"What shall we do now?" I asked of Fairburn. "If we stay where we are, they will scarcely miss us. If we pull on, we shall be directly to leeward of them, and they will certainly see us, and we cannot escape them."
"To own the truth, I do not see that we have a chance of escape," he whispered. "In attempting to pull away out of their course to the northward, we shall certainly be observed. We must make up our minds to the worst."
"What do you think that will be?" I asked.
"If they grant us our lives—abject slavery," he answered, with a groan. "If we could fight first, I should not so much mind; but to be picked up by those rascals without a struggle, as a worm is picked up by a bird, is very trying."
"But don't you think we might master one of the prahus, and escape in her?" I asked.
"A brave thought; but one, I am afraid, our captain is not a man to execute," was his reply. "I am thinking about the poor women. We may one of these days find means of escaping out of the hands of these villains; but they never can."
"Indeed I can feel for them," I said, thinking of the fate of my own sister.
"Well, we will try if we can stir the captain up to adopt your plan," he exclaimed, after a minute's silence. "We have arms enough, and we will throw ourselves altogether on board the first vessel which comes up. If we take her by surprise, we shall have a greater chance of success."
"I will back you up," I said. "I am sure all hands here will join us."
"Yes, yes," said the men; "we will fight before we yield."
And to show that they were in earnest, they set to work to examine the arms we had in the boat. We then hailed Captain Van Deck, and told him what we proposed doing.
"It would be madness," he answered. "We should not have a chance of success, and we should all be knocked on the head and thrown into the sea together."
"Fight! fight! Who is talking about fighting?" shrieked Mrs Van Deck. "We can't fight, and we won't fight. We will ask the pirates, or whatever the black gentlemen may be, to be civil; and I am sure that they are more likely to be so if we are submissive, than if we were to try and turn them out of their vessels, which we could not do."
I must own, now I come to reflect calmly on the subject, that there was some wisdom in Mrs Van Deck's observations. As a rule, it is folly to threaten unless we can perform, or to fight unless one has a fair chance of success. Our chance of success was certainly very small; but still I could not help thinking we should have some, especially if we could get on board one of the afterward vessels; and anything was better than the slavery to which we should be doomed.
On came the prahus. The southern division had not seen us, and had already got to the westward of us; but the northern line was approaching, and would pass most dangerously near where we were—perhaps a little to the south. We almost held our breaths with anxiety. A slight change of wind might make them alter their course rather more away from us; but that was scarcely to be expected. Our glasses now showed us clearly what sort of vessels were in our neighbourhood, and made every shadow of doubt as to their character vanish completely. Their threatening and ominous aspect was increased, from their dark sails appearing against the glowing mass of light, which covered the whole eastern part of the sky from the zenith, growing still more intense towards the horizon, whence we expected the sun every instant to appear. The vessels we now saw were of considerable size, capable of carrying some hundred and fifty men or more. The lower part was built of solid wood-planks and timbers, like the vessels of European nations, but the upper works and decks were chiefly of bamboo, ingeniously fastened together. The bows were very sharp, the beam was great, and in length they exceeded ninety feet. The after part had a cabin or poop deck; and a raised deck, or platform, ran right fore and aft, for the purpose of affording standing room to the fighting men, of whom Fairburn told me we should find some forty or fifty on board. The platform was narrower than the beam, except forward, where it expanded to the full width, and where there was a strong bulkhead, with a port in it, through which a long brass gun was run. A sort of gallery extended all round the sides, like the nettings of a ship, in which sat the rowers, who were slaves, and not expected to fight unless in extreme cases. The vessel had from forty to fifty oars in two tiers, with two men to each oar. They had two triangle or sheer masts; these sheers were composed of two long poles. The heels of the two foremost were fitted in a pair of bits in the deck, through which ran a piece of horizontal timber, on which they worked; so that they could be raised or depressed at pleasure. The after pole was shorter than the others, and served as a prop to them. When the pirates intend to board an enemy, they allow this mast to fall over the bows, and it serves them as a ladder to climb on to her decks. They were steered in a curious way, by two broad-bladed oars running through the counter at either quarter. A broad platform extended over the counter, low down abaft the raised poop. Besides the long gun I have described, the larger vessels had a similar one run through the bulkhead of the cabin aft, besides numerous large swivels, four or more on a side, of various calibre, mounted in solid uprights, secured about the sides and upper works. On the stanchions supporting the platform were hung long matchlocks, fire-arms of various sorts, with spears and swords. These swivel guns are called lelahs, and are generally of brass. The klewang is a sort of hanger, or short sword. Their most formidable and favourite weapon is the kriss—a short dagger of a serpentine form. Each vessel had a square red flag at its foremast head, and a long pennant aft. The Illanon pirates wear a large sword, with a handle to be grasped by two hands. They dress, when going into battle, with chain, and sometimes plate armour, which gives them a very romantic appearance. The chain armour is made of wire, and though it will resist the thrust of a kriss, it will not turn a musket bail.
I never in my life passed a more anxious time. "See, they are keeping away," exclaimed Fairburn, who had been attentively watching the pirates. "They will pass nearly a mile from us, and we may escape."
Scarcely had he uttered the words, than the sun rose with full radiance from the water, shedding a mass of glittering light across the surface, lighting up the sails and hulls of the southern division, and, as we felt conscious, making us far more conspicuous than before to the approaching enemy. For a few minutes we had hopes that we had escaped observation; but the uncertainty did not long continue. The whole line of prahus were seen to haul their wind, and to stand directly for us. As they approached, we could see the warriors clustering on the platforms, brandishing their spears and matchlocks, while the lelahs were pointed at us. All hope of successful resistance was now gone. They evidently mistrusted us, and perhaps expected that we were the boats of some man-of-war sent to intercept them. Even Fairburn acknowledged that the slightest show of resistance would now seal our fate.
"We must give up our idea of an independent cruise round these seas," I remarked to him. "My sweet little sister!—I think of her captivity the most, if captive she is."
"Never despair," he answered. "Depend on it, all turns out the best in the end; and what we most try to avoid is often the very thing to bring us what we require."
"I will try to adopt your philosophy," I replied. "But are the pirates going to fire on us, or give us their stems?"
"We will escape the latter treatment, at all events," he exclaimed. "Out oars, my men, and pull boldly up to them, as if we were glad to see them—it is our last chance. The people in the other boats will follow our example."
We fortunately had a Malay with us; and we told him to sing out that we were friends that were shipwrecked, and would pay those well who placed us in safety. This arrangement was made as we pulled towards the headmost prahu. It had the effect of stopping the pirates from firing, though the warriors still kept their hostile attitudes. While we were advancing, the long-boat and jolly-boat kept back, which further convinced the Malays that we had no hostile intention. The breeze being fortunately light, we easily pulled up under the counter, on to which we hooked, when Fairburn and I, followed by the Malay interpreter, climbed up on board. No one attempted to injure or stop us; but a man, whom we recognised as the chief or captain by the respect the rest paid him, beckoned us towards him. We had instructed the interpreter what to say, and he told the story well. He informed the chief, who was keenly eyeing us all the time, that our vessel had sunk, with all our property on board; that we had been some days at sea trying to reach a port where we could find some of our countrymen, and that we would pay him well if he took us there. He looked incredulous, and told our Malay that he doubted our friends paying so much for us as he could pay himself by selling us, which he intended to do. At a signal from him, the pirates, who were closely pressing us round with sharp krisses in their hands, their bright eyes glittering maliciously, seized us by the arms, which they securely bound with ropes, so that we were completely at the mercy of any one who might choose to run his weapon into our breasts. We felt, indeed, that they were only prevented from doing so by recollecting our marketable value.
Meantime the long-boat and jolly-boat were each taken possession of by different prahus, the former being very nearly run down by two of the pirate vessels, in their eagerness to get hold of her, she being considered the most valuable prize, from having the women and the largest number of people in board. What the Malays did to our companions in misfortune I cannot say. We heard loud shrieks and cries when they were first captured; but I suspect they arose from Mrs Van Deck and her female friends, at sight of the ferocious-looking beings among whom they found themselves. We saw no more of them; for the pirates, dropping our boats astern, made sail to join the remainder of the fleet.
When the chief had done questioning us, we were taken below, and placed under the platform I have described, with a guard to watch us, though there was no possibility of our escaping. The Malay was, however, kept on deck, for the purpose, we concluded, of being further interrogated. No further attention was paid to us, and the pirates seemed to consider that we were totally beneath their notice. Towards the evening a little boiled maize was handed us by our guards, as they were aware that without food we should soon become of no value to them. For the same reason, they gave us a little dirty water to drink; and so thirsty were we, that, foul as it was, we were grateful for it, though we remembered that it was a piece of unnecessary cruelty, as we had provisions and an abundance of water in our own boats.
My greatest consolation was in the society of Fairburn, for we were allowed to sit down on the deck close together, and to converse without interruption—not that at first we could bring ourselves to talk much, for our spirits were too depressed at our change of fortune. The rest of the crew were in still worse spirits, and sat brooding over their fate in total silence.
"Well, Fairburn," I at last exclaimed, with a sigh, "our prospects seem bad enough now, at all events."
"Oh, they might have been worse," he answered, smiling in spite of our situation. "You know the gentlemen might have cut our throats, or made us walk the plank, or stripped us of our clothes, or lashed us to different parts of the vessel apart from each other, or they might have amused themselves by beating us, or we might have been sent to work at the oars. Then, perhaps, our Malay is persuading the chief that he will make more of us by ransoming us, and, as we are still alive, we may find a chance of escaping. Oh, depend upon it, things might be much worse than they are; and we should be grateful."
"I like your philosophy; but it is difficult to follow," I observed.
"No, not at all," he replied. "Only get accustomed to believe that everything is ordered for the best, and you will find it very easy. We cannot tell what misfortunes we may have escaped by the adventure which has befallen us. We should always compare our present state with what it might have been under still more adverse circumstances, not with what we wish it to have been."
"Then you mean to say, that if we had remained in the boats, some greater misfortune might have happened to us?" said I.
"Exactly so," he answered. "The boats might have sprung leaks, and have gone down, or might have run on some coral bank in the night, and have been lost; or a storm might have arisen and overwhelmed them, or some other casualties might have occurred. My firm belief is that God is everywhere, he orders everything for the best. We cannot too often repeat this for we may even forget the greatest truths at times when they are most needed. If we could but always remember this one, we should be saved the guilt of much impious repining and despondency."
"True; true; I was almost forgetting this," I exclaimed. "Thanks, Fairburn, for reminding me."
I can assure my young friends that the perfect confidence I felt in God's kind providence enabled me to bear up wonderfully against the misfortunes which had overtaken me; and I am sure that, in similar cases, if they put their trust in God, He will equally support them.
While we had been speaking I had observed a young Malay lad pass constantly, and put his head in to look at us. There appeared to be a look of peculiar intelligence on his countenance, and as if he wished to draw our attention to himself. When he came again, I pointed him out to Fairburn, whose back had been towards him. He looked at him attentively. The lad, however, did not attempt to speak; and when he saw that no one was observing him, he put his finger to his lips, the universal sign all over the world of imposing silence.
"What can he mean?" I asked of Fairburn, when the lad had again disappeared.
"I think I recollect his features—I must have met him somewhere," he said. "Oh! now I know. He must be a lad whose life I once saved from a party of savages on the coast of New Guinea. He belonged to a small trading vessel from Ceram, or one of the neighbouring islands, which are accustomed to visit that coast to barter fire-arms, calico, and ironwork, for slaves, nutmegs, trepang, tortoise-shell, and edible birds' nests. She had been driven out of her course by a gale, and found herself on a part of the coast with which no one on board was acquainted. Before she could make good her retreat, she was perceived by some of the inhabitants. The inhabitants of New Guinea are called Papuans. They are negroes, with very ugly features, and are composed of two races—the hill and the coast Papuans; the latter being very fierce and barbarous, and keeping the former in subjection. The people of whom I am now particularly speaking are said to be cannibals. They possess a number of small vessels, which they send out on piratical excursions to a very considerable distance from their homes. Their mode of warfare is rude in the extreme, their weapons consisting only of bows, arrows, and spears. They are said to devour the prisoners they make during these excursions. They may do so sometimes but I think it more probable that they preserve their lives to sell them as slaves. Well, as soon as the strange prahu was seen, a number of these war-boats put out of a harbour, the entrance of which was concealed by trees, and, before she could escape, surrounded her. The Malays fought bravely, but they were not prepared for war, and after several of their number were killed they were overpowered. I, at that time, was serving on board a whaler, which had put into a bay near where this took place. I was away in one of the hosts, when, rounding a point, I saw what was going forward. The Papuans, having rifled the vessel, and taken all the people out of her, set her on fire, and were making the best of their way to the shore. Having heard of the barbarities they practise, and my boat's crew being well armed, and having a gun in the bows of the boat, I determined to rescue some of the victims. My men gave way with a will, and we dashed after the pirates. They had had experience of the effects of our fire-arms and when they saw us in chase they suspected our intentions, and did their utmost to reach the shore. All escaped except two. We sent a shot through the bows of the first, and the people on board, finding her sinking, leaped into the water, and endeavoured to escape by swimming; the other we ran alongside. The crew fought very bravely. We saw three prisoners among them. Before we could prevent them, they cut the throats of two of the unhappy men. One of their chiefs was going to treat the third, a young lad, in the same way, when I shot the rascal dead. The rest of the people then jumped overboard and swam on shore.
"If there were any prisoners on board the vessel which sunk, they must have gone down in her, for we could find none, and they would certainly have swam towards us had their hands been free. It afterwards struck me that I had no right to interfere as I did. I certainly caused of great loss of life, and the preservation of the lad was the only result. However, I had no time for consideration, and could not help it; indeed, I should probably act exactly in the same way if I were placed in a similar situation again. The lad was very grateful, and became very much attached to me. I took him on board the whaler, and he very soon got into our ways; but as we were bound to the southward, I was afraid the cold would kill him, accustomed as he was to a torrid zone, so put him on board a vessel we fell in with, sailing to Borneo, to which country I understood he belonged. I managed to explain to him, with some difficulty, my reasons for parting with him. When he comprehended them, he appeared very grateful, and shed many tears as he went over the side. I certainly never expected to see him again."
"If, as I think, you did rightly, by attempting to save the lives of some fellow-creatures, from the hands of cannibals, you see you are likely to benefit by the deed; for I have no doubt that this young lad will do his best to be of service to us. He tries to show us his good wishes," I said.
"I am sure he will. I know that I intended to do right when I saved his life," remarked Fairburn.
He then continued, after a long silence: "I wonder how it is God allows cannibals and suchlike savages to exist. Does he punish them as he would us if we committed the like acts, do you think?"
"I have been taught to think that we ought not to attempt to account for many of the divine ordinances, otherwise than by believing that they are a part of one great and beneficent system. As God is just, we cannot suppose that he would consider ignorant savages equally guilty with educated men, who know and disobey his laws. I have an idea that savages exist to employ the energies of Christian men in converting them to the truth, and civilising them. We have the poor to feed and clothe, the ignorant to educate, the turbulent to discipline: why should we not believe that, situated as Great Britain is, with more extensive influence than any other nation on the earth, she has the duty committed to her of civilising the numberless savage tribes, with whom her commerce brings her in contact?"
Night came on, and we began to suffer from the pangs of hunger, but more especially from thirst, and our barbarous captors turned a deaf ear to all our petitions for a little water. At last, hopeless of relief, we stretched ourselves on the deck, in the expectation of recruiting our strength by sleep. We, at all events, were better off than the slaves in the hold of a slave-vessel, for they have not room to stretch their legs, or to rest their weary backs. I had managed to fall asleep, when I was awoke by a voice saying, "Eh; glad me see massa. Want drink?" I guessed it was that of Hassan, the young Malay. I awoke Fairburn, who sat up. The lad took his hand, and kissed it over and over again, but was afraid of speaking. He then showed us that he had brought us a jug of water, that we afterwards found he had taken from our own stock in the boat. He also brought a pannikin to drink from. We passed it round to our companions, and when we had exhausted our supply, he took away the jar with the same caution and silence as before. Here, against all probability, was a friend who might be useful to us now, and ultimately might serve us greatly.
Somewhere towards the evening of the next day we found, by the noises around us, that we were in the middle of the fleet, which had formed one compact mass. Gongs were struck as signals, arms were clashed, and the chiefs were continually calling to each other, as if holding consultation as to some important proceeding. Some time after dark, we could feel, from the perfect calmness, and the want of that heaving motion which is nearly always experienced at sea, that we had entered a deep bay, or a gulf, or the mouth of some large river. We glided noiselessly on for some time, the only sound heard being that of the oars as they dipped into the water, till the anchors were let go and the vessels remained stationary.
I asked Fairburn what he thought of the proceedings of our captors.
"I think, from the silent way in which they go on, that they must be on one of their kidnapping expeditions," he answered. "At first I thought they were approaching their homes, and they might be Bornean pirates from the west coast; but I have now no doubt that they are Illanons from Sooloo. They more nearly answer the descriptions I have had of the latter; but, as you know, my cruising has been more to the south and to the eastward, so that I have not fallen in with them."
All night long we lay in perfect silence. I contrived to get my head out a little way from under the platform, at the risk of a blow from a kriss; but I wanted fresh air, and to see what sort of a place we had brought up at. Of fresh air I got but little, though I discovered that we were in a small bay, closely surrounded by lofty trees, which completely concealed us, except from any one passing directly in front of it. We were evidently in ambush for some purpose or other, probably for the object at which Fairburn surmised.
We were visited during the night by young Hassan, he brought us water and food. Fairburn tried to learn from him where we were, and what was going to happen but, putting his finger to his mouth, he intimated that he was afraid of speaking, and hurried off. We remained, unable to sleep, in anxious expectation of daylight. At early dawn every one was astir, though cautious as before of making any noise. The anchors were got up, and the warps which had secured the vessels to the trees were cast off, and we glided out of the bay.
The pirates were so engaged in the work they were about, that they did not watch us as narrowly as before, and we were, therefore, able to creep out from under the platform, and, by climbing up the stanchions, to look about us. We were pulling up a broad stream, bounded on either side by dark forests, the trees of which grew down to the very edge, their boughs overhanging the stream, while their shadows were reflected with peculiar distinctness in it. Behind arose ranges of lofty mountains, whose summits were lost in the gloom of that early hour. The trees were alive with monkeys and squirrels; and birds of gaudy plumage flitted about in every direction on the wing, apparently to take a look at the strangers. Alligators were enjoying their morning swim, and, disturbed by our approach, they plunged under the water to escape from our keels. Here and there in the forest were open patches, where ruined huts showed that villages had been once destroyed by some incursion like the present, or by the attacks of hostile tribes of the Dyaks, eager to fill their head-houses with the heads of the conquered.
At last, rounding a point, we came suddenly on a large Dyak village. Treachery had been at work. The boom, which should have been across the river to prevent surprise, was not secured, and was easily driven aside and passed. Just at that moment the rays of the rising sun first struck the topmost peaks of the surrounding mountains, casting on them a pink hue, and making the scene below appear of a yet darker tinge. The town consisted of some thirty or more large houses raised on piles, and each capable of holding several families, perhaps altogether amounting to two hundred people. On either side of the town, on slight eminences, were two forts surrounded by a strong stockade—the upper part surmounted by a sort of chevaux de frise of split bamboos. The whole town was also surrounded by a stockade. On the walls of the fort were several lelahs, or brass swivel guns, of native manufacture. Outside the stockade were groves of cocoa-nut trees, and patches of open ground for the cultivation of rice, yams, and sago. The inhabitants were still apparently buried in profound repose, unsuspicious of coming evil. No one was stirring—not a sound was heard.
We dashed on at a rapid rate; and I had scarce time to observe the scene I have described. The Malays ran the sharp bows of their shallow prahus on to the shore—the triangle masts were instantly lowered, and formed bridges on to the banks, and, in some places, to the very walls of the forts. Before the alarm was given they were swarming with savage warriors, who, kriss and assegai in hand, rushed into the town, and clambered into the forts and houses. Those who resisted were slaughtered without mercy—the young people and children were bound with cords, and were given over to a band who followed the warriors on purpose to take charge of the prisoners. When they had secured as many prisoners as their vessels could carry, they no longer gave quarter to any they met, but wantonly destroyed them. The remainder of the inhabitants escaped to the woods, where the Malays could not follow them.
While the battle was raging at its height, the attention of the Malays on board was so completely drawn from us, that it struck me we might be able to make our way along the mast on to the shore, and then concealing ourselves in the woods, wait till the expedition had sailed. I thought that we might then get away to Singapore in a Dyak vessel, or a Chinese trader, many of which I had heard visited the coast. Fairburn, however, was of opinion that the attempt would be worse than futile. In the first place, we would be inevitably seen by the Malays, and should be very likely fired at and killed; or, if brought back alive, treated with far greater harshness than before. The Dyaks too, he pointed out, were worse savages than the Malays; and, irritated by their defeat, they would not stop to consider whether we were the cause of it, but for the sake of our heads alone, would murder us without compunction. All hope, therefore, of escape was for the present abandoned.
The pirates then set fire to the houses, which being built of bamboo, and thatched with palm-leaves, burnt like tinder. Having accomplished their work of destruction to their entire satisfaction, with little loss to themselves, they shoved their prahus into the stream, and proceeded as fast as they could towards the sea. The captives, on being brought on board, were placed under the platform close to us, very much to our additional inconvenience.
In appearance they were far from an attractive race. They were of a copper colour, with small eyes, black and piercing, mouths large, thick lips, and teeth filed into points, and blackened by their custom of chewing the betel-nut. The noses of some of the men were almost aquiline; but generally they were rather inclined to be flat. Their heads were well formed, and might be almost called intellectual; their hair was slightly shaven in front, and all thrown to the back of the head. They were of the middle height, very strongly and well built, and with limbs admirably proportioned. They were most remarkable for the number of rings they wore in their ears, those of higher rank having no less than fifteen, which weighed the lobe down almost to the shoulders. Their dress consisted of a cloth round the waist, which hung down in front, and some had on a sort of skin waistcoat, and a cloak over the shoulders.
The women had petticoats of native cloth fastened above the hips. Their hair was fine and black, and fell down in profusion behind their backs. Some of them, indeed, might be called pretty. The greater number of these people had a frank and pleasing expression of countenance and we since have good reason to know that they can be easily civilised. Their arms were brought on board as trophies. They consisted of the blow-pipe, (the sumpitan); it is about eight feet long, and from it they eject small arrows, poisoned with the juice of the upas, chiefly for killing birds. They had also long sharp knives called parangs, spears, and shields, in addition to the fire-arms, which they procure where they can find them.
Reaching the mouth of the river without interruption, we stood out to sea.
The prahus were now so deeply laden that the Illanons were anxious to return as fast as possible to their own country. They kept a good offing from the shore to avoid molestation from any of their brethren, who might be tempted, by guessing the nature of their freight, to sally out and pick off any stragglers. The truth is, that the whole of this magnificent archipelago was given up to anarchy and predatory warfare, the strong on all points preying on the weak; they in their turn, as they became enfeebled by their own victories, succumbing to other tribes, who had in the meantime risen to power, while even their commerce was combined with a system of slave-dealing and plunder. The following morning there was a dead calm. I never felt the heat so great. The sun shone down with intense fury, and seemed to pierce through the bamboo covering above our heads. The very atmosphere was stagnant. Had it not been for the supply of water with which Hassan had furnished us during the night, we should have died of thirst; as it was, we suffered much. From the feeling of the atmosphere, Fairburn prognosticated that we were about to be visited by a storm of unusual severity. The pirates seemed to think the same, for they lowered their sails, which were indeed useless; and putting the heads of the vessels seaward, endeavoured to obtain a good offing from the land.
From this we judged that we were off a part of the coast where they had been accustomed to commit depredations, and that they were afraid, should they be shipwrecked, that the inhabitants would retaliate by destroying them. There could be no doubt that such was the case, because otherwise they would have pulled towards the shore, in the hopes of being in time to take shelter in one of the numerous bays and creeks, with which it is indented.
"Such is the consequence of evil-doing," said Fairburn, moralising, as we came to this conclusion. "Honest men can go where they like, and have no enemies to fear; rogues have the door shut in their faces in all directions, and have reason to fear that all men are their enemies."
The poor slaves tugged at the oars till their strength almost gave way. At last two dropped from fatigue and died. At all events, they were without ceremony thrown overboard. Several of the Malays then advanced towards us; they looked at Fairburn and me, and seeing by our dress and appearance that we were officers, and might prove more valuable to them in some other way, they passed us by, and selected two of the Dutch seamen to fill the places of the wretches who had died.
The Dutchmen, though they could not help comprehending what they were expected to do, showed a strong determination not to set about the work, till the sharp point of the glittering knives held at their breasts warned them that it would be wiser to obey. Uttering a groan of pain, the poor fellows went to their laborious occupation. Unaccustomed to such severe toil, with a burning sun overhead, they feared that a few days would terminate their existence. An ominous silence pervaded the ocean; so calm lay the vessels that neither the bulkheads nor masts were heard to creak. The heat grew, if possible, still more oppressive. Then came on a sudden and slow upheaving of the deep, followed quickly by a loud rushing noise. A mass of boiling froth flew sweeping over the hitherto tranquil sea. The vessels, as it struck their broadsides, heeled over to it; some righted as they were turned by the oars and flew before it; several, we had reason to believe, went over to rise no more. Every moment the sea got up higher, and the wind blew more furiously. Onward we flew, the oars now perfectly useless, the men at the rudders scarcely able to move them so as to guide the course of the vessel. Where we went we could not tell. Clouds chased each other over the hitherto serene sky, and a thick driving rain, a complete cataract of water, descended, shrouding the coast from our sight. The seas leaped to a terrific height in our wake, and following us, almost dashed over our stern; but the tightly built vessel rose over them, and onward again we went uninjured. The tempest had raged for three or four hours, and showed no signs of abating. We climbed up, as we had done before, to look-out. The whole sea was a mass of tossing waves and foam, and far as the eye could pierce through the gloom, not another prahu was in sight. The tempest had scattered far and wide the barks of the fierce warriors as the summer breeze would the light chaff. The working of the vessel, as she was tossed up and down by the waves, caused her to leak most alarmingly, and all hands were set to work to bale her out. In this we of course very willingly joined, for our lives depended on her being kept afloat; and it besides enabled us to stretch our limbs and look about us. Everything capable of holding water was made use of, and the calabashes, kettles, buckets, and pans were passed along from hand to hand from the hold to the side of the vessel and back again with the greatest rapidity. We kept the water under, but that was all; and it seemed most questionable whether we should be able in this condition to get back to Sooloo. Along the whole coast there was not a place where we could venture to enter to repair damages, for although the Malays might not kill their fellow-religionists they would not hesitate to confiscate their vessel and to sell them as slaves. While we were employed as I have described, Fairburn observed to me.
"You were saying, Mr Seaworth, that everything is for the best. Suppose now we had been caught in our boats by this storm, how do you fancy the skiff would have weathered it?"
"But badly, I suspect," I replied.
"So I have been thinking. We could not possibly have reached Singapore; and though we might have been picked up by some vessel, the chances are that we should not; and so, what we thought our greatest misfortune, may, after all, have proved the means of our preservation."
"The very idea which has been passing in my mind," I replied. "I wonder, though, what has become of Captain Van Deck and his wife, and poor little Maria, and the rest of the party in the long-boat."
"He who rules the waves will have preserved them, if He has thought fit so to do," observed Fairburn. "Remember, we have only our own selves to account for. If we are preserved, it is not because of our own merits, but by his inscrutable will, for some end we know not of. If they are lost, it is not because they are worse than we, but because He knows that it is better that so it should be."
The pirates seeing us talking, and fancying that we did not work as hard as we might, gave us a hint to be silent, by showing us the point of a spear, and we were obliged to bale away harder than ever. While we were at work, the clouds opened, the sky in the horizon cleared slightly, and there were evident signs of the gale breaking. In a little time more the gale lessened, and the sea no longer ran so perilously high as before. Still we were in much danger, for the leaks rather increased than lessened, and it required the utmost exertions of all hands to keep the vessel free of water. We hoped, however, when it grew calm, that the leaks would close, and that we might be able to pursue our voyage.
In this condition the night overtook us. Whether we should keep afloat till daylight, none of us could say. It was one of the most weary nights I ever spent; for we were allowed no cessation from our toil. We now felt that we were slaves indeed. Our masters looked on, and some slept while we worked. Daylight found us still labouring. The pirates looked out anxiously to discover some of their consorts. Two were in sight in the far distance, but they beheld another spectacle, which filled them with alarm, while it made our hearts bound with hope. It was a square-rigged vessel, her topsails just visible above the horizon and from the squareness of her yards, and the whiteness of her canvas, we trusted that she was a man-of-war. The Illanons, who are well accustomed to discern the various classes of vessels, and to know their armaments, that they may avoid catching a Tartar, were of our opinion. The stranger was to windward, so that they would have had but small chance of escaping, even by attempting to pull up in that direction. By keeping before the wind, when their oars would less avail them, their chance of escape was still smaller. We watched the proceedings of the stranger with intense interest. The other two prahus were nearer to her than we were, and thus she would certainly make sail after them before she attempted to follow us; and, in the meantime, it was possible that, by keeping on a wind, the prahu we were on board might escape. The brig might also perceive some others of the fleet more to windward, which we could see, and might go after them. If so, the possibility of her escaping was very much increased, and we might still be doomed to a long if not an endless slavery.
It was with the greatest difficulty that we could keep to our baling, so intense became our anxiety to watch the proceedings of the stranger; and more than once I felt the sharp point of a lance against my ribs, reminding me of the task imposed on me. We saw by her movement that the brig had very soon discovered the other two prahus, for as fast as she could she was making sail, and standing after them. They endeavoured to escape, and to our great joy, ran after us, thus increasing the probability of our being captured. The brig however came up very rapidly with the other prahus; and, as soon as she got near enough, she opened her fire on them,—a foretaste of what we were to expect, for pirates deserve no mercy, and they were not likely to receive any at her hands. They were brave, or, at all events, desperate men, and returned her fire with their big stem gun and lelahs, though the latter were not likely to do much harm. Her guns were well and rapidly worked. The foremost mast of one of the prahus was shot away, and the others fared still worse. Several shots seemed to have struck her, still she held on. We saw her rise to the top of a wave, then down she glided into the trough of the sea. We looked for her in vain. It was her last plunge; and with her crew of savage warriors and helpless slaves, she sunk to rise no more. The brig did not heave-to in order to save any of the wretches, but ran close to the vessel she had crippled. Before she ran alongside, she opened her entire broadside on the pirate, so as to still more effectually prevent her escaping. The chiefs fought fiercely, like men who know that their fate is sealed, and are determined to sell their lives dearly. They discharged their lelahs in quick succession; they kept up till the last a hot fire from their long gun, and sent showers of arrows from their bows. When they got to still closer quarters, their spears came into play; and as the Europeans leaped down on their decks to take possession, many were severely wounded by the spears and krisses thrust through the bamboo planking. Then, when the Malays saw that they could do no further injury to their conquerors, they fired their vessel in several places, in the hopes of destroying them at the same time with themselves.
The Dutchmen were brave fellows, and in spite of the risk they ran, they managed to save some of those they found on board, before they cast loose from the burning prahu. The brig then made sail after us. Long before she came up to us, the Malay vessel, with her crew of savage desperadoes, had followed her consort to the bottom of the ocean. Dreadful as was their fate, they had, from their numerous atrocities, so richly deserved it, that no one could pity them. We next had to look-out for ourselves. The same sanguinary scene that we had witnessed at a distance was now to be enacted on board our vessel. As we kept right ahead of the brig, her bow chasers only could reach us, and with those she plied us as rapidly as they could be loaded, the shot flying over and around us, and one striking us on the counter, and killing two men who were working the lelahs placed there. The pirates in return were not idle. The long gun was worked vigorously, though not with much effect; but the lelahs and matchlocks kept up a galling fire on the brig, while the bows and arrows were kept ready to come into play as soon as she could get near enough to feel their effect.
I will not acknowledge exactly to have felt fear; but I experienced a very disagreeable sensation as the shot of our friends came flying around us, and some of the equally unfortunate Dyaks, and one or two Malays were struck down close to us. The feeling would have been still worse, had we not been so eagerly engaged in watching the brig, with the expectation of being released, and hoping to escape unhurt. At last a shot struck the head of our mainmast, and down came the sail, the foremast very soon followed, the after part being struck, and with the sail it swung over the bows. As the musketry of the Dutchmen came rattling among us, they sent forth the most frightful shrieks and yells in return, gnashing their teeth and clashing their weapons together, as they waited to meet their assailants hand to hand. The Dutch captain, knowing that there were prisoners on board, instead of firing away till the prahus sunk, as from the character of the Malays, he would have been justified in doing, ran alongside, shouting out that he would afford quarter to those who sought it. The fierce Malays answered him with loud cries of derision and shrieks of despair, and continued discharging their weapons with greater fury than before. We now discovered, that what we at first thought a great misfortune, namely, the leaky condition of the vessel, was in reality the means of preserving our lives. Had it not been for that, we should have remained bound and helpless; but in order to allow us to work at baling out, the pirates had set us free. Although the slaves are not usually expected to fight, yet in the present desperate state of affairs, arms were put into their hands, and they were told that if they did not defend themselves they would all be slaughtered. Men often fight blindly, scarcely knowing for what, and such was the case with these unfortunate wretches. I speak of the slaves who had before been on the prahus to work the oars. Many of the poor Dyaks still remained bound, though at the last moment their countrymen endeavoured to relieve them. No sooner did the sides of the two vessels touch, than the Malays, with that mad fury which sometimes possess their race, endeavoured to climb up the sides of the brig, careless of their own lives, and only seeking to destroy their enemies, well knowing that they had not a chance of success. They were repulsed with musketry, boarding pikes, and pistols; still on they rushed, the death of some only increasing the madness of others. Fairburn and I, with the Dutchmen, hung back, endeavouring to shelter ourselves from the shot on the opposite side of the platform, till we could find an opportunity to get on board. The Dyaks shrunk down appalled at the unearthly din, unaccustomed as they were to so rapid a discharge of fire-arms. But a fresh enemy was now assailing the devoted vessel of the pirates. No one attending to baling her out, the water was rapidly gaining on her; its ingress being expedited by the shot-holes lately made. Loaded as she was with booty, with living men and dead bodies, as the water rose she sunk lower and lower. Many of the wounded were drowned where they lay. Several of the Dyaks, not yet released, shared the same fate. We had time to cut the thongs which bound the limbs of a few, when we saw that not another moment was to be lost. We had worked our way forward as the pirates were clustering more thickly at the stern. The bow of the prahu swung for a few seconds toward that of the brig, the mast becoming entangled in the fore chain-plates; we seized the opportunity, and crying out in Dutch and English that we were friends, which indeed our dress showed, we ran along it, and leaped into the fore-chains.
A few pistols were fired and pikes thrust at us before the seamen discovered that we were not pirates and a wounded Malay thrust his pike into the back of one poor fellow as he was about to spring forward. A few of the Dyaks followed our example, and we endeavoured to preserve their lives, but no sooner did the Malays perceive what had happened than they attempted to reach the brig in the same way. With terrific shrieks they rushed on, but they were too late—the sea had already reached the deck of the prahu. The Dutchmen cut off the grapnels, and with a sudden lurch, down she went, carrying with her the still shrieking and threatening warriors. I shall never forger the dreadful expression of countenance of those almost demon-like beings, as, brandishing their arms with furious gesticulations, their feet still clinging to the platform on which they so often had fought and conquered in many an action, the water closed over their heads. How great was the contrast which a few short minutes had wrought! But lately we were surrounded by them, and had every prospect of sharing their fate, and now we were among civilised men eager to succour us. Truly we had to thank Heaven who had so mercifully preserved us.
As I lay that night in a hammock, slung in the cabin of the kind Dutch officer who commanded the brig, I heard a voice whisper softly in my ear,—"God is great—God is everywhere."
As I was climbing into the chains of the brig, I caught sight, through the smoke of the pistols flashing round us, of a Malay closely following me. I thought that he was about to run his kriss into me, and I was about to strike him on the head with a sword I had seized to defend myself, when I observed that it was young Hassan, who had all the time been watching our movements with the intention of aiding us. The rush of seamen and the Dyaks threw him off the spar, and he was precipitated into the sea, between the two vessels.
"Poor! poor fellow! I could have done much to save his life," I exclaimed to myself. "But it is not a moment for regret."
Scarcely a minute after, the prahu sunk, ingulfing all with her. Fairburn and I, with those who had been preserved, were going aft to the captain, when I caught sight of a marine levelling his musket at the head of a man floating in the water.
"There still lies one of those rascally Malays," he said in Dutch. "I will put an end to his misery."
Without a moment's thought I sprang towards him, and threw up his weapon. I thought I recognised the features. I was right. It was the faithful Hassan. He was almost exhausted, and looked as if he could not reach the side of the vessel. Instantly Fairburn threw off his jacket, and plunged overboard, while I cast a rope towards him. He swam out with powerful strokes towards the poor fellow, and grasped him just as he was on the point of sinking. As the brig had only been drifting to leeward, they were at no great distance. I again hove the rope towards them. Fairburn seized it, and, lifting the light form of the Malay lad under his left arm, he hauled himself on board.
In a short time Hassan recovered. He told us, that knowing the prahu must sink, he had struck out away from her; and, though he was drawn a short distance down in the vortex she made, he soon again reached the surface, and then swam towards the brig, trusting that we should see him, and would endeavour to save him. He was the only survivor of the Malays. Two of the Dutchmen belonging to the skiff and the Malay interpreter were missing. Twelve of the Dyaks also escaped, though several of them were wounded, who were immediately placed in the surgeon's hands. The poor fellows looked very grateful, and, although they certainly never before had heard of the healing art, they seemed fully to comprehend that what he was doing was for their benefit.
When we got aft, we had an account to hear, which naturally very much shocked us; however, I will narrate it as things occurred. We found that the vessel we were on board was the Dutch colonial brig Swalen commanded by Lieutenant Cloete. The commander was on the quarter-deck with several of his officers, and, as we were led up to him by a midshipman, he received me and Fairburn with the greatest kindness, shaking us by the hand, and congratulating us on our providential escape. He at once saw that we were weak from the want of food, and the danger and excitement we had undergone.
"I would at once ask you into my cabin to refresh and rest yourselves, gentlemen," he said; "but it is at present occupied by some of your late companions in misfortune."
"What! have any escaped? Indeed we rejoice to hear it," we both exclaimed.
"Some few have; but many have been lost," answered the commander gravely. "It was a hard necessity; but I know the nature of the Malays well, and had we not fired on them they would not have yielded." While he was speaking, a boy came out of the cabin, and went up to him. "Oh, they wish to see you; and I fear the poor master's time is short. We will go below, gentlemen." Saying this, the commander led the way into his own cabin.
It was, indeed, a sad sight which met our view. On the table in the centre lay Captain Van Deck, resting in the arms of the surgeon. The sheet which was wrapped round him was covered with blood. A round shot had torn open his side, and he had a wound from a kriss in his chest, and another in his neck, either of which, from their ghastly look, appeared sufficient to be mortal. His wife stood by his side holding his hand; and she seemed truly overwhelmed with genuine sorrow. She, very likely, was even then recollecting all the trouble and vexation she had caused him, by giving way to her temper. On a sofa lay a slight figure—it was that of little Maria. I started, with horror, for I thought I saw a corpse, she looked so pale; her eyes also were closed, and she did not stir. I scarcely dared ask for information. My attention was drawn to the dying master.
"I have begged to see you, gentlemen, for my moments are numbered," he said, gasping as he spoke. "I crave your forgiveness, if, through my carelessness and neglect of my duties, I have brought you into the danger and misery you have suffered. I know you, Fairburn, held my seamanship light."
We stopped him, and begged him not to think of the subject.
"Well, I will go on to a more important one, then," he continued. "We have been shipmates for some time, and that makes us brethren. I commit my wife and that dear child, if she recovers, to your charge, to see them safe with their kindred in Java. And you, my poor frow, will be kind to sweet little Maria. I would not mention it, but to say that the kindness you show to her will more than compensate for any little want of it you have at times displayed towards me."
He hesitated as he spoke, as if he did not like to call up old grievances.
Mrs Van Deck again burst into tears; and we who knew how very uncomfortable a life she had at times led him, could not help feeling that he was in a truly Christian and forgiving state of mind. Had he and she always been in that state of mind—had, perhaps, even a few words of mutual explanation taken place—undoubtedly their unhappiness would have been avoided. We promised the dying man that we would attend his wishes. He heard us, but his strength was exhausted; his wound welled forth afresh, and, before the surgeon could apply a restorative, his spirit had flown to its eternal rest. I will not describe the grief of the widow. Grief had worked a most beneficial effect on her, and she appeared a totally, different person to what she had before been.
The surgeon now turned the whole of his attention to little Maria. She had been wounded in the side by a splinter; but, though she was weak from the loss of blood, he assured me that he did not apprehend any danger. She was, though, suffering much from pain, which she bore most meekly.
When I first entered the cabin, I thought I had observed an object moving in the corner, but I took no notice of it. I had sat down by the little girl's side, and, having taken one of her hands in mine, I was endeavouring to soothe her for the loss of her uncle, of which she was aware, when I felt my other hand, which hung by my side, seized hold of by a cold paw. I turned round, and what should I see but little Ungka, looking up towards me with a face as expressive of grief as that of any human being! He seemed fully aware of what had occurred. He then put his hands to his head, and chattered and rolled about in a way which, in spite of his gravity, was so highly ludicrous, that at any other time I should have burst into fits of laughter. When he had come on board, no one knew; for when he first made his appearance following the captain, the seamen thought he was some little Malay imp, and had thrust him back again, so that he also had a very narrow escape for his life. I suspected that he had caught hold of the end of a rope hanging over the side of the vessel, and had clambered up it when the fight was done.
It was with great sorrow we heard that the two lady passengers, of whom I have spoken, and nearly all the Dutch crew, were missing, and there was every probability they had been destroyed in the burning wreck. The crew of the jolly-boat had been taken on board one of the other prahus; but what their fate was, no one knew. Thus out of the crew and passengers of the ill-fated Cowlitz, only six people had escaped. We, who were among the number, had therefore reason to be grateful to Heaven for the mercy shown us.
The brig cruised about in the neighbourhood for two days, in the hopes of falling in with others of the piratical squadron. She, however, did not succeed in discovering any more.
I will pass over the events of the next few days. The north-east monsoon showing signs of beginning to blow in earnest, the commander of the brig was anxious to return to port, and accordingly with much reluctance gave up the search. Little Maria was slowly recovering. The widow bore her grief meekly and resignedly, and showed that she was a thoroughly altered woman. Wounds in that burning clime are more dangerous than in colder latitudes; thus three of the wounded had died. One was a little boy, the child of a Dyak woman. He had been badly wounded in the shoulder while resting in her arms. The child sank gradually, nor could the surgeon's skill avail to arrest the progress of death. The poor mother used to watch him with supplicating looks as he dressed the wound, as if he alone had the power to save her boy: and when he died, she reproached him, with unmistakable gestures, for not preserving him to her. Savage as she was—accustomed to scenes of bloodshed and murder from her youth—the feelings of a mother were strong within her, and she would not be comforted. Captain Cloete was very anxious to land the Dyaks in their native country, and he consulted Fairburn as to the possibility of discovering it. We had, it must be remembered, been left below both on entering and leaving the river, so that we could only give a very rough guess at its position. Fairburn, however, of course, expressed his anxiety to be of service; and by consulting the chart, and considering attentively the courses we had steered, and calculating the distance we had afterwards been driven by the gale, we came to the conclusion that the poor wretches must have been taken from the Balowi river, on the north-west coast of Borneo. For the mouth of that river we accordingly shaped our course. It would have been barbarous to have landed the poor wretches at any other spot than their own country; for they would either have been made slaves of by the Malays, or killed by the other Dyaks for the sake of their heads. It is a curious fancy the Dyaks of Borneo entertain, of collecting as many dried heads as they can obtain, either to wear as trophies of their prowess, or to hang up in their head-houses.
We were treated with the greatest kindness by the captain and his officers, who seemed to vie with each other in doing us service. They all spoke some English, and most very well, so that we had no difficulty in carrying on conversation with them. When they heard my story especially, they seemed to sympathise warmly with me, and express themselves anxious to assist me by every means in their power. I, meantime, was not idle, and employed every spare moment in learning the Malay language, as also in attaining some knowledge of that of Java, as well as of others of the numerous dialects spoken in the Indian Archipelago. I felt that my success might depend on my speaking fluently the languages of the countries I should visit and consequently that I must exert myself to the utmost. To those acquainted only with their own tongue, it may appear impossible that I could gain knowledge sufficient to be of any material use; but it must be remembered that I was already accustomed to the Hindostanee, and other dialects of India, and that, therefore, with the stimulus I had, the acquisition of others was comparatively easy, considering the natural aptitude I possessed of learning foreign languages. Thus, notwithstanding my anxiety, the time flew rapidly by.
Four days after we had so providentially escaped from the Sooloo pirates, we sighted Cape Sink, on the north-west coast of Borneo, some way to the southward of which was the river whence the Dyaks had been captured. As we ran along the coast at a respectful distance, for fear of some sunken rocks and shoals which we believed to be off it, Fairburn and I were looking out, with our glasses, for the mouth, which we hoped to be able to make out. The rescued natives were on deck; and we fully expected that they would be able to recognise the approach of their native stream. We looked at them as they watched the shore with surprised and somewhat puzzled looks; but still they gave no signs to lead us to suppose that they were aware they were approaching their own country. We found, however, that their puzzled looks arose from their supposing that they were already many hundred miles away from their own country, and from their finding themselves, as they supposed, on a coast so very similar to it. As we ran along the coast, the mouth of a broad river opened before us, and, with the lead going to ascertain the depth of water we stood in towards it. On drawing near, it seemed to widen still more; and our captain being anxious to explore it, the wind also being fair, we crossed the bar, which had a considerable depth over it. The river, at the mouth, was nearly four miles wide, but it narrowed shortly to about a mile. Still the Dyaks showed no sign of satisfaction, and both Fairburn and I began to suspect that we had entered the wrong river; we continued, however, our course. As yet we had seen no signs of human beings; but just as we rounded a point, we came suddenly on a canoe, with three men fishing in her. They were so paralysed with the astonishment our appearance caused, that at first they forgot even to attempt to escape. Our boats were ready manned to lower into the water at a moment's notice; so in an instant two of them were in the water in chase of the strangers. This somewhat restored the Dyaks to their senses; and seizing their paddles, they plied them strenuously in the hope of escaping from the formidable prahu, which the brig must have appeared to them. Seeing, however, that the boats rapidly gained upon them, they ceased rowing, and two of them seizing their sumpitans, or blow-pipes, shot several poisoned arrows at the Dutchmen. Fortunately no one was hit by them; and the officer in care of them bethinking himself of displaying a white handkerchief, this universal token of peace was understood, and all hostile demonstration ceased. The Dyaks, on this, seemed to banish all their alarm, and were at once on perfectly good terms with the boats' crews. They quickly understood that they were required to pilot the brig up the river, and willingly came on board. Captain Cloete, who was well accustomed to deal with savages, explained to a fine young man, who seemed to be the chief, and the most intelligent of the party, the depth of water his vessel drew; that he must avoid all rocks and sand-banks, and that he wished to sail up about three times as far as we had already gone. The other Dyaks had hitherto been kept out of sight. They were now brought on deck; but when the fishermen saw them, instead of rushing into each other's arms, they appeared much more ready to attempt cutting off each other's heads; and the alarm of both parties was very evident, for they both fancied that there was some treachery to be practised against them. The captain, however, who at once understood their feelings, quickly managed to dispel their fears, first by producing the white handkerchief, and then by bringing both parties close to each other, and making them shake hands. It must be owned that they did not do so with much good grace, and they reminded me strongly of two dogs who have just been gnawing away at each other's throats, being brought together to make friends by their peaceably inclined masters. At last, being convinced that our intentions were good, they began to talk to each other, the fishermen asking the prisoners whence they had come, and the latter giving them an account of their adventures. The result of the conversation raised the Dutch in the estimation of our new acquaintance, who learned to appreciate their power, and wished to serve those who trusted them.
We asked the young fisherman his name; and he made us understand that it was Kalong. His eyes sparkled with animation whenever any one addressed him; and with wonderful rapidity he seemed to comprehend our signs, and was never at a loss to answer us. To show us the course of the river, he knelt down on the deck, and, taking the end of a rope, he twisted it about to show the various reaches in it; then seizing a handful of chips of wood from the carpenter's bench, he quickly formed one to indicate the brig, with two strips stuck perpendicularly into it to serve as masts. Holding this rough model in his hand, he tossed it about off one end of the rope, to show that there was the sea where we had been tossed about in the storm, and then he made it move slowly up the rope, to show how the brig had glided calmly up the river till she reached the spot where we then were. He next stuck several chips together, evidently to show that they were intended to represent a Dyak habitation, and these he placed further up the rope; and then touching himself and the other men, showed that he lived there. The rest of the rope he twisted about, and placed other houses alongside it, till he shook his head, showing that he knew nothing further of the country. We had now a very good chart before us of the river we were in, which Captain Cloete had forthwith copied on paper, to the infinite delight of the designer.
His success seemed to sharpen his wits; and taking another bit of rope which was given to him, he knelt down some way from the first, and twisted it about to form a river. He also placed some houses on it, and rushing up to the Dyaks, he touched them all severally, to show that they were to represent their habitations; and then taking several small chips in his hand, he moved them up rapidly towards the houses, several of which he knocked over. We thus understood that our Dyaks had come from a river to the north of the one we were in.
Captain Cloete, however, did not like to lose so favourable an opportunity of visiting on amicable terms these singular people, and therefore resolved to anchor off the village for the night, and to carry out charges to their native place on the following day. The wind continuing fair, though light, we slowly glided up the stream, the flood-tide aiding us. The scenery, as we advanced, improved considerably, the trees being of fine height, and mountains appearing in the distance. We had as yet observed no signs of cultivation, nor did the country appear to be inhabited. We saw, however, a great variety of animals. As I was watching the shore, I observed something move on a sand-ridge. I pointed it out to Kalong. He laughed, and opened his mouth very wide, as if he would eat me. The action was significant; and Fairburn, who had been turning his glass in that direction, exclaimed, "Why, that is a crocodile; and a big fellow, too, in truth." The monster seemed arousing himself from sleep, and slowly crawled out of the slimy bed in which he had been reposing. Several shots were fired at him, but the balls glanced off harmlessly from his scaly sides. I afterwards saw some captured by a very simple method.
The breeze freshened, and we ran rapidly on, carefully, of course, sounding all the time. Kalong, our pilot, was in great delight, till he saw one of the officers going to fire at a crocodile, when he rushed up to him, and entreated him not to do so. Willing to please him, the officer desisted, and the monster escaped a slight tickling on the back. The reason was soon apparent; for, rounding a high and thickly-wooded point, we found ourselves in a little bay, on the shore of which was a large village, while close to us, under the shade of the lofty palm-trees which overhung the water, numerous groups of women and children were disporting in the refreshing stream. When we first intruded into this sylvan retreat, their consternation was so great that they scarcely knew where to run to screen themselves from our view; then setting up a loud and simultaneous shriek, they fled, dragging the young ones with them, some towards the village, and others into the wood. At the same moment we heard the tom-tom beat to arms, and observed the warriors putting on their wooden and woollen armour, and seeking their spears and sumpitans. Kalong had now sufficiently enjoyed the fright he intended to give his countrymen, and making his appearance in the rigging, he waved a white cloth to assure them that we came as friends. As soon as he was recognised, loud shouts proclaimed the satisfaction of those on shore, and a number of canoes were seen putting off towards us.
I must now stop to describe the wild and extraordinary scene before us, with which I was afterwards doomed to become so familiar. I have spoken of a village, but I should rather have said the castle; for the habitation of the numerous tribe assembled on the shore consisted chiefly of one large building, several hundred feet long, and standing on the summit of stout piles, not less than forty feet in height. At this great distance from the ground a bamboo platform had been constructed to serve as the floor of the house, which itself was not more than six feet high. The side-walls were also of bamboo, and the roof was made from the leaves of the nibong and other palms. It rose to the height of the surrounding trees, standing as it did on a high mound of earth thrown up artificially some little way from the banks of the river. It was intended to serve as a fortification; and also, I suspect, that airy style of building must much conduce to preserve the health of the people. Several rope ladders led from the ground to this singular residence. We received the chief, and a number of the principal people and their followers, on board. They had little clothing besides the waistcloth, made of bark from a tree; and large rings in their ears, and were very far from being prepossessing in their appearance. Captain Cloete, keeping on his guard against treachery, should such be attempted, allowed them to inspect everything on board the brig. They seemed pleased with all they saw, and behaved very well, but in no way showed surprise. We found, to our no little satisfaction, that some of them understood the Malay language, and that Hassan was able to converse with them. Soon after we made the discovery, Fairburn and I were standing with Hassan, surrounded by several, of whom we were making inquiries. Among other questions, Fairburn asked if they were not surprised at seeing so large a vessel off their village.
"They say no," replied Hassan; "for not many moons ago there was another vessel off here nearly as big, only she had not so many chiefs with fine dresses, or so many people in her. But then there were women in her; and one little girl just like the one here," meaning Maria.
On this I pricked up my ears, and my heart beat quick with anxiety. I entreated Hassan to make further enquiries.
"They say that the vessel was rigged like this; she was a brig." He continued, after speaking with them for some time: "She came in here for wood and water. She was not a war ship, but the people went about armed. They were very disorderly; and some of them behaving ill to the people on shore, were very nearly cut off, and barely escaped with their lives to their boat. She then set sail, and going down the river was no more seen."
This account made me feel that it was more than probable that the brig was no other than the Emu, and that she had been run away with by her crew. Another dreadful idea instantly forced itself on my imagination. If the brig in question was the Emu, had she really sailed, or had the Dyaks, as they might have been tempted to do, cut her off? I begged Hassan to make every inquiry, and to cross-question the people to ascertain the truth of their story. I was inclined to believe it, as they had so frankly spoken about the brig; whereas, had they destroyed her, it would have been a subject they would have avoided. At all events, we observed no European arms or clothes in their possession; and Hassan assured us that he had every reason to think that they did not deceive us. In this unexpected way I discovered that the vessel I was in search of was not wrecked, and that there was every probability of my friends being alive. All other interests were now absorbed in this great one, and I never ceased making inquiries about the brig of all I met. I, notwithstanding, went on shore with a party of officers, to visit the strange residence before us. It struck me that the idea of Jack and the Bean Stalk might have originated from it. Having climbed up the ladder, we were ushered into the chief's room, which was in the centre, behind it being arranged that of the women. There was but little furniture besides mats and cushions; and the only ornaments, if they could be so called, were a number of dried human heads hanging from the ceiling. I shuddered as I looked at them at first; but I own that I soon got accustomed to them. They were the heads of the enemies of the tribe taken in war, and were prized as much as the North American Indian does the scalps of his foes. No objection was made to our visiting the apartments of the women. They were clothed in long loose garments, of native cloth, suspended from the waist, their shoulders being bare. They were small, but well shaped. Their hair, which was long and dark, was twisted up at the back of the head; the front locks being plaited and drawn off the forehead. Their skins were of a light brown colour, smooth and glossy. They wore ear-rings of some mixed metal, of a size very disproportionate to their small figures, and very far from becoming. Their countenances, if not pretty, were highly good-humoured and pleasant. The younger women were diligently employed in pounding rice in mortars of large dimensions. There were groups of children playing in the verandah, who at first were very shy of us; but as we made them little presents of beads, and other trifles, their confidence was quickly established, and wherever we went they followed, laughing heartily, and dancing round us. At length, our curiosity being satisfied, we descended from the bird-like nest, and returned on board the brig.
The information I had received, vague as it may appear, seemed to me of the greatest importance. I felt almost certain that this brig which had visited the river could be no other than the Emu; and the account of the behaviour of the crew tended to confirm my suspicions that she had been run away with by the mate, Richard Kidd, for the purpose of turning pirate on the high seas. I dreamed of it all night or rather lay awake the greater part of the time, thinking of the subject till I was almost in a fever. I pictured to myself my sweet little Eva in the power of the ruffians, probably employed as their slave, to tend them in their cabin at their meals, and forced to listen to their horrid conversation, while I trembled still more for the fate of poor Mrs Clayton, if she survived the grief, and terror, and anxiety to which she must have been exposed. I talked the subject over with Fairburn, who agreed with me that the brig was probably the Emu, while he, at the same time, did his best to relieve my anxiety respecting the fate of her passengers.
"You know, Seaworth," he observed, "even the most abandoned wretches have generally some feelings of humanity about them. No one would be bad enough to injure your little sister; and, situated as these men are, they would very probably treat Mrs Clayton with respect, that, should they be captured, they may have some plea for claiming mercy at the hands of the law."
"I trust it may be so," I replied. But I remembered that when once men begin to break the law, the restraints which prevent them from committing the worst of crimes are easily broken down.
The Dyaks were swarming out of their hive at early dawn to bid us farewell, as with the first of the ebb we weighed anchor to drop down the river. Our new friend, Kalong, returned on board to act as pilot; and in spite of his knowing no other than the Dyak tongue, we were able to trust perfectly to his guidance. Fortunately the wind had shifted, and now blew so as to favour us in our descent; and in a short time we reached the mouth of the river. Here we thought our pilot would leave us; but he intimated that he was perfectly ready to accompany us up the river, where our passengers had their homes, if we would bring him and his companions back to where we then were. To this plan Captain Cloete at once gladly acceded; for he did not suspect that Kalong's chief object was to spy out the condition of the people whose habitations we might pass, that, should his tribe wish to get a few heads, he might be the better able to lead them to the attack. Such, however, Hassan told us he had no doubt was his intention.
"Those not good people," he said, looking very grave. "Too fond of taking heads; always taking heads. Kalong not bad; but still he like heads now and then."
The truth is, that a great number of the Dyaks are as much addicted to piracy as the Malays, and are in some respects even more cruel.
The satisfaction of our unfortunate passengers was very great, and their gratitude knew no bounds, when they discovered that they were to be conveyed back to their native place. The river had a bar across it; but as the brig drew but little water, she was able to get over without difficulty, and, the sea breeze setting in, we ran up the stream. Our great risk was that of getting on a shoal; but, thanks to Kalong's pilotage, we avoided all dangers in our way, and at last dropped anchor opposite a spot where a village had once stood. Fairburn and I recognised it as the one attacked by the Sooloo pirates. Tears started to the eyes of the poor people as they witnessed the desolation which had been wrought among their late habitations. Where, a few days before, they and their families had dwelt in peace and contentment, all was now silent and deserted. Not a human being was seen; their houses were charred heaps, and their paddy fields and sago plantations lay trampled under foot. We could pity them, but we could do but little else. We were compelled to land them, as we could not take them with us, and time was too precious to enable us to stay to assist them. Our kind captain did his utmost to make amends to them for their losses, by supplying them with food and clothing, and tools, which they use very dexterously, to rebuild their habitations. He pointed out to them, that, for greater security, it would be wiser in them if they erected it farther inland, out of the reach of the attacks of the sea-pirates. The boats were then lowered, and they were carried on shore. At first their grief at seeing the state of their homes overpowered every other feeling; but soon recollecting that they had escaped from slavery, they did their best to express their gratitude to those who had rescued them, and forthwith began to make preparations for erecting a shelter for themselves, till they could build a house like the one destroyed.
A number of the Dutch officers and men, and Fairburn and I, were on the shore, shaking hands with all round, preparatory to quitting them finally, when we observed a Dyak stealthily approaching from among the trees which closely surrounded us. He looked cautiously on every side— his sumpitan, with a poisoned arrow ready to discharge, was in one hand, while a spear and shield, prepared for defence or attack, was in the other—he then advanced a few steps farther and halted. Rings were in his ears and round his legs; a cloth bound his waist; and a sort of jacket without arms covered his body, serving the purpose of armour against the darts of his enemies. He was followed closely by others, dressed in the same manner. One by one they came out of the wood, till upwards of fifty warriors stood before us prepared for battle. We scarcely knew at first whether they came as friends or foes, but when the Dyaks we had landed saw them, they rushed towards them with loud shouts, throwing themselves into each other's arms. Never was there before such shaking of hands, or so much said in so short a time. It was also highly favourable to the Dutch; for the warriors, throwing aside their arms, came forward in a body, and by signs tried to express their gratitude to the preservers of their friends.
I was inclined to form a very favourable opinion of the amiable qualities of these people, from what I then saw of them. We found that the newcomers were the remnant of the tribe who had escaped from the attack of the Sooloo pirates; and that the women and children belonging to them were concealed some distance in the interior. We again weighed; and Kalong being equally successful in his pilotage, though we had to make several tacks, we got clear out from the mouth of the river.
There are a number of fine rivers on the north-west coast of Borneo, their banks being inhabited by Malays, with tribes of Dyaks held in a state of vassalage, as well as by independent Dyaks, the greater number of whom, at this time, were addicted to piracy at sea, as well as to plunder and rapine on shore; indeed, the whole coast presented one scene of constant warfare. Nearly every tribe possessed war prahus, in which they would sally forth to attack any trader from China, Celebes, or any of the neighbouring islands, which might unfortunately get becalmed near their coasts.
We now stood back to land Kalong and his crew, according to the promise made to him. As we neared the mouth of the river, he was seen walking the deck in a state of great agitation; and when the brig was hove-to, and his canoe was lowered into the water, it considerably increased. At last its cause was explained. Taking his companions by the shoulders, he shook their hands warmly, speaking with them earnestly at the same time, while he made them get into the canoe. He then walked up to the captain, and by signs, which were not to be mistaken, signified his wish to remain on board, for the purpose of seeing more of the world. Captain Cloete was at first unwilling to accede to it; but Fairburn and I, thinking that he might be useful on board the vessel I proposed to purchase, interfered in his favour, and requested that he might be allowed to accompany us. His was an extraordinary case, for the Dyaks are, in general, not at all addicted to quitting their country. He seemed fully to understand at whose request his wish had been granted; and in consequence, at once attached himself to me and Fairburn.
We now stood away to the westward, sighting Cape Ape, the north-western point of Borneo, and then steered south for Java, through the Billiton passage. We were bound for Sourabaya, a large Dutch town towards the east end of Java, opposite the island of Madura. I should have very much liked to have touched at Singapore, as it was important for me to arrange my money matters. Without ready cash I could not hope to do anything. I had, however, fortunately secured a considerable amount of gold and some bills about my person, when I escaped from the wreck; and the pirates had not searched me. Fairburn had in his pockets all his worldly wealth, which he insisted should be at my service; and Captain Cloete kindly assured me, that he would be answerable for any sum I might require till my remittances could arrive, so that I might not be delayed in fitting out my vessel. I was never tired of discussing with Fairburn our plans for the future, as also every possible fate which could have befallen the Emu.
A strong breeze carried us quickly along; and one morning, when I came on deck, I found that we were standing through the Straits of Madura, the shore of that island exhibiting a belt of the richest tropical vegetation, white cliffs and lofty rocks appearing here and there above it, while the Java coast seemed very low, and bordered by extensive mangrove swamps. As we approached the anchorage, we saw rows of fishing-stakes projecting half way across the straits, and many boats and prahus, and a considerable number of square-rigged vessels, some of them being Dutch men-of-war. Over the mangrove bushes appeared in the distance a tower or two, a few flag-staffs, and here and there the roofs of some of the most lofty houses. The brig had come to the port to which she belonged, where she had been fitted out; and soon after she dropped her anchor, she was surrounded by the anxious friends of the officers and crew, eager to ascertain that all were well.
I have not spoken for some time past of the widow Van Deck and little Maria. The latter had, from the attention bestowed on her by the kind surgeon of the brig, completely recovered from her hurts, though her nervous system had received a shock which it would, I saw, take long to get over. The widow was well, and continued to prove the same reformed person she had at first given promise of being, showing the use of adversity in improving the character of some people. She devoted herself to her niece, and never seemed tired of watching over her, and indulging her in all the little whims to which, during her illness, she gave way.
Just before the brig came to an anchor, she called me to her, and said, "I hope, Mr Seaworth, you and Mr Fairburn will be able to fulfil my poor husband's request, and see me and Maria safe with my relations. I have no claim on Captain Cloete and his officers, and, as you know, I have no money; but I am very certain my friends will repay you all you expend on my account, and will do their best to show their gratitude to you besides. They were angry with me for marrying Captain Van Deck; but my misfortunes will have softened their hearts, and now he is gone they will forgive me."
I replied, that I would certainly do all she wished; at the same time showing her the very great importance it was to me to incur no longer delay than could be helped in getting the vessel I proposed purchasing ready for sea, and in prosecuting my enquiries about the Emu.
"My first object in life is to recover my sister," I observed. "I can undertake nothing which in any way interferes with that, but in every other respect my time and my purse are at your service; nor will I fail to fulfil my promise to your late husband." This answer contented her, for she saw its justice.
A number of flat-bottomed boats came alongside to convey us on shore. They have a broad seat and an awning for passengers, and are propelled by two men with paddles in the bows, and steered by another in the stern. Fairburn and I engaged one of these to convey the widow and Maria on shore. Captain Cloete very kindly pressed me to take up my residence at the house of a relative of his in the town; but, thanking him warmly, I answered that I would prefer being at the hotel, which I understood existed there, with Fairburn, that we might have perfect freedom of movement; at the same time, I assured him that I should be most grateful to him for all the introductions he could give me to his friends.
We pulled to the mouth of a canal, up which we were tracked by two boys, with a rope made fast to the mast-head, between two piers for a mile and a quarter; and then landing at a dock where some Chinese junks, and a number of country boats, laden with rice and other commodities, and several schooners were lying, we proceeded up a narrow street to the hotel, which we found kept much after the fashion of the smaller ones I have since met with in France. There was a table d'hote, at which a number of people residing in the house and elsewhere, dined. The widow said she would wish to avoid the noise and bustle of so public a place; so we procured lodgings for her near at hand. My first care was to make arrangements to get supplied with money. I inquired who were the principal English merchants in the place; and resolved at once to go frankly to the first I could meet with, to state my case, and to ask his assistance. While I went about this business, I begged Fairburn to go and make inquiries as to our chance of finding a vessel to suit our purpose.
"We must do away with all ceremony, Fairburn," I observed. "I have from this day engaged you regularly in my service; and I am sure you will enter it with zeal. Therefore, remember all you do is at my expense, and I expect you to counsel me whenever you think fit. I do not forget that I am but a boy, and have seen but little of the world; and I feel very certain that I shall always follow your advice."
These remarks gratified Fairburn very much. He saw that I was likely to act sensibly, and that I confided in him thoroughly. It is difficult to speak of myself, and not to appear to my readers boastful and egotistical. At the same time, I must remark, that had I not been guided by great judgment, procuring information from everybody I met, and weighing it well before acting on it, I should very soon have brought my career to an end.
I took with me from the hotel a young Javanese lad as guide to the counting-house of an English gentleman, whom I will call Mr Scott, and who, I heard, was one of the principal merchants of the place. He conducted me to a large wooden bridge thrown across the river, leading to the Chinese quarter; and just above the bridge, shaded by a row of fine tamarind trees, were a number of large houses and stores, among which was the one I was in search of.
With some little hesitation I went into the office, and requested to see Mr Scott. A young Englishman, or rather a Scotchman, instantly got down from his stool, and, giving me a chair, requested me to be seated, while he went to inform his principal. I had not a minute to wait before he returned, and begged me to walk into Mr Scott's private room. The merchant rose when I entered, and his eye rapidly running over me as if he would read my character at a glance, he put out his hand and led me to a seat.
"You landed, I think, this morning, from a brig-of-war commanded by Captain Cloete," he began. "I have the pleasure, I conclude, of welcoming you for the first time to Java."
I could not help, while he was speaking, contrasting his behaviour with that of Mr Reuben Noakes, the merchant whom I met at Macao.
"Yes, sir," I replied. "I have never been in this part of the world before; nor have I any friends to whom I am privileged to apply for the assistance I require. The truth is, I am almost without funds: nor can I get any for some time, and therefore I procured a list of the British merchants of Sourabaya, and pitched upon you as the first to whom I should make an application for aid."
He said nothing to this; and I went on and gave him a short account of my history, of the adventures which had occurred to me, and of the search in which I was engaged. When I had finished, he laughed heartily, but with no little satisfaction at my having selected him to make my first attack on.
"I hope that I shall not disappoint you, Mr Seaworth, in the good opinion you have formed of me," he replied. "I acknowledge, with the same frankness with which you have spoken to me, that I believe every word you have said, and I will do all I can to assist you. I assure you I already feel much interested in your cause."
This kind answer at once set me at my ease; for I felt that I had a friend raised up to help me at a time I most required assistance. Without it, I might have been delayed many months, till I could get a remittance from Singapore. He, at the same time, at once put me in the way of having the money I might require forwarded to me in the shape of bills of exchange. Our business being concluded, he invited me to accompany him to his country house, for which he was on the point of setting out. I excused myself for that day, as I was anxious to hear what success Fairburn had had in his inquiries, and also to arrange how I could best fulfil my promise with the widow Van Deck.
When I got back to the hotel, I awaited some time for Fairburn. At last he came.
"What news?" I exclaimed. "Have you found a vessel to suit me?"
"I have seen a small schooner," he replied. "She looks like a fine sea boat, and I am told is thoroughly sound; but her rigging and fittings are on shore, and it will take some time to get her ready for sea."
"I wish we could have got a craft all ready for sea," I observed. But if you find this one you speak of likely to answer our purpose, I will buy her at once; and I will leave you, Fairburn, to hurry on the workmen about her, so that we may not lose a moment more than is necessary:
The next morning Fairburn again went out to make further inquiries about the schooner; and his report was so favourable, that I resolved to apply at once to Mr Scott to enable me to purchase her. He told me that the people with whom I should have to deal would treat me honestly; and, taking my acceptance, he generously advanced me money to pay for her. I thus, in an unexpectedly short space of time, became the owner of a vessel exactly suited to my purpose.
I must not forget Hassan and Kalong, or a personage of no little importance in his own estimation, our friend Ungka, for the board and lodging of whom I made arrangements till the schooner was ready to receive them; as the two first had volunteered to accompany me, and as the last had said nothing, we took his silence for his consent. Though Captain Cloete might have claimed him, he had kindly looked upon him as belonging still to the widow Van Deck and little Maria, and they had made him over to me.
I accompanied Fairburn to look at the schooner. She was lying in a basin near the dockyard; and, at first sight, from her want of paint, and her dismantled state, I was much disappointed in her, and could not help showing that I was so to my friend.
"She is better than she looks," he replied. "Wait a week or so, and you will think very differently of her. Many a gay-looking bark may have rotten timbers. Now I have narrowly examined hers, with an honest ship's carpenter, and I find them all thoroughly sound."
I felt the truth of his remarks, and was satisfied. She measured about a hundred and fifty tons, and gave promise of being both a good sea boat, and a fast sailer. I shall have to speak by and by of her armament and interior arrangements. She was built by the Spanish in Manilla; but being bought by some Americans, was employed as an opium smuggler, and captured by the Dutch. She was sold by the Government to some merchants who failed, and from whose creditors I bought her, not two years after she was launched. She was thus as strong as if new, and proved not unworthy of the good opinion formed of her by Fairburn.