"That is a fair proposal," the first mate said; "and I doubt not that all on board will gladly fall in with it. If we succeed, we shall set every tongue in England wagging; and there will be plenty of others, I warrant, who will be ready to follow our example."
"I had intended," Reuben went on, "to sail as far as the straits; then to head for the island of Madeira and, when within sight of it, to head away west-sou'-west. But if we carry this wind with us, we will make straight for the islands, and thereby shall escape the risk of being seen by vessels coming and going, as they all follow a track south of Madeira. We can make a good fight with any Spaniard that falls foul of us, and are as likely to take him as he is to capture us; but I would fain keep clear of them, if I can, since we go to trade and not to fight.
"Now I think you had best give a hint of the matter in hand to our old crew, all of whom we can depend upon; as indeed, I hope we can upon all, though as yet their mettle has not been tried. Take them aside singly, and open the matter to them. In a few days I shall tell the rest; but the matter will go more fairly, and easily, if we have a proportion of them ready to throw up their caps, and shout."
"Aye, aye, Captain Reuben. One bellwether will carry a whole flock after it, but I fear not that any will want to hold back. It is just the adventure that will suit a brave man's spirit—plenty to see, plenty to do, the chance of a fight, and the chance of a fortune. I should like to know what one could want, better than that. Besides, all are in high feather at the quality of the food, which they say the like of was never known on shipboard before; and that goes a long way. It is the fasting man who kicks. The full one is content, however matters go."
Pengarvan had not again opened his lips. He nodded occasionally, and that was all his captain expected of him; but the fact that he had guessed the destination of the ship, added to the esteem which Reuben Hawkshaw had for his second mate.
Three days later Reuben Hawkshaw called the crew together, and informed them of their destination. He possessed the rough eloquence best suited for the class he was addressing, and carried his hearers with him. He spoke as if the idea, that any of them could shrink from undertaking such an adventure, had not entered his mind; but assumed that they were the most fortunate of men, in having such a chance offered to them.
"You do not yet know," he said, "how great a piece of good fortune has befallen you, by being chosen to sail with me on this voyage. Had the news been as much as whispered, in Plymouth, I could have gathered a thousand volunteers in an hour. You all know how careful have been the preparations for the voyage, how strongly we are manned, how well we are armed, what stores of excellent provisions and what casks of good cider and ale are in the hold.
"Now I am going to tell you what all this is for. We are going, lads, to get gold; and if we succeed, as I doubt not we shall, each man on his return will, in addition to his wages, have a share in the spoil—such a share as will, I hope, make him comfortable for life."
A loud cheer broke from the men, as they pressed forward eagerly to listen.
"I have learned, lads," he said, "from a Spaniard who has been out there, of a land abounding with gold, lying to the west of the Spanish Islands. As yet, none of them have ventured thither; and I mean that we shall be the first to reap the harvest. Why should these Spaniards keep every good thing to themselves? We are as good sailors as they are, and better; as good men, and better. Therefore, I say, we will have a share of the prizes.
"We shall touch on our way at some of the islands, for wood and water and fruit and vegetables. There are plenty of them where we can find these, without meeting with a Spaniard. If we do meet with one, and he tries to interfere with us, so much the worse for him.
"Then, when we have taken in what we want, we will sail west; and if we find this land, as I doubt not we shall, we will return home with such treasures as were never brought before into an English port.
"You must make up your minds, lads, that it is not to be all plain sailing, and that we may have hardships and trials to meet with; but no true sailor shrinks from these. It is a grand adventure, lads—an adventure that nobles and princes would be glad to share in. There is honor and glory in it, as well as booty. We shall be the first Englishmen who ever sailed those seas, or dared to dispute the right of the Spaniards to keep all the treasures of the west in their hands; and in time to come your children's children will be proud to say, 'My grandsire was one of those who sailed in the Swan.'"
When the captain ceased speaking, there was a shout of enthusiasm from his hearers; not one of whom but considered himself to be one of the most fortunate of men, in being chosen as one of the crew of the Swan. This was an adventure, indeed. It was no mere trading voyage, but a grand expedition. There were new lands to be seen, there was the satisfaction of outwitting the Spaniards, there were glory and honor and gold to be obtained.
As for hardships and danger, they recked little of them. These always formed part of their lot; and with so well found a ship, and so good a crew, they felt confident of being able to face anything that might befall them.
They speedily broke up into excited groups, eagerly discussing the news they had heard. The new hands plied the older ones with questions, as to the general strength of the Spanish ships, the number of men they carried, and their armament. The guns were examined with fresh attention and admiration, and men looked along the sights as if already, in fancy, engaging in an encounter with the Dons. A horn of strong ale was served out to each, by the captain's orders, to celebrate the occasion; and the men drank success to the enterprise, shaking each other by the hand, and each vowing to do his share, bravely.
The wind continued favorable until they had passed Madeira, which was seen like a cloud on the port side. Three days later the breeze dropped, and there was a stark calm, in which the Swan lay motionless on the sea for well nigh a fortnight. The captain, knowing well that idleness is, of all things, the most harmful to a crew, set them to work to get up the cases of arms, and polish their swords and pikes until they shone. Then the crew were exercised with boarding pike and cutlass. Singlesticks and staffs, which the captain had provided for such an occasion, were brought up; and men were matched against each other with these—small prizes being given to those who showed themselves the most proficient.
Squads were told off to the great guns, and instructed how these should best be worked by the gunner, so that each man should do his share without hurry or confusion. He would fain have practiced them at a mark, but this the captain would not have as, with the air so still, the guns would be heard at a long distance, and might even bring up some Spanish or Portuguese vessel, to inquire into the cause of the firing—for they were now far below the line which the ships of other nations were forbidden to cross. Nor was there great need for practice, for to each gun was appointed, as captain, one of the old hands accustomed to the work, who could be trusted to send the ball straight when the time should come.
With these and other exercises, and with such sports as the sailors could devise, the time of the calm was got through well enough. They had now been over a month at sea; but, thanks to the honest food and sound cider, the men's health in no way suffered, and all were as well and hearty as upon the day when they set sail.
When the wind came, it came with sudden fury; but Reuben Hawkshaw had heard of the sudden gales that ships sailing west had to encounter, and took precautions as soon as it began to rise—furling up all the great sails; passing lifelines along the sides, to which the men could cling, if the waves washed boisterously over her; and clearing the decks and closing up all hatchways and openings. So, though for a week she tossed and labored in the gale, she was none the worse when it ceased; and indeed, the seas she encountered were by no means so heavy as those with which she had battled, on her voyage home from Spain.
While the gale lasted, Reuben Hawkshaw took every precaution to enable him to keep his reckoning, heaving the log every half hour, and noting constantly each change in the direction of the wind; so that, when all was over, he could tell within fifty miles the spot where the gale left her—for in those days the instruments of navigation were in their infancy, and sailors relied chiefly on the compass, and dead reckoning, to bring them safe to port, however long their voyage might be. Reuben Hawkshaw knew of no other plan, but as far as these went he was an excellent navigator, and was seldom many miles out in making a landfall.
As soon as the gale abated, sail was again made on the ship, and she proceeded on her course. In another three weeks, the mates were seen frequently to ascend into the tops, and the news spread among the crew that the Spanish islands lay not far ahead. The justness of the captain's reckoning was soon proved; for at daybreak, one morning, land was perceived directly ahead; though still lying, like a patch of low cloud, on the horizon.
A cheer broke from those on deck, as soon as the mate proclaimed that to a certainty it was land they saw, and the watch below came pouring up. Another cheer saluted the captain as he came out from his cabin—a tribute to his seamanship, in thus bringing them straight across the ocean, on a path that no Englishman had ever before sailed.
He, with the two mates, at once ascended to the fore top From here, as the morning brightened, two other points of land could be seen, far away on either hand.
"We are evidently approaching small islands. This is just what we hoped. My fear was that we might strike Hispaniola, or Porto Rico. When we get nearer land we will lower our topsails, so as not to be so easily made out from the land. Now we will go below, and try and mark off our place on the chart."
Chapter 4: Among The Islands.
"Now, let us go through our calculations again," the captain said when they entered his cabin.
"How long will you be, Captain?" the first mate asked.
"Half an hour, Standing."
"Then I will come again or, if you want me before that, send for me," and the first mate went out on deck again, for though well skilled to handle a ship in all weathers, and as brave and hardy a seaman as sailed out of Plymouth, James Standing could neither read nor write; and though in a rough sort of way he could reckon the course a ship should lie, and make allowance for leeway and currents and baffling winds, and could bring a ship into any port in England or the Low Countries, he was of no use in a matter of this kind.
Pengarvan was a good scholar, and Reuben had taught him what he knew of navigation, and always made him keep a log from the time when he first became a mate; at first comparing their calculations every day, and then but once a week; arguing over the allowances each had made for tide and leeway; and sometimes finding to his surprise, on arriving in port, that Pengarvan's calculations were even nearer to the truth than his own.
This was a great satisfaction to him, for he felt that, if aught should happen to himself when on a voyage, Pengarvan could be trusted to bring the Swan home, as safely and surely as he could himself. Roger had, for the last two years, been going through the same schooling; but as yet he was very far from attaining accuracy, being unwilling to make sufficient allowance for the great leeway that a vessel, in those days, made with the wind abeam.
"Now, Pengarvan," Reuben said in great glee, "bring out your log book. We have not compared notes since we started, for till we expected to reach land there was no occasion to do so, as our general course was clear enough. Now let us see where you put her.
"And you, too, Roger; let us see what hand you have made of it.
"I went through my calculations yesterday, and I am sure that there is no mistake in the figures. If I am right, this is the island that we see ahead, the one called Samona; while that we see dimly away on the port hand is Mariguana. I don't see, by this map, any land marked that could be that which we see on the starboard hand.
"Now, what do you make of it?"
"I put it more than a degree to the southeast, Captain; and believe that the three islands we see are those marked as the Caicos: the Great Caicos in the center, North and East on either hand."
"And you, Roger, what do you make of it?"
"According to my calculation, father, we ought to be full two hundred miles from land, and heading straight for Abaco, the northernmost of these islands."
The captain laughed, and even Pengarvan smiled.
"I fear, Roger, it would be hardly safe to leave the ship in your hands, at present. You are some six hundred miles away from Pengarvan's islands, and but seventy less from mine.
"Well, Pengarvan, whether you or I be right, we may congratulate ourselves; for we have made a near cast, indeed, seeing that it is eight weeks since we left England, and more than six since we sailed out of sight of Madeira; and that we traversed a sea altogether strange to us, and of whose currents we know nothing. We are both right, to a day, in our reckoning of distance; and neither of us need feel hurt, if the other turns out right, at finding himself but sixty miles out, on a voyage of such length as this.
"I headed for this point because, as I said, we must steer clear of the great islands; which are, as you know, wholly in the possession of the Spaniards, who have dispossessed the inhabitants, and use them as slaves for working the plantations and mines. As you see by the chart, they have no posts in all these islands, running from here northwest, nearly up to the mainland; except a small post at San Salvador. Now we will coast up through these islands, till we get within sight of Columbus Point, at the southerly end of San Salvador; for that was the island, you know, that was first discovered by him in '92. Then we will strike westward to Andros, and after that shape her course due west. This will take us north of the west end of Cuba, and well out of sight of land; but we must be careful of our navigation, for as you see it is written here:
"'Small islands, innumerable, scattered among those marked here; these being the principal. Many of these islands are low, and show but little above the water. Sailing is very perilous, and not to be attempted at night.'
"You see, in this course we shall have the advantage of being well out of the ordinary line of passage of the Spaniards, who shape their course more to the southward, make Porto Rico their first landfall, and then have the two great islands, Hispaniola and Cuba, lying straight before them; free, as it seems, by the chart, from any dangers to navigation.
"Roger, from this evening we will compare our log books day by day, so that you may learn where it is that you have gone wrong. But I can guess how it is. The wind is blowing chiefly from the east, and you will never make allowance enough for drift; and I have told you over and over again that, with a light wind on our beam, we drive a mile to leeward for every two we go on our course. There are many ships which will drift nigh a mile for every mile they sail, in light winds. When the wind is brisk, and we are going fast through the water, then we drift but little, not more perhaps than one mile to six or seven."
"But why is that, father? How is it that a light wind blows us away sideways; and that a strong wind, instead of blowing us more, blows us less?"
"That I cannot tell you, Roger. You must leave those questions for wiser heads to settle. I only know that it is so—of that there is no doubt at all; but why, I have not the least idea.
"How does it strike you, Pengarvan?"
The Cornishman shook his head.
"I have thought it over, Captain, many times. It seems to me, sometimes, that I have a sort of notion why it is; but it is not clear, even to myself. I could not put it into words."
The first mate now looked into the cabin.
"Here we are, James. Pengarvan puts her here, opposite these three little islands. I put her here some sixty miles away."
"It matters not at all, that I can see, which it is," Standing said. "One island is as good as another, so that it has got water and fruit. The tubs are getting low, and the men are beginning to need a change of diet; so I hope, Captain, you will lay her to at the first we come to, and get what we want, whether it is Spaniard or native we have to fight for it."
"I hope we shall have to fight neither, Standing; but I don't think we are likely to meet with Spaniards—for all the islands in these groups are small ones, and the navigation dangerous. As for the Indians, I fear we may not find them very friendly, seeing that they will, of course, take us for Spaniards, whom they have little reason to love. Still, when they see that our intentions are peaceable, and that we wish only to trade, they may abate their hostility."
In three hours they were close to the island that they had first seen, which proved to be much nearer than they had supposed, at first sight. It was low, and thickly covered with trees, and of only a few miles' circumference.
"There is no chance of finding the natives hostile here," Reuben Hawkshaw said. "Their numbers can be but scanty, and the only fear is that they may hide themselves in the woods at our approach, and refuse to have dealing with us.
"Get the lead ready to sound, James, and put some grease on the bottom, that we may see what kind of holding ground it is."
As the sun had risen the wind had fallen, and the Swan was now moving very slowly through the water. They were about a mile from the land when the log was first hove.
"Eighteen fathoms, Captain," the mate reported, adding when the lead was hauled up, "and a sandy bottom."
Casting the lead regularly, they sailed on until within little more than a quarter of a mile of the shore, and there dropped anchor in six fathoms of water.
"I shouldn't like to be caught in a gale here," the captain said; "but if it did come on to blow, we could get up our anchor and sail round to the other side of the island, where we should be in shelter."
"There are some natives, father," Roger, who was watching the shore, exclaimed. "They are waving green branches."
"Wave a white flag, Roger. Fasten anything white to a boat hook, and wave it. They may understand that, as the white flag is in use by all nations as a sign of peace, and they may have seen the Spaniards use it.
"Get one of the boats lowered, James—the long boat will be the best—let its crew take their arms with them, but lay them under the seats, so as to land in peaceable guise. I myself will go ashore in her, and see what are the intentions of the natives. Get a couple of guns loaded, and if you see they attack us, fire a shot over their heads into the woods. That will be enough to frighten them. However, I think not that we shall have trouble."
A couple of boxes had already been got on deck by the captain's orders, and some strings of glass beads, hawk bells, and other articles of trade taken out.
"You can come with me, Roger," the captain said; and in a few minutes the boat rowed towards the shore.
Eight men sat at the oars, and eight others were bestowed in the bow and stern. She would have carried twice as many, but the captain wished to avoid any show of force.
The group of natives had increased, by the time the boat reached the shore; and the captain saw that they consisted of two men who were apparently chiefs, and some thirty of inferior rank. They continued to wave green branches, and their attitude was so peaceful that the captain did not hesitate to leap ashore, as soon as the boat touched the strand.
"You follow me, Roger; and you others keep your hands on your arms, ready to use them. But sit quiet, and do not show your weapons unless there be occasion."
The chiefs advanced with a timid air towards the newcomers; and, on approaching, saluted in an attitude of deep humility, using the Spanish word Amigos.
"Amigos—Friends," repeated the captain, in a cheerful tone.
Roger gazed with intense interest upon these strange beings. They were, in color, but little darker than the Moors who had tried to capture the Swan, on her last voyage. They were of good height, but of slender figure. Their countenances were soft and almost feminine, with large dark eyes and mild and gentle expression. They had no hair upon their faces; that on their heads was long and black. Round their heads were light gold bands, from which rose plumes of colored feathers. They were naked above the waist, save that over one shoulder cotton cloths, ornamented with fantastic patterns wrought in bright feathers, were lightly thrown.
From the waist they wore cotton petticoats, reaching to the knees. Both had belts decorated by shells, worked into intricate patterns; and from similar belts, crossing the shoulder, hung quivers filled with small arrows. They had necklaces and bracelets of bright beads, of European manufacture; and both carried light spears, their bows hanging from their shoulders.
Their followers were similarly dressed, save that the fillets round their heads, instead of being gold, were strips of skin decorated with shells and beads, and the mantles were of plain cotton.
The captain took from his pouch two necklaces of large blue beads, and presented them to the chiefs, and also gave to each of them a small hatchet. These they received with tokens of gratitude; being specially pleased with the hatchets, which were articles vastly prized by the natives, and rarely bestowed upon them by the Spaniards, who were very chary of presenting the natives with anything that could be used as a weapon.
The captain then made a sign to the natives to approach, and bestowed a necklace of smaller beads upon each. He next called to the sailors, and bade them come ashore, bringing with them only their hangers; for there was no doubt that the natives were friendly.
While they were doing so, four of the natives, at the order of their chiefs, brought forward large baskets; beautifully plaited and, as Roger judged, made of the tender bark of some tree. The chiefs took these from their attendants and, opening them, placed them before the captain with a gesture of humility. They were filled with fruits, all of which were of kinds such as neither Roger, nor his father, had seen before.
The sailors now brought forward an empty barrel, and the captain signified that they required water. One or two billets of wood were also shown, and the captain signified, by action, that he wished his men should be allowed to cut wood, to carry on board ship. He also pointed to the baskets of fruit, and then showed some more strings of beads, and some hawk bells, intimating his desire to trade.
The natives readily comprehended the gestures. Pointing to the keg, they intimated, by signs, that the ship should be moved round to the other side of the island; and that fruit would be taken to them there.
The men would, gladly enough, have wandered at once into the woods to look at the trees and flowers, which differed widely from anything they had ever before seen; but the captain said:
"We shall have time enough for that, men. Let us get off with this fruit. Our comrades on board will be thirsting for their share. Then we will get the ship round on the other side; and all will have an opportunity to go ashore."
As soon as they got on board, a portion of the fruit was set aside, for the use of the officers, and the rest divided among the crew. Although they were ignorant of the names, the men enjoyed hugely the pineapples, guavas, and custard apples that formed the major portion of the contents of the baskets; and cheerfully set about the work of getting up their anchor, and setting the sails.
But the wind had now entirely dropped, and the Swan scarce moved through the water. So anxious, however, were the men to land, that they gladly obeyed the captain's orders to get out all the boats and tow her—although the heat was so great that, at any other time, they would have shrunk from such a labor.
As soon as they reached the other side of the island, the anchor was dropped and, the men on board having already made everything snug, Captain Reuben called those who had been towing out of the boats.
"My lads," he said, "I wish to say a few words, before you land. In the first place, you cannot all go. It would never do to leave the ship without sufficient hands on board to fight her, seeing that at any moment a Spaniard may come round one end of the island or the other, and fall upon us. Consequently, half must remain on board, and take their turn on shore tomorrow. I wish to give no advantage to any; therefore the boatswain shall put two pieces of folded paper in his hat, one being blank and the other having a cross upon it. If the blank paper is drawn, the starboard watch shall go ashore, and the larboard take their turn tomorrow. If the paper with the cross comes out, it will be the other way.
"One more matter: I shall expect the discipline on shore to be as good as it has been on board ship. The natives are to be treated well, and all that we get from them shall be by fair barter, and it shall be conducted for the advantage of all. The first mate and boatswain will take ashore some of the goods we have brought for the purpose of trade, and they will buy not only such things as we require for the ship—fruit and vegetables—but whatever the natives may have to sell.
"All these things will be brought on board, and then those of you who wish for any of these articles, as a token from the first island at which we touched, can take them; making an auction among yourselves, the sums to be deducted from your wages. In this way all will be on a fair footing, and the proceeds of the sale will go into the general fund, to be divided at the end of the voyage. Nevertheless, I should advise you not to purchase now, but to leave it until we have finished all our business, and are on our homeward way. Then we shall see what we have obtained, and each man can buy according to his liking. I say this because, if you get things now, they will litter up the ship, and will get broken, lost, or thrown overboard; and it were far better that everything remained packed in the hold, until we are on the homeward voyage.
"Another thing: Let each man behave himself decently on shore. Be gentle and kind to the natives who, though but heathens, are a harmless people, and friendly. Let there be no quarrels or disputes; and above all, let none meddle with the women. I warn you that any breach of these orders will be most severely punished; and that, moreover, anyone who does so offend will never have leave to go ashore again, not if we cruise for ten years among these islands."
The second mate and Roger remained on board with the starboard watch, the drawing giving the advantage to the others; and these, with the captain and first mate, were soon rowing towards the shore. Those on board, although disappointed that fate had decided against them, had their share of amusement, for a good many canoes afterwards came off to them, filled with goods for barter; and as the captain, before leaving, had told the second mate that he could buy and sell with those who came out, a brisk trade was soon established.
They had no fear of treachery from the natives, who were in such dread of the white men that they would not venture to lift a hand against them, however great the odds might be; and they were, therefore, allowed to come on board and mix freely with the sailors. The contents of the canoes, chiefly fruit and vegetables, were spread out on the deck, and the mate and Roger bargained with them, giving them little looking glasses, and strings of beads, in exchange for their wares.
"They are mighty reasonable in their demands," Roger said to Pengarvan. "It seems almost a shame to take these great baskets of fruit and vegetables, in return for such trifles."
"They are not trifles to them," the mate replied, "and there is nothing unfair in the exchange. These things are to them what gold and jewels are to us. We would give, gladly, a score of boatloads of vegetables for a diamond the size of a pea; and these glass beads are as valuable, in their eyes, as diamonds are in ours."
After buying up the main stock, they trafficked with the natives for the little ornaments they wore, necklaces and bracelets cunningly worked with bright shells and seeds, and weapons of curiously carved wood. At nightfall the other boats returned, laden down with fruit and vegetables.
"'We must buy no more of these commodities, at present," Captain Reuben said, when he saw what had been purchased on board. "We have got enough to last us as long as they will keep, eat we never so heartily;" and indeed, the next day a number of the crew were ill, from the quantity of fruit that they consumed.
This, however, soon passed off, and the change of diet did great good. The scurvy disappeared, and in a short time all—even those who had suffered most—were again fit for duty.
The following morning, Roger and Pengarvan went ashore with the starboard watch. The captain again accompanied them, and for hours they rambled about the island, wondering at the strange trees and foliage and the bright flowers; and filled especially with admiration at the tiny birds, with feathers like jewels, that flitted about among the flowers, and concerning which there was much dispute among the men—some asserting that they were a sort of great bee, while others maintained that they were birds. So quickly did they fly that the men, although they tried hard, failed to catch any of them; but the dispute as to their nature was solved, by the discovery that one of the chiefs had a robe fringed with the skins of these little creatures; and examining these they saw, surely enough, that they were birds, with feathers glistening in the sun like jewels of many colors Captain Reuben persuaded the chief to cut off the fringe and sell it to him, giving in exchange for it the high price of four copper rings, and a tiny looking glass.
In the afternoon the crew set to work to re-water the ship, and by nightfall all the casks were filled up, and the vessel was ready to proceed again on her way. The next morning sails were hoisted and the anchor weighed. The natives came out in great numbers in their canoes, and surrounded the Swan as she glided away from her anchorage, waving their hands and raising cries of farewell—evidently greatly satisfied at the treatment they had received at the hands of their white visitors.
For a fortnight the Swan cruised from island to island; but beyond giving the crew a run ashore at each, and so building up their strength and getting them in fighting trim, should there be occasion to call upon them for action, little advantage was obtained from these visits. Fruit and vegetables were obtainable in abundance; but beyond these, and little trinkets and feathers, there was no trade to be done.
"It is clear," Captain Reuben said, as he and his officers were gathered in the cabin, "that there is neither gain nor advantage to be obtained from trade here. The natives have doubtless sufficient for their wants, which are of the simplest; but of wealth such as we prize in England there is none to be had. It is different with the Spaniards—they make slaves of these poor creatures, and force them to till their plantations, to raise crops for them, and to work mines; but we, who cannot do these things, can get nothing from a longer stay in these coasts.
"We touched here chiefly to get water and fruit, to keep us all in health, and in that we have abundantly succeeded. We had best now shape our course westward, and try to find this new land, rich in gold, of which my friend the Spanish captain learned by report from the natives. So far we have fallen in with no Spaniards, but we may do so at any time; and although I have no fear of beating off any that might meddle with us, it would do us great harm did the news spread that a strange ship was in these waters; for they would assuredly send out expeditions in search of us, from all their ports, as soon as the news reached them."
The others quite agreed with Captain Reuben's views, and the next morning the ship's head was pointed west. Two days later, when passing an island they saw, on opening a headland, a port with many houses, and a Spanish flag flying from a mast on shore. Two large Spanish vessels were lying there. They were apparently on the point of sailing, for the sails were already dropped.
An exclamation of surprise broke from all on the deck of the Swan, and the men ran to the braces and sheets, in order to trim the sails.
"Steady, men!" Captain Reuben shouted. "Touch not sheet or tack. We must sail past as if bent on our own business. If we change our course, now, they will suspect that something is wrong.
"Pengarvan, do you get out the Spanish flag from the locker, and run it up to the peak."
This was done, though it was easy to see, by the looks the crew cast towards the strange craft, that they would gladly go in and fight them.
"Another time, lads," Captain Reuben said cheerfully, as he saw their mood. "I doubt not we shall have enough fighting to satisfy you, before we have done; but our object here is to trade, and get rich. If thrashing the Dons comes in the way of business, we shall do it contentedly; but there is no occasion for us to put ourselves out of the way to meet them. Supposing we were to go in, and sink those two ships; as I doubt not we are men enough to do, if we were to try it. They would see it all from the shore; and no sooner did we set sail again, than boats would carry the news to every Spanish port in these quarters, and we should have a score of ships in pursuit of us, in no time; and, whatever came of it, that would interfere with the hopes of gain with which we have sailed to these seas.
"This port must be a newly formed one," he went on, turning to Roger, "for there is no Spanish station marked hereabout, in my chart."
The course which the Swan was taking would have carried her half a mile to seaward of the two Spanish vessels, but she now edged a point or two farther out. Doubtless the Spaniards were surprised at seeing that the vessel, instead of entering the port, continued her course; and it may be that they very soon discovered such points in her hull, and rigging, as set them wondering what she could be.
Presently a gun was fired from one of the ships—as a signal, doubtless, for her to heave to. The Swan paid no attention to the command, but kept on her course. In two minutes there was another flash and a puff of white smoke from the Spaniard, and a shot skipped across the water in front of the Swan. A growl of anger broke from her crew.
"Put up the helm," Captain Reuben ordered; and the vessel, which was running before the wind, came up till her head pointed straight to sea.
Although the Spanish ships were still three-quarters of a mile away, a bustle was at once observable on their decks. Men clustered at the bows, and could be seen at work there.
"They are getting up the anchors," Pengarvan said, as he watched them, shading his eyes with his hands.
Three or four minutes later the sails were sheeted home, and the Spaniard began to move through the water, having set sail as soon as the anchors were tripped. No sooner were they under weigh, and the crews at their quarters, than they began to discharge their bow guns after the Swan.
"Shall we answer them, Captain?" James Standing asked. "We can bring a couple of guns aft, and fire over the rail."
"By no means," Captain Reuben replied. "At present they know nothing about us, and though they may guess that we are not licensed traders, with due authority to trade among the islands, I do not suppose they suspect, for a moment, that we are foreigners; but deem us a private venture, from one of their own ports. No Spanish trader would dare to fire on their own flag and, as long as we do not reply, they will suppose that we are only trying to escape the payment of some heavy fine, or perhaps forfeiture, for breach of their regulations.
"No, they can fire away. They are not likely to hurt us. They are fully a mile behind us, and we shall soon leave them."
But in this respect the captain was mistaken. The Spaniards were both fast vessels; and although the Swan kept her distance, those on board presently saw that she gained nothing. The shot continued to fall around them, but the Spaniards worked their guns slowly. The pieces on their forecastles were light ones, and though two or three shot passed through the sails of the Swan, they did but little damage.
"As long as they don't knock away a spar we will hold on," Captain Reuben said. "If they do, we will turn and fight them. But the wind is dropping a little, and I think that, if anything, we are gaining upon them now."
By the afternoon the Swan was fully two miles ahead, and the Spaniards had discontinued firing. The Swan was heading now to pass an island which had, for some hours, been visible ahead. Presently the Spaniards again began firing, although their shot fell in the water far astern of the Swan.
"What are the lubbers up to now?" James Standing said. "They cannot think they are going to frighten us into stopping, now that we have fairly got away from them."
Captain Reuben was anxiously gazing at the island ahead. They had laid their course to pass it to windward, as they sailed better, close-hauled, than did the Spaniard; who had not only fallen behind, but had lagged to leeward nigh half a mile.
"They must be firing as a signal," he said. "There may either be a Spanish port in the island, or they may know that there are some of their ships lying there; though I can see no signs, either of a port or ships."
"It would matter little if we could, Captain," Pengarvan said; "for any ships along that shore would be to leeward of us, and we should pass the end of the island long before they could beat up there; but it would be awkward if there happened to be a port, with two or three of their ships, just beyond that point. We should be caught between two fires then, and have to fight the lot of them."
The captain nodded.
"You are right, Pengarvan. We should be in a fix, then; and four Spaniards at once is more than we bargained for."
They were now within two miles of the point towards which they were steering, and towards which the eyes of the two officers on the poop were directed. Five minutes later an exclamation broke from them, simultaneously, as the sails of a lofty ship made their appearance over the extremity of the point, and a minute later a great hull came into sight.
"Helm to larboard," Captain Reuben ordered sharply. "We must run down the island. We can never weather that fellow that has just appeared.
"Ah! There are two others coming out. We are in a hornets' nest."
The sails were squared off, and the Swan was soon running before the wind; almost parallel with the coast, but edging in a little, to keep her farther from the vessels that had first chased them. These had also changed their course, and their position to leeward now gave them an advantage.
Ere long the Swan was almost abreast her late pursuers, who were about a mile and a quarter to seaward; while the other three Spanish ships, with all sails set, were a mile and a half astern, but a good deal nearer in shore.
"The sun will be down in another five minutes," Captain Reuben said, "and in half an hour it will be dark. The Spaniards can run quite as fast as we can—a bit faster, I think; but we can beat them, close hauled. The wind is falling lighter and lighter. If it was not for that, we would haul our wind and be off on the other tack, and throw all of them out. But it will be a dead calm before long, and they will be either lowering all their boats to attack us, or towing their ships up to us. If we were close under the land they might miss us, but they will be able to make us out, here. At any rate, we must hold on as we are, until the wind drops altogether."
After sunset the breeze died away rapidly and, by the time night had fully set in, the sails dropped motionless, and the Swan ceased to move through the water. The captain at once ordered all the boats to be lowered, and the men swarmed into them, double banking the oars. Hawsers were handed into them, and the vessel's head swept round in the direction from which she had come, but somewhat farther seaward.
"Now, lads," the captain said, "pull with a will. There will be a good supper, and an allowance of strong ale, when you come on board."
After rowing for half an hour, the captain ordered them to cease, and to keep silence. Listening attentively, he could hear in the still night air the sound of oars; but whether the boats were towing the ships, or rowing independently, he could not tell. Again the men set to work.
"I hope they are towing," he said to the first mate. "They would have no chance whatever of catching us, for our strong crew can take a vessel like the Swan through the water at twice the rate they could row their big ships. I can't see the fellows in shore, can you?"
"No, Captain. They are hid in the shadow of the land. I can make out the others, but they are a long way farther off than when we started."
"I expect we shall have the boats after us, Standing. Both lots can make us out, and can see that we are gaining on them.
"Ah! I felt a breath of wind. I did not expect it for an hour or two yet; but if the breeze springs up, we shall soon run away from them."
Stopping and listening again, they could hear the sound of oars, from two directions.
"They are coming," the captain said. "The beat is quicker than it would be if they were towing; besides, it is a great deal more distinct than it was. I don't think they are more than a mile behind us.
"Ah! There is the wind again."
There was a deep flapping sound, and a rattling of blocks, as the sails bellied out for a moment, and then fell against the masts again. Captain Reuben went to the forecastle:
"Keep it up, lads. You won't have much longer to row, for the wind is coming. The Spaniards are after us, but they won't be up for a quarter of an hour, and I hope we shall get it before that. Remember, every yard we can keep away from them is of importance. Put your backs to it, lads."
The Swan carried four boats and, strongly manned as these were, she was gliding through the water at a fair rate. It was five minutes before another breath of wind came, but this lasted three or four minutes, and greatly relieved the strain from the hawsers.
"She is going through the water now," the captain said. "They cannot be gaining very much upon us, at present.
"Confound it!" he added, a minute later. "There is an end of it again."
The boats were now but half a mile away, and the voices of the officers, urging the rowers to exert themselves, could be plainly heard, On the Swan the officers were all gazing in the direction from which the wind was to come. The yards were all braced sharply aft. Presently there was an exclamation of relief, as they felt the wind in their faces, and the vessel heeled a little over. The boats behind were but a quarter of a mile away now, while those from the vessels inshore were perhaps twice that distance.
"If this is the true breeze we are safe," the captain said. "If not, we shall have to fight for it."
The men had already, without orders, cast loose the guns, and armed themselves with pike and cutlass.
"Now listen, lads," the captain said, as he went forward to the poop rail, "if these fellows come up and try to board us, let no man utter a word. Fight like bulldogs, and as silently. We shall beat them off, never fear. No doubt they believe that we are their countrymen, who have broken their trading regulations, and are afraid of being overhauled. But if there is a word spoken they will know that we are foreigners, and we shall be chased wherever we go."
Then he went to the forecastle, and bade all the men in the boats cast off the hawsers and come on board. They were, indeed, no longer of any use, as the vessel was going through the water almost as fast as they could row ahead of her. As they gained the deck he repeated the orders he had given—that strict silence should be observed, in case the Spaniards came alongside.
Everything now depended on continuance of breeze, and those on board the boats saw that the vessel was now holding her own with them. Orders to throw the ship up into the wind and heave to were shouted and, as no attention was paid to these, several musket shots were fired at her; but the wind held and, faster and faster, the Swan made her way through the water. At last the boats fell behind, and were lost to sight.
"We are safe now," Reuben said, exultantly. "We are to windward of them all, and shall have them well out of sight, before morning."
When day broke, indeed, the topsails of three of the Spanish ships could be seen on the horizon; but in two or three hours these sank out of sight, and the Swan was headed on her course west.
Chapter 5: Shipwrecked.
For six days the Swan sailed westward before a gentle wind. Then clouds were seen rising in the north, and spreading with great rapidity across the horizon.
"We are in for a tempest," Captain Reuben said. "Never have I seen the clouds rising more rapidly.
"Get her sail off her, Standing, as quickly as possible."
The crew fell to work, and in a very few minutes the Swan was stripped of the greater part of her canvas. But quickly as the men worked, the storm came up more rapidly, and the crew had but half finished their work when, with a roar and turmoil that almost bewildered them, the gale struck the vessel. Her head had been laid to the south, so that the wind should take her astern; and it was well that it was so, for had it struck her on the beam, she would assuredly have been capsized, even had not a rag of canvas been shown, for the wind would have caught her lofty forecastle and poop. As it was she plunged heavily forward, quivering as if from a blow. Then her bluff bows bore her up and, with a leap, she sprang forward and sped along before the gale.
"I have seen as sudden a squall among the Greek islands," Captain Reuben shouted in the mate's ear; "but never elsewhere. I hope that this may prove as short as do the gales in that quarter."
"I hope so," the mate replied, "for we know not how far the land may be distant."
But though the captain knew it not, they had been caught in one of those furious gales that were, afterwards, the terror of the Spaniards; blowing for a week or ten days without intermission, and being the cause of the wreck of many a stout ship. The sea got up rapidly, and the wind seemed to increase in fury as night fell, and for three days the ship ran before it. The waist was frequently deluged with water, and it required six men at the helm to keep her straight before the wind.
The crew were worn out with fatigue and want of sleep, for running as they were in this unknown sea, none could say what might happen, or when land might be sighted ahead. The captain never left the poop—he and the mates taking their places, by turn, with the men at the helm; for the slightest error in steering might have caused the vessel to broach to, in which case nothing could have saved her. Sheltered as was the caboose, it was found impossible to keep a fire alight, and officers and men, alike, had to content themselves with biscuit and draughts of ale.
The vessel rolled till her bulwarks were under water, and the yardarms at times dipped into the sea, and the men on deck were forced to lash themselves to some standing object, to retain their footing. The captain occasionally made his way forward to the forecastle, where the men not on duty were huddled together, and spoke cheeringly to them, saying that the gale could not last much longer, and that as the Swan had weathered it so far, she would hold on to the end.
At the commencement of the storm a tremendous rain had fallen, but when this had ceased the sky had cleared up, and for the last two days the sun had shone out brightly, and not a cloud had been seen.
When morning broke on the fourth day a cry of dismay broke from the wearied men on deck, for ahead could be seen land, stretching away on both bows. The news brought the crew from below, and they clustered on the forecastle, gazing in the direction of this new danger.
"We must try and get some sail on her mizzen, Standing," the captain said. "Our only chance is to bring her head to wind."
"We can try, Captain, but I fear that you will never bring her round."
"It is our only chance," the captain repeated, and with a loud shout, he called for some hands to come aft.
The mizzen was shaken out and, as soon as the sheets were hauled aft, the helm was put down. A cry burst from the crew as she came round, for as the wind took her on the beam she lay farther and farther over. A great wave struck her broadside, sweeping the bulwarks away as if they had been paper, and carrying a number of the crew off the forecastle into the sea. Still farther over she went, and all thought that she would capsize; when there were a series of reports, like musket shots, as the lashings of the shrouds parted. This was followed instantly by a crash, as the mizzen mast snapped off, two feet above the deck.
Relieved of the strain, the Swan righted somewhat. Another great wave swept over her forecastle, still further diminishing the number of the crew, but it carried her head round. She came up onto an even keel, and again started on her mad course before the wind.
"Go forward, Pengarvan, and see how many hands we have lost," the captain said. "Not that it makes much difference, for they have but gone a short time before the rest of us, for nothing short of a miracle can save us, now."
It could now be seen that the coast was steep and rocky, and that the waves were breaking with tremendous force upon it. It was but about four miles distant, and in less than half an hour they would be upon it.
"We must try to anchor, Standing."
The first mate shook his head.
"We will try, Captain, but our anchors will never hold her in the teeth of this gale. If they did, the hawsers would go like pack thread."
"I am afraid so, Standing; but there is nothing else to do."
The first mate went forward, and he and Pengarvan saw the anchors got in readiness, and the cables ranged along, so as to run out with perfect freedom. Then Pengarvan made his way aft again to the poop.
"Do you mean to cut away the mast, Captain?"
The captain nodded.
"I wouldn't, sir," the mate went on. "She will never hold, mast or no mast; and if it stands, we make a shift to run her head foremost on the rocks, and this will give us a better chance than if she drifts broadside on."
"You are right, Pengarvan. Yes, it will be better to leave it standing."
When within a quarter of a mile of the shore, the helm was again put down and, as the vessel came partly round, the the anchors were let go. The hawsers ran out rapidly, and the topsail, which was the only sail on her, was let go, the wind catching it and tearing it into ribbons as it was loosed. There was a jerk and a surge as the anchors brought her up, but at the same moment a great wave struck her head. The cables parted, and she again swung round towards the shore.
"It is all over with us, my lad," the captain said to Roger, who was standing quietly beside him. "God forgive me, I have brought you all here to die."
"It is not your fault, father. It was all for the best, and we knew when we started that there were perils before us."
"Goodbye, my lads! We will die as we have lived—brave men—and may God have mercy on us all.
"Now, Roger, obey my last orders. Go forward, and climb up to the end of the bowsprit. It may be that, if she strikes, you may be able to leap forward onto the rocks. They are somewhat lower, just ahead, than elsewhere."
"But I do not want to be saved, if no one else is, father," Roger cried passionately.
"You have always obeyed me heretofore," the captain said, quietly, "and you will do so now. Go forward at once, and do as I say. God bless you, my boy."
He clasped Roger in his arms, in a moment's close embrace, and then pointed forward.
Roger's eyes were blinded with tears as he obeyed the order. The bowsprit in those days did not, as now, run out almost horizontally from the ship's bow; but stood up like a mast, leaning somewhat over the bow, and carried a yard and small square sail upon it. Roger climbed up as far as the yard and then, aiding himself by the halyards, swarmed up until he reached the cap. When he did so the vessel was but little more than a hundred yards from the shore.
The water was deep up to the rocks, for the waves struck on these unbroken, flying up in masses of spray which flew far over the land. On his lofty post, thirty feet above the forecastle and forty-five above the water, Roger was nearly level with the top of the rock ahead; and as the vessel rose on the waves, could see a flat land, extending far inland.
He looked down. Two or three of the sailors had followed him as high as the yard, and many others were gathered on the forecastle. Some were kneeling in prayer, others had thrown themselves down despairingly on the deck, but most were standing, looking forward with set faces at the rocky barrier so close at hand.
Roger looked aft. The men at the tiller had quitted it now, and gone forward. Standing and Pengarvan were standing, one on each side of the captain. The latter took off his cap and waved it to his son, and the mates lifted their hands in token of adieu.
A cry from below caused Roger, as he returned the salute, to look round. They were but a ship's length from the rocks. Another moment a great wave lifted the vessel, and on its crest she went thundering forward. The rocks seemed to leap up against the spar to which Roger clung. It snapped off just below his feet, then a great volume of water and spray shot up from below, and he was thrown high into the air. The wind caught him and carried him away inland, and he fell, with a crash that left him senseless.
It was long before he recovered consciousness. As soon as he did so, he crawled on his hands and knees to the edge of the cliff, and looked down. The Swan had disappeared. Not a sign of her remained, not so much as a floating timber showed on the surface of the water.
Roger crawled back again for some distance, and then threw himself down, and wept despairingly. He lay there for hours, until the heat of the sun, blazing almost vertically down, roused him. Then he got on to his feet and looked round.
In front of him stretched a slightly undulating country. Patches of maize, here and there, showed that it was cultivated; and in the distance he saw a large village, with buildings of a size that proved that the people had made some advance towards civilization. Slowly and painfully, for he was greatly bruised by his fall, he made his way to the nearest maize patch, and ate several heads of green corn. Then he started for the village.
When within a few hundred yards of it, he came upon three women, who were coming out with baskets on their heads. They paused as he approached them, and then, with a cry of astonishment and fear, turned and ran towards the village.
Their cries brought a number of people to the doors. Among these were many men, who had caught up spears, and bows and arrows, at the alarm. Seeing but one person approaching, in a garb altogether strange to them, they stood in surprise. As he came up their wonder heightened, at perceiving that his color was altogether different from their own; and they dropped their threatening weapons, and stood as if paralyzed by wonder.
Roger had not faltered in his step, as he saw them issue out. Death had no terror for him, now his father and all his friends were gone; and he was altogether reckless of what befell him. The fearlessness of his demeanor added to the effect produced by his appearance. His cap was gone, and the rays of the sun, falling upon his fair hair, added to the effect produced by his white skin.
The natives, taking him for a supernatural being, bowed themselves to the ground before him in an attitude of adoration. The cries and uproar that but a minute before had sounded in the village suddenly ceased, and were succeeded by the hush of deep awe.
Roger walked on between the prostrate natives, and seated himself on a stone at the door of a hut. The natives gradually rose to their feet and approached him timidly. He made signs that he wanted to drink, for a raging thirst had been induced by the heat.
One of the natives ran into a hut and reappeared with a bowl, filled with a liquid, which he humbly presented to Roger. The latter patted his head in token of thanks, and then took a long drink of the contents of the bowl. These were totally unlike anything he had before tasted; being pulque, a slightly fermented drink obtained from the juice of the agave, most useful of all the vegetable productions of Central America.
A native, who was distinguished by his dress from the rest, now gave an order; and in a short time two women approached, bearing a tray with some flat cakes of fine bread, and fruits of different kinds. More to please the natives than because he was hungry, for he felt little inclination for food, Roger partook of some of these.
The chief then harangued him at considerable length. When he had finished, Roger, who had stood up while he was addressing him, said:
"I do not know a single word of what you are saying to me, but I thank you for your kindness."
He then shook hands with the chief, to whom that form of greeting was evidently new, and patted him on the shoulder.
The chief then conducted him to a large house. It was no higher than the rest, but was built of stone, well fitted together. The roof was roughly thatched, and could, Roger thought, afford but a poor shelter in time of rain. He did not know that, except at the commencement of a storm, rain was of comparatively rare occurrence upon the coast.
Inside the house showed signs of comfort. There were some seats decorated with carving. A finely woven mat covered the floor. Arms and utensils hung from the walls.
Several of the natives, evidently persons of consideration in the village, followed the chief in. Some girls and women came in from an interior room, and saluted the stranger with the greatest respect. They examined him timidly, one of the younger girls touching his hand gently, as if to make sure that it was skin, and not some strange covering, that gave it its color.
Roger took off his jacket, which was by this time dry, and turned up the sleeve of his shirt. As he did so, a general exclamation of surprise and admiration broke from the natives at the whiteness of the skin; which was far more striking, to them, than the bronzed hue of his face and hands.
The chief made various signs, which Roger at last understood to be a question as to whence he had come. He pointed in the direction of the sea, and tried to signify that he had arrived from a very long distance.
An hour passed, and Roger was beginning to wonder what the next move would be, when a native entered and, saluting the chief, said something to him. The women and children at once retired. A few minutes afterwards the chief went to the door, and motioned Roger to accompany him.
Coming down the street of the village was a procession. At its head walked two persons, evidently of high rank. They wore mantles, falling from their shoulders nearly to the ground, ornamented with designs executed in brightly colored feathers. They had circlets of gold round their heads, and heavy necklaces and bracelets of the same metal. Beneath the mantles they wore short petticoats of soft white material. Their spears and their arms were carried behind them, by attendants. Behind these came a number of men and women, walking in regular order, carrying bowls of fruit, trays of cooked food, and other offerings.
Roger saw at once that they must have come from a place of importance; which must be near at hand, as they had doubtless set out upon the receipt of a message, dispatched by his present entertainer. He guessed that the report must have been a favorable one of him, and that the natives were impressed with the idea that he was a superior being. It was, therefore, needful for him to comport himself so that this impression should be confirmed.
The chiefs bowed profoundly as they approached him, stooping so far forward that one hand touched the earth, and was then carried to their forehead. Roger did not understand the meaning of this, but he bowed graciously, as if accepting the homage that was offered.
The bearers then advanced, and placed the offerings on the ground. Among these was a mantle similar to that worn by the chiefs, but more richly embroidered. It struck Roger that, as his white skin excited so much admiration, it would be as well to show it. He was, too, somewhat ashamed of his garments; which were much worn, had turned a dingy hue from the sun and salt water, and had, moreover, shrunk much from their recent immersion. Taking up the robe, therefore, he motioned to the chiefs to stay where they were and, returning into the room, stripped to his waist; and then, throwing the mantle over his shoulders, returned to the entrance.
Something like a shout of welcome saluted him. The whiteness of his skin, as seen through the open mantle, astonished the natives; and they accepted his assumption of the garment, with which he had been presented, as a sign of the benevolent intentions of this supernatural visitor towards them.
The ambassadors now made signs in the direction from which they had come, and seemed to ask if he were willing to accompany them. He nodded his assent, and in a few minutes the procession again started, the chiefs taking their places one on either side of him, and the villagers falling in behind. The women struck up a sort of chant, in which all except the chiefs joined. For an hour they kept on their way and then, on ascending a small hill, a large town was seen.
"Tabasco," the chief said, pointing towards it.
Roger repeated the word, and in doing so evidently gave much pleasure to the chiefs. As they approached the town he could see many lofty buildings rising above it; and, as they passed through a line of long palisades that surrounded the place, a body of men issued out to meet him.
As they approached, they formed in order on each side of the road. All were armed with spears tipped with sharp, shiny stones, and carried bows and arrows. They were dressed in doublets of thickly quilted cotton, capable of turning an arrow or resisting the thrust of a native spear; although they would offer but poor protection against English arrows, or English weapons.
As they entered the town the streets were lined with similarly dressed soldiers; behind whom stood a crowd of natives, men and women saluting their strange visitor with loud cries of welcome. The procession continued its way until it stopped before a large building, at the entrance to which stood an aged chief. His mantle was completely composed of feather work, and plumes of feathers sprang from the golden fillet that encircled his head. Behind him were clustered a number of inferior chiefs.
He welcomed Roger courteously but gravely; and Roger guessed, at once, that he was superior to the superstitions of his people, and that he viewed him with a certain amount of suspicion. Roger bowed and, taking off the jackknife, which hung in its sheath from a string at his waist, drew it out and presented it to the chief.
The latter was evidently greatly struck by the gift. Gold and silver he knew, but this bright and shining metal was altogether new to him. He examined it closely, felt the edge and point, and then handed it to the chiefs behind him, to be examined by them. Roger saw by his manner that he had been favorably impressed, for the weapon was as strange and mysterious, to him, as the visitant.
The chief undid a large gold necklace that he wore, and offered it to Roger, who bowed and clasped it round his neck. The chief now led him inside the house, which was similar, but on a much larger scale, to that which he had before entered. Refreshments were placed before him. These he did not need, but thought it better to eat of them. While he was so doing, an animated conversation was maintained between the chief and his followers.
After a time, the chief made signs to him to follow him, and conducted him to a smaller house close by, which he made signs to him that he was to consider as his own. Mats had been already spread on the ground; rugs made of quilted cotton, for sleeping upon, piled in a corner; vases of flowers placed about the room, and all made ready for occupation. An old woman, followed by two young girls, came forward and saluted to the ground. They were slaves, whom the chief had appointed to wait upon the visitor.
No sooner had the chief left than a perfect levee commenced, and went on for hours; until it seemed to Roger that every man, woman, and child in the town must have called upon him. Most of them brought little presents as tokens of goodwill. Garlands of flowers were thrown round his neck, baskets of fruit, cakes made from maize flour, dishes of meat of various kinds, little trinkets of gold, baskets containing beans and many other eatable seeds, and a ground powder of brownish hue, of whose uses Roger was ignorant, but which he afterwards discovered to be cocoa, which furnished the most popular beverage of the natives.
Not until it was quite dark did the stream of visitors cease. Then the old slave dropped a hanging across the door, and one of the young ones brought forward to Roger, who was utterly worn out with the fatigues of the day, a bowl of steaming cocoa, and some cakes of fruit. Roger found the cocoa extremely palatable, and wholly unlike anything he had ever before tasted; and it seemed to invigorate him greatly.
After drinking, he spread some of the quilted mats upon the floor, and threw himself down upon them. The old woman had lighted a lamp, and withdrawn with the younger ones to an apartment behind; which served as their sleeping place, as well as kitchen.
Now that he was alone and had time to think, Roger broke down entirely. Was it possible that it was but this morning he was on board ship, with his father and friends; and that now all were gone, gone forever, and he was in a strange land, cut off from all hope of return, surrounded by people who, if they were friendly today, might yet, for aught he knew, slay him on the morrow?
For the time, however, his own fate occupied him but little. His thoughts turned almost exclusively upon his father. Upon their voyages together, his kindness and care for him, the high hopes they had cherished when they started upon their voyage, and above all upon his parting words, and the last gesture of farewell, just as the ship struck.
For hours Roger lay and sobbed. At last he heard a slight movement in the room and, looking up, saw one of the young slave girls regarding him with a look of deep pity. To her, as to everyone else, Roger had appeared as a supernatural being, come from they knew not whence; but the lad's sobs had touched her human feelings, and shown her that he had sorrows, like herself. Her look brought a feeling of comfort and companionship to Roger's heart; and as, on seeing that she was observed, she turned timidly to retire, he held out his hand to her.
She approached and knelt down beside him and, taking his hand, pressed it to her forehead. She was a girl of some fourteen years old, already, according to Mexican ideas, a woman.
"What is your name?" Roger asked.
The girl looked at him wonderingly, but shook her head. Roger thought a moment, and then touched himself on the breast.
"Roger," he said.
He repeated the word several times. Then he touched her lips and repeated "Roger," and, seeing what was expected, she repeated the word in a soft voice.
He nodded again, touched himself and said "Roger," and then touched her. She now saw what he meant. It was his own name he had spoken, and he now asked for hers.
"Malinche," she said, in her soft Indian voice.
"Malinche," he repeated, "you are a kind-hearted girl. I can see that, Malinche; and I hope we shall understand each other better, one of these days. I suppose you are a servant or a slave, and are not in a much better condition than myself. Now you had better go, and sleep."
He patted her on the shoulder, pointed to the door by which she had entered, closed his eyes as if in sleep, and then said, "Good night, Malinche."
The girl uttered some words he did not understand; but as they ended with Roger, and with a nod of her head she stole silently away, he supposed that it was something equivalent to his own "Goodnight."
Greatly comforted by this little incident, he rolled up one of the rugs as a pillow, laid his head upon it, and was almost instantaneously asleep. He woke with a feeling of surprise. The events of the previous day seemed to him but a dream, and he looked round, expecting to see the bulkhead of the little cabin he had occupied, on board the Swan. But the first glance assured him of the reality of the dream, and that he was alone, among a strange people.
He sprang at once to his feet, pulled aside a cloth that hung before an opening that served as a window, and let the rays of the sun stream in.
"I want some water, old dame," he said, in a loud voice.
The old woman at once entered. Roger made signs, by rubbing his hands together, and passing them over his face and head, that he wanted water. This the old woman brought, in a basin formed of the half of an immense gourd, and a soft cotton cloth with which to dry himself. Then she brought in a small pot, filled with something which looked to him like fat, but which he afterwards found was extracted from a vegetable, and put it down by the side of the water.
"I suppose that this is some sort of soap," Roger said to himself, and found on trial, to his great satisfaction, that it made an excellent lather.
After a good wash he felt greatly refreshed, and now attired himself completely in Mexican costume, a pile of garments of all sorts having been placed in one corner of the room. When he had finished the two girls entered, with a tray containing cocoa, fruits, and bread. He was about to address Malinche by her name; but the girl kept her eyes fixed upon the ground, and it struck him that she did not wish her late visit to him to be known, as it might bring upon her a scolding from the old woman; whose voice he had more than once heard, on the previous afternoon, raised in shrill anger.
He therefore began afresh, first naming himself, and then touching Malinche's companion.
She did not at first understand, but Malinche said something in a low tone, and she then replied, "Nishka."
Roger repeated the name, and then touched Malinche, who at once gave her name.
He next pointed to the contents of the bowl, and the girls replied together, "Coca."
Roger repeated the word several times, and then, in the same manner, learned the native names of the cakes and fruit.
The old woman, hearing the voices, now came into the room. The girls spoke eagerly to her in their language, and when Roger touched her, she at once answered, "Quizmoa."
"That is pretty well, for a first lesson," Roger said. "Now I will eat my breakfast. I suppose that, if anyone in this place did not have a stare at me yesterday, they will be coming today."
Visitors, indeed, soon began to arrive; and it was more than a week before the curiosity of the crowd was at all satisfied. But even this did not bring what Roger considered a terrible annoyance to an end; for the news had spread rapidly, through all the country round, of the strange white being who had come to Tabasco, and parties of visitors kept on arriving, some of them from a great distance.
Roger, however, had made a good use of his tongue. He kept one or other of the girls always near him, and by touching the articles brought to him as presents, the garments and arms of his visitors, and the various objects in his room, he soon learned their names.
Almost every day the chief sent for him, for a talk; but as neither party could understand the other, these conversations generally ended by a sudden loss of temper, on the part of the cazique, at being unable to obtain the information he required as to the origin of his visitor, and the object with which he had come to his country.
Having acquired a large number of the names of objects, Roger, for a time, came to a standstill. Then it struck him that by listening to what the old woman said to the girls, and by watching what they did, he might make a step farther.
In this way he soon learned "bring me," "fetch me," and other verbs. When the old woman was present, the two girls were silent and shy; but as Quizmoa was fond of gossiping, and so was greatly in request among the neighbors, who desired to learn something of the habits of the white man, she was often out; and the girls were then ready to talk as much as Roger wished. For a time it seemed to him that he was making no progress whatever with the language and, at the end of the first month, began almost to despair of ever being able to converse in it; although by this time he had learned the name of almost every object. Then he found that, perhaps as much from their gestures as from their words, he began to understand the girls; and in another month was able to make himself understood, in turn. After this his progress was extremely rapid.
As soon as Malinche learned, from him, that he belonged to a great nation of white people, living far away across the sea, and that he had been wrecked in a ship upon the coast, she warned him against telling these things to the chief.
"They hold you in high honor," she said, "because they think that you have come down from the sky, and might do them grievous harm if they displeased you. But if they knew that you were a man like themselves, cast by chance upon their shores, they would perhaps make you a slave, or might put you to death in one of the temples. Therefore, on this subject be always silent. When the chief asks you questions, shake your head, and say that these things cannot be spoken of, and that it might bring down the anger of the gods, were their secret told."
The advice seemed good to Roger, and he followed it. Now that he was able to talk in his language, the chief soon plied him with questions as to whence he had come. But Roger always shook his head when the subject was approached, and said:
"It is not good to talk of these things. Evil might come to the land. I am here, and that is enough. I will tell you many things about other people, who live far over the sea, and who are very great and powerful. When they go out they sit upon great animals, which carry them easily, at a speed much exceeding that at which a man can run. They live in lofty dwellings and, when they go to war, are covered with an armor, made of a metal so strong that arrows would not pierce it nor swords cut it. They traverse the sea in floating castles; and when they want to convey their thought to others, many days' journey away, they make marks upon a thin white stuff they call paper, and send it by a messenger, and these marks tell him who receives it what the writer's thoughts are, just the same as if he had spoken in their ears."
The hearing of such wonders as these reconciled the chief to his disappointment at not learning more about his visitor. The knife Roger had given him was a never-ending source of wonder to the cazique, and those whom he permitted to inspect it. Gold and silver and copper they knew, and also tin, which they used for hardening the copper. But this new metal was altogether strange to them. It enormously exceeded copper in strength and hardness. Its edge did not, like that of their own weapons, blunt with usage, and they could well understand that, if armor could be formed of it, it would be altogether unpierceable.
For a time Roger was every day at the chief's house, and his narration afforded astonishment and wonder to the audiences that gathered round him. At the same time, Roger perceived that a difference of opinion existed, among the principal men, concerning him. Some believed, as at first, in his supernatural origin, and credited all that he told them; while others were of opinion that he was a man, like themselves, only of different color, and that these tales were simply inventions, designed to add to his importance.
The fact that month after month passed without his exhibiting any supernatural powers, or reproducing, in any way, the wonders of which he told them, added gradually to the strength of the party hostile to him. Why should this god, if he were a god, have come to dwell at Tabasco only to learn the language, and behave as an ordinary man? He had been kindly received—why did he not bestow benefits in return? Were the fields more fruitful? Had any extraordinary prosperity fallen upon the people since his arrival among them? Had he taught them any of the arts of those people of whom he spoke? The gods always bestowed benefits upon those among whom they dwelt. He did not ever pay reverence to their gods, nor had he entered a temple to worship or sacrifice. How then could he be a god?
Gradually this opinion gained strength, and Roger perceived that his popularity was decreasing. No longer were daily presents sent in by the inhabitants of Tabasco. No longer did they prostrate themselves, when he walked in the streets. His stories were received with open expressions of doubt and derision, and he saw that, ere long, some great change would take place in his condition.
One morning, to his surprise, the chief with six men entered his chamber, and ordered him to come out and accompany them, instantly. Much surprised at the order, Roger at once went out.
"You must go away for a time," the cazique said; "but you shall return, before long."
His guard conducted him eight or ten miles into the interior, and established him in a hut, situated at a distance from any other dwelling. Three of them, by turns, kept watch night and day over him, refusing to answer any questions as to the cause of this singular conduct. Beyond being kept a prisoner he had nothing to complain of, being well fed and treated with all courtesy.
A fortnight later he was taken back to Tabasco, as suddenly as he had left it. When he arrived there, he learned the reason of his being carried inland. A great floating castle, filled with white men, had arrived at the mouth of the river; and had opened a trade with the natives, exchanging glass beads, looking glasses, and trinkets, for gold ornaments and articles of Mexican workmanship. Their leader, he heard, was called Grijalva. The cazique had been afraid that, if Roger had heard that other white men were in the river, he would make an effort to join them; or if they heard that a man of their color was in the town, they would insist upon his being handed over to them. He had therefore hurried him away inland, and had issued the most stringent orders that none should, by signs or otherwise, acquaint the newcomers that a white man was in the town. A guard had been placed over the house in which Roger had dwelt, and none of those within it had been allowed to go out, while the strangers were in the river.
These had sailed away, the day before Roger was fetched back. He was not altogether disappointed at having missed the strangers, who were of course Spaniards; for he wanted, if possible, to see something more of this beautiful country before he left; and he was, moreover, more than doubtful as to the reception he should meet with at the Spaniards' hands, when, by his ignorance of their language, they discovered that he was a foreign intruder, in what they considered their territory.
Chapter 6: Anahuac.
It was now six months since Roger was wrecked on the coast of Tabasco, he spoke the native language with perfect fluency, and had learned all that was known as to the nations round Tabasco. Malinche was his chief source of information. She herself did not belong to the country, but, as she told Roger, to a tribe that had been conquered by far mightier people, called Aztecs, who lived farther to the west.
It was from them, she said, that the people of Tabasco obtained their gold; which was there very plentiful, and was thought but little of, as being useful only for ornaments, drinking cups, and similar purposes. They dwelt in a city named Mexico, standing in the midst of a lake. There were kindred peoples near them, and the country generally was called Anahuac. All were subject to the Aztecs, and their armies had gradually conquered all the surrounding peoples.
They possessed great temples, compared to which those of Tabasco were as nothing. Their gods were very powerful, and all prisoners taken in war were sacrificed to them. They had rich mantles and clothing, and the Tabascans were but savages, in comparison.
Being asked how it was that she, who was a native of such a nation, came to be a slave among the Tabascans, she replied with tears that she had been sold. Her father had been a rich and powerful cazique, of Painalla, on the southeastern borders of the Mexican kingdom. He had died when she was very young, and her mother had married again, and had a son. One night her mother had handed her over to some traders, by whom she had been carried away. She had learned, from their conversation, that her mother desired her son to inherit all her possessions; and that she had, therefore, sold her to these traders. The daughter of one of her slaves had died that evening, and she intended to give out that Malinche was dead, and to celebrate her funeral in the usual way. The traders had brought her to Tabasco, and sold her to the cazique of that town.
"But this mother of yours must be an infamous woman, Malinche," Roger said indignantly, "thus to sell away her own daughter to be a slave!"
"Girls are not much good," Malinche said, sadly. "They cannot fight, and they cannot govern a people. It was natural that my mother should prefer her son to me, and should wish to see him a cazique, when he grew up."
Roger refused to see the matter in that light, at all, and was indignant at Malinche for the forbearance that she showed, in speaking of the author of her misfortunes.
This conversation had taken place at the time when Roger had first learned to converse in the Tabascan language. The girl's statements, with regard to the wealth of the country to which she belonged, had fired his imagination. This was doubtless the country concerning which rumors were current among the Spanish islands, and with whom it had been the purpose of his father's expedition to open trade.
Malinche told him that they spoke a language quite different from that of the Tabascans. There were many dialects among the various peoples under the sway of the Aztecs; but all could understand each other, as they had all come down, from the far north, to settle in the country.
Thinking the matter over he determined, if possible, that he would someday make his way over to Malinche's country, which seemed so far in advance of the Tabascans.
"The Spaniards will go there some day," he said; "and although they would kill me without hesitation, if they found an Englishman there before them; I might yet, in some way or other, manage to achieve my escape."
Accordingly, he asked Malinche to teach him her language; and at the end of the six months he could converse with her in it, almost as readily as he could in Tabascan; for in learning it he had none of the initial difficulties he had at first encountered, in acquiring Tabascan—the latter language serving as a medium.
The year which had elapsed, since the Swan sailed from Plymouth, had effected great alteration in Roger's figure. He had grown several inches, and had widened out greatly; and was fulfilling the promise of his earlier figure, by growing into an immensely large and powerful man. He was, even now, half a head taller than the very tallest of the natives of Tabasco; and in point of strength, was still more their superior. Thus, although the belief in his supernatural origin was rapidly dying out, a certain respect for his size and strength prevented any of his opponents from any open exhibition of hostility. The fact, too, of his perfect fearlessness of demeanor added to this effect. Roger carried himself well, and as, with head erect, he strolled through the streets of Tabasco, with a step that contrasted strongly with the light and nimble one of the slenderly built natives, men made way for him; while his sunny hair, which fell in short waves back from his forehead, his fearless gray eyes, and the pleasant expression of his mouth, rendered him a source of admiration to the women; who, with scarce an exception, still believed firmly that he was no ordinary human being.
One day, when Roger was dressing in the morning, he heard excited talking in the street, and the sound of hurrying feet.
"What has happened this morning, Malinche?" he called out.
"The merchants have come," she said. "The merchants from my country."
As Roger had heard, from her, that a trade was carried on by Mexico with the surrounding countries, by merchants who traveled in parties, with strong bodies of armed men, and that they had been at Tabasco but a few days only before he had first arrived there, and might be expected again in about a year, he was not surprised at the news. He had, indeed, been looking forward to this visit; for he felt that his position was getting more and more unsafe, and that the cazique would not be able, much longer, to support him against the hostility of the majority of the men of importance in the town. What he had heard from Malinche had greatly raised his curiosity with regard to her country, and his longing to see these people, whom she described as invincible in war, and so infinitely superior in civilization to the Tabascans.
He had closely inquired, from Malinche, whether she thought he would be well received, did he reach her country. Malinche's opinion was not encouraging.
"I think," she said, "that they would sacrifice you in the temples. All our gods love sacrifices, and every year countless persons are offered up to them."
"It is a horrible custom, Malinche."
Malinche did not seem to be impressed, as he expected.
"Why?" she asked. "They would be killed in battle, were they not kept for sacrifice. The Aztecs never kill if they can help it, but take prisoners, so that death comes to them in one way instead of another; and it is better to be killed in the service of the gods, than to fall uselessly in battle."
"I don't think so at all, Malinche. In battle one's blood's up, and one scarcely feels pain; and if one is killed one is killed, and there is an end of it. That is quite different to being put to death in cold blood. And do they sacrifice women, as well as men?"
"Sometimes, but not so many," she said; "and in dry weather they offer up children to Talloc, the god of rain."
"But they cannot capture them in war," Roger said, horrified.
"No, they are sold by their parents, who have large families, and can do without one or two."
To Malinche, brought up in the hideous religion of the Mexicans, these things appeared as a matter of course; and she could scarcely understand the horror, and disgust, which her description of the sacrifices to her gods caused him.
"And you think that they would sacrifice me, Malinche?"
"I cannot say," she replied. "The priests are masters in these things. If they said sacrifice, they would sacrifice you; but if they thought you a god, you would be treated with great honor. How can I tell? I think that they would pay you greater honor than here, but of course I cannot tell."
"Why should they pay me greater honor, Malinche?"
"Because one of our gods was white. Quetzalcoatl was the kindest of our gods. He taught us the use of metals, instructed us how to till the ground, and laid down all the rules for good government. When he lived in Anahuac everyone was happy. Every head of corn was so big that a man could scarce carry one. The earth was full of flowers and fruit. Cotton grew of many colors, so that there was no need to dye it, and the very birds sang more sweetly than they have ever sung since. Ah! If Quetzalcoatl had always stopped with us, we should have been happy, indeed!"
"But why did he not, Malinche?"
Malinche shook her head.
"He was a god, but not one of the greatest, and one of these grew angry with him—I cannot tell who. Perhaps it was the god of war, who saw that the Anahuans were so happy that they no longer went out to conquer other people, and to provide sacrifices for him. Perhaps they were jealous, because the people worshiped Quetzalcoatl more than them. Anyhow, they were angry with him, and he was obliged to leave us.
"He came down to the sea, and took leave of the people, promising that he or his descendants would some day revisit them. Then he took his seat in his boat, which was formed of serpent skins, and sailed away, and has never been seen again. But we all know that one day, if he does not come himself, white people will come from the sea to us.
"I think, Roger, that you are one of the descendants of Quetzalcoatl; and I think my countrymen would think so, too, and would hold you in great honor, if the priests, who are very powerful, did not turn them against you."
"What was this god like?" asked Roger.
"He was tall in stature, and he had a white skin; and his hair was not like yours, for it was long and dark, and flowed over his shoulders, and he had a great beard. But as you are tall and white, you are like him; and as he went towards the rising sun, it may be that, afterwards, his hair changed from black to a color like yours, which seems to me brown when you are sitting here, but gold when the sun falls on it."
"So it seems, Malinche, that I may be sacrificed, or I may be taken for a god! I would much rather that they would be content to treat me for what I am—a man like themselves, only of a different race and color."
Roger had many conversations of this kind with Malinche, and as he felt his position becoming daily more precarious among the Tabascans, had come to believe that he should have at least as good a chance, among the Aztecs, as where he was.
In return for all the girl told him about her country, he told her much about his own. He explained to her that there were many peoples among the whites, as among the reds; and they fought against each other in battle, having weapons which made a noise like thunder, and killed at a great distance. He told her how one of these peoples, named Spaniards, had conquered many islands not very far distant from Tabasco; and how assuredly they would come, in time, and try to conquer this country, too. He explained that, while the nation to which he belonged was, at present, at peace with the Spaniards, they were not allowed to come into this part of the world; and that, had he and those who had sailed with him fallen into their hands, they would have been all put to death.
The news, then, that the Aztec traders had arrived was a matter of as much interest, to Roger, as to the people of the town. These looked forward to purchasing many things which they could not otherwise obtain; for the gold ornaments, the rich feather mantles, and most of the other articles of superior manufacture which Roger had seen, were not the work of the natives of Tabasco, but of their powerful neighbors.
The traders would stay, Malinche said, for four or five days, at least; and Roger, therefore, thought it better not to go out to see them, until he learned what were the cazique's views concerning him. He therefore remained quietly at home, all day.
Upon the following morning he received a summons from the cazique.
"White man," the chief said, "I have spoken to the Anahuac traders concerning you, and they have a great desire to see you. Therefore you will, this morning, accompany us to their camp."
An hour afterwards Roger started with the cazique, and a numerous body of the latter's counselors and attendants. The encampment of the Anahuans was a quarter of a mile from the town. In the center rose a large tent, the abode of the merchants; and around, ranged in regular order, were the rough huts erected by their escort.
These were assembled in military array. They were, like the Tabascan soldiers, clad in thick quilted doublets. Their spears were tipped with copper; or with obsidian, a stone resembling flint, of great hardness, and capable of taking a very sharp edge.
In front of the tent were several banners, embroidered in different devices in gold and feather work. Roger afterwards learned that merchants were held in far higher consideration in Anahuac than in Europe, that their business was considered as one of great honor, and that they were permitted to assume what may be called heraldic devices on their standards, to carry bright-feathered plumes, and to wear gold ornaments—such decorations being only allowed to warriors who had, by their deeds in battle, been admitted into an institution which closely resembled that of knighthood; all others dressing in plain white cloths, woven from thread obtained from the aloe. Even members of the royal family were not exempted from this law.
The whole trade of the country was in the hands of these merchants, who traded not only to its utmost borders, but with neighboring people. They were allowed to raise forces sufficient for their protection; they furnished the government with descriptions of the people they visited; and often afforded the State a pretext for wars and annexations, by getting up quarrels with the natives. They resembled, in fact, the East India Company during the last century, mingling in their persons the military and mercantile character.
In addition to their soldier escort, they took with them on their journeys a vast number of slaves. These carried the merchandise, made up into packets weighing about eighty pounds. Many of these slaves had been instructed in the arts of the Aztecs, and there were among them musicians, singers, dancers, and workers in metal and feather work; and these were sold, at high rates, to the people with whom they traded.
The merchants, who were attired in rich feather mantles, with plumes of bright feathers upon their heads, came to the entrance of their tent when the cazique, with his company, approached. After some talk between them and the chief, by means of an interpreter, Roger was brought forward from the rear of the company.
The merchants inspected him with grave curiosity. They turned and talked among themselves; then they invited the chief to enter their tent. He remained there for some time, and when he came out again returned to his companions and, ordering four of his soldiers to accompany him back to the town, left the rest of his party to traffic as they chose with the merchants.
He did not address Roger until they reached his house, and then bade him enter with him.
"White man," he said, "the Anahuan merchants wish to carry you away with them to their own country; and have offered, in exchange, sundry slaves and articles of merchandise. I would not have parted with you; and have told them, indeed, that you were no slave of mine, to sell as I chose, but a stranger who had come to visit me from I know not where; and have also told them that, if you go with them, it must be of your own free choice, for that misfortune might fall upon my people, did I treat you with aught but honor.