"The sun had been up a good time before we rose from the ground, on this, the third day of our being in the bush, and when we got up it was as much as we could do to stand in an erect position at all, our energies being so exhausted that hardly a man had a scrap of strength left to drag himself up. Of all the miserable scarecrows you ever saw in your life, we must have then looked the worst—with our bare pelts burnt and blistered, our tangled hair and beards, our woebegone faces, out of which our eyes were almost starting from their sockets, and our bleeding feet and limbs, the latter all scratched, and with pieces of flesh torn out of them by the briars and thorns through which we had to scramble in our climb up the mountain!
"'We look just fit for Madame Tussaud's chamber of horrors,' said Magellan, contemplating himself ruefully, and then looking at the rest of us, who were all in the same sorry plight—like a parcel of naked white savages.
"'Aye,' said I, 'and I wouldn't mind being there in London now! Howsomdever, old ship'—I added on to what I was saying, seeing that the fellows laughed and cheered up a bit at Magellan's comical way—'if we ever hopes to get there we must trudge on now. Our course is all downhill, thank goodness, and perhaps we'll meet with a river at last— as soon as we get down to the gully.'
"'That's your sort,' shouted out Magellan heartily; 'rouse up, my hearties, and let us push on. There's no good our remaining here, and the sooner we start, why, the sooner we'll get to Majunga. Yo, heave ho! Up anchor, men, and make sail! Heave ahead with a will and follow me!'
"With that, we got under way again, with Magellan leading, as he was stronger than me now, and the first man of course made the path easier for those coming after him—which was the reason I went in advance as long as I was able. In proportion as it had been harder to climb, so was this mountain steeper and more dangerous to descend than the first one we had surmounted, for it sloped down so suddenly in some places that it seemed as if we were sliding down the pointed roof of a house; while we had to look out narrowly for several ugly chasms or crevices in the ground on which we popped every now and then most unexpectedly. Denis Brown, the most unlucky of the party, as generally happens to timid nervous people, nearly got his neck broken in one of these gullies soon after we started, and it was only by the exertions of all our party that we saved his life.
"Slipping, sliding, swinging ourselves forward sometimes by the branches of the trees from one foothold to another, but still ever descending, we made our way down the side of the mountain for ever so long, going on till we thought we must be diving into the heart of the earth, the gorge was so deep. Occasionally, when we arrived at some little open space, we could see the tops of the trees underneath us, as if under our feet, and felt inclined to jump on them and go right through to the ground below with a crash, and have done with it at once. The work, however, was so different to the climbing we had the day before that the men went at it more cheerily, besides which it was like running downhill, and when once they had begun descending they could not stop themselves, but had to go on like a rolling ball.
"Thank God, though, it was toil well spent! As we got nearer the bottom, I could fancy I heard the noise of water running, the sound coming to my ear in the silence of the still solemn forest when the noise we made crashing through the brushwood had ceased. I couldn't believe it, however, at first, and thought it was a dream, or arose out of the delirium occasioned by the thirst from which I was suffering; but it grew clearer and more distinct as we proceeded, and being assured of this I halted of a sudden.
"'Jem,' I sang out to Magellan, who was still in front forcing a way for us, 'stop a minute! Don't you hear anything?'
"He therefore halted like myself, and so did the rest, who were pressing on between us, he leading and I bringing up the rear, the other four being in the middle like a wedge.
"'Listen!' I cried. All was stillness for a moment, but soon, above the hush that succeeded the noise of our movement through the bush, we could hear a faint silvery trickling sound that was sweeter than the sweetest music to our ears. It was the murmur of running water, with an occasional splash as it leaped over a stone.
"'Hooray, boys!' exclaimed Jem. 'We've fetched the water at last— follow my leader now, and we'll be able to slake our thirst!'
"So saying, he plunged again downwards through the jungle, and we after him, helter skelter through the forest in our mad race for the precious element of which we had been so long deprived, and whose real value we did not properly appreciate till we had lost it. Our rush must have resembled what I've read takes place on the prairies of America when there is a stampede of the wild animals frightened by the forests catching fire or some other scare.
"Thank God, as I said then, it was not another deception this time like the salt lagoon that had disappointed us so sorely that time when we thought we had a drink at last!
"As we got nearer and nearer the bottom of the valley, the sound of the running water increased, and mingled with it was heard that bubbling and splashing that echoes so delightfully on one's ears on a warm summer day in England from a garden fountain; so you can imagine how it appealed to our parched senses. Why, we wouldn't have stopped then in our progress towards it if a fiery volcano lay between us, or if a thousand bayonets tried to arrest our movement!
"Another moment of suspense, and then, there lay the stream before us. I never experienced before that saying in Scripture so thoroughly, about the sight of the water in a thirsty land. It was like heaven to us!
"It wasn't a big river—only a little streamlet of about six feet in width, yet pretty deep, for it came up to our shoulders when we stood in it; but it was quite enough for us, and we dashed into it, plunging in and rolling over in our hot haste and eagerness to drink, so wildly, so madly that it was a wonder that we did not drown one another, all clumped up together as we were. We swilled and swilled till we well- nigh felt that we were bursting; while some continued to drink even after their stomachs were unable to contain any more, and the water rolled back out of their mouths. We were more like beasts than human beings for over a quarter of an hour; and then, we roared with an agony of pain from the distension this sudden repletion gave us. After a time, however, this passed off and we felt more comfortable, when we were able to sit down by the green banks through which the stream leaped and raced along in its course down to the sea to the westwards beyond. The river, we could now see, when we had more leisure to contemplate it, came from a little cataract or waterfall that sprang down a niche in the rocks at the point where two gorges met, and if we had gone half a mile further to the eastward we must have missed it. Providence surely guided our steps that day, for I'm certain we could not have lived another twenty-four hours without water, nay, not twelve!
"As soon as our thirst was appeased, all of us began to feel ravenously hungry; the men, to my eyes, seeming by the looks they were casting at each other as if they would turn cannibals if no other proper food turned up. Glancing about the little glade where we were resting, I fortunately saw just by the side of the streamlet some lace-like leaves of a climbing plant which resembled very much what I knew in the West Indies as the water yam—a very good vegetable that serves the niggers there instead of our potato, and indeed some folks, myself included, like it better than that even, when roasted, with lots of butter on it.
"I told Jem of this; and he, fortunately having his knife with him slung on to the lanyard round his trouser band—he was the only one of us that had a weapon of any sort—at once began to dig about the roots of the plants, soon dragging out from the ground a large bulb something like an elongated beet-root. It was the water yam, sure enough. I recognised it the moment I looked at it, and I was glad that the leaf had attracted my attention; so, telling Jem it was all right, he at once sliced it up into six pieces and shared it out to us. I can't say it tasted nice, being raw; but it was something in the food line at any rate, and we ate it all ravenously, the same as we would have eaten the leather of our boots if we had any.
"Jem Magellan dug out three more yams, one of which he shared out in the same way and which was just as quickly demolished; but the two others he reserved for the next day, in case we should not chance to come across any more plants. Then, we had another good drink of water, which tasted not the less sweet the more we had of it; and as the sun was now setting we turned in for the night by the bank of the stream, intending to stay there a bit until we had recruited ourselves after all the exhausting privation and terribly hard work we had experienced in getting through the bush since quitting Cocoa-nut Bay, as we had christened the place we had come ashore from the wreck of the pinnace.
"Next morning we woke up more at our usual time aboard ship, soon after the sun rose, the rest and food and drink having refreshed us so greatly that we felt almost ourselves again; but we were still mighty hungry and polished off our two yams for breakfast in a brace of shakes, the men not listening to the injunctions of Magellan and myself that perhaps they would feel the want of them more before the day was out. Now they had had their ravenous cravings appeased, they thought they had come to the end of all their privations. Poor chaps, they and myself had to suffer a good deal more yet before we had quite done with Madagascar!
"A little later on, a sort of large parrot or cockatoo came flying down the valley, perching on the branch of a tree near the waterfall, where he began to croak away; so Denis Brown ups with a piece of stone and chucking it at the bird brings it down. In a moment he had picked off the feathers, when Magellan, taking out his knife again, cuts the parrot into six portions, entrails and all, and distributes it amongst us. That was the first thing we had between our teeth in the shape of meat for nearly six days, for we had our last meal on board the pinnace the day before she upset; so the fowl tasted better to us than the best fancy dish ever served up at the lord-mayor's dinner—the only thing against it being that there was so little of it, divided amongst the six of us! However, it was a godsend any way; and it gave us so much additional strength and courage, combined with the effects of the yams we had already eaten and the plentiful supply of good water, that it was unanimously resolved, after having a thorough rest that day by the side of the river, to resume our march to Majunga the next morning at daybreak and to keep on till we got there.
"But, 'Man proposes and God disposes,' says the old proverb, and a very wise one too, as we proved before the next forty-eight hours went over our heads.
"There was no breakfast this morning of our second day's rest by the banks of the river that had so providentially been sighted in time to save our lives; but, notwithstanding that drawback, the whole party of us started gaily afresh on our way through the jungle, resuming our southerly course towards Majunga. Magellan and I regretted very much that we had omitted bringing the empty water barrico from Cocoa-nut Bay with us, for now we could have filled it and carried a supply with us in the event of our being unable to come across another spring; but none of the other men would carry it, and he and I after taking it along for a time had thrown it away before the end of our first day's pilgrimage, it being as much as we could do to drag ourselves along without being hampered with an empty cask that might after all be a useless incumbrance.
"So, once more depending on the chance of what we might meet with on the way, we set out; our way was, as at first starting, lying again uphill and the steepest bit of climbing we had yet had. In spite of our good intentions of the previous night, what with prospecting our journey and one thing and another, it was past mid-day before we got well off from the valley, and it was nightfall when we reached the top of the third mountain; but the men were not near so tired as they had been on the last two days of our wandering before getting water, and even now did not complain again of thirst as they had done at their former halts for the night—moaning through their sleep and bursting out sometimes in incoherent ravings as if they were going mad. From the top of this eminence, too, we had more of an outlook than we had yet been able to gain, seeing a distant peep of the sea through the trees, and below us far away, wandering in and out between the masses of thick foliage, the silvery gleam of a river coursing its way to the coast. We went to sleep, therefore, with the comfortable assurance that everything would turn out well for us on the morrow, when we should be in clover if appearances were to be trusted.
"Alas, it was a day of calamity and greater peril than we had yet undergone!
"Our downward progress this morning was as rapid as that into the oasis we had discovered in the wilderness on the day before, and indeed seemed much easier, the vegetation not being so thick and the ground shelving less abruptly; but then, in compensation for this, we did not receive a similar thankful reward for our toil on reaching the bottom, for, although we came to a river, its water was utterly unlike that of the spring in the glade, being muddy and brackish. However, to men thirsty like ourselves it was drinkable, and we had to content ourselves with it, taking as little of it as we could help and that only sufficient to quench our cravings.
"What upset us more than this, though, was that this river was some three hundred yards across from bank to bank, so that we would have to wade it or swim it to get over to the other side, our investigations on the shore where we were deliberating showing us that it would be impossible to circle round it without going for miles out of our way. We were not frightened at the mere fact of having to venture into unknown depths—men who had swam the distance we had done in the Mozambique Channel could afford to laugh at the paltry width of the stream. What troubled us was the sight of innumerable crocodiles, sluggishly dragging themselves up the slimy mud banks on either side and swimming about in the centre of the stream as if on guard over its precincts. We did not care about tackling these; and so it was we hesitated, none wishing to be the first to venture the passage.
"At last, Jem Magellan, as usual, came to the fore.
"'Come now, men,' says he; 'what are you minding them air crocodiles for? They won't harm you, when the sharks let you t'other day in swimming ashore from the pinnace! Jest follow me, and you'll soon see that my splashing in the water will frighten them off! They are as cowardly as they're big and ugly!'
"With these words, he leaped into the river and was very shortly across safely on the other side, the hideous reptiles taking no more notice of him than if he had been one of themselves, continuing to wallow about in the green slime.
"Seeing this, I too followed, for I own to being a bit skeared of the animals before Jem put courage into me; and so did two of the others; but Denis Brown and the sixth man got terrified when they were in mid stream, shouting out and hollering that the crocodiles were after them. Jem, who was as brave as a lion, opening his knife and putting it between his teeth, plunged into the water again, swimming back to where Denis Brown was struggling in the river alone, the other chap having abandoned him and made for the shore. But, the true-hearted fellow was too late; just as he was within a yard or two of Denis, the other gave out a shriek which went right through us all like an electric shock and disappeared below the water, into whose muddy depths one of the hideous brutes we had seen had dragged him down. I declare, it affected us more, that did, than all we had gone through; and we were not calm till Jem Magellan stood once more amongst us, for we thought the crocodile might capture him next. We did not any of us like Brown much; but our misfortunes had drawn us all closer together and we felt his loss deeply.
"That wasn't the end of our troubles for the day either.
"Resuming our course sadly across the level marshy land which adjoined the river and apparently extended some distance before we could reach our last hill, we had just entered within the outskirts of another forest of jungle when our ears were assailed with the most terrible yells. The next moment, without the slightest warning, a band of natives rushed at us with savage cries—hurling spears and darts at us, before we could put ourselves into a posture of defence—poor, unarmed, defenceless fellows that we were!"
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER SEVEN.
RESCUED AT LAST.
"The savages," continued Ben, "in their rapid onslaught on us, fortunately, missed their aim, only one of us getting a spear-wound through the body, the rest of their weapons expending their force harmlessly in the bush, and by the time they were ready for a second go at us we were better prepared to receive them, although sadly wanting in the means of defence, only Jem Magellan having a knife. This he at once drew, however, while the rest of us, using the sticks we had previously cut in the forest, as I had forgotten to tell you previously, made an effort to save our lives with the determination of fighting to the last.
"But, Jem was our guardian angel now, as he had been before. Darting at one of the natives before he was apparently aware of his intention, he stabbed him through the heart, and then catching him up without a second's deliberation by his legs, and using his body as a club, he floored three others in rapid succession. We, too, were not behindhand with our sticks; and the savages—struck more with consternation at Magellan's tremendous strength, for he was built like a giant, and stood over six feet high, than by our prowess—ran away back into the jungle as fast as they had come upon us; leaving some four of their number struck lifeless on the ground, besides the one Jem had first settled, and whom the club exercise to which his body had been subjected had knocked out of any semblance it had originally possessed to the human form.
"We breathed hard when the scrimmage was over, for it was warm work while it lasted; and then, our sadly-lessened little party thinking discretion the better part of valour, and that our foes might get reinforced and return to attack us in numbers, only ten altogether having belonged to the body assailing us, we too took to our heels in the opposite direction. This was the very one, indeed, in which our proper course lay; and we ran on without giving a thought as to whether any of those we had knocked on the head would come to life again or not, or that we had to answer for their deaths.
"It would weary you to hear all the further trials we had to go through. We had three other rivers to ford before reaching the base of the next mountain; and, on essaying to climb this latter, we found it so steep and matted with rank vegetation that it was impossible to ascend it. Besides, the mosquitoes stung us almost to pieces on our going into the forest here; and, seeing that our route southwards was impracticable any longer, we bent our steps due west, following the track of the last river we had crossed so as to gain the beach again, which latter course seemed to offer now the best chance of escape.
"Arrived here, we sat down facing the sea, without a single sail passing by within hail, as we had hoped would soon have been the case, for two long weary days and nights—one of us always keeping watch that we should not miss a vessel, in the first place, and, secondly, for fear of another attack from the natives. During all this time, recollect, we had nothing to eat since we swallowed the last fragment of the solitary parrot that poor Denis Brown had knocked down, although plenty of brackish water was at our disposal from the river.
"On the third morning, however, just when we were pretty nigh done up with the heat and hunger, thinking each moment would be our last, an Arab dhow passed by close inshore to where we were stretched almost lifeless on the sand, watching the monotonous sea that broke with a heavy wash on the beach.
"We hailed the people on board, but they took no notice of us, and we abandoned ourselves to despair. However, another trading dhow came by soon afterwards, luckily for us, and the skipper of this showed more sympathy to shipwrecked seamen in distress, for, responding to our appeals for help, he said he would lie to for us, but as he had no boat we would have to swim off to the vessel.
"This we did, braving our fear of the sharks, though we had seen plenty of them about during the two days we had been staring at the sea; and, plunging into the waves, were soon hauled aboard in safety, the revulsion of feeling at being thus saved from a lingering death almost making us helpless at the last!
"The captain of the dhow, who was in the employ of some Banian traders, carried us to Majunga, where we were most hospitably treated, a house being set apart for our accommodation, and the Queen of Madagascar herself sending down provisions for our use during our stay there. I recollect, on the very day of our arrival, she despatched three casks of rice, along with a dozen ducks and twelve fowls, for us to have a feast with; and I don't think we had left a bone of the poultry or a grain of rice by the end of the following day.
"I shall never forget the kindness we all met with at Majunga. It is an Arab colony, with lots of Hindoos and Portuguese there besides, although only a small mud town. It was this place that the French bombarded the other day for no cause whatever that I can see save to get a foothold on the island and establish their blessed republic there. But then, we need not talk. I've known English men-of-war set fire to native villages amongst the islands in the South Pacific just to avenge a fancied insult which some blackbirding schooner had once received when its crew were trying to kidnap the natives, and I have known cruelties committed because the merchants were unable to get the proper price for their Manchester cottons and Brummagem goods; while when serving on the west coast of Africa, up the Congo river, I have seen whole colonies of poor niggers annihilated, with their little towns wrecked over their heads, simply because they did not choose to do exactly what we told them. You may say that the French have no right to do as they have done and are doing in Madagascar; but circumstances alter cases, sir. We only think these bombardments and colonising schemes bad when they are carried out by other nations; when we do similar things, of course it is all right and just."
"Did you rejoin your ship ultimately?" I asked, when Ben had finished his little bit of moralising, apropos of international differences.
"Oh yes, sir. The Dolphin came cruising in search of us down the coast after capturing the second slaver and settling all her business at Zanzibar; and, on her putting in to Majunga, of course we went on board, reporting the accident that had happened to the pinnace. The excitement had borne us up to then; but, soon after we found ourselves once more in the old ship, the whole lot of us broke down and went raving mad, being out of our minds for weeks. Magellan and the others recovered out there, but I was invalided home and sent to Haslar Hospital—being ultimately allowed to leave the service on a pension before I had quite finished my time, all through that exposure I had had when swimming ashore in the Mozambique Channel and journeying through the bush afterwards. I have quite recovered since, however, and am now as hale and hearty a man, thank God, as ever I was in all my life."
"I'm glad to hear that," said I cordially.
"Aye, I am," he repeated, as if to impress that point carefully on my mind; and then, seeing me looking at my watch, he asked me what the hour was.
"Just eleven o'clock," I answered.
"Lord bless us!" he exclaimed, "I'd no idea what time it was. Why didn't you stop me? I must be off home or my wife will be thinking I'm lost. Good-night, sir. Hope I haven't wearied you with my yarn?"
"Oh no," I said, "I have not found it a bit too long. Good-night." And so ends Ben Campion's story of "The Lost Pinnace."