"Come, O'Grady, you used to be one of the best singers in the berth till the Frenchman's shot knocked you over; try what you can do now!" he exclaimed, so that all might hear. "Never mind the tune, only let it be something comic, for a change," he added in a whisper; "you and I must not let the rest know what we feel."
"I'll do my best, though, faith, it's heavy work to sing with an empty stomach," answered O'Grady. "However, here goes:—
"'Twas on November, the second day, The Admiral he bore away, Intending for his native shore; The wind at south-south-west did roar, There likewise was a terrible sky, Which made the sea to run mountains high.
"The tide of ebb not being done, But quickly to the west did run, Which put us all in dreadful fear, Because there was not room to wear; The wind and weather increased sore. Which drove ten sail of us ashore.
"Ashore went the Northumberland, The Harwich and the Cumberland, The Cloister and the Lion, too; But the Elizabeth, she had most to rue, She ran stem on and her Lion broke, And sunk the Cambridge at one stroke.
"But the worst is what I have to tell, The greatest ships had the greatest fall; The brave 'Crounation' and all her men, Was lost and drownded every one, Except a little midshipman and eighteen more Who in the long-boat comed ashore.
"And thus they lost their precious lives, But the greatest loss was unto their wives, Who, with their children, left ashore, Their husbands' watery death deplore; And weep their fate with many of tears, But grief endureth not for years.
"Now you who've a mind to go to sea, Pray take a useful hint from me; Oh! stay at home and be content With what kind Providence has sent; For these were punish'd unto their deeds, For grumbling when they had no needs.
"Now may Heaven bless our worthy King, Likewise his ministers we sing, And may they ever steer a course, To make things better 'stead of worse; And England's flag triumphant fly, The dread of every enemy."
O'Grady's song, though often heard before, was received with no less applause in consequence. Other songs followed, but the effort was greater than many of the seamen could make. Several attempted to tell stories or their own adventures, but the former had no ending, and they very soon lost the thread of their adventures. Then they wandered strangely; some stopped altogether; others laughed and cried alternately. Even Devereux could with difficulty keep command of his own senses. Food and a few drops of precious water were distributed among the sufferers; without it, few could have survived another night. That night came, however, and that night passed, though some on the raft had passed away from life when another sun arose.
Paul more than once asked himself, "Why did I come to sea?"
Reuben overheard him. "To my mind, Paul, when a person has done what he believes is for the best and because he thinks it is right, he has no cause to grumble or to be unhappy," he observed in his quiet way. "Don't you fear, all will turn out right at last."
Paul felt weaker than he had ever done before, and his eye was dim and his voice sounded hollow, and yet his thoughts flowed as freely as ever. He was fully aware that death might be approaching, yet he had no fear of death. He thought of home and of his mother and sisters, and he prayed for them, and that they might not grieve very much at his loss. He was but a poor young ship-boy, but he knew that his mother would mourn for him as much as would the mother of Devereux, or any other high-born midshipman on board.
The sun rose higher and higher in the sky: its rays struck down as hotly as on the day before. "Water! water! water!" was the cry from all on the raft; still discipline prevailed, though only a young midshipman was the chief, and not a man attempted to take more than his share. At about noon Paul was feeling that he could not endure many more hours of such thirst, when he saw Reuben's eyes directed to the north-east.
"Yes! yes! it is! it is!" exclaimed Reuben at length.
"What! a ship?" asked Paul, almost breathless with eagerness.
"No, but a breeze," cried his friend. "It may carry us to land; it may send us rain! it may bring up a ship to our rescue."
All eyes were now turned in the direction from which the breeze was supposed to be coming. At the edge of the hitherto unvarying expanse of molten silver, a dark blue line was seen; broader and broader it grew. With such strength as they possessed the seamen hoisted their sail. It bulged out and again flattened against the mast; now again it filled, and the raft began to glide slowly over the ocean. A faint cheer burst from the throats of the hitherto despairing crew; yet how many long leagues must be passed over before that raft could reach the land! How many of those now living on it would set foot on that land? Too probably not one—not one. Day after day the raft glided on, but each day death claimed a victim. Still, Devereux and O'Grady and Alphonse kept up their spirits in a way which appealed wonderful to Paul, till he found that he was himself equally resolved to bear up to the last. There was still some food; still a few drops of water. Rain might come; the wind was increasing; clouds were gathering in the sky; the sea was getting up, and the raft, though still progressing, was tossed about in a way which made those on it feel the risk they ran of being thrown or washed off it. They secured themselves with lashings. Again the water was served out. A mouthful was given to Paul.
"Poor boy! let him have it," he heard Devereux say; "it is the last drop."
Now more than ever was rain prayed for. Without rain, should no succour come, in a few days the sufferings of all the party would be over. Faster and faster the raft drove on. It was well constructed, or it would not have held together. Still they dared not lessen their sail. Land might be reached at last if they would persevere. Now they rose to the summit of a foaming sea, now they sank into the deep trough. It seemed every instant that the next must see the destruction of the raft, yet, like hope in a young bosom, it still floated buoyantly over the raging billows. Now dark clouds were gathering. Eagerly they were watched by the seamen with upturned eyes. A few drops fell. They were welcomed with a cry of joy. More came, and then the rain fell in torrents. Their parched throats were moistened, but unless they could spread their sail to collect the precious fluid, they could save but little for the future. Still, life is sweet, and they might obtain enough to preserve their lives for another day. As they dared not lower their sail, they stretched out their jackets and shirts, and wrung them as they were saturated with fresh water into the only cask they had saved. Before it was a quarter full the rain ceased. They watched with jealous eyes the clouds driving away below the horizon, while the sun shone forth as brightly as before on their unguarded heads. Still the raft tumbled furiously about, and with the utmost difficulty the seamen retained their hold of it. Night returned; it was a night of horror. Their provisions were exhausted. When the morning at length broke, two who had been among the strongest were missing. They must have let go their hold while sleeping and been washed away.
"It may be our lot soon," observed Paul, whose strength was failing.
"The same hand which has hitherto preserved us few still alive on this raft is strong to preserve us to the end," said James Croxton, an old seaman, who, even on ordinary occasions said but little, and had only spoken since the ship went down to utter a few words of encouragement to his companions. He was known on board the frigate as Jim the Methodist, but was respected by the greater number of his shipmates. "Never fear, mates, help will come if we pray for it, though we don't see the Hand which sends it. Let us pray."
Jim's words and example had a great effect. It was followed by all, and the united prayers of the seamen, acknowledging their own utter helplessness, ascended together on high. One and all seemed to gain a strength they had not before felt. The raft continued to be tossed about as before, and the hot wind blew, and the sun shone on their unsheltered heads. The sun rose higher and higher and then descended, watched anxiously by the seamen till it dipped below the horizon. Could any of them expect to see another sun arise? They seldom spoke to each other during the night. The voice of Jim Croxton was now most frequently heard, exhorting his companions to repentance, and to put their faith in the loving and merciful One. When the morning broke they were all alive, and the voice of Reuben, who had dragged himself upright by the mast, was heard crying, "A sail! a sail! standing towards us!"
The information was received in various ways by the people on the raft; some laughed, others wept, a few prayed, and others groaned, declaring that they should not be seen, and that the ship would pass them by. Old Croxton, however, who had simply poured forth his heart in a few words of thanksgiving, kept his eyes steadily on the approaching ship.
"She is nearing us! she is nearing us!" he uttered slowly every now and then.
Paul gasped his breath, and felt as if he should faint away altogether, as he saw that the ship was a British man-of-war, and that the raft was evidently perceived by those on board. She drew nearer and nearer, and, heaving to, lowered two boats, which rapidly approached the raft. In that tumbling sea there was no small difficulty in getting close enough to the raft to take off the people. Paul, as the youngest, was the first to be transferred by his companions to the nearest boat. Even at that moment he was struck by the expression of the countenances of most of the crew. No one smiled; no one seemed pleased at the work of mercy they were performing.
"You think, youngster, that you'll be changing for the better, getting off your raft aboard that frigate there?" growled out one of the men, as Paul was passed along forward. "You've got out of the frying-pan into the fire, let me tell you. It's a perfect hell afloat, and to my mind the captain's the—"
"Silence there, forward!" shouted the officer in command of the boat. "Back in again."
One by one the people were taken off the raft. Devereux insisted on remaining to the last, and he was taken off in the second boat. No sooner had he been placed in her than several of her crew leaped on to the raft.
"Better run the chance of a watery grave than live aboard there," shouted one of the men, attempting to hoist the sail which had been lowered. "Hurrah, lads! for the coast of America and freedom!"
"Back into the boat: back, you mutinous scoundrels!" shouted the officer in command. "What foolery are you about? If you were to go, and small loss you would be, you would all of you be dead before a week was over. Back, I say."
In vain the men tried to hoist the sail. The mast gave way, throwing one of them into the sea. He made an attempt to save himself, but sank in sight of his shipmates. The boat was soon again dropped alongside the raft, and the men with sulky indifference returned on board. Very little was said by anybody as the boats pulled back to the frigate. The officers, indeed, saw that those they had taken off the raft were in no condition to answer questions. Devereux and his companions were lifted up on deck, and from thence at once transferred to the sick bay below under the doctor's care. Paul, after a sound sleep, recovered his senses, and very soon perceived, that although there was strict discipline maintained on board, each person went about his duty in a dull, mechanical way. Reuben was, however, on foot before Paul. He came to the side of the hammock in which the latter still lay unable to move.
"I am thankful, Reuben, that we are safe off that dreadful raft," said Paul.
"No reason to call it dreadful, boy. It was our ark of safety, as Jim Croxton says, rightly, and we should be grateful that we were allowed to be saved by it. There's many here, as you saw, would rather be on that raft than aboard this fine frigate," answered Reuben.
"Why? what is the matter with the ship?" asked Paul.
"Why, just this," answered his friend; "the captain is a tyrant; many of the officers imitate him, and altogether the men's lives are miserable. The ship is a complete hell afloat."
Several days passed by; the frigate was steering for the West Indies, which were sighted soon after Paul had managed to creep on deck. He saw the men casting wistful glances at the land.
"If once I set my foot ashore, it will take a dozen red coats to carry me aboard again!" exclaimed a seaman near him.
"Ay, Bill, it's a dog's life we lead; but there's a way to free ourselves if we were men enough to use it," said another.
"It's not the first time that has been thought of," observed a third. "But hush, mates, that boy may hear; he looks like a sharp one."
The men were silent till Paul walked farther aft, where he saw them still earnestly engaged in talking together. He considered what he ought to do. Should he tell Devereux what he had heard? Perhaps, after all, it meant nothing. He could trust Reuben; that is to say, Reuben would not betray him; but he might take part with the men. He would consult Croxton. He found old Jim after some time, but had no opportunity of speaking to him alone. There was an ominous scowl on the countenances of all the men, which confirmed his suspicions that something was wrong. Below they gathered together more in knots than usual, speaking in subdued voices. Whenever an officer approached, they were silent, and generally dispersed with an appearance of indifference. Thus two or three more days passed, and Paul felt as well able as ever to do his duty. It was the forenoon watch; the men were summoned to divisions. It was perfectly calm; no land was in sight; the sun struck down fiercely on their heads.
"There's work in hand for us to-day," exclaimed a topman, as he sprang on deck.
In a little time the order to furl sails was given. The men flew aloft.
"Reef topsails," cried the first-lieutenant.
The men appeared to do the work slowly. Oaths and curses were hurled at them by the officers on duty. Paul took the opportunity of going down to see Devereux, who, with O'Grady and Alphonse, was still too weak to go on deck. He told him that he was afraid something was wrong. Devereux answered—
"I fear that the men are dissatisfied, but they dare do nothing. I pity them, though, poor fellows."
The words were overheard by some of the idlers, as they are called below. While Paul was speaking to Devereux, Croxton came in. He also heard what had been said.
"Man is born to suffer," he remarked. "He must submit, and leave the righting in the hands of Providence. He cannot right himself."
His remarks were scarcely understood by those who heard him, even by Devereux, who, however, remembered them. After a time, Paul returned on deck. The captain was still exercising the men at furling sails. With watch in hand he stood on the quarter-deck, his rage increasing as he found that they could not or would not accomplish the work in the time he desired. At length he shouted in a voice which made the blood run cold in Paul's veins—
"The last men in off the yards shall get four dozen for their pains. Remember that, ye scoundrels! Away aloft!"
Again the men ascended the rigging. The sails were furled. Two active young topmen on the mizen-yard made an attempt to spring over the backs of the rest. They missed their hold. With a fearful crash they fell together on the deck.
"Throw the lubbers overboard!" exclaimed the captain, kicking contemptuously their mangled remains.
These words were the signal of his own destruction. The men, regardless of his threats, sprang below.
"Vengeance! vengeance!" was the cry.
The first-lieutenant who ventured among them was cut down, and while yet breathing, hove overboard. Others who appeared met with the same fate. The mutineers then rushed to the captain's cabin. He stood fiercely at bay, but in vain. Bleeding from countless wounds, he was forced through the stern port. His last words were, "Vengeance! vengeance! vengeance!" Fearfully it was paid.
The deed of blood was not yet completed, although we would fain avoid entering more minutely than is necessary into the horrible details of the massacre which followed the death of the captain. It is a proof of the evil passions which dwell within the bosoms of men, and shows how those passions may be worked up by tyranny and injustice to make men commit deeds at which, in their calmer moments, their minds would revolt. Many of the victims struggled manfully for their lives. Among the officers was a young midshipman. He was fighting bravely by the side of one of the lieutenants, who was at length cut down.
"Will you swear not to utter a word of what you have seen done to-day?" exclaimed Nol Hargraves, a quartermaster, who was one of the leaders of the mutineers, if any could be called leaders, where all seemed suddenly inspired by the same mad revengeful spirit. The brave boy, as he stood leaning on his sword, looked undaunted at Hargraves and at those standing round him.
"Swear—no!" he exclaimed. "If I live to see you brought to justice, as you will be some day, I will say that you were cowardly murderers of your officers; that you killed sleeping men; that you threw others, still alive, overboard, and that you murdered the surgeons who had cured the wounded, and tended the sick like brothers. I'll say that you butchered one of my helpless messmates—a poor boy younger than myself; I'll—!"
"Overboard with him—overboard!" exclaimed Hargraves, who had just cut down the lieutenant, and seemed like a tiger, which having once tasted blood, thirsts for more.
The midshipman, already fatigued and wounded, raised his weapon to defend himself. Hargraves rushed at the boy, who in an instant afterwards lay writhing at his feet.
"Heave the carcase overboard. It is the way some of us have been treated, you know that, mates," he exclaimed, throwing the yet palpitating form of the boy into the sea, when it was eagerly seized on by the ravenous sharks, waiting for their prey supplied by the savage cruelty of man. Many even of the mutineers cried, "Shame! shame!" Hargraves turned fiercely round on them—
"Ye none of you cried shame when the captain did the same—cowards! why did ye not do it then? Were the lives of our brave fellows of less value than the life of that young cub?"
The men were silenced, but the eyes of many were opened, and they began from that moment bitterly to repent the cruel deed of which they had been guilty. Oh! if they could have recalled the dead, how gladly would they have done so,—their officers, who, if they had sometimes acted harshly, were brave men and countrymen; even the captain, tyrant as he was, they wished that they could see once more on his quarter-deck, with the dreadful scene which had been enacted wiped away; but the deed had been done—no power could obliterate it. They had been participators in the bloody work. It stood recorded against them in the imperishable books of Heaven. Blood had been spilt, and blood was to cry out against them and to demand a dreadful retribution.
The mutinous crew stood gazing stupidly at each other; the helm had been deserted, the wind had fallen, the sails were flapping lazily against the masts, and the ship's head was going slowly round and round towards the different points of the compass. Hargraves and others felt that something must be done; there was no safety for them while their frigate floated on the broad ocean. What if they should fall in with another British man-of-war? What account could they give of themselves? Some were for scuttling her and saying that she had foundered, while they had escaped in the boats, but the boats would not hold them all, and could they trust each other? What likelihood that all would adhere to the same tale? Was it probable that all the crew should have escaped, and not an officer with them? The boats might separate, to be sure, but to what lands could they direct their different courses? On what shore, inhabited by countrymen, dared they place their feet without fear of detection? Discussions loud and long took place. It was agreed that the ship should be carried to a Spanish port; sold, if the sale could be effected, and with the proceeds and with such valuables as the murdered officers possessed, they would separate in various directions, and by changing their names, avoid all chance of discovery.
But while these dreadful events were occurring, what had become of those who had been so lately rescued from a terrible fate on the raft? Had they suffered one still more terrible by the hands of their own countrymen? Paul Gerrard was asleep in his hammock when he heard a voice calling him. It was that of old James Croxton.
"Turn out, Paul," he said, "there is some fearful work going forward on deck, and I know not who may be the sufferers. We may save some of them, though."
Paul was on his feet and dressed in an instant.
"What is to be done?" he asked.
"Mr Devereux is in danger; we might save him," said the old man. "The people are gone mad. Come along."
Paul followed Croxton to the sick bay. Devereux had heard the disturbance, and from the expressions uttered by the men as they passed, feared that an attack was being made on the officers of the ship. He was endeavouring to get up for the purpose of joining the officers, and sharing their fate, whatever that might be. O'Grady was still asleep. Croxton guessed what Devereux was about to do.
"It's of no use, sir—they'll only murder you with the rest," he whispered: "you must keep out of their way till they're cool. Rouse up Mr O'Grady, Paul, and come along."
Saying this, the old man, with a strength scarcely to be expected, lifted up Devereux, and carried, rather than led him, down to the hold. Paul, meantime, had awakened O'Grady, who, though not comprehending what had occurred, followed him mechanically. The two midshipmen found themselves stowed away in total darkness among chests and casks containing stores of various sorts.
"The crew have mutinied, there's no doubt about that," answered old Jim to an inquiry made by Devereux; "but we will go and face them, they will not harm either the boy or me. Don't you speak, though, or make the slightest sound; they'll think that you are hove overboard with the rest."
These words confirmed the midshipmen's worst apprehensions. They had no time to ask questions, before the old man, taking Paul by the hand, hurried away. Paul and his companion reached the deck unobserved. The mutineers were all too eager in the desperate work in which they had engaged to remark them. At that moment Paul saw his friends Reuben Cole and the young Frenchman, Alphonse, with some of the inferior and petty officers, dragged forward by the mutineers. Hargraves was the chief speaker.
"What is to be done with these?" he asked, turning round to his companions in crime.
"Serve them like the rest," shouted some.
"Dead men tell no tales," muttered others.
"We've had enough of that sort of work," cried the greater number. "No more bloodshed! Let them swear to hold their tongues and do as we bid them."
"You hear what is proposed," said Hargraves, gruffly. "Will you fellows take your lives on these terms?"
"Not I, for one, ye murderous villains," exclaimed Reuben Cole, doubling his fists and confronting the mutineers. "I'll take nothing at your hands, but I'm very certain that there are plenty of men aboard here who'll not stand idly by and see me butchered on that account. As to peaching on you, I'm not going to do that, but you'll not get another word out of me about the matter."
Had Hargraves had his way, it would have fared ill with honest Reuben; but the latter had not wrongly estimated the support he was likely to receive from his new shipmates, whose goodwill he knew that he had gained.
"Reuben Cole is not the man to peach, even if he has the chance," shouted several of them.
"No fear; he'll prove true to us, and so will the little Mounseer there; won't you?" asked one, turning to Alphonse. "We couldn't afford to lose you and your fiddle, especially just now, when we shall want something to keep up our spirits."
Alphonse, not comprehending what was said, made no reply. His silence was construed into contumacy, and some of Hargraves' adherents laid hands on him, and appeared as if they were about to throw him overboard, when Paul shouted out to him in French what was said. Alphonse very naturally had no scruples to overcome. He could only look on the fate of the captain as a just retribution on his tyranny.
"Oh, yes, yes! I play the fiddle," he exclaimed; "I go get it—I play for you all."
Not waiting for an answer, he ran towards the nearest hatchway, and passing near Paul, inquired for Devereux and O'Grady.
"Safe," whispered Paul, and the young Frenchman dived below.
He speedily returned with his faithful violin, and without waiting to be asked, began to play. The hearts of all his hearers were too heavy to allow them to be influenced as under other circumstances they would have been by the music, but it served in a degree to calm their fierce passions, and to turn them from their evil intentions. Of the principal officers of the ship the master alone had hitherto escaped destruction. He was no coward. He had seen with horror the murder of his messmates and captain, but life was sweet, and when offered to him, even on terms degrading, undoubtedly—that he would navigate the ship into an enemy's port—he accepted them. The few warrant and petty officers who had escaped being killed, at once declared their intention of acting as the master had done.
"It's fortunate for you, mates, that you don't belong to the brood who grow into captains," exclaimed Hargraves, fiercely. "I, for one, would never have consented to let you live if you had."
Paul trembled for the fate of his friends when he heard these expressions, for Hargraves looked like a man who would put any threats he might utter into execution. Order was somewhat restored, officers were appointed to keep watch, and the ship was put on the course for the port to which it was proposed she should be carried. The crew had once been accustomed to keep a sharp look-out for an enemy; they now kept a still more anxious watch to avoid any British cruiser which might approach them. Day and night they were haunted with the dread of meeting their countrymen. Paul overheard some of the ringleaders consulting together.
"There are only two things to be done; if we can't run from them, to fight it out to the last, or to kill all those who won't swear to be staunch, and to declare that they died of fever," said one of them in a low, determined voice.
"Ay, that's the only thing for it," growled out another; "I'm not going to swing for nothing, I've made up my mind."
"Swing! who talks of swinging? None of that, Tom," exclaimed a third, in uneasy tones.
"It's what one and all of us will do, mates, if we don't look out what we're about," said Hargraves, who was waiting for an opportunity of pressing his plans on his companions. "We have let too many of them live as it is, and it's my opinion there's no safety for any of us as long as one of them breathes. I've heard tell what the old pirates used to do to make men faithful. They didn't trust to oaths—not they—but they made those who said they were ready to join them shoot their shipmates who refused. That's what we must do, mates; it's the only secure way, you may depend on't."
Paul was convinced that the men spoke in earnest, and afraid of being discovered should he remain, he crept stealthily away. He searched about till he found Croxton and Reuben, and told them at once what he had heard and feared.
"There's little doubt but that you are right, Paul," said old Croxton, after meditating for some time. "We thought that we were fortunate in getting on board this ship, and now, to my mind, we shall be fortunate to get out of her. I'm afraid for poor Mr Devereux and Mr O'Grady. It will go hard with them if they're discovered."
"I have it," said Reuben, after thinking for some time—speaking in a low voice—"We must leave this cursed ship and carry off the two young gentlemen. I'd sooner be on the raft out in the Atlantic, than aboard of her."
"Ay, lads, 'Better is a dry crust with contentment,'" remarked old Jim. "But how to leave the ship, so as to escape without being followed— there's the difficulty."
"'Where there's a will there's a way,'" said Reuben. "If it must be done, it can be done."
"Right, lad," said Croxton; "it must be done, for we deserve the fate of villains if we consort with them longer than we can help; though I'll not say that all on board this unhappy ship are equally bad. There are many who would be glad to escape from her if they had but the chance."
"It must be done," repeated Reuben. "We may make off with a boat some dark night. The young Frenchman and our own fellows will be sure to join, and I think that there's three or four others—maybe more—who'll be glad to get away at any risk."
"We must run the risk, and it isn't a small one," said Croxton. "If they were to catch us, they'd kill us. There's no doubt about that."
The whole plan was soon settled—who were to be got to join—the boat to be taken—the way she was to be lowered. Devereux and O'Grady were to be told of it when all was ready, and were to be brought up on deck as soon as it was dark, and stowed away in the boat herself till the moment of escape had arrived. Paul was usually employed to carry food to the midshipmen. Sometimes, however, Croxton went, sometimes Reuben, to lessen the risk of his object being suspected. Paul waited till night— the time he visited his friends—and hiding a lantern under his jacket, carefully groped his way down to them. They highly approved of the plan proposed for escaping from the ship, and were eager for the moment for putting it into execution. O'Grady, especially, was heartily weary of his confinement.
"I doubt if my two legs will ever be able to stretch themselves out straight again, after being cramped up so long, like herrings in a cask," he exclaimed, in the low tone in which it was necessary to speak. "We owe you a heavy debt, Gerrard, and if you succeed in getting us out of this, it will be a huge deal greater."
"If it were not for old Jim and Reuben Cole, I could be but of little use, so say nothing about that, Mr O'Grady," answered Paul. "I am going to try and find out on the charts, when the master is working his day's work, exactly where we are, and if there's land near, we may, perhaps, get away to-morrow."
Paul felt far from comfortable all the next day. He could not help fancying that the mutineers suspected him, and that he should suddenly find himself seized and thrown overboard. What he dreaded most was the ultimate failure of the undertaking. His two friends had in the meantime sounded those they hoped might join them, but whether all were favourable to the plan he could not ascertain. His eye was constantly on the master, who at length, seeing him near, sent him for his quadrant and tables. This was just what Paul wanted. He stood by while the observations were being taken, and then, carrying the instrument, followed the master to the cabin. Paul brought out the chart, and placed it before him, watching anxiously the movements of his companion as he measured off the distance run since the previous day.
More than once the master glanced round the cabin, and sighed deeply. "In five or six days my disgraceful task will be done," he muttered, as he moved the compasses towards the coast of the Spanish main. "Then what remains for me in life? If I escape an ignominious death, I must ever be suspected of having consented to the murder of my brother officers. I would rather that the ship had gone down, and the whole history of the butchery been hid from mortal knowledge. Yet God knows it, and it may teach officers for the future the dreadful consequences of tyranny and cruelty."
He continued on in the same strain, not aware, it seemed, that Paul was listening. Paul retired to a distance. "Shall I ask the master to join us?" he thought to himself. "No, it will not do. It would greatly increase the risk of our being caught." He waited till the master was silent. He went back to the table. "Shall I put up the charts?" he asked. "But before I do so, will you, sir, kindly show me where we are?"
Since the outbreak the poor master had not been treated with so much respect. He showed Paul the exact position of the ship, the neighbouring lands, and remarked on the prevailing currents and winds. Paul rolled up the chart, and put it in its place. He fancied that the master must have suspected his thoughts. Paul soon after met his friends, and told them of all he had learned.
It was agreed that they would wait till it was the master's watch, for so few of the mutineers could take command of a watch, that he was compelled constantly to be on deck. It was suspected that he had at times given way to intemperance, and Paul had observed more than once that when he came on deck he appeared to have been drinking, and that he frequently dropped asleep when sitting on a gun or leaning against the side of the ship. Many of the seamen who had free access to the spirit-room were also constantly tipsy at night, though the chief mutineers, from necessity, kept sober. The once well-ordered man-of-war soon became like a lawless buccaneer. The men rolled about the decks half tipsy, some were playing cards and dice between the guns, some were fighting, and others were sleeping in any shady place they could find.
Paul passed old Croxton on deck. "We shall have little difficulty in accomplishing our object if this goes on," he whispered.
"Yes, Paul, what is lost by fools is gained by wise men," he answered. "Ay, and there is one who will gain more than all by the work done on board this ship. He will soon leave his poor dupes to wish that they had never been born."
Paul and his friends waited anxiously for night: they had resolved no longer to delay their attempt.
"I'll take care that they don't follow us," said Reuben.
"What do you mean?" asked Paul.
"I'll tell you, lad," was the answer; and he whispered something into his companion's ear.
Paul felt that there was a great deal to be done, and longed for the moment of action. He observed with satisfaction that frequent visits were made to the spirit-room, and that even the master was taking more than his usual share of grog. The ship sailed steadily over the calm sea—night drew on. Paul's heart beat unusually fast. He waited till he was sure that he was not perceived, and then he climbed into one of the boats. He was there for some time, and then descending he got into another; and so he visited all in succession. Again he slunk down below.
At length the master came on deck to keep his watch. The night, for those latitudes, was unusually dark, but the sea was smooth. The ship glided calmly on, the ripple made by her stem as she drove her way through the water showing, however, that a fair breeze filled her sails. The master leaned against a gun-carriage, and gradually sunk down on it, resting his head on his hands. The helmsman stood at his post, now gazing at the broad spread of canvas above him, and then mechanically at the compass, with its light shining in the binnacle before him, but looking neither to the right hand nor to the left. The rest of the watch placed themselves at their ease between the guns, and were soon, whatever might have been their intention, fast asleep. One by one others now stole on deck towards the boat Paul had last visited. Not a word was spoken. At length two men appeared bearing two slight figures on their backs. The latter were carefully deposited in the boat, which was quickly lowered. The whole manoeuvre was executed with the greatest rapidity and in the most perfect silence. Even the helmsman, who, though drowsy, could not have been entirely asleep, took no notice of them. In another instant, had anybody been looking over the side, a dark object might have been seen dropping astern. It was a boat, which contained Paul Gerrard and his companions, who had thus made their perilous escape from the blood-stained ship. Not till they were far astern did any one venture to speak. Devereux at last drew a deep sigh. "Thank Heaven, we are free of them!" he exclaimed.
"Amen!" said old Croxton, in a deep voice. "We have reason to rejoice and be thankful. Sad will be the end of all those wretched men. Their victims are more to be envied than they."
As soon as it was deemed safe the oars were got out, a lantern was lighted to throw its light on the compass, and the boat was steered towards the north-west. The wind soon dropped to a perfect calm.
"We are safe now," exclaimed Paul. "Even if they were to miss us they could not follow, for there is not a boat on board which can swim or an oar to pull with. Some I dropped overboard, and others I cut nearly through just above the blades, and I bored holes in all the boats where they could not be seen till the boats were in the water."
"Well done, Gerrard. If we get clear off, we shall owe our escape to your judgment; but you ran a great risk of losing your life. The mutineers would have murdered you if they had discovered what you were about."
"I knew that, sir; but I knew also that nothing can be done without danger and trouble."
"Ay, boy, and that no danger or trouble is too great, so that we may escape from the company of sinners," remarked old Croxton. "Think of that, young gentleman. If you consent to remain with them because you are too lazy to flee, you will soon fall into their ways, and become one of them."
Some of his hearers remembered those words in after years. All night long the oars were kept going, and when morning dawned the ship was nowhere to be seen.
"Now let us turn to and have some breakfast," exclaimed O'Grady. "It will be the first for many a day that you and I have eaten in sunlight, Devereux, and I see good reason that we should be thankful. Then we'll have a tune from Alphonse, for I'll warrant that he has brought his fiddle."
"Ah, dat I have," cried the young Frenchman, exhibiting his beloved instrument. "But, mes amis, ve vill mange first. De arm vil not move vidout de oil!"
Alphonse had greatly improved in his knowledge of English.
A good supply of provisions had been collected, but as it was uncertain when they should make the land, it was necessary to be economical in their use. A very good breakfast, however, was made, and the spirits of the party rose as their hunger was appeased, and they thought of their happy escape. As the sun, however, arose in the blue sky, its rays struck down on their unprotected heads, and they would gladly have got under shelter, but there was no shelter for them out on the glassy shining sea. Still they rowed on. To remain where they were was to die by inches. Devereux did his best, as he had done on the raft, to keep up the spirits of his men, and, weak as he was, he would have taken his spell at the oar if they had let him.
"No, no, sir; you just take your trick at the helm, if you think proper," exclaimed Croxton. "But just let us do the hard work. It's your head guides us, and without that we should be badly off."
Devereux saw the wisdom of this remark. They knew that they had five, and perhaps six days' hard rowing before they could hope to reach Dominica, the nearest island they supposed belonged to Great Britain, according to the information Paul had gained from the master. They were, however, far better off than when they had been on the raft, for they had food, were in a well-found boat, and knew tolerably well their position. Still they were not in good spirits, which is not surprising, considering the scenes they had witnessed, the dangers they had endured, and the uncertainty of the future.
Dominica was an English possession, but it had once been taken by the French, and might have been again; and Alphonse fancied that he had heard that it was proposed to make a descent on the island, in which case they would fall among enemies instead of friends.
"Ah! but your countrymen would surely treat us who come to them in distress as friends," observed O'Grady.
"Ah, dat dey vould!" exclaimed Alphonse, warmly.
"Well, mounseer, there is good and there is bad among 'em, of that there's no doubt," observed Reuben, taking his quid out of his mouth, and looking the young Frenchman in the face; "but do ye see I'd rather not try lest we should fall among the bad, and there's a precious lot on 'em."
Notwithstanding these doubts Devereux continued his course for Dominica. As the sun rose higher in the sky, the heat became greater and greater, till it was almost insupportable. A sail spread over the boat afforded some shelter from its rays, but they pierced through it as easily as a mosquito's sting does through a kid glove, till the air under it became even more stifling than that above.
All the time in turns they continued to row on—night and day there was to be no cessation. Reversing the usual order, they longed for the night, when the air would be cooler, and their heads would escape the frying process going on while the sun was above them.
"Och, but this is hot," cried O'Grady for the hundredth time. "If this goes on much longer, we'll all be turned into real black ebony niggers, and the Christians on shore will be after putting us to work at the sugar-canes, and be swearing we've just come straight across from Africa. As to our tongues, there'll be no safety for us through them, and they'll swear we've made off with the uniforms from some ship of war or other, and perhaps be tricing us up as thieves and murderers. Did you ever hear tell of the Irishman—a sweet countryman of mine,—who once came out from the Emerald Isle to these parts—to Demerara, I believe? As soon as the ship which brought him entered the harbour, she was boarded by a boat full of niggers.
"'Will yer honour have your duds carried ashore now?' asks one, stepping up to him. 'It's myself will see ye all comfortable in a jiffy, if ye'll trust me, at Mother Flannigan's.'
"My countryman looked at him very hard.
"'What's your name now?' he asks with some trepidation.
"'Pat O'Dwyer, yer honour,' says the nigger.
"'Pat, how long have ye been here?' asks my countryman, solemnly.
"'Faith, about two years, yer honour,' says the nigger.
"'Two years, did ye say—two years only to turn a white Irishman into a nigger?' exclaimed my countryman with no little alarm. 'Then faith the sooner I get away back from out of this black-burning country the better—or my own mither down in Ballyshannon won't be after knowing her own beautiful boy again at all, and my father would be after disowning me, and my sisters and brothers to boot, and Father O'Roony would be declaring that it was a white Christian he made of me, and that I couldn't be the same anyhow. Take my duds on shore. No. Take 'em below, and I'll go there too, and remain there too till the ship sails and I'm out of this nigger-making land.' My countryman kept to his intention, and from that day till the ship sailed, never set foot on shore. You'll understand that no small number of Irishmen go out to that country, and that the nigger boy had learnt his English from them— for he wasn't a real Irishman after all, but that my countryman did not find out till he got back to auld Ireland again.
"Och, they are broths of boys the Paddies, but they do make curious mistakes somehow or other, it must be allowed.
"I was one day dining at the mess of some soldier officers, when one of them, a Captain O'Rourke, positively declared on his faith as a gentleman that 'he had seen anchovies growing on the walls at Gibraltar.'
"Most of the party opened their eyes, but said nothing, for O'Rourke was not a man whose word a quietly-disposed person would wish in his sober moments to call in question.
"Unfortunately, there was present an Englishman, a Lieutenant Brown, into whose head the fumes of the tawny port and ruby claret had already mounted.
"'Anchovies growing on a wall?' he blurted out. 'That's a cram if ever there was one.'
"O'Rourke was on his feet in a moment,—
"'What, sir—it's not you who mean to say that you don't believe me, I hope?' he exclaimed, in a voice which meant mischief.
"'Believe you! I should think I don't, or any man who can talk such gammon,' answered Brown, in a tone of defiance.
"As may be supposed, there was only one way in which such a matter could end. Preliminaries were soon settled. The affair would have come off that evening, but it would have broken up the party too soon, and besides it wouldn't have been fair, as Brown's hand was not as steady as it might have been. So it was put off till the next morning soon after daylight, when there was a good gathering to see the fun. The English generally took Brown's side. I of course stood by O'Rourke, not that I was quite sure he was in the right, by-the-by.
"It was very evident that Brown had no notion of handling his pistol.
"'I'll just wing him to teach the spalpeen better manners,' whispered O'Rourke to his second. 'He's unworthy game for my weapon.'
"The word was given to fire. Brown's bullet flew up among some trees away to the right, not a little frightening the young in a nest of birds, who popped out their heads to see what was the matter. It was now our friend's turn.
He smiled as he sent his ball through Brown's trousers, cruelly grazing his leg, whereon he began to skip about in the most comical way possible with the pain.
"'By —-, you've made that fellow cut capers at all events,' observed O'Rourke's second.
"'Cut capers, did ye say?' exclaimed O'Rourke. 'Them's the very things I saw growing on the wall, and not anchovies at all, at all.' And rushing up to poor Brown, who had fallen on the ground, he took his hand, greatly to the surprise of the wounded man, crying out,—'It's myself made the trifle of a mistake, my dear fellow, it's capers, it's capers, grows on walls, so get up and don't think anything more about the matter.'
"Poor Brown went limping about for many a day afterwards, and didn't seem to consider the matter half as good a joke as the rest of us."
O'Grady's stories amused the party, though Croxton very properly remarked that duelling was a wicked heathen custom, and that he wondered people who called themselves Christians could ever indulge in it. Other stories were told, but their interest flagged, for people are not generally in a talkative mood with the thermometer above a hundred, and with a small supply of water. Alphonse, however, from time to time kept his fiddlestick going, both to his own satisfaction, and that of his hearers. Still he, on account of the heat, was often compelled to put it down, and to declare that he could play no longer.
Great and unusual, however, as was the heat, it did not appear to cause any apprehension of danger in the mind of Devereux. The night came on, and though the air even then was hot, the weary crew were refreshed by sleep. The sun rose, and the air was hotter than ever, notwithstanding a dense mist, which gradually filled the atmosphere, while soon a lurid glare spread over it. Croxton, as he watched the change, looked even graver than before. "You've not been in these seas before, Mr Devereux, sir?" he observed.
"No; and if the weather is always as broiling as it is at present, I don't wish to come to them again in a hurry," answered Devereux. "But one thing is fortunate—they are calm enough to please any old ladies who might venture on them."
"Don't count too much on that, sir, if an old man who has cruised for many a long year out here in every part may venture to give you advice," said Croxton, in an earnest tone. "The weather here is often like a passionate man—calm one moment, and raging furiously the next. I tell you, sir, I don't like its look at present, and I fear, before long, that we shall have a job to keep the boat afloat."
"What do you mean, Croxton?" said Devereux. "The boat is the strongest and best-built belonging to the frigate."
"I mean, sir, that a hurricane is about to burst over us, and that the strongest and best-built boat can scarcely live through it," was the answer.
"I fear that you are right," replied Devereux. "We'll prepare the boat as best we can for what is coming."
No time was to be lost. The staves of a cask knocked to pieces were nailed round the sides of the boat, and to these a sail, cut into broad strips, was nailed, so that the water might the better be kept out. The men were also ordered to rest and to take some food, and then calmly they waited the expected event. They were not kept long in suspense.
"Here it comes," cried Croxton. "Our only chance is to run before it." He pointed as he spoke astern, where a long line of snow-white foam was seen rolling on over the leaden ocean, the sky above it being even darker than before.
"Out oars, and pull for your lives, lads!" cried Devereux.
Scarcely had the boat gathered full away before the hurricane overtook her, and she was surrounded by a seething mass of foam; every instant the seas growing higher and higher, and rolling up with fierce roars, as if to overwhelm her. It seemed impossible that an open boat could live in such tumultuous waters, yet still she kept afloat, flying on before the tempest. Devereux firmly grasped the helm. He knew that any careless steering would cause the destruction of the boat and all in her. The crew looked at each other. No wonder that many a cheek was pale. Who could tell how soon they might be struggling helplessly amid the foam, while their boat was sinking down below their feet? It was impossible to say also where they might drive to.
On flew the boat. As the hurricane increased in strength and gained greater and greater power over the water, the seas increased in height and came rolling and tumbling on, foaming, hissing, and roaring— threatening every instant to engulph her. So great was the force of the wind, that the oars were almost blown out of the men's hands, their efforts being expended solely in keeping the boat running before the sea. Those not rowing were employed in baling, for, in spite of all their efforts, the water washed in in such abundance as to require all their exertions to heave it out again.
Paul, as he laboured away with the rest, thought a great deal of home and the dear ones he had left there. He believed, and had good reason for believing, that he should never see them again, for by what possible means could he and his companions escape destruction, unless the hurricane was suddenly to cease, and it had as yet not gained its height. Even as it was, the boat could scarcely be kept afloat. Night, too, would soon arrive, and then the difficulty of steering before the sea would be greatly increased. Still the boat floated. Now a sea higher than its predecessors came roaring on—the foam blown from its summit half filled the boat. With difficulty she could be freed of water before another came following with a still more threatening aspect. The voice of old Croxton was heard raised in prayer. Each one believed that his last hour was come. It turned suddenly aside, and the boat still floated. Again and again they were threatened and escaped. Darkness, however, was now rapidly coming on and increasing the terrific aspect of the tempest. Devereux, aided by Reuben Cole, sat steering the boat. Not a word was spoken. The roar of the waves increased.
"Breakers ahead!" cried old Croxton, in a deep solemn voice. "The Lord have mercy on our souls!"
The boat was lifted higher than before amid the tumultuous hissing cauldron of foaming waters, and then down she came with a fearful crash on a coral reef.
The shrieks and cries and shouts of Paul's companions rang in his ears as he found himself with them struggling in the foaming water amid the fragments of their boat. His great desire was to preserve his presence of mind. He struck out with hands and feet, not for the purpose of making way through the water, but that he might keep himself afloat till he could ascertain in which direction the sea was driving him. That some of his companions were yet alive, he could tell by hearing their voices, though already it seemed at some distance from each other. He felt that, though now swimming bravely, his strength must soon fail him. Something struck him. He stretched out his hands and grasped an oar. He found himself carried along, even more rapidly than before, amid the hissing foam. He judged by the sensation that he was lifted to the summit of a wave; it rolled triumphantly on with him, and it seemed as if he was thrown forward by it a considerable distance, for he dropped, as it were, into comparatively smooth water. He did not stop, but he was borne on and on till he felt his feet, for the first time, touch for an instant something hard. It might have been the top of a rock, and he would be again in deep water; but no—he stretched out one leg. It met the sand—a hard beach. Directly after, he was wading, and rapidly rising higher out of the water. He found some difficulty in withstanding the waters as they receded, but they did not seem to run back with the force they frequently do; and struggling manfully, he at length worked his way up till he was completely beyond their power. Then exhausted nature gave way, and he sank down in a state of half-stupor on the ground. The hurricane howled over his head; the waves roared around him; he had the feeling that they would come up and claim him as their prey, and yet he had no power to drag himself farther away. He had consciousness enough left to show that he was on a wild sea beach, and to believe that his last moments were approaching. At length he fell asleep, and probably slept for some hours, for when he awoke he felt greatly refreshed. It was still dark. He tried to stand up, that he might ascertain the nature of the country on which he had been thrown; he could see no trees, and he fancied that he could distinguish the foam-covered waves leaping up on the other side of the land. It might be a point of land, or it might be some small sandy islet; it had, at all events, a very desolate appearance. Was he its sole occupant? He scarcely dared to shout out an inquiry, lest the sea-bird's shriek should be the only reply he might receive—or, what would be worse, no responding voice should answer him. He sat down again, wishing that day would come. He felt very sad—very forlorn. He could scarcely refrain from crying bitterly, and almost wished that he had been swallowed up by the foaming sea. He sat on, wishing that the night would come to an end. How long it seemed! Hour after hour passed by; he could not sleep, and yet he would gladly have lost all recollection of his past sufferings, and thoughts of those which were to come. He watched the hurricane decreasing; the wind grew less and less in strength; the waves lashed the island shores with diminished fury; and the foam no longer flew, as heretofore, in dense showers over him. Dawn at last broke, and before long the sun himself rose up out of his ocean bed. Paul started to his feet, and looked about him. Along the beach, at no great distance, his eye fell on two figures. He rushed towards them. They did not see him, for they were sitting down, looking the other way. He shouted for joy on recognising Devereux and O'Grady. On hearing his voice they turned their heads, and the latter, jumping up, ran to meet him. The greeting was warm, for both looked on each other as rescued from the grave. Poor Devereux, however, did not move; and as Paul got nearer to him he saw that he was very pale.
"I'm so glad that you have escaped, Gerrard, both for your sake and ours," exclaimed O'Grady, shaking hands with Paul, and forgetting all about their supposed difference in rank: "I do believe that with your help Devereux may recover. He and I, you see, were thrown on shore near here, and as his feet were hurt I managed to drag him up here; but, had my life depended on it, I could not have dragged him up an inch further. We can manage to get some shelter for him from the heat of the sun, and while one stays by him, the other can go in search of food."
"Oh! my good fellow, it will be all right," said Devereux, scarcely able to restrain a deep groan. "I am sure Gerrard will be a great help, and we ought to be thankful; but I can't help mourning for the poor fellows who have gone. There's Alphonse, and his fiddle too—I didn't know how much I liked the poor fellow."
"Yes, he was a merry little chap; and then that honest fellow, Reuben Cole, and old Croxton too, in spite of his sermons—they were not very long, and he had good reason for them," chimed in O'Grady with a sigh, which sounded strange from his lips. "It seems a wonder that any of us are alive. But I am getting terribly hungry, and it doesn't seem as if there were many fruits or vegetables to be procured on this island; however, I will go in search of what is to be found, though I suspect we shall have to make up our minds to live on shell-fish and sea-weed. In the meantime, Gerrard, do you look after Mr Devereux."
"I will do as you order, sir; but perhaps I know more about getting shell-fish out of the crevices in the rocks than you do, and a person may easily slip in and be drowned: so if you will let me I will go," observed Gerrard.
"No, no, I'll go," said O'Grady; "lend me your knife—I shall want it to scrape the shells off the rocks. And now I'm off."
"Look out for fresh water on your way," said Devereux, as O'Grady was moving off; "I am already fearfully thirsty."
Devereux and Paul watched O'Grady for some time as he walked along the beach, where, as there were no rocks, he vainly searched for shell-fish. At length he was lost to sight in the distance.
"This is, I fear, a barren spot we are on, Gerrard; still, we must never give in while we are alive," observed Devereux. "I say this, because I feel that I am not long for this world; and when you and O'Grady are left alone, you may fall into despair. Remember, struggle on till the last moment, for you do not know when help may come."
"Oh! don't speak in that way, Mr Devereux," cried Paul, taking the other's hand; "you are not acting as you advise us to act. We may find food and water too. The island seems much larger than I at first thought it was."
"I have no wish to die, but still I do not feel as if I should recover," answered Devereux, in a feeble voice. "If I do not, and you should get home, I wish you to go to my father and mother and sisters, and to tell them that my earnest prayer was, that those who have the right to it should have the fortune, and that I said I would rather dig or plough all my days than enjoy what is not my own."
Paul had little doubt as to what Devereux was thinking of; still he did not like to ask him to be more explicit, so he replied—
"I am afraid that I should not be believed if I took such a message, so pray do not ask me to convey it."
Devereux made no reply, and for some time seemed very unwilling to converse. Paul earnestly wished that O'Grady would return, or that Devereux would give him leave to go in search of fresh water, which he thought might be found further in the interior. Devereux, whose eyes had been shut, at last looked up.
"Oh, for a glass of water, Gerrard! None but those who have been placed as we are know its true value," he whispered.
"Let me go and try to find some, sir," said Paul. "I see a large shell a few yards off; it will carry as much as you can drink. And now that the light is stronger, I observe in the distance some shrubs or low trees, and I cannot but hope that water will be found near them."
"Then go," said Devereux; "but take care that you can find me again."
Paul looked about, and saw a small spar floating on to the beach. Without hesitation, he ran into the water to bring it out. He seized the prize, and was dragging it on shore, when a large monster darted towards him. He struck out the spar with all his force in the direction of the creature. It was almost torn from his grasp, and he was nearly dragged, with his face down, into the water; but he held on manfully, and sprang back. He just saw a pair of fierce eyes, two rows of sharp teeth, and a glance of white skin, convincing him that he had narrowly escaped from the jaws of a ravenous shark. He felt also that he had additional cause for thankfulness at having escaped the sharks when he and his companions had been so long helplessly tumbled about in the waves during the night. "Poor Alphonse and the rest! what has been their fate?" he thought. He did not tell Devereux of his narrow escape; but planting the pole in the sand, with a handkerchief tied to the top of it, he set off towards the spot where he hoped to find water. Devereux wished him good speed.
"You will easily find me again," he said, as Paul left him. Paul hurried on. The ground was composed of sand and rock, with scarcely any vegetation. The spot where he had left Devereux was the summit of a bank; the space he was traversing looked as if it had been recently covered by the sea. The trees were much farther off than he had fancied. The heat of the sun increased; he felt very weak and hungry, and it was with difficulty that he could make his way through the deep sand.
"If I do not go on, poor Mr Devereux will die of thirst, and water must be found," he said to himself whenever he found his resolution flagging. A famous word is that must. We must do what has to be done. We must not do what ought not to be done. Paul struggled on in spite of the heat, and thirst, and hunger, and weariness, and the strange creatures which crawled out from the crevices in the rocks, and ran along the hot sand. He had no time to examine them. At length he found that he was rising on the side of another bank, and what had seemed mere shrubs in the distance, now assumed the appearance of a group of tall cocoa-nut trees. "Should there be no water below, I shall find what will be almost as refreshing," thought Paul, as he hurried on, almost forgetting his fatigue in his eagerness to reach the spot. The sand, however, seemed deeper and hotter than any he had before traversed. Below the cocoa-nut trees there were low shrubs and some herbage. These indicated water without doubt. He ran on. He stopped and hesitated. There was a long, low building, capable of holding a number of persons. If it was at present occupied, what reception could he expect to meet from its inmates? He had read about savage Caribs, and buccaneers, and pirates, and he thought that, possibly, the people in the hut might be one or the other. He advanced cautiously, expecting every moment to see some one come out of the hut. "I am but a boy, and however bad they may be, they will not hurt me; and I must have the water at all events—for water there must be, or the hut would not have been built on that spot." Saying this, he hurried on, treading lightly, "The people may be asleep, and I may get the water and be away without any one seeing me," he thought. He passed the door of the hut. Before him appeared a tank cut in the coral rock, with the pure clear water bubbling up in the middle of it. Stooping down, he quickly washed out his shell, and then took a long, delicious draught. He felt as if he could never take enough. He did not forget his companions; and while he was considering how little the shell could carry, his eye fell on an iron pot by the side of the tank. He stooped down and filled it, and was carrying it off, when the door of the hut opened, and a woolly head with a hideous black face popped out, and a voice which sounded like a peal of thunder, the roll of a muffled drum, and the squeak of a bagpipe, mingled in one, shouted out to him in a language he could not understand. Instead of running away, Paul turned round and asked the negro what he wanted. The latter only continued growling as before, and making hideous faces, while his eye glanced at the can. Paul made signs that he was only borrowing it, and would bring it back. He, however, did not venture within grasp of the unattractive-looking negro, who showed no inclination to follow him. The reason was soon apparent, for, as the black came rather more out of the doorway, Paul perceived that he had lost both his legs, and stood upon two wooden stumps. No one else appeared to be moving inside the hut, and Paul concluded, therefore, that the black was its only inmate. To avoid that unprepossessing individual, he had made a circuit, and as he looked about to ascertain the direction he was to take, he discovered that he was near the head of a long narrow lagoon, or gulf, which ran up from the sea. He had no time to examine it, as he was anxious to get back to Devereux. He ran on as fast as he could without spilling the water. He thought that he knew the way. He stopped. He feared that he had mistaken it. He looked back at the tall cocoa-nut trees, and wished that he had brought some of the fruit with him; but then he remembered that alone he could not have got it, and that the black, might possibly not have chosen to give him any. Again and again he stopped, fearing that he must be going in a wrong direction. The flagstaff could nowhere be seen. "Poor Mr Devereux! what will become of him should I miss him?" he said frequently to himself, as he worked his way on through the heavy sand. At last the looked-for signal appeared above the top of a bank. Devereux was lying where he had left him, but seemed unconscious of his approach. "Was he asleep—or, dreadful thought! could he be dead?" He ran on, nearly spilling the precious water in his eagerness. He called. Devereux did not answer. He knelt down by his side. His eyes were closed, and his arms were helplessly stretched out like those of the dead. Paul moistened his lips, and by degrees got them far enough apart to pour some water down his throat. At length, to Paul's great joy, Devereux opened his eyes.
"Where is O'Grady?" he asked, and then continued—"Ah! Gerrard, is that you? Where did you get the water? It is delicious! delicious!"
In a short time Devereux appeared to be sufficiently recovered to understand what was said to him; and while Paul was giving him an account of his adventures, O'Grady was seen running towards them. He arrived almost breathless, with his arms full of shell-fish, which he threw before them on the ground.
"I have had hard work to get them, but there is no lack of more on the lee side of the island, so we shall not starve," he exclaimed. "But set to and eat, for it won't do to wait for cooking, as we have no means of kindling a fire. When we have broken our fast, I will tell you what I have seen."
Although raw fish and cold water was not luxurious fare, the party were much strengthened by it, and after a time Devereux declared that he felt able to accompany his companions either to the spring, or in the direction O'Grady had been. They came to the conclusion that the island was inhabited; for O'Grady had seen some objects moving, which he took for people, on a rock at some little distance from the shore, and he supposed that they had gone there in a canoe for the purpose of fishing. It was finally agreed that they would go towards the rock, and endeavour to gain some information as to the island on which they had been cast, which they were not likely to obtain from the black Paul had seen at the hut. Devereux had much difficulty in walking, though with the help of his shipmates he got on faster than could have been expected. They made a shorter cut than O'Grady had taken, and were soon opposite the rock on which he fancied that he had seen some people.
"There are two men and a boy," exclaimed Paul, whose eyesight was the keenest of the party. "Who can they be?"
The three lads hurried on, as fast as Devereux's weakness would allow, to the beach.
"I thought so. There can be no doubt about it," cried Paul. "They see us. They are making signs to us. There is Alphonse, and Reuben Cole, and old Croxton. How can they get to us?"
Devereux and O'Grady were soon convinced that they were their shipmates. O'Grady proposed swimming to them, as the distance was not great; but Paul remembered the shark from which he had so narrowly escaped in the morning, and urged him not to make the attempt. It was then agreed that they must either hollow out a canoe or build a raft.
"But where is the tree from which the canoe is to be formed, and the axes with which it is to be cut down?" asked Paul. "There are no trees nearer than the fountain."
The midshipmen had in their eagerness overlooked that consideration, and there did not seem much greater probability of their finding materials for the raft. Still, something must be done to rescue their shipmates, and that speedily, or they would die of thirst if not of hunger. Paul recollected the spar he had stuck up, and which had some rope attached to it, and O'Grady had observed some driftwood on the beach. They had passed some low shrubs, with thick stems, of a bamboo character, and they would assist to make the platform for the raft if a framework could be formed. The rope, by being unlaid, would serve to bind the raft together. No time was to be lost. Paul set off for the spar, while the other two, making signals to their friends that they would try to help them, went along the shore to collect what wood they could find. There was plenty of driftwood fit for burning, but too small for their object. At last they found a plank, and not far off a spar, and then another plank. Their spirits rose.
"What is one man's poison is another man's meat," cried O'Grady, as he found several planks together. "Some craft has been lost hereabouts, and probably all hands with her, and we are likely to benefit by her remains."
They had now, they fancied, got enough wood, with the aid of the shrubs, to form a raft, on which they might ferry themselves across to the rock. They accordingly began to drag them towards the spot where they had parted from Paul. It was a work, however, of no little labour, as they could draw only one plank at a time over the heavy sands. They had made, three trips, and still Paul did not appear. They began to fear some accident might have happened to him, and, now that they had found so large a supply of wood, to regret that they had sent him for the spar. They had brought together all they had found; and while Devereux began to form the framework, O'Grady cut down with his knife branches from the shrubs near at hand. They had little doubt that their friends on the rock knew what they were about. While thus employed, a shout made them turn their heads, and, looking up, they saw Paul, with the spar on his shoulder, running towards them. When he came up, he had an extraordinary tale to tell. The spar, which had been left planted in the sand, had been removed. He had hunted about for it in every direction, and had almost given up the search, when he saw it lying on the ground in the direction of the hut. It was a sign that there must be somebody on the island besides the black, as with his wooden stumps he could scarcely have got as far and back again without having been seen. Paul reported also that he had seen a vessel a long way to leeward, but that she appeared to be beating up towards the island. However, all their thoughts were required for the construction of their raft. The rope had not been removed from the spar, and this was a great assistance in strengthening it. The raft, however, without the means of guiding it, would be of little use. They had, therefore, to construct a couple of paddles and a rudder, and they then found that, with the help of two small spars, they could form a makeshift mast and yard, their shirts and pocket-handkerchiefs fastened together forming a sail. This would carry them to the rock, as the wind was off the shore, and they must trust to the assistance of their friends to get back. What was their disappointment, on stepping on the raft, to find that it would only well support two people, and that although a third could be carried on it, a fourth would most certainly upset it, and bring it under water. The two midshipmen, therefore, agreed to go, and to leave Paul on shore, much to his disappointment. "Shove us off," cried O'Grady to Paul, as he let fall the sail, to which their neck-handkerchiefs and stockings served as sheets.
Devereux steered with the long spar, which had a piece of board fastened to the end of it, and O'Grady tended the sail with one hand, aided by his teeth, and paddled with the other. They made fair progress, but Paul watched them anxiously, for the raft was difficult to steer, and it was very possible that they might miss the rock, and, if so, have hard work to save themselves from being carried out to sea. The people on the rock waved their hands to encourage them. The wind came somewhat more on the quarter, and they had to paddle hard to keep the raft on its proper course.
Paul was eagerly watching their progress, when he was startled by a loud guttural sound behind him, and looking round there, he saw the hideous black standing on what might be literally called four wooden legs—for besides his two timber extremities, he supported his shoulders on a pair of crutches with flat boards at the bottom, which accounted for his being able to move on so rapidly over the soft sand. Paul could not escape from him except into the sea, so he wisely stood still. There was something very terrific in the black's countenance, increased by the grimaces he made in his endeavours to speak. He pointed to the iron pot, which Paul had slung by his side. Paul at first thought that he was accusing him of stealing it. "If he catches hold of me, I do not know what he may do; but at the same time, as he has no weapon in his hand, I do not suppose that he intends to hurt me," he thought. "I will boldly go up to him and give him the cup, and if he looks as if he would grab me, I can easily spring out of his way."
Paul forgot that the black's crutch would make a very formidable and far-reaching weapon. He advanced slowly, but was much reassured when the black, pointing to the rock, made signs of drinking. "After all, he is come as a friend to help us. He is not so ugly as I thought," he said to himself, as he handed the can to the black. No sooner did the black receive it, than away he went at a great rate over the sand.
Meantime the raft had been making good progress. The great fear was, lest it might meet with some current which would sweep it out of its course. Paul had no selfish feelings—he dreaded any accident as much as if he had been himself on the raft. O'Grady seemed to be paddling harder than ever. Devereux was too weak, he feared, to do much. "I wish that I had gone," he said more than once to himself. Now the raft was again making direct for the rock; the sail was lowered. One of the men caught it as it was being driven round the rock by the surge of the sea, and while they steadied it Alphonse was placed upon it, and immediately it began to return to the shore. Alphonse had taken a paddle, and he and O'Grady worked away manfully. They made good progress, and in a short time reached the beach. Alphonse was sitting on a box. It was the case of his beloved fiddle. He put it under his arm as he stepped on shore, and shook Paul warmly by the hand.
"Ah! this has been the means of saving my life," he said; "I clung to it when I had nothing else to support me, and was washed, with the wreck of the boat to which Croxton and Cole were hanging on, up to the rock, though how we got on to it I do not know, nor do my companions, I believe."
Alphonse looked very pale, and complained of hunger and thirst. While he was speaking, the black was seen coming over the sand at a great rate on his four legs. To one of his arms was slung the can of water. It showed that he had good instead of evil intentions towards the shipwrecked seamen. He made signs for Alphonse to drink, which he thankfully did.
Paul was eager to go off for the rest, and obtained leave to take Devereux's place. The negro seemed to take an interest in their proceedings, and both Devereux and Alphonse expressed their belief that he wished to be friendly.
When O'Grady and Paul arrived at the rock, they found old Croxton and Reuben disputing who should remain to the last.
"The old before the young," cried Reuben.
"Ay, but the old should have the choice of the post of honour," said Croxton.
However, he was at last induced to step on to the raft. It was not a time to stand on ceremony, for the sky gave indications that the weather was about to change, and it was very evident that, should the sea get up, the rock would no longer be tenable. The raft felt the weight of the old man, and the two boys found it much more difficult to paddle to the shore.
They had not got far when Paul observed a dark triangular-shaped object above the water; then he saw a pair of fierce eyes fixed on him. It was a huge shark—large enough to upset the raft with a whisk of his tail. He did not tell his companions, but paddled steadily on. What did the appearance of the monster portend? He had heard of the instinct of sharks. Did the creature follow in the expectation of obtaining a victim?
On this trip the shark was to be disappointed, for they reached the shore in safety, and landing the old man, who was suffering much from thirst, and was therefore doubly grateful for the supply of water brought by the black, they for the last time shoved off. Both the lads felt greatly fatigued, and though they set their sail, they had to paddle hard to keep the raft on a right course. The sea had been getting up, and every moment made Reuben's situation on the rock more insecure. Even if he could have swum across the channel, the monster Paul had seen would have taken good care that he should never have reached the shore. The knowledge of this, as well as their own safety, made them exert themselves to the utmost. Already more than one sea had dashed over the rock, and Reuben had to grasp it tightly to prevent himself from being washed off. A huge foaming billow was seen rolling in. It must sweep over the reef, and perhaps come thundering down on the raft.
The boys had just lowered their sail, and were paddling in. Reuben saw the roller coming. Making a sign to them to paddle back, he sprang into the water and struck out towards them. On came the billow—roaring, foaming. The rock was hidden from view by a mass of spray as the wave curled over it.
"Oh, he has gone! he has gone!" cried Paul, as, looking back, he could nowhere see his friend.
It was but for a moment. He had been concealed by the swelling water. Again he appeared.
"Your hand! your hand!" cried Reuben.
Paul stretched out his hand with terror at heart, for at that moment he saw the dark fin of a shark on the surface of the water. He seized Reuben's hand, and dragged with all his might. The wave rushed on, dashing over the raft, and almost sweeping O'Grady and Paul from off it; but they held on, and it served the purpose of lifting Reuben on to it at the moment that a pair of ravenous jaws appeared opening in an attempt to seize him. The same sea, lifting the raft, drove it rapidly towards the shore—and another following, the boys paddling at the same time, sent it high up on the beach; but even then the receding waters would have carried it off, had not the negro and old Croxton rushed towards them, the former planting his crutches against it, and the latter grasping it tightly. Even thus they could not hold it long, but they gave time to the boys and Reuben to spring on shore, and then it was carried off, and soon shattered to pieces.
The black now made signs to all the party to accompany him to his hut, which, as may be supposed, they gladly did.
"Faith, Mr Charcoal is better than he looks," observed O'Grady, as he bade them enter.
The inside offered a strong contrast to the outside. There was a large table and chairs, and several bed-places, with coverlids to the beds of rich damask, and there were numerous chests and articles of ships' furniture in corners and ranged along the wall. The black, too, produced from a chest several silver and richly-embossed plates, dishes, and other utensils, into which having emptied a rich stew from an iron pot, he placed them before his guests, and made them a sign to fall to. This they were not slack to obey, for all were desperately hungry. No one inquired of what it was composed, though a qualm came over the feelings of Devereux, who was likely to be the most particular, as he hooked up what certainly looked very like the body and feet of a lizard. However, he said nothing, and minced up the remainder of his portion before he examined it. O'Grady made some queer faces at some of the things which caught his eye in the pot, but he said nothing, as he was too hungry to be particular.
When the whole party were satisfied, the good-natured black pointed to the couches, and signified that they might rest on them—a permission of which they did not fail immediately to avail themselves, and in a few minutes all were fast asleep. The black, meantime, in spite of the warmth of the weather, sat down by the side of the fire at which he had been cooking, and gave himself up to contemplation. How completely at that moment were all his guests in his power! Who could tell what injuries he had to avenge on the white men? Whatever were his feelings, he gave them no cause for suspicion.
Having waited till they were so sound asleep that a great gun fired close to their ears would scarcely have awakened them, he took his crutches and stumped out of the hut. Some hours passed away. Paul was the first to open his eyes; no one besides his friends were in the hut. He did not like to rouse them up, though, in a short time, hunger—the same cause which had awoke him—made them also awake. They had consumed all the food the negro had given them in the morning, and they could find nothing more to eat in the hut. O'Grady proposed that they should climb the trees, and get some cocoanuts.
It was, however, more easy to propose than to execute the achievement. He himself first tried to get up a tree, and then Paul made the experiment; but, sailors as they were, they could not manage to grasp the stem with sufficient firmness to ascend. Paul, being the lightest, helped by his companions, had got up some way, when a gruff shout made them turn round, and old Charcoal, as they called the black, was seen shambling along on his crutches towards them. He beckoned Paul to come down from the tree in a way which showed that he would not be disobeyed. They saw that he had a basket on his back, and, pointing to the fountain to intimate that he wanted water, he set about turning its contents, which were of a very heterogeneous character, into the large stew-pot from which he had supplied their breakfast. The midshipmen, as before, saw enough to convince them that it would be wise not too minutely to examine the contents of the pot. The black produced some rum at dinner, which, though they partook of it sparingly, helped down the strange mess.
Two or three days passed by, and the black continued to treat them as at first, though O'Grady suggested that he was possibly like the ogre in the fairy tale—only fattening them up that he might eat them in the end. Still, it was agreed that he was a very good fellow, and the majority were of opinion that he would help them to reach the nearest British island if he had the power. However, hitherto not a word had been exchanged between him and them. He made no objection to their exploring the island, but their discoveries only convinced them that it was very barren, and that no means existed of their getting away from it. They came, to be sure, on a canoe, in which they concluded that the black occasionally went out fishing; but it was only just large enough to hold him, and the paddles were nowhere to be found. Soon after this, O'Grady, who was in advance, saw a large boat hauled up under some bushes. "Hurrah, boys! here's a craft which will carry us to Jamaica, if need be," he shouted, and ran on, followed by Paul and Alphonse.
The tone of his voice changed as he got nearer. "She has a mighty antique look about her, but she may still serve our purpose," he said. "But I'm not quite certain," he added, as he struck his fist against a plank, which crumbled away before the blow. A kick sent another plank into fragments. The whole boat was mere touchwood.
There was a smile on the countenance of old Charcoal, who came in sight directly afterwards and had evidently been watching them at a distance. They were in a certain sense his prisoners, and yet he could not mean them ill, or he would not have treated them with so much hospitality. How he procured their food, was a question, and certainly it was his wish that they should not be able to provide it for themselves. Over and over again they discussed the means by which they might get away; but when they expressed their wish to him by signs, he shook his head, and tried to show that it would be impossible to do so.
At last they began to suspect that he had some motive for detaining them. Not a vessel had been seen since the morning when they were thrown on the island; but one day, on waking, just as it was light, Paul got up, and going out, saw a schooner gliding along through the lagoon or creek leading to the hut. He called up his companions, who were speedily on foot, and all rushed out to see the stranger. She was a long, low, dark schooner, with mischief in her very look—such as was not at that time to be found in European waters.
"That craft doesn't go about on any lawful errand," observed old Croxton to Reuben.
"I should think not, mate. If ever there was a pirate, that 'ere craft is one," was the answer.
The matter was pretty well set at rest by the appearance of a black flag, which had hitherto hung against the mast, but which, now blown out by the breeze suddenly freshening up, exhibited the skull and cross-bones which the rovers of those days delighted to carry, either in the presence of a weak enemy, or to exhibit in triumph to their friends.
The midshipmen felt that their uniforms would not be looked on with a favourable eye by the pirates, and yet they could not nor would have attempted to hide themselves. The vessel was soon securely moored, and several boats being lowered, and hampers, casks, and cases placed in them, the crew, with shouts, and songs, and wild gestures, came on shore. They appeared to be men of all nations and of every hue, from the jet-black African, to the fair Englishman or Dane. They soon made it evident that they intended to indulge in a thorough debauch, for the greater number began without loss of time to unpack cases of wine and provisions in a shady spot under the trees. Several, however, surrounded the Englishmen, and one of them, stepping forward, inquired in a rough tone what had brought them there.