When the man-o'-war's men boarded us, I ran down the companion stairs in search of the captain, whom I found lying senseless at the foot of the ladder. Fortunately for him, and for all of us, he had been stunned by a blow from one of the pirates as he descended, and was thus prevented from carrying out his desperate resolve to fire the magazine.
This was my last adventure upon the voyage, and some weeks later, without further mishap, we sighted a Dutch vessel bound for Amsterdam, to which, at my request, I was transferred.
I ARRIVE AT AMSTERDAM
My first care after arriving at Amsterdam was to interview the goldsmiths with a view to disposing of the jewels I had brought from the Island of Gems, which proved to be of such value that I realized a considerable sum by the sale of a small portion, for I wished to keep some of the best as a wedding present for Anna.
I lost no time in sending my compliments to the Count of Holstein, with a request that I might be allowed to call upon him. He consented to receive me, and I hastened to the Count's palace, where I found the old nobleman prostrated with grief at the continued and unexplained illness of his only child; but when Anna had seen me, and satisfied herself of my return, she recovered so rapidly that her father, on hearing from me my improved condition, and the sentiments which I entertained for his daughter, gladly gave his consent to our union.
From Anna I learnt of the persecution to which she had been subject from Count Hendrick Luitken, which had mainly been the cause of her illness. Convinced that she would never accept him willingly, Count Hendrick, unknown to her father, had attempted to abduct her to his country estate. With the aid of one of her attendants Anna had made her escape, and believing me dead, while fearing further persecution, she had determined, should she be restored to health, to seek the cloister as her only safe refuge. As her tale proceeded I found it hard to restrain myself from starting off at once in pursuit of the villain who had treated my loved one so shamefully, and I promised myself to bring him to account when the opportunity should arise.
I next sought Hartog at the tavern which I knew he frequented. When he saw me he cried out, "Is it you or your ghost, Peter? I had never looked to see thee again, lad. I'd sooner have thee back than salvage all the gold in the Orient."
I thanked him for his welcome, which I knew to be genuine, and taking a seat at his right hand, I began to tell him of my adventures since we last met. When he heard it was owing to the treachery of Van Luck I had been cast into the sea to be washed ashore on the Island of Gems, and of the subsequent fate of the island and of Van Luck, he became so interested that he promised to meet me later, when I could give him a more detailed account of all that had befallen me. I offered to share with him my jewels, but to this he would not consent.
"Nay, Peter," he said, "I take no treasure that I had no hand in getting. I am no pirate to rob a friend to whom chance and opportunity have proved kind, but if it would pleasure thee to give me a keepsake, I will wear one of thy jewels set as a brooch, as a reminder of thy goodwill. I am, moreover, in no need of money, for the gold we took at Cortes' island proved of greater value than I expected, and of this your share, together with the wages due to you, I will see to it is honestly paid by the merchants at Amsterdam. Besides, who knows we may sail together again?" But at this I shook my head.
"No more voyages for me, Hartog," I said, "I have had my share of the rough side of life, and will now be content with the smooth."
"And you not thirty!" laughed Hartog. "Nay, Peter, I'll never believe it of you, that having tasted of adventure, you will be satisfied with a humdrum life ashore."
I was now rich by the sale of my jewels, and able to choose for myself my future mode of life. Count Holstein advised me in the disposal of my wealth, and a fine estate being for sale not far from his own, I purchased it.
I urged my parents, who still resided upon the Island of Urk, where my father followed the occupation of a fisherman, to give up this mode of earning a livelihood and retire into private life, when I promised to make them a handsome allowance. But they would not consent to abandon their independence.
"I am not an old man, Peter," said my father, when I spoke to him on the subject, "and I have, I hope, still many useful years' work in me. I have always been a fisherman. My father was a fisherman, and so was his father before him. Fishing is the only work I understand. It is honest work. Why then should I live in idleness upon thy bounty, when I can still play my part in the world?"
I could not but see the force of his argument, so I contented myself with making my parents comfortable in the old home by adding many improvements which my mother desired but could not afford, while I presented my father with a new fishing-boat fitted with all the latest improvements.
It is wonderful, the power of money. It brought a new happiness into the lives of my parents, and it made my mother look ten years younger. My father also, and my two brothers, who were all fishermen, had now come to regard me as the flower of the flock. Yet they had not scrupled to knock me about, with little ceremony, in the days of my boyhood; nor do I think they would have been behindhand in finding fault with me for my folly, had I returned from my second voyage as poor and needy as from the first. But such is life, and a man must take what comes, and make the best of it and not the worst; so I accepted my new role as the patron saint of my family with philosophy and content.
Anna approved my parents' decision not to give up their independence. She came with me to see my mother, and I soon found that, as true women, there was no inequality between them. Anna had lost her own mother when she was too young to remember, and she clung to her new mother that was to be with an affection born of her loving nature.
In a word, my jewels had brought me the only true happiness which wealth can give—the power of making others happy.
I now resolved to bring Count Hendrick Luitken to account for his treatment of Anna, though I did not desire that Anna's name should appear in the matter, so that gossip might be avoided. I therefore bided my time, and waited an opportunity which soon came.
The Count of Holstein had resigned the governorship of Urk, and now kept a fine establishment at Amsterdam, to which he frequently invited company, and at one of his banquets I met, as I expected, Count Hendrick Luitken.
As a merchant's clerk, and afterwards as a seaman, the Count had taken no notice of me, but now that I was rich and betrothed to Anna, he could do no less than treat me with consideration when he met me at her father's house.
The banquet was sumptuous, and no effort was spared to make it worthy of the late Governor's hospitality. Only men were invited, no women being present, so that free scope was given for the gluttony and drunkenness which usually prevailed at such entertainments. Great joints of beef and venison vanished like melting snow before the keen-set appetites of the diners, and goblets of wine disappeared down thirsty throats until all present were more or less under the influence of liquor. Toward the end of the entertainment, some horse-play was indulged in by the younger guests, among whom Count Hendrick Luitken was conspicuous. I could see he was the worse for liquor, and as often happens to those under the influence of strong drink, his veneer gave place to a quarrelsome arrogance in which his true disposition was displayed. Accompanied by some of his friends as boisterous as himself, he came over to where I was sitting, and, planting himself in a vacant chair on the other side of the table in front of me, he asked rudely how the fishing trade prospered at Urk.
I felt the blood mount to my face as I answered that for all I knew to the contrary it prospered well enough, although I had for some years past been away from Urk, and could therefore not answer the question as fully as I might otherwise have done.
"You've been a pirate since you gave up the fishing," sneered the Count, "and to some purpose if report speaks true."
For answer I threw the wine which stood in a half-emptied goblet at my elbow in his face.
The Count sprang to his feet, the red wine dripping from his handsome doublet, while his face worked with passion.
"Insolent!" he cried, when he had mastered himself sufficiently to articulate. "My rank will not let me fight you, but I have influence enough to punish you as you deserve."
"No difference in rank exists between us, my lord," I answered, "and I claim the right to cross swords in an affair of honour with all save those of royal blood. Grant me the satisfaction I demand, or I will brand you as a braggart and a coward throughout every town of the Netherlands."
I could see that the Count changed colour at my words. As the son of a fisherman he could have pleaded his nobility as an excuse for not meeting me, and had me punished by the law, but he had forgotten that my betrothal to Anna carried with it a dignity equal to his own, or I doubt he had been so ready with his tongue.
A hasty consultation was held among those who were with him, from which it appeared I was judged to be in the right, for presently the count turned and said to me, with a surly frown, "At dawn, then, in the courtyard," and quitted the hall.
Such scenes were not uncommon at this time, and beyond a question or two in our immediate vicinity, but little notice was taken of what had occurred. But Hugh Bergin, a friend who offered to second me in my affair with the count, advised some rest before the hour of meeting, which was now almost at hand, for it was said the count was a skilful swordsman, who had never yet failed to kill or maim his adversary in a duel.
Hugh Bergin and I were first in the courtyard at break of day, and here we were presently joined by the count and his seconds.
Count Hendrick Luitken and I now stepped forward, and, the rapiers living been handed to us, we fell to the task of I trying to kill one another according to the rules of the duello.
At first I parried the count's attack, in order that I might learn the extent of his boasted skill, but I soon found myself to be his equal, if not his superior, in sword play, for I had spent much of my spare time in the gymnasium at Amsterdam, where I had become the favourite pupil of the instructor.
The count, I thought, seemed surprised at my cunning in fence, and lost the confident smile with which he had first, regarded me. Presently I felt the point of my rapier touch his tunic upon the breast, and, in my sensitive grasp, I knew that my blade had encountered steel. The look which I gave him must have conveyed to him the knowledge that I had discovered his treachery, for he set his lips and attacked me with even greater fury than before, but my blood was up, and I beat his guard down with such force that I was presently enabled, by a trick I had learnt, known as binding the blade, to wrest the weapon from his hand. The seconds would now have interfered, but my temper was not to be restrained, and, to the astonishment of those present, I seized the count by the throat, and, tearing open his tunic, laid bare a breastplate which he wore next his skin. No blow that I could have struck this cowardly noble would have hurt him so much as this exposure. With shamefaced looks his seconds led him away. This was the last I saw of him, for he soon after left Holland, and took service with the Spaniards, with whom he had long been in league. Some years later he was condemned as a heretic, and suffered death by torture at the hands of the Inquisition.
Nothing now stood between me and my marriage with Anna, which was duly celebrated with much pomp at the Count of Holstein's town palace, after which Anna and I retired to my country estate, there to live, as I thought, the rest of our days in peace.
Dirk Hartog, to whom I bade good-bye after the wedding, for his restless spirit was away again upon a fresh voyage, predicted I would one day become weary of inaction.
"If ever the roving spirit comes over thee, Peter," he said as he wrung my hand at parting, "there's always a place for thee aboard my ship. Travel once tasted is a lodestone that draws the spirit from the cosiest corner to fresh adventure."
But at this I shook my head. "Here is my lodestone," I said, and I pressed Anna to my heart.
But who can foretell the future, or predict the decrees of Fate?
ONCE MORE TO THE SOUTH
Five years of wedded happiness followed my return to Amsterdam from my second voyage with Dirk Hartog into the Southern Seas.
I had now come to regard myself as being past the age of adventure. My income was large, my estate substantial; and the wealth I had brought back with me from the Island of Gems, shrewdly invested by my father-in-law, the Count of Holstein, enabled me to maintain a position compatible with the dignity of the noble family into which, through my marriage with Anna Holstein, I was admitted a member. Nothing, therefore, was farther from my thoughts and inclinations than a return to the life of peril through which, in my younger days, I had passed, when suddenly the blow fell which changed all my plans.
During the year 1630 an epidemic known as the "Black Death" raged through the Netherlands, and, as one of the victims to the fell disease, Anna, my wife, was taken from me. I followed her to the grave, and returned to my desolate hearth determined to die also. To this end I shut myself in the room which Anna had lately occupied, where I would permit nothing to be disturbed, nor would allow any to enter. Such food as I required was brought, by my orders, into an adjoining apartment, where I ate, when my appetite craved, in moody silence. Dust gathered. The air in the room became oppressive. I regarded this mournful chamber as my tomb.
My servants, and those who had called themselves my friends, avoided me. I heard whispers at my barred and bolted door, saying that I was mad.
A madhouse I knew to be worse than a prison. I therefore resolved to leave my home before I was prevented from doing so.
How long I had remained in the state of misery and dejection to which I had abandoned myself I cannot say. It must have been some considerable time, for when, at last, I came out into the light, the sun dazzled me. None offered to stop me when I left the house. Many of my one-time servants had been discharged by my father-in-law, who had taken upon himself the management of my estates. The gatekeeper looked at me curiously when I passed his lodge, and that was all the notice vouchsafed me by my former dependents.
I knew that Dirk Hartog had returned from the voyage upon which he had embarked soon after my marriage, and to him I determined to carry my broken heart. Only upon that mirror of mystery known as the ocean could I look for peace.
I found my old commander in the cabin of the "Santa Isabel", an ancient Spanish vessel, reported to have voyaged to the south in 1595, when Mendana, a Spaniard, was sent out with instructions to establish a colony at the island of San Christobal, in the Solomon Group, and from thence to make an attempt to discover the Great Southern Continent. Mendana's fleet consisted of three large vessels and a frigate, and, since it was intended to settle a colony, many took their wives with them, among the emigrants being Mariana, the wife of Lope de Vega, who commanded the "Santa Isabel". The total number of men in the fleet was 378, of whom 280 were soldiers. The "Santa Isabel" became detached from the rest of the fleet, and reached the Great South Land, where she spent five years in a harbour said to be of great beauty and extent—the finest harbour in the world.
All this we learnt, from the log of the "Santa Isabel", though what became of the expedition, or of those who composed it, the record did not disclose. But the reading which interested Hartog most, keen treasure-hunter that he continued to be, was a paper describing some curious drawings he had found in one of the lockers of the vessel, of hands, some with six fingers, some with four, and others with only two. Under these drawings was the following inscription, translated into Spanish from some ancient language: "These hands are not carved upon the rocks, but are painted with a pigment that withstands the elements, and yieldeth not to time. They mark the measures of gold obtained." Then followed a rude chart giving the latitude and longitude of the place which Hartog professed his ability to find.
"Join me, Peter," he said, "and let us ship together. There's treasure to be won, dangers to be passed, and forgetfulness to be had in the South. You are still a young man—in your prime. Is it fair that you should set yourself against that which plainly hath been decreed by Fate?"
These words of Hartog moved me, as well they might, and I placed myself unreservedly in his hands. My father-in-law, when he was made acquainted with my desire to embark upon another voyage, offered no opposition. He was, I imagine, glad to be rid of me, perceiving that my moods ashore might interfere with the plans he had formed for the management of my estates. So, all being settled to our mutual satisfaction, Hartog and I went to work to equip our vessel, in which occupation I found relief from my sorrow, and became more reconciled to submit myself to the will of heaven.
In three weeks our preparations were completed. A new ship was purchased, and commissioned without regard to cost. So much money was spent upon her that Hartog called her the "Golden Seahorse". She carried six guns, and a brass bow-chaser, with which Hartog declared we might make war upon the whole South Pacific in the event of our being forced to hostilities. A great quantity of arms and ammunition was put aboard, together with a supply of beads, knives, and bright-coloured cloths to barter with the natives. Berths were also found for Bantum and Janstins in the officers' quarters, and although Hartog and I were joint owners of the "Golden Seahorse", and shared equally in the profit or loss of the expedition, Hartog was given the supreme command.
It was not until we had lost sight of land, and when I felt the call of the sea, that I ceased to mourn my lost Anna, and realized my obligation to live what remained to me of life in such manner as an all-wise Providence might determine.
THE MOLUCCA ISLANDS
On this voyage to the place of the painted hands Dirk Hartog resolved upon a different route from that taken by former navigators to the Great South Land, and within three months of leaving Amsterdam the "Golden Seahorse" came to anchor among a group of islands to the north of New Holland known as the Molucca Islands, first visited by Sir Francis Drake in the "Pelican" during the year 1579.
The competition between England and Holland for sea supremacy was at this time very keen, and the ships of both nations sometimes carried a broom at the masthead to signify the sweeping of the ocean. We found, however, no English or other vessels to dispute with us our landing at the Moluccas, where the King received us with some ceremony.
Providing ourselves with presents, Hartog and I, attended by the ship's officers, went ashore to pay our respects to the King, who accepted our tribute graciously, and, looking up to heaven, said:
"I know that nothing happens to men which has not, long since, been decreed by Fate. So bring your ship into the harbour and let your companions land in safety, in order that, after so much tossing about on the sea, and so many dangers, you may securely enjoy the comforts of life on shore and recruit your strength."
Having thus spoken, the King laid aside his diadem, and embraced each of us in turn. He then directed such refreshments as the country produced to be set before us.
The people of the Moluccas cannot be classed as savages. They possess an intelligence and form of government which lifts them above aboriginal natives. Each island has its king, who is, nevertheless, subservient to the chief Thedori, by whom we were received. This monarch is a man of small stature, but reputed wise beyond the wisdom of most men.
Certain it is he made wise laws for the good government of his kingdom, one of which might, with advantage, be followed by law-makers in more civilized nations. This is the law which makes for peace. So long as the king upon each island maintains peace, his people show him almost divine honours; but, if he is anxious for war, they never rest till he is slain by the enemy in battle, and to this end they set him in the front rank, where he has to stand the whole brunt of the combat. His armies, moreover, do not exert themselves vigorously until they know that the king has fallen. Then they begin to fight for liberty and their new king. Since this law was enacted no king has entered upon a war without being slain in battle. Hence peace reigns, where formerly continued hostilities prevailed.
The city of Porne, in which King Thedori reigns as paramount chief, consists of twenty thousand houses, all of which are low-built cabins. Some of the men who inhabit these dwellings have such long ears that they reach down to their shoulders, and when we expressed surprise at this, we were assured that on an island, not far off, there were men who had such large ears, that with one ear they could, when they liked, cover the whole of their heads. But Hartog disbelieved this story, nor would he visit the island when this prodigy was offered to be shown to him. We were not in, search of monsters, he said, but of treasure.
We had been informed by one of the merchants at Amsterdam that when we should come to the island of Solo, one of the group of the Molucca Islands, we would find pearls as large as clove's eggs, but Thedori did not encourage us when we hinted to him our desire to possess some of these marvels. They were only to be found, he said, in very deep water, and this was not the season to obtain them. We decided not to press the matter, since we desired to leave a favourable impression, but Hartog promised himself a return visit, when, should friendly overtures prove of no avail, an appeal, might be made to the King's better judgment with the aid of our six guns and brass bowchaser. It is certain that pearls of great size do exist on these islands. The King wore one in his crown the size of a hen's egg.
On our first night in harbour at the Molucca Islands we witnessed the most remarkable display I have ever beheld. The islands are well wooded, and amongst the trees by night, through the whole island, did show themselves an infinite swarm of fiery worms flying in the air, whose bodies, being no larger than common house-flies, made such a show and light as if every twig or tree had been a burning candle. In the dark recesses of the woods, also, appeared wonderful black bats, with red eyes, of which the inhabitants of this country stand in considerable dread. The bats are thought to be the spirits of departed kings, and none are allowed to molest them.
From the security of our vessel, which lay close to the shore, we were able to view these marvels without danger, but the natives remained in their huts, afraid to venture forth, so that nocturnal dances, or meetings at camp fires, were here conspicuous by their absence.
We now met with an adventure that was destined to influence our future in a manner we did not, at the time, foresee, or it is doubtful but we would have hesitated before granting an asylum to the miserable fugitive from King Thedori's tyranny, who now came aboard. Pedro de Castro, the name of this refugee, a Spaniard, informed us that for some time past he had been held as hostage by Thedori. Three years before our visit to the Moluccas, so ran his tale, a Spanish vessel, of which de Castro was first officer, had called at the islands. The captain and crew had been well received by the King, who had pretended the same friendliness towards them as he had shown to us. But so soon as a favourable opportunity offered, Thedori had looted the ship, and taken Pedro prisoner, declaring he would hold him to ransom, until his friends returned to Spain, from where they must send cotton, and other goods, not procurable at the Moluccas, in order to ensure his release. It was by this means that Thedori obtained many useful commodities of European workmanship, the presence of which we had noticed, with surprise, among his people. De Castro had contrived to escape his gaolers, and having swum aboard our vessel, he now besought us to save him from the miserable condition to which he had been reduced since his ship had sailed, leaving him dependent upon a vague promise of release from captivity, which he knew might never be fulfilled.
"And mark you," he said, when we had assembled the officers in the cabin to hear his story, "Thedori will serve you as he served us, when the time is ripe for his treachery, for he possesses many guns, hidden away, together with a great store of ammunition, so that he could send an army against you that you would find it impossible to resist."
We thanked Pedro for his warning, and since we determined to profit by it, we could do no less than offer him a berth among our officers. But I had no love for Spaniards or their ways, and I lived to learn that my distrust of them was not misplaced. That night we made preparations for departure, and, with the first breath of dawn, we hove our anchor aboard, and set a course for the open sea.
When it was seen that we were leaving the island the utmost excitement prevailed on shore. The natives crowded upon the beach which bordered the harbour, while some put off in their canoes, making an effort to overtake us. But the "Golden Seahorse" was a ship very finely built, which caused her to slip through the water, needing but little wind to drive her at a rapid pace, so that we soon outdistanced our pursuers, and an hour later the Molucca Islands had disappeared beyond the horizon.
THE VOYAGE CONTINUED
We had been compelled, by reason of the treachery of Thedori, to leave the Moluccas without having obtained a supply of fresh water. This made it necessary to keep a sharp look-out for some island from which to replenish our tanks. On most of the islands in the Pacific water is readily obtainable. It is only upon the Southern Continent that great stretches of waterless country prevail.
At length we sighted an island, the coast of which was rocky and barren. Through stress of weather we were compelled to keep off the shore, steering northward until, on the third day, the weather having moderated, we hove to as near to the coast as we dared approach, and endeavoured to land a boat's crew. In spite of breakers and a heavy sea, six of the sailors leaped overboard opposite a sandy beach, and with great difficulty reached the shore. Whilst searching for water the sailors saw four natives, who fled at their approach. They were wild, black, and entirely naked. Not finding water, the seamen regained the boat, bruised and half-drowned. Again we set sail, and next day we were off an island of considerable size, with two dangerous reefs stretching out into the sea. At length we managed to effect a landing, and fresh water being found, the ship was brought to anchor between the reefs, where some shelter was to be had, although the position of the vessel was by no means secure.
Upon this island we fell in with a race of savages totally unlike any we had previously met with. These people have no houses or garments of any kind, and, setting aside their human shape, they differ but little from brutes. They have large heads, round foreheads, and great brows. Their eyelids are always half-closed to keep the flies out of their eyes, these insects being so troublesome that no fanning will keep them away; so from their infancy being so tormented, they do never open their eyes as other people do, nor can they see far unless they hold up their heads as if they were looking at something over them. They have great bottle noses, full lips, and wide mouths.
They appeared to be quite indifferent to our landing upon their island, nor did they exhibit any fear or surprise at seeing us. We endeavoured to make them help us carry some water barrels to the boats. But though the barrels contained only six gallons each, and we put them on their shoulders, all the signs we could make to get them to carry them were useless. They stood like statues, without motion, grinning like so many monkeys. Having watered our vessel we once more put to sea.
We were now, by our reckoning, somewhere in the vicinity of New Holland, and at six o'clock in the evening we shortened sail. We were then in twenty fathoms of water, when suddenly we again found ourselves in deep water, and believed all danger at an end. But in less than an hour, without warning, our ship struck on a rock, and remained immovable. Not being near to any shore we were well aware of the gravity of our position. We feared we had struck a submerged coral reef, and all sails were immediately taken in, and the boats lowered. We had struck just before dark, and at daylight I observed land some eight miles distant. High tide was expected at about eleven o'clock, when it was hoped the vessel would float off, though we feared she would sink in deep water.
At twenty minutes past ten the ship floated, but the leak she had sprung gained on the pumps, and there was now three feet nine inches of water in the hold. The men were wearied to death. Each could only pump a few minutes at a time, and then sink exhausted upon the deck. At first we despaired of saving the ship, but eventually we got a sail drawn over the leak, and anchored seven leagues from the shore. Next day we found a safe place where the vessel could be moored near the beach, where, on examining the ship's bottom, we found that a large piece of rock had broken away from the reef and remained stuck in the hole it made. Had it not been for this singular fact the "Golden Seahorse" must have foundered.
During the week which followed this adventure, which had almost proved disastrous to our voyage, we lightened the ship as much as possible, and made our camp ashore. We judged we had now come to the coast of New Holland, and since I had been the first to observe it on the morning after we had struck upon the reef, Hartog named that part of the coast Peter's land.
The ship being safely careened, the carpenters set to work to repair the damage done to the hull by the sharp rocks, and, as this would occupy some time, we decided to overhaul our stores, of which we made an inventory. At this work we found the services of Pedro de Castro of great value. De Castro was a man well versed in figures, and able to enumerate with surprising facility. Indeed, I think he spent most of his spare time in mental arithmetic, calculating the riches and treasure which he hoped some day to obtain.
One evening, when Hartog and I were seated together in front of our tent, de Castro brought us a paper which he said had been given him by a relative at Lisbon, who informed him that it was an extract from an ancient Portuguese manuscript, supposed to have been written by navigator Van Nuyts in 1467. The translation of this curious paper ran as follows:
"Land of Gold. While some fishermen of Lamakera, in the island of Solo, were engaged in their fishing, there arose so great a tempest that they were unable to return to the shore. Thus they yielded to the force of the storm, which was such that, in five days, it took them to the Land of Gold, which is properly called the Southern Coast. When the fishermen reached the Land of Gold, not having eaten during those days of tempest, they set about seeking for provisions, and such happy and successful fortune had they after searching the country for yams and batatas, that they alighted on much gold in a cavern, enough to load their boats until they could carry no more, but, when they were ready to start loading, there came upon them so great a trepidation that they did not dare take any of the gold away with them."
This further account of gold upon the Southern Continent strengthened our belief that treasure would be found at the place of the painted hands, to visit which our present voyage had been undertaken. But what could have caused the fishermen of Lamakera so great a trepidation we were at a loss to understand. Well, perhaps we would soon learn, for Hartog reckoned we were not many leagues north of the place marked upon the chart, which had encouraged us to embark upon this voyage.
A SPANISH SETTLEMENT
The "Golden Seahorse" being now repaired and revictualled, we once more put to sea, and stood to the south at a safe distance from the coast for fear of again meeting shoal water. On the morning of the first day out we passed the shoal upon which we had so nearly lost our ship, it being but a spot of land appearing above the surface, with several rocks about it ten feet high, to be seen at low tide. It is of triangular form, each side one league and a half long.
We now approached some formidable cliffs, which rose, like a gateway, shutting out the land beyond. It was here that Hartog reckoned we should find the place of the painted hands, if, indeed, such a locality had any real existence.
The weather was now calm and fine, the wind fair, with a cloudless sky overhead, so that barely an hour passed from the time we observed the cliffs before we rounded them, when a sight appeared so unlooked for as made us wonder if our eyes had played us false.
The coast along which we had sailed since first sighting the Great South Land had been so barren and desolate as to make the novel and attractive scene which now greeted us the more remarkable. Clustered together in a pleasant valley, surrounded by green hills, and facing a white sandy beach, were some two hundred houses, built of stone, and roofed with what appeared to be clay, of such extraordinary whiteness that it glistened, like snow, in the sun's rays. The herbs and grass around the town were green and inviting, while tall, straight trees, not torn by the wind, bore evidence of shelter from tempest which the hills provided. To add to the beauty of the scene, flocks of parakeets and bright-coloured parrots flew among the branches of the trees, while sweet scents, from many kinds of flowers, were wafted to us from the shore. On the beach we perceived a number of white people, dressed in the fashion of some thirty years before. Many of them wore ruffs and cloaks, which were now no longer the mode, and, to set our doubts at rest as to their nationality, the Spanish ensign floated from a flagstaff in front of the town. It was plain we had chanced upon a Spanish colony, probably of some of the people of Mendana's fleet, who had succeeded in forming a settlement in New Holland.
Anxious to make a favourable impression upon our first landing, Hartog and I now donned our best, and the cutter, being manned, we were pulled toward the beach, where we could see that a number of Spaniards had assembled to receive us.
On landing we stepped forward as the leaders of our expedition, when we were greeted with the most extravagant demonstrations of delight at our arrival, and were presently conducted by some of those whom we took to be in authority to one of the flat-roofed stone houses, somewhat larger than the others, where Donna Isabel Barreto, the ruler of the settlement, graciously welcomed us. From her we learnt the following strange story.
The voyage of Mendana, as previously stated, had been undertaken with a view to colonization as well as discovery. After reaching the Solomon group the fleet dispersed. The "Santa Isabel", as her log informed us, spent five years in a fine harbour on the Southern Continent, from whence she had returned without establishing a settlement. Another of the ships and the frigate remained for a time at the islands, where the crews left many evidences of their visit. But it was reserved for us to ascertain what had befallen the "Concordia", the third of the vessels of Mendana's fleet. This ship, under the command of Captain Barreto, had reached New Holland, where the present settlement had been formed, and the town built. There were turbulent elements, however, among the crew, who had been allowed a license at the islands which their captain was not disposed to continue. He ordered the execution of some, before the rest were brought to submission. But there was sullen discontent remaining. To make matters worse, sickness broke out. It carried off a large number of the Spaniards, and Barreto himself died, as did his first officer. The pilot then claimed to take command, but to this Donna Isabel objected. As the captain's wife, she declared it to be her right to rule the settlement, and, marrying a young Spanish officer, Fernando de Castro, she assumed the title of queen, with Fernando as prince consort. To complicate matters still further, the pilot and those who were attached to him sailed away in the "Concordia", taking the infant son of Fernando and Isabel with them, and leaving the adherents of the queen marooned in this pleasant and fertile valley. Fernando, soon after the sailing of the "Concordia", died, since when Donna Isabel, who had resumed the name of Barreto, had reigned alone. This was, in brief, the story the Queen had to tell; and on hearing it Pedro de Castro threw himself at her feet, and claimed to be her son.
Donna Isabel was now past middle age, being near forty years old, but she bore herself with a degree of uprightness and vigour which defied the advance of time. She was readily convinced of the truth of Pedro's statement, and when she had bidden him to rise she embraced him, and acknowledged him to be her son.
"You have been led back to me," she said, "by the will of heaven, and by the courage of these brave men who shall henceforth be to me my brothers."
Fair words, but lacking the ring of sincerity, as we were subsequently to find.
Queen Barreto then begged us to consider her dominions at our disposal to the extent of all they contained. Houses were allotted us, and servants were instructed to place before us the best the country produced. We fared sumptuously, for the natural growth in this sheltered valley is surprising. The bread given us was made from three kinds of roots, of which there is a great abundance, and they grow without labour, receiving no more help than being dug up and cooked. These roots are pleasant to the taste, very nourishing, and keep for a long while. They are a yard long, and half a yard thick. The fruits, too, were numerous and good, consisting of oranges and lemons, which the Spaniards had planted, together with many earth-nuts, almonds, and other fruit, as well as sweet canes. Of live stock the settlers possessed goats, pigs, and a few cows. Round the houses were many fruit trees, with entwined palisades, by reason of the great quantity of pigs; the town was well arranged, the houses and yards being very clean.
Queen Barreto kept Pedro with her in her own house, while Hartog and I, together with the officers and crew of the "Golden Seahorse", were suitably accommodated and made free of the settlement, where we enjoyed a run ashore after so much storm and stress at sea.
We had not yet ascertained whether the settlers had been successful in finding gold in this place. Pearls and silver they possessed as evidence of their wealth, but we saw no gold among them. Pedro, who came to consult with us regarding this, informed us that his mother, the queen, had heard nothing of the place of the painted hands, or of gold being found there, but had told him that some years previously an expedition, sent to punish a tribe of natives who had proved hostile to the settlers, had reported the discovery of caves, very deep and mysterious, into which the natives could not be induced to enter, where, it was reported, gold was to be found by washing the sand from the bed of a subterranean stream which took its course through the caves from none knew where, and emptied itself into the sea.
To these caves, therefore, now being rested and refreshed, we determined to direct our steps.
THE PLACE OF THE PAINTED HANDS
Upon leaving the Spanish settlement, Queen Barreto provided us with an escort to guide us to the caves in which it was reported gold was to be found. The country outside the settlement was of the same rocky, barren nature as everywhere along the coast, while the natives we encountered were hostile and warlike. Armed with spears and slings, they attacked us, and were only driven off after many had been slain.
Pedro de Castro did not accompany us. He had pleaded a disinclination to leave his mother so soon after their long separation. At the time we thought his conduct strange, but in return for the assistance that Queen Barreto had given us, we promised him a share of any gold obtained.
At length, after a day's journey, we came to the entrance to the caves, a gloomy portal to a tunnel which ran into a high rocky cliff from which issued a sluggish stream over a bed of water-worn pebbles. At the entrance to this dark recess, upon the face of a flat rock, appeared painted hands, some with six fingers, some with four, and others with only two. They were painted with a dark brown pigment, and were easily discernible. It was the sight of these hands, and the assertion that they had reference to the measures of gold obtained, as set forth on the paper found by Hartog in the locker of the "Santa Isabel", that decided us to explore farther into the heart of the caves, and, having procured torches, Hartog and I, accompanied by Janstins and a lad named Bruno, a Mulatto, entered the tunnel, and made our way along the left bank of the stream.
As we advanced the caves increased in size, until at length we stood in a great apartment, formed of colossal fluted pillars, and roofed high above our heads with depending stalactites which glistened in the light of our torches. Everywhere in this huge cavern the same mineral formation was to be seen, so that we seemed to be standing in a palace composed of glittering gems.
The stream here was wide, moving sluggishly over a bed of black sand. Presently a cry from Janstins brought us to where he was standing beside a heap of what, at first sight, looked like yellow clay, but which, upon closer inspection, proved to be a quantity of gold dust, interspersed with small nuggets. Here, then, was the treasure collected by the fishermen from Lamakera, and abandoned by them in 1467, almost two hundred years before the date of our coming. But the cause of the great trepidation which had come upon them, so that they had been unable to carry the gold away, we had yet to learn.
We had become so intent upon our gold discovery that we had failed to notice a peculiar humming sound, which became louder as it drew nearer, and suddenly we observed descending upon us, from the vaulted roof, what appeared to be white feathery clouds, which, however, speedily resolved themselves into a prodigious number of flying hornets. Bruno was the first to be attacked by these venomous insects. In a moment he was covered with them, and ran screaming into the water of the slowly-moving stream. His cries were pitiful, but we could do nothing to relieve him. In less than a minute he was stung to death.
It now became imperative, if we would save ourselves, to make the best of our way out of the caves without attempting to carry off any of the gold we had found. The fate of the boy Bruno had caused a diversion among the hornets to which we probably owed our lives. In the hope of distracting them still further, we fired off our muskets, which awoke echoes in that silent place the like of which had never been heard before. Had we exploded a barrel of gunpowder, the sound of it would not have been louder nor the concussion greater, than was caused by the discharge of our firearms. Huge masses of stalactites fell from the roof, while the air space around us became filled with bats, and flying creatures with heads like foxes, disturbed from their slumbers by the discharge of our guns. The flapping of their wings drove off the hornets, and greatly aided us in our escape from a horrible death.
On reaching the entrance to the caves, where we arrived more dead than alive from our adventure, we were met by those of our crew whom we had brought with us, but were informed that our guides had returned to the settlement. For this conduct the guides had offered no explanation. They had said they were acting in accordance with directions given them by Queen Barreto, and that, having brought us to the mouth of the caves, their mission ended. We did not at the time attach much importance to this desertion of us, being now well acquainted with the path over the cliffs into the valley, opposite to which our ship lay at anchor, so we did not anticipate any difficulty in returning. As we advanced, however, our journey was continually impeded by attacks made upon us by hostile natives, so it was not until toward the evening of the second day after leaving the caves that we succeeded in climbing the cliffs above the settlement. Judge then of our dismay when, upon looking seaward, we perceived our ship standing out from the bay under full sail, while at her mizzen floated the flag of Spain.
As we stood upon the cliffs overlooking the Spanish settlement, watching, with blank faces, the "Golden Seahorse" sailing seaward under a foreign flag, it was borne in upon us that we owed our loss to the treachery of Queen Barreto, who, taking advantage of our absence, had pirated our vessel. On descending to the town our suspicions were confirmed. Here we found the settlement abandoned by the Spaniards, who, before leaving, had imprisoned our crew, bound and gagged, in the Queen's house. Having released them, we heard from Bantum, our second officer, the particulars of what had occurred.
"No sooner had you left the town," said he, "than Queen Barreto, with Pedro de Castro and a swarm of Spaniards, came aboard of us. De Castro knew where the arms were kept, and, before I could guess what they intended, they had hoisted their flag at the mizzen, and held possession of the ship. We put up a fight, but what could we do, outnumbered as we were—ten to one? We were quickly overpowered and brought ashore, where they trussed us up and left us as you found us. Had you not come in time we would certainly have died of thirst and starvation."
When we had listened to Bantum's account of what had taken place we could not blame him for the loss of the ship, but Hartog swore a great oath that, if ever he should meet de Castro again he would reckon with him in such manner as his base betrayal of us gave warrant. The ingratitude of this man will be apparent when it is remembered that we had rescued him from slavery, had admitted him to an equality with our officers, and had loaded him with favours, for which he repaid us by stealing our vessel.
It now became necessary to review our situation. Of food and fresh water we had an abundant supply, and there were dwellings at our disposal more than enough, for the Spaniards had numbered over two hundred, while we mustered but thirty. We possessed, however, no arms or ammunition beyond what we had taken with us upon our expedition to the caves. The thought of this caused us grave anxiety when we reflected upon the small force at our disposal should hostile natives, having discovered our weakness, be tempted to attack us. Repining, however, would avail us nothing, so, at Hartog's request, I set about organizing our camp. Hartog himself was so cast down by the loss of our ship that he seemed incapable of diverting his thoughts from the catastrophe which had overtaken us. I thus found our former positions reversed, Hartog being on the brink of the same hopeless despair which had obsessed me when Anna was taken from me, while upon me devolved the task of heartening him.
And now a new danger threatened us. We had not been a month at the settlement after the piracy of the "Golden Seahorse" before it became evident to me that our crew had ceased to regard their officers with the same respect as they had formerly shown them on board ship. Sailors, ashore, are accustomed to a license they do not look for at sea. Hence it was but natural that, since their ship no longer claimed their duty, they should regard themselves as freed from discipline. This revolt against authority, however, I knew to be a menace to our common safety, and I determined to put an end to it. I spoke first to Hartog, who spent most of his time in the Queen's house, brooding over our misfortune, and thus setting a very bad example.
"It is not because you are no longer captain of the 'Golden Seahorse'," I said to him, "that you should regard your responsibilities at an end. If you can regain your authority over the men, we may yet win through. If not, then let us at once abandon ourselves to the mercy of the savages, whom, I may tell you, I have observed watching us from the cliffs above, and who are only waiting to assure themselves of our weakness before they attack us."
For a time Hartog remained silent. Then he rose, and stretched himself; drawing himself up to his full height, he stood before me, the finest specimen of a man I have ever met.
"You are right, Peter," he said. "I deserve the scolding you have given me. Show me the man who will not obey me, and I will talk to him."
Now there was one, Hoft Hugens, a Swede, who had made himself a leader among the mutinous and lazy crew. I had intended dealing with this man myself, but it now occurred to me that his schooling would serve to rouse Hartog from his apathy.
"If you must know, then," I answered, "it is Hoft Hugens to whom the men look as leader."
The next minute Hartog was striding through the town, a native club in his hand, which he had taken from the Queen's house. Although past noon, there were none to be seen outside the huts. All were asleep after their mid-day meal, upon which they had gorged themselves to repletion. At the sight of this defiance of discipline a deep flush overspread Hartog's face, as though he felt shame for having allowed his authority to pass from him. Then he began to beat with his club upon the doors of the houses until the men came out, some in sleepy remonstrance, and others with curses in their mouths at having been disturbed from their siesta.
"Well, what have you to say?" demanded Hartog. "Is it not enough that our condition is such that if only fifty determined savages came against us they could kill us and destroy the settlement, but you must waste your time in gluttony and sleep? Where is the watch, whose duty it is to keep a look-out as though I stood upon my quarterdeck?"
"Nay, Hartog," answered Hugens, whom the others now pushed forward to be their spokesman, "there must be an end to such talk. We shall never get away from this valley. What need then for so much rule when death is certain?"
"Certain it is for thee," cried Hartog, placing his hand on Hugen's shoulder, and tightening his grip so that the man winced with pain. "Ask pardon before I tear thine arm from its socket!"
At this, those who had begun to advance to their leader's assistance drew back. It was known that the punishment which Hartog threatened had actually been carried out by one of the buccaneer captains upon a mutinous seaman, and none doubted but Hartog had the strength to fulfil his threat. Hugen's face blanched as the grip tightened upon his arm. He tried to free himself. Tears started to his eyes. A sob broke from his heaving chest. Then he screamed with the intolerable agony he suffered, but none dare interfere, and I verily believe that Hartog would have performed his promise and torn the limb from its socket had not one of the men, who had been looking seaward, cried, "A sail! sail!"
The report of a sail having been sighted dispelled every other thought. Hartog released Hugens, and, hurrying to the Queen's house, shortly afterwards returned with his spyglass, with which he anxiously scanned the horizon.
"God be thanked, Peter," he said presently, "our ship is coming back to us, convoyed by a frigate."
So great was my joy at hearing these words that at first I could hardly credit the truth of them, but as the ships drew nearer we could all see that the smaller of the two was the "Golden Seahorse". The vessels sailed into the bay which formed the port of the settlement, and dropped anchor close to the shore, when a boat put off from the frigate, and was rowed toward the beach. The crew were smart, and the boat was fresh painted, while, seated at the stern, was a striking, yet curious, figure. His dress was that of a French exquisite, very rich, and trimmed with much gold braid. On his head was a curled wig of the latest mode, and a flashing diamond brooch adorned his lace cravat. On nearing the beach upon which we were assembled one of the sailors stepped into the water and waded ashore, carrying this gallant upon his back, who, being deposited upon a dry spot, so that his buckled shoe might escape damage from the salt water, gravely saluted us. Hartog then, stepped forward, when the Frenchman, for such we took him to be, addressed him as follows:—
"I have come, sir," said he, "to restore to you your vessel, which I understand was stolen by Spanish treachery."
"You are welcome," answered Hartog. "I thank Providence that my ship has fallen into honest hands. I have yet to learn to whom I owe its recovery. May I hope that you will favour me with your name?"
"Montbar," replied the stranger, and at the mention of his name both Hartog and I started.
"You honour us by your visit, sir," said Hartog, with a bow as graceful as that with which Captain Montbar acknowledged it. "Your reputation is known to all seamen as that of a brave man and a princely gentleman."
Hartog then led the way to the Queen's house, where we proposed to confer together as to the circumstances which had occasioned Captain Montbar's arrival.
Captain Montbar was known to us, and to most navigators at this time, as a French gentleman of fortune who, having heard of the cruelties practised by the Spaniards, had conceived an aversion against them which amounted almost to frenzy. He had heard of the buccaneers, who were known to be the most inveterate enemies of Spain, and, in order to join them, he fitted out a frigate which he placed at their disposal, together with his own services. The achievements of this frigate were so pronounced, and the Spaniards suffered so much from Montbar's exploits, that he acquired the name of 'Exterminator.' His intrepidity would never let him suffer the least signs of cowardice among those who associated with him. In the heat of an engagement he went about his ship, observing his men, and immediately killing those who shrank at the report of pistol, gun, or cannon. This extraordinary discipline had made him the terror of the coward and the idol of the brave. In other respects he readily shared with such of his men as showed spirit the great booty that was acquired by his fearless disposition. When he went upon these buccaneering expeditions he sailed in his frigate, his own property, nor would he take a lion's share of the treasure obtained from captured Spanish merchantmen, but divided it equally with those who formed his ship's company.
Such was the remarkable man to whom we owed the restoration of the "Golden Seahorse".
From Captain Montbar we learned the particulars connected with the recovery of our ship from the Spaniards.
"I had been driven out of my course," he said, "by contrary winds, when we sighted a vessel flying the Spanish flag, which I am bound, by a solemn oath, whenever an opportunity offers, to destroy. I was about to sink her when I noticed an unusual number of people upon her decks, among whom were several women and children, and, since I war only with men, I sent a boat to demand the surrender of the vessel. This was at once agreed to. Her colours were struck, and my own hoisted at the mizzen. I then went on board to hold an enquiry, and decide what was to be done, when I found that the ship had been stolen from a party of Dutch navigators on a visit to this country. The object of stealing the ship was for the purpose of conveying the settlers, who had been marooned here for some years, to their homes. It was not difficult, in the crowded state of the vessel, to find many who were prepared to disclose the whole truth. Donna Isabel Barreto, who appeared to be a queen among these people, then offered to make terms with me, promising, if I would suffer her to continue the voyage, she would send, as ransom, a large sum of money, of which she professed to have command at Madrid; but, having some experience of Spanish promises, I declined this offer, preferring to retain possession of the ship I had captured, which appeared to be of good build and well found. I undertook, however, to disembark Donna Isabel and her followers upon the first land we sighted, which happened to be a desolate-looking island by no means comparable with this fertile valley. Isabel then threw herself on her knees, and implored me not to abandon her, and her people, to death by slow starvation, which the landing of so great a company on such an uninviting shore would mean. But I was obdurate. 'Be thankful,' said I, 'that your lives are spared you. It is not for me to interfere with the decrees of Fate. This punishment for having stolen their vessel from those who trusted you, and to whom you were bound by the laws of hospitality, has clearly been ordained by Providence. Land, then, and, by your submission in face of adversity, seek to atone for your treacherous conduct.'
"The party being landed and left to shift for themselves, I resolved to continue my voyage to this place, of which I had been given the bearings, in order that I might restore to you your ship, for I take no booty except from Spain."
We again thanked our generous visitor, nor could we do less than place ourselves and our ship at his disposal.
"Come back with me, then," said Montbar, "and join our band. I have voyaged far into these southern latitudes in search of treasure, and I may tell you that the islands of the south are by no means comparable with those in the west."
But at this we asked time to consider. Although we had no cause to love the Spaniards, we had no reason to hate them with the same inveterate hatred displayed by Montbar. Besides, in spite of the glamour that surrounded them, we knew the buccaneers to be no better than pirates. Still it seemed a poor return to make Captain Montbar for the service he had rendered us to refuse his request. While we hesitated between two minds what we should do, I bethought me of the gold dust at the place of the painted hands. We had never intended to abandon this treasure by reason of a swarm of insects, however numerous and venomous they might be. The fishermen from Lamakera had excuse for doing so, since they lacked the equipment to combat the pests which infested the caves, but, with the resources of a ship at our disposal, it would be strange if we could not devise some means to carry off the gold, share it with Montbar, and thus repay the obligation we owed him.
I mentioned this project to Hartog, who at once fell in with my plan.
"You are a wizard, Peter," he said, "for finding a way out of a dilemma. If we can get this treasure, and either share it with Montbar, or give it all to him should it not prove considerable, our debt will be paid, so that we may continue our voyage whithersoever our fancy leads us, but, with the price of the ship on my conscience, I could never regard myself as a free man. Montbar knows this.
"It is the rule of the sea that captured vessels are spoils to the victor. For all his fine speeches, I feel convinced that Montbar looks upon the ship as his own, and has only come to obtain her crew also to be henceforth under his command. But, should ransom be paid, Montbar would consider us freed from all obligation."
That evening, therefore, Hartog stated plainly our conditions to Captain Montbar, which, shortly, were that if the treasure proved to be of great value, we would divide it equally among the companies of the frigate and our ship; if not of great value, then the whole of the treasure was to go to the frigate as salvage for our vessel; and if we did not succeed in bringing the treasure away, then our ship and her company were to be at Montbar's disposal, to do with as he thought fit.
These proposals were received by Montbar with a gravity and shrewdness which clearly proved his professed generosity in returning us our vessel was only preliminary to demanding a ransom.
"Let it be as you say, then," he said. "Within a week we shall have ascertained the value of this treasure, when the matter may be adjusted in the manner you propose. Meanwhile, the resources of my vessel are at your disposal."
We thanked him and withdrew, but we determined only to employ our own men on our second visit to the eaves. A fair remuneration for the salvage of our ship was all that Captain Montbar looked for or expected, and we saw no reason why we should disclose our secret to any beyond those chosen from our own company, nor did Montbar seek to pry into our business, contenting himself with our promise, at the end of the week either to pay him salvage or surrender our ship and ourselves, to be disposed of in such manner as might please him best.
WE AGAIN EXPLORE THE CAVES
During the two days which followed the making of our compact with Captain Montbar we were busy with our preparations for a second visit to the place of the painted hands, where we knew that gold was to be obtained for those who had the courage to carry it away. This time we sailed round, so that we were saved the journey over the cliffs. We had caused to be made for Hartog, Janstins, and me dresses of sail-cloth, with masks like those worn by Inquisitors, the eye-holes being filled with glass. The sleeves of the jacket were made long, so as to cover our hands. Our sea boots and breeches we knew to be impervious to hornet stings, and, thus equipped, we hoped to succeed in carrying away the treasure which the Lamakera fishermen had abandoned.
We took the smallest of our ship's boats, in which we rowed ashore, and, leaving the crew at the entrance to the caves, we three, as silently as possible, propelled the boat along the stream into the interior. As we progressed we met with evidences of our former visit. Lumps of stalactites lay where they had fallen when shaken from the vaulted roof by the discharge of our firearms. The body of the lad Bruno was also to be seen, half submerged, in the water of the stream. Close to the body was the heap of gold dust, and this we began to load into our boat, making as little noise as possible lest we should disturb the hornets from their nests.
We worked rapidly, and in less than an hour we had filled the boat with as much as she could carry of the heavy sand, nearly all of which was gold dust, when a humming warned us of the approach of the hornets. We had brought with us but a single torch, so as to avoid the light which we knew would attract the swarm of venomous insects, as also the bats and flying creatures which had made their home in these wonderful caverns; but the solitary gleam, in so much darkness, seemed to burn with the brightness of a conflagration. The smoke, also, from our torch, ascending into the vaulted roof of the cavern, was beginning to disturb the weird dwellers from their gloomy abode, and already ghostly, bat-like forms began to fill the air space above our heads. It was time to leave, and, reluctantly, we began to push the boat toward the mouth of the cave, promising ourselves to return next day for more of the precious stuff; of which there appeared to be an inexhaustible supply. As we neared the entrance to the cave, however, we were startled to observe a peril which had hitherto escaped our notice. Poised over the arch of the narrow passage was a mass of rock so finely balanced that it seemed to be held in its place by the weight of a number of bat-like creatures clustering at one of its angles. As we approached, these bats, startled by the light of our torch, began, one or two at a time, to rise from their resting place, causing the rock to topple toward us. Thus we stood in danger of being crushed by the mass should it fall as we passed the entrance, or, worse still, if it fell before we escaped into the cave beyond, we might find ourselves entombed alive in this dreadful place, to become a prey to the horrors of which we had had previous experience.
"Forward!" roared Hartog, and, putting forth his great strength, he began to propel the boat, heavily laden as she was, at a rapid pace toward the entrance of the cavern. With our hearts in our throats, Janstins and I came to his assistance, and, pushing frantically together, we drove the boat through the entrance just as the bats, in a body, rose from the balancing rock, which, relieved of their weight, fell with a crash, effectually blocking the path into the cave. Fortunately we were on the right side of the obstacle, and our way was open to the sea, but a moment's hesitation would have consigned us to a lingering death, which, I am not ashamed to say, I shuddered to contemplate.
We now took off the canvas jackets and masks we had worn as a protection against stings from the hornets, and, without further mishap, conveyed the sand we had brought away with us on board our ship, from which we washed six buckets full of gold dust. Each bucketful we reckoned, by weight, to be worth twenty thousand English pounds, so that we had ransom to pay Montbar for salvaging our vessel, besides retaining enough to make us all rich men.
Our crew, who had now become obedient to Hartog's authority, were desirous to continue the search of the cavern, in the hope of obtaining more of the precious metal, but on being taken to the entrance to the caves, it was found that an impassable barrier of rock stood between them and their desire for boundless wealth. They were, therefore, compelled to be satisfied with a share in the gold we had already won.
And here it may be observed how wise are the ways of Providence and how watchful appeared to be the good genius who followed our destiny. Had limitless wealth been suddenly showered upon us, what evil consequences might have followed? Man is, after all, but an avaricious creature, who requires the discipline of necessity to restrain his covetous nature. The prospect of gold-getting would probably have undermined Hartog's authority, and would most likely have ended in disaster for us all. As it was, we had enough, but not more than enough, and the discipline of our ship, so necessary to our common safety, was maintained.
We paid Montbar, according to our agreement, gold to the value of sixty thousand English pounds, that being half the value of the gold obtained, with which he expressed himself well satisfied.
"Honesty is, after all, the best policy," he said. "Had I not restored to you your ship I would have missed this treasure, that will well repay me for my long voyage, which I had before thought profitless. I regret your decision not to accompany me to the West Indies, but since you have paid your ransom you are free to go whithersoever your fancy may lead you, without let or hindrance."
We thanked Montbar, although I could not help smiling at the tribute which he paid to honesty when I remembered that the lockers in his cabins were crammed with the loot which he had taken as a freebooter upon the seas.
I AM KIDNAPPED
We were now of two minds, whether to continue the exploration of New Holland, or to shape a course for the islands of the South Seas; but Hartog finally decided for the islands, where there is always adventure and profit to be had. Besides, we were anxious to prove the truth, or otherwise, of the existence of the Islands of Engano, mentioned by Marco Polo in the account of his voyage round the world in the year 1272, as the Male and Female Islands.
The first group of islands we touched at after leaving the abandoned Spanish settlement at New Holland, appeared to be well wooded and fertile, and approaching one of the largest we cast anchor near the shore. On the following day we endeavoured to work to windward of this dangerous coast, but in spite of skilful seamanship it soon, became certain we were being drawn, probably by some strong current, closer to the land. The ship was so near to the rocks that escape appeared impossible. At three in the afternoon, however, the ship doubled the reefs, it may be said, almost by a miracle.
This adventure set us thinking upon a record among the manuscripts we had brought with us of a remarkable phenomenon existing somewhere in these regions. In describing one of the larger islands the record says: "By the coast of this country, toward the north, is the sea called the Dead Sea, the water whereof runneth into the earth, and if anyone falleth into that water he is never found more. And if shipmen go but a little way into it they are carried rapidly downward, and never return again. And none knoweth whither they are carried, and many have thus passed away, and it hath never been known what became of them."
We had hitherto given little credence to this report, but our recent experience proved the currents running between these islands to be strong and treacherous, and warned us to be on guard against them. The great distance we were from home, and the absence of any assistance to be looked for from men of our own race made it doubly necessary to consider every aspect of our voyage in order to escape the many perils which everywhere beset us.
We now approached a coast running east and west to the horizon, so that we could not say whether we had come to an island or to another southern continent. The anxieties through which we had passed, particularly our narrow escape from shipwreck upon the reefs, made it desirable we should seek some haven in which to recruit our strength and re-victual our ship before setting out upon our homeward voyage, for Hartog was anxious to deposit the gold we had obtained from the place of the painted hands in safe keeping at Amsterdam. The carrying about of so much treasure on board the vessel was a risk he thought it imprudent to run, as the presence of gold on the ship would prove a constant temptation to the men to mutiny. Besides which, there was always the chance of capture by pirates or freebooters who, at this time, roamed the seas. General satisfaction was, therefore, expressed when Hartog announced his intention of returning to Amsterdam.
On the morning of the next day after sighting the land along which we now coasted the look-out reported a sheltered bay, which promised us the haven we desired, and an hour later we cast anchor under the lee of a bold headland, near to a beach, which bordered what appeared to be a fertile and well-wooded country.
We had barely found our moorings when five natives came in a canoe, the middle one vigorously baling the water out of the craft. As they drew nearer we observed that they were all women, one standing up at the prow, whose red hair came down to her waist. She was white as regards colour, beautifully shaped, the face aquiline and handsome, rather freckled and rosy, the eyes black and gracious, the forehead and eyebrows good, the nose, mouth, and lips well-proportioned, with the teeth well-ordered and white. Being rich in so many parts and graces she would be judged to be a very beautiful woman, and at first sight she stole away my heart. On arriving alongside she climbed aboard with amazing agility, and without the least sign of fear, from which I conjectured that Europeans were not unknown to her. As her eyes swept us her glance halted when it rested upon me, and, without embarrassment, she made signs for me to approach her.
"Whence come ye?" she said, speaking in Spanish, though with an accent that sounded unfamiliar.
"From the white man's country," I answered, "to seek adventure in this land."
"Ye come far to seek little," she replied. "This land is desolate. None may live upon it. It is waterless."
"Then we must look farther," I answered. "We are in search of water."
"I can show you where water is," she continued, "if you will come with me."
I hesitated, and Hartog, when he caught the drift of her invitation, bade me on no account trust myself alone with these savages.
"Our boats will be lowered directly," I answered. "Then you may show us where to find fresh water, and we shall be grateful."
"I cannot wait for your boats," she replied. "Come with me now if you are not afraid. Your boats can follow."
It would have shamed me to confess fear to go with these women, and, not dreaming of treachery, I descended to the canoe, while Hartog and the others made ready to follow in the ship's boats. But I had no sooner set foot in the canoe than the four girls, who possessed the strength of young men, began to paddle vigorously toward a point which jutted out on the western side of the bay in which the "Golden Seahorse" lay at anchor. We soon rounded the point, when we lost sight of the ship. Thinking that all this was intended for a jest, I remonstrated with my beautiful captor, and called upon her to bid the girls cease rowing until my companions should come up with us; but at this she only laughed, and at a word from her the girls redoubled their exertions until the canoe seemed to fly over the surface of the water. We now approached a precipice, which rose sheer out of the sea, and, as we drew nearer, I observed a tunnel into which the water rushed with the force of a mill-race. It then came to my mind that this was the current I had read of which ran into the earth, and along which shipmen had been carried, never to be heard of again.
I glanced at the woman who had kidnapped me in this strange fashion seemingly with the object of enticing me to my doom. Her face was set and stern; with both hands she grasped a steering paddle, with which she guided the canoe into the rushing stream. The girls had ceased rowing, and were crouched together in the frail craft, which now, caught by the hand of Nature, was carried with incredible speed into the darkness of the unknown.
How long we were in the tunnel I cannot say. It seemed an eternity, but it could not actually have been very long. The speed at which we travelled was so great as to make the drawing of the breath difficult, and a strange humming sound—very loud-made it impossible to speak or even to cry out. I had abandoned hope and resigned myself to death when suddenly we emerged from the tunnel into a blinding sunshine, which dazzled the eyes after the darkness. Once more we had come to the open sea.
The girls resumed their paddles, and now began to urge the canoe toward one of two islands visible on the horizon about thirty miles apart.
THE MALE AND FEMALE ISLANDS
I was now able to demand an explanation for the cause of my abduction, which I did with some warmth.
"In what way have I offended," I asked of the woman who had enticed me on board the canoe, "that you should repay the trust I placed in you with treachery? We came among you as friends, desiring nothing so much as your goodwill. But you have treated me as an enemy, carried me away from my ship, and separated me from my friends Take, heed, I am a man, and have some strength. You are but women. Why, then, should I not overpower you and return the way I came?"
"That is impossible," answered my captor. "None could make their way back through the tunnel against the stream."
"At least, tell me then," I continued, "your name, for what purpose I am brought here, and whither you are taking me."
"My name is Sylvia Cervantes," replied my captor, proudly. "As to why you are brought here, ask the wise-ones whom you shall presently see. Yonder islands are the Islands of Engano."
In the surprise which her words occasioned I almost forgot the anger which had begun to burn within me when I thought of how basely I had been betrayed. Before me were the wonderful Male and Female Islands, fabled by Marco Polo. I had come upon this voyage with Dirk Hartog in quest of adventure. Well, here was an adventure awaiting me that was likely to prove the most remarkable I had yet encountered.
As we drew near, to one of the islands, I was impressed by the extreme beauty of the scene. The cliffs rose to great heights, forming a dark, clear-cut line against the sky, while between the lofty walls, verdant valleys stretched down to the white, sandy beaches, upon which the waves broke in glistening spume. Toward a beach, somewhere about the centre of the island, our course was laid, and upon coming to the shallows, the girls shipped their paddles and sprang into the water, when, with others helping them, they ran the canoe on to the beach, making no more of my weight than if I had been a child.
I now observed among the woods of the, very ancient stone buildings, which, at one time, must have been occupied by a people possessing a high state of civilization. They were in ruins, and overgrown by flowering shrubs and creepers, but were apparently still used as habitations for it was to one of these houses I was presently conducted. Here I was invited to rest and refresh myself with some delicious fruit that was set before me, the like of which I do not remember having tasted before.
Sylvia Cervantes now joined me, and in the witchery of her presence I forgot my perilous plight, and gave myself up to the luxury and enjoyment of the moment.
From Sylvia I learnt the history of my capture, and why she had come to entice me away with her.
Having inquired my name, which I gave her, Sylvia continued as follows:—
"You must know, then, Peter," she said, "that we are ruled here by custom which may not be changed. The wise-ones who live on the mountain tops tell us what to do, and we do it without question. The wise-ones are not as others are. They see what others cannot see, and they know many things that others cannot even guess at, so when the wise-ones told me your ship was on the other side of the Great Barren Island, and that I was to take my canoe and bring you here, I could not help but obey."
"How is it possible," I asked, "that mortal eyes can see so far?"
"The eyes of the wise-ones are not as mortal eyes," replied Sylvia, gravely. "Rest now, and to-morrow you shall hear what is required of you."
I was so affected by the calamity which had overtaken me that I lacked the disposition to question Sylvia more closely on the matter. It was plain I was a captive, and helpless to avert my fate, whatever it might be. As well then accept the inevitable, and make the most of the passing hour. I did not value life, since Anna's death, at a pin's ransom. If, therefore, the end of all things for me in this world was at hand, let it come. I would welcome it without regret.
Sylvia now told me as much as she knew about the island to which I had been brought, and of its people.
In ages gone by, she said, when the stone houses were new, and a flourishing city stood in the valley, a disagreement had arisen between the king and queen, who held equal sway over the two islands, of such a nature that the breach became impossible to be healed. Instead of going to war with each other, and thus sacrificing the lives of many of their respective followers in battle, who had no part in their quarrel, an agreement was come to whereby the king withdrew himself to the western island, leaving the queen in undisputed possession in the east. The king took to him all the men in both islands, giving up to the queen the women, to become her subjects. Since then the Male and Female Islands had been managed as separate communities. There was no king or queen now, the people of both islands being ruled by the wise-ones, who lived on the mountain tops in the Female Island. But the inhabitants of the two islands still continued to live apart, the males on one island and the females on the other. On the Male Island the males dwelt alone, without their wives, or any other women. Every year, in the month of March, the men came to the Female Island, and tarried there three months, to wit, March, April, and May, dwelling with their wives for that space. At the end of those three months they returned to their own island, and pursued their avocation there, selling ambergris to the traders from Sumatra. As for the children whom their wives bore them, if they were girls they stayed with their mothers; but if they were boys their mothers brought them up until they were fourteen years old, and then sent them to their fathers. Those women who were married did nothing but nurse and rear their children. Their husbands provided them with all necessaries. Those who were unmarried, and until marriage, became Amazons, doing all the work on the island that would, in the ordinary course, be done by men. They were very strictly reared, and were as hardy as boys. If necessary they could fight in defence of their country with a courage equal to that displayed by the bravest warriors. Such were the strange customs of the people on these two islands as related to me by Sylvia Cervantes.
A TASK IS SET ME
On the day after I was made captive to the people on the Female Island in the Engano group, I was given an opportunity to observe the customs which prevail among these Amazons. They appeared to be a happy, healthy people, nor could I fail to notice the absence of ill-temper and discord, which may be observed in all communities in which men and women live together, and where jealousy between the sexes is too often the cause of lifelong feuds. Here the matrons seemed content to devote themselves to the rearing of their offspring, who, in return, rendered heart-whole affection to their mothers. I never witnessed such docility and loving obedience as was displayed by the children of this island to those who had the care of them, and while I remained at Engano I never heard a child cry or saw a woman in tears.
As the girls reach maturity, which they do in these latitudes at the age of about twelve years, they are instructed by their mothers how to perform the necessary work, and become very skilful at throwing the lance, harpoon, or any manner of dart, being bred to it from their infancy. These girls, from this training, possess wonderful eyesight, and will descry a sail at sea farther than any sailor could see it.
The dress adopted by the dwellers on the Female Island, though scanty to civilized eyes, is nevertheless suited to their manner of life. It consists of tapa cloth cut in a deep fringe depending from waist to knee. Their hair, which is long, hangs down their backs. Those who, like Sylvia, have red hair, are mostly freckled and rosy, which, so far from detracting from their beauty, rather adds to their charms. The dark-haired ones are burnt brown by the sun.
I was now taken by Sylvia to be presented to the wise-ones, at whose instigation I had been brought to the island. These I found to be men, if indeed they could be called such, but they were so wizened in appearance as more to resemble monkeys. Their manner of life is so austere as to make it a matter for marvel that body and soul could cling together. They will not kill an animal for food, or for any other purpose, not even a fly or a flea, or anything in fact that has life; for they say they have all souls, and it would be a sin to kill them. They eat no vegetables in a green state, only such as are dry, for they believe that even green leaves have life. And they sleep on the bare ground, naked, without anything to cover them, or to soften the mountain rocks which form their bed. They fast every day, and drink nothing but water. Yet, in spite of the rigour of their discipline, they attain to extreme old age; not one of the wise men, so Sylvia informed me, being less than one hundred years old, while some were accredited with upwards of two centuries of life. By reason of their abstinence, they are supposed to be gifted with mysterious occult powers, notably second sight, by which they are able to locate strangers at a great distance from their own country, and to foretell their advent. Not long since they had foretold the coming to the island of a Spanish fleet, when the whole Amazon population had taken refuge in subterranean caves until the Spaniards had left, which they did under the belief that the island was deserted. It was by means of this second sight that the "Golden Seahorse" had been located, and that I had been selected from among the crew to carry out a project which the wise men had in view, and the particulars of which I was about to learn.
The chief of the wise-ones, who acted as spokesman, now informed me of the reason I had been brought to the island.
"You must know, Signor," said he, addressing me as though I was a Spaniard; an appellation which I felt inclined to resent, "that we are troubled by a demon we have found it impossible to slay. Many of our girls have fallen victims to the monster, while the men from the Male Island have repeatedly attacked it during the months of their residence here, without being able to overcome it. In length the creature is thirty feet, and of great bulk. It has two forelegs near the head, armed with claws. The head is very big, and the eyes stand out from it on knob-like excrescences. The mouth is big enough to swallow a man whole, and is armed with pointed teeth. In short, the monster is so fierce that all stand in fear at the sight of it. Now it is known that the men of your race are brave, and possess weapons of which we have no knowledge, so, when it was revealed to us that your ship was close by on the other side of the Great Barren Island, we resolved to bring you here; who seemed, in our eyes, to be a brave man, so that you may rid us of the demon which threatens our peace, if not our very existence."
"Alas! oh, wise-one," I answered. "How much better to have brought the ship also! On board of her, it is true, we possess weapons against which even such a monster as you tell me of could not prevail. But these weapons I have not with me. How then can I, single-handed, hope to overcome so terrible a creature as you describe? Rather send me back to my ship, when I promise to bring her here, so that a party of us, well armed, may attack the demon, when no doubt we shall be able to destroy it." But at this the wise-one shook his head.
"To bring the ship here," said he, "would be easy. But how do we know we could be rid of her without injury to our people?"
"I would pass you my word as to that," I answered.
"So you say now," replied the wise-one. "But how shall we know that you would keep your word?"
An angry retort sprang to my lips, but I restrained myself on receiving a warning glance from Sylvia, which reminded me that I stood at the mercy of these monkey men.
"Give me three days, then," I answered, "to devise some means for destroying the monster. If I succeed, I demand to be sent back to my ship. Without this promise I will do nothing for you, let the consequences to me be what they may."
The wise-one seemed to ponder my words carefully.
"Be it so, then," he answered. "If in three days you rid us of this demon I will see that you are restored to your friends. But if you should fail, and survive, you must nevertheless be put to death. We have no room on the Islands of Engano for strangers."
THE SLAYING OF THE GREAT CROCODILE
I now bethought me of how I might best set about the task of vanquishing the monster which held the Female Island in terror, and which, from the description given me by the wise-ones, I judged to be a crocodile. Nor in this was I mistaken, for, being taken by Sylvia to a place of safety from which I could see the demon, I was confirmed in the opinion I had formed by what I saw, although I had never seen a crocodile of such amazing proportions before. It lived in a cave close to a fertile plain, where goats belonging to the islanders were pastured. Not far off was a stream at which it went to drink, and a deep furrow in the sand marked the road it made to the water. During the day it remained in its cave, but toward evening it would issue forth and attack the goats, three or four of which it would kill, and carry off to its lair. Those in charge of the goats dared not interfere, lest the monster, deprived of its accustomed food, might seek its dinner among the ruined stone houses in which the islanders lived.
Now I noticed that the road along which the crocodile travelled to the water was very deeply furrowed, thus proving how the great lizard had repeatedly dragged its heavy bulk over the same spot on its way to drink at the stream, and I bethought me of a plan to deal with the reptile. The only weapon I had upon me when kidnapped from my ship was a short sabre or manchette, which I wore as a sidearm. But this I hoped would prove a formidable weapon when put to the use for which I now intended it.
During the morning of the next day, when we knew that the crocodile would be asleep in his cave, Sylvia and I went together to the road which the reptile had made, by the weight of his body, to his usual watering-place.
Here, with such rude implements as the islanders possessed, we dug a trench the width of the road, and for some distance along it. At the bottom of the trench we laid a stout log, in which was firmly fixed my manchette, its sharp point upward. We then filled up the trench with soft sand, and retired to the place of vantage which I had occupied the previous day, and from which we could see the crocodile make his evening raid. Towards sundown he came forth with a rush among the terrified goats, four of which he slew with a stroke from his powerful tail, after which he proceeded to drag their mangled carcases into his lair. We waited an hour, when, just before sundown, the reptile came forth again on his way to the water. We watched him with bated breath, and Sylvia, who now, for the first time, began to understand the trap I had set, could hardly contain her excitement. When the crocodile came to the sand-pit we had dug on the road he sank down, when the sharp blade of the manchette entered his breast, and as he dashed forward, rove him to the navel, so that he died on the spot in the greatest agony.
Sylvia now summoned the islanders to see my work. They came from all parts, and raised so great a shout when they saw their enemy dead that the sound of it reached the wise-ones on the mountain-tops, who peered down at the beast where he lay in a morass of blood which deluged the sand so that it ran into the stream, dyeing the water a deep red.
The death of the reptile, and the craft and cunning I had displayed in the killing of it, so impressed the Amazons that they came to me in a body, with Sylvia as their mouthpiece, asking me to stay and be their king, nor did the wise-ones raise any objection to this proposal. But although I admired Sylvia, I had no desire to spend the rest of my days at Engano, not even as King of the Amazons. I therefore answered that my comrades were no doubt looking for me, nor would they continue their voyage home until all hope of my rescue had been abandoned, and I reminded the wise-ones of the promise they had made me of safe conduct back to my vessel, in case I should succeed in ridding the island of their enemy. The justice of my claim was not to be denied, and with the dawn of the morrow the wise-ones undertook to ascertain the direction in which the ship lay and to send me aboard her.