indignantly threw it at the feet of the mahout, grumbling and gurgling and swinging his head from side to side and stamping his forefoot in anger.
"What! son of a pig! is not the flour I eat good enough for thee also? Well, starve then, for there is no better in the bazaar."
They walked away; the small restless eyes followed anxiously; yet the elephant made no attempt to eat, but swung angrily from side to side in his pickets. Presently they returned, but he had not touched a chapatie.
"It is no use, Sahib," said the mahout, "to try and cheat one so wise as he, and yet folks say that we mahouts keep our families on the elephants' food, which words are base lies, for is he not more precious to me than many children?"
Then the mahout drew out an extra chapatie he had hidden in his clothes.
"Oh! Maharajah, King of Kings, who can deceive thee, my pearl of wisdom, my mountain of might?" and the mahout caressed the huge trunk as it wound itself lovingly around him and gently extracted the chapatie from his hands. Having swallowed this, the elephant picked up the scattered cakes and, piling them up before him, gave himself up to enjoying his midday meal.
After that Maharaj and Alec grew great friends. Alec used to bring him bazaar sweets, of which he was very fond, and sugar-cane. He was a great wonder to the elephant, who could never understand why his pockets were full of all sorts of uneatable things. He loved to go through them, slowly considering each in his elephantine way. The bright metal handle of Alec's pocket-knife pleased Maharaj, and it was always the first thing he abstracted from the pocket and the last he returned, but the bits of string and the ball of wax he worried over. The key of the pigeon-house, a peg-top, marbles, etc., I believe made him long to have pockets of his own, for he used to hide them away in the recesses of his mouth for a time, then, finding they were not very comfortable, he used to put them all back into Alec's pockets. The day the boy came with sweets Maharaj was delighted, for he smelt them a long way off, and never made a mistake as to which pocket they were in.
It was wonderful to see how gently he could play with the little brown baby of the mahout. He loved to have it lying between his great fore-feet, and would tickle it with the tip of his trunk for the pleasure of hearing it laugh, then pour dust upon it till it was buried, always being careful not to cover the face. But like a great big selfish child he always kept his sweets to himself, and would pretend not to see the little outstretched hand, and little voice crying for them, till he had finished the last tit-bit.
Tippoo—the cook's son, Alec's fag and constant companion, who was mostly a pair of huge pyjamas, was also admitted to the friendship of Maharaj. But there was one man that the elephant disliked, and that was the mahout's nephew, one Piroo, who was a young elephant-driver seeking a situation—a man not likely to be successful, for he was morose and lazy, and drank heavily whenever the opportunity came his way, and was very cruel to the beast he rode.
Sometimes the mahout would take Alec down to the river-side, he driving, while Alec lay luxuriously on the pad. There Maharaj had his bath, and the boy used to help the mahout to rub him over with a lump of jhama, which is something like pumice-stone, only much harder and rougher, and the old skin rolled off under the friction in astonishing quantities, till the look of dried tree-bark was gone, and the dusty grey had become a shining black. After the bath there was usually a struggle with Maharaj, who, directly he was clean, wanted to plaster himself all over with wet mud to keep cool and defy mosquitoes. This he was not allowed to do, so he tore a branch from a neem-tree instead, and fanned himself all the way home.
Now there was to be a marriage among some of the mahout's friends who lived in a village a day's journey from the station, across the river, and he promised that Alec, Tippoo, and his nephew were to accompany him. When the day came the mahout had a slight touch of fever and couldn't go, but he told his nephew to drive the boys there instead. Maharaj didn't like Piroo at all, and made a fuss at having to go without the mahout, for which he got a hot scolding. Then there were tears and pet names and much coaxing before Maharaj consented to go.
"Thou art indeed nothing but a great child that will go nowhere unless I lead thee by the hand, with no more heart in thy big carcase than my babe, who without doubt shall grow big and thrash thee soundly. Now hearken, my son, thou art going with Piroo to the village of Charhunse, one day's journey; thou art to stay there one day, when there will be great feasting, and they will give thee surap wine in thy food; and on the day following thou must return (for we start the next morning for the Cawnpore elephant lines); bring the boys back safely—very safely—or there will be very many angry words from me, and no food. Now, adieu, my son, salaam Sahib, Khoda bunah rhukha" (God preserve you). And the mahout passed into his hut with a shiver that told of the coming ague.
It was a grand day and the road was full of people of all sorts and conditions; and the boys, proud to be so high above the heads of the passing groups, greeted them with all the badinage of the bazaar they could remember, which the natives answered with good-natured chaff. The road was one long avenue, and in the branches overhead the monkeys sported and chased each other from tree to tree; birds sang, for it was nesting-time; and the day was as happy as it was long.
At nightfall they reached the village, and the head man made them very comfortable. The next day the wedding feast was spread, and quite two hundred people sat down to it. After the feast there was racing, wrestling, and dancing to amuse the guests.
They enjoyed themselves very much. The wedding feast was to last several days, and instead of returning the following day as they had promised the mahout, Piroo determined to stay a day longer, in spite of all that Alec had to say against it.
Piroo was in his element, and sang and danced with great success, for the arrack was in his veins, and at such times he could be the antipodes of his morose self. His dancing was much applauded. But there was Bhuggoo, the sweeper, from the city, who had a reputation for dancing, and was in great request at weddings in consequence, and he danced against Piroo, and so elegant and ingenious were his contortions that he was voted the better. Then he changed his dance to one in which he caricatured Piroo so cleverly in every turn and gesture that the people yelled and laughed.
This so incensed Piroo that he struck the man; but the sweeper, who was generally accustomed to winding up his performance by a grand broom fight with some brother of the same craft, was quite ready for an affair that could only increase his popularity. Catching up his jharroo, or broom, he began to shower blows upon the unfortunate Piroo, yet never ceasing to dance round him so grotesquely that the fight was too much of a farce for any one to think of interfering. Yet the blows went home pretty hard, and as the broom was a sort of besom made of the springy ribs of the palm-leaf it stung sharply where it found the naked flesh.
It is a great indignity to be beaten by the broom of a sweeper, and Piroo, maddened with rage, flew at the throat of his rival. But Bhuggoo, the sweeper, was very nimble, and as the end of a jharroo in the face feels like the back of a porcupine, you may guess it is the most effective way of stopping a rush. So Piroo, baffled and humiliated, left the sweeper victor of the field and fled amid great shouts of laughter. But his rage had not died in him, and more arrack made him mad; else why should he have done the foolish thing that followed?
Finding Maharaj had pulled up one of his picket pins, he took a heavy piece of firewood and dashed it upon his tender toe-nails, while he shouted all the abuse that elephants know only accompanies severe punishment. Now Maharaj, who would take punishment quietly from Buldeo, the old mahout, would not stand it from any other; besides, he was already excited with all the shouting and tamasha going on, and he had had a good bit of arrack in his cakes that evening; so when the log crashed down on his feet he trumpeted with pain, and, seizing Piroo in his trunk, lifted him on high, preparatory to dashing him to earth and stamping his life out.
But fortune was in favour of Piroo for a time, and the big cummerbund he wore had got loose with dancing, so it came undone, and Piroo slipped down its length to the ground, while Maharaj was left holding the loose cloth in his trunk.
Then Piroo fled for his life, and ran into a grass-thatched hut that stood close by; but the elephant, pulling out his picket pins like a couple of toothpicks, reached the hut in a stride, and, putting his trunk through the thatch as if it had been a sheet of paper, felt round for the man inside and, seizing him, dragged him forth. The people yelled, and some came running with fire-brands to scare him, but before any could reach him Maharaj had knocked one of his great fore-feet against the head of the unfortunate Piroo, and he fell to the ground lifeless.
The villagers were terror-stricken and ran to hide in their huts. Tippoo, who was nearest the elephant, ran also, and Alec was about to run when he saw Maharaj single out Tippoo and chase him. The boy fled, and his flying feet hardly seemed to touch the earth, but Maharaj with long swinging strides covered the ground much faster, and in a few moments there followed a shriek of despair and Tippoo was struggling helplessly fifteen feet in the air in the grasp of that terrible trunk.
"Save me! Sahib, save me!" he shrieked, while Alec looked on powerless to help.
Maharaj seemed undecided whether to dash him to pieces or not. Alec seized the opportunity to imitate the driver's voice and cry, "Bring the boys home safely—very safely—my son." The elephant's great fan-shaped ears bent forward to listen, and he lowered Tippoo till he hung swinging at the end of the huge proboscis. Alec felt he dared not repeat the words, as the elephant would find out the cheat.
The great beast stood a few minutes thinking, and then, swinging Tippoo up, placed him on his neck, and came straight for the tree behind which Alec was hiding.
For a moment a wild desire to escape came to the boy, and the next he saw how hopeless it would be. The sal-tree he had sheltered behind was too thick to climb, and the lowest branch was twenty feet from the ground. To run would be just madness, for Maharaj would have caught him before he could get to the nearest hut. So, taking confidence from the fact that he had not hurt Tippoo, Alec came out from behind the tree and ordered Maharaj to take him up.
He was surprised at the exceeding gentleness with which he did so, but when Alec was once seated astride of his neck with Tippoo behind him, he did not know what to do. He thought he would walk the elephant round the village and then tie him up in his pickets again. So he cried, "Chalo! Bata!" (Go on, my son), and tried to guide him with his knees; but Maharaj would not budge an inch, and stood stock still, considering. Then he seemed to have made up his mind, and started forward suddenly with a lurch that nearly threw the boys off.
He walked straight to the dead mahout and, carefully gathering him up in his trunk, wheeled round and set off stationwards. He had remembered his master's commands, and the journey to Cawnpore he must commence on the morrow.
It was about eight o'clock in the evening, and Alec had no desire to start travelling homeward at that hour. Besides, he had no food with him, and the pad was not on the back of Maharaj. It is almost impossible to ride an elephant bare back, and though these were only slips of boys there wasn't room enough for two to sit comfortably on the neck. Alec drove his knees into the elephant's head behind the ears and tried to turn him round, shouting, "Dhutt, dhutt, arrea!" (Go back!), but it was no use; the elephant had made up his mind to go home, and took not the least notice of the boy's commands.
The head man of the village ran after them, crying—
"Where are you taking him, Sahib?"
"We take him nowhere," Alec answered. "He is master to-night, and carries us home, I believe."
"But you cannot ride without the pad, Sahib, or the driving-hook, and there are other things you leave behind."
"We will stick on his neck till we drop," he answered (for an elephant is worth many thousand rupees to the Government, and must not get lost).
"At least command him to drop the dead body before he mangles it, so that we may burn it with decent ceremony," was the last request of the head man.
But Maharaj would not listen to the command, and made certain noises in his throat by which he meant Alec to understand that he was going to carry the dead man home whether he liked it or no.
The lights of the village were soon lost in the distance, and Maharaj strode into the empty darkness, trailing a picket pin behind him and carrying that horror in his trunk.
Till that day Alec had loved Maharaj for his great strength and docility, his wisdom, and his endearing ways with children, but when he saw him in anger extinguish the life of a man as easily as one could pulp a gooseberry in the fingers, the elephant changed at once in his eyes, and Alec saw in him nothing but the grim executioner of the Moguls, and stamping out lives his daily task. The boy felt the touch of the beast almost loathsome, and longed to escape from his situation on its neck.
Soon the cramped position began to tell, for they were jammed together, and Tippoo felt like a mustard-plaster upon Alec's back. Alec tried to vary the discomfort by lying forward on the head of the elephant, and Tippoo tried leaning back as far as he could without being in danger of falling off, but they both felt they could not hold on the eight hours that the journey would take.
By-and-by they noticed that something was making Maharaj restive; twice he swung his trunk as if trying to drive away that something, after which he quickened his pace, then he turned round once in his tracks and faced his unseen tormentor. Alec wondered greatly what was worrying him, but he heard and saw nothing in the blackness that reigned. The elephant's restiveness increased, and again he swung round suddenly and charged that invisible thing in the dark; again Alec strained both eyes and ears to no avail. The only sound on the air came from the trailing picket pin.
"Whatever is worrying Maharaj?" he said anxiously.
"He sees that which our eyes can't see—an evil thing," answered Tippoo.
"What! do you mean the ghost of Piroo?" Alec asked.
"No, Sahib," said Tippoo. "It is a churail, an evil spirit that eats dead men, and it wants the body of Piroo."
"Nonsense," Alec replied.
"It is true, Sahib. Many have seen it at work in the graveyards of the Mussulman, but to-night no one may see it but the elephant."
Alec laughed. Yet, ghoul or not, there was something the huge beast seemed afraid of and hurried to get away from, or attempted to frighten back, without success.
It was a most weird and uncanny situation, and the boys longed for it to end.
But a pleasant change was at hand. The heavens were rapidly lighting, and soon the moon commenced to rise on the scene. A feeling of relief grew with the strengthening light, for they were sure the ghostly terror would disappear with the dark. The moon had partly risen when Tippoo said, "Look, Sahib, there is the thing."
Alec looked, and in the uncertain light saw a shadowy something keeping pace with the elephant, but what it was he could not say.
Then on the other side of the road they saw there was another moving shadow as mysterious as the first. But they were not kept in suspense much longer, for the light suddenly brightened, and they saw each weird shadow transform itself into a number of jackals. The smell of blood had attracted the pack, and they had made an attempt to get the dead body away from Maharaj. The reaction on their strained nerves was so great that the boys laughed aloud in pure joy at the sense of relief, and wondered they had not guessed the cause of the elephant's restlessness before.
For nearly four hours they had been on that apology for a neck, and their limbs were painful and stiff from the discomfort of sitting so close, when, without any warning, Maharaj came to a stop under a big neem-tree, and they recognised it as the place at which they had taken their midday meal going down to the village. Maharaj carefully placed the body of Piroo on the ground and knelt down beside it, and the boys, only too pleased at the chance, scrambled off as fast as their cramped legs would permit. It needed some walking up and down to get rid of their stiffness, so they chased the jackals and pelted them with stones, which restored their circulation quickly, whilst Maharaj stood sentry over the dead man.
Tired out and exhausted, the boys were anxious for a little sleep, but they could not lie under the same tree as that gruesome thing, so they lay down under a neighbouring sal. Alec was on the way to dreamland when he felt he was being carried gently in some one's arms. He woke up and found that Maharaj had lifted him in his trunk and that he was taking him back to the tree where the dead lay. Here he placed Alec on the ground alongside the mahout, on the other side of which was Tippoo snoring peacefully. How he had managed to move the boy without waking him was a marvel. As soon as Alec was released he tried to get away, but Maharaj would not allow it, and forced him to lie down again while he stood guard over all three.
They say boys have no nerves, but even at this distance of time Alec shudders to recollect his sensations on that night of horror caused by the poor crushed thing he lay shoulder to shoulder with. He feigned sleep and tried to roll a foot or two away, but Maharaj had grown suspicious, and rolled him back, so that he lay flat on his shoulder-blades between the forelegs of the elephant, watching the restless swing of the trunk above him. This was better than looking at what lay beside him, and he wanted no inducement to keep his gaze averted. A hyena laughed like an exultant fiend. Great flying foxes slowly flapped across the face of the moon, like Eblis and his satellites scanning the earth for prey, and the pack of jackals sat silently waiting for the body of the dead.
Maharaj was very quiet and vigilant, and seemed to understand the seriousness of his crime. The usual gurgling, grunting, and rocking with which he amused himself at night were wanting, and though there was a large field of sugar-cane near by, and he must have been hungry, he never tried to help himself as he would have done on any other occasion. In spite of the feeling of repulsion Alec began to feel a little pity for the remorseful giant, for it was most probable he would be shot for killing Piroo, whose drunken madness had brought about his own death.
But all things have an end, and even that night passed away like the passing of a strange delirium. About four o'clock Maharaj became very restless, thinking it was time to start, and pulled and pushed Tippoo till he sat up, rubbing his eyes and looking about in a dazed way. The elephant went down on his knees, and the boys took advantage of the invitation and were soon in their places. Then Maharaj slowly picked up his burden and they recommenced their journey home. The jackals were much disappointed, and followed listlessly for a short distance, then slunk off down a nullah to avoid the light of day.
A sleepy policeman was the first to notice the dead man in the trunk of the elephant. With a yell of alarm he sprang from the footpath where he stood, panting and staring till Maharaj had passed; then some confused notion that he should make an arrest seemed to occur to him, and he made a few steps forward, but the magnitude of the task made him halt again, dazed and bewildered, and thus they left him. The consternation they caused in the bazaar is beyond words to describe. It is sufficient to say that the better part of the population followed Maharaj at a safe distance, looking like some huge procession, wending its way to the hut of the mahout. Maharaj walked slowly to the door of the hut and laid the corpse down.
"Hast thou brought them back safely, my son?" cried a fever-stricken voice from the depths of the hut.
"Goor-r-r," said Maharaj in his throat.
"That is well; but why didst thou not arrive last evening? Didst travel all night? Piroo, thou wilt find his sugar-cane in the shed; give him a double measure and drive his pickets in under the mango-tree."
But there was no answer from Piroo, only the frightened whisperings of a great number of people assembled outside. The old mahout, in alarm, staggered to the door, and saw the body at the feet of Maharaj and the crimson stains upon the trunk and feet of the elephant.
"Ahhi! ahhi! ahhi!" cried the old man aloud, "what madness is this? What hast thou done, my son? Now they will shoot thee without doubt—thy life for his, and he was not worth his salt. Ahhi! ahhi!"
Then the old man wept, embracing the trunk of the elephant, which was coiled round his master, while the people looked on, and the boys, worn and tired by the strain of that awful night, could barely cling to their seats on the neck of Maharaj.
Then the mahout, weak as he was, helped them off, and set about washing the dark red stains away.
"Ahhi! ahhi!" he sobbed. "I have lost a nephew. I have lost also my son, who will surely be shot by the sirkar for this deed. My Maharaj, my greatest of kings! What shall I do without thee! I will return to my country and drive no more. Ahhi! ahhi!"
But this happily was not to be, for a strange thing happened. The nephew recovered. Piroo had only been stunned by the blow, and the blood that covered his face had come from his nose. He was, after a time, himself again, but a wiser man, and Maharaj was not shot after all. Yet the boys do not like to think of that adventure even to-day.
WHO GOES THERE?
The world is but a huge playground, after all; and just as the sympathy of those who witness a fight between two boys—one of whom is a big fellow and a reputed bully, while the other is a plucky youngster but one-half his opponent's size—invariably goes with the smaller and weaker combatant, so it is even amongst nations. Thus, early in the past century, when the tiny States of Spanish America were keenly struggling with the mother-country in their endeavour to cast off the Spanish yoke, practically the whole world wished them the success which eventually crowned their efforts.
It seems ridiculous to call them "tiny" States when the smallest of those of which we are treating—the Republics of Central America—could find room for all the counties of Wales; while, if we were able to set down the whole of England upon the largest, we should find not only that it fitted in comfortably, but that the foreign State would yet have a goodly slice of land to spare—sufficient, at any rate, to accommodate three or four cities of the size of London. I call them tiny, therefore, solely because they are such when compared with other countries on the American Continent, such as Canada, the United States, and Brazil.
During the years 1820 and 1821 a very keen spirit of independence was manifested in those regions, and by 1823 the last link of the rusty chain which had bound those colonies to Spain was snapped altogether beyond repair; and then, for a time, Central America became part of the State of Mexico. One by one, however, the colonies withdrew, and in 1824 the independent Republic of Central America was formed, which, in its turn, was dissolved; and ever since the States have been continually at war—either with their neighbours or amongst themselves.
It is these incessant wars and revolutions which have given the country its present rather bad name, and have convinced those who happened to sympathise with the inhabitants when they were fighting for their independence that, after all, they had fared better even under the lame government of Spain than they have done under their own.
The present-day native of Central America can scarcely be said to be an improvement on the inhabitant of 1824. He still retains the fire and ire of the Spaniard in his blood—in fact, he is nothing short of an unfortunate mixture of the fiery Spaniard and the extremely restless Indian. Small wonder, then, that "peace" is quite a luxury in those parts, and that revolutions break out periodically.
In Nicaragua—the country with which my tale is concerned—this is especially the case. One year passed without a revolution is a rarity; and I have gone through certainly not less than four such outbreaks. While the trouble exists it is decidedly inconvenient and uncomfortable for the foreigner, but the real danger is often sadly exaggerated. During one of these disturbances, nevertheless, I narrowly escaped coming into serious conflict with the authorities—and all through a boyish freak, which at any time would have been boyish, but amounted almost to madness when played in the very heart of a town under martial law. When I first set foot on Central American soil, however, my majority was still many months ahead of me, and I had not yet done with that period of puerile frivolity through which most youths have to pass. Thus I will offer no other excuse, but will merely relate what took place.
A pig—a common or garden pig—was at the bottom of it all. The natives are very fond of pork indeed, and nearly every household boasts of at least one porker, which is allowed the entire run of the house and looked upon almost as "one of the family." The air in the town where I was staying at the time had suddenly thickened with rumours of war; and it was a well-known fact that some thousands of men were ready to shoulder their rifles at a given signal and, with a few well-tried veterans at their head, to make a mad and murderous rush upon anything and everything belonging to the Government.
In such cases nothing is too bad for either party, excepting perhaps interference with foreigners, whom, owing to one or two severe lessons received of late years, the natives have now learned to respect. Fusillades in the centre of a town, a sudden charge with the bayonet in a thronged market-place, the unexpected firing of a mine, and similar proofs of the "patriotism" of one party or the other, may be expected at any moment; and although pretending to inclusion in the list of civilised nations, either party will spurn the idea of notice or warning previous to the bombardment of a town. Every one is on the alert, and the tension is trying indeed if it happens to be one's first "revolution."
Bloodthirsty natives, speaking scarcely above a whisper, may be seen in small groups at almost every street corner, and in such quarters of the town where reside known sympathisers with the attacking party much military movement is noticeable. Every few hundred yards are stationed pickets of gendarmes or barefooted soldados; and after dusk, no matter who you be or what your errand, you stand every chance of a bullet should you fail to give prompt satisfaction on being challenged with the usual quien vive?
And so it was on the occasion to which I have alluded. Everybody's nerves were strung up to a painful pitch, and any unusual noise—any sound, almost, above a half-smothered cough—would bring fifty or sixty reckless gendarmes, with fixed bayonets, to the spot in a very brief interval. It was generally looked upon as certain that an assault upon the town—in which one half the inhabitants were willing, nay, even anxious to join—would commence before morning; and an ominous silence prevailed.
Then it was that my "little joke" or scheme was hatched. I was indulging in a quiet game of "cannons" on a small French billiard-table in my hotel, and during the game had been several times annoyed by the proprietor's favourite pig, which insisted every now and then on strolling beneath the table, to emerge on the other side quite unexpectedly and bump heavily against my legs just as I was squaring for some difficult shot. The brute had done this at least four times, with the result that my opponent was many points to the good. I had often licked him at the same game before, so the reader must not imagine that I am merely excusing my own play—it was the pig's fault, without a doubt, and I was beginning to lose my temper.
"I'll teach that pig a lesson when the game is over," I remarked to my opponent; and, in effect, I had soon put away my cue, and, cornering the porker, fastened a piece of cord to his hind trotter. A large empty biscuit-tin and a bunch of Chinese crackers did the rest—the tin being secured to the other end of the line and the crackers nestling snugly inside the tin.
The natives who stood around watching these preparations evidently foresaw certain results which my boyish vision failed to reach, for they whispered and laughed to one another, and at intervals, rubbing their hands together with glee, would exclaim, "A good joke." "Eh! a good joke, you see!"
The whole town was startled a few minutes later by the uproar, and the shouts and laughter of those who witnessed the porker's departure from the hotel.
Lighting the tiny fuse attached to the crackers, I put them back again into the tin, and a kick at the latter was sufficient to startle the hog off at a gallop down the street.
The slight pull on his hind leg caused by the weight of the tin evidently annoyed him, and, wishing to get away from it, he ran the faster.
Boom! boom! The biscuit-tin swung from side to side at every pace, and each time it struck the ground with a noisy report which in itself was sufficient to arouse the already alarmed town.
Then, the fuse having burned down, the crackers commenced business. Bang! bang! Burr-rr—bang! Burr-rr—bang-bang-BANG! they went, the vibrations of the tin adding volume to each detonation; and it would be difficult indeed to imagine a better imitation of a distant fusillade. The frightened hog only went the faster.
I was running behind, endeavouring to keep up with the pig, for I did not wish to lose any of the fun; but he soon out-distanced me, although I was fortunate enough to be within ear-shot when the crackers gave their final kick.
Bang! bang! Burr—rr—bang! Bang! BANG!
Then began the fun. The inhabitants crowded to their doors to inquire in which direction the attack on the town had commenced, and the military were tearing hither and thither, like so many madmen. Big generals in their shirt-sleeves galloped through the streets on little horses, collecting their men; pieces of artillery were rushed out of the barracks and held in readiness; scouts went out to reconnoitre in every conceivable direction, and the military band, playing all the national airs within their ken, paraded the public square, halting every now and then so that an officer might read to the public the Commandante's orders to the effect that all the inhabitants must remain indoors under pain of all sorts of outrageous and impossible penalties.
In view of the latter, however, I deemed it wise to give up my chase and return to my hotel, there to await developments; and as I retraced my steps cries of El enemigo! El enemigo! hailed me at almost every pace. Hundreds of questions as to the whereabouts of the attacking forces were hurled at me as I went, but I dared not stop to respond, or without a doubt I should have betrayed myself. At the onset, boylike, I had considered this a "splendid joke," but now the alarm was so widespread that I did not know whether to feel startled by the result or flattered to think I had succeeded in putting an entire town in an uproar.
I thought of the pleasure that would be experienced by the ordinary "romp" at home were he able to make so vast an impression with his everyday practical jokes; and it was to me a matter of tremendous wonder that a harmless biscuit-tin, a common or garden firework, and a "domestic" pig could possibly combine to cause such intense excitement.
With very great difficulty I managed to pass the various pickets stationed along the streets, being detained by each one for cross-examination; and ere I reached my hotel I was overtaken by half a company of soldados returning to barracks with a prisoner. Then my conscience began to prick me.
"This has gone rather too far," I thought. "I did not intend to do any one an injury, but only desired to teach that wretched porker a lesson." In fact, I felt distinctly uncomfortable as I trudged along, and somewhat alarmed at this new turn of events; and I resolved that in the future I would look ahead before attempting even the commonest practical joke.
When I reached the spot where the next picket was stationed, I was surprised to find that the men failed to challenge me. I was getting quite used to the "Who goes there?" which had met me at every street corner, and the absence of it in this case made me somewhat suspicious. The explanation was not long in coming. I found them all in fits of laughter; and, availing myself of the opportunity which their mirth afforded me, I made inquiries as to the name of the prisoner who had been marched past me a few minutes ago. My question provoked more mirth, but I eventually secured the information, which had the effect of adding my mirth to theirs, for I learned that the prisoner was—a pig with a tin tied to his leg.
This pig, I was informed, was the cause of the whole alarm. There was no attack—in fact, there was no enemy near enough to the town, as yet, to indulge in an assault. All was a practical joke—some one had let this pig loose with a biscuit-tin tied to his leg, and this had started the alarm. The porker had been run down and lassoed by the military on the outskirts of the town, so that it was all over now—excepting that the authorities were looking for the perpetrator, or the originator of the scare.
Realising now the extent of my folly, I, who hitherto had been laughing up my sleeve at the discomfiture and alarm of others, was in my turn genuinely alarmed, and all the way back to my hotel I was wondering as to what would be my best course of action—foreseeing, whichever way I turned for a solution, visions of heavy fines, probable imprisonment, and possible banishment from the country altogether.
On reaching the hotel I was hailed by many of those who had witnessed "the start," and consequently knew my connection with the affair. They soon posted me as to what had happened during my absence.
Ere the pig and myself had been gone five minutes, a picket of soldiers made a rush upon the hotel, went inside, and, closing every exit, informed the occupants that every one must consider himself under arrest until the real originator of the "scare" was discovered. The officer remarked that he knew for a fact that the matter began there, and although the pig had not yet been caught it had been recognised as "belonging to the proprietor's family."
Then, to the surprise of every one concerned, a certain Colonel Moyal, a native keenly opposed to the Government and a suspected revolutionist, stepped forward and declared that he had carried the whole thing through from beginning to end, so was prepared to take the consequences.
Needless to say, my champion was arrested and marched off to the Cabildo; and I was informed that the plucky fellow had done this to shield me, merely to keep me out of trouble because he had taken a fancy to me.
Not for this, however, would I let him remain in his unenviable position. It did not take me long to resolve that, to be honourable, I must myself bear the consequences of my own folly; and in a very short time afterward I was interviewing the Commandante. That official, in whose favour I had long since made it my business to firmly establish myself, informed me that it was then too late at night to take any evidence, or, in fact, to move at all in the matter; but that he would attend to me at eight o'clock next morning.
The following day at the appointed hour I waited on him, told him I was the real culprit, secured the colonel's release, paid a fine of a few dollars, and by nine o'clock was back again in my hotel; and when I sat down with the Colonel that night to a special cena to which I had invited him—intending in some measure to prove to him my gratitude for his generosity and esteem—I made a rather boyish speech in which I regretted tremendously the Colonel's having passed an exceedingly uncomfortable night in prison on my account, and my inability to release him the night before.
Moyal, to my intense surprise, replied that he had to thank me for the opportunity I had given him. "Of course," said he, "I should not like to see you in trouble, and would have done anything in my power to keep you out of it, but I must admit that my motive was not the generous one that has been attributed to me. It was a rather selfish motive, you see, between you and me. I am a moving spirit in this revolution which is brewing, and I have important business with the Government soldiers inside the Cabildo. In the ordinary course, since I am known as a revolutionist, I cannot possibly get into open or secret communication with them—so of course I had to get arrested, and you gave me that chance!"
I was about to ask him, boylike, whether he was successful in his mission, when he added, "The only pity is that you didn't let me stay there a bit longer—but you were not to know, so I appreciate your promptness."
However, I had reason to believe afterwards that he had not succeeded in his object, which, I have no doubt, was to "buy" all the soldados over to his side, for up to this day the political party to which the Colonel belonged is out of power, though it has repeatedly made efforts to get in.
A DROWNING MESSMATE
It is as one of the most popular sea-novelists of all times that Captain Marryat is best known to his countrymen—oldsters and youngsters alike. The whole life of this gallant seaman, however, was made up of one long series of exciting adventures, both on land and sea, many of these experiences being made use of in after years to supply material for his sea-romances.
One of Marryat's most characteristic acts of self-devotion was his springing overboard into the waters of Malta Harbour in order to save the life of a middy messmate, Cobbett by name, who had accidentally fallen overboard. What made this action an especially noble one was the fact that Cobbett was one of the greatest bullies in the midshipmen's berth, and had specially singled out Marryat for cowardly and brutal treatment. Again, we must remember that sharks are often seen in Malta Harbour, and any one rash enough to enter its waters takes his life in his hands.
Thank God the gunroom of a British man-of-war of the present day is managed in an entirely different manner from what it was in Marryat's day. Says that gallant officer: "There was no species of tyranny, injustice, and persecution to which youngsters were not compelled to submit from those who were their superiors in bodily strength."
The entire management and organisation of the Royal Navy at that period was rotten to the core, and it speaks volumes for the devotion, skill, and bravery of the gallant officers of the fleet that they so magnificently upheld the glory and honour of the flag in every quarter of the globe in spite of the shortcomings of the Admiralty Board.
As an instance of this general mismanagement of naval affairs, Marryat, who had been sent to join the Imperieuse frigate as a young middy, thus writes in his private log—
"The Imperieuse sailed; the admiral of the port was one who would be obeyed, but would not listen always to reason or common-sense. The signal for sailing was enforced by gun after gun; the anchor was hove up, and, with all her stores on deck, her guns not even mounted, in a state of confusion unparalleled from her being obliged to hoist in faster than it was possible she could stow away, she was driven out of harbour to encounter a heavy gale. A few hours more would have enabled her to proceed to sea with security, but they were denied; the consequences were appalling, and might have been fatal.
"In the general confusion, some iron too near the binnacles had attracted the needle of the compasses; the ship was steered out of her course. At midnight, in a heavy gale at the close of the month of November, so dark that you could not distinguish any object, however close, the Imperieuse dashed upon the rocks between Ushant and the Main. The cry of terror which ran through the lower deck; the grating of the keel as she was forced in; the violence of the shocks which convulsed the frame of the vessel; the hurrying up of the ship's company without their clothes; and then the enormous waves which again bore her up and carried her clean over the reef, will never be effaced from my memory.
"Our escape was miraculous. With the exception of her false keel having been torn off, the ship had suffered little injury; but she had beat over a reef, and was riding by her anchors, surrounded by rocks, some of them as high out of water as her lower-yards, and close to her. How nearly were the lives of a fine ship's company, and of Lord Cochrane and his officers, sacrificed in this instance to the despotism of an admiral who would be obeyed!
"The cruises of the Imperieuse were periods of continual excitement, from the hour in which she hove up her anchor till she dropped it again in port; the day that passed without a shot being fired in anger was with us a blank day; the boats were hardly secured on the booms than they were cast loose and out again; the yard and stay tackles were for ever hoisting up and lowering down.
"The expedition with which parties were formed for service; the rapidity of the frigate's movements, night and day; the hasty sleep, snatched at all hours; the waking up at the report of the guns, which seemed the only key-note to the hearts of those on board; the beautiful precision of our fire, obtained by constant practice; the coolness and courage of our captain inoculating the whole of the ship's company; the suddenness of our attacks, the gathering after the combat, the killed lamented, the wounded almost envied; the powder so burnt into our faces that years could not remove it; the proved character of every man and officer on board; the implicit trust and the adoration we felt for our commander; the ludicrous situations which would occur even in the extremest danger and create mirth when death was staring you in the face; the hairbreadth escapes, and the indifference to life shown by all—when memory sweeps along those years of excitement even now, my pulse beats more quickly with the reminiscence."
A middy's life was no child's play in those days, was it?
But it is time that I told you the story of how Marryat saved the life of his messmate Cobbett, in the Mediterranean.
The Imperieuse was lying at anchor in Malta Harbour at the time the incident happened. It was about the hour of sunset, and the officer on duty had turned the men of the second dog watch up to hoist the boats to the davits. The men ran away smartly with the falls, and soon had the cutters clear of the water and swung high in the air.
At this moment, Cobbett, who was off duty, went into the main-chains with some lines and bait in order to fish. In endeavouring to get on one of the ratlines of the lower-rigging his foot unfortunately slipped, and he fell headlong overboard into the waters of the Grand Harbour. Several persons witnessed the accident, and the prodigious splash the middy's body made in striking the water immediately made known to every one else that a struggle for life had commenced.
Cobbett could not swim a stroke, and was much hampered by his heavy clothes and boots. At the first plunge he was carried far beneath the surface, but quickly rose again, puffing and blowing like a grampus, and making desperate efforts to keep himself afloat.
The officer of the watch promptly called away the lifeboat's crew, and these men quickly scrambled into one of the quarter-boats, which by this time had been run up to the davits. Life-buoys too had been thrown overboard, but not one of them had fallen near enough to the struggling boy to enable him to grasp it. Young Marryat happened at the time of the accident to be standing in the waist of the ship conversing with the captain of the main-top of the watch below. Hearing the splash and the excited cries of "Man overboard!" which rang out fore-and-aft, he rushed to the gangway to see if he could be of any assistance in the emergency.
One can imagine his feelings on beholding his arch-enemy, the bully of the midshipmen's berth, struggling desperately for life under the frigate's counter. Being an admirable swimmer himself, Marryat saw at a glance that his messmate was helpless in the water, and indeed was on the point of sinking. Without a moment's hesitation, and without waiting to throw off coat or boots, the plucky youngster boldly plunged overboard, and quickly rising to the surface, struck out for his now almost unconscious enemy, and fortunately managed to seize him and keep him afloat, whilst he shouted to those on board to lower the cutter as quickly as possible. The men were only too eager to go to his assistance, and the instant the lifeboat was safely in the water, her crew got their oars out, and, pulling vigorously to the spot, soon hauled both midshipmen, wet and dripping, inboard.
Cobbett was unconscious, his face being as pale as death, but it was only a matter now of a few seconds to get him aboard the frigate, where he soon revived under the care of the surgeons, and was able to return to duty in the course of a day or two, much humbled in spirit, and very grateful to the courageous young messmate who had so gallantly saved his life at the risk of his own.
Writing home to his mother on the subject of this adventure, Marryat concluded his account by saying: "From that moment I have loved the fellow as I never loved friend before. All my hate is forgotten. I have saved his life."
A ludicrous adventure in the water once befell Captain Marryat. In the gallant officer's private log occurs this entry: "July 10th.—Anchored in Carrick Roads, Falmouth. Gig upset with captain."
Florence Marryat in her father's memoirs thus relates the incident: "When this gig was capsized, it contained, besides Captain Marryat, a middy and an old bumboat woman. The woman could swim like a fish, but the boy could not, and as Captain Marryat, upon rising to the surface of the water and preparing to strike out for the ship, found himself most needlessly clutched and borne up by this lady, he shook her off impatiently, saying: 'Go to the boy! Go to the boy! He can't swim!'
"'Go to the boy!' she echoed above the winds and waves. 'What! hold up a midshipman when I can save the life of a captain! Not I indeed!' And no entreaties could prevail on her to relinquish her impending honours. Who eventually did the 'dirty work' on this occasion is not recorded, but it is certain that no one was drowned."
As is well known, sailors are devoted to animals, and Marryat was no exception to the rule. He has left on record a story of a pet baboon, which was on board the Tees with him—
"I had on board a ship which I commanded a very large Cape baboon, who was a pet of mine, and also a little boy, who was a son of mine. When the baboon sat down on his hams he was about as tall as the boy when he walked. The boy, having a tolerable appetite, received about noon a considerable slice of bread-and-butter to keep him quiet till dinner-time. I was on one of the carronades, busy with the sun's lower limb, bringing it into contact with the horizon, when the boy's lower limbs brought him into contact with the baboon, who, having, as well as the boy, a strong predilection for bread-and-butter, and a stronger arm to take it withal, thought proper to help himself to that to which the boy had already been helped. In short, he snatched the bread-and-butter, and made short work of it, for it was in his pouch in a moment.
"Upon this the boy set up a yell, which attracted my notice to this violation of the articles of war, to which the baboon was equally amenable as any other person in the ship, for it is expressly stated in the preamble of every article, 'all who are in, or belonging to.' Whereupon I jumped off the carronade and, by way of assisting his digestion, I served out to the baboon monkey's allowance, which is more kicks than halfpence! The master reported that the heavens intimated that it was twelve o'clock, and, with all the humility of a captain of a man-of-war, I ordered him to 'make it so'; whereupon it was made, and so passed that day.
"I do not remember how many days it was afterwards that I was on the carronade as usual, about the same time, and all parties were precisely in the same situations—the master by my side, the baboon under the booms, and the boy walking out of the cabin with his bread-and-butter. As before, he again passed the baboon, who again snatched the bread-and-butter from the boy, who again set up a squall, which again attracted my attention. I looked round, and the baboon caught my eye, which told him plainly that he'd soon catch what was not at all my eye; and he proved that he actually thought so, for he at once put the bread-and-butter back into the boy's hands!
"It was the only instance of which I ever knew or heard of a monkey being capable of self-denial where his stomach was concerned, and I record it accordingly. This poor fellow, when the ship's company were dying of the cholera, took that disease, went through all its gradations, and died apparently in great agony."
THE PILOT OF PORT CREEK
The sun, low in the west, was sinking behind a heavy cloudbank, which, to nautical eyes, portended fog at sea.
A mariner, far out in the Channel, in a small boat, was shading his eyes with his hand and gazing towards the south-western horizon.
The lad—he was not more than eighteen—was calculated to attract attention. He was of fine physique. His hair shone like burnished gold. His eyes were deep blue, clear, and bright. A marked firmness was about his mouth and chin; and when he seized the oars and rowed to counteract the boat's leeway caused by the tide, the grip of his hands was as that of a vice.
He was the pilot of Port Creek—no official title, but one given him by a lawless set of men amongst whom, for many years, his lot had been cast.
Astern, faint and indistinct, loomed the low-lying coast-line. One could only judge it to be a wild, inhospitable shore.
The sun disappeared, and the shades of night began to fall. Suddenly the clouds parted, and a ray of sunshine shot obliquely down towards the south-west.
The pilot immediately muttered: "That's well!"
The bright ray had struck the dark sails of a lugger, and in her he had recognised the craft he had come out to pilot to a fateful destination.
Smartly he ran up a small lugsail, and set his boat's head towards the stranger. She was black hulled, and with a rakish rig that gave her the appearance of being a fast sailer.
At the critical moment, when it appeared the lugger was about to cut him down, the pilot suddenly ported helm, and ran his boat under the lugger's side. Smartly he lowered his sail and fastened on the vessel with his boathook.
"Heave a rope!" called he. "I'm coming on board."
"And who are you?" asked a swarthy man, who had been watching from the lugger's bows.
"I bring a message to your captain."
"Catch, then!" and a coil of rope went curling through the air.
The pilot deftly caught it, and hitched the end to the bow of his boat.
"Carry it astern, and make fast!" ordered he, like one accustomed to command. "She'll tow till I want her."
The boat dropped astern, but the pilot nimbly boarded the lugger.
A powerful man in reefer jacket, sou'-wester, and sea-boots greeted him with—
"You seem pretty free with strangers, my lad."
The pilot held out a piece of paper. The captain took it and read—
"It is by our order and for the good of the cause that the bearer is authorised to act."
The signature was a rude hieroglyphic. The captain's manner immediately showed that he recognised it, and respected it.
"Am I to understand that you take command?"
The pilot bowed, and tendered a second paper. The captain read—
"Should the bearer fail to accomplish that which he has undertaken, it will be for the captain of the 'Swift' to see that he gives no further trouble."
A wicked gleam came into the captain's eyes.
"If you fail in that which you are instructed to do—and which I know nothing of at present—this is your death-warrant?"
"Then see you fail not."
"Rely on it, I shall not fail!"
The words were spoken in such cold, deliberate tones that the captain—a man who boasted he knew not fear—shivered as though from the touch of an icy hand.
"What are your orders?" presently asked the captain, eyeing him keenly.
"To pilot the lugger to the head of Port Creek, where friends await her cargo. The old landings are played out; but who would suspect a lugger to effect a run in the creek after dark?"
"No human hand could steer that course!"
"Yet I am here."
"The thing is impossible!"
"The tide flows at midnight. My orders are to go in with the rising tide and bring you out on the ebb, that you may make a good offing before dawn."
"It cannot be done! I'll not have the risk——"
"You have your commands, I my orders," coldly interrupted the pilot.
"Then I'll execute mine to the letter!"
"And I—we shall see."
He bent low over the binnacle, afterwards glancing swiftly shoreward.
"Keep her away a couple of points. We'll come about presently and fetch the creek on the other tack, just after dark, and with the tide half made."
Long and intently the captain studied the boy's fearless face. Then he began to recall an almost forgotten memory.
"Boy," said he suddenly, "you remind me of some one I have known."
The pilot's gaze remained as steady as his own, but there was a slight expression of cynicism playing about his mouth.
"Ay!" continued the captain, seeming to speak his thoughts aloud. "The eyes are the same, just as they looked that night when I—— Bah!" recovering himself. "What a fool I am! This new venture unmans me."
The pilot did not seem to hear, but his eyes seemed to glow with a green sheen, as the gathering gloom obscured his face. A violent emotion was possessing him.
"Boy!" again cried the captain, "you interest me. How comes it that one so young holds so responsible a position in the cause?"
"By past services have I been judged."
"Come, tell me the story."
"As you will."
"You will find me a ready listener."
"Be it so; but not yet. Now set the course north-west. A single light here at the binnacle, and no other to show from anywhere on board. As soon as we are in the creek, see that the sails are smartly trimmed to my order. There'll be little time to spare."
The captain passed the word, and began to moodily pace the deck. He had never thought to question the genuineness of the two papers. There stood the pilot, his life forfeited by any failure tending to bring disaster upon the lugger; and it was a good guarantee.
Anon the captain glanced at the pale, set face of the pilot, on which the diffused light from the binnacle lantern feebly shone. For the second time that evening the captain shivered, and without being able to define the cause. He felt strangely ill at ease. Accustomed to daring ventures, the present seemed sheer recklessness. Who was this determined boy? Why did his presence bring back a fateful memory of the past?
The darkness deepened, and was further intensified by the cold, grey fog. The wind was light, but a steady up-Channel draught. The lugger was creeping in under mainsail and jib, her other sails being furled.
The pilot took over the helm, and ordered the man he relieved to go forward. At the same time the captain came and stood by the binnacle.
"What is our position?" shortly asked he.
"We are within the creek," replied the pilot. "Hark! Don't you hear the grinding of the shingle away over the port bow? As soon as the sound comes from windward we'll have her on the port tack, and thus we'll clear Boulder Ledge."
"It sounds fair sailing; but I liken it to going blindly into a trap," retorted the captain.
"Haul on the main-sheet! Steady, forward, with the jib!" And the pilot starboarded his helm.
Again the captain shivered. Who was this, who held death so lightly? His own gloomy forebodings came upon him with redoubled force. What manner of pilot was this, to whom night was as day?
"Boy!" he cried shortly, "why are you here?"
"You read my orders."
Again the pilot caused an interruption by shifting helm.
"Who are you?" hoarsely cried the captain.
"Well, sixteen years ago to-night—steady, cap'n!" for the man had staggered as though from the effect of a mortal blow.
"Avast! Who and what are you?" The captain's voice was deep and menacing.
"The pilot of Port Creek. I have no other name—at least, it suits me to forget it."
"What was your father?"
"Wait!" and the pilot luffed till the sails shook. A peculiar vibration passed throughout the lugger's timbers, and her way was gently arrested.
"We're aground! You have failed!" cried the captain, and drew a pistol from his belt.
"Wait!" And again the pilot spoke in cold, disdainful tones. One might have counted a hundred. It was terrible suspense. The captain's finger was toying with the trigger of his pistol. The pilot stood immovable, the disdainful smile deepening upon his lips. "Ease off the main-sheet!" cried he, as he turned his ear to windward. There came a stronger puff of wind, a bigger wave rolled up under the lugger's stern, she lifted, and immediately glided forward—free!
"You lost your reckoning, my lad!" cried the captain.
"A slight error of judgment. The tide has made somewhat less than I anticipated."
"What is our position?"
"We scraped on the Sandstone Ledge," grimly. "'Twas a close shave—for me!"
"And did you doubt——"
"No. But put up your pistol and I'll get on with my story—unless you'd rather not listen."
"No, no! Go on!"
The pilot stood steady at the helm, his eyes fixed on the binnacle, each movement of the compass-needle a sign for his ready hands to obey. Anon a concise order to shift a sail fell from his lips, for in spite of his interrupted conversation with the captain his every action showed a trained alertness.
Again he took up the thread of his story—
"'Twas my father's death made me—what I am." The pause was ominous. "He was one of us—a smuggler."
"A run had been planned——"
"My father was young and daring. To him was entrusted the most venturesome part of the night's work. But I am anticipating. He had a rival—a man who sought my mother. But she was true to my father."
"Steady, cap'n! You may have known him—perchance he was once your friend?"
"No, no!" hoarsely. "He—I——"
A bright light suddenly flashed through the fog, and from right ahead.
"A signal?" cried the captain.
"From a friend," and the pilot ported helm. "'Tis a dangerous spot hereabouts, so nothing has been left to chance. We're now abreast of Green Point. Steady, lads, for the next tack!"
Shortly another light flashed right upon the lugger's bows. The pilot jammed over the helm to starboard. There was a slight shock, and something grated along the lugger's side.
"All clear now, cap'n; but 'twas a narrow go. We grazed Rudder Rock! The fool stationed there with the light flashed it a full minute too late!"
"Boy, you must have dealings with——"
"Steady, cap'n! Your nerves are unstrung. Perhaps the conclusion of my story 'll steady them. Well, the venture that was planned was no less than to take the goods in under Black Rock, and have them hauled up the face of the cliff. In the end 'twas safely done—to all but my father. He had been lowered down to fasten on the bales. Those who were out that night came back saying he had fallen from the cliff. They recovered his body the next day, and they found the piece of rope around the mangled corpse had been cut."
"Ay, by the rocks."
"No, no! A poor fellow who witnessed the act was shot by the hand that cut the rope; but he lived long enough to tell my mother the truth."
"Or a parcel of lies."
"Dying men don't lie, cap'n! I was born that same night. Years afterwards, when I was old enough to understand—when my mother was on her deathbed—she told me the story; and my last word to her was a promise to hunt down my father's murderer."
"And you have failed!" cried the captain.
"Let go the anchor!" cried the pilot. "See, cap'n, I'll bring her head up into the wind, and she'll ride with her sails set. Off with the hatches, my lads!"
A bright light flashed three times from left to right. The pilot took the lantern and waved responsive signals.
"All's well!" cried he. "Cap'n, you will see to the getting up of the goods."
Taken off his guard, the captain stepped to the hatchway, gave a few orders, and seemed to recollect something. But the binnacle light was out, and the pilot had disappeared! The captain caught at the rope by which his boat had been towing astern. It came in without resistance; it had been cut!
"We are betrayed!" cried the captain. "Hark! Friends or foes!" as a number of boats came quickly alongside.
"Surrender in the King's name!" was the response.
* * * * *
The desperate encounter that ensued is written in the history of those lawless times. Suffice it that the captain and his crew paid the full penalty of their many crimes.
The pilot, having fulfilled his vow, was no more seen upon that part of the coast. To have remained would have been to forfeit his life, for the betrayed smugglers had many friends.
But the old chronicles from which I have compiled this story go on to say that he secured a berth in the navy, and years afterwards trod the quarter-deck of a man-of-war.
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An exciting and interesting story of the time of the Great Plague of 1665; it recites the many adventures through which the hero passed in London, and later in Dorsetshire, where a number of sensational encounters with smugglers and pirates are described. Mr. Bevan knows how to win the attention of boys, and this story will be found to be written in his happiest vein.
FOR QUEEN AND EMPEROR. A Story of Valour and Adventure. By ERNEST PROTHEROE, Author of 'Myddleton's Treasure,' 'From Scapegrace to Hero,' &c. With coloured frontispiece and title-page, and eight other illustrations by J. FINNEMORE, R.I. Large crown 8vo, cloth gilt, 3s. 6d.
The days of the early Britons always have a fascination for youthful readers, and this story is well calculated to sustain their interest. The struggles against the Roman invader supply the hero with the earlier adventures in the story; but after a time the scene changes to Rome, and then to Palestine in the days of the fall of Jerusalem. Whilst passing from one moving scene to another, the reader learns a good deal as to conditions of life under review; but the information so conveyed is never obtrusive, and never diverts attention from the outstanding scenes and figures in this splendid romance.