In the Wilds of Africa, by W.H.G. Kingston.
The hero of the book gets himself a job on board of a vessel, which has a number of misfortunes. She loses several officers, then her captain dies, leaving a totally unsuitable officer, Kydd, in charge. Finally she runs aground near the shore, where the natives slay some of the crew. They leave the ship on a raft, Kydd being on one, and our hero and many other passengers on a second. The latter is picked up by a fine-looking vessel, that proves to be a Portuguese slaver. They are attacked by a British man-of-war on slaver-patrol, but manage to get away from her. They go up a river to a village where, it appears, the vessel is to pick up a fresh supply of slaves. Our heroes ask if they can be put ashore here, which is agreed to. From here on the story runs fast, as our hero and the others travel through "The Wilds of Africa".
It is quite a long book, and it makes a good audiobook.
IN THE WILDS OF AFRICA, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
ON BOARD THE "OSPREY"—OFF THE COAST OF AFRICA.
A dense mist hung over the ocean; the sky above our heads was of a grey tint; the water below our feet of the colour of lead. Not a ripple disturbed its mirror-like surface, except when now and then a covey of flying fish leaped forth to escape from their pursuers, or it was clove by the fin of a marauding shark. We knew that we were not far off the coast of Africa, some few degrees to the south of the Equator; but how near we were we could not tell, for the calm had continued for several days, and a strong current, setting to the eastward, had been rapidly drifting us toward the shore.
Notwithstanding that the sun was obscured, his rays found means of heating the atmosphere, so that we felt much as if we were surrounded by a hot damp blanket.
I had already made a trip to the West Indies, and two to this terrible coast; and as I had escaped without an attack of yellow fever, or cholera, when the Liverpool owners of the brig Osprey—commanded by Captain Page, an old African trader—offered me a berth as supercargo, I willingly accepted it. We were bound out to the Cape of Good Hope, but had arranged to touch at two or three places on the coast, to trade and land passengers. Among other places we were to call at Saint Paul de Loando, to land a Portuguese gentleman, Senhor Silva, and his black servant Ramaon. Our object in trading was to obtain palm-oil, bees'-wax, gold dust, and ivory, in exchange for Manchester and Birmingham goods; and for this purpose we had already visited several places on the coast, picking up such quantities as could be obtained at each of them. We had not, however, escaped without the usual penalty African traders have to pay—two of our men having died of fever, and two others, besides the captain, being sick of it. The first mate, Giles Gritton, and another man, had been washed overboard in a heavy gale we encountered on the other side of the Equator, and we were now, therefore, somewhat short-handed. The first mate was a great loss, for he was an excellent seaman and a first-rate fellow, which is more than could be said of the second mate, Simon Kydd. How he came to be appointed mate seemed unaccountable; unless, as he was related to the owners, interest might have obtained for him what his own merits certainly would not. Taking him at his own value, he had few superiors, if any equals.
I felt much for Captain Page. He took the loss of his first mate greatly to heart, and thus the incapacity of the second contributed considerably to increase his malady. Day after day he grew worse, and I began to fear much that his illness would end fatally. He was as good and kind a man as ever lived, and an excellent sailor.
I had not been knocking about the ocean altogether with my eyes shut, and had managed to pick up a fair amount of nautical knowledge. I did not intrude it unnecessarily; I had a notion that I was regarded with a somewhat jealous eye by those who considered me a mere landsman. I certainly understood more about navigation than Mr Kydd, but that is not saying much. There were few things which I could not do, from handing, reefing, and steering, to turning in a dead-eye, and setting up the rigging; and few situations in which the fickle winds and waves were likely to place a ship with which I was not prepared to contend. Blow high or blow low, I felt myself at home on the ocean. My father had objected to my becoming a sailor, and had placed me in his counting-house. The sedentary life of a clerk was, however, not to my taste, and I was very glad to abdicate my seat on the high stool on every decent pretext. Still I had done my duty when there, and my conscience was at rest on that score. Misfortunes overtook my father's house; speculations were entered into which proved unsuccessful; and his long-established and highly-esteemed firm got into inextricable difficulties. In vain he and his partners struggled to maintain their credit. The final crash came, and although my mother's marriage settlement saved the family from penury, he had no capital with which to recommence business. I was too young to take his place. One of his partners died broken-hearted, and he had not the energy left to undertake the onerous duties he would have been called upon to perform. He and my mother and sisters retired to a modest cottage in Cheshire; while his boys, of whom I was the third, had to seek their fortunes in the world. He had done his duty by us. He had given us a good education, and ever striven to instil into our minds the principles of true religion and honour. I shall never forget his parting advice when I started on my first expedition. "Ever trust in God, Andrew," he said. "Recollect that you were 'bought with a price,' and 'are not your own.' You have no business to follow your own fancies, or to gratify any of the propensities fallen nature possesses, even though we do possess them, notwithstanding what the devil and the world may say to the contrary. God has given you a body, but ever remember that he has given you a mind to regulate that body. To the animals he has given bodies, and indued them with instincts which we may say are unerring; whereas man's mind, in consequence of sin, is prone to err; but then again, in his mercy, he has enabled man to seek for strength from above to counteract the effects of sin, and so to regulate his mind that it may properly guide the body. I have no faith in high principles, unless those high principles are kept in order by a higher influence. Therefore, Andrew, read your Bible daily for guidance; go daily to the throne of grace for enlightenment and direction, that you may keep your high principles bright and ever fit for action. Do not trust your feelings; they may mislead you. Do not trust the world or your companions; they may prove faithless monitors or guides. Do not trust, as people say, 'manfully to yourself.' Self often proves treacherous." More to the same effect my father said. I have given briefly his observations. I did my best to carry out his counsel; and through it gained the calmness and courage with which I encountered difficulties and dangers which would otherwise have appalled and overwhelmed me. I was never addicted to talking to my companions of myself, or my principles and feelings; and I sometimes blame myself for not endeavouring more perseveringly to inculcate on others those principles which I knew to be so true and valuable. I now mention the subject, because I can say on paper what my lips have often refused to utter. But I have said enough about myself.
We had several other passengers on board, who, notwithstanding the risks which they knew must be encountered on the African coast, had, for the sake of seeing the country, come on board with the intention of proceeding on to Cape Town, to which, as I said, we were ultimately bound. I will mention first Captain Stanley Hyslop, a near relation of mine, a nephew of my mother's. He was a military officer, and having sold out of the service, was going to settle in the Cape Colony, where his parents already were. He was accompanied by two younger brothers. David was one of the nicest fellows I ever met. He had been educated as a surgeon, and purposed practising in the country. The youngest, Leonard, or Leo, as we always called him, was an amusing little chap, always thinking funny things and saying them, and yet there was a simplicity about him which was very attractive. He had been sent to school in England, but being considered somewhat delicate—not, certainly, that he looked so—it was recommended that he should return to breathe his native air at the Cape. David was also, I should say, an enthusiastic naturalist, and the hope of increasing his knowledge at the places we might visit, had, besides his regard for me, induced him to take his passage on board the Osprey, just as his brother expected to get a few days sporting while the brig remained at anchor. I had seen but little of Stanley, but for David I had always felt a warm regard.
There were, however, two other members of the family, in one of whom, at all events, I must own I felt still more interested, although I knew that it would not do for me in my present situation to exhibit my feelings. My cousin, Kate Hyslop, was a very pretty, engaging girl, who had a short time before left school. She was also full of spirit, while she was right-minded and sweet-tempered. Her younger sister, Isabella, or Bella as she was called, was quite a little girl. She also had been at school; but her parents naturally could not bear to have her left behind, and so Kate had undertaken to complete her education; and from the time we sailed she was most assiduous in her attempts to do so. Sometimes I fancied she gave her almost too much teaching. When her brother, however, made a remark to that effect, she answered that it was important not to lose time, as opportunities might be wanting by-and-by; and when once they arrived in the colony, she knew that there would be so many interruptions and hindrances, and she might have so many other duties to perform, that Bella might not get the due amount of knowledge she wished her to possess. Blow high or blow low, Kate always made Bella learn her lessons. Sometimes holding on by the leg of a table in the cabin during a gale, there the two sisters would be found with their books. Both were capital sailors, as people say—that is, they were never ill at sea; so that they were not inconvenienced as most other people would have been by the tossing and tumbling of the stout brig.
They were attended by an old negro, Peter Timbo by name, who was the most watchful of guardians. He was the captain's servant, and had always accompanied him in his shooting expeditions when he was before staying at the Cape. Timbo, also, from what I heard him say, knew more about his native country than any one on board. He was born at some distance from the sea, not far from the Equator. When he was just growing into manhood, his village had been attacked by another tribe, and he, with several companions in misfortune, had been carried off to the coast. He was there shipped on board a Portuguese slaver, which, venturing to the north of the line, was chased and captured by a British man-of-war. Timbo, having a fancy for a sea life, and being an active, intelligent fellow, had been allowed to enter on board her. After serving for some years, he had been discharged at the Cape; where, after following several pursuits, he had become a servant to my uncle and aunt, Mr and Mrs Hyslop. Peter was loquacious and ever merry, and it was pleasant to hear him give way to one of his hearty laughs. He had thick lips, a huge flattish nose, and somewhat high head, covered with thick curling wool, now beginning to show signs of turning grey. Although he understood English perfectly, he still spoke it in a somewhat negro fashion, which often gave piquancy to his expressions; but from the way his master treated him, and from the affectionate care he seemed to take of the younger members of the family, it was evident that he must be a worthy man, notwithstanding his want of personal attractions.
"Ah, Massa Andrew, we nebber know as kind God does what is good for us," he remarked to me one day. "I bery sorryful when slaver people carry me off from my home in Pongo country. I t'ink I go to die, dat dere was no God to look after poor black fellow. I know only of Fetish, and I afraid of Fetish. Den I get among white men, and I see and hear much dat is bad, and still I t'ink dere is no God. Den years pass by, and I hear of de merciful Saviour, who die for me; and I say, 'Dat is just what I want,' and I learn to be Christian. But I will tell you anoder day more about myself; I now go to get ready de cabin dinner."
I told Timbo that I should keep him to his promise, as I was much interested in the short account he had given of himself.
We had four other passengers—Mr John and Mr Charles Rowley, and Miss Julia Rowley their sister, who seemed very nice people, but they kept themselves rather aloof from me, as well as from the mate, though they were friendly enough with the passengers, whom they considered their equals. The last person I need name was a young Irishman, Mr Terence O'Brien, who was of no profession that I could find out, but proposed settling as a colonist at the Cape. I have thus at once run off a brief description of my companions, of the last mentioned of whom, at that time, I knew comparatively little. Having said thus much of them, I will continue the thread of my narrative.
"How is the weather, Andrew?" said Captain Page as I went into his cabin. We had the skylight off, to let in as much air as possible, but yet it felt hot and stifling. He was very pale. His lips were of a bluish tinge, and his eyes were sunken and dim. On a locker close by him sat a young boy with a book before him, from which he was in vain endeavouring to read. I saw that Natty had been crying, for tears bedewed the page. He was the captain's only son. His mother was dead, and rather than leave him on shore to the care of strangers, his father had brought him on this African voyage. "It was a choice of two evils," he said to me one day. "The boy's constitution is good, and we must not let him be exposed to the night air or hot suns up the rivers, and he will probably stand the climate better than most of us." Such indeed had been the case, and Natty had been well, and had until now been full of life and spirits—the favourite of all on board. He and my young cousin Leonard soon struck up a friendship, and were of course always together. For once Natty had left his friend to remain by the side of his father. The captain had been speaking to him, for his voice ceased as I appeared.
I replied to the captain's question, "No signs of a change, Captain Page. We hove the lead, but found no bottom. We must still be some distance off the coast."
"I trust so," was the answer. "Heave the lead every quarter of an hour, and let me know when we are in soundings. Take another cast at once, and then come back."
I told the mate. "Why, I did so not twenty minutes ago," he answered. "What does the old man want us to do it again for?"
"The captain knows this coast well, Mr Kydd," I answered. "We may be thankful to get an anchor to hold as soon as we get into shallow water."
Seeing the mate did not seem disposed to obey, I took the lead, and calling to two of the hands, prepared to heave it.
"No, no," observed Kydd, "that is my work;" and taking the lead from me, hove it carelessly. "No bottom," he answered; "I should think not, indeed, out here."
It appeared to me that as the line ran out the whole length, he could not be mistaken. Returning to the cabin, I made my report to the captain. "Andrew," he said, "sit down; I want to have a few words with you. I am going to that haven whence I shall never come back. I feel that I shall not hold on much longer to life. I have not been a successful man, and leave my boy but ill-provided for. As to my friends, there are none that I can think of who are able to help him; and the few acquaintances I have who could do so, I cannot trust. The thought of what will become of my orphan boy weighs heavily on me. Andrew, you are young and healthy, and may Heaven preserve your life for many years! I have no great claim on you, but Andrew, as you hope Heaven will watch over you, do you keep an eye on my boy. Do for him the best you can. I have seen enough of you to know that you will act wisely and kindly. I do not desire to have him pampered and spoiled by riches, if I could give them, but I cannot bear the thought of his being left friendless and in poverty to fight his way through this often hard and cruel world. You will see to this, Andrew? I am sure you will."
"I will, Captain Page; I promise you," I answered, and I took his cold clammy hand.
Poor Natty was all this time sobbing violently. The truth that he was going to lose his father burst upon him, and that father had ever been kind and indulgent.
"That is well, that is well," murmured Captain Page. "I trust to you to be his human protector, and to One"—and he turned his eyes upward—"who will ever be a Friend of the fatherless."
The captain said a good deal more, and made various arrangements about Natty. Desiring me to get some papers from his desk, he showed me how I could obtain the little property he was likely to leave.
"I wish I could see the brig safely brought to an anchor," he observed after a long silence. "It is a nasty coast at best. With a breeze we could work off it, but while this calm lasts we cannot help ourselves from being carried wherever the current takes us, till we get into water shoal enough for anchoring. I shall be happier when once we can bring up, for if we do not, we may, when we little expect it, be driven on shore; and let me tell you, Andrew, what with the surf and the sharks, few of us are likely to escape with our lives. I know this coast well, and a sandy beach, exposed to the whole sweep of the Atlantic, is even more dangerous than a rocky shore. It must be time again to heave the lead. Go on deck, Andrew, and see how things are."
I found the passengers seated under an awning, which the mate had rigged at their request. He himself was walking up and down the deck, coming the officer in fine style, and endeavouring to make himself agreeable to the young ladies. He evidently anticipated the moment when he should have the command; indeed, he seemed to fancy himself the master already. When I told him that the captain desired me again to heave the lead, he appeared not to hear me, but continued talking to Miss Rowley with the insinuating air he knew so well how to assume. Miss Hyslop took but little notice of him when he addressed her, and turned away, giving her attention to Bella's lessons, or going on with any work she might have in hand, for she never was a moment idle. She was admirably fitted for colonial life; indeed, I may say, for any position in which she might be placed. If she had become a duchess, she would not have been an idle one.—I again addressed Mr Kydd. I told him that the captain wished to have the lead hove.
"The old man is always issuing his orders through you, Mr Crawford," he answered at length, in a scornful tone. "I know, I should think, what ought to be done, and I will do it. And I beg you will not interrupt me when I am talking to ladies." He added the last sentence in a whisper, sufficiently loud, however, for Miss Rowley to hear him.
"As the captain has been too ill to take an observation for some time, I suppose that you know our correct longitude, Mr Kydd. He, at all events, considers that we are close in with the African coast; and, as you are aware, it would be a terrible thing to have the brig cast on one of the sandbanks which lie off it," I remarked.
"No fear of that," he answered scornfully. "We shall have a breeze soon, probably, and then we will stand to the westward, and run down to the latitude of Loando. We are not many degrees from that, at all events."
"The captain is a good seaman, and he has his reasons for ordering the lead to be hove," I answered. "If the calm continues, he wishes us to anchor as soon as the water shoals sufficiently."
"Shoals sufficiently!" repeated the mate, in the same scornful tone; "we have no line on board to reach the bottom, I'll warrant." The mate unintentionally spoke loud enough for the gentlemen to hear him.
"Come, Mr Kydd, I suppose you intend to obey the captain's orders," said Captain Hyslop, coming up to where we were standing. "It seems to me that he has good reason for giving them."
"I believe, sir, that I am chief officer of the Osprey, and that I know my duty," said the mate. "It is not customary for passengers to interfere with the navigation of the ship."
"Certainly not, sir," answered Stanley; "but I trust all on board will obey the captain's orders while he is able to give them."
"That will not be for long," muttered the mate in an undertone. "I intend to do what is necessary, and I do not see that there is any use to keep heaving the lead out here almost in mid-ocean."
"But are we in mid-ocean, Mr Kydd? The captain considers that we are close in with the coast," remarked Stanley.
"Faith, there is going to be a row," I heard Terence O'Brien exclaim to young Mr Rowley. "See! I would like to be after giving them a poke. It would be rare fun."
"It would not be rare fun if the captain is right," was the answer.
"Am I to report to Captain Page that you decline heaving the lead, Mr Kydd?" I said at length, seeing that he made no movement to obey the order.
"Do as you like, Mr Crawford. I am not going to be dictated to by any man on board," replied the mate in an obstinate tone.
"The captain is very ill, as you know, and I fear your conduct will greatly vex him and tend to aggravate his disease," I said, still unwilling to return below. "I hope you will let me heave the lead if you will not do it yourself."
"Are you hired to navigate this ship, or am I?" he said in an angry tone, turning round to me. "I am chief officer, and unless the captain comes on deck to give his commands, I intend to do as I think fit. If you touch the lead, I shall consider it an act of mutiny, and order the crew to put you in irons."
I did not wish to bring things to extremities, and yet I could not bring myself to tell the captain how the mate was behaving. I waited, but waited in vain, to see whether he would change his mind. He still stood with his hands in his pockets, casting defiant looks around. I was in hopes that Stanley and the other gentlemen would interfere; but they remained silent, though somewhat astonished at the mate's behaviour. At last, finding there was no help for it, I went back to the cabin.
"I am sorry to say, Captain Page, that Mr Kydd seems to consider that there is no necessity for heaving the lead, and refuses to do so at present," I said on entering. "I will do anything you wish, and again carry your orders if you desire me."
"I must go on deck myself then," said the captain, attempting to rise. "Help me on with my clothes, Andrew. I feel very weak, but if he forces me to it, I must go." I assisted the captain to dress, with the help of Natty. "Here, give me your arm, Andrew; it is a stronger one than poor Natty's. I must do it, though it kills me."
I felt the poor captain tremble all over as I helped him along to the companion-ladder. He climbed up with the greatest difficulty; indeed, without my assistance he could not have got along. He at length reached the deck. He could scarcely stand, and was obliged to hold on by the companion-hatch. His face was pale as death. His white hair hung down on each side of his forehead, over which the skin seemed stretched like thin parchment. His lips had lost all colour, and his blue eyes, as he gazed around, had an unnatural brightness.
"Mr Kydd," he said, "you have compelled me at a severe cost to come up on deck. I order you to heave the lead. And, men," he cried out, "assist the mate to carry out my orders."
Kydd was now obliged to obey. Going to the chains, he hove the lead. I looked over the side to watch him, and saw by the way the line slackened that bottom was found. Just at that moment I heard some one cry out, "See! see! What is the matter with the captain?" I ran aft. He had fallen to the deck. "Oh, father, father! speak to me!" cried Natty, who was by his side. I lifted up the old man's head. David Hyslop had hastened to him, and was kneeling on the deck holding his hand. "He has swooned," he said. "He should not have left his bed."
"Can you do anything for him?"
"We will carry him below, but I fear the worst," he whispered.
Just then the sails of the brig gave a loud, thundering flap, and yet there was no wind; but I felt that a huge wave coming along the ocean had passed under her. The passengers looked at each other with an expression of dismay in their countenances, not knowing what was next going to happen; while David and I, with the assistance of Stanley and Mr Rowley, began to carry the captain down below. Not without difficulty, as he was somewhat heavy, we placed him on his bed. David again felt his pulse.
"It is all over, I fear," he said in a low voice, so that Natty could not hear. "Bring a glass! I cannot feel his heart beating." His brother brought a small glass from their sisters' cabin, and David held it over Captain Page's mouth, and again felt his heart. "He is gone," he said. "No human skill can restore him."
Natty, who had been standing outside, now sprang into the cabin. "Oh, tell me!" he said, looking imploringly up at David, "tell me!—is my father likely to get better? Why will he not speak to me?"
David did not reply, but made a sign to me to lead him out of the cabin. I saw my cousin close the old man's eyes as I took Natty by the hand and led him to the main cabin. I thought I would tell him at once what had happened; but a choking sensation came into my throat, and I could not utter a word.
"Is father not getting better," he asked, after a time. "Why did he not speak to me just now?"
"I am afraid he is not getting better," I replied; "but come on deck." The idea struck me that I would get one of the young ladies to speak to him, as they would tell him of his loss with more gentleness than any one else. When we reached the deck he saw Leo, who ran up to him, and took him aft to show him a large shark he had been watching swimming about close astern. I seized the opportunity of speaking to Miss Rowley, and told her what had happened.
"Oh, no, no; I am sure I cannot speak to the child. I should not know what to say," she answered. "Just tell him yourself. I do not suppose boys are likely to be much affected by such an occurrence."
I could not help giving her a look expressive of the surprise and pain I felt. Could that elegant young lady be so heartless and indifferent to the sorrow of others? My cousin Kate was sitting a little further off, out of hearing of her brother and Natty.
"The captain is dead," I said, in a low voice; "but his poor boy does not know it."
"Is the kind old man really gone?" she exclaimed, looking up into my face, and a tear starting into her eye. "Oh, how sad for poor Natty! But he must be told; and yet he will feel it dreadfully."
"Will you tell him then, Kate?" I asked. "It is necessary to do so at once, and yet it is hard to wound his feelings."
"Yes," she said; "I will try, even though it would greatly pain me. Yes yes!" she continued. "Come here, Natty, and sit down by me.—You need not be afraid, Andrew, I will speak gently to him."
I was sure she would. Her sweet countenance showed me how much she felt for the boy. I did not hear what she said, but she took his hand, and looked kindly into his face. He saw the tears in her eyes as she went on talking, and then, at length, he seemed to comprehend the truth, and began to sob violently. I saw her take both his hands, and cast on him a look of sympathy, of more avail just then than any words she could have uttered. Directly after he started up, as if to run to the cabin where his dead father lay; but she held him back by gentle force; and then he sat quiet, and sobbed and sobbed as if his young heart would break; and she again began to speak so soothingly to him, looking so kindly into his face, her tears falling fast, that I knew he was gaining the comfort he needed.
The mate meantime, hearing what had happened, went into the cabin, as if to satisfy himself. When he returned on deck, I saw that he could scarcely conceal his satisfaction as he looked about with an air of authority.
"Men," he said—for the crew had come up, a rumour having reached them of what had occurred—"I am now captain of this brig, and you will have to obey my orders. You understand me. I am not going to have any of the nonsense we had before; what I say I'll have done, and if there's any slackness, look out for squalls."
Captain Page, I should have said, had been accustomed to have prayers every morning and service on Sunday—a practice not common, I am sorry to say, in those days aboard merchantmen. The good old customs of our forefathers had long been given up, when, rough as seamen might have been, there were far more God-fearing men among them than at present; so I have read. I am afraid Kydd alluded to this practice of the captain's, as well as to the kind and gentle way in which he ruled his crew. The men touched their hats in recognition of his authority, but I saw from the looks they cast at him, that they held him in very different estimation to their late master. A stricter captain, perhaps, might have kept them in better order. Many of them were somewhat rough hands; but still his kindness had won their hearts, and, rough as they were, they now showed unmistakable signs of sorrow for his death.
When the mate ceased speaking, and turned aft with a conceited air, I saw them talking together, and casting no very complimentary looks towards him. The old boatswain, indeed, Jeremiah Barker, took but little pains to conceal his indignation. No sooner was the mate's back turned than he lifted up his fist with a threatening gesture, which made me fear greatly for the future discipline of the ship. As to expostulating with a fellow like Kydd, I knew it would be utterly useless; and I was afraid that even if Stanley or the other gentlemen spoke to him, he would be as little likely to attend to them as to me.
I must confess that the captain's death and this conduct of Kydd made me forget altogether the almost dying injunctions of the former to anchor as soon as we got into shallow water. The latter also seemed entirely to have forgotten that we were already in soundings.
"Well, sir," he said, coming up to Stanley, "I suppose we must see about getting the old man buried. I am no hand at preaching or praying, and so I will ask you to read the funeral service. We will do all things ship-shape and right."
"Why, sir," exclaimed Stanley, in a tone of indignation, "the poor man's breath is scarcely out of his body! You would not throw him overboard at once surely!"
"We have to manage that sort of thing pretty sharply out in these latitudes," answered Kydd. "I shall be wanting his cabin, too; and as it may be two or three days before we reach Loando, we cannot have him buried on shore. We are not far off that place, and I hope we shall be able to get an observation in a short time, and see exactly where we are."
"You are now master of the vessel, and I shall not interfere with your authority," said Stanley; "but I think it would be more decent to wait as long as we can for the sake of the poor little boy there. When his feelings are more calm he would like to see his dead father."
"Oh, certainly, sir, as you please, as you please," said the mate, turning away. "I will give you another hour to indulge your fancy, but I have no maudlin feelings of that sort."
If the look of unutterable disgust which passed over my cousin's countenance could have made Kydd ashamed of himself, he would have hid his face; but he continued pacing the deck and turning his head about as if considering which order he should next issue. I saw Kate at length take Natty down into the captain's cabin, and I thought it best to allow her and the boy to be alone there together at that sad moment. The boatswain then came aft and said that he and the crew wished to see their late captain.
"What is that for?" asked Kydd, and I thought he was going to refuse the request.
"He was our friend, and we would like to have a last look at his kind face," answered the boatswain.
"Well, if the passengers do not mind your going into the cabin, I do not," said the mate, turning aside.
Perhaps he did not quite like the expression of old Barker's countenance. I led the way into the cabin, and the crew came, one by one, following the boatswain. "Well, you was an honest, kind man as ever lived, and that's more than can be said of him who has stepped into your shoes," said old Barker, apostrophising the captain. "He is less of a sailor than your little finger was; and as to sense, he has not as much as was in your thumb-nail." The remarks of the other men, as they passed by, were still less complimentary to the new master; and had he heard them, he might well have doubted his power of keeping his crew in order. I felt, indeed, very anxious, for though I had thought very little of Kydd, I was not aware how he was despised and detested by the men.
I more than ever wished that a breeze would spring up, that they might have something to do, and that we might get away from this dangerous part of the coast. The calm, however, still continued, and at length the time came for lowering our late captain into his ocean grave. The sailmaker came aft with the boatswain to superintend the operation of enclosing him in a hammock, into which they fastened a pig of iron ballast.
"Them sharks shan't have him, nohow," observed the sailmaker; "for though the bottom may be a long way off, he will reach it pretty quickly, and lie quiet there till the day when we all come up from the land or sea—it will not then matter where we have lain in the meantime—to answer for ourselves. I only wish I was as sure to give as good an account of myself as he is."
"Be quick there!" cried the mate from the deck. "There is a breeze coming up, I have a notion, and we shall have to trim sails. I wish to get this business over first."
Kate had been keeping Natty by her side while this was going forward. Two of the other men now came below and assisted to carry the captain's body on deck, where my cousin Stanley had got his prayer-book, and stood ready. The old boatswain had thrown a flag over the body, now placed on a plank, one end of which projected out of a port. While the funeral service of the Church of England was read, not a sound was heard except the unrepressed sobs which burst from poor Natty's bosom, and the creaking of the yards and blocks as the brig moved imperceptibly from side to side. Then came the dull, sullen sound of a plunge, as, old Barker lifting up the end of the plank, the body slid off into the water. As I looked over the side I could see the white shrouded figure descending into the depths of ocean. Just as it disappeared, I caught sight of the dark form of a huge shark gliding towards it; but I had hopes that it had sunk far below the creature's reach before he could seize it.
"Stow away that plank," said the mate, the instant the captain's body had been launched overboard. "I wish this breeze would come, though," he added, glancing round.
Still he gave no orders to heave the lead, as the late captain had advised. I knew well enough that to remind him would only make him less likely to do it, so I said nothing, though I kept looking over into the water to see if there was any change of colour which might be produced by our getting nearer the land. Now again came one of those sullen flaps of the sails, showing that though we might seem to be at rest, the vessel was occasionally moved by no gentle force; and I could distinguish, as I looked eastward, a smooth undulation which seemed rolling away in that direction. Still the sky remained obscured as before, and a gauze-like mist hung over the ocean. The atmosphere felt hotter and more oppressive than ever. The passengers remained on deck, for the cabins were almost unbearable. The ladies were trying to read or work, but Kate alone continued to ply her active fingers. Miss Rowley scarcely turned a page, while little Bella kept looking with her large blue eyes at poor Natty, who sat with his head resting on his hands, utterly unable to recover himself. As I looked over the side I observed that the undulations I have spoken of became more and more frequent, on each occasion, as they passed, giving the brig a slow shake, and making the sails flap loudly as before. The crew were talking together, and, led by old Barker, were ranging the cable for anchoring, Mr Kydd having disappeared below. Suddenly he returned on deck.
"Who ordered you to do that?" he exclaimed in an angry tone. "Did I tell you I was going to bring the ship to an anchor?"
"No, sir," answered the boatswain; "but any one who is acquainted with these parts must know that it is the only thing to be done to save the brig and our lives. For who can tell that we may not be ashore any moment!"
"You are a mutinous rascal," exclaimed Kydd. "I will not allow the brig to be brought to an anchor till I see fit. We are fifty miles off the coast, and more than that, perhaps."
"What, with fifty fathom only under our keel!" exclaimed the boatswain. "What is the meaning, too, of these breakers away in the south-east? Mr Kydd, we must anchor, and you ought to know it."
I looked out in the direction towards which the boatswain pointed. The sun was already sinking into the ocean, and his rays lighted up a line of foam, or what looked like it, in the south-east.
Kydd, on the boatswain's remark, broke out into a furious passion, and, hurrying into his cabin, appeared again with a brace of pistols in his hand. Placing them in his belt, he walked the deck, muttering incoherently to himself. No one interfered. I felt unwilling to go below, though the steward called me to supper. The sun had long disappeared—the moon rose, and shed a bright silvery light upon the ocean. It was perfectly calm; and as, on looking round, I could see no breakers, nor hear their sound, I at length turned in. I was too anxious, however, to sleep long. On going on deck and again looking out, there I saw, not a quarter of a mile off a black ledge of rocks rising some feet out of the water. The brig was drifting by them at a rate which showed how strong a current was running. What was my surprise to see a boat coming off from the rock. "What is that?" I asked.
"Why, I have treated one mutinous rascal as I intend to treat you if you follow his example," answered Kydd, who heard my question.
I was too much astonished to speak. After pacing the deck for a few minutes I went below to consult with Stanley.
"We must put him under arrest," he said at length. "But go on deck and learn how the men take the proceeding."
On my return I found the boat alongside. The crew climbed on board. Could they really have executed so barbarous an order! Great was my relief to find the boatswain among them.
"You rascals, I ordered you to land him on these rocks!" exclaimed Kydd, when he caught sight of the old man.
"So we did; and he ordered us to take him off again," answered one of the crew. "We have as good a right to obey him as you, Mr Kydd. If you was to die, like the captain and first mate, he's the only officer left to take charge of the brig."
Kydd was a coward. This answer silenced him, and without uttering a word he went below.
The passengers assembled at breakfast the next morning with anxious faces. They knew that something was very wrong, but could not exactly tell what. The calm continued. A thick mist hung over the ocean as on the previous day, the rocks were no longer in sight, the vessel floated tranquilly on the treacherous waters. Kydd had completely recovered himself. He had the awning spread, and with a smiling countenance invited the passengers to come on deck, and tried to make himself agreeable to Miss Rowley. Some time thus passed. At last I saw the boatswain and several of the men coming up.
"Mr Kydd," said the former, "I have to ask you whether you intend to anchor, and try to keep the ship out of danger or not?"
"Not till the land is in sight, and I see the necessity," answered Kydd quite calmly. He said nothing more for a minute or so. Then suddenly he exclaimed in a furious tone, "But I am not going to be dictated to by a set of mutinous scoundrels." I need not repeat all his words.
Just at that moment I heard that peculiar low, suppressed roar which a seaman knows so well to indicate breakers I begged the mate to listen, telling him what I had heard, but he was deaf to reason, and declared he would only anchor when he saw fit. He seemed to have gone out of his mind, and I felt that I should be justified in assisting the crew in putting him under restraint; but he was in reality as much in his senses as ever, though under the influence of his passion and obstinacy. Just at that moment another roller came in toward the brig from the westward, and the next instant all on deck were almost thrown off their feet. A blow was felt which made her shake fore and aft, and the water, which had hitherto not even rippled against her side, now broke over her in a shower of spray. The passengers started up. Kate clasped her little sister round the neck, and seized the arm of her brother David, who was standing near her. "What is the matter? what has happened?" shrieked out Miss Rowley in an attitude expressive of her terror.
"We are on shore," cried some of the men; "that is what has happened."
Such was too truly the case. The old captain's warnings had been neglected, and his prognostications were thus terribly fulfilled.
WRECK OF THE "OSPREY," AND OUR ESCAPE.
Boastful as the mate had been, he turned deadly pale as he saw the dangerous position in which the brig was placed. When, however, she lay quiet—the sea not again breaking over her—he recovered himself. The crew meantime, led by Barker, had gone aloft, without his orders, to furl sails, the first thing under the circumstances to be done.
"Get the boats out," he said at length. His voice had lost its usual authoritative tone. "We must warp the vessel off."
"No easy matter to do that," observed the boatswain. "I know what these banks are made of, and it will be a hard job to find holding ground. Which way will you haul her off, sir?"
"The way she came on," answered the mate. "That was sideways, I have a notion," observed old Barker. "You will not get her off so."
I soon saw, by the manner the brig lay over, that Barker was right; but without sounding round her, it was impossible to judge properly what to do. I suggested that this was the first thing to be done. "Give your advice when it is asked, Mr Crawford," said Kydd, walking up and down the deck. "Be smart there with the boats!"
While he was speaking, another wave came rolling in and struck the vessel with greater force than the former one, breaking over the fore part of the deck.
"We must get the boats over to the starboard side," said Barker (the vessel's head was to the north). "They will be stove in if we attempt to lower them on the outer side."
"What are you afraid of, man?" exclaimed Kydd. "Why, the sea is as smooth as a mill-pond between these rollers. Am I to be obeyed, or am I not? Here, lower this boat first. We will have her round on the other side before the next roller comes in."
Several of the men hastened to obey him. The boat was cleared, and two of the crew jumping into her, she was lowered. Just, however, as she reached the water, before the others could follow, another far heavier roller came gliding towards us. "In board for your lives, lads!" I cried out, but the men either did not hear me or despised the warning. The wave struck the boat and dashed it with tremendous force against the counter, sweeping them off towards the shore. They held out their hands imploring assistance.
"If we get the starboard-quarter boat lowered we shall be in time to save them, Mr Kydd," I said; and without waiting for his reply, Barker and I, with Jack Handspike, assisted by some of the gentlemen, lowered the boat. Scarcely, however, had we seized the oars, when we heard a loud shriek, and one of the poor fellows disappeared beneath the surface. A shark had taken him. The other, who was at a little distance, saw his companion's fate, and cried out to us to make haste. We pulled away as hard as we could lay our backs to the oars, old Barker steering. But just before we reached the man, his arms were thrown up, and down he sank. He, too, had become the prey of one of the rapacious monsters of the deep. We now returned on board, the boat remaining perfectly quit on the starboard side. No attempt had been made in the meantime to sound round the vessel. I offered to do it.
"I have made up my mind to haul her off astern," answered Kydd. "We will carry a kedge out in that direction."
"As you please," I said. "It may be right, but it may be the wrong way."
"It is my way, at all events," was the petulant reply.
It was necessary to get the long-boat into the water to carry out the kedge. Before this could be done, she had to be cleared of all sorts of articles stowed in her. It took us some time. The fate of their companions had thrown a damp over the spirits of the men, and they did not work with their ordinary activity. I could not help looking out seaward now and then, thinking that heavier rollers might be coming in, when our position would be truly dangerous. Where we were all this time we could not ascertain,—whether we were on a sandbank at a distance from the coast, or on the coast itself. In either case the danger was great. At last we got a kedge out right astern, and the crew manned the capstan. They worked away for some time. It seemed to me that the anchor was coming home. I was sure of it indeed, for not an inch did the vessel move. I meantime had got hold of the hand-lead, and hove it ahead. There was ample water there, at all events, for the brig to float. I then ran with it aft and dropped it over the taffrail. The water was evidently much shallower at that end of the ship. We had been working away all that time, therefore, to haul her still faster on to the bank. I was determined not to stand this any longer.
"Perhaps, Mr Kydd, you will try the depth of the water astern as well as ahead," I said; "and it strikes me that if we were to attempt to haul her off the other way, we might have a better chance of success."
"Leave that to me," he answered in the same tone as before.
"Round with the pauls, my lads," he sung out. "We will soon have her afloat."
"I am not going to step another foot round the capstan without I know that we are trying to haul off the right way," said Barker, who overheard what I had said.
This remark made the mate furious. The men followed Barker's example. Mr Kydd swore and stamped about the deck, declaring that there was a mutiny.
"No mutiny, sir," answered old Barker; "but our lives are worth as much to us as yours is to you."
"Take that then!" cried the mate, rushing forward toward the old man and striking him a blow which brought him to the deck. "Who is going to oppose me now?"
I thought the boatswain was killed, for he lay motionless. The crew, indignant at the way one they looked upon as their friend was treated, threw down the pauls, and refused to work any longer. Jack Handspike alone remained firm in entreating them to obey orders. "Mr Kydd is now master of the ship, and if we do not obey him, whom are we to obey?" he said.
While the dispute was going on, the passengers taking no part in it, the mist which had hitherto hung over the sea slowly lifted, and looking to the eastward I saw a line of coast, fringed with mangrove bushes, and blue mountains rising in the distance. "The land! the land! we are all right!" cried some of the crew. "I for one am not going to stop here and be bullied by an ignorant greenhorn!" cried one. "Nor I," exclaimed another. "Well, mates, let us take the old boatswain, who was our friend at all times, and see what is to be got on shore. Would any of you ladies and gentlemen like to come with us?"
Captain Hyslop now stepped forward. "My men," he said, "I know what you are likely to find on yonder coast, and I entreat you to remain on board till we see if we can get the brig off. The probabilities are that the boat will be upset in the surf as you attempt to land, and if not, when you get on shore there are savage people, who are as likely as not to murder you immediately."
"Oh, that's all humbug!" cried one of the men, "just to make us remain. Mates, are we to go, or are we to stop and get abused by this ignorant fellow?"
The crew, one and all, with the exception of Handspike, were in a state of mutiny. I spoke to them, but they would not listen to me. "Well, you may go with us," they said, "but go we will. We do not want to leave anybody behind." Without attempting even to bring the anchor on board, they lifted the still insensible boatswain into the boat, and in spite of the entreaties of the ladies and Stanley's warnings, shoved off. Kydd not till then seemed to recollect that he had pistols in his belt. Drawing one, he senselessly fired, but the men were too far off to be injured. They answered with loud laughs and gestures of derision, and away they pulled. We had now only one boat left, and she was too small to weigh the anchor. I begged Stanley and David and one of the Mr Rowleys to come with me in her, however, to sound round the vessel. Kydd by this time was almost beside himself with rage, and did not interfere with us. We found, as I suspected, that the brig had driven broadside on to a long sandbank, an eighth of a mile in width, but how long we could not tell, for the water was deep on the outer or port side of the vessel; ahead it was also sufficiently deep to float her; and should the wind come off shore, I was in great hopes that we might yet forge her off. Astern, however, the water was far more shallow; and, indeed, the senseless efforts which Kydd had made had contributed to drag her still further on. It all depended, however, upon the wind coming from the eastward. A westerly wind must inevitably prove our destruction, as with the sea which broke against her in that perfect calm, it was clear that the breeze would have the effect of driving her further on, and sending the sea completely over her. Our position was a truly fearful one. Stanley, however, who was no seaman, did not seem to dread it so much, but Handspike and Timbo fully agreed with me that we should be prepared for the worst. Deserted by the crew, even should the wind come off the shore, we could with difficulty make sail, and then it would be a hard matter to navigate the vessel. We only, hoped, however, that they would return on finding the unattractive appearance of the coast. The mist clearing away to the west, the rays of the sun glanced almost horizontally across the waters, over which they cast a ruddy glow, showing us the boat just as she reached the shore, I went aloft with a spy-glass to watch her, and could make out a number of dark figures hurrying down to the beach. She stopped for some time when at no great distance, and the people in her seemed to be holding a conversation with those on shore. She then pulled on, and directly afterwards I saw her surrounded by the dark figures, who seemed to be running her up the beach. Presently, to my horror, I perceived some of the crew running, and the blacks apparently pursuing them. Now one was struck down, now another. It was too evident that the infatuated men were being murdered by the savages. Soon all pursuit ceased; and here and there I could see figures stretched their length and motionless on the sand. Then I made out a crowd of blacks dancing and leaping, so it seemed to me, round the boat. A new alarm seized me. I was afraid that they might attempt to come off, and treat us as they had done the crew. Anxious to watch them, I did not descend till the shades of night, which rapidly came on, hid them from my sight. I then returned on deck, and taking Stanley and David aside, told them what had occurred.
"We must defend ourselves to the last," he answered, "if they do come. It will be better to die fighting than let them get on board. What do you advise?"
"We have nearly a dozen muskets," I said, "and with our two guns we may make a stout defence. I do not think they would wish to encounter our firearms, even though they possibly have some themselves."
"I am afraid that fellow Kydd will be of no use to us," observed Stanley. "He seems beside himself. We will hear what Timbo says, however. He knows more of these people than any of us."
Timbo was standing at no great distance, and Stanley called him up. I told him what I had seen.
"Not surprised," he observed. "De white men make dem slave, and so when dey catch de white men dey kill dem. Dat's it; but dey no come off at night. No fear of dat. Dey t'ink we one slaver; and if we fired a gun, dey no come off at all."
This information was cheering, as we thought we could rely on Timbo's knowledge.
"Would you consent to go on shore and gain their friendship?" I asked. "If they know that we are not their enemies, they may possibly be disposed to help us; for as to getting off the brig, I fear greatly it is not to be done."
He hesitated. "Yes," he said at length; "I go to-morrow morning. I talk deir lingo; and if dey come from up de country, as I t'ink, I make friends wid dem."
I agreed to accompany him, with David and the younger Mr Rowley. Darkness at length came on; and as the mist settled once more over the ocean we were unable to see many fathoms on either side of the vessel. We made these arrangements without consulting Kydd, for his conduct had been such that we felt it would be useless: indeed, when I looked round I could not distinguish him on deck. All this time the brig lay tolerably quiet, for though the sea every now and then struck her, and I feared sent her even more on to the bank, yet it did not break over sufficiently to wash anybody off the deck; the after part, indeed, remained perfectly dry. Here the ladies had collected, with the two boys, while the five gentlemen passengers, Jack Handspike, Timbo, and I, busied ourselves in getting up the muskets and ammunition for them and the guns. "We are going to fire," I heard Stanley say, and soon afterwards Timbo appeared with a hot poker from the galley fire, and our guns were discharged in succession. "Dat keep de niggers away," he observed, returning to the galley. I was surprised that Kydd made no inquiry when the guns were fired. As I was going aft I saw a figure come up the companion-hatch. I could make out that he had a number of packages under his arm. I was sure it was the mate, and my suspicions were aroused, though I could scarcely tell what he was going to do. I pointed him out to Stanley, who was standing near the mainmast. "We will follow him, at all events," he answered. As we got aft we saw him leaning over the quarter, and evidently engaged in hauling up the boat.
"Mr Kydd, what are you about?" exclaimed Stanley, seizing him by the arm. "Are you going to leave the brig?"
"I am captain, and who dares question me?" was the answer.
"You shall not deprive us of our only boat, at all events," said Stanley. "If you leave the vessel, it must be on a raft, or swim for it."
Kydd made no answer, but continued leaning over the side. We saw that he was dropping something into the boat. It seemed that he was about at that instant to throw himself over, when Stanley seized him and dragged him back. As he did so Kydd let go the painter, and before I could spring forward and seize it, the boat had drifted away from the vessel I would have jumped overboard and swam to her—I was on the point of doing so—when David, who had followed us, stopped me.
"Stay, Andrew!" he exclaimed. "We are surrounded by sharks. I saw three just before dark. You would be their prey in an instant."
Meantime Kydd was struggling with Stanley, who however quickly overpowered him.
"I was not going to take the boat," said Kydd, "whatever you may fancy. I am captain of this vessel, and I have a right to do what I like. It was through your fault that the boat got away, and you are answerable for that. Let me go, I say!"
Stanley released Kydd, who slunk away without uttering another word.
"This is not a time for disputes," said my cousin. "We must be ready for resistance should the blacks come off to us; though I hope that Timbo is right in supposing that they will not venture from the shore till daylight."
So short a time did the occurrence I have described take, that the ladies were scarcely aware of what was happening till it was over.
"What is the matter, Stanley?" asked Kate.
"Nothing to alarm you, my dear sister. I trust all will yet be well. There is every sign of the calm continuing; and perhaps in the morning, when the wind comes off the land, we may get the brig afloat. What do you say, Andrew?"
"I hope we may," I answered, "as she has not struck very hard."
"Had not you and Bella better go below, Kate, with Miss Rowley, and Leo and Natty will attend on you! We men must remain on deck to do what is necessary should any fresh emergency arise."
Kate begged to remain also, but David, and the Rowleys joining him, persuaded the young ladies at length to retire to the cabin. Timbo followed them to light the cabin lamp, and I saw them, as I looked through the skylight, seated at the table, Kate having a large book before her, which I recognised as the old captain's Bible. She was reading from it to her companions, the two boys and Bella listening with earnest looks, though Miss Rowley seemed to be too much alarmed to pay any attention. The young Irishman and the two Rowleys now exerted themselves as much as the rest of us in making preparations to defend the vessel.
"If there were boarding-nettings, we should find them useful," said Stanley. "Mr Kydd, have you any on board?"
"No, sir," was the answer. "We do not carry such things; and, for my part, I think all this preparation is useless. The blacks are not likely to come off to attack us, and if they do, we could very soon drive them back again."
"If we are properly prepared we may," said my cousin; and we all continued the work we had in hand.
Besides the firearms we had a few ship's cutlasses; and at Timbo's suggestion we fastened all the knives and axes we could find to some long spars, to use them as boarding-pikes. We ran lines also along the sides between the rigging to answer in a measure the purpose of boarding-nettings; and before the morning broke, we were as well prepared as we could expect to be to resist an attack. We were looking out for the rising sun, when I felt a light wind fan my cheek. I said nothing, but again I felt it blow stronger.
"We shall have the wind off the shore soon," I cried out, "and we must be ready to trim sails to make the most of it."
"Who is issuing orders on board this vessel?" I heard Kydd exclaim. "Mr Crawford, I am the man to say what is to be done."
"If you will tell us what to do, we will take good care to do it," Stanley said to me, in a low voice. "There is little use in listening to that fellow."
The breeze came stronger and stronger; and by the time the first streaks of early dawn appeared over the land, there was a strongish breeze blowing, hot, and smelling of the arid sand and damp mangrove marshes.
"Faith, there is but little of the spices of Araby," I heard Terence O'Brien observe to one of his friends.
"Those who know how to handle ropes, come and help me to trim the sails," exclaimed Kydd. "Handspike, you are the only man under my orders. You go to the helm."
We all set to work to trim the sails. Senhor Silva and his servant, who had hitherto not done much, now joined with a will. The canvas blew out, and the yards creaked and strained, but not an inch was the vessel moved. Kydd then ordered us to run fore and aft; but the light weight of a few people on board the stout brig produced no perceptible effect.
"Had we the boat, and could we carry an anchor out, we might get the brig off," I observed to Stanley. "But, I fear, now it is hopeless, unless, indeed, we were to build a raft. With that we may do something, though there will be no slight risk in the undertaking."
"If you think it can be done, we will do it," said Stanley.
"Certainly," I said, "it is our only chance."
"Then it shall be done," he exclaimed. "Mr Kydd, we wish to build a raft to carry out the anchor."
Kydd was about to reply, but the captain's look silenced him. All hands now set to work to collect all the spare spars and planks to be found. We got up also a number of small casks from below, in which palm-oil was to be stowed; and this assisted us greatly.
"Massa," said Timbo, coming up to Stanley, "me t'ink it better to have two raft. Suppose no get de brig off, den we want dem to get away. Suppose de niggers come off, den what we do? We not stay here for eber."
"A wise suggestion, Timbo," said his master. "Crawford, will you undertake to build another raft? Mr Kydd seems busy with the one forward."
Senhor Silva and his servant had, they told us, once assisted in building a raft to escape from a wreck, and were well able to lend a hand. While the rest of the party were collecting materials, I went aloft, anxious to see what the negroes on shore were about. The mist which usually hangs over the land at early dawn had by this time disappeared. With my glass I could distinguish the boat on the beach, and a number of people moving about. As, however, they did not seem preparing to launch her, I hoped that we might have time, at all events, to get our rafts ready; and quickly again descended with the satisfactory intelligence. Believing that there was but little prospect of getting the vessel off, we did not scruple to use the hatches and bulkheads, and, indeed, to rip off the inner planking. It would require, we saw, two rafts of considerable size to carry so many people with any degree of safety even in smooth water. Still, what other prospect had we of saving our lives? I had not for a moment allowed my mind to dwell more than I could help on our too possible fate; indeed, it would almost have unmanned me to contemplate the hardships to which the young ladies must inevitably be exposed even at the best. However, we were doing all that men could do under the circumstances, and that kept up our spirits. Kydd had become somewhat humbled by this time, and worked away like the rest of us, without taking any leading part; indeed, several of the rest of the party were far more expert in constructing the rafts than he was.
The water, as I said, remained smooth inside of us. We now set to work to launch our rafts. Kydd took charge of the one forward; I of the after one, at the construction of which I had assisted. Having cut away the bulwarks, we worked them over the side with the capstan bars, and then lowered them as gently as we could with ropes. Mine, I found, was somewhat the largest, and floated higher than the other out of the water. We had now to fit masts and sails to them. Fortunately there was a number of spare oars on board, so that our time was not occupied in making fresh ones. I however thought it well to have one long one to serve as a mast. The important business of provisioning our rafts had next to be attended to. We first got up four water-casks, which we secured in the centre of the raft. Round them we formed a strong railing, with a raised platform, on which a few of the party could sit well out of the water, which I feared, as soon as there was any sea, would wash over the main part.
I saw Kydd hurrying on with his preparations. "Now, Miss Rowley," he said, "I hope you will entrust yourself to my charge. I ought to know better how to manage a raft than those landsmen," and he cast a glance at me; "and I promise to take good care of you and your brothers."
I did not hear what the young lady said, but directly afterwards I saw her being lowered down on to Kydd's raft. Her brothers and the young Irishman followed.
"Come, Handspike; we want you," sung out Kydd, standing up on the raft.
"No, no," answered Handspike. "The landsmen, as you say, will want my help, and I must go aboard the other."
While this was going on, I saw that Timbo had gone aloft. Presently he came gliding down by a backstay on deck. "Quick! quick! Massa Andrew," he exclaimed. "No time to lose! De niggers coming off in de boat! If we stop and fight, dey take away de rafts. If we sail off, dey come aboard vessel, and stop and steal and get drunk, and we get away."
Kydd overheard him. "Shove off!" he cried out to his companions. They obeyed him; and immediately the raft was clear of the vessel, he began to hoist his sail.
"Stop! stop!" I cried out. "Take more of our party on board! Senhor Silva and his servant will go with you!"
He paid no attention to my shouts, but continued hoisting his sail, though I saw the gentlemen on board were expostulating with him.
"We must all go, then, on the one raft," I said. "I trust it will hold us, although it was treacherous of the mate to go away, leaving the party thus unequally divided."
"I am sorry our friends are under no better charge," said Stanley. "But, Andrew, we are ready to place ourselves under your and Handspike's guidance. Timbo, too, will be of no slight service; so that we need not complain of what has occurred. We have no time to lose, though."
Jack and Timbo now going on to the raft, assisted the rest of the party to descend. I was the last to leave the unfortunate brig. As I looked round I did not see Natty. "Where can he be?" I exclaimed. I sprang up the side. My young charge had fallen on the deck, and lay concealed from those on the raft by the bulwarks in the fore part of the vessel. "Hold on for a moment," I cried out; "I will bring him down to you." I lifted the poor boy up in my arms. A falling block or spar, I conjectured, had struck his head and stunned him. Had I not discovered his absence, how dreadful would have been his fate left alone on board the brig. To my great joy he soon recovered. Jack Handspike received him in his arms as I lowered him down, and I following, without delay we shoved off, and passed under the brig's stern. The blacks could not see what was occurring, and would therefore, I hoped, not hurry themselves in coming off, so that we might have a considerable start of them should they pursue us. The raft was, as may be supposed, deeper in the water than I could have wished; at the same time, in that smooth sea, it was well capable of supporting us all. My hope was that we should be picked up by some cruiser or passing merchant vessel, and that we might not have long to remain on it. Still, the risk was a fearful one, but it seemed better than venturing to the shore after we had discovered the savage disposition of the natives. If they had murdered the seamen, there was no reason to suppose that we should escape the same treatment.
The mate's raft, being lighter, had already got a considerable distance ahead. Our sail, however, was larger than his; and as we had hands enough to lower it quickly, we could venture to carry it longer in the increasing breeze. We got out the oars also, which contributed to urge the raft through the water. We thus, in a short time, had nearly overtaken the mate and his companions. Few of us spoke much. We were all too anxious for talking. Senhor Silva advised that we should alter our course, as soon as we had got out of sight of the brig, to the southward, hoping that we might be picked up by some vessel bound to Loando, the nearest European settlement on the coast. One thing was certain, that should the wind shift to the eastward we should have no choice, but should be compelled to run back for the land.
We had placed Kate and Bella on the most secure part of the raft, with the two boys, while we spread a piece of awning, which projected a little way over their heads, thus affording them some shelter from the hot rays of the sun. The water remained smooth, and was bright and clear; and could we have forgotten that it might at any moment be tossed into huge waves, there was little to give us a sense of danger. Jack Handspike was at the helm, and tended the sheets while the rest of us pulled; I kept an eye on the halliards, ready to let go should the breeze increase too much for our sail. We had brought a telescope, through which, every now and then, I took a glance astern to ascertain whether the negroes had reached the brig. We were gradually getting to a distance from her, so that our white sails would have looked almost like specks on the ocean, unless seen through a spy-glass, and those that remained on board we hoped the savages would not know how to use. Presently I saw the bright flash of a gun, and, a few seconds after, the sound came booming across the water; then, once more looking through the glass, I caught sight of several dark objects moving above the bulwarks. There was no doubt that the blacks must have reached the vessel; but whether or not they had discovered us remained uncertain. All we could do was to use our best exertions in getting away from them, by rowing as hard as we could and keeping our sails spread to the breeze. By this time we had come abreast of the other raft. I hailed her and told what I had seen.
"Never fear," cried out Kydd. "We will drive them back if they do come."
He exhibited several muskets which he had placed on his raft. We also had taken a couple, and a small quantity of ammunition.
We had got some little way ahead of the other raft, when I proposed hauling down the sail, not to run away from her. I was about to do so, when the wind, which had hitherto been getting somewhat lighter, fell altogether, and we were left on a perfect sea of glass, the other raft being about a quarter of a mile away from us. The heat was very great; and as we had been rowing all day, we felt scarcely capable of further exertion. We had also, we hoped, got beyond the reach of the negroes, as it was not likely they would follow us so far out to sea. Timbo asserted that they were black fellows from the interior, as he did not think the coast natives would have murdered the crew. As we had brought an ample supply of provisions, we took our meals regularly. Timbo had provided a small charcoal stove, with which we could boil water, and make our tea and coffee—a great luxury under the circumstances. We had, however, to economise our fuel, of which there was but a small quantity. Considering all things, our spirits rose wonderfully; and I believe every one of us hoped before long to fall in with a vessel and be taken on board.
"Our friends on the other raft seem to be making themselves merry," observed Stanley. "Listen. They are singing!"
So indeed they were. The sound of their voices, though so far off, reached us across the smooth water. We had brought some cloaks, with which we wrapped the young ladies up; and they lay down on the platform I have described, under the awning, to sleep, the remainder of us dividing ourselves into watches. The watch below, as we called it, placed themselves on the other side of the platform, to seek such rest as could be found. I know, when it was my turn to lie down, I slept as soundly as I had ever done in my life. The two boys lay down close together; but during the night I heard poor Natty sobbing. He had awoke, it seemed, and recollected his loss. It was sad to hear him in the still silence of the night out there on the ocean. Poor fellow! he at length sobbed himself to sleep again.
I woke up, feeling a gentle moving of the raft, and, rising to my feet, found that the night wind had again come off the shore, though it seemed rather more to the northward than before. We again hoisted the sail, as we were not far enough out to be in the track of any traders.
The night at length came to an end; and when the dawn once more broke, we found the same mist as on the two previous mornings hanging over the ocean. The young ladies and the boy were still sleeping. We looked round, but could nowhere discover our companions. That was, however, what might be expected, as the mist greatly circumscribed our view. I was standing by Timbo's side.
"I fear dis calm weader not last much longer," he observed to me. "I hope we soon get aboard ship; for if it come on to blow, den we in bad way."
"We must pray to Heaven to protect us," I said.
"Yes, Massa Andrew. If Heaben no protect us, den it be bery, bery bad indeed."
"We must not, however, alarm the young ladies," I observed; "so do not express your fears, but let us pray that a vessel may be sent to relieve us. Now, I think we had better prepare breakfast. It will cheer our spirits."
Soon after this Kate and little Bella appeared from under their awning.
"My father would have had prayers, I think," said Natty to me, in a low voice.
"He would, I am sure; and so will we," I answered; and before going to our meal, we offered up a prayer to Heaven for our protection, and Kate read a chapter from her Bible, which she had not forgotten to bring.
The hours after this sped slowly on. Once more the mist lifted. We looked round for the raft. It was nowhere to be seen.
"I trust no accident has happened to it," said Stanley. "It would be a sad fate for the Rowleys and that pretty girl."
I could not suppose this, and yet I could not account for its disappearance should Kydd have continued steering the course we had agreed on. On sweeping the horizon with my glass, I made out a small sail in the distance to the southward. It was, however, so far off, that, in consequence of the slight mist which still remained, I could not be certain whether it was the topgallant sail of some ship rising above the water or the bow-sail of the raft. I gave the glass to Jack Handspike.
"To my mind it is the raft," he said. "The lighter sails of a large vessel would not look so clear as that does."
If Jack was right, there could be no doubt that the mate had purposely altered his course for the sake of getting away from us. I could not help thinking that he was fully capable of such treachery. Soon after this, again sweeping the horizon with the glass, my eye fell on the topsails of a vessel far away to the north-west. I pointed it out to Jack, and both he and Timbo were of opinion that she was standing toward us on a wind, and that if we continued running as we were doing, she would before long be up with us.
ON BOARD THE SCHOONER.
Our spirits, which had naturally been at a low ebb, were greatly cheered by the sight of the strange sail. She had evidently a strong breeze with her, stronger than we should like when it reached us, as it probably would do before long. Already, indeed, it had freshened, and the sea had got up considerably. This made us more than ever anxious to be seen and taken on board. Gradually her topsails rose above the horizon. We watched her anxiously. Although we were not seen, Timbo and Leo could not resist an impulse to stand up and wave towards the stranger. She was standing steadily to the southward, gradually edging in towards the land. Our hopes increased of cutting her off. We made her out to be a large topsail schooner—a rakish-looking craft. Nearer and nearer she drew. Still she came on so fast that we began to fear that we should not get sufficiently to the westward to be seen, for though we could make her out clearly, and could now see her hull, we were so low in the water, that unless those on board were keeping a bright look-out, they might easily pass us.
"What do you think, Timbo? Shall we get up with her?" asked Stanley.
"Not quite sure, massa. If dey look dis way, den dey see us; but if dey not look dis way, den dey pass to westward one mile or perhaps two mile."
At length Jack Handspike gave a loud shout. The schooner was coming up to the wind. Her foretopsail was thrown aback, and she lay hove-to. "We are seen! We are seen!" we exclaimed, one after the other. Presently a boat was lowered; she came gliding over the water towards us. As she approached we saw that she had a crew of dark, swarthy men, evidently not English. They hailed us in a foreign language. Senhor Silva replied, and a short conversation ensued.
"They are my countrymen," he said, for he spoke English well. "The schooner is, I understand, a Portuguese man-of-war, and you will be kindly treated on board."
"We are indeed fortunate," said Stanley.
"Oh! say rather that God has been very merciful to us," said Kate, looking out towards the beautiful vessel which rose and fell on the fast increasing seas at no great distance from us.
"The officer desires to know whether you would like to be towed on board or would prefer getting into the boat," said Senhor Silva.
I was naturally anxious to preserve the raft, and begged that we might be towed; but Stanley requested that his sisters and the boys, at all events, should be taken into the boat. Senhor Silva joined them. We now proceeded rapidly towards the vessel. I saw Timbo and Jack eyeing her narrowly.
"She seems to be a fine man-of-war schooner," I observed, "and a craft of which the slavers must have no little dread. We thought the Osprey a clipper, but yonder schooner, I suspect, could easily have walked round her."
"Not know 'xactly," observed Timbo. "She may be man-of-war schooner, but she very like some slavers I have seen."
"Senhor Silva surely must know," I observed, "and he told us positively that she was a man-of-war."
When we got near the schooner the boat cast-off, Senhor Silva saying that he would go on board, and send her back for us.
"I wish I had gone with them," observed Stanley on hearing this. "I do not like their appearing on board a strange vessel without David or me to protect them."
"Oh, but Leo will do that," said David. "He is quite escort enough for them till we can get alongside."
As we approached still nearer the schooner we hauled down our sail. In a short time the boat returned and towed us alongside. The crew of the stranger were looking out eagerly at us over the bulwarks, and ropes were now thrown to assist us in getting on deck. An officer stood at the gangway and politely welcomed Stanley, Senhor Silva who stood by interpreting for him. Kate was seated on a chair, with Bella by her side.
"Oh, they are very kind and polite," she said to her brother as soon as he went up to her. "This is indeed a fine man-of-war."
She was certainly a remarkably fine vessel, and I saw that she mounted six broadside guns and a long gun forward; but as I had not been on board many English men-of-war, and never any foreigners, I was not well able to judge of her. She had a numerous crew, of every colour and shade, from the fair European down to the dark tint of the darkest African. Our stores and the various articles we brought on the raft were now hoisted on board, and the structure which had cost us so much pains to build was cast adrift. The officers, I observed, all wore jackets and straw caps, which I fancied was not usual for officers of men-of-war; but probably on account of the heat of the climate the usual custom was departed from. Senhor Silva and the captain of the schooner were walking up and down the deck conversing eagerly. At length Senhor Silva stopped as he was passing me, and said, "I have found an old friend in the captain of the Andorinha (the Sea Swallow), and we are happy to meet each other again. He begs that you and our other friends will consider yourselves as welcome and honoured guests on board. I have told him that we have lost sight of the other raft, and he promises to keep a look-out for her. He has already given directions to have cabins prepared for you, and begs that you will make yourself as thoroughly at home as possible."
This was indeed satisfactory news. Timbo, Jack, and Ramaon were sent forward, where they were well received by the crew; for although Jack could not make himself understood, nor understand what was said, Ramaon was always ready to interpret for him. The wind, which had been for some time increasing, now blew half a gale, and we had great reason to be thankful that we had got on board so fine a craft. The captain insisted on giving up his cabin to Kate and Bella, and Stanley and David had another prepared close to them, while a third was devoted to the accommodation of Senhor Silva and I, the two boys being placed in another rather more forward. Not only were we comfortably accommodated, but a handsome dinner was, soon after we got on board, placed on the table. The captain announced himself as Senhor Marques da Costa. He was very polite, and a good-looking man, though somewhat dark even for a Portuguese. This, I concluded, arose from having been a long time on the coast. He understood but little English, so we had to carry on our conversation chiefly through our friend Senhor Silva. He, however, never seemed tired of interpreting for us. When the captain heard that we wished to proceed to the Cape, he expressed his regret that his duties required him to remain on the coast. He could not, he said, indeed promise to land us, for some little time, at Loando, but he begged to assure us that we were heartily welcome on board. Several of the officers sang very well, and after dinner guitars were produced, and they sang numbers of their national songs: somewhat die-away sort of melodies I thought them, but Kate said they were very pretty, and expressed a wish to learn the guitar. Directly one of the officers undertook to instruct her, and presented her with a handsome instrument, which he said he hoped she would keep in remembrance of her visit to the Andorinha. The time thus passed very pleasantly on board. Still having some doubts from what Timbo had said about the vessel, I asked Jack, whom I met the next morning, what he thought of her.