That evening a feast was held in my honour; some of the men from the Male Island came over, by special permission of the wise-ones, in order to be present, and to see the man who had slain the monster against which they had been unable to prevail.
The men from the Male Island I found to be as free from ill-will toward one another as were the women on the Female Island. Since they had neither wife nor child, they associated in pairs, and mutually rendered each other all the services a master could reasonably expect from a servant, being together in so perfect a community that the survivor always succeeded his dead partner to any property he may have had. They behave to each other with the greatest justness and openness of heart. It is a crime to keep anything hidden. On the other hand, the least pilfering is unpardonable, and punished by death. And indeed there can be no great temptation to steal when it is reckoned a point of honour never to refuse a neighbour what he wants; and when there is so little property of value it is impossible there should be many disputes over it. If any happened, the wise-ones interposed, and soon put an end to the difference.
In all my travels I never met with happier or more gently disposed persons than the people of the Male and Female Islands of Engano.
I BECOME A VICTIM OF DOMESTIC INFELICITY
Next morning the wise-ones, according to promise, informed me, by means of their power of second sight, that my ship was in the place where I had left her, which seemed probable, as it would no doubt be on land that Hartog and my friends would be looking for me.
I passed my word to the wise-ones that Hartog's vessel would not visit the Engano Islands, since strangers were not welcome; and, having bid good-bye to the Amazons, I once more embarked with Sylvia in her canoe, and was paddled round the east end of the Great Barren Island, where, in the distance, was the "Golden Seahorse" still at anchor in the bay where I had last seen her.
When I came aboard Hartog was overjoyed at my return. "I shall have to keep thee tied up, Peter," he said to me, in jest at my frequent mishaps. "You are for ever either falling overboard or running away." But when I told him of my adventure on Amazon Island he listened with great interest, expressing regret that I should have pledged my word against the ship's calling there. His disappointment, however, was modified when I told him that nothing of any commercial value was to be found upon either of the Engano Islands; nothing, in fact, being worthy of notice but the wonderful contentment of the inhabitants, a commodity which could not be carried away.
"Let us up stick and home, then," answered Hartog merrily. So, having presented Sylvia and her accompanying Amazons with gifts, in return for which they showed us where excellent water was to be obtained with which we might replenish our tanks, we bade farewell to the Great Barren Island, and shaped a course for Holland.
On our arrival at Amsterdam Hartog arranged for the disposal and division of our treasure. He and I, as joint promoters of the expedition, each took to the value of twenty thousand English pounds, giving the remainder to be divided among our officers and crew, who had never in their lives before looked to possess so much money. The ship was put out of commission, though, for the present, we determined not to sell her. Hartog promised himself a spell ashore, and I also looked forward to a life of ease and recreation. I was now a rich man, with more wealth to my credit than would satisfy my simple needs for the remainder of my life. Why then, I asked myself, should I seek further peril and adventure in unknown lands to gain money of which I already possessed more than I knew what to do with?
I did not return to my estate, which had become distasteful to me, recalling, as it did, the brief span of nuptial happiness which I had enjoyed with Anna, and when, later, my father-in-law, the Count of Holstein, offered to buy it from me, I was glad to sell it to him. With a portion of my capital I now secured a full share in the business of De Decker, my old master, and, having purchased a fine house at Amsterdam, I resolved to settle down to the lucrative business of a merchant.
Before taking possession of my new home I paid a visit to my family at Urk, where I found that my father had retired from the active management of his fishing business, which was now carried on by my eldest brother, who was married, and blessed with three sturdy boys. My two younger brothers were also married, and both had begun to rear families.
"Only you, Peter," said my mother, "my favourite son, the flower of the flock, are alone and childless."
I had not, since Anna's death, given a thought to marrying again, but my mother's words appealed to me with some force when I reflected that I owed it to my country not to lead a life of selfish celibacy. I would never love with the strength of my first love which I had given to Anna; but there seemed to be no reason why I should not become the head of a house, and the father of a family, so that I might live again in my children.
Now, it so fell out that Pauline Rutter, a niece of De Decker, came at this time to stay with her uncle at Amsterdam, and as I was a frequent visitor at De Decker's house, I often met her. Pauline was proud, dark, and self-willed—the very opposite of what Anna Holstein had been when I married her, and for this reason, perhaps, I liked her the more, since it put an end to all comparison between her and Anna, to whom I had given my first love.
Pauline was flattered by the attention I paid her, and when at length I asked her to become my wife she made no secret of her satisfaction at the prospect of becoming Madam Van Bu.
"I have always thought, sir," she said, "that you would marry again. It is a duty which you owe to your wealth and position. That your choice should have fallen upon me is an honour of which I am very sensible."
It will thus be seen that in the alliance which Pauline and I proposed there was to be no love-making. The bargain was one that might have been made in the course of De Decker's business. I was to give Pauline my wealth and name, in return for which she promised to become my wife, and to undertake the management of my household. It was a shameful bargain, and I was well served for my part in it.
We had not been married a month before each of us began to observe in the other an incompatibility of temper which made any kind of agreement between us, even on the most trivial matters, impossible. Pauline declared that I brought the manners of the forecastle into her drawing-room, while the social inanities to which she devoted most of her time angered me into upbraiding her with her frivolity and lack of common sense. These mutual recriminations soon led us into a condition of life which destroyed all prospect of peace and contentment in our home. Neither would give way one jot. The more Pauline stormed at me for my boorishness and want of consideration for her the more obstinate did I become in ascribing to her frivolous nature the true cause of our unhappiness. I admired Pauline, and I looked to her to become the mother of my children; but we could neither of us endure the other's presence for any length of time without a squabble, so that our domestic infelicity became a jest and a byword even among our servants. In these circumstances I felt it would be better that we should part. It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I was convinced that I would regard Pauline with more kindly feelings if seas between us rolled than were possible if we remained together in the same house, and I have no doubt that Pauline thoroughly reciprocated my sentiments.
In this mood I sought my old comrade Dirk Hartog. I found him, as I expected, at a tavern which he frequented. He was seated at a table with Bantum and Janstins, poring over a chart in which all three appeared to be deeply interested.
THE YELLOW PARCHMENT
"Welcome, Peter!" cried Hartog, when he saw me. "I'd have wagered you'd be with us, and here you are in the nick of time."
"What's in the wind now?" I asked, as I drew a chair to the table at which the three were seated.
"The greatest and best chance that was ever offered to seafarers," answered Hartog. "Read that, and say whether any man with the blood of a rover in him could sit tamely at home when such a country as this is waiting to be explored."
With these words he pushed toward me a parchment yellow with age, but very clearly written, so it was easy to decipher. The paper, a translation in Spanish from some ancient tongue, read as follows:
"The Ruby Mountains. Among these mountains there are certain great and deep valleys to the bottom of which there is no access. These valleys are full of rubies. Wherefore the men who go in search of them take with them a piece of flesh as lean as they can get, and this they east into the bottom of the valley. Now there are a number of white eagles that haunt these mountains and feed upon the serpents in which the valley abounds. When the eagles see the meat thrown down, they pounce upon it, and carry it up to some rocky hill-top, where they begin to rend it. But there are men on the watch, and as soon as they see that the eagles have, settled they raise a loud shouting to drive them off. And when the eagles are thus scared away, the men recover the pieces of meat, and find them full of rubies, which have stuck to the meat down in the bottom of the valley. The abundance of rubies in these depths is astonishing, but none can get down, and if any could they would be devoured by the serpents which abound there. This country is inhabited by pygmies and giants. The giants, who are by far the largest men to be seen in this strait, are ruled by the pygmies."
"And who is the author of this fairy tale?" I asked.
"One to whom I take my hat off," answered Hartog. "Marco Polo, the first and greatest navigator in the world's history. Where he could go we can follow."
"And where does he place the Ruby Mountains?" I inquired.
"That is what troubles me," replied Hartog. "Marco Polo knew the Great South Land, but not so thoroughly as we are beginning to know it now. From this chart I place the Ruby Mountains on the north-west coast of the continent of New Holland."
"Whose chart is it?" I inquired.
"Marco Polo's own," said Hartog. "It was given to me by a man I once befriended, together with the parchment you have just read. How he came by it I need not say. The man is dead, and I trust his sins are forgiven him. But I know he would not lie to me, not willingly."
"It seems a wild goose chase," I said, although my doubts were rapidly dissolving under the witchery of Hartog's sanguine temperament.
"So did our last voyage," answered Hartog. "Yet every word that was written upon the paper that guided us was true. And why should we presume that men would give so much labour to preparing these charts and manuscripts in order to perpetuate lies?"
I could not but admit this. The ability to make these drawings, and to inscribe these manuscripts, I knew was confined to a very few, who were mostly men of truth and honour. Such accounts as were available of the wonderful voyages of Marco Polo I had read with avidity, and I saw no reason to doubt the assertions of this brave and learned man.
"What do you propose, then?" I asked Hartog, although in my own mind, I knew the old sea-dog was impatient to be off on a new treasure-hunt.
"What else can I do, Peter?" replied Hartog, "than take ship for this place? I could never rest content, nor would you either, with the thought of these Ruby Mountains still unexplored."
"You have settled the matter, then, so far as I am concerned," I said, with a laugh.
"And why not, partner?" answered Hartog. "We own a fine ship that was surely never intended only to make a maiden voyage. We could visit this place, and be back in twelve months—two years at most. What is to keep us, then, from our pleasure trip?"
Before Hartog had done speaking, I knew my mind was made up to go with him. My life at home with Pauline had become intolerable, nor did I take any active part in De Decker's business, finding the drudgery of the counting-house irksome after my more exciting experiences on sea and land, so, without further ado, I expressed to Hartog my willingness to join him in a fresh adventure to the South.
Hartog was overjoyed at my decision.
"I made no doubt you would come with me, Peter," he said. "We have been shipmates too long to sail our separate ways alone. With Bantum and Janstins, who are willing to sign on, and a picked crew; we can explore the Ruby Mountains and be back within the year."
THE RUBY MOUNTAINS
On our second voyage to the South in the "Golden Seahorse" we followed the route we had originally taken with the "Endraght", avoiding as far as possible the calms and currents which had then impeded our progress, as also those islands where we had met with a hostile reception. It became necessary, however, to call at some of the groups we passed, and it surprised us to find how diversified are the manners and customs of the natives who inhabit the numerous islands of the South Seas. Not only are the people of each group governed by different laws, but frequently each island is distinct from the others in the language spoken and the manner of life followed upon it. Hence it would require a bulky volume to describe in detail the many and varied tribes we met with on our journey.
We made the coast of New Holland within five months after leaving Amsterdam (a record voyage), somewhere about the same place where I had affixed the metal plate at the time of our first visit. But we did not land here, as the weather was unfavourable, a strong breeze blowing and a high sea running at the time, making it necessary to keep a good offing from the shore. As we coasted toward the south, however, the weather moderated, so that we were able to bring our ship with safety nearer land.
From an observation we took when the weather was favourable, we ascertained that we were three hundred miles to the north, with an unbroken coastline extending before us; so we concluded we had rounded a promontory, and were now upon the west coast of New Holland. This encouraged us in the belief that we were following the right course to the Ruby Mountains, for Marco Polo's parchment informed us that the giants whom he saw were by far the largest men to be seen "in this strait," from which it seemed the intrepid Venetian navigator had sailed through this strait as early as the year 1272, when he made his famous voyage round the world.
As we proceeded along the coast, the weather being now clear and fine, we observed great stretches of country, flat and uninviting, upon which there appeared to be no sign of life. Indeed, the whole of this southern continent seems to be sparsely populated when compared with the islands, upon most of which the native inhabitants are very numerous. In this may be seen the hand of an all-wise Providence. In the ages to come a white population will, no doubt, emigrate to New Holland, and if this great continent was found to be densely populated by a black people, it would be a work of great difficulty to overcome them. Whereas, the aboriginal population being scant by reason of the barren nature of the country, the task of colonization by the whites would be easy. We often sailed for more than a week at a time along this coast without seeing any sign of human habitation, and those natives whom we did see were of so poor a description and appeared to be so frightened of us and of our vessel as hardly to deserve the name of humans.
And now we approached some cliffs, beyond which appeared a lofty range, which, from our present position, and the bearings given on Marco Polo's chart, Hartog declared to be the Ruby Mountains.
As we approached the cliffs, a bold headland, which stood between us and a view of the coast beyond, assumed the appearance of a lion's head. The resemblance was so striking that it appeared as if the mighty hand of Nature had hewn a colossus from the living rock in the shape of a lion to guard the entrance into this land.
Upon rounding this remarkable promontory, we found ourselves opposite a beach bordered by a broad line of surf, which indicated that the water here was very shallow for some distance from the shore. Both the surf and the beach seemed to be alive with black children, so diminutive were the forms who disported themselves in the breakers, or ran up and down upon the sand with the eagerness and agility generally displayed by boys at the seaside. As to the real ages of these people, however, we were not left long in doubt. Four canoes put off from the shore and came alongside. They were manned by twenty-five blacks, who, notwithstanding their small stature, we could see at a glance were full-grown men. We made signs to them to come aboard, but they were evidently in doubt whether or not to accept our invitation. We then threw out to them some small pieces of iron and strings of beads, at which they showed great satisfaction. These little men appeared to be an intelligent race. Their bodies were small, but their heads, in proportion, were large. They wore no beards, but their hair was curly like the Kafirs, some of them wearing it tied to the neck in a knot, and others letting it fall loose down to the waist. All of them had holes through their noses to carry fish bones, polished white. Some wore strings of human teeth round their necks.
At length, five, bolder than the rest, ventured aboard. They did not appear to be afraid, and what astonished us most was that they seemed ready to take charge of us. They made signs that we should go ashore, and one of them, who appeared to be a chief, attempted to drive Janstins into the sea by hitting him with a kind of hammer with a wooden handle, and at one end a black conch shell. Janstins laughingly disarmed his small antagonist, which seemed to surprise him as well as the others, and brought them together in consultation.
Ten of the pygmies now came aboard, to whom we gave nutmegs and cloves, thinking to please them. They took what we gave them, although they appeared surprised that we should offer them anything. The little chief, not more than three feet high, who had so amusingly attempted to drive Janstins into the sea, again made signs to us to go ashore. So Hartog ordered the pinnace to be manned, and armed against treachery. But we had not come within musket shot of the beach when the water became so shallow that we could not take the boat any farther, whereupon a number of us stepped out into the shallows, up to our waists in mud and kelp, and with some difficulty made our way to the beach, where the pygmies mustered in great force.
On the beach we noticed fresh human footprints that must have been made by men of great stature. They were twice as long as the footprints we made, and none of us were noted for small feet. On going a short distance into the woods we saw a vast number of huts made of dried grass, so cramped that a man of ordinary size could not creep into them on all fours, yet many of them contained families of pygmies. We afterwards tried to penetrate somewhat farther into the wood, in order to ascertain the nature and situation of the country, when, on coming to an open place, a number of tall savages, none of them less than eight feet high; came out from the brushwood as though to attack us. On the neck of each giant sat one of the pygmies, who directed him in the same way that a man would guide a charger. The pygmies then began to let fly their arrows at us with great fury, by which Janstins was wounded, and one of the men hit in the leg. We were all hard pressed, so I ordered a volley to be fired, which killed one of the giants, so that the others dragged the dead man into the wood, from which all quickly disappeared. Being so far from the beach, and having a very difficult path to travel, we determined to return to the ship and report to Hartog what had occurred.
Hartog, upon learning what had befallen us, resolved to make no further overtures of peace to these treacherous natives, who appeared to be more like wild beasts than men, and who, by their conduct, had placed themselves beyond all claim to consideration. It seemed that the pygmies possessed a greater intelligence than the giants, whom they used as ordinary men would use horses or beasts of burden. It was for this reason that the little chief had attempted to drive Janstins into the sea with his conch-shell hammer, regarding him as some smaller species of giant whom he could easily frighten into obeying him.
During the afternoon some canoes came off in which were a number of pygmies, but they made no attempt to come aboard of us, remaining, as they thought, at a safe distance from the ship. In order to convince them of the error of this, however, and to punish them for their treachery of the morning, Hartog ordered our brass bow-chaser to be loaded with grape, and fired amongst them, which caused great consternation, and sent them back to their woods howling in terror, taking their dead and wounded with them.
Hartog was determined to explore the range of mountains which we could see not far distant from the coast, in order to ascertain the truth, or otherwise, of the existence of rubies in the valleys as set forth in Marco Polo's account of this country. Although we had carefully looked for these gems among the ornaments worn by the pygmies, we had not seen any, from which we concluded that the men spoken of by Polo as having procured the rubies must have been of a different race, or possibly his own sailors. Toward evening we observed a large bird in the sky, which Hartog, with the aid of his spy-glass, pronounced to be a white eagle.
THE VALLEY OF SERPENTS
We now equipped an expedition to explore the Ruby Mountains, of which I was appointed leader. Hartog wished to come with us, but I persuaded him that his place was on board our ship, which, remembering how the Spaniards had, on a former occasion, pirated the vessel, he could not deny.
"You are right, Peter," he said, when we had argued the matter. "We cannot both go, and, since I am captain of the 'Golden Seahorse', I clearly perceive my duty is to stand by her through fair and foul."
The matter being thus concluded, I took command of the party for the shore. In the forenoon we rowed for the beach in two pinnaces, well manned and armed. In all the places where we had landed we had treated the blacks with kindness, offering them pieces of iron, strings of beads, and pieces of cloth, hoping by these means to win their friendship, and to be allowed to explore the country; but, in spite of our friendly overtures, the blacks received us everywhere as enemies, and nowhere more so than in this land of pygmies and giants. We therefore determined to waste no more time in making useless efforts for peace, but to meet force with force. Twelve men, well armed, we considered to be a match for all the savages we were likely to encounter during a day's march inland.
We had brought with us some coils of stout rope in order to assist us in descending from the mountain heights into the valleys below, for I did not place much reliance upon the fable of the eagles and the pieces of fresh meat as a means to procure the rubies which it was said were washed down by torrential rains at certain seasons. If rubies were to be obtained, I argued, it must be by a more practical method than that employed by Marco Polo's men. Besides, we had no fresh meat with which to give Polo's experiment a trial.
After our recent brush with the natives these wild men gave us a wide berth, and we saw no sign of them on our way to the mountains, to which we came after two hours of walking. The sides of these mountains are rocky, with no verdure of any kind upon them except a species of stubble which grows in patches. When we came to the top of one of these hills, we looked down a sheer cliff into the valley. I never before saw any place so inaccessible to man. Nothing without wings, it appeared, could descend into those depths. After exploring the mountains for the best part of an hour, however, we came to a position where it was possible, with caution, to descend for some distance, and by aid of our rope, one end of which we fastened to rocks or stubble as opportunity offered, we succeeded in reaching a cliff from which there was a drop of not more than two hundred feet. This I calculated to be the entire length of the rope we had brought with us, by which I resolved to be lowered. Bantum tried to dissuade me from my project, urging that the risk was too great; but I was determined that, having come so far, I would not go back without being able to make some report of the valley we had undertaken to explore, and a descent by means of the rope seemed to be the only method, nor could Bantum suggest any other.
I now knotted at one end of the rope a cradle in which I could sit. while being lowered, and so long as the rope held, of which there appeared to be no reason to doubt, for my weight was well within its compass, I did not anticipate danger.
All being made ready, and every possible precaution taken against accident, I was let down from the top of the cliff to what looked like the dried-up course of a stream composed of pebbles and wash-dirt. The whole valley presented the most dreary and desolate appearance. The high cliffs by which it was surrounded rose like perpendicular walls, casting deep shadows, so that the sun's rays never penetrated to the floor, for which reason it was destitute of verdure, barren to the eye, and depressing to the senses. As I descended it seemed to me as though I was being lowered into some forgotten tomb.
At length my feet touched ground, and, extricating myself from my cradle, I began to explore the course of the stream. The light in these depths, although it was noonday, was not greater than twilight, and I found some difficulty in ascertaining of what the bed of the stream was composed, but by crawling on all fours I was able to form some idea of its composition, and among the wash-dirt I found a number of dark stones, which, from the experience I had gained at Amsterdam, I knew to be rubies of a size and weight that promised great value.
I now became so absorbed in my hunt for rubies that the dismal nature of my surroundings was forgotten. The greed of gain obsessed me, and as I gathered the precious stones into my pocket I would not have exchanged this desolate valley for the most beautiful spot on earth.
But I was soon to learn how the wealth of the world is for ever encompassed by dangers that we wot not of. A shout drew my attention, and on looking up a sight met my gaze which drove all thoughts of ruby-hunting from my mind, and made self-preservation my only concern. The rope by which I had descended, relieved of my weight, swayed like a serpent endowed with life, and for this reason, perhaps, it was being fiercely attacked, about midway from the top, by a flock of white eagles which tore at the hemp with beak and claws. I ran to the cradle; but I had barely come to it when the rope parted, a hundred feet or more of it falling down to where I stood scarcely able, as yet, to realize the extent of the disaster which had overtaken me. A return to the ship for a fresh rope would occupy, I knew, six hours at the least, provided my companions were not molested on their way by hostile savages, and I shuddered to think what my sufferings must be during such a period of enforced solitude in this dreadful place. I shouted to my comrades on top of the cliff, who answered me, but it was impossible to understand what was said. I noticed, however, that some had already set off on a return to the ship, as I conjectured, for a fresh rope; while others continued to watch me. Thus I did not feel so deserted as I would otherwise have done, though I dreaded the weary hours before me, particularly when it should become dark, as would happen sooner here than above.
And now, to add to my terrors, I became aware of a low, hissing sound which seemed to come from all around me, first from one quarter and then from another. The air seemed to menace me with the hisses that were borne upon it. Then, in spite of the gloom, by straining my eyes I could see the cause of this hissing. A number of serpents were crawling out of the crevices of the rocks around, and making toward me. I shouted in the hope of frightening them away, but, although they paused, irresolute, at the sound of my voice, they came on again, drawing closer every minute. They were of all sizes, some of great length, black and venomous-looking. One monstrous reptile of the constrictor species continued to watch me from an adjacent rock upon which it lay, its forked tongue darting in and out of its mouth. I felt that my reason was leaving me. Endurance has its limits—I could bear no more. Death or madness awaited me.
Then a miracle happened. The white eagles, the cause of my mishap, now proved my salvation. They descended upon the serpents like bolts from above, carrying them off in their talons to the mountain tops, there to be devoured at their leisure. The dark valley became alive with flapping white wings and squirming serpents, in the midst of which pandemonium I mercifully lost consciousness.
When I came to myself Hartog was beside me. It was pitch dark, but he carried a ship's lantern in his hand.
WE AGAIN LEAVE NEW HOLLAND
"Courage, comrade," said Hartog, who held a flask of spirits to my lips, and at the sound of his familiar voice life returned to me. I was so weak, however, and the shock to my nervous system had been so great, that I could not speak. I pressed his hand to let him know how thankful I was that he had come himself to my assistance. None, I firmly believe, but Hartog could have saved me at that moment from madness or death. With the tenderness of his great heart, which could be gentle as a woman's upon occasions, he lifted me in his arms, and bore me to the cradle at the end of the rope by which he had descended. I was soon drawn to the top of the cliff, where my companions awaited me, and presently Hartog himself joined us. We did not fear the pygmies and giants at night-time, for the dread of evil spirits in the dark is universal among the aborigines of New Holland, making it unlikely they would attack us, but it was a melancholy procession which made its way through the woods to the beach where our boats lay, with me carried on a stretcher by willing hands, since I was incapable of making any exertion.
Next day, after a night of delirium, during which I raved, so Hartog told me, of eagles and serpents, I awoke refreshed, though still very weak. I could not bear to be left alone, not even for a moment, and Hartog nursed me with a tenderness that my mother would have given me had she been at my bedside. At length I pulled through, and was able to come on deck; but it was a shadow of my former self who crept up the companion ladder to where a couch had been prepared for me. As I lay thus, recovering my strength in the sun, I was able to give Hartog some account of my adventure. At first, when I spoke of rubies, he evidently regarded what I said as a flight of fancy inseparable from the dreadful ordeal through which I had passed. But when I insisted that I had told him nothing but truth, he brought me the clothes I had worn on my descent into the valley, the pockets of which we found to be full of the rubies I had collected. But, after consultation, we determined to say nothing about these rubies to any member of the crew. The wealth of the Indies would not have tempted me to descend into the valley again, and Hartog considered the risk too great for him to run, upon whom the safety of us all depended. To have asked others to undertake a danger from which we shrank would have been to undermine our authority and sow the seeds of mutiny. Thus we kept our secret, and after a further week's rest, during which I fully regained my strength, we made sail for the open sea.
The land which we had up to now skirted and touched at was not only barren and inhabited by savages, but also the sea in these parts seemed to yield nothing but sharks, swordfish, and the like unnatural monsters, while the birds also were as wild and shy as the men. What pleasure the wretched inhabitants of this country can find in their lives it is hard to understand.
We were now once more in need of water, and having sighted an island, we made for it, but could find no means to get near the land, owing to the heavy surf. We found the coast very precipitous, without any foreland or inlets. In short, it seemed to us a barren, accursed place, without leaf or grass. The coast here was steep, consisting of red rocks of the same height almost everywhere, and impossible to touch at owing to the breakers.
During the whole of the next day the current carried us northward against our will, since we were running with small sail, and had but little control over the rudder. In the afternoon we saw smoke rising up from the shore, when I took charge of a boat's crew, in order to effect a landing, with our spirits somewhat revived, for I concluded if there were men on the island there must be water also.
Coming near to the shore, we found it to be a steeply-rising coast, full of rocks and stones, with a violent surf running. Nevertheless, two of our men swam ashore, and succeeded in drawing the pinnace close to the reef, upon which we landed.
We now began our search for water, without, however, finding any, when we observed coming toward us, from the direction in which we had seen the smoke, three men creeping on all fours. Their appearance was so wretched that we began to doubt if they were humans. They made no sound, apparently being incapable of speech, but they signed to us with beckoning fingers to approach them. Then they raised themselves upon their knees, and stretched out their hands to us in mute appeal. They were white men—some of the Spaniards marooned by Captain Montbar as a punishment for having stolen our vessel. And, with a shock, I recognized among them Pedro de Castro, the traitor to whom we owed the piracy of our ship.
When we came close to the unfortunate Spaniards whom Montbar had left to shift for themselves on this desolate shore I bent over to examine them. But that they moved I would not have thought them to be alive. The pupils of their eyes were strangely dilated, and there were black circles under their eyes. Their hollow cheeks were deeply wrinkled. Their lips glued to their yellow teeth. They exhaled an infectious odour, and might well have been taken for dead men come forth from the tombs.
We had some salt junk and biscuits on the boat, kept in one of the lockers against, as sometimes happened, the boat being unable to return to the ship in time for meals, and I sent one of the crew to fetch a portion, which he set before the famished men.
When the Spaniards saw the food their limbs were affected with a shivering, and tears came into their eyes. Then they fell upon it, and devoured it with sobs of joy. In astonishment and pity we watched them at their wolfish meal. When they had finished I asked de Castro for some account of what had befallen them.
The devil Montbar, he said, had abandoned them upon this desolate island, telling them to make shift for themselves, and to learn from the hardship of their lot repentance for the act of piracy they had committed in stealing our ship. On searching the island they found it to contain no water except a brackish liquid, to be had by digging, The only food obtainable was shell-fish, and occasionally the rank flesh of sea birds. They had neither the tools nor materials to build habitations, and were forced to shelter themselves from the scorching sun in summer and from the bitter cold in winter with a few bushes. When de Castro spoke of Montbar he became livid, and a very evil light shone in his eyes. For two years they had endured upon this island untold suffering. All the women and children were long since dead, except Donna Isabel Barreto, who clung to life with the tenacity born of a desire for revenge. Of the two hundred and forty Spaniards marooned by Captain Montbar but thirty now survived, the rest having perished miserably from starvation and exposure, when their bodies had been cast from the cliffs into the sea.
When Pedro and his companions had somewhat recovered they led us to where their wretched settlement had been made among a clump of gaunt, wind-swept trees, and, in pity for their forlorn condition, I ordered all the provisions we had in the boat to be brought for their refreshment. Donna Isabel threw herself at my feet, clasping my knees, and covering my hands with kisses. She had lost all trace of the proud beauty she had formerly possessed. Her skin had been burnt almost black by the sun, and a mane of tangled white hair surrounded what had once been a noble countenance. Only her eyes retained their brightness, and at thought of rescue, and possible revenge upon her enemy Montbar, they seemed to glow with unnatural fire.
I knew that Hartog would not have wished me to leave these wretched outcasts to their fate, however little deserving they may have been of our sympathy, so I invited them to accompany us back to the ship. They came protesting they would henceforth be our slaves, ready, in all things, to obey our slightest behest. But I had little faith in their promises when their necessities should be relieved.
Hartog, as may well be imagined, was considerably surprised when we returned on board with the remnant of the Spanish settlement in such sorry plight, but he approved of what I had done in bringing them off the island. They were sent forward, where they received every attention. Donna Isabel was the only one allowed to berth in the cabin. We had no women's dress on board, but we found her warm clothing, in which she appeared as a man. After a while she recovered her good looks, and we found her companionship agreeable.
A week later we came to an island which promised more favourable conditions than the one we had just left, and where we obtained a supply of good water for our tanks.
THE ISLANDS OF ARMENIO
It was now brought home to me that Donna Isabel Barreto was henceforth to play no unimportant part in the prosecution of our voyage. She had recovered her good looks, and although she was older than any of us on board the "Golden Seahorse", and probably ten years older than Hartog, she nevertheless exerted an influence over the captain which I could see he found it impossible to resist. Donna Isabel had once more resumed her feminine attire, having stitched together for herself a wardrobe from the ship's stores of cloth and calico, and Hartog begged from me three of the rubies which I had found in the Valley of Serpents, which he presented to her, and which she wore sewn on to a black velvet cap.
Donna Isabel openly expressed her desire to amass treasure in order to follow up Montbar and take her revenge upon him for having marooned her and her people upon a desert island. This desire for revenge obsessed her. Her Spanish blood burned to repay the insults and indignities which Montbar had heaped upon her, and she looked forward with pleasure to the tortures which she promised herself she would inflict upon Montbar when once she held him in her power.
In order to obtain means to make war upon her enemy, Donna Isabel persuaded Hartog to embark upon a fresh adventure, which promised to provide the necessary funds to equip a frigate equal to that owned by Montbar, so that she might engage him upon equal terms.
The story that Donna Isabel had to tell was one confided to her by her late husband, Captain Barreto, which she had kept locked in her memory ever since, waiting for some such opportunity as the present, when the information she possessed might be turned to account. The story was, briefly, as follows:
A long time ago a Spanish vessel sailed from Manila for Mexico, and east of Japan had by a violent storm been driven toward a small but high-rising island.
When the crew went ashore, the island proved to be a country, strange and unknown to anyone; the people being of handsome stature, white skinned, and of good proportions, very affable, and amiably disposed. On their arrival in Mexico, the sailors related many marvels about the wealth of this island, giving their hearers to understand that, so to say, gold and silver were almost to be picked up at discretion on the shore, while the kettles and other cooking utensils of the natives were made of these metals. These islands were named the Islands of Armenio, after an Armenian merchant who was on board the ship. Donna Isabel professed to have received from her late husband the true bearings of these islands, which she confided to Hartog, and a course was set accordingly.
Pedro de Castro, Donna Isabel's son, had now been forgiven his treachery toward us in stealing our vessel, since Hartog considered his punishment in having been marooned upon a desert island commensurate with his offence. He was, therefore, permitted to join us in the cabin, and was given employment as ship's purser, for which he was well suited. He expressed great contrition for what he had done, and I honestly believe at the time he intended to serve us faithfully. But treachery once practised is oft-times repeated, so I made up my mind to keep a watchful eye on Pedro de Castro lest we again be caught tripping.
We now proceeded northward, coasting with great care a succession of small rocky islands that appeared to be uninhabited. As we proceeded, the weather became rough and tempestuous, the sea running so high that it sometimes threatened to engulf us. During the whole of our voyage we had not met with such a mountainous sea.
At last we perceived a land to the north, trending to the north-east, of which the coast seemed to be one continuous rock, remarkably level at the top, and of a reddish colour, against which the sea broke with such fury as to make a landing impossible, but Donna Isabel declared this rock to be one of the islands of Armenio we had come in search of. As there were no other islands to be seen, we concluded that during the ages which had passed since the white-skinned people inhabited them, the continuous beating of the waves had gradually demolished the islands until nothing remained but the plateau of red rock to which we had come, and over which the sea sometimes swept in a mass of foam. But, having come to the island of her dreams, Donna Isabel would not leave it until we had ascertained, beyond doubt, that a landing was impracticable. It was not handsome, white-skinned natives whom we had come in search of, she said, but solid gold, which neither tempests nor seas can destroy. In order to satisfy her, we remained several days in the vicinity of this mass of rocks, hoping that the weather would moderate, so as to make possible a landing upon it, and at last we were rewarded for our patience by a lull in the heavy breakers, so that the pinnace, of which I took charge, was able to approach close to the steep and jagged shore. Thereupon six of the Spaniards leaped overboard, trusting to their skill as swimmers to make the land, which they did, remaining on shore for upward of an hour. When they returned they reported the rock to be a mass of auriferous quartz, in which was embedded more gold than they had ever thought to see in one place, but so tightly wedged was it between the crevices that they had been unable to bring any of it away except a few small specimens which they showed us. With picks and crowbars, however, they declared it would be easy to obtain an unlimited supply of gold.
When we reported the finding of the gold to Donna Isabel, she vowed she would never consent to abandon the treasure. "The sea cannot always be rough," she said. "A calm must follow. Let us, therefore, wait in patience until it comes, so that we may land and enrich ourselves."
Hartog, also, was in no mood to leave the gold until every effort had been made to obtain it, so we continued to beat about in the vicinity of the island awaiting a calm.
After three weeks tossing on the ocean, during which time of stress we suffered much hardship by reason of our decks being continually drenched by the seas which swept us fore and aft, a calm suddenly fell, as it does in the tropics, without the least warning. Fortunately we were not far from the island when the calm fell, so that we lay within easy reach of it.
Without loss of time we manned the two pinnaces, I taking command of one and Janstins of the other, and made for the shore. Donna Isabel insisted upon coming in my boat. She had discarded her feminine apparel, and now appeared in the sailor's clothes we had given her when she first came aboard. Hartog, as captain, remained in charge of the ship.
When we came to the island we found no difficulty in landing, and were soon engaged with the picks and crow-bars we had brought with us, in the work of gold-getting. We found the report given by the Spanish sailors, who had been the first to land, to be somewhat exaggerated. Still, there was an abundance of gold between the crevices of the rock, and, what was more remarkable, we came upon what had evidently been vessels of beaten gold, thus proving beyond doubt that the island had formerly been inhabited.
During the course of the morning we obtained as much gold mixed with quartz as the boats could conveniently carry, when we returned to the ship, intending, after our midday meal, to come back for a fresh supply of the precious metal, but on getting aboard we found Hartog much perturbed by the extraordinary behaviour of the compass, and the strange appearance of the sky.
"I don't like the look of it, Peter," said Hartog, when we descended together to the cabin to discuss the situation. "I never knew this to happen before but once, and I am not anxious to repeat the experience. Unless I am greatly mistaken, there's something big coming."
When we returned to the deck, a low moaning sound came to us across the sea, but, otherwise, there seemed to be nothing to cause anxiety. Donna Isabel wished to return to the island for more gold, but Hartog would not permit of any further expedition being made that day. He ordered the boats to be hoisted, and the treasure carried below. Every stitch of canvas had already been taken off the ship by the captain's orders, and we now rode upon a glassy sea under bare poles. Then the moaning increased, and presently there appeared upon the horizon a black line over which lightning played, although no clouds were visible. The atmosphere was at this time so oppressive that it was difficult to breathe.
Hartog then ordered the helm to be lashed, the hatches to be put on, and all hands below, he and I being the last to quit the deck just as the storm broke upon us with hurricane force.
For three days and nights we remained between, decks, with the hatches battened down, not knowing but that each moment might be our last. The noise was deafening, while the violent motion of the vessel made the getting about from one part of the ship to another difficult and dangerous. Food and water we obtained with difficulty, not at regular intervals, but when opportunity offered, crawling from one to another, and helping those who, from exhaustion, were least able to help themselves. The air became so foul in the cabin as to cause the ship's lanterns to burn dimly, so that we feared they would soon be extinguished. Thus we lived amid the raging elements, shut up in a storm-tossed coffin which we knew might go to pieces at any moment.
At length, on the third day, Hartog ventured to open one of the hatches, when a rush of cool air came to us as we lay gasping below, bringing with it new life and vigour. The hurricane had passed, and although the wind and sea still ran high, we were told we might come on deck. But the happiness we felt at being released from our dreadful imprisonment was checked when we saw the havoc which had been wrought by the wind and the waves upon our ship. The decks were swept clean, the masts gone by the board, the larboard bulwarks stove in, while the cook's galley had disappeared.
All hands now set to work to cut away the wreckage of our masts and rigging, which, as the ship rolled in the trough of the sea, threatened to stave in the hull as the spars dashed against it with each recoil. Had it not been that the "Golden Seahorse" was a new ship, upon which no expense had been spared in the building, we must have foundered. But it was amid such scenes of storm and stress that the indomitable spirit of Dirk Hartog asserted itself, and seemed to animate both officers and crew with something of his own courage and determination. Forgetting the hardships and privations through which we had passed, we set to work, under the magic of his influence, with such goodwill that, in the space of some six hours, order had been evolved out of chaos, and our vessel once more rode the sea in safety. The pumps were then manned, when it was found that although much water was in the hold, it was easily gained upon, from which we concluded that no leak had sprung in our timbers, notwithstanding the battering they had received. Jury-masts were then rigged, upon which sufficient sail was set to give the ship steering way, when we hoped to make a harbour where we might refit, and effect necessary repairs.
We were now anxious to reach some port where new masts and rigging might be obtained, as our progress under jury-masts, which carried only a limited spread of canvas, was necessarily slow. Donna Isabel was in favour of abandoning the "Golden Seahorse" at the first port we came to where another ship could be purchased to convey our treasure to Spain, but neither Hartog nor I would consent to this proposal, having no desire to see the interior of a Spanish prison, or to taste of the horrors of the Inquisition. It was astonishing how quickly Donna Isabel and her son, Pedro de Castro, appeared to have forgotten the obligation they were under to us for having rescued them from the desert island upon which they had been marooned. Both now spoke as if we were indebted to them for having put us in the way of enriching ourselves with the gold obtained from the Islands of Armenio, and Donna Isabel declared that the treasure really belonged to her, since she had possessed the secret which led to its discovery. I was so disgusted by the ingratitude of these Spaniards that I could hardly bring myself to speak of the matter with patience.
Hartog now proposed that we should make for Sumatra, and as this proposal appeared to promise a way out of, our difficulties, I had nothing to say against it.
Sumatra is one of the Sunda Islands, having Malacca on the north, Borneo on the east, Java on the south-east, and the Indian Ocean on the west. It is eight hundred miles long and about one hundred and fifty broad, and it possesses a fine harbour capable of containing any number of the largest ships. Here we arrived without mishap, within three weeks after setting our course for this port, and cast anchor in a sheltered spot close to the shore. The harbour is commanded by a strong fortress, well fortified, and mounted with cannon. Three ships were at anchor, a Spanish frigate and two smaller vessels, one flying the flag of England, and the other displaying the colours of the Netherlands. We had barely found our moorings when a boat from the man-o'-war came alongside, steered by a young Spanish officer, who bore as much arrogance in his demeanour as there was to be seen gold lace and brass buttons upon his uniform. He haughtily demanded an interview with the captain, but upon Hartog stepping forward his manner became less offensive, and finally they descended together to the cabin, being shortly afterward joined by Donna Isabel.
Since I was not invited to this conference, I was forced to remain on deck, feeling very jealous of the influence which Donna Isabel exerted over Hartog, to the destruction of the mutual trust and confidence which had formerly existed between us. I felt, also, there was trouble in store for us. Hartog, although brave and resourceful upon the sea, was but a child when it came to dealing with business matters ashore, and I well knew that he would prove no match for the wily Spaniards with whom he was now in consultation.
Presently the party from the cabin came on deck, when I perceived that Pedro de Castro was one of those who had been present at the conference. The young Spanish officer was now all smiles and affability, and Donna Isabel and her son, accompanying him to his boat, were rowed aboard the frigate.
Hartog then came to me, and I could see he was worried, and ashamed at having shut me out from what had taken place in the cabin.
"Forgive me, comrade," he said, "but Donna Isabel would have none present at the interview with the Spaniard save only myself and her son Pedro."
"Since when has Donna Isabel Barreto become captain of this ship?" I asked.
"Nay, Peter, I forgive thee that sneer," answered Hartog, "though I would not take it from another. It has been decided to transfer the treasure to the Spanish frigate, the captain of the warship undertaking to protect us while we remain in this port and to pay for all necessary repairs to our ship. These were the best terms I could make, and they seem to me fair enough."
I had no desire to haggle over terms, for I was already rich enough to make me careless of what became of the gold we had taken from the Island of Armenio, but I realized how great was the influence Donna Isabel had acquired over Hartog in order to induce him to lay aside his claim to a part of the treasure.
During the day a boat came from the frigate into which the gold was loaded and transferred to the warship, together with the Spaniards we had aboard of us, whom I was glad to be rid of on any terms, and that evening was the first upon which I had felt at home in our cabin since Donna Isabel and her people had joined us.
It was a beautiful evening, with a gentle breeze off the shore—the very night, as I remarked to Hartog, to put to sea.
"I wish we could up anchor and be off," answered Hartog. "But we have work to do ashore in attending to the ship's repairs before we may hope to leave this place where, I make no doubt, we shall be imposed upon and robbed by the sweepings of Europe who inhabit this island. It is fortunate we have the word of the Spanish captain that he himself will be responsible for all we need."
I did not answer, for I did not share in Hartog's sanguine expectations regarding the Spaniards. I had experienced too many acts of treachery to trust them, and there existed, as I knew, at this time, a natural antipathy between the Netherlands and Spain, which made any binding compact between the people of these rival nations impossible. I did not, however, voice my suspicions lest my opposition might be attributed to jealousy.
As sometimes happens, I was unable to sleep that night, my thoughts taking wing among the many scenes of adventure through which I had passed, and refusing to compose themselves to rest. With the dawn I was up and on deck. As I stepped upon the poop and looked around upon the quiet harbour where the ships rode at anchor, I became aware of a certain emptiness in the bay. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. The Spanish frigate was gone.
When Hartog was told of the treachery of Donna Isabel Barreto, in stealing our portion of the gold obtained from the island of Armenio, and leaving us, for all she knew or cared, without the means to repair our vessel, he did not show so much anger as I expected. He seemed more to regret the loss of Donna Isabel than the treasure with which she had so heartlessly decamped.
"She was a clever woman, Peter," was all he said to me in reference to the matter, "and I shall miss her." Then he clapped me on the shoulder, and bade me not despond. "We still have the rubies," he reminded me, "which, properly invested, will more than pay for all we need."
I had forgotten the rubies, but I stipulated that the disposal of them should be left in my hands.
"Willingly, Peter," replied Hartog, "for, between ourselves, I doubt not I am more at home on the sea than in making a bargain with land-rogues ashore. Take you command of the ship until she is once more taut and trim."
To this I agreed, although I had no intention of depriving Hartog of his authority, and, after breakfast, I landed with a boat's crew, in order to interview the islanders, and, if possible, to make arrangements with some of them for the equipment of our vessel.
Achin, the metropolis of Sumatra, is situated at the north-west end of the island. It stands on a plain, surrounded by woods and marshes, about five miles distant from the sea, near to a pleasant rivulet. The city consists of some eight thousand houses which take up more ground than a city of this size would demand by reason of every person surrounding his dwelling with a palisade that stands some yards distant from it. The inhabitants are, in general, small, and of very swarthy complexion. They have black eyes, flat faces, and high check-bones. Their hair is long and black, and they take great pains to dye their teeth black. They also besmear their bodies with oil, as do the natives of other hot countries, to protect themselves from being stung by insects, while they let their nails grow exceedingly long, scraping them until they are transparent, and dyeing them vermilion. The poorer class go almost naked, having only a small piece of cloth round the waist, and a piece of linen about the head, or a cap made of leaves resembling the crown of a hat. The richer sort wear white breeches to above the knee, and a piece of calico, or silk, wrapped round their loins and thrown over the left shoulder. Some wear sandals, but all are bare-legged and bare-bodied from the waist upward. The common language among them is the Malayan language, and, by speaking to some whom I met on landing, I found I was able to make myself understood, and to understand, though imperfectly, what was said to me. The Sumatrans are a very indolent race of people, which accounted for the small interest they took in the arrival of our ship, none thinking it worth while to come aboard, or to make any inquiry concerning us.
When I explained that my business was to obtain new masts and rigging I was directed to the house of an Arab named Mahomet Achmet, a carpenter and ship chandler, if such he could be called, who traded with vessels visiting the island, and dealt with them in the matter of repairs or refitting. Mahomet, like all the inhabitants of Sumatra, spoke the Malayan language, but we occasionally helped each other with Spanish or Dutch words, of which he had acquired the meaning by his intercourse with crews of these nationalities. When I told him we required masts as well as rigging, he seemed to consider my request unreasonable. There were masts on the island, he said, good ones too, made of beech, but they belonged to the king, who set great store by them, since they had come to him as the result of a victory by the fort over a foreign vessel which had attempted to raid the island and take by force what could only honestly be obtained by trade. On my asking to see the king Mahomet turned up his eyes with an exclamation of astonishment at my audacity. No foreigners were permitted to see the king, he said. It was death to enter without permission the inner apartments of the palace where the king lived. But when I produced one of my rubies he became less demonstrative in his protestations against my proposed visit.
"It is for these toys that I would trade with the king," I said to him, as I held up the red crystal to the light in order that he might see it better.
"Such toys the king likes well," answered Achmet. "Give it me, and I will send it to the king, and ask if he will receive you."
"Nay, Achmet," I answered, "I will not part with my jewels save only to the king himself. Send, therefore, and tell him that a rich merchant from the East is here to trade for gems such as are only fit for kings to handle."
I could now see that Mahomet Achmet was on the horns of a dilemma. His natural cupidity urged him to rob me of my jewels, but should this come to the king's knowledge he would doubtless suffer for having taken the law into his own hands. Finally he consented to send a message to the king on my promising that not only would I pay him liberally for such ship-chandlery as he might supply us with, but that if all went well I would present him with a ruby of equal value to that which I had shown him before I left the island.
While the messenger was absent on his mission, Mahomet gave me some interesting information regarding his Malayan Majesty. The king, he said, owned a large number of horses, as well as elephants, all having magnificent trappings. He was at no expense in time of war, for all his subjects were obliged to march at their own expense, and to carry with them provisions for three months. In peace time his Majesty's living and that of his household cost him nothing, for his subjects supplied him with all kinds of provisions. He was, besides, heir to all those of his people who died without male issue, and to all foreigners who died within his territories, while he succeeded to the property of all those who were put to death for offences against the law.
From this it will be seen that the revenue of this prince is very considerable, and that he is personally interested in the death of foreigners within his kingdom, whether from natural causes or in the execution of the law, of which he is the sole arbiter.
The space of an hour had barely elapsed since the sending of the messenger to King Trinkitat of Sumatra, announcing my arrival in his dominions, before an answer was brought me that his Majesty desired my attendance at the palace forthwith, so I made ready to accompany those he had sent for me, and who acted as my bodyguard.
The king's palace stands in the middle of the town, its grounds being oval in shape, and about a half-mile in circumference, surrounded by a moat twenty-five feet broad, and as many deep. All round the palace there are cast up great heaps of earth instead of a wall, planted with reeds and canes that grow to a prodigious height and thickness. These reeds are continually green, so that there is no danger of fire. There is no ditch or drawbridge before the gates leading to the palace, but, on each side, a wall of stone, about ten feet high, that supports a terrace on which some guns are planted. A small stream runs through the middle of the palace, which is lined with stone, and has steps down to the bottom of it for the convenience of bathers. There were four gates and as many courts to be passed before we came to the royal apartments, and in some of these outer courts are kept the king's magazines of rifles and cannon. Here also are stalls for the king's elephants. In the king's magazines are to be found numerous cannon, and a quantity of small arms, while his guards consist of a thousand men. But his greatest strength is in his elephants, which are trained to trample upon fire, and to stand unmoved at the report of artillery.
When we came to the inner courts, beyond which were the apartments of the king, our bodyguard halted, and Mahomet Achmet and I entered the king's presence unattended.
We found his Majesty seated on a divan surrounded by his numerous wives and slaves, to the number of several hundred, for the apartment in which the king received us was a very large one, more resembling a courtyard than a room, since the roof was open to the sky. The king seemed to be a man of middle age, whom I judged to be about forty years old, but his attendants were all young, some of them scarcely more than children.
All were attired in the same manner, so that it was difficult to tell their sex, with short white breeches to above the knee, silken scarves of various colours wrapped round their waists, the end being thrown over the left shoulder, and white turbans upon their heads, into which their long hair was gathered. Some were yellow-skinned, others brown, others again jet-black. All had been rubbed with oil so that their skins glistened like polished marble, and they stood about the courtyard or around the king in silent groups, like so many statues.
Mahomet Achmet prostrated himself when he came into the king's presence, as is the manner of the East; but I contented myself with bowing low as I approached the divan upon which his Majesty sat, very gorgeously dressed in red and blue silk robes embroidered with golden dragons, which I concluded he had obtained from China. Upon his head he wore a white turban with a jewelled aigrette of great value. His countenance was intellectual, and his expression shrewd.
King Trinkitat received me graciously, and ordered a stool to be placed near to the divan so that I might sit and converse with him upon the matter in hand. When I showed him some of my rubies he at once said, "These come from the South Land," and upon my asking him how he had arrived at this conclusion, he answered that some of his people visited annually the South Land to trade with the natives, and had reported a white ruler there among a tribe of savages who had in his possession a great quantity of valuable jewels, which he would not part with for money, but only in exchange for certain commodities, by the aid of which he was making the tribe he governed the most powerful upon the Southern Continent.
"What is the name of this white chief, your Majesty?" I asked, deeply interested.
"King Luck," answered Trinkitat; "but I thought you came from him."
"That is not so, O king," I replied. "These rubies are magic rubies that are found only in a valley guarded by serpents. If they are honestly acquired they bring great happiness to those who possess them, but if they are stolen, or dishonestly come by, they bring a curse upon the robbers, and upon the land in which they dwell and all the people who inhabit it."
At this I thought the king appeared disappointed. I had reckoned on his being superstitious, and indeed it is well known that certain jewels do possess mysterious qualities that influence the lives of those who own them, although I had no authority, beyond my own perspicacity, for endowing my rubies with supernatural charm.
"How many of these jewels have you?" asked the king, holding one of the rubies up to the light.
I mentioned the number as being thirty, that being half of all I possessed.
"There is not enough money upon the island to pay a fair price for these stones," declared Trinkitat, "and how should it benefit me if I acquire them for less than their fair value if, in that case, they are to bring upon me and my people a curse rather than a blessing?"
"Nay, O king," I answered, "I ask no money for these gems, but rather your good offices in helping us repair our vessel, which, after much storm and stress, has found in your harbour a haven of rest."
"That you shall have, and welcome," replied the king, and after some further explanation as to what was required, and more bargaining, it was finally agreed that I would allow the king to retain the six rubies I had brought with me, and that the balance of the thirty, which I offered, was to be paid over when our vessel had been new masted and fresh rigged at the king's expense. Mahomet Achmet was given directions to see that this work was promptly carried out, after which we bowed ourselves from the king's presence, I being well satisfied with the bargain I had made.
Next day the work of repairing the ship began. She was careened in the shallows of a safe and convenient harbour, and such an army of workers set to work upon her that in the course of a week the "Golden Seahorse" was once more ready for sea.
While the repairs to our vessel were in progress we received welcome assistance from the crews of the English and Dutch ships in the harbour, with whom we soon became acquainted. The Dutch vessel "Speedwell" belonged to the Dutch East India Company, a company which, at this time, was growing in wealth and importance. She was bound on a voyage to the North for a cargo of furs, and Captain Smuts, in command of her, was anxious that we should join him in this expedition, for, said he, two ships will more readily succeed than one, since each may help the other. But we not being equipped for northern travel decided to continue our voyage south, though we arranged with Captain Smuts to meet him later at the Molucca Islands, where we had resolved to call King Thedori to account for his treacherous conduct toward us on our former visit.
Before leaving the island of Sumatra I paid a second visit to Achin, where I was given a final audience with King Trinkitat, when I paid him over the balance of the rubies. I found the king well disposed toward me, and apparently satisfied with the payment made him in return for the refitting of our vessel, which indeed was at a princely rate, when the value of the rubies was considered. He did not attempt to extort more than was justly due to him according to promise, as is the habit with these half-savage potentates, when dealing with foreigners, but this I attributed to the superstition I had so happily aroused in him that the rubies would bring misfortune if not honestly come by. I questioned his Majesty more closely with regard to King Luck, and, from what he told me, I felt convinced that this man, now a chief among the savages of New Holland, was none other than my old antagonist Van Luck, though how he came to be rescued from the sea I had no means, at that time, of knowing. King Trinkitat possessed no chart of the place to which his ships traded, as the captains of his vessels mostly steered by the stars. But he promised me that, if ever I should again visit his island, he would send a pilot with me to conduct me to King Luck.
Mahomet Achmet, with whom I parted the best of friends, expressed the hope that we would one day meet again.
"I will not sell this jewel, Signor Peter," he said to me when I paid him for his work with some money we had aboard the ship, and presented him with a fine ruby, according to promise. "I will keep it in memory of a shrewd man whose wit did more to save him than his money, for I may tell you that neither you nor your ship's company would have been allowed to leave this place had you not spoken to the king of the ill-luck which these rubies bring to those who come not honestly by them."
I thanked Mahomet for his frankness, which I promised to remember should I ever have occasion to revisit Sumatra.
And now, all being ready, we put to sea, and by evening the island of Sumatra had disappeared beyond the horizon.
Hartog believed, from an ancient Portuguese chart which we had with us, that an island continent lay to the south-east, and after a lengthened period, during which we encountered bad weather and rough sea, we sighted a formidable coastline, which appeared to be a mainland extending on either side as far as the eye could reach. We coasted along this new-found country for several days in search of a landing place, without being able to find one, the coast being a continuous line of precipitous rocks. Toward the end of the third day we encountered a canoe, the largest we had seen, containing upward of one hundred natives. We offered food and other articles, but, although the canoe came quite close to us, none of her people could be induced to come on board.
These natives appeared to be strong and fierce, nor did they show the least fear of us, but rather an intention to begin hostilities when an opportunity should offer. In view of this we loaded our brass cannon, and made ready a supply of ammunition in case they should attack us. But after keeping company with us for some time the canoe made off, and Hartog had no mind to follow it.
Next morning we hove to off a pebbly beach, upon which I undertook to land a boat's crew and examine the country. Hartog sent two boats, one in my charge and the other in charge of Janstins. The sea was smooth, so that we had no difficulty in running the boats ashore, where, leaving a man aboard each, the rest of us followed the course of a stream inland. Here we soon came to a valley so beautiful as almost to defy description. Colossal trees rose to a great height above our heads, festooned with a flowering creeper which resembled a bridal veil, whilst emerald green ferns stretched their fronds into a stream which descended from the higher land beyond by a series of cascades. A kind of flax plant grew here, with leaves over nine feet long, and bearing a flower which looked like a bunch of feather plumes, whilst palms and cabbage trees abounded everywhere in great profusion.
My attention was diverted from the beauties which surrounded us by some strange footprints which I noticed on the soft ground near the stream, and which appeared to have been made by a bird or two-legged animal of prodigious size. The footprints measured fully three feet in length, and I fell to wondering what kind of a creature it could be who had made them, when I was startled by a cry from one of our men, which caused me to look in the direction whence it came. At a distance of some fifty yards from where I stood I then perceived a huge, wingless bird. Its head, armed with a formidable beak, reared full twenty feet from the ground; its body, big as an ox, and covered with black bristles, supported upon legs thicker than the girth of a man. As yet this prodigy had not observed us, for it was stalking quietly among the trees, followed by a brood of chickens, each larger than the biggest ostrich I had ever seen.
I now noticed that one of these chickens had strayed from the others, and I saw Janstins, who had evidently not observed the mother-bird, aiming his matchlock at it as though about to fire. I shouted to him to desist, but too late to save the mad fellow from his folly. There was a flash, and a loud report, and the giant chicken lay on its back, its legs kicking in the air.
"To the boats!" I cried, and the scared sailors, when they saw the mother-bird, needed no second warning. There was a rush for the boats by all but Janstins, who seemed as one amazed, and incapable of action at the sight of the monster. I could not leave him to the fate which threatened him, so, running to his assistance, I dragged him down behind some fern trees, where we hid out of sight of the mother-bird, who seemed bewildered by the unaccustomed sound of firearms, and perplexed at the death of her chick, for which she could not account. But we both knew that her inaction was momentary, and that when she discovered us we must expect the full force of her rage, which could only result in the loss of our lives. Whispering to Janstins, I bade him remember that in courage and caution alone lay our hope of escape, and he presently recovered his presence of mind sufficiently to follow me when we ran, bent double, under cover of the luxuriant foliage, to the beach, where we arrived only just in time to scramble into the second boat that was being shoved off by the terrified sailors, before the mother-bird, now joined by her mate of even larger proportion, came in pursuit of us, and so carried away were these monsters by rage at our escape that they advanced into the sea, stretching their necks at us while uttering a loud, drumming noise which we could hear repeated when we were on board the ship, and even after we were out at sea.
Next morning, at daybreak, we again made the coast, and toward evening we found ourselves opposite a sandy beach upon which a number of natives appeared to be engaged in some tribal ceremony. Fires were lighted along the sea shore, and, upon drawing nearer, we were able to distinguish groups of men, apparently captives, with their hands bound behind them, standing together while their captors performed an extravagant dance round them. Armed warriors then rushed upon each other in mimic warfare, and the sound of their bare feet, as they stamped in unison upon the hard sand, came to us with measured cadence across the sea. When the dance was ended, the captives were made to lie flat, one behind the other, till they formed a black patch upon the beach. Then appeared a number of men pushing from above high-water mark a war canoe, the prow of which, elaborately carved, and upstanding to the height of thirty feet, was decorated with shells and bunches of feathers. On came the canoe, slowly at first, and then with increasing speed, until it reached the row of victims, over whom it crunched, taking the water reddened with their blood amid an uproar of shrieks and groans most dreadful to listen to.
Not wishing to engage these savages, Hartog stood out to sea, but so fearless were they that when they saw us they came in pursuit of us. Over twenty canoes crowded with natives put off from the shore, but we greeted them with shots from our brass cannon, which sent them back quicker than they came, many being observed to fall after each discharge of grapeshot and canister amongst them.
We left this country, which Hartog named Staten Land, in honour of the States of Holland, with an unfavourable impression of its inhabitants, who appeared to be bloodthirsty savages, prone to hostility without provocation.
THE CANNIBAL ISLANDS
After leaving Staten Land we sailed west to between the fifteenth and twenty-first parallels of south latitude, when we fell in with a number of islands, some of considerable extent, while others were mere islets of sand and rock, uninhabited except by sea-fowl and turtle. A great barrier reef surrounds the group to the eastward, leaving the southern quarter open. This barrier is broken by numerous passages, between which navigation is possible, but dangerous, except in fine weather. In addition to the great barrier, every island has an encircling reef of its own. The general appearance of these islands is bold and striking. They are perhaps the mountain tops of some sunken continent. The island upon which we landed was one of the largest of the group, with a background of wooded hills, and a fringe of palm trees to the beach, beyond which a native village stood among green foliage.
We found the inhabitants of this island not nearly so friendly as other savages we had met with. The men were larger, and bore a ferocious aspect. The chief wore a necklace of whales' teeth, his hair frizzled into a mop, which stood out from his head, coloured to a reddish-brown. His skin was a light brown, with no tattoo marks upon it, but shiny, as if rubbed with oil. He carried a club and spear of elaborate workmanship, and wore a cloth petticoat made from the bark of a tree, and painted with some skill in its design. His followers were similarly, but not so strikingly, clad, the women wearing feathers in their hair, and a peculiar leaf from a tree, which looked like white satin. Altogether this race appeared to be possessed of a far higher state of civilization than the people in Terra Australis. They were, however, openly addicted to cannibalism, and made no secret of this abominable practice.
These natives did not display any hostility at our landing, nor did they express any surprise at the presents we made them of beads and bright cloth, although they accepted what we gave them with avidity. We stayed at this island for nearly two months, during which time we learnt something of the customs of the people, and I was able, after a while, to understand some of their language. It seemed that these savages were continually at war with one another, and the boom of the great wooden war drums was always sounding somewhere in the group. It was from prisoners taken in battle that men were provided for cannibal feasts, hence there was never lacking a cause for quarrel. The prisoners were kept in a compound, where they were fattened for the pot and killed when wanted.
These islanders were industrious in their own way. They built comfortable houses, and made excellent pottery capable of withstanding the heat of fire when used for cooking. Their boat-builders constructed sea-going canoes capable of travelling long distances. They also made a delicate cloth from the bark of the mulberry tree, upon which they printed from wooden blocks patterns of great elegance. Their spears and clubs also showed much taste in their construction and ornamentation. The women made fishing nets of coconut fibre, with which they captured an abundance of fish. The tribes on the different islands kept up a system of barter with one another, exchanging commodities, the making of which was their hereditary occupation. A son followed the occupation of his father, and for him to have followed any other occupation would have been regarded as an offence against ancestors. A son was expected to do exactly as his father did before him, and to do it in the same way.
One day when I was fishing outside the reef, I was startled by a cry, and looking toward whence it came I perceived a young girl in evident terror, swimming for the reef with the black fin of a shark close upon her. Going to her assistance I managed, at some risk, to drive off the shark, and, pulling the girl into my boat I took her on board our ship, where I delighted her with a present of printed calico with which to reign as a queen of fashion among her tribe. When I took her ashore she showed her gratitude by taking my hand in hers, and placing it upon her forehead, which meant the making of a compact between us that she would lay down her life for me if occasion should require. It was to this that we subsequently owed our escape from death.
We had not found anything profitable to trade from these islands with the exception of sandal wood and tortoiseshell, of which we obtained a supply, but I noticed that the chief did not appear to grudge anything we took from him. It became a joke among our crew that they could have anything for the asking, and the ship was soon a museum of island curiosities. This aroused my suspicion, for I knew the cupidity of savages, and how they always try to take all and give nothing in return.
Toward the end of our visit, I also observed that numbers of savages from the adjacent islands began to arrive in canoes, and that preparations were being made for a feast. It was then that I noticed the girl I had saved from the shark was often to be seen standing on the beach opposite to the ship, gazing at the vessel long and earnestly. Thinking she wished to come on board again, I went in my boat to fetch her, but when I met her she showed great alarm lest we should be seen speaking together, and, urging me to follow her, she led me to a secluded spot of the island, in order that we might be free from observation. Here she confided to me the treachery of Vale Vulu, the chief whose guests we were.
It appeared from this girl's account of the matter that Vale Vulu's professed friendship for us was only a blind in order that he might attack us unawares. To this end he had invited certain tribes from some of the adjacent islands, with whom he happened to be on friendly terms, to a feast, the principal food of which was to consist of the dead bodies of our crew. His own tribe, unaided, he did not consider strong enough for this enterprise, but with the assistance of the friendly cannibals, whom he invited to the banquet, he made no doubt that he would easily be able to overcome us, particularly as we were to be taken unawares. The plan was to invite us to the feast, which we would be told was to consist only of fish, coconuts, and bananas, but, when we were seated, at a given signal we would be massacred and eaten, after which Vale Vulu would take possession of our ship and all that belonged to us.
The poor girl, when she had finished her story, confessed she would no doubt suffer death by torture for having betrayed the plot. I tried to induce her to come on board with me, but she refused, saying that if she did so an attack would be made upon us at once, where our ship lay, helpless, in the lagoon. I could not but see the force of her argument, and, as the matter was too urgent to admit of delay, I hurried on board and informed Hartog of what I had heard.
Our plans were soon made. All hands were told to be in readiness to man the boats in order to tow the ship out of the lagoon during the night, when we would depend upon a breeze to escape from these bloodthirsty savages. Arms and ammunition were served to the crew, and our brass cannon was loaded to the muzzle with grape and canister.
During the early part of the night we could see lights on the shore, whilst the beating of war drums and the sound of wooden horns continued to a late hour. At last all was still, when we slipped our anchor, and began the arduous task of towing the ship out of the lagoon through the opening in the reef which marked a break in the line of white surf. During the night we laboured at the oars, and when morning broke we had succeeded in towing the ship into the open sea for some distance from the land. But our peril was by no means at an end. An absolute calm prevailed, and unless a breeze came in time we feared the savages would put off in their war canoes to attack us. Nor in this were we mistaken, for we presently heard a great beating of drums and blowing of horns, while we could see the savages crowding on to the reef, from which they watched us lying becalmed. Ten canoes then came through the opening in the reef, each containing some one hundred savages, and were paddled rapidly toward us.
When the canoes came within range our brass cannon accounted for one of them, on board of which I hoped was the traitor Vale Vulu, but the others came on, and there is little doubt that by force of numbers we must have been overpowered had not the breeze, which we could now see approaching, come in time to save us. The canoes were all round us, and the savages had already begun to swarm on to our decks, when the sails filled and the "Golden Seahorse" began to gather way. We were now incensed against the cannibals for their treacherous conduct, and many fell to the discharge of our muskets. With our cutlasses we soon drove those who had ventured upon the ship into the sea, and a second discharge from our brass cannon disabled one of the largest remaining canoes, when the others made off. As our ship bowed to the waves of the ocean we were able once more to breathe freely, and, taking a last look at the island, I fancied I saw a dark form hurl itself from one of the highest cliffs upon the rocks below. Was it the brave girl, I wondered, who had saved us, and who had thus escaped torture by destroying herself?
AGAIN AT THE MOLUCCAS
Hartog was anxious, before returning home, that we should call again at the Molucca Islands, and demand an explanation, together with a ransom of pearls, from King Thedori, for having treated us so scurvily on our former visit. We knew that this treacherous chief depended for the success of his piratical schemes on taking by surprise those for whom he pretended friendship, and for that reason we had arranged to meet the "Speedwell" so that we might, by strategy, pay Thedori back in his own coin, capture him, and hold him to ransom.
Now we knew that if Thedori, or any of the people, caught but a glimpse of the "Golden Seahorse", they would make ready to attack her with all the force at their command, but the "Speedwell" was unknown to them, and there were many harbours among the Moluccas where our ship might remain unnoticed while our plans were matured. The plan we had formed was a simple one, and was therefore the more likely to succeed. It was, shortly, as follows. On reaching the Moluccas we would choose a convenient harbour as the base of our enterprise, when the "Speedwell" would set out alone for the island ruled over by Thedori, where we had no doubt the captain and crew would be well received, as is the habit of this crafty king when dealing with strangers, in order that he may eventually pillage them. Thedori was to be invited by Captain Smuts to go aboard his vessel to inspect the cargo of furs and other goods in which he proposed to trade. Once on board the "Speedwell", the King of the Moluccas would be kidnapped, and brought away to where the "Golden Seahorse" was at anchor, when Hartog undertook to deal with him.
Captain Smuts, whom we found waiting us at the Moluccas, was very ready to fall in with this plan when we told him of the large pearls that were to be found at the island, some of which we intended to demand as the King's ransom for being allowed to return to his people.
The island we had chosen as the base for our operations happened to be the one of which we had been told on our former visit that the men possessed such large ears that with one ear they could, when they liked, cover the whole of their heads; for when we landed, and met the natives, we observed in them this remarkable peculiarity. Their heads were the smallest and their ears the largest that I have ever seen in human beings. The intelligence of these savages was as small as their heads. They showed no interest in us, and seemed to be indifferent to our appearance among them. This stupidity on their part, however, so far from giving us any anxiety, rather commended itself to us, since it appeared unlikely they would attempt to interfere with our plans.
When we had rested and refreshed ourselves for three days at this island, the "Speedwell" set out upon her voyage to the main island, leaving the "Golden Seahorse" to await her return. In order that I might advise and consult with Captain Smuts with regard to our project, I became his passenger on the "Speedwell", it being understood that I was to keep out of sight until Thedori was safely aboard. So, every precaution being taken in order to ensure success, we arrived at the main island during the afternoon of the day we had set out, and cast anchor in the bay from which, nearly six years before, in the "Golden Seahorse", I had escaped with Hartog and our crew from the captivity which Thedori had intended for us after capturing our vessel.